Author's Notes: September 11, 2007 – Recently, I have been working with the fabulous MyAibou who has been beta'ing some of my stories. Two of her excellent lessons to me have been in shifting POV issues (and either cleaning up the sections or at least breaking the scenes with each POV shift) and shorter, more digestible chapters. I have been pleased enough with the results of experimenting with both of these new (to me) conventions that I am going ahead and reposted this story in its newer, more manageable format. At least I hopeit's more manageable. You know that it says something when I'm reading through a chapter and feel like I'm bogged down and wondering where the end is and when I'll reach it . . . and I wrote it! Anyway, because of the breaking up of chapters, increasing the overall number, that unfortunately is also going to throw off all reviews before this date. Please note the changes as follows: Chp 1 did not change, but any reviews to Chp 2 might refer to Chp 2 or 3; Chp 3 broke out into Chp's 4 & 5; Chp 4 - Chp's 6 & 7; Chp 5 - Chp's 8 thru 10; 6 - 11-14; 7 - 15-18; 8 - 19-22; 9 - 23-26; 10 - 27-29; 11 - 30-33; 12 - 34-38; and 13 is now Chp 39. Please note also that there is a . . . character who has seen some changes in appearance . . . when she's let herself be known at all. ((wink))
Disclaimer – Yu Yu Hakusho, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Ronin Warriors (aka Yoroiden: Samurai Troopers) and all related characters, events, and concepts belong to their respective owners. I get no monetary benefit from this. My benefit is the enjoyment of dealing with beloved characters. If you recognize him/her/it, I don't own him/her/it. If you don't recognize, I might still not be the owner but it'd be best to ask. I'd appreciate it, anyway. ((grin))
"The Spellfire Saga – 1: Shards"
Chapter 1 – Back into the Swing
Kurama walked slowly along the halls, schoolcase in one hand at his side, an open book cradled in the other. More than studying, he was hoping to appear occupied enough to be left alone until he could reach his first class. He knew the results of the most recent Comprehensive Tests would have been posted by this morning. After the events of the past weekend, even this many days later, he was in no mood to deal either with the girls looking for his attention or the students, both male and female alike, whose seeming words of praise ill-concealed the envy, hate, and competition beneath.
"Well, if it isn't Minamino-kun," came a soft, almost monotone voice. Kurama stifled a groan even as he turned in curiosity. Of all the students whom might have addressed him in an unfriendly tone, Kaito Yuu was the last he had expected. It was not that Kaito was a friend. Indeed, as second in the testing only to Kurama time and time again, Kaito rarely spoke to him at all without necessity. The boy's next words startled him further. "So, how does it feel to be in second place for once?"
"Did you take first this time? Well, congratulations - " Kurama's words were sincere, but they seemed only to anger Kaito.
"Don't patronize me, Minamino-kun!" he murmured with a scowl, then looked again at Kurama. He pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, a habit Kurama had long associated with his classmate. "Hn. You really don't know, do you?" He thumbed over his shoulder down the hall to the foyer. "In our year, you took first - again - but in the school at large, you have ranked second. Not only that but it was a first-year." Kurama realized that he must have shown more surprise than he meant when Kaito added, "Don't believe me? Go check it out for yourself."
"No, Kaito-kun, I believe you. Who was it?"
Kaito shrugged as he turned toward his first class. "Go see. Oh, and congratulate him for me, will you?" With that, he was around the corner and gone.
Kurama stared after him for a moment, then looked again toward the foyer. In spite of himself, his steps turned that way down the hall. He could not deny his curiosity. Someone to rank above him on the tests had to have an incredibly brilliant mind. The least Kurama could do was meet him. He approached to the edge of the crowd, looking as were the rest at the results scrolled across the wall above the hall doors. Sure enough, the top of the first-year list also had top of school marked by the name. "Hashiba Touma," Kurama read, interest coloring his voice.
The boy standing next to him commented, "You've heard of Hashiba-kun, haven't you?" Kurama shook his head. The boy glanced the crowd over, then pointed at a student across the room who seemed to be trying to remain unnoticed. Kurama had never seen such blue hair on a human before. Nodding his thanks, he crossed to intercept the first-year. Before Kurama could draw his attention, however, he was joined by a second-year, a boy with shoulder-length chestnut hair. Kurama recognized him from Marine Biology. "Mouri-kun," he called, giving a wave.
Sea-green eyes turned to meet his emerald gaze. "Oh, Minamino-kun. Hello there." Mouri Shin smiled and motioned him over. "We were just talking about you. Touma, this is Minamino Shuichi-kun. He's in my Marine Biology class."
Mouri calls him by his personal name . . . and does not use an honorific, Kurama noted with mild surprise as he bowed and extended a hand. They must be very close indeed.
Hashiba bowed in return, accepting the handshake. "Senpai, my name is Hashiba Touma, first year."
"Minamino Shuichi, second year. Glad to make your acquaintance." He grinned. "And congratulations on the Comprehensive Testing." Hashiba seemed to study him for a moment, as though questioning the sincerity or sarcasm of his words, something he understood intimately. What happened next, however, startled Kurama. He saw Mouri dip his head, seeming to search for something in his schoolcase, but glance at his friend with a small smile. At the same time, Kurama sensed an exchange of energies between the boys, as though there were some telepathic communication occurring. He kept his expression neutral even as he wondered if Hashiba noticed his recognition.
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Touma noted his friend's small smile as Shin glanced at him sidelong. -See, I told you he's not the competitive, snobbish type. Kaito-kun might say something, but Minamino-kun's all right about it. He really is glad for you. That's just the kind of person he is.-
Touma nodded mentally. -As long as he's not going to threaten to pound my face in or anything – - He stopped, looking again at the friendly emerald eyes meeting his. He was stricken just then by the depths he could swear he saw there, an impression of agelessness Touma had never seen before. At the same time, his Armor orb felt warm in his pocket against his hip. The feeling was not a warning, per se, but the Armor of the Heavens seemed to recognize something clearly unusual about the boy standing before him.
The warning bell for first period rang. "Oops," Shin murmured with a smile. "Time to go. See you in Biology, Minamino-kun." The three went their separate ways.
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"Hey, watch where you're walking!" growled a familiar voice of an unfriendly sort just to Shu's left. He turned to see another student with his fist buried into the front of Seiji's school jacket. That damned - ! Not this time! They had just gotten their Warrior of Light back, and he still was not feeling well. No way this two-bit punk was going to dishonor him on the whim of a surly attitude.
"Let him go, Urameshi-kun," Shu warned.
"Or what, Mr. Chow Mein?"
Shu looked up at Big Shot Number Two, an unusually tall fellow by the name of Kuwabara Kazuma. Shu had heard of this guy back in junior high. His reputation as the toughest punk in town was eclipsed only by one Urameshi Yusuke whom, rumor had it, had died and come back about a year ago. Just after –
"Cool it, Shu. It's all right," Seiji admonished. "Sorry, Urameshi-kun. You're right. I wasn't paying attention."
Urameshi regarded him a moment longer before letting out a deep breath and shoving Seiji back a little, turning on his heel. "Don't sweat it. S'no big deal." He trudged into the school building without another word, his buddy Kuwabara a step behind.
What was that all about? Shu wanted to know, half tempted to go after the punk. The guy looked a little on edge, like he had had a rough week. Keh, what does he know about rough?
Shu and his friends had just gotten back a few days ago from nearly two weeks in America – and it had not been a pleasure trip. The truth of the matter was, an inhuman sorcerer of some kind had lured their friend, Date Seiji – Seiji of the Halo – to New York City in America, then relocated him clear across country to Los Angeles, attempting to discover and harness the power of his Ronin Elemental Armor, the Armor of Light and the Spirit. Seiji had been subjected to a number of tortures – hallucinatory drugs, sensory deprivation, hypnosis and mind games, and electrical shock – in the attempt to steal and control the Halo Armor. Many crimes were committed by the magically-animated Armor, with numerous lives taken, while in Shikaisen's vile hands. The rest of the team – Shu of the HardRock, Ryo of the WildFire, Touma of the Heavens, and Shin of the Torrent – had a tough time finding their brother and a tougher time overcoming his demonic captor. As soon as that battle had been won, they were thrown into a new struggle they very nearly lost as Seiji collapsed in convulsive shock, his body reacting to the chemicals and other abuses to which it had been subjected. Seiji had lain in a Los Angeles hospital in a coma for over a week, his body not healing despite the proximity of his Armor orb. They discovered that Seiji had rejected his Armor, fearing it, shamed by it and by himself, for all the atrocities that had been committed by his Armor and that he had been "too weak" to prevent from happening. Seiji had been raised by the ancient tenets of the honor-bound samurai and was ready to die in atonement of what he saw as "his" sins. Only when Touma, going into his best friend's soul while anchored to the physical world by his teammates, finally reached Seiji's consciousness at the edge of Oblivion did he come back, having to be convinced that this was not the way to handle the wrongs that had been done.
One day, Seiji had been at Death's Door. The next, he was conscious, alert, oriented, and none of the doctors could explain it, except to call it a miracle healing. Then again, the team members mused among themselves, they were the Ronin Warriors – miracles were their specialty, it seemed. After a few more days, Seiji was allowed to return home – and to school.
"Hey, Shu! Don't think so hard. You'll short-circuit something," a voice laughed behind him.
Shu turned to meet tiger-blue eyes under thick, wild bangs of raven-black. Sanada Ryo had just arrived to the schoolyard – surely out of breath because he had been almost late and had to run like he did too many mornings. Yeah, things can finally get back to normal, Shu thought with a sigh. "Yo, Ryo!"
"Has the bell rung yet?"
"Not yet," Seiji replied, eyeing him. "Did you oversleep again?" They knew that Ryo had a nine-mile walk to school from his home in the foothills outside of the city.
"Heh, actually . . . yeah. I was up all night studying for an Algebra test coming up and almost didn't get up in time to get breakfast."
"Dude! How can you not eat breakfast?" Shu gaped.
Seiji laughed. "By not being a bottomless pit of a garbage disposal."
"Hey, a guy's gotta keep his strength up – ya know?"
Ryo looked over at a group gathered by the double doors entering the school building, recognizing one of them just as the warning bell rang to head to first period. "Hey, catch you two later. I have to talk to someone before classes."
Shu and Seiji watched him sprint over to a knot of upperclassmen and, to their surprise, the solitary female separated herself to meet him as her friends headed into the building. Shu stared in shock. "Don't tell me Ryo's seein' a third-year?"
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"What a couple'a jerks." A small knot of third-year students watched a near confrontation between some first-years dissolve without incident.
"Well, Blondie shoulda been watchin' where he was going, instead of spacing off like that."
"What, you gotta problem with blond?"
"Jonouchi, Honda, will you knock it off!" Mazaki Anzu huffed at her two friends. "Honestly, you guys sound like primary schoolers sometimes."
"Guys, I don't think Date-kun was just spacing. He's not the type."
Jonouchi Katsuya looked down at his best friend, quite notably the shortest of the group. "Hey, Yug, you know that guy?"
Mutou Yugi shook his head. "Not personally, but I recognize him. He's the captain of the kendo team, even though he's only a first-year. I think I've heard he's the national champion, too. I understand he's a really nice guy, very courteous."
"And popular, though I've always gotten that it's more his exotic looks than his personality." Honda Hiroto rolled his eyes. "Word is, he's actually pretty shy around girls. Any rumor of his having a girlfriend is probably just some chick trying to be cool. Say – if a thick mop of gold hair's all it takes to be popular with the ladies," Honda teased, "how come no one's chasing you?"
Jonouchi moved to tackle Honda, but Bakura Ryou stepped between them. "Guys! The bell is going to ring any time. We don't need a teacher - " The ringing bell interrupted him.
"Senpai!" The raven-haired boy who had joined the blond and the Chinese kid was now trotting their way.
"Oh, Sanada-kun! Good morning." Anzu grinned. "Hey, you guys go on ahead. I'll see you at lunch."
The boys headed into the foyer to change into their indoor shoes. "Hey, uh . . . Anzu's not . . . seeing him, is she?" Yugi asked, voice tentative.
"No, no!" Bakura put in before either Jonouchi or Honda could reply, giving Yugi a reassuring grin. "His name is Sanada Ryo. You know that Anzu's making a little extra money tutoring, right? He's one of her newest Algebra students."
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Following a few steps behind, Anzu turned to her student. "So, what's going on, Sanada-kun?"
Ryo waved off the name choice. "No, my dad is Sanada. Just call me Ryo."
"All right," Anzu laughed. "Then, no more 'Senpai,' either, okay? Just 'Anzu'."
"Done." Ryo grinned. "So, I was wondering. Are you free at all tomorrow? I have a test coming up, and I'm not sure I understand all the formulas in the chapter yet."
Anzu winced. "Um, sorry, Ryo-kun, but . . . I have a previous engagement." She caught herself glancing over her shoulder at her friends. "My friend, Rumiko, might be able to work with you, though."
Ryo followed her glance. "Oh, yeah. Kaiba Corp's Duel Monsters tournament starts tomorrow morning, doesn't it? Are you in the tournament? Or one of your friends? Say, isn't that Mutou Yugi-san?"
Anzu grinned, full of pride in her friends. "Yep. And Jonouchi Katsuya-kun. They'll be competing. The rest of us will be there to support and cheer them on."
"Cool! My buddy, Shu – eh, Shu Rei Fuan-kun – will be playing in that tournament, too."
"Well, best of luck to him, then! Hm, 'Shu Rei Fuan' – that's a Chinese name, isn't it? Oh, that guy you were just saying 'hi' to, right?" Ryo nodded. "Yeah, Yugi told me he's in his gym class."
The comment startled Ryo for a moment, but then he recalled, "Oh, yeah, I remember back at the beginning of the year, Shu mentioned that a third-year had been scheduled in his phys ed class – little shrimp of a guy, too . . . Uh, I-I mean – !" Ryo backpedaled from her sudden frown. "Heh, never mind. It's not important. Shu says he's super shy, but he usually manages to hold his own in class."
Anzu sighed. "Yeah, he can be pretty introverted sometimes – though he's really a lot better than he used to be." She paused, thinking that she could not tell him why Yugi was no longer so timid. "Anyway, he's a great person once you get to know him."
Ryo grinned. "Yeah, I'm sure he is. Hey, maybe you'll introduce us sometime?"
"I'd love to. In fact, come on down to the main plaza tomorrow morning. That's where the tournament will begin. In the meantime, would you like me to have Rumiko give you a call tonight about that test?"
"Sure, if you don't mind." The second and final warning bell rang. "Oops! Gotta go. Catch ya later, Anzu-san. Thanks!"
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"Hey, uh, Urameshi . . . so what was that all about with Date, huh? You've been like this for almost a week, ever since – You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Yusuke snapped at Kuwabara as they power-walked to their first period class. He had even almost forgotten to stop in the foyer for his indoor shoes. Silently, he growled, Of course, I'm not okay, you idiot! I came too close to losing all my friends . . . again! How many freakin' times is this gonna happen? How many times do I have . . . have to risk you guys?
Had it really been a week already? Had it only been so long? It seemed like yesterday that he was pulling most of his only friends from rubble on the top of a skyscraper in the middle of downtown Shinjuku, having nearly failed to keep the Human Realm from getting an unneeded facelift by one Lord Yakumo, who had tried to resurrect his own long-forgotten Nether Realm out of the Human Realm using the energies of the Spirit Realm and his own Power Sphere, or whatever it was called, to do it. It had taken everything Yusuke had – more than that – to defeat the demon lord. He had depleted his own vast stores of Reiki and had been forced to turn to the Power Sphere himself, burning the Nether Power through his own body into Reiki – and even then, he had needed Kuwabara and their teammates, Kurama and Hiei, for support. Only by all four of them combining their energies into one single massive attack had they been able to take down Lord Yakumo once and for all – and no one would ever know. Stupid people going about their stupid lives in stupid, meaningless circles . . .
And that had come only days – had it really been a few weeks in reality? – after a lethal weeklong ordeal, a damned farce called the Dark Martial Arts Tournament. He and the others had been tested, tortured, and driven far beyond any of their previous capabilities. True, they had all grown like they never would have otherwise . . . but at what cost? And why was he so edgy and ready to fight all the time?
Chh. Maybe the answers will come with the next fight and the next enemy to overcome –
Author's Notes: Please be sure to check my bio page for any updates, etc. Thanks!
Senpai – There really isn't a suitable translation for the word. It is a term of address for a senior, a superior, etc. Kurama is in a grade year ahead of Touma, who would recognize Kurama as an upperclassman compared to himself and address him accordingly. Likewise, Ryo, a first-year, would properly address Anzu, a third-year. The choices of who calls whom "-kun" or "-san" reflects the same idea. "-kun" does not necessarily denote friendship, just social relationship.
Reiki – the spiritual energy of humans. This is not the same as a person's life energy, the bioelectrical energy a body requires for life functions, though there are some who can convert life energy to usable Reiki.