Koori no Mamono no Monogatari
Volume Twenty-four

Story by Sugiura Shiho
Summary by Amparo Bertram

Amashi doesn't know whether the northern demons' kekkai is intended to keep something in or out. Regardless, he can no longer enter. He senses that Blood is inside. He has decided that if he has no future, he will ensure that Blood won't have one either. He swears to ruin Blood's life by his own hand--a hand that has grown grotesquely demonic.

Kauzel's darkness has disappeared, and everyone is safe. Ishuca checks on Leo, who isn't injured. Blood explains that the image they saw of Kauzel's body disintegrating was only his mental projection of himself, like an illusion, not his physical body. Kauzel can't understand why his body feels so solid. He has no use for a body that will no longer transform according to his will. Meanwhile, Leo begs Blood to spare his father, insisting that his father is truly kind, having constantly protected him. Kauzel strikes, announcing that he only protected Leo in order to use his body as a vessel. Blood raises a kekkai--but Leo negates it by freely giving Kauzel his permission. Kauzel is stymied, however, because Leo is too pure to be a suitable vessel.

Kauzel's new, changed body starts to make him frantic. He thought he had everything all figured out, but now he's filled with uncertainty, confusion--emotions welling up from a place inside him he never knew he had. As his grasp on his existence is shaken, his body once again begins to disintegrate. Clinging to the one thing of which he is sertain, that he and Blood are the same, he attempts to take Blood with him as he dissolves. Kauzel insists that his fate and Blood's must be the same, and he challenges Blood to remember exactly how many arms he had severed.

Blood thinks back...and counts only two. He thinks back even further, to his very first memory, and realizes that when he opened his eyes he saw Kauzel--with only five arms. Kauzel had used his sixth arm to create Blood, with golden hair as if to scatter light into the darkness. Wild had known all along; he had asked Blood earlier about his first memory, having suspected as much. When he relates this to Nei, it becomes clear why the Blood-double Nei had confronted had been so perfectly identical to the old Blood, even down to saying the exact same thing.

Kauzel believes that because he and Blood are the same, they should vanish together. Yet when Ishuca puts his arms around Blood and calls him by name, Blood solidifies. He shoots back that it doesn't matter if they were originally the same, he is now his own person; Ishuca has broken Kauzel's hold over him. He may once have been Kauzel's doll, but Ishuca gave him a heart. (Ishuca privately thinks that Blood is the one who shared his heart with him.) He concludes by thanking Kauzel for creating him. Kauzel is shocked that Blood is no longer his "Kaerichi," but a separate being. Blood repeats Ishuca's words, saying that Kauzel is also alive, and this causes Kauzel to re-solidify as well.

Ishuca finally receives Wild's message. As Raugul and Lindou trap Kauzel with their bindings, Blood bites Ishuca's finger and uses his blood to make a kekkai. Ishuca reads aloud the note, which is Sheece's name. It summons the water demon to lend them his support. Sheece submerges Kauzel under a flood of water. Having Ishuca's grandmother and her demon friend take Ishuca to safety, Blood dives in to lay the final seal.

Kauzel asks Blood what's wrong with his body--it's heavy and solid and won't shift or flow the way he wants it to. Blood tells him he's lucky he'll be able to appreciate what happiness a body can bring, adding that having something important to treasure makes life even more happy. He comments that Kauzel is now like Blood himself used to be long ago, which means he has the capacity to change. He even does the favor of telling Kauzel how to break the seal: Think about another person like crazy, and the ice will melt. As soon as Blood rises free and clear, the entire water-filled courtyard freezes over. Blood returns to Ishuca's embrace.

Sheece pointedly asks Ishuca what happened to the Tear Gem. Blood yells at him, but it's too late; Ishuca has already remembered the gem that broke while he was imprisoned. He cheerfully asks Blood, "Didn't you say you used the Tear Gem to break out of your seal?"

Sheece goes back to his lake, inviting Ishuca to visit anytime, and everyone leaves the temple. The northern demons' kekkai gets absorbed into the temple wall to strengthen it. Nei has a moment of panic when he realizes Wild had used one of Blood's message birds to reinforce the kekkai, though Wild quickly soothes him by pointing out it's better to have the real thing. Blood announces that he and Ishuca will accompany the other demons home, which Nei (who is quite taken with Blood's wet look) perceives as his Chance. Blood wants to spend some uninterrupted time with Ishuca, a plan that is not helped by the fact that Ishuca keeps inviting everyone to come visit...especially Rapunzel, whom he gives permission to stay over for months.

Just as the demons start to head off, Amashi rushes out of the forest. Kauzel, in Blood's body, had told him what had happened to all six arms. One made Blood, one made the baby, one made the Blood-double, one was inside Leo, one was used to heal Blood's stomach wound, and the sixth is inside Amashi. Amashi has decided that, as a demon, he must die--but before he does, he is determined to take Blood with him. Blood, sensing the surprise attack, grows his hair out long to protect Ishuca. Unfortunately, he doesn't block Amashi's demonic arm, which slashes his right eye. Rather than dodge, he grabs the arm and pulls it out, setting Amashi free from Kauzel's influence. He hands the arm to Ishuca, who astounds Amashi by absorbing it into himself. After the demons vanish, the madam from the brothel gives Amashi the ward Blood had brought with him, using it as a symbol to reassure the young priest that he is not a demon.

Five years pass. The priests rebuild another temple further to the south. Zaha had tried growing his hair long because Nei likes long hair, but he knows he can't compare to Blood so he makes up his mind to cut it. Besides, he understands that Nei likes him anyway. Ishuca had made Blood grow his hair long (he put it to a vote) and tells him how pretty it is...then suggests he "play Rapunzel." When Blood adamantly refuses, Ishuca secretly decides to braid Blood's hair while he's sleeping. The two are living together in an isolated house in the north. Due to the Tear Gem breaking, Ishuca no longer has the power to heal, so Blood's eye remains scarred, making him resemble Kauzel.

Raugul sends word that Leo has disappeared. They all know he's headed for the old temple to set Kauzel free. Although Ruugis is frantic, hardly anyone else seems concerned. Ishuca uses the news as an excuse to visit Rapunzel. Rapunzel is excited and hopes Ishuca will stay all winter, though Wild is less than thrilled at the notion. Seeing the winter snow, Ishuca muses that the blank whiteness of it reminds him of his lonely days waiting to die and makes him feel the world might end. Blood assures him that, even at that very last moment, he will be at Ishuca's side. They're both glad to be alive, and they hope spring will come soon.

Leo makes the arduous journey to the old temple and climbs inside. He doesn't remember anything about what happened except that he loved Kauzel. He can't shake the feeling that Kauzel is a part of himself that has been missing. He clears away the snow and peers through the ice, bringing light to Kauzel's world.

Someday spring will come, and the ice will melt.

* * *

Spring comes at last. Everyone is excited about the warm weather and flowers blooming...

...Except Wild, who just wants to kick Blood and Ishuca (and Nei and Zaha) out of his tower.

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