Chapter 15: Harbinger

He held his breath, being careful to not alert a nearby patrol. He had been in hiding for a few days and was still weak from the fight. He listened as the patrol passed, satisfied that he had not been found. Listening to them, he heard them pass out of his range of hearing, hopefully to search another area. A small sigh escaped his lips as he drew in a long needed breath.

Leaning back against the rough bark of the tree, Keitaro relaxed slightly. He had stayed for at least another hour after the others had left before he retreated as well. He had hoped that small amount of time had been enough for them to reach a safe distance from the enemy. With the completion of this task, he had run in a different direction in order to draw them even further away from their trail. That had been some time ago.

He reached to his side and pulled out a canteen. Opening the top and bringing it to his lips, Keitaro frowned. Extending the water bottle in front of his eyes and shaking it, he was rewarded with only one small drop of water. He sighed as he replaced the bottle, 'Great. Now I have to find water. Soon.'

Sitting in the tree, making sure that no patrol was approaching his position, Keitaro began to make his way down to the ground. The very faint crunching sound his feet made when he hit the forest floor jarred his senses to full attention. Happy that he had alerted no one, Keitaro began to make his way as stealthily as possible to the small stream he had remembered seeing early that day. He placed its position at nearly four hours from his current position. Keitaro remained alert as he moved, 'At least I'll have something to put on my stomach.'

It was then that his stomach growled rather loud and obnoxiously at him. It had been a few days since he had eaten anything of significant value. Unconsciously, he had noticed that some appetizing looking mushrooms were nearby, but he shook the temptation away. Unsure if they were edible, he continued on. Right now he could not afford to make himself sick or have any other adverse reactions to the scrumptious looking mushrooms.

It took him until late in the afternoon to find the stream, but he was very much relieved when he heard the trickle of water. The cool mountain water was refreshing as it slid easily down his throat. Careful to keep one ear open, Keitaro relished the feeling of the water in his mouth and on his skin. He sat by the stream as he filled his canteen and looked around for something that he knew to be edible. He was lucky to be rewarded with a small bush of berries.

Taking a few of them and eating some, he savored the sweet taste of the fruit. Plucking some for later use and storing them in small belt pouch he had come across, he looked around to see if he could find a direction to go in that may not be into the awaiting arms of an enemy patrol. His gaze fell downstream and he stopped suddenly.

He rubbed his eyes as he looked to see if he was hallucinating. Just a little further downstream was a white bird of prey. It sat on a low branch looking him directly in the eyes, as if daring him to look it in the eye. Keitaro cautiously made his way towards the bird, hoping to discern something more about this rare bird. It took flight only when it was sure that it had his undivided attention. It opened its wings and moved further downstream, landing on another low branch. Keitaro cocked his head to one side as he looked at the bird, "Do you want me to follow?"

The bird screeched, seeming to answer his question affirmatively. Keitaro looked at it skeptically, "How do I know this isn't a figment of my imagination or a trick?"

Looking him in the eye, the bird dared him to turn his back. Keitaro looked at this bird and felt himself compelled to follow it. He took another step forward towards the hawk, all the time being watched by his avian companion. Almost in a trance like state, Keitaro continued to follow the bird as it went downstream, flitting from tree to tree.

Time seemed to have stood still as he was led through the forest by the bird of prey, yet hours had passed and nightfall was approaching. Not once did Keitaro sense any demons nearby. The only presence had been that of the hawk that he had followed. He found himself standing in front of a serene looking lake, the slowly setting sun reflected off its surface in a burst of red and gold. The hawk then glided down to land on an out burst of undergrowth.

Keitaro looked at the sun and then to the bird, not sure what to make of the scene. Slowly and cautiously, he came out from the underbrush and over to where the hawk perched. This time it did not take flight as he neared, but looked him over with a scrutinizing look. When he was within arms reach, Keitaro extended a hand towards the bird. It noticed his movement, but made no motion to leave or retaliate. His hand gently came to rest on the birds head, allowing himself the small movements to pet the birds' head. The hawk chirruped kindly as Keitaro felt a smile come to his face. It was almost like the bird had told him he appreciated the gesture. Keitaro chuckled lightly, "You're welcome friend."

The bird chirruped again and remained sitting there for a few moments before finally taking flight and leaving Keitaro all alone in the woods. He watched it leave and then turned back to the lake in front of him. He was getting tired and for now this was probably the best choice he had in the way of a close source of water. Looking around, Keitaro noticed some thick underbrush nearby in the tree line. He walked over to it and began inspecting it. Satisfied that only heavy scrutiny would reveal anything or anyone hidden in it, he crawled in and began making a small space so that he could rest for at least an hour or so. As he began to drift to sleep, he felt the sensation of this night marking both the beginning and the ending of something, but what he couldn't tell.

Huile grimaced at the sight of his master's face when he returned to the camp. The new scar that crossed his face gave credence to the brutality and savagery that Vosk was most apt to employ when he thought motivation was in order. The demon cringed inwardly, hoping to hide any discomfort at Gaaz's face lest he be on the receiving end of whatever torturous ideas were no doubt coursing through Gaaz's mind. Thankfully, for Huile at least, he was busying himself with humiliating and harming his nearest guards that for some reason or another had displeased him. As Gaaz flung the head of his bodyguards out of the tent, Huile simply side stepped to allow his master room to rampage past and into the open air. Following silently, Huile wondered just what had happened at that meeting. Gaaz grabbed the poor bodyguard by the throat and was holding him high above himself as he glared daggers through him, "Is my point perfectly clear now?!"

The guard stuttered an apology in between gasps for air before being unceremoniously tossed aside like a rag doll. Huile cringed for the guard, before speaking up, "Massster Gaaz?"

Gaaz turned back to look at his advisor with a stare that could kill. He stalked up to him and raised himself to his fullest stature, "Yes, Huile? Care to make a snappy remark? Maybe then I can amuse myself with snapping your neck?"

Huile bowed low, hoping to avoid that fate, "No, Massster. Sssimply wondering what Vosssk'sss ordersss were."

He stared down at Huile before huffing violently and then walking back into the tent. Huile followed dutifully, both in hopes of easing Gaaz's anger and to also learn of the new orders. Gaaz stomped over to a chair in the large tent and sat down with a little more force than necessary. He looked out into nothing as he focused himself. Huile stood nearby, but not too close for fear of another outburst. After what seemed like hours, Gaaz began to chuckle, a malicious gleam in his eyes. Huile cocked a distorted eyebrow at the change in mood, "Massster?"

Gaaz then began to laugh in earnest before turning his gaze to Huile, "His orders were simple. Crush the Phoenix's at Kyoto. With them out of the way, Vosk should have no trouble in accomplishing his goals."

Huile again bowed, "Ordersss that you will most love to carry out. It isss what you do best, Massster."

The horned demon laughed a little heartier than before, "Indeed I will enjoy it. I anticipate the carnage to be had."

Bowing again, Huile excused himself from his master's musings over how the battle to come would go. While Gaaz had only said that there was to be a march to Kyoto, Huile was not entirely without knowledge of what was really going to happen along with that. He knew that Devar wanted a child from there to bring up in her ways, much as he himself had been. What was one more innocent child brought into the fold of corruption?

He shuddered at that thought as he entered into his own tent, far away from Gaaz's, but not too far as to be disrespectful to the other demon. At one time, he would never have had a second thought about corrupting an innocent child to use for his or Vosk's schemes. However, years had changed that. He had spent far too much time watching what was going on around him while in the service of his master. He had seen far too much, and for a time had turned a blind eye, assuming it was the remnants of his human conscience. Oh, how wrong he had been.

Sitting down at his small desk, he looked at the small mirror he was provided to attend to some form of personal grooming. Gently, he picked it up and looked into the reflection of himself. Looking back at him was a disfigured and scarred face. Constant torture and the own twisted energies of the netherworld had left their mark on his face. He looked at himself with disgust and contempt. No, he was not likely to continue in service to his 'master' any longer. If his thoughts were truly his own, than what little humanity he had, any honor remaining, than he would kill himself to spare another moment looking at the hideous sight that looked back at him from the mirror.

Violently, he tossed the mirror aside, not caring if it shattered. At the moment, he was unsure of how to shuffle off his mortal coil into a better place than the hell he had lived in for years already. Surely there was some way he could die and remain in peace. Some how there was, but it eluded him.

Gazing across to his padded cushion, he sighed heavily, "Perhapsss meditation will asssissst me in gaining insssight into my predicament."

Shuffling over to it and lighting some incense, he sat upon the mat and closed his eyes in concentration. Slowly and with great concentration, he slowly felt himself within the familiar eddies of his subconscious mind. The dreamlike state was soothing and abrasive, like an ocean's wave. The further away you are, the softer the spray of the sea was and the more pleasant it was. The closer you were, the harsher the spray and the more cautious you had to be lest you were swept away in the tide. For the moment, at least to escape any lingering outside pressure, Huile let himself be carried adrift. As the world around him disappeared, he felt his eyes closing with ease.

Blinking, he found himself amongst the thick trees of the area around the camp. There were no sounds, no other demons or any presence of any kind for that matter. Just himself standing amidst the foliage, looking sorely out of place. He cocked a disfigured eyebrow as he looked around "Peculiar. Thisss isss not my normal trance ssstate."

Taking in every nuance, he did find himself starting to feel at peace. Gently, he sat down on the grass, feeling the dew seeping into his clothes. A light breeze whispered through the trees, brushing past his skin in feather light touches. He sighed contentedly, "It isss perhapsss more sssoothing than my normal, but it isss ssstill peculiar."

Hours or minutes passed, of which he was never sure. It was calm and that was enough for now. That is until he felt the presence of another near him. Opening his eyes, he noticed the outline of a bird of prey weaving its way towards him through the trees. Tilting his head to the side, he watched as it came closer to him, "Yet another puzzle. Could thisss be a visssion?"

Just as quickly as the thought arose, it was quickly tossed aside. Keeping an eye on the bird, Huile chuckled grimly, "Absssurd. If it wasss, there would be sssome sssignificance to my sssuroundingsssā€¦"

He immediately dropped the thought as the bird came close enough for him to distinguish more of its features. Its feathers were not what he had expected. Instead of brown or red or any of the normal hues its feathers would have, they shone a brilliant shade of white. Almost dazzling, Huile immediately hustled to his feet. The faintest of traces of fear washed across him as the bird neared him, no doubt an omen of some sort.

"But, I wonder," he pondered, half in fear and half in anticipation, as it came closer until it was no more than ten feet before him perched on a low branch, "What kind of omen?"

The bird called out loudly, drawing him from his musings. Huile watched as it took to the wing again and flew some distance before landing again. It looked back at him, almost expectantly. Unsure of what to do, allowed himself to follow this bird. As he began to move, his brow creased in frustration, "I sssuppossse I ssshall find out one way or another."

He followed the bird as it flew from branch to branch, taking him along a path to some as yet unknown destination. Every so often, Huile assumed it had finished its journey, only to be taken further along. Hours seemed to pass as he followed this bird, still with the faintest of doubts lingering in his mind. It was unnerving to have the only other presence be the bird, but it was quite soothing as well. As he cleared the next portion of underbrush, Huile took in a breath of amazement.

There, lying nestled in the cradle of two mountains was the most serene looking lake he had ever laid eyes upon. The bird itself was perched atop the only piece of brush by the lakeside watching him with its penetrating gaze. Huile swallowed what fear he had and stepped out into the clearing and towards the bird. The bird did not move this time when he drew near to it, only watched him more intently. By now, he could reach out and touch the hawk, but chose not to do so in fear that the vision would end. He chuckled nervously, "It would not do me any good to end a visssion without learning the point."

Moments passed as he stood there and watched the bird, hoping that it would give him some kind of insight as to the purpose of this vision. However, when the bird only screeched and took off in an unknown direction, Huile began to wonder if there really was a point to this vision. He harrumphed, crossing his arms, "Thisss hasss been nothing but a pointlessss endeavor."

"Not entirely, Huile."

The demon spun on his heels, only to fall to his knees in a deep bow. Standing there behind him was a man that he had at one point respected and to some degree still did. The man smiled at him from beneath white locks of hair, "It has been a long time, Huile. Or rather should I say Kyosuke?"

Huile swallowed loudly, "I do not dessserve to be called that name any longer my Lord. I have disssgraced myssself and my family."

The other man nodded gently, his posture never changing from its neutral state, "That is true. But you have seen the error of your ways. That in and of itself is an act of redemption."

Huile inclined his head upward to look at his lord. He felt his heart leap into his throat and his hands gripping the gravel tightly, "There isss much I have to atone for my Lord. One act cannot undo decadesss of pain and sssuffering."

The white haired man nodded slowly, agreeing with Huile, "Yes, that is also true. This is why I have come to you, Kyosuke. I have two tasks for you to accomplish. Then and only then when they are complete, will you be able to have your rest."

Huile bowed his head back down to the ground, "Asssk of me anything, my Lord, and it will be done."

He felt the ground shift in front of him as the man kneeled down and placed a hand upon his shoulder. Gently and cautiously, Huile looked up at the man. A smile was on his face as he looked at Huile, "These tasks are simple. One is to come to this place in the real world and wait for someone very special and dear to me to arrive. You are to tell him everything that is planned to occur at Kyoto and to tell him that if he does not arrive in time, then all will be lost."

Huile nodded, "And the second task?"

The man chuckled lightly, "The second task you will recognize when you see it. Words cannot describe it, therefore actions will make it know to you. Fate has written this task that only you can perform. I have complete faith in you, Kyosuke. You will find your peace."

Again, Huile nodded, bowing deeply to the man in front of him, "I swear on my life that these tasks will be done."

The man nodded, a smile on his face. He stood and began to slowly walk towards the woods. He stopped when he was nearly there, and looked back at Huile, "Oh, and Kyosuke. Look at your reflection."

Puzzled at his statement, Huile turned and looked into the water. His eyes widened in amazement as he slowly brought a hand to his face. There staring back at him was his face. Not the grotesque mask that had become his face over the years, but his true face. The one that he had longed to see again in the mirror. His complexion was dark and his eyes full of wonder. The hair on his head had grayed lightly over the years, but the black of his youth still shown with brilliance against it. When he turned to thank the man, there was no one there. He smiled, knowing that his visions purpose was done. He smiled a genuine smile as he slowly allowed himself to be swept away again in the eddies of his mind.

As his eyes slowly opened, Huile knew where he had to go and what he had to do. Grabbing a thick overcoat, he proceeded out of the tent. He dismissed his guards that had taken up position to escort him where he was going, saying that he could most certainly handle anything out in the woods at this hour of the night. They listened to him, staying behind at his tent to await his return. After having dealt with them, he walked out into the darkness of the night.

He almost laughed at himself, walking alone in enemy territory to a place he had never truly been to before and yet knew the way to. Even with his regular visions, none had been that vivid or felt that real. He smiled inwardly, "Just another one of the things that made that man the greatest there was."

Within a couple of hours, Huile had found the lake cradled in the mountains from his vision. He calmly walked out to the waters edge, knowing full well that eventually a Phoenix would appear to him. When remained a bit of a mystery, but who he was almost certain of that. Sitting down upon the graveled ground, Huile waited patiently. If need be, he would wait until the end of his days for him to come.

"But," he thought to himself as he watched the waves lap at the shoreline, "I'm fairly certain that won't be the cassse."

The sound of gravel crunching beneath boots woke Keitaro with a start. Staying silent, he looked around through what he could of the underbrush he had slept in. The only thing he could notice was a single figure sitting at the edge of the water. He searched his senses, and nearly rushed to kill the demon that had dared to come so close. He caught himself in time, glancing around at the woods around him, "It's as if he's inviting me out to talk with him. This most definitely smells like a trap to me."

Slowly and stealthily, Keitaro moved out of the underbrush and began to creep through the surrounding area. He searched for minutes, before he was sure that the only presence there was himself and the demon at the shore. He frowned heavily, "Something doesn't feel right, but I can't place what? Why is there just one demon out in the middle of nowhere this late without any others around?"

He pondered this as he watched the demon. It almost felt as though he was waiting. For what, he was not sure, but he knew that this was just one demon and the less there were, than the better off the world would be. For a moment, he considered breaking cover and running the demon through from behind. He was about to do just that when a thought flashed across his mind, "He doesn't have any weapons."

This halted Keitaro. Sure he had killed many demons before now, and one more would not make him lose any sleep at night, but this one was unarmed. Every single one before had tried to kill him or was going to hurt others. This one was unarmed and not even trying to kill anyone. Keitaro felt the sword at his side in its sheath pulse, telling him that even killing an unarmed demon was being no different than they were killing innocent people. He debated the two options, and slowly came to a realization. Cautiously and as silently as he could, he stepped out of cover.

The calmness of the air and the stillness of the water were like a soothing song to Huile as he sat waiting. He knew, with every fiber of his being that was fate revealing to him events to come. While they may still be unknown to him, he knew that he would trust his feelings when the time came. For now, though, he would wait for the one that was to appear before him. As the moon continued its path across the sky, Huile sat silently and waited.

It was the sound of a blade being drawn behind him that alerted him to the others presence. He smiled lightly, knowing that death was not to come to him tonight. He bowed his head shallowly in thought, "Ssso you have come."

From behind him, he heard the feather light footsteps appear from the night as the person came closer. From behind him, the voice sent a tiny shiver up Huile's spine, "What do you want, demon?"

Huile chuckled lightly and pleasantly, so as not to alarm the man behind him, "I have come for redemption."

A long pause fell upon the two, with Huile silently praying that this was actually who he was to meet. A second later he felt the tip of a blade resting against his back, "Stand."

He did as he was commanded and waited. Prepared to die, he was willing to prove his being unarmed. Slowly, he put his arms out to his sides, palms up, "I am unarmed. Sssurely you would not taint your honor by killing an unarmed perssson?"

He heard the voice scoff from behind him, "I don't think you constitute a person anymore."

Huile gently nodded his head, "Thisss isss true."

A few tense seconds passed between the two, neither saying anymore. Then, as quickly as it had been pressed against his back, Huile heard the blade being sheathed. Letting out a quiet breath, Huile cautiously turned around to face this person. He nearly dropped to his feet at the sight before him. A young man, no more than twenty four stood. His hair, while starting to turn red around the edges, was the same black as his ancestors. The eyes were the same shade of obsidian, yet with the hint of red beginning to creep into the iris. Huile took a step back out of reaction, but found that somehow he was not surprised. The young man glared at the demon, "Something offend you?"

Huile shook his head, both in answer and to clear his mind, "I apologize. Your appearance ssshocked me. You look like Lord Urassshima did."

The young man thumbed his swords hilt, "That's because I'm his grandson."

Huile again had to hide his shock, "Ssso you are the heir to Clan Urassshima?"

Keitaro nodded his head, his harsh glare never faltering, "My name is Keitaro Urashima. Not that it should matter to you, demon."

"No, it ssshouldn't," Huile said, slowly going to his knees. Once there, he bowed deeply, "Forgive me, Lord Urassshima. I did not mean to offend you."

Keitaro looked at the demon, puzzled at his actions. Huile sat up slowly, "My name isss Huile. At leassst it has been for the lassst forty yearsss. At one time I wasss called Kyosssuke. I had a wife once, too. But that was yearsss ago. I'm sssure that my wife hasss passssed on. My sssonā€¦"

Keitaro watched as the demon in front of him began to shed tears, but his shoulders were set like a warriors. He felt a twinge of guilt pass through him at the sight. Keitaro, still cautious, looked down with mixed curiosity, "Why do you tell me these things?"

"Sssimple," Huile began, looking up at Keitaro with tired weary eyes, "I wisssh to be forgiven and be allowed to ressst in peace. Until tonight, I did not know how to achieve thisss goal, but it wasss thanks to a visssion that I wasss able to learn of where you were and how to redeem myssself."

Keitaro slowly began to reach for his sword, "You knew where I was?"

Huile nodded, putting his hands in front of himself to forestall Keitaro attacking him, "Yesss, but I told no one. I wasss led here in my visssion by a white hawk. It and the visssage of Lord Urassshima led me and told me what to do to redeem myssself."

Still unsure, Keitaro's eyes darted between the demon in front of him and the edge of the woods, "How can I trust you?"

The demon shrugged lightly, a small smile on his face, "I have not attacked you, have I?"

Keitaro looked at Huile questioningly, "And what message did they tell you to give me?"

Huile looked away, finding everything but Keitaro's face more appealing to look at, "They told me to tell you of the impending attack on Kyoto. Gaaz and hisss army are headed there to crusssh the Phoenix'sss that have regrouped there. He intendsss to kill them all. Men, women, and children. I'm sssure you've ssseen what they do to warriorsss and innocentsss. You don't need anymore encouragement than that I think."

Again Keitaro fixed Huile with a penetrating glare, "And how can I rely on this information?"

Huile dropped to his knees and bowed deeply, "Becaussse, Lord Urassshima, I ssswear fealty to you and your clan. I will do what I can from my posssition to aid you, but there isss only ssso much I can do, and what little time I have left may not mean much."

Keitaro thought for a second, searching his feelings. His logic told him not to trust this demon and kill him right now. But somewhere in his heart, he knew that both what this demon had said and his vow were honest and that he could be trusted. At least to a certain point. After a moment of deciding, Keitaro nodded, "Very well, Huile. I will trust you this once. But I assure you, if you are wrong, than armed or not I will end your existence."

The prostrate demon looked up, hope gleaming lightly in his eyes, "You will not have to, My Lord. For if I'm wrong, than I ssshall kill myssself."

Keitaro nodded, and then took off running towards Kyoto. Once he was sure that no one was around anymore, he jumped and released his wings. As the wind swept past him, he sent a prayer to where Naru and the others were that he was not on a wild goose chase.

End of Chapter 15