"We should probably stick pretty close together. There's no telling how close we are now or what we might run into," Hisoka said.
"I think we should just stay where we are. Any wandering might get us lost, and at least the others have an idea of where we're waiting," Tsuzuki said, lighting a few of the candles along the wall.
"What a weird place to leave a bunch of candles. It almost looks like someone was doing some sort of voodoo ritual in here or something," Hy said, which caused a rather uncomfortable silence in response. "Um, maybe that wasn't the best way to word it," Hy added hastily. He looked at Michael, who had spread out his bag to sit on and approached cautiously as if to see if their temporary truce was holding before sitting beside him.
"I still think it might have been a good thing if Alain had come along in order to see if he sensed anything," Hisoka said, running his hands along the walls in search of any trace spiritual residue that may provide them with a clue as to what the place had been used for. "Finch said that there was a key difference between our powers, in that I sense only human emotion. I sense your emotions when you're not guarding them, Tsuzuki. Even when you were being controlled, by what he described as your demonic side, that side was able to use your emotions against me, remember?"
Hisoka looked back at Tsuzuki for a response, before pulling away from the wall with a gasp, his face flushing darkly.
"What's wrong, Hisoka?" Tsuzuki said, springing up from where he sat. Hisoka waved him away dismissively, sitting down next to his pack with an irritated scowl.
"Nothing," Hisoka said, not meeting his eyes. "What went on here was definitely nothing to do with what we're after."
"Aw, come on! Even if it isn't, you've got me curious now," Tsuzuki teased.
"I saw flashes of some sort of - orgy or something, all right?" Hisoka snapped, pulling a bottle of hand sanitizer from his pack with a shudder. "Sophie was definitely right when she said all sorts of unimaginable things went on down here."
Tsuzuki looked at the walls as if he himself might catch a glimpse of the debauchery, before spotting something.
"Look there," Tsuzuki said, stepping closer to examine a crudely carved marking. "It's in English. It says 'If the children have led you here, turn back now.' What do you think it means?"
"Think it might be about those two varmits I saw steal the files? From what that Sam guy said, it sounds like they like to mess with tourists and get them lost," Hy said.
"That sounds very possible. We must be close to something," Hisoka said, looking anxiously at the low, rounded arch that led to the network of subterranean passageways beyond.
The men settled into companionable silence despite their underlying tension, Hisoka leaning heavily upon Tsuzuki, still tired from not getting much rest from their previous stop. Tsuzuki coaxed him into lying down, and he acquiesced, his exhaustion overcoming his pride, pillowing his head against Tsuzuki's thigh. He felt Michael's gaze upon him, and self-consciously pulled at where his shirt had ridden up.
"You have the markings of Cassandra Molve," Michael said sadly, breaking the silence. "She must have been the one who hurt you." Hisoka looked at him, stunned.
"No, it was Muraki," Hisoka said softly.
"Muraki learned of the curse from her, though," Tsuzuki said. "He told me after he himself killed her."
"So she is dead. You are sure of it?" Michael asked. Tsuzuki nodded.
"Her aunt seemed pretty sure of it anyway, and she seemed like someone who would know," Tsuzuki said, shuddering slightly at the memory of the elderly Roma woman who was feared as being a powerful witch.
"Yes, if Carmen Cioaba says so, then it is true. She would never protect her," Michael said, his brow furrowing in thought. "I had traveled to where she was said to have died myself, but found nothing. They came back when he died. I had to be sure -"
"Michael?" Hy asked uneasily, staring at him. "I know I told you all about my friends, but I don't remember telling you all this stuff. Heck, I didn't even remember that witch woman's name! How do you know about all that? What are you talking about?" Hisoka tried to piece together all that had been said in his mind, shocked as realization began to dawn upon him.
"She marked you, didn't she?" Hisoka asked, sitting up. "And you said they came back when he died. You mean Mircea, don't you?"
Michael flinched at the name, and nodded slowly. Hy stared at him in utter shock, and Michael refused to meet his eyes.
"You didn't want me to see," Hy whispered.
"I told you that I died during the war. This is true, though it was not in battle," Michael said.
"You were cursed," Hisoka said. Michael nodded.
"I joined the army when I was sixteen. All of my brothers, and my father enlisted despite my mother begging us to flee to Romania. Within a year, all my siblings were dead, even Thomas, who was but twelve.
I decided to desert and go home to mother once I knew they were gone. My mother was a frail woman, not like she is now, and I knew her heart could not bear the news. I thought if perhaps I returned to her, it would give her strength.
It was a very long, treacherous journey, but I made it as far as Louisiana eventually, stealing food from farms I passed and staying clear of main roads. I was a fugitive for deserting, and when I returned home, mother and I fled to Europe under different names.
We found relatives in a small Romanian village to take us in, and things were peaceful for a while. I used to hunt for food out in the forest with the rifle I'd been issued by the army.
There had been rumors of a very rough group of Roma thieves that had recently terrorized a neighboring village camping out in our forest, but I was young and foolish and disregarded them. I even thought I might be able to chase them off if I ran across them, and went as deeply into the woods as I ever did to hunt.
As fate would have it, I did eventually come across them, and they ambushed me. I managed to kill one of them with my rifle before they dragged me back to their camp, and I was sure they were going to murder me when they got me there, but instead they just tied me up and handed me over to a woman who was with them. I was really surprised to see a woman among them at all, and even more so when I saw that she was clearly their leader. She was set up in this crude shack that was full of frightening things," Michael said with a shudder, crossing himself.
"Cassandra Molve," Hy whispered, receiving a nod from Michael.
"The man I had killed had been her lover," Michael said. "I - I don't want to talk about all that happened to me there. It is too horrible to speak of. They - those men and that horrible woman - they took everything from me, and nearly had my sanity as well before I escaped them.
I don't remember how I got back. The next thing I remember clearly was recovering in my own home, my mother keeping vigil over me.
She said that I was in danger, and when she saw the marks upon me, she knew that someone had placed a horrible curse upon my life. I wasted away and died a few months later. My mother succumbed to illness and grief shortly after, and we met again in the afterlife, when we became guardians.
I retained the new name I had taken in life when I became a guardian. My name at that time was Viorel Lior."
Hisoka placed a hand to his temple, a memory of anguish assaulting his senses, as he pitched forward slightly.
"Hisoka?" Tsuzuki asked, placing his hands upon his shoulders.
"I remember your name now," Hisoka gasped. "You were Mircea's lover, the one he told us was killed. That's your name on that document Finch found."
"Mircea's - lover?" Hy whispered, turning an imploring gaze onto Michael, who was biting his lip and staring at the ground.
"It was after my death that my mother took her life. We became pazitor de moarte, as you know," Michael continued, as if he hadn't been interrupted. "Mother seemed to find a sense of purpose in her new role, and she trained very hard, while I was less suited to the profession. Within decades, she already held a high rank within the Ministry and was well on her way to becoming the head of summons, as she is now. She pushed me to improve, and when Mircea, the most accomplished of all our guardians, needed a new partner, she made sure that I was the one assigned to him. It did not take her long to regret this decision."
"Because you fell in love with him?" Hy asked. Michael gave a caustic smile.
"Because he seduced me," Michael said. "It was hardly a challenge for him with his position over me. I was but a child then, really. I admired him, and he was beautiful and charming. He used his powers to lift my curse and I was grateful to him.
I was to learn, after the start of our affair, that Mircea was well known for his predilection for taking young lovers, spurning them eventually when they expected fidelity. He idealized my youth and innocence, and I do believe that perhaps he loved me, in his way. I do not believe he meant me the harm my mother insisted he did.
Despite the disapproval of my mother, we remained partners and were assigned to pursue Cassandra Molve. She eluded us, toyed with us, and we were to clean up after her countless atrocities. She was aware of our presence, and she was not afraid.
It was when she became aware of my identity, however, that her threats extended to myself as well. Mircea and myself had tracked her to the mountains around a small village, where we lodged in its only inn. He insisted we go the town's pub, though I was not feeling well, and we fought on the way there. I returned alone, and got lost on the way, and when I found the inn I saw Cassandra standing in the street before it, shortly before the place went up in flames.
There were many mortals there, women and children, and my first instinct was to help them. Cassandra had not seen me, and I managed to go in through the back, to see if there were anyone I could rescue. What I had not realized were the dark powers she had woven around the place before she lit the flame, which would allow no one inside to leave."
"How did you escape?" Hy asked.
"I abandoned my corporeal form, and went back to the Ministry," Michael said, shaking his head. "In my panic, I knew no other alternative. My mother convinced me to take back my real name and go into hiding. I never saw Mircea again."
"You stayed hidden all those years?" Hy asked. Michael nodded.
"There were very few within the Ministry who knew I had survived, and it was far too dangerous for Mircea to know. He was too closely tied to Cassandra's case. Mother was relieved to have me away from his influence, in any case, believing that he had turned me into a sinner, and that I needed redemption. She relocated us to a remote village in Hungary, where she continued to train me.
I felt it, when he died. The ward he had used to break her magic on me was still there. The marks returned, and even when my father had come to see us, and told us that Cassandra was gone, I wanted to see for myself the place where she had met her end," Michael said.
"And that was why you came to stay with me and Jarrett?" Hy asked.
"Initially, yes. You cannot begin to know how it affected me, the way you and my father accepted me into your home. I was terrified when I came to you. After so many years without the company of others, I feared that I would never be able to relate normally to people again. My mother - she is the greatest woman I know, but she is not one to be open in her affections.
But you, you always made me feel at ease. I had never been happier than the time I've spent with you. So many times I have meant to let you see, to tell you everything, but I just didn't know how. I wasn't sure how to make you understand," Michael said with a pleading look. Hy took a deep breath, before slowly taking Michael's hand in his.
"You're a lot older than me, Michael, and I guess sometimes it's easy for me to forget that, since you don't look any older than me, but I'm not going to hold having a life before me against you," Hy said. "But you're going to have to start telling me things, instead of making me wonder. When you pulled away from me like that, well, it hurt me real bad."
Hisoka gestured to Tsuzuki to come with him to the other end of the small cave, while the two young men huddled in the corner trying to sort through all the secrets that had just been laid bare.
"We should give them privacy," Hisoka said with a heavy sigh. "We'll worry about what Viorel's death certificate has to do with all this when the others return. Right now I'm sure Hy has some questions that we have no right to eavesdrop on."
Tsuzuki stared into the dark void beyond the cave for a moment, a pensive look on his face. Hisoka sat against the wall beside him and leant against his shoulder with a questioning look. Tsuzuki wound an arm around him and swallowed hard.
"My earliest memories are of growing up on a farm, with my mother, Ruka, and a man I knew wasn't my father…"