Twilight Sky

Chapter fourteen

Rajura-

The boy...er...vampire was set on doing this and Rajura had to agree, there was no other way. They had to force Ryo to accept the yoroi and therefore get this war over with as soon as possible, for the happiness of Anubis. Together in an open field, just outside the city, Rajura was studying the child-like vampire, walking slowly in circles around him, trying to decide exactly how to do this.

"What are you waiting for?" Abraham asked impatiently. "If you're both right," He looked between Rajura and the wyrm. "Then the best way to make Anubis happy is to get this stupid war over with." He didn't look terribly happy and Rajura could hardly blame him.

"It takes time to do this right. I have to pick just the right model and then have every detail perfect." Rajura answered, thoughtfully, though his mind was only half on Abraham's words. Mostly, Rajura was rummaging though Anubis' still unconscious mind, trying to find out some information. He knew, though Anubis, that Ryo had an especially hard life, but he needed something...special.

Anubis couldn't have stopped Rajura mucking around in his mind if he'd wanted to, he was still far to wounded, though now it was being done purposely.

ARE YOU SURE ABOUT THIS? Naaza asked. Rajura knew that Naaza was still sitting at Anubis' side in the Youja Kai and he knew that Sh'ten was awake by now and very happy after what he'd done to the spirits of those men.

VERY SURE. WE MUST NOT LET ANUBIS INTERRFER UNTIL WE'VE FINISHED WITH RYO.

AND YOU REALLY WANT TO DO THIS TO THE BOY? Sh'ten's voice was curious, but also more than a little eager. He had his mind fully open and ready to see what Rajura would see Ryo going though. I'VE SEEN THE BOY BEFORE, BUT NEVER HAD THE CHANCE TO MEET HIM. HE DOES LOOK TEMPTING DOESN'T HE? I SUPPOSE I CAN SEE WHY ANUBIS MIGHT LIKE HIM. HE'S SO FRAGILE AND VULNERABLE. There was a manic little laugh from Sh'ten. THIS IS GONNA BE FUN!

Rajura did his best to ignore his sadistic brother while he worked, but as he did, he found the perfect image in Anubis' mind.

"If you need ideas," Abraham said. "I have memories from Kuj about an older man who'd raped Ryo, but he'd done more than that. Kuj said this man had shattered Ryo's faith in people, making Ryo frightened and weak for most of his life. If you're looking to frighten him, this man should be a perfect choice. I believe his name was Brannon."

"No...no, he's just not enough." Rajura said thoughtfully. He ran though all the memories he could see though Anubis, but nothing seemed quite enough. Ryo had become desensitized to almost every horrible thing that could happen to a human. "It has to be something...grand." But nothing came to mind. After a while, Rajura gave up. This whole torture thing just wasn't in him.

SH'TEN? MIND IF I PICK YOUR MIND FOR A MOMENT?

I THOUGHT YOU'D NEVER ASK. Sh'ten appeared, looking happier and healthier than ever. WHY DO YOU WAIT SO LONG TO ASK FOR ADVICE, RAJURA? YOU KNOW THIS IS MY FAVORITE HOBBY.

I DON'T LIKE ENCOURAGING YOU. YOU TEND TO GET ALL WEIRD.

I'LL BE GOOD. NOW, WHAT DO YOU WANT?

The two brothers had momentarily forgotten that they weren't alone, but Abraham wasn't one to stand for being forgotten. "Who's your friend, Rajura? Another demon's slave?"

Sh'ten didn't bat an eye as he turned and smacked Abraham across the face and then turned back to Rajura. "Where were we? Ah, yes. What did you want?"

"You know about Ryo, well we need to give him just a little bit of a shock." Rajura knew if he had told Sh'ten that they needed to give Ryo a big shock, Ryo would probably end up dying of fear. Sh'ten had that effect on people sometimes.

The red haired Ma-Sho grinned and a smile slowly spread across his face. "Ahhhh, yes. Ryo." There was a nasty glimmer in his eyes. "He's the one who distracted Anubis away from me. I think I can..."

"We don't want him dead!" Rajura snapped. "Just frightened a little."

Sh'ten pouted for a moment, but his enjoyment of pain won out and he got serious. "I saw a bit of Ryo, a while ago. I think I have a lovely idea that might work..."

Abraham, who was not used to being struck, it seemed, had gaped at Sh'ten after being struck, a hand at his reddened cheek. His face changed, as Rajura watched and became furious with indignation. "How dare you?!" Abraham snarled, clenching his fists at his sides. It looked almost comical, such a little child looking like he was going to attack two grown men. It would have been funny if Rajura hadn't all ready fought him and had the bruises to prove it.

"I dare," Sh'ten smiled wickedly at Abraham. "Because I don't care. What are you going to do? Beat me to death? I think you'll find me even harder to kill than Rajura, plus if I die, so will Anubis. Didn't you know that? As closely as we're all connected, if one of us dies, the rest of us will, too." Sh'ten leaned down so he and Abraham were eye to eye and kept his almost evil grin on. "Do you want your darling Kuj to die?" He laughed softly, putting a hand against Abraham's face and petting him like a dog. "He will die. We'll all die together, one day. Do you want to be the one responsible for his death, though? That's the question."

There was a moment of dreadful tension when the two just glared at each other and Rajura broke it by speaking to the wyrm. "Can you lure Ryo away from his friends and draw him out here. It's quiet enough here that we should be able to do it without interruption."

"That is an insulting query." The wyrm shifted easily into its form of the white tiger. Before it left, though, it looked back at Rajura. "Do not break his mind. My Ryo is fragile."

Sh'ten grinned. "Don't worry. I'm good at this. I won't break him. Just warp him a little."

The wyrm gave Sh'ten a baleful look before sprinting away to find Ryo.

"Speaking of which," Sh'ten turned to Rajura eagerly with a look on his face that was close to desperate. "PLEEEEAAASSSEEE, let me be the one to do this! You know I can do it best! You have to trust me about this."

"'Ten, I wouldn't trust you to open an already opened can of tuna fish." Rajura replied dryly. "All right," He sighed after Sh'ten made his eyes get as big and innocent looking as possible. "You can torture him, just be careful and, for the god's sakes, get that absurd pout off your face! Get ready. Ryo will be here soon. Remember, make this good, 'ten. This is for Anubis, too. Then, after we've done with Ryo, the greatest lie of all will begin." He added this last as an after thought and Sh'ten looked at Rajura, questioningly.

"What are you talking about? What great lie?"

Rajura turned to Abraham, unwilling to let Sh'ten in on this secret, yet. The last thing he wanted was for Anubis to accidentally find out about it before the right time. "Is your child ready? Anubis' mother, I mean."

"Yes. Her role has been prepared and she will wait for the time to be right when she will join us." Abraham looked into the distance as if there was something he could see that they couldn't. "She is making ready certain detail of our new lives. She has to tamper with the memories of a few families we intend to slip into and set up some birth certificates, but nothing that can't be easily done. Once we've slipped into our new lives, it should be simple to keep up the masquerade."

This whole conversation was obviously getting Sh'ten more and more curious. "What are you two talking about? What masquerade? 'Jura, you're hiding your thoughts from me." Sh'ten tugged on Rajura's sleeve, trying to get his attention and Rajura thought, not for the first time, how Sh'ten could act like such a child sometimes.

"She will have to endure the daylight." Rajura reminded Abraham, still ignoring Sh'ten.

"No difficulty. With age, most vampires are well able to live in the daylight. I, myself, can walk in daylight as easily as moonlight. She will risk any danger to be with her son." Abraham looked sad. "She loves him dearly and wouldn't see him sad or hurt. To that end, she will protect Ryo."

Rajura knew the wyrm would return shortly with Ryo and didn't want to waste anymore time. He raised both hands to begin his art and finally turned his attention to Sh'ten. Sh'ten must have realized that he wasn't getting an answer, because he stepped slightly away from Rajura and let his brother work.

Like a cloak of something softer than thoughts and stronger than spider's silk, Rajura crafted an illusion around Sh'ten. When he was finished, Rajura looked at his work and felt, once again, great pride. There was no one who could ever craft an illusion so well as Rajura could. Sh'ten was the perfect mirror image of...

The Courthouse-

Seiji-

Seiji was very happy for Touma, now that the trial was over. Touma deserved happiness and now that his father was pretty much out of the picture, Seiji was sure that he'd have that happiness with Shin's family. Shin, of course, couldn't have looked happier and actually threw his arms around Touma, hugging him tightly.

Touma's embarrassment at being hugged in public was completely obvious to Seiji and Seiji marveled at being able to know what his friends were feeling. There were so many unanswered questions, though. 'How did this happen? Why did this happen? Why us? Was it because we were friends to start with or is there something more? What are we supposed to do now?' Seiji had thought about all these questions as he'd watched Touma go through the pain of the trial, but he had no answers after all this time. Before, only a day before, Seiji would have gone to his garden to meditate. However, now...Seiji shook his head. He'd deal with his faith after more immediate problems were taken care of.

Waiting for only a moment after Touma made his way back to his waiting friends, and seeing Touma watch his father be led away in restraints, Seiji stood up and made his way to the judge's bench. The judge was still sitting, signing this and that and getting his papers in order.

"Your honor?" Seiji called out and drew attention from not only the judge and bailiffs, but also from his friends. His grandfather would know better than to interfere with what he knew Seiji was going to do, but he needed to get this done before Xiu or the others tried to stop him. Seiji could all ready feel Xiu's distress; he knew Xiu didn't want him doing this, but what else could he do, really? He, like Touma, simply couldn't just walk away and pretend this had never happened.

"Yes, young man?" The judge seemed to think for a moment. "You're that Date boy, aren't you? You just spoke up for your friend."

"Yes, your honor." Seiji answered. He walked up to the judge's bench before throwing a stern warning to his friends. He could feel that they wanted to stop him or at least go to stand with him and try to justify what Seiji had done. He stopped them, making it clear without words that he had to do this by himself. After all, he'd had killed his father on his own, he should own up to it by himself, also. 'Not just my dad, but Ryo's, too. How can he NOT be angry? Or sad? Or...anything? It's like he really doesn't care.' Seiji hardened his voice, not wanting to sound weak or uncertain now that he was doing what he had to. "I want to confess to something I did and, since it's so like what Touma did, I thought I may as well do it here." Seiji thought that he should have said it differently and that just the way he'd said it made him sound so callous and flippant. "Yesterday morning, when I went to the Phoenix Rising I found my father had killed two people including my mother." Seiji kept his voice even, not daring to give into grief. He didn't have time to cry. That could come later, when all this was over. "I had my sword with me and killed him."

The courtroom was still quite noisy with all the people who'd come to watch Touma's trial, so Seiji was confident that no one but the judge had heard his confession. He could feel the tension from his friends, all but Ryo who felt...Seiji wasn't quite able to describe Ryo, right yet. The other three, Xiu, Touma, and Shin, Seiji could feel them like bright lights in his soul. He knew how they felt and he even knew their thoughts, at times. Ryo, though he was also in Seiji's soul, wasn't a bright light. Ryo felt more like a candle amidst the suns created by Seiji's other friends. It was as if there was something hiding or shielding Ryo's true self.

The judge sat forward, a disbelieving look on his face. "Did I hear you right, young man?"

"I think so, your honor."

"Do you realize the magnitude of what you're saying?"

"I believe so." Seiji felt one hand start to shake and, out of habit, put the hand to his throat where he still wore the wooden pentacle that symbolized his belief in all things of nature. The five points of the pentacles were the elements of fire, wind, water, earth, and spirit. Always before, the rough decoration had brought comfort to Seiji and he found that, despite the shaking of his faith, when he touched the pentacle his hand stopped shaking and he felt his determination strengthen

Just behind him, Seiji heard some noise and knew without turning around knew that Ryo had tried to go to Seiji.

KEEP HIM BACK. Seiji thought as hard as he could, not even knowing if that would work. To his immense relieve, Xiu seemed to get the message and restrained Ryo, whispering urgently that this was something Seiji wanted to do on his own. Seiji could feel Xiu's hurt, though.

YOU WON'T LET ME HELP? Xiu's voice sounded strange in Seiji's head, but it did feel normal, somehow. I WANT TO...

TAKE CARE OF RYO. Seiji told Xiu. HE'S JUST LOST HIS DAD, TOO, HE'LL NEED SOMEONE LOOKING AFTER HIM.

Xiu agreed and turned to look at Ryo again, but found Ryo gone. 'Oh no.' Xiu looked around frantically, making his friends look around, too, but none of them knew where Ryo had suddenly vanished to.

Ryo-

Ryo knew there was something going on between Seiji and Xiu just from the look on Xiu's face. He couldn't understand why Xiu wouldn't want him to help Seiji. If Ryo spoke up now and said something to the judge, maybe he could help Seiji. If he told how his and Seiji's dad had tried to kill Ryo, then maybe...no. That wouldn't work. Ryo looked down at where he'd been stabbed only the day before and saw nothing. There was no blood stained shirt or even a wound beneath the shirt. Thanks to Seiji, the wound had been completely healed and Ryo didn't even have any proof that it had been to defend Ryo that Seiji had killed his dad.

Ryo wanted to ask his friends what he could do to help, but everyone's eyes were now riveted on Seiji and the judge where they were having a conversation so quietly Ryo couldn't hear a word they said. Xiu, Shin, and Touma obviously could, though because they had a similar pained expression on their faces. Xiu let go of Ryo's arm at one point and looked like he would rush up to the judge's bench, but then stopped abruptly.

It was just after Xiu let go of Ryo's hand that Ryo felt something nudge him in the back. When he turned around, Byakuen stood there, looking up at Ryo with serious eyes. Without waiting a moment, Byakuen turned and walked silently out of the courtroom, nobody but Ryo having seen him.

Ryo looked back to where Seiji and the judge were still whispering together before following Byakuen. After all, Seiji had everyone else here to look after him for a few minutes and they weren't going to let Ryo help anyway. He might as well go with Byakuen and find out where his friend had been all this time.

Byakuen led Ryo all though the city, always keeping just a few steps ahead and never slowing down quite enough for Ryo to catch up to him. Even when Ryo cried out for Byakuen to slow down just a little, the white tiger would just keep running until Ryo was panting for breath and fearing that he'd never catch Byakuen. 'Have I done something to make him angry?' Ryo wondered. 'He's never done this before.'

They ran and ran until Ryo was completely lost and had no idea how he was going to find his way back to Seiji's house or the courthouse. The city thinned out, tall apartment buildings being replaced by smaller houses and more trees until Byakuen led Ryo out to a deserted field. When the tiger finally stopped running, Ryo staggered to a stop. He put his arms around Byakuen as he bent over, trying to catch his breath. He felt strangely light headed and stars danced in front of his eyes for just a moment as Ryo realized he hadn't run so far or so fast in many, many years. In fact, he was surprised that he was still standing at all.

Byakuen gave a sudden lurch away from Ryo and pounced away from him.

"Yaku-chan?" Ryo said, wondering what his friend was doing. "What's wrong?"

His question was quickly answered.

"Boy."

Ryo turned away from Byakuen and...

Shock.

"Granma?" Ryo stared at his granma, standing tall and proud, just as he'd remembered her long ago before she'd started getting sick. Her eyes were hard and flinty, but Ryo just stared back at her. "Granma, how...how are you...?"

"Alive?" Her voice was icy and her tone made Ryo flinch, though he wasn't sure what he'd done wrong. What ever it was, she sure was angry at him. "I'm not alive, boy!" She snapped, narrowing her sharp eyes at him. "You saw my body, yourself. Of course, I'm dead!" She stepped closer to Ryo and he still stared up at his granma. She was like a nightmare come to life, looking more terrible than Ryo had ever imagined her and he felt guilty for even thinking such a thing. She'd come back from the dead, he should be happy to see her.

"It was a mistake, right, granma?" Ryo asked, trying to convince himself. "Was there a mistake and you never died?"

"What kind of idiot asks something like that?! You saw my body, you watched them bury me! Did you want there to be a mistake? Did you hope I'd been buried alive and left to suffocate to death?"

"No!" Ryo blurted out. He shrank back from her almost immediately when she glared at him for the out burst. "I'd never think that, granma."

"It's your fault, Ryo." Ryo's granma said, her voice almost a whisper as she glared at Ryo. "We all died for you, you know. Yoko died because she wouldn't let her pimp have you. Joji was so worried for your worthless life that he no only murdered for you, a sin that condemns him to Hell for eternity, but he took his own life. He died in pain and alone for your sake!"

"No." Ryo took a step away from his granma, desperately wishing his friends were around. But he was alone and Ryo felt the fear coming back to him. Since his granma's death, Ryo had felt himself getting stronger, but now, in the icy gaze of his granma's gaze, he'd never felt so small or weak. "No, that's not true. It's a lie!"

Granma laughed. "A lie? Why would I lie, Ryo? What have I got to gain? It's the truth and you know it. The truth you've been running from all of your life. Joji and Yoko died for your sake, to keep you away from that pimp." She moved closer to Ryo, her eyes never leaving his face. "I died for you and you don't even care."

Died? Yoko and Joji...dead? Ryo shook his head wildly at the accusation. "No! No, granma, I do care, honest. Please, don't say such things." He didn't want to think that two of his closest friends had died. Why was everyone around him dying?

Granma slapped Ryo across the face and he staggered back, more stunned than hurt by the blow. "All your fault. Your own mother died alone and you probably can't remember her face! Well, can you? Do you even remember what your own mother looked like?"

"Yes, I..." But Ryo's defense stopped when he paused and thought. He remembered her mom's hands, tough from a hard life. He remembered her sweet laugh and her voice when she sang him to sleep. Ryo even remembered the gingham dress she always wore. Her face...She'd had black hair...Ryo was pretty sure of that...maybe blue eyes... "I don't." Ryo felt like he was going to be sick to his stomach. "I can't remember her."

"What about me, Ryo? Why didn't you take me to the hospital when Sister Jo told you to? You know she was smarter than you are, why didn't you listen to her?"

"But, granma," Ryo protested with tears in his eyes as he held his arms out to her, imploringly. "You...you said you wanted us to stay together."

"I was sick!" Ryo's granma thundered furiously, her eyes almost seeming to burn with her anger. "You knew I was sick and I didn't know what I was doing. It was your responsibility to take care of me. How many times did I hear you promise you'd take care of everything for me? You failed, Ryo."

Ryo's granma turned her face away from him in disgust. "I should have left you with him."

"What?" Ryo asked, choked with grief. He'd never imagined, never in his life that his granma would say things like this. Everything he'd ever felt, all the guilt he'd tried to bury, she was voicing.

"With Bishop Brannon, of course. Who did you think I mean, stupid boy?" Ryo's granma turned her glare back on him. "Oh, don't give me that surprised look. I knew what he'd done to you. Why do you think we were allowed to stay for so long at his church?" She smiled at Ryo maliciously and Ryo suddenly felt as if he were looking into the face of a demo, not his loving granma. "I LET him rape you. I TOLD him he could. It wasn't until you turned cowardly and weak that we had to leave. Do you remember the offer he made you? He'd have let us stay there forever. We'd never have had to face another cold night or hunger. We'd have been fine if you hadn't..."

'No!' Ryo put his hands over his ears, trying desperately to block out her cruel words and trying not to think that she was right. 'That's not what happened! She was angry at Brannon, not me! We left because she was angry at him.' But it didn't stop Ryo from believing that maybe he should have...it would have made life so much easier...but it had felt so wrong.

Another blow brought Ryo to his knees and he looked up at his looming granma. "Don't you dare ignore me, Ryo! Not after all you've done! Evil boy! Look at your friends, even they can't escape you! Seiji killed for you and you just left him there to face the judge alone. You couldn't even stand by him!"

"But...but Seiji said..."

"Be silent!"

Ryo cowed under his granma's fury, more terrified than he'd even been. Even when he'd been subject to Brannon's abuse, even when he'd been afraid that they'd starve to death, even when he'd had his dad's knife buried in his stomach, Ryo hadn't felt such overpowering fear. Ryo didn't dare say a word and he didn't know he was crying until a tear struck the back of his knee. Still on his knees, Ryo bent his head forward, almost bowing before his granma and covered his head with his hands, as if that could protect him from her wrath.

A fire burned. Ryo could hear it burning.

"If I'd never laid eyes on you, it would have been for the best! I should have left you to die in the forest, you animal! Oh, I know what you did, and you tried to hide it from me. Do you think I'm a fool? I saw the blood all over your clothes, I even smelled the blood on your breath. Not more than ten and you were out eating raw meat with the other scavengers! Why did I try to help you? Why did I waste my time on you?" There was fury and hate written on every inch of her body and her eyes were terrible to behold.

Ryo couldn't look at her, he'd never felt such overwhelming shame.

'She's dead. I saw her dead, she just told me she's dead, so how...how's she here? Am I dead or am I...Seiji said you can inherit madness from your parents. What if I'm insane, too?' This thought lurked in Ryo's mind, but it was quickly overpowered by the fire. He KNEW she was dead, but she was also standing right in front of him. His brain couldn't deny reality.

The fire grew in Ryo's mind, it's hissing and crackling drowning out the words from Ryo's granma. He couldn't hear her anymore, but the fire kept growing. It started in his mind, like it always did, but spread to his neck and down his arms. Soon, his heart felt like it was afire and Ryo thought for a moment that he would die.

"You may as well have stuck a knife in my chest!" Ryo's granma screamed at him. "You killed me as surely as if you had!"

Slowly, Ryo opened his eyes and turned his head to where Byakuen was still sitting calmly. "Yaku-chan...help me." He begged.

Byakuen stood up, turned, and walked slowly away from Ryo.

Ryo felt like he'd been crushed. The fire inside Ryo sparked and sizzled, burning the back of his eyes, now. He couldn't control it. Ryo turned his face up to the sky and he screamed.

Rajura-

NAAZA, WAKE ANUBIS UP NOW! Rajura commanded from where he watched Ryo's torture behind a shield of his own illusions, which made him invisible. WAKE HIM! Rajura had to admit, as he listened to Sh'ten's stinging comments and hateful words, that Sh'ten had been right. This really was best left up to him. There wasn't a person in the universe who knew how to crush the human spirit quite like Sh'ten.

He felt that Naaza did as he was told and he felt Anubis wake quickly from Naaza's drug induced sleep. Anubis wasn't awake for more than a moment before he felt that Ryo was in trouble and instantly appeared in the empty field. He didn't even see Rajura standing only a short distance away, hidden from view by his own talent.

Anubis focused on Ryo and his mouth dropped when he saw what Rajura saw.

Ryo was on fire. Not just a piece of clothes, but his entire body was engulfed in flames that danced around him, like hungry demons needing to be fed. He was standing now, his feet spread slightly apart and his arms raised up high, with his face tilted towards the sky, though his eyes were clenched shut. Every muscle was tensed with what must have been either the pain of suddenly finding himself not alone in his own mind or the emotional pain of the scathing words of his beloved granma.

Sh'ten, still in the disguise of Ryo's granma, stopped speaking when Ryo had been drawn to his feet by his own emerging power and was now backing away towards where he knew Rajura had hidden himself. His work was done, though he looked immensely pleased with himself when Rajura hid Sh'ten, too, behind the illusion of invisibility.

Scream upon scream, Ryo's voice never seemed to tire as he went on and on until the flames around Ryo darkened and thickened and, for just a moment, Ryo was hidden from their view. When he reappeared, Ryo had stopped screaming.

Ryo was dressed in red yoroi, two swords strapped to his back. He wore a helmet with two horns, curved and sharp as daggers come out of either side of his helmet.

The yoroi of Recca, the wildfire.

Rajura swallowed hard upon seeing it. That red yoroi was going to be a major factor in the up coming war, he'd seen. It was going to be the source of much pain for him and his brothers.

It already was a source of pain for one of his brothers. Anubis was struck dumb by the sight of Ryo, now in full yoroi, with the fire still dancing around him and his thoughts betray his horror and helplessness of what he realized was going to happen. He was going to have to battle with Ryo. He might even kill Ryo.

Rajura wanted nothing more than to reach out and comfort Anubis, who must understand, by now, what was going on. 'I can't.' Rajura told himself firmly. He reached out and took Sh'ten's hand, shattering the illusion of the old woman and bringing Sh'ten back to his beautiful self. 'If I say anything, he's going to think this whole thing was a trick to get him away from Ryo.' So Rajura kept his mind carefully silent and blocked from Anubis, making sure that Sh'ten did the same.

It ended in a burst of fire so great, they, Rajura, Sh'ten, Anubis, and the wyrm, were all thrown to the ground. Rajura covered both his and Sh'ten's head as tree branches fell from overhead and struck the ground all around them.

When all had fallen silent, Rajura chanced to look up, carefully lifting his head from the protection of his arms and saw exactly what he'd expected. 'It's begun.' Rajura thought. 'This this it. The beginning of the war and wherever that leads us.' His attention quickly went to Anubis, but Anubis had already disappeared. 'Please,' Rajura prayed for the first time in many, many years. 'Please, let the wyrm and the vampire uphold their ends of this conspiracy. We have to end this war quickly.'

Anubis-

The first thing he knew was that Ryo was hurting. Anubis' eyes sprung open and he saw Naaza's purple lidded eyes staring down at him. As usual, Naaza's face was expressionless.

"What...? Naaza, what happened?" Anubis sat up and knew that he was healed, Naaza would never have let him wake up unhealed. He remembered little but Naaza forcing him to change back to human and the brief struggle that had nearly killed him. "What happened to Ryo?"

"He's hurt. You can feel it." Naaza spoke softly and Anubis could feel no emotion behind Naaza's carefully built mental shields. "You have to go to him." Naaza put his hand under Anubis' arms and helped pull him to his feet.

"Since when have you cared about any human?" Anubis asked suspiciously, though he certainly was worried about Ryo. He could dimly feel that something was wrong with Ryo, a horrible emotional pain. Nothing physical, but it was still pain. Anubis was all to aware that vampires, full-blooded vampires, sometimes could become linked to a human's mind if they fed from the same human to often. However, that never happened with just one or two feedings and, besides, Anubis wasn't even a full-blooded vampire.

'This can't be happening.' Anubis thought, desperately trying to think of another explanation for how attached he'd become to Ryo. 'I haven't taken enough of his blood to link us. I haven't!' But the truth was that he could feel Ryo's pain and the urge to go find Ryo was quickly becoming overpowering.

Naaza stepped away from Anubis. "You'd better just go."

"But, Naaza, why would you want me to help a human? You hate ningens."

"My opinions no longer matter to you where Ryo is concerned, do they?" It wasn't exactly a question and Naaza had the tone of someone who had accepted and unpleasant reality and was trying to get used to it. "Just go!"

At that command, Anubis willed himself to wherever Ryo was.

Ryo was on fire and Anubis could do nothing but watch in horror. Ryo didn't burn. It was as if the fire danced on the surface of his skin, just barely floating above Ryo's dark skin and making Ryo's black hair float around his face, twisted with his screams.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Anubis knew that Rajura, Sh'ten, and even Abraham were nearby, but his eyes were locked on Ryo, unable to pull themselves away from Ryo and his pain-filled scream.

Anubis felt his breath quicken and his heart was thundering so loudly he could hear it. There was a quickening of the fire and Ryo became obscured only to be revealed as a warrior, dressed as such. 'This can't be happening. Not Ryo. He's not supposed to be one of us.'

Anubis could feel the heat gathering and when the explosion came, he wasn't entirely unprepared. When he could see again, Anubis jumped up as quickly as he could and rushed to the fallen Ryo. The yoroi was gone, replace again by Ryo's plain clothes, and Ryo was laying face down on the ground, unconscious.

'I should see to Rajura and Sh'ten.' The thought crossed Anubis' mind as he went to see Ryo. 'I should find out if Abraham's all right, too.' But he didn't. Anubis picked up Ryo, knowing full well that Ryo was alive and well, at least physically. Clutching Ryo to his chest, Anubis didn't let himself think about the future. 'Gotta take him home. Find someplace he's going to feel safe when he wakes up.' Anubis remembered all those times he'd been told by Arago that the day would come when they would war with another force that desired the power of the yoroi. 'But it shouldn't be Ryo. I can't fight him.' Anubis willed himself away from the empty field. 'I can't kill him!'

Anubis lay Ryo down in the bed and carefully covered him with the blanket. 'He's safe.' Anubis knew that wasn't true, but he could try to persuade himself. 'What am I going to do? Oh...it hurts.' Anubis put a hand to his painfully constricting chest. It felt like his heart was going to burst. 'I don't want to hurt.'

"Anubis?" Ryo's eyes flickered open and he looked up at Anubis with such beautiful eyes. Eyes that belonged to someone who should be protected and pampered, not someone who would see the horror of war. Looking pale, Ryo pushed himself up and blinked at Anubis. "What are you doing here?" He asked, though a small smile touched his lips. "I...I had the most awful dream." Ryo reached out for Anubis. "Give me a hand up?"

Anubis didn't move toward Ryo. He couldn't help but think how innocent and young Ryo looked. He was to young to be in a war. But Anubis also knew that he had no choice in what was going to happen. Ryo was involved in this war, whether he knew it yet or not. That was what Rajura had been trying to warn Anubis about all along, he'd known what was going to happen. Instead, Anubis sank down to his knees in front of Ryo.

"I love you." The words came so much more easily than Anubis had thought they would.

Ryo blushed. "Anubis...I..."

Anubis didn't let him finish before kissing him. It was a light kiss, nothing deep or passionate, but Anubis could feel Ryo's pleasure from it. Ryo gingerly put his hands on Anubis' shoulders, to steady himself, and leaned in a little to the kiss.

Images of Ryo's past 'experiences' with relationships came to Anubis and Anubis understood what a chance Ryo was taking. Ryo was accustomed to being used and hurt. He almost expected Anubis to hurt him now.

'But I won't hurt you.' Anubis vowed silently, before doing the hardest thing he'd ever had to do. With his vampire talents, Anubis stretched his mind's influence to Ryo and exerted control. (You will forget, Ryo. You will forget that you've ever met me. You will forget.) It was a simple command, really, to forget just one person. It was a command, though, that made Anubis feel as if his heart would break. He had to do this, or Ryo might weaken in the middle of battle. What if Ryo couldn't fight him?

Arago would show no mercy when it came to obtaining the yoroi and he would force Anubis to fight and kill Ryo, if necessary. Anubis wasn't so arrogant that he believed he could fight Arago and win, if he tried Arago would simply destroy Anubis' mind and control him like a puppet. He would be forced to kill Ryo.

Ryo went limp in Anubis' arms, his eyes glazing over, as if he'd fainted. (Forget me, Ryo. Forget and when we meet again, fight me. Kill me. I am your enemy and I'll kill you if you let me live. Please, kill me before I kill you. I couldn't bear you death, Ryo.)

Anubis let Ryo settle back into the bed, placing his head on the pillow before covering him once again. "Rest well." Anubis whispered, knowing that he'd never be allowed to be close to Ryo, again. That thought made Anubis feel as if he'd vomit.

There was a noise, like someone opening a door, and Anubis left, willing himself back to the Youja Kai. He had to find Rajura. Rajura could stop the pain.

Courthouse-

Shin-

Shin heard everything Seiji heard the judge say. This new power was strange, but he would have been lying if he'd said he didn't like it.

The judge told Seiji, "You must be confused, young man. I know the dead man was your father, but you didn't kill him. Perhaps your friend's case has affected you to deeply."

Seiji was amazed that the judge had said such a thing. "I don't understand, your honor."

"Faun-san called the police when he found his daughter and your mother had been murdered. When the police arrived, they'd found your father with his head cut off, but you didn't do it. You couldn't have."

"What? But..."

"Date-san," The judge said, compassionately. "Perhaps you'd like to speak with a therapist. We have a few of them here, on call. You've lost both of your parents in the most horrible way only a few hours ago. In all honestly, I'm surprised that you'd come here at all. You really should be resting in private with your family. Young man," He leaned forward so he was closer to Seiji. "The police have determined that after your father killed your mother and the little girl, he killed himself. You had nothing to do with it."

Seiji's confusion was impossible to hide. He'd gone though all this angst to work himself up to telling the truth and now the judge wasn't even going to believe the truth? Shin was pleased for Seiji and wished his friend would just walk away and thank his lucky stars, but Seiji seemed determined to press the issue.

Shin's confusion was as great as Seiji's. How did the police think someone had cut off their own head so cleanly?

"Your honor...?" Seiji started.

Before anyone could stop him, Papa Faun made his way to the judge's bench and stood beside Seiji, looking very imposing next to the slender Seiji. "Your honor, I believe the young man needs a good deal of rest. If you don't mind, I think his grandfather should take him home and put him to bed. We can talk about a therapist in the morning, after he's had time to grieve. In fact, he's welcome to come when I take my family to a family grief counselor." To both Seiji and Xiu's dumbfounded amazement, Papa Faun put a fatherly arm around Seiji's shoulders. "He's almost family, after all."

The judge, when he'd seen Papa Faun emerge from the crowded audience, had gone deathly pale and nodded obediently. "Yes, of course. Faun-san, I didn't expect to see you here, today. My condolences on the passing of your youngest." Was it Shin's imagination or did the judge sound almost afraid of Papa Faun? True, the man had a bit of a temper, but no more so than most men. In fact, with most things, Shin knew Papa Faun was an even-tempered gentleman. There was no reason Shin knew of for anyone to be afraid of him.

Papa Faun nodded stiffly, clearly not wanting to talk about his family's loss in public. "Thank you. Now, if all this business is cleared up...?"

"Yes, certainly. Have a good day, sir." The judge was nearly babbling as he bid Papa Faun good-bye.

When they returned to where everyone was waiting, Xiu stared at his papa with a wide-open mouth. "Papa, what was that all about? Since when have you taken up bullying judges?"

"It's something I really don't want you to get involved with." Papa Faun gave Xiu a stern look. "Let's just say I've made a few connections in my life and a few people have owed me favors." He turned to Seiji, whom he still had in a half-hug. "For now, I give my blessing to you two. If you hurt my son, Date Seiji, be warned, I will hurt you."

Seiji nodded dumbly. For once, he was completely out of words.

They had all left the courthouse, all of them free of any legal guilt, though Shin had the distinct impression that Seiji was going to be battling his demons for a long time to come. After all, even if Xiu's papa had somehow 'fixed' Seiji's problem, Seiji still knew what he'd done.

It wasn't the end of their problems, however. They still had to find out where Ryo had gone.

"Mum, Okasan," Shin said as casually as he could. "We're all going out to celebrate. We'll be home soon." Shin barely waited to hear an okay from his mum before he took off, walking at a fast pace, to find Ryo, wherever he'd gotten to. He heard the others offer vague excuses to their families before following him.

"Where would he go?" Xiu asked. "I could barely hold him back from jumping into to save you, Seiji."

"I think your papa did that himself." Seiji said with a raised eyebrow. "What's he involved with to be able to fool around with the police like that, anyway?"

"Don't know." Xiu answered honestly. "I'm not sure I want to know, to be honest." It didn't take them long to hone in on Ryo. Ryo's fear and pain made it easy for them. Suddenly, the candle light in their mind where Ryo had been changed into a red sun, glowing as deeply as any of them. Shin felt a stabbing pain in his heart and gasp. He knew the others felt it, too and everyone paused a moment to get used to the new feeling.

"Where is he?" Xiu said out loud. He tried to focus on where Ryo had just been, but found Ryo's presence had gone. "He's moved."

"He can't have moved so quickly." Touma said as calmly as he could. "Everyone just calm down and..." His voice trailed away and they all knew where Ryo was.

They all arrived at Seiji's house to find Ryo fast asleep in his bed. There was no sign of yoroi, but they did find Ryo's hand clenched around something he wouldn't let go of. Somehow, Ryo had gotten into bed and pulled the covers up around him, but his face was overly pale and drawn.

After a quick examination, Seiji sat at Ryo's side and looked up at them. "It's all right. You all go home, it's been a long day. I'll keep an eye on him." When they all tried to protest, Seiji didn't give in. "You'll have things that need to be put in order, Touma." He said softly. "I'm sure Shin will want to help."

Shin and Touma looked at each other, both thinking the same thing. HE NEEDS SOME TIME ALONE. Shin told Xiu. He rather liked this new way of communicating, he could understand everyone perfectly. WE'LL LEAVE, BUT I DON'T THINK HE SHOULD BE ALONE. EVEN IF SEIJI LIKES TO PRETEND HE DOESN'T HAVE FEELINGS...

DON'T WORRY. Xiu replied easily. He went to sit on a chair by Ryo bed and ignored the stern look Seiji was giving him. I'M USED TO HIM, HE WON'T CHASE ME OFF.

So Shin left with Touma, both happier knowing that Seiji wouldn't be alone, not if Xiu had anything to say about it.

Xiu-

Seiji stood up and, for a moment, he just stood there and looked down at Xiu. His lilac eyes almost glowed and Xiu felt distinctly uncomfortable under his love's gaze. "Something wrong?" Xiu asked.

"Xiu," Seiji's mind-voice was far different for what his face was telling Xiu. The mind-voice told Xiu the sudden fear of being alone Seiji was feeling and how much Seiji needed to know he was loved and safe. "Xiu...I..."

Xiu decided to save Seiji the pain of asking and stood up to take Seiji's hand. "Let's go to bed." He said with finality in his voice. "Ryo will sleep for a while longer, I think. He won't need us for a bit."

Seiji froze when Xiu tried to lead him away and Xiu felt Seiji's fear, a new fear, rise up. "We don't have to do anything." Xiu reassured him. "You need some sleep and I want to be close to you." Xiu stepped closer to Seiji without letting go of his hand. "I won't hurt you, Seiji. I won't ever hurt you." Xiu put one hand up to cup Seiji's lovely face, stoking Seiji's ear with his thumb, before he leaned in and gave Seiji a chaste kiss on the cheek. "Just sleep."

"For now." Seiji added, returning the kiss. "For now just sleep. Later..." He let the promise drift away. There was no point in saying what they both knew was going to happen. It didn't have to be right now, there was no hurry. Together, with Xiu's arm wrapped over Seiji's shoulders, they left Ryo's room and retired to Seiji's.

They undressed, after locking the door behind them, and crawled into bed together. It wasn't as tense as Xiu was afraid it would be. It just seemed natural to be with Seiji like this. Seiji turned on his side so he could look at Xiu as they lay side by side.

"I have rediscovered my faith, Xiu." Seiji said all of a sudden. "I don't believe that this yoroi could have blessed me with such a man as you. You must be a gift from the goddess. Only she would know so exactly who the other half of my soul is."

Xiu blushed. He should have been embarrassed that he was in bed with Seiji for the first time, but it was Seiji's words, unspeakably romantic, that had brought out the blush.

Rajura-

Before he returned to the Youja Kai, Rajura had one last thing to accomplish. He had to ensure that Ryo and his friends would have all the information they needed not only to survive the war, but to win it. 'I never thought I'd be plotting to have my enemies win a war.' Rajura thought ruefully. 'But, it's better than having Arago win. With Abraham and the wyrm, I'm certain we'll be able to control everyone enough for this to turn out the way I want it to.'

Rajura stood in the empty lot and concentrated on his newest creation, giving it far more details than most of his illusions. It would remain stable, whether he was concentrating on it or not. That was the first necessity, especially since Rajura would have so many other responsibilities to take care of in the coming months. It must have the mind and memories of the original. For that, Rajura had to rely on what little Sh'ten had researched about the old monk who had first defeated Arago, so many years ago.

Then came the fun part, the artistry. With a flair and a touch of something even he couldn't describe, Rajura created the image of the blue and white robed monk. The man had shoulder-length white hair and a conical hat woven out of reeds that shaded most of his face. The staff, Sh'ten had said that the staff was important and was the weapon with which the monk fought, was created last. The tricky part was going to be adding magic to the staff. Tricky, but not impossible. Rajura added the magic and, when he was satisfied that he'd remembered everything, he stepped back and examined his creation.

"Very good." Abraham complimented, from where he sat on the grass. "I see you've earned your reputation, illusion master. He is exactly as I remember him. You've given him all the information?"

"He knows everything about the yoroi that my brothers and I have been able to discover. I also gave him my knowledge of what happened in the battle between Arago and the original monk, Kaosu."

Abraham looked thoughtful. "The memories and power and personality of the original. You've created a person, Rajura. A real person who will exist even if you die. Is that right?"

"Yes." It was the first time Rajura had done something like this, but he knew without a doubt that he'd done it right. His creation was perfect. "He will live and die as any normal human." With a wave of one hand, the created monk vanished. "He's set to appear when those boys next don their yoroi. He should be able to give them useful information, if nothing else."

"Impressive. Now, if you'll excuse me." Abraham stood up and dusted himself off. "While those boys are sleeping, I'm going to erase parts of their memory. Which ones saw you and my Kuj? Oh, Date Seiji and Rei Faun Xiu, right? Well, I'll take away those parts of memory and then I'll go start my life as sweet little adopted Yamato Jun. I need to see my daughter set up in her new life as Yagiyu Nasutei, also. See you in the war." Abraham leapt into the sky and flew off without another word.

Anubis-

"Please." Anubis said the moment he appeared in Rajura's chambers and found his eldest brother sitting in a chair by the window doing nothing but thinking. "Please make it stop."

Rajura didn't look at all surprised to see Anubis. "So, it's happened?" His voice was dull and almost sad. "I tried to warn you away from him."

For a moment Anubis said nothing, he just stood there. "'Jura?"

"Yes?" Rajura held a hand out to Anubis, signaling for him to come closer. "Tell me what troubles you? What do you want to stop?"

"Stop it!" Anubis growled. "You know what's wrong! You've known all along, and you never told me!"

"Would you have believed me?" Rajura asked evenly. "You were so besotted by the boy, you haven't listened to anything I've said since you laid eyes on him." Rajura sighted and hung his head. "What do you want me to do, Anubis? Just ask."

Anubis felt the burning pain in his heart. It was destiny, fate. There was nothing he could do about the coming war. All this time, Rajura had been trying to warn him and Anubis hadn't wanted to listen and because of his childish attitude, now he'd have to be separated from Ryo.

The pain was so unbearable... "Please, make me forget him." Falling to his knees, Anubis wasn't aware that Rajura had come to him until Rajura put his hands on Anubis' shoulders.

"I'm so sorry." Rajura said softly. "I'm so very sorry."

"Don't be sorry. Make me forget him! If he's killed in the coming war, I won't be able to stand it." He choked back a sob. "Better I forget him as he's forgotten me, then neither of us will suffer."

"You took his memory?" Rajura sounded surprised at that.

"I didn't want him to hesitate on the battlefield when he saw me." Anubis explained his reasoning. "Any hesitation could mean death." He shook his head weakly, as if he didn't have any energy left. "It hurts so much, that I can't be with him. If I tried, Arago would kill Ryo, wouldn't he?"

Rajura nodded. "Yes. I'll take your memory, if you want me to, but you have to be sure of this. Do you really want to face the possibility of dying without remembering him?" Rajura petted Anubis' hair. "Do you want to chance my never being able to restore your memory? A man is the sum of his memories and this will destroy a large part of you."

Anubis replied, "I don't care." He leaned his head forward so he was resting on Rajura's shoulder. "I just don't care."

"You're lying." Rajura told him softly.

"Yes."

Rajura gently moved his hand to the back of Anubis' head, digging his fingers down through Anubis' very thick hair until he touched skin and then worked his way to the back of Anubis' scalp.

"I don't want to remember ever being mortal or life in the Ningen Kai. I just want my memory of here, with you and Sh'ten and Naaza." Anubis said in a moaning sort of voice. If he kept the memory of all this, the knowledge that Ryo would never remember him for Ryo's own safety, Anubis was sure that he'd die of grief.

So Rajura did. With a jolt of energy delivered in just the right spot, Anubis jerked once before he fell forward, unconscious, into Rajura's arms.

Rajura-

Rajura lay him down on the carpeted floor before he looked up to see Naaza and Sh'ten standing in the doorway and guessed that they'd seen and heard everything.

"Such sweet pain." Sh'ten murmured with his arms wrapped around himself and not even bothering to hide the lust in his eyes. "He gave up all that delicious pain."

Naaza said nothing but Rajura could practically see the wheels turning in his head. "We'll have to forget, too, won't we?" Naaza said after a very long silence. "If any of us even thinks of what Anubis had with that Ryo boy, Anubis will pick it up in our thoughts and he'll remember everything." Another moment of silence before Naaza came forward. "I'll go first, I guess. No sense in putting off the inevitable."

"Are you sure? I won't do anything to you if..."

"Don't beat around the bush." Naaza hissed. "We all know we have to do this for Anubis. He'd do it for us. Just do it and get it over with."

So, in the end, Rajura ended up with all three of his brothers laying on his floor after having their memories wiped out. Sadly, that meant that he would have to remember. 'I wish it was that easy to erase my own memories.'

Ryo-

Ryo woke up sometime in the middle of the night, staring up at the full moon. It had been such a long day, but Ryo was glad everything had turned out all right. He liked this yoroi, Ryo had to admit. He liked the feeling that he was apart of something important and he liked how he could feel everyone now, everyone who mattered, anyway.

He knew Seiji and Xiu were sleeping together right now and both were feeling very safe and comfortable together. Except for occasional nightmares that woke up not only Seiji, who was having them about his mother being murdered, and Xiu who had them about his sister being murdered, they also woke up Ryo along with Touma and Shin who were at Shin's house across town. Ryo didn't know how he knew this, but he did.

Sitting up in bed, Ryo opened his hand and looked down at the red tinged marble that had somehow appeared from nowhere. It made him feel very strong.

Ryo climbed out of bed and went to the open window so he could get a better look into the night. Tonight, Ryo liked the darkness. There was something about it that made him feel...complete, but he didn't know why.

Ryo felt Xiu comforting Seiji as he came out of another nightmare and the two held each other until they both fell asleep again. It was such a comfortable love and Ryo almost felt as if he should be jealous. He'd never been in love and it wasn't likely that he'd ever let himself trust another person that much.

'Who knows,' Ryo smiled up at the moon. 'Maybe, someday, I'll fall in love, too.'

THE END

Cousin D: Well, folks, what do you think?