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00 — Introduction: Winter Rain

Tokyo nights.

It was raining. Countless drops of a steady downpour fell on asphalt, glistening black in the dark on the street below. The wet surface reflected rainbow colors of traffic lights and neon ads, car lamps and shop windows, while the rain created a continuous pattern of sound, monotonous yet always in tune with the glittering, ever-changing lights.

Five weeks ago, it had been freezing cold. There had been ice and snow and fog, encompassing a city that should have ceased to exist.

Five weeks ago, the fate of the world should have been decided, and the decision had been thwarted — by Death.

Death, who had granted life.

Death, who now carried Life's marks on his hands.

 

 

 

 

Subaru leaned against the partly open sliding door to the balcony of his Shinjuku apartment. Raindrops stuck to the pane, breaking the city lights into fragments. The thin thread of smoke from the cigarette in his hand curled and twisted to dissipate in the faint draft. The hand-wide gap let in the freshness and the sound of the falling winter rain together with the multitude of sounds of the restless city beneath it. He had come to find solace in its ever-changing, never-ending song, the constant reminder of its continued existence.

The phone on the floor behind him rang, a discordant note in the endless pattern of city and rain. He made no move to answer it. After the third ring the answering machine took the call, playing the plain, uninformative message he'd recorded on returning from CLAMP campus.

His grandmother had called a couple of times. He had preferred not to be there, not to answer the inquiries that she left on the tape about the End of the World, the battle and finally even his well-being. Too much had happened, too many questions needed to be answered before he would have any answers for others. And too much of him had changed; changes his grandmother wouldn't — and the previous Head of the Sumeragi couldn't — approve.

=Subaru-san, if you are there, if you receive this call, please do call back, do contact us...=

His grandmother's voice came hollow from the weak speakers of the AM. Subaru pulled a long, last drag from his dying cigarette and flipped its butt out into the night.

 

~:~:~:~:~

 

Rain thrummed loudly on Seishiro's black umbrella, competing with the music that wafted out of the brightly lit entrance into which his target had just disappeared. He knew the club, but not well enough...

=Yes?= His call was finally answered by a rather sleepy operator. =Who is—=

"I need the key data on the Farfalle down in Roppongi. Now," he snapped into the phone, impatient as another car rushed past, splattering most of the narrow sidewalk with dirty water. He was glad for the leather coat tonight; without it he'd have been thoroughly soaked by now despite the umbrella.

The operator seemed to have woken up enough to realize the source of the order. The beeping of a PC, followed by rapid keystrokes came from the squeaky receiver of the small cellphone. A prepaid one, no tracking. Even with the trouble of disposal, the cells were a lot more convenient than having to search for a public booth. This one — as well as the temporarily assigned number — wouldn't last to the end of the night.

=I have the information, sir. Club Farfalle, Roppongi, owned by Miyage Tetsuo. One of the most frequented clubs in Tokyo these days and certainly one of the largest. Multiple interconnected floors around a central dome holding the dance floor. Entrance on the first level. Clientele depending on event. Tonight that would be salarymen and their companions, average age about thirty. Expect heavy security and high entrance fees. Shall I try to sneak in a pre-booked invitation?=

"Not necessary." Seishiro disconnected the cell and removed the battery.

 

Slipping the cloakroom ticket into his pocket, Seishiro worked his way through the crush. The din of voices and music on three levels was deafening. He crossed over to the bar and exchanged the two drink tickets included in the exorbitant cover charge for a single glass of acceptable liquor served on a small tray with proper aplomb. He leaned his back against the bar and, nursing his drink, inconspicuously scanned the establishment for his target.

'Heavy surveillance' meant there would be cameras — visible and invisible — with human operators in front of a battery of monitors. He didn't know where in the building the operators sat and at what distance, so he couldn't influence them directly. And there was also the risk of camera records being kept for a day or two. It would have to be death from natural causes.

A set of circular stairs went up to the VIP lounges hanging like nests on the second level; another set circled down to the overflowing dance floor. Stroboscopic lights scattered over the dancers, sometimes highlighting a dress in the frantic rhythm of the electronic beat that gave the pulse to the crowd. The target was down there. Seishiro was sure of that. He emptied the glass in a single swig and left it on the tray.

 

The basses were strong enough to be felt rather than heard. Seishiro's pulse and breathing became faster, involuntarily chasing after the rhythm. Annoyed, he countered the effect on his way down. The dance floor was crowded to the point where the press of the swaying bodies developed its own tide, not always in synch with the music. The Farfalle wasn't his type of club. He preferred more exclusive ones; more exclusive regarding the number of guests per square meter at least.

Multicolored lights glittered on and around him. Occasionally, the red spotlight made the crimson dress of his random dance partner translucent. Her dilated pupils told him of Ecstasy or something stronger. She danced sensually close with her hands on his shoulders, playing with her dress riding up on the cloth of his pants. A whiff of heavy, extravagant perfume hung about her—

—like the shadow hung about the dancer behind her. Seishiro focused with sharp, cold determination. The hiding spell he whispered under the beat of the music was simple; hiding something in plain sight had once been a childhood's game. It made people's attention skirt away from the bespelled object — or person — and anything that might connect them with it. He preferred not to have a panic in this crush while he was part of it.

His real strike was swift, clean, though the target's spasms were anything but. Although the systemic effect on the target was severe, the actual manipulation was minuscule, merely closing the man's carotids, thus the ensuing sakanagi was accordingly weak. Seishiro reflected it effortlessly. Humans were weak creatures; mammals in general were.

Embolic stroke followed by multiple organic dysfunction, the coroner's report would read. A rather inelegant way to die. However, Seishiro admired the elegance of the solution, involving no variables but himself and the target.

The spell induced the stroke; the sakanagi caused the death.

His dance partner's high heels pierced an already dead hand. He balanced her and strengthened the hiding spell, noticing that the dark blood matched the color of her dress. She would have to answer to the police for the bloodied shoes later tonight, and was likely going to get a drug screening in return. He took a turn towards the stairs. The hiding spell wouldn't work much longer.

He felt the tingle of invisible petals caressing him as he wound his way through the crowd while transferring the spiritual essence. He disentangled himself from his dance partner and sauntered up the stairs to the lounge area. He claimed his umbrella and coat and nodded at the bouncers as he left. Screams started inside when he was halfway down the long entrance stairs.

Outside, the rain had ceased.

 

~:~:~:~:~

 

In Shinjuku, Subaru woke with the taste of alcohol on his tongue. He'd left the window ajar when he finally went to bed. The room was filled with the chill of a rainy night and the dulled sounds of the city outside, yet he was sweating. Colorful stroboscopic lights flashed through his vision.

He sat wearily up in bed and buried his head in his hands, pressing the palms against his eyes. Ghostly frames wavered, dancing, around him. His heart thundered in his ears, throbbing with the heavy beat of music played... elsewhere.

Seishiro... he groaned, struggling out of bed. Not again... He all but felt his way to the light switch through a press of milling people. White light flooded the room. Metal stairs vibrated under his feet— No, that wasn't him, that was—

He pressed his hands against his aching temples. Seishiro. He had to sort Seishiro's impressions from his own and force them back or—

Laughter arose out of the pulsing music. An apparition in red walked into his arms, pulling him into the dance. He resisted the ephemeral touch, closed his eyes, focused on his fingertips.

°°°Om namah S—°°°

Hands locked over his shoulders, played flirtatiously with his neck hair. A body slid against him in the sway of the dance. Perfume hung in the air, an oppressive, sultry scent...

Subaru's eyes flew wide. The dancers dimmed to shadows; the music lost its power in cold, perfect focus. A man was dancing on his bed, smiling, lost in the moment and the dance as he moved to a tune Subaru was no longer hearing.

Thrill. Anticipation. The marks on Subaru's hands flashed briefly.

"No! Don't—" Involuntarily he reached for the victim; gripped empty air as his shin slammed into the edge of his bed.

Spasms not part of any dance rocked the man. A thread of saliva dripped down his chin onto the bedcover. His eyes showed naked panic until they rolled back and he collapsed on the bed. Shadows were around the victim, dancing on the sheets, laughing, oblivious.

Subaru felt sick, felt the impending sakanagi reaching for him— for Seishiro—

Another flare of the scars. Reflection.

The uncontrollable spasms stilled when the sakanagi ripped through the victim. Dancers stepped over the body, around it, on it. Blood welled from a still hand pinned onto his pillow by high heels. Drunken laughter. Sakura petals fluttering through his vision, catching the spiritual essence evaporating from the body. Satisfaction. Sakura petals caressing him...

A cherry twig had caressed Seishiro in the twilight of the Kokyo East Gardens...

Seishiro. He. He had to—

°°°Om namah Sivaya.°°°[1]

The voices dimmed. Finally. With a sob of relief he all but fell to his knees in front of his now empty bed. He was so tired. Each time it took longer to separate himself from Seishiro. Each time it got more difficult. Each time he got less warning...

"...continue," Seishiro had said.

Subaru choked. He couldn't continue like this. If something like this happened in public... during a job... Exhausted, he rested his head on the bed. He didn't want to go to Seishiro. He didn't want to— He wanted too much to—

Music played at the edge of his perception. Lights flickered behind him. He smelled leather, felt a long coat enveloping him.

Screams... and cool night air...

 

It wasn't until the sun was shining brightly through the open curtains that he finally pulled himself up into his bed for some desperately needed sleep. Sleep that was still disturbed, nonetheless. This time by more mundane tasks like reading a morning paper while taking sips from a cup of sweet black coffee, or burning his fingertips on a slice of hot toast.

Drowsily he rolled onto his side, licking his burned fingers...

Freeing a large cat stuck under the garden gate had to be a real dream — surely Seishiro wouldn't bother...



[1]    "Om namah Sivaya". Vedic mantra. Invocation of the most holy name of Shiva to quell the instinct, cut through the steel bands and turn the intellect within and on itself, to face itself and see its ignorance to save the soul. It invokes Shiva's grace, the world, the soul, and the five elements. [source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aum_namah_Sivaya]