Siral made his way from behind the clinic, out of the village and past the lake. He kept his eye out for anything that looked strange and his nose on full alert for anything that smelt out of the ordinary. The young redhead found his way to the middle of the forest, passing broken branches and a small fire that only seemed like someone had made to keep warm. Taking a deep breath, Siral strode closer and squatted in front of it; the fire crackled in the late night air, the warmth grazing Siral’s body ever so slightly. “Wonder who’s been here?” He reached out to try and touch it.
The fire was definitely warm, though when he reached to put his hand into the flame, it didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would. He inhaled sharply through his nose when a whiff of the earlier foul stench suddenly appeared in the air. Siral kept his eyes on the fire but felt something there—behind him.
“What are you doing out in the woods?” A voice spoke in a slick tone. A pair of arms wrapped around Siral’s shoulders as a body pressed against his own. Siral felt himself go tense as the arms wrapped around him. He didn’t want to know who it was nor what the owner of the voice intended to do with him. Or even what that stench was.
“Tell me boy, what are you doing here?” There was no hostility in the voice nor the actions but it still kept Siral on edge.
“There was a foul smell in the air and I needed to find out what it was.” Siral said sternly before lifting an arm up in a sharp jerk to get out of the hold. He started to fall towards the fire when a hand grabbed his upper arm and tugged him out of the way.
“Don’t need you to catch on fire.” The tone of the voice was different now; almost caring.
Siral turned away from the fire to look and saw a boy a few years older than himself with crimson hair-short bangs in the front with longer side bangs framing his face. Above his ears, which Siral noticed were slightly pointed demon ears, the hair was shorter. As he continued to stare he noticed the way the boy dressed—modern sneakers, short sleeved shirt—clothes different to what Siral’s Clan usually wore. “My question now. Who’re you?”
The other boy laughed and let Siral go, watching the younger boy fall to the ground in a heap. “Why would I tell you that? Honestly, I don’t think you should know. Not now.” He shook his head and smiled, the shine in his silver marbled eyes making his expression more intimidating. “Siral, you don’t need to know anything about me.”
Siral’s eyes grew large when he heard his own name slip from the boy’s mouth. “H-how do you know my n-name?” He stuttered, biting his lip in the process.
The crimson haired boy just shook his head again, “Tsk tsk. Everyone knows your name.”
“That makes no sense. I thought only people from my clan would know my name.” Siral looked at the ground and frowned. “Are you from my clan and I just don’t know you?”
“That would be a negative. I’m from a different clan, far far away from here.” The elder boy squatted down in front of Siral. “Everyone across the land knows of the boy of Legend, the boy born to become the greatest warrior and Leader of his clan.” He shrugged his shoulders, “Then again, I think it’s all baloney.” A third shake of the head and a disappointed look found its way onto the nameless boy’s face.
Siral bit the inside of his cheek and kept his eyes down. How did the other boy know so much about him? It was starting to freak him out. “Why is it you smell like burning flesh?” He cringed as he smelled it again.
“I’m cursed.” A stern but playful tone. “Cursed to burn alive until my days end. Then again, I can’t be killed. Impossible. Not ever going to happen.”
Disbelieving of what the boy was saying, Siral got to his feet and brushed himself off. He shook his head and turned to walk off. “I don’t believe you. I’m going to leave now.” He wanted to get away from the boy before anything horrid happened.
“See you again...” The tone of the boy’s voice was stern again, like he was trying to make Siral feel inferior. “...Siral.” He continued with a smile, waving his hand as a last goodbye.
Siral kept looking back as he ran through the brush and low-hanging branches of trees. He felt his eyes well up in fear; for once he was acting his age. He ran until his legs gave out, falling to the ground in a heap of limbs and clothing covered in dirt and scratches. He had no idea what just happened. Who was that other kid? How much older was he than Siral? How did he get there? Where was he from? All the questions started to rise into his head, one after another and it started to become too much.
“I... just don’t know....” He found himself crying into his arms. He just didn’t know anymore and it was starting to make his head hurt. Siral cried until he cried himself to sleep, still in the heap he’d curled into, right in front of the stairs leading up to the clinic and Office building.
It wasn’t until morning that someone found him still curled up in the ball he’d fallen asleep in-his eyes red from lack of sleep, his body still caked in dirt and blood from the scratches the evil branches from the evil trees,as he’d called them, had given him.
“Siral are you alright?” One of the medics asked as they brought him inside the clinic.
The clinic was mundane for the village but held a bit of quality that caused even the Guards to comment. Shadows of pale yellow peeked beneath the burnt oranges and bright baby blue colors painted on the walls. Old fashioned lamps covered the walls near the front double doors but further into the building modern electricity had been installed and brightened the place up exponentially. Inside the main part of the building was a nurses station where medics and two doctors held their coffee mugs and chatted about what was going on with patients—the usual “they got into fights with the Guards, something they shouldn’t have done” or “they were out past curfew and got attacked by ghouls.”
The room Siral found himself in was painted baby blue with strange motifs even he didn’t understand. There were stretchers on either sides of the room with linen covered mattresses on top of them. A counter near the door had a sink and drawers that held necessary supplies. Siral found himself staring into the mirror above the sink before answering the medic standing next to him. His eyes really were red-the veins surrounding his irises and pupils stared at him like the scratches on his pale skin. He walked back to one of the stretchers and slowly—on his tip toes even—got up onto the white mattress and looked at the medic.
“I...I’m fine... just tired.” He brought a hand to his eyes and rubbed, making his face even dirtier. He had felt so clean yesterday but now, now he felt awful and filthy. The medic sighed and shook her head, “You’ll be alright. Let me take a look at your face.” She was a nice lady—tall and thin for a cougar demon—he thought. He let his guard down just long enough for her to bring her hand up to his face and inspect the injuries.
“They’re not too horrible but I’ll go and get some ointment for them. I’ll be right back.” Her voice was light and dainty. He peered through his slick bangs and frowned. “Alright,” was all he said as she disappeared for a few minutes only to come back with his father.
He looked up with a pout as his father glared down at him.
“Where have you been mister?” His father’s voice was stern and gruff, and Siral turned his eyes away from the oversized man his father seemed to be now. Siral opened his mouth as if to say something but words never formed. He was ashamed he was out all night but he couldn’t have helped himself. Curiosity killed the cat right? And satisfaction brought it back.
“I couldn’t....I couldn’t help it. I told you I wanted to know what that smell was!” His voice was exasperated. When he finally made eye contact with his father, his green eyes bore into deep dark hazel ones that seemed to stare straight through him like needles. A sharp pain hit his cheek when the medic put the ointment on one of the cuts. It was a long deep cut under his left eye he was sure was going to scar but at that particular moment didn’t care all that much. His eyes were still on his father’s when the other man spoke.
“You will do five hours of training today, do you hear me? I do not care what the Counselor has to say about the matter either. He can shove it for today.” Robert Kita’s voice was all the more stern before he turned away from his son. “I am gravely disappointed in you son. I am gravely...” Siral could tell the other man was frowning as he said the words. He watched as his father left without saying another word and finally gazed up at the medic who was smiling down at him.
“You shouldn’t be doing that again, alright? Your cuts will be fine, you’re a hybrid, you’ll heal fast but Siral... you are going to give your father a heart attack you know that?” Her voice was filled with concern. She took in a deep breath and put a bandage on the cut closest to his chin. “There. Now take my advice and just do what your father says. He is such a loving person, you need to be kinder to him. He loves you more than anything.” She patted the boy on the head and left the room so Siral could be by himself.
Siral sighed and stared down at his hands. They were covered in dirt still but bandages covered most of the burns on his fingers; one burn in particular caught his eye. It wasn’t like the other. It was more in the shape of something. He stared down at it—it was on the inside of his hand between his thumb and pointer finger—and realized it was in Binaric. He didn’t say anything as he read the name. “T...Tsu...tski?” His tone was small. “Tsutski.” He read aloud with a bit more confidence and once he spoke the name, the burn flared up and disappeared as if it was the key to a lock hidden somewhere.
“What the...” He found himself saying, flipping his hand from one side to the next. “Who or what is a Tsutski?” He shook his head and got off the stretcher, finding it easier to get off than on the damned thing. Making his way out of the clinic and towards his house, in hopes of finding his father, he knew he’d have to make up for ditching him last night with the extra training.
“I feel like I am not going to enjoy this,” He grumbled. When his father made Siral train as punishment, it consisted of the heaviest training he could come up with. And, as a former Guard, he knew how to make this kind of training a bit brutal for Siral. It used real weapons of any kind and hand to hand combat. Even being a hybrid—stronger, faster, and more intelligent—than his human father, Siral always lost. It wasn’t easy going up against his father. Not now, and probably not ever Siral thought.
Siral found himself breathing hard after the five hour training that really had involved using real swords against his own father. It had been brutal for the young boy but he managed to at least stay on his feet for the first time, which impressed his father.
“Good my boy, now do it again.” Robert swung one of the katana at his son, sweeping it under his feet as if to get the boy to jump from the assault. He moved his arm from side to side, the katana moving like an extension as it swept under and towards Siral. The young boy groaned as he jumped once, bringing his stomach inwards to dodge another attack close to his midsection for what seemed to be the hundredth time in five hours. He stumbled as he landed on his feet, tripped over a few rocks, and landed flat on his bottom. He cringed and, when he looked up to see his father with the katana at his throat, he dropped his own swords.
“Alright, training is over. If you cannot do a simple jump and dodge. Siral, then you are not fit for being a warrior. How many times must I tell you, jump first, land on the balls of your feet and swing your body outward in a curve? You must do this in order to land correctly. Otherwise, you will do what you just did and make a fool of yourself. Imagine if you were in a real fight. Imagine if they were not me and you had no choice in the matter. You have to fight like your life depends on it.” Robert Kita frowned at his son, his eyes harsh with impatience for the boy.
While his father talked, Siral took in what he said before finding his chest wrenched with a sort of rage he’d never felt before. He pushed his body off the ground and squatted in front of his father, too fast for the other male to take in. He brought a foot forward and swept it under his father’s feet, making the elder man fall on his bottom like he had a few moments before. A smile crept onto the boy’s lips, showing fangs that were red tipped because of his heritage.
“And you were saying?” Siral—now standing—looked down at his father and couldn’t help laughing a little at the expression on Robert’s face. “Father, you talk too much. If you want me to train hard, I will. I will do what you ask, okay?”
He closed his hazel—as the earth itself—eyes and smiled, the crow’s feet that always seemed to appear when he was relaxed showing themselves. Shaking his head a little as he got to his feet, he slowly brushed off the dirt on his pants. “You really are my son Siral.” He continued to shake his head as he laughed. “Now, I have a question.”
Siral went to pick up his dual katana. He swung them around in his hands to get the feel of his extensions as his father would have called them and looked over, “A question about what?”
“I’ve been thinking about when you were a little boy. Remember when you’d speak in that....other language?” Robert wasn’t sure how to talk to his son about this. It had been bothering him for years but he’d never once brought it up.
“You mean Japanese?” Siral’s green eyes went wide. “We do live in Japan, Father.”
“I realize this yes, but in our Clan we only speak the language of the people. English. Why must you insist on speaking other languages?” Robert took a deep breath before taking his own katana and placing it within its sheath on his hip. “There are few in our Clan that speak different languages. The few who travel between clans of different countries and continents. You however are not one of them. How did you learn it?”
Siral didn’t understand why it mattered to his father. “I remember seeing it in a book and it was interesting. I feel connected to languages as you feel connected to weapons. Is that so wrong? If I am to become Leader one day, wouldn’t it be wise to try and expand our borders and make it so we have different types of demons, different types of people within our walls? Even if they are ones who speak different languages?” His eyes were fierce. He raised an eyebrow when his father took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. It was as if he weren’t happy with the answer.
“Alright, Siral. If that is your wish then so be it. I assume you haven’t already told the Counselor of this?”
“No, I have not.” Siral smiled. “I prefer my life to be separate from work.”
“That’s my boy.” Robert laughed softly before extending his hand to his son. Siral took the hand and walked with his father back to their house. They had recently moved to a different house on the edge of the village, mostly to be away from everyone. But there was another reason Robert wanted his son away from the village. There were times when he could feel the influences inside the village creeping in on his son and not in a good way. He loved his Clan but he was also human—one with emotions other demons did not seem to have. He had made it clear to the Counselor he wanted Siral to be away for the time being.
Their new house was smaller—the previous having been big because Robert and his wife had wanted a big family, but now they only needed two bedrooms. It also contained a moderate sized kitchen, a living room, and a bathroom with a large sized tub. There was also a training area outside in a nearby field. They were closer to Robert’s wife’s grave as well which meant a lot to the elder man.
As they made their way inside, both men put their training gear away in one of the closets near the door. Their katana went up on the wall holder in the living room above what looked like a small shrine to their beloved mother and wife. Siral smiled as he looked at a large picture of his mother framed in branches that made her beauty stand out even more. Every time the boy looked at his mother a smile appeared on his face.
A sigh left his lips as he ran his fingers across the pictures face; she was smiling in it. Siral turned around to see his father in the kitchen cooking up some dinner. Their training had been long and tedious and went right into their dinner time which Robert didn’t seem to mind at all.
Robert cut some chicken with a sharp knife, his skillful hands in the kitchen an amazement to his son since he was five. Siral walked over to the breakfast bar and sat down on one of the stools. “What’s on the menu tonight?” He asked in a calm tone, almost startling his father.
“I was thinking Chicken Marsala.” Robert made a face when he looked at his son; lip protruded out slightly as if he was thinking and eyebrows creased. Siral only nodded, “Do you need any help?” He asked but his father declined. He seemed to enjoy being in the kitchen.
It didn’t take long for Robert to cut the chicken and vegetables—he had picked green onion, carrots, sweet potatoes, garlic and a red onion—and make the thick sauce to go over it. He started on the rice, washing the white grains before putting the pot on the stove with the stir fry. He liked cooking rice the old fashioned way rather than using a rice cooker. He felt like he was doing more justice to the food.
Robert turned towards where Siral sat at the breakfast bar and smiled. His son was studying Binaric, which he seemed to do more often as of late. It was a hard language to learn but Siral seemed to be taking his studies with all the seriousness in the world.
“How is it coming along?” Robert’s voice cut through the silence.
“Hard, long... annoying at times,” Was all the boy said as he brought a pencil to his lips and bit the piece of wood. He sighed hard and wrote down some answers in a study book one of the Counsel men made for him earlier that year, at his request.
“Well if you can stop studying for a moment, I have something I want to talk to you about.” The bit of concern in Robert’s voice caught Siral off guard. He looked up at his father, and put the pencil down, and closed the book.
“You know that nurse who treated you today?” Robert felt his face flushing as he acknowledged another woman. It wasn’t like he was betraying his previous wife, and he knew that she’d want him to move on, but it had taken him so long to come up with enough strength to even think about it. And sometimes it still hurt.
“That cougar demon?” Siral’s eyebrows rose. “What about her?”
“Well, her name is Teina and we’ve been dating for almost six months now.” Siral stared at his father as the words seemed to spill out of the older man’s mouth.
“You.... you what?” There was no anger in Siral’s voice, just surprise.
Robert studied his son before speaking once more. “I was hoping to get your blessings because I wanted to ask her to marry me. I was hoping we could start a new family together. The three of us.”
Siral couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Though he had never met his mother, he had no negative feelings about what had happened at his birth. He was born and that was all that mattered to him; he was living and healthy. He brought a hand to his mouth and gasped, “You want to marry her? Are you in love with her Father?” His tone was simple.
“Yes. I do. She has helped me live with the guilt and regret of losing your mother. She has made me love her like no other.” Robert’s voice dimmed a bit as he breathed in. He heard the rice boiling and turned to stir it, checking on the Chicken Marsala as well. He kept his back to Siral, waiting for the boy to speak up.
Siral sat in silence for a few moments, processing all the information now inside his noggin. His father was thinking about getting married. His father.... wow. He took a deep breath and put his hand back down on the bar, “You should ask her. She seems really nice, lectured me about you.” A stifled laugh rose from his throat and he couldn’t help but feel relieved at how he was reacting.
“I was hoping you would say that.” Robert finished stirring up their dinner and turned the stove off. It took him only moments to find two plates in one of the many upper cupboards lining the kitchen above the stove and dish out the food onto them-rice in a large pile next to chicken and vegetables covered in a thick sauce. It smelled like hundreds of different spices in the house now because of it. Siral felt his mouth watering as his father handed him the plate “Itadakimasu!” He smiled, clapped his hands together and grabbed for some chopsticks that always lay on the counter top.
Robert came over and sat next to his son at the breakfast bar, grabbing his own pair of chopsticks. He too clapped his hands together. “Let’s eat,” he said before digging into the food.
They ate at a slowly, talking about Teina and how his father and her had met. Robert told him little things about her, illustrating how wonderful, thoughtful, and elegant she was. Robert told his son about one of the Clan’s upcoming mid-season festivals and how he’d pull out a proposal for the miss. Siral thought it was a great idea, that it would be romantic in a way most of the people in their clan probably would never think of.
Their Clan steeped itself in tradition and such a proposal was definitely not tradition. Usually the man just went up to a woman and asked her to marry him, instead of making it some big surprise. But Robert was not an ordinary human. He liked his own way of doing things as long as it was within the limits of the Laws of the Clan. He felt adventurous in his own way and suspected Siral got that from him as well.
When they finished dinner, Siral offered to do the dishes as his father went to bed early.At nearly ten at night he finally finished washing and drying the dishes, setting them on a large place mat near the sink to let them dry further. The leftovers were in a couple of small Tupperware and placed inside the refrigerator; walking over to the couch Siral plopped down, arms stretched above his head for a moment before glancing down at his hands. He had brought his Binaric studies with him from the kitchen and wrote out a few sentences before finding himself drawn to one word. “Tsutski.” He thought for a moment. Looking down at his notes, he noticed the translation for Tsutski was “True Demon.” That meant nothing to Siral but he continued to study it.
“Tike, Sai, Ure, Tike, Sai, Kei, Ene.” He spoke the Ancient Language before seeing the words glow. The glow shocked Siral a little and his eyes widened. As quickly as it started to glow, it just as quickly stopped. It only took seconds but Siral frowned. “What does it mean?”
He was getting frustrated now. He found himself looking through all his notes on the subject but there wasn’t much. The Counsel were smart people, yes, but when it came to words with defined meaning, Siral thought they weren’t of much use to him. His nostrils flared a bit as he breathed in and out—frustrated to the point he wanted to throw his studies at the wall, he set them down and stared.
“True Demon...” He whispered softly. It was a word. But was it a person or a place? “What can make someone a true demon? Both parents being demon? I mean that makes sense, right?” He started to talk to himself, trying to play out every scenario that made sense to him—even if none of it really did.
“Both parents being demon would make one a demon. But True Demon must have some other meaning, right? Tsutski? It seems like a name. A name for a demon who is true of blood? Or true of heart?” Siral shook his head.
“I’m so confused...” The subject was getting away from his original studies and soon he found himself trudging towards his room for some wanted sleep. He was exhausted from training earlier and from the night before. Who was that boy and why did he smell like burning flesh. He had said he was cursed to walk the earth burning, hadn’t he? Or something like that? Siral found himself face first on a fluffy pillow, body skewed sideways on the bed. He sighed heavily as sleep took him over.
It didn’t take long for his breathing to become less ragged. He rolled onto the bed to get more comfortable, a hand under his head as he curled up into a ball. “Nnn...” He whined softly, finally sleeping comfortably.
Darkness filled the house that night, burning holes into the walls as the moon shone its light the brightest at its apex. The curtains had not been drawn making the living room gleam with shadows of different shapes. One shape in particular stood out from the rest. A person. No... a boy.
“Tsutski....” The voice was as soft as dawn itself breaking over the horizon in soon to be hours. “True... demon...” It spoke again before the shadow disappeared. The shadows in the house moved around the living room as the moon started to dip down a little, the hours going by.
That night something strange happened. On the top of Siral’s note book stood a word, both in Binaric writing and English—small flames ignited and burning into the pages. It was the word he was curious about. Tsutski. But now instead of it being one word, it was two. Tsutski Rei.