My feet fall softly into blood, each step punctuated by a wet smacking noise. Everything is frozen—hardly a breath of wind to be felt. Soft green light pours down on the scene. And I'm hunting.
As I rush down an alleyway, a newspaper crunches under my foot. Glancing down momentarily, I can barely read the headline before I've carried myself out of sight. Apathy Syndrome Cases on the Rise. Signs of the fall are everywhere, even here, out of sight from the world. Nearby, I spy two coffins, leant against each other. In windows, coffins laid on beds. Coffins, everywhere. It's so lonely here… I'd give anything for the faintest hint of human life.
Wait! There, in the distance. I smell one. Turning on my heel, I begin sprinting back in the direction I had come from. Breathing heavily, I catch myself before I can curse my humanity. It's the only thing that lulls them into coming near me, after all. Humans would flee from a Shadow… But seeing me like this, they suspect nothing. They sob and cry, then come rushing to me asking for help when they notice how calm I am despite the horror of the Dark Hour. And as they reach out for me, hoping for reassurance that I'm a friend… I destroy them. And I shouldn't-shouldn't-shouldn't be enjoying any of this—but I am. Oh, I am. And it hurts to love that shriek as they realize that I'm not at all as I appear, but that doesn't stop the feeling. That joy.
The scent seems to be coming closer now. Turning a corner, I dash forwards into a road that would have been called 'busy', had it not been frozen. More coffins, leant against steering wheels. Entering a patch of thick traffic, I push myself off the ground, and begin to leap from car bonnet to car bonnet. I could care less about what the humans will think when they awaken in a short while. All the costs in repairs…
Prey. It's so close now. Soon, I will fulfill my mistress' wishes; answer her calls for humanity to be silenced. Their greatest wish—their death wish. They want me to be here. They want me to release them from this painful life. And so I come—the angel of death. And my mistress bids me onwards.
Her words are no lie.
With a huge leap, I clear the rest of the cars, a rush of adrenaline flooding through me as I begin to fall back towards the ground on the other side. Landing on all fours, I get to my feet swiftly, now heading for a small mall. I can sense the human in there, hiding from the Shadows that surround it on all sides. Yes, I can see it perfectly, in my mind's eye: crouched behind the coffee shop sign, peeking out on occasion, hoping for salvation. It'll be a waif of a boy, with thick black hair and fearful eyes. Pushing open the doors, I look inside. The fountain in the centre runs red with blood, and the shop doors are locked. Slowing my pace, not wanting to seem too confident, I begin to make my way over to the coffee shop. I glance about, faking anxiety. If I act like him—scared and alone—he won't think anything odd of me. Wandering near now, I see the human. He's just as I imagined him, his entire body shaking as he hides behind the flimsy sheet of metal. Looking cautiously at me from over his shield, I notice his eyes light up as he sees me. Pushing the sign aside, he immediately gets to his feet, and begins to run.
"Ryoji!" That name. It's not one I want to hear. But I can't quite remember why. The boy stops a step away from me, and smiles, looking relieved. "I thought you had gone back to—" For a moment, he sounds confused, but he soon shrugs it off.
"Oh thank God, I thought I was the only one still alive around here." How does he know me? I reach out for memories of a life long forgotten. Time spent laughing… Time spent with friends… What am I remembering? I groan, snapping one hand to my forehead, wishing I could just bring myself to get rid of this human.
Don't. Don't. You don't want to do that, Ryoji—Ryoji, who is… Ryoji? Why am I calling myself by that name? Because it's the name I gave myself when I was human. I was human? When was I human?
"Ryoji, man, you okay?" Shaking my arm gently, the boy looks up at me, his gaze fearful. "I'm freaked out by all this too, but dude, we've gotta stay calm, or those monsters'll get us." He grabs my free hand, and begins to try and drag me towards the exit.
"Come on, I think they're gone now…" This boy is brave. He's trying to fight the Shadows. He isn't one of the ones who longs for Nyx to descend… but death's angel cannot be picky.
But I don't want to kill him.
Yes I do.
No I don't
Why am I fighting this war within myself? Every night, it becomes harder and harder to do my mistress' bidding. And now… Ryoji.
That name makes me sick, and I don't even know why.
"Ryoji, snap out of it!"
Who is he? Who am I?
I am Ryoji Mochizuki.
And I am no enemy of the humans.
This boy is my old classmate, he sat far behind me. Sometimes, he would ask Junpei and I if we wanted to go down to Wild Duck Burger for a snack. We would always accept. I can't put a name to the face, but I know who he is, and that's good enough for me.
Not good enough, Thanatos. Not good enough. You are a killer, you are—
You were human. You were a good kid.
You are a monster.
All you ever wanted was a family.
You will kill the boy, Thanatos.
"Ryoji!!" I snap my arm back, and send the boy flying into a wall, angered by his yelling.
All you ever had was loneliness and bad luck.
Before I can stop myself, I've changed back into my true form. Faceless. Inhuman. Death cannot show emotion, or feel fear. I am death; death is me. And this boy is my next victim.
"Ryo—oh God, what are you!?"
I am a Shadow.
"G-get away from me!"
I am a student!
I am death.
I'm not going to kill him!
I am going to kill this boy.
It's not his time yet—no, stop!
Nyx will claim him.
My stomach wrenches as I plunge my sword into him. I'm sick, I feel like throwing up… Blood trickles down the blade, very slowly. Changing back into Ryoji, I let out a scream as the boy flops forward onto me. When the hour ends, he won't be bloodied, and all the signs of his violent death will have gone. He'll simply be soulless… Another victim of Nyx.
I've done my duty now. Exiting the mall, I make a speedy return to Tartarus, where I collapse from exhaustion. Something inside of me is draining away at me… And I'm not sure what. I don't know why I feel so guilty about the blood on my blade.
As I lie on the staircase, my eyes flickering shut as the Dark Hour ends once more, a question enters my mind:
… Who is Ryoji?