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Chapter I: Crackle

A breath escaped her moist lips, a soft, hushed breath that shattered the stillness of sound within the everglade. Fierce, feral amethyst eyes twinkled with mirth yet only briefly, soon consumed within an eerie calm: of eternal patience, as she speculated with those keen eyes of hers the dark forestry, taking into account everything: from the slight rays of deep orange sunlight it allowed to beam through its thick blanket of vegetation, to its beauteous shadows--- detail for detail, looking out for the slightest unnatural movement.


A stir.

She dragged her hand across the rough bark of the tree, from there moving to grasp the branch she was perched on. "Hmm," she hummed, voice light, feathery. Another stir, and from the same area--- she grinned a chilling, predatory grin. "I have you now." she whispered, noiselessly standing up: managing to not make even cloth flutter. She held out her hand and from it came forth a bow and a set of arrows, all brimming with the essence of... power.

Expertly, she took hold of her weapon and with one fluid movement she had an arrow in place: aimed and ready to fire--- displaying excellent poise and unfazed composure. "Come out, come out," she purred, eyes narrowed dangerously, lips twisted in ferocious grin, "wherever you are."

She shot the arrow, purposely missing her supposed target by mere inches. A figure streaked away from that area, finally revealing itself to her and divulging its next destination, no matter how fast it was, she still saw. She fired another arrow and it repeats: with the figure barely fleeting from fatal injury/certain death. "Play time." she declared to herself, proceeding to assault her target wherever it chose to escape.

But then, she noticed that her target, instead of fleeing, drew closer and closer to her--- until he was now standing on a branch adjacent to where she was. A pause fell between them, during which both of them studied each other, scrutinizing, measuring up the other as much as they could. Proudly, boldly, they stood before each other, him with his fists in level to his chest and her with her bow and arrow... both of them poised to attack, ready to defend.

The wind became stronger, more powerful, as though it was a reflection of the growing intensity between them. The current is towards her, sending her hair into her eyes, which she responded to by tossing her head back, allowing her long, blue hair to stray with the powerful air. She smirked at him, glowered at him in an accusing manner: "You."

He smirked back at her, long bounded black hair whipping behind him, dancing with the current. "Yes: me." he concurred, deep brown eyes glittering with mischief and conceit. His fisted hands began to glow, drawing her attention. "My turn." he droned as he shot a beam of energy at the base of the tree she was on. "REI GUN!!!"

"Oh shit."

As he expected, she leapt out of the way and took refuge in another tree and the cycle is repeated, only their roles switched. He laughed, cackled in a deep menacing tone as he continued to shoot beam after beam at her.

"Two can play that game." she muttered darkly as she jumped to the side of a tree and within seconds, she called away her bow and arrow and took from her belt twin daggers; she flipped back and landed behind him, slicing off the branch he was on.

But he recovered quickly and grabbed her, taking her along with him as now both of them plummetted the ground. He smiled in triumph, delighting at the panic in her wide purple eyes. But then he blinked once and he found her perfectly mirroring his sadistic expression; and before he could react, she hooked her knees around his hips and with a burst of strength, she did a complete flip which resulted to him being under her.

And they ---he--- hit the ground.


A cloud of dust and dirt enveloped them, engulfing the sight of them, the only sign of them still being alive was his violent coughing. Once the debris is cleared by the wind, it revealed her straddling him, daggers pressed to his neck and him, grimacing at his pain, pointing a glowing index finger at her. "You slit my throat, I blow your head off." he growled, a heavy, heavy threat weaved in his voice.

She growled back, edging the blades closer. "I'm willing to take that chance."

"Princess Botan!"

They stopped.

And blinked.

"Princess Botan!"

To the princess' aggravation, her attempt to verbally attack her personal bodyguard, or slave, as she liked to refer to him, was futile. The chestnut-haired young man wore the same no-nonsense expression as he gently but forcibly shoved her into her bedroom wherein he shut the door and left the young woman to be tended by her ladies in waiting.

Outside the gold-adorned double doors to the princess' chambers, Koenma heaved a resigned sigh as Botan's high-pitched shrieks of murder penetrated the barrier between them. He winced when he heard what must have been a vase shatter into a thousand pieces and then silence.

He ought to have seen it coming when he rushed the princess with her farewell to her cousin Yuusuke, son of the God and Goddess of War. As the assigned royal guard to the Princess of Reikai, Koenma had come to learn how Botan ticked; he had cultured himself into the art of reading her in and out, and one thing that took him years to figure out and understand was the extent of the princess' loneliness. So it should have been clear to him that interrupting their goodbyes after having cut short their rather sadistic game of cat and mouse, with none designated to represent either animal, would only result in adding fuel to the fire. The only world she had come to know for sixteen years was what she saw within the walls of the Reikai kingdom. The only friends she ever knew were her maids, himself, and her cousin, the Prince of War. Yuusuke, Botan's protective, elder cousin rarely ever came to grace Reikai with his presence for he was busy with the happenings in his own kingdom. Being eighteen, he was considered more than ripe and was appointed his father's right hand until he would assume the throne. Botan, on the other hand, did not even get to experience the pleasure of being the daughter to a God and Goddess for her mother had passed away after giving birth, and her father was so busy with the millions of souls he was responsible for every day. Unlike Yuusuke, for she was a woman, Botan could not help her father and thus could not possibly relish in being her father's daughter.

And not more than half an hour had passed when he was informed of the Reikai King's sudden and unexpected, as it usually happened to be, appearance. Having been the princess' royal guard for years now, the King rather trusted Koenma with important matters and so wasn't too taken aback when his majesty personally asked to have a private audience with him. What did hit him over the head hard was when the Reikai King announced to him that his only daughter was betrothed to the Prince of Life, currently residing in Ningenkai, even before she was conceived. Koenma was not a dunce and therefore concluded on his own that the princess had no knowledge of this arrangement, an arrangement she played a major role in. The royal guard could not even begin to fathom the princess' reactions, but he imagined it would be a storm unlike Reikai has ever experienced before, and he began to wonder if the King knew that there may be a possibility his daughter would be upset.

"Perhaps not,"Koenma thought to himself. It was normal and even customary for all the young women in Reikai to be wed to those they had not met in all their lives. "But then again, our princess certainly is nothing at all like other young women of Reikai." Shaking his head disdainfully, he poetically concluded that the princess was a prisoner of her own destiny.

The barely audible click of the doorknob took him out of his present musings, and whirling around he had half expected the teenage royalty to still be modeling the same sour expression he had seen her with last, but to his surprise and delight, she actually looked like the Reikai princess in stark contrast to the conniving little she-devil attribute she saved only for him.

"Juri tells me that Daddy's back with a surprise for me," she bubbled. "Why didn't you just tell me that?" Her eyes twinkled brightly for it was very rare thing for her father to ever bring her back anything when he was away taking care of business.

Koenma's jaw dropped just a notch. He could imagine hell break loose when she found out her father's surprise. Well, hell would break loose, at least for him, for if he wasn't delusional, which he was quite sure he wasn't, he could swear that he was always the direct target of her frightening fury.

Botan latched onto Koenma's free arm as it was customary for the princess to always have an escort. "Do you know what he's gotten?"

The royal guard merely debated whether or not he should tell her. After all, he would get the brunt of it all in the very end, wouldn't he? It was like clockwork. Cringing inwardly, he opted to act as though he had no clue as to what exactly the said surprise was.

Reaching the central chamber of the palace, Koenma softly slipped his arm from under hers and walked off to the side, leaving Botan in the center of the magnificent room. No sooner had her father, who stood opposite her on the wide pedestal, opened his arms to her than she shrieked and dashed very un-princess like into them.

The Reikai King merely let loose a light chuckle as he fondly straightened the tiara that hung on his daughter's forehead. "How have you been, daughter?"

"Quite wonderful, Daddy," she beamed. "And you? I wasn't expecting you back for a while what with the double in number of souls being escorted here."

A hefty but rather heart-warming laugh escaped the king's lips then at his daughter's talk. "You've grown up into a fine young woman, my dear child. I'm only sorry that I couldn't be there through it all."

"Oh, Daddy," Botan blushed, feeling her heart race. It was rare that her father would say such flattering and rather endearing things so she cherished each sentimental conversation her father ever shared with her. "I know how busy you can get with registering souls. It isn't an easy job being the King of Reikai."

"A fine young woman you've grown up into, indeed, Botan. Your mother would be proud." At this he favored his daughter with a very fond smile. "And since we are touching upon your nearing adult age, I think that this is the best time to discuss your betrothal to Prince Shuuichi of Ningenkai."

The pristine smile that was painted upon the girl's porcelain features never left her, but her eyes suddenly seemed at that moment to gaze right through her father. The king, completely oblivious to this, began to explain that even before she was born, he and her mother had already agreed to marry her to the King and Queen of Life's unborn son. It would be a very beautiful and power-driven union. By the time he had finished, the princess no longer wore the exquisite expression on her lovely face. Instead, she was without emotion – as if she were thrown back into the beginning of training with Toguro and Genkai when they told her that emotion was dangerous in the face of combat.

Botan was not dense and obviously sensed her father's complete ignorance to the way she felt about the said arranged marriage. "Poor guy must think I'm so happy that it's rendered me speechless," she thought to herself, half in disappointment and half in anger. "Well, Daddy, I must say that I am very surprised. This was completely… unexpected."

Blood. His blood.

This wasn't something he had to deal with on a regular basis, being the elusive, skilled criminal ---the master thief--- that he is, but now isn't one of those times. Normally he would be drenched of blood, but rarely his own as was the case now. With a blank face he wiped with the back of his hand the blood trickling from the side of his face. He then lifted his hand, weakly so, and watched with dull, empty eyes the blood, his blood, crawl from his wrist to the tips of his talons.

"Hn." he grunted as he stared at his now bloody hand, memories of similar scenarios flashing, overlapping his present mind of thinking with his many past ones. He inched his hand away slightly, a conjured image of a dead/dying body before him--- and eyes: desperate, scared... begging and he heard the same emotion as he recalled those voices, those whimpering voices: hoping, praying to live.

And he would smother this desire, he would smother this sliver of life--- and kill.

The image and the sounds fade and he found himself hidden in within one of his many caves. Being a wanted felon in the Demon World, it was a prerequisite for him to have more than one hideout and more importantly, it was practical to not stay in any of them for too long. Being a demon with mastery over plants, and with the Demon World virtually left untouched and untamed by technology, he does well to use this ability to his advantage.

As for his spoils, his thieving rewards so to say, these he kept in one place: the same place he calls home. While most thieves operate otherwise, he chose to keep his (stolen) treasures in one place instead of scattering them around. After a plunder, he would wait a few days, weeks if need be, and only when he's certain they have grown tired of chasing him--- when they've given up on apprehending him will he come out of hiding and stash his loot. He never lingers there longer than necessary and often wonders: why call it home when all it houses.... are things?

"Petty. Petty. Petty." he whispered, sardonic and so, so hateful. He brought his hand to his face and smeared blood upon pale flesh: staining, painting himself with blood, his blood.

A sound, a faint one, invaded his senses, shaken slightly his stupor which he promptly drowned out by pressing his fox ears to the side of his head, nestled the sensitive appendages against his soft, silver mane. He growled, cursing his tender hearing but then his anger dissipated as he became aware of the object tucked under his other arm.

He held it out before him, this mirror of great, great value and it gleamed, mockingly so, and taunted him further by showing to him his reflection--- mirrored his soul: his broken, lost soul. "You are worth nothing!" he roared, fangs bared and gold eyes flaring with rage. Though the mirror mimicked him perfectly, that wasn't what he saw: what he saw was... himself.

Sharp, clawed hands slowly wrapped around the sides of the object and they trembled. "I will break you as you have me." he said, a passionate promise laced in those words. The glass cracked and it was more than enough to snap him from his trance. "Hn." He cast lethargic gold eyes upon the mirror, upon that single fracture and he stared as blood dripped from the tip of his blemished silver tresses and dirtied the glass.

He stared into the mirror and turned away. Wordlessly, he cradled the treasure under his arm again and crawled out of hiding. For a moment he allowed himself to be swayed by the simply majesty, to be overwhelmed by the dangerous beauty of the Demon World, of his world. "It's time," He took a long, heavy breath, eyes closed, "to go home."

Koenma clamped his hands over his ears as he let his body slump into one of the velvet love seats in the princess' bedroom. As he had anticipated, the moment Botan had set one foot upon the marbled floor of her room, it suddenly seemed as if a thousand angry Makai sirens had entered Reikai with complaints to the king.

Botan stomped back and forth in front of the hazel-eyed youth, ticking off on her slender fingers the many absurdities of arranged marriage. "You just can't force a girl to marry a man she's never even met," she barked at him. "Especially not the gem of Reikai," she paused for a moment, and then as if a thought struck her, the irritation that rested upon her face was suddenly replaced with that of horror. "And now my future is ruined. I wasn't supposed to marry some stupid human boy, but Majari!"

Although he tried and tried to put himself in another dimension from her screaming, it was always in vain, as usual, and this time was not any different. The bodyguard's face suddenly blanched when her last statement found a way to trickle into his ears. "The rock star Majari? That fruitcake? That Majari? You wanna marry him?"

"How dare you call the future King of Reikai a… a…" Botan paused, seemingly having difficulty with the word that was to follow, "a fruitcake! What insolence! What complete disrespect!"

Koenma had long shut his eyes and very calmly, and rather riskily, proceeded to retaliate. "He isn't royalty, you know. I don't have to kiss his feet and worship him just because you do. Besides, princess, haven't you seen the way he looks at his male fans or are you immediately whisked away into your fantasies at the mere sight of him?" Koenma tentatively peeked an eye and found a fuming young goddess ready to inflict some kind of physical damage upon him, but even before she could so much as lift a finger, he tactfully changed the subject, reminding her what it was that she had been going on about before. Whether or not that was a good idea, he had no clue. "And for your information, the guy you're supposed to be engaged to isn't a human but a divine entity just like you."

At the sudden reminder, her fury suddenly vanished and in its stead was that of a cross between bewilderment and somberness. "When I become Queen of this divine realm, I shall make it so that it is prohibited to even think of betrothals," she groaned in dramatic agony. "Daddy has completely lost touch with reality," Botan wailed as she threw her body upon the silken sheets of a bed too large for even three people.

Unlike the princess' other servants, Koenma was the only one bold enough to ever retaliate to her outbursts for fear of banishment or death. So when he snidely commented that perhaps her father was lost in touch with her reality, he was not at all surprised to feel her slipper make contact with his head, her eyes burning with murder.

"Koenma Daioh, you are a very lucky individual to not only be the Reikai Princess' royal guard but her confidante as well," Botan shrieked haughtily and then buried her head under a pillow. "Otherwise your severed head would be have been snack to the demons long ago."

Her muffled statement was the last thing either one heard for the next passing minutes of silence. Thinking that she had fallen asleep, Koenma thought it wise that he leave the room and allow her to rest. After all, what princess wouldn't feel exhaustion after so much screaming? Though she physically always put on a tough front during combat, he had to always remember that she was, no matter what, still this fragile being. And on many occasions, he sometimes believed her to be too fragile, though this was something he did not share with others, especially the princess, for fear that physical harm would befall him.

The young bodyguard was on the verge of getting up from his seated position when he heard a sound he was quite certain he had never heard come from the princess before. Worried, he moved towards where she lay, and sure enough his assumption was correct. The sound he head heard was that of open unhappiness.

"No matter how much power you have, you can never dictate to someone who they can and cannot love. You just can't." She said this with her voice low, but still Koenma was taken aback for behind that softest of whispers, there was conviction that rebelled law, and the words of the King of Reikai was always deemed as the law.

Yes. The princess was a very fragile person indeed.