Chapter 10:

Hiroshige stood silently, shell-shocked, at the odd group holed up in Ouri's apartment. The last 24 hours had been a ridiculous montage of one unimaginable thing after another, and he was simply getting dragged along by the flow. Despite his earlier protests he now knew that nothing he said or did would manage to make any difference. The Miyako he was faced with now was infinitely different to the Miyako who he went to school with. Death – although the thought made his skin crawl – apparently changed a person; changed their mentality, their survival instincts, their reactions. He couldn't be sure what exactly about her had been affected by her death and consequent revival – though he had to admit that suddenly finding yourself as one of the undead would be enough to mess with anyone's mind – but she was... stronger now. Had a stronger will. The sort of willpower that he had never possessed.

"Don't care for the mission…" Miyako was muttering to herself. "Are all monks as lax about the rules as you?" An incredulous look lifted her features from the darkness that had previously engulfed them. It was amazing to see, because with her expression light and carefree he could see just how tense she had really been. Her whole body had relaxed from the stiff way she had been holding herself as they all argued.

"Truthfully?" Yamada asked, moving to sit down on Ouri's couch. Miyako nodded enthusiastically and he laughed, again an oddly carefree emotion, this time from someone who could wield so much power over another person without outwardly showing any of it. "No. On a whole the members of the Kōgon sect would rather die than disobey direct orders. It's sort of ridiculous really. To them, it's almost as though being a monk mean becoming a mindless drone. Which is funny really, since normal monks generally preach about the gift of free will."

Hiroshige watched silently as a myriad of emotions danced across Miyako's face. Disappointment; anger; fear; anxiety; confusion; depression. He could tell what she was thinking about, it was the first time he had ever been able to read her thoughts in her expression. If 1% of the monks were like Yamada and the other 99% acted like Adachi then her life would be a living hell – no pun intended. They despised people like her – Hiroshige refused to think of her as anything other than human – so they would treat her like dirt. If that was the case wasn't it then better to just remain where she was?

The curious monk seemed to understand her inner dilemma as well, as he leaned forward, forearms resting on his knees as he stared across the room at Miyako. Makina huffed in irritation and stormed into the kitchen, one of the only other rooms in the apartment – if she went outside she would have to deal with Adachi.

"Adachi is not actually involved to any level with the Shikabane Hime, if the thought is bothering you. He just happened to be 'in the know', and the higher-ups are very astute about people not going alone on... ah... retrieval missions such as this. They seem to fear that the shikabane we approach may get out of hand, and as such we would require assistance. Considering that most of the back-up partners they assign are essentially worthless," he purposefully raised his voice at that so that Adachi would be able to hear him from outside, "the idea is a pointless one, as they are unable to provide the sort of assistance one might require in the first place."

Startled Miyako glanced up, her gaze flicking to the front door momentarily before she started laughing. She got the feeling that Yamada would have been great friends with Keisei, were the man still alive. They were both surprisingly easy-going with the oddest sense of humour.

"That's a relief." She managed to choke out as she tried to calm herself down. Rubbing the back of her neck embarrassedly Miyako glanced out of the corner of her eye at Ouri. After her recent outburst turned accidental confession they hadn't exactly had a chance to talk, but she wasn't sure what she would say to him anyway. It was true what she had told him. She was dealing with it – never in a million years had she expected him to return her feelings, so ever since she realised her crush she had been trying to talk herself out of it. Nothing he might say to her would hurt in the way it might have if she ever thought she had a decent chance with him. The biggest problem was that she never managed to find anyone to transfer her attention to in order to allow her to move on, and now she never would.

As though sensing her eyes on him Ouri turned to her, offering up a cheery smile that did little to belay the distress and harder emotions that shone through in his eyes and body language. Shrugging it off she nodded slightly in his direction before turning her focus to Hiroshige. Her other friend had become rather silent, a torn, pensive expression painted across his face. Obviously the information overload was having a negative effect on his mood, but she supposed that it was to be expected.

"Makina, please come out of the kitchen." Miyako called softly to the older girl, quickly trying to decide what she ought to say as her parting words. Monk Yamada seemed to understand what it was that she was about to do and moved to stand beside the apartment door, out of the way and ready to leave when she was. The purple haired teen shot a glare in her direction as she re-entered the room, but that too had been expected.

"Ouri, brother mine," Miyako began, trying to word it in a way that would hopefully settle the issue from the previous day without actually bringing it up again in her farewell, "for the love of all things holy try not to get yourself killed assisting Makina." She clapped a hand on his shoulder and sent a firm look at Makina, silently willing her not to get him into trouble in the first place.

"I'll try my best." He promised, catching her gaze and pulling her in for a hug. For all he knew it could be the last time he ever saw her. In order to leave on good terms with one another he took her words for what they were, a sort of apology. Releasing her he allowed her to address her next warning to their classmate.

"Hiro, you are under no circumstances to go getting yourself in the middle of this," Miyako gestured vaguely at the other people gathered in Ouri's apartment – the monk and the shikabane hime, "sort of business for fear of your life. Don't think that I'm going to forgive you if die on me either."

"Yeah." Hiroshige croaked as she engulfed him in a tight embrace. She knew that the whole ordeal would be harder on him than on Ouri because he was a complete outsider to the situation. It wasn't fair for him to have to go through it all. Squeezing his shoulder as she let go Miyako took a few steps back and simply watched her two friends for a moment, trying to prolong the time before she had to leave. Taking a deep breath she looked up at Yamada before heading to the front door, opening it to the cursing voice of Adachi, whom she had almost forgotten about. Stepping around him she made her way down the stairs and out into the carpark.

Ignoring the heated glare Adachi was levelling on her Miyako turned around at the edge of the apartment complex and waved at her friends as they watched her leave from the balcony. Offering them up a weak smile she tried to give off a sense of confidence that she didn't exactly feel. Up ahead of her was a long road full of unknowns, and being unprepared had never been something she enjoyed.

The journey would be a long one, and she could only hope she would make it out in one piece at the other end.

La Fin.

This chapter is sort of pitiful in my opinion, but I decided that I really wanted to get this out of the way before the new year. This isn't what you'll want to hear, but this is the end of this particular story. It doesn't necessarily have to end here though, I've simply run out of steam. This, my story, could be like, oh I don't know, Book 1: The beginning or something like that. If someone thinks that they have an idea they can hash out into a sequel then by all means, hit me up and then go ahead, you have my permission. I'll be delighted to see what you come up with.

Until then, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and have a great New Year, and of course, thanks for reading :)