For everything there is a season and for every season there is an end
my december 09 : bang bang (my baby shot me down)
"You could be free!" said Hiwatari.
"Not while the clans live," hissed Krad.
Hiwatari Kei looked at Krad, and he opened his mouth to scream, and gagged on his own blood instead for a single, eternal second before his eyes bulged out and his body exploded, raining blood and bits of flesh over the room, covering the walls and floor and the great chained artwork. The walls thrummed in response.
Krad laughed. "That's what happens when they try to take you away from me. He deserved it. Filthy human."
In the furthest corner of his mind, Satoshi's consciousness flickered and sank away.
The seal should not have been broken. It was too soon but not soon enough. He wasn't ready.
:What's going to happen?:
::I don't know, Daisuke.::
::The seal was broken.::
Dark vaulted over a fence and kept running. A dog growled, then whimpered as he passed, and cowered in the empty yard.
::We sealed it.::
::It was dangerous. It was loved too much, and we were born.::
::Krad and Dark.::
(Once upon a time there was an artist who did not understand love.)
They took the steep, winding stairs two or three at a time, nearly flying, going lower and lower. The stairs were lit with flickering lights made of pure energy, dancing around Dark like moths.
Kosuke staggered out the door. He had to find where they were, had to get his son out if he was alive or pick up the pieces if he had died. Had to. His head hurt horribly. It was like the worst migraine imaginable, magnified a thousand times.
"Kosuke-sama," said Towa-chan. "I can lead you there."
Kosuke looked at her. Her face was pale, bluish-white, and she clung to the side of door. "You can't walk."
"So I'll ride," she said, smiling a little. "Finding things is what I am made to do, Niwa Kosuke."
"I'll come too," said Emiko-san. "I can't do much but --"
"There may be locks to pick," said Daiki. "I'll stay here with With and the art."
The walls of the cavern were humming with power, an unearthly sound almost like the buzzing drone of a swarm of bees. Inside Dark, shaken by a terrible foreboding, Daisuke shuddered.
::The art is feeding off the surge,:: said Dark.
:What caused it?:
::The seal being released. The death of a human.::
::That's the only thing that could have caused this.::
(Once upon a time there was a thief who loved beautiful things.)
Kosuke half-stumbled down the street with Towa-chan in her bird form on one shoulder, supported by Emiko-san on the other.
"I don't feel very well myself," said Emiko-san. "What is this, Kosuke-san?"
"Blood-magic, I think. If we're lucky, it was an accident."
"If we're not?"
"I've always liked this town," said Towa-chan wistfully. "It was a nice place to live."
Dark reached the bottom of the stairs. The great double doors leading to the Black Wings' vault were closed, but something that gleamed black in the dim light was seeping from under them.
Dark's nostrils flared as a metallic, organic smell rose around him.
He pushed open the doors.
Alone in the house, Daiki looked around at the art that surrounded him. He settled With more comfortably in his arms, and walked deliberately, one foot in front of the other in the graceful, catlike stride his grandfather had trained into him, down to the Niwa vault. The art there glowed with power, even through the seals.
"Don't worry," he said, settling himself stiffly on the floor. "You won't be alone."
The scene in front of them was something like a painting of hell. Blood made the floors slick and dripped down the walls. There was the inescapable, nauseating scent of death in the air. Dark's foot bumped against something, and he looked down to see Commander-in-Chief Hiwatari's head lying on the ground. His eyes were frozen open and stared at nothing and his mouth was open in a silent scream. His glasses were still on his face.
::No time to be sick,:: said Dark. "Krad! What do you think you're doing?"
A soft chuckle answered him. "He said we could be free. He said he could help us. He'd get rid of the Niwa, he said."
Dark turned until he saw Krad, still dressed in spotless white despite the gore around him. "You killed him for that?"
"Satoshi-sama was angry. Satoshi-sama didn't want the Niwa-boy hurt. Foolish Satoshi -sama. My pride and everything," he said dreamily. "He made Satoshi-sama hurt. He tried to use us." He got down from the place where he was perched and floated closer to Dark. "It was only a stupid human," he said coaxingly.
"That's no reason to kill."
"Why shouldn't I? It was only a foolish human. What does one matter?"
"They all matter," said Dark.
"They give us life," said Dark.
Kosuke followed Towa-chan and Emiko-san followed him, running toward the energy's epicenter. It was pulsing angrily, about to explode.
Please let us be in time, prayed Kosuke. Please, please, please let us be in time.
"We can be free," said Krad. "I have this vessel as my own. Take yours. Make them pay, make this end."
"Yes," said Dark, his eyes flickering toward the chained art in the middle of the room. "It's time for this to end."
(Once upon a time there was an artist and a thief and each had what the other lacked.)
Daisuke felt something strange, almost like what had happened when he and Dark had been separated by the Sage and Hiwatari-kun, but not from the outside, from the inside the shared space between his self and Dark. :Dark?:
Dark didn't answer as Daisuke was sucked into a black nothingness. Daisuke tried to fight it but it whatever it was was inescapable. :Dark? Dark!:
::I'm sorry, Daisuke.::
(Stories always begin 'once upon a time' because if they started 'here and now' you couldn't bear it.)
"They deserve this," said Krad. "They earned this. It's our right." His eyes glowed yellow-white. "They tore us from our world."
"I don't care about that," said Dark, walking slowly toward Krad. His feet made soft squishing noises over the blood and tissue on the ground. "The only thing I care about is the Niwa."
"You should hate them," hissed Krad. "Why don't you hate them?"
"I don't hate them because they're /mine./"
(Our end is our beginning is our end is our beginning.)
Kosuke stumbled up to the darkened house. He saw that it was old, not broken-down but obviously not cared for. It stood silently, waiting for something it could not ask for. He could hear the sound of the sea breaking against the cliffs nearby.
It was a traditional house, with half-eroded stone lions opening their broken mouths in soundless roars. Kosuke felt a sudden stab of pity for them and the house they guarded. There was a battered wooden tablet hanging by the door, with two characters engraved on it.
"Hikari," read Emiko-san.
The door slid open.
"Yours?" said Krad. "They enslaved us."
"No," said Dark. "I chose them and they chose me." He walked calmly forward. "Each for as long as we needed each other. Partners. Do you remember? I am you. You are me."
Krad screamed, "They took you away from me! You went away and you always take what's mine from me! Always!"
"Nobody took me," said Dark. "I went to them. The only one to decide what I'll do is me."
A scroll hung on the wall, tattered but still intact. Without choice but without regret. Without will or desire but inevitably and with joyful submission.
Kosuke wondered how often Hiwatari-kun had read those words, and what they meant to him.
"It's been a long time," said Dark. "But it's time to go."
Krad's eyes widened and he took a step back. "I will not," he said. "You can't."
"Watch me," said Dark, and took another step forward.
Towa-chan fluttered back and forth, searching. "There's too much art," she said. "I can't tell where they are."
"We're losing time," said Emiko-san.
Kosuke closed his eyes to try to concentrate through the migraine ripping through his skull. Think, Kosuke, think! "Emiko-san, where would you hide a work like the Black Wings?"
"Father always says Hikari put art high up," said Emiko-san.
Kosuke opened his eyes and looked at Towa-chan. She shook her head. "There's no art higher than ten feet here. And you saw the outside of the house; it's only one story."
Kosuke took a deep breath. Think, dammit, /think/. To seal something you put it in an opposing element. Dark is sealed by requited love. The name of the work is the Black Wings. Black is Dark, Wings are Air. Dark is Heat and Dark, Krad is Cold and Light, so they balance out. It has to be sealed by an element, not an attribute. Wings. They both have wings. Dark never goes underground if he can help it. So if he was to seal it -- "Underground," he said. "The entrance might be surrounded by water."
"I smell water over there," said Towa-chan.
They ran down corridors and hallways hung with painted screens and scrolls. Kosuke caught a glimpse of one in passing; it looked like it was the Heart Sutra in beautiful, flowing calligraphy.
They burst out into a central courtyard. The garden area was divided by four streams that met in the center in a small granite fountain.
"This isn't the main entrance," said Towa-chan. "I remember seeing that once."
"As long as it is one," said Kosuke, grimly.
Towa-chan pointed at the fountain. "It feels like there's a way to get it to open but I can't tell what it is."
Kosuke studied it. There was a blank tablet carved into the side of the fountain, about the size and shape of the Hikari tablet at the entrance. A name tablet without a name, he thought. "Emiko-san," he said, "get over to that tablet and write your name on it. /Carefully/."
"With my finger?" asked Emiko, walking carefully over the stepping stones in the streams to the fountain.
"Yes," said Kosuke.
"It's probably a trap," she said calmly, crouching down by the tablet.
"I'd bet a Niwa against a Hikari trap," said Kosuke.
'Ni,' wrote Emiko-san. The sound of the streams changed, as if something was sinking down underground.
Kosuke set his teeth and prayed he was right.
'Wa,' she continued. The characters on the tablet glowed slightly.
He had to be right. He had to be. It was possible that the entrance could only be unlocked by a male of the direct line -- but both families tended toward females. They couldn't afford to put aside their girls, who carried the ability. They had to be taught about it, trained for it, lest all knowledge of it die out.
'Emi.' The characters were glowing brighter now, as magic gathered. He still didn't know if it was gathering to crush or open the way. It was possible this was simply another hidden vault, but neither clan was the sort to only have one entrance to their secrets.
The Niwa records showed that some of them believed that the curse could be lifted by the joining of the families. The Hikari clan had crushed every other clan of thieves that went after their art. Both clans knew their lives were connected. If one clan died out, the other would be responsible for the secret they shared.
'Ko,' wrote Emiko-san, and pressed her thumb down to mark the end of her name. There was a moment of silence, and the very garden seemed to hold its breath.
The fountain began to drain. Kosuke wanted to scream at Emiko-san to get away, stand clear, but he bit his lip and waited.
The water slowly drained from the streams, and the tablet revolved, showing characters carved into it.
The fate of Hikari art is to be gathered in Niwa hands.
The fountain sank down, leaving Emiko-san standing at the top of a flight of stairs.
Kosuke felt like fainting with relief. Knowing and trusting that Emiko-san was trained and able to get out of worse traps than the ones she set for Daisuke was entirely different than watching as she triggered one deliberately. "Let's go," he said.
"You would not," said Krad, as if he was trying to convince himself as well as Dark. "You love them too much. You wouldn't leave them."
"They'll be all right," said Dark. He took the last step and reached out.
Krad backed up, looking feral and hunted. "No," he said. "I will not!"
"Yes, you will." Dark's voice was filled with terrible gentleness. "We're old now. They've learned what we had to teach them. It's time for us to leave them."
Krad retreated again and Dark followed him until Krad was crammed against the huge canvas. Dark reached out again and put his hands on Krad's shoulders. Krad tried to jerk away but Dark would not be denied; his hands pulled Krad closer even as Krad hissed and tried to bite him. "Your precious Niwa will /die/," he spat.
"I don't think he will," said Dark thoughtfully. "You heard of a Void-Void combination in magical alignment?"
Krad's eyes widened in something like horror. "That's impossible!"
"Smart kid, Daisuke," said Dark. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them they were cat-pupiled like Krad's.
Kosuke held her back as she tried to get to Dark. Dark looked at her. "Emiko," he said. "I'm tired. I'm sorry."
Kosuke met Dark's strange purple eyes and knew what Dark meant to do. "Towa-chan," he said. "Go outside."
"But --" she began.
"You heard him," said Dark. "Go!"
Towa-chan said, "Goodbye, Dark." in a choked voice, and ran up the stairs.
"No," sobbed Emiko-san. "No!"
"Emiko-san," said Kosuke gently.
She looked up at him. "Why?"
"All things come to an end," said Dark. "Even art. Even us."
"Emiko-san," said Kosuke again. "I don't think -- I don't think Dark could bear to have another partner. Or to see you and your father go."
Emiko-san stared at him for another long moment and took a deep sobbing breath. "All right," she said.
"Let me go!" shrieked Krad, struggling harder. "I won't! I will not!"
Emiko-san began to chant. Kosuke realized it was a variation of the Heart Sutra; one modified to be used as a spell to send spirits away.
Her clear voice echoed around the chamber, the sound bouncing off the cavern's walls until it seemed like there was a thousand voices chanting together.
Dark stood with a half smile on his face, listening peacefully, even though his arm muscles were bunched and corded with holding Krad, whose screams were an eerie counterpoint to Emiko-san's chant.
As Emiko-san continued on, Kosuke could feel magic gathering around her; it swirled curiously around him, touching him gently and then moving to Dark and Krad.
"Without choice but without regret. Without will or desire but inevitably and with joyful submission," said Emiko-san, and Kosuke started, remembering the words from the scroll above them.
Krad stopped struggling gradually, until he stood with his golden head leaning on Dark's shoulder. Dark's head sank onto Krad's shoulder and they stood like statues.
"We release you. We set you free."
Dark began to glow, not brightly but like the light of ultraviolet radiation. Krad shifted uneasily but he was shining too, a white light, like sun on snow. The lights flared as the magic grew to a climax.
Emiko-san said, "Go to whence you came. Our contract is ended."
The lights flared brighter and twined around each other, and for a second Kosuke caught a glimpse of two smaller figures within the light.
"Goodbye," said Dark, and the light exploded, nova-bright.
By the time Kosuke reached them, slipping on the blood on the ground, Daisuke and Hiwatari-kun had tumbled to the ground, unconscious. He glanced up at the canvas above them but the only thing on it was a white and black feather, curled in a circle. I'll never know what it really looked like, he thought.
There was no time for regrets, he knew.
"Goodbye, Dark," said Emiko-san, and bent to help him get the boys out of the cavern.
I am totally indebted to White Aster, who not was one of the people who sat down and went through this for me (thanks also to Erin, Vikki, Tanzy, Sakkit and Crysi! HEARTS) but was the one who came up with the official explanation of Hiwatari-papa's death, since my instinctive reaction is ROCKS FELL THERE WAS AN EXPLOSION THEY NEVER FOUND HIM and she pointed out that if they would probably evacuate the vault if I did it that way.
Meg: BANG BANG MY BABY SHOT ME DOWN.
Dark: OK, just out of idle and probably fruitless curiosity, was that ....
Meg: UNF UNF BABY UP AGAINST THE ART.
Dark: sincerely You are the sickest female I know.
Krad: ACCURSED MORTAL FEMALE I WILL MAKE YOU PAY.
Meg: Um...a consummation devoutly to be wished?
Dark: In front of Emiko.
Meg: It was symbolic?
Krad: YOUR DEATH WILL LAST A MILLION MILLION YEARS.
Meg: I'll, uh, be elsewhere.
Dark: Very elsewhere, if I were you.
Just a friendly (?) reminder, children, Auntie gets cranky at 'UPDATE OR DIE' reviews. I'm almost done with the last chapter; probably within 1500 words as I type this. But that's rough draft, in notebook, and most of that still needs to be typed and checked over by the Usual Suspects (I love you guys, did I mention that lately?) before I post it.