For one who has lived in the mountains – beautiful, deadly, unpredictable, merciless – this is the first lesson, that there are no reprieves, second chances or cause for hope. Everything boils down to ability and survivor spirit.
Yakumo withstood the Minus Wave. It is a miracle that he did so, without the innocence of youth to protect him. He did so to save young, untainted lives, and he continues to save them. His preservation is a boon granted by a sadistic god who makes him both saviour and destroyer, protector and slayer, father and murderer.
But oh, the children.
He remembers every death. He does not cry. Tears are granted to victims; to those the dead leave behind, not those who sent the dead on their way. Murderers cannot be less than happy, having achieved their goal (and the little girls hate it when he frowns). So Yakumo smiles, and it is startlingly sincere.
It is becoming easier. This thought alone has the capacity to unhinge him, so he does not think of it. It is becoming easier to shoot them, it is becoming easier to smile as if he hadn’t. It is easier to lie to the children, it is easier to laugh with them, it is easier to not feel the impulse to scream and scream and scream, and he is not sure which of these is most horrifying.
He wishes they would come in the night like a bad dream, because those he can wake from, those he can dismiss when he pries his eyelids apart in the morning. They come, instead, at the corner of his vision, in a name almost called when he addresses them all, in a plate (now an extra plate) that he placed for them on reflex, in how he crafts eight hair-clips and has to remind himself that there are now only seven braids to tie, and then chuckles and throws one away into the dark, hoping never to see it again.
The children, they haunt him. Orphans of unknown families, they are his ghosts, his second family, that hover in (not accusation, he must not think that word, not condemnation, not vengeance, not misery, not sorrow) silent companionship around him at all times. Yakumo is never alone, no, never, he never will be.
The madness is coming.
He can feel it creep up on him, like the old men said they felt winter in their bones; more scientific than premonition, more fey than prediction. It is coming, it is close.
Yakumo is weak now. His strength is leeched away, his will deteriorating. All he can pray for (and oh, how he prays for it) is that someone will kill him before he kills them. That is the last, the most hypocritical, tribute he can pay to the gentle soul that he was.
Here they come, the four of them. Yakumo has not lived in the mountains all these years for nothing. As he knows which snowbank not to set foot on, which rock will not hold his weight, which root will poison him, so he knows that in their presence his name is written, his death foretold. He has laughed with them, basking in that sweet recognition of reward finally at hand – for all his sins, for all his goodness, the reward is the same. Welcome to oblivion, they chant silently, and Yakumo’s very being thrilled with that knowledge. Thrills even now.
He wonders idly who it will be who kills him, and finds that he cannot care. He hopes it is the gun; that would be poetic, that would be appropriate. He knows he has almost snapped, and while his mouth is moving, words emerging, some strange preprogrammed reflex saying stay away, stay away, kill me, no, kill you, kill you kill me………inside, he is empty, hollowed out by the slow and methodical death of every part of himself that makes him want to live. If you kill yourself to save yourself, is it murder, suicide or mercy?
Here it comes now, the madness kept at bay. Here it sweeps over him, dark confined by the pure white snow, stained red by a crime he can no longer remember, the death of one who no longer remembered him. Here he succumbs, reluctantly (gladly, sweetly) to its embrace, and already it changes him. Here they stand, the ones who will end it, and here he stands, the one who will be ended; poetic, or obvious, he cannot care.Here it is now, death.