Fulfill your soul's mission
To glorify the source
Know that you are a part of its creation
Wherever you go, there you are
Empress Bavaar moved up alongside her Ambassador, the skirts of her velvety gown rustling as she moved. The White Star was leaning against the railing that ran along the edge of the Thrones' balcony, and she glanced him up and down with appreciation. Instead of the burgundy robes he usually wore, he was wearing a suit of white spii silk. He looked good in pants, she mused. "Isn't the music lovely, Niko?"
"Very pretty, my Lady," he agreed.
She turned her attention to the people below. The most enjoyed part of a Major Conclave was the dancing that came after dinner. Those that held no rank in the political system would pay to come and watch the dancing, even though they were not allowed to take place unless one of the nobles asked them to give them a song's worth of company. "Oh, look, there's Aiko." Bavaar pointed to the An'da'nai Ambassador. "I bet she's not having much fun since she was in charge of all of this."
"Aiko never has fun, my Lady," Niko said, amusement coloring his tone. Amusement and…something else. Bavaar studied him for a moment. She couldn't be certain of what that underlying tone was- but she knew it wasn't supposed to be in his voice. He was scanning the crowd, obviously looking for someone.
He relaxed at the same time the villas blared from their spots on the heights, announcing the arrival of the third Throne, the third empire. Bavaar turned to look. The crowd was parting before the Lady Cadaring, who was wearing what looked to be layers of gauze. Behind her was that young Ambassador of hers, the previous Ambassador's son.
He was dressed in an outfit that was obviously made from the finest materials, and jewels decorated it freely. Here and there were slits in the material, so that as he walked a bit of flesh would show. Bavaar leaned back, gesturing to the young Black Star. "No one else has ever been dressed like that from Nadai. I see favoritism at work here."
"Either that or unsated lust," Niko murmured. "Cadaring has been trying to get Sainan in her bed for a while." Now a different tinge to his voice, but equally foreign.
"Would you two like anything to eat?" a servant asked, coming up behind them.
"No. Go away." Niko waved a hand in dismissal.
"Then perhaps the finest wine, compliments of-"
Niko whirled around. "I said _go_ _away_," he snapped at the man, tone impatient.
The servant scurried away in fear. Bavaar stared at Niko in unconcealed horror. Niko noticed the attention and glanced at her. "Your lock, Niko," Bavaar choked out. "It's weakened."
Niko ran his hands through his hair. "I weakened it for Sainan. He doesn't- he doesn't like the smile. I had to try. I was hoping it would help me…"
Bavaar reached out, snagging him by his upper arm. "You're courting death, Niko!" she hissed at him. "You weren't supposed to be able to do that! If the Myrr find out they'll hunt you down and kill you. Whatever you're after can't be worth a death at their hands."
Niko gazed at her. "Yes. It is."
Bavaar released him and retreated a few steps, then turned her gaze outward and down, seeking out Sainan with her eyes. "This is not good…" she whispered.
Ken felt himself drifting back into the world of the living- accompanied by a headache ten times worse than any other he'd ever had. He groaned and tried to reach up to rub his forehead, but found his hand to be pinned under something. He opened his eyes, only to close them again with a curse when the sunlight streaming through the room proved to be too bright..
Something shifted against him and there was a sleepy murmur.
Slowly, cautiously he opened his eyes, squinting as he took in his surroundings. He was in a strange room, sleeping on a couch. A girl was snuggled up against him. Thankfully they were both fully clothed. Now where…
Ah. His memory came back to him in jumbled pieces. He lifted his free arm to massage his temples. ~I will never drink again. I will never drink again,~ he chanted inwardly, wondering how Yohji could stand the headache that came the morning after.
"Mornin'," a sleepy voice greeted. Fuumi had woken up. She offered him a smile. "How are you doing?"
"Besides feeling like a bomb exploded in my head…Fine. You?"
"I'm starving." The thought of food made Ken's stomach twist uneasily and he grimaced. Fuumi laughed, sliding off the couch. She got to her feet and stretched. "Want to help me cook something? You don't have to eat it if you're not up to it."
"I'm afraid I'm not good in the cooking department." Ken gingerly picked himself up. He wanted aspirin. He wanted that queasy feeling to go away. He wanted to brush his teeth.
"You can come watch, then." She beckoned to him and he followed her into the kitchen. There was a stool there and he made himself comfortable on it. She handed him a glass of orange juice and two small white pills. "If you think you're going to hurl, try and make it to the bathroom." She made a gesture with her hand that he assumed indicated the general direction of the restroom. "It's that way." He'd been right.
"I'll try." He swallowed the pills with a sip of juice and set the rest on the counter. Juice did not sit well with whatever that was that was churning around in his stomach.
"Thanks." She flashed him a colgate smile and began setting things on the counter- small fruit chunks, a syrup-type thing, flour, and a container of dough. He watched her for a bit as she began to add the four together. "The thing I like about these is that they're simple and quick. They'll be done after just five minutes in the oven. Will you go wake the others up? They're in the first room on the right." Another wave of the hand.
"All right." He slid from his stool and padded out of the kitchen, then headed down the hall. He passed the bathroom. Its door was open and through the doorway he could see the shower curtain with glowing fish on it. Cute. He smiled and turned to the closed door of the room Fuumi had sent him to.
Ken knocked on it, gently at first, but louder when he got no initial response. He listened carefully. There was the sound of movements, then the squeak of bedsprings. "What is it?" It was Ririka's voice, distorted with sleep.
"Fuumi's making breakfast. She sent me to wake you."
A loud yawn. "Coming, coming. Oh, Yohji-baby…"
Ken rolled his eyes and padded back down the hall. He made a brief stop in the bathroom to rinse his mouth out with sink water, trying to get rid of that thick aftertaste in his throat. He dried his
hands and face on his sleeve and returned to the kitchen. Fuumi looked up at his return.
"Are they coming?"
"Yeah, I think your sister is trying to wake Yohji up. I wish her luck."
Fuumi laughed softly, peeking in the oven. "Yohji doesn't like getting up?"
"He is definitely not a morning person." Ken nodded. "Eleven is usually the earliest he'll get up." He glanced around, searching for a clock. There was one on the stove. 9:54. "Oh, crap." Ken blinked.
"Something wrong?" Fuumi looked up, concerned.
"Aya. He's going to wonder where we are…"
Ken smiled. "He's our co-worker at the Koneko no Sumu Ie. I think he's on shift today, and I'm supposed to be, too. Of course," and he grinned in remembrance, "Yohji now has to work my shifts for a month because I agreed to go to the club last night." Fuumi laughed, reaching in the oven with a mitt to pull the pan out. She dumped the small treats on a plate and set the pan aside, then reached into the fridge and pulled out a platter. Ken looked at the food she had just taken and blinked. "Oh!"
He slid off his stool and moved closer to where she was by the fridge, peering at the platter some more. He grinned in surprised delight. "I know these!" he told her, picking up one of the snacks and giving it a small squeeze. Juice ran down his fingers. Fuumi was watching him silently. He beamed at her. "Omi made these for us!" He turned, searching for a napkin to clean his fingers on.
Fuumi stiffened at his words and set the platter on the counter. She offered him a smile when he turned back around to face her. "Help yourself. If you want to take some home, feel free to. I'm going to see what's taking Ririka so long. Be right back." She winked and left the room, heading down the hall.
She knocked on the door. "What is it?" Ririka called.
"My contacts are in there, Ririka."
Silence, then an exaggerated sigh and the sounds of two people climbing out of bed. Fuumi waited impatiently as they dressed. The door finally swung open and she smiled at Yohji as he passed, putting a hand out to Ririka to stop her from leaving. Ririka blinked in surprise as her younger sister pushed her back in the room. Fuumi shut the door and leaned against it, levelling a glare at her sister.
"You got the wrong one!" she snapped.
Aya woke up in the den, body sore all over and head pounding. He was lying in an awkward position from when he'd hit the wall and crumpled to the ground. He carefully unfolded himself and got to his feet, eyes taking in the state of the room. The place was trashed- the couch cushions were slashed, Yohji's chair was knocked over, and the bookshelf was on its side.
He made his way out of the room and paused right inside the shop. The first thing he noticed was that the metal store front was rolled up. A crowd had gathered outside- the early morning shoppers. They were staring through the glass with wide-eyed surprise and he could hear the sounds of their excited chatter without being able to make out the words. They were pointing through the glass at the mess.
Aya did a slow scan of the shop. Every single plant was uprooted and hanging from the ceiling. The pots were all smashed and on the floor. Spray paint decorated the walls. Dirt was everywhere. Money rolls were open and the contents were scattered. Aya fought back his anger at the vandalism, picking his way towards the door. The girls noticed him and stepped back.
He unbolted the door and opened it. Before he could speak, he was assaulted by dozens of worried voices.
"What happened, Aya-kun?"
"Was it a gang?"
"Was it robbers?"
"Aya-kun, your head is bleeding!"
"Aya-kun, what's wrong with your face?"
He shut them up with a cold glare. "Shop is closed for the day. Go home." He closed the door and bolted it, then moved to pull the cover down and block their view of the inside of the shop. His fingers felt for a lightswitch and he turned the lights on.
~First step- a full survey of the shop. Second- call the others. Third- call Manx.~ It was going to take a lot of work and a lot of money to get the shop fixed up again.
The back storage room looked like a repeat of the interior of the shop, except with nine times the dirt. He left it and went to the kitchen. The fridge was on its side and everything that had been it was open and all over the floor. The smell of bad milk was sickening and he raised his arm to cover his mouth and nose with his sleeve, completing his glance-over. The cabinets were all open and cleaned out like the fridge. The table was upside down with all the milk dumped in it, ruining the wood.
His anger turned into a tight ball of fury.
He made his way upstairs quickly, unsure of what he would find
done to their rooms but needing to see. He checked his room first.
His dresser and closet were emptied, the clothes thrown everywhere, the sheets pulled off his bed and his mattress and pillow slashed. His shelves had been emptied and his mirror broken. Yohji's room was next, as it was next door to his. Aya had a feeling the older man was not going to be a happy camper when he saw the state his room was in. He left and moved on to Ken's, the room opposite his.
If he had thought the rest of the house was bad, Ken's room left them all behind. The walls had long, jagged cuts in them. The ceiling light had been wrenched from its spot. His sports and motorcycle posters were sliced into ribbons. His mattress was shredded so that all of the springs were showing. All of his books and games were charred. His clothes were slashed. And although Aya wasn't completely sure why, what he saw sitting in the middle of Ken's bed made his fury turn to white hot rage: Ken's soccer ball was sitting among the springs, completely flat and ruined by several cuts.
Aya slammed the door shut as he left, going to Omi's room with steps that were more stomps than anything. Who would do such a thing to their home? As assassins they had to scavenge for any bit of life they could get their hands on. Now what little possessions they had come to take comfort in had been destroyed. This wasn't the work of a gang or robbers- it was done by monsters!
Omi's room was as bad as Ken's. Everything in it was completely totalled, including his computer. His school books had all the pages ripped from them, leaving them as binders. The pages had been sliced into confetti that was glued to the wall. His computer was trashed, the monitor ruined. His disks were snapped in half. Any wall decorations there might have been were only curly strips.
Aya left the room, breathing hard in his anger, wishing he had something to vent on. He sat down on the stairs with his back to the upper floor so that he could not look at the messes there and the mess downstairs was right out of eyesight. He dug his fingers into his hair and lowered his head to his knees, taking deep breaths to try and calm himself.
After several minutes he searched his pockets for his cell phone, hoping it hadn't been broken when he'd been sent at the wall via air travel. It seemed fine, and the dialtone sounded when he pressed it on. He started dialling Ken's number, then stopped himself. He wasn't sure he wanted to talk to Ken right now. When Ken and Yohji came home he would tell them. He dialled Omi's number instead.
"Moshi moshi!" Omi greeted.
"There were visitors to the shop last night," Aya said, his voice deadly calm. Omi didn't respond, but it was obvious the boy was listening. "Every room is totalled." Omi inhaled sharply. "Everything of yours that was in there is completely ruined. Same with Ken."
"Oh…" The word came out a mix between a sigh and a moan, and his next words were strained. "Someone…Someone doesn't like us very much. Should I come home to help take care of it?"
"No. Continue to do what you can there. I'm going to contact
Aya hung up and dialled Manx's number. She answered on the second ring and he spoke before she could. "It's Aya."
"Aya? Why are you calling?" He could hear the sounds of rapid typing in the background. It seemed Manx was hard at work. "Find anything yet?"
"The shop has been ruined," he said simply. The typing stopped. "Everything is trashed. Omi's and Ken's rooms are the worst."
"Any idea of who could have done it?"
"Someone came in the house last night. I was slammed against the wall by what might have been telekinetic power and was knocked unconscious. I found the shop like this when I woke ten minutes ago. I didn't see the person's face."
"…Where are the others?"
"Omi is out of town doing research. Yohji and Ken went to a club last night and haven't come back yet." Aya massaged his temples with his fingertips, trying to ward off a headache.
There was a pause, then Manx spoke. "I'm going to send a team to do a survey of the place and estimate damage costs. I need you to meet me in Jiko's Pastries. You know where that is, right?"
"I'll see you there in five minutes."
Manx sipped at her coffee, turning her gaze on Aya when he slid into the chair opposite hers. She studied him in silence for several moments. "You look like you've been in one too many fights, Aya. At least parts of your face match your eyes now." Aya declined to answer her and she drank more of her coffee before setting the mug on its saucer.
"You said Omi and Ken's rooms suffered the most, right?" Aya nodded once. "Do you know what the most likely reason for that is?"
"No, but you're going to tell me," Aya answered calmly.
She offered him a thin-lipped smile, stirring her spoon around in her coffee lazily. "Omi and Ken fall into the age range of the victims. Did that occur to you?"
It hadn't. "There is no reason for them to be targeted."
"Isn't there?" Something about the way she said it put Aya on his
guard. She reached down into her purse and pulled something out, then
set it in the middle of the table. Aya recognized them as the sparkly decorations Omi had made and hung around the shop two days ago. He lifted his gaze from them to Manx. She was watching him. "Why did Omi make these, Aya?" she asked quietly.
"He woke up thinking it was a special holiday, an eighth day in some celebration, and prepared a party in honor of it." Aya reached up, running his fingers through his bangs. Damn it all. He'd known something hadn't been right. "That was the breakfast you walked in on."
Manx closed her eyes and sighed quietly. "That day was the eighth day in the two week religious holiday the cults are celebrating. These symbols," she tapped the sparklies, "were found burned into some of the victim's backs. I removed those photos from your mission folder when I entered the shop and saw how it was decorated.
"Somehow Omi is tied into those cults. If anyone saw these hanging, Ken and Omi could be in serious trouble, because no one knows which one of the two made them- and both are the right ages. How long were these up?"
Aya scanned his memory. They had still been up when Meri had been sent home. "All day."
Manx shook her head and put the decorations back in her purse. She stood. "Keep a close eye on him, Aya. He could be a member of one of the cults."
They gazed at each other in silence for several moments before Aya could make himself respond. "I understand."
Crawford entered the apartment. Schuldich looked up from where he was draped across Farfarello when the American passed by the doorway. "So what was Ikamashi's problem?" the German called, holding Farfarello's knife out of the Irishman's reach.
"Some cults killed his son," Crawford called back. "We've been hired to wipe them out." He returned to the den, holding a mug of coffee in his hand. His eyes strayed to Nagi, who was sitting in a chair and gazing into space. "Nagi, find everything you can on the computer on the cults of Myrr and Star." The boy didn't respond. "Nagi," Crawford said again, more firmly.
Nagi jumped as if he'd been stung, lowering his gaze from the ceiling to Crawford. "Yes?" he asked.
"Your mind was wandering when I was talking to you," Crawford said, a reprimand hidden under a calm tone.
Nagi lowered his head. "Gomen."
"He didn't-" Shuldich paused, eyes sliding halfway shut, when Farfarello bit the base of his neck, "-sleep well last night. Little Nagi's turning into an insomniac."
"You'd better be awake enough for this mission. Ikamashi's offering a large amount for us to put these two cults away."
"I won't fail you." Nagi stood and moved over to his computer.
Crawford sat in his chair and pulled a newspaper off of the end table to his right, opening it and flipping through it. For a half hour the only sound was typing and Farfarello's growls of "Give me back my knife". Crawford looked up when Nagi headed towards the door.
"There's nothing on the internet. I'm taking a trip to the library," the telekinetic said in explanation, continuing to the door without slowing. Crawford did not respond, instead turning back to his reading.
Some time in the next hour Schuldich and Farfarello moved out of the living room and into one of the back rooms- probably Farfarello's, where more 'toys' were. Schuldich liked playing with the madman's straightjackets and restraints. The room was soundproof- Crawford had hired some men to come in and make it that way when they'd rented the apartment. Crawford ignored the two.
Crawford's cell phone rang. He lifted it and turned it on. "Crawford."
"There's not much to go on here, either," Nagi's voice greeted. "It does mention the city Higo-sen, though. The next train to that city leaves in a few hours. I'm going to the station to wait, and I'll call you when I find something there."
"Carry on." Crawford hung up.