~A rotation of 36° preserves a decagram34~
Shiba-Koen Park, Tokyo,
December 30, 1999
Subaru pulled the cape tighter around himself. Trees, their bare branches swaying under the low hanging clouds, lined both sides of the narrow street. To his right, the majestic wooden structure of the Sangedatsumon, main gate of the Zojoji temple, rose two storeys high above the trees. The vermilion color under its dark roof glowed warm in the eerie light. The recent devastations hadn't reached it, as if the Tower's kekkai enclosed the temple as well – or maybe another entity held its protective hand over the ancient place. Zojoji belonged to Amida Nyorai. The gate and the sacred tree next to it had survived even the fire bombings of World War II unharmed while everything else in the vicinity had been burned to the ground. Amida's infinite compassion was a powerful spiritual source.
Subaru's steps faltered and he found himself looking at the gate, thinking about wrapping himself in that compassion and forgetting about the impending end of the world and his role in it, forgetting about it until everything ended and existence itself ceased.
"Life can be a lot more interesting than death," a calm, cruel voice said in his thoughts, the suggestiveness of its tone reminding him that he was now as far away from abiding by the five precepts as he'd been seven years ago. Again he had blood on his hands, had caused harm to another while his heart had been filled with the most selfish of desires. He was twenty-five now and nothing had changed.
He'd been eighteen when they'd sent her to his bed. He'd have been younger if not for the months spent in a catatonic state, and his sister's violent death by Seishiro's hand. He'd insisted on the full year of mourning despite the fact that Hokuto wasn't officially declared dead until 1998, when the statutory seven-year period for missing persons had run out. The Sumeragi had known better. He had known better.
He'd had to fight hard for his mourning to be respected. The recent reminder that he, too, in spite of his youth could be taken from them had been enough for the elders to be insistent. The line – that exceptional power running in his veins – had to be preserved for the clan.
Respect, compassion, his own wishes didn't have a place in those vital considerations. The day the mourning ended, his grandmother had sent for him. The talk had been brief. Subaru had known he had no choice.
The following day, he'd met the Mikage family for the traditional mochi rice offering – the first time he ever even saw Akiko, the woman he was to marry. Even during the offering, he hadn't been able to exchange a word with her, though her parents had seemed delighted to connect their clan with the Sumeragi. The betrothal ceremony had been held on the next auspicious day of the calendar. The night afterwards...
The memories were only disconnected images in his mind.
One of the shoji doors had opened. The fire bowls on the engawa flared in a gust of wind, causing the shadows of the protective ofuda outside to dance across the paper walls.
Had a child come out of it, she would have been his wife. The Sumeragi followed the old tradition: no child, no marriage.
She'd sat quietly in front of him, her hands neatly folded in her lap, waiting. For him. He'd been frozen in place, mortified at the prospect of making the first step, of–
Shyly, she'd raised her eyes to his face.
It had been as if a hand clasped his throat, constricting his breath. He'd wanted to shove her away. No, he couldn't do that, he had to–
Darkness and searing heat and something cool that had touched his face, a craved, dreaded contact pushing him over the edge. Someone had cried, begged, let me go. Terrified, he'd lashed out...
Subaru clasped his arms around himself, shivering, until the sudden panic of the memory faded.
There had been blood on the tatami when he'd regained consciousness. He'd been lying on his side, his blood-encrusted fingers limp on the floor in front of his eyes. Aching with exhaustion, he'd been too weak to move even after what he was seeing, hearing had finally made sense, even when his grandmother had come for him.
He'd spent weeks in seclusion afterwards, his days filled with meditation and purification – and overcoming the fright. When the elders had sent for him again, he had obeyed.
This time, his family had made concessions: he'd been given time to talk with the girl. But the more she'd relaxed in his presence the tighter his throat had become; dark spots appearing in front of his vision; the walls rushing in, threatening to crush him. With the memory of blood on his hands, he'd fled the room.
His grandmother had said nothing afterwards, but he knew that he was failing in his duty to the family, had been failing ever since.
Now he stood in front of Zojoji's Sangedatsumon and the ever strengthening wind, battering the cape against his legs, threatened to shove him through the gate. He thought of the old blood on his hands, of the scars he'd left in his bride's face, and the new blood, Seishiro's blood, Seishiro who'd left scars in his soul, and hesitated. The final battle was about to bring the end of the world; he owed it to his clan not to pass over with bloodied hands, didn't he?
Did it really make a difference? In the eyes of his clan, he was soiled anyway. Even if his sacrilegious love for his opposite might be forgiven, blind lust could never be35. It was anathema to the purity his grandmother had demanded, had preached since he'd been old enough to wear a shikifuku and stay on his feet in it.
And now he was guilty of surrendering to it in his arch-enemy's arms, finding solace in the bed of an assassin. A killer, whose concept of purification was probably a hot bath, who considered fasting obscene, and put a park bench under a murderous tree so that it could catch its snacks on its own.
Subaru stood frozen in the raging wind, then briskly turned away from the ancient temple, heading towards Tokyo Tower and the final battle with long, determined strides. His body prickled and hurt. But this time he remembered hands holding him, words soothing him, easing the panic that ate at his sanity, satisfying the devastating heat...
No amount of purification, no extent of meditation could clean him of that – and of the fact that he didn't want to be cleansed.
Clamp Campus, Tokyo,
The hot water beat down onto his back and shoulders. Seishiro propped his arms against the wall and leaned into the jet. The heat caused a sharp pain on his back where the Sumeragi's nails had broken the skin. After a moment, he increased the temperature another notch, allowing himself a wistful smile. He hadn't been surprised to find himself alone when he woke up.
The rest of his prey's behavior was an intriguing puzzle, though.
He held his face into the shower jet, allowing it to massage his eyes and temples.
Sumeragi Subaru, austere 13th head of the Sumeragi Clan, turned into a wanton demon in bed, fighting viciously for dominance but responding only after being completely subdued. How did that connect with the reserved, self-conscious man his prey had become?
His prey, who had snuggled close in the aftermath, unconsciously seeking shelter while sleeping, utterly exhausted, in his hunter's arms. Seishiro had been as close to him as physically possible and yet a slender foot had wandered up and down his ankle again and again, as if Subaru continuously had to confirm that he wasn't alone, that there was something, someone with him. It hadn't mattered who.
Seishiro turned off the water with a sharp, angry twist.
Someone had meddled with his prey, someone who wasn't... him.
The fogged mirror cracked diagonally at the dark look he threw into it as he pressed the excess water out of his hair.
Someone was going to answer to him.
He reached for the white terrycloth robe on its hook next to the door. Tying it briskly, he stepped out of the tiled bathroom into the slippers he'd left on the doorstep and went to get dressed.
"Sei." The knocking at the door was sharp and determined. "May I have a word with you?" Nokoru asked from outside, the tone of his voice belying the polite request.
"Come on in." Seishiro said, shrugging into a fresh shirt.
"I hate to talk about this," Nokoru said calmly, the indignation clearly visible on his face above Seishiro's shoulder in the mirror. "But there are certain activities I cannot condone in my house."
Seishiro arched a brow at Nokoru's mirror image, noticing the bloodied sheet in his host's hand. "Certain activities such as sex?" he asked.
"Such as bloodshed."
"You're talking to the wrong party, 'koru." Seishiro allowed his shirt to slip off his shoulders, observing, amused, how Nokoru's eyes widened.
"Sei, I'd never thought that Sume– I'm sorry, I–"
"What for?" Seishiro pulled the shirt back up. "Occasionally, I like it rough." He took his time closing the buttons, then stuffed the shirt into his black pants. "Don't tell me you're up before breakfast just because your two houseguests enjoyed their stay last night." He straightened his cuffs and finally turned around. "So what is it?"
"Kamui took the shinken. The final battle has begun." Pause. Nokoru seemed to be waiting for something. "Sumeragi-san has already left," he added.
"I noticed his absence." Seishiro ran his fingertips contemplatively over the welts his prey had left on his cheek. "Though I ascribed it to something else."
Nokoru didn't take the bait. "Shouldn't you leave, too?"
"What for?" Seishiro shrugged. "I can spoil their fun simply by being alive."
"I've thought about that, Sei. About all you told me about the final battle and what it's supposed to be and what not." Nokoru focussed him squarely. "I think you're making a mistake."
Seishiro stiffened. "In which way?" he asked coolly.
"If you do nothing, you're being passive. Passivity means that no decision is actively sought, right?"
"That's Yin, isn't it? It means the Seals' side takes the point, if the two of you deliberately choose not to fight."
"And if we decide to fight, it's the Angels'." Seishiro snorted. "No choice. Which is why originally I had it rigged for Subaru not to know."
"What if you work together?"
"Tell me again, why you of all people need me," Takamura growled, while going through the startup routine of Imonoyama Corporation's much abused VIP helicopter. The hangar doors had been rolled back. A howling wind sent waves of fine debris and dust into the hall.
"Because Nokoru isn't up to flying in that kind of storm." Seishiro replied while strapping himself in on the first passenger seat. "And neither am I."
"That's not what I meant and you know it. So plainly: why do you bother?"
"Because the end of existence itself would be a tad inconvenient."
For a moment, there was only the eerie whining of the wind in the hall and the scraping of its dust load on the windscreen.
"Suoh." Seishiro looked at him squarely. "I have to get there in time. I'm not officially part of the party any more or I'd have been summoned along with Subaru. So I can be too late, and I will be too late on foot. The destruction downtown is too extensive even for the resources of... a Dragon of Earth."
"We can't risk that, Suoh," Nokoru in the co-pilot's seat urged. "You know that. We have to get him there before it all starts."
"No," Seishiro said quietly. "Before it all ends."
Takamura started the engines.
Ten minutes later the strong double engines of the BK-117 were working at their upper limit to keep the madly dancing machine in the air. Their high-pitched whine and the deep throbbing of the protesting rotor blades were lost in the howling of the storm when Seishiro, still safely strapped in, pulled open the side door to lean out and squint at the flat, wind-beaten roof of Tokyo Tower's base building. Dust clouds, ripped up by squalls and magical clashes, obscured it from sight again and again.
Both Kamui were down there, engaged in one of their haphazard contests. Subaru was a slender, veiled figure in the shadow of the Twin Star. None of the others – neither the Seals nor the Angels scattered across the area – were engaged in the fighting. Not yet, but the two Kamui were heating up. He had to get down there, but landing was out of the question. The roof was already badly damaged; some spots had caved in, and cracked beams jutted up through the broken concrete in others. It wouldn't carry the helicopter.
Besides, there was no way to predict what the Twin Star might do if he spotted Seishiro before he could reach Subaru. He pulled himself back into the seat without bothering to close the door before taking off his glasses. He folded them neatly and handed them over the back of the copilot seat to Nokoru. "Keep them for me," he shouted over the thundering of the storm.
"I'm coming back to collect them." He laid his hand onto the safety belt release. "Suoh, bring us ten above and as close as you can to the observation deck."
"That's too high!" Takamura protested. "You'll never make it in this storm. I can give you two in an overflight."
Seishiro gripped the handrail firmly as the helicopter swept down, the whine of its protesting rotors just one more note in the cacophony of the storm. He leaped, hit the riffled steel plates and scraped over the surface, feeling skin abrade under the cloth of his suit. He caught the handle of a maintenance hatch and the sudden halt nearly dislocated the joint, sent searing pain through his once torn shoulder. He pulled himself up to his knees. An opening spell took care of the lock and he let himself fall into the deserted observation deck where he'd once spent a night exorcising a haunting with Subaru. Who'd have thought they'd decide the fate of the world right here nine years later.
A severe blow shook the tower. Steel screamed. The observation deck vibrated, another clash had it almost buck under his feet. Seishiro ran for the stairs down to the base building; couldn't risk the lift under these conditions. He had to reach Subaru before the Kamui decided their part.
He raced down the stairs three steps at once, four, sometimes leaping half a flight to the next turn. His feet clattered on the steps, seemed to resonate in the steel mesh that surrounded the steep stairs. He threw an illusion around himself and hoped that the raging storm would hide the noise from those below just as it had masked the helicopter's approach earlier.
One more turn and he saw the scene: the Twin Star had Kamui already pinned, the sword positioned to pierce the boy's sternum. For once, Seishiro was glad that the brat was fond of dragging things out.
He reached the base building's roof level, kicked in the locked maintenance door to the flat roof. No time left for finesse, and the damage and gusts of wind provided ample reason for a banging door. He saw Kamui's hand tightening around his sword's hilt. The Twin Star was rather... careless in his attitude. If the strike hit, it would end the world, if not, then the Twin Star's retaliation would. Seishiro dropped the illusion...
"That's my wish, there is no other wish...!"
The desperate cry fogged as a silver cloud in the cold, dust-burdened air in front of the boy's face. His violet eyes were wild with anger.
Subaru's hand cramped into the tattered grey cape he was hiding in. I want to bring Fuma back, Kamui had said, even if I hurt Fuma myself... But that didn't have to mean destroying the Twin Star, didn't even have to mean fighting him. Three days ago, Subaru would have said that Kamui's death would bring Fuma back, because then the Twin Star's existence would be no longer necessary, but now–
Death was no option. It was ultimate change, it was Yang, so Kamui's death would be a decision as well. And Seishiro was right about denying Destiny a decision. Unfortunately, in agreeing not to fight each other, he and Seishiro had reached a consent, a Yin decision, and therefore a result for their level. But the two Kamui...
Let me make your wish come true, the Twin Star had said.
What if Kamui wished to forgo fighting? It wouldn't be a consent then; as a wish it would be a part of the contest itself and–
"There is one, Kamui." He pulled the hood off his head. "You don't realize it, but it's in there."
"If you don't realize it, nothing will change."
"That's why you can't beat me, Kamui," the Twin Star sneered.
Subaru froze. Seishiro stood on a strut protruding over a gaping hole in the roof, seemingly unperturbed by the wind battering his coat to the side like a battle banner. A whirling dust cloud obscured Subaru's sight, and when it cleared again, he saw magical energy curling in spirals around the tall figure as the true Sakurazukamori raised his left towards the sky.
Thunder rolled over the barren city in ruins. Flashes struck the flooded streets. The wind strengthened, circled. Subaru clamped a hand around a steel beam. The wind was tearing at him, threatening to throw him into the shattered building below. The cape was torn from his shoulders. Seishiro's right stretched out for him.
"Trust..." a whisper nearly unheard in the fury of the raging elements. "...me..."
He had no reason to trust him. Most of his words were well-crafted lies – but Seishiro had already called on his power, trusted him to come forward and balance it. Trust me. The words might be lies, the deeds weren't. Intention meant nothing to the Sakurazukamori, reality was everything. Subaru had learned to judge the Sakura by what it did and did not do. He had to do the same for its guardian.
Subaru's hand left the steel. Strangely untouched by the storm he stepped away from the hold, out onto the steel beam, out towards... his opposite.
he whispered. His left reached for the distant ground, his right stretching out to catch his mirror, his opposite, his... Seishiro.
Their hands met, clasped, held. They stood between Heaven and Earth, withstanding the roar of the elements. The sigil scars flashed violently, bleeding for the first time after sixteen years, shining through flesh and bones. Blood sprayed from the backs of Seishiro's hands as the sigils broke through as inverted pentagrams: pentacles.
Subaru felt their circles of power forming around their feet: a fiercely red pentacle, a cold blue pentagram. Both symbols rotated about a tip, both drew a figure on their spin. The symbols were different, the figures the same in the end. No longer two, but one; a one-lined ten-pointed star with walls of Sumeragi and Sakurazuka power. A decagram of Yin and Yang surrounded them, holding their clasped hands in its center. Yin and Yang formed the Whole, the Dao. A tiny fraction of this kind of power, left in torn, soaked ofudas, had flattened the Rainbow Bridge...
This was no fraction.
Two dragons raced skywards, dancing, curling, winding around each other. Their magic sparkled and rained down on the destroyed city, into crumpled kekkai marked by death, by destruction...
Death and Life; change and consolidation. Dragon of Earth and Dragon of Heaven; Dragons of Dao.
One couldn't exist without the other.
Subaru's hands curled around Seishiro's. The power burned through them both, feeding on their reserves. The words of Seishiro's incantation differed from his, but the melody was the same. Touching his opposite, he was touching his equal. Magic flared...
...and stood fast. Tokyo's kekkai unfolded and wrapped the city in protective energy.
The Twin Star screamed as the magical front burned through him, forcing the shinken off Kamui's chest. He whirled, attacked, deadly sword raised in fury - Seishiro shifted, blocked Subaru's line of sight. Rotor blades throbbed close– Kamui– A shadow from above– The dull wet sound of steel burying itself in flesh– A choked, gurgled wheeze– Sei– Subaru felt the life pulsing against his hands, through his hands...
The entwined dragons raced towards them, splitting in the last moment to pass them on both sides. Fangs glittered. Scales scraped over Subaru's back, throwing him against Seishiro's body.
A long narrow dragon snout closed around the Twin Star's wrist. Sharp teeth tore the flesh, ripped the shinken free. With a triumphant cry the dragon took to the sky, slashing a three-fingered claw across the Twin Star's cheek.
The other dragon's gleaming fangs reached for the hilt of the second Divine sword. Kamui didn't let go of the weapon, jerked it against the dragon's teeth. Dragon blood splattered across his face, yet the sword was torn from his hand and the bleeding dragon, its glittering prey in its snout, followed its companion.
The shinken born from life, born through death, not alive but certainly not dead either, were sparks of light in the sky as the dragons twined around each other again, becoming translucent, becoming... one.
One dragon, hovering above them. Two large silver snake-teeth gleamed in its snout; the decagram was a brightly shining sigil between its horns. Its call was strong, deep, wild, rippling the kekkai glowing all over town as...
...it dissolved, spreading its glow over the world.
Something hit the ground with a loud thud. The throbbing of a gradually slowing rotor was strangely clear in the suddenly quiet air. Metal screeched. Running steps came closer. Someone called a name, anguished. S–
Subaru shook, his legs supporting him no longer. He fell to his knees. Seishiro's chest filled his vision; the black coat fluttered against his side, fell around him, dulling the sounds. Darkness, filled with the scents of concrete dust, blood, and sakura. Their blood-coated hands still entwined, he felt Seishiro nuzzling the hair at his nape.
Everything faded against the sound of a heart beating in synch with his own...