Shades of Grey has been updated. I can hardly believe it myself!
Dedicated to: Everyone who reviewed the last chapter, sent me PMs, added my story to their alert or faves lists…and everyone who wants to continue this story with me, two years on. This new chapter is for you all.
I'm sorry for the wait.
Disclaimer: I do not own Tactics.
"Kan-chan?" Youko whispered as the human looked worriedly behind him as a door creaked open. For a moment, the slaves said nothing, waiting in case someone appeared.
"In here." Hito said quietly, leading them into an empty room. They couldn't stay here long, but it was more private than talking out in the hall.
With the door firmly closed behind him, Kantarou decided it was now or never. He had to let the truth out and put his faith in the youkai who had welcomed him into Lord Haruka's home. His throat was dry and his pulse racing as he practiced the words over and over again in his head. "It's difficult to explain, but I need to be honest with you."
Amefuri patted Kantarou's arm gently. "My heart tells me you can be trusted. What is it that troubles you so Kantarou?"
"I need your help." The human sighed, ready at last to be open with his new friends. "And I'm running out of time."
"How can we be of assistance Kantarou?" Hito asked, noting the pained expression on the boy's face.
"There's a seal I must break…"
"A seal?" Youko cocked her head to one side as her fluffy ears disappeared beneath her headband. "I'm not sure low level youkai like us will be much help there…but…what kind of a seal?"
"There's the problem." Kantarou sighed. "It's an ancient seal that was placed on something very delicate…it must be broken correctly, or else…"
"This sounds like trouble…" Hito said, ignoring the scowl Youko sent his way. "I'll regret asking this, but where exactly is this seal?"
Kantarou paused, unsure of the reactions he would receive from his friends. "My mind."
For a moment, the servants stood in silence.
"Well I never." Amefuri was the first to speak. "The only seals I've seen on humans…well, you know…they lose their free will. Mindless slaves for powerful Lords…"
"Indeed." Hito scratched his head, puzzled.
"How do you-? No, Who did this to~?"
"Youko," Hito interrupted the flustered fox youkai, "my apologies, but we don't have all day. How can we help Kantarou?" Youko and Amefuri nodded in agreement; they would do their best for Kantarou's sake. There was something very special about this human child.
Grateful for the assistance of the three youkai, Kantarou recalled the item that, as far as he knew, was the only way to help him overcome the seal. "We have to find my~"
A sudden rapture of knocks made Youko jump, her fox ears springing up from under her thick, brown hair. Kantarou became silent and the four servants eyed the door fearfully. It creaked and opened slowly, revealing a rather solemn looking Kaworu.
"Hello there." He bowed, relieved to have found the other servants. "I thought I heard voices. Pardon my intrusion…"
"Kaworu? What is it?" Youko was at the sky demon's side at once.
"Lord Haruka suspects something is awry. He passed the ground floor laundry room and didn't see Youko. I told him I'd look for you, but he didn't seem best pleased."
"Oh dear. I'd better get to work. Thanks for looking for me." Youko glanced back at Kantarou. "Later, okay?" She whispered apologetically.
"You three should get going too." Kaworu warned the other slacking slaves. "Lord Haruka seems rather agitated today. If he sees us standing around like this, I dread to think what may happen…"
"Yes, I must get going…" Hito said, wringing his trembling hands. "Thank-you Kaworu, I must attend to the horses." He bowed quickly and exited the room.
Kaworu, Amefuri and Kantarou exchanged pleasantries, with Amefuri reminding them to be ready promptly for the festival outing in the evening. Before Kantarou could follow the sky demon down the hall, Amefuri grabbed his sleeve.
"What are we looking for? To break the seal?"
Kantarou let loose a small smile at the willing youkai who would go to such lengths to help a mere human. "A charm bracelet with bells. It's nearby, I can feel it…"
Amefuri grinned. "I'll keep a look out."
"Thank-you, friend." Kantarou bowed, then the pair parted to start on their daily chores.
The paper lanterns flickered like dizzy fireflies caught in a breeze, enchanting Kantarou who was transfixed by their simple beauty. He had never been as close to a Japanese festival as he was in this moment, even as a small child.
Haruka watched the human take in the sights and smells of the festival's entrance. "Follow me." The demon eater of legend, dressed elegantly in a fine black suit, lead the selected seven slaves into the manic square surrounded by stalls and dancing youkai.
Kantarou noticed other humans were in attendance, some almost as invisible as their master's shadow, others sat to the side watching the dancers. The lucky ones were able to take part in the festivities, to the disgust of youkai of noble blood.
"Isn't this exciting?" Youko beamed. Her kimono was a beautiful peach colour decorated with large red flowers. Her hair was just as spectacular, pinned up with kanzashi with three delicate flowers dangling down to the fox youkai's forehead. Even in shades of grey, Kantarou thought Youko looked more like a Lady than a slave, a fact that had her smiling even more than usual.
"Look, Lord Sugino's having fun!" Kaworu laughed, pointing out the green-haired youkai. "Not sure about poor Lady Muu-chan though." Lord Sugino was twirling his wife around happily, lost in his own world. He told Haruka that he must enjoy himself tonight and forget about his troublesome human slave.
"Here comes the Mikoshi shrine." Amefuri announced excitedly. Kantarou watched the portable shrine held up by twelve youkai in awe. It was intricately decorated, and surrounding youkai clasped their hands and shouted prayers as it slowly passed them. Even in such an excitable atmosphere, there was sense of peace surrounding the shrine.
Another spectacle quickly caught Kantarou's attention as the traditional lion dance moved closer to Haruka and his slaves. The green lion moved in time to the music, its silver mane swishing frantically as the dancers underneath the cloth completed their steps. Its rhythmical moves were entrancing, and the mask emitted an aura of power. The drummers increased the tempo of their performance as the lion dipped and dived in an increasingly dramatic display that had Kantarou gasp for breath. He jumped when a voice softly whispered into his ear. "Come."
Lord Haruka led the human to a quieter corner of the festival. Kantarou, who had been so caught up in the youkai performance of the lion dance, felt his nerves growing. Haruka had not spoken to him since he'd slapped him, and the worry that the Lord had taken a dislike to him was gnawing at his stomach.
"You look better." Haruka noted after a brief uncomfortable silence. He remembered how pale Kantarou had been following their last confrontation.
"Yes, thank-you Master." Kantarou bowed his head, his body tense. This wasn't like the energetic human Haruka had picked up at the market. "I hope I haven't done anything to upset you."
Haruka slowly patted Kantarou's arm, feeling it relax under his hand. "No, not yet." The noble youkai recalled his conversation with Kentaro, the eerie chalked picture of a boy with red eyes and the fact that he had yet to have his favourite dream since the human's arrival. The more he questioned his own reasons for bringing the boy into his home, the more he believed that their meeting was fated. "But I can't help the feeling that you might."
A big thank-you once again readers for all your support. I'm hoping it won't take me another two years to finish the next chapter!