Hi there; here we go with another Ushio & Tora story. This one takes place just after the 'Mysterious Sea' episodes, and Ushio has had the Spear for about two months. He and Tora still don't trust each other altogether; Tora still considers Ushio a form of snackfood now and then. Ushio's pretty much a bratty 15-year-old and shows it, too. Enjoy! Please review..... I'll buy you a car (it'll be a hotwheels, I'm afraid...) Annnnnd now, for your viewing pleasure, the Holy Disclaimer: I don't own U & T (though I did make up the kitsune-types herein), I wish I did, I'm so broke I squeak so don't sue me, and may their creator Kazuhiro Fujita live a long and prosperous life! Also, this story is given in thanks to Suzanna Gertruda, who was kind enough to draw some truely gorgeous fanart for me from my "Jaws" story. Many Thanks, Suzanna! On with the show!

A Truce Of Moons
By Ysabet

"Explain to me" said the temple boy to the monster, "just exactly *what* it is we're going to, just one more time. I still don't get it."

And the monster hissed in exasperation at the temple boy and growled: "Idiot."

They were soaring silently above a darkened landscape in the earliest moments of evening, still too light for stars but too late for sunlight. Below them their shadow ghosted across the broken field of treetops, appearing and disappearing with their flight.

Ushio drew a long, clean breath of the evening; it was cooler here than it was at home, and the pine forests below washed everything with a wild, green scent. Nice; here and there he could see flashes between the trees as the cloudless sky reflected in a broad stream running down from the mountains. That was their road of sorts; they followed the stream, flying along above it as though tied to a float drifting in its course.

He smiled to himself a little; if anyone had told him two months earlier that he'd be riding through the sky on the back of a monster he would've been looking nervously around for the men in white coats with butterfly nets. But here he was..... He gripped the Kemono No Yari a little tighter, the Spear's ragged silk streamers curling and fluttering around his forearm like stroking hands; if anyone had told him two months ago that he'd be dealing with a mythological artifact that took him over and turned him into something else, he would've wondered just what they were smoking.....

Tora was ignoring his question; go figure. Beneath him Ushio could feel the great muscles gather and shift as they began to drop slightly downwards, angling in flight towards a dip in the treetops. Some sort of valley or clearing? Too dark to tell, really. The bakemono had been pretty noncommunicative for the last couple of hours, though he'd been a lot... easier... to deal with lately. That last battle they had fought together--- it had made a few changes between them, somehow. Ushio sighed; fifteen years of life hadn't really prepared him to be the kind of person that the Spear seemed to want him to be, but he was getting there; the Spear was teaching him how to fight, how to move, when to kill..... He shifted uncomfortably; the thought of killing another living thing was something he didn't really want to think about too hard. At least Tora seemed to be settling down to a certain extent; Ushio was still the Spearbearer, Tora was still the monster, but..... maybe they could manage not to mangle each other for a while.

Never mind that now, though; they were dropping, curving gently towards a streambank where the water flashed silver as Tora's eyes between some really *huge* trees, like the ones you'd find at shrines. Ushio jumped a little as something shot past them in the air--- what the hell was that? Not too big, really quick: a bat? Insomniac bird? They were landing before he could tell, and he slid off carefully as the bakemono's claws sank into the blanket of dead leaves with only a faint crunch (it still amazed him how *quietly* Tora could move! Alarmed him a bit, too). His own landing was a bit noisier; the ancient bakemono snorted in annoyance and began to pick his way along the streambed, moving downstream.

"Hey, monster. One more time--- *What* kind of party is this? And why the hell did we come, anyway?" Ushio used the Spear to steady himself as he hopped from boulder to boulder.

Tora sighed exaggeratedly to himself, silver eyes turned up to the heavens. Stupid humans. In the darkness before moonrise he was a shadow, his vivid coloring muted to shades of charcoal and slate. "NOT a party, Brat ----- this is the moon-truce, and we're here because you pulled that bastard Spear out and released me." The monster's eyes flashed briefly and a curve of sharp teeth reflected the first faint starlight. "Bakemonotachi hold territories, and I want to know who holds what. Also, when we've been..... away..... for a while, we come to the moon-truce to show that we are back and to keep other bakemonotachi from taking our territories. Not that they could..... But this is the sort of thing that a bakemono does. Now shut up." He moved a little further along, head up, sniffing at the wind.

Ushio ignored the 'shut up' part as a matter of course. "So why do *I* have to be here? I'm no bakemono...." he stepped across a tiny streamlet that had wandered away from its parent and stopped for a second to tug at his shirt. Tora had advised him to 'try to look impressive', so he had taken the time to put on a dark grey high-collared shirt and black pants--- but the sneakers stayed; at least they were black, too. In his own opinion he looked pretty good.....

He raised his head and began to take a step further--- and found himself less than a foot from Tora's shadowy face; the bakemono had turned around and was staring him down, teeth slightly bared in annoyance. "Pay ATTENTION, Whelp!!" he hissed, keeping his voice low. Ushio started back a step, but then held his ground; he flushed at having shown any signs of intimidation.

Tora glared at him, tail twitching. "YOU are here because of *that*-----" and the bakemono poked a single large talon towards the Spear, which hummed faintly in response. "You are in *my* territory, and that bastard Thing concerns all bakemonotachi whether we hate humans or like them. I care nothing for the others, but you are a matter we must deal with! In a way, you *are* bakemono, or something like-----"

Still flushing, Ushio felt a wave of anger and shock sweep through him; he brought the Spear's point up and around between them, brandishing it before Tora's face. The bakemono flinched back a little. "I-am-NOT-a-monster!!" he snapped, wishing he felt a little more certain of just that fact. Tora faced him down, arms folded.

"You are the Spearbearer; that's enough for those who will be here tonight. To us, you ARE a monster, idiot! And that is a good thing right now." He laughed softly, silver eyes slitted. "You'll be among monsters tonight, won't you? So you'd better get on with it." And the bakemono pointed again at the Spear.

"Get on with what?" Ushio was still breathing a little hard. "What are you talking about, get on with what?"

The monster raised his eyes to the heavens again. "I *told* you: Look impressive! Change yourself, stupid! Humans will NOT be welcome here--- you'll be eaten if you show up human! So change."

Oh. Ushio looked down at the Kemono No Yari; he was still a little uncertain about this. Changing in the heat of battle was one thing, but doing it deliberately.....? But Tora had a point. So...... He concentrated.

It was easier when he was angry or afraid; then it was a simple thing, a response to stimuli. But he could do this..... Ushio felt the first heat of power spreading from the Spear through his body, flowing like blood through his veins; it hurt, but it was bearable, easier every time: A burning in his bones, a rush like static rippling across his skin, every cell turned for one timeless moment fluid and white-hot like metal in a forge (and there were images in his mind too, images that he could never quite keep: flames/ a man's bitter face/ a hammer striking/ a woman leaping, calm face reflected in molten metal below) and above it all the image of the other shape approaching, moving forward, blending, melding, becoming real-----

----- and it was done, and he ran a shaking hand back through the long, long hair and across his face; breathless, Ushio glanced down at the streamlet below. Two lambent cateyes reflected back from the darkness, flashing cobalt-blue, bottle-green, amber-gold; they glimmered as brilliantly as Tora's own. He flexed his hands (the thickened, sharper nails always felt so weird) and glanced up at the watching bakemono. "Satisfied?"

Tora simply shrugged, turned around and walked on. They headed downstream towards the clearing, eyes shining in the shadows.

The landscape became rockier as the trees thinned out and the stream ducked back underground; there were lights ahead, the dancing lights of bonfires and torches (and something else that looked for all the world like hanging balls of foxfire, burning wanly blue); Ushio could see silhouettes moving against the illuminations..... really *oddly* shaped silhouettes, come to that. His head whipped up as something went by overhead--- it looked like..... No, that couldn't be right. He was seeing things, obviously; bats didn't come that big..... and then he watched as two more flapped past, their wingspans longer than his body. That wasn't really the strange part; that was the silver jewelry they were wearing, and possibly the fact that their wings looked to be patterned in scarlet and blue. One looked down as it flew past; its eyes widened at the sight of the Spear and it let out a decidedly un-batlike yelp, speeding up and shooting on into the clearing.

Ushio hunched his shoulders; "OK" he said softly to himself; this looked to be an.... interesting evening.

As they entered the clearing he found himself gripping the Kemono No Yari tighter than ever; there were others arriving too--- from the air, or walking, or crawling, or moving like mist..... He swallowed; *Oh, man.....*

The Spear hummed faintly in his sweating grip; he gulped again and kept walking, trying not to stare too long at one face or form. But for crying out loud-----!

There to his right, that many-legged thing--- was that a kumo, one of the giant spiders out of those old folk tales? It sure looked like it; and walking beside it in conversation was, well, it kind of looked like a tanuki but it was as large as a man and was fairly well dressed (the Hawaiian shirt was a little garish, sure, but...). Beyond them stood a group of perfectly ordinary-looking businessmen, suits and ties and all; you'd think they were normal except for the pointed ears and glowing eyes..... And what about those green horned-and-fanged things over by the rocks? Oni, straight from an old ricepaper drawing of Hell (except that Ushio rather numbly noticed that one was wearing a 'Shogun Knife' t-shirt). *Oh, man.....*

He stumbled a little as something large and looming with an enormous nose knuckled past, shambling in a cloud of its own reek; a bit ahead Tora glanced back, nose wrinkling. Quaking inside, Ushio hurried up to join the bakemono, sweating as he passed something black and shiny with too many limbs and eyes. It was watching him, too. Of course, it looked like it was watching everybody. *Oh, MAN.....!*

Just this once, Tora looked *really* reassuring. Just this once. At least he was familiar..... What was it the Westerners said? 'Better the devil you know than the devil you don't'..... Still, Ushio would bet money that whoever made up the saying never meant it to be taken QUITE that literally.

The bakemono had paused to look around the clearing; there were perhaps forty or fifty beings standing, sitting, floating or crouching nearby as yet, ranging from diaphanous little flying things as small as the temple boy's hand to something leaning rather nonchalantly against a boulder that would dwarf a two-story building. The Spearbearer had to stop and stare for a moment; it--- he--- looked like nothing more than an oversized and rather scraggly European human, complete with jeans, engineer's boots and single gold earring. But... he stood about 30 feet tall and was proportionally broad..... Ow. The giant slouched there, hands in pockets, wearing what looked for all the world like a baseball cap pulled down over his broad forehead; he seemed to be scanning the new arrivals as they came in, and his gaze checked for a moment as it passed over Tora and then Ushio. For a second or two the giant stared back, enormous face impassive; then, grinning just a little, he looked away. The Spearbearer shrugged to himself and moved a little closer to Tora.

They were moving well into the clearing now, and he noticed something a little odd (and 'odd' in *this* crowd was something that had to *really* stand out!): frightened glances, apprehensive looks, muttered comments in low voices from here and there in the crowd. Directed at Tora? Directed at the Spear? Or the Spearbearer? He couldn't tell..... Ushio straightened a little, bringing the Kemono No Yari to rest on his shoulder. It wasn't that he wanted to frighten anybody or anything, but it was oddly reassuring to know that he wasn't the only creature here that was a little unnerved.

He heard a grunt of approval from beside him; the bakemono was watching him, arms crossed, a slight sharp-toothed smile on his striped face. Backlit by the flickering fire he looked like something dredged up from the deepest of nightmares, not at all reassuring..... But he *was* familiar....

Oh well; 'Better the devil you know.....'

The Spearbearer drew a deep breath and let it out. "So. Tora--- Why is this called the 'moon-truce'? You never said" he asked, trying to sound casual. The monster sat back a little, running his claws through his burnt-orange mane. "Ah. It's held each year on the full-moon-night of the month with the longest day, when the Sun is strongest." He shrugged, hair drifting back into his eyes. "We do not care overmuch for rules, but we agree on a few for this night--- no one may kill any here..... not even you, Spearbearer. Remember that! No killing here, no matter what is said or done. Kill, and we both die." Tora growled a little to emphasize his words, and Ushio found himself baring his own sharp teeth in reply (it bothered him a little to realize what a natural gesture that was for his new form; it was altogether too easy to act like a beast. Like Tora.)

Taking his silence as agreement, the bakemono looked around the clearing for a moment. "..... Those who will speak will begin at moonrise; we have a while as yet. When we are to speak, I will find you; until then, remember: No killing!" and he turned away, moving silently off into the growing crowd.

Ushio blinked; why did Tora insist on treating him half the time like a weak little child and the other half like a killer?!? It just didn't make any sense..... Or was he missing something? Huh. *Oh well.....* He pushed his long hair back (it never stayed) and, shouldering the Kemono No Yari, began to work his way slowly towards the rocks on the other side of the clearing. He had perhaps an hour before moonrise, and there was a *lot* to see.

The sheer variety of creatures around him kept Ushio enthralled for quite a while as he slowly made his way through the firelit crowd; were these all..... people? They hopped, flew, crawled and drifted; they shouted, spoke quietly, sang and hissed, and he suspected that at least once he had trod on one of them (he hoped it didn't mind). Strange things with too many teeth, delicate willowy tree-women, tiny fluttering things with long talons and rainbow plumage, slinking wolf-youkai in antique armor..... And they paid him very little attention (save for the occasional startled or apprehensive glance, first at the Spear, then at him); apparently he was just another bakemono in their eyes.

This bothered him a bit until he thought about what they were seeing; really, it was just as well.

So many types of beings, though, and none of them human! How the hell did they live in the same world that he had grown up in without being noticed?!? Of course, there were quite a few that looked pretty normal; Ushio saw several men and women (always moving in groups of three, for some reason) that he would've passed on the street without a second glance. How many times had he done just that? How many times had the person next to him in line at the bus stop been a youkai? Interesting thought. Moving slowly, he watched as a middle-aged woman passed him by, two chattering children in tow; save for the fact that all three were as translucent as glass, she could've been any housewife on the way to market. One of the children was even wearing a Pokemon backpack..... The Spearbearer shook his head and moved on.

As he sank down bemused on a low boulder at the side of the clearing, a voice beside him said "Oh, Yukio, did you get me any..... Oh!" Startled, Ushio turned to find himself staring into the face of an animal.

Well, sort of. If animals dressed in traditional kimonos and wore their dark red hair up in intricate arrangements. The fact that the creature was drinking from a can of soda was also a consideration..... It--- she--- looked like a fox. A *real* fox, with amber eyes and sharp, vulpine teeth in a russet-and-white furred face, delicate ears pricked forward.

She also looked a little panicky and very much like she wanted to bolt. Ushio quickly stumbled to his feet and bowed; "Ummm, I beg your pardon--- was this boulder taken?"

*God,* he thought; *What a stupid thing to say!* His ears burned in embarrassment.

But the fox-creature looked a little less anxious, inclining her head with a hesitant smile (really, she looked a LOT like an anime character when you thought about it.....) "Uh, no--- I thought you were my brother; he went to get me another soda. Please, sit down; really, it's OK." A bit nervously the Spearbearer sank back down onto the boulder even as the foxgirl sat on another a few feet away. "They've got sodas here?" Ushio blinked; that wasn't what he would've expected monsters to drink..... But the foxgirl smiled again shyly and passed him up a can from where it had been resting beside her seat. "Please take it--- my brother Yukio got me the wrong one earlier. I think one of the city-youkai provided them this year...... Is this your first moon-truce?"

Ushio sighed; it was nice talking to something that didn't look like it was going to bite his head off. "Thanks very much. Um, yeah. First time. Is it that obvious?" he asked, trying not to sound too chagrined. The can hissed as he popped it open; drinking gratefully, he eyed the creature beside him with curiosity (she was really very pretty, fur and all; and he didn't think she was any older than he was. What a strange idea.)

She looked down at her soda, still smiling a little with small, sharp teeth. "Well, yeah; you seem a bit nervous. This is my third moon-truce, but I remember how strange it all looked the first time I came with my family." The foxgirl settled back on her stone, one blackfurred hand tugging her sash straight. "I'm Rikone; you are-----?"

"Ummmm, I'm Ushio. Pleased to meet you." He half-bowed again, feeling a little foolish. Things were looking up.

They talked for a while, the kitsune and the Spearbearer, sitting there in the flickering firelight as the crowd of assorted beings grew. Ushio found that he had more in common with the young foxgirl than he would ever have thought possible; they were deep in a discussion of the current j-pop groups when her two brothers arrived, bearing armfuls of soda cans and less identifiable snacks (the temple boy declined politely when offered something that he hoped wasn't the fried mouse that it looked very much to be). The two other kitsune seemed nice enough; both (their names were Yukio and Hayaiko) seemed about the same age as their sister, and she casually mentioned that they were from the same 'litter'..... They joined in the conversation with alacrity and talked of other things as well: movies, school and classmates (apparently kitsune could take on human forms, making it an easy thing to blend in), all of the sort of things that any teenager would find interesting. It was strange, thought Ushio, how quickly you could forget that these weren't just humans--- he recalled his dad talking about kitsune. Fox-spirits, usually benign, sometimes tricksters but most often neutral; there was a shrine to one out in Atsugi.

Hayaiko and Yukio hopped up when they spotted a friend waving at them across the clearing; they headed off in that direction, white-tipped tails trailing behind. Ushio sipped at his second soda of the evening and began to wonder what bakemono did when they needed a bathroom (he'd speculated about this in the past in regards to Tora, but even the most refined tortures wouldn't be enough to make him ask). He watched the figures around the central bonfire; they were beginning to draw back and find seats, perches or simply clear areas to drift in. A few feet away a group of somethings with shaggy brown fur and monkey-like faces were settling down; one of the smallest ones dropped a red leather ball which rolled to the Spearbearer's feet. He smiled at the furry toddler and nudged the toy back with the tip of the Spear, which he had resting as inconspicuously as possible point-down in the crook of one arm. The furry child caught the ball and grinned back at him with the friendliness of all youngsters too small too small to have learned wariness; its mother (father? Who could tell?) caught him up, giving Ushio an apologetic grimace..... Then it caught sight of the Spear, and its dark green eyes widened for a moment. Looking thoughtful, the creature nudged the one beside it and they both stared at the Spearbearer and his weapon with frankly curious gazes. Ushio sighed and looked aside, meeting the equally curious amber eyes of the young foxgirl beside him; she seemed to have something on her mind.

Taking a sip of her soda, Rikone said hesitantly "We--- my brothers and parents and I---" and she gestured vaguely in the direction her littermates had gone "--- we're kitsune, I guess that's obvious. But if I can be a little rude..... What are you?"

Oh. Good question; this was going to be tricky. Ushio sighed. "Well," he said somewhat awkwardly, "it's kind of hard to explain. I--- guess I'm sort of one of a kind." He looked down at his hands, thinking of what the foxgirl was seeing: long, long black hair, sharp teeth, shining catlike eyes, sharpnailed hands..... Of course, he was talking to someone who might not find that sort of thing frightening at all. Look at the creatures around them, for instance..... Beside him she said softly "I, ah, didn't mean to be rude; it's just that I've never seen anything at the moon-truce like you before. You *almost* look and smell like a human, but not quite; please forgive me if I'm intruding, but you know kitsune--- we're always curious....." Ushio looked up to meet her inquiring golden eyes and smiled a little weakly. "It's not that, and you're not being rude; I just don't really know how to explain."

He thought for a moment, twisting a lock of his long hair in his fingers. "Ummmm, have you ever heard of the Kemono No Yari?" The Spearbearer tensed slightly as he awaited her answer. He could hear the silk of her kimono rustle as she sipped her soda, her long fluffy foxtail twitching by her blackfurred ankles. "Well, sure," said Rikone slowly; "We all have; that's one of the big issues tonight, from what I heard my parents talking about. Of course, kitsune don't take sides in that sort of thing; we're always neutral....." The tip of her tail flicked back and forth, white end-hairs catching the firelight.

He relaxed a little. "I'm glad to hear that....." and he brought the Spear around from where he had it leaning point-down, placing it along the ground with the blade resting in his lap. The ragged red silk streamers fluttered slightly in the cool evening breeze.

For a moment there was silence. Ushio looked down at the Spear, smoothing the wood of the haft with his hands; for some reason that always comforted him. He looked up at the kitsune; she was sitting bolt upright, staring down at the Spear with wide, wide eyes, ears slightly flattened. Very slowly Rikone lifted her gaze to his face--- dropped it back down to the Spear--- then looked back up at him. "You--- are the Bearer?" Her voice was a tiny thing, a mouse's voice.

"Yeah.....?" Ushio shifted uncomfortably under the foxgirl's scrutiny.

Rikone's eyes were fixed on his and her teeth were showing a little; the thought passed through Ushio's mind that, if he hadn't gotten so used to Tora's expressions, he would've found the kitsune a very intimidating sight just now. But..... He smiled as reassuringly as possible; "Ummm, it's OK--- I'm nothing you need to worry about, you know; you said so yourself: Kitsune don't take sides concerning the Spear, right?"

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "That's right..... Is that *really* the Kemono No Yari?" The foxgirl stared in fascination at the Spear; Ushio sighed in relief as she relaxed. "Yeah. I've only been the Bearer for a little while now--- it's kind of hard to get used to." Rikone hesitated, then shyly asked ".....Can I..... touch it, do you think? I mean, will it mind?"

A little unsure, Ushio looked down at the Spear; he carefully placed both hands the haft just below the point, holding it firmly. "Go ahead; I think it's OK." And the kitsune reached one finger out to delicately draw a single translucent claw down the haft; beneath her touch the Kemono No Yari sang faintly but made no protest. She ran one dark hand across the silver spearhead and drew in a sharp breath; ".....It's warm; it feels alive....." Rikone whispered, pulling back.

Ushio smiled wryly, smoothing the Spear's streamers between his fingers. "As far as I can tell, it *is* alive; it tells me things sometimes, teaches me how to fight, how to kill....." There was an uncomfortable silence; he had forgotten what he was talking to for a bit there. A soft-furred touch on his arm made the Spearbearer look up; the foxgirl smiled faintly at him, a little amused. "Ushio--- my family and I are not exactly the kind of bakemonotachi you'd usually be hunting, if that's what you're worried about; kitsune are neutral, remember? And besides....." she looked off towards the central bonfire; ".....this *is* the moon-truce; no killing is allowed tonight." Rikone started to say something else, then stopped and gestured silently towards the flames.

Ushio looked up too. A quiet was settling over the clearing and the pop and crackle of the fire was clearly audible over the soft whispers and conversation around him. Moonrise..... Yeah, there was the moon, peeking just above the trees to the south; he settled back on his stone, one hand caressing the haft of the Spear for reassurance.

Things were about to get interesting.....

End of Chapter 1