Volume Four

Tatsumi, Watari, and Tsuzuki gather around Kachou, who selects their yearly vacation spot by throwing a dart at a map of Japan. They rejoice when he hits Hokkaidou--previous years they had wound up in such places as an uninhabited island or mid-ocean. Deciding to splurge for once, Kachou tells Tatsumi to arrange for them to stay at an expensive ryokan. Tsuzuki finds his partner to share the exciting news (though at first Hisoka misinterprets his burbling to mean he's been transferred...rather, demoted). Since they can't leave Enma-chou entirely deserted, the staff separates into groups of about six members each for the yearly trip. Tsuzuki tells Hisoka he'll be surprised when he meets the shinigami in charge of the Hokkaidou sector.

At that moment, the pair shows up, cooing over "Tsuzuki-chan" and saying they're in the same vacation group. Then they catch sight of Hisoka and go into raptures about how adorable he is. Tsuzuki introduces them as Saya and Yuma, mentioning that their one bad habit is that they plaster themselves all over anyone who catches their fancy, male or female. This time they've fixated on Hisoka, as sort of an initiation rite, though to the empath it's a hellish experience.

They arrive in Hokkaidou, hardly believing that the penny-pinching Tatsumi really did shell out the money for first-class lodgings. Tsuzuki and Watari burst into tears of happiness at the dinner. Saya and Yuma don't give Hisoka a moment's peace. Then they whip out the karaoke machine and start taking turns, though everyone sneaks out when Kachou takes over the microphone. Tsuzuki and Watari haul Tatsumi to the bath. Tsuzuki starts succumbing to the effects of his drinking, mentioning as he undresses how hot he feels. (The other two have to turn away quickly and remind themselves that they're *not* attracted to him...)

Watari comments that it's too bad Hisoka wouldn't join them, but the boy's not the social type. Tsuzuki muses that his partner has been quieter since their last mission, unwilling to talk about it. Then Saya and Yuma enter the women's side of the bath, holding a fully audible conversation about their breasts, to the stunned amazement of the three men. Just as the three decide to leave the bath, they encounter three large, talking animals wearing uniforms--a fox, a rabbit, and a crocodile.

Meanwhile, Hisoka is soaking in a separate bath, appreciating the solitude. He's lost in thought about how his body is frozen at age sixteen. No matter how much time passes, he'll look the same. Though he wants to catch up to Tsuzuki and be an equal, he's afraid he'll always be treated like a little boy. He starts to get out of the bath when he hears the others' shouts. (As soon as he comes running up, the Hokkaidou girls shriek over how cute he looks in a yukata.)

It turns out the talking animals are servants of the Snow Queen, an otherworldly monarch residing in Hokkaidou. (Tsuzuki and Watari had never heard of her, having spent their whole lives in southern Japan, but Saya and Yuma are good friends with her.) The animals are in a tizzy because their queen has vanished. Tsuzuki volunteers to help right away, but Tatsumi holds out for a bribe.

The shinigami are escorted to the Ice Castle (which, as it turns out, has modern heaters installed). The queen's servants are the spirits of animals killed by humans. They can't imagine a world without her. She was last seen the previous night by a maid. Suddenly Tsuzuki keels over, clutching his stomach...he's hungry again. He decides to fix something to eat, producing an apple pie. It looks normal enough, so the others agree to try it. Though Watari and Hisoka practically hurl on the spot, the two girls compliment him on it. They claim they had even eaten the muffins he had brought earlier.

They're lying, of course.

Thinking about it afterward, they realize they had brought the muffins to the Ice Castle on a visit and accidentally left them behind in the queen's room without trying them. But that was half a year ago, so they're sure the muffins must have been disposed of already.

The group goes to the fortuneteller for a divination of the queen's whereabouts, figuring it's better than searching blindly in the middle of the night. The fortuneteller, who's been into the sake, announces that the queen went west. They thereupon decide to go east, knowing the drunkard's predictions are always backward. However, to the east is a lake ruled by someone who detests the queen. The group splits up, leaving the girls to search the castle again (though they're reluctant to part with Hisoka).

It's a new moon, so it's pitch black outside. Hisoka admits he hates the dark. Tsuzuki offers him a hand, saying he has good night vision, but Hisoka explodes that he's being treated like a kid. They arrive at the lake, Hisoka using his powers to scan for the queen, when they're attacked by archers--Tsuzuki shielding Hisoka with his body. The ruler of the lake bluntly orders them to leave, and Tsuzuki takes exception to his tone. A battle ensues between the ruler and Tsuzuki's shikigami, Souryuu.

As the lake's ruler marvels that the lord of dragons would obey a human, Tsuzuki trips over a snowman--which is actually the queen. Their mission accomplished, they return to the castle. The Snow Queen reveals that the previous night she had discovered a box of sweets on her veranda. She could tell it had been there for a while, but she picked up the box anyway and went out for a midnight stroll. (Her servant suspects she just wanted to make sure she wouldn't have to share.) She began to eat the contents of the box, but it was the worst thing she had ever tasted and she fainted from the experience, remaining unconscious until they stumbled upon her.

Thus the matter ends, with the queen's servants negating the deal they had struck with Tatsumi because the shinigami had been responsible for the mess in the first place. Tatsumi blames poor Tsuzuki for the lack of profit. And Kachou is still singing karaoke.

* * *

The shinigami are gathered on New Year's Day for a game of karuta. (Since the loser has to treat the others to eel, Tsuzuki is well in the lead.) Watari isn't with them because he's trying to develop a certain concoction in his lab. Unfortunately, Tsuzuki makes a mistake in the game, so Tatsumi paints on him in punishment. They bring up that it's come time for the annual archery competition among the ten afterlife divisions. Each division puts together a team of three for a fierce contest.

Tsuzuki and Hisoka go to wish Watari a Happy New Year. Watari mentions that Hisoka is from a traditional warrior family--he would have been the 17th head of the family if he hadn't died--and he's been trained in the traditional arts, such as kendo, aikido, and archery. (Tsuzuki is shocked, since he hadn't known. Hisoka points out that he never asked.) Hisoka muses that his father had never wanted him for himself, caring only about having someone worthy to inherit his place.

The next day, as he's walking past the archery grounds, Hisoka notices someone practicing and pauses to watch. The archer catches sight of him and accuses him of being a spy from another division. The stranger is friendlier when Hisoka says he works for Enma-chou, but turns harsh when he hears the boy's name. "So...it's you... You're his...!!"

Later, Tatsumi reports that Kachou injured himself and can't compete as an archer, so he wants Tsuzuki to be on the team in his stead. (Hisoka was already a candidate.) He bribes Tsuzuki with all-you-can-eat fugu if he wins. They set out to practice, Hisoka demonstrating the proper form. Yet no matter how hard he tries, Tsuzuki not only can't hit a bull's-eye, he can't even get the arrow in the direction of the target. The stranger, Terazuma Hajime, shows up. He's the shinigami in charge of Fourth Area. He and Tsuzuki have a strong antagonism. (Tsuzuki had only agreed to be on the team after Tatsumi lied about Terazuma not participating.)

Tsuzuki reveals that Terazuma dislikes him because he has a great deal of power and still continues to work in Kyuushuu, where there's a relatively light workload. Terazuma figures that those with the most power should do the hardest work. Tsuzuki understands, but he knows that the harder jobs involve hurting people, and he can't handle that.

They meet up with one of the opposing teams, the three Kanawa sisters from Soutei-chou. They're the main competition. Terazuma's skill has resulted in their defeat for the past fifteen years. They're positive they can win this time, since Terazuma's teamed with a weak-looking boy. That gets Hisoka's dander up, and he becomes determined to pound some ability into his partner.

The day of the competition arrives. The goal is for each team's members to shoot three arrows at balls set up on poles, with more points for the most difficult targets. The team with the most points wins. In addition, there's a hazard of little envelopes in some balls with instructions on them that the archer has to follow or the team loses points. Gushoushin is the announcer, with the Earl as a special guest (come to stare hungrily at Tsuzuki). The Earl tells Tsuzuki he has wagered a great deal on Enma-chou, and if he loses then he'll call due what Tsuzuki owes him.

Terazuma's partner Kannuki shows up to cheer for him. Terazuma hates women, but he's fated to be stuck with her. The contest begins, both teams scoring high. Terazuma tells his teammates to watch out for dirty tricks. Just as Terazuma is about to shoot his second arrow, one of the sisters comes up and pats him. He jerks away in horror, but it's too late. The arrow doesn't hit his intended target, and he himself transforms into a monster at the touch of a woman. Kannuki slaps him with a ward to turn him back; that's why they're partners--she's the only one who can return him to normal. (However, it takes an hour for her to recharge her power afterward.)

In the ball Terazuma hit is an envelope with instructions that he has to give one of his teammates a hot kiss. (The Earl warns him not to do such a thing to "his" Tsuzuki.) Desperate not to lose any points, he picks Hisoka. Despite his distaste for kissing a boy, he figures it's his best bet, comparing Hisoka's features to a girl's. This proves his undoing, since he does such a good job of convincing himself that he transforms again. He's banished from the game immediately, leaving the team behind the competition.

Hisoka feels it's his responsibility to win. Unfortunately, as he's about to shoot, his bowstring snaps and injures his wrists. Terazuma insists it's sabotage, but he can't prove the sisters did it. Hisoka didn't care about winning, just as long as everyone did their best, but he refuses to be defeated by cheaters. Tsuzuki volunteers to make the final shot in his place, vowing to Hisoka that he'll get revenge. The sisters haven't planned to interfere with him, knowing his poor abilities.

Tsuzuki concentrates with the eyes of a beast aiming for his prey. He shoots.

He wins the competition for Enma-chou.

Later, resting on his laurels, Tsuzuki wants to take a vacation. Tatsumi reminds him that he's got a *long* way to go before he pays off the damage he caused earlier, and he'll keep working until he does. (And if he doesn't like it, he can always quit...) When Hisoka comments on how strict Tatsumi is, Watari responds that he has the power to back it up--he's stronger than Kachou.

And Tsuzuki dissolves into tears.

* * *

A high school boy named Okazaki was found dead, having been dumped into the sea. The body was severely damaged, presumed gnawed on by fish. The police are investigating, but they have no suspects and there's a bizarre puzzle: two fingers on the victim's left hand had been severed while he was still alive. Not only that, the body showed traces of multiple scars in places not usually visible, plus signs that someone had burned the words "My Eternal Lover" onto his back. The kicker is that Okazaki attended a Catholic boarding school, so the "lover" had to be someone from there. An all-boy school.

Enma-chou is involved because Okazaki's soul is missing. They'll leave the search for the murderer to the police and concentrate instead on locating the spirit. Hisoka goes undercover as a student, while Tsuzuki impersonates a priest. (The boys marvel at how young and nice he seems.) Hisoka listens to the gossip, which involves speculation that there had been another victim besides Okazaki (who had been the student body president), but that the body hasn't been uncovered. Another student, Tsukiori, chides them for holding a personal conversation while the priest is talking.

Tsuzuki is exhausted after Mass (wondering why the Bible has to be written in such small, hard-to-read characters). He meets up with a man named Mitani who teaches the history of Jesus' life. Tsuzuki gets the impression he's a little odd. Mitani tells him the school is famous for its stained glass windows, and he always comes to admire them when he doesn't have class. Tsuzuki asks him what sickness his predecessor had died from, and Mitani admits that he had really been poisoned.

Hisoka hears that, though the dormitory heads are usually seniors, there is an exception made for duels. Tsukiori, a junior, got to be dorm head by defeating the previous one in combat. Just then a boy named Fujisawa comes up to them and says there's a rumor about Tsukiori. However, he changes topics and says that a girly boy like Hisoka is just begging to be raped. Hisoka refuses to take the bait, and Fujisawa goes away, bored. Hisoka asks his roommate more about the aforementioned rumor.

Hisoka reports to Tsuzuki that, among the students, there are three strong leaders: the student body president (Okazaki), the vice-president (Fujisawa), and the dorm head (Tsukiori). Any of the students who stand against one of them are chased from the school, and the teachers ignore it because they don't want to put their jobs in jeopardy. The three themselves are fierce rivals. The one who gained the most from Okazaki's death was Fujisawa, because he could then become president. Not only that, Okazaki and Fujisawa were apparently in love with the same person; now Fujisawa can have him all to himself. Tsukiori is rumored to be some kind of cultist, with the power to curse people just by looking at them. (Tsuzuki: "Hisoka... If you're scared, you can sleep with me.")

Hisoka goes to examine the spot where the body was supposedly tossed into the sea, but it looks like too far a distance to have been possible. When Mitani catches him out so late at night, he pretends he had just gotten lost. Mitani warns him against wandering excessively until the police solve the case, to which Hisoka replies that he had heard the murderer was the victim's male lover. Mitani gives him a tongue-lashing, assuring him that none of the boys at a Catholic school would do such a dirty thing that God had forbidden. (Meaning the homosexual part, not the murder, of course.) Then he makes an abrupt U-turn and softly asks why God would give people such feelings for each other if they weren't meant to be acted upon. Watching, Tsukiori murmurs a prayer, "God save me, God help me."

Later that night, Fujisawa is having sex with another man. He says he knows the other person murdered Okazaki, but he doesn't care. The other now belongs to him, his eternal lover. Without warning, the man kills Fujisawa with a huge blade. Tsuzuki comes running when the body is discovered, noticing that the fingers had been severed just like in the previous case. Hisoka sees Tsukiori looking extremely smug. Tsuzuki wonders why the bodies are dumped in the sea, when they'll found the next morning--it's not as if the killer is hiding them.

Tsukiori calls Hisoka's roommate away and then sneaks into Hisoka's room, chanting the same prayer as before. This time Tsukiori adds a part about banishing the calamity that comes from the sea. With a sword held up to strike the sleeping Hisoka, the prayer finishes, "Cleanse me with the blood of this lamb." Luckily Hisoka awakens in time to defend himself, but he accidentally uses his power to block the sword. Tsukiori chides him, asking, "Didn't Tsuzuki-san teach you you're supposed to act like a normal human when you're in the middle of an investigation?" She introduces herself as a demon hunter, and she knows exactly who he is.

Mitani comes to Tsuzuki to make a confession. He asks if Tsuzuki knows why God forbade homosexuality. His answer is that God placed everything on earth for a reason, and continuing life is part of that reason, yet same-sex pairings can't produce anything for a new generation. God forbade it because it was pointless. Even so, he broke that restriction. He reveals that he's the one who killed the two students.

Okazaki had developed feelings for him a long time ago. At first he resisted, but finally he gave in and they began a relationship. Then Mitani started having doubts about whether he was doing the right thing, and Okazaki noticed his hesitation. In order to heighten his own experience, Okazaki began mutilating himself during sex, saying it felt much better that way. He made the cuts where no one would see them, and he even severed his own fingers. Mitani was desperate to stop him, but it only got worse, until one night his actions resulted in his own death. Mitani feels as if he might as well be the murderer, it was all his fault. Tsuzuki says he understands; he once had a forbidden love, a long time ago.

Tsukiori tells Hisoka that Enma had sent her on a secret mission to protect Tsuzuki, who is being targeted by demons because of what he did to Sargatanis. They want the status it will give them to defeat the one who killed such a powerful demon. The one who has succeeded Sargatanis' place has come after him, tied up in the murder case. Mitani goes on to say that he had confessed to the previous priest, but when the police began investigating, he used the poison because he was afraid his complicity would be uncovered. He maintains that he hadn't dumped the bodies in the sea, however.

Tatsumi suddenly beeps Tsuzuki and announces that it's an emergency, Okazaki's body has disappeared from the police. At that moment, the body appears at the window. He informs Mitani that he's not going away, he's not dead yet. Tsuzuki tries to warn Mitani to keep away, but he won't, and the demon possessing Okazaki attacks him. Tsukiori comes running up to fight the demon. Heavily wounded, Mitani curls up against the wall, wishing he could have had the self-confidence to tell Okazaki that he really loved him.

The demon had manipulated the whole situation entirely to bring Tsuzuki into his reach. He had granted Okazaki's desire to have Mitani in exchange for the boy's body and soul. He was the one who had moved the body into the sea. At hearing that, Tsuzuki explodes in rage, summoning up Suzaku and blasting the demon. He goes to Mitani, but it's too late. He gets hysterical, blaming himself for all the deaths, repeating that those he's involved with always die because of him. Finally Hisoka breaks into his litany and tells him it's not his fault. Tsuzuki holds the body and sobs, wondering if the place that Mitani turned his back on God to see was paradise after all.

End Volume 4

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