Volume Nine

The Earl throws a costume ball to celebrate the renovation of his mansion. Tatsumi promises to extend the invitation to anyone in the department with free time. Elsewhere, Wakaba baked a basket of goodies and offers them to Tsuzuki and Hisoka, since her own partner is nowhere to be found. Tsuzuki attempts to persuade her to join him (in the hope of getting sweets every day), at which Terazuma shows up to flatten him, yelling at Hisoka to teach his partner how to behave. Kazuma from the security division had borrowed him to help with shooting practice.

Kazuma deduces Wakaba's feelings instantly and guarantees that Terazuma really likes her. The conversation turns to the topic of the Earl's party. Konoe-kachou refuses to attend on the grounds that he doesn't want to chance meeting the head of the security department, whom he hates. The others figure the Earl won't care, as long as Tsuzuki attends. Tsuzuki is reluctant, remembering the trouble he got into the previous year when he fell into the Earl's book, but Tatsumi insists he should take advantage of the opportunity to relax and recover from the Kyoto escapade.

The boys show up at the mansion (in rented tuxes), amazed at the new look. The Earl greets them in a flamboyant costume, complete with different mask, declaring that Tsuzuki must have wanted badly to see him again to arrive exactly on time. This provokes Tatsumi into a heated exchange of insults. Finally the Earl begins the masquerade. Tsuzuki is far more impressed by the food than the blooming cherry blossoms.

Wakaba gets Tsuzuki to dance with her (because Terazuma won't). Hisoka asks why, and Terazuma blames it on his transformation, but the empath doesn't buy it. After a while, Hisoka sneaks away to escape the clamor. Spotting Watson in the corner, he becomes suspicious that the Earl is plotting to use the party as an excuse to collect what Tsuzuki owes him, when a scream echoes through the mansion. Everyone rushes to the Earl, who announces his mask has been stolen.

Terazuma, a former cop, takes command of the situation. The whole place had been locked up tight as soon as the ball started. Whoever took the Earl's everyday mask must still be in the building. Terazuma proclaims the criminal must be Tsuzuki, whose outstanding debt and sexual harassment grievances lead to the most obvious motive. He protests he was in the hall with everyone the whole time, so Terazuma shifts the blame to Hisoka. When Watson vouches for the boy, he accuses them of being in it together. (Terazuma's powers of deduction aren't nearly as good as his sharpshooting skill.)

Wakaba suggests that Hisoka use his empathic ability to locate the mental resonance of the thief in the room. He tries, but the Earl's resonance overpowers him. The remaining option is for them all to search. At first they don't want to work on their time off, but the Earl offers a reward, which boosts Tatsumi into action. They split up into three groups to scour the mansion. The Earl provides them with a change of clothes from his collection so they don't have to work in their party wear.

Terazuma and Tsuzuki are assigned to the basement. The Earl assures them it's not there, but they persist. After opening the door and staring, they're more than convinced. They proceed to the second floor guest rooms. To make better time, they search separately. Suddenly, Tsuzuki is confronted by an apparition of Muraki. It says Tsuzuki will never be able to forget what happened because he is most terrified of hurting another person, even if that person is someone he hates.

Muraki claims the shikigami Tsuzuki summoned chewed his arms off, rendering him useless as a doctor. He can't even hold and love Tsuzuki the way he wishes to...or kill him. As Tsuzuki cowers, petrified, Kazuma breaks down the door and shoots the apparition. It was an illusion born of the darkness in Tsuzuki's heart and the power of the life candles burning throughout the building. Tsuzuki knows his friends are worried about him, but try as hard as he might, he can't forget about the two girls who died because of him, not to mention Muraki.

The Earl comforts him by saying he shouldn't push himself to forget. It's due to his humanity that he has such feelings, and he's fine just the way he is. One day he'll be able to smile again as he did before, and it'll happen naturally. What the Earl doesn't say is how much Tsuzuki's existence has made his own life bearable. Merely seeing Tsuzuki's smile enables him to endure his eternal prison. He can't leave his mansion very easily, so he asks the other shinigami to be there by Tsuzuki's side to help him through all the hard times.

Terazuma charges onto the scene, the Earl's mask in hand. Wakaba found it tangled up in the costume she had changed into. The Earl concludes he must have misplaced it in the costume room while preparing for the ball. Tatsumi abruptly realizes that the crisis prevented them from finishing all the food (but, thrifty soul that he is, he came armed with Tupperware to carry the extra home). On the way back, Tsuzuki contemplates the Earl's words. The more he thinks about it, he gets a curiously familiar feeling, as if the Earl resembled someone. Back at the mansion, the Earl muses that Tsuzuki is his sole remaining treasure.

* * *

Hisoka practices his sword skills, remembering what Muraki's friend had told him about not being able to win through hatred. He's frustrated that it's the only thing he can feel for Muraki. It was his hatred that allowed him to live as long as he has, and he doesn't know what else to do. Kachou commends him on his dedication to training, wishing Tsuzuki would follow his example, but Hisoka protests. He knows Tsuzuki has already attained a huge amount of power, while he himself is weak. He wants more power to protect what's precious to him. Kachou suggests he should head to Gensoukai to find his own shikigami.

Meanwhile, Tsuzuki is arguing the same point with Tatsumi. Regardless of the shikigami's special capabilities, merely possessing one increases a shinigami's base level of power. Tatsumi isn't in a good mood to listen, however, as he's struggling with his computer that started acting up the night before. He decides to have Watari the mecha expert take a look at it. Tsuzuki is thinking along the lines that he's afraid he'll have a breakdown again as on the Kyoto mission, and it terrifies him that he might leave Hisoka with no protection. Tatsumi assures him he'll never let such a thing happen.

Hisoka informs his partner about his intention to acquire a shikigami, which quite pleases Tsuzuki. Hisoka is determined to get one that's incomparably strong. Tsuzuki takes him to Wakaba to open a door to Gensoukai--she's one of the four Gatekeepers who can do so. The Gatekeepers can be distinguished by the fact that their left and right eyes are two different colors. In modern times, Gensoukai exists on the 'Net, so she accesses it through her computer.

The two Gate Guardians, the raven brothers Kotarou and Kojirou, appear and greet her. They carry Tsuzuki and Hisoka through the Gate. Tsuzuki explains to his awed partner that Gensoukai used to exist alongside the human world, but with the progress of science it lost its place in people's hearts. The inhabitants moved to the realm of the electrical network instead.

Waiting back at Enma-chou, Watari works on Tatsumi's computer while Terazuma stews jealously over the way Wakaba chats happily with the Guardians. (The ravens are amused by his reaction.) Wakaba stands up for him, saying it's not his fault he's grumpy. He had wanted to rely only on his own talents, but his predecessor forced his shikigami upon him, resulting in an incomplete joining. If he ever lets his guard down, he's liable to transform into his shikigami against his will.

Tsuzuki sits Hisoka down and explains that there are two main types of shikigami. One is the summoned kind. They reside in Gensoukai and must be called by their master, which means it takes time for them to appear, and the master must have strong mental power to stabilize their corporeal forms. If the shikigami ever sees the master is as inferior, it can turn on him. All of Tsuzuki's shikigami are this type.

The other kind is a parasite. When the master is in danger, it acts of its own volition, depending on its abilities. Some attack the enemy, some heal wounds, and so forth. They can be commanded, but they ignore any commands they don't like. Because they reside inside the master's body, they appear much faster in a crisis, but they also consume a great deal of the master's energy. Terazuma's shikigami is the parasite type, and it's what causes his eye markings and pointed ears. Hisoka is left wondering if he'll be able to approach, even slightly, the power of someone who's mastered twelve of the highest ranking shikigami. He dreams of becoming a fitting match for his partner.

Tatsumi receives a work order for a problem in Terazuma's area. After he leaves to make the assignment, a fax arrives regarding an investigation request involving the Kurosaki family. Terazuma and Wakaba set off on their mission, though Wakaba has the unsettling feeling that something bad is going to happen.

Tsuzuki tried to lead Hisoka to meet his friends, but he forgot the way and got lost. They split up to search faster, yet Hisoka has never been to Gensoukai before and doesn't know where he's going anyway. Not even flying helps. Watari's having difficulty locating the problem on the computer. Tatsumi suspects it's some incompatibility between the hardware and the operating system that Watari had created. Watari decides to take it back to his lab to tinker with it, then checks whether the fax is for a job in his region. He's shocked to read further and see it's about Hisoka's family.

Despite flying, Hisoka winds up back where he started. A pair of blue-haired children greet him, the older one saying it's because he got caught in a loop meant to protect against invaders. The boy introduces himself as Kijin and advises Hisoka to head straight until he sees an information sign. He finishes by saying his words always become reality and spouts the prediction, "You will obtain exactly what you are wishing for here in Gensoukai. Believe in yourself. Go forward."

Hisoka is searching for the information sign when he encounters a blue-haired man who challenges him. The man claims that Hisoka brings wind-blown flower petals with him, which is bad luck, and accuses him of being an evil omen that calls catastrophe upon Gensoukai. Without hesitating another moment, he attacks. Fortunately, he's frozen just before his sword makes contact. A man with a long braid stopped the swordsman in a time pocket to save Hisoka.

Kijin comes running up and apologizes for his father's short temper. The swordsman is furious at the other man, Rikugou, when the time pocket dissolves, demanding that Hisoka be killed before it's too late. Hisoka suffers from a painful flashback to his childhood at those words and collapses. He envisions his father leading him to a grave and saying it's his. He awakens in a fancy bed with Rikugou tending to him. He receives another shock when he sees eyes opening on Rikugou's palm and forehead.

Meanwile Tsuzuki is still lost--and worse, hungry. He follows a butterfly, hoping it will show him which way to go. Behind him, a hand with clawed armor reaches for him. Rikugou apologizes for startling Hisoka, explaining that he generally keeps his extra four eyes closed so he won't scare anyone. Tatsumi is upset that they've been ordered to investigate the family of one of their own members. There's nothing he can do about it but recall Hisoka from his search.

As he takes his leave from Rikugou, Hisoka inquires about the location of a white tiger, red bird, or blue dragon. Rikugou suddenly realizes he's Tsuzuki's partner. He gives Hisoka a map showing where to go to track down Byakko or Suzaku. As the shinigami arrives at his destination, he's pounced from behind by an enthusiastic young man with cute fangs and a striped tail. Hisoka is stunned to discover it's Byakko in human form. Tsuzuki's progress is halted by the claws encircling his neck. It turns out to be Touda, protecting his master from stumbling into a crocodile pit trap. He reports that Tsuzuki's partner got in a fight with Souryuu, so Tsuzuki goes dashing off, praying Hisoka's safe.

The Kurosaki investigation is in Terazuma's area, but he's already on a separate mission. Despite Tatsumi's reasoning that it's best if Hisoka handles it, Kachou vetoes that idea and sends him and Watari instead. On top of not wanting to make Hisoka return to the family that rejected him, they can't open the Gensoukai Gate without Wakaba. When the pair arrives, Tatsumi is frustrated by his temporary partner's attitude of sightseeing. They get to the estate with nothing from the office to cover their identities, but luckily Watari is mistaken for an expected doctor due to his lab coat. They're taken to meet Nagare, Hisoka's father.

End Volume 9

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