A/N: Woah it's been 2 years since I've posted anything at all. o_o Regardless, please leave reviews. =) I thank you all in advance, minna-san.
Note: With a male spirit taking over Rosalie's body, she will then be temporarily considered male and thus will be referred to as a 'he'.
Disclaimer: I don't own Tactics.
Chapter 14: Unrequited
"The game ends here, it's over. Now it's time for me to return you from whence you came, from the place you truly belong."
Kantarou's scarlet eyes slowly widened in comprehension as it hit him. At the moment, a spirit is in possession of Rosalie's body, their enemy's master's spirit, to be precise. No wonder Rosalie's actions were a bit odd these days, and her frequent disappearance must mean she's trying to avoid direct encounter with that woman so as not to be captured. And now, her timing couldn't have been any better. Or was she already too late? Kantarou glanced down on the still unconscious tengu in his arms, trying to find any sign of progress. But it seemed as though Haruka won't be waking up any time soon.
The woman's insane laughter caught Kantarou's attention immediately as the folklorist was forced to keep a close eye on the enemy. It will still be advisable for him to remain on his guard. Rosalie's arrival doesn't necessarily mean they're already out of danger. For all he knows the crazy woman might even be triggered to become loose and violent what with that obvious rage and hatred surfacing on her cold amber orbs, especially upon setting its sight on Rosalie. Yes, she could be quite unpredictable. What with being mentally unstable and demented, by the looks of it?
"Showed yourself at last old man! Just in time for you to witness as I finish off those loathsome weaklings over there. See how they are now cowering in fear? See how bloody their bodies are? I'm not stopping there, I'll even continue to hit them, strike without any reservations, slash them without holding back, slice their filthy bodies and rip their internal organs out, I'll tear them apart, break their bones, pulverize their skulls, I'll inflict unimaginable pain in them—"
"You loved me, didn't you? I failed to see that very obvious detail. You've loved me from the very first time you've opened your eyes. I'm your creator. It was quite foolish of me to be that oblivious of your feelings. And for that I want to say I'm—"
"Save it old man! Your apology is a century late. What makes you think I'll listen to you? But since you went all the way from your resting place just to see me, I think it will be quite impolite and ungrateful of me not to entertain you, my honorable guest."
Old man…Creator…Century…This woman here…
"I created you in the hopes of making the world a better place." Rosalie lowered her gaze, unable to stare at the monster his creation had transformed into, while shame and regret filled his tone. "I gave you power, strength, intelligence beyond your fellow creatures, molding you into a leader that I want you to be so that someday you may take my place and I would be resting peacefully without any fear for the world I had left behind is in good hands."
Kantarou gently positioned Haruka down beside him, the tengu's head resting on the folklorist's lap, so that his hands are now free, free to create a barrier and do his spells.
"I offered you freedom, and a good life." Rosalie continued. "Yes, all I wanted was for you to have a taste of a meaningful existence, to be free to do as you wish, for you to have no chains to restrain you, I want you to use your abilities to help those who are oppressed, endangered, unprotected ,threatened. I showed you nothing but kindness, and I made sure to orient you with nothing but proper conduct and instill values within you to lead you in the right path."
Kantarou closed his eyes as he joined his hands together, fingers entwined in prayer as he quietly mumbled Buddhist incantations. Below him, Haruka stirred a little.
"And now, now I found you doing something I taught you as the most forbidden thing to do! All those years of training, of staying under my home, of living along side me, what have you become, my dove? So white, pure, untainted and untouched, now so black, polluted, stained and invaded by evil itself! The very enemy which we have sworn to defeat back when I was still living, back when you were still with me…"
Haruka's eyes gradually opened, though his vision was still blurred and unfocused, his mind completely blank and disoriented, as was caused by the bleeding wound he had received from the vicious, bloodthirsty woman. Kantarou meanwhile, remained chanting, concentrating hard. There can be no room for failure. Even the slightest mistake can cause them their life.
"What has happened to you? Why didn't you fight it? Why did you surrender so easily?"
Finally, the other made a move to speak, cutting Rosalie's dramatic speech. With a look of pure boredom on her face, a look that says 'Your words are meaningless to me now', the woman slowly walked towards Rosalie, her steps careful and calculated, her hips swinging lavishly as if trying to sway her master's resolve. And with each step she makes, Rosalie prepared himself for what was to come. He can't afford to injure this body of which was only borrowed. Therefore he had to be extremely attentive and precautious.
"Master," she began in a mocking tone of admiration and respect. "Truly, I didn't see this coming. You showing yourself in the open like this and risking to be harmed, that's very brave of you indeed. But if you think your mere presence can shake me, then you're most definitely wrong. I have long discarded my feelings for you, or for anything else, for that matter. I have rid myself of a heart which I found useless and irrelevant to a powerful being such as myself. And now I think it's time I share my new found discovery with you, master. Let me do the honor of ripping your heart out so that you may truly understand my words." With a devilish glint in her amber eyes, she sped up her pace towards her master, weapon ready at hand. However, as she swung her weapon down, it was met by a loud clang instead of the anticipated sound of steel piercing flesh and of blood gushing out, squirting like the sound of liquid bursting out of a water balloon once pricked by something sharp. And of course, the woman was most disappointed to find out that it was Kantarou who conjured up a barrier just in time to protect Rosalie from possible attacks. But then instead of showing her frustration outright, a heinous smile formed upon her lips instead.
"Well well, I must commend you of how fast you recover, Ichinomiya-sensei. I expected less of you, but even so I wouldn't take my chances of miscalculating you."
Kantarou had no time to react as a dozen muddy figures taking the form of humans emerged from the ground, and they were all approaching the still immobilized folklorist due to his injuries, not to mention another injured companion who's currently taking residence on his lap, still weak and barely conscious at all, which further prevented Kantarou from moving.
Instincts took over Kantarou as he shielded Haruka from harm, preparing to feel the familiar hot and searing sensation of something sharp being stabbed in his body, but surprisingly, none came.
Opening one eye as if afraid to see what had happened, a familiar deep voice rendered him motionless. "Are you alright Kantarou? You look surprised. Well isn't that a bit insulting. You should have known that a wound that small couldn't possibly kill me, you needn't worry. Now get up and make yourself useful. Leave this to me. Hurry and free Youko and the others! Time is of the essence! That barrier can only hold for a few minutes and once it wears off, it will leave Rosalie defenseless. There's just no telling what that mad woman might do on a whim."
Haruka was only met with silence and then Kantarou's scarlet eyes brimmed with tears, tears that threatened to overflow, along with his feelings of relief and happiness at the sight of Haruka standing confidently like that. Just like his usual self, always trying to protect him and everyone else from harm, to the best of his abilities.
'Haruka...' Kantarou thought, and that was all, Haruka need not say more, the folklorist was already on his feet in an instant. "I understand, please be careful. I'll definitely bring them back, and you'd better be alright by then Haruka. Promise me." With that statement, Kantarou almost can't bring himself to leave Haruka alone to deal with the woman and her minions, but the sharp look that the tengu had on his face pushed Kantarou's fears aside that he understood the unspoken promise, a promise that will never be broken, because it is no ordinary promise at all. It a promise made between two people sharing a special, mutual bond. A bond developed through time. Nodding, Kantarou then took off towards the old, ruined temple which was practically burnt to a crisp, hoping to find his other friends.
A loud thud resounded as Kantarou sank on the floor watching Haruka's flying figure become tinier and tinier in the orange-hued skies. It was dusk, sunset, and even in his age now, he still can't bring himself to forget his strange disliking for the coming of the night. And it was only magnified tenfold now that he's had a terrible fight with Haruka.
Haruka, why did he react strongly like that? Yes, the black-winged tengu was known to possess little next to no amount of patience and that he's prone to get annoyed fast compared to Youko, or even Sugino but a while ago, Kantarou was taken by surprise.
Haruka's rice bowl, it all started with that very trivial subject. It was just one of those days that Kantarou felt bored, extremely bored to the point of wanting to play a prank on someone and that someone just so happened to be Haruka of all people. Why always pick the temperamental one anyway? Perhaps because watching them struggle to get even seemed fun, on the naughty folklorist's part. But he forgot one tiny but very significant detail. Haruka always takes things seriously. He was never the type to joke around. Never. Now Kantarou must face the consequences of his impulsive actions, be it good or bad, and in this case, it was bad.
"Youko-chan, I'll be back later. But don't wait for me, okay? Oh and in case Haruka returns home, please give back his rice bowl. It's on my desk, in my room. Please be careful with it."
From the kitchen, Kantarou heard Youko's faint reply of a yes, followed by a series of sermons scolding him for improper behavior towards Haruka and of stealing something precious from the said person and of how mean Kantarou is for pulling such a prank blah blah blah…It's just endless. But since it wasn't exactly Kantarou's style to walk out on someone so impolitely, he just cleared his throat and made a dash for the door, quickly saying his goodbye and shutting the door before Youko could even have the chance to reply.
Haruka isn't the type to roam around the town by himself, or more like, he isn't the type to wander around from place to place. Haruka prefers to stay in one place. He particularly favors visiting the mountains, either Sugino's or the shrine containing the large rock wherein he was once sealed. Those are the only possible locations you could find Haruka at. But now is an exception. The lake, as Haruka passed by it from above, he couldn't help but notice with its extravagance, the way the surface sparkles and glistens, its color taking that of the orange-hued skies and the image of the sun setting, reflecting on the water's smooth surface, as if the sun was sinking onto the lake itself. It was such an exquisite view that Haruka was unable to resist its pull. It even seemed to dissipate the anger he felt earlier with what his mischievous master has done. The lake was just magical that Haruka decided to spend some time staring at it for now. Perhaps, even stay there until the night comes, just to see how it would radiate its beauty without the sun's light, and of what the combination of darkness and moonlight can do to enhance the lake's mystique even more.
There was the sound of a twig snapping, and then something on the other side of the bushes moved, Haruka immediately regained seriousness, eyes trained on the spot from where he detected movements, as if waiting for something to come out. And come out it did. Only it was not a something, but a someone. At first, Haruka thought it was a female, due to the person's long silky black hair let loose on his back but was gently flowing as a breeze drifted by to blow on it. As soon as the figure stepped nearer, Haruka was able to see clearly that the person was actually a male, having almost the same features as that of Kantarou's, though the latter was paler, no doubt about it. Sometimes it even led Haruka to wonder if there's a single person alive in this world to compare to Kantarou's incredibly and ridiculously pale skin, but up to now, his question remained unanswered. Kantarou, why must his thoughts always drift back to that reckless and manipulative guy? That question will also be left unanswered for now though. Not until Haruka decides to be honest with himself and be brave enough to explore his newfound feelings.
He smiled absent-mindedly, the stranger smiled attentively as he continued to observe Haruka so deeply engrossed with his thoughts. From this point of view, he could clearly sense the other man was confused, utterly confused. He didn't even notice the stranger smiling up at him in an odd way.
"What is it that's bothering you? Please, do tell." The stranger's velvety voice soon reached Haruka's ears that he was reminded of another presence with him and it prompted him to resume his guard. "Pardon?" This response earned him a melodious laugh from the stranger who now took the liberty to sit down by the lake and join Haruka with his sight-seeing. He seemed comfortable enough and not the least bit intimidated by the black-winged tengu's aura of indifference, not to mention unfriendliness.
"As expected, 'who am I anyway', is what you're probably thinking right now. But believe me I'm not trying to invade your privacy at all. I just thought, though this might sound a little peculiar, that we share the same problem. I just have a feeling we do, or something like that."
Haruka felt at peace, though he doesn't know why, he just knew this person sitting next to him is not planning to harm him in any way. Normally, he doesn't allow conversation with a stranger. But once again, maybe he can make an exception just this once.
"Have you ever felt scared for someone?" The stranger, who made no further attempt of introducing himself, began, disregarding the fact that Haruka was a little unresponsive. And the fact that it was only the first time they met. He didn't even stop to consider if perhaps he was being a bit too forward or imposing to the other uninterested person.
"What do you mean?" But curiosity got the better of the taciturn tengu. What's so bad about having a harmless conversation with a stranger anyway. So long as you don't reveal personal information, it would be just fine. This is a big world. They can just go and talk about their deepest darkest secrets, then leave and there can be no assurance of a second meeting at all. No attachments. No commitments. Nothing to worry about.
"Like when you strongly care for one person, but you choose not to candidly show it, because you want that person to be free. Free yet also safe that you always see to it to protect that person, even from a distance. Well, have you?"
"I don't recall having such an experience. I'm sorry." Haruka almost want to tell the stranger that he picked the wrong person to chat with, but somehow, something was telling him to stay put and to give this stranger a chance.
"Well, I do and for that, I can tell you do as well. Only you're trying to deny it."
"But it's true! I told you we have something in common, I'm certain."
Haruka blinked. "Ridiculous."
"Then why…" The other pressed on, not minding the signs of annoyance Haruka was candidly displaying. The stranger just can't take a hint!
"Why are you here?"
"What have you come here for?"
"…" Haruka is growing tired with the other's persistence.
"I simply won't believe you if your reason is just to have a pleasant view."
"Space." Haruka practically whispered, forced to say anything, anything to make the guy shut his trap and be done with it.
"Space? Are you trying to run away from someone?" But obviously, he's not that easy to shake off.
'I swear this guy could be Kantarou in disguise, or some shape-shifting youkai he sent to interrogate me.'
With an eye brow raised, Haruka calmly replied. "Run away? That was never my style. It's the cowards' way of dealing with things."
"And you're saying you're not a coward?"
Haruka glared before retorting an "Of course a coward I am anything but!"
Haruka's temper flared this time that he can't help but raise his voice in extreme annoyance. "I am not. You are!"
"I speak only the truth. I see no point in lying."
"But you're being vague and elusive, with the way you're answering my questions."
"Perhaps so, I tend to beat around the bush sometimes or speak vaguely without being particular with the details. But that's because it's for the greater good."
"For the greater good huh…" 'What is he, a preacher now?'
"Now you're the one being elusive I'm afraid."
"Not really. I just refuse to be the subject of every conversation. I find it very irksome."
"So you're not fond of being in the spotlight, aren't you? And you also dislike having to answer questions."
"Why do you say so?"
"Why didn't you just stay and try talking it out instead of 'flying' away?"
Haruka's eyes instantly grew wide, for a moment there, believing his suspicion that this is Kantarou in disguise. "What? How did you—"
"Why don't you just tell him directly that you were only trying to protect him by not being close to him?"
"What are you talking about?"
"And lastly, why can't you just admit the fact that I got all those right? I possess the Sight anyway, so there is no way I could be wrong."
"The Sight?" Now Haruka is lost, truly lost.
"Straying away from the topic again. So let's get personal, shall we? I'd like to ask you one more thing before I go."
Finally. "What is it?"
"Do you love him?"
"Come again?" was Haruka's quick response.
Chapter 15 Preview:
Amidst the coffee-haired boy's speech, Kantarou gradually felt depression and self-loathing overwhelm him. A sense of hopelessness began to descend upon him that he could only do as much as to hear the other's words and not to listen on them.
"Haruka…" He whispered as he allowed himself to slide in a sitting position, hands grasping his temples as he buried his face on his bent up knees.
Meanwhile, from somewhere, Haruka heard Kantarou's plea for help.
'Somebody is…calling me…'