Takumi's Story

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Mamma Peach
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Takumi's Story

Post by Mamma Peach »

Takumi's Story
(along with part of Conchobhar's Wedding, adapted from thread format)


Always a Groom's Man...
Morrigan was preparing a large hall for the wedding when Conchobhar's team mates came in. "I heard that Conchobhar is already married, and we weren't invited," said Akuma, Conchobhar's beautifully vicious ex-girlfriend and top competing team mate, almost being insolent in her anger.

"Yes, and no," Morrigan replied calmly. "He had one formal wedding ceremony with Lien Hua this morning in Aleriand, and he will have another here with Xin Le Hua as soon as they arrive, but the commitment feast will not begin until tonight."

Akuma looked puzzled, her anger briefly halted. A rather effeminate looking male with long black hair and loosely wearing a woman's kimono languidly spoke, interested in what Morrigan had said. "Wedding ceremony? What sort of ceremony? I suppose it will take place here. Exactly what will go on?"

"Well, Takumi," Morrigan began, "It's an old western ceremony performed by a priest, whom I will be summoning soon." She walked through the room outlining what would take place, and indirectly showing the servants where to put things. "After everyone is seated the groom, Conchobhar, will come out here with the best man and his groom's men and stand over here..."

"That means us!" said an overly muscled red oni. "We are Conchobhar's men!"

"Speak for yourself, Ryoga" said Akuma flaunting her feminine assets.

"Hmmm..." said Morrigan. "I wasn't really thinking of all of you, but that would be a logical choice. Very well, you men will fill the part of best man, and the groom's men."

"And everyone knows that I'm the best man!" said a yokai that resembled a child.

"In your dreams, Ichiban!" said Akuma. A thin weaselly yokai and one with spiked blue hair and face tattoos, along with the oni, Ryoga, seemed ready to start a battle with the kid over who was the best man.

"No fighting!" ordered Morrigan. "We'll do this by height. Ryoga is the tallest so he will be the best man. Then the order of the groom's men will be Takumi, Chikara..." The weaselly one showed his sharp teeth in a grin. "Kenka..." The spike haired one frowned. "And then Ichiban."

"That would make four groom's men," said the effeminate Takumi, "a rather unlucky number."

"Let him be unlucky," snipped Akuma. "Conchobhar always says he doesn't believe in luck."

"Why not have Ekibyo be a groom's man?" said Ichiban pointing to an anorexic, emo looking woman, with very short black hair and almost no figure. "If you're going to make Takumi wear men's clothing, why not her?"

"Very well," sighed Morrigan, "Ekibyo will be the third groom's man, and I suppose Akuma will want to be the maid of honor."

"Of course!" said Akuma. "What will I have to do?"

"You come in after the bride's maids and just before the bride over there," said Morrigan, "and stand next to her over here, like the best man."

"Oooohh! Let me pick out the bride's maids" said Akuma wickedly. Morrigan looked at her sideways. "Oh don't worry. They will all be very nice girls and pretty too, all good friends of Conchobhar. They won't spoil the ceremony at all."

"Very well," said Morrigan, against her better judgment, "but they must be here in an hour to get their dresses fitted, and if I don't like them I will replace them!"

"How many do you need?" said Akuma turning to go.

"The same number as the groom's men, five," replied Morrigan.

"They'll be here," said Akuma, walking out the door.

Morrigan sent the other members of Conchobhar's team to get fitted for tuxedos and finished her preparations. She hoped everything would go smoothly, but then this was Demon World, not Aleriand.
***
The carts and carriage, carrying Lien Hua and Conchobhar with their things, and Tejas and DG90, entered Demon world.

They traced the same route through Daraku's transformed tunnels as they had before, then flying to Enma's palace they landed in the courtyard. All of the parents who had been there the previous day to recieve their kidnapped children back were gone, but the courtyard was not empty. It had a huge, intricate, series of circles drawn on it and it looked as if Morrigan and members of the Unseelie Court had just finished dancing in it. "You're just here in time!" she said. "I told you that you would see someone else you might have missed..." She activated the circle.

Lights rapidly raced around the circle in the order in which the fays had danced it. When the great circle of circles had been completely traced with light, a beam shot up from the perimeter encompassing the whole area. In the center of the beam the dimensions began to warp, creating an effect that was hard on the eyes. When the dimensions coalesced the lights faded, leaving a black figure standing in the center. The person was wearing black shoes and a black cloak, and the upper parts were completely shielded and hidden by a large raven black pair of wings.

"Dark Angel!" called Morrigan gently. "There is no need to fear. Your brother can not reach you here in this realm. You have friends here, and are welcome!"

The wings parted cautiously to reveal a familiar face and form.

"Father Asa!" said Lien Hua.

The white hair had been cut short, and somewhat spiky on top, and he sported a goatee. The square glasses were gone, and he wore contacts that made his eyes look green. The rest of him was the same, the cross, the clothes, and when he folded his wings, even the hump on his back. In each arm he cradled a baby, one wrapped in pink, one wrapped in blue. "Liebchen?!" he said in surprise. "Tejas!" he exclaimed seeing who else was in the ornate carriage.

"Father Asa?!" Tejas said. "It's nice to see you again."
All of DG90 except Libra got out- she was trying to get the rice that had pelted them out of her hair.

Lien Hua also got out of the carriage, followed by Conchobhar who left his ornate hat on the seat.

"It is nice to see all of you too," said Father Asa. He would have gone over to shake their hands, but his own were full of babies.

"May I hold them?" said Morrigan reaching out for the babies. Her eyes were full of motherly tenderness, and a little nostalgia. These babies may not have sported horns or bright red skin, but for some reason they reminded her of Conchobhar when he was an infant.

Father Asa looked at her rather defensively, sheltering the two infants. "It's all right, Father," said Lien Hua. "She is one of the Great Fairies I told you about. This is Morrigan."

He slowly relinquished the babies to Morrigan. "So then, you are the one responsible for bringing me back to Locura," he said. "I assume dat dis is Locura."

"An isolated part of Locura," said Morrigan gently holding the babies and cooing to them. "This is Demon World, and though I did bring you here, it was because of Lien Hua's marriage to my son that you were brought. I want you to perform the wedding for Xin Le Hua."

He raised an eyebrow at the name "Demon World" but was pleased and amazed at the news of Lien Hua's marriage. "So, liebchen," he said going over and taking her hand. "Are you married already now? Is he what you had hoped for?"

"Yes, we were married this morning," she said softly, suddenly blushing as she looked over at Conchobhar. "I-I think he is." Conchobhar scratched his head messing up his shaggy black hair and grinned.

Father Asa looked him over, but wasn't very critical. You couldn't exactly judge a person by their looks. "And what does Xin Le Hua think?" he asked. Lien Hua's face clouded over. "I see," he said. "We will haf to talk."

"Are you the father of these children?" asked Morrigan.

"Adoptive father," said Father Asa. "They are my brother's offspring."

"I thought you might be related," she said. "They have your bloodline."

"Your brother's children?!" Lien Hua said in shock.

"Yes," replied the priest. "I often keep in touch with an organization dat tracks and fights against the Fourth Reich, my brother's organization. Dis organization approached me for help in taking a secret lab dat belonged to my brother. We had just fought each other on another planet, and my brother was away healing his wounds. It turned out dat the lab was trying to reproduce the Ubermensch Project, by which my brother and I were made, using DNA material from my brother and from his most ardent follower and top general."

"Diexlindet Eckhart, the nobody that attacked the church?" asked Lien Hua.

"Yes," said Father Asa. "Many unborn children suffered and died in dat lab before they developed these two. Then they began producing many more, but when we found these unborn ones the people from the organization began ruthlessly killing them, and all of the lab workers too. I could not stop them without haffing to kill the whole organization, they were dat adamant about destroying all of my brother's offspring. They even destroyed every note or record of the experiments. Only these two survived, taken from the lab by a worker who no longer believed in my brother's ideals, and couldn't bear to see these two suffer. The boy, designated as Pluto145 was to be trained as a ruthless killer like my brother, and the girl, Venus145 was to be used for breeding purposes, as if she were some animal. The lab worker made sure the babies came to me for safe keeping, and then went into hiding. I gave the babies the names Patrick and Valentine, after the saints, and obtained adoption papers for them. I also gave them the names David and Hadassah to use if I haf to disguise them. I think dat my time caring for Samuel helped me open my heart to become a father to these two helpless ones. I do not know why dat 'angel' took Samuel from me before I left Locura. It is not good to bounce a child from care giver to care giver like dat. I only hope dat Samuel has a good home now." He looked fondly at the two infants.

"Tejas," he said urgently. "No one from your group must ever say anything about dis. If my brother were to hear dat you know of the Dark Angel, or where I am, there will be much bloodshed. Likewise, if anyone knows dat some of my brother's offspring survived."

"You have our word!" Tejas replied.

"Misinformation is one of my specialties." Sakura said.

Libra arrived. "Sorry I'm... H-hi, Father A-asa..." She said, just noticing him.

"Good," he said.

"Poor things," said Morrigan looking down at the blue eyed infants. Then she kissed each one on the forehead. "May your enemies never defeat you, and you always be victorious. Gun robh dion air t-ionmhas. (May what you treasure be secure.) Gum biodh rath le do thurus. (May your quest be fruitful.)"

"A blessing?" asked Father Asa.

"Yes," said Morrigan, "and a powerful one. May I take care of them for awhile?"

"So," chuckled Father Asa, "my children haf a fairy godmother, like in the old tales. You seem well suited to care for them, and I will be busy, so please do. If you don't mind I haf a few things to discuss with the bride in private," he said in a serious tone.

Morrigan directed one of the servants to show Father Asa a place where he could talk to Xin Le Hua in private. "Conchobhar," she said to her son, "your team showed up and wanted to take part in the wedding. I've made Ryoga the best man, and Takumi, Chikara, Ekibyo, Kenka, and Ichiban groom's men. I know that Ekibyo is female, but four is an unlucky number and they insisted."

"Actually Ekibyo might look good in men's clothes. Come to think of it I've never seen Takumi wear men's clothes," laughed Conchobhar. "This will be interesting!" Then he had a sobering thought. "What about Akuma? Is she in this?"

"Yes, I made her the maid of honor. She even volunteered to pick some bride's maids," Said Morrigan. "I must say I was surprised to see that she picked such nice and attractive girls."

"What girls?" said Conchobhar suspiciously.

"An ameonna (rain woman) named Taki, Yanagi the kodama (tree spirit), Naoru the kitsune, Mikazuki the necomusume, and a yosei named Shinju," said his mother. Conchobhar put his hand over his face and groaned. "I take it that you knew all of these women, intimately," she said. "It looks like you are going to have to own up to your past mistakes now. I have to say, even if I do disapprove of your past actions, with the exception of Akuma you had good taste. If only you had curbed your appetite... Any way, you had better go see to your men and get your clothes changed for the wedding."

Conchobhar went inside, along with the four daimyo. Servants began unpacking the oxcart and taking things inside, though they left the DG90's luggage beside them. When the carriages and the oxcart were empty they took them to the stables to unhitch, clean, and put away, and to take care of the horses and oxen.

Morrigan turned to Tejas. "Your group would probably like to freshen up too," she said. She instructed another servant to show them to their rooms. "I will send someone for you when the wedding is ready to begin."

Tejas looked a bit distracted and restless. "Oh? Thanks..." he said.

Morrigan noticed Tejas's restlessness as the DG90 went to their rooms. Something was bothering him. Perhaps she would ask him after the wedding. He seemed to always be worrying over something, and yet none of this would have been possible without him. Would he ever realize how much this small act of faithful friendship meant to the world? "It is likely that he has saved Locura, but he doesn't even know it," she softly said as she went back and finished her preparations for the wedding.

---
Father Asa sat in a comfortable little office with Lien Hua, and talked about the events that had passed since they had parted, and especially he questioned her about Conchobhar and the events that lead to her wedding. Then he asked to speak to Xin Le Hua. The two girls switched places and Xin Le Hua sat in front of him.

"So, how do you feel about marrying Conchobhar?" he asked.

"It is what I must do," she said coldly. "I have promised to be his wife."

Father Asa shook his head. "A wife must love and support her husband, to become one with him in heart and body and purpose. Are you prepared to do that? Can you love him?"

"Isn't it enough that I serve and obey him?" she said. "I don't love him. You ask too much of me."

"No, I don't," said Father Asa sincerely. "God is Love. All creatures made of God bear some imprint of His character, none more so than those created in His image, those with eternal souls. What's more, those created male and female haf a special bond of love dat shows the world the unity dat exists within God Himself. Love is our natural inclination. If one does not love it is because he has shut off the flow within himself, and locked it away, whether of fear, or hate, or hurt. Maybe you say, 'I am a nobody. Nobodies haf no hearts and no feelings, so how can I love?' Yet I know dat you love Lien Hua, and would give your life for her. You even haf a love for Tejas, though tempered with the knowledge dat he can not be yours. If you choose to forgive and haf compassion for someone, love will follow, as water from a spring. Even if it is not strong at first, it will grow, as long as you do not harden your heart against dat person. Why haf you closed your heart to Conchobhar? What has he done to you? Or is it dat you haf been disappointed in the past and are afraid to love?"

Xin Le Hua remained silent. His words had hit so close to the mark, yet she refused to accept them.

Father Asa sighed. "Liebchen," he said softly but firmly. "If you can not forgive, and will not try to love him, I will not marry you two."

"You would cast me in the role of an adulteress!" she said angrily.

"No," he said. "You will retreat into your own sphere." He remembered the day his brother, his best and only friend, was taken from the womb and how he hid from the cold steel and rubber coated hands, behind the folds of flesh sealing himself away from his brother's piercing cries. "You will seal yourself away from her feelings and memories and keep yourself as a completely separate person, for her sake. She has chosen to love Conchobhar, and already her love is beginning to grow. You will not poison it with your hate, not if you care for her at all. If you can not make yourself a part of the growing love between them, you must separate yourself from them as much as is possible. If not, you will destroy Lien Hua's happiness."

Xin Le Hua looked down. She went over her own memories and Lien Hua's. How could she separate herself from the sweetness of her somebody's life? The thought was almost as painful as the original separation at Festung, but Father Asa was right. Lien Hua was coming to love Conchobhar, and why not. He was kind, compassionate, and willing to die for her. Yes, and he had been willing to die for her, Xin Le Hua the Nobody, too. She saw in Lien Hua's memory how he had desperately fought to reach her and protect her when she had been knocked out in the battle, and their enemies had kicked aside her darksaber and bound her. Sure, when they had first met he had fought her to coerce her into silence, but not as ruthlessly as he could have, and the kiss was gentle and sincere. Of course he'd had a lot of practice kissing all of those other girls, even sleeping with them! How could she forget that! But he had changed so after entering the Temple. He seemed honestly repentant when he had apologized to her... She felt something furry rubbing against her legs. It was the invisible sunekosuri he had given her, Daifuku. She herself had been forgiven by Libra, whom she had wronged, and the DG90, not to mention being accepted by God himself when she felt abandoned by the world. It was only right that she should forgive Conchobhar. "Oh God," she silently prayed, "help me forgive him, help me love him!" Tears began to trickle down her cheeks, and her breath caught as she spoke. "I will love him, Father Asa. I promise, I will learn to love him."

Father Asa gently squeezed her hand. "Then I am sure dat you will," he said kindly. There was a knock at the door and a servant asked if Xin Le Hua was ready to put on her gown. "You had better go along now and get dressed for your wedding," he said. She stood and thanked him, then calling Daifuku into her shadow she walked out. "Now to talk to the groom," said Father Asa getting up and going to the door.

---
Conchobhar walked into the room he had been directed to and saw everyone dressed in tuxedos. "What the heck are you guys wearing!" he said.

"You're one to talk," said Takumi, looking ungodly handsome in his black tuxedo with his hair pulled back in a ponytail and a few strands escaping over his face. "You're the one wearing a red monkey suit."

"There's one for you, over there," said Ekibyo in her usual monotone, pointing to the specially tailored suit hanging up. She actually looked pretty good in the tuxedo. Its masculine lines hid her thin figure well and actually made her look more healthy. Conchobhar had to admit, as strange as the clothing was, it did look good on everyone, even little Ichiban. That is it looked good on everyone but Kenka and Ryoga. Kenka's blue spiked hair and face tattoos, and Ryoga's bulky frame and red skin and horns just didn't go well with the refined tuxedos. Conchobhar hoped he'd look better in his. At least black was already his color.

Conchobhar stripped off the wedding garments from before, then put on the tuxedo and polished his black hooves. At least his mother knew better than to make him wear shoes. The tailor checked him over to see if any alterations were needed. They were all ready and waiting when Father Asa entered.

"If I may haf a few words with the groom..." he said.

"Sure, father," said Conchobhar. "Go ahead."

"I haf spoken to the bride, Xin Le Hua," said Father Asa, "and she is agreeable to the match..."

"Is she really?" said Conchobhar concerned. "I was afraid that she would still be angry, and even more so when she met the bride's maids." Father Asa raised a questioning eyebrow. "They are all old lovers," Conchobhar admitted.

His team mates winced and Kenka let out a whistle. Chikara said, "Akuma really got you this time!" with a rather sadistic look on his weaselly face. "She is a mazoku," said Takumi, "what do you expect?"

Father Asa sighed. "Then she will haf to put her decision to forgive you to the test. Dat being the case, I ask you about your own intentions toward Lien Hua and Xin Le Hua. What kind of life do you intend to give them?"

"What kind of life?" Conchobhar scratched his head. "I'm going to be an ambassador, so I suppose there will be a lot of traveling... I really don't know! Things have changed so quickly." He was really at a loss as to what to say. "I only know that whatever happens I will do my best to protect both of them, and see to it that they do not suffer. I know I have been selfish in the past, but I've changed. I love both of them very much and I want to do what's best for them."

"I suppose dat is all dat I can expect at dis point," said Father Asa. "I will perform your wedding."

"Thank you, father," said Conchobhar. "I know your blessing is important to both of them."

"So, you're the priest who will officiate?" asked Takumi.

"Yes," said Father Asa, "I am."

"Are these your priestly garments that you will wear at this wedding?" he said with a look of distaste on his pretty face, but the way he touched Father Asa's shoulder would have give any man the creeps, only it was the priest's hidden wings that he felt. Conchobhar gave Takumi a look that said "back off".

"They are not traditional for weddings and such, but they are what I have," said Father Asa apologetically.

"But this hideous coat is only for the purpose of hiding something," said Takumi peeling the coat from Father Asa's shoulders, catching him unawares, and revealing his wings.

"Takumi!" warned Conchobhar.

"You look much better without it," said Takumi, pulling it completely off and dropping it on the floor. "You have such beautiful wings." He reached out and stroked the glossy black feathers.

"Takumi," growled Conchobhar, "I swear, if you don't stop right now I will punch your face in! And I don't care how much blood gets on your clothes!"

Takumi backed off laughing. "I can see why Akuma wants you, Conchobhar. You are so fun to tease. I won't touch your priest anymore. Besides, he's not really my type. Seriously though," he said to Father Asa, "loose the coat, you look much better without it. You're not among humans so no one will think it odd of you to have wings."

"I'm sorry, father," said Conchobhar picking up the coat and handing it to him.

"I haf seen worse," said Father Asa, "and your friend does haf a point. The coat is ugly."

At that point they were called to the hall where the wedding was to be held.

---
Meanwhile, Xin Le Hua had gone to dress for the wedding and found herself in the company of some very beautiful yokai girls. They were wearing gold ankle length dresses with gold lace shoulders and matching shoes. The one that looked more like a devil woman with a single horn on her forehead seemed ill at ease in a dress so simple and wholesome. "Well, well," she said snidely, "here comes Conchobhar's one true love."

"Akuma, that's not polite." said a beautiful cat girl with long black hair, ears, and tail sticking out the back of her skirt. She had liquid brown eyes and a silver moon on her forehead. "You may be Conchobhar's close second in the Dark Tournaments, but that gives you no right to torment his future wife, especially in the house of Enma." She turned to Xin Le Hua and bowed. "It is very good to meet you. I am Mikazuki. This is Taki," she gestured to a girl with a full figure and long flowing, silvery blue, hair and blue eyes, "and Yanagi," a girl with leafy green hair and shy violet eyes, "Naoru," a fox girl with honey gold hair, ears, and tails (three of them), and slanted dark eyes, "Shinju," a yosei about two thirds her height with gossamer wings, green eyes and pink hair, "and you've met Akuma already." All of the girls bowed politely and tried to smile and welcome her, but some seemed a little sad. "Let me help you with your dress," said Mikazuki.

The dress was on a stand, layers of pearl studded silk, lace, and satin like icing on a cake or a dreamy cloud trailing on the floor behind. The girls helped Xin Le Hua into her dress while Akuma stewed. "All of you are so helpful, why don't you help her out by telling her what Conchobhar likes in bed. I'm sure she'd like to know so she can please him," said Akuma.

Xin Le Hua grew cold. She looked at all of the faces of the beautiful girls, Conchobhar's girls, and felt betrayed. Tears ran down some of the girls' faces. Naoru saw the look on her face. "Yes, we may have been his for a short time," said the kitsune, "but we were not enough. He chose you, not one of us, or any of the others you might meet. What is important is that he will be happy with you." The kitsune's words were meant to console, but they went straight to her heart like a knife. "What makes you think he will be faithful to her?" said Akuma. "When he sees another pretty face, he'll just go after it."

"Why are you doing this Akuma?" said Mikazuki. "Are you so jealous that Conchobhar did not marry you that you must make his future wife miserable too?"

"Me, want to be his wife?" Akuma said with shock. "Ha! I would never marry anyone, least of all him. I wouldn't be caught dead as someone's wife! That's a job for weaklings."

"Weaklings like Morrigan?" said Naoru quietly.

Akuma left the room in a huff. The girls breathed a sigh of relief. "That was a dangerous game, Naoru," said Mikazuki. "If we had not been in Enma's house, she might have killed us."

"Akuma promised she would not harm us if we came with her," said Naoru calmly, "and Akuma does keep her promises, when she makes them." Naoru turned to Xin Le Hua. "You are not very happy to see us, I'm sure, and you are probably very angry with Conchobhar. I know, I was," she closed her eyes for a moment. "Whatever you decide to do about this wedding, do not let Akuma influence you. What you do is for you, and for him, and no one else."

"Conchobhar has changed," said Xin Le Hua after thinking for a moment, "and I chose to forgive him for his past."

A knock came at the door telling them it was time. The girls went to put the tiara crowned veil on her when Conchobhar himself came in. "I know I'm not supposed to see you in your wedding dress," he said to her. "It's supposed to be bad luck or something, but I think it would be worse luck if I forgot to do this." He took up a brush and brushed her hair, making a simple crown like plait of the side pieces, leaving the rest long and flowing. Then he placed the veil within the crown of her hair. He looked longingly into her face. "The first kiss I took, but the second will be rightfully given at the end of this wedding. Thank you for forgiving me." Then he left. The girls went to take their places. When Akuma came to join them she looked subdued, and it looked to Xin Le Hua as if she had been crying.

---
A messenger came for Tejas and the DG90 to tell them that it was time for the wedding.

Tejas and DG90 came.

Libra was quick to notice what was wrong with Tejas, even though he was hiding it better now.

Tejas was directed to stand by Xin Le Hua outside the hall and hold her arm, while the rest of the DG90 was escorted inside to sit in the front row on the bride's side. The four daimyo were also seated on the bride's side, behind the DG90, along with other dignitaries and elders. The groom's side seemed to be filled with other fighters, and significant fans of the Dark Tournaments.

Tejas did as instructed. His grip slipping a few times. Kojiro whispered to Richard, "Man, Conchobhar has a lot of fans..." and Richard covered his mouth for a second, as if he was saying: "Shut up."

Morrigan, who was seated in the front row of the groom's side with Enma holding the infant twins, looked around at the seated guests and gave a nod. Hauntingly beautiful music filled the flower bedecked hall from a large pipe organ that had been assembled piece by piece in the front of the hall. It was loaned to Morrigan by Lord Kyuketsuki, who was seated behind her with his son, Ketsueki, and his son's companion, Yorutsubasa. Not only was Lord Kyuketsuki an avid supporter of the Dark Tournaments, but was eternally grateful for the safe return of his son. As the music started the lighting in the room changed, lending an air of fantasy to the room.

Father Asa entered from the side. For the first time ever in a church setting, he allowed his wings freedom, unfettered by the constraints of his coat. He had also removed the colored contacts that disguised his eyes, letting their natural golden brown color show. He stood in the center front like a dark angel, with a pocket Bible in his hand.

Next came Conchobhar. His glossy feathered black wings and dragon's tail adding a strange elegance to his black tuxedo. After him came Ryoga, Takumi, Chikara, Ekibyo, Kenka, and finally little Ichiban. Ryoga stood a little apart from the others, closer to Conchobhar. The tuxedo wearing warriors showed surprising patience in standing so still. A few cheers, quickly muted by their neighbors, went up from some of the less refined fans at the appearance of the group.

When the groom's men took their places at the front, two garuda guards opened the doors at the back of the hall. Taki the ameonna began walking up the white and gold carpet that ran up the center of the hall, holding a bouquet of white lotus flowers and pale pink orchids. Her silvery blue hair and golden silk dress fluttered a bit as she walked. Many of the male yokai frankly, but silently, ogled her full figure. After her came the kodama, Yanagi, her leafy green hair hanging down gracefully like her willow namesake. Then came Naoru the kitsune, looking refined and elegant, and after her Mikazuki the necomusume. Finally little Shinju the yosei walked lightly down the carpet, fluttering her wings nervously and holding the bouquet tightly as if she was afraid to drop it. After Shinju came Akuma. She seemed rather calm and subdued as she took her place opposite Ryoga, near where the bride would stand. It was as if she were resigned to the events that were taking place. Several of the fans quietly pumped their fists in victory and she gave her signature wickedly alluring smile.

When Akuma had taken her place a brightly colored ho-o, similar to a phoenix flew dramatically into the room scattering flower petals along the carpet with it's aerobatics before landing in front of Akuma and transforming into a little girl about five years old. After her a small blue and green water dragon flew in, matching the ho-o's complicated flight, while carrying a small white cushion with the wedding rings tied to it in his mouth. He landed in front of Ryoga and transformed into a boy of about the same age as the girl. The music changed with the entrance of the two children to a more triumphant piece. Then Xin Le Hua entered the hall, walking slowly down the petal strewn carpet. Her left arm was tucked around Tejas's, and her right held an elegant bouquet of red roses, golden lotus blossoms, and orchids of various different colors, wrapped and tied with white and gold silk. It all felt so surreal to her, the music, the lights, walking down the carpet on Tejas's arm. Was it fitting or ironic that the man she had once had feelings for, and still did to some extent, was literally giving her away to another, one who she barely knew, and who she had just recently decided to forgive? The music reached it's conclusion as she came to Conchobhar, and letting go of Tejas's arm, she took his, transferring the bouquet to her left arm. She was almost afraid to look in his eyes.

The last notes of the music died away and Father Asa began to speak. "Dearly beloved: we are gathered together in the sight of God, and in the face of dis company, to join together dis man and dis woman in holy matrimony; which is commended of the apostle Paul to be honorable among all people: and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, and in the fear of God. Into dis holy estate, these two persons now come to be joined. If anyone can show just cause why they may not be lawfully joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace."

Conchobhar and the bride's maids held their breath in fear that Akuma would spoil things, but everything was silent.

"Who gives dis woman to be married to dis man?" said Father Asa.

Tejas and company remained silent.

Father Asa gave a cough and repeated himself, loudly. "Who gives dis woman to be married to dis man?" he said looking hard at Tejas standing next to Xin Le Hua.

"...! The DG90 and I..." He said, then sat with the rest of DG90.

When Tejas was seated everyone turned to face Father Asa. He opened his Bible and read Genesis 2:18-25, about man's loneliness and the creation of woman leading to the first marriage. He skipped the hymn and went on with the readings, as he doubted that the yokai would know any hymns and he wasn't sure how long he could keep their attention. He read Ephesians 5:22-33, about wives submitting to their husbands and husbands loving their wives sacrificially like Christ loved the church, and about the mystery of becoming one flesh. Then he read Matthew 19:4-12, about Jesus's teachings about marriage and celibacy outside of marriage. He finished by preaching a short sermon expounding on the texts he had just read, teaching about God's intentions for sex and marriage.

After a brief pause he addressed the groom. "Conchobhar, haf you come of your own free will to give yourself in marriage to Xin Le Hua, and also by extension to her somebody Lien Hua?"

"I have," said Conchobhar in all sincerity.

"Will you take dis woman as your wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance, in the holy estate of matrimony; and will you love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her and also her somebody, in sickness and health; and, forsaking all others, keep only unto her, so long as you both shall live?"

"I will," said Conchobhar, "both of them."

"Will you accept children from God with love, and bring them up according to the law of God and His Church?"

"I will," said Conchobhar.

Then Father Asa addressed the bride. "Xin Le Hua, haf you come of your own free will to give yourself in marriage to Conchobhar?"

"Yes, I have," said Xin Le Hua looking up. It was her decision. She had chosen for herself.

"Will you take dis man as your wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance, in the holy estate of matrimony; and will you obey him and serve him, love, honor, and keep him, in sickness and health; and, forsaking all others, keep only unto him, so long as you both shall live?"

"I will," she said. Then she added, "Lien Hua says she will too," even though she didn't need to. She thought he should know how her somebody felt too.

"Will you accept children from God with love, and bring them up according to the law of God and His Church?"

"We will," said Xin Le Hua.

Father Asa told Xin Le Hua to give her bouquet to Akuma, and then placed her right hand in Conchobhar's right hand, instructing them to each repeat after him.

Father Asa had Conchobhar repeat, "I Conchobhar Comhghall, son of Enma, take you, Xin Le Hua Fu, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge you my troth."

Father Asa had Xin Le Hua repeat, "I Xin Le Hua Fu, take you, Conchobhar Comhghall, son of Enma, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge you my troth."

"May I haf the rings?" said Father Asa. Ryoga took the rings from the dragon boy's pillow and handed them to Conchobhar, who handed them to Father Asa. They were gold bands of intricate celtic knot work, symbolizing eternity, similar to ones common at Irish weddings. As he gave a prayer of blessing over them they glowed faintly. He raised a questioning eyebrow to Morrigan, who gave him and enigmatic smile in return. Well, since it was her son, and she had put so much work into the wedding, it was highly unlikely that whatever magic she put into the rings would do any harm.

He said, "The wedding ring is a symbol of marriage in dat the purity of gold symbolizes the purity of wedded love, each for the other, and the unending circle symbolizes the unending vows which you haf taken, which may be broken honorably in the sight of God only by death. As a token of your vows, you will give and receive the rings."

Father Asa handed the smaller ring to Conchobhar and told him to put it on the fourth finger of Xin Le Hua's left hand and repeat after him, "As a pledge and in token of the vows made between us, with this ring I wed you: In the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

Then Father Asa handed the larger ring to Xin Le Hua and told her to put it on the fourth finger of Conchobhar's left hand and repeat after him, "As a pledge and in token of the vows made between us, with this ring I wed you: In the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

"Let us pray," said Father Asa raising his hands. "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven; Give us dis day our daily bread: And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil; For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."
"Oh eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all kinds, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life; send Your blessing upon these Your servants, dis man and dis woman, whom we bless in Your name; dat they, living faithfully together, may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant between them made, whereof these rings given and received is a token and pledge, and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to Your laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Speaking to the crowd he said," Those dat God has joined together, let no one put asunder!"
"For as much as Conchobhar and Xin Le Hua have consented together in holy wedlock, and haf witnessed the same before God and dis company, and thereto haf given and pledged their troth, each to the other, and haf declared the same by giving and receiving a ring, and by joining hands; I pronounce dat they are husband and wife, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

Then he said to Conchobhar, "You may kiss the bride."

At last Conchobhar took Xin Le Hua in his arms and brushing aside the veil kissed her gently but passionately, as he promised. The crowd went wild with shouts, whistles, and cat calls, along with a few lewd comments.

When they finished kissing, Father Asa raised his wings extremely quick, making a sonic crack that caused some pain to his wings as well as a few ears, to get the crowd's attention. When the crowd became quiet he had Xin Le Hua and Conchobhar kneel, and placing his hands on their heads. He blessed them. "God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you with all spiritual benediction and grace; dat you may live together in dis life, and dat in the world to come you haf life everlasting. Amen."

He had Xin Le Hua and Conchobhar stand and face the crowd, dispensing with further formalities in this setting he said, "You may now go in peace."

Akuma gave Xin Le Hua back her bouquet and the music began again, with a lively yet still haunting piece. Conchobhar took Xin Le Hua's arm and walked her back down the white and gold, petal strewn carpet, and out the doors at the back. Following them Ryoga took Akuma's reluctant arm and led her down the carpet. The dragon boy and ho-o girl transformed and flew in every direction but a straight line following them in a fantastic display of color. Then the elegant Takumi took the arm of the shapely Taki, causing many looks of envy, and followed. Then came the weaselly Chikara and willowy Yanagi, Ekibyo and the stately kitsune Naoru, spiky Kenka and Mikazuki the necomusume, and finally Ichiban who was a full head and shoulders smaller than the little yosei Shinju.

After they left the hall the garuda bowed to Tejas and the DG90, and to Morrigan and Enma, and waited for them to exit before allowing the next row of guests to exit. Father Asa left through the side door that he had come in.

As Morrigan exited with the DG90 she stopped Tejas and asked him what was bothering him.

"I don't know... I just have this feeling that something bad may be happening right now..." Tejas replied.

"If you wish I could show you the events taking place in the world of Locura. Perhaps that would ease your mind," said Morrigan.

"Thank you..." Tejas said.

She handed the babies to Enma, asking him if he could take them to Father Asa. Leaving the guests she took Tejas to another room, one that was guarded, showed him a huge mirror. At her touch the surface shimmered and showed various locations in the world above.

She showed the Pokemon Islands and various locations in North and South Erinaceous. Surprisingly there was no violent activity at all. The world seemed unusually calm and peaceful. There were even children playing soccer in Battlefield Park, though the Cafe was completely devoid of all activity with most of the nobodies gone. She showed the Beast Islands and things there were also calm. She then showed South Vulpes and North Vulpes. Everything there seemed calm too. Then she came to the areas around the Crater Desert and the Astra River.

In the Astra village a battle was raging between the ryumen knights and a huge blood dragon of KHAOS. A unit of 500 was decimated except for the general, but even he was hit hard and ended up in the river.

"!! No! This can't be happening!" Tejas said. This isn't good... that corrupted Dragon must be put to rest... he thought.

Morrigan sighed. "I should not keep you here, you should go." She touched the mirror and it returned to normal and she headed out of the room. "Fortunately Okami is here for the wedding. We can get there much faster with her help."

Morrigan held out her arm and a raven appeared out of nowhere and landed on it. She whispered something unintelligible to it and it took off again, vanishing quickly. Then she walked out the door and spoke to the guard. "Go quickly and find Okami. Tell her I need eleven of her largest, fastest yama-inu in the courtyard now, it's an emergency, and get one of the servants to pack up all of the DG90's things for transport on the wolves." Then she strode down the hall to the banquet room, expecting Tejas to follow. People were milling about when she entered. "Get your group together," she told Tejas, as she went over to Xin Le Hua and Conchobhar. "Xin Le Hua, I'm afraid that Tejas has to go back to Locura. There is an emergency, and you will have to go to open the gates of Aleriand for him."

"I'm going with her," said Conchobhar.

"I thought you would," said Morrigan waiting just long enough to explain to Enma, and for Tejas to gather his group. "Let's get going!"

Tejas gathered his group, feeling massive guilt for not being able to stay. "Before I go, I wish to bid Xin Le Hua and Lien Hua Farewell..." Tejas said when he saw Morrigan.

"No need to," said Morrigan leading them out the door. "She is going with you for now. Your ship won't be able to leave Aleriand unless Xin Le Hua opens the gate for you. You can say goodbye then."

They left the building through the front doors leading to the courtyard. The courtyard still had the markings from earlier, but there was also a group of eleven wolves the size of small horses. Some servant oni were tying the DG90's belongings on the backs of the wolves, who were not liking it very much. A couple of wolves snapped at the oni but backed off when a woman growled at them. The woman had long white hair tied back, and dark feral eyes. She wore a kimono with a winter forest print, fluffy white fur trim around the neck, and a red and gold obi. She also had a red and gold flame shaped hair ornament worn near her forehead and red markings on her cheeks like slashes.

"Thank you for the use of your wolves, Okami," said Morrigan to the woman.

"I always pay my debts," said the woman in a voice halfway between a howl and a growl.

"All right everyone, get on the backs of the wolves," said Morrigan, "and hold tightly to fur on their necks. They are fast and agile, and will stop and start suddenly without warning you. I hope you girls won't have too much trouble with your dresses," she said swinging her leg over the back of a large gray wolf. The long slits in her qipao left her legs bare all the way to the thighs. Conchobhar lifted Xen Le Hua onto the back of a white wolf, her wedding dress spreading over the wolf's back like a fluffy cloud, before mounting a black and gray wolf himself.

((I don't think Libra and Annette wouldhave much trouble if their skirts are full enough, but Sakura would have to hike up her kimono showing a good bit of leg.))

Morrigan gave a series of yips and barks. The wolves listened carefully. When she finished they gathered close together so that they pressed in on each other. Morrigan reached out with her left hand and touched the wolf next to her, then she closed her eyes and touched her forehead with the first fingers of her right hand. They vanished from that spot and reappeared in the clearing outside of the new western gate (Daraku's old fortress). As soon as they appeared the wolves took off running at great speed, loping through the iron doors that already stood open, through the open gateway to the Aleriand side and on through the dwarven tunnels to the clearing on other side. The trip through those tunnels took at least a half an hour before. Now it only took ten minutes. Once they exited the dwarven tunnels they suddenly stopped and huddled together again. Morrigan again used instant transmission and they found themselves in the landing field of Huang Jin An. The first snow of the season was falling and the Dragonwing II was all ready to go. The engines were warmed up. The men were ready, and Alex was already on board. Aoibheann was waiting on the deck with Emperor Chang An. Conchobhar dismounted, and taking Xin Le Hua in his arms he flew up to the deck with her. As Tejas dismounted Morrigan handed him a small glass ball filled with some kind of golden liquid.

"This will aid you in reaching your destination quickly," said Morrigan. "Once your airship has cleared Aleriand's gates, and those like Xin Le Hua and the Emperor are no longer on your ship, smash this ball on the deck of the ship and state the destination you want to arrive at, 'Astra Village', and the ship and everything on it will be instantly transmitted to that location."

"Thank you very much..." Tejas said. "It was nice seeing everyone again." Tejas and company then boarded the airship.

Aoibheann, Emperor Chang An, Conchobhar, and Xin Le Hua waited on the deck for the ship to take off. Ming was curled up out of sight behind some gear.

All of DG90 except Tejas were now on the deck, Tejas was in the command room... for the moment. "Alright crew! We're leaving!" He commanded. The Dragonwing II began to take flight, and Tejas rejoined those on deck.

Morrigan looked towards the departing ship and blessed Tejas and the DG90 "Gun robh dion air t-ionmhas. (May what you treasure be secure.) Gum biodh rath le do thurus. (May your quest be fruitful.)"

The ship went back the way it had originally come, with sun behind them a little lower in the west shining through gaps in the cloud cover and snow, though there were still a few hours until sunset. It was very cold. Conchobhar put his arm and wing around Xin Le Hua to keep her warm. Aoibheann used her power to warm up the air on deck.

"I suppose we shall not see you again, ever," Xin Le Hua said to Tejas.

"I'm afraid so..." Tejas said. "It is painful to do this... but it must be done. I will miss you all."

"It is a shame we must leave..." Sakura said.

"I understand," she said. "I hope... I hope things go well for you."

Libra was staring at the horizon.

They traveled in silence for a while. Soon the shimmering wall of light appeared. Xin Le Hua softly said, "Valhalla," and the golden keyblade appeared in her hand. She pointed the keyblade in the direction of the the wall. A beam of light shot out as before and a huge keyhole appeared on the wall. She twisted the keyblade and there was a click. The keyhole and beam of light vanished, and the wall of shimmering light divided in two. Ahead of them was the western coast of Okawa and the Tahgla tropics, and the tail end of the Pokemon Islands.

At that moment Ming came out. He went over to Xin Le Hua and spoke. ~I don't belong in Aleriand, or Demon World. I really want to stay with you and Lien Hua, but I know I will only be in the way. The only thing I could do here was play with your baby brother and sister, but even that kept them from learning to become human when they should have. It was a big trouble for your mother. I belong in those islands, with my own kind,~ he said looking toward the islands. ~Good bye. Maybe I shall see you again someday.~ With that he slithered over the side and dove into the water, swimming strongly towards the Pokemon Islands.

"We don't have much time," said Aoibheann, as they passed through the gap in the wall.

The emperor said, "I can not find words to thank you for what you have done for my daughter. As a small token you will find several chests of gold and jewels in the hold of your ship. I believe they might be of some use to you in the outside world." Then he turned into a great dragon and hovered over the deck for a moment, so Aoibheann could climb on his back, before taking off.

Conchobhar picked Xin Le Hua up in his arms. "Good bye, and Aru bless you," he said lifting off and flying above the deck. "And thanks!"

"Good bye!" called Xin Le Hua.

The four of them flew back inside the gate. Tejas and the others saw her point the keyblade at the gap, the key hole appear, and the gap close. Then Aleriand vanished completely.

A tear dripped from Tejas's eye.
"Good bye... everyone..." He said.

Farewell... Agni thought.

---
Xin Le Hua put the keyblade away as Conchobhar flew her back to Huang Jin An. Conchobhar held her tight and used his spirit power to keep her warm in the wind and the falling snow. He could also feel her crying. They landed by the wolves and mounted up. The wolves no longer had their burdens as Tejas's group had taken the bundles with them. The members of the DG90 had actually gained several new sets of clothing and such during their stay.

Morrigan transmitted herself and her son and his bride, along with the eleven wolves, to the entrance of the dwarven tunnels and they rode through them. They came through the gate and rode down the road and out of the great iron doors where they stopped to be transmitted back to the palace courtyard where Okami was waiting. The whole trip, including the flight to and from the wall, took less than an hour. Conchobhar helped Xin Le Hua dismount, and Okami sent the wolves away.
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Mamma Peach
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Re: Takumi's Story

Post by Mamma Peach »

The Bet

Morrigan went back to the banquet room with Conchobhar and Xin Le Hua followed by Okami. Enma had decided it was better not to wait to start the banquet, so everyone was more or less seated and eating, though the noise of the conversation was nearly deafening. Xin Le Hua thought she heard something from Conchobhar's team mates about a bet as to how long it would take Conchobhar to "do" all of Lien Hua's forms, but she wasn't sure because a loud cheer and clapping resounded in the room as she and Conchobhar entered. They were swept over to a monstrously huge cake all fancily iced with little dolls of herself and Conchobhar on top. They were given a knife to cut it with and were told to feed each other bits cake, with slightly messy results. Then all of the unmarried girls were lined up, and she was given her slightly wilted bouquet to throw over her shoulder to them. The bouquet practically hit Taki in the face, who turned beet red when she was told that catching it meant that she would be the next to get married. Then Xin Le Hua was seated in front of every one and Conchobhar was told to get one of the lacy garters that held up her silk stockings from off of her thigh. She went cold and all the men whistled and made lewd comments as he reached under her skirt and retrieved it. Then the unmarried men, with the exception of Father Asa who was holding two very awake and lively infants that grabbed whatever was near by to put in their mouths, were gathered just like the girls, and Conchobhar was told to throw the garter over his shoulder. The results were nearly catastrophic as a number of heads were cracked together and faces punched as they fought over who would get it, but in the end Enma waded in to stop the fight and the garter was found in Chikara's hand. The she and Conchobhar were seated for the feast. Xin Le Hua had finally had enough of the emotional roller coaster. Her limited emotions couldn't handle it. So she retreated into her shared body, switching places with Lien Hua.

Morrigan noticed the switch. She wondered briefly what was going on with Xin Le Hua, but decided to use the opportunity and signaled those who were serving the meal. Conchobhar was brought a usually large serving of food, but the four daimyo and Lien Hua had empty places in front of them. The daimyo had been waiting, without saying anything. Then five servants came in, each bearing an ornate charger on which sat a large plate of food.

Everyone quieted and watched. To Genbu was presented the charger of ebony carved like intertwining serpents and stormy waves, bearing a plate of tender pork with millet mixed with chestnuts and crisps of bacon, and crystals of salt along the side. To Byakko was presented an ivory charger carved with tigers and mountains, bearing a pungent dish of herbed hemp seed and chicken and a single large peach. To Suzaku was presented a charger of carnelian carved with birds and fire, bearing a dish of goat meat and soy beans in a bitter sauce with apricots. To Seiryu was presented a charger of lapis lazuli carved with dragons flying through the clouds, bearing a dish of dog meat and whole steamed wheat grains with a sour plum sauce. Then Lien Hua was presented with a golden charger with kirins and constellations, bearing the same meal that had been given to her when she had been there before, yellow curried rice topped with beef and beside that rice dumplings filled with sweet dates surrounded with candied flower petals that gave off a fragrant perfume. The daimyo took several ceremonial bites of their food, and following their lead, so did Lien Hua.

Enma stood to make an announcement. "For a some time now our country has been unstable because of the murder of Lord Kiryu, his family, and his court by that filth, Daraku. Since the golden dragon princess, Lien Hua first came to our land, we have been aware of her unique qualities of balance. It has been determined, in view of her marriage to Prince Conchobhar, and of the treaty with Aleriand, that she should be the daimyo of the Central Region and bring balance to our nation." Everyone clapped and cheered, congratulating her.

After a short time Morrigan also stood to make an announcement. "In view of this new appointment each night of the feast will be held in a different daimyo's house, the first night being here in the palace. Tomorrow will be at Suzakuyama, then Seiryutaki, Genbushima, and then Byakkodokutsu. The final day of the feast will be at Kiryushiro, Lady Lien Hua's new home!" Again there was cheering and toasts of congratulation. No one noticed Takumi sneak back in with a smug look on his face, and Ryoga clap him on the back.

The feast went on and Lien Hua had finished eating. She was just sitting there looking at nothing in particular. Conchobhar leaned over and asked her if she was tired. "Just a little," she said.

"Then we should go," he said standing up.

"But the feast is still going," she said.

"Of course it is," said Conchobhar pulling back her chair and helping her up. "That's the whole point of the feast, to keep the couple from being pranked or pestered. They'll be at it most of the night, while we get to know each other better." Lien Hua blushed as he led her from the room. The guests cheered as they left.

Conchobhar led her along the hallway, the fluffy white dress swishing as she walked. When they reached the room where the wedding bed had been set up Conchobhar saw that the door was ajar and there were noises inside. He pushed the door wide open. There on the bed were a bunch of yokai children, most of them bouncing on the bed and munching on candies, oranges, and lotus seeds. "What're you rug rats doing in here!" he barked. They all stopped.

"The Morrigan told us to!" said one of the boys.

Lien Hua giggled and whispered to Conchobhar that children on the wedding bed was an old Chinese fertility custom. "Well, you're done now. Be off with you!" he growled at the children. They gathered up their treats and ran out of the room.

Finally he was alone with Lien Hua in front of the room door. "This is a special night," he began taking her hand. "It's the first... I want to spend tonight with both of you as equals. Do you mind using your soul reaper form so that I can have Xin Le Hua with me too?"

"Okay," said Lien Hua the lotus mark on her hand glowed golden, and she stepped out of he body wearing the white silk brocade of her soul reaper's garments. Conchobhar caught her limp body in the wedding dress as it fell. He waited for Xin Le Hua to emerge, but she didn't.

"Xin Le Hua!" he said a bit perturbed. "I know you're in there and can hear me. I refuse to make love to a lifeless body. I intend to spend my life with both of you, and if you refuse to come out, I'll just have to sit here and wait for you." He waited for a bit, but she didn't come out. "You can't just hide in there the rest of your life. What's the point of that whole wedding thing if you do?" He didn't mention her promise to obey. If she didn't do this of her own free will it wasn't worth it. Finally she came out. He held her close to him. "Thank you, Edana, my dark flame. It wouldn't be the same without you. I will try to make you happy." He took one girl in each arm and carried them through the door. Setting them down he embraced both of them before shutting the door and locking everyone else out.

***

Xin Le Hua woke up feeling a bit too warm. The touch of fur, feathers, and skin against her body reminded her of last night, confusing her and exiting her at the same time. She wasn't sure how to handle her emotions. She wasn't used to them and would rather not face them.

She could hear Conchobhar's heavy rhythmic breathing and the softer breathing of Lien Hua as they slept. He had one wing wrapped around each girl like a blanket. Xin Le Hua slid out from under his wing and out of bed, stepping over the tangle of blankets on the floor. She shivered a bit in the coolness of the room as she looked around for some clothes. The wedding dress and tuxedo were in a heap on the floor, and next to them Lien Hua's soul reaper's clothing.

The trunks that had been packed yesterday morning, just before Lien Hua's wedding, were placed against the wall so she went over and dug through them until she found some undergarments and a dark zippered robe. Her chain belt and darksaber was lying on one of the trunks so she fastened it on over her robe. Turning she saw Conchobhar sitting on the bed watching her, completely uncovered. She quickly averted her eyes, a mixture of emotions washing over her so disconcertingly that she avoided looking at him at all.

"Are you afraid of me?" Conchobhar asked her.

"I fear no man!" she snapped.

Conchobhar stood and covering the sleeping Lien Hua with a blanket came over to her. "It's good that you aren't afraid, but I get the feeling you're trying to avoid me," he said coming very close and reaching out to embrace her.

"No, of course not," she said hastily stepping backwards and tripping over a soft object.

Conchobhar caught her before she fell and held her close. He winked at the floor and said, "Thanks Daifuku," to the furry creature that rubbed against their legs purring and wagging it's tail furiously. Conchobhar picked Xin Le Hua up off her feet and held her tightly in his arms.

"Put me down!" she said.

"Only when you tell the truth," he said softly but firmly. "I know a defense when I see one. I want to know why. What are you protecting yourself from? I am not your enemy. I love you."

"I don't know," she said. "Please put me down."

"Are you still angry with me? I thought after last night..." he said puzzled.

"No, I'm not angry," she assured him. "I said I'd forgive you and I meant it. It's just... It's too much for me. I don't think I can handle this. I'm a shadow... a nobody really. I can't... I can't love you like I'm supposed to. It's just not in me... to do this. I'm better off going back to the shadows."

"No," he said, beginning to understand a bit. "You're not better off 'in the shadows'. You have a heart, and you have feelings. Maybe it is hard for you right now. Everything did happen so suddenly, but we are a part of each other..." He stopped for a moment, thinking along another line. "You can obey, right, and be loyal can't you?" She nodded, wondering what he was getting at. "So, just relax and trust me," he said putting her down. "Give me your loyalty, and follow my lead. Don't worry about what you can or can't do. Let me worry about that. Give yourself completely to me in the ways that you do know how to, and make me responsible for the rest."

"I can do that at least," said Xin Le Hua sounding more like herself again. "You will have to understand if I seem less than enthusiastic sometimes, or overly tired of emotionally charged situations."

Conchobhar grinned. "You look good in black, but it's a good thing I know what zippers are for!" he said, and he kissed her.

Lien Hua woke up. "You're already up?" she said surprised and she went over to put her soul reaper clothes back on. "You should have waken me. I can't believe I just stayed asleep like that."

"Your soul reaper form is still recovering," said Xin Le Hua helping her dress. "You probably shouldn't do a lot with it just yet. You should use your regular body most of the time."

"I suppose you're right," she said and she merged back into her body.

Xin Le Hua retreated, saying she was tired, putting Lien Hua to the front wearing nothing, as the last garment she had worn was the shared wedding dress heaped on the floor. "Thanks a lot," she muttered to her nobody as she dug out some clothes to wear. Conchobhar came up behind her and gave her a hug and kiss. She felt her heart beat fast. Married! Married to someone who loved her. She remembered last night. She never realized that a body composed completely of reishi could feel so good.

"There's still some time before breakfast," said Conchobhar feeling her yield to his touch. "Why don't we try it with another form... maybe the angel one?"

"Okay," she said transforming into Angewoman. She wasn't sure how well this would go, as digimon were technically genderless, but he was supposed to get to know her in all of her forms...

Some time later a contented Conchobhar and Lien Hua went to the banquet room for breakfast. The bed was littered with white digital feathers and raven black ones. Unobserved on the opposite wall though, was a spider that was not a spider.

----
When they entered the banquet room they were greeted with whistles and cheers, as well as lewd questions and comments. Lien Hua found the behavior embarrassing, but predictable. Most of the guests had either gone home or were sleeping in after the late night partying. It was unpredictable how many would show up on any particular night of the feast week. Usually only the closest friends, and sometimes rivals, would show up for the whole week. Conchobhar's team was still there, though Takumi seemed to be missing. Also missing were Conchobhar's parents. Conchobhar wondered where they were, as he seated Lien Hua and saw that she had some food. It was unusual for them to be late and he had to ask his mother for something. He went to one of the servants and ordered a large picnic lunch to be prepared and packaged for him to take with him after breakfast, then sat next to Lien Hua and ate. Lien Hua found that she was very hungry, more so than usual, and ate quite a bit, though never as much as Conchobhar.

When Enma and Morrigan finally came in it was plain to Conchobhar, by the way his father couldn't keep his eyes, or hands, off his mother what had detained them. The way this way going his father should just declare a national holiday, because he certainly wasn't going to do any work. Conchobhar grinned and went over to his mother.

"Can I talk to you privately for a moment?" he said to her.

"What, woman trouble already?" said his father.

"No, more like transformations," he said. Enma looked at him blankly. Of course his father wouldn't get that one, Conchobhar thought to himself. The great Enma, who in his full form was monstrously huge, wouldn't consider the size difference between Conchobhar and a hundred foot dragon, not without a bit of thinking anyway. Morrigan and Conchobhar went out of the hearing range of the guests.

"So, what do you need?" she asked.

"Do you still have that serpent band that you took from Orochimaru?" he asked.

"Yes. Why, do you need it?" she inquired.

"Yeah," he said scratching his head. "I'm pretty sure I can handle all of her forms, even the black dragon, except for the biggest, and also the smallest. Since the serpent band would turn me into a giant snake, I could use that with her golden dragon form. I'm still not sure what to do about the Mobian echnida though."

"Sure you can use it," she said retrieving a greenish metal armband with a serpentine pattern on it from the dimensional space where she kept such things. "In fact I'll give it to you as a present. It will be interesting to find out what kind of serpent you become." She showed him how to activate it when he wanted to before he put it on. "I will also work on your other little problem. I have an idea that might work. It will also give me an excuse to leave so your father can finish some of his work, though seeing as how you turned out, I'm thinking about having another child."

Conchobhar was surprised by that. "I always wondered what it would be like to be a big brother, but I kind of thought you didn't want children or something. Why didn't you have more children before?"

"Frankly, I was constantly afraid that you were going to kill yourself," she laughed. "I was waiting to see if it was worth having the first one before I had any more. Being immortal I could afford to wait, but seeing Father Asa's adorable little infants just brought out my desire to be a mother again. By the way, where are you going today?"

"I was thinking of the forests of Nishichiku. I know some isolated spots there, and some rather pretty clearings," said Conchobhar.

"A good choice, especially since Daraku's defeat has left that region particularly calm," she said. "Don't keep your bride waiting."

Conchobhar went back to Lien Hua and finished eating. The servants had brought him the picnic basket and they were getting ready to leave when Takumi came in to breakfast. He stopped and congratulated them on surviving the first night before sitting with the his team mates. They seemed rather impatient for him to finish so they could go somewhere, but he took his time, savoring his food.

Conchobhar and Lien Hua had left the building and flown off, Lien Hua in golden dragon form, as Father Asa came into the banquet room. He was with the babies, and without his wing concealing coat. He thanked Morrigan for the diapers, the twin baby carrier that allowed him to carry the twins and keep his hands free, and other baby things that he needed to care for the infants. Caring for twin babies was not an easy job. Morrigan said she would be glad to take the babies off his hands for a bit that afternoon, when she was done with an errand for her son. Then she kissed Enma goodbye and left. Though Enma was surprised by her sudden departure he did have things to do that day, and there was always that night. "Father Asa," said the yokai king. "There are some yokai who are interested in setting up churches here. Would you be willing to meet with them this afternoon?"

"Of course," said the priest. "I would be glad to."

"I'll arrange for the meeting then," said Enma returning to his food and eating several platters full quickly before returning to work. Takumi also finished eating and left with the impatient group. A few more guests trickled in to breakfast.
***
((In "Castle Cuteness" - Shin's TF'ing RP))
A circle of runes, all lit up, appeared on the floor, and a cylinder of swirling light went up from it. When the light faded a beautiful, red haired, green eyed woman wearing a cloak of raven black feathers stepped out of the circle, causing it to fade.

Startled passers-by warned her about the effects of the Castle, but she just laughed and said that she had need of it, and would extract it before it changed her. She went over to the nearest wall and pulled a fist sized chunk out of it, and put the piece of wall into a special bag.

"That will do just nicely," she said. "Now to find the source of the cuteness." She stood still for a moment, feeling out with her senses. "There it is!" she said. Then, putting her first two fingers to her forehead, she transmitted herself to Kagamiroth's location. She found Kagamiroth sleeping, so she quietly cut a lock of hair from the sleeping girl and added it to the piece of wall in the bag. Then she transmitted herself back to where she had come in. Activating the circle she disappeared in a flash of swirling light, as did the circle, leaving no trace that she had been there, except the small hole in the wall and the missing lock of hair, and no way that she could possibly be followed.

***

"All right, Takumi," said Ryoga, "Where's the proof you promised?" The whole team, minus Conchobhar, was gathered in a secluded place in the dense jungle growth of Minamichiku.

Takumi produced a set of photos. "I planted a 'bug' on the girl when I greeted them so I'll have footage of what they do today."

Ryoga let out a whistle as he saw the pictures. "You should be in the porn industry!"

"Who says I'm not?" said Takumi. "Only legal stuff though. This bit of contraband is only for the bet. Once the bet's over these photos and the films they were taken from will be destroyed."

"You have films?" said the weaselly Chikara practically drooling over the pictures.

"You could have shown more of the girl," complained Kenka. "You always show too much of the guy in these things.

"He shows enough," snapped Akuma briefly looking over the photos. "It is just for the bet after all."

"What, you don't like the pictures?" Kenka prodded, seeing the jealous, angry look on her face.

"Men are disgusting," said Ekibyo in her monotone. "Then, so are women. They're all loathsome."

"I wanna see! I wanna see!" exclaimed Ichiban trying to jump up and look at the pictures.

"You're too young," said Ryoga keeping them out of his reach.

"Am not!" said little Ichiban. "You guys may be older than me, but I am an adult. They don't let kids fight in the Dark Tournaments, you know."

"You still don't need to see," said Ryoga. "Especially since your bet was the same as Kenka's. Anyhow this shows that he's done three forms so far, the soul reaper, the nobody, and the digital angel thing. I guess I'm going to loose this bet. You're right Akuma, it wouldn't take the whole week for Conchobhar to do all ten forms."

"Are we sure that these were the only forms he did?" said Chikara suspiciously. "Takumi and Akuma bet it would take three days, and Kenka and Ichiban bet four, but I bet it would only take two. What if Takumi deliberately left some out?"

"You're welcome to view the films if you want," said Takumi smoothly. "You could come to my room tonight at Suzaku's place. I'll even have a live feed from the newlyweds' room."

"Not a good thing," Kenka warned Chikara, "watching porn with Takumi, in his room!"

"It's up to you," said Takumi nonchalantly. "You can always just accept the pictures and see the next set tomorrow. I'm going to destroy these now," he said gathering up the photos, "and set up for tonight. Come then if you like." Takumi left the group.

"I'd go tonight," said Ichiban, "if Conchobhar hadn't made me sign a contract forbidding me to go anywhere where I could end up alone with Takumi.

"And for good reason too," said Kenka as they started to leave. "I warn you again, Chikara. Don't let him lure you in like that. I'd rather have a date with a jorogumo (spider woman) than watch porn with that one."

***

Lien Hua flew over the woods in dragon form with Conchobhar flying beside her holding the basket. Conchobhar flew up to her face. "I'll be back in a moment," he said kissing her on her massive pug nose. Using his spirit energy he flew ahead in a flash. Hardly a moment passed and he was back again, without the basket. "Miss me?" he joked, caressing her large ear and mane. Then he dropped back and began doing something around her hind legs that felt good.

She was about to look back to see what Conchobhar was doing when she was sudden covered by a huge flying serpent that twined around her, a quetzalcoatl. His iridescent green scales and feathers, and rainbow side stripe glittered in the sunlight, and his crest and tail tuft of long green feathers mingled with her rose colored mane and tail tuft. His spicy scent was both familiar and exotic. It was Conchobhar's scent, but carried out to a level that was as intoxicating to her as her scent was to male dragons. He began to rhythmically squeeze her, not like the death squeeze at all, but one that made her body pulse in responsive pleasure. She could only imagine that this must be what the mating flight of her people had been like in the early days of Primavaldia, before nations and civilizations were formed. She didn't even think about how Conchobhar had turned into a gorgeous shimmering quetzalcoatl. She just enjoyed him.

After a while of this she became exhausted. If Conchobhar hadn't been a flying serpent they probably would have crashed, but as it was they glided gently down into the clearing. She lay there, panting heavily. Conchobhar too was breathing hard as he disentangled his shimmering coils from hers. They lay there for a moment in loose coils before transforming back. Conchobhar went over to the exhausted Lien Hua and picked her up in his arms. Kissing her he said, "You are beautiful in any form. You are tired now. Why don't you rest a while. Have Xin Le Hua come out so I can fly with her too." Lien Hua nodded, breathless, and activated the lotus mark, switching places with Xin Le Hua. Conchobhar was now holding the dark robbed nobody in his arms. "Are you ready?" he said.

"Ready for what?" she replied.

"To fly, of course," he said putting her down. "I want to dance with you in the air, like the wedding of Lady Friedelinde and Sir Wilhelm. I said back then that I wanted to fly with you like that, and I meant it. Could you fly like she did, with fire, grace and speed?"

"I think so," she said reviewing the memory.

"Then I shall leave you here to prepare while I wait in the woods for you to begin the flight," he said, and then kissed her before disappearing into the woods."

Xin Le Hua transformed into a black dragon not quite sure how to begin. Lady Friedelinde had come out with the fierce and wild pride of a dragon. Xin Le Hua reached inward for the feelings of a dragon, and for her feelings, sorrow, rage, betrayal, pride. She was not a thing to be bought, sold, or traded in a wedding game! She was a dragon, fierce and free! She gave a resounding roar and belched flame at the sky. Then she launched herself into the air, reveling in her flight.

Conchobhar burst out of the woods, following her closely. She caught sight of him and growled in fury, performing various feats of aerobatics to shake him off her tail, but he matched her move for move. The closer he matched her the angrier she became. She was almost ready to turn and fight when Lien Hua's voice came through to her mind. "What are you doing? Is this really what you want?" Was it that really she wanted, to fight him, to tear him to pieces? She remembered what Conchobhar had said, "Give me your loyalty, and follow my lead. Don't worry about what you can or can't do. Let me worry about that. Give yourself completely to me in the ways that you do know how to, and make me responsible for the rest."

Trust, that's what she really wanted. She wanted to be able to trust him completely. She dropped back a bit till they were flying wing tip to wing tip. She would follow his lead. It was then that the aerial dance became real, the two of them flying in perfect unison. The joy of that perfect match of movement thrilled through her. They began a spiral up to the heavens. She lost sight of Conchobhar as they flew belly to belly. Then she felt him grip her softer under scales at the apex of their flight. The physical ecstasy of the moment paralyzed her wings and they plunged downward. Then, as the ground quickly approached, he released her and she regained the use of her wings in time to level off. Tired, she followed him to the clearing, Lien Hua's feelings for Conchobhar resonating with her own inside. Conchobhar retrieved the basket out of a tree and spread out the picnic as Xin Le Hua changed to her human form and sat down, leaning against a tree.

"I think we're going to need a rest, and a big meal after that!" said Conchobhar with a jubilant laugh. Xin Le Hua actually gave him a smile.

***

When Morrigan returned from her otherworld trip she went to a secret forge in her own dwelling. She drew the transformation power that cursed her out of herself with magic and into a bottle. Then she heated a crucible of gold, left over from making the wedding rings, until the gold melted. Into another crucible she emptied the contents of the bag, and adding a crystalline powder she ground them to dust. Taking a part of the ground up mixture she put it into a solution with a heart shaped ruby. To the rest she added the molten gold and the contents of the bottle, mixing quickly and thoroughly. Singing constantly over it in Gaelic she reheated the golden mixture till the dross had burned off, or had been skimmed. She poured the resulting gold into molds and let it cool a bit, still singing over it, before she began to work it. When she finished she had a beautiful ruby ring, just manly enough to offset the cuteness of it. She finished it off by putting a durability spell on it so that it wouldn't break under the duress of serious hand to hand combat. She laughed to herself as she put the ring away. This should suit her son's purpose quite nicely. The thought of what an adorable couple her son and the little transformed Lien Hua would be made her laugh out loud as she returned to Enma's palace. Now to spend some time with Father Asa's adorable nephew and niece while he was busy with her husband in matters of greater weight.

***

Conchobhar packed up the picnic basket and flew it back up into the tree. He gazed fondly at Lien Hua for a moment. Xin Le Hua had become tired during the meal, being more used to a nocturnal schedule, and switched places with Lien Hua. Not being fully recovered from the damage she took as a soul reaper, she had also been tired and had fallen asleep before Conchobhar finished eating.

Conchobhar transformed into his fay self, changing his usual jeans and tee shirt of that form, morphing them into a highland kilt, in greens, browns, and black, twined about the waist and right shoulder with a leafy vine. Other than the kilt and vine his skin was bare, and his red hair fell down to his shoulders with a crown of oak and ivy leaves. His green eyes gleamed as he nudged Lien Hua awake. "Edana! Edana, wake up and put your fox fur on. I want to dance with you! Put your fox fur on and you won't be tired. The golden sun will lend you his strength! Come and dance with me." He pulled a set of pan pipes out of thin air and began playing a lively tune, capering about in a somewhat comical manner till Lien Hua sat up laughing. He stopped playing for a moment. "Put on your fox fur, Edana!" he said and he began another tune, a tune that spoke of spring time, and of love. Lien Hua changed into her fox fay form and stepped into the dance. The clearing became a magical fairy ring, a forest dance floor with light and color and music, as the two danced together after the manner of fays in the heat of desire. All around them flowers bloomed and animals capered about, mad with the feeling of spring.

***

Father Asa left the twins in the care of Morrigan and went with Enma to meet with the yokai who were interested in setting up churches. They were seated in a kind of conference room and rose in respect when they entered. King Enma introduced Father Asa to the assembled yokai and seated himself, more so that he could listen to the discussion rather than participate. Father Asa was somewhat at a loss of words being in such an unfamiliar situation. He wasn't even sure what the people assembled before him knew about God. Many of them were even wearing the garb of Shinto priests. Fortunately one of the yokai, and elderly mujina (badger) in Shinto priest's clothing spoke first.

"Father Asa, you are aware that our World is called 'Demon World' and that our people are often called 'demons'. Though this is not strictly true, unfortunately it is all to often well deserved. In spite of this there are a number of us that from the beginning of this place have tried to follow the will of Aru, the God of Morrigan, as she has tried her best to teach us, with more or less success. We who believe are still lacking much, in knowledge, in direction, in power. We are but a fragmented group trying our best with what we have, and have had little impact on our world. The Morrigan has told us on occasion of great powerful churches with their magnificent temples that once existed in Primavaldia, and still exist on other worlds. We were also told that you belong to such a church, and a great people, who also worships our God though by a different name. So we ask you, how we can achieve the same. Would you teach us the things we should know?"

Father Asa sent up a prayer for wisdom and began. "The power of the church, the assembly of God's people, is not the same as other powers. It is not by the numbers of people, the magnificence of buildings, the political abilities, great persuasive speeches, or force of arms, dat the church thrives and grows, or peoples lives are changed. These things dat the rest of the world may call great and powerful, are not the tools of the church. Having them could even prove to be a burden that hinders the work. The power of the church is not we ourselves, but God. To Him the wisdom and strength of the world is but foolishness and weakness, and His great strength, power, and wisdom can be most easily seen through that which the world calls week and foolish. I will not teach you how to build great structures, but to believe great things." They listened as he briefly went over the great works of God.

"We also believe these things," said the mujina. "Though there is much you have said that we did not know. Where might we learn more things such as those that you spoke of? More to the point though is, how should we conduct our daily lives to please Him, and how do we show worship? I doubt that he would be pleased with the same things as our former gods."

Father Asa took out his pocket Bible. "Dis is God's words to my people and my world. I will leave it with you to copy as many times as you need. It tells of His work and has many answers, general concepts, and doctrines. But for more specific things, I think dat you will haf to ask Him yourself. I don't know your people well enough to make suggestions, and He always knows the best way."

"We were hoping for something a little more clear," sighed the mujina. "We are not sure how to ask, or get an answer, even though the Morrigan has told us that Aru speaks to the heart, and seems to be well acquainted with Him. We often end up going to her for answers, and there have been things that she was not able to give us an answer for."

A thought occurred to Father Asa and he thanked God for the inspiration. "Is there not a Temple in Aleriand were people can meet with God, face to face? Could you not go there and ask your questions directly?"

The yokai looked at King Enma. "It's part of the treaty," said the king. The people of Demon World are welcome to go to the Temple of Heaven whenever they need to."

"Would it be possible for us to travel there today?" asked the mujina. Everyone else expressed their desire to do the same. Even Father Asa commented that it was something he had dreamed of doing, ever since he had first heard of the Temple of Heaven.

"I don't see why not," said the yokai king. He went out and made arrangements for transportation, and soon the whole group was on their way to the capital of Aleriand. With them was Lord Seiryu, who had other business.
((Father Asa's group in Aleriand))
Emperor Chang An, with two attending fays, greeted Father Asa and the delegation from Demon World in the landing field. "You are all welcome, especially you Father Asa! My daughter told me all about you. I am very grateful for the kindness you showed her in Falcon 6 Town, though I am somewhat surprised to see you here."

"I only wish dat I had been able to do more, to save her life," said the priest. "Morrigan used her magic to bring me to dat world so I could perform Xin Le Hua's wedding."

"You did what you could," said the dragon king. "You could not have saved her, even if you had known. The damage was done on the inside. It would not have shown until it was too late. By the way, how is she doing with Conchobhar? Are they getting along well? I know it has only been a day, but what do you think?"

"I believe dat they are," said Father Asa. "It was more difficult for Xin Le Hua, but she has agreed to put whatever differences they haf aside. The young man seems to be very devoted to them both. Dis was something dat Lien Hua was concerned about from the time dat Xin Le Hua came into being, dat they could someday find a husband who could love them both, and be understanding of the strange thing dat she had become. I think dat she has found someone who can do dat."

"I had hoped that it would be that way," said the king. "So, what brings you here?"

"These men wish to start churches in Demon World," said Father Asa. "We haf come to go to the Temple of Heaven to ask God what he wishes them to do."

Everyone is welcome to meet with Aru," said the dragon king. "Come with me."

He led the way up the stairs to the Temple of Heaven. When they arrived Saebhreathach opened the doors of the Temple for them. The silver tree with its gold leaves and diamond fruit glittered in the sunlight.

"Lien Hua never told me that a tree grew in the temple!" said Father Asa amazed.

"This tree sprouted at the moment Lien Hua and Conchobhar completed the wedding ritual," said the king. "It is a sign of Aru's favor of their union. Many had their doubts about the union until they saw the tree. Please, enter and be seated near the tree and quiet you hearts to listen. Saebhreathach will close the doors, and reopen them when you are finished."

Father Asa and the yokai entered, but Lord Seiryu remained outside. "I paid my respects to the Great One when I was here before," he said. Emperor Chang An raised an eyebrow and Saebhreathach nodded in confirmation. "Today," continued the Azure Dragon, "I wish to call upon your sister, if you have no objections."

"I have no objections, if she does not" said the Emperor. Saebhreathach closed the doors on the Temple as the Emperor told Lord Seiryu where Lady De Zhen's room was.

De Zhen had dismissed the girls from their studies and was sitting down with a book when there was a knock at her door. She opened the door to see Lord Seiryu standing there.

"I hope I am not disturbing you, honored princess," he said with a genteel bow. "I was hoping that you would walk with me in the gardens." He looked in the direction of the gardens that extended behind the royal quarters. "Perhaps you could tell me about the various plants that grow there."

"Very well," she said. "I shall accompany you, but many of the plants will not be seen until Spring."

"Then I shall have to come again, to see them in their springtime glory, but a truly beautiful garden will have much to see even in the dead of Winter," he said gazing at her. De Zhen blushed and got her cloak. Lord Seiryu stepped aside so she could exit the room and escorted her down the stairs and out to the garden.

As they walked through the garden she talked about various plants while he observed everything, occasionally remarking on the particular beauty of a tree's branches partially covered with snow, or a shrub with its evergreen leaves and bright berries, or an interesting rock or sculpture. Sometimes he would ask questions about the planting, care, or growth of a particular plant.

"You really do like gardens," said De Zhen as they sat for a while in a sheltered alcove while the snow fell.

"My late wife introduced me to the love of gardens," said Lord Seiryu. "She had made the most beautiful gardens all around our palace."

"Your wife?" inquired De Zhen, feeling slightly crushed.

"She was a dragon of surpassing beauty and grace," said Seiryu staring absently at the falling snow. "She had such a love of life. When I found her murdered, along with our children, I went mad with grief and rage. I destroyed everything, every plant, every tree, everything that she had loved, and then I took my rage out on anything that came near. It was then that Enma caught and subdued me, and made me one of his commanders. Serving Enma and destroying the ones who murdered my wife and children were the only purposes I had left in life. When we came through the gateway to the dying world of Primavaldia I didn't care if I died. I only lived to kill."

"You saw the end of Primavaldia?" she said in disbelief.

"Yes, I am one of the oldest of the yokai that came with Enma. I was there when the Morrigan made a pact with Enma. I saw Enma hew a path through the rotting enemy with his scythe and I was splattered with their putrid blood. I roared in victory even as I saw the empty gray skies of a dead world; skies without sun, moon, or stars, without darkness or light, and a world dissolving into nothingness. I saw and rejoiced at the thought that I also would become nothing, and would finally be free from the pain of my lonely life without her. But I did not die. The world was reformed and life began again. So, I adjusted to life. I am the Azure Dragon, the sign of Spring, and one of the five great lords Enma chose to bring balance to the world that Morrigan made. I had to accept my life, and live it well." Seiryu returned to the present and looked at De Zhen wistfully. "I have talked too much about myself," he said hearing the sounds of the yokai coming out of the Temple of Heaven. "I would like to hear more about you, but my time is short. There is a feast for Conchobhar's marriage every night for six nights and Enma and the Morrigan have decreed that each of the daimyos host it for one night in honor of Lien Hua taking the place of the fifth daimyo, daimyo of the central region, Chushinchiku. Tomorrow night is my turn to host the feast. I want you to come. Come to the feast, stay at my house, and the next day I will show you my gardens and we can talk some more." He looked at her earnestly, hoping for a favorable answer.

Her heart skipped a beat. "I will try to come," she said hesitantly. "I'm not sure if I will, but I will try."

Lord Seiryu smiled as he escorted her back to her room and said farewell. De Zhen wondered why she had given in so easily. Going to a strange man's house in Demon World was something she would never have dreamed of doing, not even for someone as noble looking as Lord Seiryu, yet here she was considering it.

Lord Seiryu rejoined the others as they headed back to Demon World. Those who had gone to the Temple were lost in awe and silent in thought, except for Father Asa who was singing in Hebrew.

---
Father Asa parted with the newly ordained "priests" at Enma's palace, though he was sure that the Pope would disagree with the term he used, even if it was God who did the ordaining. Not that it would matter here anyway. For that matter the Catholic Church was still waiting for a clear ruling on the status of extraterrestrials and non-humanoid intelligent species. Going to the Temple in Aleriand had quickly settled a great many issues. He briefly wished that there were such a place on Earth, but he quickly realized that it would be taken by greedy men, who would never set foot in it, nor would they let others do so, but would use the power of its name to further their own purposes. No, by whatever means Aleriand was a unique place in the universe. Not even his own people had been able to handle the presence of God with such grace. Before they left, the priests had asked him to come around to each of their villages on the following day to see how things were progressing and offer advice, so he would be pretty busy after all. After getting directions to Lord Suzaku's place for the evening feast, he took off flying to the volcanic mountain that housed it.

***

Lien Hua lay contented in a patch of flowers, soaking the energy of the fading sunlight into her green fur to help regenerate some of the energy that she had just expended, while Conchobhar chowed down on the new fruit that had grown. No longer in fay form he was amazed at how much energy they had put into the environment with that one physical encounter, even if it was rather prolonged. If fays were mating all over Aleriand, no wonder it was such a powerful, and plentiful place! He wondered for a moment what his father and mother's amorous adventures did for Demon World. The sun disappeared and Lien Hua changed back to human form.

"Do you have enough strength to make it to Suzaku's place?" asked Conchobhar taking her hand and helping her up.

"I think so," she said, "but it looks like we're going to be late."

"Don't worry about that," laughed Conchobhar. "The feast is for us, not the other way around! I think we should stop by my father's place, though. I'll drop off the basket and get us a ride. Suzakuyama is pretty far. I don't want you to get too tired." He gave her a hug.

"Conchobhar, after dinner, can we just sleep?" she asked.

"Of course!" he laughed again. They took off, Lien Hua in dragon form, and flew to Enma's palace, and then from there they traveled by coach over the eastern wall of mountains and into Minamichiku.
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Re: Takumi's Story

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Traveling from Nishichiku to Minamichiku was rather like traveling backwards in time from the crisp, dry harvest time of Fall to the humid heat of Midsummer. Crossing over the loops of the Hebinaga River as it entered lake Shinzoko, the carriage flew over the dense jungle hills of the southern region towards two partially active volcanoes. That larger of the two was Daikazanyama, with it's spiritual connection to Crater Volcano on the surface and the Higashimon, the now permanently shut eastern gate, beyond it. The smaller one in front was Suzakuyama, the abode of Lord Suzaku, the vermilion bird.

The carriage landed in a small hangar, one of the entrances to Suzaku's home, let Conchobhar and Lien Hua off, and returned to the capital. One of Suzaku's dolls greeted them and led them through the elegant halls to the banquet room. Conchobhar noticed that the ample curves of the artificial female had been well covered in a fairly conservative maid outfit, and the entertainment in the banquet room was likewise toned down, though the crowd was larger than any he had ever seen in that place. It looked like a lot of guests had decided to show up more for Suzaku's hospitality than the marriage feast.

Suzaku himself was surrounded by a small flock of live yokai girls, while some of the male guests were getting rather fresh with his automatons. They didn't seem to mind the fact that they were flirting with carefully crafted dolls brought magically to life rather than flesh and blood girls. The guests were so engrossed in the feast that only those who had been concerned about Conchobhar and Lien Hua's absence noticed when they came in. Father Asa's attention was divided between feeding the twins and conversation with the yokai next to him, and Conchobhar's parents were rather busy with each other. In fact, soon after Conchobhar and Lien Hua came in they left for a secluded room. Suzaku greeted Conchobhar and Lien Hua from the comfort of the warm bodies that surrounded him on a pillowed divan with smile and a raised wine glass, and Conchobhar's team mates gave a cheer and a toast that went around the room as others picked up on it. The music was loud and the food was good, and more than a few guests were dancing, while others were getting drunk or amorous with the dolls or their companions. Still it was far more tame than some parties Suzaku had thrown.

Conchobhar flopped on a couch and stuffed himself with as much food as he could to renew his energy. He encouraged Lien Hua to do the same, but she tired quickly and actually fell asleep on his shoulder half way through her meal. As soon as he finished eating, and long before the late night party was over, Conchobhar took Lien Hua off to their room to sleep soundly. Soon after they left the room so did Takumi, followed by Chikara with an arm firmly around a doll, taking her with him.

***

Late that night, in a remote part of Suzaku's palace where Takumi had chosen a room, the sounds of a fight could be heard. Chikara burst out of the room hissing profanities, and sent a razor wind in the direction of Takumi, who narrowly avoided it.

"Poor little Chikara," said Takumi in his suave voice. "It's not like you weren't warned."

Chikara swore profusely. "I will get even with you!" he hissed. "Mark my words! I will get even!" and he ran off down the hall.

Takumi shut the door and closed the folds of his kimono, tying the obi, before beginning to straighten the room. Then he reassembled the broken doll that Chikara had left behind. Taking one of his devices he reprogrammed her memories of the last few hours and sent her on her way.

***

That morning at breakfast Conchobhar and Lien Hua didn't appear as usual, and after a time Morrigan began to be concerned that something unexpected might have happened with her "gift" that she had left for Conchobhar. Just then one of the dolls came up to Suzaku.

"My master" she said with some urgency. "There is a great quantity of water in the hall that seems to be coming from the bridal suite, but the door is locked and there is no response!"

"What the heck is Conchobhar doing?" said Suzaku, as he got up immediately and ran to the bridal suite followed by Morrigan and Enma, and the few other guests who happened to be awake enough to come to breakfast. When they got there water was spurting from the cracks all around the door as if the room was completely full of it, and the hall had a good two inches of water on the floor. Enma quickly thrust his hands into the wall and yanked the door off of it releasing the pent up flood drenching anyone standing near by. A flotsam and jetsam of the couple's personal items came out of the room with the flood, including a lumpy tangled blanket. Takumi quickly reached into the water to retrieve a "bug", conscious of Morrigan's instant scrutiny.

The water subsided leaving the lumpy blanket in front of the door. Two of the larger lumps seemed to be alive and one was laughing uproariously in a childish voice. The more silent lump crawled out from under the blanket revealing a turquoise mobian echnida female. When she saw the crowd she pulled the blanket up to cover her chest embarrassed, even though there was nothing to see except pale blue fur. The other lump threw the blanket off, still laughing, revealing a very chibi Conchobhar. "That was fun!" he laughed in a child's voice. "Let's do it again!"

"I-I'm sorry," said the echnida. "I thought I had better control of my powers. I-I've made such a mess!" She began to cry.

The chibi Conchobhar hopped up on his little hoofed feet, and flicking the water off his tiny bat like wings, he trotted over to her and gave her a big hug. "Don't cry Edana. You're wet enough as it is. Suzaku won't mind, will you Suzu?"

Suzaku nearly collapsed in laughter. "You haven't called me Suzu since you were two years old, in fact you haven't been so small and cute since you were two!"

"I see that my gift worked well," said Morrigan with a smile. They really were so adorably cute together! Though Conchobhar was much differently proportioned than when he really was a child, more of an abnormal cuteness and size reduction imposed on his adult form than becoming a real child, he was undeniably cute in a very childish sort of way.

"Sure mom, it worked great!" he exclaimed holding up his right hand with the ruby ring on it, in a much reduced state.

"You are so deliciously adorable that way," said Takumi in a way that was rather creepy. He would have taken a picture of Conchobhar like that, but he would rather not attract attention to his covert activities. The Morrigan didn't miss much.

Conchobhar's eyebrows furrowed. "Continue with that line of thought, Takumi, and I will hurt you so bad!" he said. "Even in this form I'm strong enough to do just that." Turning to Lien Hua he said, "We'd better get changed for breakfast," and he led her back into the room, shielding her from embarrassment. He found some clothes for her that were less wet than the others, even though Suzaku offered a maid outfit that the dolls were wearing, and they went into another room of the suite to transform and change. Lien Hua's clothes might have been wet, but even so she felt more comfortable covered by them than wearing one of the outfits of the dolls.

Suzaku gave orders to his dolls to clean up the water and dry out all of the wet things in a room off of the central fires of the volcano, used for drying laundry, and to set a table for the soggy couple by the fire place in the banquet room and set a fire in it so that they could dry too. Most of the damp guests just went back to their rooms to change into something dry though.

Conchobhar ordered another picnic basket for the day and began to eat breakfast, as did Lien Hua. "So, where are we going today?" she asked. "I hope it's somewhere dry."

Conchobhar chuckled. "Is the desert dry enough for you Edana? I was thinking of going to the Sabakutani Desert. It would be a good place for the two remaining elements, earth and fire, don't you think?" She nodded in agreement. Soon they finished their breakfast, and mostly dry they took the picnic basket and left. Soon after Conchobhar's team, minus Chikara, also left. Father Asa came in and ate. On finding that Morrigan was going to be busy with Enma he decided to take the twins with him as he toured the villages.

Conchobhar and Lien Hua flew over the jungles of Minamichiku, generally following the Hebinaga River. When it took a right turn in the Higashichiku region they continued north, and a little west, to fly over an outcrop of the mountains of the central region to the Sabakutani Desert. Once there they settled on a sunny dune with a flat rock shelf, sheltered from the prevailing winds by standing stones, all up heaved by some previous battle. Whether it was because of the edict, or seeing Conchobhar with a 100 foot dragon, no one came anywhere near the two in that region known for battles. They rested a bit in the warmth of the sun after their long flight. Then Conchobhar asked Lien Hua to transform into her earth form. He said that he wanted to save the fire form for afterwards, as he knew that pursuing a fire oni would be long hard work, and he would rather rest at Lord Seiryu's feast after that.

Lien Hua obliged and activated her earth form. The lotus mark glowed brown and she transformed into a robot. An artificial skin covered her head and neck as well as her hands, and lustrous brown artificial hair hung down her back, but the rest of her body was enameled metal plates like bronze armor, or a shiny metallic brown sports car detailed with gold striping. Behind her ears were up swept sensory devices, looking like fantastic hair ornaments, and her brown eyes were merely colored glass orbs. Conchobhar was somewhat at a loss. She looked so much like a rather sophisticated doll, perhaps armored and armed for battle. He had never gone in for that sort of thing before, not even at Suzaku's house. Yet, somewhere in that plastic, glass, silicon, and metal were the souls of Lien Hua and Xin Le Hua.

"Where do I begin?" he said out loud.

"Activating 'Query Mode'," the robot responded. "Please state your questions as clearly as possible. What information do you require?"

"Lien Hua, are you in there?" said Conchobhar with concern. "You sound so cold and mechanical, like you're just a doll, maybe less than a doll."

"Your question is unclear," said the robot girl. "This is Query Mode. It is for the purpose of answering questions using the data stored within this unit by the owners, Lien Hua and Xin Le Hua, and by the Dragon Sage of Earth, Aecus. Personality and emotions have been disconnected from this mode for purpose of providing a clear answer. Please state your questions as clearly as possible. What information do you require?"

"I guess I really need to know more about how this form works," sighed Conchobhar. "It's a lot more complicated than a doll."

"You require information on how this unit functions?" said the robot.

"Yes, I do," he said.

"Repair Mode engaged," she said. Her body literally opened up in hundreds of places as metallic plates swung outward to reveal her internal structure. Metal bands swung out from the back of her head, parting and holding her hair, as the back of her skull swung open revealing amazingly sophisticated computer chips on layers of motherboards, the optical receptors at the back of her glass eyes, and the intricate servomechanisms that controlled the facial features, head movement, and the complex structures of the mouth. It seemed that she was even capable of eating, and various units in her torso could change the food into other forms. By questioning her he found that she could power herself with small quantities of food and convert the rest to fuel reserves, or even human milk that went through small tubes to realistic breasts that were behind protective metal plates. She even had the capacity to store male genetic material for future use, and house an embryo, infant, or developing dragon egg in her abdomen. This was in addition to an adamantium frame and plating, and the capacity of her right arm to become a photon cannon, a multiform shovel, a hammer, or a short blade. There were also odd runes inside her that she explained gave her the ability to manipulate rock, sand and earth. Altogether she was an amazing machine, complex, sturdy, and yet she weighed the same as the real girl. He was glad that she was made of such sturdy material though. He hadn't the foggiest notion how he could repair her if she got broken.

"You can close yourself up now," he said at last. "I've seen enough of your insides. What I need to know is how you function, intimately. I can't make love to a piece of unresponsive metal and rubber. I need something more real. I need my wife."

"Personal Mode and emotions will be restored when Query mode is disengaged," said the robot. "To activate Seduction Mode requires that the appropriate person, this unit's husband, touch this unit in a manner inappropriate for normal conduct. Once Seduction Mode is activated the information files on pleasuring techniques will be released into the psyche for the use of this unit."

"So, I just have to touch you like this?" he said, demonstrating.

"Yes, but only after Query mode has been disengaged," she said.

"Then disengage your Query mode already!" he said impatiently.

"Deactivating Query Mode," she said, then it was as if she awoke from a trance as her facial features became more animated and Lien Hua's more normal voice came from the robot body. "Did you find out what you wanted to know?" she asked.

"Don't you remember what I asked?" said Conchobhar.

She shook her head. "I never remember anything when I'm in Query mode," she said. "It's really weird, like there's stuff in my head that I'm not supposed to know or something."

"Well," he grinned, "you told me to do this." He touched her and she responded immediately. Numerous metal plates slid aside revealing warm synthetic flesh, as she began to seduce him. Conchobhar wondered about that old blind Dragon Sage when she used pleasure techniques on him that even he hadn't heard of. This certainly wasn't coming out of Lien Hua or Xin Le Hua's memories! For the first time in his life he had to tell the girl to quit because he was too tired out to continue.

He laid back a moment to rest before eating to replenish his energy. Lien Hua changed back to her normal self after standing down from Seduction Mode. Oddly enough she wasn't tired at all, since all of her energy had been supplied by a small atomic reactor. She was a little red in the face though. She probably wouldn't have done those things in any other form, and was more than a little embarrassed.

She unpacked the picnic basket for them while Conchobhar rested. "Did your robot body feel any of that? Do robots enjoy those kinds of things?" he asked. She turned beet red with embarrassment.

"Yes, every bit of it, and yes, they do, or at least that one does," she said.

"Good, I wanted to make sure you had fun too," he said getting up and starting to eat. "Though it looks like you'd rather keep some of those techniques for use in robot form only," he said seeing her embarrassment. "Don't worry," he said giving her a hug. "I like you no matter what."

***

An urgent knock came at the door to Enma and Morrigan's room. "If your Majesties will excuse me..." came the voice of Kagekiba, the head of the secret police.

"This had better be important," muttered Enma fastening his pants and opening the door. Morrigan threw her feathered cape around her.

"Sire," said the wolfish looking officer, bowing his scarred face, "one of the prince's team mates, Chikara, has reported that Takumi has been taking pornographic films and pictures of the prince and his bride. He admitted that it was begun as proof for a bet that the team had, but that the scope of Takumi's work far exceeded the bet. He said that he saw it himself last night in Takumi's room. No one has been in or out of the room since this morning. Knowing Takumi and his work, I thought that the Morrigan would want to be there to view the evidence and decide what will be done."

"You'd better handle this, my love," said Enma to Morrigan caressing her hair. "At this point I'd likely rip Takumi's head off and ask questions of his bleached skull afterwards. I'll just go do some office work until you are finished. I swear, when that son of mine gets settled down I'm going to hand everything over to him for a week and take a vacation from these god forsaken yokai and spend it with you in some remote place where no one will bother us!" With that he took his belt, crown, and robe and strode down the hall.

"Just give me a moment," said Morrigan to Kagekiba as she shut the door. So, Takumi had been picking up a recording device from the water this morning. She dressed quickly and rejoined Kagekiba. "So, what's the situation?" she said walking quickly down the hall with the head of the secret police.

"We searched the prince's room and found nothing," said Kagekiba.

"As to be expected, after the flood this morning. Besides, I'm pretty sure I saw him pick the device up," she said.

Kagekiba nodded. "He has served us as a special operative before. I had hoped I would never have to investigate him this way, especially considering his friendship with the prince. We have his room secured, but have not entered it, in case there are traps. Chikara said that there was also a doll who witnessed everything, though Takumi broke her at one point. Lord Suzaku says that all of the dolls are accounted for and is in the process of identifying the one that is the witness. Oh, and one point of interest, Chikara has officially quit Conchobhar's team and has signed up with another. It is possible that his accusations are merely to get even with Takumi for some reason, but I doubt that he is stupid enough to make false accusations. More than likely he would have covered for Takumi's crime if something had not happened to cause a breach in their relationship."

"More than likely," said Morrigan. "The others are probably covering for it too. I need to know more about Takumi's motivations in all this. Well, here we are," she said as they came to the door guarded by garudas. She touched the door, sensing it and the connecting wall to see if it any traps had been set. There were none so she opened the door and entered with Kagekiba. On the surface there seemed to be nothing wrong with the room, but both her eyes and Kagekiba's picked up details that might have escaped others, like the tiny camera on the wall and the nearly instant sparks that obliterated it and other minute objects, and the faint smell of flash burned film. Morrigan swore silently to herself. There had been a trap, and whatever evidence that might have been was toast. "Collect the burned out bugs and film and see if it can be analyzed," she sighed. "There is enough here in spite of Chikara's bias to warrant further investigation."

Kagekiba wrinkled his nose. "I think I know why Chikara ratted on Takumi."

"Takumi didn't have time to cover all of the signs of the fight, or the telltale smell," said Morrigan, "but then they are both grown men. Who would have cared what they did to each other?"

Kagekiba shook his head. "Takumi knows better than to make enemies of potential allies that way. What could make him miscalculate like that? His obsessions have never made him abandon reason before. That's what makes him so formidable in the tournaments."

Suzaku came in with a doll, more than a little ticked off. "Takumi did such a professional job repairing the doll and reprogramming her memory that it took a while to find the right one, but here she is. If you get around to talking to him about this, tell him that he's not welcome here anymore. I don't like people messing with my things and spying in my house like that. I get enough trouble in my work. My house is my haven and he violated that! Now I'll have to start implementing harsher security measures."

"Thank you for your help, Suzaku," said Morrigan graciously, then she turned back to Kagekiba. "Have the doll analyzed too. If he was doing this for a bet, he should have evidence on him. Do you know where they are meeting?"

"Yes, I do," said Kagekiba. "Chikara volunteered that too."

"Take some people there and search him," said Morrigan. "Try not to let him destroy the evidence. I'll take some others and search his house."

"Right!" said the officer showing his fangs.

***

Takumi and the others were gathered in the jungle, viewing the latest set of pictures. "These are really boring, except maybe the ones of the fox girl, but I'm not really into furries," said Ryoga.

"Chikara thought so too. I had to show him the films from yesterday as compensation," said Takumi, "especially since all they did was sleep last night."

"So where is Chikara anyway?" asked Kenka.

"He didn't see any point in coming," Takumi said, not telling the full truth. "After all, he did lose the bet."

"Chances are that you and Akuma will win," said Ryoga. "He did the hedgehog thing this morning, so there's only two left."

"He was so adorable this morning, laughing in a puddle of water like that" laughed Akuma, I could have just hugged him to death! Too bad your under water pictures are so blurry."

"Why Akuma, I didn't think you were into that sort of thing!" said Takumi in mock horror.

"Like you're one to talk!" she said, flicking back her dark hair. "I saw the way you eyed him, and so did he!"

Takumi felt a light vibration come from the hand held device tucked in his kimono. He pulled it out and saw the Morrigan and Kagekiba in the room he had occupied that night. Swearing silently he pushed a button that would destroy all evidence, and switched the bug on Conchobhar and Lien Hua to send a live feed to the device. "Would anyone care to see what a robot doll can do?" he said looking at the screen. Ryoga and Kenka came over. Takumi collected the photos and quickly burned them.

"Wow," said Ryoga, "I never knew a doll could do that!"

Kenka whistled as he watched, carefully keeping Ryoga between Takumi and himself. Akuma even came over. "I didn't know that innocent little thing had it in her," she commented taking mental note of the techniques used.

"I suspect she's had advanced programming," said Takumi. "My customers would love to see her in action."

***

Morrigan entered Takumi's house, disengaging a few deadly traps, and less deadly spy devices. A brief search was made in the general living areas before she set the officers she brought with her to going through Takumi's extensive video and photo files. She herself went looking for secret caches. She never realized how much porn Takumi dealt with legally.

Unlocking secret locks she entered a workshop area and disengaged a host of devices used for spying, handing them over to an officer to take back for analysis. She found a secret cache, and disengaging the traps she opened it to see freshly burned film. It was obvious that their presence had been detected, and the evidence had been remotely destroyed. She gave the remains to an officer and searched the rest of the house finding nothing, except a picture of Conchobhar in the bottom of a clothing drawer. The picture had been taken at a hot spring a long time ago, when Conchobhar was just a rising star in the Dark Tournaments, but not quite a champion. There was evidence that other members of Conchobhar's old team had also been in there, but the picture had been enlarged and cropped so that it only showed Conchobhar. While not strictly illegal the implications of the photo disturbed her, so she took it.

"We've finished looking through the files and have found no contraband," said an officer, a kitsune, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

"And it's likely that Kagekiba won't find any either," Morrigan muttered. "We've found everything we're going to. Let's go." As they left she made a mental note to have Takumi shadowed for awhile, not so that he could tell that he was shadowed, and that would be the hard part.

***

Takumi took time to check his other bugs on the hand held while Conchobhar and Lien Hua ate lunch, and the others joked about their exploits. He saw Morrigan enter his work room and the devices there stopped sending signals. He switched everything over to his hand held and activated the destruct to his private cache of porn, swearing silently at Morrigan. He was alert to the possibility that they might be caught where they were, since Morrigan obviously suspected him of something. Likely Chikara was to blame for that. He did swear to get even, but Takumi hadn't banked on him ratting out the whole team and perhaps destroying Chikara's own chance at becoming champion.

He he sent out perimeter sensors then set the device to destroy the bug observing Conchobhar and Lien Hua at the touch of a button, and to switch to another that was observing a rival teams practice battles. Then told the rest of the team that they should play along if that should happen because he was concerned about their bet being found out. They agreed just as Lien Hua turned into a fire oni with red skin, flaming hair and red eyes, a single horn on her forehead, fangs, and claws on her hands and feet. Her shapely, but well muscled body was clad only in a tattered animal skin, and her attitude was just as fiery as her hair.

"Oh, this will be good!" laughed Akuma. "A fire oni! He'll have to battle her into submission before she mates with him." Sure enough, Lien Hua's oni form made a traditional come on, and when Conchobhar responded, she attacked with skill and ferocity. Conchobhar was prepared though and countered. The battle raged intensely and the team followed it on the screen with more than a little professional interest. Even Ichiban was allowed to watch this one. They were so intent on the battle that they were unaware of Kagekiba's approach and were surprised by the sudden change on the screen to another battle. Before they could respond Kagekiba had cuffed Takumi and taken charge of the device. The other members were also rendered immobile as Kagekiba searched Takumi's person thoroughly. Another officer found the ashes of the burned photos and retrieved them.

"Do you want to take me in to make a more thorough search?" Takumi said suggestively.

"I doubt if we'd find anything we didn't already know," said Kagekiba. "I'll be taking this. You'll get it back if we don't find anything important." He pocketed Takumi's device and turned to the others. "Don't bother feigning innocence or indignance. Chikara told us what you were doing. What you did to him last night must have ticked him off big time," he said to Takumi, mostly for the other's benefit. More than once someone had turned over evidence or a gave him a lead out of anger. "I hear he's even quit the team and joined another because of you. You'd better watch your back, Takumi," he said releasing him, "but then that's what you do best. Still, you're getting into dangerous territory here, and not just because of Chikara's vengeance either." He saw that the others weren't about to do, or admit anything, at least not while he was there, so he had the others released and he and his officers withdrew. Yokai like these had ways of settling problems like this with just a little encouragement. Ichiban looked at Takumi in horror, obviously understanding a lot more than the others gave him credit for, and then took off after Kagekiba.

Ryoga grabbed Takumi by the front of his robe cursing. "Just what did you do to Chikara?!" he growled.

"Does he really have to spell it out to you, Ryoga?" said Kenka in disgust. "I warned Chikara, but I never thought Takumi would take it that far with someone who wasn't willing. I've known him to take it pretty far, but not that far. Chikara wouldn't have quit the team and gone to the police for anything less though."

Ryoga dropped Takumi. "The bet's over," he said taking out a bag of helions and tossing half of them at Takumi, "if Kenka and Ichiban don't mind..."

"I don't," said Kenka, "and Ichiban's already bugged out. Besides, he and Akuma would have won anyway. A willing fire oni is no real contest, especially not against Conchobhar. I'm going to Baka Sakaba. I feel like a drink and a brawl. I may or may not see you at the feast."

Ryoga handed the bag with the rest of the helions to Akuma. "I'll see you later?"

"Yeah, sure," she said as he left. She turned to Takumi. "Why, Takumi? Why did you have to provoke Chikara and destroy the team?" she said, pocketing the coins. "Even if Conchobhar had found out about the bet he would just have pounded us and made us apologize. It wouldn't have broken up the team. Who knows what he will do when he finds out about this."

"I thought you wanted to kill him?" said Takumi coldly.

"Yes and no," she said. "I am a woman as well as a mazoku. What do you expect? But now I probably won't even have the opportunity to do that, thanks to you!" She turned to the emaciated woman silently observing everything. " Come on Ekibyo! I feel like playing with poison today. Maybe we can work on some of your attacks."

"Fine with me," said Ekibyo monotonously as she followed Akuma.

Left alone Takumi gathered up the gold coins. He would need them to replace some of his equipment that was destroyed. He crushed several of the coins together as he thought about the things he couldn't replace.
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Re: Takumi's Story

Post by Mamma Peach »

The Calm Before ...

Lien Hua used some of the sweet smelling oil from her skin to heal the wounds she had inflicted on Conchobhar. She felt guilty about it even though he said not to worry, that he enjoyed a good friendly fight, and that the ending had made it all worthwhile. It didn't seem right to fight like that, but as a fire oni she had actually reveled in inflicting pain and resisting his advances as much as she had enjoyed him ravishing her. It was confusing to say the least. She would have thought that there was something really perverted in her if it wasn't for the bit of knowledge that the fight would have gone quite differently if anyone but Conchobhar had tried to approach her. Of course Conchobhar had been able to subdue her without even scratching her. As much as the oni form confused her sense of morals, it was obvious that she needed to work with it more.

As they were patching up and getting ready to go the short distance past Morrigan's "castle" to Seiryutaki for the evening feast, the huge gold and purple dragon form of Emperor Chang An and the peach and white gold accented form of his sister, De Zhen, flanked by an honor guard of garudas, was flying the longer route from the western gate up the Hebinaga River to the same place, just a little ahead of the couple.

The northern end of the Higashichiku region was more forest than jungle, and the flowers and foliage were in a spring time green. At the head of the Hebinaga was the great falls, Seiryutaki, falling hundreds of feet into a deep pool in the flower strewn meadows of the mountain chain's foothills. High at the top of the falls was a crystal clear lake surrounded by hanging gardens and winding paths. The lake continually filled itself and overflowed in a stream that flowed under an arched bridge, through rocky fingers, and down the sheer cliffs in the falls of Seiryutaki. At the opposite side of the lake was a Japanese style castle nestled in a cleft of the mountains, and surrounded by ever blooming gardens. The castle was painted a soft light blue that shone like the sky against the mountains just to be reflected again in the lake, and its multiple peaked roofs were tiled in a brilliant peacock blue. Cherry blossom petals seemed to drift everywhere. The whole thing had an almost idyllic fairy tale air about it.

Lien Hua changed back into human form at the front gate and they entered Lord Seiryu's simple and austere, yet still rich and elegant abode. They were escorted by an elderly but elegant kodama (tree spirit) into the great hall. The large room had been furbished with low tables, cushions, and dividing screens, all very elegant and simple, for the feast. The music of the koto and flute drifted through the hall as food and drink was served by demure wispy kazeonna and leafy kodama. The screens provided privacy for the guests, many of whom were more refined than the guests that had shown up for the feast at Suzaku's place. It also meant that Conchobhar never even had the opportunity to notice that three of his team members were missing, or that Kenka was completely tanked and was sporting two black eyes and some broken ribs. Even Akuma and Ryoga were not quite themselves, with Akuma getting nearly as drunk as Kenka after finding that Ichiban had also quit the team and joined another, and Ryoga having to be responsible and sober for both of them. He was glad that Conchobhar hadn't seen them. It was like their whole world was falling apart. Of course Ekibyo was as depressing as ever.

Lien Hua and Conchobhar were led to the head tables at which Enma, Morrigan, Lord Seiryu and Father Asa were sitting, along with Lord Byakko. (Suzaku had begged off, having to deal with the fall out from his own party, and Lord Genbu hadn't attended since the first night, being rather reclusive.) What surprised them the most was seeing Lien Hua's father and aunt sitting there with Lord Seiryu. The meal was pleasant and Lien Hua was happy to see her father. They talked about the family and all of the progress that was being made. The Emperor was glad to see that his daughter was doing so well. It eased his mind to see that he had guessed right about matching Lien Hua to Conchobhar. At one point the conversation had turned to Lien Hua's new brother and sister learning to take on human form. Lord Seiryu asked why this was encouraged so early in life and Aunt De Zhen explained that it had been discovered that the baby dragons fed on mother's milk rather than meat, as had previously been the custom for dragons from the beginning and still was for many dragon kinds, were more calm and gentle as they grew to adulthood. She even recounted the story of the dragoness who started this practice, of having newly hatched dragons assume human form and drink milk, because she had married a human and had tried to hide her true nature, and the nature of her children, from his friends and relatives, thus ensuring that her children lived a long life.

The evening passed quickly and soon it was time to retire. Emperor Chang An bade farewell to his daughter, sister, and hosts, as he had to head back to Aleriand early. Lien Hua was again surprised to find out that her Aunt was staying. Her stay at home aunt who never went anywhere was staying over night in Demon World! The guests were shown to their rooms, those of higher rank staying in the top floors of the main building, and lower ranks in outlying buildings. Before Morrigan went to the room set aside for Enma and herself, she met with Kagekiba to get his report. Takumi had been followed without doing anything very notable beyond making a few normal purchases, normal for him anyway, until he had taken refuge with Lord Genbu. The daimyo had requested that they cease shadowing his guest, on the condition that he would vouch for Takumi's behavior while in his boundaries. Morrigan sighed and told Kagekiba to comply. It wasn't the first time the reclusive daimyo had made such a request, and he had always kept a tight control on his own region. It usually worked better to humor him anyway. Takumi would be successful in evading the law for now. She hoped that this was the end of the matter, and nothing more serious than the contraband filming would surface, but she had a nagging feeling that this was just the tip of an iceberg. Putting aside the thought she went to her room and to Enma's arms.

Conchobhar turned to Lien Hua after sliding their door shut and kissed her. "There is only one form left, and it is probably the most important one to you personally. It is the form that held you when you were newly hatched, the first form you learned to assume and from which you took your first food. It is the form you have worn nearly all of your life and have had your most memorable life experiences in. It is even the form that you took beyond the grave and returned to the world of the living in. You may have been born a dragon, and carry dragon's blood in your veins, but if you were to think of yourself, you would likely think of yourself as you are now, in human form. I saved this for last and I want it to be special, just for you. You should choose which of my forms you want for tonight, though I really only have two that are suitable. If you were to have married one of your own kind he would have come to you in human form, so I thought you might prefer my fay form, even though fays aren't exactly human. Anyway you choose."

Lien Hua had never considered what he had said, about her preferring her human form. She realized that he was right. For millennia her family had tried to achieve a completely human lifestyle. Though the human form was not quite human, it had become the definition of who they were as a people, not completely human and not completely dragon, but a hybrid of the two, spanning the best of two worlds. She also realized for the first time that human blood, though only a small amount, flowed through the family line as well, a part of her ancestor's attempt to bridge the gap between humans and dragons in ancient Primavaldia. In reality she hadn't just become a conglomerate being at the time she accepted the dragon sword, she was born one. After what seemed like a rather long time to Conchobhar she replied. "This is the form you identify with most," she said laying her hand on his feathered chest. "So I will choose this one." He was pleased.

Compared to the other times this one was short, but Conchobhar knew what she really liked by now and she was content. Sometime later Xin Le Hua awoke snuggled in Conchobhar's arms. She quickly went over Lien Hua's memories from the time she fell asleep during lunch till Lien Hua fell asleep. She found the rampant wild emotions of the fire oni even more disturbing than Lien Hua had, and was glad that she had slept through it. The orderly, logical, emotions of the robot form appealed more to her, not only that but the robot form considered her a "co-owner" and allowed her the kind of access to that form that she didn't enjoy with any of the others.

Quietly she slipped out of bed, trying not to disturb her sleeping husband, and dressed. She felt the sunekosuri, Daifuku, rub against her legs, and reached down, picked it up, and began playing with it. Conchobhar sat up, watching her, and threw his legs over the edge of the marriage bed. Daifuku jumped off her lap and ran over to Conchobhar, rubbing against his legs.

"Sorry," she said, "I didn't mean to wake you."

"That's all right," said Conchobhar petting the sunekosuri. "I have time for you too, you know."

"I know," she said. Looking at him sitting there on the bed brought out feelings of desire that she didn't know she had. She stood and came toward him. "You know, I remember every one of the robot form's techniques... and I don't feel embarrassment at all." Daifuku retreated under the bed as she climbed in it. The sunekosuri knew from experience that this was the time to stay out of the way.

***

In the morning, Lien Hua and Conchobhar joined Lord Seiryu, Aunt De Zhen, and Father Asa at the head table for breakfast. Lord Seiryu explained that Enma and Morrigan had already left early for Morrigan's "castle" for the day, and didn't want to be disturbed. He also said that Lien Hua's father had left something for her. "Your father said that you had left this behind," he said producing a large sword in its red gold scaled sheath from under the table. "He said that while you had no use for it Aleriand, you might find need of it in Demon World."

"This is the sword I forged with the knowledge I had gained from Brigid! I showed it to Tejas while you were recovering after entering the Temple of Heaven," she said to Conchobhar. She was silent for a moment as she fingered the jewels on the cross guard. "Even though I made it for my use, I want you to have it," she said handing it to Conchobhar. "I know you prefer energy weapons or your own strength and claws, but you could have used a weapon like this back when you fought Daraku's men. They wouldn't have been able to stop you if you'd had a sword like this. So please take it, as a gift from me."

Conchobhar received the sword, and drew it part way out of it's sheath. The runes on the blade glowed brightly like fire, and the blade gave off a low thrumming sound, like a dragon's purr. "It says that it's name is Giolla Lasair, and that it was waiting for me," he said in awe.

"That is indeed a special blade, made by a master sword smith," said Lord Seiryu. "Only the great legendary blades crafted by gifted masters and wielded by great swordsmen carried their own names and spirits."

"This is a magnificent gift, Edana," said Conchobhar re-sheathing the sword and putting it down next to him. "And you are an amazing woman," he said kissing her. Lien Hua blushed.

"So Father," said Conchobhar to Father Asa, "are you planning to go out to do more work today?"

"Actually there is nothing left for me to do," said Father Asa. "I thought dat I would enjoy dis land a bit while I can. I was particularly wondering about the lake in front of your castle, Lord Seiryu. I haf never been able to enjoy swimming, among a number of things for obvious reasons, and I was wondering if the lake was ever used for dat purpose."

"The lake is often used for swimming, boating, fishing, or just for viewing," said Lord Seiryu. "You are welcome to use it, or anything else here."

"Thank you, Lord Seiryu," said Father Asa.

"I haven't been swimming since Mermaid Beach," said Conchobhar. "I haven't anything special planned today. Why don't we join you?"

"Dat would be nice," said Father Asa. Just then the babies woke up and began to cry. Father Asa checked their diapers and began feeding them. It looked rather awkward for him to be giving two bottles of milk to two babies at once, but somehow he managed.

"It must be difficult for you to care for two infants all alone," said Aunt De Zhen.

"At times it is," laughed Father Asa, "but I manage, and others haf helped from time to time. The truth is," he said more seriously, "they will not be infants for long. I haf had them only a short time... they were newborns just one month ago and now they are as big as a baby six months old. If Morrigan had not put a spell on them while we were here, they would be unexplainably older when we return to the same time and place dat we left. She also made it so dat they would grow more slowly through childhood, being able to enjoy it longer. My brother and I grew nearly to adulthood in the space of a single year. I had very little childhood. Though these children shall haf a bit more, it will still be shorter than other children, especially at the beginning. I want what little time they haf as children to be full of good memories, and I want to be close to them."

'Still, it would be difficult to raise children without a wife," said Lord Seiryu touching on his own painful memories.

"I gave dat idea up long ago," said Father Asa. "Any woman who joined herself to me would haf such suffering in her life as no one should ever haf, because of my enemies. Dat is why I became a priest and took a vow of celibacy. It will be hard enough on these children, who share the same blood and power as my brother and myself. It has been good, for once, to be in a land where I did not haf to worry about my enemies. Perhaps by the time these children are grown the gateways will be open enough dat I can come here with them again."

----
After breakfast Lien Hua changed into the swim suit that had been packed with her things. Father Asa asked Lord Seiryu if there were some swimming trunks he could borrow, but the azure dragon was unused to the concept of swimming clothes. He took Father Asa to see Kuyamu, a jorogumo (spider woman) who wove cloth and sewed clothing under Lord Seiryu's orders. She was a convict. She had murdered and eaten the father of her children, a crime that usually carried the penalty of death, but her remorse had been so great, as well as the need of her numerous young children for a mother, that Lord Seiryu pleaded on her behalf and got her sentence reduced to life imprisonment. From her cell in his castle she wove cloth as a form of self imposed penance, and was allowed to see to the needs of her children. After hearing Father Asa's description of swimming trunks she quickly cut some blue cloth and sewed a pair for him. Father Asa also spent a good deal of time talking to her about her condition, her children, and her future. As he left with the swimming trunks he promised to come back and talk with her again before he left.

Lien Hua and Conchobhar were already in the lake swimming when Father Asa showed up, his skin as pale as something from under a rock. It was obvious that if he had ever gone without a shirt and long pants, it was a very long time ago. He carried the sleeping twins in a basket and set them on the shore under a tree where the kodama of that tree looked after them as they slept, before joining Lien Hua and Conchobhar. Though father Asa knew the basics of swimming, he had never been able to do it simply for recreation. Conchobhar gave him some tips and showed him how to use his wings to swim and dive deep. The lake had a very deep bottom, but none of the predators that frequented other bodies of water in Demon World.

Lien Hua was glad to see Father Asa enjoy his physical strength and agility rather than down play it and pretend that it didn't exist, like he did to his wings. He seemed to be happier than she had ever seen him, simply enjoying what he was and the gifts that he had been given. Likewise, when she caught glimpses of her aunt as she walked and conversed with Lord Seiryu in the gardens, she saw that her aunt was also enjoying herself for once. It was as if the springtime of Lord Seiryu's castle infused everything with happiness, though she was sure that it wasn't always that way there.

Eventually the babies cried and Father Asa tended to them and then watched them play in the grass as his wings dried, and Lien Hua and Conchobhar sported in the water. He kept careful watch on the infants as they explored everything around them, making sure that nothing went into their mouths that shouldn't. The air was cool and the sun was warm. He almost wished that time could stand still, but instead he just enjoyed the moment, singing softly to himself.

At noon Lord Seiryu and Lien Hua's aunt came to the lake bearing food, and set out a picnic for them. Conchobhar and Lien Hua dried off and came to eat, being quite hungry, as was Father Asa. They noticed that his skin had taken on a healthier tan since that morning, no doubt an effect of his body's ability to adjust. He looked rather nice, and quite natural to the setting. The conversation was light and cheerful, and even Aunt De Zhen seemed to be relaxed. Some of the other guests could be seen boating on the lake or enjoying the gardens too, not Conchobhar's team though. They had long since left for other places. Eventually the babies went to sleep again and Father Asa went back to the water with Conchobhar and Lien Hua, while De Zhen watched them as she sat next to Lord Seiryu.

The sun began to get lower and all of the guests began to leave. The swimmers got out of the water and quickly went to their rooms to change. Father Asa also took time to keep his promise to Kuyamu. Most of Lien Hua's things had already been packed up and were being loaded into a cart for transport, and after she finished dressing the rest was loaded as well. Lord Seiryu gave Lien Hua and De Zhen silk over robes that were quilted and filled with down to keep them warm on the last part of the night's journey and gallantly helped them into the carriage that he had waiting for them, just as the cart with Lien Hua and Conchobhar's things left. Then he waited for Father Asa and the babies to enter and Conchobhar to sit beside Lien Hua before entering himself and sitting next to De Zhen. He explained to the ladies that the domain of Lord Genbu, the Kitachiku region, was the region of winter, and though it would be bitterly cold it still had many wonders, and things to enjoy. Then he gave the signal for the carriage to take off.

They flew over the lake and the thundering falls, glittering in the sun as it neared the west beyond the central mountains. In fact they had to shield their eyes until it went behind Hinomiyama, the volcano of the central mountains, as they were headed west until they went past Shiro no Morrigan through the Sabakutani desert. Then turning north at the gap between the central mountains and Morrigan's castle, they flew over the lower part of lake Korimizuko and across the vast frozen lands of Lord Genbu till they came to the upper part of the elongated lake with its eye like island, Genbushima, and the squat frozen fortress that was Genbu's house. Lord Seiryu explained that much of the house was actually underground and that it contained one of the best natural hot springs in the land. He said that they would be quite comfortable there.

Huge double doors opened as the coach approached to let it enter a large coach house. When it came to a stop Lord Seiryu and Conchobhar left the coach and helped the women and Father Asa with his bundle of infants out. Then Lord Seiryu led them through the elegant, but slightly confusing complex, to the main hall which had been set up for the feast. Enma and Morrigan were already waiting at the main table with Lord Suzaku, and a couple of his female "friends", Lord Byakko, and some notable lords and elders. Lord Genbu was seated by himself wearing the black silk formal robes of a lord with Takumi at his side dressed in a dark colored kimono looking uncharacteristically uncomfortable. What was left of Conchobhar's team was seated further away with the other guests, mostly among competitors in the Dark Tournaments. Venomous looks went in Takumi's direction when Lord Genbu wasn't looking, but then Takumi wasn't looking in that direction either. His attention was divided between Lord Genbu and the main table. It was a rather unusual event for Lord Genbu to open his house to such a large gathering, but he provided well for his guests in style, while maintaining his distance. The meal was quietly served by a group of yukionna, drafted for the occasion as his usual servants were rather reptilian, though reptile guards could be seen along the walls in case anyone decided to get rowdy.

During the meal Conchobhar and Father Asa talked about plans for the next day's fun, and Morrigan asked if she could take the twins with her as she had to run some errands to prepare for the following day and wanted to spend some time with them before they had to leave for good. Father Asa agreed. The twins were far too young to have any real fun with snow, and he knew she would take good care of them. It appealed to his sense of whimsy to think of her as their fairy godmother. Conchobhar even invited his team members to join in the snow fun in the morning, not noticing that anything was wrong with them since they had recovered from the initial shock of what had happened. At the end of the meal Conchobhar and Lien Hua retired to their room contented.

***

After breakfast Lien Hua dressed in some practical, warm winter clothing that Morrigan had given her before taking off with Enma and Father Asa's twins to see what work needed to be done on Kiryu's castle, and who would do the work. Aunt De Zhen had flown with Lord Seiryu to view the spectacular ice caverns, wearing elegant winter robes and fur shoes that Lord Seiryu managed to get from Lord Genbu.

As Lien Hua dressed she remembered the winter clothing that the women from Father Asa's church had given to her last winter in Falcon 6 Town. She also remembered how cold it was when she had come back from the dead, and how she had stumbled barefoot to the cafe. No one seemed to pay attention to her at first, but Grizelda had been very kind. She also remembered getting drunk on hot cocoa and Tejas having to carry her home. That was embarrassing. It was shortly after that time that she found the Dragon Sword, with Tejas's help, and her life became immeasurably complicated, leading to her departure a little after New Year's. It was hard to believe that just a couple of months in Falcon 6 Town had irrevocably changed her life like that. She wondered if her stay there had impacted anyone in Locura beyond Father Asa and Tejas's group. Of course there was also Xela, who she saved from some horrible experiment, though she never found out what happened to her after that last war. She even wondered about About Ruki and the children Ruki had turned into digimon.

Conchobhar came up behind her and gave her a hug. "You look lost in thought," he said.

"Yes," she said leaning against his strong body. "I was just thinking of my last winter, in Falcon 6 Town. I was wondering if, in all of the things that happened, I had any positive influence on the world at all."

"You'd be surprised at what even a little could do," he said. "Remember, you spent far less time in Demon World, and look at what has happened as a result." He kissed the back of her neck. "Let's go join the others." he led her through the labyrinth of halls to the outside and the snowy hills where the others were waiting.
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Mamma Peach
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Re: Takumi's Story

Post by Mamma Peach »

Desperate Measures

Takumi met Akuma in the hall on her way out. He was careful about making sure no one else was around when he approached her.

Akuma wanted to lash out at him, releasing all of her frustration, but there was something in his attitude, a kind of vicious desperation like that of a cornered animal, that made her hold her tongue and act civil. The last thing she wanted to do was have a fight in Lord Genbu's house. Lord Genbu was not a forgiving man, and had ways of making people he hated suffer. She had also seen how Genbu had lavished attention on Takumi at dinner last night. It wasn't hard to guess what their relationship was. "What do you want," she said coldly.

"In a way, I want the same thing as you," he said smoothly with some urgency. "There is still time. We could end it now and everything will go back to normal."

"End what?" said Akuma. He wasn't even making sense.

"End Conchobhar's marriage, of course," he replied. "If that woman leaves him, and the week is incomplete, all those fancy promises will be for nothing. His marriage will be ended, and the treaty will be broken. Conchobhar will be free from his duties to pursue the things he used to. The team will be saved and you can pursue him again, like before. All you have to do is show these to that dark one, Xin Le Hua, and it will be over." He showed her a stack of photos, the last of his personal stash of porn that he had kept hidden away in a secret location. Each was a photo of Conchobhar with a different girlfriend, spanning many, many years of time. There was even one of Akuma and Conchobhar in the heat of passion. She quickly snatched that one from him before he could react. How dare he... she inwardly seethed.

"You..." she hissed. "It was you that made Chikara and Ichiban leave. You're the one destroying the team!"

"Yes, I made a mistake with Chikara," he said casually dismissing the incident, "but Chikara and Ichiban can be replaced, Conchobhar can't. Do you think he's really going to have time for the Dark Tournaments and the training he needs to do for it, once he is settled down? He will not only have to care for that woman's needs, but her children, her family... He will have to become a government worker, slaving for his father and also for hers. He won't have time for us any more. We have to end it now! Besides, once she is gone he will be lonely. It would be easy for you to win him back for yourself."

"No," she said crumpling the picture of herself and Conchobhar and setting it on fire. "I don't know what your game is, but I'm not playing. I could have had Conchobhar back then if I wanted. I was the one who kept skipping the 5th night to avoid commitment, but then you probably know that too. He's happy now with his wife. I refuse to destroy him for my own selfish reasons. That's the difference between us. I actually care about that idiot, and about the team, even if I did want to kill him at one time. I don't want to loose what we have for something that never could be. You seem to be set to destroy everything. Just remember that Morrigan and Enma are involved with this. If what you do impacts the nation, Lord Genbu will side with them, not you." She didn't even let him reply. She just walked quickly down the hall and outside.

***

When Lien Hua and Conchobhar reached the snow covered hills where they had arranged to meet, Father Asa, Akuma, Ryoga, Kenka, and a dozen assorted yokai, most of whom had competed in the Dark Tournaments, were already there. Ekibyo, not being interested, had gone somewhere else.

"Here they are!" said Father Asa when they arrived. He was wearing his old coat, as well as some gloves, but without hiding his wings. "Conchobhar, I think dat we haf enough for two good teams. You and Lien Hua should be on one team and I should be on the other with Akuma. The rest can be divided between us."

"Good idea, Father," said Conchobhar. "It would be rather unfair to have both of us on the same team, but I'm not sure your lifting ability is as good as an oni. You had better take Ryoga, while Kenka will be on our team."

Some of the yokai began whispering about Father Asa when Akuma expressed what they were thinking. "Are you really that strong, that you could seriously think yourself a match for Conchobhar?" she said in disbelief.

"We shall see," laughed Father Asa. "I haf never had the opportunity to compete in a sport with those who are of my level of strength before. Dis is a new experience for me."

They quickly chose up the rest of the yokai there into their two teams. Father Asa deferred to Akuma's preferences, as he did not know the others and she did, Though it was pretty clear that the winged priest was the default leader of the team.

"All right," said Conchobhar. "Now for the rules of the competition. There will be two phases, a building phase and a fighting phase. For the building part each team will have one hour to build a fortress of snow. Ice may be used if the team wishes, but the bulk of the fortress must be snow. The fortresses will be judged on two qualities, beauty and durability. The beauty will be informally voted on by everyone at the end of the hour, and the durability... well that will be decided by the fighting, as to how well it stands up to attacks. The fortress will count for half of the the team's total score. The fighting phase will be carried out entirely with snow balls. No weapons, either physical or energy, will be used, and no hand to hand combat or projectiles other than snow balls. Barriers must also be of ice or snow, no energy shields or shielding with wings or other appendages, or of other substances like metal or rock. This is a snow ball fight. If any part of a snow ball connects with your body, not your limbs, just your core body and head, then a point is counted against your team. Father Asa and I will keep track of the points, and our decision will be final. A team can end the game if it declares a truce, but if nether team declares a truce the game will end at four hours before sundown, to give us all time to go to the hot springs if we want and to get to the feast at Lord Byakko's place. Does everyone understand the rules?"

"You didn't mention when we would get lunch," said a tanuki rubbing his ample belly.

Conchobhar grinned. "The teams will have to send out someone, or a group, to retrieve supplies for the team around lunch time. Of course the people they send will have little or no cover, and will be subject to attack."

"Fair enough," replied the tanuki.

"Father Asa, you take that hill over there, and we'll take that one over there," said Conchobhar as he pointed out two hills that were just within throwing distance of each other. "We begin now!"

The two teams scrambled for their respective hills, and after some initial planning they began to work on their fortresses. Father Asa's knowledge of medieval architecture and his artistic talent contributed a lot to his team's designs, as did Lien Hua's talents contribute to hers. At one point Father Asa disappeared from the group several times and returned with a nine foot blocks of ice carved from the lake miles away. Manifesting his scythe Tod (death) he carefully carved the blocks of ice into angels that adorned the outer walls of the snow fortress. It was a joy to use his weapons and strength for such peaceful purposes. The other yokai on his team curiously watched his abilities with the eyes of trained warriors. Akuma was actually surprised. She reminded herself again not to judge a person's strength by his appearance, or even his passivity.

The hour passed quickly and Conchobhar called the teams to a halt. The teams toured each other's surprisingly massive, for snow forts anyway, structures. Afterwards the teams got together and Father Asa's team was declared the winner of the most beautiful fort category, but it remained to be seen which was the strongest, as a number of yokai on Conchobhar's team pointed out. Then everyone returned to their fortress and the signal was given for the war to begin.

Father Asa took batches of pre made snowballs at great speed and pelted the opposing team from the air, until Lien Hua went into her echnida form and created an ice roof to protect them. Then Conchobhar's team rigged a device that fired hundreds of snowballs at once. There were so many snowballs in the air that in spite of Father Asa's great speed he was instantly turned into a flying snowman. Then Ryoga sent a huge snowball crashing in on Conchobhar's team shattering the ice roof and dousing them all with snow. Conchobhar's team retaliated in kind, and soon the air was full of flying snowballs of all sizes. Lien Hua and the yukionna on Father Asa's team were both busy with their abilities to control ice and snow, alternately trying to protect their team and produce extra ammunition. There were stealth attacks, strength attacks, and several aerial battles, including a rather lengthy one between Conchobhar and Father Asa where they actually used snowballs to strike down opposition missiles. Just when it seemed that there was a lull in the battle another volley of snowballs would begin. Conchobhar and Father Asa were having a hard time keeping track of the points.

All too soon it was time for lunch. The tanuki on Father Asa's team volunteered to go as he was quite adept at carrying large quantities of food, and Father Asa went to provide air support, leaving Akuma in charge of the fort, and the point count. To forage for Conchobhar's team Lien Hua went into her dragon form and carried snowball throwing yokai on her back, along with bags for the food. The snowball throwers on Lien Hua's back tried to pelt the dodging tanuki until Father Asa pelted them hard enough to knock them off, then got a few more points off of Lien Hua before they entered Lord Genbu's fortress castle. Lien Hua went to the dining hall to gather food, but the tanuki led Father Asa to the kitchen where he hid away enough food for a small army while stuffing his stomach. Father Asa also quickly ate a huge amount of food to replenish his energy while the tanuki was bagging things up. They left long before Lien Hua had gathered enough food in the dining hall for her team. Father Asa fended off most of the snowballs as the tanuki ran back to the fort, with the result that his team nearly finished eating, in between snowball attacks of course, before Lien Hua got the food back to hers.

Hours later Conchobhar called the game over. Both forts were in a shambles and everyone was soaked and freezing. Even Father Asa's ice angels were mostly destroyed. It turned out that the damage to the forts and the points scored with snowball hits were pretty much even for both teams. Father Asa's team was declared the winner, since they had started out ahead at the beginning with the most beautiful snow fort, though it hardly looked it now. As they went off to the hot springs at Genbu's castle the yokai congratulated Father Asa and asked him if he'd ever considered entering the Dark Tournaments.

----
The hot springs were in large underground grottos. There were entirely separate hot spring grottos for the men and the women that weren't even close to each other, and it was said that there was an even bigger one further back that Genbu used in his full massive serpent turtle form. Near the entrances of the grottos were rooms with shelves for storing clothing and some towels and cotton robes, for those who forgot to bring something else to wear when they were done, and a long reflective wall. There were also showers for cleaning off before getting into the pool, and toilets.

Lien Hua was glad to get out of the cold. She had followed Akuma and some other girls to the hot springs and she could hear the laughter and voices of other women already in the pool. She had just finished peeling her wet clothing off of her now sweating body and put them on a shelf when screams and yells of "Ekibyo!" came from the pool area and women crowded into the dressing area. "Akuma! Ekibyo is in the pool. She's poisoned it! What are you going to do?" said several of them.

"What do you mean what am I going to do about it?" said Akuma shoving her clothing onto a shelf.

"She's your team mate! You can't just let her poison the water like that!" said the other women. "If you don't do something we'll have to complain to Lord Genbu."

"Fine!" said Akuma grabbing Lien Hua and throwing the surprised girl over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. She strode across the elegant inlaid stone pavement to the edge of the pool followed by the flock of women who had previously fled the pool. Ekibyo's skeletal form was lounging at the far edge, the water that touched her emanating an ominous color and smell that spread outward. Akuma then heaved Lien Hua abruptly into the center of the pool. With a tremendous splash she hit the water in the deepest spot, at the edge of the spreading poison, and sank down into it.

"Are you trying to drown the prince's wife?" said one of the women aghast, as Lien Hua sank into the water.

"Don't be stupid!" said Akuma. "I'm sure she can swim like a fish. She won't drown, and she won't get poisoned either. Don't you know that golden dragon sweat has healing properties?" she held out her sweat covered hand so they could smell the sweet wholesome scent. Lien Hua rose to the surface of the heated water spluttering, and the foul looking water began to recede and turn to normal. "See," said Akuma. "As long as she stays in the pool Ekibyo's poison will be counteracted. I'm sure that golden dragon sweat is even beneficial to the skin!"

"You were awfully mean to her though," said the woman sullenly, as Lien Hua swam to a shelf or recessed seat along the edge of a huge pillar of rock that extended to the natural ceiling of the grotto.

"Mean? Nooo..." said Akuma in a saccharine tone. "The princess loves to help others. Why, if a monster had come here to attack you, she would have fought it off all by herself risking her life to save you, but all she has to do now is enjoy the water until Ekibyo decides to leave. What's the harm in that?" With that Akuma strode back to the showers to clean off before getting into the pool herself. The other women followed. Soon everyone was in the pool again, having fun, talking, or just enjoying the hot spring water, the babble of female voices echoing off the natural rock walls.

***

The tanuki showed Father Asa where to hang his coat and gloves so that they would dry, and where to get the cotton robes to wear back to their rooms to change into their clean clothes. Father Asa actually had some clean clothes to change into, courtesy of Morrigan. Wrapping a towel around his waist he went to the showers. Ryoga was looking at his muscles in the reflective wall until Conchobhar tackled him and wrestled him to the floor saying that being impressed by bulk was stupid. Ryoga replied that it was good for getting the girls though, which sent Conchobhar into a fit of laughter when Kenka wondered aloud why Ryoga didn't have any girls.

As the men in the room exchanged somewhat crude banter, Father Asa looked at his own reflection. He didn't look at all out of place among these men, in fact his physique was quite admirable. His skin tone was good too, after spending so much time in the sun the day before. He was brought out of that thought by the tanuki asking if he had any yokai blood in him. "If it wasn't for your human scent you'd be just like any other yokai. You can certainly pack away the food and fight like any of the highly powerful ones."

"Dat would be hard to say," said Father Asa. " No one knows exactly what was put into my brother and I by the Nazi scientists who created us, besides dat which was of our mother. All of the records of the experiment were destroyed, and none lived to tell. If yokai ever lived in my world it might haf been possible dat they included yokai DNA, but it would be very unlikely." His thoughts about his brother brought him back to reality. Looks and fitting in were never anything of real importance. It was just as wrong for him to be prideful about how he looked as it was to feel badly about it. He was what he was. The only important thing was his service to God and others, and doing his best with what he had been entrusted. The trap of pride in his physical appearance was a new one for him. He would have to watch out for it. He showered and joined the others in the pool.

Father Asa enjoyed the heat of the water and conversation with some of the older yokai, while Conchobhar rough housed with some of his competitors. One elderly gentleman shook his head at the prince's shenanigans. "You could hardly believe that the prince is thousands of years old," he said. "He acts just like a youngling sometimes."

"I say it's the fay blood," said another nodding his head as if he knew great secrets. "It makes them eternally young. My cousin saw the Morrigan once dancing and singing and picking daisies just like a little girl would. Uncanny it was."

"Let's hope he settles down some, now that he has a wife," replied the first.

Conchobhar excused himself to the others, as he had some things to check on, and left. So did a number of others that had already been there a while, like the older men. Leaving mostly just Dark Tournament competitors in the pool.

A short time later Takumi came in. He seemed to look both relieved and disappointed as he looked around, yet he carried his well toned body with refined elegance, not covering any part of it, as he walked to the edge and entered the pool, his long hair streaming around him. The room grew very quiet, aside from a few crude comments half whispered, and hostile. Men began leaving the pool until only Father Asa was left with Takumi, who sat down next to him. Father Asa began to wonder what had happened. Neither Conchobhar nor Akuma mentioned any trouble with their team mate.

"Something seems to haf happened between you and the others," said Father Asa concerned. "Conchobhar did not mention it today. Is there something I can help you with?"

"Are you Conchobhar's closest friend then, priest, that he confides everything to you?" Takumi snapped.

"No, not really," said Father Asa frankly. "Though I am used to listening to people's problems. I don't think Conchobhar is aware of how you are being treated by others, even your own team members. I am concerned about how dis sudden change is affecting you, and I wondered if I could be of any help."

"Affect me? Why should it? I'm better than they are, and they know it," said Takumi with a forced laugh. "Do you really want to help me though?" he said putting his hand on Father Asa's shoulder.

Father Asa was suspicious, but he honestly answered, "Yes, I do wish to help you."

"Good," said Takumi as he reached for Father Asa, only to embrace empty air and water. He looked up and saw the priest standing a few feet away, wings unfurled, dripping on the pavement with a towel tied around his hips. He hadn't expected the priest to be so fast. He hadn't shown that kind of speed earlier, when Takumi had taken his coat off him before the wedding.

"Dis will not solve your problems," said Father Asa, keeping his voice even and calm. "It will only make things worse in the long run."

"Maybe, but it will make me feel better," said Takumi increasing his own speed to catch the winged priest, only to grasp air again. Takumi used all of his speed and tactics to try and pin the priest down, but he kept on eluding him, and the few times he actually managed to take hold of him the priest wrestled free with surprising strength. It was obvious to Takumi that the priest had little or no actual combat training, but he had the natural instincts of a born warrior, and probably some real battle experience too, in spite of his flawless unscarred body. Takumi hated to ruin a body like that, but he would never win at this pace. He manifested a energy blade and stabbed Father Asa in the chest cutting downward. The priest would only have a few moments of life after his body hit the pavement, but that would be long enough.

Father Asa didn't fall. Instead, he shoved Takumi up against a natural pillar hard enough to wind him and crack the stone, and stepped back a bit in pain, blood running down his chest. Takumi saw the priest's heart seal itself up and continue it's beat as bone and muscle knit together and the skin closed itself without a scar, as if the wound had never been. "What else have you been hiding, priest?" he hissed.

"Just these," said Father Asa calling his scythe and fiery chain, Tod and Holle, and then sending them away. Takumi realized what a serious tactical blunder he had made in assuming that the priest was weak. He was not equipped to deal with him at the moment. "I don't want to kill you," said Father Asa. "I still want to help you, if I can."

"Why? What's in it for you?" said Takumi, more frustrated than ever.

"Nothing," said Father Asa. "Nothing at all. I am only following the path dat God has set before me. He loves all of the people dat He has created, with a great love, and cares about all of their troubles. As I follow Him I try to do the same. He was wounded so dat we could be healed. He suffered through death so dat we could gain life. He cares about our sufferings and suffers with us, so dat He can bring us to a place where we are whole again. How could I not care?" Father Asa held out his hand, his eyes full of compassion... and even tears. Takumi felt a great power beneath the surface of the priest, flowing through him, reaching out, another presence that could peer into his very soul, lay bare all his pretenses and schemes and see his naked heart, pleading to him with the voice of the priest. This was something beyond his comprehension, beyond his control. He was a vulnerable child again. The memories overwhelmed him, the pain of his loneliness, the powerlessness of a child, and the betrayals that stole his innocence. Takumi turned and fled.

The room was empty. Father Asa trembled as conflicting emotions ran through him in the aftermath of what had just happened, love and disgust, a sense of power and week vulnerability, hopefulness and abject terror. "Gott in Himmel, I am a mess," he said meaning more than the blood that covered him and stained the pavement. "Lend me Your strength for I am weak." He went and showered off the blood and sent up a prayer thanking God for his protection and asking for help for Takumi. Then he put on one one of the cotton robes suitable for his build, and gathered up his things to leave. He noticed as he left that Takumi had left his clothes behind.

***

Ekibyo spent such a long time in the hot spring that Lien Hua had fallen fast asleep, her head pillowed on her arm, her hair splayed on the pavement and floating in the water. Finally, after everyone else had gone, Ekibyo left the water, put her old clothes back on and left. Xin Le Hua woke to find Lien Hua fast asleep, up to her chest in water. She switched places with her only to find her dark robes getting soaked in hot spring water. She came very close to swearing as she pulled herself out of the pool, with water streaming down on the pavement, and mentally reminded herself to not switch back until Lien Hua had a chance to dress. This whole clothing arrangement was a real pain sometimes, but that was how the Dragon Sword worked. Each form had it's own clothing. The only reason the wedding dresses had worked for both was because of the magic that had been woven into them. She supposed that the same could be done for other clothing, but then she and Lien Hua would have to share the same styles and wardrobe. She would just have to live with things as they were.

She went to the dressing area and removed her soaked clothing, wringing out as much water as she could before taking a proper shower. At least they only had one body to wash and care for, and it stayed the same way for every form. When she finished she dressed in a cotton robe and bundled up both of their clothing. She only needed a little help finding her way back to their room to dress. Putting the wet clothing in a hamper she got out some undergarments and went to take out a clean black robe. As she pulled out the robe a pile of pictures slid out of it's folds, carefully placed so that they landed spread out and face up. Each was a picture of her husband engaged in intimate acts with a different girl. She felt like someone had just punched her in the gut. She collapsed to her knees, tightly clutching her clothing, hardly able to breath as tears blurred her vision. She heard the door open and smelled the spicy scent of her husband and heard his footsteps enter.

"There you are," he said, "I was wondering..." He saw her huddled on the floor as she began to sob, and the pictures scattered on the floor. "Oh Edana!" he said lifting her and turning her to face him. She couldn't look him in the eyes, it was too painful. He held her close and softly spoke in her ear with great sorrow, "Edana, Edana, I'm so, so sorry. I don't know who put those pictures there, or how they got them, but I am so sorry for those things I have done in the past! If I had known about you, if I had thought even once of what the future might hold I would never have done anything that someone could take such pictures of. I have sinned against you, against those girls, and against Aru. I could never hope to get the forgiveness of all those girls, and Aru has already forgiven me. Please, please say that you can forgive me for my past, that you can trust me again. I couldn't stand having this put a distance between us and keep us apart!" She put her arms around him and held him tight crying uncontrollably. He took her over to the bed and sat down stroking her hair, not knowing what else to say.

Eventually the sobs subsided, even though the pain was still there, and Xin Le Hua was able to talk again. "I forgive you," she said looking into his eyes, though the pain was still evident in her own. "I trust you."

He gave her a hug. "Thank you," he said. "Are you going to be all right? I really want to find out who did this, but I don't want to leave you like this."

"I'll be okay," she said. "Go ahead."

He kissed her eyes. "I'll be right back," he said. He gathered up the pictures and stuck them in a belt pouch that he sometimes used for carrying things. He checked once more to see if she was all right, then left the room.

----
With a little effort he located Akuma. "Look, Akuma," he said scratching his head. "I want to preface this by saying that I'm not accusing you of anything. It's just that you have a way of seeing things that I don't, and sometimes you know people better than I do." This was a very odd speech coming from Conchobhar, so Akuma listened with interest. "Do you know anything about these, and who put them in my wife's clothing?" asked Conchobhar pulling out the photos and, somewhat reluctantly, showing them to her. Instant recognition flashed in her eyes, and conflict.

"What makes you think that it wasn't me?" she asked.

"Because it's not your style, you're not that good of a photographer, some of these were from long before I met you, and all of them were before we were lovers," he said. Then wondering why she asked, he said, "You didn't do it, did you?"

"No, I didn't. I refused to," she said suddenly serious. "You could figure out who did it for yourself, if you were willing to, but I suppose I really should be the one to tell you. You would find out sooner or later anyway, what with the way things have been going. It was Takumi who took those pictures, and most likely he was the one who put them where Xin Le Hua could see them. Even if he got someone else to do the job, it was all his idea."

"Takumi?" said Conchobhar incredulous.

"There's more," said Akuma and she told him about the bet, the films and pictures, about Chikara and his departure from the team as well as Ichiban's, about Morrigan's investigation into the matter through Kagekiba, about Takumi's sudden disappearance presumably to Lord Genbu who had kept him as a special guest on more than one occasion as she had found out, and Takumi's suggestion to her that she be the one to end Conchobhar's marriage. Conchobhar listened gravely. She could tell he was taking it pretty hard, but still, he was taking it a lot better than she thought he would.

"Where is Takumi now?" he asked.

"Ryoga told me he showed up at the hot springs and everyone started leaving," said Akuma. "Father Asa was still there when Ryoga left. He might have stayed long enough to tell you where Takumi went, if Takumi's not there right now."

"Thanks," said Conchobhar. Then he paused a moment as if searching for words. "Umm, Akuma," he began. "I can't ask all of the girls I had affairs with to forgive me, but I can ask you..."

"Don't even start!" she broke in. "If you do, I'll have to ask you to forgive me! After all, I was the one who seduced you first, and there are some of those things I had you do..." She cursed Takumi realizing that he had spied on that too.

"I forgive you even if you don't ask," said Conchobhar. "You are my friend and team mate. I loved being with you, but hated what the affair did to our friendship. Now that I understand why, there's nothing that I can do to change it. I just want you to forgive me so we can just be friends and competitors again."

"You are such a sap!" said Akuma rolling her eyes. "No wonder you always did best with the good girls. Okay, I forgive you. We're square now. You can go enjoy your life with your wife, if Takumi didn't manage to scare her off, and I'll see you around, purely as a friend, and rival in combat. Though I would be surprised if the team isn't finished off completely after this. I'm afraid Takumi was probably right about that."

"No he isn't," said Conchobhar. "There's still you, Ryoga, Kenka, Ekibyo, and maybe even Takumi if I can turn him around. I can find and train replacements for Chikara and Ichiban before the next tournament, and I will continue to train, and find time for the tournament, no matter how busy I get!"

"You are an eternal optimist!" laughed Akuma patting him on the cheek. "Okay. I'll stick with the team and see how it goes. Just don't get yourself killed trying to change Takumi."

She walked off leaving him to find Takumi on his own. She mulled over the idea of friendship. She had never had real friends before joining the team, what mazoku did? She never really thought of the team as friends either, not until she thought it was going to be dissolved. It had always been about advancing her own career. Then she started having feelings for Conchobhar, feelings she hadn't had with her other lovers, whom she had abused ruthlessly. Since she had spoiled any chances of a deep romance with him, maybe, just maybe she could turn those feelings to friendship. It would be a lot easier than trying to hate him. He had proved impossible for her to truly hate. It was a novel idea, something she hadn't tried before, but it ought to be something she could accomplish. She'd give it a try.

----
Conchobhar went to the hot springs. No one was there, but he saw fairly fresh human blood on the floor, obviously Father Asa's. His bloody footprints led to the showers, so the priest was probably okay, but Takumi's clothes were still on the shelf. Conchobhar decided to find out more from Father Asa and went to the priest's room. Father Asa had just finished changing as Conchobhar knocked, and invited him in.

"How may I help you, Conchobhar," said Father Asa.

"I was trying to find Takumi," said Conchobhar.

Father Asa gave him a concerned look. "Be careful of dat one," he said. "He is deeply troubled."

"Yes, I saw the blood. What happened in the hot spring?" asked Conchobhar.

"Let's just say dat when I didn't stand still for him to haf his way, he decided a corpse was just as good," said Father Asa. "When I wouldn't die, he ran. I am very concerned about dat one. His behavior is dat of one who has great personal problems. What's more, the other men behaved very differently towards him, even his team mates, Ryoga and Kenka. They avoided and shunned him, as if he had committed an unpardonable crime. I know dat dis affected him, though he denied it. Dis was not the way dat he was treated three days ago. Do you know what has happened in dat time?"

Conchobhar told Father Asa about the bet and the films, Takumi's supposed actions towards Chikara that caused Chikara to quit the team, and his investigation by Morrigan. "Loyalty to team members is a highly valued trait, even in a competitions like the Dark Tournaments. Sometimes loyalty is the only thing that binds yokai society together. Undoubtedly what he did to Chikara, and the end result that it divided the team, made the biggest difference in how others viewed him. Before that they would have made many allowances for his personal behavior and tastes. For those to whom the splitting of the team didn't matter, I'm sure that being investigated by my mother would, or even just going along with the crowd." He sighed. "I wish I had been aware of what was going on at the time. I also wish I knew what Takumi was thinking of to get in so much trouble. It's not like him."

"So, was dat what you wanted to find him for?" asked Father Asa.

"Not exactly," said Conchobhar reluctantly. "It's because he put these where Xin Le Hua would find them." he showed Father Asa the pictures. Father Asa looked away and covered the pictures with his hand, gently pushing them back towards Conchobhar. "Sorry Father," Conchobhar said sheepishly putting them away. "I didn't..."

"No matter," said Father Asa kindly. "People tend to forget dat priests are human too. They seem to think dat we either haf no emotions or dat our wills are as steel. I am as human as anyone, but I haf been trusted with much. So I must safeguard my heart. I would think dat those pictures were a terrible shock to Xin Le Hua though." he said with concern. "I almost had to say dat I would not marry her to you, because of the ill will dat she held towards you, partially I'm sure, because of your numerous affairs. How is she doing?"

"It was a terrible shock to her," Conchobhar said softly. "I have never seen her so distraught. I was afraid that she would leave me. Akuma said that Takumi planned it that way, though I don't know why. The team would still be important to me. I wouldn't have abandoned it. But Xin Le Hua said that she forgave me, and that she trusted me. She was really wonderful." He wiped his eyes. "I'm lucky to have her and Lien Hua, but they don't deserve to be hurt by my sins that way."

"It doesn't seem fair, does it," said Father Asa, "dat the innocent should suffer from the sins of the guilty. Or dat once the sin has been forgiven and wiped from the sinner's soul dat the consequences would remain to cause more harm. Dat is why one who has been forgiven still has to make things right with those he sinned against. If the cycle of sin remains unbroken it will cause even more pain. Take Takumi. It is very likely dat someone sinned terribly against him when he was young. Then he nursed dat sin until he began to sin against others, and it goes on and on. Everything is connected to everything else. Dat is how God made it, a reflection of the unity dat is within Himself. From star maps of the universe where the galaxies seem strung together like a jeweled net, to ecosystems, I haf seen dis connectedness. It exists in nature and in the way dat even different realities come together. It also exists in the way dat those who haf souls are interconnected with one another. No man is an island. What one does affects many, for good or for evil. You are the progeny of two death gods. In some way their own past sins have impacted you in your upbringing, and consequently you have sinned against others, and yet see what they haf done when they haf turned their wills to do good. The lives of many were saved and made better by them. Not only dat but in raising you they imparted these good things to you too, so dat you haf also helped others, even before you knew what you were doing. In dat way each is also responsible for his own actions, regardless of what went before, and each will be judged by what he does with what he has been given."

"So, do you think I have a chance to turn Takumi around?" asked Conchobhar.

"Dat I do not know," said Father Asa. "If you feel dat you must try, by all means do so, but be careful. He is a dangerous man, and is not thinking rationally. He could cause you great harm and justify it to himself in his present state. As to where he is, I don't know either. He ran off in great haste."

"Thank you, Father," said Conchobhar getting up to go. "I'll take your advice. I should have asked how you were doing, since Takumi did try to kill you"

"I am fine," laughed the priest. "I heal quickly. Even great wounds only hurt me for a short time."

----
Conchobhar already had a good idea of where Takumi might have gone. It only took a few minutes in fay form to confirm that he was in Lord Genbu's private chambers, and so was Lord Genbu. At least there would be a referee. He went to Lord Genbu's chambers and asked for audience. Soon after he was admitted. Genbu was dressed casually in dark elegance, his hair quickly tied back. Conchobhar could smell Takumi's scent in the room, but he was nowhere to be seen.

"How may I be of service to your highness?" said Lord Genbu slowly with a formal bow.

Conchobhar returned the bow. "Lord Genbu, I was informed that my team mate, Takumi, was your special guest. I have a private matter of some urgency to discuss with him. As I could not find him, I was hoping that you could help me get in touch with him."

After a moment of silence Lord Genbu replied. "I will see what I can do."

Conchobhar felt frustrated. He knew that Takumi was in there somewhere. "Could you tell him, if you see him," he said, speaking more to the unseen Takumi than the dark daimyo, "that I wish to talk to him, just talk, nothing else. If he wants to talk to me, I will be at practice area 4-35 in a half an hour. He can meet me there." No one but the team would know what place the number meant. It was part of the code they used to designate secret practices, one of Takumi's ideas.

"I will tell him when I see him," said Lord Genbu.

Conchobhar heard a slight rustle and Takumi's scent began to fade from the room. He bowed to Lord Genbu and thanked him for his hospitality. Then he left the room and went back to his own.

"Fool," said Lord Genbu to the curtained exit behind him. "Why did you choose him? You are certain to die."

----
"Did you find out who it was?" asked Xin Le Hua as Conchobhar came into the room.

"Yes, it was Takumi," he said opening one of the packed boxes and taking out the sword Giolla Lasair.

"Takumi?" she said in surprise. "Why would he do something like that? And why are you wearing that sword?" she asked as he strapped the sword to his back.

"It's just in case," he said adjusting the straps. "I'll talk to you about Takumi later, at Lord Byakko's place. Look," he said taking her hands in his, "I want you to go with your aunt and Lord Seiryu to the feast at Lord Byakko's tonight. Don't wait for me. I'll be coming later on, but well before the end of the feast. I won't let the feast end and the day pass without being there with you. I love you too much to miss any of the nights of our commitment week. But if something were to happen, and it gets very late and I haven't returned, I want you to tell my father and mother about the pictures, and I want you to tell them that I went to the Crystal Cavern to confront Takumi about it. They will surely bring me back to you." He held her close and kissed her deeply.

When he released her, she turned away to hide her tears and rummaged through a box. She wiped her face and turned back to him holding a bottle of dragon oil. She handed it to Conchobhar.

"What's this for?" he said.

"Just in case," she said. "Make sure you come back."

----
Conchobhar made his way to the appointed meeting place, making sure he wasn't followed, while Xin Le Hua saw their things loaded onto the cart and took her seat in the carriage. Father Asa patted her hand when she said that Conchobhar had business and would be coming later, in a rather weak voice, and he told her not to worry, that Conchobhar was able to take care of himself.

The carriage flew southwest over the frozen land until it reached the Moerusuna desert at the foot of the volcano Hinomiyama. There it turned more to the south, following the mountains across the grasslands until it reached the forests of Nishichiku and the out crop of the mountains that housed the Byakkodokutsu, Byakko's grotto. Bats were streaming out of higher openings of the mountain, softly squeaking on their nightly flight, as the carriage descended into a cavernous opening in the side of the mountain. A multitude of paper lanterns lit up the interior of the huge grotto with its pools and streams, bonsai landscapes mingled with natural limestone formations, it's bamboo forests and areas for training in martial arts, and its many pathways leading to the massive but simple Japanese style house high in the back of the grotto. The carriage landed in the place set aside for it and two martial arts students of Lord Byakko greeted them, and escorted them to the feast.

The feast was actually held in the large dojo where tatami mats had been placed to cover the floor, and decorative wall hangings were hung between the racks of practice weapons. The guests were seated on the floor at low tables like at Lord Seiryu's, but without the dividing screens. Lord Byakko's students served the meal dressed in spotless white gis with his tiger mark on it. The gray haired Lord Byakko was also wearing a gi as he sat at the head table along with Morrigan, holding Father Asa's twins, Enma, and Lord Suzaku who was lounging at the table. Akuma, Ryoga, Kenka, and Ekibyo were seated near by. Lord Seiryu, Aunt De Zhen, Father Asa, and Xin Le Hua were led to the main table. They were greeted warmly, but the question on everyone's mind was where was Conchobhar. Morrigan handed the babies to Father Asa who made much over them, and watched Xin Le Hua as she was served her meal. "Where is my son?" she asked.

"He said he'd be here later," said Xin Le Hua, hoping the vague answer would suffice, and she began to eat.

"Where exactly did he go, that was so important that he leaves his bride to come alone to the wedding feast?" said Morrigan more insistently.

Xin Le Hua didn't know what to answer, especially as Lien Hua had just woken up and was asking the same thing. She would have liked to present the situation to Lien Hua in a gentler light, protect her from what she had just been through, but she was confronted with Morrigan and couldn't split her attention well. She ended up just reminding Lien Hua that she had fallen asleep in the water, without clothing, and telling her to review her memory, something Lien Hua rarely did so she could give Xin Le Hua some space. Usually Lien Hua was the one to handle these social interactions, and Xin Le Hua wished that she could trade places. Then Lien Hua could honestly say she didn't know, or make some plausible excuse.

Morrigan watched the the girl's inner turmoil play out in subtle actions. "Did my son tell you not to tell me where he was going?" she asked.

"No, not exactly," she said, and actually he hadn't.

"Then tell me," said the Morrigan. "Where is he and what is he up to?"

Xin Le Hua felt Lien Hua's pain as she reviewed the memory, and Lien Hua urged her to tell Morrigan. "All right," she said under her breath. "Takumi put pictures of Conchobhar and other girls, I think you know the sort, where I would find them," she said softly so that only those close could hear. "He went to confront Takumi alone." The silence from the table where Conchobhar's team mates sat was almost audible. Xin Le Hua could almost hear them straining to catch her words. She also saw the intense concern in the daimyo's faces, as well as Enma and Morrigan.

"Conchobhar also found out about Takumi's other 'activities' dis week and how you were investigating him," said Father Asa. "I believe dat he wants to speak to Takumi and get him to change his ways."

"You knew about this too?" said Morrigan surprised.

"Not exactly," said the priest, "but we did haf a conversation along those lines. I warned him to be careful in the attempt."

"He brought the sword, Giolla Lasair, along with him," said Xin Le Hua.

Enma's face clouded. "Where is he?" said the oni king forcefully, though still not loudly enough to alert the guests.

Xin Le Hua swallowed and looked down at her plate. "He told me to tell you if it got very late and he hadn't returned," she said.

Morrigan laid her hand on her husband's arm soothingly and he calmed down. "Then tell us now, dear," she said to Xin Le Hua. "It is important that we know where he is before something unexpected happens, not after."

"He's in the Crystal Cavern," she said softly. In a way she was relieved that they knew.

"Thank you, dear," said Morrigan coming over and giving her a reassuring hug. Then she walked past Conchobhar's team mates saying to them, "You four will stay right where you are," and walked out of the building.

Morrigan went to one of the outdoor practice areas and performed a teleportation spell, naming names. Kagekiba and five of his best men appeared before her. "I hope I haven't interrupted any important work," she said.

"No, my queen," said Kagekiba as he and the others bowed. "Nothing that could not be done later. What do you wish us to do?"

"Are you prepared enough to take down Takumi, or do you need something else?" she said.

"We are prepared, my queen" said Kagekiba.

"You will go to the Crystal Cavern and observe Conchobhar and Takumi, unseen," she directed. "If all goes well do nothing. If Takumi severely wounds the prince you will arrest him, and bring the prince here at once." She reached into her storage dimension and pulled out something that looked like a glass marble. "Here is a port key if you have to bring the prince here quickly. No matter which way things go I want Conchobhar back here well before midnight. I have too much vested in the treaty and the marriage to have something like this interfere!"

"Understood," said Kagekiba.

Morrigan teleported them to the Crystal Cavern and went back to the feast, smiling congenially. She sat back down at the table and urged Xin Le Hua to have a good time in spite of Conchobhar's delay.
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Re: Takumi's Story

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***

Conchobhar entered the Crystal Cavern about the same time as Xin Le Hua was leaving in the carriage to go to Lord Byakko's feast. There was a long tunnel down to the cavern that was pitch black, but once you reached the cavern itself everything was lit with a soft blue glow from the luminescent crystals. The huge cavern was full of stalactites, stalagmites, pillars and pools, a place of natural wonder. There were no bats or other life forms in these caverns because of the glowing crystals that had formed there. They had a tendency to suck the life out of smaller life forms, or larger ones that lived there too long. So the cavern was empty and an ideal place for battle practices. The crystals also had a way of hiding scent and sound direction, making it difficult to locate someone. Conchobhar went to a large open area in the center of the cavern and called for Takumi.

"You said you wanted to talk to me... about something personal," said Takumi's voice coming from everywhere, and nowhere, "but you're wearing a sword, Conchobhar. That's not like you."

"It's a gift from my wife. She made it," Conchobhar replied, unsuccessful at finding where Takumi was. "Besides, you tried to kill a man today, a man who would never have tried to hurt you. I saw the blood. You're not acting like yourself either."

"Is that what you want to talk to me about," asked Takumi's voice, "my little battle with the priest?"

"Among other things," said Conchobhar, reaching into his pouch. "Like what you did to Chikara, and why do you have all these photos of me," he said pulling the photos out and scattering them on the floor. "and why did you cause my wife so much pain by putting these where she could see them and try to make her leave me!"

"Did she leave you?" said Takumi almost excited, appearing directly in front of him, a few paces away. He was dressed as elegantly as ever in a dark embroidered kimono, with his hair tied in the middle of his back with a red ribbon so that it hung loosely around his handsome face like woman's. Yet in all his careful attention to appearance there was still something desperate, almost wild and uncontrolled in his demeanor.

"No!" said Conchobhar. "She's better than that, but you did hurt her terribly. Look Takumi, I don't know what inner demons you've been facing, Father Asa would know more about that than I would, but I'm your friend. Maybe I haven't always been the best friend, you know, being around to listen if you had a problem or something, or maybe I was just thick headed and didn't understand, but I did want to help you. You've even got my mother after you now. I just want to know why. Why are you doing this? Is there something I can do to change things?"

"You don't know why?" asked Takumi, his voice a cross between disbelief and desperation. "You were the rising star in the Dark Tournaments, a true champion in the making. I idolized you. I was just a kid in a street brawl, but you said I had talent. You were the first person who was ever nice to me. I worked hard to make you proud of me, to accept me. Then I got a place on your team. I thought, finally you'll notice me. But you wasted yourself on those weak little girls. Am I not beautiful? Other men always thought I was. They told me that every time..." His voice caught for a moment then he went on. "I thought, maybe it was because you didn't get involved with team mates. I even thought of quitting to get you to notice me, but I was afraid, afraid that you wouldn't spend any more time with me. Then you had an affair with Akuma of all people, that man destroyer! I knew that you would break up with her. It was only a matter of time. Then I would have my chance, but no, you became infatuated again with another weak girl, and then you married her! I know it was a forced marriage. I would do you a favor and end it. Then we could be together. I love you, Conchobhar! I have always loved you. It has been driving me mad that you never return my love!"

Conchobhar was dumbfounded. Finally everything Takumi did made sense in a hideously twisted way. "Takumi... This is so messed up. You are wrong about so many things," said Conchobhar, not knowing where to begin. "For example... Lien Hua is not weak and I wasn't forced into marrying her. She was forced to marry me. I wanted to marry her."

"I suppose," said Takumi looking distracted as if putting new variables into an equation. "A prince is expected to marry, but many married men have lovers..."

"No! Just no!" said Conchobhar. "It isn't right! I don't care how many people do it. What I did with those girls was bad enough. I will probably never be done with the consequences of those sins, but what you are proposing... I won't even think about that! It's not something I will ever consider!"

Takumi looked as if he had been slapped. "I though it might come to this," he said sadly. "I hoped it wouldn't. I hoped you would truly love me and we could be together, but you don't! If I can't have you, then no one else will, not ever again."

Conchobhar saw Takumi slide a device secretly into his hand and press a button. Instantly Conchobhar was surrounded by a powerful force shield. At the same time his heightened senses detected hundreds of small, spirit enhanced, laser emitters planted all over the perimeter of the enclosed area just as they began to fire. Takumi knew him to well, but maybe not as well as he thought. Conchobhar leapt with precision as he twisted the ring on his finger becoming chibi. The lasers cut around him, burning furrows in the ground, sending the photos up in flames. They sliced the straps that held his sword, but not his small sized body. If he had been at his normal size he would have been cut to pieces, even with an energy shield. Even so he only had a short time until Takumi recalibrated them for a smaller body.

As he danced about avoiding the preprogrammed pattern he formed spirit energy bolts and fired them scatter shot at the laser emitters. The spirit energy had no effect. Somehow Takumi had gotten a hold of Daraku's technology and had protected them. Conchobhar thought quickly and managed to draw Giolla Lasair. The superior metal resisted the lasers and even reflected them back. While the size difference was awkward, Conchobhar had lost nothing of his strength and skill, and before Takumi could recalibrate Conchobhar had used Giolla Lasair to destroy all of the lasers. The force shield was a different problem though, and Takumi was making it worse. He had sealed it completely and Conchobhar could feel the air being sucked out of it turning it into a vacuum. Takumi was not wasting any time in trying to kill him. Fortunately Conchobhar had one more trick Takumi wasn't used to. Deactivating the ring he activated the serpent band. Instantly he became a feathered serpent fully as large as a golden dragon. The pressure on the force shield was unimaginably intense and painful for a moment, and then the field collapsed freeing Conchobhar.

Lashing out with a serpent's speed at Takumi, Conchobhar's mouth and fangs latched onto his body with a crack. Takumi wriggled out of the ornate over robe and body armor to vanish into the surrounding cavern with great speed. Conchobhar threw back his head and crushed the armor in his serpent's jaws. Then he cringed as he felt a spirit energy blade penetrate his scaled body. The structure of the cavern didn't allow his massive body enough space to evade Takumi or find his adversary's sensorially invisible body. Conchobhar deactivated the serpent band and called on his fay abilities, the ones he usually tracked Takumi with, though it often left him vulnerable as he concentrated.

The crystals in the cavern interfered with his fay abilities quite a bit, but he was able to locate Takumi with a fair amount of accuracy. He manifested and threw a handful of high speed energy bolts, powerful ones, but ones that were aimed to cripple, not kill. Takumi threw up his invisible arm and under robe sleeve to cover his face and all of Conchobhar's bolts dissipated as they struck the flimsy cloth. At the same time Takumi sent multiple lethal bolts in Conchobhar's direction. Conchobhar went chibi again and employing energy shields and skillful flying he managed to remain unscathed. Takumi vanished into an area that was heavy in crystals. Conchobhar had chosen this place because he felt Takumi would feel more comfortable about talking in a place where Conchobhar was at a disadvantage. Now he was thinking that giving Takumi the advantage had been a mistake.

Still... he really didn't want to kill Takumi... Going back to normal Conchobhar let the sword lie where it was, too hard to keep from killing with that, and filled his pouch with loose crystals. Going invisible himself he went over to the area Takumi was in. He manifested thousands of spirit darts in the air he sent them flying through that part of the cavern, like dust mote sized beams of light. Where they struck Takumi they fizzled out leaving empty space that revealed his location. Conchobhar launched his crystal projectiles at Takumi's limbs, the legs first, scoring a hit, but Conchobhar couldn't take advantage of it since Takumi activated a series of deadly traps that left Conchobhar scratched and bruised. In the process Takumi entered an area where he could be tracked more easily and Conchobhar got in a few more good hits with the crystals. In time the crystals themselves would drain Takumi's energy, but Conchobhar couldn't drag it out that long. In a few more hours he would have to show up at the feast, or most yokai would consider the marriage off.

Takumi was not waiting to loose energy to the crystals either. He began unleashing a series of his strongest spirit and physical attacks while in stealth mode, keeping Conchobhar on the defense for the most part. Both yokai took damage, but it was plain that Conchobhar was still the stronger, and his caution and desire not to kill paid off in the long run. They were both panting hard, and nearly out of energy. Much of the cavern had been damaged by the more powerful attacks, mostly on Takumi's part which had lowered his reserves drastically. Conchobhar palmed the last four crystals, and as Takumi paused for a breath, his under robe sagging as if offering up his heart for a target, his hair wild and disheveled, Conchobhar pegged him in the shoulders and hips, severing nerves and tendons. Takumi collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut as Conchobhar caught him. Takumi's arms and legs hung uselessly. He could feel Conchobhar's heart beat next to his. This was the end. He laid his head on Conchobhar's feathered shoulder and summoned the last of his spirit energy. Stealth cloaking the sword lying on the ground behind him he caused it to rise, and made it fly toward him like an arrow. He contented himself with the thought that he and Conchobhar would die together, both of their hearts impaled on the dragon girl's sword. There was both excruciating pain and numbing in his lower body as the sword pierced his spine, and more pain as it clove through his heart, but Giolla Lasair knew its master and stopped short of touching Conchobhar. Takumi's eyesight faded and his brain shut down.

With a curse Conchobhar lay Takumi down, pulled the sword from his back, and opening the bottle Xin Le Hua had given him he poured the contents into the gaping wound amidst the pooling blood. He waited anxiously as the dragon sweat did its work. As soon as the hole had sealed and knit itself together he turned Takumi over and felt for a pulse and breath. There was none. There was little time left before Takumi's brain would begin to die, so whether his heart was strong enough or not, Conchobhar began to attempt to resuscitate him. For a time Conchobhar's arm was the beat of Takumi's heart, and his breath was Takumi's breath. Then Takumi coughed up some blood and began breathing on his own. Leaving him for a moment, Conchobhar retrieved Takumi's outer robe and the sword's sheath. He quickly wiped off the sword and returned it to its sheath, sticking the sheath through the back of his belt. He would have to clean it more thoroughly later on. Then he cradled Takumi's broken body in his lap, like he would a child and sat waiting for him to regain consciousness. There wasn't much time, but he still needed to talk to him while he could. He never noticed when Kagekiba's men came in nor where they stood waiting in stealth mode.

Conchobhar absently brushed Takumi's hair off his face and smoothed it out. He remembered Takumi as an eager kid, one he had kept a couple of street punks from killing once, though Takumi had fought them quite well for his age and strength level. Even then he had that look that Conchobhar couldn't quite put his finger on. Well, now he knew. Takumi opened his eyes and saw Conchobhar looking down at him concerned. The pain and the numbness in his body was gone, but his arms and legs were still useless and he was too weak to move. The scent of golden dragon clung to him and he realized what Conchobhar had done. "Why?" he said weakly. "Why did you save my life? I tried to kill you. I would have killed your wife if I could."

"For someone with so much intelligence, Takumi, you are the stupidest man I know!" said Conchobhar. "Didn't it ever occur to you that love and sex are two different things?" Conchobhar laughed at himself. "Like I'm the one to preach. I wasn't a very good example, was I. Actually I was pretty selfish all around. I really do care about you though," he said patting the injured man's shoulder gently so as to not cause further damage. "I really wish you hadn't done this to yourself." Takumi didn't reply. The situation was so surreal. He was in Conchobhar's arms, but not in any way that he had planned. What was he going to do with himself now? "Takumi..." said Conchobhar. "It was only eight days ago that I nearly killed myself to get someone's attention. It was while I was in Aleriand. Xin Le Hua mocked me, saying that I couldn't stay in Aleriand long enough to win Lien Hua as my bride because I didn't have my heart purified by the God, Aru. So I decided to go in the temple and meet this God, get him to purify me so I could stay as long as I wanted. Inside the temple I was transported to this high mountain place. In the distance I could feel a huge power signature, bigger than any I had ever felt, it was magnificent! I flew up to a very tall mountain where I saw Him. He looked like an old man standing on the edge of a cliff, and he had scars on his wrists, but not once did he look at me when I talked to him. I got so furious that I attacked him, but he just knocked me around like I was a rag doll, busted both of my wings really bad, but not once did he look at me. I used up all of my energy fighting him and ended up bruised and with broken bones. I remember feeling so desperate just to get him to see me, to value who I was, that I got very reckless. I fell off the cliff and would have died if he hadn't grabbed hold of me and lifted me up. Then I looked into his eyes... here was the ultimate power of the universe. He could have snuffed me out like a candle if he wanted, but the truth was that he loved me. I was just too blind and proud to know it. It took a beating and nearly dying for me to see it."

"Your Mother's god really got to you," said Takumi with great effort. His body and mind were so sluggish and tired, yet his emotions were still in turmoil. "A couple of weeks ago you would have finished me off for what I did. What am I good for? What am I going to do now?" Actual tears were forming in his dark eyes.

"For now," said Conchobhar wrapping Takumi in the elegant over robe to keep him warm, "I'll take you where you can get a doctor to see to your injuries, and you will heal that body of yours." He stood up with Takumi still cradled in his arms. "The rest will have to be worked out bit by bit, but I'm going to be here for you. You won't have to be alone in all this. I'll help however I can. The first thing will be to get my father and mother to go easy on you and not have your head for a wall decoration, and then to smooth things over with the rest of the team... It won't be easy, but it's something I'm sure I can do." He started walking towards the entrance of the cavern carrying Takumi.

"Why go to so much trouble on my account?" asked Takumi as they exited the cavern.

Conchobhar unfurled his wings. "Because I love you. Not the way that you think love is, but I do love you." He took off flying in the direction of the nearest major dwelling, Genbushima.

Kagekiba signaled to one of his men to follow the prince and came out of stealth mode. "Search the cavern for a complete report on what transpired here. Bag and tag any evidence. Then send a runner to the queen with a full report as quickly as possible. Tell her that Hisoka and I are following the prince. He will be at the feast in time. If not on his own, I'll drag him there myself." Then Kagekiba went back into stealth mode and followed after Conchobhar also, while the others began their investigation.

----
When Conchobhar landed at Genbushima he was met almost immediately by Lord Genbu and his attendants. Lord Genbu's expression was as unreadable as ever. Conchobhar bowed, as well as he could with Takumi in his arms. "My lord," said Conchobhar, "I wish to charge you with the the care of this man, my friend Takumi. Please get him the best medical care that you can so that his body can become whole again. I will repay you in whatever way seems right to you. Just see to it that he gets well and doesn't do further damage to himself." Without a word Lord Genbu reached out and took Takumi from Conchobhar into his own arms. He bowed to the prince, then turned and walked away with Takumi. His attendants followed. Conchobhar was left alone in the hall.

Conchobhar looked down at his dirty bloodied body, "I need a bath!" He said laughing. The tension of the last few hours melting away. If he showed up at the feast this way Xin Le Hua would be suffer shock and his father would be calling for blood! He went to the hot springs and showered quickly, even taking time to properly clean his sword and thank it for saving his life, as well as wash the blood off his only bit of clothing. He dried off as best as he could and then flew quickly across the frozen lands and desert to Lord Byakko's place.

More than one person breathed a sigh of relief, and many cheered when he entered the banquet and sat next to Xin Le Hua. "What happened?" said Xin Le Hua, echoing Lien Hua's thought.

"And how is the young man?" said Father Asa.

"I'll tell you later, and he's alive," he answered taking his plate and almost shoveling the food into his mouth as his body cried out for more food. Lord Byakko signaled his students to keep the food coming.

"You will also give your father and I a full report of everything," said his mother pointedly.

"Us too!" said a loud whisper from the next table where his team had been watching him.

"Yes, of course," said Conchobhar, "but not tonight. It's our wedding feast." He put his arm around Xin Le Hua and gave her a squeeze. There would be time to explain to her and to Lien Hua, and time to comfort them, but right now he had a growling stomach that needed filling.
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Re: Takumi's Story

Post by Mamma Peach »

Rebuilding

The night in their room had not gone as well as Conchobhar had anticipated. He had never seen Lien Hua and Xin Le Hua quite so angry before, nor had he thought them capable of such ferocity. As dragons went he had thought their whole race pretty tame, but now he knew otherwise. If Takumi had been anywhere near, he would certainly have been torn to pieces, and the girls certainly seemed to feel that Conchobhar should have done the same. He barely managed to talk her down and get her off to sleep, using all of his fay born talents, including a kind of drowsy spell. Even then he spent much of the night playing quietly with Daifuku until he was sure that she wouldn't wake up before slipping into bed. So much for his ideas of "comforting" her. At least they had spent the fifth night together without splitting. He hoped that he could get her to have some kind of compassion for Takumi. After all, he wasn't evil, just really messed up. Conchobhar still wanted his friends to be a part of his life, without loosing his wife.

She was still asleep when he got up to grab a quick breakfast before going to the meeting with his parents, not something he looked forward to. He hoped he could do better with his father and mother than he did with his new bride. At least he had the trump card of national security when dealing with them. Takumi's knowledge about how he managed to get Daraku's research should at least give him a reprieve until questioning, maybe more.

Three of the four daimyo were with Enma and Morrigan in the small dojo set aside for the meeting, along with Father Asa who had been invited by Morrigan, and what was left of Conchobhar's team who had come in uninvited. Enma was looking particularly fierce as he sat cross-legged on a cushion, drumming his clawed fingers on one of the skulls on his belt, making an eerie knocking sound in its hollow head. Prince Conchobhar knelt and bowed to his father and the formal assembly.

"I already know some of what's been going on from the reports," Enma growled, "but I'm waiting to hear everything you know about this before taking action."

This wasn't good, Conchobhar thought, it sounded like a course of action had already been set. "My lord, father, do you already have evidence enough to convict Takumi of a crime? Has a verdict and punishment already been decided on?" he said carefully.

"No!" said the yokai king cursing. "That misbegotten whelp has been far too clever in covering his tracks! I'd execute him just on principle, but I'm trying to establish a rule of law here."

"Then I beg of you to extend mercy in this case and leave him to me to deal with," said Conchobhar bowing again, "otherwise I will speak no further, even if threatened with punishment. I will not be the means by which my friend dies, not after I have tried so hard to keep him alive, and he is my friend," he said looking at his team mates, "and my team mate, regardless of what he has done or tried to do." He hoped to convince them too. "Is it not true, Father Asa, that Aru would rather have a live sinner repent than the justice of death? Takumi's worst crimes are mostly against me, and I would have them forgiven, just as I am sure Father Asa would have the crime against him forgiven." Father Asa nodded.

King Enma was furious, "What is this, a conspiracy? Are you all trying to protect this miscreant? I will not have this!" Morrigan put her arm on his shoulder and began whispering in his ear. Grudgingly he calmed down. "You have given personal and religious reasons for sparing Takumi's life, have you any other reasons that you want to put forth."

"Yes sir," said Conchobhar. "Takumi evidently has knowledge about the spread of Daraku's technology in Demon World, and may have ways of finding out more." Surprise registered on a number of faces. "I believe it is in the nation's best interest to keep him alive, if only to find out what he knows about this."

"Very well," grumbled Enma, "I will spare his life, for now, if only for this reason. If it is found that his crimes deserve the punishment of death, other means of punishment will be devised. Furthermore I will consider your plea of leniency, putting him in your hands as you say, if you fully reveal all details pertaining to this case, leaving nothing out, and also on the condition that Takumi never repeat his crimes. I am not totally oblivious of Aru's desire to bring the wicked to repentance, but I am also a judge and prosecutor of the law in this realm."

"I understand, my lord," said Conchobhar respectfully bowing again.

Enma was secretly very pleased at how his son had changed. Conchobhar still had that stubborn streak, but now he was respectful, considerate, and even helpful. He was willing to work and even to take responsibility for his own actions. Whatever had caused the change, getting married to Lien Hua or his brief sojourn in Aleriand, Enma was glad his son had finally begun to grow up, and it made him more willing to let Takumi live. Enma resolved to keep that in mind as his son revealed the sordid actions of that misbegotten son of perdition.

Conchobhar recounted everything that had happened, even Takumi's attack on Father Asa, and his long held obsession with Conchobhar himself. The only thing he didn't cover was what Takumi did to Chikara, since only Takumi and Chikara knew exactly what had happened. The obsession and the the attempt on Conchobhar's life surprised everyone, except perhaps Morrigan who had already suspected something of that kind. Takumi had hid his intentions too well, thought Akuma, and others. It was also disturbing to think that Lord Genbu had been a part of this, even if only in a small way, and Enma decided to have a private talk with the black turtle-snake about it.

"I see," said Enma gravely when Conchobhar finished. "Takumi was indeed in a very dangerous position, but I will abide by my statement. Conchobhar will be in charge of Takumi until he has been deemed no longer to be a threat to others, and he will be allowed in the Tournament, if his team will accept him, and he continues in showing a willingness to abide by the law. He will also be interrogated about the technology he used in the battle, but that will wait until he is well enough for it. He will, however, not be allowed to produce or keep porn of any kind, ever again! That is my judgment, and he will abide by it or accept a harsher one." The look on Enma's face was stern and immovable. "There is much work to be done today," he concluded. "This meeting is over."

Conchobhar left and after a very short discussion with his team about the team's future, he returned to his room, looking for Lien Hua. He wanted to see if she was still angry at him, but she wasn't in the room and everything had already been packed for the final move. He left to help with organizing the work crew, wondering how she was doing.

***

Lien Hua woke up alone for the first time since the wedding. She didn't feel very good. She remembered what Takumi had done and how Conchobhar had tried to defend him. She also remembered her own harsh words, accusations, and unbridled anger. She felt both justified and guilty at the same time, or maybe she was justifying what she felt guilty for. She didn't want to see Conchobhar, either out of guilt or desire to punish him, but she missed him terribly. She just felt miserable. She dressed and went to breakfast, glad that everyone was so busy that she went pretty much unnoticed.

Lien Hua's aunt saw her there alone, finished with eating and just toying with the food on her plate. She went went to sit by her. "Today you will be moving to your new house," said De Zhen, making small talk. Lien Hua just nodded in reply. "There is definitely something wrong," said her aunt sitting up stiffly, "I know you too well. We need to talk, young lady." She got up, and taking Lien Hua by the arm, led her out of the house to a secluded garden seat in the grotto. Lien Hua didn't even bother to wonder how her aunt knew of that exact spot, as they sat down. "Now tell me everything that is bothering you. Don't leave anything out!"

The golden light of the morning sun filtered into the grotto, gilding everything with its warm glow, while Lien Hua talked about her argument with Conchobhar, recounting all of Takumi's insidious crimes and her husband's willingness to defend him. Aunt De Zhen listened as Lien Hua began to justify her actions. Then she broke in, "Dear me child, would you have reacted that way if it had been one of your friends?"

"What?!" said Lien Hua.

"I know that this land is pretty wicked, and the people here do terrible things," said Aunt De Zhen, "and your friends would probably not do something like this, but what if they had? Would you have wanted them killed, or would you give them a chance to repent? Would you kill Tejas, or Ming, or even someone like that Xella you saved?" Lien Hua was silent.

De Zhen sighed. "It's not good for you to harbor such anger and hurt, especially against your husband, who despite his faults has been nothing but kind to you. Even if he hadn't been so kind, it would be a bad way to begin a marriage. You will have to let go of it and let Aru be the judge. Right now all you feel is the hurt. You are suddenly married to a man you hardly know, and in an uncomfortable situation in a strange land. I'm sure that this has stretched even you nearly to the breaking point, but don't take this out in anger towards others, especially not your husband. He is the one you are spending the rest of your life with, the one who will be the father of your children. You two need to be as one. His friends are still a part of his life. Don't make him choose between them and you. Even if he chooses you and abandons them, it will only make him unhappy. Just remember, he did stand up for you and defended your honor, even if he did let Takumi live. Let your husband grow in the things that Aru values, like mercy, without being a stumbling block. He has only had his heart purified for a few days."

"How could you understand how I feel? You've never been married!" said Lien Hua, more harshly than she meant.

"I almost was," said her aunt softly with a pained look. "Li Zhou Song, a golden dragon, once promised to marry me. To my shame I gave more of myself to him than I should have. You see, my father, your grandfather, King Hao Jie Fu, was very strict and overly protective. He never let me do anything for myself, or have any close friends. I think that is why my brother, your father, has tried so hard to let each of his children have a life of their own. Perhaps I have felt that my brother and his wife gave you too much freedom and that you would get into trouble, so I tended to over compensate. In any case after I met Li at one of the few social functions I was allowed to attend, I took to sneaking out to meet him without telling anyone. He was very good at avoiding fay watchers. That alone should have told me that something was wrong. He said all manner of flattering things that I won't go into, but they were really lies. He was involved with some other girls, one of whom he was actually married to, but had plans to get rid of, so perhaps he really did intend to marry me, but not for any good reasons, only selfish gain. I had become pregnant at his insistence, to get my father to agree to our marriage he said. You do know that both dragons and fays can control whether they get pregnant or not?" she asked Lien Hua. "I really didn't have time to teach you things like that. I thought it would be a long time before you married. Anyway, it was a short time after I became pregnant that Li was caught trying to poison his wife. It turned out that he was one of those who had rejected Aru as a child, and continued to do so all his life, learning to elude his watchers. He was judged guilty and his memories were erased, and he was sent to the void. No one knew that I had been involved with him. I learned about Li's banishment through a casual conversation, and I was devastated. The stress of his betrayal caused the egg to pass through unformed, and my baby died. I had no one to confide my terrible loss in except my brother. He was very compassionate. He knew how strict our father was, so he agreed to keep my secret as long as I visited the Temple for healing. You may think me just a fusty old maiden aunt," said De Zhen putting her hand on Lien Hua's, "but I know what it is to love, to be betrayed, to suffer great shame and great loss. Don't take Conchobhar's loyalty lightly. You don't know how much that means!"

"I'm sorry, Aunt De Zhen, I didn't mean it... I didn't know," said Lien Hua apologetically as she gave her aunt a hug. "I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm so out of sorts. I don't want to hate anyone, or hurt anyone, but I can't seem to get over this."

"Sometimes forgiveness takes time," sighed De Zhen. "Just don't take it out on your husband. You need to make things right with him as soon as possible. Maybe you can find him and go to the new house together, just the two of you."

Just then Lord Seiryu came through the garden. "Ah, there you are," he said with a note of pleasure. "Are you ready to go?"

"Is prince Conchobhar coming with us?" asked De Zhen.

"No, I haven't seen him," said the azure dragon.

De Zhen leaned over and whispered in her niece's ear, "Go find him! Apologize and make things right." Lien Hua got up and left. "My niece is going to travel with her husband. I'm ready though."

----
Lien Hua looked for Conchobhar but no one had seen him. Finally she found out that he had gone to Enma's palace to oversee some work crews. Transforming to dragon form she flew to the palace to look for him.

She found him in the palace courtyard organizing oni into work teams and sending them off in laden ox carts. She flew down towards him, transforming into human form as she neared the ground in front of him. "I'm sorry," she said as she approached. "I shouldn't have gotten so mad. Even though what Takumi did hurt, I didn't have the right to act out in anger, especially towards you. I shouldn't hold your desire to keep him as a friend against you. It is a noble desire, even if I think it's a foolish one. You are my husband, my partner for life, and the future father of my children. I don't want anything to come between us. Will you forgive me for last night?"

Conchobhar ordered the last of the oni workers to shove off, and put his arm around Lien Hua. "Of course I forgive you, Edana. I'm just glad that you're not angry anymore. You certainly have a dragon's fire!" he said embracing her, then he gave a mischievous smile. "So, I'm not quite the father of your children yet. Why don't we get to work on that one?"

"Here? Now?" said Lien Hua flustered.

"Inside of course!" laughed Conchobhar.

"But all of our things are over at the new house, and people are waiting," said Lien Hua.

"All of 'our' things are over there, but not all of my things. My old room is still here, and they don't need us at the new house just yet. Are you serious about having children or not?" he said caressing her. She nodded and yielded to his touch. Conchobhar picked her up and flew to a somewhat secluded set of rooms in the upper stories at the back of the palace, where he entered through the window. It looked like he'd done that many times before.

The room had been cleaned, but not so washed as to get rid of Conchobhar's scent that permeated it. There was a platform bed at one end, piled with furs and surrounded by partially drawn privacy curtains of wine colored velvet, that somehow looked familiar. At the foot of the bed was a plush love seat on a carpet made from the pelt of some large, white, woolly animal, across from a now cold fireplace. The mantle of the fireplace had the stuffed head of some fearsome beast hanging over it that reminded her of both elk and wild boar. The other end of the room held a table, some chairs, and shelves. On the table was a kind of viewer and stacks of discs that Conchobhar said were recordings of various battles and battle techniques of tournament warriors. On the shelves were an assortment of boxes, books, trophies and photos, including a big one of the team, and next to the shelves hung his champion's belt and the tournament flag. A door behind the table opened on a small library, that might have once served as a school room, and there were two other doors opposite the window. The smaller door, near the fireplace, led to a private bath, and the larger double doors led to a formal, and little used, sitting room and the main doors of the suite that led to the hall.

Conchobhar put Lien Hua down and shut the window. Lien Hua looked around, at the paintings of Conchobhar as an infant and child with his parents hanging on the little library's walls, at what was in the various rooms, at the stuffed creatures that must have been a part of Conchobhar's hunting experiences, and at his champion's belt, and the victory picture of the team with the tournament flag. She noticed a photo album on top of a well worn wooden chest on the bottom shelf. She took it out and began looking at the pictures. They were all of Conchobhar and his team mates, some group pictures, some of individual members. "Did Takumi take all of these?" asked Lien Hua.

"Most of them," said Conchobhar. "Takumi was teaching me to use the cameras, so some of the later ones I took, like these of Takumi in battle." He pointed them out. "They're a little off center, and some are a bit blurry. Takumi is a much better photographer."

"The pictures you took aren't bad," said Lien Hua trying to see Takumi through her husband's eyes, as one of his friends. "You just need more practice. Takumi is a strong fighter, isn't he," she said looking at the pictures of Takumi's lithe body in action, as calm and deadly efficient as Akuma seemed to be powerfully enraged.

"Yes he is," sighed Conchobhar. "He's not as strong as Ryoga, or as fiercely cunning as Akuma, but he has his own strengths, and is by far the most intelligent of our team. He has always had a thing for gadgets and inventions that gave him, and our team, an edge on others, but he has been steadily growing in physical strength and power since he joined the team. He nearly beat Akuma in the last tournament, and she is very close to my level. I have to train hard to keep ahead of them." He turned to her "I'm really sorry about what he did... I had no idea that he felt that way. I never thought he would try to hurt you like that..." he said, trying again to apologize.

"I understand," she broke in. "I know that he was your friend, and what he did won't change that. I think that it's an admirable thing that you want to stand by him, even though I really can't sympathize. Maybe someday I will be able to forgive him, but not now. I can only go so far as to accept that he is your friend, an important part of your life, and that I love you. Can we leave it at that?" she said shutting the photo album. "Being here just made me want to know more about you, about who you were before we met. The past is always a part of the present, and the future, even with all of the change that happens. Maybe I should know a bit more."

She went to put the album back and accidentally knocked over the wooden chest, spilling its contents all over the floor. They were an odd assortment of rocks, shells, and bones, a child's old toys, scraps of paper with childish drawings and writings, a necklace of yokai baby teeth including the fangs, a bracelet made of yellow hair, an exotic flower dried up in a box, and a single hiruiseki stone.

"I'm sorry," she said getting down on her hands and knees to pick the things up.

"No problem," said Conchobhar going down on his knees to help her. "It's just a bunch of stuff I collected as a kid."

"Another part of your past?" she said laughing as she held up a mechanical bird that no longer worked, with scraggly bits of orange feathers still attached.

"That was a gift from Suzaku when I was really little," laughed Conchobhar. "One of my baby toys I couldn't bear to part with, even when it broke beyond fixing. Suzaku was always like an older brother. Even though he's just as old as the other daimyo, maybe even older, he never really gets old. When he reaches a certain age his body bursts into flame and a new body is born from the ashes of the old, so he stays forever young. I think he's on his 10th incarnation now. When I was little he was like a much older brother, but as I grew older he was more like a brother who was just a little bit older, and more experienced. He always had time for me, no matter how busy he was."

"And whose baby teeth are these?" she said holding up the necklace.

"Those are mine," said Conchobhar. "That was one of Baka's ideas. Here's a drawing I did of him," he said showing her an old yellowed piece of paper with a child's drawing of two yokai. One was obviously Conchobhar. The bat like wings, three horns and black hair, and the hairy legs were hard to miss. Next to him was a skinny boy with red skin and hair, two horns and a huge fanged smile, wearing nearly as little as Conchobhar. "His real name was Bakuha, but everyone called him Baka. We got into so much trouble together," chuckled Conchobhar. "He was my best friend for a very long time. I wish cameras had been invented back then. I would have liked to have a picture to remember him by, instead of these bits and pieces of things that we found. One day we were having fun together, and then the next he was gone," he said sadly. "I don't know if anyone really knew how he died, not even the police. Everyone suspected he got into something too dangerous, because that's how he was."

"That must have been hard,"

"Yes, it was," said Conchobhar. "I remember talking to Suzaku about it. Suzaku said he had lost everyone that he had ever cared about. That was the breaks of being immortal. He told me that I couldn't dwell on the loss, because it was likely that I would also out live everyone I cared about, with the blood of Morrigan and Enma in me. He said the key to life was to enjoy the now, and not get too attached to that which would pass. That's what he does with all of his friends and his lovers. They are only temporary. Only Enma, Morrigan, the other daimyo, and possibly me are things that he counts as constants in his life."

"I couldn't live that way," said Lien Hua. When Conchobhar didn't answer she looked over and saw him staring absently at an exquisite dried flower in a small box. A few broken petals had fallen on the floor. "What a lovely flower!" she said. "Too bad some of its petals are broken." She put the broken petals in the lid of its box and handed them to him.

Conchobhar sighed. "I probably should get rid of this," he said sadly.

"Why," she asked. "It's such a lovely flower, and perfectly preserved. I've never seem anything like it."

"And you never will," he said. "They were incredibly rare and are now extinct."

"Then why would you want to get rid of it?" said Lien Hua.

"Because, it's from the first girl I ever slept with," he said looking at her with great sadness. She encouraged him to go on, not really sure where this would lead. "I was young and she was very beautiful. Her name was Bara, and I met her in the woods. I was still sad from Baka's death, and she had a way of making me forget. There were things that Baka and I had talked about doing with girls, things that we'd seen other guys like Suzaku do when we spied on them, and she let me do them to her. She actually encouraged me to. I came to see her every day. After some time I got up the courage to have sex with her. The next day little flower buds started poking out of her hair. She said she was very happy and couldn't wait for them to bloom. Two days later her head was covered with blossoms just like this one. After we had sex that day I started talking about always being together. She became sad and gave me one of the flowers. When we said good bye that day she meant it forever. I looked everywhere for her, but couldn't find her. When I asked Suzaku to help he told me about her kind, that she would have planted herself in the ground and become a kind of flowering tree. Once she dropped her seeds, the seeds I helped make, she would wither and die. I could have been friends with her forever, but lovers for only a few days. The irony was lost on me back then. I only knew that she was dead, and it was at least partially my fault."

"So you have children by her?" said Lien Hua, very uncomfortable, even though she felt pity for the girl.

"No," he said. "All of her kind are extinct, burned down in various forest fires. One occurred close to where we met. None of our offspring would have survived, if they did they also led short lives. After that I bought into Suzaku's philosophy." He picked up the yellow hair bracelet and the hiruiseki stone. "My next lover, Kicho, gave me a bracelet made of her hair just before I broke her heart by breaking up with her. Years later I found out that she'd killed herself afterward. Shimohime shed a single tear when I told her I was leaving. I never appreciated how rare that was. I never saw her again. She would be an old woman now, or probably dead. After her I went out for the tournaments, so I ruined fewer lives in my pursuit of pleasure for the moment. I guess I was still looking for friends, people I could share my life with."

"Keep them then," said Lien Hua, gently taking the mementos and placing them in the chest, and putting the chest on the shelf.

"So, what about your close childhood friends?" said Conchobhar changing the subject as he stood, helping Lien Hua up.

"Mostly it was just my brothers and sisters," said Lien Hua. "They were always close by, and they continued to be my closest friends, especially after I came back from the outside world."

"I wish I'd had brothers and sisters when I was growing up," said Conchobhar. "What were my parents thinking, only having one child!"

"Probably that too many of Morrigan and Enma's offspring might not be a good thing," laughed Lien Hua.

"You don't feel that way, do you?" said Conchobhar putting his arms around her waist. "Wouldn't you rather follow your own parents' example?"

"Of course," she said kissing him.

As he led her towards the bed she remembered where she had seen it before. In some of Takumi's pictures. Of course Takumi would be able to plant hidden cameras there. He had been in that room many times with the team, and so had Conchobhar's lovers. She quickly put the thought out of her mind. Conchobhar was her husband, not theirs. This love was for her only. This time, this place, was hers, now and always. She would be the one to bear his children, and to live with him. As she, and Xin Le Hua with her, thought about being his wife and the mother of his children with profound pleasure, something deep within her opened up, releasing in a long natural rhythm that echoed their physical pleasure in a slower tempo, the beginning of a long process, the beginning of an egg.

----
"Am I the father of your children now?" asked Conchobhar as they got up.

"I think so," she said putting her hand on her belly. "It will be a month or so before the egg will be ready to lay in the hatching ground, and another eight months before it hatches. I hope you're ready to be a good father."

"Believe me, I'm going to take lots of notes from your father," he said watching her with pleasure as she dressed. "His kids turned out all right, not like me. My dad means well, but he has issues, and a temper to back them up. We always seemed to rub each other the wrong way, so he tended to leave me to my own devices when I was little. I don't want my kids to have the problems I did."

"I think you'll do well," she said kissing him. "There's a lot of your mother in you too."

He laughed and swept her up in his arms. He exited through the same window that they had entered, closing it behind them with his tail. Then he flew off northeast, towards lake Shinzoko and the Chushinchiku Mountains, and towards their new home, Kiryushiro, the castle of Kiryu.

They crossed the great expanse of fresh water, the wind rumpling it into waves like the ocean. Great sea monsters sported in the deep water and hunted their prey as the two passed over. Soon they neared a dark, misty, outcrop of the central mountains that protruded into the center of the lake. The dark turrets and pinnacles of a castle standing on the outcrop barely showed through the gray mists like phantoms. Out of the mist flew a hearse like black carriage, drawn by twelve sleek black horses. A dark fog seemed to flow from the horses' hooves, and as they came closer Lien Hua and Conchobhar could see the horses' flared nostrils and demonic red eyes and the fangs that protruded from their lips. The carriage driver was a dark goblin of a fellow swathed in black. The horses turned to bring the carriage along side of Conchobhar and Lien Hua, and the window opened to reveal the vampire lord, Lord Kyuketsuki.

"Good morning, neighbors," he said cheerfully. "Why don't you ride with us to your castle?" Lord Kyuketsuki opened the carriage door. Conchobhar trimmed his wings, using the runner as an anchor point, and placed Lien Hua on the seat opposite Lord Kyuketsuki. The vampire lord's son, Ketsueki, and his friend Yorutsubasa, moved over to Lord Kyuketsuki's seat next to a beautiful dark haired woman in European clothing that Lien Hua recognized as the organist at Xin Le Hua's wedding. Then Conchobhar got in and sat next to Lien Hua, shutting the door.

"You have already met my son, Ketsueki, and his companion, Yorutsubasa," said the vampire lord indicating the two teenage boys. "This is my wife, Lady Reiwana. She is very interested in old European fashions and architecture. She designed our castle in the neutral area between the regions. The Morrigan has called upon her talents in designing the rebuilding of your castle. It seems that her Majesty desires a mixture of east and west in the central region's chief building."

"I wanted to thank you in person for saving my son and his companion," said the elegantly dressed woman in a pleasantly smooth voice that could easily turn seductive if she wished, but for now was merely full of gratitude. "I was too busy at the wedding to do so properly, so I was happy to find out that we would be neighbors, and that I would have the chance to repay you in part by helping design your new home."

"It isn't necessary to repay us," said Lien Hua. "We were glad to help, whatever the cost. I could not stand by and let someone like Daraku hold anyone, let alone children, in such terrible captivity, no matter how I might have been punished for disobeying the law of my country."

"Then I am doubly glad that your 'punishment' has proven to be so pleasant," said Lady Reiwana.

"Political unions can prove to be quite pleasant, if the two are willing," said Lord Kyuketsuki.

"That's right," interjected Conchobhar. "I just remembered that your marriage to Lady Reiwana sealed the pact that joined together the two rival vampire clans, the Kagehaka and the Chitsuki, and stopped the blood feud."

They conversed pleasantly as the coach wound through the mountain passes up to the highest summit. The slopes of the summit were sculpted to hold what once was a grand oriental style palace covered in gold leaf and golden glazed tiles. It was partially in ruins, but most of the ruined part had been cleared and new construction was going on. The coach circled the site while Lady Reiwana pointed out where the new features would be, especially the grand dining hall with huge arched windows that would look out over a sheer cliff in a spectacular view, and the towers that would join all of the buildings together into one whole. Then it landed in a large walled courtyard with three ruined gates that led to roads in disrepair, just beyond a series of large looms and dye vats that had been set up there. Tending the looms was the jorogumo, Kuyamu, and her numerous children. Kuyamu's legs were bound in iron, a reminder of her imprisonment, but she seemed happy to be out in the open air weaving her spider silk cloth.

As they exited the carriage a few large bats descended, and transforming into vampires they unloaded the family's luggage, taking it to a temporary storage area until the guest quarters were finished. The structure of the main building was still sound, a five storied Chinese style palace, but it was missing a large amount of gold roof tiles and decorative cornices, and the gold leaf on the outside was nearly gone. The out lying buildings, having suffered irreparable damage, were completely demolished and being rebuilt on Lady Reiwana's designs. It was amazing how much had already been accomplished. The two wings, long two storied buildings with smaller third and fourth story at the end like towers, were half completed as were the towers and turrets that connected them to the main building. The beds for the gardens around them had been prepared and the plants were standing by for planting as soon as the building was finished. The courtyard had been enlarged at a slightly lower level and completed along with its stairs, thick walls, and covered parapet walks, but the Chinese styled gateways and the square corbelled towers with their crowning turrets and conical roofs still needed to be finished. The roads were still under construction and would probably take far more than one day to completely finish. The walls and towers on the peak to the right and behind the castle were not finished yet either. As they looked at everything that was going on they saw Father Asa flying with a load of building materials towards the back of the castle.

"It looks like they could use some help," said Conchobhar taking off after Father Asa.

"Why don't I take you on a tour of your castle," said Lady Reiwana taking Lien Hua by the arm and leading her past the looms toward the stairs to the great front doors of the old palace. "You can give me some suggestions about color and decor. I really wasn't sure what you would like besides plenty of sunlight and open areas. Even then I wasn't sure if your other half would agree. We can also go through the older part of the castle and see if there is anything worth salvaging before the clean up crews get finished with it."

"All right," said Lien Hua. "I've never really thought about designing my own living space. All of the rooms in Huang Jin An were designed thousands of years ago."

"That's what makes beginning in a new castle so much fun!" said lady Reiwana.

One of Kuyamu's children, a girl about five years old came up to them and bowed. "Great Lady," she said in a tiny voice. "My mother wishes me to accompany you and take note of what kind and color of weavings you desire to be made."

"Very well, you may come with us," said the vampire lady.

They entered the great doors. The first floor had already been cleaned and repaired as a great entry hall. A new grand staircase had been built to the second story, while doors on either side led to the wings and a set of French doors led to the dining hall. Lady Reiwana said that the room had needed a lot of cleaning, as a number of animals had taken up residence in the old building. unfortunately the only surviving furnishings on that level consisted of a few burned up remnants and a half burned portrait of Lord Kiryu and his wife and daughter.

The lady vampire also showed the small ante rooms that connected the entry hall to the great towers and the guest wings. Unlike the buildings in Huang Jin An, where every room had its own exit, these were completely enclosed, exiting in a main hallway that in turn exited into the entry hall. Lady Reiwana said that it was designed that way for defense against attackers, though the walls and towers were connected with easily guarded entrances and exits for the purpose of moving whoever the prince and princess's guards would be, to positions that needed defending.

Then she showed Lien Hua the large kitchen and the dining hall. The back of the dining hall was a massive, curved, bank of arched windows that hung slightly over the cliff giving a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains and their verdant valleys, backed by the distant snow capped mountain wall of the northern region. Lady Reiwana said that she splurged on the windows here because it was the hardest to attack, and held the most spectacular view. She also said that while the bulk of the windows would be a specially dense, clear, glass, the arched tops would contain stained glass scenes, and that crystal chandeliers would hang from the high ceiling. She talked of white marbled walls with gold details and trim, and trompe l'oeil ceilings of blue skies with fluffy white clouds and flying birds and dragons. They discussed the color of table cloths, curtains and upholstery, settling on red velvet for the entry, white and gold for the dining hall, and blue, white and gold, with red velvet for the guest rooms. Lady Reiwana also suggested an Arenburg parquet for the dining hall, because of its square within a square design, while keeping the beautiful yellow stone tile of the main hall, and perhaps a Versailles parquet for the guest rooms with patterned carpets. Lien Hua was amazed at the vampire lady had so much knowledge of architecture and interior decorating, especially from cultures and worlds completely distant from this one. How did she acquire knowledge from places that were supposedly locked away from this one?

Just then an oni, covered with rock dust, came up from a set of stairs that led downward under the castle. Seeing Lien Hua and Lady Reiwana he bowed and told them that the bath house and laundry had been dug, but they couldn't find the water source. What ever had supplied water to the castle before seemed to have dried up.

"Let me try something," said Lien Hua and they headed down the stairs. The baths were spacious but unfinished, the polished marble having not been installed yet. Workers stood around waiting to see what would happen.

"Where do you want the water to come in?" said Lien Hua as she transformed to robot form. The surprised oni indicated the pipes that led up to large water tanks.

"Connect the pipes up," said the robot Lien Hua. "I will do the rest." The oni did as she said. Then she went down on her knees and placed her palms on the ground. There was a high pitched whirring sound and as her hands gave off a golden brown glow. Suddenly she could see deep into the mountain, every crack, every pocket, every vein of ore, and on below that down to the fiery heat. She expanded her field of vision and found an underground river. The whir became louder as she began to manipulate the rock forming a tunnel, calculated with precision, from the underground river past the heat source, building pressure, and up to the castle's water tanks. The whirring stopped and the light faded.

"Problem solved," said Lien Hua as she stood and transformed back.

"Carry on with the work then," said Lady Reiwana to the workers. "Now, let's go see about those upper stories," she said to Lien Hua leading her back up the stairs and to the second floor.

The second floor was being cleaned and refurbished, connecting to the second floor of the two wings and the towers. It also had rooms for the servants, storage, and a large hall for formal meetings, conferences, and judgment. There wasn't much in those rooms, and Lien Hua said they could be used for the same purpose with a refurbishing of the existing wall paintings in the large hall, so they went up to the third floor, which had been a library with rooms that were rather like monk's cells, or perhaps studies of some kind.

The back of the third floor was being joined to a large room at the top of the dining hall. There were several skilled scribes cleaning, restoring and cataloging books. There were also some valuable treasures, vases, jeweled decorative items, jade pieces, and such hidden away in some of the rooms under piles of old cloth. There was even some good pieces of furniture. Evidently the broken stairway prevented much damage or further looting after the first time, and though there was smoke damage the fire that had burned the lower floor and the out building had not come this far. Lien Hua and Lady Reiwana searched through the items and discussed what would be done with them and how the rooms on that floor would be used for various leisure activities and quiet study, then went up to the fourth floor.

This had been the living quarters of the family and was still fully furnished, though dusty, dirty, and obviously lived in by birds and other flying creatures. It was sad going through Lord Kiryu and his family's things, looking at pictures of the kind, happy faces knowing of the tragedy that happened. It was hard at first to envision these rooms as hers and Conchobhar's, and those of their children, but she managed to get through the ghosts of the past and convey her likes and the likes of her husband to Lady Reiwana and plan the future design of their living quarters.

Then they went up to the fifth story, a rather odd room with mystical signs on the ceiling and a kind of balcony with star gazing equipment. Other things in the room consisted of a loom, some musical instruments, a writing desk with brushes and ink blocks, and a pedestal table in the center of the room with a topographical map of Demon World inset into the surface. The map had two concentric circles, one around the outer mountains and one around the central region, two circles intersecting the center one to northeast and southwest around Morrigan and Enma's territories, and four intersecting lines dividing the map into eight equal pieces. Two lines ran in the cardinal directions, the north-south one cutting through Genbushima and Suzakuyama and the east-west one cutting through Seiryutaki and the western gate, Nishimon, which was actually labeled even though it had only been created a few days ago. The other two lines cut along the border of the four regions, the northwest by southeast one cutting across the Daikazanyama and Hiromiyama volcanoes, and the southwest by northeast cutting through Morrigan and Enma's residences. The center point of all of the lines lay to the north of the vampire lord's castle. Around the map, inset into the table top was a rotating ring with celestial constellations marked on it. Lien Hua was puzzled by the table, wondering what it was used for, and yet feeling that it was very significant.

Father Asa landed on the stellar observation deck and entered the room. "Ah, so dat's where you haf been, liebchen. I wondered when Conchobhar came without you, but he said dat you might be in here. Haf you gone over the whole castle?" he said.

"Yes, with the exception of the unfinished areas, and the attic," said Lien Hua idly toying with the map table.

"We will take a quick look at the attic to see if anything has been left behind there, but it is best to leave the attic to the susuwatari (soot sprites), or bats if there are any, for good luck," said Lady Reiwana.

Lien Hua gave the stellar ring on the map table a casual spin, stopping its motion with the palm of her hand, letting her fingers drop onto the map. The table began to glow with a golden light and the map split in eight parts, opening up iris fashion. The inside of pedestal lifted up revealing a very old book written on a special long enduring paper. Newer sections were bound to the back of the older ones spanning thousands of years. Strangely enough the book was written in a form of Chinese similar to the ancient dragon language of Lien Hua's own people. She began reading the first page out loud, translating as she went. Aunt De Zhen and Lord Seiryu came up as she read.

~~~

The words of Kiryu on the things told to him by the Lord God of Heaven and Earth, the Self-existing One, the God of gods. This, the first day of the New World.

When the Lord God of Heaven and Earth told me to join myself to Enma the Destroyer, King of the oni, I was in shock. I begged Him to reconsider, but He said that it was for the good of many and the punishment of the wicked that Enma should rule over the monsters of the eastern islands who call themselves yokai in their language, and that I was to join with him to advise him. Though I have been with Enma these many years the things that the Lord God foretold did not come to pass in that time. Enma slaughtered the innocent along with the guilty, and what order he brought was an order of injustice, though he did leave me free to help whom I would help.

The Lord God told me that destruction would come before the building of a new world, and chaos before order, but I did not understand until today. A door had opened to a dying world, a world full of blood and death, and Enma led us through it as one people, both the powerful and the weak, the violent and the peaceful. It was there that he encountered a powerful being, the fay Morrigan, who was easily his equal in power and a woman of such beauty that he immediately became enamored and pledged to help her win her battles if she would consent to be his consort. The plight of her world was desperate so she agreed, though her soul was as pure as his was sullied. The battle was won, but it seemed to be in vain as the world fell apart in chaos, but the Morrigan drew upon our strength and built a new world for us to live in, the kernel of a new world. I pray that the order the Lord spoke of will soon follow.
~~~


Lien Hua flipped through the pages of the book. "It looks like a book of prophecies given to Lord Kiryu by Aru since the beginning of Demon World, mixed with a historical record," she said, "kind of like a diary."

"It was well known that Lord Kiryu could often see the future," said Lord Seiryu, "and that he was more righteous than the rest of us. It was always a mystery as to why he followed Lord Enma, and even more of a mystery as to why he did not foresee the attack that killed him and his court."

"He was a good man," agreed lady Reiwana, "and a righteous ruler."

"So, God did leave a record of Himself to the yokai people," said Father Asa intrigued. "Dis should be translated and distributed to the churches, dat is if God really wants it to be. I would still go over it carefully and ask God what He wants done with it before doing anything."

"Here is something he wrote at the end," said Lien Hua looking at the last page of writing. Again she read out loud, translating.

~~~

This the fifteenth day of the month of the Serpent, in the two thousand and seventh year of the new world.

Today I received a ransom note from those who kidnapped my only child, my daughter Nikkohime, instructing me and my wife to bring riches I do not have to the valley where the bone-eater was slain. I cried to the Lord God for help, and He revealed to me the end of the matter. Even if I gathered a big enough ransom she would not be saved from death. I and all of my household have been sold to death!

Why Lord? Why should I and my family be sold to destruction? have I not been faithful to You all these years? have I not ruled in justice, righteousness, and mercy, over the lands that I have been given, and tried to teach the people Your will and Your ways?

The Lord said, It was not enough, not enough to stay the hand of judgment. The people of these lands have not believed or turned from their wickedness. So I will remove you and your household from them so that their wickedness may become full. Do not be afraid. I will not let you suffer, neither you nor your wife or your daughter, or anyone with you. Your death will be swift and I will gather you to Me forever, and you will have rest from all your labor and sorrows. Evil ones will grow in the land that you ruled with righteousness. They will be a stench in the nostrils of all yokai. They will wax in power until they challenge the very heavens. They will take captive the little ones of all of the important yokai and treat them harshly. They will not be gentle to them nor heed their tears, as I have caused your daughter's captors to be gentle to her. No, they will do unspeakable things to them so that the name of this land will stink to those who hear of it. At that time the one who is to succeed you will come, with the prince of this land. Because of her the evil ones will gather together for judgment, to be struck down and utterly destroyed. The evil ones will oppose her and be struck down, never to rise. The treachery of the traitor shall not prevail. She will bring the knowledge of Me with her and it shall be spread to the farthest corners of this land of the yokai. She and her children after her will rule from this house, and the world that was split asunder shall once more become whole. This is so that all may know that I am the Lord, the God of gods, the Author and Sustainer of all.

To those who read this, do not forget me and my family.
Signed this day,
Lord Kiryu, Servant of the Lord and Daimyo of Chushinciku
~~~


"So you are the fulfillment of Kiryu's last words," said Lord Seiryu softly to Lien Hua.

Father Asa put his hand comfortingly on Lien Hua's shoulder as she handed to the book to Aunt De Zhen.

"I will have this translated for you," De Zhen said to her niece.

Lady Reiwana went up a ladder to the attic and came down. "There is nothing in the attic, but the roof is in extraordinarily good condition."

"I think we will restore this room to what it was, and make it a memorial to Lord Kiryu and his family," said Lien Hua. "Their pictures and more personal effects will go up here."
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Re: Takumi's Story

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Kiryushiro no Tatakai

The sun was beginning to go down as the last piece of furniture was put into place and the dining tables set for dinner. The kitchen was busy preparing food and a string quartet, provided by Lord Kyuketsuki and Lady Reiwana, was tuning up. Lord Kyuketsuki's vampires were standing by to wait on the tables, elegantly dressed in black with white gloves like so many butlers. The oni workers had been sent home to be replaced by garuda guards and some other yokai who had volunteered to make up the beds and clean the rooms. A regular staff for Kiryushiro had as yet to be decided on. The elegant underground baths had already seen use by guests who had been helping to build, while Lien Hua and Conchobhar bathed and dressed in their own living quarters. Everything was perfectly elegant and suitable, even to the gold dragon cornices and kirin ornaments on the freshly tiled roofs and the gardens around the buildings planted under Lord Seiryu and Aunt De Zhen's direction, now lighting up with a multitude of bright Chinese style lanterns using fay lights. A few garden fairies had already taken up residence in the new gardens and were flitting around. Lien Hua was surprised that it had all been built in a day.

Lien Hua was wearing a gold, phoenix and dragon pattern brocade dress, somewhat like a qipao but with a scooped neckline instead of a mandarin collar, and a gold satin sash draped around her waist with a wide obi like bow fastened in the back. The collar and hems were studded with crystals for added sparkle, and were complimented by the crystal studded gold pumps that she wore, all designed by Lady Reiwana. She also wore her hiruseki stone necklace and Xin Le Hua's wedding tiara without the veil. Conchobhar had done up her hair in soft curls fastened with jeweled hairpins. Conchobhar was also dressed up in a loose white, long sleeved, backless tunic with a colorfully embroidered collar and front, and bound at the waist with a broad colorful sash that hung down in front like his regular clothing. He was also wearing a black vest colorfully embroidered with dragons and tailored to accommodate his wings. His outfit was also designed by Lady Reiwana, and looked almost Hungarian, only without the pants.

As they walked down through the third floor to the second they met Lord Kyuketsuki and Lady Reiwana, dressed elegantly in Victorian era evening clothes, all in shades of black and accents of white. The two boys, similarly dressed, followed after looking very proper. Lien Hua had a question to ask that had been bothering her for awhile. She wasn't sure it would be proper to ask in front of the boys, but it would be even more rude to ask in front of the other guests, so she decided to ask then.

"Lord Kyuketsuki, you lived for a long time in the central region while it was under Lord Kiryu's rule, didn't you?"

"Not a long time, as the life of a vampire goes," said Lord Kyuketsuki, "but yes, my wife and I have lived in Lord Kiryu's lands since we were first married, and had a very cordial relationship with him. We were very disturbed by his sudden disappearance and the revelation that he and his family had been killed."

"And we hope to have good relations with you and your family too," said Lady Reiwana warmly. "By the way, we now know from some of the writing that was left in the servants quarters that Lord Kiryu had told his people of his impending demise and the sacking of his castle, giving them a chance to flee, but every one of them chose go to to the valley of the bone-eater to die with him. Such amazing loyalty!" She sighed with admiration.

"Admirable, yes," said Lien Hua a bit flustered, trying to get back on track. "The thing is, Conchobhar told me once that you were a powerful boss in the crime syndicates, pardon my bluntness, but how could you have such a cordial relationship with such a righteous man and live so close to him too?"

"You are so much like your predecessor," said the vampire lord with an enigmatic smile that had a sinister edge to it, "and so lovely too. I see that you do not lack in courage or intelligence, so I will say this; whatever illegal acts that may or may not have been done, by people who may or may not have been under me, were never done in the central region, by strict orders. There is no reason to involve people that I respect in things that they do not approve of."

"I do hope that this won't get in the way of our being friends," said lady Reiwana. "I had so much fun renovating your castle. There are so few women of rank to have parties with, most of the lords seem to be bachelors, or perverts, and you live so close. I was so looking forward to having you over to my place on occasion."

Conchobhar laughed. "I don't think there will be any problem there, once she's had time to think about it, as long as she doesn't come home a few pints short of blood."

"I would never...!" said Lord Kyuketsuki in an offended tone.

"I'm not as naive as she is," said Conchobhar, "but I won't press things as long as that private stash of chilled dragon's blood that you may or may not have doesn't get any larger at her expense."

"I have only the greatest respect for you and your wife," said Lord Kyuketsuki with a bow. "I owe a great deal to you both," he said looking over at the boys. "I say most sincerely that no harm shall come to you or yours on my account, and anyone who causes you trouble will have me to answer to. It is true that if she had come to Demon World under different circumstances I would have had no problem taking blood from her in payment for my services, especially in view of the rumor at the last Tournament that she and the DG90 were to enter, but I do not take blood payments, nor any other kind of payments from my friends, neither do I exploit them for my own gain."

"I think I'd better go down and greet the guests," said Lien Hua even more uncomfortable, heading down the stairs. Conchobhar went with her and the vampires followed.

The great entry hall already had a large number of guests in it milling about or conversing in small groups within the various sitting areas arranged with elegant armchairs, sofas, and banquettes with coffee tables and end tables with floral arrangements or expensive decorative objects, and more were arriving and entering the great front doors. Lien Hua and Conchobhar took their places by the dining hall's French doors as the butler, Lord Kyuketsuki's own butler, opened them and announced that dinner was ready. Lien Hua greeted the guests personally as they entered and thanked them for coming, Conchobhar informing her as to who each person was. There were many lords and important people in addition to the three daimyo, Lord Genbu being absent, and Enma and Morrigan. Some brought gifts which were put aside by the butler for Lien Hua and Conchobhar to open later. Also in attendance were the new priests, with Father Asa and his twins in their midst, competitors from the Dark Tournaments with Conchobhar's remaining team mates, important clan leaders and chieftains, and some of the children that had been rescued, invited by Morrigan. The children in particular were rather awestruck, though Kimae the necomusume managed a pretty thank you speech while tightly holding the wolf boy Kajiru's hand, and Itazurako the tanuki asked Conchobhar for his autograph as well as the rest of his team's and any other famous fighter she could find. Those who had been in the brothel together greeted Yorutsubasa warmly, but rather shyly in front of his lord. Then Lien Hua's sister Chun Yue, and brothers Sheng Li, Kun Li, and Quon Zhu came through the front doors with four of the black dragon knights carrying kegs of wine and beer. A number of yokai eyed Chun Yue's full figure appreciatively as she gave her sister a big hug, others eyed the kegs. The butler showed the dragon knights with the kegs to the kitchen where they could deposit their load.

"What are you doing here?" said Lien Hua to her siblings.

"You didn't think we'd let our sister move into her new house without a visit did you?" said Chun Yue. "Frankly I think mother and father would have shown up if they could. So, how do you like married life? Is your husband taking good care of you? I must say your house is certainly grand enough! It's much bigger than Bao Yu's." Then, quickly moving on without giving Lien Hua a chance to answer, "You can tell me all about it later, since we're going to stay for a few days. I don't want to hold up the line," she said breezing past into the dining hall.

"Father said you don't have to return to Aleriand right away," said Sheng Li by way of explanation. "A new ruler should take time to get to know the people under her administration and establish order. You do have to show up for the New Year's celebration though. Father still expects an egg in the hatching grounds about that time."

"Good to see you again, brother-in-law," said Quon Zhu gripping Conchobhar's hand.

After greeting Conchobhar and their sister the three brothers followed Chun Yue into the banquet hall. After the last of the guests had entered and were seated, and the great front doors shut, Lien Hua and Conchobhar entered the dining hall and were seated at the head table with their family members and the three daimyo. Everything glittered in the light of the chandeliers as dinner was served in courses, as described by little menus, though of course anyone wanting more of a particular dish was instantly served. All the time the string quartet played and conversation filled the room. At the table with Conchobhar's team and some other fighters a comment was made that Conchobhar should have married Chun Yue, as she was "built", but Akuma nearly made beer spew out of Ryoga's nose with a retort that, as satisfaction went, Chun Yue could never compete with Lien Hua in robot form. This lead to a conversation that was in stark contrast to the conversation at Father Asa's table, where the priests were discussing the recently found prophecies of Lord Kiryu. At Lord Kyuketsuki's table the waiters poured chilled bottles of what looked like wine, except it seemed a bit thick and red for wine. Lien Hua smelled the odor of fresh blood, as did many others in the room though they ignored it. Some smelled almost like dragon blood, but it had lizardy overtones to it. Others smelled almost human. Conchobhar whispered that it would be in bad taste, as well as of dubious legality, for the vampires to drink the blood of creatures with souls. If they ever did that, it would be in private, and that what she smelled was the blood of certain animals kept for that purpose. Nevertheless, it was still a bit disconcerting to her. She wasn't sure how to deal with the vampires, yet deal with them she would have to as they lived in her lands and wanted to be her friends.

As the dessert course was served the lights of the crystal chandeliers were turned down a little to give the room a romantic glow. The full moon shone through the arched windows and the string quartet began to play waltzes. Shortly after Lord Kyuketsuki and Lady Reiwana rose and went to the part of the room that had been left clear of tables, and began dancing. Conchobhar took Lien Hua out to the dance floor and was followed by Enma and Morrigan, the great fay making her husband's clumsy steps look elegant. As the fay danced the lights of the chandeliers dimmed further and wandering lights like fireflies filled the room, as well as a fresh breeze of midnight forest air, and the sounds of wind, water, and tiny singing frogs mingling with the music of the quartet. One by one other couples joined, including Aunt De Zhen and Lord Seiryu. The dragon knights gallantly asked some of the unattached ladies to dance, and so did Lien Hua's brothers. Chun Yue surprised Ryoga by asking him to dance, which he accepted forgetting that he didn't know how. His team mates had a laugh at his expense as they watched him try to learn. Then a rival from another team asked Akuma to dance, leaving Kenka with Ekibyo. Kenka quickly went to another table and asked some girl there to dance. The wolf boy, Kajiru, asked Kimae if she would like to dance, and then led the necomusume to the dance floor when she nodded, and tried to copy what the others were doing. Father Asa sat back and watched, enjoying the last night of his stay in Demon World, the twins asleep in their basket.

Suddenly there was a bang and Takumi was standing in an empty spot between the dancers and the tables. He was dressed in a loose white kimono making him look like an invalid in a hospital. The lights went up and the music stopped as Takumi's weak legs collapsed. Father Asa was instantly behind him catching his weakened body. A second later Father Asa's chair fell to the floor with a clatter.

"Are you always so helpful, priest?" said Takumi bitterly, hating the weakness that plagued his body.

"I try to be," said Father Asa wryly.

"Takumi!" said Conchobhar quickly going over to him. Enma's face grew furious as he started to follow, but Morrigan held him back and whispered to him that Conchobhar should handle it. "What are you doing here?" said Conchobhar. "You know how that technique drains your energy. You should be healing at Genbushima!"

"I know," said Takumi, his emotions terribly conflicted again as he saw the genuine concern in Conchobhar's eyes, "but what kind of friend would I be if I let you die without even trying to warn you?" He tried to lift his hand to get his device, but swore softly as his weak arms didn't respond. "My hand device is tucked into my robe," he told the puzzled Conchobhar, "get it and press the button for viewing recordings. You'll see what I mean."

Conchobhar fished the device out of Takumi's robe, while Lady Reiwana told the waiters to bring one of the sofas in from the entry hall. They placed the sofa behind Father Asa who gently laid Takumi in it, propping him up as comfortably as possible with pillows. As Conchobhar played the recording King Enma and the three daimyo gathered around. It showed a group of shadowy men in a cavern. Though their faces couldn't be seen, even with Takumi's special bug's abilities, their voices were pretty clear. They were all talking about a military coup. They were going to attack the party that night at Kiryushiro and kill everyone in the castle. Enma, Morrigan, and the Crown Prince, the daimyos, the new priests, and all of the important people of factions loyal to the crown would be there with the new daimyo of the central region, without their armies and military power. The attackers would be able to take them down, all at once! They talked about how Daraku's fall had helped them to find the flaws in his technology and fix them, and that this time they wouldn't loose. Even the great Morrigan would perish since she was weakened by her pregnancy. Enma was surprised and strangely pleased to hear that bit, and Morrigan was shocked since no one but the doctor knew that, and only very early that morning. Either the doctor, or someone in his office was a traitor.

"I wish we had some spies to tell us where they are now and what they are doing?" said Enma in a foul mood. "Where are their forces concentrated? How do they plan to attack?"

"Give me my device and I can take care of that," said Takumi not letting the smugness show in front of the oni king.

Conchobhar placed the device back in his hand. While Takumi's arms were virtually useless his fingers were still quite nimble. He punched out a few keys and his body seemed to crawl with insects. "Open a window!" he said. One of the waiters opened one of the tall, thin, windows next to the large arched ones, and all of the bugs flew out the window and scattered. The waiter shut the window when the bugs had all gone. "If only I had more screens, or a larger one," sighed Takumi. "It's going to be difficult viewing all of that information on one little screen."

Ketsueki and Yorutsubasa looked at each other, then ran off to their room. They came back with a couple of large screens, hand held gaming devices, a large battery pack, and some cables. "Will these do? They're from our game systems," said Ketsueki.

"Where did you...?" began Takumi, then he recognized the father of the boy standing near by. "Ah, Lord Kyuketsuki, I see... Yes, that will do nicely, but I will need some tools to splice these together."

"Got it!" said Ketsueki, and the two ran off to get some tools.

Lord Kyuketsuki brought a small coffee table over to Takumi, and said in a soft voice, "So you know my reputation? I also know yours. Let us leave it at that. The boys had a rough time in Daraku's care. I would hate to see that history repeat itself. I believe you will need their help in your weakened condition. You will take nothing else. Understand?"

"Do you really think I would be able to do anything like that in my 'weakened condition'?" hissed Takumi.

"Even a crippled serpent can kill with a single bite," replied the vampire lord.

"I'll have to remember that one," said Takumi as the boys came back and he began setting things up with their help.

The boys proved to be quite good with electronics. Ketsueki said that his father had a great many things like that, and they often tinkered with them, but they never got to work with anything as advanced as Takumi's gear. Enma had all of the guests and staff gathered in the dining hall, except the garuda who were put on high alert, and all of the curtains drawn. Just as Takumi got the screens up and running, showing what each and every bug was seeing and positioning them strategically, the French doors banged open and in strode Lord Genbu. His boot shod feet seemed to ooze a dark smoke, or swamp mist that trailed behind him and dissipated. He quickly scanned the room, taking in Takumi's position, and paused, as if the course of action he had been going to take was no longer necessary and he was at a loss as to what he should do next. All the time his face revealed nothing. Enma strode over to Lord Genbu and clapped his hand on the dark lord's shoulder.

"It's good to see you, old friend," said King Enma, "and even better if you had brought some troops. It looks like we have a war on our hands!"

"So, where do we stand?" said Enma standing behind Takumi and scanning the screens.

"There are several large encampments around the mountain," said Takumi in the same tone that he used in planning sessions with the team, as he brought up an aerial view of the mountain and pointed to the locations of the of the camps with a cursor. He thought momentarily about the irony of the situation. "The bulk of their troops, I'd estimate around a hundred thousand, are beginning to climb the mountain, mostly by the roads. Ahead of them is a much larger force of golems, climbing all around the mountain, that have been treated with the same chemical that Daraku's scientists developed, so spirit energy weapons are of no use on them. They should be here in about a half an hour."

"And we didn't exactly bring weapons to the party," said Enma. "Damned golems, they're harder to put down than zombies."

"What are these golems?" said Father Asa thoughtfully looking at the encroaching horde. "Are they living beings, or something else?"

"They're definitely in the class of animated nonliving," growled Enma. "They're not even like animals. You have to practically chop them to bits to stop them."

"I'll take care of them then," said Father Asa. "Just tell me when."

There were scattered comments on whether Father Asa could really do the job, but Takumi wryly accepted the possibility. "Make sure you stay hidden, priest," he said. "Even as fast as you are, you could be tracked by any trained yokai, and the living troops are armed with arrows made to take down yokai, not to mention spirit weapons. I doubt that even you could escape thousands of arrows without such harm that even your body would have difficulty dealing with."

"I will keep dat in mind," said Father Asa.

"If Father Asa is able to take out the golems," began Lord Byakko, would that give Morrigan's ravens time to bring messages to our retainers and assemble an army of our own against the rest."

"The archers have been commanded to shoot down ravens, crows, or any other birds, except the tengu, on sight," said Takumi. "Good luck with getting any messages through."

"Your Majesty, if I may," said Lord Kyuketsuki. "My men are accustomed to stealth flights. Let the daimyo write messages and my men will carry them. I only have one request in return."

"And what is that?" asked Enma warily at the vampire lord's bargaining.

"I see that there are vampires among the enemy. It would be easy to mistake one for another," said Lord Kyuketsuki. "Please, give the order that vampires be attacked only if they attack first, and leave the disposal of them to me."

"Very well," said Enma. "I will give the order and hold you solely responsible for disposing of them. Get some paper and ink!" he said to a servant. "Let's write those messages. I assume the other troops are also equipped with Daraku's technology," he said to Takumi as the paper and writing equipment was fetched. "What have you found out about that."

"Yes," Takumi continued. "The majority of the troops have treated armor, and they have perfected the weapons that would instantly kill your Majesty, the Morrigan, the five daimyo, and Conchobhar. They've managed to collect DNA samples from all of you in the last few days, Though I'm not sure that the weapons made to kill Conchobhar's wife would work on the Nobody, or her other more recently acquired forms. Anyway, those weapons are few so the fools color coded them so as not to waste them, and left the regular weapons their natural color. It would be fairly easy to avoid being hit by one of them." He brought up close pictures of the color coded weapons for the king and daimyos to see and described their attributes. One of the tournament fighters made an off hand comment to his team mates that it was no wonder that Conchobhar's team always had a counter for every supposedly secret attack, with Takumi on the team.

The azure dragon looked at the bolts designed to take him down in dragon form. "It may be difficult for me to avoid those," he said with concern. "Suzaku has a smaller profile, and more maneuverable body, not to mention the superheated aura he can project. My body is much larger and slower. Yet my best attacks are in that form."

"We are wearing fairy armor," said the black dragon knights. "We can run interference for you."

"As can we," said Lien Hua's brothers.

"That might not be enough, since it only takes one special arrow to kill him," said Chun Yue. She took a small bundle of what looked like silvery gray silk out of her sleeve and handed it to Lord Seiryu. "Here, this is fairy armor. You can wear it. It will block all attacks, but only for a limited time. The more attacks it takes, the weaker it gets unless it's recharged by fays. It should last through the whole battle and more if you are careful."

"You told father you would wear that," accused Quon Zhu, "but here you are with it stuck in your sleeve!"

"I never said when I would wear it," said Chun Yue. "It's so hard to be fashionable with those things on. Besides, I was careful."

"You will wear those garments then, Lord Seiryu," said Enma, "and Princess Chun Yue will stay here in the dining hall with her aunt. If the princes did not also have this 'armor' I would have them stay as well, since the weapons made to kill Lien Hua would be likely to kill them as well. I and the rest of the daimyo will just have to avoid these weapons. I only wish some of that fire power were on our side. The garuda have bows but limited arrows. I can call on my scythe, and the daimyo have their natural weapons, but we could have used more."

Father Asa turned to Kuyamu, the jorogumo. "Could you weave nets dat would catch arrows and bolts like fish?" he asked.

"Yes," said the spider woman with her crowd of children around her. "Easily."

"I see dat there are many vampires here," Father Asa said to Enma. "What if some of them, and myself, were to shadow those in aerial combat and use the nets to catch the arrows dat are fired at them, and bring them back here for your men to use?"

"That is a very good plan," said Enma with a grin. "I will even carry it one step further. The fighters here will help themselves to the weapons of the enemy to fight against the enemy! Kuyamu, begin making the nets at once."

"Yes, your Majesty," said the jorogumo. Going to a clear place in the room, she and her children began to make web nets.

"Also, I want all fighters here to gather over here," said the oni king. Enma then asked Takumi to bring up the aerial shot of the mountain again. "This is the plan then. When the golems reach this point," he said pointing to a place well up the mountain but still some distance from the castle, "Father Asa will take them out. At the same time the vampire messengers will leave with our messages for reinforcements. The troops following the golems should be strung out along the mountain and the roads after their demise. At that time Lord Byakko will attack randomly around the mountainside, and Lord Suzaku with the four dragon knights, and Lord Seiryu with the princes of Aleriand will attack from the air with the net carriers following. The captured arrows will be given to the garuda who will be stationed on the castle walls and towers." Enma turned specifically to the captain of the garuda. "Be sure to take down any who hold the special weapons. None of those may be allowed to get in. Also see that no one comes over the walls. If there is to be a weak point, let it be the three main gates. Conchobhar, Lien Hua, and Xin Le Hua will hold the gates and the courtyard. Do not let them be struck by any of the special weapons." He spoke to those gathered in the hall. "If any of the enemy makes it into the castle and this hall, I expect the strong to defend the weak. Morrigan will be in charge here."

"Then what the enemy said about the Morrigan being weakened by her pregnancy is true?" said one of the fighters.

"That may be," said Morrigan, "but even so I could easily take out any warrior in this room!"

Enma chuckled then returned to the screen. "At the same time as the attacks by Lord Byakko, Lord Suzaku, and Lord Seiryu, Morrigan will transport the rest of us to our attack points. Lord Genbu will take the camp on the eastern side. I will take the camp in the west. Lord Kyuketsuki, as per his request, and the rest of his vampires will take the camp in the south and then any vampires in the main force. The rest of you fighters will take the northern camp under the leadership Suigin, the silver kitsune." Enma then saw Kajiru the wolf boy among the fighters. He thought momentarily of making the boy stay behind, but instead he asked, "Can you run fast, boy?"

"Kajiru stammered a bit at being addressed by the king. "Y-yes sir!" he said.

"Suigin, this wolf boy will be your messenger to run messages to your troops," said Enma.

"Here," said Takumi reaching with an effort into his robes and placing several small objects on the table. "These are two way listening devices. If the leader of each group puts one in his ear I can communicate with him to coordinate attacks or give a warning."

Enma took the devices and gave them to the leaders. "If any of you have weapons in your rooms you want to get, or clothes you want to change into, do so now, but do not go outside or leave your windows uncovered. Be back in ten minutes!" he said to the fighters.

More than a few left the room to get changed, including Conchobhar and Lien Hua. Conchobhar took out Giolla Lasair and strapped it on his back with new straps. For the first time he felt vulnerable with so much bare skin. He hoped the garuda were successful in keeping the special weapons away from him. Everyone returned to the dinning hall with a few minutes to spare. The vampire messengers were waiting with their messages, and a number of nets were already complete, and in the possession of the vampires who would use them. More were being made. Father Asa pulled parts of his coat into place transforming himself into a dark, unidentifiable image of death itself; the dark angel. The garuda were already at their posts, and Suzaku, the dragons, and the vampires with nets were waiting on the fifth floor near the balcony. Lord Byakko was crouched in the shadows of the castle wall. The the fighters and the vampires were waiting in separate groups for instant transmission, as were Enma and Lord Genbu. Most of the lights in the castle had been turned out, and the dinning hall lights had been turned down. They waited tensely for Enma's order to begin.

The signal was given and Father Asa all but vanished as he moved quickly out the door. The vampire messengers turned into bats and exited out of the same window that Takumi's "bugs" had. The rest watched the screen as golems seemed to fall to pieces in masses, amid flashes of a coal red glow.

"Man, that priest is fast!" said a fighter. "I can't make out how he's doing that."

"You should have been at the snowball fight near Lord Genbu's place," said the tanuki who had been on Father Asa's team.

"Let me slow the action a bit so you can see," said Takumi in a rather condescending tone. "He then put a closer view on the second screen, slowed down so that Father Asa looked like he was moving at normal speed, and the golems looked like they were practically standing still. Even so it was sometimes hard to see him because of his black coat and wings. On the other hand the hellishly glowing scythe and chain were easy to see as the chain wove itself expertly among the golems, looping its fiery length around them to be pulled with a jerk neatly cutting them in pieces as easily as the scythe cut through them like standing wheat. Father Asa seemed to effortlessly reduce a large group of golems to bits and pieces and then move on to the next group. In real time this took less than a second. Soon the mountain was cleared of golems. Father Asa put his weapons away and returned to take up a net with the vampires. The enemy yokai were coming closer to the castle.

"Remember," said Enma to those waiting to attack, "don't get yourself killed. Get in, attack as much as you can, but get out before it gets bad and attack from the shadows. We have reinforcements coming. We don't need dead heroes. If at all possible don't let any of the enemy escape or take prisoners. I want all of those rebels dead!" Then he gave the signal to attack.

Lord Seiryu and Suzaku transformed and took off from the fifth floor balcony with their air support, while Conchobhar, Xin Le Hua, and Lien Hua in soul reaper form took their places in the courtyard. Morrigan transmitted the others, beginning with the largest group of fighters and ending with Enma, to their positions.

The vermilion bird burst into a flaming radiance that flickered off of the black dragons' scales as they began burning those on the roads with explosive bursts of fire, while the great azure dragon and the golden princes used wind, fire, and crushing blows. The tengu and other fliers that had been on their way to invade the castle were instantly taken down by blows from the massive beasts or crunched between their jaws. Those that were too small to crunch were incinerated. When the yokai retaliated with projectiles those missiles were stopped short of their intended targets, snared by the nearly invisible nets. Spirit attacks that got through merely bounced off of the dragons' fay armor and the fiery shield of the vermilion bird.

Byakko prowled the forested mountain as a massive tiger, his black and white stripes blending into the moonlight and shadows. When he found bands of yokai he sliced them to ribbons with powerful slashes of his razor sharp claws before disappearing into the shadows again. Most of the native animals had fled from the mountain, or hid in their dens, but the sunekosuri of the mountain scurried about and became stumbling stones under the feet of the invaders, causing many to fall, even to their deaths.

The fighters on the north spread out quietly as Suigen directed, awaiting the signal. Takumi gave Enma's signal for attack and Kajiru howled at Suigen's command. The fighters sprang up from their strategic locations and attacked the camps, taking weapons from among the fallen.

On the western side King Enma grew in stature, his skin becoming blood red, stretched over bulging muscles, and his face a hideous apparition of the most horrible nightmare with a thick bushy stubble instead of the flowing beard, and three bulging yellow eyes. His red skin was as thick as a oak boards, and as rock hard as his muscles. He bellowed as entered the camp, his scythe cutting down all who stood before him, his feet crushing all who tried to escape. The only way to flee was up the mountain.

In the mists of the east Lord Genbu became a gigantic black tortoise, almost as big as a small mountain, with the long undulating neck of a black scaled serpent. He thrust his hard beaked tortoise head into the ground with the force of high pressured water and dug deep underground. The earth shook all the way up to the castle. Then he emerge directly under the camp, crushing the leaders under an avalanche of rock, and while standing still half submerged in the ground he struck out, as swiftly as any striking snake, snapping up those that lived, piercing them through with his sharp beak and tossing them aside to die. A few stayed to fight, and perish, but most fled up the mountain.

In the south it was quiet as the leaders in the main tent felt sharp knives held to their throats. The soldiers outside were not yet aware of the danger that lurked, and most of the vampires among them had just been sent to invade the castle since the tengu had failed. Lord Kyuketsuki held a knife to the throat of a crime boss who had been his partner for a long time.

"I always knew you were a treacherous snake, Gota, but I never thought you were stupid. Rebelling against Enma and Morrigan?" said the vampire lord.

"You should join with us, Kyuketsuki," said Gota. "Daraku gave us the means to defeat them. With you on our side our victory would be assured. Then the entire world would be ours to profit from. We could even trade in human flesh and blood. No one would dare stop us. The most powerful yokai in Demon World would be on our side. You and I, we're partners! You know how it is, you help me and I help you."

"Where were you when Daraku took my son? Tell me that!" hissed the vampire tightening his grip. "It was the Prince and his bride who saved him from a fate worse than death. What did you and your new friends do to help?"

"Look, if we don't get rid of that girl and Conchobhar, and all their little priest friends, our source of income will dry up," said Gota beginning to sweat. "We won't be able to do any decent business here. Sure, I'm sorry about the mix up with the kid. Daraku should have approached you directly. But we're talking about the end of our business here!"

"I can make money from anything," said Lord Kyuketsuki. "Blood is of far more value than helions. You never learned that, did you." Lord Kyuketsuki slit Gota's throat open and drained his blood on the ground. "Spill their worthless blood on the ground," he said to his vampires. "It shall not be mingled with ours." The other vampires slit the throats of the yokai they held and poured out their blood on the ground.

"Boseki," he said to one of them. "Take care of things here, I'm going after the vampires who left. Spill everyone's blood!"

"And what of their families who are not here?" said the vampire left in charge. "Shall they be killed as well?"

"No, this is not a blood feud," said Lord Kyuketsuki. "If they side with the clans there will be no trouble, but all who side with the rebels shall die." They quietly left the corpses in the tent. Lord Kyuketsuki and some of the strongest of his men flew after the vampires headed towards the castle, while Boseki led a swift and deadly attack against the rest in the southern camp.

The first of the attackers had reached the top of the mountain and were being kept off the walls by the garuda. Lien Hua drew her zanpakuto and Conchobhar drew Giolla Lasair while Xin Le Hua activated her dark saber to defend the gates. Those that ascended the mountain roads had either taken shelter in the woods as they climbed, or used defenses against the fire and air attacks, making the daimyo and their escorts expose themselves to attacks more than was wise. The castle would soon be in danger of being overwhelmed. Inside the castle Morrigan, and the women and priests who could fight, readied themselves to defend the children and the weak.

Yorutsubasa and Ketsueki stood by Takumi, helping when it was needed, and watching the screens. "We should pray to Aru, like we did while we were being held captive by Daraku," said Yorutsubasa quietly.

"Yes!" said Itazurako enthusiastically. "Then Aru will punish them, like he punished Daraku's men when he sent the Morrigan and Conchobhar to save us!"

"When did you children hear about Aru?" said Lady Reiwana surprised.

"It was when Daraku's men were pounding down the door and saying Prince Conchobhar was dead, after Kimae told the Forbidden Story..." said Itazurako.

Kimae turned pale and dropped to her knees, begging for forgiveness from the Morrigan. The great fay signaled her to stop. "Aru has forgiven you Himself. Why should I hold it against you?" said Morrigan, to the grateful necomusume.

"... Anyway," continued Itazurako, relieved that her slip of the tongue hadn't cause Kimae harm, "Yorutsubasa told us that the story was forbidden because the Morrigan serves the God Aru," omitting the part about King Enma's old eating habits to avoid further trouble, "and she doesn't want to be called a god herself. Then Tsurara said we should pray to the Morrigan's God, so we did, and He saved us!"

"Lord Kyuketsuki told us," said Yorutsubasa indicating just Ketsueki and himself, "that Morrigan worshiped Aru."

"It was just coincidence," said Takumi critically. "You do realize that both Morrigan and Conchobhar would have been coming to save you long before you even prayed, don't you? Praying to gods for help is stupid! It's the strengths of the yokai that determines the out come."

"No it's not, Mr. Takumi," said Ketsueki boldly. "We talked to Aru Himself in the Temple of Heaven in Aleriand. He is as great and mighty as Conchobhar told us. He did answer our prayers, and yes, even before we said them. What's more I have also dedicated my life to follow Him and His teachings, as has my friend, Yorutsubasa."

"Does your father know about this? Have you talked to him?" asked Lady Reiwana in a concerned tone of voice.

"Not yet," said Ketsueki, loosing a lot of his boldness in the face his mother's possible objections. "I guess I need to talk to him. Even if he disapproves of my choice, I should talk to him."

"I think we should pray," said one of the priests.

"I agree," said Morrigan. "Young Lord Ketsueki, would you lead the prayer?"

Ketsueki looked at Morrigan, somewhat surprised, and then nodded. Having never prayed before and not knowing what sort of stance to take, he looked up at the dimly lit crystal chandeliers and trompe l'oeil ceiling, to avoid people's eyes, and stood still with his hands stiffly at his side. His tone was formal, because of the people standing there, but to his mind the words went out to someone real, someone he trusted with all his heart. "Great God Aru," he said. "We are surrounded by our enemies, people who hate us without cause, and would destroy our King and Queen who follow You, and all of their nobles. Our great ones and mighty warriors have joined our King to fight against them. You know this. You know everything. We are in Your hands. Be a shield of protection to us, and strength to those who are fighting to protect us. Go before us and fight against our enemies, and bring reinforcements behind. Let us not be overwhelmed by their numbers, but trust in Your deliverance," he finished.

"Yes, Aru, help us!" added Kimae softly.

"Amen," said the priests.

A golden light shone out of the fifth floor windows, through the thick drapes. The invading vampire bats approaching the castle could clearly be seen in the light, but the garuda did not fire at them because of Enma's orders, and Lord Kyuketsuki was still far behind them. As the invaders approached the castle a translucent golden shell appeared extending over the roof, arching downward to the ground like dripping melted butter, but it was no shimmering dream. The bats slammed into the adamantine surface and skittered across it momentarily stunned. Before they could do more than recover and hover around the top of the golden dome, Lord Kyuketsuki and his vampires were upon them, biting and buffeting them with their wings. The rebels quickly descended to the area just above the courtyard, between the stairs and the castle doors, transforming into their more human forms and drawing weapons. The castle doors were inaccessible behind the the golden barrier. Lord Kyuketsuki and his men descended also, transforming and drawing weapons as they fell. Then the battle began in earnest, vampire against vampire. One of the vampires had special weapons in his possession. He saw Conchobhar and the two girls battling at the three gates and decided to go after the prince. Lord Kyuketsuki placed himself between the would be assassin and the prince, fighting the rebel on the stairs until the incursor lay head downward, a length of tree branch through his heart and his throat slit, with rivulets of blood running down the steps.

Lien Hua, Xin Le Hua, and Conchobhar found themselves surrounded by invading yokai, and more were streaming in at the gates. The garuda were trying to be selective about shooting the ones who seemed to have special weapons, since even with the gathered arrows their resources were limited, and they were trying to fight yokai on both sides of the wall. Xin Le Hua decided to try her flute. Calling to Lien Hua, she and Conchobhar moved closer to her. Lien Hua used the massive bankai form of her zanpakuto to protect them and take out the surrounding yokai while Chonchobhar fired flames from Giolla Lasair. Xin Le Hua put the flute to her lips. First she played Gotterdamerung, but there were few among the ones they fought that were truly dark creatures, and it interfered with the ability of the vampires on their side to fight effectively against the others. Quickly she switched to Die Walkure, hoping that it really would work as Morrigan had said it would. Suddenly beautiful golden haired, green eyed, silvery skinned women, dressed in flowing green appeared, floating in the air. Their garments covered their feet, but where the cloth floated aside the hooves of goats could be seen.

"The glaistigs!" hissed Conchobhar. "I've heard of them, wild dark fays that live in secluded pools and streams and feed off the blood of people, though they have been known to aid lost children and the elderly. There were rumors of them in the central region."

The glaistigs hovered around Xin Le Hua for a moment, singing to her flute, then whirled out among the rebel yokai embracing them with death. As Conchobhar watched he saw that Xin Le Hua had called more than just the glaistigs. Ugly little spriggans, barely visible they were so good at hiding, stole the enemies' weapons right out of their hands even, tripping them up, and killing them where they could. With the extra help of the glaistigs and the spriggans, the three managed to hold their own against the flood of yokai, but more were coming. The garuda were loosing ground to the forces around the walls.

Lien Hua's brother, Sheng Li, saw the troops still coming up the roads and was concerned that the castle would be over run. "Lord Seiryu," he said. "We have one more attack that we hardly ever use, because of the collateral damage. None of our forces are on the roads yet. If you can keep our people out of these parts of the mountain for a long time, my brothers and I can effectively eliminate everyone on the roads with chlorine gas, unless they breathe something other than air."

Lord Seiryu conveyed the message through Takumi to Enma and the others, and Enma gave Lord Seiryu the go ahead. Each of the three golden dragons moved into position over one of the roads flanked, at a greater elevation, by the black dragons and the two daimyo, who stayed out of the area described by Sheng Li. The golden dragons then flew down the roads, breathing out a layer of greenish yellow gas on the yokai traveling up them with devastating effect. The yokai clutched at their burning throats and eyes before collapsing on the road amidst vomit and coughed up blood. A few that were more immune ran from the roads deep into the woods, as the caustic effects spread along the ground and spilled over cliffs. Sunekosuri that were on the road or near by turned themselves into stones to avoid the gas. When their run was over the golden dragons returned to the air.

"I don't want to do that again," said Quon Zhu, surveying the results of their sweep.

"Hopefully we won't have to," said his brother, Sheng Li.

The dragons and the daimyo continued patrolling the air, looking for open places where they could attack, but there were few. Lord Byakko though had more than he could handle on the forested sides of the mountain. The battles at the north and south base camps continued, but those in the east and west camps had pretty much fled up the mountain, away from King Enma and Lord Genbu. A small group from each of those two camps had hidden out a little ways away to recover their special weapons and plot how to land a blow on the two titans. The battle in the castle courtyard eased a bit as Lord Kyuketsuki's group finished off the rebel vampires and joined in the defense of the walls, and the flow of soldiers from the roads stopped, but there were more in the woods still that were coming. While Takumi was checking the different views of the bugs a rock fell reveling a tunnel, and he sent the bug into it to investigate. All of those with listening devices heard him swear and comment that the enemy was tunneling through the mountain.

"Let me try to handle this one," said Xin Le Hua. She wasn't sure she could do it, but it was worth the try. She concentrated on the power of the Dragonsage of Earth as Lien Hua had done. The robot form acknowledged her as owner and suddenly she was in control of the robot form, thinking through an electronic brain. The glaistigs and spriggans, without the nobody, wandered off. Xin Le Hua reached down and touched the ground. The high pitched whirring sound began again as her hand gave off a golden glow and she could see into the core of the mountain, every element, every crack, every facet of every rock. Several tunnels led from various locations outside the base of the mountain up towards the castle's foundation. The digging was being done by a smaller kind of yokai, what kind she didn't know, at a very fast pace, but with them were a few very strong yokai with special weapons designed to take down Morrigan. At the moment she was viewing the insides of the mountain the fighting around her increased and some powerful yokai broke through the bankai form of Zeng Wai, Lien Hua's zanpakuto. Two engaged Conchobhar in a duel with special swords and daggers that were designed to kill him, while two others went after Lien Hua and Xin Le Hua with weapons designed to take them down. It looked like the enemy had judged the positions of their targets and were getting more specific in their attacks. The yokai attacking Lien Hua managed to cut her arm from shoulder to elbow with his special dagger before Lord Kyuketsuki took him down, sheathing the weapons used against the girl in the yokai's own body, where it would be hard for anyone else to use them. The yokai attacking Xin Le Hua broke his weapons on the adamantine skin of the robot. She briefly turned her arm into a photon cannon and at point blank range blew her attacker away before returning her attention to the ground. The whir became louder as she began to manipulate the rock of the mountain. The mountain shook as she collapsed the tunnels, crushing everyone in them. The minor quake threw Conchobhar's attackers off balance for an instant, the instant that was needed for Conchobhar to kill them. Then Xin Le Hua, still in robot form, and Conchobhar fought off the encroaching horde with the help of the vampires, while Lord Kyuketsuki bound Lien Hua's wounds up. Thankfully Takumi's prediction that the special weapons might not work on her other forms turned out to be true.

As that was happening in the castle courtyard, the dragons and Suzaku were being attacked by a large group of powerful tengu. The tengu were were clothed in garments that had been treated to resist both spirit attacks and fire attacks, and they carried weapons to use against the two daimyo as well as the golden dragons. Behind them was their mistress, Amanozako, as ugly as ever and armed to the teeth. The larger dragons found it hard to battle the vicious horde, and it was uncertain how long the fay armor would hold out. The black dragons were already being wounded by the attackers, though their fay armor had seen far more damage than Lord Seiryu and the three princes. Lord Suzaku was completely vulnerable to the tengu's attacks and only barely avoided death through skillful flying. Down at the base of the mountain Enma and Lord Genbu were also dealing with determined groups trying to get in that one death blow, while the vampires and the fighters were just holding their own. The vampires in the sky stopped using their nets to catch arrows and began tangling tengu in them and dropping them to their deaths. A few stealthily attacked the tengu directly, biting their necks from behind. A large, powerful tengu that had been matching Lord Suzaku's flight, and barely missing the vermilion bird with his sword, grabbed a hold of the daimyo's wing and reached out to stab him. Suddenly the tengu's uplifted arm, and wings fell off with a flicker of red, as did parts of the other tengu near Lord Suzaku. As pieces of the tengu plummeted to the ground the dark winged figure of Father Asa paused in front of the vermilion bird and asked if he was all right. Lord Suzaku thanked him and said that he was.

"I know that you don't like killing," said the vermilion bird, "but we would appreciate your help in getting rid of these tengu, especially Amanozako, their leader." He gestured with his beak in the direction of the ornate and heavily armed female tengu who was headed towards the courtyard with some of her best warriors.

"I understand," sighed Father Asa. "I will do what I can." The dark angel seemed to vanish as he flew off after the tengu that surrounded the dragons and then Amanozako.

Everyone was beginning to tire as the battle raged on, and the glimmer of predawn began to light the sky. The garuda had to designate some of their number to retrieving spent arrows for their bows as the others often fought hand to hand. Both King Enma and Lord Genbu had their amazing luck continue as various yokai came so close to wounding them with the specially designed weapons. Suigin the silver kitsune and Boseki the vampire were both wondering when they were going to have to call their troops to retreat so as not to suffer casualties.

Suddenly howls sounded on both sides of the mountain. In the south Kagekiba and the secret police along with many large oni warriors and garuda charged into the fray along side of the vampires. In the north it was Okami and her wolves with Lord Genbu's lizard warriors and some snow white hibagon (yeti / bigfoot) who came to aid Suigen and the fighters. To the east various tribal chieftains from the Hebinaga river valley came with their warriors to aid Lord Genbu, while the Unseelie Court flew past them and began their work on the mountain's sides. In the west Lord Byakko's students and the tribal leaders of the forests of Nishichiku came to relieve King Enma.

Enma called the four daimyo to go with him to the top of the mountain and defend the walls, leaving the reinforcements to mop up at the bottom. Lord Seiryu and Lord Suzaku flew to the walls blasting around them where they could to clear them of the enemy. The golden dragons flew to the courtyard and transformed into their human forms, drawing their swords, to defend their sister. After helping Father Asa dispose of the tengu, the black dragon knights joined them. Enma strode right up the mountain side, along with Lord Byakko who remained in the shadows. As there wasn't much room for fighting outside the wall they assumed their human forms, along with Lord Seiryu and Lord Suzaku, and each taking a stretch of wall called forth their weapons to defend it. Lord Genbu transformed into his human form too, and striding up to the top on a bridge of mist and fog, he joined the other daimyo and their king. The weapons they wielded were ancient ones, with names that only they knew. Of course Enma wielded his scythe, which adjusted itself to Enma's height. Byakko wielded an odachi, a sword similar to, but much larger than, a katana. This one had sacred prayers engraved on it and was said to to be made of seven rare super metals layered together. Genbu used hari gata shuriken (needles) of ice that could stun an opponent, momentarily freezing them, and his great black kuda yari (drilling spear) whose blade was strong enough to pierce plate armor. Seiryu wielded a weapon with great skill called a meteor hammer or dragon's fist, consisting of two shining metal orbs like dragon claws clutching giant blue metallic pearls joined by a rope of dark blue-black hair that seemed to be indestructible. In addition to swinging and flinging the orbs to crush his opponents, or defending against their attacks, he could make a crushing wind attack with them. Suzaku used a bisento, a broad bladed pole weapon more like the Chinese guan dao than the Japanese naginata. The large blade of his bisento had wing and fire patterns and burned along the edge with a vermilion fire, and when it penetrated flesh the flame literally exploded with messy and deadly results. Enma and the four defended the walls so well that by the time the last star faded the courtyard was completely cleared of the enemy giving rest to those fighting there. An hour later the last rebel was slain, and the barrier around the castle faded. The jubilant troops crowded into the courtyard just as the sun rose. It was almost as if the redesign of the enlarged courtyard had been made specifically for this purpose.
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Mamma Peach
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Re: Takumi's Story

Post by Mamma Peach »

Aftermath

Those still inside the castle crowded into the grand entryway. Morrigan, Lady Reiwana, and Lien Hua's aunt and sister came out of the castle as Enma located Kagekiba, received the report of the various generals and clan leaders, and set one of Kagekiba's officers, a pale blond female kitsune with patches of faded brown that looked like she had recently dyed her fur for undercover work and it hadn't all come out yet, to work healing the wounded along with whoever else had any healing abilities. Morrigan stopped her husband on the stairs, as he was entering with Kagekiba and a cloaked figure that many instinctively avoided, and gave him an amorous hug and a long kiss.

"I'm so glad to see you," she said. "I hated not being able to do anything for you, sealed in the castle like that, not even able to cast a spell in your favor."

"Well someone must have cast something in our favor," said Enma scratching his long beard. "Every last one of the enemy forces are dead, but not one of ours. There aren't even any lost limbs or eyes. All of the wounds are curable, and not one of those for whom those insidious special weapons were made was touched by one, except Lien Hua who was thankfully not in her normal form. You should look into that, by the way. I have never seen anything like it in all of my years of combat! Such a miraculous victory is never found in warfare."

The voice of the tanuki girl, Itazurako, could be heard over everyone else's, "Yes! Just like I said, Aru destroyed them, just like He destroyed Daraku!"

Morrigan smiled at that, but became grave as her husband asked her to keep Conchobhar busy and continued into the castle with Kagekiba and the cloaked figure. Lady Reiwana also greeted her husband in the shadows of the wall, who was having his more serious wounds bound with the other vampires. Boseki was reporting that the men had taken no blood, as commanded.

"My dear," said Lord Kyuketsuki to his wife after a brief kiss. "Take some of those who are less wounded and bring back all of the stock that is left for the men to drink.

Lady Reiwana quickly did as instructed. As she led a few of the vampires to the kitchen she saw Enma, Kagekiba, and the cloaked one enter the dining hall and everyone still inside sent out, except Takumi, and garuda stationed at the doors to keep people out. As she retrieved the bottles from the kitchen that looked like wine, but weren't, she could hear Enma's stern voice though not enough to understand what he said. A garuda stood by the kitchen door that led to the dining hall to prevent entry. As she and the others left the kitchen with heavily laden baskets, her son and his friend came up to her, concerned about Takumi. She told them that it was not their business to interfere and took them with her. Once outside she distributed the bottles to the hungry vampires, saving one for her husband.

Takumi looked up startled when Enma came into the dining hall and told the servants who were cleaning up, and the two vampire boys who were helping with the equipment, to leave, and set a guard on the door to keep everyone out. He went cold on seeing Kagekiba and the cloaked officer that stood behind him. As the cloaked figure removed her hood revealing dark black skin, a shaved and tattooed head, holes where her nose and ears had been cut off, blood red lashless eyes and blackened fangs, Takumi's eyes took on a feral look, like a cornered fox. No one but Morrigan, Enma, and Kagekiba knew the dark woman's real name or history, but everyone called her Tori'ireru (to harvest / reap) and her skill was torture. She could wring the deepest secrets out of anyone.

"What's she doing here?" growled Takumi feeling his skin crawl.

Enma spoke gruffly, sparing no sentiment. "There is a little matter regarding the fact that I let you live primarily because of what you might know about the spread of Daraku's technology. Tonight's events have shown me just how important that information is. If you answer all of Kagekiba's questions promptly and truthfully, and give your full cooperation, her only job will be to stand there and look menacing. Leave your equipment on. You might need to show some things to Kagekiba." He turned to leave. "Kagekiba, when you are done here come to the library on the second floor. You will present your findings to myself and the daimyo there." Then Enma exited the dining hall, the garuda shutting the door behind him.

Conchobhar came up to his father in the entryway, looking at the closely guarded doors with concern and a little anger. "What's going on? Why is Tori'ireru in there with Takumi? Didn't his timely information, at great expense to himself, just save lots of lives tonight?"

"And it will save more," said Enma with little patience. "I'm not waiting till he gets well to question him about Daraku's technology that he used against you."

"But Tori'ireru?" exclaimed Conchobhar.

"They have orders not to hurt him," barked Enma. "Leave it at that! When they are done, you can take care of him, but until then stay out of it!" Enma strode out looking for the daimyo.

Conchobhar sat in the grand entrance hall, trying to see past the garuda and the French doors into the dining hall.

Morrigan had already seen to Lien Hua's wound. It didn't seem to have any remnants of the blade in it, but she sang a spell over it anyway to rid the wound of any harmful elements. Only after she had finished did she allow the two girls to join together and become Lien Hua's normal form and join the daimyo gathering in the library. Morrigan turned her attention to the warriors, sending them home in transportation that had been sent from the capital. She also sent messages ahead of them to make sure that victory feasts were prepared in their honor. Most of the vampires likewise went home, though Lord Kyuketsuki and his family stayed. They and other guests retired to their rooms to sleep, just as the morning sun was shining brightly off the gold tiles of the roof. Lien Hua's brothers and the black dragon knights had gone off to a large room with jugs of what smelled like spiced milk laced with wine, an ancient dragon remedy for sorrows of the heart. A human would have just taken the wine. They didn't look too good, especially the youngest. She guessed that this was the first time they had actually killed people. The first time was always the hardest. She hoped they would come to terms with the guilt of taking lives. She reminded herself to check on Father Asa later.

The cat like kasha, who had come in the transports from the capital, were taking the dead on the mountain to bury them, as the Unseelie Court gathered all of the special weapons to bring to the yokai queen. Then, as the blood stained courtyard was emptied of yokai, Lien Hua's aunt and sister began to dance the ancient dragon dance of plenty. The sky began to rain a purifying rain that washed away the blood and caused the plants to grow. All over the mountain flowers burst out and plants grew. Spring time, Summer, and harvest came all at the same time. Fruit, nuts, and grains grew in profusion and the animals began returning to the mountain. Morrigan took the weapons that were given her by the Unseelie Court and laid them on the ground, doing a dance of her own that would remove every poisoned stain, every shard and piece of the evil weapons, and every vile thing from the mountain itself. Thus between the three of them the mountain was restored, a peaceful island of beauty among the mists. Then even they left the courtyard. Morrigan went to join her husband and the daimyo. The aunt and sister to their rooms. As they passed the large room that the brothers and dragon knights had sequestered themselves in, they could hear the black dragon knights singing victory songs in drunken voices, but under the singing they could also hear Quon Zhu crying and his brother Kun Li gently telling him that if Lien Hua had gotten over it so would he, and calling for more of the stuff they were drinking. Chun Yue put a hand over her mouth and stifled a sob. Her aunt put a comforting arm around her as they walked on.

The French doors finally opened and Kagekiba went upstairs after sending the least exhausted of his officers off on a job, while the hooded and cloaked figure of Tori'ireru went into the grand entry and waited near, but not with, the rest of the officers. Conchobhar hurried in to check on Takumi. The crippled yokai seemed very shaken but not visibly injured.

"Are you all right?" asked Conchobhar going over to him.

"Yeah," said Takumi, "but I would have liked an intrusive physical search a lot better than Kagekiba's intrusive questioning." He looked at the equipment in front of him. "Help me turn this stuff back into game systems. I don't think Lord Kyuketsuki will be able to replace them as things are now."

Conchobhar helped him reassemble the boys' systems. Though he didn't have the knowledge that the boys had, his hands were nimble and he was good at following instructions. Soon the systems had been reassembled to play games instead of spy on people. Throughout the whole process Conchobhar felt that Takumi wanted to talk to him about something.

"Conchobhar," he finally said with a kind of sincerity that he rarely showed. "I don't want to go back to Genbushima. I don't want to be Lord Genbu's lover any more."

"Where will you go, then, and who will take care of you?" asked Conchobhar evenly. He knew that Takumi had made many enemies. Even just the skills that he had shown last night would give some the reason to take advantage of his weakened state, and kill him. Though the very thought of what Takumi's association with Lord Genbu meant made him cringe inwardly, there was no doubt that he would be the most protected, and best cared for in the dark lord's house.

"I was thinking... that I could stay here with you," said Takumi looking down at his hands.

"If it was just up to me," said Conchobhar, "I would say yes in a heart beat. I promised I would see you through this and I intend to keep that promise, but it isn't my decision to make. This is Lien Hua's house. You will have to ask her. Oh, and you might want to begin that with an apology. You hurt her very much, you know. I've never seen her so angry before. She really wanted to tear you to shreds."

Just then the king and the daimyo came down the stairs, and Lord Genbu walked into the dining hall. "Are you ready to leave?" he said to Takumi in low matter of fact tones, his face as impassive as before.

"I want to talk to Lien Hua," said Takumi, and when Lord Genbu showed no sign of leaving he added, "alone."

Lien Hua stepped into the dining hall. Conchobhar provided a chair for her opposite the sofa Takumi was reclining on, and left the hall with Lord Genbu, shutting the door behind them. Lien Hua sat in the chair. Though her attitude had been somewhat softened towards Conchobhar's team mate, she still felt ill at ease. She counseled her mind to be charitable towards him.

"What do you want to talk to me about?" she said.

Now that he was facing Conchobhar's wife Takumi wasn't quite sure what to say. He was still jealous of her, and there was the fact that she was a woman. He usually had little but contempt for women in general. Either they were violent and vindictive like Akuma, or soft and weak like Conchobhar's other love interests. His own mother had seemed like a psychotic mixture of the two. Either she had been weakly following her boyfriends, making excuses for them, covering up for them, always hoping they'd commit to more but giving them whatever they wanted, or she was shoving him around, beating on him, calling him a liar when he told her what her lovers had done, accusing him of doing things he hadn't, accusing him of being the reason happiness eluded her. If there had been times when it had been otherwise, and there had been, he didn't remember them. Lien Hua though was an anomaly to him, like Morrigan, only the queen was a power that could not be dealt with as an equal, but must be submitted to. That was not what Lien Hua was. He had assumed that because she was kind, and forgiving, that she was weak, but he saw how strong she was in battle last night, and the thought that such strength could be backed by fury was a bit daunting. He didn't want to underestimate her like he did the priest, and dealing with the emotions of a woman could be tricky. So now the man who made a living from reading people and playing them was at a loss for words that would persuade and convince. Well, he had to begin with an apology.

"First, I want to apologize," said Takumi humbly. "What I did was wrong, and I'm sorry that I hurt you." That sounded perhaps a little insincere. He needed to add a more personal note. "I shouldn't have spied on your private times together. It was wrong of me, and a habit that King Enma's command will surely break. Nor should I have tried to break up your marriage with those pictures. I see now that you really are the only one for Conchobhar, and that his love for you can not be broken." He was essentially admitting defeat, but then he really never had a chance anyway, did he? "I promise that from now on I won't interfere with your life with Conchobhar." Now that was a promise he would have to keep if he ever wanted to be near Conchobhar again. Should he take his confession a step further, and risk her anger? A truthful revelation could be a powerful tool. "So that you know I mean it... I'll delete the last bit I have of you and Conchobhar in bed. It's from an older bug that I can't destroy remotely, in Conchobhar's room at the capital, in the canopy, just above the bed. He can destroy the bug the next time he's there." Takumi reached over to his device.

The apology seemed sincere enough to Lien Hua, though the confession of his last indiscretion left her feeling cold. She reached over and took the device. "Show me what you recorded," she said a bit icily.

Hoping he hadn't blown it, Takumi did what she asked. The recording began with Conchobhar bringing her in through the window. Takumi explained that it was a long time ago that he had set the bug to make recording automatic when anyone entered the room. It went on through Lien Hua's conversation with Conchobhar about his friend Bakuha, and the tragedy of his first love, to their time together when she had conceived. To know that Takumi had been watching made her blood run cold, but she remembered her promise to forgive. Mentally she asked Aru for strength to carry out her resolve. She rewound the image to just after they talked about her family, and handed the device to Takumi.

"You can keep everything up to here," she said thinking perhaps the conversation about friends would be good for him, "but erase the rest. As long as you are keeping your promise, I want Conchobhar to continue being a friend to you. A real friend, mind you, not an obsession. I will forgive you for what you did, but don't ever let it happen again."

Relieved Takumi did what she requested while she watched. That had gone well, now for the real question.

"Lady Lien Hua," he began, still finding it hard to personalize her with a name. How should he continue. Sympathy? Yes, appealing to her heroic desire to help, without sounding too pathetic might do it. "I need your help." The skeptical look on her face meant a hard sell. He hated authentic vulnerability and disclosure, but she was not a fool. He would have to let her see some of his desperation. "I made a deal with Lord Genbu, when I was hiding from Morrigan," he said, his voice beginning to shake a little. "I agreed to be his lover. I used to do that a lot before I got strong enough to defend myself, back when I was a kid." The pain of his childhood was was far too real, and it showed. He wanted it to show, just a bit, even if it hurt. "I don't want to go back to Lord Genbu's house. I don't want to be his lover, but I have nowhere else to go. There are yokai who would gladly kill me, just for what I know or could know, not to mention rivals or those that I have made enemies of because of my behavior. I have no one else to turn to except Conchobhar, but not even he can help me unless you agree to it. Please," he begged, "let me stay here in your house, at least until I get my strength back and can defend myself."

Lien Hua's heart went cold at the thought of Takumi staying in her house. It was one thing to forgive his past behavior and to allow him to be friends with her husband at a distance, it was quite another to bring him and all of his perversions into her house. There were so many things that could go horribly wrong. How could she ever trust him to control himself, considering how far he was willing to go? On the other hand, how could she send him back to a life that had hurt him so much, and twisted his mind and heart, if he was willing to take steps to get out of it? Would children in her house be safe? How was she to resolve this inner conflict? He was sitting there waiting for her answer. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, praying to God for guidance.

The voice of Aru came into her mind. ~Let him stay in your house. Don't worry, for I will protect you and all who are with you. Be kind and generous to him without fear, for I am your shield, your fortress, your protector. He will not harm you, or your children, or any of the children who come into your house. I am the one who sent him here to heal his body and his soul.~

When Lien Hua opened her eyes there was a look of serenity on her face that caught Takumi completely off guard. "You may stay in my house for as long as you need to," she said softly. "You must keep your promises though, and also you must not hurt anyone in my house, or engage in any illegal activities. Do you think you can do that?"

"Yes," said Takumi, "I can do that."

"Then there should be no problem," she said smiling and standing to leave. Takumi was rather amazed at how quickly that had been resolved. There was definitely no accounting for the vagaries of women.

When Lien Hua turned to walk toward the door, Lord Genbu opened the French doors and walked in toward Takumi, followed by Conchobhar. Takumi looked up at the dark lord's impassive face. "I'm not going back with you," he said. "The agreement is over. I'm staying here with Conchobhar and his wife."

Conchobhar put his arm around Lien Hua and gave her a squeeze. Enma's face clouded over for a moment then he left the door way and headed to the entry hall, where Kagekiba was briefing his officers. The other daimyo were speechless. Lord Genbu's face revealed nothing.

"So, you were just using me to avoid the police then," said Lord Genbu with an edge to his voice.

"And you used me," said Takumi. "It was a fair enough trade."

Lord Genbu turned abruptly to leave the room, then paused for a moment. He spoke in a menacing tone. "Unless you are with your team I don't ever want to see you on my lands again, Takumi!" Then he strode out of the castle and down into the mists.

King Enma returned, with the pale blond female kitsune who entered the room just as Conchobhar was saying that they needed to get Takumi a room. "May I help?" said the kitsune. "My name is Inori and I'm an expert healer." Lien Hua recognized her as one of Kagekiba's officers, but she seemed to be unknown to Takumi. "I know a great deal about rehabilitating the severely injured, and I could help with whatever the gentleman needs."

Conchobhar looked at his father and shrugged. He supposed it was necessary. "She is a good healer," he said. "I can vouch for that. What do you say, Takumi? It would make things easier if you had a personal trainer and attendant. Of course I'd help whenever I could."

As much as he detested the idea of having Inori around all the time, Takumi realized that in his present condition he needed help badly. "Sure, but just until I can take care of myself," he said.

Conchobhar picked Takumi up and soon they had him installed in the largest room in the fourth floor of the tower of the left wing of the castle, and officer Inori in a smaller room next door. Then after a quick breakfast Conchobhar and Lien Hua went to bed, as did everyone else.

Morrigan on the other hand had gone to check on Father Asa. She found him surrounded by the remnants of a very large meal, dozing off while trying to feed the two infants. She took the twins from him. "Let me take care of them," she said. "You will be going back later this afternoon, so you'd better get your sleep. You'll want your wits about you when you return. By the way, how are you doing personally? You seem to have fared better than those poor dragon boys, who I believe have drowned their sorrows in a drunken stupor."

"Dis is not the first time I haf killed," said Father Asa, "nor will it be the last I fear. I haf learned to deal with the guilt of taking lives over the years, though it is still hard. Perhaps I will haf time to talk to those young men when they wake. Thank you for taking care of the babies for me. I am so very tired."

She left him to sleep and went out in the garden to play with the babies.

***

Lien Hua woke in the afternoon as her sister brought a large lunch into her bedroom for her. Conchobhar had already gotten up and gone about the business of seeing to getting a permanent staff for the castle. He was helped a lot by the new priests and the remaining daimyo. Lien Hua ate and talked with her sister for a long time. She told her about all the things that had happened since they last saw each other, and about the developing egg. Her sister also told her about what was happening at home, but she mostly wanted to hear about Lien Hua and Conchobhar, and what it was like to be married. It helped them to forget the troubles of the previous night to talk about romance and babies. Chun Yue left when Conchobhar came back, and Lien Hua got herself ready to go to the capital to say farewell to Father Asa.

They rode to the capital in a cart with the new priests so Lien Hua could get to know them better, though it seemed like most of their guests were also going to see Father Asa off. He was well liked by a good number of the yokai. When they arrived they went to the courtyard. It had the same huge, intricate, series of circles drawn on it as before. The Unseelie court was positioned waiting for Father Asa and Morrigan. Morrigan checked Father Asa over as he was saying his last farewells to everyone, to make sure that his appearance, and the appearance of the twins, was exactly as it was when he had arrived, though his pockets carried a good number of trinkets in them that hadn't been there before, gifts from various yokai. Morrigan had also included special gifts for the babies when they grew a little older. His Bible had also been returned to him, after being copied thousands of times by skilled scribes. Finally after, saying goodbye to Lien Hua and Conchobhar and wishing them well, he stepped into the center of the circles with the twins and stood the way he was standing when he was taken from the world he had been on. Morrigan and the Unseelie Court began to dance. When they finished they left the circle and Morrigan touched the circle with her foot. Lights rapidly raced around in the order in which the fays had danced. When the great circle of circles had been completely traced with light, a beam shot up from the perimeter encompassing the whole area. In the center of the beam the dimensions began to warp, creating an effect that was hard on the eyes of those watching. When the dimensions coalesced the lights faded leaving an empty unmarked pavement. Father Asa was gone.

After that most of the yokai said goodbye to Lien Hua and Conchobhar as well as the king and queen and went home. Lien Hua and Conchobhar also went home, that is after they destroyed the bug in Conchobhar's old room.

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Mamma Peach
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Re: Takumi's Story

Post by Mamma Peach »

Months later...

Takumi's Dilemma
Takumi sank into the warm waters of the castle’s bath, trying to relax after his work out. He was restless and testy in spite of the pleasant surroundings.

Because Morrigan was still recovering after just giving birth to her daughter, Aine (En-ya), as well as her part in holding their world together (for a while after the split Enma and the remaining four daimyo had been afraid that Morrigan would actually die), it fell entirely to King Enma and the daimyo to crack down on crime and dissidents. Takumi’s part time job under Kagekiba in the Secret Service had turned into a full time job of spying, using his specially designed devices. It kept him occupied as much as his former career in making porn had, but not in the same way, though it could be said to be more intellectually rewarding. The rest of his time was taken up with training for the Dark Tournaments, either alone or with the two new recruits for the team, Shiori the Aosagibi (whose angelic human form bore more than one similarity to the winged priest, Father Asa, in that as desirable as his slender athletic body was, he was also untouchably moral and upright), and Dobutsu the Nue (who had no attraction at all - with his ugly monkey head, tanuki body, tiger’s limbs, and serpent headed tail - but a great deal of skill, and also a strong moral sense). Sometimes Takumi found the morality of the priest’s converts to God rather tiresome, but they were good fighters none the less.

Months had passed since Conchobhar had left for the New Year’s celebration in his wife’s country, and though, as Takumi found out afterwards, he had stopped by to see the Morrigan on New Year’s Day he had not stopped by the castle to see him. Then there was the whole “world division” thing that messed up everything. Still, the world had been whole for three months now and there was still no sign of Conchobhar. As part of Takumi’s new assignments in the Secret Service he had sent probes into every part of this new world that the Morrigan had designated as “Triudomhan”, even into the frozen, sleeping, Aleriand, but Conchobhar wasn’t there. Takumi’s best guess was that Conchobhar was somewhere in the vast island chain that connected Yokaisekai to Aleriand, that is if he was in the world at all... thus part of Takumi’s frustration, as his obsession with the prince had never gone away. Even though Conchobhar had refused to be his lover, he had promised to remain his friend and help him, not only to heal from the physical injuries he sustained fighting Conchobhar in the Crystal Caverns, but to sort out his feelings for Conchobhar (and the legal problems that his actions had gotten him into). But it wasn’t the absent Conchobhar that had nursed Takumi back to health, or helped him manage his sexual urges. It had been Inori the kitsune.

Takumi could remember the scent and feel of her body. He never really knew before that a woman’s body could do things a man’s couldn’t. Of course she wasn’t all soft and flabby like other women, and like Lady Lien Hua she had seemed to contradict his opinion that women were either weak or vindictive. Inori was tough as nails, one of Kagekiba’s agents, but she had been kind to him and genuinely seemed to care about his well being, even lying to her boss on his behalf. Though to give her professional credit she did manage to keep him from viewing porn, which would have violated his parole. Then, without any warning or farewell, she left, leaving only a curt second hand message that he was well and didn’t need a nurse anymore, and disappeared without a trace. Not even the Secret Service knew where she was. At first he had been angry. He felt that she had somehow betrayed or used him, even though he was the one who had used her, taking advantage of her when she was in heat and shamelessly playing her emotions for sexual favors. She had been both a physical and intellectual challenge that he missed more than he wanted to realize. At first he had filled the void with work, training, and a string of male prostitutes that he used to frequent before coming to live at the castle, but he soon discovered that a general contract had been put out on him when the prostitutes tried to kill him. After having to kill several prostitutes he gave up on that outlet. It wasn’t worth getting in trouble with the law, or even killed. So he had been celibate for longer than he thought he could endure, and the tension and general dissatisfaction with his life was beginning to get to him. What’s more the vampire lord was restricting the visits of his young sons even more after catching Takumi subconsciously reaching for Yorutsubasa.

“Damn that Inori,” he said under his breath. “Why didn’t she just stay.” The bath no longer gave him pleasure so he got out of the heated pool and dried off. He had thought that Inori liked him. He had done everything he had seen other men do with women to get her become attracted to him and responsive, and it had seemed to work. Then she was gone, without an explanation. “Fickle females,” he muttered. He dressed and went to his tower room and began checking on his surveillance. Among those little bug-like recording devices scattered all over the world, were some that Kagekiba didn’t even know about, some in Kagekiba’s own offices. Through one such device he saw the old wolf’s surprise as none other than Inori walk into his office. Takumi keyed the volume so he could hear what was said.

“It’s good to see you, Inori” said Kagekiba. “Your extended ‘vacation’ seems to have done you good. You’re looking much better. Does your presence here mean that you’re taking back your resignation?”

“I only came to get the rest of my pay, then I’ll be gone again,” she said almost emotionlessly.

Kagekiba sighed. “Too bad,” he said, “you were one of my top agents. I could use you right now.”

“That’s all behind me,” she said softly. “All I want now is a quiet life, to let my work here vanish.”

Kagekiba counted out the helions into a bag and handed it to her. “What’s wrong?” he said as he did. “You used to love this work. What happened? Was it Takumi? I knew that job would be too much for anyone. Did he do something to you? If he did...”

“Takumi has nothing to do with this!” she said, a little too emphatically. She must be lying, at least a little, thought Takumi. He knew her very well. “I just want to put this all behind me, so I could have a chance at a normal life, maybe even have a family.”

“Sure,” said Kagekiba sympathetically, he had heard this kind of story before. It was always a problem with young agents. “I understand. I guess I just have Takumi on the brain. He killed at least four male prostitutes last month, purely in self defense of course,” he sighed. “You’re right. It’s nothing to concern you with. You’re welcome back any time if you change your mind though.”

“Thanks,” she said as she left. Takumi had one of his smallest “bugs” crawl onto her clothing. Now he would see where she went!

She quickly left the precinct, carefully making sure she wasn’t followed, and entered the forest. When she was sure that she was completely alone, she leaned against a tree and began to cry. “Takumi!” she sobbed. “Why do I miss you so much? Why do I even care about what you do anymore?”

Takumi was stunned. That Inori still had feelings for him was something he hadn’t expected at all. Why did she leave then? She could have stayed with him, kept her job, and made his life so much easier.

Inori wiped her eyes and talked sternly to herself. “Look at you, mooning over him like a love struck teenager! You know you can never be with him, besides all you ever were to him was a stand in for Conchobhar. He played you for the fool you were! You would have just gone along with it thinking you could help him somehow, but you know what... you can’t help him! He is what he is, and you have to stay as far away from him as you can.” Inori sighed, her pep talk disintegrating. “Who am I kidding. I am what I am, too. I just have to live with it.” She continued on running at a fast clip through the woods to a small village where she could buy supplies.

Takumi had already shed his fine silk brocade robes, the feminine wear that he was infamous for, and was searching a clothing trunk for a dark, durable, more masculine outfit that would blend with the woods. Dressing quickly he tied back his long black hair, looking more than a little like stealth ops, after all it was one of their uniforms he had “appropriated”. He transferred the controls, video feed, and GPS data of the bug on Inori to his hand held device and logged out of the surveillance system, shutting down access from his room. Then he headed out of the castle, being careful to avoid notice, and down the mountain. He was going to track Inori to her hiding place, get some answers, and maybe persuade her to come back to him.

***

It was about noon when the pale blond kitsune, Inori, arrived at her house, a little thatched roof place hidden in the mountains of the central region (Chushinchiku) at the border of the western region (Nishichiku). All the way there she had been careful to make sure that no one followed her, but not careful enough. Takumi’s bug still rode on her clothing.

“Yabu-obasan! I’m back,” said Inori putting the supplies she had bought at a remote village on her way home, on the single table in the house. An old mujina woman (badger yokai) came out of the next room. “How did it go?” Inori asked her, a little anxiously.

“Everything is fine dear,” said the old mujina patting her hand. “You worry too much. Did you get what you needed?”

“Yes, Yabu-obasan. These supplies should last us a while,” said Inori.

“Then I’ll be going now,” said the old woman toddling off towards the door. “You know where I am if you need me.”

“Thank you for your help, Yabu-obasan,” said Inori with a slight bow.

“It was my pleasure,” chuckled the mujina. “I always have a soft spot for young people,” she said as she left the house and shut the door behind her.

Inori smiled and went about putting her supplies away in the cupboards. She heard the door open and shut again. “Did you forget something, Yabu-obasan?” said Inori turning around.

It wasn’t the old mujina that was standing there. It was the darkly clad Takumi. Inori’s heart raced when she saw him. She knew she shouldn’t have gone to Headquarters, but she needed the money. Now Takumi was standing there, looking stunningly handsome and surprisingly masculine in a special ops suit with his long hair tied back, the very thing she wanted to avoid. Why, in the name of heaven, did he have to look so good, she thought. She had to be strong. After all, it wasn’t just for her sake. “What are you doing here?” she asked breathlessly, as he walked over to her.

“Retrieving something that belongs to me,” he said in a voice full of innuendo as he reached around and picked the bug off her clothing. “I heard everything you said.”

“I should have known...” she said moving to put the table between them. She quickly went over everything she had said out loud in her mind, to see what he might know. “What are you really here for, Takumi?”

“I wanted to see you, Inori,” he said earnestly, circling around the table only to stop when he saw she was matching his movements to keep the distance between them. “I missed you. You left without warning, without even saying good-bye, and you never said why. I thought maybe you hated me, but now... I heard what you said. If you loved me, why did you leave? I need you, Inori.”

“So that’s why you killed male prostitutes?” she asked wryly, trying to resist her own feelings.

“You know I went to them because you weren’t around,” he said pulling up a chair. “You left me with no choice. Little did I know that there was a contract out on me. In the end it was my life or theirs. Why did you leave, Inori? And don’t give me that ‘you were well’ bit. You were far more to me than just a nurse. Surely you know how much you meant to me.”

“A stand in for Conchobhar? Someone to keep you out of trouble with the law?” She felt almost ready to break. “Nothing is ever your fault, is it Takumi. You took advantage of me while I was in heat, and took advantage of me afterward. The sad thing is that I would have continued on with things the way they were, even though you could never love me as anything but a stand in for a man, even though my ‘helping’ you would never lead to a change for the better. I actually cared about you in spite of how you used me...”

“Why not continue then?” interrupted Takumi. “I wasn’t just using you. I made sure you enjoyed it too. You aren’t like other women. I actually considered you a friend and an equal. I need you! You want to be with me, why not come back? You wouldn’t have to hide. You could even get your old job back. It’s a winning situation for both of us. Please come back with me!”

“As I was going to say,” Inori continued, “if it were just me I probably would have stayed, if for nothing more than to keep you from getting yourself killed by your own perversions, but it wasn’t just me.” Takumi looked puzzled at this. “You don’t know what it means to be in heat, do you,” she said. “I was pregnant, with your child. I couldn’t let you abuse him too, and I knew you would. Maybe not at first, but I knew you wouldn’t be able to keep your hands off him. In time you would use him just as you used me. I couldn’t let that happen to him, so I ran from you.”

Takumi sat there in shock. “My child? I’m... a father?”

“Yes, Takumi, you have a son,” said Inori gently. “I gave birth about a week ago. You understand why I can’t go back with you now? Ordinarily I don’t like the idea of separating sons from their fathers, but I have to do this, for his sake. If you pursue this any further I will have no choice but to go to Enma for protection. I tried this way first so you wouldn’t get in anymore trouble.”

Takumi was silent. He wanted her back. He also wanted to be with his son. The idea of a father son relationship was something that deep down he had always wanted. He also knew that she was right about him. He would end up molesting the child. What he wanted could never exist with what was. Conchobhar would remain faithfully married, if he was still alive. Inori wouldn’t come back. He would never have a normal relationship with his son. Takumi had effectively made a mess of things.

Inori could read the pain in Takumi’s heart, even though he tried to hide it. She knew him that well. “Takumi?” she said to snap him out of it. He looked up at her. “I’m sorry that things turned out this way. I never wanted to hurt you,” she said softly, hoping that he wouldn’t pull the sympathy card on her, because at the moment she was feeling very vulnerable. “You do understand, don’t you?” He nodded. Reassured that he was treating this as seriously as it was, she went a step further. “If you promise not to try to make contact with him again, I could show him to you.”

“I would like that,” said Takumi sincerely. “Okay, I promise. You’re right about me,” he sighed. “I’d make a lousy father.” He tried to laugh as if it was a joke, but he wasn’t joking.

Inori wished that wasn’t so as she went into the next room and bundled the sleeping baby into her arms. Takumi stood and came over to her as she entered the room, and looked at the bundle she held. She unwrapped the blanket a bit so he could get a better look. Takumi noticed that the tiny infant didn’t have fox ears, like most kitsune boys, even though it had a fox’s tail, and no other fur than the tail. That, and the dark black hair and tail, made him doubly sure that this really was his son. He was a beautiful baby, and would likely grow into a beautiful boy. He couldn’t help but be beautiful, considering who his father and mother were.

This little infant was his son. Takumi looked in wonder, thinking about how this little one had come from him. He had never given any though to what it would be like to be a father. It was inconceivable until now. Inori saw his look of wonder and took a chance. She placed the baby in Takumi’s hands. He gently cradled the infant. “What is his name?” he asked softly.

“Takara,” she said. “He is my treasure, all that I have left.”

Takumi put the baby back in her arms. “Would I have turned out differently if I’d had a mother like you, or would everything still be the same?” He shook his head and turned to go. “I won’t bother you again,” he said walking towards the door.

“Takumi, wait!” she said catching up to him. When he turned she gave him a kiss, not as long as she would have liked to. “Please, don’t get yourself killed or in trouble,” she pleaded. “I won’t be around to take care of you.”

Takumi gently pushed her away, though he would have liked to have gone a lot further. “And you, don’t waste your life away with hiding. I’ll stay away like I promised. I don’t want to hurt my own son either.” Then, before things got too drawn out and complicated, he quickly left, shutting the door behind him.

Outside, his hand held device began to vibrate, signaling some unusual event had happened that he needed to pay attention to. He took it out of his pocket and activated the screen. So, Aleriand had unfrozen, it’s long sleep of winter ended. He saw Conchobhar holding Lien Hua, kissing her, and whatever joy he might have felt at seeing him alive went cold. Takumi shut off the screen, forwarding the video to Kagekiba. Morrigan and Enma would be glad to see that their son was alive and with his wife, but Takumi couldn’t stomach it. The only two people that had ever really cared about him were denied to him. Takumi was really alone in the world. He walked back to castle Kiryushiro more slowly than he had come, not caring how long it took to get back to his gilded “prison”.

***

It was well after midnight and Takumi was still walking aimlessly. His hand held device vibrated again. He checked the feed and saw a cloaked space ship, though cloaking was nothing to his bugs as they were set to handle a variety of energy distortions. So the world had a secret visitor from space. This was intriguing. He climbed up a large tree, to keep from being disturbed, and resting in the crook of a branch, he watched the video feed. The screen emitted a soft glow, dimmer than one a human would have to use in the dark, more like the faint light of a firefly, as he watched.

He watched as the ship entered the water, and skipping from one feed to another followed it’s progress until it came to a stop. He saw the two unusual children emerge from a rear hatch and rapidly rise into the air. Their speed was as fast as the fastest yokai, and their energy was tremendous, easily as much as any contender for the Dark Tournaments. They looked unlike any yokai he had ever seen, but they were using the same energy as yokai, not magic, elemental or fay powers, or even the energy of a digimon like the one Lien Hua had turned into. If only he could smell them too, then he would know if they were truly yokai in origin. His bugs did have their limitations. He notified the bugs in the town that they seemed to be headed for to pick the two up on their sensors, just in time for the children to arrive and descend into the woods behind the cafe. There he saw them transform into ordinary looking human children. Their power levels vanished too. So, they knew how to control their power and mask it, as well as take on human guise. These children had extensive expert training. There was something else. One of the bugs picked up a small, almost unnoticeable, energy signature. Takumi had the bug concentrate on the signature. It was fay in origin, a small roundish spot on each child’s forehead. Takumi let out a low whistle. The children had been fay blessed, a special spell of blessing given by a powerful fay through a kiss, in this case on the forehead. These were truly extraordinary children.

He had a bug follow them into the cafe, carefully as the goblin owner was a terror to anything she saw as vermin, and he didn’t want his bug destroyed. He listened in on the conversation, amazed at the children’s knowledge of Yokaisekai, which they called by its old vernacular name Demon World, and of Aleriand and the royal wedding. He found out that the knowledge was only second hand as it had all been told to them by their father, who was still back at the ship very ill. They seemed very relieved to find out that this was the remainder of old Locura rather than a different world, and most surprising of all the goblin woman offered them a place to stay so that their father could heal safely away from his enemies, and they had accepted. Takumi knew the man’s situation well, as only a few months ago he had been in the same predicament. Still it was odd that the stingy goblin would offer them a place to stay as she had never done so before, but maybe that was the fay blessing at work.

Soon the children left the cafe, satisfied with the answers they were given. Back in the woods they transformed once more into the pink and blue clad space people with wings of crystallized light they had been before and headed back to the space ship. Takumi followed the feeds back to the one that was in the ship’s airlock. The children entered the airlock, shutting the hatch behind them, and cycled the water out and the air in before turning back into their human forms and opening the inner door. They were talking about whether it had been a good decision to take the goblin up on her offer or not as they went to a small medical bay. Takumi maneuvered the bug to where he could get a good, full view of the body of the children’s father as he lay encapsulated in a nutrient bath. Takumi’s eyes went wide as he saw the body of the white haired man floating in the bath, crisscrossed with stapled wounds that looked like he had been cut to pieces and reassembled like a human jigsaw puzzle, a body that he knew very well, at one time very nearly intimately. The yokai swore softly to himself. Of all people to have come here like that, how could it be him, and what could possibly have caused such a one to be in that condition? The children were excited to see that their father’s heartbeat was stronger, and he momentarily opened his eyes and acknowledged their presence before drifting off again. The children went to their quarters to sleep, looking forward to the next day. Takumi turned off his hand held and stuck it in his pocket.

That man... Takumi thought about Inori and his infant son... That man might just have an answer for his problem. He would have to go see him. It would take a few days, but by then he would be able to have a proper conversation. Galvanized by an idea and a purpose, Takumi raced back towards Kiryushiro castle.

Takumi returned stealthily, slipping quietly into his room. He prepared for a somewhat lengthy absence and then left again, heading for Lord Kyuketsuki’s castle. The vampire lord’s sons were the only ones he could trust with his work, and if the vampire lord found out a few things to his advantage as well, perhaps that would keep him in that powerful yokai’s good graces. Takumi could always use some allies.

Takumi walked up through the front gate of Kyuketsuki Kyo no Shiro with a nod to the hidden guards, and on to the front door. The butler let him in, and leaving Takumi in the entry hall went to announce him to the master of the house. When the butler returned he led Takumi to a large private study where Lord Kyuketsuki and his sons waited, and then left shutting the door.

“To what do I owe this visit,” said Lord Kyuketsuki eying the special ops uniform that Takumi wore.

“I have a favor to ask of your sons in particular,” said Takumi as briefly as possible. “They are the only ones I can trust with my work while I am gone. It’s only for a few days, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.” He saw a veiled astonishment in the vampire lord’s eyes and excitement in his sons’. “Here are the codes,” he said handing young Ketsueki a piece of paper. “I trust that you will memorize them and destroy the paper properly. You will stay in my quarters and monitor the information, sending information that is necessary on to Kagekiba, without letting him know I am gone. If anyone comes and asks where I am, just make an excuse, say that I’m training or something. If you can do that and cover for me, forget that I have gone anywhere, then I will forget that your father is with you, and has had access to surveillance that might involve him,” he said looking straight at Lord Kyuketsuki. It was a calculated gamble. It was possible for him to get into trouble with this, but in reality it was a very small one. “Do you think you can handle this?”

The boys looked at their father who nodded. “We will do this for you, Mr. Takumi,” said Ketsueki, “though it is odd to trust such a thing to children, even if they are supervised. Just where are you going that makes your absence so necessary?”

“It... is a personal matter,” said Takumi, “I’m going to see an old friend that has just turned up. I will have more to tell you when I get back.”

“Your friend would have to be outside of Yokaisekai altogether, if it takes you away from work that long,” said the vampire lord. “I doubt if you have a pass for the gate.”

“I won’t need one,” Takumi replied. “If you will excuse me...” he said with a bow, and then he headed out of the castle.

“Where do you think he is going, father?” said Ketsueki genuinely puzzled by the whole thing.

“I don’t know, but I’m sure that we will be able to find out,” said the vampire lord with a grin. “Pack a few things for your stay, boys. I will go saddle the horses.”

Lord Kyuketsuki and his sons arrived, as if for a casual visit to Takumi, and settled into his rooms. If the staff and the two team members wondered about this they kept it to themselves. Lord Kyuketsuki would find a lot of useful information in the next few days. Thankfully, the boys felt, no one came asking about Takumi or where he had gone.

***

Takumi was already on his way at top speed to the Higashimon, the eastern gate, with it’s extensive labyrinth underneath the volcano Daikazanyama. His teleport ability wouldn’t get him outside the barrier, nor very far towards a place he had never visited, but he had a secret “key” to opening the gate, one that he actually stole from one of Lord Kyuketsuki’s “suppliers”, and a map of the Labyrinth. After that it was just open sea to the Talamh continent. He should be at the cafe in a few days of travel, yokai style.

***

From the shadows of the woods by the cafe Takumi watched the children leave for school. Giselle was busy in the kitchen, as was Grorgh, washing dishes. Takumi waited for a break in the breakfast crowd. Then when no one was watching, he jumped lightly on to the edge of the roof, stealthily passed the window of the empty room, and quickly entered the window of the next room, the room children had left just a little while ago. He walked softly over to the sleeping man’s bed and sat in the chair next to it. His eyes lingered over the face of the man, his long white hair, the bandages around his neck, shoulders and upper torso where the blanket was pulled back a bit. He remembered his previous view of the man’s body and briefly wondered if the priest was well enough yet for his purposes.

Father Asa felt someone near by and opened his eyes. “Takumi?!” he said incredulously, his eyes narrowed in suspicion as he recognized the yokai. His German accent was as obvious as ever. “What are you doing here?”

“Don’t worry, I’m not here to molest you,” said Takumi with a sarcastic smile.

“Dat is good,” said Father Asa with a sigh, “because I could not fight you if I tried. You are a long way from Demon World, are you not? How are things there? How are Lien Hua, Xin Le Hua, and Conchobhar? Are Demon World and Aleriand really on the surface of dis world now?”

“Yes they are fixed are on the surface, and it’s Yokaisekai. We don’t call it Demon World anymore,” replied Takumi. “Morrigan used all her strength to hold things together when the world split. She nearly lost her life, but she and her baby girl, Aine, survived anyway. Lien Hua nearly died too, but Conchobhar went to help her. They’re in the thawed out Aleriand now with their new babies.”

“I am glad dat all is well,” said Father Asa, “Do you know how dis world split happened?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s Aleriand’s fault,” said Takumi, though he only had a few statements to go by for that conclusion. “The ex-crown prince, Hao Fa, seems to be the instigator.”

“I see,” said the priest. “He had problems with the outside world, dat one did.”

“What about you, priest?” said Takumi indicating the bandaged wounds. “I was very surprised to see you like this, especially after our last meeting. What could possibly do this to you of all people?”

“My brother, Sigurd” said Father Asa wearily closing his eyes at the memory of the battle. Takumi was surprised at this. He must have missed that bit of information somehow, or it had been kept from him. “My brother is - was - like myself, like an angel of light as I am like a dark angel...”

“And probably black evil, while you are disgustingly good,” added Takumi.

“Yes, you are right,” sighed Father Asa. “Though there was a time when we were the best of friends, the only world dat we had, very long ago. Since the day he killed our dear mother though, we haf done nothing but try to kill each other. I suppose he still wanted my friendship, as I wanted his, but neither of us would change to be like the other, so he always sought to kill me, and I to stop him.”

“So, you often end up like this?” said Takumi. This brother of his would be a formidable foe.

“No,” said Father Asa. “Usually it is he who ends up cut to pieces, and his general, the woman Diexlindet Eckhart, a powerful nobody and alchemist, who puts him back together again. No, dis time’s result was because of my poor children. He was their genetic father, and his general their genetic mother. It has been hard for them in these battles. The girl, Valentine, she is going by the name Hadassah now, she was in danger of being killed by my brother, and her father. In saving her I put myself in a bad spot.”

“Too bad I didn’t think of that ploy when we fought,” said Takumi with a laugh.

“It does you credit that you didn’t,” said Father Asa looking sideways at the yokai. “It was a Pyrrhic victory for him though.”

“Pyrrhic?” said Takumi.

“A literary reference,” said Father Asa. “It means his victory cost him dearly. As he cut me, I wrapped my chain around him.” Takumi knew what that meant. He had seen the fiery chain in action as it neatly sliced hundreds of golems into pieces. “I thought we would just be even, dat Diexlindet Eckhart would collect his pieces, and the children would collect mine, but the boy, Patrick, who is going by the name David, destroyed my brother completely, and Valentine destroyed Diexlindet Eckhart. Then they took my body parts away to assemble in secret so I could recover in some hidden place, safe from my brother’s remaining empire.”

“They killed their own mother and father!” Takumi whistled. “That is some feat. I saw them in their power forms when they first came here. That’s how I found out about you. Knowing you though, they probably didn’t do it just for the victory. They killed their own parents to save you!”

Father Asa winced at the pleasure Takumi took in saying that. “What really brings you here, Takumi,” he said. “I’m sure you didn’t come all dis way just to see how I got wounded.”

Takumi paused. Now that he was here, he wasn’t sure how to ask. “You’ve been celibate all of your life, right? How do you manage it? You’re a normal man with sex drives, aren’t you? Even if you are a priest, how can you stand it?”

That was a very strange question, but Father Asa tried to treat it as seriously as it was given. “Of course it is easier to stay celibate if you start that way, but still you haf to guard your mind and actively keep yourself from looking at what you should not. Any time you give in, you let those desires begin to take control. You know as a warrior dat with discipline it is possible to continue on with the fight even if you are in pain or even just don’t feel like it, but once you give in to those things you loose. You also know dat after much practice discipline becomes easier. Most of the time I don’t even think about it, and there haf been only a few situations where I haf had to be very careful, or even walk away. Why are you asking dis?”

“You know what I am, Priest, and how far I have gone to fill my lusts,” said Takumi. “Now I have a son, a son that I can never see because his mother says I might molest him, and she’s right. I want to be a father to him, but I can’t even try unless I can control myself. So, I came to you for advice.”

“A father?” said Father Asa surprised. “How... When did dis happen?”

“Yeah, I never thought it would happen either,” Takumi admitted. “It was sometime after you left. I was with Conchobhar every day, but not the way I wanted. I was frustrated, both because of my infirmity... I’m not used to being helpless, unable to lift a finger for myself... and sexually. I needed an outlet for my frustrations. One night when I had fallen to the floor trying to get something for myself, Inori... you remember the pale the kitsune who was my nurse... she came to help me up. Her body is athletic, firm, like a young man’s, so I took advantage of her. She didn’t resist because she was in heat.”

“So she also became pregnant,” said the priest.

“You caught on faster than I did, Priest,” laughed Takumi wryly. “I continued to use her as a sexual outlet for months without suspecting a thing. Then one day she left without even saying good bye. She was probably starting to show, but I thought it was for other reasons. She disappeared without a trace, even leaving her job with Kagekiba’s group. Since I was well by then I turned to male prostitutes for my pleasure, but a contract had been put out on me, so I ended up having to kill them, till it wasn’t worth going there anymore. Just recently she came to Kagekiba’s office for the rest of her pay, and I had her followed by one of my bugs. The strange thing was she was in love with me, and felt miserable without me. I went to her to ask her to come back, since it seemed that she was willing and it would save me a lot of trouble. That’s when she told me the real reason why she left, that we had a son, and to protect him she had to stay away from me.” Takumi had said all of this without any repentance whatsoever. It was just the facts, but then his face grew serious as the inner turmoil showed. “I can’t keep on like this. I want to be a father to my son. I want that relationship that I never had. I also want Conchobhar and Inori to be a part of my life. They were the only two people who ever really cared about me, but everything I have done has only pushed them away.”

“Do you love Inori?” asked Father Asa carefully.

“Love?” laughed Takumi. “I’m not sure I really know that word. I stretched my imagination to lust after her, even though there are things her body can do that a man’s can’t, and I liked the way we worked together. She has a quick mind and is good at the same things I am. If it wasn’t for the complications I could even call her a good friend. I never fantasized about her like I did Conchobhar, but she was very comfortable and challenging to have around. I do miss her. I guess it all depends on what you want to call love, but no, I don’t think I ever loved her, not like she loves me anyway.”

“How many nights in a row did you sleep with her then?” came the next question from the priest.

“All of them. Why do...” Suddenly it dawned on Takumi what the priest was really asking and he swore vehemently. “How could I be so stupid! My first time with a woman and I go thinking it’s just like all the other times with men! I married Inori without even thinking! Me, married to a woman!” He cursed himself some more.

“Just one more question,” said the priest, “what are the laws of Yokaisekai in regard to married couples and their responsibilities to each other?”

“I never had to think about things like that before,” said Takumi still feeling stupid at not seeing what would have been so plain to other men, and he had been so proud of his cleverness. “Those laws were written to protect women and their children, not for the kinds of relationships men like Lord Genbu or myself have. I did look into it though when Conchobhar got married, but those vows you had them say were a lot more comprehensive. Yokai law doesn’t say that you can’t have other sexual relationships, only that if you do your jealous spouse can kill the lover in any way desired with impunity, the exception being with obtaining secondary wives, who have to go through a declaration process different from a first marriage. That’s why most intended marriages, and all marriages of high powered yokai have a public declaration of some sort, to prevent misunderstandings that could lead to a jealousy killing. Other than that... All of the offspring of a married woman are considered her husband’s, whether they are or not, and she and her children must be cared for and protected by her spouse. My mother never was able to get married, so we were always in poverty, and always at the mercy of others. That’s how I became so strong, and cunning. It was survival of the fittest. Pretty much the way it was before Enma tried instituting a rule of law. With the law wives and their children get special protection. Property inheritance laws also favor wives and their children to a certain extent, as husbands are supposed to provide for them. There is no provision for ending a marriage, outside of death, though husbands and wives can live separately, even in legally forced separations, indefinitely. In both cases the children must still be cared for and protected. That’s pretty much all of it, as far as I know.”

“So, as I understand it,” said Father Asa, “you must provide for Inori and your son, but she can legally keep you away from him.”

“Exactly,” Takumi sighed. “In fact she said if I came near them she would go to Enma for protection. What am I to do, priest?”

“First off you will haf to do your duty by them,” said Father Asa.

“Actually I have no problem with that,” said Takumi, “but how am I to be a proper father? I want to show my son so many things, but I don’t want to hurt him. How am I going to overcome my sexual attraction to boys so that I can do that, so that Inori will trust me with him, so that I can trust myself with him? That’s what I need you to tell me.”

“Usually marriage solves a host of problems with sex, but with something like dis...” Father Asa sighed. Lord, give me something to help dis man with, he silently prayed. “I knew of men whom God has delivered from dis sort of thing miraculously, but I am guessing dat you will not look for help there. I am not sure if you can do dis without God. However, if you are determined enough you might just be able to, but listen, you must be as disciplined about dis as ever you were in training for battle. Enma has barred you from viewing porn, dat is a good beginning and you must stick to dat. You must also abstain from all of your former sexual practices too, especially in regard to young boys, or those who look like young boys. Normally in marriage, a man who had previously many lovers could center his sexual activities and thoughts around his wife and re-pattern them to think dat way only about her, but I can think of nothing for you to center your activities on to draw them away from the excesses of your perversion. You will just have to be on guard against what would be normal sexual activity to you, especially where they begin, in your thoughts. Do not let yourself gaze longingly at a boy, or fantasize about him. Somehow you will have to school yourself to think dat such thoughts are disgusting. You will haf to see boys in a different way than before, like you want to see your son. Try to see all people in ways dat do not involve sex, and learn to value friendship and a love dat is free from lust. Such do exist. So, your fight begins in the head with how you think, then goes to the body with how you should behave. If you feel temptation is getting too strong, leave the situation you are in and go somewhere else where you will not be troubled for a while and put your thoughts on something else. Never underestimate the power of temptation. Linger with it for a while and it will take you. You already know how strong it can be. I don’t know if your desire to really be a father will be enough, but perhaps it will be. If you can discipline yourself like dis and not fall into temptation for the time it will take for your son to grow from an infant to a little boy, then I think he will be safe around you, dat is if you continue to keep your thoughts under control. By then you may also haf learned about the meaning of love enough to love him truly. Perhaps even enough to make Inori happy. Though, maybe I am too much of a dreamer. What you choose to do is up to you.”

“Is that all you have to offer me, priest?” asked Takumi.

“I’m afraid so, Takumi,” said Father Asa. “Only you can change yourself. I haf fought dis battle all my life, and haf been victorious so far. You haf never fought at all. You will be at a disadvantage from the beginning, but you are a fighter. You haf succeeded at nearly everything you set your mind to do. You could do dis too, if you really tried. Just do not get discouraged into quitting, or deceived into letting your guard down. I haf seen men win against greater odds.”

“Yeah,” said Takumi, already sounding a bit discouraged, as he stood. “I have a lot to consider on my way home. The battle begins in the mind then... somehow reprogramming Suzaku’s dolls with new security systems seems like child’s play in comparison to reprogramming the mind.” He got up to leave and paused by the window. “Get well priest,” he said with his characteristically disdainful smile. “I hope to see you in Yokaisekai eventually. Maybe we can have a rematch, just for fun of course.” And then he was gone, on his way back to Yokaisekai.

Father Asa thought about the world and things in general for a while. When Giselle came upstairs and propped him up a bit on pillows to feed him some of her soup, the way that the children had showed her, he asked about the church and various members by name. She answered as many questions as she could, and then plied him with her own till she was satisfied with the information she gained. Then he asked if she could get the deacon, Daniel Johnson to come visit.

***

Takumi’s long journey from Midtown, across northern Talamh and through the Middle Sea, ended after the long labyrinthine tunnels under Daikazanyama as he slipped through the iron door into Yokaisekai. He had decided not to go directly to Kiryushiro, but to Kagekiba at the secret police’s headquarters. He had some business to take care of, but before that he he had to check up on things and find out what had gone on while he was absent. He got out his hand held and accessed his machines. A message appeared at the bottom of the screen.

<You’re back!>

Takumi chuckled. So Ketsueki figured out how to send text messages.

<Yes. How did things go?> Takumi texted back.

He checked all of the recent files for significant data, and noticed a few regarding the doings of Lord Kyuketsuki’s associates were missing. It bothered him a bit, but that was the breaks. He only hoped that it would pay off for him in the long run.

<Not much happened. I accessed the Library of Athuair. It’s amazing! Where did you go to?> read the return text.

<To visit an old friend.> Takumi sent a picture of Father Asa in bed.

<Father Asa! He’s really here!? How is he? He doesn’t look too good. What happened?> came the reply.

<I’ll tell you later on, when I get there. I have some business with Kagekiba at the office first, so it will be tonight.> Takumi wrote.

<Okay. See you then.> came the last text.

Takumi finished looking at the last of the data, put away his hand held device, and took off running across the Minamichiku region, towards the headquarters of the secret police.

----
Takumi neared the headquarters and made a great game of evading detection from the hidden guards, only being detected and identified as he entered the carefully hidden building, much to the chagrin of the guards. He stopped by one of the office clerk's desks while the clerk was absent and filched some paper, envelopes, and a pen, then went to a quiet, secluded corner to write. After sealing his messages into the envelopes he went to Kagekiba’s office. He could hear the old wolf yelling at a guard for his incompetence in letting anyone through unchallenged, so he knew Kagekiba was in. The flustered guard came out of the office, nearly bumping into Takumi, whom he glared at upon recognizing the source of his trouble, then went on through the office back to his post. Takumi entered Kagekiba’s office.

“You enjoy being a thorn in my side, don’t you, Takumi!” growled Kagekiba. “What do you want, and what are you doing in a special ops uniform?!”

“There is no law against it,” Takumi pointed out. “Besides, it’s better suited to travel in than my usual clothes.”

Kagekiba rubbed his forehead. “I give up. You know what? I actually prefer you wearing that instead of seeing you here in your normal clothes. It allows me at least the illusion that you might be normal after all. What is it this time? A lead on the guy who put a contract out on you? Why are you here?”

“I want you to send most of my pay, and this letter explaining it, to my wife Inori, and our son Takara, at this house,” he said tossing onto Kagekiba’s desk one of the sealed envelopes, addressed to Inori, and a paper with the location of her house on it. “I only want to keep 20 or 30 percent for my equipment costs, and other things. If she needs protection at all I hope you will help. I also want this information delivered to Morrigan,” he said tossing the other envelope onto Kagekiba’s desk. This one was addressed to The Morrigan and contained information about Father Asa and his children, without any reference as to how he got the information. He enjoyed the shocked surprise on Kagekiba’s face for a moment before adding, “And tell Inori not to worry about me trying anything. I will stick to our agreement and keep my distance. She doesn’t have to hide, and can even work if she wants too. I just want to do what’s right and support them the way I should.”

Kagekiba let out a string of explicatives, mostly unflattering descriptions of Takumi. “You were the reason she left after all! If I had known I would have had your head in spite of orders!” he growled. “You had better do right by her, you...” and here he launched into more explicatives. “She was a good woman and deserved better than you! If you don’t...” here Kagekiba ended with a menacing silence, the white furless scars on his face red with bulging veins, and his lips pulled back showing his fangs. Takumi took the opportunity to leave the office.

As Takumi left the area and headed on to Kiryushiro, a message runner headed out to Morrigan’s “Castle” to deliver the message about Father Asa, and Kagekiba himself headed to Inori’s place with the money and letter.

----
Kagekiba had a chance to cool down on his way to Inori’s house and realized that as annoying as Takumi was, this time at least he really was trying to make up for his mistakes. Since Inori had said nothing, Takumi could have ignored his duty as a husband altogether, and no one would have known. Besides, Inori was both strong, and intelligent, and Takumi had been pretty incapacitated at the time it would have happened. If mistakes were made, Inori had been a party to them.

Kagekiba knocked on the door of the secluded little thatch roofed house and waited. Inori half-opened the door. “Kagekiba!” she gasped. “How...”

“Your ‘husband’ told me where to find you,” said Kagekiba opening the door further and walking in. He looked around the small place and its sparse furnishings.

“My... husband? But...” she began.

Kagekiba turned and looked at her with an accusatory look, though it was hard to really be angry with someone who reminded him of his own grown daughters so much. “You lied to me about how things were going with Takumi,” he accused. “If he hadn’t come forward and told me himself, I never would have known why you really left. Don’t worry,” he said when he saw the look of frightened confusion on her face, “there won’t be any repercussions, and Takumi intends to keep his promise about leaving you alone, as well as his duty as a husband to provide for you.” He handed her Takumi’s letter and the bag of helions. “I’ll send someone by periodically with the money, and to see if you need anything. So, where is the pup? I’d like to see how he turned out.”

“He’s in the room over there,” she said laying the money on the table and sitting down. Suddenly she was feeling very weak. As Kagekiba went into the bedroom to see her son she opened the letter and read it. Takumi wrote about his discussion with the priest and how he wanted to be a real father to his son, but not unless he was sure that Takara would be safe. He wrote that he wasn’t sure if he would be successful or not, but that he would still try. He also said that he was sorry for getting her into this in the first place, and he would help as much as he could without interfering with her life. He closed with “We both know that I never loved you like you loved me, maybe I am incapable of that kind of love, but I do care about what happens to you. You were a friend when I had no friends, and I will miss you, in more ways than one. I wish you all the best. I’m sorry that it couldn’t have been better.” Inori laid her head down and silently began to cry. She didn’t hear Kagekiba come up behind her. His experienced eyes took in everything in the letter on the table as he balanced the sleeping baby in one arm, then patted her sympathetically on the shoulder with the other.

“You’re not alone in this, Inori,” he said. “It’s tough raising a kid on your own, but he’s a beautiful child, and you’re a good woman. I know you’ll be able to do it, and you have friends who will help.” She looked up at him very tired, and wiped her eyes. “You look exhausted,” he said, you need to get some sleep, and eat more. You’re skin and bones as it is. Who took care of this little whelp when you came to my office?”

“Yabu-obasan, the old mujina who lives near here,” she said.

“I’m going to see to it that she comes in to take care of you for a few days,” he said rocking the squirming infant back to sleep. “You’ve been trying to do too much again.” He did a quick check of the cupboards before putting the baby back to bed. “I’ll send someone around with some extra supplies too. Don’t hesitate to send for me if you need help.” Though judging by the silvery spider on the ceiling she wouldn’t have to. Takumi would likely be the one to notify him if anything was wrong. Kagekiba put the money away and gently led her to the bedroom she shared with the infant. He waited by the door till she lay down before he left.

He made sure the old mujina went to help Inori before heading back to headquarters, where he wrote up a report on Takumi for the Morrigan.

***

Takumi entered the castle as unobtrusively as he left and went up to his rooms. He greeted the boys and told them about his trip, leaving out the conversation he had with Father Asa and concentrating on Father Asa’s battle with his brother Sigurd. Then the boys showed him how they accessed the Library City of Athuair, and the massive amounts of information it held. They ran across a section there with information on different kinds of computers, computer languages, and systems, and another on advanced robotics that interested Takumi.

“I even found a whole section on fashions from many periods of time and different worlds that my mother would love,” said Ketsueki, “but there was no way to show her.”

“How would you like a system of your own like this, so you could explore things at your leisure,” said Takumi, noticing in the search engine of the library that there was an age appropriate function that would agree with their father’s restrictions.

“Would I ever!” said Ketsueki, only to look belatedly at his father for approval.

“I’ll get some things together and come by in a few days to put one together for you,” said Takumi shutting down the system, “if that’s all right with you, Lord Kyuketsuki,” he said to the vampire lord.

“That would be agreeable,” said Lord Kyuketsuki “It would be a useful thing for the boys to have.” Then he turned to his sons. “Go take your things down and saddle the horses. It’s time for us to leave.”

The boys gathered their things and went to leave. “Thank you for trusting us with this job, Mister Takumi,” said Ketsueki politely with a bow, “and for the offer to build us a computer system.”

“No problem,” said Takumi. He was thinking of his infant son at the moment, wondering if he would ever be able to teach him about electronics, or entrust him with a job. Then boys left the room and with only Lord Kyuketsuki there Takumi remembered the missing data. “You particularly enjoyed access to my data, didn’t you,” he said quietly to the vampire lord.

“It was nothing to bother Kagekiba about,” said Lord Kyuketsuki. “I will take care of it myself.” Then he handed Takumi a piece of paper with some names on it. “I offer this in return though,” he said. “It is the name of the one who put a contract out on you, and all of those involved with him.” Then the vampire lord left. Takumi would be sure to make good use of that information, personally, and with deadly force.

In the weeks that followed Takumi tried hard to follow the advice of Father Asa, filling his days with training and research, with an occasional visit to with the vampire lord’s sons. Takumi kept his promise to Ketsueki and Yorutsubasa by bringing the components to build their own computer system capable of linking up with other systems, like the Library City of Athuair, and his own (in a more limited way). Always when he was with the boys he tried thinking of his own son, and how he wanted to be a father, and practiced keeping his thoughts out of areas that they shouldn’t go. (Even though Takumi hadn’t said anything about Inori or his son to them, Lord Kyuketsuki and his sons found out. The boys prayed often in the chapel that Takumi would be able to change so he could be with his family. They also prayed for Father Asa to get well.) Sometimes he was horribly frustrated, and deprived of his usual outlet of sex his frustration often got worse. Sometimes he fell back into his old thought habits, but still he tried. When he searched for information in the Library City’s network he set the search engine to child appropriate, so that he would avoid images that he had once avidly looked for. It was hard to say if it had any affect. Then he saw that Conchobhar was returning home. He wondered how that would affect everything he had been working for. It seemed like he hadn’t made any progress at all.
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