Come to me... Come to me...!

Her voice is more desperate than ever before, urgency driving her hands faster and more insistent through my hair, down my chest.

Come to me... I command you! Child, beloved of all nature, I order it! Come!

It changes, then, from demanding, to aching and desolate with yearning.

Why do you not come? I beg you; I hunger so. I cannot sustain myself this way long! Please, please, why do you not come?!

A throbbing ache of hunger washes through me, and I cry out involuntarily, trying to pull away, but her hands--such pale, delicate, fragile hands--are too strong, and she clings to me, nails digging into my back, breath a hot, dire whisper, the endless flood of sakura petals brushing at my skin in soft, silken caresses.

Come to me!

I woke from that dream as I had from all the others--sweat-covered and trembling, lost between fear and some strange arousal. Pushing myself upright in the bed, I wasn't surprised to see that I was the first one awake again. I'd always been an early riser; the world was at its most peaceful in the dawning hours of morning, and I relished that. Hoping that the solitude would lend me some peace-of-mind, I rose silently, grabbing my uniform and heading into the bathroom. At least I hadn't woken anyone this time. The last few nights had been hellish, my sleep coming in shorter amounts, the dreams coming with ever increasing frequency, growing more vivid, more demanding, and some of the others had begun to ask me about them.

I frowned as I surveyed my reflection, the pale face, the compressed lips, the skittish eyes, reddened from lack of sleep. Trying to shake off the dream long enough to at least get out of the barracks, I ran some cold water, splashing it in my face to wake me up all the way--I'd shower when I got back--then quickly dressed. Turning the light in the bathroom back off, I crept quietly out of the room, then the building.

A few minutes later, I was out on the streets. They were even emptier than usual for the hour--there weren't many people left in Tokyo after the 'earthquakes' that had been tearing it apart. Some of the elderly who had lived there their entire lives, those who had no family or loved ones to speak of and so stayed on to volunteer, those who had no other place to go, we soldiers who were doing the vast majority of the cleanup work, some international aid in our ranks... And those shining few optimists who were naive, brave, or foolhardy enough stay in trust that they'd make it out all right.

I thought of Yuzuriha and sighed, hands tightening a bit in my jacket pockets as I walked, leaden, sluggish steps aimed to take me towards the nearby park. Some of those optimists might survive, depending on the outcome of all this. If the Dragons of Heaven won, then those fortunate enough to live somewhere other than near the foundation kekkai would live, and I prayed Yuzuriha would as well. I tried not to hope that I myself would survive along with her. I wanted to, of course, but there were too many things that could happen for me to depend on it.

I'd avoided the battle for many reasons, ojou-chan being only the latest on the long list. It was wrong to kill humans. Whatever my divine destiny was, it didn't negate that simple fact, it didn't change wrong to right simply by being my duty. I of all the Dragons of Earth knew best what the Earth was suffering. The only other who might understand was our Kamui, and he'd forsaken right and wrong in pursuit of granting Wishes instead of lives. With every kekkai that fell, there were that many fewer humans to hurt the earth--but that many fewer other forms of life to reap the benefit. Humans were not the only ones that died in the destruction the others who share my destiny were wrecking. There were tree-lined streets, animals in both those trees and the alleys, house pets, small gardens, too many things to count.

Even as the others destroyed the kekkai, they were destroying that which we'd been born to protect. The Earth suffered, humans suffered, and no matter how much humans abused their planet, they were as much a part of it as any other life they ended, by negligence or design.

I'd had those thoughts before, and I was too exhausted to think through it again and second-guess myself. I was set on my course, to whatever end it might take me. I had other things to consider now. The woman haunting me was no dreamseer, not for my side in the war nor the other, and she wasn't a human woman gifted with some form of Sight. A spirit was the only other option, and for her to cry out to me as she did, say the things she said, she could only be the embodiment of the Sakurazukamori's Sakura Barrow--for although all plants had their voices, only something with magic would be able to reach into my dreams.

Why his tree was calling out to me, I could only imagine. I hadn't spoken to any of my companions since we first gathered, seen only a glimpse of the computer girl Satsuki when I'd intervened in her battle with Yuzuriha, the others not at all. Had he fallen in the battles? It was the only thing that made sense.

My lips tightened again as I walked, rounding a last corner. Whatever his power source wanted, it wouldn't have my aid in gaining it. The tree was unnatural, a foul twisting of the sweet life of most of its kind. I'd seen it once before, when I'd first come to Tokyo as a boy; the nightmares on and off for weeks had been quite enough to convince me that I'd be perfectly happy to never see it again. All the better to let it starve. Maybe then the enchantments would leave it, it could grow clean, the dreams would stop, and I could sleep again, for a while, in relative peace.

The park was quiet and deserted, a blessing for which I was deeply grateful. A fountain, its usual burble silenced by the mess of the underground piping, graced the entry, with a bench beneath a large oak nearby, and paths leading off into the depths of the area. Going around the bench, I instead settled wearily to the ground near the tree, leaning against the trunk and listening to the welcoming murmur in its branches as it dropped a few leaves onto the surface of the still water. I watched the ripples, and opened myself to the solitude in the small haven of life and peace. How long, I wondered, would it last before the battle touched and tainted it as well?

Nature had always been my closest friend in times like that. Wind whispered through the leaves again, and the tree's comfort settled over me. They were so blameless, so trusting, trees. Cutting swathes of them down for no reason but to build a store just like another three blocks away--it made no sense to me. It was like selling an heirloom to buy some cheap trinket that happened to be in fashion. Humans were such fickle creatures, after all was said and done, and so absorbed in their silkspun cocoons of worlds wherein they were the most important creatures, and other beings were only important by measure of how useful they could be in maintaining the fine quality of that selfish, foolish--and so very, very human--world.

Slowly, my thoughts began to drift from me, whisked away on the soft breeze as sleep stole over me in gentle waves of black.

That gives way to--pink. Sakura petals. And there, red lips, and willow-grey hair.

I'm dreaming again, but something's different this time. I'm thinking with more clarity, seeing things more sharply. I try to move away as her kimono-clad arms raise to embrace me, but for all that I struggle, my body does not respond.

Hands white as snow--no, I think numbly, that's the wrong metaphor, it's too pure, hers are the ivory of stripped bone--twine together and I feel diamond hard, razor sharp nails rest against the nape of my neck. They press into my skin only lightly, but I can feel them so clearly, every perfect curve of her nails--of her body as she pulls herself to me--or me to her?

She tilts my face down to hers--I still can't see her eyes--one hand sifting through my hair as the other tightens her grip around my shoulders, and I feel all of it so crisp and clear that it seems to be burning my skin. I feel I should be trembling, but I can't move....

She isn't speaking. She's always spoken before; why isn't she--?

You've fallen asleep outside, little one.

Her tone has changed completely, the demand, the urgency, both gone as if they never were. She now speaks coyly, a smug, triumphant smile tracing her lips as she pulls herself up to trace them down my jaw, the contact streaking fire through me; I'd gasp if I could find a way.

You're among the trees now, outside that horrible cage of steel and cement. It's so much easier to reach you this way, to call you through the very earth that amplifies our cries, echoing my voice through every leaf and blade of grass around you.

Her hands tighten suddenly; I feel her nails slice into my skin, the hot welling of blood, and wonder if she can hear the thoughts racing in my mind.

Of course I can, little Dragon. They beat madly inside your head like caged birds.

She laughs softly, and the sound of it freezes my blood. My blood--she's pulling her hand away and lapping daintily at her nails.

It isn't your blood, little one. Not real, not yet, but it soon will be. Oh, such a feast awaits.

Her voice is blissful, but underscored with hunger and anticipation, and it's wrong, so wrong, no tree's voice should ever sound like that, and why was this happening now, what happened to the damned Sakurazukamori?!

This one?

She's changed; the assassin stands before me now, collected and calm, with a faint hint of a smirk playing at his mouth, one hand still cupping the back of my neck.

This one died not so long ago, Shiyuu-san. He's with his mother now, sleeping in me forever. His choice for a successor was a poor one, to put it lightly. To cede me to someone who will not kill. But you'll be enough to change that; he won't be able to resist my will.

He--she, it, I can't tell anymore, the murmur of sakura petals around me dampens my thoughts--shakes his head, his smile widening as his hand pulls me down again and a kiss brushes by my lips, making awareness flare with pain and dizzying pleasure.

Enough questions, my meal. They mean nothing to you anymore. Or won't, soon enough.

And the hand is hers again as she deepens the kiss, the intensity of it sweeping through me like a storm, her power and siren call tearing at my thoughts. The hot ache invades me, and I can feel my body yearning to respond, to catch and hold her, to crush her frail form against mine.

I try to fight her back, clinging desperately to anything but her. My parents, my comrades--ojou-chan. Yuzuriha. Laughing brown eyes and shining black hair, a winsome, open smile.

You'll forget her too, my fair one, earth's blessed. You'll forget everything.

She's in deep now, too deep, echoing through my being, ripping away my prized memories and melting my resistance as her hands begin to explore the frame of my back. It's too much, I'm too open, I can't shut her out anymore than I've ever been able to deafen myself to the smallest flower.

Give them to me. Your powers, your memories, your loves and hates, your pain, your fear, your grief, everything you want to protect, ill-fated one. I will devour them and all of your flesh, feed from you as from no other ever before or again.

Too much... It's--taking me...



As she breaks the bruising kiss to toy fondly with my hair, I finally see her eyes, white pupils in red irises swimming in black. Ancient, so old, pitiless, soulless, filled with nothing but the hunger, and the beauty and the bliss of it all overwhelming me.

I can't think. I should remember something, someone, anyone, the reason I fight, the reason I refuse to fight. But it's--

Come to me.


Come with me, my little one.

White hands on my wrists--so beautiful, perfect, who is she--leading me away...


Next chapter: Focus shifts to Yuzuriha. Subaru will probably be involved. Coming soon, I hope! Remember, feedback makes the author work faster.

Question: Is the Sakura Tree ever shown to have free mobility with its branches/roots? Cite as example, please.