Children of this world
Understand and listen
Who you really are
Search within yourself
Gather knowledge from the earth
And embrace the universe
And you will find the answers
Aya slipped into the crowd gathered by a ramshackle building. The place was surrounded by police cars and ambulances, and medics and officers were swarming everywhere. Reporters were struggling to get to the front to catch what they could on their cameras, only to be shoved back by police officers. Aya made his way towards the front, taking every available gap to help him move forward. The noise level was incredible.
For his first stop he'd chosen the place where this morning's boys were killed. He had figured he might be able to see more if he got there before too much time had passed. His next stop was the place where the first boys had been killed. He doubted he would be able to find much there.
Finally he reached the front, where only a row of police and some police tape kept him away from the scene. His height gave him an advantage as he joined the other curious onlookers in looking over the scene. The bodies were being zipped into black bags. Forensic workers were busy everywhere, taking pictures, dusting the ground, writing things down on papers. Aya watched them work, eyes going over the chalk outlines on the ground. Both had been laying side by side, arms at their side, one taller than the other.
A wail caught Aya's ear, and he turned his head. A short distance away stood a small huddle of people, on the other side of the police line. From the way they were carrying on, they were obviously one of the families. He fingered the flowers he had in his hand. He'd brought them as an excuse to get close to the family. He made his way towards them. The two parents were hanging onto each other for dear life. A girl of about fourteen was near them- the victim's sister- crying into her own hands.
Aya approached her, ducking under the tape when the police weren't looking, and reached out to lightly brush her hands. She lowered them at the contact, face twisted in her sorrow, hiccuping on her sobs. Aya paused, surprised. This girl was a girl that visited the shop often to buy flowers and flirt with Ken and him. Aya knew what it was like to lose a sibling, but at least his had the chance to wake up again. She was shorter than him by a few feet, so he crouched, enabling her to look down at him instead of up. He held up the flowers in offering. "For your loss," he told her, voice gentle.
She accepted them, clasping them in a tight fist, then was unable to hold herself up any longer. She collapsed forward, arms going out to wrap around his neck. He held her close, lightly rubbing her back. The movements were a bit awkward as he had never been one for comforting, but they were what she needed. She was shaking, her entire body wracking with her sorrow.
"Why?" she sobbed by his ear. "Why did they have to kill him?"
Aya did not have an answer for her so he said nothing, continuing to hold her. His eyes wandered. The police came over to speak to the parents. One of them eyed him, knowing he wasn't immediate family. "Sir, you're going to have to leave."
"No!" the girl cried, clinging tighter to Aya. "Please, stay!"
"Are you related to them?" the officer asked Aya, eyes falling on his red hair. The parents were trying to dry their tears so they could concentrate on what the officers had to say.
"I am their florist."
"He's a friend of Meri's," the mother said, noticing him. Her eyes were full of sorrow as she briefly met Aya's gaze. Aya nodded slightly to her, trying to express his apologies for her grief. "Please, Fujimiya-san, please take her away from here. She shouldn't be here…"
This changed the plans. He had been hoping to stay close enough to hear the officers' verdict. However, he bowed his head to her and stood. "I can bring her back to the shop." Meri didn't seem like she would be able to walk on her own. She was slight, however, and Aya had no problem lifting her. She wrapped her arms tighter around his neck and tucked her legs around his waist.
Aya turned away and paused. Standing on the other side of the police line was a boy who couldn't be older than Omi. He was dressed in beige pants and a shirt to match, with silvery hair to his shoulderblades. He was leaning against the wall nonchalantly, watching the police work. He noticed he was being watched and turned, eyes scanning the crowd and falling on Aya. They gazed at each other, assessing each other.
An alarm went off in Aya's head. That boy wasn't supposed to be there.
The boy turned and slipped back under the police tape, disappearing into the crowd. Aya considered following him, but he couldn't with Meri in his arms. Instead he turned and began picking his way through the crowd. When he placed Meri in the passenger seat of his Porsche, she curled up into the fetal position. Aya pulled the seat buckle around her body and climbed into his side of the car. He shut the door and turned the key in the ignition. As he reached for his own buckle, he glanced in his rearview mirror to check and make sure no one was in his way. There was the boy in beige again, standing by the back of his car.
He twisted around in his seat quickly, eyes scanning the area back there. No one. Aya climbed out of his car and moved towards the back to see if the boy had ducked. He was nowhere. Aya leaned down, looking under the car. Still nothing. Aya straightened and looked around, heading back to his door. He hesitated before climbing in, buckling, and driving away.
"Thank you for watching her," Meri's mother whispered, squeezing Meri's hand with her own.
"It was no problem," Aya answered. ~Especially since I didn't watch her.~ Omi and Aya had stayed with Meri until she cried herself to sleep on the sofa in the den. Then Aya had left to continue his rounds and Omi had returned to the computer in the hall, keeping an ear open in case she stirred. "If there's anything else I can do to help?…"
"No, there's nothing. Thank you." She leaned forward and hugged him. He awkwardly pat her back. She drew back, offered him a teary smile, and led Meri towards the car parked in front of the shop. Aya watched as they climbed in and drove away. Then he shut the door and returned to the kitchen, where the rest were gathered.
He took his seat and looked around at the others. Ken was snacking on some of the extra juicy things Omi had made for breakfast. Yohji was searching for his cigarettes, his lighter in one hand. Omi was obviously deep in thought, but he pulled himself out of la la land when he noticed Aya. "Did any of you three find anything?" Omi asked.
Ken shook his head. "The places I went were already swept clean, taken care of by the police. I visited the families, but they could think of no reason why their sons would be targeted. I asked a few of their friends about them, but there was nothing that any of them had in common."
"Nothing except that they're all males between the ages fifteen and nineteen," Yohji added. "My results were the same." He shrugged. He finally found his pack of cigarettes and pulled one out, lifting it to his lips.
"Yohji-kun," Omi started warningly.
Yohji sighed and put it away. "I should get to smoke. I pulled a long day today."
"Aya pulled a longer one than you," Ken retorted, "on less sleep." The brunette slid a mug of coffee across the table to Aya, who accepted it silently.
"Did you see anything, Aya-kun?"
"One of the murdered has a funeral tomorrow afternoon. I'm going to go to it." Aya sipped his drink. "The victims don't have anything in common."
"So how do they pick?" Omi mused, scratching his head. "Do they just choose random people? How is that supposed to help them?" He sighed and shook his head. "What about the fresh site?"
"Meri's presence interfered with it. I couldn't stay long enough to find out anything." An image of the strange boy came to mind. "There was someone there who shouldn't have been there, a boy dressed in beige."
"How do you know he shouldn't have been there?" Ken asked.
"It's called a hunch, Ken." Yohji reached out stole a treat from Ken's plate. Ken swat at his hand.
"Hey! Thief! Give that back!" Yohji popped it in his mouth. Ken punched his shoulder. "That was mine!"
Yohji raised an eyebrow at Ken. "You hit like a girl. No wonder you need those claws to take people out."
Ken drew in a deep breath, about to start on a tirade, but Aya cut in. He was not in the mood for this. He had had four hours of sleep last night, and he still had work left to do this evening. "Be quiet," he snapped at them. They fell silent. Aya turned to Omi.
Omi took his cue. "Well, I looked up twin stars today. Lots of things came up, but not much came up that I thought would be fitting for religious cults." When he saw Ken's frown, he explained. "Mostly 'twin star' came up with cameras or some little Sanrio Hello Kitty products. One thing did pop up, though, that caught my eye. It was an astrology page."
"Ano…Isn't astrology study of the stars? How does that fit with religions?" Ken asked.
Yohji stretched and slumped forward on the table. "Astronomy is the study of space, Ken."
"Astrology is religion based on the stars," Omi finished. "The page wouldn't load- it had been taken down years ago by its webmasters with a simple message to seek the Star Cathedral for more answers. But it got me thinking about space. There are no twin stars when dealing with stellar matters, but there are binary stars." When he saw the blank looks on Ken's and Yohji's faces, he explained. "Binary stars are double stars, or a pair of stars that are close together and cannot escape from each other. They hold each other captive by the force of gravity, and each one orbits around the other. Some are so close together that they almost touch. When this happens the gravity of each star distorts its companion, causing great tides in the gases of the stars.
"In such close pairs, scientists have witnessed violent events. One can become an X-Ray pulsar. Others can become strong radiators of radio waves. And then there's the most destructive of all- one star can start pulling its companion's matter onto itself. This matter will eventually explode in a nuclear reaction. It flares to hundreds or thousands of times its former brightness and is called a nova."
"That's a big explosion," Ken mused.
"Anything else?" Aya asked.
Omi shook his head. There was silence as the rest digested this. "So," Yohji finally spoke up, "what if this cult is trying to get twin stars that are about to explode into a nova? Imagine the power that would come off of it."
"It's just a guess," Omi told them. "There isn't much to find on them, and I'm still not positive of the role of binary stars in the cult. The library was closed today, but it will be open tomorrow and I'll see if I can find anything on the cults there."
"Did you look around for anything on Myrr?" Ken asked.
Omi nodded. "All it came up with was screen names people had chosen, and the recent news articles about the cults. Nothing else."
"And I used to think you could find anything on the web," Yohji said with a laugh.
"It's harder than you think, Yohji-kun," Omi admonished him.
"That's why _you_ have that job." Yohji grinned and stood. "Well, I'm off to bed. No one had better wake me up tomorrow, no matter what holiday they think it is."
"Yohji-kun," Omi protested.
"Oyasumi, minna!" Yohji winked at Omi and swept out of the room.
Ken yawned and stood, carrying the now empty plate over to the sink and washing it off. "I'm tired, too. Are you guys going to bed?"
"I'm going back to the fresh site," Aya said simply.
Ken paused in his cleaning. "Shouldn't you be catching up on your sleep?" he asked. Aya didn't answer. "I can go for you, you know," he offered, glancing over his shoulder. When he saw the look on Aya's face, he gulped. "Or not." He set the plate aside. "What about you, Omi?"
"Ah…I have to close some things on my computer and I'm going to get a drink, then I'll head up. You go on, Ken."
"All right, then. Good night, you two!" Ken left the room, yawning again as he went.
Aya stood, pushing his chair under the table, and left the room silently to change. Omi put his head on the table, waiting until he heard soft footsteps on the stairs as Aya was on his way out. The back door opened and shut, a signal that Aya was gone. He stood and went to the counters, lifting a cup down from the cabinet. He sighed, taking a carton of juice from the fridge and filling his glass. He wandered into the doorway to look out into the shop, gazing around at the flowers.
He was reluctant to go to bed, but he didn't know why. He lifted his free hand to his forehead and rubbed his temples. Why hadn't he been able to sleep last night? He'd woken up at midnight with the urgency to prepare for the holiday burning in him. It was an urgency that had kept him moving through the wee hours of the morning: cooking, cleaning, decorating, planning.
He half-turned to look around the kitchen, eyes falling on the half loaf of bread that remained. "I didn't know you knew how to make bread!" Ken had said.
"Neither did I," Omi whispered. He slipped into the shop and set his juice on the counter. Light from the kitchen caught on the sparkles of the designs that still swayed back and forth from the ceiling. Omi fetched a stool and began to take them down.
The front doors of the building were locked, as Aya expected them to be. The next best way to get it was by taking the fire escape up to the second floor. He made his way towards it and began climbing. He was dressed in his assassin's gear, his katana swinging by his waist. His boots clicked softly against the metal steps of the ladder as he headed upward.
The window was unlocked- regulations demanded that it remained unlocked in case of an emergency- so it was no trouble to get inside from his perch on the scaffolding. He paused a moment on the inside to let his eyes adjust, as it was darker in the building than it was outside. When he could see enough to tell the difference between walls and obstacles, he set off.
His boots scraped softly against the ground as he went, one hand resting on the hilt of his katana. He doubted he'd need it, but still…
His mind travelled over the events of the day, turning each item over as he examined them individually. First, there was Omi. His actions this morning were enough to put Aya on guard. After the large breakfast Omi had returned to his usual self, but that wasn't enough to completely wash away the nagging sense that something was up, that Omi knew more than he was supposed to. It wasn't good if one couldn't completely trust their tactician. It was dangerous. Seeing as how Omi _had_ normalled out, though, Aya would give him the benefit of the doubt until he saw any further evidence that said the boy needed to be taken out of the mission or put under evaluation.
Then there was the fresh murder scene from this morning, this building he was now moving through. The boy in beige- who was he? The police hadn't noticed him, but they should have. He had been beyond police tape. Perhaps the crowd had passed him over as an agent who had been roused from bed and hadn't had time to put on his uniform. Aya knew better- no, he felt it. A hunch, as Yohji had put it. Assassin's instinct, Aya called it. That boy didn't belong there. If that girl hadn't needed his attention, Aya could have followed him.
Then there was the rearview mirror, where Aya had thought he'd seen the boy's reflection. That was easily explained. Aya hadn't had enough sleep. As soon as he was done here, he was going straight home and catch up on his rest. He wasn't usually one to overindulge in sleep- ~Like Yohji,~ he thought with some distaste- but he had enough sense to know that if he didn't let his body sleep until it woke up and catch up on what it had lost he would not be fully alert in the upcoming parts of this mission.
He finally reached the stairs and put a hand out, searching for the railing. He couldn't see the landing at the bottom, but he knew this was a tall stairwell just from the climb up the ladder outside. This building was built to have high ceilings.
Something rustled downstairs.
Aya tensed and froze, hand tightening on the handle of his blade. The murderers, come back to the scene of the crime? Maybe curious people? Third choice- it could be some small animal that lived here. After all, this wasn't a used building.
He lowered his foot to the first step.
That's when the attack came.
It struck without warning. Something slammed into Aya from behind, so fiercely that he fell forward. His hand darted out, trying to catch the railing, but it slipped from between his fingers. He managed to turn sideways before hitting the hard wood stairs, his shoulder making first contact with a blow that sent ragged white hot pain through his arm and back.
Instinctively Aya released his katana, bringing his arms up to tuck around and protect his head. While these steps would be more dangerous if they were concrete or stone, bashing one's head against wood did not come without consequences, and he would like to avoid a concussion or serious wound.
Pain flared up in hundreds of places as he rolled down the stairs. He knew he'd hit the ground when he began rolling in a straight line instead of down, and he used the momentum to get himself to his feet, his hand drawing his katana with a metallic hiss as he did so. His eyes searched the darkness on all sides, searching for any attackers. He could not make out anything. There was silence except for his breathing.
He'd been pushed from behind. Perhaps the attacker was upstairs
still. He started up, moving warily but quickly, eyes searching for any movement. Whoever it was had tried to kill him, and now they were going to pay.
But the floor was empty. There was no one up there. He circled the entire floor, alert and tense, but the only things he found were boxes the size of shoe boxes. He even looked out the window to see if the attacker had escaped down the fire escape, but no one was out there. He went back downstairs, moving sideways to keep an eye on both sides at once, both floors at the same time. Nothing.
He checked the first floor thoroughly for any other intruders before setting about to see if he could find anything around the murder scene that would give away the murderers. His search was fruitless, and he kept his sword out the entire time, not putting it away until he was out of the building and a block down the sidewalk.