So the longest story I've ever written before, admittedly in an unfinished state, was probably about seventeen thousand words, and it had about seventeen chapters too.
This one has now taken over that total by far, and insists upon being a one-shot. Not that it probably couldn't benefit from being split up a little, but who am I to argue with my stories?
So thank you, O Monster story coming up ahead, for giving me wrist pains because you insisted on being so long.
I am never going to write forty-eight thousand words in a week again thankyouverymuch.
Also, I am never going to have twenty-four relevent characters at once again, it makes my head hurt.
Anyway, enjoy reading my monster!
"...Denotes ghosts speak..."
Originally when Hinoto-hime had said that there were three Dragons of Earth preparing to take a flight to the sunny California coast, Kamui had thought that they were attempting to find a different way to break the spirit shields without being interrupted by them.
Now, standing in the doorway to the hotel that they had carefully tracked Fuuma and his companions to, he was quite certain that they had simply lost their mind.
For one thing, they had waded through the sewers, where there were rats twice the size they should be and a distinct smell of uncleanliness. The only good thing about that was watching Sorata attempt to talk Arashi into letting him carry her above the muck, and her seriously weighing the options between getting in the gunk and allowing herself to be carted around.
Then, when they had finally gotten past that messy obstacle, they had ended up in a construction lot, with NO TRESPASSING signs all around and a crane in the rain.
Fuuma and his duo, the bioroid that had been there when Fuuma forcibly removed Subaru's eye in a great pulpy mess, and the computer girl that had attacked and killed Inuki with her cables, went into one of the two standing buildings in the lot, a small shed that they had spent almost no time in before reemerging with what may have been a key, but was too small in the dark to make out, and had gone to the other building.
This ruined hotel.
And ruined was the only word for it. Although the bottom floor of the three stories appeared to be pretty stable, it had marks of fire all over it, the second floor was in worse shape, with many struts and fresh boards of wood laid over the more prominant parts of the damage, and the third was a skeleton of a floor with maybe two or three rooms still standing in the front.
The sign on the front between the first and second floors blinked ominously. O E NSI E OT L, the more legible of the letters spelled out.
"Looks like a really nasty piece of work." Sorata observed sagely. "Why do you think that there are three Angels coming here for a ruined building?"
"Maybe there's a really powerful artifact hidden in the wreckage or something?" Yuzuriha answered apprehensively, holding her reborn Inuki off of the ground protectively. "That would be a reason, right?"
"Maybe." Arashi added.
Fuuma and his followers walked up to the door, and Kamui saw his Twin Star raise a hand to protect his eyes as one of the lights by the door suddenly flashed bright and exploded into hot glass shards.
Fuuma shook off the glass with no effort, and opened the door after a moment of messing with it, and they vanished inside in a group of calculation on the part of the computer girl and Fuuma, and confusion on the part of Nataku.
The doors slammed shut hard, and lights flashed on within the building before flickering out again.
The rain came down harder on their heads as they stood there, staring. "Do we go in or not?" Sorata asked, looking slightly nervous. Which said something about how weird the situation appeared to be, since usually he wasn't that uncertain.
"If they are trying to get something that can change the outcome of the battle, we should get there first." Arashi muttered darkly, staring at the broken light. "I don't think they'll be the only obstacle though."
Yuzuriha swallowed hard, but gritted her teeth wolfishly. "We should go in."
Sorata patted her shoulder comfortingly, then looked at Kamui, who hadn't added anything more to the discussion. "What do you think we should do Kamui?"
Kamui imagined something in there, something with enough power to make the battle significantly more one-sided, and what would happen if Fuuma got there, got it in his hands. "We go in."
They walked up, a soaked quartet of apprehensive teenagers, towards the door.
When they got there, the glass on the sidewalk jumped up to cut at their legs, and they promptly leaped- in four different directions.
Sorata managed to trip and hit the door back first, stumbling in suddenly. Arashi sprang up gracefully, landing on the wooden supports of the third floor, before the whole of the third floor suddenly reappeared in something close to its former glory. Yuzuriha landed on the sill of one of the few glassless windows of the second floor, and then appeared to be pulled in. Kamui alone jumped back away from the house, and was not caught by its sudden suction attack.
Or so he thought, until the dirt at his feet began to slide away, and he was caught up in the sudden slide of mud that dumped him into the basement.
As soon as he rolled to his feet, significantly muddier than before, the walls sealed back up and the mud vanished from the floor to refill the hole.
Then the lights went out.
Kamui swore violently as he was left in the dark, covered in mud and quite alone.
Sorata had been pulled through the door, there was no question. He had no sooner gotten clear of the doors than they slammed shut and locked with a solid venomous click.
"Hey you! Watch out!" The cry came from behind, and Sorata turned just in time to dodge a vase that was hurtled from the sitting table within.
Two boys, probably his age, stood on the stairs, one of them in an obvious state of panic, the other looking completely unruffled, even with the two puffballs that looked like pork buns with appendages bouncing about on his shoulders with glee. It was the flustered teenager that had called to him. "You have to be careful in here!" he added, shouting to be heard over the slamming of doors and the ringing of a clock that counted eight times. "Otherwise you'll get blasted by a vase or a painting or something not nailed down like that." He ducked as a painting flew straight at his head- before improbably reversing direction and tumbling to the floor to the cheering of the two puffballs. "Why don't you come over here?"
Sorata grinned. "I think I will do that!" he called back, before focusing on the lightning that lurked beneath his skin, feeling it prickle up and down every inch until the air around him gained a faint purple-blue glow around him from the controlled wildness.
When he took a step away from the doors, the painting that had originally tried to hit the boys flew straight at him, only to slam into his lightning barrier and miss shattering on his face.
Sorata made it, slowly to the first two stairs where the teens stood, and released the pent up energy with a groan, all the few lights that remained on flickering suspiciously bright with the same glow as his lightning. "Nice to meet you two, I'm Arisugawa Sorata." he gasped as he braced himself on the banister. Creating lightning was one thing, holding onto something that was meant to strike and vanish was a whole other.
The puffballs squeaked with indignation and hopped onto his shoulder. "Mokona count too!" they cried shrilly, one on each side.
Sorata grinned, still wincing from the noise. "Sorry, nice to meet the four of you. Better?" he asked the 'Mokona'.
They both cheered again, before leaping for the boy who was visibly nervewracked again. "Watanuki should stop staring and introduce himself!" the black one said, hopping onto his head.
"Watanuki needs to remember his manners!" the white one cried as it bypassed 'Watanuki' and went straight for the other one.
"Manners, manners, manners, manners!" the two of them chanted, dancing about. "Watanuki forgot his manners!"
"Yes he did." the other boy added, his voice giving weight to the truth that there were people who spoke less than Arashi at times, his voice quiet and very controlled.
The blue-eyed boy reached up a hand and caught the black thing. "Stop dancing on my head!" he yelled at it. "I don't know why Yuuko-san sent you both along when she have just sent me. Hi," he said, turning to actually face Sorata instead of flipping out. "I'm Watanuki Kimihiro, and these annoyances making too much noise are Mokona and Mokona. And the-
Another painting flew from the shadows of the walls again, again doing its strange rotation and flying back away from them to land on the floor with a clatter, the silent boy staring at it with a hint of danger in his flat gaze.
That time, Sorata was pretty sure he'd seen a flicker of ghostly fingers on the edge.
The black puffball made another sound of indignation, but this was targeted at Watanuki. "We are making sure that Doumeki has enough help stopping all the paintings from removing your brains from your head. It's a hard job."
Watanuki's calm demeanour disappeared again. "ALL YOU TWO ARE DOING IS BOUNCING AROUND BEING NUISANCES! THAT DOESN'T COUNT AS HELPING!" he shrieked at the Mokona clenched in his fist, and Sorata saw too late that the other boy had plugged his ears before that sound rang through.
He certainly couldn't blame him. Watanuki could get louder than the suddenly silent room.
Apparently whatever was hounding them could be scared away by a loud enough sound.
The boy with golden eyes removed his fingers from his ears. "You shouldn't scream so loud," he rebuked the other. "You'll scare the ghosts."
Watanuki glanced around the room, expression slowly returning to a fragile calm. "Well at least I did better than you." he said with a scathing edge. "Why were we standing on the stairs not going anywhere, like out?"
"Because I lost my bow stopping you from getting hit in the head by a painting. Why else?" the boy deadpanned. "And if you haven't noticed, we can't exactly finish going up the stairs."
"I can see that. Who's the one with the second sight here?" Watanuki hissed, reminding Sorata very much of a wet cat. "And I can take care of myself, I don't need your help Doumeki."
"Why can't we go up the stairs any further?" Sorata interjected when it looked like they were about to have the world's strangest cat fight where only one of the parties involved was even on the attack. "Is there something up there?"
Watanuki stopped hissing through his nose, and looked at Sorata with a moment's confusion. "Oh, you can't actually see them, can you? There's a lot of ghost fire on about a five-stair block right where it drops to the basement. If we step on it, we'll fall. It'll hurt."
The black puffball nodded sagely from its sanctuary on the cobwebby banister. "Watanuki almost stepped on it before he saw. Watanuki doesn't pay attention to what's in front of his face."
The white one standing safely on Doumeki's shoulder snickered. "Watanuki is too busy yelling to be smart."
For once, Watanuki saw that the two of them were trying to rile him up, and although he huffed in annoyance, he managed to not burst into screams.
Sorata and his ears silently thanked him. "And your bow is up there?" he asked, targeting the question to the boy who stared intently at a shivering vase until it stopped rattling and remained on its end table, looking deceptively innocent.
"Yes. Every time I try to grab it by myself, the poltergeist chucks something at his-" he glanced at Watanuki, "-head. If we both go, it pulls it out of reach. If one of the Mokonas go, we have to catch them. We're sort of at a standstill." he finished with a hint of explaining the obvious.
Actually, it was the only thing in his tone really. Sorata would have been more amused if it weren't for the suddenly rattling chandelier, struggling against its base in their direction. "Hey guys..." he said, watching as the purple traces of ghost fire yanked at the metal bolts, pulling harder and harder. "Do you think you can block that when it gets momentum, or should we find a different place to hide?"
Doumeki's face showed a brief flash of emotion, and he stared hard at it. "Not without my bow. We should find a different space"
Watanuki grabbed up the black ball that was trying to hide behind him now, and his friend's arm with his other hand. "Then let's move."
Sorata agreed, and they all sprinted off the stairs towards one of the hallways as the chandelier detached from the ceiling with a metallic shriek and smashed through the ornate wood where they had been standing.
Arashi had drawn her sword the instant that the missing top of the hotel appeared, and had been just in time to prevent the photo frames that had been thrown at her face, slicing through them so that they fell to much smaller pieces on the floor.
The whole thing reeked of ghost activity, and not the nice kind. More like the kind that would sooner dump a chandelier on your head than stop to explain why they were unhappy.
She glanced around the room to ascertain the space. Most of it shimmered awkwardly, barely more than a ghost itself, but there were things that were solid, like the burned husk of a bed that was bolted to a wall, the frames at her feet, most of the floor.
And lots of ghost fire, purple and vicious creeping over everything. She pointed her sword at the biggest collection, and it spread apart, whooshing around to behind her, and over her.
The air felt hot, like she was standing in a furnace. As the fire collected over the remains of the bedstead, she hastily moved away from it, grateful that the floor supports were still strong enough to support her weight, and then the fire exploded into a violent violet tangle of agonizing heat and raw emotions.
The floor under her feet began to smell of burning wood, and she realized that it was the hotel itself, remembering the fire. She again leaped back, and smacked into a ruined wall, a momentary flare of pain throbbing in her shoulder where it had contacted hard.
The violet fire oozed off of the bed, growing in intensity as she attempted to back away from it, following her.
"This way..." a voice, faint, like heard through a thousand veils called to her, and a piece of the wall of the bedroom crumbled away till she could see the hallway. "Hurry..."
Arashi glared at the fire, and trusted in that voice, bolting into the hall as her position was consumed by the fire.
"Don't stop...find the girl..." the voice instructed, soft blue fire like that of a dream cooling the floor as the more violent purple followed her, flaring up in her footsteps as she ran, the heat a constant hunger at her heels.
When she rounded the corner, she ran smack into another person. Looking up, she saw the Dragon of Earth, the bioroid, standing there with its ribbon-cloth held out, weaving against a stream of fire that seemed to be playing with it.
Blue fire raced over a doorway at the end of the hallway, and Arashi heard the voice again. "Bring the child...quickly..."
She glanced around for a child, and saw none. Only the Angel fighting against an opponent it had no idea how to fight, or method to fight it with.
Fight it with, using the only thing it had. Like a trapped child with only toys.
Maybe the ghost could only sense energy, and not form? It would make sense in a twisted way.
"Hurry...!" the voice was a scream, and the fire was a distant roar now, consuming the top the same way it had before.
"Come with me!" She yelled at the bioroid who was holding onto the tattered cloth with a scared expression on its face. "Come if you don't want to die!"
It looked at her, and followed without complaint, or even a word, clutching the cloth gently.
Arashi shoved the door that was mysteriously cool compared to the rest of the building, and they were stumbling in as the hallway burst into angry violet flames, furious at being deprived of a new life to take.
The door shut hard, and blue fire ran over the room like a cool stream, bringing the ruins back to their original glory.
"Well you've got us in here, now how do we get out Rikuo!" an indignant voice called from the corners.
Arashi and the Dragon of Earth turned at the same time to look at the new speaker, both brandishing weapons again.
Apparently it was a day for an alliance between a Seal and an Angel against less distinctive foes, Arashi would take whoever she could get as an ally in this cursed place.
Yuzuriha had landed in a hallway with exploding lightbulbs where the glass flew back to its original places just to try and cover her in sharp glass again.
Inuki yipped at her to move when the window behind her broke in much the same way, and she skittered to a blanker part of the wall, between two lights that shone with an eerie purple glow in between breaking.
"Get out...bitch...!" a cold voice, sounding many years away, and furious enough to kill, hissed at her from the wall. "This place...is mine...MINE!"
The wall groaned and buckled, the sharp sounds of an axe smashing into the wall echoing through the room.
Inuki lept from her arms, running down a hallway with fewer lights to shatter across her back, barking frantically for her to follow him.
Yuzuriha saw the corner of a bloody axe, strangely solid for a ghost, break through the wall, and heard the insane laughter of the man involved before she bolted, unable to fight back against an opponent like the one behind her.
Inuki stopped in a dark part of the hallway, and growled low in his throat, fear making the hair on his back stand on end till he looked twice his size. He barked twice at her, and she darted into the darkness as well, just as the last lightbulb at the end of the hall exploded again, for good.
"My place...bitch...your pup...does no good...bitch..." the voice hissed, a cackle in the air.
And she saw him, a man covered in blood up his arms, holding an axe with a lot of blood, and pieces of flesh clinging to the blade. She could see the window at the end of the hall through him, but he approached her with real sound, giggling madly all the while.
"Game over...bitch...just like that...slut...my wife...I'LL MAKE YOU BLEED LIKE HER!" the voice finished in a scream, and she ran from the axe that split the floor where she had been standing.
Yuzuriha ran around one bend, and another, Inuki following on her heels, and the madman right behind him, until she ended up at a dead end.
"All mine...bitch..." the voice crooned, soft enough to be a lullaby.
Inuki stood in front of her, barking up a storm at the man, before he leaped into her hands as a sword.
She caught the blow on the edge of the blade, but her arms wavered under the tremendous strength of the ghost. She blocked a second swing, and dodged a third that left the axe buried in the wall. But the fourth blow clipped her sword arm, and she cried out as the blade bit into her skin, leaving blood dripping out heavily. Inuki fell from her hands as the pain ran down and forced her fingers open.
He grinned, some grotesque twist of lust and hatred curling his lips, and he raised the axe again. Inuki charged at him, and yet only passed through his legs.
And Yuzuriha saw the brutal futility of fighting a ghost, you couldn't strike back to kill them, they were already dead.
She clutched at the throbbing pain of her arm, prepared to run through him, to any freedom that there might be past him.
The cry came from behind the ghost, and a glowing blade cut through him, and his grin twisted to a look of shock as he dissolved into purple fire, the axe clattering to the ground heavily.
Yuzuriha looked up at her unexpected savior, and saw two girls standing there, one of them holding the sword that flickered back into a card and a staff as she said something too quietly for her to hear, and in a very unusual dress, pink with an enormous ribbon at the back, the tails on the floor, but with the skirt only long in the back, allowing her strong legs clad in a deeper pink to move freely. The other girl stood a ways behind, holding a video camera to her eyes.
"Thank you," she said to both of them, holding onto her arm where it refused to stop bleeding.
There was a sound of shattering windows, and the girl who saved her, previously looking so brave, promptly squeaked and hid her face. "Please...no more ghosts." she whimpered.
The other girl immediately lowered her camera and went to wrap an arm around her shoulder, at the same time that a floating stuffed toy rose from the girl's hair to go over to the shaking girl in pink. "Sakura-chan..." it said awkwardly, the tone and dialect of its voice reminding her of Sorata. "Let's find the brat and his hanger on so we can get out of here, okay?"
"You're doing great Sakura-chan," the girl with the camera said, "You brought him down like he was nothing!"
"I know." the girl, presumably Sakura, whined. "But I've already done that twice and it's really scary when he does something like-"
The window at the end of the hall broke and his laughter rang through the walls. "That!" she finished, burying her face in the other girl's shoulder. "I don't want to be in here anymore Tomoyo-chan!"
Yuzuriha shuddered in agreement. "Umm, thank you both for saving me. I'm Nekoi Yuzuriha," she introduced herself, trying to cheer up as Inuki stood on his hind legs to try and get up to her injury. "Have you seen anyone else alive in here?" she asked both of them, trying not to think of the alternative if her friends hadn't been prepared for something like what she'd just seen.
Even though they were all powerful, they were not immune to death.
The girl with a camera and long dark hair smiled at her over her friend's hair. "I'm Daidouji Tomoyo, nice to meet you. Oh!" she appeared to actually notice her cut. "Sakura-chan, I need to get into my bag, I have bandages in there."
The girl let go of Tomoyo reluctantly, shivering when another cackle rent the air. "Hi, I'm Kinomoto Sakura and I'm not quite sure why we ended up in here." The window pieces lifted themselves from the ground to slot into the frame seamlessly, and she squeaked. "He's so angry!"
The other girl finished removing a roll of white fabric that Yuzuriha recognized as being a very fine gauze. "It's not exactly regular bandages, but it should work."
Inuki yipped in uncertainty as Tomoyo walked forwards with the fabric, but ultimately just sat at her feet, teeth bared at the floor.
Sakura slid the card that she had been holding into a small case on her waist and took out another one. "Are you sure you want that one Sakura-chan?" the stuffed animal asked with concern in its very masculine voice. "It's only for defending."
The girl nodded with a shaky certainty, cringing when the window broke again. "Shield will keep anything more from happening to us. And he can't get through it when I need it to be strong."
Tomoyo tied off the fabric in a deft knot. "Would you like to come with us Nekoi-san? I'm not sure it's safe to be alone in this building." She put the remainder of the fabric back into her bag, and the quick glance Yuzuriha got showed that she was decently prepared for anything they might encounter. Which was more than could be said for her and the other Seals.
"You can call me Yuzuriha," she said, picking up Inuki. Tomoyo's eyes slid over him, but Sakura and the stuffed animal appeared to see him just fine. "And I think I would like to come with you. I lost my friends in here, and I want to find them so we can go home."
Sakura took the pretty staff with a star on the end that she hadn't released, and held up the card in the other hand. "Welcome to our little group then Yuzuriha-san." she said with a smile as the animal alighted on her shoulder. "This is Kero-chan right here," she gestured to the suddenly scowling plushie.
"It's Cerberus." he corrected with a frown. "Is it really that hard to say?"
His question remained unanswered by the girl who's eyebrows had pulled down in concentration. She spun the staff in her hands, and the air lit up pink, with magic, Yuzuriha realized. "Sakura card, hear my plea, lend your powers to my key! Shield!" she cried, holding the staff with a rapidly spinning star within. "Release!"
The card flashed, and grew into a transparent bubble, stretching around the three of them with room to spare. As it closed off, the sound of the ghost vanished, and the window put itself back together with a very fed-up vibe to it.
"Wow." Yuzuriha breathed, touching the edges of it and feeling that it was solid and gentle.
Tomoyo had her camera up and recording again as they walked. "So now that we've met Yuzuriha-chan, and Sakura-chan has defeated our resident mean spirit for the third time, we continue on our mission to find Li-kun and Yamazaki-kun who have vanished within here after they got a case of hot-headedness."
"You mean that the brat tried to charge in here to look dashing and then didn't come back out." Kero muttered darkly.
"Oh shut up Kero! He is not a brat!" Sakura reprimanded him with a very annoyed scowl on her face as they turned into a lit hallway with lamps that were much nicer when not raining glass on them.
Yuzuriha smiled and whispered to Inuki, "I think we've found some good people here."
Inuki barked in agreement.
Kamui scowled as he tried to scrape more mud off of his shirt, and glanced at the room he'd fallen into. It looked like a laundry room, but solely for sorting and folding clothes, with no washing machines or dryers to be seen. It was also in incredible disarray, with tables overturned and several marks that were made by a heavy sharp object, like a sword or an axe. It also had a newspaper on top of the only standing table.
When he walked over to look at it, the letters in english, that he really wasn't skilled yet to make out, stood out in bold black print. "HOTEL HELL, CHILD'S SEVERED HEAD FOUND IN HOTEL LAUNDRY ROOM!" along with a photo of a dryer with blood leaking out the base. He shuddered at what could have been found in there and put it down, ignoring the print.
Then he heard sobbing, hysterical traumatic sobbing. He recognized that kind of crying, where there was just no coherency, no control, nothing other than the pain.
He'd done it himself when Kotori had died and Fuuma had turned to the side of the Dragons of Earth, holding onto her head because that was the only thing in the world that he could manage to see.
A door swung open, and he walked through it, just as her sobs ended in a terrified scream.
Then the lights went out, and he could hear footsteps, heavy footsteps that echoed in the darkness.
There was purple fire that encircled a shelf in front of him, and he could hear the groaning of metal, followed by a laugh. A cruel laugh.
He sprang back just as the shelf toppled, spilling cleaning supplies everywhere.
Blue fire echoed over a patch of stone walls, and when a can impacted on the wall right by his head, he charged shoulder first towards the blue fire, and tumbled through a shoddily boarded section of the wall, coming out in a room with two doors swaying on broken hinges, and light.
Also there were three girls there, looking confused and all of them holding onto swords. "I thought we were in Infinity." the one in glasses said. "Why would we have our swords otherwise?"
Kamui gaped at the length of her sword, that should have been impossible to lift for anyone, let alone hold like it were a feather.
The shortest of the three lifted hers with practiced ease. "Maybe they would appear for us on Earth if we were in danger? After all, this place is haunted."
The third of the trio, with long blue hair swinging around her hips, pointed hers straight at Kamui. "Are you a ghost?" she said with a sharp bite to her tone. "Tell us the truth and we'll go easy on you with our magic."
Kamui took a step back towards the room that he had left, and heard the clattering of metal on stone echoing with mad precision. Decisions, decisions. In front of him, possibly homicidal girls with swords. Behind him, mad ghost with cleaning supplies. Which was more fatal?
The shortest, with red hair dropped her sword to her side. "Umi-chan, both of the ghosts we've seen were transparent. Can you see through him?"
The other girl adjusted her glasses, also lowering her sword to his continuing relief. "Hikaru-chan's right Umi-chan, he may be covered in mud, but he's solid."
The third girl scowled, but lowered her sword as well. "Oh fine, sorry for the misunderstanding," she said, not sounding sorry at all, "Are you stuck in here as well?"
Kamui took several steps away from the hole in the wall. "'As well'? How did you get in here?" he asked, watching their blades cautiously.
The scars on his hands ached in persist ant memory of Fuuma's sword going through them before pinning him to a wall with shards of glass.
The short girl saw where his eyes had landed, and smiled brightly. "It's alright, Fuu-chan and I won't let Umi-chan stab you. I'm Shiidou Hikaru. Nice to meet you!"
The girl with glasses bowed, carefully avoiding hitting herself with the blade as she folded over elegantly. "I am Housho Fuu, and we were on our way to a...country that we can go to from Tokyo Tower, but something went off and we ended up here."
The third girl did not bow, but something in her face softened her sardonic smile. "I'm Ryuuzaki Umi, and do you know where we are? I think you came from outside since you are all muddy."
Kamui tried not to crumple under the drastically different levels of their greetings, and offered up a small smile back. "I'm Shirou Kamui, and you're in Santa Monica, California."
Hikaru put a finger to her mouth in concentration. "California, that's in the United States, right?" She pronounced all three words oddly, but clearly enough for all of them to understand her. "How did we end up here instead of Infinity?" she mused out loud.
A sobbing cry distracted them all from their contemplation, and they ran up to the hallway just in time to see a young woman fleeing down the crisscrossing paths, tears streaming down her face as she ran past them and into the wall.
"Well," Umi drawled. "There goes the nice one again."
Kamui glanced at her. "There's more than one here?"
"Two." that was Fuu taking over. "There's her, she showed us how to get out of the laundry room when all the doors locked on us, and she stopped Hikaru-chan from being hit in the leg by a jar of bleach. The other one..."
"Get back here...you slut..!" the man's cry was vicious, with hatred dripping from every sound, every syllable. Kamui glanced around wildly, but saw no one who could have made the sound.
"Is much less nice." Hikaru finished, her previously innocent look replaced by one of a warrior's concentration. "He's already tried to kill us a few times, but stopped after Umi hit all of his projectiles with ice. He can't touch ice for some reason."
Umi stepped out into the hallway, looking in the direction the ghost had come from. "I think it's too heavy, or too natural for him to touch. You've noticed that he hasn't caved the walls in on us, right?" She strode off boldly in the direction she had come from, not waiting to discuss any options with them.
"Why are you going that way Umi-chan?" Fuu asked, walking to catch up with her, carefully pointing the long blade of her sword in front of her so that she wasn't cutting open the floor. "She went the other way."
"I know," Umi replied with a scathing bite to her tone, although it wasn't directed at the other girl. "If she came from here, than there was something down here that caused her to materialize again. So we're going to check it out!"
Hikaru smiled after them. "Shirou-san, would you like to come with us? It's not safe to be alone in this place." There was a vague anxiety in her expression, as if he might yell at her for suggesting such a thing.
Kamui smiled at her instead, there was something about her that made it impossible not to, "I would like that Shiidou-san."
She grinned brightly at him. "Alright then, I guess we should go after them then. I wouldn't want to leave all the ghost sightings to them." And she trotted down the hallway after her friends, a carefree energy to her movements that left him slightly entranced.
Then the scars in his hands throbbed again with a memory of agony. When he looked down, he understood exactly why they ached, even though there was no glass in them, no blood he immediately ran to catch up with the girls.
He didn't want them to run into Fuuma without him there.
Sorata stood in front of a boarded up door, looking through one of the cracks to the room beyond. "It looks like a bar, I can see bottles all over the tables in there."
Watanuki glared through a different crack. "It doesn't look very burned inside. Maybe they boarded it up because the door was gone?" He probably caught sight of the selection of alcohol on the shelves behind the bar table. "Oh lovely, Yuuko-san would love this place. She'd break the door down with her mystical skills that she doesn't use at all and not do anything else because she's busy getting drunk in here." And he glared at Doumeki again, who had the Mokonas sitting in his hands, looking rather like beanbags in their giggly laziness. "I could think of someone else who would do exactly the same thing should he be able to get in the room." he hissed, backing away from the door.
"You?" Doumeki deadpanned to the snickers of the white and black furballs. Sorata resisted the urge to snicker as well, knowing full well that there were certain people that when teased enough to react to it, resorted to either very loud noises or physical violence.
His Arashi fell into the latter.
Watanuki however, was very clearly in the former camp, because both of the fluffballs jumped to his shoulders at the same time that Doumeki stuck his fingers in his ears just in time to avoid a loud screech and subsequent ranting from Watanuki on the state of his alcohol consumption antics, being none at all apparently.
He was interrupted by a vase clattering to the ground, shattered pieces of porcelain lying there as innocently as an Angel. Sorata took the opportunity of momentary silence to start working on pulling the boards off of the door. "If it's safely boarded up, then our poltergeist probably isn't in there either. We can see if there's anything useful in there."
"Like alcohol?" Watanuki muttered dryly. "Oi, you!" he called at the boy with his hands still over his ears.
Doumeki cautiously removed one hand, a position quickly usurped by the black Mokona.
"Help get the wood off the door." Watanuki directed, taking charge of the white puffball dancing on Sorata's shoulders and being a nuisance.
The golden-eyed boy released his ears, and went to hook his fingers around one board, pulling with all the strength in his sizeable shoulders.
Sorata pulled too, and the wood broke free with a splintering sound and the clang of nails falling to the floor.
The board quickly followed it, and an end table from up above. Watanuki dodged it by slipping between the two of them just in time. "Its getting bolder." he whispered. "More certain."
"You bitch...and your cords...stop it...!" A man's voice echoed, followed by the sound of something heavy smashing into the ground.
Sorata motioned for them to stop talking for a moment, and listened, closely.
After a moment, he heard something that he had hoped wasn't there.
"You and your tables stop it. Emotions are useless, so why fight me and my Beast with them?" The computer girl that had killed Yuzuriha's Inuki spat back, along with the hissing whirr of a computer.
Sorata cursed under his breath. "You know how we're having enough trouble with a ghost already, right?"
Watanuki and Doumeki caught on instantly. "There's living trouble now too?" Watanuki groaned, cradling the Mokonas protectively against his chest. For all of his yelling and bluster, Watanuki seemed really fond of the little puffballs, much more than he let on.
Although it wasn't relevant to the situation at all, it made Sorata wonder if he had more of a chance with Arashi than he'd thought.
Doumeki ripped another board off, leaving a gap big enough for Watanuki, if he struggled and really worked at it, could get through to the other side. "Watanuki, go through."
Watanuki gaped at him. "What? And leave you both out here? With a ghost and something else dangerous?" He shook his head violently.
Doumeki stared at him, intently, heavily, with some level of communication going on that Sorata was left out of.
It reminded him of the way that Fuuma, Kamui and Kotori used to be able to look at each other, back before the beginning of the true battles.
Watanuki shrunk in a very cattish way, looking angry, but agreeable to an extent. "I will go through, and then you two are taking off another board and coming in." he said finally.
Doumeki nodded, and the Mokonas let out a very quiet cheer, that the black one followed up with; "Doumeki is always so protective."
The white ball added in its own comment, "Doumeki will be a good boyfriend someday."
Watanuki looked like he was about to start yelling, but then he shut his mouth, and started to try and work his way through the gap, the puffballs jumping to the ground within so that he had the use of his arms.
With some creative twisting of his body, and much complaining, the boy slipped in, stumbling a bit to catch his balance. "Now you two have to come in. No stupid antics."
Doumeki grabbed hold of the wood right below the gap, pulling in time with Sorata again. "I thought that was your job."
The board snapped free, and yet when Sorata dropped his end, Doumeki kept holding onto it. When he looked at him in confusion, the golden-eyed boy smirked. "I'm going to go last, plug up the hole with this." He moved the board just slightly for emphasis.
As Sorata was climbing through the hole, all the lights flickered dangerously, spending more time off than on. Watanuki's eyes were widely blue in the faulty light, backing up to the bar and gripping onto it tightly with a white-knuckled hand. Both of the Mokonas were huddling around his neck, and Sorata thought he saw something else thin and furry sliding up his neck, like a snake, or a wisp of smoke.
Doumeki almost fell in, the size of his shoulders making it harder for him to get through the gap. But he pulled the board through, and four nails that he must have picked up off the floor. "Hey you, lighting user." he called to Sorata, pushing the board up against the hole. "Hold this steady while I nail it back up."
Sorata was there in the breath of a second, holding it up as the lights sputtered more and more madly. He heard the ghost cackling again, followed by the crash of pottery and snap of cables, and he realized that the damn girl was probably using the power itself to fight against the ghost.
"It's going to be bad when the lights go out." Watanuki whispered, looking scared.
Doumeki smashed in a nail with a different hunk of wood, hammering it crookedly, but enough that the nails were holding it up. One in, then two. The lights crackled, and he heard the bulbs in the other room explode.
Three nails in, and there was the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs, without the crash.
The wood broke when the fourth nail was only part of the way in, and Watanuki inched away from the door.
Footsteps came closer and closer and Doumeki was right by Watanuki again, his mysterious aura keeping anything minor from hitting the other boy.
Footsteps, clunk, clunk, clunk, stop, and Sorata was backing away too.
The lights flashed brilliantly blindingly bright, and Sorata saw the deranged bloody grin of a madman, holding two knives in the gaps that were still in the door, the wood no longer keeping it safe from him.
"Foolish bastards...in my place...DIE..!" he snarled, and vanished as he chucked the dangerously solid blades.
One of the knives slammed straight into Sorata's collarbone, the other passed him by to nick Watanuki's cheek, even his guardian's aura not enough to stop the momentum.
Then all the lights went out.
Nataku's ribbon snapped out, the burned fluttering tip wrapping around the arm of a tall boy with black hair. It pulled against him, probably hoping to reel him in.
This backfired in two different ways, one by the fact that the Angel wasn't as strong as their mysterious opponent, two that the boy glared at the fabric until it snapped.
Whether that was a side effect of much of the fabric being charred by the ghost fire, or something else, she didn't know, but as the Dragon of Earth snapped back its weapon, she advanced with her sword held high, in a good position to either block or strike.
Then she noticed another boy, the one who had made the initial noise, looking somewhere between scared and fierce, a feral kitten in the shadows. Arashi snapped the sword down, heedless of the fact that it smacked into a neat little stack of books, sending them tumbling to the floor, paper with a slice in it. "What are you doing here?" she bit out, ready to strike should either of them attack her.
It was very odd, how when it came down to it, she trusted the Angel at her back as opposed to the two in front of her.
The kittenish boy glanced around his partner. "Why are you brandishing a sword at us?" he spat back. "Aggressive negotiations?"
"What are you doing Seal-san?" the bioroid asked, that childish hesitancy laid thick in its voice. "If they threaten, shouldn't we respond with death?"
Arashi wanted to gape at it, in shock, or disgust, or pity, she wasn't quite sure yet, but it was more a child than she'd thought. What did it learn?
Apparently the concealed boy felt the same way, staring with an open mouth at Nataku.
Impossibly, she found herself moving in front of it, to protect it. Once again, she pointed her sword at them. "Explain. Now."
The dark-haired boy scowled. "I'll break that as easily as I did the cloth if you even try to touch him with it."
Interesting, that explained three things. One, he thought it was a regular sword, not a gift specifically for the Hidden Priestess of Ise. Two, he did break the cloth and with some sort of different ability than the rest of them. Three, he didn't state that he would do the same thing for himself, only for the boy behind him.
She drew the sword back, tilting it till the flat was right in front of her face, visually splitting her vision into two. "It isn't as simple as that. Why are you in this building?"
The boy bared his teeth much like a dog, and she was suddenly reminded of Inuki, defending his mistress at any cost. "It isn't your business why we're here. You explain first."
Arashi sensed Nataku shifting behind her, and turned enough to catch the cloth before it could hurtle it at the others. "We're trying to figure out if we can trust them or not. Attacking them will make them enemies. Attacking them gets you back in the hallway with the purple fire." she hissed, her words meant for the bioroid alone. It was harsh, but she didn't know what else to say to get the point across.
"Did both of you walk into a portal?" the cattish boy asked suddenly, glancing around his larger companion. "That's how we got here, stumbled into a portal while on a job."
She looked at them in bafflement, before catching that the smaller of the two was trying to make peace, to the annoyed hiss of "Kazahaya." from the other.
"Nataku walked in through the front door, I jumped onto the roof. I don't know how Nataku got here as well, I saw no stairs." she said curtly, letting the blade slide back into her hand. If the situation turned sour, she could call it out just as easily again. The bioroid seemed to get the idea that she was trying to salvage the situation, and let the fabric fall in a sooty pool on the ground, although it kept it loosely clutched in one hand.
"You jumped onto the roof?" the boy exclaimed in surprise. "Why can't you do something like that Rikuo?" he asked his companion.
"I don't know, why can't you hide swords in your hands?" the other replied, some of the tension draining from his shoulders, although he did not let the other pass him. "We seem to be less on opposite sides than the situation suggests."
In other words, they both misjudged, drop it and see if they could get back down.
Arashi wouldn't normally have backed off, but these were extenuating situations. She had already vaguely allied herself with a Dragon of Earth, would it really hurt to give these two the benefit of the doubt?
"For now, it may be a good idea to join forces solely for getting out of this place. Afterwards, we can all find our own way home." she stated blankly, choosing to keep it quiet that Sorata had all of their return tickets concealed in his pockets, undoubtedly rumpled and slightly dismayed from being stuffed in there heedlessly.
A wail, that of a young woman, echoed through the air and all of them shivered at the sound.
'Yuzuriha.' Arashi thought, a sudden ache leaping into her chest. If the second floor was as bad as the third, and had no sanctuary like this room, what could be happening to the youngest of the Seals?
"Do you know who that is?" the smaller boy asked, looking concerned. She was unexpectedly reminded of Sorata at that moment, for no apparent reason, they had nothing in common. Nothing at all other than they showed concern for her when she was feeling vulnerable.
"I came here with three other people, one of them is a young girl who could have made that sound." she informed them, voice taut like a bowstring. "We should move."
"Be careful...he'll come..." the ghost voice, distinctly stronger in this room, with an edge of the feminine to it, warned them. "Go quickly"
Blue fire washed over the room again and the sunny room dissolved into the ruins of the top of the building, rainy and dark and cold. The door into the standing hallway swung ominously there.
Nataku glanced nervously at her, and clung tightly to its cloth, like a child and its blanket. To her surprise, Arashi found herself feeling protective of the Angel who clearly had no idea what was going on. She looked at it straight in its violet eyes, much kinder than the fire that had vacated the hall for now. "Nataku, we are going to go downstairs. We are facing a foe that none of us can touch. If something like a painting, or something heavy flies at you, break it or dodge it. Do not fight back. We are not fighting to kill. I will protect you until we are free of this building. Until then, there is no Seal-san or Angel-san. We are just Arashi and Nataku."
It looked at her with those odd eyes, looking almost awestruck. "Arashi..." it whispered, and she realized that it hadn't even known her name. Then a look of determination filled those eyes and it set its face towards the door.
"Your name's Arashi?" the arrogant sound was that of the taller boy. "Interesting name. If I hadn't seen you with the sword, I would have said you were too calm to be a storm."
The other boy smacked him on the arm. "Rikuo." he hissed. "Don't antagonize people we just meant, or we'll be stuck by ourselves again."
She drew on that calm state again, ignoring them bickering like a married couple behind her, and drew her sword at the same time that Nataku picked up the rest of the cloth, the tattered ends slowly glowing and returning to their longer white luster.
As she pushed the remains of the door open, the lights within went out.
They had been bothered very little by the ghost in obvious antics since Sakura had brought out the mysterious card that had become their shield against flying photos, vases, lamps, glass and anything else that their malevolent haunter had felt suitable to chuck at them. His words were also blocked from them, and it was more solid than any spirit shield she had ever seen.
Of course, usually their spirit shields were for making alternate dimensions to fight without injuring innocent people, so it wasn't really a fair comparison.
Tomoyo had kept up the narrating as they walked through the dilapidated hallways, with the weird flying stuffed animal adding in plenty of his own loud commentary and interjections into the video. Yuzuriha had the camera pointed at her a couple times to her faint embarrassment.
Sakura seemed wholly used to being recorded by her friend, and made only token protests to the camera being mostly pointed at her. She spent the rest of the time staring at the walls in barely concealed fear that something might come out and attack them like before, and with a guarded watchfulness.
"So, you're looking for someone too?" Yuzuriha asked cautiously, watching the lights flicker like the power was threatening to go out.
Sakura nodded as they turned a corner into a different hallway, this one not so damaged by fire and wreckage. "Syaoran, my boyfriend. He went in here to find something, and didn't come back out when he was supposed to. So we, me and Kero-chan and Tomoyo-chan, came in to find him. Also, for some reason and somehow, a friend of ours from school, Yamazaki-kun managed to show up here. We don't know how, he may have walked into the same portal we did." She shivered as they passed an end table with a newspaper on it.
Yuzuriha saw a headline on it, but didn't get a chance to read it. "Have you read that already?"
Tomoyo was the one who answered. "When we first got in here. I had to read it out to make the translation, since usually we aren't taught words like that in middle school." she looked privately disturbed herself. "The whole thing was about a murder spree that happened in this hotel, starting with two children, and ending with their parents, one of them was the killer."
The floating animal nodded sagely. "And as we've discovered, it's the dad. He showed up when we first got in, told us to go away or he'd do the same that he did to those kids." he chuckled to himself. "Sakura-chan didn't listen to him, she was too busy being scared. Then he almost hit me in the neck with a chandelier. Sakura-chan used the Sword card on him and chased him off somewhere else."
The girl in discussion shivered. "Could we please not talk about any more ghosts?" she said tersely, probably trying not to whine.
Kero shrugged and floated up to land on her shoulder, a silent guardian in shrunken form, he looked.
Tomoyo moved the camera away from her eye for a moment, presumably to give it a rest, and glanced at Yuzuriha's arm with concern. "Are you alright Yuzuriha-chan?" she asked, honest emotion layering her voice into a rich melody of sound. "Your arm looks like it still hurts."
She shrugged with the shoulder lacking an injured arm. "It stings a little." that was putting it lightly. "But your bandage is helping a lot. I think it's stopped bleeding now." she added more truthfully with a smile.
Tomoyo glanced at her with an expression that said full well that she knew that Yuzuriha wasn't telling the whole truth, but let it go as they walked past doors that Sakura walked close enough to for the shield to take them in, and opening them up to look around within for a second, shutting them with a soft click every time she didn't find what she wanted.
Then Yuzuriha felt the crackle of magic on a door that Sakura opened, and glanced in for a moment. She was about to shut it when Yuzuriha touched her on the arm. "It feels like magic touched this door. Would you mind if I sent Inuki inside to take a closer look?"
The girl looked at her puppy, dangling peacefully in her arms, then at Kero. "Will that work?"
"That dog's a spirit dog, it doesn't follow the same rules as other spirits though. They are bound to an owner when both are born and both will always be able to find each other. It can go in and out just fine." Kero informed her like he was the character who always told the young ones what needed to happen in movies, either before vanishing or dying a violent bloody death, depending on the film.
Sakura nodded in agreement with her plan, and Yuzuriha gently lifted her dog up to her face, kissing him on his nose before setting him on the ground. He yipped at her with a message to stay sharp, and vanished around the frame. Tomoyo trained her camera lens on roughly where Inuki was as he moved, leading Yuzuriha to wonder if she actually had no sight for the second world, or if she just didn't see anything unusual in the existance of an inugami.
Either could be possible with this girl.
Inuki yipped from within the room, then trotted back, with his nose low to the ground, scenting. He walked through the shield and past them, smelling furiously all the while. When he had almost gone around the corner, he turned back and barked at them.
"He says for us to follow." Yuzuriha translated, already trying to move with the shield.
Sakura's face took on a determined look and she marched on steadily after the dog.
Behind them, Yuzuriha could hear Tomoyo. "So now we follow Yuzuriha-chan's spirit dog to see if he can find our missing friends. And we're going around a corner- Sakura-chan, are the lights supposed to be doing that?"
They both glanced up at the same time, to see the lights on the ceiling swaying and flickering madly. "Is...is it the ghost?" Sakura whimpered.
Yuzuriha could feel the surging yank of a Dragon of Earth, calling the powers to themselves. "No, it's..."
She was cut off by Inuki running headlong back towards them, barking loudly. The lights flashed bright, bright and for a moment Yuzuriha was worried they were going to fall anyway.
Then the lights went out, irrevocably.
Sakura's scream in the sudden dark was the last sensible thing she heard, with the feeling of Inuki rushing into her arms.
Kamui had been in a hallway with Hikaru, walking towards the other two girls in the laundry room, when the lights had gone out, followed by the exhilarated cackle of someone not of the living world.
Hikaru had immediately reached out, and caught his hand. In any other circumstance, he would have seen it as someone trying to hit on him, or being scared. Possibly both. With her, he was quite certain that it was only her just trying to make sure that he didn't vanish into the deep.
Another cackle floated down the hall, along with a rather foul word from Umi, he thought. He hadn't heard them enough to actually tell them apart by voice yet.
"I don't think it's safe anymore." Hikaru whispered, and he heard the whispering of air that was possibly her holding up her sword. "She said never leave the light. So why did it go dark?"
"Hikaru-chan? Shirou-san?" he was pretty sure that was Fuu. "Are you two alright?"
"Yes!" Hikaru called back. "We're fine, just standing in the hall." her hand tightened around his. "I've got Shirou-san right here, how far do you think we need to walk?"
A light breeze spiraled through the air, and with it a voice. "Not too far, maybe five meters or so from the door. Be careful though, I've heard him snickering. Don't let yourself get complacent."
Hikaru promptly started to pull Kamui through the darkness, confident as if she could see more than she did. Kamui did not protest this action, trying to remember what Subaru had said about poltergeists and other malevolent spirits when he had talked about some of his work while Kamui was laid up recovering.
"A poltergeist is generally a lonely spirit, often a teenager who was ignored in life. They will often cling after death, seeking someone to pay attention to them. Thus, they will slam doors, move things, throw small objects because it gets attention, even if it ends in a medium being called. Poltergeists rarely get violent, since they only want to be noticed, and not to cause pain. But there are other spirits that can be worse. For example, the spirit of a serial killer will often linger on and attempt to kill those who get too close to whatever they pick up. The same goes for those who committed acts of violence right before death, as they will be locked into the mindset of those horrible emotions, and gain more strength the harder it is to see what they are doing. However, they also lose their ability to move like ghosts through solid objects, as there is no light to grant them transparent form. If you end up in the dark around them, barricade every entrance they can get through and pray for the sun to rise before they give way. Never be in an open space with one of them in the dark, you won't see them till they successfully kill you."
It was some sort of sixth sense that made him yank both of them to the side, just before the loud clatter of a heavy metal object slamming into the stone where they were resounded through the hallway.
"Hikaru-chan!" came the scared cry from not too far away, and he thought he saw a brief flash of blue fire on a doorway right in front of them.
"Lucky guess...little bitches...not so lucky...next time...!" Burned, rotten and mutilated hands wrapped around his neck and squeezed. Kamui choked, gasping for air.
"Fire Arrow!" That shriek was Hikaru, and the hallway lit up red, a bright brief burst of fire slamming into the maniac hanging onto his neck and sending him spiraling into wisps of smoke.
Kamui coughed, massaging his throat as Hikaru held up her suddenly flaming sword, a beacon in the dark. Blue fire again washed over the doorway, and he saw Umi and Fuu both standing at the edge, obviously stopped by something that was not of this world. Hikaru took his hand again as he began to remember how to breathe normally, and walked with him, holding her sword like a torch.
As they passed into a room that glowed faintly of blue, Kamui was really glad that he had chosen to go with these girls and their swords. How long till he would have ended up dead if it weren't for them?
"Are you alright Shirou-kun?" Fuu moved forwards upon their entrance, fingers going to gently touch the bruising marks on his neck.
"Yes." he croaked, and cleared his throat awkwardly. "I'm fine." his voice crumbled again on the syllables and he realized that the ghost must have bruised something up pretty badly in there.
She shut her eyes, holding her hand right by his throat as it began to glow green. "Healing Wind." she intoned, much calmer than Hikaru's incantation.
Soft green winds wrapped around his body, focusing on the marks on his neck, and he felt the pain lessen, and fade away. He was reminded of Seiichirou, and his kindness and gentleness.
"Thank you Houshou-san." he smiled gratefully at the girl, glad when his voice came out sounding like his voice again.
"Safe place...but no lights...need lights...Boiler room..." a soft voice whispered and all of them jumped.
"The boiler room?" Umi repeated curiously. "Why would the boiler room be important?"
"This is an older building, right?" Fuu asked them all, obviously leading up to an explanation. "They probably have boilers as an alternate source of electricity if the outside electricity goes out."
It made sense, it was an older building that had probably been haunted long enough to not be upgraded to a better system of back up energy, and would still have boilers.
"Be careful...he'll...come...help me..." the voice whispered. The blue fire washed the room again and they all saw his angry grin in one of the doors. "Key...in here...Fire child...go..."
Hikaru blinked, holding up her sword that had not extinguished its flame yet. "I wonder why I'm supposed to go?"
"Bigger problems first Hikaru-chan." Umi bit out, already looking around the room with a sense of urgency. "We need that key if we're going anywhere." She started trying to pull out one of the washing machines to look under it.
Fuu and Hikaru moved over to help her, although Hikaru had to keep holding onto her sword so that their light didn't go out. Kamui felt that throb in his hands again, and knew that Fuuma was near, probably stuck in the dark with the ghost. That throb went to his heart at the idea that maybe the ghost would...hurt Fuuma, and he wouldn't ever know what happened.
One of the dryers rattled, and the door fell open.
That headline that he couldn't read flashed into his mind, and the image of the blood running from a dryer. That very same dryer...
Almost as if in a trance, he walked to it, certain of what he was going to find in there.
Kotori's smile, then her severed head, the last solid piece of her that he could find.
He shuddered as he opened the door the rest of the way.
Inside, was only a key with a tag hanging from it. He picked it up with trembling fingers, and looked at the words cautiously. "Boiler Room Key" it read unhelpfully. But it was a key in the laundry room, like the voice had said. "I think I found it." he said quietly.
Hikaru turned and was there with her light almost instantly, looking at the text with about the same amount of confusion that he had. "Umi-chan, you can read english, right?"
The blue-haired girl strode over from where she was digging between the washers with no success. "Yeah, do you think you found the key?"
Hikaru held it out to her, with much more confidence than Kamui had, still partially stuck in memories. "We can't tell, but it was in a dryer."
Umi took it, scanning over the fine faded print in the flickering light. "It says boiler room on it. I think it's the one we need."
Fuu came over too. "So who's going to go to the boiler room to turn the lights back on? I think that we should either all stay together or split into pairs. Nobody left alone."
Hikaru nodded in thought, biting at her lip. "We should have another torch, not just my sword. We might not be able to see him coming in time if it's just me."
Kamui was tempted to agree with her and started looking around for something that would burn, and burn for a while.
Unfortunately, the design of this room left it with one of the blocked off hallways leading to the room where they would fold and prepare all the laundry, leaving this area just machines and different detergents. Nothing that would burn for a long enough time.
High above, they heard a loud crash, followed by a curse and the sound of distant yelling, a male's. He seemed distracted, occupied with the others.
Maybe they could catch a break and run for it.
As if his thoughts drew her out, the ghost woman flickered into view, her light blue dress fluttering in an unseen wind. "He is busy with the others...an untrained exorcist draws his ire. If you wish to leave, then go now. I will light your way."
Umi smiled at her, something very kind. "Thank you ojou-san." she said politely, not even worrying about a language gap.
Fuu adjusted her glasses, looking slightly perplexed. "If it does not offend you, may I ask why you take form in this room?"
The woman's dark hair fell in tangled waves over her face as she tilted down, the blue fire of the door echoing through her. Above them, there was another loud crash. "There was the blood of innocence spilled here, my son. He left you the key before passing on. He waits..." she flickered and faded out, and the fire swirled out of the doorway to encircle them. "I do not wish to see more innocent blood spilled. With the gifts granted to me by the others that died at his hands, I will get all of you out."
The fire tugged at them, warm and maternal. Kamui felt protected, safe.
It was something that he hadn't felt since before Fuuma switched sides.
Umi picked up her sword, and it collapsed into water in her hands, dissolving into the gloves on her hands. Fuu's swirled at her touch, shrinking into breezes that did the same as Umi's.
Hikaru alone kept hers out, a light in the dark. "Well, if we're going to do this, then we should move now." She said, that warrior's determination filling her every word and their spirits.
"Where are you going so fast?" The human voice came from the doorway.
Kamui froze, unable to pull himself together enough to even turn around.
He knew who stood there.
The darkness was absolute, and the pain in Sorata's chest was also. He placed an unsteady hand at the place where the knife had impacted and felt a sharp blade and a disturbing wetness soaking into his shirt.
"We shouldn't be in here. Not now." the whisper came from Watanuki, something to latch onto in the deep. "He'll make it through, the bounderies aren't the same."
"Then don't panic." that was Doumeki, solid as ever. "Hey you, can you find your way over here?"
It took Sorata a moment to realize that the stoic boy was talking to him. "I don't know, I was right by the door, I didn't get to see what was on the floor." he said, his voice slightly shaky.
'Okay, this will do us no good to be getting all wobbly now. It's just a little puncture wound.' he reprimanded himself sharply, reaching a hand back to see if it came into contact with anyone, or anything.
A ball of fuzz jumped onto it. "Mokona can see, sort of!" announced that which had landed on his hand. "Take two steps back."
Sorata obeyed, stepping back cautiously. "Now turn slowly, and take two more steps to your right." it directed.
"He can't get through the door now!" the other one cried, slightly shriller than the first, and Sorata figured he probably had the black one in his hand. "But he'll throw things if he can. We need to get out of range!"
A strong hand reached out in the dark from where the Mokona's voice had come from, catching him in the shoulder. "Found you." Doumeki said calmly, and Sorata grasped the hand that held onto him.
"Duck!" both Mokonas cried in sync, and Sorata smacked his head into a bar stool as something heavy and fragile crashed into the wall above them.
The hand on his tugged more insistently, and Sorata dropped to the floor, crawling on his knees since both arms were virtually out of commission. He heard a soft curse from Watanuki, probably smashing himself into something as well, and he became aware of the fact that Doumeki was also hampered by holding onto him, because he was also keeping the cattish boy safe from supernatural harm..
He hadn't ever met one before, but he suspected very much that Doumeki was a powerful, although completely untrained exorcist.
The Mokona with him clung to his neck, shivering in it's own puffy way. "He is standing in the doorway. He cannot break through the boards like we did, but if he can break it with something else, we aren't safe." it informed them nervously.
"Sneaky bastards...get back here...scum..." the voice hissed from the direction the door was.
Sorata saw a tiny flash of light on the next thing he threw, and realized that they did have an option of getting lights. "Guys, can you find me a lamp? Somewhere close by?"
"Why do you need a lamp?" Watanuki hissed, a level of annoyance rising in his voice as they all bumped into a wall. "What can you do with it without electricity?"
Another thing shattered on the wall, and pieces of glass tinkled on the floor. Sorata responded by stealing his good hand back from Doumeki, pointing, and concentrating.
A bolt of lightning intercepted the next projectile, a photo album, and fell to the floor in charred bits. They all blinked from the sudden light, but the Mokona's cheers and Watanuki's 'Oh!' sound told him that they understood.
"Stop it lightning bearer!" the ghost screamed, his voice rotting sandpaper on wet bark. "Just die in the dark!"
Sorata smirked. "So, going to help me find a lamp?" he asked again.
Doumeki banged into something, he could only tell it was him in the dark because Watanuki hissed at him in vitriol, "Don't knock things over in the dark, who knows what they are or what they'll do?"
Doumeki ignored him, feeling about with the clatter of things around them. Sorata hurled another lightning bolt at the door, then Doumeki grabbed his bad arm. "Ouch!" he bit out before suppressing the urge to make any more noise about being in pain. "What is it?"
Doumeki answered by shoving a cord into his hand, right within the wall. "Our mysterious other foe started in here, there's all sorts of cords back here. Fry it."
Sorata grinned in the dark, and shot another burst of lightning, so fleetingly powerful that it left the crack of thunder in the air, feeling it sink into the cables like water into the earth.
And the lights in that room alone flickered on, slowly, uncertainly. But although they wavered, they held.
The ghost let out another scream of inarticulate rage and he chucked another heavy object that he had found into the room before vanishing from even Watanuki's sight.
The feline boy pulled himself gracefully to his feet from underneath the shattered wreckage of a bar stool, looking flustered and annoyed overall. "Well he's gone for now. Not a bad idea you had there Arisugawa-san." he growled, brushing rubble off of his shirt.
Sorata gasped as he finally pulled the dagger out of his collarbone, since they weren't so occupied with avoiding a madman anymore, and grinned at the both of them, even though there was an edge of a grimace in there. "Don't be so formal, call me Sora-chan."
The Mokona holding onto his neck giggled, waving at the other that had hopped onto the bar at some point. "Sora-chan is very awesome. He took down the ghost with lightning!" it called to its companion.
Doumeki stood up last, carefully avoiding tangling himself in the cords. "I don't think he's gone yet, he just knew we'd won this round." he said as he started to look at the stuff that had flown in, carefully pushing aside piles of glass with his shoe.
Watanuki scowled as he collected up the Mokonas, glancing at the newspaper on the bar top. "Way to be happy that we're still alive Doumeki." he retorted sarcastically.
"Yay, joy, we're alive." Doumeki monotoned, bending over to pick up something from the bottom of the glass. "Happy now?"
"Why you little...Doumeki!" Watanuki started to yell, but then caught sight of what his friend was holding, with a very slightly dismayed look on his face. "Oh dear. That doesn't help us much."
Doumeki shook his head, pushing aside the glass more to look for the missing piece of what he held, and not finding it. "Nope. And the string isn't in here. Our foe is somewhat smart."
Sorata agreed silently, looking at what the boy held in his hand.
The tall, unstrung length of a bow.
Arashi felt tempted to recoil from the sudden darkness, not just of light, but of safety. Thin tendrils of smoke still wove their way up from where the ghost fire had previously reconsumed that which had faded from real fire. Yet there was no other way down, since the floor itself in the other room was unstable enough to only be supported through the power of that ghost.
The smaller of the two boys stepped forwards. "This hallway has memories of being burned. Badly burned." he stated to the blankly obvious.
"Well does it remember how we can safely walk through it?" his companion snarked, with the sound of a grin littering the words. "That would be nice."
"Hush!" she said, meaning it just as sharply as it came out.
Far below, she heard a faint crack of thunder. Sorata. Well at least he was doing well enough to shock things in the dark.
Nataku pulled at her sleeve, its hands shaking with probable fear. "Arashi-san...the fire?"
She started to open her mouth, to say she didn't see any, but then she saw that the smoke was thickening again. "We're out of time to wait." she said quickly. "We move!"
The taller of the two took the lead, his hand wrapped around that of the other boy. "Rikuo! You're pulling my arm out of it's socket!" he cried as they tripped in the dark.
"Do you want me to carry you instead?" he bit out, and Arashi heard the thump of flesh hitting a wall. "Fuck!"
Arashi swept her sword through the smoke, glad for the faint lights that came from behind the door, and it dissipated for a moment, just in time for her to see a tendril of violet flame creeping up in the floor. "Let's go!" she told the bioroid, stepping into the hallway.
She had made it a total of two steps before realizing that the Angel wasn't right there, and whipped around, heedless of the thinning air. "Nataku?" she called.
"Little girl...stuck in the dark..." a different voice than their protecter whispered. "Just like my Tiffany...just like before I rescued her. With my axe..."
And she saw his grin in the wall behind her, right by the door that Nataku stood in, clenching the fabric, frozen with fear. "I'll do the same for you...little girl..."
"Nataku!" she called again, more desperately. It was strange, but losing the only person she knew that was with her to the dark made her heart jump within her throat. "Come here!"
"There's a fire." the bioroid whispered, pointing at the heap of rubble in front of it. Strands of purple fire rose like an unraveling tapestry, hungry and unfamiliar. "Fire hurts."
The ghost stepped through the wall, and picked up a hunk of burning wood, the violet light from it playing over everything else. "Just like my Tiffany...DIE!" And he swung it down with all of his supernatural strength.
Arashi's sword bit into the burning wood, slicing through it like butter, and in the brief second that he lacked the fire, she grabbed Nataku by its cloth, pulling forwards. "Run Nataku! The fire isn't as dangerous as him!"
The Dragon of Earth looked at her with terrified eyes- and moved forwards with her, feet fleet on the ground.
She heard the man's cackling, and the smoke thickened till she began to cough with the sensation of it ripping through her lungs, slowing her feet even as the unnatural purple light lit up the hallway, showing their path. Nataku seemed to find its strength, moving to first be next to her, than ahead, using the cloth to keep towing her along.
Ahead of them, she saw the two boys struggling with a door with a melted lock. "It says stairs here, but it won't open!" the smaller of them shouted. Then he coughed, long wracking coughs that bent him almost double.
The fire ate its way through the hall, encroaching every closer onto the four of them.
Blue light ran over the door to the side, the biggest suite on the floor, and Arashi dodged for it, shoving the door open with the help of her sword.
Inside was a mess, still smoky, but slightly clearer. And the floor had collapsed entirely, with beams from the shadowy ceiling plunging through.
Down below, there was no fire, no smoke.
But the smoke up there grew worse, and when she opened her mouth to call for them, she instead inhaled a lungful of smog, and choked on it, dropping to her knees as she fought for air.
"A way out..." she croaked through the coughing. "Over here."
Arashi didn't think that the two boys, now feeling their way through the smoke, saw her, as bent over with a lack of air as they were, but they did see the darker pit in the smoke, and vanished down the hole almost as soon as she saw them at all.
"Arashi-san?" the bioroid called as it darted into the room. "Arashi-san?"
The room was getting darker, and she was pretty sure it wasn't just from the smoke alone, since there was a dim glow of a raging fire from the doorway. She couldn't breathe, and didn't understand why Nataku hadn't collapsed until she remembered it was partially mechanical, and was probably able to breathe in worse air than any of them.
"Found you...bitch...no escape for you..." the voice whispered, and a burst of sudden, agonizing heat smashed straight into the side of her face, setting strands of her hair alight.
Arashi screamed with all the air that she had, from the shock and pain. The floor rushed up to her and she smacked her head hard, the few burning strands of her hair racing up and catching more on fire, the black strands burning quickly and dissolving into ugly ashes..
Then there were solid arms wrapping around her and freeing her from the fire. A soft cloth pressed against the throbbing burns and smothered the flames in her hair as the one who saved her jumped an amount she didn't know, into a room free of smoke.
She coughed in bitter agony as the door opened far away and blinding light poured into the room, then fell into blissful unconsciousness.
Sakura quickly regained her composure after a second of being within the dark, and Yuzuriha didn't blame her at all for screaming when the lights went out like that. It had already been scary enough when having the lights on, and Inuki with her.
Tomoyo had seemed pretty unconcerned with the whole situation. "Well now that we can't see anything, what will happen next?" she asked the camera and the recording at large. "I do hope it doesn't get any worse in here now that the lights are out."
Sakura was muttering to herself as she fiddled with the card case on her hip, Yuzuriha could hear her talking to them. "I think that I'll need Shadow to come out, can't believe I didn't think of that before, and I'll need to keep Sword and Shield on hand in case I need to change them around, and there you are, I don't understand why you keep shuffling through the deck."
Yuzuriha couldn't see, but Sakura's arm bumped into hers as she pulled a card out of her case. "Bring light back to us and protect us from what hunts us in the dark, Light!" she cried as she held up her staff, clonking Yuzuriha again in the cramped quarters.
A beautiful woman in a golden dress that looked both like a European queen's, and the rays of the sun spun out of the card, light flooding the hallway from her very presence. She walked along the path, or floated rather, the darkness staying away even as she vanished from sight, presumably to open their way.
Sakura panted as she held onto the card tightly, and she walked slightly unsteadily. "Sorry, I have two cards going at the same time and Light is really hard to use. Especially when I've been using lots of cards all day." she explained.
The card reappeared, and smiled at her. "The whole floor is lit up?" Sakura asked, already holding up her staff.
The woman nodded with a smile. Sakura smiled back, brilliantly as the light itself. "Then return to your card please."
She shut her brilliant eyes, and did. Sakura tucked it back away with some relief, already standing up straighter and looking better. "Now, capture the reflections of the others in here, Shadow!" she incanted again, and a hooded figure rose from the card and streaked away down the hall. "Let's go guys!" she called, already running after the figure as it shot through the air.
Yuzuriha ran easily, moving at a pace that made the ornate, if sad wallpaper blur. The ghost seemed to have given up on bothering them, Sakura seemed to be just too well equipped to deal with his tricks even if she couldn't actually exorcise them.
The shadow vanished under a door with a wooden beam across it, and she heard the sound of a boy's voice. "Oh, hello Shadow Card. Is Sakura right outside?"
Sakura's face lit up when she heard it. "Syaoran!" she cried, going to the door. "Are you alright? Are you hurt?"
"I'm fine Sakura," the reply came back. "I'm just stuck in the dark. I've got a barrier up and it's prevented anything else from being thrown at our heads, but we can't get out."
Sakura dissolved the Shield card to try shoving at the beam on the door. "The door's stuck, there's a whole ceiling beam on it." She pushed on it again to the lack of it doing anything. "Okay, if you are close to the door, back away, cause I need to use another card."
They all heard the sounds of scuffling on the floor, and Yuzuriha glanced around to see if there was anything being aimed at them, since the other two were more focused on the door. There was nothing there, but she couldn't shake the feeling that there was something bad happening.
"Get rid of this wood and the door for good measure, Erase!" Sakura called, and a woman in a checkerboard clown outfit appeared with her silvery cloth, whipping it around the wood and covering the door before vanishing entirely. Along with the blockage.
As the light in the hallway rushed into the room, Sakura ran in to embrace a boy with brown hair and brown eyes who had stood up. Yuzuriha saw him drop his sword to the ground and hug her back just as emphatically.
Tomoyo had lowered her camera after Sakura hugged the boy, Yuzuriha guessed he was the Syaoran she was talking to through the blockage, and went to talk to the other boy in the room. "How are you Yamazaki-kun?" she asked, looking him over for any cuts. "Did you get hurt?"
"No I didn't," he answered with a grin, his eyes mysteriously shut. "I did see a ghost though. So now I can tell Chiharu that they do exist."
Tomoyo giggled politely. "She's still not going to believe you though."
"She believes me. Sometimes." he laughed. "Oh, you two have a friend with you! I'm Yamazaki Takashi, their classmate in Tomoeda. Nice to meet you miss!" he noticed and greeted Yuzuriha.
She giggled, noticing from the side of her vision that Sakura and Syaoran had released each other, but were talking, and apparently subtly checking each other for any cuts or bruises. "I'm Nekoi Yuzuriha, nice to meet you too Yamazaki-san."
Tomoyo smiled in the background at them. Yamazaki did a polite bow to her, before grinning. "Speaking of cats, did you know that cats are the only creatures alive able to sense ghosts and can even exorcise them without any special talents?"
Sakura and her boyfriend looked over at exactly the same moment with an expression somewhere between confusion and disbelief. He raised his index finger as his face became utterly solemn. "It's very true. For many years houses with ghosts in them have been exorcised by the very act of having a cat there. Also the police department has trained cats to hunt out ghosts before. But it takes many years of good breeding and good genetics in order to get cats to do as you say."
Yuzuriha giggled at the matter of fact way that he presented the whole thing. She could tell that it was a bare-faced lie, but he told it so well that it was funny anyway. Tomoyo appeared to also catch on, by the way that she chortled as well. Syaoran and Sakura looked very confused, very. "Is he telling the truth Yuzuriha-san?" Sakura asked her, Kero floating peacefully by her head, except that when she turned away from her boyfriend, he promptly started scowling.
Yuzuriha only shook her head, not even trying to speak.
The sound of thunder from the floor below startled them, and they all jumped at the same time. "That sounds like Sora-chan using lightning." she mused out loud, wondering if the lights had gone out for him as well.
"Sora-chan?" Tomoyo asked. "Is she one of your companions?"
"He." Yuzuriha corrected absentmindedly, hearing a rattle from somewhere else and glancing around. "He can summon and throw lightning."
One of the lightbulbs that wasn't on in the hallway shattered, a thread of purple light shining around it. "And I think we're out of time before he comes back." she finished in a rush.
Sakura picked up a card that had tumbled to the ground. "I agree with you Yuzuriha-san, Shield!" she cried, the staff that she still held lighting up as the bubble of translucent pink surrounded them, sinking into the walls. "Now we'll be safe again."
All of them glanced around, then watched as the pieces of lightbulbs picked themselves back up to reform into the light. "Hmm, our ghostly friend is clearly not in a good mood." Yamazaki said in a very zen tone, as if he were utterly unconcerned. Tomoyo had her camera back up and recording, and the brown-haired boy picked up his sword again, holding it in a very practiced manner. "I wonder if that's why the door got shut on us?"
"He's not nice or a friend at all," Sakura said emphatically. "He's tried to cut all three of us with his axe several times now. He got Yuzuriha-san in the arm. Is your arm doing alright Yuzuriha-san?" she asked, turning the conversation abruptly from Yamazaki to her.
She moved it up and down experimentally. "It isn't bleeding anymore, still hurts though. I'll probably need to get it checked out at a hospital before too long." she said to a worried looking Sakura. "I've had worse, it's alright." she tried to reassure the girl.
Sakura didn't look wholly convinced, but she nodded. "We should get moving. You said you had a friend stuck on the third floor, right?"
The lightbulb exploded again, and took out a window with it from the reoccurring sound.
"Yes, Arashi-san." Yuzuriha confirmed. "If the ghost only has an axe, than she's probably fine, but I think we should find her anyway."
Sakura was standing by the door already, looking around. "I don't think he's here right now. Let's go."
As they left the room, Yamazaki walking next to Tomoyo and watching in abject fascination as the light rebuilt itself yet again. Yuzuriha found herself standing next to Syaoran. "Hi, I'm Nekoi Yuzuriha, nice to meet you...?" she offered out a polite hand.
He blinked at her for a second. "Oh, I'm Li Xiaolang, but you can say it Ri Syaoran if you haven't learned chinese. Nice to meet you too." he said, shaking her hand politely.
He had a calloused grip, but was gentle with it. "You speak japanese very well Li-kun," she smiled at him, and Inuki yipped a greeting from where he stood on the floor.
"He speaks it all right, for a brat." the floating stuffed animal retorted from where he floated over Sakura's shoulder.
Syaoran glared at it in annoyance, but whatever he might have said was interrupted by a duo of loud crashes in a room just in front of them, followed by a scream.
They all ran for the door, pulling it open to find two boys, probably seventeen or eighteen by the lankiness of them, coughing madly. Above them, through a hole in the ceiling, a mass of thick smoke with spurts of violet fire blazed.
Then one of the Dragons of Earth, the bioroid who wielded cloth, jumped down as well, holding onto a very familiar girl, with its cloth pressed to her burned face and smoldering hair, an impossible cross between tenderness and terror on its smoke-stained face.
Yuzuriha's hands lept to her face, clutching there as Inuki began to bark.
"Arashi!" she screamed.
He couldn't move, the very action of motion seemed completely shut down.
"Who are you?" That was Hikaru, brave and bold. She was a sudden warmth, blocking out the darkness.
Everything snapped back to the space, the moment, and he whipped around.
All three of them had moved into battle formation, Fuu's sword crossed to bar the doorway before them, Umi on a graceful dancer's poise, her rapier a deadly point shimmering like the reflections of water in the fire light. And Hikaru with the burning blade pointed straight at Fuuma's neck, the fire leaping up to brush at his chin.
He had one of those strange smiles on his face. "You have strong Wishes, all three of you. You've fought through much."
"Yes, we have." Umi snapped. "And we won't let you do anything to harm our friend." Her blade itself was wavering in the light, the shape barely solid.
Kamui bet it still hurt more than anything.
"I know, that's how strong your Wish is." Fuuma replied, seemingly unconcerned with the situation. He looked over his glasses at Kamui, the emotions in his eyes somewhere between lust and tenderness, with a healthy side dose of sadistic. "I can see everyone's Wish."
"He's...here...Attacked...the girl..." the ghost woman whispered.
Fuuma suddenly vanished from the light as a bloody axe smashed into the ground right where he had been. Despite everything that had happened between them, Kamui's heart lept into his throat.
Then he heard the sound of Fuuma's footsteps, calm, assured. "I don't think you'll want to hurt me sir ghost." he said, no venom in his tone, but dark intent there all the same. "It would have a very different effect than you think. After all, I have a Wish I must grant."
Although his words were primarily aimed at the ghost who's faded arms reached into their fragile light a moment later to retrieve his axe, Kamui had the feeling that he was talking to him as well. "I don't...care about this...'Wish'...shit...just DIE!" the ghost yelled.
The blue light around them flickered dangerously.
"I don't think we should dawdle much longer." Fuu whispered as the ghost walked out of their sight range. "Let's go."
"But which way?" Umi asked, quite reasonably in Kamui's opinion. "We don't have a map or anything, and we could end up walking in circles instead of getting anywhere!"
Hikaru pointed to the ceiling with her free hand. "Follow the pipes." was all she said, as if there was nothing else needed.
Maybe there wasn't, not really. Kamui could see the enormous pipes sneaking across the ceiling, snakelike in their coiling on the stone. "The pipes end in here, so we should follow them out that door." Hikaru continued, pointing out the other door, the one they hadn't gone through.
The harsh metal groan of an axe impacting stone again made them jump. "Let's go girls!" Umi called, leading the way with her rippling sword. Fuu lifted hers without any trouble, not bothering to put it away that time. "We'll all go together. Safer that way."
Hikaru giggled slightly as Kamui followed in between the three of them, out into the darkened hallway. "But I'm not a girl!" he called at the warrior with her waving blue hair.
"Doesn't matter. More girls than boys in the group, so we'll all be girls!" she called back, to the louder snickers emanating from behind him.
Kamui sincerely hope that she couldn't see his smile as they turned the corner. "But I'm not a girl!" he snorted, and realized his own laughter was leaking out.
He liked them, and their balance. It was nice to have a reason to laugh even in the dark.
There was another clatter of a failed attempt to hit Fuuma, but it sounded farther away. 'What are you doing Fuuma?' he thought with no small amount of concern, the smiling falling from his lips like dead leaves. 'Why did you lure him off?'
'Is what I know of your new goals not so clearcut as I thought?'
"Hey look! There's light over here!" that was Fuu, up ahead. Kamui glanced up to where she barely stood in Hikaru's light, pointing at a dim red, steady glow at the end of the hallway. "I wonder if that thunder crack managed to fix the lights in a small part of the building."
"Move...quickly..." the ghost woman warned them, and the next sound of an attack was closer again, as if Fuuma had circled around to be nearer to them.
They didn't need a second warning, all rounding the bend to be in the faint light.
It turned out to be a glow from the panel that activated or deactivated the boilers from going, at the other end of the room from the boilers. They walked down the stairs quickly, Kamui's shoes clicking on the stone.
That was another aspect of their warrior skills, they moved quieter than he did.
The axe was chucked at the top of the stair, stabbing into the rock and remaining there; it was thrown with such force.
None of them saw or heard Fuuma, which raised warning bells in Kamui's mind.
Then his laughter rang out. "...All stuck now...aren't you...little bitches..."
Translucent cowboy boots stepped onto the bend in the stairs.
Hikaru grabbed Kamui's arm, forcing him to focus on something else than the fear that the ghost had caught Fuuma. "We're all going to the switch, now."
And they flat out ran, dodging the ancient barrels of water.
He drifted through the barrels after them, made insubstantial by the light, cackling all the way.
Umi reached the barrier first, gifted with the power of longer legs, and pushed open the metal door that blocked the switch from being accessed by just anybody.
Judging by how easily it worked, that door hadn't worked properly in quite a while.
He flickered into view from behind the last pipe, not hampered by the need to weave around them. Hikaru held her sword up menacingly. "Not one more step closer." she growled, something of a lion coming out in the ferocity of her voice.
The air hummed with power and Kamui felt the metal door spark. Sorata must be doing something with lightning again, it was the only explanation.
The ghost laughed, showing off perfect teeth but for the blood flaking them. "What will you do to me little bitch? You can't hurt me with a sword, I'm dead now."
Hikaru snorted in disdain, "Well then, get a weapon and fight me that way if you think you can't lose."
'What are you doing Shiidou-san?' he thought in confusion, watching as the ghost actually listened to her, picking up a pipe from the damp part of the floor where it looked like one of the boilers had sprung a minor leak.
The pipe dripped in his hands as he held it aloft, waves of purple ghostly fire rippling up and down it. "Game over bitches." he snarled, all laughter gone as he held it still higher.
"Yes," Umi said in a voice dead of emotion, "game over."
And she flipped the switch in the panel.
The lights flashed on to their original blue brilliance, and the boiler pipe that he stood right next to hissed and crackled with energy, outputting itself as sparks that ran up and down the pipe.
And hurt him through the very nature of lightning.
The pipe fell to the ground as he exploded into mist.
The mist fled through the ceiling, an inarticulate scream of rage and pain coming from it as the pipes shuddered with the tremors of being activated for the first time in at least fifty years.
Hikaru let the fire on her blade die out, then the sword itself turned into flames that vanished into the gemstone on her glove. "You got the plan Umi-chan?" she asked wearily, all of the lion's fury gone with the light.
The girl in question nodded. "You noticed that he was avoiding any lighting when you used it on him the first time?" she asked in return.
"Yup." there was a sad element of her smile as she leaned on the wall. "I would have used it more often, but I needed to save more energy for fighting without the Mashin to help us."
That explained what Sorata had been doing with the lightning. If he'd had any light at all, he was fighting back against a spectre that was weakened to it. Except...
"Why do you think that ghosts seem to be ill-able to fight against lightning?" he asked, trying to figure it out.
"I think it's because lightning is on both plains, not just the mortal one." that was Fuu, dissolving her sword. "That's why he keeps turning into mist whenever we hit him with it. It knocks him out of an ability to fight for a short while, he has to recollect himself. Fire is on both plains as well." she added.
"How do you know all that Fuu-chan?" Umi asked, putting away her rapier too, and there really was no need to use weapons any more.
Fuu adjusted her glasses with a laugh. "I read a lot. That was in a couple of books by the most prominent family to fight against ghosts in Japan. It was really quite a fascinating read, if rather formal in the way it was written."
"The Sumeragi family?" Kamui asked her, a hunch leaping to mind. "Is that the family who wrote the books?"
Fuu nodded as she and Umi left the steel cage, the boilers at last settling down enough that it was probably safe to walk through. "Do you know one of them? I know that they are a highly prestigious family."
'Yeah,' he thought with amusement, 'I'm fighting on the same side as the thirteenth Head of the family.' "I've met one of them before, very powerful. When I was in the hospital after..." he trailed off as everything that had caused it rushed back to the forethoughts of his mind, and he had to take a second to breathe, that did not go unnoticed by the three of them. "...After a traumatic experience, he helped me with finding some methods to deal, and talked to me a lot about the kind of work that he did and different ghosts to avoid if possible."
They looked sympathetic, but said nothing. He was grateful for that. They probably knew as well as he now did that there were memories that were best to leave alone when talking, that the pain could still be too raw to handle for a long time.
Umi led them past the boilers. "All of them are running just fine, so we should be okay. The lights won't go out anymore."
As they rounded the stairway, the blue fire that had lit them temporarily in the darkness fluttered away to become the ghost woman again, standing there in front of them. "You are...safe now...Go up and find the others...I must lead the nine back down...there is no clear path for them..." she said, her mouth moving almost in sync with the words.
Hikaru was the one who spoke for all of them, a bright smile on her face. "Thank you, for protecting us."
A sad smile, but honest lit up the woman's face. "I did not want to see more death...so I will protect all from him...as much as I can..." she looked out beyond them, probably beyond the basement itself. "It is the only way I can atone...for what I did...for my part in all of this..." Then a look of determination lit her face as she faded out again, her voice ringing even after she was blue fire racing up the stones. "Take the elevator...Your friend down here is already out, already free of the building. I must go find the nine up higher."
Kamui felt the pit of fear in his stomach loosen and fade away. Fuuma was safe too.
"You will all live through this." her last words echoed in the air, a mother's promise, fierce and loving.
Hikaru looked around the edge. "There's light up here!" her joyous cry came back to them. "And I see a sign for the elevator too."
"Well then come on girls, let's go!" Umi cried as she took the lead again, to the soft giggles of all of them, mostly happy and slightly hysterical after everything.
It seemed to take almost no time at all to reach the elevator, rustic colored, but looking marvelously full of life after the darkened basement. As they all filed in, punching the button to go up rapidly as the doors shut, Kamui protested Umi's choice of words again. "But I'm still not a girl!"
The doors slid open to reveal them all collapsed against the walls, shaking with laughter, glad to be alive after everything down there.
The conversation in the room had stagnated after the discovery of the bow, even as the lights in the room trembled. Sorata couldn't even find a cheerful comment. They were stuck in one room, with faulty lights, a malevolent ghost and a Dragon of Earth somewhere not too far away, who had cut the whole power with her attacks, he had friends scattered about and didn't even know if they were alright or lying slumped against the wall, a knife in their bellies or something else gruesome like that.
It made all the coversation rather meaningless with those facts laid out.
"Can Doumeki put a different string on it and it'll work?" the white Mokona asked at last, sounding nervous.
"I could," Doumeki answered, running his fingers up and down the fine wood with an apprehension not at all present in his words. "But do you see any string in here?"
The answer was obvious, they didn't usually put string in bars, there was no need for it.
"Well, if we wanted to get drunk, we're in the right place, but sadly for us, being drunk will get us definitely killed and bloody all over the floor in here." Watanuki muttered darkly, fiddling with the newspaper on the counter. "So we definitely picked the right room to hide in when the creepy ghost came after us. I can't even read this."
The black Mokona jumped over, ears twitching. "Mokona can probably read it, if Watanuki is feeling bored." it offered.
Watanuki put it back, scowling. "Yeah sure, why not? It won't help us get out, but it's a start." he retorted, all bitter trapped cat and fed up with the whole thing.
The puffball hopped onto the paper, and started to read out loud, voice strangely shaky. "'Murder Suicide, Oceanside Hotel Killer Cause of Devastating Fire?' is the headline. 'Police have discovered that staying at the Oceanside was a family of four, and the first two killed were the children, one was found with his head severed and stuck in a dryer, the other was chopped up into pieces and left all over the second floor. They hypothosize that either the mother or the father was the person who thereafter went on a rampage and killed another twenty-seven people-"
"No." Watanuki said in a very terse voice. "No more Mokona." And to punctuate that, he picked up the paper and chucked it at the far wall.
It never made it that far, collapsing into the sum of its parts in scattered heaps on the floor. Thousands of words tumbled and sprawled like squashed ants.
It was all very depressing.
Sorata held up one of the broken cords, spitting lightning piece by jagged piece in, making the lights glow a little bluer, a little brighter for a little longer.
Wait, they were yellow bar lights, so why were they shining blue?
The blue fell out of the lights, into a pool of azure fire on the floor. Slowly, a woman in a light blue dress, with long dark tangled hair rose from it, looking sad. "Hello...you five..." she said, her mouth moving out of sync with the sounds. "You've done well...to survive on your own...this long..."
She shied back into the wall as Doumeki took one forbidding step forwards. "How do we know that you can be trusted?"
Watanuki was watching her intently, and Sorata saw the pupils of his eyes dialate oddly, as if he were looking beyond what they saw. "She's alright. She's bound to this house by his anger, she doesn't want to cause harm. She doesn't cause harm."
"Correct...young seer...I have been guiding...the others within...to safety...Twenty two have entered this night...and twenty-two still live. Though it...has been a fight..."
"There's seventeen other people stuck in here?" Watanuki exclaimed, hands going to his head in exasperation. "Just how did this all happen?"
"I...do not know...I think...a veil in the worlds...for most...they stumbled through...It was safe till the sun went down..."
"Hey," Sorata interjected. "Me and my trio got here by plane. I have no clue how the Angels got here though."
"There are doors...doors that don't lead to doorways..." she answered very unhelpfully.
Strangely, the other four in the room seemed to understand exactly what she meant, if not exactly overjoyed by it. "So me and the Mokonas and Mr. Tiny Pupils just happened to stumble into a portal that led in here, then wandered around till it got late enough that it wasn't safe? What are the odds of that?"
"Very slim," this time, the words almost matched with her mouth movement. And carried the trace of amusement in it.
Sorata was pretty sure that he liked her, but if she was also bound to the hotel, then... "Are my friends alright?" he asked her, watching her for a lie, a half truth, any form of concealment.
"They still live...and will heal, so do not fear, Sky-child...The Human God...runs with the lion, the dragon, the phoenix, they fight him...The cat-girl with the soul of a dog...is with the lie-teller, the sight-rememberer, the chinese magician and the cherry blossoms, they are protected well...The storm falls into the arms of the lost girl, tumbling with the memory-reader...and that who breaks that which is in the First World...fire chases them down...I must go to save them...There is rope in the kitchen...and a route back to the four..."
She raised a fading pale hand to point at a metal door behind the bar, and flickered out, the wall suddenly more than visible through her. "Soon, very soon, the lights come back. Go then, and beware...he grows angrier every time he is foiled of a death...and the Wish-granter has taunted him much...Good luck..."
Then she vanished.
Watanuki's pupils slowly slid back to normal. "Lovely. When they aren't trying to eat me, then they're talking in riddles."
Sorata was thinking over it. "Kamui's with either some mythical beasts or people with very strong souls. Yuzuriha's got an interesting mix of people, I don't think that the cherry blossoms are the Sakurazukamori, or otherwise Subaru would have shown up." he mused out loud to the other's incredulous looks. "And Nee-chan...I don't know. But something bad's happening or otherwise she would've stayed around to talk." A pit of horror sunk into his stomach at the idea of a knife piercing his lovely girl in somewhere considerably more fatal than the collarbone, or burning her to death where he couldn't get there in time.
"Sora-chan can understand what she means?" the black Mokona asked from where it stood on the bar, looking uncertain. "Why does she talk like that?"
"She's probably not strong enough as a ghost to see past the second world. Everyone in here must have some sort of tie to it, she's looking at our souls." Doumeki said, hopping over the bar, the unstrung bow knocking down a good half a dozen bottles onto the floor with the loud smash of glass. "Oops." he deadpanned to the uneasy giggles of both Mokonas.
"Gee thanks Doumeki." Watanuki groaned. "Just make more of a mess in here, why don't you?"
Doumeki ignored him with practice, poking at the small metal door over in the wall. "It's a dumbwaiter."
"What on earth is a dumbwaiter?" Watanuki asked with irritation lacing every pore of his tone. "And why is it relevent to you making a mess?"
Sorata snorted as he walked over, pushing a hand to the throbbing cut on his chest. The white Mokona hitched a ride on his shoe, letting out soft cries of 'eee' with each bump and lift. "A dumbwaiter carries food from the kitchen to the dining room, or bar in this case. Depending on how much might need to be put in, it can be big or small." He scrutinized the size of it. "I think this one may actually be large enough if we squat down in it and go one at a time."
Doumeki set his bow down next to the fallen glass, in the strange mix of alcohol making an awful stench on the floor. He whacked the button that opened the doors a couple of times, then proceeded to trying to pull it open with his fingers when it became apparent that he would need more electricity than he had to get it to open. "I'm going first," he said, in a tone that brooked no room for argument.
Not that it stopped Watanuki from opening his mouth. "What are you going to do down there all by yourself? Stand right there and glare at the ghost to keep it from doing anything?"
"Exactly." his voice became even more firm, like that of glacier ice, utterly immovable. "You know what I can do, and that ghosts aren't exactly fond of lightning. So I'm going first, and you're going second once I send the dumbwaiter up, and he's-" he inclined his head towards Sorata, "-going last, so that way if our foe shows up, there's someone to protect you."
Watanuki looked infuriated, but he kept his voice to a quiet roar. "You think I need to be protected? To be sheltered?"
Doumeki leveled golden eyes, surprisingly full of emotion for having the rest of his face completely blanked from it, onto Watanuki and the cat-like boy shut up, very quickly. "I would prefer that you aren't injured further in this endevour to get out." he said, and touched a finger lightly to the slice on his cheek.
Sorata felt like a third wheel to this, slightly out of place. Both of the Mokona jumped to his shoulders, careful not to infuriate his cut further. "Doumeki is really brave, he's so determined to keep Watanuki safe." the white one said, smiling.
"Doumeki is such a good boyfriend, he knows just what to do." the black one added with a grin.
"Aren't they just the cutest thing?" they said in unison.
The look on both of the boys faces was priceless, and Sorata found himself busting up for no real good reason. Maybe because after all of this, he was scared enough to what might have or might happen. Maybe because it was genuinely funny. Maybe it was because he had hit the point where hysteria was the only answer to not breaking down with the unexpected terrors that lurked within.
Maybe it was just because.
Neither of them laughed with him, but they did not say anything, and Watanuki leaned wearily against the stand of drinks.
"We all have different ways of dealing with this." Doumeki said impassionately to the Mokonas, who Sorata imagined looked very concerned. "Some people shut down, some start yelling. Some laugh over stupid things because they're too scared not to."
Sorata wasn't sure that was the whole reason, but the fluffy short hugs that he got from the puffballs on either side was comforting.
He felt the sensation an instant before it struck the whole room, currents of electrical power racing through his whole body like a shot of adrenilin.
The lights flashed off for a split second before coming on brighter than before.
So did the lights in the rest of the rooms, bulb after bulb shooting to life in glorious power.
Sorata let out a whoop as the surge he felt climbed up and up and up to fill the whole building with radient power.
The Mokonas cheered as all the others caught onto what was happening. "We have light again?" Watanuki whispered.
"We have light again." Sorata said gleefully. "Now, how about we go find a string for you Doumeki?"
The boy nodded, a look of stalwart joy blinking in his face for a second, before he pressed the button to open the door, just once.
It slid open promisingly. As the archer fought to fit himself within, he held the door open with his hands. "Change of plans, I'll go down by myself, get the rope, come back up. I don't think that either of you should be by yourselves for long. Not without an exorcist."
Sorata expected Watanuki to argue, but to his surprise, the boy took it pragmatically. "Hurry then, maybe you can get rid of him before you come back up."
"One always hopes." Doumeki said, and he reached out a hand to awkwardly hit the down button.
The doors slid shut on him, and Sorata turned around to watch the door, listening to the dumbwaiter rattle as it sunk and abruptly stopped.
He'd hoped that it had gone down all the way before stopping, otherwise they were royally screwed.
"Oh hell." Watanuki muttered from behind him. "We may need some more lightning bolts."
"He's coming again?"
The seer nodded, watching with a sight beyond that of what normal humans had. "He'll be insubstantial again, but there's enough glass in here to kill us easily."
Sorata handed off the Mokona duo to Watanuki, and felt the odd pulse of electricity unique to the ghost, as he'd discovered over the course of this adventure. "Stay behind me and I'll handle the thunder." He tossed a teasing grin to the boy. "After all, I wouldn't want to be killed by your boyfriend because I let you get hurt."
Watanuki blushed, face lighting up as red as a Christmas light. "He is not my boyfriend!" he yelled to the snickers of the Mokonas.
Their mirth was erased by the instant that an axe smashed into the boards of the doorway. "Stupid...BITCHES...getting...in...my...WAY!" came the furious cry as it broke through the wood blocking their entrance hole. "You'll...all...DIE...and...be...FUCKING...GONE!"
Sorata felt that calm sense of battle come over him, as he raised a single finger to point at the shiny blade of the axe, free of blood at least. "Not on my watch ghost man sir." he said with a deadly chilliness.
And fired off a bolt right as the blade shot into view again to try and whack out another board.
The axe dropped to the floor right inside the room, followed shortly by their mysterious foe of the evening. He looked far less pretty than the last time they'd seen him, with much of his ectoplasma fried and looking distinctly dead, a slice in his clothes along his entire chest and one shoulder, and a murderous anger on his face.
The sound of the dumbwaiter started up again, to their short-lived relief as blood-covered hands wrapped around the axe handle, pulling it out of the ground with a show of force.
"No, you don't." Sorata bit out, as he aimed and fired again, the axe thudding back to the ground with another wave of power.
The ghost gestured angrily and the bottles on the shelf in front of them all toppled to the floor, coated in purple fire.
Sorata clutched at the wavery lightning in his hands, ready to chuck it as soon as he made a move, and was interrupted from throwing it when a Mokona jumped onto his head, and sucked up all of the bottles into its mouth at once.
"For Yuuko." it said proudly before being snatched back down.
The ghost panted and snarled. "I'll...take...ONE...of...you...DOWN!" Again the sound did not match the words he saw, and Sorata was dimly beginning to suspect it was a fault of all ghosts.
He picked up the axe again, and threw it right as Sorata released his lightning bolts to fire them at him.
They impacted at the same time, the lightning leaving a loud crash behind as it struck the ghost with all of its two-realm power, and the axe slicing into the thick muscle in his upper arm before landing in the wall.
Sorata did not scream in pain, but it took everything he had to not, feeling slippery blood instently soaking the sleeve of his shirt and running down his arm to pool on the floor.
The dumbwaiter made an odd beeping sound and he heard the rasp of metal.
The ghost cackled again. "You...lightning bearer...will come...with me...to hell..." he said with conviction and eagerness.
"I don't think so." was Doumeki's calm, cool reply. And they all heard the twanging of a released bowstring.
Sorata saw the bolt of energy, pure energy that lanced through the center of the ghost's chest, and watched him not dissolve to mist, but fade away all the same, with a scream of terror on his face, a silent scream as the darkness swallowed him whole. "You can go alone." the archer finished.
The world wavered before his eyes, and Sorata was aware that this level of bloodloss was going to kill him at this rate.
But the place seemed lighter somehow, and not just because both Mokona were singing and cheering, leaping out of Watanuki's hands to dance in circles and odd hops on the bar, or that Watanuki was actually saying something momentarily nice to the other boy as he fought to slide out of the dumbwaiter, landing awkwardly and dropping his bow to catch his balance.
All the horrible emotions filling this place were gone, gone with the ghost. It would be able to be what it was meant to be again. A haven, a sanctuary.
"You have...done well...all of you..." the female ghost said, abruptly shimmering into view. "The lion, the dragon, the phoenix, the Human God are all rising to this floor. The ones from above descend. No one has died..."
Sorata chuckled wearily as the world wavered again. "I might if I don't stop bleeding soon."
A look of concern passed over her face, followed by a white glow about her hands. The power flowed in a soothing river to his arm, stopping the bleeding and closing up the wound. "My...final blessing...And now that he is gone..." she began to shimmer, the blue fire scattered about the room winking out drop by drop. "...I can move...on too...I can...see my children again...and tell them...tell them how sorry I am..."
"You can move on with pride, you have done more than you ever needed to atone for." Watanuki said gently, watching her with a faint sadness in his eyes. "Go in peace, and thank you."
She smiled, a bright smile that must have lit up the world of those around her when she had lifted, even as it faded into the room. "No...it is I who should thank you...all of you...Faretheewell...live happily..."
And she was gone.
There was light, bright light, that stung at her closed eyes, like smoke. The left side of her face felt stretched and ached, with the kind of pain that would explode as soon as she opened her eyes. The entire room was bright, and she heard voices, worried voices above her.
"...It's time...to wake up...Storm child..." was the first clear sound that she heard, and she struggled to obey the command, pulling the last reaches of herself from the blissful dark.
Arashi opened her eyes, slowly, to see scared violet ones shining down at her, a child's terror for the hurting of an older sister, or a mother...
"Arashi-san..." Nataku whispered, even its voice strained in fear. She had been forced to reevaluate this Dragon of Earth as they were trapped together, an Angel who was nothing more than a lost child, searching for someone to be protected by and to protect.
She tried to smile at it, to reassure it she was fine, and the entire left side of her face blazed into pain, sharp, bright, agonizing pain.
"Arashi!" came the cry from somewhere to her left. She turned her head, just slightly, ignoring the fiery pain that shot from her left shoulder up to her scalp, curling around like a twisted scarf. Yuzuriha sat there, right next to her, a bandage around the upper part of her right arm, Inuki in her lap, looking just as scared as Nataku. "What happened to you?"
"Got hit by a fire blast while shepherding idiots off the third floor." she said, and it came out as a harsh croak, a raven's cry. "I think I inhaled some smoke too."
The side of her face throbbed with determined insistence, and she winced within, trying not to show outer weakness. "Sakura-chan? Do you think you can get a cold cloth or something?" Yuzuriha asked someone out of her range of sight.
Arashi shut her eyes, and tried to sit up, feeling the room wobble as she struggled against the pain. "Did the two idiots get out?" she asked, voice still raspy. "The ones who were too busy arguing to look for a different route?"
"If you mean us, we're fine, we just inhaled some smoke." That was the taller of the two, she was pretty sure his name was Rikuo, "Kazahaya landed a little awkwardly, but he's not very hurt. Or so he says."
"If you hadn't tripped when we landed, you wouldn't have pushed me off balance!" Kazahaya cried, his voice slightly huskier than before.
"Arashi-san, please don't try to sit up." Nataku said with concern as she managed to get her right arm and everything lower doing the work of sitting. "You...you took a bad hit when the ghost got angry."
"I got hit by fire." she rasped at it, perhaps slightly harsher than she meant to. "I can handle fire." She successfully sat up, opening her eyes again.
They were in a room with no lights on, but light all the same. Yuzuriha and Nataku were close to her, a duo of fear for her. Against the far wall, Rikuo and Kazahaya leaned, faces darkened by smoke and whitened by emotion. In the doorway, a boy with scruffy brown hair stood with a sword in hand, guarding. A stuffed animal floated by his shoulder, they were involved in some sort of conversation that involved a lot of glaring and muttered words. Not too far from them, stood another boy, shorter with scruffy dark hair, watching them from behind squinted eyes with amusement.
And two other girls, both Yuzuriha's age. One with long dark wavy hair, holding out a length of cloth. And the other in an unusual pink dress, her hair a strawberry-brown color, holding up a staff with a spinning star within.
"Sakura card, hear my plea, lend your powers to my key! Release!" she called, the star whipping fast enough to blur, or maybe that was just Arashi. "Watery!" she finished as a nymph rose from something thin and small she held in the other hand, darting into the length of fabric, leaving it soggy and transparent, dripping with liquid.
The girl with dark hair walked over, a soft smile on her face. "Here, put it on your face." she said kindly, and Arashi found herself, well, not necessarily liking, much too fast for that, but there was a sense that she could be trusted for any reason, any reason at all.
The water was a soothing balm on the burns of her face, cutting through the fire with a gentle touch. She continued to hold it there with one hand as she glanced around the room again, at all of them. It was easy to guess that they had all been in here for a while. And they had all survived this long.
Why shouldn't they try to survive longer?
"What's our current situation?" she asked briskly, not caring about the way that it made twinges of pain race over her face, just adjusting the cloth slightly. "What I last knew, the top floor was too dangerous to stay on, but not very much remained from being burned up. So what's the state of this floor?"
The girl with lighter hair seemed to be the unofficial leader of the group, because everyone else looked to her, except Nataku, who was still watching Arashi, wringing its own cloth over and over again in whitened hands. "The second floor has one section blocked off because of fire damage, and exploring the rest of this has shown us that it has the stairway down. We'd found an elevator earlier on, but first we didn't have Syaoran and Yamazaki, so we weren't going to use it, then the power went out and although I got us light with the Light card, I can't power an elevator long enough to make it move all the way down with-" she took a second to do a count of the people in the room, "-ten people in it at once, and it isn't safe to be away from my Shield card since the ghost-" she shuddered, "-could easily take advantage of whatever group I left alone. So we're currently stuck unless we can find another way down. And I can only light one floor at a time." she finished, looking at the card in her hand.
"We haven't seen our foe in a while, but that doesn't mean he won't come back out to play the instant we start moving. Just because he can't get through Sakura's Shield, doesn't mean he won't try." the brown haired boy finished with a dark scowl. "And the top floor is less safe than this one, as your face and hair can attest."
"We've heard some thunder from downstairs, so we think there's someone else with the power to use lightning down below." the girl with dark hair added, a third voice to the strange harmony. "We don't know if there's anyone else in there or how they are doing, if they're alive...or not."
"Twenty two...entered...twenty two...remain..." the voice said, sounding both sad and greatful. "The stairs are gone, but the power will open a new path. Do not trust the elevator, but the shaft."
A light blue dress and dark hair fluttered in the doorway, then vanished.
Yuzuriha sighed. "I wish she was able to help us more than just giving warnings." she said softly. "It's hard to be safe and not know if its only us."
Arashi agreed silently, turning the cloth to a different piece. For some reason, she wanted to keep the marks hidden from view, to keep the burns concealed. "What do you think she means this time?"
"Older elevators have a ladder next to the shaft itself, so that the people who run maintenance can climb up and down." that was Kazahaya surprisingly enough. "I don't think newer buildings do, but this one's old."
"How do you know that Kudo-san?" the girl with dark hair asked, and Arashi realized that she'd probably missed some introductions at least while she was out. That annoyed her enough to push the fabric harder than she meant into the tender skin.
"We had an adventure in an older building before." his friend said, looking amused. "We had to climb up seven floors on those, both up and down." He smirked at the blond boy. "That was fun."
"It was not!"
Arashi's arm was starting to ache from holding it in the same place, but she wasn't willing to let go of it. To her surprise, she felt gentle fingers running through the back of her hair, and turned enough to look at the culprit. "What are you doing Nataku?" she asked wearily when it blinked in surprise at her.
It raised fingers freshly covered in ash. "I thought you might like to have your hair cleaned, there's so much of it that got burned." it explained sadly, reaching back out to brush through rapidly falling strings of hair.
Inuki walked from Yuzuriha's lap to rest up against Arashi, and she could find no reason to push away either the bioroid or the spirit dog. Neither of them were doing any harm, aside from the ashes of her hair stinging the burns that appeared to arc around to the back of her neck. She looked at Yuzuriha, dropping the cloth at last. "How much hair did I lose?" she asked in an impassioned tone, trying to hide her dismay at the loss of it because in the end, it was something she was proud of, fine straight lengths kept just short enough to not snarl on everything, but still long."
Yuzuriha lost whatever smile still lingered on her face, a sadness taking over. "Everything on the left, there's a few strands up near the roots that aren't burned, most of the back. The right side is still long and fine, it didn't get burned. Nataku got there in time to save some of your hair."
The bioroid ran tentative fingers through the shortened lengths once more before pulling away, looking lost.
A lightbulb in the hallway shattered, along with a sudden burst of different light, not from the girl's magic, but true light, racing through the floor eagerly to restore the hotel to a proper brightness.
The girl in pink looked up with hope, and the magical light that circled through the area began to collect, floating in bright little balls around her, before winking out.
Blue fire ran in on the traces of the light, and they pooled into the woman that Arashi was beginning to recognize as the voice that had led them through the whole thing. "Sky-child and far-seer and silent guardian occupy him for now...you should go...the doors do not remain open for long...this hotel will not be...happy to lose this game...do not trust the elevator..." she said, the words coming out a haresbreath before her mouth moved to say them. "I protect...but only until...the dream is ended..."
The girl in pink nodded, a soft but powerful movement. "Thank you, for guiding us."
A halting smile flitted across the woman's mouth. "Go safely...and live..." she said, the words almost a blessing as she faded out again.
Once she was gone, the air in the room seemed to stagnate again, nobody knew quite what to say.
Nataku, to everyone's surprise, stood up first. "If it's time to go, then we should go, right?" it asked hesitatingly, suddenly shy under the weight of ten other sets of eyes. "We shouldn't stay here now that we can move again?"
Tomoyo went over to its side, smiling up at it. "That's right, we should go. Will you be alright with moving Kishuu-san?" she asked Arashi suddenly, and it took her a moment to find the words, having no idea that she knew her name.
"Ah, yes. I should be fine." she said, concealing the wince that the motion of talking did to the burns on her face.
She didn't even want to know what she looked like after that adventure, she thought grimly, and resolved herself to avoid mirrors until she had a chance to find something better than a damp cloth to take care of her face.
Yuzuriha didn't look entirely convinced, but she let it go for the time being. Arashi had the suspicion that she was going to be coddled as soon as they got out, whether they had to tie her to a bed or something else equally troublesome. She stood up too, picking Inuki back up with a smile. Arashi followed her, with Nataku hovering like a protective sister.
Kazahaya moved away from the wall with a scowl, swatting at Rikuo's hands when he tried to pick him up, hobbling a little as they walked. "It's nothing Rikuo, I just hurt my foot a little!"
"You sure you don't need me to carry you down the big scary elevator shaft?" Rikuo asked with a grin, practically leering at the other boy.
They all collected into one space in the room, the girl with the staff taking the lead, and right next to her, the stuffed animal on one side and the boy with a sword on the other, like a duo of protective lions.
It was strangely cute, or it would have been if the boy and the animal were capable of going two seconds without glaring at each other.
Arashi found herself squashed into the middle of the group somehow, with the playfully bickering boys on one side, Nataku being an Angel on the other, and the girl with dark hair and a camera standing behind her with Yuzuriha and the other boy who was attempting to say something odd about the nature of lightbulbs, and mostly getting ignored.
They were a very strange group, but she guessed it was alright.
"Here we go everybody!" Sakura said, and they all swept out of the door, a collection of teenagers in a haunted hotel.
It was odd, but it worked.
Yuzuriha watched the hallways apprehensively as they walked through them, glancing around for flashes of purple fire or sudden objects being thrown at them. They were all feeling edgy, and uncertain after their ordeal, and the fact that they had two serious injuries and one that was probably worse than the third person in question was saying or admitting, didn't help.
Also that they had a Dragon of Earth with them, but it seemed very attached to Arashi in a childlike way, and it had jumped a whole floor down and saved her life from being ended by fire. She wasn't quite certain what to make of the Angel that stood there, holding onto a long white ribbonlike length of fabric and practically glaring at every light and window as if it would dare to even try and explode on Arashi.
Which was actually pretty cute for an Angel, but that was beside the point.
"Which way was the elevator Tomoyo-chan?" Sakura asked from where she stood at the front of the group, as they came up to a fork in the hallways. "Cause otherwise we're going to keep walking in circles."
The girl next to Yuzuriha stepped out from their huddle enough to glance at their options. "That one," she said, pointing at the fork in front of them. "Remember? We found Yuzuriha-chan down the dead-end at the fork when we went the other way."
"Oh yeah!" Exclaimed Sakura, already moving. "Thank you." she said to the girl, who smiled happily.
Yuzuriha found herself watching the uneven sway of Arashi's hair, and the pink and brown burns that snaked up her neck. She knew without seeing that her hair continued to slide up and up, and that the burns flashed all the way over the left side of her face, and continued down the ashy pieces of her shirt onto her shoulder and part of her back.
She had the sinking feeling that Arashi was going to need to go to a hospital the most after they got out of this.
"Okay, so we just need to go around this corner and-" Sakura was cut off by a loud clap of thunder from below, rattling the lamps with the sheer force of power. "What was that?"
"Sorata." she and Arashi said at the same time, and looked at each other. They knew the patterns of Sorata's electricity well enough that they could sense the difference between it and normal lightning. "He must be fighting against the ghost, there's no other reason I can think of for him to need to use electricity when the lights work." Yuzuriha finished, all of them once again standing still, a cohesive whole of rattled teens.
"And it means that the ghost is probably running out of ability to fight from long range if he's close enough to be shocked." Arashi added, the motions pulling the burns taut on her face, with a wince that no one other than Yuzuriha seemed to see.
Maybe they weren't so experienced yet with seeing how she tried to hide things? Yuzuriha could tell by watching the way she held her body, the way that she tried to not move in certain ways, if she was in pain or lying.
They began to move again, and all of the sudden, a dark fog that had seemed to be lying over the place vanished, it grew brighter without the lights changing at all.
It was as if the building had been freed of a horrible presence that had been sucking the chance for a second chance away from it for many years.
And it raised their own hopes, lifted their spirits.
"I think our ghostly not-friend is gone." Yamazaki said for all of them.
As if on cue, blue fire rippled in the hallway, and the woman appeared, yet her voice seemed farther away than before. "Yes...he is gone...and we are free...There will be time...for a new start here...But you should go...the others wait for you...Take the shaft...the rope is not safe...but the shaft is...Go home...live..."
And she faded away, drifting back downstairs in a billow of light cerulean.
"We should go find that elevator shaft then." the shorter of Arashi's duo that she'd found said, hobbling worse on his ankle than before. "I don't know about you all, but I'm ready to go home now."
Nobody disagreed with him on that.
They all rounded the last corner, to find the elevator doors half ajar. "Who bets that the elevator broke the rope and it hit this door on the way down?" Kero asked sardonically.
"Kero-chan, now isn't the time to be saying things like that." Sakura reprimanded it, and it appeared to grow sulky, floating backwards to more sympathetic waters and Tomoyo.
"Himura-san, Nataku-san?" Sakura then asked, pulling on the door. "Syaoran? Can you three get this opened up the rest of the way?"
Rikuo and Syaoran stepped out from their spots almost immidiately, to grab hold of a door each, but Nataku stood there looking confused.
Arashi appeared to understand the problem, because she reached up and touched it on the shoulder to get its attention, and said softly. "We can't get out unless the doors are open, and they appear to be stuck."
The bioroid nodded, and brandished its cloth. "Please back up?" it asked the two already at work. "You are in the way."
Mystified, they did as so, and the Angel snapped the cloth just once before it began to start floating and weaving as if of its own volation.
Then it snapped forwards in a blur of white and shoved into the doors hard. A quick second to pull it back and the doors snapped free and tumbled down the shaft to land with an ominous clatter.
Everyone who hadn't seen the Dragon of Earth in action before gaped at it, as it wound the fabric back up coolly, not noticing the reactions its skills had garnered. "The door is open now." it stated, apparently missing the fact that it was completely obvious.
Sakura regained her composure first. "Okay then...we should start climbing down. Who goes first?"
"Me." Rikuo volunteered with a grin. "I'm the biggest out of all of us, I can catch anyone who falls with minimal damage."
"To you or to the falling person?" Kazahaya retorted dryly. Yuzuriha noticed that he was carefully leaning to one side to avoid putting weight on his ankle, and wondered if he was going to be able to get down by himself.
"Both." Rikuo snarked right back, even as he stepped out and around the remains of the doors. "Ladder's gonna be a little bit of a reach for the short girls." he informed them all.
Sakura lost her pleasant look for a second, glaring at the corner. "Ooh, he reminds me so much of Onii-chan. He'd better have a sister who makes sure he doesn't cause trouble." she told Syaoran and Tomoyo, who had moved to stand next to her.
Yuzuriha moved to stand next to Arashi, who was discreetly trying to hide the fact that she was in pain. "Arashi...are you okay?" she asked the older girl quietly, trying to keep her voice low enough to not spread it around the group. "Your shoulder got burned too, are you sure you can handle this ladder?"
Arashi looked at her, intense and dark. "I can handle it. There's nothing to worry about." she said curtly and ended the conversation.
"Okay, I'm down!" Rikuo called from the bottom. "Send Kazahaya next, so that if the idiot proves that he really is doing more than he should, that he's not killing anyone else on the way down!"
"Why you, Rikuo!" Kazahaya yelled as he stomped over to the elevator, apparently heedless of his injury. "I will come down by myself and if I should happen to slip and fall, it's your fault!"
He disappeared around the corner and they heard him grunt as he managed to swing himself onto the ladder, and down a rung, and down. There was a moment of time where the only thing that they heard was the soft thumps of Kazahaya's body hitting the rungs.
"Well done dork, you've managed to get down without falling. I'll have to carry you out the rest of the way now though." Rikuo's voice floated up, dark and sarcastic. "Oh, just to warn you, we're actually getting off on the upper section of the first floor because the lower section is blocked by the elevator itself. It isn't moving, but be careful of how many people we stack on it. Next person!"
Sakura went next, her staff shrinking into a key that fitted on a necklace, and the Shield card that she'd been using at last fading away, its purpose no longer needed. Next went Syaoran, then Yamazaki, then Tomoyo, and Kero flew down with her, so that only Arashi, Yuzuriha and Nataku were left.
"I'll go last." Nataku said, its voice firm. "You next Arashi-san."
Arashi stared at it. "Why me next? I can do it just fine."
Yuzuriha looked at her, not angrily, but sadly. "Arashi, we all just want to go home now. I want to be up here so that I can make sure it's safe, and so does Nataku. And we're going to stand here until you do go down."
Arashi looked from Yuzuriha to Nataku, uneven hair fluttering as she looked for a wavering in either of their resolves. And found none. "Fine." she said bitterly. "I'll go next."
And she stepped out, and around. They heard the thump of her stepping onto it, and then the other foot.
Nataku could see better than she could, and said. "She's doing it. Slowly, but she's doing it." There was happiness in its voice, happiness that Arashi was okay enough to make it down without hurting herself further.
Then it turned, to look at two figures who stood in the shadow of the faint light from the windows.
Yuzuriha looked at them at exactly the same time, and managed to keep from making any sounds of alarm, even as she heard quiet cheers and Arashi telling the lot of them to be quiet. "Hello Angel-san, Monou-san." she greeted the two other Dragons of Earth standing there.
Fuuma smiled amiacably at her, and Inuki growled. "Hello Nekoi-san, I see you have a new companion at your side. Or is it the same companion in a new form?"
The other Angel looked annoyed at their delay and Yuzuriha knew that this was the girl that had killed her Inuki before. She said nothing, preferring only to stare at them.
Fuuma laughed softly, like they were friends. "Relax Seal, I mean no harm. There's already been enough of that this night. I come only to collect my wayward child."
"What are you two doing up there?" Rikuo called up, apparently he couldn't hear the Kamui of the Dragons of Earth.
Nataku looked torn, very torn, looking between the elevator shaft and Fuuma with confusion. "Come Kazuki, come with us. Now is not the day to be torn."
And Fuuma held out a hand, looking very parental, and a little like Kusanagi talking to a bird or a cat that came out to greet him.
Nataku turned its head down and said. "Seal-san...would you tell Arashi-san to be safe? And that I'm sorry for not saying good bye?" It twisted the cloth in its hands and for a moment, Yuzuriha wondered why they had to fight, if they could get along.
It wasn't the first time she'd wondered, and it probably wouldn't be the last time either. "Yes, of course I'll tell her. And thank you Nataku." she said, stepping forwards and clasping the hands of the shocked bioroid. "Thank you for taking care of Arashi, and thank you for being here."
It looked absolutely stunned, too surprised to do anything other than stare at her with wide eyes. It was really endearing, and pulled a smile to her lips before she let go. "Goodbye Nataku." she said softly, stepping over to the doorway.
"Good...bye Seal-san..." it said slowly, and smiled too. A child's innocent, happy smile. Then it walked back to the other Angels waiting, and Fuuma raised a hand in silent farewell to her.
She didn't see what happened next as she stepped around the threshhold, Inuki curled around her shoulders so that her hands were free. The ladder rung, and it was just bars of metal built into the wall, was just within her reach if she leaned out while holding onto the opening to not fall.
Yuzuriha counted steps slowly as she went down, searching for each next step carefully before releasing her weight. And yet it seemed to take no time at all until she was at the bottom.
"We're all here now." she said slightly breathlessly as Inuki jumped back into her arms. "Let's go find Sorata and Kamui."
"But, what about Nataku-san?" Tomoyo asked for all of them.
"The other Angels showed up, didn't they?" Arashi asked quietly, her face no longer shadowed by her hair like it should have been. "And Nataku went with them."
Yuzuriha nodded. "Nataku says for me to tell you to be safe, and that its sorry for not saying goodbye to you."
"She." Arashi said, then looked surprised. "Wait, how would I know?"
The sound of metal grinding on metal startled both of them, and they looked up to see that Rikuo had opened the doors a foot above where they were standing. "Do you want to get out of here or not?" He grinned before hopping into the open space and grabbing Kazahaya to pull him out, ignoring his protests. "Time to go."
Yuzuriha smiled at Arashi as Sakura hopped out, than Syaoran, almost mimicking how they'd gotten in. "Yes, it's time to go."
It had taken them a little while to manage to stand up from the floor of the elevator, they were so overcome with laughter. It made no sense and there was no reason for it to last that long, but every time one of them would start to calm down, they would look at each other and start anew.
It was very refreshing, in an odd way, and Kamui wondered why it seemed to be that way. He'd never laughed with others after a long struggle to live, where they had overcome everything and found that joy.
He thought he liked it.
Hikaru was still sniffling with giggles as they finally got out, into a dimly lit hallway that led out to the first floor. "Ahh, Umi-chan, you really do have a way with words."
Umi shrugged carelessly, sending blue hair in a waterfall down her shoulders and back. "Well Shirou-kun is one of the girls now. I wouldn't see any reason to not refer to him like that."
Kamui choked on a fresh burst of euphoria, sticking his knuckles in his mouth to stifle the sound. "I really should be more offended than I am." he informed them through his fingers.
Fuu appeared to take this seriously, too seriously for it to be anything other than being silly. "Well, in many different stories, both fictional and true, often harrowing experiences tend to create stronger bonds between those involved, and often right after the danger is gone, some things that would be only minorly funny would be extremely funny when punctuated by relief and joy." she put a finger in front of her lips in thought, just real enough to be faked. "Such as Shirou-kun's status as officially being a girl."
That sent them over the top again, even as they came out to see the entrance hall, marred by many cables lying about the floor and the chandelier lying at the base of one of the stairs. "Don't step on the cords." Kamui warned them all as they reached the ends of the free floor space. "We can't tell if they are still live or not."
"They aren't." said a voice that Kamui had been looking for. "I can tell," Sorata winked, holding up a spark of lightning between his fingertips, standing in the doorway of a room on the other side of the entryway. "Just don't trip."
Kamui smiled back at the other boy, a new wave of happiness flooding through him to see that his friend was mostly unharmed, although the newly white scar and dark stain on his shirt said that he hadn't made it through unscathed.
"Is he a friend of yours Shirou-kun?" Fuu asked curiously.
"Yes." he said, already picking his way across the floor. "Arisugawa Sorata." to skip the first line of introductions.
Sorata came out to stand at the edge of the mess, followed by two other boys about his height, one of them carrying a black and a white duo of puffballs. Compared to everyone else in the area, now Kamui felt short.
Umi stopped in the middle of the room, an almost comical look of horror on her face. "Umi-chan?" Hikaru asked, stopping as well, her long braid twitching. "What's wrong?"
"There are...two of them." she whispered, and both of the puffballs squeaked before giggling.
In the next second, she had switched from horrified to rampaging dragon, charging after the suddenly flying balls of fuzz, nearly hitting the person who was holding them with her wavy sword.
Fuu ran after her for a few minutes before stopping again. Hikaru didn't even start moving, just looking like she was suppressing the urge to fall on the floor and laugh till she cried again.
Kamui finished picking his way across the mess in the hallway, and stood in front of Sorata, right before being swept up under his arm, Sorata's strong arms keeping him from fleeing. "Ah, ah, Sorata!" he groaned as he felt some ribs protest.
Sorata kept him half-bent over and pinned to his side as he turned to face the others. "Now I have one of my beauties back! Kamui, these are Watanuki Kimihiro, and Doumeki who's first name I don't know. They fought ghosts with me."
"He means I fought the ghost." 'Doumeki' said flatly, holding onto a bow with a length of grimy string attached to it. "And got rid of it."
"So you're an exorcist?" Kamui asked with some difficulty from where Sorata held him captive.
"Yes." he said, with absolutely no change in expression in his face. Kamui never would have wanted to play any sort of bluffing game with him, it would have been impossible to win.
Hikaru and Fuu finally managed to untangle themselves from both their amusement at their suddenly high-strung friend and the cords on the floor. "Hello friends of Shirou-kun." Hikaru greeted, her braid swaying as she bowed politely to them. "I am Shiidou Hikaru and this is Housho Fuu. The girl running after your Mokona is Ryuuzaki Umi."
The blue-eyed boy replied first with a smile. "I'm Watanuki Kimihiro. Nice to meet you." his voice turned dryer as he watched the girl race after the gleefully singing balls of fluff. "I've done that before. It isn't easy to catch them."
"It is if you have food." Doumeki added. "I'm Doumeki Shizuka, since we're doing introductions here."
"Nobody asked for your opinion." Watanuki bit out to Doumeki, who was ignoring him in favor of catching both of the 'Mokona' as they fled from the watery sword that stabbed into the earth in front of him, both of them running up to hide by his neck.
Umi hissed in frustration, but put away the sword with a; "We've already probably seen enough bloodshed today." Then she turned around and saw where Sorata had Kamui; still pinned under his arm and not succeeding in getting free. "What are you doing to our girl?" she asked, hands flying to her hips.
Hikaru and Fuu glanced at each other and burst into yet more giggles, the joke clearly not old yet.
"Your girl?" Sorata asked in confusion, looking at Kamui with a very puzzled expression. "Is there something you aren't telling me Kamui?"
Kamui broke down into laughter as well, to the confusion of the rest who weren't in on it. Umi snickered too. "Shirou-kun's part of the girls now since that's how it works when the number of girls outnumbers the number of guys."
Sorata actually started counting the people in the room. "Well there's me and Doumeki and Watanuki for the guys, and since you three have already claimed Kamui, he must be a girl now, Mokonas?"
The both of the puff balls giggled, being the only people (if one could call those things people) not staring at Sorata like his head had just fallen off. "Yes Sora-chan?" they answered at the same time.
"Do you actually have a gender to add to the boys sides?" Sorata asked, looking deadly serious, and that's when Kamui caught onto the upcoming punchline.
Both of them looked somewhere between amused and scandalized. "Mokona are Mokona!" they answered very unhelpfully.
Sorata nodded sagely, finally letting Kamui go so that he could catch his breath. "Well then, since we have four girls to three guys, I must conclude that we actually have seven girls here."
Watanuki's reaction to the comment, being to gain a comical look of distress and flail about in horror sent Kamui and the three girls into a fresh wave of laughter, unable to stand up for laughing.
Doumeki's comment...didn't help. "Okay then."
"What's all the laughter for?" a voice from the upper section of the first floor called, and they all looked up to see a tall guy with dark hair grinning down at them. "And why is the floor completely impassible?"
"There was a Dragon of Earth here too, wasn't there." And that was another person that they had been looking for the whole time. Yuzuriha walked out of a dimmer hallway, Inuki held safely in her arms. "The computer girl."
"Yuzuriha!" Sorata called, waving enthusiastically. "You're alright?"
She waved back with a bright grin, lighting up. "Took a nick to the arm, but I'm alright. How about you two?"
Kamui decided to keep the part where he'd almost been strangled to himself. No one would know if he was silent. "I got hit in the collarbone, but nothing serious." Sorata said, shrugging. "Could have been a lot worse."
Yuzuriha shuddered almost imperceptibly. "I know."
Two other girls came out, one of them in bright pink that seemed to once again make the air brighter, followed by three boys, two of them probably Yuzuriha's age, and one of them taller and older, and hopping gingerly on one leg till the first boy to see them swept him up to his loud protests.
"Arashi, come out." they heard the dog-holding girl say, looking into the shadows. "It's time to go home."
To Kamui's surprise, the priestess of Ise did not appear, but Yuzuriha appeared both undaunted...and sad. "Arashi, there's no way to hide it. You're going to have to come out.
Arashi stepped out from the shadows, with her face turned away. The remains of her curtain of hair was not enough to conceal the pink and brown burn marks on her face and neck that he could see.
She looked down at them, her expression somewhere between daring them to say something stupid and almost pleading with them to not make a big deal about it. Her lips were pressed together tightly enough to make them white even under the faulty lighting.
Sorata said nothing about her appearance, somehow. There was a tender edge to his smile as he looked at them. "Are you ready to go home?"
Kamui wasn't wholly certain, but as cheers from the Mokona and the more hyperactive of their collecting group yelled out varying positive answers, he thought he saw a high level of gratefulness in her face.
The whole group, Sorata included, had realized the futility of trying to get anywhere on a plane back to Japan when they were all; A, injured to varying degrees, from small nicks from exploding pottery, to his and Yuzuriha's cuts, to Arashi's burns; B, needing a flight large enough for fifteen teenagers to go back at the same time; and C, lacking the funds necessary to get there.
Which was why he, upon discovery that he had somehow lost the four tickets they did have at some point during their 'adventure', was trying to find a place that would allow them to make a call at all to get some help in returning home.
This task was complicated by only two of them fluently speaking english.
"No, I am afraid that we need to make a collect call to Subaru Sumeragi, in Tokyo Japan." Umi said, looking fierce with and growling at whoever was on the other hand. "I do not care that you do not make calls to Japan usually, I need to reach Subaru Sumeragi, and I need to reach him five minutes ago." she snapped, looking less and less patient by the minute
The phone crackled ominously as she gripped it in a white-knuckled hand.
At least they had found a place that would let them make a call at all, even if a nightclub called The Asylum was rather suspicious.
Also the girl who was as pale as ice and had started their conversation with hitting on Kamui in english, before moving onto Tomoyo, who did understand her.
All of them stood in a lump near one of the quieter corners of the club, with Rikuo's sneer and Doumeki's way of looking at people mostly driving off the others before they got too insistent.
The fact that Doumeki still had a bow may have also been part of the scaring away of the patrons, despite his lack of arrows.
"Did you ask any of the others if they had contacts that could afford to pay for fifteen plane tickets at once?" Yuzuriha asked Kamui, looking at their party. "I think Daidouji-san may be able to help.
"It's easier to talk to Subaru back home." Kamui said quietly. "I would have suggested Karen or Seiichirou, but I don't think they have the same resources to draw on that Subaru does." He looked remorseful at the fact that he was trying to extort a favor out of his friend, and was half-gambling on the idea that Subaru would rather bring them back all at once than leaving stuck teenagers in the pits of California.
Which, to be fair, was a pretty reasonable gamble to make. Not to say that there weren't others who could help.
He cast a worried look at the priestess, standing in the farthest shadows, as if that could conceal the burns arcing across her face. The remains of her hair shuddered as she tucked herself a little more away.
If Sorata had known that the ghost had done that, he wouldn't have allowed it as long as it had 'lived' after the fact.
Or before the fact for that matter.
He subtly brushed behind Sakura and Syaoran, talking very quietly about something not his business, to stand next to her. "How are you doing Nee-chan?"
She glanced at him, a mess of feelings barely concealed by her coldness, and something slipped away from her thankfully uninjured eyes. "..." and she turned her face back to the wall, her hair making the burns look like lines in uncertain light. "It's nothing to be concerned over." she said at last, coolly.
"You'll still need to get burn stuff put on them. Otherwise it'll scar." he pushed on, carefully.
"A scar is as a scar is." she shrugged, the action sending pain through her shoulder and back, he could tell by the way that she caved in on herself a little bit. "It won't kill me to be scarred. We all have scars."
"Either you will get me Subaru Sumeragi right now, or I will personally bring down the wrath of fifteen teenagers on your entire department. We are not in the mood for foolish antics!" Umi spat out, looking for all of her dainty gracefulness like a raging dragon. Tomoyo appeared to decide that they were getting nowhere with Umi's temper, and gently took the phone from her, talking with a small smile on her face.
"Maybe it would kill me to see you scarred." He said very quietly, not quite looking at her.
Arashi whipped her head around suddenly, silkily undamaged strands of hair sliding across the marks of pink and brown marring her face.
The other boy that Arashi had apparently brought down with her from the third floor, Kazahaya, groaned in the background when he tried to stand up, and his ankle refused to grant him even that concession, sending him back to the floor in an undignified sprawl. He growled at Rikuo, who was standing next to him, looking smug. "This is your fault Rikuo! If you hadn't stumbled into me, I wouldn't have tripped!"
"Are you sure?" Rikuo grinned back. "You can be quite the klutz when you feel like it." Then he was distracted from teasing the boy by yet another patron with unnaturally pale skin who yammered at them too fast for most all of the group to understand. He fended off the man with a razor-blade grin and looming presence.
Tomoyo hung up the phone with a polite farewell, and then dialed it again. "I am going to call my mother, since reaching your friend appears to be out of the skills of the operator."
Yuzuriha looked concerned as she brushed through Watanuki and the Mokonas standing slightly awkwardly in the middle of the group, looking quite unscathed for their ordeal. "Is that alright Daidouji-san?"
Tomoyo had the phone pressed to one ear, but she smiled at the Seal. "It's fine Yuzuriha-san. Don't worry. Everything will be alright." Then she turned her attention to the phone, talking quieter than before.
Sorata looked about for the fourth seal of their group, and found Kamui standing between Hikaru and Fuu, talking softly with them, and massaging his neck like it pained him. "I think we're all going to need to get checked up before we go anywhere." he whispered to Arashi, who ignored him in favor of staring blankly at the wall.
The room wobbled a bit in his vision, as both the cut in his chest and the healed over scar on his arm throbbed in sudden intensity. Sorata cursed mentally as he remembered that he'd lost quite a bit of blood, and his body had probably run out of the adrenaline rush by now.
Tomoyo smiled and said something incomprehensible into the phone before hanging up. "We have four hotel rooms to stay in, about half an hour from here until we can board a plane at about three in the afternoon tomorrow, three being the time here that the plane will leave." she announced to the rest of them. "And we are going to stop by a hospital before we go anywhere else tonight."
The rest of the group was quite silent, and Sorata couldn't really blame them. That was a bit more than they were expecting. "Did your mother set this all up while you were talking to her?" Sakura asked at last, the first coherent reaction from any of them.
"Yes. She was really worried before. She would have sent her own plane, but I said that we were too worn out to stay up the amount of time that it would take to get to the plane." Tomoyo said, securing her bag on her arm. "I think I saw a hospital about maybe two, three blocks from here. According to the hostess of the club, the city gets better once you get out of the slums, and we're on the outskirts of it."
"Oh joy." Watanuki muttered, collecting the bouncing puffballs and holding them in confinement against his chest. "More walking. At least this time there won't be any fences and steep cliffs to deal with."
As they all stood up wearily, or tried and failed in Kazahaya's case, the woman who had allowed them the use of the bar's phone swaggered up, ridiculously short skirt leaving nothing to the imagination, and purred in english at them. "Are you all done with me ducklings? Nobody's staying behind to keep me from being a lonely girl?"
Sorata couldn't understand more than a few words, but her tone was blatant enough for those out of the know to easily guess what she wanted. Tomoyo answered for all of them, her voice gracious and calm. "We are all very weary, and need to go rest. I am sorry that we aren't able to give you any form of proper payment."
The woman pouted at them, crossing her arms underneath her large and barely covered bosom. He noticed that Arashi was staring at the woman with a black expression of hatred, twisting the corners of her mouth down and pulling the burns tighter on her face.
Then the woman stepped up to her, tugging on a lock of unsinged black hair. "Why so annoyed little kitty-cat?" she cooed, ignoring the look of disgust and Arashi's shying away. "You got into a bad fight with a tom cat? Those markings are sooo cute on you. They make the prettiness on the rest of you stand out."
Arashi actually pulled away, heedless of the few strands that were left behind, and practically hid in the back of the group, clearly not eager or even prepared to deal with her.
Sorata grabbed the woman by the arm as she attempted to move through, stopping her (hopefully) without causing her pain, and the action of moving quickly sent his head spinning a bit again. "Listen, I don't want to hurt a girl," he said, his tone deceptively calm, "But you're annoying a girl who I really like, and I'm out of patience to deal with people bothering her after all the stuff that's happened tonight. So please, back off."
He didn't particularly care that she couldn't understand him, or that his words probably flew straight over her vapid head, but he'd really had enough for the day.
When she just grinned up at him instead, he sent a minor shock through her arm before letting go, standing up with all of his not-very-calmness in play. She huffed and drifted away, pausing only to say to Watanuki, "If I weren't already warned off, you'd be my first snack."
She ignored the way that Doumeki ran a finger over the makeshift string of his bow, and sauntered off, her skirt riding up and down with every sway of her hips.
Sorata turned to grin at Arashi, and in the process of spinning around, found that the world had grown very blurry and his head felt quite light.
Then the grimy floor of a thousand dirty deeds was rushing up and him, and he was aware that he cracked his head on the floor before passing out from previous blood loss.
The part where Arashi had ended up in a haunted hotel separated from the other three who had come with her was annoying. The part where she was hit in the face with a blast of fire and was only saved by a Dragon of Earth was aggravating, if a little endearing on the part of Nataku. The part where she had to fight her way down two floors and climb down an elevator shaft with burns was irritating, and slightly (alright a lot) painful.
The part where their annoying hostess with no sense of personal space was most likely hitting on her was rage inducing. The part where Sorata had stepped up and threatened the aforementioned annoyance was somewhere between mortifying and...she wasn't going there. The part where he passed out the instant she walked away was terrifying.
Which was why she hit him on the head once it was established he was completely unconscious. "You idiot." she hissed at him, dismissing the tears that barely pricked at the corners of her eyes as the side effect of a very long night that just kept getting better and better, please note sarcasm. "You complete idiot. All worried for all of us, and not even saying anything about yourself. And now we have to carry you because you went too far."
Then she hit him on his stupid head again, just for good measure, even if the repeated injuries weren't going to help him at all.
Rikuo and Doumeki both appeared in her immediate vision, each one of them slinging up one of Sorata's arms and carrying him by hauling him on their shoulders, a joint effort without communication.
When Arashi stood up, Yuzuriha was right there, Inuki hanging in her arms, both of them looking worried. "What did he do?" she asked quietly, a question not meant to be answered by any of the group.
Tomoyo led the way out of the building, Yamazaki and Syaoran holding open the grungy door for the trio of boys to stagger out into the rainy streets. Arashi felt slightly numb, like the last dramatic of the night had been too much for even her closeted emotions to keep up with, and allowed herself to follow Kamui's trio of girls, hushed by Sorata's sudden collapse. Behind them, she heard Watanuki helping Kazahaya to hop his way out of his corner, the strange puffballs both sitting on his shoulders like mascots.
The doors slammed shut with an resounding smack, and the rain came down hard on all of them, leaving hair bedraggled and clothes clingy and uncomfortable.
Arashi felt the sting of the water acutely as it landed on the burns, feeling more like acid than rain. She tried to deny the fact that she was flinching from the wetness, attempting to keep it from racing across her face and neck, but her hair that used to do it so well was gone, burned away, and she had no shelter.
Until Tomoyo handed her an umbrella, undoubtedly pulled from the depths of her magic bag, or at least it started to seem like it. "It's alright to be not completely okay when you're in pain. Nobody will say anything." She held the opened umbrella above Arashi's head, rain dripping onto it with an odd sound.
Arashi stared at her, and Tomoyo laughed softly. "I always make sure I have an umbrella with me, just in case it starts raining while I'm walking somewhere and I can't wait it out." She continued to hold it above her, blocking the rain from hurting her more, not saying a word about the rain that soaked into long ripply hair.
At last, Arashi took the handle from her, and watched as Sorata's feet dragged on the sidewalk, then as both boys carrying him stumbled slightly, followed by his feet slumping against the ground, before he took the initiative to slide them under awkwardly. "Oh, my head." the idiot said, as they all stopped, to stare at him in surprise. "I passed out, didn't I?" Sorata asked them all, turning a sheepish grin to them.
If he hadn't just woken up, Arashi would have hit him again. Maybe twice more for good measure.
His eyes landed on her, and he smiled, tenderly. "Hey nee-chan. You doing okay?" he asked, the words stronger than a minute ago. Something in his face, something in his eyes made her heart leap up strangely, and start beating faster.
She almost smiled back at him before remembering that she was actually very angry with him for being stupid. "You're an idiot." she said bluntly, staring at him intensely, as if he would be able to understand everything by eye contact alone. "You couldn't have waited to pass out until after we got out of the rain?"
He laughed, and there was something more relieved in that laugh. "Sorry. Sorry guys. I think I can stand up by myself now."
Rikuo let go of him almost immediately, going over to collect Kazahaya from where he staggered against Watanuki. "Are we done standing around? We haven't gotten more than half a block yet and we're getting wetter by the second." he said with amusement as Kazahaya tried to hit him with his free arm and missed.
Doumeki took a longer second to peel away from Sorata, taking his bow back from Yamazaki with a nod. Sorata grinned at the group, and reached out to ruffle Kamui's hair, the boy standing next to him and looking as worried as he could when he looked like a drowned kitten. "Yeah, we're ready. So let's go?"
Arashi didn't miss the wobble in his step as he walked forwards, and watched him closely as they all moved silently in the dark and the rain, the only omnipresent sound being the splash of their footsteps and the pattering of rain drops hitting her umbrella.
"I can do it you idiot, put me down!" Kazahaya yelled as he and Rikuo almost stumbled into a gutter, the sound an oddity to their rhythm.
"Stop flipping out! I can carry you better if you aren't struggling!" Rikuo barked back, the weariness and frustration of the long night sharpening his tone.
To their surprise, Kazahaya actually did settle down, although that may have been because they had reached the local hospital.
"Is anyone besides me thinking that this isn't an especially good idea?" Watanuki asked dryly, his voice the only thing not soaked by the rain. Both Mokonas squeaked sadly from where they were clutched in his arms, ears limp against their bodies. "That maybe we should go to the hotel and get the less injured to go out and get mundane supplies?"
Arashi was privately beginning to think the same thing, but she didn't want to be stared at in either case. The very thought of being a spectical made her stomach roil in disgust. "Why are you thinking that Watanuki-san?" Umi asked, her voice ringing with confusion. "You have scrapes on your face, Arisugawa-san's already passed out once, Kudo-san's twisted his ankle bad enough he can't walk and Kishuu-san has..." she trailed off awkwardly and that was just as bad as being stared at. "Anyway, we aren't in good enough shape, not all of us to keep going."
The boy didn't answer her directly, but stood in front of the door, staring with eyes that were seeing more than they could. "There's something...off about this place. Not as bad as the hotel, but it's not a good place."
"What is it Watanuki?" one of the Mokonas asked, nervously. "What do you see?"
"Is it the usual collection around hospitals?" Doumeki followed up, his voice eeriely calm. "Unhappy people from sudden deaths?"
The boy shook his head, spraying water droplets around the area. "Darker, there's something wrong with this place. Something malevolent. We shouldn't go in. Not now."
Arashi looked up at the building, the bright red cross flashing dimly through the rain. She wasn't a seer, she couldn't see those of the second world, but something about it rang oddly. "We shouldn't stop here." she said, certainty filling each word. As bad as it would feel to be stared at when they got to the hotel, she had the sneaking suspicion that this would be worse.
She'd already dealt with enough trouble today.
"Nee-chan?" Sorata asked, looking at her in confusion. The rain dripped from his hair like it did from everyone else's, the water turning the bloodstains on his shirt a dull maroon. And the air hummed slightly around him, a faint aura of electricity.
If he was having trouble controlling his lightning, than he was worse off than she thought, and that made her apprehensive. Sent something sour spinning in her stomach.
Tomoyo looked at both of them, wisdom in her eyes, shining in the lamplight. "It's another half a mile into town to get to the hotel. Do you think it's worth it?"
"It has bad memories." Kazahaya said. At some point, he and Rikuo had gone up to touch the building. "Worse than normal places. It's seen...creatures of the night. I don't know the word for them, they feed off of life, of blood. They take from the victims both their lives, and sometimes their new ones."
Kamui looked up at the building with a flash of purple eyes in the lamplight. "I don't think we can handle any more of the supernatural tonight." he said wisely, hand again going to his throat. "We shouldn't stop here tonight."
That settled the discussion. Where the others might have argued, they seemed to feel the bad vibes too. Sakura was particularly shaky, shivering as they returned to walking.
As they all stopped at a light, Sorata leaning on the pole for support, he was flagging in strength the further they went, but he looked cheerful. "This has been one of the most interesting nights I've ever had." he informed them all, his voice slightly faint. "Really, really unusual."
Arashi subtly stepped closer to him as the walk signal the other way flashed, the red hand obvious that they were not supposed to be going. Yuzuriha seemed to have the same idea, shifting through the collections of puddles to be near the both of them, her kittenish self dropped in favor of being a watch dog.
"Interesting good or interesting bad?" Syaoran asked, as they all crossed the street, wearily. They were all going to be sick at this rate from the chills and the exhaustion dragging at their heels. Arashi wanted to sleep for a week, or at least have her scalp stop burning whenever anything touched it so she didn't have to be the only one with an umbrella.
"Interesting interesting." Sorata emphasized with a sweep of his hand. "I don't think I'd want to repeat it, but it wasn't bad at all."
"Aside from the part where we were all stuck in a haunted mansion with a homicidal ghost that frequently attacked us with sharp heavy objects?" Watanuki deadpanned, passing off his burden to the taller boy standing right behind him. "You take the annoyances." he directed Doumeki.
A car alarm went off suddenly in the background and they all flinched, in sync. It was kind of funny, and there were scattered giggles from Kamui and his trio that he'd brought up from the basement. It was surprising how he seemed to react to this kind of pressure, by laughing in hysteria practically. "We're a hive mind now." Umi said with a strain to her voice. "Flinching at everything, moving seamlessly."
Fuu lifted a hand and pointed at a lit building rising out of the curtains of rain. "Is that our destination Daidouji-san?"
Tomoyo blinked, and pushed sopping bangs out of her eyes. "I think so, it's the first one we've seen that isn't run down."
Yuzuriha chuckled surprisingly. "We just got out of a haunted one, I don't think I'm sleeping well in any hotel now, haunted or not." Her voice held a faint edge of bitterness wholly off character for her usually.
Arashi privately agreed with her, stealing another glance at Sorata as they all crossed yet another street, most of them shivering in the rain. "How many blocks do you think we have left to go Tomoyo-chan?" the strange stuffed animal floating next to Sakura asked, its voice odd and accented much like Sorata's.
Tomoyo trembled as she looked at the building again. "Two, maybe three blocks. It's too rainy to tell exactly."
The rain was getting worse, thickening the air until clouds covered all but what lay close in front of them. "It's like Infinity when the oceans are storming." Hikaru whispered, staring up at the pouring skies with a faraway look on her face. Her braid no longer swung from side to side, but was a dark weight on her head.
A car roared by and splashed through a deep puddle, sending gouts of filthy water up onto Tomoyo, Umi, Kamui, Kazahaya and Rikuo as the ones on the fringes.
Umi yelled at the rapidly vanishing taillights, her draconic temper coming out again, but she was quieted by Fuu and Hikaru, stepping forwards to each flank her. Tomoyo calmly shook off her dress to attempt to remove some of the gunk that had landed on it.
They crossed the street again and suddenly they were there, in front of a well-lit building, warm, cheery yellow-orange light washing over the dank gray streets where they stood.
"Oh yay, a bed!" Sakura quietly cheered as they stepped under the awning, everyone sighing in relief from the reprieve of the rain. "And no more rain." she added with a small giggle.
Tomoyo calmly wrung water out of her dark hair, streams of water tumbling down to the ground almost gracefully. "We can go in at any time."
Doumeki handed the shivering Mokonas back to Watanuki, who stood closer to the door out of the two of them, alone looking unfazed from the amount of rain that had turned all of them freezing and numb.
Rikuo set Kazahaya down in a corner of the entryway, not close enough to the sensors to trip it, but still well out of the rain. The boy stumbled as he struggled for balance with only one properly functioning leg, but with the help of the corner itself, managed to stand steady enough to not topple over at the slightest touch. This was for approximately the amount of time that it took him to shake some of the water off before picking him up again, the boy too worn to raise more than a quiet fuss.
Hikaru undid her long braid, a sheet of ripply, soaked hair raining all over the dry ground. Umi groaned in sympathy as she worked with her own hair, squeezing out the dampness as best she could.
But Arashi looked at Sorata, as she shook the rainwater off the umbrella till she could shut it safely, and she saw him with a hand on his forehead, eyes slightly unfocused. He noticed her staring, and smiled at her. "I'm just a little off-balanced, I'll be fine after I have a chance to sleep and recover. Don't worry Nee-chan."
Well of course she was going to worry, he'd passed out in a grungy bar, had a mysterious white scar on his arm that hadn't been there when they went in and also had enough blood on his collarbone and shirt to show that he'd taken a serious injury as well.
And she hadn't been there to prevent it, she'd been too busy passing out from stupid fire attacks.
She was startled from her thoughts by the groaning sound of the doors sliding open. Tomoyo stepped inside and looked back serenely at the others. "Shall we go in?"
Inside the hotel, it was warm, and cozy, and not at all like the previous one. Arashi trembled in the sudden warmth and became aware that she was shaking madly with weariness, with cold, with muted pain.
Tomoyo took the lead, stepping up to the counter as they all filed in, fifteen wet teenagers and three oddities that looked like stuffed animals, who at least were not moving around and were obviously used to behaving like what they looked like in public spaces.
The desk clerk was remarkably understanding for all the mess and confusion they brought with them, and Tomoyo handled the figuring out of room spaces with delicate finesse, talking like she was much older than she was. In no time, it seemed, and Arashi was dimly aware that time was starting to slip away and hop about confusingly.
Which probably meant that she was supposed to be sleeping soon, but she still had more to do.
Tomoyo had been in the process of counting out room cards when something occurred to her, and she spun around in a whirl of wet fabric to ask the bemused desk clerk for something, that something turned out to be a first aid kit. "We shouldn't go to sleep without getting at least minorly patched up."
Arashi had the distinct feeling that Tomoyo was talking to her, even if she addressed them as a whole. "So how are we splitting up three rooms between us?" Sakura asked, doing a head count as they stood in the lobby, huddled in a measure of safety. "We have seven girls and eight boys."
"I don't know yet." Tomoyo replied blithely. "Why don't we take a look at our arrangements before we make a final decision, we're on the fourth floor."
The hallways were lined in softly golden paint, wooden paneling and red fabric, a dark burgundy that was too far removed from blood to send them flinching. "I'm afraid to even touch anything in here," Hikaru whispered, "It all looks like we'd ruin it the instant we put wet fingers on it."
"Better not look at the carpet then." Umi winked in amusement. Arashi saw that at least some of them were still dripping, and leaving spots on the tiled floor, guarantied to be a nightmare to whoever walked after them.
They came to an elevator, and Yamazaki and Syaoran, to everyone's surprise stepped back just once. "We got stuck in an elevator that wouldn't move when we first got stuck in there." Syaoran explained, looking at the metal doors with apprehension. "I'm not sure I trust them right now."
"Stuck elevaters are usually caused by plants growing in the metalworks, but this was because there was a ghost who wanted to kill us." Yamazaki added to the confusion of everyone else listening. "I'll manage it though." There were equal levels of determination in their gazes.
Yuzuriha leaned against the wall, with Inuki slumbering in her arms. "If you two want to walk up four flights of stairs to get to a bed, be my guest. But I'm taking the elevator." she said, tiredness slurring the words till some of the sounds were unintelligible. "I'm not going to be able to handle that amount of stairs."
Doumeki stepped forwards and pressed the open button, the black Mokona in his other hand squeaking faintly, nothing understandable, and settled the discussion with the sound of the doors sliding to admit them entrance.
Arashi was practically first in there, sinking to the back with her hair brushing against her right shoulder. Sorata slipped through to stand next to her, a protective aura to go with his faint electricity. "Are you going to fall unconscious again?" she asked, keeping her voice quiet enough that the others wouldn't be tempted to eavesdrop, she hoped.
"Probably not." he grinned. "Not until I get into bed if that's what you mean. I feel like I could sleep for a year now." he added with a wink.
The doors slid shut sinuously, clicking with a slightly forbidden tone. But it moved without hesitation, counting up the floors with a beep for each one.
Tomoyo was the first out, looking at the numbers of the rooms. "We have 409, 411, and 413," she read off, looking at the cards. "And we have fifteen of us, which means we should probably split up five to a room. Do you have any preferences?"
Kamui's trio of girls grabbed him up, the boy looking flabbergasted and amused at the same time. "We'll take our girl with us." Umi announced to several snorts and one quiet giggle. "We can take one other boy if we need to, nobody's jumping us."
"Wouldn't it be more sensible to have five girls in one room?" Kamui asked, looking up at the girl holding onto his shoulders. "Instead of three and four?"
"But then there'd be two of them still left behind. So we'll split it up this way." Fuu said, obviously for the three of them. Arashi had noticed that they had an uncanny ability to be on the same page when it came to explaining things.
"Besides," Hikaru added with a smile. "You're one of the girls now, we'll keep you with us." she finished to all four of them fighting to not break down.
Arashi didn't quite get why they thought it was so funny, but Sorata was smiling at them with some level of pride, and so she decided that it was their business as to what weird jokes they were coming up with. "So that's Kamui, Shiidou, Ryuuzaki and Housho to a room," she said, causing them to look at her, "Who else is willing to stay in the same space?"
Yamazaki shrugged. "I have nothing against it, since we'll just be sleeping, pretty much."
"And getting dry." Umi added, holding up a lock of damp hair ruefully. "So we're settled now?"
Kamui shrugged, water running down the sides of his face from the hair plastered to his face. "I'm okay with it."
Tomoyo split up the cards, looking at each of them, before passing Yamazaki the five of them, he being the only one not tangled up with other people. "Good night all of you." she said with a smile. "Try to be awake before eight in this time zone? If you don't think you can, I'll get some food from the complementary breakfast, but I can only take so much."
Hikaru smiled, and then Yamazaki had the door open, looking in. "It's just as fancy as the hallway!" Arashi heard him exclaim, his head vanishing into the doorway.
The three girls went in as he held the door open, Hikaru's waterlogged remains of her braid vanishing in a flash of red.
Kamui hesitated for a moment, looking at her, Sorata and Yuzuriha with the same level of intensity. "Be safe, please." he said softly, strong emotions lurking beneath the surface of the words.
Then he went in too, and the door clicked shut.
Sakura looked at her friend, holding onto the key that hung around her neck. "Tomoyo-chan? It'll be you and me and Yuzuriha-san and Kishuu-san, do you have a preference to the last person?" her eyes flicked over to Syaoran, who met them with his own brown.
Arashi would have preferred to have Sorata in there, but the decision had pretty much already been made, and she wasn't going to argue. Not now when it would just lead to a longer night.
Tomoyo handed off another five cards to the five boys who were going to be sleeping in 413, and then a card to Arashi. "You can bring in Arisugawa-san before we go to bed, since I have the medicine kit."
Kazahaya held both his and Rikuo's cards, Rikuo's hands being occupied with holding the boy. "Thank you Daidouji-san, but do you think you could hand us a bandage or something first, so we can wrap my ankle?"
Rikuo grinned at his captive. "So you've given up any illusions that you can stand on your own?"
Kazahaya swatted him on the nose with the cards. "It's still your fault." he complained.
Tomoyo had opened up the top compartment, and was pulling out a long stretchy wrapping. "Give me a minute and I can give you some bandaids for any cuts that you may want to cover." she said, passing over what Arashi recognized as the type of wrapping used for twists and sprains.
A moment later, she passed over a small handful of bandaids, to Watanuki who was less concerned with making sure he got all of them and more focused on keeping the white Mokona from falling on the floor, it was trying to hop over to its companion and not paying attention to things like moving surfaces.
Doumeki was the one who opened up their door, being less handicapped than the rest of them. The four older boys went inside, quiet bickering emanating from Kazahaya and Rikuo, and Watanuki growling at the puffball in his hand.
Then it was just the six of them in the hallway, delightfully attempting to not be awkward. Yuzuriha solved the problem by opening up the door, and ushering them all in, Inuki stirring as she had to let go of him with one arm to use the other.
Arashi brushed past Sorata, deliberately not saying anything, as she walked in.
The room was indeed as fancy as the hallway, with two queen-sized beds containing what looked like the comfiest blankets ever made, and a couch that was designed to fold out. Someone had turned on the lamp between the beds, and it lit the room up so that it was easy to see in, but not overpoweringly bright.
Arashi was ushered over to the couch and she sat down on it. To her surprise, it suddenly felt like the most wonderful thing she'd ever sat on, and she sank into the softness, ignoring the way that it made the burns on the back of her neck sting with remembered and new pain. Sorata sat next to her as Tomoyo placed the kit on the table in front of it down with a calmly assertive thump.
Sakura let Kero free from her arms, no longer concerned with him pretending to be a stuffed animal. He floated up with a relieved sound that made her flinch with the grating quality of it. "Ah, I hate being stuffed for so long."
They all ignored him, and he fluttered over to flop onto one of the beds.
"Sakura, are you okay? Did you get hurt at all?" Syaoran asked the girl, gently placing his hands on her shoulders, to look at her.
She giggled quietly. "I'm fine Syaoran, I didn't get hurt by the ghost. Really, I just want to sleep."
Tomoyo waved them off. "You two go ahead and go to sleep, I can handle it from here." Though her tone was light, Arashi did not hear any room for argument in it.
Yuzuriha set Inuki down on the other bed, where he turned around once before flopping down. "I think we'll just need to check my arm quickly, it hasn't bothered me in a while." she told them all as she walked over. Behind her, Sakura took off her shoes and the over shirt that went with her dress, before climbing onto the bed, not bothering to even slip under the blankets before shutting her eyes. Syaoran took off his shoes as well, both of them squelching slightly with all the water in them.
They were both asleep within moments, and Arashi envied them that trust in their surroundings, that they were able to find the necessary peace.
Tomoyo stood up to unwind the fabric that had been wrapped around Yuzuriha's arm. "Let me know if it starts to hurt while I'm taking this off."
Arashi watched the lines of white descend from the younger girl's arm, slowly gaining spots of red. Yuzuriha bit her lips softly, and made no sound as the last lengths fell off.
A long gouge into her arm lay there, swollen and red, but thankfully closed over. "It's doing very well for being hit by an axe." Tomoyo said, digging through the box. "I'm just going to clean it a little bit and bandage it back up.
Yuzuriha smiled, her usual kittenish self coming back out as Tomoyo discovered a cream, and began to carefully massage it into the cut, watching Yuzuriha's expression for signs of pain.
"That feels really nice Daidouji-san." was all the girl said, smiling at her.
Sorata shifted on the couch with an amused grin, and maybe to not fall asleep again, Arashi wasn't quite certain. "I see you have a new friend Yuzuriha-chan." he said softly, to not wake up the other sleeping two in the room.
Tomoyo smiled at him. "Yes, she does." Finishing up with the cream, she handed the bottle to Sorata, and took out a role of bandages from the box. "If she'll let you, you should help Kishuu-san."
There was a very awkward pause as Sorata looked at her, and she looked at him, and something seemed to zap in the air between them. At last she closed her eyes, turning the burns closer to him. "I don't care." she said dully, hoping that her sudden frantic heartbeat didn't rampage through her throat.
Or make her blush, which would be more mortifying.
Gentle fingers with a cooling slipperiness on them slide over the burns starting on her scalp, sliding over burns with a cautious emotion about them, brushing burned fragment of hair aside so that they fell on the couch between them.
For some reason, her heartbeat cooled, but she still felt ridiculously giddy and like despite the horrors of the day, that everything was okay now.
She was dimly aware that Yuzuriha and Tomoyo were watching, and she glared at them. This did absolutely nothing, for they only giggled softly, looking oddly alike for all their facial differences.
The burns on her cheek throbbed till Sorata added the cream to them, fading away almost instantly. It was odd how his touch seemed to be doing as much for the pain as the stuff itself.
"Arashi, do you want to sleep in one of the beds, or are you alright with the couch?" Yuzuriha asked, as Tomoyo tied off the fresh wrapping on her arm.
"I can sleep on the couch if you both want to use the bed," Tomoyo offered, digging through the box for more bandages. "I don't mind."
Arashi almost shook her head as a response, but Sorata's fingers sliding around to the back of her head with the balm removed that as an option. "I'll take the couch." she said curtly, not in the mood for discussing the merits and faults of that decision.
Yuzuriha looked at her with concern, but said nothing about it, and Arashi was thankful for that. "Just don't be loud if the two of you are going to talk, okay?" she added as she walked over to pick up her sleepy Inuki, so that she could slide under the covers with him. "Are you alright with sharing a bed Daidouji-san?" she asked the other girl as she walked over.
Tomoyo smiled enigmatically. "It doesn't bother me." And that was the last little bit of distracting conversation in the room, the light by the bed turned off so that a little one by the couch was the only one glowing.
Arashi shut her eyes as Sorata smoothed a layer of cream over her cheekbone, working his way down the burns on her face. "I can do the ones on my shoulder and back." she said quietly, and tensely.
Sorata had a smile in his voice when he spoke, as softly as her. "Okay nee-chan." but then he went serious. "What happened to you?"
She sighed, knowing that he was going to want to know. "I got stuck on the third floor."
A ribbon of coolness ran over the back of her neck, before Sorata pulled his hands away. "And?"
Arashi opened her eyes to look at him again, and saw him holding out a length of cloth. "I'm going to have to cover up the burns for the cream to stay on." he explained, and she acquiesced to the binding.
"It had been mostly burned down, and the ghost used that to his advantage." she continued, the words hollow for some dim reason. "He was able to summon ghost fire everywhere that real fire had been."
The first lines of fabric over her scalp made her pause, and she had to catch her breath when he carefully looped the cloth around to cover the burns and still leave her face relatively free. "There were two boys, and...a Dragon of Earth up there too." she continued.
"A Dragon of Earth?" he asked, and there was something dangerous in his voice, as if he wanted to fry Nataku. "Which one? I know we had the computer girl on the first floor, because she put out all the lights."
Arashi felt her eyes slide shut for a second as he arranged the bandages so that they were able to loop down to cover the burns arcing onto her cheek. "Nataku, the bioroid. She was scared, didn't know what to do." Again, Arashi wasn't sure why she was thinking of Nataku as she, but the term fit better than 'he' or 'it'. "She was the one who got me off the third floor when the fires got worse."
Sorata made a sound, the meaning completely imperceptible to her. "And the burns?"
For some reason, she really didn't want to say what happened, but she knew she couldn't hide it. "The air was really smoky from the ghost fire, I think fire may be able to cross plains as well, and I couldn't breathe well enough to keep standing up." she drew in a shaky breath, as Sorata tied off the bandage, and handed her the tube of cream. "He hit me in the face with a blast of hot air and it with the dryness of the air set my hair on fire. Nataku pulled me out of the fire and put it out. That's why I'm here."
She wanted to look at him, she didn't want to. But the silence stretched till she turned her face, reluctantly, to look at him.
And he looked sad, regretful, as if he'd failed at something that he couldn't be forgiven for. The emotion in his face made her catch her breath again, clogging up her throat. He cleared his own throat and something in the air released her as he turned his face away from her slightly. "At least you'll be okay." he said.
The air grew stagnant with silence again, and Arashi turned the mostly empty tube of burn cream over in her hands. "I-I should go put this on." she said at last, and then she felt mortification at the fact that she'd stuttered, her face flushing red in embarrassment.
Sorata waved her off with a smile, something tender in his face. "Go on, I won't peek."
She was almost at the bathroom door when he added onto his sentence with a more familiar sound behind it. "Much."
Arashi was tempted to throw the tube at his head in retaliation, but that would have the side effect both of possibly waking up the sleepers and making her have to walk back on legs that threatened to be overcooked noodles.
So instead she just glared at him before walking in and shutting the door.
The light was far too bright, but there wasn't a dimmer setting, and although her eyes stung, she managed to bear it.
When she looked in the mirror, she saw a long stream of white bandages arcing over her head before sliding down around her neck, tight enough to do their job and yet loose enough not to choke her.
The burn cream felt heavy in her hands, and she undid her shirt, letting it fall to the floor in a sad heap of white, slightly burned and ash covered fabric.
There were burns on her shoulder, sliding in rashes of pink around her back, but not so bad as on her neck and face.
She looked at them, and she felt unworthy, ugly.
The bottle snapped open with a loud click, and the liquid inside was slightly sticky, and colder than it felt like it should have been.
She smoothed her hand over the pink spots on her shoulder, watching as the cream sank in and faded. Somehow, it didn't have the same affect as when Sorata had done it.
She slid her hand over to her back, feeling the burns on her bra strap, and then how it broke from her touch, the fabric burned through enough that it couldn't hold together.
Looking in the mirror, she felt the same way.
She snapped the tube shut again and put her shirt back on, the fabric no longer exacerbating the problem.
Then she turned off the light, and the room blanked into darkness.
She thought she saw a hint of a haunted grin in the mirror, from someone who had been sent on, and left her burned.
She shuddered and opened the door again.
Sorata still sat on the couch, but he said nothing when she walked out. It took her a moment to realize that he had fallen asleep, tucked onto the couch in an undinaibly awkward position.
She could have woken him up, but she didn't want to.
It had been too long of a day, and he probably wouldn't do anything in his sleep, since he had crashed so hard already.
So Arashi sat down on the couch as well, curling up her legs behind her, on the opposite end from him.
The light was still on, but she thought that was okay, that they needed a little light after everything.
She was asleep before she even thought of anything else, head landing on her arms against the arm of the couch.
She did not dream.
Yuzuriha had woken up to sunrise, feeling like she had sand growing in her eyelashes.
She sat up carefully, Inuki crawling into her lap sleepily as she looked around the room.
Tomoyo and Sakura and Syaoran all still slept on, differing but similar expressions of serenity lining their faces, and she was careful not to make any noise as she climbed out of the bed, Tomoyo curling up around the warm space that she used to be.
She walked over to the window, Inuki sitting on her shoulder like the dog spirit he was, and pushed aside the curtains just enough to look out.
The east facing window held a view of the city slums spreading inland, the sun with creeping rays sliding over the world, fingers of light touching everything and lighting it up golden.
Her breath caught as she saw it, and the last vestiges of the night before slipped away into the dawn.
Inuki whuffed softly into her ear and she smiled. "Yes, we can go see if there's any breakfast yet." she told him in a whisper, turning away from the window.
She picked up the room card off of the bedside table and walked down past the beds, and turned to turn off the lamp that was shining dully in the room, before she resisted the temptation to start cooing.
Arashi and Sorata were both sleeping, with Arashi's face bandaged up till the burns had vanished, and Sorata wasn't so pale as the night before. And he had probably started on the other side of the couch, but had obviously rolled over during his sleep, because his head was pillowed on Arashi's thigh, with her hand resting on his cheek somewhere between protecting, possessing and just affectionate as she couldn't be when awake.
It was one of the cutest things she'd ever seen them do, and so she stayed very quiet as she tiptoed over to the door, picking up her shoes from where she'd left them the night before.
The door clicked behind her, there was no way to avoid that. Outside, she found one of Kamui's trio standing there, the one with glasses. "Good morning Nekoi-san." she said with a smile, adjusting the aforementioned glasses on her face until they seemed to not be bothering her. "Did you sleep well?"
She smiled back, "As well as I ever do. I was going to go get some breakfast, are you waiting on anyone?"
Fuu shook her head, walking down the hallway towards the elevators. "They are all sleeping very soundly. Your friend Shirou-san was very embarrassed about sleeping in a room full of girls when Umi-chan wouldn't stop hugging him, but we managed to get him to relax."
Yuzuriha giggled as the elevator opened, empty of other people. "How did you?" she asked out of curiosity.
Fuu looked confused for a moment before she caught on, "How did we get him to relax? We told him either he could calm down and sleep on the couch or share a bed with Yamazaki-san, or that we could fit him in with us."
Yuzuriha snorted as the elevator clicked down two floors, and stopped to admit a middle-aged woman in a pressed business suit, looking ridiculously well put together for that time of day. "Did he sleep on the couch?"
"No." Fuu said as the elevator let them out, and more morning light spilled in from the lobby, setting the tiles afire with the pieces of shiny orange and red stone already in them. "He fell asleep on our bed before Umi and Hikaru had finished with towel-drying the rest of their hair. He's still there now."
Their conversation was stopped by the discovery of the fact that the breakfast nook was indeed open now, and very sparsely populated for that time of day, having only the pressed woman daintily chugging down boiling coffee, and a man in a loose shirt and sweatpants, face buried in a newspaper while the tv blared in english at the corner of the room.
"They have so much sweet stuff." she exclaimed as she looked through the containers of food. "Muffins, pastries, yogurt," she shut the container and moved over to some of the dry food, "Cereal, cereal in bright colors, pancake-wait no that's for waffles- batter, fruit. Don't they eat anything not sweet?" she asked rhetorically as she shut the door of the fridge containing yogurt and grapefruit slices.
Fuu was also looking down the line. "They have limp bacon and some kind of gravy, but that's it on the not-so-sweet front. Apparently americans need copious amounts of sugar in the morning before they can do anything."
Inuki whuffed sadly, and she set him on an empty table. "I guess we'll have to make do, I don't think we can afford to find something else to eat." Yuzuriha said, picking up one of the paper plates conveniently provided by the hotel. "Hmm, if I wanted to have a sugar rush, what should I go with?" she mused as she opened up the muffin case.
"Go for the ones with chocolate in them, chocolate's good." Fuu said sagely, getting her own plate.
They were sitting down, enjoying the quiet when they were joined by one of their companions. Tomoyo, aside from the wrinkles lining her skirt from sleeping on it wet, looked quite well put together for so early. "Good morning Yuzuriha-san, Housho-san." she said pleasantly. "How did you sleep?"
"Quite well actually," Fuu said, taking a spoonful of yogurt. "How about you Daidouji-san?"
Tomoyo smiled at them, "I slept very well. Oh, Watanuki-san and Doumeki-san are also awake, they're just having some trouble agreeing on whether or not to take the stairs. They'll be down soon." and she went off to find her own breakfast, looking serenely through the various junky selections.
Yuzuriha stopped Inuki from trying to take a bite of her bacon, and put the strip in her mouth. The limpness of it left something to be desired, but the taste itself was fine, not too sweet.
"Breakfast!" she heard a small voice cheer, and turned her head to see the white Mokona waving at her, clutched safely in Doumeki's arms, ignoring the scandalized look that Watanuki was shooting it.
"Be quiet!" he hissed, stomping in with the black Mokona somewhere between clenched and cradled in his hand, "We are not in a space where you can be loud and, and animated."
Yuzuriha waved at them, and both Mokonas grinned. "There's a lot of sugary stuff here." Doumeki said blandly, walking in with no regard for the weird looks he got either from carrying what looked like a moving stuffed animal, or a bow. "Mass-made."
Watanuki walked over to her table, his scowl flipping to a smile. "Good morning Nekoi-san," he said, and he was unexpectedly pleasant for his usual tone targeted at his companions. "Could I ask you to hold onto this thing?" he asked, holding out the comically devastated Mokona.
"Sure," she shrugged and took it. It squealed with glee as she set it on the table, right next to the remains of her breakfast.
Watanuki smiled gratefully at her. "Sorry for the inconvenience, but I would like to be able to sit down and eat without having my breakfast eaten from underneath my nose by the black or the white thing." The last part of his sentence came out slightly more grouchy, and was targeted at the Mokona now looking at Inuki with a grin, as opposed to Inuki's confused head-tilt.
Yuzuriha smiled back at him. "It's no trouble Watanuki-san, go ahead and eat."
Watanuki's face was a look of temporary relief before he turned to yell at Doumeki, who was staring at one of the muffins with a bland look, probably thinking about it.
Yuzuriha stared after the excitable boy for a few minutes before deciding it wasn't really her business to try and dissect his personality.
She remained in the breakfast nook long after she'd finished her own breakfast, watching the people go by. Several more presentable business people passed through, picking up something like a pastry or something that wouldn't crumble onto expensive fabric before walking out the door with an incredible lack of stopping to look at anything not in their path.
Yamazaki was the first of the others to come down, smiling and beginning his morning by talking about the origin of muffins till everybody stopped listening to him, in favor of their breakfast.
Sakura and Syaoran came down about the same time, somewhere between blushing and being giddy, hands linked together. This lasted until Kero, who was doing a stuffed animal impression again, saw the amount of sweets and soared off to inspect them closer, which required some careful deceit to keep other people from noticing his antics.
They were followed by the other two girls that Kamui had found, with hair the better for having been dried off, Hikaru's braid back to twitching like a lion's tail. Kamui followed behind them, with a face two shades of mortified and three of embarrassment. This lasted until Umi started talking about something they'd done in the basement and he laughed at the memory with the rest of them, looking as cheerful as he tended to get after everything that had happened.
It made Yuzuriha happy to see that he was getting along well with people who weren't part of the battle for the Dragons of Earth. He got along well with Keiichi, now that she thought about it.
"Do you think Kamui needs more cheerful people around?" she asked Inuki, who was trying to lick the last tastes of bacon off of his muzzle without drawing attention to himself.
"Everyone needs cheerful people around." the Mokona sitting on her plate said sagely. "Mokona can't be the only cheerful person cheering up the angst." it added to Watanuki, sitting at the next table over and dissecting the failures of the food out loud, and it got a dark glare in return. "Yuzuriha knows it's true, and so does Watanuki!"
"That's the case." Doumeki added to the glee of the Mokonas and the sound of Watanuki's plastic fork snapping in his hand.
The next duo to come down were Kazahaya and Rikuo, with Kazahaya holding one shoe in his hand and hobbling horribly. "I don't need your help, I can do this- ow." he said as he stepped harder on his swollen ankle than he probably meant to.
Yuzuriha sympathized with his pain, watching as he sank into one of the breakfast nook chairs with a sigh of relief. "Stop hovering." he told the smirking boy above him. "If you have nothing better to do, then get breakfast."
"Now you're going to have to walk to the airport." Rikuo said as he took more than enough chocolate muffins for the both of them, sitting at the table with a lazy elegance.
Kazahaya spluttered in indignity and stole one of Rikuo's muffins in 'revenge'.
Yuzuriha watched the mayhem of wakeful teenagers with a calmer eye, glad simply that they were all okay enough to be crazy like that.
There were only two that hadn't come down yet...
"I said I didn't mean to Nee-chan! I actually fell over while I was sleeping!" Sorata's voice rang out, tinged with minor pain, amusement and apologies. "I'd like to keep my hand please!"
"Then don't put it where it doesn't belong." Arashi said, not as loudly, but with the usual amount of vitriol reserved for his flirting with her. She walked in with a frown pulling down the corners of her mouth, the remains of her hair twitching with all the agitation of a wet cat. Sorata followed behind her, a faint hand print on his cheek and fingernail marks on his hand, suggesting what the experience of waking up had been.
Painful on Sorata's part at least.
Arashi looked over the selection of food with a disdainful eye, and turned away, black thread of hair running down her unbandaged cheek. "Is there anything here that's healthy to eat in the morning?"
"Grapefruit." Watanuki said with an annoyed air to his voice. "The rooms were so nice, but the food leaves something to be desired."
Doumeki seemed to agree with him, indeed having only consumed grapefruit, despite protests to the contrary.
Arashi sighed. "There isn't any grapefruit left." There was a faintly forlorn note to her voice, that was overshadowed by the traces of annoyance still lining her face.
"The bacon isn't bad." Yuzuriha offered, and Inuki yipped in agreement.
Arashi opened up the container that kept it hot, and her blank face said exactly what she thought of limp bacon.
"It tastes better than it looks?" the words came out as a question for some reason. Yuzuriha shrugged, feeling the fabric of her shirt slide against the bandage, not chafing the wound at all. As bad as it could have been, she'd gotten lucky.
Arashi's face again was blank, but her eyes said something along the lines of 'I'll believe that when I try it', and she walked away from the counter.
Sorata recovered enough to start looking at the different selections. "Normally I'd think there was something better to eat than this, but it has sugar." he said as he took out a pastry, not even bothering to collect a plate before he started to eat it.
Kamui watched him with concern, the three girl's conversations washing away from him as he watched Sorata promptly manage to devour more sugary fat-based foods than usual. "I know he didn't lose that much blood from his cut," he said to Yuzuriha, brushing at roughly the same spot on his collarbone where Sorata sported a nasty-looking mark, "but he was really pale last night, and I think he may have passed out from overextending himself when he wasn't really able to do it."
Yuzuriha agreed with him. "He does seem to be better today, and he's eating like a horse." the white scar on his arm caught her attention. "That wasn't there before," she said, surreptitiously pointing out the scar.
Kamui looked at it intently. "You're right, but how would it have healed so fast if he'd gotten it yesterday. We were the first to meet up with him and he had the scar then."
"Maybe the ghost-woman did it?" was the only suggestion that came to Yuzuriha's mind. "I don't know if she could heal or not, but maybe?"
Kamui shrugged, the dark look of concern still omnipresent in his eyes.
Tomoyo stood up to put her plate and garbage into a can. "Our flight leaves at three in the afternoon here, and it's eight now. But we can't afford a ride, so we should probably walk to the airport."
"How far is it from here?" Hikaru asked, "I know that most of us can probably handle a long walk just fine, but Kudo-san can't walk at all."
"Yes I can." the boy in question grumbled, more in protest of his pride as opposed to anything else. "I can walk just fi-ouch! Rikuo!" he yelled, loud enough to startle the other patrons into staring at him.
The other boy shrugged, his grin not quite innocent enough to let anyone believe that he wasn't the one who had poked the injured boy in his swollen ankle. "If you're going to make a really big fuss about it, you probably can't walk."
Tomoyo calmly waited for the noise to settle down, and Yuzuriha found herself admiring her patience. "I don't believe it's that far, I've been hearing planes taking off all morning. So we can go in the morning and wait for our plane."
There was no argument against her calm facts, there was really no way to argue with her. Although Arashi looked interested in trying, still frazzled and in that state of anger even though the amount of time since whatever Sorata had done was growing longer and longer.
The black Mokona on her plate grinned at her. "Airports are fun. And Yuuko says that she's sent our tickets via help."
Watanuki, who was walking past to dispose of his trash, stared at the Mokona incredulously. "How do you know what she's saying without having the other thing there?" he asked it, his voice somewhere between curiosity and dismay.
It gave off the impression of a shrug, despite the fact that it didn't really have any shoulders to shrug with. "Yuuko can reach us easily as long as we're in the same world."
Watanuki wilted visibly. "Of course she can, Yuuko-san can always do things like that." he stalked back off to the entrance, followed by both bouncing puffballs, not paying attention at all to whether or not they could be seen. "She just likes to torment me all the time." he whined, picking up both of the Mokona and preventing their departure.
Yuzuriha stretched her arms up, feeling her back crack satisfyingly. Then she stood up, first to throw away her own plate, then pick up Inuki.
She walked over to Arashi, who held a green apple in her hands, and was staring at it with a black look. What the black look was for, she didn't know. "Good morning Arashi." she said softly, but still startled the other girl.
Arashi's head snapped up, and her hair slid back down her shoulder sadly. "Ah, good morning Yuzuriha." she said, after a moment. Then she frowned again, but said nothing more.
Yuzuriha let the silence hang there, stifling and uncomfortable though it was, until Inuki barked at the priestess. "Inuki wants to know how your burns are doing." she translated.
Arashi looked at the dog with suspicion for a minute, but could find no lie in his face. Not that she was sure why Arashi was looking for a lie from a dog. "They're much better today than they were before." she said curtly.
Her tone of voice left no room for further conversation and Yuzuriha didn't force it. Instead, she walked over to the other Seal who hadn't sat at her table.
Sorata had polished off three muffins, two pastries and at least one glass of apple juice despite being there the shortest time. "Good morning Yuzuriha." he said brightly, seemingly unfazed by Arashi's violent rejection of him. "Did you sleep well?"
She smiled at the older boy. "I slept well over all." then she grinned at him, kitten like in both innocence and mischief. "And did you have a nice rest?"
Sorata laughed as he realized what she meant. "It was a very good sleep. But it's usually better when I'm not woken up by having my head hit."
Yuzuriha winced in sympathy. "She woke up first then?"
Sorata shrugged. "Yeah. I know that she was still working on burn cream when I fell asleep though, so it isn't like I did it on purpose." He seemed unbothered by this fact though. "How is your arm doing?" he asked, looking at the bandages snaking up her upper arm.
"Fine." she said brightly. "It really wasn't a big cut, and it's been bandaged almost the whole time, that's helped." she flexed it to show it off, feeling only the phantom ghosts of pain arcing through.
"That's good." he said, peeling the wrapping off a fourth junky muffin. Then he stood up to go over and talk to Arashi again, ignoring the dark glare he got for his trouble.
Yuzuriha smiled, and held a snugly Inuki as she watched everyone, battered though they were, behaving like they were all okay. Watanuki complaining at both of the Mokonas and Doumeki, animated and yet there was a sense that they were happy that way. Hikaru, Umi and Fuu ganging up playfully on Kamui, drawing a smile from him. Kazahaya and Rikuo, caught in the threads of tease and yell, care layered in every careless word. Tomoyo and Yamazaki watching from the outside like her, a level of peace to their interactions. Sakura and Syaoran, looking happy together, fingers laced like the weaving of fate while Kero snacked on the remainder of their food. Sorata and Arashi, somehow finding a place where they could talk without fatal pain. And herself, still watching as well, but not lonely.
They were all okay. Despite the troubles they'd gone through, they'd all made it out okay.
Because they were together.
"Ba-ba-bakura, ba-ba-bakura, ba-ba-bakura oh frig! ba-ba-bakura, ba-ba-bakura, ba-ba-bakura-kura-kun! My skills!" Marik - Marik Plays Bloodlines episode six, Paranormal Cracktivity.
Yes, that little line of dialogue inspired this whole thing.
I really shouldn't be surprised.