Takumi's Story

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Mamma Peach
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Re: Takumi's Story

Post by Mamma Peach »

***

A dark gray kitsune with black tipped ears and the uniform of the homicide division came into Kagekiba’s office.

“So, Atokagu,” said the chief of the secret police, “what have you found out about the Onezumi Dokutsu murders.”

“Sir,” replied the kitsune, “the victims were killed in numerous ways, poison, bombs, beheadings, the full autopsy report has been submitted. The evidence that was left for us to find is completely legitimate, and I do mean left for us since the destruction of the bombs and fire was deliberately set to avoid the evidence. Beyond a shadow of a doubt these people were guilty of everything that was suggested. There is, however, little evidence of the murderer himself.”

“A vigilante killing, then,” asked Kagekiba, “or revenge?”

“I’m siding more with revenge here,” mused Atokagu “and by someone powerful. I have some ideas, but nothing concrete. The few clues that were left are rather inconclusive.”

“What do we have then?” said Kagekiba leaning back in his chair.

“Well, there seems to have been a few, barely identifiable, remains of some of Takumi’s bugs, but bombs and poison aren’t his style,” said Atokagu. “These bombs in particular are different from any I have ever seen. I would categorize them as new technology completely. Takumi hasn’t been working with explosives at all, from what our informants say, and not nearly enough to create something as new as this. On the other hand he does have a motive. Onezumi turns out to be the one who put a contract out on him. Onezumi was also trying to gain sponsorship of a rival team, Team Hiarashi.”

“The one Chikara joined?” Kagekiba’s eyes narrowed.

“Yes, sir,” replied the kitsune. “So Takumi has plenty of motive and opportunity, but the M.O. doesn’t fit. Also a number of vampires working for Onezumi have been killed, execution style, obviously on the orders of Lord Kyuketsuki, or some other highly ranked vampire. There are no witnesses, or any specific evidence beyond the obvious message that ‘this one has died in disgrace’, as is usual with these things. There is no evidence of vampire presence at the crime scene either, and even the idea of collaboration doesn’t explain the bombs.”

Kagekiba sighed. “Well... Obviously Onezumi’s people got what they deserved, and the trail is cold. Unless more bombings occur we might as well close this up.”

“Yes, sir,” said the kitsune officer and he turned to go.

“Between you and me,” said Kagekiba, “I’d place even money that Takumi did it.”

“I suspect you’d be right,” said Atokagu as he left the office.
***
At last the day arrived when Conchobhar returned, but seeing him didn’t bring the joy that Takumi had been looking for. Instead it left him feeling rather cold to see Conchobhar holding his infant son in one arm, and the other around his wife, who held their daughter, caressing her. Conchobhar was friendly enough, asking how Takumi’s training was going and commenting on how healthy he looked, but Takumi had a hard time maintaining a cool demeanor, and was glad when Conchobhar went on to talk to the others. Morrigan and Enma soon arrived with little Aine, and the fay queen took all three infants to the nursery to get them acquainted with each other, while Lien Hua saw to the ordering of the household. Lord Kyuketsuki and his family also showed up and Lady Reiwana began preparing a welcoming feast, telling Lien Hua not to worry about anything but just to relax because she was taking care of all the details. Lien Hua laughingly replied that she had done nothing but “relax” for nearly a year, counting her long sleep of course. Ketsueki noticed that something was wrong with Takumi, that he wasn’t as eager and cheerful as he had been yesterday. The vampire boy hoped that Takumi would get over it. Ketsueki really wanted Takumi to be successful in conquering his addiction so that he could be a real father to his son, Takara.

That night was a gala affair, like all of Reiwana’s parties, and a great many guests from all over Yokaisekai came to wish the royal couple a happy return and congratulate them on the new arrivals to the family. The twins were rather the center of attention, along with little Aine, and a great many gifts were brought for the infants. Takumi didn’t sit with his other team mates. In fact he sat far from them where he couldn’t catch their concerned looks. He also drank.

It was Takumi’s usual habit not to cloud his mind and reflexes with alcohol, but tonight was an exception. He didn’t want to think about all the things he couldn’t have, even when he was looking right at them. A vampire waiter refilled his empty glass, brushing up against him in the process, not accidentally. Takumi looked up at him. He was youthful and darkly fair with a come hither look in his eyes, not unlike many of the prostitutes Takumi had used, but with more self assurance and mystery. “I can offer you more,” said the young man seductively.

“What’s your name?” said Takumi toying with his glass. At a distant table Lord Kyuketsuki noticed the interchange and called for his steward. The vampire serving Takumi was not a member of his staff and he was concerned at the breach of security.

“Kurotsuki, of the Akakiba clan (Blackmoon of the Redfang clan)” answered the vampire. Takumi drained the glass in one draught. What did it matter. He could never change. He was only kidding himself that he could. He rose and led the vampire to his room.

Lord Kyuketsuki’s steward made a full inquiry into who the vampire was that went off with Takumi, and returned to his lord with news of the young man’s identity and reputation, and that he had managed to infiltrate the party without anyone catching on to him. Lord Kyuketsuki cursed himself silently for not being able to interfere at this point, then ordered that Kurotsuki be apprehended as soon as he left Kiryushiro and brought to his castle to be judged by the vampire lord. The rest of the dinner passed without any problems, and the guests went home happy as the royal couple went off to their quarters.

----
Takumi was completely drained, the pleasure mixing with his body’s warning pains that something was seriously wrong. For the moment he didn’t care, not even about the blood that trickled down from the bites on his neck. It did seem to matter to the vampire lying next to him, who was rather alarmed. He tried to urge Takumi to drink his blood, that he needed to replenish that which was drained or risk death. Takumi refused. If he drank the vampire’s tainted blood he would become just like him, and loose all of what his own kind had endowed him with as well as all the hard work he had put into raising the level of his spirit energy. That he would not do. He would rather risk the blood loss. Kurotsuki desperately flung some clothes on and ran to the kitchen, retrieving some bottles from the the vampires’ stock for the feast. Returning he uncorked the bottle with his teeth and held it out to Takumi to drink.

The yokai of Yokaisekai may have lived by their king and queen’s rules about shedding blood, but the blood lust is not far from them. In his weak state the smell of the ape’s blood in the bottle, bred to be as close to human blood as possible, stirred the blood lust within him. His eyes became feral as he downed the whole bottle and reached for another, and another. Finally, weakened but satiated, he fell into a deep sleep. The vampire, Kurotsuki, brushed Takumi’s hair off his face and whispered that he would return again, if Takumi willed it, into his ear before leaving.

***

Lord Kyuketsuki was told that the interloper, Kurotsuki, had been apprehended and was awaiting judgment. The vampire lord had been training his son, Ketsueki, how to rule so he told the boy to take his place silently behind the curtain in the hall of judgment and witness the proceedings. Lord Kyuketsuki took his place on the throne like judgment seat on the dais in front of the curtain. Two fierce looking vampires in black came in with the struggling Kurotsuki between them, his hands securely tied behind his back.

“Why have you brought me here?!” Kurotsuki hissed. “I have done nothing!”

“No?” said Lord Kyuketsuki laconically. “What about the incident in Sukoshi village six years ago, five yokai boys molested and drained of their blood?”

“My brother was executed for that!” spat Kurotsuki, “and my clan banished from our home in Kitachiku, but I wasn’t a part of it!”

“How about tonight then?!” said Lord Kyuketsuki pointedly. “You stole a uniform and infiltrated my staff. That in and of itself is a serious thing, but why did you do it? What is your business with Takumi? That’s what I want to know.”

“It’s none of your business!” growled Kurotsuki.

“Oh, but it is my business,” said the vampire lord darkly. “Not only am I responsible for the vampire clans on the whole, but the owners of Kiryushiro castle are personal friends that I intend to keep, if for nothing else than the welfare of the vampire clans. I won’t allow any vampire’s personal ‘business’ to sever the ties that I have built to Enma and the Morrigan, and put us all at jeopardy. For generations we have been able to operate as we do mostly because no one noticed, but now eyes are everywhere. It is only by good diplomacy that we continue to live. In addition... Takumi has both ties to the secret police and a past that could destroy him, a dangerous combination. So what a punk like you is doing in Kiryushiro with Takumi is of great concern to me. You had better give an accounting of yourself, and make sure that you don’t try to hide anything from me... if you wish to live.”

Kurotsuki swallowed and looked around as if looking for a safe hole to bolt to. “Takumi and I... we are alike,” he stammered, his eyes shifting around the room. “I knew about him, and that he was searching for lovers... I only wanted to be his lover! What’s wrong with that? I’m not trying to get secrets or whatever you think I might be doing.”

The vampire lord signaled the men to release the prisoner. “So, you say, and yet you and your clan did not swear allegiance like the others. I will release you, but hear me well. You will not cause trouble in Kiryushiro! You will leave when Takumi asks you, and not return when he tires of you. There will be no incident like what happened between Takumi and Conchobhar, no obsessing on your part, and no spells, potions, hypnosis or other enticements to have Takumi abandon his free will in the matter. Your conduct will be completely legal and circumspect. If I find that you have caused trouble or used some artificial means to gain Takumi’s favor or devotion, you will die. Understand?”

Kurotsuki nodded. The vampire lord never made empty threats. In the back of his mind though he would not give up on his own obsession so easily. It was just a matter of not getting caught at it.

“You may go,” said Lord Kyuketsuki in heavy tones. As the young rebel scurried from the room the vampire lord signaled one of the men to follow him discretely and keep tabs on him, and the other to continue with his regular duties.

When the room was empty he called Ketsueki to come out into the open. “Cases like this have to be dealt with carefully, but firmly. Sometimes though, it is better to let a guilty suspect hang himself with his own freedom, so that everyone can see the justice of your actions than to kill outright. It will take experience to know which should be done at the moment. I know he was guilty in the Sukoshi incident, as well as others, and that he is a rebel from his very core. When he dies everyone else will know. I hope your religion will give you added wisdom without staying your hand from bloodshed when it is needed, my son.”

“I understand, father,” said Ketsueki, “When it is my time I will try to rule with justice.”

“And I will see to it that justice is possible by that time,” said the vampire lord looking sidelong at his son. That would be a complicated and long process for a people so steeped in crime and defying the law. “One more thing...” he said before his son left. “You must keep Yorutsubasa as far away from Kurotsuki as possible. They must never be together! I have tolerated Takumi at an arms length, but that one is beyond control.”

Ketsueki grew pale at the thought. “Of course father. I will never jeopardize my brother!”
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Re: Takumi's Story

Post by Mamma Peach »

Pilgrimage

In the following month Ketsueki spent less and less time at Kiryushiro, as Kurotsuki spent more and more time with Takumi, to the point that Yorutsubasa could never be at the golden palace. Outside of Ketsueki’s regular studies and training, he spent more and more time with Yorutsubasa at home, with his new sister Ran, and with his friends on the internet, but he always worried about Takumi. The last few times he was at Kiryushiro Takumi was “too busy” to see him, and he hadn’t been to practice for the Tournaments for some time, and this was Spring time!

As Summer approached Ketsueki felt that he had to get away from the situation altogether, and do something new. That was when he broached the subject of traveling outside of Yokaisekai, to the Pokemon Islands and even to Midtown to see Father Asa and his internet friends. Surprisingly his father was completely in favor of the idea, saying that such travel would give him, and Yorutsubasa, valuable experience and perhaps valuable connections as well. Before he knew it he and Yorutsubasa had been given travel permits by Queen Morrigan and were planning their trip and deciding what supplies they could carry. As the day came to leave though, Ketsueki decided to pay Takumi one last visit and try to talk some sense into him before he left.

Ketsueki had already learned from his father’s men that Kurotsuki was absent for the day, and from the household staff that Takumi hadn’t left his room for days, and that no one had been able to enter for normal cleaning. With Conchobhar and Lien Hua visiting at the Capital in preparation for the Southern Celebrations at the beginning of the Summer season (part of the new duties of the central region’s daimyo), no one had been able to do anything with Takumi. The staff warned him against having anything to do with him. Ketsueki heeded the warnings, but was not deterred. He went to Takumi’s rooms anyway. Seeing that the door was locked against intrusion, he used some of the skills his father had been teaching him and picked the lock.

Ketsueki opened the door on a dark and cluttered room. Empty bottles littered the floor and the stagnant air reeked of blood, urine, and other smells, like a brothel for unclean, unwashed vampires. His eyes widened and grew red, with astonishment and anger. What had Takumi done to himself?! He found Takumi passed out on a sofa wearing a robe that had once been beautiful, but was now bloodstained and filthy. His long hair was matted and he had bite marks all over his neck, shoulders, chest, and even in areas that Ketsueki had quickly averted his eyes from. Takumi’s skin was pale from blood loss, and his eyes were sunken and dark ringed, the signs of a vampire’s thrall. Had his will been drained as well? There didn’t seem to be any sign of enslavement magic, or even hypnosis, though it was hard to tell at this point.

Ketsueki checked the surveillance system. It was running on automatic and was well locked down. So Takumi hadn’t completely lost it, still... He looked over at the comatose yokai that he had once admired so for his skill, and shook his head. Ketsueki filled a basin with cold water and doused Takumi with it. Takumi sputtered and sat up. “Ketsueki?” he mumbled.

“Yes,” said the son of the vampire lord, “It’s Ketsueki. Haven’t you ever wondered why we stopped coming here? Look what you’ve done to yourself!” He picked up one of the bottles at his feet and threw it against the wall so hard that it shattered.

“I’ve always wanted to get you in bed,” said Takumi reaching for Ketsueki. “You and Yorutsubasa, would feel so good...”

Ketsueki landed a blow on Takumi that sent him reeling. “I used to admire you,” he growled, “but now you’re just pathetic. Even a child could beat you up. Look what your addiction has done to you! You have lost your son, your friends, your status, your strength, your intelligence, even just basic decency let alone style, and you will never be able to compete in the Tournaments! You have become a wretched pile of filth! Everything you have worked so hard for is quickly vanishing. Why don’t you just bite Kurotsuki and become a vampire? Then you two could fly off together and leave everyone else out of it, instead of us having to watch you destroy yourself like this! Do you know why we couldn’t come see you? It was because of Kurotsuki. Now he’s taking everything else of value away from you and making you his thrall! Tell me, is he worth it? No, don’t tell me. I really don’t care anymore. I never realized you could stoop so low. I only came here to tell you that Yorutsubasa and I were leaving Yokaisekai on a trip. We already have our passes from Morrigan, and are leaving today, not that you’d really care. I guess I’ll have to tell Father Asa that you failed. Yes, I know about that. You’d be surprised at how many people know. Maybe he won’t be surprised at hearing how you ended up... like I was.” Ketsueki turned and ran out of the room, kicking bottles out of his way. He slammed the door and wiped the tears off his cheeks with his sleeve. Then he took off in bat form, flying for home.

(Ketsueki returned home and poured out his heart to Yorutsubasa, as he always did, and though Yorutsubasa understood, he had no comforting words to give his brother. It looked pretty hopeless for their friend Takumi, a friend that they agreed they would not see again, though they would hold off on reporting his behavior to Kagekiba for a while. It was very convenient for them that they were leaving. They concentrated on the trip ahead and soon, saying their goodbyes to their family, they took off over lake Shinzoko for the Eastern Gate at the border of the Southern Region, in the great volcano, Daikazanyama. After they made it through the maze there would be a long flight to the Pokemon Islands. It would be a great adventure!)

“Ketsueki!” called Takumi as he stumbled across the room after the boy. He barely made it to the door of his chambers and opened it, but the boy was long gone. He closed the door and sank weakly to the ground weeping. Everything Ketsueki had said was true. He truly had lost everything. The last vestiges of his life as it had been would soon vanish along with what was already lost. Worthless he was born, and worthless he would die, a vampire’s thrall, a sex slave and dinner plate rolled into one miserable lump. How had he come to this point?

Something in the back of his mind seemed to kick him out of his self pity. It was like a voice telling him he needed to change, to get up off the floor and do something. But how could he change? It was impossible! Then you will die in misery, seemed to be the reply. Then, strangely he was remembering the conversation he had with Father Asa. It seemed ages ago, though it had been less than three months. He remembered the winged priest’s words “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...” He had tried discipline and failed miserably. Perhaps he could try the other. How would he fare at the hands of the one who mercilessly beat Conchobhar? He shivered at the thought. Well, better to die doing something rather than nothing. He had never been one to quit before. He was very weak, but now he had a course of action. His mind began to get sluggishly in gear as he staggered to his feet.

He needed someone to take his place; he needed his place cleaned up; and he needed to clean himself up. He made his way to the filthy bathroom. After taking one look in the smudged mirror he fetched a sharp knife and cut off all his long matted hair, dropping it and the robe on the floor. He showered thoroughly and finding the special ops clothing he had worn months ago he dressed. He was weak and tired, and wouldn’t get very far as he was. He opened a secret compartment in a heavy chest and withdrew a black lacquered box with four large round pills in it. He was courting danger with these things, especially in his present state, but it was even more dangerous tottering around Yokaisekai in a weakened state. He took one and swallowed it, putting the rest back in the secret compartment. His hollow eyes began to burn with a fire as he felt strength in his body again. He would have to be careful not to over do it. Then shutting down his intelligence system and leaving his room he surprised the household staff by a sudden appearance in their quarters demanding that his filthy living space be made completely spotless by nightfall. He also informed the guards that the vampire Kurotsuki was to be turned away, that he wasn’t wanted anymore. Then he left the golden palace Kiryushiro and set off at a very fast pace across the Central Region towards Inori’s house. He hoped she would take the offer since Ketsueki was leaving Yokaisekai.

***

Inori opened the door and saw Takumi. She was about to ask, “what are you doing here”, but after looking at him she asked instead,”What have you done to yourself?! Are you on speed ball?”

“Just to get me to a safe destination,” he said half avoiding her eyes. “Look,” he said, “I’m going to be gone for a while and I need you to take over my job for me. I don’t want to get in any trouble with Kagekiba. Could you and Takara move into my rooms quietly and do that for me? I won’t bother you about anything.”

Inori looked at him skeptically, and answered, “Not unless you tell me what you’re up to, Takumi. You come to me looking like hell on drugs, after all those fine statement about how you want to be a good father and all, and ask me to cover for you? I’m going to have to know what I’m getting into first. Where are you going to, and what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to Aleriand... to the Temple of Heaven,” he admitted.

“You? On a pilgrimage?” she said, not knowing what to believe.

“You said I looked like ‘hell on drugs’,” he said humorlessly. “Why should it surprise you if I say that taking a trip to the Temple of Heaven might just be preferable to dying in hell. You can see that I’m at the end of my own strength. I wouldn’t even be standing here without a speed ball, and yes I know what those things will do to me. Will you help me out and take the job or not. I haven’t got much time.”

“Sure, I’ll take the job,” she said softly. “I won’t tell anyone, but neither will I lie outright. I’m sick of those sorts of games, and too tired to play them.”

“Fair enough,” he sighed. “Here’s the codes,” he said handing her a piece of folded paper. “You know the routine. Oh, and if a pretty faced vampire by the name of Kurotsuki shows up, just tell him to get lost, that Takumi won’t be ‘playing’ with him anymore.”

“By all that’s holy, Takumi! That’s what you’ve been doing to yourself?!” Inori said in shock. “The collar of your suit hid the bite marks...”

“If he gives you any trouble tell Lord Kyuketsuki about it, and he’ll never bother you again,” he said grimly.”

“Knowing Lord Kyuketsuki, that would likely mean death. Don’t you care at all about him?” she said. Inori had very mixed feelings about the whole thing, and was more than a little upset, but it did seem a rather calloused fate for Takumi’s ‘lover’.

“Like he cared about me when he made me his dinner plate, and robbed me of everything I worked for?” said Takumi snidely, then he turned serious again. “There are only two people in my life that ever truly loved and cared about me, and not just about what they could get out of me, you and Conchobhar, and maybe also Ketsueki, but I’m afraid that after today Ketsueki will never see me again. He said he lost all respect for me and didn’t care what happened anymore. You were right, Inori. I am a rotten father figure. Every time Ketsueki and Yorutsubasa came over and worked with me I was able to see what it would be like to work with and teach my own son, but I threw it all away. I don’t think Ketsueki will change his opinion of me when he gets back from his trip either.” Takumi turned away to wipe his eyes. He really didn’t want to cry in front of Inori right now.

Turning back to her he said, “Look, if it bothers you to get rid of the vampire, just look at this as a test. If Kurotsuki really cared about me at all, then he’ll leave you alone, and he can enjoy a long life. But if he keeps hanging around... For Takara’s sake, get rid of him by whatever means possible. If you thought I was bad, he’s ten times worse! I know. He did a lot of talking when I was half comatose. He would deserve whatever the vampire lord did to him. Besides that, you have the right to a jealousy kill, whether you are actually jealous or not. Protect Takara.”

“All right,” she said, “I will.”

“Thank you for everything, Inori. You have always been kind to me,” he said softly, “something I never deserved. I don’t know if Aru will accept me, or when I’ll be back. It might be a while. Take care of yourself and Takara.”

“Take care of yourself too, Takumi,” said Inori. Then Takumi took off running again, towards the western gate. Inori shut the door and began packing.

----
Takumi arrived at the entrance to the western gate and made his way into the Nishimon unnoticed, slipping along through the darkened underground foliage by firefly glow and fake moonlight. He drew back into the shadows as he came to the dawn tinted park around the turnabout in front of the iron gate. There was a group of pilgrims there, all dressed in white robes. The garuda guards were checking their passes before letting them through. He couldn’t just walk through the gate. He had no pass, and the garuda were sticklers for the rules, intensely loyal to Enma alone. He would have to find a way to get through without one. Turning back he slipped down one of the side paths, thinking of various ways to get past the guards, with little success. In a way, because of its heavy traffic, this gate was much harder for him to get through than the eastern one. He hadn’t anticipated that.

He wandered down little used paths and through various grottos wracking his brain for an idea. He ended up at the entrance of a remote grotto with a misty “moon” lit waterfall feeding fountains and pools, in various rocky niches, surrounded by patches of flowered lawn, trees, bushes, and flowering vines. It had a mysterious, eerie feel to it. Macabre and distorted shapes danced naked in the grass among the moonflowers to eerie, seductive music that came from nowhere, bathed in the fountains and pools, and engaged in activities that... due to the nature of those engaging in them, would only have interested the most hard core of his former customers. These were members of the Unseelie Court. Their robes and clothing had been shed and flung to the ground, or draped on the rocks, trees and shrubs. The scene even rattled him, and he’d seen nearly everything. His drug speeded mind was still running on the problem at hand though, and immediately latched on to the solution. The Unseelie Court were held to Morrigan by vows so strong that no one ever questioned them. They were her loyal messengers and agents, as loyal to her as the garuda were to Enma. They could go anywhere, and do anything, and no one would stop them. All he had to do was steal one of those distinctive black robes that covered their misshapen bodies, and he could walk through the gate without being questioned or recognized.

Stealthily he snatched the closest robe, and left the grotto, heading back to the main road at top speed. Just before he reached the road he fastened on the robe and pulled the hood over his face. The smell of the garment was odd and bewildering, but it would hide his scent, just as the robe itself hid everything else. Confidently Takumi played the part of an Unseelie Court member and walked up to the iron gate. Without question the garuda guard opened it for him to pass.

Back in the grotto one misshapen hag spoke to another in a voice like claws scraping on slate. “Sister, where is your robe? It used to be hanging on yonder tree. Now it is not there.”

The second one sniffed the air. “It has been stolen, but the thief will regret it!” Summoning her power she put a heavy curse on the robe and it’s wearer. “Thief, thief who stole my robe, may your wishes all go awry, and your journey go astray! May what you seek be always out of reach, and what you want never gained! May your dearest wish become a nightmare, and your longings become your downfall!” she cackled.

----
Made by the fays of Aleriand to allow for travel back an forth between the two continents, the Hanayomebashi bridge was like starlight and sunlight congealed into a wide span that crossed vast spaces of ocean as it hopped gracefully from island to island. The street of the bridge was made to resemble shining cobble stones that glittered like pearls in the both the sunlight and the lamp lights that glowed by night, bordered by white marble walks with gold tracery and artistic balustrades in white and gold floral forms. The slender arched pillars that seemed to give the bridge support actually vanished as they neared the water. No passing ship would even come near them. Along the way there were tower like structures that jutted out from the sides. These were shelters for pilgrims who came on foot to rest in, or spend the night, and there were side roads where the bridge touched down on an island to go to various places there, though pilgrims were warned not to leave the main highway if they wished to reach their destination within their lifetime. Fay islands can be perilous things to mortals.

Takumi had casually passed the group of yokai on pilgrimage a long time back, and was running as fast as he could. He would be wasted when the Speed Ball wore off, but he hoped to make good progress by then, if not make it all the way to Aleriand.

Up ahead he saw a troupe of fays enter singing and dancing from one of the side roads and turn in his direction. Behind them a garuda messenger was coming down the road. Quickly, so as not to be seen, he jumped over the railing and grabbed a hold of the fancy work on it and lowered himself down so that only his fingertips were holding on to the bridge. He knew the fays would recognize that he wasn’t a member of the Unseelie Court, and that the garuda would at least report him, if not try to take him into custody. What he didn’t think of was the dilapidated condition of his body. The ones he sought to avoid were only a few paces from where he was when his arms began to tremble, and just passing by when his fingers slipped and he fell, down, down, into the sea.

Takumi watched the beautifully lit bridge recede into the distance of the night sky as he fell. He could smell the ocean below him rushing upwards as the wind ruffled his ill gotten robe. After a few agonizing moments in limbo he hit the dark water like a brick and sank deep. He struggled to the surface again, tasting salt as he was swept along by the current. His strength wouldn’t last long like this. Just as his body was giving up from lack of air his head broke the surface. Taking a deep breath he used all his senses to locate land. It would be very bad to lose it out here in the water. He discarded the entangling robe and began swimming towards what smelled and sounded like land. It seemed like an eternity but his hands and feet finally struck sand and he crawled through the pounding surf to dry ground. Everything was beginning to get fuzzy and his body shook as the drug began to wear off. Too soon! he thought. He dragged himself into the woods and under the fallen husk of a hollow tree, his body trembling violently, his senses reeling. He lay down in the detritus feeling violently ill, then fell into unconsciousness.

Takumi wasn’t sure how long he had slept, as he woke to the sound of music in broad daylight. The music thrummed through the ground and the trees with a seductive life giving feel that aroused his worn and aching body and took the edge off of the pain. Slowly he crept from his hiding place, the music willing his shaking body to stand, and he went silently towards the center of the sound. It was a group of young fays, just out of adolescence, dancing the fertility dance of Spring. If Takumi had been in better shape, the primal seductive sound of the music alone would have had him dancing with them. Even in the sorry state he was in the movement of the nearly naked lithe young bodies in dance proved too much for him. He sprang from the woods to grab the nearest young man, who easily evaded his grasp. In the stubbornness of his lust Takumi tried again and again as the dance quickly became a jest at his expense.

“He thinks himself Gwydyon and us Gilfaethwy!” they jeered.

“Enough is enough!” cried out one of the young men, disgusted at the whole thing. “If Gwydyon he thinks he is, then Gwydyon he shall be!” then beginning a spell he slapped Takumi on the forehead before dancing away.

Takumi felt his body begin to change and his reason to dim. He could no longer think clearly or remember clearly, only feel, and he was feeling afraid.

“You shouldn’t ought to have done that, Tiarnan,” said one of the young women as the whole group stepped back from Takumi in horror. He had become a buck, a male deer like they had expected, but like no deer ever seen before. He was pitch black with red eyes, and pale gray moon shaped spots down his back. His antlers and hooves were the color of ashes, and he was thin and bony with starvation.

“What manner of creature was he?!” gasped the one called Tiarnan.

“There is a powerful curse on him,” said another. “A very evil curse! Your spell must have interacted with it.”

“I think he must have done something very wicked,” said a young woman. “We should just leave him here.”

“Aye,” the one called Tiarnan agreed. “No one will ever speak of this again,” he urged.

The rest agreed and swiftly left. Alone again Takumi’s fear subsided and was replaced with hunger. He bent his head down and took a mouthful of grass, chewing it quickly. Voraciously he cropped the new spring grass that had grown from the dance of the fays, to fill his empty belly. Nothing else in life mattered to his altered mind.

***

Many days passed and the black buck that was once Takumi grew fat and healthy on the grass of Fionn Island. There were no other large animals to bother him, rabbits, badgers, pigs, and goats, hawks and foxes, but nothing larger. The fays had not come back after that day, except one or two older ones, but he had kept himself well hidden, or so he thought. As he was grazing one day a part of the bridge overhead extended itself downwards towards the small island, connecting to the shore, and a troop of fays on white horses came down it at a gallop, with quick lean hounds racing in front like greyhounds. He dashed into the woods as the fays caught sight of him and cried out to their hounds and horses to go faster. In terror of the dogs that followed him relentlessly, and their fay masters, he ran all around the small island, using every dodge and trick that his diminished mind could think of, but he couldn’t shake the hounds for more than a few moments, and was almost caught more than once. He felt closed in on all sides. The island was too small for him to hide, and his opponents too strong to fight. As he ran in front of the hounds he suddenly saw the fays and their horses in front of him. The dogs were driving him to them! He quickly looked for an opening and found it. Zig zagging twice to avoid the arrows, he doubled his speed and leaped through the gap and onto the road to the bridge. The fays stared in astonishment as he ran up the ramp onto the main part of the bridge, his hooves making a clattering sound on the cobblestones.

“Animals aren’t supposed to be able to get on the Bridge!” exclaimed one fay.

“That is no ordinary animal. After him!” shouted another, as they turned their horses and took the chase to the Bridge. Let’s catch him before sunset and find out what he is!”

As the black buck turned onto the main road he put the western sun behind him and ran to the East, towards the island of Caor, with the sounds of hounds baying and horns blaring behind him. As he neared the next tiny island, a group of mounted fays came off of the ramp of that island blocking his path. Without giving it a second thought the black buck gathered himself together and leaped over the right hand railing, falling down, down, down to the sea. Struggling with the water he began to use his powerful legs to swim as best as he could towards the island of Findias.

“Aye, he won’t reach land till nightfall, if that,” said one of the fays.

“Tis the end of the hunt then?” said another.

“For today,” said the leader of the hunt turning his horse to the road. “We shall see that one again, no doubt.”

“Aye, what a grand hunt that will be!” said another as they walked their beasts down the road. “Perhaps King Deimne, Fion Mac Cumhail himself will be giving a prize to the one who catches the black stag.”

“Perhaps King Deimne will be catching the stag himself!” laughed another.

It was dark when the black buck came up on the beach of Findias Island, and he was very tired, but he pressed onwards until he was deep in the mountains and far away from any sign of the fays.

***

Months later the carriage from Aleriand came to Findias on it's way back to Yokaisekai, celebrating the New Year and the Mid Summer festival along the way. The travelers (the royal family of Yokaisekai with Lien Hua, her Aunt, and the suzu Yutaka Yukina who had just been given to Lien Hua as a gift) were welcomed at the castle on Findias and quickly shown to their rooms, Yutaka being given a room with De Zhen.

In the morning they ate an informal breakfast, as most of the fays were in a holiday mood and off to fairs and dances and such. As they headed off to the fair themselves they saw fay horses, horsemen, and hounds gathered in the castle courtyard making a fair racket as such things would. Deimne (known as Fion Mac Cumhail) and his wife Sadbh were there too.

"Headed off for a hunt?" asked Morrigan.

"Aye," said Deimne. "A mysterious black stag has been seen on and off around the island, evading every hunter that has tried to catch him. We've had word that he's been sighted again, and we mean to catch him this time! Would any of your party care to join in the hunt?"

"I would!" said Conchobhar. "I haven't been hunting in ages."

"Then join us!" said Deimne as he signaled for another horse to be brought. "It should prove a good chase, though my best catch ever was a beautiful doe," he said referring to the time long ago, when he had caught Sadbh, whose father had turned her into a deer out of spite. Sadbh blushed. The horse was brought and Conchobhar turned himself into his red haired fay form to mount up and ride with the others. "You mustn't kill this stag if it can be helped though," Deimne cautioned. "We want to know more about it. Some say it is a cursed beast with poisoned flesh, but we shall see."

Conchobhar waved to Lien Hua as the troop rode out with the hounds at great speed.

"Shall we go to the fair then?" said Sadbh to the rest.

They headed off together to the fair grounds. Morrigan, and the other girls (including Yutaka) went to sample the wares at several of the booths. After Enma bested several games of strength, a group of fay men challenged him to a game of real golf. So Enma and the fay men headed off into the thick grass and shrubs with stout oaken clubs and round painted stones.

----
The hunt arrived at the place where the black stag had been sighted, and the fay hounds caught the scent. They took off like greyhounds, yammering and barking for the hunt to follow them, and it did. Only fay hounds could have kept track of that buck, and only fay horses could have matched his speed. A number of times he played such tricks on the hounds that they nearly lost him, but keener minds were riding behind the hounds, that had been hunting creatures like him for hundreds of years. Deimne had gathered together some of the best hunters left from Primavaldia, and Conchobhar played no small part in keeping track of the strange black deer with red eyes and silver moon shaped spots.

The day wore on and the dogs and horses were beginning to tire as they drove the buck through the forest up a hill that ended in a cliff. The buck seemed to be tiring too as he tried unsuccessfully to shake off the hounds, and Conchobhar was afraid that it would end very badly for the buck if the desperate creature reached the cliff. Conchobhar leaped from his horse, letting it simply follow the others, as he transformed into his oni self and flew ahead to the cliff. There was a field just before the edge so he would clearly see the buck as it emerged. He landed, flexed his muscles and concentrated his senses, getting into a fighting mode, ready to wrestle the buck down bare handed.

Soon the animal appeared, stunningly beautiful in graceful strength and speed. The dogs were some distance behind. After a few bounds he caught sight of Conchobhar and stopped, ears swiveling forward. Here comes the fight, thought Conchobhar readying himself, trying to anticipate the buck’s next move. The baying of the dogs was coming closer. The buck bounded quickly towards Conchobhar and then slowed to a trot as he approached the oni. Red eyes that would frighten most people gazed at Conchobhar in fear and sadness. Neither running nor attacking the black buck huddled his shaking body as close to Conchobhar as he could and laid his head on Conchobhar’s arm. Conchobhar could feel the buck’s pounding heart, and lungs heaving for air, as he pressed against him, and a moist tongue licking his arm. The animal was clearly asking him for comfort and protection. Why? Conchobhar stroked the animal’s head and neck with his other arm and felt the beast calm down. He was so magnificent and beautiful, with his silvery ashen antlers, strong shapely body, and soft black fur, yet there was something deeply wrong about this animal. Conchobhar could feel it, and he guessed the fays could too. It would be easy to believe that this magnificent buck was under a curse. There was also something oddly familiar too, and not just because of how he was pressing against him. The spirit energy that came from the buck was so much like...

“Takumi?” said Conchobhar. The buck looked up at him with pleading in his red eyes.

Just then the hunt burst into the field. “Hold on to him!” shouted Deimne. The buck pulled his head out of Conchobhar’s hands and spun around on his hind legs.

“Takumi, wait!” said Conchobhar as the deer bounded towards the cliff. Conchobhar got ready to fly and catch the falling buck as he made a mighty leap off of the cliff, but the black buck vanished in mid air. It was Takumi’s special technique.

Deimne dismounted and approached Conchobhar. “The stag seemed to know you,” he said. “Have you met before?”

“That was no stag,” said Conchobhar trying in vain to feel where Takumi had gone. “That was my friend Takumi.”

“The one that’s been missing?” said Deimne. Conchobhar nodded. “That explains a great deal,” said the fay, “except how he became a stag. I will get to the bottom of this, never fear!” He clapped Conchobhar on the shoulder. “We shall see your friend back to his own self again. I shall also call off the hunts for the black stag, now that we know what he is. Let’s go back now. It’s getting late.”

----
After choosing things from the booths for themselves, and some for Yutaka and the babies, and after playing some of the games of skill, Morrigan and Lien Hua (in fay form) joined in one of the fay dances that the women were doing, while Aunt De Zhen took Yutaka and the infants to an amusement area. The twins played with the fay children in their dragon forms and even rode on a kind of merry-go-round. There were advantages to being baby dragons that the infant Aine didn’t have, but she was content with exploring her new toys by sticking them in her mouth and patting them with her hands. The fay women attending their children doted over Aine, and she didn’t seem as shy of them as she had Yutaka. Perhaps the scent of fay was closer to that of her mother, or perhaps the fay women just knew how to put children at ease. She laughed and kicked her little hooved feet and fluttered her wings when they told her how sweet she was.

Later on Aine and the twins became hungry so De Zhen and Yutaka took them back to the dance to find Morrigan and Lien Hua. The two women left the dance and took their infants to a secluded area to feed them. While the mothers fed their infants De Zhen and Yutaka went to the stands to get food for their group.

Just as Morrigan finished feeding Aine and had wrapped the sleepy baby up for a nap, a solemn group of fays with a black binding chest came up to her and bowed. “My lady,” said the leader. “A cursed object washed up on the beach today. Since the lord is away on the hunt, and you are an expert in things of power, we brought it to you to see if you would look at it and tell us what it portends.”

“Very well, I will look at it,” said Morrigan handing Aine to De Zhen. She went over to the chest and unsealed it. Opening the chest she reached in it.

“My lady!” said the fay in alarm.

“Don’t worry. This can’t hurt me, though you are understandably cautious,” she said lifting the black robe from the chest. “It looks like someone has stolen the robe of one of the Unseelie Court in my service, and has gotten a curse for his trouble. Now who could that have been?”

“Do you think it was Takumi?” asked Lien Hua.

“Undoubtedly,” Morrigan replied. “It goes with the report of the guard on duty at the gate. I will question the Unseelie Court on my return. First I need to break the curse on this robe so that whoever touched it will not suffer anymore from it.” She made a complex movement of her hand and said a few words under her breath, then held the robe in both hands. It glowed red for a moment and then became an ordinary robe again. “That is done. Thank you for bringing it to my attention,” she said to the fays. “Just put it with my things and I will return it to its rightful owner,” she said tossing the robe to them. They caught it, and bowing to her they left. “Now that that is done, we should enjoy our meal. Hopefully our husbands will be back by evening,” she said to Lien Hua.”

As night approached a bonfire was lit and the dances began in earnest. Enma came back from playing golf draining a flagon of wine as he laughed with the fay men. Lien Hua wondered what was keeping Conchobhar. Then the hunt returned, far more subdued than it left. Conchobhar dismounted and came over to his wife. “The black stag was Takumi,” he said putting his arms around his wife. “I don’t know where he went to.”

“A double curse,” said Morrigan grimly, “and only one undone.” She explained about the robe.

“I shall make sure that the one who turned him into a deer is found, and made to change him back,” said Deimne. “Don’t worry about it. Your friend is safe now, and will soon be returned to normal. Try to enjoy the rest of the festival.”

Lien Hua joined Conchobhar in the dance, but his heart wasn’t really in it, so she found other ways to comfort him.

In the morning it was decided that they would continue on home instead of staying for the last day of the celebration, as it was finally winding down, and the celebratory mood had been dampened by the discovery of the identity of the black stag.

Deimne and Sadbh came to say farewell as they bundled into the carriage. "We've traced the first appearance of the black stag to the island of Fionn," said Deimne. "Your friend must have jumped or fallen from the bridge, shaken off the robe to swim better, and then made it to Fionn, where he somehow was transformed into a deer. He certainly jumped from the bridge in deer form and swam to this island, as those who hunted him on Fionn will attest. Now it is only a matter of finding who was on the island of Fionn, besides him, in the days between his disappearance and the first sighting of the buck, and what they know of this. Once the one who has cast this spell has been found out, I will make sure that the spell is removed so that your friend may complete his journey."

"And he will be more likely to complete it now that I have removed the Unseelie curse," added Morrigan. "Whatever possessed him to steal from one of them..."

"Takumi has been doing a lot of stupid things like that it seems," said Enma. Morrigan gave him a look that said, you really didn't have to say that in front of Conchobhar! He returned with a look that said, what, it's true isn't it.

The ride back was pretty quiet, except for the babies.

***

It took longer than King Deimne anticipated to track down the youth who put the spell on Takumi, then to teach him how to remove such a spell without the victim being present (as no one knew where the black stag was right then), but finally the spell was removed. It was the evening of the end of Summer, the Festival of Plenty.

In the forested mountains of Findias Takumi was once more in his own body and right mind. He spat out the mouthful of grass he had just taken in deer form, and running an inventory of his situation he went over his dim animal memories and assessed his present health. Though his health and strength was surprisingly good, surprising because of how he had come to the islands yet not surprising when considering his life as a deer, he was mortified by the memory of being hunted as a dumb animal and of meeting Conchobhar that way. There was no way of knowing how much time had passed, but it looked like it was near the end of Summer or the beginning of Fall. Bonfires in the valley suggested one of the seasonal festivals, and the evening air was chill. Takumi ran as fast and as quietly as he could, avoiding the fays whenever he came across them, as he headed to the road to finish his journey. So much time wasted.

Word spread almost as quickly that Takumi had regained his right form and was again on his journey. The kings had already agreed to keep their people out of his way, to avoid any incident like the past one.

----
Takumi ran unhindered across the length if the bridge, avoiding anyone who was on it but not to the extremes as before, and taking rest and food as needed at the shelters. His goal was to get to Aleriand as quickly as possible and end the prolonged torment he had been to. He didn’t even think of the moment ahead when he would enter the Temple and face God, or wonder about what would happen. He was solely concentrated on reaching his goal, and in time he did reach it. The small town that surrounded the exit of the Bridge lay just ahead... Then he decided to wait for nightfall to go any further.

At nightfall Takumi left the bridge. Circumventing the small town of Dongzhanqiao, or Eastern Landing, he kept away from populated areas and made his way up to the capital, Huang Jin An.

Takumi stood at the gate of Huang Jin An. No guards at all were in sight. It had seemed like the whole land on his way here was completely without any protection or sense of danger, and it unnerved him. Not a single obstacle had appeared in his path. It seemed all too easy. Surely the people here were not so naive as to let strangers wander in without any kind of protection whatsoever, or were they? The way to his goal was straight ahead, around the Hall of Judgment and up two flights of stairs, simple and straight forward. He turned aside to the left and began making his way deftly along the rocky escarpment that surrounded the city towards the high point on which the Temple sat.

Takumi passed quickly over the rocky ledges by the purple roof of the crypt, the empty battle arena and the forge, circling the tops of the cliffs surrounding the gardens of the royal quarters till he reached the small forest of leafy trees that surrounded the Temple. He looked out from the cover of the trees, past the short wall with its walkway and surrounding pillars, all of snowy white marble, past the golden pavement to the large three storied, round red-lacquered building with its decorative star tile and deep blue roofs. The building was a rather impressive, in a simple way, a fitting crown for the pinnacle of rock that was it’s foundation stone. Takumi was more interested in the great ornamented doors that faced the steps, and the silver eyed silver haired fay that stood in front of them. The fay gave no indication that he was aware of Takumi standing in the trees. Instead he gave a short yawn and began walking down the stairs and off to the gardens near the hatching grounds, leaving Takumi completely alone. Takumi looked around to make sure he was unobserved. Then he stole over to the Temple doors and slipped inside. Saebhreathach felt Takumi enter the Temple and smiled, leaning back on a garden bench and observing the stars.
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Mamma Peach
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Re: Takumi's Story

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----
Inside the Temple was dark, only lit by the moonlight and starlight that came through the high windows under the concentric roofs. Still, his yokai eyes could clearly see in the dim light. He quietly walked towards the plush carpet with the silver tree in the center, the tree that had sprouted on the day Conchobhar and Lien Hua were married, now thrice as tall as a man, fully branched with solid gold leaves, large pearl flowers and tiny pearl buds, diamond fruit, and a smooth trunk at least a foot and a half in diameter. Valuable leaves, petals, and fruit littered the carpeted floor, but Takumi was not interested in them. He had come to find God. Even though there was no sign of any presence the hairs on his neck stood up in dread of the meeting. He looked around. How did one summon this god? He remembered everything he had heard. The children had been made to kneel in reverence and closed their eyes, as had Conchobhar. Takumi walked past the tree and knelt on the carpet, facing the darkened back of the Temple, and closed his eyes... waiting.

He could smell the slight perfume of the pearl flowers on the silver tree, and the scent of the carpet and lacquered wood walls. He could hear the slight creak of the wood settling in the night air... but nothing else. Still he waited, absently counting the minutes as they passed. Still nothing. Just as he was beginning to grow impatient at the stillness, he heard the door creak open a bit then shut and the swish-swish of a broom moving across the floor. Just a night janitor, he sighed to himself in resignation, and opened his eyes to look behind him. There was an old man laboring with a broom to sweep away piles of litter, garbage and dirt. The trail of refuse led straight across the room to Takumi’s mud caked boots, as if he had tramped through both a swamp and a garbage heap before entering the Temple. The old man looked up at Takumi with that kind of long-suffering look that Inori used to give him, when she was his nurse and he had been engaged in something she would have to cover for to keep him out of trouble. Then the old man went back to cleaning up the mess. A sense of guilt came over Takumi, for desecrating the Temple floor with filth. He wanted to apologize somehow, but couldn’t think of the words to say.

“What did you sneak in here for?” accused the old man in a quavering voice.

“I-I came to find Aru,” Takumi stammered. “Father Asa said that he could help me.”

“So, you sneak in here in the dead of the night, tracking in all your filth and garbage, and you think you can get an audience with the Lord of all creation?”

“Yes, I mean I had hoped...” Takumi began in guilty confusion. Just then his mind caught up with him and he realized the discrepancies in this scenario. He knew the floor had been clean a few minutes ago, except for the valuable litter of the silver tree, which was absent... Conchobhar had told him of the altered reality that occurred in the Temple when coming into the presence of Aru. That meant... Takumi’s eyes widened as he looked more closely at the wizened old man and used all of his senses to determine his species, power level, what he was in reality. It frightened him that he could discern nothing definite, as if the man in front of him defied all such limitations that a definition implied. The “illusion” of the trail of garbage was also stingingly clear to Takumi, all of his wickedness and guilt laid out in that holy place, in front of that august presence. He trembled in fear of the ultimate rejection that this being must surely deal out to him and bowed face down to the floor towards the old man. “Please forgive me Exalted One,” Takumi said, his voice choked up as tears fell uncontrollably into the carpet that brushed his forehead. “I had no where else to turn. Surely you know the wretchedness my life has been... how much I want to be a father to my son... but I am unable...” His voice faltered, closed up by his sorrow and fear as he held back the sobs that threatened to burst out. Even now he was trying to keep his cool in front of this being, but afraid that he was loosing it.

He felt a gentle hand touch his head, almost a caress, and a deep voice spoke tenderly, “Takumi, Takumi, you who see so much and are so hard to deceive, yet you live your life believing lies. I shall indeed forgive you, as you asked. Now look at me, and tell me what you see... if you can. Or do you still believe that ‘praying to gods for help is stupid’, and that ‘it’s the strengths of the yokai that determines the out come’ ?”

His words to the children during the battle of Kiryushiro came back to him and he winced. “No Great Lord, I no longer believe that,” said Takumi.

“Then look at Me then, and see what it is that the children believed in!” said the voice.

Takumi rose up with the help of strong arms that gripped his shoulders and looked into a face that shone brightly, illuminating the air around them like the sun, and into shining eyes... Takumi felt as if he had shrunken to the size of a tiny, glittering dust mote as he saw into the vast mind of God. He could hear with the clarity of lightning the thoughts and words of every being, on every world, in every dimension and every time, that ever was or will be. He could feel the ecstasy of their joys, the pain of their sorrows and the agony of their sufferings. He could see in every place each event as it was happening, in the past, the present, and the future, all at once, and how each was connected to the other. He could see the glorious reality of what should have been superimposed on the grim reality of what people had made things to be, and every possibility in between. He could see the plans that the God of all gods, the Self Existing One, the Prime Cause, had made from before the advent of time itself. Plan upon plan, plot upon plot, endless in number, supremely subtle and yet all-powerful, reaching into the lives of every single being, arranging things to bring each to Himself and to a glorious finale of joy, even reaching out in overwhelming love to those whom that Great Power knew were beyond hope, having utterly chosen to flee from the face of their Maker; and all throughout everything he felt the passionate, indescribable love of this God for all of them, and also for him, Takumi the yokai. For one brief moment Takumi saw, and felt, literally everything, and then his limited mind collapsed from the overload and he knew nothing. Takumi lost consciousness.

----
As Takumi came to he felt the gentle, tender stroke of a strong hand on his head. His first thoughts went to Conchobhar, the feelings he had for the yokai prince, his hopes... his hopes dashed... Conchobhar saying he loved him... but not that way... it was the way that... Then he remembered the awesome overpowering love, like being drowned in an ocean without the pain of dying... the Mind of God! He had seen everything, but now he had forgotten it all. A greedy little thought of all that juicy information, since that was Takumi’s trade in business, popped up. It would have been nice to remember just a little, but there was none of it. There was only the vague memory of the times that God had saved his life, suffered with him, and had arranged events so that he must some day come face to face with Him, and with the truth. He felt strong arms supporting him, just as Conchobhar’s had, and he opened his eyes. He looked into a face that was no longer shining like a thousand suns, but ordinary and human, a bit like Father Asa’s face with a beard, only the eyes... not that they were different from other eyes, except that they had a look that seemed to pierce his soul, and were full of compassion. It was hard to look into those eyes that could see his very thoughts, but at the same time he didn’t ever want to look away. He half hoped that the eyes would turn away, and they did. The thoughts that had been hiding from the gaze of those eyes now crowded to the surface, and Takumi had a hard time shoving them down again. Such disgraceful thoughts! How could he have ever thought that he would change.

“You are wrong,” said the man as he stood and pulled Takumi up to a standing position. “You have changed. I have forgiven you, as I said. In time you will become as I first intended you to be, but not all at once. I have my reasons.” A little while ago Takumi had seen those reasons, but now his mind on it’s own could not comprehend them. “Your mind is not my mind,” the man said softly. “I had to show you that or you wouldn’t have understood. I always have my reasons. Even so I think you will see an improvement on your own way of thinking, and a greater depth of knowledge,” he said with a hint of laughter.

“And my... my addiction, the reason I came to You?” said Takumi wanting again to look into those eyes, and still afraid to.

“I could take that away from you in an instant, but I will not.” The man’s voice had a tone of finality to it that made Takumi’s heart sink in despair. The man sighed. “If I simply gave you what you wanted you would learn nothing! Don’t you understand that? But change you will, I have promised it. I will be beside you lending you my strength, increasing your wisdom.”

“But... what shall I do?” pleaded Takumi. “These feelings are so strong! I tried to stay away from them, but...”

“I created those feelings to bind male and female together, that two who are different shall be one. That much you should already know, but it is also the beginning of unity, where families, communities, and peoples begin, and it is an expression of who I AM.” As the man said that Takumi remembered that feeling of perfect unity in the mind of God, and yet that unity was a harmonizing of more than one... was it three... different entities, yet the same in thought, in purpose, in action... never alone... always I was we and we was I... Takumi had always been alone. This was concept of unity was alien to him, and yet there was a longing... “Yes, I meant for those feelings to be strong. I meant for them to never be broken.”

“Then what am I to do?” said Takumi despondently.

“Go back to your wife. Let her satisfy your needs, and you satisfy hers. Only do not use her as you would use a man. She is your wife.”

“Inori never wants to see me again. She wouldn’t take me back,” Takumi laughed bitterly. “Besides, I’m a danger to our son.”

“I will give you a letter for her from me. She will listen to me. And don’t worry about your son. I will protect him, as I will guide you. Only do as I ask.”

“Yes, sir,” said Takumi, his voice holding a hint of sarcasm.

Takumi felt a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up into those eyes. “You are my beloved son,” said the man. “I will never abandon you. I shall be with you and love you always, but I shall also discipline you when you need it. Don’t forget!” The man handed Takumi a sealed envelope with Inori’s name on it. “You are not to open this letter or read it, nor let anyone besides Inori read it. If you do it will vanish, and you will be left to explain things to her without my help.”

As Takumi took the letter the man vanished, though the feeling of his presence remained. Takumi stood alone on the carpet of the darkened Temple facing the way he had come in. Taking a deep breath he tucked the letter into his shirt for safekeeping, and started towards the door. As he passed the silver tree a branch brushed against him. He stopped and thought, why not? Women love flowers and jewels. He plucked a small silver twig with a pearl flower and gold leaves and carefully put it with the letter. Then he exited the Temple and made his way down the mountain.

Saebhreathach returned to the Temple doors with a smile on his face and he began whistling an Irish tune. The fays whose duty it was to clean the Temple each night came in and cleaned, carrying away the leaf litter for the royal family to dispose of, while Takumi crossed the night darkened landscape of Aleriand to the Hanayomebashi Bridge.

----
Takumi began the long trek home at a quick pace, not wanting to stop and rest at all, even though he was very tired.

It had been dark for some time as Takumi neared the island of Avalon. He had been running at top speed all day to try and make it back to Yokaisekai from Huang Jin An as quickly as possible. His journey had taken far too long as it was. Still, without sleep and food he could only go so far, even as energized as he was from his recent experience. He decided to stop in the traveler’s hostel at Avalon by the bridge and make use of one of the places built to help pilgrims on their journey across the bridge. There would be food and a place to sleep, nothing fine or fancy but suitable for his needs and free from the time distortions of the fay islands. He would start again in the early morning.

As he dozed off to sleep on a cot at the hostel he touched the envelope inside his shirt and wondered what God had said to Inori in the letter. He fell asleep wondering, and dreamed of some of the things he had seen in God's mind.

Before the sun even rose Takumi was up making use of the amenities of the hostel. He looked once more at the letter, sorely tempted by his curiosity, but he put the sealed letter back with the flower. Then he set off onto the bridge again at a fast run just as the sun was rising. Takumi made great strides that day, not even stopping for a midday meal, and had just cleared the island of Gorias. At this pace he should reach Middvai or Hy Breasail later that night, then Kiryushiro later the next day, well before sunset. He was wondering about Inori and his son, how they were doing, and how he would be received. His hand stole to the letter. Suddenly a shape flung itself out of the traveler’s shelter directly in his path. Unable to stop he quickly leaped over it as if he were still a dear, landing deftly on the other side. His thoughts turned to his time on Findias. As horrible as that time was, and as much as he would never want to repeat it, it had really done him good. He could not have executed even a simple move as that when he had left Yokaisekai. God certainly worked in strange ways. All of this thought occurred in only a split second, and as his feet touched the ground he heard a sobbing groan behind him. He skidded to a stop and turned. It was an old mujina woman, hunched over with age. She was sprawled on the ground, feeling around for her walking stick that teetered on the edge of one of the slender openings in the balustrade of the bridge before it fell into the water.

“My stick! My stick! How shall I ever get to Tir Nan Og now!” she cried.

“Don’t despair, mother,” he said hunting for a polite word to call the old woman, as he had never had cause to use one before. “ Tir Nan Og is not so very far. Just take it step by step and rest along the way and you will get there. It won’t be long.”

“You don’t understand sir,” she sobbed. “I am too weak. Without even my stick to lean on I can’t even get up.”

Takumi walked back to the old woman. “What brings you so far from home then, to Tir Nan Og of all places? Was there no one to help you?”

“No, no,” she sobbed still continuing to search. It was then that Takumi noticed that she was also blind. “They all said I was foolish and wouldn’t help me in my madness. But I know that what the boy prophesied was from God! I have to go to Tir Nan Og. He said if I did I would see again and the burden of my weariness would be lifted from me. Just help me find my stick and after another rest maybe I will be able to go a few more steps. It is an enchanted stick, and only by it’s help have I come this far.”

“I’m afraid your stick has gone into the ocean,” said Takumi. “Let me help you back to the shelter.” The woman began to cry and moan over the loss of her walking stick as Takumi lifted her to her feet. The woman was frail and nearly wasted away, and though her muscles still felt like there was strength in them her legs just collapsed under her weight as Takumi helped her on to a seat in the the shelter. She kept carrying on about how unbearable her life would be if she couldn’t make it to Tir Nan Og.

Takumi was anxious to get back to Kiryushiro and give the letter to Inori, but he couldn’t just leave the old woman in the middle of nowhere, hoping that someone else would find her and help. If she had been on this road for as long as her infirmity suggested he must have passed her by once already without even noticing. How many others had done the same? Tir Nan Og was only about 800 miles away. It wouldn’t take him long to run that distance, but it would take her an eternity to crawl there inch by inch. It would only delay his journey a little bit longer. He sighed. His journey had been delayed so long already, but there was really no other choice.

“Dry your tears, mother. I’ll carry you there myself,” said Takumi squatting down to put the woman on his back.

“Oh bless you, sir,” said the old woman as she clung to him. “I don’t know what I would have done. You truly are a godsend.”

Takumi wasn’t sure how to reply to that. “Don’t mention it,” he said as he took off at a fast run.

At first things were fine. He made quick progress, and the woman was as light as a feather, but as he continued his burden became heavier and heavier. Soon she had taken on the weight of a small boulder, and yet if anything her arms that clutched his shoulders and skinny legs seemed to grow even more frail. The woman began to moan softly, as if in pain, “Oh the burden, the burden!” Takumi was mystified, but bore up under the growing burden. It wasn’t the first time he had carried weight like this, even if he was out of training. It would have to get a great deal heavier before he would begin having difficulty. It did get heavier too.

Soon the weight became so heavy that Takumi had to slow down, and the woman could only whimper. The further he went the heavier she became, and eventually the woman passed out from the burden of the weight. If things continued on this way not only would Takumi be barely able to walk (and the journey considerably lengthened), but the woman might actually die on him. The whole thing was beyond comprehension. Then Takumi remembered a battle early on in his participation in the Dark Tournaments. It had been against an obariyon, a rather parasitic type of yokai, usually reclusive and hard to find. The obariyon’s name had been Katamari, or something like that. At first Takumi had scoffed at the creature’s diminutive size and overly large head, but when the obariyon’s natural camouflage abilities kicked in making it hard to find he had become angry and less cautious, giving Katamari the chance to jump on his back. Then the obariyon’s true strength became evident. The creature latched on to him like a leach, draining his own strength, while at the same time crushing him with its ability to alter its own gravity. He had nearly lost that match, but it had made him more cautious of small opponents. Had the old woman unknowingly picked up an obariyon? If she did why had no one noticed?

Only one way to tell. He stopped and knelt down, lowering the woman gently to the pavement. Her back was decidedly humped, but he knew from Father Asa (among others) that humps could be deceiving. He reached into the back of her collar under her garments and felt her back. There was a hard, hairy lump, about the size of a large melon, between her shoulder blades, and the hair on it didn’t feel like rough badger hair. In fact it was rather on the long side. On either side of the lump he felt long flat welts - very arm like even if they were unnaturally flexible - that ended in large flat disks with spread out digits around the woman’s upper arms. Below the melon like head, for it could be nothing other than an obariyon pressed so tightly to her skin that it had passed for her own furry body, was a small flattish body with elongated legs that clung to her hips and a flat tail that tapered down the rest of her spine. The thing was so firmly attached to her that getting it off would prove far more difficult that removing leeches. Fortunately an obariyon was more intelligent than a leech, and might be persuaded.

Takumi grabbed the long hair of the flattened orb of a head tightly with one hand and the bony spine of a body with his other before saying, in his most threatening tone of voice, “Let go of the mujina, now!” The obariyon didn’t move. Takumi sent a surge of charged spirit energy through the obariyon’s body that entered the woman’s body as well with a convulsion that bent her double. He could feel the obariyon’s ribs move spasmodically as the creature panted with fright.

“You know,” Takumi continued with a sinister nonchalance, “I can send a bolt through you that will leave you dead, but the old woman unharmed. She won’t even feel the pain since she is unconscious, but you... You will feel such excruciating pain as you die. Or... you could let go.”

Takumi heard the pop of suckers releasing as the obariyon’s limbs went limp. He tugged on the body and finding it loose he yanked it out from under her clothing. The obariyon glared at him with yellow eyes and bared the tiny sharp teeth in its large mouth. Suddenly it whipped its arms and legs around with surprising strength, trying to get a grip on Takumi so it could climb onto his back. Takumi wrestled skillfully with the creature, and untying the wrappings around his pants legs that bound them closely to his shins and ankles, he bound the obariyon hand and foot so that it could barely move. It spluttered and hissed furiously in anger at being treated so. Takumi went back over to the woman to see how she was doing. She was starting to come to. Though the obariyon left raw welts and bare patches on her skin where it had clung, there was likely to be no lasting damage. The mujina was a tough old lady to have endured the creature for so long.

“Well, mother,” he said as she became conscious, “it looks like one of your problems has been solved now, and you haven’t even reached Tir Nan Og yet.”

She rose tentatively up on her feet, then reached back and felt the contours of her back. “I don’t understand... How was my burden removed?”

“It was an obariyon,” said Takumi. “It attached itself to you, drained your strength, and made itself a heavy burden to you. Once I found out what it was it was easy to remove.”

“All these years...” the mujina began.

“Curse you!” yelled the obariyon. “I’ll get even... just see if I don’t!”

Takumi walked over and shook the bound creature till it’s teeth rattled like castanets. “You had better mend your ways,” he said threateningly “or worse may happen to you!” He then dropped it.

“Oh bless you sir!” said the mujina. “I don’t even know your name, but I owe you more than I could ever repay. May God bless you generously.”

“It’s nothing,” he said rather embarrassed by her thanks. “My name is Takumi.”

“And my name is Rosoku,” said the mujina making a bow. “I feel so strong, and so light!” she said rather bemused.

“You ought to,” laughed Takumi, “you’ve been carrying around the weight of a large boulder for some time now. Shall we continue on to Tir Nan Og then?” He held out his hand to her. “It’s not far. I can actually see it from here.”

“Thank you, Takumi, for continuing to help me,” said the old mujina lady feeling his hand and grasping it. “You are very kind.”

“It’s nothing,” he said again, thinking to himself that if it hadn’t been for the kindness of other people to him, he wouldn’t have been able to help her at all.

Takumi walked over to the now virtually invisible obariyon, only the black bindings that tied him could be seen. Takumi lifted the bundled creature in his other hand and set off at a trot with the old woman keeping stride beside him, hand in hand. Suddenly the obariyon took on the weight of a monstrous sized boulder, nearly causing Takumi to drop him. “None of that now!” said Takumi sternly. “Any of your tricks and I’ll drop you over the side and see how far you sink!” The obariyon returned to a lighter weight and remained so until they reached the island of Tir Nan Og.

When they arrived Takumi led Rosoku down the first ramp they came to, and accosted the first official looking fay he saw. “This woman was sent by the God Aru to have her eyesight restored,” he said. “Will you see to it that she reaches the king so that he may see what can be done? And,” he continued dropping the obariyon at the fay’s feet, “can you see to it that this yokai is sent back to Morrigan. It is a very troublesome and dangerous yokai. I would do it myself but I have had my journey delayed long enough, and I wish to return home quickly.”

“As you wish, sir Takumi,” said the fay gentleman with a smile, though Takumi had not said who he was. “I am must apologize for the inconvenience of your stay in Findias. I’m sure that if you decide to return to the fair islands we will make amends.” He gave a polite bow with a flourish.

“Where do you live, Takumi, that I might see you again once my eyes have been healed,” said the old mujina woman holding on to the fay’s hand.

“I live at Kiryushiro,” he said turning to go. “I am one of Prince Conchobhar’s team members.”

“In the Dark Tournaments? No wonder you’re so strong,” said the old woman in an appreciative tone. “It’s good to know that the Prince has such nice friends. Good bye, Takumi. May God bless you!”

“Good bye, Rosoku” said Takumi. “May God grant you the rest of your prophecy.” The he took off up the ramp and onto the bridge at a fast run. He would be lucky if he made it to Findias by midnight. He really didn’t want to stop anywhere near Findias, but he wouldn’t be able to go all the way to Myddvai or Hy Breasail without food or sleep, not after that day’s work out.

Takumi had only made it to the outskirts of Findias before having to stop for the night and “refuel”. Even though the fays there had been very apologetic for everything that had happened there before, he was glad to be quit of the place in the morning, all be it far later than he had hoped. The sun was already well up when he set out again for Kiryushiro, and Inori. He fingered the letter nervously as he ran. It would be well after midnight when he arrived... He hoped to face this in broad daylight, but he didn’t want to delay even one more day. He was afraid that he might loose his nerve, or worse, if he deliberately stopped his journey somewhere to wait for the right time. Then again perhaps the dead of night was exactly the right time for something like this. Only God knew the mind and moods of a woman.

----
The sun had already set and the light was fading as Takumi passed the last of the Islands and came to the Western gate. It was dark as Takumi approached the gate and its garuda guard. “Welcome back, Takumi,” said the guard as he opened the gate. “Your return was anticipated.” Takumi wondered what the garuda meant by that as he entered Nishimon. It didn’t take long to find out. There inside the gate was a ring of black robed members of the Unseelie Court waiting for him. The gate clanged shut behind him and he felt a chill run up his spine. Memories of what he had seen in the grotto came unbidden to his mind and he shoved them back with images of the shapeless black robed figures in front of him and the memory of being in the presence of Aru. He had been rather successful with mental techniques like this during the time of his abstinence, but it helped considerably to remember Aru, to remember both the majesty and the comfort of the presence of that deity. He had to apologize to the Unseelie Court, he knew that, even if this gathering was not the threat he imagined.

He gave a deep bow to the black robed ones and spoke. “I am deeply sorry for intruding on your privacy, and for stealing one of your robes. It is an action I deeply regret and shall never attempt again.”

“I am certain that you do regret it!” said one of the dark figures and the group cackled with laughter. “If it were not for the Morrigan’s orders we would have made you regret it even more!” By now the whole group had him surrounded and moved around him in a rather disconcerting manner. “We can not curse him. No, that we can’t,” they said one to another as they circled him. “But we can not let him simply go, as if nothing was done.” Takumi’s skin crawled. No one ever wanted to have the attention of the Unseelie Court upon them, and he well understood why. “But we could bless him!” spoke one and the others paused a moment. Then they burst out in hideous laughter. “Yes, there is nothing against blessing him! But what shall we bless him with? The mark of Aru is upon him, and the geis of Morrigan prevents us from harming him. Why not bless him with sons and daughters, children of surpassing beauty and yokai temperaments? Yes, the Scriptures of Aru say that children are a blessing from God, little arrows, happy is the man whose quiver is full.” They cackled in glee as the movement around him began to pick up the pace making him feel a bit nauseous. “Every female he sleeps with, even for just a night shall present him with a child! But this one prefers males, what then? He is marked by Aru, and such things are an abomination to that One. He shall suffer the punishment of his God for transgression, shall he not? Then so shall we bless him!” The black robes swirled dizzily around him as a singsong chant punctured the air and cold clawed hands touched him as they passed. Then they were gone. Takumi was alone in the early morning atmosphere of the turnabout, with a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. He made a mental note to never, ever, cross a member of the Unseelie Court ever again.

Regaining his composure Takumi felt inside his shirt to make sure the letter from Aru and the flower from the silver tree were still there. Satisfied that nothing was amiss he continued on through the false starlit forest of the Nishimon and out into the moonlit night of Yokaisekai. He breathed in the familiar air of the forests of Nishichiku. Home at last! This was the final leg of his journey. He would be in Kiryushiro, and with Inori, sometime after midnight. He hoped again that the letter was a persuasive one. Then he set off at a fast pace towards his destination.
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Mamma Peach
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Re: Takumi's Story

Post by Mamma Peach »

Making a Home

It was very late at night, only a few more hours till dawn Takumi thought, as he cleared the surrounding forests and entered the grounds of Kiryushiro. Unseen above, a vampire bat flying a wide circle around the castle caught sight of him enter. The garuda guards would surely stop the bat from entering, but he could wait in the forest, wait until Takumi came out again, or until the guards relaxed their vigil and he could get in the way he used to.

Takumi entered the castle and made his way silently to the rooms inhabited by Inori and his son. He was pleased that the rooms were so tidy and well kept, especially considering how he had left them. There was no sign of his previously debauched life. The rooms smelled good too, and they smelled of Inori’s presence. He remembered the days, not so terribly long ago, that she had nursed him back to health, her companionship, the feel of her body. He knew that he has used her, abused her willingness to help him even in his sexual perversions and how he had made her to act as a partner of his fantasies, all the time not considering how she might feel about his twisting her feminine feelings and devotion around his own willful desires. In all that she had not betrayed him once, nor had she retaliated in kind trying to manipulate him for her own gain. She had left him only to protect their son, a good and right thing to do, but would she take him back again after all that had happened? He was certain that only a miracle of God would make her want to try a relationship with him now. He fingered the letter. Every fiber within him wanted to know what kind of words God could ever use to convince her to stay, but even more than that he wanted the letter to work as God promised so he left the seal untouched and entered the room where Inori slept.

Inori’s pale blond hair covered the pillow and a pale blond furred ear twitched in her sleep. The covers of the bed hid the rest of her form, all except for one slender pale furred arm, and one of Takumi’s ornate robes lay within reach in case she had to get up in the middle of the night. He almost wanted to just leave her sleeping, to avoid the conversation that would follow, but he had come a long way and was tired. He had better just get it over with now. “Inori?” he said a bit more loudly than he meant to.

Inori woke instantly and saw Takumi standing there. Her heart beat quickly as the fight or flight instinct took hold on being awakened in such a vulnerable position. “What... What are you doing here?” she asked breathlessly. Her mind was searching for a reason for him to be standing there.

Nervously Takumi took out the letter and the flower. He was afraid that he had already begun badly. “I’ve just come back from Aleriand... from visiting the temple of Aru. Aru sent you a letter,” he said handing her the sealed envelope. “And... I thought you might like this,” he said handing her the flower. Now that was as about as romantic as a block of wood, he thought to himself as he nervously watched her take and open the letter, the beautiful flower lying on her lap. He scanned her face as she read, hoping for some sign. Inori’s hand went to cover her mouth as her eyes clouded with tears, her features contorted with strong emotions that sought to escape. Was the though of spending her life with him that repugnant to her? Did she hate him so much? Tears streamed down and a sob escaped from behind her hand as she finished the letter and it dissolved into vapor. Takumi was wondering if he should just leave and count that part of his life lost, that getting Inori to accept him back was even too hard for God, when she flung her arms around him in a tight embrace, sobbing on his shoulder incoherently. Takumi stood there stunned and caught the words, “I dreamed of one day being your wife for real, but I never thought it would happen!” She still wanted him? He put his arms around her and held her gently. A new feeling rose in him, the desire to protect her from harm. The strong had become weak and vulnerable, the hard had become soft and caring, and it felt so right. For the first time he slept with her as herself, a woman and his wife. Whatever happened tomorrow, tonight was good, he thought as he drifted off to sleep.

----
Inori woke with the morning light and gazed at Takumi sleeping soundly next to her, exhausted from his long travel and at peace in its completion. Her own heart felt as if a heavy load had fallen from it. There would be difficult times ahead, the letter had warned her of that, but she was no longer alone fighting against even her own heart to survive. Takumi was really with her now, on her side, and God had promised to protect her son from what she had feared most. She was sure that together they could work through anything. There was also a noticeable but indefinable change in Takumi since he had left. He had grown, not in stature though he was much healthier than at any time she had been with him before, but in his ability to see beyond himself. He had been thinking of her last night, not some fantasy male that she represented to him. He had been relating to her, Inori. She slipped out of bed and picked up the pearl flower with its golden leaves and silver stem that had fallen to the floor. It was so beautiful, a flower from the tree that grew at Conchobhar and Lien Hua’s wedding sanctifying the union. For a long time she had felt that it was Conchobhar’s marriage that had changed the prince’s character for the better, but now... Now she realized that it must have been coming face to face with Aru that had changed him, as well as Takumi. “Aru,” she prayed silently, “You said in your letter that you wanted me to be changed too, to belong to you. I don’t know how it is done, but I want that too. I want to be able to help Takumi as his partner in life, but I am sure that I lack the wisdom and strength that you have given him and Prince Conchobhar. If I belong to you too, perhaps you would grant me what I need. Show me the way, Great God.” She placed the flower on the dressing table by the mirror. She looked at her reflection for a moment then slipped on a robe and went to feed and change Takara who was beginning to wake up.

Takumi woke a little while after she left, as the light filled the room. At first he thought it was time to get up and get moving again, but the feel of the bed and the scent of Inori reminded him that he had already arrived. He looked over at the other side of the bed and saw that Inori had already gotten up. He also saw his gift sitting prominently on the dresser by the mirror. Takumi got out of bed without any hurry and went over to the partially open door of a little in-between room where his study had been before he left. Peeking in the room he saw that Inori had turned it mostly into a nursery for Takara, with only a small work area. He quietly watched Inori feeding their son, unaware of his gaze. They looked so happy and peaceful, especially Takara who was patting his mommy’s rounded chest and sucking with eyes half closed. Takumi thought it was strange that he had never considered such a natural purpose for that part of a woman’s anatomy, and wondered why most men obsessed over them as a sexual object. He had thought the whole obsession rather absurd, and until now had thought that part of the female body to be rather grotesque, preferring a man’s flat chest. Now he could see that they had a rather beautiful use, and that Takara at least was very appreciative of them.

He left his wife and son undisturbed and went to the bathroom to take care of business and shower, the first real shower he had taken since he had left on his journey. He was surprised at his reflection in the mirror, considering the reflection that he had last seen glaring out at him. His hair had completely grown back to it’s former length and his muscle tone was as good as it was before his battle with Conchobhar. He was completely healthy with no sign of his former debauched life. The trip had done him more good than he realized. He left the bathroom for his room, which had not even the slightest smell of his former lifestyle there, to find some fresh clothing. The castle staff was certainly first rate at cleaning. He would have to thank them somehow, he thought as he started going through his clothing. He tossed one ornate and effeminate kimono after another onto the bed. None of them were to his taste anymore. He had once worn them to attract attention, to advertise his desire, and cause a scene, as much as out of any sense of taste. The robes were still beautiful, but he no longer wanted to wear them. He stood there with a towel around his waste, looking crossly at the heap on the bed, as Inori came into the room with Takara.

“What’s wrong?” asked Inori seeing the look on his face.

“I can’t wear these!” he said in frustration. “They’re more suited to you than to me... in fact you should just take them all. Really, I have nothing to wear now except the dirty things I’ve been wearing since who knows when!”

“Is that all,” she said handing Takara to him. Takara stared up at him solemnly wondering who the stranger was, while Inori went through the pile again. Takumi noticed how big and alert his son was since the last time he had held him. Of course that had been over six months ago, when Takara had been practically a new born. Soon Inori had a few of the more conservative outfits separated from the others. Some had just been for use on solemn occasions. “These outfits ought to do for now,” she said. “Are you really sure you want to get rid of these?” She fingered the beautiful garments he had rejected. “They are very beautiful and look rather expensive.”

“They are,” he said. “That’s why I’m giving them to you. They really are too valuable to just throw away, but I just can’t wear them any more. It’s not that I don’t appreciate beauty or fashion. They just don’t represent where I want to go in my life. Maybe I was really finished with them back when I fought with Conchobhar... I just didn’t know it yet. I’m done with all that now and not just because I want to be with Takara, or because it was destroying my own life.” He put his free hand on her shoulder. “I know I’ve been a self centered jerk and hurt you a lot, even though you were one of the few people that actually cared about me. You never complained about how I treated you, but I know that being used like that... Well, I wouldn’t have been surprised if you hated me for it and didn’t want anything to do with me ever again. Instead you cared about me, even wanted me back, and I don’t think it was just because God told you to. I don’t want to hurt you any more than I already have, if I can help it. ‘For better or worse,’ as they said at Conchobhar’s wedding, you happen to be my wife. I intend to honor that in every way, not just some.”

Somewhat embarrassed by his little speech and Inori’s adoring look, he turned back to the subject of clothing. “You know, what I really like is the special ops outfit I’ve been wearing lately. It’s comfortable and durable, not bad looking either even if it’s not stylish, and it has all of these places to hide weapons and devices that I haven’t even used yet... I’d wear it to the Dark Tournaments if Kagekiba wouldn’t have my hide for it. I still like the way these look,” he gestured at the pile, “only I would rather see them on someone else, like you. You deserve beautiful clothes, and it would be nice to see you in them. It would turn some heads too,” he said with a wicked little grin. “It would be quite interesting to see other people’s reactions to you dressed in these robes instead of me.”

Now that was more like the Takumi she knew! Inori thought as she grinned back. She wasn’t going to be bored as the wife of a reformed Takumi. He still had that inquisitive fire that she had come to love. “I’m sure I can get some of the castle staff to make you some new clothes, like the special ops outfit but with an emblem, color change, or something to distinguish it from the real thing to keep Kagekiba satisfied. Speaking of which, I’m sorry I couldn’t keep your leave secret any longer than I did, but I did keep up your work and he was satisfied with it.”

“It couldn’t be helped,” Takumi replied. “In fact people knowing like that probably helped me get out of there in one piece. If Conchobhar hadn’t recognized me... and he might not have if he thought I was back here... I might have ended up as a trophy on his wall.” He shuddered at the thought. “I’d better get dressed now,” he said handing the fidgeting Takara back to Inori. He was going to have to learn how to interact with an infant if he was going to be more than a stranger to his son. “I have to get some breakfast, check out how Shiori and Dobutsu are doing as well as get back into training myself, and go over the reports I’ve missed.”

“Then later we’ll need to talk about some things,” said Inori.

“What kind of things?” asked Takumi.

“Well,” Inori began, “this is the first time we’ll be living together as a family. There’s a number of things we need to talk about. I mean clothing isn’t the only change that needs to be made. I have Takara’s stuff all over your work room, and things like that. We both have things we need to do and space we need to do them in, as well as things we might need to do together. I think we should talk about our life together.” She seemed to be rather vague, but then this had been rather sudden. Neither of them had even thought of life together let alone planned for it.

“I see what you mean,” Takumi said as he dressed. “We will definitely talk about this later on today and get some things figured out. Make a mental list of the things you and Takara might need, and think of some things I can do with Takara to get him used to the idea that he has a father, not some stranger, living with him. I’ll come back after training is over, do some work, and then we can talk.”

“And I’ll see about some new clothing for you,” she said.

Takumi gave her a hug, which actually meant more to him than a kiss. “I never told you how wonderful you are to do this for me. Thank you.” Then he left the room to go down to the kitchen. Inori put the robes back into some kind of order and got herself dressed. Then putting Takara in a carry pack she took the dirty laundry down the service elevator to the basement to wash. Then she would take the stealth ops uniform to the seamstresses, four daughters of Kuyamu the jorogumo prisoner of Lord Seiryu, to have more clothing made for Takumi. After that she would get her own breakfast.

----
The workout with Shiori and Dobutsu was a good one. They had increased their abilities a lot since Takumi last trained with them and it was hard to tell just how he himself stood. As they were taking a breather the familiar form of Akuma landed next to them, her bat wings vanishing. He hadn’t seen her since the banquet over four months ago and was quite surprised to see her.

“Why in the world are you guys still training together?” she said before anyone had a chance to comment. “You should be past getting up to speed and onto developing your own strategies and techniques, or did you forget that we also have to fight against each other in the tournament?”

“And it’s nice to see you too, Akuma,” said Takumi with a bit of his old sarcastic edge to it, “Though totally unexpected.” Then he changed his tone. “Actually I’m glad you showed up. I honestly don’t know where we stand for once. I’m not sure I have an accurate gage for our ability level right now. I’ve been rather out of it for too long. I don’t suppose you could spar with us for a while and give your opinion, could you?”

Akuma was rather stunned. Was Takumi seriously asking for her opinion of their battle techniques? “Sure, I can spare the time,” she said.

For an hour more they sparred, and Takumi had a difficult time holding his own, but he managed. He found himself abandoning some of his old distraction techniques in favor of strength and agility, which perplexed Akuma some. He just felt uncomfortable at using the pseudo-seduction techniques, to throw his opponents off guard with squick, that he had been infamous for, so he just didn’t. At the end of the hour they called it quits. “So,” Takumi asked Akuma, “where do we stand?”

“You want a passing grade or something?” said Akuma irritated at having the newcomers so close to her own level. “All three of you are well past the stage where we go solo. We shouldn’t be practicing together until just before the tournament. As for you Takumi, you should be spying on the other teams and forming strategies! You shouldn’t have had to ask me at all. Did Conchobhar hit your brain or something, because you certainly seem to be running on stupid!” Having let off some steam she be came a bit calmer. “The reason I came here in the first place is because you are the only one that has seen Conchobhar battling using his new forms, and I was trying to devise some strategies against them. I seriously intend to win this time!”

“Then maybe I shouldn’t help,” Takumi teased. Akuma glared at him. “I actually have it recorded though. I should have shown it to everyone earlier, so Ryoga could see it too, but there were things that happened. Why don’t you come up now? We can grab some stuff from the kitchen and go to my place and eat while we watch. I need to get my equipment in order anyway.” The others agreed. Soon the four of them were loaded down with food and headed to Takumi’s apartment.

----
They entered the apartment laden with food to be greeted by Inori holding a very sleepy Takara.

“I was going to show some footage of Conchobhar battling to the team,” said Takumi realizing that all of his stuff was in the room that the baby slept in, “but it looks like we’re going to be in the way.”

“No, you can watch in here,” she said handing him the baby. Takumi took his sleepy little son in in his arms, tucking the fluffy black tail around the boy out of the way. “I hooked up a monitor and keyboard in here so I could work while Takara was playing, or view the net when I had visitors over.” She went over to a cabinet against one wall and opened it revealing a large screen that she adjusted, as the others put the food on a large coffee table.

“Isn’t that the nurse that Lord Enma had take care of you?” said Akuma wondering what the woman and her child were doing in Takumi’s apartment, not realizing at first that she was wearing one of Takumi’s own robes. “What is she still doing here?”

“That is Takumi’s wife and child,” said Dobutsu the Nue with an amused grin on his monkey face as he gently patted the infant with one huge tiger paw, then made funny faces when the boy looked at him that made the boy laugh.

Akuma was stunned. “Then... the rumors I heard... Takumi getting married, to a woman, were true. I couldn’t believe them!”

“There’s no point in marrying a man, now is there,” said Dobutsu with a rumbling laugh.

“But... how...” Then Akuma’s eyes narrowed as she began putting the pieces in place, as far as she understood it, and she gave a sharp derisive laugh. “I get it now! Poor Takumi left alone with nothing but a woman to comfort him. Ha! She was a substitute, a stand in for your male lovers!”

Inori grew bright red under the short pale fur on her face and she bit at her lip with one fang as she plugged the keyboard in and set it on a small table in the corner.

“Akuma!” said Takumi sharply, startling Takara. “Inori is my wife! No matter how it might have happened she is my wife in every sense of the word and I won’t have her abused like that!” He turned to Inori and put a hand on her shoulder, “I’m really sorry about that,” he said.

“It’s... It’s to be expected, I suppose,” said Inori in a shaky voice taking Takara back. “I... I have to turn it on in the back, and put Takara to bed.” She left the room.

Takumi followed her, shutting the door. “I really am sorry. I’ve caused you trouble and I guess it doesn’t end just because I want it to. I don’t know what I can do to make it up to you,” he said softly as she put Takara in the crib and tucked him in.

“Just keep your promises,” she said going to the equipment and switching it over. “That’s all I really want. The rest... I can endure that.”

He came up behind and put his arms around her and held her. She was so strong, and yet so vulnerable, he thought as he felt the softness of her cheek against his. “I will. God willing I will,” he whispered.

Turning she kissed his lips and buried her head in the hollow of his neck and shoulder grasping him tightly for a moment, then she let go. “Your team mates are waiting for you.”

He left her and returned to the next room where the chairs had been placed facing the screen, with the table of food close by. They had already made a fair dent in the pile of food. He went to the keyboard and searched through his files selecting one simply marked “Crystal Caves” that was locked with a code that he entered. A split screen view of the interior of the caves appeared on the screen.

“Is that your fight with Conchobhar, the event that nearly got you executed?” said Akuma. “Won’t you get in trouble showing it to us?”

“It’s the only film I have of his new forms in action,” Takumi replied. “I don’t think it will matter showing it to the team, though I don’t suppose Morrigan and Enma want it to be public knowledge,” he said looking at them pointedly.

“We wouldn’t tell anyone. Why should we?” said Shiori the Aosagibi, rather innocently. “Wouldn’t it give other teams an advantage, besides perhaps causing you trouble.”

Akuma gave Shiori an “is he for real” look as on the screen Conchobhar entered the cavern wearing his sword Giolla Lasair, and Takumi’s voice echoed around the cavern, “You said you wanted to talk to me... about something personal, but you’re wearing a sword, Conchobhar. That’s not like you.”

The phrase took Takumi back to the feeling of hunted desperation. What was he doing showing them this? He wanted to disappear as Conchobhar spoke of his attempt to kill Father Asa, the allusion to the incident with Chikara, and his move to break up Conchobhar’s marriage. Then he himself appeared on the screen, carefully groomed with a dark embroidered robe and red ribbon binding his hair, looking almost like a girl... a girl who’d been jilted and had nearly snapped... and he confessed his love for Conchobhar. Takumi wanted to die.

“That’s what it was all about!” shrieked the enraged Akuma standing up as if she were going to strangle him. Though she had heard the account from Conchobhar at the meeting the loathsome reality of it hadn’t sunk in until she saw it for herself. That and the unflattering reference to herself raised up the whole ugly issue again. “That’s what you wanted me to break up the marriage for! You low life son of a prostitute! And what you did to Chikara, you raped him didn’t you! It was always about you and your perverted lust, never mind what wreckage you leave behind...”

Dobutsu grabbed Akuma’s arm. “Akuma, contain yourself. Your reputation isn’t exactly spotless either. I know of at least one of your past lovers who no longer walks among the living because of you...”

“No, she’s right,” said Takumi dully, nearly overcome with guilt and shame. “What I did was unforgivable...” his hands trembled so much that he removed them from the keyboard. He wished he had never turned the recording on. Why had he ever kept it in the first place? Had he been blind up until now, not to know how horrible he had been? It was too late now. There was no hiding the evil he had done, no taking it away, no excuses to be made. His eyes began to blur. “There is no excuse for what I did, to Chikara, Father Asa, Conchobhar... so many, many more... Nothing can repair what was done, no amount of saying I’m sorry... and I am sorry, so horribly sorry... ”

Akuma stopped, her rage temporarily forgotten in her surprise. Takumi was feeling guilt? Not just the half crazed fear of being hunted for his crimes, but genuine sorrow. There were even tears, and it was no act. She knew his acting. Besides there would be no reason for it. Not so long ago he would have just laughed this kind of thing off, like it was all a big joke. His jokes could be as cruel as her rage, but he never felt sorry for them. Of course, neither did she, but that was beside the point.

Dobutsu let go of Akuma and went over to Takumi. Putting a paw on his shoulder he said, “ ‘Therefore if anyone be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.’ That’s what the Holy Book that Father Asa left for us says. You have been to Aru have you not? Has he not forgiven your sins and made you his own? The past has no hold on you. He has paid the price for your transgressions. You were made clean and have the chance to start over. Learn from your past errors, but don’t be dragged down by them.” Takumi remembered how God had reached out to him through the voice and hands of Father Asa in Lord Genbu’s house, even though he ran away, and how the appearance of Aru as old man had swept up the “filth” he had tracked into the Temple. He had seen into the mind of God, if only for a moment, and he had seen among many other things the overpowering love, the forgiveness, and the payment that had been made for his transgression...

“Takumi has been on pilgrimage... to Aru?!” said Akuma incredulously. This was so unbelievable to her, but it would explain a lot. She’d seen others who had suddenly changed after going on pilgrimage. “So, he’s one of you guys now... a God follower...” Her frustration and anger began to build again, though she would be hard pressed to say why.

“I think we are getting to the combat part...” Shiori pointed out drawing their attention back to the screen.

Akuma dropped back into her seat and held her tongue. Dobutsu returned to his seat and Takumi wiped his eyes so he could see better and made a mental note to ask Dobutsu for a copy of the Holy Book he mentioned. Then he keyed the recording to back up a bit and then go slower so they could see the details of Conchobhar twisting the ring on his hand as he leaped, becoming his chibi self, and how he handled his child sized body with tremendous skill to avoid the laser trap that Takumi had set to kill him. A chill ran down Akuma’s spine, not at Conchobhar’s skill, but at the viciousness of Takumi’s trap, and was glad that she had never been on his kill list. They saw how the spirit energy Conchobhar fired at the lasers did nothing, which was odd, and how he used his sword even in chibi form to destroy them.

“Will Conchobhar bring his sword to the tournament?” asked Shiori.

“It’s not usually his way...” said Takumi.

“He has a thing about only using spirit energy weapons, and not overpowering his opponents all at once,” added Akuma. “Not the most brilliant of strategies.”

“Nevertheless,” Takumi continued, “he might be pressured into taking it with him, considering what has happened already, and he might just use it in a pinch.”

They watched little Conchobhar gasp for air and then activate the serpent band expanding into a huge serpent whose sheer mass collapsed the barrier field. They saw Takumi’s swift counter attack and narrow escape.

“I’ve never known you to wear body armor like that, not in recent years anyway,” Akuma commented. “You came quite prepared didn’t you.”

“Yes... I did,” Takumi replied rather grimly, trying to stay objective through the torture of watching one of his greatest moments of stupidity displayed to everyone. “As you can see the great strength of the serpent form is rather useless in tight quarters, but Conchobhar knows that and won’t use it for long in such a setting. This is where his fay abilities become useful to him, but he is often more vulnerable in fay form and the Crystals of that cavern negate his abilities somewhat.”

As the cameras followed the action, highlighting the participants when either went invisible to the normal eye, Akuma commented, “How do you get your cameras to do that? It really shouldn’t be possible. And have you made any efforts to make something like that usable in the tournaments?”

“I keep telling you that it’s not practical,” said Takumi. It seemed Akuma asked that every time. “Eyes aren’t everything in the tournament, and it’s a trade secret. Actually I should say that it’s a state secret now. Since I started working for the government a number of my inventions have gone into that category and I can’t do whatever I want with them, especially in the area of giving unauthorized persons access to them. At least I can still use them though.”

“Unlike your ‘Daraku’ technology,” she said pointing to the thin undergarment Takumi wore in the film that had blocked energy bolts. “You know that stuff is illegal now.”

“Of course, and for good reason,” said Takumi. “Not only does it make the powerful ones of Yokaisekai vulnerable, but it requires murder to make. I found out quite a lot about it in those few days. Not all of my time was spent...” He stopped short of saying - trying to end Conchobhar’s marriage - but Akuma’s look said she knew that his mind had been on getting Conchobhar the whole time. Conchobhar going chibi again to avoid Takumi’s return bolts drew attention back to the film. “This is where the smaller more agile form is an advantage,” he said. “As you can see Conchobhar is very adept at the quick change, so take that into consideration. He can be three different sizes, and four forms, at will. Though you would be able to predict which, if you can see his movements, it would be difficult to trap him based on size. And that is a good way to locate an invisible enemy with power absorbing armor, though water and dust sometimes does well too,” he said as Conchobhar used thousands of weak energy darts to cast an energy “shadow”.

“Do you always use traps?” said Dobutsu observing the series of lethal traps that nearly ended Conchobhar’s life after he shot Takumi in the leg with a crystal shard.

“It’s his specialty,” said Akuma, “though lethal ones aren’t allowed at the tournament. Oh, did you hear the new rules for the tournament?” Seeing their blank looks she continued. “So you haven’t. Well, in addition to the law that anyone caught with Daraku’s technology will be put to death; all weapons, armor, traps, and devices will have to be cleared by the queen’s council. Any unauthorized use will stop the battle - like with a deadly blow - and the user will forfeit the tournament. Also all armor worn will have limitations. Armor that can resist all blows consistently for the duration of a single match must only cover vital organs, and no other parts. Armor that offers more coverage must have the weaknesses of natural scales or bony coverings, or be able to block strong blows for very short periods up to no more than five attacks. Spirit energy armor and weapons are not limited. So, Takumi, you’ll have to clear all your special stuff through Morrigan.”

“That’s not a problem with me,” he sighed. “I have to clear most of my stuff through the government anyway.”

In the film the battle was in earnest now. Akuma was surprised by the strength and ferocity of Takumi’s blows while in stealth mode and Conchobhar’s skill at avoiding them, but the raw strength and endurance of the yokai prince showed in the end. An exhausted Takumi paused disheveled, his under robe draped loosely leaving his vital organs unprotected. Akuma sensed a fatalism in his look that almost invited death, but true to form Conchobhar rendered his joints useless with well placed shots instead of killing him, and even caught him before he fell. The hair on the back of Akuma’s neck rose in horror as she saw Conchobhar’s cloaked sword rise and fly swiftly towards Takumi’s back, in a direct line to impale both of their hearts. The barely audible words “What were you thinking?” escaped from her lips. Conchobhar mentioned how his sword had stopped short of killing him, but to see it... to see how Takumi was willing to kill himself to end Conchobhar’s life, was shocking.

The tape resumed normal speed. Takumi’s eyes teared up as he watched Conchobhar’s resuscitation efforts, and his head sunk to the table top as he heard himself say, “Why? Why did you save my life? I tried to kill you. I would have killed your wife if I could,” and Conchobhar began talking to him in earnest, explaining how he really did care. Akuma left the room without a word. Dobutsu laid a paw on Takumi’s shoulder, then he and Shiori left. On the tape Conchobhar said, “Because I love you. Not the way that you think love is, but I do love you,” and carried Takumi out. Then Kagekiba uncloaked and said, “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,” as Inori came into the room and turned off the tape.

“Are you all right?” she asked putting a hand on his shoulder.

He raised his head and wiped his eyes. “I can’t go on like I did before,” he said. “There are so many things I have to change... even the way I fight. I think I’ll go walk around in the forest a bit to clear my head.” He keyed the file lock and switched off the system, shutting down the monitor. “I’ll talk to you later like I promised.” He turned to go and stopped. “Before I forget, I wanted to ask Dobutsu for a copy of the Holy Book that Father Asa left. Could you do that for me?” he asked Inori.

“Of course,” she said. “Could I join you on your walk then?” she added hesitantly.

He turned and smiled at her, a rather wistful smile that matched the tone of her voice. “Sure, I’d like that,” he said and he walked out the door.

***

The afternoon sun shone uncomfortably on the vampire Kurotsuki. He dropped from the branch he was hanging on in bat form and flew silently through the woods to the eastern side of the castle where it was shady now. On his way he saw something that made his wait worthwhile, Takumi walking out of the gate of Kiryushiro and into the woods. Takumi was deep in thought and didn’t notice the bat as it made a wide circle through the trees around him into a dark patch of dense forest in the path of the deer track he was aimlessly following. All around him the green leaves were beginning to show color as they flapped in the breeze. Just as Spring was beginning in Talamh, Fall was beginning here. Takumi had missed all of Summer, trapped in the body and mind of a deer. He entered a denser part of the woods and came face to face with Kurotsuki. Takumi halted in surprise, his adrenaline rising. “I thought I left a message that I didn’t want to see you again!” he said.

“Surely you don’t mean that!” pleaded Kurotsuki. He had worked too hard in winning Takumi over, and in making sure he kept him. No one had ever broken his control before. “Look into my eyes and tell me you don’t want me.”

Takumi made the mistake of looking. Kurotsuki smiled as he saw the fixed stare in Takumi’s eyes. Yes, Takumi was his! He stepped towards the mesmerized yokai. He ran his hand softly down the side of Takumi’s face and across his carotid artery. Only one more step, just a little time, and Takumi would be his forever. He felt Takumi’s body, so strong compared to the last time they were together, and Takumi’s hungry response to his kiss...

***

As soon as Takumi left Inori changed into her own clothes and called for Yuna, a mujina maid that had often watched over Takara when Inori had errands to run, asking her to look after the sleeping baby while she was out. Then she went across the 3rd floor service corridor to the opposite tower where Dobutsu and Shiori were staying. She climbed the stairs and knocked on the door to be greeted by Dobutsu. When she explained what Takumi wanted he was delighted and gave her his own Bible saying he could get another, and invited them to church the next day. Inori thanked him and said she would ask Takumi about going to church. “God cares for all of us,” Dobutsu said before she left, “so don’t worry about Takumi. God will work things out for the best.”

Instead of retuning to Takumi’s apartments she headed for the service elevator carrying the Bible with her. She walked with a quick step as she left the castle to find Takumi. Lightly and quietly, as her training had instilled in her, she followed his trail into the woods. His scent came to her on the breeze from a dark patch of woods ahead, and the scent of another.

She slowed as she approached through the trees and stopped abruptly in the shadows, horrified, as she saw her husband in the arms of another man. His robe had fallen down around his shoulders baring his upper body as he and the other were locked in a kiss. She backed off in a panic, her breath short and her heart aching, but she didn’t turn and run, not yet anyway. Instead she circled around the pair, keeping silent and down wind. She couldn’t understand how Takumi could betray her so easily. Only a few minutes ago he had seemed so different, changed, but now here he was with another lover in his arms. Then she saw the look in his eyes, and spied the clothing and bearing of his lover. A vampire’s spell! Her betrayed horror turned to raw anger, and a growl rose in her throat as she saw the vampire go for her husband’s neck.

Kurotsuki was about to sink his fangs into Takumi’s neck and savor his blood when he was struck by a flying furry body with fangs and claws. He went down heavily, winded, as the female kitsune landed on his chest and viciously bit into him, trying to sever arteries, as her sharp claws dug into his arms. She missed the vital spot on his neck and carefully spat out the blood as she went for another bite. He shoved her off of him and received a kick in the face as she turned the momentum of his shove into a back flip. This one knew how to fight. Well, so did he, and he could fight very dirty indeed. He would break this fox-girl and drain her dry, leaving only an empty husk behind! Then he would take Takumi to a more private place where he would finish what he had started.

Takumi watched in a daze as Inori and Kurotsuki fought with skill and violence, both bleeding profusely. Though Inori’s skill and fury carried her well in the fight it was obvious that Kurotsuki was the stronger of the two. Alarm began to grow in Takumi’s befogged brain as Inori began to tire. Then Kurotsuki snapped her arm and sunk his fangs into her neck. She cried out briefly in pain. The cry echoed inside Takumi and there was a dull ache in his chest, a feeling of despair. Someone dear to his heart, his friend, was going to die if he did nothing. Her blood would be on his hands. Something snapped and his mind cleared. With lightning speed he reached the vampire’s side, and grabbing him by the neck he wrenched him off of the stricken Inori and slammed him into the trunk of a near by oak tree. “Don’t you dare hurt my wife!” he said in a menacing growl, punctuating his words by pounding Kurotsuki against the tree.

Kurotsuki’s eyes grew wide in alarm. No one had ever broken his domination before. Sure, Takumi had been difficult, requiring drugs as well as natural venom, seduction and hypnosis to bring under control, but he had been securely within his power just a moment ago. How had he managed to break it? The question was rather irrelevant though as he was being pounded into the tree. Takumi’s hand tightened around his neck as he struggled cutting off his air supply. Not only was Takumi free, but he was going to kill him, he thought with alarm.

Takumi’s thoughts bent and twisted around his anger and outrage, devising various means of causing pain and degradation to the vampire in his grasp. His brain freely raced over ideas of torture, how he could destroy this filth in the most violent way possible. Then out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a book lying near the roots of the tree where Inori had dropped it, a Bible. He remembered the errand he had sent Inori on, to get a Bible from Dobutsu so he could learn more about how he should live his life before God. Shame and guilt overcame him and he loosened his grip on Kurotsuki. In a flash the vampire had wriggled free and was flying away, in bat form, as fast as he could. Takumi took a moment to clear his thoughts as he adjusted his robe and picked up the Bible. Then he went over to Inori. She was badly wounded but conscious, weakened from blood loss but still able to function with a normal pulse and blood pressure. The first thing she asked was if he was all right. He replied that he was fine, silently asking himself why she had to be the one that suffered for his mistakes, and said that he needed to get her back to the castle to treat her wounds as quickly as possible. She nodded and only cried out briefly as he arranged her broken arm in her lap so he could pick her up. She bit her lip and laid her head against his shoulder as he carried her back to the castle. As he approached the gate he was surprised to see Lord Kyuketsuki coming to meet him.

The vampire lord looked at Inori and the bites. Smaller puncture wounds than made by the fangs of ordinary yokai the wounds of a vampire bled very little in comparison, but could hide more dangerous effects than appeared on the surface. “Quickly take her to your room,” said the vampire Lord. “I will have Lady Reiwana look after her wounds. She is well trained in such things.” Then his look darkened. “It was Kurotsuki, was it not?” he said. Takumi nodded in reply as they entered the courtyard. The vampire lord left Takumi and quickly strode over to a black coach harnessed to vampiric looking black horses, where a vampire footman was helping the fashionable Lady Reiwana and her adopted daughter Ran out of the coach. As the vampire lord spoke to his wife she quickly directed the footman to fetch a small black leather bag from the baggage compartment. Lord Kyuketsuki then spoke to one of the drivers who changed into bat form and flew off, while the other driver took the carriage over to the side where the horses could be rested and cared for. Then the lord and lady, with the footman and their young daughter in tow followed after Takumi as he entered the castle.

Takumi reached the suite ahead of the vampire lord and placed Inori on the bed in her room. He asked the mujina to stay in case Takara woke and needed something, then greeted the vampire lord and lady as they entered. Lady Reiwana took the bag from the footman, briefly asked where the injured kitsune was, then entered the room where Inori lay, while the vampire lord told Ran to stay with the footman and drew Takumi into the other room. The vampire lord had Takumi sit on the edge of the bed and looked intently into his eyes as if looking for something. It made Takumi uncomfortable. “How was it that you just happened to be here?” he said. “Did you know about Kurotsuki in advance? And what on earth are you looking for?”

“My son e-mailed me from Aleriand this morning,” said the vampire lord. “He and his on-line friend are setting up computers and an internet system in that country. He told me that you had visited the Temple and asked if I would visit you to see how you were doing. Since Reiwana wanted to visit Princess De Zhen and borrow some books from the library, she and Ran came too. It seems that I came just in time, though perhaps things would have gone better if I had arrived sooner. What I am looking for is evidence of coercion. Now, look into my eyes!” Takumi looked into his eyes and felt his mind grow fuzzy again. Then when Lord Kyuketsuki looked away and snapped his fingers Takumi’s mind became clear. “As I suspected," he said, and before Takumi was really aware again the vampire lord took hold of his hand an pricked his finger with a dagger. The vampire lord tasted the bright red drop of blood that welled up. “Drugged too,” he said grimly, “It’s still in your blood after all this time. Lord Genbu should not have spared him. He should have been executed like his brother. I’ll see what I can do for you.”

Lord Kyuketsuki left Takumi to ponder what he said and went into the room Reiwana was in. The elegant lady was just finishing setting Inori’s arm, the other wounds having been cleaned but not bandaged. “How is she doing?” he said as he searched the black bag for something.

“She is doing fine,” said Reiwana. “Nothing a little rest won’t cure. He had a strong bite though. I will have to give her something for it.”

“His clan should have been tested, if not completely wiped out, but Lord Genbu never understood about the dangers of rogue vampires,” said Lord Kyuketsuki shaking his head.

“Takumi saved me,” said Inori weakly. “He was that vampire’s lover, and under his spell, but he fought for me.”

“Yes dear,” said the vampire lady sweetly, patting her hand. “Isn’t it nice when the one you are married to actually loves you.”

Lord Kyuketsuki smiled at his wife’s statement as he picked a bottle out of the bag. “As ensorcelled as he was Takumi must love you very much to break out of the strong domination Kurotsuki had over him, but I think I can remove it completely,” he said to Inori and then left the room.

Lady Reiwana mixed an odd looking medicine with a sleeping draught and gave it to Inori. “Take this,” she said. “It will help you. You need to sleep for a few hours for it to take effect, and after that you should take it easy for a few days to make sure your pregnancy continues. It’s so early, it’s a shame you had to get into a fight. You could have lost the baby altogether.”

“Pregnancy?!” said Inori. “But how? I haven’t even been in heat, it’s not that time, and Takumi just came back...”

“It only takes once dear, and however it happened you’re pregnant and need to take care of yourself,” said Reiwana. “Now take your medicine and get some rest.” Inori drank the concoction that Lady Reiwana gave her, and before the vampire lady finished packing the black bag she was fast asleep.

----
In the next room Lord Kyuketsuki had Takumi drink a measured portion of the bottle he had taken from the bag. “Once this gets into your system it should negate the effect of the drug, and whatever vampire injection might still be in your blood, but I will have to give you a counter suggestion to undo the hypnotic suggestions that were implanted. You probably won’t like me being in control of you for the time it takes, but if I don’t do this Kurotsuki or some other vampire might be able to take control of you again. I promise not to implant any other commands or pry into your affairs.”

Takumi was surprised and a bit suspicious. “That doesn’t sound like you,” he said. “Have you been undergoing some changes lately?”

“Aru changes everything,” said the vampire lord tersely. “When the time comes for my son to inherit my business and estate, I intend for him to run it with a clean conscience.”

“All right then,” said Takumi, “what do you want me to do?”

“Just look into my eyes.”

Takumi did and went into a trance again. Sometime later he he came out of it when Lord Kyuketsuki snapped his fingers.

“There, it is done,” said the vampire lord.

When they left the room Lady Reiwana and Ran got up from the sofa. “All finished?” she said. Her husband nodded. Then she turned to Takumi. “You need to make sure that your wife takes it easy for a few days or she might loose the baby before it even gets a chance.”

“Baby?!” said Takumi.

“Yes,” said Reiwana calmly. “She managed to get pregnant last night, but if she’s not careful she will lose the baby.”

Takumi suddenly remembered the “blessing” that the Unseelie Court had put on him. It must have been really effective. “I’ll make sure she takes it easy,” he said.

“Good,” she said. “I will come by later and see how she’s doing. Shall we go?” she asked her husband. “I want to talk to De Zhen and see about those books.”

“Yes,” he said, and as they were walking out the door, “Take as much time as you want to. I have some business to attend to.” From the tone of his voice Takumi guessed the business had to do with Kurotsuki. He wouldn’t have to worry about any more trouble from that one. It wasn’t likely that Lord Kyuketsuki would let him live very long.
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Mamma Peach
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Re: Takumi's Story

Post by Mamma Peach »

----
Takumi dismissed the mujina, after assuring her that he would manage if the baby woke up. Seriously, how hard could changing a diaper be? He’d seen Inori do it many times, and it wasn’t as if the kid could climb out of his crib and get into trouble. Setting up the monitor and key board again he silently went into the room where Takara slept. He might as well get some work done while it was quiet. He looked at his sleeping son for a moment. It was hard to believe that soon after his first child turned one, there would be another for Inori to take care of. He shook his head. When did his life get so complicated? Of course there was no one to blame but himself. He went to his “work area” and turned on his system, routing it to the monitor and keyboard in the other room. Then he left as quietly as he had come in.

Takumi sat down and entered the codes. Multiple windows sprang to life on the screen, some showing older material that had been taped while he was gone, some current events, one monitoring Takara and one searching the library city’s vast amount of knowledge. While he perused the various events on the screen, to see if anything odd or interesting was going on or needed to be reported, he searched the library for tips on parenting and baby care, and for games and activities that fathers could do with their babies to promote bonding. After about 30 minutes of perusing multiple screens at once an icon lit up showing that someone wanted to talk with him. The call was traced to Kagekiba’s office, so temporarily shutting down all of the windows he accepted the call and turned on the monitor’s camera. Kagekiba’s face appeared.

“I heard you were back,” said Kagekiba. “Anything to report?”

“Nothing yet,” said Takumi calmly, “I was just getting started.”

“Hmm...” Kagekiba nodded without comment. “Actually I wanted to speak with Inori. Has she left already?”

“No,” said Takumi. “We decided to try and make a real marriage out of this. She’s going to stay here.”

Kagekiba’s eyebrows seemed to say, oh really? “Then put her on. I would like to discuss some things with her... in particular about the possibility of using of her house as a safe house, because of it’s secluded location.”

“I’m afraid she’s asleep right now...” said Takumi. Now how was he going to explain without getting into the little vampire mess? “What with the late night and her getting pregnant so soon again...” Well, that was the major part of the problem anyway.

“Pregnant? How is that even...” spluttered Kagekiba even more surprised than before.

“Have you ever been ‘blessed’ by the Unseelie Court?” said Takumi wryly. “It is not an experience I would recommend. They gave me a rather warm reception as soon as I entered the gate, and ‘gifted’ me with uncommon fertility.”

“Oh good lord!” sad Kagekiba shaking his head. “My condolences to Inori. She must be completely insane to put up with you as a husband. You tell her so when she wakes up, and let her know I want to talk to her. Oh, and before I go I would like to make mention of one more thing. Your coming and going as you please without regard to the laws of the land or the sensitive nature of your job is completely unacceptable! Next time you get a whim to suddenly go somewhere get the proper permission and drop me a line as to who your replacement is, and they’d better be approved. Inori is one thing. She has already been cleared even if she wasn’t working at the time, but Ketsueki son of the Vampire Lord?”

“Inori and Ketsueki are the only ones I trust with my work, at least right now” Takumi said adamantly. “You might want to look into inducting Ketsueki since I don’t plan on leaving Inori by herself any time soon. You would do well to do that anyway. He’s as cunning as his father and as honest as a priest. You shouldn’t have any objections with him.”

“Except that his father is Lord Kyuketsuki, the not so former crime boss, whose fingers are into so many pies I’m surprised he hasn’t gotten caught before now,” said Kagekiba. “But I will honestly think about it if you promise to let me know when you are leaving town the next time.”

“I promise to let you know,” said Takumi.

“Good!” said Kagekiba. “And don’t forget to tell Inori that I want to talk to her.”

He ended the conversation and Takumi went back to work.

----
A short time later Takumi saw Takara squirm in his bed and heard him cry. Securing the system and shutting it down he went into the room Takara was in. He was assaulted by a horrible odor as he picked the infant up. “I’d cry too if I smelled like you,” he said. Looking around he saw a small table that Inori had obviously set up for things like this. He put the baby down on a soft piece of paper covering a cotton pad and unpinned the diaper and took a small thin sheet of pine scented paper off of a stack placing it next to the diaper ready for use. He had seen Inori change diapers before in his casual observations of her in her little hidden house. Grasping the baby’s ankles he lifted slightly, in one motion removing the top of the diaper and wiping at the same time while making sure the tail stayed out of the way. Taking the nasty absorbent liner he deposited it on the scented paper, deftly twisting it into a closed bundle and dropped it into a waste bin of other similar packages, closing the lid. Using softer tissues he cleaned up his son’s mess, his mind so busy with everything that the usual dirty thoughts he might have had never occurred to him, not even when he had to block a small fountain of pee with the diaper he left under the boy while cleaning him. “If you’re all done making a mess now...” he said in a slightly exasperated voice as he took the now soggy diaper and tossed it in a pail of other diapers in some kind of liquid detergent wash, also closing the lid, and put a fresh diaper with absorbent liner under Takara, tucking it around his body and deftly pinning it. Well that hadn’t gone badly, he thought.

“Are you feeling better now, Mr. Stinkypants?” he said jestingly as he tickled the baby’s tummy. Takara squealed with laughter and grabbed at his hand. “Oh, so you like that!” Then he tried something that he’d seen Inori do. He blew raspberries on the baby’s tummy. Again Takara squealed with laughter and grabbed a hold of Takumi’s hair. “You have quite a grip there,” said Takumi trying to loose the baby’s hold on his hair. “Okay, you can let go now.” He disentangled his hair from the baby’s grasp. Let’s just find something else to do, shall we? Where does your mother put your clothes?” He found some outfits in a wicker basket and taking out simple blue hakama set, with short bottoms made to accommodate a tail, he put them on the infant tying them in the back so that Takara couldn’t undo them.

“Pb, b, ba, da, da, b, ba...” said Takara grabbing at the clothes as he was being dressed.

Takumi knew the infant couldn’t talk yet, but it was nice to imagine that the da-da meant him. When he finished dressing Takara he held him up in front of his face, nearly touching noses. “Now that you smell so much better, and are all dressed up, lets find something to do,” he said, moving the baby out of reach of his hair when he saw Takara make another grab for it.

He took Takara into the room he had just left and placed him on the floor, pulling over a small basket of toys. There he spent the next half an hour seeing how long Takara could sit up, handing him toys to grab and handle which the baby eventually stuffed into his little mouth and slobbered on (which meant Takumi had to clean them off before putting them back in the basket), watching him roll over... all the while talking meaningless drivel to his infant son in the most idiotic way. If anyone who knew him had seen him playing with the baby they would have thought he’d gone crazy.

After a while Takara lay on his back sucking on his fist and looking concerned, and he began to cry. “What’s wrong now, little man?” said Takumi picking his son up and holding him. His son grabbed a hold of his shirt and began bumping his head against him rubbing his face around making crying sounds. It finally dawned on him what he was looking for. “You won’t find any of that here,” he said. “Let’s go see mommy. I don’t think she’ll mind.” he took Takara into Inori’s room and sat on the bed next to his sleeping wife. Opening up the top of her clothes he put Takara on her chest, away from the broken arm. The baby began sucking hungrily. Takumi put Inori’s good arm around the child and propped it up with a pillow as he hear a knock at the door. “I wonder who it is this time,” he said. Hopefully Takara would stay put for a while, Takumi thought as he went back to the other room to answer the door.

“M-Morrigan?” he said a little shocked to see the fay queen of the yokai standing there. “What brings you here?”

“Kagekiba told me about Inori’s pregnancy and the Unseelie Court’s ‘blessing’,” she said walking into the room. “I am rather upset at them taking action against my wishes like that, and I wanted to see what I could do about it. Inori has had enough trouble without being pregnant every moment of her life just for trying to do what’s right.”

“It’s pretty much all my fault,” Takumi said sheepishly.

“Yes, it was,” chided the queen, “but it is good that you have admitted it. You have surprised me with noble actions on more than one occasion. I never did thank you properly for what you did in the War of Kiryushiro...”

“You let me live...” he replied.

“And against my better judgment too,” she said looking intently at him. Takumi couldn’t help but shift his eyes away from her gaze. “You always seem to be hiding something, and not just ordinary secrets either. Your schemes were always of the more dangerous sort. I hope that mercy will be proved right in your case. Anyway, I haven’t come to judge but to see if I can help. Hold still and I will see what kind of spell they have used on you.”

For the second time that day Takumi submitted himself to the scrutiny and control of another as Morrigan placed her thumb and first two fingers in a triangle spanning the bridge of his nose and between his brows and muttered something under her breath. He felt an uncomfortable tingling sensation that crawled under his skin and entered his eyes to spread through the core of his being. Just as he felt that he could stand it no longer the sensation withdrew and Morrigan removed her fingers.

“It’s worse than I though,” she said grimly. “They have certainly done their work well and it can’t be undone, not without causing you greater harm. Their ‘blessing’ will have to stand. I can make a counter blessing on Inori herself though, that will keep her to the normal cycles of a kitsune make her pregnancies come at a more normal rate. I hope you like being a father, because you will certainly have many children. Unless you have suddenly discovered the ability to restrain yourself completely,” adding under her breath in a sinister tone, “as returning to your old life will be completely unacceptable.” Then with a sweet smile as if nothing had been said she asked, “Where is Inori resting?”

Without thinking he pointed to Inori’s room, then mentally smacked himself for not thinking faster as the queen headed towards the room. Morrigan would surely notice Inori’s condition and question him about it. He had hidden the truth from Kagekiba, but Morrigan was a different story altogether. He shuddered inwardly. He decided he had better answer her with the truth if he valued his life. If the Unseelie Court was not to be crossed, how much more so the one who ruled them?

Takumi hurried ahead of Morrigan and entered the room first. Thankfully Inori was awake, patting Takara with her good hand. She looked up at Takumi and smiled. “Did you take care of Takara?” she said.

“Yeah, we had a lot of fun while you were sleeping,” he replied, and somehow that didn’t sound creepy to her at all, though Morrigan looked sideways at him as she entered the room. Inori’s eyes lost their dreamy look and went wide when she saw the queen. She struggled a bit to sit and Takumi went quickly over to help, putting the pillows behind her, and throwing a blanket discreetly around her conveniently hiding the bite and broken arm as well as other minor cuts and bruises. Not that he could hope to actually fool Morrigan, but perhaps just delay the inevitable.

“What brings your Majesty here?” said Inori.

“Kagekiba informed me of your pregnancy and of the ‘blessing’ of fertility that the Unseelie Court had put upon your husband, against my will, and I came to see what I could do to make things easier for you.”

“The Unseelie Court?!” said Inori looking at Takumi.

“Yeah,” he said softly. “They met me at the Western Gate as I came in and ‘blessed’ me, since they said Morrigan had prohibited them doing anything bad in retaliation for stealing the robe I used to get out without a pass. I know it was a stupid thing to do,” he said seeing her accusatory look. “You know the condition I was in when I left. I just didn’t think it would work quite so... effectively.”

“It was a very strong ‘blessing’,” said Morrigan, “one that I can’t undo. I can counter its effects on you though, so that you follow the more normal cycles of a kitsune.” Inori sighed and Morrigan patted her on the shoulder displacing the blanket. “What’s this?” she said looking at the mark of the vampire bite and the bandages. “You’ve been in a fight with a vampire.” She looked accusingly at Takumi. “This was not reported.”

“It wasn’t his fault!” said Inori fiercely. “Kurotsuki had him under a spell, and it took a great effort to break it and save me, Lord Kyuketsuki said. Besides, I have the right to jealousy...”

“No, it is my fault,” Takumi countered. “Everything that has happened to you is entirely my fault, Inori.”

Morrigan held up her hand silencing them both. “Kurotsuki, the vampire you had as a lover before you left?” she questioned Takumi. “And Lord Kyuketsuki has been here and knows about this? Where is Kurotsuki now?”

“Yes,” said Takumi in answer to the first question. “Kurotsuki is of the Akakiba clan, a group of renegades... “

“Yes, I know about their crimes,” said Morrigan with narrowed eyes.

“Well, he was waiting for me to return,” Takumi continued, “even though I left word that he wasn’t welcome anymore. Lord Kyuketsuki said that he had used powerful drugs, venom, and hypnosis to keep me under his control, so he obviously meant to keep me whether I wanted it or not. I had gone for a walk, having arranged to meet with Inori later, when he found me. When Inori came she found me under his power, as she said, and attacked him - allowing me to break free of his control. Lord Kyuketsuki arrived at the castle just before we did. Lady Reiwana was coming to visit Princess De Zhen. She tended to Inori’s wounds while Lord Kyuketsuki undid what Kurotsuki had done to me. They’ve probably left by now. I an pretty certain that you will not find the renegade Kurotsuki alive.”

“You are trouble incarnate, Takumi,” said Morrigan. “And why didn’t you see fit to report this to Kagekiba?”

“I’m not in the habit of reporting personal problems,” said Takumi looking aside.

“Maybe you should,” Morrigan said exasperatedly, “especially when they boarder on illegal acts, whether by you or someone else. I like the vampires handling their own problems, to a point, but I would rather know about these things before it becomes a national issue.”

“Then you’d better keep an eye on the rest of the Akakiba clan,” said Takumi. “Lord Kyuketsuki said that Lord Genbu underestimated the danger of their existence.”

“I will do that,” said Morrigan grimly. “Do you have any other revelations to make?”

“Only that I promised Kagekiba I’d let Inori know that he wanted to talk to her. Nothing much,” said Takumi shrugging his shoulders.

“I wish I could believe you,” said Morrigan with a sigh. “Go ahead and take the baby. I’ll see to your wife.”

Takumi picked up the baby. “Well little man, did you enjoy your meal?” he said. Takara burped and milk dribbled out of his mouth. “I guess you did. Let’s go get you cleaned up.” Takumi took Takara into the next room.

Morrigan began tracing intricate designs in the short pale fur on Inori’s face and singing in an ancient language. Inori felt a warm flush throughout her body that subsided at the end of the song. Then touching her shoulders Morrigan began a different song, that made Inori feel strong and energetic and peaceful all at the same time. She finished the second song, placing her hand briefly on the kitsune’s belly, as Takumi came back into the room. Takumi noticed a difference in the queen’s demeanor. Before she had been controlled and stern, as befitted an autocratic queen, but now she was relaxed in that happy playful and almost seductive manner that marked the fays. He had never noticed this before, but now that he did other incidents came to mind. It occurred to him that perhaps the role of authority was one that she had taken on of necessity, and not one that was natural to her or made her happy, that perhaps she was happiest being what she was, an agent of nature, a fay.

“Inori should have no problems with your ‘blessing’ in the future. Everything has been set in order, and I also sped up the healing for her, though the arm will still take time to mend. That should not be a problem as she has you to help her now.” She came over and caressed Takara’s soft black hair fondly, thinking of the little one that awaited her at home. “There is no danger to the new baby, so she may get up and do what she needs to do. Your daughter will be fine, and grow into a very beautiful girl too. Though there may still be mischief in that I’m sure that things will work out in the end.”

Takumi wasn’t so sure though. Having a wife was one thing, but raising a daughter? He wasn’t sure how to take it. He was just getting used to having a son. For a brief moment he wondered why he had thought being a father was such a good thing. Of course there had only been Takara then. What had he gotten himself into?

Morrigan looked up from the infant and directly into his eyes. “You will do right by them, won’t you,” she said sweetly.

A shiver went down his spine as he was reminded of the dangers of crossing a fay. “Of course, your Majesty,” he said. Then she left.

Both Takumi and Inori breathed a sigh of relief. “You want to get dressed and go downstairs to eat?” he asked. Inori nodded.

***

Later that night they had time to talk, but they steered clear of the troubling subjects that had come up during the day, and away from their relationship in the future. Mostly their conversation centered on what changes they needed to make in their living space and daily schedules. They had decided to move all of Takumi’s things into the room that Inori had, the one that looked out over the courtyard, and subdivide his old room into two bedrooms facing the shear side of the mountain and the distant mountains beyond, perhaps adding some of the all purpose room in front by the stairs to it for new bedrooms for the children. Takumi would use his old work room for work again. They also settled on the name Inochi (most precious), at Takumi’s suggestion, for the new baby girl. It was late when they went to bed, after Inori remembered to mention going to church the next day, and neither felt up to anything more than just sleeping.

Takumi awoke to see Inori sleeping peacefully beside him, her bandaged arm cradled at her side. Then all of the previous days events flooded back on him. He was grateful for her fierce loyalty. No one had ever shown him that kind of devotion before, and it made him even more fond of her. At the moment she was more precious than anyone had ever been to him, but he felt nothing towards her sexually, not like the night before, not even as he had when she had acted as a substitute for his forbidden lusts, and it bothered him a lot. Conchobhar was right, he thought as he got out of bed and headed for the bathroom. Love and sex were two entirely different things, but he knew instinctively that there was a point where the two had to come together. Sex without love was like taking drugs. You kept doing more and more to get the same high that didn’t satisfy, and he needed that high. No, what he needed was what he had last night. He had always known that, even if it hadn’t filtered to the conscious level. He needed a lover that truly loved him. Now he had one and he couldn’t feel the same thing in return. It was so frustrating, but why? Was it because she was a woman? He had to admit that there was still a part of him that considered females as aberrations of nature and all around trouble, and his sexual attractions to men were still quite strong. That hadn’t stopped him before though. She had been a comfortable sexual partner for quite a while, before she ran away from him. Was it because he was afraid of hurting her? Fear, yes there was fear there too. He probed his thoughts in a way that he had never really attempted before, going where the pain led him as if unraveling a puzzle. Even so there were places that his mind instinctively avoided because the pain was too severe, but he didn’t notice as he tried to unravel the puzzle of why Inori seemed unattractive this morning. He imagined himself having sex with her and noted where the turn off came in and followed that up. By the time he finished his shower and dried off he realized that it was fear, fear of hurting her even more, fear of hurting her so much that she would leave him again. The injuries she received yesterday, both physical and psychological, had made her even more vulnerable in his mind, fragile even, and the pregnancy... Yes, that was a big factor too. To think of having normal sex with her sparked all kinds of feelings of fear of causing harm, to her, to the developing baby, but the other kind had been forbidden to him. No wonder he felt turned off by her! He angrily threw the towel into the laundry hamper with an inaudible curse, nearly knocking the hamper over. This was just not fair! He had been trying so hard and now this!

Just then Inori walked into the bathroom. “What’s wrong?” she asked seeing his frustration. Takumi avoided her eyes. What was he going to say, I don’t find you sexually attractive, or more to the point, I find you sexually repulsive? “Don’t do this, Takumi!” she said getting into his line of sight and gently pulling on his chin with her good hand to get him to look at her. “Don’t shut me out. What ever the problem is you have to tell me. No keeping secrets. I can’t help you if you do. I have to trust you and you have to trust me. We are a part of each other!” Her eyes were pleading.

“You know I’m no good at revealing myself to others,” he began then sighed. “All right. Just give me a few minutes to compose my thoughts and I’ll tell you.”

“Fair enough,” she said, knowing what a big concession he had given her. “I’ll take a shower while you’re thinking. I put your new clothes on the bed. Kuyamu’s daughters said they will have more ready later, some that are more decorative than the ones they made yesterday.”

Takumi nodded and left the room. He went over to the bed and examined the carefully folded clothing. There were three sets made of fine spider silk, one that was a formal black hakama set with a moon and pine tree motif on the collar, and the other two made along the lines of the special ops outfit, one in plain black and the other in fall camouflage colors. He chose the formal hakama for church and tied his hair back in a black ribbon. He got out the Bible and began paging through it while thinking. Soon Inori came out fluffing her fur to get it thoroughly dry. Seeing what he was wearing she took out one of Takumi’s robes that had a mountain scene running up one side on a swirling row of fall leaves fading into boarders of deep chocolate, and a red and gold obi to go with it. She tied the obi into a more matronly style though. She was no courtesan. As she dressed Takumi thought that the deep chocolate color contrasted beautifully with her soft white fur and platinum blond hair. She really needed some hair ornaments though. He should buy her some. Finished with dressing Inori looked over at Takumi to see him looking at her appreciatively.

“You do look good in my clothes,” he said.

She blushed and sat next to him. “Are you ready to tell me what was wrong?” she said tentatively.

Takumi sighed. She did have a right to know, he supposed. “Conchobhar once told me that there was a big difference between sex and love. I understand that now, because I love you very much. No one has ever been loyal to me like you have, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you, especially not because of me... like some of the things that happened yesterday, but I’m not sexually attracted to you, not right now anyway, and that is frustrating me. You are the only one I should be having sex with but whatever attraction you had for me before is just not there today. Part of it is because I’m still attracted to men, but part of it is because you are pregnant. I might hurt you, and even the thought of entering there... It repulses me. What can I do? I’m trapped by my own feelings in a no win situation, and it seems like everything I try is useless. I’m a lousy husband!”

“You have to give yourself more of a chance,” said Inori taking his hand in hers. “You’ve only been at it for a day and you’ve actually done quite well. Your sexual feelings aren’t going to change all at once, but I can help you there. I know what you like, even if you have to do some things differently this time, and don’t worry about me being pregnant. I was pregnant for at least two months before I left you the first time. The only difference was that you didn’t know about it. Changing your mind about things might be a lot slower than you expected.” She didn’t mention, especially since you’ve probably burned out your feelings on all your male lovers. “Just keep the good things in mind and don’t dwell on the frustrations. We don’t have to have sex all the time, only when you feel like it. Is that okay? Just don’t give up.”

“You’re sure it won’t hurt you?” he said.

“Sure, married couples do it all the time, and by the time it gets awkward, we’ll have figured it out,” she replied. “Thank you for telling me the truth. It helps me to know. I always thought I might not be enough for you, but knowing that you really love me and are trying hard encourages me. Now I’m going to get Takara ready and we’ll go to church.” She got up from the bed and went to the door of the work room turned nursery.

“You’re not upset that I don’t find you sexually attractive?” Takumi said rather amazed at how well she took it. “Other women would be terribly hurt being told they weren’t attractive.”

“Oh you think I’m attractive, in an artistic sense,” she said with a mischievous grin. “I could see it in your eyes a moment ago. And I admit that the sexual problem is serious, something that will require a lot of work. But know this Takumi,” she said, her eyes growing soft and tears beginning to form, “that one act of love... you choosing me over that vampire, of breaking his spell and taking my side... of defending me from him like that... That is something I shall take with me to my dying day. I know that you love me! Everything else we can work out together.”

----
A few minutes later they were walking down the mountain path with Dobutsu and Shiori. Inori had Takara bundled on her back and a bag of Takara’s things in her hand while Takumi carried the Bible. The sun could not yet be seen even from the mountain top but the sky was already a clear blue, and the air was crisp and cold. It was a fairly long walk to the small village where the church was but they arrived just as the bronze bell rang out calling the yokai to worship.

The church was a small stone building with a thatched roof in a grassy courtyard with a few small flowering trees, now in their fall leaves, surrounded by a low stone wall. In front was a flagstone pathway that led to the front door and a large bronze bell, or bonsho, to one side that was being struck by a mujina priest in a brown hakama with a white sleeveless kataginu like surplice. As various yokai entered the courtyard the priest stopped ringing the bell, bowed to the yokai, who bowed in return, and entered the church just ahead of them. As Takumi entered the building with Inori and his team mates he was greeted warmly by the mujina priest (named Sagasu) and urged to sit along one of the wooden benches that filled most of the room. Takumi could see some resemblance to the church in Midtown, but this was far simpler and without ornamentation, except for a wooden cross on the far wall. Almost all of the yokai in the church were simple villagers and farmers, though there were a few whose clothing revealed a higher income or status. Yet they were all freely mingled together. When they were all seated the priest came to the front and began leading the people in simple praise songs, some of which bore familiar, though not original, tunes. After the singing The priest had those with Bibles turn to the book of Genesis as they read about the creation of the first humans on Earth and the trouble that they fell into, after which they prayed. The mujina priest then began to speak.

He went through the passages they had read and showed how not only humans but yokai were created in God’s image, with his attributes and character though to a lesser degree than God, and that part of God’s image (as God is united within himself - three persons in one being) was in the unity inherent in the male-female relationship called marriage, which was instituted from the beginning and is the basis of all community and civilization. That this unity of man and wife extended to family and onwards to the nation itself was why Enma had instituted marriage laws among the yokai, to protect the very structure of the nation itself by protecting mothers and their children, but God’s laws went much further than Enma’s. The sacredness of the marriage union excluded all other sexual unions, which Enma’s laws did not. Not only were all other sexual unions mere imitations or even parodies that did not fully satisfy, these unions were destructive to the persons involved and to the forming of true marriages. Then he went into the obligations of married couples to each other, the leadership of the male and his obligation to love and care for the female sacrificially and of the female to follow the leadership of the male and to see to all the necessary details of life that were helpful in their common cause. That in the beginning such harmony of purpose was effortless, the two as equal but different complimentary partners acting in one purpose, but sin destroyed that harmony. He went back to the passage at the part where the female human was tempted to eat the forbidden fruit by the serpent possessed by an evil spirit, and pointed out from another scripture that even though the woman ate the fruit first, the man was credited with bringing sin into the world, and by it death. Again he went back to the passage and showed that the man was with the woman when she ate the fruit, but he said nothing. If he had been true to his position as the male to be the leader and to love her he would not have let her eat it, seeing that God said she would die if she did. The man’s sin occurred before he even ate. He sinned against God and his wife by doing nothing, and letting his wife be deceived by the possessed serpent into eating the forbidden fruit. from that point on the relationship between men and women would be difficult, as was pointed out in the curse that God laid on the woman - that she would desire the man but he would dominate her. There was still hope for mankind though. In the curse on the spirit within the serpent God said that the offspring of a woman would destroy it and end the curses placed on mankind. In reconciliation to his wife the man named her Eve, the mother of life. Though this was the history of humans, it was obvious that the yokai had a similar history with God, because they also were in the same position as man in regards to relations between male and female, and between God and yokai, and that they were redeemed by the same savior as mankind was - Jesus Christ. Just as humans who believed in the Christ were to work at restoring the relationship of marriage to what it was supposed to be, men loving their wives as Christ loved them enough to die for them and wives following their husbands’ leading as they would Christ’s, neither accepting any substitute for the sexual relationship with their spouse, so too yokai should do the same.

The mujina priest finished the sermon and they sang another song before he blessed and dismissed them. One of the members of the congregation who had a large house invited everyone over for a meal to welcome the newcomers - meaning Takumi, Inori and Takara, who were then obligated to go - and everyone went over to the large farm house with a mill by the stream to celebrate, talk, and get to know Takumi’s family. The people were all so friendly that they put Takumi at ease. Still, the sermon was fresh in his head, along with the guilt and obligation he felt towards Inori, so he was a bit more subdued than he usually would have been at friendly gatherings, and when they walked back to Kiryushiro that evening he was very subdued.

***

The next couple of days were rather hectic with the renovations, and not being able to access his equipment meant that Takumi missed the important news that Lenwe brought to Midtown, and Lien Hua’s decision to take on a dangerous mission, until well after they had left. He tried to access the area they had gone to but with no success. These Konstroda and their ship (as he found from the observations of the Athuarians at the Observatory) were as effective at hindering his devices as the mechanical city of the Portalorium, Terra (as the name had been logged into the Athuarian Library by a Mike Hansen, who had interviewed a Portalorium in Aleriand). He hoped that Conchobhar could shed some light on that subject, and to that end he hacked the computer that Ketsueki had left at Lien Hua’s house leaving a message where they would be sure to see it if they tried to use the computer. As for the dangerous mission... they were both capable warriors and he fancied that they could hold their own against thousands of robots, and if they had come to get their children and Yutaka (which they did the day after they left), they must have thought it safe enough. So he sent the information on to Kagekiba with an apology for not being able to find out more. They would just have to wait.

Life was settling down to a steady routine. Takumi’s other little problem persisted, though Inori was very gracious, and capable, in her efforts to help him out sexually. It was still frustrating, but so far he was coping, or so he thought. It had only been one week since he had returned. Inori was out on an errand and Takara awoke needing a diaper change, and as usual Takumi went to change the boy’s diaper. Takumi had had a particularly frustrating night, and as he cleaned the boy up he began to have particularly perverted thoughts, thoughts that he didn’t immediately push aside but lingered over savoring the forbidden taste of them. He placed a new diaper under the boy but before he pinned it the thought came to act on the lustful fantasies. Just as he was beginning to do so he looked in his son’s eyes and suddenly a memory buried so deep inside that he had forgotten it burst to the surface halting his actions.

Takumi wasn’t even a year old yet, sitting in the filthy pen that was his home most of the time, hungry, so very hungry, but his mother was in the other room with a stranger, all night as usual. She had been gone most of the day before too, and he had gotten nothing to eat. The strange man came out of the room and Takumi stood up in his pen on wobbly legs begging for something to eat in his unintelligible babble. Instead of giving him food the man picked him up and talked to him about things he didn’t understand, and then he began to do unspeakable things to him, things that hurt in ways he couldn’t even comprehend. When the man was done using him he tried to silence his crying by stuffing moldy bread in his mouth causing him to choke, and put him back in his pen. When his mother came out he reached for her, crying, to be picked up and comforted, but she slapped him and told him to shut up. The memory was so vivid and real that Takumi felt again all of the humiliation, the pain, the loneliness, and abandonment of the moment that he had buried so well in the dark recesses of his mind, and tears welled up in his eyes spilling over. Here he was, about to do the same abominations to his own innocent son! His hands shook as he pinned the diaper and then lifted his son holding him close. He sank to his knees, sobbing uncontrollably, holding his infant son close to his heart.

Inori entered the room to see the two there, Takumi on his knees holding his son and weeping while Takara looked at him with that solemn expression that he used to have when watching her cry for no apparent reason. Whatever had transpired left Takara untouched, but not Takumi. Inori knelt down beside the two and put her arms around them to comfort them. Takumi removed one arm from the infant and clung to her like a drowning man, crying into her shoulder. “What’s wrong, Takumi?” she said softly feeling like she was also going to cry at seeing him like this. It had been so hard for him lately, and that had been hard for her to bear. “What happened?” After a bit his grip lessened and the sobs quieted. Inori took Takara from his grasp and put the infant in his crib. Then taking Takumi by the hands she led him to their room and sat on the bed with him. he was holding her hand tightly, as if he didn’t want her to go, but he wouldn’t look her in the eyes either.

“Please don’t hate me,” he said in a barely audible voice. “I couldn’t bear it if you hated me.”

Inori tugged at her lip with one fang. She could tell that whatever horrible thing he might say she had to respond with forgiveness to or he would loose it, but could she really forgive like that? “I won’t hate you, ever,” she said with conviction. She would have to trust Aru to make up the difference. “Just tell me what’s wrong.”

Takumi told her. He told her about how he almost molested their son, about the memory that stopped him, about his whole childhood and early life. The words fell out like molten lead or an oozing festering sore.

Takumi had been abused sexually by more than one of his mother’s lovers, and suffered rejection and other kinds of abuse from his mother. Every time he had reached out to her for comfort or understanding he had been rejected. No one around him had sympathy for the son of a prostitute either. At age six he went looking for his father, but his mother had so many lovers that it was impossible. Instead he found out that he got his looks not from any of the men that his mother had slept with, but from his grandmother who had been sold at an early age to a pimp, and was now dead. Later on in life he had asked the pimp about his grandmother’s lineage, but all the man could come up with was that she’d been sold to him because she was an illegitimate half breed that the family couldn’t accept her, but what that family was the pimp didn’t know as the agent he bought her from never said, only that she was too different to hide, and the agent was dead too. Neither did the pimp have any idea who his grandfather was. So the only family connection he had, aside from his mother who hated him, was some unknown person who might look like he did. He had no real friends, only men he would prostitute himself to for favors or companionship. He grew up using and being used by people, or outright fighting to stay alive in one of the festering cities on the boarder of the Kitachiku region, until the young champion Conchobhar came through town and gave him compassion and something to strive for beyond mere survival. Many of his early memories had been buried deeply to ease the pain though, and he had become calloused and insensitive to the pain he caused others, so much so that he could do unspeakable things as easily and with as little thought as breathing, but he still had a deep need for someone to really care about him, to ease to pain that he had suffered with their compassion. He deeply needed Inori to accept him, as his mother had not.

Inori silently endured the telling, thankful that God had kept Takara safe as promised but her heart nearly breaking for Takumi. At the end of the telling they held on to each other in a tearful embrace, the one that Takumi’s mother could never give. What else can you do for pain and guilt that is long past but rises up again like a corpse from the grave? Takumi swore to himself that he would never let Takara or Inochi go through what he had.
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Mamma Peach
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Re: Takumi's Story

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Apologies and New Beginnings

Ketsueki had taken Arch, the Portalorium, to many different places in Yokaisekai, at least places that were considered safe for a human, which meant mostly the daimyo’s castles, Lord Seiryu’s, Lord Suzaku’s, and Lord Byakko’s. Of course the first place they went was to Kiryushiro to visit Takumi and his family. Ketsueki was glad to see that Takumi was doing well and enjoying being a father, and they had a long discussion about technology, Takumi being very interested in Lux and in what Arch had to say about their own technology and the living city. During the course of the conversation one of Takumi’s “bugs” crawled onto Lux and the robot began playing with it, making it do various stunts. When Takumi tried to recall the bug it wouldn’t respond or transmit to Takumi, but continued to follow Lux. Takumi studied the phenomenon as much as he could (deducing that something like that had happened to all of the devices that had gone near the Portalorium city and the Konstroda), but made sure that Lux kept away from the rest of his things. Takara took an interest in Lux too, who played a sort of keep away from the crawling baby. Takara was beginning to exhibit the nimbleness of a kitsune as crawled in chase of the little robot, who stayed out of his reach, as the little boy also had two new little teeth that he used often on his toys.

***

Early in the morning, the day of the feast at Genbushima for the beginning of Winter, Lien Hua and Conchobhar took a long bath and got ready. They had just gotten back from their long trip to Midtown (where they had saved everyone from the Konstroda.) Leaving Yutaka to her own devices, along with the new pokemon, Lien Hua and Conchobhar got into a coach with the twins, followed by Aunt De Zhen and Lord Seiryu, who had been visiting the elder dragon princess in her niece’s absence, and Takumi and his family. The other team members would be meeting them there as they had gone their separate ways to practice. Finally Lien Hua and Conchobhar would get to relax as the coach horses did the work of flying them to Lord Genbu’s house.

As the coach from the vampire castle carrying Lord Kyuketsuki's family and Arch entered the northern region’s land of perpetual winter, Arch was glad that he’d brought along the warm winter clothing that he had received in Jotunheimen in Aleriand. He didn’t have the resistance to heat and cold that the yokai had, and he really didn’t like the cold.

In the carriage from Kiryushiro Takumi wondered how he would be received in Lord Genbu’s house after what had taken place at Conchobhar’s wedding feast. It was said that the dark lord’s wrath was implacable. It was only because the team, and especially Conchobhar, expected him to come and because being with his team was the only condition under which he could enter Lord Genbu’s domain that he had come in the first place.

The carriages entered the great double doors of the carriage house and the reptilian lizard men of Lord Genbu quickly helped the guests to unload their baggage and show them to their rooms, while others tended to the horses and the carriages. A little while later the guests went out to enjoy the snow and some winter activities. Takumi introduced his son to the snow and made a little snow fort with Inori. Arch and the vampire boys did a little snow boarding and then ended up at the lake where some of the younger yokai were skating. He told Ketsueki about the sport of hockey and soon the boys had organized two teams and were playing with sticks cut from tree limbs and goals woven of thin branches from the evergreens that grew nearby. Arch’s team seemed to consistently win until a pack of wolf boys who had been watching the game intently challenged them. The superior team work of the wolf boys made for a very close game that the wolf boys ultimately won. In the meantime the older warriors and dark tournament competitors, remembering the snowball fight at the wedding feast, decided to organize another one. Takumi was drafted away from his family to be the strategist for one of the teams. Just as when Father Asa had participated in the snowball fight, it began to escalate on a massive scale when the battle phase began. The younger yokai flocked around the outskirts of the game to watch, and with the hockey games abandoned Arch went over to watch too, amazed at the incredible strength and speed of the yokai warriors. He was thrilled by the combat, with Ketsueki narrating the action that was too fast for his eyes to follow, that is until one of the mountain sized snowballs landed on top of him. By the time Ketsueki and the younger yokai dug him out he was nearly freezing. So the yokai boys quickly took him into Lord Genbu’s fortress and down to the baths to warm up.

The baths weren’t like what Arch was used to, not even in the barracks. Ketsueki explained how they were to leave their clothes on shelves, though he hung up Arch’s things to dry, and wash off in the shower stalls before going into a hot springs pool, and also showed him where the cotton robes were for when they finished. He felt a little uncomfortable with everyone running around with no clothes on. His people were used to a bit more privacy even in the barracks. They were all guys though, so it didn’t make any difference. When in Yokaisekai do as the yokai do, he figured. At this point he just wanted to get warm again. One of the wolf boys sniffed in Arch’s direction and drooled. The pack leader smacked the drooling wolf boy in the head and told him not to be an idiot, that they would get to eat soon enough and that Lord Genbu wouldn’t tolerate murder in his house. Soon the boys were in the pool, splashing around in the water as energetically as they had played in the snow, and finally Arch was beginning to warm up.

Just as the boys were settling down in the pool the older yokai finished their snowball fight and came in to the bath. Takumi stuck to just doing his business as he came in, trying to avert his eyes and keep his mind out of trouble, just sticking to normal conversation. It was a very noticeable difference from his past behavior, and it left some of the yokai wondering if he was really Takumi or not. “I hear you’re one of those God followers,” a red oni said rather snidely to Takumi as he came out of the shower wrapping a towel around his waist, another thing that Takumi had never done before.

“I am,” said Takumi briefly.

“Does that mean we don’t look good to you, that you aren’t into guys anymore?” said the oni displaying his body. “Don’t you lust after our bodies?”

“No one would lust after you!” sneered a handsome kitsune to the oni.

“Look,” said Takumi, “God didn’t take all that from me. He said I wouldn’t learn anything if he did, but I’m not going back to what I was. I nearly lost my life, more than once. I have a wife and a kid. I’m being faithful to them, and faithful to God. So yeah, some of you would probably look pretty good to me, but I’m not looking and definitely not soliciting.” Then Takumi walked past the oni to the pool.

“He really has changed!” said the kitsune in surprise. “The old Takumi would never have answered like that, without any innuendo or snide remarks. I wonder how he is going to battle at the tournament,” he said with narrowed eyes. “I’m sure there will be some new techniques and battle styles coming out of this.”

“He was certainly doing well in the snowball fight,” said a tanuki. “These God followers seem to change up pretty well, even if they are a bit odd.”

“He hasn’t changed,” growled the oni. “People don’t just change like that. It’s all just an act.”

“An act to fool whom?” retorted the kitsune. “I don’t see how it would benefit him to act like that when nothing serious happened to him before for his outrageous behavior. Who would he be putting on an act for?”

“Maybe for Lord Genbu, or to keep Chikara from getting revenge, or maybe to get access to that son of his,” the oni shot back.

“Lord Genbu is no fool, and Chikara is going to get revenge no matter what,” replied the kitsune, “and he would have a legal right to be with his son without a dog and pony show. Besides, the old Takumi would never do anything to appease anyone. He would just artfully dodge the accusation and go right on behaving the same way he always did.”

“I tell you I’ve seen it before,” said the tanuki. “A person becomes a God follower and you hardly recognize them afterwards. Granted, not all of them do, but some make very dramatic changes.”

The three yokai quieted and left for the pool as Conchobhar and the other four male members of his team entered the room to shower.

***

At the feast Lord Genbu sat at the head table with Enma, Morrigan, Lord Byakko, and Lord Suzaku on one side and Lien Hua, Conchobhar, her aunt the elder princess De Zhen, and Lord Seiryu on the other. Takumi and his family sat with the other team members at a nearby table of honored guests, including the vampire lord’s family and Arch. Takumi looked over at the dark lord sitting between Enma and Lien Hua, stone faced but elegant and refined, with the ebony charger bearing the plate of his traditional food for the ceremonial beginning of winter. He couldn’t help but remember what lay beneath the black robes of the darkly beautiful yokai lord, the hard smooth plastron on his chest, the dark hexagons of shell that patterned his well formed back, his long snake like... Takumi’s guts heaved in the memory. Unless there was a female of the same species, there was no female anywhere that could take Lord Genbu’s attentions without harm. The dark lord looked in the direction of Takumi and his wife and son. His eyes narrowed harshly and he looked away. Takumi remembered the menacing tone that Lord Genbu had used when he had said, “Unless you are with your team I don’t ever want to see you on my lands again, Takumi!” and remembered how he had so cavalierly cast the great lord aside after having gained access to his sanctuary, and not just his house and inner rooms but the more sensitive parts of his personal life. Like a turtle in its shell the dark lord’s implacable, cold, surface protected a more vulnerable person within. Regardless of the impropriety of the relationship he had done a great wrong to Lord Genbu, abusing the dark one’s generosity and kindness the way he had done. It was not the kind of thing one could make amends for, and the cold, menacing glances made him realize his guilt. What should he do about it?

Oh God, what should I do, he thought, directing that thought to the great Being he had met in the Temple.

You must apologize, came the stern reply to his mind, with all of the comforting strength and wisdom of that all-seeing One, but you must not sin in doing so.

After dinner... when the dark lord retired for the evening, he resolved to go to him in private and apologize.

The dinner passed pleasantly enough. Takumi was kept busy with feeding tidbits from the table to Takara and supervising his wanderings around the table hanging on to things to keep standing or crawling on all fours. At this point it was very clear that his son understood what he said, especially “No,” and his babblings were taking on word forms and meaning. The mood around them was light as the other yokai smiled at the little boy’s antics. The other little ones, Lien Hua’s twins and Morrigan’s daughter Aine, were not in the room but were being cared for elsewhere so Takara was somewhat of a sensation, especially to the Yokai that had known Takumi from before. Even the dark lord seemed to be enchanted by the boy at times, though his glances at the father were cold, and as soon as the main part of the meal was over he excused himself and retired to his rooms as his lizard men and the yukionna continued to serve the guests. Takumi saw him leave and whispered to Inori that he had to tend to something, and for her to take care of Takara. He would be back later, probably at their room, he told her and then he left, not being obvious about where he was going. Soon after that other yokai began to leave and Lord Kyuketsuki and Ketsueki took the opportunity to introduce Arch to Enma and Morrigan, who welcomed him to Yokaisekai. After answering questions about his people and talking about his travels he asked if he could learn how to use the spirit energy techniques that he had seen used in Yokaisekai.

“I once taught spirit energy techniques to Tejas and the DG 90,” said Morrigan. “What has happened to them I do not know, nor if what I have taught them has done any good. I can tell that you are also the kind of person who might just rise to the role of a hero under the right circumstances, Arch. If you come to my house I will train you.”

“Ketsueki,” she said to the vampires, “you and your brother Yorutsubasa should come too, if that will be all right with you, Lord Kyuketsuki. I have an interest in cultivating your sons’ skills. Your efforts to have him follow the right path have not gone unnoticed.”

“I am most grateful, your Majesty,” said Lord Kyuketsuki with a bow. “My sons are at your disposal.”

***

Outside of Lord Genbu’s rooms Takumi paused in the shadow before walking up to the reptilian guard at the door.

“You are not allowed here,” hissed the guard.

“I came to offer my apology to Lord Genbu,” he said loud enough that anyone inside could have heard him.

“You can not enter,” restated the guard.

“Then I will stand here until Lord Genbu comes out,” said Takumi loudly. “I must apologize to him!”

The door opened and a lizard man told the guard to let Takumi in. Both of the reptilians eyed him menacingly as Takumi entered the room. As the dark lord was not in the receiving room he went directly through the curtains and turned into the private inner room, knowing the way quite well. As he entered he saw Lord Genbu standing there, his elegant black robes loose around his shoulders, looking at him with a stone cold expression. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a naked lizard man. Great, he thought, he had interrupted the dark lord at just the wrong moment. Takumi stopped about four paces from Lord Genbu and went down on his knees.

“I have wronged you, my lord,” he began. “I did not understand until now how much I wronged you. You let me in to your private life and sheltered me, and I treated you scornfully. I never appreciated what you had done for me. Now I am truly sorry for how I treated you. You may not accept my apology. You may continue to hate me, it is only what I deserve, but I have to tell you how sorry I am. You deserved better treatment from me.” Takumi fell silent and looked up at the dark lord.

Lord Genbu turned slightly towards the lizard man. “You may leave us,” he said. The lizard man quickly collected his clothes and left the room. The dark lord paused for a moment. He ran his fingers along the hard smooth surface of his plastron as if he wished it was soft flesh.

“Have I been so hard on you, Takumi?” he said softly.

The question surprised him, and at the same time he didn’t know how to answer. He didn’t want to hurt Lord Genbu while telling the truth. He’d done enough of that already. “My lord...” he paused and began again, “It is difficult, physically, for any man to satisfy you, but you have always been very kind to me, even when you knew how I felt about Conchobhar. Even now you have shown kindness after I betrayed you and humiliated you after the War of Kiryushiro. No, you have not been hard on me, my lord.”

Lord Genbu strode over to Takumi and went down on his knees flinging his arms around him. Takumi’s heart beat fast as he felt the dark lord’s body against his and his cheek brush against the side of his face. “You always were my favorite lover, Takumi,” said the dark lord softly into his ear, “even more so now. You have become even more beautiful to me.” Then he pulled back a bit and looked into Takumi’s eyes and brushed a strand of hair out of his face. “I saw you with your wife and son. I have to admit I was jealous of her. Is there any way that you will come back to me?”

“No, my lord,” said Takumi. “I will remain faithful to them. I care very much about Inori and I will not hurt her again. I want to be a proper father for my son, but also... my lord... I have to follow the way that Aru has laid out for me... You have no idea what He is like.”

Lord Genbu saw the look on his face and sighed. Standing he held out his hand to Takumi and raised him up. “I heard that you went on pilgrimage. Perhaps I should go sometime and see what this is all about,” he said wryly. “What I said in Kiryushiro... I take it back. You are welcome here any time. I will let my people know that.” Lord Genbu released Takumi’s hand and straightened his robes neatly retying them. “I can not keep you with me, as much as I want to do so” said the dark lord. “Go and rejoin your wife and son.”

“Thank you, my lord,” said Takumi. “I shall never forget your kindness.” Then he turned and left Lord Genbu’s chambers, walking swiftly towards the room he shared with Inori and Takara. He entered their room and gave Inori a hug, clinging to her and breathing in the scent of her hair.

“After Inochi is born we should go somewhere alone, just the four of us, someplace where I can train and we can be alone,” sighed Takumi.

“Why? What happened?” said Inori.

“I apologized to Lord Genbu,” said Takumi smoothing her hair.

“And it went badly?” she questioned.

“No, it went very well, almost too well,” said Takumi. “He rescinded his edict... and he wanted me back as his lover.” Inori looked at Takumi with raised eyebrows. “Of course I didn’t accept!” he said. “But seriously, I need to get away from the temptation for a while and concentrate on my family and my training.”

“That sounds fine to me,” said Inori giving him a kiss.

***

Takumi was in his reclaimed work room sitting at the monitor viewing numerous screens as usual, when he suddenly got a message from his bugs that had ceased responding since the day they arrived in the Accipio River Valley. The messages were oddly coded, but after running them through a special filter he could hear the message loud and clear.

"This is Terra. Is anyone out there? Help me! We are under attack. The enemy is breaking in, and we haven't much time. Help me! Help me!"

As the message repeated itself over and over Takumi opened a line to both Kagekiba and Morrigan while simultaneously directing his now responsive bugs to give him a video feed. They showed the exercitian attack on the portalorium city, Terra. "Are you getting the feed?" he asked as both Morrigan and Kagekiba came on-line.

"Yes," said Morrigan, as Kagekiba nodded. "I have Enma on another line." She appeared to be listening for a moment then said, "It's decided. We intervene. The daimyo are being alerted and will be mobilizing immediately. Get your gear together and wait in the castle courtyard with Conchobhar's troops. We will be needing your coordination work as in the last war. Gather as much intelligence as you can in the mean time."

Takumi filled his screen with only the images from the Three Cities area as he gathered the equipment he would need for the battle field. He quickly ducked into the bedroom to change into a camouflage special ops suit. He hugged Inori and their son, quickly explaining the situation, and then stowing his gear he went down the castle stairs and into the courtyard. Already yokai were gathering as Conchobhar, in fay form, used his magic to inform those who were to fight of their need. Takumi kept up with what was going on in the Three Cities as the vampires flew in from Lord Kyuketsuki's castle, tengu from the mountains, and others came running on foot. Soon the courtyard was fairly full and Conchobhar was back in his usual yokai form with his sword, Giolla Lasair, on his back and Lien Hua beside him. At last, as a few stragglers entered the gates, Morrigan appeared telling everyone to make physical contact with the others, and taking hold of Conchobhar's arm while placing her fingers to her forehead she teleported the whole group to the Accipio Valley.

----
In the mountains west of the city ranks were quickly formed under their leaders and strategies made. In a last minute admonition to the troops Enma said, "Now, these boys might just not understand the seriousness of what they're doing. So I don't want any killing if you can help it. A good pounding should be enough to put them down and teach them better manners, but don't get yourselves killed in the process." The yokai king cracked his knuckles to emphasize his speech as the other yokai chuckled and grinned. Then he signaled the yokai to move out.

Those that could fly, either by wings or spirit energy, took to the air with the largest (like Lien Hua, Lord Suzaku, and Lord Seiryu) carrying others on their backs, while the rest ran at top speed towards the battle.

***

Matthias, the military leader of the portalorium, was deeply engaged in combat when the sunlight overhead was blocked out. He quickly glanced up and saw a multitude of oddly formed creatures, the largest of which was a tremendous golden serpentine creature with tufts of rosy colored fur, a similar blue creature, and a fiery colored bird. As this multitude began dropping down to the ground and aggressively attacking the exercitians, he realized that two of them (the great golden beast that turned into a girl and the ox legged, bird winged man with her) fit the description that Ben had given of the prince of Yokaisekai and his wife. These people must have come all the way from the country of Yokaisekai to help! But how? "Don't attack the newcomers. They've come to help!" he yelled to the portalorium warriors.

Arch portalled to the top of the wall next to the remaining golden guardian. "Boaz! Rise and defeat your enemies!" he said just like his brother Luke had, and Boaz rose and hefted his huge battle ax preparing to fight just like Jachin. "Go beat up your brother, prevent Jachin from fighting!" The golden warrior strode across the city's shield and dropped to the ground beside Jachin and struck a punishing blow on the other guardian. When Jachin recovered from the blow he turned and engaged Boaz in battle. Finding himself free from attack, Captain (the Cybertronian transformer, father of the Konstroda) began demolishing the heavy equipment that had renewed the assault on the city walls. Hearing a noise Arch turned to face Luke, who had left the combat below and portalled to the walls to stop his brother's interference.

"It would have been better if you hadn't come back!" said Luke menacingly as he drew his sword.

"Why are you doing this, Luke?" pleaded Arch. "Why are you trying to destroy everything we've worked so hard to build and defend? You're hurting our friends, our neighbors... Why?"

Luke laughed. His brother was so pathetic. "This may have been the city you wanted to build, maybe even what father wanted, but not me! A city of pathetic old men forcing a repressive religion from another world on its people! How many have died for that stupid religion? Sacrificed like sheep on a caelestis altar! The reason father died, the reason we had to leave our world, it was all because of this. We would have been better off without the 'god' of the Christians, happier, more successful. All he has ever done for us is keep us subjugated to his idiotic rules!"

"They're not 'idiotic'! He's real..." Arch began but Luke fired an energy bolt at him and Arch barely had time to block with Lux's power. Luke reached behind his back and pulled out a gun. As Arch prepared to block the shot, Luke fired the EMP burst at Lux then swung his own sword around to fire another burst of energy at his brother. For a split second Arch was at a loss with an unresponsive Lux frozen in place, but before the bolt struck his newly practiced abilities reflexively sprang into action. He quickly thanked God for the constant drilling that the kitsune Suigin had put him through to get him to protect himself with his spirit energy.

"What have you done to Lux!" he yelled at Luke, deeply concerned about his mechanical friend.

"I haven't hurt your precious bot, only put him to sleep," said Luke rather annoyed that his brother was not similarly unconscious. His blow against Arch, unlike the one he had aimed at Matthias, had been only to stun, not kill. As angry as his twin made him sometimes with his naive do-goodism and blind obedience to that hideous religion, it was still more than he could do to actually kill his only real friend in life. He didn't expect Arch to have some new tricks to show for his absence though. "How is it that you were able to block my attack?"

"A little something I picked up in Yokaisekai," said Arch trying to gather his spirit energy to throw at Luke, but the attempt was a failure. What little he managed to throw was easily blocked. So, it would be sword work, he thought to himself hefting the stiff and unresponsive form of his companion tool. As if reading his mind Luke began with a driving thrust which Arch parried and returned. The two drew back circling, testing each other. Then the fight began in earnest.

***

The Imperator, ruler of the exercitians, watched as his highly trained exercitian warriors abandoned strategy to go one on one in the battle against the newcomers, the temptation to prove their strength against the opponent overcoming their discipline. He saw the giant robot again demolishing his heavy weaponry as Luke's golden robot was engaged in combat with the other golden robot, and Luke himself was engaged in combat with another boy. He yelled orders for General Sentio to convey to their military forces, an attempt to bring the battle back under control. When General Sentio replied that communications had been cut off he snatched the communications device from Sentio and began yelling instructions himself, only to be met with dead silence.

***

As soon as they had entered the Valley, Takumi released a horde of bugs to survey the battle field. He relayed orders and gave directions using the communications equipment he had distributed to the leaders, and even though it looked like the yokai were just in a free for all they were actually deceptively organized in their chaos. Still, yokai are yokai and everyone was having enormous fun pounding on the rather strong exercitian opponents. Even Enma was gleefully slicing mechs in pieces and punching exercitians next to the huge transformer as they exchanged pleasantries. Takumi had quickly located the frequencies that the exercitians were using to communicate on and in a short time he had silenced them. He looked at his screen and located Queen Morrigan. Smiling wickedly he said softly, "Now you really loose!"

***

The Imperator flung the communications device to the ground. "What does that pig-scum Luke think he's doing out there! He should be commanding, winning the victory he promised!"

Suddenly he felt a chill run down his spine as a woman's hands encircled him from behind and pressed on his heart as she embraced him. His knees grew weak and his heart was filled with dread. The exercitian guard around him reached for their weapons but hesitated, waiting to see if he would order them to attack the strange red haired woman who had appeared from nowhere, or not. The Imperator wanted to shove her away but he barely had the strength to stand. It was as if his vitality was being sucked out of his body.

"So, you're the one who started this war against the innocent," she said in a sultry yet menacing voice, softly in the Imperator's ear. "But you shall not win. I have taken away your victory, you power, and your strength." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Before the day is through you will be dead." She released the exercitian and laughed, a laugh like the light melody of silver chimes yet as chilling as the toll of a funeral bell. The Imperator sank to his knees panting as she raised her fingers to her forehead and vanished again.

General Sentio looked with contempt at his king kneeling on the floor like a decrepit old man. Drawing his sword he cut off the Imperator's head. Aghast the others drew their weapons. "Imperator Dominus was weak," he said with disgust. "I, Sentio, am Imperator now! Does anyone dare challenge me?!"

The others looked at each other, put their weapons away, saluted Sentio and said, "All hail Imperator Sentio! Lead us to victory!"

***

Both Luke and Arch were panting heavily, and bleeding from a number of cuts and slashes, but neither seemed to be able to get the upper hand. At this point even trying to speak was a chore. At this rate how was Arch going to persuade Luke to do anything? As they broke from the latest flurry of blows Arch sent up a prayer, "Lord, what am I going to do? If this goes on I'll loose my brother for sure. Help me!"

Suddenly Arch felt a strange rise in his spirit energy and a tingling ball of the stuff formed in his left hand. This was unlike anything Suigin had talked about happening (and it was something he could never reproduce afterwards). Taking this as an answer from God he threw the energy at Luke. Caught off guard the ball of energy slammed into Luke knocking him to the ground, where he lay twitching for a moment while bolts of static electricity played around him just inches from his body. Alarmed Arch ran over to see if Luke was alright. The miniature lightning died down and Luke feebly sat up as Arch knelt by his side. Luke was noticeably angry, but it seemed that he was having trouble articulating his anger with a slightly numb mouth. It was now or never, Arch thought. It was unlikely that his brother would give him a second opportunity to speak.

"Listen," he said, "I get that you're mad, that's pretty obvious, but what I don't get why you're mad at our friends, neighbors, or even the elders... mad enough to kill? No one has ever done anything to hurt you, and even if someone did it wouldn't justify hurting everyone! I can't believe that you'd hate everyone so much that you'd deliberately do this to them. It doesn't make sense! If it's just about religion then your argument isn't with them, it's with God. You've made it plain that you think Christianity is just a lie, but it isn't. I've talked to God face to face! So have some of the yokai, the people that came here with me to fight. There is a place here in this world that you can do that. If you're mad at God why not have it out with Him, tell Him face to face what's bugging you? Don't take your anger out on innocent people! So what are you going to do," Arch concluded, "go with me to see God, or keep on trying to kill me?"

Luke stared at Arch for a bit, as if thinking something over, then reached out his right hand for Arch to take. As Arch helped his brother to stand they took notice of the battle going on below.

"The exercitians are loosing," said Luke tersely.

"Yeah," said Arch. "It might not go too well for you either when this is over. You've upset a lot of people. We should probably go now before it comes to that."

"Why not," said Luke resigning himself to the inevitable. "This has been a colossal failure. I might as well take my fight to God himself." Then he shouted at the golden guardian battling it's brother, "Hey, Jachin! Cease your battle, return to your place!"

"Boaz! Cease your battle, return to your place!" said Arch, and the two great robots ceased battling each other. Turning they leaped up and grabbed a hold of the top of the wall scrambling up on top amongst their defunct and shattered smaller brethren. Then they strode back to their places and took up their resting positions shutting down. At one time in the past there had been four such robots, but that was before Luke and Arch had been born.

"Let's go," said Luke.

Arch formed a portal to Huang Jin An in Aleriand and the two stepped through, leaving the empty roof behind.

***

The new Imperator quickly surveyed the battle field. "If we are to have victory it will not be on this field," he said. "We know nothing about the powers we now face. The only way we will ever win is to sue for peace now and retreat. We play the part of good neighbors while gaining knowledge. We shall even be civil to our ancient enemies the caelestis," he said looking hard at the others. "If we are ever to win we must thoroughly understand those who would oppose us and be prepared. We lost today because we relied on the portalorium Luke to give us everything. Next time we prepare for ourselves!" As the others in the room nodded in agreement, Imperator Sentio again looked through the field glasses, seeing the red haired woman join a fierce looking man with a scythe. "Vigilo! Tertius!" He said to two of the imperial guards, "you and the aquilifer (standard bearer) come with me. The rest of you will go out to the troops and call them to stand down and retreat." Everyone quickly vacated the guard tower and headed for the battlefield. Sentio took the severed head of Dominus by one horn and carried it with him.

As the new Imperator flew over the battlefield, he surveyed the damage to his troops and the progress of his new command. On approaching the front gates of Terra, and the powerful couple defending them, a group of bird-like men with a serious warlike demeanor blocked his path with drawn weapons. Sentio had warned his men not to draw their weapons unless ordered so they waited at an impasse, until the bearded man with a scythe ordered them to let the exercitians pass. As he and his guard landed several paces from the rather imposing man and his beautiful but deadly red haired companion, Sentio tossed the head of Dominus at the man's feet. As he did so he noticed the imposing skulls hanging from the man's belt. Imperator Dominus had surely made a grave error in assuming everything the portalorium Luke had told them was the full truth. These people were formidable enemies and had caught them completely by surprise. Hopefully they could be appeased. At least that had been his assumption when observing the way they handled the combat. "I give you the head of the former Imperator, the 'one who started this war', as your gracious lady pointed out." The man chuckled as Sentio looked pointedly at the red haired woman. "I am Imperator now," he continued. "I wish to end this war and establish peaceful relations with our neighbors. What are your terms?"

"Since your men have ceased their hostilities," Enma began after getting an update from Takumi, "I think we can come to some kind of agreement."

"First you shall apologize to the city Terra, for wounding her and causing her distress!" demanded Captain.

Her? Imperator Sentio stared puzzled for a moment at the giant robot. Then he remembered Luke's description of the living mechanicals, the companion tools. While living machines made no sense to himself, it was possible that the portalorium city was also a thinking machine with feelings. He could see a blue liquid ooze coming from some of the worst gashes in the wall's surfaces, and with a bit of imagination it could resemble blood. An apology, though somewhat humiliating, was rather cheap... "Can her ladyship hear my apology from here, or is there some special place I must go to to speak with her?" he queried.

"The city is able to hear you from here," said Matthias grimly as he and a group of seasoned portalorium warriors approached the new Imperator at the city gate, "but she can only speak from certain areas inside."

"I might be able to emend that," said King Enma after listening to Takumi for a moment. He took the listening device out of his ear and held it in his open hand. "Speak away," he said to the exercitian.

Sentio composed himself. "I sincerely apologize to the Lady Terra, and to her inhabitants, for all of the distress and damage we have caused. From the beginning you were not our target, only the caelestis, our hereditary enemy. It was only because of the portalorium Luke's offer to us of the means to destroy our foe in exchange for help in obtaining dominion over his own people that we ever became involved with you, and I am sorry that we caused you grief because of it."

"What does it matter who your target was?!" said a distraught feminine voice with the same kind of timbre as the transformer Captain. "Your people are within my walls, threatening the elders. They have even killed Elder Eli! Not to mention the damage to those outside my walls, to the crops in the fields, or to me personally. What are you going to do about this, and how will you ever make amends for what your people have done?"

"I don't know what can be done," said Sentio rather taken aback at the city's angry speech. "If there is a way to communicate with the exercitians inside I will order them to surrender, if that will ease your burden some, and if you think of something else that I could do to make amends I will."

"I will connect you to the Elders' chamber..." said Terra, and after a moment of silence replied, "You may tell your men to surrender now. I believe they can also see you."

Inside the Elders' chambers a screen came to life showing Sentio, along with the imperial guards and royal standard that had accompanied him. Decanus Dolor snapped to attention, causing the chair he had been sitting on to crash to the floor, and saluted. "Sir, we have taken the elders hostage and are awaiting orders."

"Your orders are to release the hostages and surrender yourselves to the city's authority immediately!" Sentio barked at the officer.

"Sir? What of the Imperator's plans?" said Decanus Dolor. "We are in position now."

"The Imperator is dead! I am Imperator now. The plans have changed. You will surrender immediately!" ordered Sentio.

"Yes sir!" Decanus Dolor saluted again and turned to his men. "Release the elders and return their weapons!" he ordered.

The exercitians quickly untied the elderly men and returned their gloves and companion tools. In the meantime Terra cautiously lowered the barrier against portals and informed those left in charge of the city of the situation. A portal was formed to the Elders' chambers and portalorium warriors surrounded the exercitians, who held their hands upward in the traditional sign of surrender. Another portal was made to the outside and the exercitians were told to leave. As soon as they did the portalorium warriors outside began bringing their civilians and wounded back into the city, leaving the keeping of exercitian prisoners completely to the yokai.

----
As exercitians all over the battlefield were told to surrender they began to talk with the these strong newcomers about the people and land that they came from, and about their rulers. A story began circulating among the exercitians (partially encouraged by officers to alleviate the bitter sting of defeat) that the king and queen of the yokai were the living incarnations of their god and goddess, Bellum and Caedis, and that they among all of the exercitians had been blessed to come to this world where their gods dwelt.

The yokai in turn took a liking to the exercitians combative strength and readily made friends with them. With the victory complete many of the yokai's minds turned to celebration, and celebrating with their new "friends", but they were laking the means...

Takumi was surveying the now peaceful battlefield when a group of yokai came up to him. He recognized them both from the fact that they were from highly ranked teams in the Dark Tournaments, and that they were quite wealthy in their communities. "Hey, Takumi..." began one, Toge, the brawny son of a minor nobleman in the Higashichiku region, "we were hoping you could do us a favor."

Takumi raised an eyebrow. "And what kind of favor did you want?" he said.

"Well, we'd really like to celebrate, you know... our victory, but we need someone to fetch us some beer..." said Toge.

"Lots of beer!" chimed in the others.

"... and you're the only one we know of who can teleport like the queen," Toge finished with an irritating sort of smile to go along with the flattery.

"Look," said Takumi, "I can't teleport a whole army like she can. On a good day I might just be able to teleport one other person, besides myself, and that only one way, but no more than that."

"That's why we brought along this guy..." Toge reached behind the heavily muscled group and pulled out a fairly young portalorium warrior who was beginning to regret volunteering to help in the scheme. "You take him to where the beer is and he makes a portal back here. Then we go through the portal to get the beer and bring it back over here. No one will even know that we've been gone."

"Except for the beer!" chimed in another.

"What do you say, Takumi? We'll pay for everything. We'll even pay you for your trouble!" Again Toge smiled in that irritating way, as if his smile alone could persuade others to his point of view.

"We can't have a victory without a celebration!" said one of the others. "Besides the exercitians have never tasted beer before. You wouldn't deprive them of the experience, would you?"

Now that was an interesting thought, Takumi mused, and he wondered how the tactic of getting your enemy addicted to alcohol would sit with Enma and Morrigan. "All right, let's get this over with before someone notices I'm gone. You guys owe me big time!" he said taking hold of the portalorium. The other yokai were pledging their undying friendship as Takumi concentrated his energy. Reaching out with his spirit he selected the destination and transported to Yokaisekai.

----
Takumi was feeling a bit drained when he appeared, with the portalorium in tow, in front of one of the most prestigious breweries in the Nishichiku region. He told the boy to form a portal and pulled a specially formulated food bar from one of his many his pockets to help restore his energy. Soon the group of yokai came through, and with only a minimal amount of negotiating with the owner, came back. Each one carried a huge cask of beer on his shoulders. The portalorium reestablished the portal and everyone walked back through to the place they started from.

----
The yokai emerged from the portal, each with an enormous cask of beer, thanking Takumi profusely, as Takumi took up his position again on the mountain side. The portalorium ran off to rejoin his group, without getting the promised taste of beer and feeling a bit guilty in addition. Soon there was merrymaking all over the battlefield. Unaware of this the new Imperator was still engaged in negotiations with the city.

"Now," said Enma putting aside the communications device and picking up the old Imperator's head to casually toss it around as if it were just an oddly shaped ball, "We need to discuss the terms of your surrender. The city Terra has listed the grievances of personal damage, damage to crops, harm to the people of the city, and death of the Elder Eli..."

"Fortunately I have received word that although there were many wounded, only Elder Eli has died among my people today. May the Lord be praised for this small miracle," said the voice of the city through the device that Enma had laid aside. "The caelestis also have suffered no casualties, only the loss of their city and all of it's goods."

"Right," said Enma pausing for a moment with the old Imperator's head poised on one horn on the tip of his finger before he resumed. "There is also the matter of the caelestis... You will have to return all of the things you stole first and foremost. Now, considering the long enmity between your two peoples, I don't think they want your help rebuilding, but you will have to supply them with whatever raw materials they might require. The same will go for the needs of the portalorium city that you have also damaged."

"That's the least that can be done," said Conchobhar landing near his father and mother with Lien Hua in his arms. Imperator Sentio did a double take at seeing the young man who from the waist up bore an uncanny resemblance to his own people but from the waist down was more like some beast or mythical monster. As if he was a mind reader "Yeah, the caelestis thought so too. I had a hard time convincing them otherwise," said Conchobhar reading his look. "I am Conchobhar, Prince of Yokaisekai, son of King Enma and Queen Morrigan," he said putting his wife down and gesturing towards his father and mother. "And this is my wife, Princess Lien Hua, daughter of Emperor Chang An Fu the dragon king of Aleriand."

"Greetings, great lady," said Captain with a slight bow.

"Greetings, Captain," said Lien Hua. "I trust that things are well with your people."

"They have prospered greatly, and increased in number since your visit," Captain replied. "The new lifestyle suits them well, and Fatryshi is very happy. I was out flying when I got a distress signal from a fellow transformer so I came to help."

"Terra is from Cybertron too?" said Lien Hua in surprise.

"Either that or from one of the colonies," Captain said. "It was definitely an autobot distress signal that I picked up. I'm glad that your people came to the rescue though. It would have been difficult to defend her all by myself. But back to the surrender terms," he said turning his attention back to the exercitian Imperator.

Sentio was rather disturbed at the revelation that there were at least two other nations involved that he knew nothing about. It was not only the fearsome king toying with Dominus's severed head and his terrible wife that he had to deal with, but potentially the empire of the dark haired girl's father and more mechanical people like the giant robot in front of him. How many nations existed in this world, and what was their strength, not to mention their seeming ability to travel with tremendous speed and the portalorium ability to create portals compounding the matter? These were things Luke had not revealed, or perhaps had not even known, but were things he himself would have to deal with in his plans.

"Yes, well..." Enma began. "It is impossible to compensate for some things, the death of the elder, the destruction of crops..."

"I can do something about the crops, if permitted," said Lien Hua.

"I'm sure the portaloriums would enjoy your help," said Enma. "You shouldn't have to ask," he gently chided. The girl was still far too self-effacing for a dragon princess and a powerful daimyo. He always saw dragons as far more bold, even arrogant. Not her. "So," he said returning to the subject at hand as Lien Hua walked towards the damaged fields, "now we come to what can be done, and if all are agreed these are the terms: You will return with all of your armies to your underground city and never again come against your neighbors with weapons of warfare. Instead you will peacefully cultivate the lands around your mountain and lead your lives as openly as possible. I will even send someone to check on you from time to time and see if you are pursuing peace. As compensation for those you have attacked you will return any stolen goods and supply them with raw materials for rebuilding, whether metal or stone, cut wood, animal hides, or the labor of strong arms, what ever is demanded from you for one year. After the year is over what you produce is yours alone, but you shall still maintain peace with your neighbors. Is that sufficient?" he asked, and those around him nodded. "Do you agree to these terms?"

Sentio knew that his people would not be happy with the compensation part of the deal, and would be difficult to manage. He would have to be careful about maintaining his authority. Still, there was no alternative but to accept the terms. "I accept the terms and agree to abide by them," he said.

Just then rain fell from the sky and where ever it touched the earth green plants sprouted and grew. The farming fields grew at an enormous rate. Enma chuckled at the surprised faces around him. "My daughter-in-law has a great many talents. Anyway, you should be getting your people home, Imperator. Oh, and here," he said tossing the old Imperator's head back. "You might want to give him a burial or something. He was your Imperator."

Sentio saluted and turned away to gather his men. While Captain, Lien Hua, and Conchobhar talked to Terra about her possible ties to Cybertron, and Enma saw to it that things were set to rights; Sentio gathered his dead, wounded, and drunken men, returning the spoils they had collected and marched (since many couldn't fly) back to Inferus Civitas. It was a pitiful showing for their "glorious" war. It would take everything he had to live through this defeat.
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Mamma Peach
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Re: Takumi's Story

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***
(about a month later...)
Leeta, the strange girl from New Locura, was doing some general housekeeping at Suzakuyama while Lord Suzaku was out on patrol when the dolls informed her that there was a visitor. Suzaku had charged her with being the mistress of the house so it was only polite that she should go and greet the visitor. She found him seated in the Fire Room with an empty glass on the table in front of him. He was a handsome man, likely yokai like the rest, with long black hair tied back in a ponytail and wearing black silk clothing bound around the ankles and wrists in a way that seemed to say "ninja" to her but decorated with finely embroidered designs of bamboo and snow flakes that began at the waist and chest on the left side and flowed over the right shoulder to a small circle on the back that depicted a stag against a crescent moon, with matching circles on the sleeves near the shoulders. He was looking at a small electronic device in his hand, which he put inside his shirt into what she assumed was an inside pocket, when she came in, and he looked up at her.

"Suzaku is not at home presently," she said wishing that Suzaku had not commanded her to just call him Suzaku since it might be more appropriate to call him Lord Suzaku to other people. "I hope the dolls have made you comfortable."

"So you are Leeta, the girl from New Locura," he said appraising her in a curious glance.

"Yes, I am Leeta," she said, "and your name is...?"

"Takumi," he said, and seeing no recognition of the name he added, "I'm in the employ of the Secret Police. Just how much do you know about Yokaisekai anyway?"

"That it is a part of the world Triudomhan," said Leeta concentrating a bit. "It is inhabited by yokai, is surrounded by high mountains and roughly divided into four parts corresponding to the four cardinal points and embodying... well a dominant season; Winter for the north, Summer for the south, Autumn for the West, and Spring for the east with power centers in each as well as the center, northeast, and southwest. I think the power centers are in association with rulers as the one in the northeast is where the Queen is and the one in the south is here. The land is ruled over by a king and queen. The Queen is Morrigan. I don't think she is yokai. She has a power that is both familiar and very strange. This part of Yokaisekai is Minamichiku and is ruled over by Suzaku, the Vermilion Bird. That is all I know."

"Very observant, but ill informed," was Takumi's appraisal. "Has Lord Suzaku told you so little, not even the names of the king, his son or the four other daimyos?"

Leeta didn't reply. She felt uncomfortable at this yokai's accusation of her master's neglect, perhaps because it was true.

"Are you interested in knowledge," Takumi asked watching her, "in finding out more about the world around you, or even just things in general?"

"Yes, of course," she said somewhat eagerly. "I read all the time."

"I don't suppose you have a computer around here... That would be too much to expect," said Takumi, "though I could build one from spare parts..."

"I don't think there is the right kind of equipment for building a computer here," said Leeta. "Suzaku's dolls are not compatible with that technology, nor is anything else I have seen. But how would that add to my knowledge? Is there a kind of internet here? It seemed that this world worked more on... magic, rather than on physics and advanced technology."

"It works on both," said Takumi, "and you're probably right about the lack of materials to build a computer being here. If you had a computer and access to the internet, via satellite, you could have all of the knowledge in the Library City of Athuair at your fingertips."

"Library City of Athuair?" queried the green haired girl.

"It's easily the largest city in Triudomhan," answered Takumi, "and completely devoted to housing the collected books and knowledge of the Athuarian people, who were devoted to gathering all the knowledge of their galaxy, and elsewhere. Their whole library city was transported to this world, on the Talamh continent about where NSider Ruins were in Old Locura, just after the World Split."

"World Split?" Leeta asked. "Was this world somehow a part of Locura at one time?"

"Yes," said Takumi. "Are you sure there isn't something I can make a computer out of? It would be a lot easier for you to find the answers to your questions yourself than for me to sit here and explain them to you."

"Of course!" she said. "Suzaku said I could alter my room in any way I saw fit. I could create a computer there!"

"All right," said Takumi getting up. "Let's go there."

She quickly led him to her room. It never even occurred to her that someone else might think something of this since it was clear to her that he wasn't interested, but Takumi was careful to leave the door of her room open so that it would be obvious to passers-by that nothing sexual was going on. After all, Suzaku's place did have a certain reputation, and Takumi's own reputation wasn't exactly pristine either.

Leeta looked for a convenient spot in the room and created a computer work station out of the elements of the air and the room around her. "Now, if you will give me the specifications I'll make a computer," she said to Takumi, happy to have enough of Suzaku's commands to be able to do something for herself like this. Takumi took out his hand held device and keyed the analysis functions as he verbally gave her the technical specifications for a computer that could connect to the net without having to run cables through the solid rock of the volcano to an outside satellite dish that didn't exist. Reading the analysis of what looked like Leeta producing a technically sophisticated computer out of thin air he saw that she was actually altering existing matter on a subatomic level, without using spirit energy or fay magic and that the resulting energy from the atomic rearrangement was being absorbed by Leeta and redirected somehow. He wasn't sure what kind of power she was using, but it certainly had miraculous results. Leeta though was just glad that her experience and training with Danny Korliss enabled her to follow Takumi's instructions in building the computer.

***

Suzaku returned from his patrol and was greeted by a doll who told him of Takumi's arrival. The vermilion bird daimyo received the news with mixed feelings. It had been fairly apparent that Takumi had undergone a major change since going on Pilgrimage, and everyone else was forgiving his past crimes, even making him a member of the Secret Police, but he had a hard time accepting Conchobhar's team mate into his house after he had blatantly violated his hospitality at the royal wedding feast. "Where is Takumi now?" Suzaku asked the doll.

"He is in Leeta's room," the doll replied.

Leeta's room! Suzaku hurried down the halls to Leeta's room his mind in a whirl. Was was that son of a disreputable woman doing now?!

As he rounded the corner he heard Takumi's voice through the open door, "There... now you're in... See how easy that was. How do you feel about this?"

"Wonderful!" said Leeta's voice in return. "I never dreamed that there could be something like this!"

Suzaku entered the room to see them together... looking at a computer screen. Leeta was seated primly at a computer work station while Takumi looked over her shoulder to help her navigate the Library's system. Suzaku was too flustered to say anything at first, having to compose himself.

Takumi looked at Suzaku as he came in. "You're finally back. You know, I don't usually tell you what to do with your women, Lord Suzaku, but this one has a brain, one that has been sadly neglected. Not all women are brainless sex machines like the toys you surround yourself with. Some have brilliant minds, and will wither away without mental nourishment. If you're going to keep this one, you need to pay attention to that."

"What are you doing here anyway?" said Suzaku with a bit of an edge to his voice.

"I'm here on the Queen's business," said Takumi noting the hostility in Suzaku's voice, "and since I'm obviously still not welcome in this house I'll leave as soon as I'm finished. First, I came to bring you this..." He pulled a small device similar to the hand held computer that Suzaku had, but smaller and more like a cell phone. "It's an upgrade from the one you just got. As usual there is an internal manual showing how to use it's functions. I really should come up with a name for these things, and not 'smart phone' either."

"What kind of functions does it have?" said Leeta.

"Aside from basic communication like a phone, it can gather, store, transmit, and retrieve a wide variety of data, with a built in sensory array and video camera. It has a data lock that responds to the spirit power aura, biometrics, and voice of the owner, so that all functions except for the basic phone can not be used by anyone else. If lost it will give out a signal recognizable to the owner," said Takumi.

"What about datacoms?" said Leeta. "Since its main functions are data and communication."

"I guess that would work," said Takumi. "The second reason I'm here is to give you an official invitation to the birthday party Morrigan is giving for Aine, Connlaodh and Vanadis, and Takara at her place on the 14th. It seems that Lord Genbu personally requested an invitation after I told him about it, so now she's inviting all of the daimyo."

"Lord Genbu... wants to go to a children's party?!" said Suzaku incredulous, but then the dark lord had seemed rather interested in Takumi's son Takara. Then a rather revolting idea occurred to him.

The revulsion must have shown on his face because Takumi replied, "I don't think it's anything like that. Is it so hard to believe that he might have a very natural desire to have children of his own? He would be the first among you four to want children, though maybe Lord Seiryu has changed his mind, and is the only one incapable of having children, at least in the normal way. Anyway, all of the daimyo are invited by Queen Morrigan's request. You can bring a guest if you want." He looked in Leeta's direction.

"Of course I will be there," said Suzaku.

"Then I'd better be going," said Takumi turning to leave. "I still have the capital and Byakkodokutsu to get to.

***

Takumi came in from his early morning work out and watched a very pregnant Inori on all fours on the front room floor, trying to teach Takara how to become a fox kit. It was something that usually came natural to a kitsune (the full human form was usually the difficulty) but was more difficult for Takara, due to his mixed heritage. The toddler saw Takumi and called out "Daddy!" and ran full tilt towards him, smacking into his leg and wrapping his little arms around Takumi's shin. Then he plopped down on Takumi's foot and said, "Ride!" Takumi laughed and walked around the room carrying the boy on his foot, and trying not to step on his tail. On his way around he stopped by a cupboard and picked up a brightly colored package and then made his way over to a sofa. He pried Takara off his leg an put him in his lap. "Happy birthday Takara!" he said handing the brightly wrapped package to the boy.

"I thought it was agreed to celebrate Takara's birthday next Wednesday at the party," said Inori.

"Well, we're having a private celebration now, nothing fancy, just Takara and his daddy," said Takumi helping Takara to open his present. "Besides, I want to know how a one year old will react to the new bots. I designed them similar to the companion tools of the portalorium, but more versatile, and less alive. I tried to follow child developmental guidelines when designing them, but you never know how that will work with a real child."

The colorful wrappings were shredded then dropped to the floor revealing a metallic sphere about three inches in diameter patterned in a variety of dark colors. Takara patted the ball. "Do you want it to wake up?" said Takumi. Takara looked at his father puzzled. "Say, 'Wake up, Mushi!' Go on, say, 'Wake up, Mushi!' if you want it to wake up," he encouraged.

"Wake up, moosie!" said Takara hitting the ball. "Wake up moosie!" The ball began to unfold sprouting jointed legs, antennae, and eyes till it looked like a colorful beetle. Takumi knew that Takara wasn't the sort of kid that is afraid of bugs and Takara reaffirmed that with squeals of laughter and delight as the "beetle" crawled up his sleeve. Then according to it's game programming it began to play "hide and seek" in Takara's clothes which made the toddler laugh even more, until he shook the bot out because it tickled too much. The beetle fell onto the floor and began to crawl aimlessly around. Takara got off of his daddy's lap and went after it, only to have it move away just a little bit faster than he could crawl. Takara sat up with an angry, frustrated look. Then, to his mother's surprise, he turned into a cute little black fox and pounced on the bot biting it. Takumi was happy to see that the rough handling didn't even scratch the colored surface. Takara took the beetle in his jaws and tossed it in the air, where it opened it's shell to stick out shiny wings, beetle-like, and flew just over his head where the fox-boy jumped and snapped at it. Takara quickly tired of the game and turned back into a toddler. The beetle landed and began crawling aimlessly around. "Moosie, come back!" the toddler angrily ordered the bot. Obediently the beetle flew back to the boy and landed on his clothing. "Good Moosie," said Takara petting the bot. The beetle let out a happy twitter that made the boy smile.

"It looks like your gift was a success," said Inori. "I think that's one toy that will keep on being entertaining."

"Oh, it's more than just a toy," said Takumi, "but it will take time for him to unlock it's other functions."

***

Lord Seiryu was the first to arrive at the party, though his house was about the same distance as Kiryushiro. Of course the parents of the birthday children would take longer to set out, thought Morrigan as she and Enma greeted the azure dragon and led him into the altered front room of her house. Enma had set aside the whole day and afternoon before to spend with Morrigan and Aine so he had spent the night, quite happy with the arrangement. The front room was more spacious than Seiryu remembered, and was very festive with flowering vines and balloons (where the balloons had come from was a mystery) that glowed from within, and a soft carpet of green with woven daisies and other small flower shapes on the floor. One area was fenced in with a pretty white lattice fence. Inside there were tables and place settings, and heaps of food including a large birthday cake decorated with candy flowers and cute little animal yokai. Another area held a large toy box, firmly shut though to not distract from the early party activities, and there were various chairs for the adults.

Morrigan had Seiryu set his gifts on a table, set aside near the fenced in area for that purpose, explaining that Lord Genbu had wanted to give his gift before any of the others were distributed. Lord Seiryu apologized in advance if his gift did not seem ostentatious enough, but that it was one that his own children had spent many hours of enjoyment with. Morrigan replied that if the children enjoyed the gift it was all that mattered.

"It seem that the birthday children have arrived," she said. "Let's go greet them." As they left the house she called for Aine's yosei playmate to bring Aine indoors from the garden, then the king and queen with Lord Seiryu, walked a short distance through the trees to the lawn that surrounded Morrigan's throne.

Just then the coach from Kiryushiro arrived, landing on the lawn and letting out its occupants. Conchobhar and Takumi were discussing the Tournament (with Conchobhar carrying a large box with small holes around the top) while Lien Hua and Inori carried the children making much over them. They were followed by De Zhen and Yutaka carrying parcels and also chatting. Lord Seiryu went immediately to De Zhen and offered to carry her parcels While Morrigan and Enma went to greet their grand kids. As the coachman drove the coach to the lakeside to unhitch the snowy white fay horses that pulled it, the fiery plumed Suzaku landed. Leeta got off of his back, carrying her bundle of packages, and changed her riding clothes into something more festive in green and gold with peacock blue ornamentation. When she alighted Suzaku transformed into his more human form and took the parcel to carry it himself and they went to join the others. At that point the huge white tiger form of Lord Byakko dashed out of the woods from the direction of Morrigan's Gate, with a small bundle tied around his neck, and loped across the grass towards the group, stopping to transform into a heavily muscled man with graying hair and wearing a white gi with a tiger dojo emblem on the back, still with the bundle around his neck, as he approached.

"Well, we're all here except Lord Genbu," said Morrigan waiting for a moment, "so why don't we all go inside. They all walked the short way through the forest and entered the front room of Morrigan's abode. The presents were deposited on the table, including Conchobhar's strange box, and diaper bags under it as the children were put down on the green carpet. Aine left her yosei companion, with whom she had been dancing all bedecked in flowers from the garden, and ran laughing over to the other children still in her fay form, a lovely elfin child with flowing red hair and sea green eyes like a lighter greener version of Leeta's jewels. The others couldn't keep up with her quick light movements, though Takara tried, so Vanadis turned into her diminutive black dragon form (actually as big as a medium sized dog) and romped around with the fay child while Takara began playing with his "Mushi", first attracting the attention of the more shy Connlaodh, and then the others. Vanadis tried pouncing on the beetle but it just scurried into Takara's clothing until she calmed down (transforming back to human) and he coaxed it back out.

While the toddlers were thus occupied inside, outside an enormous black tortoise with a long snake like neck arose in the center of the lake (spooking the fay horses) and slowly swam to the shore. As its front feet stepped onto the shore it changed into a man with long black hair and elegant robes, held above the water line over one arm, and kind of pants like undergarment tucked into the tops of the sleek black "riding" boots that he wore when outside of his fortress. The other arm carried a dark velvet wrapped bundle. As he left the water behind he let go of the skirts of his robes letting them cover his boots and brush against the grass as he strode towards Morrigan's house.

Morrigan opened the door as the dark lord approached, and the toddlers left off their play and stared at him in interest as he entered. "If you would please," said Lord Genbu hesitantly, yet formally, beginning to address the parents, "pick up your children and carry them to one side as I set up the 'gifts' for the choosing..." The parents picked up their children (actually the mothers carried and the fathers stood by, except for Conchobhar who carried Vanadis) and took them to the to one side of the room while Lord Genbu lined up objects in front of them some distance away. The other guests stood by the present table out of the way.

"I see," said Lord Seiryu to Princess De Zhen. "This is an old fortune telling custom. At the first birthday, which by ancient custom was counted as the second birthday, objects are presented to the child and the one he chooses shows what kind of occupation he is destined for, though it is difficult to say whether the destiny holds true or not."

"I believe there was some such custom among our people long before Aru became our God," said De Zhen. "Many such fortune telling customs gave way to consulting God directly."

"As should be," said Lord Seiryu softly enough that he wouldn't be overheard and offend Lord Genbu.

The dark lord finished lining up the items, each at a short distance from the other, and each equally ornate. There was a bejeweled leather bound storybook, a gold clad telescope with the purest crystal lenses, a jade official's stamp (as yet unmarked by a name), a red velvet bag partially open showing the gold helions within it, a brightly colored jeweled and gold embroidered ball, a jewel hilted dagger (securely fastened in its finely decorated sheath), red yarn on a jeweled spindle, and an elaborately decorated mortar and pestle. "Let the children choose which git they wish to keep," said Lord Genbu. "We shall see if they choose to be a scholar, scientist, an official, rich, an athlete, a warrior, a craftsman, or a doctor," he said gesturing to each item in turn.

The parents let the children go, as everyone waited in excitement to see what they would choose, as if it was a great game. Vanadis (who had changed back into human form to play with Takara's bug, just as Aine had changed to her adorable little cloven hoofed oni form like her brother's having finished with being a fay) transformed into a dragon again to out run the others, reaching the items first and pawing over all of them. Aine and Takara toddled after Vanadis, but Connlaodh went directly to the large storybook. Plopping down he opened the cover and began clumsily turning the beautifully colored pages. When Vanadis saw what he was doing she went over and tried to take the book from him. Connlaodh turned into a dragon too and coiled his golden body tightly around and around the book so that she couldn't reach it and growled softly at her. Aine picked up the jeweled spindle and danced around trailing the red yarn after her in circles. Takara watched Vanadis tackle Connlaodh for a bit then played with the jade seal, abandoning it to knock over the velvet bag spilling the helions, and finally to settle on picking up the jewel hilted dagger and bringing it back to his dad to see. Vanadis finally gave up on pestering her brother and went back to the other items settling on the ball to push around and chase. After she left Connlaodh protectively took the book and went back to his parents. Aine took the string back to show Morrigan and her father while Vanadis charged around the room butting and chasing the ball. When it was clear that each child had chosen Lord Genbu gathered up the remaining items and put them away.

"So," laughed Enma, "we should expect Connlaodh to become a great scholar, Vanadis to take her father's place in the Dark Tournaments, Takara to become a renowned warrior, and little Aine to make what... those legendary fay items that often cause trouble and consternation with their powers?"

"Do not underestimate the power of ancient rites, my lord," Lord Genbu replied almost emotionlessly in response to Enma's ridicule. "The children have chosen according to what is within them. You might also say that the young prince Connlaodh has already shown his great love of books and Vanadis her intense competitiveness. Princess Aine has shown a disposition more like her mother than her father, but with fays there is also an early showing of their gifts. It is not unlikely that she would indeed make such "legendary fay items that often cause trouble and consternation with their powers" as you have said. As for Takumi's son... We shall see what kind of warrior he shall become."

"Well then, we shall give the children the rest of their gifts before continuing on with the party," said Morrigan.

The other daimyo agreed and fetched their gifts. Lord Seiryu approached first, with De Zhen and Yutaka just behind. "I hope they will enjoy my gift," he said as he handed the parents a round package tied up in red brocade cloth artfully decorated with flowers from his garden, "though it seems that my gift to Vanadis will be somewhat redundant.

When Vanadis saw the others beginning to open their gifts, she ran back to her father looking for her gift. Unwrapping the colorful cloth revealed brightly decorated balls, much like the one Lord Genbu had brought only smaller and tougher with centers of tightly wound hide that were strong enough to take the bite of little dragon's teeth, and small enough to easily fit into a small child's hands. Each was decorated to match the owner - gold dragons, black dragons, fairies, and foxes - so that there would be no mistake of who it belonged to. As the children played with the new balls De Zhen and Yutaka presented their gifts, boxes full of children's art supplies. Next came Lord Suzaku, also carrying little cloth wrapped bundles more oddly shaped, and Leeta with paper wrapped boxes topped with glittery ribbons. Suzaku's gifts were mechanical birds, much like the one he had given Conchobhar so many years ago, but they were each distinctly different - a ho-o for Connlaodh, a quetzal for Vanadis, a peacock for Aine, and a rooster for Takara. Conchobhar remarked on the difference from his own childhood gift, and Suzaku explained that he had not used his own feathers as with Conchobhar's gift but had made different kinds of birds at Leeta's suggestion, at which point he formally introduced the green haired girl to everyone in the room. Then they opened Leeta's gifts. Each box held a different hollow polygon in varying colors, with shaped cutouts on the sides that small shaped blocks fit into. Takara had very little difficulty putting the shapes into the proper holes, but Vanadis tried to jam the shapes in the wrong way, getting mad when they wouldn't fit and then kicking the polygon across the floor.

Then Lord Byakko presented his gift, a simple white gi with the tiger logo for each child, after which Lien Hua got up with Yutaka and retrieved her gifts and the strange box that Conchobhar had brought while Conchobhar watched Connlaodh and Vanadis play with their new toys. Lien Hua's gifts were sets of clothing made for each child, far more individualized for the child's species, gender, and variety of activities than Lord Byakko's, though probably not as durable as the white tiger's gi. Then Conchobhar traded watching the kids for the odd box. Going over to Takara he reached into the box and pulled out a stone. He placed the stone in front of the yokai boy and began to pet it, singing something odd in Gaelic as he did. Aine immediately became interested in what was going on and paid attention. The stone slowly became furry little cat-dog shape, a pudgy sunekosuri. Takara squealed in delight and petted the animal, which was both purring and wagging its tail with all its might while trying to lick Takara's hand. Aine was the next one that Conchobhar presented a stone from the box to, but she didn't wait for her elder brother to waken it for her. She petted it and called to it in Gaelic coaxing it out of its stone shape, then holding and hugging the furry little sunekosuri as it tried to lick her face. Finally he presented two to his own children who waited impatiently for their father to waken the little animals so they could play. Next Takumi presented the other children with their own "mushi", a butterfly for Aine and dragonflies for Conchobhar's children, on behalf of himself and Inori. Inori wondered if the other children's "mushi" actually had all of the same functions as Takara's or not. Aine's mushi settled into her hair like an ornament, but Connlaodh and Vanadis were having a hard time deciding which of their gifts to play with, especially Vanadis who kept trying to monopolize her brother's gifts as well (not that his sunekosuri or mushi would comply).

At that point Morrigan went to each child and blessed them, presenting them with an unique broach of celtic knot work animals and gem stones. "Now, I think we should let the other children in for our feast, if you will gather up the gifts..." she said, and as the fathers collected most of the presents on to the table she went and and opened the door for Suigen's wife and Aine's yosei companion. They bowed to Morrigan and brought in a mixed group of young yokai who came in respectfully and very eagerly. Morrigan led them into the fenced in area and seated them at the tables, with the help of Suigen's wife and the yosei. The older yokai children made the younger ones wait until the lords were seated, and the birthday children blew out the candles helping themselves to handfuls of cake in the process, and the lords began taking food for themselves. Only then did they begin pigging out on the heaps of food. Afterwards Morrigan opened the toy box and invited the children to play with the toys. The lords looked on while the children had fun, Lord Genbu with a rather wistful look that only Takumi caught, and Lord Seiryu casting glances at De Zhen. Inori was glad to see Takara running around with Suigen's young pups in fox form. Eventually the toddlers grew tired and Morrigan sent the yokai children away with bags full of toys and sweets. The parents and the daimyo said their goodbyes and headed off for home.

***

Two days after the birthday party they were headed to another party, this time at Lord Seiryu's place, the Spring Festival, the festival of new life and the ascendancy of Lord Seiryu's domain.

Leeta marveled at the beautiful flowers as they landed by the lake at Lord Seiryu's azure palace and Suzaku led her around the gardens for a bit before escorting her inside. Suzaku was surprised to see the whole royal family of Aleriand there, as were the other Lords, but true to his promise he introduced Leeta to all of them. They expressed their sorrow at the end of Locura but welcomed Leeta warmly. As Leeta tried to sit at a different table than that of the daimyo, and their close family, the other lords made her sit by Suzaku saying that she ranked as family anyway. After the ceremony welcoming spring, Lord Seiryu the Azure Dragon of the East announced that that afternoon he and Princess De Zhen had been married by a local village priest and that tonight was the first night of their wedding feast. Everyone cheered and began to make merry. Some a little too merry.

By the time Seiryu and De Zhen retired for the night and other yokai had begun to seek out rooms (or fall asleep where they were) Suzaku was thoroughly drunk. Leeta helped Suzaku to stand as a tree woman offered to show them a room. Suzaku managed to walk to the room with his arm around Leeta without staggering, though he seemed completely out of it.

----
The next morning, as Leeta and Suzaku were greeted with some rude cat calls and jests that made Leeta blush uncomfortably, Suzaku turned and sternly asserted that nothing had happened between them.

"Too drunk to get it on?" laughed one yokai that Suzaku had partied with before.

"Yes," he admitted, "but I've also ordered her to ignore what I say when I'm drunk... She's off limits to everyone, including me!" he said, a little more strongly than intended. The comments stifled, he sat down and asked asked for some food, still a bit embarrassed by the whole thing. He had never had to explain his behavior regarding a woman before.

Out of earshot Takumi spoke to his wife. "Suzaku's going to get himself in trouble with that," he said shaking his head.

"What do you mean?" Inori asked.

"It's obvious he's falling for the girl, and that after only a couple of weeks, but at the same time he's both living with her and trying to set her as 'off limits'. It's as ridiculous a situation as me trying to be celibate during my convalescence after the war. It just won't work. He would be better off giving her to Morrigan and then wooing her like a normal girl," said Takumi "His will power in this is probably as weak as mine, and when he violates his conscience... well, what will he do then?"

"He could take her as his wife..." said Inori. "It wouldn't be the first time marriage began with violation..."

"Sorry, poor choice of words," said Takumi squeezing his wife's hand. "I'm glad you stuck by me even though I did that to you and gave you every reason to leave me for good. I hope I can make it up to you somehow."

"You are," she said smiling at him.

After breakfast Suzaku said goodbye to the newlyweds and made his excuses for not staying. He thought it better not to have a repeat of the night before or to have to explain his relationship to Leeta to anyone... even himself. Then he and Leeta flew back home to Suzakuyama.
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Mamma Peach
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Re: Takumi's Story

Post by Mamma Peach »

New Life and the Land of the Dead

The months since Takara's first birthday had gone by very quickly for Takumi. Conchobhar's 2005th birthday had come and gone. Takumi was not only busy with his family, work, and training, but with strategizing for the tournament and teaching Ketsueki and Yorutsubasa how to do his job in anticipation of his leave of absence over the next year to train in the wilds of northern Talamh. In the last few weeks the two vampire boys had come to stay at the castle. They were growing into such fine young men that Takumi made sure he was never quite alone with them so that he wouldn't be tempted. He fully intended to keep his promises to Inori, and God, which was one of the major reasons he was making this trip into the wilds of Talamh with Inori and his children. He eagerly awaited the birth of his daughter, had marked the passing months on his calendar and studied the subject of birth, but time seemed to just slip away, so when he saw the glassy eyed look of pain in Inori's eyes and water dampening the fur on her thighs it didn't occur to him that it was time.

"Takumi, the baby's coming..." she gasped.

Takumi stood up flustered, all the half made plans of what he should do flown from his mind. "I... I'd better go fetch the midwife!" he said.

"Before you do..." panted Inori before he could leave, "get one of the maids to come in to take care of Takara for me."

"Right," said Takumi and instead of vanishing he walked out the door and downstairs into the hall by the staff's quarters looking for a maid. The first person he met was Yutaka who often visited with the staff and helped with the work. "Yutaka! Could you do me a favor and look after Takara and Inori? The baby is about to be born and I have to fetch the midwife,"

"Of course," said Yutaka with a polite bow. "I've always been interested in how babies are born. I will look after them." As she headed up the stairs Takumi vanished with a faint pop.

Takumi reappeared in a small village at the foot of the mountain that he and Inori often visited because of the church there, and quickly made his way to the midwife's house and knocked on the door. The old tanuki woman's daughter in law, Hitonade, opened the door with three small children clinging to her, an infant in her arms, and a toddler on her back. "I need Hana, my wife's having a baby!"

"She's not here right now, but she should be back soon," said Hitonade.

"But I need her now!" said Takumi, his normal calm rather shaken.

"Your wife isn't the only woman having a baby," said Hitonade as patiently as possible. "There will be plenty of time. Do you wish to come inside to wait?"

"No, it would be better for me to wait out here," said Takumi. He could see the woman coming home and be that much closer to his goal. "Unless you could tell me where she went, then I could wait there."

"That's against mother's policy," said Hitonade. "She doesn't want interference."

"I won't interfere," said Takumi meekly. "I will just wait patiently outside until she's finished. That way there won't be any delays..."

Hitonade thought about Takumi's position and prestige, then she thought about Hana's scolding...

Takumi read her emotions as she thought about it. "I won't tell anyone how I happened to be there," he said in a soft voice. "No one will know that you told me, well except for the children, and they don't want to upset their grandmother for no reason, do they?" he said sweetly including the kids clinging to her skirt. The children shook their heads with a distinct no.

"All right," said Hitonade and she told him where to go. Then Takumi vanished to reappear at a small farm house (he had once passed by it in Spring and had noticed the flowering beauty of the orchards), where he waited by the walnut trees at the front gate with an eye on the activity in the house.

It seemed to Takumi like an eternity before the midwife came out, but as soon as she did he approached. "Inori's water broke some time ago and she's in labor. You need to come now!" he insisted.

"All right. All right," said the old woman, her tanuki "mask" beginning to show around her eyes. "Just let me catch my breath a bit before..." Takumi took her arm and they both vanished mid sentence.

"... we head up the mountain," the tanuki mid wife finished as she and Takumi appeared in the living room of his quarters. "Oh my!" she said looking around. "You really are in a hurry." Just then Yutaka entered from the bedroom, carrying Takara.

"Inori is doing fine," said Yutaka. "She's lying down in the bedroom, though the pains are coming more frequently."

"Have you any experience with birthing babies, girl?" asked Hana, the midwife, to Yutaka writing a few things down on a piece of paper.

"No, ma'am, but I always wanted to see one born," Yutaka replied.

"You'll do for now," said the woman exchanging the note for Takara. "Now fetch the things on the list and bring them to the bedroom." She put Takara into Takumi's arms. "The father can stay out here and take care of the child." Then she turned and briskly went into the bedroom while Yutaka went to fetch the things on the note.

"I think we just got the brush off..." said Takumi to his son.

A little while later Yutaka returned with laden arms, and Conchobhar following. Yutaka went straight into the bedroom.

"You'd better give me the kid and go join your wife," said Conchobhar to Takumi.

"I'm not sure I'm wanted in there," said Takumi wryly. "What use would I be anyway?"

"You'd be very useful," said Conchobhar taking Takara, "to your wife even if the midwife doesn't appreciate the help you could give. Sure, my wife's a giant egg laying dragon, but egg laying isn't as easy as you'd think. I was there to comfort her through the labor and her sisters massaged her body to help the process along. I'm sure you could do something similar. You know a lot about body systems, muscles, functions, and not just from a combat perspective. If I know you, you've also studied up on pregnancy and child birth. And if you can't do anything else, you can just let her hold your hand real tight. So just go on in and be with her, whether the midwife wants it or not! Takara and I will play some games out here while his sister is being born."

Takumi looked at Conchobhar appreciatively and thought briefly about the changes and growth of their relationship. From a messed up little kid admiring a hero, to his growing sexual lust for a fellow team mate and only friend, to lost romance and longing, to a stronger friendship... Conchobhar had always stood by him and encouraged him, even in this new venture. "Thanks," he said and went to join his wife.

"What do you think you're doing? You don't belong in here!" said the midwife as Takumi entered and walked over to his wife. "I told you to stay out with the boy."

"I say he belongs in there with his wife!" said Conchobhar peeking in the door. He had clearly heard her objections in the other room. "And if you knew him the way I do you would be asking for his help!" Conchobhar winked at Takumi and left, shutting the door behind him.

The midwife glared at Takumi as he looked down at his wife and stroked her hair. Inori was lying on freshly changed sheets in a light cotton kimono with her knees pulled up revealing her nether region. She began panting heavily and groaning a bit as the pains came on. "Don't push yet," said the midwife. "You're not ready."

Not dilated enough thought Takumi as Inori squeezed his hand very tightly. He could help distract from the pain though... and he began to gently massage her following the involuntary twitches that showed where the pain was showing up and matching that to some pressure points that were out of the midwife's way. As the massage showed positive effects on his wife he became more bold and actually climbed on the bed, lifting her shoulders onto his lap, in spite of the tanuki woman's objections. The pains suddenly became worse and he intensified his massage. The midwife exclaimed that what he did must have worked because the opening was now wide enough to push. With Takumi supporting her, and giving her hints on effective physical effort, Inori pushed hard on the pains and soon a fox girl kit slid out on the sheets squirming, blood staining her nearly white fur and black tipped fox ears and tail. The infant began wailing in a thin piercing cry as the old tanuki woman checked her over quickly and placed her little naked body trailing it's umbilical cord on Inori's limp, hot, belly and called for Yutaka to bring the water and towels. Takumi slid out from underneath his wife so she could lie down and gently touched the fox kit stilling it's cries. The midwife called for one more push as she tugged on the umbilical cord to loosen the placenta. As the bloody mass came out Hana told Takumi to wash the baby with warm water while she cleaned the mother and checked for rips or tears that needed medical attention. After she was satisfied that the mother was fine she came over to tie and cut he umbilical. Then after checking the baby more thoroughly she wrapped her up and placed her in her mother's arms. Then she asked Takumi to help lift Inori as she and Yutaka quickly changed the bedding and sheets, placing a layer of new towels where Inori was to lie, then finished cleaning Inori and putting a new cotton kimono on her. Then giving a few instructions on Inori's care and the care of the infant she had Yutaka bundle off the dirty things for cleaning. "You did good," she said to both of them. "I had my doubts about you," she said to Takumi, "but the Prince was right. You were helpful. If all fathers were like you I wouldn't chase them out like that." Then she left following Yutaka.

"If you need rest or refreshment," said Conchobhar to old Hana, "make yourself at home in this house."

"I think I'll do just that," she said. "Where is the kitchen?'

"First floor, center back, to the right," said Conchobhar. "Ask anyone you meet and they'll show you the way."

Hana left the room. "Let's go see your new sister!" said Conchobhar to Takara and tickled him on the stomach till he laughed.

***

Barely a week later Inori was packing for their trip to Northern Talamh. "Are you sure you are ready for this?" said Takumi. "You only gave birth a week ago, and the wild jungles of Northern Talamh are dangerous... That's why I picked them for training in."

"Between Lien Hua's healing and your exercises I'm quite able to take care of the children in the wild," said Inori, "and I'm confident in your ability to take care of me. You need this, and you didn't want to leave me behind. Besides, we already have passes and the Vampire Lord's sons are on their way here. We planned this months ago, and I'm looking forward to it."

"That was before I really knew anything about child birth," said Takumi running a finger over his infant daughter's tiny fox ears. "I'm just afraid something might happen."

"I'm a yokai and a kitsune, not a frail human woman," said Inori. "You don't need to be afraid."

Soon they were ready to go and Takumi was giving last minute instructions to Ketsueki and Yorutsubasa who were going to take over his work for him. "I'm going to call in every day and update the situation," he concluded. "If for some reason a day passes and I haven't called in tell Conchobhar immediately. Hopefully he will have learned enough about instant transmission to get to us without delay."

"Are you expecting trouble?" said Ketsueki.

"No, he's just being over protective," said Inori. She had little Inochi strapped to her front and Takara strapped to her back along with a pack. Takumi's large pack lay on the floor.

"It is a father's place to be concerned about his family," said Ketsueki, a bit too sagely for his age. Takumi thought that they were shaping up into very fine young men, then switched his thoughts to the upcoming trip to keep his mind out of the danger zone. At least there would be no temptations out in the wild.

Soon they said their goodbyes to Conchobhar and Lien Hua, and taking Inori's hand Takumi and his family vanished with a slight pop to reappear in a dense jungle. "Well, here we are," he said.

***

For six days Takumi checked in regularly with Ketsueki and Yorutsubasa, finding out about significant events and other teams training progress, and giving reports about the terrain and creatures he encountered. One disturbing thing he reported was coming across what appeared to be a yokai village that had been destroyed by some large beast that had left no survivors. It was hard to tell what kind of creature it was as it left no trail.

At first camping out in the jungle wilds with Inori and the kids had been fun. Inori's training had included many wilderness survival skills, and she had studied all of Thuran the Athuarian's extensive record on the flora and fauna that he had written concerning the expedition he had made with Uena Wypcraser. She built shelters and cared for him and the kids with style, even cooking the monstrous beasts he hunted. Takumi got plenty of practice in, but never ran into the high powered creatures that had sent his bugs spirit energy measurements off the scale. Then they started coming across what used to be yokai settlements. The settlements had been trashed by some huge monster and all of the people killed, many without a scratch on them, and no trail led in or out of the village. Takumi wondered what could do something like that. On the sixth day Takumi was practicing some high speed moves when he felt something horrendously odd, and very high in spirit energy, along with something dimension twisting over in the direction of their camp. Quickly he teleported back and saw a kind of dimensional crack and two hideous, clawed, creatures with bone heads and large holes in the center of their bodies. They were almost pure spirit energy and stirred memories of terrifying stories, the stories of hungry ghosts, the Jikininki, who ate the dead and tore souls from the living, stories he had been told as a child to make him behave. They gave a piercing cry as they saw him. Takumi lifted his hand held to get a picture and a reading off them thinking they might be the the explanation for the destroyed yokai villages. Then he saw one of them go after Inori and the children. Inori ran, holding onto the children, jumping great lengths surrounded by a spirit barrier as she tried to get away from it. As she jumped farther it vanished and appeared in front of her. Takumi teleported to where she was, and without even putting his device away he manifested a spirit sword and cut it through, from bony crown to clawed legs. The creature vanished into particles, but as it did he heard Inori scream behind him. The other creature had a hold of her and the two children and was sprinting back to the dimensional rift. Takumi shut down the device and teleported between the creature and the rift. Sticking the device in his sleeve he prepared to attack, but the creature leaped over him and into the rift with Takumi following right after it, the device dropping on the ground next to Takara's mushi.

The rift closed up without a trace as Takumi landed on sandy ground in a place that was pure spirit energy, so much so that his senses were almost blinded. The creature stood a few paces in front of him surrounded by others of its kind. Takumi wasted no time in dispatching the thing, and telling Inori to run towards a small stand of crystalline shrubs he dispatched a few more that tried to follow and ran after her. As they neared the shrubs the sand gave way and they fell. With sand sliding all around them they fell deep into a forest. Using spirit energy to break their fall Takumi saw that what he thought were shrubs were really the very tops of tall trees. Inochi began to cry and Takara began looking around calling "Moosie! Moosie come here!" Inori comforted Inochi and Takumi told Takara to hush as multiple roaring cries sounded all around them, and the footsteps of gigantic creatures could be heard crashing through the forest towards them. A figure in a rather ragged black hakama stepped from behind a tree.

"Your spirit energy is attracting them!" he said harshly. "If you can turn it down do so, and follow me!"

They did so, fortunately the children not having much to project, and followed the man... human, thought Takumi, and... like Lien Hua's "soul reaper" form... "You are a soul reaper," he said to the man.

"Yeah, and you're a yokai. The only ones to survive this long," said the man twisting and turning through the woods to avoid the "hungry ghosts" as they made their way to a tunnel, a tunnel that smelled like... life... like a fairy grotto! Takumi saw other soul reapers standing and sitting around the grotto, and one clad in the furs and bone heads of hungry ghosts standing by a pool of strange water that dripped from an open mouthed mask of a golden sun ornament on the chest, no plugged into the chest, of a pale and slender fay with long pale blond hair hanging limply to her feet, and who wore a gossamer robe like gown that also hung limply to her feet. The fay looked almost tragic in her beauty, and all around the grotto living plants and flowers sprang from the water that flowed from her chest, though the soul reapers took care not to touch the water itself.

"Lady Sulis... sister of Morrigan!" said Takumi with a bow.

"So, you are people from my sister's lands," said the fay. "Unfortunate, yet fortunate enough to still live... Welcome to Hueco Mundo, the land of the Hollows, and to Sulis's Grotto, my dwelling place for as long as the world lasts."

***

On the seventh day there was no call from Takumi at all. Ketsueki informed Conchobhar as he was instructed and showed him footage of the last place he had called from. Conchobhar vanished. For a week he searched for his missing friend. He came across a number of ruined villages, and even some of Takumi's old campsites, but no sign of Takumi, no feeling of his spirit pressure, or any other indication that they were still in the world. He returned to a distraught Lien Hua the day before Suzaku's feast to realize that she had thought him missing as well. He told her about what he had, and hadn't, found and said that he would continue to search whenever he could. He hadn't given up on Takumi yet.
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