Shades of Grey has (finally) been updated again. I must apologise for the inexcusable wait, and thank loyal readers, old and new, for their patience and feedback. I am still surprised by the number of followers and reviews this story has, and feel such a lousy author for taking so long to update. Although I have neglected this website as of late, Shades of Grey is actively being written, so unless more distressing events take place, it really shouldn't (fingers crossed) take me as long to upload the next chapter.
Disclaimer: I do not own Tactics, nor am I making any profit from this fanfic.
Many, many, many thanks to the kind reviewers of Chapter Thirteen.
On with the story!
Kantarou watched in awe as four forest youkai focused on the wooden bucket in front of them, paper scoop nets in hand. In a flash, the ox youkai fished his net into the bucket without success. His companions broke into hearty laughter and teased his lack of skill, resulting in a challenge to catch the most fish before the paper scoopers were too damaged to be any use. The goldfish glistened in the moonlight, their orange and silver bodies squirming in the nets before their captors released them into a separate bowl. Kantarou watched the animated four, his ruby red eyes fixed on this intriguing game.
"Having fun?" Youko appeared beside the human, her fox ears proudly on display. Somehow, she appeared more like a youkai tonight - her eyes resembled an alert fox and her aura radiated out stronger than ever.
"I've never seen anything quite like this – it's…amazing." Kantarou shook his head in disbelief of all the smells, sounds and celebrations happening all around them.
"I love it when we have a magi festival." Youko smiled, kneeling beside Kantarou. "Lord Haruka always allows a group of us to come to at least one festival a year. We're really lucky." The aforementioned demon eater of legend was currently in conversation with Lord Sugino – a conversation that was clearly not meant for his servants' ears. Kantarou and the others had been given a free half hour to do as they pleased (within reason), a huge privilege for servants.
"Hey…um…" Youko started, her ears pricking up in case anyone was near enough to overhear them. "Earlier, you mentioned an item of sorts that could break the…curse on your mind. Do…do you know where we can start looking?"
Kantarou nodded, turning his attention away from the festivities. Now was his best chance to reveal as much information as he could to Youko about his situation. "I can't feel it's aura as strongly here as I did back at the mansion. It got weaker the closer we came into town. I believe that can mean only one thing. The bracelet I'm looking for is inside Lord Haruka's residence."
Youko could barely conceal her excitement. "That's great news then Kan-chan. If we all search together, we may just be able to find it!"
"Thanks Youko-chan. I hope so."
"One thing 'little brother', how are you able to…sense this bracelet?" The fox maid knew about the ability to read auras, although this was often a youkai trait, a gift even, to connect spiritually with objects.
Kantarou shook his head. "In all honesty, that is something I don't know. In fact, it is only recently that I have felt its presence. I fear I have less time than I thought to sort this all out."
Suddenly, a familiar head of blonde hair dangled down from the branches above. Kaworu was hanging upside down like a bat and grinning like an idiot. "There you two are!"
"Kaworu!?" Youko jumped up in surprise. "What on Earth are you doing?"
The sky youkai swung himself onto the branch and back flipped out of the tree in style, almost landing on Kantarou. "I had a better view of the festival up there. Hito asked me to find you – we're sharing snacks, follow me!"
The servant trio headed down the far side of the town square, past traders and game stalls, beneath dancing red lanterns. Youko finished recalling previous festival highlights and dashed off to purchase treats from a nearby stall. Kaworu pointed to a free bench for them to sit and wait for Youko when Kantarou was pulled to a stop as a thin, bony hand gripped his wrist.
"Would you like to know your fortune?" The elderly looking youkai asked. She looked like a frail human woman, her eyes disguised beneath a veil. "No payment required, little one." She rasped, her long, pointed nails scrapping at Kantarou's skin as he tried to pull free.
"Are you really a fortune teller?" Kaworu asked, oblivious to Kantarou's uncomfortable predicament.
"It is only one of my many talents, child. This boy has the most interesting aura. May I ask your name?" Kantarou flinched as the fortune teller drew nearer. "You need not fear me little human. I mean no harm. The cards want me to talk with you."
"Please don't intimidate him like that." Kaworu hooked his arm through Kantarou's free one, a sign that he would stand up for the human.
"I – We…should really be going back to our master now. I am thankful you wish to do my reading for free, but I'm afraid I must decline."
The fortune teller released Kantarou's arm from her vice-like grip. "Very well…Ichinomiya."
Kantarou froze, turning to face the teller who retreated into her hut.
"What's wrong Kan-chan?" Youko asked, returning with three sticks containing a variety of delicacies.
"This creepy teller wanted to read his fortune." Kaworu said, taking a stick from Youko and quickly devouring the sticky square treat at the top.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to ask her something." Kantarou looked intently at the curtain where the mysterious youkai had disappeared behind.
"Of-course not, Kan-chan." Youko smiled, tucking into her snack. "We'll take a quick walk down this row and come back for you."
"Thank you." Kantarou bowed and made his way to the fortune teller's hut. He hovered outside the curtain, unsure if speaking to the youkai was a wise idea.
"Come inside little human." The voice called, a hint of smugness beneath the rasp.
Kantarou stepped inside the makeshift hut; the space inside was tight, with a small table in the middle of two chairs. One was occupied by the teller. "Please sit."
Kantarou bowed and obeyed, his eyes scanning every inch of the hut. There was a powerful energy within this small space.
"You must have many questions for me, human child, but it is the cards who have the answers."
"Yes. My name is Fumi young one. Let me reveal your fate."
"Relax child. When you're ready, please place your hands palms down on the table, then we will begin."
Kantarou took a deep breath, ignoring the voice in his head that said this was a bad idea, and braced himself for the teller's words of wisdom.
"The first card – " Fumi placed the card on the table. "The Six of Cups. There is a man…" The red-eyed human didn't even have chance to ask what this meant before Fumi began her explanation. "I sense a familiar man returning to your side. There will be both happiness and sadness in this reunion. He is close…"
Kantarou couldn't help but feel afraid that his memory was too unreliable in his current state to think of past acquaintances.
"The second card is the Tower." Fumi put the second card on the table. "A change of scenery is imminent. Be warned. In this new environment, there won't be others willing to help you. Trust no-one." Fumi's voice was as clear as any alarm bell. Kantarou was in trouble, whether he liked it or not.
Fumi was selecting the third card when the curtain was rustled.
"Kan-chan?" It was Youko; she seemed a little distressed. "I'm sorry to disturb you, but our time's up. We have to meet up with Lord Haruka by the fountain."
Fumi silently placed the next card on the table. "Go, Ichinomiya-kun."
"I'm sorry. Thank you for your warnings, I'll do my best to heed them."
"Some things are inevitable, but it's the end result that matters most. You will find it. It's in the cards."
"It?" There was something that Kantarou desperately needed. "The charm bracelet?"
Fumi smiled. "Good luck little boy."
Kantarou joined the two youkai outside who greeted him with twin worried expressions.
"Was she alright with you? Did you learn what you wanted?" Kaworu asked, checking Kantarou over like an overprotective mother.
"It was…interesting." Kantarou sighed, still trying to absorb Fumi's wise words.
"Here Kan-chan. No point worrying on an empty stomach." Youko gave Kantarou the treat stick she'd bought earlier.
"T…thanks Youko-chan." Kantarou eyed the treats with suspicion, but never one to refuse food – particularly a free treat – he nibbled at the sumptuous offerings.
"Youko! Kaworu! Kantarou!" Amefuri waved energetically as the trio approached the fountain.
"Are you enjoying yourselves?" Hito asked, clutching a small paper bag in his arms.
"Of-course!" Kaworu laughed, "we're enjoying our night off in style." The sky demon was more concerned with freedom than most, longing to be a part of the endless blue sky. He was more at home outdoors, which was only natural considering his heritage.
"Where's Lord Haruka?" Youko couldn't see their master, although a frazzled looking Muu-chan was heading in their direction, closely followed by Lord Sugino. The white-winged tengu looked much more upbeat than usual.
"Everybody here?" Sugino counted up the seven slaves.
"Good. Right, follow me. Haruka is in the middle of a very important game."
"Muu." Lady Muu-chan seemed worried.
"Don't worry my darling, Haruka-chan is a competent Go player."
"Oh wow. May I ask who he is up against Lord Sugino?" Kaworu was a fan of the game although he had never seen his master play before.
"A human." Sugino sneered in disgust. "I heard he was granted 'youkai status' by his mistress, Lady Ibaragi, and has lived in privilege ever since. Apparently, he's a well-known and respected figure in their homeland. All I know is, he doesn't stand a chance against Haruka!"
The group pushed their way through the growing crowd, with Lord Sugino and his nervous wife leading the way to the front.
"Line up here, and don't make a sound." Sugino ordered the servants.
"But Muu-chan, when Haruka isn't here to watch, surely I'm in charge!"
The small green youkai tugged hard at Sugino's hair. Sometimes, she felt he was too hard on Haruka's workers.
From their position, Kantarou could just about see Haruka facing them and the back of the opposing player. According to Lord Sugino, this man was human, yet his presence playing against a famous youkai Lord wasn't causing a stir. His appearance, from behind, didn't stand out; he had short dark hair and wore a black jacket. It was hard to tell who was winning at this point. Haruka gave nothing away with his stony expression, and the small crowd of onlookers were focused intently on the match. Haruka completed his move and waited. The human male turned slightly and raised his arm - Kantarou froze at the flash of white clothing covering his left hand. A white glove.
"Wait a minute." Kaworu whispered. "I've seen him before…"
Kantarou didn't know why something as trivial as a glove chilled him to the bone, but something wasn't quite right…
"Who is he?" Youko asked, earning a scowl from Sugino for speaking out of turn.
Kaworu ignored the white tengu's demand of silence to answer, "Lord Raikou Minamoto."
The cards Fumi uses are based off the (simple) meanings of Tarot cards.
Thank you for reading. I hope you all enjoy your seasonal festivities.
Take care x