Chapter 1: Introduction
The footsteps echoed between walls in an alley. After Aoi got into a secluded spot behind the nightclub, Aoi could hear his target’s footsteps easier. Though the place was not entirely abandoned, but leaving the nightclub itself was already lessen his task’s difficulties enough.
Few steps ahead of Aoi, the man stepped his foot on a wall before he jumped over a tall barb-wired fence. After the said man landed his feet at another alley across Aoi’s position, the said man hurriedly stood and started to run again.
“Reita! Wait!” Aoi called as he stopped before the barb-wired fence.
“He’s no longer ‘Reita’, Darling.” A heavy-flamboyant voice could be heard from Aoi’s right side.
Aoi turned his head toward the flamboyant man in black. “But, Takashima—”
“You’re not going anywhere!” Another man in red shouted. From Aoi’s left side, the man in red pulled his fist and it started to glow in red. When it looked like his fist was going to get burned, the man in red swung his burned fist and punched the barb-wired fence, blew it up apart. The barb-wired fence destroyed, and new path opened for the three of them.
The flamboyant man in black whistled as he played with his black cane. “Kouyou-chan is really fired up today!” he said as he pressed his sunglass upon his nose. “Thanks to you, Darling, for agreeing to become our Hunter!” The flamboyant man in black patted Aoi’s shoulder.
Aoi looked at the man named Reita. Reita turned, and it shocked him when he saw the destroyed barb-wired fence. When Reita wanted to run again, he stopped his step once he saw a tall thick wall in front of him. Reita looked to his right and left side, and what he found were the same flat tall thick wall with nothing to step onto. It’s impossible to climb up those walls.
Reita turned his back on the wall, and faced Aoi who stood between the other two men. Takashima was the one in black, and Kouyou was the one in red. Reita growled as he pounded his right hand to the air. A burning fire appeared in the air and Reita grabbed it with his right hand. The burning fire then turned solid and became a wand in Reita’s palm.
“I’m The Magician!” Reita exclaimed himself. “I’m carrying Apollo’s name within me!” Reita’s words brought a fire at the top of the wand. That moment, the wand looked more like a torch than mere baton. “I’m the sun, and all of you shall perish inside my flame!” Reita shouted and the fire grew longer, made Reita looked as he’s holding a fire sword.
“Apollo,” Takashima giggled.
“You have no right to call THE name!” Reita yelled as he drew the fire sword toward Aoi, Kouyou, and Takashima.
Smiled, Takashima followed by drawing his cane toward Reita. “Yes, well, WHATEVER, Apollo. You can blaze your fire all you want; you can forbid me to call THE name all you want, but, can’s you see? Now we have our Hunter to face you,” Takashima said that made Reita growled again. “You just won’t burn anything, Magician.” Takashima then stretched his cane in front of Aoi. “Hold the cane, Darling.”
Aoi hesitated. “But—”
“Then I’ll burn you all now!” Reita shouted as he ran right to Aoi with the fire sword in his hand.
“Aoi-san!” Kouyou screamed as he held and stretched Aoi’s left hand toward Reita who’s getting closer to them.
Gasped, Aoi did as he told. He submitted to anything he heard that moment. He held Takashima’s black cane with his right hand, and what happened after, was Takashima’s cane turned to be so cold as ice.
“Freeze…” Takashima whispered as he grinned.
Reita was about to swing his fire sword toward Aoi when at the same time, in an instant, a cold haze flowed out from Aoi’s left palm. The cold haze took off at fearsome speed toward Reita’s blazing fire sword.
Reita didn’t have the time to dodge the moving cold haze. The fire on his wand stopped burning as the cold haze spun around the fire blade like a spiral. The cold haze crawled from the blade, to the wand, and reached Reita’s hand.
The cold haze then extinguished the flame on Reita’s wand and Reita was forced to let the wand off of his freezing hand. The wand fell onto the asphalt and it rolled to Takashima’s feet. Watching it all in silence, at Aoi’s left side, Kouyou let go of Aoi’s hand.
“What… had… happened?” Aoi looked at everything around him: from the tiny cold haze that still lingered on his left fingertips, to the frozen fire wand that fell from Reita’s hand. Slowly, Aoi let go of Takashima’s black cane from his grip.
Takashima just stroke Aoi’s black hair and gave it a peck. “Thank you very much for your cooperation, Darling. You’ve done so well!” Takashima complimented before he used his black cane to support half of his weight as he kneeled on his right foot.
The flamboyant man in black took Reita’s fire wand before he got back on his feet and stood as he smiled. “You know, Magician, Apollo just won’t let the sun shines without his fire.”
“Shut up…” Reita panted before he looked at Aoi. “You, Young Man.”
“Y… yes?” Aoi stuttered.
“Are you really going to do this until you can retrieve all Arcana Power?”
“Y… yes.” Aoi’s answer still stammered.
“What made you want to go that far?”
“Because…” Aoi looked straight to Reita’s eyes. “Because I’ve promised that I’ll help them… Kouyou and Takashima.”
“What have they done to you that made you wanted to go this far?” Reita asked again. He looked at Aoi, who’s that time, didn’t reciprocate his gaze, and didn’t answer the question either. “You won’t tell me, I see.” Reita smiled. “Very well then. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“That is how I pay you some respect for the courage you have when you fought me before,” Reita explained.
“Oh! Mm…” Aoi hesitated before he answered. “I just want you to let me to control your freedom.”
Reita lowered his gaze as he exhaled. “Is there any other request?” he asked. “I can actually give you a Fire Power that can burn anything, if you want it.”
“No.” Aoi scratched his head. “That’s… too… frightening…”
“So, you don’t want it?” Reita asked, and he saw Aoi shook his head. “You still want me to let you control my freedom?” That time, Aoi nodded. Again, Reita exhaled. “Well, that is the only thing I can do right now, isn’t it…” Reita then kneeled in front of Aoi.
Kouyou then walked closer to Reita. “You’ve enjoyed your freedom too much, Magician,” Kouyou said as he stretched his right hand, and pointed his palm to Reita’s forehead. “Now is the time for you to return to where you belong.” With those words, Reita closed his eyes. A fog-like smoke evaporated from Reita’s body.
Takashima then took out a blank card from the pocked in the inner part of his black coat. Takashima throw the blank card in the air. The blank card spun and stopped above Reita’s head. The blank card then absorbed all of the fog-like smoke that evaporated from Reita’s body.
The fire wand that was still in Takashima’s palm was also evaporated and absorbed into the blank card. Across of Takashima, Kouyou kneeled fast and caught Reita’s body when Reita lost all of his energy and fell.
“I... is he—”
“He’s fine,” Kouyou cut of Aoi’s words. “He’s just unconscious. His body got weak suddenly because The Magician’s soul fragment, Apollo, had just forced to spend all of Reita’s energy earlier before left him like this.”
After all of the fog-like smoke absorbed from Reita’s body to the blank card, the card spun again and flew back to Takashima. Takashima caught the card and showed it to Aoi. “Here you go, Darling,” Takashima said. “This is the first card you’ve successfully captured! The Magician.”
Aoi looked at the card. The once blank card now had a picture on it. Aoi could saw a picture of a male figure in red robe with an “infinity” sign hovered above his head. “I guess…” Aoi started as he looked at the card with number one in Romanian letter written at the top part of the card. “I didn’t do anything… you guys were the one who beat Reit—I mean, Apollo, The Magician’s soul fragment.”
“No, Aoi-san,” Kouyou corrected as he carefully lay Reita’s body on the asphalt. “If we don’t have you right now, we won’t know where we should transfer our energy to beat The Magician.”
“Ah…” Aoi nodded slowly. “Is that so..?”
“Yes,” Kouyou answered as he stood back up. He turned and faced Aoi. “This was just the beginning of everything.” The man in red stepped closer to Aoi and held Aoi’s left shoulder.
Across of Kouyou, Takashima held Aoi’s right shoulder. “We’re looking forward for our next cooperation, Darling.”
The next morning, a loud noise suddenly filled Aoi’s modest apartment. Aoi stretched his arm out from his blanket and touched everything on the night drawer that might produce the loud noise. When he finally touched a cold object, Aoi pressed one button on it, and the loud noise stopped. Aoi took the cold object in his hand, into his blanket.
“Seven in the morning…” Aoi mumbled with his still crisp sleepy voice from inside of his blanket as he looked at the alarm clock he took earlier.
“Ohayou gozaimachuuu, My Darliiiing~”
Aoi fell silent. He put his mind to work. Suddenly Aoi’s eyes grew wider as he pushed away his blanket. Aoi got up from his sleep position and found the man in red was currently looking at him in silence, and another – flamboyant – man in black smiled and pulled his blanket away from Aoi very slowly.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT, YOU PERVERT!?” Aoi slapped Takashima’s face before he pulled back his blanket to his chin.
“Daaarliiinng!? You don’t have to slap my handsome face, do yoouuu!?” Takashima held his redden left cheek.
“Wh... what are you doing here!?”
“It’s easier to detect the other Arcana power when we’re around you, Aoi-san,” Kouyou, the man in red, answered that time. He closed the distance between him and the bed where Aoi laid down. He showed The Magician card to Aoi.
“Oh, gosh…” Aoi hid his head under his blanket. “So it’s not a dream after all…”
“Wake up, My Darliiinng!” Takashima sang as he already got back to his cheerful behaviour. “Or you’ll be laaate!” Takashima pulled open Aoi’s blanket. “Don’t be too shy! You still have your clothes intact all over your beautiful body, Darliiinng!”
“GET AWAY FROM ME!” Aoi used his foot to pushed Takashima away.
Aoi Shiroyama, twenty-six year old and worked a double-job at a café called “Fortezza”. He’s a waiter and also a coffee maker barista.
“You work full-time there?” Takashima asked as Aoi was getting ready. “You’re only work in that one place? Oh! So you must be a fun person!” Takashima clasped his hand together. “Working in a café makes you meet so many kinds of people, right?”
“Yes, I only work in that one café. Yes, I work full-time there. Why not? It paid well. So, no, I don’t really need to find more job. No, I’m actually not really fun to be with. I rarely talked to the customers, and I only had ONE co-worker, so…,” Aoi exhaled. “Practically, my co-worker at my workplace is my only friend.”
“Didn’t you go to a college before?” Takashima asked again. “Don’t you have a dream job? Oh! Maybe some of your friends at your college before can suggest you to some other place? Or, is being in a café is your dream job, Darling?”
Aoi exhaled again, and rolled his eyes this time. “No, I didn’t attend any college. So, no, don’t even expect me having college-friends. I’ve told you my co-worker is my ONLY friend, I don’t think even I have the right to add my café’s owner to my friend list. YES, this is my dream job. And, yes, you asked too much, Takashima, now shush!”
Aoi didn’t lie. Hiroto, his co-worker was his only friend. Hiroto was the only person he ever invited to come over his apartment, and also, was the only person Aoi could have a pretty long conversation with. That’s why, his meeting with Kouyou and Takashima was a huge change in his life.
Moreover, they introduced Aoi to this so-called Magic Power. Aoi knew magic only from animes, mangas, movies, novels and such before. This time, he had to face it in his real life.
Aoi looked around his small apartment. He used to live alone in it. Now, when he had to share it with Kouyou and Takashima, suddenly, Aoi found his apartment looked even narrower.
Well, actually, Kouyou and Takashima didn’t really live with Aoi inside the apartment. Per say, they’re not too solid to be called “human being”, yet they can still be touched to be called “astral creatures” too. Aoi himself never found the motivation to ask them about it either. When Aoi saw them could appeared anywhere anytime, it was already more than enough for Aoi.
That morning was one of the examples. After Aoi got The Magician card the night before, Aoi got home to his apartment, and he made sure that both of them, Kouyou and Takashima, were OUTSIDE of his apartment. But after Aoi woke up this morning, those two men were already inside his apartment, beside his bed room, watching he’s asleep. Watching him all night? Yes. Aoi bet at it; because it was exactly similar to Aoi’s first encounter with those two men.
Three days ago, Aoi almost got into an accident. Aoi saw a little boy playing with his balloon at the sidewalk. The little boy by chance kicked the balloon and the balloon flew to the road. The little boy tried to catch his balloon, and ran over to the road.
That moment, Aoi turned his head and saw a truck drove so fast toward the boy. Without letting his mind stopped him, Aoi ran to the little boy, and pushed the boy back to the sidewalk. A moment later, Aoi looked at his own feet that stood exactly at the same place as the little boy earlier: right in the middle of the road, with a big truck moving fast right to him.
Aoi looked at the truck and closed his eyes. He submitted himself to everything that would hit him after that, but it didn’t come. More than ten seconds passed when Aoi didn’t even hear the truck’s honk, the machine sound, the buzzing traffic, or anything. When Aoi dared himself to open his eyes, he didn’t see the truck anywhere near him. He didn’t even see the little boy or the sidewalk.
He’s at some beach.
He looked around to make sure whether he’s just dreaming, or he just woke up after fell asleep on the beach at his latest vacation, or he’s in somewhere near heaven or something in between. Until he saw Kouyou and Takashima on the same beach.
Kouyou, the Joker, the man in read, and Takashima, the Albino Joker, the flamboyant man in black, were how they introduced themselves when Aoi saw them at the beach. There were only the three of them on the beach that moment.
The two men asked something about “sacrifice” and “agreement”. Without properly asking for confirmation in return, Aoi just closed his eyes and nodded. The second time Aoi opened his eyes after that, Aoi found himself already lay down on the sidewalk.
Several people were looking at him that time. They asked whether Aoi’s alright, or did he hurt, or something else. A woman even thanked Aoi for saving her son who played with the balloon earlier. Aoi only nodded slowly and answered it in a low voice as he looked at Kouyou and Takashima behind the crowd.
Aoi’s eyes grew wide. Those were the same two men he met at the beach. He saw Kouyou nodded his head to Aoi, and Takashima smiled at him. After they met again for the second time the day after, Takashima explained that the “beach” Aoi saw before was an “area” inside Aoi’s mind. It positioned between the real life and the next world.
Here they were now. Aoi agreed to help them capturing all the Arcana Power that rebelled and fled to only God knows where. And when Aoi faced one of the Arcana, like when he faced The Magician who synchronized with Reita, Kouyou and Takashima would lend Aoi their power to keep Aoi in an equal power-level with the Arcana.
And Arcana is..?
“They are…” Takashima fell silent and turned his head to Kouyou. “How did you explain it, Joker-honey?”
Aoi stared at Takashima. He called himself “Takashima, the Albino Joker” but he dressed ALL in black. Why didn’t he call himself “mafia” instead? Aoi thought. Only the shirt he’s wearing was white. Takashima REALLY had this pale skin, but it still wasn’t pale enough to be called “albino”.
Takashima wore a black fedora hat, black sunglasses, and even wore black lipstick. Repeat: BLACK LIPSTICK. Yes, Aoi was certain that Takashima IS male. He was just love to… put on some – serious – makeup.
The flamboyant guy also wore black gloves, black coat, black vest, and black pants, with white tiny lines. Add more to it? Takashima wore black high-heeled boots, and taking his black cane wherever he goes. Oh, and, Takashima smoke cheroot, the entire time.
Takashima walked as if this whole world was his private catwalks, it’s getting on Aoi’s – and Kouyou’s – nerves sometimes. If only Aoi didn’t see how Takashima had helped him fought against Apollo’s soul fragment inside Reita, The Magician, the night before, Aoi wouldn’t fine Takashima’s manly side. “Very androgynous…” Aoi mumbled under his breath every time he saw Takashima.
Takashima, the Albino Joker had the opposite behaviour from his counterpart: Kouyou, the Joker.
“Joker-honeeeyy?” Takashima called for the second time.
“Oh, you are SO not romantic,” Takashima sneered.
“Shut up, Albi.”
“Hey, I thought I’ve told you to call me ‘Takashima’?”
“That’s exactly the same reason why I want you to stop calling me ‘Joker’.”
“Guys?” Aoi called lazily between them.
“Oh, we’re sorry, Darling,” said Takashima – cheerfully again – as he returned his gaze to Aoi. “So, The Arcana is a really big magic energy. It embedded to several cards. Each card has different skills, and they are all WEIRD.”
“Unique,” Kouyou corrected. “Maybe you could actually compare it with how we cast spells when we fought The Magician last night, Aoi-san.”
Aoi looked at the man in red. “Could you… please… drop the ‘-san’?”
“No,” Kouyou answered, and Aoi sighed.
Here were Kouyou. Kouyou and Takashima shared the same hair colour: brunette. But in Kouyou’s case, it got reddened a bit as an effect from the red energy that oozed out from his eyes. If Takashima dressed in all black, Kouyou dressed in all red. His reddish-brunette got even redder from the affect from his red long coat. Kouyou looked really like a walking blazing fire.
“So—” Kouyou continued his explanation. “—Arcana are dangerous power. They could even synchronize with human beings. If there any human got possessed by Arcana Power and they couldn’t control it; that is when the problems started. Arcana Power could erupt, and made chaos everywhere. If the human could actually controlled Arcana Power within them, other problems could occur if they tempted to use it for bad deeds.”
“Bad deeds?” Aoi asked. “Such as?”
“Erasing all your memories.”
Chapter 2: The Bell Chimes
Welcome aboard to, Hiroto-kun! ^o^)/
When they’re in their way to the café where Aoi was working, Takashima mentioned about Arcana Power could do so many destructive things in the world. Right. So, erasing someone’s entire memory was one of so many things that Arcana Power could do to human.
Some human beings in this world did have the will to destroy something in their life. If those kinds of human beings were synchronized with Arcana Power, moreover, if the human being couldn’t control the power, Arcana Power could drive them mad, and they might destroy other things that they actually didn’t want to.
The Arcana Power didn’t come from outer space like Aoi expected it at first, since the Arcana Power itself wasn’t logical in the first place. Someone created it and actually didn’t do it for bad purposes. After the Arcana Power rebelled and ran away from their creators? That’s another story.
Here, Takashima and Kouyou helped the Arcana Creator to catch back all the Arcana Power. On their way to Aoi’s workplace, Aoi found one easiest way not to mistaken Takashima to Kouyou and vice versa: Takashima-black-“Darling”, and Kouyou-red-“Aoi-san”.
“Ohayooo~!” someone greeted Aoi at the café before it was opened.
Aoi looked at the one who greeted him. He’s not as tall as him. “Good morning, Hiroto-kun.”
Hiroto Ogata, the blond young man was about to start his conversation with Aoi when he looked at two men behind Aoi. “Oh, we’re very sorry, Gentlemen. We’re not opened y—”
“Oh, they’re with me, Hiroto-kun,” Aoi said when he looked at Takashima and Kouyou.
“They… are…” Hiroto didn’t finish his words as Takashima waved and smiled at him, while Kouyou just bowed politely. “You…” This time he talked to Aoi. “Are you joining some cosplay community now?”
Aoi just sighed. Hiroto just liked to ask anything. Well, no one could blame Hiroto if they looked at how Takashima and Kouyou dressed though. “No, Hiroto-kun. They are a little… mm… well, how can you say it…” Aoi hesitated a bit when he looked at Takashima – who suddenly, out of nowhere, POSED – and Kouyou. “They are a little extreme…”
“Oh! You mean they got style?” Hiroto amazed. “I like that red eye-accessory! That’s so cool!” Hiroto pointed at Kouyou’s red aura around his left eye. But when Kouyou didn’t reciprocate any response, Hiroto laughed and scratched his head. “Sorry, sorry!” He then bowed to Takashima and Kouyou. “Hajimemashite! I’m Hiroto Ogata, Aoi’s co-worker. Nice to meet you!”
“Aww, my Darling here IS a fun person to be with! Look! He has a fun friend too!” Takashima said as he clamped his black cane in his armpit before pulled Hiroto’s hand and shook it with too much excitement with both hands. “Hajimemashite! I’m Takashima! I’m my-Darling-Aoi’s darling! Nice to meet you too, Hiroto-kun! OUCH!” Takashima yelled when Aoi kicked him. “My Darliiinng, wh—”
“I’m Kouyou,” Kouyou said shortly as he bowed a little. “Nice to meet you, Ogata-san.”
“J… just call me ‘Hiroto’, will you? ‘Ogata-san’ is a bit too much, I guess..!” Hiroto waved his both hands toward Kouyou.
“That’s okay, Hiroto-kun. Kouyou won’t change his mind about that,” Aoi said as he walked to a door with “STAFF ONLY” sign-board hanged on it. “I’m going to change now. I—”
“My Darling! I’ll go with yoouuu~ I want to see your beautiful bo—” Takashima never got the chance to finish his words as Aoi kicked him again before he grumbled and entered the said room.
Hiroto fell silent when he witnessed it all. “I… is this happened often?” Hiroto asked to Kouyou and saw Kouyou nodded at him as an answer. “Ah, right! Kouyou-san right? Please, take a seat! Aoi will be back soon!” Hiroto showed Kouyou to the nearest table with four chairs around it. “But, we’re very sorry that we can’t serve you anything at current moment, since we’re not ready yet.”
“No, no! Don’t mind it, Hiroto-kun!” Takashima exclaimed as he followed to sit beside Kouyou and put his black cane against the wall beside him. “It’s us who actually have to apologize for the possibility that we might disturb your work time.”
“We won’t mind it. This café needs more noise actually, since it’s usually quiet.” Hiroto giggled. “Oh, right! Do Takashima-san and Kouyou-san know about hottest gossip around?”
“Gossip?” Takashima cheered. “No, no! We haven’t heard anything! And, yes! I love gossips! What is it about?”
Hiroto lowered his voice as if there were other people around them that might listened to them. “Takashima-san, Kouyou-san, do you believe in ghosts?” The question suddenly made Takashima fell silent, and slowly, nodded. “Do you know Visconti-Sforza High School? Based on the gossip I’ve heard, every night, there was this girl’s crying voice from one of the school buildings.”
“A girl’s… crying voice..?” Takashima asked.
Hiroto nodded. “They said, sometimes, the girl’s voice asked weird things too.” Hiroto said that made the red aura around Kouyou’s left eye twitched. “The questions were like riddles.” That time, Kouyou and Takashima looked at each other. “Even the school’s security guard once founded unconscious in the morning after he failed to answer the girl’s ridd—”
“Gossiping again, Hiroto-kun?” Aoi asked after silently appeared around them.
“Aoi!” Hiroto laughed nervously. “I didn’t know you’re here!”
Aoi already changed his appearance. He’s wearing white neat shirt and long black trousers. A black apron tied neatly around his waist to his shin. “My Daaarliiinng!” Takashima called as he looked at Aoi from head to toe and back at Aoi’s face. “You look sooo haaandsooome!” Takashima stood and stretched both of his hands toward Aoi as he pouted at Aoi. “Nooow, give your darling here a kis—” Again, Takashima failed at finishing his words as Aoi smacked a tray right on Takashima’s face.
“Aoi, you shouldn’t treat your boyfriend that way,” Hiroto smiled apologetically at Takashima.
“HE’S NOT MY BOYFRIEND,” Aoi objected before he let out a long sigh. “I actually wanted to tell you something. But, since you like to gossip a lot…”
“Eeehh!? What do you want to tell me about, Aaooiii??” Hiroto asked excitedly.
“Not going to tell you!” Aoi left Hiroto to the kitchen to prepare everything they need before they opened the café that morning.
The words about his new ‘activity’ stay shut in his mind. Takashima told him once that Arcana Power often came out at night. Too many encounters with humans might lessen their ‘freedom’. That’s why they chose night-time.
Aoi might leave the café if one day Arcana Power appeared again when he’s working. Aoi might leave Hiroto alone at the café when the time came. But sometimes Hiroto wanted to help too. That considered Aoi not to involved Hiroto to the case so that Hiroto shouldn’t be harmed by the Arcana Power.
There, Aoi sighed.
The last customer for the day paid their bill at the cashier. “Thank you for coming! Please come again!” Hiroto cheered as he bowed to the customer. Hiroto then turned the sign-board from “OPEN” to “CLOSE”. “We’re done for today!” Hiroto stretched his arms’ and body’s muscles that evening.
“You two are great! You’re working like this every day, right? Have you ever felt bored sometimes?” Takashima asked.
“When it’s quiet! But today’s fun! Thanks to Takashima-san and Kouyou-san!” Hiroto laughed. “Right, Aoi?” Hiroto looked at Aoi and suddenly he fell silent as he saw Aoi was holding his head with both of his hands.
Takashima stood from his chair and approached Aoi. “Darling?”
“A bell…” Aoi said. “It chimes… it sounded so… distant… it’s echoing…” Aoi closed his eyes when he lowered his head. “I don’t know where it’s coming from…”
“Bell?” Hiroto asked. “I’m not hearing anything.”
“It feels like… it’s echoing inside my head…” Aoi explained. “Weird. It doesn’t feel like a real thing… but I can still hear it now… I’ve felt something like this before… before the encounter with The Magician…”
“The… what?” Hiroto asked.
“You can still feel it, Aoi-san?” This time Kouyou approached Aoi. “Is there anything following the bell chimes? Some other thing you hear, or something you see?”
Aoi’s eyes were still closed. Inside the darkness he saw with his closed eyes, Aoi saw a light-blue smoke floating. The light-blue smoke was moving and forming a Romanian number. “Two…” Aoi said. “It’s Romanian number two…”
“The second card. It’s The High Priestess,” Takashima said as he pushed his sunglasses on his nose.
“Come on, Aoi-san. The Arcana Power is calling you.” Kouyou held Aoi’s hand. “It’s hunting time.” Kouyou pulled Aoi to the café’s front door. The red aura around his left eye got slightly bigger.
“Hu… hunting..!?” Hiroto frowned. “What do you want to hunt in the middle of this big city?”
“Hiroto-kun, I’m sorry!” Aoi shouted as he reached the café’s front door with Kouyou. “Can you lock the café for tonight? I’ll do it for two days in a row tomorrow!” With that, Kouyou pulled Aoi again until the both of them exited the café.
Takashima hurriedly took his black cane. “We’re very sorry, Hiroto-kun! We’re borrowing my Darling-Aoi for awhile!” Takashima ran after Aoi and Kouyou, leaving Hiroto alone inside the café, who’s currently amazed with how Takashima could still manage to run in his high-heeled black boots, as he still stepped like he’s on a catwalk.
Outside the café, still pulling Aoi and still walking, Kouyou said, “This will be a little difficult.”
“What..!?” Aoi panted. “I… I thought… the ‘priestess’ name… it’s a… ‘she’, right?”
“Yes, Darling. But have you ever dealt with a girl who had something divine inside herself?”
“WHAT!?” Aoi shouted, face-palmed. “‘Priestess’. Right. So, now I have to face a… female priest?!”
“Not literally,” Kouyou said. “The High Priestess is one Arcana Power who possessed much knowledge inside her and she’s really proud of that.” Kouyou sighed. “Now I understand about the gossip Ogata-san told earlier.”
“Gossip Hiroto told you!?” Aoi blinked. “Ok, so THIS Arcana Power is smart.” Aoi hesitated before he continued. “We… are going to face her with strategy then?”
“Let’s hope we don’t have to reach the level where she might insist us to use ANY strategy, Darling,” Takashima said. “But if we really need some strategy to face her later, we can cheer for ourselves because it means we can pass at least one of her riddles! Yay!”
“W… wait a minute!” Aoi yelled. “Why suddenly I can’t understand what are you talking about?”
“Because difficult riddles are something she usually served to greet people, Darling!”
“You can imagine her as a priestess who carried a bible everywhere she goes. The bible she’s carrying is ALL filled with riddles. The problem is, you can’t see the bible since she has it inside her mind,” Kouyou explained as – this time – his eyes glowed redder. “That’s why we have to hurry. The more people failed to answer her riddle, the bigger the labyrinth got. She might change this whole city into a Giant Labyrinth.”
“O… okay, okay! I know we have to hurry.” Aoi stuttered. “B… but, where are we actually going!?”
“Is the bell still chiming inside your beautiful head, Darling?” Takashima asked.
“Y… yes, it is…” And something inside Aoi’s mind just told him that, behind his sunglasses, Takashima just winked at him.
“If we’re walking to the wrong direction, the chime sound will go lower—”
“There..!” Aoi pointed to the opposite direction from where they’d just took a turn on that street. “L… like Takashima said, the bell chime’s sound is getting lower with our current direction.”
They stopped, and Aoi exhaled. “That way… is there any school there?” Kouyou asked as he looked to the direction Aoi pointed earlier.
“H… how do you know!?” Aoi asked.
“Now you know that gossips Hiroto-kun told you actually could give you advantages, Darling! Now let’s go to school!”
“So this bell chiming sound is actually an indicator to where the Arcana Power was located!?” Aoi asked in disbelief. “Hey!?” Aoi yelled when instead of answering him, Kouyou and Takashima now was holding each his left and right arm and dragging him while running to the direction Aoi pointed earlier. One thing that at last made Aoi chose to stop asking was the bell chiming sound was getting louder with their current direction.
“We’re here,” Kouyou said when they stopped in front of the Visconti-Sforza High School large gate. “Aoi-san, hold on to me.”
“Huh? What? Why?” Aoi asked.
“This school’s gate is undoubtedly locked, right? Then we have to jump over it to enter this school.”
“Come on already. Hold on to me,” Kouyou said as he circled his right arm to Aoi’s back.
“No, wait! YOUR HAND. KOU!!” Aoi screamed for Kouyou’s touching him in too intimate way.
“Stop making yourself difficult, Aoi-san,” Kouyou clicked his tongue. “I’m sorry I have to do this to you.” Kouyou then put his left arm behind Aoi’s knee and lifted him in bridal-style.
“Put me down! Right no—NO! KouYOOUUU!!” Aoi called when suddenly Kouyou jumped too high for his heart could comprehend, over the gate – with almost three meters high. Kouyou then landed safely inside the school yard. After Kouyou put Aoi down, Aoi gripped his own shirt in front of his chest, panting, and breathing faster than normal. “I should be more grateful I have a strong heart…” Aoi trembled.
“Yes, yes. I feel grateful too that my Darling has a strong heart! Not like his face that already got as red as a tomato!” Takashima giggled as he fixed his sunglasses position on his nose.
“Sh… shut up!” Aoi cried out before he fell silent again. “Wait. Wh… when did you jump?”
“Just now,” Takashima answered lightly. “I was just following Kouyou-chan from behind.”
“W… wait a minute. So we could actually JUMPED over the barb-wire fence instead of destroying it when we faced The Magician before!?”
“Yes, and after we landed, The Magician would surely attacked us first with his high-speed and crushed us all with his copper shield,” Kouyou explained. “Now is not the right time to discuss The Magician, Aoi-san. We have The High Priestess to deal with now. Come on.” Kouyou pulled Aoi again.
Submitted, Aoi followed Kouyou’s step, and Takashima followed them from behind. But Aoi couldn’t still stop talking about The Magician. “B… but, wait. Copper shield? I didn’t see him with copper shield yesterday.”
“It’s because he just didn’t want to use it yet, Darling,” Takashima answered. “If he chose to use it against us yesterday, he might not burn us out. Instead, like Kouyou-chan said earlier, The Magician would use it to strike the three of us at once and crushed us all.”
Aoi gulped. “Did The Magician always that brutal?”
“He’s a fighter anyway, so, yes,” Kouyou answered as he suddenly halted. They reached the main entrance to the school main building. There was pair of glass door in front of them. “Now, let’s get back to The High Priestess, Aoi-san. This is the main entrance to this school’s building. I can’t destroy it. Moreover, if I destroy it, The High Priestess might detect us right here and now.” Kouyou exhaled. “Now, Aoi-san, if you hear any question, you can only voice out the answer. No any other word. ONLY the answer to the asked question.”
“Wh… why me!?”
“You remember that we, Kouyou and I, these Jokers—” Takashima pointed at Kouyou and himself. “—Are now the Arcana’s main enemy, don’t you, Darling?” Takashima asked. “The Arcana Power doesn’t want Kouyou and I found them.”
“B… but… you’ve changed your name already, right?”
“The High Priestess has her intelligence not for nothing. She doesn’t know who ‘Kouyou’ and ‘Takashima’ are, but it won’t blind her from detecting our energy,” Kouyou explained.
Just when Aoi wanted to protest even further, a voice called out. “Who are you!?” It’s a girl voice, it came out from nowhere, and it was echoing.
“A… a girl voice..?” Aoi asked in a whisper. “It sounded so young… is she one of this school’s student..? Or, is she..!?”
“Yes, it’s The High Priestess,” Kouyou whisper also. The red aura around his left eye that already subsided earlier now was glowing again.
“I’m asking you, WHO ARE YOU?” the girl voice repeated her question.
“Answer it, Darling,” Takashima whispered as he patted Aoi’s shoulder.
Aoi fell silent. There he could only depend on himself. The Arcana Power had an aversion to Kouyou’s and Takashima’s existence. If The High Priestess found out about Kouyou and Takashima was after one of them now, The High Priestess might do something crazy after this. Again, submitted to his current circumstance, Aoi added the volume to his voice and answered The High Priestess first question: “I… I’m Aoi!”
“Aoi,” the girl voice replicated. “Now, Aoi, you ought to face some tests from me. Are you ready?”
“Tests!?” Aoi asked back disbelievingly.
“Wrong answer!” The girl voice raised her voice, and followed with a tremor from the floor around Aoi, Kouyou and Takashima. Walls then emerged in high speed from the floor, around Aoi, and separated them apart. The walls touched the ceiling and faded the possibility away for Kouyou and Takashima to reach Aoi out.
“Kouyou!” Aoi called as he hit the wall around him frantically. “Takashima! Where are you!?”
“You have no right to ask questions, Young Man,” said the girl voice, made Aoi gasped. “Every wrong answer you give me later will take you closer to the center of the earth.”
“This is crazy…” Aoi whispered again.
“I ask you one more time, Young Man. Now, Aoi, you ought to face some tests from me. Are you ready?”
Aoi gulped again. He closed his eyes while both of his hands still clutched toward the walls that were separating him from Kouyou and Takashima. His hands trembled. Now, Kouyou and Takashima were not with him. Aoi was alone at that current moment with the walls that were surrounding him. Chose to play along, Aoi took a deep breath and answered, “I… I’m ready!”
Chapter 3: Puzzles
A little warning: it’s a lengthy chapter, ALMOST 5,000 words or so, with lots of riddle in it. For those who dislike riddles, you can skip it to the (====+====+====) sign below. For you who love riddles, happy reading! :D
Aoi heard the sound of a door got unlocked. Aoi looked at his surroundings. The only wall with door was the pair glass door in front of him. Aoi walked toward the door. He looked at the metal handle and fell silent.
He would walk into the school building alone. He would only walk to the direction where the girl voice told him to. And there were no Takashima and Kouyou to help him that moment. Aoi might call Kouyou and Takashima to let them know his current position.
They might answer him in return. That way, Aoi might find their position too. But if he dared to voice anything out from the asked question, he might not find any unlocked door. Instead, the floor below him might open and swallowed him.
「‘Every wrong answer you give me later will take you closer to the centre of the earth.’」
But should he search for Kouyou and Takashima first? But would it waste his time? Kouyou said that they had to hurry. AOI had to hurry now. If Aoi won’t play along with The High Priestess, the Arcana Power might do something to Kouyou and Takashima. Those powers had an aversion toward these Jokers, right?
Aoi exhaled. He only had one option: play along with The High Priestess. Aoi took a hold of the metal handle, took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. He turned the handle and slowly pulled the door open. Expecting something might attack him; Aoi took few steps backward and waited.
“I can make sure there’s nothing around you. You can go inside,” said the girl voice.
Aoi gulped. He was so nervous. He stepped into the school lobby slowly. Aoi looked at his surroundings and found no one there. The only lights Aoi found in the dark lobby were from the small lamps at the lobby walls.
When Aoi completely entered the lobby, the door behind him suddenly closed itself and locked. Aoi turned with wide eyes before he ran toward the door. He held the metal handle and tried to turn it several times, but the door won’t open.
“You won’t be able to open it. I’ve locked it from here,” said the girl voice.
Aoi gazed upward. The girl voice came from somewhere above the lobby. Aoi grasped his shirt on his chest. He tried to calm his own nervousness and fear. He found some truths in Kouyou’s words. At least, Aoi didn’t have to fight like when he faced The Magician.
Again, Aoi looked at his surroundings. Aoi could only find the small lamps at the lobby walls. He couldn’t find any other door, no window, nothing he could use to escape. The only door in the room was locked behind him.
More to it, there were several walls that built weirdly inside the lobby. It looked similar like previous walls that were separating Aoi from Kouyou and Takashima. The High Priestess did her job well. If one answer could open a door for Aoi, then maybe, one more answer could open another door.
“Now to your first test.” The girl voice hummed and Aoi gasped. “It rounds but it also smiles. When you face it while its source is right behind you, it will turn red. From heaven, it’s the closest to you. It’s bright, but sometimes it could die. What is it, Aoi?”
Aoi frowned. He almost asked the girl to repeat the riddle but he stopped himself before he could even voice anything. The girl voice only wanted his answer and nothing more. Aoi didn’t dare to ask any question or he might be sent to somewhere else.
Submitted to his situation, slowly, he repeated the words inside his head. He closed his eyes. Round but could smile, it turned red when the source was right behind, it’s the closest from heaven, and it’s bright but it could die.
“You don’t have much time, Aoi,” said the girl voice.
Suddenly there were rumbling sound. Looking at his surroundings, Aoi found the walls around him moved slowly toward him. He covered his mouth when he almost voiced out a curse. Instead of cursing, Aoi hit the closest wall.
Aoi tried to search for the simplest keyword from the sentences he heard. Round was the shape of a ball. But what ball could smile? When the source was right behind, it turned red. A ball didn’t have a source. Was she talking about the source of the smile? But what smile? Moreover, a ball couldn’t change its color. Then, what ball was the closest from heaven?
The walls moved again. He looked at the moving walls. The small lamps on those walls captured Aoi’s attention. Lamp-balls were round. But lamp-balls still couldn’t smile. Was she talking about ghost lamps? Aoi clicked his tongue.
He threw the thoughts about ghosts away. He looked back at the lamps. The source for a lamp was electricity. When the source was right behind, it turned red. A lamp won’t definitely shine without any electricity. But then again, even when the lamp went out, it won’t turn red. A lamp also had nothing to do with the nearest position from heaven.
He had to answer the riddle before the walls around him squeezed him in. Again, Aoi repeated the keywords inside his mind. It was round and could smile, it’s bright and it could die, it turned red when the source was right behind, and it’s the closest from heaven—heaven was located somewhere above the sky, right? Then, a round-shaped thing that positioned closest to us from the sky was—
The walls moved again and it almost touched Aoi from either way. But that moment, there was another thing that made him gasped.
The sky had so many round things in it. But there was only one thing that could smile. The thing would definitely turned red when its source was positioned behind us, who stood on earth. The thing was also the closest from the sky to the earth when compared to any other thing up there.
Sometimes it could die not literally. Its brightness could appear and disappeared momentarily. And so, the round thing was, “Moon!” Aoi answered. “It was round and bright in full-moon, it smiled in crescent, and died at new moon! When the earth positioned between it and its source – the sun – there would be eclipse and that was when it turned red! Moon was also the closest round thing we could see from earth!”
Aoi gasped again when he heard another rumbling sound. Did he answer it wrong? Aoi looked around him. He saw the walls moved away from him and returned to its real positions. Aoi’s gaze returned to the one wall in front of him that suddenly lifted up to the ceiling and disappeared.
After the lifted wall opened a new path in front of him, Aoi chose to step on to it. It was a long corridor that leaded to a dead end. When I Aoi looked behind him, the wall dropped and closed the path again. Aoi couldn’t return to his previous position which meant he got even farther from Kouyou and Takashima. That was IF Kouyou and Takashima didn’t move from their position.
Or did Aoi get actually closer to them? Aoi had to answer another question to found that out.
“Congratulation, Aoi! You are the first person who could answer the riddle!” the girl voice cheered. “Now, as a present for your cleverness, I‘ve made you a poem. But I want you to help me find a perfect title for my poem!”
Again, Aoi clicked his tongue but he chose to voice out another protest. He waited until the girl voice could be heard again.
“Similar squads with two colours… balance but kill each other… the fewer are not always the loser, and don’t let your dear one get captured.”
Aoi leaned his forehead to the nearest wall. He nearly butted his forehead to the wall. What kind of poem was that? “Crazy” might be a good title for the poem. Aoi clicked his tongue again. What was she talking about actually?
What squads were similar with two colours? Were those two-coloured same squads or were it something else? Then what were balanced? The squads? And the squads killed each other? If the squads were balanced, then the squads were at the same power level.
If the squads had colours, what colours that have the same power level? Red against blue? Then what about yellow? Those were the main three colours, right? Then again, what kind of colours that was killing each other?
Even when those colours were blended, it didn’t mean the one of the colours was dead. It just… merged. But it must be in equal amount. It could only win over another when one colour amount was more than the other. OH, RIGHT! It’s about—wait. What it meant with ‘the fewer are not always the loser’ and ‘don’t let your dear one get captured’?
This time, it was not the walls that moved closer to Aoi. It was the ceiling that moved lower. The rumbling sound was heard when the ceiling above Aoi’s head moved.
Again, Aoi almost voiced out a curse. Among many classes he attended at high-school, he several times skipped off art class. He might be found some hints about colours history or any other things that he found ridiculous that time.
What squads were similar with two colours? Were those sports team? But what kind of sports that had to kill each other? Wasn’t it the balance in everything the one that could prevent a kill? Wasn’t a balance appeared from an equal power level?
With the same power level, it won’t be easy to defeat any side. And in that kind of condition, to win against one another, instead of power, a strategy was needed.
The ceiling above him moved lower again. Aoi was automatically bended and gaze upward. After made sure didn’t low enough to touch his head, slowly, Aoi straightened his body back. Aoi then raised his hand.
His finger tips touched the ceiling. Aoi had to find the answer quickly before the ceiling pressed him completely to the floor. Aoi focused his mind back to the ‘strategy’ word. Takashima once mentioned that they might need one of it to face The High Priestess later.
This kind of riddle already got Aoi headache. After Aoi got passed this riddle, Aoi didn’t know what kind of strategy he must use to face The High Priestess’ game late—
Game? Like a sport team, there were two teams in a game each with their own colors. They were similar in member amount. So it wasn’t about two colors in one single item. The similar member amount created balance.
They had to kill each other meant it’s not literally human playing in a sport. They had to kill each other to lessen their opponent number and increase their possibility to win the game. BUT even with more numbers still didn’t mean they WILL win the game. Even with fewer numbers in their team, as long as they still had their “dear one”, they won’t lose the game.
Aoi immediately covered his mouth when the ceiling moved lower faster than earlier. That moment, the ceiling almost touched his hair if only he didn’t bend his body. Aoi gazed upward again and he saw the ceiling checkerboard-like pattern.
He was certain of his thoughts. Two sides with different colours and with similar amount. Applying a strategy was more important than focusing in more or less the amount itself while the two sides had to kill each other.
The dear one was the “king”. And if the “king” got captured, then the game was over. And you could only find a game like that in—“Chess!”
Aoi heard the rumbling sound again, and he sighed in relief when the ceiling moved higher and returned to its actual position. There, Aoi saw the wall in his right rose to the ceiling. Behind the said wall, Aoi saw a staircase.
Following the direction showed in front of him, Aoi stepped onto the stair. Aoi turned to his left and continued following the staircase to the second floor. Aoi couldn’t really step onto the second floor for there was another wall blocked his step. He stopped there and waited.
“Aoi is so clever!” the girl voice cheered again. “If Aoi could go this far, then Aoi has it!”
Aoi heard a clapping sound. At a moment like this, the applause sound didn’t sound pretty flattering. Well, dealing with riddles while risking your life between moving walls and ceilings were not really gratifying in the first place.
“Does Aoi want to know what Aoi has?” the girl voice asked. “Aoi has an intimacy with it. Even though it is right in front of Aoi, Aoi cannot see it. It didn’t produce any sound, but Aoi can hear it in sounds. Aoi can share it with everyone even though Aoi cannot taste its flavour! With it, Aoi knows what aroma Aoi inhales.” The girl voice giggled. “So? What does Aoi have?”
Aoi held the railing tight and again, leaned his forehead on his hand. With his other hand, Aoi hit the railing. He repeated the words inside his head. The words full of ambiguity. It could be anything. But of course there was only one thing that girl voice meant. What Aoi had to do was only choose the most correct answer from any possibilities.
It was right in front of Aoi but Aoi couldn’t see it. It’s like an air. Air didn’t produce any sound either and you could hear moving air between leaves or something else. But, Aoi didn’t really can share it with everyone because air—
“Hwaaa!” Aoi screamed suddenly when he slipped on the staircase footstep. He didn’t even make any move, so why suddenly he slipped? Aoi gripped the railing tighter as he looked at the staircase he stepped on.
The staircase footstep got slanted. Aoi gasped. At the first riddle, Aoi almost got squeezed between moving walls. At the second riddle, the moving ceiling almost pressed Aoi down to the floor. Now, the staircase he stepped on got slanted.
Later, the staircase could get even more slanted. When the staircase footstep reached its maximum angle, the staircase would turn into a slide. When it happened, Aoi would never reach the second floor. Aoi changed his step position to search for a better way to stand on the slanted footsteps.
The girl voice giggled. “I’m so glad that Aoi didn’t say anything! I won’t take Aoi’s scream earlier as an answer! Aoi should be pleased too!” she said cheerfully.
In his mind, Aoi threw so many curses to the girl voice. He closed his eyes and focused on the riddle again. You can share it to everyone, but you couldn’t taste it. So it’s not an air. You can’t taste air, and you’ll know what aroma you inhaled from air. But you can’t share air like you share food. Air spread everywhere you don’t need to share it anymore.
Aoi exhaled, frustrated. You still didn’t need strategy to face riddle like this. But, compared it with previous riddles, this one described Arcana Power very much: complicated. You won’t understand the words directly but you needed it all as hints.
Again, the footsteps got more slanted than before. Aoi almost fell if he didn’t grip the railing tighter. Though Aoi changed his position, he couldn’t stand straight anymore. He depend his current situation to both of his arms, or else, Aoi would slipped and fell back to first floor.
“If Aoi doesn’t answer it quickly, Aoi won’t see Aoi’s friends ever again,” the girl voice warned him.
It made Aoi even harder to concentrate. There, Aoi pushed himself and gripped the railing hard. The Magician card might do something at this kind of situation. Aoi didn’t have to think too hard about the entire riddles, and just burn or slam everything down.
Then again, if Aoi wanted to use The Magician card, he had to get Takashima or Kouyou first. Aoi sighed. He didn’t have enough knowledge to answer the riddle, while The High Priestess was very proud of the kno—
Aoi gasped again. You could see anything in front of you as knowledge even though knowledge itself was not a concrete thing! Knowledge didn’t produce any sound, but of course you could tell knowledge with sounds and voices, right?
And of course you couldn’t taste knowledge’s flavor but you could still share knowledge to everyone! With knowledge, you’ll know what aroma you breathe in! “KNOWLEDGE!!” Aoi shouted in frustration.
Slowly, the footsteps moved again and returned to its actual angle, horizontally flat, and Aoi could step on it steady. Aoi straightened his body let out a relief sigh when his feet didn’t slip. Gazing upward, Aoi looked the wall that blocked the path to the second floor rose and opened the path.
Aoi hurriedly stepped onto the second floor and waited anxiously for the next riddle to come. He almost got teary, but he quickly stroked his eyes. On the second floor, Aoi looked behind him and found the wall was closing again, blocking his way back to the staircase.
Aoi took a deep breath several times to calm himself down. His heart still beat fast after he almost fell from the slanted footsteps earlier. Here, he saw several class room doors at his right side. No walls blocking him. It looked pretty normal if Aoi compared it to previous rooms which had too many walls in it.
“Aoi, as you can see, there were several rooms on that floor,” said the girl voice. “Now, I want you to use your feeling instead, and guess. Which room do you think I belonged to?”
Feeling? So, was it harder this way, or was it easier? Aoi looked to every door on that floor and found a sign-board on each doors. It was second year class rooms. There were six classes all. Aoi walked toward each doors and looked inside very class from the door’s small window.
Every class looked the same. Nothing special Aoi found in any classes. Before Aoi could think of anything, Aoi said, “You… don’t belong to any classes on this floor…”
One door suddenly slid open and made loud thud sound behind Aoi. Aoi gasped and turned. He looked at the opened door and at the sign-board above it: room 2 – 4. Aoi hesitated at first, but submitted again to his situation, Aoi entered the class.
That time, the door behind him didn’t close like he experienced before. Let out another relief sigh, Aoi waited inside the class. That moment, the girl voice spoke again, “So, Aoi, I want you to find something inside that room, and bring it to me.”
Aoi waited for another clue. “No hints this time, Aoi. You still have to use your feeling.” The girl voice giggled. “And, I want you to bring that thing to me…” What thing was it? “In one minute.” With those words, Aoi moved immediately.
Aoi looked at every desk inside the class room. Aoi looked at every chair and every window glass to find the ‘thing’ the girl voice meant. That moment, with no clue, Aoi had to find the ‘thing’ using his own intuition and again, it almost drove Aoi crazy.
Aoi stopped his entire movement. He stood still and just looked around without going anywhere. He had to find something that related to the girl voice, a girl, The High Priestess. This girl voice was really proud about her knowledge. So was it a book?
But Aoi didn’t find any weird book in the class room. When Aoi looked at any papers stuck on a small board at the back of the room, Aoi’s intuition didn’t tell him anything either. “Forty seconds…” Aoi changed his way of thinking.
Aoi repeated the girl voice’s riddles answers inside his mind. There were moon, chess, and knowledge. Aoi gripped his shirt in front of his chest as he felt harder to breathe. What was related to those three things in a class room like this?
Aoi clicked his tongue. In less than half of a minute, what could he found? Aoi looked outside the class and found the moon shone so bright that night. It shone and Aoi blinked. Aoi looked around it and searched for anything that glowed in the dark.
A glowing thing caught Aoi’s attention. At the back corner of the class room. “Twenty seconds…” Aoi kneeled to look closer to the glowing thing. It’s a chess pawn, a Queen Pawn. The transparent white pawn looked like a crystal with tiny red stones attached around the lower part of the pawn.
Aoi took the Queen Pawn and ran. He exited the class room from the opened door and returned to the corridor. He looked around him to search for a right way to run again. The path to the previous staircase was blocked, so Aoi took the opposite direction.
At the end of the corridor, Aoi found another staircase to the third floor. Since no wall blocked his path that moment, Aoi immediately took two steps at a time to spend less time to reach the third floor. “Five…” Reaching the third floor, Aoi found another corridor, and ran again.
Aoi slowed his step when he reached the middle part of the corridor. “Four…” His heart-beating didn’t slow down even after he stopped running. “Three…” Aoi saw and walked toward the brunette long-haired girl sitting at the end of the corridor. “Two…” The girl’s head bent down, and she was still in her school uniform.
“One,” the girl said as he gaze upward, smiling at Aoi. From her voice, she was the one who gave all riddles to Aoi – and to any other people – the entire time. “Good timing, Aoi! I actually wanted to give you another riddle. But I guess you’re way better than mere riddles.”
She looked at Aoi who didn’t say anything in return. She suddenly laughed. “I’m sorry! I forgot to tell you! The game is already over, Aoi!” She smiled. “You say anything you want now. You’ve found me, right?” said the girl as she stood from her sitting position on the floor.
“R… really..?” Aoi asked not even louder than a whisper.
The girl nodded. “Of course! You win the game!” she answered. Her gaze then fell on Aoi’s right hand. “Oh, can I have that back?” The girl pointed at the crystal-like white Queen Pawn in Aoi’s palm.
Aoi gasped. “Oh, yes! Of course! Yes!” Aoi handed the crystal-like white Queen Pawn to the girl. “It’s… so beautiful…”
“It is, right?” the girl giggled. “Thank you…” She smiled as she stared at the Queen Pawn in her palm. “Really. Thank you for the compliment and thank you for finding it and bringing it back to me.” There, she smiled at Aoi.
“It’s… so precious for you… isn’t it?”
The girl hummed. “Before I answer that question…” She looked straight to Aoi’s eyes. “Are you really going to do this until you can retrieve all Arcana Power?”
Aoi gasped. It’s the same question The Magician asked. “Yes,” Aoi answered.
“I see…” The girl hummed again. “In that case, as a gift because you could answer my entire riddle perfectly, and because you helped me in finding this—” She showed the Queen Pawn. “—Is there anything I can do for you?”
Aoi took a deep breath before answered, “I just want you to let me to control your freedom.”
“Well, that is the only thing I can do right now, isn’t it…” the girl then kneel in front of Aoi before she closed her eyes. Suddenly, Aoi felt a tremor inside the building.
“Is that your doing!?” Aoi asked.
“Yes.” The girl smiled, still with eyes closed. “I’m just undoing the entire labyrinths I’ve made inside this building.”
Not longer than a minute, Aoi heard Takashima’s voice from afar, “Oh, my Daaarliiinng~” Takashima called that made Aoi shivered. Aoi turned around and saw Takashima and Kouyou ran toward him. Kouyou ran in an usual way like any other normal human ran.
While Takashima ran while he stretched both of his hands - and of course with his black cane still in one of his hands. Aoi didn’t get the chance to prevent Takashima from jumping to him and hugging him too tight.
“She didn’t bite you, did she!?” Takashima checked Aoi’s fingers one by one. “She didn’t claw you, did she!?” Takashima stroke Aoi’s waist. “She didn’t touch you at the wrong area, did she!?” Takashima pinched Aoi’s butt and instantly got a nice loud slap on his cheek. “My Daaarliiinng!? Whyyy??” Takashima whined as he held his reddened cheek.
“You’ve changed so much, haven’t you?” the girl smiled.
“Changed? Who?” Aoi asked.
“You don’t have to think about it, Aoi-san,” Kouyou said as he walked closer to the girl. “You’ve enjoyed your freedom too much, High Priestess.” Kouyou stretched his hand toward the girl’s forehead. “Now is the time for you to return to where you belong.”
“I understand,” said the girl before a fog-like smoke evaporated from the girl’s body.
“Oh, your name? May I know?” Aoi asked before all the fog-like smoke left the girl’s body.
“Wakeshima,” answered the girl. “Kanon Wakeshima.”
Beside Aoi, Takashima then took out a blank card from the pocked in the inner part of his black coat. Takashima throw the blank card in the air. The blank card spun and stopped above Kanon’s head. The blank card then absorbed all of the fog-like smoke that evaporated from Kanon’s body.
After the blank card absorbed all of the fog-like smoke from Kanon’s body, the card spun again and flew back to Takashima. Takashima caught the card and showed it to Aoi. “Here you go, Darling,” Takashima said. “This is the second card you’ve successfully captured! The High Priestess.”
Aoi looked at the card. The once blank card now had a picture on it. Aoi could saw a picture of a female figure in blue long-coat and sat between two big pillars.
“Come on,” Kouyou said as he lifted Kanon’s body and carried her. “We have to take this girl home.”
“Eh? Do you know where she lives?” Aoi asked.
“A little magic won’t hurt, I guess,” Takashima said with a smile. He swayed his black cane and a line made of light was made in the air. The light-line then moved to the staircase and disappeared at the end of the corridor. “Hurry, hurry! We just need to follow the light to the girl’s home!”
“A very handy magic...” Aoi gave approving nods.
“Aoi-san,” Kouyou called as walked and followed Takashima. “Thank you for your hard work for today.”
Chapter 4: The Mother Who Lost Her Son
That evening, Aoi returned to his job at the cafe. He put a cup of affogato on one of the customers’ table. After he nodded politely to the customer, he left the table and gazed to the table that located at the corner of the café.
Around that table, sat two men and a girl; each with their favorite beverages. As Aoi kept his glance toward those people, Aoi slowly walked closer to the table. As if it was an agreement, the three people around that table put their cup on each of their saucers together and sighed in contentment.
Aoi’s gaze attached for awhile on Kouyou’s face. The said man was almost always flat, with minimum expression on his face. Aoi almost couldn’t find any ease look on Kouyou’s face when he drank his beverage. Aoi couldn’t only see it from his gestures.
Compared with Kouyou’s, Aoi couldn’t find any difficulty in reading Takashima’s expression. Without being asked, the flamboyant man in black would always show his current expression to everyone around him. Even when he wasn’t talking, his expression would say it all.
Then, Aoi’s gaze fell on the girl who sat in front of Kouyou. It was Wakeshima Kanon, the girl who got possessed by The High Priestess two days ago. As Aoi hugged his tray, Aoi asked the girl who was still in her school uniform after she got back from her school that evening. “What are you doing here?”
“Drinking my tea!” Kanon answered cheerfully.
“I know that.” Aoi sighed. “I mean, how do you know about this café?”
“Takashima told me!” Kanon cheerfully pointed toward the man who smiled his black-painted-lips, and waved at Aoi. “Yesterday he told me that I can sometimes visit this café! And here I am! I’ve found you guys here!”
“Takashima, you can’t just ask anybody to come to this café just to accompany y—”
“There, there, Darling.” Takashima waved his black-gloved-hand toward Aoi. “If more people come here, this café owner will be happy too, right? If this café owner is happy, then he might give you a raise! If you get a raise, you’ll be happier too, right?”
“Takashima, shush…” Aoi sighed.
But Takashima kept continuing. “If you’re happy, you’ll make me happy too! Why am I happy when my Darling-Aoi is happy? Because when my Darling-Aoi is happy, he looks so handsommph—” Takashima couldn’t ever finish his words when Aoi stuffed bread into Takashima’s mouth.
“Ne, ne…” Kanon called as she lowered her voice down. She bent her body a little toward Kouyou and Takashima. “So, you guys can do some magic?” The girl smiled.
Takashima munched the bread in his mouth fast and swallowed it before he answered, “Yes, yes! You can say it that way!” Takashima then fixed his sunglasses on his nose, and showed Kanon his big smile.
“Thaaat’s coooool! I got new cool friends here, yay!” Kanon cheered. “Hey, hey, guys! Can I come here? Can I invite my friends here too? Can I introduce you guys to my friends? Or, or, is this some kind of secret missions? Classified, that I can’t tell anyone about it?
“Yes, it’s a secret,” Kouyou answered short.
“OK, I got it!” Kanon made a gesture as if she pulled a zipper in front of her lips. “It’s sealed. I’m not going to tell anyone about this. It’s a promise.” Then Kanon put his hand on his forehead like giving a salute.
“Whoa… so, Aoi got even new friend?” Hiroto asked when he just arrived around the table.
“Oh! Aoi’s co-worker?” Kanon asked. Her smile never left her face. “Hajimemashite! I’m Wakeshima Kanon! I’m in my third year in Visconti-Sforza High School! Nice to meet you!”
“Ogata Hiroto. Nice to meet you too, Wakeshima-chan!” Hiroto bowed a little.
“Oh, great. A Gossiper, A Pervert, and High-schooler. Great combination,” Aoi grumbled as he left the table.
“Are you talking about me!?” Hiroto, Takashima, and Kanon asked at the same time – with Takashima added ‘Darling’ at the end of his question. “And how come there is no ‘name’ for him!?” They protested together as they pinted toward Kouyou who stayed silent as he enjoyed his espresso.
Just when Aoi wanted to answer the protest, he heard the café’s front door opened. “Irasshaimase!” Aoi greeted the customer who just entered the café. But when Aoi found out who was it, Aoi just rolled his eyes, sighed, and then face-palmed.
“Yo!” Reita – the guy who got possessed by The Magician before – greeted back cheerfully.
“Heeey, Reeeiiitaaa!” Takashima called – also cheerfully.
Aoi looked at the tabled where Kouyou, Takashima and Kanon sat around it. Hiroto stood near it, and then Reita’s walked closer to the said table. Aoi fell silent.
When did my life get so crowded again like this?
Aoi turned around. When nobody watched him, he smiled.
About two hours later, Kanon decided to go home, and Reita left to his workplace at the nightclub as a DJ. There, Aoi and Hiroto closed and cleaned the café. Just like he promised Hiroto two days ago, after works, he locked the café yesterday and this evening.
“I’m going home first!” Hiroto said as he fixed his bag sash on his shoulder. He then looked at Takashima and Kouyou. “Ne, Takashima-san, Kouyou-san! Make sure to always watch over Aoi! Don’t let any perverts got near him!”
“Stop it!” Aoi protested and Hiroto only chuckled at it. Hiroto then waved at them before he left them.
After he made sure that the café’s door was locked, Aoi pocketed the café key and together with Kouyou and Takashima, they walked toward the nearest bus stop to go home.
“My Darling here is truly amazing!” Takashima said as he circled his arm around Aoi’s shoulder. “We’re sorry for today, okay, Darling? Because we invited Kanon and Reita to come over, you and Hiroto-kun had to work harder for today!” Takashima then massaged Aoi’s shoulder.
“Well, who would have thought you and Reita ordered ALL beverages in the menu?” Aoi sighed. “I can’t believe you guys could actually drink it all down, and leaving no waste AT ALL.”
“Because it all tasted so good! You’re amazing at preparing it all earlier!” Takashima complimented.
“Hiroto-kun helped me too remember?” Aoi suppressed his smiled. “Well, maybe… it’s because the café is usually quiet. The café owner doesn’t want to add staff here too. So, Hiroto-kun and I took short course about coffee and tea barista.”
“The café… it didn’t sell well?” Takashima asked.
“It really looks like that, isn’t it?” Aoi enquired. “The café owner himself told me that he didn’t open the café for making profits. He wanted to give a quiet place to quiet type of people. No upbeat music, no table for more than four people, and all.” Aoi suddenly frowned. “But…”
“But?” Takashima asked curiously.
“Though how hard the café owner wanted that place to stay quiet, he still can’t prevent anyone from coming to his café, right?” Aoi said. “I’m kind of curious about what is he doing actually to prevent too many people come to his café.”
“Yes. Now you make me curious too, Darling,” Takashima said.
“Are you thinking about..?” Aoi didn’t finish his question.
“Have you ever heard any chiming bell around that place, Aoi-san?” Kouyou asked.
“No,” Aoi answered. “I mean, the only chiming bell sound I’ve heard around the café was just when The High Priestess appeared days ago.” Aoi looked at Takashima and Kouyou. “W… why?”
“Actually, there is one Arcana Power that can make a pretty good defence like that,” Takashima said.
“Really?” Aoi gasped.
“It’s The Emp—”
Aoi didn’t get the chance to listen to whatever Kouyou had said when he heard a bell chiming again inside his head. He gasped but he held his own hands. Aoi didn’t hold his head though the sound of bell chiming made his head ached a little.
He had just faced The High Priestess two days ago. Right now, he had to face another one. He thought he could take a rest a bit longer after his last encounter with The Magician and The High Priestess. But of course he couldn’t pretend the Arcana Power to appear too, right?
Aoi tried so hard not to close his eyes. He tried not to pay attention to any Romanian number appeared inside his head. Aoi tried to avoid it for today and not paying attention too much about The Arcana Power for today.
In his heart, he promised to himself that he would face this Arcana Power if they appear again tomorrow. Trying hard to hide the chiming bell sound in his head alone, Aoi stayed walking between Takashima and Kouyou.
Aoi gasped when suddenly Kouyou held his elbow tight. “W… what..?” Aoi asked at Kouyou.
“Something wrong, Aoi-san?”
“No… nothing,” Aoi avoided looking directly to Kouyou’s eyes.
“But… you’re not… walking straight, Darling.”
Aoi clicked his tongue. “Do I really have to face it now?” Aoi submitted as he lowered his gaze, made Kouyou and Takashima looked at him with wide eyes.
“The bell?” Kouyou asked. “Is it chiming again?”
Aoi let out a long sigh as he closed his eyes without being asked. He couldn’t lie and couldn’t deny it any further anyway. The Romanian number immediately appeared without making Aoi waited too long. The number glowed in yellow. It’s Romanian number three this time.
“Three!?” This time Kouyou clicked his tongue.
“Wha… what’s wrong with that number?” Aoi asked.
“It’s… The Empress,” Takashima answered. “I can’t believe that we have to face her now of all other Arcana Powers.”
“Empress?” Aoi frowned. “Another female Arcana Power? Like The High Priestess?” Aoi looked at Takashima and Kouyou. “Wh… what is it this time? If I may compare it with The High Priestess, which one is crazier?”
“Before that, can you detect the position of that chiming bell sound source, Aoi-san?” Kouyou asked.
Aoi looked around him. His gaze then was locked on one spot. When he looked at that direction, the sound of the chiming bell was getting louder. “There…” Aoi pointed toward the direction.
Kouyou and Takashima looked at the direction Aoi pointed at. Their gaze stopped at a hospital. “This is not good.” Kouyou still held Aoi’s elbow as he started to walk toward the hospital. “Come on.”
One thing that made the three of them relieved with their current situation was when they saw their target stood right in the middle of the hospital’s yard. They didn’t have to enter the hospital and started a riot inside there.
“That girl…” Aoi said when they looked at long-haired girl in black gothic gown stood far in front of them.
Her hair was as long as Kanon’s. But she didn’t cut short her bangs like Kanon did. Her long raven hair framed her face perfectly. Not like Kanon who had brunette hair, this girl had black hair. Her hair was as black as her black gown.
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Takashima hummed as he fixed his sunglasses on his nose. “She’s beautiful… and daunting.” He walked closer to the girl in black gothic gown slowly. Aoi and Kouyou followed.
“I… can feel a kind of… dark and negative energy from her…” Aoi said. “Weird. I’ve never felt it when we face The Magician and The High Priestess before.”
The girl didn’t look back at the three of them. She was looking upward, and her gaze was locked to the sky. When Aoi caught a sad expression on the girl’s face, the girl suddenly started to talk. “It’s been five centuries since the last time I’ve lost my offspring…”
“Offspring…” Kouyou repeated in a love voice. “She’s still carrying her anger from five centuries ago.”
“Wh… what happened?” Aoi asked. “Offspring? Five CENTURIES ago!?”
“Five century ago, there was a scandal inside a royal family. She was talking about that,” Takashima answered. “BUT, it has nothing to do with the Arcana Power, Darling. Five century was the age of the soul fragment that inserted in Arcana Power the Empress, the one who possessed that girl right now.” Takashima directed at the girl in black gothic gown.
“What!?” Aoi asked disbelievingly, and shook his head. “I really can’t comprehend this Arcana Power…”
“No, of course you can’t, Young Man,” the girl in black gothic gown answered. “Oh, if only you know what our creator had in his mind when he created us…”
“Then you should return to where you belong, and so we can ask your creator about all of this,” Kouyou said.
“Not until I can see my offspring.
“Yo… your offspring? Your child?” Aoi asked. “Are you separated from your child?”
“How can you still ask, Young Man?” That moment, the girl turned his head toward Aoi. “Wasn’t it YOU who separated me from my offspring!?” the girl asked as vines emerged from the soil below them and moved in high-speed toward Aoi, Takashima, and Kouyou.
The vines suddenly entwined Aoi’s leg and pulled him firm, made him fell hard. Aoi didn’t get the chance to do anything to free himself from the vines when the vines moved fast, pulled him closer to the girl, farther from Takashima and Kouyou.
“Aoi-san!” Kouyou screamed.
As Aoi found a fence near him, he took a hold of it fast before the vines pulled him harder. “Kouyou! Takashima!” Aoi called when he looked at Kouyou who ran toward him. When his gaze fell on Takashima, Aoi saw Takashima pulled his black cane handle.
There, Takashima pulled out a long blade from inside his black cane. That moment, Takashima’s black cane looked more like a sword sheath than mere cane. So, Takashima was bringing a sword with him anywhere he went all the time.
Takashima then suddenly jumped and landed between Aoi and the girl in black gothic gown as he swung his sword and cut off the vines that entwined Aoi’s leg. There, Kouyou came and pulled Aoi farther from the girl.
The girl hummed. “You’re so lucky, Young Man. You have those who are willing to help you.”
In front of Kouyou and Aoi, Takashima drew his sword toward the girl. “Why? You don’t really have to get too jealous about that for you don’t have any of it, Empress.”
“I’ve LOST my offspring,” the girl said as she stretched her right hand. “I think it’s a common thing if I want someone to help me find my child.” Her hand gradually turned pale, and an icy haze evaporated from her pale hand.
It stopped Aoi’s movement even more when a snowflake suddenly fell in front of him. Aoi gazed upward, and gradually, more snowflakes fell down. “It… it’s mid-spring already! How can be snow fall right now?!”
“This is still a warning, Young Man,” said the girl. “This is a warning to everyone who had rejected my request and refused to help me find my offspring!”
“Are you talking about… The Hanged Man?” Kouyou guessed.
“The Hanged Man… the twelfth Arcana Power…” Takashima added.
“You knew…” The girl blinked slowly. “Then I guess you know his current being too.” The girl then pointed toward the sky. “Help me find my offspring, help me bring back him to me, and I shall stop the grief upon this town.”
“No, we don’t know where your offspring is,” Takashima answered. “You, your child, and the other Arcana Power had been dispersed and we are currently in search for them all. IF you’re willing to stop this snow from falling, you might make things easier, dear Empress.”
“‘We’?” The girl asked as he looked at Aoi. The way he looked at Aoi made Aoi gasped. That moment, Aoi didn’t have the courage to say anything. “Oh, right, you.” The girl talked to Aoi. “YOU are going to look for my offspring. I’ve heard pretty lot about you. You’re THE Hunter, aren’t you?”
Kouyou’s eyes got wider. “She knew…” Kouyou whispered to Takashima. “Someone told her about this… Do you have any idea about who spread the information about Hunter’s being?”
“I have one in mind,” Takashima whispered back to Kouyou. “But for now, let’s face this ambitious woman first.” Takashima tightened his grip on his sword. “We will find your child, Empress,” Takashima said in louder voice.
“You SHALL find my offspring,” the girl repeated Takashima’s words. “I’ll take it as a promise,” said the girl as she clenched her freezing hand. Ice that was covering her hand was broken and turned into smaller pieces snowflakes. At the same time, the snow stopped falling, leaving snow layers on the soil where they stood. “Remember, keep your promise, and find my offspring,” said the girl. “You can find me here. BUT, if in a week I don’t see you around this place with my offspring, I shall let this town sink in my snow.” The girl in black gothic gown turned away and started to walk, leaving Aoi, Takashima and Kouyou in that hospital’s yard.
“Wait!” Kouyou ran toward the girl. “You can’t just leave like this!” When Kouyou stretched his hand toward the girl, the snowflakes around that place suddenly moved and assembled in one spot between the girl and Kouyou.
The assembling snowflakes then were forming a new shape of an armoured knight riding a horse. The knight held a sword in his right hand. When the knight pounded his sword in the air, the snow that was covering him suddenly broke and uncovered his real colours.
His metallic armour and sword shone. He held the rein and keeping his white horse in control. “The Knight of Sword…” Kouyou said in a low voice. “Though he’s an Arcana Power too, he is not the main Arcana Power. If The Empress in one of Arcana Major Powers, then The Knight of Sword is one of the Arcana Minor Powers.”
“What!?” Aoi asked disbelievingly. “So there are actually two types of Arcana Power!?” Aoi looked at the Knight of Sword who drew his sword toward him, Kouyou and Takashima. “And The Empress here has the ability to control The Knight of Sword?”
“Yes, I can control him, Young Man,” said the girl as she stopped her step and sent sharp glance toward Aoi. “And like I said, we can meet again here in a week. Or else, we can keep talking now if you already found my offspring at this very moment.”
“We’ll find your child, Empress. We HAVE to,” said Kouyou as he pounded his right hand to the air and brought a fire out around his right fist. “We’ll bring him to you right after we find him. But NOW, we want you to return to where you actually belong, Empress.”
“Very stubborn,” said the girl as she turned and faced Aoi, Kouyou and Takashima. “Do I look like I’m going to create chaos until the moment you bring back my offspring to me?” The girl stretched her right hand.
“No one can guarantee it, right?” Takashima grip his sword tighter.
“Not only stubborn but also persistent,” the girl said as she turned to face Aoi, Takashima and Kouyou completely. She stretched her hand and froze it again. Again, the snow that had stopped fell again over the town.
“It’s snowing again…” Aoi whispered.
“I won’t go back before you bring back my offspring to me. If YOU want me to return to where I belong, then make me.” The girl smiled. “Before that, I won’t stop the snow…”
Chapter 5: The Struggling Host
The girl in black gothic gown looked at Aoi, Kouyou and Takashima with hatred filling her eyes. As she stretched her left hand, the girl called, “My knight!”
The white horse neighed before the armored knight pulled the leash as he rode his running white horse toward Takashima. Takashima dodged the attack at the same time Kouyou pulled Aoi farther from where the knight rode his horse.
The girl watched Aoi’s expression and smirked. “Are you worried? Before you get too worry about your comrade, Young Man, you should worry yourself first,” said the girl as she directed her left hand toward Aoi. The vines that were already gone from before now suddenly emerged again from the soil and entwined Aoi’s body.
The vines pulled Aoi and separated him from Kouyou. “No!” Aoi screamed as he tried to stretch his hand. But because the vines entwined him too tightly, Aoi couldn’t even move his arm. He looked at Kouyou, but Kouyou couldn’t even reach Aoi when Aoi saw a red liquid moved around Kouyou’s feet.
“Kouyou, look out!” Aoi shouted when the moving red liquid caught Kouyou’s foot and stopped Kouyou from getting closer to Aoi. “I know you’re doing it, Empress!” Aoi yelled at the girl. “Let him go!”
“I did nothing, Young Man,” the girl denied. “The blood moved by itself.”
“B… blood..!?” Aoi’s eyes got wider.
“This earth I stepped on, the soil, and everything inside it… they live for me,” said the girl. “There is nothing you can do to stop them from moving for me. As long as you persisted to face me instead of looking for my offspring, as long as you persisted to disturb me, the soil or anything beneath it will always fight you for me!”
Aoi was with the vines, Kouyou was with the blood, and Takashima was with the knight. They faced their own opponent while the snow still fell over the whole town. Aoi struggled harder to free himself from the vines, and at the same time, the snow layer around them was getting thicker and thicker.
“Empress!” Aoi called. “We won’t be able to find your child if you act like this!”
“I’ve gave you the chance to look for my offspring earlier. You didn’t use that chance wisely. Instead, you chose to fight me, right here, right now. I was just playing along with the option you took.” The girl held her freezing hand.
“I can, and I’m doing it now,” the girl cut Aoi’s words. “After I’m done with all of you here, I’m going to search for my offspring by myself. Now, face all the consequences!”
Aoi cursed as he was still struggling to fight the vines. Whatever options they took, it just won’t make everything turned into a better condition. Even though they chose to leave The Empress right there before, like Takashima said, no one could guarantee The Empress won’t started a riot somewhere else.
Moreover, they didn’t have any clue at all about The Empress’ offspring whereabouts. They could waste too much time in that one week for the searching alone. And if they couldn’t find The Empress’ offspring, then…
Aoi looked around him. The snow didn’t even make the vines lessened it power to entwine Aoi. On the contrary, Aoi’s power started to drop off. He didn’t wear any appropriate clothes to face this snow that night. His hinges were started to freeze.
Kouyou’s power was the closest to fire element. But he too was still struggling with his own problem. Every time Kouyou wanted to reach Aoi, the blood stopped him again and again. That moment, Aoi’s mind flew to the Arcana Powers he got so far. The latest was The High Priestess, and the other one is…
「“I’m the sun, and all of you shall perish inside my flame!”」
Aoi struggled harder until he could free his right hand from the vines. The snow around him enabled him to slide his right arm off of the vines. When he looked at Kouyou who was closer to him than Takashima was, Aoi’s eyes grew wider when he saw the moving blood seems like it wanted to swallow Kouyou alive. Aoi greeted his teeth. “Takashima!” he called as loud as he could. “Throw the Magician card to me!”
Takashima warded the armoured knight’s attack with his sword. Moving fast, Takashima jumped backward to avoid the armoured knight’s chain of attack. After Takashima made a wide gap between him and the armoured knight, Takashima searched inside his coat pocket and took a hold of The Magician card once he found it. “I hope you’re not going to do something dangerous, Darling!” Takashima shouted as he threw The Magician card toward Aoi.
Aoi caught The Magician card right before another vine pulled his arm again. “Please!” Aoi screamed as he struggled from the vine around his right arm. “The Magician! I don’t know how to use you! But, please! Help me! Lend me your power! Let me control you! Use my body as your host!”
“WHAT!?” Kouyou and Takashima gasped as he heard how Aoi summoned The Magician’s spirit.
Aoi saw The Magician card glowed. “Magician! Cut the vines that entwined me!” Aoi shouted again. The glow around The Magician card got even brighter. Aoi had to closed his eyes because the blinding light from the card.
That moment, the card in his hand transformed. Instead of holding a card, Aoi gripped into something tube alike. Aoi opened his eyes and found a dagger inside his palm. “I… it’s not a torch!?”
“Don’t you dare do anything with it, Young Man!” the girl warned him.
Aoi heard the girl’s voice trembled. “So you can be scared too…” Aoi whispered to himself as his grip around the dagger got tighter. “Oh, yes, I dare!” Aoi shouted as he cut the vines with the dagger.
The girl shrieked and it sounded like there was another voice that screamed with her. “HOW DARE YOU!?” When she stretched her left hand toward Aoi, she screamed again as Aoi cut all the vines off and set him free from it.
Aoi hurriedly crawled away from the vines. He rose and turned his head to look at the girl before he looked back at Takashima who was still fighting the armoured knight. When Aoi looked at Kouyou, he instantly ran toward Kouyou without looking back at the girl. Aoi looked at the blood that already swallowed half of Kouyou’s body.
“You can’t just run away, Young Man!” the girl screamed again and new vines emerged again from beneath the soil and moved fast toward Aoi.
Aoi looked back and he stopped. “It won’t work twice, Empress!” Aoi held the dagger tight in front of his chest. “Magician! Stop the vines!” Aoi called. The dagger glowed again and Aoi closed his eyes when the dagger’s glow got brighter before it transformed into a torch wand.
When Aoi opened his eyes again, the vines were already all around him and almost caught him as he called, “FIRE!!” Aoi directed the torch wand in his hand toward the vines. A fire then blazed from the wand and burned all the vines around him.
Again, when the fire burned the vines, the girl shrieked again as she held her head with her left hand. Aoi blinked at the girl’s act before he gasped. He turned to face Kouyou and ran closer to him. “Kouyou!” Aoi called.
“Don’t get any closer, Aoi-san!” Kouyou’s words stopped Aoi’s steps.
That moment, Aoi watched the moving blood. It wasn’t only swallowing Kouyou, but the blood also moved into many directions. It moved randomly. It might catch anything that moved too close to the blood.
Aoi turned to face the girl with The Magician torch wand still in his right hand. Aoi saw the girl held his head with his left hand. She looked back at Aoi with wide eyes and with sweat at the side of her face. Aoi looked at the vines, to the blood, and back to the girl.
“She didn’t even make any single move from her position. But if I hurt the vines, it seems like she could feel it too…” Aoi whispered to himself. “It seems like she connected to these vines and the blood…” Aoi’s gaze then fell on the girl’s frozen right hand. “And it looks like she is controlling the snow with her right hand…”
「“This earth I stepped on, the soil, and everything inside it… they live for me.”」
“Wait… blood is not from nature… it shouldn’t be underneath the earth in the first place… it’s—”
「“I’ve LOST my offspring… I think it’s a common thing if I want someone to help me find my child.”」
“You…” Aoi gritted his teeth. “The lost you’ve told us before… the separation you meant about you and your child… it’s about the child’s life, isn’t it?” Aoi asked as he looked right to the girl’s eyes and he saw the girl’s eyes got wider. “Your child… is not in this world anymore. Tell me I’m wrong, Empress.”
The girl smiled, but this time, Aoi detected the sad expression again on the girl’s face. “You knew…” the girl said.
“So, it’s true after all… we won’t be able to find your child even if we search all over the globe…” Aoi retorted as he saw the girl stretched her left arm again. “What are you doing?”
Suddenly, the blood that was swallowing Kouyou’s body moved away from Kouyou and slide closer to the girl. “My knight…” the girl called, and the armoured knight stopped his attack toward Takashima. The armoured knight pulled the leash and his white horse neighed before walked back to the girl.
Aoi held the torch wand and closed his eyes. After the torch wand returned its shape into a card again, Aoi opened his eyes. That was when Kouyou walked closer to him. Sheathing back his sword into his black cane, Takashima followed Kouyou. “Are you okay, Darling?” Takashima asked as he patted Aoi’s shoulder.
“I… I’m okay…” Aoi panted, but his gaze never left the girl. “You… don’t tell me… you’re actually wanted to resurrect your child back to life!?”
The girl only answered the same thing again, “You knew…”
“No, I never knew…” Aoi replied. “I just saw that blood… and… I remembered your words…” Aoi wiped the sweat on his forehead. “You know it’s impossible to be done, don’t you? To resurrect your child back to life…”
“If it’s impossible to resurrect this girl’s fetus back to life—” The girl caressed his navel with her left hand. “—At least, you can help this girl find someone who can replace her child’s role.”
“NO ONE COULD EVER REPLACE ANYBODY’S ROLE!!” Aoi suddenly snapped.
“D… Darling..?” Takashima frowned.
“We’re talking about YOUR child here… you HAVE to face the truth that you can no longer revive your lost child, no matter what!” Aoi shouted. “You can’t just ask anybody to be your former first child! Not even those from the orphanage can!”
“Don’t stop me!” Aoi snapped at Kouyou. “You!” Aoi pointed his finger toward the girl. “Though you can have another one, your own child or not, it’s still the DIFFERENT person! You can’t just replace someone new to become your former lost child! You knew that!”
“That’s too bad then.” The girl sighed a long breathe. “That means… I have to find my offspring, with my own might…” That moment, the girl moved her frozen right hand. “Let the blizzard soon submerge your town in an eternal sleep, Young Man.” The girl smiled, and the snow that fell got heavier and denser.
The things that could be heard after those were only Kouyou’s call and Takashima’s prevention so Aoi shouldn’t get too close to the girl. But Aoi didn’t listen to any of those as he ran toward the girl, and shouted, “I won’t let you do any harm to the town where my friends live!”
There, Aoi refused to listen to anyone that moment. And at the same time, a question emerged inside his heart. Since when I care for the town I live? Since when I care for the NEW friends I barely knew?
“What are you going to do, Young Man?” The girl smiled when the Knight of Sword beside her pulled the lash and his white horse started to ran toward Aoi.
“I don’t forget, Empress!” Aoi shouted as he gripped The Magician card tightly in his hand. “Magician! I need fire!” The card glowed again, and changed back into torch wand. “BURN!!” Aoi shouted when a fire blazed out from the wand and Aoi strike the white horse with the blazing flame.
The white horse neighed before he stood with its rear legs and made the armoured knight fell hard from his horse. Returned to its actual element, the white horse formed back into snow and melted. “Now we can have a fair battle with him—” Aoi pointed toward the armoured knight who already got back on his feet and held his sword tight. “—without his horse!”
“My dear Darling, my Love, my Sweetheart…” Takashima hugged Aoi from behind. “You’re so clever, my Darling, I swear it. But you’re too daring at the same time too.” Takashima placed a kiss in Aoi’s hair before he let Aoi go from the embrace.
“You almost make my heart stop beating when you’re face to face with the Knight of Sword’s horse as they ran straight toward you.” Takashima unsheathed his sword from his black cane again. “But thank you very much, Darling…” Takashima said as he faced the armoured knight who now stood on his feet after he lost his horse. “And, here we are, oh, noble knight. Let’s finish our earlier battle once and for all!” Takashima swung his sword toward the Knight of Sword and the battle continued.
“Pretty intelligent,” said the girl. “But what about this one?” the girl didn’t do anything when the blood moved fast back toward Kouyou.
“I’ve never wanted to do this actually,” Kouyou said as the red aura around his left eye glowed and smouldered. Kouyou opened the both of his hand and fire blazed around both of his hand. “But since you’re never started a fair battle, then I won’t let you continue it any further!” Kouyou jumped and attacked the moving blood.
Aoi looked back at the blood before he returned his gaze toward the girl. Again, Aoi saw the sad expression in the girl’s face. “Stop this…” Aoi said. “We really look alike. Can’t you see it? Here we are now doing nothing while they’re all fighting. I can do nothing without them to face you. I can guarantee that you can’t face me without them too.” Aoi pointed toward the Knight of Sword and the blood. “So, please. Just… stop this.”
“Stop what?” the girl asked.
“STOP THIS ALL!!” Aoi retorted again. “All of this! Even if you win right now, even if that blood swallowed Kouyou, or even if your proud knight defeated Takashima, you still WON’T have your child back!”
“Your child is dead!” Aoi yelled as he pounded the torch wand in the air and the fire blazed out from it again. The snow around him melted for the fire sword in Aoi’s hand. “And you CAN’T get your child back to this world!” Aoi then swung his fire sword to the girl.
The moving blood suddenly slid back to the girl. The blood appeared in front of Aoi and protected the girl from Aoi’s attack. When Aoi’s fire sword hit the blood, the blood made a sound similar to a shriek and that what made Aoi stopped. Slowly, without looking away from the moving blood, Aoi stepped backward. Aoi’s heart beat hard inside his chest what he heard the blood shrieked. “Wh… what… had… happened..!?”
The girl trembled. She looked with wide eyes at the blood protecting her from Aoi’s fire attack. The girl bit her lower lip so hard she didn’t even heed to the blood that oozed out from her lip. “You… will… pay for THAT!!” the girl moved her frozen right hand toward Aoi.
Chapter 6: Protection from the Cold
The falling snow increased its speed, changed its direction and spun. In high speed, the snow made a rotation and transformed into a snowstorm vortex. “LOOK OUT!” Kouyou pushed Aoi away when the snowstorm vortex move fast straight toward Aoi.
Aoi fell and the torch wand slipped off of his grip. He hissed when he tried to stand up. Aoi’s eyes grew wider when he looked at Kouyou. The man in red stood silently inside a large frozen crystal ice after the snowstorm vortex attacked him.
“You’ve been protected so many times already, Young Man,” the girl said with gritted teeth.
“Oh, No! KOUYOU!” Aoi ran toward the frozen Kouyou inside the ice crystal. There, in front of the Knight of Sword, Takashima fell on his knee. The raven haired young man turned his head to the thumping sound on the snow, and he saw Takashima panted as he gripped tight on to his sword.
Aoi saw the Knight of Sword walked slowly closer to Takashima. “N… no…” He whispered as he saw the armoured Knight pointed his sword right in front of Takashima’s face. Aoi looked back to the girl. “Stop this…”
“Why do you think I’m going to follow your order?” The girl smiled.
“STOP ALL OF THIS!” Aoi shouted again. Throbs suddenly held the raven haired young man’s entire movement and Aoi too fell to his knee. After several times his body got rammed before, his body reached its limit. Aoi fisted his palm tight.
The raven haired young man’s eyes got teary when he took a deep breath. Aoi tried hard to hold back his tear as he speak, “Do you think your child would love to see you like this? DO YOU!?” He yelled. “Do you think your child love to see you, THE MOTHER, malformed into a destroyer? Did you even ever think of it? For once in your life?! In your lousy five centuries age of life?!”
“You…” The girl grumbled. “You have no right mentioning my offspring into this problem!” The girl’s shout made the Knight of Sword stopped his step toward Takashima and turned around. The armoured knight drew his sword and speedily ran toward Aoi.
Couldn’t use any energy left in him, the raven haired young man just closed his eyes and expected the blow when the armoured knight swung his sword to him. There, he heard Takashima spoke, “Your time has yet to come, Darling!” Takashima ran toward Aoi and, with his sword, Takashima warded the Knight of Sword’s attack to Aoi.
“Ta… Takashima..!?” Aoi opened his eyes and looked at Takashima who kneeled right in front of him.
“Get The Magician’s wand!” Takashima rose. “HURRY!!”
The raven haired young man flinched and hurriedly looked around him. He found the torch wand several meters from him. Aoi gathered the energy left in his body and rose from his sit position. He ran and took the torch wand before quickly looked back at Takashima and Kouyou.
Kouyou was frozen inside the ice crystal, but Takashima was still fighting against the Knight of Sword. Aoi then ran toward Takashima from behind him and held Takashima’s shoulder with his free hand. Aoi pointed his torch wand right toward the Knight of Sword’s face. “FIRE!!”
The Knight of Sword – who had a high agility and reaction – kicked Takashima’s shoulder and made Takashima fell on top of the raven haired young man right before the fire blazed out from the torch wand and before the fire could even hit the Knight of Sword’s face.
Takashima’s sword fell from his grip and the Knight of Sword kicked it even farther. The armoured knight then slid and turned to face Aoi. He swung his sword vertically to split the fire from the torch wand and extinguished the fire.
Aoi swiftly pulled Takashima farther from the armoured knight’s sword range. “Too bad, it was so close… you almost got him, Darling…” Takashima smirked as he held his shoulder where the Knight of Sword kicked him earlier. “But thank you, Darling. You’ve saved me.”
Aoi could only nod at that before the both of them looked back to the armoured knight who still pointed his sword toward them. The armoured knight’s sword melted a little when he previously smothered the fire from Aoi’s torch wand.
“We can’t stay like this forever… Takashima, I need The High Priestess’ card.”
“No, Darling. You cannot—”
Aoi’s eyes turned wide when he saw the Knight of Sword walked. “We can’t just run now, Takashima, hurry!” He shouted when the Knight of Sword started to run toward them. “The High Priestess card, Takashima!” Aoi could hear Takashima cursed before he gave the card to the raven haired young man.
Aoi took the card with his left hand and positioned the torch wand in front of Takashima and him. He closed his eyes and called, “Magician!!” The fire torch shone before it transformed into a copper shield right when the armoured knight swung his sword toward the both of them.
Aoi succeeded warding the attack, and Takashima helped the raven haired young man in holding the copper shield. Together, they pushed the copper shield and pointed it anywhere the Knight of Sword attacked them madly.
When the armoured knight pulled back his sword, Aoi put The High Priestess’ card in front of his forehead as he closed his eyes. “High Priestess… le… let me borrow your power… let m… let me control you… use my body as your host!!”
It was too late for Takashima to prevent Aoi from finishing his spell. When the armoured knight swung his sword again, Aoi shouted. “Labyrinth!!” At once, partitions suddenly rose from the soil around them, separating and protecting Takashima and the raven haired young man from the Knight of Sword’s attacks.
Aoi’s heart beat faster. He spontaneously hugged Takashima when he saw the armoured knight swung his sword right in front of them. Aoi gasped when he heard thumping sound from outside the partitions that were surrounding Takashima and him right every time the armoured knight swung his sword to them but didn’t really harm them.
The raven haired young man saw the armoured knight’s sword stopped when it touched the transparent partitions. The armoured knight swung his sword over and over again to attack the partitions. “I… I thought he could actually hit us… I can see through these partitions?” Aoi asked when Takashima stood beside him.
The copper shield in Takashima’s hand shone again before it transformed back into The Magician card. “Only you can. Right now, you rule these partitions, these labyrinth, Darling,” Takashima answered. “And you can control whether anybody else inside these labyrinth can see through it all too or not.”
“Re… really..? So… I guess, we… we’re saved for now..?” He still watched the Knight of Sword attacked the partition. “But… The Knight of Sword is still trying to break these partitions… and we still need to stop The Empress.”
Takashima pocketed back The Magician card before he grunted as he held his hurt shoulder. He heard the thumping sound the armoured knight made with his sword outside the partitions. “He won’t give in until he can make sure he defeated us all or if The Empress tells him to,” Takashima said.
“Yes, I guess he won’t… this is crazy…” Aoi looked back at the Knight of Sword who hadn’t stopped swinging his sword. The raven haired young man then looked around him and looked at the ice crystal that still had frozen Kouyou inside it. “Oh, no. Ko… Kouyou..!”
Aoi let out a relieved sigh when he saw the other partitions also surrounded Kouyou. But seconds after, he gasped as The High Priestess card suddenly trembled in his hand. Aoi looked at the card, and it trembled again each time the Knight of Sword attacked the partitions.
“We have to hurry…” The raven haired young man said. “I won’t imagine if we let this Knight of Sword finally can break the partitions… I’m going to save Kouyou now. We can melt the ice crystal with the fire from The Magician’s power, right?”
“No, Darling. You’re using The High Priestess’ power right now. You can’t use another power at the s—”
“But I have to reach Kouyou’s place first before—” Again, Aoi didn’t listen to Takashima but gasped suddenly again when his touch could seeped through the partitions. “I can even walk through these partitions..!? The High Priestess’ authority is truly undefeated inside these –”
“Darling, listen!” Takashima held both of his shoulder and turned Aoi’s body to completely facing him. “I’m NOT going to let you use another power RIGHT NOW!” Takashima warned. “Can’t you listen to your own breathing!? These powers spent lots of your energy!”
The raven haired young man blinked. He looked at how Takashima looked at him from behind the sunglasses. A tiny movement far behind Takashima then stole Aoi’s attention. He looked over Takashima’s shoulder and looked at the Empress who was also surrounded by the partitions.
“Wait, Takashima…” Aoi whispered. “The Empress… she can’t look through the partitions, right?” The raven haired young man’s question made Takashima fell silent. “I’m sorry.” Aoi took The Magician card from inside Takashima’s coat pocket and ran through one partition that didn’t face directly at the Knight of Sword.
“DARLING, NO!!” Takashima called. “DAMN IT!!” Takashima punched the partition when he couldn’t chase after Aoi. “Joker… I’m sorry, I couldn’t stop him… I’m so sorry…” Takashima whispered to himself as he fell on his knee.
Aoi looked around him through the partitions. He could still see Kouyou inside the frozen ice crystal, he could see the Knight of Sword still tried to knock the partition down, and he could see Takashima touched the partitions with his gloved hand.
“I’m sorry, Takashima…” The raven haired young man whispered to himself. “YOU know this is the only thing we can do right now…” Aoi held The Magician card tight and looked back at the girl in black gothic gown.
He walked slower through the partitions until there was only one partition left that separated him with the girl. Aoi took a deep breath as he stretched his hand through the partition. As his step got through the partition, the raven haired young man showed his own self completely right in front of the girl who gasped at him.
“It surprised me too… I’ve just found out that I could actually walk through these… partitions…” Aoi stretched both of his hands. He looked at the girl who didn’t say a word back to him. “I’m sorry…” Aoi held the girl’s frozen right hand with his left hand.
“Magician…” The raven haired young man called as The Magician card shone before it transformed into a torch wand again. “Fire…” Aoi said in a low voice. He heard the girl screamed when he burned the girl’s frozen hand.
When the ice around her hand started to melt, Aoi stop the fire from burning it further. “Don’t worry; I don’t really want to burn you literally… I just wanted to melt that ice… I just… wanted to stop you…” He looked at the snow around him, outside the partitions. No snow fell that moment “It… stopped…”
“Of course the snow stopped…” The words made Aoi looked back at her. “You’ve burned my frozen hand that controlled the snow and the entire ice…” The girl then fell on her knee. “You’re… definitely your mother’s most beloved one… aren’t you?”
“H… hey!” The raven haired young man kneeled and caught the girl’s body. “A… are you alright?”
“Your mother used to hold you in her arms to warm you when the cold came… right?” the girl asked again and Aoi gasped. “She always gave you the protection you need from the cold… even when you didn’t realize you actually need it…”
“How… how do you…”
“I know, for I AM The Empress. I’m Mother of Thousands…” the girl smiled. “I know your mother…” said the girl as she caressed his face. “And she… wanted me to tell you… she loves you… until now…” The words suddenly made a tear streamed from Aoi’s eye.
“But, no…” The raven haired young man shook his head. “No, you’re lying. It’s impossible. My mother—”
“It’s over now,” the girl cut him. “You’ve defeated me. I believe in you. The way you fight, the way you faced me, and all. I know you’ll be able to find my offspring…” The girls smiled again. “No, not this girl’s fetus. I mean my, The Empress’ offspring… it is The Hanged Man…”
“The… Hanged Man?” Aoi asked.
“You have to hurry,” said the girl again as she looked over Aoi’s shoulder. “I guess your friends need your help…” The girl’s words made Aoi gasped and the raven haired young man turned his face to look at Takashima.
There, in front of Takashima, in front of the partition, the Knight of Sword was already stopped moving. His melting sword fell from his melting hand. When Aoi looked at Kouyou, the ice crystal was also started to melt. He looked around him to search for the moving blood, but he couldn’t find it anywhere.
Not going to ask it further to the girl, Aoi chose to held The High Priestess card in front of his forehead. Closing his eyes, the raven haired young man verbalized, “Undo the labyrinth…” Aoi looked around him and the partitions sunk back to soil.
Aoi then helped the girl to sit. “Excuse me… I have to…” He gulped as he pointed toward Takashima without being able to finish his words. The girl smiled and nodded at him. Wiping his tear stain, Aoi ran toward Takashima and hugged him.
“Da… Darling! My sweetheart!” Takashima hugged him back. “Are you alright?” Finally being able to look around him without any partitions to block his view, Takashima looked at the girl in black gothic gown. “The Empress?!”
“I’m alright,” the raven haired young man answered before he looked at the girl. “And the Empress… she…” Aoi panted. “She finally gave in…” He looked back at Takashima who smiled at him and caressed his face.
“You did a great job, Darling.” Takashima embraced the raven haired young man who helped him walked closer to the girl. They stopped in front of the girl, and Takashima called, “Empress…” Takashima kneeled in front of the girl. “You’ve enjoyed your freedom too much already…”
“No, I didn’t actually enjoy my freedom. How could I enjoy it without my offspring around me? But my time is already up, isn’t it?” The girl smiled. “I will return in one condition… please, promise me that you’ll let me know about even the tiniest information you have about my offspring…”
“Will of course do,” Takashima smiled as he pointed his palm to the girl’s forehead before a fog-like smoke evaporated from the girl’s body. There, Aoi kneeled beside the girl when the flamboyant man in black took out a blank card from the pocket in the inner part of his black coat.
Takashima let the black card levitated over the girl’s head and the blank card absorbed all of the fog-like smoke that evaporated from the girl’s body. Aoi easily caught the girl when she fell unconscious. After the card levitated back to Takashima’s hand, Takashima showed the card to Aoi.
“The Empress…”The raven haired young man looked at the picture of a female figure sat on a red throne. There were twelve small stars on her crown, and there were trees, vines, and any other natural things surrounding the female figure.
“Mother of Thousands,” Takashima smiled as he stroked the girl’s black hair before he looked back at Aoi. “Congratulation, Darling. This is the third card you’ve successfully captured!” Takashima cheered. “Now, Darling, can you contact Reita?”
“Eh, why?” He asked.
“We need so much help right now,” Takashima chuckled. “I bet he’s still wide awake at this hour.” Takashima then looked at Kouyou who’s already laid on the soil after the ice crystal was completely melted.
Aoi followed Takashima’s gaze direction. “Oh, no, Kouyou…” The raven haired young man said before he carefully laid the girl on the soil too. “We’ve left him too long,” Aoi ran toward Kouyou and touched the man in red’s face.
“He’s alright, Darling. Kouyou can actually endure pretty well concerning the ice element. We should thank the fire element that protected him from the inside.” Takashima patted Aoi’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. Kouyou-chan is very strong. Hurry, call Reita, Darling,” Takashima stood and walked back to where the girl in black gothic laid.
“O… okay…” The raven haired young man searched for his phone inside his pants’ pocket. Aoi took it out and searched Reita’s number that Hiroto insisted to save it in the Aoi’s phone. Now Aoi was really glad Hiroto did it, and he was really glad that his phone was actually endured the entire battle until now too.
The raven haired young man put his phone on his ear and waited for the call to get through Reita. After Reita answered, Aoi explained the current situation as simple as he could. He told Reita where they were and tried as hard as he could not to make it too long to explain.
“OK, OK, Aoi, I got it. I know where you guys are,” Reita answered. “Just you guys wait. And, you, Aoi, go get some rest for awhile. Your breathing sounds so terrifying from here. I’ll get there ASAP.” Reita then ended their calling.
Aoi looked at his phone’s screen and the call timer had stopped. The raven haired young man repeated Reita’s words in his head and wiped the sweat on his forehead. Aoi turned his head when Takashima called him. “What?” He answered when he couldn’t hear Takashima’s voice clearly.
Hearing his raspy voice, Aoi cleared his throat. “He’ll be here, right, Darling?” Takashima’s repeated question finally reached the raven haired young man’s hearing. “Reita will be here, right?” Still, Aoi couldn’t voice his answer out properly, he nodded.
“Yeah… Reita said he… he’ll get here a… as soon as possible…” Aoi hardly answered with his hoarse voice. Not until three seconds after that, the raven haired young man lost his conscious and fell hard before Takashima even able to catch him.
Chapter 7: Certainty
In front of Kouyou, beside his bed in his apartment, on his carpeted floor, Aoi sat there on his folded feet. Aoi let out a long breath.
Fandom : the GazettE, Alice Nine, Kanon Wakeshima, Rose Noire, more to come(?)
Pairings : Uruha x Aoi (and more to come..*giggle*)
“Do you understand?!” Kouyou snapped.
In front of Kouyou, beside his bed in his apartment, on his carpeted floor, Aoi sat there on his folded feet.
Both of his hands rest on each of his thighs. “Yes,” Aoi answered lazily, without looking at Kouyou. Kouyou didn’t say any further and made Aoi looked at him. Once the raven boy looked at how Kouyou looked at him, Aoi raised his voice volume a little, “Yes, Kouyou, I understand…”
“I can’t hear your voice clearly, Aoi-san!” Kouyou retorted. “What do you understand?” The men in red asked again without lowering his voice. Kouyou’s eyes grew wider when he saw Aoi expressionlessly blinked his eyes and frowned at him. “Aoi-san?!”
The realization hit him and Aoi repeated his words, this time trying to complete the sentence, “Oh, right… ugh… I understand that I won’t do it again…” Aoi looked at Kouyou who moved closer, positioning his ear toward Aoi.
“What exactly won’t you do again, Aoi-san?” Kouyou asked sceptically. “Yes, Aoi-san, I could hear your voice just now. But I want you to say it more clearly and more unambiguous. I want to make sure that you’re really understood with what you’re going to say and what you’re going to do after this, Aoi-san.”
Aoi let out a long breath. “I’m not going to use two Arcana Powers anymore!” Aoi said dejectedly.
“DON’T correct the words, Aoi-san!”
“Shut up!” Kouyou pointed a finger toward Takashima’s face. “Don’t interfere now, Takashima,” Kouyou said before he returned his gaze back to Aoi. “Say it again, Aoi-san. This time, DON’T correct the words again. I beg you.” At last, Kouyou lowered his voice.
“But, Kouyou, you know two days ago we’re in critical situation, don’t you?”
“There, there, Kouyou-chan.” Takashima held Kouyou’s hand. “NO,” Takashima said as he held Kouyou’s hand tighter. “You can’t show that un-pretty finger to my handsome face ever again, and you can’t say anything in harsh manner to my Darling ever again.”
“Enough, Kouyou-chan,” Takashima cut him. “I know you felt piqued with what had happened two days ago. But our Darling here still needs rest, and he had done a real great job, so can’t you see it from both ways? Our Darling here understood your words very much so it’s enough.”
“Takashima, this is about Aoi-san’s LIFE.”
“I know, I know,” Takashima put both of his hands in the air. “But I’m still going to disagree toward your manner to our darling now. If you don’t want to listen to me now, don’t ever think that our Darling here will going to listen to you either.”
Kouyou pulled his hand hard off of Takashima’s grip. “Aoi-san, I’m really going to make sure you won’t do THAT again,” Kouyou said before he walked farther from Aoi’s sitting position. Aoi could hear the man in red grumbled, telling him he’s being stubborn, not obedient, and any other thing.
Aoi couldn’t ever actually promise him anything. The raven boy looked at Kouyou who leaned his back on the low partition inside Aoi’s apartment, between the main room and the kitchen. When Kouyou looked at Aoi who was still looking at him, Kouyou turned his face from Aoi.
Both of them were currently annoyed toward each other. There, still in his sitting position, Aoi let out a long sigh again. Aoi still couldn’t promise anything even though Kouyou had the reason to make him. The event two days ago was really horrifying.
The Empress was really hard to deal with. Aoi repeated the event inside his mind, when The Empress attacked him with the snowstorm vortex and Kouyou had protected him. If Kouyou wasn’t there to push him away, Aoi was the one who froze inside the ice crystal.
Not only Kouyou. The Empress also attacked Takashima via the Knight of Sword. There, Aoi HAD to use his own body as a host to The Magician and The High Priestess to stop The Empress. Without The High Priestess’ labyrinth, the Knight of Sword might killed one of them, and without The Magician’s torch wand, today, the whole town might already sunk in snow.
Someone then patted Aoi’s shoulder and that’s when Aoi had to remind himself of Reita’s existence inside his apartment. The DJ had watched the entire anger Kouyou showered at Aoi a moment ago. And it’s not only Reita.
Aoi looked around him. Beside Reita, there were the other two who witnessed Aoi sat like a kid in front of Kouyou. It was like Aoi had got bad mark for his tests, and he had to listen to whatever his parent told him regarding that bad marks.
The other two? They were Kanon, and Jill. Jill was girl who got possessed by The Empress two days ago.
Aoi didn’t go to work that day. He couldn’t. He had just woke up two hours ago, 4 pm to be exact, after he passed our right after he called Reita to pick them after they succeeded in sealing The Empress’ power two days ago. Aoi tried to adjust his view after he woke up for about thirty minutes after he woke up.
He spent the next thirty minutes trying to rise from his sleeping position. After he could finally sit properly, that moment he saw Jill helped Takashima preparing porridge for him. And Aoi used the last thirty minutes listening to Takashima’s explanation and Kouyou’s rage.
Using his own body as a host to TWO Arcana powers at the same time really spent a lot of his energy. After they defeated The Empress, the tension falling drastically and made the whole nerves in Aoi’s body reacted and made him lost his conscious right then and there.
Those were the causes of Kouyou’s resentment toward Aoi. It wasn’t only about the amount of Arcana Power that Aoi used. Aoi’s decision to use his own body as a host itself was already a problem to Kouyou. It raged Kouyou to his bones it seemed.
Kouyou told him several times that it was the worst decision Aoi had made. Kouyou even told Aoi that it was the most stupid decision Aoi had ever made since the first time Kouyou met him. That was the first time Aoi heard Kouyou simply say, “Aoi-san, you’re so STUPID.”
“Darling?” Takashima called as he patted Aoi’s shoulder. Aoi turned his head toward Takashima and saw the flamboyant man in black smiled at him. “Those stupid acts of yours aside… I want to say thank you for saving me and Kouyou.” Takashima stroke Aoi’s hair.
“You’re welcome…” Aoi replied with almost a whisper. “Ah, Takashima, you reminded me… it’s about The Magician. I didn’t know that he has something else other then the torch wand. I mean, I do remember about the copper shield… but… a dagger?”
“Yes. Pretty surprising, isn’t it?” Takashima smiled. “It’s one Power that holds many concealed weapons inside it. Let me explain the weapons you can use inside The Magician card,” Takashima said as he took The Magician card out from the inner pocket in his coat.
“Can I listen to this too?” Kanon raised her hand.
“Yes, of course, Dear,” Takashima smiled at Kanon.
“Yay!” Kanon cheered. “Oh, right, Jill! You told me you bring cookies too, right?” Kanon saw the girl in black Lolita gown smiled and nodded. She still in her darkness-image, but she smiled sweetly now, compared with two days ago. “Aoi! Let us borrow your kitchen, okay? Takashima, keep talking, I’ll be listening as Jill and I prepare the cookies and teas for all of us!”
“That Jill…” Reita commented. “She’s not cheerful like Kanon. But she’s pretty friendly, isn’t she?”
“Reita, you actually made Jill blushed here!” Kanon’s giggling sound could be heard from the kitchen.
Takashima chuckled before he coughed a litter. “Okay, on to the Magician…” Takashima put the card on the low table in the middle of Aoi’s apartment. “You might not see the details before, now you can see it all.” Takashima pointed toward four items pictured on the card.
Aoi’s eyes grew wider. “A wand, a sword, a coin, and a cup?”
“Correct,” Takashima answered. “Those are the entire items you can use from The Magician’s power. Before I continue, you remember that Apollo’s soul fragment was inserted to this power, don’t you, Darling?” Takashima asked. Aoi nodded.
“Oh, Apollo?” Kanon responded from the kitchen. “It’s the Sun God from Greek mythology, isn’t it?”
“Correct! Ten points for the girls!” Takashima cheered as he clapped his hands.
“What are you? A walking encyclopaedia?” Reita looked at Kanon.
Takashima chuckled at that. “So, since The Magician bore Apollo’s soul fragment in its power, then this item—” Takashima pointed toward the wand picture on the card. “—is the most dominating weapon of all.”
“The torch wand?” Aoi confirmed.
“Yes,” Takashima answered. “The torch wand was representing fire element that Apollo dominated at. But of course, beside the torch wand, the other items are also important elements.” Takashima pointed toward the other three items in the picture. “The dagger you used pictured with the sword in that picture. The copper shield pictured with the coin.”
“Now I know why The Magician card sometimes changed into copper shield or a dagger instead of torch wand…” There Aoi looked at the cup in the picture. “But I haven’t—” Aoi didn’t get to finish his question when Kouyou suddenly covered the card with his hand with too much power he pounded the table.
“You’re NOT going to use the Arcana Power ever again, are you, Aoi-san?!” Kouyou retorted.
Aoi sighed. He looked at Kouyou right to his eyes. “Then what should I do if we face another Arcana Power as strong as The Empress after this, Kouyou?” Aoi asked. “Do you actually want me to just stand there and watch?”
“You have us, Aoi-san!” Kouyou said infuriated as he held both of Aoi’s arms tight, almost squeezed it.
“Ko… Kouyou, you’re hurting me..!”
Kouyou blinked and instantly let Aoi’s arms go from his tight grip. Kouyou lowered his gaze before he stood. That moment, Kouyou walked toward Aoi’s apartment entrance door. He opened the door, and left.
“Ko… Kouyou..?!” Aoi almost rose from his sitting position when Takashima held him. “Takashima?!”
“Darling, you still need a lot of rest, and running after Kouyou right now is not a good decision.”
“No! I have to talk to Kouyou!” Aoi warded Takashima’s hold off and didn’t pay any attention when Takashima called him again. Aoi stood and ran, exited his apartment. “Kouyou?” Aoi called as he looked around him.
Since he lived at the second floor of the building, when Aoi couldn’t find Kouyou anywhere, he went down the stairs to the first floor. “Kouyou?” Aoi called again as he started to run to look for Kouyou. His eyes grew wider when he saw Kouyou walked farther at the building’s yard.
“Kouyou! No, wait!” Aoi called again as he closed the distance between him and the man in red. “Kouyou, please!” Aoi stretched his arm toward Kouyou and caught Kouyou’s hand. Finally made Kouyou stopped his step, Aoi stop his movement too.
Aoi panted and it was hard for him to even starting to talk. His legs gradually trembled, and he almost fell if Kouyou didn’t turn to face him and caught his body. Pulling Aoi into his embrace, Kouyou held Aoi’s body onto his.
“I didn’t ask you to run after me, Aoi-san,” Kouyou said. “Takashima and I told you to rest, didn’t we?”
“Because you’re leaving, Kouyou… I… I was—”
“Don’t do that ever again, Aoi-san… I beg you…” Kouyou tightened his embrace around Aoi. “I beg for your forgiveness of not being able to protect you properly two days ago. I’m truly begging for your forgiveness, Aoi-san.”
“But you DID have protected me, Kouyou,” Aoi opposed. “You’ve frozen inside that ice crystal and—”
“It SHOULDN’T have happened in the first place!” Kouyou sighed. “I beg you, Aoi-san. Please. Please don’t use your own body as a host to those Arcana Powers ever again. Please, Aoi-san. I’m begging you. It’s so dangerous for you.”
Kouyou talked as he embraced Aoi and his breath touched the skin around Aoi’s neck. Aoi closed his eyes as he spoke, “I’m asking you again, Kouyou. Did you really want me to stand there and watch when The Empress almost killed you and Takashima?”
“I’ve agreed to help you and Takashima, didn’t I?” Aoi asked. “You remember it, don’t you? I’ve agreed to help you and Takashima out until the entire Arcana Power can be collected… then, how can I help you if I can’t even use the Arcana Power at all, Kou?”
“You know we can’t collect all of the Arcana Power if I can’t even help you and Takashima out… you said you’re going to protect me, didn’t you, Kou? Takashima had said it too… you and Takashima help me, and I help you. It’s like that, isn’t it?”
“I DID say that. But I won’t be able to protect you if the assail comes from within you, Aoi-san. The Arcana Power could absorb all of its host’s energy. It could absorb your entire energy and I don’t even want imagine that, Aoi-san..!”
“I promise I’m not going to force myself again like two days ago, Kou…”
“Why can’t you just promise me not to use any Arcana Power AT ALL, Aoi-san?” Kouyou let out a long sigh. Again, Kouyou buried his face to Aoi’s hair. “I was so worried, Aoi-san. I’m regretting my decision two days ago. We shouldn’t face The Empress right then and there.”
“You know I can’t promise you that, Kouyou…” Aoi said. “And you know it was actually the best decision anyone would made that time. No one could guarantee The Empress won’t start any riot if we let her go two days ago, right?”
“I dislike the truth in your words, Aoi-san.” Kouyou cursed under his breath. “I’m really going to collect all of the Arcana Power before they could harm you farther, Aoi-san. I promise you this. I’ll give you any protection you need…”
“Protection…” Aoi repeated with a voice not louder than a whisper.
「“You’re… definitely your mother’s most beloved one… aren’t you? She always gave you the protection you need from the cold… I know your mother… And she… wanted me to tell you… she loves you… until now…”」
The Empress’s words repeated in Aoi’s mind. Slowly, Aoi’s hands moved and hugged Kouyou back. Kouyou’s eyes grew wider, but Aoi didn’t see that. The raven haired boy chose to hide his face on the man in red’s chest.
Inside his heart, Aoi thanked Kouyou for not asking him any question and didn’t say a word any further. On the contrary, Kouyou looked lower; trying to look how’s Aoi’s face that moment. He couldn’t see it, instead, he found out his shirt was gradually warming and become slightly damped.
Aoi gasped when Kouyou’s hand stroke his back slowly. He didn’t get the chance to prevent his own breathing when he suddenly sobbed. Aoi closed his eyes back tight and tightened his held on Kouyou’s back.
That was the first time Kouyou found his Hunter being so emotional around him. Again, Kouyou stroke Aoi’s back softly. Since Takashima wasn’t around that moment, Kouyou didn’t find the urge to hold back any question. “Aoi-san—”
“I… I’m sorry… Guys?” Someone called suddenly.
Gasped at the voice, Aoi hurriedly pushed Kouyou and broke the embrace. He wiped his eyes and face before Aoi looked at the person who called them earlier and his eyes grew wider when he found out who it was. “Hi… Hiroto-kun..!?”
“Hi!” Hiroto waved his hand at Aoi and Kouyou. “I’m sorry if I disturbed you guys…” Hiroto stuttered before he continued. “I just want to visit you, but I didn’t expect to see you guys here…” Hiroto chuckled as he scratched his nose.
Aoi blushed. “We—I… I’m sorry. I—”
“Don’t mention it.” Hiroto smiled and shrugged it off. “Ah, right. Aoi, you don’t have to worry about the café. It was closed for two days. Our café’s owner didn’t want take too much risk because the snow fell two days ago.”
“I’m so sorry I was absent for two days,” Aoi regretted.
“Don’t be. This is the second day I’ve visited you, you know?” Hiroto chuckled. “Kouyou-san and Takashima-san explained your condition yesterday, so I delivered all the information to our Owner. He said he had already guessed that you fell ill because of the spring-snow.” Hiroto explained.
“But still…” Aoi gazed lower. “I should have told him myself…”
“What for? The news about the spring-snow was everywhere, Aoi. Our Owner might already know about it either from the internet, televisions, or newspapers…” Hiroto walked closer toward Aoi and Kouyou. “Our Owner sent his prayer for your recovery, Aoi.”
“Ah, thank you very much, Hiroto-kun,” Aoi said. “I’ll call him later.”
“He really wanted to visit you too, you know?” Again, Hiroto chuckled again. “But you know our Owner have his other businesses. So, instead, he asked me to bring this for you!” Hiroto showed the paper bag full of fruit he was bringing with him.
“I’m sorry for being a bother.”
“Stop apologizing, Takashima-san and Kouyou-san did that thousand times already.” Hiroto scratched his head. “By the way, I’m so glad that you’re already awake, Aoi.” Hiroto smiled. “It was kind of frightening watching your pale face yesterday.”
“I… I’m so sorry for worrying you…”
“Told you to stop apologizing. What are you, an apologetic-mushroom?” Hiroto playfully punched Aoi’s arm. “There’s one thing surprised me anyway…” Hiroto winked at Aoi. “I didn’t expect that you actually would choose Kouyou-san over Takashima-san, Aoi.”
“Hiroto-kun, what are you talking ab—” Aoi blushed before the sting hit him. “Ouch…” Aoi held his head.
“Be careful, Aoi-san…” Kouyou caught Aoi who almost fell again. “I’m sorry, Ogata-san. Maybe it’ll be better if we talk inside. I guess Aoi-san still needs a lot of rest. He’s not totally recovered yet,” Kouyou held Aoi in his embrace again.
Hiroto blinked at the view before him before he smiled and nodded. “Okay,” Hiroto said as Kouyou lead the way back to Aoi’s apartment, with the limping Aoi in his cuddle. In silent, Hiroto looked at the way Aoi let other people touched him.
“Something’s wrong, Ogata-san?” Kouyou asked.
“What?” Hiroto responded.
“You fell silent suddenly,” Kouyou commented.
Hiroto laughed at that. “Nothing to be worried of,” Hiroto said before he followed to walk behind the two men in front of him. Hiroto smiled when he looked at how close Kouyou’s back and Aoi’s back that moment. The words after that stayed silent inside Hiroto’s mind: You’ve changed a lot since eight years ago, Aoi.
“Hello, Hiroto-chaaann!” Takashima greeted cheerfully when he saw Hiroto entered the apartment, as he helped Kouyou taking Aoi to his bed. “Thank you for coming again! Today Kanon-chan and Reita-kun are here too! Oh, this is the first time you meet Jill-chan, I guess?”
“Hiroto-saaann!” Kanon greeted and behind her, Reita saluted him with two fingers on his forehead and with a smirk. “Takashima told us earlier that you’ve visited Aoi yesterday!” Kanon informed him. “Oh, right! We have cookies today! Jill, we still have another cup of tea, right?”
Hiroto looked at the girl in black Lolita gown smiled and bowed politely at him. After Hiroto reciprocated the bow, the girl followed Kanon to Aoi’s kitchen. “Wow, I’ve never seen this apartment become so crowded like today…” Hiroto commented
“It’s great, isn’t it?” Takashima cheered. “My Darling made new friends!”
“Takashima, shush…” Aoi hissed. “Hiroto-kun, stop gossiping anything about this place. And all of you, I don’t want anyone asked anything further about this apartment,” Aoi warned them all when Kouyou helped him lay back on his bed.
“Sorry, sorry,” Hiroto chuckled before he exclaimed. “Since this apartment is so packed today, I guess we can eat these all together!” Hiroto raised fruit full paper bag in his hand. “I bring plenty fruits for all of us!”
“Yaaay!” Kanon, Takashima, and Reita cheered. “So many foods today! Cookies and fruits everywhere!”
As he lay back on his bed, Aoi gazed at his humble apartment that got crowded in a very short time. Beside him, Kouyou patted his shoulder when the man in red sat in silent at Aoi’s bed side. Aoi looked at Kouyou who looked at somewhere else while his hand still lingered on Aoi’s shoulder.
Aoi took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly as he leaned on the touch. Gradually, Aoi closed his eyes. But instead of falling asleep, Aoi caught the voices that mostly cheers inside his apartment. At the same time, there, Kouyou and Takashima exchanged glances before their gaze fell toward Aoi simultaneously.
That moment, none of them looked outside the apartment’s windows. Then again, though if anyone did looked out through the window, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to detect the two men that were watching the event inside Aoi’s apartment the whole time.
“Woohoo, it’s really crowded in there,” someone with tattoos all over his fingers and wrists commented as he was still watching Aoi’s apartment. He fixed the fedora that was covering half of his shoulder length wavy hair.
“I didn’t expect such apartment could in fact hold seven people in it…”
“You’re underestimating it…” The tattooed man with the fedora chuckled. “Ah, look at those Jokers. They treated the apartment’s owner pretty well. Look at how they helped our little Hunter fix his pillow,” he said before he looked at the other man beside him.
“There’s no use in trying to make me jealous…”
“Oh, now I know why you’re still sitting here without any interest in joining them… but I still don’t believe that you’re not actually jealous at them.” The tattooed man with the fedora teased. “But don’t worry; I’m not going to ask anything any further.”
The man beside him exhaled slowly. No change appeared in his expression. “I guess it’s enough for today. Let’s go back now,” said the man before he vanished in the air. The tattooed man with his fedora just shrugged and followed as he too vanished like a smoke.
Chapter 8: The Soul Fragments
The third day after Aoi captured The Empress’ power – and after Kouyou let him – Aoi returned to his work at the café. Looking at Aoi’s arrival, Takashima – with bright smile – patted the chair beside him.
The third day after Aoi captured The Empress’ power – and after Kouyou let him – Aoi returned to his work at the café. Hiroto greeted him cheerfully that day, finding out that Aoi was already fully recovered. They prepared the café before opened it that day.
Aoi put a cup of affogato on the cafe’s regular customer’s table. After he nodded politely to the customer, Aoi left the table and slowly walked closer to the other table that located at the corner of the café, where Kouyou and Takashima waited for his whole shift.
Looking at Aoi’s arrival, Takashima – with bright smile – patted the chair beside him. He gave a sign for Aoi to sit beside him, but he pouted after Aoi chose to sit beside Kouyou who sat in front of Takashima. Takashima sent a glare at Kouyou who casually sipped his espresso.
“Why did my Darling never want to sit beside me?”
“Because you’re a pervert,” Aoi answered sharply before he closed his eyes and leaned his back on the chair. He let out a long sigh as he opened his eyes and looked at every table inside the café. “Seeing all of this, I don’t feel any differences whether the café was opened or not.”
Following Aoi’s gaze, Takashima also looked around the café. “Indeed. It’s still as quiet as always,” Takashima said as he gazed back at Aoi. “I’ve never seen this café’s owner, Darling. Did he really rarely visit you and Hiroto-kun here?”
Aoi nodded. “He visited this café once in awhile. He usually came here if he wanted to take a break from his other main businesses. Kouyou might remember when Hiroto-kun mentioned about the Owner’s other businesses yesterday.”
Kouyou nodded before Takashima asked. “What are his other businesses about, Darling?”
Aoi hummed before he answered. “Beside this café, the Owner has androgynous boutique. I think Takashima would love to visit that place one day,” Aoi explained as he looked at Takashima’s costumes, and he instantly strike a pose, made Aoi rolled his eyes.
“And the other, Darling?”
“This café’s owner also has music store and beauty salon.” Aoi looked at Takashima gaped. “Yes, the Owner is truly rich, that is if it’s you’re thinking about.” Aoi frowned when suddenly Takashima blushed. “And, what makes you blushed suddenly, Takashima?”
“I sometimes thought this café’s owner is a ‘she’…”
“For his other business?” Aoi guessed before it hit him. “Speaking of a ‘she’, can we talk about Jill—I mean, The Empress?” Aoi asked carefully as he stole a glance at Kouyou. “So, we’ve got three Arcana Powers already?”
Kouyou nodded. “The Magician, The High Priestess, and The Empress.”
“Can I look at the three cards?” Aoi asked.
“HEY!!” Hiroto appeared suddenly and made Aoi jumped from his seat. “Sorry, for freaking you out.” Hiroto laughed at that. “By the way, I heard you say something about ‘cards’. What ‘cards’? Are you guys playing poker?”
Aoi rose from his seat and held both of Hiroto’s shoulder. “It’s… nothing, Hiroto-kun.” He turned Hiroto’s body so Aoi was facing Hiroto’s back completely. There, he pushed Hiroto farther from the table. “I’ll follow you later to the kitchen, okay?”
“Aoi, you’re too stingy! You’re lucky it’s usually quiet today you don’t have to follow me to the kitchen right here and now!” Hiroto protested. “I’m so going to interrogate you later,” Hiroto said as he walked away from the table where Takashima and Kouyou were sitting.
Aoi returned to his previous seat and Takashima took out the three cards from his coat’s inner pocket. The flamboyant man in black then put the three cards on the table right in front Aoi. Aoi took one of the cards and observed it.
“What is actually existed inside this… thing?” Aoi perceived the card as he looked at the rear side of the card. “I mean… I thought we’re only talking about Arcana Power before. Then, you guys mentioned about soul fragments, about Apollo, and all…”
“Each of the Arcana Power has its own soul fragment attached in it,” Kouyou answered. “It can be from anyone. It can be human’s soul fragment, or any other creature’s. Apollo in The Magician is only one of the examples.”
“Why must there be soul fragments inside these Arcana Powers?” Aoi asked. “I think it’s a bit… scary…”
“So that Arcana not exist as merely power inside dead cards, Darling,” Takashima answered. “We, as living beings, can usually only interact with living beings too, can’t we? That’s why Arcana Powers were created to become ‘living beings’ too.”
“Interact?” Aoi frowned. “Why should someone interact with… ‘power’? Moreover, with a god like Apollo? I mean, Apollo is a Sun God, right? What would someone talk about with a sun god? Is it about a will to rule everything in this world or is it about something else?”
“It’s not that ambitious actually,” Kouyou answered. “The creator of these powers just didn’t want Arcana to become mere magic power that will work only if we wanted to. The creator of the powers wanted these magical things to have their own ‘initiative’.”
“By attaching soul fragments into it, the creator of these powers wanted it to ‘live’,” Takashima added. “That’s why these powers creator only attached the fragments instead of the whole soul into it. Therefore, the creator of these powers took the fitting soul fragments for each power with its own characteristic.”
“It’s getting more confusing to me,” Aoi said. “Why must this creator made a ‘living’ power? As if, this creator needed some followers or something alike.” Aoi’s words make Kouyou and Takashima threw glances at each other.
“I think… ‘follower’ was not the right term to describe it,” Kouyou opposed.
“Really?” Aoi tilted his head a little. “Then why must god? How could it be? I know there were human’s soul fragments too. But, if we’re talking about ‘god’, like Apollo inside The Magician, then… the Sun God’s existence is also real, I presume?” Aoi frowned.
“You can find the similar answer to ‘Do ghosts really exist?’ question, Darling.” Takashima smiled.
Aoi gasped. “Ugh… okay. Cut t… the ‘ghost’ part…” He mumbled. “We… we’ve talked about A… Apollo too many t… times already, I g… guess. I haven’t h… heard anything about t… the soul fragments i… inside The High P… Priestess and The E… Empress Powers. Who a… are they?”
“Why are you suddenly stuttering?”
“N… no, I’m not..!”
Hiroto appeared again, this time slowly, beside Takashima, and whispered, “Aoi is afraid of ghosts…”
“HIROTO-KUN?!” Aoi snapped
“That’s my revenge for sending me away to the kitchen earlier..!” Hiroto cheered and winked at Aoi. “So, Takashima-san, Kouyou-san, you guys know one of Aoi’s weaknesses now!” Hiroto whistled as he walked back to the kitchen.
Aoi looked back at Takashima. “What are y… you looking at? I… I just wanted t… to know about Th… The High Priestess..!” Aoi said as he covered both of his ears. “Don’t you even dare to think of anything stupid, Takashima..!” Aoi looked at Takashima who smiled evilly at him.
Takashima chuckled before he coughed a little and continued his explanation. “The soul fragment that was attached to The High Priestess is from a female pope. You know, the highest principal in Catholic in Rome.”
“But, why must a pope?” Aoi asked.
“Pope Joan was a legendary woman. In the history, she reportedly reigned for a few years some time during the middle Ages. She was known for her knowingness and wisdom at that moment. She was The High Priestess herself.” Takashima smiled.
“I see…” Aoi nodded. “Then what about The Empress?”
Takashima hummed before he started to explain. “The Empress is pretty complicated. The power has two souls fragment attached into it. That was the reason why it’s hard to defeat The Empress two days ago.” Takashima pointed toward The Empress card on the table.
“Who are those?”
“Adelaide and Demeter,” Kouyou answered. “Demeter is the goddess of the harvest in Greek mythology. Meanwhile, Adelaide was the regent of the Holy Roman Empire, and was the second wife of the Holy Roman Emperor in tenth century. Adelaide was the guardian woman of her grandson.”
“Okay. This one power is truly complicated. Is there any similarity between them?” Aoi asked. “I mean, there must be reasons of why the soul fragments of those two women were attached into this one power.”
Takashima chuckled. “See? I told you The Empress is a complicated power. But, yes, there is similarity between the two women. Demeter and Adelaide once ‘lost’ their offspring. Demeter’s daughter was abducted, and Adelaide’s son betrayed her because her son’s wife’s provocation.”
“Oh… they had their own hard moment, didn’t they…” Aoi hummed. “But, why chose those women’s souls fragment to be attached to the power? I mean, there was other women with… um… more ‘stable’ spirit in motherhood, I guess?”
“It’s about the struggle for their offspring,” Kouyou said. “It’s The Empress’ main substance. You can say that The Empress is the ‘mother’ of all Arcana Powers. That’s why, the creator of these powers presented the ‘woman’ or a ‘mother’ who would fight anything for her offspring’s’ sake.”
“She IS complicated…” Hiroto who suddenly appeared for the third time, commented as he leaned both of his elbows on the table, and he leaned his chin on both of his palms. “She is as complicated as human’s life as a whole.”
“Hiroto-kun…” Aoi gripped the table tight sending the tremble to where Hiroto leaned.
“Okay..! I’ll go t… to the kitchen now..!” Hiroto dashed back to the kitchen.
Aoi sighed. “Where were we? Ah, right. If The Empress is the ‘mother’ of Arcana Powers, then, who’s the ‘father’?” Aoi asked that made all the cheerfulness left Takashima’s face. When Aoi looked at Kouyou, he saw the man in red frowned. “Wh… why? What’s wrong wi… with the two of you?”
“He has this café, a boutique, a music store, and a beauty salon, doesn’t he, Darling? He is building his fortresses everywhere.” Takashima chuckled bitterly. “This café is one of his fortresses if I guessed it correctly.”
“What?” Aoi asked as he looked around him. “A ‘fortress’? This café? I’ve never seen anything weird around here…” Aoi looked at Takashima and Kouyou. “Hiroto-kun never said something weird either about this café.”
Kouyou hummed. “It’s the power that could build a defense to protect his ‘offspring’,” Kouyou said in a low voice. “Now that I think of it, this café was positioned between Visconti-Sforza high-school, where we captured The High Priestess, and the hospital, where we captured The Empress.”
“Wh… what do you mean?” Aoi was suspicious. “What are the two of you talking about? Why suddenly you talked about this café’s owner and this café’s position? Are you trying to say that this café has something to do with the Arcana Power?”
Takashima stood and pulled another chair. He sat beside Aoi, and positioned Aoi between him and Kouyou. “Are you okay, Darling?” Takashima asked. “Since the first time you’ve worked here, nothing ever harmed you?”
“I… I’m fine..!” Aoi answered in panic. “What’s wrong with you!? Why suddenly you got closer?”
“What do you mean, Darling? Don’t lie to me. Are you really okay, Darling?” Takashima asked as he held both of Aoi’s hands. “Did this café’s owner ever touch you? Harmed you? Humiliated you in public?” Takashima groped all over Aoi’s body.
“I said, I’m fine, Takashima!” Aoi shrieked. “What are you doing?! Let me go, Takashima! STOP IT!”
“Aaarrghh!” That time, it was Takashima who screamed. He looked at his right leg, and saw a furry little creature bit his pants. “Let me go! Don’t chew my pants, you tiny furry-monster! Shoo, shoo!” Takashima yelled as he pulled his pants.
“Takashima, what—” Aoi bend his body forward to get a better view of the ‘thing’ Takashima suddenly talked about. “Oh? Koron?” Aoi called the creature’s name. Turned out it’s a Chihuahua who was biting Takashima’s pants.
“Koron!” Someone called.
“Ah, Matsumoto-san?” Aoi saw the man who called the Chihuahua’s name.
Koron stopped biting Takashima’s pants and turned around. The Chihuahua wiggled his tail at the blonde man who called him. Koron barked once before ran toward him. The blonde person squatted and reached for his dog before he took the Chihuahua in his hug and he stood back up.
“Good afternoon, Matsumoto-san,” Aoi stood from his chair and bowed politely at the blonde man who was not as tall as him. Hiroto once told him that this person and his dog made a cute pairing. There, Aoi prevented Hiroto from mentioning it in front of the man.
“Aoi, are you alright?” asked the blonde man as he looked at Takashima. “Did that man disturb you?”
“No, no, I’m alright, Matsumoto-san,” Aoi waved his hands frantically. “He’s actually my acquaintance. We’re very sorry for the disturbance.” Aoi bowed to the blonde man. “I’m very sorry for not being able to pr—”
The blonde man chuckled. “Rather than making disturbance, I think you’ve just made our customer happy.” Ruki looked at the affogato-guy who tried hard to hold his laughter at Takashima. “Anyway, I’m still going to celebrate the day you call me ‘Ruki’ like Hiroto did, Aoi,” the blonde man winked at Aoi.
“Oh… well…” Aoi didn’t finish his words when Koron, the Chihuahua in the blonde man named Ruki’s embrace, barked again. Instantly, Takashima rose from his seat and stood behind Aoi, making Aoi his shield from the tiny dog. “Ta… Takashima, what are you doing there?”
“Pro… protect me from th… that creature, Darling!” Takashima pointed toward Koron.
“Wha—Takashima, you’re taller than me. How can you even scared to little dog like Koron?” Aoi face palmed and sighed. “Oh, right. Matsumoto-san, here is Takashima—” Aoi pointed toward Takashima. “—and here is Kouyou,” Aoi pointed toward Kouyou who stood and bowed politely at Ruki.
Ruki chuckled again. “I didn’t expect you would have unique friends like them, Aoi. I thought you could only befriend the one and only Hiroto,” said Ruki before he nodded at Kouyou and Takashima. “I’m Matsumoto Ruki.”
“Nice to meet you, Matsumoto-san!” Takashima cheered.
“Nah, just call me ‘Ruki’. I’m more comfortable with that name. Aoi is the only one I can’t forbid to call me with that name.” Ruki laughed when he saw Aoi scratched his head. “I rely on you, Takashima-san, and Kouyou-san for that.”
“Oh, okay! Then, Ruki-san can call me—”
Aoi hurriedly covered Takashima’s mouth with both of his hands. “Takashima, behave..!” Aoi whispered futilely, since Ruki stood not too far from them, the café’s owner could still listen to what Aoi said to Takashima, and he giggled.
Takashima nodded and Aoi uncovered Takashima’s mouth. “I promise I’ll behave. I don’t want Ruki-san kicked me out from this beloved café. Moreover, I don’t want Ruki-san to fire my Darling Aoi because of my act here.”
“Good,” Aoi complimented.
“I’ll do anything you say, Darling,” Takashima suddenly blushed. “Anyway, I love your hand’s aroma.”
“You—” Aoi blushed even redder than Takashima’s face. There he heard Ruki chuckled again. “There..! Matsumoto-san is laughing at us and it’s your entire fault, Takashima!” Again, Aoi bowed at Ruki. “We’re ve… very sorry for the disturb—”
“Don’t be too worry, Aoi. This café needs a little bustle once in awhile.” Ruki smiled. “Moreover, finally, I can hear you spoke louder than usual.” Ruki patted Aoi’s shoulder. “Oh, I’m sorry. Who’re these gentlemen’s names again?”
“Kouyou—” Aoi pointed toward Kouyou and the man in red bowed again. “And Takashima—” Aoi pointed toward Takashima who instantly stroke a pose. Koron barked at Takashima who instantly hide behind Aoi again.
Ruki laughed as he patted Koron’s head. “Kouyou-san, and Takashima-san, right? Thank you for being able make our Aoi speaks louder here. Welcome to Fortezza Café. I hope you can enjoy yourself in this humble café.” Ruki couldn’t bend his body and could only nod with Koron still in his embrace.
“Thank you very much, Ruki-san!” Takashima cheered. “And this café is so relaxing!”
“Ah, I’m glad then.” Ruki smiled and looked around his café. “Not lot students came here too so, yeah…”
Aoi hummed. “Matsumoto-san, again, I’m sorry… about student customer…”
“Anything wrong, Aoi?” Ruki frowned.
“There are… actually several students who often visited this cafe…”
“Really?” Ruki raised his eyebrow. “But why must you apologize? Of course you can’t prevent them from entering th—” Ruki didn’t finish his words when someone entered the café. “Irasshaimase!” Ruki greeted.
Aoi turned his head to the café’s entrance. There, he saw Kanon waved at him, and Jill nodded as he smiled toward Aoi. Looking at Kanon whose still in her uniform, Aoi coughed a little. “Th… there are the st… student customers I was t… talking about earlier, Ma… Matsumoto-san.”
“Oh! They’re your other acquaintances?” asked Ruki as Kanon and Jill walked closer to them.
Aoi nodded and blushed. There, Aoi introduced Kanon and Jill to the café’s owner. Aoi didn’t expect that Ruki would look so happy toward the student customers. Moreover, Kanon seemed too cheerful for Ruki’s standard but Ruki didn’t seem to mind her even a bit.
Aoi could hear Kanon squealed when she looked at Koron in Ruki’s embrace. Koron yapped and wiggles his tail when Kanon patted his head. Ruki laughed at that before he asked, “Aoi, Hiroto-kun is in the kitchen, isn’t he? I’m going to see him.”
“Okay, then. Oh, I forgot!” Ruki face palmed. “Aoi, you’ve fully recovered, haven’t you?”
“Yes, Matsumoto-san. I’m very sorry for not telling you anything about it before.”
“Don’t mention it.” Ruki patted Aoi’s shoulder again. “Seeing you here today is more than enough for good news for me. But you still can’t force yourself. Okay?” Ruki winked again. “Now, Aoi, I want you to get those ladies’ order and bring it to me and Hiroto-kun. Now, if you excuse me, Ladies and Gentlemen.”
Ruki left them toward the kitchen door at the back of the cashier table. Aoi could still hear Hiroto’s voice greeted the café’s owner cheerfully. Aoi returned his attention toward the table when Kanon and Jill took their seat beside Kouyou and Takashima around that table.
Aoi gave the menu to Jill and waited for her order. Takashima ordered his second cup for that day. Suddenly, Kanon voiced out her question. “So, that’s this café’s owner?” Kanon smiled. “He looks like a nice person.”
“He really is a nice person,” Aoi said as he wrote down Jill’s order.
“More specifically—” Kanon added. “He has that aura around him. It was like…” Kanon then hummed.
“What is it, dear?” Takashima asked.
“I don’t know…” Kanon frowned, but her smile still lingered on her face. “I know it’s just me… but… looking at him, I feel like… he kind of reminds me of my dad…” Kanon sighed. The girl then looked at Aoi and gasped. “I’m sorry. I forgot. I order the usual tea, Aoi!”
Aoi blinked before he took out his note. “Oh, okay…” Aoi wrote the order down.
When Aoi was about to leave, Takashima stopped him to order a cake. At the same time, Kanon took his phone out. “I’ve sent an email to Reita, asking him whether he’s coming here or not. But he didn’t reply yet.”
“If Reita is not going to come today, maybe he got works to do?” Takashima put the menu down and put his entire attention toward Kanon. “He’s working at that nightclub, isn’t he? What’s the nightclub’s name again…?” Takashima grumbled.
“Trionfi?” Kanon answered.
“Ah, right, Trionfi!” Takashima cheered. “It’s the nightclub’s name where he’s working at. He’s a regular DJ there, isn’t he? I want to visit that place once in awhile. We’ve been there with my Darling here when Reita was possessed by The Magic—”
“Takashima, your order,” Aoi reminded him.
“Oh, sorry!” Takashima took the menu and read it again. “But…” Takashima put the menu again and Aoi sighed. “Talking about someone’s absence…” Takashima looked at Kouyou. “Kouyou-chan, you told me you have an errand today?”
Kouyou nodded. He drank his last drop of his beverage before he stood. Aoi’s eyes grew wider when the man in red walked toward Aoi and gave amount of money for his espresso. Kouyou gazed at Aoi’s eyes before we walked away from his Hunter.
“But… where are you going?” Aoi followed Kouyou.
Kouyou stopped his steps. Without really turned his body, Kouyou only threw a glance at Aoi. “I’m going to look for a way to stop you for using your own body as those Arcana Powers’ host, Aoi-san…” Kouyou answered, and Aoi gasped.
Chapter 9: Possessive “Father”
“You don’t need to know, Aoi-san,” Kouyou answered that made Aoi gasped. “All you need to know right now is…” Kouyou exhaled a long breath. “We, Takashima and, I, are doing this all for you,” Kouyou said before he held Aoi’s hand and slowly pulled it until Aoi’s hand released Kouyou’s arm.
“What..?!” Aoi snapped. “But, Kou..?! I thought we’ve talked about this yesterday!”
“Yes, we’ve talked about this yesterday, Aoi-san. But I don’t remember we dealt about anything,” Kouyou said before he turned away from Aoi and walked toward the café’s front door. “I don’t want to see you lost conscious because of those Arcana Powers ever again, Aoi-san.”
“Th… then, where are you going now, Kou?” Aoi asked, but the man in red didn’t heed him. “Kouyou!” Aoi walked fast toward him as he held Kouyou’s arm. There, Aoi stopped Kouyou’s step. “Answer me. Where are you going?”
“You don’t need to know, Aoi-san,” Kouyou answered that made Aoi gasped. “All you need to know right now is…” Kouyou exhaled a long breath. “We, Takashima and, I, are doing this all for you,” Kouyou said before he held Aoi’s hand and slowly pulled it until Aoi’s hand released Kouyou’s arm.
“Ittemairimasu,” Kouyou said before he exited the café.
“Darling…” Takashima called when he saw Aoi just stood there and watched outside the window where Kouyou left. From behind his Hunter, Takashima held both of Aoi’s shoulder. “Come on now…” Added a little power to his hold, Takashima pulled Aoi a bit, and finally, Aoi moved from his position.
Takashima lead Aoi to their table. Kanon took the initiative to move from her previous chair to the one that placed beside Jill. “Thank you, dear…” Takashima smiled at Kanon as he silently asked Aoi to sit to Kouyou’s former chair.
“Let me handle this, okay?” Takashima took the small note and the money – from Kouyou – from Aoi’s hand. Aoi leaned both of his elbows on the table. With both of his hands, Aoi held his head. Kouyou’s words were repeated inside his head.
「“I promise you this. I’ll give you any protection you need…”」
Sighing, Aoi turned his head and looked for Takashima. Takashima gestured, moved his lips, silently pronounced, ‘wait’. The affogato-guy stood in front of Takashima, faced Hiroto at the cashier. After he paid his order there, the affogato-guy walked to the café’s front door and left.
There, Takashima handed Kouyou’s money, and the note that filled with their orders. He told Hiroto that Aoi just had a quarrel with Kouyou, and Hiroto automatically nodded in understanding. Hiroto took the note to the kitchen, and Takashima returned to their table.
“I know, Darling, I know,” Takashima said as he took a seat beside Aoi. Softly massaging Aoi’s shoulder, the flamboyant man in black sighed. “Don’t get mad at Kouyou, okay, Darling? Please? This is one of our ways to protect our precious Hunter.”
“What are you guys planning actually?” Aoi asked. “You know something about this, don’t you?”
Fixing his sunglasses on his nose, Takashima answered, “A seal.”
“A seal?” Aoi and Kanon asked in unison.
“I still can’t explain it in details just yet, Darling,” Takashima said. “Later, after Kouyou-chan came back, you’ll get all the explanation you need.” Takashima patted Aoi’s head. “One thing I can say right now is: we only want the best for you.”
Submitted, Aoi lowered his gaze. “Okay…” he said. “I just don’t want you guys do something crazy.”
Takashima smiled as he caressed Aoi’s hair. “You know what, Darling? You resemble Kouyou-chan very much. The flamboyant man in black chuckled at the way Aoi turned his gaze at him. “You act way too formal around your relaxed employer.”
“And..?” Aoi asked then as he closed his eyes, as he leaned his forehead to his hands.
“Doesn’t it remind you of someone else? Kouyou too act way too formal around the relaxed you.” Takashima smiled, and Aoi suddenly shifted uncomfortably on his chair. “You worry about Kouyou—and me also,” Takashima added with a laugh. “—but you can put me aside for this time…”
“Takashima, shush,” Aoi warned.
“Oh, I’m not going to shush myself this time, Darling,” Takashima chuckled. “You worry about Kouyou who do something because he worries about you.” Those words – again – made Aoi shifted awkwardly on his chair. “Didn’t it sound like a vicious circle?”
“You’re exaggerating.” Aoi lowered his gaze again.
“No, you know I’m not, Darling,” Takashima chuckled again. “It keeps turning back to the same spot, and returns to the same source.” Takashima bent forward a bit, trying to catch Aoi’s gaze. “Ne, Kanon-chan, Jill-chan.”
“Yes?” Kanon replied, while Jill only directed her gaze at Takashima.
“Someone’s blushing here…” Takashima grinned widely.
“Shut up!” Aoi pushed Takashima’s face away.
Kanon giggled. “You guys. You should always be together,” she said. “It’s not that long since I’ve known you guys. But… it DOES feel weird when I don’t see one of you guys around. Like right now. Kouyou is not here.”
“Does it really look like that..?” Aoi asked.
Kanon nodded cheerfully. “Ah, right. If this café’s owner sees Aoi’s current face, I bet he also would be worry about Aoi.” Kanon smiled. “You know? Like a father who worries about his son. I don’t know why, but I feel like it.”
“Is it because Matsumoto-san reminds you of your father?” Aoi asked carefully.
Kanon nodded. “My late dad to be exact,” Kanon said. She giggled when she saw the three people around her gaped. “It’s been ten years actually. It’s pretty long, isn’t it? But I still remember my dad’s expression when he worried about me when I got fever.”
“I’m sorry…” Aoi said.
“Don’t worry.” Kanon smiled. “Ruki-san made that worried expression when he asked about Aoi’s condition earlier. Just like my dad did to me. That’s why I thought that Ruki-san kind of reminds me of my dad.”
“Oh, dear…” Takashima stood from his chair and walked toward Kanon. Takashima circled his arm around Kanon’s shoulder and patted her head as sympathy. From the opposite direction, Jill did the exact same thing.
“Thank you!” Kanon smiled widely. “But, really. I’m fine. All thanks to this!” Kanon opened her bag and took out a folded wooden board. It looked like a wide box. “You still remember this, don’t you, Aoi?” Kanon asked as she put the folded wooden board on the table.
Takashima examined the board. “Oh, this is…”
“Yes, a chess board,” Kanon said as she opened the fold and showed the pawns inside the wooden board. Kanon took one of the pawns, and showed it to Aoi. “This is the White Queen that Aoi found for me.”
“It’s so beautiful! Like a crystal!” Takashima cheered as he cupped both of his cheeks.
“Isn’t it?” Kanon smiled. “It’s my eighth birthday present from my dad, half a year before my dad left my mom and me. After that, these pawns are the ones that always remind me that I always have a good dad!”
“You… are so lucky…” Aoi said in a low voice.
“Hm?” Kanon turned her face toward Aoi. “What do you mean?”
“Ah, that’s…” Aoi took one black pawn from inside the board. “The black one is also transparent…” Aoi said as he looked at the pawn in his hand. Beside him, Takashima silently took a glimpse at his hunter who suddenly changed the topic.
“Oh, right, Kanon,” Aoi suddenly called as he put the black pawn back into the board. “I kind of found it weird… you said that you’re in your third year, right? Then why I found the White Queen at one of the second year’s classes?”
“I guess the one who stole it threw it there,” Kanon answered.
“Stole?” Aoi frowned.
“There’s this boy at school who seems like he has a grudge toward me,” Kanon explained. “Two weeks ago, I brought this chess board to the school. I just wanted to show it to the chess club president. I didn’t expect that this boy would actually steal one of the pawns.”
“I don’t know this boy but I suddenly dislike him,” Takashima commented.
Kanon giggled. “Right? This boy told me that he threw it somewhere he didn’t even remember. He said that he did that just because he wanted to annoy me. It’s irritating, but I have to admit, he DID annoy me, like, A LOT.”
“How could he do that?” Aoi asked. “Sounds like he wanted you to pay more attention to him.”
“It seems!” Kanon snorted. “He started to act like that after I defeat him in chess competition.”
“I see…” Aoi nodded.
“But, to be honest, I actually felt a little… relieved,” Kanon said. “I felt grateful that I could finally found this chess pawn again. Even though I had to get possessed by this… Arcana Power…” Kanon looked at the White Queen in his hand.
“They are clever, aren’t they? Those Arcana Powers…” Takashima said that instantly drew Kanon’s, Aoi’s and Jill’s attention to him. “They know how to feel alive. They possessed humans with similar desire and synchronized with them.”
“Synchronized?” Aoi asked. He threw a glance toward Jill who instantly looked away from his gaze. “So, then, Reita had the similar desire with The Magician? And, the other Arcana Powers that we haven’t found is currently looking for human beings with similar desires?”
Takashima nodded. “Imagine when each of the twenty two Arcana Powers possessed one human being.”
“Tw… twenty two?!” Aoi almost shouted he covered his mouth before lowered his voice. “Wait a minute! We’ve already—I mean, we’ve JUST got three cards! It means that there are still nineteen powers more?!” Aoi asked, and Takashima nodded, and Aoi exhaled as he frowned.
“Nineteen powers each with the disorder they could bring with them…” Kanon commented.
“This is crazy…” Aoi held his head. “Can’t we predict what number of power that might appear after this? I mean, there are numbers for each power, right? We’ve got card number one as The Magician, number two as The High Priestess, and number three as The Empress.
“If they appear in order, then we might face the fourth power after this,” Kanon said.
“What is the fourth power, Takashima?” Aoi asked.
Takashima sighed. “It’s The Emp—”
Aoi suddenly gasped as he held his head, gripped his hair a little. With his free hand, he held tight Takashima’s hand. “A bell..!” Aoi said. “It echoes..! I don’t know where it comes from... but... this time, it feels like...”
“What is it, Darling?” Takashima stroke Aoi’s hair.
“It feels so close..!” Aoi said frantically.
“Calm down, Darling,” Takashima hugged Aoi as he looked suspiciously around him.
“No..!” Aoi’s grips got tighter. “Something’s not right, Takashima! This is too close! The bell sound is...”
“Number, Darling.” Takashima patted Aoi’s back. “Can you see the number?”
Aoi tried so hard to focus his mind. An image appeared behind his closed eyes, but he groaned when the image blurred. The reflection glowed in a faint orange light. When Aoi saw the Romanian number shaped, Aoi hurriedly opened his eyes. “Four..!”
Someone suddenly clapped his hand from behind the cashier desk. Aoi and the others turned their heads instantly toward the person. There, they saw Ruki, the café’s owner, clapped his hands as he smiled. He gazed straight at Aoi. “Congratulation. You’ve found me.”
“Ma… Matsumoto-san…” Aoi whispered when he saw the unusual smile on his employer’s face.
“Oh, before I forget, a friend of yours is fallen asleep at the staff room.” Ruki nodded at the door behind him. “He’s with that tiny dog too. Don’t worry. I didn’t harm him. I know that you don’t like it when someone harmed your friends.”
“Hiroto-kun?!” Aoi stood from his chair. “What did you do to him?! No! Who are you?!”
“I’m The Empress’ counterpart,” Ruki answered. “I’m the father of all Arcana Powers.” Ruki smiled and Aoi’s eyes grew wider as he gasped. “By the way, is it already too late for me to build the fortress?” Ruki asked as he pointed toward the café’s front windows.
Aoi and the others didn’t have the chance to turn their gaze toward the windows when suddenly the floor they stepped on suddenly trembled hard. “An earthquake?!” Kanon shouted as she and Jill held on the walls near them.
Took a hold to the nearest table, Aoi looked at the café’s front windows. Thick walls were slowly rose from the ground, around the café. Aoi ran toward the café’s front door but he was too late when he exited the café.
The walls were already got too tall in front of him. The tremor stopped when the walls stopped rising. He couldn’t jump and couldn’t find anything that tall enough to help him climb up the walls. The hunter couldn’t even find the edge of the walls.
It perfectly surrounded the café, and all of them inside. Entered the café again, Aoi walked fast toward Ruki who just smiled at him. If Takashima didn’t stop him, Aoi might grab Ruki’s collar. “Are those walls your doing?!” Aoi snapped. “You’ve surrounded this café!”
“Yes, I build those walls.” Ruki stared at his nails lazily. “That is what you want, isn’t it?”
“What?!” Aoi frowned. “I don’t—”
Takashima stopped Aoi’s anger by stretched his arm in front of the hunter. “You… The Emperor…” Takashima called the Arcana Power that possessed Ruki that moment. “Do you still intent to dominate everything?”
Ruki turned his gaze toward Takashima. He smiled when he said, “Well, well, well. Look who we have here. I’ve never expected that I would see you here.” Ruki hummed. “Well, it’s not mere ‘intention’ actually.”
“What do you want?!” Aoi yelled and Takashima held Aoi back.
“It’s no longer an ‘intention’ if by its nature… I HAVE already dominated it all, isn’t it?” Ruki said to Takashima before he smiled at Aoi. “Moreover, Young Man,” Ruki called. “I don’t imprison you. I protect you.”
“What are you talking about?!” Aoi still couldn’t lower his voice.
“With this fortress, no one will take your friends away from you, won’t it?” Ruki asked that made Aoi gasped. “You’re willing to live like this forever, won’t you? With your friends here… without anyone who can threat your friends’ and your beings.”
“NO ONE can threat anyone!” Aoi shouted that made Takashima held him back.
“Oh, no, of course not,” Ruki smiled. “That’s why I created this situation for you. You like it, don’t you? Tell me you feel grateful for it. This way, you won’t lose anyone anymore. By living inside this fortress that is.”
Aoi gasped. Something panged inside his chest he had to grip his shirt. “But this…”
“Yes, correct, you’re safe here,” Ruki said. “The people who know you and you know are here with you. You know that I’ve cared so much for you this entire time. I can act as your guardian if you want to. That girl synchronized with The Empress once, didn’t she?” Ruki pointed toward Jill.
“What..? She’s…” Aoi’s eyes grew wider.
“Yes, I know she can treat you well, my dear Hunter.” Ruki smiled. “And this Joker can be your annoying brother.” Ruki pointed toward Takashima. “To balance it all, the girl who once synchronized with The High Priestess can be your cheerful sister.”
“DARLING, don’t listen to him,” Takashima warned him.
“Oh, the young man who’s sleeping in the staff room, he’s your best friend, isn’t he? You have him here too! With that tiny dog as your pet, you can have a good laugh with everyone here.” Ruki stretched both of his hands.
“Well… it’s…” Aoi looked at Jill and Kanon.
“A perfect life with perfect family and friends,” Ruki completed Aoi’s sentence. “Nothing can be compared with such life, don’t you think?” Ruki smiled. “Inside this fortress, you have everyone around you and all the happiness you’ve ever hoped for.”
A hard slap landed on Aoi’s face and he blinked. In front of him, Aoi saw Takashima was looking at him with gritted teeth. “Wh… what happened?” Aoi asked as he looked around him and found that he was still inside the café where he worked. “I…”
“DON’T!” Takashima shook Aoi’s shoulder. “DON’T let The Emperor’s words got into you, Darling!”
Ruki clicked his tongue. “Ah, almost. That’s too bad…”
Takashima hugged Aoi as he sent his glare at Ruki. “What do you want by hypnotizing him?!”
“Hypnotize?” Ruki chuckled. “Don’t exaggerate. I was just saying what I think is right. If HE has the same thoughts—” Ruki pointed at Aoi. “—I was just lucky then.” Ruki shrugged. “Don’t you think that our Hunter here is actually a lovely son?”
「“You are HIS lovely son…”」
“What if…” Aoi pushed Takashima’s body and freed himself from Takashima’s embrace. “What if… actually, I’m not the lovely son you’re talking about?” Aoi asked as he took the closest tray he could reach that moment.
“What?” Ruki looked fiercely at Aoi.
“What if… I’m that one rebel son in the family?” Aoi threw the tray to the floor near Ruki’s feet.
“Hey?!” Ruki snapped.
“What if…” Aoi held one of the nearest chairs he could reach. “This lovely son you’re talking about… the one you’ve been protecting inside your fortress… is actually the hardest one to control?!” Aoi pulled the chair and beat it to the floor.
“YOU!” Ruki shouted at Aoi.
“What?!” Aoi retorted. “You don’t like it?! Huh?! You don’t like me acting like this?! You don’t like this side of me?! You don’t like the way I act because I disagreed with you?! Now you know that I’m NOT that lovely son of yours!”
“Don’t you dispute me!!” Ruki pointed a finger toward Aoi.
“Why? Are you afraid of me?” Aoi asked.
“Impudent.” Ruki smiled with fury burned the aura around both of his hands. “You should be very careful with your entire utterances and acts before I exile you from this place and separate you from your friends.”
Aoi fisted his palms. “But I won’t let you do any further than this…”
Chapter 10: Exile
It happened so fast. Aoi lost all of his hope to leave the fortress, let alone finding Kouyou or Reita. The thin air strangled him.
“You can’t do this!” Aoi shouted. “You can wish for anything, but we’re not the people who will obey all your commands! You just can’t order us around!” Using his foot, Aoi pushed one table near him until it fell on the floor.
It happened so fast. Aoi didn’t get the chance to see when Ruki stretched his hand toward him. From his hand, Ruki suddenly shot an energy sphere toward Aoi and made him flung. Aoi’s body collided with the café’s wall, and he fell to the floor.
“Darling!!” Takashima ran toward Aoi who could only groan when he tried to move his body. Slowly, Takashima helped Aoi, and let the hunter leaned to him. “What are you trying to do actually?! Stop acting foolish!”
“Just… a little bit more…” Aoi said in hoarse voice.
“Just a little bit more… he said that he will exile me, right? I’ll make him do that…”
“Darling..?!” Takashima whispered. There, they spoke in low voices.
“After he exiled me from his fortress, from this café, I’ll go search for Kouyou and Reita. I’m sorry but I have to leave you with Kanon and Jill here for awhile…” Aoi stared at Takashima. “I’m sorry. I know you wouldn’t like this.”
“Don’t worry. Kanon-chan and Jill-chan will be safe with—”
“I trust you but it’s not that…” Aoi cut him. “I was thinking about using those Arcana Powers again. But I realize I can’t. I might turn this place into a frozen hell with The Empress’ power. I don’t want to burn this place with The Magician either.”
“And The High Priestess’ labyrinth won’t do any good too…” Takashima clicked his tongue.
“That’s why, I’m going to search for a help… I’ll free us all from this place…”
“Takashima…” Aoi held Takashima’s hand. “I can’t let him throw you like what he did to me earlier. And do you think I have the heart to let him do that to Kanon or Jill? I don’t want you to fight him with your sword either.”
“And why is that?!”
“That body… still belongs to Matsumoto-san…” Aoi said as he tried to sit properly. He hissed for the sting on his back after he collided with the wall earlier. There, he looked at Takashima’s black cane that leaned on the wall near where Kanon and Jill stood.
“Darling, I can’t let him harm you again…”
“I know, but we have no choice. I heard Kanon and Jill screamed when Mats—I mean The Emperor threw me to a wall earlier, and I don’t want to hear it again,” Aoi sighed. “I promise… if I can make him angrier, and make him exile me from this place, I’ll found Kouyou and Reita. We might find a way to br—”
“That is so sweet of you,” Ruki chuckled. “Can you see yourself when you said those words to your lover, Young Man?” Ruki’s words shocked Aoi and Takashima. “Yes, yes, I can hear all of your words. These walls sent the wave from your voices to my ears.”
“Damn you, Emperor…”
“Thank you for the curse, Joker. But you know it won’t change anything.” Ruki smiled. “Why don’t you pay more attention to your lover? I bet you can fall in love even deeper with your Hunter after you hear him said those sweet words.”
“I’ve already,” Takashima replied. “And I’ll make sure you’re not going to hurt him again!”
Ruki chuckled at those words. “This is very entertaining. It’s much better than any drama I know.”
“Don’t listen to him…” Takashima whispered as he helped Aoi stood. There, Takashima took The Magician, The High Priestess, and The Empress cards out from his coat’s inner pocket. “Just in case…” Takashima said. But before he could even handed the cards to Aoi, Ruki spoke again.
“Think about this, Young Man,” Ruki chuckled, and waved his hands. “If you can be the lovely son I’m expecting, I’ll give this fortress for you,” Ruki said, made Aoi and the others startled. “If this fortress belongs to you, you’ll have the entire power to control anything you want inside this fortress.”
“Stop this nonsense!”
“It’s an interesting offering, I guess.” Ruki smiled as he didn’t heed any of Takashima’s words. “It’s interesting and pretty easy. You already have the friends you need here. With this fortress, you can live with them as long as you wish without having the need to worry about anything else.”
「…“Now, I’ll be in charge here, Yuu. You’ll be under my control forever. You will live with me, Yuu.”…」
“No!!” Aoi screamed frantically as he held his head. “I don’t want to imprison anyone here just for my own sake! And you!” Aoi pointed a finger toward Ruki. “YOU! Don’t act like you can control me! You’re no one for me!”
“I AM!” Aoi shouted. “I am and I don’t care! You’re not Kai!” Aoi couldn’t control himself when he continued to shout, “You’re just an ambitious emperor who wants to rule everything using any low method you could!”
“You…” Ruki growled. “You don’t deserve this fortress after all. Now GET OUT!!”
Aoi was expecting Ruki to throw him out from the café, from the fortress. But instead of being moved closer to the fortress outside the café, there’s suddenly a hole on the floor right where Aoi stepped on. Aoi fell into the deep hole, and Ruki’s face as the smiling Emperor was the last thing he saw before he sunk into the darkness.
“Darling!” Takashima stretched his arm to reach Aoi, but it was too late. He didn’t get the chance to even get through the hole. The hole on the floor was closed as fast as it was opened before. “DARLIIINNG!!” Takashima punched the floor.
Aoi lost all of his hope to leave the fortress, let alone finding Kouyou or Reita. When he extended his arm, he couldn’t even reach for anything. He couldn’t find anything to be touched inside that solid darkness. Where am I..? He was floating. Aoi couldn’t also breathe properly.
The thin air strangled him. He pulled his collar, trying hard to loosen it a little. He trembled when he tried to unbutton his shirt. Screaming in desperation, Aoi pulled hard his collar and broke the button. It didn’t help. His collar was already loosened, but he still found it hard to breath.
Aoi was startled when he heard the voice called him with THAT name. Aoi frantically looked around him in the dark. He couldn’t see anything. Aoi blinked several times to make himself sure that he’s eyes were already opened.
It was really dark, a solid black. “Who… who’s there..?! Where a… are you?” Aoi raised his voice, but couldn’t get louder than mere whisper. Aoi coughed several times, trying to clear his throat, but still couldn’t talk properly.
“Have you forgotten my voice? Ah, maybe it’s because we haven’t seen each other for a long time, Yuu?”
Aoi looked around him again. The darkness blinded him completely. More than that, Aoi couldn’t even step on anything. “Who… who are you?! Where am I?! Where’s this?! Help! Help me! Let me out from here!” Aoi shouted his whisper.
“We’ve just met, Yuu. And you already want to leave again?”
“I… I don’t…” Aoi couldn’t finish his words. His voice was restrained in his throat. He couldn’t object the voice that talked to him somewhere in the dark. Aoi could only hold his head with both of his hands. “I want to go home..! I don’t like being in here..! Please, let me go home..!”
“But this is your home, Yuu. Which home are you referring to?”
“Takashima, can’t we do something?!” Kanon questioned frantically. “Where’s Aoi?!”
“Call Reita,” Takashima said as he kneeled and searched for Aoi’s aura below the already closed floor.
“I’ve tried to call him several times!” Kanon said in panic. “I don’t know, Takashima. But I think the fortress blocked the signal. I can’t reach Reita or whoever!” Beside Kanon, Jill also tried to contact anyone she knew just to test the signal.
Takashima clicked his tongue. He looked at Ruki who sat on one of the café’s chairs. The Emperor smiled at Takashima. “What are you looking for?” Ruki asked. “I’ve said it, haven’t I? If only he could be more careful with his entire utterance, and acts, I just won’t exile him like that.”
“Where did you send him to?” Takashima stood and faced Ruki.
“Like all criminals, he’s currently in the place he hates the most.” Ruki smiled.
Takashima startled. “Where. Is. He?” Takashima asked with a growl. “Where is Aoi now, Emperor?!”
“Takashima!” Kanon held Takashima’s arm, but he warded it.
Takashima took his black cane, and unsheathed his sword toward Ruki. “I don’t care about the relation between my Hunter and the person you possessed, Emperor. Tell me WHERE my Hunter is!!” Takashima gripped his sword tight. Damn it, Joker. We need to know more about our Hunter from now on.
“This is not my home…” Aoi covered his face with both of his hands. “I know no one here..!”
“Then why did you run from the fortress where you had your friends, Yuu?”
“I DIDN’T run!” Aoi was infuriated. “STOP calling me with THAT name! I’m no longer ‘Yuu’!”
“Oh? Why does that name annoy you so much? Why don’t you like your own name?”
Aoi blinked. He gripped his palm tight. Aoi bit his lower lip and took in a long breathe. Slowly, he answered, “That name… reminds me… of someone… who… who…” Aoi suddenly stuttered. He couldn’t finish his words.
“Who is it, Yuu?”
“Stop it! Don’t push me!” Aoi exasperated. A tear started to hang at the edge of his eyes. “I can’t see you. I don’t know where you are…” Gasped at his own words, Aoi covered his face again. “I don’t like this…”
“But I can see you. I’m currently staring at you.”
“No!” Aoi’s tears started to flow. “I don’t want to be here!” He wiped his tears, but it kept coming. When the voice spoke again, Aoi covered both of his ears. But he could still hear the voice. Like the sound of the bell when some Arcana Power appeared, the voice appeared like it came from within him.
“Yuu? Are you sure you don’t want to be here? It’s our beloved palace, Yuu.”
「“Our beloved palace…”」
The words startled Aoi. The name that the voice kept using to call him was enough to make Aoi wanted to wring his head. There, the voice explained about the place that suddenly urged Aoi to swing his fist. Desperate, but Aoi couldn’t find anything he could punch in that solid darkness.
The darkness blinded Aoi’s sight. But at the same time, the darkness sharpened his mind's eye and made his brain worked wilder. Aoi could imagine the ‘palace’ perfectly in his mind. When there was zero gravity to hold his movement, floating, Aoi bent over.
“Stop it… stop it… stop it…” Aoi chanted the words like a mantra to block the voice he heard from the darkness. In the dark, something touched Aoi’s body. When he looked around him, there was something a little lighter than the darkness turned around before him.
Cold sweat streamed down his temples when he saw a face floating in front of him. The face’s both of eyes suddenly opened wide and stare directly into Aoi’s. Under the wide eyes, Aoi saw a wide smirk. Aoi gasped when something pulled his feet from below him.
“It’s time to come back home… Yuu.”
“No!” Aoi tried to kick anything that pulled him lower. “Let me go! LET ME GO!”
“Come back to me, Yuu. You should pay for everything after you left me.”
“No!!” Aoi screamed when some other thing pulled his right arm. “I’m not going home!!”
“You’ve been away for far too long already. Come back to me, Yuu!”
When Aoi was about to call Takashima and Kouyou, some other thing there entwined around his head, covered his mouth, and muffled his voice. The thing that pulled his feet took him lower. Aoi couldn’t free his right arm. There, he stretched his left hand anywhere.
Aoi looked at everywhere but the grinning face in front of him. His solitude exterminated his hopes, when there was no one inside the darkness that would help him. He was pulled lower, and Aoi could only struggle as strong as he could.
There was nowhere to look at to, and there was nothing he could reach with his free hand. With his covered mouth, Aoi could only scream for Kouyou and Takashima in his heart. If even his loud voice couldn’t reach anywhere inside the darkness, then how could his stifled one?
Another tear streamed down his face. Aoi gradually lost his capability to hold out. Slowly, Aoi’s eyes closed, and that was when he heard the voice, “AOI-SAN!!” Something caught his stretched hand and pulled him upward.
Different from the things that pulled his feet and entwined around his head, the thing that caught his hand was more solid. It’s someone’s hand. Aoi held back the hand and steadily, his ears caught the owner of the voice who called him just now.
“Hang in there, Aoi-san!!” the way the voice called him, and the way his hand held Aoi’s made him smile.
When Aoi moved higher, there was another hand caught Aoi’s shirt around his shoulder. Both of those hands pulled Aoi farther from the things that pulled him down. The thing that entwined Aoi’s head and covered his mouth was the first one that let Aoi go. “Kou..?” Aoi called not louder than a whisper.
He couldn’t even see the owners of those hands. He just called the first name that came in his mind. Aoi was pulled higher, and the thing that entwined his right arm finally let Aoi go. Aoi blinked and squinted when shaft of light shone before him.
There, at last, the thing that entwined his feet let him go, and Aoi was completely free. After that, Aoi heard someone else other than Kouyou called him. “I got you, Aoi!” The person caught his other hand and pulled him up.
“Re… Reita..?” Aoi guessed the voice owner.
“Hey, hang in there, Buddy!” Reita called.
The light Aoi saw got brighter. There, he saw Kouyou and Reita pulled him out from the floor where The Emperor exiled him earlier. After Aoi’s body was completely outside the floor, the hole on the floor closed again fast.
“Aoi-san!” Kouyou called as he kneeled and hugged Aoi tight to his body. Kouyou let Aoi’s head leaned to his shoulder and wiped Aoi’s tears. “Are you alright? If you can hear me, please, answer me, Aoi-san!” Kouyou shook Aoi’s body a little.
“Yes…” Aoi answered with a whisper. “I’m… alright… I guess…” Aoi’s blurred eyes then caught the movement behind Kouyou. Reita and Kanon smiled at him. Beside Kanon, after Aoi tried hard to focus his sight, Aoi saw Jill covered his mouth as she cried. “You’re all… here…”
“We’re worried about you, Aoi.” Kanon wiped her eyes. “Jill and I were so scared…” Kanon hugged Jill.
“You guys… worried… about me..?” Again, a tear streamed from his eyes, and again, Kouyou wiped it dry. “I’m… sorry…”
“What are you talking about?” Reita folded both of his hands in front of his body. “Why must you apologize? Blame it all to the crazy Arcana Power.”
It hit him. “Ah… where’s Matsumoto-san..?”
“He’s alright,” Kouyou said as he looked at one of the corners of the café.
Aoi followed Kouyou’s gaze. There, Ruki sat on the floor, and his head hung low. Beside Ruki, Koron once in awhile licked Ruki’s hand. Aoi could hear the dog’s tiny whine when he saw Koron’s tail dangled. Not long after that, he saw Hiroto walked toward Ruki with a glass of water in his hand.
“Did… did Hiroto know what had happened?” Aoi asked.
“Not in details,” Kouyou answered. “I told him that this was another phenomenon like the spring-snow,” Kouyou explained as he looked at Takashima, made Aoi followed his gaze again. Aoi saw Takashima’s back that moment.
Aoi’s gaze fell to Takashima’s hand. Aoi could see the stiff muscles all over his body from the way Takashima held a card. “Taka… shima..?” Aoi tried to voice louder than a whisper, but he failed, but he gasped when he saw Takashima turned his head to Aoi and smiled.
“Yes, Darling, I heard you.” Takashima showed the card in his hand: The Emperor. Aoi exhaled a relieved sigh when he saw that. Seconds after, Aoi saw Takashima’s held around the card got loosened. If only Aoi didn’t call him earlier, Takashima might crumple the card.
「…“Come back to me, Yuu. You should pay for everything after you left me.”
“You’ve been away for far too long already. Come back to me, Yuu!”…」
“They got four Arcana Powers already,” said the man with tattoos all over his fingers and wrists. When he pulled his sleeves, the tattoos could be seen up to his arms. “They struggled so much to got one of it all.”
“We got four Arcana Powers too.”
“We DIDN’T get it. We didn’t even search for it.”
“Call it luck.”
The tattooed man chuckled. “THOUGH, we’re not lucky enough for today, aye?”
“He’s still paranoid.”
“YOU are a freak. Couldn’t you act gentler?”
The other just shrugged. “I’ll try again later.”
“I got too excited.” The person sighed. “It was already this close, Miyavi.” The person called the tattooed man’s name. “It’s THIS close.” The person gestured his thumb and index finger, showing how close he was with his object earlier.
“Yeah, yeah, right. Nothing can compare the contentment from a reunion with someone we love the most, ain’t it?” Miyavi, the tattooed man, smiled. “But…” Miyavi’s gaze then descended through the café’s window.
“Yes. But some people dared to get in my way.” The other person fisted his palm when he looked at Kouyou and Takashima. “They will always get in our way. They just won’t stop. I’ll do something about them later…”
A day after the encounter with The Emperor, Aoi was at the café. Not for working though. Ruki closed the café for that day. Hiroto was not around also. Ruki did that so he could hold a gathering with those who ever got involved in the Arcana cases.
In the café, Aoi looked at the floor where he was sent to the exile yesterday. Nothing left on the floor. Whoever looked at the floor that day won’t expect something horrible ever happened there. Lowered his gaze, Aoi sighed.
“Hey.” Someone tapped on Aoi’s shoulder.
“Takashima…” Aoi looked at Takashima.
“Come on now.” Takashima pushed Aoi to the table at the corner of the café. “The café is closed for today, isn’t? Don’t busy your own self too much. You don’t even wear your apron,” Takashima said as he gestured Aoi to sit beside Kouyou, and Takashima sat beside Aoi, made Aoi sat between him and Kouyou.
That day, there were seven people in the café. Each of them got their own favourite beverages. Ruki and Jill helped Aoi in the kitchen earlier to make the all of the beverages. Aoi then looked at the cards on the table: The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, and The Emperor.
“Sooo, this café is now our Headquarter! Yay!” Kanon cheered.
“He… headquarter?” Reita looked at Kanon sceptically.
“Right! It’s cool, isn’t it?” Kanon said, still in high tone, excited with her own thoughts. “We’re like that special team who support Aoi in collecting magic items!” Kanon explained that made Reita face-palming. “Oh, oh! And Aoi is our secret agent!”
“Kanon, you watched too much movies,” Reita commented.
“Aoi is our main actor! Like the ones in those detective-action movies!” Kanon exclaimed, not listening to Reita at all, and made Aoi covered his face with both of his hands. “And, and, as the Headquarter, this café will be the place where we gather and talk about our next mission!”
“What kind of headquarter that collected so many reporters like what happened this morning?”
“Why not?” Kanon asked back at Reita. “Sometimes cases happened inside the Headquarter too, isn’t it? It attracts controversy! Of course reporters will be there where the controversy happened!” Kanon winked and Reita rolled his eyes.
“We can’t prevent it, can we?” Ruki smiled. “Anyone would be shocked when a fortress suddenly appeared in the middle of a town, surrounding this cafe. Moreover, it was built not longer than a minute… then, it disappeared as fast as it appeared.”
“I was so glad when those reporters referred the fortress as weird phenomena like the spring-snow when The Empress appeared.” Kanon sighed. “I can’t imagine if they know about Arcana Power…” Kanon folded both of her hands in front of her body.
Takashima chuckled. “The Emperor synchronized with Ruki-san’s desire to keep this café as a calm and quiet place. I guess that was why less people came to this place though this café is so attention-grabbing. There’s this invisible-fortress that stopped more people from coming to this café.”
“Ah, I see…” Reita nodded.
“Well, for me, this café feels like home.” Takashima chortled. “Well, but still. I’m happier in my Darling’s apartment. My Darling’s apartment is so comfortable because it’s full of my Darling’s warmth,” said Takashima as he hugged Aoi.
“Go away.” Aoi pushed Takashima’s head.
“But, Daaarrliiinng..! I just want to hug your beautiful body..!”
“GO AWAY, YOU PERVERT!!” Aoi kept pushing Takashima.
Chapter 11: For Our Hunter
Aoi’s tension loosened a little when he saw the café’s owner smiled. Takashima and Kouyou turned their head in unison when Aoi gripped their hand tight.
“Um, Guys,” Ruki coughed, attracted the attention from his new friends toward him. “I want to say, I’m sorry, and thank you for yesterday. I didn’t know what had happened, or what’s got into me. Yesterday’s event was really confusing for me.”
“No, Matsumoto-san, don’t mention it,” Aoi said.
“Really, Aoi,” Ruki chuckled bitterly. “I don’t really understand about these Arcana Powers.” He exhaled as he smiled. “But, I was really grateful that everything returned to normal, and you’re alright. At least for now, in this café,” he added.
Aoi’s tension loosened a little when he saw the café’s owner smiled. But, not long after the relief got him, some words from yesterday went back inside his head. Before he could stop himself, under the table, Aoi reached Kouyou’s and Takashima’s hand.
「…“Yuu? Are you sure you don’t want to be here? It’s our beloved palace, Yuu.”
“It’s time to come back home… Yuu.”…」
Takashima and Kouyou turned their head in unison when Aoi gripped their hand tight. They looked at Aoi who stayed silent while biting his lip. There, Kouyou and Takashima looked at each other. Among them all, their Hunter had the burdened expression.
In a really small movement, Takashima shook his head. Takashima and Kouyou then agreed in silence not to question Aoi right there and then. Each of their minds worked on its own then. The Emperor’s words returned inside Takashima’s mind, while Kouyou’s mind repeated Aoi’s words to him yesterday.
「…“He’s currently in the place he hates the most.”…」
Reita words then stole their attention. “But, still. I won’t expect Takashima and Kouyou could actually penetrated The Emperor’s fortress like that.” Reita put his mug down. “THE fortress is actually The Emperor’s weakness.”
“H… how?” Aoi asked.
“Shattering The Emperor’s arrogance,” Reita answered. “The fortress is The Emperor’s pride. If the fortress was shattered, and so was The Emperor’s pride.” Reita looked at Kouyou and Takashima. “Yesterday, only they could do that.”
“Let us tell you the whole story, Aoi. And Ruki-san too!” Kanon got excited suddenly. “Reita, later on, help me tell the story after I got possessed by The High Priestess!” There, Kanon started to explain yesterday’s event.
Takashima took his black cane, and unsheathed his sword toward Ruki. “I don’t care about the relation between my Hunter and the person you possessed, Emperor. Tell me where my Hunter is!” Takashima gripped his sword tight.
“Oh, so you want to harm me?” Ruki smiled. “Aren’t you afraid the beloved Hunter might hate you if he found out what you’ve done to this body? Don’t you care about that anymore? I thought his hatred toward you is your biggest problem?”
“I don’t care! As long as I can save him, I won’t mind his hatred after this!”
The calling stopped whole Takashima’s movement. The gap between his sword’s blade and Ruki’s cheek was only one centimetre left. Ruki just stood there and smiled. Takashima growled when he pulled back his sword.
Takashima walked passed Kanon and Jill who still stayed silent after they saw Takashima almost made a big scar on Ruki’s face with his thin sword. The man in black stopped before the café entrance and looked at Ruki.
Sheathed his sword back, Takashima exited the café and walked closer to the fortress’ wall. “What took you so long, Joker?!” Takashima punched the wall. “Looking at this fortress, you know WHO we’re facing inside here.”
“Reita-san is here too,” Kouyou said. “How’s there, are the others alright?”
“Our Darling!” Takashima yelled. After Takashima found Kouyou’s position at the opposite part of the fortress wall, Takashima put his right hand on the spot, while his left hand still held tight his black cane. “The Emperor sunk our Hunter INSIDE the bloody floor! Below the ground!”
“We have to hurry, Joker. The Emperor won’t bring our Hunter back. We have to make him.”
“The only way to break The Emperor’s spell is…”
“…shatter the one where he put his pride the most…” Takashima completed Kouyou’s words.
“Don’t forget!” Ruki shouted from inside the café, made Kanon and Jill instantly turned their head toward Ruki. “This fortress quivered your voice to me. Though you’re far, though even you spoke in whispers, I could still listen to you.”
“Takashima!!” Kanon called hysterically that made Takashima ran back into the café.
It’s in mere seconds when Takashima saw Ruki smiled at him as he stretched his arm toward the floor where Aoi had been exiled. When Takashima extended his hand toward Ruki, Ruki already shot an energy sphere to the floor.
“Darling!” Takashima ran toward the floor. There, Takashima saw a layer spread on the floor, covering the place where the hole existed before. Behind him, Jill walked closer and looked at the thickened floor with wide eyes.
With gritted teeth, Jill looked at Ruki. She stood back straight and walked toward him. With her left hand, Jill pulled Ruki’s collar. Jill almost slapped Ruki’s face if Kanon didn’t stop her. Holding Jill’s hand, Kanon pulled Jill farther from Ruki.
“No, Jill!” Kanon warned her. Jill struggled in her hold, and Kanon tried to put some senses to her, “If you angry him even more, we might dislike more what he would do to Aoi! He would always use Aoi as his victim!”
Jill stopped her struggle. She tried hard to stifle her own anger. Her breathing was still heaving when she looked at Ruki. She fisted her palm tight when Ruki smiled at her, and Kanon pulled her farther from Ruki’s range.
“Empress, aren’t you?” Ruki asked. “The Angry Queen… The Irate Mother…”
“Shut up, Emperor!” Takashima yelled, irritated.
“Kouyou!” Kanon took the role to tell Kouyou what had just happened inside the café. “Emperor added some layer on the floor where he exiled Aoi! We need to hurry and help Aoi!” She did that while gripping Jill’s hand tight all at once.
Kouyou instantly punched the fortress’ wall and Takashima cursed at the same time. Outside the fortress, Reita told Kouyou, “I don’t want to add more of the burdens. But we don’t have enough tools to destroy the fortress’ wall, or to climb it.”
“If only we have Aoi here,” Kanon said. “Then again, though if Aoi’s here, Kouyou won’t let Aoi use his own body as host to those Arcana Powers.” Kanon sighed. “Of course we can’t use mere common tools to break this magical fortress.”
“Or,” Reita uttered. “The only people left with magic power here are only Kouyou and Takashima. If you guys have any spell to drill or break something as big as this fortress, that’ll do too.” Reita then looked at their surroundings. “One thing though…”
“I know your plans, Lads,” Ruki spoke. “Don’t forget that I’m still here, listening to every word you declared.” He chuckled. “You will never be able to break through this fortress! You climb up this fortress; I’ll build it even taller!”
Hearing everything Ruki stated, Jill started to step her feet again, but Kanon pulled her. Jill was angered, Kanon struggled to keep Jill in her position, Reita couldn’t do anything, and Takashima were almost desperate about Aoi condition.
“Drill…” Kouyou said in a low voice. “Albi…” he whispered to call.
The meaning in Kouyou’s words startled Takashima despite their distance and Kouyou’s low voice. “No, Joker. Are you sure you want to do that?” Takashima stood and walked back to the café’s entrance. “There are many people around you!”
“I know that,” Kouyou said. “This fortress alone was more than enough to pull too many attentions. But I don’t care about that now, Albi. YOU know OUR Hunter can’t wait any longer! I can use magic to block these—”
Kanon pulled Jill to add more space for Takashima at the right time; Takashima punched the fortress’ wall. “NO!” Takashima shouted. “You CAN’T use your power without our Hunter you might scare the other Arcana away!”
“Then the only choice left is to use The High Priestess to block these people view from me, Albi,” Kouyou said. “WE DON’T have any other choice, Albi. Either way, we still need The High Priestess’s walls to block our power from the other Arcana Powers also.”
“Damn it!” Takashima searched The High Priestess card in his coat’s inner pocket before he turned to face Kanon. “Kanon, dear, I’m so sorry, we need to destroy this fortress to defeat The Emperor, but I need your help.”
“I’ll help!” Kanon confirmed without any second thought. “Wh… what can I do to help us breaking this fortress down?” The girl asked. By her side, Jill held Kanon’s hand and nodded to make sure that she won’t approach Ruki again.
“That’s sweet,” Ruki commented when he saw Kanon freed Jill’s hand. “But still there’s nothing you can do, Child. If you still want to defy me, everything will be in vain. Is that The High Priestess card I see? I know she can’t do anything to disobey her emperor.”
Takashima suddenly left the fortress wall and entered the café. Facing Ruki, Takashima showed The Empress card to the man in The Emperor’s possession. “As far as I know, you’re never in good term with The Empress.”
“You destroy this café; you got your Hunter’s anger…” Ruki smirked.
“To get mad at me, my Hunter has to face me first,” Takashima responded. “That means you have to let him go in any way we’ll make you. You don’t want to undo your fortress? Fine. We’ll destroy it. You don’t want to let us destroy your fortress? Fine. I’ll let The Empress has her way on you.”
“You impudent…” Ruki lost his smile.
“Say anything you want,” Takashima pocketed The Empress card back. “Both of you have the same level of domination. I don’t need The Empress to defeat you. But I don’t think you would enjoy your time encountering her either.”
The calling made Takashima took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. He walked back to Kanon and said, “For awhile, I need you to be The High Priestess hostess, Kanon, dear…” Takashima held Kanon’s shoulder.
“What..?! You mean you need me to synchronize with The High Priestess power?!”
“I’m sorry, dear. You’ve heard it; we need The High Priestess’ walls to block not only people’s view to Joke—I mean, Kouyou-chan. But we need it to block our magic power from the other Arcana Powers that might lurk somewhere out there…”
“Is it really okay? I mean… me, being possessed again… by The High Priestess?”
“I guarantee it,” Takashima promised. “We just need this little time for The High Priestess builds her walls. There, Kouyou-chan and I will drill this fortress’ wall from both sides at the same time. A tiny hole will be enough to weaken The Emperor.”
Kanon nodded. “Understood! Anything, Takashima. Just bring Aoi back to us all.”
Kanon words startled Takashima. Smiling, he patted Kanon’s head. “Thank you very much, Kanon, dear. You’re really sweet girl.” The flamboyant man in black then turned his head toward Jill. “And thank you so much for your deep feeling for our Darling Hunter,” Takashima said that made Jill blushed.
“You can do it, Kanon!” Reita yelled from outside the fortress.
Kanon stood facing the fortress’ wall. Behind her, Jill helping Takashima held his black cane when Takashima took The High Priestess card and placed in on his forehead. With his left hand, Takashima held Kanon’s shoulder.
Kanon closed her eyes, and Takashima said the mantra, “A request to Joan, the spirit inside The High Priestess power. We yearn to lend your power. Let this girl, Kanon Wakeshima, control you. Use her body as your hostess! I summon you, Joan!”
A light-blue aura came out from the card. Like a wind, the light-blue aura gusted over Kanon before it entered the girl’s body. Kanon gasped until the entire light-blue aura completely possessed her. Seconds after, the girl opened her eyes, and Takashima kept his hand away from Kanon’s shoulder.
“You dared,” Kanon said. There were two voices when she spoke, like there was someone else spoke with her at the same time. “You’re still conceited. You know that your Hunter is the only one who can actually summon me.”
“Well, our Hunter is our main problem here,” Takashima coughed.
“Well, indeed,” Kanon turned her head and looked at Ruki. “Emperor,” Kanon bowed a little.
“You don’t want to get your freedom back, Joan?” Ruki asked.
Kanon turned her head toward the layered floor at the middle of the café. “I’ve assured my freedom to the one you’ve exiled down there, Emperor. That’s why; I’ll do anything to retrieve the Hunter back from there.”
“You can’t do that!” Ruki shouted as he stood from his seat and shot an energy sphere to Kanon. But the energy sphere suddenly exploded in the air when Takashima drew his sword fast and split the sphere into two.
Takashima didn’t say anything toward Ruki after that. He immediately returned his attention back to Kanon. “I’m very sorry, Joan. But, I have to summon you. As you said, it’s for our Hunter we need your help now.”
“Whatever,” Kanon said as she stretched both of her arms. “I beg your forgiveness, Emperor.” The girl extended her hand toward Ruki. “Emerging partitions inside this café! Expel the Emperor anywhere near this café’s entrance!”
Ruki hurriedly walk toward Kanon. “STOP!”
Jill, who saw Ruki’s arrival, gripped tight Takashima’s black cane to her chest. But Jill didn’t get the chance to unsheathe the sword when suddenly The High Priestess’ partitions rose between her and Ruki, protecting her from anything Ruki wanted to do.
“This is my territory!” Ruki shouted from behind the partition, followed by banging sounds. “You’re rebellions inside my territory!” Every time Ruki made the banging sound, Takashima saw Kanon’s body trembled.
“The Emperor is trying to shatter my partitions,” Kanon said as she exited the café and walked closer to the fortress wall. “You know you can’t compare my partition-walls power level with The Emperor’s fortress defense power.”
“I understand.” Takashima replied.
“Penetrate the Emperor’s fortress wall before he penetrates MINE.” Kanon then extended her hands to the fortress in front of her. “Emerging partitions outside the fortress! Expel the people away from Suzuki Reita and Joker!”
The floor around Kanon, Takashima, and Jill started to tremble. Outside the fortress, the ground around Reita and Kouyou was also trembled. The people around Kouyou and Reita started to panic when the tremor appeared.
Suddenly, partition rose around Kouyou and Reita. The people, who gathered to see the weird-instant fortress, screamed when they saw another wall came into view and blocked their sight from Reita, Kouyou, and half part of the fortress.
“The partitions have perfectly built around Kouyou and me! We’re clear!” Reita reported.
“Thank you, Reita-kun!” Takashima then looked at Jill. “Jill-chan! Please hold Kanon-chan. Her energy will be drained up after this. I’m counting on you when Kanon-chan faint later,” Takashima said as he received his black cane back from Jill, who nodded at him.
After Jill stood near Kanon, Takashima smiled. “Thank you very much, Jill dear,” Takashima said as he walked closer to the fortress’ wall, beside Kanon. Gripping his black cane with his left hand, Takashima touched the fortress wall with his right hand. “Joker!”
“I heard what The High Priestess said. We must hurry,” Kouyou responded as he touched the fortress’ wall with his right hand. With his mind, Kouyou sent the red aura around his eyes to his right palm. “Can you feel it, Albi?”
“Yes!” Takashima confirmed before he unsheathed his sword. Takashima drew his sword toward the same spot where Kouyou sent his red aura at the opposite of the fortress’ wall. “I’m ready, Kouyou.” Takashima smiled when he called his counterpart using that name again.
Outside and inside the fortress, at the same time, both of Kouyou and Takashima – behind his sunglasses – closed their eyes. There, they casted the spell together. Kouyou sent his red aura from his eye to his arm and Takashima sent his black energy from his shoulder to his wrist.
“The energy that stays silent in the light river…” Kouyou uttered.
“The energy that serves in the darkness curtain…” Takashima spelled at the same time.
“Strengthen your power from the dimness,” Kouyou and Takashima said at the same time. Red aura around Kouyou’s shoulder flowed to his fist and the black aura around Takashima’s wrist flowed to his sword. “Now is the time for you to finish off the hindrance in this place!”
Kouyou opened his eyes and shouted, “CRIMSON COIL!!”
“EBON EXPOSURE!!” Takashima shouted.
At the same time, Takashima stabbed his sword blade to the fortress’ wall, and Kouyou punched it at the same spot from the outside. The black aura from Takashima’s sword and the red aura from Kouyou’s fist became pointed.
With the red aura around his fist, Kouyou punched and drilled the wall from outside of the fortress. From the inside, with the black aura around his sword, Takashima pierced and drilled at the same spot of the wall.
“NO!!” Ruki growled as he punched The High Priestess’ partition with his might. Finally, Ruki smashed The High Priestess’ partition inside the cafe. At the same time, The High Priestess’ soul left Kanon’s body, and the girl fell.
Jill hurriedly caught Kanon’s body. Outside the fortress, with the tremor at the ground around him, Reita suddenly shouted, “Kouyou, Takashima, hurry! The High Priestess’ partitions are slowly descending back to the ground!”
With no more partitions to block him, Ruki immediately looked at the café’s front door. Ruki walked fast to the door, and saw Takashima who was still drilling the fortress wall with the black aura from his sword.
Ruki instantly pulled his fist and ready to punch Takashima. Suddenly, cracks appeared at the fortress’ wall around Takashima’s sword blade. The cracks widened, and stone pieces started to fall from the cracks.
Ruki’s entire movement stopped right before he could even touched Takashima when the fortress started to collapse, making a hole on the wall. Takashima pulled his sword away from the wall when Kouyou, with one kick, enlarged the hole.
Kouyou right away entered the fortress and Reita followed behind him. Reita helped Jill with Kanon, while Kouyou stopped in his track when he saw that it was Ruki who was possessed by The Emperor soul. “Ma… Matsumoto-san..?!”
Takashima looked at the same direction and found Ruki was petrified in his position. “Joker! Save our Hunter!” Takashima shouted as he reached Ruki’s collar and pulled it hard. When Takashima saw Ruki blinked, he yelled again, “Release our Hunter! NOW!!”
Ruki, who seemed like he couldn’t focus his sight to anything in front of him anymore, could only move his hand. The Emperor’s soul inside Ruki’s body had not much energy left in him after his fortress’ wall got penetrated.
Moving Ruki’s palm toward the floor where he exiled Aoi before, The Emperor soul opened the layer over, and the floor. Passing beside him, Kouyou ran toward the hole on the floor, and he could only see darkness like a solid black hole.
“Aoi-san!!” Kouyou called as he lied flat on his stomach beside the hole on the floor. The man in red stretched his arm down the black hole, trying to touch anything inside the darkness. “Answer me, Aoi-san!!”
“Can you make sure that my Hunter is alright down there?!” Takashima pushed Ruki to the nearest chair.
“You… have to… hurry…” Ruki said in hoarse voice.
Hearing Ruki’s answer, Takashima and Reita cursed under their breath. Reita stood, leaving Kanon in Jill’s care, and walked toward the hole. Beside Kouyou, Reita followed Kouyou laid flat on his stomach and extended his hand inside the black hole.
“Can you find him?!” Takashima asked as he gripped tight Ruki’s collar.
“It’s too dark! I can’t see anything!” Reita moved his hand to found anything he could touch.
Kouyou suddenly startled when he touched something inside the dark hole. The man in red moved a little forward, and stretched his hand even deeper in the hole. “I’ve found Him! AOI-SAN!!” Kouyou caught a hand in the dark hole.
Following Kouyou, Reita moved his hand closer to where Kouyou stretched his arm. “I got him!” Reita said as he grabbed the hand Kouyou caught. “Kouyou, pull!” Reita and Kouyou added more power to his arm.
“Hang in there, Aoi-san!!” Kouyou pulled Aoi’s hand closer to him.
“I got you, Aoi!” Reita caught the shirt around Aoi’s shoulder and pulled Aoi closer to the black hole’s rim. “Hey, hang in there, Buddy!” Reita caught Aoi’s other hand. After Reita and Kouyou saw Aoi’s face inside the hole, they pulled Aoi’s body completely out from the hole.
Right then and there, the hole on the floor closed fast.
“That was what happened yesterday…” Takashima said. “Like we told you, we pierced The Emperor’s fortress’ wall from both sides, at one same spot. If Kouyou-chan wasn’t there, I don’t how we can get you back, Darling.”
Aoi looked at Kouyou who looked back at him. “Oh…” Aoi short responded. “I see… thank you… thank you to all of you…” Aoi then looked at Reita, Kanon, Jill, Ruki, and back at Takashima. After he saw his friends’ smile, Aoi lowered his gaze.
Both of his hand cupped his black coffee cup. His mind flew back to what he saw inside the dark hole. What might happen after that made him unconsciously shook his head. If it was only mere seconds late, then he won’t be in the café right now.
Aoi exhaled a long sigh.
Chapter 12: Vigilance of a Conceit Challenge
Looking outside the café’s window, Reita hummed. They all fell silent. There, the café became noisy with them voicing out their thoughts...
Looking outside the café’s window, Reita hummed. “Look at those people out there. Half of them might still remember about the fortress that suddenly appeared and surrounded this café. But none of them know what made the fortress appeared.”
“Ah, right, Rei,” Aoi called. “Yesterday, you came here with Kouyou?”
“I met him in front of the fortress to be exact,” Reita corrected. “Yesterday, I was still sleeping when my phone received Kanon’s first email. When I got here, it shocked me because I couldn’t find this café anywhere.” He chuckled.
“I was really wondering how it was looked like from outside the fortress…” Kanon said.
“Well, you could only see the fortress literally,” Reita said. “But, the most important thing is: we got The Emperor!” Reita stretched both of his hands upward, pulling his entire arm muscles. “This is the first time I encountered an Arcana Power directly without being possessed.” He chuckled again.
“So, we got four Powers now?” Aoi asked, and Kouyou nodded. “There are still eighteen Powers more…” Aoi looked at the cards Takashima put on their table, and took The High Priestess card. “These Powers really have each of their own characteristic, don’t they…?”
“The High Priestess’ partitions were really dope!” Reita pointed at the card in Aoi’s hand. “She controlled those partitions and directed people’s movement. Right. Sounded like someone who can control everyone because she knows everything.”
“What about this?” Aoi showed The Empress card toward Reita. “She can control lives, I guess.”
“And dominates seasons in the year,” Takashima added. “Or she won’t let the snow fall in spring.”
“Add it with the power to control plants,” Reita said. “When we’re at Aoi’s apartment, while he’s still sleeping, you told me about those moving vines. I just can’t imagine those vines were moving and even attacking you guys!”
“She indeed Mother of Thousands…” Aoi said as he looked at Jill who averted her gaze to somewhere else. “Not only controlling plants and vines. Is that her adjutant? Who was is again… The Knight of Sword?” Aoi asked at Takashima.
“Yes, that is,” the flamboyant man in black answered.
“Then… The Magician…” Aoi took The Magician card. “The Sun God…”
“The aggressive fighter,” Takashima added. “He was not like The High Priestess, who is more to the passive-type. The Magician fights his opponents directly rather than gives obstacles tactically like The High Priestess does.”
“And the last one, for now…” Aoi took The Emperor card.
“The arrogant protector with the strongest defence,” Takashima explained. “No one could deny that The Emperor always thirsted for power. But a strong synchronization with The Emperor could turn into a strong defence too.”
“That means…” Ruki hummed before he continued his words. “Maybe I chose the wrong term… but… I guess… Aoi had a pretty good luck,” Ruki said that made Aoi blinked. “From the stories I heard from all of you, the four Powers that Aoi got so far, all of them were moving near Aoi, weren’t they?”
They all fell silent. “The other scattered Arcana Powers…” Aoi started carefully. “Are they still in this town?” Aoi asked as he stared at Kouyou and Takashima. The two men looked at each other in silent for seconds.
“As far as we know…” Takashima spoke. “Yes,” he answered then. “That was why we came here, to this town. We felt their presences in this town. Scattered, but they still gathered in one place, here, in this town.”
“If you guys can feel their presences in this town—” Kanon voiced her question. “Can you guys detect the people who… might get possessed one day? I mean, I thought that you guys might have the power to feel human’s desires too, perhaps?”
“There are too many probabilities,” Kouyou answered. “There are several people who can synchronize with one Arcana Power, and there are several Arcana Powers that can synchronize with one human. Shocking indeed, that some people around us actually have too many desires in their one body.”
“It’s kind of a troublesome in reality. Rather than checking these human beings one by one to find the probability whether they’d been possessed or not, it’s much easier to wait until the Arcana Power synchronize with someone and catch them after.”
“THAT’s dilemmatic,” Reita said. “We don’t want those Arcana Powers to possess anyone ever again, yet we actually NEED them to possess someone. Tell me I’m wrong. THESE Arcana Powers ARE living beings themselves.”
“Now that you mention it…” Aoi rubbed his forehead.
“Reita had a point,” Ruki added. “For example, the waves move because of the wind or soil movement. These Arcana Powers were like waves that move without being blown by the wind, or without any soil movement.”
“Is these Arcana Powers’ creator a lonely person?” For the first time, after Aoi got The Empress power, Jill finally let the people around her heard her voice. The six people instantly fell silent and turned their heads toward the girl.
Jiiill!” Kanon hugged Jill suddenly. “Your voice is sooo cuuute!”
“You can actually talk?!” Reita’s question made him instantly got a good smack from Kanon. “Hey! What?! I was just surprised because she rarely talks!” Reita protested. “That is if you can’t say that she didn’t talk at all…” His grumbled continued.
“But… what makes you think that way, Jill?” Aoi asked.
“Because the powers live,” Jill said. “The Powers also have desires too. That’s why they could synchronize with human beings, wasn’t it? That way, the Arcana Powers’ creator can meet with other people with equal power, whatever power the creator had,” Jill explained.
“And when she talks, it sounded so heavy all of the sudden.” Reita wiped his sweat.
“Who knows?” Takashima smiled. “Kouyou and I are here just for collecting back the Arcana Powers and returning them into cards so they won’t make any riot anywhere. We didn’t question anything more to the Power’s creator.” Takashima looked at Kouyou who nodded at that.
“Is there any possibility that these Arcana Powers are actually calling for each other?” Aoi asked.
“What do you mean, Darling?” Takashima asked back.
“When we faced The Empress, she knew about me being as the… mm… Hunter,” Aoi hesitated. “That time, Kouyou said that someone told her about this.” Aoi looked at Kouyou. “So there’s actually Arcana Power who already know about me.”
“Well, if we talk about this…” Takashima hummed and frowned.
There, the café became noisy with them voicing out their thoughts:
- “Among eighteen Arcana Powers that are still lurking out there, which Power has the ability to share information?”
- “Huh? Does that kind of power even exist? THAT’s amusing.”
- “It exists actually.”
- “Is there any human being who can actually communicate with Arcana Powers? That person might be the one who share information about Hunter’s being.”
- “That’s impossible. Human beings who knew about Hunter are all of us who are currently gathering in this café. Moreover, we know about Arcana Powers because we’re involved in Arcana Powers cases. Except…”
- “Someone out there is watching Aoi.”
Suddenly, they all fell silent before, “Wait… WHAT?!” Aoi nearly shrieked
Takashima answered about the power. “There is actually Arcana Power that can share information.”
Kouyou answered about some human’s existence that they didn’t recognize yet. “There is probability about some human being is watching Aoi-san’s whole activity as a Hunter. Human with magic power… any ‘normal’ human would find it unusual.”
“But… what Power? Then… someone is watching me… who..?”
“The Hierophant,” Takashima answered.
“The human beings who got possessed, but they can control the Power,” Kouyou answered.
“Who… who is this ‘Hierophant’?” Aoi asked. “What… what about The Hanged Man? The one you mentioned when we faced The Empress? I thought he will be the first one who would know something about me.”
“Even The Hanged Man is not a Power with information-sharing ability,” Takashima explained.
Aoi didn’t pursue, didn’t ask, and didn’t even say a word after. He just leaned both of his elbows on the tabled and held his head with both of his hands. Some predictions he had in his mind would definitely provoke new questions, he chose to keep it to himself.
Takashima also didn’t say a word as he gave a soft massage to his Hunter’s nape. Aoi got so many experiences already from just four Arcana Powers, and he just had to face more of it from eighteen more of the Powers.
“Aaah, Kanon, do you bring any cookies?” Reita asked suddenly.
“What cookies?!” the girl responded.
“The cookies you and Jill brought when we visited Aoi’s apartment?
“It’s been days, Reita! I don’t have it anymore!”
“Ah, that’s too bad. I want to dip it in my drink.”
Kanon looked at Reita’s mug. “Your mug is empty already! Where are you going to dip it?!”
“Ah, you’re right…” Reita looked at his own mug. “I’m going to dip it in your drink then.”
“No way! I’m not going to let you do that!” Kanon pulled her cup farther from Reita’s reach frantically and accidentally made her tea spilled a little to the saucer and the table. “Ah, Reita! Look what you’ve done!”
“I didn’t do anything! You pulled your own cup!”
Ruki and Jill chuckled at that. “Wait,” Ruki said as he stood from his chair. “I’ll get a towel.”
Takashima looked at Reita and nodded slowly, showing his gratitude at Reita who purposely changed their topic from the previous complicated one. Reita just smiled and waved it. He then gestured, nodded his head a little toward Aoi.
Takashima turned his head, and with Kouyou, stared at Aoi. The changed topic didn’t bother him even just a little. Aoi did lean his back to the chair, but Aoi didn’t even respond to any of their conversations after.
“Is he asleep?” Kouyou asked.
“Yes,” Takashima replied as he walked closer to Kouyou on the beach. It was the beach where Kouyou and Takashima make THE deal with Aoi. It was the beach where they talked about the ‘sacrifice’ and ‘agreement’ at their first meeting.
The man in black sighed before he spoke again, “I was actually really glad you left the cafe before The Emperor showed himself, Joker. If both of us were inside the fortress that time…” Takashima didn’t finish his words and just clicked his tongue.
“Very dilemmatic, Albi,” Kouyou responded. “One thing, we got advantage from me being outside the fortress that time. But, on the other hand, I regretted it so much I couldn’t prevent The Emperor from exiling our Hunter.”
“At least, we could undo The Emperor’s control by breaking through his fortress. I was wondering, until now, what are we going to do if both of us are in the same side of the fortress. We won’t be able to pierce The Emperor’s pride from just one side.”
“And we couldn’t save our Hunter,” Kouyou said when he stared at the ocean’s far wave.
“The Emperor stayed quiet when I asked about where he exiled our Hunter to. He just told me that our Hunter was at the place he hates the most back then. That moment I realized I have no idea at all about where it was.”
“There’s this fear our Hunter keeps inside himself, Albi. And we don’t know what it is.”
“Do you remember when we faced The Empress?” Takashima asked as he held his black fedora that was moved a little because of the sea wind. “Our Hunter seemed so frustrated with The Empress’ way of thinking.”
“Do you think it had something to do with when the first time we met him?”
“Maybe. But I guess he just won’t answer if we ask him,” Takashima shrugged. “When we first met our Hunter… I… I was really glad that we still got the chance to stop him that time, Joker.” Takashima lowered his head.
“I know, Albi. I know…” Kouyou replied.
A week after Aoi got The Emperor, as usual that morning, the students walked into Visconti-Sforza’s yard to start their class that day. Kanon was one of those crowds. She was talking with her two friends when a male student tapped her shoulder from behind.
Kanon turned her head and startled when she saw who the male student was. Every time she saw the male student, Kanon always took a glimpse to her surroundings: school. The male student had short and black hair… but…
He pierced the right part of his lower lip. His ten nails were painted black. Not even a proper school uniform could cover it all. But still, it seemed like he was exempted from any school rule. “Kan—Sano?” The girl hurriedly corrected her own word.
‘Sano’ was the male student’s family name. Kanon pushed herself to use that name instead of calling him with his first name. Kanon never called the male student with his first name because the male student’s first name was also: Kanon.
Yes, the girl and the boy who were looking into each other that moment had the same first name. Add more to it, they were both members to a same club: chess. But, since the first time they knew each other, the two “Kanons” were never been in good terms.
That was why other students called them ‘step twins’. What irritated the girl more was several of the students in that school actually shipped them together and formed some ‘fan club’ named ‘Kanon x Kanon’. Some other more ‘normal’ students just merely called the girl with ‘-chan’ and the boy with ‘-kun’.
Kanon’s attention then drew to the other two male students behind Kanon-kun. Many people in the school said that those two male students were Kanon-kun’s loyal subordinates. The girl also couldn’t get along with those two boys.
The first one was Tsukiyama Miku. He was blonde, and there was a piercing at the middle of his lower lip. Miku loved to wear colourful accessories. Today, he wore a black cap, layered with colourful scarf. The bright boy seemed always smiling all the time.
Beside Miku was Nagano Teruki. His brown hair fell straight touched his shoulder. Instead of somewhere around his mouth, he pierced his earlobe and it almost invisible because of his hair. Teruki didn’t wear anything colourful. He’s just… Teruki.
“Yeah, yeah, good morning to you too.” Kanon-kun smirked.
“What do you want?” The girl asked.
“How unfriendly.” Kanon-kun still smiled. “I just want to remind you to come to the club later.”
“I don’t need you to remind me.”
“Oh, that’s good then.” The boy tidied his hair. “Then, since we’ve met now…”
“What else?” Kanon turned her body to face the boy completely. The boy in front of him ever stole something precious from her, and that day, Kanon was not going to let something like that happen again. Kanon didn’t really bring her pawns that day, but still.
“I challenge you.” The boy startled Kanon. “Let’s play chess.”
“And what for?!”
“So that I can make sure of your victory.”
The boy looked straight to Kanon’s eyes, this time without smiling. “You’ve did beat me in chess tournament. But I won’t admit your victory just yet. I think it was mere coincidence. You’re just lucky that time.”
“That’s why, to prove that you only depend on your luck, let’s have a rematch.” The boy smiled again. “After this, I’ll verify that you’re no better than your luck. If you lose, you have to give your victory trophy to me.”
“Hey, what’s that?! You can’t do that!” One of Kanon’s friends complained.
“Don’t defend her.” Kanon-kun rolled his eyes. “So? Are you in?”
“This rematch is useless.” Kanon turned her head away from the boy. “Come one, Girls,” Kanon said as she walked away from Kanon-kun and the other two boys. Her two friends instantly followed her leaving the boys.
“Boss, I guess she’s scared.” Miku chuckled.
“Oh, so you’re scared!” The words halted Kanon’s step. “You’re scared that people might find out that you won the tournament because of mere luck?” Kanon-kun sniggered. “So, that’s the best you can do. You played in the tournament only depended on your l—”
“I accept your challenge!” Kanon cut suddenly turned around to face the boy and held up her fist.
Smiling, the boy ended his blabbering. “OK. I’ll choose the time, and you can choose the place,” Kanon-kun said as he stretched his hand to his right and Teruki automatically put a small agenda book on Kanon-kun’s palm.
“What?!” Kanon blinked. “Why don’t we just do it later at the club?”
“No, please don’t. I don’t really need too many attentions. The other students might come and cheer for me,” the boy said as he opened the small agenda book on his hand. “You know I have many fans. Are you ready letting them see your face after I defeat you later?”
Kanon fisted her palms and gritted her teeth. The girls behind her were whispering, talking about the boy. Kanon could slightly catch them saying something like “self-centred”, “narcissi”, and something else among the whisperings.
“When do you want to do rematch?” the girl asked.
“Ah.” Kanon-kun read one page in his small agenda book. “This evening. After the club activity,” the boy answered as he closed the small agenda book with thud sound, startling Kanon. “There. The school is closed for every evening, so, you can choose any other place.”
Kanon lowered her head. Her gaze focused to the stoned-road under her shoes, while her brain worked to find a perfect place to deal with the boy. Then, Kanon gazed back at the boy, and without any hesitation, she answered, “Fortezza Café.”
Chapter 13: Duality
The smile hadn’t returned to the boy’s face. That evening, at the café, Aoi was looking at Kanon who’s just sat there, without saying anything, in front of Takashima and Kouyou, at their usual table.
“What café?” The boy lost his smile again. He narrowed his eyes after he heard the café’s name.
“If you don’t know about the place, I can write the address down for you,” Kanon said.
The smile hadn’t returned to the boy’s face. There he said, “OK, whatever, up to you. You can even draw the map from this school to the café if you want to. I hope I can get the address and everything at the club later.”
“Deal,” Kanon replied. That time, the one who smiled was Kanon. But not until she saw Kanon-kun and his subordinates turned their around and walked away from Kanon and her friends. “Uuurgh..! He. Is. SO. Annoying!” Kanon stomped her feet.
“I don’t get him. He acted like he can have everything. Weirdo,” the girl’s friends commented about the boy. “Kanon-chan, are you sure you want to accepted his challenge? Of course I know you’ll win the game again. But—”
“I HAVE to accept his challenge.” Kanon fisted her palm. “I have to make him stop acting like this.”
“But, Kanon-chan, you know what kind of person Sano is, don’t you?”
“I know.” Kanon sighed. “But, if no one want to stop him, he will always think that no one mind his attitude,” the girl said. “At least, if there is someone wants to fight him, it might make him think that he’s not that superior in this school.”
That evening, at the café, Aoi was looking at Kanon who’s just sat there, without saying anything, in front of Takashima and Kouyou, at their usual table. Beside Aoi, Hiroto started to question the girl’s behaviour, “What’s wrong with her? She keeps pouting all the time.”
“I don’t know.” Aoi shrugged. “Since she arrived, she didn’t say a word. She didn’t even return my greeting when she entered this café. She just walked to the table and threw her bag to the chair,” Aoi explained as he looked at the innocent school bag on the chair beside Kanon.
“She even shocked Takashima-san when she threw her bag.” Hiroto chuckled. “Ah, Kanon-chan hasn’t sung her usual order, has she?” Hiroto asked again. “She always did that every time she ordered her usual tea.”
Aoi shook his head. “I’ll ask her.”
“Tell her also, when she pouts, her cheek looks puffer than usual.” Hiroto chuckled again before he left Aoi to the kitchen at the back of the café. There, Aoi returned his gaze to the girl, and sighed before he took his small note book.
Aoi walked closer to the table, and made the girl turned her head to face him. Not long, Kanon diverted her gaze again. The girl closer her eyes, and exhaled a long sigh. There, she still didn’t say a word, not even anything about her tea.
“Today’s so gloomy,” Aoi started.
“As you can see…” Kanon shrugged.
“It’s pretty weird seeing the usually-cheerful-you looking gloomy like this,” Takashima followed.
“As you can see…” the girl repeated.
“Want to play chess?” Takashima tried to cheer the girl but Aoi and Kouyou glanced at him. “What?”
“Since when do you play chess?” Aoi asked.
“Daaarrliiinng? Why are you questioning your handsome loveeerr?? Don’t you believe I can actually play cheeses?? Not good, but I caaann!” Takashima hugged Aoi’s waist and tears trickling down his face from behind his sunglasses.
“I’m not in the mood,” Kanon answered and silenced Takashima.
Aoi slowly pushed Takashima’s head until the flamboyant man in black let him go. “Hey, Kanon...” Aoi called carefully. “Do you want your usual tea?” Aoi asked, and the girl nodded. “OK. Wait for a moment. I’ll let Hiroto-kun know.”
After a pair of lover left, there was only the affogato-guy stayed in the cafe. The brunette guy – beside always ordered a cup of affogato – was always writing, or typing. He sometimes brought books with him. But most of the times, he always busied himself with his laptop.
That evening was no exception. He was typing on his laptop when Aoi took a glance at him. From his position, Aoi could see a small piercing at the left part of his lower lip. But it was not only Aoi who could pay attention to the guy.
In return, the affogato-guy could also do the same thing. His gaze left his laptop for a moment and gazed back at Aoi. Startled, Aoi averted his glance and returned it to the table where his friends sat. There, Kanon didn’t even touch her cup.
“Is there something bothering you?” Aoi guessed carefully. “At school? Maybe?”
Sighing, the girl started to speak. “Do you guys remember about the person who stole my Queen Pawn?”
“Is it that annoying boy who threw your pawn away?” Takashima asked, and Kanon nodded. “Did he do something again to you today, Kanon dear? What did he do this time? He didn’t steal anything again, did he?”
“Should I felt relieved because he didn’t do something like that again this time, or should I felt more cautious because he did something weirder today?” Kanon asked. Kouyou, Takashima, and Aoi exchanged glances toward each other before they looked back at Kanon.
“What… did… he… do… this time?”Aoi asked, more carefully.
“Maybe, I should felt relieved. Right. Relieved. I didn’t bring my pawns again today so maybe those were why he didn’t do anything this time. I don’t know.” Kanon shrugged. “You guys know how precious those pawns are for me.”
“So?” Aoi asked even more carefully.
“Ha challenged me to play chess.”
“EH?!” Takashima and Aoi said in unison. “After what he did to you, now he challenged you to play chess?” Takashima asked in high tone. “What is his name again? Who is he?! Why is an annoying person like him existed in the first place?”
“Takashima, voice down.” Aoi looked around him when he saw Hiroto took a peek from the kitchen.
“I… I’m sorry, Darling.”
“Yes, Kanon dear. We already know your n—”
“No, you’re asking me about his name. It’s HIS name,” Kanon cut Takashima’s words.
“Wha..?” Aoi frowned.
The girl sighed. “Yes. We’re both Kanon. I’m Wakeshima Kanon, and he’s Sano Kanon,” she explained.
“You seemed... annoyed,” Takashima commented.
“Why shouldn’t I?!”
“But, I have to admit. He has the courage to do something like that,” Aoi said.
“What courage?” Kanon asked.
“I didn’t expect a junior would have the courage to challenge his senior.”
“‘Junior’?” This time, Kanon frowned.
There, Aoi hesitated. “He… he’s not your junior? I mean… when I found the pawn in second year class—”
“Oh, no, no. We’re both third graders, though not in the same class,” Kanon said. “I guess he just threw the pawn at a random place, maybe because the second year classes were already empty that moment. Maybe he threw it after the club activity was already over that day.”
“That boy… Sano Kanon. Is there any other thing he can do besides disturbing you?” Takashima asked.
“That’s the point!” Kanon retorted suddenly that made Takashima jumped a little in his chair. “He’s SO childish. He’s not satisfied yet with the chess tournament result! He thinks that my victory in the game was just a coincidence!”
“Oh, dear. He annoys me too now.” Takashima rubbed his temple.
“Told you!” Kanon said. “He said he wanted a rematch to make sure my victory! Gosh, I hate him!”
“When is the rematch?” Kouyou asked – finally talked.
“Eh?!” Takashima startled again. “Night? I thought you’re going to have the rematch at school.”
“It’s weird, isn’t it?” Kanon questioned. “He said he didn’t want to have the rematch at school because he didn’t want to get too many attentions from his fans.” The girl sneered. “How annoying. That’s why I’m here now.”
“Here? You mean?” Aoi asked.
“We’re going to have the rematch here, Aoi. I can’t think of any other places but this café. Moreover, when you guys are around—” The girl looked at Aoi, Takashima, and Kouyou. “—it might make him abandon any of his other ridiculous intentions, in case he has it, and whatever it is.”
“I see…” Aoi nodded.
Kanon bowed at Aoi. “I’m sorry because it looks like I’m going to cause a fuss here tonight.”
“Don’t worry, Kanon dear! We’ll support you of course!” Takashima cheered.
“Wakeshima-san,” Kouyou called suddenly.
“Can you cancel the rematch?”
“I really want to, Kouyou,” the girl said. “This rematch sounded so ridiculous, I know. But I don’t like the way his friends talked about me. They said I refuse to do the rematch because I was scared to Kan—I mean, Sano.”
“His friends?” Takashima asked in a low voice. That time, he lowered his gaze, and frowned.
“Wh… what’s wrong?” Aoi asked.
“You didn’t bet anything, did you, Wakeshima-san?”
“No! Of course I didn’t do that!” Kanon confirmed. “Why would I do that? I won’t do that. Just to face someone like Kano—uuurrgh..! Why must we have same name?!” The girl ran her hands through her hair. “No, I won’t bet ANYTHING with him. Even a broken thing in the warehouse was still too precious for him.”
“Kanon dear, is the boy active in school organizations?” Takashima asked.
“H… how do you know?” Kanon asked that made Takashima and Kouyou changed glances. “He’s the chess club vice president. He’s one of the Student Council’s advisors. He’s also the leader in his class,” Kanon sighed.
“I see…” Takashima hummed.
“He just loves to boast it all the time in front of everyone. I’m so glad we don’t share the same class. What annoyed me more, many students praised him! Can’t they see how boastful and annoying he is?!” Kanon complained. “Annoying rich boy.”
“Rich?” Takashima asked again. “Kanon dear, you said that he wanted to make sure your victory?”
“It seems like he still has the grudge toward his defeat. Stealing and losing Wakeshima-san’s most precious item is still not enough for him,” Kouyou commented as he and Takashima, again, exchanged glances.
“Both of you, stop changing glances like that,” Aoi said. “Are you guys doing some telepathy?” Aoi was startled when he heard a bell. He turned his head to the sound source and sighed when he found out the bell sound didn’t come from inside his head, not because of Arcana Powers.
The affogato-guy stood near the counter and his hand stayed on the table beside the bell that was usually used to call the waiters. “Right away, Sir,” Aoi said as he walked to the counter and took care of the customer.
“I’m sorry for disturbing you,” said the affogato-guy. “Looks like the girl is having a trouble?”
“No, Sir. We’re very sorry for being too noisy.” Aoi bowed.
“No, no, no! Don’t be! Really.” The affogato-guy waved his hands. “I’m done for today anyway.” He smiled generously as he took his wallet out and paid for his two cups of affogato. “I always love your affogato. Thank you for that.”
“Oh…” It made Aoi blushed slightly. The affogato-guy just smiled at that and nodded a little before he walked toward the café’s front door. “Thank you very much for visiting the café, Sir!” He bowed again before the affogato-guy left the café.
“What time will you have the rematch here?” Takashima asked to the girl.
Just when Kanon opened her mouth to answer, not long after the affogato-guy left, someone opened the café’s front door again. Kanon, Takashima, Kouyou, and even Aoi, who was still at the counter, turned their heads toward the door.
“Tadaima,” Ruki said that made the four people sighed. “What? What’s with your faces?”
“Okaerinasai, Matsumoto-san,” Aoi bowed.
“Ruki-saaann! Okaeriii!” Kanon greeted – suddenly – cheerfully as she rose from her seat and ran toward the café’s owner. Behind Aoi, after he heard Kanon’s cheerful voice, Hiroto took a peep from the kitchen’s door and greeted Ruki also.
“Good evening, Aoi. Hey, there, Kanon-chan. Yo, Hiroto-kun!” Ruki greeted. Near Ruki’s feet, Koron barked once as he wiggled at Kouyou and Takashima, made Takashima took a hold of Kouyou. “Oh, hello to you guys too, Kouyou and Takashima.”
“Hey, Koron!” Kanon kneeled and reached for the dog, carried him in her embrace after.
“Finally, she can be cheerful again.” Takashima smiled.
“Cheerful?” Ruki asked. “What happened?” Ruki looked at Kanon who fell silent again. “Ugh… oops?”
“Matsumoto-san,” Kouyou called as he stood up. “I think, the sooner you close this café this evening the better.”
“Eh?!” Aoi startled. “Kouyou, what’s wrong actually? What are you and Takashima thinking all the time?”
“What? Why all of the sudden?” Ruki took a glance to people around him. When his gaze fell on Hiroto, the person only shook his head and shrugged. “Can any of you guys speak in any language normal human can understand?”
“Kouyou, Takashima, tell me,” Aoi urged. “It’s Arcana, isn’t it?” Aoi stared at them.
“Eh?! You mean, Sano Kanon is… possessed?!” Kanon asked disbelievingly.
“Aaah, now that I remember about something. Hiroto-kun,” Ruki called as he immediately walked toward Hiroto. “Can you help me? I was thinking about some new recipe—” Ruki pulled Hiroto’s elbow and both of them entered the kitchen.
“What Power is it this time, Kouyou, Takashima?” Aoi asked after Hiroto was nowhere near them.
Kouyou answered. “The Hierophant.”
“Wa… wait a minute! We’ve been talk about this before,” Kanon was suspicious. “The Hierophant is—”
“Ah!” Aoi shrieked as he held his head. He heard another bell sound, and this time, the sound didn’t come from around the counter. Aoi clicked his tongue when he listened to the bell sound that came from inside his head.
“Darling!” Takashima stood and reached his Hunter. “Is it the bell sound again?” He circled his arm around Aoi’s shoulder when Aoi nodded. “Any number already appeared?” He carefully caressed his Hunter hair when Aoi closed his eyes.
Aoi waited. Frowned, Aoi saw a smoke floated inside the darkness behind his closed eyes. “It’s not very clear this time…” Aoi said when, in his mind, he saw the smoke moving. “It’s changing shape… it looks like… letter ‘V’.”
“Five,” Kouyou said as he walked closer to the café’s front door. “It’s Romanian number five. It’s The Hierophant’s number indeed.” From the café’s window, Kouyou saw three male students walked toward the café. “It’s them.”
“Them?!” Kanon turned around and looked outside the window. “It’s them!” Kanon shouted. “The one in the middle is Sano Kanon. The two beside him are Tsukiyama Miku, and Nagano Teruki. They’re Sano’s subordinates!”
“‘Subordinates’, aye… he came in full force.” Takashima smiled. “I didn’t expect that. Hierophant would actually bring his minors along with him.” The flamboyant man in black then looked at Aoi. “Darling, are you alright?”
“Do you know any wide space around this café, Darling?”
“What?” Aoi asked. “What do you mean?”
“Like, parking lot, a yard, or anything alike?” Kouyou asked as he held both of his Hunter’s shoulder.
“Th… there’s a park near here… is that included?”
“Yes! Show us the way, Darling! We’re going to that place! Now! Kanon dear too!” Takashima ordered.
“Bu… but, what about the chess rematch?!” Kanon confused as she put Koron down.
“The chess The Hierophant needs don’t need any pawns, Wakeshima-san.” Kouyou walked before her.
“Eeeh?!” Kanon was shocked and hurriedly followed Kouyou, and Takashima, who pulled Aoi with him.
Not far from there, Kanon-kun stopped his steps and made his two subordinates halted their movements too. While Teruki’s gaze followed Kanon and the other three males, who ran farther from the cafe, Miku told them, “Ah, they ran away.”
“They aren’t,” Kanon-kun disagreed. “They are looking for a more strategist place for the rematch.”
“Where?” Miku asked.
“I don’t know.” Kanon-kun merely shrugged. “But this will be very exciting. Won’t it, Miyavi-san?” Kanon turned his head toward the bench several meters away from where he currently stood, and smiled at someone who sat there.
The tattooed man, Miyavi, exhaled his smoke. “Don’t ask me. Ask him.” Miyavi turned his head toward the person who sat next to him on the same bench. “What do you think? Kai?” Miyavi asked at the person, Kai, who just smiled in silence.
Chapter 14: The Big Game
At the same time, Kanon was still following Kouyou, who was still following Takashima and Aoi. None of them got the chance to say anything more when golden lines appeared in the air around them all.
“Ah, seems like Kai doesn’t want to give any comment yet.” Miyavi sniggered. “Well, anyway, you’ve done well so far, Kanon-kun. We appreciate it very much. Good luck for after this, and we are waiting for some happy ending.”
“Understood.” Kanon-kun turned his palm upward and some golden lines appeared in the air above his hand. “A perfect knowledge won’t be defeated by cheap luck,” the boy said when the lines above his hand moved and linked one another, creating a frame of cube.
At the same time, Kanon was still following Kouyou, who was still following Takashima and Aoi. The Hunter was pointing toward a park in front of them. “We’re almost there,” Aoi said, still in Takashima’s embrace.
“Bu… but, why here?!” Kanon asked behind them.
“Kouyou-chan had told you, hadn’t he?” Takashima asked as they walked to a footpath beside the park. “The chess The Hierophant meant is not going to use any normal pawns pieces. You won’t need mere board either.”
“Then?” Kanon pursued.
“The Hierophant doesn’t move the pawns pieces with his hand. He gives orders,” Kouyou said.
“WHAT?!” The girl gaped. “What kind of chess are you guys talking about?!” Kanon asked even more, but she had to stop her feet when she saw Takashima and Aoi stopped in front of her. That time, they were in the middle of the park.
“Aoi! Kanon-chan!” Ruki called as he ran after them.
“Ruki-san?!” Kanon turned around and saw the café’s owner ran closer to their current place.
“I’ve asked Hiroto to just close the café now before I followed all of you here.” Ruki wiped his sweat.
None of them got the chance to say anything more when golden lines appeared in the air around them all. Points of each golden line met each other and created a cube frame. Cube-shaped gold lines surrounded Aoi and brought up white partition as its sides out of the air.
The lines and partitions were linking one another and enclosed them inside the cube. “Wh… what happened?!” Kanon looked to the giant partitions appeared around them. “It’s trapping us inside! Takashima what’s this?!”
“It’s one of The Hierophant’s spell,” Takashima said as he stared at the partitions. Takashima extended his right hand and a smoke-like black aura came into view around his wrist. The black aura spun around his wrist to his fingertips.
The smoke-like black aura was then forming a shape of a cane. The black aura then turned completely into the black cane Takashima usually brought with him. “As he driving other people away from this arena, he’s making a chess board,” Takashima explained as he held tight his black cane.
“Driving away? Wait a minute… a chess board?! What are you talking about? ‘Making’ a ‘chess board’?!” Kanon asked disbelievingly. “Wait a minute! Don’t you dare tell me that the pawns pieces you meant earlier are—”
“Us,” someone answered behind them. The voice made Kanon, Takashima, Kouyou, Aoi, and Ruki turned their heads toward the voice. The voice owner, Kanon-kun, walked closer to them. At the same time, the white partitions already became one completely, and surrounded them all inside the golden cube frames.
The stoned footpath and the grass at the park under their feet were transformed into black and white checker-patterned floor, the chess arena, inside the cube partitions. It’s pretty big; a person could stand on one colour, like a pawn on one square.
“A chess board?!” Kanon gasped as she glanced at the black and white checker-patterned floor with wide eyes. “Sano…” The girl then turned her head toward Kanon-kun who stopped his step several steps away from her. “You…”
Kanon-kun stopped several steps from the girl. Behind him, Miku, following his leader, stopped behind Kanon-kun and smiling at Teruki who stayed silent all the time without showing any expression at all. “Good evening!” the boy greeted.
“Cut the courtesy. What do you want now?” Kanon asked.
“Don’t be such a rush, Wakeshima.” The boy chuckled. “So, these are your comrades?” Kanon-kun’s gaze fell on Kouyou, Takashima, Ruki, and lastly Aoi. “Let me introduce myself and my comrades to all of you! I’m Sano Kanon, Wakeshima’s schoolmate, and I’m—” The boy smiled. “—The Hierophant’s host.”
“Host..?!” Kanon alarmed.
“A human being with the ability to control the Arcana Power,” Takashima explained in low voice.
“Exactly!” Kanon-kun applauded. “Ah, you’re Takashima-san, I presume?” The boy looked at Takashima. “So, then, if I’m not mistaken, you’re Kouyou-san?” Kanon-kun smiled at the man in red. “The Ones who will inhibit the Arcana Powers’ freedom.”
“We NEVER want to inhibit anyone’s freedom!” Kouyou objected.
“We just don’t want the Arcana Powers to start any riots in this world!” Takashima pointed out.
“And imprison us all in cards?” The boy was still smiling. “Say it not a freedom restraining.”
“Then what are you going to do with the Power within you?” Aoi asked suddenly.
“Ah, you must be the Hunter-san!” Kanon-kun bowed toward Aoi. “All of this time I gathered the information I could get about you without knowing how do you look like actually. I thought the Hunter we’re talking about all this time was a girl!” he explained as he laughed.
“‘We’re talking’?” Aoi frowned. “Who were you talking with? What did that person told you about me?”
“Later on!” Kanon-kun smiled. “Later, Hunter-san can meet with the person. Right now, I want to start the chess rematch with Wakeshima here!” he exclaimed as the boy stretched both of his arms. There, the checker-patterned floor trembled around them.
Slowly, at the two opposite sides of the cube, black and white giant pawns pieces emerged from the checker-patterned floor. Rows of black giant pieces emerged behind Kanon-kun, and the white ones emerged behind Kanon.
Kanon, Ruki, and Aoi were startled when they saw the pieces that even a little bigger than them, and it made Kanon-kun smiled proudly. “Have you ever saw pieces this big, Hunter-san?” The boy looked back at Kanon. “This is how we will do the chess rematch, oh, The High Priestess hostess.”
“I’m NOT a hostess!” Kanon spat. “And what do you mean by doing this kind of chess rematch, Sano?!”
“I just want a little violent match.” The boy swayed his hand, showing the giant pawns pieces around them. “As you can see, the pieces we have here are not completed yet. We lost several of the pieces each from the black and white ones.”
Kanon looked at the giant pawns pieces around them. She found three pieces were missing from each colours. In the white rows behind her, Kanon didn’t see the Queen piece, Bishop, and the Knight piece. While in the black rows behind Kanon-kun, she didn’t see the King piece, Rook, and one pawn at the left most of the board.
“What do you mean with all of this, Sano?” the girl asked with gritted teeth.
“He means this!” Miku cheered as he ran toward the empty space where the Rook piece should be standing, at the right part of the chess arena. “Except for the Twin Kanons, WE are ALL pieces here!” Miku explained with wide smile as Teruki walked at his pace toward the empty space for the pawn at the left part of the chess arena.
“What?!” Kanon almost shrieked.
“We have to be very careful,” Kouyou warned them all. “I’m pretty sure, compared to anyone here; you are the one who knows The Hierophant’s host best, Wakeshima-san. He’s currently synchronizing with The Hierophant’s cleverness.”
“This won’t be easy,” Takashima added. “This chess match will be a little radical.”
“Radical?!” Aoi asked warily.
“Look, Darling.” Takashima embraced Aoi’s shoulder with one hand as he pointed toward the black Queen piece with his other hand that was holding the black cane. “Avoid that piece. She is the Queen of Tyranny.”
Aoi looked at the black Queen piece. Rather than a queen, she looked like an armoured knight woman. She wore an iron helmet and both of her hands were holding a sword, which was pointing downward. If it was not for the crown she wore, Aoi won’t see her as the Queen.
“But this is not fair.” Kanon-kun lost his smile as he pouted. He scanned the people around the girl in front of him one by one from Aoi, Ruki, Kouyou, to Takashima. “Wakeshima there has four comrades, while I only have two.”
“Yeah, yeah! It’s not fair!” Miku agreed.
“You have to give one of your comrades to my side to create a fair play, Wakeshima.” While the boy was saying those, his eyes stopped at Aoi. He smiled when he saw the Hunter blinked. Kanon-kun then pointed a finger toward Aoi.
Kouyou was startled when he saw the direction The Hierophant was pointing at. “NO!!” Kouyou stretched his hand but he could never reach for his Hunter. Aoi was suddenly disappeared from where he stood among his friends.
It also startled Takashima, Ruki, and Kanon when they saw Aoi had been teleported and appeared at the empty spot among the black pieces rows behind Kanon-kun. There, Aoi stood at the black King position, right beside the black Queen.
“Wh… what..?” Aoi looked around him and it shocked him when he found he was standing among the black pieces that were currently surrounding him. When he heard an iron-clinking sound, Aoi turned his head, and gasped as he looked at the black Queen was turning her head toward him.
“Now it’s already balanced!” Miku jumped at his spot and laughed.
“No!” Aoi screamed. “What’s this? Why am I here?! How can I be here?” He looked far in front of him. “Kouyou! Takashima!” Aoi stretched his arm toward the two men, but suddenly the black Queen beside him swung her sword in front of Aoi and prevented him from leaving his spot.
“You can’t leave your position unless I ask you to, Hunter-san,” Kanon-kun explained. “Don’t forget that you’re on my side now.” The boy smiled before he waved his hand at Ruki, Takashima, and Kouyou. “Now, please, take your places, Gentlemen.”
Again, it startled the girl when suddenly Ruki, Kouyou, and Takashima disappeared from around her. Like what happened to Aoi before, the three men were teleported and appeared at the empty spots, this time among the white pieces.
Ruki stood as the right Bishop, Takashima as the left Knight, and Kouyou stood at the white Queen’s spot. Kouyou, watching the place where he stood at, instantly looked at Aoi. Sooner or later, he had to kill Aoi on that chess arena.
His heart beat fast inside the man in red’s chest. Aoi looked at him without any word slipped from his lips. Kouyou could see Aoi still tried to stretch his hand toward him but the black Queen held his shoulder tight with her iron-gloved hand.
“Hierophant, you scoundrel!” Kouyou cursed as his eyes red aura burned. “You did this on purpose!”
“Did what?” Kanon-kun chuckled. “You don’t have to be afraid if you believe in Wakeshima, do you?”
“I’ll defeat you again!” the girl shouted at Kanon-kun. “Let’s bet!”
“Kanon dear, don’t!” Takashima tried to stop her.
But Kanon didn’t listen to Takashima. “If I win,” she started. “You have to entrust your freedom to Aoi!” The girl’s words made the smile on Kanon-kun’s face disappeared. “That is if you’re not scared enough to accept the bet.”
“Fine.” The smile returned to the boy’s face. “Then, if I win, Joker has to entrust Hunter’s protection to someone else.” Kanon-kun looked at Kouyou, and Takashima, before he looked at Aoi behind him. “Oh, look at those faces.” He laughed.
“What. Do. You. Mean. Sano?!” Kanon almost yelled at him.
“I’ll explain that later after I win this game.” The boy wiped the tear from his eyes for too much laughing. “Now, as you can see, I’ve let you have the white pieces. You have the honour to start the game first. So, whatever happens in this game after you move your first pawn, it’ll be your entire responsibility, Wakeshima.”
The girl was infuriated. She fisted her palms tight. “FINE. I’m not afraid! I’m not going to lose any way!”
“Good, then, let’s start this.” Kanon-kun.
Takashima turned his head toward his counterpart. “Kouyou-chan…”
“Shut up.” Kouyou gritted his teeth when he saw the boy walked closer to his black pieces, and Kanon walked closer to the white ones. “You know Wakeshima-san doesn’t have any other choice than playing along the game, Albi.”
“Yes,” Takashima replied with mere whisper. “I know… I know…” Takashima returned his gaze toward his Hunter. There Aoi stood, head hung low, made his bangs covered his face. He no longer held up his hand toward them like he did before.
“Wakeshima will move first!” Kanon-kun shouted. “You don’t have to move the pieces literally. They’re heavy.” The boy chuckled. “You know about chess movement notation, don’t you, Wakeshima? Try this. You just have to say the notation, and those pieces will move on its own.”
“Ah, before that, of course Wakeshima knows about ‘x’ is for capturing, ‘+’ is for a check and ‘#’ is for a checkmate,” Kanon-kun added. “I hope this chess notations won’t confuse you, Gentlemen.” The boy smiled at Aoi and the others.
“This is crazy…” Kanon whispered to herself. She inhaled deep as she looked at her white pawns. “h3!” the girl called. With a tremor, the white pawn in front of the right Rook shifted from its previous position, and moved one step forward.
“See? It’s so easy, isn’t it?” Kanon-kun smiled. “b6”, he said and the black pawn beside Teruki moved one step forward. There, they started the game. Both Kanons kept saying the chess movement notation and moved each of their pawns.
One time, Kanon-kun called his black Bishop, and it moved diagonally on the chess arena, and it made the girl gasped. “He moved his Bishop too fast…” she whispered it to herself. “Something’s not right. He changed his way of playing this game.”
“Just to remind you, I bet you know your pawns can get promotions if they reach their higher rank, or their farthest movement in the board. There, you can change your pawns to any other pieces you want,” the boy explained.
Though it’s the same chess, it’s still different because Kanon couldn’t see the board from above. She was now at the even level with the pieces’ positions. Moreover, those pieces were bigger than her. “Can I walk around this board?” she asked.
“Yes, of course you can.” The boy smiled.
Didn’t spend too many times, Kanon walked around the giant chess board and looked around the pieces’ positions. Once in awhile, she took a glimpse at Kouyou, Takashima, Ruki, and Aoi. There, Kanon called her pawns again, Kanon-kun followed, and they continued the game again.
“g4,” she called then and made the white pawn moved two steps forward.
“Do you sacrifice your pawn on purpose, Wakeshima?” the boy asked, still smiling. “I’ll play along then… hxg, h pawn captures g pawn,” he called and made one of his black pawn moved diagonally to eat Kanon’s lastly moved white pawn.
The ‘head’ of the black pawn looked like it was split into two horizontally, revealing sharp teeth inside it. The girl gasped when she saw the black pawn actually had ‘mouth’, and had ‘sharp teeth’ inside its ‘mouth’.
What shocked them after was the black pawn, that was closing its gap toward Kanon’s lastly moved white pawn, literally ATE and SWALLOWED the white pawn. Aoi even had to close his eyes from the scene.
Watching the scene, the girl covered her mouth, and Ruki gasped. Takashima cursed under his breath and Kouyou sent his entire hatred from his eyes toward The Hierophant inside the boy’s body. Kanon-kun laughed his lungs out.
“Don’t worry, Joker-san! It’s just a pawn!” The boy held his stomach as he kept laughing. “Or else, like I’ve said before, ANYONE on this board can blame Wakeshima if anything bad happens to ANYONE!” Kanon-kun pointed his finger toward Kanon.
“I’ll protect my friends!” the girl retorted before she looked back at the entire pieces around her. Kanon moved her left Bishop, and following the move, the boy moved the black Queen. It made the black Queen had to pull his sword away from Aoi, and even she had to move herself away from her King.
Finally moving his friend, Kanon-kun smiling, called, “Miku h7.”
“Yahoo!” Miku answered as he hopped one step forward.
Kanon looked at Miku who moved as one of the black Rooks at the right part of the board. She looked around the pieces and found one opportunity to lessen her opponent’s pieces amount. “fxg, f pawn captures g pawn!” Kanon called.
The ‘eating’ scene was repeated. The girl had to look away when her white pawn opened its ‘mouth’ and showed that sharp teeth before it started to eat one of the boy’s black pawn. After Kanon didn’t hear any munching sound, she returned her gaze to her white pawn.
It stood right where the previous black pawn stood. The captured black pawn was nowhere to be found on the board. “This is crazy…” The girl repeated the phrase before she heaved a long sigh. Kanon looked around her again and continued the game.
Second movement after that, Kanon-kun suddenly called for his friend again, “Miku h8.” Miku returned to his previous position, and made the girl frowned at the boy, the schoolmate who was now standing there as her opponent.
Again, she repeated her own said phrase to herself, “Something’s not right…” Kanon looked around her and whispered to herself again, “It seemed like he wants to frame me.” Gasped, the girl closed her eyes and shook her head.
“No, concentrate…” Kanon whispered again. She opened her eyes and continued the game. After she moved two times, Kanon-kun suddenly moved his pawn to capture one of the girl’s white pawns. Cursing, Kanon avenged and moved her other pawn to eat the black pawn that was just ate her one.
The boy then moved one of his black Knight pieces before he moved his black Queen piece for his next three movements. “Sano moved his Queen too much…” the girl still whispered to herself before she looked behind her, and called Ruki for the first time, “Ruki-san g2!”
Moving by itself, Ruki’s feet took him diagonally one step to his front-right spot. The movement made Kanon-kun smiled before he moved his other black pawn, drawing Kanon’s attention. “This is it… exf, e pawn capture g pawn!” the girl called.
“DON’T!!” Takashima yelled.
The yelling made Kanon turned around and looked at Ruki’s position. Right before she could do anything, she heard the boy called, “Bxg2, Bishop at b, capture Ruki-san’s position at g2.” The said black Bishop moved in high speed diagonally toward Ruki.
It slammed Ruki so hard; Ruki was thrown away from the chess arena, out from the cube that was partitioned from the world outside. “Ruki-san!!” Kanon screamed. “Matsumoto-san!!” Aoi shrieked at the same time.
Chapter 15: Capture
Because of the white partitions around the chess-boarded floor, Kanon couldn’t chase after Ruki. The girl stared at Takashima and Kouyou before she turned her head and looked at Aoi.
Because of the white partitions around the chess arena, Kanon couldn’t chase after Ruki. She couldn’t even see what happened in their real world outside the partitions. The girl could only lean both of her hands to the partitions.
“Ruki-san!” Kanon called. “Ruki-san!”
“You want to see him?” The boy’s voice stopped her from calling the café’s owner any further. “Face me. After I win, the partitions will automatically open, and you can leave the chess board.” Kanon-kun smiled. “There you can see him.”
“What if I win?” the girl asked with fainted growl in her voice. If she could, Kanon would have gripped the partitions tight inside both of her palms. “Are these partitions will shrink and clamp me until I die inside?”
“Well, generally, anyone who win the game can open the partitions,” the boy explained. “But I’m not sure you can win the game.” Kanon-kun smiled. “You’ve lost one of your comrades, and I can’t guarantee you can still concentrate now.”
“We’ll proof that on this chess board.” The girl walked back to the centre of the chess arena, near her white pawns pieces. “Takashima, Kouyou,” Kanon called as she looked toward the two men. “I’m not going to let him harm you, and Aoi.”
“Do your best, Kanon dear,” Takashima replied. “If you need any sacrifices from us, just do it.”
“Just save Aoi-san,” Kouyou cut her words. “That is the only thing we can ask you.”
The girl stared at Takashima and Kouyou before she turned her head and looked at Aoi. Kanon gasped when she found Aoi stared back at her, frowning. His face was pale, and he was heaving. The Hunter hadn’t done anything, but the situation had pacing his adrenaline.
The girl looked back at Takashima and Kouyou. “I understand.” Kanon nodded before she scanned the entire black and white pawns pieces left on the board around her. “Rxg2, Rook move to g2, capture the Bishop!” the girl called and the white Rook piece beside her moved one step forward fast.
It hit the black Bishop that hit Ruki before, and threw Ruki out from the arena. The hit was so hard the black Bishop was shattered until it turned into dust shards. Something below the chess arena absorbed the black dust shards until the board was clean again from any of it.
After that, at his next move, the boy moved his last black Bishop to move one step diagonally. The piece stopped right in front Aoi, as if the Bishop was protecting its King. Aoi tried to move his feet to run, but he was stuck tight to the floor.
Several movements after that, the girl moved her other white pawn to EAT Kanon-kun’s last black Bishop. Counterattacking, the boy called for one of his black Knight piece. The black Knight piece transformed into a ‘perfect’ four legged horse statue made from stone.
The black stone horse statue ran toward the latest moved white pawn. After the black stone horse statue was close enough from the white pawn, the black stone horse statue neighed and lifted both of its front legs.
The black stone horse statue stepped on the white pawn and crushed it. Again, the dust shards were absorbed into the chess arena until the it was clean from the shards. Another revenge Kanon showed by moving her other white pawn and letting it EAT Kanon-kun’s other black pawn.
“You are really a cold-blooded player.” The boy smiled as he moved his other piece, drawing the girl’s attention toward the black Queen. It hadn’t returned any closer to where Aoi stood. But when she looked back to her own white King, it was also vulnerable.
Kanon looked around her again and some positions on the board made her blinked. She looked at Takashima who nodded at her. “Do it, Kanon dear…” Takashima whispered under his breath. The girl was only convincing herself but it looked like they had telepathy when the Kanon nodded.
Kanon immediately called, “gxh, pawn g captures piece at h!”
“Uh-oh!” Miku jumped out from the board right when the white pawn was about to EAT him alive.
“Promotion to the white pawn.”
“What?” Kanon looked upward, searching for the source of the voice. “Who’s that?”
Miku’s chuckling sound took back the girl’s attention. “I don’t want to get bitten! I don’t want that cruel white pawn to eat me! I don’t want to get munched! I’m going first! Buh-bye!” Miku jumped out from the partitions, leaving the chess arena.
“Wh… hey!” Kanon was furious. “It’s unfair…” Kanon looked back at Kanon-kun. “You’re so unfair…”
“But why?” asked the boy. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Why didn’t you tell me from the beginning that the endangered pieces could actually leave the board?!”
“I forgot. I’m sorry.” Kanon-kun smiled as he showed his fake regret. “I was just too excited with this game I forgot to tell you about that. Don’t get too angry. I think you can understand, can’t you? I’m still human being who—”
“If something bad happen to Ruki-san, I won’t forgive you, Sano.”
“Now, now.” The boy chuckled. “Stop thinking about vengeance all the time, Wakeshima. You heard it, didn’t you? One of your pawns had reached its highest rank, the farthest part of the board. Congratulation, your said pawn got promotion!”
“Where did that voice come from?” the girl asked.
Kanon-kun shrugged. “Somewhere from inside this cube.”
Not getting any expected answer from the boy, Kanon then looked at her promoted pawn. “Queen,” the girl requested. The floor beneath the said white front pawn shone. From the shining floor, emerged white aura that spun upward, making it looked like a small tornado.
The spinning aura covered the promoted white pawn. After the aura stopped spinning, the promoted white pawn already transformed. But, instead of transforming into the Queen piece like the boy had among his black pieces, it transformed into Kouyou.
“What?!” Kanon looked at Kouyou in front of her. When she turned around, she saw Kouyou stood behind her too, still on his position, since the girl hadn’t call Kouyou yet to make any move. There were TWO Kouyous on the chess arena.
Aoi was more than shocked at the fact of two Kouyous existed on the board. He looked at one Kouyou far in front of him, among the white pieces before he looked at the ‘other’ Kouyou who, had just appeared and stood near him.
They were only two steps separated from each other. This ‘one’ Kouyou was so close to him. If only the black Knight piece didn’t stood between them, and if only his feet didn’t stuck tight to the floor, preventing him from making even just a single move from his spot, the Hunter could actually stretch his arm toward the man in red.
“Kou…” Aoi called when he saw the man looked back at him straight in the eye. The Hunter returned his gaze toward the other Kouyou who looked back at him with the exact similar way. The red aura around their eyes even glow the same.
“Why are those two Kouyous, Sano?!” Kanon snapped.
“You were requesting Queen Piece to replace your promoted pawn, Wakeshima. And, voila! Kouyou-san stands as your Queen piece, doesn’t he? So, technically, when you requested for ‘Queen’, you’re actually requested for HIM!”
The girl gripped her hair tight with both of her fists. The positive thing from Ruki had been thrown outside the arena was she didn’t have to add more sacrifice from her friends. But after another ‘Kouyou’ had been added to the board, the probability of friend-sacrificing had been added too.
Kanon covered her face with both of her hands and screamed. “YOU! Sano Kanon!” The girl pointed a finger toward the boy. “I swear to anything in this world! If anything bad happens to my friends, I’ll make you experience the same thing!”
“Kanon…” Aoi gasped at that.
“Hey, hey. Seems like you’re over-charged today, Wakeshima.” The boy giggled. “But, I think it’ll be better if you pay more attentions toward your pieces… Qe4+, my Queen, move to e4, check!” Kanon-kun called, moving his black Queen piece diagonally.
Kanon saw the black Queen piece stopped three steps in front of her white King piece. “Don’t underestimate me!” the girl shouted. “I knew you would take that step!” Kanon then moved her Rook piece to protect her King from the black Queen.
After that, the boy made another move that placed the girl’s King in another check.
Kanon finally moved her white King to protect him. After Kanon-kun moved another piece, the girl moved one of her Rook piece to crash one of the boy’s pawns.
Kanon immediately looked at one of Kanon-kun’s black Knight Piece, and the boy caught that. “I see that you can already predict my next move.” He smiled and called the said Knight piece. The black Knight piece transformed again into black stone horse statue and ran toward the girl’s latest moved Rook piece.
After the black stone horse statue stepped on Kanon’s white Rook piece until it crushed, the horse statue returned to black Knight Piece shape. “And I think you can also predict this, Sano!” Kanon called her white Bishop piece and crash the latest moved black Knight Piece.
Destruction happened again on the chess arena. That moment, the boy lost his smile. He called Teruki to move, but it didn’t change the situation until it was the girl’s turn again to move her piece. She looked at Aoi with sad eyes.
“Wh… what..?” Aoi was suspicious.
“I’m sorry, Aoi.” Kanon bowed at him before she called ‘the’ Kouyou who still stood among the white pieces. Kouyou moved diagonally and Kanon said, “Check.” The girl knew Kanon-kun would move his pawn to protect Aoi as his King.
“I know, Sano,” Kanon said. “Though it seems like you want to oppose me against my friends, though it seems like you want us to hurt each other, you will still do anything to win, won’t you?” The girl smiled. “Kouyou xc6, capture the pawn in c6!” she called again.
There, the red aura suddenly burned around Kouyou’s right palm. Kouyou ran toward the black pawn that positioned on c6 and punched it until the black pawn was crushed. “Check!” Kanon shouted when there was no other pawn blocked this ‘one’ Kouyou from Aoi.
“Are you sacrificing your own comrade, Wakeshima? Qxc6, Queen, slay him who stood on c6!”
“Kouyou!” Aoi screamed.
“Kouyou, jump! NOW!” the girl warned him.
Hearing those shouts, Kouyou immediately jumped out from the arena, right when the black Queen moved toward where he stood earlier. The man in red watched with wide eyes when the black Queen swung her sword and made her blade crashed with the checker-patterned floor.
Kanon gasped when she saw the floor cracked under the black Queen’s blade. When the girl turned her head, she saw the ‘one’ Kouyou disappeared from outside the chess arena like a smoke, leaving only one Kouyou who still stood near Aoi.
“Now, there is only one Kouyou-san.” The boy smiled. “Now there is nothing you can make a fuss about.”
I won’t let him hurt Aoi. I know Sano won’t let me win. He will always protect his King, protect Aoi. I’ll use that ‘weakness’, Kanon thought. “No! There’s still one thing! Aoi, once again, I’m sorry. Kouyou xg8+, move to g8, capture the black Knight!” Kanon called.
Kouyou who stood beside the last black Knight piece drew red aura around his right palm and punched the Knight piece. After the black Knight piece was crushed, Kouyou stepped on to the spot where the black Knight piece previously stood. He got closer to Aoi, and no piece stood between them. “Check,” the girl said.
Kanon-kun cursed under his breath when he scanned the entire pieces position. In several steps in a row after that, Kanon kept threatening Aoi’s position using Kouyou’s almost unstoppable movement as the chess Queen.
The boy even called his black Queen back to protect Aoi from Kouyou, but the girl still threat him by calling Kouyou to smash the black Queen with the red aura around his fist again. Kanon-kun cursed for the umpteenth time before he called Aoi to move to avoid Kanon’s next attack.
There, for her last three moves, the girl’s voice was not as loud as before. Lastly, Kanon said, “Kouyou… move to c6… and… #...” After the man in red walked one step diagonally, the girl spoke, “Check… mate…” She looked straight to her opponent.
“This is not right…” Again, the boy cursed.
“You lose, Sano…” Kanon said. “Remember the deal. Entrust The Hierophant’s freedom to Aoi…”
“Odin…” Takashima called the soul fragment inside The Hierophant’s power.
The girl turned around when she heard Takashima’s voice was getting closer behind her. “The effect was gone!” Kanon shouted. “You can move! All of you can now leave your position!” She looked at Kouyou and Aoi with wide smile.
In an instant, Kouyou ran toward his Hunter and caught him in his embrace. “Aoi-san!”
“Kou..!” Aoi reciprocated the hug.
“It’s over now… the game is finally over…” the man in red whispered.
Takashima stopped his step in front of Kanon-kun, patted the boy’s shoulder. “I know you hate defeat, Odin. “And I know you’re honoured enough to admit the girl’s victory.” The man in black smiled. “I bet Jupiter’s soul inside you demand you to acknowledge it too.”
“Don’t touch me…” Kanon-kun warded Takashima’s hand from his shoulder. “I know that. I don’t need you to lecture me.” The boy then looked at Aoi. “Hunter-san,” he called, making Kouyou turned his head toward Kanon-kun.
It startled the boy when Kouyou circled his left arm around Aoi, while anew red aura burned around his right fist. “Whoa, whoa. I’m not going to do anything. You know I’ve lost,” said Kanon-kun. He sighed after Aoi pulled Kouyou’s hand down.
“Kou…” the Hunter called him, and the red aura around his fist extinguished by its own self.
“I’ll admit something…” the boy started. “I bet all of you already know that I’m the one who gathered the entire information about all of you, and spread it to other woken Powers. But to whom I spread it, I can’t say it, for I was sealed to an agreement.”
“What kind of agreement?” Takashima asked. “To whom you’ve been sealed it?”
“It’s part of the agreement, I can’t tell.” Kanon-kun shook his head. “But there are some things I can tell, especially to Hunter-san.” The boy coughed before he continued. “Aoi-san, there’s this border between you and the people you currently have around you, isn’t it?”
“Wha..?” It startled Aoi.
“Yes, the border exists because you now live in the milieu you shouldn’t be,” Kanon-kun said. “You’ve seen so many things. You’ve heard so much knowledge about the Arcana Powers. All you have to do now is feel it.”
“There are helps and friendships around Aoi-san.” The boy didn’t heed Takashima’s calling. “You just need to realize it, the helps were given to you, or it actually came from you toward the people you thought had helped you.”
“What… do you mean?” Aoi asked.
“Not all the clues you’ve got were true. Not all the alliance you have around you is in the right side.” The boy grabbed Aoi’s wrist and held it tight. “The Family and your True Ally… we are waiting for you, Aoi-san!!”
“You’ve enjoyed your freedom too much, The Hierophant!” Takashima faced his palm toward Kanon-kun’s forehead. “Return to where you belong!” The man in black shouted, making the boy closed both of his eyes.
A fog-like smoke evaporated from Kanon-kun’s body. Takashima took a blank card out from the inner pocket of his black coat. The man in black threw the blank card in the air and the blank card spun. The blank card the stopped above the boy’s head before it absorbed all of the fog-like smoke that evaporated from Kanon-kun’s body.
Aoi caught the boy’s body when Kanon-kun lost all of his energy and fell unconscious. The Hunter slowly kneeled and laid the boy’s body on the checker-patterned floor. That moment, they partitions that boarded the arena with the world outside moved like a fluttered giant cloth.
The partitions disappeared like mist that had been blown by the wind. The checker-patterned floor also transformed back into stoned footpath and the park grass, the place where they stood earlier. There, Miku clicked his tongue.
“We’ve lost…” he said as Teruki patted his back beside him.
“It’s over…” Kanon looked around her. “The Hierophant had lost…” The girl’s gaze then stopped at one certain figure sat on a park bench. Kanon blinked. “Ruki-san!” she called as she ran toward the café’s owner.
“Ah, I’ll check Ruki-san’s condition. Don’t worry, Darling…” Takashima patted Aoi’s shoulder before he walked toward the café’s owner, following Kanon. He chuckled when he saw the girl immediately sat beside Ruki and held his shoulders.
“Ruki-san!” Kanon called “Are you alright? Tell me you’re alright!”
“I’m alright, Kanon-chan. I’m sorry for worrying you.”
“Glad that you’re alright, Ruki-san,” Takashima said as he reached near the bench where Ruki sat.
“A friend of mine saw me fall earlier. He helped me,” the café’s owner told them. “Seems like he couldn’t see the giant cube that was separating the chess arena from the outside. Are we the only one who can see the chess arena?”
“Maybe the cube partition was made to give illusion to normal people,” the girl said. “But, I’m sooo glad you’re alright, Ruki-san!” Kanon suddenly hugged Ruki and cried. “I was sooo scared! I really wanted to see your condition but I just couldn’t leave the game!”
“I’m so sorry, Ruki-san! If only I wasn’t too reckless to let you’ve been thrown like that. I’m so sorry!”
Ruki looked at Takashima who looked back at him. They both smiled before Ruki patted the girl’s head softly, and Takashima patted her shoulder. “You’ve done well, Kanon-chan,” Ruki reassured her. “That’s the most important thing.”
“Did you win the game?” The café’s owner smiled.
“Well, yes! But still—”
“Then it’s worth it, no?” Ruki cut her. “There are consequences in anything. This little wound I got when I fell was also a consequence we must face in order to stop the flaming Arcana Power. Now, you’ve won the game, I guess we’ve stopped the Arcana Power, no?”
At where he stood, the Hunter stared at Kanon, Ruki, and Takashima. “Matsumoto-san is alright, isn’t he…” he said in a low voice. Beside him, the man in red casually hummed as he nodded. “Kou…” Aoi called.
“Yes?” Kouyou, who’s already got used to the way Aoi called him – looked back at his Hunter.
“I… I don’t really understand about what this boy told me…” Aoi lowered his gaze toward Kanon-kun who was still unconscious. “But…” The Hunter halted, and the man in red beside him waited. “No… it’s… nothing…” Aoi said then.
Meanwhile, somewhere outside the park, Miyavi and Kai got the advantages from their surroundings. With the gap between them and Aoi, and with several trees around them, they could easily hide from the Hunter and the others.
“Ararara... The Hierophant had lost...” Miyavi commented. “We’ve lost our only informan.”
“It won’t be problem,” Kai replied. “We’ve already got enough informations.”
“But still. We’ve just got two Arcana Powers, now we’ve lost one of it.”
“It’s fair enough, I guess.” Kai smiled. “They got five, and we got five.”
“Can’t you be a little concerned?” Miyavi asked sceptically. “It’s not THAT fair, Kai.”
“Well, if you mention them…” Kai gazed at Kouyou and Takashima.
“And don’t forget THE Hunter,” Miyavi added, smiling. “They have Hunter, Kai. And we don’t.”
“Why would we need an Arcana Hunter if the Arcana came to us by their own will?”
“Hypocrite.” Miyavi laughed. “WE don’t NEED the Hunter. YOU need the Hunter. Admit, Kai.”
“Not as a Hunter, Meev.”
“But today was really too bad. If only Kanon-kun could win the game.”
“Yeah… too bad…” Kai locked his gaze toward Aoi. “Too bad…”
“Kai-sama,” someone called. The two men turned their head toward the voice owner. “The car is ready.”
“Byo,” Kai called the man’s name. “OK, then. Let’s go home. I’m very sorry for causing you a fuss.”
“It’s nothing.” The man, Byo, bowed before he led the way to the car.
“You’re going home just like that?” Miyavi walked after Kai.
“Well, is there anything else I can do today?”
“You’re not going to see him?”
Kai turned his head, took a glance at Aoi before he spoke, “This is not the right time… yet…”
Chapter 16: Aoi is on Fire
Aoi hurriedly warded the thought. Those fingers moved from Aoi’s temple to his cheek. The breath that touched his lips made Aoi turned his face away.
Aoi hurriedly warded the thought. He gazed the face that hovered him closely. No red aura around the eye. It’s not Kouyou. Those eyes gazed deep into Aoi’s. When a hand moved and the finger tips touched Aoi’s face, Aoi could only stay silent.
Those fingers moved from Aoi’s temple to his cheek. It moved again before it stopped right on Aoi’s lips. Aoi was still in his silence when the thumb rubbed his lips slowly. Aoi frowned when he saw the face was gradually closing in on him.
The breath that touched his lips made Aoi turned his face away. There, Aoi couldn’t see the face directly. He could only feel anything touched him, including the breath that now touched the skin around his neck.
When the breath touched one spot under his ear, Aoi moaned. Trying hard to focus his mind to something else, the red aura around Kouyou’s eyes came to his mind. But the person above him didn’t have it around his eyes. So this person was…
Aoi’s breath was hitched when something soft – and wet – touched the spot under his ear. It’s even harder for him to focus his gaze toward anything his eyes could catch that moment. Everything suddenly had two outlines; his gaze was suddenly blurred.
The Hunter shivered. No longer could focus his gaze toward anything – and could no longer use his eyes to find out what the person was doing to him – Aoi chose to close his eyes instead. Again, something made Aoi had to hold his breath for a second.
The fingers that caressed his waist made Aoi bend his back against the bed sheet. The person above him wasn’t too energized like Takashima was. This person was more like Kouyou who rarely spoke. But still, no red aura around his eyes.
This person didn’t have the sharp gaze like Kouyou had. If only Takashima ever took off his sunglasses, he might have has the gaze this person currently had toward Aoi. But, did Takashima have hazel eyes like this person?
So… was this person… Kouyou or… Takashima?
“Ah!” Aoi gasped hard as he turned his face, looking at the fingers that were moving around his hip. One smooth movement from those fingers made Aoi’s gaze pointed straight to the soft curve, somewhere between his hip and his thigh.
Aoi gazed back at the person who smiled at him. The person leisurely stretched his hand to Aoi’s leg. Unhurriedly, he pulled Aoi’s knee and made the Hunter bend his knee. Again, he stretched his hand, and this time, he touched Aoi’s toe.
He moved his fingers to Aoi’s ankle bracelet. Those fingers made invisible lines along Aoi’s shin to his knee. It didn’t stop. The fingers moved passed Aoi’s knee, to his thigh. Aoi was breathing fast, and he watched with wide eyes when those fingers touched his—
Aoi opened his eyes. He hurriedly rose from his bed and sat. He was still breathing fast when a drop of sweat flowed slowly on his temple. Carefully, Aoi slipped his shivering hand under his blanket. He blushed hard when he felt his finger touched something wet around his—
“Pervert…” Aoi held his head with his other hand. “Pervert…” He started to grip tight his hair. “Pervert.” Aoi ran his hand through his hair. “Pervert. Both of you. Pervert. You pervert. Pervert, pervert, pervert!” he said repeatedly.
One month had passed after the encounter with The Hierophant. Aoi faced his every day in similar way. While he was having his breakfast, Kouyou and Takashima were there, in his apartment, accompanying him.
When Aoi went to the café, Kouyou and Takashima were there, accompanying him.
After he arrived at the café, preparing the place while he had simple conversation with Hiroto, Kouyou and Takashima were there, accompanying them. They even involved in some of the conversations once in awhile.
After the café was opened, Aoi and Hiroto waited for customers took orders, served drinks and all. Kouyou and Takashima would sit at the usual place, ordered their usual favourite beverages, and waited for Aoi the whole shift.
After the sun went down, Aoi started to get anxious whether he would be going to hear any bell sound to face the next Arcana Power. But this whole month, Aoi didn’t hear any bell sound, and there was no weird things happened around them also.
Nothing was too eventful that Aoi had to face in that whole month. Aoi could breathe properly without being accompanied with the fast beating heart. Nothing frightened him, nothing too critical to be faced immediately.
But those ‘normal’ days only last until Aoi got the DREAM he had never expected he would see before.
“OUTSIDE, PERVERTS.” Aoi shooed Takashima out from his apartment,
slammed closed the door, and locked it tight, as if it could hold and prevented Takashima – and Kouyou – to stay outside Aoi’s apartment.
Actually, Takashima – and Kouyou – could enter Aoi’s room anytime they want. They had the magic skill, didn’t they? But that day, the great amount of anger aura Aoi showed made Takashima – and Kouyou – chose to do as Aoi said.
“But, but, but! My Darliiinng!” Takashima started to scratch Aoi’s front door. He kneeled with tears trickling down his face from behind his sunglasses. “What did I do wrooonng?!” Takashima’s voice started to draw attentions from Aoi’s two neighbours.
“STAY OUTSIDE!” Aoi shouted from inside his apartment. “AND STAY QUIET!”
And then, when Aoi went out to work…
Aoi opened his front door, and found Kouyou stood right before him. Takashima was behind Kouyou, using Kouyou’s body to protect himself from Aoi’s anger. He took a peek from behind Kouyou’s right shoulder and looked at Aoi who might get angry again toward him.
No, Aoi didn’t get angry. He didn’t even look at him. Aoi’s gaze only fell on Kouyou. Tears trickled again on Takashima’s cheek when Aoi didn’t even heed him. But what he witnessed after that shocked him to his bones.
Aoi growled. He was still looking at Kouyou, but he growled. Kouyou even gulped at that. The red aura around his eyes almost extinguished. What happened after made Takashima pretty sure about the end of – their – days:
Aoi. Slapped. Kouyou’s. Face.
“TWO METERS!” Aoi warned them. “Both of you! You!” Aoi pointed toward Takashima’s nose. “And you!” Aoi pointed Kouyou’s nose. “You are NOT getting closer than two meters from me!” There, Aoi walked away, leaving those two men behind.
Takashima could still hear Aoi grumbled when he walked farther. “What is wrong with our dear Darling?” Takashima asked. “He’s angry since he woke up. He even kicked me out from his warm apartment.” Again, tears trickling on his cheek.
“Ah, but did you see that?” the flamboyant man in black continued. “He’s always blushed when he looked at us. Ah, but still. He doesn’t want us to get closer to him. He even slapped you. You, Kouyou-chan! YOU.”
“You’re the one who always have the access to touch my Darling’s body more freely than me.” Takashima sighed. “You didn’t do anything to our Darling, did you, Kouyou-chan?” Takashima asked. No answer.
“Ne, Kouyou-chan?” Takashima called. Still no answer. “Hey, you, Kouyou-chan, my not-better-half?” Takashima looked at Kouyou’s face. “Answer me, will you?” Takashima’s words stopped when he saw a tear trickled on Kouyou’s face.
“He… slapped… me…” Kouyou said in a low voice.
Kouyou actually cried.
Takashima’s jaw dropped.
And when they reached the café…
“Ano, Aoi…” Hiroto called.
“WHAT.” Aoi replied sharply.
“Why did you forbid them from entering this café?” Hiroto looked outside the café’s windows. Outside the café, Kouyou looked into the café – still – with almost-expressionless face, and Takashima stuck his face – of course with his black lipsticked-lips – to the window glass.
Sighing, Hiroto face-palmed. After this, he had to wipe the window glass again.
“I DON’T CARE.” Aoi still used his sharp tone. “It’s because they were—” Aoi’s words restrained before he could continue it when the scenes from his dream repeated in his mind. “Aaarrgh!” Aoi ran his hands through his hair again, made Hiroto frowned at him.
“Wh… what’s wrong with you?” Hiroto asked.
“I’ll be in the kitchen today! You take the customers!” There, Aoi left Hiroto to the kitchen.
After Aoi was nowhere near him, Hiroto looked back to the windows. Takashima waved his hands in high-speed toward Hiroto. He smiled at him whereas his tears still trickled down his face. Sighing, Hiroto exited the café to see the two men.
“What did you guys just do to Aoi?” Hiroto folded his arms in front of his body.
“We’ve done nothiiinng!” Takashima kneeled in front Hiroto, shocking him. “We didn’t do anythiiinng! We know nothiiinng!” Takashima pulled Hiroto’s hands. “He was suddenly got angry this morning! He even slapped Kouyou-chan!”
Hiroto instantly looked at Kouyou. The scene suddenly returned to Kouyou’s mind after Takashima – just had to – mentioned it again. Kouyou lowered his gaze. He focused his gaze to the pavement as his body trembled.
Hiroto’s jaw dropped. “This is… impossible…” he said disbelievingly.
Ruki visited at lunch time. When he was about to enter his café, beside his feet, Koron suddenly barked. The bark stopped Ruki’s movement, and he turned his head toward the direction Koron was looking at. Startled, Ruki walked closer to the two men in front of his café’s windows, and Koron followed him.
“What are you guys doing here?” Ruki asked.
“We can’t come in…” Takashima – who currently sat on the pavement – answered.
“Because my Darling won’t let us to…” Takashima still didn’t look at the café owner.
“And why is that?” Ruki asked. Takashima shook his head. When Ruki looked at Kouyou, expecting some answer, Ruki found Kouyou’s face was even duller than it should be. “This doesn’t sound right…” Ruki looked into the café from the window.
There, he saw Hiroto was looking at them. Ruki pointed toward Takashima and Kouyou while he was looking at his worker. Getting Ruki’s gesture, Hiroto raised both of his hands, shrugged, and shook his head.
“Not even Hiroto-kun knows something.” Ruki sighed. “I’ll ask directly to Aoi then…” The café owner looked at Takashima and Kouyou. “I’m going to leave you both here for awhile… is that okay?” he asked carefully.
“Ruki-saaann!” Takashima kneeled in front of Ruki, pulled his shirt – almost bite it – shocking him, like what he did to Hiroto before. “Please help uuuss! We’re counting on yoouuu!” Just when Koron barked, Takashima moved backward – still kneeling.
“O… okay. I… I understand… wa… wait here. Okay?” Ruki said, and Takashima nodded almost too excitedly. Ruki then left the two men and entered his café. Behind him, Koron still followed him into the café.
“Aoi is in the kitchen if you’re looking for him,” Hiroto said immediately. “Ano… Ruki-san.”
“Yes?” Ruki stopped before he pulled the kitchen door handle.
“Be very careful…” Hiroto held tight his employer’s shoulders, made Ruki gulped.
Slowly the café owner nodded before he opened the kitchen door. “A… Aoi..?” he called carefully.
“WHAT.” Aoi replied still with the sharp tone before he turned around. He saw his employer was the one who called him. “Ma… Matsumoto-san..?!” Aoi hurriedly bowed. “I… I’m very sorry. I don’t know it was you..!”
Sighing, Ruki smiled. “Something’s troubling you?” he asked as he closed the door behind him.
“N… no, Sir!” Aoi replied hurriedly. He lowered his gaze before he said. “There is… nothing… serious…”
“You know what, Aoi?” Ruki closed the distance between them and patted his worker’s shoulder. “It’s not really fair, you know? You didn’t want anybody to know your problem, yet you don’t want them to act normally around you.”
“That’s because..!” Aoi stopped himself, again. “Because…” He lowered his gaze, again. “It’s… nothing…”
Ruki blinked when he saw his worker blushed. “So, you can’t even tell me…” He chuckled. “At least, let them in. Please? I won’t let them see you. And I don’t think you have the heart to let them stay outside the café for your whole shift?”
Aoi stared at the café owner. He fell silent as his mind occupied with the two men he’d been left outside the café since he arrived. Again, for the third time that morning, Aoi lowered his gaze. He sighed, yet he nodded.
Again, Ruki chuckled. “Thank you very much, Aoi.” He patted his worker’s shoulder again. So many repeated gestures they made that morning because of Aoi’s sudden rage. “Serve them their favourite beverages, okay?”
“I understand, Matsumoto-san.”
“Please, don’t put anything weird into their drink.”
“Oh…” Aoi put the black pepper bottle he took just now back to its place. “Okay…”
Ruki still hadn’t tired of chuckling that morning. “Ah, Aoi. If there’s no customer, there’s something I want to tell you and Hiroto,” Ruki said. “I’ve also asked Reita, Kanon-chan, and Jill to come this afternoon.”
“With… all of us?” Aoi asked. “What is it about, Matsumoto-san?”
Koron barked, and Ruki patted his head. “Yes, Koron. Kanon-chan will be here too. Are you happy?” Ruki returned his gaze at Aoi. “It’s almost June, isn’t it? It’s about part-time for summer.” He winked. “I’ll explain the rest when everybody’s here.”
At lunch break in Visconti-Sforza high school, Kanon returned to her new routines since one month ago: chasing after Kanon Sano every where the boy went. While the chasing happened, the other students were just looking at the two Kanons. One teacher who found them ran along the corridor even shouted at them to stop running, but neither of the heed the warning.
“Go away, Wakeshimaaa!”
“I want to taalllk!”
“I don’t want to heeaaarr!” Kanon-kun, while running, covered his ears.
“You take the wrong turn, Young Maaann!” the girl suddenly jumped.
“I’ve never and will never ever take the wrong tuuurrnn!” the boy yelled back as he turned his head, making sure Kanon’s position behind him. When Kanon-kun returned his gaze to the front again, he startled.
“I’ve told you…” Kanon decreased her speed and gradually stopped, following the boy before her. “Look where were you going…” The girl heaved as she walked closer to Kanon-kun. “It’s a wrong turn, Sano. This is a dead-end.”
The boy clicked his tongue. “What do you want?”
“What’d you always refused every time I invited you to Fortezza Café?”
“I’ve told you.” Kanon-kun turned around and faced the girl. “I’ve sealed by an agreement.”
“What kind of agreement prohibits you from coming to a café?”
“Are you joking? Do you think I don’t know your plan by inviting me there?” The boy snorted. “I can’t be too close to all of you. I don’t want to start any bond with you guys,” Kanon-kun explained. “If that happened, it’ll be difficult for me.”
“What do you mean?”
“First.” The boy gestured with his finger. “If we become friends, the probability of me breaking the agreement will increase, of course. And second—” He added one more finger. “—I can put you all in danger.”
“Wh… why is that?” Kanon frowned.
“I’ve told you.” Kanon-kun smiled. “I’ve sealed by an agreement.”
“That weird agreement of yours really makes me curious.”
“Don’t even try to find out.”
“You can’t stop me.” The girl turned around, letting the boy looking at her back.
“Why can’t I?”
“Because ACTUALLY you’ve already bonded with us.” Kanon smiled at Kanon-kun. “If you haven’t, you won’t worry about the probability of breaking the agreement. Why? I thought it’s not that hard to stay quiet around people you don’t like.”
“It’s not that.”
“Oh, really?” The girl raised her eyebrows as she smiled. “And so why do you worry about us getting into trouble because of you?” With those, Kanon walked away, leaving the boy who suddenly fell silent at that.
The girl walked back to her class building. She took the stairs to the third floor. She stopped in front of her class door. Before she stepped in, she looked at the other door beside her class. It was Kanon-kun’s class door.
Sighing, Kanon shook her head. Right before she stepped in again, her friends suddenly ran to her and squealed. “Kanooonn-chaaann! You’re heeere!” One of the two girls grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the door.
“What? What happened?” Kanon looked at the over-excited girls around her.
“Look, look!” said the one at her right. She showed a magazine she brought with her to Kanon. “He’s the one we want to tell you yesterday!” She pointed at the model on the magazine cover. “He’s cute, isn’t he?!”
Kanon observed the model on the cover. He has that pose where he ran his hand through his wavy hair. The light-blue coloured eyes were obviously softlenses. The girl read the largest written name at the lower part of the magazine, “Saga?”
After Kanon mentioned the name, her two friends squealed again.
____....++++**・to be continued・**++++....____
Chapter 17: Models
The café was already empty from any customers when they sat around the usual table. Aoi stayed silent. Ruki then shared the papers to each of them based on the name written on each paper.
The café was already empty from any customers when they sat around the usual table. Clockwise, there were Aoi, Reita, Kanon, Kouyou, Takashima, Jill, Ruki, and Hiroto. Aoi still won’t sit beside the two men, so they arranged it that way.
“Okay, since everyone is already here, let’s start this.” Leading the meeting that time, Ruki clasped his hand. “As I’ve told you earlier, it’s about summer part-time job. You guys know that I have a boutique, don’t you?”
“Yes!” Kanon answered cheerfully. “My friends sometimes talked about Ruki-san’s boutique! Punk, Goth, Lolita, androgynous, you have it all. Yes, we know, because your boutique is featured in the Sindacato’s latest issue, right?”
“Sindacato?” Reita asked.
“A fashion magazine,” the girl answered and got a simple ‘oh’ and nods from Reita before she returned her – still excited – gaze at the café owner. “That boutique with ‘NM’ initials is yours, isn’t it, Ruki-san? What does it stands for?”
“Nero Morale.” Ruki smiled. “‘Fortezza di Nero Morale’ to be exact.”
“It’s Italian, isn’t it? ‘A Fortress of Black Morale’?” Kanon heard the name. “It’s a really cool name! Very rare and unique if I may say?” She giggled. “And it looks like every place that belongs to you has ‘Fortezza’ term in it.”
“Yes! Maybe that was one of the reasons I could synchronized with The Emperor.” The café owner chuckled. “Back to topic. I have a plan on releasing some new designs for summer. There, I need models for my summer designs.”
“And?” Hiroto wasn’t very patient at this.
“And…” Ruki smiled. “That’s why I need you ALL here… to become my summer models.”
“Eeh?!” Kanon, Reita, and Hiroto gasped. “EEEH?!” Aoi startled even louder. Jill could only look at Ruki with wide eyes. Kouyou coughed because he was drinking when he heard what Ruki said. Kanon who sat beside him immediately handed a tissue to him.
On the other hand, Takashima cupping both hands each to his blushing cheeks. He smiled so wide, and people around him might see sparkling stars around his sunglasses covered eyes. But Kouyou’s cough then warned him something.
“Excuse me, Matsumoto-san,” Kouyou said as he put his cup back on the saucer. “Me and Takashima?”
“Yes, including you two.” And then it hit him. “Ah, right. Now that you mention it…” Ruki said then. “I really want you to participate in the project, but… the two of you, do you mind if I ask you both to be my model?”
Takashima raised his right hand. “I DON’T MI—”
“We mind,” Kouyou cut fast, with his toneless low voice and…
And he returned to his espresso and his quietness. Beside him Takashima cried, roaring as he tried to pull Kouyou’s arm, adhered his tears stained face to Kouyou’s sleeve, and called Kouyou’s name several times, trying so hard to make the man in red changed his mind.
“Well… that’s too bad but…” Ruki scratched his forehead. “What else I can do…” The thoughts of Arcana Power might found about the Jokers existence more easily because of his project flashed onto his mind, he gave up.
There he got OKs from Reita and Jill who’s blushed deep red when he said yes and Jill nodded, and from Hiroto who just laughed at it when he mentioned about not having any experiences in modeling. Ruki was going to confirm about Visconti-Sforza High School’s regulation for Kanon having part-time job, and even arranged appointment to talk about it straight to Kanon’s mother.
Aoi stayed silent.
Spending the time to wait for any of Aoi’s responds, Ruki then showed his summer designs. He took several sheets of papers from his bag and handed it to the people around the table. Some of his designs were printed on those papers.
There were designs for girls, some with bright colours for Kanon to wear, and some with soft and calmer colours for Jill. Then there were designs for boys, some with punk style for Reita, and the simpler and casual ones were for Hiroto.
“Actually I’ve prepared some designs for those who want something elegant. But since Kouyou-san can’t participate in this project, I guess I have to ask someone else to model for that style. Someone else who has the fitting image,” Ruki explained.
“Who? Aoi?” Kanon asked and made the others’ gazes fell on Aoi.
“Mm, it could be…” Ruki hummed.
“Or maybe—” Ruki didn’t heed Aoi’s attempt to object the idea. “—I’ll ask other person instead.”
Aoi exhaled a relieved sigh, but Kanon pursued. “Who?”
“AOI’S PAIRING?!” Kanon and Hiroto shrieked, and Aoi looked at his employer in disbelieve.
“WHO IS IT, RUKI-SAN?!” Takashima freaked out.
“No, wait.” Kanon held her hands high. “R… Ruki-san, before that, now that I realized, I haven’t seen the design for Aoi to wear. I mean—” She showed the printed designs on the table. “—you’ve mentioned all of our names except for Aoi.”
“Correct.” Ruki smiled and Aoi gulped. “The designs for Aoi are special.”
“Ruki-san, I want to seeeee!” Takashima squealed.
“What kind of designs are those, Ruki-san?!” Kanon asked with the same excitement.
“Are those swimsuits?!” Hiroto guessed.
There, they all fell silent. Kouyou, who was drinking again when he heard what Hiroto said, coughed again. Beside him, Kanon handed another tissue to Kouyou. Everyone then was looking at Hiroto before – rigidly – turned their heads toward Aoi.
Takashima suddenly fell with nose-bleeding, and Jill immediately knelt beside him on the floor and trying to stop the bleeding. With red face, Aoi reached Hiroto and clinched his co-worker, only until Reita broke them apart, and Hiroto coughed with pale face.
“Ma… Matsumoto-san, really… I’m not a model, I don’t even know how to pose,” Aoi opposed.
“I’ll teach you, Darling!” Takashima raised his right arm, and instantly fell silent again when Aoi looked at him with his hatred still lingered in his eyes. Takashima lowered his gaze, away from Aoi’s murdering one.
“Don’t worry, Aoi,” Ruki said. “We’ll have art director for you, someone who will help you to pose.”
“Matsumoto-san,” Aoi called again, nearly begged. “I’m afraid you have to waste too many times just to make me pose. Or else, I might ruin your photo sessions later. Moreover, I don’t really feel confident about my body shape.”
“My Daaarrliiinng!” Takashima squealed. “Believe me, you have a beautiful, stunning, perfe—mph!” Takashima could never complete his words because Kanon and Hiroto covered his mouth – and face, almost smashing his sunglasses – when Aoi took a nearest fork and gripped it tight.
“But, Aoi, that’s exactly the point,” Ruki replied. “Your body shape is perfectly fine, and it’s actually just perfect. Why I chose you for this? Because I think you’re the one who suits the designs perfectly. I mean, you’re exactly the one who I was looking for.”
“But what designs that you made for him to wear, Ruki-san?!” Kanon asked again.
“Ruki-san, I want to see the desiiignn! Let me seeeee!” Takashima demanded.
“Is it special because it’s bikinis?!” Hiroto guessed again.
That moment, Kanon and Reita ran to where Aoi suddenly stood. Kanon held Aoi’s hand that was holding a fork toward Hiroto, while Reita was pulling Aoi’s body away from Hiroto, while Hiroto ran and hid behind Jill.
“I’ll show the design after we, especially Aoi, meet with the other model, Aoi’s pairing,” Ruki explained after all of them returned to their seats. “These—” Ruki took another sheets of papers from his bag. “—are the contracts.”
The café owner shared the papers to each of them based on the name written on each paper. They received the paper of agreement contract, and read it. “Oi. How do you get details about me?!” Reita asked suddenly as he read the contracts.
“The nightclub where you work… the owner is a friend of mine.” Ruki smiled. “It’s not that hard to find certain details about you, Suzuki-san.” The café owner chuckled. “I’m going to borrow you from him for the photo sessions anyway.”
The name Aoi read on the paper made him startled, but he kept it for himself. “Matsumoto-san…” Aoi put the paper that filled with agreement contract back onto the table, upside down. “I can’t do this. I’m sorry,” he said as he slowly pushed the paper back toward his employer.
“My Daaarrliiinng, why?” Takashima asked.
“Aoi, I was just joking about the designs I’ve mentioned before. Don’t take it too seriously,” Hiroto said.
“Come one, Aoi!” Kanon followed. “If Ruki-san said it suits you, then it means it SUITS you!”
“Matsumoto-san, when will you display the photos?” Aoi asked.
“In my boutique. Of course.” Ruki shrugged.
“Does it include your boutique’s official site on the internet?” Aoi asked. Ruki hesitated, but he nodded nonetheless. Aoi sighed. “Matsumoto-san, I’m really sorry, but I can’t.” Aoi stood. “I don’t find my face too appealing for fashions.”
“MOREOVER—” Aoi glared at Hiroto before he returned a softer gaze at Ruki. “—I’m not good in working with too many people. You know that. Again, I’m so sorry, Matsumoto-san.” Aoi bowed. “Now, if you excuse m—”
“How could you…” Ruki lowered his gaze. “I trust you, Aoi. I trust all of you. But why?”
Aoi stopped in his track, and turned around, looked back at his employer. “Ma… Matsumoto-san..?”
“Takashima and Kouyou can’t be my models. Now you too. Fine. I’m not going to continue this project then.” Ruki said as he collected back some papers filled with the agreement contract from the tables, and some from his friends’ hands.
“But… but, Matsumoto-san..?! No, I didn’t mean to—no, please, wait—” Aoi started to sweat.
“Those designs I’ve made in difficulties…” Ruki also collected the printed designs as he sobbed. “If someone I know doesn’t even want to wear it, how could I sell the real thing to anybody else? Everything will be in vai—”
“OK, OK, I UNDERSTAND, FINE, I’LL DO IT!”
“How can I believe you’ll do it? You didn’t even sign the contra—”
Aoi snatched the paper with his name written on it, took the pen Ruki suddenly held – out of nowhere – and signed the contract. “There!” Aoi gave the paper back to Ruki, let Ruki read it, and saw his employer sent him the brightest smile he’s ever seen.
In the end, Ruki got all of his friends signed the contract – except for Kanon who hadn’t get any permission yet from her mother and from her school. After they’re done with the meetings, Kanon was the first to leave the café so she could talk to her mother about the photo session.
Going to do the same to his employer at the nightclub, Reita decided to leave also. He initiated to take Kanon home before went to the nightclub. There, Ruki helped Hiroto at the cashier, while Takashima and Kouyou helped to fix the tables and chairs position in the café.
Jill helped Aoi taking all the cups, glasses, and mugs to the kitchen. “Sorry for causing you the fuss.” Aoi took the tray filled with cups from Jill after he put his own tray that filled with glasses and mugs. “You shouldn’t be doing this.”
“I shouldn’t, but I did.” Jill smiled. “It’s been awhile since the last time we talked?”
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s already more than a month ago, I guess,” Aoi answered as he put the cups, glasses, and mugs one by one to the dish-washer. “We were talking about Arcana back then, weren’t we?”
“Let’s… put these Arcana aside for awhile, shall we?” Jill smiled. “So… mm… a quarrel?”
One cup slipped from Aoi’s hand and it almost fell if only Aoi didn’t catch it with his other hand. “J… Jill?!”
Jill covered her mouth as she giggled. “I’m sorry. The three of you are not usually like this.” Jill watched Aoi who leaned both of his hands to the side of the dish-washer. “What did they do wrong to you that made you left them in silence like this?”
Aoi sighed. “They… didn’t do anything wrong actually…”
“So?” Jill, still smiling, tilted her head.
“Well…” Aoi turned around, this time, leaned his waist to the dish-washer’s side. “They didn’t do anything even… they’re not at fault.” Then he covered his mouth. “You know, Jill? It was just… I was…” He hesitated.
“Your face is so red, Aoi-kun. Do you have fever?”
“No, I don’t!” Aoi complained. He lowered his gaze, closed his eyes, and sighed again. “Really, Jill. This is so embarrassing, telling this to anyone in the first place. Moreover, to tell this to you… since you’re a girl.”
“What’s wrong?” The smile on her face disappeared. “No, I don’t want to embarrass you, I’m sorry. I’m just curious if it’s about something I can help with? But of course you don’t have to tell me if you don’t feel like it.”
“Well… you know, Jill?” Aoi repeated, looking at Jill before he looked away. “I had a… dream…”
“Dream?” Jill asked. “You were dreaming about… Takashima and Kouyou?”
“I… I don’t really know whether it’s Takashima or Kouyou…! It’s just…” Aoi stopped himself.
“‘It’s just’?” Jill frowned, this time the curiosity mixed with worry and consideration. “Is it a nightmare?”
“It’s not that…! It’s..!” Aoi lowered his gaze again. “I was…”
Jill gathered the entire things she witnessed as information. First, Aoi was blushing. Second, it was about Takashima and or Kouyou. Third, it was a dream. Then it hit her. “Oh…” She covered her mouth when she asked.
“What ‘oh’?” Aoi asked without looking at the person he was talking to.
“The dream you talked about… it’s… about either of them WITH you…” Jill uttered carefully. She heard Aoi clicked his tongue as he turned away from Jill completely. “Ah, I see… Aoi-kun has already grown up after all, hasn’t he?”
Ah, I see…” Another voice heard from somewhere near the kitchen door. Aoi turned around, and with Jill, they looked at the person who had just entered the kitchen. “I’m… sorry. I didn’t mean to eavesdropping, I was only going to search for mop but…”
“Ma… Matsumoto-san?!” Aoi was blushed, deep red.
Ruki walked toward Aoi. “You’ve grown up, Aoi-kun.” Ruki patted Aoi’s shoulder and the Hunter just suddenly had to find any wall either to slam his head hard to it, or to hide himself from those two people.
Aoi sighed when the memory at the cafe several days ago returned to his mind. He just had to hold the urge to always cover his face every time Jill or Ruki looked toward his direction. Moreover, when they’re in the same room like today.
Aoi, Reita, Jill, Hiroto, Kouyou, and Takashima sat on sofas in a lobby that sized three times bigger than Fortezza Café’s wide. Kanon was also there after she got the permission from her school for the part-time job, and after her mother supported her – because Ruki’s appearance was so stunning to her mother’s eyes she just couldn’t say no.
Aoi watched every detail in that lobby. But he’s not the only one doing that. In front of him, Reita watched the square-shaped small lamps that hanged in different height from the ceiling. Kanon and Jill read the fashion magazines they found under the glass table at the centre of the lobby.
Hiroto gazed at the glass that ornamented the walls inside the semi-futuristic styled room with awe. Kouyou – as usual – only sat there without doing anything. At the same time, Takashima squatted on the floor, beside the sofa where Aoi sat at.
The flamboyant man in black leaned both of his hands to the sofa’s arm, and wide smile spread on his face. Takashima then whined like Koron, stole Aoi’s attention from the hanging lamps to him. Aoi raised his right eyebrow when he saw Takashima blushed.
It seemed like Takashima hid a pair of dog-ears under his fedora. And Aoi could even see some imaginary tail wiggled behind the flamboyant man in black. Aoi was tempted to find a bone and throw it; he bet Takashima would chase after it.
Instead, Aoi sighed. “Stop showing me that face of yours.”
“But, but, but!” Takashima squealed. “I’m sooo haaapy, Daaarliiing! This Takashima is so happy that his dear Darling didn’t kick Takashima again today!” Takashima might jump around Aoi’s sofa if only he didn’t squat that time.
“Takashima, sit!” Aoi ordered, and Takashima instantly sat quietly on the floor beside his sofa. Again, Aoi sighed. “Now, that’s much better.” Aoi patted Takashima’s head – over the fedora – and made the said man cried happy tears.
Something inside him urged Aoi to look at Jill who was smiling when she was looking at him. Aoi gasped and immediately looked away, tilted his head a little, so that his bangs hid his – suddenly blushing – face from the girl’s gaze.
After several days trying to hold the emotion to his own self, that day, finally Aoi could face Takashima and Kouyou again. Like what Takashima mentioned earlier, Aoi didn’t kick him out from Aoi’s apartment again.
The Hunter stopped slapping Kouyou too. Much or less made Takashima protested him he stopped to slap Kouyou first before Aoi stopped to kick him out from the apartment. Aoi just stopped kicking Takashima the day after he stopped his momentarily bad habit toward Kouyou.
Again, Aoi sighed. Though he didn’t drive the two men away again, Aoi still couldn’t let them touch him. The Hunter hadn’t let Takashima hugged him – or pinched his butt – again. Aoi hadn’t even let Kouyou embraced him or merely patted his shoulder.
Aoi turned his head toward Kouyou. Reciprocating the gesture, as he caught Aoi’s movement from the corner of his eyes, Kouyou turned his head toward Aoi, and their gazes meet. When Aoi opened his mouth to talk, Ruki’s voice stopped him.
“I’m sorry for keeping you waiting!” Ruki greeted them.
Aoi and the others turned their heads, and saw Ruki was walking toward their direction. That moment, Aoi heard a bell chimed. He looked around him, but he didn’t get the usual headache like when Arcana appeared.
As he returned his gaze back to Ruki, behind his employer, Aoi saw two people walked after him. One of them was a slim guy with wavy hair touched his shoulder. He walked casually with one hand inside his pants pocket.
“Oh?” Kanon pointed toward the slim guy.
Ruki stopped near Aoi’s sofa, and Takashima moved to the back of Aoi’s sofa, giving more room for Ruki. The café owner smiled at Kanon. “You’ve seen him before, I presume, Kanon-chan?” Ruki pointed toward the slim guy behind him with his thumb.
“You’re at Sindacato’s this month’s cover!” Kanon was still pointing her finger toward the guy. “Saga?”
The wavy haired slim guy bowed. “That’s me,” he said with a little sigh. “Hajimemashite. I’m Saga. Nice to meet you all.” He smiled at Kanon and the others. Then his gaze stopped at Aoi. He winked at the Hunter, startled him.
When the slim guy named Saga moved his hand and folded it in front of his body, Aoi heard the bell chimed again. Aoi’s gaze instantly fell on Saga’s wrist. He saw a tiny bell attached as an ornament to the bracelet Saga wore.
Aoi was about to exhale a relieve sigh when he heard another sound of bell chiming. Aoi turned his head again. This time, his gaze fell on another person who walked behind Ruki, beside Saga before. The person was a woman.
She caressed her long brunette hair that glimmered under the lobby’s lamps. She wore a pair of earrings full of jewels. A tiny bell hanged under each of her earrings. Aoi looked at those bells and waited. The bell only chimed when either of Saga or the woman made movements.
Aoi held his head, but there was no headache like he was expected. Finally, Aoi exhaled a relieved sigh.
“It’s pretty lively here!” The woman smiled. “So, which one is ‘Aoi’, Ruki-san?”
“Ah!” That time Kanon pointed her finger toward the woman. “So, later Aoi is going to pair with this sister for the photo sessions?” The question suddenly made Takashima gazed at the woman and growled.
Ruki and the woman exchanged glances before both of them chuckled. “No, no, Kanon-chan,” Ruki said. “Melody-chan is not the model I was talking about. Ah! I’m sorry; I forgot to introduce you too to them, Melody-chan.”
“That’s ok, Ruki-san.” The woman smiled. “Hi!” She greeted Aoi and the others. “I’m Melody Ishikawa.” She bowed, and Aoi heard the tiny bells from her earrings chimed again. “Nice to meet you all! Aaand, I’m Saga’s manager, by the way.”
“Ah, a manager.” Kanon nodded. “Eh? Then, it means, the model that will work with Aoi for the photo sessions is…” Slowly, Kanon moved her finger, pointing it back to the slim male that stood between Ruki and Aoi’s sofa.
“Yes, it’s me,” Saga confirmed. “And I think I know which one of you is Aoi…” Saga looked back at Aoi. When he caught Aoi’s gaze toward him, the slim model locked his gaze straight to Aoi’s eyes, and smirked.
____....++++**・to be continued・**++++....____
Chapter 18: Hot Summer is Coming
Dragging his black cane, Takashima walked closer to sofa where Kouyou sat. Kanon, Jill, Reita, and Hiroto then introduced themselves one by one to Saga and Melody.
“You must be, Aoi.” Saga perceived straight to Aoi’s eyes. “I can’t be wrong.”
Aoi was startled. “Y… yes. I’m Aoi… ni… nice to meet you.” Aoi nodded slowly. “Bu… but how did you—”
“It’s easy.” Saga flicked his fingers. “A model will easily be attracted to other person who has a model aura in them. Like a magnet. You know? Like, everything you do, every move you make, it will always look like a…” Saga wiped his lower lip with his thumb. “Pose,” he said in perfect English pronunciation.
“Hey.” Reita nudged Hiroto lightly before move a little closer toward him. “Have you ever heard something like that?” he whispered, and Hiroto shook his head as an answer. “As I thought. What a weirdo…”
Dragging his black cane, Takashima walked closer to sofa where Kouyou sat. “Kouyou-chan,” he called with a whisper. He heard the man in red hummed as a respond. “I dislike that person.” He talked to Kouyou while he glanced at Saga.
“You’re not alone,” Kouyou replied, also with a whisper, and also as he stared at Saga.
Kanon, Jill, Reita, and Hiroto then introduced themselves one by one to Saga and Melody. Takashima and Kouyou followed afterward. Observing at those two men, Saga questioned, “Who are they? I don’t see their names in the list for this project, Ruki-san.”
“Well, they are—”
“We’re Aoi-san’s guardians,” Kouyou cut Ruki’s words.
“K… Kou..?!” Aoi gasped.
“We’re here to make sure of our dear Aoi’s safety,” Takashima added.
“You… don’t look like a ‘guardian’ at all.” Saga chuckled. “Well, whatever. Make sure you’re really a guardian, not a disturbance. When the time comes for Aoi to work with ME, make sure also not to disturb this project.”
“You—” Takashima held Kouyou’s shoulder and stopping him from rose from his seat. Kouyou was complied with the gesture, and stayed on his seat. He could only grit his teeth while Saga snorted at the scene.
Melody chuckled. “Saga, behave. Manners, please. You’re a model!” Melody tapped the point of her pen to Saga’s head. “We’re very sorry, Takashima-san, Kouyou-san. He just doesn’t want you to worry. We always work professionally.”
The conversation made Ruki startled and he coughed. “Well, umm, okay!” Ruki clapped his hands. “Saga, Melody-chan, please take a seat!” With Ruki’s words, Melody took a seat beside Kanon and Jill on the long sofa.
Reita stared around him. Hiroto sat on a single sofa, while he was sitting on a medium sofa for two people. Reita moved a little just to make sure that anyone could sit beside him. But what happened after startled everyone – except Melody.
Saga sat on the arm of the sofa where Aoi sat. The model leaned his elbow at the back of the sofa. In front of the model, Aoi gasped at the model with wide eyes and then shifted a little when he felt Saga’s fingertip touched his shoulder a little.
Kanon turned her head toward Melody when she saw the manager pointed her android’s camera toward Saga and Aoi, and took a photo. “Perfect!” Melody complimented in English pronunciation also. “Saga-chan, you can upload it to your blog!” Melody cheered over the photo result.
“Both of you suit each other. Good manager-model couple.” Ruki chuckled. “Ah, please take one for yourself, and pass the rest to the others.” Ruki divided a pile of papers he brought in his hands into two, and gave each of it to Aoi and Melody.
Aoi passed the papers to Saga after he took one of it. Saga, on the other hand, without taking any of it, passed the papers to Reita. Seeing Saga’s action, Melody took two sheets of papers and passed the rest of the papers to Jill.
“I got yours, Saga.” Melody showed the two papers in her hand.
“Don’t bother. I can look at Aoi’s.” Saga smiled at Aoi as he moved closer to the side of Aoi’s ear.
“Very well. As you please.” Melody giggled as she folded one paper and kept it to herself.
Aoi gasped when he felt Saga’s breath near his ear. “O… oh, here…” Aoi handed the paper to Saga. “You can read it first,” he said as he tried to move away from Saga. He gasped again when Saga held his shoulder, nearly embracing him, preventing him from moving away.
“No, please don’t.” With his other hand, purposely touching Aoi’s hand which holding the paper, and pushed it back to Aoi. “We can read it together. It’ll save time and it’s more practical,” he said without letting Aoi’s hand go, and Aoi heard the tiny bell chimed again as the model moved his hand.
After Ruki looked at each of the papers in his friends’ hands, he started to explain what was written on the paper. It was their photo session schedules and places where each photo sessions would be held. “As for Jill and Kanon-chan, as we spoke yesterday, your photo session will be today, as this is Sunday, so I don’t have to ask you to leave your school or campus in any week days,” he said.
Adjusting the designs for teenage girls, students as Jill and Kanon were, their photo session would be held in a library. Ruki had already rent a spot in a private library in their town. “So, don’t worry. We won’t be disturbing anyone in the library.”
The schedule for Reita and Hiroto photo session was two days after that, at Tuesday. It was outdoors. Ruki offered them the schedule to have a little survey for the spot. Reita and Hiroto then decided to watch Jill and Kanon photo session, and do the survey after that.
“I want to know the photo session process before I have to face it myself later,” Reita said.
Ruki turned his gaze toward Aoi and Saga after he nodded at that. Last but not least, the photo session for the last models would be held at Friday, and it would took a whole day, based on what was written on the paper.
“Ruki-san, where will Aoi’s photo session be held?” Kanon flipped the paper she was holding. “Why didn’t you mention the place here? The places for first and second photo sessions are written here. But I didn’t find any explanation for Aoi and Saga-san photo sessions’ place.”
“I’ve asked Ruki-san not to mention it here.” Saga straightened his body behind Aoi’s back. “We don’t need and won’t expect any disturbance, do we? Aoi?” the model asked as he smirked at Takashima and Kouyou.
Kanon and Jill instantly turned their heads to look at Takashima and Kouyou, and there, they exchanged glances. Jill coughed and Kanon gestured as if she fanned her face. “Summer is so close, isn’t it, Jill?” Kanon asked and Jill nodded approvingly.
“Well,” Ruki coughed, trying to make them focused back at him instead at Saga who seemed like he was going to start a war with Takashima and Kouyou. “We’ll be off to our first photo session for Kanon-chan and Jill, shall we?”
“All of us?” Hiroto asked.
“Yes. I’ve considered that you, Reita, and Aoi also need to see the whole process, so you don’t have to be too awkward later?” Ruki smiled. “And of course Takashima and Kouyou have to come along to,” the café owner – now as the designer – said as he winked at the two men.
Takashima almost smiled widely at that, but a voice stopped him. Saga yawned loudly, seemingly purposely, before he clicked his tongue. The model glanced at the way Takashima stared, and he just snorted as he rubbed his earlobe with his little finger.
Again, Ruki coughed and continued. “We have ten people here. I’ve prepared two cars—”
“Three,” Saga cut it. “I’m sorry, Ruki-san. I’m not used to sit among too many crowds. And it won’t be comfortable to any of us too, I presume. I got here with Melody-san’s car anyway. So seven people – plus two drivers – divided into two cars are enough to all of us, I guess.” The model shrugged.
“Seven?” Kanon silently counted the people around her. “Do you mean, eight—?”
“Aoi is going with me and Melody-san.” Saga embraced Aoi and smiled.
Aoi gasped and looked up at Saga who just casually smiled back at him. The Hunter then chose to close his lips tight as he gulped. He looked away from the model as a cold sweat trickle on his temple. Well, Aoi was not the only one.
Each of other people who witnessed the scene gave their subtle reaction at how the model treated Aoi. Reita and Hiroto did exactly the same thing Kanon and Jill did: exchanged glances, while Ruki scratched his – not itchy – temple.
Melody only smiled at that when she saw what Aoi didn’t saw: Kouyou sent his glare at the model and Takashima fixed his sunglasses on his nose. Just when Aoi was about to turn his head toward those two men, Saga spoke to him again, stole his attention again.
At the front passenger seat, beside Melody who was driving, Saga stared at one car right in front of Melody’s. Saga saw – and snorted – every time Takashima, who sat at the rear passenger seat, turned his head toward Melody’s car once in awhile.
Kouyou was at the other car that was behind them. Saga bet that either one of them or even the two of them decided to take different cars, and positioned Melody’s car in between them, on purpose. Saga nearly chuckled at the thought.
Turning his head to see the other car, where Kouyou was, would be really obvious. He took a glance at the rear-view mirror outside his door, but of course the mirror was directed for the driver’s view, not for him as the passenger.
Trying to find the other way, Saga looked at the small rear-view mirror in front of him, between him and Melody. Instead of anything behind the car, Saga saw Aoi’s feature at the mirror. Smiling, Saga found that the two men existences were no longer important.
Aoi sat right behind Melody. He was mute the whole trip, and he always glanced outside his window. Aoi leaned his elbow to the door handle, and leaned his chin on his palm. His hand covered his mouth, making Saga couldn’t see Aoi’s whole expression.
Saga’s gaze left the mirror, and he turned around staring straight to Aoi. “Don’t you feel uncomfortable?” Saga asked suddenly, without calling him first, expecting that Aoi would gasp, or making the faintest voice Saga expected to hear.
Aoi turned his head, reciprocate the stare. “Uncomfortable? About what?” he asked back.
“Those suspicious guardians of yours.” Saga chuckled as he straightened back at his seat, stared back at the wide window in front of him, while he was still focused on Aoi behind him. “Don’t you feel they’re over-protective about you?”
Aoi blinked. “Oh, you mean Takashima and Kouyou? It’s just how the way they are.” Following Saga who stopped staring at him, Aoi, too, returned his gaze – saw a glimpse of Takashima at the front car looking their way as he do so – back to the window beside his head.
“‘How the way they are’,” Saga repeated the phrase. “Since the first time they acted like that around you until this very moment, did you ever feel uncomfortable? I think you might feel that way at least once,” Saga repeated his question.
“Not a real ‘uncomfortable’ if I may say…”
“What is it then?”
“They helped me. A lot,” Aoi answered.
“So, because you need them, you can’t feel uncomfortable toward them?” Saga chuckled at the syllogism. “So I can conclude that, if only you don’t really need their existences around you, I might not see them around you.”
Aoi spontaneously stared at Saga, who’s that time, didn’t reciprocate the action. But he did see Saga took a quick look at him from the middle rear-view mirror. He saw Saga smiled at him, yet Aoi couldn’t really found anything to be smiled at.
“Okay, I’ll try something else,” Saga said. “You said that they helped you a lot. I’m thinking, wondering about… will they stay by your side, playing the role as your guardian, if they stop helping you. Did you ever think about it?”
“Saga-kuuun~” Melody tried to warn her model as she turned the steering wheel unhurriedly, turned her car’s direction, following Ruki’s company car in front of them. “Stop asking weird things, will you? Ne, Aoi-chan, just forget what Saga had said to you, okay?”
“You’re no fun.” Saga clicked his tongue.
“Yeah, and you watched too much TV drama.” Melody giggled.
“Hey! I thought we agreed not to share THAT to anyone!” Saga protested.
“Oh, so THAT was supposed to be secret?” She giggled again.
The model and the manager continued their conversation, while the Hunter frowned.
「“Will they stay by your side, playing the role as your guardian, if they stop helping you?”」
After this whole Arcana thing is over, after they collected all of the Arcana Power, will they stay?
Like what Ruki had told them before, one spot at the library had been transformed into a small-instant studio. It was still a library anyway. The too-tall bookshelves were still in the library, covering mostly walls of the area.
Some of the reading desks were also still in the middle part of the library. They only moved several desks to other places to put some items for the photo sessions. Lightings, large white screen, and other things were positioned carefully in the library.
A very bright light flashed inside the area every time the photographer pushed that one certain button. Several staff and crews from Ruki’s boutique could be seen at few spots inside the library. But their all attentions were drawn to two girls who changed their poses regularly in front of the camera.
“They’re talented,” Reita whispered to Hiroto from one of the reading desks near the photo set.
“Jill and Kanon-chan? Yeah, they are. They look cute already even before they put some makeup on anyway,” Hiroto commented back as they looked at Kanon and Jill who were still posing for the session. “I’m looking forward for the results later.”
“It’s already their second costume, isn’t it?” Reita asked as Kanon took a book from one of the bookshelves. The girl posed, and a blitz flashed again in the room as the photographer took Kanon’s photos.
“Yes,” Hiroto replied. “I didn’t expect Ruki-san would prepare more than one designs for each of us.”
“You mean us too?” Reita startled.
Hiroto nodded. “Other than the design he showed us at the café days ago, there were two more designs for us to wear for our photo sessions. Ruki-san told me that only after I asked him,” Hiroto explained as he chuckled.
“Now that you mention it… I suddenly interested in Ruki’s designs for Aoi.” Reita turned his gaze around, this time away from the girls at the photo set. “Ah, what am I thinking about? Kanon’s curiosity is really contagious.”
“Why did you say that?” Hiroto chuckled even more.
“That girl… ever since Ruki told us about this project to us, Kanon always asked anything about Aoi. You’ve heard it. Maybe that’s why I’m starting to get curious too. Moreover today. You feel it too, don’t you?”
“Ah, you mean…”
Reita nodded. “Look at that…” Reita stared at certain direction.
Hiroto followed Reita’s gaze direction, where Takashima and Kouyou sat at the farthest desk from the photo session set. Two desks in front of them, Saga sat with Aoi. Not accompanying her model, Melody stood beside Ruki near the photo set most of the time.
“Oh…” Hiroto covered his mouth.
“Don’t you think that shameless model is monopolized Aoi way too much?”
“Does every model act like that?”
“I guess not.” Reita shrugged. “I don’t know. But look at that. It seems like Takashima and Kouyou barely repress their hatred toward that model. They make it so obvious. As far as I know, they never acted like this before.”
Hiroto stared at the said two men. “You’re right…” It was his only answer.
Hiroto and Reita returned their gaze back to the photo set when they heard Ruki called Kanon and Jill, and told them to change their costumes to their third ones, the last one for that photo session. The two girls nodded, and they walked with one of Ruki’s staff and disappeared into the changing room.
“So, what do you think?” Ruki asked the photographer.
“Not bad,” said the brunette photographer as he observed the photo results in his DSLR camera screen. There was long cable connected to the camera to a computer behind him. “For amateurs, with no experience in modelling, they’re so good.”
“Glad that you like them.” Ruki smiled, satisfied.
“Where did you find these talents, Ruki-san?”
“Acquaintances,” Ruki answered. “Some of them are regulars at my café.”
“Ah, right. I forgot that you own a café,” said the photographer as he walked toward his computer that brought especially for that photo session. “You have sharp eyes, Ruki-san. You can found talented amateur models like them.”
“Ah, I think I’ll print this one in real size later.” Ruki pointed at one photo on the computer screen.
“Good choice.” The photographer nodded. “Anyway, knowing these amateur models of yours, I’m curious about the boys too.” He turned his head, staring at the people around the reading desks, especially at Reita, Hiroto, and Aoi.
“You’ve saw them, Manabu,” Ruki mentioned the photographer’s name. “What do you think?”
“In first glance?” Manabu, the photographer, looked back at Reita and Hiroto. “I’ll say physically, since I have no idea at all about them…” He hummed. “Not bad,” he said. Then his gaze fell on Aoi. “Now, that one is a precious stone,” he said before his gaze returned to the screen.
“A 'precious stone'?!” Ruki chuckled.
“He just got out from the mining activity,” Manabu said. “He just need to be polished, and his sell price will soar.” The photographer smiled and winked at Ruki. “You see? Like a crystal. I’m looking forward for his photo session with Saga next Friday.”
“Yeah, I bet you are.” Ruki laughed.
“But before that…” Manabu straightened his body back and stop staring at the screen. “Of course I’ll be focused too for the other photo session. It’ll be two days again, isn’t it? At Tuesday… outdoor?” Manabu asked for confirmation.
“Yup, outdoor,” Ruki confirmed.
“Speaking of which… those two men…” Manabu stared at Takashima and Kouyou.
“Yes? What’s with them?”
“You said that they’re Precious Stone’s guardian?” Manabu asked. “They have a very bad atmosphere around them. I thought they can be good models too,” he commented. “Don’t they like seeing their Precious Stone participating in this project?”
“Hm… maybe it’s because this is the first time for them to see photo session like this,” Ruki lied.
“Well…” Manabu’s gaze fell on how Saga seemed like he won’t stop touching Aoi. “I thought it’s because they dislike Saga in some ways,” he said, startling Ruki. “Ah, speaking about Saga.” Manabu called the manager, “Melody-san?”
“Yes?” Melody replied as he put her android away from her ear. “Wait a second!” she called before spoke fast to her android. She pressed the screen and pocketed the gadget. “Here, here!” She jogged a little toward Ruki and Manabu.
“Ah, she hung up…” Miyavi looked at his phone screen.
“What did she say?” Kai asked while he was sitting on a rattan chair at his balcony.
“Nothing much. Your sweetheart hasn’t put some action yet.”
Kai chuckled. “He’s not a sweetheart, Meev.”
“Look who’s talking! Which part of your soul said that?” Miyavi laughed. “You want to see his photo session, Kai? They’ll leave at Friday.” He took a note book and opened certain page. “And as far as I know, you don’t have too important agenda on that day.”
____....++++**・to be continued・**++++....____
Chapter 19: Seal
Another blitz lights flashed. It’s outdoor anyway. When they trying to avoid noon sun that shone right above their heads, they decided to take long rest and had a lunch together.
Another blitz lights flashed. These ones were a little different from Kanon and Jill photo sessions. This time, the blitzes were needed to give a little fight back at the sun strong luminosity. Some shadows could be noises for several types of photos.
It’s outdoor anyway. In front of the photographer, Reita made a pose that show the details of clothes design he wore. Hiroto did the same thing earlier, and after this, they would pose together to show the contrast between the designs they wore.
Trying to avoid noon sun that shone right above their heads, they decided to take long rest and had a lunch together. There were vans for Reita and Hiroto to put some light makeup earlier, and to change their clothes for lunch break.
Reita left with a blush on his face when Manabu showed them the photo results. While Hiroto laughed – also blushed – at his own self in the photos, Reita took a stroll along the river near the photo set. He only returned for their last photo session that day, with the third design Ruki gave them.
Kanon and Jill weren’t there that day. Of course, they should be at school and campus in week days. On the other hand, like what happened at the previous photo session, Aoi was there, with Saga who always stood beside him.
Kouyou and Takashima watched from afar as Melody always accompanied Ruki, leaving her model, chose not to disturb Saga with Aoi. “Kouyou-chan,” Takashima called as his gaze locked at Aoi. “How’s the Seal?”
Kouyou searched inside his red coat. He took out a bracelet and showed it to Takashima. The flamboyant man in black cringed. “Can’t you make it a little cuter?” Takashima asked, drawing Kouyou’s certain gaze at him, and Takashima just shrugged in return.
“Now we only need to find the time to make our Hunter wear this Seal.”
“That barefaced model is always dominating our dear Darling…”
Takashima let out a bitter chuckle. “You’re starting to call me with that name.”
“I just don’t want my assumption to be right.” Kouyou looked at Takashima. “You know one Arcana Power that could always make us mad. That one Arcana Power that was always difficult to be dealing with.”
“Yeah,” Takashima replied. “The one Arcana Power that always made me reluctant to admit that he’s a weakness.” The flamboyant man in black inhaled deeply. “Now I too want you to mistake your assumption, Joker.”
“It’s really annoying, isn’t it?” Kouyou folded his arms in front of his body. “It’s really contradictive with his name. Instead of affection, I rather feel abhorrence around him. So annoying but we could almost do nothing to face this one Arcana Power.”
“The Lovers is really a bad-luck bearer…”
That afternoon, after the last class ended that day, Kanon didn’t leave the school just yet. She walked toward a bench under a tree that placed not far from the soccer field. The girl watched as the soccer club was having warm ups.
“Hey,” Kanon-kun greeted as he sat beside the girl.
“I was surprised when you chose this place to talk,” Kanon started. “Why here?”
“Club room is too stifled; I need some fresh air at this moment.”
The girl giggled. “You’ve changed since you’ve let The Hierophant go.”
“That aside.” The boy scratched his nose, covering his blush. “I heard that you have a part-time job?”
“Wh… where did you get that information from?!” Kanon’s voice suddenly rose. “I… I thought, after you don’t have The Hierophant in you, you couldn’t gather anymore information! And I’ve never told anyone in this school about that either.”
“Some sources told me… a photo-session, isn’t it…?”
“Does this have something to do with the agreement that bind you?” The girl lowered her voice again.
Kanon-kun nodded. “Are you guys done with Aoi-san’s photo session yet?”
“Not yet,” Kanon replied. “Aoi’s photo session with Saga-san will be held at Friday.”
“Saga-san…” the boy repeated with a low voice.
“Let’s go to their photo session then.” Kanon-kun looked straight to the girl’s eyes.
“Eh? What? Why?” Kanon asked. “Why should we? Why must?” She almost raised her voice again. “It’s Friday anyway. It’s week day, Sano. We can’t just skip classes the whole day! And there’s club activity too that day.”
“We can follow them after last class ended.”
“And the club activity?!”
“Don’t worry about that. Believe me. This will be important.” Kanon-kun pressed every of his words.
The girl stared back at him. “Why?”
“Aoi-san might need help from everyone.”
The boy diverted his gaze to the soccer club at the field. Beside him, Kanon didn’t follow to do the same. She just looked intently at Kanon-kun. The girl fell silent but her mind didn’t stop working. “It’s Arcana, isn’t it?” she asked finally.
With a towel covering his wet hair, he sat on his bed. Aoi closed his eyes as he dried his hair. He sighed, and it reached Takashima’s ear. “Tired, Darling?” Takashima asked as he sat on the carpeted floor, and leaned his body to the bed, at Aoi’s left side.
“I feel weird,” Aoi answered. “I didn’t do anything tiring today. I just sat most of the time. Okay, I did stand; I walked a little, and then sat again. Watching Reita and Hiroto-kun in the photo session wasn’t supposed to be THIS tiring.”
“Maybe it’s because of the heat.” Kouyou followed to sit on the floor, at Aoi’s right side.
「“Will they stay by your side, playing the role as your guardian, if they stop helping you?」
Aoi pulled his towel a little so it covered half part of his face, hiding it from either of Kouyou’s and Takashima’s views. Sighing, Aoi answered. “Yeah… you’re right… maybe it’s because of the heat… summer is coming anyway…”
“Kouyou-chan, don’t forget about the thing we want to give to our dear Darling,” Takashima advised.
Kouyou was startled and Aoi immediately looked at Takashima. “What 'thing'?”
“Darling.” Takashima turned around so, while he sat on the floor, he was facing Aoi completely. “Do you remember the moment before we faced The Emperor?” Takashima asked. “When Kouyou-chan had an errand to do?”
“You mean… the ‘Seal’?”
“Correct.” Kouyou took out a bracelet made from metal, with twenty two metal beads dangled around it.
“What… what is that?” Aoi frowned at the bracelet shape.
“THAT’s the Seal Kouyou-chan meant, Darling.” Takashima smiled as he moved closer to the man in red. Takashima patted Kouyou’s shoulder as he chuckled. “Told you to make it cuter, Kouyou-chan. But anyway, Darling, all you have to do is just wear it.”
“Wh… what will happen to me after I wear the Seal?”
“With this Seal—” Kouyou didn’t look at Aoi when he spoke. “—I can let you use the Arcana Power.”
“What?!” Aoi stared at Kouyou with wide eyes. “But… I thought, you won’t…? Why? How?”
“Darling,” Takashima called. “With that Seal, the Arcana Power won’t be able to use your body as their host anymore. You can use their power freely now, without any worry of them might possess you. It will be only you using the Arcana Power.”
“I… don’t… understand…”
“This bracelet—” Takashima caressed the bracelet on Kouyou’s palm. “—it is functioned to seal the Arcana Power that you will use. Wear it, Darling. We’ll help you try to use the Arcana Power for example. I guess that way is easier for you to understand about how it works.”
Aoi looked at Kouyou firmly. “You’re just going to help me wear the bracelet, right?”
“Well…” Aoi nodded slowly. “O… okay then…”
“Your left hand, Aoi-san,” Kouyou asked as he unlocked the metal bracelet’s hook.
Slowly, Aoi extended his left hand toward Kouyou. When his fingertips almost touched the metal bracelet, Aoi pulled back. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. As he let out a long breath, Aoi opened his eyes.
Aoi extended his hand again. This time he didn’t pull back. Kouyou carefully circled the metal bracelet around his Hunter’s wrist. After Kouyou locked the bracelet hook, again, carefully, Kouyou held Aoi’s hand.
He could hear Aoi gasped, but his Hunter didn’t pull his hand. Let out a relieved breath, with his free hand, Kouyou caressed the bracelet. “Takashima,” Kouyou called as he slowly let Aoi’s hand slipped out his palm.
“Do you want to try it, Darling?” Takashima took The High Priestess card out from the inner pocket of his coat. “I chose her because she’s the only one who I think won’t cause too many commotion.” He chuckled before handed the card to Aoi.
With his right hand, Aoi took the card from Takashima’s hand. Aoi looked at the card before he turned to Kouyou, the one who contra the most about Aoi’s decision to use the Arcana Power to his own body. “Kou… is it really okay?”
Kouyou nodded before he stood and asked, “Do you still remember the Arcana Power summoning spell?”
Aoi nodded. He looked at The High Priestess card in his hand. Slowly, he uttered the spell. “High Priestess, let me borrow your power… let me control you… use my body as your host…” A fog-like light-blue smoke then evaporated from the card.
As if it was blown by a wind, the light-blue smoke moved in circle in the middle of Aoi’s apartment. The light-blue smoke was then transformed into a shape of a woman in light-blue robe. She looked like ghost for her transparent form.
“Good evening, Hunter.” The woman spirit bowed at Aoi. There were two voices as she spoke, like there was someone else spoke with her at the same time. She smiled. “I’m Joan, the spirit attached in The High Priestess.”
Aoi gasped when he saw the ghost. “Y… you…”
“Found out it felt a lot better when the Hunter was the one who summoned,” she smiled.
“My… my name is Aoi.” He introduced himself. “Please, don’t call me ‘Hunter’… it felt weird…”
“I see. Very humble.” She giggled. “Find then… Aoi?” Joan tried to call. “I’ve entrusted my freedom into your hand. Now, after you’re able to summon me properly, you have to change that ‘use my body as your host’ spell.”
Aoi blinked when he saw the spirit pointed a finger toward his left hand. Aoi followed the direction and found that Joan was pointing at the metal bracelet at his left wrist. “I can no longer possess you. I hope you understand that, Aoi?”
“Now you know the difference, right, Darling?” Takashima patted Aoi’s shoulder. “When you summoned The High Priestess before, you couldn’t see her shape because she possessed you. Now, with that Seal, you can see her and the other spirits’ shape after this.”
“I see…” Aoi observed the metal bracelet. “Oh, right. Why should it be on my LEFT hand?”
“Because you’re not left hander, Aoi-san,” Kouyou answered. “No other special reason.”
“So, do you want to try to use The High Priestess power, Darling?” Takashima asked.
“Oh?” Aoi looked at Kouyou. “Is that okay?”
“Yes, Aoi-san.” Kouyou nodded.
“Joan?” Aoi called the spirit.
Joan extended both of her hands and smiled. “I’m ready when you’re ready, Aoi.”
“Don’t destroy my room?” Aoi requested.
The spirit giggled. “I won’t.”
“Okay, then…” Aoi took a deep breath and commanded, “Surround Takashima!”
Joan directed both of her hands to Takashima and in a sudden, four sides of partitions emerged from Aoi’s apartment floor and… “Daaarrliiinng!” Takashima called frantically from inside the partitions. “Why must you imprison me heeere??”
“It works.” Aoi gaped at the four-side partitions and at the metal bracelet on his left wrist. “It felt… different. I felt like I don’t spent any of my energy when I casted the spell. Is that because I wasn’t being possessed?”
“Correct,” the spirit answered. “Look.” She pointed a finger toward Aoi’s bracelet.
Aoi saw one of the beads glowed in light-blue. “It’s… glowing?”
“It’s the bead that linked to The High Priestess’ power,” Kouyou explained. “Each of the beads around the Seal is linked to each Arcana Power. But of course you can only use the Arcana Power we already retrieved.”
“But… there are so many beads here…” Aoi looked around the bracelet. “That means…”
“Yes, you can use Arcana Powers as much as the beads around the Seal,” Kouyou confirmed. “But I highly opposed to that, Aoi-san. You still have me and Takashima. AND, you can entrust the Power to somebody else.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you still remember the story about The Emperor who imprisoned the café, when Takashima used Wakeshima-san as the host for The High Priestess, you can do it too,” Kouyou explained and made Aoi startled.
“Good evening,” Manabu answered the phone after he read the name on the screen.
“Good evening, Manabu,” Kai greeted him back. “How are you?”
“Good. How are you?”
“Very good.” Kai chuckled. “How was your work today?”
Choosing the different way in answering the question, Manabu asked back, “Don’t you think THIS connection felt a little scary, Kai?” Manabu smiled. “The red thread that bind people one another made this world felt so narrow.”
“Like a spider web, isn’t it?” Kai smiled. “You didn’t expect to meet him this soon?”
“You can say it like that.”
“Thank the Arcanas.”
“When you feel like it.” Kai chuckled again.
Manabu snorted. “So, are you coming next Friday?”
“I don’t want to scare him, Manabu.”
“You won’t scare him, Kai,” Manabu clicked his tongue. “Why must you think in a negative way? Try to see it from the different perspective. How about… you want to see how beautiful the Precious Stone is right now?”
“I mean him.”
“Ah…” Kai smiled. “I like the metaphor you use, Manabu.”
“Well, he IS a precious stone. If he got the perfect grind and polish, he will be a very expensive crystal.”
“No, not crystal, Manabu. He is a diamond.”
Manabu burst out laughing. “Dear Arcana, Kai! Okay, okay, fine. I forgot that he’s flawless for you.” The photographer wiped a tear that hanged at the corner of his eyes for too much laughing. The latest photo session then made Manabu suddenly asked, “Hey, Kai, how’s Nao?”
Kai turned around. In front of his flat television in his vast living room, a round face young man looked at him and grinned. “He’s fine,” Kai answered. “Yes, yes, I understand your question, Manabu. Don’t worry. Nao himself is also impatient about meeting his pairing.”
“I thought that you’re going to send Nao to today’s photo session,” Manabu chuckled. “He had just finished the photo session this afternoon. Nao's pairing looked good too at the photo session. Ruki had good eyes on amateurs.”
“I don’t want to disturb your work.” Kai smiled. “You know Nao can be out of control some times. Moreover, this is your project with Ruki. I don’t want to bother Ruki’s important project. Ruki is still a friend of mine anyway.”
____....++++**・to be continued・**++++....____
Chapter 20: "Zayin"
The indoor pool was now crowded by people who DIDN’T want to swim. All of them then waited for Aoi and Saga who was still in the changing room.
The indoor pool was now crowded by people who DIDN’T want to swim. After Ruki rent the place, the indoor pool was – again – transformed into a photo set. Lamps for lightings were prepared by Manabu’s crews at several spots around the place.
All of them then waited for Aoi and Saga who was still in the changing room. Ruki was in there too to help them with the costumes. While they waited the models to get their costumes and makeup done, Melody was having conversation with Manabu.
Manabu who checked his lenses once in awhile laughed every time he saw Melody looked at the changing room door. The manager could only bit her pen tip when she looked at the door to that room wasn’t opened yet.
At the same time, Takashima and Kouyou were waiting for Aoi too. Kouyou sat on a bench which was placed near the largest pool there. In front of him, Takashima walked back and forth as he held his black cane tight.
Biting his black lower lip, Takashima glanced at the changing room door once in awhile. When the door was finally opened, Takashima immediately stopped his step. He turned around and faced at the door completely.
Saga exited the room first. He wore a white shirt that was covered with a thin jacket with the same colour. His jacket sleeves reached only to his elbows. As the lower part, Saga wore light-crème short jogger pants.
He was stopped when Ruki suddenly exited the changing room after him. Ruki kneeled near Saga and fix the rubber that held the lower part of the jogger pants right under Saga’s knees. After he was done with it, Ruki stood back up and turned around, looking into the changing room.
As he smiled, Ruki extended his hand and reach for the hand with the metal bracelet circled at the wrist. Only Aoi wore such a bracelet. Takashima waited. He waited until Ruki pulled Aoi out from the changing room, and made everyone’s eyes fell on the black haired young man.
Takashima automatically held Kouyou’s shoulder. “Joker…” Kouyou’s real name slipped out his black lips as he saw Aoi that moment. On the bench, Kouyou, who’s already gaped at Aoi, could barely breathe at the view served before him.
Aoi’s bangs were combed backward, and were held by a hairpin, revealing his forehead. He usually hid his forehead behind his bangs, and that moment, it was Ruki’s idea to reveal more of his freshness. Add more to it, Ruki asked the hairdresser to make tiny braids from Aoi’s long hair and made it fall to his shoulder.
The braids framing his face perfectly, thanks to the hair-extension that made Aoi’s hair looked even longer. The hair behind his back was so long it almost reached his waist. When Aoi walked, his hair moved slowly with grace.
Aoi wore a white vest without any shirt separating it from his skin. The vest used a zipper, and it only zipped to the middle part of his chest, making Aoi always tried to cover his revealed skin with his hand. As the lower part, Aoi wore long culottes.
The lower part of the culottes that reached Aoi’s ankle were so broad, it almost looked like a long skirt. The cloth that was used for the culottes was glimmered under the light. Aoi tried hard to hide himself from all of those stares at him.
When Aoi was about to cover his face, Ruki hurriedly caught his hand. “You might ruin the makeup, Sweetie.” Ruki smiled as he checked up on the eye-liner around Aoi’s eyes. It outlined thinly Aoi’s eyelids, and it only framed half outer part of Aoi’s tear line.
There were also light orange blushes on his cheekbone. “The lipstick was too thick, Matsumoto-san…”
Saga snorted. “Thick? Aoi, please. Your lips were already red even without any lipstick. Moreover, it’s NOT lipstick. She only applied a lip balm to you, Aoi.” Saga was referring the makeup artist that handled Aoi before.
“Aaaooiii~” Melody walked toward Aoi cheerfully with both of her hands extended forward. When she got neared, the tiny bell hanged from her earrings chimed softly, like the one that also chimed when Saga moved his hand.
After Melody reached Aoi’s arm, she circled her hand on Aoi’s elbow. “How about you apply to our agency, Aoi? I’ll definitely sign myself as your manager. It’s really a pleasure, Aoi. Will you, will you, will you? Please?”
Ruki chuckled at that. “There, there, Melody-chan. Let Aoi finish his photo session for today first,” said Ruki that made Melody freed Aoi’s arm. Ruki then held both of Aoi’s shoulder and patted it softly. “You look great, Aoi.”
“Matsumoto-san…” Aoi bit his lip.
“Come now. Manabu is waiting for you two.” Ruki smiled at Aoi and Saga before he returned his attention at Aoi. “Aoi, don’t be nervous, okay? I know you can do this.” Ruki pulled Aoi’s hand slowly and lead him to Saga.
“Are you sure about this, Matsumoto-san?”
“One hundred percent.” Ruki winked at Aoi. “I’ve asked Saga to help you if it’s needed too.”
Saga smiled at Aoi. “It’s time to… pose…” Saga pronounced the last word again in perfect English.
“Ah, Ruki-san was looked like a father who led his only daughter—oops, I mean son, to the dais,” Melody commented to herself before she giggled. “Of course Aoi was the only son, and Saga was the bridegroom!”
Saga extended his hand and caught Aoi’s. Letting Saga pulled him, Aoi turned his head to where Takashima and Kouyou waited for him. Aoi’s eyebrows casted downward when he saw Kouyou lowered his gaze, looking away from him.
Kouyou even covered his mouth with his palm, making Aoi couldn’t see Kouyou’s expression entirely. What made him gasped after that was when Takashima took his fedora off, and held it onto his chest. As he smiled, Takashima bowed at Aoi, like a prince bowed to his princess.
Aoi diverted his glance immediately from the gesture. Takashima didn’t stop smiling. How could he when he saw the blush graced his Hunter’s cheek? Beside him, Kouyou looked up again and gazed back at Aoi.
Kouyou gripped his palm tight as he saw the way Saga held Aoi’s hand and several things happened after that: Saga guided Aoi to chairs near the photo set. After Aoi took a seat at one of the chairs, Saga left and walked to the spot in front of Manabu.
Like the previous two photo sessions, Saga and Aoi would pose one by one separately, and they would pose together after that. As he already got used to face the camera, right after one flash, Saga instantly changed to another pose and let Manabu took his picture.
They didn’t spend too much time for Saga’s only photo session. The model walked back to the chair beside Aoi. “It’s your turn now.” Saga saw Aoi bit his lip again and patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry. Like Ruki-san said earlier: you look great, Aoi.”
“I… I don’t know what pose should I… I…” Aoi stuttered.
“Have you forgotten? At our first meeting, I’ve told you, haven’t I? Everything you do, it always looks like a…” Saga flicked his fingers. “Pose.” Saga pronounced it again in perfect English. “You just have to remember how you sit, how do you greet the customers at the café, or…”
“Or how do you talk with those guardians of yours…”
“Is that so?” Aoi still looked uncertain at Saga who nodded and smiled at him. Aoi just lowered his gaze, and closed his eyes. After he took a deep breath, Aoi gazed back at Saga. “O… okay…” Aoi said before he rose from his chair.
Saga gazed when Aoi walked toward Ruki who gave him advices and instruction about the costume. Behind Saga, Melody walked closer. “He’s so beautiful, isn’t he?” Melody smiled. “No wonder his guardians act over-protective around him.”
“Aoi kind of person… do you think Show will like him?”
Melody suddenly burst out laughing; making almost everyone around the photo set abruptly looked at her. Melody hurriedly bowed at them and stated, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” After those people returned to their job, Melody growled at Saga.
“I have to endure the shame because of you.” Melody covered her mouth with her right hand.
“Nobody asked you to laugh…” Saga complained.
“Your question made you sound like an idiot, Saga.”
“What is that, a compliment?” Saga continued to complain.
Melody took a deep breath before she answered, “I don’t know what to say if you asked me about Show-kun…” Melody touched the tip of her pen to her ears. When her pen accidentally touched her earrings, the tiny bell chimed again.
The manager blinked when she saw Aoi turned his head straight toward her. Melody waved her hand and smiled before Aoi returned his attention to Manabu. “You saw that? He has very sensitive hearing. Very impressive…”
“Hey, don’t change the subject,” Saga warned her.
“Oh, right. Well…” Melody hummed. “Like I said. I don’t know if it’s Show-kun. But if it’s Tora…”
That time, Saga hummed. “Tora…”
“You know what kind of person Tora is.”
“Tora…” Saga hummed again as he covered his mouth with his hand, and frowned.
“Aoi!” Manabu snapped at him suddenly, making Saga and Melody stopped their conversation. “Your hand!” The shouting made Saga’s gaze immediately fell on Aoi’s right hand that was covering his revealed skin around his chest.
“I… I’m sorry. This vest is too…” Aoi stuttered.
Manabu rolled his eyes and Ruki sighed. “Aoi, but that is exactly what we want to show from the design.” Ruki walked toward Aoi. “I designed it so I can let the person who wear it feels sexy with it. You have to pose to show that part of the design.”
Saga smiled as he rose from his chair and walked toward the two males. “Let me, Ruki-san. Leave it to me,” said the model as he tapped Ruki’s shoulder. Saga reached Aoi’s hand on his chest, and whispered, “Zayin…”
Aoi’s heart suddenly beat faster and his eyes became wider as he gasped. Saga hushed him, and with his free hand, he embraced Aoi. “You’re alright, Aoi. You’re alright. Just follow your body movement, Aoi… follow…” Saga continued to whisper.
In his position, Takashima held his black cane tight. “What’s happening?” He whispered to Kouyou as he prepared himself to pull the sword out from the cane. On the bench, Kouyou sat still though the red aura around his eyes was starting to burn.
Saga caressed Aoi’s back slowly as he saw Aoi looked at him, still with wide eyes. Aoi was breathing slower and deeper than usual. Saga, still smiling, nodded slowly. “I’m going to let you go slowly, Aoi…” Saga pulled his hand away gradually away from Aoi’s body.
“There, Aoi. It’s alright,” Saga said as he took several steps backward, away from Aoi. “Now, Aoi, pose…”
Aoi’s right hand still held the rim of his vest. With his left hand, Aoi touched his forehead. His eyes weren’t focused at any object before him. Aoi turned around, and he let his gaze fell at Takashima and Kouyou.
“Pose, Aoi… pose…” Saga whispered not to anyone around him, still pronounced that certain word in perfect English. His gaze was still at Aoi as he walked backward to his chair. The model moved his hand and let the tiny bell on his bracelet chimed again.
Behind Saga, Melody smiled. She moved her hand to her earrings, and touched the tiny bell slowly, making it chimed, following the bell on Saga’s bracelet. The chiming sounds reached Aoi’s ears, and gripped the rim of his vest tight.
“Okay. Let’s try it one more time,” Manabu said as he pointed his lens toward Aoi.
Manabu’s words drew Aoi’s gaze back at him. As he tried to focus his own sight, Aoi took a deep breath. He directed his body away a little from Manabu’s lens as he tilted his head, and stole a glance at Manabu through his lens, with a melancholy gaze.
Aoi pulled the rim of his vest, revealing even more skin around his chest, right before Manabu pressed the button on his camera and took Aoi’s picture. Gaping, Manabu lowered his camera for a moment, and looked at the small screen at the back side of his camera.
The photographer looked at the photo result after Aoi made his latest pose. Manabu smiled. “Diamond…” he whispered to himself. He gazed back at Aoi and commanded, “Keep that gaze of yours, Aoi.”
After the blitz light flashed, Aoi immediately changed his pose, this time with no hesitation. Takashima frowned at that. “Do you see that?” Takashima gripped his black cane tight. “He’s gorgeous, we know. But this is…”
“Something’s not right here…” Kouyou whispered back, and Takashima answered it with a nod.
After he took Aoi’s picture several times, Manabu ended Aoi’s only session. For the next session, Aoi and Saga had to pose together. At that moment, Saga barely kept his hand away from Aoi. In one pose he embraced Aoi, at the other pose he held Aoi’s hand, and for the other one Saga made a pose as if he placed Aoi’s hair behind his ear.
Aoi didn’t forbid Saga from doing so, and he didn’t even ward Saga’s hand. He didn’t push Saga away, and he didn’t try to move away, not even tried to draw farther from the model. Aoi’s attitude that moment made Saga smiled.
Once in awhile, Saga took a glance toward Takashima and Kouyou when he posed.
It was almost lunch time when Manabu and Ruki observed the photo results. They smiled and ended the photo session for that day. “We’re done?” Aoi blinked when he looked around him. Manabu’s crews were clearing up the photography equipments.
“Matsumoto-san, were we going to pose for one costume only?” Aoi asked for confirmation.
“No.” Ruki smiled. “After this, we’re going to take you home to pack your clothes.”
“Wha… what for?”
“Ah, so Ruki-san hasn’t told you anything, has he?” Saga said. “We’re going to Enoshima.”
“Enoshima?!” Aoi startled. “Wha… what are we going to do there?”
“It’s for our next photo session, Aoi.” Melody winked at him.
“We’re going this afternoon.” Ruki glanced at his watch before he looked back at Aoi and smiled. “I’ve reserved several rooms at some inn for all of us. We’re going to finish the whole photo session tomorrow, so, we’re going to stay at Enoshima for tonight.”
“I… I don’t know anything about this…! Why didn’t you tell—” Aoi threw a glance at Takashima and Kouyou. He returned his gaze at Ruki and asked, “T… Takashima and Kouyou will go with us too, won’t they?”
Saga clicked his tongue. “They ARE your precious GUARDIAN. Of course they’ll go with YOU,” Saga said as he walked passed Aoi with a frown between his eyebrows. The model grumbled as he walked back to the changing room alone.
“Wh… why is he angry…?” Aoi asked in confusion.
Melody patted Aoi’s shoulder. “Don’t bother him,” she said with a smile. “Change your costume, Aoi. Let me take you home after that. Well, I guess Ruki-san won’t mind either if you chose to wear this costume instead.”
“Wait f… for a moment. I need to talk about this with them.” Aoi pulled his culottes up a little – like a princess – as he ran toward Takashima and Kouyou so he didn’t have to step on it. Melody witnessed it all and clicked her tongue.
“Why is it so important to involve them all the time…” she commented.
“Well, they ARE Aoi’s IMPORTANT people anyway…” Ruki smiled when he saw Kouyou rose from his bench, and with Takashima, they greeted Aoi’s arrival. Kouyou caressed Aoi’s forehead that was glistened with sweat.
“Important people…” Melody repeated with a whisper as she glanced at Aoi and the other two men.
The sun was already setting when they arrived at a classic Japan-styled inn in Enoshima. Ruki had reserved the entire inn to be exact, for his own and Manabu’s crews. The crews’ rooms were at the first floor, while Ruki’s and the others’ rooms were at the second floor.
Ruki, Manabu, Aoi, Saga, and Melody got one separated room for each of them. For fittingness reason, Ruki purposely reserved another room for Kouyou and Takashima. Of course the two of them didn’t really need it for they could enter any room they wanted actually.
Though they got their own room, they might spend most of their times in Aoi’s room. That’s why Ruki placed them both right beside Aoi’s room. Takashima was about to smile at that when beside him, Kouyou growled as he found out that Saga’s room was right in front of Aoi’s.
The inn furnished yukata to all of their guests. Dark blue yukatas were for male guests, and maroon ones for female guests. In his room, Aoi couldn’t see Takashima and Kouyou in yukata yet for they weren’t around to be found.
Even when they gathered at the inn’s dining room, Aoi still didn’t see those two men there. In the large dining room Ruki already had reserved for them, Aoi only found Ruki, Saga, Melody, and Manabu. Takashima and Kouyou won’t be at the other tables at the other part of the room because it was all occupied by the crews.
Not finding those two men anywhere, Aoi could only sigh. Saga was the one who saw Aoi for the first time he entered the dining room. “Hey, here, Aoi!” Saga waved his hand toward Aoi, making the tiny bell on his bracelet chimed again.
When Aoi looked at him, Saga patted the sitting pillow beside him, gesturing Aoi to sit beside him, making sure that Aoi won’t be able to refuse his invitation. Didn’t find any reason to decline, Aoi walked toward Saga and accepted the invitation by sitting beside the model.
On that low dining table, Manabu sat between Ruki and Melody, and Aoi sat between Ruki and Saga. “Aoi,” Ruki called. “Takashima and Kouyou said that they will have their dinner in their room. They said, they just don’t want to disturb our briefing later whereas I’ve told them not to worry about it,” he explained with a smile.
“Don’t worry, Aoi.” Saga embraced Aoi again. “You can’t enjoy your time if you’re being under supervision all the time, can you?” Saga leaned his head on Aoi’s when Melody directed her phone’s camera toward them.
“By the way…” Saga added the gap between Aoi and him. He gazed Aoi from his face, to his toe, and back to his face again. The model shook his head and showed Aoi a disproving look. “This is not right. It shouldn’t be happened.”
“Wh… what’s wrong?” Aoi looked all over himself. “Something’s wrong with my appearance?”
“Yes.” Saga nodded. “I didn’t expect that even this high class kind of inn could run out of yukatas. Why did they give blue yukata for you?” Saga asked with serious tone and serious expression that made Melody and Manabu laughed.
Aoi blushed at that and lowered his gaze, while chuckling Ruki said, “Be careful with your words, Saga.”
Not long after that, waiters and waitress entered the room and served foods and bottles of sakes for all of them. They toast for the final photo sessions tomorrow before they have their dinner. With no Takashima and Kouyou around, Aoi didn’t join the exhilaration.
The Hunter ate in the slowest phase than anyone in the room. Saga saw Aoi’s still half-filled bowl, and asked him to finish his food. Reluctantly, Aoi tried to finish his food. Ruki started the briefing only after Aoi’s bowl was really empty.
“Tomorrow we will do the photo sessions in two places,” Ruki started as he read the paper in his hand. “First place will be Enoshima Aquarium. I’ve rent some spot in that place. So, again, we don’t have to worry of the possibilities disturbing other people.”
They would leave early in the morning tomorrow. Of course they had to prepare everything for the photo session. They intended to finish the first photo session before there were too many visitors came to the aquarium.
Moreover, the photo sessions would be held at Saturday, weekend. It was nearly impossible for them to avoid the crowd. But at least, they could lessen much of the bustle if they could arrive at the set sooner. There, Ruki continued the briefing for the very last photo session tomorrow.
“It will be at Enoshima beach.”
“B… beach?” Aoi blinked.
“Yes. It’s a perfect spot to picture the summer perfectly, isn’t it?” Saga smirked.
Ruki planned not to rush their last one. He arranged that they would leave Enoshima Aquarium at two in the afternoon. Manabu wouldn’t bring too many crews for the last photo session. “Afternoon sun and the beach are the most important crews I needed for the last photo session.”
There it was. He won’t mind about any lighting for that. Ruki continued the briefing to the costumes for Aoi and Saga. They would wear one costume for each place. Ruki asked whether anyone had questions or not as he tidied up the papers on the table.
Since no one gave him any questions, Ruki nodded. “Okay. That’s all for this evening.”
“Ah, then… Matsumoto-san,” Aoi called. “Can I excuse myself? I want to look for Takashima and Kouyou.” Right after Aoi said that, Saga clicked his tongue, drawing Aoi’s attention toward him for seconds before Aoi returned his gaze back at Ruki.
“Yes, of course.” Ruki chuckled. “I saw you didn’t have a very good appetite before. Go and find them.”
“Th… thank you very much!” Aoi immediately stood and jogged a little as he exited the dining room.
“Ah, I lost my private entertainment.” Saga laid on his back on the tatami.
“Don’t worry, Saga. You can monopolize him tomorrow.” Melody giggled.
“Be careful, both of you. He’s my most beloved worker.”Ruki warned them as he chuckled.
“Oh, Saga, we got warning.” Melody giggled even more.
____....++++**・to be continued・**++++....____
Chapter 21: Left Unanswered...
When Aoi was on the stair to the second floor – to where Kouyou’s and Takashima’s room was – there was a man went down the stairs. The man smiled while he ran his fingers through his hair.
When Aoi was on the stair to the second floor – to where Kouyou’s and Takashima’s room was – there was a man went down the stairs. The tall man stared at Aoi, making Aoi gazed back at him, and saw the white soft-lenses the man wore.
The man smiled while he ran his fingers through his hair. As he moved his hand, Aoi saw the bracelet with tiny bell dangled as its ornament. It was similar to Saga’s. The tall man just walked passed Aoi down the stairs.
The man with white soft-lenses walked through the hallway and stopped in front of a door, right in front of the door to the dining room where Ruki and the other were. He turned his head to search for Aoi, but Aoi was already gone to the second floor.
He opened the door before him, and a round faced young man greeted him. “Hey! Had just woke up, Tora?” the round faced young man asked as he chuckled. “Don’t you know what time is this? You almost miss dinner time!”
“You talked too much, Nao,” said the tall man named Tora as he took a seat beside Kai. He took a bottle of sake from the table, and just drank what left inside it without pouring it first to a cup. “Is this the only sake left here?”
“Hey, you’ll burn your stomach.” Miyavi chuckled as he stood. “I’ll call the waiter to get you some food.”
“I’m full already,” Tora said with wide smiled spread on his face. Miyavi didn’t heed any of his words and still talked to the waiter to bring another food to their room. Tora continued his words, “There was this beautiful view that made me full.”
“Really?!” Nao, the round faced young man, crawled closer to Tora. “What is it, what is it?”
“Don’t get too close!” Tora pushed Nao’s face away from him. “The beautiful view? His black hair is so beautiful. He’s not as tall as me. It’s just perfect.” Tora chuckled. “With our height difference, I can kiss his forehead easily.”
“You’re not talking about the wrong person, are you, Tora?” Byo, who sat at the corner of the room, asked. “Don’t get yourself into unnecessary problem, Tora. Neither of us wants that. I bet you don’t want it too.”
“Wrong?” Tora turned his head toward Kai. “Is ‘beautiful view’ a wrong phrase to picture him, Kai?” Tora smiled. “I bet you too see him as something beautiful, don’t you, Kai? Since, he brings his beauty anywhere he goes.”
“It’s not a wrong phrase until I see your bad habit, Tora.” Kai smiled back.
“Wow, there, wow. I understand that smile more than anybody else.” Tora laughed as he raised both of his hands in the air. “Don’t worry, dear sir Kai. This evil Tora won’t have the nerve to any of Sir Kai’s private properties.”
“But this not fair, not fair, not fair!” Nao crawled again, this time toward Kai. “We’ve been following them this far to this place! But I still can’t see my pairing! He’s not here! He didn’t come here with the others!”
“Be patient, Nao,” Kai said. “There is time for everything. Rushing things won’t do us any good.”
“Yeah, right. Like you,” Tora took a pack of cigarette and a lighter from somewhere inside his yukata. “You’re way too patient for your own good, Kai. We’re even following them here just to see the situation, aren’t we?”
Kai chuckled. “I’ve told you, haven’t I? I don’t want to disturb my friend’s project. Let him finish his entire photo sessions for his boutique.” Kai smiled at Miyavi who smiled first at him. “If we can get the perfect amount, you can get whatever war you want.”
Tora lit one cigarette between his lips. “I thought Enoshima can be the perfect place to start the war.”
“Later, Tora. Later.” Kai smiled at the people inside the room. “And still, the Hunter is mine.”
“Is that kind of accessories with a bell trending?” Aoi whispered to himself when he walked at the second floor’s hallway. When Aoi turned to the corridor where it led to his room, his steps were stopped as his gaze was locked to where Kouyou stood.
“Kou…?” Aoi jogged again toward the man who stood right in front of Aoi’s room door. “Kou, what are you doing—oh…” That time, Aoi’s words were the ones that stopped as he caught Kouyou who was wearing a dark blue yukata that moment.
“Weird?” Kouyou asked. “This is the first time I wear this kind of clothing.”
“No, no!” Aoi answered hurriedly. “You don’t look weird, Kou. Really. You…” Aoi’s gaze fell to Kouyou’s shoulder line that was usually hid behind his stiff red attire. “It… suits you,” Aoi commented. “You look good in it.”
“You do too, Aoi-san.” Kouyou caressed Aoi’s yukata sleeve.
“Oh, mm… thank you…” Aoi lowered his gaze and covered his lips with his hand.
“Ah, I’m sorry for not being able to accompany you for dinner…”
“That’s alright! That’s fine. Don’t worry about that. I was just wondering where you were suddenly gone…” Aoi answered immediately for the apology. “By the way… what are you doing here? Where’s Takashima?” Aoi asked as he looked around him.
“He drank sake too much,” Kouyou answered. “He’s already asleep in his room.”
“Ah, I see…” Aoi then turned around, looking to his own room door. “Kou, I want to talk to you about tomorrow’s schedule. Can we… mm… talk in my room?” Aoi offered. When Kouyou nodded, Aoi exhaled a relieve sigh, and immediately open his room door.
Aoi opened the door for Kouyou before he turned on the lamp in his room. After the door was closed, Aoi gasped when, from behind him, Kouyou suddenly turned the lamp off. “K… Kou…?!” He tried to turn around but Kouyou’s body held him in place.
“We don’t need any light,” Kouyou said. “Let’s talk at the balcony. It won’t be too cold tonight.”
“Ah…” Aoi gripped his yukata in front of his chest. Under his hand, beneath his clothes, his heart was thumping a little harder than usual. When Kouyou finally left him, Aoi turned around. “O… okay…” he confirmed finally when he saw Kouyou opened the door to the balcony.
Both of them then sat at the balcony, and Aoi started to explain their schedule for tomorrow photo sessions. As usual, Kouyou only hummed shortly to respond any of Aoi’s words. “We’re going home the day after tomorrow, Kou,” Aoi said then.
“Will you be in the same car with that model again, Aoi-san?”
“I actually wanted to refuse.” Aoi lowered his gaze and caressed his metal bracelet. “But he just pulled me and dragged me into his car. I don’t have the time to say anything. And we’re still in Matsumoto-san’s project… so…”
Kouyou heaved. “I hope you don’t have to see him again after you’re done with the photo sessions.”
Aoi turned to see directly to Kouyou’s face. The man didn’t look at him. His sight was directed to Enoshima beach that could be seen clearly from the balcony. The ocean wind waved his hair a little. “Kou…”
“You and Takashima never looked happy every time Saga stood near me... what makes you hate him?”
“I don’t hate him, Aoi-san… it’s just…”
Kouyou turned his head, this time, he reciprocate the look on Aoi’s eyes, startled him. “I don’t know – I don’t want to think about what he could do if I wasn’t around. I dislike those who tried to take you away from me.”
“From… you… and Takashima, you mean?”
Kouyou was startled and immediately looked away from Aoi. “Yes…”
He was still looking at Kouyou. Again, Aoi’s mind was drifted back to when Saga took him into Melody’s car for the first time. Saga’s questions kept coming back to his mind and Aoi just couldn’t shrug it off. It kept nagging him.
「“Will they stay by your side, playing the role as your guardian, if they stop helping you?」
It didn’t stop there. His thoughts flew even farther, when Kouyou got mad at him after they got The Empress power. Kouyou left his apartment for his Hunter’s stubbornness. Aoi’s reason to run after Kouyou that moment suddenly came back to his mind.
「“Because you’re leaving, Kouyou…”」
“If you really dislike anyone who tried to take me away from… you… if you dislike us being separated, then… after we can retrieve all of the Arcana Powers later…” Aoi halted himself before he finally asked, “Are you going to leave?”
Kouyou immediately looked back at Aoi. The question caught him and it startled him when he saw the tear. With his thumb, Kouyou wiped his Hunter’s tear. “This is the second time…” Kouyou said. “Why are you crying?”
It was the question Kouyou almost asked to Aoi when Aoi cried in his embrace. He didn’t manage to ask that when Hiroto suddenly appeared. This time, when there was no else there that could disturb them, Kouyou – finally – voiced out the said question.
“Don’t ask, Kou… please… I don’t know…” Aoi closed his eyes. “I don’t know…”
After that, none of them said anything. Kouyou didn’t even answer Aoi’s question. Aoi didn’t ask anything any further. Watching his Hunter, Kouyou could only lessen the gap between them, and again, pulled him into his embrace.
And Aoi’s question was left unanswered…
「“Are you going to leave?”」
“Enoshima?!” Kanon almost pounded the table that morning. Several chess pieces fell on the board on the table because of the girl’s sudden movement. “Is that why you cancelled the plan of attending Aoi’s and Saga-san’s photo session yesterday?”
Kanon-kun nodded. “I didn’t expect the photo sessions would be held in two days. Ruki-san didn’t tell you anything about it?” he asked. Kanon shook her head. “I knew it. It was Saga-san’s doing. We follow them there; we’ll leave this afternoon, right after school.”
“Wait… a minute, Sano,” said the girl as she looked straight to Kanon-kun’s eyes. “You haven’t answered my question back then. But watching your attitude like this, it must have something to do with that suspicious agreement of yours, and Arcana.”
“Wakeshima, did Aoi-san usually bring all of the retrieved Arcana Power cards with him?”
Kanon fell silent. The boy answered her question by mentioning the cards to question her back. “Takashima is the one who usually brings it…” she answered. “But, Sano, don’t you think you exaggerated it too much?”
“For asking all of us to attend their photo sessions?”
The girl nodded as she sat back on her chair. “I thought that only The Hierophant could do that…”
“For the giant chess?” Kanon-kun asked. “Many people were involved in the game was because you were gathering at that time, weren’t you? I could still start the game even you were alone that time. The chess pieces amount would adjust.”
“I thought your aim that time was to oppose me with my friends?”
The boy shook his head. “The aim was also adjusted. I – as The Hierophant that moment – only wanted to defeat The High Priestess. Aoi-san’s presence that moment was adjusting my aim to make all of you stood in the position where all of you must kill him…”
“Very manipulative…” the girl gulped.
“Indeed.” Kanon-kun continued. “This time, Aoi-san might need help from everyone…” He took a deep breath and said, “There will be more than one Arcana Powers Aoi-san has to face later.” Suddenly the boy’s eyes went wide, and he held his left wrist.
He growled when he suddenly fell from his chair. “S… Sano?!” Kanon stood and ran to where the boy fell and kneeled beside him. “What’s wrong?! Why—a lion?!” she gasped when she saw an ember at the back on Kanon-kun’s left hand.
An ember with a shape of lion head with its mane burnt the boy’s skin at the back of his left hand. “The agreement is starting to work…” he said when he looked at the lion head. It startled him when Kanon suddenly held his upper arm.
“Enough,” she said. “You don’t have to say anything more. I… I don’t know who you bind this agreement with. I don’t know what you’ve been through so that you have to bind yourself with this kind of agreement… but…”
“I’m scared, Sano…” she continued. Her bangs covered half of her face as she lowered her gaze. “I’m scared with that lion head. I’m scared looking at your hand. I don’t know what kind of person has the ability to bring THAT up out of your skin… burning you…” She sobbed.
“H… hey… come one now… you don’t have to—”
“I don’t know why there is anybody who has the heart to do THAT to anyone…” Kanon gazed back upward, letting the boy see the tear streamed on her face. “I’m going to make that person cut the agreement from you.”
“DON’T STOP ME,” the girl shouted. “We’re leaving this afternoon, aren’t we? I’ll call Reita and the others.” Kanon stood and walked to the other side of the room. “Aoi will get all the help he needs later.” She reached for her bag.
“I’ll prepare the car then…”
“That will be much of the help.” The girl smiled as she took her phone from her bag. “And if I can be lucky enough… based on my intuition… after we reach Enoshima later, I might be able to meet the person who bind the agreement with you.”
Aoi and Saga – with Ruki, Melody and Manabu – repeated the ritual again that morning. Aoi and Saga were preparing themselves with the costume with Ruki’s help, while Manabu was preparing his camera and all of his equipment.
When Aoi and Saga were done with their costumes and makeup, again, Aoi’s appearance that day startled Takashima and Kouyou. The two men fell silent as they gazed at their Hunter. They didn’t even heed Saga’s presence at all that time.
That time, Saga wore a sleeveless white shirt. As the lower part, Saga wore short pants with long cloth sewed to the wrist part of the pants. The seam of the cloth positioned right in front of his right leg, and making that little part of his thigh could be seen as he walked.
Beside him, Aoi wore white linen pants. For one pose, Aoi sat and held his sandal strap, as if he was wearing his sandal. The sandal was one of the designs Ruki made. It was ankle-height white gladiator sandals.
The upper part for Aoi’s costume was also Ruki’s design. And it was the one that made Takashima had to plug his nose with a tissue every time he saw Aoi changed his pose. As Manabu’s commanded, Aoi had to flap the long cloth from his shirt to give the waving effect.
The design for collared shirt that Aoi wore used the same concept with the design for Saga’s pants. There was a long cloth that was covered the shirt. In Aoi’s case, the long cloth was transparent. Instead of buttons, the shirt Aoi wore used a zipper.
Aoi’s shirt was also sleeveless. The material and the size were designed to follow the person’s body curve. The shirt only reached the lower part of Aoi’s chest, so Aoi’s stomach was revealed for anyone to see.
Only the long transparent cloth reached Aoi’s knee, and it was the only thing that – futilely – separated Aoi’s skin from anyone’s gazes. It’s transparent anyway, so people could still see Aoi’s flat stomach. Some of those people are of course Takashima and Kouyou.
Ruki purposely chose white for the clothes Aoi and Saga wore that time. With the light reflection and the colours from around the aquariums, the white colour on Aoi’s and Saga’s costume would change into any other colour around them.
At the Enoshima Aquarium, the photo session held in three different spots. One spot for Aoi only session, one spot for Saga only session, and the last one was for both of them together. It all had its own different nuance.
The spot for Aoi had the aquarium glass that stood from the floor, and curved to the ceiling as the background. With two sides of the aquarium glass – at the wall and at the ceiling – people who stood right below it could the fishes that swam above their heads.
The spot for Saga was at the different room. There was tube-shaped wide aquarium, with its glass stood from the floor to the ceiling. The aquarium glass followed the curvy wall shape, making the half part of the room wall looked like it was made from the aquarium glass.
The last spot for Saga and Aoi was the room with blue-purple colour nuance. There were three small aquariums in the room. At the ceiling, there was a dome-shaped ornament with vines around it, making it looked like a floating jellyfish.
There was not much obstacle they faced for the photo session at the Enoshima Aquarium. There was one though. A group of teenage girls squealed when they saw Saga’s presence there. Melody then suggested him to greet the girls.
Saga even gave free signs for them when the girls showed a photo of him, a magazine with him at the cover, a fan with his picture on it – one of his goods – and other things to him. Just when those girls asked to take pictures with him, Melody showed up and did the stopping act.
“You all can see Saga’s new photos at the Nero Morale boutique later!” Melody cheered. “There will be special event too for the new summer designs!” Melody held Saga’s shoulder from behind and pulled him away from the girl slowly.
“Will there be any event we can attend?” asked one of those girls.
“Don’t worry; there will be following announcement at Saga’s official site!” Melody then clapped her hands. “Oh, right! Maybe some of you are members of Saga no Saga? You know Saga’s official fanclub, right?”
“Yes, yes! We’re members!” the girls squealed. One of them even took a card out from her pouch. The purple card shone with silvery glitters on it. A wing of butterfly could be seen as the ornament at one corner of the cards.
“Wow! You bring the member card! Yay!” Melody cheered again. “So you gals can see the newest information at Saga’s blog too later!” Melody gave that subtle sign to Saga to leave the crowd. “There will be some photos too of course!”
The girls squealed again. Two of them held hands and jumped in obvious excitement. “Okay then!” Melody talked again. “Thank you for today! You gals are great visitors for Enoshima Aquarium too! We’re very sorry that Saga couldn’t talk longer today because we’re in the middle photo session actually.”
“We understand, Saga-kun! Don’t worry, Handsome!”
“Again, thank you to all of you, sweet gals!” Melody waved her hands.
“Buh-byeee!” the girls waved their hands – at Saga. “Ganbatte ne, Sagacchi! Sagacchi, ganbatte!” the girls cheered him as they walked away from the set. “Did you see him?! He’s so handsome!” Their squeals could still be heard to the photo set.
The people at the photo set suddenly fell silent and chose to listen to those girls. “Let’s go check Saga’s blog later!” And then one of them could be seen turned her head toward Aoi. “That guy… he’s the one at Sagacchi’s blog, isn’t he?”
The other girls followed. “Right! It’s him! Who’s his name again? Aoi-kun, isn’t it? Is he a new model?”
“Maybe! I’ve never seen him before! But he’s cute too! Sagacchi’s handsome! Oh, my God.”
“He is, he is!” they squealed again when they – finally – gone to the other room. “They’re perfect! Hey, maybe there’s a link to Aoi-kun’s blog from Sagacchi’s? We definitely SHOULD check it! OH! Let’s go to Nero Morale too!”
“Unbelievable…” Manabu gaped at the hallway where the girls lastly seen.
“They’ve left…” Ruki fanned himself. “But I can still hear their voices.”
On his chair, Saga laughed. Saga sat between Aoi at his right, and Melody who stood at his left. Both of Aoi and Melody frowned and each of them held their forehead. “I didn’t expect they would be here,” Melody said.
“Don’t involve me in this…” Aoi warned them.
____....++++**・to be continued・**++++....____