There in order to stand guard, Fushimi was visibly startled when they woke up and Abel started to remove his cousin's shirt and push him down onto the bed. Izuna reported that, "We were attacked by his shadow, sir. It used some kind of spell on his cousin and we were forced to abort the mission."
Removing the shirt revealed three golden ovals, not arranged in an equilateral triangle but a flattened one, with the one on the left a little closer to the middle one than the one on the right.
"I'll go use Naoya's computer," Atsuro said, pushing himself to his feet.
"Wait a minute," Abel said thoughtfully, his hand hovering over Naoya's shoulders as he stared down at that chest. "I was thinking about it all wrong. It's not an ancient memory, or the shadow's, but something about…" He glanced at the window: it might have been a summer day inside his soul, but winter had already started in the real world and the sun went down hours ago. "Crickets." He looked down at the futon. "And I thought he was having a nightmare because his parents had just died, so I went into his room and I just…"
He lay down, head on his brother's chest, and his right hand slid down Naoya's shoulder to rest over his heart.
It rested there for a moment, three fingertips fitting perfectly into those three ovals, and then he kissed Naoya on the forehead in benediction and withdrew his hand. The golden light had vanished, and Naoya's eyes were closed. He sighed, taking Naoya's robe and pulling it over him. "It was supposed to be something to help with his nightmares," he said quietly. "Not give him new ones."
"So that was something you did?" Atsuro asked, a little surprised. "As a kid? Even though you didn't know about magic or anything until now?"
"I did it so automatically, though." Abel pushed his hair back, adjusting his headphones. "I think I must have been doing it for a long time. I think that's why it worked so well: Naoya was used to me doing that, so he let his guard down against that kind of spell, at least coming from me." He'd learned not to resist this specific energy.
"It felt warm," Atsuro told him. "I guess it makes sense that he couldn't really think when it was active, if you did it to stop…" Nightmares. Horrible thoughts. Worse memories. "Whoa, Abel, your hand's glowing!"
"Yeah." It wasn't like Abel hadn't noticed, when he was the one who called that golden glow into his hand. As he examined the light, he thought to himself "Naoya can fly, and he's human. I wonder what else people can learn to do, even without the comps? It's not like they had computers back then, and people still had magic. Sure, demon summoning might be rituals and diagrams, but it's energy manipulated… energy born from thoughts and emotions," Abel corrected himself. "I wonder if it's really the rituals that have any power, or they just direct and focus it? It's like computer programming, and programming languages aren't magical, they're just languages that were invented to make it easier to tell computers what to do. So were the rituals invented to direct the power of the human will?"
"Well, that would explain why Kaido could summon a demon without a comp. Sure," Atsuro said, thinking about it, "the barrier was down so it was easier to call things from the demon world, but that's still doing magic without a comp, and I don't think the barrier would stop magic that doesn't involve demons. The comps mean that people can do magic without training or having to use their own power, just by pressing a button, but now that people know that magic is possible, they're probably going to look into ways of using it that don't involve the comps, huh."
"Well," Abel said, smiling. "I guess that's the government's problem." Not Abel's. Since he wasn't the government. "Still, if people like Captain Izuna have comps, they'd have a huge advantage over people who are trying to figure out how to do it the old fashioned way and getting tired since they're using their own energy to do all of it, including what the comps handle, so I don't think it's that big a deal," he said as the light in his hand burst into flame, then turned vaguely pinkish-purple like Holy Dance, then finally reverted back to gold. "It feels sort of like an ailment and sort of like zio," if Abel was any judge. "Ailment magic makes sense, since it put him to sleep. Actually, it might be mystic. I'd have to ask Yuzu, I never used that element much." Not in battle, but this wasn't a combat spell. It wasn't supposed to be, anyway. "Wish I'd known about this in the Lockdown." It took Yuzu so long to fall asleep they gave in after the first night and let her take first watch, and if she wasn't tired enough she had nightmares, like Keisuke after he rejoined them.
"I wonder if it only works on Naoya?" Atsuro wondered.
"Want to see?" Abel offered.
"Whoa, seriously?" Atsuro held out his hands, startled.
"I wouldn't do it if it hurt him. I think the shadow just kept it going longer than it's supposed to." Abel looked down at his black shirt. "I'd try it on myself, but you have to focus your emotions, so I don't think that would work."
"Not when it makes it hard to focus, right." Atsuro nodded. "Sure, I guess? Can you wake me up afterwards, though?" It was kind of weird that Naoya hadn't woken up, with near-strangers in the room.
"I should wake up Naoya," Abel said, voicing Atsuro's own thoughts, "but look at him."
"Yeah, I don't really have the heart either," Atsuro agreed while the two soldiers just watched. They were just teenagers, and they were willing to play with fire like this?
Damn the Lockdown…
The blue-haired kid looked at his friend, focusing until the golden light appeared in his fingers again. He shifted closer, watching Atsuro in case he decided to back out. An arm wrapped around his friend, those three fingers over his heart for a few measured heartbeats. A kiss of benediction pressed to his forehead, and Atsuro might have reacted to that if he wasn't already asleep against Abel's chest.
Abel pushed him away a bit to look at him, holding Atsuro by the shoulders… and then shook him a bit.
"Wha…" Atsuro was instantly awake, after the Lockdown. "Oh, right," he said, calming down. "That's one heck of a sleep spell. I was right: the first stage is heat. I could feel the marks when I was holding him in there, but that was… Like one of those really deep massages with heated rocks. No wonder he couldn't really think: my brain just went off. I'm amazed he could even grip that knife, with that spell relaxing everything like that." Well, that was Naoya.
Abel looked down at his hand speculatively. "No, I really don't think I could do that to myself." Darn, because that sounded handy. "Naoya should know how to do it. You should ask for magic lessons, Atsuro. I think I need to learn too, because I did this when I was just a little kid and I didn't even know it was magic because I didn't see any glowing. I'll have to make him tell me if I do anything else without thinking about it."
"I'm not sure if Yuzu will want to learn magic," but Atsuro looked glumly speculative, like he was sure she should, just in case.
"She should though. Still, I can't believe my shadow did that," Abel said, frowning at himself. "Telling Naoya to do something like that, but especially when he could barely think, forget moving." Normally Naoya vs. Izuna would be no contest, but handicapped like that? And the shadow must have known it, too: it wanted Naoya's obedience, his despairing desire to please, not his success. Once someone proved themselves worthy, then they weren't desperate to prove it anymore.
"Hey, I'm just glad we didn't have to fight both of them," Atsuro said, only half-joking.
"He was a pushover. I'm just glad I won't have to worry about him attacking you guys when you go in again."
"About that," Atsuro said. "Shouldn't we wake up Naoya?" And get it over with?
"I still feel fine," Abel told him, shrugging. "Since I'm not sick… I'd rather wait until tomorrow. Unless that's a problem for you guys?" He asked Izuna and Fushimi.
That was the difference between him and his cousin, right there. Naoya would have made that a rhetorical question, mocking the idea that anything might be more important than the King of Bel and his wishes. Abel actually cared about them and their input, and would feel genuinely bad about inconveniencing them.
When Izuna woke, she found Commander Fushimi in the dining area fortifying himself with coffee as he read reports on his laptop. "Naoya is already up," he told her. "He says he's fine." He'd brushed off Fushimi's concern and the very idea that he might be otherwise. "And that he'll make another attempt as soon as the boys wake up, although he confiscated their cell phones to make sure they wouldn't be woken up by an alarm."
"Didn't he say that the blood he gave Abel might wear off, sir?"
Fushimi nodded. "He seems to consider the time at which that happens that valuable information. Don't worry, Captain: use of the demon summoning program is still being kept to a minimum, and even with normal usage it took the young man days to become sick enough to be hospitalized." Of course, once it got to that point? His condition had gone from debilitating to fatal over the course of a few hours. "If Dr. Minegeshi thinks it's safe, he's the expert." Not that he had a formal doctorate in computer science or any other field, having gone straight from high school to full-time freelance work – there had been bidding wars over the time of his online persona when he was twelve – but he deserved the title of doctor at the very least. Professor, even, although so far he had only chosen a single student.
It was that student who had convinced Abel – Kazuya Minegeshi – to place that technology in the hands of Japan's government. So far they needed Naoya to program the system for them, but he was anything but trustworthy. The sooner Atsuro Kihara could learn more of his skills and lost occult lore…
Abel wandered into the main room before Atsuro did. "Where's breakfast?" he asked, yawning.
The two soldiers glanced at each other. "Your cousin said that he was going to gather ingredients."
Glancing at the clock, Abel frowned. "How long ago was that?"
"Approximately two hours ago." Fushimi glanced at Izuna.
If Naoya was trying to fatten Abel up, replenish the reserves he'd lost first during the lockdown and now because of this, then he should have something ready by now. Breakfast was the most important meal of the day.
"I'll get Atsuro and go look for him," Abel said, and turned to head back to the guest bedroom he and his friend had crashed in.
"No need," Commander Fushimi said, frowning. "I'll contact the perimeter guard." He hit a button on his radio. "This is Commander Fushimi."
Two more tries, and no response. "I'll go get Atsuro and our comps," Abel said this time.
"Let me go with you," Izuna said, taking out her own comp.
"We should check the greenhouse Atsuro told me about first," Abel said when they reconvened. "Since we know he was headed there…"
"No need," Naoya told them, sweeping into the room. "And no point." He headed for the kitchen area.
"Naoya!" Atsuro said, relieved. "What happened to you? You were gone for a long time and the guards aren't responding!"
"Don't worry," Naoya told him, filling a pot with water. "I called my secretary," liaison, the handler the government assigned the painful task of dealing with him, "to send different guards. Between the three of you, we should be able to manage without for another twenty minutes."
"What happened to them?" Fushimi demanded.
"I left them tied up in the greenhouse. After interrogating them to discover who exactly it was that poisoned my garden." Naoya scowled. "I can't believe they thought I would mistake herbicide for death by malnourishment, even if they hadn't made the mistake of killing my control group." Red eyes flashed angrily. "Orchids draw their nourishment from the air. They have always grown for me. I was promised that they would always grow for me, one of those small kindnesses professional torturers use to break their victims by deluding their victims into feeling grateful to those who torment them. Orchids still don't constitute true farming. Since keeping me from doing what I loved was God's intent, I wouldn't have put it past him to alter the curse to kill vegetables nourished by water. But killing the orchids, breaking His word to me… That would only have strengthened my will to resist Him."
"I can't believe that someone hand-picked for this duty," one of Fushimi's own special forces members. "Would have done something so unprofessional."
"Yet that's just what it was: a bit of unprofessional, personal vengeance. Something else that turned up during the interrogation, however? If I were you, I would be more concerned with the fact that the report you made about my brother's needs has already leaked to foreign intelligence agencies," Naoya told him. "That's why they acted last night, instead of waiting until right before the first real harvest could be gathered. One of their comrades had reason to egg them on."
"Oh crap!" was Atsuro's reaction. "You mean they did this to get at Abel, too?" Not just to revenge the people who died in the Lockdown on Naoya, but were they after Atsuro's best friend?
"Many feared demons even before what happened to Tokyo," Naoya reminded him. "Even if Remiel made a statement to the government and endorsed your plan, Atsuro, many still think making use of demons is 'ungodly.'" A small smile: that was just a recommendation for it in Naoya's eyes. "Countries dominated by his followers are far less tolerant of spirits than Japan. Some will try to take the power of demons for themselves: others will try to deny it to their fellow man. They're wrong, however. My brother's death won't deactivate Babel. It would have been stupid to program it that way." Imagine if recarm stopped functioning just when it was needed most, to revive the person who was why Naoya had programmed all of this to begin with. "I would appreciate it if you highlighted that in your next report, Commander Fushimi. At least until you find and patch certain holes in your security."
Izuna asked what Commander Fushimi wasn't. "Why wasn't this-" reported to the Commander, if Naoya had already called for new guards. "They can't suspect the Commander!"
"This did happen the night your commander came here. The Commander of your task force went inside the Lockdown, and we all know that he has reason to bear a grudge against me, or hate the power of demons," after seeing so many of Japan's citizens killed. Naoya wasn't especially worried. "I didn't think that I would do him any favors by acting as a character witness," even if there was no one with more experience reading people than Naoya.
"When you say interrogated, you mean?" was what Abel wanted to know.
"I mean they weren't equipped with Null Mystic, what did you think I meant?"
Abel didn't get sucked into mentioning the obvious: Naoya had just brought up torture himself. "Wouldn't gigajama make them forget what you wanted them to tell you instead of making them forget that they shouldn't tell you things?" Since he didn't see how sleep or any of the others would be much help.
"I charmed them," Naoya told him, removing spices from another cupboard. "Think of it as a temporary love spell. I didn't put those spells into the comps: too prone to abuse. Charm someone, and they'll tell you whatever you want to know. Or whatever they think you want to hear: that's the trouble with obtaining information that way." For people who didn't have plenty of practice telling truth from lies. "Drawing enough of that spell to affect all of the guards and then ambushing them with it is what took me so long. Hacking it into my comp would have been much faster, but I'd rather not have that spell in the hands of politicians." Unless Abel wanted Naoya to enable the comps to use Charm?
Even Atsuro didn't want to go that far. "Do I want to know what happened to the one who killed your plants?" When Naoya had seemed so happy in that garden, too.
"I considered using him as a human sacrifice – Oh, don't worry, I set samarecarm – but since he, at least, did it in order to wound my heart instead of starve my brother, all I did was play up how terribly I was affected by it." Naoya put his hand over his heart dramatically, looking up at the kitchen ceiling as if imploring heaven for mercy. "Thousands of years without being able to tend the plants I love so dearly, and all I wanted to do was share the best of my harvest with my beloved family…" Right now Naoya wasn't fooling anyone, but they all knew he could do better than that.
"While he was in love with you?" Abel grinned. That was perfect.
"I had to tie him up well apart from the others." Otherwise after hearing all that they might have found some way to murder him on Naoya's behalf even after being expertly tied up. They were special forces troops, after all. "It's almost a pity it will have worn off of all of them by the time the relief force gets here. Even if I don't want to encourage the government's interest in that class of spells."
"But if you're right, and other people will be doing research into the old ways of casting spells like that," Atsuro started to point out.
"Why do you think that I put Null Mystic in the default VIP defensive skill set?" Along with repel physical, to protect politicians from assassins' bullets. "Anyone who takes that out of their skill set, unless they're going into battle, actually need other skills and someone present can use amrita, is a fool." And if they were a fool who thought they should mess around with defaults Naoya had programmed in for a reason, then they deserved what was coming to them. "Even I can't make it last more than half an hour. Charm is absolutely useless for long-term brainwashing, and the targets will realize what happened to them as soon as they snap out of it." Obviously making it hard to build that 'love at first sight' into a longer-lasting emotional entanglement. "The demon summoning program's users already have defenses against charm spells, Atsuro. There's no need to tell people how it works so they can design their own defenses." When that would expose them to the temptation to make use of it themselves. "I'd rather have used intimidation and a prop," the knife in his hand at that moment was clearly meant to indicate what Naoya meant by 'a prop,' "but I am a guest of the Japanese government, and it would have taken too long to extract information from soldiers trained to resist interrogation without stronger measures."
No, Fushimi would not have appreciated Naoya torturing the innocent men among his guard detail. Still, for him to use mind control? "You could have reported the incident to me. I would have investigated it for the sake of the unit." That Naoya was the victim had nothing to do with anything: he expected better of his soldiers.
"Yes," Naoya agreed, "I could have."
So why hadn't he? What kind of message was he trying to send? If they let him get away with this, then what sort of precedent would the government be creating?
Could they even prosecute Naoya for this? There were some laws against various forms of magic left on the books from when people believed in that sort of thing, but what were the odds they were lucky enough for any of them to apply in this situation?
Well, once the report came in that mind control magic was possible, they would have to pass laws against it very quickly so Naoya couldn't get away with this a second time… Perhaps that was part of his scheme, although Fushimi wasn't arrogant enough to think that he could anticipate all the levels the ancient was working on, trying to manipulate the government. They'd had him interviewed by profilers, but the results hadn't told Fushimi anything he didn't know from guarding Naoya along with the angel Sariel while he worked on his alterations to the demon summoning program.
Brilliant (and he knew it), arrogant (but special forces officers knew arrogance: when you were just that good?) and beyond that? How did you see through someone with that much practice as an actor?
Perhaps it really was best to consider him a demon, like so many other beings out of myth. An ancient creature, far more willing to resort to violence and disdainful of the rules of society than most of the people of this modern world. At least they could hope that they knew Naoya's goals, and at least the outline of what he would do to accomplish them.
He'd told the programmers, including the one that defected from the Shomonkai to give first Abel and his allies and then Izuna what information he knew, that, "Allies should be able to trust each other, shouldn't they?" He'd told the Founder and the rest of the Shomonkai that he was committed to their goal of saving humanity from God's Ordeal… but there was so much he hadn't told them.
Yet, in the end, hadn't Naoya's brother accomplished the Founder's goal for him? And without humanity being conquered by a demon. There were advantages to dealing with others honestly: once you betrayed someone, for example, they wouldn't trust you again.
Normally, humans could lie several times in a single conversation, especially when meeting new people, without even being aware of it. One thing that one of the profilers had noticed which Fushimi found interesting was that, after reviewing the tape, Naoya had not told one single lie in that conversation, at least not one that could be identified. So different from the casual, thoughtless way most lied without any real malice in it.
If Naoya had formed a habit of avoiding lies, learned the skill of manipulating others, of goading them into action with the sharp-edged truth… Of course, the angels couldn't lie. That didn't mean that they couldn't deceive. To what degree was Naoya like them, when they came from the same mythology? Had he learned to avoid any and all lies because the angels would call him on them, and the only defense against being called a deceiver was perfect truth?
"Take this, cousin," Naoya said, holding out the hilt of a knife. "Now get over here and chop this up for me."
"Do you want slices, cubes or sticks?" Abel wanted to know, pushing himself up from the stool and shifting his grip on the knife as he went around the peninsula dividing the kitchen from the main room.
"Cubes," Naoya told him. "The usual size for stew."
"Stew? But I'm hungry." And good stew could take too long.
Naoya rolled his eyes, just a little. "I know. That's while I'll finish breakfast while you get the ingredients ready for lunch." Timing.
"What about me, Naoya?" Atsuro asked, perking up.
"After what happened when you tried to make me curry? Set the table." Naoya reflexively checked that his hair was securely tied back so none of it fell in the food. Translucent silver strands were hard to spot. "One of these days, I will teach you how to cook. I don't understand how people can be carelessly inept with something so vital."
"Naoya was sick, so we wanted to look after him for the day, but Atsuro wandered off to check a forum while something was on the stove and it caught fire," Abel explained to Izuna. "The alarm went off and Naoya had to evacuate the apartment complex with everyone else in the fuzzy slippers I gave him last year."
"Hey!" Atsuro protested. "You were the one who hid his other shoes!"
"That I did," Abel said happily. "His feet would have gotten cold and wet if he'd worn his normal geta." That couldn't have helped him recover from the flu.
Naoya gave Atsuro a look: his attempt to deflect Naoya's annoyance to Abel had failed just as badly now as it had back then. "I could have just worn earplugs and stayed in bed if the fire hadn't been set off in my apartment." Meaning he would have been found and fined for ignoring the alarm. Regardless, he soon replaced the annoyed expression with a smile and told Atsuro, "No need to look so worried. If I wanted revenge, I'd have taken it already." He reached out to ruffle Atsuro's hair, or rather squish it around under that hat since it was in the way.
Atsuro ducked back and protested, "Naoya!" but with a laugh instead of anger at the gesture of familiarity.
"Now get over here and start getting the plates," Naoya said. "I told you to set the table, didn't I?"
"Oh, right." Atsuro bustled around happily while Abel finished off the radish he'd chopped with a practiced hand and set down the knife a moment before Naoya picked up the cutting board and dumped the contents into a pot, then set it back down and placed a few green onions on top of it.
"Are these for the omelet?" Abel asked hopefully.
"Of course: I know you like them. The chickens were delivered yesterday." So the eggs gathered for Abel's sake would help, even if it would take time for Naoya to flush the herbicide out of his hydroponic setup and begin again. Sacrifices were supposed to consist of the best fruits of one's labor, so these were barely adequate, lucky to be judged acceptable at all. "But I'll take another look at the power conduits as soon as they deliver some more reliable guards."
Abel nodded, not especially worried about it. Breakfast was much more urgent, judging from the way his stomach rumbled. "Do you want me to stay up here, Naoya?"
"No," Naoya told him. "You wanted a normal life: there's no need to join me in my exile. I won't mind seeing you again, but after things have quieted down a little."
"But if people are still out to get you…"
"And people are still wondering if you and Atsuro were conspiring with me. If you knew about the demon summoning program in advance and handing it over to the government was some plot to make Japan dependant on it as a precursor to a coup, building yourself a power base, instead of something stupidly self-sacrificing." He glanced at Atsuro as he said 'stupidly,' and at the back of Abel's head as he said 'self-sacrificing.' "When you are worried about me, little brother? Of course I have to say no: I have my pride as an older brother, after all."
"Oh, won't they try to kill or kidnap me? I mean, I do control Babel. I thought mentioning that was a little obvious, though." Since of course Naoya would have already considered threats to his brother. "What if the conduit breaks down again after you fix it?"
"What if you get Haru pregnant accidently and I end up with yet another niece?" Naoya wondered, since they were discussing things that while very bad, were also unlikely. "They have recarm now, little brother, remember? The Japanese government isn't going to risk you reincarnating as a foreign national." No, they'd want him to live as long and healthy a life as possible. "Now be quiet, I'm trying to decide how I'll season your murdered baby animals."
Atsuro winced while Abel groaned. "Knock it off, Naoya. Those eggs weren't even fertilized, were they?" Abel was prepared to bet on it, knowing Naoya. "Don't make me sing Every Sperm Is Sacred."
Abel's friend or not, Atsuro still stuck his fingers in his ears. Abel's English was a little better than Atsuro's, but it still wasn't good enough to sing a song like that without sounding ridiculous – or actually, sounding ridiculous was the point. "This is my fault for showing you those Monty Python movies my parents sent me to make me work on my English, isn't it?"
"To be fair," Naoya reminisced, pouring plenty of green onions into the omelet, "I'd already shown him Life of Brian."
It wasn't that Naoya didn't like some of the New Testament, especially compared to the Old: he'd quoted from one of Paul's letters in his own Demon Summoning Program.
It was also complete fantasy.
God already had sent his only begotten son to earth, and his name was Adam.
The stonings, human hysterical belief and division, inability to cooperate to fight their oppressors without a strong leader: those were reality.
So was the brother who leaned over his arm to look down at his omelet hungrily before starting to sing.
"Go ahead, look on the bright side of life all you want," Naoya said, waving the spatula at him. "I still have samarecarm set." See if I care if you die again.
"You sing too, Naoya," the boy demanded with false petulance.
"I think you've mistaken me for Haru. Although I suppose I have experience looking on the bright side of death." He gave Abel a grin, remembering the lyrics.
This wasn't their last chance. Abel had his power back, even if he was refusing to awaken. That was fine: those memories would be present in his next incarnation, and that Abel would have no reason to refuse them. There was no reason not to take a little break to celebrate this victory, to spend the rest of this life in peace: once the war began there would be no time for trips to the pool or gardening.
Things would be too serious for his little brother to joke with him so easily.
They watched Naoya pull Abel towards him, catching him by the arm just long enough for a brief kiss on the forehead. "Now go sit down: I'll be done faster without you doing what little brothers do best." Annoying me.
That smile: Abel knew he didn't really mean it.
We know Atsuro's English isn't good, so he probably sticks to Japanese areas of the net, but I doubt that's true of Naoya. Monty Python and the Holy Grail might be his least favorite of their movies, since it has a far lower ratio of skewering of religion and so on to pure absurdism.