Author's note: FoR characters belong to their creator, not me.

I have every intention of apologizing for taking so long with this chapter. I really had to balance writing and my studies. I do hope you understand. And I confess that when I wrote this chapter, it took a lot of time (a little research was necessary). But be assured that I wrote it with one hundred percent of my powers.

Just to clarify a few things. There was an event in chapter 1 that wasn't supposed to happen. Fuuko was not supposed to cry on Mi-chan. I didn't check because I was rushing to get home, it's my fault. Just pretend it didn't happen. I did a few revisions to chapter 1. You don't have to reread it, I just want you to forget you read anything about Fuu-chan crying. ;;

Khay is the beta-reader of this fic. Yeah! (makes a lot of noise) She always does a great job! And since I'm a fan of Khay, I've taken it upon myself to promote her latest fic, Metamorphosis. It rocks! If you're looking for a good read, you'll find it in her story.

By now, you're probably wondering what's in that gift. I'm supposed to reveal it in this chapter, but since I thought of employing a little suspense (I will probably mess things up, hehehe), I decided to prolong your agony and reveal it in the last chapter. Oh, but you can feel free to guess.

I use the poems to give you a foreshadow of what will happen in a particular chapter.

Okay. Enough ranting. Let's move on! (rubs hands together)

Oh, BTW, the (((((((((((((((((((((((()))))))))))))))))))))))))))))) means you're about to enter a flashback scene.

CHAPTER 2

The Coin

STRANGERS

Kaleidoscope of sound
Punctuated by a brief moment of clarity
Inspiration comes
As a blur of thought
Unconnected souls
Joined in time

Architecture seems animated
As the pulsing music flows
The background stops
Realigns and continues to spin
Unconnected souls
Move on

(c) Timothy Miller 2000

"Mi-chan," crossing over to where he was positioned near the edge of the terrace, she handed him a glass of wine. His eyes were immediately drawn to her, and he managed a nod as he received the glass fluke from her.

Fuuko leaned on the railing and stared at the city lights flickering from a distance. "Your apartment has the best view."

Mikagami took a small sip from his drink. "Your presence gives it justice." He placed his free hand on top of hers. She blushed. They both watched the stars and the city lights for a while.

"Do you want to open your gift?" he finally asked.

Fuuko grinned at him. "You know I do. But before that, there's something I'd like to show you." She dragged him by the hand to the bench on one end of the terrace. Her bag was nearby, waiting. She plopped down on the bench and unzipped the backpack, holding it open for him to see.

He sat down beside her and peered inside.

"I was going through some boxes in my closet, and guess what I found. Some stuff from the past." Fuuko said.

Tokiya reached inside and drew out a coin. "This looks oddly familiar." His eyes were seized by the long scratch on its surface.

"It should. You gave it to me, remember?"

He threw her a vague look. "I gave you a coin?"

Not on your own volition. She thought back in fond remembrance.

Fuuko shook her head at the pensive expression that clouded his eyes. "You have to go back to the first time you met Recca and me…"

(((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((()))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

She knew it was her opponent's every intention to break the orb of her beautiful fuujin. She knew because he was partially successful in his attempt to do so. She frowned as she noted the horizontal cracks that split across the glassy surface of her madogou. Simply unforgivable! She would not let him destroy it!

Fuuko passed a hand over the fuujin, and light burst out from it underneath her touch. Her hair whipped out in all directions as a tornado ascended slowly from the ground, encompassing her, but at the same time shielding her against any possible assault instigated by her adversary.

She could hear the voice of the strange woman, the provider of the powerful bracelet even though she was far away. "The end is nigh. She created a strong wind, and now it is beyond her control."

What will happen to Fuuko?" It was Recca's voice. Recca, her opponent. He splintered the fuujin.

Fuuko's hand strayed to her throat. She was suddenly finding it difficult to breathe.

"She will meet her demise in two minutes or less. Do you think it's easy for her to breathe in the midst of a tornado?" She heard the woman's voice once more, but she could not reconcile what she meant. All she cared about was to make Recca pay for the scars on her fuujin!

"Quit it, Fuuko! You'll get yourself killed!" Recca yelled at her.

"Why don't you just fight me, Recca?" Fuuko giggled mildly before she realized she needed more oxgen. She gasped for air.

 "Recca, your cap!" It was Domon's voice this time.

Fuuko was unaware that lying next to her left foot was Recca's orange cap. It had been spiraled up into the air by the force of the tornado and dropped into the tornado's peaceful center, where she was standing.

When she raised glazed eyes towards the sky, Recca's face crossed her line of vision for two seconds. Two seconds, and then fire consumed her view. The orb on her fuujin shattered into a million pieces, and the cubicle of wind collapsed to the ground.

Fuuko felt so weak that she couldn't stop herself from falling to the ground. She also felt like she had been released from a spell.

"It's not over yet." The strange woman was saying. "Now that I have a glimpse of your potentials, there will be other challenges you must overcome."

"It's over." Recca's voice bore traces of finality. His hands were clenched into fists. "For you, anyway."

"You cannot kill me." She said. To prove it, she produced a dagger and stabbed herself in the neck with it. But the blood that spurted out rushed back into the wound which eventually closed itself. "Even death cannot scathe me." She flashed them an enigmatic smile and vanished like a mist into the night.

###############

He stood in the farthest region of the school grounds, blanketed in the night, a silent witness to the scene.

The flame caster… the girl responsible for the wind tornados…the immortal woman… Mifuyu…

There was a missing link somewhere.

And Tokiya Mikagami vowed to find it.

##############

His mind was like a tempest, flooded with pictures of the battle the night before. He could not stop thinking about the possibility of a connection between his sister's murderers and the two teenagers who controlled the elements.

They could be involved.

Of course he didn't think they performed the act of murder, but he was convinced of a link somewhere.

Mikagami stepped out into the veranda of his house. As he glanced downward, he perceived, now disclosed before his eyes, the city in its early morning slumber. Mist hung just above the rooftops. No sound was audible. It was serene, peaceful.

He observed the pattern of houses lined in one neighborhood. So close. So intimately close. He thought of the people living inside those houses. Doubtless, there were families present inside. His thoughts drifted to the past, when he was no different from those that lived in the town he gazed upon. Once upon a time, he, too, had a home and a family.

His mind acknowledged the danger of the direction his thoughts inclined themselves in and dismissed them quickly before they created tumult. 

Mikagami turned his head away from the sight. He suddenly found it undesirable, the proximity of houses. 

He lived far away from the city. He would never be close to anyone. Never to a family, to a person, not as long as he lived.

Mifuyu's death killed his desire for contact. He knew he would never love again. 

############################

After an hour of searching, he finally found the flame caster on the school grounds. The flame caster was walking towards the opposite end of the field, whistling nonchalantly.

Mikagami approached him from the other end. When they met, he stopped the younger boy. "It's you." He said.

Recca looked confused for a second or two. Then his lips curled upwards into a smile. "Who'd you think? Of course it's me, I'm the man!"

Mikagami frowned.

"You don't get it? I'm Recca, the man! Therefore, Reccaman!" He flexed his muscles and struck grand superhero poses but stopped abruptly when it occurred to him that his companion was still not enlightened. "You STILL don't get it? You mean you haven't seen Yanagi's sketches? She was flashing them around during recess."

Mikagami had the sudden desire to hit the man. "Idle chitchat is not the purpose of this conversation."

Recca sweatdropped and used an index finger to scratch the back of his head. "Okay, so you want straight to the point. Now that you've found me, what do you want to talk about?"

Mikagami leveled his gaze with Recca's. "A recent incident that you're involved in."

Recca gasped, froze and turned white. "Noooooooo. You mean…" His eyes widened. "You know what I did to the principal's wig?"

"Not that, idiot."

A question mark appeared on top of Recca's head. His right eyebrow was raised. All of a sudden his eyes lit up with realization. He flicked a finger at Mikagami's chest. "You found out I copied all of Fuuko's homework?" his jaw dropped open.

There's no sense talking to this dolt. Mikagami thought. With one swift motion, he swiped Recca's finger away from his chest. "Even if you don't want to reveal it, I'll find out in due time. "  With that, he started to walk away.

"Who's that guy?"

Recca turned his head away from Mikagami's direction and almost jumped out of his skin when he discovered Yanagi and Fuuko standing next to him.

Recca sweatdropped. "Don't scare me like that, hime!"

Fuuko burst out laughing.

Yanagi apologized. "But you still didn't answer my question." She prodded, with a slight lift of the eyebrows. "It seems like he was threatening you." Yanagi looked worried as she pondered on this.

"Naaaah. He wanted to talk about something, but in the end decided not to." Recca explained.

Fuuko looked thoughtful. "That's Mikagami Tokiya, I think. Our sempai. He's a celebrity around here. They say he's got the brains, the looks, the cash, and he's practically perfect."

Recca rubbed the spot between his nose and his upper lip. "Yeah. The perfect pig."  He snorted. "The only thing he needs is an attitude adjustment. Plus a little unwinding."

Yanagi giggled softly. "But he is kind of cute, isn't he?"

"HIMEEEE!!!" Recca protested wildly.

Fuuko blinked, weighing the idea. Then a slow smile spread across her lips. "Yeah." she gave Yanagi a small wink.

Recca turned to her, dumbstruck. "And since when have you started thinking about men in a positive context? Weren't we always stupid, brainless morons good for nothing but fighting?"

Fuuko folded her arms and threw Recca a wry grin. "Baka. That comment was exclusively referring to you. You make it sound like I'm harboring a grudge against the entire male population, which I'm not."

Recca eyed her levelly. "Then how come you challenge every guy you see to a fight?"

Yanagi lingered by to watch the verbal jousting, much to her mirth.

Fuuko stuck her tongue out at him. "Those days are over and you know it." She finally realized that the only reason why she constantly raised hell on the school ground was to vent her frustration over not being Recca's hime. Now she had resigned herself to reality. Hime was Yanagi's title, and contrary to her earlier belief, Yanagi deserved it.

"So you won't fight, ever again?"

Not for the wrong reasons.

Fuuko started walking away. "It's a different battlefield now, Recca."

#################

Tokiya Mikagami was every bit annoyed. He had just met the flame caster who was either making a pathetic attempt at denying the truth about the battle in the school grounds the other night or just plain stupid not to have understood simple language.

He didn't have the time and patience to put up with such immature conversations. He simply needed to know if this Recca person could somehow lead him to his sister's murderers or not.

The first symptoms of a headache were imposing itself on him. He forced himself to focus on the text book instead. 

Fifteen minutes lapsed, and the bell finally rang.

Mikagami's stocky instructor looked up from the thick book of Organic Chemistry he was perusing and regarded the class. "Time's up, everybody. Get ready for a graded recitation tomorrow. Focus on what you've read just now, the salient details. Class dismissed."

Everybody burst into cheers because Organic Chemistry was the most boring subject in the curriculum. It had a reputation for the lengthiest reading assignments and class hours were generally spent rereading those chapters previously assigned.

Since the instructor for the next subject requested arranged a film-showing in the audio-visual room, the students had no reason to stay.

They were out of the door in no time, with no minimal noise accompanying their movements. Mikagami was the last to leave, and when he had organized his notes, students from the next class were already pouring in.

He hastened his movements, acutely aware of the stares thrown at him by the juniors.

When he got to the corridors, it was already clear of the regular chaos students created in order to get to the next class. Mikagami didn't have a next class. The library was his next destination.

A speck of a figure appeared on the farthest end of the corridor, moving towards him with an amazing velocity he never thought a human being to possess.

The figure morphed into a girl. "DAMN! I'm late!!" she yelled. Her voice had all the potentials of reaching the students on the fourth floor. She slowed down a few meters from him, panting. Her bag landed on the floor with a loud thump.

The girl started walking towards him, and that's when it crossed his mind that she looked very familiar. Purple hair, cobalt blue eyes, where had he seen her?

She had stopped catching her breath when she passed by him, but she was fanning herself with her right hand and dragging her bag by the strap with the other. The bag, he noticed, was violently scrubbing the floor. It reminded him of Achilles dragging Hector's body all over Greece by the leg.

Their eyes met for a brief moment before she walked past, and Mikagami made the connection. It was the girl who controlled the winds.

There was a thrill that accompanied the realization, but he chose to ignore it. Mikagami had already continued his pace when he heard her voice.

"Hey…"

He looked back and found that she was eyeing him in a speculating manner. "Aren't you… Mikagami Tokiya? What do you want from Recca, huh?"

Oh, it was definitely her. He was on the verge of telling her to mind her own business  when a new voice cut in, drifting out of the nearest classroom.

"MISS KIRISAWA! THIS IS THE THIRD TIME YOU'RE LATE! COME IN OR ELSE YOU'LL BE MARKED ABSENT!!!"

She gasped, looked towards the direction of the voice sheepishly, then turned to Mikagami and grumbled, "Some other time, sempai."

To his amazement, she waved at him as if they were long-lost friends before disappearing into the classroom.

Mikagami snorted and continued walking.

He made a mental note to stay out of her way.

#########################

He just could not believe his luck. Three days ago, he had confronted Recca Hanabishi, crossed paths with the wind yielder, and just a few minutes ago he had just concluded a meeting with the immortal woman. Kagero, she said her name was.

He knew her story. How she came to be immortal and how she would be bound to that curse for the rest of her days. He heard it on the night of the battle between wind and fire. The strange thing was, she knew his story as well. Mifuyu, the madogou he controlled, she identified them as if she had been the omniscient witness of his past.

She wanted him to fight Recca Hanabishi.

He sneered and refused her on the spot. He did not take orders from anyone, especially a woman.

How strange it was that he was finding himself more and more consumed with impatience these days. Each second of his life ticked with the prayer of catching his sister's murderer. It had been seven years after his sister's death. Seven long years and his thirst for revenge had not yet been quenched. No clues or any possible lead had surfaced.

However, it all changed after he met Kagero. 

Now he knew Recca Hanabishi was a possible link.

Mikagami followed him one afternoon, while Recca was on his way home from an errand his father sent him off to. It wasn't Mikagami's first time to tail Recca. Mikagami knew Recca wouldn't speak about anything outside the norm so he resorted to spy on the flame caster. It was a mundane task, watching Recca Hanabishi's every movement. He played pranks on his instructors, fought a lot with this brawny fellow named Domon, and there were talks about him being linked lately to this girl he insipidly called "hime", but Mikagami never saw the girl nor did he bother doing so.

Recca stopped directly in front of a fountain. He sighed and spoke to no one in particular, into the air. "Don't you have a life? What do you want? If you want a fight, you got it. Just ditch the shadows."

Mikagami's eyes narrowed to slits. He stepped out from the curtain of water, directly in front of the flame caster, a formidable aura encasing him. 

Recca dropped into a defensive stance. "I'd hate to see you lose."

Mikagami sneered. "You won't."

"Don't be so cocky." With a loud cry, Recca dashed towards him, throwing kicks and punches at his opponent like a madman. To his extreme frustration, all his efforts were unsuccessful. Mikagami dodged and averted each assault smoothly, that Recca was led to surmise his opponent possessed a background in martial arts.

 The skies thundered as Recca and Mikagami crashed into each other. Recca aimed a drop-kick at Mikagami's gut, but Mikagami blocked it effectively. The older boy jumped into the air and flipped backwards, landing gracefully on his heel. He eyed Recca condescendingly. "Pathetic. That's all you've got to show?"

Recca panted and spit into the ground. "I'm just warming up." He once again started an attack. This time, he managed to catch Mikagami in the chin after sending a chain of kicks in his direction.

Recca sniggered.

Mikagami frowned, and one second later, he was no longer standing in front of Recca. Recca felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise when he felt a presence behind him. Suddenly, he felt his arm being twisted. Pain consumed him.

Mikagami loosened his grip and flashed a portrait in front of his face. "Who killed her?" he demanded.

Recca's eyes widened as he gazed at the splitting image of the girl he had sworn to protect. "H…hime." He managed in a weak voice.

Mikagami kicked him to the ground, causing him to reel backwards. "You're an accomplice." he accused.

No sooner had the words left Mikagami's mouth, Recca was spinning towards one end of the field. He gritted his teeth at the impact of his face scratching against the cold cement as he crashed into the ground. He fell face first, bouncing as he dropped and when he mustered the strength to stagger back to his knees, blood was trickling down one side of his lips. He could feel smoldering pain in scattered portions of his face from the friction of the fall.

It took him quite a while, but he found the strength to open his eyes.

Mikagami was now standing at a considerable distance from him. Recca watched as he drew something out of his pocket and pointed it directly at the fountain.

The flame-caster gasped as the water from the fountain soared freely towards the item Mikagami was holding and formed what now appeared as an icy blade. Mikagami stretched the ice sword towards Recca until the tip of the blade touched his nose.

Recca recovered shortly from his state of shock and did a series of cartwheels backward, until he had established a safe distance between him and Mikagami. "Neat." He said, nodding towards the sword.

"Pretty dull for your last words." The other warrior said in a cold voice.

Recca sent a wave of fire in his direction. Mikagami evaded it easily. After a series of flames that kept missing its mark, Recca grew quite convinced that he couldn't compete with Mikagami's speed.

It's not working.

The flames, no matter how large in quantity, could not scorch Mikagami. 

Why? Recca racked his brain for an answer.

"It's futile. Water puts out fire. Even a kindergartner knows that." Mikagami said smugly.

Recca watched in horror as Mikagami loomed in front of him, a dark, sinister look forming in his eyes.

He cried out in pain as he felt the icy blade cut across his skin.

"Who killed her?" Mikagami bit out, impatience not obscured in his tone.

Recca clutched his bleeding arm and rolled on the ground in pain. "I don't know!"

"RECCA!"

Both men stopped at the new voice, eyes turning in the owner's direction. A girl with long, brown hair ran towards the fallen boy, her eyes filled with worry and fear.

Mikagami saw the girl and paled. The blade of the ensui turned to water and splattered on the ground.

She was Mifuyu's counterfeit.

#################

Mikagami was still fraught with disbelief after his second battle with Recca because of two reasons. First, he still couldn't get over the resemblance between his dead sister and Yanagi Sakoshita, Recca's alleged hime.  Secondly, he was finding it hard to forgive himself for losing to a half-wit, scrawny ninja wannabe.  

There was also a third reason why he was disturbed, but it was so trivial, so meaningless that he could merely dismiss it with a snap of the fingers. It wasn't the type of thing that nagged at his sleep, entered his dreams and seized his thoughts during the day, unlike the first two reasons.

It simply caught his attention.

It was just that he never, ever saw a girl look at him with pure, unadulterated hate.

The wind girl, it was she who had looked upon him that way as he made his way out of the house of mirrors.

##############

Of course, even though he would never be forced to admit it, he was drawn to the Sakoshita girl. Because she looked like his sister, she intrigued him. He meant it when he said he would kill Recca if he didn't protect her properly. The flame caster wasn't the only one who was willing to lay down his life for the healer.

That was the reason why when he learned that her life was in jeopardy, he was on his way to Kurei's mansion in no time.

Though it was hard for the average person to find his way around such a monitored, maze-like, trap-filled compound, it was no mean feat for Mikagami. He had just sent his fifth opponent (a hairy, deformed giant whom anyone can mistake for a tarantula) to the purgatory when he heard muffled voices from one of the rooms nearby.

Two sets of voices were low, and the third seemed to be groaning in agony.

Urgent, soft moans of three people who were unmistakably under the mercy of death.

Mikagami chose one door, kicked it open but it revealed nothing but misty darkness.

The ensui-wielder listened closely for the voices, followed them and broke into another room. His eyes widened as he saw a thick block of wall dropping down from the ceiling and three people underneath, attempting to hold up the wall, trying to delay it from squashing them.

They would never make it, unless he interfered.

He jumped into the air and made several diagonal cuts across the stone wall. It rained down in smaller disjointed units on the three teen-agers, who, fortunately, had used their arms as shields to cover their heads.

Mikagami found himself looking at Recca, the Kirisawa girl, and Domon Ishijima, the hefty, Mohawk-haired boy in the mirror house, whom he first identified with Recca when he fought Kirisawa.

They stared back at him in incredulity.

"Mikagami?" Recca mumbled. He ambled towards their savior and poked him testily in the arm. "Are you for real?" He blinked in wonder as the hero quickly placed one mile distance between himself and the ninja boy.

"Lay your filthy paws off my skin."

"It's really Mikagami! In the flesh!" Domon exclaimed. (here we go again, pun unintended)

Tokiya immediately regretted saving them.

Kirisawa's face suddenly appeared beneath his eyes, a large smile etched on her face. She flashed him a peace sign. "You have really good timing." She grinned. "Will you lend me your cool weapon?"

She apparently forgot, but Mikagami didn't, that she had no less than four days ago, thrown him a fatal death glare.

"No." he automatically refused.

She didn't seem to mind the rebuff but looked as if she had read his earlier thoughts. "Well, Mikagami, you're not the villain I thought you were after all." All humor vanished from her face, replaced by a pensive one.

Was that supposed to be an apology, or something?

Mikagami shrugged it off.

The four drifted into a short period of short silence, with three people basking with unspoken gratitude at the opportunity to be breathing and to be very much alive.

It was Recca who broke the silence. "So, what happens now?" He mumbled inanely.

"Idiot. Remember, Yanagi? We still to save her." Fuuko pounded a fist on his head.

Sense dawned on Recca. He jerked out of his stupor, his jaw falling open. "Hime. HIME. HIMEEEE." He suddenly remembered that his beloved was possibly being tortured at the moment. The panicked ninja broke into a run. "What are you waiting for? Let's go." He called over his shoulder.

Domon and Fuuko looked at each other, then transferred their gaze to Mikagami.

"Um, what about you? Are you coming?" Domon asked.

Mikagami shook his head. "I'll catch up. There's still unfinished business here."

Domon didn't look like he understood, but at Mikagami's prompting, he took off after Kirisawa.

Yes, Mikagami did have unfinished business to take care of. And it came in the form of Kaoru Koganei.

#####################

Everything was now officially back to usual. He defeated the kougan-anki wielder, Kaoru, and teamed up with Recca, Ishijima, and Kirisawa to fight Kurei. The masked flame-caster pronounced them all novices and was gracious enough to grant them more time to prepare for the next round, which he promised was coming soon. Yanagi Sakoshita, to his great relief, had not been seriously hurt.

Mikagami took Kurei's challenge seriously. After classes every afternoon, he trained for at least three hours in places where people couldn't see. Needless to say, his skill was reaching its peak.

"Mikagami Tokiyaaaaaaa!!!! Hey! Wait up!!"

An oddly familiar voice was clamoring like a broken record until Tokiya couldn't stand it any longer. He stopped and waited for the owner of the voice to catch up with him.

So, it was Fuuko Kirisawa. Some areas of her face were purple, probably from the combined impact of oxygen-deprivation (from running after him) and exhaustion (from screaming his name repetitively). He couldn't outrun her, he couldn't make her shut up, so he had to stop in order to make her.

She paused in front of him, flicking a finger at his chest. "What's the matter? Are you deaf or something?"

As usual, he did away with any response. He loomed in front of her, a towering presence. Then he looked her in the eye, an ominous glint reflecting in cerulean orbs. "Do not ever follow me around, Kirisawa."

Silence. He watched, satisfied, as her jaw dropped open. A few seconds more and she would storm out like other infuriating females who inconvenienced him and received the same treatment.

But to his consternation, she merely laughed off his reprimand. "And what do you think? That you're worth following around? Excuuuse me."

Mikagami let the comment slide. He thought that if she would just look around her, she would behold the mass of admirers in the vicinity who were studying his every movement. Yet Kirisawa, he noticed, was visually-challenged in some areas, as evidenced by the fact that she couldn't see that he obviously wanted to be left alone at the moment. "What do you want?" he used a frozen tone.

Fuuko's appeared stunned for a moment, but recovered quickly. "Look, Kagero asked us to take a trip to meet her in this place where she says she lives. Says she has important matters to disclose."

"Still doesn't explain why you're bothering me." He shot back.

Fuuko was not liking the exchange. People who threw biting statements at her usually wound up battered, bruised and lying unconscious in the garbage receptacle the next day. Tiny veins started popping all over her face. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and summoned her most civil tone. "Apparently, you're invited."

[Though I don't see why she would want you there.] She muttered underneath her breath.

Mikagami heard it but chose to ignore it.

"When?" he demanded.

"This weekend. Meet us before dawn at the city bridge, we'll give you a lift." She said in a mock, sugar-coated voice.

He could refuse instantly. Something inside him told him to do so. He did not want to get involved with Recca and the others ever again.

He glanced at her. She was still waiting for a response.

"I'll think about it."

"Fine." She threw him a look, then walked out.

He was so relieved she didn't wave.

####################

At exactly five-thirty-five the next morning, a van stopped in front of Mikagami, who was waiting by the steel bridge.

He knew he was making a risk. It was foolish to keep in contact with flame-caster and his gang (by now Mikagami knew Recca attracted danger like a magnet), but there were other possibilities he wanted to explore. Such as Kagero's "important matters to disclose". It could be, directly or inadvertently pertaining to Mifuyu in some way or another. Or to Kurei.

"Yo! Mikagami!" Domon's bass, cheerful voice greeted him. The door of the vehicle slid open to reveal his face. Recca, who was sitting next to him, nodded his head in acknowledgement as Mikagami slipped past their row.

He passed by Yanagi and Fuuko who were seated behind the boys. Fuuko, who had headphones on, was snoring softly on Yanagi's shoulder. Yanagi, on the other hand, was staring outside the window. One elbow rested on the window sill, and the hand was propping up her chin.

She tore her gaze away from the glass at the indication Mikagami's presence, said hello in a shy voice and resumed admiring the boats drifting through the waters below the bridge.

Mikagami found himself sitting alone in the back seat.

"Everybody, buckle your seatbelts!" The driver twisted from his seat to grin at them.

Mikagami recognized the driver's voice as that belonging to a faculty member who had been his instructor in History a year ago. He was, no doubt, the junior class' teacher now in the same subject.

"Thanks for letting us use your van and for driving us, Mr. Fumio." Recca said.

Ah. Tatesako Fumio.

The driver/instructor winked at the rearview mirror. "Don't mention it. How can I refuse one of my favorite students?"

"Aww…" Recca scratched his head and blushed.

He stepped on the accelerator, causing the van to jerk forward. Fifteen minutes later, they had driven past the city outskirts into the highway. Tatesako Fumio was whistling a tune from the 80's, which sounded oddly like a cross between the songs "Buttercup" and "Just Got Lucky". Behind him, Domon was chattering excitedly about the latest sumo wrestling match on television while Recca was nodding off sleep. The third row was quiet except for Fuuko's snores. Yanagi was still indulged in the scenery speeding past her outside the window. Mikagami was brooding in the back seat.

Twenty minutes drifted by without any racket. Mikagami was starting to enjoy the peace and quiet.

Fuuko yawned and stretched her hands high into the air.

Recca sighed. "Domon, I'm bored. Start singing."

 "Okay." Domon obliged instantly, to Mikagami's chagrin.

The bulky fellow cleared his throat, and belted out a tune. "This is the song that doesn't end…yes it goes on and on my friend." His voice was croaky, and Mikagami was surprised the windows didn't crack.

To his extreme annoyance, Recca joined in. "Some people started singing it not knowing what it was. And they'll continue singing it forever just because…"

"THIS IS THE SONG THAT DOESN'T END!" Fuuko chimed in.

And they continued singing the song for the rest of the trip. Mikagami was quite astonished that even Mr. Fumio and Yanagi joined in after a few rounds. It was a contagious tune with a happy-happy, bouncy melody. The longer they sang, the more enthusiastic and raucous they got. Creative juices flowed. Domon started to employ an echo. Fuuko made up a harmony. Tatesako Fumio started hitting the steering wheel in time to each beat as if it were a drum. The entire number (which seemed to last for eternity because apparently it had no end) was torment to Mikagami's ears and a threat to his sanity.

Finally, exhaustion set in and the aspiring singers decided to take a break (from singing).

Mikagami was already in a foul mood. To say he was irritated by all their noise was an understatement.

The break was short-lived. Recca and Domon were back in action, this time playing paper, scissors and stone in an earsplitting volume.

Mikagami couldn't stand it any longer. "Would you two numskulls just keep it down?" he snapped.

Fuuko's scream pierced the air. "There's someone in the backseat!" she gasped.

"It's Mikagami the wet blanket." Recca made a face and folded his arms, but nevertheless toned down completely. After he asked Yanagi if she was okay, he went off to nap.

Domon chose the moment to bug Mr. Fumio. They were bonding over Japanese food after a short while.

Meantime, Mikagami stared out the window aimlessly, collecting his cool. His eyes were averted when he noticed something, the upper half of girl's face rising from the top of the seat in front of him. Cobalt blue eyes peered at him. Two hands clutched portions of the seat covering for support. 

"Hey," she said tentatively.

Mikagami glared at her, then transferred his attention to the trees racing by outside his window.

"Are you okay?" Fuuko asked.

He wondered what would happen if he said no. He continued to ignore her, hoping she would get the hint and get lost.

Fuuko raised a bag of potato chips into the air for his inspection. "Want some?"

He eyed at her impatiently. Did he look like the type who ate junk food? He wanted to tell her to sit properly and stop annoying him because by doing so, she was also inconveniencing Yanagi, who was seating next to her.

He watched as she ripped the plastic bag open and shoved a handful of chips into her mouth. He was stunned at her lack of manners. Fuuko munched the chips loudly, swallowed and reached back into the bag for more.

Mikagami was irked.

Fuuko was still chewing when she suddenly remembered something. "Hey," she waved a large potato ridge in front of his face to get his attention. "Do you know Ryu and Keishi? They're your classmates. I beat them up three months ago 'coz they were spreading rumors about me being intimidated by them." she snorted, causing her to choke on a chip she just brought to her mouth.

"Fuuko, please sit up straight." Fumio's voice rang out from the front.

"Fuuko, darling, you're choking!" Domon started fussing over her at once.

Fuuko fell back into her seat, coughing violently. Yanagi immediately turned to her backpack and came up with a mineral water bottle. Fuuko took a long swig of the liquid and hurled the now empty bottle at Domon. "I'M NOT YOUR DARLING, MORON!"

Domon yelped in pain.

Mikagami frowned from the back seat. It was going to be a long trip.

#############

With a sigh, Mikagami tossed his backpack onto his bed and dropped down beside it. He was exhausted from the trip. One elbow rested on a knee, and he used its hand to hold up one side of his face.

Things were getting more and more complicated.

Because of this, on the way back home, the silence in the van was deafening. Everyone was preoccupied with their own thoughts regarding Kagehoushi's epiphany.

Kagehoushi dropped the bomb. Recca was her son. In her effort to save him from the raging war 400 years ago, she unlocked a forbidden portal—one which opened to the future. Recca was delivered into it, and so his life was spared. As for her, she had to endure the repercussion of her violation. She was well aware that she would be cursed all throughout eternity if she pursued with the speculated plan. To roam the earth a thousand years, a restless wanderer, never to taste death…that would be her punishment.

There was an uneasy hush around the table as the teen-agers listened earnestly.

 Afterwards, she launched into the history of Hokage. The Hokage was a tribe that existed long ago, known for its upright people, their flawless skills in manipulating weapons and the stiff laws of the land. They were unbeatable in the battlefield. And she, her real name was Kagero, was the wife of Reshin, it's lord and ruler. The other madogous, the ensui, the very item Mikagami's sister had told him to guard at her death, was crafted by a blacksmith of Hokage.

That's why you wanted me to protect it, Nee-san. He mused. Mikagami took the ensui out of his pocket and examined it closely. There was more to it than what met the eye. The orb in its center glistened. Mikagami turned it around for further inspection. He felt like he was looking at it for the first time.

"You—all of you—there's nothing accidental about your paths crossing. Your weapons chose you to be its owner, and your weapons are bound together. They had preordained that you would be fighting together, side by side."

Those were Kagero's exact words.    

As they were preparing to leave her abode, she had mentioned to him that if he really wanted answers to his questions, he should fight alongside Recca and the others in the upcoming UBS. She was persuaded that the killer could be among the spectators, if not an active participant in the event.

It didn't take Mikagami long to make his decision.

With his head was still reeling from the trip, he drew himself to his full height and walked outside his house towards the dark grounds, the ensui in one hand.

###########################

Two months later, and they were finally leaving for the UBS.

After a noisy and bumpy two-hour long ride, they decided to pull-over for a quick lunch break. Domon was inside the restaurant in no time. 

Recca and Yanagi followed at a more sedate pace.

"Hello, Ma'am, Sir! Welcome to Roadside Restaurant!" A chorus of voices greeted the two as their forms disappeared through the swinging doors.

Mikagami lagged behind but suddenly turned in another direction, towards the vending machine a few meters away from the door of the eatery. He was longing to quench his thirst. He slid a coin through the slot in the machine and solicited a mineral water bottle a few seconds later.

He uncapped it and drank steadily.

Mikagami replaced the cap of the bottle and spied Fuuko approaching from the opposite end.

She stopped in front of him and raised an eyebrow at the drink he had purchased. "Hey, why can't you be normal and get a coke like everyone else?"

"I'm a nonconformist." He said, dully. He had the sudden desire to leave.

"Hey, wait a minute." She stopped him. "Do you have change with you? I'm kind of short."

After she had affronted him by questioning his preferences, she asks him a favor. The nerve of this girl. He reached into his pocket, retrieved a coin, and tossed it in her direction.

"Thanks!" she caught it gracefully inside her fist. Fuuko's face fell when she opened her palm and stared at the value of the coin. "A yen? This amounts to nothing! What can this buy?" she glared daggers at him.

He smirked. "You might be surprised. It can probably buy you a life."

The bishounen turned around and made his exit.

((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((()))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

"That, love, was how beastly you were. " Fuuko said pleasantly.

Tokiya sent her a warning look. "I believe I was provoked."

Fuuko laughed and flipped the coin into the air, catching it expertly. "I remember I used to call you an insufferable ice block behind your back."

Tokiya eyed her levelly. "Word gets around."

Fuuko felt a pang of guilt at the idea of her label, even though it was true.

"So," Mikagami gave her a wry smile. "What else do you have in there?"

            ############

Just to show how much I appreciate those who reviewed, I'm letting you know by a message or two.

To those who urged me to get back on my feet and keep writing (zephyr, orange09), your encouragement led me to finish this chapter, so thanks ever so much! jojobilu, no, the previous chapter was not the end (is that a good thing or a bad thing?), and you may have to be tortured with lots of lovey-dovey stuff before you see the end of this. BTW, I think being a Tok-fuu fan is a good status (). Likewise with marisha, who told me she's a die-hard (ahh, another person who feels the same intensity for the pairing as I do), thanks for reviewing. Yes, actually, I read xabie's last post, but did you know… she's baaaaaaaccckkk! Hopefully forever! Hi lime!!! I was grinning all over when I read the sender, someone I really remember! And I'm sooo grateful you spared this story a portion of your time! bh3ybhi3brat, so sorry I took long in updating. I hope the length of this chapter makes up for it. glazedwhip, I e-mailed you. Hope you received it. roselle, thanks for keeping an eye out for this fic. Happy reading. midnightkatt, thanks for the handy advice. I took it.

xabie, hey! This is going to be a little long, that's how much I missed you. Hehe. I was not expecting you to review…but thanks for doing so. You don't know how happy I was.  Anyway, I'm sorry if it appeared as if I was dropping hints with the initial note and made you guilty in the process, but if that very thing lured you back into the fandom, I suppose I did the right thing. Readers might even thank be thanking me. We REALLY really don't want you to go. You're the sun and moon to us! Hehehehehe. There's truth in the exaggeration, dear.

Hmm, any writer would appreciate a long review, and I don't just appreciate it, I welcome it with arms wide open! Yes, xabie, thanks for noting Mi-chan's change in character. I admit, I knew it, but I sort of just closed my eyes. So sorry. I did try to whip him back into character in this chapter, but felt like I made him antagonistic. Do you think so? And I also fixed the areas that need improvement, like the "palpable" thing, I deleted it. Thanks for pointing it out. What else… why do you feel the gifts are identical? Wow, are you psychic, girl? You're on the right track, but they're not really identical identical.  If I keep giving out clues you might be able to guess it before I produce the tenth chapter so that's just one hint I can give you. Thanks for reading this fic and all the blessings you released on it. I hope you like this second chapter.

Thanks people! See you in the next chapter!