A sinking feeling
Strong forces pulling us
We lose control as we come too near
A place where even the smallest light
Is being extinguised instantly
Trapped in a stream
Attracted to a black hole
To the end of time
Imprisoning our bright soul
Sainan gave an internal sigh of relief as Aiko stepped in between him and his Lady during one of the steps of the dance. She smiled down at him, a faint wisp of a smile. Interesting…He didn't remember seeing her smile before. She looked younger when she did. They twirled around the floor with the rest of the couples, and Sainan was granted a brief view of his Lady during one turn-around. She had been taken by Aiko's previous partner- that stupid wizard Sairi.
"You dance well," Aiko complimented.
"The Lady made me learn so I would dance with her," he said as a response.
Aiko laughed softly. "She really is fond of you."
"I am aware of that, Ambassador."
"She is not the only one." Aiko released Sainan on a swinging move so that he stumbled backwards.
Two hands closed on his shoulders and a voice murmured by his ear, "May I have this dance?"
Sainan whirled around to face Niko. The older Mage was dressed in a white suit that fit him handsomely. He was smiling, though something about it seemed…softer that it should. Sainan swallowed hard. ~Stars…He's perfect…~ Niko didn't wait for an answer before taking his hands and sweeping him away. Sainan found it suddenly hard to breathe. ~I can't- I can't dance with him! He'll find out!~
Niko ignored the Black Star's not-so-subtle attempts to get away from him. He chuckled and drew the boy closer. He lowered his mouth to Sainan's ear again. "You know, I think I like you, Sainan."
Sainan closed his eyes, gritting his teeth. "Don't say such things when you don't understand what you're saying."
Niko touched his forehead to Sainan's, smile disappearing. "Don't I, Sainan? Bavaar took my lock off for tonight. So if I say I like you, I believe I mean it."
Sainan stared at him. "M-masaka…"
"Why do you find it so impossible to believe that people like you, Sainan?" Niko asked.
"_Why_? Look at me!" the younger Mage returned, anger and pain in his voice. "I'm a half-breed! I'm not all Star Mage, and no one can tell me what the other part of me is! _You_ know," he added, a bit acidly, "but you'll never tell me."
Niko raised a hand to brush it against Sainan's cheek. "That doesn't matter, Sainan. You being a hybrid has nothing to do with how other people view you."
"What do you see when you look at me, then?" Sainan asked, the pain and anger still lacing his tone. The backs of his eyes were itching from tears he refused to allow to form or fall. Here was Niko, returning what Sainan felt, but Sainan couldn't make Niko understand that this was important- couldn't make himself understand that Niko could accept him the way he was.
Niko smiled, a wry but soft expression that now Sainan recognized to be his true smile. "I see myself."
Aya listened to the tour guide drone on. It had been agreed upon his arrival last night that he would take the tour to see the stage while Omi went to the library again. The carriage rolled to a stop and the three tourists were invited to get off by their guide, an odd man named Yoroku. Aya was the last out of the carriage, and moved with the others to gaze down at the cliff.
He was not impressed with what he saw.
From the wistful, breathless way Omi had spoken about it the previous night, he had expected more than this. It was just a huge slab of white. He eyed it dubiously. This is what Omi had been speaking about that he'd gotten a bit hoarse about?
"It was…wonderful, Aya-kun," Omi whispered, tucking his knees up to his chest. "It was…It is the mark of the fall of empires, of dreams and hopes and cultures…" Omi paused, swallowing hard. Aya watched from his spot in the doorway, holding a mug of coffee in his hand. Omi looked sideways at him, and Aya could see tears glistening in the boy's eyes. "It is so many things, all presented in a stage that is thousands of years old. How could it get deteriorated like that, Aya-kun? How could anyone want to destroy it?…" He shook his head and looked away. "It was something I don't think I'll ever forget, no matter how long I last."
That conversation still troubled Aya, for reasons he couldn't define. He shoved it away impatiently, focusing his attention on the stage. To him, it was just a crumbled thing. Aya eyed the symbols. They were hard to see…He heard Yoroku saying something about cameras and paid the man for one.
He lifted the camera to his eyes, zooming in to get close to the symbols. Something about them bothered him. He studied them through the lens, slowly moving the camera along them and taking a few pictures as he did so. As one came into focus he paused. That symbol…That was the same shape as the sparkly Manx had laid on the table yesterday when telling him about Omi and Ken.
Aya took a picture of it and moved on. He was able to place a good deal of the others as ones Omi had used for decorations, and when his film was gone he lowered his camera and gazed at the place thoughtfully. Yoroku came up alongside him.
"Ready to go?" the guide asked.
"…Aa." Aya turned away from the sight.
~How are you tied into this, Omi?~
The carriage took them back to town and Aya went to the library to see if Omi was done. The boy was waiting in front of the place, his face drawn with thought, his hands stuffed in his pockets. Aya paused at the base of the stairs leading up to the library, studying his young teammate. For a moment, Omi looked world-weary and old- two things Aya had never seen in him. The image disturbed him.
The boy looked up, meeting Aya's gaze. Was that a trick of the light, or was there an indefinable depth of sadness to those eyes? Trick of the light, for when Omi blinked in recognition it was gone, replaced by a sort of awe. The boy smiled and headed down the stairs. They went back to their hotel side by side.
Ten minutes later found them in the living room of the hotel room, Omi drinking juice and Aya drinking coffee, curled up on opposite ends of the small couch. Omi lowered his bottle to cup it in both hands. "I think I understand what the background of this is, now," he said, meeting Aya's gaze, "but to me it's more a Romeo and Juliet story than a piece of history." He shook his head slightly, as if in disbelief.
"Long, long ago there were four empires and magic- supernatural gifts- was commonplace. Back then, the aging process was altered depending on a person's magic. The stronger the magic, the longer the lifespan." Aya nodded his understanding, and Omi got down to his story. "Among the ruling races was a race of people called the Star Mages. They were split into two parts- the White Stars and the Black Stars. The only differences between them were that they had different powers. There was a White Star born with access to a great deal of magic. He was feared through all the land for his gifts and his temper. His name was Niko.
"Very few ever dared to cross him- and none lived when they did. One day the wrong person opened his mouth. What was said is not known, but Niko initiated a terrible war with the fourth empire. He broke the entire empire off the continent and sent it to the bottom of the ocean, and hunted down anyone who had ever lived there. That is how strong he was." Omi shook his head in wonder. Aya was merely waiting for the story to turn believable.
"That turned out to be the last straw. The Star Mages only had one real enemy, one real race that had enough power to stand against them- the Myrr. They were a people that lived alone and ignored the rest of the world. They could care less what Niko did, until he destroyed that empire. They recognized this display of power to be a threat to their existence. They took a stand against him. He fought hard, but was beaten. Ara'miza, goddess of the Myrr, chose to let him live for reasons unknown. To make sure nothing like that would ever happen again, she constructed a lock for him. It was designed to hold back how much power he could access and all of his negative emotions. Then, as an added punishment for scarring her face, she took away the ability for him to love, stealing the one gift she knew would make him happy.
"Niko was given to Bavaar, Empress of the Kemo Empire. Many, many years later is when things started to really act up." Omi paused to sip his juice. "A hybrid Black Star became Ambassador for the Nadai Empire, an empire Kemo was constantly squabbling with. It was said that every Star Mage had their own star they were born under, a star that was their personal leader and source of power. Niko and the Black Star, Sainan, were born under a double star and referred to as twin stars. Despite their different loyalties, they found themselves drawn together- the consequence of their stars' interaction. Sainan found himself attracted to Niko despite his attempts to not be affected by the older Mage. He was hurt by Niko's inability to care, since Niko was shallow with his lock on. Eventually this got through Niko's lock and he began to weaken it."
He shook his head again. "Their leaders tried to keep them away from each other, as much as to keep their attraction from interfering with their Ambassador duties as to keep Niko out of where the Myrr could find him. Their attempts were in vain. They were brought together time and time again, and liking grew to love. The Myrr heard of this, and needless to say, they were not happy. Niko, the one creature they feared, had weakened his lock, the only thing that kept him in check. It was decided that Niko must die.
"Ara'miza knew that Sainan's weakness was that he was only half Star Mage. The other half was unknown, and he would do anything to try and find his origins. She drew him to her with offers to teach him of who he was. In return he had to bring Niko's weapon, which had taken to storing most of Niko's power after his lock limited them. Her logic was that if Niko came to 'rescue' Sainan from the school, he wouldn't be able to harm them. Unable to resist the temptations of the offer, Sainan agreed to go and ignored Niko's pleas to forget it. When Sainan refused to back down, Niko finally relented, saying simply that wherever Sainan went, he would follow.
"Upon Sainan's arrival he was given an amulet to wear, an amulet Ara'miza said would claim him as a student and keep the other Myrr from trying to kill him. Niko knew what was going on and knew it was just a trap for him, but he kept his promise to Sainan and showed up. He was captured by the Myrr easily, as he had no weapon. Ara'miza said she had no desire to kill Sainan, just him, and if he would give himself to the execution without struggling, Sainan would leave. Niko knew there was truth in her words and agreed, and all of the Myrr and he travelled to the Star Cathedral for the execution.
"Sainan found out what was going on and broke out of the school, travelling to the Cathedral as fast as he could. He broke into the ceremonial chamber during the proceedings. He tried to stop the execution but was unable to make it past the guards to Ara'miza- it turned out the amulet he wore made him unable to get to any of his magic. Niko was killed on his own blade at Ara'miza's hands. Heartbroken and in terrible grief, Sainan killed himself just moments later on Niko's blade so that the two would be able to be together." Omi drank more of his juice and fell silent for a few moments, then finished his tale. "Nadai and Kemo revolted against the Myrr at the loss of their Ambassadors, and the third empire of Fadorn added to the battle because their Ambassador had been a friend of the two. The Myrr had no chance, though the war between the groups was enormous. It ended with the death of Ara'miza and the fall of the Cathedral."
Omi went quiet again and silence descended on the room as Aya digested the story. Parts of it- most of it- seemed impossible. Magic? Paranormal powers he could understand, as he'd seen it in Schwarz. But using a star to get magic? That was insane…wasn't it? Then again, hadn't Weiß seen a lot of insane things? Lab experiments that turned men to monsters, Schwarz, old men who had wanted to use Aya-chan for their rituals…
"And you believe this?" Aya asked.
Omi stared at his bottle for several long seconds, then lifted his gaze to meet Aya's. His eyes were calm and confident. "I do," he answered.
Aya gave a soft sigh and took a sip of his coffee. It was cold, now. He slid off the couch and stood in a fluid motion, switching his mug to one hand and raising the other to brush his bangs out of his face. "So now we know the background. We know the cults want to raise these people from the dead. Now we have to find out how they plan to go about it, and- more importantly- how to stop them."
"This afternoon, then, we return home." Home was where the cults were. Then he paused, eyes on Omi. It would not be safe to let Omi return to where those fanatics were. But how could he leave Omi here by himself? The boy needed to be watched. If he was part of one of the cults…
"Change of plans." Aya almost took another sip of his drink before remembering it was cold. Omi looked up at him, waiting to see what the redhead thought. "I'll return home. You stay here and see what else you can find."
Was that a relieved smile that curved those lips faintly?
Omi nodded. "That sounds good. I'm sure there are still a lot of places I can look around. Perhaps the people of Higo-sen know some legends and old wives' tales that could be of some use."
"See what you can do." Aya gave a nod and headed towards the door. He stopped by the door to fish out his wallet. Omi had mentioned last night that he'd been low on money. He dug out half of what was in his wallet and set it on the stand by the door, then placed his mug beside it.
"Arigato, Aya-kun!" Omi grinned upon seeing the money. "I'll pay you back when I get my next paycheck." Aya merely nodded and opened the door, one hand sliding his wallet back in his pocket. Omi rose from the couch. "Should I walk you to the train station?"
"Iie. Collect your thoughts and start making a list of places to go. If you find anything, call one of us." Aya stepped out and closed the door behind him. His feet carried him to the elevator. As he waited for it to arrive, he dialled Ken's number.
"Moshi moshi, Hidaka Ken speaking!"
"Ken," Aya said as a greeting. "Omi is going to stay here to continue research. He thinks I'm coming home. I'm going to stay here and keep an eye on him. If he calls, tell him I'm not around."
"Ahh, I feel bad about being suspicious of him…" Ken sounded regretful. "Do we really have to?"
"We'd be suspicious of you if you'd made the decorations," Aya told him simply. There was silence on the other end as Ken digested this news, and then Aya heard a sigh. "As soon as I find a new hotel I'll call and tell you two what he's managed to figure out."
"Ja." Aya hung up.
Omi wandered the marketplace. His stomach was growling and demanding lunch. He'd been searching the city for an hour for any more information he could find on them. This marketplace was his next stop. Hopefully he could strike up a casual conversation with one of the merchants. He'd already decided that asking about the cathedral took discretion when speaking to someone in the old part of Higo-sen. A good portion of these people were descendents of the hill people that had survived the fall of the empires. Those in the newer part of the city knew the cathedral only as a relic, so he found nothing there.
He paused at a merchant's booth that was selling small steaming meat pies. "How much for a pie, sir?" he asked, resting his hands on the front of the booth. The steam and smell coming off of the pies was delicious, and he heard his stomach rumbling.
The man grunted and tapped his price chart. Omi fished a few bills out of his wallet and handed them over. The man shoved two pies at him. Omi took them carefully and turned away, disgruntled by the man's grouchy behavior.
"You're a tourist, ain'tcha." It wasn't a question, just a statement of the obvious.
Omi turned back. "Aa."
"I can tell. You look around much?"
"I went on the recommended tour to the Cathedral."
"Pah." The man spit off to the side. "You tourists don't know anything."
"I'm trying to learn. I'm doing a research project on it for my school."
The man sneered at him. "Don't mess with it. Outsiders don't belong anywhere near it, you hear?" Omi blinked, surprised by the scorn in his voice.
"I have every right to learn what I can."
The man leaned forward. His breath, hot, harsh, and rancid, washed over Omi's face. The teenage assassin was barely able to keep himself from flinching away. He merely held his breath, watching and waiting. "If you know what's good for you…You'll stay away from it."
Omi said nothing. The man leaned back. Finally, after several quiet moments passed between them, Omi turned and hurried away.
He'd learned something from his wanderings of the past two hours, he mused as he bit into a pie. The people of new Higo-sen cared little for the Cathedral. The people of old Higo-sen were very territorial of it. When he'd asked an old woman if she would recommend the tour to the Cathedral, pretending to be a freshly arrived tourist looking for some eye candy, she'd discouraged him. She had been very vehement. Then there was the bookstore keeper, who had closed up and stopped looking at him when he'd found out Omi was interested in the Cathedral. There was the jewelry seller, the two old men smoking on a porch, three women doing laundry, and one young child…
They all wanted him to stay away from the Cathedral.
He sighed and turned a corner. As he did so, his eyes fell on someone a short distance away. Omi froze, nearly dropping his pies. Standing by a booth, oblivious to Omi's presence, was a boy with dark brown hair and midnight eyes.
"This is insane."
Yohji sighed. "You said that already, Ken."
"There has to be a way to stop this!"
"There is. We just haven't figured it out yet. Now keep looking." Yohji turned his back on the younger assassin and made his way through the building. The only light in the large room was that of his flashlight. He sighed and rubbed his nose. Walking around kicked up dust, and it was irritating the hell out of him. Not to mention that the smell of blood was thick in the air since this had been the site of one of today's murders.
If there was nothing in common with the people who'd been killed besides their ages, there were more things in common about their deaths. They'd all been killed the same way, sliced across the middle of their forehead by a blade sharp enough to cut halfway through their heads. They were all killed in buildings that weren't used anymore, in large, open rooms. Two a day, both in the morning.
He cast his light around. Searching a murder scene in the dead of the night for clues that would lead him to the Cult of Myrr was not on his list of things he liked to do. He sighed, reaching out with a foot to shove a crate out of his way.
He froze, eyes falling on something engraved in the ground. It was an odd symbol. He crouched by it, tracing its squiggles with the beam of light. "Ken," he called. He heard the shuffling of his friend's feet as Ken made his way towards him. When the boy stopped beside him, he pointed to the symbol. "Look."
"Hey…" Ken inhaled sharply. "That symbol…That was on Fuumi's necklace!"
Continue to Part 8