"Some more sponge cake, Miaka-san?
Chocolate-almond croissant? Melon? Scones?"
"This is getting to be an abusive
relationship," Sukunami muttered.
Imonoyama Nokoru beamed. "Don't
worry," he said. "Akira loves to feed people."
"That's what I'm afraid
I hid a smile behind the rim of my
teacup. The brown-haired girl had been munching non-stop for
the last half-hour, aided and abetted by the boy introduced
as the student council treasurer (CLAMP Campus, Junior High
Division). The offer of high tea would have been an
unbearably precious touch in any other setting, but in this
palatial suite it seemed common courtesy.
And the company was certainly
We'd had a round of self-introductions
in the waiting room. As happened often enough, there had
been swiftly-hidden double-takes at mine, and I doubt
Miaka-san bumped into me at the door by accident. Not that I
blame her: she could hardly come up and grope me outright.
I am used to the
(Kuwabara, of all people, had once
asked why I'd chosen such a body, and wouldn't something
like a ningen version of my youko form have made a helluva
lot more sense? To which I could only reply that it had
seemed fitting at the time. The reason had little to do with
logic, after all, and I'd rather not give Kuwabara the idea
that I had a mystic streak. He already thinks I have a
sentimental one, and he may be right.)
As for the Imonoyama…
I glanced at Sukunami Taka, as he'd
given himself out. He'd obviously recognized the surname -
anyone who kept up with the financial scene should - and
been startled, but I doubted the family's present
representative rang any bells in his head other than the
obvious one of age. Imonoyama Nokoru, however, was
something of a legend in circles dealing with gifted
children's competitions and study streams, in which I'd
participated fleetingly. His was also the ultimate signature
of consent to a technology stock transfer my firm had
brokered over the past year, along with - a glance at the
other side of the table - Takamura Suoh. No mean student
Why was I here?
The Yuuki girl swallowed the last of
her jam pastries and turned to the head of the table.
"Excuse me for asking, Imonoyama-san -"
"-Nokoru-san, but why are we here? I
thought we were going to talk to someone in charge of the
"I'm afraid I have to second that," I
said. "I put in a request for a book, and they told me to
come here." Sukunami and Yuuki exchanged glances at 'book'.
"Yes, these were security measures we
took some weeks ago," said Nokoru with an apologetic smile.
"I should explain… We heard about the unfortunate attack you
suffered on Saturday, Miaka-san; it was in the media of
course. However, the police has probably not informed you
that the culprit, Watanabe Futoshi, was reported missing
over a month ago. It seems you are aware that he was a
librarian here at CLAMP Campus?"
"At first it was assumed that personal
problems caused his disappearance, but then certain…
irregularities… in the material under his care was
discovered." Nokoru turned to Suoh.
"Part of my family's collection was on
loan to the school library," the latter said. "There was a
"Oh!" said Miaka. Akira looked at her
"Quite an unusual target for theft,
actually," continued Suoh. "A first edition but not old
enough to be interesting to collectors, and the subject
matter is obscure - folk traditions and paranormal anecdotes
in the greater part. However, by tracing Watanabe's network
access, we soon discovered that he'd been engaged in
intensive research of his own on those very subjects. Not to
mention-" Suoh smiled briefly - "that the security system at
this institution is excellent. In fact, it's supposed to be
impermeable, and any intimation that it is not is subject
"So we started an internal
investigation - and then Watanabe was apprehended by the
Tokyo police for attempted murder. It may be a coincidence,
but it may not. At this point we're looking to gather
information on both crimes, and any insights you may be able
to provide us with would be greatly welcomed.
"As for Minamino-san, you're involved
simply because you inquired after the book in question. That
A startled glance at me, and then at
each other. "And… what was the book called?" asked Sukunami
"Legends and Demon-Worship of
Proto-Nippon," said Suoh. "By Takamura
I'd seen it coming as soon as theft
had been mentioned. But from the blank looks of the couple
across from me, they'd been expecting another tome
Curiouser and curiouser…
"Paranormal, huh." Sukunami rubbed at
the bridge of his nose. "Um, this may sound wei-"
"It wouldn't happen to be a magic
book, would it?" said Miaka. "Like it sucks you into another
world with animal gods and empires and stuff. Mikos." Pause.
"Perhaps it would better if you
started at the beginning," Suoh suggested.
Masada had sketched a movement to
kneel by the body. He looked up, confused.
"You won't find any wounds. I thought
I was playing for time; he was as well. It's his strength."
Phones were ringing; someone was calling for the chief, for
an ambulance, but an eerie quiet hung in Saitoh's immediate
vicinity. He was scanning the hurrying officers and
secretaries, golden eyes cold. For all as if he expected the
suspect to be among them.
The lanky detective cursed under his
breath. "Outside," he said, elbowed past an office lady and
ran. Masada gaped as the service stairs door across the hall
swung shut, then did something he would remember as
He ran after Saitoh.
He was just in time to hear the girl
She clung, half-crouched, to the short
banister that fronted the door to the building's basement
parking; her sailor blouse and skirt marked her as a
highschooler. Masada had a fraction of a second to wonder
what she was doing there, then shots rang out to his left
and the girl shrieked again.
There was a different, more muffled
bang, as if a container of compressed air had burst. Masada
flattened against the wall, naming himself fool a dozen
times for having left his gun upstairs in the drawer. How
did an afternoon of paperwork at headquarters segue into
this? He risked a glance around the corner.
First he saw Saitoh, pulling himself
to his feet behind a concrete pillar. Then the boy. Another
highschooler, once again by the uniform; he had dived and
rolled with Saitoh's shots, coming up behind a cream-colored
Honda sedan Masada recognized as the section chief's. Saitoh
fired again, keeping his body behind the pillar, and sparks
flew from the car's paintwork.
Masada opened his mouth to yell a
protest - he was shooting at an unarmed child! - then the
boy swept his arm out in a pitching gesture, and the sound
died in his throat.
The very air picked itself up and
threw itself at them.
The only warning he had before impact
was the sudden swirl of dust on the asphalt. The wall took
the brunt of it, but Masada was knocked backwards onto his
seat. Dimly, his eyes watering and ears ringing from the
doppler-roar, he saw Saitoh fly through the air and land
heavily on his side. He was struggling up almost as soon as
he hit the ground, but his gun had flew out of his hand on
The boy did not push his advantage. He
took out the driver's-side window of the sedan with a
well-placed high kick. Two seconds was all it took for
Saitoh to retrieve his gun, but by that time the boy was
behind the wheel. Masada watched in astonishment as the car
started immediately, all lights coming on, and sideswiped
the vehicle beside it backing up. Saitoh fired twice more,
and took out a tail light when the car swerved. Masada
caught a glimpse of a pale, childish face, eyes too wide for
control - then the sedan had passed by in a squeal of
Saitoh took three steps of a stumbling
run after it, then pulled up short. There was a silence,
during which Masada clambered to his feet. It was broken by
the dim cacaphony of car horns on the street above
"Saitoh-san," he began, then stopped.
He intended to say, who was that kid and should I put the
word out on him, but before the words left his mouth he
realized they were ridiculous.
Who was he?
What was he would be a better question.
The girl was weeping softly now,
hugging herself. "I thought it was me," Masada heard her
sob. "He wouldn't tell me why he came here. I thought it was
me. I thought he didn't want to be with me…"
Saitoh barely glanced in her
direction. "It's beginning," he said, and there was an edge
to his voice that made Masada want to step back. "He's shown
himself; he won't delay it any longer."
"A picture is emerging," Nokoru said
two hours later, thoughtfully.
I leant back in my chair, considering.
I'd told my usual edited truth: one that didn't name either
Reikai or myself for what we were. Makai intuition said the
young couple had told the truth as well. And the Student
Council were much less fazed than I'd have
A Priestess? One of the prophesied
I looked Miaka over. Again. She was
perched on the edge of her chair, fiddling with the cuff of
her jumper sleeve and looking childishly worried. Or
uncomfortable, which would not be surprising given how much
she'd eaten. I decided that I had seen more unlikely
in my life, but not often. On the other hand, how many were
there who could claim her extended experience in
world-saving on their spiritual resumé? I felt a smile
coming on. It was an exclusive field. Fate could have done
"So it hinges on this prophecy,"
Sukunami Taka summed up. "Except we don't know exactly what
it says, because someone - Watanabe probably - has gone to
the trouble of systematically removing all the books in
which it's mentioned. All we know is that something called
Mukage is after Miaka and possibly eight other
"And that the world is returning to
chaos," I appended drily.
Taka winced. "Right. And
Akira glanced from one of his
companions to the other. Nokoru tapped a small closed fan
against his wrist, seemingly in a brown study. Suoh was
frowning. "So what do we do now?"
"Find some way of questioning
Watanabe, I suppose," I said, thinking of loopholes past the
"But this book of yours has been
around for years," Miaka said. She hugged her arms to
herself. "This Legend of Demons thingummy. There must
be tons of copies. Surely someone would have read it? I
mean, remembered at least a little of what was written in
"That's part of what puzzles me," said
Suoh. "I've read it, you see. Years ago, but I'm confident
of my memory."
"You don't recollect a prophecy?" I
"Not exactly, no. But I do remember
about the Lay of Nine." Suoh glanced up at us. "Perhaps I
should explain… Legends and Demon-Worship was a
scholarly book with a limited print run, and I wouldn't be
surprised if in fact the National Library's and my family's
copies are the only ones still extent." He smiled. "The
author was one of my relatives, you see. We're a rather old
"The Edo Takamuras," I said. Suoh
inclined his head.
"During the Meiji era my family
contracted an alliance of marriage with a Kyoto ninja clan,
the product of which was the scholar Takamura Nobuhiko - the
clan's first to benefit from an overseas education. His
mother, Omasu-dono, is I believe listed in the appendix as
one of his sources of various legends and oral traditions.
Family records have it that she was responsible for the
section on the Lay of Nine."
I considered. "So the prophecy had
been passed down orally in her clan?"
"Our knowledge would be more concrete
if it were so." Suoh shook his head. "My family practices
such teachings rigorously. But no. As far as we know,
Omasu-dono never saw or heard the exact contents of the Lay.
The story set down in Nobuhiko's book is in fact that of an
exorcism or, more exactly, a sealing. One performed in Meiji
Tokyo, by 'trustworthy allies of the Oniwabanshuu
"Of an evil spirit named Mukage," I
"Precisely. Apparently according to a
method dictated by the prophecy, if not using the power of
the text itself. Omasu-dono's account ran that the awakening
of said evil spirit had actually been predicted in the Lay -
give or take a century." Suoh shrugged.
"Journalism of the period does refer
to widespread cases of demonic possession and cults," said
Nokoru, "which most scholars now dismiss as hysteria. We
have to assume the sealing was an act of protection against
Taka said, "So you mean this Mukage's
"More than a demon."
"A god, then," said Miaka in a tone
too hard for her girlish voice. "Or a demon that thinks it's
a god?" I looked at her in surprise. Her face had paled
somewhat, but her expression was set.
"Would you like some tea, Miaka-san?"
Nokoru asked. "I know this must be difficult for
"Thank you, I'm quite all right,"
Miaka replied, but it seemed automatic. Her fiancé shot her
a worried glance and took her hand.
"Whatever it was, they were apparently
only able to seal the nexus of its powers," continued Suoh.
"For all we know, it was able to retain a conscious presence
in this world."
"Well, if that's so, then it's not all
that hard to reconstruct what must have happened," Taka
said. "Takamura-dono's treatise makes Watanabe curious, so
he pinpoints the exorcism plot and does a bit of digging.
Ends up breaking the seal and getting possessed himself.
Steals the books, and here we are."
"It doesn't explain everything," I
said. "This may sound like hubris, but I doubt Watanabe
could have been able to perform the theft I referred to. If
he had had the spiritual power it would have required, the
police would never have been able to capture
"Maybe the Shadowless left him for a
new host," Akira suggested.
"Maybe," I said.
"Or perhaps Watanabe was involved in a
different manner altogether." Nokoru shook his fan open with
a practiced flick. "How much do you know about the Sennin
Group? Minamino-san? Sukunami-san, Yuuki-san?"
Miaka and Taka glanced at each other
and shook their heads. I took a moment to collect my
thoughts before I answered.
"Some. Financial matters. They are a…
privately-held angel investment firm, aren't
"Something like that, yes. Legally.
The registered version of Sennin is a holding company,
though, and certain of its operations are entangled in shady
"Like the yakuza?" asked
"Among others. Nothing flagrant, of
course; the corporate culture is known for discretion, and
in any case many of Sennin's connections are long-standing
enough to have acquired the status of pseudo-institutions.
Like the Imonoyama, the founders of the Sennin Group made
their fortunes at the beginning of Meiji, but their
organization is in fact much older." Nokoru gestured with
his fan. "Imonoyama information networks being what they
are, it's been known to us for quite some time that the core
decision-makers of Sennin keep a stable of spiritualists and
espers. It's been suggested that they are charged with
carrying out the true mission of the society, whatsoever
that might be. I don't know if you were at all aware of
"There were rumors." I was very well
aware. I'd heard of Sennin not as part of the company
ledgers, but as a regular minor-league sponsor of the Ankoku
Bujuutsukai. There was no real need to get into that,
though. "Are you… suggesting that Watanabe was researching
under Sennin's aegis?"
"That was our working theory before
you contacted us," Nokoru said, and smiled his charming
smile. "But you are going to ask what evidence I have for
such a supposition. It is a purely-"
Miaka stood up, and her chair
clattered to the ground.
"Miaka-san, are you all right?" Nokoru
asked, almost at the same time as Taka's "Miaka, what's
wrong?" Miaka shook her head from side to side,
"I don't know," she said. "I don't
know. I've been feeling… something's wrong." She took a step
backward and stumbled on the overturned chair, almost
falling. Taka caught her in his arms.
"Tell me, Miaka," he
Her eyes widened, and she pushed him
away. "Don't touch me," she said.
That was when I felt it.
Akira was the only one to glance my
way when I came to my feet as well, but he must have seen
something in my face, because his eyes widened.
"There are mystic conduits on this
campus," I heard myself say. "Aren't there?"
"Miaka," Taka said in a stunned
Suoh looked back at me quickly. "Yes.
There are shields. But there's no reason for them to
activate. Unless-" He glanced about the room suddenly, a
change coming over his features.
"I'm sorry, Taka," Miaka said. "But…
don't. Don't come near me."
"Something's happening to
I grabbed hold of the edge of the
table. So there were shields - which meant that there was no
point in running. It would only be worse outside. The air
was swimming in energy, and a foreign pressure bore down on
me irresistably, like a vacuum bent on ripping me out of my
skin. I'd known this sensation before, but it was so
incongruous it took me a few seconds to remember from
"Fruit of past life..." I whispered,
then shook my head. "Chigau… it's as if…"
"The ki lines," Suoh said. "Kaichou,
"Everything's tearing apart," I said.
My legs were wavering. Miaka backed up against the wall, her
eyes wild. Of course it would be she and I. Of course.
The blood-red rose born twice… oh, I understood quite
I'd been the only other one attacked
by a minion of Mukage.
"It's coming from outside the
grounds," said Nokoru, and ran to the window. "Where did the
sealing happen, Suoh? Do you remember?"
"It would have been somewhere in the
old Edo district…"
"Minamino-san? Minamino-san! Kaichou-"
Akira was shaking my shoulder urgently. I'd gone to my
"Get away from us," I gritted from
between my teeth. The discontinuity was physical, even if
Miaka and I were the only ones who could feel it. "Just out
of the immediate vicinity. Just to the next room."
"Miaka, please!" Taka pleaded. "Let me
"Get away," I whispered again, but my
tongue felt thick and I wasn't sure I even got the sound
out. It was hard to breathe. I was going to shatter.
"Suoh, the light!" Nokoru cried.
And indeed, there was light. White
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