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~ A rotation of 36° around its center inverts a pentacle~

Ueno Park, Tokyo

December 1999


Darkness came early. The illumination from the distant city did little to remedy the feeling of desertion that permeated the empty paths. Winter held a tight grip on Tokyo this year. The black trunks and bare branches of the trees glistened wetly. An occasional snow flake mixed into the constant drizzle.

Benches stood in regular distances under the trees framing the path. In the distance, the lights of the National Art Museum were fighting a losing battle against the falling night. The lone figure slowly meandering down the tunnel formed by the overhanging branches was no more than a pale shadow in the dark. The off-white trench coat had seen better days. Stains of wetness, grease, something that looked suspiciously like blood trailed down one of the long flaps. Once in a while the long coat tangled between the legs of its painfully thin wearer. Black hair lost itself in the night. Some of the wet strands were matted where they'd been pressed and rubbed by bandages now gone. The face underneath had the color of the stained coat.

Dull mismatched eyes searched along the seemingly endless line of bare trees in the night. Long stretches of darkness separated the park lights. He had hesitated a couple of times but some inner feeling told him to go on, that he wasn't there yet...

...where he didn't want to go but had no will left not to go. The massive trunk that emerged out of the dark slightly off the path to his left... that had to be the tree he was coming for. A bench stood under its wide branches. He didn't remember a bench being there. The last time... When had that been? 1990? 1999? He wasn't sure. He didn't care. The bench had to have been there for a very long time. Gnarled roots had curled around the wrought-ron legs as if holding it in place with a tight caring embrace. If not for the memory of caring for ...someone, he wouldn't be here.

The position vacant here was to be filled or...

If not...

...for the memory of...

He took the ofuda out of his pocket, the perfect white of its paper giving an odd contrast to his stained coat. He slung one of the flaps over his left arm to keep it from tangling between his legs. He focussed. Hands folded.

°°°On. Badarei a sowaka...°°°

The incantation came naturally to him. His voice was hoarse, empty, befitting the park – and his soul. Still, the power flared. He felt pain in the replaced right eye. A golden glow seemed to emanate from the amber iris.

°°°On. Badarei a sowaka... Hoku–°°°

The ancient sakura in front of him burst into bloom. The park disappeared, swallowed by the endless night of the ultimate maboroshi. He didn't as much as blink. He had been here before,.Now, there was nothing left to...

...Your sister isn't here, Subaru-kun...

He gasped. That voice. That voice had been... just like... Sei–

...I have no hold on a white soul... Amusement rippled through the branches. Indulgence. A fake lenience. The voice of a dead man mocking him. ...There is no rule in the Divine Order regarding outrageous outfits...

Once he'd have taken the bait, now he was beyond that. "What do you know of the Divine Order?"

...I am a part of it. Just like you. Just like Sei-chan...

"'Sei-chan' is dead."

...So I've been told...

Subaru was tempted to ask "by whom" but he knew better than to give the tree the advantage of a direct question. "I've come to claim his position."

The tree laughed. Sakura petals danced merrily to the black ground, creating a deceptive pink snow around and across Subaru's worn black boots. ...I don't think so...

Bony hands, no longer in gloves, refolded. The pentagrams engraved in his white skin flared blue within the maboroshi. He ignored them. They were meaningless now.

°°°On. Ba–°°°

...You just don't have a sense of self-preservation, do you?... The tree asked, sounding amused. ...Do you really think there's nothing more to the succession than a violent death?...

"My thoughts don't matter." Subaru ground out. "There is nobody else to take his place. You'll have to be content with me."


...You are an outstanding onmyoji but you'd be an abysmal Sakurazukamori... Suddenly, the tree was serious, the mocking undercurrent in its voice gone, the strange, hurtful reminder of the last Sakurazukamori in it as well. The Sakura had stopped playing. ...You are not up to it...

"If you fear for your food–" Subaru felt his voice crack but inside him there was nothing left to break along with it, "–be reassured."

...Subaru-kun... The diminutive was slightly drawled, extended to show the strain on a patience that bordered on annoyance. ...By nature I am a predator but I'm also a cherry tree. There are certain... cravings I – being a tree – have no hope of fulfilling on my own...


Black leather. Midnight velvet. Red silk. Brass cogwheels.

A throat exposed, the head thrown back in orgasm. Wrists caught in leather.

A hawk's lonely scream. Slender fingers pressing against a jaw.

Steel gliding over flesh. Strong wings bashing the air.

A trail of blood pearls across creamy skin. A mouth open in a silent scream.

The rumble as the wheels turned...

The impact of the pictures flooding his mind brought him to his knees, disoriented, panting. His hands clawed into the illusory ground, drawing black fluid that might or might not be– A trail of tears ran across his left cheek.

...that's why I can't allow you to take over...

He choked. "There is... no one... else."

...Then learn... Annoyance. ...Go and learn...

The maboroshi disappeared. Where the lush, terrifying beauty of the Sakura had stood a moment ago, Subaru only saw the cold rejecting trunk of a tree in midwinter. A bluish flicker like a will-o'-the-wisp danced next to it, glowing painfully bright in his right eye while it was merely a shadow in his left. He wanted to– to–

...Follow... A voice ordered. He stared at his right hand. The scars were still glowing. He saw their glow shining through the blood covering his hand. His hand that had protruded from... his back. Hot breath had touched his ear, had died on his cheek. The emptiness. The fall...

He never noticed when his feet started walking.


He left the park through the North West entrance. The way ran past the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music of Tokyo National University on one side and the International Library for Children's Literature on the other to enter a slightly remote residential area afterwards. He crossed the broad street without even a look for cars and continued through yet another, even more remote neighborhood. Shuttered houses lined both sides of the street. The sign of a police station glowed in the dark above them, giving an eerie glow in addition to the weak street lamps. He wondered briefly about its existence in a Tokyo that lay in shambles. Yet the neighborhood he was travelling through was strangely untouched.

The magical flicker led him past the police station across the street and on to the East. The scents on the air changed slightly, now reminding of greenery and incense and stone. The vast Yanaka cemetery had to be only a single line of houses away. A small side alley going north was where the flicker finally stopped. At its end lay a house with tall ungiving grey walls, almost hugged by the cemetery beyond. An old, wall-mounted iron decoration rusted next to the gate in front of which the flicker vanished. They had reached their aim. Or rather... his?

Subaru blinked as if waking from a trance. This had to be Ueno-Sakuragi-cho, wedged between Yanaka with its countless shrines and the large Buddhist cemetery in the north, the Tokugawa Shogun graveyard in the west, and Ueno Hill in the south where the last uprising of the Tokugawa shogunate forces had been crushed in 1868. Two thousand shogitai had been slaughtered there on that May 15. The street he'd crossed earlier had to be the Kototoi-dori, the only major street in this Cho. Though the northeast of the district was quasi-hugged by the Yamanote line, it was never truly touched by the tracks themselves. He shook his head. Remote didn't quite fit this location. In the heart of Tokyo, this was as far off as you could get from the mundane areas like Shinjuku-ku or Shibuya-ku that he associated with Seishiro–

Magic trickled over his back, old magic, strong magic connected with death. The cemetery, the shrines, Ueno Park with its soil drenched in warrior blood... This place was surrounded by some of the strongest spiritual areas in Tokyo, no, in Japan. And none of them was connected specifically with a kekkai... or the end of the world in 1999. Protective lines had been woven around the house in front of him, emanating from the spiritual fields... and the Sakura.

This place... this neighborhood was unharmed from the destruction this year had seen. The people sleeping soundly in the houses around him were unaware that Death was living among them. Death wanted his place to be safe and to achieve that he had kept them unharmed as well. Subaru hadn't even thought about such a possibility.

Ueno-Sakuragi... in a twisted way it made sense.

The wall-mounted ornament made from rusty iron and blind brass swayed in the weak breeze from the graveyard beyond, a pentacle creaked on its unoiled axis, turning... till one tip pointed down.