Rune Master

 

The Trial Begins

 

"We’ve got to stop it!" Daisuke shouted, desperation making him all the more determined. "It’s gotta be put right!"

"You have to catch it first!" Ken yelled, running up beside him. "We can’t stop now, Daisuke! We’re running out of time!"

The city of gold surrounded them, casting dull shadows that hid nothing. They were out in the open, and their opponent was nowhere in sight. We’re going to fail the Trial! Daisuke thought desperately.

And then the drakken swooped down at him out of nowhere, shrieking in triumph, its claws poised to rip his flesh…

~~~~~~

With a jolt, Daisuke’s eyes shot open, yanking him out of the dream. Whoa… He tried to relax. That was so real… I thought it was really happening…

He blinked a few times and looked around. He was still in Yamato and Taichi’s apartment, curled up on a couch. His head was clear, though he couldn’t remember how it had gotten that way. The last thing he remembered was Ken giving him that drink. It must’ve been some kind of drug or something.

Daisuke sat up slowly. His right arm was encased in white bandages, but it didn’t hurt at all. What had happened? He glanced up and saw Ken lying at the other end of the couch, his feet inches from Daisuke’s. Ken’s left arm had the same white bandages, from elbow to wrist.

So how’d his arm get hurt? Daisuke felt strange. He watched the slow rise and fall of Ken’s chest with something like confusion. A sense of peace and contentment seemed to take over him as he watched the other boy sleep.

"You’re awake!"

Daisuke looked up. Taichi was standing in the doorway of the next room, grinning at him. He was holding the silver dagger the red-head remembered from before, but it wasn’t glowing any more.

"Yeah… what happened?" Daisuke scratched his head, feeling bemused.

"We had to bond you with Ken to get your soul back," Taichi explained, in a calm tone of voice. "How are you feeling, anyway?"

"Okay… I’m bonded?" Daisuke looked over at Ken again. We’re bonded together? Experimentally, he reached out and touched the tip of his foot to the taller boy’s ankle.

Almost immediately, he felt a swirly, sleeping sensation in his head, and a sense of some activity. Ken was dreaming… If he reached out, Daisuke could probably tell what it was.

He backed off. "Whoa," he commented, awed.

"It’s going to take some getting used to," Taichi told him. "Don’t worry about it, though. Bonding is probably one of the best things that could happen to you. Being that close to another person, it’s… great." He shook his head, smiling.

"If you say so." Daisuke suddenly smiled and reached out to touch Ken again. He liked the swirly feeling of the other boy sleeping. Ken’s mind was cool and comfortable. I think I’m actually going to like being bonded.

The swirly feeling shifted and cleared. ~What…?~ Daisuke heard the thought as clearly as if it had been his own, and jerked his foot back. The contact ended.

I must have been thinking too loud, Daisuke realized, as Ken blinked and looked around in confusion. Another thought, soon after: We can hear each other thinking! It was strange and cool, but a little scary. He liked it.

"Am I…?" Ken looked down at his bandaged arm, then at Daisuke, and finally over at Taichi. "Are we…?"

"We’re bonded!" Daisuke burst out happily, unable to hold it in. "Isn’t it great? Here, let me show you!" He touched his foot to Ken’s again. Cool, huh? He wondered if the other boy could sense his excitement as well.

~Yes,~ Ken’s thought answered him dryly. The taller boy moved his foot away, sitting up straight. "I can tell how excited you are," he finished out loud. "It’s… weird."

Daisuke was too thrilled about the whole idea to be brought down in any way by Ken’s lack of enthusiasm. "So I guess this makes us partners now!" he said cheerily. "It’ll be great to work with someone else – a lot more fun than working alone!"

"Oh – speaking of work…" Taichi interrupted them before Ken could respond. "You’re not going to be able to get any power from that arm any more." He moved over to Daisuke and held out the dagger. "I transferred your Rune magic to this."

Daisuke looked at the dagger. Engraved on the blade, just above the non-blade part was his own Rune. He picked up the knife in his right hand and turned it over. The symbol was on the other side as well. He looked up. "But what if I lose it?"

"You won’t be able to," Taichi assured him. "It’s part of you. Go ahead and try something. Nothing too loud, though – the neighbors already think we’re weird enough."

"Okay." Daisuke thought back to his first experiment, and turned to lightly trace the levitation Rune on their coffee table with the tip of the knife. It didn’t scratch the wood, but the symbol glowed briefly, and the table started to rise.

Hastily, Daisuke traced the cancel Rune, and it stopped.

Taichi chucked. "Learned that one pretty fast, huh? Here, wait a second." He left the room for a moment, and came back with one of those knife-holders Daisuke had seen on TV. There were a few straps attached, instead of a belt.

"There’s a Rune for invisibility on the side," Taichi explained. "No one who’s not a Rune Master or an Element Adept will be able to see it. Hold out your left arm for a second."

"How come?" Daisuke held out his arm, even as he asked.

"So I can strap this on." Taichi buckled on the leather casing. The end of it reached right to Daisuke’s elbow, and when he put the knife in, the other end stopped just short of his wrist. "Perfect fit," Taichi commented.

Daisuke took the knife out and looked at it, feeling a grin spreading on his face. So many presents today. I mean, the Rune magic… Ken… and now this! "I hope I don’t cut myself with it," he said, tentatively fingering the edge.

"It doesn’t cut anything," Taichi assured him. "It’ll only trace Runes. You probably won’t be able to hurt yourself with it."

"That’s cool." Daisuke turned toward Ken with a grin, and held out his new prize. "Isn’t this awesome? Want to hold it? It’s really cool!"

Ken waved a hand, smiling faintly. "That’s okay." The look on his face was impossible to read.

Daisuke shrugged that aside for a moment. "So how long have you been a Rune Master, Tai?"

"Years." Taichi grinned. "I was younger than you two when I first found my manual. I didn’t meet Yama until after I got to the Novice Level, though. Why?"

"Does Kari know about you?" Daisuke asked curiously.

Taichi laughed. "Kari’s been an Element Adept for four years now. She just made it to Level Three. Yama’s little brother, TK, is an Apprentice Rune Master."

The elation Daisuke had felt at the notion that Hikari was part of his new magical universe was stifled by the annoying fact that Takeru was as well. "Oh." He shrugged. "Well, that’s cool."

Ken was watching him, face expressionless.

"It usually runs in the family," Taichi said, shrugging. "Not with your parents, but with your brothers and sisters, a lot of the time. Yama’s dad is a Rune Master, but that’s unusual."

"Really?" Against his will, Daisuke felt his eyes going huge. The next possibility was…

"Your sister is." Taichi answered the unspoken question. "Rune Master."

Ken spoke up then, unexpectedly. "My brother…"

"Element Adept." Taichi shrugged, then grinned. "Small world, huh?"

"I don’t believe it!" Daisuke groaned. "Jun is a Rune Master?"

"Master Level," Taichi finished, still grinning wickedly. "Osamu is Level Three – but I think he’ll be promoted pretty soon; he’s a sharp one."

"That’s why she gave me that ‘look’ when she saw my book!" Daisuke smacked a hand to his forehead. "Duh! I should’ve seen it before!"

"Taichi." Yamato was standing in the doorway of what Daisuke had to guess was the bedroom. "It’s almost ten o’clock, and they got here at seven-thirty. Send them home!" He gave the two on the couch a quick grin. "No offense, guys."

"None taken," Ken answered politely, standing.

"No problem, dude!" Daisuke returned the grin, and hopped off the couch. "I’m outta here!"

"Wait a second." Taichi snatched up a pair of scissors from the kitchen table and took hold of Daisuke’s bandaged right arm. "These can come off," he said, and cut away the bandages.

The red-head examined his injured right arm as Taichi did the same for Ken’s left. All that was left of his cut was a thin white line. "Cool!"

"Take care, guys!" The two older boys walked them to the door, Taichi giving them a thumbs-up.

"Hey, leave it to me!" Daisuke returned the gesture, grinning.

"Thanks a lot," Ken told them sincerely, and then they were back in hallway, alone.

"So I guess we should meet up again tomorrow, huh?" Daisuke asked, as they got into the elevator. "I mean, we’re probably going to have that Trial soon, so we should practice together, right?"

"Sure." The word was unenthusiastic. Ken was looking away from Daisuke, at the wall.

The shorter boy frowned. What’s the matter with him? He reached over and touched his fingertips to Ken’s shoulder. What’s wrong? he asked silently, confused at his partner’s behavior.

Ken pulled his arm back. "Nothing’s wrong," he answered, a touch flatly. "I’m fine."

"But – " Daisuke was starting to feel hurt as well as confused. Ken had to like him – he’d saved his Daisuke’s life, after all. So why was he acting so cold and distant? Stubbornly, Daisuke pressed his fingers against Ken’s arm again. Don’t you wanna be partners with me? The words felt hurt, even to him.

Surprise. ~I do, but…~ Ken pulled back again, out of reach. "I’m not really comfortable with talking like that," he finished, finally meeting Daisuke’s eyes. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings."

"S’okay." Daisuke smiled. I knew he liked me! The intense violet crystal of Ken’s eyes drew him somehow, and he stared at them, entranced and happy. He felt safe in the surprising warmth of Ken’s gaze, somehow. Together, he thought to himself, they could do anything.

The elevator bell went off, and Daisuke was jerked out of his trance. He blinked a little, finding Ken closer to him than he had remembered. There was a brief flash of disappointment on the taller boy’s face as Daisuke moved away, before it was covered again by that emotionless expression. Why? the red-head wondered.

"I have to take the train back to Tamachi," Ken told him, once they were outside. "I have your phone number on the soccer list, though, so I’ll give you a call tomorrow."

"Sure, unless I call you first!" Daisuke turned toward his own apartment building, looking back over his shoulder to get a last glimpse of Ken. "See you later, partner!"

The taller boy didn’t glance back, but waved briefly.

Why is he so hard to get to know? Daisuke wondered, walking quickly toward home.

"It’s about time!" Jun was standing in the hallway when he walked in. "I told mom and dad you went to see a movie, but you owe me for it. Where were you?"

"A drakken scratched me and I had to get it healed," Daisuke answered, without even thinking. "And I got a cool dagger, too – it’s got my Rune on it. Wanna see?"

Jun’s mouth fell open, but no words came out.

~~~~~~

"Daisuke!" Ken shoved him out of the way as the drakken swooped down, both of them avoiding those perilous claws by barely an inch. "You okay?" the dark-haired boy asked, concerned.

"Yeah." Daisuke stood up shakily, holding his dagger. "We have to catch it first, then get those souls back!"

"That’s our Trial, I know." Ken stood beside him. "But how?"

"I don’t know. It’s too strong to catch in the air…" Daisuke thought desperately, trying to come up with something that could trap it. "We gotta think of something!"

"We’re running out of time," Ken said again, urgently.

"We can’t! We have to catch it before then or those people will lose their souls forever!" Daisuke cried back. "What do we do?"

"I wish I knew, Daisuke!"

"How much time…?"

~~~~~~

Daisuke’s eyes jerked open, and he sat up immediately, covers sliding off his chest. That dream… He threw aside the blanket, stumbling over to where he’d left his manual.

It’s gotta be… it’s gotta be… He flipped quickly to page fifty-four, and found his own listing: ‘Motomiya, Daisuke and Ichijouji, Ken – Initiate Rune Master and Level One Element Adept – ON TRIAL.’

I knew it! He and Ken were going to have to find that drakken thing and get back all the souls it had stolen since it came through. That was what his dream meant. And that was their Trial!

Ken just had the same dream. He knew it for a fact, absolutely for certain, that somewhere across the city, his violet-eyed partner was coming to the same conclusion, looking at his own manual. They needed to talk, Daisuke decided, and they needed to do it right away.

It was barely light out, way earlier than Daisuke would ever have gotten out of bed before, but he didn’t care. Trying to be quiet so he didn’t wake up his parents, the red-head crept into the kitchen and started on a mad hunt for the soccer list. It’s gotta be around here somewhere… I know mom wouldn’t throw it out… He searched desperately through a pile of papers.

The phone rang.

Daisuke didn’t waste any time; he knew who it was. "Ken?" he demanded breathlessly, without even saying hello first. He could tell it was the other boy; with that bond between them, he couldn’t make mistakes.

"You had that same dream, didn’t you?" Ken’s voice sounded just as breathless.

"Yeah! We need to meet!" Daisuke’s mind hit on the perfect place right away. "At the soccer field!"

"I’ll be there in twenty minutes." Ken hung up.

Daisuke stuck the phone back on the hook, and raced into his room to get dressed. Two minutes later, he came out, scribbled a note for his family, and was out the door, his manual tucked under one arm.

Ken wasn’t riding the train. Daisuke felt him at the back of his mind. The dark-haired boy had somehow gotten a ride in a car, and the driver knew how to get there in a hurry. He was at the field five minutes after Daisuke got there.

"Thanks, Sam!" He shut the door and hurried toward his impatient partner. "Sorry I took so long, Daisuke. I had to get my brother to give me a ride down here."

"No problem! Anyway, you’re here now, so we’d better get started." Daisuke frowned to himself. "We need a plan. How can we find that thing?"

" I was thinking about that on the way over," Ken told him, pulling out the thin book that Daisuke assumed was his manual. "And I think I’ve got an idea, if you’re willing to hear it."

"Sure! Go ahead." Daisuke smiled at him.

"Well," Ken began, slowly. "I know you have a Rune for locating things – but to use it, you need directions to send it in, right?"

"You got it."

"Well, then, suppose you drew the Rune – and I sent it through the Earth and the Air?" Ken suggested. "Do you think something like that would work?"

"Ken, you’re a genius!" Impulsively, Daisuke clapped an arm around his partner’s shoulders. "Let’s try it!" He drew the dagger from its little sheath-thing.

"Can we send it through Earth first?" Ken asked cautiously. Daisuke remembered what the book had said about Air being the hardest Element to use. "If that doesn’t work, we’ll send it through Air, too."

"Whatever you say." Daisuke bent down, flipping through his manual until he found the ‘locate’ Rune. With the tip of his dagger, he drew it into the ground. "Done." He stood.

Ken crouched down where he had been before, and put his hand over the symbol. When he closed his eyes, Daisuke got a sense of green things and dirt, like when Ken had used the vines to trap the drakken, before. He felt a jolt, as his Rune was set into motion, all the way through the ground, through the city, across the state… everywhere. The limitless quality of Ken’s power awed Daisuke. He could reach all over the planet if he wanted to!

Then it ended. Ken stood, with a sigh. "It’s got to be in the air," he said, reluctantly. "I can’t find it on the ground."

"Can you handle it?" Daisuke asked, starting to draw the Rune symbol again.

"I think so," Ken answered, but his voice didn’t sound confident. "It just takes a lot of energy to get it to do what I want." He looked uncertain for a moment, then hesitantly held out a hand to Daisuke. "Help me?" he asked, a note of cautious pleading in his voice.

"Sure thing!" Daisuke grinned and reached out to grab his partner’s hand. I’ve got enough energy for both of us, and then some! he thought cheerfully.

~Just don’t read my mind,~ Ken requested, and put his other hand on the Rune.

It was strange, that time. Daisuke could feel Ken reaching for the power he could sense around him. There was so much, all over… the Air itself was alive. It didn’t want to listen to Ken, though, fighting his control. Daisuke threw himself into the struggle as well, adding his own stubbornness and energy to the silent battle and letting Ken do what he had to with it, in order to wrestle that power into submission.

Finally, the Rune was taken up and that sense of limitless power was back. Daisuke felt the way the symbol was turned into a general search. His mind was caught up in it, whipping all over with the air, searching…

His awareness was given a rough jerk, and then he could sense the drakken. It wasn’t far…

"Let’s go!" Daisuke let go of Ken’s hand, breaking the contact, and took off toward where he knew the thing would be. Before it gets any more souls, he thought, determined.

"Daisuke, stop!" Ken grabbed his arm. He still looked tired from the contact with Air, but not too much. "We can’t just go charging in there! Remember last night? We need something that’ll keep us safe!"

"Right!" Daisuke thumbed through his book. At least this time I have the right symbol with me, he thought, finding the page he wanted. He drew out his knife, traced first the ‘shield’ Rune, then ‘person’ – followed by Ken’s name – and then his own Rune, right in the air. He felt a slight buzzing as the shield formed around them. "Okay! Now let’s go!"

It took them five minutes – running – to reach the spot they’d found the drakken at. To Daisuke’s amazement, the thing was just hovering in plain sight over the street, and the people walking around didn’t even notice. What’s the matter with everyone?

"They can’t see it!" Ken told him, breathing heavily. "That’s what makes it so dangerous – it can take souls from anyone who happens to be alone, because no one can see it coming!"

Daisuke looked up. The drakken had focussed on something… Following its gaze, he saw an older man walking alone down a side alley. Unprotected.

"NO!" Without thinking, he charged angrily toward the street, attracting at least a dozen stares from various people on the street. "Stop it!" he yelled at the hovering creature. "Pick on someone your own size, why don’t you?"

The thing hissed at him, turning its attention away from the news. "Daisuke…" Ken said anxiously, coming up beside him. The drakken shrieked, and swooped down on them.

Daisuke yelled and covered his head – but a second later, it smashed into the shield, unable to get through. With a furious scream, the thing turned and took flight – back toward the soccer field.

"It’s trying to get back to the gate!" Ken cried, obviously forgetting their audience.

People stared.

Daisuke didn’t care. "Oh yeah? Well, it’s not getting away that easily – not without a fight!" He found the right page, held up his dagger, and traced his Rune and the Rune for ‘speed’ out in mid-air.

Then he took off after it, leaving Ken far behind him as he sprinted.

"Daisuke!" A frantically waving Takeru appeared in front of him. "Wait! Daisuke, stop!"

"Can’t talk!" He zoomed past the blond, not slowing. "Running!" Dimly, he heard Takeru calling after him, but he hardly cared.

Gotta catch it… All he could think about was catching up to that drakken and forcing it to give back all the souls it had taken. Oh no, you don’t! he thought fiercely, finally catching sight of the creature as it headed for the gate at the field.

Too late. The drakken slid back through the rift it had come out of.

Daisuke came to a halt beside the open portal, frustrated and disappointed. Now what? He could only think of one way to pass his Trial and get back those peoples’ souls. I’m there!

"Daisuke, wait!" Hikari’s voice was too late to stop him. Not turning around, the red-head had already rushed forward and into the portal, impulsively stepping through into the unknown.

He’d forgotten something, though.

Ken… The scar on his right arm started to throb as the darkness pulled at him, drawing him away from his own world, into the one beyond the rift. He felt as if he were being ripped in half, and screamed silently as the blackness sucked him in and took him over.

~~~~~~

Ken screamed and fell to his knees as he felt the wrenching inside himself. Daisuke… Daisuke… DAISUKE! his mind shrieked. He felt like he’d been torn right down the middle, and lost half of himself. His left arm throbbed with pain.

"Ken!" The blond – Takeru – pulled him back to his feet. "We’ve got to get to the park!" he said frantically, almost dragging the suffering boy with him.

Hikari was waiting for them. "I couldn’t stop him!" she burst out, looking anxious. "TK, he’s in there! He went through, after the drakken!"

"I have to go after him," Ken whispered, pained.

"I know, but we can’t keep the gate open, or it’ll come back!" Takeru protested.

"Shut it for now, and we’ll open it when they need us," Hikari suggested quickly, voice urgent. "I’ll use Spirit to keep in contact with Ken; he can tell me when to open it and we’ll bring them back through!"

"Let me go through!" Ken croaked weakly, reaching toward the gate that would lead him to his Daisuke. My Daisuke, my other half – I’ve got to get to him!

"Hold on a second." Hikari took hold of his face with both of her slim hands, and he felt her touching on the Spirit power that Element Adepts used so rarely. ~Can you hear me?~ she asked, a second later, in his mind. Her voice was faint, and the contact wasn’t anywhere near as intimate as the one he and Daisuke shared, but he did hear her.

"Yes," he said out loud, then, Yes, he answered back, in his mind. She nodded.

"Good. It should hold for a few hours. Listen to me carefully, Ken: you have to capture and contain the drakken before you can get those souls back. Understand?"

"Yes," he said again, trying to concentrate. Daisuke…

"There are Runes that Daisuke traces onto its back after you catch it," Takeru explained. "They’re in his manual, in the ‘Reversal’ section. All right?"

"Yes!" Daisuke… he needs me… I need him

"Once he’s done that, you use Spirit to draw them out," Hikari added. "Then you call out to me and we’ll bring you back. Don’t release those souls until you’re in our world again, and the gate is closed. Got that?"

"Yes!" Ken was practically sobbing. "Let me go! I need to get to Daisuke! Please!"

Takeru let him go. "Be careful!"

That was the last thing Ken heard before he ran straight into the rift and was swallowed up by oblivion.

 

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