He no longer slept.

As the blue-white stars burned overhead in all their chilling incandescence, he slipped quietly out of himself and stood looking for a moment at his curled, shivering body.

He had not told Naoe how easy it had become to take that sideways step that allowed him to soar out of himself, how simple it was to escape the constant pain that he had long ago accepted as the price of his power. Once he would have been afraid at how thin and stretched the bond between his soul and body had grown, but now–now.

He followed the arc of the pale crescent moon across the night sky and seized the tail of a winter storm racing northward. He let himself be caught in it, spinning and tumbling like an otter in the tide. Below him the lights of a vast metropolis flashed by, obscured by snow, but its twelve million soul-lights glowed like fireflies in his gaze. From this distance he could not tell old from young, male from female. Is this how we appear to the Beings Above? He wondered. A mass of tiny frail lights, waiting to be saved from the cold and the dark?

After a while he released the storm and simply drifted through the peaceful night. Oda’s <<nue>> were quiet in their strongholds of stone and <
>, his people bunkered down and safe. He would not mind if this night went on forever…

If only he were not so cold.

I’m so cold, Naoe...

Near dawn he allowed the light, trailing thread of his soul-tether to pull him back to himself. He stood there for a long time, looking at his body, no longer shivering, and the man sleeping with arms wrapped around him, sharing warmth in the cold night.


Takaya-san...don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me to be alone again.

Takaya closed his eyes.

He opened them again to look at Naoe’s face beside his on the pillow, faintly lined now–a proper oyaji‘s face, Takaya thought, and smiled. He gently brushed away the tears sliding slowly from beneath Naoe’s closed eyelids.

“You are my beacon, Naoe,” Takaya whispered. “No matter what, I will always come home to you.”