Hanana was true to her word. Every day at sunset, when it was growing dark but there was still enough light to travel by, she'd show up on the doorstep, letting herself in and announcing herself. Sometimes Yukiki was awake to see her, sometimes he found himself being shaken awake and have to see her concerned expression. Either way it went, they still managed to get by this way. And Hanana discovered she quite liked how the garden looked after dark--the light would spill from the windows of the house and hit the roses in such a way that it looked even more magical than it surely already was, and some of the roses's colors were nicer in the dark, odd as that sounded.
But of course she wasn't still coming over just for the roses. She was here to see her friend; no matter how much she liked the garden or the book, she couldn't truly enjoy either if Yukiki wasn't with her. So on those nights, she'd end up tugging him by the wrist out to the garden, voicing more concerns over him when he dragged his feet. Each time, though, he'd wave it off, stand a little straighter and say he was fine, even though the darker-still shadows around his eyes and slightly-heavier breathing said otherwise.
One night, Hanana resolved to bring him some medicine the next time she arrived. He seemed to need it. Even if she did have to go back to the square, face that awful silence and staring, she'd do it.
It'd been steadily growing colder again--not a rare occurrence for any area during winter, really. But it still made the villagers nervous. There was a snowy demon in the forest after all, and apparently had had a witch...maybe something was happening.
Then later in the afternoon, it began snowing again, the flakes falling quickly and in great numbers, blown along by the winds. Again, it really wasn't a shocking thing--it happened all the time in other areas. But to the villagers, it was a bad omen.
In just that one day, the gossip started up again and traveled all over the square. It had stopped snowing earlier, hadn't it? The snow had melted somewhat, enough to walk safely; they'd assumed the demon was in hibernation or taking a break or something of the sort. But if it started up again, and after that witch arrived...
"They must be planning something," one man muttered to his companions in the bar, casting a dark look out the window. "They must be."
"Plotting to freeze everyone to death regardless, I bet," said another.
"But why would they do that?" asked one woman, biting at her knuckles. "We've left them alone--"
"It doesn't matter what we do!" snapped the first speaker. "You can't reason with witches or demons." The group fell silent again. Something had to be done, they all knew.
Eventually, they began to understand, so they thought.
"Have you noticed the demon himself isn't leaving the forest these days?" one began telling his friends. "The witch is closer to the village, and she's come down here a bit, hasn't she? So I bet it's her doing...She must be trying to please her master, so she thinks she can make us all freeze to death!"
"So the demon isn't doing anything?"
"Not at the moment...our main concern should be the witch, I think. She's the one who keeps coming down here, after all, and don't you find it odd that it starts snowing just days after we find out about her? She might not be trying to please the demon after all, but maybe is attempting to remove us as witnesses!" That person was rambling now, just saying whatever came into his mind. No one else seemed to notice or care. "And you've all heard stories involving witches...if you kill the witch, then her spells are null and void!"
There was a heavy silence as everyone realized just what the man was suggesting. Some people went pale, others exchanged glances. What this man was proposing was not only dangerous, but... "You're saying we should commit murder?"
"It's not murder," the man protested. "It's saving the town, saving our skins and our own children. You don't want them all to die a cold, harsh death, do you?" Everyone shook their heads quickly. "Then we have no other choice. As it's said, you can't reason with a witch, so asking her to leave is out of the question...
"We have no other choice, then." The speaker's hand strayed to his belt, feeling for his small hunting knife.
Yukiki collapsed onto the couch that morning, hiding his face in one of the cushions. It only helped a little. He stifled a groan, one hand going to his chest--it was hurting again, a dull ache that was only getting worse each day. At first he'd thought it was heartache--embarrassing as it was for him to even think that word--but it couldn't be that. Hanana was still seeing him every day, just at sunset like she'd said...There was no reason for his chest to hurt so much.
Or for him to be so tired...
At some point he fell asleep, without even meaning to.
And somewhere far away, at the exact same time, the young enchantress finally reached a breakthrough. Her eyes widened as she realized just what exactly her teacher had done, had meant to do...and what she herself had failed to see.
Something had to be done. Tonight. Otherwise...
She slammed her books closed, raced for the door--
Yukiki startled awake, at first not knowing why. Then it hit him--almost literally. He couldn't stop the short cry from escaping him, his whole body tensing up as a stabbing pain shot through his chest, radiating from his heart. Gritting his teeth, hissing a little, he forced himself into a sitting position, his hand tightening against his chest as he tried to ride out the pain. Where had that come from? What was even happening? Hanana was right, he began to think, maybe he did need medicine or--
"Ha--Hanana?" he groaned, still gritting his teeth. He looked towards the window. It was dark outside. Past sunset. She should have been here by now.
He suddenly felt cold, and not because of his physical form. Something's wrong. He almost forgot the pain in his chest as he looked to the mirror on the table--so she hadn't taken it with her after all. Good.
Hanana hurried down the path to the village, clutching her basket to her chest as she went. The sun was already setting, but she couldn't go to see Yukiki just yet. She had to get medicine first...but she hadn't even known what he would need.
So for the past hour or so, she'd been grilling her sisters on what she might need for him. "His eyes look a bit sunken in, he's moving so slowly, he's tired all the time...sometimes I see him clutching at his chest," she'd explained, frantically, miming as she went along. Despite the seriousness of the situation, it was almost comical, really, especially when she pushed at her eyes to try and make them look shadowed.
In the end, none of them could pick one single medicine, but they'd at least narrowed it down to several. At least now Hanana wouldn't have to buy out the entire medicinal section.
Right now she just hoped her shopping would get done quickly so she could hurry to Yukiki. I hope he's not worried or disappointed! she thought, butterflies in her chest at the thought.
The village quieted again as she reached the square, but she paid it no mind. After what had happened recently, she'd been trying not to think of it. They were just being silly, she told herself as she hurried along, unaware that some of the villagers were following her. She'd just act natural, they'd talk for a bit and gossip, but in the end, they wouldn't do anything.
They weren't doing anything about Yukiki but spread stories, anyway.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and jumped in surprise, spinning around to face her accoster. "Y-yes?" she panted, trying to catch her breath. There in front of her stood a small group of villagers, men and women. Hanana forced herself to smile, trying to look pleasant...not easy when everyone in the group was fixing her with cold, hard stares, and even people who weren't in that small group were staring at her. She swallowed nervously, looking around beyond that group. No one stepped forward to interfere. What's going on?
"C-Can I help you?"
One of the men looked up, watching the snow fall. "You did this, didn't you?" he said, voice low. Dangerous.
"What?" Hanana suddenly felt cold, and she held her basket closer to herself as she shook her head. "N-No! No, I didn't do this--it's just the weather being what it is, there's no need to--" She stopped, breath catching in her throat as the first man stepped towards her, hand flexing.
"Don't lie!" he snapped. "You know we found you out, don't you? You don't want anyone else to know, don't want us to get away or warn others of your dark magic...that's why it's snowing again, isn't it?"
Are they mad? Hanana thought, suddenly getting very, very frightened. She shook her head again to protest, but now the rest of the group were speaking up.
"I bet those two other women you live with aren't really your sisters!"
"You just stole them from some other village and are trying to teach them dark magic too--"
"--or else you're planning on feeding them to the demon!"
Hanana wanted to snap at them just then, insist they were wrong, he wasn't a monster. She wasn't going to hurt her sisters, they were wrong about everything. But she didn't get a chance to. The group was still talking, now amongst themselves, nodding in agreement at each outlandish, horrible suggestion... "Stop it right now! You're all wrong!" she finally protested, hands clenching into fists. The air suddenly grew colder, wind blowing more fiercely, whipping her hair around.
The timing couldn't have been more terrible. "See, look!" someone shouted above the shouts of fright and anger. "She's making it worse!"
"We have to get rid of her before she kills us all!"
Hanana turned around and ran for it, throwing her basket at the villagers. It was all she could think of. She didn't even check to see if it hit, she just kept running, heart hammering in her chest, fear choking her. They've all gone mad! She tried to think, tried to get past the terror gripping her mind. She had to hide, had to find a weapon to defend herself, had to get around her pursuers...
But she'd forgotten just how many others had, while not following or directly threatening her, been watching. Each house she passed, the door opened and someone else ran out, shouting for friends to help catch her, kill that witch. Hanana felt her throat closing up, heart beating even faster and faster. How had this happened? Why her? Why, why, why?
A hand closed wrapped around her arm, pulling her back into the crowd. She let out a scream automatically, trying to get away even as she was shoved into some of the womens' arms. "Hold her still!"
"Cover her mouth!"
"Don't let her cast her magic!"
"Let go of me!" Hanana cried, struggling harder. She kicked out at some of the villagers--the first time since she could remember that she'd used violence. Her captors ignored her ineffectual struggling, closed in--
--the air suddenly felt freezing--
--and someone roared.
The villagers drew back suddenly, releasing the rose-haired girl. Her legs weakened under her and she fell to her knees, looking up at the newcomer.
Standing in front of her, arms out to shield her, was Yukiki. The wind blew fiercely, whipping his cloak around, the blue glow from his eyes and mouth made the shadows stand out even more than they had already, and from his hands emitted the same light. Hanana distantly noticed the mirror held in his hand--so that was how he'd found her.
The villagers stood back, hands over mouths, grips on knives shaking as the demon roared again. "Do! Not! Touch her!"