What I dream is my own business and it shall remain that way. - = - Wings of Fate Chapter 5: Shadowplays By: Aaron Peori Started By: John Evans and Ardweden - = - So, now I am to tell my story, am I? Should I start with waking up in the morning and then some bland description of a 'normal' day? For me that would be impossible. The others may have chosen to live their lives of normalcy and complacency. They may cling to what they were before, but not I. I had accepted what I am. What I had become. I knew they would come to understand this as well, and that eventually they would accept it... if they lived. No, let me skip ahead to a more interesting situation. It was not long after Judou and I had left the others. The streets, as usual, were full of people and machines. Thier shadows mingled in the bright sunlight like pools of ink that shifted and writhed on the pavement before me. Buildings towered over the people beneath them, casting a protective pall of darkness over their lives. Occasionally we would pass a tree or bush or some other token effort to make the city seem less like the pre-fabircated and uttely natureless place it was. I didn't look up as I walked, so I saw nothing in the faces of the people around me. Judou walked beside me in silence. Occasionally I would glance up to orient myself. Finally I arrived at my destination. Judou stopped with me and took a lasting look around as I slipped into a dark corner nearby. When he turned to look for me he started and spent several seconds trying to find me. Eventually I relented and allowed my magic to reveal myself to him. He started at this and I smiled inwardly, even if my outward face remained calm. "Don't stand out there like a deer in the headlights, Judou," I informed him with a quiet, detached tone of voice. "Get in here." "What are we doing?" he said as he stepped in, he reflexively tugged at his nose. I silently invoked my Resonance again and sat watching the scene before me unfold. I had no time to answer his bothersome questions at the moment. My undivided attention needed to be on the landscape, lest I miss a vital clue. We had returned to the scene of the "incident". I watched as the police stretched a yellow tape, with warning written in kanji and English, around the bloody mark and grotesquely enlarged weeds that were the only physical evidence remaining. One of them was photographing the scene with the mindless precision of the well indoctrinated and another was slowly working his way through a group of eye-witnesses... taking statements or whatever it was they did. I grimaced as I realized the police would soon have quite a good description of Akari, and Shuukou. Still, what is done is done. "I thought you said that we were going to test your theories," Judou said into my ear. I dismissed him with a quick sideways look and went back to my investigation. Soon enough I spotted what I wanted. There was a van parked across the street, unmarked and painted in dull whites. Two people stood near it, quickly assembling the complicated audio/video equipment of the modern, two-minute, news bite. I grinned. "Judou," I said to catch his attention. "Could you approach that reporter? It would be very helpful if you presented yourself as a fan, with the usual gushing and such. Perhaps asks for his autograph. Once he is impressed he should be willing to interview and 'eye-witness' like yourself." "I'm not an eye-witness," he mumbled and pulled on his nose. "Of course not," I said smoothly. "He will ask you questions, describe the scene as best you can remember it from Shuukou's words. Then when he is finished request a business car... he may offer it himself. I hear that business people do this, it is something of a ritual with them. Perhaps it establishes pecking orders. Once you have it could you meet me back at my place." I paused and added a please as if it were an afterthought. He stared at me in silence for a few moments as I watched the scene some more. I carefully noted every feature and face, filing the information away in the back of my mind for retrieval and examination later. Finally he left to do what I asked. I don't know what happened exactly, I didn't follow him. Judou was competent enough and I could trust him to get what I needed. Having gotten what I came for, I left. I moved smoothly, unseen among the people of the city. I even took special care to practice a new Resonance that worked on plants as well as people. Let it not be said I do not learn after all. As I moved I thought. Tracking down whatever was after us was going to be difficult, much more difficult than any of the others realized. Whoever, or whatever, they were had probably been at this much longer then we had and thus were much more adept at hiding. Still, the fact that they had been willing to attack Shuukou and Akari in broad daylight in front of witnesses might be a good sign. It could mean they were desperate, that they needed to eliminate us now instead of later. That information was of little use to us until we found out -why- they were after us. I arrived at my destination no closer to any answers then when I had left, and, as such, I was in a bad mood. I looked up at the building whose shadow I had just entered and nodded. It hadn't changed much in the days since I had selected it not long ago. It would still do. The building was deserted, condemned and scheduled for demolition in a few days time according to the notice in the front. I circled it looking for all the usual signs of infestation, by vermin both human and otherwise. Finding only signs of rodent type I stepped up to a side entrance and put my hand over the lock. It was a simple matter to disable the lock with a quick spell. Letting the thing fall to the ground in the alley shadows with a muffled clank, I stepped inside. My eyes went quickly over the building and I noted that they had already cleared out all the lose debris and would probably start knocking out supports soon. They hadn't gotten that far yet, which meant there was nothing dangerous in the place at the moment. Relieved, I wandered the building until I found a room that was more or less intact. There was only one entrance, and that was really what I needed. Stepping over to the center of the room I began to work. Stepping into the Resonance was a profound thing for me. I did more than just casually touch it like the others, even Shuukou. I gave myself to it, immersed my spirit and mind in the flow of all things as the existed around me. It is hard to describe. Picture the world as a symphony, a million, billion notes all being played in the most complex and beautiful form that you could imagine. The song was awful and magnificent at the same time. Or, to put it better, it was beyond human concepts of such things. But within the music the various notes formed sections and verses. One could amplify those notes, with the right insight, and by doing so send changes repeling across the entire symphony. This was the Resonance, as I chose to call it. By finding your own unique Resonance you could shift from a note to an instrument, changing the composition of the symphony as it was played. I composed a masterpiece on the spot, one that only a very select individual would ever hear. The physical sign of my work was a diagram etched in the dust of the room. The symbol. when seen by lesser men, would tease at the mind. Its shape seemed to defy logic in some vague, unaccountable way. Still, it was necessary for my work. Finally I stepped back to examine my work. I was exhausted but I dared not rest now. This was my most vulnerable point-drained by my experience I would be easy prey for whatever forces worked against us. After a time, my energy returned and I could relax. I examined my work and nodded. It would do. I made my way back to my home and examined my wards to see if anyone had entered while I was absent. Seeing that only Judou had, I entered. He was sitting by on one of my chairs, absently playing with a rare and valuable piece of Inca statuary that I had acquired a few days ago, before all this had started. I stood in the doorway and looked at him until he noticed me and got uncomfortable enough to put down the statue. Relieved, but unwilling to show it, I stepped across the room and deposited myself in a chair across from his. "Why did you lie to the others?" Judou asked me straight out. His fingers twictched near his nose. "Ah," I said. "Coming to the point, how unlike you." He just stared at me until I felt the need to explain myself. "I didn't want the others involved in this," I told him bluntly. "I needed an excuse to separate you and myself from them and your comment about the uncontrollable nature of your powers served as an excuse, nothing more." "So you can't help me control my visions?" "You might well ask me to set the position of the sun in the sky, or juggle the stars," I sneered. "I can not teach you what you can do Judou. Each of us has a unique power, and only you can teach yourself how to use it. I could point you in the right direction, but I think you would not like the kind of roads you would have to travel. In time maybe..." I drifted off and sighed. "Time we do not have." "What did you want me to get this for then?" He produced a smallish rectangle of stockboard and handed it to me. I let my eyes wander over it. The name and the station are meaningless, but my awareness picked up the traces of the owner's music on it. I smiled and Judou began eyeing me like that time I suggested to him that we infect the physics professor's computer with a virus. "What are you up to?" "Something that the others wouldn't approve of," I said and turned the card over. I walked over to a nearby desk and opened one of the drawers. From this I retrieved a pen and block of ink. I stepped back over to the chair and began to carefully to prepare. As my hands busied themselves with their work while explained the rest of my plan to Judou. "Our counterparts, if they wish to remain secret, will have to find some way to explain away the incident our friends got into earlier today. Since they planned this, I think they have already completed their efforts in this respect. Now, in order to cover it up, they are going to have to control two things: the police and the media. The police are beyond our means to interfere with, but the media is another matter. My guess is they won't bother wasting more effort than they have to, which means they will make their moves on the reporters who investigated the disturbance directly instead of working on their higher-ups. That has the added bonus of leaving no real witnesses as well." "And what does this have to do with that card?" Judou asked. Sometimes, for a man with a mystical ancestry I would have killed to obtain, he could be incredibly dense in these regards. "I am going to use this card as an arcane connection to the reporter you took it from. I will invoke a magic with it that will cause him to be drawn to a certain place. There we may capture him and examine him in the hopes of finding clues to our conterparts plans, motives and identities." Judou looked at me in shock. The shadows on his face seemed painted on and stood out sharply against his suddenly pale skin. Finally he managed to grasp my intent and shook his head. "You can't do that!" he exclaimed. "You're right," I said. "I can't, not alone." "Huh?" "My skills are much further progressed than yours or any of the others," I replied. "But my talents lie in specific areas. In order to accomplish this I will need to assistance of one other..." "Kenchi," Judou said. "Quite," I said. "Why not invite him along directly?" "That would have made the girls suspicious," I shrugged. "I didn't want either of them involved in this plan." "Because you knew they would disapprove." "Because I did not want to waste time on needless arguments of petty morality." I began to draw a symbol onto the back of the card. A perfect reproduction of the one currently sitting in a room some kilometers distant. "You should be proud however Judou, it was you who gave me the idea of combining talents in the way I plan to." Judou was silent, the shadows from my meager lights making his clothes seem to blend seamlessly with the chair. The effect was vaguely unnerving, for my mind fancied I saw him perched, like a carrion bird awaiting my inevitable fall. I dismissed the flight of fancy as quickly as it occurred but wondered why it was I had dismissed such obvious signs of his true heritage for so long. A puzzle for another day perhaps. "When do we call Kenchi?" "Tonight," I said simply. - = - Eventually darkness crawled from the earth across the sky and the moon shone behind a thin shield of clouds. The city, if it did not sleep, at least it dreamed. I was in my study, tuning my old guitar and playing a few chords while I thought of less important things. Judou came into the room and looked at me with a smirk in his eyes that never reached his mouth. "I didn't know you still played that thing," he said conversationally. "You don't know much about me," I responded civilly. He nodded as if I had quoted some profound philosopher (if I had, I did so unconsciously). "I'm just surprised to see you doing something so... well, so normal I guess." I put down the guitar and allowed my irritation to show briefly on my face. "Would it make you feel better if you knew this was related to my magic?" "No, actually," he sighed. "I guess... I just..." I knew exactly what he meant. He had hoped he had caught me in an act of 'normalcy' and that this was a sign that he could become as skilled in his magic as I, and yet still remain essentially the same. I knew better than that, but then I had long ago stopped liking who I had been. Even before I had ceased to be him. No, I will not elaborate. "Is there some reason you chose to interupt me?" "Kenchi just called," he said. Ah, so that was who it had been. My wards had responded to the call but I had not yet perfected them to that level of sensitivity. "He'll be here in a few minutes. He was delayed because Shuukou, well, left." "Ah," I said. "More's the pity. Considering her condition, that is not strange." "Condition?" I looked at him. "Her magic has gained control of her," I said. "I fear for her soul." I picked up my guitar and began to tune the strings again. Judou jerked his nose ratrther violently and I could practically feel his eyes boring into me. I ignored him-it was easy, once you had enough practice. I was never going to end up like Shuukou, I had made that vow the moment I had seen her and sensed what she had become. I felt like the shadows burned into my skin at the mere thought of it. "What do you mean by that!" Judou stepped in front of me and towered in the light. The shadow of his form completely enveloped me and I had to admit he was a very imposing figure. "Explain yourself Soshi!" There was genuine concern in his voice. I felt a bit of guilt at that. Here he was concerned for her well-being and all I was doing was using her as a yardstick to measure failure. Under that, deep in the core, I felt something else, though. I didn't admit it at the time, and would not admit it for a long time to come. But I felt envy at that moment, and I am not afraid to admit that now. "You all think Shuukou and I are the most similar, in terms of connection to our talents," I sighed. "We are not-we are in fact opposites. I have control, but she chooses to relinquish it. She gives herself to the magic without knowing the risks. And there is nothing you or I can do to stop that. I believe she will realize her error eventually but there is always a chance..." I shrugged. "I should not have mentioned it." "No," Judou said with a growl, "You should have mentioned it sooner..." "We have no time for this Judou," I stood up. Unconsciously he stepped back to allow me room. "We have work this evening. Go let Kenchi in." A moment later there was a knock on the door. It didn't break the tension in the room as we stood facing one another. Already I regretted my words. But there was no way I could take them back, or make Judou understand without him coming to understand it in his own way. His shadow fell between us like a chasm and I realized that the rift between us had grown larger. I don't regret that... I still had what was important to me in the end, after all. I would have given up much more than friendship for what I acquired then. The knock came a second time, louder and more impatient. That broke Judou out of his position and he began towards the front door. Before leaving me he turned and with his eyes informed me that this was not over, it was merely delayed. Then he left me and I sunk back into my chair. I felt drained, but could not fathom why. - = - "You want me to what?" Kenchi was an extremely bright young man. Oh he may not look it, with his trendy demeanor and Joe Consumer attitude. After working with him so closely I knew that he was an intuitive and sensitive individual. His insights, when he came up with them, bordered on the genius. But there were times where he could be as dense as a diamond and twice as empty-headed. "I want you to help me force a man to a certain location," I began again. "I need you to..." "No," said Kenchi. "Forget the technical details. They just make my head hurt." He grinned at me and I just stared back until he grew uncomfortable and proceeded. "I mean the part about using my Gift on this card..." he waved the card at me. "I need eye-contact for something this big..." I sighed. "You've never heard of an arcane connection have you?" He shock his head. "Trust me," I repressed a laugh at that. "Just do this and it will work. Focus your magic at the card, picture the man who held it in your mind..." Of course I was lying. I was goign to be doing most of the work in terms of the connection here, I merely needed him to be receptive. "Okay." He stopped and glared at the card, as if expecting it to suddenly develop eyes, or perhaps to advise him of the nature of the gambit I was playing. The shadows on his face deepened as he bent away from the light and concentrated. I reached out with my still fledgling senses and felt his Resonance at work. It wasn't quite right, however. The Resonance I had amplified with my magic was not changing... "You're focusing inward," I told him. "Focus your 'Gift' on the card." He glared at me and then went back to doing what I said. I was relieved to see him beginning to catch on. Several minutes passed in tense silence as Kenchi continued to work his magic. I focused myself and drew my strength inward. Maintaining the magic while Kenchi worked on it was tiring. It was like someone was rubbing sandpaper against my skin, and the harsh pain served only to amplify my weariness all the more. Then suddenly he gasped, his eyes fixing on the card. I saw his pupils dilate as if suddenly exposed to a bright light. "It's working!" he whispered in awe. "I can see him! He's alone in a room and I can-" "Hurry," I interupted. "Look into his eyes and put the picture of the symbol in his head." I didn't know how much longer I could maintain the connection. I was weakening much more rapidly now. I almost felt as if Kenchi was... then it hit me. Kenchi was somehow drawing on MY strength, my reserves of will in some way. I dared not mention this, nor did I dare break the connection. But Kenchi had to finish quickly, or else he would drain me dry. "Wait," Kenchi said. "He isn't alone any more. There's someone... no SOMETHING with him!" The raw terror in his voice echoed across the room. "Soshi, break the connection! The thing can see us! Break it!" "I.." I could barely speak. Kenchi was struggling to retain himself and in that struggle was drawing more of my power. I couldn't tell him that only he could break the connection at this point. Then he screamed and leapt back. I felt the Resonance begin to unravel... and then something else. It was horrible and alien and for a moment I knew it, knew it better than I knew anything else. It was like a discord, a false note in the symphony. I wanted to scream but I couldn't even manage that. Then it came out, barreling through whatever mystic path I had opened for it and appearing in the room like an angel of wrath. I fell, numb and nearly lifeless, to the ground. I don't know if in those final seconds I screamed or not. I could not remember much. I remember seeing Judou try to come to my aid, but he found his path blocked by the thing. It towered over him, a writhing non-mass of living shadow. It stood in the room in defiance of all natural law, and I could feel the dissonance it created in the music of the world, much more clearly then the last time. The thing batted Judou away, sending him flying into one of my bookshelves. I heard a crack but could not take my eyes off the beast. It turned-I knew this despite seeing no change in its form-and came towards me. It was going to finish me off, I knew. Then strong hands grasped me and pulled me away. I looked with astonishment to see it was Kenchi, dragging me towards the wall. The thing seemed undeterred. It flowed across the room like an oil; in its wake, wood rotted and the carpet cracked and faded. "...help me you bastard!" I heard suddenly and realized the Kenchi was speaking. "What?" I managed. "You have to help me fight it!" "I..." I was too weak to fight. Too weak to do anything... unless. "Kenchi," I said in a voice I barely recognized as my own, so weak was it. "Hold my hand and look into my eyes. Don't question! Just look into them and concentrate..." I looked up and he looked down. Our gaze's locked and for a moment I felt his strange power. I felt drawn into those eyes, I wanted nothing more than to study them. I swore I could count each individual blood vessel and map the tiniest flaw. The play of light and shadow fascinated me, it still does even today. But I forced my way past that and managed, drawing on some inner reserve I didn't know I had to retain my sense. "Now... give me your strength!" "Wha..." I didn't let him finish. Instead I stretched out and performed my magic. I linked us, slowly unraveling the barriers between him and me. I took a tremendous risk, and normally I would not have tried this under the best of circumstances. But the old saying about desperate times must have some purpose after all. I felt his strength inside him, his will and I was, quite frankly amazed. Kenchi may seem weak on the surface, but underneath there was a core of iron that he probably didn't even realize he had. I latched onto it like a drowning man onto a log and drew it to me. He gasped, he could feel the strength draining out of him. I didn't care, I took more and more until I thought I would burst, until I felt like a thousand miniature lightning storms raged just under my skin. Then I turned on the beast, which was almost upon us. To this day I'm not quite sure what I did. All I know is that the thing stopped in its tracks, its form bound in place. Then I found something, a link between it and... someplace else. I grinned as an epiphany of understanding flooded my awareness. With a shout I blocked the connection... and with a quiet shriek the thing vanished. Then I was falling, down... and down into unconsciousness. - = - I awoke sometime later-I was not exactly sure how long. Judou was sitting in a chair across from where I lay. He looked at me as I began to rise and jerked his nose. "How long have I been out?" "All night," he said. "I thought you might be hurt..." He leaned over me. "I am fine," I hissed and pushed him away. I looked around and noted that Kenchi was lying on the ground not far away. "What of him?" "He's also been out all night," Judou answered. "Ah," I sat up. I was weary as I had ever been but I felt strangely alive as well. I had discovered a new facet of this magic. I now knew I could draw strength from others... and in that strength lay power. I barely remembered what I had done and realized that if asked to perform it again I might not be able to. Still, this filled me with a deep, burning pleasure. "He may be asleep a while longer." "What happened?" "Something terrible," I explained, "And something wonderful." I refused to explain further. - = - Author Notes: I apologize for the lateness. Point to note: This takes place -during- Chapter 3 (and thus, before Chapter 4), starting right after the meeting between the group in the cafe breaks up and ending sometime the next morning. Some of my pre-readers have said that some stuff in here doesn't make sense. Maybe it doens't. I have no time to write more to clarify (and don't think Soshi would either). Thanks go to John Evans and Scott Schimmel for pre-reading. And Dan Wood for posting this despite it being late. Send responses to me via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on the message board OR to the WoF mailing list.All forms of response are welcome.