AUTHOR'S NOTE: "Beauty" follows "Innocence" as my second Tokyo Babylon fic originally written nine years ago, and takes place around the time of Volume 4 of the manga. As in "Innocence," I've used honorifics throughout because they are so much a part of the way the Tokyo Babylon characters interact and express their feelings towards each other and towards third parties. "Beauty" is also notable in my own mind, at least, for my horrible misuse of the word "ikiryo," which I used out of sheer ignorance in the way it's presented in the original AD&D Oriental Adventures rulebook. I haven't corrected it herein, because I don't know what the accurate creature would be! This "coat" incident referenced near the end of this chapter is taken from Volume 1 of the manga (the story "T.Y.O.").
Subaru Sumeragi smiled happily as he walked out of school at the end of the day, bookbag in his hand and sketch pad tucked under his other arm. All around him, other students flowed out of the building, laughing and talking happily about teachers, schoolwork, club activities, the latest TV and film stars, and their current romantic interests. It made him feel good to be a part of it, to be in the middle of such a normal teenage scene.
Moments like this could be rare for Subaru. Only sixteen years old, Subaru nevertheless was the head of Japan's most noted family of onmyouji. Very often, he would be called away by government ministers, powerful corporations, or just ordinary people to perform magical work on their behalf. His school understood this and allowed him to miss time so long as he kept up with the assignments, but it meant that Subaru never really got any more chance to settle into a normal routine here in Tokyo than he had when he had been growing up under his grandmother's tutelage in Kyoto.
For a week, though, Subaru hadn't had any work, and he had begun to feel more at ease with school. It was fun for him to have no greater concerns than his shaky English grades or getting to the lunch counter before all the good sandwiches had been taken by other students. His twin sister, Hokuto, would probably laugh if she heard him say that; she was forever telling him that he should be more conscious of his important position as head of the Sumeragi family.
Then again, maybe she would understand. Hokuto had a much sounder grasp of reality than Subaru did; she would know the difference between wishing to be ordinary and realizing that one had to react to the world as it really was. Subaru's ideals were his problem; they made him act, sometimes, as if the world was the way he wanted it to be.
He couldn't stop himself, though, from looking for the good in people.
Or from feeling sad when he didn't find it.
A couple of students bumped against Subaru's right side in passing; he turned his head and saw that the crowd was parting, pressing to both sides to give one person room to pass. She swept through the crowd like a queen, the others stepping out of her way almost unconsciously, just because it was the natural thing to do.
Subaru could hear the whispered comments the students made as they watched her pass by:
"...in our third-period history class, she told the teacher that..."
"...heard that she's rich..."
"...wonder why she doesn't..."
"...ice queen; she never smiles..."
He remembered her name; she was Tamiko Hironagi. Tamiko wasn't in Subaru's class, but was the same age and at the same grade level. She was also the most beautiful girl the young onmyouji had ever seen. Her complexion was very pale, almost white, which set up an exquisite contrast with her long, silky ribbon of glossy black hair. The bone structure of her face was delicate and feminine. Her eyes were so dark that they almost matched her hair, and were framed by long lashes. Her lips were red -- blood on the snow, Subaru thought -- but were set in a tight, thin line.
She walked stiffly, Subaru saw, as if she was keeping something bottled up inside herself, not revealing any of her emotions.
Subaru turned his head to see who had approached him. It was a classmate of his, Yuri Takahashi.
"Good afternoon, Yuri-san."
"I see that our school's Miss Gorgeous has caught your eye."
There was bitterness in the girl's voice. Perhaps it was not all that surprising; Tamiko and Yuri were like the sun and the moon. Yuri was short and overweight, but more than that her face was simply unattractive. Her hair was short and dull, her eyes small.
Hokuto could do something with her, Subaru thought; despite her outrageous tastes, Subaru's sister had a good sense of what colors, hairstyles, fashions, and cosmetics suited a person. Yuri definitely lacked that instinct.
"Well," she continued gamely, "you'd make a cute couple. After all, you're almost as beautiful as she is!"
Subaru blushed, making Yuri giggle. Then, she suddenly grew serious, stopping in her tracks, eyes downcast. Subaru stopped too, wondering what had provoked the change.
Yuri took a deep breath.
"Subaru-kun...would you help me with our sketching project?"
"Of course I will. I'm not very good," he added modestly, "but I'll try."
Yuri looked up, her eyes widening.
"Yes," Subaru said simply, not understanding why the girl was getting so emotional over the point. He would have been happy to help anyone who needed him to the best of his ability, after all, and Yuri was doing fairly well in art class, so the assignment couldn't have been that important to her, could it?
"That's wonderful!" she exclaimed happily.
Subaru smiled. It was nice to see Yuri in such good spirits.
"Was there anything special that you wanted to sketch?"
"Yes; I was thinking of drawing the Tokyo Government Building. I want to show it towering over the city, like...like a king towering above his subjects that kneel at his feet."
It was a powerful image she called forth, or perhaps it was just the intensity in her voice that made Subaru picture the building in his mind, its twin towers making its face resemble that of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, a building that had once reigned over its city the way the Government Building did over Tokyo.
"Let me call my sister, then," Subaru said. "She'll worry if I don't come home for dinner like we planned. Then we can go."
"Oh, that will be fine!" Yuri agreed happily. They started walking, but got no further than the gates of the school grounds.
That was when the surge of feeling shot through Subaru. It was nothing tangible, but Subaru was such a powerful onmyouji that he could feel the presence of most supernatural manifestations if they were close enough, even if he was not actively searching. He felt such a manifestation now, harsh and sharp-edged and out of place, and quickly opened his awareness to seek it.
He wouldn't have needed his magical senses on this occasion, though; he could have located the trouble by the piercing scream that rang out. Subaru dropped his books and sketch pad and sprinted across the yard towards the danger he felt.
The victim was obvious; she had fallen to her knees, her back arched unnaturally, all the muscles in her torso tensed, head thrown back and mouth wide open. All around her was a ring of students, staring in shock and horror.
The girl was Tamiko Hironagi.
Subaru could sense the emotions in the air; hatred, rage, and envy sizzling with a life of their own. This was the force attacking the girl; he had to disrupt it quickly before it could do her serious harm. There was no time for a complex spell; Subaru took three cabalistic slips of parchment from his inside jacket pocket and hurled them towards Tamiko while speaking a word of command. The charms transformed into birds made of glowing white light; they swirled around Tamiko in a circular pattern, starting low and rising with each spiral to form a cylindrical barrier. The cloud of hostile influence was disrupted almost at once; Tamiko sagged to her hands and knees, then collapsed, unconcious. Subaru rushed at once to her side.
The three slips of paper fluttered to the ground around them.
"Tamiko-san, are you all right?" he asked rhetorically, cradling her in his arms. Even nconcious, she was trembling, her body still feeling the effects of the attack.
"Someone call an ambulance!" Subaru cried out.
The students that had been standing around gaping seemed to shake off their paralysis. Some dashed off to summon help, others merely went on about their business now that the "show" was over.
Concerned, Subaru went to the hospital with Tamiko, who seemed to be suffering badly from the shock.
Yuri spent a long time staring after them.
-X X X-
Subaru was sitting in the waiting room in the hospital two hours later, elbows resting on his knees, chin balanced on the heels of his gloved hands. He was deep in thought, and didn't hear anyone approach until a smooth, masculine voice cut through his awareness.
"Is the girl all right, Subaru-kun?"
Subaru looked up to see a tall, handsome man with light brown eyes hidden behind glasses looking down at him.
"Seishiro-san! What are you doing here?" he said, surprised. Seishiro Sakurazuka was a veterinarian, although Subaru knew that he was also familiar with some of the same occult areas that he was. Seishiro was a friend that the Sumeragi twins had met when they came to Tokyo.
Maybe more than a friend.
"That was my doing!" Hokuto said, leaning out from behind Seishiro.
"Hokuto-chan! You too?"
Hokuto smiled. Male-female twins couldn't be identical, genetically, but Subaru and Hokuto might as well have been; they had the same pixie face, the same short haircut, the same bright green eyes. The difference in their personalities was shoen by Hokuto's clothes: she had on one of her handmade fancy-dress outfits, this one a black catsuit, complete with fuzzy ears and tail, with a ruffled pink skirt. Hokuto was like that, enthusiastic and outgoing while Subaru was shy, more gentle and sensitive.
"That's right, she said happily. "When you called to say you were here at the hospital and would be home late, I decided that we should come out and keep you compant. So, I called Sei-chan!"
"You didn't have to come all the way out here just for me," Subaru protested. "I could have taken the subway home."
"Ah!" Hokuto said, "but Sei-chan was more than happy to put himself out on your behalf. No sacrifice is too great for true love!"
"Hokuto-chan!" Subaru exclaimed, blushing. She was always teasing him like that, and he was never sure how much she meant it.
"Hokuto-chan," Seishiro said with a tone of mild reproof, "Subaru-kun must be very worried about his friend."
"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't think..."
"It's all right," Subaru quickly reassured her. "I am very glad that you've come."
Hokuto hopped into the seat across from her brother.
"So how is the girl?" she asked, returning to Seishiro's original question.
"They're not done with their tests yet, but so far the doctors think that she'll be all right. Tamiko-san's muscles were hurt by suddenly contracting all of them as hard as she could, but they say that there was no damage to ligaments or bones."
"Yes, she was very lucky that you were there, Subaru-kun. Those sorts of sudden, involuntary contractions can inflict serious injury, such as in a severe case of tetanus where a sick person can break their own jaw. The maximal effort a human body can produce is much more powerful than most people realize."
"Wow, Sei-chan, you know so much!"
"I'm not sure that I understand what caused it in the first place, though."
Hokuto nodded agreement, turning to her brother.
"You weren't very clear on the phone, Subaru."
Subaru tapped his fingers together.
"It's kind of hard to explain...It wasn't any kind of spirit, or a hostile spell; it was just...energy. That's why it was easy for me to disrupt, because there was no cohesive force behind it."
Hokuto snapped her fingers.
"Like the coat?" she asked, referring to an earlier case of Subaru's, where a fashionable coat bought on sale had become the focus of all of the greed and envy of those who had failed to buy it.
"Yes, that's right," her brother decided after a few moments' thought. "It was as if all of the negative emotions people felt towards Tamiko-san suddenly had manifested and attacked her physically."
"Human emotions are a very powerful force," Seishiro commented. "Almost everything important that people do, either for 'good' or 'evil,' rises from an emotional response. Wars start out of hatred or greed, mobs rise against their neighbors from fear and desperation, lust and passion drive men and women to crimes in their personal lives...it isn't surprising that an emotional force could manifest by itself."
The door clicked open. Tamiko stood there, looking tired and worn, hands clutched meekly in front of her. Even exhausted as she was, her beauty was obvious; she looked like some sort of tragic figure on the stage.
"Subaru-kun, I..." she began, then shook her head slightly and started over. "The doctor said that it was you who brought me here. Thank you." She bowed slightly.
"Are you feeling better, Tamiko-san?"
"The doctor says that I'll be a bit stiff for a day or so, but that there aren't any further complications."
"That's great!" Subaru said, beaming happily. "I'm so glad!"
"Are your parents coming to pick you up, Miss Hironagi?" Seishiro asked politely.
Tamiko shook her head.
"Why should they? I'm fine," she answered a bit too quickly. "I can take the train home."
"Would you like me to come with you?" Subaru asked solicitously. There was an even easier solution than that, but Subaru would never have thought of volunteering Seishiro as a driver; it simply never crossed his mind.
It was probably better that he hadn't; Tamiko froze up completely.
"That is hardly necessary," she snapped, the frost in her voice unmistakable. "I am grateful for your help, but really, that was quite enough." Without stopping even to hear Subaru's stammered apology, she spun on her heel and stalked off towards the elevators.
"That was a heartless way to treat Subaru!" Hokuto protested angrily.
Seishiro said nothing at all.