Chapter 1: The Boundary Line; The Marriage Between a Girl and a Wolf
Because my lifespan was spent, I died.
Because I was afflicted with a strong illness, I died.
Because I was run over by a car, I died.
Because I drank poison, I died.
Because my neck was twisted, I died.
There are endless ways to die.
And yet, there isn’t a single way to live.
Just how unfair is that.
Surely, whoever created life and death is looking down at us from high above, jeering:
— Each and every one of you should all just die—
I too should just die.
Because I was eaten by a wolf, I died.
Goodbye. Even though I have no one to say my farewell to.
Just earlier, I was walking through the gorge between the vast forest and the city as a chilly September air enveloped the place.
On my right, there were fences of houses while on my left was a pitch black forest, which the houses faced away from.
The forest, having existed for far longer than the city, was as dark as the thousand nights that had passed through this road, so quiet that it seemed to repel people, so dark that nothing could be seen within.
I had never ventured into that forest for I had been told to never go inside it. I was just someone who lived in the city.
A small shadow stretched out behind me on the asphalt. Compared to the darkness of the forest, the man-made city lights seemed a bit unreliable.
Maybe due to the new moon, the narrow road seemed even more vacant than usual in this quiet and cold night.
It was then that a silver wolf appeared in the distance, not at all disturbing the tranquility with those footsteps which were as silent as that of a shadow.
A truly beautiful, yet lone wolf it was. Pure white fur that shone slightly from within the darkness, black eyes so dark they seemed to pull me in at only a glance, and a sturdy body slightly greater in size than that of a fully grown large breed dog.
If the wolf was white, then I had to be black.
My bangs that hung down to my eyes, my long hair which fell down to my hips, my big eyes, as well as the outdated sailor uniform and even the stockings I wore were all black. If anything, only my skin was a sickly white, or to put it nicely, pure white like the first snowfall.
Black and white, two contrasting layers. Even though they are composed of the same colors, they are perceived on the spectrum as two opposing sets of colors.
The only exception to that was my lips. They were the shade of a slight, lukewarm red.
The red stood out so much that I could clearly sense the wolf gazing at my lips.
The color red could easily be associated with blood, flesh–––food.
My tongue traced my lips as if applying some sort of lipstick on them while I imagined the taste of blood.
I was just like a ripe fruit, a fruit comprised of blood and meat.
In the end, the wolf must be simply thinking of eating me.
Or maybe…I’m inviting him to do so.
Even if I tried to think of a way to escape, I wouldn’t be able to come up with a single one. I was fully aware that anything I did would be useless.
The wolf took one step forward, shrinking the distance between us even more.
I will die here.
I thought, calmly and coldly. I tried to think of someone, but no one came to mind. Even though I was slightly hesitant to die, I also had no attachment to life whatsoever. I couldn’t think of anyone, friends or family, that I wouldn’t want to be separated from.
All there was, was emptiness.
“What a boring end.”
The sound of my muttered words was even colder than the nocturnal wind.
And probably, the wolf hadn’t been able to hear it.
“Good evening, Lady with eyes like the night.”
In a low tone, the wolf spoke up.
“It’s dangerous to walk alone on a night as dark as this one. If you wish so, I could escort you home.”
He was literally an escort wolf(送り狼): “gentleman” who escorts a woman home, only to make a pass at her..
As weird as it might seem for a wolf to be speaking, I didn’t find it strange at all.
Probably because that pure white fur looked otherworldly enough, shining like a blade .
It made me think that a wolf who could speak wasn’t that much of a rare occurrence.
The fur of the prideful yet composed wolf shone like silver, reflecting off the city lights.
If anything, it was beautiful.
I closed my eyes for a second, before opening them again. Then, I answered him with a slick smile.
“Thanks for the offer, fine wolf. But I’ll be alright, my house isn’t that far from here.”
That was a lie. It would still take around half an hour to get home, but I couldn’t just blindly trust this wolf.
“Also, I don’t think it’d be nice to ask so much from a gentleman that I just met.”
I moved my left hand closer to my lips and smiled more. This scene was so fake, an act filled with false sympathy, and yet it was still slightly fun.
“That’s too bad.” His mouth twisted a bit making his fangs visible: he was smiling. “You will have to excuse me as you are a finer lady than what your young appearance suggests.”
“Thank you, but this is only a facade. The true me is a much crueler woman.”
That was no lie.
“How unusual, I never knew a woman could be this charming.” He seemed to have…shrugged. The root of his front legs moved a bit.
I parted my left hand a bit from my lips so that they were visible and relaxed my hand, almost as if inviting him.
“I notice you seem used to this sort of behavior.”
“I hear that a lot, that I have a straightforward character.”
I answered nonchalantly, just as usual.
I smiled slightly. He did so as well, both of us hiding our true emotions.
I licked my lips, the wind brushing past my hair and clouding my view.
The wolf seemed to have something to say to me again.
“Would you like to marry me?”
It took me a few seconds to fully comprehend what he had asked, and when I did, I could feel my cheeks burning red. I covered my cheek with my left hand and looked away, letting the wind blow my hair over my face, hiding it.
We just met, and even so, he unexpectedly proposed to me.
Moreover, he’s a wolf, and yet he understands our language. He couldn’t be real…not part of the reality I knew, at least.
Yet why—why was my heart racing so much?
Fate—I drove that clichéd word out of my brain as soon as it surfaced.
Logic stated doubt, instinct whispered acceptance. The deepest part of my soul was attracted to this wolf.
Almost as if my shadow had spoken to me, like a half of me had returned to me, or as though I had found another self at the other end of the world, sharing sympathy that wasn’t exactly sympathy.
In the end, where lies the other self that isn’t me?
Be it an illusion, be it reality, it was here.
A presentiment, anticipation for something, almost like an augury that said something would change. That the world around me was about to change.
A slightly stronger wind blew, rustling through the leaves of the forest. Like a muffled cry, like the lamentations of a person, it enveloped me.
“What will happen if I refuse?” Recovering from the earlier shock, I asked this, trying to buy some time.
Truth be told, I had no intention to refuse.
“I’ll take you by force.”
He looked up, slightly worried but still smiling.
His gaze wavered, uneasy for an instant.
It was then that I grasped my skirt and gracefully bowed forward, my long hair sliding forward silently, forming arcs as it swayed.
“In that case, I’ll gladly accept.”
The silver wolf let out a sigh of relief.
“That’s a relief. Well then, let me guide you to my residence.”
“I think you are forgetting something really important before that.”
He looked back at me, a hint of strangeness in his face. That reaction looked similar to how a puppy would act if it suddenly grew big and it was strangely cute.
With my lips still tilted into a smile, I drove my hair away and bent forward.
I placed my red lips on the wolf’s, who still was clueless about what was happening.
For only an instant, as gentle as the wind, with a bit of formality and a bit of affection involved.
“I’m Tsukagi Saki. I might be incompetent but bear with me, Pure White Wolf-san.”
“Now this is a surprise.” His gaze danced about as he desperately searched for words.
He looked at the still-smiling me and let out a sigh of bewilderment mixed with a bitter smile.
“I’m Moon Eater.”
“Moon Eater,” I murmured as I looked up to the sky.
The wind had ceased, there were no clouds, and the sky was just pitch black. A silent night, of coldness mixed with calmness.
Moon Eater along with the new moon, that name really suited him.
“That’s quite the peculiar name.”
“If it bothers you, you can call me with a different name.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course. You don’t need to hold back, you are my wife after all.”
Suddenly, the mischievous side of me woke up, and while squinting my eyes, I teasingly said:
“ShiroShiro is a common name for dogs, meaning ‘white’. it is.“
Silence followed, just like when I had been proposed to.
He then answered while skillfully scratching the back of his ear with his hind leg.
“…Just in case you were unaware, I’m a wolf.”
“Please don’t state the obvious like that. I knew that from the very moment I first saw you. You are way too good to be a dog. In fact, you are too lovely.”
“Thanks for that, but if possible, could you call me by a different name?”
I flicked my hair away as I looked the other way.
Looking at him from the corner of my eye, I could see him getting flustered, the shine of his silver fur turning shallow and his tail drooping lifelessly. I laughed happily in my mind but didn’t let it show outwardly
“Shiro is a cute name so it’s finee~”
“Still…” He still seemed hesitant. I held my hair back and continued pressuring him.
“Consider it just a small whim of your new wife.”
A teasing, loving, sweet and valuable –––so valuable that I had never shown it to anyone before––– smile.
He stared at me for a while, dumbfounded, then spoke with a hint of resignation.
“I wonder why I’m feeling so defeated even though you are my wife.”
I bent my knees so my face was at the same level as his, then gazed into his pitch black eyes. There I saw myself reflected as a regular, calm and cheerful girl.
“But I still think it’s a good name, honestly. White is also my favorite color.”
He grumbled a bit, clearly lost beyond words as to what to do.
I gently caressed his cheek.
My fingers were buried inside his fur and I felt a strange sensation, neither soft nor stiff. At the deepest part I felt firm skin and the sensation of sharp fangs beneath it.
It was the toughness of a beast, the feeling of life and a resolute warmth.
“If that’s your reasoning behind the name, I don’t mind it.”
“Eheheh, you are so easy to deal with.”
Still slightly displeased, he let out a loud sigh.
Then he twisted his body as if something was tickling him, then turned back.
“Now I get what you said, you really are a cruel one.”
He murmured with something between a regular and a forced smile. After turning his body around he continued:
“Now then, Saki, ride on my back.”
I mounted his back just as he had ordered me to and hugged his neck with both my arms.
Soon, our bodies were glued together, and I could faintly hear both of our heartbeats overlapping.
Beats that seemed to build a single rhythm.
“Where are we going?”
“To my home, deep inside the forest shrouded in the darkness of the night.”
Like an arrow let loose from a bow, he broke into a fierce dash.
As my hair fluttered behind me, his silver fur ruffled against the wind and the hem of my sailor uniform opened up like flowers in the instant before they die.
There were no audible footsteps, only the sound of us cutting through the wind was left behind.
We left the paved road and went along a dirt path, to a place I had never been to before, where even the air felt distinct from the city’s.
He darted into an opening in the forest, that awaited us like a black hole.
Our silhouettes disappeared into the forest.
It was dark, dark and only dark–––everything but the sensations on my skin had disappeared inside the darkness.
I held on a bit more firmly.
So we wouldn’t be separated, so I wouldn’t let go.
In the darkness I pictured a senseless quarrel, a senseless death.
I wonder what he wants from me in this darkness.
Everything that had happened was shrouded in mystery, just like the forest.
But there was only one thing that was clear to me.
The shitty world I had been living in until today had certainly started to shatter.
In the end, I didn’t know what I’d lose, or what I’d gain.
It felt like we had been running for an eternity before an opening suddenly appeared within the dark forest.
I opened my eyes.
It was a place shaped like a perfect circle, with grass covering the ground and tall evergreens surrounding it, nothing more.
A meeting place. That was the best description for this place.
There was nothing obstructing my sight, so I could see everything with the help of the starlight.
And because I could see, I could also see that–––Shiro was an outsider here. I could clearly see that he didn’t belong here. The dim light and deep darkness clearly made him stand out too much.
His steps made no sound until we reached the middle of the circle, where I got down from him and stood at his side.
That spot of white amongst the darkness exuded an aura of harsh loneliness.
As if he had nowhere to be, as if he was isolated from everything.
“I will call my brethren now,” he bellowed.
Then howled continuously to far, far away.
It echoed through the trees in the forest, and after a long while passed, slowly declined as if sinking into the ground.
Soon, the sound of several masses cutting through the wind could be heard.
Many wolves appeared from inside the forest, all standing motionless on the border of the circle around us.
This was the forest that was located beside the city that I lived in, but I had never been here before.
It wasn’t just a mere thought to consider this a different world anymore.
This was the kingdom of the wolves.
But they were all–––different from Shiro–––ashen wolves. For most of them, their fur had lost its shine, some even seemed to be crippled.
There were around thirty, or so…Thinking about how many there were drained my energy. I felt weak, there were so many that I couldn’t even see any gaps between them, it was almost like they were a single entity.
A lone, peculiar wolf stood in front of them all. His ashen fur had lost almost all of its shine and he was almost twice as big as Shiro. His eyes were round but they seemed weary, always looking at someplace far away.
He was old, and tired. I noticed those two facts as soon as I saw him.
Beside him stood another gray wolf, about the same size as Shiro. He seemed to be the youngest of the pack as his fur still had some shine and he seemed livelier overall. His gaze was sharp and he glared with hostility at us–––or to be precise, at Shiro.
Something about their looks told me they were parent and child.
“Father, brother, my brethren!” Shiro shouted as he looked at those two. “Let me introduce you to the one standing beside me, my wife!”
A small commotion started among the ashen wolves and I could feel many piercing stares turn to me.
“Her name is Saki and, as you can see, she is a human!”
After he said that, the clamor grew louder.
Well, they just heard of a marriage between a wolf and a human, it’s obvious they would react in this way.
After they had calmed down, the old wolf spoke with an austere tone:
“My child, is what you’re saying true?”
“I would never lie to you, father. This girl is certainly my wife.”
Shiro seemed to be holding in his mirth as he spoke. I stole a quick glance at his face.
He appeared to be on the verge of laughter with his eyes set ablaze.
The glow in his eyes was familiar, and it signified hostility.
“What do you think, Father? I followed your wish and got married. But I won’t carry it out the way you wanted it to be. I hereby declare that I will not marry and form a family for a worthless reason like increasing our kind, stopping our decay and restoring us to our former glory!”
His beautiful face contorted as he started laughing.
A loud, strong and hearty laugh.
Laughter as loud as a victory song, a triumphant howl.
His eyes were brimming with joy, yet even more so with ill intent and hostility.
“What do you think?!”
He sneered at them.
All I could feel now was despair, dejection… and anger.
If…if he told me to be his wife only so that he could pull this off…I’ll slit his throat open, I swore deep in my heart while not showing any sign of it on my face, gaze, attitude or posture.
Then, the wolf with the sharp eyes that was standing beside the old one screamed:
“Cease your nonsense, Moon Eater! And you still dare to call yourself our father’s son? My brother? You look like nothing but a spoiled child now! Not only are us wolves being decimated, other species are also in danger! The forest grows thinner and is disappearing, the humans do nothing but dance happily in the violence they bring forth, and yet you don’t seem to sense any kind of danger. And actually, you don’t even feel the need for that, do you have no love for your own kind?!”
“I don’t. I would never care about something like that,” he answered without delay.
The wolf with the sharp eyes–––seemingly Shiro’s older brother——was lost for words.
Without warning, he lunged at us in attack.
All I saw was something like a shadow crossing through my field of vision.
In an instant, Shiro’s brother appeared right in front of us without making so much as a mute noise, and swung his sharp fangs.
In an attempt to parry him, Shiro flung his claws at him. The stiff sound of fangs clashing against claws resounded.
Then, Shiro’s brother jumped back.
Both of them stood still, glaring at each other.
His brother growled, baring his fangs, yet somehow Shiro received his killing intent calmly.
“Did something happen to you, brother?”
He spent no effort to hide the sarcasm in his voice, clearly belittling his brother.
“If you suddenly jump at me and attack so seriously, it would almost feel like you are trying to kill me. I’m not trying to imply anything, but brothers shouldn’t go against each other so violently. You shouldn’t try to pass time by killing our own kind, after all there aren’t that many of us left. Father is going to be mad at you.”
Shiro’s brother didn’t seem to pay much attention to him as he spoke:
“Silent Steps calls out to you, spirits of the forest.” The air around us seemed to freeze, bracing itself against his voice. “The wind of my birthplace is my breath, the thunderous wind, my body. My claws, my fangs and my voice, all are the wind—and I myself, shall go back to the wind–––”
A slight sound accompanied his rhythmic voice, sounding almost like a chant–––No, it was a chant.
In reply to his words, the wind blew louder.
Shiro appeared to be enjoying it all as a maniacal smile formed on his lips.
“How thoughtful of you, brother. Are you planning on killing me here? By now, there isn’t a single second I’m not grateful to be your brother.”
His shadow swayed slightly.
As if circling around him, it swayed.
Its movement, that appeared almost life-like, was so creepy in comparison to his silver body that I instinctively clutched a hand at my chest.
“After all, I should have killed you the moment you were born,” Silent Steps murmured coldly.
“Just what are you? We are wolves. We were born in the forest, and in the forest, we shall die. No abnormalities or albinos are born among us. We will continue our bloodline without tainting it, and never shall we step away from our predestined path. We will always live according to the nature’s laws. And though we maintain our equilibrium and our settlement, the humans continue to hunt down our kind.”
He took a deep breath before continuing.
“Tell us now, just what are you?”
“I wonder? I am myself, I guess.”
“What a worthless answer!”
He leaped forward as he shouted.
There was no sound, just like his name suggested. Only the ensuing wind that trailed behind him resounded as the blades of grass curled upwards, trees swayed and leaves rustled.
Instinctively, I planted my feet on the ground and shielded my face with my hands, my hair fluttering behind me like a flag.
He was fast, moving right at us.
I was barely able to see them exchanging blows.
Shiro stepped sideways and brandished his forelegs.
The shadow grazed the edge of the wind, which carved into the shadow’s flesh, tearing it.
The two brothers coiled together as they brawled. When they ceased for a second, blood gushed forth from Shiro’s right foreleg and Silent Steps’ shoulder.
“That’s enough!” shouted the old wolf, who had been silent until now.
Both of them turned to look at him, after which Shiro then nodded as though nothing ever happened, followed by his brother too, albeit reluctantly. The wind disappeared from Silent Steps’ body and the shadow covering Shiro fell off as if melting away. Only white and gray fur was visible now.
Both scoffed at each other and looked away.
“You are following our father’s orders more diligently than ever.”
This time it was Silent Steps who took on a belittling tone.
“Yes, because I don’t have enough strength to kill him.”
I walked over to the sarcastic Shiro and, taking his leg into my hands, examined his wound.
It was deep—the borders of the wound were dangling like slime and blood continued to gush out from the freshly exposed flesh. I grimaced a bit at that sight.
“Are you okay?” I asked him silently.
He nodded slightly. Then, I took my hands away from his leg and grasped the handkerchief I had wordlessly prepared for him.
The wound itself was sliced neatly, so it wouldn’t take too long to heal.
Sensing someone staring at me, I lifted my head.
Shiro’s father was silently watching me, and I could also see Silent Steps and the other wolves staring at me, annoyed.
The whole pack was hostile towards me, but that had no effect on me. I was used to these kinds of situations.
I folded my arms and glared at the wolf who seemed to be the leader of the pack, Shiro’s father.
It was like a rule of thumb for conflicts. If you wanted to remain safe, don’t retaliate. If you hated defeat, just glare at them.
“My child, I will have to banish you from the forest.” Then he turned around to the pack. “From now on, we will have no involvement with them for as long as it keeps the forest safe,” he said as his eyes surveyed the pack.
There wasn’t a single objection.
Shiro sighed, seemingly bored, and struck the ground with his forelegs.
After having said that, he turned around and started walking away. I followed alongside him while combing my disheveled hair with my hands.
“Son, do you really intend to stay with that human for the rest of your life?”
Shiro didn’t turn around to answer him.
“I will remain with her until the very moment this world collapses.”
“Very well then.” There was a hint of joy in his voice. “You found yourself a really good wife.”
I turned around to look at him for a moment. He was smiling, just as how any father would smile. That was probably what some would call familial love. Something I never experienced.
“You,” I asked him. “What is your name?”
The wolves growled at my rude manner of inquiry. I sneered at them.
Letting my long hair sway in the wind, I shot a quick glance at the wolves.
No matter how hostile they seemed to be, not a single one came to attack me. Not even Silent Steps, who was glaring at me the most.
“They call me the King of the Forest” He answered in a self-deprecating tone.
“I’m Tsukagi Saki, pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“…You possess a strong soul. It’s a shame you had to be human.”
I couldn’t tell if he was joking or being serious. Shrugging, I combed my hair back and turned around once again.
“Congratulations on your marriage.”
Shiro didn’t say anything. Likewise, I also remained silent.
We left that place and as soon as we were inside the forest, I hugged his back.
His white fur received me without offering any sort of resistance, giving me a sense of relief from the feeling of being close to him and it finally calmed me down. But before I could resume acting normally, there was something that I had to ask, though I didn’t know how to go about it.
Silently, he let me mount him again and we ran through the forest.
“Was that fine?” I muttered from his back.
“I don’t mind,” came his faint answer. “I was an anomaly. From the very beginning, there was never a place for me in the forest.”
A lone wolf. A single silver wolf.
He propelled his legs even faster. Soon, the sound of the wind was as prominent as the darkness. The wind was a bother, but I welcomed the darkness. It was the first time I felt this way.
“Shiro, can you go a little slower?” I whispered into his ears as I clung closer to his body, leaning forward.
“Are you not feeling well?”
“No. I just want to talk for a bit.”
“Then it can wait until we are outside the forest.”
“No, it has to be here.”
He nodded and reduced his speed. The sound of the wind diminished proportionally.
“What do you expect from me as your wife?”
“To just be a normal, regular wife.”
“I don’t know what being normal means. That’s something I have no memory of.”
“I don’t know either, but, hmm…”
He ceased talking to think, only letting out small growls from time to time.
“Do not betray me. Trust, love, and be loved.”
Those were sad words. A pitiable wish for something I had never experienced.
They were almost like a mirage.
“That’s hard to do.”
“Yeah, it’s really hard.”
“I’ll have to do my best.”
He smiled bitterly, his silver fur brushing against my cheek.
“Then I guess I’ll have to start with an apology. For a moment back there, I thought that you had perhaps only found and married me simply out of hate for your father, and that when you were done with this, you’d abandon me. I’m sorry.”
Although in a roundabout way, I spoke about what had been bothering me.
After a moment of silence, he apologetically told me.
“In part, you are not wrong.”
“And for the rest?”
“Intuition. The moment I saw you, I felt it—that I belonged with you.”
“Love at first sight,” I passionately mumbled. “That’s what we humans call that intuition.”
I buried my face in that warm silver fur, felt his pulsing muscles and the flow of his blood.
“I bid the forest farewell.”
Shiro suddenly changed the topic.
“I guess I’m an enemy of the forest now,” he proclaimed. Words spoken for me, but also for someone else on behalf of me.
A declaration to the forest.
No comprehensible answer came. Only the sense that the rustling of the leaves and the wind had become stronger.
“And I,” I murmured softly, “will stand by your side.” Inaudible words for the silver wolf as well as for the forest.
I will not betray him, and I will trust, love, and be loved.
Those words entangled us like chains.
How ridiculous, for someone who doesn’t even know love, to want to be loved.
If the two of us were the only ones left in this world, everything would be so much better. If only there was nothing else.
Wishes sweet as honey, thinking of them brought a broad smile to my lips.
“It reeks of destruction, of decayed souls,” Shiro murmured while the premonition of a battle came upon the part of me that behaved like a beast.
And from far away, the howl of a wolf could be heard.
When we arrived at my home, I took out my key after a sigh.
There was a small garden inside the walls, nothing special for a common house. All the houses around us were like this, with evenly spaced street lights shining down on all of them. The second floor was dark, and there was some light coming out from the other side of the glass door in the living room.
It was a silent house, as though its inhabitants had been turned to stone.
I could never come to like this place.
“Where’s your room?”
To answer him, I merely pointed to a room on the second floor.
“Got it.” He nodded. “I’ll be on the roof, call me if you need me for anything.”
He kicked off the paved road and after jumping over the fence, he climbed to the roof.
I suppose he planned to sleep on the roof, though I recalled that wolves usually slept in holes that they dug in the ground, or so I saw on a TV program long ago.
Though it would be preferable if he just slept in my room.
Maybe he was just too considerate, or lacked some common sense, or he just wanted to look out for the forest.
I sighed again and, after opening the door, walked into the unlit vestibule.
I didn’t even think of saying ‘I’m home’, before involuntarily beginning to feel depressed.
Without doing much, I headed straight for the stairs.
There was light coming out from the living room adjacent to them.
I guess my parents were there. I had told my stepfather to build a door there since a long time ago, but he had never bothered to.
I walked as silently as I could and went past it.
When no one called out to me, I let my guard down. But that was too rash of me.
The wooden floor creaked loudly.
“Oh, welcome back.”
“I’m home,” I instinctively answered my mother.
Inside my head I cursed at my own carelessness. It had been so long since I screwed up like this.
I heard something fall, probably a chair being knocked over. Then, my mother screamed.
“Saki! Saki! Where is Misato-chan! Bring Misato-chan back, Saki! Return my Misato-chan, Saki! Why, why are you such a bad girl! You are just jealous of Misato-chan, why are you so spoiled! You are just like that man, seriously, I swear! A-AHH–––”
I ran up the stairs in a hurry as I heard my mother’s voice decline into senseless screams.
Once she became like that, she wouldn’t stop for a while. Still, my stepfather was normally good at dealing with her.
I swear, for just how long did she plan on thinking about that dead child and going crazy like that?
If the children of her new man were so important to her, she should just lock them up in a box or something.
I ran into my room and closed the door shut behind me, then locked it and slipped down to the ground, sitting there. I threw my bag to the side and took a deep breath.
It was a desolate room, with a bleak window, a bed and a study desk by the wall, an almost empty walk-in closet, two colored boxes and a dresser close to the corner.
For me, this was my only sanctuary.
There was no one else besides me here—the voices from outside didn’t intrude here either.
Solitude and silence, everything I ever found necessary.
I hugged my thighs and buried my face in them, then grasped my black hair and took countless slow breaths.
After I had gotten rid of the emotions that were plaguing my face, I lifted my head again, putting on an imaginary mask.
My gaze shifted towards the window and I thought of calling Shiro for a moment, but in the end I decided to change my clothes first.
I loosened my scarf, took my black sailor uniform off, slid out of my skirt and placed it all on the hanger next to the dresser.
Then I wore my black bathrobe with a goldfish pattern, getting ready to take a bath. I then checked the time.
I had no choice but to wait inside my room until my mother went to sleep.
I wasn’t much of a reader nor did I really feel like studying, but in the end I chose to read the book that I had borrowed from the library a couple days ago.
Albert Camus, “L’Etranger” (The Foreigner). It wasn’t a bad novel. There, I found a world where people spoke the same language but were unable to communicate their ideas.
“Now that I think about it, I skipped dinner,” I murmured, as if in sudden remembrance while reaching the part where an Arab man was killed by the glare of the sun. At the same time, I heard muted and slightly hesitant knocks on my door.
It had to be my step-father. I took some time before I opened the door. It was just like any other day.
“I’m sorry, Saki-san. Rikko-san is still…you know…like that.”
Once again, he started spouting his usual excuses together with that forced smile of his.
As a completely regular man with no special traits, I even wondered why my mother chose him to be her second husband. He was as ordinary as one could get –––maybe she chose him for that exact reason––– Still, I couldn’t even start to like him.
An ordinary face, an ordinary office worker, an average person wearing a suit that no one would turn around to look at again when walking through the street.
“I don’t mind it much.” I shook my head a bit and made space for him to enter my room.
After all, if worse came to worst and my mother found us talking, it would create quite the mess. But in the first place, the fact that my step-father was here meant that my mother was already asleep, so sometimes I thought that we were being far too careful.
In the end, maybe there wasn’t that much of a reason to get this nervous.
But he always insisted on going inside my room.
Inside my room that could be locked from the inside.
I was also already used to pretending that I didn’t notice his gaze trailing like a snake down my naked legs and over my collarbones that were sticking out from beneath the bathrobe.
“Oh, it’s nothing. I was just wondering if it had perhaps bothered you a bit.”
It didn’t bother me one bit. I didn’t even feel the need to be bothered by her.
“Thanks for worrying, father,” I answered, merely out of formality.
We didn’t have much to tell each other, so we had nothing more to talk about before long.
It soon became awkward, and as though trying to break free from it, he scratched his head and took his wallet out, at which point he then withdrew two notes from it.
“I’m sorry you always have to eat by yourself.”
“Don’t mind it, there’s nothing that can be done about it.” As I spoke, I held the food money between my index and middle finger like tweezers.
His eyes were fixated on my fingertips and his face was that of guilt mixed with flirtation, a disgusting expression reminiscent of a reptile. The word ‘prostitution’ surfaced in my mind.
Doing it with his step-daughter, yet it was still immoral.
Repulsiveness was hidden behind his monotone self, but that was also a part of being ordinary, simply pitiful. He was someone that I could find no interest in whatsoever.
Silence filled the room again and, still not wanting to go away, he placed his hand on my shoulder. He was acting far too familiar now.
“In any case, you have grown quite a bit, Saki-san.”
I could see his rotten eyes trying to peek at my chest from above my bathrobe. He was so disgusting, I really wanted to puke.
“Are we done talking yet?” I ignored it and asked bluntly. “I really want to go take a bath now.”
Bewilderment filled his face and a hint of anger flickered for an instant, but then he returned to his forced timid smile and nodded, understanding.
“Alright then, good night.”
He walked out, shooting quick glances at my face all the while.
I maintained my deadpan stare without looking away, but didn’t answer back.
As soon as I couldn’t see him anymore, I locked the door again and threw the money away.
I found it disgusting to even touch it when I thought about how I had received it from him, and in all honesty, I’d prefer to shred it to pieces and throw it into the trash. But if I didn’t keep it, I would be completely helpless as I was still a young girl who couldn’t fend for herself.
I grinded my teeth in frustration and vexation.
I felt so defeated!
I was disgusted by myself, the me who couldn’t live without the help of a man who was more like a pig.
I firmly held my hair, as though holding back the irritation, and fixed my bathrobe.
“Shiro, are you there?” I opened the window and asked with a weak voice.
“Of course,” came his short answer, after which I heard the sound of something cutting through the wind for a second, then saw him standing on the balcony railing.
I really admired his sense of balance as he stood on the railing, and I also admired him for refraining from taking a step into my room since he hadn’t washed his feet. I made a mental note to get a towel ready for him next time.
“Hoh.” After seeing me, he raised his eyebrows as he looked at me and sighed.
“You really are beautiful. That uniform from earlier suited you, but this appearance isn’t bad either. Darkness complements your white skin.”
I dropped my head, causing my long hair to cover my face. Having him compliment me was a bit embarrassing.
“By the way, I made it myself.” Senseless bragging.
“That’s wonderful. If I wasn’t a wolf, I’d definitely ask you to make one for me too.”
“I could make you something like a…collar? That would fit you.”
I didn’t even know if a collar made of cloth would really work as a collar.
“I’ll refrain from taking you up on that offer.”
He was so serious about it, I couldn’t help but laugh. Even the irritation from my earlier conversation with my stepfather disappeared, and it seemed that I would be able to bathe in a rather good mood.
“Now then,” Shiro said as his head leaned over the window frame. “Did something happen?”
“Not really, I just wanted to see you for a bit.”
Without noticing, I had answered honestly.
“As far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t mind you wanting to see me at any time of the day,” he said, smiling wryly.
I felt my cheeks burning up. I wasn’t used to this. I couldn’t get used to being treated so nicely.
Brushing my hair away, I made an offer to him after I had calmed down.
“I was planning on taking a bath now. If you want, feel free to join me.”
Any form of emotion disappeared from his face for a second, then, trembling he asked:
“A bath, is this the act where you get submerged in hot water and have to count to a thousand?”
“I don’t know about the counting to a thousand part but yes, that’s basically it.”
“I’ll pass.” He flattened his ears against his skull tightly, and his tail drooped down as well.
“Okay, got it. I’ll go alone, though it’ll be a bit lonely.”
My eyes met his, and in his black pupils, I saw myself reflected with a doll-like smile plastered on my face.
Standing atop the window frame, his gaze darted up and down, lost, and then he scratched the back of his ears while groaning lightly.
“I’m kidding,” I snickered innocently as I placed my fingertips on my lips. Shiro sighed, clearly relieved.
His flattened ears jumped back to life and his tail suddenly started waving merrily from right to left.
He was acting so cute, I wanted to just hug him on the spot.
“Are you bad with baths?”
“A long time ago, my father…it was harsh,” he murmured, his eyes looking distant.
I guess even Shiro must also have some happy memories with his family, at least a few.
There must have been a time when he had run about innocently without any knowledge of the world.
He must have them, just like I had some.
It would have been so much better, not knowing anything.
If only I could have died while not knowing anything.
We both lived and passed each day using our hatred to fuel our hearts.
“When was that?”
His distant eyes reflected my image.
“One day, a battle will start.”
My boring days would come to an end, and the bleakness that constantly surrounded me would disappear.
“It might not be that far in the future, too.”
A faint smile spread over his lips and his fangs peeked out, glinting sharply like blades.
“Something must happen. A human and a wolf have joined together. There’s no way nothing will happen.”
He was so certain that it was almost bizarre. But he was most probably right.
I could feel it too, just like a premonition, that the laws unknown to me would spring into motion.
A completely different set of laws from a completely different world, the forest.
“Conflict is necessary. It doesn’t matter that the city has long forgotten the forest, and that the forest rejects the city as of the present.”
“If,” I asked, almost certain of the answer, “I made the humans my enemies and fought against them, would you still stay by my side, even then?”
“I would, even if you said that you hated me,” he answered immediately. I closed my eyes and nodded slightly.
We were both waiting for it.
For the battlefield that will absolve us of this hatred.
“Saki, what do you hate?”
My smile distorted. I couldn’t tell if the face that was reflected in Shiro’s eyes expressed pain, sorrow or anger.
“I hate the same thing as you: everything in this world that we live in.”
This small and narrow world.
“You can make even those frightening words sound beautiful,” he muttered as he narrowed his eyes.
After that, I took a bath alone, and slept alone.
I had opened the window and called for him, but he wouldn’t enter the room.
He was probably glaring at the forest from the roof.
Doing just that, for the entire night.
We couldn’t live on without fueling our hate.
Like sharks that would die when they stopped swimming.
I attended school, at least for now. As forgettable as I found it, I was still a third year middle school student currently studying for tests, and it was September at present, the time when everyone was swamped in test studies.
But I didn’t see any appeal to it.
I was aware that it was something I needed to do in order to live as a regular person, but I couldn’t find any worth in doing it.
For me, who had lived being exposed to hatred for my entire life, I saw nothing in worldly achievements.
If anything, I only went to school out of habit.
I walked past the crowded sports field and changed into my indoor shoes at the entrance, then opened the door to my classroom.
Today it was margarine, with some glass shards sprinkled over it.
It was just the usual.
Margarine was smeared over the surface of the entire desk, with jagged glass shards standing up by themselves imposingly, inserted into the fat vegetable mucus.
If anything, from where had they managed to procure this much margarine?
If this was elementary school, I would have no idea. Here in middle school, the only way would have to be by gathering the leftover margarine from school lunches.
Or maybe, could they have brought it from their own homes?
Their efforts were really commendable.
I took some pocket tissues out and wiped off the margarine and glass shards, then threw it all into the garbage can.
With every move I took, some snickering, peculiar to the classroom, could be heard.
The tone of the laughter sounded like the source of them was trying to display their strength in front of a crowd.
I turned to look at the one laughing, and by chance my eyes met with a student’s, whose name I didn’t know. She seemed to have become slightly scared as she looked away with a twitching, forced smile.
She was boring, too boring.
Still bored, I looked towards the middle of the back row.
The three main culprits were there, like always.
First off, there was the favorite student of the teachers and the ace of the baseball club, the very image of a perfect student. His looks weren’t all that bad and he was tall too. If I had to describe him in a single word, ‘prince’ would fit.
He seemed to be popular, but I didn’t care.
By his side was the ‘leader’ of the girls. She had short brown hair and her eyes were fierce, but all her features were arranged pretty nicely and overall she had an impressive appearance. She always wore white knee-high socks, and even though the weather tended to be cold most of the time as we were nearing November, she was still wearing her summer uniform.
Her proactive appearance was enough to give her a strong boyish air.
I always called her Budworm, not bothering to remember her real name.
And hiding in her shadow was the girl who always followed them around, doing everything they asked. She could be easily described as their follower, or rather, she was their follower. She had a fairly small build and also seemed to be lacking in self-confidence as she was always looking down and slouching forward, making her look even smaller. Some thought she was annoying, but others wanted to protect her.
Her face was plain overall, but she was unexpectedly well endowed in certain areas. If she actually left Budworm’s shadow, she could easily be mistaken for someone else.
Her hair was arranged in an outdated braid, but if she had any one significant trait, that was hers.
Because of the aura surrounding her, I offhandedly named her Mouse.
“You worked hard today,” I told them voicelessly, simply mouthing the words with my smiling lips.
They pretended not to notice it and continued chatting with each other.
One of them, Budworm, threw me a fiery glare, her eyes set ablaze.
They were beautiful eyes. Beautiful and strong.
She was the only one who looked directly at me.
I didn’t think much of all this though.
They were simply doing their own tasks.
The easiest way to form a group of immature people was to find a common enemy, and I just happened to be the sacrifice that they chose. It meant nothing more.
It just happened?
That had to be a joke. In fact, there were plenty of problems regarding me, who was unable to open up to anyone.
Still, no matter how much they attacked me, I would never become someone like them. Teasing people whom they couldn’t stand, waiting for exams to be over, finding a lover and getting married. I couldn’t be like that.
I knew that living in that way was a blessing but I couldn’t come to like it.
To be a bit more blunt, I had no interest in them. But I was thankful to them since they had given me a reason to hate them. As trivial as it might be, it felt good to have someone that I could direct all my hatred towards.
But after meeting Shiro, entering the forest and seeing the wolves, even that triviality was losing its value.
In the end, it was something that didn’t matter to me in the least.
I started getting ready for class.
While I was doing that, the chime rang and our homeroom teacher arrived, commencing the session.
As soon as he entered the classroom, he glanced at me uneasily.
Then he had a thoughtful face for a moment, but when he noticed that I wasn’t saying anything, he looked away in relief.
In other words, he knew that they were bullying me, but wasn’t going take any action.
This matter was more delicate than brittle glass, and more troublesome than silver tableware.
Not only that, but his hands must be full with his own daily class preparations and office work, so also dealing with this would be far too bothersome for him, especially when he didn’t actually have to resolve this in the first place.
After all, literally no one was expecting him to do so.
To put it differently, it could be said that teachers and the students were incompatible beings. For a teacher, this was only a job to support their own needs, but for the students, this encompassed pretty much everything in their lives. The two perspectives were completely different.
In the end, he took the wise and easy choice of ignoring it for as long as I kept my silence.
It was not really commendable of him, but there was nothing he could be blamed for.
And this teacher’s classes were good, or at the very least, they weren’t boring. If a good teacher’s classes became boring because he started worrying about worthless stuff, at least some of the students would feel unhappy.
He took the attendance without any problem, said what he had to say and then the bell rang, signaling the end of homeroom.
Before he left the classroom, he took another glance at me.
Today, I was feeling better than on most days, so I smiled slightly at him. Something I didn’t normally do.
He appeared very shocked and promptly fled from the classroom, quite literally.
I simply watched him go, then started preparing myself for the first class, classical literature.
Five hours later, physical education ended and I was back in the changing room.
And my clothes weren’t there.
I just sighed.
“I can’t just go to class in leggings now, can I?”
I diligently searched through the entire changing room but I couldn’t find my clothes anywhere.
Outside, there were far too many places to search, so I was completely at a loss. I had an idea of what had happened, but this was still very bothersome.
And if I couldn’t find them, I should at the very least make them give me a refund for my uniform.
For how bizarre their background seemed to be, they probably had a lot of money, but a uniform was still quite expensive.
I liked the black sailor uniform, and since Shiro had also said that black suited me, the loss was even more regrettable.
When I left the changing room, I spotted Budworm outside. And like always, Mouse was standing behind her, as if being shielded by her.
“Yo, you are looking for your uniform, right?”
She laughed triumphantly when I nodded my head.
“It fell in the toilet.”
She said, then stuck her chin out and walked as if guiding me while I followed her from behind.
A bit further behind me, Mouse followed us with her hunched back and cowering steps.
Her downcast eyes had a hint of anxiety in them all the while, and her braid swayed lifelessly behind her.
Just as Budworm had told me, my uniform was in the toilet.
Or to be more precise, it was submerged within the toilet bowl.
Maybe I’d need to take it to the laundry service.
Who knew how Budworm took my silence as I pondered about what to do in this situation, but she suddenly started talking happily.
“Look now, that right there is what you call divine punishment. Poor you. But still, it can’t be helped, since you are too cheeky for your own good. No one can stand you, you know?”
She chuckled the whole time as she spoke. It grated on my ears.
I forcefully turned around, my hair drawing arcs behind me, and stared at the two of them.
“Hii–…” Mouse let out an anxious cry, her shoulders twitching, and after wrapping her arms around herself, she looked away.
“What’s up with you?”
Budworm stretched her hands out while she glared at me, moving a bit, as if trying to protect Mouse.
I brushed my hair away and smiled coldly.
“Try not to bore me too much.”
“…Huh?! What are you trying to–”
I ignored her puzzled inquiry and continued:
“I’m just telling you that this isn’t worth my time. Do you really think that these silly attacks of yours will bother me even one bit?”
An announcement, a verdict and a declaration of war.
“So you want to end this with that sort of attitude?”
Budworm’s face flushed beet red as her gaze turned even more pointed, and she raised her fists.
It was at that instant that the sound of breaking glass could be heard.
A silver figure sprung forth, ignoring the shards of glass, and stood on the floor.
“A dog?” Budworm murmured subconsciously after seeing Shiro.
Then, a swing of his claws ripped through her face while drawing a faint shining arc.
Blood started gushing out after a slight delay, and at the same time, two shrieks resounded.
For once, Mouse let out a shrill scream, and she stumbled around to flee from the bathroom.
My ears hurt from that scream which was even louder than Budworm’s, whose face had been lacerated.
Seeing that she had been abandoned, Budworm floundered on the floor while covering her face.
Shiro walked towards her, as though getting ready to to finish her off.
Then the sound of high heels striking the floor could be heard from outside.
Taking notice of them, he left Budworm where she was and escaped through the window.
At the same time, a female teacher ran into the toilet, with Mouse hiding in her shadow.
Mouse’s face was beyond pale, almost white, and a large teardrop was forming in her timid eyes as she observed Budworm bleeding profusely on the floor.
The teacher just stood there with her mouth open, dumbfounded after seeing this scene.
“Miss?” I called out to her.
Coming back to her senses, she screamed.
After hearing three screams one after the other, I wished that I would just get used to it.
My eardrums had gone almost numb from the throbbing pain.
I brushed my hair again and shook my head.
Seriously, this world is so annoying.
There was a big uproar in the entire school, so sixth period became self-study.
I had nothing better to do so I just gazed listlessly at the ambulance that was carrying Budworm. My appearance was quite peculiar as I was still wearing my sports uniform but no one said anything.
Half of the students were in the rear side of the classroom, consoling Mouse and asking things out of curiosity.
And only a few of the most serious students were studying by themselves.
Not a single one of them spoke to me, but that was to be expected.
I calmly crossed my legs and stroked the window glass with my fingertips.
An invisible wall.
After classes had ended, I had to be the one to explain what had happened there in place of the female teacher, who had turned almost hysterical.
I was sitting on the leather sofa in the principal’s office, answering the inquiries made by the principal and the police officer sitting in front of me as honestly as I could.
“I don’t completely know what happened, just that a large dog dropped in suddenly and attacked the two of them.”
“I wonder why you were left unharmed though.” The young officer with a gentle appearance casually asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered again. “It must have been some sort of coincidence.”
He didn’t ask anything else after that.
For me, that was the most honest reply that I could give.
Heading back home, I was once again walking along the familiar road situated at the border between the forest and the city.
I was alone, walking on the asphalt illuminated by the few city lights that managed to infiltrate past the fences of the houses.
The entrance to the toilet had been restricted, so in the end I wasn’t able to recover my uniform and was still in my sports uniform.
Truth be told, I didn’t like my current appearance. It wasn’t a matter of whether it suited me or not, I simply didn’t like it. It was really irritating, and I brushed my hair away for the umpteenth time.
The chilly autumn wind blew pleasantly on my nape.
I walked, stopped for a bit, then walked again.
Together with my pace, a second pair of footsteps stopped, then started again. It was a really conspicuous way to tail someone.
After this repeated for a few times, I was tired of whoever it was.
I turned around and called out.
“Do you need something?”
It was Mouse, alone. On her small braided face, there was panic mixed with invitation.
Perhaps because it was cold, or perhaps because she was afraid, her thin legs were shaking ever so slightly.
“Uhh, umm, yeah, err…”
She seemed to be looking for something as her eyes darted here and there, continuously muttering senseless words. After two… three minutes, she finally got to the point.
“Tsukagi-san, err…” Her fear increased. “Umm, where’s the dog?”
“Dog? As you can see, there’s no dog around here.”
“What I mean is…that dog, it was yours, wasn’t it?”
“I wonder?” My lips contorted into a smile and I tilted my head forward. “Couldn’t it have been just some random stray dog that coincidentally happened to appear there?”
For once, she spoke with confidence, and her words continued like water from a broken dam.
“It couldn’t have been, the timing was too perfect…and your attitude today was somewhat weird as well. You seemed too confident… Actually, no, you’re always like that.”
She stopped for a moment.
“Right, yeah—you seemed happy, so happy that you weren’t able to contain it any longer. You were just like that. Normally you would only look coldly at everyone, but today, you smiled to provoke us, and while it seemed like you would have been harmed by the dog that had appeared, it wasn’t there after I had called for help and you were completely unscathed. So I thought that maybe I’d be the next one going through that… so, umm, I’m sorry, please forgive me!” she shouted and bowed.
Everything made sense now. She had realized the danger that she was in and came to protect herself.
I walked up to her and gently patted her on the shoulder.
“It’s okay, I don’t mind it at all.”
“You’ll forgive me?” She looked up at me as she spoke.
On her anxious face, a large smile started spreading. She seemed to feel relief from the bottom of her heart.
“This is not about forgiving or not forgiving, nor is it about liking or hating. I’m just annoyed. Annoyed at everything: everything that my hands touch.”
She froze where she was standing, her bright smile wearing off and once again turning into fear.
“Calm down, I’m used to despising others, almost as much as I’m used to being despised. I won’t pull anything funny.”
She started rattling.
“So, goodbye for now, until we meet again.”
I turned around and walked away from her, and almost immediately, a cry followed.
Smiling wryly, I turned around.
“Shiro, what happened?”
He had been camouflaging himself within the shadows, hiding under the trees and the buildings, and in his mouth was Mouse’s right arm which he had apparently bitten off.
That arm grasped a sharp and thin folding pocket knife.
Still holding that arm in his mouth, Shiro looked at me and shook his head.
I nodded silently.
The blood gushing from her wound formed a puddle on the road, and as Mouse continued to squirm around, blood splattered everywhere, making splashing sounds like the ones made by kids when playing in a pool.
She’d probably feel better if she would just faint.
I took a few steps towards her and looked down at her as the smell of blood assaulted my nose.
“Were you trying to kill me?”
She didn’t answer. Her movements simply stopped and without even attempting to put pressure on her wound, she just kept mumbling something.
I bent down towards her and started putting pressure on the vein at her right shoulder to stop the bleeding while I tried to listen to her.
“I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. If I don’t kill you. If I don’t kill you. If I don’t kill you. I’ll get killed. I’ll get killed. Why? Why? I was supposed to be doing okay, I wasn’t standing out and I wasn’t being bullied, I was doing everything perfectly, so why do I have to die? I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, not yet- Notyetnotyetnotyetnotyetsomeonesavemepleasedon’tleavemeheredon’tleavemedon’tleavemeIdon’twanttodiesavemesaveme- save me, someone save me please.”
“All you had to do was run away.”
She had probably thought about it, but ended up deciding against it.
In the end, for whose sake was it that she didn’t run away?
I wasn’t at all interested in knowing her name, but I still talked with her.
“Press here.” I gently caressed her cheek with my palm and her eyes started looking slightly livelier.
“I don’t want to die, I don’t want to-“
I grabbed her left hand and made her put pressure on her right shoulder, then I stood up.
“A-a-ahh.” She looked upwards.
I stood like a shadow between the evening sun and her, a shadow projecting from my body and long hair, a small darkness.
Seeing something, her expression changed.
Fear, fascination, and…
“W-what a, b-beautiful…”
I said nothing and went to a nearby payphone to call for an ambulance.
It was an anonymous call, and I only told them the location. As soon as I could hear the siren, I left that place together with Shiro.
He was still holding Mouse’s arm in his mouth, the arm that still held the knife.
Once we were far enough, he released the arm.
Then stood silently, not saying a single word.
I snatched the knife away from the arm. It was a sharp folding knife with a triangular blade.
A killer’s tool.
I lightly tapped the edge that was shining with a dull lustre, with my fingertip. As soon as my skin came into contact with it, a slit was made and a round drop of crimson blood surfaced on my finger.
I spread the blood from my finger over my lips and stashed the knife away.
Shiro just watched me, dumbfounded as I acted in this way.
When I tried walking away, he didn’t follow me.
“Let’s go back,” I told him, but he didn’t react. It almost seemed as though my voice couldn’t reach him.
“Shiro.” He didn’t answer.
After I called out to him for the third time, he finally replied.
“…Oh, sorry, what is it?”
“What happened? You’re zoning out.”
“Nothing really.,” he said, though his face expressed the complete opposite. “Let’s go. It’ll be a pain if, in the off chance they find us, they take us for a questioning.”
“You have a point.”
He kept staring at the ground as he walked. His white fur lost its shine and his tail hung down lifelessly. Even his ears were drooping.
It almost gave the impression that his whole body had actually shrunk down to a certain degree.
“What should we do about dinner?”
“I’m fine with anything. I don’t mind even if we don’t eat much.”
“Then how about meat: steak, perhaps?”
“Don’t think too hard about it. Just eat whatever you want to eat.”
“I will think hard,” I said, then closed my eyes and shook my head. “I’m your wife after all.”
“That’s true.” He took a deep breath and his black eyes wavered, lost.
“Why do you look so depressed?”
“I won’t let you say it’s nothing.”
I jumped on him.
Because it was so sudden, he was unable to support himself properly, and I almost fell to the ground along with him.
“We are both together. We’ll eat together, go to bed together and take care of each other.”
It wasn’t a smart move by any means, but still, in a certain sense, I was taking care of him.
And I was sure that he understood that too.
“You’re right, let’s talk,” he said softly.
It had only been two days since we got married, too short of a time to really get to know each other.
Though, no matter how much time passed, we’d probably never be able to fully understand each other.
Thinking that it was possible was like chasing a mirage.
Divided into three plastic bags was the food that I bought. It was way too much for only a person and a wolf to eat.
Most of it comprised of vegetables that would go along well with the meat dishes and a bit of alcohol. Getting it all inside the house was a tad troublesome, but luckily my mother wasn’t there in the living room. She was probably together with my step-father in their own room.
After I went into my room, I left all the food in the corner, waited for my step-father to come as usual, took a bath, and then called for Shiro.
Just like last night, he was there on the roof and jumped down to the balcony rails when I called for him.
He was still afraid of making the floor dirty, but I took the towel that I had prepared for him beforehand and wiped his feet clean with it, then forcefully pulled him inside the room.
I placed the food on the floor, put two glasses nearby and filled one of them with red wine.
“Do you want some too?”
“Sure,” he said, so I filled the other glass too.
I took both glasses and lightly hit them against each other, acting out a toast by myself.
Then Shiro skillfully picked up his glass with his mouth and drank it all in one go by lifting his head.
I had a feeling that I’d choke if I tried imitating him.
“It has a peculiar taste.”
Full-body red wine.
It had a deep, blood red color to it.
With a strong bitter taste accompanied by the smell of wine, I didn’t like it much but the silver wolf seemed to have taken a keen interest to it.
I filled his empty glass with wine again, and he swiftly drank it all in one go.
“Did you like it?”
“It’s not bad.”
After that we continued eating without much conversation.
We both ate as much as we could force ourselves to, but in the end we weren’t able to finish everything.
We did manage to finish one bottle of wine though. Shiro was the one who drank most of it, but he didn’t seem to be drunk yet while I was already feeling dizzy after just one glass.
I noisily fell down in an unsightly manner and just stared at the ceiling.
It was spinning, the floor felt like it was swaying, my hair was fluttering, and my heartbeat was unusually loud as well.
“I ate too much and I’m not feeling particularly well.” My breath was hot and held a slight hint of alcohol.
“Same here,” he silently agreed, without much thought like always. “This is the first time I’ve indulged myself like this since the time I was born. It’s really quite unsightly.”
I was staring at the ceiling for at least five minutes, when at last my drunken daze receded a bit, and I spoke again.
“What…were you thinking about?”
“I was thinking…about killing her.”
After having put some thought into it for about a minute, I finally realized that he was talking about Mouse. Her knife was still inside my pocket, and her right arm, thrown away. She probably didn’t die though.
“I couldn’t kill her. Hunting for something else other than for procuring food shouldn’t be allowed. And she was too weak of a girl to even be considered as an opponent worthy of fighting with.”
“Death is simply that: death. It doesn’t matter how you die, the end result is always the same. But, once you try to force some other meaning into it, it makes death not seem like death anymore.”
I shook my head slightly and brushed my hair away.
People die, then turn to dust. It never varies.
“That’s wrong,” Shiro rebutted strongly. “The soul gets tainted that way. Eating is a form of mourning—eating the flesh, that is. If you bury the skin and the bones, the soul returns to the forest. A proper death is connected to new life. Senseless slaughter is just savage, has no salvation and separates the forest from its surroundings beyond repair.”
“Is that the law of the wolves?”
“It’s the law of the forest, the law of the animals, the law of another world.”
“But now that you have left the forest, are you still bound by it?”
He nodded without hiding the wavering in his eyes, his silvery fur swaying as he did so.
“I was ready to do that. I knew it’d come to this. But still, you see, it’s…how should I put it, just…heavy.”
The wolves and the humans, the forest and the city, Shiro and me.
“I welcome you then, to the world of humans,” I said, sounding almost sarcastic. “From here on, you won’t be able to turn back.”
That was the only fact I knew for sure. Living with a human was definitely like that.
“I’m not saying that I regret this,” he said, nodding. “It’s just that it’s heavy.”
If he still found it heavy, it was probably because he had to put the forest aside, but couldn’t bear letting it go.
“It’s merely that you don’t feel safe being thrown into a new world so suddenly.”
Just what exactly was he still feeling attached to?
I stood up and threw myself onto the bed. I left half of it empty for Shiro and asked him to come over.
He came over obediently and slept beside me.
“I’m here with you.”
His round black eyes wavered, akin to the ripples made on a lake’s surface by stones.
They looked almost like mirrors, completely omitting himself and solely reflecting my own image.
“Apart from me, is there anything else that you need?”
I extended my hand and placed it by his jaw, pulling him closer.
Then, without closing my eyes, I kissed him.
His eyes shook again.
Anxious, they shook.
Trusting someone was hard, loving someone was hard as well.
It was the hardest thing to do, even more for the two of us, who had lived till now without trusting anything, without loving anything.
Even though we were almost overflowing with hatred.
“…Your body is cold, it almost feels like you are the very embodiment of winter.”
“Then, you warm me up.”
I snuggled into his silvery white fur and closed my eyes.
I felt the warmth of his body, the smoothness of his fur, the rhythm of his heart, and the smell of the forest.
It was a calm and truly relaxing serenity.
In the end, I wasn’t able to recover my uniform so I had no choice but to attend school in my summer uniform.
Thanks to the recent events, I always walked while holding onto the knife that I had gotten from Mouse.
It wasn’t a bother to carry it around anyway, and the touch of cold steel somehow calmed me down.
Maybe because I had called for an ambulance, the event with Mouse became more of an uproar than expected, and they even ended up calling for an assembly of the entire school.
What they announced there was an explanation of her being attacked by a stray dog and being hurt badly, so she had apparently been hospitalized somewhere.
They also told us to walk home in groups of as many people as possible.
My classroom was dead silent.
Probably because there were two students who had been seriously injured, one after the other in such a short period of time.
Whenever the mood of the class became like this, it was usually Budworm’s gang’s time to shine, but it just so happened to be them who ended up being injured.
The honor student, who was the only one remaining amongst them, didn’t seem to be able to calm down.
Apparently he had already scheduled a visit to her, but there was no way I’d ever tag along with him.
If anything, it was simply so silent that it almost felt like my entire existence itself was being forgotten. For now, it seemed like some really good days would follow.
While I was casually watching the news on the TV one day, I heard that the authorities were setting off to work and would go on a mountain hunt.
To get rid of a large stray dog that had attacked two innocent girls, they said.
It all sounded like utter rubbish to me. They didn’t know anything about the so-called innocent girls, nor the wolf.
Three days had passed since the day I pondered over that, and it seemed that the mountain hunt had finally produced some results.
They had captured two large stray dogs with gray fur.
I had been buying newspapers periodically and skipping classes to read them in a park near the school. It was a small park, and in the middle there was a big cherry tree surrounded by a thicket.
In this dreary season, there were no leaves or flowers, and the wind was particularly strong, feeling cold on my skin. No other human soul could be seen around either.
Reading the newspaper while holding down my hair so that it wouldn’t be messed up by the strong wind was quite an ordeal.
Once I reached the last page, I threw it away into the trash can placed below the bench and loosened up my disheveled hair.
“I wonder what the wolves are planning to do now.”
“They are probably already planning to pull something off,” the silver wolf answered curtly. “Perhaps, they might even come to our place.”
“We have nothing to do with them.” It wasn’t us who had started the mountain hunt, that was just the straightforward system of the so-called human society.
“I’m a wolf who has abandoned the forest, and it could also be said that I’m a wolf who is connected to the human world now.”
“So you’re saying that they’ll come to request your aid?”
“If only it was such a peaceful matter.”
Shiro’s voice had reduced to a whisper by this point—it was lower than his usual tone and muffled even more by the blowing wind, giving it a rough feeling.
“It’s really just a selfish argument after all.”
At that moment, I recalled the Forest King’s words.
–––My child, I will have to banish you from the forest.–––
–––From now on we have no involvement with them as long as it keeps the forest safe.–––
I turned around to the forest.
The mute forest had to be in that direction, as large and silent as ever.
In my heart, the premonition of a battle churned as Shiro howled from beside me, and the wind blew harder.
I closed my eyes and covered my head instinctively to face that gust of wind.
My hair fluttered wildly behind me as my scarf clung onto my neck and the hem of my skirt flapped madly.
When it had finally calmed down, our opponent showed itself.
A gray wolf stood imposingly in front of us, while glaring at us with vivid eyes.
“Brother…” I heard Shiro murmur in surprise.
We never expected a wolf from the forest to appear before us this far into the city.
Silent Steps said nothing and kicked off the ground.
His target was me.
My reaction was delayed by the sudden turn of events, and his jaws reached me, biting into my leg and pinning me to the ground.
Shiro screamed bitterly, but Silent Steps ignored him, turning around and running away while still pulling me by my leg. Instinctively, I wrapped my arms around his torso and lifted myself from the ground.
Four more wolves sprang forth from behind the thicket, surrounding Shiro, who was chasing closely after us, as if to restrain him.
In an instant, the distance between us grew.
Silent Steps jumped over the roof of a house, then leaped from one lamp post to another, soon entering the large forest where he just continued running into the darkness with me.
It felt like I was on an express transport from the city to the forest, though I wouldn’t ever want to ride it again.
I couldn’t even scream as I was too busy keeping my mouth shut so as to not bite my tongue off, and I could feel my arms getting numb, making me feel as though I was about to fall off.
Whenever my hair got tangled up with a small rock or twig, it was painful, and by this point I slightly regretted growing my hair out this much.
When he finally stopped, we were still somewhere inside the forest, but all I knew was that that it wasn’t a good place to be at.
It felt like I had been taken back in time to a place where everything was covered in thick shadows and no human buildings were in sight. All I could feel was the cold, almost freezing air, accompanied by the smell of dried dirt and the distinctive scent of evergreens.
He finally let go of my leg when we reached this point, almost like he was throwing me away. I loosened my numb arms and lay spread-eagled on the ground.
“I lament doing this–––” he started off, though his monotonous voice indicated that he didn’t feel the least bit sorry, “–––but I need you to be still for a moment.”
“You are really rowdy, brother.” I was convinced that he wouldn’t like me calling him that, so I tried poking at it.
As expected, his face started contorting in disgust, but when he realized that I was grinning from his reaction, he relaxed his face and cleared his throat.
I moved my numb arms around a bit, then lifted the upper half of my body off the ground and carefully started fishing for the twigs and dirt that was stuck in my hair, using my fingers like a comb.
“Now then, what do you plan on doing with me?”
When I was finished with cleaning my hair, I took a tissue out from my pocket and wiped away the saliva that had clung to my leg, before shaking away the dirt on my uniform.
If even my summer uniform got ruined, then I really would have no more clothes to use for commuting to school.
“Nothing much. I just want Moon Eater to release my brethren who were captured by the humans.”
“And what if he can’t release them?”
“That’s an impossible scenario. No human should ever be able to stop him.”
“Even then, I feel like I would be the one more adequate for setting those guys free.”
“Don’t call them guys, they are wolves.” He didn’t budge at all—I guess he really did have a lot of pride.
“That was rude of me.” A cynical smile hovered over my lips. “But really, I believe that the wolves captured by the humans will be returned eventually.”
Yet, he shook his head in annoyance and replied:
“They have to return as the wolves they are supposed to be. They must come back like wolves. They can’t return like humans. If only it was like in the ancient times when animals and humans used to cohabitate the world, then they could have returned the way that you wanted.”
He sighed once, and then his face which was usually brimming with life started clouding.
“Back then, animals used to thank the humans, and humans had respected that show of gratitude. Yes, the humans used to live together with us animals. But now…now it’s completely different. Nowadays, humans and animals shouldn’t mix anymore.”
This was the first time that I had seen him show some form of weakness, a weakness that seemed to be filled with sorrow.
This grief that he felt towards this helpless reality was quite like what I also felt.
A resignation to live entrapped by despair, surrounded by a maddening wall that only grew taller as the days passed by.
“There’s nothing that can be done about this. It just so happens that at some point, the world became like this way.”
“It was like this from the very beginning for me.”
I said it with a frigid voice that didn’t sound like me at all, but the words simply flowed out so naturally from my mouth.
“I feel like I am perpetually killed inside, over and over again. It’s like this world and its incomprehensible logic keeps grinding and destroying me, as though mocking me.”
Why was I telling this to Silent Steps?
“But if I go against it, I’d get killed. So, I decided to throw everything away and go far–––”
All I wanted was to break free from this birdcage, away from this endless despair and boredom, and go somewhere beyond it.
I was certain that I had been born in the wrong time and place.
He silently chuckled.
“You speak just like Moon Eater used to. He was always looking for what was outside the forest. He was born in the forest, yet he despised it…I wonder why?”
“Why, you ask…”
“What is there outside? What is so bad about this place? Our kind doesn’t have a place in the human realm. It’s different from how it used to be, the past is long gone. Those days are history now.” That almost sounded like a monologue.
But now I felt that I could understand him a bit more.
“Hey, do you want Shiro to come back to you?”
Was that why he had gone through the trouble of coming to the city and abducting me to cut down our chances?
So, he would have to choose whether to live in the forest, or live in the city; to be with me, or to be with his kin.
However, I was certain what his choice was going to be.
Silent Steps had made some rather wrong assumptions from the very beginning.
He didn’t understand what being a rebel entailed.
And because he didn’t understand that, he couldn’t possibly know how to save one.
All he did for now was stay silent.
“Could you tell me,” I asked him, switching the topic. “What was the world like when the humans and the animals used to live together?”
His eyes were fixated on the horizon as he clumsily answered.
“It was way back, back when the legends were still being born. When humans turned into animals, and animals turned into humans. The city and the forest were one, gods, fairies and spirits could be found everywhere, and both animals and humans spoke the same tongue. All souls rightfully returned to the forest, and all flesh was eaten correctly. Any sort of meaningless slaughter was something to be ashamed of.”
That sounded just like–––
“It was a dream-like age. An age that only exists in history as of the present. Nowadays, even the meaning that embroidered all creation itself is being lost.”
“But if that age still continued today, I wouldn’t have been able to marry Shiro, would I?”
“That might be one thing that you can be happy about, about how it all turned out.”
His current gentle tone didn’t suit him, which threw me quite off balance.
“Do you know how old Moon Eater is?”
I shook my head. After all, I didn’t know.
“He is younger than you. He’s barely over ten, yet his strength can be compared to mine, who has already seen three and a half decades. He is the only one out of the entire pack who uses the shadows, and not the wind, who doesn’t have gray fur but white instead. In the end, the only one who might understand what he truly loves and hates is you.”
Now, he was looking down at his own shadow.
It was as if he was looking for the silver wolf in the dark shadow.
“I should have killed him the moment he was born.” He smiled wryly as he lifted his head, then continued in a lighthearted tone. “If I had done so, I would have been able to live another day.”
In an instant, I suddenly felt everything fall silent.
All sound disappeared from the forest, from the surroundings, and even from the wind.
I could even feel my heartbeat grow quieter.
Inside this frozen state, I sensed something coming closer.
A presence that was engulfed in a shroud of hatred was rapidly closing in on us.
“You also think that way, heh?”
Silent steps was staring directly at it.
The white darkness.
Words that I had never imagined entered into my conscience.
That was Shiro, but it also didn’t look like Shiro.
Even his steps seemed similar to a king’s.
A bit too lonely, a bit too distant, a bit too cold.
All entities were fearful of his presence.
“I’ll kill you.” It was Moon Eater’s heavy and monotonous voice that resounded along with all his blood.
It was so sharp that whoever heard it would feel like they were being torn apart. Even me, as I instinctively grasped my own body, suddenly feeling as though I had been completely abandoned.
“Ohh, I wonder about that.”
As if trying to wash away the killing intent, he answered playfully and took a step forward.
But Silent Steps wouldn’t stop talking.
“I’ll mourn you by eating your heart after I kill you. Just pray that you are reborn as a gray wolf next time, Moon Eater.”
“You will have a worthless death.”
Shiro kept closing in on Silent Steps, yet he wouldn’t yield.
“What happened to the four I left with you?”
“Dead,” he answered flatly.
“I only sent them to negotiate though.”
“You tried kidnapping Saki, you hurt her, and even took her away. In the first place, they were only blocking my way, do you think that there was a way to negotiate with them like that?”
A feeble, bitter smile appeared on Silent Steps’ face.
“You sound almost like a human.”
Covered in darkness, Moon Eater took yet another step forward.
“So what now? There’s nothing left for me to tell you.”
“Well, that’s a pity. I wanted to have a really long talk with you.”
“What were you even planning on conversing with a rebel about?” Shiro continued, his words oozing with cold hostility. “All I wish is for my fangs to have a go at you.”
“Seriously, there is nothing that can be done about this.”
He just stood there, receiving Shiro’s enmity head on.
I took a few steps back and leaned against the trunk of the evergreen tree behind me.
I knew that this was about to turn dangerous, that I should fall back further than this.
But I stopped there and let my eyes open wide, absorbing all the tiny details of the scene that was unfolding between the two.
Moon Eater kicked off the ground with his blazing rage concealed beneath a frozen tone.
“Don’t just blabber on, kid!”
The attack was directed towards him, and Silent Steps initiated a chant in response.
However, Shiro was faster than the chant.
Not giving him enough time to finish the chant, Shiro charged head on and struck him from above.
Silent Steps turned his neck sideways to evade him.
But his shoulder was slightly cut and blood started seeping out, leaving his flesh in plain view. At the same time, his chant finished and the wind came to his aid, wrapping around his body like armor.
“You are slow, weak, and lacking in any sort of aspiration, but yet, you still dare call yourself my older brother!”
The shadows at Shiro’s feet stretched ahead as though they were dancing.
Forming blades and swaying like snakes, they easily penetrated the armor made of wind and shredded his face.
The deep wounds gouged at his skin, stealing his vision.
Shiro’s attacks now were so overwhelming that they made the fight from before seem like a farce.
And yet, even after all that, Silent Steps wouldn’t pull back.
Heavily wounded, he still stepped forward, baring his fangs aggressively.
In return, Shiro stepped back as if he had been anticipating that.
Silent Steps placed one leg into Shiro’s shadow.
At that very moment, the wriggling shadow changed shape into that of enormous jaws.
And resembling the fangs of a tiger, those jaws of death began swallowing him up whole.
At the same time, he started shouting:
“Silent Steps calls out to you, spirits–––!”
A moment of silence ensued, and then it seemed as though I could hear a bell ringing in my ears, after which the wind enveloping him blew fiercely and turned into a ravaging tornado.
The enraged wind blew the shadows apart and rumbled like thunder.
Stiff trees swayed like willows, leaves were stripped and blown away, grass flattened down to the ground, and dust rose.
I held my hair and skirt down while also trying to hold myself in place without being blown away, and continued to watch them through squinted eyes.
All I could do was to press my body against the tree that was behind me.
Still, I had decided not to lose sight of them for even an instant.
This was the real strength of wolves, so resolute, so mighty.
“Beautiful,” I muttered in a trance.
If I were to summarize it all in one word, it would be, violence.
Power only meant to destroy, to hurt, and to kill.
That’s all there was to it. There were no useless additions, and that was exactly what made it so beautiful.
At some point, I realized that I was grasping onto the knife tucked into my skirt.
Inside the maddening gale, blows were rapidly being exchanged and evaded.
Their fangs would clash, causing sparks, then they’d jump away to create some distance between them.
The wind was gradually becoming stronger, yet the shadow wasn’t yielding to it either.
Shiro let it extend and take the form of either a spear, a blade or a whip, and struck Silent Steps incessantly from all directions.
But Silent Steps managed to destroy the shadows one after another even though he was covered in wounds, pushing on ahead. Using the propulsion of the wind, he brandished his claws in quick, straight-forward attacks.
And while this stalemate continued on, his life was slowly being chipped away by Shiro.
I could feel that the conclusion of this fight was slowly approaching, but suddenly it took an unforeseen twist.
Silent Steps put his plan into motion.
The wind started ravaging from both above and below, carrying the leaves from the trees from above while puffs of dust whirled up from below, sealing off Shiro’s eyes with different shades of brown and green.
Shiro stood still.
He simply extended his shadow in all directions, and waited.
It didn’t matter if the next attack was going to come from the front, back, left or right—he would be prepared for it.
Whether it was going to be a surprise attack, a rear attack, or even an attack meant to create an opening, to move into his blind spot.
Then, I saw it—a glimpse of gray fur between the leaves.
Above! But by the time I noticed, it was already too late.
The gray shadow had already leapt upon Shiro, and his gaping jaws were less than a meter away from cutting off Shiro’s life.
He can’t dodge it. My eyes were about to close shut instinctively, but I forced them to stay open, and saw…
…fresh blood trickling down like a thin curtain as the gray wolf was pierced in midair.
A single shadow spear extended out from Shiro’s feet, passing right through Silent Steps.
His body fell to the ground with a loud splashing noise, and blood continued to slowly ooze out from the deep wound.
Between his irregular breathing, he mustered the last sliver of his strength and spoke:
“Pff…ahah…hah…you’ve… become strong…that’s why…you’re my–––”
Blood filled his throat, and while he was choking on it, he stared at Shiro, seemingly wanting to say something—words that he could speak no more. Nevertheless, he smiled, slightly satisfied, perhaps even proud of him, and then, he closed his eyes.
The forest turned silent. Shiro also stood still, his gaze lost as he stared at the sky, illuminated by the twilight sun that peeked through the leaves which were still dancing in the air from the earlier gale.
I rearranged my disheveled hair and straightened out my clothes, and while I erased all emotion from my face, I walked to his side.
“Shiro,” I called, but he didn’t answer.
I reached out with my hand and caressed his cheek. Even at a time like this, his body was warm.
“If you aren’t going to eat him, I will.”
He turned to face me, his eyes blank and lacking emotion.
Those black eyes that peeked through silver fur, reflected my own figure, shrouded in black. I looked really sorrowful.
But I didn’t understand why I appeared that way.
“Shiro, you are living in a human city, sleeping in a human bed, eating human food and even killing like a human. You have come so close to becoming one of us, but you simply can’t become a human since you are a wolf, and there is no way around that. So ultimately…you’re not a human, but you aren’t living like a wolf either—you are utterly alone.”
He was still silent.
“But then, what about me? I live just like a human, and am nothing other than a human, so what am I supposed to be?”
There was a tinge of surprise, anticipation and fear mixed into his voice when he finally opened his mouth.
I grasped his silver fur between my fingertips.
“You know, Shiro, I truly want to get closer to you.”
After releasing his fur, I knelt beside Silent Steps’ corpse.
I closed his eyes and felt his fading warmth in the palm of my hand.
Since I didn’t know any words for mourning, I just remained silent.
After all, what I was planning to do could only be called a funeral.
I moved my face closer to the wound that Shiro’s spear had left, and like a wolf, I took a bite.
It was quite stiff so my teeth couldn’t even sink in, and the stench of the blood was too intense.
I let go for a moment, took a deep breath, and after steeling my resolve, tried again.
“Don’t force yourself.” I could feel Shiro pushing me on my cheek with his leg.
“Please let go of me.”
He did as I told him, but he was still against the idea.
“It’s impossible for you, since you have no fangs or claws.”
“I do have them.” It was just that they are too brittle for this kind of work.
With trembling hands, I took the knife out, but encountered trouble while trying to unfold the blade.
“I understand your feelings, and I’m glad that you are by my side—really—from the bottom of my heart.”
As he said so, he buried his claws into the corpse.
He cut right through the skin, sliced through the muscles and ripped the bones aside, exposing the innards.
But his way of doing it was still very gentle.
“I’m not alone. I have you, after all.”
He bit off something from the innards and placed it in my hands.
It was…the heart.
When I held it in my hands, I could sense my fingers almost melting due to its heat, feeling as though it was still beating this very moment.
I was holding onto the lump of flesh, about the size of a fist. Something that was beating, manifesting the vestiges of a life, and I–––
My crimson lips touched it, and my white teeth tore the pink flesh apart.
It was like an apple made out of flesh, slowly descending into my stomach and heating up my whole body.
For some reason, tears started trickling down my face.
When I finished eating it, I couldn’t handle the tears any longer and collapsed on the ground.
My body was burning up, as if I had swallowed fire itself, and my heart started beating violently.
Exhaustion, so heavy that it wouldn’t allow me to move even a single finger, assaulted me.
Watching me, Shiro murmured, “My older brother died a proper death. May he take on another body and visit us again.”
It almost sounded like a prayer, but I was certain that it was anything but that.
When he was done, he howled.
And in answer, countless howls resounded, and several wolves appeared from amidst the trees.
Those old wolves with the ashen fur that had lost its shine, continued releasing moans filled with grief.
One of them looked very familiar.
It was the King of the Forest—Shiro’s, as well as the just passed away Silent Steps’, father.
“Did you kill him, Moon Eater?”
It was a sorrowful voice, with an inflection that indicated that he had already expected this outcome.
“Our kin doesn’t condone killing between ourselves. You are making the forest your enemy by this.”
Shiro silently stood in front of me and took a step forward.
“Then, King of the Forest, I ask you this. Do you wish to fight me right here, right now?”
There was no hint of hesitation in his voice, and he glared at all the wolves as if something had already broken inside him.
“Go away.” The King of the Forest shook his head and signaled us to leave the forest.
“We have to mourn Silent Steps.”
Shiro nodded obediently and, using his front legs and mouth, skillfully mounted me on his back and ran away from the wolves.
I wanted to ask where we were headed to, but I didn’t even have the little strength required to do that.
After a while, Shiro stopped and stood still.
Truth be told, I found that even the slight shaking of riding on his back was unbearable, so luckily he stopped nearby.
It was just at the border between the city and the forest, beside the road where I met Shiro for the first time. I was still riding on his back when he started digging a hole at that spot.
Then, he let me down and lay me inside it.
As the soft, yet slightly wet soil enveloped me, it felt more pleasant than I expected.
“This is a wolf’s bed,” he said half jokingly as he lay down beside me.
I remained silent and shifted my body closer to him.
Then I closed my eyes as the night, the scent of blood, dirt and my beloved wolf’s scent enveloped me.
If I were to die–––
“If you were to die, I will eat your flesh. I will eat everything, even your bones, skin, and even your soul. I won’t leave anything behind.”
And when that happens, the white wolf that strayed from the forest and the black girl that ran away from the city will truly stay together forever.
Even if our enemies were to surround us, the two of us will be together.
Forever, and ever.
If all this had happened ages ago, that’s probably how our story would have ended.
But nothing had ended yet.
It was only just starting. Finally.
Editor: Nocturne, Yuuki