Asakura Hao smiled.
Asakura Yoh did likewise.
Kyouyama Anna smirked.
Marion Phauna blinked.
"May I take your orders?" their unruffled waiters asked.
The Romancers: Set Two
Spiritless Poppet And Shaman King
Disclaimer: Sheo Darren (meaning, me), owns only what I have created: My original characters and the story general. I don't profess to own Shaman King or any other familiar anime, movie, novel, song or others that is already owned by someone else.
It began when Hao dropped by Funbari Onsen at midnight, a sleeping Mari borne in his arms.
"Hello, my once-future wife, and to you, too, my dearest younger brother. It's been a long time, has it not?"
Anna recovered quickly and furiously. Her stare became a glare. "What are you doing here?"
"I thought to drop by your beautiful abode and extend my regards."
"You're not welcome here. Go away."
"And to bring back one of your runaways, too, if I may say."
"She's not welcome here, either. Go away. And don't forget to take her with you."
"Is that any way to treat family?"
"You're more like an in-law," Anna returned, "The obnoxious and unwanted kind from a Filipino soap opera. Now go away."
"You break my heart so much."
"You don't have a heart."
"But the figurative foot is already in your equally figurative doorway. Can you possibly turn us away in such a gruff and uncivilized manner considering the ungodly hour and place?"
"I have just slammed shut that figurative doorway, crushing your figurative foot into a pulp."
Yoh grimaced. "Anna…"
Hao was pleasantly surprised to see Anna cave in to that request. (He kept his pleasure out of sight, though. No use provoking the lioness in her den. Say what you will, but Hao was smart.)
"Fine," Anna growled. "They can stay for the night."
"And?" Yoh pressed.
"For infinity, if they want to. Happy now?"
"Yes. Thanks, Anna."
Hao thought he actually saw Anna smile slightly at that.
He kept out of Anna's way for the most part to avoid providing the Queen of Funbari Onsen with the excuse to kick them out. It was a fine exercise, something Hao hadn't done since attaining near-godhood. Absolute power did have its drawbacks. He found it intellectually stimulating– and far more interesting; dare he say exciting, too?– to actually negotiate with a stronger power instead of cowing someone with a display of overwhelming strength or simply powering on through an obstacle.
Mostly he watched over Mari. The girl took a week to completely recover from her harrowing ordeal. The mist creature he glimpsed must have extensively drained her of furyoku. From what Yoh told him, this made the second time around that it had attacked her.
It had been tracking her all this time. Why?
The creature posed a welcome mystery. It preyed exclusively on Shamans or at least people with high levels of furyoku. Otherwise, there would have been a rash of incidents with the normal humans, accompanied by press conferences, "learned commentary" from "experts" and mass hysteria about "aliens who had come for humankind's souls". (Hao smirked at such nonsense.)
He had not heard of or encountered any creature that preyed on furyoku during his extensive lifetime. Solid researching was called for. Hao hadn't studied for the past millennia or so. Another mental exercise…
Who could have created such a monster? Someone with a vendetta against Shamans, obviously, since Shamans were the creature's only victims. Another Shaman? He found it illogical. If you were so smart and powerful in the first place, why create something that could just as easily attack you? Certainly Hao wouldn't. Or maybe the creator didn't care about the consequences.
That last was a sobering thought, even for Hao.
Perhaps it was a human. Had someone discovered the existence of Shamans and felt sufficiently threatened to act against them? More likely it was an organization. No single human possessed the resources to find out so much about Shamans, much more actually create a monster built specifically to hunt and kill them.
Then why? After all the energies Shamans invested in keeping out of sight and mind, why attack an inoffensive, if formidable, people?
But humans were seldom creatures of logic despite their innate intelligence. Indeed, it was to Hao's learned experience that the smarter a creature was, the more prone it was to stupidity and the more vulnerable it was to regress back to animal reactions like fear and hate.
So many possibilities…
He smiled. Mari returned it wanly. "What is it?" he asked, inwardly marveling that his stone-cold killer minion had mellowed in much the same way he did in so little time. Little brother, you are strong, indeed.
"I… ah…. I want to thank you. For saving me. And coming back for me."
"Of course. Why would I not do so? But tell me, Marion, did you enjoy your stay here?"
Her face fell. She seemed to be considering a great pain in her heart. But almost immediately the gloom lifted when she realized he watched her. "Yes. I did."
The truth, Hao decided then, wasn't so bad.
"Yoh. I have a favor to ask of you."
Bystanders would have marveled at how easily the "siblings" talked. Considering their histories and conflicts, one might have expected a world war to begin once the two found themselves within weapons reach of each other.
But Hao had changed a lot in the year that passed. And Yoh always stayed the same.
"A date?" Anna looked suspicious. "Did Hao put you up to this?"
"Yes," Yoh sheepishly admitted. A calculated risk: telling her the truth. But Hao himself suggested it. His brother was pretty smart. "It's a double date. I'll be your date while Hao has Mari along as his partner."
"Why should I do what that scumbag wants me to do?"
"Because I really want to go out with you for some time now, but don't have the money to splurge?" he lamely suggested.
"And since Hao was conveniently present and offered his money, you agreed."
"Well, yes." Yoh prepared to get punched or kicked or strangled with prayer beads.
Anna smirked. "Excellent, Yoh. You're learning how to take advantage of other people's generosity." She fondly patted his spiky hair. "Well done, my student. Master is very proud of you."
Hao was as good as his word. (He always was. Just that he was also too condescending for his own good at a lot of times.) The restaurant he picked was a swanky number with a good background. A well-dressed doorman personally guided them to their reserved table. Not less than three waiters attentively hovered over them, waiting for their tiniest whim.
Everyone wore their best clothes. Well, not Mari, since she didn't really any clothes aside from her tattered black sundress. Tamao kindly lent her a dress and advice for the date.
"Are you an expert on dating, Tamao?" the blonde girl had innocently asked in the middle of the lecture, embarrassing her new friend into panicked denials.
She did find her borrowed dress rather big. (Mari also remembered Tamao's reaction. "I'm not fat," the pink-haired girl mumbled to herself repeatedly while huddling in a corner of her room. A suggestion of "that blue-topped Ainu boy probably likes his lovers plump" got her chased out of the room with a pillow.) But who was she to complain?
Anna dressed for the both of them. Yoh wondered what closet she kept that slinky backless gown in because he never remembered ever washing such a dress. It looked great on her. He tried, and failed, to keep his eyes from considering his fiancée's smoothly bare back and thighs, the dress being cut high at its sides to show off Anna's legs.
Hao had no moral dilemmas with voyeurism. He did keep it discreet lest the two girls kill him where he stood, one hating his guts, the other jealous, both dangerous. Ah, but I've forgotten how exciting an event dating is.
They had different styles when it came to ordering. Yoh looked at the price tags on the right side of the menu. His fiancée didn't bother, immediately ordering the house specialty and informing the waiter that she "hoped it was good." (For your sake, she didn't have to add.) Mari turned to Hao for his learned opinion. He did not fail her.
Neither did the cooks. The meal was sumptuously rich. "As befitting this restaurant's pedigree," Hao loftily praised. While she instantly agreed with her master, Mari was of the secret opinion that Tamao's cooking was better. Yoh would have loudly approved had not Anna nudged his foot. (He was expecting a stomp, actually.)
Dessert arrived. The devil's chocolate cakes (and here Anna gave Hao a suspicious look concerning a possible sense of humor) were sinfully sweet. Anna demurely refused on grounds of dieting. On the other hand, Mari happily demolished her slice with gusto, stole Anna's and greedily eyed Yoh's. The itako "victim" glowered while Yoh grimaced. Hao chuckled as he offered his own cake slice to appease the ravenous girl. He'd long known Mari had a sweet tooth for chocolate, but never did he imagine the lengths she would go.
"The last thing we need is a hyperactive sugar junkie," Anna grumbled.
Worse (at least for Anna) was to come. The waiters served scintillating red wine. "Kampai," all four cheered above tinkling glasses. Yoh downed his in one shot to quickly get things over with. Anna lectured him at length on the civilized way of enjoying wine. "What's the use of being the Shaman King if you can't drink like a gentleman?" She forced half a dozen glasses on him until he got it right.
In the process, the Shaman King got drunk and turned weepy.
"Oh, great, my future husband is a crying jug…"
In between bites they chatted with their respective partners. (Whenever Yoh tried striking a conversation with Hao or Mari, Anna would always head him off back to her.) Hao's story proved interesting.
"I traveled around the world. You might be happy to hear that I didn't kill anyone or eat their souls while at it."
Somehow that assurance made the miserable Yoh a bit happier.
"It's interesting how Shamans and humans get along most of the time. That is, no one knows that their next door neighbor can communicate with ghosts. It's just another skeleton in the closet that everyone tacitly understands to exist and politely ignores. I for one am glad that I didn't succeed in exterminating them."
"What a novel and heartrending way to put your feelings into words," Anna acerbically noted.
The waiter bore Hao's credit card with profound reverence. "Has anyone ever thought," Anna posed, "Of wondering why a kid like you is carrying a Platinum Visa?"
"Once or twice? Yes."
"You ate them?" Yoh was properly horrified. "But I thought –"
"Oh, no, not at all. I merely turned them into mindless puppets so that they wouldn't disclose my secret to others. They're still perfectly alive."
Yoh sobbed into his glass. "Oniichan, hidoi…"
"Cold," Anna observed as they exited the restaurant.
Indeed the night air had turned nippy. Anna immediately looked to Yoh.
"Ah, right, yeah…" The Most Powerful Shaman In The World fumbled with his tux.
Mari felt something warm and comfortable rest upon her shoulders. Hao had taken his tux off and put it on her. He smiled at her.
Mari smiled back. "Yes."
And all was right with her world.
Somewhere behind them, it growled.
But… so difficult to write… mou…
Next up: more humor!
Next Chapter: Two women talk about the man they both love. Said blockhead is in hearing range– but does not understand a bit of it. "What an idiot." Chapter Nine: Girl Talk.