the beginning of the end
Satoshi thought, I knew things were going too well to last. The warmth he had felt around Niwa drained from him, leaving him colder than ever.
His stepfather smiled at him kindly. "Who was that, Satoshi? A friend?"
Satoshi didn't answer. In the back of his mind, Krad stirred, old and vicious. Satoshi could only hope that his father would let him go soon; Krad might be weakened from the night before, but so was Satoshi, and if Krad chose to make things unpleasant Satoshi might not be able to stop him.
"Funny," said his father. "It looked like the Niwa boy."
"Did you need something, sir?" said Satoshi. Niwa was not going to be dragged into this. He was not going to let his father provoke him. He was not going to admit that Niwa was a weakness.
"I missed you," said his father coaxingly. "I just wanted to see my son."
As this was slightly more likely than the grass turning pink, Satoshi didn't answer. He waited. Krad was definitely awake now, but he wasn't doing anything - yet. Satoshi had the feeling that he was only waiting to see what Satoshi's father was up to.
"I thought we could have dinner together," his father said. "Just the two of us."
No! said Satoshi.
/Insolent upstart,/ hissed Krad.
Wait, said Satoshi. He didn't expect Krad to listen but he subsided a little, with a feeling like a hunter settling down to wait for his prey to come out. "That sounds very pleasant, sir, but --"
"Oh, don't worry about your schoolwork!" said his father cheerfully. "I won't keep you out all night."
His father did not approve of Satoshi attending school and knew that Satoshi usually finished his homework in class. Satoshi didn't take a step away but he braced himself.
"Your teacher told me how well you're doing," continued his father. "I'm so proud of you."
Satoshi and Krad were briefly but strongly united in the feeling that his stepfather was up to nothing good. Satoshi wished he could find a way to leave; Krad wanted to find out what this upstart was planning, and teach him his place. Satoshi hesitated. "Very well, Father," he said reluctantly. "If you insist."
"Dad," said Daisuke, poking his head in Kosuke's study, "Hiwatari-kun said you visited him this morning."
Kosuke looked up and tried not to smile nervously. "I was a little worried," he said. "He seems to be a nice kid."
"Yes, he is," agreed Daisuke. He smiled at Kosuke, Emiko's smile, bright and loving, and went off to his room.
Kosuke looked down at his papers and tired to tell himself that everything would be all right. He hadn't liked the way Hiwatari-kun looked: old and tired, too old and tired for a fifteen year old boy, as if he had lived for too long and wanted only to rest. He could tell Hiwatari-kun was on the edge of power failure, the terrible exhaustion that came after expending too much magical energy for too long. Probably Hiwatari-kun could be more or less restored, if not cured, by a long rest and peace, but Kosuke knew the chances of him getting it were so poor as to be simply not worth calculating. Dark was right; Hiwatari-kun was dying, as surely as if he had a physical cancer.
He didn't know what to do. If he told Daisuke, it would only worry him. If he told Dark -- but Dark knew already, and Kosuke had an idea that as much as Dark might sincerely pity Hiwatari-kun, there wasn't a lot he was willing or able to do to help him. At most all Dark could do was not attack Hiwatari-kun first, but that did nothing about the drain Krad inflicted on him.
And obviously Krad was perfectly willing to drain Hiwatari-kun dry.
If Kosuke told Daisuke, he might refuse to respond to an attack; that would mean less strain on Hiwatari-kun but would only lead to Daisuke's defeat, at best, because Krad had no regard for the health or life of his host -- and even less, if possible, for Daisuke.
Emiko-san would say that he and Daisuke had no business worrying about the Hikari boy. So would his father-in-law. But...
They're just boys, thought Kosuke. Why do they have to bear this?
Satoshi ate what was put before him mechanically. He couldn't taste a damn thing anyway. It was all so much cardboard in his mouth, although he could see that his father's cook had done his best. He was a bit of an artist, and tried to make everything look like it came from a food magazine.
He waited for the blow to fall. He knew there would be one, but he didn't know what it would be or how harshly it would fall on him.
His father talked about nothing in particular, things that Satoshi could answer as mechanically as he put food in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. He had a strange gleam in his eye that Satoshi distrusted intensely; he might as well have said out loud that he had something up his sleeve that Satoshi wasn't going to like one goddamn bit.
"Well!" said his father. "That was delicious."
"Now that we've eaten ..." he paused. "I have an idea."
"Yes, sir?" said Satoshi warily.
"I wanted to show you something," said his father. "In the vaults."
Satoshi's hands went cold and clammy.
Kosuke shuffled the papers on his desk, records of the Niwa-Hikari feud. There were stories here of past Niwa and Hikari, how they lived and died, who they married and what their spouses had brought to the families. He'd found notes, almost ravings, from people who had thought perhaps things would end if a daughter from one family married a son of the other, half-insane theories of the way the power was transmitted from one generation to the next.
He even had a short diary from Hiwatari-kun's mother, filled with an anguished, scrawled hand that detailed her pregnancy and the terrible dreams she had suffered, mixed with incoherently expressed, consuming love for her unborn son. She wrote that she could hardly bear knowing what she had condemned him to. She'd noted seeing Emiko-san and him at the doctor's office, wrote of her agonized envy that the Niwa child would have both parents and, even if he was a boy, something like stability and love before his fate overtook him. Mixed in with her pain were perfectly cold, clinical charts and notes of her pregnancy, and of the sire she'd found for her child.
The most terrible part was a series of thumbnail sketches of Hiwatari-kun as a baby; delicate bits of art in the old notebook, the baby laughing or sleeping or crying. They were full of pride and affection.
Kosuke flipped through it and came to rest of the genetic charts for Hiwatari-kun and Daisuke. Daisuke's was incomplete; Hikari Rio had never met him and didn't know enough of his family background to be able to fill more than a sketchy outline.
"Has power," she noted. "Unknown strength."
The Niwa side was painstakingly exact, charting marriages and degrees of power from each of Daisuke's ancestors. For a while the Niwa apparently had bred for power like the Hikari had -- or they had been very lucky with the girls they married. Possibly they'd fallen in love with girls with power because they had power. Kosuke noticed that most of the girls had 'recessive' marked by their names -- it seemed that if you put a Niwa boy in a room full of girls, they'd go for the one who came from a line of mages and people with power, and yet displayed no magic of their own. Most Niwa girls in the direct line chose husbands like Kosuke, who had at least some active magical ability.
Kosuke closed the book and reached for a chart of Daisuke's lineage from both sides of the family. He looked at it for a long moment and sighed. He had to tell Daisuke, he thought. Maybe he could do something. Maybe he couldn't, but either way, Daisuke had to know.
The vault was underground, reached by many flights of stairs and ramps. The air was chilly and damp, with a slimy feeling of earth and underground water. It was a horrible place to keep art; Satoshi had always supposed his revered ancestors had hoped the things stored there would molder quietly away before they caused problems by gaining souls -- or coming to the attention of the Niwa clan. Satoshi thought that the sight of the vault would drive Niwa's mother into hysterics. But then again, he had a strong impression that a tour of the Niwa home would send him to the hospital with a bleeding ulcer, so they were probably even.
But here, at least, Hikari work was (if not safe) unlikely to be admired and draw enough emotion to come to life. It hurt him a little anyway, to think that all this artwork had no better fate than to fall to dust and mold in this underground prison. At least the Niwa family took care of what they took. Hikari art was dangerous: Satoshi knew this better than anybody. If it meant he had to lock it away so it couldn't hurt anybody, he would.
He hoped Niwa liked the pictures from the ancestor who'd liked kites. He was pretty sure that the Niwa collection had a painting he'd done of a group of children playing with kites. One of the models had been a Niwa daughter. That painting, from all Satoshi had heard of it, deserved to be in a lighted room where people could love it.
The passages down to the vaults were made longer by the fact that the family had never dared bring electricity past the first basement. Less because of the explanations (he thought his grandmother had been capable of hiring it done and disposing of the workers) and more because of the sheer scope of the project. The vault was at least twenty-five feet below the lowest part of the tunnels that ran beneath the city. Probably deeper than that. After the first basement you felt your way down by lantern or candle light. Satoshi wasn't exactly used to it, but he went down once or twice a year to check on the seals, so it didn't bother him. Much.
Even so, following behind his father, both of them carrying lanterns, he felt cold and anxious. It would be horribly easy to trip and fall on the stairs, which had no railings. Even easier to push someone. He tried not to think about it, but he was glad to be behind Hiwatari.
The worst part, though, was that all the artwork in one spot gave Krad energy. He grew stronger with every step downward, feeding off the ambient power from the art.
"Have you been down here lately?" said his father. He was as calm as if they were walking down the street, which made Satoshi even more nervous.
"No, sir," said Satoshi. Krad's thoughts were seeping into his own, thoughts like 'push him down it would be an accident but it would be too good for him the horrible little upstart'.
"Are you frightened of it?" asked his father.
Satoshi set his teeth and ignored Krad's outraged hiss. "I came at New Year to check the art."
"Ah, yes," said his father. He looked around the dark vault with a strange, proprietary smile. "The work of a thousand years."
Satoshi hoped he wasn't going to start up again. His father had two basic rants, and Satoshi hated them both. There was the 'You are no longer a Hikari' one which touched points including, but not limited to, inbreeding, the lack of relevance art had in the Modern World, and the foolishness of the Hikari clan in general and their feud with the Niwa clan in particular. The other one was 'You are the Heir of a Great Blah Blah Blah'. Sometimes Satoshi spent hours in class, when he should have been playing attention and he wasn't able to stare at Niwa until he began to look hunted, working out if his father had a complex about the Hikari. And, if so, what type and whether he was secretly proud of raising a Hikari or suffered from some sort of reverse snobbery. He'd never been able to work it out, but it filled his time.
In either case, Satoshi was too tired to listen with even the appearance of patience. "It's all rotting here."
"But think of the value," said his father. "Think of the loss to the world."
"There is no loss to the world," said Satoshi.
"Don't you think," said his father, dropping in to the gentle, confidential tone he used when he was trying to get someone to do something for him, "Don't you believe that even if the world doesn't know about something it's still a loss?"
"I know it's here," said Satoshi. "That's enough." It had to be enough. For always.
"No," said his father. "This art deserves to be shared. And yet the Hikari have locked it away."
"It's dangerous," he said wearily.
"Do you know that for sure?"
"Yes," said Satoshi.
His father ignored him. "The only reason this art is dangerous is because it was targeted. Remove the threat and it is safe, don't you see?"
Satoshi could see an excellent profit made by releasing the very rare and very, very valuable Hikari art a little at a time, and he was sure his father could as well. "No," he said. "I don't see."
"Remove the threat," said his father, going toward the Black Wings vault, and opening the door, "And the art will be safe. We can share it with the world."
Satoshi was silent for a long moment. He was cold and tired, with the prickling ache of transformation grinding in every nerve. "Father," he said quietly. "If you root out the Niwa clan, every branch and stock, and prevented it from growing ever again, this art will still be dangerous. If you take what lies here into the sun, people will be drawn to it. People will love it." His voice changed even as he spoke. He could feel the change in his bones as they stretched, as shearing pain clawed down his back. "And people will kill for it, and suffer for it, and die for it."
There was silence as Hiwatari stared at him.
"That," said Krad, almost gently, "Is what Hikari art is."
Kosuke wondered what Emiko-san had taught Daisuke about family history since ... things had started to happen. Probably not a lot. Emiko-san had an half-instinctive, irrational hatred for the Hikari clan, like a mongoose for a snake. Daiki had some of it too, tempered by his age and having been Dark.
So Kosuke had to explain things. It was rather like The Talk other men his age were giving their sons, only about ten times worse. Daisuke was painfully aware of the facts of life, so that was probably something Kosuke would never have to deal with. Instead he had to explain the reasons for the Hikari-Niwa feud. Kosuke wasn't sure how much Daisuke understood; Emiko had raised him not knowing anything about the Niwa-Hikari feud. On one hand, this meant Daisuke was having things dumped on him as they happened. On the other hand, he was the only Niwa in a very long time not to be bred in a bone-deep hatred of the Hikari clan. Kosuke thought that if it didn't get him killed it might save both of the clans.
He knocked on Daisuke's door.
"May I come in?"
"Sure, Dad." He heard Daisuke push his chair away from the desk and come over to unlock the door. (Kosuke had heard that was a sign of distrust between children and parents, and should be addressed. Anyway, considering Emiko-san, Daisuke deserved any illusion of privacy he could get before she picked the lock.)
"Are you done with your homework?" asked Kosuke.
"Pretty much," said Daisuke warily. "Did Mom --"
"No," said Kosuke hastily. "No notices. I just wanted to talk to you."
Daisuke relaxed. "About what?"
"Maybe you could clear off your desk," said Kosuke. "I need to show you something."
When Daisuke cleared off the desk, Kosuke spread out the first of the charts. It was an eight-pointed star, two squares laid at right angles to each other with connecting lines through each of the intersections, inside a double circle divided into twelve parts, and marked like a clock. Each of the eight points was marked with a direction -- north, north-east, east, south-east, south, south-west, west, and north-west. "This is a magical ability chart. It's not really standard -- there's really no such things -- but most lines and traditions can read it."
"It looks like a compass," said Daisuke.
Kosuke nodded. "It is, kind of. It's called a Read Array, after the inventor." He touched one of the cardinal points. "Each of the directions is connected to an element and a season. The secondary directions are connected with one of the independent elements: dark, light, heat and cold. The twelve numbers around the circle are the zodiac -- you can associate them with either the months or the Chinese zodiac."
Daisuke nodded valiantly but his eyes glazed over.
"It gets worse," said Kosuke. "But that's the idea. It's a bit like a horoscope but it's meant to display type and strength of magical power."
"You can read them?" demanded Daisuke, looking awed. He stopped for a second and said, "Dark thinks he's seen these before but not completed ones."
"Probably," agreed Kosuke. "The motif is used in art quite a bit." He tapped one of the points of the star. "The basic chart is divided into thirty-two sections. If you want you can divide the triangles into smaller ones to make it more exact, but it gets pretty bulky."
"The small square in the center is always filled in, then -- well, it gets pretty complicated. I spent a year in England learning to draw these. Each triangle represents a unit of power. To fill out one of these you need to know what type of power someone has, and what elements that power carries. Magic always has attributes of light, dark, heat or cold. Then it has elemental affinities -- fire, water, earth and air. If a person's power is evenly distributed between all four of the two types, the attribute is called Void. As you fill in the chart you can see the tendency a person's power takes. There's several tests and formulas you can use, but they all basically do the same thing."
He pulled out a completed chart. "This is your mother's. You can see she leans toward Dark and Heat for her attributes, with an elemental affinity of Air."
"What are the gold squiggly things on top of the chart?"
"Er, well, they mark houses in the zodiac and other things. Connectors, you could say." He pulled out another one. "Here's your grandfather's chart. "He's in the Southwest -- Dark and Water."
Daisuke looked at the chart and tried to look like he understood. Kosuke sighed. "Here's my chart," he said. It was larger and done in a different hand than the others. "I have a Void affinity for heat/cold/dark/light, but a very strong Earth element."
Daisuke thought that over. "Does that affect what magic you can do?"
"Partly," said Kosuke. "And partly it's a compatibility chart like a horoscope." He rubbed his head sheepishly. "But that's even more complicated and according to it I should have never married your mother."
"Air," explained Kosuke. "Earth's opposing element. It's not the worst possible match but it doesn't always work out very well."
"Ah," said Daisuke.
Kosuke pulled out two more charts. "The Hikari family adopted these charts shortly after they were invented. Here's Hiwatari-kun's grandmother. She was Cold/Earth. Hiwatari-kun's mother was Light/Fire -- that's kind of unusual for a Hikari."
Daisuke stared at him with something like awe. "Dad, where did you find those?"
"Um," said Kosuke. "A lot happened. Here's Hiwatari-kun's."
"Light and Water?" said Daisuke.
Kosuke nodded. "That's a pretty auspicious combination; creative and mutable. But it's closer to Void/Water. I tried to find out about his birth father but Rio-san covered her tracks. By Hiwatari-kun's chart I'd say he was probably Dark, Heat or Void. It takes a lot to drag a Hikari's alignment away from Light or Cold." He took a deep breath. "Your mother may not be very happy about this."
"This is your chart," said Kosuke.
"Don't you want to be rid of Dark?" said Hiwatari.
Krad looked at him with cold pity. "You know nothing."
"I know the key to unlocking the Black Wings," he said, sweeping his hand toward the great artwork before them.
"Others have believed that," said Krad. In the back of his mind his host lay, a tired, piteous thing. Don't kill him, he pleaded. Don't kill don't don't don't --
"I can unlock it," insisted Hiwatari. "I can --"
"Be silent," said Krad.
"Um," said Daisuke. "I'm -- Void ... Earth?"
"No," said Kosuke. "You're Void/Void."
There was a long silence.
"OK," said Daisuke, carefully. "Dark's kind of swearing?" He stopped. "Dark wants to know if you're sure you charted this right."
"Oh, I am," said Kosuke. "That chart you're looking at was drawn by Hikari Rio. I checked her calculations five times, and I've redrawn it every year since. I even sent a copy to the person who taught me how to draw them and got his opinion."
"But -- what does it mean, exactly?"
"Void isn't a real element," said Kosuke. "It's more the balance of equal and opposing forces. It's like movement before it begins. Daisuke --" He stopped.
Daisuke's eyes were turning purple, and he had an intent, listening look. Kosuke listened too -- and heard it, a high-pitched sound like breaking glass, going on and on until you wanted to claw out your ears to make it stop.
There was a scream from Towa-chan, and a high squeal of pain from With.
Daisuke bolted from his chair and went downstairs. Kosuke felt like his head was splintering open but he managed to stagger out behind Daisuke. Towa-chan was curled on the floor of the hall, her eyes glazed and staring at nothing.
"What's going on?" said Emiko-san. With was unconscious in her arms, with blood trickling from his nose.
"The black Wings," said Daisuke, with Dark's voice.
"What?" said Daiki, who looked nearly as bad as Towa-chan and With.
"The fool released the seal," said Daisuke-Dark over his shoulder, running down the stairs.
"Daisuke, what are you doing?" said Emiko-san. He didn't respond and she said, almost fearfully, "Dark!"
Daisuke-Dark looked up at her and smiled. "You were always my favorite girl, Emiko," he said gently. He looked at Kosuke. "Take care of them."
Kosuke nodded. Daisuke-Dark ran out the door.
"What's going on?" said Emiko-san. "Kosuke-san, what's happening?"
Kosuke watched his son running, transforming with every step. "The end," he said.
notes: Yes, the Read array is based on the magic circles in Card Captor Sakura. I didn't realize that they were until I was halfway through and then I went OH HELL WHY NOT. I explain most of it in the fic itself but if you're confused ... um. Pretend it makes sense? I think my logic's pretty sound but if you do catch a mistake in it fell free to tag me on it. Also, there is a copy in the myDec site itself -- fenya . net fanfics dnangel mydec gfx / readarray.gif .
Also, during my vacation I spent the majority of my time hiding in the bedroom writing while my family watched CNN (a vice to which I am not, fortunately, addicted) so I have about three thousand words, TOTAL, on myDec left to write. Yeah.