Cutscene: Ex Voto Suscepto

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Time: 5:30 PM
Place: Araya Shrine, Sumaru
Date: 20 August 2011

By the time Tatsuya Sudou cleared customs and exited the airport outside Sumaru, it was the middle of the day; now, having navigated the traffic-clogged concrete maze, it's verging on late afternoon. He's instructed his chauffeur to make a certain stop on their way home to Yumezaki, a stop that made the dutiful attendant's eyebrows rise in muted shock. But, accustomed to his employer's oft-eccentric demands, he merely nodded in assent.

The sun has begun its descent behind a blanket of clouds, its light lancing down through the cover in golden shafts that the trees surrounding Araya Shrine further diffuse. Beyond the gauzy gilt draperies, the greater portion of the light paints the vault in hues of lavender and rose. What strikes Sudou's mane, however, is enough to bring out the auric undertones in every wiry strand, crowning him in white-gold. He exhales, training his fire-red gaze upon the scorched timbers and deserted grounds.

Coming here sparks a bonfire of emotions, always. But he needs to do this.

Deliberately, the former executive mounts the stairs, slipping with careful resolve through the door and into the close darkness of the haiden, the sanctuary. It's warmer in here, amidst this galaxy of luminous dust; above, symphonies of cobwebs depend from the rafters. Slowly, Sudou's single eye closes, shutting out the sun-washed surroundings and overlaying them with imagined flames, replacing the gentle humming of cicadas with children's screams and his own high, mad laughter.

Sweat threads down one ashen temple, the sudden moisture enough of a shock to part the dragon's lids. The flames, the screams, the laughter -- all abruptly vanish.

He digs in his trousers pocket then, hand still wet from the chozuya, and draws forth an oblong length of metal. Sudou's old switchblade flicks open with steely finality, sunlight setting the blade afire in his hand. Tilting his wrist slides the gloss back and forth so captivatingly...but he pulls his gaze from the gleaming steel soon enough.

It's time.

With his other hand, he reaches up and slides his long fingers beneath the thick mane of white-gold, pulling it over one broad shoulder and holding it there. His pale lips part in another deep breath and, in a single decisive motion, Tatsuya Sudou scythes through the sheaf of hair in his hand. So freed, it resembles nothing so much as a skein of flax, heavy across his arm and as oppressive as the hot August air. The cut ends of his much-shortened mane settle back into place around his collar, brushing lightly against his shoulders, but it's the thirty-inch-long mass in his arms that holds his attention. He lowers his gaze to it.

To put it bluntly, it's a mess. Split ends and broken strands make up a not-insignificant portion of its length, the result of twelve years spent without meeting a sharp edge. It had grown during his first stint in the Sanitarium, and he'd clung to the lengthening mane as he'd clung to the festering scar that bloomed like red tide across half his face, desperate for the reminders of his pain, his suffering, his sacrifice. Of the wrongs that had been done him. Of the work he had yet to do. Now...

It is done.

Slowly, reverently, Sudou lays the shorn mane upon the altar meant for such offerings. He would set fire to the mass of white-gold, but he won't bring fire into this shrine, not again. Instead, he elects to leave it for the gods to sort out as they like. A bow, then, and he makes his way out of the haiden.

Stepping out into the golden dusk, away from the last remnants of his old life, Sudou feels lighter than he has in years.

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