Born into the darkness of a curse...born into the Monogatari family, Kuro is fated to find the answers, destined to save them. But at what cost?
The outskirts of town was nothing more than a small field that slowly gave way to dense forest. Within the forest was a clearing over run with blooming dandelions. That was where Sage Forest had just spent the last thirty minutes sifting through the flowers feeling for the ones with the highest magical properties. She was the only one in the village of Bramsly that could do that—feel for the magic in the flowers and then use it. She was born with that ability and from what she could tell it was expected that she would be. Her father was a Potioneer and her mother was a Witch, which really just meant that instead of being a Wardsmith, Charmer, Breaker, or possessing any number of special abilities she could do a bit of it all, except for Potion making. That was a completely different animal, a class all its own. Her mother was beyond good at what she could do as was her father. With the infamy of her parents though, came the expectations of the daughter. The village was not disappointed in Sage Forest.
She held the chosen dandelions firmly, but not so firm as to cause damage. She walked at a slow pace through the forest toward the village. Her school bag bounced off her upper thigh and hip with each step, her shoes dangling from her bag and swinging along with it. The feel of the forest floor, of the Earth beneath her bare feet was always heavenly to her. It helped her to feel connected to all that was around her.
Right there…on the edge of the forest, lying on the boundary of the forest and the field was the willow.
Sage paused at the willow, as she often did, lingering about its massive trunk, allowing the canopy of leaves to shade her from the sun. The willow for all its aged glory seemed so much larger back then. It was still huge, but the idea of climbing it no longer seemed daunting to her.
Instead the tree held memories Sage would never be willing or ready to relinquish, memories of friendship and trust, memories that she held close to her heart and cherished. She would never forget…
Everyone was looking for him. She knew that before they started to question her. She could hear their whispers and felt their worries. It was overwhelming. They were all gathered in the old Victorian house that now stands empty. The air smelt of freshly cooked food and the voices were somber. There were mourning the death of the eldest Monogatari in the house, Kuro’s grandfather.
When the adults turned to her for answers she could give them none. Her parents and his both looked at her with worry and concern. Where had Kuro run off to? Her wide blue eyes blinked in confusion of all the people around her demanding answers. They seemed like giants back then. She shook her head, her red ponytail bouncing back and forth.
“I don’t know where he is,” she said concerned herself.
Suddenly she was forgotten. The adults turned from her, scanning the room for anyone else who might know, who might have a clue. Sage knew he was hurting though. His grandfather and he shared secrets he wouldn’t even divulge to Sage. She nibbled on her bottom lip, looking around the room before turning and sneaking out the door herself.
She ran through the deserted streets of Bramsly. The main road seemed abandoned as the largest event that day had closed down businesses and sent people not out shopping and laughing while they met those they knew in the streets, but to the Victorian house that sat on the main road…the house that now seemed to symbolize death as they all gathered in there.
Sage ran through the field with no doubt in her young mind as to where Kuro had run off to. She knew just as well as she knew anything. That tree, the willow, it was their place of comfort, their place of solitude. She ran through the field…tall grasses batting her along the way, but paying no mind to it. It meant nothing to her at the moment.
She stood beneath the grand willow looking up into its leaves.
“Kuro, everyone is looking for you.”
He was sitting on a large branch of the tree, his eyes looking through the leaves over the town like some god-like creature. His black hair had grown out and covered his eyes slightly, but from her vantage point she could see the tears. He was naught but fourteen years old and already experiencing such a great loss. His dark eyes shifted down to her and she heard him mumble.
“Baka,” he said softly, speaking in his native tongue without any real malice to his voice as he reached down, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her up into the tree with him.
She gasped slightly, not aware of the strength he had. Once she was safely on the branch he just looked at her through the hair now hanging down in his eyes.
“You know,” Sage said balancing herself closer to Kuro. “I may only be eleven, but even I know girls don’t like to be called idiots.”
He blinked and a tear slowly rolled down his cheek. Sage knew why he had run off to the tree. It was their safe haven. Here, hidden amidst the branches and leaves, Kuro could cry; he could let the tears fall freely. He had his knees pulled up to his chest and slowly he leaned his head forward, hair not quite long enough to fall forward, but he rested his forehead on his knees hoping to hide his face.
Sage understood. This was the one place he could let it out. Her arm wrapped around his shoulder and he turned. His arms wrapped around her waist pulling her close, hugging his friend. She did her best to sooth him, patting his back and whispering that it was okay to cry…
She stared up into its branches wondering where Kuro was and if he was okay. A crisp autumn wind blew through the branches, shaking the leaves, and pushing Sage’s skirt against her legs. With the wind came the chilling memory of Kuro’s departure from her life. She shook the memory away. She barely caught sight of something slightly pink against the brown branches, flapping in the wind as she began her trek back toward the apothecary her family owned.
As her feet hit the cobblestone streets of the small village, she couldn’t help but to smile. Bramsly was one of the Cobblestone Villages, so called because of their cobblestone streets too narrow for cars to enter and looking as if they were some old village one read about in story books. There had been an emergence of these Cobblestone Villages since the God Wars. Sage was too young to remember the God Wars, but her parents lived through it. Her parents were together because and friends with Kuro’s parents because of those wars. They had been placed in the same safe house, hidden from those fighting because despite the many religious beliefs looking down on those practicing what her parents did. Those fighting sought people like her parents out to use for their own purpose during the wars. She had no idea why Kuro’s parents were in hiding. From what Sage had read in books and heard from those caught in the middle, it was bloody and unforgiving. Slowly the world’s religions became more and more vicious with each other, breaking out into bloody wars and eventually killing mass numbers of themselves off. The world was left with only a small sect of these evangelists that now hide in the woods like their ancestors had done to the pagans.
It was rather ironic when Sage thought about it.
Still, no one bothered them. No one sought them out. Those that were left, those that had hidden, were the ones that had accepted the out of the norm talents they had, the ones who didn’t wish to fight. Still, there was always some form of darkness waiting to be abolished, needing it and this world was no different. After all, how could you have good without evil?
Sage walked into the apothecary her parents owned. A sudden flash of light caught her attention and she looked up wide-eyed. Her best friend, Ambrosia, sat on the counter with her camera in hand taking pictures of whatever struck her. Ambrosia was still laughing at Sage’s look when the young man stepped from the corner of the room, shoving Ambrosia’s head forward as he walked by. The force knocked Ambrosia off the counter. She pushed her brown choppy hair out of her face and scowled at the young man.
“Dorian,” she said with a slight warning to her tone.
“Dorian, stop harassing my friends,” Sage said with a smile to her brother.
He shrugged as he marked the inventory sheet on the clipboard he held while he ignored the girls’ presence and looked at the shelves of various ingredients. With the dandelions still in hand, Sage turned toward the back room and motioned for Ambrosia to follow. A large dark wood door with intricate designs carved into it led to the storage room. The door, so Sage was told, was a gift when her parents had the shop built, a gift from Kuro’s family. Her fingers often caressed the intertwining vines that adorned the door as she went through. The room was pretty large as it was not only used for storage, but also a work room.
In the middle of the room was a work table, most often used for preparing ingredients to sell or use. Sage placed the dandelions on the table and grabbed an empty jar. Ambrosia followed her long time friend, sliding up on a smaller work table to sit while Sage worked. It wasn’t until Sage began to chop the dandelion stems up that Ambrosia spoke.
“Are we studying tonight,” she asked.
That had been the plan earlier. Ambrosia, Sage and her boyfriend, Sebastian all attended the same college and had a couple classes together. With exams coming up they often gathered for a study session.
“Of course,” Sage said as she gently placed the chopped up stems into a jar of some liquid meant only for preservation. She sealed it and set it aside as she smiled at her friend.
Ambrosia London was a disappointment to her parents. Or that is what Ambrosia believed. Her father was a famous Wardsmaker while her mother came from the Brockers of Brocker Jewelry. Though the marriage of her parents had seemed unusual at first, her parents soon had no reason to object as with the combination of the two came a very popular line of jewelry that combined his Wardmaking skills. The Jewelry was sought after in these dark times. Ambrosia was not what they expected in a daughter. Her older brother, Angel is the heir so Ambrosia felt no need to bend to her parents will as if she were heir. She had her own dreams and those dreams involved photography, not a happy little marriage to some unknown heir.
The large wooden door creaked open and Dorian popped his head in.
“Sage, don’t forget me, mom and dad will be out for a bit.”
Yes, there was a darkness remaining in the world. A darkness the ones remaining were left to fight off, to keep at bay. A darkness the Knights of Solaris worked hard against.
“I know,” Sage said slightly exasperated at Dorian’s constant reminders.
A flash made Sage laugh though. Ambrosia, in true Ambrosia form had snapped a picture of Dorian before he closed the door.
The room was massive and empty. On a slightly raised platform sat four chairs made of ebony with such intricate wood working there was no way anyone could think the chairs were meant for anyone less than royalty. He sat in one of the center chairs, elbow resting on the arm rest.
His presence filled the room, shrinking its massive size to any onlookers. Perhaps that was why Rui had chosen him. Just standing in a room with someone else could intimidate. His long fingers slowly moved across his lips, deep in thought.
He was returning.
He was returning to that village he grew up in and it scared him. He was not the same as the boy that left that village. He was no longer that young boy running through the village with Sage. He was no longer the boy that would mysteriously become ill. He was no longer that force that watched over Sage, ensuring no one picked on her again. Perhaps even back then his presence dominated a room. Would his presence be felt like that when he returned?
He closed his dark eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. He had not been in the small village of Bramsly since he was about sixteen. It seemed like ages. It was going on nine years…nine years since he last saw Sage. A rare smile graced his lips as the memories of their first meeting flooded him…
Kuro had just turned eleven. His birthday always fell on the same day as the Bramsly Fall Festival, October 31st. The trees that surrounded the village had changed to their multicolored splendor, creating a splash of oranges, reds, and purples amidst the greenery. The cobblestone streets were overflowing with the villagers and those from out of town that saw the festival as a good time to make money by setting up stands that sold various items or ran games of all sorts.
The sun was setting when Kuro was running through the crowds, dodging people and ignoring his mother’s cries for him to slow down. He didn’t care. She had given him permission to play in the field, the one place a boy his age could toss a baseball in the air and hit with a bat without fear of breaking windows. There were many famous baseball players that were Japanese. Though the village they lived in was an amalgam of cultures and heritage, Kuro was Japanese and believed perhaps baseball would be his niche in life.
He tossed the ball up in the air and swung the bat listening to the cracking sound of the bat hitting the hide of the ball and sending it flying across the field toward the forest. He watched the ball go, amazed at his own abilities. That was when he first saw her.
There was an old willow that sat on the border of the forest. He could see something beneath the tree. Dropping the bat down to his side, Kuro turned to look back at the village and the festival. He wondered if he should go see what it was. Picking his bat up and holding it against his shoulder, Kuro made the trek across the field. He would have to go anyway to retrieve his ball.
When he got close enough, he discovered it to be a small girl sitting beneath the tree. Her knees were pulled up to her chest, her head leaning against her knees and she was crying. Kuro cautiously approached, crouching down in front of the young girl. Her red hair hung forward hiding her face.
“Are you alright,” he asked.
The little girl slowly raised her head up off her knees. He recognized her. His parents often spoke with hers and on occasion their families had dinner together, but honestly he never paid the little girl any attention. She couldn’t be any older than seven. Her big eyes blinked at him, recognizing him as well. She ran the back of her hand across her nose.
“They’re so mean,” she said between sobs.
Kuro looked around. There was a group of kids about her age hovering in another part of the field looking her way and laughing amongst themselves. Kuro scowled in their direction before turning and settling himself next to her beneath the willow. He didn’t really know what to do. He was eleven and she was just a little kid. He had no younger siblings and had no idea what to do with a crying seven year old.
When their families would gather for dinner or any other gathering he always remembered seeing the little kid full of energy, but he could never recall seeing her with other kids her age. He glanced over at the group of kids. Her parents were infamous and talented as was her big brother. Sage followed in their footsteps to an extreme. Suddenly, he felt bad for her and understood she needed a friend.
“Don’t worry about them, Sage. You’ve got me...”
Kuro opened his eyes, the visions of his much younger self disappearing from his sight. Those words that day under the willow proved to be his undoing. After that, Sage followed him everywhere. Their parents found it adorable; at eleven he found it irritating. He said nothing to deter her though, knowing he was her only real friend. It ended up being worth it in the long run. With each passing year she grew older, just as he did, but her maturity level slowly began to catch up to him. It wasn’t long before he would tell anyone this young girl was his best friend.
He would tell her everything…almost.
He closed his eyes again, horrified at the thought of returning. Eventually, Sage would turn her back on him. When she found out why he left, she would turn and walk away, forgetting her childhood friend. That he was sure of. It was horrifying though. While they all slept in their beds, he would return…a monster would return.
There was the echoing sound of feet on the marble floor of the long empty hallway outside the door. Kuro opened his eyes as the door opened and his uncle stepped in, pushing his black rimmed glasses up his nose by his middle finger.
“Are you ready,” Chi asked.
Kuro looked him over, taking in his appearance and noting all the things about him that was distinctly Taiwanese, like his mother. Chi’s hand moved from his glasses to moving his black hair back off his forehead; in his other hand he held a book. For all appearances, Chi did not look much older than Kuro.
Kuro sighed and looked away toward the tall gothic style windows the room was decorated with. The world outside was a myriad shades of orange, reds, and purples as the sun set slowly into the horizon.
“Yes,” Kuro said standing up, coming to his full height. “I am ready.”
He stood just outside the town looking in. By all appearances the town was asleep, silence and night fall having long since fallen over the peaceful village. He looked like a dark shadow hovering just outside the village.
He had returned.
Did anyone warn them?
Was there anyone to warn them?
Kuro stared down at the tree leaves beneath his feet. The moment he crossed that invisible line, the moment he stepped onto that cobblestone path of the main street of Bramsly he would be stepping back into his past, stepping back to a time when he was just a boy doing all he could to protect a girl. Chi watched Kuro.
“Perhaps I should call Rui and tell him to send someone else,” Chi said while pushing his glasses up his nose with one finger.
Kuro’s eyes slowly opened and his head turned to pin Chi with a look of discontent.
“And who could possibly get close enough to her, Oji-san?”
Chi smiled, his eyes dancing with a warped mirth of what was to come.
“Ayame would gladly take the job.”
Kuro took a deep breath. His anger was beginning to boil as he looked at Chi over the top of his eyes with a most demonic glare.
“Ayame will go nowhere near her. His distaste for normal girls overwhelms. He would fill her with hate and tear away her innocence.”
Chi raised an eyebrow.
“Yes,” Chi said. “Ayame would keep a proper emotional distance. You however, I have my doubts.”
Kuro glared at him from the top of his eyes, a snarl curling his lip slightly.
“You are in no position to doubt me,” Kuro said stepping passed Chi and entering the village of Bramsly.
The laughter filled the air, stopping Kuro in his tracks. Chi slowly approached from behind following Kuro’s gaze. The laughter had seemed so familiar to Kuro, like a matured version of one he used to hear as a child. He watched the two young women walk down the main street, heads together talking, occasional laughter filling the silent night. He couldn’t see who they were. The young women were walking in the opposite direction.
Then, one of them slowed down, stopping and lingering outside an old Victorian house that sat on the main street as if the village was built around the house, built for it. A Cyprus tree adorned the front yard as if it guarded the long abandoned home.
Ambrosia took two steps and realized Sage was no longer with her. She turned and sure enough, Sage had stopped outside the old Victorian house, lingering there as if the house itself would give her answers. With a slightly irritated sigh, Ambrosia turned and stepped toward Sage, taking her by the arm and pulling her in the direction of Sage’s house.
“Come on, Sage,” Ambrosia said. “Staring at the house will not make him come back.”
Ambrosia could not pull her away though. Sage twisted her arm out of Ambrosia’s grip. Sometimes it was like the house called to her. She felt the empty hole in her heart that was once where Kuro and their friendship thrived.
He was gone.
Had been for nine years.
He disappeared and a year later his parents were never heard from again.
Taking a deep sigh to collect herself, Sage turned and began to walk toward Ambrosia who was already about a foot away, heading toward Sage’s house. Her school bag bounced on her hip, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.
Someone was watching her.
Kuro watched the two young women reach the end street and turn left. He knew. Sage’s house was on the corner of the end street and the main street. When their shadowy forms disappeared, Kuro stepped forward, walking through the old village. Chi watched curiously as Kuro passed the house and headed for the field, the field that held so many memories for Kuro. In his mind he could hear the child-like laughter, he could hear her whispering excited voice and he could see the way she always looked at him…like an ordinary boy.
He moved across the field like a shadow in the night. Every spring the field was overflowing with wild flowers. As Kuro sauntered across the field, he wondered if Sage still went to the field in the spring…did she still go collect the flowers and make the bouquet.
She wasn’t a child anymore either though.
What dreams of hers had been broken?
What dreams of hers was she working diligently to fill?
Did she miss him?
He stood before the willow. Who was he to be here amongst all the life? The village, the field, the forest, the willow was everything that represented life in Kuro’s memory…life and happiness. What gave him the right to trudge through it all? What gave him, the epitome of death…the right to trample it beneath his feet?
He stared up at the willow. It was a symbol of his childhood, a symbol of his innocence, and symbol of her innocence. He stared up into its branches and caught sight of the old tattered pink ribbon still tied to the tree. His lips turned up into a bittersweet smile of remembrance. The symptoms had been growing. To Sage he was sick, so sick. To Kuro he was cursed by being a Monogatari. He was too weak to climb into the tree that day…
She looked at him, concerned. Her hands, forming into the delicate appendages of a young woman, gently lay across his forehead, checking for a fever. He knew he looked pale; he knew he was in a cold sweat; he knew this was the last time he would see her. He didn’t have the heart to tell her. What she did know was simply that he was going to see a team of doctors in one of the large cities.
“Perhaps these doctors will have the answers, Kuro,” she said with innocent hope filling her tone.
His dark eyes looked at her, regretting the lie that had already been spun. She reached up and pulled the pink ribbon out of her hair. Kuro’s eyes followed her curiously as she stood up from beneath the tree. Sage got on her tiptoes and stretched until she could reach a smaller branch.
She tied the pink ribbon around it.
“The ribbon is a reminder,” she said. “A reminder for you that I will be thinking about you and a reminder to me.”
She sat back down on the ground beside him, back facing him and laying her head back on his shoulder.
“A reminder for you of what,” Kuro asked curiously.
He felt her small body shake slightly in a small laugh against him.
“One day you’ll know.”
The pink ribbon was weather worn and tattered, but still hung onto the branch as if it knew what its job was and what secrets it held.
Kuro’s hand reached up, long fingers taking the ribbon between his fingers.
It reminded him of what a monster he had become.