Tokyo Babylon † A Day in the Life, pt. 1
It was undeniably true that exams did not and never would cause nearly as much mayhem as the demons, spells, criminals and hauntings that Subaru Sumeragi dealt with on a daily basis. However, because he did see those things often, sometimes to the total exclusion of classes, Subaru Sumeragi could only regard the simple biology quiz before him with heart-pounding terror.
He hadn't even attended this class in well over a week.
In a way, it really wasn't his fault; the work he did and the responsibilities he carried did not lend themselves to crafting a regular schedule. He was the future head of the Sumeragi clan; Subaru had so much to do that even attending regular school was above and beyond his required dedication. He'd already completed all the education he needed legally in Japan, but he wanted more; this current education he sought simply from the desire to learn.
As often as possible, Subaru worked his way honestly through his classes, choosing not to take advantage of the leeway his teachers offered; it was for this reason that he felt very guilty raising his hand to get his biology teacher's attention.
"Yes, Sumeragi-san; approach," said the woman, signaling him closer so their conversation would not bother the other students.
"I... ah... pardon me," Subaru said, flushing slightly red. His teacher, a young woman who couldn't be more than twenty five, smiled warmly.
"Sumeragi-san," she said. "It's all right. You may go."
"But - " Subaru started, feeling slightly relieved but much more guilty.
She waved her hand. "It's all right," she said, her tone more motherly than she'd meant it to be. "I have some extra assigments you can do to make up for your missed schooling, and you can make up the quiz next week." She handed him a manilla folder.
Subaru looked very gratefu. "Thank you. Oh, thank you," he said, and bowed. Placing the pencil and paper on her desk, he left.
There was that momentary lifting of heart that one feels when leaving a classroom and exam behind. Coating it underneath, of course, like a slick of oil, was a thing layer of guilt; but that was already diminishing. And really, this was for the best anyway; Subaru had another appointment in the afternoon, and now, he could be sure of not missing it. Adjusting the hat his sister made him wear, he stepped out into the school parking lot and squinted at the sun.
The gloves he wore over his hands did nothing to dull the ache.
Power - strange, foreign power -settled around him like dust, as it had every time he'd concentrated on the spiritual balances of Tokyo in the last few weeks. Something was out there, something strange, malevolent; something Subaru had been completely unable to identify, although by now he'd learned to recognize its effects.
A simple exorcism turned into a murder.
An everyday curse-reversal that had somehow become a firestorm.
A traditional haunting that had instead mutated into an angry poltergeist.
All of these things and more were tied in with this new and strange evil that he felt, but Subaru could not explain why, nor where to find it. Until he did, he was literally reduced to cleaning up after it; there simply wasn't anything to directly confront. Eyes still closed, Subaru stood so deep in his concentration that when a hand suddenly alighted on his shoulder, he jumped very badly.
"SUBARU!" Hokuto scolded, hands on her hips and her volume level admirable. "That was TERRIBLE! We snuck right up on you! What if we'd been BAD guys?"
Subaru was clearly used to dealing with his sister's outbursts; exhaling slowly, his shoulders untensed. "But... Hokuto-chan, we've been over this, you're NOT bad guys..."
"Oh, but I think I am, Subaru-kun," Seishirou said, coming up from behind and sliding his arms around Subaru's waist. Somehow, regardless of how quickly Subaru had turned, Seishirou had moved faster - staying behind him enough that not even Subaru's peripheral vision had caught him.
"I think I'm VERY dangerous to you," Seishirou confided winningly, and both he and Hokuto shared a hearty if perverted belly laugh. Subaru stammered and blushed to the tips of his ears.
"Just... I... what are you doing here? I have an assignment," he said, trying to surreptitiously wriggle out of Seishirou's arms without appearing overly rude.
"Oh, I know," Hokuto said. "And as usual, you forgot to eat. Didn't you? DIDN'T YOU?" She leveled a finger in his face, then continued without waiting for him to answer. "I figured since both Sei-chan and I worry about you so much, we'd come and stalk you before your appointment to make sure you ate. So, we came to CLAMP campus!" And she smiled.
"S-s-STALK me?!" blurted Subaru, and then blinked as a small, neatly wrapped box lunch appeared in front of his face.
"Itadakimasu!" Seishirou announced, smling broadly as he held out the meal.
"You cooked something for me?" Subaru said, sounding amazed; it wasn't as if either Hokuto or Seishirou ever skimped on doing nice things for him - quite the opposite - but Subaru was wired to view things so simply and so humbly that every nice deed to him was taken and treasured as if of pure gold. "Thank you," he said with wonder, taking it.
Hokuto swatted his arm. "Don't you 'thank you' us and then not eat it! You HAVE to eat it, Sumeragi Subaru! OH ho ho ho ho ho!"
Subaru blushed. The whole campus could probably hear her.
"On batarei yo sowaka... on batarei yo sowaka...." Subaru chanted, kneeling before the small pile of bric-a-brac his clients had put before him. There was a book; three shoes; an old, weathered traveling trunk; and a slender vase. As he chanted, blue, amorphous light began to rise from the pile, like glowing smoke.
"Makabodara... Manihandomajin... Parahara paritayanam...." His chant changed. It was uncertain whether his clients realized the difference or not, but it wouldn't matter as long as he was able to keep the suddenly disgruntled spirit he felt out of the way. The blue "smoke" widened and grew, lengthening all the way up to the high ceilings of the affluent apartment; not dissipating, it simply began to split into tendrils and spread across the room.
"Makabodara... Manihandomajin... Parahara paritayanam...." Subaru focused more. This should not be happening; the call had been regarding simply nothing more than the lingering thoughts and emotions of the former owner of these items, which were bought at a rummage sale by the youngest daughter in the family. The spirit was friendly; why in the world would it be doing this?
"Saraba arata sadanei... sarabakyara kishougyarei..." The blue smoke had reached the corners of the ceiling and begun slithering down the walls, looking slimy, almost corporeal, and far too menacing to be the manifestation of a friendly spirit any longer. Across from Subaru, the frightened family members huddled and stared, making soft whimpering noises and not taking their eyes from the tendrils. Subaru's chant had changed yet a second time; no longer a simple push to remove friendly spirits from objects, nor a harder push to remove angry spirits from objects, he was now chanting a powerful exorcism spell.
And then, everything happened at once.
The blue, fibrous tendrils that had come halfway down the walls suddenly stopped and angled at ninety degees, shooting with sudden speed and slimy dexterity into the dead center of the room.
"GET DOWN!" Subaru pounced, shouting another smaller, protection spell over the family as he pushed them to the floor - and not a moment too soon. Above the frightened family members, the blue smoky tendrils met, inaudibly, and began to pull together, swirling, spinning, forming like clay on a potter's wheel, and as it did a strange and painful sound began. It was wailing. Wailing, bringing to mind every dream in every heart that had ever been shattered, somehow resonating in a broken-glass screeching of incredibly high levels and ear-bleeding intensity.
Subaru slapped an ofuda on the floor, raising a small barrier around the family. Now he was free to deal with the problem; standing, he faced the forming ghost. Power blew things in the room all around him as in a wild storm; grimacing in concentration, he folded his hands carefully and resumed his chanting.
The ghost coalesced finally, all the blue smoke from the items on the floor coming together to create the form of a woman, floating three feet above the ground and only just brushing the expansively high ceiling. Her dress, old fashioned, was in tatters, and her eyes were wide in blank, angry horror. So was her mouth; the rictus deforming it was so stark that the lines on each side of her lips were like black canyons.
Subaru continued to chant.
The woman seemed to focus on him, although without pupils it was hard to tell just how she did this, and it was clear she did not like what she saw. Leaning slightly forward as if to blast him with just the power of her voice, she screamed.
Every piece of glass in the room shattered; Subaru felt tears streaming behind him from his eyes at the pain in his ears, his hat flying off to land in the growing pile behind him somewhere. All around him, objects of every size and consideration were flying, including the furniture.
Rooted by his magic, he continued to stand; and protected by his kekkai, the family stared in awe-struck terror at his strength. None of them noticed the barrier had begun to crack.
Not satisfied with the result, the ghostly woman pulled back and leaned forward sharply again, as if to vomit on this affront to her power, and somehow, screamed even louder.
The sound, higher than the scream of old brakes, fluxuating in intensity as if with a terrible, slow vibrato, filled the room and finding it could go no farther, spilled out into the street. It cut like knives; the entire buliding began to shake, and Subaru knew that once this was finished, he would be deaf.
He did not stop his chanting.
The woman finally ran out of what passed for her breath, and watched Subaru again for a moment, whose chanting - saraba arata sadanei... sarabakyara kishougyarei - had remained steady, as did his gaze on her. Furious, she drew back for yet another assault.
And then, once again, something happened.
She stopped; a shadow of expression passed over her mummified features, and she hesitated long enough for Subaru to cast his powerful spell.
"Noubu aratannou tarayaaya... Nou makuariya mitabaya... Tatagyataya arakatei sanmyaku sambodya!" And white light, moving like doves in the spring and flowers underwater, erupted from his folded hands and surrounded the woman floating in the air. She screamed again, but this time it had no power.
"Noubu aratannou tarayaaya... Nou makuariya mitabaya... Tatagyataya arakatei sanmyaku sambodya!" Her body began to shrink; to cave in on itself, as if whatever she had for bones had simply disappeared, leaving her flesh and skin hollow.
"Noubu aratannou tarayaaya... Nou makuariya mitabaya... Tatagyataya arakatei sanmyaku sambodya!" With one final scream, almost a squeak in its anticlimactic finale, the woman completely imploded into a ball of glowing blue light. And quietly, somehow heard above the wind and the noise and the cries, Subaru spoke.
"I'm sorry." He altered the configuration of his fingers three times. "On vajra dharma kiri shawa!" And three sides of a triangle, darker and richer in hue than what remained of the woman, came from opposite ends of the room and clasped around her to form what looked like a small, pyramid-like prison. "HA!" Subaru cried, and with one last sharp control of power, simply banished the entire bound, miserable spirit to somewhere else.
The utter silence was deafening. Subaru stood, trembling for a moment in the wake of the attack, and then removed the cracked but surviving kekkai from his clientele.
The youngest girl rushed to him right away.
"That was so COOL! That was, like... you're AMAZING! That - " she stopped as her mother, face utterly bloodless, pulled her back.
The other family members were staring at him as if he were the monster.
"Ah... thank you," said the father, a Mr. Tamagochi of Blue Steel, Inc. fame. "We will pay the remittance to your bank in Kyoto, as agreed. Along with... ah... the extra fees formerly agreed upon for providing extra personal protection." Nothing was said about the damages to the room; Subaru tried to offer to pay for them, and found he could not speak.
"Well, if that's everything..." Mr. Tamagochi said, and, loathe to touch the boy but still wanting to make his desires clear, simply opened the door.
Subaru took one step; he felt terrible about this room. It had been completely destroyed. "Um... the damages...."
"Never mind about the damages," Tamagochi said, and now there was some detectable note of strain. "Just. Leave."
Subaru nodded. Heart heavy within him, he went out the door as told, and was not surprised when it both shut and locked behind him. They would wait until he'd left the premises before vacating that room.
What had gone wrong? What COULD have gone wrong? None of his usual spells for dealing with spirits worked, and in the end, he hadn't even been able to reason with her. This poor woman; the amount of suffering she must have had in her own life must have been truly terrible - only under unbelievable amounts of duress could a spirit carry this much anger with it beyond the grave.
And he hadn't been able to speak with her at all. He would have done so, had he been given the choice; then she could have left the world in peace with her neighbors and herself. But as it was....
She was insane. And as such, had to remain sealed away.
Heart heavy for more than just the family he left behind, Subaru walked down to the sidewalk - noting that even the stairs leading to the front door had been cracked - and began the journey home, rubbing his chest absently.
Behind him, the Tamagochi family breathed a sigh of relief.
"I'm not sure who was scarier," Mr. Tamagochi muttered, looking around at the wreck which had once been a reading room. "And... does anyone else smell flowers?"
Subaru made it around the corner before Seishirou found him.
"Subaru-kun?" came a warm, familiar voice behind him, softened with concern and quiet for the sake of the privacy Subaru so valued. Subaru turned; his weariness and sorrow shone on his face.
"Seishirou-san," he said quietly, and Seishirou, leaning against his van which was conveniently parked just there, looked at him critically.
"Subaru-kun; you need to go home. Do you have any more appointments?"
Subaru merely shook his head "no," unable to speak for the tightening in his throat. His tears had begun to fall again.
"Ah, Subaru-kun," Seishirou comforted, pulling Subaru to him for a momentary hug before opening the passenger side door. "Come home with me, Subaru-kun, and tell me whatever could have gone so wrong as to make my Subaru-kun cry."
And on the way home, feeling safer, more removed, more free to speak, Subaru did.
Subaru told him everything.
"But if she was crazy to BEGIN with, Subaru, then you can't possibly think this was your fault!" Hokuto sounded affronted, all but taking offense for Subaru's self-imposed guilt.
"I... I think maybe I drove her that way," he insisted quietly, although he didn't sound sure. Surreptitiously, he nudged the heaped plate in front of him a little further back on the kitchen counter.
"Subaru-kun," Seishirou said, leaning on the counter and looking at Subaru with warm, honey-golden eyes. "No one can be really responsible for another going mad. In the end, regardless of the outside forces that come, it's our choice whether or not to stay sane."
"But - " Subaru began. "Mmph," he finished; Hokuto had thrust a chopstick-pinch's worth of sticky rice into his mouth.
Seishirou smiled. "That's my Subaru-kun - always wanting to take the blame for everything, regardless if it's his fault or not." Subaru looked suitably chastised, and Seishirou continued. "Everyone has a will - everyone is in control of his or her faculties to a certain extent. There are cases where people are mentally ill, criminally insane, chemically imbalanced - "
"Although Japan isn't nearly as understanding of those things as places like America are," Hokuto broke in, and Seishirou nodded before continuing.
" - but most of the time, when someone goes crazy, that's not the real reason." He paused. "The reason, Subaru-kun, is that they want to hide from reality; and they've found the perfect way to do it: simply pretend that reality doesn't exist anymore."
Subaru was still moderately unconvinced. "But she may not have even been crazy before I tried to push her away from all those things she liked. They must have really meant a lot to her."
"Yeah, and if you ask me, that's PROOF she was already crazy," opined Hokuto. "I mean, really. Three shoes? What kind of a cheesy spirit attaches itself to THREE SHOES?"
Seishirou laughed, and the sound was warm and relaxing; Subaru's shoulders untensed. "A valid point, Hokuto-chan, as always. Are you eating that bun?"
Hokuto cradled her plate to her chest. "This is MY bun. You have your own - TWO of your own. Eat those."
Seishirou affected a pitiful expression. "Now, is that any way to treat your future brother-in-law?"
Hokuto waved her chopsticks at him. "You haven't made good on those promises YET, Sei-chan - where's the ring? Where are the flowers? Where are the love letters? Until you do, you have no right calling yourself ANYTHING like my future brother-in-law, isn't that right, Subaru?"
Subaru was not looking at either of them. "I'm going after it tomorrow," he said, and they both stopped smiling and looked at him.
"It?" asked Seishirou.
"The force. The darkness. Whatever it is that's driving all the local spirits crazy. Whatever it is that has all the graveyards in an uproar, the friendly spirits upset, the angry ones creating living nightmares. Whatever it is. I'm going after it tomorrow." And on his own, surprisingly, he took a large bite of his curried sticky rice and chewed it thoroughly.
"Would you like to me accompany you, Subaru-kun?" Seishirou asked lightly, chin supported by one hand as he watched Subaru chew.
Subaru shook his head and slid down from the kitchen stool. "No, that's all right, Seishirou-san," he said. laying his chopsticks down. "I know you have a full day tomorrow - appointments, and maybe some emergencies, even - "
"There is no appointment that's worth more to me than you, Subaru-kun," replied Seishirou, also sliding off his stool. "I will cancel what little I have tomorrow and go with you. After all, how else will you get around? I sincerely doubt public transport will take you where you need to go, Subaru-kun."
"Well," Subaru said, and considered. He had a point.
"Besides, how else will I get time alone with you to convince you of my undying love? I try and I try, but still you scorn me," Seishirou said, and Subaru went beet red.
"I - I - I - that's not - "
"OH ho ho ho ho!" Hokuto laughed, waving her hand. "Molest him if you must, but not at the kitchen counter!"
Seishirou and Hokuto laughed; Subaru stammered, and blushed, and after a little more teasing and touching, managed to get away.
He thought hard as prepared for bed; it was odd, this strange sense of destiny that he felt, leading him toward some nameless horror. It wasn't something he felt he could talk about or even define - and yet it was there, drawing him ever closer, pulling him until he was finally in reach.
And then what? God only knew; he simply could not shake the feeling that if he failed to find it, it would find him -
And then it would be far, far too late.
Surrendering his thoughts to blissful quiet, Subaru Sumeragi fell soundly asleep, and dreamed of sakura until morning.
(to part two | notes | back to TB fanfiction)