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Ice in my Veins

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Since birth, Douma’s destiny was set for him.

 

Silver locks and rainbow eyes, his destiny was to become a religious leader from day one. His parents’ affection is weak if not void, but Douma doesn’t truly care as he holds no love for either of them, not really.

 

He holds no love for anyone, nor hate for anyone. Born without emotions or simply casting them aside since a young age, no one knows.

 

When his mother kills his father for his affairs in the Cult, and kills herself in front of him, the child only complains about the coppery smell coming from his father’s multiple stab wounds. 

 

The Cult coddles him, one of the older girls, a woman named Mioko, cares for him while shedding tears and asking for forgiveness; she had been his father’s favorite partner in his affairs. Douma sheds fake tears, smiles a fake smile, and forgives her for her sins from a place that has been his from birthright. He did not offer the same tears for his parents, offered no tears at all.

 

The Cult becomes his life, amid the snowy mountains Paradise sat atop of. 

 

It is to be a short life.





A demon comes to Paradise one day.

 

Douma did not know when exactly had it happened, that day. He can see the blood, can hear the screams and the sound of flesh being ripped from bones. A flash of red eyes that, for the first time, stilled something in him for a second.

 

If he had emotions, he guesses, that would have been fear.

 

The Cult members die in Paradise, and they die for him , because he has to survive and keep on living in hopes that others could reach salvation, or a selfish thought of reaching salvation if they sacrificed themselves. Mioko takes him in her arms, hides his face in the crook of her neck, and runs away from the carnage in nothing but her blood stained iro muji and tabi socks. The screams fade in the distance, and Douma can only listen to his follower’s rapid beating heart. It’s oddly soothing.

 

Mioko doesn’t stop running, not even after they enter the dense mountain forests, not even after the snow starts to reach her knees and she struggles to walk through as fast as she can. Douma remains in her arms, face flushed with cold and puff of air visible as he breathes, the forest oddly stills, as if not daring to make a sound and alerting the demons within the foliage.

 

Even said silence wasn’t enough.





“Douma-sama, run! Please run! Go! Please--”

 

Douma lies in the blood-splattered snow, eyes wide and limbs numb, his face coated in blood that wasn’t his own.

 

Mioko lies a few feet to the side, barely breathing through her mangled wind-pipe, blue eyes wide and bloodshot as blood bubbles from between her lips. A demon had snuck up on them, struck the girl, and fed on her still struggling body as Douma rolled in the snow, stunned.

 

His follower had screamed oh so loudly, and it was so unlike any sound he had heard before in his short life. Not like his mother’s angry screams at his father, not like his father’s dying scream and gurgles. Mioko’s voice has been full of primal fear and pain as she was struck and devoured alive in front of him. The child isn’t sure how to feel, what to feel even, and remains silent, wide-eyed at the horrifying scene.

 

Her pleading screams for him fall short quickly, and Douma can see her eyes staring as his rainbow colored ones. Not with the plea of mercy or salvation. She begs for death with a look, and begs for him to go and leave her behind. 

 

The demon is not the one from the Cult, Douma notices, his eyes are small and dog-like, body thin and gangly like dead branches. He feeds on the girl’s body until life mercifully leaves her eyes just as a piece of intestine is pulled from her body with a sickening wet sound.

 

Douma stares at her eyes still, dull and lifeless. He did not notice when someone else came, the flash of a sword and the painful shriek the demon gave as it avoided a slash that would have severed his head from his shoulders. As the demon is away from the corpse, Douma struggles in the snow towards Mioko’s remains, her upper body mostly intact in comparison to her open belly, the crushed throat still bleeds, and when his small hands take Mioko’s hand he can still feel the lingering warmth rapidly leaving her body.

 

“Mioko, get up,” Douma starts--no, commands, with his soft voice and eyes wide, staring at the girl’s unmoving face. “Now, Mioko.”

 

He stays still in the bloodstained snow, doesn’t notice the demon dying, doesn’t notices a man approaching.



 

 

Sakonji Urokodaki curses himself a hundred times as he takes in the heartbreaking scene.

 

A small boy clutching an older girl’s corpse, asking for her to wake up. A pair or siblings, or maybe even mother and son. The scene is something he will never get used to, the carnage and despair demons left behind would forever stay with him, each failure to arrive quicker, each demon who had stolen a life before he could do something about it.

 

His mission was to exterminate the demons that had been terrorizing the village at the feet of the mountains. He got them, all but one, the dog-eyed monstrosity that had fled to the mountains as he killed the others. He hadn’t been fast enough, and it had cost him the life of a young woman.

 

The water Hashira walks forwards, gently kneeling besides the child and just as gently holding his shoulder. The small boy looks at him, and Urokodaki is startled by his appearance; behind the bloodstains and smears a pair or rainbow-colored eyes stare at him, unblinking.

 

“I’m sorry,” Urokodaki says, his gruff voice trying to sound soft. “She will not wake up, child.”

 

The child stares at him, and sheds the quietest tears the Hashira had ever seen from a grieving little one. 

 

The weather isn’t kind, the boy shivers and trembles while having that blank expression as he cries mute tears. The girl’s body is too mangled to lift, and would break in half if he dared even move it. Urokodaki mutters a prayer, asks for forgiveness for not being able to bury the body and give it a proper resting place, and takes the child into his arms, away from the corpse, from the mountains, and from Paradise.

Chapter Text

Douma remains quiet for the following days, at least for the most part. The man who had taken him to the nearest village hadn’t minded much, letting him stay with him in an inn, keeping him fed and clothed. Besides his name and age, he hadn’t asked much about him either. 

 

When asked about his home, Douma idly replies he lived in Paradise, atop of the mountains. When asked about who Mioko was, he tells him she had been one of his followers, the one who took him away when everyone started dying.

 

Sakonji Urokodaki stiffly nods, pats his head, and hurries to tie a message to his Kasugai and send him off.

 





What Douma called “Paradise” was nothing but a mansion filled with blood and broken bodies.

 

Several Kinoe come per Urokodaki’s request, and the resort isn’t a pretty one; the mansion had most likely harbored a cult in its insides, a pretty big cult if the human remains were anything to go by. Whatever demon came there hadn’t killed for hunger, but just for the sake of killing.

 

Urokodaki sighs, swallows his rage and thinks about the rainbow-eyed child. He was most obviously part of whatever that cult had been, perhaps even held a position of power he didn’t fully understand. Being part of a dead cult meant he wasn’t part of the village they had stayed in.

 

Which also meant the child was most likely an orphan, with no familial connection left living.

 

The water Hashira gently pets his Kasugai crow, pensive. He was no stranger to the cruel story demons left behind, and this time a misplaced guilt threatens to swallow him. Maybe if he had been faster, if he had been a little more wary of his surroundings, that child would at least have a known person to cling to, even if they were a cultist, instead of just a corpse freezing in the mountain forest.

 

“What am I to do?” He wonders aloud, keeping quiet for a short few seconds before sighing, “He’s young, maybe too young, and I am no father.”

 

The silence creeps in along with the guilt, and both are equally deafening.




They leave the village by dawn, with no more danger from demons in the area, it’s safe to just step out a few moments shy from the earliest rays of the morning sun.

 

Douma remains perpetually quiet, with a blank look and semi-curious eyes. Perhaps it was shock, or quiet realization of what had truly happened. Either way, he doesn’t offer the slightest bit of denial when Urokodaki gently asks him if he wants to come with him, to a safe place, away from the mountains.

 

The walk is done in silence, for several days. Urokodaki notices him just simply existing, there isn’t a single twitch on his face besides the fake smile the child gives every once in a while, nodding along as if nothing had ever happened to him.

 

He wonders, what the child must have lived through before to even know how to fake a smile looking so sincere. What that cult had done to him.

 

It’s not long until they reach the Butterfly estate, and Urokodaki feels a weight, just a small bit, lifting from his shoulders.

 




Sato Kushina holds the current Flower Hashira ranking, a woman with fair hair and cold eyes. So deadly as she is kind, she does not turn Urokodaki or his charge away when they arrive, and her heart breaks when late at night, the water Hashira retells the rainbow-eyed child’s cruel story.

 

“Poor little one,” Kushina sighs, the heartbreak is palpable with her. “You know I will not turn children away, Urokodaki. He’s welcome to stay here.”

 

Urokodaki knows, after all, the Butterfly estate is something of a sanctuary for those who had suffered losses from demons, especially young children. Most of them grew to be Slayers or Kakushi.

 

“Will he be okay?”

 

“Of course, you know we’ll care for him.” The woman nods to herself, eyes fierce in promise to the fact. Just for a second, they soften ever so slightly, there’s the telltale of sadness in them. “Recently we’ve taken in two girls, one of them is his age if not just a bit younger. I’m sure they’ll get along and help each other on the way.”

 

“Thank you, Kushina.” Urokodaki bows ever so slightly and the woman smiles. “I will come and check on him whenever possible.”

 

“You’re welcome here whenever, Sakonji. Safe travels.”




Douma didn’t like it there, then again, he didn’t dislike it either. How can someone like or not like something when they can’t feel? 

 

The old Slayer, the one with the kind face, is gone. He left with the promise of coming back soon, and for now, this was his home. The mansion wasn’t as big as Paradise, and it has a much different vibe to it that confuses him. The woman, Kushina, is kind, like the Cult had been, but no one postrates in front of him, no one begs for salvation, no one cries at his feet. 

 

The smile he gives is still a fake one, and so are his tears. When the memory of Mioko crosses his mind, the child’s face remains fiercely blank, the sting in his eyes isn’t as fake as he would have thought, but it dulls soon enough when the swordswoman checks on him. He still holds no true feelings, not exactly, but he guesses if he did, Douma would find the comfort...nice.

 




The children do not get along right away.

 

Kocho Kanae is barely seven years old, and her little sister, Shinobu, is just a small toddler, still learning to walk on her own without the support of a wall or a warm hand. It’s not that the girls and Douma hate each other, or even dislike the other. Douma holds no feelings for them other than a polite pleasantry, Kanae is still fairly silent after the trauma of her family being ripped away from her by demons, and Shinobu is just a babe, content with being with her sister and babbling half-formed words.

 

They coexist in a silent mansion, with silent lessons. Douma knows how to read and write already, his life in the Cult ensures he received proper education, so he does not participate in the Kakushi’s lessons about it. He remains outside in the garden, among flowers and trees, staring at a small pond with lotus flowers gently floating in its waters.

 

Sometimes, Kanae sits by him, sharing no words between them other than a little smile. Sometimes, Shinobu will try to toddle towards him and stare at his eyes, chubby hands grasping for the neck of his yukata or the tips of his hair.

 

Sometimes, miss Kushina herself sits with them, and Kanae lays her head on her lap while Shinobu plays with the flowers around them. 

 

Douma remains still, with a soft, plastic smile on his face as he stares at the lotuses, and gently pries little Shinobu’s hands away from his long hair when she tugs at it. They don’t get along, not really, still too quiet around the other. But in moments like these, maybe they could.





Douma does not dream. His dreams are carefully blank and, whenever he manages to see images, they never once make sense.

 

Paradise may have treated them as visions, he views them as nothing but muddy images that prevent him from having a good night’s sleep.

 

The dream he has that night is..a memory, gruesome and vivid. The snow is cold and dyed red with Mioko’s guts, and the dog-eyed demon carelessly crushes her chest as it steps towards him, mouth agape with bits of flesh inside.

 

Douma wakes up with a start, silent and wide eyed. No tears come from his eyes, but his hands tremble without meaning to and his breath gets caught on his throat. He steps out of the futon and gently walks out of the room, towards the garden and the lotus pond. The night is cold and silent.

 

He stays for a bit, until a familiar shadow sits by his side. Kanae is without her sister, probably sleeping soundly in the mansion. Neither of them speak, as per usual, but Kanae looks at him intently, and says, “Did you have a nightmare?”

 

Douma stares at her, his face blank without the usual fake smile. What was a nightmare? But before he can ask, Kanae shifts slightly in her spot, staring at the pond again.

 

He blinks, almost in..surprise? And looks at her with the slightest shift in his face. “I saw Mioko in my dream, the demon ate her belly, and was going to eat me, too,”

 

There is no question about who Mioko is, Kanae understands all the same “..I had a nightmare, too,” She mumbles quietly, eyes downcast and Douma can notice the odd redness around them. “my parents, they..they were killed by demons, in front of me. I saw it again.”

 

There’s silence between them again, and stay like that until dawn arrives.

 

“I will become a Demon Slayer,” Kanae says quietly, as if it were a secret, “and will kill them all, so that no one suffers like we did.”

 

Douma looks at her, no expression on his face as he merely nods, and enters the mansion once again when a Kakushi spots them and reprimands them for being out of bed.





Urokodaki returns two months after, wearing a tengu mask and new scars on his hands.

 

Douma recognizes him right away, and offers a smile when the old man greets him. The flower Hashira laughs lightly once seeing the mask, and offers him a room to stay that night that he graciously accepts.

 

“How have you been?” The water Hashira asks Douma once they’re alone. “Do you like this place?”

 

Douma nods, smiling. The silence that reigns in after that is just a tad uncomfortable for the older man. 

 

“I want to be a Demon Slayer,” The rainbow-eyed child says suddenly, if Urokodaki is startled, he does not show it.

 

“Why?”

 

“I want to kill all demons,” The child answers, and his voice is so soft, so lacking in anger it’s surprising. But his eyes, Urokodaki notices, his eyes are dull and cold, and the stench of righteous anger comes from him ever so slightly. “like you did in the mountains.”

 

Perhaps it’s revenge, most likely anger that drives him to ask for such a thing. The water Hashira has seen over and over again, in each child who had lost its parents to a demon’s maw.

 

“You’re too young,” Urokodaki says, crossing his arms as Douma stares at him, unblinking and unmoving. He can see the child’s fake smile twitch for a moment, just barely, and wonders if it's something he just imagined “much too young still. Wait a couple of years, train your body, and I will teach you how to Breathe when you’re ready.”

 

The air between them stills, and the stench of fury vanishes almost immediately. Douma’s fake smile is soft on his face, but his eyes are cold. He bows.

Chapter Text

Late at night, when the Butterfly Estate is as still as it can be, both water and flower Hashiras drink a single serving of sake between grim news.

 

“How’s he faring, then?”

 

“He’s-- he’s strange, Sakonji. Even after a couple of months. I’ve met my fair share of children who go through shock, but nothing quite like his case.”

 

The water Hashira sighs, rubbing a scarred hand on the bridge of his nose at the news. He feels responsible and guilty for the silver-haired child, shouldering a world that wasn’t his to carry, as per usual. “What can you tell me, Kushina?”

 

The flower Hashira clicks her tongue, pensive for a few moments before answering, “Douma-kun is well educated, he knows how to read and write and count. He’s polite, but..”

 

“But quiet,”

 

“Not just quiet , he’s hollow ,” The woman stresses, her face stone cold but her eyes betraying how much this bothered her, “it is as if..as if he doesn’t know how to react to things, how to feel things. The Kakushi keeping an eye on him when I’m on missions tells me he’s like a-- a doll . Plastic.”

 

“He saw a demon attack first hand, Kushina--”

 

“I am not speaking about a demon attack, Sakonji, though I’m sure that messed with his psyche, too.” The flower Hashira grumbles something under her breath, worried. “He’s..friendly enough with Kanae, and patient with little Shinobu, but I...Sakonji, he hasn’t truly smiled, raged or cried since his arrival. He fakes all of it.”

 

The silence that follows is deafening, and then, “He..He was part of a cult, you need to remember that.”

 

“I know, you told me.” Kushina says flatly, and Urokodaki can smell the telltale of disgust in the air, “He’s so..young, and according to your suspicions, Douma was in a position of high power in that cult. But just how high? What did this cult do to kill a child’s basic emotional response like this?”

 

Urokodaki grows quiet, and remembers the day he found young Douma in the mountains. The clothes he wore weren’t just robes and yukatas. Paradise wasn’t just a tiny little house for a bunch of nutjobs, but a mansion filled to the brim. “Beg, prostrate to him, tell woes no child is capable of understanding. Someone subject to so many outbursts, do you give in to them, or do just lock yourself away to the onslaught?”

 

Kushina, fierce, one-woman army Kushina, visibly deflates hearing this, as if something squeezed out whatever fight she had on her, “Why must children be the ones who always suffer, Sakonji?”

 

There’s no answer to that, there never is.

 

“Douma told me he wanted to be a Slayer,” Urokodaki says quietly, eyeing his serving of alcohol warily. 

 

“So does Kanae,” 

 

“I told him I would train him, in the future. He’s still too young,” ‘ and too fragile ’, he thinks, but doesn’t say so out loud.

 

“Looking for a Tsuguko?”

 

“That would be up to him, if he accepts. If he joins the ranks. It’s his initiative though, I don’t want to snuff out whatever progress he makes,”

 

“You were always the fatherly sort, Sakonji. It’s kind of you to look out for him like this,”

 

Urokodaki nods stiffly, bitterly, and drinks his sake without any gusto. He’s lost too many children to be worthy of anything close to a father’s title.

 




Douma and Kanae train, more or less, and Kanae is absolutely elated knowing the reason why, because it means she and Douma will be comrades in arms in the demon slaying mission. Her thoughts are still naive and full of hope, and the grim reality of her dreams will not appear to her yet. She sees victory and friendship and protection, because now she’s a step closer to eradicate all demons from earth.

 

They run laps around the estate, and the laps sometimes turn into games of tag. It is basically just children running like children do, but they did so diligently. They run until sweat drenches their browns, their legs tremble and lungs burn. Douma is always a little behind, always just a tiny bit far. He has never played with other children, or played in general, and running is something almost foreign for him. His stamina lacks in comparison to others.

 

But he is a child, he will grow and train, so it’s okay.

 




Douma does not know why he wants to be a Demon Slayer.

 

He supposes it’s because Kanae will be one, and he...likes Kanae? He’s fond of Kanae? Tolerates her? The child didn’t know exactly, maybe because they are...friends, and her presence is something he had grown used to at this point. So being Slayers together made sense. He didn’t know why exactly, so that was good enough for the time being.

 

There is another reason, something Douma can’t quite make sense of because it makes him feel . And he doesn’t feel, he never felt before, so the new emotion is raw and overwhelming and it made him want to puke.

 

It happens every time he thinks of demons. Something coils in his stomach, his eyes sting and his blood boils. Every inch of his tiny body would shake, and shake and shake until he had to grip at his hakama with tiny fists to keep his hands from twitching. He thinks of Mioko and the dog-eyed demon Urokodaki-san killed, and the strange feeling grows.

 

Sometimes, he thinks of Kanae and baby Shinobu, and they replace Mioko in his dreams, and the blood roars in his ears and his breath gets caught on his throat when the demon steps closer to them, and-- was that how it happened?

 

Behind the serene smile, behind the colorful eyes, his blood boils and bubbles with newfound emotion.

 

It’s hate. He hates, he’s capable of feeling and it swallows him whole, silently and quickly. Drowning him into a pit Douma didn’t know how to climb out of.

 

He hates demons, and the thought of slicing them up like Urokodaki had done it’s a pleasant daydream he indulges into more and more.

 




Time passes, months become a year, and life continues on in the Butterfly estate.

 

Shinobu learns to walk on her own with tiny, clumsy steps. She can say more words now, too; Kanae is “‘Ana”, Kushina is “Ina” and Douma is “Uma”. She toddles behind her sister and clings to Douma’s hakama when not in the care of the Kakushi.

 

Kanae learns to read and write, how to grip a wooden sword properly, learns how to distribute her weight and wack away until her arms ache and palms sweat and sometimes blister. She did not learn how to Breathe, not yet. She’s too young and too little. But she wants to, and wants Lady Kushina to teach her.

 

Douma, he learns to run, to jump and roll. Did so enough that his stamina wasn’t as poor anymore, and even learned how to handle a sword in mock duels with Kanae, whacking swords and giggling.

 

He learns how to swallow his irate feelings, and learns to soften the fake smile on his face, enough for it to not to be as noticeably fake. And it works, from time to time, but it’s also less hard to fake them, because he did not notice when he was smiling most times.

 

Douma learns to feel, little by little, and maybe he couldn’t ever learn fully, but it was enough.

 




One morning, shy of dawn, the Butterfly estate wakes up in a frenzy of shouts and commands.

 

The children are kept away as an old man comes, being carried by several frantic Slayers. Blood stains the impeccable wooden floors as Kushina-san orders several Kukashi and nurses into a room. Douma peeks over, and can see a bloodied stump where a leg should have been.

 

They remain quiet, away from that side of the estate. Douma walks aimlessly through the rooms as Kanae spends time with Shinobu, not keen on training then. Someone important is visiting, and they have to be on their best behavior for the sake of the injured.

 

He opens a door, and a woman with dark hair and dark eyes greets him. She’s pale as the moon itself, and holds a bundle in her arms. Douma blinks at her, between surprise and stale shock, and bows a little before apologizing.

 

The woman smiles, and his stomach flutters for some odd reason as she beacons him inside. He sits quietly by her side, unmoving and silent.

 

“Are you from the Butterfly state?” The woman's voice is so silky and soft, Douma had never heard something like it. He simply nods in response, unsure, but his smile is fake and a little less tight. “Good, good.”

 

“I’m training to become a Demon Slayer.” The child supplies, and the woman makes a little noise at the back of her throat and her hand brushes away silver locks from rainbow eyes. Her smile is soft and genuine and-- Douma feels at ease, something he had never felt before. 

 

“So young,” She says softly, and slowly, gently, her hold on the little bundle shifts. Douma’s attention is caught immediately. He can see a baby, smaller than even Shinobu though not by age, but by sickness. The baby is plump, and soft tufts of black hair sit atop of his tiny head. But the air around him is sickly and sad as it is peaceful. “This is Kagaya, he will help, when the time comes, he will lead the Slayers and Kakushi until demons are no more,”

 

The babe makes a little noise, shifting into his mother’s hold. There’s a soft movement and Douma finds himself holding the little bundle in his arms, the mother gently murmuring sweet words.

 

Kagaya gurgles something in his sleep, stretches, and falls back into slumber in Douma’s arms. He has never held something so tiny before.

 

“You will protect him, will you not, little Slayer?”

 

Douma nods, gently, mesmerized. The significance of the moment is lost on him, and the woman gently pets his hair with a little smile that would melt anyone under such care.

 

Time passes, Douma hands the little babe back to the woman, bows, and leaves the room, feeling lighter than when he entered.

 




“The thunder Hashira...his leg…”

 

“Oyakata-sama came by, he can’t..”

 

Words are lost on the children, blissfully unaware of what’s happening. The flower Hashira’s shoulders tense, her hands tremble as she heaves a shaky sigh. Kuwajima-san would not be returning to his duties, his leg unsaveable. Forced to retire by Ubuyashiki-sama’s gentle orders and concern. His encounter with a lower moon went well, more than well considering the situation. Two casualties, several injured, one maimed, and a demon less on earth.

 

It still stings, that someone so powerful, so reliable, can be put out of commission so easily.

 

“How many of us will stand in the end?”

 

No one answers.

 




A year becomes two, neither Douma or Kanae learn how to Breathe just yet. They can hold their own in mock duels, they can run laps around the estate and not die of dehydration in the process. They don’t know sword techniques yet, but they’ve grown, and it’s time.

 

Urokodaki comes for him one day, and asks him again if he wants to learn how to Breathe. His voice is serious and grave. Douma’s reply is short and to the point, and once he agrees, preparations are made.

 

Shinobu cries, holding onto his black and red haori, Kanae’s eyes are shining fiercely but she refuses to cry, and instead, puffs up her cheeks and tries to stand as tall as she can.

 

“You come back and visit!” She says, voice having the telltale of tears. “Come back, and we’ll be Slayers together!”

 

“Of course,” Douma smiles, and it’s, for the first time, sincere. He pats little Shinobu’s head and promises the same thing to her, Kanae fiercely hugs him and bites back her tears. Lady Kushina smiles softly at the scene.

 

“Do write, you’re always welcome at the Butterfly estate, both of you.”

 

Urokodaki bows and Douma follows suit, they wave goodbye one last time, and walk away from the mansion as teacher and student.



Chapter Text

Urokodaki is a harsh teacher, Douma thinks, harsh and maybe a tad unfair. The child grows tired as his body shakes after each task given, it’s good training, but not what he expects.

 

They train by the mountains, though not anywhere Douma is familiar with. Urokodaki’s home is small and quaint, perhaps the smallest place the child has stayed in his life, but his past life full of lavishness doesn’t deter him from just bearing it all and plowing forwards. He can’t Breathe just yet, and the water Hashira is firm in his resolve to shape him up to be able to do so, and for that, Douma needs to get stronger still.

 

He’s ten years old, his body still soft and lacking the endurance of a swordsman's, so he runs, jumps, carries things, until his body feels like it's on fire. Or until Urokodaki orders him firmly to stop, rest and do it all over again because he did it wrong. Douma feels no ire towards his training, his body grows tired and weary but out of a natural function rather than him actually feeling it. 

 

Urokodaki does teach him how to hold a sword, though not like how Kanae would hold one or how Lady Kushina would. The grip is firm but not white-knuckled firm, he still needs strength to do it properly, but the hold is nimble enough to easily shift between techniques, or so the water Hashira says, so Douma allows himself a smile that isn’t as plastic as his other ones, whacking away with the bamboo sword the masked old man allows him to use.

 

“Don’t bend your knees,” Urokodaki calls out, arms crossed and his tengu mask currently missing from his face, “inhale with every thrust, don’t just hold your breath. Do it again,”

 

Douma vaguely nods, his arms trembling for a second before he takes a deep breath, shifts his position, and starts over again.

 




Douma doesn't ask questions, when Urokodaki starts wearing his tengu mask more and more, or when the old man writes letter after letter, some never to be sent. He remains quiet, focused only in his training and his next lessons, not really because he is uninterested; he’s still a curious child, all in all, but figures the Hashira’s privacy is his alone, so he turns a blind eye to his many questions, and his curiosity is replaced by fierce determination in his training.

 

Kanae writes to him often, about her life at the estate, her sister, and her training; the flower Hashira had agreed to train her and teach her the Breath of flower. Douma supposed he is happy for his...friend, yes. He is content at the news, and writes back to tell her so. His letter is short and written in careful penmanship, and Urokodaki’s Kasugai crow delivers it after gentle pets. 

“Flower breathing..” Douma murmurs quietly, even though he is currently alone. His smile stays fixed in place, being his default expression, but his eyes are curious. It’s not for him, he knows, the basics he had seen from Slayers training in the estate were enough for him to decide the style was..off; too stiff and too nimble at the same time. But he is still curious, even if it’s not for him. He wishes Kanae good luck.

 

Douma sighs, still smiling, and wonders when will Urokodaki teach him how to Breath, finally.

 

..Probably once he gets stronger, most likely. Douma prepares himself, he has to carry logs to the mountain and back.

 





Kanae’s letters become shorter with the passing of time, and after a year, once Douma is finally rewarded for his physical training to learn how to Breathe, they stop altogether for a couple of months. The last one he receives is short and slightly messy; Lady Kushina had named her as her Tsuguko, and now she has to train to prove herself worthy of the title.

 

Urokodaki grows weary, and Douma can read the man well enough to know he’s uneasy, defeated almost. His black, almost grey hair starts to white out, and his expression behind the bright red tengu mask is nothing short of grim.

 

“Sato Kushina is sick,” He informs him one day, after his training is done relatively early. “Really sick, after a demon attack that poisoned her,”

 

Douma stills for a moment, smile still in place but twitching for a second or two. Lady Kushina is poisoned, and that would explain the absence of Kanae’s letters after a while. Surely, she’s helping take care of the flower Hashira.

 

“Will she get better?”

 

And Urokodaki remains quiet, uncomfortably quiet. His mask hides whatever expresión he makes, and Douma notices the shift right away; from doubt to grim realization. His tongue feels like sandpaper in his mouth.

 

“No,” The man says quietly, “she will not, and she knows it.”

 

Douma prefers a grim truth rather than a gentle lie, and he is thankful for Urokodaki’s bluntness, but for a second, just for a second, his smile slips.

 




Water Breathing is...hard.

 

No, not hard per se, Douma thinks, they’re a bit complicated still; he can breathe in when the time is right, and he can perform the first and second forms quite alright-- he stills needs a bit more of upper body strength to do them completely correctly, but it’s nothing he can’t work on.

 

But he can’t help but feels something is-- off.

 

Maybe it’s because he had just started to adapt to them, still with a bamboo sword rather than an iron one. Maybe sometime soon he will get comfortable enough with each form, or so he thinks, and hopes for it to happen soon because he needs it to be done soon.

 

Urokodaki still teaches him each Breathing technique, the third and fourth and fifth-- Douma’s ever present smile turns into a small, invisible scowl for a second. The fifth form is a technique to strike a demon down with...kindness. Painless and quick, against an enemy who surrenders their own neck to a Slayer.

 

Mentally, Douma swears to never use the fifth form; Demons did not deserve that luxury, not after Kanae and Shinobu’s parents, not after Lady Kushina’s deadly illness.

 

Not after Mioko being eaten alive.

 

Demons, they did not deserve kindness of a swift death, and Douma swears to it fiercely, between a hard chop Urokodaki gives him for breathing wrong, and his hands getting wounds from holding his sword so hard for so much time.

 




Kanae’s letters return to him, slowly and only in between months. She wants him to visit someday, but they both now know that it isn’t allowed; Douma trains everyday, all day, and Kanae trains and takes care of Shinobu and Lady Kushina whenever possible. They don’t have the time yet to see each other face to face, so letters do the trick until they can see eachother again.

 

Shinobu writes to him, too. She still remembers him, even if she was just a baby and then a toddler when he left, and the memories are good ones if he so believes. Shinobu is so much like her sister but also not at all, she already has the telltale of a seriousness that’s too..mature, for someone her age. Her childish scribbles tell about the Butterfly estate and Kanae and how she wants an antidote for Lady Kushina to be okay again, so everyone could be together and happy like before.

 

Reading, he frowns a little, smile dipping into a thin line. Douma knows that will not be possible. Shinobu is being spared the pain of knowing about her mother figure’s slow death, he can see it, the Butterfly estate wanting to protect that fragile, child-like hope Shinobu still has in her, rather than make it crumble and scatter.

 

He thinks it’s rather cruel, but remains silent about it. It’s not his place to tell Shinobu, and it would make Kanae upset to upset her little sister, so Douma writes pleasantries to both Kocho girls, asking about them and telling them of his own training. He is not Urokodaki’s Tsuguko, and truly, isn’t interested in being a Tsuguko either, he writes it to Kanae when she asks, not upset in the slightest.

 

Urokodaki gets letters, too, and Douma is barren from reading them but he knows what they hold inside either way, because he can put two-and-two together; He writes to Lady Kushina, and she tells him about her health. 

 

They are friends, after all, and Douma just knows that in between missions, his teacher visits the Butterfly estate for at least a day, then leaves to train him again. Urokodaki always comes back with the stench of sickness that wasn’t his own and a heavy heart, as if he knows the flower Hashira doesn’t have long to live, and it might as well be that way. 

 

He fears...no, he doesn’t fear, he can’t feel fear, but he worries for Kanae, and for Shinobu and Urokodaki. What will happen, once Lady Kushina is gone? They will be..saddened, he guesses. He is incapable of it, but understands the feeling from an outsider’s perspective, and Douma can very well see that Lady Kushina’s death will be a hard blow to them.

 

“Grit your teeth and bear it,” He says to an empty room, tying the now finished letters together and then onto Urokodaki’s Kasugai crow’s leg. “Nothing else to do about it.”

 





Urokodaki visits Sato Kushina one last time, at the Butterfly estate.

 

It’s hard to see one of his friends slowly dying from a poison that has yet to be identified. The flower Hashira is bedridden, sickly and pale. She can no longer support her own weight, even though she had lost a lot of it. There are bags under her fierce eyes and a slow, barely noticeable tremor in her body every time she tries to sit or stand.

 

“Sakonji,” Kushina greets him, smiling still what is a cocky, friendly smile even in her situation. “It’s nice to see you again.”

 

“Kushina,” The old man sighs, without his tengu mask he looks twice as defeated, concerned. “How are you?”

 

“Same old, same old.” And she has the audacity to grin, as if she isn’t suffering slowly, painfully, from something that eats away at her insides and contaminates her blood. “Taking less duties, seems like a vacation.”

 

Urokodaki was never one to play around with death. To him, it was a grim affair, something that everyone would go through at the end of the day, but he treated death with respect and prayers, not the joking, fierce determination Sato Kushina still had around her.

 

“Your hands..”

 

“I can still flex my fingers,” The woman says, looking at him with a more tempered smile, less fierce, resigned mostly. “But they will most likely rot away in a few months.”

 

Urokodaki remains quiet, nodding as an answer. He wants to do something, anything, to prevent it from happening, to prevent her death just for a few more years. Kushina is a woman of deadly caliber, headstrong and kind, and fate once again tries to prove that such qualities weren’t to last long on a land infected by demons. 

 

The poison is relentless and cruel, and Urokodaki wants to behead the demon that caused it, and he would, if it wasn’t because the flower Hashira has already done so. But it has happened only shy of a year ago, before the poison ate away at her muscles, destroyed one of her lungs, and slowly rotted away the fingers of her feet.

 

“Sakonji, you’re frowning too hard.” Kushina’s voice snaps him out of his lamentations and flickering anger, and he looks at her again with quiet contemplation. “How’s Douma doing?”

 

“Ah,” A change of topic, to happier news. She deserves a reprieve from her pain, even if so slightly. “He’s doing well, He has managed to perform the first two forms of water Breathing, he can hold his own in a normal fight, but it’s still early.”

 

“Good, good.” The woman nods, and then slowly, hesitant, she speaks again, “And..emotionally?”

 

‘So that’s it, what you’re still worried about.’ The water Hashira thinks before clearing his throat, “He’s..doing better, mostly. His default expression is still that smile, but he can emote, at least. He was definitely annoyed with some parts of the training. Ah..your girls’ letters help a lot, he seems lighter.”

 

“Small steps,” Kushina laughs, and it soon turns into wet coughs that ripple through her body. Urokodaki kneels besides her futon before she can stop him. “No, no don’t worry, I’m alright.”

 

“Kushina, how--”

 

“I still have a few months left,” She looks so small, saying that. “I won’t die as we talk.”

 

There’s silence for a few moments, and the gravity of the situation digs deeper into them, Urokodaki feels uncomfortable in his own bones. “How long?”

 

“They still can’t figure out an antidote,” She says, resigned. “Even if they did I wouldn’t..”

 

“How long, Kushina?”

 

“If we’re...If I’m lucky, I will live enough to see next summer.” 

 

“Next summer,” Urokodaki mumbles. Kushina will not live for longer than a year. “I’m...I’m so sorry.”

 

She smiles at him, and gently pats his hand with hers, as if she’s trying to comfort him from her sealed death. “I’m sorry, too. But I will meet Oyakata-sama soon, on the other side, and that’s okay for me.” She says, and then, trying to lighten the mood, she smiles. “Or I will become yurei, and slay demons still.”

 

They stay like that, rough, calloused hands offering comfort to one another. Fate is cruel, and it will take Kushina away from the world slowly. Not fighting demons, not protecting the ones she loves; she will die in the comfort of her own bed, as her body withers and her lungs struggle to draw breath day by day.

 

“I heard you will renounce your position as Hashira,” Kushina asks after a while, looking at him. “Why?”

 

“I..I make too many mistakes,” Urokodaki answers, “I’m becoming slow, and innocent people die because of it. I’m not worthy of my position anymore.”

 

Urokodaki feels slight pressure on his hand. She does not believe so, but he does. “Will you leave the Slayers?”

 

“No, not completely,” He looks at her, and the flower Hashira tilts her head, curious. “I will become a cultivator.”

 

“Full time.” Kushina nods, understanding. And then there’s something soft in her eyes. “Is it because of Douma?”

 

The implication is clear, and Urokodaki feels the urge to swallow. Kushina knows him, and his story and his losses. She knows why he’s doing this, but wants an answer still. “I won’t send him to die, not him.”

 

“Sakonji, they--”

 

“I was too busy hunting on my own,” He starts, face firm and lips in a thin, harsh line. His face, kind-looking now seems full of hidden regrets. “Too focused on my own missions, if I had just paid more attention..”

 

“Urokodaki Sakonji, don’t you dare!” Kushina’s voice is rough and firm, and even in sickness, she has that spark of fierceness and ruthlessness that was so known in the flower Hashira before any of this happened. “Their deaths weren’t your fault.”

 

“I will carry with them, still.” He says, just as firm. “I taught them, they were my students, and they died.”

 

“Douma won’t die,”

 

“No,” He says, firm in his resolve. He will no longer be a Hashira, and for once, his focus will be on his student. On the boy he found in the mountains and Kushina hoped for him to be happy. “He won’t.”

 

The rest of the visit is amicable, and for just a moment, the sadness and quiet resignation is gone. Urokodaki stays until Kushina is too weak and tired to remain awake anymore, and her hand slips from his own, warm and frail.

 

He leaves, taking a look at his friend for one last time, one last look of when she is still alive, before closing the doors.

 




Douma trains, and trains more than his usual routine now that Urokodaki doesn’t have to leave now and again for his missions. He is strong enough to carry logs to and from the mountain now, and nimble enough to leap, far and gracefully, while still smiling his usual smile.

 

The techniques still require work, and Breathing to total focus, all the time, is harder than water Breathing in general. He can hold Breathing for almost a week, two if he truly focuses, but there are moments he can’t focus enough, and it frustrates him.

 

He can perform the third and fourth techniques now, and the bamboo swords lays forgotten and replaced for an iron one, thin and sharp. Urokodaki fights with him, and against him, constantly, in the middle of the mountains and avoiding traps that leave bruises and wounds if they manage to hit their target; Douma.

 

One day, practicing the fifth technique without much gusto, Douma looks at his right hand, empty and slightly less calloused than his left. He can use both just the same, and has tried numerous times to swap from left to right in sword training, as not using both hands is..odd, to him. He can use both hands, instead of letting one fall behind uselessly in battle. What if..?

 

Douma makes a little noise of wonder, maintains his Breath, and picks up a second sword, the one Urokodaki uses when sparring against him. It’s lithe and less chipped than his own, but both weigh the same and have the same length, they feel right in his hands before testing them, and the silver haired child nods.

 

He Breathes, flicks both wrists, and leaps forwards to an old training dummy. The maneuver for the fifth technique is done well, but instead of the simple slash that would behead an enemy quickly, he shifts both blades in midair, metal glinting in the afternoon sun. The dummy’s wooden neck is cut in half in two different directions, and if it were made of flesh, the spine would have been severed along with the entire lower jaw and tongue.

 

Douma breathes in and out, steadily, not willing to break his focus. He looks at the blades, and at the dummy, and nods with clear resolution. Fifth technique forgotten, he likes his version better.

Chapter Text

Douma turns thirteen when he passes Urokodaki’s final test. The giant boulder in the middle of the forest’s clearing is cleanly split in two from top to bottom, cut through like it wasn’t a rock but something ridiculously soft and frail, like a huge lump of snow against two hot knives. He is incredibly proud of his achievement, and bow deeply when Urokodaki congratulates him on it. The old man looks just as proud, voice warmth and soft, and Douma takes it as a good sign for what’s to come.

 

He will take the Final Selection in a year, exactly, and that is something that bothers Douma a lot, because he is still too young, and the Slayers could only take people from fourteen and up. He takes his frustrations out in techniques, and training dummies and jogs. Whatever left over energy he has is taken out by polishing his swords, gifted by Urokodaki in mint condition; twin blades that feel just right when he holds them.

 

All in all, he has to wait, and while waiting, Douma Breathes, and shifts his position just slightly, takes his swords tightly, and changes techniques, little by little, to something that suits him better.





Sato Kushina passes away well into spring, amid the first cherry blossoms blooming she breathes her last sigh in her last slumber. The news are devastating, and Urokodaki and Douma travel to the Ubuyashiki estate to say their final goodbyes.

 

Death had been cruel as it had been kind, because sickness chipped away at her body little by little, leaving her almost a carcass of the woman she used to be, but it had granted her the mercy of her final days being comfortable, dying in her bed surrounded by her loved ones; a fate most Slayers never met, dying in the battlefield rather than in their own home.

 

The Slayers mourn, from Mizunoto to Hashira, everyone says their goodbyes and whispers their prayers, believers or not. Douma does not cry and does not believes, even if once upon a time he had been in a position where people would pray to him rather than the Gods, but even so he bows his head respectfully, holds Kanae and Shinobu’s hands as they weep and cling to him, and feels Urokodaki’s calloused had on his shoulders, the old man without his usual mask.

 

Douma looks on at Ubuyashiki Kagaya, praying for his fallen Hashira alongside his mother. He’s younger than even Shinobu, and already is the head of the Demon Slayers, taking on duties his father held before him.

 

The funeral is quiet, and quite beautiful all in all. Douma and Urokodaki herd both Kocho sisters back to the Butterfly estate-- which is to stay dormant until Kanae passes her own Final Selection Exam and assumes head as the Flower Hashira. Both girls are red-eyed, hiccuping and quiet, they had lost a parent to Demons all over again.




He finds Kanae by the lotus pond, alone at night.

 

Douma is quiet when approaching, and truly, he has no idea what is happening-- or rather he has an inkling of an idea, because Kanae is mourning the death of her second mother and she will need someone, like all those years ago when both of them just met, so he sits quietly by her side, eyes trained on the clear surface, counting each ripple made by droplets falling on the pond from nearby leaves.

 

“She told me to be strong,” Kanae starts after a while, voice soft and achy. Douma slowly turns to stare at her, waiting. “To take care of Shinobu and the estate, because she knew she was going to die.”

 

Douma nods, silent. At least Kanae had been spared a gentle lie that would make things worse for her. “Shinobu?”

 

“She...She knew, eventually, we told her.” Kanae replies, “We both knew, it’s just-- hard. We won’t see her ever again, and we have to live with that,”

 

“I’m sorry,”

 

“Me too.”

 

They both stay quiet for a moment, listening to the telltale of crickets and soft breeze through the cherry blossom trees before Kanae finds her voice again. “Lady Kushina gave us butterfly clips, to Shinobu and me, they represent protection, I think, according to the estate.”

 

“Protection?” Douma asks, and notices the twin butterfly clips on Kanae’s head, an ongoing motif he had noticed before on the flower Hashira.

 

“She saved one for you, too.” Kanae tells him, and Douma finds himself..startled, almost. Surprised? He looks at her with a look that clearly amuses her a little, her voice growing apologetic. “I don’t know where it is though, sorry…”

 

“It’s okay,” Douma says, smiling his ever present smile. “She thought of it, that’s enough for me.”

 

“I wanted you to have it too, for your Final Selection.”

 

“Ah.” Douma nods, slightly, gently. His Final Selection will be in a couple of months, right after his birthday. “Are you worried?”

 

“Yes,” Kanae’s answer is precise, she looks very, very afraid out of sudden, and Douma feels his mouth dry for a strange reason. “I’m scared, you will go to the Selection next year, and I will go to mine the following one. I don’t want you to die.”

 

“I won’t die, Kanae.” Douma answers her, smiling and voice firm, reassuring. Kanae looks at him intently and sniffles once, twice, and suddenly, her arms are wrapped tightly around his neck. Douma staggers for a few seconds, genuinely shocked, before awkwardly leaving his arms on his side.

 

“I don’t want you to die,” Kanae repeats, voice having the telltale of tears. “I don’t want my family to die, not again.”

 

She cries, little sobs that can barely be heard and just because of close proximity. Douma looks on at the pond, expression carefully blank, and just as awkwardly holds Kanae in a pitiful attempt of a hug. Coming from him, it means the world.






Douma trains once he returns with Urokodaki, and trains until his arms bruise and his hands twitch with the phantom sensation of a sword handle on them. His blades are still well maintained, but he has to reign in his own itch for them every time he wakes, less he goes to the Selection with chipped swords and less of a chance to survive the hellish week ahead of him.

 

He practices water Breathing, and manages to Breathe to a complete control after a few months. Douma shifts techniques easily, though dual handed is not the best when it comes to Urokodaki’s Breathing style, having to just shift slightly for them to work the way he desired. There’s no major breakthrough about it, and the silver haired child doesn’t think much of it-- yet.  

 

Training dummies are sliced in half easily, beheaded or just plain destroyed cut after cut, it is easy to see that Douma grows dangerously restless.





Douma turns fourteen, finally, and sets to travel to Fujikasane Mountain as soon as possible.

 

There is no celebration besides Urokodaki preparing a generous breakfast for both of them, and Douma is thankful, because he will leave quickly without much hassle. He is excited, for the first time in his life, and the feeling itself is something Douma cannot control, making his trip on his way out of the futon, and polish his swords until the reflection of his eyes is crystal clear.

“Douma,” Urokodaki calls for him, and Douma snaps to attention like a started doe. “Come here for a moment.”

 

Urokodaki’s back is to him, and Douma can’t see what he’s doing, fiddling with something. Food? A weapon? When the ex-Hashira turns, Douma simply blinks in quiet wonder.

 

“What is that?”

 

“It’s a warding mark,” Urokodaki explains, handing the fox-like mask to the teenager. “It will help protect you in your Final Selection, wear it.”

 

Douma stares, and silently takes the mask into his hands. It’s shaped like a fox’s face, with red markings on its cheeks and under its eyes. There is a small, reddish tinted butterfly clipped to one of its sides. The mask is clearly hand made, and the butterfly pin resembles those he had seen in the estate.

 

“Is this--?”

 

“She wanted you to have it,” Urokodaki interrupts, “to help protect you.”

 

“And so do you,” Douma replies evenly, smiling like always. “Thank you, I will wear it.”

 

“Return alive,” Urokodaki mumbles, voice unusually soft as if that wasn’t meant to be heard, and Douma only nods at his teacher, adjust the belt holding his haori in place and puts on the fox mask, the butterfly clip glints in the dim sunlight that filters through the windows.





Fujikasane Mountain is beautiful.

 

He can see wisteria blooms as far as the eye can reach, their smell is sweet and soft and clings to his hands when he goes to hold one of them gently. They hang by the trees and gently sway as a breeze goes through them, petals falling onto silvery hair.

 

Douma loves it, how different the mountain is compared to the cold wasteland his old home had been, or the luscious, trap-filled forest mountain he trained every day and on. If he hadn’t known what he was here for, Douma might have just stayed blissfully unaware of the dangers hidden in the heart of Fujikasane.

 

Idly, he plucks a wisteria bloom from a tree, and stashes it away just in case.

 

There are many like him, he notices, men and women, younger and older, walking the same path towards the shrine that will lead the race to survival. Douma hums, and wonders how many will make it towards the end. He is no fool, and knows that many souls will perish in the following week, many will not walk back the same trek to return home.

 

Ubuyashiki Sukuyo greets them, and only a handful know the woman is the mother to the current Oyakata-sama. Douma looks at her, she is stoic, and pale like the moon itself, explaining their mission and the Slayer Corps’s. If she ever glanced at him, Douma is left unaware, he doubts he would recognize him, mask or no mask, so he doesn’t bother wondering anymore. Half listening to the words coming from her, Douma fixates on the gates Kakushi are holding open, little by little.

 

They have to survive a week in a demon infested mountain, and the survivors will get the honor to join the Demon Slayers.

 

The gates open, and a sea of people run towards the forest. Douma doesn’t stay behind, doesn’t spare a glance at Lady Ubuyashiki or his fellow swordsmen, he runs, fast, alert, and lets the forest swallow him.

 

Douma zigzags through the forest, everyone running away from large numbers and he follows suit. The silver haired boy notices just how still everything is, unnatural to an almost uncomfortable degree. There are no animals in the forest, having long since fled the demon-filled mountain out of instinct alone, leaving nothing but coarse dirt and silent steps behind.

 

Surviving will be hard, he thinks half-heartedly. They would have to ward off demons and starvation, and the less prepared would most likely die after days with no sustenance whatsoever. If starvation didn’t kill a person, then a demon taking advantage of said starvation would. 

 

Douma shakes his head, still Breathing, and treks forwards, ignoring the blood curdling screaming coming from somewhere in the mountain.




He stays alone for the first and second nights, because alone means no one will slow him down or call unwanted attention to him. It’s a selfish but understandable thought, and Douma isn’t afraid of saying so out loud if anyone ever asks him that.

 

He sticks near the river, traveling to safe spots and sleeping during the day, staying fully alert during the night. The wisteria blossom he plucked from the shrine must be helping, because demons don’t come near him, not enough for him to see, but he can hear their retreating steps and angry hisses well enough. Bemused, he reminds himself to tell Kanae about it, so she can do it next year.

 

Still, he keeps his ears perked, just in case, because wisteria won’t hold the demons back forever.

 

Douma takes refuge in a tall, wide tree by a clearing, the trunk is hollow enough for a person to fit and sleep, and the shade isn’t strong enough to give protection to any demon closing by, sunspots forming in between leaves. The little hideout had been used though, but not recently, he notices, and his interest perks.

 

“What do we have here?” Douma mutters quietly, smiling as always. The nest-like hideout is old, with dry, dead brambles and leaves that crumble to dust if one so much touches them. There’s a tally scratched by the bark, four crossed lines, starting a single one under. “Did you last five days here?”

 

There’s a bag, too, old and ratty and splattered with brown stains that were probably vivid red years prior. Curiosity overwhelms the rainbow-eyed boy, and he carefully turns over the contents. Empty canteens and rotten, now dried up berries fall from the bag, along with a roll of bandages and dust, it’s definitely nothing too useful, but Douma takes the bandages and stashes them away anyway, thanking whatever unfortunate soul that perished there.

 

“Better than nothing,” He mutters. Then, his eyes catch something under the dead leaves serving as a makeshift nest. “Oh?”

 

Carefully, he brushes away the dirt and leaves from the object, seeing a pale, white material peeking from under it. Just for a second Douma hesitates, is it a skull? It was likely, and he continues to brush the leaves away, until the hard, cold material of a mask greets him.

 

It startles him, just for a second, his smile slips and Douma tilts his head to the side curiously. It was a fox warding mask, just like his, but this one has an ear missing, cracking slightly over one the right eye, leaving bits and pieces missing. The markings were yellow, like a blush and dots on the eyelids.

 

Douma hums, lifting his own mask slightly. He isn’t stupid, and had more than one caught the whispers of pity towards his master, from Kukashi to Lady Kushina alike, it was easy to know he wasn’t Urokodaki’s first student. And probably, maybe, he had found what was left of one of his predecessors. Another child, long since dead.

 

He wavers for a second, sighs, and stashes away the old, chipped mask. Sentimentalism isn’t his thing, barely understanding feelings in the first place, but certainly, Urokodaki would have wanted to have the mask back.





It’s not after the fifth night in the forest, he comes in contact with demons.

 

The wisteria did its job, warding away the weaker, hungrier demons, but a single blossom can’t do anything against the stronger, more ravenous ones. Douma’s head would have been just a splatter of red if he hadn’t moved in time.

 

His hands don’t shake, surprisingly, even though it is his first time face to face with a demon. He still smiles, looking serene as ever under his mask as the demon spits and hisses and gurgles, lower jaw covered in blood that was most likely human.

 

Douma hums, the smell is disgusting. He will never get used to the coppery smell of blood.

 

He Breathes, runs, and leaps as high as he is able to, the demon jumps at him to catch him in mid air, and his ravenous craze doesn’t let it think about the blades suddenly shifting positions in the boy’s hands.

 

The second form of water Breathing is enough to cut through flesh and tendons and bones. There’s a shriek of pure agony in the night, high pitched and desperate, before a second blade cuts its neck like a hot knife to butter. There’s a spurt of blood and then silence, as the body disintegrates in front of rainbow eyes.

 

Douma looks on at the demon, smiling still, breathing hard, and a laugh bubbles in his throat. Was this what happiness felt like? It was intoxicating. Should he go and hunt for more demons tonight? He had been avoiding them well enough, but luck would run out sooner or later..

 

The body finally disappears, but the smell doesn’t. Idly, the boy wonders where it is coming from. He doesn’t put his swords away, and walks towards the forest quietly, so serene as if he was just taking a stroll rather than fighting for his own survival.

 

He finds bodies.

 

Four, maybe five, mangled with their innards on the floor and expression frozen in fear. Some of their necks are snapped, others were barely a bit more than bits of flesh and bone peeking from between skin.

 

Douma wants to gag, but he doesn’t. The smile slips completely into a neutral expression under his mask, eyes widening for a split second before the sound of bones breaking reach his ears, snapping his head sharply in said direction. There is...something, something that just overpowered the smell of fresh carnage. It was something foul, like old decay and carrion and sour sweat. A demon?

 

“What kind of demon..” He wonders, something big, strong enough to kill groups.

 

He doesn’t run, and instead, steps over the falling bodies, avoiding to look at them or step on them or their scattered remains, and walks towards the foul smelling thing filled with disgusting sounds, until a shape, amorphous and tall as trees comes into view.

 

It is a demon, huge and strong, with arms thick as logs wrapping themselves over its own body, two of them snapping away at what should be a person, but only a leg remains anymore, swallowing it whole as a mouth breaks open from the trap of extremities over it.

 

“There’s another human nearby.” The voice is garbled and amused, crunching sounds coming from it as teeth clatter against themselves in its mouth. It’s eyes fixate on Douma’s still form, and he can hear the sick glee on the demon’s voice. “Let’s see, little fox, it has been years .”

 

Faster than anything Douma had seen before, a pair of arms go in his direction, avoiding crushing him like a bug just by a mere second, destroying the trees that were behind him like tissue paper, startling him with a grim revelation. This thing had been in the mountains for years, probably longer than any other demon in the mountain for it to be that shape and so, so strong.

 

“Tell me, little fox, what year is it?” The question startles him, and Douma tilts his head in confusion, looking comically out of place when combined with the fighting stance he’s in and how tightly he’s holding his blades.

 

“Year?”

 

“The era! Tell me the era we are in! What period of the Meiji era!”

 

What an odd request, Douma thinks. Meiji era? It had been decades . “We’re in the Taisho era.”

 

There is...silence, silence combined with the thoughtful hum that soon turns into an unholy shriek.

 

“TAISHO! TAISHO! THE ERA HAS CHANGED AGAIN AND I’M STILL HERE!” The demon shrieks, causing Douma to ready his stance as hands slam against the ground in its rage, making the earth to tremble. “DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU UROKODAKI! I’LL KILL ALL OF YOUR BRATS FOR THIS, EVERY SINGLE DAMN FOX YOU SEND!”

 

“Fox..?” Douma manages to repeat, and immediately has to slash away at the rain of arms coming for him, cutting away each limb with a spray of blood, only to have each of them regrow again, slamming against trees and ground in hopes on getting him and crush his innards, he has no time to pause and wonder, only act.

 

“Come here little fox!” The demon growls, amused and enraged as arms try to strike at the boy, like a cat toying with a mouse. “You’ll be the eleventh fox I’ll kill! What will I do to you?” It wonders loudly.

 

Douma slashes at the arms, feels his lung burning for air before taking a leap away, breathing hard as his muscles tense with adrenaline. He has to focus on the neck, not the hands, but the entire body is wrapped in those extremities, and he needs something strong enough to cut through so much muscle and bone with one slice.

 

‘Second form? No, not enough momentum. Third, to catch it off guard?’ He thinks, and Douma readies his stance once again, sucking air and ignoring the rotting smell coming from the demon, not willing to let something like a vile odor mess up his Breathing. Twin blades slash away almost in a dance, but for each arm he slashes off, two more emerge, making him parry and adopt a defensive stance once more.

 

‘Seventh form!’ The boy thinks, feelings his lungs begging for air before he can even focus on the proper stance. Just as he gasps, something strikes the side of his abdomen in a sweeping motion, something that sends him tumbling away on the ground with a grunt of pain that escapes his usual fake smile. 

 

The demon hits hard, and he is lucky it had been only that, a hit, because had it grabbed him, Douma thinks it would have snapped him in half without further thought. It still leaves him breathless and in pain, clenching his teeth and sucking air through them rather than moan in pain, his side will bruise, but he will gladly take bruising over his stomach bursting open from the inside. It hurts, but he is on his feet before a second hand can crush him into the ground and paint the forest with his blood.

 

Douma grit his teeth, managing to jump and slash with his swords as a sea of hands came from the ground beneath him, trying to grab at him with claw-like fingers before said fingers were sliced off in a quick slash.

 

“You jump so much, little fox,” The demon mocks gleefully. “Almost like a rabbit! Urokodaki did an awful job with you. Maybe I’ll skin you alive like the little rabbit you are!”

 

‘Eleventh form, cut down the arms on its neck.’ Douma plans, and Breathes as much as he can before striking, his sword mimicking the movement of waves with each passing cut, each spurt of blood mixed with the ocean his blades were as he got closer to the demon, cutting away arm after arm and just managing to nick the neck, jumping to the side as a hand tries to grab at him.

 

“You’re so unlike any of the others, jumpy little fox.” The demon mocks, and its voice has the tone of bemused pondering. “They all try to run away, at first. Then they try to kill me with feeble little techniques that the old man taught them. The last one, oh, the last one!

 

The last fox that came here, years ago! He was such an amusing child, golden little fox. He didn’t seek me out, and I found him hiding away like a bird in a nest.”

 

“Nest?” Douma mumbles, and the mask in his bag suddenly feels heavier, delicate.

 

“But he was a jumpy little thing, cut my hands away just as I gave his body a good squeeze. I broke all his organs, and ate him up as he was dying.” It giggles, like a child telling a particularly funny secret. “I should do the same to you, or pluck your limbs one by one?”

 

Douma doesn’t think he’s capable of feeling fear, he isn’t capable of feeling much either way, so it’s odd, when his hands start shaking and his grip on his swords hurt. 

 

He’s angry. His expression is still neutral and hidden behind the mask, but he’s so, so angry. Why did demons get away with this? Why was this thing breathing the same air as him? This foul thing had killed many, and he wishes Urokodaki had killed it rather than trap it here, in the mountains.

 

The demon blinks, and its amused mood turns to one of confusion when the masked boy is no longer kneeling, catching his breath, but sprinting headfirst towards it. It can smell the anger coming from Urokodaki’s little fox, and a low chuckle escapes its maw. Let him cut away at its arms with another of Urokodaki’s techniques, before grabbing him and tearing him into two, torso and legs apart.

 

Except, he doesn’t.

 

Douma refuses to kill the demon cleanly, in the first place, and thinks on the technique that could cut away muscle and bones as haphazardly and painfully as possible, the only technique he dared try in a daze of silent, blind anger.

 

His lungs burn, reminiscent of a cold, blood-filled winter night in the mountains, his knuckles are white around his sword handles and adrenaline pumps his blood. Dragging a fight with a demon is a death sentence, he wants to end it quickly just as he wants to hurt it over and over again. The blades feel heavy as his stance shifts, coming almost face to face with the demon as the first blade digs deeply into the arms covering its neck from the left side, not quite beheading it, and he has a split second to feel smug over the look of realization in the demon’s eyes before his other blade cuts away at the covered neck from the right side.

 

The cuts are deep, blood gushing from the wounds inflicted as Douma pushes each blade towards the other with all of his strength, cutting away at impossibly hard, thick arms protecting the frail neck, listening to the demon’s awful shriek of pain as he serves the spine and part of its mouth in two different places. A slab of meat; part of the jaw and a tongue, falls onto the ground, separated from the neck just as the head rolls away in the opposite direction.

 

The demon shrieks obscenities as its body falls on the forest ground with a mighty ‘thud’, slowly disintegrating in the air like wisps of smoke. Douma breathes hard once he hits the ground, hand shaking still and feeling giddiness alongside leftover adrenaline. 

 

“NO! No, no! Impossible! Damn fox, damn Urokodaki!” The demon shrieks, still able to use its eyes as its head blackened and slowly faded away, bit by bit. “To think I’ll die looking at a damn fox!”

 

Douma looks at the demon, giddy still as he strides over to it. He can almost feel some sort of despair coming from it, the terror of dying, and he can’t get enough of it.

 

The silver haired boy slowly lifts his less shaky hands towards his mask, lifting it enough to show his face. The demon stares at cold multi-colored eyes and a blank, slightly mocking smile directed at it, and it almost weeps in fear, wanting to call for a sibling long since dead, someone it ate so many years ago.

 

“You’re crying,” Douma smiles, and under the monotonous tone, there’s the telltale of something between amusement and anger. “If you reincarnate, I will kill you again. So stay in hell, alright?”

 

The demon’s ashes disappear in the wind just as its tears touch the ground, without a single person to answer its call for help. 

 

Douma hums, content, still feeling adrenaline in his blood and the beginning of a bruise on his side. It was alright, just two more days to go, maybe he could catch another demon on his way to the top of the mountain.