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XXVII: Fires of Shiranui
Youkai had left the castle alone for now, but the guard had been reinforced and now the shogun was laid out on a futon in his own austere quarters, surrounded by us as he received emergency treatment from Shimotsuki and the Professor, both surprisingly competent in first aid.
"He's alive... but barely," Shimotsuki pronounced. "Are there no doctors here?"
"I'll take over," the Hand of the Six Samurai quietly murmured as Shimotsuki moved away from the unconscious but alive Great Shogun Shien.
The mighty shogun was laid out on a futon, seemingly having lost volume stripped bare of armour, and pale in the face. Kneeling beside him was the youth, Kagari, the Kagemusha of the Blue Flame and of the Six Samurai, desperately clinging onto Shien like a lifebuoy. "Will he be alright, Elder?"
"Perhaps," the herald sighed wearily. "We can only work off the fallen Shinai and his sacrifice. It is unusual, but he shall survive if only to lead us into battle once more."
"We're wasting time," I growled at Shimotsuki. "We should get at that bastard right now."
"Calm yourself," Shimotsuki answered. "To act like this... is very unlike him. Even off his meds, Nowaki never maliciously hurt anyone."
"That was not a malicious act," Ryuusei agreed. "He just saw Shien in his way and... bulldozed over him. I saw his eyes, and right then, I don't think he would've known or cared. It's like... meeting a rogue Psychic Duellist for the first time."
Shimotsuki nodded in comprehension. "Mad with power... are we too late?"
"Is he alright?" one of the better-dressed samurai, doubtless a bureaucrat, marched in to demand, grabbing at Kagari. "Brat! Go to your chores!"
"Ah, Uncle!" Kagari looked his age for once as he beheld the 'Uncle'.
We all blinked."Who... are you?"
"Uncle is 'Everyone's Uncle'!" the old man answered. "Even if you aren't related to him, you can still call him Uncle."
"Ah..." Shien stirred. "My apologies. This man is the Elder of the Six Samurai, and my advisor, Chan. As a formality, I call him Uncle."
"Even you call him Uncle!" we all muttered together.
"We didn't see him at all... did we?" I muttered to Ryuusei.
"Uncle has a tendency to walk straight into the battlefield," the samurai boy, Kagari absently answered. "Even though he's old..."
"I'm experienced!" Uncle smacked the Kagemusha upside the head. "I may be an old dog, but I have new tricks! Always!"
"And why is Uncle out of his workshop?" the shogun struggled to sit up, smiling good-naturedly.
"The workshop is NOT important!" Uncle stoutly answered. "Irou is watching the shop. Uncle has the willies from dark undead magic around! Yu Mo Gui Gwai Fai Di Zao!"
"..." Ryuusei and I looked at each other doubtfully.
"Forgive an old man his eccentricities," the shogun bowed his head from where he was sitting up. "But, we are currently in a crisis ourselves, my deepest apologies."
"I have very little application of healing, so don't push yourself," Shimotsuki pointed out.
"Enough with the apologies!" Uncle hit the shogun upside the head with two fingers. "They are Duellists! We need Duellists to fight Lord of Pandemonium! Magic must defeat magic! Never question Uncle! Lord of Pandemonium is taking over simple boy for power!"
"So you know why did Nowaki take Misawa Daichi," Shimotsuki stated.
"Uncle is experienced!" Uncle puffed his chest out proudly. "Uncle knows that Sage is very useful for sacrifices! Lord of Pandemonium will use the blood of family to bind simple boy shell to floating world forever!"
We all stared at him.
"Ah, ritual can only be conducted at temple of Master Monk," Uncle considered. "But, temple is guarded by enemy of all ghosts! Lord of Pandemonium shall usually find it difficult to sneak past Kycoo!"
"Kycoo the Ghost Destroyer," Shimotsuki realised. "In a graveyard strategy, something like Kycoo would ruin it... so, Misawa Daichi is a sacrifice and a hostage."
"Yes, girl understands better than men! Shame!" Uncle sniffed. "If Lord of Pandemonium binds to floating world permanently, floating world becomes overrun with undead zombies!"
"Ah," Shimotsuki considered. "But, we need to find our comrades first."
Uncle looked around. "Where to?"
"That is the problem," Shimotsuki murmured. "We need to find even more people with greater urgency than before-"
"In that case, I will assist with all my strength," the shogun offered, still in convalescence.
The screens opened all of a sudden, all of us tensing as the Hand of the Six Samurai, Mizuho, entered.
"My lord, a few Duellists have come, seeking sanctuary."
In a flash, we all followed her to the main hall, where a familiar sight greeted us.
"Rex!" Ryuusei, the Professor and I brightened as our friend appeared, with a damp-looking Ryuuki and Johan in tow.
"Chase! Ryuusei! Professor!" Rex exclaimed, dropping both slightly injured men for the shogun's servants to treat. "So glad you're here!"
"Chase-kun, I missed you~" seeing Ryuuki try to smile left me feeling utterly blank.
"As expected, Boss would gravitate towards the centre of authority," Kaido murmured, walking up behind Rex with a horrible limp, lifting a stunned Ayame with him. "As you can tell, these three have not quite comprehended the world we are in."
"It's only thanks to Simorgh that we managed to escape," Satsuki drawled, wrinkling her nose.
"Ryuusei, Chase! Professor! Shimotsuki-san! How did you get here?" Ayame exclaimed.
"It's a long story," the Professor gingerly accepted Johan. "What happened?"
"We ran into a few ninjas, Johan-san duelled them," Ayame answered. "There were so many Duellists, so we all had to fight..."
"Those Gem Beasts are vicious," Satsuki agreed.
"We'll bring them in for treatment," Shimotsuki spoke aloud. "And then, I will fill you in on the new developments."
"So Youkai's the Lord of Pandemonium," Rex hissed. "How did that happen?"
"Aiyah! So you knew the Lord?" Uncle screeched. Why was he here, and not with Shien, I wonder...
"It doesn't stop there," Shimotsuki answered. "We found Misawa Daichi, but he was... kidnapped by Nowaki. We have no idea why, but it should be safe to assume for no benign purpose. Right now, we are at war, two of our members are injured, and we cannot afford to abandon this castle. The only bright spark is that we have a rough idea of where Nowaki is headed, and a guess as to his purpose."
"Lord of Pandemonium will be headed to temple!" Uncle declared. "The temple of the Ghost Destroyer, the Temple of Skulls!"
"And, Uncle, where is this temple?" Ryuusei requested.
"To the west!" Uncle dramatically flung out an arm. "Where the dead walks between worlds."
"I'm sorry for dragging all of you down," Johan whispered.
"Can't be helped," Shimotsuki crisply answered. "However, Andersen-san, your powers lie more on a defensive rather than an offensive front. If you can still Duel, then the Gem Beasts can be this castle's guardians temporarily while we set out for the Temple of Skulls. The shogun nearly gave up his life to protect us, this favour must be returned."
"That's true..." Johan considered. "But, will the Six Samurai be so willing to work with us?"
"On a different level, this system works as a hostage system," Shimotsuki continued. "In a promissory exchange to get rid of the Lord of Pandemonium, we gain resources. But, we must leave collateral, in which you will be employed. Andersen-san, Mutou Ryuuki, the both of you may be injured but you are supreme Duellists, able to think up strategies on the fly. I am sure you will find a way."
"Tell us about this earlier!" we all yelled.
"Collateral...?" Johan muttered awkwardly.
"This... quest... has to be undertaken," Shimotsuki murmured. "We leave tomorrow."
To sum up the situation; we were stuck in the middle of a cross-species war of sorts in another world, getting ready to defeat a former friend turned bad for who knows the hell why, and in a castle where we seemed hardly welcome. The shogun's injuries being treated by Shimotsuki currently, the Six samurai were more inclined to be hospitable, but when that ended... what then?
Frustrated, I punched my pillow into submission. In the room allocated that I was sharing with six other guys, the ceiling still looked like it was mocking me even with its blank facade. Groaning lightly, I dug myself out of the futon and danced my way out from the sea of sleeping guys towards the washroom.
At least, the plumbing was up to date to varying degrees, the pipes creaking and old but still functional in some places. The flush of the toilet still ringing through the wing put aside for our use, I walked past the kitchen-
-and backtracked to stare at the latest interloper.
Crimson eyes solemn, Youkai placed his fingers to his lips in a gesture of 'be quiet'.
I blinked, and rubbed my eyes, before I felt myself being slammed into a wall.
"Good evening," with a serious face, the Youkai murmured. It was a contrast between the cheerful mischievous Youkai then, and the one now. The had the same face, the same eyes... but these eyes were flat and excited nothing.
...wait, did I just say that?
"Well, you're certainly either too stunned to talk, or you can't," this Youkai conversationally spoke as he leaned over.
My fingers cracked as I made a fist and lashed out. Sadly, I was grappled and found myself flat out on my back with Youkai straddled over my centre of gravity in a few moments.
"Scream and I'll put that tongue to work," Youkai smirked, the expression familiar on his face.
"Bastard! Get off me!" I swung another fist, this time managing to get him off long enough to make a roll for it and get to my feet, gasping for breath. Even currently out of reach I was forced to admit that Youkai was probably more nimble than me, and probably trained to boot. "Why the hell are you here?"
"I felt like it," the yukata draped around him like pooled shadows, he was a graceful thing to see... and his visage that of a demon itself. "For someone supposed to challenge me you're not doing a very good job of holding up your end."
"What are you doing, bastard?" I growled at him. "Are you as Shimotsuki says, that your power drove you mad? Or is there a deeper reason behind this?"
"It depends on how you see it," the Youkai before me drawled. "To be free and run where we like in the night is nice, isn't it?"
"Isn't that what a hooligan group does instead?" I snipped back.
"Yokai and hooligans are different," Youkai admonished. "For one thing, laws don't come into play that often. "For one thing, morality doesn't enter the equation that often. This castle of order, honour... ridiculous things, I just feel like tearing this castle apart." A bitter, poisonous tone entered his otherwise smooth voice.
"Isn't that what a hooligan does?" I pointed out.
"Three hundred years ago, Shien forcibly took over all the land you see about this castle and the next stronghold, the Temple of the Six, through a long and bloody war," Youkai pointed out. "Isn't that like a hooligan as well?"
"Don't argue back with me! What's with trying to take over this place?" My fists banged on the table. "Let's go home."
"Can't. Not yet." Youkai carried a self-depreciating smirk as his back turned to me. "Since this has unfolded into a quest, then the paths of destiny has been decided. Chase, whether you would do as fate says and dance to its tune until you die... or follow me..."
I started as his face came close to my own, peering straight into surprisingly deep crimson eyes that shone with sojme unspoken emotion akin to desperation. "All of that, even if I frankly don't want to, I'll let you choose."
I froze even as his lips touched my own, a frisson starting down my arms as long slender fingers gripped the back of my head to tilt forward. "W- What?"
Youkai stood up straight again, crimson eyes bright in the half-darkness. "Until we meet again."
He was gone in the blink of an eye, just like there was no one there... no one at all.
"Is there something wrong, guest?" I started, turning to face a surprised Kagari. "Are you hungry?"
"E- Er, nope, I- I just felt a bit peckish, and I got lost until I came here," I smiled nervously. "You're Kagari, right? Just call me Chase."
"Er, yes, Chase-dono," he bowed in acknowledgement. "The food is locked up, but would you like some water?"
"Thanks," I answered with heartfelt feeling as he walked to a cabinet for a pot and a cup. "Er, Kagari... I'm from a different world, and I don't really know how things are done here, but... is the Lord of Pandemonium that bad?"
"... I cannot say that it is his fault," Kagari finally answered. "According to Uncle's stories, The Lord of Pandemonium is a spirit, born of the malice gathered upon the last Great Yokai War where the army clashed against the Night Parade of Hundred Demons. That great malice, combined with the wish not to follow the Lord Shien in his rule, gathered the demons of the night together and they have been running wild ever since, the Lord of Pandemonium taking on a new host each time to manifest his power. That power that so arbitrarily decides light and darkness, and the force of the monsters that follow him has been enduring for as long as the Temple of the Kings itself has been built."
"A host?" I repeated. "So... the one we know might have been possessed?"
"Who knows," Kagari murmured, his eyes taking on a faraway expression that made his face much more feminine. "About fifteen or sixteen years ago, the Lord of Pandemonium himself ceased all activity, and his vassals scattered to the winds. We believed that he might have finally disappeared along with the malice of those long-departed, as do many transient of the floating world. This... must have been the calm before the storm. The lord may have died last night."
I started. "But, he survived-"
"The Six Samurai are sworn to their duty," Kagari answered. "To even die for the Lord. For the Lord and for each other, we would sacrifice ourselves."
Oh, yeah, Six Samurai monsters can do that...
"I can see why," I tied to keep up the conversation as I sipped my water. "The shogun is... very friendly."
"Your Shimotsuki-sama has convinced him and almost every official in the castle of the gravity of the situation," Kagari answered. "You are our allies, and we are weaker even after so many years. This Lord of Pandemonium seems tougher than those preceding him."
"What... would happen if we... kill this one?" I asked.
"Then, the Lord of Pandemonium will disappear, and reappear in a new form, and the cycle continues," Kagari murmured. "Fate repeats itself all the time... the blood spilled will not let us go."
Since this has unfolded into a quest, then the paths of destiny has been decided. Chase, whether you would do as fate says and dance to its tune until you die... or follow me to rule this world...
Shimotsuki's words echoed back at me. This... quest... has to be undertaken...
I told the rest of our group what I learned after a breakfast of simple but delicious fare.
"A malicious spirit..." Kaido considered. "Just like the kitsune..."
"Uncle has revealed some pertinent details," Ryuusei considered.
"The marks Ryuusei and you bear are, indeed, the marks of the Millennium Items." Ryuuki reported. "The samurai guards last night reported a lapse in time, which we may assume is what happened when the Lord of Pandemonium used the Millennium Key to break in. Knowing that there was such a security leak really does nothing for the paranoia of the place. Even so, the relevant question should be, is the Lord after the rest of the Millennium Items? Or is he merely seeking to fix the sacrifice? Does this have anything to do with the marks and Ra-Horakhty?"
"Isn't that thinking a bit too far?" Johan pointed out. "After all, Kaido and you pointed out that it was Ra-Horakhty."
"Yes... what role does Ra-Horakhty play in this? What cycle of fate?" Shimotsuki agreed. "If the Lord of Pandemonium does what we think, how would he benefit? Are there any others who would benefit? Is there another underlying motive behind this? And even odder, why did the Lord of Pandemonium disappear when Nowaki was born in the human world? What exactly is the Lord of Pandemonium in relation to Nowaki?"
Dressed in another silk furisode, Shimotsuki heaved a huge sigh as she sipped at her green tea. "Father could see Duel spirits. He said that when dealing with spirits, it is important to keep fate in view but not place too much trust into it. Once is a accident, twice a coincidence, and three is a conspiracy."
"So, our first step is to guard the Temple of Skulls, right?" Kaido pointed out.
"I... want to help as well," Ayame quietly murmured. "Even if it is to defend the castle... I will do my best."
"Andersen-san, Mutou Ryuuki, how are your injuries?" Shimotsuki directed to them. "Ryuusei, Rex, Chase, Ryuuki, Ayame, Satsuki, Kaido, Professor, Andersen-san and me... ten people. Ten... the number where everything begins and ends, eh?"
Our de facto leader gave a sigh. "There is no such thing as coincidence. Everything is inevitable."