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Kurenai stood in terror, watching the fight between Mikagami and Kurei. She was rooted to the spot, not out of fear, but because she was physically incapable of moving. Kage Houshi stood next to her.
She had tried to interfere. She didn't know who this boy with the long hair and strange sword was, but she didn't want Kurei to hurt him. By the same token, she didn't want Kurei to be hurt by him. However, both combatants had warned her sharply to stay away. Kage Houshi had appeared and done something to prevent her from running into the fight to stop them, and they stood and watched together in some silence.
"Why are you doing this to us?" Kurenai asked softly, thinking back to the night they had been attacked on the way home from the store. "Why can't you just leave us all alone? I don't like this."
Kage Houshi smiled sadly at her and shook her head. "It's better this way," she answered. "See, look at Kurei. He's grown stronger. Remember how weak he was when he first fought me. Look at him fighting now."
Kurenai looked. There he was, fighting brilliantly against his opponent, and certainly giving him a run for his money. Her heart would have swelled with pride, had it not been so horrible to watch. But it was even worse to not watch, and only hear.
Finally, the blade of Mikagami's sword bubbled and sizzled and evaporated into steam, leaving him helpless. Kurei turned towards Kage Houshi with a scornful look.
She was smiling at him. Happily.
"Kurei," she said softly. "How marvelous. I'm proud of you."
Kurenai found her feet able to move once more. "Kurei!" she exclaimed, running towards him. "You're cut... you're bleeding... let's go find Yanagi-chan and have her take care of both of you." She glanced over at Mikagami, who was picking himself up from the ground.
"Stay away from her!" he growled. He made a movement towards the fountain to replenish his blade, but Kage Houshi raised her hand to make him stop.
"Don't," she told him. "I'm sorry to say, but I used you. Like I used Fuuko and Domon. But let me tell you a story." She took a deep breath, turning the words over in her mind. "400 years ago, there was a clan called the Hokage Ninja, who created powerful madogou. The Fuujin, the Saturn's Ring, and the Ensui, and hundreds more. They took advantage of technology that people in this modern era have not rediscovered.
"Because of this technology, and the weapons which they were enabled to produce using it, they were greatly feared. The Hokage were attacked by the Oni, and exterminated. Only three of us survived. Two of us are standing here now: Kurei and I. The third is elsewhere.
"Kurei, you were taken in by the kindness of Hanabishi Shigeo. You were found on a rainy day, and taken in. You still have that sword you were found with, and the kimono you were wearing at the time. I'm sure you remember something of that night, even though it happened fifteen years ago. But you remember nothing of your past before that time.
"Your real father was my husband, although I am not your mother. The third person who has survived is your half-brother, named Recca. He is my son. He was taken in by a kind woman, married to a powerful yet unpleasant man. He, too, shares the power of the Flame, although his is much different from yours. His Flame is red and hot; yours is blue and cold. And his is much stronger. I have yet to see the true form of yours... but his takes the shape of dragons, the incarnations of previous Flame Masters who died, unable to protect the ones they loved. He can control seven of them at the moment.
"While not truly happy, I was content to leave him in the hands of his foster-family. But time passed, and eventually, Recca's powers were used for evil purposes. He has become a killing machine for an underworld boss, Mori ouran. Your path and his shall intersect soon; I wished to prepare you for it. You are still much weaker than he is, yet I hope that you can do something... anything... to save my Recca from the life he is currently trapped in. I implore you, as a mother and as a fellow member of the Hokage."
Kage Houshi's eyes were brimming with tears.
Kurei stared at her coldly. What was this story she was trying to pass over on him? This idiotic fiction, was he supposed to believe it? He looked at her scornfully.
"So to get on my good side, you use three high school students to attack me-- after you attacked Kurenai." He clutched her hand angrily, partly as a protective gesture, partly as a way to keep the Flame from welling up again.
"No," replied Kage Houshi. "I did that to develop your power. Recca is evil and powerful. He's the same age as Mikagami, but ten times as strong. Recca has been honing his talents for the last ten years. There is no way you could catch up to his level in a mere matter of days, but you have made amazing progress in this short time. I beg you, help me with my son."
Kurei shook his head. "Why don't you send your little high-school friends in to do this job for you? Or do it yourself?" He turned and pulled Kurenai after him. "Come on, let's clean up and get back to campus. I'm bored here."
"I feel sorry for her," murmured Kurenai, as they left Kage Houshi and Mikagami behind.
"You would," replied Kurei, managing to give her a quick kiss on the cheek without breaking stride. "You're too nice that way."
Later that afternoon, Kurei sat in a corner of the classroom. Yanagi and Kurenai sat at some desks, going over the math. Fuuko was still recuperating from their fight, and hadn't been in school since then.
I'm not going to let Kurenai be here alone, he thought. It's too dangerous. He wondered vaguely if Kage Houshi would leave his life, now that he had expressed disinterest in her situation.
He glanced at the clock. Fifteen more minutes... the tea shop would be nice. As a sort of thank-you for the picnic which had been rudely interrupted...
The classroom door opened, and s boy entered. He seemed like he belonged more in an elementary school or junior high at best; there was no possible way he was old enough to be a high school student. He was carrying a large, golden thing. A greasy-looking man with a headband and long hair followed behind him.
The door opened.
"Sakoshita Yanagi?" asked the boy in a cheerful voice.
"Yes?" she answered, looking at him curiously.
"We need to borrow you for a little while," said Koganei. "Recca needs you."
Recca. That was the name that Kage Houshi had mentioned. Kurei turned his attention on the two. The man was... eerie. He wouldn't trust him alone in the classroom with these two girls. The boy... he seemed to be a lot more capable than he let on. And what _was_ that thing he was carrying?
"Excuse me?" said Kurei, "But what exactly do you mean by 'borrow'?"
"I don't like to say 'kidnap'," answered Koganei cheerily.
Kurenai stood up. "I... I'm not... you can't do that," she said. She collected herself and added, in a firmer voice, "I won't let you do that."
"Oh, please!" said Koganei, rolling his eyes and grinning a fanged grin. "There's nothing you could do. Or him, either," he added, indicating Kurei with a nod of his head. "So it's best to cooperate, and you won't get hurt."
Kurei suddenly noticed that he was unable to move. There was a strange smell in the air... something was seeping slowly from Mokuren's ring. He realized with a shock that he was unable to summon his Flame.
The girls, too, had inhailed the poison, and couldn't move. Yanagi could shriek a little, and it made Kurei sick to notice the expression of pure joy on Mokuren's face when he heard the sound.
"You want to carry her, Mokuren?" demanded Koganei.
"No problem, Koganei," answered Mokuren. He easily slung the girl over his shoulder, and Yanagi promptly passed out. He eyed Kurenai, and Kurei suddenly felt more murderous than he had ever felt before. In a voice that Kurei did not like at all, Mokuren asked hopefully, "Shall we take this one, too, for good measure?"
"I dunno what she would be worth to Recca," replied Koganei uncertainly.
"Touch me and you're dead!" snapped Kurenai, glaring angrily at them. "Put Yanagi down, and get out of here. Or else."
Koganei laughed. "What the hey. Bring her along, just for the kicks. Perhaps, if Yanagi proves to be uncooperative, we can use this one as leverage."
Mokuren looked very hopeful. "Dibs on that job," he said, grinning horribly. He slung Kurenai over the other shoulder.
"Get back here!" bellowed Kurei, trapped far in the back of the classroom. "Take me instead, but leave Kurenai out of this! She has nothing to do with this!" He was frantic with rage.
Koganei grinned. "You talk too much," he replied, skipping cheerfully over to confront him. He turned his Kougan Anki slightly, and gave Kurei a hard knock to the back of his head with the blunt edge of the blade.
"Come on, Mokuren," he said, and the two left.
Kurei awoke. Things slowly came into focus. There was Kage Houshi standing over him, along with Fuuko, Domon, and Mikagami. He realized he was in his bed, back at Hanabishi's house.
"Where are they?" he asked in a low, dangerous voice. "How do I get them back?"
"Kage Houshi told us everything," said Fuuko. "Kurei, I'm sorry about the other day."
"Me, too," agreed Domon, after being prompted by Fuuko.
Mikagami remained silent and aloof.
"Recca has Yanagi and Kurenai. They wish to find out the secret behind her healing capabilities," said Kage Houshi, displaying her Eikai Ball.
"Tell me where he lives," said Kurei. "I'll go in and save them."
"I'll help," said Mikagami, thinking of Yanagi.
Fuuko nodded. "You'll need backup. Domon and I would be happy to help, won't we?"
"It'll be dangerous," warned Kage Houshi.
Kurei looked at her scornfully. "You were asking me to do this earlier today, and now you're hesitant."
Kage Houshi gave him a long look. "If you end up fighting with Recca-- and you feel that you cannot win-- run away. Come back. Train more. Become stronger. And then reconfront him."
"Run away?" The disdain dripped from Kurei's voice. "Not if Kurenai is in danger."
Mikagami shook his head. "Baka. If you and we die, who will be there to save Kurenai and Yanagi?"
Kurei stared at the blanket, absently tracing the wrinkles with one hand. "Yes," he said finally, in a low voice. "We can do this."
Kurei, Fuuko, Mikagami, and Domon went to Mori Kouran's mansion to save the two. They encountered Ganko and obtained her help. They survived many obstacles before finally confronting Recca. Recca easily disposed of Fuuko, Mikagami, and Domon, but Kurei was a different story. During their fight, the form of the Phoenix was finally revealed in Kurei's Flame. Upon recognizing it, Recca's flame dragons were hesitant to continue the battle, causing Recca to call it a draw and allow them to leave, along with Yanagi and Kurenai. However, he promised to continue the battle sometime in the indefinite future. In addition, he inwardly felt a certain degree of interest in Yanagi, which he was careful to hide from all others. But there was a tiny new seed of dissatisfaction, growing inside...
Kurei went home, with the intent of training intensively and honing his powers even further. Fuuko, Domon, and Mikagami also worked hard at their powers. Ganko moved in with Fuuko, but had retired from fighting.
Koganei became disillusioned with the Uruha, and left it. Recca allowed him to leave, much to the dissatisfaction of certain other members. However, he sent them invitations to the Ura Butou Satsujin.
After a week of fights, it finally came down to Kurei and Recca's battle. They seemed to be evenly matched, until Mori Kouran released his clone of Recca against the two of them. Then the half-brothers united against it, and every shred of loyalty Recca had for his foster father disappeared at that moment. Mori Kouran escaped Recca's vengeance, and Recca went into hiding with the remnants of his Uruha: Neon, Joker, and Raiha.
Kurei and Kurenai continued happily onward together. Recca still had his unconfessed love for Yanagi. Mikagami had not taken vengeance for his sister's murder. Kage Houshi's problem of eternal life was not solved. And Mori Kouran was still out there... ready to cause more trouble...
So, like life, it has no good stopping point...
But for now, this is...