He wished he could have lived under this illusion for the rest of his life, but as usual, the evil happened to him and that evil's name was…Ichihara Yuuko.
"…I don't want to go in there," he stated flatly.
Watanuki was trying very hard not to burst a blood vessel and his eyebrow twitched spasmodically under the strain as his fury-tinted blue eyes turned to stare hatred and irritation at the boy next to him. "If you could see what I see," he hissed like a cobra, "you wouldn't call me a wimp, you ass!"
"I do see what you see out of this eye and I still say you're a wimp."
Yuuko had sent them quite too cheerfully for his state of mind to a graveyard. At first, he hadn't seen the need of Doumeki to accompany him on this sort of venture since all the graveyards he'd known had been, while not cheery places, at least mostly safe. Then, of course, Yuuko had dropped the bomb: the graveyard was old and forgotten and hadn't been sanctified in at least seventy years.
Looking at it now, it was clear everyone had forgotten about this place. It was overrun with weeds and the grass looked an unhealthy brownish shade of green. The gate had all but fallen off its hinges with decay and the black smoke was so thick inside it was impossible to see anything else. The only reason that it hadn't spilled out into the streets was that one single charm on the stones next to the gate entrance managed to still vaguely work.
"I don't get it," he muttered. "Even if there wasn't a priest or caretaker of this graveyard, why's it still full of spirits and stuff? The ground is supposed to be sanctified, right?"
"I don't know."
"You idiot! You're supposed to be the son of a priest and you don't know?! Ugh, you really are useless!"
Doumeki seemed to be in a bad mood that day, since the look the archer favored him with was lacking just that edge of stoic he was used to. "The only reason you'll be able to enter and not pass out is because of this is useless person."
He was already stalking toward the gate before finishing speaking, leaving a stunned Watanuki still standing there. Doumeki had snapped at him? Man, I knew it. The world is going to end now!
Watanuki hurried to catch up, but the moment he stepped over the threshold into the graveyard, it felt as if any second, his internal organs were going to shut down. Like an evil poison, the black smoke tried to infiltrate into him through his breathing. He almost coughed up a lung until Doumeki reached out to grip his hand tightly.
"I can't see anything through this black stuff…"
"She told me where to go, just don't let go of my hand."
He would have snapped if Doumeki could have gotten it, why was he needed, but he knew why. Doumeki could get him to the spot it was supposed to be, but the item they needed to retrieve was in a strange pocket dimension that only he could reach and grab it.
Sometimes he would catch sight of some spirits lingering in the fog of black that rose from the corrupted ground like steam and the looks that he saw on those faces were not friendly. They resented his very living presence. In short, they had long since passed being ghosts to being poltergeists. The only reason they were still here instead of haunting was because of the wards.
"Somebody should purify this place soon," he muttered against Doumeki's shoulder, trying to breathe around the clean aura that the other boy had just by being there.
"I think it would it would take several priests to purify this place. I'll leave a newer ward at the gate, but that's all I can do."
Doumeki's voice was back to normal, as if he hadn't snapped at Watanuki earlier, but the bespectacled boy still remembered that tone. Since it had never happened before, he couldn't forget it. Despite all the abuse he constantly heaped on the other boy, never once had Doumeki ever gotten irritated and responded in kind until today. Had he really said something that bad? He should apologize when they finished their task. Whether he could actually do it or not remained to be seen. He couldn't even say 'thank you' to the jerk, much less apologize…
The words penetrated into his thoughts and he blinked, waving a hand in front of him, as if trying to clear the smoke for even a few seconds, like one did when someone was smoking. At first he didn't think it was working, but he managed to catch a glimpse of gold. His watery eyes, still stinging from the evil fog of the graveyard, latched onto that only flash and he frantically reached out.
It was much like how one tried to find the chain of a light fixture when the room was pitch black. His arm waved wildly, hoping his hand would come into contact with something that had hard substance.
"Ouch!" he hissed when he found it, knocking whatever it was to the ground and bruising the back of his hand.
"What is it?"
"My hand hit whatever it was. Damn, that thing's really hard."
"Careful, it cut your hand, which means it's also sharp."
He hadn't noticed that before, but the cut was shallow and didn't bleed for more than a few seconds. Clutching Doumeki's hand tighter, he knelt toward the ground, fumbling like a blind man as he searched for what he knocked over. Taking away one of his senses, the most relied on being his sight, all his other senses were so much more attune. His hearing caught every breath Doumeki made; his touch was electrified of the weeds that rubbed against his skin irritatingly.
After a few seconds, he found it and when he tried to pick it up, he found how heavy it was. He could still pick it up with one hand, but it was abnormally heavy and it was an extremely weird shape, almost like a donut…
"I got it, let's get out of here, before those spirits try to test your protection." He coughed behind the fist that clutched the prize. Purifying aura or not, his condition was getting worse. Breathing was getting harder and the coughing fits were starting up with more frequency again.
Getting out took even longer than getting in. It felt like he was trying to run through waist high water, slogging through it at an interminable way. By the time he managed to get literally dragged out the gate by the archer, he was ready to just up and faint.
"Oi, we're out."
For the first time in what felt like years, though it couldn't have been more than twenty minutes, he felt as if he was breathing fresh, clean air. He stood there gasping, not even paying attention to what Doumeki was doing at the gate and just reveled in it. He didn't even look back when his companion joined him at his side.
"So that's what it was."
"Huh?" Watanuki finally looked down at the hand clutching what he'd been sent to get and he gaped. It was a golden, elaborate crown, and it had cut his hand to ribbons with its sharp edges.
"How can you see it?"
"Guess you must have pulled it into the material world." Doumeki shrugged, as if he didn't care, and dragged out a handkerchief from his pocket. "Wrap this around your hand if you're gonna carry that thing."
Shifting the crown delicately to his other hand so it didn't cut him again, he allowed Doumeki to wrap his red, blood-soaked fingers and palm. He didn't dare give the crown to Doumeki just in case it disappeared back into the spirit realm. He didn't know if his mere presence, the fact that he was holding it, was the only reason it was in the material world and he didn't really want to chance it. Yuuko could be really scary…
"Be sure to wash that with antiseptic when you get back to your apartment."
"I know," he snapped as they began walking. Every step he took sent the tiniest of jolts through his hand and it stung something horrible, but at least the handkerchief stopped up the bleeding. "Um…hey…"
"Um…I-I'm sor-sor-sor-sorry," he muttered out, having to shove the word through an obstruction in his throat. It had taken less effort to go through the cursed graveyard than to apologize to the damn archer and damn it, it was going to be the only time, so he'd better appreciate it.
A moment of silence. "For what?"
"Stupid!" he yelled at him. "For earlier! Just before we went into that cursed graveyard, I made you mad and I'm apologizing! The great and merciful king is giving you a once-in-a-lifetime apology, so remember and savor this moment!"
"…Oh. I forgive you."
Watanuki's eyebrow spasmodically twitched again in annoyance, but he could find nothing to yell at him about. "I don't know what got you so upset in the first place," he muttered under his breath.
Doumeki didn't answer and he was about to press the matter when Yuuko's shop came into view. The archer barely paused in his walking when Watanuki began to turn onto the paved stone way that led to the doors of the building and he sent a nonplussed look at that wide, retreating back. That wasn't like Doumeki, not saying what he wanted for lunch the next day.
"Come inside, Watanuki, and we'll take care of your hand," Yuuko's voice filtered outside from somewhere deep in the bowels of the hell that was her shop. He didn't even bother wondering how she knew. He just accepted that she did and left it at that.
"I got your crown, Yuuko-san."
The girls rushed up to him as he took off his shoes and carefully took the golden crown, the edges now stained red from his blood. The way they handled it was a little too cautious for him and he could only watch in perplexity as they walked, each step in time with the other, down the hall.
Yuuko noticed his stare and answered his question before he could ask it. "That crown thirsts for blood. It cut your hand so it could feast on your blood. Every king that has ever worn it has given at least half his blood to it."
"Wh-why?" he stuttered when she led him to the kitchen and began rummaging around for her first aid kit. "Why would people give blood to a crown…which shouldn't even need blood!"
"The crown absorbs blood literally. The metal it was made out of was cursed by a spirit a very long time ago, so when the crown was forged, that metal still held the curse." Almost too expertly, she opened the first aid kit and reached for his hand still tied with Doumeki's handkerchief. "In return for sacrificing their blood to it, any country that the king wished to conquer, it would make sure they succeeded. No matter what the king wanted, it would make sure it would happen, in war or otherwise."
"What happened to the kings?" he muttered through gritted teeth as Yuuko began unwrapping his hand as carefully as she could. The material was sticking to his skin and pulling at all the closed cuts on his hand and it hurt like hell.
"Those that went to war eventually were killed in battle. And if they didn't die in battle, they were assassinated. Let me put it this way, no king who ever owned the crown ever died peacefully after a long life. But considering all that, can you imagine what would happen if that crown got into the hands of someone in power? It would be Adolph Hitler all over again, only three times the cruelty and overwhelming success. Someone could conquer the whole world with this crown, if we didn't kill ourselves by using all the bombs all the countries seem to have."
"Adolph Hitler was that German guy from the 1940's, right?" It took a bit of effort to recall his World History classes and when he did, he shuddered. "Then I'm glad I got it before someone else did. But how come I was the only one that could pick it up?"
"The lover of the last king that wore it placed a spell on it after the king died," Yuuko explained, tossing the ruined cloth in the trash and beginning the painstaking task of cleaning out the cuts of dirt and dried blood. "The castle was about to get under siege by a rebellion after the man died, so the lover cast a spell to make sure the destruction the crown could cause could never happen again. He sealed it in the spiritual world, so that only he himself, who could see such things, could only get it again."
"But if only the lover could get it out, how did I?"
"How do you think?"
Watanuki tried to think around the stinging pain from his hand. "I…don't…know," he muttered through gritted teeth.
"You can be so dense sometimes, Watanuki," Yuuko chastised with a smile. "You're the reincarnation of that lover."
"What?! You mean I was gay in another life?! Damn! I don't believe this! And I was the lover of some damn tyrant!"
"He may have been a bit of a tyrant, but actually, that last king was the only one who actually tried to keep the violence to a minimum and rule as justly as he could. Yes, he was a bit corrupted, the crown does that, but he was as normal as he could be otherwise. He fought the blood instincts of the crown as best he could. He tried to just use to keep wars from breaking out. But the crown can only bring destruction and in the end, he was assassinated. Both the king and his lover knew that he was going to die of an assassination, but despite that, the lover was so distraught over it, he did the spell to seal it."
It was taking all his concentration not to screech out how badly his hand hurt as she finally began to wrap his hand with gauze and bandages. "After hearing all this, I'm glad that I went to get it, despite what happened. I don't want that to be used, if that's what it does. But why was it in that graveyard?"
Yuuko put her chin on her hand as she sat at the table while he nursed his abused hand near his chest. "The crown corrupted the ground. The only way for the graveyard to be used would be to be constantly purified by priests otherwise it'll become like you saw. People eventually said that the graveyard was too much to deal with and forgot about it. It'll take a long while, but it will eventually purify itself if we leave it alone, now that the crown is gone."
The girls came running into the kitchen as lively as ever and suddenly the mostly quiet kitchen was filled with a cacophony of noise from Yuuko, the girls, and Mokona, who naturally appeared out of nowhere. Watanuki glanced toward the hallway toward the treasure room, where the crown was no doubt sitting, and wondered what his old self must have thought about the king he was the lover of.
I wonder what he was like?
Down the street and resting inside the shrine, Doumeki sneezed.