© Copyright 2002 Gold.

Title: Destiny Foreordained


1. Characters have been borrowed from CLAMP manga and anime, Tokyo Babylon and X/1999.

2. The song is "Meet Me Halfway" by Kenny Loggins.

3. There is a reference to two star-crossed lovers, Liang Shan Bo and Zhu Ying Tai. They are the names of the Butterfly Lovers, two star-crossed lovers who are the Chinese equivalents of Romeo and Juliet. I felt that it being Japanese culture, it would be more fitting to use these two rather than Romeo and Juliet.

Author's notes: (2002) I should be writing other things, but I was fascinated by this tragic love story and so gave my take on it. It helped that this song rang through my mind and I thought it fitted Subaru and Seishirou rather well.

Summary: The Tree explains the truth behind the real legend, its status, the SeishirouSubaru relationship, and the End of The World.

Title: Destiny Foreordained

In a lifetime

Made of memories

Centuries I have lived here, in this spot. Long enough for my story to fade into legend, and then to be forgotten by mankind, except those who must remember. Even then, they remember the legend, not the real story. The Sumeragi are brought up to believe that I am part of the Shadow, the Darkness, the evil they spend their lives guarding this region from. Only the Sakurazukamori remember the truth, because they must, and because they are the Sakurazukamori. Even so, they remember only part of the truth, and they know only part of the truth.

I am the Tree. Contrary to popular belief, I do not make use of black magic. I am a centre of Dark magic in this part of the world, yes; but not of black sorcery. Light and dark are but two sides of the same coin; white and black are opposing forces. To put it more precisely, dark and light are white, and black is black. I have been here since creation itself, one of the many Powers that help keep the balance between the light and the dark, and hold the black Powers at bay. Rather like those Dragons. So as the Seals protect the world by protecting mankind, the Angels protect the world by warning mankind. Two sides of the same coin, two faces, one purpose. There's actually a little more to that, but I'm not going to give it away just yet.

Sometimes I blame the Sakurazuka clan for perpetuating the myth. They like to think it makes things easier—those who practise black magic practically flee at the mention of the Sakurazukamori and are usually smart enough to stop practising the black arts. Nobody likes having their souls fed to a Tree and a supposedly evil one at that. Sometimes it makes me want to laugh. I don't laugh; I am the Tree. But it amuses me anyway. Think about it. Evil magic-doers fleeing from evil? You'd think they would have joined forces with the Sakurazukamori by now and formed some kind of gigantic evil association to take down the Sumeragi and their allies, if everything that was said was true. Oh, the numbers of ridiculous black arts practitioners who have come to talk to me and tell me they want to join forces with me. The Sakurazukamori deal very quickly with them. Sometimes I wonder why the Sumeragi clan does not see that. It seems to me that their legendary intelligence is highly suspect in that area. Then again, the Sakurazukamori are also extremely trying, believe me. Sometimes I do not understand humans at all.

I cannot help being old and apparently cruel. I have stood here for centuries and braved everything you can imagine, for the sake of this planet. In that time, I have learned patience, and to be patient and wait is to be cruel to those who see time in seconds, minutes, hours and days. I am a part of Destiny, and ruled by destiny, like all magical beings. From time to time, a Test awaits mankind, as light and dark battle it out. Sometimes it is good and evil—quite different, you understand, from light and dark. When it is good versus evil, the Sakurazukamori quietly aids the Sumeragi clan. The Sumeragi clan represent the visible threat; the Sakurazukamori, as is fitting, are the hidden weapons.

Lady Sumeragi, 11th head of the clan, knows this—and has chosen to forget it, believing that Setsuka murdered her son, just as the first Sakurazukamori, in a fit of madness, killed his third cousin (incidentally his best friend), the Sumeragi head. The old woman was wrong. The Sakurazukamori do not murder, not after the first Guardian. They kill—and only when needed. The story is a little complicated to tell, but the 12th head was caught in certain circumstances that he could not escape. He could not be allowed to live under the circumstances…if you could call that life…and so Setsuka took his life, before it was too late. Naturally the blood feud between the two families deepened.

I believe in destiny

When Sakurazuka Seishirou first met the thirteenth clan head, the little boy Sumeragi Subaru, it was under my branches, and I knew what I saw. I knew who the little boy was, I knew who he would become, and I knew that my present Guardian thought he was special. And I saw more—I saw the silver strands of fate that connected the two, heart to heart, humming between them, and for all their power, neither could see or feel it. And I admit that I wanted the Sumeragi dead. For purely selfish reasons, you see, because I knew what destiny had laid out for them—and what it meant for me.

Star-crossed lovers they would be, one of many, many pairs in the years to come, and they weren't the Liang Shan Bo and Zhu Ying Tai* type. Those were ordinary star-crossed lovers. These two were special and not because they were Sumeragi and Sakurazukamori. For one thing, they would fight on opposite sides at the next and Final Test. Sakurazukamori and the one who would be the last Sakurazukamori had met—were fated to meet—and I knew what would happen to me. As for what might happen to them, I did not know. I did not much care—not when I realised suddenly that I had only a few years to live, mere seconds of time compared to my entire lifespan. My whole world, as I knew it, unravelled that day.

The same person cannot be both Sumeragi and Sakurazukamori. Light and dark cannot co-exist for long within the same body. It was my destiny—it was always my destiny—that should that ever happen, it meant that the time of my death was at hand. And the entire Sumeragi clan would be deprived of their powers for eternity at the moment of my death. That would effectively send out ripple effects like aftershocks of an earthquake, and it would be powerful enough to remove all magic in these lands. And now I had seen that the prophecy would be fulfilled in that little boy.

I radiated all the upset and angry and threatening feelings I had to Seishirou, but he pushed them aside and told me mentally, and gently, that he had a better idea. And when he said that, I knew what it meant to feel old—and I knew that there was nothing I could do about it. So I watched as he fed the boy some of the most annoying lies the Sakurazukamori have ever invented to make life less murdering for them. He said that my petals were pink from the souls I FED ON.

It made me extremely irritated. I do NOT feed on souls. Black sorcery does that. Do you know how many souls it takes to keep black magic going? I strip the souls tormented by the black arts practitioners and free them. They scream because that hurts them—the bonds are tightly fastened, you understand. I do absorb the power from all the souls as a whole, though power is not quite the word I would use to describe it. Energy? No, not quite. But souls can do quite well without it. They have to cast it off, anyway, before they enter the afterlife. That's because different souls have different levels of it, which they attain in life, and before they go into the afterlife, they must all be of equal status. That's the meaning behind the adage "Death is the great leveller". Every soul starts off on equal basis. So I absorb the power/energy and send them off. I have to, because I am not allowed to keep them. And in any case, it's not like I am a haven for souls or something.

And yes, my petals are pink, but that's because of the blood and that I can't help. The Sakurazukamori cannot keep burying people in makeshift graveyards, or else police would have too many unsolved serial murder cases popping up when some overzealous construction firm decides it wants to dig up some soil in some obscure piece of farmland to build a shopping complex. In any case, corpses end up being fertiliser in the round of things, and I am not human, so I don't care if dead humans are buried at my roots. Graveyards have lots of trees anyway, and you don't hear people complaining about them.

But I could not tell Seishirou about his destiny. It's a bit difficult to explain, but the long and short of it is that as I am one of the Powers, it is forbidden to me to openly reveal or do anything. I am bound to do nothing explicit that could disrupt the course of events. All I could do was to tell him that I didn't like what he was doing with the boy. I didn't tell him the boy's name and he didn't know. All he knew was that the boy had power and was intriguingly pure and sweet for someone with such power. All I wanted was for them to stay far, far apart from each other. I was trying to thwart destiny—and my egoistic guardian just smiled and told me not to be jealous. Ha ha. I am the Tree, for Kami-sama's sake. Since when am I capable of being jealous?

So in retaliation, I sent a breeze that blew my guardian's words away. The little boy would not hear them. I should have known better—destiny is destiny. Their destiny was foreordained from the moment they met.

Every moment returns again in time

I have watched Seishirou grow up, removed from his emotions. All the Sakurazukamori must try to be, or madness would overtake them before it was time to pass on the job. No human can kill and enjoy killing, really, if they are good people. I don't mean those sadistic twits who mutilate and torture and all that—I must say the Dark Kamui comes very close and I've wondered what kind of games destiny is playing to make him like that. But he is more than the Dark Kamui…but I digress. The Sumeragi and the Sakurazukamori are trained to put duty before everything else, but they are trained in different ways, because they have different types of duties. The Sumeragi put people before everything, because people are their duty. Compassion, wisdom and strength have always been the trademarks of the clan heads. The Sakurazukamori work differently. They are the killers, so they must lock away all emotions. They learn that none of their actions are to be dictated by the heart. Everything must be worked with the head, which must rule. The Sakurazukamori are seen as murderers, but that is wrong. They do not murder. They kill to protect and to keep the balance. This is their duty and they sacrifice everything, including their hearts.

And no, I do not hold the Sakurazukamori's heart. Imagine a human in love with a tree. That would be the rather horrific result, aside from the fact that it would leave the Sakurazukamori as little more than a deadly killing mercenary. Which they are not. In any case, I am not that fond of humans as to want one in love with me. Neither do I want to keep watch over their hearts. I have plenty of work to do, keeping track of everything that happens, without adding a few human hearts into the bargain.

The Sakurazukamori are conditioned and it is drilled into them: duty before all else and no emotions involved. They kill when necessary, for justice if you like. That little girl Seishirou killed the day he met the Sumeragi—she too was a threat. They come in all ages, you know. This little girl had murdered, in succession, three people—her nursemaid, her brother and her father's mistress. She was very clever—used a combination of toy cups, real tea, sugar and poison. No remorse there and she was going to kill her neighbour, another clever little girl who had guessed the truth. You don't have to practise the black arts to be black in your soul. That's why the Sakurazukamori does not listen to his or her heart. The little girl would have lived and murdered more innocents if Seishirou had listened to his heart and pitied her. Justice, you note, is blind.

When I've got my future on my mind

Know that you'll be the only one

He does take it to extremes, though. He had to develop a sort of defence mechanism against his own emotions. You can lock away emotions, but they keep fighting back. As it was when he met the Sumeragi, who unlocked the door. Plus my Guardian had made that incredibly stupid bet. He liked the boy, although he was still emotionally quite removed then. But destiny had marked them both for each other, against each other, never with each other, and Seishirou knew the boy was special. And he wanted to meet him again, so he marked him. He could have left it at that, but no, he told some dumb story about wanting to make a bet. "I'll let you go" indeed. He needn't have made such a song and dance out of it, and nonsense about the Sakurazukamori having to kill anyone who discovered his secret. Puh-lease. All he needed was to seal away that memory. That kind of magic is peanuts to someone of his calibre. It was the first time Seishirou had listened to his heart and it would not be the last. So he marked the Sumeragi—and I alone saw how the shimmering pale pink strands of their bonds wound around the silver strands of fate, and reinforced them tenfold. Their love and their fate were forever bound.

I hinted that the boy would be in his future and he would be dangerous. Also that it would be dangerous to get to know that boy as in the bet and would he please stay away. Seishirou is stubborn like all the Sakurazukamoris. It is a chronic condition of all humans, I have observed. So of course he didn't listen. He deluded himself into thinking he was playing a game and putting on a façade. It wasn't a façade, of course. It never was.

Meet me halfway

Across the sky

Out where the world belongs to only you and I

Meet me halfway

Across the sky

Make this a new beginning of another life

It is the price paid by the Sakurazukamoris. They go mad eventually. You do not keep on taking away lives like some executioner without either believing eventually that you control humans, at which you become a monster, or you go mad with the guilt and pain. It builds up over time. So the first Sakurazukamori went mad and his successor killed him before becoming the Sakurazukamori. Since then it has been passed down, through the strongest bonds that can be formed—those of death and love—but not through blood. Whether you are a child of the Sakurazukamori or not matters little. But though they deny everything that can be considered the deepest, truest joys and sorrows that humanity can bring, the Sakurazukamori are allowed one thing no other human is—they choose their deaths. They all do, because they must die before the madness hits them. After the disaster caused by the first Sakurazukamori, who single-handedly murdered half the Sumeragi clan and began the ancient feud, it became the rule. History has dictated that preceding Sakurazukamoris are killed by the ones they love best. Not by the ones who love them best.

The year that Seishirou spent with the Sumeragi twins was really the most tiresome year and yet the best too. For me, I mean. It was tiresome because my Guardian kept telling himself his niceness was just a cover-up, and it was all a bet and he was the emotionless, untouchable, aloof, remote Sakurazukamori, and so on and so forth. He was even colder in the night time, when he wasn't being a nice veterinarian, to make up for the freedom he gave his emotions in the day. I was afraid he might go mad and I told him he had to leave at once. He did actually consider it and he agreed to, several times. But he was always back at the veterinarian's office the next day; he couldn't keep away from the Sumeragi. He'd say it was because the game was too much fun. Well, duh. He got a chance to be who he might have been if he hadn't been the Sakurazukamori. And he was getting a kick out of play-acting being normal. He was the first Sakurazukamori to have a taste of that life—and he would probably be the last. But it was always so much more than that.

Since he was enjoying himself, I was pleased too. For the first time in donkey centuries, I had a Guardian who exhibited something quite close to being happy, a normal kind of contentment that wasn't related to the idea of a job well done. There was this peace inside him, something that let him relax. He didn't have to think all the time about his job as a killer. It interested me as well, being quite different from the usual sort of matter. I saw a Guardian who had shed his cold exterior without knowing it. That made him a very, very interesting study. Besides, the Sumeragi twins were absolutely hilarious, bringing a kind of warmth and love into his life, which he had never encountered. Setsuka was too serious. She taught her son many things but never the secret of laughter. I do not laugh; I am the Tree. But that Hokuto girl was difficult not to laugh at. Very difficult. Plus she was always making fun of her brother and I enjoyed that. The Sumeragi was too easy to tease.

So for a year, Seishirou was happy. He was becoming alarmed at this, though, and was trying to reason his way out of it. Head, and not heart, was supposed to rule the actions of a Sakurazukamori. Happiness of the mortal sort, you understand, was never meant to be the lot of the Sakurazukamori. He came very, very close to seducing the Sumeragi boy, but walked away at the last minute, over and over again, when his head reminded him that his heart could not rule. At least he knew that he could not have taken that step without letting his heart (and body) rule over his head—which was not allowed for a Sakurazukamori. I decided not to tell him that he was falling in love with the Sumeragi boy. I was unhappy about it, because it meant my death, and because I knew that the two of them were never to be. But what could I do? The future was never mine to reveal. This year of contentment would be paid for in the time to come.

He figured it out for himself when the mad woman tried to stab his Subaru-kun.

The Sakurazukamori use magic. But it was instinct that my Guardian used when he shielded Sumeragi Subaru—instinct without magic. He used his own body to shield the boy. The emotionless Sakurazukamori does not do that.

So the defence mechanism cropped up again. It would not do for him to let the heart take over. The faster it did, the swifter the path to madness. And it was not yet time, so I was silent and let him find his way. He wanted to drive the Sumeragi away from him as far as possible and he decided to be as cold and cruel as he knew how to. Inside him, he needed to be like that, to remind himself that he could still lock away emotions. He didn't know, of course, that the crack was already there and it would be too late. And still he believed he did not love the boy. Technically that was true. He did not love him…not in the way the Sumeragi loved him, encompassing, yielding, completely, as a true lover does.

A Sakurazukamori can never love that way, for the road to love is the road to death.

So he used me for the dramatic effect. You know, pink sakura petals and all that. Sit the boy under the same Tree and then reveal yourself in all your glory, blah blah.

Except that I interfered this time. I sent a telepathic message to the old woman, the previous Sumeragi clan head. It was too early for the two fools to be duelling and I didn't exactly want to die just yet. The old woman didn't want to listen, but she did come. She may have hated me, but she knew what I was. I am an ancient Power and I do not lie. But she was old and weak, and there wasn't very much she could do despite her formidable powers. And the idiot Sumeragi was just there, with tears running down his cheeks, heartbroken, et cetera, locked in apparent stasis. I fervently hoped he would not grow up like that or humanity's battle was already lost.

I watched carefully. If Seishirou really struck, I would step in a split second before and haul back all his power. I wasn't sure what would happen, but what the heck. Worse things would happen if he did kill the boy. I didn't know what would happen if he killed the boy and I didn't want to know. At least if the Sumeragi was alive I had roughly an idea of what might happen.

But he didn't strike.

I tell you, he didn't. The old woman was weak, never mind her impressive display, and the Sumeragi was just wilting there, waiting to die. Seishirou could have killed his Subaru-kun and inflicted heavy damage on the old woman. But he didn't. He just stopped.

I think he must have known—must have understood then, exactly how much Sumeragi Subaru really meant to him. If the loss of his eye began his understanding, their moment under my branches completed it. But of course he had to maintain the Sakurazukamori myth, so he spouted some more trash that nearly killed the Sumeragi on the spot. I know why he did what he did, but I freely admit I did not understand completely. My Guardian was on the point of being hurt because he was hurting his darling, but he successfully blanketed the feeling before it was more than a mere twinge. And busily told himself that his Subaru-kun was nothing to him, blah blah blah. His Subaru-kun. I did not believe for a moment that he would truly hurt the boy.

So when he killed the boy's twin sister, I—even I—was surprised.

In a lifetime

There is only love

Reaching for the lonely one

We are stronger when we are given love

The Sakurazukamori have always been highly intelligent. Seishirou, though, was the most intelligent of them all. A cold, brilliant thinker and strategist, he had the gift and curse of anticipating possibilities and accurately latching on the right outcomes. He also had the ability to grasp opportunities far more quickly than the average Sakurazukamori. At twenty-five, he was the most powerful Sakurazukamori ever—which made me even more certain that it was in this generation that I would meet my doom—and his powers were yet to peak. His powers informed him that something hovered in the future and he confronted me about it directly after he had revealed his secret to the Sumeragi and the boy had fallen into—well, a coma, I suppose, is what best describes it.

Tell me what you see, Sakura-sama. How bad is it?

Note that he knew without my saying so, that the future was not a pretty one.

As bad as it can be, I had told him shortly.

So…it can never be… He did not say what he meant but I knew. He meant We can never be.

I see it, he said quietly. I see it. And he was silent, and I knew he could see it—a brief glimpse of the magnitude of what was supposed to come. Both Kamui were already born…I suppose there is only one way. Going Within him…is too dangerous.

Too intimate, was what he meant. It could break open my Guardian's defences.

He fell silent, but inside him I could feel the walls go up, thicker and stronger than they had been for a year, and insurmountable. The Sumeragi would never be able to find his way inside again. True, there was a little place inside, but it was a very small place, and it had been stopped up with ice.

When we put emotions on the line

Know that we are the timeless ones

So when Hokuto came before him, he killed her. He didn't kill her for the wholly stupid reason she offered him—sacrifice indeed. No Sakurazukamori kills for sacrifice. It was never the purpose. But Seishirou did what he did for reasons I didn't altogether agree with. He did it to teach the Sumeragi a lesson the boy would never forget.

He will go insane, I warned my Guardian.

If he does, I will bring him back. He has to learn if he is ever going to fight. He is too kind—and too foolish. The world is never black and white, and Subaru-kun sees only the white.

I thought I felt something deep inside my Guardian sigh, very softly. Aren't you black enough for him already? I pointed out.


I don't like this. I waited to see what he would say.

You don't have to, he told me. Just send her off.

Do you want me to tell her you're sorry?

He was surprised. I'm not sorry. This has to be done. I do what must be done and pay the price for it. If fate decides that others must also pay the price, I accept it. That is the way of the Sakurazukamori.

Hokuto did not understand. She came, not understanding, and died not understanding. As she cast her final spell and bound it with her death and her love, the same powers that are used in the bonds between myself and my Guardians, unknowingly, she reinforced the bonds connecting my Guardian and the Sumeragi. The strand of glowing red that formed her spell wrapped itself around the silver and pale pink bonds already connecting them heart to heart. By the time she realised what fate held in store for these two, it was already too late, and I had sent her soul on.

If Seishirou couldn't see it, I could, though, and it only served to tell me that their destiny... was foreordained.

Meet me halfway

I remember the day, nine years later. Seishirou came to me and I could see that something was different. He leaned against my trunk and silently lit a cigarette. He said nothing, but I saw the bonds, silver, red and pale pink, glow in a way they had not done for nine years, and I felt a change in him. The Sumeragi had returned and it was beginning. They did not know it, but the tension was beginning—the Kamui had chosen, and his Twin Star had been doomed from the moment of his choosing.

I said nothing, but I knew what Seishirou was thinking. Nine years had passed and he had not forgotten the Sumeragi. That was what puzzled him. Inside him, the crack in his walls yielded a little more as I watched and stayed silent. In his eyes and in his mind ran memories of a boy and his twin sister, memories that struggled to be tinted with emotion, but which Seishirou blanketed with a practised hand, and skimmed through quickly, so that he remained detached to the images. He stood there the whole night, smoking cigarette after cigarette, until the dawn.

In the days that passed, I know that he tracked the Sumeragi every moment he could. I could sense them both. Seishirou was almost always more silent and colder than ever. He rested beneath my branches but rarely; he was pre-occupied with the Sumeragi. I understood that the Sumeragi now puzzled my Guardian. The boy had grown into a man, and a very handsome young man at that, if I read Seishirou's reaction correctly. But while my Sakurazukamori thought (rather sentimentally) that the boy he had known was underneath the hard yet brittle shell of the young man, I gathered that there were times when the Sumeragi's actions actually puzzled him. It galled Seishirou. The man would never admit it, but the Sumeragi fascinated him. He wanted to be the only one to truly understand the boy…partly because of intellectual curiosity and partly because…well, he cared something for the boy.

But new events were on the horizon.

Day after day, the tension in the air grew ever thicker and more evident as the Dragons of Earth made themselves known, and the Dragons of Heaven emerged. I knew who they were even before I saw them through my Guardian's eyes. As each Seal and Angel awoke, I felt the glowing and humming of the threads fate had spun out for them, linking them to one another in bonds that were unbreakable. Earth represented humanity's dark side, bearing the burdens of intellect, determination and ruthlessness. Heaven was humanity's light side, bearing the burdens of selfishness (certainly not selflessness), love and courage. Neither understood the other, or was meant to understand. Light and dark had travelled along their own paths through the years. It was time for them to confront each other in this, the Final Test, to determine whether humanity would remake itself and thus remake the world, or destroy itself to remake the world. This was the task of the two Kamuis, one representing the light of humanity, and the other, representing the darkness. More than anything, those two were humanity.

Across the sky

That day, I felt my Guardian falter for the first time.

He leaned against my trunk, quietly, out of sight, and did not even bother to weave the usual illusion that hid him from view. He was very close to trembling with rage, one that burned white-hot, and his walls shook beneath the fire, directed at himself, at the Dark Kamui—and the Sumeragi. Evidently something had happened, involving the three of them, and it had infuriated my Guardian. Seishirou said nothing, but the image he projected told me why he was so upset. Bluntly stated, the Dark Kamui had apparently put out one of Subaru's eyes, and the Sumeragi was now lying in a hospital bed, swathed in bandages. Naturally, nobody could do anything to Sumeragi Subaru without the Sakurazukamori knowing about it. The root of my Guardian's fury had to do with that, and also something about the Sumeragi's Wish, which I gathered were the Dark Kamui's words.

I was a little annoyed. He had been thinking of the Sumeragi ever since the boy re-emerged, and I can tell you that when someone's thoughts are occupied with one topic, day in, day out, it can get exceedingly tiresome very quickly.

Why do you not visit your Sumeragi? I queried. Since he was fretting over it in this manner, he might as well visit the Sumeragi. It might calm him and put things in perspective. Always confront your fears, or else be slave to them forevermore. On the other hand, perhaps confronting desires and obsessions wasn't exactly the best way to go about things.

Seishirou lit a cigarette but he did not put it to his lips. Instead, he stared at it as the tiny flame flickered and glowed at the end of the long, elegant cylinder of paper. Then he abruptly dropped it to the ground and crushed it underneath his foot. He leant back on my trunk, speaking in careful, neutral tones.

"His Kamui will worry for him."

I sensed a fierce flare of something inside him, which he crushed as mercilessly as he did the cigarette—a flare of something that was hidden behind those vast, unbroken walls that protected his sanity.

"But I am the Sakurazukamori."

Seishirou slowly selected another cigarette from his case and lit it. This time, he slid it into his mouth and sucked in the smoke, then blew it out with slow deliberation.

"Until I die, he is mine."

He did not say it. Until he died, the Sumeragi could never be free. Until he died, he himself could never be free.

But I have known of some bonds that are beyond death.

Up where the world belongs to only you and I


Sakurazukamori, I responded seriously.

Thank you. He briefly laid his cheek on my trunk and for a moment, I remembered the first time Setsuka had laid this child's cheek against my trunk so that I would recognise it.

You are going, I said.

I am going, he confirmed. There is one who has to be killed. You will feed soon.

It is not what you are thanking me for, I remarked dryly.

No, he agreed, sounding amused. But you already know why I am thanking you. My mother thanked you that morning, before I killed her. I am doing the same; thanking you for everything.

I nodded slowly to myself, carefully waving my branches so that a shower of my petals and leaves floated past him, as if on a breeze. So, you know.

I could hear him clearly: I know. Until I die, he is mine. But you already know, don't you?

That even if you die, you belong to him? I replied. The Final Test is coming up. Go to him, Sakurazukamori. One last time. You may yet alter your future.

He laughed patiently. Sakura-sama. There is no future for me. I am the Sakurazukamori and an Angel, a Dragon of Earth. I do what I have to and pay the price for it. He paused. How sentimental…today, I think, I am to pay the price.

For nine years, you and the Sumeragi have paid the price for that one year you spent together, I told him. Fate and not you, will decide when the price is fully paid.

Today, I pay my last price, he repeated quietly. I pay it for taking away Sumeragi Hokuto's life. And in doing so, I fulfil my Subaru-kun's Wish—and give him his freedom—to be with his Kamui.

I sensed the hidden truth behind those words and spoke abruptly. You love the Sumeragi boy, as much as it is possible for the Sakurazukamori to love anyone.

But that has never been enough, he answered quietly, and I felt the walls inside him shake. Sakura-sama…once I thought it might have been, a long time ago, but then was then and this is now. Our destiny was foreordained. He drew a long breath. Will you be with me? I have no one else.

The Sakurazukamori have never lacked for courage.

I will, I assured him. I will be there, every step of the way, whatever happens. I knew better than to dissuade him. There was another reason why he was doing what he was doing…and I feared that it would break those walls, release his heart, and drive him insane.

Thank you.

He straightened up, carefully brushing a petal from his suit, cool and debonair, with the magnetic charm and hint of strength both within and without, that made both men and women fall at his feet, and ensnared Sumeragi Subaru all those years ago. He did not know this, believing otherwise—but he was a loveable man. Sumeragi Hokuto had been right—my Guardian too had a chance to love—but she had not known that for a Sakurazukamori, love is the road to death.

I watched him as he walked away, and felt the planets and stars slowly move into position in the skies above. His destiny had been foreordained.

Meet me halfway

It was the end when I saw the Sumeragi arrive, white trenchcoat flapping in the rising wind. The silver strands were humming so wildly that they stretched, taut, between the two men, and the pale pink and red glow mixed with the silver threads until they became one. It was time.

Out of the corner of my mind, I sensed a presence. Kamui.

The boy who had been Monou Fuuma acknowledged me. Ancient One.

I knew how to handle him. Stay out of this, I warned him. And keep that other Kamui out of this without hurting or maiming or killing him. With the Dark Kamui, you have to spell things out very clearly. If he interferes, they will all die and the world is forfeit. You won't get that Final Battle.

Fine. There was a pause. So…the Seal still loves him.

We will see, I answered shortly. For the Sakurazukamori has always been killed by the one he or she loves best; never killed by the one who loves them best.

And I watched silently as Seishirou, still smiling, clenched his fist and aimed for the Sumeragi's heart. And as that blow was aimed, I felt the walls around Seishirou's heart crack and slowly give way, and the emotions that had been bottled up since he was a little boy of nine swept ponderously through my Guardian, pain in its wake, and blended with the physical pain of the Sumeragi's hand in his heart.

…Seishirou…my Guardian, you served me well…you and I did our part…

I know my petals fall and scatter, but I do not care, for that brief moment. In this moment, I salute you, Sakurazukamori—Suzuki Seishirou, son of Suzuki Setsuka, a distant, forgotten cousin of the Sumeragi clan. Go, Seishirou. You have done your work well. Reclaim your true name.

I watch the Sumeragi's face crumple as he holds Seishirou's body tightly to him.

Weep, Sumeragi. You may cry now, because your heart is broken again just when you believe it has already been broken beyond repair. But the bonds that bind the two of you are threefold, and unbroken. Your love and his love have sealed those bonds and rendered them eternal. A rare love indeed—if only you would realise it, Sumeragi. It is possible to reject eternal love. In the end, you are the one he loved best. But is he the one you love best?

Seishirou refused to kill you, not because you are worthless to him, Sumeragi. You are worth too much to him. You alone he loved best, and you alone were forbidden to him by duty and destiny. His love would have embittered him and driven him insane. So he chose instead to seal his emotions away, and was unconsciously torn between keeping you away and drawing you close. Why else do you think he kept on sending you mixed signals that he himself was unable to stop? Ah, but you mistook him, because you did not understand him. You tried to understand how he was, and was blinded for your pains. Even so, you could not understand. Unless you are the Sakurazukamori, you will never understand.

He loved you in the only way he could—not the kind of lovey-dovey you expected, but he could never give more, because it was impossible. He loved you as best he could, enough to let you go when he could have killed you, and enough to let your grandmother go free, and enough to kill your sister and break you so that you came out of your self-imposed coma and learned that there was blackness in this world. It was something you needed to learn for your tasks ahead. He loved you enough to believe that it was he who was worthless in your eyes, and not the other way round. He could never have killed you and he could never hurt you. That he broke your heart all those years ago ensured your survival at least. He would have seen to that in any way.

He knowingly activated your sister's spell—not only for you, but also for himself. He wanted to set you free—and to let you avenge your sister—and to set himself free from you. Didn't realise that, did you? He had to set himself free from you. You, Sumeragi, were too caught up in yourself to see that. You made him the centre of your world once, but you could never understand that he had no world to begin with. Humans need companionship from other humans, and he was one of those doomed to loneliness. The companionship of a Tree is not much use to a human, never mind if the Tree is as wonderful and powerful as I am. He never had a choice; you did and you chose not to have the companionship of others.

Oh, and by the way—there was another reason he died, even though he did not consider it a primary motive for committing suicide. He believed that you were beginning to care for Kamui. That came very close to breaking him, do you know that? He would have been driven insane in the end. He never thought you would love him, because you did not show that you loved the Sakurazukamori. You loved only Sakurazuka Seishirou. And Seishirou was both. So for both selfish and noble purposes, he made quite the greatest sacrifice a lover can make. He gave you your freedom from him.

Treasure it, Sumeragi, while you can. The end draws near. You could never love this man more than he loved you, and Seishirou's sacrifice, such as it is, moves even an ancient, tough old tree like me.

Across the sky

I was resting my old limbs when I felt something strange. It felt very much like Seishirou's bonds to me…but that could not be. I had sent his soul off already…but wait, there was something different about it…

I sensed a presence. By all the names of the stars in the heavens, what the hell is going on?! Somehow, some way, the exasperating fool of a Sumeragi had managed to blend his bonds with Seishirou's Sakurazukamori bonds! Without my permission, the brat! And what was he doing, standing under my branches? He should be with his Kamui, or at least doing a fair bit of mourning for his Seishirou. But no, here he was…Sumeragi and Sakurazukamori blended into one.

I trembled. Sumeragi Subaru, what do you think you are doing? I hissed.

His reply came back, faint and dull. I suppose you are the Sakura.

I sensed something else. His eyes…wasn't he blinded in one eye…Kami-sama. He was wearing Seishirou's good eye. I felt a cold shiver as I realised what I had forgotten.

Technically, because Seishirou had killed himself, well, there could be no next Sakurazukamori. I had forgotten that I would die quite slowly as my magic ran out, without a Sakurazukamori. Except that because my Sakurazukamori had killed himself, and by the old rule, whoever kills the Sakurazukamori is the next Sakurazukamori…our bonds—the bonds between Seishirou and myself must still have held somehow. Weaker, perhaps, but still there, even though his soul had moved on. I had severed the bonds held to his soul. But his body had not moved on—

Sumeragi. Do you know what you just did?

I am…Sakurazukamori…

Fine, so I will not need to die slowly. But I will really, really have to refrain from murdering this tomfool. One question nags at me, though.

Exactly where did you get Seishirou's eye?

He sounded both unconcerned and dreary. The Dark Kamui gave it to me. He said…if I took it…I would become the next Sakurazukamori…

The interfering Dark Kamui. Very well. He thinks he is all powerful. Little does he know why he cannot kill Shirou Kamui, and little does he know exactly why the other Kamui will never be broken. Shirou Kamui still exists. Inside him is a little of the brash young boy with a spine. The Kamui we see today has no spine—or so many people think. Ha. One has to have a spine to stand up to the Dark Kamui. Shirou Kamui has one, certainly. The Dark Kamui doesn't know why he can't kill Kamui. Well, I could tell him. Inside him is Monou Fuuma, who loved Shirou Kamui very much, and still does. No matter what, the Dark Kamui can never kill the other Kamui.

But I digress.

I turned my attention to the Sumeragi. So you took the eye, just took it, I said acidly.

I now know exactly how destiny works. Through the hands of an idiot like Sumeragi Subaru. It pains me to observe how Seishirou wasted his life on games with this boy who has a brain the size of a pea.

I had to… he whispered.

I looked at the boy. Probably some silly misconception of his all arising from the love. Humans are all like that. I can see the silver threads of fate shine brightly; the pale pink and red threads have disappeared with Seishirou's death. The love is obvious; the silver strands of fate shine a soft gold.

I do not like to baby-sit.

And I sincerely hope the Kamui gives the Dark Kamui a jolly good thrashing on the Day of the Sacrifice.

Make this a new beginning of another life

The Final Test has arrived. I can feel it.

The Day of the Final Sacrifice.

Did any of the Ten no Ryu and Chi no Ryu notice it, I wonder?

Each death, of Seal and Angel, was a sacrifice.

It will be very interesting.

They will all be there, all of them—dead or alive. They are the Ten no Ryu and the Chi no Ryu, after all, and come what may, they must all be here, on this final day.

Ah. They have arrived.

They stand, facing one another, opposite one another.















Ah. It has begun.