~A rotation of 36° around its center inverts a pentagram~
Clamp Campus, Tokyo,
January 3, 2000
Dust motes danced in pale sunlight falling through high-arched windows onto a soft yellow damask pillow. The dark polished wood of the bed frame gleamed red in its shine; a red that was repeated in the panelling of the room.
Subaru blinked dully, trying to decide...
...where he was, whether he was alive, what had happened...
Warmth touched his side, murmured something unintelligible.
He froze, looked...
"We brought you back by helicopter," a calm voice said next to him. Imonoyama, occupying one of the high-backed chairs that seemed to be the primary sitting furniture in his house. Subaru tried to turn, but his hands were held in a tight grip. "You wouldn't let go of each other," the chairman explained. If he was amused about it his manners were good enough not to show it.
The end of...
"...the world?" Subaru whispered, after cautiously freeing his hands to sit up. His throat felt parched dry.
"Didn't take place," Imonoyama said calmly. "The water dissipated. The destruction since... November, I think, has been reversed."
"The bridge..." Subaru reached with a shaking hand for the carafe on the bedside table. "Everything since the Rainbow Bridge fell..."
"Actually, everything including the bridge." Imonoyama poured a glass of water and handed it to him. Subaru drank slowly.
"And the people...?" he asked as he gave the glass back.
"Those connected with the end of the world remained unchanged... mostly. The ordinary people of Tokyo..." Imonoyama shrugged, putting the glass down in disregard of the polished wood. "The data isn't conclusive. But it looks as if everything else has been reversed."
"The course of destiny changed."
"Yes." The chairman stood slowly, hinted a bow. "Welcome in the Year 2-K, by the way. You slept for over three days."
The mattress shifted. The warmth at Subaru's side vanished when Seishiro sat up. "Nokoru. Get out."
The door closed behind Imonoyama.
Subaru turned. "You know that this is his house, don't you?"
"Yes. And we've got to talk."
Subaru stilled at the sight of the dark-scabbed pentacles angrily engraved in the backs of Seishiro's hands. The cuts looked deep, formed perfect mirrors of the pentagrams marked – yet again in dried blood – on his own. He remembered the spray of blood, the sticky fluid running along his wrists, and–
He winced at the snapped order and stared, dumbfounded, at his fingers, entwined with Seishiro's again. "Why do you do that?" he asked.
"That's not me," Seishiro said calmly, disentangling himself from Subaru again. "That's entirely you." He got up and put some distance between them; at the other end of the room he leaned against a windowsill, becoming a shadow against the light outside.
"But I don't–"
Seishiro shook his head, showed him the cuts again. "These are marks, Subaru-kun. You're reaching for them."
Seishiro, the arms crossed in front of his chest, merely looked at him, waited. Sunlight shone through the loose cloth of his sleep-crumpled shirt, drawing the shape of the body underneath. Someone had removed the dirty outer layer of their clothing, had cleaned them of blood and dust, while they had clung to each other, dead to the world. An uncomfortable thought. Subaru averted his eyes and felt it suddenly, consciously: a faint pull, a soft, almost tender yearning of... magic calling home. A part of his magic, the essence of what he and his art were, was separated from himself... lodged in another one's body. That it was Seishiro's didn't make it any easier to withstand the impulse to join with it.
"How... can that be?" he whispered, feeling cold.
"Bear with me if I don't tell you all the secrets of the Sakura," Seishiro said dryly.
Subaru looked, embarrassed, down onto his hands clasped tightly around his elbows to stay himself from reaching out. He felt sick. He'd worn Seishiro's marks since he'd been nine. Seishiro dealt with that for sixteen years– "Does it ease with time?" he asked faintly.
"You wish!" Seishiro's wry sound could have been a laugh. He stilled at a faint knock on the door.
"Subaru?" Kamui asked from outside. "Are you awake? Imonoyama-san told me you'd woken up and–" The door handle was tried cautiously. "Subaru?"
"I'm here," he answered finally in a faint voice.
Kamui looked weary, wearier even than he had looked at the final battle. There was relief warring with caution warring with– "I'm glad that you're safe. How are y–" Kamui stopped in mid-step, stared wide-eyed at him. "Your eyes, how–?"
"My eyes?" Subaru asked, uncomprehending.
"The Dao demands symmetry in its source, Subaru-kun." Kamui started at Seishiro's dry remark. "You might want to consult a mirror about that."
He knew better than to ask for an explanation. An artful flower arrangement on one of the sideboards was accentuated by a mirror behind it. Subaru got off the bed and peered into it past the long, dark green blades of ornamental grass...
...and his reflection looked back at him with equally green eyes. Rattled, he raised an uncertain hand towards his right eye.
"Did you think I'd be the only one marked by it?" Seishiro's casual tone sent a shiver down Subaru's spine. He looked back, caught a glimpse of a pale, tense Kamui when Seishiro pushed himself off the windowsill. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to get my glasses from Nokoru."
Fifteen minutes later, after a brief stop by his room for fresh clothes and a moment spent considering whether to take painkillers for his torn shoulder which he had most definitely sprained again on Tokyo Tower, Seishiro knocked briskly on the tall double doors at the end of the corridor. "Nokoru?" He entered without waiting for a reply.
"...no, no Nagisa, you've been right to call me. I understand... yes..." Nokoru raised a warding hand, then opened a desk drawer, pointing vehemently towards it. "The fever's still that high?"
Seishiro retrieved his glasses from the drawer and leaned against the desk, checking the lenses for specks.
"Can you put him on the line for me, please? – Yes, I'm waiting." Nokoru pressed a hand over the mouthpiece and looked at Seishiro, who rubbed his glasses across his sleeve. "I'm trying to talk some sense into Suoh. His wound from the final battle is severe and it isn't healing."
"I suspected." Seishiro checked his glasses again, frowned, and retrieved a cleaning cloth from one of his pockets. "The shinken is a divine sword. The wounds caused by it can't be treated with some stitches and a bandaid, and he caught it full force."
Nokoru ran his hand wearily through his hair. "What can we do?"
"The injury is as much a spiritual as physical. Both aspects have to be treated if the wound is too severe to heal on its own." Seishiro finished cleaning his glasses and put them on. "I'm no healer, but I know that he–"
Nokoru's hand went up, silencing him. "Suoh? Heavens, you sound awful. – Yes, I know. But there's something you have to know. I–" He summarized what Seishiro had told him, added emphasis to the spiritual aspect of the treatment, listened briefly... "Yes, Sei told me. Why–" A short, rather loud comment from the other end had him barking irately into the receiver: "Suoh! Don't be foolish! Please, do take–" The sound of a disconnected line followed. Nokoru stared at the offensive phone before banging it, frustrated, onto the hold and burying his face in his hands. "That stubborn fool won't even consider it."
"Then he'll die." Seishiro shrugged. And froze. Around the dark scab on his hands the cuts suddenly glowed an eerie deep red.
"What the–" Imonoyama began as a thundering noise reverberated through the mansion.
Subaru walked slowly downstairs, following Kamui who'd begged him to come see Fuma the moment Seishiro had left. There was an ache in his left shoulder that he couldn't explain and a strange urgency to go upstairs rather than down. Kamui led him to one of the large ground-floor rooms in a corner of the house. There was no reason for safety measures, because the Twin Star was able to break any obstacle should he wish to do so. He hadn't. Or maybe someone else hadn't. The room was comfortable enough, if a bit old-fashioned. Nothing of the polished luxury of the first floor. But maybe that was better. Maybe...
The youth sat slumped on the bench by the window, one arm bandaged and tied in a sling. He'd propped the other against the window frame to support his head with the unbound hand. Pain added hard lines to the lean face but there was a wetness to the eyes that softened the expression again.
Contradictory. Like the two souls warring about the body.
Subaru, standing silently behind Kamui in the door, watched warily how the youth's hand balled into a fist against his mouth until the knuckles shone white through the skin. Wet eyes. Human eyes, and teeth digging into the cramped hand until blood flowed.
A whisper. "Kotori..."
Kamui froze briefly, his outstretched hand keeping Subaru from following him into the room. "Fuma?"
A look out of eyes that had seen too much. "You shouldn't be here."
"I have to." Kamui reached him, unsure yet determined.
"I don't know how long I can keep him in ch–"
Suddenly blood from the dragon's bite soaked the sling. The dragon had attacked the Twin Star, not... Subaru, reaching for his ofuda, opened his mouth to warn– A backhand caught Kamui across the face, threw him with a sickening crack against the wooden table and from there to the floor.
"You!" The Twin Star came at him instantly.
Subaru dodged the blast by leaping across the threshold, accepting closer proximity in exchange for more room to act. Shiki were useless against the Twin Star, but they would buy time. Time to place the ofuda. The ache in his shoulder exploded into pain as he drew in his power. He had to trap him–
Ofuda crumpled in the Twin Star's bleeding hand. "No repetitions, Subaru-kun," he mocked, the blood-soaked empty sling dangling from his neck like the travesty of a tie.
Subaru dodged another blast that left molten plaster and smoldering wall-paper where he'd been just a breath before.
What could he do against a stronger enemy whom he had fought before? Who knew his tactics? Mocked him with Seishiro's voice... about repetitions.
Repetitions. Reflections. Mirrors. Mirrors in mirrors...
Subaru dodged, whirled, distracted the Twin Star from where Kamui, dazed, used the table to pull himself up. Mirrors in mirrors. His fingers ran over the edges of the ofuda, counted, folded...
He threw ten ofuda.
Five of them became shiki...
...to carry the other five to where they were needed.
He threw up his personal shield right afterwards, taking the next assault head-on, praying that the scattered power would blind the Twin Star just like it blinded him. He felt the tug of the ofuda forming the ring, felt the power unfolding, the pain in his shoulder gradually receding now. The banning field flared up, singed the carpet, sizzled, sparkled. Blood from the dragon bite splattered the carpet as the Twin Star tried its strength in earnest. Subaru felt sweat trickling down his temples; he wouldn't be able to maintain this much longer, not at this level. The barrier was beginning to thin, the Twin Star about to break free–
A hand gripped his shoulder, added strength if not power. Seishiro. Irrational relief flooded through him. A minuscule decagram, woven of red-and-blue light, suddenly spun in the air in front of him. An illusion; Subaru felt no power in it. The banning field flickered and fell as his power ran out. Yet the Twin Star stood still, didn't attack, hatred glaring in the dark burning eyes as blood from the dragon's claw mark trickled over his cheek and soaked the collar of his school uniform.
"I see you remember this," Seishiro said coldly.
"Kamui!" Nokoru squeezed himself past them, giving the Twin Star a wide berth. "Are you hurt?"
The boy shook his head, holding himself upright with the table for support.
Nokoru turned towards them. "Out. Both of you!" he snapped. "Let Kamui handle this."
"You can't possibly–" Subaru protested. Seishiro simply turned to leave.
"Subaru." The forced smile Kamui gave him actually hurt. "What do you think I've been doing for the last three days?" He pressed a hand against his ribs when he cautiously let go of the table to limp towards the Twin Star. "I can stop him," the boy said. "He's not entirely... here any more." His hand came to rest on the dark, blood-stained sleeve. "Fuma, please..."
The Twin Star staggered, blinked... "You shouldn't–"
Imonoyama closed the door firmly in front of them.
"I don't think the Twin Star can be considered to be a spirit," Seishiro said lightly, as he opened the library door to allow them in.
"Maybe not," Subaru agreed calmly. "But the situation is possession or something very similar to it. I've been possessed." He shivered. "I know what it's like."
A faint rustle of wool threads when Seishiro crossed the crimson-and-gold of the carpet was the only sound. Subaru looked outside, chilled, at a sun that was about to vanish beyond the horizon. The campus' central plaza, covered with the remains of a New Year party – a week ago, Subaru wouldn't have expected it to take place – glittered in the waning sunlight and the faintly glowing street illumination.
Glass clicked against glass behind him. Some liquid was poured. Subaru looked over his shoulder. His eyes needed a moment to adjust to the darkness already governing the room. Seishiro leaned casually against the small bar that took up a corner of Imonoyama's vast library. Languorously he put the stopper back into the crystal carafe, took up the stout glass and swayed the amber liquid briefly, inhaling its scent – and downed half of it in a single swallow.
The scent reached Subaru. Alcohol. Strong. An onmyoji shouldn't drink. Spirit went in Spiritual but didn't agree with it, as his grandmother was wont to say. But then, an onmyoji shouldn't smoke either and they'd both been guilty of that for years; he was supposed to be pure and–
"It isn't over yet." Seishiro had put the glass down.
"No, it isn't." Subaru turned back towards the glitter outside. "As long as the Twin Star is still here, there can be a decision."
"But what will be decided? The balance between Yin and Yang as it is meant to be, or–?" Seishiro didn't bother to finish the line. It wasn't necessary.
"We can't risk that. We have to–"
Subaru turned at the sound of the closing door. He was alone in the room.
Ueno Park, Tokyo
January 4, 2000 – 00:28
The night was dark around him. New Year's Eve had broken the spell of thunderstorms, bringing clear nights with brilliant stars and grim cold. Most of the autumn's damage had been undone and the air was no longer reeking of dust and destruction – a peculiar smell that became only noticeable by its sudden absence; the multicolored lights of the metropolis glowed brightly beyond the dark shadows of the ancient trees, competing with the glitter of the stars and the frost.
Seishiro's breath fogged silvery white in the crisp air. Frozen grass crackled under his shoes as he crossed the park without caring for paths. He drew deep breaths, welcoming the cold. A faint ache in his left shoulder was all that reminded him that the Rainbow Bridge had indeed once fallen, even if it now stood untouched down in the bay – that, and the tingling pentacles engraved in hands that right now were deeply buried in his coat pockets because of the cold.
No, he wouldn't wear gloves.
The scent of sakura came on a warm breeze smelling of spring and promises better left unsaid. The next moment, he was wrapped in the ultimate maboroshi.
...You sure took your time to come to me... the Tree scolded. ...Reality shifted five days ago...
"I was inconvenienced." Seishiro shrugged nonchalantly, without taking his hands from his pockets. "Preventing the end of the world engendered some side-effects."
...Side-effects?... the Tree asked in a deceptively soft hush of blossoms and wind.
"Someone sloshed ramen onto my basement stairs. You don't happen to know who that was?"
...How did that keep you from coming to me?...
"I needed sandpaper to get it off." He leaned against the dark trunk, bathing in the hot, magical pulse beneath the rough bark. "Besides, I figured since the world still exists, you'd conclude that it worked–"
A twig smacked him across the cheek. ...Insolence. You're reeking of their magic! You've dallied with them again. You... He blocked a second twig with his hand before it could touch his skin, and the Tree suddenly stilled.
...Sei-chan... It was but a breath of trembling petals. A flower-cushioned twig moved cautiously against his palm, brought the back of his hand up into the magical glow of the Sakura's flowering crown.
"I told you preventing the end of the world had its price," he said calmly.
Blossomed twigs whispered over the scabbed backs of his hands, disturbingly cautious. ...The price is too high, Sei-chan... the Tree scolded softly. Magic flowed around him, through him as the Tree examined the marks. A thin branch wound around his wrist; its bark rasped his skin but didn't draw blood.
...They aren't guarded... The tree seemed astonished.
"He doesn't know how to use them."
...He will suffer...
A tuft of flowers ghosted along his jaw. ...As will you....