Takeru barely noticed when his brother moved past him down the hallway. Hikari. It was such a beautiful name. Its owner wasn’t bad, either, he decided, staring dazedly into soft brown eyes. The girl was wearing an unusual outfit - it was white, but it shimmered with a multitude of soft colors. The dress was caught by a small clasp at both shoulders, and had a slin ribbon tied through the material just beneath her chest, spreading in ruffles to reach to mid-thigh. A pair of graceful wings were extended behind her, looking a great deal like butterfly wings, and a small, flower-like clip held back her short brown hair. A thin ribbon encircled her left arm, near the shoulder, and a bracelet of tiny purple flowers was around her right wrist.
She looked, to Takeru's eyes, absolutely gorgeous.
"We have to go to the banquet hall," Hikari said, after a few moments. She smiled. "Much as I'd like to stay here and enjoy the view for a short while longer."
"Oh." Takeru felt his skin heat. "Right." He moved toward her and, on impulse, offered his arm.
She took it. "You're courteous, Takeru. I'm impressed. Of course" - and this was said with an arch little smile - "I was impressed before, as well. I'm impressed even more now."
"Um… thanks." Takeru smiled. What do I do? What do I say? "I was impressed with you, too. I mean… you're really something. It's… I'm not sure. Just… great."
"Thanks," she copied him. "You know, the same sort of thing happened with our brothers. Yamato came, Taichi fell hard for him… they were in love almost at first sight. It was beautiful to watch."
"Yeah, I've been meaning to ask about that." Takeru glanced sideways at her. "What happened with those two? They seem like they care about each other so much, but they're both hurt, and they won't be together. Why is that?"
Hikari sighed. "It's always difficult when you live in different worlds. It won't be the same with us, because I differ in one important way from the Immortals here. I'll explain it to you some time before you go through your trial, Takeru."
Takeru's curiosity shifted its focus at that. "Trial?"
"Well, you didn't honestly think we'd let you get away with sleeping in our mound and joining us at our banquet hall without seeing if we can't put some sort of claim on you." She gave him a mischievous look. "Did you?"
He wasn't quite sure how to answer that.
"Don't worry, Takeru," she assured him, squeezing his arm lightly. "I have every confidence in you. If you pass, we'll be together for as long as we're both living - I promise it."
That thought made him feel warm. "I'll do my best," he said, in response.
As they came to a set of arched double doors in the middle of the hallway, Hikari stopped, and spun in front to face him. "We can't enter the hall dressed as we are," she said, grinning. "We'll have to change clothes here."
"In the middle of the hallway?" He gave her a dubious look.
"It won't involve anything that compromises your modesty," she promised. "I'll outfit you properly, don't worry. Like this." She shut her eyes briefly, and raised her hands slightly. The wings on her back smoothly sank away from view, and her dress changed in color to a shimmery light pink, trimmed with white. It grew longer, reaching to her bare feet and trailing on the ground slightly. When finished, Hikari wore a simple gown that left her arms bare, and her hair and back were free of the clip and the wings that had adorned them.
Takeru stared helplessly, caught by her beauty all over again.
"Now for you." She stepped toward him, and placed her hands lightly on the sides of his head before he could react. "It should only take a moment." Her eyes shut.
For a second, Takeru felt dizzy, and the world seemed to spin. Then, just after it hit him, the feeling left and Hikari stepped back. "There," she announced, and smiled in satisfaction.
Takeru looked down at his clothes. He was wearing a full-sleeved light green shirt, of some rich, smooth kind of cloth and a forest-green medieval-type vest that had a high collar and covered his chest and back. Loose black pants and strangely comfortable brown boots completed the outfit.
"I wish I'd known that trick last year," he commented, letting the first thing that came to mind come out of his mouth. "I wouldn't have been late for class so often. What now?"
Hikari's smile grew wider. "We go into the Banquet Hall, of course. There are plenty of Immortals who are quite eager to meet you. You're fortunate, though - they won't press the issue of a dance."
"In a Banquet Hall?" Takeru frowned.
"Dancing and feasting go together here."
"Oh." He shrugged. "Well, why won't they want to dance?"
"Normally, they'd jump at the chance to catch a visiting mortal for a dance," she replied. "But the Kaizer's newly-chosen Consort is set to make an appearance, and that's where the evening's focus will likely be."
"Consort… Daisuke!" Takeru felt a little ashamed of himself for having forgotten about his friend. "That's who I'm here to find! He was sleeping right beside me in that mound, and then I woke up and - "
"You're probably not going to convince him to return with you," Hikari cut him off. "The Kaizer can be more than persuasive when he wants something. Even if you did talk your friend into leaving, you'd have to face him next, and he's much harder to deal with."
Takeru frowned. "But still…"
"We'll talk later, all right?" She gave him an apologetic look. "I don't know if I can properly explain things until you've seen for yourself how it is. Besides" - and at this, an impish little smile inched across her face - "I'd like a chance to dance with you before the Kaizer makes his appearance."
Takeru offered his arm. "Does everything stop when this Kaizer guy comes in?"
"Only for a short while," she explained, taking his arm. "He'll take a dance with his Consort alone - the floors are cleared of anyone else. And then he'll have to announce your Trial."
"Yeah, you keep reminding me about that." He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "What is it, anyway?"
"You'll find out soon enough." She raised a hand toward the double doors in front of them. "I wouldn't want to spoil it for you."
Takeru's answer was lost as the doors suddenly swung open, and a flurry of colors filled his vision.
In the huge room that Hikari had identified as the Banquet Hall, there were Immortals in a rainbow of colored clothing, blues and violets and reds and yellows. Everyone was talking and laughing, and tiny glowing orbs flew through the room, illuminating everything and making the appearance of the dancing all the more magical. The music was not toned in a way that Takeru recognized, but the compelling beat of it got through to him all the same. He wanted to dance, suddenly - it was like his feet were aching. He wanted to swirl Hikari out into the circle of vibrant colors and dance until he couldn't even stand any more.
"Come on!" the girl at his side laughed, leading an unresisting Takeru out onto the floor. "Let's get in as many dances as we can before the Kaizer arrives." She stopped an Immortal in a sparkling silver gown as they walked by. "Has the Consort made an appearance yet?"
"Not yet," the girl answered. "But soon." She grinned at Takeru, and then swung around and grabbed a partner to return to the dance.
"Then we'll dance," Hikari said simply, and took the young blonde's hand.
"So what do I do?"
Ken looked up, a gorgeous smile on his face as he regarded Daisuke appreciatively. "Show the court your beautiful self. You won't need to do anything; they understand that you're a mortal, and they'll direct their conversations accordingly."
"Great." Daisuke scowled. "You get to stay up here and chill, and I have to go talk with people I don’t even know! In this stuff!" He tugged the front of the silky material that encased his chest. "If I was back home, I wouldn't be caught dead in this get-up!"
"You look sexy in it," Ken commented, his smile made wicked by the sultry look in his eyes. "Don't be surprised if I suggest that we leave early so I can drag you back here and ravish you."
Daisuke felt his cheeks growing hot, and scowled some more to cover it. "Don't be surprised if I say no because I'm dying of hunger and wouldn't survive that long."
"There'll be food in the Banquet Hall, Daisuke," Ken assured him, rising from the mountain of soft cushions that passed as a bed. "At any rate, I won't be relaxing while you're out. I have to prepare myself as well, you know."
"Fine, fine." Daisuke made a face. "You know I'm gonna end up going out there anyway, but I don't have to like it. And I still have the right to complain!"
"As you wish, love." Ken smiled and stepped closer smoothly, turning Daisuke's chin up with one hand. "I only hope that I can resist you long enough to attend to that mortal's Trial."
"Mortal?" Daisuke frowned.
"The blond who was with you in the tunnel - Takeru." Ken shrugged, seeming more interested in gazing into the red-head's eyes. "He fancies my Second - and if tonight goes well, he may have her, one way or another."
"Oh." Daisuke couldn't be surprised, somehow. He grinned. "Gone on an Immortal chick, huh? Never knew Takaishi had it in him."
"He won't be expecting you to want to stay, I think." Ken leaned closer until his breath mingled with Daisuke's. "But you know how to act tonight?"
"Duh, even I can figure that one out, dude!" Daisuke felt his pulse quicken in excitement at the Immortal's closeness. Ken could set him on fire with just the simplest touches. "It's not like it'd take a rocket scientist…"
"Hmm… if you say so, love." Ken kissed him softly, then added more passion to it, cupping Daisuke's face with one hand and letting the other catch the back of his neck. "You are so addictive," he murmured, against the red-head's lips. "I'd love to stay up here and explore every inch of your body - with my tongue!"
Daisuke snickered a little, and responded by sliding his arms around Ken, to clutch his waist. "Well, the feeling is mutual. Mmm…" He groaned as Ken found a particularly sensitive spot just behind his ear. "Ohh… whatever you're doing, don't stop…ah…" He jerked a little as the Immortal nipped at his skin.
"Ken…" Daisuke let his hands drop lower, so he could feel the firm roundness of his partner's ass. "Mmm…" He moved to ground his hips against the dark-haired boy's.
Ken suddenly backed away, with a rueful laugh. "You'd better not tempt me, or we'll never end up leaving this room."
"And that would be a bad thing?" Daisuke grinned, reaching out to pull him back. Ken moved away, out of his reach.
"It would if someone came to find us." The Immortal sank back down onto the cushions. "And you can be sure that someone would. We're not the most patient people in existence."
"Weren't you just leaving?" Ken gave him a meaningful look.
Daisuke made a face at him. "See if you get any action tonight," he answered, and left the room, shutting the door behind him.
The world was narrowed down the exhilaration of the dance, the colors swirling and mixing as Immortals whirled and spun in time with the music, and Hikari, held securely in Takeru's arms. He felt like he was flying, or dancing on air.
It was great!
"Enjoying yourself?" Hikari asked him, a hint of mischief in her eyes. Takeru broke out of his comfortable trance, and gazed down at her, a little wonder-struck.
"Yeah!" He took a quick look around, and caught a glimpse of his brother, dancing with Taichi nearby. It was hard to tell which one of them was leading - if either of them were. "This is unbelievable!"
Hikari followed his gaze. "Tragic love displayed for everyone to see," she commented. "I don't think there's a single Immortal here who doesn't know their story. We tend to be fond of romance."
"What happened to them, anyway?" He turned to look at her again. "You promised to explain later. Well, it's later now."
She smiled. "You're right, it is. All right." Her gaze wandered back to her brother again. "Yamato was taken from the same mound that you and your friend spent the night in. At the time, Taichi had been the one to bring him before us - and there was a full night then between the time that Yamato arrived and the time that his Trial would take place. He and my brother took to each other immediately, and Taichi had wanted Yamato for himself - not to be property of the crowd. Because of this determination to be together, Yamato did pass his Trial."
"But stayed anyway, right?" Takeru found the story compelling, almost like a movie.
"Yes." Hikari sighed. "He stayed, for a full month, and they inevitably fell in love… but it couldn’t last forever. Yamato is mortal, after all, and Taichi will live forever - or very close to it."
Takeru felt understanding dawn. "Is that what the problem is?"
"Exactly that." She nodded, expression sad. "Yamato was furious when he discovered that he would age and eventually die while Taichi remained as he was: eternally young. Since he had passed his Trial, it was Yamato's right to leave whenever he wished, and so he left for his own plane. Taichi gave him the means to return to ours, hoping that he would, eventually, come back to him. This is the first time that he has."
"That's awful!" Takeru glanced over his shoulder at the two of them, feeling an aching well of sympathy renew itself at the thought of what they were still going through. "Isn't there something we can do for them?"
"Nothing at all." Hikari shook her head. "Yamato cannot be made Immortal."
"But, if that's the case, won't the same thing happen to Daisuke?" Takeru frowned, as an even more unpleasant possibility came to him. "And what about us?"
"Daisuke is the Kaizer's chosen Consort," Hikari answered him, with a small smile. "Different rules apply. If Taichi were the Kaizer, there would not be a problem, for if Yamato did choose to stay, then, he would become Immortal as well. And," she added, with a mischievous look, "there is no need to worry about us."
"Because I am not Immortal," she said simply.
"You're not?" Takeru glanced over at Taichi. "But… isn't he your brother? And…" He looked at her sharply pointed ears.
"I am of the same kind," she admitted. "But my mother gave birth to me while trapped momentarily on a mortal plane - and so I am mortal."
Takeru smiled ruefully. "I didn't know it worked like that."
"Not many do."
He wasn't given the chance to reply to that, because they were interrupted as the music suddenly stopped short, and the room went completely silent. Takeru jumped. "What the - ?"
"Over there," Hikari told him, pointing. The entire crowd seemed to have stopped, and was watching in complete silence. Takeru turned to look.
At the top of a huge dais that the blonde could've sworn wasn't there earlier, a set of huge doors seemed to open into nowhere. And, standing at the very center of those doors, dressed in striking black silk trimmed with red, was Daisuke.
The red-head looked like he'd just stepped out of an alternate universe. There were intricate designs stitched onto the black canvas of his shirt in red, and the sleeves were larger than usual at the wrists, ending in a point over his knuckles. The rest fit him like a second skin, and ended just beneath his hips. The pants looked a good deal like black silk harem pants, and his feet were bare.
The only thing that was still the same was the cocky Daisuke-style grin spread across his face.
"What happened to him?" Takeru asked, looking to Hikari for an explanation.
"He's the Kaizer's Consort," Hikari answered, shrugging. "He has to be dressed accordingly. It looks as though he's enjoying himself, though - perhaps he really is suited for this position."
Takeru turned back in time to watch his friend saunter down the stairs, lapping up the attention of everyone in the room. Hikari was right; Daisuke did look like he was having a lot of fun.
"Consort," an Immortal said, stepping out to meet the red-head. "Will you dance?"
Daisuke shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"
So he hadn't changed. Well, that was a relief.
"Are you going to take a turn?" Hikari asked, as the dancing started up again. As Takeru watched, bemused, one Immortal after another seemed to step up and take their turn to spin across the floor with his best friend.
He looked back to Hikari. "What do you mean?"
"Will you dance with your friend?"
"Me?" Takeru stared at her incredulously.
She nodded. "Yes. That's the only way you'll get a chance to talk with him tonight. He'll be too busy to see you, otherwise."
"Uh… well, I guess so, then." He shook his head. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all."
He left her, and went to politely tap the shoulder of the Immortal currently dancing with Daisuke. The woman smiled at him, and gave up her place without hesitation.
"What's new, Takaishi?" the red-head asked him, without any sort of surprise.
Takeru couldn't help it; he laughed. "Gee, I don't know. My brother's in love with an Immortal, I'm in love with a mortal fairy-girl… What's new with you?"
"I got you beat." Daisuke grinned. "I fell for their leader. And he's nuts for me. Look at all this." He freed a hand to wave it around. "It's all mine, and all I gotta do is stay. And I get him too." His grin turned wicked. "He's hot, just you wait and see."
"I'll take your word for it; you're the expert, after all." They both laughed at that. "So you're planning to stay?"
"Definitely." There was no hesitation, and that made Takeru feel a little better. "I can't believe how lucky I am! This is… it's like heaven! Are you sure I'm not really dead? I get to come and go between here and home, too." He added the last bit a little smugly.
"And you're young forever," Takeru added. He was beginning to see why Hikari was so certain that Daisuke would want to stay. "You really got lucky this time; I'm jealous."
"Well, forget trying to compete with me, dude." Daisuke snickered. "He's mine, and don't you forget it! 'Sides, he's been watching me my whole life, and we're made for each other."
"Sounds like a match made in heaven," Takeru agreed. He felt a tap on his shoulder, and let go of the red-head. "Anyway, I'll probably see you before I leave."
"If you pass your Trial," Daisuke added, stepping over to his new partner. "Otherwise, you'll be staying."
Takeru wasn't sure exactly what he meant, but his best friend was already busy dancing again, and he couldn't ask.
"Are you satisfied with the answers you got?" Hikari asked him, when they returned to dancing with each other.
Takeru nodded. "I think so, yes. I have to admitt, though, I'm curious about this Kaizer guy. Daisuke seems pretty gone on him."
Hikari made a face. "Ken's charming, all right. And you'll see him soon enough."
There wasn't time for her to answer that, because the doors at the top of Daisuke's phantom stairway suddenly crashed open. The room went a couple of shades darker, and everyone was silent - like when Daisuke had come in, but more… intense.
"This way." Hikari pulled him off the floor, as a rush of people swarmed to the sides. "We can't be on the dance floor when the Kaizer enters the room. It's considered horribly improper."
"But…" Takeru glanced back. Daisuke was still standing there, all alone on the huge ballroom floor, gazing up at the doors with scarcely contained excitement. "Daisuke…"
"He'll be fine," Hikari promised. "He's supposed to be there. He's the Consort, so it's proper for him to greet the Kaizer when he enters the room."
"Oh." Takeru looked back up to the open doors at the top of that stairway. It feels like we should be hearing some dark, menacing music right about now. He stared at the empty entranceway, wondering if what came out of there would really match up to all this suspense.
Out of nowhere, a shadow stepped through the doorway, seeming to take on a form only after it passed through. As it hit the light, the features became fully visible.
Noticeable immediately were the black wings spreading from the figure's back - very unlike Hikari's, in that they resembled bat or dragon wings. These were spread out either side, as if their owner had actually flown into the room from wherever the doorway led to. Hair that seemed dark blue where the light touched it framed a pale, fine-boned face. Large, slanted azure eyes seemed to dominate the features, adding emphasis to the flawless skin and the slight smirk that was his expression. Clothes with the shifting, shimmering coloring of Hikari's, though dominated by deep blues and purples rather than soft pinks and whites, encased a deceptively slender frame. The cut spoke clearly of a position of power. High collar, lined with stiff silver and with small gems built into the material. Full sleeves cut at the elbow to trail loosely with his arm but to expose the tightly fit sleeve that, like Daisuke's, ended in a point over his knuckles, trimmed elegantly with silver. The shirt ended just above his hips, and loose pants flowed to where supple boots obviously intended for formal wear began. Attached to his overshirt was a cape-like extension that billowed slightly behind him.
The Kaizer had arrived.
For a look at how Taichi looks when he first appears, go here: Taichi
For a look at the outfit Hikari is originally wearing, go here: Hikari or Hikari2
For a look at the outfit Ken shows up in at the Banquet Hall, go here: Ken
(all pictures were drawn by Katrina. *hugs* Thanks!)