I can still remember the day I got my voice torn from my throat vividly. I was fourteen years old, and it was summertime, warm, loud, with birds chirping and the scent of flowers permeating the air. Particularly the roses, lotuses, and peonies.
Shiki had sent me to the market to buy some rice to boil with dinner; she and her daughter, Sekai, had just begun to teach me how to cook classic Izanamese foods.
I never did mind the walks to the market. They were long, but nice, with good scenery and views. I especially loved seeing the hills and mountains from so far away; we lived close by them, so seeing them afar was different. And best of all, I could be alone with my own thoughts.
I envy those days, when my thoughts were pleasant enough that I yearned to be alone to be with them. It’s not like that anymore, as my thoughts deal more with the next job, cleaning and sharpening my knives, and making sure that my gun has been re-quieted in case I need to ensure someone maintains their silence.
But that’s beside the point.
On that day, I merely strolled along the pathway of the forest towards home. That day had been the same old same old; get up. Eat breakfast. Do my chores, talk with Shiki and Sekai when I had the time, read alone, and finally go to the market. That had been my daily life for four long kind years.
I never expected to see anything different, until I saw the leopard.
She had not been there a moment ago, I was certain. It was if I had blinked, and there she was.
The leopard’s name was Yuki; Shiki had been raised by the Garden Temple to be a Guardian for her. After all, Yuki was not only the symbol of the Garden Temple, but she was a strange type of Bloodling; she may not have been human, or resembled a human, but she was thought of as sacred.
She may just be. I don’t know. I’ll never know now.
I had been stunned, almost to the point of nearly dropping the packet of rice to the forest floor. Yuki was a beautiful creature, with rippling gray and white spotted fur, surprisingly round ears, eyes a piercing ice blue. My breath hitched for a moment; until then, I had half believed her to be nothing more than a folk story, and that Shiki was wasting her life to protect a fairy story.
That was when I heard the sound of a bow drawing to attention.
I looked up immediately to see a man in blue robes drawing his bow and arrow directly towards Yuki.
I couldn’t stand idly by. If Yuki died, that would mean Shiki would fail as a Guardian, and I couldn’t allow that to happen. I also couldn’t allow such a beautiful creature to die in front of me like this.
I had no time to wonder how the man had found her so quickly.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” I hollered at him. Seeing Yuki’s ears perk, I turned to her and screamed, “For rune’s sake, run already!” She didn’t react, and so I hastily clapped my hands together and then punched a tree hard enough to crack skin.
I had properly startled Yuki, and she ran off so quickly that I wondered if she had ever been there.
I was disoriented from the pain in my knuckles. I was so out of it, I forgot the man who had scared me in the first place. That is, until he was standing before me, one hand around my neck.
What a fool I was.
The basket tumbled out of my hands as I uselessly scratched at his hand. “What were you doing?” he asked, his voice as cold as his dark eyes.
As I was damn near choking, I couldn’t respond.
His hand tightened around my throat. “Answer me,” he said, his voice even icier.
Despite my fear and growing inability to breathe, I tried to answer, although the only thing to come from my lips was a raspy cough and spit.
He disgustedly shoved me away from him. Then he turned away from me as if I was disgusting. “Can’t use that pretty little voice of yours now, can you?” he asked, glaring down at me. He’d practically forgotten that I couldn’t answer him because he’d been strangling me in the first place.
I gasped and breathed raggedly. “I…I couldn’t let you…I-” I broke off coughing again, horrid, rattling coughs that made me tremble and that were violent enough to make my back ache.
He crouched down to my level, and with surprising gentleness, brushed a strand of hair from my face. “Even while coughing and ragged, you have a lovely voice,” he said, his eyes as soft as his voice.
The sudden change in personality bewildered me, but more than that, frightened me. Who was this man?
Then he smiled warmly. “I could use that voice in one of my spells. You know, instead of that blooding’s fur that you scared off.”
Ice trailed down my spine, and I knew what he was saying. I shook my head rapidly. “Oh, please…please don’t do that, I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-” Of course, I had to cough again, almost gagging this time.
That was the final straw for him. He clenched one of his fists, and I immediately felt my lungs tighten up, forcing me to breathe tiny breaths. He was a Sanguine, a Blood-Leter; strange. I hadn’t taken him for being Chiyoun.
And then I was proven wrong again, as silvery energy tangled up in his other hand; Spirit Magic. Morphean.
Oh, runes, I’d thought. He’s a Chaos-Wielder. Chaos-Wielders, wizards who have mastered two or more types of magic. Either meant to be revered or feared.
He obviously fell into the latter.
“Please..don’t…I…sorry, so sorry…” I gasped.
He sighed and rolled his eyes. “It’s too late for a simple, ‘sorry’. But don’t worry, dear. Your voice is more than a good enough substitute for that thing’s fur,” he said, and before I could cry or scream or try to run, he placed both his hands on my throat, and then there was blinding silver light.
The pain was excruciating. It was sharp, so sharp, and it would take two years for me to find out what kind of pain it was.
It would take me slicing my palm open by accident to realize that the agony of my voice being torn from my throat was akin to multiple knives digging into my neck and carving it from the inside.
I’d wanted to scream, to cry, to do something, but I couldn’t do anything. Already, I felt as if a fist had clamped over my voice.
It probably took less than a minute, but felt like centuries.
Finally, it was over, leaving a stinging ache behind and rattling, shaky breaths from me. I barely forced myself to look up and see him holding something that glowed red in his hands.
His eyes widened when he saw me looking at him. “You’re still alive.” He took a breath and put my voice, my voice, inside one of his pockets. “That’s impossible. Nobody survives when I take their voice. At least, nobody has before.”
I tried to rise and take a punch at him, to curse him out, swear, but no sound escaped me. Yet the effort made me cough, and horrifyingly enough, still no sound escaped me. Not when I fell over again, my silent coughs and gags making my back arch and my body twitch, spit all over my lips.
He tilted his head to look at the mess and disaster I had become. “This is…intriguing, to say the least.”
I tried to scream, damn you! at him, and yet still nothing came out.
“Try to cry and scream and swear all you like, you’ll be unable to say another word as long as you live. Fine punishment for a talkative…thing like you.”
Those were his final words to me before he vanished, almost into thin air. Leaving me alone to cough and cry silent tears in the woods.