Hiromasa smiled as he looked at the colorful leaves that clung to the trees. The warm wind caressed his face as he took a deep breath, breathing in the comforting smell of autumn. “Your garden is beautiful in all seasons, Seimei, but autumn is my favorite by far.”
Seimei tore his eyes away from the tall man and looked out over his garden. “You have yet to see it in winter,” he said with a raised eyebrow.
Hiromasa turned his smile to his friend. “I am sure that season will be my favorite as well.”
Seimei’s eyes crinkled as he laughed. Hiromasa took a sip of his tea and gave a contented little sigh. Moments like these were common, but still treasured. Seimei’s laughter was like water for his parched soul.
“You are easy to please then.” Seimei said, tilting his head slightly.
“No, your garden is pleasing.” Hiromasa disagreed amicably as Seimei refilled his teacup. “The light from the sunset is breathtaking this evening.”
“Will you be staying for the moonrise?”
“It’s a full moon tonight, isn’t it?”
Seimei nodded. “The last one of the summer.”
Hiromasa sighed. “I wish I could. There is a banquet for Takamo-san and his new bride. Why don’t you come with me?”
Seimei raised an eyebrow at Hiromasa, and Hiromasa smiled sheepishly. “You haven’t been to court in months Seimei. You should come out just to meet the new Left Minister.”
Seimei shrugged. “Court politics are tedious. You are an amazing man for having the patience to deal with them.” Seimei glanced over the rim of his teacup as Hiromasa looked at the sunset. “Tell me, isn’t Takamo’s bride the lady you were courting a few months ago? Lady Kizuki?”
“No, I’ve been helping Takamo-san win her attentions.” Hiromasa corrected him. “He has always been very fond of her.”
Seimei’s eyes narrowed slightly, he turned back to the garden as Hiromasa turned to him. “Ah,” Seimei said ironically. “Then which court flower has caught your eye?”
Hiromasa shook his head. “You must think very little of me, Seimei!” he laughed. “I’m not always in pursuit of a lady!”
“On the contrary,” Seimei’s dark eyes were mysterious as he regarded Hiromasa. “I think very highly of you.”
Hiromasa felt drawn into those dark eyes as his heart beat against his chest. For a second, he thought he saw something real in the onmyoji’s eyes, but then Seimei glanced away. Confusion made Hiromasa want to question him, but fear of the answers stole his voice.
Seimei turned back to the garden as the last rays of the sun faded. “I suppose you’ll be playing your flute at the North Gate after the feast.”
“Well,” Hiromasa toyed with the long silk sleeves of his jacket. “There are so few warm nights left to this year.”
“I hear the ladies at court spend their time trying decipher who you play for.” Seimei leaned forward as he turned the conversation back. “They say your playing has changed since the spring, that your music is more beautiful. If you don’t play for Lady Kizuki, Hiromasa, whom have you been playing for?” His smile was slightly wicked as he teased the taller man.
“I don’t play for anyone,” Hiromasa laughed. “I play to remember.”
Seimei titled his head. “And who are you remembering when you play?”
Hiromasa flushed and stood up. “Seimei! You are too much!” he said flustered. “I must return to the palace, else I’ll be late.”
“We mustn’t have that,” Seimei said teasingly, deciding for the moment to let Hiromasa off the hook. “Have a good evening, Hiromasa.”
Hiromasa bowed as Seimei flashed an impish smile. Seimei watched him walk away with his unconscious grace. As soon as the tall man had passed through the heavy gates, Seimei’s smile faded.
The house seemed colder, less hospitable as the warmth of Hiromasa faded. Seimei glanced up at the sky and found the two overlying stars shining brightly. Lady Aone had said that those stars were his and Hiromasa’s, forever linked, just as intertwined as their destinies. Seimei sighed, trying to find solace in the night sky, but found only loneliness.
Hiromasa’s attention wandered as the dancers flourished in front of him. They were all beautiful and graceful, but Hiromasa found them lacking. As a special favor to Takamo-san, the Mikado allowed his courtesans to entertain them, so Hiromasa valiantly tried to seem interested. Every once in a while, one of them moved in such a way that would make Hiromasa’s breath catch. But when he continued to watch there was a hitch in step, or a beat slightly off or a lock of hair out of place that ruin the illusion for him.
Hiromasa’s forced congenial smile remained on his face as his thoughts wandered back to his conversation with Seimei. He wished Seimei had accompanied him. The powerful Onmyoji was missed in court. It would do Seimei’s political career a lot of good by going to these social events, Hiromasa thought absently.
Hiromasa forced himself to pay attention as the groom started walking toward him. Takamo-san sat down next to Hiromasa and poured him some sake. “Hiromasa, I am glad you were able to come this evening.” Takamo didn’t comment on the fact that Hiromasa was sitting alone.
“I am honored you invited me.” Hiromasa said smiling.
“You are too modest! Without your help, Kizuki and I would not have found happiness! You are a true friend!”
Hiromasa turned his head so he couldn’t see his fellow advisors roll their eyes at Takamo’s words. “You and Lady Kizuki are destined for each other. With or without my help, you would have found each other. I am just happy to have been able to help in my small way.”
“There is nothing small about what you have done for us,” Takamo said seriously. “You have made me happier then I can say. I hope that one day you too will find happiness.”
Hiromasa smiled around the tightness in his throat. He glanced away and saw the other ministers looking at them and whispering behind their hands and cups. Some of the looks were beginning to be less and less friendly as the sake cups were drained. “It is getting late.”
Takamo stood up. Hiromasa watched as Takamo went to his other guests. He nodded politely to the others as he made his way to the gate. For a moment he was tempted to go to Seimei’s house and just bask in the other man’s simple acceptance and complicated smiles, but shook his head and continued on his way.
Hiromasa took out his flute and closed his eyes. He didn’t see the gilded palanquins silently come to rest in their respective places as the ladies within listened. Hiromasa poured his soul out into the night air, putting everything he felt into the complicated melody that floated up to the moon.
Hiromasa lowered his flute and opened his eyes when his fingers and lips became numb. He wiped down his flute and stared at the mist floating around the moon. He couldn’t possibly drop by Seimei so late, although he wanted to. There was an ache in him that only Seimei’s company seemed to be able to sooth. Hiromasa shrugged and made his way, oblivious to the sudden traffic.
“If Abe no Seimei will not drive away the demons, we will have to make him.” The voice said emphatically.
“And just how would you make Abe no Seimei do anything?” came the dry answer.
“He is just as human and fallible as the rest of us. If we insure that he is given only specially considered pieces of information, he will do exactly what we want him to do.” Another cunning voice cut through the thick shadows.
“Then you will have the fool feeding him information?” asked the first man eagerly.
There was a snort. “If Hiromasa is as foolish as you and the others think, he would not have lasted this long in Court. He is Seimei’s eyes and ears, he must be eliminated.”
“Why don’t you just have some demons kill him one night on his way home from court or better yet, while he’s on his way home playing that damn flute of his.”
“Hiromasa is a Guardian of the city. He would not be easy to kill.”
“Guardian,” came a laugh. “Abe no Seimei’s the true Guardian of the city. Hiromasa does nothing but distract the trickster.”
“That may be, but Hiromasa is still a danger to us. We must find a way to discredit him.”
“Well, if we can’t kill him…” There was a moment of silence. “What unfortunate lady has attracted his attention lately?”
“Since Himiko, he hasn’t actively pursued anyone. I thought he might be interested in Kizuki, but he was quick to match her up with Takamo. Why?”
“Just a thought. Hiromasa’s history of ill-considered infatuations is well known. If he were to pay court to a lady of high standing and then press himself on the lady’s person, he would lose face in court and perhaps be driven to kill himself.”
“Hiromasa is more likely to trip on his sword then press a lady against her will.”
An oily laugh slithered through the cooling air. “There are ways to encourage even the gentlest of men to be overcome.”
“Seimei would sense any tampering with him.”
“Then we would have to be very subtle.”
“And he would never allow the buffoon to kill himself.”
“There is some remorse that even Abe no Seimei would not be able to save Hiromasa from. Believe me, Hiromasa’s worst enemy is himself.”
“I don’t know.”
“I do. And once we get Hiromasa out of the way, Seimei will be distracted, blind and deaf, and perfectly malleable in our hands.”
“It still seems too complicated.”
“On the contrary, it is very simple. All we would need to do it give Hiromasa a little push, then everything else will fall.”
“Do you really think raising taxes to cover the cost of the festival is wise, Governor Suki?” Hiromasa asked quietly as he and the governor strolled around the carefully tended gardens.
“I don’t see how we can do it, otherwise,” the old governor shrugged. “The festivals have been getting so lavish in the past years when we’ve done well, and now with the draught…”
“What do the people say?” Hiromasa asked thoughtfully.
“They want a festival that will help them forget about the hardships of the summer.”
“Have you asked them? The people, I mean, not the lackeys who follow you around.”
The governor smiled sadly.
“I thought not.” Hiromasa said kindly. “There’s no shame in getting good information. Is Asuke still the blacksmith in town?”
“Yes,” the governor nodded with a confused look.
“Unless things have drastically changed since I left, Asuke would be the best person to ask about what the people are saying.”
“Hiromasa, I can’t just go to the blacksmith’s!”
“Why not? You still ride that chestnut brown horse that the Mikado gave you a few years ago, right? Just tell the stable master and any of your lackeys that you want to get his shoes checked personally. Believe me, no one wants to be with you when you’re fussing over that horse.”
The governor chuckled. “Hiromasa, I’ve missed you.” He put his hand on the young advisor’s arm as they walked companionably. “There are painfully few in the city who are honest with me.”
Hiromasa flushed. “Yes, but my honesty is painful to many.”
The governor glanced at Hiromasa’s face. “I have heard only good things about you from the other governors. I have heard that the Mikado often listens to your voice above even that of the Right and Left Ministers.”
“That isn’t completely true. There has been much turmoil in the last few months with the treachery of Doson and Genbuka. It seems as though once a Left Minister or Right Minister is put in office, there are attacks.”
“I am relieved that our Mikado has you standing at his side.”
“Thank you for your kind words,” Hiromasa glanced over at a large group of courtiers who entered the courtyard. “But the Mikado has greater a Guardian than me.”
“You speak of Abe no Seimei?” the governor asked. “I have heard that he is a Guardian of the city, just as you. If his is half the man you are, then the Mikado has no worries.”
“Abe no Seimei is a great man,” Hiromasa said earnestly, a smile touching his lips. “He is a powerful Onmyoji. I would give my life to help him.”
The governor looked surprised. “Your life?”
Hiromasa nodded as he leaned closer to the governor. “Yes, my life. I trust Seimei to always do what is best for the kingdom. He is wise beyond my feeble understanding.”
“Your understanding is hardly feeble, Hiromasa.” The governor patted Hiromasa’s arm.
Hiromasa smiled and looked into the distance. “If you ever met Seimei, you would understand why I feel the way I do.”
The governor held onto Hiromasa’s arm. “When your father passed, I vowed that your father’s wish for you to be a Court Advisor be fulfilled. As you stand before me now, Hiromasa, you have surpassed all your father’s wishes and dreams. I am happy for you.”
“Thank you.” He said simply.
“Come, it is time for old men like me to get in doors where it is warm.” Hiromasa laughed and lead the old man inside. “There is one thing more we need to speak on.”
“Your lady mother is anxious that you find a bride.”
“Yes, I know. Her letters are filled with this concern. When she questions you, please assure her that I am dutifully searching for a bride. Life at Court isn’t as leisurely as I’m sure it seems.”
“I know, I know, but your lady mother grows impatient. I fear that I won’t be able to dissuade her from visiting this winter.”
Hiromasa looked alarmed. “I don’t think a visit would be wise. Would you please…”
“Of course,” the governor smiled. “But I won’t be able to forever. You will need to find a bride, Hiromasa. You will need to find her soon.”
Hiromasa nodded. He glanced around and found himself standing outside the governor’s door. “You aren’t eating with the other ministers?”
“Age, boy, allows me all sorts of privileges.” The governor said heavily. “It is getting late and I’ve traveled far. The excitement of the court does little for me.”
“You’ve are not really that old, governor.”
“I am older than you, Hiromasa. Go, now, eat with your friends. I’ll see you before I leave tomorrow.”
“You are leaving already?”
“Of course, I have a horse that needs shoeing.”
Hiromasa forced a smile on his face and walked into the large dinning room. Small groups of advisors and court scholars were spread through out the room. As soon as Hiromasa walked in, all conversation stopped as the men turned and looked at him. Hiromasa focused his eyes in front of him as one of the servant girls quickly led him to a table off to one side. Hiromasa nodded as she quickly brought him plates of food.
It was hard to ignore the whispers and stares. They had started soon after Seimei defeated Doson. Careful never to be too obvious, the men of court let Hiromasa know that he wasn’t welcomed. Hiromasa took out a small book out of his sleeve and pretended to read. He was not going to let the other court advisors drive him away from his meal. He was never going to let them see how their stares and disdain cut at him.
After a suitably long meal, Hiromasa stood up and gracefully exited the room, not saying a word to anyone. He walked with long, measured strides to the gate. Glancing at the sky, he was a little disappointed that less time had passed then he had hoped. Shrugging, he started walking toward his one haven.
“Seimei?” Hiromasa called. The gates had opened for him as usual, but the house was dark. Mitsu didn’t seem to be present. “Seimei?”
“I’m over here, Hiromasa,” Seimei’s voice called. Hiromasa followed the voice around to the other side of the house.
There was a large fishpond with a small waterfall trickling down a few feet from a footbridge. The starlight reflected off the waves. Large old trees were decorated with small lanterns. Seimei was sitting on a small dais, his back to Hiromasa. An elegant hand motioned for Hiromasa to sit next to him.
Hiromasa couldn’t move. Seimei was wearing his white robe, but underneath it was his red under robe. Visions of Seimei’s dance flashed though Hiromasa’s mind, completely robbing him of his voice.
Seimei turned around and glanced at the court adviser. His long dark hair was tied back in the very proper court headwear, but one long lock had escaped and caressed Seimei’s cheek. Seimei’s dark eyes were questioning, filled with good humor with just a touch of mystery. Seimei’s lips were in his hauntingly confusing half smile that promised everything and nothing. Seimei tilted his head slightly.
Hiromasa was absolutely sure he had never seen anyone so beautiful in his life.
“I wasn’t sure if you would come this evening.”
Seimei’s puzzling words caught Hiromasa off guard. Seimei turned back around.
“Of course I would come. You have the best gardens in the capital.” Hiromasa said forcing his voice to be light. He cleared his throat and sat down.
Seimei glanced at him from the corner of his eye. “One thought you were rather taken by the Mikado’s garden this afternoon.”
Hiromasa faced Seimei, but Seimei’s face was half hidden in a pool of shadows. “The garden? How did… Were you at court this afternoon, Seimei?” Hiromasa smiled. “You should have told me! Governor Suki from the North Province is in the capital. I would have very much liked to introduce you both.”
“Oh?” Seimei asked in a bland voice.
“Yes!” Hiromasa took a sip of the warmed sake. “The governor was a great friend of my father. It is because of him that I traveled to the capital and became a court adviser.”
“The North Province?” Seimei asked, his voice deceptively mild, thinking that Hiromasa always played his flute at the North Gate, where he remembered. “You both seemed very close this afternoon.”
“I spent some of my childhood in his household.” Hiromasa explained. “When…” his voice faltered slightly. “When my situation changed, Suki-san helped me. I am very grateful to him.”
“When your situation changed?”
Hiromasa looked away, not sure what to say. He never spoke of his family before to Seimei. It was awkward to speak of it now. “Yes, when I was younger. Come, Seimei, speak to me of why you were at court. Who could have compelled you to make an appearance?” He smiled to let Seimei know that he was teasing.
Seimei didn’t return his smile. The Onmyoji continued looking at the stars. “I thought I would stop by. It was nothing.”
Hiromasa was disappointed. Seimei was obviously irritated by something, but he couldn’t imagine what it could be. “It is a beautiful night.” He said tentatively.
Seimei turned to him, his eyes still questioning. “It is beautiful.” Seimei agreed quietly as he refilled Hiromasa’s bowl.
The silence had just a touch of discomfort to it that confused Hiromasa.
“Was Takamo’s feast entertaining?” Seimei asked suddenly. “I heard that the Mikado himself attended.”
Hiromasa smiled. “Yes, Takamo-san is a close advisor to the Right Minister. There has been speculation that Takamo will take his place.”
“The feast was rather nice. The Mikado had his courtesans dance for us.”
“I’m sure they were beautiful.”
Hiromasa waved his hand dismissing them. “You should have come with me. You would have enjoyed it.”
“I doubt it.”
“Seimei!” Hiromasa put his bowl down. “I know you used to spend more time at court before I met you! What changed? Why don’t you ever go to court and attend the Mikado?”
Seimei sighed. “I go to court. Just not often.”
“Exactly. Shouldn’t you be working with your fellow onmyoji? I heard there is a new head of the order at the palace. Have you met him?”
“Yes, I have. He paid me a visit a day or so after he arrived.”
“Really? I heard that he didn’t like to leave his rooms at court.”
“Ashitare doesn’t.” Seimei shrugged. “He’s a competent enough astrologer, he will be adequate once he finds his footing.”
“You think he’s a good astrologer?” Hiromasa nervously played with his bowl. “I bet you had much to talk about.”
Seimei glanced at Hiromasa. “Not really. He has some talent in reading the stars. Besides that there just wasn’t much for us to say to each other.”
“You weren’t mean to him, were you?” Hiromasa asked, his eyes wide open. “You will need his support when you return to court.”
“And why would I return to court?”
“What?” Hiromasa dropped his bowl and looked at Seimei. Seimei returned his look with friendly skepticism. “Of course you’ll return to court. You are desperately needed. I was disappointed when the Mikado didn’t name you head of the Court Onmyojis. You certainly deserve the post!”
“Hiromasa, if I were part of the court, I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my duties as Guardian.” Seimei’s eyes danced. Hiromasa couldn’t be sure if he was serious or just joking. “As a Guardian, I can not limit my concerns to the temporal power of humans.”
“But I’m a Guardian as well. Are you saying I should leave court?” Hiromasa’s voice was shocked.
“Of course not. Your position at court allows you to see what’s going on in the world of humans.”
“But, using your logic, shouldn’t I also be paying attention to what is going on in the world of demons?”
“Hiromasa,” Seimei laughed. “You are not the only Guardian.”
Hiromasa’s mouth opened and closed a few times. “Are you saying that you are paying attention to what is going on in the demon world?”
Seimei looked up at the stars.
“Seimei! You aren’t putting yourself in danger, are you? I don’t want you to endanger yourself! Let me…”
“I am fine.” Seimei interrupted him quietly. “You already put yourself at risk too much.”
“I almost lost you, Seimei. When Genbuka…”
“You died, Hiromasa.” Seimei said flatly.
“But you brought me back. If something happened to you, I wouldn’t…”
“I was lucky.” Seimei faced Hiromasa. “Hiromasa, I will not allow anything to happen to you.” Seimei’s eyes flared with emotion. Hiromasa felt his mouth go dry as he could almost feel the heat of Seimei’s temper. “I may be Guardian of this city, but I will let it burn if it means that you will remain safe.” Seimei looked for a moment longer into Hiromasa’s eyes before turning away.
Hiromasa wasn’t sure what to say. The night cooled slightly and Mitsu brought him another bowl. Without meeting his eyes, Seimei poured the sake.
“I suppose the ladies will be disappointed.” Seimei said softly.
“You won’t be playing at the North Gate this evening, will you.” It was more of a statement then a question.
Hiromasa was confused. He hadn’t really thought of it. “I suppose I won’t tonight. It is getting slightly chilly.”
“Then you’ll be going back to court this evening.”
Hiromasa shook his head, completely lost. “Do you think I should?”
“Wouldn’t Governor Suki miss you?”
“I am seeing him off tomorrow morning.” Hiromasa answered, not sure what Seimei was driving at. Mentally shrugging, Hiromasa decided to change the subject. “Seimei, when are you going to dance again?”
Seimei turned to Hiromasa with a comical look of exaggerated amazement. “You have the most graceful women in the country dancing for you. Why would you want to know when I’ll dance again?”
“Well,” Hiromasa blushed a deep red, suddenly realizing how strange his question actually was. “I just thought… You are a very graceful dancer, I was hoping… I mean, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, maybe you could…”
Seimei laughed, all tension gone. “Hiromasa, you are a rare prize!”
Hiromasa looked at him sheepishly before laughing. “I have been wishing that you would dance… for a while. Tonight, when I saw that you were wearing your red under robe, it made me think. Seimei, I don’t have the words to describe how beautiful you are.”
Seimei’s eyes grew serious, and Hiromasa cursed his clumsy tongue. “I mean, how beautiful your dancing was.”
Seimei looked away as Hiromasa tried to gather his thoughts.
“Your dancing is what I remember when I play at the North Gate.” Hiromasa said quietly.
Seimei grew still as he continued to stare at the sky.
“I have spoken too much. I will leave you now.” Hiromasa quickly stood. “Please, excuse my foolishness. I will not speak of it again.”
Seimei let him leave without making a sound. The words that slipped so easily off his tongue had fled at Hiromasa’s naked sentiment. He closed his eyes as he felt the warmth of his friend leave his house and cross over the bridge that separated his house from the rest of the city.
There was no sleep for Hiromasa that night. He replayed the scene in his mind over and over, wishing to take back his words. The feelings he had for his friend were comforting and grounding. But they were also so overwhelmingly strong that they threatened to drown him in their intensity. He gladly accepted his outcast status at court. Being friends with Abe no Seimei was worth all the false smiles and pledges of unwavering loyalty. Yet, in many ways, being friends with Seimei held its own dangers; the danger of getting too close, the danger of losing himself in Seimei and not having anything left of his soul once Seimei discarded him. And Seimei would tire of him. Of that there was no doubt.
Hiromasa sat up and put on his light silk robe as he walked to the open courtyard to his house. The false dawn was just beginning. Reds and gold streaked through the blues as the sky lightened. Hiromasa shook his head, trying to clear his head of the gloomy thoughts. He idly wondered if Seimei would be awake yet. Perhaps he could drop by and undo any damaged caused by his thoughtless words.
Hiromasa knocked lightly on the heavy wooden doors that led to Seimei’s house. He had delayed coming over until the afternoon, just in case Seimei had stayed up much later. The weather was warm, and Hiromasa had a chilled bottle of very fine sake, a peace offering.
Hiromasa’s brow furrowed. In all the times he had visited Seimei, the doors had always opened on their own as he approached. “Seimei?”
There was no answer.
Cold fear gripped him when he realized that the gates weren’t going to open. He took a few breaths and forced himself to relax. It couldn’t end this way; Seimei wouldn’t brush him off this quickly. Hiromasa resolved to come back later that night.
“One hears that Abe no Seimei has left the capital,” the Left Minister said pouring Hiromasa a cup of tea. “It’s a pity, I would like to meet him.”
Hiromasa smiled outwardly as his stomach clenched. It had been a week since Seimei’s house stopped accepting visitors. A week without word. Hiromasa was certain his ill-considered words had driven his friend away. “I am sure you will meet him soon.” Hiromasa murmured.
“Have you heard from him?” the Left Minister asked pretending to study his tea leaves even as Hiromasa knew that the older man was studying him.
“Abe no Seimei does as he wishes.” Hiromasa said mildly.
“I see,” the minister said nodded. “But that is a strange thing for a court onmyoji, don’t you think?”
Hiromasa’s expression didn’t change as he spoke. “The Mikado himself has given Abe no Seimei a special dispensation to do as he will. Simple men as myself can not hope to understand the Mikado’s divine wisdom.”
The left minister shot him a sharp glance, but was only met by Hiromasa’s rather vacuous expression.
“However, when Abe no Seimei returns to the capital, I am sure you will have the opportunity to meet him.” Hiromasa said, politely.
“Yes, I am sure.” The Left Minister nodded. “I have heard that Lady Aeka has been asking about you as of late. She says that she misses your playing by the North Gate.”
Hiromasa glanced down. “Oh?” He hadn’t played since his friend had… disappeared.
“Lady Aeka is quite an accomplished woman.” The Left Minister said nodding. “I have heard that the Mikado himself expresses a desire that she be wed to someone who would bring her honor.”
“She is very beautiful.” Hiromasa said, wishing the conversation was over. He only wanted to go to his house and wait until Seimei returned.
“She would be a good match for you. It would bring our Emperor great joy to see you settled.”
“I would never be worthy of the lady,” Hiromasa lowered his eyes. He couldn’t even keep a friend, how would he ever keep a wife?
“You do not give yourself enough credit, Hiromasa,” the Left Minister disagreed. “You are a good man. Do you have feelings for her?”
Hiromasa sighed, no longer really paying attention to what the man was saying. The pain in his heart was almost unbearable. He was certain that every hour Seimei was away, a small piece of his soul died. Soon he would be just an empty shell.
The left minister smirked as he watched the gentle emotions flitter across the face of the younger man. The minister stifled a chuckle; the young minister was so easy to read.
“I am sorry my Lord,” Hiromasa said, noticing the long period of silence. He stood up. “I have over stayed my welcome. I should go.”
“Never apologize for being true to your heart, Hiromasa. But go, I have kept you over long.”
Hiromasa shot the man a questioning look, but the minister just smiled smugly. Hiromasa nodded and left.
As Hiromasa’s footfalls faded, a curtain rose from the wall behind the Left Minister. “Our plans are going better then we could have hoped.” the Right Minister said stepping out from behind the curtain.
“What of Seimei?” The Left Minister asked worriedly. “We didn’t expect him to leave the capital. Do you know where he is or when he will return?”
“Do not worry about him,” The right minister shrugged. “Once you and Ashitare place the demon in Hiromasa, Seimei won’t be able to do a thing.”
The left minister looked at the right, his face troubled. The Right Minister laughed. “You must remember, what we do here is for the good of the people in the capital.” The Right Minister turned to leave.
“Yes, but which people?” the left minister whispered.
The right minister smirked and continued walking.
“Your heart is troubled,” the warm voice called out.
Seimei looked at the ground. “Peace is elusive.” He said sadly.
A hand touched Seimei’s pale cheek. “What can we do to ease your troubles?” the voice asked.
Seimei looked past the torches that burned brightly in the darkness to the turbulent waters of the waterfall. “I don’t think there is anything that can be done.”
“The loneliness that presses so cruelly against your gentle heart has been harder to bear as of late, hasn’t it?”
“It will fade,” Seimei voice was heavy as he shrugged.
“Your fellow guardian has made himself known to you.” The voice sounded curious. “Has his presence not provided any comfort?”
Seimei forced himself not to react as he studied the flickering shadows.
“It is your destiny to stand together and protect the capital. Have you not accepted him?”
“How can he stand beside me? He is human and therefore is destined to pass.”
There was a soft laugh from the darkness. “He perhaps isn’t as human as once he was.”
Seimei looked away quickly into the swirling waters.
“When you allowed Lady Aone’s life force to be transferred into his body, her curse also transferred. He will not age or sicken as other men.”
“But he can die. I was unable to transfer the entire curse to him.” Seimei said softly. “And for that I am grateful.”
“Seimei, cherish him, as he cherishes you. The ache in your heart will only be soothed when you open your soul to him.”
“He should never have been forced onto this path. He should be allowed to live his life freely.”
“As you have been allowed? Seimei, he has chosen. He made his decision when he first came to you. He affirms his decision every time he stands with you instead of running like the rest of the court puppets he defends. Don’t negate his choice.”
“His heart is pure. Time will taint it with bitterness and hate.” Seimei shivered. “He will grow to hate me.”
“His heart will not allow him to hate you just as you will never be able to hate him. Do not allow your fear to cripple you.”
Hiromasa flashed a tired smile at Lady Aeka.
“My Lord is too kind,” Lady Aeka said from behind her fan. Her dark eyes shone brightly. “Tomorrow, then, you will come and play your flute for me?”
“My poor playing could not possibly do you justice.”
The lady lowered her fan. “No, my Lord. Your playing elevates all who listen closer to the divine.”
Hiromasa lowered his eyes. “Now it is you who are being too kind, my lady.”
“Then please, play for me.”
Hiromasa smiled slightly. “If it pleases you.”
Lady Aeka colored prettily.
Hiromasa once again wished to be hundreds of miles away. The other dinner guests started leaving, making Hiromasa’s escape possible. “My lady, until tomorrow, then.”
Lady Aeka smiled at him. “The minutes will seem hours, my lord.”
With a carefully hidden sigh, Hiromasa bowed his farewells to the others and made his way to the door.
As was his habit, he walked a slightly indirect route that caused him to pass by Seimei’s gate. He hoped that this night would be the night when the gates would swing open as he neared them and he would be able to see his friend.
Hiromasa sighed as he walked past the still gates. For a moment the onslaught of emotions threatened to undo him as he maintained his brisk pace to his house. Where could Seimei be?
“My Lord?” his servant said softly.
Hiromasa glanced around at the shadows that flickered at the edge of his vision. “We are almost to our gate, Eiri.” Hiromasa said calmly. “If something should happen, run and get Taka and Rin. I will cover your escape.”
Eiri nodded; frightened, but trusting that Hiromasa would keep him safe. For a few tense seconds there was no noise, then one of the shadows roared. Eiri took off like a rabbit as Hiromasa drew out his sword.
Hiromasa didn’t have time to panic as he fought of the 6 demons that rushed at him. He sliced though an arm and evaded the arms of the others before one impaled itself on his sword. Hiromasa tried to free his sword, but was bodily pulled down by the remaining demons. Held down tightly, Hiromasa couldn’t move as other shadows broke out of the darkness.
The men smirked, as Hiromasa’s eyes grew wide with recognition. One of them took out a glass bottle and shook it in front of Hiromasa. Hiromasa shook his head violently, forcing one of the demons to lock his arms around Hiromasa’s neck. The demon dug its claws into Hiromasa’s jaw, forcing his mouth to open. Hiromasa fought as the man uncorked the bottle and put it against his lips.
Hiromasa gagged as the man forced his mouth closed. The foul thing burned as it forced itself down his throat. Hiromasa curled into a ball as his body convulsed. The men and the demons stepped back as Hiromasa lost consciousness.
Seimei’s eyes blinked open as he stood.
“Seimei?” the voice called questioningly.
“He is in danger.” Seimei said mostly to himself.
“You are days away from him,” the voice whispered as Seimei started saddling his horse. “Will you reach him in time?”
Seimei jumped on the horse, glad that he wasn’t wearing his court silks. “I will not let him pass. It is not his time.” He spurred the horse into a gallop.
“Be swift,” the voice whispered. “And be true, my son.”
Hiromasa opened his eyes slowly. The morning light seemed too bright as he stared at the wooden beams above his head. He tilted his head and glanced over to find his house staff peering at him anxiously.
“My Lord?” Eiri said bowing low.
“Eiri,” Hiromasa sat up quickly and instantly regretted it. “What is wrong?” Hiromasa closed his eyes as the room swam in front of him.
“You were attacked last night, when you returned from the palace,” Eiri said respectfully. “You had told me to get Taka and Rin. When we got back to you, you were on the ground.”
Hiromasa nodded. He vaguely remembered leaving the palace and passing Seimei’s gate, but nothing more.
“There have been many visitors, my lord. Many from court have heard of your attack and wished to see you.” Risa said, her voice flat.
Hiromasa looked up and nodded. “Taka, please get my palanquin ready. I will leave for the palace within the hour.” He stood up shakily.
“My lord, is that wise?” Maka asked. Hiromasa glanced at his old nursemaid and smiled.
“I will be fine, Maka. It would be better for me to go to court and put any rumors of my demise to rest. Besides, I have an appointment this afternoon.” Hiromasa didn’t want to go, but it would be impolite for him not to play for Lady Aeka.
Hiromasa’s arrival at court was met with unabashed surprise and bewilderment. Hiromasa fought down his weariness as the normally hostile advisors questioned him. He played for the Lady, was invited to eat with the Royal Family, then was sent back home with a body of armed guards surrounding his Palanquin.
“What happened?” the left minister demanded. “I thought the spell was going to cause him to attack Lady Aeka!”
“Give it time,” the right minister said lightly. “It is a strong, but subtle spell. The longer he fights his impulses the stronger they will become.”
The next day, Hiromasa felt worse. He felt too hot one moment, then too cold the next. He struggled to focus at court as he delicately started turning Lady Aeka’s attention to Lord Karasawa, an old minister who was too shy to attempt to catch her attention himself. Lady Aeka didn’t seem to notice Hiromasa’s maneuverings; but then again, Hiromasa was starting to be an expert at matchmaking.
“The spell isn’t working,” the right minister thundered to the dark shadow.
“It is working,” the shadow answered mildly. “I can feel the demon course through his veins like a hot poison. His control will fracture soon.”
The third day after the attack, Hiromasa’s servants found him huddled in a corner of his room, shivering and radiating heat. They brought in pots of cool water as Riku and Maka bathed him. Hiromasa’s temperature went down, and he hid his trembling hands in this thick court silks as he went to court.
“Ah! Hiromasa!” the right minister called to him smiling broadly. “I heard there is going to be a great feast tonight. Surely you will join us!”
Hiromasa’s eyes wondered over to where Lady Aeka was sitting with her coterie. “Yes, my lord. I would like to very much.” He smiled politely
“Good, Good,” the right minister’s smile broadened. The old man studied the dark shadows under the Guardians’ eyes. Hiromasa’s face was getting painfully thin. “Walk with me,” he said leading Hiromasa away from the others. “Hiromasa, have you given any thoughts to marrying Lady Aeka?”
Hiromasa looked down and laughed nervously. He knew he didn’t have the patience for this conversation right then. His skin was too warm, his heart beat too rapidly, he couldn’t focus. “My Lord,” Hiromasa’s hands fisted tightly until he could feel his nails bite into his palms. “She is a lady whose favors must be savored and won. If I press too quickly, I fear that she would believe my attentions are not sincere.” Hiromasa mouthed the mindless words, hoping that they were the right ones.
The right minister laughed. “You are right. Lady Aeka is a woman needs to know you value her.” He looked at Hiromasa. “But, do not wait too long. I would hate to see you lose her because of your respect for her.”
The right minister led him around the garden once more, enjoying the weaving and unsteady gait of the younger man. “I hear that she likes to dance.”
Hiromasa stumbled as he dug his nails further into his palm. “I had not known.” Hiromasa said, his voice shaking slightly.
The right minister hid his face in his sleeve. So, the spell was working after all. “Come let’s return to the others.”
Hiromasa walked slowly from the palace gates. As weak and tired as he was, the thought of stepping into the stuffiness of his palanquin made him ill. Hiromasa couldn’t breath. His palms bled freely as he continued to pierce them with his nails. Whatever burned through his blood was slowly making him crazy. So far he was able to keep his mask in place while at the palace, but his control was beginning to slip. His mind was consumed with need, a need he didn’t understand. Hiromasa felt the knife of hysteria stab at him.
Hiromasa opened his palms and looked at his hands. They had asked him to play for the dancers, but he demurred. His hands were covered in his blood. Hiromasa laughed as his vision started fading out.
“Bring him into the house.” A voice said softly.
Hiromasa felt Taka lift him and he closed his eyes as a wave of dizziness washed over him. “NO, home,” his said in a weak voice.
“No, Hiromasa, stay here for now.”
Hiromasa felt himself being carefully placed on a mat. A cool hand touched his brow as he felt himself lulled to sleep.
Hiromasa opened his eyes.
The voice awoke a burning hunger deep inside of him. “Seimei,” he said licking his lips.
Seimei glanced at him. “You are unwell.” He said studying his friend. Seimei sensed something, different, something dangerous about him. Seimei poured him some tea and held out the small cup.
Hiromasa took Seimei’s hand into his own. He sipped the warm liquid. Without looking away from Seimei’s eyes, he slowly licked the onmyoji’s hand. Hiromasa finished the tea then turned over Seimei’s hand and kissed his wrist. Seimei struggled to keep his breathing even. “Hiromasa…”
Hiromasa surged up and kissed Seimei’s lips. Hiromasa licked Seimei’s lips insistently. Growling with impatience, Hiromasa took hold of Seimei’s face in his hands and tilted it up. Seimei shook his head, but Hiromasa dug his fingers into the tender flesh of Seimei’s jaw, forcing his mouth open. Hiromasa thrust his tongue into the older man’s mouth. Hiromasa explored enthusiastically until the need for air made his head swim. He released Seimei’s mouth for a second before he returned to kissing him.
Seimei beat his arms against Hiromasa’s chest. He shook his head violently, trying to get free, but Hiromasa slammed him down on the floor and straddled him. Hiromasa took another breath and looked at Seimei hungrily.
“Hiromasa, stop this.” Seimei struggled.
Hiromasa laughed, then reached up and tore the black cap off Seimei’s head. Hiromasa ran both of his hands though Seimei’s long dark hair. Seimei tried to push Hiromasa off him, but Hiromasa grabbed his wrists and slammed them against the ground, leaning in for another bruising kiss. “You want this.” Hiromasa sneered.
“No,” Seimei denied closing his eyes. “I don’t. Not like this.”
Hiromasa rubbed his body against Seimei. “You can’t lie to me. Your body wants this.” He ran his hand down Seimei’s body, finding its heat and hardness.
Seimei’s breath caught and Hiromasa licked his ears. “Listen to me, Hiromasa. This isn’t you. There’s something inside of you that’s making you do this.”
“No, you’re wrong.” Hiromasa laughed harshly. “I’ve want this. I want you.” He bit down on Seimei’s shoulder, drawing blood.
Seimei bucked against Hiromasa. “No, Hiromasa, stop. I know you. This isn’t you.”
Hiromasa took hold of Seimei’s robe and ripped it open before recapturing the delicate wrists. “Don’t presume to know me.” He growled before kissing down Seimei’s smooth chest.
Seimei’s breathing became labored as Hiromasa’s mouth worried his sensitive nipples. He closed his eyes and tried to shut out the delicious sensations that were threatening to undo him. He fisted his hands and Hiromasa automatically tightened his already bruising hold. Using the pain to ground him, Seimei started mouthing a complicated incantation.
Hiromasa growled when he looked up and saw Seimei’s lips moving. The burning in his stomach made his fingers tingle. He let go of Seimei’s wrists and ran his hands though Seimei’s hair and pulled the onmyoji’s face to his.
Seimei’s eyes opened just as Hiromasa forced another kiss. This time, however, Seimei wormed his hands between them and forcefully pushed Hiromasa away. Hiromasa’s eyes snapped open as Seimei scuttled backward, chanting quickly.
Hiromasa roared and flung himself on Seimei, only to stop short as a burning pain immobilized him. Hiromasa landed on the floor in a fetal position.
Seimei’s eyes closed as he continued chanting. Hiromasa thrashed violently, hitting Seimei repeatedly. Seimei reached out and held onto his friend as black oil started pouring out of Hiromasa’s mouth. Hiromasa rolled Seimei off the raised floor to the white stones of the garden.
Hiromasa’s eyes turned red and started bleeding as the younger man continued to fight. He wrapped both hands around Seimei’s pale throat and squeezed with all of his strength. When that didn’t stop the onmyoji’s lips, he rolled over again until they reached the edge of the pond. Without a thought, Hiromasa plunged in, holding Seimei underwater. Convulsions tore through Hiromasa as he slammed Seimei’s head against the rocky bottom of the pond. With a final scream, Hiromasa released Seimei’s neck and grabbed his long black hair in a tight fist and picked up a large rock from the bottom. He raised his arm, just as Seimei’s eyes opened underwater. Hiromasa swung down, solidly connecting the rock and Seimei’s cheek before tremors took hold of him again. The rock fell from his fingers as he passed out, covering Seimei with his body, holding him underwater.
“Seimei!” a voice sobbed. “Oh, gods, Seimei, please wake up.”
Seimei slowly opened his eyes. Hiromasa’s dirty face was stained with tears, blood and black ooze. Seimei attempted to smile, but it hurt too much. “Hiromasa.” His voice was a painfully raspy whisper.
Hiromasa’s head shot up. “Seimei, oh my god. I thought I…” Hiromasa cradled Seimei in his arms, nervously touching Seimei’s cheek. “Seimei, please. Tell me you are okay. Tell me I didn’t…”
Seimei was dismayed to find he was shaking violently. He felt so weak. “…Wasn’t you.”
“It was me,” Hiromasa insisted. “I hurt you. I almost…”
“Shhh,” Seimei said, his eyes getting heavy. “Hiromasa, help me…”
Hiromasa looked up, his face painfully eager. “What do you want me to do?”
“The house. I need to sleep.” Seimei’s eyes couldn’t stay open. “…Afraid of being alone. Too tired.” He mumbled as he faded.
“Seimei!” Hiromasa called.
Seimei’s eyes opened once again. “Couldn’t get it all out,” he whispered as his eyes closed again. “…Have to protect you.”
Seimei opened his eyes slowly. He stared uncomprehendingly at the ceiling beams above him. They didn’t look familiar to him, but he was so tired he wasn’t sure he actually opened his eyes.
A gentle hand caressed his hair. “Seimei?”
Seimei forced his eyes to focus on the face above him. Hiromasa looked down on him. A dry voice mused that Hiromasa cleaned up very well considering he was covered in black ooze the last time he had seen him. Seimei allowed himself a small secret smile. Could Hiromasa ever not be handsome?
“Seimei? I couldn’t find Mitsu, so I brought you here, to my house. Is that okay?”
Seimei closed his eyes and thought about that statement. Yes, Mitsu was still with his mother. She couldn’t fly as fast as he rode, and he hadn’t wanted to lose the time. Hiromasa needed him. Seimei sank deeper and spread out his awareness. The darkness within Hiromasa was still there. He needed to separate that darkness from Hiromasa lest it consume him.
“Here, drink this,” Hiromasa said bringing a cup to Seimei’s lips. Seimei obediently allowed a small sip of the warm liquid into his mouth. Tea sweetened with a little honey. It soothed his throat. Hiromasa tilted the cup again and Seimei took another sip. Seimei felt his eyes grow heavy.
“Go ahead, my beloved.” Hiromasa said softly. “Sleep. I’ll watch over you.”
Seimei slipped back to sleep before he could reconnect with his friend.
“Here, drink some more,” Hiromasa insisted as he tilted the cup. Seimei was leaning against his chest, his arms cradling him close.
Seimei weakly shook his head. He was exhausted. The work of keeping the regenerating demon inside of Hiromasa from raging out of control was draining him at an alarming rate. Seimei had shrugged off his own physical concerns as he protected his friend.
Hiromasa worried as he watched Seimei shake with exhaustion after doing the simplest of movements. “Please, Maka tells me you need to drink and eat to regain your strength.” Hiromasa said quietly. “Just a little more. Please, Seimei?” He couldn’t understand what was wrong. He had seen Seimei recover from other grievous injuries shockingly fast in the past, but this time, Seimei didn’t seem to be healing at all. The dark bruises did not show the slightest sign of fading.
Seimei opened his eyes and nodded. Hiromasa carefully tipped the cup against Seimei’s lips again. Seimei took a drink, then started coughing. Hiromasa tossed the cup down and tilted Seimei up carefully as he rubbed soothing circles into his back with one hand and held a handkerchief in front of Seimei’s mouth with the other. Seimei sagged against him weakly and Hiromasa rested his head against his temple.
“…Shouldn’t blame yourself.” Seimei rasped quietly.
Hiromasa’s throat tightened. Seimei still only thought of him.
“You should have used your power to kill me.” Hiromasa said bitterly.
“You are my friend,” Seimei said simply.
“I don’t deserve that.” He said flatly.
“And I don’t deserve you,” Seimei said faintly. He brought his shaking hands up and placed them on Hiromasa’s arms.
Hiromasa could only see the dark bruises that covered Seimei’s thin wrists. Seimei carefully retracted them into his robe sleeves. Hiromasa hid his face in Seimei’s hair. “I’ll always be haunted by the look on your face as I…” his voice broke.
“Please,” Seimei said closing his eyes. “Let it go.” Another wave of self-loathing crashed within Hiromasa, taking Seimei’s breath away. Seimei felt the demon grow in strength and fight against the barrier Seimei had created within Hiromasa. Seimei let more of his power slip into his friend to reinforce the barrier.
Hiromasa kissed his hair and held him tightly. Seeing the strong onmyoji so frail was almost physically painful. Hiromasa couldn’t eat, he couldn’t sleep, knowing that he had done this to his beloved. Quiet sobs tore out of him as he rested his head on Seimei’s dark hair.
A whisper of wings against his face made Hiromasa look up. A large blue and white butterfly flitted around. “Mitsu?”
The butterfly flew out into his courtyard and transformed into the girl. Mitsu’s face was concerned as she rushed over to them. “Master?” she said touching Seimei’s face.
Seimei’s eyes opened. “Mitsu.” He looked past her.
Hiromasa tore his eyes away from Seimei’s grayish white face and noticed the large fox that was staring at him. The fox’s dark eyes neither condemned nor comforted the tall man. Seimei lifted a shaking hand and the fox ambled over and nuzzled against the hand. Seimei’s eyes closed as he fell back asleep.
“Master?” Mitsu cried.
“He sleeps a lot,” Hiromasa said softly.
Mitsu looked up at him, her eyes worried. “Sleep?” she echoed.
Hiromasa nodded. He glanced down at the fox that licked Seimei’s hand
Suddenly Seimei shifted uneasily in his sleep. His breathing became labored and he struggled against Hiromasa’s arms.
“Shhh, Seimei,” Hiromasa soothed. “Relax and breath. Please, beloved. Relax.”
Seimei started choking. Hiromasa brought up another white handkerchief as Seimei coughed himself awake.
“Be at ease, my child,” a voice called softly as Seimei’s eyes closed again.
A white hand traced Seimei’s eyebrows in a curiously intimate way. Hiromasa looked up and saw a lady gently caressing his friend. “Who are you?” he asked, holding Seimei closer.
The woman looked up, her eyebrows raised.
For a minute the world dropped away from Hiromasa. The resemblance between his beloved and the woman was too uncanny.
“I will care for him now.” The woman announced. “Bring him to his house, I will care for him there.”
Hiromasa couldn’t breath. She was taking him away? “He is ill, he shouldn’t be moved,” he said over the lump in his throat even as Mitsu gently pulled Seimei out of his embrace.
“You can not give him the help he needs.”
“Can you?” Hiromasa asked standing up.
“I don’t know.” The woman admitted. “But I will do what I can.”
Hiromasa felt a knife in his heart. He turned and took Seimei from Mitsu. “Taka! Eiri!” he called.
His servants appeared quickly. “Ready my palanquin, please.”
Hiromasa carefully carried Seimei to the palanquin.
The woman gracefully climbed in the palanquin and rested Seimei’s head in her lap. “Do not follow us. The balance is broken. The demons know and will soon attack. You must fulfill your duty, Guardian.”
Hiromasa stared forlornly as the palanquin pulled through his gate.
“What happened?” The Left Minister demanded. “Lady Aeka says that Hiromasa left her early.”
“What you are worried about?” The Right Minister examined the scroll in front of him. “He hasn’t been at court for the last few days. Perhaps he couldn’t live with himself anymore.”
“His palanquin was seen going to and from Abe no Seimei’s home.” The Left Minister said nervously.
“Then perhaps he killed the trickster himself.” The Right Minister suggested in a bored voice. “Abe no Seimei has been effectively neutralized. That is what we had wanted, isn’t it?”
The Left Minister blinked. “No, that isn’t what we wanted. We had wanted Seimei to exorcise the demons. Without Seimei and Hiromasa- the Guardians, we won’t stand a chance if the demons attack!”
The Right Minister didn’t bother to respond.
“What have you done?” The Left Minister whispered.
“I have done nothing. It was you who gave sacrifice to the sushu demon. If retribution is made, it will be against you. So, you had better pray that Abe no Seimei is indeed dead. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to find a hole deep enough for you to hide in. It has been said that he is extremely fond of Hiromasa.”
The Left Minister stumbled backward, but jumped as he felt a hand on his shoulder. The Left Minister looked behind him and came face to face with a hideous demon. The demon’s pointed and darkened teeth dripped saliva.
The Right Minister smiled and didn’t look up as the monster tore the Left Minister to pieces.
Hiromasa didn’t move as the sun set against the blood red sky. He couldn’t bring himself to care about the anarchy in the city. He could hear the screams and smell the fires, but he couldn’t only think of Seimei and what he had done. How could Seimei ever forgive him? Seimei would never be able to look at him again. There would be no nights drinking sake or tea over looking Seimei’s garden or hearing Seimei’s voice or hearing his laugh. There would be nothing left for him.
No reason for him to go on living.
Abe no Seimei’s eyes opened. He sensed that Hiromasa was no longer near. “Hiromasa?” his voice cracked.
“I am here.” The woman touched Seimei’s face.
Seimei’s eyes focused on the white face. “I sensed that fulcrum that balanced the demons and humans had crumbled, so I came.”
“Hiromasa?” Seimei repeated.
The woman smoothed Seimei’s hair. “I bid him stay in his house while you recovered.”
Seimei’s eyes grew worried. “Send for him. I need to have him near me.”
“He is draining you of your vitality. If he is to be a Guardian, he must learn to stand on his own.”
Seimei struggled to sit up. His face turned an alarming shade of gray as he waved the woman’s hands off his shaking shoulders. “Mitsu!” he called. He started coughing. Mitsu fluttered to him. “Please, Mitsu. Bring Hiromasa to me.”
Mitsu nodded seriously and transforming into a butterfly she flew off.
“Is he worth it?” the woman asked.
Seimei lifted his head from his hands. “Yes.” He said with a ghost of a smile.
Hiromasa tested the edge of his swords. As always, they were razor sharp. He knew the cuts that needed to be made. He had paid out his staff and sent them out of the city. Maka had argued, but he insisted. They didn’t need to be involved.
Hiromasa picked up his katana. He wanted everything to be over. There was nothing left for him. Without Seimei… He brought up the short blade.
“Hiromasa’s a good man!” Mitsu cried.
Hiromasa paused. He hadn’t expected company. Mitsu ran up to him and took the sword from his shaking hands. “Hiromasa’s a good man!” Mitsu repeated. She dropped the sword and threw her arms around Hiromasa’s neck.
Hiromasa patted Mitsu absently. “Thank you, Mitsu. Why are you here? Is Seimei doing better?” He asked politely. It didn’t matter, Seimei hated him now. There was no reason to go on.
“Master wishes for you to come.”
Hiromasa looked at her. “Seimei wishes for…” He couldn’t be hearing her correctly.
Mitsu nodded and pulled him up. “Come! Come!” she said smiling brightly.
Hiromasa followed her through his house and out his gate. Demons clashed with humans all around him. The streets were filled with bodies and fighting, but Mitsu guided him though easily.
The wooden gate swung open as Mitsu and Hiromasa approached. Hiromasa quickened his pace. “Seimei?” It was too much like a dream. It couldn’t be real. He needed to stop all the pain.
Hiromasa could only stare at his friend. Abe no Seimei leaned against a wooden pillar, the sun shining on his pale face. Seimei’s eyes were filled with mirth as he smiled slightly. The bruise on his cheek had turned, and was the swelling was down. He was wearing a simple blue silk robe over layers of white that covered the bruises on his neck.
Hiromasa fell to his knees in front of Seimei and bowed, his forehead touching the floor. “I… I…” deserve to die.
“Hiromasa, it’s okay,”
Hiromasa looked up and was caught in those dark eyes. There was no anger or hate in them, only warmth and laughter. Seimei reached out with both hands and gently touched Hiromasa’s cheeks. “You haven’t been eating.” The older man said lightly. “Mitsu, could you please bring us some lunch?”
Mitsu quickly flittered away.
“It is not good for you to skip meals, Hiromasa.” Seimei scolded even as the tips of his fingers memorized Hiromasa’ face, reconnecting them.
Hiromasa leaned into the caresses with closed eyes. “I hurt you.”
Seimei’s fingers forced Hiromasa to look up. “Yes, and you are now hurting yourself.”
Hiromasa looked away.
“Please stop.” Seimei’s voice was like cool silk against heated skin. “I need you, Hiromasa.” Seimei closed his eyes and started pouring his awareness into is friend. The demon had broken through Seimei’s barriers and was now tainting every thought and feeling Hiromasa had. Seimei’s hands started to shake as he started isolating the demon again.
“No, you need someone much stronger than me.” Hiromasa said pulling away.
Seimei opened his eyes and watched at Mitsu set out the little dishes of dumplings. “Eat, Hiromasa,” Seimei said after a prolonged silence. “We must decide what we are going to do.”
“Do?” Hiromasa asked as he took the plate of dumplings that Mitsu handed him. Just being with Seimei made him feel better.
Seimei watched him eat; satisfied that he had given his friend some relief. “The balance between the demons and humans has been broken, we need to decide whether or not we are going to restore the balance. And if we are to restore the balance, we must decide how we are going to do so.” Seimei closed his eyes. The effort to keep Hiromasa safe was incredible.
“If we?” Hiromasa asked, surprised. “Of course we have to restore the balance! We are the Guardians of this city. We can’t just let it burn down!”
“We can’t?” Seimei smiled as he opened his eyes.
Hiromasa’s mouth opened and closed a few times. “No, we can’t.” he said very softly.
“Actually,” Seimei watched Mitsu pour his tea. “We can. A demon was implanted in you. Those particular demons require a very specific type of sacrifice that can only be offered up by a human with the cooperation of several other humans. Someone who holds significant spiritual power would have facilitated the sacrifice. I am not interested in risking you for a city that neither wants nor deserves saving.”
Hiromasa blinked. “You really mean that, don’t you?”
Seimei shrugged. “I am not in the habit of saying things I do not mean.”
“But after everything I did, I thought… When you left, I thought you… Seimei, you can’t…”
Seimei looked out serenely at his garden as he fought off another wave of self-loathing from Hiromasa. “My feelings have not changed.”
Hiromasa meekly finished his lunch, feeling better then he had for weeks.
“Do you still wish to save the city?”
After a minute Hiromasa nodded. “Yes, not every human in the city deserves this. And I’m sure that not every demon lives for the annihilation of the humans. I will go to the palace and speak with the Mikado. Without him, the humans of the city will quickly fall into anarchy.”
“You make that sound as though it was a bad thing,” Seimei said with a quirk of his lips.
Hiromasa rolled his eyes. “You know I’m right.”
“Of course, you’re right.” Seimei tilted his head. “For the moment, I can not…”
Hiromasa held up his hand. “I know. Stay here. I’ll return shortly.”
“You will be careful.”
Hiromasa smiled brightly. “You doubt me?”
“You have been known for being a little foolhardy.”
“Seimei!” Hiromasa said in mock indignation. “I was not the one who wanted to dance in front of the gates of the nether world.”
“Are you saying you didn’t enjoy it?”
Hiromasa blushed deeply and looked out over the pond. “I never said I didn’t enjoy it, I seldom don’t enjoy entering that realm of gods with you.”
Seimei motioned and Mitsu appeared at Hiromasa’s side holding the tall man’s bow, quiver, and swords. Hiromasa paused only slightly before taking his swords.
Hiromasa looked over. Seimei’s eyes were serious and his smile was gone. He looked exhausted, as though their short time together drained him. “You are very precious to me, I would be severely displeased if you were injured. Even by your own hand.” Seimei’s eyes slid to the katana Hiromasa was holding.
Seimei glanced away; unable to stop the chills from wracking his body as he struggled against the demon again. “Go, save the world. Just remember to come back and tell me about it.”
Hiromasa laughed, the tension draining from him. He turned and walked toward the gate.
Seimei’s eyes never left the bright sun reflecting on the crystal water of his pond. The demon that was thriving inside of Hiromasa was slowly killing him. Seimei closed his eyes and concentrated on his friend. With shallow breaths, Seimei allowed his spirit to leave his body and surround his friend. This was dangerous, and not a little foolish. If anyone broke through his barriers and attacked his body, he would be unable to defend himself. Once his body was destroyed, he would be lost forever. As it was, he didn’t know how long he could last doing what he was doing.
Seimei mentally shrugged and wrapped his consciousness around Hiromasa. The demon was covering him with doubt and fear. Seimei smiled as he warmed Hiromasa. As long as he could, Seimei would continue to protect his friend.
Warmth eased Hiromasa as he made his way to the palace. Once he had left Seimei, a voice inside of him mocked him, taunting him. Told him that Seimei was only playing with him and couldn’t possibly care for him. Hiromasa was almost overwhelmed with the desire to pull out his katana and end what he had started that morning before Mitsu interrupted him.
But then the warmth came. Like Seimei’s smiles and his voice, it eased him, made him stronger, gave him hope. Hiromasa stood straighter as he easily walked the well-trod road to the palace. Curiously, none of the demons bothered with him. Did they think he was that insignificant or did they let him pass because it was too late? Hiromasa didn’t know what to think, but he continued his journey, trusting that Seimei would not have let him go if it was truly a hopeless endeavor.
Hiromasa walked through the splintered charred remains of the grand gates that had once protected the palace. He didn’t even have to pause. He knew that if the Mikado felt he was in danger, he would go to a certain storage house and hide. The Mikado obviously felt that gold and jewels would be able to stave off death if he were pursued.
Two large, well-armored demons pounded against the thick wooden and steel enforced doors. A party of smaller demons stood by and salivated as screams of terror echoed the blows. Hiromasa unshouldered his bow and cocked an arrow. Seimei had presented him with this particular quiver of arrows. He had made them personally for Hiromasa. With perfect aim, Hiromasa loosened an arrow that tore through the armor of a large demon. The demons stopped and turned toward him.
“You!” one of the smaller demons hissed.
The other demons snarled and started after him. Hiromasa cut down a number of them using Seimei’s arrows before he reshouldered his bow and took out his sword. “Why?” one of the demons hissed. “You have been betrayed.”
“And you are a betrayer,” another hissed.
“You have hurt the one who trusts you the most.”
“Yes, he who depends on you to keep him safe.”
“You have damaged him worse than any of us have ever been able to.”
“He was untouchable before you.”
“Now, he is breakable.”
“And you have broken him for us.”
“Yes, broken he is. You have done our work for us.”
Hiromasa’s hands started to shake as the voices surrounded him. It was true all of it. He was Seimei’s weakness. Seimei would be fine if Hiromasa hadn’t hurt him, hadn’t tried to… Hiromasa lowered his sword. He closed his eyes as the demons surrounded him. It would be better for him to be killed here than to hurt Seimei again.
“Hiromasa,” Seimei’s voice caressed him, cutting though all the other voices. “That isn’t true. I need you.”
Hiromasa brought his sword up and cut through the closest demons as the warmth flooded through his body. He quickly spun around aggressively, throwing the demons back. The smaller demons parted ways as the other large well-armored demon advanced on him.
“That’s a vetch demon.” Seimei’s voice informed him. “They are very powerful and have extremely thick skin. It would be better to back up and cut him down with your arrows, but I don’t think we have that option right now. Duck and roll!”
Hiromasa automatically obeyed Seimei as the vetch demon swung its cudgel at him.
“Thanks,” Hiromasa said wryly as he swung up and hacked at the demon’s legs.
“They aren’t as slow as they should be, but they are fairly stupid.” Seimei’s voice reflected his smile causing Hiromasa to grin.
“You are just a well of information,” Hiromasa thought back to him. Hiromasa dodged another blow and managed to sever a tendon on the demon’s right leg causing it to fall to the ground.
“That’s what I’m here for.” .Seimei’s voice was growing tired.
Hiromasa finished off the demon as the other demons scattered.
“Hurry to the Mikado, Hiro.”
Hiromasa worried at the exhaustion he heard in Seimei’s voice. He quickly made his way to the door and knocked. “I am coming in.”
Hiromasa heard some sniffles and some soft voices coming from inside. The demons had crushed most of the door. Hiromasa ran his hand through a gap in the wooden panels and unlatched the door. He pushed the doors open and walked in the dimly lit room.
“Hiromasa!” the Mikado cried. The old man ran up to the advisor and took his hands. “You have defeated the demons?!”
“No, not yet.” Hiromasa looked around. “We need to pull the government back together so we can restore order.”
“Order, yes,” the emperor nodded.
Hiromasa sighed. The emperor was a bit wild around the eyes. He would be no help. Hiromasa scanned the room. Lady Laekin and the crowned prince were huddled behind three scared looking solders.
“It isn’t safe here.” Hiromasa said suddenly. “Follow me, I will bring you to safety.”
“But…” the Mikado visibly paled.
“Come, we don’t have time to lose.” Hiromasa said quickly. He could probably lead them to his house, if they could move fast enough.
“No, bring them here.” Seimei’s voice was noticeably fainter. “I’m closer and my wards are stronger than yours.”
“Wards?” Hiromasa asked. “You put wards up around my house?”
Seimei didn’t answer. Hiromasa rounded up the others. “What is your name?” he asked the solders.
“I’m Teridata, he’s Riku, and that’s Titus.” One of the solders said quickly.
A roar from outside caught their attention. Hiromasa did not turn around. He waited until all three solders met his eyes. “This is not the day when you will lose your life. Protect the Mikado, Lady Laekin, and the Crown Prince. Move quickly, and stop for nothing. I will tend to the demons.”
The solders straightened up slightly, and Hiromasa smiled. “Teridata, do you know the way to Abe no Seimei’s house?”
“Good. That’s where we are going. Once we get near, the doors will open. Don’t stop, just run through. Once you cross the threshold, you will be safe.” Teridata and the others nodded.
The roaring got closer. Hiromasa turned to Lady Laekin.
“Hiromasa,” the lady said softly holding up her son. “Here, take my child, keep him safe. I will only hold you back.”
“No, you and he will be fine. Just stay with the Mikado.” He smiled at her reassuringly. He looked around the room for a second. “Okay, it is time.” He unshouldered his bow and walked through the door.
The entire courtyard was filled with demons. Hiromasa heard the whimpers of the people behind him. Without stopping, Hiromasa cocked his arrows and started cutting a path down the middle.
Arrow after arrow found its mark. Hiromasa was pleased that the number of arrows in his quiver never seemed to lessen. He didn’t think too long on it as he quickly led the others through the opening he created.
Hiromasa turned and shot at a demon that advanced too close to Riku before shouldering his bow and pulling out his sword. With the fury of the gods themselves, he forced the demons back. They tried to surround them, but Hiromasa’s sword was everywhere. Very quickly they were through the courtyard and only a few hundred paces away from Seimei’s gate.
There was a terrific growl and all the other demons backed away from them.
“Don’t stop,” Hiromasa said wiping his face quickly. “Make for the gate and don’t turn around!”
The others rushed for the gate.
“Down!” Seimei’s voice whispered in his head.
Hiromasa dropped instantly as a stout metal pole whistled past his head. He rolled over and faced a grotesquely huge blackish-brown demon. Boils and open sores covered the bits of skin visible. The other skin was mercifully covered with rusty bits of armor that seemed to have been pounded out to fit it. Its four arms ended in gore covered hands. Two of the hands held the pole that pounded the spot where Hiromasa had been lying seconds before.
Hiromasa rolled away quickly and stood up. The creature towered over him. The string of human heads that encircled its neck looked like little macabre pearls. The smell was sickening.
“Dorak uses the skulls of the children he’s violated to maintain his strength.” Seimei’s voice was hard to hear. “Back away and use your bow to pierce the heads around its neck. Once its armor is pierced, it will run away.”
Hiromasa sensed the weight of exhaustion in Seimei’s voice. Biting his lip he struggled to aim, but the monster was too quick. Dodging one blow brought him vulnerable to another. Hiromasa was knocked to the ground.
“NO!” Seimei’s voice screamed.
Hiromasa rolled over just in time to see the transparent form of his friend standing over him. With a wave of his hand, Seimei deflected the killing blow. Seimei’s face twisted in pain and crumbled to his knees. “The others are in. Run!” Seimei thought to Hiromasa.
Hiromasa ran. The gate swung shut tight behind him.
The Mikado, Lady Laekin, the prince, and the three solders looked relieved when he crossed the threshold.
“My son has asked that I make you comfortable.”
Hiromasa stood up and caught sight of the woman who had taken Seimei from his house. Her son? So she was Seimei’s mother. Hiromasa turned away as the others greeted her. How could he face her?
Hiromasa felt a hand on his arm. He glanced up. “Seimei would like you to attend him.” The woman said softly. Hiromasa saw that the others were seated and enjoying a meal. Mitsu fluttered merrily about, filling up cups and bowls.
The woman lead Hiromasa away to a screen.
Hiromasa slid open the screen and stepped in. A few candles lit the dim room. In the center of the room, Seimei lay under a pile of blankets. Hiromasa knelt down next to him and touched his deathly white face. Seimei’s cold skin burned his fingers, awakening the hunger that had plagued him the last few days. Hiromasa’s breathing became labored and his body started shaking. He despised himself for the need that started eating away at his control.
Seimei’s eyes slowly opened. They stayed unfocused as Hiromasa traced Seimei’s jaw line with a shaking finger. “Seimei,” Hiromasa said hoarsely.
Seimei’s eyes slowly focused on Hiromasa. “Kiss me.” He said softly. The weight of Hiromasa’s demon strengthened impulses broke through the weak barrier that separated him and Hiromasa.
Hiromasa tore the blankets off Seimei and crushed the limp body against his. His lips quickly found Seimei’s. Seimei opened his mouth quickly allowing Hiromasa’s tongue to taste him. Hiromasa moaned as he felt Seimei’s tongue caress his. Seimei turned his head slightly and Hiromasa broke the kiss, panting. His hand pulled at the white robe as his mouth worshipped Seimei’s bruised neck.
Seimei’s head rolled to the side, his breath coming in rough gasps. Hiromasa’s lips found the delicate shell of Seimei’s ear. “My beloved.” He whispered as he kissed it and gently worried the perfect lobe. Seimei turned his head and found Hiromasa’s lips once more. Melting into the sweetness that was his beloved, Hiromasa lowered Seimei down. He lifted his head and drank in Seimei’s beauty.
Seimei’s pale face was lightly flushed, his dark hair a stark contrast in it’s wild disarray. His kiss-swollen lips were red and shiny. His dark eyes were large. He tilted his head back very slightly and Hiromasa dived in, kissing and nibbling on his neck. Hiromasa’s hands opened the white robe to bare the creamy skin of Seimei’s shoulders. Whispering words of love, Hiromasa kissed the white skin as Seimei wreathed underneath him. “My beloved, my love.” Hiromasa kissed the healing bite mark from before. “My dear beloved.” The temptation to bite was too strong. He wanted to claim the onmyoji as his. Mark him.
Seimei forced the demon back, further weakening himself. Hiromasa folded Seimei in his arms as the smaller man started shaking. “My love.”
Seimei rested his head against Hiromasa’s shoulder and closed his eyes. “The demon within you grows strong. Linked as we are, I can’t fight it and myself. You were right. I want this.” Seimei started kissing Hiromasa’s neck. “I want you.” He whispered into Hiromasa’s ear. He carefully placed kisses on Hiromasa’s eyelids, forcing Hiromasa to close his eyes. “I want to taste you,” Seimei gently kissed Hiromasa, his tongue sensually exploring his mouth. “I want to feel you,” Seimei said breaking the kiss. Hiromasa arched as Seimei’s trembling hands found their way into his robes and lovingly traced him. “I want to see you.”
Hiromasa opened his eyes to see Seimei looking down at him. “I need to know that this is what you want. That this isn’t the work of the demon inside of you.” Seimei pulled his hands slowly out of Hiromasa’s robe. Hiromasa caught the delicate hands and rolled on top of Seimei. Seimei’s eyes closed as he hid his face in his hair.
Hiromasa’s body throbbed at the heat radiating from Seimei. Hiromasa buried his face in Seimei’s neck as he pressed his body against that heat. Seimei gasped and arched against the contact. Hiromasa continued rubbing against Seimei’s body, mindlessly growling.
It was too much. Seimei knew that soon, the demon would break through his paper-thin barrier inside of Hiromasa. Once that happened, Hiromasa would kill him. Lust, violence, need would overpower the younger man and Seimei wouldn’t be able to protect himself. Seimei centered himself as he poured the last of his strength into Hiromasa, doing what he could to preserve the little spark of humanity left in his friend. Once he did that, he was too weak to stop his tears. When he was gone, he prayed, the spark of Hiromasa he had saved would be strong enough to pull his friend back.
Hiromasa could taste the exact second Seimei’s strength faltered. Seimei’s body went limp even as sobs racked his weak frame. Hiromasa was too far-gone to stop, and something deep inside of him didn’t want to. Releasing Seimei’s hands, he tore Seimei’s robe the rest of the way open, leaving the body under him completely exposed to his starving eyes. Noting absently that Seimei hadn’t moved his hands from where he had placed them, Hiromasa sat up and tore open his own robes and quickly discarded the last barriers that separated them.
Lying back down, Hiromasa intertwined his hands in Seimei’s thick hair and ravaged his mouth mercilessly even as he rubbed his sweat-covered body against Seimei’s. The friction between them was hotter then anything he had ever felt before. It consumed him, leaving him wanting more- wanting completion. As his savagely kissed Seimei, the taste of blood drove him on even as it horrified him. Hiromasa bit down on his neck searching for more of that nectar.
Seimei made a very soft noise that called Hiromasa back to himself. Hiromasa froze and actually looked at Seimei’s bloody, tearstained face. Dark eyes were half-open, watching him. Hiromasa felt sick with shame, the fire burning out of him. He quickly sat up and pulled Seimei to him. “My beloved. What have I become?”
Seimei’s hand found Hiromasa’s. He intertwined their fingers. “Take what you need from me, Hiro. I give it willingly,” his voice was soft.
Hiromasa cradled Seimei in his arms. “No,” Hiromasa said softly. “I won’t be able to stop... I’ll… hurt you more. I can’t…” They sat in silence for a few minutes. “Seimei, love. What are you protecting me from?”
Seimei traced Hiromasa chest with his free hand. “I was not able to pull all of the demon out of you that night. A small trace of it remained, feeding on your self doubt and fear.” Seimei’s hand pressed against Hiromasa’s chest. Hiromasa could feel soothing warmth radiating from that hand. “As long as you continue to blame yourself for the demon’s actions, it will continue to grow stronger.” Seimei’s hand slipped down.
Hiromasa took hold of Seimei’s hand and brought it to his lips. “You’ve been using your power to keep it from consuming me.” He stated.
Seimei closed his hand and nodded.
“While you’ve been protecting me, you haven’t allowed yourself to heal. That’s why you are so weak.”
Again Seimei nodded. “…Won’t lose you again.”
Hiromasa kissed Seimei’s temple. “Stop. Don’t protect me any more.”
Seimei didn’t move.
“I need to defeat this demon myself.” Hiromasa said. “I can’t while you protect me.”
Seimei still didn’t respond.
“And the longer the demon stays within me, the longer I must wait for this.” He brought Seimei’s face up and kissed him gently. “You said you want me. You said you need to know that I want you. I do. I want you more than anything, but I must prove it to you and to myself. I need to be worthy of you.”
“You are worthy.”
“No, not yet.” Hiromasa kissed Seimei again. “Please Seimei.”
Seimei searched Hiromasa’s eyes for a long minute before closing. Seimei nodded.
It started slowly. The heat from the room cooled. Self doubt and fear started nipping at Hiromasa’s heart. Seimei opened his eyes and looked at Hiromasa.
“I need to do this,” Hiromasa assured him.
Seimei head fell forward. Hiromasa held him tightly. “…Need to sleep.” Seimei whispered.
Hiromasa gently eased him down and pulled the blankets over him. Seimei’s eyes opened. “…Don’t leave.”
Hiromasa climbed under the blankets with Seimei and wrapped his arms around him. Seimei’s smaller body shook with cold even as his skin burned Hiromasa. Hiromasa buried his face in Seimei’s hair and slept.
Hiromasa opened his eyes and saw Seimei looking down at him. For a second, there was concern in those eyes, but it quickly disappeared, replaced by mirth. “Hello,” Seimei said brightly.
Hiromasa’s arms tightened around the powerful onmyoji briefly. Hiromasa nuzzled his face into Seimei’s bare chest, certain he was dreaming. He kissed the smooth skin a few times, reveling in the warmth and softness. Hiromasa’s tongue lapped at the salty taste of the skin. Smiling, he closed his eyes and snuggled closer.
“Hiro, we have to get up.” Seimei’s voice was playful.
Hiromasa’s eyes flew open. He bolted up and released Seimei abruptly. Seimei laughed as Hiromasa ogled his naked body. Hiromasa’s face turned a brilliant shade of red when he noticed that he too was naked.
“Come,” Seimei stood up, waving his hand. Set of white underclothes flew from a chest, quickly followed by a red silk under robe. Quickly dressing him, the red robe was soon covered by a white over robe as a brush and comb quickly worked on Seimei’s hair as a formal black headdress flew from another closet. Seimei stood still as he read a scroll that floated in front of him. A few seconds later, Seimei glanced up at Hiromasa, looking impeccable as always. “I don’t think you can converse with our guests like that, Hiro.” He grinned.
Hiromasa couldn’t think. Seimei’s face was completely flawless. The bruise was gone. His skin was slightly shimmery, as though the sun itself was inside of him. He carried himself in the familiar light way that spoke of his power and his playfulness. Hiromasa was sure he had never seen Abe No Seimei look so beautiful.
Seimei wandered over and offered his hand to Hiromasa. Hiromasa took it and stood. He flushed as Seimei’s appreciative eyes drifted over him. Seimei motioned with his free hand. A set of white underclothes dressed Hiromasa as Seimei let go of his hand and regarded a dark blue and a royal purple under robe. Seimei motioned and the purple under robe surrounded Hiromasa and the blue on folded itself up and flew back to another chest of drawers. Seimei’s comb expertly arranged Hiromasa’s shorter hair under his court headdress as a black over tunic flew over his head.
“Purple suits you,” Seimei said smiling as he motioned for Hiromasa to follow him.
“Do you always dress like that?” Hiromasa finally asked, his cheeks still red.
Seimei laughed again. “My hair wouldn’t be this length if I was the one who had to arrange it.”
Hiromasa smiled. “Most powerful onmyoji in the kingdom, and what does he use his powers for? To arrange his hair.”
“You would be amazed at what I can do with my ‘powers’,” his said with one of his half smiles.
Hiromasa blushed again.
Seimei motioned and a screen opened in front of them. Following his friend, Hiromasa looked as the Mikado quickly put down his sake bowl and sat up. Seimei’s mother refilled his bowl as she looked at her son. She smiled and tilted her head when Seimei’s eyes met hers. Hiromasa was glad to see that the three solders were seated comfortably a little apart form the Mikado, but still enjoying sake, poured by Mitsu.
“Seimei! Hiromasa!” the Mikado looked slightly guilty, as Seimei nodded to him respectfully. “What have you been doing? You have been gone so long!”
“We have had many things to look into,” Seimei said lightly with a raised eyebrow. His mother handed him a cup of tea that seemed to have appeared out of no where. The Mikado didn’t seem to notice. “The demon unrest has occurred as a result of the unbalance of power here at the capital.”
Hiromasa took the cup of hot tea that Seimei’s mother held out to him.
“Unbalance? What unbalance?” the Mikado asked.
“Humans have been making pacts with the demons again,” Seimei said sipping his tea. “Lord Minamoto was attacked as a result of pact. His attacker injected a poison in him that was supposed to kill him.”
The Mikado looked shocked. “Hiromasa, you were poisoned? Who would dare poison my advisor?”
Hiromasa wasn’t sure where Seimei was going, so he remained quiet.
“I believe the question is, who would poison a Guardian.” Seimei’s voice was quiet.
The Mikado flushed slightly at the correction.
“Without Lord Minamoto, your city would be unguarded and the demons would be free to do as they will. One wonders who would profit by that.”
“But you are a Guardian as well!” the Mikado interrupted.
Seimei gave one of his mysterious smiles. “I am. But the city I guard is older and less bound by the temporal concerns of the humans who live there now.”
The Mikado blanched. Hiromasa was a little shaken by Seimei’s words, but he caught Seimei’s mother’s smile before she hid it behind her sleeve. Hiromasa was struck by the thought that perhaps the fox he had seen at his house was real after all.
“But you are a member of my court!” the Mikado insisted.
“As I was in your father’s and his father’s and countless others before that. And I probably will be in your son’s, and his son’s.” Seimei said in a bored voice.
Hiromasa felt his jaw drop.
“But you’re so… young!” The Mikado said shaking his head.
“Am I?” Seimei said lightly. “Surely you’ve heard the stories.”
Hiromasa couldn’t stop himself from turning and studying his friend’s unlined face. He had thought that Seimei was a little older then he was, but not by much. 3 years the most. Maybe four. But even as he thought that he realized that if he had met Seimei today, he would have thought the powerful onmyoji was younger than he was. Whatever happened after they had fallen asleep seemed to have melted years away from his friend.
“Stories?” the Mikado was still shaking his head. “Of course I’ve heard the stories! But you aren’t that Abe no Seimei. You couldn’t be.” He paused for a second. “Could you?”
“I think we are getting a little away from why you are here.” Seimei said suddenly. He quickly looked over at Hiromasa and smiled, reassuring the taller man. “The Guardian was poisoned. A poison, that even now is a threat to him. Your city is in flames, and the government has collapsed. Who would gain from such anarchy?”
“The demons, of course!” one of the solders said suddenly.
Seimei glanced over at him. “Perhaps, but aside from a bit of fun, rampages like this disrupt the demon world as badly as it disrupts the human world. Most of the stronger demons are cautioned against causing something like this.”
“By who?” the solder asked. He flushed suddenly as he remembered himself. “I mean, who would caution a demon, my Lord?”
“I would.” Seimei smiled. “Also, other more powerful demons would. Demons live a very, very long time. Living in harmony with those around them is surprisingly important to most of the older, more powerful demons.”
“But don’t all demons want to destroy and kill?” the Mikado asked.
“Don’t all humans?” Seimei countered. “But to the point. It was a human or a group of humans who sought out a demon and made a pact with him.”
“You know this?” Mikado asked.
“Yes,” Seimei said his eyes hardening. “That which threatens the life of the Guardian, could have only been brought to play by such a pact.”
“Seimei!” Hiromasa suddenly thought of something. “Remember the snake in the melon? Could you…”
Seimei smiled gently at Hiromasa. “I tried, but whomever initiated the pact is dead.”
“Double crossed by the demon,” the solder said.
“Doubtful,” Seimei said looking at him. “The demon would have lost a significant amount of power if he killed the human he pacted with. And that, Teridata, would be very undesirable for any demon during this time of unrest.”
“So where does this leave us?” Hiromasa asked.
“When you left your treasure rooms, they were most certainly ransacked. The choice treasures would have been offered up to those responsible for making this redistribution of wealth possible. What is your most valuable treasure?” Seimei asked the Mikado.
The Mikado seemed a little lost. “I have so many treasures…”
“There is the Mirror of Sanna that has recently come to the capital,” Hiromasa answered quickly. He turned to the solders who looked puzzled. “With just one glance, the mirror will show you your most ardent desire, as it is stealing your soul. Amasu Takanoi burned out his own eyes fifteen hundred years ago so he could guard it.”
The solders and the Mikado looked as Hiromasa surprised. “Are you certain it is the correct mirror?” Seimei asked.
Hiromasa shrugged. “The monastery that sent it has a ritual blinding ceremony that every novice undergoes before he is accepted.”
“Wait a minute.” One of the other solders broke in. “I was at the front gate when a group of blind monks came through. Was that what was in the box they were carrying?”
“Did they speak to anyone?” Seimei asked.
“Not that I remembered.” The solder answered.
“Then it was the Mirror of Sanna.” Seimei said thinking.
“They also have a ceremony where they cut out their tongues to enforce their vow of silence,” Hiromasa said answering the questioning looks.
“Why do I have that in my treasure hold?” the Mikado asked.
“The monastery had been under heavy attacks as of late.” Hiromasa shrugged. “Human attacks,” he said for the benefit of the solders. “It a weapon like that, one general could easily defeat an entire army.”
The solders nodded.
“So,” Seimei suddenly looked up at Hiromasa.
Hiromasa felt a flutter in his stomach that usually came before one of Seimei’s insane pronouncements. “So.”
“Stay here,” Seimei said turning to the others. “Please enjoy my hospitality. The Guardian and I have work to do.”
“But…” The Mikado looked around.
Seimei looked at him questioningly.
“If you leave, won’t the demons come here?” he asked fearfully.
Seimei shot a glance at Hiromasa. Hiromasa forced a smile. “No, you are safe here, my Lord. Just do not try to leave, not matter what you hear.”
The Mikado nodded. Seimei and Hiromasa stood up and quickly walked out of the room. “Just a thought,” Seimei said as the screen slid closed. “But that solder, Teridata, seems a bit smarter than the average.”
Hiromasa nodded. “I know. I will see to it that he does well. When we get this taken care of.”
Seimei stopped Hiromasa with a hand on his wrist. “How are you?”
“I am okay.” Hiromasa said shrugging. “It doesn’t press against me when you are with me.” Seimei continued to look at Hiromasa until the taller man met his eyes. “I’ve always taken comfort in your presence, ‘Mei.” He smiled.
“’Mei’?” Seimei asked.
“’Hiro’?” Hiromasa teased. “So what are we doing?” He asked following Seimei through the house. It seemed a lot bigger for some reason.
“We are going to the back garden. The Mirror of Sanna is not easily shielded. I should be able to find it fairly quickly on a spiritual level. Once we find it, we will go and find out who has it. They should be able to give us some answers.”
“It can’t possibly be that easy.” Hiromasa said shaking his head.
“I didn’t say it was going to easy. Chances are that who ever has the mirror knows that it will be one of the first things I come looking for.”
“Then it’s a trap.”
“And you’re just going to walk right into it.”
“And I’m the foolhardy one?”
Seimei stepped out into a garden that couldn’t have possibly been attached to the house. For one thing the cherry trees were blooming, even though it was October. It stretched on as far as the eye could see, and there was a large river running through the middle of it. “Yes, you’re the fool hardly one.” Seimei said smiling.
“Mei, where are we?”
“I told you, the back garden.” Seimei motioned and screens lifted, opening up a large section of porch. He walked over to a sunny spot and motioned for Hiromasa to sit down. “Do you not like it?”
“Who are you?” Hiromasa blurted.
Seimei just smiled as he sat down in the middle of a large space. He closed his eyes and his hands started moving in a series of complicated gestures. Black outlines of Seimei’s device bled onto the pale gold wood of the floor. Once it had surrounded him it lifted around the onmyoji, sealing him off.
Hiromasa watched Seimei’s peaceful face. Seimei cared for him. Actually cared for him. Was willing to die for him. Almost died for him. Seimei had said so many times that he wouldn’t allow Hiromasa to be hurt, but Hiromasa didn’t realize that Seimei really meant it.
Hiromasa shook his head. How could Abe no Seimei care that much for him? And how old was he, anyways? There was no way he could be human. Not if what he said to the Mikado was the truth. So what was he? A demon? He couldn’t possibly be a demon. Demons couldn’t be Onmyojis, could they? Then was he some kind of nature spirit? His mother was supposed to be a kitsune. Looking at her, Hiromasa could easily believe it. She had a timeless face. And was very lovely. If he had met her at court, Hiromasa was certain he would be pursuing her with all the other court members.
Hiromasa frowned. She wasn’t beautiful, he decided. There was something about her that seemed a little off. As though she was an imperfect copy of perfection. Hiromasa studied Seimei’s face and his heart just about stopped. An imperfect copy of perfection. Seimei. She wasn’t beautiful because she wasn’t Seimei.
Hiromasa tore his eyes away from his friend. What was he thinking?! Of course Seimei was beautiful and perfect and completely… Hiromasa didn’t know what word he was searching for. He brought his hands up and touched his lips, remembering the heat of Seimei’s skin, and the taste of it and of his kisses. In his ears echoed the sounds of Seimei’s breathy sighs and moans. Hiromasa closed his eyes and remembered the vision of Seimei, flushed and wanting.
Hiromasa opened his eyes and looked at Seimei again. How could someone that perfect want him? Hiromasa felt doubts eat away at him again. Abe no Seimei was powerful, brilliant, probably divine, and for all intents and purposes immortal. Hiromasa would never satisfy him, in any way. Not intellectually, no spiritually, and definitely not physically. Seimei had to see this.
Abe no Seimei had to.
If he hadn’t yet, he would soon.
You are my friend. The memory of Seimei’s voice whispered in Hiromasa’s mind.
Hiromasa took a breath. This is what was making the demon strong. These thoughts. Hiromasa forced the thoughts out of his mind. Seimei cared about him. He knew it. He felt it. Seimei had made it perfectly clear. Seimei did not say things just to say them. He actually cared.
“Linked as we are, I can’t fight it and myself. You were right. I want this.”
Hiromasa felt his blood heating. The demon inside of him was using all of his thoughts and memories against him, but Hiromasa was determined not to let it win.
Hiromasa’s stomach clenched painfully. Hiromasa thought back to the melody that he had played for Seimei when the onmyoji danced. Remembering every trill and complicated piece of fingering and breathing, he grounded himself. After a time he opened his eyes, feeling calmer.
Seimei was looking at him; the barrier that separated them was gone.
“Did you find it?” Hiromasa forced his voice to be light.
Seimei nodded and stood. “It isn’t far. Are you up for a little foolishness?”
“Aren’t I always?” Hiromasa said easily. It struck him that his fears seemed so silly when he actually was with Seimei. “So, Mei.” Hiromasa asked nonchalantly. “How old are you?”
Seimei quickly spun around to face Hiromasa. “Definitely too old to be doing this,” he said kissing the taller man ardently.
Hiromasa had to hold on to Seimei’s arms as Seimei’s wicked tongue seduced him all over again.
Seimei broke the kiss too quickly and grinned impudently at Hiromasa.
“You do that entirely too well,” Hiromasa said shakily.
“I’m glad I have some talents you appreciate.” Seimei said archly. “Come on, I would like to get this done quickly so our visitors can return to their own homes.”
“Why, do you have plans this evening?” Hiromasa teased.
Seimei just laughed.
Seimei led them through the house. Again it struck Hiromasa that the house seemed confusingly large. He shrugged it off as Seimei hesitated in front of a screen. Seimei glanced at Hiromasa from the corner of his eye, his hand lifted to motion the door open.
“The Mirror of Sanna is being held by a demon who goes by the name of Gantz. He and I have met before.”
Seimei shrugged. “He’s old and not too intelligent. Like Dorak, he keeps a trophy from his kills, usually the little finger off his prey’s right hand. The trophy allows him to bind the human’s soul to him- a source of power that replenishes itself.”
“He binds the soul to him?” Hiromasa was horrified. “For how long?”
Seimei shook his head. “Forever. Or at least until he loses the trophy.”
“Why hasn’t anyone ever…” Hiromasa stopped himself, aware of how accusing his questions was.
“Gantz has never been strong enough to do any real damage before. But stupid as he is, he’s never played anyone’s pawn before.”
“That’s what you think he’s doing?”
“Undoubtedly. He isn’t smart enough to cause all of this.” Seimei suddenly smiled at Hiromasa. “Well, are you ready?”
Hiromasa nodded. He followed Seimei out the door into a pine forest. Hiromasa looked around. There was no way any of the doors on Seimei’s house could open up to this forest. Before he could say anything, however, Seimei was already setting a brisk pace in to the trees.
Hiromasa followed him quickly for several minutes as the trees flew by. As the sun started to set Seimei slowed. He held up his hand and Hiromasa stopped.
Hiromasa peeked past the boulders and trees to a clearing. There was a large bonfire in the center. A dozen large demons hung around picking the meat off some bones. Hiromasa shuddered, hoping that the demons were eating a cow or something non-human. His eyes went to the largest demon who sat apart from the others.
Unlike the others, he had a vaguely foolish expression on his face. Drool and bits of meat and blood hung from his face. Hiromasa’s bad feeling grew as the demon stood up. He was easily twice as large as Hiromasa was. And at least three times as muscular. He wore a dark leather vest and two thick leather straps around his forearms. His arms ended in evil looking claws that dripped with gore.
“Don’t worry, Hiro,” Seimei whispered. “He’s a lot less impressive close up.” Seimei tugged Hiromasa’s sleeve lightly. Hiromasa looked down. Seimei reached up and quickly kissed both of his eyes closed and them covered them with his hands as he whispered some words. “I’m altering your vision so that you will be protected from the mirror. You’ll be able to look at and not get ensnared.” Seimei breathed into Hiromasa’s ear.
Hiromasa nodded and Seimei faced him forward and took away his hand. Around the demons was a greenish glow. In the glow sad human faces looked on at the demons. “Mei, who are…” Hiromasa’s question got cut off as he turned and got his first sight of Seimei.
Seimei glowed. Radiated. He was magnificent.
Seimei noticed Hiromasa’s inactivity and glanced over. Looking startled, Seimei whispered some words and his radiance dimmed, then finally faded out. Hiromasa was struck once again by how much he felt for Seimei. The feeling made his throat tighten and stole his breath.
“Mei…” Hiromasa reached out to touch his face, but Seimei shook his head.
“Come, Hiro.” He stepped into the clearing.
Hiromasa paused for a second before following him.
Seimei was a god.
Why did it take Hiromasa so long to figure out?
Abe no Seimei was a god. That’s why he never doubted his ability to dance open the gates to the afterworld.
He was a god.
Hiromasa blinked when he noticed that the demons were circling them.
“Abe no Seimei,” the Gantz hissed. “I’ve been expecting you.”
“I imagined you would be, Gantz.” Seimei said in a bored court voice. “Our visits are usually so… amusing.”
“Who is this that you brought with you, Seimei?” the demon demanded, spewing saliva and gods knew what else. “An exchange? Or perhaps a snack?”
“I have the honor of presenting the Guardian of the Light.” Seimei said bowing slightly.
The demon’s eyes nervously flickered to Hiromasa.
“Yes, he is still alive, despite what was done to him.” Seimei sauntered over to an altar that was covered with a white cloth.
Gantz yelled and the other demons grabbed their weapons and attacked Hiromasa. Hiromasa automatically reached back and found his bow and quiver. He didn’t even pause. I should just be used to this by now, he thought wryly. He easily cut through the ranks of demons that surrounded him. When he was sure that Seimei was okay, he shouldered his bow and took out his sword. He easily evaded their weapons as he cut through their limbs. He quickly incapacitated the demons who were foolish enough to have attacked him.
“So, Gantz, who tried to kill the Guardian?” Seimei asked.
Gantz’s eyes left Hiromasa to find Seimei leaning against the back of his chair. With a growl, Gantz leapt out of his chair and turned to swipe at the Onmyoji. His claws only found emptiness. As he landed on the ground he heard Seimei behind him. He turned suddenly, to find Seimei standing next to him. “You are limited, Gantz. Whoever organized this is using you to slow me down. They knew I would wreck a path of destruction in my search to find the Guardian’s assassin.”
Gantz gave a loud roar and demons started pouring into the clearing. Seimei sighed. “Do you really think this will help?” he asked.
“I am not limited!” Gantz shouted. “I have the Mirror of Sanna. I will trap you and the Guardian of Light and…”
Seimei shrugged. “Are you sure you still have the mirror?”
“Get them!” Gantz screamed. He thundered over to the altar and tore through the white material. He roared loudly and ran toward Seimei.
Demons shrieked as Gantz ripped through them to get to onmyoji. A cry broke through Hiromasa’s lips as Gantz reached out and grabbed onto Seimei’s robe. With a yank, he pulled Seimei to him and held him off the ground in his long claws. Hiromasa’s arrows stayed true as one after another they went through Gantz.
Gantz ignored Hiromasa’s arrows and shook Seimei violently. “The mirror is mine! It belongs to me! Give it back!” He demanded.
“Do you want to die that badly, Gantz? I’ve been to the underworld, it’s not that nice.” Seimei said conversationally.
“I will squeeze the life out of you!” Gantz growled as he brought his hands together and squeezed. The demon’s knuckles went white from the effort. Hiromasa felt sick when he heard the sickening sound of the giant fingers cracking.
Seimei shut his eyes and mouthed some words. Gantz’s eyes grew large as his hands started smoking. The demons stopped fighting and watched as their leader’s hands burst into white flames. A horrible scream tore from Gantz’s lips. The demons around them scattered, leaving Hiromasa alone with Seimei and Gantz..
“Mercy!” Gantz cried as he shook his hand. The flesh of his arm melted in the flames. His chest sizzled. “Seimei, mercy!”
Seimei was lowered to the ground gently. “Tell me the name of the assassin.” Seimei said softly.
“I cccccan… I can’t!” Gantz writhed in pain as one of his feet started smoking. The green specters looked horrible in their vague interest.
“Do you have some sort of compulsion placed on you, Gantz? Something that makes you physically unable to tell me?” Gantz just sobbed in agony. “I don’t think so. I think whoever it was wanted you to be able to tell me. Why don’t you save me some time and just tell me?” Seimei’s voice was soothingly persuasive.
“No! I can’t! He’ll kill me!” Gantz’s shrieks were painful to hear. “He’s crazy! Completely mad! He’ll do things that you can’t even imagine!”
“Oh, well.” Seimei shrugged. He held up his hand and a large leather bag came to rest two inches above his palm. Gantz’s gasped. “Then I guess you won’t need these anymore.” With a small motion, the bag opened and turned upside down. Small, shriveled fingers came poring out. The green shades melted into the ground and rematerialized around Seimei. Seimei looked perfectly calm, his eyes never left Gantz as the shades ran through him to retrieve their fingers. One by one they became more solid and burned hotter as each found his or her missing finger. “Come, Hiromasa, let’s go.”
Hiromasa’s eyes looked on disbelieving as Seimei made his way to him.
“Seimei!” Gantz cried piteously as the green shades slowly started approaching him.
Seimei turned back around, “Yes?”
Gantz screamed as the first shade attached itself to what was left of his arm. The white flames flickered and took on a more unearthly green glow as they shade pressed against him. “Please, help me!”
“That’s the fire of the human souls you have devoured during your lifetime, Gantz.” Seimei said with a cold smile. “Even dead you will feel it’s burning. I’m sure whoever you’re protecting will say a prayer for you.”
Gantz fell to his knees and wept. The green spirits pressed against him tightly. “It’s Cyerian. Cyerian gave me the mirror.”
“You shouldn’t have participated in this business.” Seimei said after a long pause. He turned around and walked out of the clearing.
Seimei continued to walk. Hiromasa spared Gantz one last look. Even though Gantz had tried to kill him, he still felt pity for him.
Hiromasa found Seimei walking quickly through the trees. “Mei?” he asked quietly.
Seimei continued walking quickly, his face hidden in shadows. Hiromasa followed quietly.
After several minutes, Seimei came to a stop. “How are you feeling?” Seimei’s eyes didn’t meet his.
“Mei?” Hiromasa needed to touch Seimei, to assure himself that the creature in front of him, the creature who was so beautiful and who did such horrible things was still the Seimei he knew. The man he loved. His Seimei. But Seimei seemed so remote, so cold. “I am fine,” he forced himself to say. But please, Mei, look at me. Touch me. Please.
“If you follow this path,” a small path through the forest suddenly appeared. “You will arrive at my house. Stay there until…”
“I am not leaving you.”
“Hiromasa, your emperor needs…”
“…Me to stay here with you.” Hiromasa insisted. “To fight alongside of you. Mei, this isn’t up for discussion.”
“Return to the house.” Seimei commanded.
“Which way to Cyerian?” Hiromasa’s voice was determined.
Seimei shook his head and his lips started to move. Hiromasa shook his head. “Not again, Mei. I will come with you.”
Seimei’s lips stopped. “Hiromasa.” Seimei still wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Cyerian is very powerful and very dangerous. I don’t want you…”
“Mei, I’m not leaving you.” Hiromasa said gathering his courage and reaching out to Seimei.
Seimei stepped away from him.
“I won’t fail you.” Hiromasa forced his voice to be steady; trying not to feel rejected. The demon inside of him that had been eased suddenly started awakening.
“You don’t understand,” Seimei said suddenly. “Cyerian is…”
“Is what?” Hiromasa asked when Seimei’s words faltered. “What could he possibly be?”
Seimei looked up and past Hiromasa quickly. He roughly pushed the taller man down, covering him with his own body.
“Isn’t this a touching sight,” a cold voice rang out through the trees.
Seimei and Hiromasa leapt up. Hiromasa took out his sword and scanned the trees.
“Xi, I should have expected you. Where is your master?” Seimei said coldly.
“You will meet with him soon, Abe no Seimei.” The voice promised.
“Hiromasa, Xi was the general who lead the Mikado’s army during the third demon uprising,” Seimei whispered into Hiromasa’s mind. “Stand back and use your arrows. I’ll distract him.”
I can’t even see him! Hiromasa panicked.
“Then keep your eyes on me,” Seimei’s calm voice eased Hiromasa’s fear.
Hiromasa watched Seimei leap off the ground in a flurry of white linen and red silk. Hiromasa unshouldered his bow and cocked an arrow, training it on his friend. As the moon moved past the clouds, a tall human shape came into focus. Hiromasa let loose his arrow and quickly shot another. Hiromasa heard a hiss as Seimei jumped away. He stepped forward, but Seimei’s voice stopped him. “No, don’t come any closer!” Seimei’s voice was rushed. The light faded as the moon when behind some more clouds.
Seimei jumped up suddenly and darted around the trees quickly. “So, Xi, how long are we going to play like this?”
A chuckle echoed throughout the forest. “I haven’t had this much entertainment for a long, long time, Abe no Seimei.” Hiromasa heard the whistle of blade work as he trained his eye on Seimei. Again the moon moved away from the clouds and the human shape came into focus for a few seconds. Hiromasa let loose his arrows quickly.
Seimei fell from the sky like a stone. Hiromasa’s heart was caught in his throat as he watched a blade materialize inches away from Seimei’s neck. Quickly, Seimei rolled out of harm’s way as the rest of the demon materialized in the moonlight.
Hiromasa gasped. Xi was the famous and revered General Otani. He was reputed to have died gloriously on the battlefield, but there he was- standing a dozen feet away from Hiromasa. Xi turned and looked at Hiromasa. “You must be the Guardian of Light.” He brought his sword around and walked cautiously to Hiromasa.
Hiromasa shouldered his bow and drew his sword. Xi and Hiromasa circled each other. “Yes, I am.” Hiromasa answered him.
“I didn’t expect you to be so young.” Xi offered. With a silver flash, swords crossed and they switched sides.
“I hadn’t expected having the honor of meeting you in person,” Hiromasa said politely.
Xi grimaced. He charged again, but Hiromasa’s deflected his sword. Faster then he anticipated, Hiromasa’s sword returned, slicing into his shoulder. Xi stepped back quickly. “I see you’ve inherited the birthright of the Guardians.”
Hiromasa shot him a questioning look, and Xi used it to launch another complicated series of attacks. “Didn’t the monks” slash “tell you of your birthright as the Guardian?” roll.
“No,” Hiromasa admitted, leaping back. His chest heaved. Xi’s attacks were strong and fast. He worried that he would tire before long. “But not very many monks actually talk to me these days.”
“They must still fear the Guardian of Dark’s temper.” Xi laughed as Hiromasa launched an attack. For several long moments they tore through the trees, cut down branches, and sliced at each other. All other concerns were forgotten as they fought each other.
As their feet touched the ground, Hiromasa panted heavily, but was satisfied to see Xi’s cheek was marred and was oozing black slime. Xi’s arm was also covered with the slime. “You are the true Guardian of Light,” Xi admitted.
“Did you doubt it?” Hiromasa asked before he could stop himself.
“Of course, destiny called for you for centuries,” Xi said circling him. “It was said that Abe no Seimei would tolerate no Guardian, that he secretly killed all potentials before they could come into their powers.”
Hiromasa’s eye grew large. Xi took that as a signal and attacked. Hiromasa jumped out of the way at the last second before Xi’s sword could pierce him. Hiromasa forced himself to concentrate on his motions to fend off Xi’s words. With a flick of his sword, Xi nicked Hiromasa’s hand. Hiromasa jumped forward instead of back and attacked Xi viciously. Without thinking, Hiromasa pressed his advantage as he forced Xi backward through the clearing.
Xi stumbled over a tree root, and Hiromasa swiftly cut at his sword. Xi’s long sword flew through the air. Xi made to jump to follow it when he felt the tip of Hiromasa’s sword at his throat. Xi looked up at Hiromasa. “I didn’t expect you to be this powerful.”
“I am the Guardian.” Hiromasa shrugged. “Do you yield?”
Xi looked surprised. He laughed suddenly. “Of course. The fight is yours.”
“No!” Seimei’s voice rang sharply in Hiromasa’s head as Hiromasa offered Xi his hand to help him stand up.
Xi took Hiromasa’s hand and allowed the Guardian to pull him up. Then with a deft flick of his wrist he brought out another knife and lunged. Hiromasa’s eyes left Xi’s face long enough to see the blur of white that knocked him to the ground. He quickly rolled over to see Seimei stumble to the ground. Seimei twisted abruptly, his face contorted in pain. Seimei’s hands were gripped the handle of the knife that was buried in the center of his chest. A red bloom of blood stained his white linen over robe.
Xi turned ashen.
“Abe-sama!” A young voice screamed through forest. Leaping down from the branches of a very tall tree, a boy ran to Seimei. “Abe-sama!”
The young boy wore the simple robes of an onmyoji apprentice. He knelt down next to Seimei and eased the older man down. Seimei’s eyes left Xi to look calmly at the boy. The boy looked around frantically. “You, give me your over robe!” he demanded of Hiromasa.
Without thinking, Hiromasa sheathed his sword and took off his over robe and handed it to the boy. The boy folded it into a ball and placed it carefully under Seimei’s head. “Stay still, Abe-sama,” the boy said gently taking Seimei’s hands off the knife. Seimei didn’t answer. The boy took the knife in his hands and pulled it out. He turned the blade and used it to cut open Seimei’s white over robe. With quick, nimble hands the boy opened the under robes. He absently ripped off his own sleeve and used it to stanch the blood.
“Sleep, Abe-sama.” The boy said soothingly.
Seimei shook his head.
The boy put his hands over Seimei’s eyes. “Sleep.”
Within a few seconds Seimei’s breathing evened out. The boy looked up. “I want a fire. You,” he said looking at Hiromasa. “Go get some firewood. Xi, get some water.”
Xi scrambled quickly to get the water. Hiromasa didn’t even pause before he turned and started searching for dry wood. As he made his way back to where Seimei slept, his mind played back what had happened. He was so stupid to think that Xi would yield a fight. That only happened at court. They were fighting for the death of the other. How could he have been so native!
“Why did you harm Abe-sama, Xi?” the boy asked softly.
Hiromasa automatically bent over and arranged the firewood as he listened.
“Abe-sama is a great man. You must be sad that you hurt him.” The boy’s voice was filled with understanding.
“He jumped in as I was finishing off the Guardian. I couldn’t have anticipated that he would have interfered.” Xi’s voice hitched.
Hiromasa went about starting the fire. “Warm this water, please” the boy asked as Hiromasa got the fire going. Hiromasa stood up and took the large bucket from Xi. Xi didn’t even look at him. “It must pain you that your skills have deteriorated so much that you hurt those who should be protected.” The boy continued.
Hiromasa found a large rock that he cleaned off with a little of the water. He put it in the fire and let it heat up. He looked up as Xi started crying softly.
“You probably don’t want to live anymore.” The boy decided, looking up from Seimei’s sleeping form. “Perhaps it’s time to end your life.” The boys dark eyes held no malice or hate or… anything. Their inhuman shine made Hiromasa shudder.
“I’m sorry,” Xi cried weakly even as he crawled to his sword. “Cyerian, I never meant to hurt him.”
Hiromasa was shocked, certain that he hadn’t heard correctly. That boy was Cyerian?
“There was a time when you were the best general in the imperial army, Xi. Now you are nothing but a sad, sad demon. The only thing left for you is death. Can’t you feel it? I can hear how your heart weeps for release from your shame. I can feel how you hate yourself. End it. Take your life and free yourself from your sad existence.”
Xi’s hands shook as his fingers gripped the handle of his sword. “Cyerian.” Large tears fell from his eyes.
At Cyerian’s implacable eyes Xi lifted the sword. “Xi?” Xi’s hands stopped. “Please, go dispose of yourself elsewhere. Abe-sama would be distressed if he sees your body when he awakes. I know you wouldn’t want to bring him any more distress.”
Xi’s face twisted in anguish as he stood up and walked away. For several minutes Hiromasa could hear the formerly proud solders steps. When they stopped, there was a quiet moment and then a dull thud. Then stillness.
Hiromasa closed his eyes and sent off a little prayer for Xi. Once he was a great general.
“I believe that stone should be warm enough now,” Cyerian said softly.
Hiromasa opened his eyes and found Cyerian smiling gently at him. Hiromasa’s heart beat quickly in fear. How could such a young man have such power over a seasoned general?
“I’m empathic,” Cyerian answered Hiromasa’s unasked question. “I can feel a person’s or demon’s emotions and I’ve learned what to say to them to make them feel better or worse.”
Hiromasa couldn’t look at the boy tracing Seimei’s face lovingly with a finger anymore so he used two sticks and picked up the stone. Blowing off the ashes, he put the stone in the bucket. He brought the bucket to Seimei.
Cyerian smiled at him and took out a white linen cloth and dipped it in the water. “Perfect!” he said smiling at Hiromasa.
Hiromasa found himself smiling at him in return. He edged away slightly and watched as Cyerian bathed Seimei’s face.
“Abe-sama needs to sleep for another hour or so to give his body enough time to heal. He would heal if he was awake well enough, but you know how he pushes himself.” Cyerian glanced over at Hiromasa.
“Besides, I want to talk to you.”
Hiromasa felt dread grip him. The demon inside of him uncurled and started growing again. “Oh?” he said forcing his voice to be light.
“Yes.” Cyerian’s small hands smoothed Seimei’s robes away from his body. Cyerian wiped off the blood. Hiromasa felt his lust rise at the sight of Seimei’s shimmering skin. He licked his lips as Cyerian’s hands traced the muscles of Seimei’s chest. “It must be hard for you.”
Hiromasa clenched his hands and forced himself to look at Cyerian. “Hard?” he cursed his voice for being so breathless.
“Being the Guardian of Light.” Cyerian didn’t look up from Seimei’s body as he cleaned the blood out of Seimei’s robes. “Your birthright coming upon you so suddenly, dealing with court pettiness, and all of that stuff.”
Hiromasa stilled. “How do you know?” His eyes drifted down to Cyerian’s caressing hands.
“I’ve been watching you.” Cyerian admitted. “Well, ever since that incident with Doson.”
Hiromasa crept slightly closer as Cyerian’s fingers brushed Seimei’s left nipple. “Really?” he asked his mouth dry. He felt uncomfortably warm and coiled.
“Xi had it partially right. Some one had been killing off the potential Guardians. But it was I, not Abe-sama.”
Hiromasa couldn’t focus on Cyerian’s words, only his hands.
“I didn’t think you were a threat.” Cyerian smiled when he saw Hiromasa’s entranced eyes. “You are so ungainly and unpolished. I never thought that you would be the Guardian.”
Hiromasa only nodded as Cyerian’s fingers traced Seimei’s neck. Hiromasa wanted to reach out and touch Seimei so badly.
“When you turned out to be the Guardian, you were so well guarded that I had to bide my time. I would watch you, night after night playing your silly flute. Why?” Cyerian’s voice was slightly different as he stopped caressing Seimei and slowly covered him.
Hiromasa growled unconsciously.
“Why does he like you more than me?” Cyerian’s voice held only curiosity.
Hiromasa’s couldn’t think straight. He only wanted to see and feel that skin. “I don’t know.” He said roughly. He leaned in closer.
Cyerian pulled Seimei closer to him, stopping Hiromasa’s advance.
“I lived with Abe-sama for years.” Cyerian’s words tore through Hiromasa’s haze quickly.
“Yes,” Cyerian said unconsciously caressing Seimei’s face. “My family brought me to the capital when I was 12. They brought me to the monks of the capital to see if they there could help me.” At Hiromasa’s questioning glance he continued. “I could always feel what other people around me felt. It drove me crazy, made me into some wild animal. You can’t know how confusing it was.”
“Did the monks help you?” Hiromasa’s natural compassion subdued the demon within him quietly.
Cyerian shook his head. “No, you have no idea how much emotion a temple full of monks contains.”
Cyerian returned the smile.
“I met Abe-sama.” He glanced down and traced Seimei’s lips. “And my life changed.”
Hiromasa felt a stab of jealousy. Cyerian looked up. “No, it wasn’t like that.” He said quickly. “I just… There is this quiet about him.” Cyerian’s eyes shone brightly. “With him I found peace for the first time. I stayed with him, night and day even though he kept trying to send me back to the temple. I was so happy.” Cyerian sighed and smoothed Seimei’s hair.
“As I grew, I my empathy also grew. I started sensing his loneliness.” Cyerian’s face became serious. He looked at Hiromasa. “Abe-sama’s loneliness is over powering. I lost myself in it. I couldn’t help him. I couldn’t ease it. I couldn’t even touch it. Hiromasa, I know you love him. I know you can understand how much it hurts to see him sad.”
“I started looking for anything that could help him. There was nothing I wouldn’t do to give him relief even for a moment.” Cyerian’s eyes were clear with honesty. “Abe-sama had a lover, Madire. I went to her, to talk to her. I thought that as his lover, she would help me help him.”
“A lover?” Hiromasa swallowed against the bile rising in his throat.
“Yes, she’s a very powerful and very, very wicked demon. Totally unworthy of him.” Cyerian sighed. “When I met her, I told her I only wanted to help him, only wanted to ease his loneliness. I told her that I could sense it and it was painful. She laughed.”
Cyerian’s face twisted. “Madire didn’t care. I couldn’t sense a scrap of understanding of care from her, but I thought… I thought that since she and Abe-sama had been together for so long that she must feel something for him.”
“I was wrong.” Cyerian’s voice was tired.
“Madire said she would help me. She said she would give me the power to free myself from Abe-sama’s loneliness. I thought she meant that she would help him. I returned to Abe-sama, happy I was finally able to help him.”
The boy’s face was filled with longing as he looked at Seimei. “I remember I stood before him and told him. I told him everything. He was so surprised. I guess he hadn’t even noticed my absences… Or me…” He touched Seimei’s face again.
“As I told him, Madire arrived. She was there in time to hear the last of my words. She walked past me and kissed Abe-sama. In that kiss, I realized I was more of a piece of furniture to him then anything else. He never really felt anything for me. He feels so little outside of his loneliness, and me being human… I’m just a candle against his sun. My life is nothing to him. But I loved him.” Cyerian looked at Hiromasa quickly. “I really loved him.”
“Abe-sama asked us what the price was.” Cyerian’s voice was very soft. “I didn’t even realize that there was a price to be paid. But Madire is a true demon. She does nothing without payment. She stood up and stood behind me, laughing all the while. She put her hand through my chest and pulled out my heart. That was her price.”
Hiromasa flinched away at the flatness in Cyerian’s voice.
“Madire took my heart, Hiromasa.” Cyerian’s eyes met his. “I can still feel other people’s emotions, but none of my own. What other people feel is meaningless to me now. The compassion that tempered my empathy was taken with my heart. As was my ability to sense anything from Abe-sama.” Cyerian looked down at Seimei. “But I can still remember… I remember how it felt to love Abe-sama.”
“And that’s why you watch over him?” Hiromasa asked.
“Yes,” Cyerian looked him, his eyes suddenly bright. “And that is why that demon was put in you. You aren’t strong enough to be the Guardian. You are not worthy to stand next to him.”
Hiromasa tensed as the demon roared up in agreement.
“When Madire came to me and told me she would help me eliminate you, I agreed to help her. I despise her, but I would do anything to keep Abe-sama safe. I worked with Ashitare from the court to entrap the Sushu demon. From there, it wasn’t that difficult to get the court officials to help us impregnate you with the demon. And you…” Cyerian shrugged
“I thought you would tear yourself to pieces before Abe-sama ever returned to the city, but you kept fighting it. And when you touched Abe-sama, I wanted to rip you to pieces. But the wards were too strong. So, again, I bided my time. I waited and watched as you struggled against yourself.”
“I can feel it even now, moving inside of you. Filling you with lust and violence. You want nothing more to kill me and then debauch him.” At Cyerian’s words, Hiromasa felt ill. “He, for whatever reason, allowed you to live after doing violence on him, but I will not. You will never again have an opportunity to hurt him.”
Hiromasa shook his head as Cyerian’s fingers touched Seimei’s ear. Hiromasa took hold of his sword. “Let him go.” Hiromasa ground out.
Cyerian sighed quietly. “You are insignificant. You know you aren’t powerful enough to stand next to him.”
Hiromasa gasped for breath as self-doubt assaulted him.
“Abe-sama’s power is limitless. You only hold him back and make him weak.”
Hiromasa fell to his knees. Cyerian was right. Seimei didn’t need him.
“You have only hurt him, time and time again.”
Hiromasa dropped his sword and wrapped his arms around him as the demon devoured him.
“He doesn’t need you.”
A small part of Hiromasa’s mind calmed even as the demon raged.
I need you, Hiromasa
You are my friend.
Hiromasa looked up. Abe no Seimei cared for him.
“You are very precious to me, I would be severely displeased if you were injured. Even by your own hand.”
What in the world had be been thinking? He would do nothing that would displease Seimei. He loved him.
Hiromasa felt a tiny smile on his lips.
Minamoto no Hiromasa loved Abe no Seimei.
Hiromasa’s smiled grew as the demon violently fought against him.
“He doesn’t love you,” Cyerian read him calmly. “Abe-sama doesn’t love anyone. He can’t love.”
Hiromasa’s smile froze.
“You mean nothing to him.” Cyerian said with wide-eyed honesty. “Has he ever said that he loved you?”
Hiromasa’s smile faded as the demon broke free and preyed on his doubts.
“I stayed with him for years. I gave up everything for him- even my own soul. There is nothing you have to offer him. You will never satisfy him.”
Hiromasa’s own doubts were amplified by Cyerian’s quiet words. He wrapped his arms around him and closed his eyes.
“Even as the Guardian, you aren’t good enough,” Cyerian whispered.
Hiromasa wanted nothing more than to stop that voice. The dark truths it whispered pierced him more than all the arrows in his quiver.
“That’s it, Hiromasa, give up.” Cyerian’s voice was filled with compassion. “Let the darkness take you. It’s so easy. So much easier than fighting. You can’t keep fighting a battle that you aren’t strong enough to see to the end. Just let go.”
Hiromasa bowed over touching his forehead to the ground. The demon clawed at him, and Hiromasa gave into it. Cyerian was right. He was useless, worse, a burden. A complete failure.
“He is strong enough to see this to the end.” Another voice said suddenly. “He is not as weak as you suppose.”
Hiromasa sat up and saw Seimei looking at him. Seimei’s face was emotionless. Seimei sat up and faced Cyerian. “Cyerian.”
Cyerian’s eyes filled with crazed adoration. “Abe-sama!”
“I have watched you since that night with Madire.” Seimei said. “Without your heart, you’ve twisted and manipulated all of your friends. Why? They valued you highly.”
“They didn’t matter,” Cyerian shrugged. “None of them ever mattered.”
“I followed you when you went to Matsu Keep to visit your family. I saw how you used your gift to pervert their love for you. Why, Cyerian? They only wanted what was best for you. Why?”
“Because they were weak and fragile.” Cyerian said honestly. “When I lost the ability to feel your emotions, I was so empty. I needed something to fill that emptiness. All of the petty humans around me were so pale and weak when compared to you. I thought my family would be stronger, that they would last longer.”
“But they didn’t. You stripped them of their emotions and turned them into mindless demons.” Seimei’s lack of expression was terrifying. Cyerian, on the other hand, flinched and paled, then blushed as he spoke with Seimei. Feelings flew across his face, almost impossible to track. Hiromasa edged back from the tingle of magic that permeated the air.
“Abe-sama, the emptiness ate at me worse than your loneliness. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I needed to find a way to fill the emptiness.” Cyerian tore at his robe, revealing a large perfect space where his heart has been removed. “I needed to find something that would make me worthy of your company again.”
Hiromasa recoiled back as he looked through Cyerian’s chest. He hadn’t expected the hole to be so literal. As Cyerian let his robe fall from his shoulders Hiromasa could see into the darkness of the trees behind him.
“But you only brought misfortune and death to everyone you met,” Seimei said quietly. “You befriended people, then preyed upon their fears and fed off their emotions.”
“It made me feel alive!” Cyerian insisted. “The pinnacle of human suffering is the closest I could come to feeling for myself. It made me remember what it was like to be with you when we were happy.”
“Your happiness destroyed hundreds of lives. And the weight of those lives has pressed on your soul.”
Cyerian looked at Seimei confused. “But Madire took my soul…”
“…But didn’t destroy it.” Seimei said without inflection.
Cyerian blinked, at a loss for words.
“I had hoped you would come to realize that Madire couldn’t destroy your soul, that only you could do that.” Seimei’s dark eyes never left Cyerian’s. “You left before you could see what Madire did with your soul.”
Seimei closed his eyes and the air around him vibrated. He deliberately opened his robe and placed his hand on his chest. Closing his eyes, he pressed his hand in. Light broke through his skin as his hand disappeared in his chest. Hiromasa and Cyerian stopped breathing as Seimei calmly pulled out a still beating heart. “She gifted your heart to me.”
Blood dripped off the misshapen lump as the light in Seimei’s chest closed up.
“You… You kept it?” Cyerian asked softly.
“I carried it for you,” Seimei answered.
“But… Everything I’ve done, everything I…” Cyerian looked frightened. “You would have felt the pain of everything I’ve done…”
Seimei’s eyes never left his.
“I had hoped you would realize the error of your thinking in time,” Seimei’s voice was still strangely flat. “But there are some stars that should never be tampered with.” Cyerian glanced quickly at Hiromasa. “And there are some destinies you should not have tried to interfere with.” Cyerian paled.
“Abe-sama,” Cyerian covered the hole in his chest with his hand. “I didn’t know.”
“You knew I would not tolerate harm to come to him.” The lifeless quality in Seimei’s voice was unbearable.
Cyerian shook his head. “Why him? Why not me?”
“Because he is precious to me.” Seimei answered evenly. “I never mislead you about my lack of affection for you.”
“But I love you!” Cyerian’s eyes became shiny. “I’ve devoted my life to you. There is no one else more loyal to you!”
“I never desired your loyalty,” Seimei’s unfeeling tone made the hard words all the more painful to hear. Hiromasa couldn’t breath from the pain he felt for Cyerian. Cyerian’s face crumbled as tears started falling down his young face. Once again, Hiromasa’s compassion overcame and settled the demon inside of him. How could Seimei be so cold?
Cyerian touched his tears. “I’m crying.” He said in a wondering voice. “Abe-sama, it hurts. I can feel it.” He touched the hole in his chest again.
Seimei mouthed some words silently. The heart in his hand glowed brightly, in unison with the hole in Cyerian’s chest. Cyerian clutched his chest, a smile on his lips as he hugged himself. The light from Seimei’s hand faded as the hole filled in. In a few short seconds, Cyerian’s chest was whole again. “Abe-sama. You’ve healed me.” Cyerian smiled brightly as tears streamed down his face. “I will always be…” his words stopped and he clutched his chest. “Abe-sama?”
“Your soul carries with it the weight of the lives you destroyed,” Seimei said standing up. “That weight is now yours to carry.” Seimei looked at Hiromasa. “We are done here.”
Hiromasa felt the breath stolen from him. This couldn’t be the man he loved. No.
“Abe-sama!” Cyerian pulled at the edge of Seimei’s robe. “Don’t leave me like this, I can’t… I can’t take it.”
“Guardian, our journey is not over yet.” Seimei said with the same lifeless tone.
Hiromasa’s eyes huge and disbelieving.
“Abe-sama, the Guardian will fail you,” Cyerian cried. “Even now he is overcome with loathing for you. He will abandon you when you need him! He can not accept you as I can!”
Seimei glanced away from Cyerian. “Then I will walk this road alone.” Seimei turned and walked away.
Cyerian screamed as he clutched his chest. “No! Abe-sama!”
Hiromasa couldn’t move. Seimei walked away from him. Seimei left him. Seimei didn’t care. Hiromasa forced himself to stand and follow the powerful onmyoji as his heart broke.
“Hiromasa,” Cyerian cried softly. “He can’t love you.”
Hiromasa’s heart died.
Seimei didn’t care.
Seimei couldn’t love him.
Hiromasa’s feet hurried as he spotted Seimei walking a distance a head of him. Automatically Hiromasa followed. Just as he always would. Until he burned out like a candle to Seimei’s sun.
Hiromasa couldn’t bring himself to care when Cyerian’s sobs were suddenly cut off. The stillness in the forest was heavy. Hiromasa tripped over something and fell on his knees.
Hiromasa’s clumsy feet had tripped over Xi’s body. Hiromasa scooted back and lifted his hands. They were wet from the blood that tainted the ground. From between his fingers, Hiromasa could just make out a footprint.
Seimei has just walked over Xi’s body without even stopping.
Seimei didn’t care.
Hiromasa forgot about the blood on his hands as the ice that had formed in his chest melted. Silent heartbroken sobs tore out of his chest. Seimei wasn’t a god. He was a monster. He cut through people and demons without any emotion, without any feeling. To Seimei, all of the things that Hiromasa cared about were just minute distractions. Hiromasa himself was just a plaything of the moment. Hiromasa could give all his love and devotion to Seimei, and it wouldn’t matter.
Seimei wouldn’t love him.
Hiromasa didn’t know how long he sat there, next to Xi’s body. A few times he felt a light brush against his cheek, but he just ignored it. It didn’t matter. The sun rose in the strange forest, and Hiromasa saw the pine trees and felt the warmth of the sun, but it didn’t matter. He saw the fox, Seimei’s mother, watching him from a distance. He couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge her presence. The blue butterfly, Mitsu, fluttered around his face, but he just ignored her too. Whatever they wanted didn’t matter.
Seimei didn’t love him.
“Help him up, Mitsu,” a woman’s voice said softly.
Hiromasa felt Mitsu pull on his arm. He turned his head and Seimei’s mother pulled on his other arm. He stood and allowed them to led him. He didn’t care where they were going. It didn’t matter.
He watched the trees go by without really taking notice of them. He didn’t think as they arrived at the house. He didn’t react as they led him in and stripped him of his dirty robes. Mitsu washed him with caring hands as Seimei’s mother spoke. Hiromasa couldn’t bring himself to care about what she was saying. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. He let it wash over him.
Mitsu dressed him and fed him. Seimei’s mother opened screens and let in the sunlight. Hiromasa sat in the sunlight and stared disinterestedly at the tranquil garden.
“…Understand him,” Hiromasa’s attention was caught for a minute before it slipped away.
“…Can’t feel anything…”
“…Feelings will only strengthen Madire…”
“Hiromasa, he needs you!” Hiromasa turned and looked at Seimei’s mother. Her face was lined with concern.
“No. He doesn’t need anyone.” Hiromasa said in a dead voice before turning back to the garden.
Seimei’s mother took Hiromasa’s face in her hands. “Then you choose to abandon him?”
Hiromasa looked at her blankly. Choose?
“He has waited for you for centuries!” she said fiercely. “You have no idea how hard it was for him. You can’t even conceive of what he’s been through while he waited. And now that he’s found you, he’s doing everything, everything for you! You think he cares about this insignificant city? You think he cares about that self important little emperor of yours? He only cares about you. He knows that these things are important to you, therefore they are important to him. He would give his life for the things that you think are important.”
Hiromasa blinked slowly. If what she said was right, then perhaps Seimei did care for him. Maybe Cyerian was wrong.
“You stupid man!” the woman spat, letting his face go. “Why do you think Seimei went after that insane empath and even now is at the palace getting ready to battle Madire? He’s doing it for you! Because he wants everyone human, demon, and god to know that he will not tolerate any harm to come to you.” Seimei’s mother turned from him.
“He loves you.”
Her words floated in the air. Hiromasa wasn’t sure if he should laugh or cry. Seimei loved him? Was that even possible? Hiromasa had seen the monster Seimei was. Could someone that cold love?
“Hiromasa’s a good man!” Mitsu insisted suddenly.
Hiromasa looked at Mitsu’s painfully eager face.
“If you loved him,” Seimei’s mother said slowly. “If you truly loved him, you would accept him for what he is. You would know that he desperately needs you.” She sighed and walked out.
Hiromasa watched her leave. Did he? Did he love Seimei? He thought he did, once. He vaguely remembered the warmth of Seimei’s smiles and laugher. It seemed so long ago. A different time. A different Seimei.
Mitsu’s face was anxious as she looked at him. Hiromasa sighed. He didn’t think he loved Seimei. He couldn’t love him. Seimei was a monster. A cold, unfeeling monster. Hiromasa closed his eyes.
But could he abandon Seimei? He had fought along side of Seimei before. They worked well together. They saved the city before, and it needed saving again. Perhaps it wasn’t love that would now bind them. Maybe it was duty. Hiromasa was a Guardian of the city. As much as Seimei downplayed his role, Hiromasa knew that Seimei was a Guardian as well. They both had responsibilities. Perhaps that was all they had left.
Hiromasa stood up. Mitsu smiled brilliantly. She padded over and opened a door for him. Hiromasa walked through the door and found himself outside Seimei’s gates in the city. Wearily he made his way to the capital. He would fulfill his duty to the city.
Hiromasa arrived at the gates of the palace again. They had recently been repaired, but more recently they had been blasted open. Hiromasa didn’t allow himself to think as he walked through. The courtyard was filled with groups of demons. They stilled when they caught sight of him, each shrinking back slightly as he walked past. Hiromasa didn’t spare them a thought as he made his way to the main chamber.
“…I figured the most comfortable place to live in this damn city is this place. I’ve made some changes, do you like them?” A woman’s voice echoed through the large room. “They were foolish enough to think that just because they pacted with me, I would do their bidding. They had wanted to rule the city, but I gave them plenty of time to rethink their limits.”
“Hiromasa…” Hiromasa glanced over and saw the right minister strung up between two pillars by his entrails. “Help me,” he whispered.
In a blink of an eye, Hiromasa’s memories came back to him. The night that he had been attacked, it was the left minister who had forced the demon inside of him. Standing behind him, the right minister had looked on, his eyes filled with anticipation. The truth of the betrayal didn’t touch Hiromasa. Should have known. Hiromasa thought wearily. “What would you have me do?” Hiromasa asked softly. “Your wounds are too grievous for a doctor to fix.”
“Kill me.” The right minister begged. “Please.”
Hiromasa was tempted to leave him. But he drew his sword and held it out to the minister. “Is that what you want?”
The right minister nodded. “I… I am sorry,” the minister said quietly as he shut his eyes. “You deserved much better.”
Hiromasa cut off the right minister’s head, then quickly cut his down. “Find peace,” Hiromasa said quietly. He left the minister and passed the body of Ashitare. Hiromasa didn’t know Ashitare, but seeing the horribly agonized expression on his face, Hiromasa felt pity for him as well. His death had not been easy or quick.
“Ah, here he is!” The woman’s voice said happily when Hiromasa stepped through the door into the main chamber. “Look Seimei, the Guardian of Light arrives.”
Seimei was standing in the middle of the floor, he’s red robe rumpled and dirty. Seimei didn’t turn.
“Come on, Seimei, don’t you have any words for him?” the woman mocked.
Hiromasa caught sight of the woman. To say she was beautiful would have been strangely inaccurate. Her features were pleasing and her hair was long and glossy. She was wearing blood red enameled armor that was fitted to her pleasantly proportioned body. But she carried with her an air of wildness that would have both intimidated and intrigued Hiromasa had he been able to feel either of those things. She lounged insolently on a dais.
“He comes to retake his city.” Seimei said in a dry voice.
“And will you help him,” the woman asked shifting her body seductively. “Or me?”
“I, too, am a Guardian.” Seimei answered.
“Yes, the Guardian of Dark. A duty you dislike. Fight with me and you will rule the city at my side. You will be free of that pointless responsibility.” She once again shifted. “Come on, Seimei,” she said with heavily lidded eyes. “Those foolish humans need someone to control them. Otherwise they’re making pacts with evil demons.”
“Evil demons like you?” Seimei’s voice carried his cold smile that wasn’t quite visible on his lips.
Madire pouted. “They searched me out.” Her big brown eyes caught Hiromasa. “It was fun. The sushu demon was Cyerian’s idea. Cyerian has such a talent for misery. He brings emotional pain to breathtaking levels.”
“Cyerian is no more,” Hiromasa stepped forward. He just wanted this to end. He didn’t want to hear her banter with Seimei. He didn’t want to hear Seimei’s voice or see his beautiful face. He just wanted all of this to be over.
“What?” Madire sat up suddenly, her eyes going to Seimei.
“He killed himself after Abe no Seimei restored his heart.” Hiromasa was so tired.
Madire stood up and went to Seimei. “I’m sorry.” She said quietly. “I’ve always regretted what I did to him.”
Hiromasa paused. That was not what he expected her to say. Wasn’t she supposed to be some kind of a monster, like…?
“It was his choice,” Seimei said shrugging.
“You wouldn’t have carried his heart with you all these years if he meant nothing to you.”
No. No, this is all wrong. Hiromasa thought as Madire touched Seimei’s shoulder. She’s a horrible monster. And Seimei never cared about Cyerian. This is all a lie. Seimei doesn’t care about anyone.
“I was crazy with jealousy over him,” Madire admitted. “He understood you better than anyone.” Her arms snaked around and hugged him. “I’m sorry.”
Hiromasa couldn’t move. Again the wrongness of all of it struck him. He was standing; not ten feet away from the lovers, watching her give him comfort. She touched him with an intimacy that Hiromasa had once burned for. “Come, Seimei, it’s time for you to leave behind the cares that have been put upon you. This city will survive regardless as to who rules it. Why not rule it yourself?” She put her hands on his head and rested her forehead against his. “There is no one better suiting for ruling.”
Hiromasa looked away. As cold and remote as he was, there was something in the way Seimei stood in front of Madire in his rumpled robe with his arms hanging at his side that threatened to melt the ice around Hiromasa’s heart. He was suddenly relieved that he couldn’t see Seimei’s face.
“You wouldn’t need him.” Madire said glancing past Seimei to Hiromasa. She lifted her head and kissed Seimei deeply.
Before that moment, Hiromasa would have said that he was incapable of feeling any more. That his heart was as dead as Ashitaire or Gantz or Cyerian. But looking at Madire’s face as she pressed her body tightly against Seimei’s, Hiromasa’s stomach dropped and the painful throbbing in his chest made him mindful that the hellish world he was currently trapped was, in fact, real.
Seimei didn’t push her away. Seimei had chosen.
Seimei had chosen her.
Hiromasa closed his eyes. The demon inside of him screamed loudly as it found no emotion to feed on. Hiromasa had nothing. He unshouldered his bow with precise movements. He efficiently cocked his bow and aimed.
Seimei stepped away from Madire. “No.”
Hiromasa’s arrow went wide of the mark.
“I will not rule this city with you.”
Madire looked shocked. “You would rather be some mortal’s lapdog?” she asked incredulously.
Seimei didn’t bother to answer. Hiromasa hesitated. He wasn’t sure what Seimei’s words meant or even if he cared.
“But, Seimei, you and I… We can rule this city! If you had your way, you could make this city a paradise for both humans and demons. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted? For demons and humans to live in peace with themselves and with each other?” Madire hissed when Seimei took her wrists and held them. She struggled against him for a second before hooking her foot around his ankle and tripping him.
Madire and Seimei went down in a pile, and Madire rolled them over until she was on top of him. She quickly sat up and straddled his waist even as she struggled to free her wrists. “We are powerful. We are the only ones who can make your dream true a reality! Why shrink away from it?”
Seimei bucked his hips and Madire lost her balance. He pushed her away and rolled backwards, standing up quickly. Madire jumped and grabbed a sword that was resting on a stand on the dais she had been lounging on. She brandished it with a cold smile. “Come on, Seimei. Why?”
Hiromasa let loose his arrow. The arrow flew toward Madire quickly. A second before it would have hit her shoulder it stopped mid air. Madire took her eyes away from Seimei to look at Hiromasa. “You meddlesome insect!” She spat, sending the arrow back at him. Hiromasa stepped out of the arrow’s trajectory as he let loose another barrage. Madire stopped each of them and sent them back to him. Hiromasa half heard Seimei’s voice in his head, but he shut it out. He didn’t want to hear that voice.
Seimei stepped closer to Madire, and Madire lost interest in the arrows. She swung at the unarmed onmyoji. Seimei easily evaded her swings as she led them in a complicated dance. “If you won’t stand by my side, then I will kill you.” Madire said coldly. “But first I will kill that pathetic excuse of a Guardian, whom you so treasure.” She flipped away from Seimei and landed within sword reach of Hiromasa.
Hiromasa dropped to the ground quickly as her blade swiped the air where his head was. In one fluid motion he pulled out his sword and pared her sword as it swung down. Hiromasa flinched back from the strength of her blow. She was a much, much stronger sword person then he had anticipated. He rolled away as she cut after him. The material of Hiromasa’s sleeve was cut away quickly as Madire advanced on him. He barely had time to bring his sword up as she went for another cut. Like quicksilver, she brought her sword down up, under Hiromasa’s defenses.
Just before the sword would have torn his throat, it was wrapped in red and yanked back. Madire kicked Hiromasa further off balance, but turned and rolled as Seimei flipped her away from Hiromasa. Madire brought her left-hand palm up in a bolt of lightening hit Seimei’s chest. Seimei stumbled and Madire freed her sword. Seimei rolled away as she advanced on him swinging. Seimei stood back up quickly and wrapped his sleeves around her sword again and stood so they were back to back.
Hiromasa rushed over to Madire and raised his sword. At the last minute, she kicked up his body and flipped over so she was face to face with Seimei. Laughing out loud she leaned in and kissed his neck as bolts of electricity traveled through her lips to his body. Seimei’s body spasmed and he released her sword. He fell to the ground.
Madire chuckled as she brought her palm up. “Last chance.” More bolts of lightening hit Seimei. Hiromasa ran to her. She looked up and Hiromasa was thrown across the room by an excruciatingly painful bolt of lightening. Hiromasa’s head swam, and once again he sensed Seimei’s presence in his mind. Stubbornly he pushed it out.
Seimei rolled clear of Madire’s energy when she shot at Hiromasa. He circled her wearily.
“Since I was here,” Madire smiled, showing lifting her hair revealing a bronze circlet. “I figured I might as well use some of the toys in the royal treasury.”
“The Crown of Storm.” Seimei acknowledged. “And that sword is new.”
“Do you want to see what it does?” Madire asked mockingly.
Seimei leapt high in the air as Madire swung. In the wake of her swing a path of white-hot fire burned everything it came in contact with. Seimei landed lightly across the room from Hiromasa. Madire stepped back so she could see them both at the same time. “I don’t think your silly little emperor knows what’s in his treasury, Guardian. If he did he would have protected it much, much better.” She swung her sword and Hiromasa jumped out of the way, feeling the heat of the sword’s flames.
Hiromasa charged at Madire, and Madire brought her sword up, only to have it wrapped in Seimei’s sleeves. Without missing a beat, She brought her hand up and threw bolts of electricity at Hiromasa. Hiromasa dodged as best as he could, but the shockwave from the blasts made him lose his footing. He fell just as Madire brought her hand up again. Seimei pulled her backwards, and they fell away from Hiromasa.
Hiromasa rolled and quickly stood in time to see Seimei pull the circlet from Madire’s forehead. Madire screamed, and Hiromasa brought his sword up. Madire pared his blow as Seimei jumped back holding the circle.
Swinging violently, the sword’s fire forced Hiromasa back as Madire turned toward Seimei. The onmyoji held up the circlet for a second before it disappeared. Madire growled and charged at him. Seimei danced away from her as fire flew from her sword indiscriminately. Hiromasa rushed in, but was pushed back by Seimei.
Again, Hiromasa felt Seimei in his head, but for the third time he pushed Seimei away.
“The building is burning.” Seimei said out loud.
Hiromasa looked away and noticed, for the first time that the building, in fact, was on fire. And on the verge of falling apart around them. He shrugged and charged at Madire. She bent at the last second, and his blade pierced Seimei’s shoulder. Without thinking, Hiromasa twisted the blade. Seimei hissed in pain and Madire used that moment to plunge her sword into the onmyoji’s side. As she sent fire through the blade Seimei clenched is teeth through the pain and pushed them both back. The ceiling started falling down around them as Madire went after Seimei.
Hiromasa stood looking at the blood on his blade. What have I done?
Seimei and Madire stepped lightly around each other as bits of burning roof fell around them. Madire swung at Seimei’s bad side to keep him off balance, and Seimei pared all her blows with his sleeves as large piece of roof fell between them. Seimei jumped to Hiromasa. He picked the taller man up by the waist and jumped through the hole in the roof.
Hiromasa looked at Seimei’s dirty face, bemused. Seimei didn’t look at him as they landed in the main courtyard. Seimei let him go and instantly danced away, facing the large groups of demons that looked at them with interest. Some of them stepped forward attracted by the scent of Seimei’s blood.
Madire flew out of the burning building and impaled one of the more aggressive demons with her sword. “He is MINE!” she shouted.
Madire quickly turned and shot a path of fire at Hiromasa. Hiromasa’s robe was singed as he jumped away just in time. A few demons who had been standing in the way were instantly incinerated. The others quickly ran from the courtyard.
“Your anger is making you lose control of that sword,” Seimei said lightly.
“Shut up!” Madire shouted at him swiftly following her words with blows. Seimei gave ground grudgingly as he danced around her. Hiromasa came to her other side and stopped one of her blows. She turned her attention to him and fought him back with flames and speed.
Madire swung her sword down and turned in to Hiromasa’s body and clipped his wrist with her pointed elbow. Completing her turn, she swung up and Hiromasa’s sword flew out of his grasp. Madire bent and swung her sword across, fire making a large arch around her. Hiromasa was swung around by Seimei’s sleeves. Hiromasa again caught a glimpse of the onmyoji’s face as Seimei closed his eyes against the pain of the fire searing his back. Seimei pushed him away in the direction of his sword. Hiromasa stumbled as he grabbed it. His thoughts freezing in his mind.
Seimei jumped out of the way as Madire brought her sword up. “How long do you think you can last, Seimei?” she asked conversationally. “You can’t fight and act as shield to the Guardian forever.”
“I will last as long as it takes.” Seimei answered in a light tone that belied the blood flowing freely from his side and the dark burn marks on his back.
Madire gave him a disgusted look. “If I remember correctly, he drew first blood, Seimei. Yours.”
Seimei tried to shrug but winced in pain. Madire charged after him. She was brought up short by Hiromasa’s blade. He quickly bought his sword up and sliced down her arm. Madire’s widened in surprise as her blood flowed freely. She jumped back and looked at him.
Hiromasa watched her coolly. He stood next to Seimei, his sword held in front of them both. Seimei turned to him. Hiromasa didn’t face him, but didn’t move either.
“But Seimei, why would you put your faith in him? I offer you forever. What can he offer?” She asked slightly hurt.
Seimei looked back at her. A tiny sparkle lit his dark eyes.
Madire screamed in rage when she realized that Seimei was forever beyond her reach. Swinging her sword she let loose the fire, igniting everything in her path. Seimei and Hiromasa separated and came at her from both sides. She lifted her sword to cut down Hiromasa only to find it tangled in Seimei’s sleeves. Hiromasa plunged his sword through her armor and brought it up. Madire stilled and Seimei took hold of her sword before jumping away. Very quickly he balanced the tip of the sword in his hand and made it disappear.
Hiromasa stared into her eyes as she fell against him.
“Hiromasa, jump clear!” Seimei shouted.
Hiromasa couldn’t look away as she searched his eyes.
“Hiromasa!” Seimei grabbed him just as Madire started laughing. Madire took hold of Hiromasa’s sword and easily pulled it out, laughing while she flung it to the ground.
“She is a demon, Hiromasa.” Seimei said urgently. “She is reverting to her true form. Now the fight starts in earnest.”
Hiromasa tore his eyes away from Madire’s pulsing body to look at Seimei. “What?” he asked in disbelief.
Seimei pushed Hiromasa away roughly as the ground started shaking. Madire started growing, breaking out of her armor. Her skin turned gray and covered with scales and her limbs lengthened. Four additional arms grew out of her sides as sharp claws grew out of her hands. Her hair turned a brilliant shade of red and her teeth became larger and sharper. Her legs split apart, then apart again and again until a squirming mass of moving snake-like appendages lifted her off the ground.
Hiromasa looked on and felt sick. His eyes traveled over her, but stopped and stared at her face. Her eyes were completely white. “She’s blind?” he asked.
“No, she sees on a different plane from you.” Seimei answered. “She is extremely fast, and her claws are poisoned. Stay clear of her.” Seimei opened his palm. “And her tongue is extremely long and can squeeze the life out of you.” He pulled out a small object wrapped in white. “Use this when you have an opportunity.” He thrust the object into Hiromasa’s hands.
Hiromasa looked down. It was the Mirror of Sanna. He looked up at Seimei. Seimei smiled at him quickly. “You didn’t think I left it with Gantz, did you?”
Hiromasa didn’t have time to think of a comeback. Seimei pushed him away as Madire flowed toward them. Seimei was right, she moved incredibly fast. He jumped and ran from the three arms that reached out for him. He tucked the mirror into his robe and concentrated on staying out of her way.
“Seimei!” Madire hissed. Seimei leapt out of the reach of her claws. She laughed as her tongue shot out and knocked him down. Seimei rolled away, leaving a trail of blood. Madire’s tongue lapped up his blood. “Sweet.” She commented. She turned around and went to grab him again. Seimei jumped up from where he had knelt quickly. Madire’s tongue wrapped itself around his ankle. Seimei hit the stones of the courtyard hard. As she flowed toward him, Seimei grabbed Hiromasa’s sword. Cutting the tip of Madire’s tongue he quickly freed himself and jumped backwards. Madire screeched, her blood shooting from her tongue. Seimei grabbed Hiromasa and brought him to safety as her blood hissed on the stones Hiromasa had been standing on seconds before.
“Her blood, very dangerous.” Seimei said turning and leaping away, leaving Hiromasa’s sword. Hiromasa cringed as he saw the chard skin on Seimei’s back again smoking where Madire’s blood fell. Seimei jumped over Madire’s head and landed behind her. He knelt quickly on the ground before jumping up again. Madire’s arms snatched at him midair, her claws making bloody welts in his skin. Seimei kicked off one of her hands and landed on his knees.
“You should have chosen your side with better care.” Madire hissed advancing on him.
“No!” Hiromasa screamed as she went to grab Seimei. Madire stopped and looked at him. She had obviously forgotten about Guardian in her pursuit of Seimei. She smiled, showing all of her teeth as she flowed quickly over to Hiromasa.
Hiromasa fumbled with the white cloth around the mirror. One of Madire’s claws scratched at his face. Hiromasa dropped to his knees, clutching the mirror. Pain burned through him. It seared through him and whitened out his vision. Nauseum washed though him as his insides felt as though they were liquefying.
“Breathe,” Seimei’s voice said calmly inside of his head. “Her poison hurts but is not fatal, Guardian.”
Hiromasa breathed. His lungs felt like they were on fire.
“This will pass soon, Hiro. Just breath.” Seimei’s voice was like a caress that soothed all hurts. Hiromasa opened his eyes could see Madire’s claws poised to finish him off. Time seemed to have slowed as he stood up and stepped back. He looked past Madire and saw Seimei gazing at him. “When I transferred Lady Aone’s life spirit into you, some of her curse followed. You will not wither like other humans. You can not be easily poisoned. Madire’s poison will hurt and can kill you, but not as easily as it would have if you were still completely human.” Seimei’s voice was soft.
Hiromasa couldn’t think. You will not wither like other humans. What…
Madire’s claws slammed down where he had been second ago. She blinked when she realized that he was no longer there. She reached out and grabbed him. He felt the sickening crunch of his ribs as her claws tore through him. The same pain burned through him, but it wasn’t as bad as before. “Why won’t you die!” she screamed. Hiromasa couldn’t answer her. She shook him violently, and the mirror fell out of his robe unnoticed. Hiromasa’s head began to swim.
Seimei flew into Madire’s face and slapped a small square of paper with his device on it. Madire dropped Hiromasa and screamed as she tore the paper off her face. Seimei grabbed the mirror and helped Hiromasa to one side.
Hiromasa gasped painfully for breath.
“Just a little longer, Hiro,” Seimei said, his eyes concerned. He put his hand on Hiromasa’s forehead and whispered some words. Hiromasa’s pain lessened and quickly started faded. “I can do no more right now, Hiro,” Seimei gasped.
Hiromasa looked at Seimei’s pain filled eyes. Hiromasa gently sat up and noticed how Seimei gasped for breath and clutched his sides. His shoulder was soaked in blood. Hiromasa shook his head, his eyes huge. He’s a monster. He doesn’t love me. He doesn’t care about me!
Madire’s arms flung them both into the air. Hiromasa landed first and scrambled to his feet. Seimei hit the ground hard and seemed to sag slightly. Madire flowed to him, her claws scratching at him.
“Seimei!” Hiromasa shouted as the claws tore the onmyoji apart. Hiromasa fell backward in horror.
Suddenly lines of light radiated from the ground entrapping Madire. The body she had been tearing fell to the ground- only instead of skin, bones and blood, it was small pieces of paper. At five points around Madire, translucent images of Seimei stood chanting. Hiromasa leaned forward on his knees. Even though he had seen Seimei catch someone in a barrier, it never ceased to amaze him. Madire hissed and spat, fighting the barrier with all of her strength.
Seimei appeared next to Hiromasa. He was on one knee, his arms clutching his sides. “I can’t hold her for long, Hiro.” He wheezed.
Hiromasa tore his eyes from Seimei’s blood covered lips and took out the mirror. Quickly uncovering it, he approached her.
“I will not be defeated!” Madire screamed. She closed her eyes and turned her head away from Hiromasa as she continued to test the barrier. Her eyes opened as she found a slight weakness. Putting all her strength on the tiny rift, she tore through Seimei’s barrier and swiped at Hiromasa. Hiromasa curled around the mirror as he was thrown once again. This time, he did not land on his feet. He forced himself to roll to his feet even as his body protested.
Madire was standing over Seimei’s prone body. Timed seemed to slow once again. Hiromasa watched as Madire’s claws slowly came down, and occurred to him that he could just let her finish him off. Let the monster finish off the monster. After everything he had seen in the last few hours, Hiromasa doubted anyone would blame him or even question his decision.
Then Seimei slowly turned and looked at him. As their eyes met, Seimei’s eyes widened slightly as though he knew what Hiromasa was thinking. Seimei’s face filled with numbing sadness as he slowly closed his eyes.
In that instant, Hiromasa broke free of his thoughts and ran to Seimei. Brandishing his sword, he fought off the claws and pushed her back. Madire backed up slowly at the ferocity of Hiromasa’s blade work. Hiromasa forced himself not to think- not to replay that second over and over in his head. Once was bad enough.
Madire’s tongue shot out and wrapped around Hiromasa. Hiromasa dropped his sword as the acid of her blood burned him. He had been so intent on her claws that he had forgotten her tongue. It started squeezing and Hiromasa lost his breath.
“Put him down.” Seimei’s voice cut through all other noise.
Madire’s tongue grew slightly slack as she turned and looked at Seimei. Hiromasa’s eyes opened and looked at Seimei.
The onmyoji’s red robes were in tatters about him, burned and covered in blood and dust. His hair was down and blowing away from his pale, sad face. He stood straight, with his arms at his side. Hiromasa had to turn away. Why does he still try to save me?
Madire moved so that she stood a few feet in front of the onmyoji, Hiromasa between them, her tongue around him tightly.
“I will allow no harm to come to him.” Seimei’s voice was filled with a weary resignation. He slowly brought his arms up and placed them palm over palm above his head. Twisting his wrists slightly, bloody handles appeared embedded in his palms. Grabbing hold of them he slowly drew them out, blood running freely from his hands. Two long glowing swords came from his arms. Holding one in front of him and one over his head he looked at Madire. “Put him down.” He ordered.
Madire’s tongue tightened around Hiromasa again. Seimei spun around and cut through the tongue and proceeded to cut through Madire’s claws. One after another fell to the ground as Seimei danced though her increasingly clumsy attempts to grab him.
“The Mirror,” Seimei’s voice whispered into Hiromasa’s shell-shocked mind. Hiromasa drew it out and stood as Seimei’s graceful steps led Madire around to him. Madire’s eyes followed his movements, and she was completely surprised when he crouched down suddenly. Hiromasa stood where he had been standing, but Madire only saw the glint of light as she was caught in the mirror. Hiromasa watched her eyes closely as they softened. In the reflection of her white eyes, Hiromasa could see her vision before her body relaxed and her soul slipped into the mirror.
Hiromasa’s hands started to shake. Madire’s vision was just a face.
Hiromasa dropped to his knees as he folded his arms around the mirror. No tears came. He didn’t think there were any more tears left in him. Instead he started coughing. Black bile ran from his lips as he threw up. He felt a comforting hand on his back, holding his head up and he continued to throw up the rest of the demon that had been living inside of him.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Hiromasa heard whispered into his ear as he let the darkness take him.