Since I took so long to update the last chapter, here is a new chapter early! I hope you will like it . . . if anyone is actually reading this, that is. ;_; My sincere thanks to yoshikochan, the one lone reviewer of the previous chapter. -gives cookies- :)
With Tezuka in the lead and Tachibana close behind, the Guardians, minus Kaidoh and Eiji, hurried through the subdued city streets and into the heart of Tokyo. Bus and train service was virtually nonexistent at this hour of the night, so they'd had to go on foot. But their tennis training was proving to be useful for more than just tennis, and they were able to keep a fairly fast pace.
But Echizen still showed no signs of waking, and they were very nearly in the general area of the star's center. Just as Tezuka was about to call for them all to slow down, he felt movement in his arms and glanced down to see Echizen stirring.
Gold-brown eyes shot open, and turned fleetingly towards the top of the cityscape. "Tokyo Tower. Orias and Adriel are there."
It was a windy night, and the quietly spoken words undoubtedly went unheard by the others. "Our destination is Tokyo Tower," Tezuka called out louder, looking briefly behind him at the others.
"A bold choice, for its sheer conspicuousness," Inui commented, sounding surprised.
"Nice work, Echizen!" Momoshiro exclaimed.
Echizen just looked annoyed, despite the junior's praise. "Ne, buchou, want to put me down now?" He squirmed a little, and met Tezuka's eyes with an expression that was somewhere between embarrassed and irritated.
"Of course." Tezuka slowed down and carefully lowered Echizen to the ground, also embarrassed that he hadn't thought to do so right away. In girl form or not, it was all too easy to forget that the small twelve-year-old was far stronger than he looked. Echizen hit the ground running, and easily kept pace with him and Tachibana at the front.
They reached the Tower within minutes, and, as it had been at the Gymnasium, found the surrounding area strangely deserted. Fuji and Inui made short work of the locked and barred doors, freezing and shattering them along with the security system. Inside, dim auxiliary lighting filtered through the huge tanks of fish that made up the first floor's aquarium, casting a greenish glow on the floor and walls.
But the security system was not all there was that prevented their full entry into the Tower, as they soon found as they scattered around in search of entrances to go up from the first floor.
"Ow!" Momoshiro, who had been the first to charge up the stairs in the center, stumbled backwards as a translucent wall shimmered in front of him.
"A barrier?" Oishi's eyes widened.
Inui and Tachibana went over to where Momoshiro was and carefully poked at the air in front of the stairs. Sure enough, they both drew back as if burned.
"Definitely a barrier of some sort," Tachibana confirmed.
Inui frowned. "It certainly radiates demonic energy. The demons must have put it up to keep us out."
Tezuka strode over to take a closer look, as Kawamura and Oishi trailed behind him. "Can we get through?"
"Only one way to find out!" Momoshiro exchanged a look with Inui, and the two sent a strong blast of fire and cold at the barrier.
The barrier remained completely intact.
"Let me try." Tachibana focused a high-powered energy pulse at it, but the effect was the same. Nothing.
"What's taking you guys so long down there?" Echizen's voice sounded far away, and Tezuka turned sharply towards it as he realized that he hadn't been paying attention to where their freshman was.
Echizen came down the stairs on the left side of the lobby, and peered around the curved corner to look at them inquisitively.
At that moment Tezuka felt quite, quite ridiculous.
"Ah . . . maybe we should try the other side," Oishi said sheepishly.
Tezuka nodded in agreement, concealing his own embarrassment, and brought up the rear as they all walked over to follow Echizen up the other staircase. But before they even got near him, Tachibana, who was in the front, stopped dead in his tracks, and Tezuka narrowly avoided being a part of the multi-person pile-up in front of him.
"What's the big idea?" Momoshiro demanded.
Tachibana gave them a frustrated look. "There's a barrier here too," he said tightly.
"What barrier?" Echizen looked at them strangely, and stepped easily off of the bottom stair and back onto the first floor. "There's nothing there."
"There is a barrier here, as well as at all of the other ways up into the tower," Tezuka told him. "For whatever reason, it doesn't seem to affect you."
"Oh? I wonder why," Echizen said, tilting his head to the side as if to try and see the barrier in front of him. He reached his hand through it and held it there for a second, and then drew it slowly back. "Hm."
"What?" Momoshiro asked impatiently.
Echizen looked back at him nonchalantly. "There's something there all right. I don't know how to get rid of it though, whatever it is."
"Well you certainly can't go up by yourself," Oishi said firmly. "We've got to find a way to get through!"
Just then, Tezuka picked up the sound of off-key humming coming from somewhere behind them. As it came closer, the clapping of sandals on the hard polished floor could also be heard.
"Looks like my timing is perfect, as usual."
Not three meters away from them stood a man, clad in monks' clothing and with disheveled black hair. He wore a slight grin and had a relaxed demeanor, but Tezuka immediately sensed that this man was more than he seemed.
"Who are you?" He asked levelly, not knowing if this intruder was friend or foe.
But the man didn't pay him any attention, and instead turned his gaze on Echizen. Tachibana and Oishi, who were closest to the freshman, immediately tensed; but Echizen didn't seem worried.
"Oi, shounen! Going to introduce me to your friends? Or maybe that's shoujo, hehe. You're cute as a girl."
Momoshiro gaped, and looked like he was going to say something, but Echizen beat them all to it.
"Baka oyaji. What are you doing here?" Echizen scowled at the man, but seemed quite surprised by his presence.
"That guy is your dad?" Momoshiro exclaimed, eyes wide.
After taking a longer look at the monk, Tezuka did notice the resemblance. He didn't look like much, for a world-class athlete; but then, his son didn't look like much of an athelete either.
"Echizen Nanjiroh, at your service! You kids sure do run fast, it was a pain keeping . . ." the monk trailed off as he noticed the Guardians were all looking at him incredulously. "Ah, right. Well, let's see about this barrier, thing, over there, hmm?"
The senior Echizen walked through them and stopped in front of the barrier, and then pulled an ofuda (1) out of his robes. In a flash, he threw it at the barrier, which sparked as he put his hands together around a strand of amber colored beads.
"What are you kids still standing around for? Go on, its safe now." The monk met his eyes, and at that moment Tezuka saw a fierce intentness in them that compelled him to step forward to meet the barrier.
And the barrier, in that limited area, had opened. Tezuka passed through unharmed, meeting a shocked looking Echizen on the other side.
"Since when can you do things like that?" Echizen demanded, looking down at his father from the stairs as the rest of the Guardians passed through the barrier.
"Heh. You didn't think I really quit tennis just because I was bored, did you?" The monk winked.
Echizen just looked at him disbelievingly, and then replied with a smirk. "And here I thought you were just lazy."
Tachibana, who had been scrutinizing the elder Echizen, suddenly seemed to realize who he was other than their freshman's father. "You're . . . Samurai!"
The monk raised an eyebrow. "Sheesh, don't you kids ever stop thinking about tennis? Get up there and kill some demons already!"
Tezuka inclined his head towards the man. "We intend to. Two of us haven't arrived yet; can you wait here and open the barrier for them when they do?"
"Sure, whatever," the monk answered offhandedly, and then made shooing motions with his hands. "Go on, go on."
"Thanks, oyaji," Echizen threw over his shoulder, and Tezuka almost missed the look that passed between them before a grin spread across the monk's face.
"And look after my little girl now, you hear?"
Ryoma scowled and felt his face flush as his father called after the others. Couldn't the old man meet anyone he knew without embarrassing him? Though Ryoma had been shocked to see him here, and even more surprised by his spiritual powers, his father was obviously the same annoying guy he'd always been. Which was somewhat of a relief, in a strange sort of way. Ignoring the quiet snickers from somewhere behind him, Ryoma followed behind Tezuka, Oishi, and Tachibana as they climbed the stairs.
"Um, senpai? Does anyone know where we're going?" Momo asked tentatively.
Oishi opened his mouth as if to reply, but then closed it and frowned. "Well, we know they're somewhere in Tokyo Tower, so we just have to look for them, I guess."
"Ah, that'll take a long time!"
Ryoma rolled his eyes. "They're not on this floor. They're somewhere above us. Can't you tell?"
"Saa, I guess you're more perceptive about these things, Ryo-chan," Fuji said easily.
"Let us know as soon as you sense them," Tezuka said, and Ryoma nodded.
They passed the second floor easily, but the relative peace did not last as they reached the third floor.
"Anything?" Tachibana asked as they paused, and Ryoma shook his head uncertainly.
"They're not here." But something still didn't feel quite right.
Just as they were rounding the stairs to go up to the fourth floor, Ryoma heard an alarmed cry and a thud from behind. Kawamura, who had been bringing up the rear, was being pulled away by a long, thin tendril of darkness. Even as his timid self, Kawamura wasted no time in blasting it with fire, and Momo, who had been in front of him, immediately joined in. The flare of fire briefly lit up the dark hall of the fourth floor's wax museum, and Ryoma's eyes narrowed as they followed the shadowy tendril to its source.
And it was a shadow, coming from one of the many wax figures on display. Struck with a terrible thought, Ryoma quickly looked around at the other wax figures, only to see that their shadows seemed somehow more . . . solid, even in this dim light.
"Buchou . . ."
It had taken both Momo and Fuji's help, but Kawamura was just about free. Tezuka looked sharply over at Ryoma, and then to the other wax figures that Ryoma was watching.
Tezuka tensed, apparently having noticed it as well. "Everyone up the stairs. Now."
Out of the darkness, another one of the shadowy strands darted towards them at lightening speed, knocking Momo off his feet just as Kawamura was freed.
"Momo!" Kawamura exclaimed, but as he put out his hand to blast at the thing, another one sped towards him and wrapped around his torso, and then wound itself around Fuji.
Fuji did not look happy. His eyes were nearly as icy as the blasts he sent at the shadows, but Ryoma never got to see if any of them hit. Before he had a chance to do anything at all, he found himself being pushed into Tachibana by Tezuka.
"Go." Tezuka said tersely.
Tachibana just nodded, and hauled Ryoma up the stairs and onto the fourth floor in a near run.
"Hey!" Ryoma protested. "We should stay down there with them."
"Don't be stubborn. Your teammates will do better if they aren't worrying about you."
Ryoma didn't believe that for an instant, but decided not to waste his time arguing with the strong-willed Fudomine buchou.
The fourth floor was quiet. So quiet, in fact, that it made the thumps, cries, and crashes from the floor below seem all the louder. It was also much darker than the other floors had been - but it was not nearly as dark as it should have been, with all the lights off as they were.
"I wonder where the light is coming from," he muttered absently.
Tachibana looked at him curiously, but understanding soon dawned on his face. "Good question. But do we really want to find out now?" he asked wryly.
"Why don't you go back and help the others. I'm going to look around.," Ryoma said off-handedly. But the noise from below was dying down, and he could hear muffled exclamations as feet pounded up the stairs. Confident that his teammates had escaped, Ryoma started out to look for the source of the light.
"Have you no self preservation instincts?" Tachibana said exasperatedly as he followed, but Ryoma just ignored him as he walked over to the fourth floor's art gallery. It wasn't the demons, but there was definitely something here; something like they'd encountered before that first time at Sensoji Temple.
And it was coming from the elevator.
"Hey, where'd they go?" Momoshiro looked around bewilderedly as they stepped out of the stairwell and onto the fourth floor, only to find that Echizen and Tachibana weren't anywhere in sight.
Oishi looked worried. "I hope nothing happened to them."
That was a possibility, but Tezuka figured it was equally likely that Echizen had gone wandering off again. And Tachibana, of course, wouldn't have let him go off by himself.
"Spread out and see if you can find them, and the elevator as well. We have no time for stairs." Tezuka was a little uneasy about riding an elevator up to the observatories, which is what they would be doing if they didn't find the demons here on the fourth floor. But they hardly had a choice in the matter, as they couldn't waste time climbing such a huge number of stairs that were probably closed off anyway. And it wasn't as though they could fly up the Tower.
It wasn't long before they found both of the things that they were looking for. Tezuka stopped where he stood, to better access the situation, and the others halted as well when they saw it.
On the back wall of the art gallery was the elevator, which was putting out more than just an unnatural green glow. Its door was wide open, and from it came a tangle of green, plant-like vines as big around as his forearm. Like snakes, they twisted around in the air as they hovered just outside of the elevator, as if waiting for something to strike at.
"Interesting," Inui commented. "Though I would estimate a greater than ninety percent probability that it will attack us should be attempt to approach the elevator."
"Make that a hundred." Tachibana, who was standing behind one of the support pillars to their left, replied grimly. "It won't let us anywhere near the elevator." Looking closer, Tezuka could see Echizen peering out from behind Tachibana, who had him pinned to the pillar.
"We'll just have to defeat it then, ne?" Fuji said, smiling that smile of his that tended to precede Bad Things. But for once, Tezuka was glad to see it.
"This one's a shikigami," Echizen spoke up. "But its center is somewhere in the elevator. The tentacles are in the way."
"Then they'll have to go." With a nod from Tezuka, the Guardians closed in on the elevator, and a stern glance was enough to get Echizen to stay put.
Fuji and Tachibana hit it first, and the pulse of unseen energy combined with the cold fire to form a wave that immediately shattered nearly half of the green stalks. Inui and Oishi, following their example, paired up to do the same, while Tezuka simply sent his blasts at it alongside Kawamura and Momoshiro.
But just when only a few small tentacles remained at the base of the elevator door, more began shoot off from them.
Again, the Guardians destroyed them, but more kept coming.
"We need to get them all at once," Tachibana called. "So they can't keep multiplying!"
"Mmm." Tezuka agreed, and at a three count they all tried hurling their powers at it at once. Despite their best efforts, a few remained, and quickly grew in number before they could even get a glimpse at the shikigami's main body.
"This isn't working!" Momoshiro gritted out as he threw another fireball. "We need to hit it from more angles at once, we keep missing spots!"
"Tezuka, Oishi, Tachibana; I would suggest that you all combine your powers with the others, so as to better diffuse them so that they hit more evenly," Inui said urgently.
It was a solid idea, and the writhing green stalks were soon destroyed by their combined assaults as they did as Inui had suggested. And this time, not one remained, leaving the main body of the shikigami exposed. It was a pale, nearly translucent green blob, with a mouth that took up almost its whole body. But no more stalks came from it, and it seemed relatively nonthreatening without them.
"Whew, look at those teeth," Momoshiro said in amazement. "And its so big!"
"Not for long." Though Tezuka had long since known that Fuji was not nearly as gentle as he often seemed, he was still somewhat taken aback by his fierce, almost ruthless fighting style and couldn't help but wonder what had brought it on. Without even pausing, the tensai sent a strong blast at the shikigami's main body, engulfing the entire thing in cold fire. It froze, and after a tense moment it finally shattered into many cold, sticky pieces.
"Nice job, senpai." Echizen had come out from behind the pillar, and walked over to the elevator. "What a mess."
Tezuka led the others into the elevator as well, and they just managed to all fit in. The gelatinous green blobs everywhere made it an even tighter squeeze, but before Tezuka had even pressed the button they had vanished as Echizen found the original piece of paper from the shikigami.
"That's much better." Fuji directed a smile at their freshman.
They didn't even get off at the main observatory, since as soon as the elevator doors opened Echizen declared that there was nothing there.
And that left the special observatory, two hundred and fifty meters up and near the top of Tokyo Tower.
oyaji – old man [used here to refer to one's father]
shounen – boy
shoujo – girl
1. Ofuda: a small piece of paper with holy or magical spells written on it, used as a talisman or a weapon against evil/demons.
Chapter 17 Notes:
Yes, Tokyo Tower does have an aquarium, a wax museum, and a "Trick Art Gallery". I have no idea about its stairs/elevator, though I'd imagine that visitors would only take an elevator to the observatories up top. They sure as heck don't let you take the stairs to the top of the Empire State Building, anyway!
"Samurai" is what Echizen Nanjiroh was called when he was a pro tennis player. Nanjiroh is a rather quirky character, so I did have some trouble figuring out how to write him. Hopefully, my portrayal isn't too off!
Regarding the use of Japanese words - I know that "fangirl Japanese" drives some people up the wall (and I understand why!), but if you don't like what very little I have used, well, I'm sorry but I'm not changing it. I only watch the subbed version, so when I "hear" the characters in my head as I write the story, some bits of Japanese leak through, which is fitting as the characters are all Japanese (this is not, say, Fullmetal Alchemist). I try to only use the more distinctive words that are easily recognized (such as titles or what characters call each other), and included a glossary in case you watch the show in English or only read the manga.
I hope I entertained you! And remember: every review is like a poke that says, 'hey, someone is actually reading this and wants you to update'! ;)