"Ireland?" Daisuke looked at the plane tickets in his sister’s hand, then back up at her face again, feeling totally bemused. "Why there?"
"Why not?" Jun shrugged. "It’s a nice enough place for a vacation… And you can’t really object about the location, Dai, since I’m the one who’s paying for it!"
That was true. Daisuke frowned slightly. The offer of two free plane tickets, giving the promise of a whole month outside of the ‘nowhere’ city they lived in, was just too good to pass up. Frankly, the notion of a whole summer filled with hours at the same boring part-time job and small-city hang-outs had been enough to make him want to scream in frustration. And summer vacation as a college student was two months longer than it had been the previous year, when he’d still been in high-school. A month’s freedom from that would be more than welcome.
"Look, little bro." Jun cut into his thoughts, looking impatient. "I’ve got two tickets here, and, out of the goodness of my heart, I’m putting family ahead of friendship. I’m offering them to you. Now do you want them or not? I’m sure there’s a whole crew of others who’d jump at the chance…"
"I’ll take them!" Daisuke snatched the tickets out of his sister’s hand before she could re-think her offer. "How long will we have before you come down and join us?"
"About a week, if things go well at work. I’ll meet you in Dublin." She gave him a wry grin. "But don’t let my absence keep you from traveling around and having fun. If you’re going to sit around in one city, you might as well stay here."
Daisuke nodded, his mind already busy thinking of fun and exciting things to do while in a different country. "So what about hotels and bus rides and all? Won’t that cost money?"
Jun made a face. "All right. Here." She reluctantly pulled a credit card from her purse. "I’ll make sure you’re authorized to use it, but only when it’s necessary, understand? Spend too much, and I’ll make you pay all of it back!"
"Gotcha." He tucked the card into a pocket, silently jumping around in triumph, and started to turn away. "Thanks Jun!"
"Oh, and Daisuke?" He stopped, and looked back in time to catch her smile. "Try not to get into too much trouble when I’m not around. All right?"
"Sure thing." Daisuke grinned. "Trust me."
‘The horse reared and pawed the air. The rider stared down. There was no remorse or pity in those sloe-black eyes.
‘"No is your answer, but yes was hers. I have taken my bride from the Mound of the – "’ 
Takeru jumped, and nearly dropped the book he was reading. "Try and kill me, why don’t you…" He growled, reaching for the phone. "Hello?"
"Hey Takeru, it’s me! What’s up?"
"My heart rate," the blond boy sighed. "This had better be good, Daisuke. I was right in the middle of reading something, you know."
"Sorry," his best friend apologized. "Don’t worry, though. It’s good. My sister got two extra plane tickets for a month-long vacation in Ireland! Want to come?"
The announcement came so fast that it took a few seconds to seep into Takeru’s brain. "Are you serious?" he gasped out, incredulously.
"Yup! Cool, huh?" Daisuke’s reply was as cheerful as ever. "So, you interested?"
"You’ve got to be kidding me!" Takeru gripped the phone tighter and dropped the book, losing his place and not even caring. "Like I’d miss a chance to get out of this place! But why Ireland?"
"Beats me. At this point, do you really care? It can’t be worse than staying here, right?"
"What about accommodations?" Takeru asked skeptically. "I’ve only got a couple hundred to my name. And how are we going to get around?"
"It’s taken care of." Daisuke sounded so smug, it was almost cute. "Jun gave me her credit card!"
"She what!?" Takeru nearly dropped the phone.
"I know! Isn’t she dumb?" He could practically see Daisuke grinning over the phone. "Just think of what we could do with this! We could buy the world! What could possibly go wrong?"
The blue-eyed boy grimaced. "I wish you wouldn’t say that."
"Did you have to bring all of… that… with you?" Takeru stared at Daisuke with one raised eyebrow, taking in the huge carry-on bag he planned on taking onto the plane. It was loaded down with all kinds of books.
The red-head nodded emphatically. "Dude, I don’t wanna miss out on anything! Besides, it’s got tons of really cool stuff in there! You know, they’ve actually got real spirits if you go into the – "
"Yeah." Takeru half-smiled, secretly amused. If he put this much effort into school, he’d have a straight A report card! "I don’t think there’s much chance of missing out now. You’ve probably got about half of Ireland’s history packed away in there. Is that how you plan to amuse yourself on the plane?"
"Sure! Why not?"
Takeru rolled his eyes in good-natured exasperation. "I can think of better things to do with all that time – like studying up for the Biology and Physics courses you want to take next year…"
"Yeah, yeah!" Daisuke waved a hand, brushing that aside. "I don’t need to study now. Besides, you plan to help me with my courses, right?" He smiled innocently.
"All right, I give in." Takeru raised his hands in mock surrender. "You can have your Ireland books on the plane. Not like you would’ve let me talk you into studying, anyway."
"Damn straight!" Daisuke agreed happily, beaming at his best friend.
Daisuke stifled a yawn and grabbed one of his bags before it could move past him. "Did you know," he asked his friend wearily, "that Tara was the sacred assembly place of the tribes of Ireland?" He was immensely proud of his new supply of facts.
"No." Takeru snatched off another bag. "So what?" The jet-lag was making him irritable rather than sleepy, Daisuke realized.
"So that’s where we’re going." He announced it with finality, and typical ‘Daisuke’ flair, grinning at the taller boy despite being exhausted. "It’s still early, so if we catch a bus right away, we should be able to get there before it gets dark.
Takeru turned to look at him incredulously, and almost missed one of their bags, which Daisuke caught as it went by him. "Are you insane?" the blond boy demanded.
"Nope. So, let’s get going." Daisuke grabbed the last of their bags and loaded it onto the cart they’d snatched up. "We should be able to get a car that’s going to the bus station."
"No way. Absolutely not." Takeru crossed his arms over his chest. "We are not taking a bus to Tara. We’re finding a nice hotel and settling down for a much-needed sleep. And that’s final."
The bus seats were comfortable enough. Takeru sighed and leaned back, turning his head to glare at a sleeping Daisuke. The red-head was leaning against the window, snoring loud enough for Takeru to hear it through the noise on the crowded bus. It didn’t seem at all fair that his friend could sleep when he was the one who’d insisted that they take the bus to Tara in the first place. There was just no justice in the world, Takeru decided, trying to relax.
The bus lurched to a halt and Daisuke looked up sleepily. "We there yet?" he asked Takeru in a groggy-sounding voice, yawning.
The blond nodded. "We need to get off the bus."
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Daisuke stood up and stretched, then followed his friend out through the sliding doors. He glanced up toward the west, where the sun was just setting, and shot Takeru a triumphant smile. "I told you we’d get here before it got dark!"
"Great," Takeru muttered in agreement, no longer caring. All he could think about was sleeping.
"Now we can look around a bit before we go back to the hotel for the night," Daisuke continued brightly.
It took only about half an hour to first make arrangements for the week they’d be staying, and then to load all their bags into the room they’d be occupying. Takeru looked back longingly at the two Queen-sized beds before following his best friend back outside.
They made their way, slowly, down the first block. Daisuke seemed to have forgotten the fact that he was tired, and was busily pointing out various attractions that he just had to go and see later. Despite himself, the taller boy found a faint smile tugging at his lips as he watched the red-head gazing about him in open delight. Well, at least he’s enthusiastic about it.
After maybe half a block more, they ran into one of those quaint little coffee-houses that Takeru had never been able to resist. And that was as far as they got.
"You dragged me out here, Daisuke," the taller boy argued, reasonably, when his shorter companion seemed ready to protest the delay. "The least you could do is put up with what I want to do, just this once."
"All right, fine!" Daisuke shrugged, then smiled. "I wouldn’t mind a hot chocolate, anyway." As if he’d really had a choice at that point. "But you’re buying!"
The seating turned out to be a little difficult.
"This place is packed!" Takeru looked around in dismay. "There aren’t two seats together anywhere here, inside or out! Where can we – ?"
"There!" Triumphantly, the red-head pointed to where a solitary blond man sat at a table for three, sipping a hot drink of some sort. "See, Takeru? There are two free seats right over there. Come on!"
The blond looked up as they approached, but he didn’t seem particularly welcoming. A set of cold blue eyes watched them from under that fringe of stylish light-colored hair.
"Yamato?" Takeru blinked. "What are you doing here?" Out of the corner of his eye, he caught his friend heading straight for one of the chairs. "Are these seats taken?" he asked politely, holding Daisuke back before he could just jump in.
The blond was silent for a moment. "Sit down if you want to," he said finally. There was a note of bitterness and resignation in his voice, but it didn’t seem aimed at them. He also didn’t have an accent like most of the people around – which wasn’t surprising, since he wasn't Irish.
"Thanks!" Oblivious as ever, Daisuke plunked himself down into one of the seats, and Takeru was forced to take the other.
"What are you doing here?" the blond repeated, staring incredulously at the blond man across from him. Great! The last thing I expected to find here was a wandering older brother! "I thought you were going to school in Europe!"
More silence. "I was," Yamato answered shortly, and didn’t offer anything further in the way of an explanation. He didn’t seem all that interested in talking with them. Actually, he didn’t even look surprised to see them. Strange…
"So, what happened?" Daisuke happily sipped his hot chocolate, not seeming to take any notice of the tension. "Did you decide to drop out, or what?"
"Something like that."
"Oh. Well, that’s cool. You probably had a good reason." The red-head took another few sips. "Listen, Yamato, you’ve been here for a while, right? Do you know any places where I can see those spirits like in the history books? I mean, the places that were supposed to belong to all the magic things. Do you know any good ones?"
Yamato looked up, a flicker of interest showing in his cold blue eyes. "Spirits?"
Takeru rolled his eyes. "Daisuke, those are just legends. There’s no such thing as spirits. It was a part of the religion in these parts at one point, but they’re just stories."
Daisuke frowned. "Hey, you’ve never even been here before, how would you know?"
"No such thing as spirits?" Yamato interrupted them before Takeru could say anything, calling their attention back to him. There was a faint smile on his face, a sardonic little smirk that seemed self-mocking and amused all at once. "Well, perhaps you’re right. They really wouldn’t be spirits, now would they? He was certainly solid enough." There was a definite bitterness in that last bit.
"Huh?" Daisuke made his favorite puzzled face, one eyebrow cocked up with a half-frown on his lips. "What’re you talking about?"
"I know a place," Yamato answered, setting down his cup. Takeru noticed that it was nearly full, but his brother was already getting up from the table. "But I wouldn’t advise hanging out there during the night. It’s like offering yourself. I would know." He chuckled a little, but there was no humor in the sound.
"Really?" Daisuke looked enchanted; his eyes were wide and his grin was growing by the second. "Where is this place?"
"There." Yamato pointed across the street, to where a chain fence kept unwanted intruders away from a huge, ancient grave mound. "It’s like a gateway," he said. "During the day, it’s filled with tourists, and they never watch it. At night, if you climb the fence and sneak in, you might catch a glimpse of something. But don’t stay long."
Takeru looked in dismay at Daisuke’s wonder-struck expression as he stared across at the mound. Great – that’s just what he needs. Ideas. "Why shouldn’t we stay?" the red-head asked, not taking his eyes off the sloping grassy hill.
When the two of them turned back to face Takeru’s brother, Yamato had already gone.
"That was really weird," Takeru said, for the twentieth time since they’d left the coffee-house. He lay on his bed in the hotel room, arms crossed behind his head, staring at the ceiling thoughtfully. "I wonder why he didn’t stick around longer."
"He probably had other things to do." Daisuke shrugged, not really caring, and turned out the lights before sprawling out on top of the covers on his own bed. "He wasn’t exactly all that friendly, either. Maybe he’s got other stuff on his mind."
"Yeah, maybe." Takeru sighed.
The red-head tugged absently at his loose white tank top. "What do you think about what he said, Takeru? About the mound? Do you think we’d actually see something if we went there?"
Takeru laughed. "Of course not! He was just pulling our legs! Probably thinks we’re gullible enough to believe him, just because we’re not from around here. And I know Yamato still thinks I’m five years old or something. There’s no such thing as spirits, Daisuke."
"Mmm." Daisuke wasn’t really listening; he’d made up his mind already. "I’m gonna go find out," he announced, sitting up and moving to grapple around for his shoes.
"What!?" Takeru sat up too, and Daisuke could see his blue eyes glittering even in the darkness. "Are you insane? We’ve finally gotten a chance for some sleep, and you want to go hunting ghosts?"
"Spirits," Daisuke corrected. He grinned at his friend. "Anyway, you don’t have to come. I’m definitely going, but you can stay here if you want."
They stared at each other for a moment.
"I’ll get my shoes," Takeru said finally, sounding resigned.
"Wish I had a flashlight," Daisuke’s voice ghosted back, from up ahead. He was doing a great job of being totally conspicuous, creeping through the darkness, looking like a baby animal clumsily attempting to stalk something.
Takeru rolled his eyes and made no attempt to avoid detection. If anyone were looking their way, they’d see Daisuke right away. "You should’ve brought one," he told his best friend, wishing he were back in bed.
"I didn’t think of it," Daisuke admitted, ducking through the carved entrance to the grave mounds. "I can’t see a thing. This is hardly even worth it!"
"Great. So, can we go back to the hotel, then?" Takeru didn’t even try to keep the annoyance out of his voice. "Sneaking around in a grave mound at midnight is not exactly my idea of ‘fun’!"
Daisuke turned and the blond saw the white flash of his grin in the darkness. "Well, I’m having fun. You can always go back, you know."
"Oh, sure, Daisuke." Takeru shook his head ruefully. "And leave you out here to get into who knows how much trouble? Don’t think I can’t tell you right now who’d be expected to get you out of it!"
The red-head made a face. "Okay, so maybe I get into a few jams… so what?"
Takeru sighed and sat down, still feeling tired. "So you need a babysitter to keep you safe. Otherwise you’ll never make it through life."
"Hey!" Daisuke flopped down beside him. "I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself!"
"Sure." Takeru yawned, feeling like he could fall asleep right there. "You can’t even keep your feet on the ground. Spirits… For goodness sakes, Daisuke!"
"Nothing… wrong with… spirits." Daisuke’s speech was interrupted by yawns. Obviously, the rush of excitement caused by sneaking in was wearing away quickly. "’Sides… they might be real."
"Don’t be stupid," Takeru answered sleepily, sighing. "There’s no such thing…" He was interrupted by a soft snore; Daisuke was already asleep, curled up against the dirt wall behind him.
Yamato’s warning still echoed in Takeru’s head, but at the moment, the only thing the blond could thing of was sleep. There’s no such thing as spirits, he told himself one last time, before giving in and letting that welcoming oblivion have him.
They’re asleep! Look!
The Kaizer’s going to take him! Just wait!
Which one? The blond?
Takeru frowned a little in his sleep.
No, no, the other. Just wait…
Daisuke sighed in between his snores and shifted slightly, restless.
Will he come?
Not before the dreams… Wait… There must be agreement. Then he’ll come. Just watch. We’ll see our Kaizer take a consort here tonight…
Brilliant colors swam in front of Daisuke’s eyes, all of them beautiful. He gazed around in dazed contentment, warm and safe and surrounded by happy, laughing people. It was a dance, a celebration, and the colors were their clothing…
"Is this real?" he breathed, awed.
"If you want it to be, it is." The words were spoken right into his ear, softly, and then somebody whirled him around and he was in the arms of a dark-haired beauty, who led him in a dance through the couples already on the floor – fast… wild… thrilling… Daisuke didn’t stop to think about how strange it was that another boy was dancing with him, or even that he wasn’t leading. The music made him confident and sure.
Intense violet eyes met his, and Daisuke found himself hypnotized, as the pale stranger’s lips curled in a smile. "Come with me," the boy asked softly, bending over the red-head. He was warm, and his gaze was intoxicating. "Stay with me."
"I… why?" Daisuke could think of nothing better than to be in the middle of such activity for the rest of his life, to be surrounded by beautiful colors and held in the arms of an exciting and irresistibly charming stranger. But something held him… Something behind…
A flicker of annoyance seemed to light in those compelling eyes, but the grip on Daisuke’s waist tightened. "I’ll care for you – for the rest of your life, I’ll care for you." He leaned forward again and breathed into Daisuke’s ear, "I promise."
Takeru fought with something he couldn’t see. Wait a minute… Daisuke! The darkness cleared, and there was his friend, dangling on the edge of a cliff. He didn’t seem to notice, balancing precariously between life and death, his expression dreamy and unconcerned. "Daisuke!"
The red-head didn’t even notice him; he seemed hypnotized as he leaned toward the cliff’s edge, almost as if he yearned towards the promise of what waited for him beyond it. His eyes were half-lidded, as if he’d been drugged. He wobbled, uncertain.
"No!" Without thinking, Takeru jumped forward to grab his friend’s arms. "Watch what you’re doing, Daisuke! Are you crazy?"
Daisuke blinked at him, his eyes clouded as if he were far from the world. He jerked back in Takeru’s hold, straining to fall back over the cliff’s edge. As if something was pulling him…
"Oh god…" Takeru’s eyes widened. What is this? Realization hit a second later. I’m dreaming…
He turned from Daisuke, and the scene faded away, the red-head’s arms melting into nothing along with the rest of the image. He was back in darkness. "What…?"
"You’re in a living dream, Takeru Takaishi." The voice was coming from right in front of him, but no one was there. "Let go of him. You’ll only hurt yourself if you try to hold on."
"Let go of who? What’s going on?" Takeru spun around, looking for the source of the voice. "Who are you?"
"Here," the voice whispered in his ear, and then his gaze was locked onto a set of luminous brown eyes, the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen. Soft lids closed over them for a moment, and he saw then that he was facing a slender girl, shorter than him, with delicate limbs and light brown hair. Her eyes opened again – they were more beautiful than he remembered – but not before he saw the sharply pointed ears peeking out from under her hair.
"Let go of him," she said again, softly.
He stared at her, not certain what to do, or even what to think. She was… unreal – but somehow, she was just as beautifully there. Solid. "Let go of… who?" he asked, in a hushed whisper, as if anything louder would banish the angel in front of him.
She smiled. "You can’t hold onto your friend. He won’t be hurt. And your life is in danger, Takeru."
"How…?" His voice caught.
She shrugged. "Just let go. If you want to follow him, talk to Yamato. You’ll wake when it’s time." Then she turned, and, before he could say another word, vanished.
"No, wait…" He was too late, though – she was already gone.
With a smile, the dark-haired stranger pulled Daisuke aside, away from the other dancers. "Stay here with me," he insisted again. "I’ll fill up your days with laughter and happiness. I’ll give you everything you need, everything you want." His arms traced lines down the red-head’s back. "I’ll spend forever loving you, worshipping you… you’ll be a Prince, and adored by all."
"Mmm." Daisuke leaned against the boy’s shoulder slightly, still able to gaze into those liquid violet orbs. He felt warm, and safe, and beloved… What else was there?
The stranger leaned forward again so that his mouth was inches from Daisuke’s. "Agree to stay, and give yourself to me… my Daisuke," he breathed, careful to keep staring directly into the red-head’s eyes.
There was no other possible answer. "Mmm… yes," Daisuke whispered, and his eyes shut as his world faded into a comfortable, dreamlike trance. Back in the grave mound, the sleeping form of the red-head echoed his whole-hearted agreement, and his lips inched upward in a contented smile.
The entrance to the grave mounds went suddenly dark, and then a single figure stepped out through that blackness, clad all in blue, trimmed with gold. There was a triumphant smile on his lips, the blue-black hair in wild disarray.
I told you… he’s come! You see, the Kaizer! Here to take his consort…
The figure of the Kaizer stepped over to where the two boys slept restlessly, limbs shifting in an uneasy rest. He regarded the frowning Takeru with a practiced indifference, then his eyes softened as they fell on a dreamily smiling Daisuke. "I can’t take you unless you agree to it," he told him, with a smirk. "But you have, and now you’re mine to deal with as I wish."
Bending, he gathered up the limp red-head, lifting him over his shoulder. Daisuke didn’t even stir, still lost in dreams.
Having taken what was his, the Kaizer left the grave mound – and the sleeping Takeru – to whatever might happen there the next morning. He had what he wanted; nothing else mattered.
With a sharp gasp, Takeru sat bolt upright, breathing heavily. A dream… it was a dream, the blond reminded himself. The image of the girl swam through his mind, a vision of perfect beauty, taunting him. Did I imagine her, or was she really there?
I wish that it were real, even if it means I’d have to start believing in that sort of nonsense… With a wry grin, Takeru turned to wake up Daisuke, wanting to ask if the red-head had slept any better. Then he froze.
His best friend was gone.
 Excerpt from ‘The Hunter’s Moon’ by O.R. Melling