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Night of the Hunter (Eng)

Chapter Text

Aoi as the Hunter

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?”

“Eh?”

“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.

“Stop that.”

“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’.”

“But you—”

“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 Text

Kouyou, as the Joker

 

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—”

“Shush, Takashima.”

“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!”

“Haaah!?”

“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.”

“WHAT!?”

“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 Text

Takashima, as the Albino Joker

 

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.

Fifty seconds…

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?

Thirty seconds…

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.

Ten seconds…

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 Text

Reita, as The Magician

 

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 Text

Kanon Wakeshima, as The High Priestess

 

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.

“You can’t—”

“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!”

“Aoi-san—”

“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!”

“My offspring—”

“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 Text

Hiroto Ogata, Aoi's co-worker

 

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!!”

“Darling, don’t—”

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.

“What a—”

“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 Text

Jill, as The Empress

 

Fandom : the GazettE, Alice Nine, Kanon Wakeshima, Rose Noire, more to come(?)
Pairings : Uruha x Aoi (and more to come..*giggle*)
Comment :

 


“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!”

“Kouyou-chan—”

“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?”

“Aoi-san, 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.”

“But this—”

“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 was—”

“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?”

“Aoi-san, you—”

“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 Text

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?”

“Darling?”

“Y… yes..?”

“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!”

“WOOF!!”

“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.”

“Yes, Matsumoto-san.”

“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 Text

Ruki, as The Emperor

 

“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.

“Kou…”

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.

“Takashima—”

“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.”

“DARLING!!”

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 Text

Miyavi, as ??

 

“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.

“What..?!”

“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…”

“But, Darling—”

“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!”

“Impudent—”

“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.

Yuu...

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!”…」

“Kou...”

“Yes, Aoi-san?”

“I’m... scared...”

*

“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.”

“Impulsive.”

“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 Text

“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.”…」
「…“I’m… scared…”…」

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!”

ALBI!!

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!”

HE WHAT?!

“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.”

Albi!

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 Text

Tsukiyama Miku, as ??

 

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.”
- “WHA—”
- “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.

Ever.

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.”

“Huh?”

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.”

“Why you…”

“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 Text

Nagano Teruki, as ??

 

“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.”

“Kanon.”

“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.

“Tonight.”

“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.

“Yes?”

“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?”

“Yes?”

“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?”

“I’m 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 Text

“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.

“AOI-SAN!!”

“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.

00

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.

01

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.

05

“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.

07

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.

08

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.

10

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!”

17

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.

18

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 Text

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.”

“But—”

“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.

19

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.

22

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.

25

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.

30

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.

36

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.

39

“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.”

“Odin—”

“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!”

“Ka… Kanon-chan—”

“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.”

“But—”

“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 Text

“Kou..?”

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…

“T… Takashima?”

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.

“Why can’t?”

“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.”

“Um, Aoi?”

“Yes, Sir?”

“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.

“Sanooo!”

“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.


Kanon (ANCafe) as The Hierophant

Chapter Text

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…

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.

“Wait—”

“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.”

“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.”

“But, Aoi—”

“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?”

“JILL?!”

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.

Kouyou…

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.

 

Chapter Text

“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.

He didn’t.

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?

Takashima... Kou...

*

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.

*

Kai, as ??

“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.”

 

Chapter Text

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…”

“Albi…”

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.

“What’s wrong?”

“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?”

“Yes, Aoi-san.”

“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.

The Seal


“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?

“Y… yes.”

“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.

“Should I?”

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?”

Precious Stone?

“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.

 

Chapter Text

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?”

“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.

“What?”

“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.

“S… Saga…!”

“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.

 

Chapter Text

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…”

“Hm.”

“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…”

“‘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…”」

“Kou…”

“Y… yes…”

“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…”

“Wakeshima…”

“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.”

“You can’t.”

“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.

spot for Aoi at Enoshima Aquarium


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.

spot for Saga at Enoshima Aquarium


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.

spot for Aoi and Saga at Enoshima Aquarium


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.

 

Chapter Text

It was two thirty at the afternoon when they reached Enoshima. Some of Manabu’s crews returned to their inn to clear up the unused photography equipment for the last photo session. Only two of his crews followed Manabu to the beach, while Aoi and Saga had changed their costume at Enoshima Aquarium first before they reached for the beach.

Unlike the previous costumes, their current ones were not monotone colour. They were colourful. Saga’s upper part was a sleeveless shirt that looked like a short yukata with light blue colour. There was small button that was hidden behind the shirt rim so it won’t be easily opened like the usual yukata, to help the obi or the belt to hold the shirt in place.

The back part of the yukata was long and stretched to his legs. From behind, Saga looked like he wore a sleeveless light blue long coat. The material was so light it moved a little along the ocean breeze. As the lower part, Saga wore linen long pants with the blue colour just a little darker than his yukata’s colour. His costume was a contrast to Aoi’s.

Beside him, Aoi walked as he held the long cloth that was covered his legs. The wide red cloth – again – made it looked like a long skirt. As the upper part, Aoi wore a tank-top with colourful pattern on it. Ruki helped Aoi when he found his amateur model almost tripped when he walked on the beach sand with his long red cloth.

“You don’t have to hold the cloth all the time, Sweetie.” Ruki chuckled as he held Aoi’s free hand. “I’ve designed it to stay in place though in windy place like this. It’ll just reveal a little part of your legs skin, but that is one of the points, Aoi.” Ruki fix Aoi’s hair behind his ear. “You look good in it. A little sexiness won’t hurt?”

“Matsumoto-san…” Aoi blushed.

They then gathered at the spot near the beach guard post. Ruki helped Aoi to fix his costume again, and asked the makeup artists to touch up Saga’s and Aoi’s makeup. Behind them, Melody walked with her shoes in one hand, and her other hand was busy typing something in her phone. Behind them all, Kouyou and Takashima followed.

The two men stopped theirs steps far enough from the beach guard post, and chose to watch everything from safe distance. Takashima stuck his black cane on the sand, while Kouyou kneeled and touched the sand instead. “I bet this place reminds you of something. Doesn’t it, Kouyou-chan? A little crowded, but it looks similar nonetheless.”

“Yes.” Kouyou looked up, gazed at Aoi who walked beside Saga. Behind the two models, Manabu pointed his camera toward them and took several pictures. “The beach where we made the agreement with Aoi-san,” he continued. “How long it passed since that time, Takashima? We just got five Arcana Powers.”

“Today was exactly seven weeks.” Takashima held his fedora that was blown a little by the sea breeze. “Almost two months, with five Powers. Is that a good or bad omen?” Takashima asked. “With our dear Darling’s help, we succeeded in stifling five Powers’ rebellion, but there are still seventeen Powers more lurking out there.”

“Neither good nor bad omen then.” Kouyou stood back up. “I can’t predict how many months more we need to retrieve them all. Moreover, the problem we must face after this will be a lot more difficult.” Kouyou looked at the people at the photo set, especially at Saga who held Aoi’s hand. “Some of them even stood before us now.”

“You’re right.” Takashima followed Kouyou’s gaze. “Moreover about our Hunter’s life secret.”

“Ironic?”

Takashima turned his head toward his counterpart. “Yes, indeed it’s ironic,” he answered. “I just hope…” Takashima heaved. “After we retrieve all of the Arcana Power, our Hunter’s problems can be solved too. I…” he hesitated. “I remember his condition when we met him for the first time, Kouyou-chan… on the road…”

“IN THE MIDDLE of the road, Takashima…” Kouyou corrected. “If only we didn’t come to him that mo—”

“Wait!” Aoi’s voice was suddenly got louder and caught the two men’s attention.

“Lay on the sand,” Manabu repeated his command. That moment, he stood on the beach guard post that was looked like a stage. His position was higher than the models. One of his crews gave him another lens to adjust with the position and point of view. As he changed his lens, he explained, “I’m going to take pictures from up here, so that I can make it looks like you’re standing.

“With the beach sand as the background, Aoi,” Saga added.

“Wh… what pose should I do then?” Aoi asked.

“Just lay down first,” Saga pushed Aoi’s shoulder and made him sat on the sand.

“Hey?!” Aoi yelped, when from behind him, Saga pulled him, and made Aoi laid on his back on the sand.

“Now straighten your right leg.”

“What?!”

“Come on now. Straighten it, or you want me to straighten it for you?” Saga asked with a wink that made Aoi fell silent. As Saga commanded him, Aoi straightened his right leg. “Now, bend your left knee.” Again, Aoi obeyed and bend his left knee. “Then, hold both of your hands above your head.” Saga pulled both Aoi hands, and held it above Aoi’s head on the sand.

“Wait… h… hey!”

“How’s this, Manabu?” Saga asked.

“Perfect.” Manabu smiled. “Hold that position, okay, Aoi?” He looked at Aoi through his camera lens as Saga stood and walked away from where Aoi laid down. Manabu then took several of Aoi’s pictures. “Aoi’s natural expressions are really something, aye?” Manabu chuckled. “Ah, Ruki-san, I’m sorry. If you don’t mind, can you help me with Aoi’s skirt—I mean… cloth?” Manabu asked as Ruki walked closer. “I want him to look like a peacock here, if you know what I mean.”

Ruki sent him an ‘okay’ sign as he kneeled beside Aoi and fixed the red cloth, spreading it, making it looked like a fan. “Perfect!” Manabu said as he looked at Aoi through his camera lens and took another several pictures after Ruki left Aoi alone again. “Thank you very much, Ruki-san. And you too, Saga. Ah, Aoi, can you look to your left?”

“Li… like this?” Aoi turned his face and looked at Takashima and Kouyou who looked back at him.

“Very good!” Manabu took other pictures. “Now, Saga. Lay beside Aoi.” Manabu gestured to his crews to give more space to the models. The photographer only smiled when he saw Aoi looked at him in disbelieves. “Saga, can you lay upside down? I want to make a yin-yang concept.”

“Wha… wait…!” Aoi yelped again.

“I got it,” Saga said as he sat not very near from Aoi’s head. “Your hand.” He pushed one of Aoi’s hands before he laid back, at the opposite of Aoi’s direction, and positioned his head beside Aoi’s head. “Like this, Manabu?” Saga asked as Ruki walked to him and helped him stretch the long back part of his yukata to make it looked like a fan, resembling Aoi’s red cloth.

“Ah, this is wonderful.” Manabu looked through his camera lens again. “Aoi, Saga, look at each other.”

“Eh?!”

“Just do it.” Saga held the side of Aoi’s head, pulled it a little; making Aoi turned his head toward him. Aoi looked at him with wide eyes, and Saga smiled, “Zayin…” Saga whispered, and he could Aoi gasped. Slowly, Aoi closed his eyes. As he opened his eyes again, the look of his eyes changed into something gloomy. “Beautiful…” Saga whispered again.

“Yes, yes, both of you are beautiful.” Melody smiled as she bit the tip of her pen.

Ruki turned his head toward Takashima and Kouyou before he jogged closer to the two men. Right when Kouyou started to walk away, Ruki stopped him. “Kouyou, they’re professionals. This is only a work.” Beside Kouyou, Ruki could see Takashima held his hand as the red aura around Kouyou’s eye started to burn.

“Kouyou-chan, hold yourself. Be wise.”

Slowly, Kouyou loosened his grip, and he watched as Aoi changed his position. Aoi sat on the sand, using both of his elbows to support the upper part of his body’s weight. That moment, he straightened his left leg, and bent his right knee. Then, beside him, Saga laid down, using Aoi’s thigh as the pillow for his head.

“Do you think I should be? Yeah, you think I should. But I don’t think I can. He won’t stop provoking us.” Kouyou frowned at the scene. “I’m going back to the inn. Matsumoto-san, you should prepare yourself for something bad that might happens after this,” he said before he turned around and left the beach.

“Kouyou-chan,” Takashima called, and the man in red stopped in his track. Takashima handed him The Magician, The Empress, and The Hierophant cards. “Just in case.” He smiled. “Don’t worry. The Emperor is for Ruki-san. I too don’t want to let our dear Darling use more than one Power. I’m here too. So, don’t worry.”

“Wh… what do you mean, Takashima? Kouyou?” Ruki called as Kouyou started to walk away again.

Ruki’s calling reached Melody’s ears. She no longer heeded the photo session of the two models in front of her. She turned around and saw Kouyou walked away from where Takashima and Ruki stood. Melody’s eyes followed where the man in red left as she stared in silent. Melody saw Takashima held Ruki’s hand when the he tried to run after Kouyou.

“It is okay, Ruki-san. Let him be,” said Takashima. “Insisting him to wait here won’t do any good either.”

“I hope he can understand.” Ruki frowned.

“Well, that’ll be difficult,” Takashima uttered. “When this photo session will be over, Ruki-san?”

“It’s after the sun sets. I need one silhouette photo with the setting sun as the background.”

“There will be no more after this?”

“Yes.” Ruki nodded without hesitation.

“So, now, we have to prepare ourselves just like what Kouyou-chan have told use earlier.”

“And what do you guys meant with ‘something bad’?”

“Ruki-san, do you know that we have Arcana Powers lurking around us at this very moment?”

“What?!”

“Ssshh…” Takashima hushed him in a low voice as he gestured his index finger in front of his black lips. “Kouyou-chan and I had made sure that they will do something after you’re done with the photo sessions.” Takashima smiled as he saw Ruki looked at him with wide eyes. “And you won’t believe who they are.”

“They are…?” Ruki asked with a whisper and a frown.

“Three Powers… are… in that model… his manager… and THAT photographer…”

“You… lie…” Ruki gaped at Saga, Melody, and Manabu, at all people he was currently working with.

“But don’t worry, Ruki-san. They don’t look like they will ruin your project,” Takashima said as he turned around. Kouyou was no longer there, no longer near them to be found. “That was one of the reasons Kouyou-chan chose to leave this place.” Takashima returned his gaze to the said three people, and his own Hunter.

“What for?”

“To lure one of those Arcana Powers away from our dear Darling…”

“Now that you mention it… why it seems like Aoi doesn’t detect anything? There might be a bell sound–”

“Kouyou-chan and I had also made sure at the Enoshima Aquarium, Ruki-san,” Takashima said. “The bracelet the model is wearing, and earrings his manager is wearing, those are not any normal accessories. We suppose that those accessories are blocking our dear Darling from detecting their existences as Arcana Power hosts and hostess.”

“Then what about Manabu?” Ruki asked. “I don’t see him wearing any accessories.”

“Kouyou-chan and I are suspecting the pair of earrings the manager is wearing. One bell is to stifle her power, and the other is to stifle the Arcana Power inside the photographer. They synchronized very well with each of the Arcana Power, and they KNOW that our dear Darling detects them by the sound of the chiming bell.”

“With what Powers they are synchronizing to?”

“The manager is synchronized with Justice; with the soul fragment of Pallas Athena… in Greek mythology, she was the goddess of wisdom in one part, and the goddess of war in the other. She loves justice nonetheless. Kouyou-chan and I believe that she will do something to make a fair battle if Kouyou-chan was no longer here.”

“But still… I didn’t expect that Melody… who seems like she’s smiling all the time…”

Takashima snorted. “Makes her looks cold now, no?” It was more to a pronouncement than a question. “We have a goddess who loves to criticize anything as a manager, and Helios’s soul fragment as the photographer. That photographer of yours is The Chariot. Just like his name, he has steeds that pull his chariot.”

“You mean those two crews of his?”

“Sharp observation, Ruki-san,” Takashima confirmed. “Helios drives a golden chariot drawn by steeds in Greek mythology. He could be that egoist conqueror sometimes. He might have steeds, but he worked alone. Just like that photographer of yours. Though he has crews, he took pictures by himself. With the Justice Arcana Power, they won’t let any feelings involved in any problems.”

Takashima then directed his gaze toward Saga. He took a deep breath before he spoke, “And that model… is The Lovers… he has the soul fragment from Eros, the god of sexual attraction in Greek mythology… a very noisy Arcana who loves to intervene anyone’s relationship problems. He hates hypocrite human beings who refuse to unite.”

“A lover indeed…”

“Indeed…” Takashima sighed. “A very dangerous Lover Arcana who always full of… passion…”

Ruki frowned. “As if Saga can eat Aoi anytime he wants…”

“Actually, he can…” Takashima gripped tight his black cane.

“And… as if you hate Saga very much.”

“I don’t hate him, Ruki-san,” Takashima objected before he saw Melody suddenly turned her head.

Melody took a glance at Takashima before she looked back at Saga and waited until the model reciprocated her gaze. When they looked at one another, Melody smiled. The manager saw her model nodded at her. After that, Melody walked toward Manabu. She stopped casually about two steps beside the photographer.

Manabu turned his head and looked at Melody. He then checked at the photo results in his camera, and slipped the strap off of his neck. He gave his camera to Melody and called at one of his crew to ask for his other camera. Manabu nodded at Melody, and the manager only smiled before she turned around and walked toward Ruki.

“She’s coming,” Takashima whispered. “Stay calm, Ruki-san. Let’s play along their game.”

“Ruki-san?” she called.

“Yes?” Ruki answered.

“I’m going back to the inn.” Melody smiled.

“You’re not going to wait for Saga?” Ruki asked.

“I still have to make reports to the agency. Saga is doing great. I won’t be worry about him. The last session only waits for sunset, right? It won’t be long, I guess? Moreover, I believe in you, Ruki-san. And in Manabu-san as the photographer. Saga already dedicated himself toward the project too, so I believe in him, he won’t let you down.”

“Do you want me to accompany you then?”

“No, no! That won’t be necessary. Aoi-chan will need you here.” She giggled. “Ah, Speaking of Aoi-chan. If only these reports can be done by its self.” Melody sighed. “Manabu entrusted his camera to me. Many of the photos at the beach are in this camera. I have big responsibilities in making sure the photos inside here are all safe.”

“Ah, Manabu uses different camera for the sunset, doesn’t he…” Ruki nodded.

Takashima frowned. There were two crews that were following anywhere Manabu went. He looked at the camera in Melody’s hand. A model’s manager shouldn’t paid too much attention to any of Manabu’s belongings as long as the photographer had his crews, should it? Of course, except Manabu’s crews were good for something else…

“OK then. Leave the rest to me.” Ruki chuckled. “Thank you so much for everything.” He bowed.

“The pleasure is mine, Ruki-san.” Melody reciprocated the bow. She turned around and shouted at Manabu. “Photographer-san! I believe in you! Protect our precious models, okay?” Melody waved her hand at Manabu who answered it with a small nod and smiled. “Okay, I’m leaving!” Melody turned around again.

She winked at Takashima before the manager jogged a little toward the stair that brought her to the parking area. “She left…” Ruki whispered. “What are we going to do now, Takashima? Aoi hasn’t known anything about this, has he? There are still Manabu and Saga surrounding him right now. You know I’ll do anything to protect him.”

“Kouyou-chan will deal with Justice. Ruki-san, like what I’ve said earlier, I need your help here with The Emperor to face The Chariot and The Lovers,” Takashima requested, and Ruki nodded at that. “We just have to wait for them to make their move. We can’t do anything much right now… they have our dear Darling in their side…” Takashima clicked his tongue.

*

After Melody reached the parking area, Melody wore her shoes back. She straightened her body back and swept her gaze at around the area. Her eyes stopped at a black European branded sedan car. She walked toward the car, and someone at the back passenger seat lowered the window glass. “Joker didn’t head to the inn,” said Miyavi casually after the window glass didn’t cover his face from his wife’s glance.

“I know,” Melody answered as she gave Manabu’s camera to her husband.

“Need help for the Joker?” Miyavi smiled.

“No,” Melody answered again. “My job now is only to prevent that Joker from helping the Hunter, right?” she asked. She put off one of her earrings, making the tiny bell chimed. Huffed, she said, “I still don’t get it. What does Kai have in his twisted mind? Okay, he calculated everything. And he ALWAYS acts like this. Still…”

“Kai recognizes the risks very well.” Miyavi turned on the camera and looked at Manabu’s photo results.

Melody looked at Miyavi sceptically. She extended her hand and gave him her earring. “He has the COURAGE to do all of THIS because he makes the HUNTER who will take the risk.” She heaved. “I’m not worried about Kai, Darling. We have nothing to worry about Kai. I’m worrying his precious Hunter’s condition after this.”

Turning it off, Miyavi put the camera at the seat beside him. “Honey, the Hunter is Kai’s most important person. Kai knows best what the people around him will do to protect their beloved Hunter,” said Miyavi as he stretched his hand and received the bell ornamented earring from his wife’s hand. “Believe me, Kai had thought of it all.”

“‘Most important person’.” Melody snorted. “Then, Darling, send my greeting to Kai. Ask him, does he know who the Hunter’s currently most important person… or people…” Melody’s words made the smile from her husband’s face vanished. “Yes, I know YOU know what I’m talking about. Keep the camera safe. I’m off,” Melody said before she ran after where Kouyou had gone earlier.

“Kai knows that too, Honey…” Miyavi stared at the tiny bell on his wife’s earring. “Kai knows that too…”

*

There was a park and playground where Melody found Kouyou. The sun was setting when Melody walked in the park. It was empty that time, and it made the manager smiled. “Kouyou-san,” she called and made the certain man in red turned his head toward her. “Or should I call you… Joker?” Melody asked as she stopped several steps away from Kouyou.

Kouyou turned around so that he faced the woman completely. “Good afternoon, Justice.”

“Ah! Yes, yes, good afternoon to you too.” Melody giggled. “You knew already?!”

“Yes. The eleventh Arcana Power,” Kouyou greeted him. “Where’s one of your earrings?” Kouyou asked.

“You even knew about my earring!” she cheered. “That’s too bad. I thought I could surprise you because I know your real name. Here you surprised me for knowing who I am! Joker is truly awesome, isn’t he? One muffler gone, and you automatically could predict everything.” Melody took off of her other earring. “Since when do you know about me?”

“Not very long.” The red aura around his eye was starting to burn. “I have to admit that I still need Hunter’s help to detect your presence.” Kouyou punched the air and brought up out the fire around his fist. “Not even I and or Albino Joker knew about who are the people around us actually. You synchronized with the soul fragment very well.”

“You’re not very good at lying, Joker,” she said. “Your beloved Hunter had no idea at all about the people around him. You can found out about us even without the help from your hunter, doesn’t it, Joker? If Hunter knew something about us, his headache would torture him along the photo sessions. Oh, we don’t have the heart to do that.”

Melody giggled when he heard Kouyou growled. “Yes, we wore these bells on purpose. You can even say that we’re hiding from Hunter’s detection. But what surprise me the most is you. You’re still like this, Joker. You didn’t change. I was just testing you, and I got the proof.” She put her earring inside her blazers’ pocked as she continued, “Joker IS jealous.”

“Are you enjoying your freedom, Justice?” Kouyou didn’t heed Melody’s words.

“Oh, yes, of course I’m enjoying it very much.” The manager extended both of her arms, showing the free gestured. “But at the same time, I didn’t do anything dangerous, did I?” she said. “After you found out about that too, do you still want to catch all of the Arcana Powers? What, are you scared that I might do something else if I gather with the other Arcana Power yielder?”

“Who knows?” Kouyou shrugged. “I can’t even guarantee what you will do with The Lovers for example.”

Melody smiled, this time without any positive aura around her. “Be very careful, Joker. That kind of ambition is what makes us all rebelled. Moreover, you’ve watch over us over these past few days, haven’t you? When I was around with The Lovers AND The Chariot, we didn’t do anything. If that was still not enough for you, then right now, I’m alone, without The Lovers and The Chariot accompanying me.”

“Your model and the photographer…”

“Yes, of course you knew.” Melody smiled. “Now I know that the mufflers only effected to the Hunter. These almighty Jokers could still detect our whereabouts.” She waved her right hand, as if she asked something to rise. “Yes, you’re correct, by the way. Manabu, the photographer is The Chariot’s host.” The ground near her feet was suddenly trembled and swelled up, making a pile of earth.

The pile made the ground around it cracked. “What are you doing, Justice?” Kouyou gritted his teeth.

“Have you ever heard about… the combination of a woman and a high-heel can be very dangerous, Joker?” Melody smiled as she stepped her right foot on the pile. She pressed her heel and stabbed it onto the top of the pile, making a hole on it. From the hole, the cracks around the pile were getting wider and larger.

Melody stepped away from the crack. When Kouyou tried to get closer to Melody, a black hand that suddenly emerged from the crack stopped him in his track. The long and sharp claws from the Black Hand ripped the ground apart, making a bigger hole. From inside the hole, the owner of the Black Hand came out, and showed its true form in front of Kouyou.

Melody as Justice

 

Chapter Text

Her face was pale, unlike the skin on her whole body that was solid black like a scorched coal. Her red hair was pulled back completely in a tight knot. The tip of her hair was joined in lumps of hissing snake heads. Like the colour of her hair, her eyes glowed red like blood. After she crawled up from the hole on the ground and completely stood on it, the pale faced she-creature spread her pair of large bat wings on her back.

On her coal-black hand, the red snake-haired creature grip tight a whip with a small blade made from a brass as its tip. “E… Erinyes Alecto?!” Kouyou shouted the pale faced she-creature’s name. “You summoned one of the honourable Erinyeses. You’re taking this way too far, Justice. Must you really summon the goddess that existed even before you?”

“Ah, you remembered her, Joker.” Melody smiled. “Don’t worry. She’s here not to revenge to anyone, though she was full of it. As written in the myth, she’s now here to protect justice; which is me. Well, Justice Arcana Power’s soul fragment is Pallas Athena, isn’t it? Voila, Erinyeses also the protector of the trial, led by Athena, which is also me.”

“What do you want actually, Justice? Why did you approach my Hunter?”

“I didn’t ask for the assembly, Joker.” Melody giggled at Kouyou’s words choosing. “It was Ruki-san who wanted to work with us. Fortunately, Hunter is in the same project. It’s just as simple as that!” She flicked her fingers. “And by the way, I’m here right now, with the honourable mission to make sure that you’re not going anywhere near our beloved Hunter.”

“I was the one who lure you here.”

“It’s part of our plan, Joker.” Melody smiled. “We knew that you might think about me being fair for the battle. There are three Arcana Powers and you just won’t let our Hunter face that massive kind of gathering, would you? So you tried to lure me here, which was a success if I may say. But then I’m here to play with you so that you don’t have to disturb our Hunter with… The Lovers.”

Kouyou was startled. “What are you planning to do about Hunter and The Lovers?!”

“Oh, get through me first if you want to find out. But, I can’t fly, you know that. That’s why I need Lady Erinyes Alecto so that we can be at the same level. It’s not fair if I have to face the Joker who has the ability to move from one place to another so easily… As if this very earth gravitation can’t hold you onto the ground.”

Kouyou clicked his tongue as he gaze right through Melody’s eyes. The man in red punched his other hand to the air and brought up out fire around his other fist. That moment, both of Kouyou’s fists were burned in flame. Kouyou dashed toward Melody and ready to punch Melody. At the same time, the red eyes she-creature named Alecto jumped in front of Melody and protected her from Kouyou’s attack. There, the battle begun.

*

The sky was already turned orange when the black car drove passed the border. One of the passengers, Kanon-kun, looked outside his window and read a big board with “Enoshima” written on it. Kanon-kun who sat beside the driver turned his head to the passenger seat behind him. Kanon, Jill, and Reita were there. “Wakeshima, their photo sessions places are—”

“Hush!” Kanon shushed him. “Don’t talk. I don’t want your hand get burned again,” said the girl who sat in the middle seat, between Reita at her left – right behind Kanon-kun – and Jill at her right. “I know about all of the photo sessions today. I’ve asked Hiroto-san earlier this morning, so don’t you worry. If you tell us more about this, I don’t know what will happen to you.”

“If you say so then…” Kanon-kun straightened his body on his seat and faced forward again.

Kanon took a deep breath. “We’re lucky that Hiroto-san knew something about today’s photo sessions. I guessed that Hiroto-san asked about today’s schedule to Ruki-san days before.” Kanon exhaled slowly. “Their photo sessions today were at Enoshima Aquarium and at the beach. If they’re already done with the one at the Enoshima Aquarium, then…”

“They’re at the beach now,” Reita finished the words. “Takashima and Kouyou should be there too.”

“Yes,” Kanon agreed. “Takashima and Kouyou just won’t leave Aoi’s side or be anywhere far from Aoi. Moreover, Takashima has all of the Arcana Power cards.” She held the back of Kanon-kun’s seat and craned her neck in order to see her schoolmate. “Sano, if taking us to the beach can make the agreement works, stop the car here.”

The boy held his left wrist. “You want to run from here to the beach? Don’t be ridiculous.”

“But—”

“I’ll take you guys as close as I can to the beach. Don’t worry,” Kanon-kun cut Kanon’s words. “Just don’t forget that I’m still not on your side just yet.” The words sent the three people behind him to mute. “Right now, I’m just doing what I think is right. But it doesn’t mean I’m supporting your action. If something happens later, I’m not going to take any responsibility.”

“You… are planning to… trap us?” Reita asked.

“Not that I can do that,” Kanon-kun replied. “I just don’t want Wakeshima to worry about me.”

At Kanon’s right, Jill turned her head toward the boy. She just stared at him without saying anything. The said words inside the car were never hers. She kept to herself what her heart told her about how the boy acted around and what he said to Kanon. She decided to wait and see more of what might come, as she returned her gaze to the window beside her head.

*

Ruki stared at the line that separated the ocean and the sky. The orange line from the setting sun’s light bordered the sky from the splashing wave, and reflected on the calmer part of ocean surface. Ruki watched the sky that was starting to get darken above his head. It was shades of orange, pink and purple that spread wide over them all.

Several steps in front of Ruki, Saga turned his head toward Aoi who stayed silent beside him. He was still under the Zayin spell. Aoi didn’t focus his gaze to any object before him. In the other hand, Takashima looked right toward his Hunter. He still held his black cane tight in his left grip. His right hand stayed close to where he kept the two Arcana Power cards.

“I think the time is right,” Ruki said to Manabu.

Manabu and Saga exchanged glances. Manabu nodded his head, and Saga turned around to face Aoi completely again. Saga held both of Aoi’s arms when Manabu directed his lens toward the models. Saga stroked Aoi’s hair and ran his hand through the dark strands behind Aoi’s ear. When Saga caressed Aoi’s cheek, the Hunter didn’t even give any responds.

As Saga touched Aoi’s chin, Takashima inserted his right hand into his pocket, and touched the cards. “Ready…” Manabu fixed his lens slowly, and Saga closed the distance between his and Aoi’s faces. “Beautiful… both of you…” the photographer whispered as he took several pictures of the two models’ silhouette.

Far from the beach, inside the inn, Tora walked toward the vast window in the room and stopped right beside Nao. Following the round faced male beside him, Tora gazed out through the window. As he lit the cigarette in his mouth, Tora smiled. “I really want to witness that scene closer,” he said that made Nao chuckled.

Those words reached the other person’s ears. Kai, who sat on the chair in the middle of the room, straightened his body. No longer leaned his chin on his right hand, Kai leaned both of his hands on each of the chair arms. Kai closed both of his eyes, and he started to utter in low voice. “You are going to regret it…”

At the beach, Saga, facing Aoi, uttered the exact same words, “You are going to regret it…”

Kai uttered, “If you let Joker stay by your side any longer than this…”

Saga uttered, “If you let Joker stay by your side any longer than this…”

At the same time, at the different places, at such distance, both of them uttered the same thing. “You are going to regret it… when your feelings grew bigger than this, deeper than this, warmer than this… for Joker is going to leave you…” Saga whispered right at Aoi’s ear as he circled his arm around Aoi’s waist.

Manabu took the picture again with his camera. In his position, Takashima was startled when he saw the silhouette of Saga kissing Aoi’s lips. When the sun almost set completely, Manabu lowered his camera, and took off the strap of his neck. He gave the camera to one of his crews who were still there, accompanying him for the whole photo sessions.

Suddenly Aoi’s body fell, and Saga caught it in readiness. Ruki, who saw it, almost ran toward their models if only Takashima didn’t hold him. When that one crew took the camera far enough from the photo set, the other crew who still stood near Manabu suddenly was enveloped in a whirlwind. When the whirlwind stopped spinning and vanished in the air, Manabu’s crew was already transformed into a solid black human-headed lion.

“Wh… what happened?!” Ruki gaped as Takashima extended his left arm in front of Ruki’s body.

“It’s Sphinx, Chariot’s favourite creature…” Takashima pulled the sword from inside his black cane.

“Good evening, Joker,” Manabu greeted him back as he patted the black Sphinx’s head, as the creature roared. “As expected. Your intuition was still sharp as always.” The photographer smiled. “So you know, we can’t return your Hunter for a moment. And since your Hunter in with us right now, you’re not in the position to give orders, so… don’t bother to even ask for it.”

Takashima drew his sword right toward Manabu’s face. “I’ll do anything to retrieve him back, Chariot.”

“No, you won’t. You know we can do anything we want to him right now.” And right after Manabu said it, Takashima and Ruki heard Aoi suddenly screamed. They looked at Aoi who lay on his back on the sand. Saga was hovering above him as he held both of Aoi wrists beside his head. “The Lovers is currently satisfying what Hunter ever dreamt before.”

“What is he doing?!” Ruki demanded.

“Be calm, Ruki-san… Hunter will be just fine…” Manabu smiled at Takashima.

The syllogism emerged Takashima’s mind like an explosive inside his head. Takashima glanced back at Manabu with wide eyes. At the same time, just when Takashima was about to move, Manabu smiled. He pointed his finger toward Takashima, making the black Sphinx beside him ran toward Takashima and attacked him.

*

Kouyou jumped backward when Alecto attacked him with her whip. The brass blade from the whip pounded the ground at the exact spot where Kouyou stood earlier. Kouyou landed with his right knee touched the ground. His right hand held firm his left arm that almost full of scratch wounds. A thick blood oozed out from his shoulder.

“You never expected that you have to face one of the Arcana Powers, didn’t you, Joker?” asked Melody as she folded both of her arms in front of her body. “Whereas this is the first time you face me, isn’t it? I was kind of shocked. Found out that you’re not as strong as I’ve expected. How can you even introduce yourself as the Hunter’s guardian?”

Kouyou spitted out a clot of blood from his mouth. Slowly, Kouyou stood back up and punched the air again with both of his hands. The fires that once extinguished were brought up out again around his fists. “Beside you, The Chariot, and The Lovers, which other Arcana Power you have around you? How many are you?”

Melody blinked before she giggled. “For Arcana sake, Joker. At a time like this? When you’re wounded like that, you still have the time to ask such thing?” asked Melody when Alecto floated down behind her. “Why, Joker? Does not having such information make you afraid? And why do you think I would give you the answer?”

“To remind you that Justice is not always fair all the time!” Kouyou shouted as he shot fireballs from his hands toward Melody. It didn’t surprise him when Alecto protected Melody with his vast bat wings. Alecto then spread her wings to tossed Kouyou’s fireballs away and let it exploded far away from Melody.

“And you think you can change my mind by telling me that?” Melody fixed her hair that was blown for the explosion. “And you think that way you can make me entrust my freedom back to you?” She smiled. “No, Joker. So you know; Justice’s freedom is NOT as vast as a tiny thin card. But if you really want to think that way, then so be it… we have NINE Arcana Powers in our side.”

Kouyou startled at the number Melody mentioned, and she continued, “What Arcana are those, well, you can meet them when the right time comes.” As if she was answering Melody’s words, the coal-black she-creature jumped to the air. With her large bat wings, Alecto flew again before the she-creature dived in high speed toward Kouyou and attacked him with her whip.

Kouyou gazed at Alecto above him and extended both of his arms. The glowing fire in both of his fists burned again. When the red snake-haired she-creature was close enough to him, Kouyou shot the fireballs again toward Alecto. Large explosions made Kouyou and Alecto thrown from their previous positions.

At the same time, Kanon-kun’s car suddenly stopped not far from the explosions. “It’s from there!” Kanon shouted inside the car as she pointed at certain direction, and toward the park where Kouyou engaged in encounter with Melody and Alecto. The sky around that place was red for the explosion.

“Isn’t it Kouyou’s power?!” Reita watched the red colour in the air.

Kanon-kun asked his driver to drive the car closer to where the explosion occurred, and where the sky turned red. “Stop the car here or you’ll burn your hand again!” Reita shouted suddenly. The driver then stopped the car beside a small square that linked to the park. “KOUYOU!!” Reita called as he opened the door and got off of the car.

“Ah, time out.” Melody smiled. “I guess you’ve got company, Joker.”

When Kanon tried to follow Reita, she suddenly halted in her position for Reita hurriedly closed the door. “Reita?!” she protested when Reita held the door from outside, preventing Kanon who tried to open the door again. Kanon quickly pressed the button to lower the glass window. “What on earth is wrong with you, Reita?!”

“I know you want to help Kouyou too, but let me do that here.” Reita still held the door with both of his hands. “Find Aoi and Takashima.” When Reita turned his head, he saw Melody smiled at him. “There’s only one Arcana Power here. Damn, what is that…?” Reita gazed at Alecto who floated above Melody. “It’s not human, so I guess that creature is just projection from Arcana Power instead of someone being synchronized with it.”

Kanon and Jill gasped, and Reita cursed when another explosion occurred and they saw the she-creature started to attack Kouyou again. “There will be more Arcana Powers near Aoi and Takashima. I don’t know how much, but they will need your helps more than Kouyou and I do here. I don’t want to give the hardest task to you girls, but—”

“Don’t underestimate us!” Kanon protested again. “Maybe we need to shoo some people away from anywhere near these Arcana Powers, or there will be more troubles.” She sighed. “Okay. We got that. Reita, help Kouyou. We’re going to the beach. We’ll meet again after this. Be safe.” Kanon extended her hand toward Reita.

“You bet we will!” Reita hi-fived with Kanon before ran toward Kouyou, and Kanon-kun’s car drove away from the park. “Kouyou!” Reita called as he reached for Kouyou, who was already kneeled on the ground that time. Reita touched the blood on Kouyou’s shoulder. “You’re bleeding… but you can still stand, can’t you?”

“R… Reita…?!”

“Get up!” Reita yelled as he pulled Kouyou and helped him stand. “I know you’re stronger than this!”

Melody giggled at that. “What a really optimistic words,” Melody said before Alecto dived toward Reita.

“LOOK OUT!” Kouyou shouted as he pushed Reita away right before Alecto’s whip hit the ground.

“This is crazy… what creature is that?!” Reita looked at the crack on the ground where Alecto attacked.

“Erinyes Alecto,” Kouyou answered. “Just like The Empress who has the Knight of Sword, this one, Justice Arcana Power also has Erinyes Alecto who works for her. There are two other Erinyeses. We won’t need the other two to be here later. We have to do something before she summons the other Erinyeses.”

“Damn it! It’s impossible for me to help you to face them without any Arcana Power! I’m a dead meat…”

“You synchronized the best with Apollo, didn’t you?” Kouyou searched inside his pocket and took out The Magician card Takashima gave him earlier. Kouyou didn’t give any chance for Reita to voice out his question as Kouyou immediately casted the spell to use Reita’s body as The Magician’s host. As it also linked to Aoi’s metal bracelet, The Magician’s soul fragment didn’t possess Reita.

Greetings, Pallas Athena,” said the human torch – toward Melody – that now floated behind Reita, making Reita turned around and looked at The Magician’s soul fragment for the first time. Apollo, the fire spirit that looked like a human totally and literally on fire, caught the way Reita was gazing at him, and nodded. “Greetings to you too, the human who once synchronized with me.

“What… on earth…” Reita whispered as he gaped at the burning floating human before him.

“Greetings, Apollo,” Melody said as she bowed a little toward the human torch. “Ah, Joker. Are you this desperate so you had to summon Apollo? Well, it’s not really a problem anyway, whether you tried to make our situation equally strong. Let’s see who’s going survive the longest not to leave this place first,” Melody said as she swung her arm, making Alecto moved toward Kouyou, as herself suddenly jumped toward Reita and instantly attacked him and Apollo.

*

At the beach, Takashima swung his sword, but the black Sphinx jumped backward to dodge his attack. From its mouth, the black Sphinx shot a dark sphere toward Takashima and he immediately use his sword to cut the sphere into two, and let it exploded in the air. “Damn it…” Takashima kneeled with his left leg, and leaned on his sword on the beach sand.

Ruki turned his head toward Takashima who was facing Manabu and his Sphinxes. “Are you alright?!”

“He’s alright, Ruki-san.” Manabu smirked.

Ruki intended to ask further about it, but Manabu’s black Sphinx jumped again toward Takashima and attacked him. “TAKASHIMA!” When Ruki almost rose onto his feet, Aoi’s scream stole his attention again. Ruki returned his gaze back to the other two people, and tried to extend his hand toward them, but there’s a glass partition between them that stopped him.

Since Takashima had to face Manabu and his Sphinxes, Ruki tried to reach for Aoi alone, but he couldn’t. He kneeled and tried to hit the glass partition but he couldn’t break it. Saga created the glass partition and separated Aoi and him from anyone’s reach. Inside the cylinder glass partition, Saga reciprocated Ruki’s gaze without answering any of his callings.

Saga only sighed as he closed his eyes. He returned his attention toward Aoi who was still lied down beneath him. Saga saw Aoi’s wide eyes that weren’t focused at anything. The Hunter extended both of his arms upward, and Saga automatically caught it. “Don’t deny the truth, Yuu. Don’t deny it. You’ll torture yourself that way…”

“Lie…! You lie…!”

Saga lowered his body and lessened the gap between Aoi’s face and his. Hushing Aoi down, Saga caressed Aoi’s body from his stomach to his chest. “You’re still keeping a heavy burden here, aren’t you?” Saga stopped his hand on Aoi’s left chest. “You could actually voice out your entire question until you get a satisfying answer, Yuu.”

The tear slipped out from his eyes. “I’m not Yuu… I’m Aoi. I’m AOI!”

“No! SAGA!” Ruki hit the partition again. “Damn it! TAKASHIMA!”

“I’m sorry, Ruki-san…” Takashima said under his breath as he extended his sword toward Manabu’s black Sphinx. A black aura in an arrow shape emerged from Takashima’s sword blade, and he shot the ‘arrow’ toward the black Sphinx. The ‘arrow’ struck hard the black Sphinx body and made it roared. “I feel like an idiot, I totally forgot that we haven’t made any deal that binds The Emperor with the Hunter…” Takashima said more to himself, with his voice that wasn’t any louder than a whisper.

“Desperate, aren’t we?” Manabu smiled.

Annoying as it was, Takashima had to admit the he was indeed desperate. He couldn’t use The Emperor power for two reasons: first, The Emperor had yet to entrust his freedom to Aoi, and second, The Emperor didn’t have any spell to cast down Saga’s glass partition. Though he wanted to, he’s not in the right situation to explain it all to Ruki kneeled there, near to where Saga and Aoi were, and far from Takashima.

Takashima jumped backward again when the black Sphinx leaped toward him and attacked him. “Stop hiding behind your creatures, Chariot!” Takashima shouted as he jumped toward Manabu and swung his sword. Takashima blinked as he saw Manabu took a small step before he disappeared from Takashima’s sight.

“Behind you, Joker…” was the only thing Takashima could hear from the disappearing Manabu. When his target was no longer in front of him, Takashima hurriedly turned around. He didn’t get the chance to do anything when the black Sphinx lunged at him. Takashima fell backward with the black Sphinx fangs plunged into his right shoulder.

“Damn… you!” Takashima yelled as he stabbed his sword to the black Sphinx’s body, making the creature letting go of his bite from Takashima’s right shoulder. The black Sphinx yelped for the stab, and Takashima used the moment to hold tight onto his sword. He kicked the black Sphinx body, and at the same time, Takashima pulled out his sword from the creature’s body when it fell.

Manabu saw the black Sphinx fell headlong near his feet. Manabu kneeled and caressed the wounded black Sphinx. He gazed at Takashima furiously. “Joker is truly unforgivable…” he growled before he stood and walked away from the injured creature. Manabu waved his arm, and a long blue staff appeared in the air before the photographer caught it in his hands.

Takashima gripped his sword tight when Manabu started to run toward him. As Manabu raised his blue staff high, he jumped toward Takashima. Takashima swung his sword and warded Manabu’s staff. But it didn’t stop Manabu from attacking him again and again. “Stop all of your intention toward us, Joker!” Manabu yelled at him.

“Takashima!”

The calling stopped him, even Manabu gasped for the high-toned voice. Takashima used that opportunity to push Manabu as strong as he could and swung his sword hard. Takashima let Manabu warded his attack to use that other chance to jump backward, away from Manabu’s attack range. Takashima jumped again, and this time, he floated for a moment. Takashima looked toward the asphalt at the other part of the beach.

“Kanon-chan…?!” He saw Kanon and Jill hopped off the black car.

Manabu followed Takashima’s gaze, he cursed, and whispered. “Kai… their reinforcement has arrived…”

Saga as The Lovers

 

Chapter Text

Three spots in Enoshima that time had their own crucial moment. At the small park, Kouyou with Reita were facing Melody and Alecto. At the beach, Kanon and Jill who had just arrived found Takashima was wounded and facing Manabu. Added it more with the black Sphinx that Kanon and Jill hadn’t saw before. The situation at the beach was become more complicated when Ruki was almost hopeless trying to break Saga’s glass partition.

At the same time, Saga was still delivering the words Kai uttered to Aoi. Being the medium between Kai and Aoi, Saga could see the imagination Kai was sending him, and also the imagination Aoi saw inside his numb mind.

The last spot was in one of the inn’s room. Nao and Tora could only exchanged glances before both of them turned their heads toward Miyavi. Behind Miyavi, seating on the chair right at the centre of the room, Kai closed his eyes.

From his black car, Kanon-kun got off and stared at the chaos at the beach. He turned his head toward Kanon and Jill who ran to Takashima. When he looked at Manabu, the boy saw Manabu lowered his staff. He won’t face three Arcanas and a Joker at the same time, yet those three Arcanas won’t be able to do anything more with Saga still had Aoi under his control.

The boy stared at the wound at the back of his left hand. “Kai-san…” he called with mere whisper. “It’s time…”

*

“You heard that, Kai…” Miyavi said as he walked closer to Kai. He held Kai’s shoulder and continued, “Call back Chariot and Justice, Hierophant.”

Kanon-kun heard what Miyavi said to him through Kai. The boy nodded. “You heard it, Manabu-san? Melody-san?” Kanon-kun asked, still with a whisper.

Each of them at the beach and at the park, Manabu and Melody nodded. Manabu jumped farther from where Takashima and Kanon stood, and at the same time, Melody called Alecto back and leaving Kouyou and Reita.

“Where do you think you’re going?!” Kanon called as she tried to run after Manabu. But the beach sand made it hard for her to walk with her usual normal speed.

“You should worry yourself and your boyfriend, Miss.” Manabu smiled as he landed right beside his black Sphinx. Manabu kneeled and caressed the black creature’s body slowly. “Next time, synchronize yourself first with the Arcana if you really want to face me,” Manabu said before a light-blue large magic circle appeared on the sand, and it moved in circle, surrounding Manabu, disappearing him and his Sphinx.

*

The same magic circle appeared around Melody and Alecto. “‘Til next time, Joker… and you too, Mister Magician…” Melody smiled while slowly, she and Alecto disappeared on the magic circle.

“She’s getting away!” Reita shouted. But Apollo stopped him.

Don’t,” the fire spirit said. “We can’t chase her now.

“Apollo’s right,” Kouyou growled. “We have to get to the beach now. Apollo, take Reita-san, and we’ll fly to the beach.”

“What…??” Reita blinked. “Fly? But… hey… hey. Hey! HEY!!” Reita screamed as a fire ropes circling his arms and legs, keeping him close to the fire spirit, as Apollo floated higher before using his fire to boost and took Reita to fly with Kouyou back to the beach.

*

The only thing that Aoi could see that moment was only darkness. It was the same situation when The Emperor exiled him. Aoi’s feet didn’t step on anything, and his hands couldn’t touch anything. Wherever Aoi placed his vision, he couldn’t see anything.

“Are you still trying to avoid people around you, Yuu?”

“You… you’re the voice from that time…” Aoi said as he heard the same voice with the one when he’s in The Emperor’s exile. “W… who are you? I… I’m not ‘Yuu’… I’m Aoi…”

“You know who are you talking too, Yuu… and… well, we will discuss about your name-changing next time. Yuu, if you still can’t find any other person that you can be comfortable with, why won’t you come back to me instead?”

“Come back? Where? I… I don’t know you… I… I’m not going anywhere…”

“Come back to the place that can free you from complicated things like Arcana. Really, Yuu… you shouldn’t deal with these… things… Arcana shouldn’t be your responsibility in the first place. Look how deep the poison Joker implanted into your mind, Yuu…”

“You always said weird things about Joker… do… do you know him? Do… do you know Kouyou and Takashima?”

“They don’t deserve to know me, Yuu. They don’t even deserve to know you better than ever. You should have realized it, Yuu. I don’t want they hurt you further. You don’t deserve to be hurt, Yuu. There shouldn’t be any other people after me did that to you. Realize it, Yuu. Don’t be like me. It’s too late for me to realize how important you are for me after you left this house, Yuu.

“House…? Home… I think… I don’t deserve to be in any house…”

“I’ve used to think that way, Yuu. But you don’t know how big the hole you left inside my life after I couldn’t find you in our high-school graduation ceremony. You don’t know how much it hurts me when I couldn’t find you after I came back home that day… you don’t know every time that large clock jingling twelve times at midnight, I was so scared that I still couldn’t find you anywhere…”

“Wait… high-school… graduation… ceremony…?” Aoi blinked. “KAI?!”

*

When Kouyou landed on the beach – and Reita almost fell behind him as he still couldn’t adapt himself with Apollo’s fire flying power – Kouyou’s view instantly directed to Saga. “The Lovers, you’ve surrounded now,” Kouyou said as he walked closer to the cylinder glass partition that separated him and the others from Saga and Aoi inside it. “I guess it’s no longer about your freedom as the Arcana power anymore. You’ve starting to use your power for bad deeds.” Behind Kouyou, Takashima sat on the sand with Jill kneeled beside him while she tried to cure Takashima’s wound from the black Sphinx’s bite earlier.

“For bad deeds?” Saga repeated without looking at Kouyou. His gaze was still locked to Aoi’s face below him. Saga caressed Aoi’s black hair that was already wet for sweating too much. “I don’t use it for bad deeds, Joker. What do you think I’m doing?”

“You don’t think you’re hurting him, Saga?!” Ruki shouted as he hit the glass partition hard with his fist.

“I’m not hurting him, Ruki-san.” Saga sighed. “He’s starting to realize something that Joker hides from him,” Saga answered as he wiped Aoi’s tears. Aoi’s eyes were almost closed, and his gaze was still unfocused to anything.

“You can actually do that without doing any of this, Saga,” Reita said as he punched the air, making Apollo’s fist burn in blazing fire. “Let Aoi go or I have to burn the partition.”

“You can’t threaten me, Reita.” Saga sent him that sad smile. “You know, Hunter is with me and I still can do anything I want to him. I AM the one who can threaten all of you here…”

“I don’t expect you to be Arcana’s host, Saga-san,” Kanon said. “Do you work for the person who made the agreement with Sano?”

Saga turned his head toward Kanon-kun who still stood near his black car that was still parked on the asphalt, near the beach. “Should I answer that question, Kanon-kun?” Saga added more volume to his voice so that the boy could hear his voice.

Kanon-kun sighed and chose to go down the stairs to the beach. The boy saw how Kanon turned her head toward him and looked at him with wide eyes. “The question was directed to you, Saga-san,” Kanon-kun answered as he walked closer to the other people on the beach. “You’re free to answer it or not to heed it.”

Saga smiled when he saw the boy inserted his hand into his pants pocket. “Trying to hide your wound, Kanon-kun?” Saga asked that made Kanon-kun shifted his gaze away from the model. “I can ask him to cure your wound later. Or do you want it now?”

“Nah. I don’t think this wound is important enough for him…” the boy said.

“Of course it’s important for him, Kanon-kun. You’re part of the family.”

“Who are you talking about, Saga?!” Ruki snapped.

“Ruki-san and the other will know about him soon. I hope, when Ruki-san find out who he is later, is when we can be in one family,” Saga explained as he smiled while caressing Aoi’s hair.

“Shut it.” The red aura around Kouyou’s eye burned again. “Now what do you want by locking Hunter up like this?”

Saga turned his head toward Kouyou. For a moment, he took a glance at Takashima who was still wounded. Saga then looked at each any other person on that beach. He looked at Jill, Ruki, Reita, Kanon, and Kanon-kun. The model held his arm and pointed his opened palm to the sand. A large yellow magic circle was suddenly appeared and surrounded all the people there. “For the energy that flow inside mother earth, the power that was dimmed by the universe fibres; help me. Spread my small energy to them who stood on you inside this magic circle…” Saga uttered his spell.

What the… JUMP!!” Apollo shouted and brought Reita to fly with him.

“What…? What?!” Reita was shocked when suddenly he was floating again.

“AOI-SAN!!” Kouyou pulled his hand as he gathered the red aura around his fist, right about to punch the glass partition.

ZAYIN!!” Saga shouted as he punch the air right above the sand, right in the middle of the magic circle that he created earlier, breaking the glass partition around Aoi and him. A large wave of energy flowed in high-speed toward Aoi, Kouyou, Takashima, Kanon, Kanon-kun, Jill, and Ruki at the same time. Right after that, all of them stopped moving.

“W… what happened…?!” Ruki asked with mass of difficulty. “I… can’t… move…!”

“‘Zayin’ is the letter you can find on The Lovers’ card… if only you can seal me back to the card though…” Saga smiled. “You know, Ruki-san… this ‘Zayin’ spell of mine have something to do with the term… ‘Intercourse’…” Saga’s explanation made Ruki startled. “You see, since you can still speak and listen to me, it means that you do not have any desire toward anyone here…” Saga gazed right to Ruki’s eyes still with his smile still lingers on his face.

“D… desire…?” Ruki gasped.

“You can see that those who are not heeding anyone’s voice inside this circle are perfectly having some kind of desire toward someone else. You have to hurry, Ruki-san. You, or anyone else inside this circle that doesn’t have desire, have to break my spell. I can’t break it myself…” Saga extended both of his hands. “Or else… those who got the effect of this spell will carry on their desire and… you’ll see what next…”

“You freak!” Reita shouted from where he was floating with Apollo.

Saga looked up at Reita who’s floating with Apollo. “Ah, you’re there. What a nice and quick response, Apollo.” Saga bowed to give his salute to the fire spirit. The model bent his knees before he jumped and floated, following Reita and Apollo in the air. “Magician, now, you’re the only one who can face me. You want to stop me? Catch me.” Saga smiled before he flew away from Reita and Apollo, away from the beach.

“What should we do now, Apollo?” Reita asked in panic. “What about the others?!” He looked below him, toward his friends.

We can’t do anything about them. Someone inside the magic circle should be the one who break the spell,” Apollo answered. “If we touch them or land there, we’ll get the effect from The Lovers’ spell too.” The fire spirit then looked at the direction where Saga flew. “We chase The Lovers. We might get some information from him.

Reita looked at his friends before he cursed under his breath. “I understand,” Reita said. “Ruki! I’m sorry I can’t help you! I’m counting on you there!” Reita shouted before Apollo took him flew in high-speed to chase Saga.

There, on the beach, Ruki called everyone’s name to find out whether anyone could answer him. “K… Kouyou…!” he called. “Takashima! Aoi! Anyone! A… answer me!” Ruki shouted while trying so hard to move his hand. “Why it… had to… turn out… like this…” Ruki asked with a voice that was not louder than a whisper. He couldn’t even turn his head to search for where did Saga and Reita go.

“R… Ruki… san…!”

Ruki caught the voice. “J… Jill…?!” Ruki still couldn’t turn his head so he asked instead, “C… can you… move?”

“It… it’s difficult…! My body… it feels… so… heavy…” Jill answered. “B… but… Takashima…!”

The name made Ruki startled. In front of him, Kouyou moved without anything slowing him down, like the spell Saga casted didn’t have any effect on him. If the same thing happened to Takashima, then at that moment, Takashima was moving too. “K… Kouyou…!” Ruki tried to call again. “You can… move just… fine, right…? Great! I… I bet you… can dismiss… Saga’s spell too!”

“No, Ruki-san…!” Jill called him again. “I don’t… think they… can hear you!” Her words made Ruki startled again. “They… they’re unconscious…!”

“What…?” Ruki frowned as he witnessed Kouyou walked closer to Aoi and kneeled beside him, at Aoi’s right. “What are… you doing… Kouyou?!” The man in red no longer listened to anything Ruki said. Kouyou bent over and looked Aoi’s face closely. He then touched the skin on Aoi’s face with his tip of fingers. “K… Kouyou…?” Ruki called. But that time, he couldn’t ever finish his words when he saw Takashima walked closer to Aoi from Kouyou’s opposite direction.

“T… Takashima…?!” Jill almost screamed if only her voice was not stifled.

Takashima fell on his knees at Aoi’s left. Takashima bent over and lowered his face. His face hovered above Aoi’s stomach before, slowly, moved his face to Aoi’s lower body part.

“TAKASHIMA…!” Ruki called again. “W… what are you doing…?! Kouyou! Listen… to me! Aoi…! Wake up, Aoi…! AOI! Get… get a hold of… yourself! All… of you…! WAKE UP!!”

*

Saga looked around him. He saw several broken things and holes on the ground at the park. “Ah, Melody and Joker had their encounter here?” Saga whispered to himself since no one around him that time. “I chose this place randomly… found out that this place is good for a battle… right? Apollo?”

“HeeaaAA!!” Reita swung his right arm, making Apollo swung his arm too to attack Saga. Reita could only curse when he saw Saga dodged his attack. “Is that the best you can do? Dodging all my attack? Why, Mr. Model? Are you scared that if you attack me, you might break your nails?”

Still floating in the air, Saga took a glance at his right finger nails. “Hm, that kind of fear actually makes sense… for a model…” Saga added fast as he smiled at Reita. “But, no. I didn’t attack you back not because of that.”

“Or maybe you got THAT kind of agreement too? Like that Kanon Sano-boy? So the agreement made you can’t fight?” Reita asked before he leaped toward Saga to send another attack.

Saga back flipped to dodge Reita’s attack again. “Not really. There’s no agreement that prevent us from fighting…”

With the help from Apollo’s spirit fire burst, Reita took off in high speed toward Saga to again attack the model. Saga, who didn’t expect for another fast attack, could only move a little before the Apollo’s fire blaze touched the tip of his hair. Saga flew away from Reita fast as he caressed his hair. Saga found out that his hair was burned a little.

Reita smiled. “I still didn’t manage to hurt you. There’s nothing I can be proud of from such an attack. But… it looks like a little damage like that can be pretty fatal for a model, I guess?” Reita asked as he punched the air; vanishing the burning flame around Apollo’s fist. “So, what makes you don’t want to attack me? I thought… you and your weird fellows were having a great desire to beat us all.”

“It has nothing to do with you or your other friends,” Saga objected. “Our business here is only with Aoi as the Hunter and the Jokers. That’s it. Nothing more.” The model caressed his hair again. “Then again, even though we DID beat you all, we still get NO benefit if you don’t want to work with us,” Saga said as he plucked off two of his hairs. He snapped it in his fingers, and turned it into needles. With those two needles, Saga leaped toward Reita and started to attack Reita.

*

At the beach, with nothing in his mind, Kouyou caressed Aoi’s hair, and started to move his face closer to Aoi’s face. He planted small kisses all over Aoi’s face, and he didn’t even heed any of Ruki’s calls to him. The same thing happened to Takashima. Takashima groped Aoi’s thigh using his gloved hand. Slowly, he moved his hand, lifting the red cloth that Aoi wore, moved it almost to the Hunter’s knee.

“What… are they… doing?! Dammit!” Ruki was still struggling to move his own body. He can’t even clenched his own fist. “Come on… move it…!” Ruki whispered to his own self. “Please… move!!” Behind him, Jill was also struggling to move.

Kouyou touched Aoi’s lower lip with his thumb. His gaze never left Aoi’s face. His breath touched the Hunter’s lips, making Aoi gasped. Slowly, Kouyou put his lips at the tip of Aoi’s. On the other hand, Takashima did the same thing to Aoi’s foot. Takashima kissed Aoi’s right leg; while his left hand touched Aoi’s left one. Not letting his right hand doing nothing, Takashima used it to pull the red cloth even further, over Aoi’s knee.

“Don’t do… that, Takashima! Kouyou…!” Ruki shouted as he was still struggling to move his body. Trying a different approach, Ruki tried to move his feet instead, trying to get closer to Aoi, Takashima, and Kouyou.

At her own position, Jill was trying to break Saga’s spell too. “Kanon-chan…!” she called with mere whisper as she tried to move her hand. Her movement was so slow, but she didn’t stop there. She struggled more when she saw Kanon-kun caught Kanon in his embrace.

*

“Oh, dear, that means Ruki-san now is trying so hard to break Saga’s spell?” Melody asked as Miyavi, her husband, held her hand and led her to one of the chairs inside the room. At the other part of the room, Byo, and Tora bowed toward Melody.

“Welcome back, Melody-san!” Nao welcomed her with a cheerful voice after he too bowed to Melody. “Thank you for your hard work today! Oh! How’s Lady Alecto?”

“She’s fine, Nao-kun. Thank you for asking,” Melody said with a smile. “Even though… well… we didn’t do much today.” Melody then looked around her in the room. “Where’s Manabu? He’s not here yet?”

“He has returned,” Tora answered. “But it looks like today’s battle doesn’t concern him that much. He said he’s going to check his photo results.” Tora snorted. “Such a workaholic. He wants to continue to work, editing those photos in this kind of event…”

“Ah, one of his cameras is still here,” Miyavi said as he looked at the said camera on a small round table in the room. It was the camera that Melody gave to him earlier before Melody met with Kouyou at the park.

“Let it be.” Melody held her husband’s hand. “He’ll be here if he needs his camera. You know that he has two more cameras in his room right now.” Melody then turned her head toward Tora. “Speaking of which, Tora… I don’t know that you can hold yourself this far…” Melody giggled.

“Oh, cut it out…” Tora growled. “This is not fair at all. You faced the Joker. Saga is making trouble here and there with too many people already at the beach. And here I am, doing nothing.”

“Nonsense,” Byo commented as he folded both of his arms in front of his body. “You only want to approach the Hunter, don’t you?” Byo stole glance at Tora. “You didn’t really care with any other people’s existence there.”

“Kids, come on,” Miyavi called. “Be grateful. You can still complaining here, freely, safely inside this inn’s room. If you’re there, at the beach, I don’t think you can be this calm. Isn’t it, Kai?”

Kai looked back at Miyavi without showing any expression. He shifted his glance away from his adviser before he closed his eyes. His right hand gripped tight his chair arm. With a low voice, Kai spoke, “If only I can annihilate Joker right now…”

*

“K… Kou…?” Aoi started to call Kouyou’s name. He moved his hand and caressed Kouyou’s face. He gasped when another touches took his attention away. Aoi tried to sit to see what had touched his legs. “T… Takashima…?!”

“Aoi-san…” Kouyou called as he pushed Aoi’s upper body back to lying position on that beach. “Don’t… get too close to The Lovers… ever… again… I beg you…” Kouyou’s breathing was starting to heave. His right hand started to roam to Aoi’s chest.

“A… ah…?! Kou…?!”

Takashima chuckled. “Come on, Joker… stop talking about other things now… can’t you see? Our Hunter… can be this beautiful?” Takashima said among his wet kisses to Aoi’s leg, around his knee.

“Takashima, what… oh…”

“Stop it!” Ruki shouted. “Kouyou…! Takashima…! You’re all under the… effect of… Saga’s spell…! Stop it…! STOP THIS… ALL!!” Ruki tried to move his arms and legs, until Saga’s words returned to him.

「“You, or anyone else inside this circle that doesn’t have desire, have to break my spell.”」

It startled Ruki for the umpteenth time. Jill and he were the only ones who didn’t lose their consciousness. That means that Jill and he were the only ones who could break Saga’s spell. If those with desires couldn’t break Saga’s spell, then…

Ruki lowered his head. The energy left his body just like that. His arms fell freely – without any weight to burden him – beside his body. His movements didn’t as heavy as before, like when Ruki struggled to move his hands and arms or when he tried to run to get closer to Aoi, Kouyou, and Takashima.

“R… Ruki-san…?!” Jill called.

“That’s how we’ll do it, Jill…” Ruki said with a smirk. “Stop desiring… and you’ll free from the spell…”

Manabu as the Chariot

 

Chapter Text

Saga and Reita cursed at the same time. Saga still held his two needles from his hair, and the fire around Apollo’s fist was still burning. Saga lowered his gaze, and with Reita, they saw one same thing: the clothes Saga wore. “It looks like this costume made you won’t give your all to attack me,” Saga said as he tapped the dust off of his clothes.

“It’s the costume Ruki designed,” Reita said. “I don’t want to ruin it. He worked hard for it and for today’s photo session.” Reita straightened his body, and punch the air with his right fist, letting the fire around Apollo’s right palm extinguished a little. “It makes me think… everything that happened today… well, I can’t say for sure. But… it looks like you guys don’t want to ruin Ruki’s project.”

“No, of course we don’t,” Saga said as he snapped the needles in his grips, turning it back into his hair. “I’ve told you… our main aim is only for Aoi and Joker. We won’t get any benefit by ruining Ruki-san’s project. Moreover, Ruki-san will stop working with us if he knows that we’re not professional.”

“You… are too kind for an enemy.”

Saga chuckled. “We never said that we’re enemy, Rei,” Saga said that made Reita startled. “We never had the will to face you all as an enemy. We only have our own way in seeing Arcana, that unfortunately, different than yours. But it shouldn’t make us enemies, should it?”

Reita gazed deep into Saga’s eyes. “Do all of you think like this, or do YOU as The Lovers think like this?”

Saga lowered his gaze again. He took a deep breath before he spoke, “You’re right. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks that way.” Saga gazed back at Reita. “If only… I can make other people think the same way with The Lovers who are not good at fighting…” Saga extended both of his arms. Vortexes slowly appeared around both of Saga’s palms.

He’s getting serious…” Apollo said. “Get ready…

Just when Saga was about to attack Reita with the vortex in his hand, a shock emerged inside his body, making his heart beat harder. The vortexes around his palms vanished. Saga bent his body, and with his shaking hand, he gripped the clothes around his chest. Suddenly, Saga was out of breath. There, he whispered to himself, “Someone at the beach broke Zayin’s spell…” Saga took a deep breath. When returned his gaze to Reita, Saga blinked as he saw Reita was already so close to him and Apollo’s palm was directed exactly toward him.

*

Ruki smiled. That time, he moved his leg to walk, and there’s no burden left to hold his movement like before. Ruki walked toward Takashima and Kouyou who almost touched Aoi’s whole body.

Looking at what Ruki did, Jill closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, and tried to control her heartbeat. She tried to forget her own wills and tried to forget about the truth that Saga was already controlled everything with a single spell. After she took a deep breath twice, Jill opened her eyes. She snapped her right paralyzed fingers, and the burden was already gone.

Jill turned her head and looked at Ruki’s direction, this time with no difficulty. She saw the café owner walked toward Aoi, Kouyou, and Takashima. Jill returned her gaze to where Kanon and Kanon-kun stood. That time, Jill saw Kanon-kun caressed Kanon’s cheek. Their faces were already so close toward each other. After she took another deep breath, Jill walked toward the two Kanons.

Jill loosened her hair when she stopped near Kanon and Kanon-kun. The two Kanons didn’t even look back at her. Right before Kanon-kun’s and Kanon’s face got anymore nearer toward each other, Jill gripped those two Kanons’ collars and pulled them and break them away, adding more distance between them. “WAKE UP!!” Jill shouted. “Don’t let the spell get into your heads more than this!”

At the same time, Ruki stopped his step as close as he could near Aoi. He looked at how Kouyou and Takashima treated Aoi. Ruki cringed at the display of affection that they showed without any awareness. None of them heed Ruki’s arrival and it made Ruki clicked his tongue. “So that is the desire you kept to yourselves all this time?” Ruki lift his right leg a little. “Is that the desire you hide from Aoi all this time?” He’s ready to kick anytime. “Is that one thing you want to do to Aoi… that you kept to yourself…? KOUYOU?!” Ruki kicked Kouyou’s shoulder, throwing the man in red away from Aoi. A blood oozed out again from Kouyou’s already wounded shoulder. “Now I hope that pain wakes you up from your own desire, Kouyou.”

The café owner then looked at Takashima. Walked closer to Takashima, Ruki extended his hand. He threw Takashima’s black fedora away. “You really want to do that to Aoi all this time… Takashima?!” Ruki shouted as he pulled Takashima’s hair hard. Ruki pulled Takashima away from Aoi, and let the flamboyant man fell on the beach sand, far from his previous position.

Ruki then turned his gaze toward Aoi. Looking at his employee who’s already out of breath, Ruki kneeled beside Aoi. “And you… my favourite employee…” He gripped Aoi’s tank-top and pulled it. “So that was what you expected all this time? You want Takashima and Kouyou touched you like that, don’t you?! AOI?!” Ruki slapped Aoi’s cheek hard enough to make the Hunter turned his head and startled.

Aoi blinked several times. Not like moment ago, his gaze that time showed some expression. Aoi looked at around him. He found Kouyou sat while holding his wounded shoulder. Aoi found Kouyou looked at him with wide eyes and blush on his cheeks. His breaths were slow and shallow. Aoi turned his head and saw Takashima covered half of his face with his gloved hand. The sunglasses that were covering his eyes aside, Aoi saw Takashima directed his face to him right before he turned his face away from Aoi. Takashima took his black fedora and wore it fast. With that, he covered his face completely from Aoi.

“W… what happened…?” Aoi asked as he looked back at Ruki. Aoi saw how Ruki’s breaths were heaving. The tank-top Aoi wore was still in Ruki’s tight grip.

“You’re already awake, Aoi?” Ruki asked. “You’ve been under the effect of Saga’s spell for awhile…”

“S… Saga…?” Aoi blinked again. Like a tiny explosion inside his head, Saga’s word came back into his mind. “Z… Za… yin…?”

“Yes, that…” Ruki let Aoi go from his tight grip. Ruki sat straight as he took his coat off. “Come on now, Aoi. Get up,” Ruki said as he helped Aoi up to sitting position.

“Wa… wait a minute, M… Matsumoto-san…! What had happened actually?” Aoi asked when he let Ruki covered his body with Ruki’s coat.

“You don’t want to know it, Aoi. Trust me,” Ruki said as he caressed Aoi’s black hair.

The caress gave another remembrance to Aoi. There were other caresses before the one Ruki gave to him just now. Ruki wasn’t the one who gave those caresses to him. Slowly, he looked at Kouyou who suddenly stood up and walked away from him. The same thing happened as he looked at Takashima.

That was when it came back to him. How Takashima had touched him, how Kouyou placed his lips on his skin almost all over his body, how his clothes couldn’t held those two men from doing it to him, and everything. Moreover, he didn’t even stop them in the first place.

The shame.

“N… no…” Aoi gripped Ruki’s coat that was covering his body. Aoi looked at the red clothe that he wore, and he hurriedly pulled it down, covering his legs. “No… it can’t be… no…” Aoi hugged himself.

“Aoi, come on, dear, forget about—”

“NO!!” Aoi screamed as he lowered his head, covered both of his ears and Ruki hugged him.

*

Reita’s attack earlier almost hit him if only Saga didn’t dodge it again. Slowly, Saga floated lower, taking his own self closer to the earth surface, and let his own self landed on the ground. He closed his eyes as he directed his face upward. Saga took a deep breath and said, “My spell has broken…”

“W… what…?!” Reita asked. When Apollo punch the air and extinguished the blazing fire around his fist, Reita turned his head fast toward him. “A… Apollo, what’s wrong?”

He doesn’t have the will to fight us any longer,” Apollo answered. “He’s defeated.”

“D… defeated?” Reita asked as he returned his gaze toward the model. “What happened, Saga?”

“Go back to the beach,” Saga opened his eyes and looked at Reita. “Your help is needed there… I…” Saga didn’t continue his words as a big blue magic circle appeared on the ground circling him.

“Wait! SAGA!”

“Tell Aoi I’m sorry, Rei…” Saga smiled. “After this, I hope no one of you will leave him. Aoi needs you. So much. Aoi’s life won’t get any easier after this.”

“To whom will you return now, Saga?” Reita asked.

“One day you’ll find out,” Saga answered. “All of you will know the family I’ve been mentioning all the time.” The smile didn’t left Saga’s face to the moment he said, “Until we meet again, Reita.” Slowly, starting from lower part of his body, Saga was starting to disappear inside the magic circle.

“So, we’re going to meet in battle again after this?”

Saga chuckled. “Is that all you can think about? No. I’ve told you, haven’t I? I’m not a good fighter. After this, I hope, we can exchange jokes instead. Bye!” Saga said the last word in English before he disappeared entirely inside the magic circle. A moment after, the blue magic circle was getting smaller before it vanished.

“He’s gone…” Reita whispered. Reita then turned around and faced the fire spirit behind him. “I think I need your help for the last time today. We’re going back to the beach?”

My pleasure.” Apollo smiled. Again, with his fire power, the fire spirit took Reita flew back to the beach.

*

“Saga-chan has returned,” Melody said as she rose from her seat. Just when Melody was going to walk to the room’s front door, she turned her head toward Tora. “You’re not going to greet him?”

“Should I?” Tora asked.

“Oh, come on. You shouldn’t. But really. I know what you’re thinking.” Melody winked. “Come on. I want to see him too. He won’t chase you out.” Melody opened the door as he waited for Tora to make his move.

Tora looked at the camera on the round table in that room. “I’ll go. But not to see Saga. I just want to give this camera back to Manabu,” Tora said as he took the camera and walked toward the door, where Melody was waiting for him.

“This camera is my business.” Melody took the camera from Tora’s hand. “You don’t know anything about photography, Tora. You might break it.” Melody giggled when Tora cursed under his breath. “OK. We’ll be back soon!” Melody said to her husband and the others before Tora followed her and closed the room door from the outside.

Byo and Nao said nothing when they saw Miyavi walked back to Kai. Again, Miyavi held Kai’s shoulder. The touch made Kai opened his eyes. But it’s not enough to make Kai looked at Miyavi. “You know, Kai? Your current face is so much uglier than Tora’s when he said something about not being able to make troubles like what Saga and Melody did back then,” Miyavi said with a smile. “It’s enough for today, Kai. You don’t have to show your ugly face all the time. We’re going home tomorrow. Let’s take a rest for tonight, shall we?”

“No.” Kai rose from his seat. “All of you can spend the night here if you want,” Kai said as he walked toward the room’s large window. “They’re going back to this inn. I’ll leave in ten minutes. I don’t want to add the risk of Yuu finding me here.”

“Kai…”

“Yes, you’re right. It’s enough for today.” Kai let out a long breath. “Saga worked well. VERY well. We’re done for today. Mission accomplished. Now Yuu knows how much a jerk Joker can be. Just like how I used to treat him those years ago…” Kai – at last – turned his head and looked back at Miyavi. “After this, Yuu can choose… Joker… or me…”

“Kai, you know that—”

“And I’m going to make sure which option Yuu will take.” Kai cut Miyavi’s words.

*

All of them returned to the inn without any smiles. Kanon-kun was on his way home back to Tokyo with his driver. After that event, Kanon and Kanon-kun didn’t even look at each other. But still, Kanon-kun didn’t go home without making it sure that Kanon and the others could get a ride home with Ruki’s company cars tomorrow, since he couldn’t take them home today.

Ruki took Aoi to the Hunter’s room at the inn. When Ruki left Aoi in front of his door, instead of entering his room, Aoi followed him. Ruki stopped in his track and turned around. He looked at Aoi who bit his lower lip, with a frown on his face. Ruki sighed. He extended his hand, and it didn’t take too long until Aoi reached it. The café owner then took Aoi to his own room. He let his employee sleep in his room that night.

Not neglecting his new three guests, Ruki rent another room for two, for Kanon and Jill. Before he could rent another one, Reita took the initiative to use Aoi’s empty one.

They had their dinner in separated places. Reita went somewhere, Ruki’s staff and crews still had their dinner at the inn’s dining room like when they had their briefing yesterday, while Ruki ordered foods for him, Aoi, Kanon, and Jill to be sent to each of their rooms.

Saga, Melody, and Manabu hadn’t left the inn. The inn’s staff confirmed that they hadn’t check-out just yet. If only Ruki went to the inn’s dining room, he might meet those three people there. But since they’re done with the entire photo sessions – not to mention also the Arcana problems – Ruki could let out a relieved exhale.

For a moment.

In his room, he looked at Aoi. The Hunter sat at the corner of the room, on the floor. Since they got back to the inn, even after Ruki helped him changed his costume, Aoi didn’t say anything. He just sat there, did nothing, stare into nothing. He didn’t answer any of Ruki’s calls to him. Aoi didn’t even touch the food Ruki ordered for him. Again, Ruki let out another breath, that time a little heavier.

Ruki looked through out his window. After he broke Saga’s spell, Takashima and Kouyou were nowhere to be found. Ruki didn’t see them in the inn. When he asked Reita about them, Reita didn’t give any positive answer either.

“When this will be over…?” Ruki whispered to himself.

*+*+*

“It’s been five days since the photo sessions,” Tora said as he took a seat at one of the chairs around a table outside the café. He looked at the person who was already there, to his left. “When are Ruki-san’s summer-wear designs will be released?”

“June thirteenth,” Saga answered as he opened the fashion magazine in his hand. “And don’t you dare come to the event.” That moment, sunglasses covered Saga’s eyes.

“What if Ruki-san invites me?” Tora chuckled. “I can perform acoustically if Ruki-san asks me too. He can pay half. I won’t mind.”

“Then I hope Ruki-san doesn’t invite you,” Saga said. “I can’t imagine the chaos you might make at the event.”

“How rude,” Tora said as he touched Saga’s chin with the tip of his finger, making the model warded it spontaneously with a click of his tongue in complain. “Ah, now you remind me. What about the offer my manager told you?”

“Not interested.” Saga kept looking at pages of his magazine instead of looking back at Tora.

“Oh, come on,” Tora said. “I’ve talked to Melody as well. She said, if it’s between us, it’s no longer a work matter, so I won’t need her to persuade you. She told me that I had to ask it directly to you. So…” Tora hold the magazine in Saga’s hand, and lowered in until it touched the wooden-table surface, showing Saga’s face. “How? Say yes, Saga. Please. For me?”

“Being a model for your upcoming PV?” Saga snorted. “As what? Immoral model that writhe on the bed?”

“Hey! I’ve never think of it before, but, it’s not a bad idea, I guess.” Tora laughed. “Come on, Saga. It’s been awhile since the last time we work together, isn’t it?”

Someone suddenly coughed; making the two men turned their heads toward the person. Seeing the person, Tora’s smile was getting wider, but Saga returned his gaze to the magazine in his hands.

“Show!” Tora called as he rose from his seat and extended both of his arms. He’s just about to hug the said brunette if only Show didn’t put his glass of iced coffee – that was condensed from the ice cubes inside it – right to Tora’s forehead. “Hey?!” Tora protested as he rubbed his wet temple.

“Sit,” Show ordered and Tora instantly obeyed – with a tiny grumble. Show put his iced-coffee on the table and directed his glance toward Saga. “How is our model?” Show asked with a smile.

“Same question goes to our proud interior designer then,” Saga replied who – at last – closed his magazine and put it on the table.

“You two speak like you haven’t met each other for months,” Tora commented as he lit his cigarette.

“We haven’t.” Show confirmed as he leant on his chair. “I forgot when the last time we see each other… if not for work that is.”

“And if not for Arcana…” Saga added. “So, after this, you’re going to see Ruki-san? You’re the one who’s going to design his boutique, right? For the summer-wear designs releasing event at thirteenth?”

“I’ve just came back from the meeting actually,” Show answered. “That’s why I’m a little late today. Sorry for that, by the way,” Show apologized. “I like his boutique. Comfy.”

“So that was what made you had the heart to keep us waiting here.” Tora showed his fake sad face. “If only I knew that I should wait for you this long, I would bring my guitar here to make songs for both of you.”

“Ah, cut it out, Tora. I’ve had enough of your false flattery.” Saga clicked his tongue. “Moreover, what kind of songs can you made in three minutes?”

“You’re underestimating me, Saga!” Tora chuckled. “If only there’s a statue, with real size, of THE Hunter, right in front of me, I can make songs in even less than three minutes.”

“You mean nude statue?” Saga snorted. “You haven’t done in dealing your troubles with us; yet you want to add another trouble?”

“There, there, Saga. You’re talking to Tora here. You know him. No one can stop him,” Show said as Tora winked at him. Show returned his gaze to the model. “So, what is your plan after this? You still have to meet with the Hunter, don’t you, Saga? At the summer-wear designs releasing event? As the two main models, I guess both of you will be there at the event.”

“I’m going to face him as I should. If he doesn’t want to see me, he has the right to do that. I won’t bug.” Saga exhaled a long breath. “But, really. After this, it won’t be the same again. Especially the connection between the Hunter and Joker…”

“If Hunter is there, Joker will be there too, at the event,” Show said. “I bet that Joker still can’t be too far from Hunter, though their relationship turned worse or else…”

“It’s not that he can’t. He WON’T be,” Saga corrected. “I’m thinking about other probabilities. We might be thankful if Joker is nowhere around the Hunter at the event later.” He exhaled another sigh. “I heard that Kai-san was also invited to the event. I bet you don’t even want to imagine if Kai-san is there, and he sees the Hunter with the Joker at the event… I don’t think he can hold his emotion and…” Saga made a gesture and a sound that looked like something exploded.

*

Byo scattered fish foods into the pond at the side-garden of the vast mansion. He chuckled when he saw the koi fishes started to eat the food. Done with that, Byo stood and walked to put the fish food back to the place at the corner of the garden.

“Done already?” someone asked, making Byo turned his head toward the person. “I was daydreaming when I was in the kitchen. I made too much tea. Care to help me finishing it all?”

Byo looked at the silver-haired young man in front of him. There was a tray on his hands, and there were two cup of tea and biscuits on the tray. Again, Byo chuckled. “No, you’re not daydreaming. You made two teas on purpose, Rui.”

The silver-haired young man named Rui smiled. With Byo, they walked to the table and chairs at the other corner of the garden. Byo sat first at one of the chairs as Rui put the cups and biscuits on the table. “Every time I look at this garden, I still find it so big, whereas this is not this mansion’s main garden,” Rui said as he sat on the other chair. His gaze flew to the rows of hollyhock at the centre of the garden.

“The owner of this mansion is the CEO of the largest internet access provider company in Japan. What do you expect?” Byo smiled.

This time, Rui was the one who chuckled. “Kai-sama is really great. I’m still wondering how he could make times between his works with this entire Arcana problem.” The silver-haired young man then looked at his right palm. “I didn’t even expect that I have it too in me… if only Kai-sama didn’t make me realize about it…”

“You’re lucky Kai-sama was the one who made you found out about the Arcana that slept within you.”

“Well, you’re lucky too then,” Rui smiled. “Kai-sama and Miyavi-san were the ones who made you realized that you have it in you too, weren’t they?”

“It’s true…” Byo held Rui’s hand. “Out there, there are still several people who haven’t realize that they are the Host or Hostess for the Arcana Power. That’s why Kai-sama wants to gather us all… so that there will be no one who got out of control like The Magician or The High Priestess back then… so that the Joker won’t have any reason to keep us all inside cards anymore.”

“You’re right…” Rui nodded and smiled. “Ah, the summer-wear designs releasing event is at thirteenth, isn’t it? I’m sure you’re going to accompany Kai-sama and the others again. And I’ll be here again, waiting you all to come back home…” Rui sighed. “I want to go too… I want to see the Hunter directly too.”

Byo chuckled. “Aren’t you wondering about it sometimes? About why people are so easily attracted to him… as if he possessed a magnet inside himself or something…” Byo then patted Rui’s head. “I’m going to try to talk to Kai-sama about you going with us to the event. Kai-sama noticed that you have some kind of secret admiration about our Hunter.”

Rui blushed. “No, Byo, I’m just—”

“‘No’?” Byo cut in. “Oh, so it seems I don’t have to ask Kai-sama about inviting you too to the event then. Since you don’t really need to see him yourself, no?” Byo said that made Rui stared at him with wide eyes. “Kidding. I’m going to talk to Kai-sama to take you too.” And with that, Byo got a good warm hug from the silver haired young man.


____....++++**・to be continued・**++++....____

Chapter Text

“It’s been so awkward today.” Melody sighed. She took a glance at Manabu who was busy with his laptop. Only two of them left at the meeting room that moment. “Not fair. You have something as distraction.”

“I didn’t turn my laptop on in the meeting,” Manabu objected. “Ruki-san didn’t laugh at all today.”

“Right?! We used to exchange jokes with Saga. Today, he didn’t even listen to any of mine.” Melody clicked her tongue. “I felt like a fool.”

“Come on, forget about that,” Manabu said. “I’m more interested in your story before we started the meeting earlier. About your answer to Joker about the Arcana Host and Hostess who stood against Joker?” Manabu chuckled.

“Don’t tell me you’re thinking about that the whole meeting?” Melody giggled. “Nine. Can you believe it? Yes, of course I lied. Why should I tell Joker about the real current family member?” Melody snorted. “Sometimes Joker’s attitude could be really entertaining. I’ve never expected that I could trick him so easily. Well, that is if he really believed in what I’ve told him though…” Melody pushed her hair back. That time, she didn’t wear her bell earrings. “The more interesting thing is… Joker’s feeling toward the Hunter. I really had a good laugh, thank you for that. If only you saw Joker’s face, Manabu. I just mentioned the beautiful Hunter’s name; Joker immediately paid his entire attention to me.” She giggled again. “I thought Joker and Hunter shouldn’t have any deep connection.”

“Found out that Joker has other reason to curb the Hunter,” Manabu said. “I thought they really act like a guardian by being at the Hunter’s side all the time.”

“It could be, couldn’t it?” Melody giggled again. “‘The over-protective guardian’. Ah, I love how Saga emphasized it.”

“What if it’s the other way around? Joker didn’t protect Hunter from us.” Melody gazed at Melody who suddenly stopped smiling.

“You mean that…” Melody started. “Joker is… protecting… anything… from… the Hunter…?” Melody shook her head. “Nao should really meet his pairing…”

“Let’s wait for Kai’s decision. You know that sometimes Kai could be too patient. I don’t know what makes him loves to procrastinate.”

“Saga should cast his spell to Kai…” Melody said as she folded her arms in front of her body. “So that Kai can stop being hypocrite who act like he doesn’t need the Hunter in his life.”

*

At the top of the luxurious building, in a very wide room, with a very wide window that curved to almost half of the room, Miyavi turned the pages of the reports sheets in his hands. “Main sponsor for a boutique in a summer-wear designs releasing event,” Miyavi read the sentence written in the report before he lowered the sheets and showed his face to his employer who sat behind a dark wooden table with detailed-carvings at the lower part of the table. “So, now your provider company will clear the way into fashion too?” He smiled.

“This is not the first time we became the main sponsor in events that has nothing to do with technology or communication, isn’t it?” said the employer, Kai, as he fix the glasses’ position he wore. “Moreover, I’m just trying to maintain a good relationship with a friend that is.”

“Is this really your initiative to help Ruki-san’s event, or is this your way to apologize to him for almost ruining his photo sessions at the beach?”

“You can say for both, though I didn’t really ruin his photo session.” Kai smiled. “They’re done with the photo session. From what I heard from Manabu, Ruki didn’t complain to any of the photos at the beach. I think I can take that as good news. I wasn’t slowing anyone down.”

Miyavi chuckled. “If only you knew… at their meeting earlier, Melody said that it felt like she wasn’t facing Ruki at the time.”

“I can’t blame him,” Kai responded. “He was in the same room with the people who were at odds with his acquaintances. It’s natural he acted that way.”

“And here I’m thinking if only Ruki-san knew that you’re the one behind all of this.” Miyavi chuckled again.

“I know Ruki. He’s professional,” Kai clarified. “Even though we don’t share similar opinion about Arcana, I know he won’t let it interferes our works.”

“But he’s the type with loyalty toward his companions, isn’t he?” Miyavi asked. “Moreover, if they already have the right to use the Arcana’s Emperor Power, it’ll be very difficult for us to penetrate their defence IF we have to face him one day.”

“Let’s think about it later.” Kai put off his glasses. “Now let’s get into current most important thing, Meev. I want you to help me with things.” Kai rose from his chair. “I want to give some present for Ruki’s main model – you know who I’m talking about…” Kai gestured at Miyavi with his glasses in his hand. “You know Ruki invited me to his summer-wear designs releasing event.”

“How romantic…” Miyavi smiled. “I believe you’ve told me that you had ordered some beautiful flowers bouquet for him?” He started to chuckle. Again.

“It was too… how did they say it… mainstream?” Kai frowned. “I want to give something else. A chocolate perhaps? Ah, or, I’ll let Ruki designs something that his model can wear at the event? How about that? Of course I’ll pay for the costume.”

Miyavi snorted before he finally let out a boisterous laughter. “How old are you again, Kai?” Miyavi raised both of his hands in the air, surrendering to Kai’s antiques. “Instead of a certain CEO, I feel like I’m talking to a high-school boy. With a lot of money.”

Kai only chuckled at that, without any objection.

*

“We have to get back, Joker.”

Kouyou threw a pebble into the blue ocean water in front of him. They were at the beach again, where they talked about ‘sacrifice’ and the ‘agreement’ with Aoi when they first met. Kouyou turned around to face Takashima and pointed a finger to his counterpart. “Say that again, one more time, straight to my face, later, after you feel you can already see the Hunter right in his eyes, Albi!”

Takashima lowered his head. He shook his head slowly before he looked back at Kouyou. “Then kindly tell me when you will get over your fear.”

“I… don’t… know…” Kouyou turned again to face the ocean again. “I know, Albi. I’m sorry. This is so dilemmatic, I know. But—”

“If only we can end all of this turmoil without having the necessity of facing The Lovers,” Takashima said. “But we both know that it’s impossible. To end this all, we have to face all of those rebels… including The Lovers.”

“Then I guess there are really NO other ways to stop them all without facing any trouble, Albi.”

“Joker—”

“Stop regretting it, Albi,” Kouyou stopped him. “Those rebels aside; we still have The Emperor to be worried about. We haven’t found the right moment to make The Emperor gives his freedom to the Hunter. If we don’t do it fast, we won’t be able to use The Emperor’s power until forever. He can try to break free again anytime he wants.”

“THAT is WHY.” Takashima heaved. “We. Have. To get back there, Joker. We. Have. To return to our Dear Darling, Kouyou-chan.” Takashima changed his way of calling his companion. “I know it’s difficult. WE know this is difficult. There’s nothing more chaotic than this, Joker. There’s nothing more chaotic than a Joker who falls in love to his Hunter. Add it with the truth about YOUR Hunter-HATES-you. But we HAVE to face it, Joker. THAT or we don’t want to solve these—” Takashima extended both of his hands. “—problems, at all,” and let his arms fell beside his body like it was heavy with so many burdens.

“Since when, Albi?” Kouyou asked. “Since when did we’re trapped in this kind of situation? And WHY must we’re trapped in THIS kind of situation?”

“Ask that to yourself, Joker…” Takashima fixed his fedora’s position. “Why do you think I act like this in front of him? Why do you think I act like an idiot flamboyant bloke who loves to exaggerating things? Why do you think I did things ON PURPOSE so that he’s annoyed with me?” Takashima looked straight to Kouyou’s who looked back at him. “Yes. For making him hates me, will make it easier for me to hold my own feelings, Joker…”

*

Hiroto just stepped out from his bath room when he saw Aoi was pouring steamed water into his cup of black coffee in his kitchen. Hiroto walked toward him and looked at the cup in Aoi’s hand. “You don’t tend to sleep tonight?”

“Hm?” Aoi answered without looking back at Hiroto. He stirred the black coffee and said, “Only a cup of it. It won’t be enough to make me stay awake.”

Hiroto leaned on his kitchen’s wall. “Okay, Aoi,” he said. “I’m not going to hold it any longer. But…” Then he hummed.

Exhaling a long breath, Aoi turned around and faced his co-worker. “I bet you’re going to ask me how long I will stay here, in your apartment. Aren’t you?”

“I don’t want to throw you out from here, Aoi.” Hiroto scratched his not-really-itchy head. “It’s just that… you can’t run from them forever, can you?” Hiroto added fast, “You know that they can also come here to pick you up anytime.”

“I know…” Aoi said as he leaned his hip to the table in the kitchen. “I was only…” Aoi covered his mouth with his left hand. That moment, his gaze fell to the metal bracelet Kouyou helped him to wear. Aoi didn’t continue his words after he saw that seal.

“Aoi…” Hiroto called. “I’m sorry; I don’t mean to make you sadder for reminding you about this. But…” Hiroto waited but Aoi didn’t even reciprocate his gaze just yet. “It’s almost the time, isn’t it? The visit…”

“I’m going back to my apartment after that,” said Aoi who – finally – looked back at Hiroto. “Hiroto, I… I’ll pay half for the rent cos—”

“That is not what I want to ask you, Aoi.” Hiroto walked closer to Aoi. “Aoi… did Takashima and Kouyou know about this… visit…?”

“No…” Aoi shook his head slow. “They don’t know… and… they don’t need to know… they don’t need to know anything about my family, Hiroto-kun…”

This time, Hiroto was the one who shook his head. “You’re such a hypocrite, Aoi.”

*+*+*

Nao walked among many other people on that large road. The smile was never leaving his face. There was a song played from his cellphone, flowed to the earphone that attached to his right ear. Nao never used both of the earphones. Once in awhile he sang the song he listened to. When he found that some notes he was singing didn’t catch the song, he chuckled. Two girls who walked passed him listened to his voice and giggled. Nao turned his head toward them and waved at them, making the two girls giggled again.

The round-faced young man returned his face to his steps. With his way of walking, it looked like he was hopping instead of walking usually. In his hand, there’s plastic cup of iced-frappuccino. After a song ended, he took the time to sip it from the straw.

Nao’s steps were stopped when another song started but it suddenly stopped again for an incoming call. Nao searched for a button in the middle of his earphone cable and pressed it. “Moshi moshi?

Nao-san?” a voice greeted him. “I bet you’re listening to music when I call you, aren’t you? It’s me, Sano. Nao-san, where are you now?

“Kanon-kuuunn! Oh, I want to go to your school!” Nao answered cheerfully before he sipped his iced-frappuccino again. “I’ll be there in a minute!”

Nao-san, don’t lie please,” Kanon-kun said. “And please, don’t drink anything while you’re talking.

“Oh, sorry, sorry!” Nao giggle and put his ice-frappuccino away for a while. His gaze was locked to a certain café several meters in front of him.

Nao-san,” Kanon-kun called him again. “I bet you know that Kai-sama still prohibit you to see your pairing?” The boy sighed. “Be patient, will you? The time will come for you to pick him up.

“Aaaw, aaawkaaay…” Nao said without taking his glance away from the café. A “Fortezza” sign hanged in front of the café’s door. “I’m not going to see him today.”

*

“Who are you calling?” Miku asked without looking at his friend. He just laid face downward on the grass at their school yard. His hands were busy stacking cards with people faces on it on.

They’re having the break that time. Kanon-kun, Miku, and Teruki often sat there under one of the shady trees to have their lunch. After they’re done with their lunch that day, at Miku’s left, Teruki read a small book in his hand, and at his right, Kanon-kun was still doing something with his cellphone.

“Nao-san…” Kanon-kun answered. He sighed again as he let his hand with his cellphone fell on his lap. “If only I didn’t stop him, Nao-san will definitely meet his pairing.”

“Aaah, I see…” Miku turned his head toward Kanon-kun. “If that happens, I bet Kai-sama will be furious,” he commented before he returned to his cards that were stacked on the grass right in front of his face. He took one card with Kai’s photo on it, and put it at the top of the stack in a pyramid shape. “Hey, Kanon-kun. Have you meet Wakeshima-chan today?”

Kanon-kun coughed his breath. He took a fallen small twig beside him and threw it to Miku-s head, making the blond boy protested him with a laughter. Kanon-kun, again, sighed as he folded his arms over his body. “I think that we shouldn’t see each other for a while…”

“‘Til when?” Miku asked. “We still have a year and more in this school. Do you want to avoid her until all of us graduated?”

“I don’t know…” Kanon-kun answered. “If only the situation wasn’t this difficult… if only she’s not The High Priestess, and I’m not The Hierophant…”

“If only the two of you didn’t have feelings toward each other,” Miku said with laughter. He took a card with Kanon-kun’s photo and put it right beside Kanon’s card.

“What do you mean with ‘each other’?” Kanon-kun asked as he looked at Miku. He took a glance toward Teruki who looked at him, but Teruki didn’t say anything.

“I thought you knew?” Miku reciprocated Kanon-kun’s glance. “Tora-san teased you too about that. Moreover, when you caught in Saga-san’s power accidentally at the beach, I thought it was pretty obvious?”

“W… well, that’s true… but…” Kanon-kun didn’t finish his own words. “Ah, now it’s just getting more difficult…”

“Right…” Miku smiled. “Complicated,” he corrected the word choosing as he put a card with Aoi’s photo on it beside Kai’s card.

“Hey, what are you doing actually?” Kanon-kun moved from his position and crawled toward Miku. “What card are those?”

“It’s cool, isn’t it?” Miku cheered as he took the Kanon-kun’s card. “I’ve always wanted to have cards like Arcana’s! Like the one that the Hunter is collecting! I asked for Teruki’s help to make it for me!”

Kanon-kun turned his head toward Teruki. The said boy looked back at him and nodded before he returned to the small book in his hand. Kanon-kun returned his gaze to Miku who smiled widely at him. Rolling his eyes, Kanon-kun said, “You sure have nothing else to do…”

*

“Ah, I’m really sorry. I asked so many things already from you this past few days,” Ruki said as he collected the papers that were scattered on one of the tables in his café.

“It’s really okay.” Jill nodded. “I’m free anyway. Let’s just say I’m just spending my free time here, helping you out with the least things I can do,” Jill said with a smile and Ruki said ‘thank you very much then’ between his chuckles. “Moreover, it’s almost the summer-wear designs releasing event. Ruki-san will be very busy until the date.” Jill looked at the café owner who took a seat at one of the chairs as he crossed his arms over his body while he was inspecting Jill. “Wh… what is it, Ruki-san?”

“You know, Jill. I’m glad that you’re more comfortable toward your surroundings now. You talked more these days,” Ruki remarked and a faint blush appeared on the girl’s cheeks. Again, Ruki chuckled. “I was actually wondering… since you’re befriending Kanon-chan, how can you keep up with someone as talkative as her?”

“Ruki-san, Kanon-chan might get mad at you if she heard you said that,” Jill said before she smiled. “Well, you can say that Kanon-chan was the one who changed me… a little,” she added fast.

“That reminds me… have you seen her yesterday?” Ruki said. “I’m kind of worry about her. Since the spell-incident at the beach…”

Jill hummed before she answered, “I haven’t seen her. But we talked via email if that counts.” Jill hummed again. “It looks like… the thing between Kanon-chan and Sano is… more complicated than we recognize…”

“Really?” Ruki turned his head, and that time, he saw Aoi who was serving a customer. From the guest’s face, Ruki could see that he was the regular who usually ordered the same affogato.

“Ruki-san,” Jill called. “What do you think about… if one day… Kanon-chan has to face Sano… as an opponent?” Jill asked that made Ruki startled. “I don’t mean like when they faced each other on that giant chess board… and I don’t want to see Kanon-chan as this small part of this entire problem either. I mean, I know that Aoi is our main actor who has to face all of the Arcanas…” Jill turned her head and looked at Aoi who walked back to the counter and spoke with Hiroto. “But… the situation around Kanon-chan makes me think that… Aoi is actually facing the same thing too…” Jill returned her gaze toward Ruki. “Aoi, Takashima, and Kouyou… have they seen each other after the incident at the beach?”

Ruki lowered his gaze and exhaled a long breath. “Not yet,” he answered in a low voice. “You know what? Even Aoi left his apartment to stay at Hiroto’s place. He said that he doesn’t want Takashima and Kouyou appear suddenly around him when there’s just him alone at the place…”

“Ruki-san…” Jill called again. “What do you think about… the relationship among Aoi, Takashima, and Kouyou after this?”

“I don’t know,” Ruki answered. “But of course it can’t stay like this forever… Takashima and Kouyou have to see Aoi and explain themselves, and Aoi has to face his problem. He can’t run away from the things he should face in the first place.”

Ano, excuse me,” someone suddenly called. The voice made Ruki, Jill, and also Aoi and Hiroto turned their heads toward the person. He was the one who always ordered affogato. “You’re… the owner of this café, right?”

“Yes, I am,” Ruki stood from his chair. “Is there anything I can do for you?” Ruki asked as he took a glimpse to the table where the person sat earlier. “Ah, are we disturbing your work, Sir?”

“No, no! It’s not that!” He waved his hands fast. “Ano, nice to meet you. I’m Teishikata Kunihiko. Ah, but you can call me Jin, by the way, that’s my pen name.” He bowed to Ruki and made Ruki did the same thing to him as he introduced himself too. “I’m actually in process of finishing my novel. I’m making a… um… a romantic novel.” He chuckled as he blushed while he scratched his head. “Actually, I’m a new novelist. Ah! My main character is a waitress. A café waitress. And if you don’t mind… I actually would… like to interview… one of your waiters?” Jin asked as he looked at Aoi – who immediately pulled Hiroto, making Hiroto stood in front of him, shielding him, covering himself from Jin’s view. Hiroto suddenly waved his hand and showed a very wide smile. “The one at the back… if you don’t mind… I actually… want to interview the one at the back…” And Hiroto suddenly lowered his head in defeat.

“Well, I don’t intend to prohibit you from doing that to my worker… but…” Ruki took a glance at Aoi who shook his head fast, and crossed his hands, gesturing the ‘X’ sign in front of his body. “Why must… him?”

“It’s a little embarrassing actually…” This time Jin lowered his head and scratched his right cheek. “But… ok, since I need your help, it’s only fair if I tell you the reason.” Jin took a deep breath, pointed his finger toward Aoi, and answered, “I made the main character in my novel… based on him.”

“Oh…” Ruki blinked. “I see…” he said as he took another glance at Aoi. As her seat, Jill took the same glance to Aoi. Meanwhile, Hiroto was trying so hard to keep Aoi in his position, whereas Aoi was about to run, leaving his spot, into the kitchen.

“Oh, please don’t worry too much!” Jin waved both of his hands again. “The main character is not exactly like you. Really… I’ve… told you that my main character is a… waitress… haven’t I?” Jin explained hesitantly.

Hearing that, Aoi struggled harder to free himself from Hiroto’s tight grip.

*

The interview lasted almost an hour. Jin apologized to Ruki and Aoi several times for taking their time, but Ruki didn’t seem to mind, while Aoi was just willing to help. It’s just some of the questions were really embarrassing because Jin kept saying that Aoi was really a hard worker.

After the young novelist done with the interview and the long note he wrote in the middle of it, Jin thanked Ruki and Aoi, again, for several times. He even bowed that ninety degree-bow to both of them. As gratitude, Jin gave each of them a pen, with a star ornament attached at the upper tip of it. After that, he put his entire thing in his bag, paid for the affogato, and waved them all goodbye for that day.

“Wow, that’s so cute!” Hiroto commented as he saw the pen in Ruki’s right hand.

“Yes, cute indeed,” Ruki responded as he touched his chin with his left hand. “Star, aye… it could be cute design for autumn-wear…” The café owner said as he walked into the kitchen.

“Eh?!” Hiroto blinked. “Ruki-san, but even summer hasn’t ended yet!”

There, Aoi was still standing at the café’s front door when he stared at the star-pen in his hand. He sighed as he’s about to enter the café and closed the door. That’s when he saw a familiar person far at the other side of the road in front of the café. The person was really looked like…

Kai…?!

Aoi gasped. There were several pedestrian between him and where the person stood. He blinked, but then, after there were no people blocking his view, he didn’t see the person at the same spot he saw him earlier.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Hiroto asked as he tapped his co-worker’s shoulder.

“No… nothing…” Aoi said; eyes still wide. “I was just… seeing things… yeah…” Aoi lowered his head, cold sweat on his temple, and Hiroto frowned.


____....++++**・to be continued・**++++....____

Chapter Text

Kouyou watched Takashima who was drawing on the beach sand with the tip of his sword. Takashima was making a very large circle with many weird letters inside all along the circle. At each four points at the circle – north, south, west, and east – Takashima put a sign. He then drew lines to connect those four points, making a rhomboid shape. From those four points, Takashima drew other lines, from north to south, and from west to east, making a “plus” sign inside the circle.

Right in the middle of the circle and in the middle of the “plus” sign, Takashima drew an oval shape. After Takashima was done with the magic circle, Kouyou walked toward him. Takashima gave his sword to Kouyou, and walked to the outside of the circle, leaving Kouyou inside the circle. With Takashima’s sword in his hand, the aura around Kouyou’s eye turned from red into green. The green aura then flowed to his shoulder, and crept to his fingers that were gripping the sword.

The Magic Circle Takashima made

Kouyou plunged the sword blade at the middle of the large circle, right in the oval shape that Takashima drew lastly. Kouyou pressed his left wrist to the sword blade. Slowly, Kouyou scratched his wrist to the blade, making a thin wound on his skin. From inside the wound, a clot of blood with metallic spots oozed and flowed out, following the line of the blade. The blood flowed down until it touched the oval shape on the sand.

When the blood touched the sand, the oval shape was starting to move and it spun. Then, in high-speed, Kouyou’s blood flowed and spread to entire lines Takashima made on the sand, making the magic circle shape and pattern clearer. After the magic circle was completely coloured by blood, the four signs Takashima made at the four points were starting to spin, like the oval shape in the middle of the circle.

From each of the moving signs, shafts of lights appeared and shone upright. Inside each the shafts of lights, there were another signs appeared. This time, it was Arcana Powers’ sign. The signs were floating in the air inside the shafts of lights. One of the floating sign stole Takashima’s attention. He pointed the one at the north and said, “It’s Wheel of Fortune.”

“It means ‘changing’,” Kouyou added with a low voice. “I don’t like this… but it will happen, Albi. I don’t know when the turning point will happen.”

“The question is…” Takashima took a deep breath. “Are we ready to face this ‘change’, Joker?”

“I don’t know…” Kouyou answered. “I’m not good at foretelling what’s inside my own heart.” Kouyou then turned his head toward the floating sign in the air at his right. “It’s… The Star.”

Takashima lowered his gaze and looked at the blood that was still welling the magic circle drawing he made on the sand. “The position is very close, Joker,” Takashima stated. “Who do you think will he sides with?”

Kouyou followed Takashima’s gaze to the magic circle drawing. “They don’t look bad,” Kouyou answered. “But—” Kouyou returned to the first sign. “Wheel of Fortune… the change can happen to anyone, can’t it? Including The Star.”

“Yes, you’re right…” Takashima said as he looked at the other part of the magic circle. Takashima was startled when he saw Kouyou’s blood dried out at several spots, but lump up at the other spots. “Joker, there!” Takashima pointed at the lumping blood on the line that was connecting two floating signs. The blood outside that line was dried out, making the two floating signs looked like they were having their own world.

Between The Empress & The Hanged Man

Kouyou looked at the floating signs Takashima pointed at before he and Takashima exchanged glances. Takashima shook his head slowly. “This is bad…” he said as he returned his gaze to the two floating signs.

“These four Arcana signs are really out of my prediction,” Kouyou said. “Wheel of Fortune appeared too fast. I know we won’t be able to avoid it, but… why must it be this soon…”

The Star’s light is still small…” Takashima continued. “Please don’t blame me when I hope it will be this small much longer.”

“Lastly…” Kouyou and Takashima fell silent for a moment when they looked back at the two floating signs that were still connected one to another. “The Empress… and The Hanged Man…”

*+*+*

Aoi looked around him as he balanced the paper bag he brought with him. The shopping centre was really full with people. Some of them walked by themselves without anyone accompanied them. Several of those solitaires were busy with their cellphones, while the others were having their ears stuffed with earphones. Aoi looked at the other direction. He saw a pair of boy and girl walked hand in hand. When Aoi turned his head, he saw another guy embraced his girlfriend.

Sighing, Aoi shifted his glance away from those couples. In front of a toy shop, Aoi saw two little boys fought over a truck toy. A woman came and separated them. One of the boys cried, and a man came to pick the crying boy up. Aoi sealed his mouth tight. He shifted his glance again to another direction only to find a man and a woman laughed with their daughter who was enjoying a strawberry ice cream.

Returning his attention to the person beside him, Aoi asked, “Tell me again why am I have to follow you for your shopping agenda?” Aoi balanced his paper bag in his hold again. The paper bag was full with food. His gaze was pointed straight to his co-worker who was squealing over toys for pets in certain shop. “Hi. Ro. To. Kun.”

“Yes?” he answered as he turned his head toward Aoi, with a bone-shaped toy in his hand. He had a very wide smile at that time.

Aoi sighed. “Why won’t you go shopping by yourself?” he grumbled. “I’m going home first.”

“No, you’re not.” Hiroto made a gesture by moving his finger, like a mother who’s not giving any permission to her son. “While you’re staying in my place, you have to help me prepare everything we need for one week ahead. Moreover, it’s Sunday, Aoi! Shopping by your own self alone at Sunday is no fun! Staying alone at home at Sunday is no fun either,” Hiroto said as he put the toy back to its place at the shop.

Aoi lowered his gaze and looked inside the paper bag. Half of it was filled with his own favourite food. Again, Aoi sighed. “Are you doing this on purpose?”

“Doing what?” Hiroto asked with a smile. He turned around and started to walk to the next store.

Aoi followed him. “Doing everything of this to make me tired… so that I don’t have to stay too long in your place… aren’t you?”

Hiroto hummed. “You’re right for half of it,” he answered that made Aoi clicked his tongue. “I’ve told you I don’t mean to throw you out from my apartment.” Hiroto stopped in his track and turned around to face Aoi. “There’s one thing I want to ask you, by the way.”

“Wh… what is it?” Aoi asked hesitantly. He gulped, stared at Hiroto, and waited for the question.

Hiroto fell silent for several seconds before he said, “Nothing.” Hiroto turned his back toward Aoi and continued his walk.

“Wh… what was that?! Hey!” Aoi called as he followed Hiroto’s step.

Just when Aoi was about to walk beside Hiroto, his co-worker stopped and tapped his shoulder. “I forgot to buy mayonnaise,” he said before he jogged away from Aoi.

“Hey, not so fast, Hiroto-kun! This is heavy!” Aoi called as he tried to balance the paper bag in his hands again.

“You just wait there! I won’t be long!” Hiroto said before he ran again.

Aoi lost Hiroto in the crowd. “What the…” He took a deep breath before exhaled it slowly. Aoi then looked around him and saw a bench near the elevator. There was a girl sat at the right end of the long bench. Because there was no other empty bench around him, Aoi kept walking to the bench and took a seat at the left end of it.

Not long after that, the girl stood. Aoi saw her running toward a boy who had just arrived. The boy gave her big pinkish-transparent plastic. There was a red ribbon at the top of it, keeping the stuffed bear safe inside. The girl smiled wide and said something to the boy, making him blushed. The girl received the stuffed bear and both of them left.

Again, Aoi sighed. He lowered his head and chose to close his eyes. No one will tell him to go just because he fell asleep, won’t it?”

But Aoi couldn’t enjoy his solitude for too long. Someone sat at the spot where the girl sat earlier. “This bench is empty, isn’t t?” the person asked. “Ah, if you’re waiting for someone, I’ll go when they come for you… Yuu…”

The way the person called him instantly made Aoi opened his eyes. He turned his head and suddenly Aoi found it hard to breath. His heart beat so hard and it made him stuttered, “K… Kai…?!”

The said person, Kai, smiled toward Aoi. “Hello, Yuu… long time no see.” Kai stared at the paper bag in Aoi’s hands. “Are you done with your shopping?”

Aoi didn’t answer that question. His gaze was still locked to Kai’s face, but his grips were getting tighter around his paper bag. Aoi stood suddenly. He was about to run when someone stood just few steps right in front of him, stopping him in his first step.

“Don’t you think it would be impolite if you leave someone who’s actually talking to you, Shiroyama-sama?” Miyavi, the one who stood in front of Aoi said, as he smiled to Aoi. “Oh, don’t mind me. I’m here just to make sure that both of you will spend the time effectively.”

“Now, Yuu…” Kai called and made Aoi returned his attention back to Kai. Kai smiled, and without saying anything, he tapped the bench, right beside the spot where he was sitting.

Aoi frowned, looking at Kai before he looked back at Miyavi. He gasped when he saw Miyavi gesturing him, asking him to sit back beside Kai. “Oh, let me deal with this,” Miyavi said as he took the paper bag from Aoi’s hand.

“No—”

“Now, nothing will hold you back!” Miyavi cheered.

The panic attacked him as he lost something that he could hold on to. With nothing in his hands, Aoi couldn’t hold of anything, and it showed in his frantic hands movements. Aoi bit his lower lip and gulped. He started to grip his hair as he took several shaky breaths. Aoi looked back and forth toward Kai and Miyavi when his tears welled up in his eyes. “Why now…?” he asked with a whisper.

“Sit down first, Yuu—”

“Why now?!” Aoi repeated his question, with louder voice.

“Yuu—”

“WHY NOW?!” Aoi asked hysterically that made people around him turned their heads toward him.

Kai closed his eyes and sighed. He moved his index and middle fingers slowly. Several seconds after, the people around them stopped looking at them and continued with anything they were doing earlier. Some of them walked away from the spot where Kai, Aoi, and Miyavi were.

“Yuu, please…” Kai called again as he stood up and walked toward Aoi.

“No…” Aoi walked backward, trying to keep the distance between Kai and him, and trying to keep Kai in his view range at the same time. He was startled when Kai walked faster toward him and caught him by his upper arms. “NO!!” Aoi screamed when Kai pulled him closer. Aoi tried to push Kai away, but with Kai arm circling his waist in firm embrace, Aoi couldn’t do much. That moment, even after Aoi screamed like that, no one listened to him, let alone turned their heads. No one heeded Aoi’s screaming or anything happened between them.

“Yuu…” Kai sighed as he hugged him. “I miss you…” he said that made Aoi gasped. “I miss you so, so, so, much…” Kai nuzzled Aoi’s hair. “You didn’t change since the last time I saw you, Yuu…” Kai said as he smelled Aoi’s hair, near his ear. Giving a little space between their faces, Kai stared at Aoi’s face and suddenly whispered, “Oh, no, Yuu…” He wiped Aoi’s tear with his thumb. “It’s been eight years. I know, of course you’ve changed.” Kai combed Aoi’s hair with his fingers to the back of his ear. “Yes, you’ve changed… you’re getting lovelier than ever…”

“No, Kai… please, don’t—”

“Without tears, you’ll be utterly perfect, my dear Yuu…”

Miyavi glanced at their surroundings before returned his attention to Kai. “Kai, we can’t be here any longer. We have to go.”

“Wait a little longer,” Kai said as he caressed Aoi’s lip with his thumb.

“You might ruin your own plan, Kai.”

“CAN’T I!!” Kai yelled as he suddenly gripped Aoi’s arms tight, making Aoi yelped. Kai immediately loosened his grip and caressed Aoi’s cheek. “Can’t I just… take you home now…? Yuu?”

“I don’t want to go home…”

“Yuu. I need you.”

“Kai,” Miyavi warned him.

Kai pointed a finger at Miyavi’s face as he gritted his teeth. Without saying anything to Miyavi, his eyes colour changed, and that made Miyavi gulped. Standing still in position that time as Kai’s adviser, Miyavi said instead, “Calm down, Kai. Be patient. Or you’ll ruin everything.”

Heaving, Kai lowered his hand. He lowered his head, and closed his eyes. After exhaling a long breath, Kai opened his eyes that were already turned back into its original colour. He faced Aoi again and hugged him tight. “I’ll pick you up, Yuu…” he said. “One day, you’ll be going home with me. I’ll pick you up… and I… will be the only person who won’t leave you ever again…” Kai placed a kiss on Aoi’s neck, suck the skin there, before he loosened his hold around Aoi. “That is my pledge…” Kai said before he let Aoi go entirely and turned around. Kai walked away, leaving Aoi near that bench, and disappeared among the crowd.

Miyavi put Aoi’s paper bag on the bench before he looked at Aoi who just stood there, looking at where Kai had disappeared, with tears kept running down his face. Miyavi walked toward Aoi, and took a hold of Aoi’s shoulders. “Sit,” Miyavi said. “Your friend will be back soon…” Slowly, Miyavi lead Aoi back to the bench, and made him sat back. Miyavi looked into the crowed, and back at Aoi. He bent over Aoi, making his face on the same level with Aoi’s. Miyavi tried to wipe Aoi’s tears. “‘Til we meet again, Your Highness…” Miyavi said before he followed Kai, walked toward the crowd, and disappeared among them, leaving Aoi alone at the bench.

Right after that, Hiroto came back. He jogged toward Aoi and waved the mayonnaise bottle in his hand. “Hey, I’m sorry it took too long!” he said before he stopped his step in front of Aoi. “A… Aoi…?” He frowned as he saw his co-worker was actually crying.

“Kai…”

The named startled him. “What?!”

“Kai came…”

“Kai?” Hiroto asked as he looked their surroundings. “No, Aoi. You’re just—”

“Kai was here, Hiroto-kun…! He’s here…!” On the bench, Aoi bent over, and held his head with both of his hands. His tears streamed even more. “He talked to me, Hiroto…! Kai was here…!”

Hiroto fell silent. Other people around them started to look at them. Slowly, Hiroto walked closer to his co-worker and held his shoulder. Straightening Aoi’s body, he hugged him. “Aoi…”

“After all this years, Hiroto-kun…” Aoi said between his sobs. “KAI FOUND ME…!!”

*+*+*

It was Monday when Hiroto and Aoi got back to the café. But they didn’t work that day. A small board with “CLOSE” written on it hung at the café’s front door. Ruki prohibit them from working after Hiroto told him what happened yesterday. The café owner just crossed his arm over his body and leaned to the counter table. He could only stared at them in silent when in front of him, Aoi sat on one of the chairs, and Hiroto stood there, facing Aoi, and for the first time, Ruki watched as Hiroto sent his rage at Aoi.

“Go see them!!” Hiroto shouted at him. “Or let them see you, right now, Aoi!”

“Hiroto-kun, I can’t. I—”

“I was waiting until we can get here, with Ruki-san, so that Ruki-san knows what happened to you yesterday, Aoi! So you know that I’m not the only one who cares for you! So you know that Ruki-san and I are NOT the only ones who can actually protect you!” Hiroto snapped at him. “Fine. We’re going home, Aoi. NOW. Don’t worry. I’ll help you pack your things, and you!” Hiroto pointed a finger to Aoi’s face. “You’re out from my apartment!”

Aoi gasped. “But, Hiroto—”

“I let you stay in my place not forever, Aoi. I let you stay because I know your fear. Now? It’s not about that anymore. THIS is what I want to ask you yesterday…” Hiroto took a deep breath. “Aoi, if. If, Kai stood before you, and Takashima and Kouyou are standing behind you, where will you run to?”

Aoi fell silent. He stared at his co-worker with wide eyes. Aoi waited, in case Hiroto would say something after that and everyone could just forget about the said question. But Hiroto didn’t say anything. Aoi looked at Ruki, and the café owner only stared back at him with sad face.

「…“Aoi-san…” Kouyou called as he pushed Aoi’s upper body back to lying position on that beach. “Don’t… get too close to The Lovers… ever… again… I beg you…” Kouyou’s breathing was starting to heave. His right hand started to roam to Aoi’s chest…」

「…Takashima chuckled. “Come on, Joker… stop talking about other things now… can’t you see? Our Hunter… can be this beautiful?” Takashima said among his wet kisses to Aoi’s leg, around his knee…」

「…”Come here, Yuu. Sit on my lap. It feels different, isn’t it? When you know with whom you’re doing this. You’ll hold yourself. Like what you’re doing right now… and it’s just giving me another exciting sensation…”…」

“ENOUGH!!” Aoi almost screamed as he held his head again. “Enough, Hiroto-kun… please…”

“No, Aoi. I won’t stop this time,” Hiroto said. “Kai could find you yesterday, and I’m sure he can find you again here today.”

“Hiroto-kun?!”

“Ruki-san and I… we can protect you, Aoi. You KNOW that. But do you believe in us?”

“I DO believe in you, Hiroto-kun! But this is Kai we’re talking ab—”

“Kai!” Hiroto snapped back. “Yes, Kai! Of course he can do anything! That includes taking you away from here if he wanted to! Moreover, I guess, Ruki-san and I won’t be able to stop him from taking you away from here.”

“Hiroto-kun, pelase—”

“No, Aoi, please,” Hiroto interrupted him. “Let Takashima and Kouyou protect you from Kai, Aoi.” Hiroto held his shoulders. “When they have to do that, let them know of why they must protect you from Kai. Let them know that you really need them.”

“But I don’t want to involve them, Hiroto-kun…” New tears flowed again on Aoi’s cheek. “I don’t want them to know about my past… I… I don’t want to humiliate myself in front of more people…”

Hiroto clicked his tongue. “But at least, after they ARE here now, there will be more people who can protect you from Kai, Aoi!” Hiroto shouted again as he pointed his finger toward the café’s front door.

Aoi looked at the same direction. At the front door, Kouyou walked few steps from the front door, to give more space to Takashima who had just entered the café, and closed the front door from the inside. Takashima turned to face Aoi, as Kouyou was doing the same thing.

“Darling…” Takashima called.

Aoi gasped and he immediate stood and leaving his chair. As he was about to run to the kitchen’s door, Ruki stepped in front of him, blocking his way. “Matsumoto-san?!”

“Face them, Aoi…” Ruki held Aoi’s hands.

“I don’t want to! I can’t! I—”

“Fine!” Hiroto shouted. “If you don’t want to tell them, I will!” Hiroto exclaimed as walked toward the two men. “Kouyou-san, Takashima-san, let’s talk outside.”

“N… no, wait!” Aoi called in panic. Hiroto pushed both Kouyou and Takashima toward the front door. “HIROTO-KUN!!” Aoi called again hysterically as he ran toward Hiroto. He stopped when he saw Hiroto stopped his movement. Aoi gasped when he saw Takashima and Kouyou were looking at him with concern.

Hiroto turned around and faced Aoi. “So?”

Aoi bit his lip. He lowered his gaze and could only stare at his shoes. “I…” Aoi started with a sob. “I don’t know where to start…”

“Start it from the visit you have to do the day after tomorrow,” Hiroto said as he walked toward Aoi.

“V… visit…?” Kouyou asked.

Aoi looked back at Kouyou and Takashima with his wet eyes before he returned his gaze toward Hiroto. “I… I’m going back to my apartment today…”

Hiroto sent him his sad smile. At where he stood, Ruki exhaled. Hiroto tapped Aoi’s shoulder. “OK. I’ll help you pack your things later.” Hiroto gestured at the two men near the entrance. “Let them help too?” he asked.

Aoi bit his lip again. He looked at Kouyou and Takashima before he lowered his gaze again. Slowly, Aoi nodded, and Hiroto hugged him.


____....++++**・to be continued・**++++....____

Chapter Text

It’s June eleventh, two days after Aoi returned to his apartment with Kouyou and Takashima. At ten thirty that night, the bus stopped at one spot in Meiwa, Mie. Aoi got off of the bus as he balanced the weight of his bag on his right shoulder. Aoi walked along the pavement, leaving the bus with several other passengers who were still busy with their belongings.

It was pretty quiet at the hour. “You’re not going to call a cab, Darling?” Takashima followed him from behind at his left.

“We won’t need it…” Aoi answered. “We’re almost there.”

“Oh, your house is near here?” Takashima asked again. Beside him, Kouyou chose to stay silent and let Takashima do all the asking.

“Actually… I don’t have anywhere to go back to…” Aoi answered.

“Eh, Darling, don’t say that…” Takashima frowned. “Th… then, where are we going?”

“To the place where father took his last breathe…” Aoi answered.

Takashima and Kouyou stopped on their track at the same time. They exchanged glances before they continued to follow their Hunter.

They walked for about ten minutes before Aoi slowed his steps. He gazed at a sharp bend in the road in front of him. There was a light pole at the bend. A fence separated the pole and the main road. Aoi walked toward the light pole.

Takashima and Kouyou stared in silence as Aoi put his bag on the pavement and leaned it to the wall. He kneeled to open his bag and took out a tube about an arm length. Aoi also took out a small vase and a bottle full of water. He filled the vase with water before he opened the tube and took out a dried flower from it. After putting the flower inside the vase, Aoi closed the tube and put it back into his bag. He stood, and took the flower in the vase with him. “I’m sorry…” he said suddenly. “If you don’t mind, please look after my bag for me?”

“Ah, of course we won’t mind, Darling,” Takashima answered.

“Thank you…” Aoi said with a smile.

Aoi smiled.

It was the first time Takashima and Kouyou saw their Hunter’s smile.

Aoi walked closer to the light pole. He kneeled and put the vase near the pole on the pavement. Aoi stared at the vase for a minute before he sighed and closed his eyes. He clasped his hands in front of his lips.

He stayed there for several minutes, while Takashima and Kouyou waited in silence.

*

“I’m sorry, Takashima. There’s no strawberry juice… is lemon okay with you?” Aoi showed the canned juice to Takashima.

“That’s okay, Darling. Thank you very much,” Takashima said with a smiled as he received the canned juice.

Aoi nodded and smiled as he gave a canned coffee-latte to Kouyou. Then, he took a seat between the two men, opening his own can that he bought from the vending machine. “We’ll wait here. May-bacchan will pick us up.”

“May-bacchan?” Takashima asked.

“Ah, she’s my mom’s younger sister…” Aoi explained. “She lives not far from here. We’re going to stay at her place…” Aoi sighed. “I never wanted to go to her place. I even mentioned that both of you are coming with me, and I will just add more burden for her. But May-bacchan insisted. She’ll get mad if she knew I came home without letting her know. And it’s almost impossible to keep my visit as a secret from her…” Aoi gazed at the can in his hand. “Well, I should really visit her… I just…” He shrugged. “…I don’t want to be a burden… making her has to pick me up at this hour.”

“And… your parents?”

“It kind of reminds me of that vase.” Aoi didn’t heed Takashima’s question. “I felt stupid sometimes… why should I fill the vase with water… it’s only a dried flower… but I did that every year…” As he said that, his glance didn’t focus toward anything. His mind kept picturing the flower in a vase that he put beside the light pole earlier. “I kept repeating my stupidity every year for eight years…” he said with another smile.

Takashima – and Kouyou – caught the view of that smile again. “Darling,” Takashima called.

“Hm?”

“You… look so… beautiful today…”

Aoi snorted before he chuckled. For the first time. In front of Takashima and Kouyou. “Do you think so?”

“I mean, you always do. But…” Takashima stopped his words as he saw that chuckle. “Look at that…” Takashima said again. “You’re… laughing. You’re… exceptionally beautiful when you smile…” The words made Aoi turned his head toward him. “I believe I’m not mistaken when I say that… this is… our, I mean, Kouyou’s and my first time… seeing you smile?” Takashima didn’t voice out his words in his usual manner. “We’ve never seen you smile before today, Darling…”

“Really?” Aoi returned his gaze to anything in front of him. He hummed before he spoke, “Maybe that’s because… I love this town…” Aoi chuckled again. “Pretty ironic, isn’t it… I love the town where my parents departed this life…” Aoi said, with the smile still lingered on his face. He looked at Takashima and then at Kouyou. They’re staring at him with wide eyes. “This is the visit Hiroto-kun and I was talking about, Takashima, Kou…” This time, it was a sad smile that Takashima and Kouyou saw on their Hunter’s smile. “Visiting graves…”

“Darling, I’m sorry…” Takashima frowned. “So the flower earlier—”

“My father…” Aoi lowered his gaze. “He died in an accident… right at the place where I put the flower…” He sighed before he continued. “Father couldn’t control his car. On that bend earlier, father’s car was moving fast toward the light pole. He took a sharp turn to evade the crash, but instead the car struck the wall. Father was clamped inside the wrecked car… he died for blood loss…” Takashima and Kouyou didn’t even get the chance to breath properly when their Hunter didn’t stop right there. “And mom… she was murdered…”

It startled Takashima and Kouyou.

“Here… in the same town… in a different time…” Aoi took a deep breath before he exhaled it slowly as he gazed upward.

“Darling…”

Aoi closed his eyes and smiled again. “Have you heard I mentioned the name ‘Kai’ before?”

“Yes,” Takashima answered. “When we’re facing The Emperor…”

“Kai’s mother… was the one who killed mine…” Aoi explained. “Not directly, of course. She won’t get her hands dirty… literally.” Aoi lowered his gaze to the can in his hands. “She paid someone to do that for her…”

“Why… did she do that to your mother?”

“Jealousy,” Aoi answered with a smile. “Kai’s mother was jealous of my mom.”

“Darling, I’m sorry… but—”

“Mom is… a Cinderella…” Aoi said, cutting Takashima off. “My mom was… an unfortunate girl who had been found by a rich gorgeous man…” Aoi smiled. “You won’t believe if I told you that mom was going to sell herself… you know? A prostitute? Almost though… almost…” Aoi didn’t look at the two men, who were – for the umpteenth time that night – startled for his explanations. “Yes, I’m an inexperienced-prostitute’s son. I don’t know whether I should be grateful or regretful for my father being my mom’s one-and-only, first-and-last customer…” Aoi bit his lip before he continued. “I actually… don’t quite understand… whether father was cheating on mom or whether father was cheating WITH my mom…” Aoi explained that made Takashima and Kouyou startled again. Aoi heard the way Takashima gasped, and it made him chuckled. “You’re going to ask that, weren’t you? About whether Kai’s mother was jealous because of father was cheating with mom on her?” Aoi asked and he received a nod as an answer. “I was born first, Takashima… I’m older than Kai… father was married with Kai’s mother when my mom was pregnant…”

“Aoi-san…”

“You feel sorry for me? Kou?” Aoi sent a sad smile toward the man in red. “Kai and I… we’re brothers… with different mothers of course. Kai is my younger brother… and, my brother’s mother was the one who killed mom…” Aoi fell silent for a moment. He opened his mouth, but closed it again. Aoi bit his lip, and then he said, “And what his mother had done to my mom, is what Kai wanted to do to me…”

“Did he—”

“I think we still have time,” Aoi said, interrupting him off. “I’ll tell you a glimpse of my past? You’ve heard about how my father died. Now let me tell you how mom died…” He bit his lip, and his breaths were shaky. “You know, Kou, Takashima? I really wanted to blame my mom’s death to someone but I just couldn’t… it was started when father was twenty seven years old… I know this story because I experienced a third of it, I heard the other third of it from mom, and I listened to the other third of it accidentally when Father and Kai’s mother talked…”

And with that, Aoi started his story…

*+*+*

“I can find my own future spouse! I can find her myself!” the young man shouted. In front of him – in the middle of the living room that was decorated with much detailed-carved wooden furniture – sat a sixty-three years old man who’s wearing a dark-brown kimono. A woman came and put a cup of tea on a small table beside the chair where the man in kimono sat.

The man coughed and pushed his glasses position up to his nose. “You are the only heir of this family, Gakuto,” said the man. “Shiroyama will not tolerate any women to become the only spouse to the company’s heir.”

“What is the different?!” the young man, Gakuto, snapped. “Is there actually woman who can stop me from being the next CEO to your company?! To whomever I get married, I will still be enslaved in your proud company, won’t I?!”

“Watch your words, Gakuto.” The woman finally spoke as she took at the right end of a sofa that was placed beside the chair where the man in kimono sat. There were wrinkles for age on her face. But the beauty she brought from her younger age was still there too. Her short hair was wavy at the lower part, almost touching her dark red kimono that protected her from autumn temperature. “It is not proper for you to speak like that to your father.”

“And do you think it’s proper for father to insist me to marry a woman I don’t even know?” Gakuto asked. “Do you think I must spend the rest of my life with an arrogant woman who acts like most of these family members? Do I really have to marry a woman who only cares about rank and position? Do you, as my mother, think I want to let my heir having the same blood with the people who only know about status, without any will to be happy whether we’re running at the park barefoot or not?!”

“Gakuto—”

“I don’t mean any harm to anyone, dear Mother!” the young man shouted again. “By wearing T-shirt once in a while, I’m not disgracing anyone’s occupation! I don’t ruin anyone’s life! Does it make me a criminal just because I wore a bracelet perhaps?!”

“Gakuto, you should listen to your father firs—”

“Both of you had took all of my freedom away from me!” Gakuto pointed a finger toward his father’s face. “I couldn’t join the baseball club like my other friends just because I had to take an accountant private lessons! I’ve never had the chance to play with my friends just because I had to take table manner courses! I couldn’t even merely sat beside any of the girls in my class just because YOU—” He pointed a finger to his mother’s face. “—SCARED that she would lie about something to me!”

“Don’t use the words like ‘just’ and ‘mere’, Gakuto. It was all important for—”

“Oh! As if father’s business partner’s daughter doesn’t has the capability of playing around with other men.”

“Gakuto, I warn you, watch your words. You don’t have the right to speak ill about any member of Uke clan like that.”

“Enough, Mother,” he said when he saw his mother opened her mouth to speak again. “Enough. Enough for the both of you to curb my life any longer. Not even you have to take away my right to pick MY future spouse.”

“You actually have the right to choose, Gakuto.”

“From millions of women walking on this earth, both of you could only give three options for me. THREE!” Gakuto gestured with his three fingers. “And not even one from those THREE women knows my favourite foods!” The young man sighed. “That is IF they really want to be a good wife anyway.”

“WE chose them. Of course any of them will be a good wife to you.”

“Yes, of course. A good wife who knows to put on which makeup to a dinner fest held by YOUR company with YOUR rival company as one of the guests. A good wife who knows which dress not to use twice for two different any ceremony. A good wife who knows how often she can go to the beauty-salon better than tiring her calf out to run after our children later in our garden.”

“Gakuto, you know that the women you’ve been talking about are not as bad as you meant.”

“They even too tired to cover their mouths when they laughed.” Again, Gakuto clicked his tongue. “Can’t they be more relaxed and just laugh freely?”

“You do know that a proper lady won’t do such thing in public, Son.”

“Well, to hell with it,” Gakuto said. “I want to marry a woman, not a lady. I want to marry a living human, who has the desire about life, not with a walking mannequin who only care about knives and forks order position on the table.” The young man then turned around and walked toward the door in the vast room.

“Gakuto, we’re not done here…!” his mother warned him as she rose from her seat.

“You’ve done talking, Mother,” Gakuto said as he stopped his step and gaze at his mother over his shoulder. “And you too, Father…” He gazed at his father. “Both of you are done talking since few years ago. You were only repeating the same thing ever since… until now… and will always repeating it until forever…” The young man then locked his gaze to his father’s face. “Ah, right. Father, you said that there’s problem with our internet connection in Mie, didn’t you?” Gakuto said as he took his coat from the hanger pole near the door.

“And what are you going to with that NOW?” his father asked.

“I’m going there NOW,” he said, giving the same pressure at the exact same word, as he wore the dark blue coat.

His father turned his head toward the big clock with pendulum stood at one corner in the room. “It’s already late. What are you going to do at this kind of hour?” his father asked. “What hour will you arrive at Mie? It’s almost eight already.”

Gakuto snorted. “Of course I’m going to take care of it TONIGHT, Father. I’ll be going now so that I can have it checked tomorrow morning.”

“You know that it was not in one of your job descriptions, don’t you?” his father asked again. “Let the technicians do it. It’s enough for you to receive the reports later.”

“If I can do something, why should I wait for someone else to do it?” Gakuto asked. “Moreover, I haven’t in the position to wait any kinds of reports, have I? You’re still leading the company, Father. It’s not pretty ethical if I didn’t do anything yet I act like I’m the director already.”

“The employee will understand.”

“I’ve never expect them to be,” the young man answered. “I want them know that they will never be disappointed in me IF one day I have to be in your position,” Gakuto explained. “I don’t want them to find even the slightest reason to make any gossip about me as the heir of the CEO.”

“I can fire them if they did that.”

“And let the company losing competent talents that were difficult to get?” The young man snorted again. “It surprises me that this company can survive this long.”

“Gakuto!” his mother yelled.

“Ah, mom is going to go her speech again.” He waved his hand. “Fine. I’ll be going. The later I go, the later I’ll arrive at Mie. Ittemairimasu,” the young man cheered as he stepped out from the vast room.

“Gakuto, wait! I’m not done yet!” the woman was still trying to stop her son before the door was completely closed from the other side of the room. Her only son was already out from her view range, and the woman could only sigh. “He’s taking it too far.”

“He won’t be that far, Hasumi…” said the man, mentioning his wife’s name. “He won’t be that far…”

*

It was already ten minutes passed two in the morning when Gakuto gulped the umpteenth alcohol in a bar at Meiwa, Mie. He didn’t really look for a place to stay that night. He didn’t really have the intention to deal with any of his father’s company branch’s problems at Mie. The only thing he was thinking earlier was getting out from the mansion in Tokyo, and he did. He had never thought about what he’d do after that. Mie was the only one of so many place that he could go to. Though, if he wasn’t at Mie that night, he would be anywhere else but his father’s mansion.

The age of twenty seven years old didn’t guarantee someone would be mature enough to decide anything WHEN they were under the effect of alcohol. Gakuto couldn’t think clearly that time. He didn’t even hear when a bartender at the bar suggested him to stop drinking.

At the same time, outside the bar, there was a girl who pushed the other girl to enter the bar. The latter girl refused because she had never entered such place before. But after the first one being persistent, both of the girls entered the bar.

“May, I’m scared. Why must we be here?” the latter girl asked, calling the first girl’s name.

They wore mini-skirts, low neckline shirt, high-heeled shoes, thick makeup, and cheap accessories too much than needed. Yet, no one inside the bar paid any attention toward them; those people were already used to the girls’ existences. The girl named May was wearing a red corset-like top and a black synthetic-leather jacket. Her maroon mini skirt covered only half part of her thigh. Her high-heels had a pretty thick sole. A tiny anklet could be seen at her right ankle.

“It’s almost a week since you got your last customer, Chizuru-nee-chan…!” May responded; calling her sister’s name as she let her long hair loose passed her waist. “My own money won’t be enough. Do you want us to get kicked out from the apartment? You have to help me, Nee-chan!”

Unlike her sister, Chizuru had bangs to cover her forehead. Her hair reached her shoulders. She wore a light-green tank-top with similar black fake-leather jacket, and similar skirt, only it was dark emerald-coloured. Chizuru’s high-heels were boots that were almost reached her knee.

“But—”

“Just make them open their shirt. After that, take enough amount of money from their wallet, and then leave them…!” She whispered to her sister. “I’ve been doing that several times.” She giggled before she continued, “That’s why you should find a pretty drunk guys…! So you can leave them before he could do anything to you…!” she whispered again as she swiped her view around the bar. Her gaze then stopped at Gakuto who was almost flat on his face near the bar’s counter table. “There! Like that one…!” May was pointing at Gakuto’s. “Come on!”

“H… hey…! May…!” Chizuru almost yelped when her sister pulled her arm toward Gakuto.

“Ah, good evening—” May halted. “—Satoru-san!” Then mentioning random name toward Gakuto, since the girls just saw him for the first time that night. Circling her hands around one of Gakuto’s arm, she secretly warded her sister who pulled her shoulder several times. “Come on, Nee-chan…!” She whispered to her sister again. “Just act like you know him…!”

“But—”

“Hey, both of you,” the bartender called them.

“Yes?” May turned her head toward the bartender and smiled.

“So you know this person?”

“Ah, yes! Of course!” May cheered. “He was with us actually. But we lost them. We’re glad that we can find him here!” She secretly pushed her sister to stand at Gakuto’s other side.

“Good. Can you take him away then? He won’t be able to go home alone in that condition. He’s heavily drunk,” the bartender explained.

“Oh, okay!” May said as she put Gakuto’s right arm and put it around her shoulder. She gestured Chizuru to do the same thing to Gakuto’s left one. “Ah, did he already pay his drinks?”

“Yes,” the bartender answered. “I think he really planned to get drunk. He paid immediately every drink he ordered.”

“Ah, what a relief…” May giggled. “So then, we’re off! Buh-bye…!” She waved at the bartender before – with Chizuru – helped the drunken Gakuto walked outside the bar.

“N… now what, May?” Chizuru asked after they were outside the bar. They were still trying to adapt with Gakuto’s weight on their shoulder. He was already half sleeping while he mumbled something incomprehensible.

May looked around her before she said, “Let’s find a hotel…!”

“Huh?!” Chizuru gaped.

May fixed Gakuto’s arm position around her shoulder. “Ugh… this guy… looked slim… but he’s heavy…!” she commented before she looked at her sister. “Nee-chan, do you have any better idea?” she asked. She waited. She didn’t get any answer. She grumbled before she smiled. “Oh, right! What if we just leave him here? You took his money. I’ll help you find his wallet. How is that?”

“Y… you can’t do that…!” Chizuru protested. “He’s drunk already…! What if he got robbed after we leave him?”

May sighed and rolled her eyes. “Do you think we’re not going to rob him now?” She gazed around her again and pointed toward certain direction. “Come on. Let’s take him there. There’s a motel over there...!”


____....++++**・to be continued・**++++....____

Chapter Text

And so, the two girls took Gakuto to a cheap motel that was placed not too far from the bar. They entered the motel. May paid for a room, and grumbled when the receptionist gave them a room at third floor.

After they entered the room they reserved, May and Chizuru let Gakuto fell on the king-sized bed. Just when Chizuru was about to ask what should they do after that, May’s phone rang.

May looked at her phone and she gasped. “I forgot! I have to meet with Inoue-kun!” she exclaimed as she put her phone back into her small shoulder bag without answering the call.

“Eh?! Th… then, what should we do with this…?!” Chizuru asked as she gestured toward Gakuto who sprawled half unconscious, still mumbling something unintelligible.

“Not ‘this’,” May said as she tapped on her sister’s shoulder. “‘I entrust this to you, Nee-chan.” Though she corrected her sister’s choice of word, she still used it nonetheless.

“EEEH…?!”

“He’s super drunk,” May said as she listened – and tried to understand – to Gakuto’s mumbles. Chizuru looked at the man on the bed before May turned her attention back to her sister in front of her. “Like I’ve told you before: find his wallet, and take enough money from it. At least, we can pay the rent, and it’s enough to pay back my spent money to reserve this room.” May sighed. “This guy should thank us later. If it’s not for us, he might be sleeping on the road.” She stared at Gakuto’s face, to his clothes, and back to his face. “He’s unquestionably rich. All the things that stuck to him are all branded…” May looked at her sister again. “He won’t even bother about this motel’s rate.”

“Then let’s just do that now…! Before you go. Help me, May…!”

“No. I have to get going. NOW. Inoue-kun will get mad at me if I’m late again.” May tapped her sister’s shoulder again. “You can do it, Nee-chan! I’m off…!” May jogged toward the room’s front door.

“May…! But, May…! Hey, wait…!” Chizuru could only get the chance to extend her hand when she saw the door was already closed from the outside. Chizuru fell silent. Slowly, her hand lowered and fall beside her body. She turned her head and looked at the man she just saw for the first time that night.

Chizuru sat at the other side of the bed. She just glanced at Gakuto’s face. While the man’s eyes were only half closed, and he was still mumbling something unfathomable, Chizuru extended her hand again, this time, toward Gakuto’s face.

For a moment, Chizuru pulled her hand back in hesitation. She looked at Gakuto again. Chizuru took a deep breath when she extended her hand again. She gasped when her fingers tips touched the man’s brunette hair. Making her mind, Chizuru didn’t pull her hand again. She touched the hair, and caressed it slowly, combed it to the back of the man’s ear. For his hair was too short, it didn’t stay behind his ear. It returned to cover his forehead, and his one eye. But Chizuru caught the glimpse of the man’s face. And it made her blushed…

Chizuru heaved a sigh. She let herself stroked the man’s hair several times. “You must already have a girlfriend…” Chizuru said, almost whispering. “A man as handsome as you… it’s nearly impossible if you don’t have any girlfriend yet…” She sighed again. “Your girlfriend must be very lucky… from so many men around her, you’re the one who stood beside her… and from so many women around you, she’s the one smiling when you hold her hand…”

“Ar… ro… gant…”

“Eh…?” Chizuru was startled when she heard the word the man said. Just when Chizuru was about to scold the man, his expression stopped her ire. The man was still mumbling. This time, it was getting clearer. At a moment like that, the man won’t listen to any of Chizuru’s words. Chizuru chose to stay silent and listened to him instead.

“I… don’t want… to be… with… arrogant… woman…”

Chizuru tilted her head. She frowned when she listened to him. Gambling, Chizuru asked, “You’ve been… married off?” She silently was going to laugh at herself with any kinds of answer she would get from a drunken person. What did she expect?

But Chizuru gasped when she saw the man’s eyeballs moved. He didn’t just stare randomly at anything like he did before. His gaze was directed exactly toward Chizuru. She didn’t even expect what happened next. The man rose from his sleeping position and caught Chizuru’s wrist. Chizuru yelped when the man pulled her and made her fell on the bed. Gakuto held Chizuru there, with her back facing him.

“You… only want me because of my position in the company, don’t you?” Gakuto asked.

“Wh… what are you talking about…?!” Chizuru asked back as loud as she could.

“STOP PRETENDING!!” Gakuto yelled at her as she pulled Chizuru’s arm, making her screeched. Hearing the girl’s voice, Gakuto blinked. “You…? Who…?”

“You don’t know me…! We’ve just met today…!” Chizuru explained when her wrists were still in Gakuto’s tight grips. “Lemme go…!”

Gakuto stared at his own hands. He was startled, and slowly loosened his grip. Gakuto saw as the girl pushed her up on the bed, and took a sitting position. He fell silent in his position as he gazed at the girl’s way of clothing. “You… are you…”

Chizuru watched back at Gakuto. She waited for him to finish his words as she looked at herself. Slowly, she pulled her jacket, trying to cover her body as much as she could. “I’m… sorry…”

“Sorry? For what?” Gakuto asked.

“For making you entered this indecent motel with an indecent girl…”

Gakuto looked around him. “You… took me here?” he asked. “All I remembered was… I was in a bar, wasn’t I?”

Chizuru nodded. “I took you here with my sister… you’re heavy,” Chizuru answered. The girl looked back at Gakuto. “You… don’t look like you’re drunk now…”

“I’m still drunk… believe me…” Gakuto chuckled.

Chizuru giggled with him. “No drunken man trying to make other people believe that he’s drunk.”

Chizuru, Aoi's mother

“Well, what do you know about it?”

“I’ve met several drunken people. Most of them usually said the opposite, and the others couldn’t even talk.” Chizuru shrugged. “They would say they weren’t drunk, they’re wide awake, or they knew what they were doing…”

Gakuto fell silent for a moment. He gazed at the girl again. “You… why did you take me here?”

Again, Chizuru stared back at him. She lowered her gaze and sighed. “I want to steal your money.”

Again, Gakuto fell silent. Again, he gazed at the girl, this time with wide eyes. He blinked several times before he burst out laughing.

“H… hey…?” This time, Chizuru blinked. “I said I’m going to steal your money… but you laughed?”

“You’re… kidding, aren’t you?” Gakuto asked between his laughter.

“I’m not!” The girl waved her hands frantically. “Why do you think I took you here while you’re drunk?!”

Gakuto shrugged. “Maybe… because you’re just being kind…?”

A warm blush wafted out her cheeks. “An indecent girl just told you that she’s going to steal your money, and you said that she’s being kind to you?! What are you… thick or something?!”

“Well, at least you’re honest, aren’t you?” Gakuto smiled, and that made Chizuru fell silent. “Not like some women I know…” He suddenly shook his head and heaved a sigh.

“So, it’s true that you’re being married off?” The curiosity made Chizuru inclined her body toward Gakuto.

Gakuto blinked, again, when he saw the girl’s face was closer to his than before. Watching the face that close, instead of answering the question, Gakuto commented, “You’re… beautiful…” And then, Gakuto’s hand moved to her face, his fingers touched Chizuru’s cheek slowly.

It startled the girl. For several seconds, both of them fell silent. Chizuru looked straight to Gakuto’s eyes, and the man stared back at her. None of them paid any attention about the gap between their faces that was lessened by the seconds.

There, inside the cheap motel room, in fifteen minutes, everything changed. Fifteen minutes for ‘introduction’ about someone else’s body near you, at an unfamiliar place for you, at a moment where your future was being haunted, could take you to a moment that was filled with sensation of pulse beat and howling sighs. Your energy could be drawn out in one swift moment, and your consciousness would be lost in mute dreams. When you were awake, and you saw that you were not alone, that someone else was there beside you, suddenly, you were being not clever enough to move your taciturn lips.

It happened to Gakuto when the sun was about to rise. In one night, he found out too many things about the girl. Gakuto found out about her name, about her family’s background, about the problem she was facing, and the sensitive parts of her b—

Gakuto wiped off his face with both of his hands. He pushed the blanket he wore away, and got off of the bed. Just when he was going to the bathroom, Gakuto stopped his entire movements. Slowly, he turned his head. Not enough with that, Gakuto turned around completely, and looked fully at Chizuru.

Chizuru.

The girl was still sleeping. Gakuto could see, despite the faint light in the room, the blood spots on the sheet after he pushed away his blanket earlier. It was his doing. It startled him last night when he found out that he was the first person who ever touched the girl. Whatever changes happened to that girl after this, Gakuto was the one who held the biggest responsibility for her.

As his heart beat rapidly inside his chest and his head was toiled and heavy for alcohol puddle inside it from last night, Gakuto started to walk again. He entered the bathroom inside the motel room. Gakuto reached the wash basin and looked at himself at the mirror. In the mirror, Gakuto saw a face of man who was losing his hope in his search to find freedom, and had actually found it in an unknown girl’s body that he barely knew that he just found out not more than four hours ago. Gakuto opened the faucet, and washed his face few times.

After he was done with fixing himself up, Gakuto returned to the bedroom. He sat closed enough to where Chizuru lay down. Her eyes were still closed, and her breath was still even. It was so different with the one he listened to – and he felt under his touches – last night.

Gakuto shook his head. He stared at the sleeping girl again. Slowly, Gakuto caressed the girl’s hair. “I’m sorry…” he whispered.

Standing away from the bed, Gakuto searched for his wallet in his pants’ pocket. Chizuru had told him her reason of why she wanted to steal his money. Gakuto had never in his life met with anyone who planned to do something criminal – just – to guarantee their place to live, moreover it’s even not for forever. It was – only – a cheap apartment. Gakuto had never had the fear about place to live. His life was guaranteed already. Gakuto could even have three large bedrooms for his own if he asked for it.

He took amount of money from his wallet, and put it on the small table beside the bed, right beside where the girl was sleeping. Gakuto caressed the girl’s hair again before he placed chaste kiss on the girl’s forehead. It was the different kiss like the ones he gave to the girl’s body last night. He stood back straight and stared at the girl a bit longer. Gakuto sighed. “I’m sorry if we can’t see each other again after this…” he said. “I hope you can find a proper job…”

The man then walked away from Chizuru, from the room, from the cheap motel, from the town.

*+*

Though he hated the wedlock, in the end, Gakuto still couldn’t oppose to his parents’ willing. Still in the same year, he was married with Sumire from the Uke clan, one of Shiroyama’s business partner families. At the second year of their marriage, Gakuto’s son was born, and as his father’s request, Gakuto named his son ‘Yutaka’.

Shiroyama Youji, Gakuto’s father, never put off anything for his company’s perpetuity. He immediately made Yutaka as the company’s next heir after Gakuto. Shiroyama Youji then passed away just after Yutaka had his first birthday. After that, Gakuto led the company, making him the CEO in the age of thirty.

The next year, Gakuto’s mother, Hasumi passed away. Not even the deaths of his parents could make Gakuto shed a tear in honesty. After that, he often faked smiles. One of it he showed in Sumire’s birthday party. Didn’t has the heart to do the same to his son, at Yutaka’s fourth birthday, Gakuto chose to leave the house for that day. He went to stay at a hotel in Meiwa, Mie.

That was when he found out that Yutaka was not his only son.

When Gakuto went out from the hotel for a walk, he refused when his driver offer to take him. He chose to take a walk, and even gave his driver a day off.

Intended to buy a drink, Gakuto stopped in front of a convenience store. When he was about to enter, he halted his own step for a woman that was walking out of the door. When the woman stared at him, Gakuto shifted his gaze away, just not to stare back. He turned his head back toward the woman only when he heard her gasp. Gakuto frowned when he saw the woman pointed a finger right to his face.

“You!” she called. Her wavy long hair loose passed her waist. There were no bangs covering her forehead. The woman wore a v-neck shirt that was covered with crème-coloured coat. Her skirt reached her knee, and she wore black stockings that were covered with high black boots that were keeping her warm from the autumn temperature.

Apart from her physical appearance, the way she acted made Gakuto frowned deeper. But the woman didn’t give him a chance to ask any question. Gakuto just opened his mouth when she suddenly hit him again and again.

“H… hey! What’s this about?!” Gakuto used both of his hands to cover his face from the small bag that the woman used to hit him.

“You! Irresponsible man! I remember you!” said the woman who was still hitting Gakuto with her small bag.

“But I don’t remember you! Hey!” Gakuto tried to ward the woman’s attack. “Maybe you’ve mistaken me with someone else!”

“I’m NOT mistaken you with someone else!” the woman exclaimed. “I remember you! I remember your face! You should be grateful! If it wasn’t for us, you might get kicked out from the bar!”

“What bar?!” Gakuto asked. “I don’t remember I went to a bar before!” He started to move his hand, trying to catch the woman’s hands.

“Of course you don’t remember! You’re so drunk five years ago!”

It got him. Gakuto stared at the woman. When she swayed her hand to hit him again, Gakuto caught her wrist. He stopped the woman’s assault at him. With his other hand, Gakuto caught her other wrist. “You… you’re the one who took me to that motel… you’re… her sister…?!”

The woman fell silent. The woman – May, Chizuru’s sister – squinted at Gakuto. “You… remember us…?”

“So it’s you indeed!” Gakuto suddenly cheered as he hugged the woman. He was startled when abruptly May pushed him, making him pulled back from his own hug. Then, a slap came to his face.

“You haven’t even changed… you’re still a pervert…!”

“No, wait! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to suddenly hug you like that! I… I’m just too happy that I can finally found a little clue to see Chizuru again…!” Gakuto explained.

“You… still remember my sister…?”

“Yes!” Gakuto then held May’s shoulders. “Is she… can I see her again?”

“And now you… want to see her?”

“Yes!” Gakuto answered in an instant without any second thought. “I…” He hesitated. He pulled his hands away from May’s shoulders and let it fell beside his body. He lowered his gaze as he continued to speak, “I want to tell her I’m sorry…”

“What for?” May asked without showing any expression.

“I… I’ve done improper things to her…” he answered as he shifted his gaze away from the woman who stood right in front of him.

“You did know what we were doing to you that time, didn’t you?” May snorted as she crossed her arms over her body. “What do you say sorry for?”

“Even though you did that for living…” Gakuto coughed. “…I shouldn’t help you by… by supporting you…” He scratched his head. “What I mean is—”

“Yes, yes, I understand…” May waved him off. “You really talked like what Nee-chan told me…” she commented, and saw Gakuto blinked at that. “For a handsome rich guy, you’re too naïve for your own good…”

“She… said that…”

“So, do you really want to see my sister?” May asked and saw Gakuto nodded his head. “Follow me then.” May started to walk. Her next words got him fell silent. “There is someone else expecting you.”

“Y… your parents?” Gakuto started to follow her.

“I think Nee-chan had told you that we’re orphans.” May smiled at that.

“Th… then… who is—”

“You’ll see.”

*

When they stopped in front of an apartment door, Gakuto waited, while beside him, May pressed the bell several times. The woman called her sister’s name again and again with cheerful tone. It seemed like she often did that since none of their neighbourhood made any move or sound about it. Two seconds after that, Gakuto heard someone answered from inside the apartment. When he heard sounds of footsteps were getting closer, Gakuto slowly stepped back. He walked backward, away from the door.

May, finding that Gakuto was no longer in his previous position, jogged toward Gakuto and caught the man’s arm. “And where do you think you’re going?!” May pulled Gakuto back, closer to the door. “Chizuru-nee-chan is coming!”

“I… I’m nervous…!” Gakuto defended himself, walking away again. “I… I’m scared to see your sister!”

“WHAT?! You’re the one who said that you want to see Chizuru-nee-chan!” May pulled him again. “Now you want to leave?! Hey!”

“May…?” someone called as the door pushed opened. The voice sent May and Gakuto to mute. From behind the door, a woman craned her neck in order to find her sister. When she found where May stood, the woman smiled. “May! Okaerinasai!” She sounded so cheerful. She wore a soft yellow long sleeved shirt, and a soft purple skirt that reached her knee. She still had her bangs covering her forehead. That time, her hair was tied to the lower right side of her head.

There, Chizuru caught Gakuto’s existence.

At his position Gakuto was startled as he looked back at the woman.

Chizuru fell silent.

Gakuto couldn’t arrange any proper word in his head.

On the contrary, finding the words faster, though stuttering, Chizuru was better at sounding out her words. “Y… you…?”

She stopped at her first word toward the man. Gakuto’s answer was swallowed somewhere inside his head. Just when Chizuru was about to continue her words, another voice stopped her. The tiny voice was heard from inside the apartment, from behind the door. “May-bacchan?”

“Yuu, wait—” Chizuru extended her arm, but she didn’t get the chance to catch the little boy when he ran passed her.

The five years old boy scuttled outside their apartment and instantly finding May. “May-bacchan, okaeri!” the little boy called again with a wide smile cracked, completing the blush on his chubby cheeks. Though, just like Chizuru, when the little boy caught Gakuto’s appearance, the smile slowly faded.

May was the first one who took the first act. She sighed as she walked slowly closer to the little boy. She kneeled, making her face at the same height with the little boy’s. Though May was so close to him, the little boy didn’t even look back at her. His gaze was locked at Gakuto.

Chizuru’s sister then tapped the little boy’s shoulders. “Yuu…” she called. “Now, you can meet with your father…”

With that one sentence, Gakuto gasped, and Chizuru bit her lip. Chizuru stared at Gakuto in silence when the man in front of her was gaping at her son.

“Fa… ther…?” the little boy asked. Slowly, he started to move. May stood and gave more space to the little boy.

The little boy, Yuu, walked toward Gakuto, while the man was still paralyzed from the shock. Yuu extended his small arms toward Gakuto, while the man couldn’t even move his fingers. With his small feature, Yuu reached one of Gakuto’s legs, and hugged it. “Father…” the little boy called.

Chizuru could only cover her mouth when she witnessed it as a tear ran down her face. Meanwhile, as expressive as she was, May just smiled at the scene and let her tear fell down without any will to wipe it out.

Gakuto didn’t even look at Chizuru or May. His gaze was locked at the boy who was still hugging him. Both of Gakuto’s hands were shaking. He gulped before he took a deep breath. He tried to gather himself, but when he saw the boy looked up at him, all of his efforts to hold his tears were crumpling down.

The man held the little boy’s shoulder. Slowly, he made the boy let his leg go, and Gakuto kneeled in front of him. “Your name… Yuu…?” Gakuto asked with a smile, though the tears hadn’t stopped flowing.

Yuu nodded. He smiled wide. The little boy then moved his hands toward Gakuto’s face, wiping his father’s tears. “Mommy… told me a lot of things about you… father…” said the boy.

Like a hand-grenade’s pin that being pulled off, the way the boy called him made Gakuto instinctively pulled Yuu into his embrace. His left arm circled around the boy’s body and stroked his back slowly, up and down. His right hand caressed his son’s black hair before he kissed it. Gakuto called him, “My son…”


____....++++**・to be continued・**++++....____