Disclaimer: What a sick, masochistic lion.

Touch

Chapter 25

(A.N.) Hey, everybody! Sorry for the enormous dely in getting the chapter to you all. I'm a lazy future college freshman. XD Not to mention writer's block has been my constant companion for quite a few months. Not fun. This chapter has not been beta'd. I wanted to get this to you readers as soon as possible. So, if you find mistakes, be forgiving about them. But enough of my rambling. Please enjoy the story.


How many stairs were there? How long had we been running down, spiraling around and around? There was a faint light emanating from the stone stairs, so there was enough light to see only the steps. Everything else was hidden in velvet shadow. It was like descending into Hell. Yeah. Me and Dante.

I could still see Satoshi ahead of me. He didn't seem disconcerted by the lack of light or evidence of an end to the stairs. I could only feel his determination and his anger. Dark's rage was distant to me. He must have gone very far ahead of us for him to be so hard to pick up.

Another minute passed. My lungs were burning slightly, my legs pumped automatically. I was going to regret running like this when I woke up tomorrow morning. If there was a tomorrow morning for me, of course.

Finally, the stairs ended and I found the feeling of a totally flat surface under my feet awkward. The chamber Satoshi and I sprinted into was large and circular. Glittering, glowing symbols were etched into the stone floor in a similar patter to some of the other sites I'd seen in connection to the Hikari family. This was yet another one of their hidey-holes.

"Which why?" I panted. I didn't see a door. Just smooth walls. Where the hell had Dark gone? And where was Hikari Shoji keeping the girls?

"Just keep following me," Satoshi answered, sounding just as breathless as I was. It was good to know that I wasn't the only one affected by the long run.

He let the way, circling until he ducked under the staircase. I looked up, curious. I couldn't see the top of the stairs, but I did notice that the spiral was unsupported. It was just hanging in midair. My stomach did a flip-flop at the thought. Magic stairs or not, there should be beams holding them up anyway. Just to make people like me feel a bit safer.

With some effort, I pushed those thoughts aside and continued after Satoshi on shaking legs. He'd already vanished into a dark archway. A tunnel. Of course it was a tunnel. A nice dark, foreboding tunnel.

This was starting to get too predictable. Bad guys needed to find better hideouts.

I forged ahead, hoping that there would be some sort of light source further along. I had to moderate my pacing, despite time being of the essence. It wouldn't do the Harada girls any good if I ran into a stone wall and knocked myself unconscious.

I could still sense Satoshi, so I used his emotions as a beacon. As long as I could feel his location, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to run face-first into anything except him. Unless he ran into something first. Then I was shit out of luck.

My psychic radar was starting to pick up Dark more strongly. We were closing in on the Phantom Thief, though the sense of the Harada girls or the Hikari didn't seem much closer. Had Dark not reached them yet? How long was this tunnel, exactly?

Faintly, I could see Satoshi's outline just ahead of me. I hadn't been able to do that seconds before. We must have been nearing a light source. And oh-so-slowly, the passage began to lighten, everything washed in a pale vermillion. Magic made my head ache and I had to pull my senses back into myself a bit to keep from being totally overwhelmed. I would have liked to shield myself completely, but that would leave me totally blind. Which was bad. I needed all the extra senses I could get.

I heard Dark before I saw him. He was switching between obscene curses in Japanese and mutterings in what I still believed to be German. Feet planted firmly on the ground, he was facing off with a giant wall of crimson light that blocked the way forward. Satoshi had halted as soon as he'd spotted the obstruction. Drawing up beside him, I said the only that really came to mind. "Shit."

"You read my mind," Satoshi muttered, clearly frustrated. His forehead wrinkled with what I assumed was critical analysis of what could be done to eliminate the barrier.

Dark was busily chanting another spell, ebony feather held before him like a sword. The winged thief glowed a brilliant purple and, for a moment, the red was drowned out by the violet. But they wall fought back, pushing its blood-colored aura against Dark's.

The wall won.

Spitting with fury, Dark squared his shoulders for, I think, round two. But Satoshi was at his side before he could launch another attack. I felt useless, standing back behind them, but I didn't know what to do. I had a gun, determination, and empathy. What good were those against a mystical barrier? None, that's what.

As I watched, Satoshi pulled a pure white feather, one that was identical to the one I'd seen Krad wield only a couple days ago, from absolutely nowhere. Shoulder to shoulder, he and Dark faced the wall together. Again, Dark was engulfed with indigo light, and Satoshi emitted a blue and gold light of his own. The gold had to have come from Krad. In unison, the two of them began a mantra that was, unsurprisingly, in German. I was so going to ask about that later. Why in the world were all their spells in German?

The wall, like it had before, pushed against their light. But this time, it was no match for Dark and Satoshi's combined powers. The wall buckled, bowing outward like a bubble. For a moment, I fully expected for the barrier to go "pop" and disappear in a rush of wind.

Instead, I was disappointed when it simply dissipated into thin air. How anti-climatic.

Warily, still alert for any surprises, I approached the guys and noted that both of them were sweating with exertion. Dark seemed more exhausted than Satoshi. I chalked that up to his more frenzied descent and longer struggle against the wall. "You two alright?" I asked, my eyes already scanning the shadowy hall before us. It wasn't as lightless as the way we'd just come, but it wasn't a bright and happy place either. Why didn't that surprise me?

"Fine," Dark answered tersely. He was already taking to the air again, preparing to dart off once more. He was intent on getting to the twins. His stubborn determination, his anger, his fear… It all washed over me, even with the slight shields I'd constructed minutes previously. I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that those feelings, while I did share them, were not mine. I could not let them rule me. This was probably the worst situation in which to get emotional.

Some days, on some jobs, being an empath is more a handicap than an asset.

In his own response to my question, Satoshi nodded and turned to face me fully. I had to suppress a gasp. His left eye was shining a deep burnished gold. It was Krad's eye. Jeepers, creepers…how'd you get those eyes… Seems that the psychotic angel wasn't going to let us blunder about on our own after all.

Satoshi opened his mouth. I think he was going to explain why Krad was temporarily borrowing his eye. Well, I thought it was temporary, anyway. However, he didn't get to say whatever he wanted to say. Gunshots tend to have that kind of effect on people.

The loud, sharp sound of a gun firing made me instinctively fling myself at Satoshi. "Down!" We hit the floor hard. My breath was knocked out of my chest mid-shout. I needn't have worried, though. The bullet was meant for Dark. I felt a flash of his pain, heard a string of angry cussing, and knew that the gunner's aim had been true. Dark was hit.

Rolling off of Satoshi, I pulled my Berretta from its holster and pointed the muzzle where I thought the shot had originated from. Next to me, Satoshi had a white feather in his hand. It glowed ominously with that wicked blue and gold light. The gold eye, Krad's eye, glinted with rage. Seems that Krad did not take kindly to any sort of gunfire.

Another shot rang out, but Dark was able to avoid the bullet this time. I could see, in the dim light, a dark liquid dripping down from his right arm. The wound didn't seem to be serious, but I could have been wrong. Adrenaline can mask pain well. Well enough to make you think that the injury isn't as bad as it really is. Hopefully, it was only the Thief's shoulder that had caught the bullet, rather than someplace with more arteries.

Once again, I flung my senses as wide as they would go. I don't know what I'd expected to find. Perhaps the Hikari himself. But instead of the normal feelings of thrill or fear that I usually got from people who pull gun triggers, I felt nothing but cool, pragmatic calm. It certainly wasn't Hikari Shoji, but still vaguely familiar. I cursed under my breath, trying to place the psychic signature. It was all in vain. I couldn't match the aura with a name or a face. Not even a vague silhouette crossed my mind. Whoever it was, I had not seen them more than once. It could have even been a total stranger I'd happen to pass on the street.

Looks like we'd found the anonymous one who'd released the Hikari from his confinement.


Things were going perfectly. He was almost finished with the preparations. The swans lay huddled on the stone floor. Beautiful violet and angry red stood out against their perfect pearl skin. Like a dark sunset already being overwhelmed by luminescent stars.

Hikari Shoji smiled at the image he'd created. Already, his artistic vision was apparent. This was going to be his saving grace. Kouriko would have to forgive him. Would have to. The offering was too wonderful to be ignored.

Sweet whimpers filled his ears. Laden with fear and pain. So, so sweet in their agony. His swans were becoming more and more beautiful with every blow he rained down upon them. One. Two. Three. Four… Not even screams broke his rhythm.

Enough. Enough now. Too much would ruin them. He laid the wooden rod down, admiring his handiwork.

"Onegai…" the long haired swan, his moon, pleaded. "Tomatte…"

Poor little moon. The pain must have muddled her silly head. Did she not see how beautiful she was now? "Kirei…" the Hikari murmured.

Silver flashed. The knife felt good in his hand. So good. So familiar. This was it. The bottom line, the end. He would move carefully now. Slowly. One misstep and everything would collapse.

This was going to be his Pieta. This would surpass all the previous masters.

This was his salvation.


I would have never expected the Hikari's savior to be Chief Hiwatari. But there the man was, standing above and to the left of us on a balcony I had not noticed before. No doorway was visible anywhere near him. I was betting that there was some sort of secret passage that led him there.

"Uragirimono," Satoshi hissed from beside me. His voice mingled with the deeper tone of Krad's voice, and the mix was unsettling. Though the mismatched eyes in Satoshi's face were even stranger. Unsettling was actually a gross understatement, but I didn't have a stronger description for it. Not now. Maybe if I sit down with a thesaurus later, I could find something more apt.

"Don't you think you're being too harsh, Satoshi?" Chief Hiwatari mused, the gun in his hand level with Dark's head. "A son shouldn't speak so to his father."

"You are not my father!" Satoshi and Krad snapped together. They were boiling over with anger. I think it was the first time that I'd ever felt their emotions in sync with each other.

The dialogue was very Star Wars.

The police chief hummed to himself. Whether it was in disapproval or agreement, I couldn't tell. Not even his emotions gave him away. Chief Hiwatari was definitely one fucking cool customer. He was a giant mass of aloof calm, so assured in his position of superiority. The guy was threatening to beat Krad out of the Most Arrogant Man I've Ever Met Award. And that was very, very hard to do.

My gun was leveled at Chief Hiwatari's chest. His gun was pointed at Satoshi. I thought that I could shoot him before he fired Satoshi, but I wasn't sure. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Dark hovered angrily on the sidelines, clearly waiting for the chief to be distracted enough for the thief to pounce.

We were at a stand-off. The whole situation smacked of a stalling tactic. And it was working beautifully. While we wasted our time with Chief Hiwatari, the twins were being tortured. I had no illusions about what was happening to them. I'd seen the other victims' bodies, felt their memories. The Harada girls were experiencing pain beyond pain. The only way out of the situation was for Dark to do something amazingly miraculous.

Shit.

Not that I didn't expect him to come to mine and Satoshi's aid. I just suspected that he was going to do something stupidly heroic. A go-in-with-guns-blazing sort of thing. And I would bet my paycheck that such an action could probably be wholly blamed on Daisuke's heart of gold. Heroics seemed more the redhead's gig, while Dark was mainly one for the theatrics. Separately, those traits were perfectly fine. But together… Well, based on personal experience, bad things happen and plans go awry.

And, damn, if that isn't what happened.

With a loud cry that was clearly meant to draw attention, Dark arrowed through the air, straight at Chief Hiwatari. Unfortunately, the shout, while achieving its purpose, also caused the traitor's finger to tighten instinctively on the trigger. The gun gave yet another explosive crack, and a bullet came flying… Right at Satoshi.


Annoying sounds broke the Hikari's concentration. Right as his blade had pierced the sun's flesh. Anger filled him. Such distractions could have caused irreversible damage. Terrible, unforgivable damage.

The little sun swan glared defiantly at him, eyes glittering wonderfully with tears of pain. The sun was quieter than the moon. Harder to break. She burned with her stubbornness. Just a sun should. Burn, burn, burn. Golds and reds and oranges. Those colors were provided by her blood and hair. The deep purple of the lovely bruises he'd added gave the impression of a sunset. Perfect. Thank the gods that those horrid noises had not caused him to mar his sun.

Shoji stood frozen. One second. Two. Silence.

Satisfied that no other distractions would occur, he brought the blade down once again. The sun screamed. Blood bloomed like delicate rosettes. Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Almost finished with this design. The knife was lifted again, ruby drops trembling delicately on the sharp edge.

Crack!

Another of those damn noises! The Hikari cursed foully. The knife dropped to his side. Searing ire ripped through him. How dare someone continue to interrupt his work? His offering to his love?

He would put an end to such foolishness. For good.

Long knife clasped lovingly in his pliant stone palm, he left the swans on the floor. Bleeding. Beautiful. Weak and immobile, almost unconscious. They were not going anywhere.

Sigil glowing, the secret door opened at a mere wave of his hand.

He would wait for the intruders to come. Then he could finish his most beautiful work to date.


Through no effort of mine, considering that I was completely frozen by what I assume was shock, Satoshi was only grazed by the bullet. He'd dodged to the side almost immediately, clearly not suffering from the paralysis that I had. Lucky him. That bullet could have easily torn a vital organ to shreds. Chief Hiwatari was not using small caliber ammunition.

Though his shoulder sill bled like a stuck pig despite being only grazed.

Dark attempted to seize the chief's firearm, but was forced to twist out of the way as another shot was fired. The thief's wing was clipped and I heard, and felt, a flash of pain from that tiny fuzzball acting as Dark's wings.

"Keep going!" Dark shouted, all command. "I can take care of this!"

I didn't need telling twice. Neither did Satoshi, though I detected some annoyance from Krad. My guess is that the twisted angel didn't like obeying any sort of order given by Dark. Or by anyone else for that matter.

Satoshi and I sprinted through the archway that led into the tunnel. It wasn't pitch black, thank God, but it was still dark enough to challenge my sight. What a surprise. Not. Evil things always prefer the shadows if they can get them. And this underground hellhole was thick with looming darkness.

The sounds of gunshots became increasingly distant, despite the warped acoustics of the tunnel that seemed to propagate loud echoes. Dark's taunts and shouts punctuated the shots, creating a strange staccato of violence. It was pure torture to simply turn my back on him. My instincts told me to stand and fight, to prevent the pain that the thief experienced each time a lucky bullet hit flesh. But my rational mind was still in arguably working order and I was able to override the impulse to go back. I focused on what lay ahead, on those who truly needed saving.

Sooner than I expected, the tunnel gave way to another chamber. Stone turned to hard packed dirt and clay beneath my feet. Soft yellow light assailed my eyes. I halted abruptly, almost tripping in my haste. Satoshi stopped a few paces ahead of me and I could see his left hand clamped on his right shoulder, attempting to slow the bleeding. A twinge of concern, along with his own repressed pain, spread through my heart. I ignored it, instead scanning the fire lit cavern with a wary gaze.

Compared with the rest of this underground hell, it was well lit. And, surprisingly, it was furnished with a bed, some tables, and chairs. There were shelves carved out of the walls. Most of the tables were draped with black cloth, and the metal objects on top of those tables glittered dully in the light. Like some sort of macabre jewelry display.

There was no other path in or out of the chamber other than the way we had come. Was this the end of the line? I could feel the twins' combined pain, but my shields kept me from knowing exactly how close they were. I could drop them and risk the overload, or I could search the room the old-fashioned way. There really wasn't a choice, really. Even a minute wasted would cost the twins more than I could imagine.

Letting Satoshi proceed ahead of me as he searched with his normal senses, I stayed still and closed my eyes. Reluctantly, I dropped my shields, immediately cringing. Agony infused in my very bones. It was excruciating. My skin burned with bruises, abrasions, and incisions. My muscles cramped from being curled in the same position. My throat was raw from my screamed pleas. My heart ached with fear for my sister. And with fear of him.

They were here. Somewhere. This pain was too vivid for them not to be close. "Satoshi," I half-groaned, my eyelids slowly opening. It hurt to talk. "They're in this chamber. I can feel it."

Expression tightening, he nodded in acknowledgement. I sensed his concern, and it was directed at me. I suppose that I wasn't exactly looking my best. I had the suspicion that I was paler than any ghost and that there quite possibly were welts on my flesh. It sure felt like there were, to say the least.

We split up, taking different halves of the cavern without exchanging words. It was one of those natural decisions that sometimes happens when you've worked with or known someone long enough. Satoshi and I may not have known each other for more than two weeks, but what we lacked in length of time, we made up for with amount of horror we'd seen. This sort of shit counts for something. In fact, it counts for a lot.

I stepped cautiously, letting all my senses stay in play. The twins' agony was at a point that it was too great for me to know whether they were closer or farther from me as I searched. But, even through that pain, I was still able to pick up other emotional signatures. If Shoji came into this chamber, I would know.

My eyes strained through the dim light. I stepped around a chair, pausing to examine the tools laid out on one of the ebony covered tables. Knives. Flails. Paintbrushes. Lengths of rope. It was enough to make me feel sick to my stomach. "Twisted bastard," I muttered darkly to myself.

I continued on, gun out and the safety off. I listened intently for the sounds of life. Breathing. Crying. Anything. But all I could hear were the distant sounds of gunshots and shouts and blasts. Dark and Chief Hiwatari were still at it.

It was only after another couple minutes that Satoshi gave a cry of discovery. I was bolting to his side before he could call me over. He was kneeling on the floor, murmuring reassurances in Japanese to the twins and feeling for their pulses.

The Harada girls were on the floor, hidden by a hulking table covered in the same black cloth as the other ones. I didn't look at the instruments on the table. I was thoroughly passed wanting to know. The girls weren't bound by anything, but that didn't matter. They were so battered that I doubted they could move. Even with gloves on, I brought my shields up before I helped Satoshi turn them onto their backs. I wasn't going to take any chances. Though, for all my efforts, I still got flashes in my mind's eye of what had been done to them. A first hand experience.

Gritting my teeth, I pulled Risa, who was closest to me, up into a sitting position and shook her a bit. Her expression remained slack and unresponsive, though the faint rise and fall of her chest confirmed that she was still alive. Riku wasn't in much better shape. She kept having lucid moments, but they were over before they'd begun. She'd no sooner have a spark of recognition in her eyes than she'd already be back to the same blank stare as her sister.

"At least they're alive," I muttered, exchanging a glance with Satoshi. I was surprised to find that I wasn't even the least bit distracted by the gold of his left eye anymore. Go figure.

"True," he responded, working to lift Riku. His shoulder had stopped bleeding and it looked as if it was in the process of healing. Krad's influence, no doubt. However, it still wasn't completely taken care of and it was impeding his attempt to pick Riku up smoothly. Though he did manage it. Barely. "We can rejoice later," he continued once he stood with her in his arms. "Let's get out of here before he comes back."

Not about to even try to emulate Satoshi's method of carrying, I coaxed Risa's slack arms to hang over my shoulders and hooked my arms under her knees. Piggy-back was the way to go. I straightened a bit unsteadily, my balance thrown by the dead weight attached to my back. But, like Satoshi, I eventually made it to my feet. "Right. Lead the way."

And, slowly, we began to head back the way we had come.

Before we reached the tunnel, an echoing bang reached my ears, coming from that small chamber where Dark and Chief Hiwatari were fighting. That single shot was not followed by any other sounds. No shouts, no… nothing. The silence wasn't only deafening. It was terrifying. Was the silence the sort that follows an execution? Or was it the sound of Dark's victory?

Satoshi looked over his shoulder at me, his face readable. He wanted to know the same thing I did. Was Dark dead? I only said, "Give me a minute." Then, I closed my eyes once again and inched my mental barriers down. With Risa draped on my back, it was very hard to concentrate on finding Dark's essence. In fact, it was impossible.

The rod is striking my back. I am screaming, and so is Riku. Her hand is in mine, the only thing that keeps me from giving up and passing out. I will not leave her, not for a second, not in any way. Even if it means that I have to endure this.

Oh, gods and ancestors! A knife. He has a—

I slammed my shields back up. I was breathing hard, sweat pouring from my skin. "That was a bad idea," I groaned. My back was aching more than ever.

"Daijoubu?" Satoshi asked, turning back around. Clearly, his face reflected concern. I even detected a hint of it in Krad's golden eye as I was surveyed.

And here I thought today couldn't get any stranger.

"Hai," I sighed. The wounds were fading. I could feel it. "Let me try again."

Disapprovingly, he frowned. "You just said that was a bad—" He abruptly cut himself off, both eyes fixed on something passed my shoulder. "Get down!" he shouted, already in motion. He dropped to the floor and, when I hesitated in utter confusion, kicked my feet out from under me.

I fell forward, releasing Risa's legs to keep my face from smashing into the dirt. Risa gave a small cry at the sudden movement. Which, considering her former unresponsiveness, was a good thing indeed.

Light, vermillion in color, streaked over our heads, colliding with the arch of stone that was the entrance to the tunnel. Chunks of rock flew at the moment of impact, showering down on us.

Twisting so that I had the injured girl sheltered from the falling stones as best I could, I was already reaching for my gun. I felt like an idiot for putting it away so soon. But, then again, I could have sworn that the damn cavern had been empty.

A sinking feeling in my gut, I turned around, keeping my crouched position. That red light had been sickeningly familiar. Praying that I was wrong, I lifted my eyes to see the threat that had appeared.

God must have had other things to worry about. Hikari Shoji stood but a few yards away, feet braced solidly and hands glowing in that lurid, blood hued light. A hole in the wall that had not been there before was behind him. A secret room. Figures.

Satoshi was on his feet once more, leaving Riku on the floor. The short-haired girl appeared totally uncomprehending of what was going on. The same went for Risa. Probably for the best, really. This was going to be one fight that they weren't going to want to witness.

The light I'd come to identify with Krad, that clear and golden glow, emanated from Satoshi's body. His clothes and hair seemed to sway in a non-existent wind. Whether Krad would make an actual appearance was up for grabs, but he was definitely involved. Is it weird to find that comforting? Probably.

Looks like this whole thing was about to be decided once and for all.

I cocked the hammer of my gun. Unnecessary considering it was a semi-automatic, but it added something to the grave atmosphere.

This was going to be one hell of a finale.


(A.N.) Well, there you are. With a bit of a cliff-hanger to boot. Reviews are much loved so please leave them. And you can find translations of the Japanese used in this chapter below. Ta-ta for now. I'll try to get the next chapter to you as soon as creatively possible.

Onegai—"Please"; used when asking a favor

Tomatte—"Stop"; command

Kirei—"Pretty" or "Beautiful"

Uragirimono—"Traitor"

Daijoubu?—"Are you okay/alright/well?"; plain form

Hai—"Yes"