AN: Thanks for all the reviews. They keep me writing. ^_^
One, Two, Three
Atobe Keigo was many things—intelligent, handsome, a skilled swordsman, a charismatic captain, and the center of the universe—at least according to Atobe Keigo himself. Not everyone agreed with all these qualities of course, but there was one thing people overlooked at their peril. And that was that whatever else they thought him to be, Atobe Keigo was no fool.
Moments after he'd called out, the man in question appeared in the cabin doorway. His dark, longish hair forming a somewhat haphazard frame about his pale face, the magician glanced around the lavish room before focusing on his captain. "You wanted something?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact." Gesturing for the mage to join him at his table, Atobe pointed at the mirror set on its stand before him. "Ore-sama has important business to discuss with Kunimitsu."
Oshitari raised his eyebrows, frowning. "You want me to contact Captain Tezuka?"
"Ore-sama believes that is what he said, yes."
Nodding slowly, Oshitari moved to stand beside the table and held his right hand out over the mirror. It was best not to question his captain too much, not if you wanted to get anywhere. So, shuffling his curiosity to the back of his mind, he concentrated, muttering under his breath and ending with a light tap upon the silvered glass. The mirror clouded momentarily then cleared, only now the image reflected within it no longer bore any resemblance to the cabin around them.
The face that looked back out at them wore a stern expression that made the young man to whom it belonged appear older than he really was—some twenty odd years. Narrow spectacles glinted from beneath somewhat tousled brown hair. "Keigo? That is you, isn't it? What are you doing calling me up at this hour?"
"Ah, Mitsu, good to see you too. It's not that late."
"…It's half past one after midnight."
"Right, well, you know we don't keep such strict hours at sea."
Tezuka sighed, shifting his glasses on his nose with two fingers. He could feel a headache coming on. "You didn't drag me out of bed to tell me this. At least, I hope that even you would have more sense."
Laughing, Atobe sat back in his chair. "It's been far too long since we've spoken, Mitsu. You should really try harder to stay in contact with old friends, even if you are recuperating. Anyhow, I ran into Momoshiro earlier today, and I thought you might want to know that your crewmates have joined the fever for this Heart of the Sea we've all heard so much about."
Silence. Then, "What?"
Atobe's expression sobered. "They and a scattering of other people—from crews that have been split up by the navy's recent burst of activity. They seem to have picked up a new member too, though I haven't met the brat myself."
Tezuka's expression in the water had become extremely grim. He may not have been actively out at sea at the moment, but that didn't mean he didn't stay on top of the news. He made it a point to be aware of all major current events. It was a survival instinct more than anything else really. So naturally, he was aware of all the crews that had gone missing or become incapacitated from rather unlikely disasters over the past month. And all of it had had something to do with this crystal that supposedly had the power to control the seas…
"Keigo, you are giving me a headache. Where are you?"
Finding the beach turned out much more difficult than they had expected. The map was old and even geography changed at least a little in the span of centuries. In the end, the crew split up into three teams, one group standing guard while the other two teams picked their way along the coastline. It was slow and tedious going.
Standing up in the shallow waters, Ryoma wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand and cast a longing glance out towards the open ocean. The feel of cool water rushing about his feet flooded him with energy even as the sun's rays sapped it away and he had to struggle not to go running into the waves. He wouldn't even have bothered resisting if he'd been alone or just with Fuji, but the rest of the crew would probably be worried if he were to suddenly go haring off into the ocean. A smirk tugged at his lips and Ryoma started once again to slog through the water, prodding at the sand. They'd probably assume he'd gone insane and hurry to fish him out.
"Oi, I think I found something!"
Momo's shout rang out across the beach before Kaidoh shushed him with a hiss and waved for them to go over. Ryoma threw the sea one last, wistful look before splashing over to join them. He could think of many places he would rather have been at that moment, but for some reason he was feeling oddly…cheerful.
It had been such a long time since he'd felt honestly cheerful about anything that the feeling made him a little lightheaded—especially when his mind couldn't come up with any reasons for this good humor. He'd woken up in a world where everything and everyone he'd known was suddenly gone, been chased across the seas, and hunted by demons. No, he certainly couldn't imagine why he felt like things were starting to settle down, that his feet were finally starting to find the ground that had been so abruptly torn out from under him.
Breakfast had been a hasty and quiet affair. They had risen at dawn and Oishi had taken a group to market to help him buy fresh supplies and other tools he thought they might require. Inui had wandered about the ship muttering under his breath as he cast numerous enchantments to keep the vessel safe until their return, a grumbling Shinji following in his wake with spells of his own and occasional complaints about having other magicians messing around with "his" ship. That'd left Kamio, Sanada, and Fuji to pour over several maps and diagrams while Ryoma napped near the mast with a cap he'd found pulled low over his face. He'd never been a fan of rising early and the warm morning always made him drowsy.
"So what do you have?"
Momo indicated the massive slab of rock before him as Kamio dropped down beside him. " Looks like runes to me. I'm thinking there might be—or have been anyway—a door here."
At the mention of runes, Inui all but materialized beside them. "I do believe you're right, Momoshiro."
"Gah!" Momo fell backward into the shallows, spluttering. "Don't do that! Do you know how creepy it is when you sneak up on people like that?"
The taller man's rectangular glasses gleamed and he grinned. "No, I don't."
"So it's a door?" Kamio interrupted before an argument could start, running his hands along the rock. "But there don't seem to be any cracks."
"Allow me." Inui stepped forward, tapping at various points on the rough stone with his pen. Murmuring under his breath, he examined the runes once more then sketched out a few symbols of his own upon the rock. For a moment the symbols lingered in streaks of brilliant light then they faded along with a good portion of the rock to lave the gaping entrance of a cave. Submerged steps led from his feet down into murky depths.
"A sort of combination illusion and transformation—solid to the touch but not actually real," Inui explained as the rest of them gathered around him.
"This could present a problem," Kamio observed, staring uneasily into the dark water. "I don't suppose any of you mages have a spell that'll let us all breathe underwater?"
Then finally, Fuji spoke up. "Saa…it will take some time to prepare?"
"There's a chill upon the wind, sir."
Mizuki turned from the railing where he had been gazing at the town to frown at his companion. "What do you mean, Kawamura? It's been sweltering hot all morning."
The sailor shifted uneasily, tugging at his cap. The tall, brown-haired man had never been one of the brave ones in his team, but he had a sensible head on his shoulders and Mizuki couldn't ask for a better chef. Rumor had it that he'd been a pirate a long time ago but had quit to join the navy; perhaps it was because of this that he had such a good sense for danger. "It's not that kind of cold, sir."
Mizuki scowled, drumming his fingers upon the smooth wood. "Where is that damned magician?"
"He said he was going to visit the museum, sir."
"I know that," he snapped, more irritated with the missing mage than with the sailor. Kawamura had always been the kind of person it was hard to be mad at for long, and Mizuki rather suspected this was one reason he'd been assigned to his crew to begin with. "What I want to know is why. We don't have time for tourism."
Even as the words left him, Mizuki felt an awkward pang of…guilt? He wasn't sure. Somewhere deep down, he was relieved to be out of the strange magician's presence. But he was a navy captain for heaven's sake! He wasn't supposed to fear anyone, magician or not. Still, something about the red-eyed man filled his heart with misgiving and made him dread this journey—made him want to turn around and head straight back home. Forget Fuji and his mockery. Forget the dragon and the Heart of the Sea. Anything was better than spending time on the same boat as Kirihara.
"I…don't like that man," Kawamura muttered, echoing his thoughts. "There…doesn't seem to be any warmth in him at all."
Mizuki made a sound of agreement in his throat. But this was his ship, his crew, and his mission. He would be damned if he let some wandering magician get the better of him. His fingers curling into fists, Mizuki turned back towards the port. He would have to talk to the man when he returned.
He didn't have to wait long.
There was a stormy cast to Kirihara's face as he stepped aboard ship, his face pale and drawn with what might have been anger. In any case, Mizuki refused to be intimidated. Stalking up to the magician, he cleared his throat and glared. "And where have you been?"
Crimson eyes focused on him and he had to force himself not to step back. "Just taking a look around the city. I had plans to acquire some…equipment, but it seems our enemies have taken precautions."
"What equipment?" Mizuki demanded. "I am the captain here you know. You can't just go wandering off without telling me why. We had a deal."
"I told you. I will get you your dragon."
But there was something about the way he said those words that set Mizuki's nerves on edge. Quite suddenly, the captain was quite sure that he didn't want to spend any more time with this man. There was something wrong about him, and the more time they spent on the trail of their quarry, the more wrong he felt. And whatever else he might have been, Mizuki was not an idiot—at least not in theory.
"That's it," he snapped, wondering why there was cold sweat trickling down his back. "I think we can continue this on our own. Thank you for everything you've done so far, but we can take things from here. I shall contact headquarters. For all we know, we don't need the dragon anymore."
For a long moment, Kirihara said nothing. His face was turned slightly towards the sea so that Mizuki couldn't read his expression, obscured by light and wind and shadows.
"I'm sorry, but I can't let you do that."
Then the crimson eyes were staring into his again and everything—the light and sound and smells—was fading away. And somewhere, people were screaming.
"So, how long does this last?" Momo asked, crouching so that he could study the marks Fuji had pained on his forehead in his reflection in a shallow pool. "It won't wash off or anything? What did you put in this stuff anyway?"
Fuji didn't pause in his work, dabbing the bright blue paint onto Shinji's face. "It'll last for a good two hours, but I can't guarantee more than that. It'll start washing off as the spell wears off."
"Right," Inui muttered, fiddling with his pocket watch. "Two hours… If we don't find anything in an hour, I'll signal so we can head back here."
Ryoma cocked his head slightly and glanced sidelong at Fuji as cool paint was dabbed across his forehead. The stuff smelled awful and he wrinkled his nose in distaste. "You know I don't need a spell to breathe underwater right?"
"I guessed as much," the magician murmured back, "but it's for the appearances of the thing."
"Couldn't you make it smell a little less at least? I mean, it doesn't have to work."
Fuji chuckled. "Sorry, but we are in a bit of a hurry right? And anyways, I prefer to be thorough."
When the last rune had been drawn, they gathered in the shallows with the water rushing about their knees, staring down into the murky tunnel.
"I've got the map," Sanada muttered, checking his coat. "Made sure my pockets were waterproof a long time ago so it should be fine."
Kamio drew in a deep, slightly nervous breath and let it out again in a deep sigh. "I guess I'll go first then?"
"No, I'll go first," Ryoma interrupted. And before anyone could object, he took a step forward, took a deep breath that seemed almost too dramatic, and dove.
"So that is it, is it?"
Oshitari nodded. "By all accounts, that's the navy vessel that's been following the rumors on the whole Heart of the Sea business. I think they've been hunting our…friends…from the Seigaku crew as well. I'm getting some odd vibes from it though."
From where he was crouched on his other side, Shishido snorted. "It seems empty to me. Looks like they decided to hit the town for today."
"I still think we should watch it a while longer before making our move." But when Oshitari looked at Atobe for comfirmation, the captin had already gone. He cursed and ran after him towards the ship.
Atobe stepped onto the deck of the dark ship, surveying its mistys misty sails and silvery netting with keen interest. The vessel rocked gently beneath his boots with the swell and fall of the ocean beneath it. As far as he could tell, that same ocean was the only thing making any movements. "This place is empty. It feels like it was abandoned."
Running a finger along the railing, Oshitari grimaced. "This place is saturated with magical residue. I don't like it at all."
"Search the rooms," Atobe ordered, striding towards the captain's cabin. "Kabaji, keep watch."
"What are we looking for?"
"Anything that looks interesting. Exercise your judgment." The captain smirked. "And once our guest arrives, we can start tracking this missing crew."
AN: Thanks for reading and please review!