51 – A Final Memory
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I stared blankly for a moment as I contemplated what Mr. Non had said. He crossed his arms and sat down next to me—his eyes never stopped glaring at Azul.

“You can see him?” I asked in shock.

“Unfortunately. I’m more surprised that you can. I suppose your time in between worlds has affected you,” his words were gentle but firm.

“Who are you really?” I pressed.

“Hmm, you will come to know once your memories come back.”

“Can’t you tell me now?” His words were too cryptic for my liking. I didn’t need more of that; Azul was already enough.

“I cannot.”

“Kiko, he is trying to deceive you,” Azul hissed.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.

It was possible both were trying to deceive me. At the very least, I knew Azul wanted me to kill, though he seemed to not understand why I was so opposed. I had no idea of Mr. Non’s intentions; trusting him was also a stretch. I, at the very least, had to get away from them and make a decision. If I could have just a few moments of silence, I might be able to think it through. They both tried to speak to me, but the voices combined into a mess of noise. My brow surely was furrowed.

“If you know how to remove him, I would like to make a decision alone,” I said as I looked at the stranger. He rubbed his chin.

“An interesting proposition. Very well.”

Azul tried to retreat, but Mr. Non suddenly lunged forward and grabbed him by the back of his head. The serpentine dragon squirmed as he was uncoiled from around my neck. My jaw fell open as my shoulders loosened. I didn’t know what to say.

The strange man stepped back as Azul squirmed in his hand and tried to bite him. Had they been a normal human and normal dragon, he may have succeeded in a venomous strike.

I rolled my shoulders as I tried to contemplate what was happening. Mr. Non waved to me and disappeared into the forest’s foliage; the last thing I saw was him looking at the blue dragon and shaking his head. His expression almost looked like one might give before talking to a child as if the dragon was not consequential to the strange man.

Then everything went black.

I was suddenly crouched in a pink tree, my kimono securely fastened around my body. Below was a simple table with a short cloth over the top and two piping hot cups of tea. Closest to me sat Emperor Akimitsu; behind him stood Nobuyuki. Across the table was the princess of the opposing nation. She was an annoying girl with round white eyes and a cute smile, which seemed tailor-made to seduce our emperor into making a bad decision.

The events came back to me as clear as day. I could remember it all, but unlike before I knew it wasn’t just a dream.

The princess had two guards behind her, inconsequential muscle by the looks of it, and one lady who appeared to be her main advisor. None of the persons present would be enough to stop us if the emperor ordered a kill. I wished he would just get it over with; the war would be well fed from such a choice.

As the memories flooded back into me, I shuddered. In my old thoughts, I was ready to kill so easily; just as I feared.

I had not paid attention to the conversation, but when the emperor and princess stood up and politely bowed to one another, I knew enough. Peace had been agreed upon. This was not according to the plan; he was only supposed to be a puppet—this was the last strike against the young emperor. It was clear what I had to do, and the princess could take the blame. I felt the large daggers at my side. They would be the most effective to do the job, but they were also gifts from the person I would be stabbing. A moment of hesitation, but not enough to stop me.

Was there a way to stop this? Could this flow of memories be shut off before it was too late?

As the sun began to set, the princess went to rest in a spare room prepared within the castle. She would be leaving the following day with news from the peace talk. Emperor Akimitsu stood on the cliff's edge behind the castle and watched the sun go down—his clothes peacefully swayed in the wind as he stared. I dismissed the other guards and peered at the distant emperor from the side of the castle.

“He was always so sentimental, huh?” A gruff voice said from behind me.

“You are correct, Nobuyuki,” I replied without turning back. My voice sounded more solemn than I would have liked. A large, but gentle, hand rested on my shoulder.

“Do you remember that time when we all went down to the river? He was trying to show off, and reel in the river spirit,” the large man behind me said with a soft laugh. I chuckled in a sad sort of way.

“I do; he ended up being pulled in by some common trout.”

“In his defense, it was an abnormally large trout.”

We savored the memory for a moment before I spoke again.

“I’ll take care of his death; would you be willing to set up evidence of the princess's involvement?”

“Already done. Why don’t you get some rest? I’ll take care of… the other matters.”

I shook my head.

“My orders are to be the one who kills him if word gets out….”

I was determined to follow what mother said. I should have let Nobuyuki convince me to do otherwise. He went back and forth with me, trying to convince me, but I was stubborn to follow how I had been raised. I argued that it wasn’t my first kill and dismissed my large friend. As silently as possible, I made my way to the emporer’s side. He didn’t look my way but smiled as I stepped close to him.

“It was a beautiful day, huh, Kiko. Part of me wishes it lasted forever, but if it had, we wouldn’t have been able to see such a lovely sunset at the end.” The sky was a painting of color and clouds—as if a masterful artist had brushed the color in such a vivid way that you could not help but be sucked into the work. I could see why the Emperor liked it, the poor sap.

“There are sunsets every day; why is this one so special?” I asked. He laughed.

“This will be the last sunset I see before the world changes!” He spoke highly about the peace treaty as if everything would be different.

Or maybe he was considering what would come next.

“I don’t see what you are getting at.”

“Not to worry. How is Princess Sakura doing?”

I shrugged.

“I have hardly said a word to her.”

“Hmm, I would have liked it if you had spent a little time with her. The next time you see her, please do try to get along.” He rubbed his bare chin as he spoke. His eyes never moved away from the scene in front of him.

“I would rather die,” I replied bluntly. The words inspired a laugh in the emperor.

“I always have appreciated your bluntness with me, Kiko. I’m afraid we will have to cut this conversation short, though.” He pointed out, and I followed where he aimed; his eyes still looked at the sunset. The ground rumbled, and a large plume of smoke rose in the valley below the cliff. A fire had broken out. It was the perfect addition to the cover story.

With fingers wrapped around one of my spare daggers, I took a deep breath and plunged the blade into his back. The emperor did not make a sound, nor did his expression change. He still calmly watched the setting sun. My eyes began to water, and I could not make them stop.

I grabbed another spare and shoved it into his back. The world began to shake violently as spheres shot across the sky, but I was too preoccupied to notice. With the next dagger held close to my chest, I paused. My vision was fuzzy.

Emperor Akimitsu turned to me and pulled me close in an embrace, I could hardly see his face anymore through my blurred vision, but I felt as if he smiled gently at me. The last dagger was driven into his heart.

What had I done?

“Take care, Kiko. Live a happier life from now on.” He let me go and fell backward off the cliff. I fell to my knees and wept.

He knew? He knew I would kill him, and he didn’t fight back? He was a fool.

My tears were interrupted by a projectile crashing into the castle. Looking up, I finally saw what was going on. Hundreds of hungers were flying across the sky and crashing into the world like falling stars. I turned and watched as castle guards were consumed along with the building. One of the ugly creatures charged at me. I weakly reached for my blade but could not pull it out.

The large Nobuyuki slid between the monster. He shouted something, but I couldn’t hear; everything had gone silent save for the sound of my thundering heart. I stared blankly at the scene before me. Monsters were slowly pulling apart and consuming everything.

My feet were unsteady, but I tried to stand. It was not my intention, but I fell back to the cliff. The last thing I saw was Nobuyuki cutting a hunger cleanly in two. He looked back at me and shouted my name, or at least I assumed so, as I slipped just out of his arm's reach.

I got a good look at the colorful sky one last time as I descended, then everything went dark as I hit the moment my memories were lost.