ĎWill all great Neptuneís seas wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadineí
People, so many people. They crowded the street, jostling and avoiding others with little more in mind than the desire to get somewhere; home, a restaurant, a club, anywhere, just as long it was away from here. Incessant, all these people coming and going. Searching. What they were searching for they probably didnít know, but they wouldnít stop. The city was a living thing that never slept, determined to enjoy itself to the end of time even as it was decaying inside.
This was the Sakurazukamoriís hunting ground.
Seishirou moved easily in the midst of the oblivious masses, only given a second glance because people didnít usually wear sunglasses at night. He had no destination in mind; just a person. One person in a population numbering millions. The hunter let the crowd flow around him as he halted for a moment, seeking, magical senses tuned to that particular resonance audible only to him. Subaru could run but never hide. The Sakurazukamori would find him. It was inevitable.
And then what?
Well. That would depend on what Seishirou found. The shikigami projection was a simple scouting spell, and so, limited in what it could sense and do in terms of more complex and subtle magic. What exactly had taken place during that exorcism Seishirou wasnít sure, but it involved Subaru. Anything involving his Subaru-kun had Seishirouís attention. Call it habit from the chore of looking after the Sumeragi during the year of the Bet.
More than habit.
Seishirou smiled to himself as he waited at the traffic lights. Yes, watching his Subaru-kun had become far more than habit these years after the end of the Bet. But who could help it? Subaru was just so fascinating now! No more was he the innocent child; this beautiful young man with the guardedly open eyes hurt. The fact that Subaru had dedicated his life to hunting down Seishirou added a whole lot of spice; as the premier onmyouji of the Sumeragi, he could succeed in killing him if he really wanted to.
Which he didnít.
For some unknown reason, despite everything, Subaru in many ways remained curiously untainted by sin.
Again, most fascinating.
On impulse, Seishirou gave a merry laugh, the unexpected cheerfulness startling those beside him. Who would have imagined that the boy was capable of changing so much? Why, now that he thought about it, killing Subaruís twin sister had been one of the best things he had ever done!
The lights changed, and the pedestrians began to cross the road. Seishirou didnít move. A flash of colour in a sea of grey . . .
Subaru was close by.
Deliberately, Seishirou turned and followed the street to his left. After passing several dozen meters of shops, eat-houses, clubs, a soapland or two, he sensed the beacon that were his brands turn the corner he had just passed.
So. Subaru was stalking him, was he?
Seishirou smiled. Keeping his pace casual he kept moving, buildings to his left, a stream of cars passing on his right. Subaru, he noticed, had quickened a little.
Are you so eager to catch me, Subaru-kun?
He would make things easy for him.
There was a dead-end alleyway up ahead, one of those easily overlooked gaps between building usually frequented by hormone-driven couples and drug-addicts. At the moment it was empty, though a cloudy syringe indicated it hadnít been that way for long. Seishirou nudged it to one side with his shoe, then leaned up against the wall with cigarette and lighter. Waiting.
People passed in front of the alleyís mouth like minutes, eyes in front and feet pointed ahead. Seishirouís cigarette slowly burned away.
Finally, one person stopped. Seishirou didnít bother to look at him. Still smoking, he listened as Subaru took several slow, hesitant steps into the alley, then halted. The alleyway was dark, save for what was thrown away by lights of Tokyo beyond and the glow of Seishirouís dying cigarette. It had burnt down completely, and the butt was dropped in a shower of ash to be forgotten on the grimy concrete. Only then did Seishirou turn and acknowledge his preyís presence.
"Hello, Subaru-kun. Out for a night on the town, are you?"
No reply. Subaruís face was in shadow. Seishirou smiled.
"The thirteenth head of the Sumeragi shouldnít be here. Do you know the kind of things people get up to in a place like this? What would others think seeing us alone here together?"
Again, no answer. How rude. Here he was trying to make friendly conversation, and Subaru hadnít given him so much as a greeting.
"You are the Sakurazukamori?" asked Subaru softly.
Seishirou blinked. Subaruís voice was low and oddly discordant. He stood very still, back to the light, hands hanging limply by his sides. And his question . . .
"You are the Sakurazukamori?" repeated Subaru, still in the same strange voice.
What on earth was the Sumeragi going on about? Seishirou frowned. The signature from the brands on Subaruís hands was . . . not right. He could sense Subaruís life force, a brightly glowing flame like that of his lighter and just as easily snuffed out, but there was something else, alien, lurking in the darkness where the light did not reach . . .
"You are the Sakurazukamori?" repeated Subaru yet a third time. "You are the murderer?"
Carefully, Seishirou looked at the face of his prey, trying to discover what lay in the shadows. There was definitely something more going on here . . . "What a thing to ask," he said, still maintaining the pretence of amiability. "Surely you havenít hunted me down tonight just to ask a question you already know the answer to."
"You are the Sakurazukamori." Subaruís voice held the ring of conviction. "The murderer. You kill people."
Seishirou smiled as he gently probed the other onmyoujiís mind. "That is the duty the Sakurazukamori holds, yes." The marks on Subaruís hands suddenly flared up with an unearthly silver light; Seishirou let them burn. "Though the correct term is Ďassassiní, not Ďmurdererí."
Slowly, Subaru lifted his glowing hands. With a small flick of his wrists, a fan of ofuda appeared between his fingers. One was held at ready at waist-level, the other rose to cover the lower half of Subaruís face. By the light of his marks, finally, Seishirou could see Subaruís eyes; hypnotising emerald orbs that he knew so well . . .
They werenít Subaruís eyes anymore.
"You kill people," said ĎSubaruí, eyes burning in his expressionless face. "You hurt people. You hurt me." His voice echoed strangely like two instruments playing out of tune, and at last Seishirou understood. "Iíll kill you."
Seishirou laughed softly at the spirit in Subaruís body. "Oh?" he asked. "Subaru-kun said that to me a long ago. You, shiko, donít have anything to do with it."
The possessed Sumeragiís eyes hardened, and he raised the ofuda fan a little higher. "But unlike this boy," the ghost replied, a thin smile crossing Subaruís lips, "I want to kill you."
He flung the ofuda.
Seishirou languidly held up a hand where he had concealed his own ofuda Ė black to Subaruís white Ė in his palm. Subaruís spell exploded in mid air barely a foot in front of his face, destroying Seishirouís as well. A little surprised at the power behind Subaruís blow but entertained nonetheless, the Sakurazukamori casually stepped back a pace as Subaruís next attack Ė a flock of white doves Ė streaked towards him. Out of the shadows he called his eagle-shikigami, and it dived from the night sky with beak and talons ready. The doves, too focused on their target, were shredded to white paper. Those that werenít destroyed slammed into the wall behind Seishirou. Seishirou ignored the shards of brick that rained harmlessly onto his trench-coat and gave the possessed Sumeragi a smile.
"Having fun, shiko?"
His only reply was another flight of doves. Seishirou easily dodged them. He leapt over Subaruís head, throwing out his own ofuda and driving the other onmyouji into the wall. Subaru backed up and quickly drew a glowing pentagram in the air to shield himself from Seishirouís attack. There was a bright explosion, and Seishirou smirked behind his sunglasses. The ghost had complete access to all of Subaruís powers and abilities, but it was barely doing enough to scratch him. Really, he thought, watching ĎSubaruí sprint around him so that again their positions were reversed, it was all so disappointing. Was this all that Subaru was capable of?
Belatedly, Seishirou realised that Subaru was chanting. He couldnít hear him over the traffic, but he could most certainly see the young manís fingers folded in the magical configuration and the triumphant smile on his face.
A white pentagram had been drawn on the wall behind Seishirou. It exploded.
It was his fighting instincts that saved him, certainly. Seishirou hastily erected his own shield as brick and mortar came hurtling towards him like hard rain. The inverted pentagram flashed under each individual impact, and some of the makeshift missiles tore through to give Seishirou some very painful bruises. His sunglasses were lost. When the dust cleared, Seishirou shook his head clear and carefully picked his way out of the rubble. The possessed Sumeragi stood before him, blinking in surprise as if unable to believe that Seishirou was still able to stand. A crowd had started to gather and were nervously whispering and pointing as they struggled to work out what was going on.
Seishirou looked disdainfully down at his torn coat. "That really wasnít very nice. Subaru-kun isnít supposed to be so impolite." He sighed melodramatically as he dusted himself off. "And we have an audience. Do you wish to continue?"
Ignoring the gapes and stares, Subaru lifted his hands again. Seishirou raised an eyebrow at that.
The murmurs and whispers from the crowd quickly turned into shouts as hundreds of doves flew out of nowhere, flying around their heads like bats. Women screeched, trying to slap them away while men swore and mothers tried to protect their children. Subaru didnít even bother looking at them. Seishirou smirked.
"Very well then."
And the fight began again.
There was a fire escape above them; Seishirou leapt onto the third level as Subaruís shikigami streaked through where he had stood barely a second ago. Adrenalin coursed through him like a drug and Seishirou could have laughed euphorically for it. He had underestimated the Sumeragi; the young man had so much power that until now had only been hinted at.
But this wasnít really Subaru.
That really took a lot of the fun out of it.
Seishirou cast a handful of ofuda down towards the ground, paying no attention to the screams of the crowd as those closest to the fight were caught in the resulting blast. Subaru didnít hear them either. He stared up at the Sakurazukamori, eyes like emerald fire. Seishirou expected him to jump up to his level, to take their fight away from the non-combatants. Subaru-kun, unlike him, did care when the innocent were put in needless danger.
To his complete astonishment, Subaru slammed a spell against the side of the building where Seishirou stood on the fire-escape. The structure seemed to pulse and Seishirou felt the metal platform tremble under his feet, already too unstable for him to propel himself to safety. The whole side of the building began to collapse and construction debris crashing down like an avalanche accompanied by the screams of stressed iron and terrified people.
He surprised for sure, but hardly helpless. Despite the turmoil Seishirou managed to grab onto the twisted broken railing of the fire-escape, slowing his descent. He hung there for a breathless second as bits of mortar fell about him, the metal platform above creaking crazily over his head. As it broke off and began to careen towards him, soft sakura petals appeared out of night. They blew in a blizzard around the rapidly approaching danger, hiding it completely from view.
When the sakura dispersed, the air was clear.
Seishirou let go of his hold and dropped lightly onto the ruins of the building. His opponent was nowhere in sight. Quickly the Sakurazukamori scanned the destruction, the wails and groans of the bleeding all too clear now that the traffic had stopped. Most of the rubble had fallen into the alley. The unfortunates who were trapped in it were the ones standing closest to the entrance, where they had been caught in what had spilled out. None had been killed.
Luck or calculation? thought Seishirou.
Something tugged at his consciousness; he looked up to see a familiar silhouette against the city lights, standing on the top of another building across the street. Seishirou smiled, and in a display of complete disregard for witnesses, leapt over the cars up to where his opponent stood. Subaru, or rather, the spirit controlling Subaruís body, was not expecting that and whirled like some wild animal at the sudden appearance of the assassin behind him.
"I must say that Iím quite impressed," said Seishirou cheerfully. "Subaru-kun is never so uninhibited with his powers. Possessing the thirteenth head of the Sumeragi to find your vengeance Ė youíve chosen very well." He took one step towards the Sumeragi; instinctively, the other moved away. "On the other hand, you do realise that you are infringing on my property."
Subaru snarled, ofuda held at the ready. "Iíll kill you!"
Seishirou smiled and kept walking as if he had all the time in the world, taking care to avoid the oily puddles of stale rainwater that lay on the concrete. The last thing he wanted was for his shoes to get dirty. "Youíd better take good care of Subaru-kun," he continued conversationally. "I will be most upset if such a pretty face were to be damaged." The expected attack came then and Seishirou idly deflected it into a midden of old boxes and trash. What tourists never saw in this city of neon lights. Still Seishirou kept advancing. "Itís so rare to see Subaru-kun this angry. A pity, anger suits him very well. Itís very . . . alluring." He laughed as the possessed Sumeragi blinked in utter confusion at the subject. "Then again, Subaru-kun looks good no matter what he feels. I remember how his face used to light up when he was happy, or how adorable he looks when he blushes. And when he weeps it was so very beautiful . . ." He was barely a meter from the Sumeragi now; seeing his opponent drop into a defensive position, he stopped and tilted his head to one side. "But you know what?" he said softly. "Iíve never seen Subaru-kun hate before. Can you show me that?"
The ghost blinked uncomprehending green eyes at him. Seishirou waited, watching those eyes, feeling Ė what? Something almost bitter, like a weight hanging from the heart he never and didnít know how to use. Something, something people called . . . Seishirou was never lost for words but now . . .
He almost had the name before Subaru suddenly shoved an ofuda against his chest. Seishirou found himself flung backwards into the wall. Pain blossomed everywhere, but was nothing compared to the exhilaration of surprise. If it werenít for the fact that his ribs hurt, Seishirou would have laughed. Some many strange and new things tonight Ė this was the best fight he had ever had! He stood up, about to call something amusing out to his opponent Ė
Subaru stood poised before him. A ceremonial dagger gleamed in his right hand.
"As I said, Sakurazukamori," said the ghost bitingly through Subaruís lips, "I will kill you."
Seishirou didnít answer. He could have easily attacked; Subaru was close enough that he could sink his fist into his chest in a storm of blood and sakura.
Instead, he waited.
Subaru smirked. Then he sprang into action. With one swift move he slit his own palm and let the warm blood drip over the daggerís blade. Seishirou couldnít help but stare as Subaru began to chant, not the rippling syllabic words of onmyoujitsu, but something thick and guttural Ė
Ė forbidden blood magic Ė
Ė and the blade took on a dull red glow.
Seishirou had just enough time to see the insanely triumphant expression on the Sumeragiís face before the dagger was stabbed into the roof they were standing on. The blast of raw, tainted power that radiated out from that single point slammed into Seishirou like a tsunami, knocking him off his feet to the ground where he lay as wave after wave of blood-magic swept over him. He gritted his teeth against the agony, almost deafened by the roar and every muscle clenched so tightly his limbs trembled. But the magic was wild, uncontrolled Ė somehow Seishirou managed to spin a shield around himself, a shield that also drew on the nature of his maboroshi bringing him out of the storm and cushioning him from the worst of it.
It still hurt, though. A lot.
Finally, it was over.
It was a long time until Seishirou felt able to move again. He only did so when the sound of sirens on the night air reached his ears. He forced himself to get up, feeling battered and bruised both inside and out. The ground was spider-webbed with cracks; too much more stress and it would probably collapse. Seishirou felt concrete crumbling beneath his feet. His steps were a little unsteady Ė that disturbed him. He was accustomed to having complete control over himself.
The sirens were getting closer. He had to move quickly; imagine, the Sakurazukamori, dark assassin with centuries of tradition and magic behind him, being arrested by the city police. Ignoring the pain, Seishirou was preparing to make his exit when he realised that his enemy was still nearby. He turned to face him.
The Sumeragi onmyouji lay on his side unconscious, fingers curled beside the fallen dagger. Blood seeped into his clothes from a wound across his chest. His pale face seemed even whiter in the harsh neon lights, throwing his fine features into sharp relief. Beautiful. Such a stark contrast to the twistedness of before.
Seishirou stared for a very long time.
Voices, authoritative voices from the street below. Quickly, Seishirou lifted the unconscious Sumeragi into his arms and drew an illusion about them. It took a lot more concentration than it should have; he was drained. Irritated and more than a little uneasy, Seishirou focused his mind on the Sakura Barrow and all the souls it held, the wellspring of all his power. It took but a moment for the Sakura to recognise him and give him all he needed, and he was ready. As Seishirou silently leapt to the next building he tried to imagine how the media was going to report all of this. He wondered how it was to be explained.
It wouldnít be. It would be the hot topic on everyoneís lips for a day or two, then fade as quickly as it had come up to exist only as one of those urban myths young people so liked to relate.
As always, he and Subaru lived outside reality.
They were far enough away from the battleground now; Seishirou alighted soundlessly to the pavement, carefully holding Subaru so that the younger onmyouji wouldnít be jarred by the movement. His toy had been damaged enough. Quickly, he began to make his way to his apartment. He kept the illusion up.
No one noticed them.
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