Chapter 1 - Whitewashed
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
Shiro woke up to soft, dejected knocking at the door. He took a deep intake of breath as he sat up into consciousness, feeling better than he ever had in his life.
The person at the door was a very tired Murasaki, who had still been knocking politely for the past several weeks in the hope that Shiro had miraculously gotten better and would answer the door himself. Much to his surprise, as he began to disconsolately open the door anyway without an answer as he was used to by now, he heard a loud voice exclaiming:
“G’morning sir! Hold on a second, let me change clothes real quick.”
Murasaki, at first thinking it was some sort of delusion he was having from lack of sleep, continued to open the door.
The wolf-dogs, who had immediately recognized Shiro’s energetic voice, pushed through the small gap, barking loudly. They jumped on the bed and licked Shiro’s face joyously.
“You guys!” the boy grinned. He tackled them both and wrestled with them until he saw Murasaki standing in the doorway, completely dumbfounded.
As Shiro pushed Juu and Ku playfully off the bed, he smiled up at Murasaki and pulled the sheets over himself, as he was half-naked and the door was standing wide open.
“Um… excuse me, sir, but could you close the door?”
“Shiro… you… you are… alright!”
“…Murasaki. Please close the door.”
Murasaki looked down at the doorknob as if it were the strangest thing he had ever seen.
“Oh! Oh yes. Of course. I apologize.”
The head Duelist smiled to mask his embarrassment. He closed the door and waited outside.
“How do you feel…?” he timidly asked.
“I feel great,” Shiro answered through the door. “Why?”
“Are you… quite certain?”
“Yeah. Of course I’m sure. What’s my job today?”
“Well, I suppose I… I am not entirely prepared to give you an assignment today. Kiiro has returned to the Kikai… you could work with Seiran, if you wished. After all, that was what was originally slated for you before. He is starting a very important project today and the extra help would be most appreciated. But I will understand if you would rather not…”
“Why wouldn’t I, sir?”
“Ah… well, I mean… if you are still not feeling up to moving…”
“It‘s not a problem, sir! I‘ll go help Seiran!” Shiro interrupted happily as he buckled his belt and opened the door, now fully dressed. The wolf-dogs ran with him down the hallway towards the kitchen. He was starving and wanted a quick breakfast before starting work.
Murasaki’s eyebrow raised as he watched the boy dart down and around the corner. Then he shrugged happily. If he was feeling better, well… that was all that mattered to him. However, seconds later, he realized that he had not finished informing Shiro about Seiran’s project and since the boy was already long gone, he called out after him and followed.
Iron met hot steel in the weapons workshop, called the Anvil. The Mass of Contradictions watched as his/its blacksmiths crafted new swords and shields designed by Daidaiiro. Sweat steamed in fire — smoke billowed to the ceiling through tiny shafts that vented hundreds of meters up to the surface. Two guards entered the room, escorting between them a plump, filthy, piggish-looking man who carried a walking stick, along with a large backpack filled with sellable goods. He wore a blindfold, though it was not there because the Revolutionists had put it on him. And, oddly enough, he also wore a pair of spectacles that sat on the tip of his nose.
“Hey-ey! Watch the merchandise!” he said, prying loose of the guards’ death grip and dusting himself off. “I was invited here ya know… You should be nicer to your supplier, ya ingrates! Am I right or am I right?” he called after them even as they walked out, ignoring him completely.
One of the blacksmiths stopped his work and stared at the man.
Quickly the man turned towards him, snapping, “What the hell’re you lookin’ at?”
The blacksmith jumped back. The old man hissed and adjusted his glasses, looking around the room.
“Ah!” he exclaimed as he spotted Ten. He hobbled over to the Man/Monster.
“Your highness, it has been quite a while, hasn’t it? In fact, I can’t remember the last time I did business with you directly… usually work with your first mate, Murasaki, am I right or am I right? In fact… I don’t think I’ve ever even talked to you, mostly because I don’t think I was allowed — am I remembering this correctly? ‘Cause feel free to stop me at any time if I’m overstepping my bounds. I know how you big shots can be about your rules and what not and so on. Am I right or am I right? …I can tell you’re a man of few words. Well, I respect that, so what can I do for you today, your majesty? Need some raw iron? Bullets? Some more o’ that roasted pheasant I picked up for ya last Christmas? Good stuff, wasn’t it? I got connections ya know, you just say the word, and I’ll —”
The Angel/Devil hissed through pointed teeth with a long, thin tongue.
“Enough of your incessant prattle, Blind Man.”
“Yes sir,” came the immediate reply. “Whatever you say, I mean you are the boss after all — I guess I’m just a bit too friendly for my own good, eh? Am I right or am I right? So, as I was sayin‘, your highness, let‘s get down to business, shall we?”
Quickly he pulled out a notepad from his pocket and licked the tip of his pencil. “Oh incidentally, I heard you’re goin’ after the Venom of God in a couple months? S’bout time somebody took down those bastards and they get what’s comin to em’, am I right or am I right? Tell ya what, I’ll throw in an extra hundred cartons a’ those bullets you like so much at half price, as a good luck present — I mean, you Revolutionists have been patrons o’ mine for years n’ well I’d like to show my appreciation, if you know what I mean…”
Shiro and the wolf-dogs ran down the middle of the room, laughing and barking, holding fruit and leftover sausage in their arms and mouths. The boy slowed when he saw Ten and gave a respectful head-nod, adding a friendly smile to it afterward. The Prince/Beast stared in amazement as they left. The few Revolutionists who had happened to glance up from their work and catch a flash of Shiro were also shocked to see him.
Murasaki was not far behind the boy, walking as briskly as possible while still maintaining an air of dignity.
“Shiro…!” he pleaded, “I have yet to —”
He spotted Ten and his eyes went wide. At once he bowed low.
“Master, I apologize, I have not given Shiro the details of his assignment and…”
The Blind man waved at Murasaki. The head Duelist blanched when he saw him.
“Ah, Blind Man, you are early,” he said nervously.
“You know I like to be punctual, Murasaki,” he shook his hand fiercely, “Good to see ya! Been far too long since I‘ve been invited to the Garden to speak with you face to face. Am I right or am I right?”
Murasaki cleared his throat and attempted to yank his hand away, but to no avail. He looked imploringly at the Angel/Devil.
“Just in time, Ангел. Give him dhe list and get him dhe hell out of here.”
The Man/Monster then walked away, obviously annoyed.
Murasaki sighed, pulling a long, thin piece of paper out of his pocket and reviewing it briefly. “Hm… it seems Seiran did not miss anything. All seems to be in order.” He handed the list to the Blind Man. “We need all of this in no more than ten days. Especially the last three things …Kuro Ouji wants to be already stocked well in advance of leaving for the Venom of God.”
The Blind man cleaned the lenses of his glasses and aimed his covered eyes towards the paper. He was about to open his mouth to ask a question but Murasaki interrupted him.
“…You may stay in the Garden for the hour. Eat if you like. Find Seiran and he will pay you what you want.”
“Oh really? Usually there’s a cap on how much I can ask for. So, ah, what happens if he can’t meet my price?”
“We do not get our supplies from just you, Blind Man.”
The Blind Man grinned, “Ah, but you and I both know I’m the best in the business.”
“Be mindful of whom you are speaking to,” Murasaki snapped. As he walked away, he called out behind him. “And for future reference, Blind Man, if you intend to start being punctual, then be neither early nor late. I have direct standing orders that you are not to interact with Kuro Ouji under any circumstances. Let us thank Heaven that you did not attempt to touch him, or you might be victim to severed body parts and excessive bleeding at this very moment…”
And when he was well out of hearing distance, he growled under his breath, “…And not only from Kuro Ouji…”
Suddenly Juuni ran into the room and practically jumped on top of Murasaki, nearly knocking them both over as he yelled, “Sir, sir, I heard Shiro’s okay! Is he?”
Now even more agitated, Murasaki threw Juuni off his shoulders and straitened his clothes. “Juuni, will you contain yourself? Ugh…” He cleared his throat and reined in his temper. “Yes, Shiro seems to have taken a turn for the better…”
“Well where is he? Is he working?”
“He will be shortly, and I suggest you do the same. To your duties, Juuni, if you please.”
“But I gotta go talk to him —”
“You may bother him on your own time, Juuni. Now it is time to work.”
Juuni sighed and saluted. “Yes sir.”
As Murasaki and Juuni left, the Blind Man smiled and walked straight towards Kiiro’s room.
Murasaki never did catch up with Shiro — he spent the entire first half of the day shuffling through paper work, completely miserable. Shiro and Seiran spent the morning working on their plan for their surface mission, a more enjoyable and stimulating task, Shiro surmised, than working in the Tower.
“You have been gracious enough… well, before you fell ill, to help me with my surface work, which is, in fact, chiefly the reason I’ve been pestering Murasaki for an assistant. But now I have requested your services exclusively, thanks to Kiiro’s return — and it’s a fortunate occurrence that he should return now, for my sources tell me that the time of the Captains’ meeting is upon us.”
“The Captains’… what?”
“A rare meeting between the rich men who own many organizations such as ours all over North and South America occurs once every few months in the offices of Robert Pendragon. We affectionately call these monsters of capitalism the Captains. They do not have a routine time for it — all the more reason my work on the surface is so essential. But since we know it is in its planning stages, our assignment is to monitor Pendragon‘s offices every day until the meeting occurs.”
“There’s no other way we can find out when it is?”
“I’m afraid not. The security for this very important conference is by far the highest. We can’t even find out when the rest of the Captains arrive or where they even come from exactly.
“Shijuu has invented sound equipment made of extremely light aluminum — the same material as the air ducts in the office, so Pendragon’s electronic monitors don’t detect them. However, these machines must be operated manually, therefore, our physical presence is required. Dragging those stupid machines all the way up there, setting up, lingering for hours, and then lugging everything back is quite a chore when I’m by myself. But at least we know Pendragon never gets into the office until after lunch, so I don’t have to waste my entire day up there.”
“You can’t leave the equipment in the ducts and just go up there to operate them?”
“No. Because if they were found during a cleaning or something of that nature, it would be disastrous.”
“Heh, I guess nothing’s ever easy, Seiran.”
“It certainly doesn‘t seem so.”
At lunch time everyone was present except Ten and Kiiro, but they went unmissed, as the buzzing topic of conversation was Shiro’s miraculous recovery. The Revolutionists were dumbfounded over it. Of course they were happy, but when they asked Shiro about it, he acted as if he hadn‘t the slightest clue what they were talking about. This confused them even more, but they praised the event as a miracle and were simply content that he was well again. Everyone stopped to slap him on the back and say how glad they were that he was feeling better, specifically Juuni, who was more than relieved — he was ecstatic.
Murasaki shuffled through more papers as he attempted to eat. Half way through the meal, he beckoned Shiro to sit in Kiiro’s seat, as the boy had been sitting towards the end of the table so he could better talk with Juuni. He took his plate with him, eating as he walked, the wolf-dogs jumping at him.
“Whath thup?” he asked as he sat down. He was stuffing his mouth so full of corn beef hash so fast Murasaki couldn’t help but feel ill. Nevertheless, he didn’t reprimand his pupil.
“Did something happen last night? Not only have you recovered your health but… you seem… in better spirits than usual.”
The boy blinked and shook his head, shrugging. As he swallowed, he looked down at Murasaki’s hands. He grabbed one of Murasaki’s wrists and grinned, inspecting his hand.
“You’re biting you’re fingernails.”
Murasaki yanked his hand away and grumbled, shuffling again through his papers. Shiro kept smiling as he took a large bite out of a biscuit, filling his entire mouth as he chewed.
“A memo was released and delivered this morning announcing that in lieu of the nightly meeting this Thursday, a special Garden meeting will be taking place several hours after dinner. You are expected to attend. It will be a briefing on the Ivory Dragon raid, which will occur three days after.”
“Whathever you say, sir.”
“Must you speak with food in your mouth? It‘s disgusting.” Seiran said. He sneered over the top of his book at the pair of stuffed cheeks belonging to Shiro. Two pairs of furry paws began to scratch at the Duelist’s legs.
“Oh, for the love of… get down!” he barked at Juu and Ku, “Shiro, tell these great hulking idiots to get off me!”
“C’mon guys,” the boy called reluctantly. The wolf-dogs gladly obliged, snuggling under the boy’s feet. Shi suddenly glided into the room, perching on top of Ten’s throne. She looked curiously at Shiro.
“Wha?” the boy asked the bird, taking another large bite of his biscuit. She fluttered over to his shoulder and nipped his ear affectionately. In the midst of his giggles he shouted, “Aw come on, that tickles… cut it out…”
“Seiran asked yah not tah talk with yer mouth full, kiddo,” Midori grumbled.
“Indeed. That is no way for a future Duelist to act.”
Shiro swallowed his food. “You really think I’ll make it?”
“Why else would Kuro Ouji have given you a color name?”
“So are any of you guys original Duelists? How did you get that way if the rules have always been the same? There wasn‘t anyone to challenge you, after all.”
“No one has ever defeated Kuro Ouji…,” Murasaki explained, “And the original Duelists — Midori, Seiran, Chairo, Konjou, Taakoizu, and myself, got that way by emerging from a duel with him unscathed. He challenged us one by one and we shed not a drop of blood. Therefore, in his sight we deserved to be his Duelists.”
“Not too many Duelists have been replaced since then, as you can guess. And most of us did pretty well our first shot. Well, except for Kiiro,” Seiran added.
“Took a long, long time for Kiiro tah do the challenge,” Midori muttered. “He mustah tried at least five times before ’e was made a Duelist… that’s how ’e got that mad scah across the middle of ’is face. Think that was from the third time, maybe. Don’t remembah for sure.”
“He just got lucky in the end.”
“Wait a minute… there can only be five Duelists. You named six people, didn‘t you?”
“I did, but Taakoizu has long been deceased, as I have mentioned before.”
“How did she die?”
“That is none of your affair.”
“How did I know you were going to say that?”
Murasaki smirked, “You ask too many questions.”
Shiro smirked back, “You don’t give enough answers, so we’re even.”
The boy held out his hand. Murasaki shook it, happily frustrated.
“That is quite a compromise. And you should stop biting your fingernails.”
“I will when you will, Murasaki.”
“Then that should not be long at all.”
“Heh… so what was that Chairo guy like? That guy you said was an original Duelist?”
“He was a good man,” Seiran smiled, “A very decent sort who believed in integrity above all things.”
“Think ’e was killed a few months aftah Kiiro came tah the Garden. Strange illness took ’im suddenly.”
“And how about original intermediates? How did they get chosen?”
“They were promoted from foot soldiers by dueling one of us — and emerging unwounded.” Murasaki sighed. “Satisfied now?”
“Of course you are not.”
A single bell chimed. The men began to stack their plates and disperse, going back to their daily business. The Shadows swept in silently, gathering the porcelain and carting it away to the kitchen. Murasaki and Shiro smiled at each other once again and parted ways.
Shiro and Seiran began their journey to the surface immediately upon leaving the Lodge. They entered the city and broke into Pendragon’s building, making their way to his private offices and finally positioning themselves in the air ducts in the ceiling. On this particular day, sadly, it seemed that no one was scheduled to come in except the secretaries, and they offered little to no useful information. At the end of the day when the lights were turned off in the building, they packed the equipment and started the journey home.
“Nothing today, but we might have more luck tomorrow.”
“And all this’ll have to go on hiatus the day of the Ivory Dragon raid, naturally… but that’s alright. Most likely when the Curator finds out that we’re slaughtering yet another one of his Packs, he’ll cancel any meetings to work out how to handle it. It’ll be fine while we’re away.”
“The Curator? I’ve heard that name… back home they used to say that he was the leader of Lost Angels Above. Is that who we’ve been waiting for?”
“Yes. Otherwise known as Robert Pendragon,” Seiran answered.
“He’s the same person?”
“Yes. A long time ago he was an American General. He was known for treating each of his soldiers as, in his words, ‘a copy of a great piece of art called God.’ And since they were just copies, they were worthless and dispensable to the collector. In other words, he used his lackeys like pawns — willing readily to give up their lives to satisfy even his slightest whim. Hence, they called him the Curator. On top of all that, today he creates expendable Packs with money, treating them the same way as he treated his soldiers and using them to exploit the UnderWorlders. And that’s not even the worst of it — not only does he send his Packs to attack the poor fools, but he forces them to grow their own food by driving the prices of his imports up too high for them. Little do they know that his power plants are slowly poisoning the soil beneath his city, which in turn is poisoning the food. We know because we tested all that food we took the last time we passed through the city — all of it was infected. Soon, everyone in Lost Angels Below will die.”
“What? Why hasn’t somebody warned them?”
“Think on it for a minute. Where would they go? It’s hopeless for them. Instead of helping them, which is in his power to do, Pendragon’s destroying them because the OverWorlders of Lost Angels don’t want them around anymore. They think of them as a blight on the Earth, more than anything else. A boil on the face of this new world — on this new society. In the end, the poor will spend all their money trying to protect themselves and will still perish. And if they moved anywhere else, the OverWorlders there would treat them the same. At the very least, Kuro Ouji has sworn to kill Pendragon at any cost.”
“Kuro Ouji has?”
“…Kuro Ouji doesn’t like to be bound by anything. So why would he swear to kill someone?”
Seiran smiled. “Kuro Ouji is a mass of contradictions, Shiro. You know that. He hates being bound by rules, yet he makes very strict rules that structure his Garden. There is no logic for it, so you might as well stop scratching your head thinking about it. Change — Revolution, throws everything into upheaval. There are no facts and there is no stability. Kuro Ouji tries to create black and white situations for us when he knows it’s impossible to achieve. And that is not just the way of the Garden — it’s the way of the world.”
Shiro paused and looked down.
Pendragon… I had no idea that you were doing that. If I had stayed in Lost Angels…
The boy cringed.
You are even worse than Kuro. I never thought I would say that, but it’s true. Your tyranny will end, I promise you that.
After clenching his fists and nodding to himself, he began to climb down the ladder inside the walls of the building with Seiran.
“So, what kind of information does Kuro Ouji need from the Captain‘s meeting?”
“Coordinates to the Red Revenge hideout. Or the coordinates to their next target, whichever comes first. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long.”
“One of Pendragon’s self-made Packs that try to gain the upper hand with quantity instead of quality. They aren’t a threat to us, but Kuro Ouji wants them punished for what they did…”
“They stole some treasure, right?”
“When did you hear about that?”
“He told me and Murasaki about it a while back.”
Still climbing down the ladder, Shiro passed a small vent. At first he simply glimpsed into the room beyond the grating, until it registered in his mind that he had seen flowers. He stopped abruptly and looked back to the room, which appeared to be a small atrium. There were hundreds of plants; big, small, in all colors and all shapes. And in the middle of the marble floor stood a girl with a lily in her hair, humming to herself and watering a fern that sat in front of her.
“Lilia…,” he whispered to himself. She continued to hum.
He was overwhelmed with a sense of peace, staring at her in the middle of those flowers. The air was so pure inside; crisp and clean. The colors were so bright, vivacious and inspiring. And her eyes were soft and kind, filled with serenity and untouched, unspoken dreams.
The place intoxicated his mind, it was so beautiful. He knew if he could, he would stay there for hours, even if it was just looking through a grating at the flowers. When his eyes went back to rest on the girl, he found himself asking questions, wondering what she was like, how old she was… if she was lonely.
The boy stared until Seiran tugged his pant leg. Reluctantly, Shiro nodded and followed the Duelist down, down into the depths of the Earth once again.
Murasaki and Shiro sparred diligently on Thursday evening in the Theater, steel clanging against steel and sweat pouring.
“Sir…,” Shiro gasped between breaths as he parried and lunged, “I have a question for you.”
“Another… question?” Murasaki asked as he spun around and blocked another lunge. “Why am I not surprised?”
Shiro smiled. “When will I get to really learn about the Kaisen? I read that book you gave me, and Juuni‘s taught me things… but when can I start working with the other foot soldiers? When can I start learning the right way?”
“Ah, yes, well… as to that,” — another parry — “Once you retrieve the information that Kuro Ouji requires from the Curator, then I am sure that you will settle into the normal way of Revolutionist life. I daresay there has not been much time for you to,” — a cross advance to the left, then a counter attack — “See how we normally go about things.”
“Yeah, you could say that,” Shiro answered.
Murasaki huffed angrily and stopped fighting; stretching out his shoulders and arms.
“What utter foolishness to let untrained soldiers enter the Kikai without a second thought! I swore on the day this started it meant our downfall…”
“Are you okay, Murasaki?”
“Yes, I am just stretching my muscles.”
“No, I mean, you’re like, yelling. I’ve never heard you so angry about something.”
Murasaki’s eyes grew wide. “A well-oiled machine needs to have all the gears fit together perfectly! That is a Revolutionist creed, Shiro san. We all fit so well together when we first enter the Garden as a soldier because we are all trained the same way! We all have the same knowledge base, so we all can depend on each other to… What, pray tell, is so amusing?”
Shiro laughed, “This is a pet peeve of yours, isn’t it?”
“N-not only mine!” Murasaki stuttered, trying pointlessly to justify his passion on the subject. “It is what has kept us alive for all these years… it is what keeps us on top of the dog pile, to coin a phrase. But, if you will forgive me, ever since you arrived, our strict rules about such things have been slipping. If we cannot take the time to do things properly, we might as well not do them at all!”
Murasaki panted, still restless after his tangent. Shiro laughed again and patted him on the shoulder.
“I promise I won‘t mess things up too much, sir.”
Through the side doors, Ichiko and Niko floated, bowing low to Murasaki, saying nothing. When he spotted them, he perked up and exclaimed, “Ah! Yes. It is almost time for the Ivory Dragon meeting. Come, then. Walk with me, if you will, Shiro. Thank you, ladies, for reminding me.”
“Yes, Murasaki,” they chirped in unison. Then they left as quickly as they had come.
“At least this way you will not be late,” Murasaki smirked. Shiro half-smiled in return.
“About the girls…,” he mused as they walked up the stairs, “Who are they, exactly?”
“Surely you know their names by now,” Murasaki teased.
“Murasaki…,” Shiro whined.
“They are… whoever and whatever you wish them to be. Shadows on the wall. I do not believe they even spoke until the Kuro invasion seven years ago, when Midori saved them.”
“Saved them? How did he save them?”
“…You have too many questions, Shiro.”
Shiro twisted his face in reply. “Aw, come on, sir! You can’t cop out on this one.”
Murasaki sneered, but relented.
“When Kuro raided the Garden with his band of mercenaries — the very earliest incarnation of the Venom of God — the Shadows were in their rooms at the Edge of the World; waiting, in case Kuro Ouji should need them. I remember the alarm sounded, and, according to them, they very foolishly ran outside to see if they could be of any help to any of us. I have told them, time and again, to stay hidden when there is danger. They are practically children — they cannot defend themselves and will only be in our way. But, I digress… let us see, where was I? Ah, yes. They were running towards the Fountain when Kuro’s men caught them… a few more moments and they would have been raped and killed, I am sure. Midori was running down to help Konjou. She was in the Chapel defending the doors alone — there were at least ten men, including Kuro, surrounding her…”
“Midori stopped on the way to the Chapel to help Ichiko and Niko...”
“Yes. And in so doing, he left Konjou to fight Kuro on her own… they took a cheap shot at her, to put it bluntly. One man in the corner of the room fired a pistol into her stomach, and in that moment, Kuro ran her through with his sword. And that was the end of my dear friend.”
“How do you know all this? And where were the rest of the Duelists?”
“There are security cameras all around the Garden. You of all people should be aware of that, and if you were not, I am sincerely worried about the Garden’s safety.”
Murasaki’s lip curled at Shiro. Shiro stuck his tongue out.
“I wasn‘t sure you had cameras back then.”
“It’s a legitimate excuse!”
“…As to where the rest of us were, well… there was a war going on. Kuro’s men were flooding in the entrances endlessly… all would have been lost, if it had not have been for Kiiro.”
“He set off the self destruct system for the Garden, which causes the ceiling to collapse. Nearly all of Kuro’s men were crushed, but Kuro himself managed to escape somehow. All our soldiers also escaped since Kiiro gave us all the signal to leave well in advance.
“Kuro fled to New York, where he rules the OverWorld and the UnderWorld unconditionally, as the leader of the Venom of God. We lost all our work, naturally. We had to completely rebuild the Garden, except for a few of the main rooms that are not connected to the self destruct system, such as the Edge of the World and the Treasury.”
“Kuro Ouji was in the Edge of the World, you said. That means he was trapped underground until you could build new tunnels to get to him!”
“Yes, as well as Midori. He had taken the body of Konjou with him into the First Layer. The doors had opened mysteriously for him, and he went inside, unaware that in a few moments the tunnels would all be collapsed and he would be imprisoned in the Earth for three days. He had not received the signal from Kiiro since his belt light had been broken.”
“How did you get that far down into the ground in just three days?”
“Anything can be done quickly when you have the right tools to execute it.”
“I guess that’s true.”
“The point of the story is that the Shadows… love… Kuro Ouji dearly, hardly thinking of anyone nor anything else. Not even Midori, who has saved their lives. Oh, they thanked him obviously… they are grateful. I recall that was the very reason they began speaking — they wanted to voice their appreciation. But when one is standing next to Kuro Ouji, one does not exist in their eyes. He is all that matters to them.”
“Does he… sleep with them?”
“Shiro… that is a fairly rude question.”
“But do they…?”
“…I would assume so as well, but I am not sure exactly. If he does, it is probably because they insist on it, they worship him so. My master does not enjoy reveling in carnal pleasures as most humans do. He mostly just enjoys the taste of lips, or the smell of sweat, more like an animal than a man. He has very keen senses. He can hear me calling his name from a kilometer away.”
“That makes it easy if you’re in trouble, huh?”
“Yes… yes it does.”
They walked in silence for a while as the boy mulled over his teacher’s words.
Now that I think about it… he left his clothes on the entire time… just like with Murasaki… and he wouldn’t let me touch him or even look at him… he seemed only to enjoy it when we kissed… or when he… tasted me…
“You look flushed. Are you ill again?” Murasaki asked, abruptly pressing his hand to his forehead. In great alarm, Shiro jumped, seeing the head Duelist so close to him all of a sudden.
“You feel warm. We do not wish to have you relapse. Perhaps you returned to the Kikai too quickly… yes — perhaps you should lie down?”
“No! I mean… no, sir… I don’t want to miss the meeting. To be honest… I want to do well in the raid.”
Murasaki smiled. “My heart is pleased to hear you say that, Shiro.”
Together they entered the Fountain, where giant, detailed maps were draped up like curtains on the far wall. The Revolutionists had once again taken the benches from the Lodge so they could sit and watch the presentation. The Shadows draped themselves all over their master as he/it took a seat on the throne. Ten seemed almost angry tonight, however, in his/its apathy, as if the beautiful girls were more of an annoyance rather than a pleasure.
Murasaki began quickly, handing out packets of plans to each of the minor leaders in the Revolutionists — Juuni, Shijuushi, and finally Midori, since he was second-in-command of the Duelists. Both Kiiro and Daidaiiro were present. The red scarf was still tied around Kiiro’s face, and still it did not cross Shiro’s mind to think why Kiiro was wearing it.
Not knowing if he should go sit by Midori and Seiran or by his fellow foot soldiers, he decided for the latter out of respect and sat down next to Juuni. Juuni smiled at him.
“There are two bridges on either side of the entrance to the Dragons’ lair… the intermediates will take the red route to the west bridge here, their branch B snipers hiding in the rubble here to cover branch A warriors…,” Murasaki began.
“How ya doing? Still feeling okay?” Juuni whispered.
“Yeah, fine. What position do we take?”
“Foot soldier branch A warriors take the blue route at 01:15, but branch B snipers (that’s you) stop here on the route to cover us from a safe distance, just like intermeds on the west side.”
“What about the Duelists?”
“The Duelists and I,” Murasaki continued, “will wait until 01:30 when tactic yellow goes into effect. We will attack from the hidden entrance to the south after it has come to fruition. Juuni, I am going to need you to move ahead at 01:05 to cover the hardware, while Shiro and Kiiro set up their explosives. Travel light, and do not bring your gas masks. There will be no need for overly complex chemical tactics for this battle, as the Dragons are an easy match once their defenses are down; what is more, they do not believe in using chemical warfare.
“The Dragon vaults are located 1.3 kilometers underground at these coordinates. At 02:00, foot solider branch C will pull the carts from over this hill. Midori san has already arranged for the carts to be stationed there, so intermediate branch C need not worry about taking them tomorrow. Both C branches will meet up here and work together to load up as much as they can carry. Take from their food stores mostly — money is your second priority. Then head out immediately. Make sure you do not wait for the rest of the Revolutionists to join you. Leave as soon as you are able.”
A third of the intermediates and a third of the foot soldiers nodded their heads in agreement. Shiro half-listened, trying hard to picture the attack plan in his head, but it was a little hard to grasp. He then happened to glance up at the Mass of Contradictions, who was staring directly at him.
This almost made him jump in surprise, but a cold shiver delightfully swallowed him as the Eye burned into him.
The world faded into the background. Murasaki’s words became dull echoes. The only thing that existed was that great and fascinating Eye…
“Shiro! Shiro!” Murasaki snapped.
“Wha? Yes, sir!” The boy shot up out of his seat as the Revolutionists laughed. Murasaki rubbed his temples.
“You will travel with Kiiro from the start and will only rejoin your branch once he no longer requires your aid. You will once again act as the tech for this mission. Is that understood?”
“Yes, yes sir. Understood.”
The boy nervously looked away from the head Duelist and back at Ten. The Eye pierced his mind with an order.
The Mass of Contradictions walked out.
Shiro, once the attention of the crowd was fully away from him, followed. Murasaki watched.
“What do you do at the Edge of the World? What’s in the other layer?” Shiro asked the Prince lazily. Together they rested in the Sanctuary, staring at the ceiling, Shiro exposed completely while the Angel shielded himself perfectly in covering black. Their arms were entangled and sticky with sweat. The boy breathed heavily, his cheeks flushed. Seiran’s pennywhistle played softly somewhere in the distance.
“Dhe Edge of dhe Vorld… it is vhere I rest… dhe only place I can truly find peace. I do not sleep, and I cannot eat, so I must regenerate dhere. Vhen I am vounded, I must rest longer to heal. If somevone vere to find me vhile I rested… I vould be helpless before dhem.”
“That’s why Konjou died, isn’t it?” Shiro asked. “She was making sure you stayed safe.”
“She vas protecting somevone else, really,” the Prince answered. For a while, the look in his Eye was very far away.
Shiro rolled over on his stomach, lacing his fingers in between the Angel’s. Playing with his hand for a few moments, he saw a burn mark he had never noticed before on his left wrist. He pulled down the sleeve, revealing a letter seared deeply into the cold skin. It was the letter ‘A.’
“What’s this? What does it mean?”
The Prince smiled. “I vas a slave vonce, and dhat mark vas put on me to claim me, to make my life my captor’s and not my own. But vhen I look at it now, it has taken on its own meaning. It is now dhe symbol of… betrayal.”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you ever read an old story called ‘Dhe Scarlet letter?’”
Shiro shook his head.
“It is a story of a voman who must for dhe rest of her days be branded for following her heart.”
“I don’t understand…”
“I hope you never do.”
“Why is that?”
“It is a terrible thing to understand. Remember, dove, not everydhing is vordh knowing in dhe vorld. Ignorance is surely bliss, in some instances.”
Shiro looked into the Great Eye with his brow knitted.
“Why did you put this on me, then?” He pointed to the place where the ’A’ mark on his chest was just barely visible. “Why do you put it on everyone?”
The Prince sighed but would not speak.
Shiro laid his head in the Prince’s lap. “Why so many secrets…”
“I have a gift for you, my little vhite soul,” the Prince interrupted. He reached into the bedside table’s drawer.
Shiro watched him tentatively and saw the Angel pull out a silver armband, designed like a thorny branch. It was identical to his own, though it was not gold. The boy recalled that Kiiro also wore one of silver, and wondered if any of the other Revolutionists wore them, too.
The Prince closed the drawer, held up the boy’s left arm, and slid it on gingerly.
It was very tight and pressed down deeply into his arm, but in this way, it was rather comforting.
“What does it mean?” he asked
“Vear it for me. And don’t take it off for any reason,” the Angel answered.
Shiro nodded quickly and curled up into his arms. “Of course I will.”
After a pause, the boy‘s mind was restless again.
“Are you worried at all about the raid?” he asked. “Do you think it’ll go smoothly?”
“As silk, my dove. Are you afraid?”
A small, cold and yet warm laugh. “Have faith in me, Радость моя. Please.”
“Yes. I will believe in you, my Ouji… my… master…”
Late that night Midori was sitting in his bedroom in the dark, watching a computer screen replay a security video over and over again. It showed an image of a blonde-haired woman running into what looked like the Chapel. She looked around the room and, finding herself quite alone, she took the Book of Woes and walked over to one of the stained-glass windows. She then took a piece of loose glass out of its frame and slid the Book inside the hole, replacing the glass and hiding it flawlessly.
She started to pull the pews toward the Edge of the World’s doors, stacking them vertically against them. The video had no sound, but it looked like she was yelling something at the doors, trying to tell someone beyond it, perhaps, to stay inside. While she yelled, ten men including Kuro came slinking into the room, surrounding her in a semi-circle formation. Now trapped with her back to the doors and weaponless, she chose to draw her Revolutionist sword, whispering a quiet ’forgive me.’
Kuro said something to her… no matter how many times Midori watched the security tape, he couldn’t figure out what it was. Then they all attacked her, except for Kuro, who stood and watched.
She held her own quite well. Three men were down before one of them got smart about it and moved to the corner of the room, where he drew his pistol and fired.
Konjou tried to block the bullet with her blade while also trying to block a man from slicing her in two. The bullet hit her in the stomach — she winced and hunched forward, pressing the wound inwards, trying to stop the blood. She leaned against the doors, trying to recover enough to fight again, but Kuro had not given her the chance. The remaining men fell back and Kuro moved forward, taking his bloody Revolutionist sword and impaling her directly through her heart.
Midori’s fist clenched and he hit the table as Kuro walked away on the screen. His mercenary partners filed out after him, one by one. The look on the woman’s face was one of horrible shock and disbelief. She hadn’t wanted to die.
Midori then watched an image of himself run in, so fast that he had tumbled into the doorway and nearly fallen on the floor. He saw her, ran to her, tried to pull the sword out but it was stuck. So he collapsed on the ground next to her body, both of them slumped against the doors, him holding her and pleading for her to stay with him. She was already gone.
After ten minutes of sobbing on the floor, the younger Midori tried to pull the sword out again, and this time succeeded. Her body began to slump forward and he caught it just as one of the doors had creaked open. The pews had fallen over to the left. Picking her up, he walked inside, the door shutting itself behind him.
“Good evening Seiran, welcome to the Club.”
Seiran entered the main room and put his jacket on the coat rack next to the door. He heard the hum of the computer monitor, so he walked into the pitch black bedroom. Seeing Midori there, he sighed.
“What are you watching?”
Midori jumped a little and turned the monitor off. “Nothing important.”
“More secrets not for me?”
“Yah got yer own secrets that yah don’t tell me, baby. Like what y’an’ Gojuugo do every Tuesday.”
Seiran didn’t answer.
“As soon as yah tell me yers, I’ll tell yah mine.”
“If yah were sorry, yah’d tell me.”
Midori stood up and rubbed his neck. He went to stand by Seiran, who was leaning in the doorway. Seiran looked up at him and sighed.
“We never get a break, do we?”