Oran, Co Roscommon
Daisuke was barely drifting awake, feeling refreshed and, at the same time, very drowsy. There was a strange, familiar sort of surface beneath him that felt fresh and cool under his skin, and sounds like birds chirping came to his ears – they were faint, as if coming from some distance away. It smelled sweet, like flowers… He stirred a little, wanting to sleep and wanting to wake up at the same time.
"Shh," someone said soothingly, and fingers brushed over his cheek gently. "Go back to sleep, Daisuke. This will all still be here when you’re ready to wake up."
The red-head smiled a little and sighed in contentment, relaxing under the soft caress. It seemed that he was out of place somehow, like he’d been moved… but there was a sense of rightness over everything around him. The soft bed… the birds chirping… the smell of flowers… the voice, and the gentle brushing of fingers across his cheek… It was all right. Perfect. This was where he wanted to be.
The fingers ran lightly over the front of his face. "So beautiful…" that voice murmured. "And all for me. Sleep for a while longer, love. You’re gorgeous when you sleep."
Daisuke did that.
"Great. This is just great."
Takeru hopped over the fence, after making sure no one was looking. He wasn’t sure what to do. Daisuke was gone – had just disappeared – and there wasn’t even a hint of where he might’ve gone. The red-head was erratic and unpredictable, but Takeru knew that he would never just run off and leave without a good reason. And he definitely would’ve left a message of some kind, no question about it.
But he hadn’t.
Well, maybe he went back to the hotel. Takeru wasn’t feeling too optimistic. Even if Daisuke had gone back there, why hadn’t he woken him? If he’s there and acts like nothing’s wrong, I’ll strangle him! The blond decided, almost running. And if he’s not…
He hadn’t figured that part out yet.
The image of the girl from his dream still plagued him constantly; he just couldn’t get it out of his head. She was so real… I can’t explain it… I’ve never seen anyone like her! So how was she in my dream? Had she been a face he’d seen somewhere he couldn’t remember? Or was that his idea of the perfect girl?
Whichever it is, I’ll probably never see her again. The thought was almost painful. He wanted to see her again. Sometime soon, too. It would be nice…
Pushing those thoughts aside, Takeru hurried into the hotel, ran up the stairs, and stopped by their room. Taking a brief second to silently thank anyone who might be listening that he had taken the spare key and not left both with Daisuke, the blond unlocked the door and let himself in.
The room was empty.
Just one thought came to mind at that. Daisuke’s in trouble.
He left the hotel and walked back toward the scene of the "crime" again, not really sure what else to do. If he’d just left a message or something… I don’t even know where to start looking! He stared helplessly at the mounds, through the fence.
"Good morning, Takeru." Jumping a little in surprise, the blond turned to face his older brother, who was calmly sipping something from a coffee cup – the kind given out by well-off cafes. "How are things going?"
"Yamato!" Takeru seized on this new opportunity. "You were the one who told us about those mounds… Daisuke wanted to go there, so we did, but we fell asleep while in there – and when I work up, he was gone!"
The taller blond sighed, rolling his eyes heavenward. "I told you not to stay too long… All right. Did you have any kind of strange dreams while you were there?"
"Um… yeah." Takeru rubbed the back of his neck nervously. This had to be one of the strangest things he’d been involved in. Daisuke’s gone missing, and he’s asking about my dreams! "I dreamed that Daisuke was on the edge of a cliff. He had this really strange look on his face…" The shorter blond paused, trying to remember. "Almost like he was half asleep – or on drugs. I tried to hold onto him, but he disappeared. And then this girl appeared, and told me to let go. I… she…" He blushed. "She was really beautiful. Really."
Yamato studied his face, then laughed. The sound didn’t have much humor in it. "We’re more alike than I thought," he noted, in that bitter tone. "Anyway, I can take you to find your friend, but I doubt he’ll want to come back with you. Even if he does, he won’t – not fully. Unless he’s a bigger idiot than I think he is."
"Yeah… okay, Yamato." Takeru frowned. "So where is he?"
"With them." He shrugged. "Trust me, if I tried to explain, you wouldn’t believe me. If you still want to see him, we’ll have to go to Oran, Co Roscommon. I can get you there, but once you’re in, you’re on your own."
"Whatever you say, Yamato." Takeru answered, shrugging. Then he groaned. "Don’t tell me I have to drag along Daisuke’s stuff and my own!"
"Tell the hotel that you’re keeping the room for a week," Yamato suggested coolly. "If you don’t come back by then, I’ll take care of it."
"What do you mean, if I don’t come back?" Takeru stared at him. "Where is this place, anyway?"
"You won’t believe it until you see it," his brother said wryly. "Shall we go?"
"What do you think of him?"
His voice was soft, and he watched his sleeping captive with a tenderness that couldn’t be faked. For most, there was only one answer allowed. But not so for the Second. "I think he’s going to fight you."
"I know." A small smile inched across that flawless face. "But that makes it all the more sweet. It’s part of the reason I decided that he was the one I wanted."
"You love him?"
"That’s a mortal term. But it serves, if you want to use it." He shrugged smoothly, large eyes dark beneath the glossy hair. "He’s mine. Any struggles are pointless at this point; he’s agreed, and he can’t take that back. For as long as I choose to keep him, he’s mine."
"He won’t like it."
"He doesn’t have to." The smile grew. "But you’re wrong, you know. He’ll be reluctant at first, but he’s going to be deliriously happy when I’m finished with him."
The Second smiled. "You have it all figured out, Ken. What happens when his friend comes looking for him?"
"He’ll be tested." The Kaizer met his Second’s gaze steadily. "If he fails, he’s ours. If he passes…" The smile on Ken’s face softened. "Then he’s yours alone, Hikari. And, for you, unlike in the case of your brother, it will end well."
She smiled herself, delicately fingering the point of her right ear. "I know."
Another bus ride. Takeru leaned back against the seat. His brother was staring out at the countryside intently, and didn’t seem interested in talking. After a few half-hearted attempts to draw him into a conversation, the younger blond gave up.
As soon as his mind was free, the image of the girl from his dream returned again to haunt him. In his head, she smiled, brown eyes luminous with a kind of mischief that was enough to drive him wild. Pale, smooth skin made her face a mask of porcelain beauty – like a fine work of art that’d come to life. She was small, and her form delicate, but the graceful curves of her body said, clearly, that she was mature. The way her ears pointed… even that didn’t take away from her appeal – rather, they gave her an exotic look.
Takeru couldn’t think of any girl he’d seen who’d been more attractive. It wasn’t even so much the fact that she was beautiful – though she was. It was something… else.
He couldn’t explain it.
But he did want to see her again.
The remembered vision seemed to smile mysteriously at him, amusement dancing in the soft brown eyes. The full pink lips parted, and she spoke. Takeru…
"Takeru?" A hand shook his shoulder. The younger blond blinked, confused, then glanced up at his older brother. "Time to get off the bus," Yamato told him, and stood up.
"Oh. Right." He’d fallen asleep. "Coming." Yawning, the shorter boy stood and followed his brother out onto the side of the road.
"Where are we going?" he asked, running a hand over his eyes and blinking at the scenery around them. All he could see was grass, all around… "Where are we?"
"We're exactly where we want to be," Yamato answered shortly. "But we're going to have to walk to get to the place we need to be. That is, if you want to see your friend and your pretty girl again."
Takeru felt his cheeks heating. "Yeah," he said awkwardly. "But how would Daisuke get out here? This is the middle of nowhere!"
"Not quite." Yamato shrugged. "There's a circle of stones standing around here - that's what we're heading for. Taichi said that if I ever wanted to return, all I'd have to do was stand with both hands touching a stone of the circle and call for him. And whoever or whatever is there with me will be brought as well."
"Okay…" Takeru decided not to ask any more questions. I'm starting to think my brother's gone crazy.
"It isn't far," Yamato assured him, without being asked, and they both set out across the seemingly endless field. Takeru mentally sighed to himself. Daisuke, you owe me, he thought ruefully. And today's gonna be a long day…
He turned out to be right about that.
It was late evening before they got to wherever it was Yamato wanted to get to. Takeru's feet were starting to hurt, but his brother was so dead-set on walking that he just couldn't bring himself to say anything. The taller blonde's eyes were narrowed and his mouth was set in a tense line. He was so determined that it was kind of creepy. Takeru tried not to think about it and followed mutely behind, thoughts still full of the girl in his dreams.
Yamato seems to think she's real, he reminded himself, glancing at his brother. Of course, Yamato wasn't acting entirely sane at the moment, so it wasn't much in the way of reassurance. Takeru found just about every thought in his head haunted by the image of soft brown eyes and full pink lips. Pale skin… light brown hair… the suppressed laughter in her expression, the…
"There." Yamato cut into his daydream, and Takeru looked up to see his brother pointing at a couple of tall, flat objects standing just across a wide field. "Come on," the older boy said shortly, and started across.
With a sigh, Takeru ignored his complaining feet and followed.
The stone "circle" turned out to be a little different from what he was expecting.
"This isn't a circle!" Takeru protested, staring at the three uneven stones in disbelieve. "It isn't even round! It's just… stones." It also looked a little like a grave, but he didn't feel like voicing that out loud.
"Standing stones," Yamato answered. "And of course it doesn't look like a circle. It isn't supposed to. Put both hands on one of the stones."
"All right, all right." Takeru made a face at the impatient note in his older brother's voice, and put his hands on the nearest stone. "Now what?"
"Now you stand there and be quiet, while I concentrate." Yamato closed his eyes.
The noise was clearer than a bell. Hikari shut her eyes and looked to where the Kaizer sat, oblivious. Naturally, though, he wouldn't have heard it. He wasn't of the Yagami bloodline.
"They're coming," she said simply.
"Good." Ken's eyes didn't leave his sleeping prize. "They'll need to be greeted then."
Hikari nodded slightly in acceptance, and stood gracefully. She had known already that it would fall to her to greet the coming visitors - if and when they passed the proper trials.
She thought of the blond, Takeru, and smiled. Surely he would pass, she told herself. He was brave, and able. He would come to her, and together they would insure that he remained beyond the reach of the others.
Besides that, though, he was attractive. In both mind and body.
"Honored ones," Hikari announced in a clear voice, stepping out into the Great Hall. "Tonight, we will celebrate! The Kaizer has chosen a consort, and there will be much rejoicing."
A whole-hearted cheer rose from the assembled Immortals. There were balls every evening, certainly, but the courts rarely had such a reason for revelry. Every being there would want a dance with the new Consort.
"On another note," Hikari continued, letting a mischievous smile drift onto her face. "We may well have more visitors from the mortal realm. If they can reach us. I'm certain you all remember Yamato…"
There was some murmuring. Yes, they did remember… A very attractive mortal, that one.
"He and his younger sibling will join us for the evening," she continued, when they'd quieted. "And we will have a trial to witness. I'm certain you know what this means…"
More excited chattering rose up. They knew.
"But firstly," Hikari cut in, clearly, "I would ask our Kaizer's most esteemed Captain to fetch these mortals for us. Taichi, please come forward."
The brown-haired Immortal strode through the crowd and approached the front. The smile on his face was typically carefree, but there was an aura of sorrow that only Hikari, who knew him better than most, could sense. She sighed inwardly, wishing she could ease that hurt. It was difficult when one lost in challenges involving the heart.
"I would ask, then, brother, that you fetch these mortals for us." She smiled again. "I will be waiting to greet them properly when you return. If they pass their trial."
"Yes, most honored Second." He bowed, then winked at her mischievously and left the room.
Hikari smothered a grin. Taichi was a good brother - even if she would only live to know him for a short time.
Takeru stared around in boredom. How long had it been since Yamato had said he needed to concentrate? This is a waste of time. He sighed, annoyed, and glanced at the rocks again. They looked like ordinary rocks.
My brother's insane. The younger blond turned his gaze back to Yamato, feeling frustrated and helpless. If he's really delusional… They could be there all night! And Takeru didn't know how to make Yamato leave without upsetting him. Should I humor him, or what?
"Ready?" Yamato said suddenly. He didn't open his eyes.
Takeru sighed. "For what?"
The world dropped away beneath their feet.
Before he even had time to scream, Takeru found himself coming to an abrupt halt, suspended in mid-air and surrounded by darkness. He gasped, and twisted wildly. "What…?"
"All right, little brother?"
Takeru spun around, and found himself facing Yamato, who had a little smirk on his face. "A bit shocking, wasn't that? Well, there'll be more to come. They're not just going to let us come in, you know."
Takeru spun again at the voice. This time he was facing a taller boy with a huge mop of chestnut hair and laughing brown eyes. He was wearing strange, peasant-style clothing, his ears were sharply pointed, and…
A set of insect-type wings protruded from his back, buzzing continually as they held him suspended.
"Okay," Takeru said, looking away slowly. Great. We've got a weird, alternate dimension, and we've got a guy with wings. Can this get any stranger?
"Trying to impress us with your practiced phrases, Taichi?" Yamato asked dryly. The note of bitterness in his voice was even more noticeable - but there was something else there as well… Takeru gave him a glance, in time to see the winged guy glide gracefully toward his brother.
"The only one I want to impress is you, Yamato," the boy - Taichi? - said in a soft, slow voice. There was a little smile on his face, and he raised a hand to brush his fingers across Yamato's face. "I've missed you… Does this mean you're coming back to stay with me?"
Takeru blinked. What the…?
"Nothing's changed." Yamato's voice was cold, but his eyes didn't leave Taichi's, and he didn't move away. "I came here as a favor to my brother. Nothing else."
Taichi sighed. "That's what I thought, but I still hoped…" He let that trail off, and backed away from the blond. "All right. You know you have a trial to pass in order to come through."
"That's up to Takeru," Yamato answered. Their eyes still didn't leave each other. "I'm not coming through."
"Not even for one night?"
Takeru felt a sudden surge of sympathy at the hurt in Taichi's voice. They're in love, he realized. That's why Yamato is so bitter… But if they care about each other so much, why is my brother against being around him? Why wouldn't he come along?
Yamato finally shut his eyes and looked away from Taichi's longing gaze. "Fine," he said, at last. "One night. I leave in the morning."
"You've already made that clear," Taichi answered, now trying to force a little of the light tone from earlier back into his voice. "You can do what you want. I've made it obvious how I feel."
"I know that, Taichi." Yamato turned and met Takeru's eyes. "I'm sorry if this doesn’t make sense yet, Takeru. I'll explain the story to you when we have time. If we have time." He smiled a little, sardonically. "That depends on how we handle the trial."
Takeru was starting to feel apprehensive about the whole business. "Trial?"
"Nothing serious," Taichi assured him. "I'll help you."
Yamato glanced at him sharply. "You're not supposed to help."
Taichi waved a negligent hand. "So what? I want to."
"You don't even know what the punishment will be." They were staring into each other's eyes again.
"I can handle anything for you, Yama."
"Um, excuse me?" Takeru cut in, glancing around nervously. "I hate to interrupt this touching moment, but can we get on with whatever's going to happen? Floating in mid-air isn't my favorite way to spend an evening."
"Whatever you say, Takeru." Taichi gave him a mock bow. "Let's get this show on the road!"
"Have you been listening in on mortal TV shows again, Taichi?" Yamato muttered, sounding like he wanted to be annoyed but couldn't quite manage it.
Taichi flashed a quick grin his way. "Maybe just a little," he admitted. "Come on."
"Come on where?" Takeru spun around, looking to see if there was something he'd missed. "We're… WHOA!"
Thundering toward him out of nowhere was a virtual stampede of midnight-black, gigantic horses.
"Gah!" Takeru threw his arms over his head, waiting to be crushed - but the expected collision never came.
"They can't hurt you," Taichi assured him, reaching for the mane of one of the wildly bucking stallions. "They're night stallions." He pulled himself expertly onto the back of his horse, enduring the wild struggles with no apparent concern. "I realize that night mare would've sounded better, but…" He shrugged. "Not my decision. We've had a rash of male night horses born lately."
"Um… okay." Takeru shook his head, still feeling a little bemused at the strangeness of the whole business. "What do I do?"
"You ride." Yamato grunted, struggling with a wild stallion. "Agh!" He was thrown off. "It's not that easy, believe me."
"Watch yourself, Yama," Taichi teased. "It isn't as easy as it was the last time."
"I'll show you easy…" Yamato rose with a determined look in his eyes and grabbed the mane of the nearest horse, wrestling himself onto its back. It fought him wildly, but he held on. Taichi rode over and grabbed the mane himself, and the horse calmed.
"You're going to get in trouble for that, Taichi," Yamato warning him.
"I'm always in trouble." Taichi shrugged. "I wouldn't let a night horse hurt you, Yamato." He turned and smiled at Takeru. "Aren't you going to join us?"
"All right." Takeru took a deep breath. "Here goes."
The first horse tossed him off as if he were nothing. Taichi rode over and helped him up. "You'll have to try harder if you want to meet my sister unharmed, Takeru," he said, with a grin. "And she'd have me skinned alive if I let you hurt yourself."
"Your sister?" Takeru glanced at him, puzzled.
"You met her last night, or so she told me." Taichi shrugged. "There wasn't time for her to give her name, but she did ask me to tell you. Hikari."
"Hikari." Takeru tried the name for himself. The girl from my dream… "Then she was real."
"Of course! You didn't doubt it, did you?" Taichi laughed. "She's waiting for you - but you'll have to tame your night stallion before you can see her again."
That was enough. Takeru rose, feeling determined. I'll see her again… and… Hikari… It fit her, he thought. A girl like that… She was light itself. He smiled. And I'll meet her for myself, without the dream.
He grabbed the mane of one of the stallions, this time holding on stubbornly as the horse attempted to throw him away from it. "I will meet her," he growled, and yanked sharply to pull himself over the back. With his hands curled in the horse's mane still, he held himself low against the back until the bucking stopped.
Taichi's laughter filled the air. "Your brother's just like you, Yamato!" he said. "Always passive until he gets the right kind of motivation - and then watch out!"
"We're a matched set," Yamato remarked dryly. He smiled at Takeru. "Nice work, little brother."
"Thanks." Takeru was just a bit breathless. "Is that all?"
"That's all!" Taichi answered cheerfully. "Now follow me, and we'll find my sister. She's waiting for us."
Daisuke's chest rose and fell under Ken's hand. He smiled down at the red-head, feeling pleased. There was something so satisfying about having a beautiful mortal asleep beside you… He wished he could wake Daisuke up and demonstrate how much he wanted to keep the mortal with him forever.
"Mine," he whispered, touching Daisuke's face - softly so that he didn't wake up his future Consort. He'll agree to stay. He agreed to come, whether that was a conscious decision or not. He wants to be mine.
Ken had infinite patience. He would live for eons, and he had all the time in the world. But he still wished that the red-head would wake up soon, so they could get the tedious explanations out of the way and then start to have a little more fun with each other.
"You're staying," he said, very quietly. "You're mine. I won't let you go."
And he meant it. Daisuke would like it; he'd make sure of that. Before the day was finished, the red-head would be begging to stay.
"How long do we have to ride for?" Takeru's teeth were rattling. He had never been on a horse before, not to mention having to ride bareback. "This isn't as easy as it looks."
"It doesn't look easy when you're doing it," Taichi commented, grinning. "And it isn't far, at any rate. Your suffering will soon be at any end, oh noble mortal."
"Taichi," Yamato growled. "You know I hate those Immortal phrases."
"Please accept my sincere apologies, then, mortal," Taichi answered, still grinning. "It was only my humble attempt to attract your most desired attentions."
"Stop it right now, or you're not getting one dance tonight."
Takeru looked up at that. "Dance?"
"Didn't we tell you?" Taichi glanced over at him again. "There's never a night in our world that doesn't involve some form of ball, or celebration." He grinned widely. "I guess you'd say we're overly fond of fun. The two of you are honored guests tonight."
Takeru's thoughts were drawn back to his reason for coming. "Just us?"
"You're the only visitors," Taichi confirmed. "But you'll have to settle for being upstaged by the Kaizer's new Consort. There won't be a single Immortal there tonight who won't want a dance with him."
"Consort?" Takeru blinked. "Daisuke!"
"The Kaizer took him?" Yamato stared at Taichi incredulously. "You must be joking!"
"Not this time." Taichi shrugged. "It wasn't by chance that your brother and his friend were given a way to get here. The Kaizer has ways of playing around with dreams and events. He chose Daisuke as a Consort a long time before you came into the mound. If you're thinking of trying to take him back, you're probably going to come across some resistance."
Takeru groaned. "So you're saying this whole thing is totally pointless."
Taichi smiled at him. "Not entirely… Look."
He looked up.
Standing just ahead, in the center of what looked like a set of gates, was a familiar form. Hikari smiled brilliantly, brown eyes almost seeming to shine. Takeru found himself transfixed, staring at her in awe. She's so… I can't describe it…
"You made it," she said simply, staring back at Takeru. "Congratulations."