Tokyo Babylon † A Day in the Life, pt. 7

"Sumeragi Subaru - enter," said the servant, and nervously, Subaru did.

He wondered where he was and why as he entered, obeying more out of habit and a sense of belonging than any kind of set plan. Confused, he clutched his hat in his hands and looked around the room.

A strange mixture of rock and wood comprised his surroundings, somehow combining materials as simple as hay with the elegance of carven stone in a seamless ambience. Woven materials bearing symbols of power, peace, and binding hung from the walls and lay on the floor, ensuring by their nature that no power with intent to harm could easily enter this house. And yet for all their effect, they were ancient; Subaru only recognized them because his grandmother had insisted he know the old ways as well as the more recent - "recent," of course, being anything after the Meiji era.

Tureens bearing incense nestled hidden along the walls. Subaru shivered as he walked forward, feeling the power of this apparent operation base, aware in the way that one can be when asleep that this was the Yayoi era - and yet... it felt like home.

He kept walking, no longer waiting for anyone to direct him, drinking in the atmosphere and wondering how long the owner of this residence had been able to maintain such a wonderful sense of peace. Of course, the length of this hallway couldn't be real; it seemed to go on forever, with no end in sight, and the depth of power and peace of influence never faltered or grew dim. Subaru closed his eyes for a while as he walked, feeling safe, secure; without strife. And then, he became aware of someone watching him.

Turning, he looked; there was a man sat in the shadows on a high, carved block, his legs curled up and his arms resting on his knees.

"You noticed, finally," said the man in an dialect so old that Subaru knew he could not know it - and yet, he understood.

"This place... it's beautiful," Subaru said, tears standing in his eyes as the man unfolded from his position smoothly and came toward him.

"Yes. It is my home." The man came out of the shadows, and Subaru inhaled slightly. A moment of dizziness took him as the unreality of seeing an older version of himself in ancient kimono approached. The man smiled with identical green eyes. "You look like I used to, as a boy," he said, and stopped.

Subaru looked up at him. He considered, for a moment, the fact that his sister HAD been correct about long hair - it would suit him, even tied back - and then regathered enough of his senses to begin to question. "Where is this?"

"I told you - this is my home," the man answered, unmoving, studying Subaru's face as keenly as Subaru studied his own. "Of course, in your time, it no longer exists as a physical place; but there are those of us who have earned the right to choose our surroundings after we die."

"And you chose to stay... home," Subaru said, and looked around for a brief moment before returning his gaze to the man's.

"Wouldn't you?" the man said, and smiled gently; and in that smile, Subaru saw the first real difference between them. There was a hardness - an ability to deceive, perhaps, or certainly to lie without flinching that Subaru did not possess. The man seemed to sense that difference as well, and something in his expression softened.

"Do not fear me, Sumeragi Subaru, master of onmyoujitsu and head of our clan," he said. "I did not come here to lie to you. My purpose is simple - and my time is short."

"Oh," said Subaru, knowing that this was a stupid response but thrown too off-kilter by the realization that he had to leave this paradise to give a better response. Tighter, he looked around again, as if to memorize what a perfect home of peace and safety felt like.

"Look at me. We do not have time." And the man walked past Subaru, toward the wall - and directly into one of the woven tapestries, disappearing into its depths as easily as water.

Subaru gasped. Well, that had certainly been different; hoping that whatever pervading magic had enabled the man to go through would be effective for him, Subaru followed, flinching slightly but not closing his eyes as he went through - and only noticing at the last moment that the symbol sewn into this tapestry was kishikata - the word for past.

Sensation swallowed him; lapping at his skin like sentient oil, it parted the way for him and shuttled him through to the other side, where he stood in the air next to that man who was somehow both his past and his future and watched a story play out below.

"A demon of ancient days rampages in the world, and misery follows," intoned the man, narrating even as Subaru watched. "A man - young, determined, though afraid, causes its downfall, but could not destroy it; this would come much later. And the demon itself swore revenge."

Subaru swallowed. "Is that... is that what I'm up against?" he said quietly, knowing now, even as he'd feared when he passed out, that whatever he'd defeated had been a decoy. The monster was still out there.

"Yes," said the man. "And I'm afraid he hates you. I'm sorry."

Subaru was silent for a moment. He watched the battle beneath him, watched what had to be done, and made an educated guess as to how it had been freed - everyone knew this section of Tokyo was being landscaped for a new guest mansion for the governor's estate. "But... what shall I do?" he asked quietly, afraid, and the man turned away.

"You have to be strong."

Blue fire exploded below him, the last lashing attempts of the demon to escape; in its harsh light, the planes of the man's face stood out in stark relief.

"You have to be stronger than I was."

Red fire now, this man's own answer to the demon's fury, and the sounds of their cries twisted in the air.

"You have to be stronger than he is - and resist."

Subaru was confused. "But.. what should I DO? How do I defeat it?"

The man was silent; blue light and red danced along the smooth skin of his face and neck, and his eyes were hidden. "You have to fight your own desires to win."

Subaru went silent. "What?" he asked after a long while, all but whispered, and the man finally turned to look at him.

"I have taken too long. You have to go."

"Wait - no!" Subaru said, but before his eyes this man and his posthumous world were receding, blurring, fading away.

"Your enemy, Sumeragi Subaru, is not the demon."

Subaru strained to hear.

"Your enemy is yourself."

And then everything disappeared; and Subaru woke up.

Subaru did not wake up until after the spell was lifted, of course, but even then his trek to reality was slow. Between the dream he'd had and the sick realization that he'd been had, he almost did not want to wake up at all. Oh, he'd most certainly been had; the thing he'd bound and banished had not been the real enemy at all, and while he'd been doing that, it had put a spell of sleep on him so strong that he could not fight it off. It had taken a lot of energy to even reach his own home, and now he somehow had to get up and go after the demon again when he'd already BEEN hunting it for a week. It certainly wasn't fair; it also wasn't going to be easy. Sighing and rubbing his face, Subaru shifted a little and then came to the realization that he was naked.

He froze.

He never slept naked; never. More than a little spooked, Subaru focused his wakening senses on his surroundings, and in a moment realized that he wasn't in his room.

Turning his head, he found a green, digital clock on the nightstand; it was after one in the morning. "Where in the world..." he began, and then behind him, someone chuckled. It was a low, soft sound, wafted over his skin and making him shiver for reasons he couldn't quite grasp. The worst thing about it was that he thought he recognized the voice.

"Awake now, Subaru-kun?"

Subaru tried to twist to see him. "Seishirou-san?" he spurted in disbelieve, and then strong, warm arms slid around his waist - moving more quickly than he could in his befuddled state - and pulled him against Seishirou's body. Surprise surprise; he was naked, too.

"Gah!" Subaru said.

"Mmm... I was wondering when they'd lift that spell," Seishirou murmured dangerously, not sure whose spell it was, and Subaru - panicking now, not even sure if this was really happening, struggled abruptly and fiercely.

It turned out to be a wasted effort; Seishirou let him go the moment he tried to pull away and just lay there, smiling at him.

Subaru stood, tugging the sheet around his waist, sputtering. "Wh... Seishirou-san.. what... what in the world... what...."

"Oh, now - don't tell me you don't remember?" Seishirou's eyes glittered dangerously, matching his coldly intimate smile, and Subaru shuddered and took a step back. "You are here, with me; your sister left you, because she hates you. And if you don't run, I am going to kill you." And he smiled.

Subaru took another step back. "Wh... what?" This couldn't be real; none of this could be real.

Seishirou sat up slowly, the bedcover sliding slowly from his body as if it were reluctant to stop touching his skin. "Oh, it's real, Subaru-kun," he purred, and power began to form around him. "It's more real than you know - and it will kill you, if you do not run. Right. Now." And he smiled, and crouched slightly forward on the bed, his eyes glinting gold and his power emanating danger.

Subaru could not think about this. He ran.

Snatching the only article of clothing he found on the way - his own onmyouji robes, of all things - he sped headlong for the door, still not sure where he was but grateful for the fact that this apartment was at least somewhat similar to his own. Stumbling, he yanked the robes over his head in one strained pull, and it was only as he unlocked and ran through the door that he recalled the old adage never to run from a predator - because then it would surely chase you.

Subaru stepped into the hall and immediately ducked, his trained reflexes pulling him out of the projectile's path before his mind had fully comprehended the threat. A large butcher knife embedded itself into the wall just above his head.

Subaru had a moment to wonder why that felt familiar, and then the person who'd thrown it came at him bearing a knife in each hand; rather than fight this person when he was already confused, he ran.

Subaru went flying outside, and was shocked to realize he did not know where this was. He could not identify the building, could not identify the streets - but for all of that, his attention was on anything but his lost condition.

Everything around him was trashed. This wasn't the kind of defacing gangs and unruly youths did to prove themselves, nor even the kind violent protestors would do. There seemed to be neither rhyme nor reason for what he saw - it was as if a huge and unhappy infant had come through this place and simply crushed it all into pieces.

Hopping lightly over a street light that had somehow been bent all the way to the ground, he finished tying the knots on his robes and continued toward the end of the road, hoping that at least the cross section would give him some idea of where he was. Almost no one was outside; but those few who were ignored him completely, running past, screaming, weeping, shouting incoherently, even tearing at their own eyes and skin. Horrified, confused, he continued on, trying desperately to understand WHAT could have happened to turn this place into hell.

And then behind him, he felt it; Seishirou was coming.

Subaru made a choked sound and turned the corner, looking desperately for an escape that would at least afford him time enough to think. He was only now becoming aware that his body felt... different, used in ways that he didn't like to think about, and as he ran, he cried.

Up ahead and wandering loose was a horse than had been abandoned by its police officer; he wasn't sure what good fate had seen fit to provide this deus ex machina exit for him, but he wasn't about to complain. Somehow pulling himself onto the horse's back, he urged it into a rapid trot, and then simple draped across its back and waited to see where it would take him.

After a while, Subaru recognized where he was and steered accordingly vaguely in the direction of his home. Seishirou's words had shaken him on a deep and terrible level because he knew they were true; it didn't matter that he couldn't place when he'd heard Hokuto saying she hated him - he knew he had, and he also knew there was nothing he could do now to bring her back. He had to... had to....

What did he have to do? It had to do with a demon - the demon from his dream, that much he remembered, but exactly what was involved in what he was supposed to do? It was horrible; he couldn't remember. He couldn't even think clearly. The only thing he could understand clearly right now was that he was suffering because he was the clan head of the Sumeragi, and he didn't want to be anymore.

Sniffling just a little, he wiped his face on his sleeve and tried to think. Simple fact: there was a demon who was ruining his life because he was the Sumeragi clan head. It was enough to make one paranoid and ungrateful, and although it wasn't exactly the main problem in town at this time, he was having difficulty focusing on anything else.

He'd never asked to be the Sumeragi clan head. He'd never asked to be hunted by his best friend and betrayed by his sister, he'd never asked for the pain and misery that came with this job, he'd never asked to have his dreams taken away, to have his own desires always and forever squashed because he had to think of other people - he'd never asked for any of it. And now he was crying again; crying for a wasted life, for lost dreams, for lost friends and family, for the utter confusion that was his present situation and because there seemed to be no cure. It was too much to think about - especially since he knew without question that Seishirou was behind him somewhere, hunting him for some reason he did not know; and would not stop until Subaru had been killed.

He wanted to quit. He wanted to run away, to leave this stupid place to its own stupid problems, to let these people go and find some other unfortunate savior.

It was sickening. It was terrifying. It was a nightmare come true - but it wasn't the real issue.

At least twenty minutes had passed since he'd fled Seishirou's apartment, but his surroundings had not improved. If anything they were worse, because now there were bodies.

Women, children, men young and old lay scattered in the street, not all dead but certainly incapable of moving. No one was helping them; twice, Subaru saw the remains of a medical vehicle, the first one abandoned, the second one crashed, the personnel belonging to them long gone. Animals released from pet shops, veterinary clinics, and homes ran wild in the streets, and Subaru knew it was only a matter of time before the domesticated ones had no choice but to eat the only food readily available - which would be the bodies of humans still left in the streets, rotting.

Disease would fester because of this, and since there was no one to run the power plants, the plumbing facilities, to take care of garbage or accidents or anything else, plague would most definitely result. Even just the fact that there was now no one to process food meant that within a few days, people would be starving - and then it would be everyone for themselves.

Japan would die. As would the next country this evil deigned to visit. And the next. And the next. Other people would lose their sisters and friends and lovers and husbands and children; everyone would suffer and fade, and the world would end in misery.

Subaru choked, clutching at his chest as though his heart hurt him; bending over the saddle, he forced the horse to a stop. No, it wasn't fair that he had to be what he was but then what did that make the rest of this? No one deserved to suffer this way - to drown in their own darkness and kill themselves and each other. The world did not deserve to end this way -

And if the question was whether or not Subaru should be the Sumeragi and suffer in his one life, or whether he should make his own way and the world should die, then it really wasn't much of a question... was it.

No; no, it wasn't. Subaru sat as upright as he could, clearly in physical pain from the strain of resisting the demon's influence, and focused on the evil power all around him. He was trying to trace it; it seemed impossible, like trying to find one stream of freshwater in an ocean of salt, and Subaru realized he didn't have time to do this the old fashioned way. Patting the horse's neck calmingly, he folded his hands and began to recite a simple spell.

It was nearly impossible to concentrate while being bombarded with so much misery; but after a few minutes, his habit of meditated concentration kicked in. His body began to glow, sending off a delicate shine that looked even lovelier for the lack of beauty around him, and suddenly three doves shot up from his hands as if escaping for their lives, flitting into the air and leaving a trail of fading sparkles behind them. Subaru watched them for a moment, then spurred his horse to keep moving, trusting them to return when they'd received an answer.

Kyouran was resting under the great sakura tree in Ueno Park. His throne was a temporary one, it was true, but that hardly mattered - for now, he merely meant to wait until the Sumeragi came to him. He was fairly sure that the Sakurazukamori would bring him after he'd finished playing with him; and even if he didn't, surely the boy would come here eventually. His destiny lay here - his past and his present, his future and his death; surely the boy would come.

It surrpised him mildly when three doves - glowing, brilliant and beautiful - came flitting over the edge of the trees and into the small clearing, following the footpath that led around the tree. Innocent as butterflies, they came toward him, cooing lightly as their greeting and circling him twice before heading off again.

He did not disturb them; he knew searching shikigami when he saw them, and now knew that Subaru would be on his way. Which was good; he didn't want to wait here any longer, when he could be up high, watching the carnage from a much cleaner perspective. Humans were amusing, but they made SUCH an awful smell.

But first - a calling card. He raised one hand, and in his palm a slender, black rod formed, tapered at both ends and shining like the talons on his fingers; without much visible effort he threw it, and it impaled one of the shikigami straight through its center.

Subaru gagged and hunched forward, nearly falling off the horse as he clutched his stomach; the moment he sent the shikigami, the temporary relief he'd gained by meditating had fled. He'd felt the destruction of that shikigami like a punch in the gut. At least it was now a certainty that he knew where the demon was.

Turning toward Ueno Park, he urged the horse into a gallop; his life, his doubts, his fears and his struggle no longer mattered. Subaru had a job to do.

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