"..." = spoken words
'......' = thoughts, unspoken
~~~ = flashback
... = this could mean a lot of things, but usually means that the character is speechless, dumbfounded, confused, etc. Could also mean unfinished or something like that. Depends on how it is used.
Also, I tend to write from a character's viewpoint. It isn't so obvious since I prefer using third person. Here's a clue though, every time there is a blank line or double or even triple lines, it means that I have transferred character viewpoints or there is a great or reasonable passage of time like the next morning, or some time later, etc.
Yuu Yuu Hakusho, its characters and events referred to, is the property of Yoshihiro Togashi and others. Not mine, definitely not mine.
Some characters and the story plot line I created, but even that I'm not making any money from this. Just for entertainment's sake. ^_^
A Journey Interrupted
Yomi growled, hands glowing bright green as a power ball charged between them. Facing him, the ape-like creature howled in challenge, its grotesque face wild in blood frenzy as all around them lay dismembered and scorched body parts of its former companions.
Mad and heedless of its obvious inferiority, the monster charged the blind youkai.
Shura smiled at his father as he handed him the best portion of the meat from the freshly killed animal already cleaned, gutted and roasting nicely on the spit over the campfire between the two youkai. Yomi nodded his thanks, taking it and began his meal silently while Shura enthusiastically dug into his own dinner.
It had been a busy and satisfying day as it usually was. The meat from the defeated pride of demi-youkais would be more than enough to last them for weeks on end. Usually, he and his sire would only hunt one or two of the savage creatures that inhabited the barely explored jungle located in one of the remote corners of Makai, but this time they had been left with little choice when the beasts had ambushed them. Their loss.
After dinner, the two youkais cleaned up camp, making sure that there were no food scraps left. Though the fire and the high power signatures he and his father radiated should be enough to serve enough to deter nightly visitors, some creatures were actually attracted, curious or angry or both at the intruders in their territorial bounds. It would be best if there were no scent of flesh and blood to arouse the blood lust characteristic in Makai environment, both animal and vegetative, sometimes both.
His chores done, Shura yawned loudly, mouth wide open and eyes shut closed. He stretched lazily, feline-like, making sure that every muscle was included in the exercise from tips of fingers down to his booted feet. He didn't see his father smile slightly, not having the slightest realization that he had been doing the same habit every night since the day he was born, nor that his sire observed him fondly each time he did so.
Sighing with eased pleasure, Shura lowered his arms and turned to his father. "Papa, I'll take first watch tonight." When Yomi acquiesced, Shura scrambled up the chosen tree.
Balancing easily on one of the lower branches, he watched as the older youkai settled comfortably at the base of the tree. It has been their agreement. Each time they stop for camp, they decided on a suitable tree. Shura, young and light, would take to the tree while Yomi, not as light nor young and no longer as adventurous, preferred a more stable resting-place. The arrangement suited them just fine, and this way provided a better defensive strategy. They had lost count of many-a-shocked ugly face when Shura suddenly appeared, screaming banshee-like, from above.
'Of course, papa has little need of such protection.' Shura thought, still watching his father, already fast asleep. 'But... I think... he prefers it this way. I'm safer up here than down there.'
He knew his sire well. 'We're both tired... This journey was much harder then first expected... and our enemies, even worse...' They not only had to deal with already dangerous indigenous inhabitants of the jungle, but also with Yomi's foes. Without his kingdom, his army and bodyguards, Yomi was in a more vulnerable state. His long-time enemies didn't take long to seek him out and settle grudges. Their assumptions were fatal. The blind youkai was as powerful as ever, and is son, equivalent to any army. Still, the near-continuous battles took their toll.
'Papa hasn't even fully recovered from the tournament...' They had been travelling for about a year or so. Shura had begged his father to rest, but Yomi ignored his pleas, pushing onward continuously. The younger youkai was worried. Though his father didn't show it or tried to hide it, he was exhausted. It showed in little ways: the way his sire's long black hair had begun to lose its luster, the increasing number of times Yomi lost his temper though not his control during their battles... Only recently, Yomi had roared back at one of his irritatingly stubborn enemies. That was a sign that his father was tired and... that he was exerting a great deal of effort. The first time Shura had heard his father growl at an enemy was during his fight with Raizen's son and heir, Yuusuke. Even the one scolding he received from his sire was more of a reproach than in anger.
'We need to find a safe place and soon.' Shura looked at his father for a few more moments before settling down more comfortably against the trunk of the tree. For a while, he stared at the night sky. The stars twinkled at him teasingly. 'So many possibilities, the future is endless...I promise... no... I swear I will make papa proud of me!' Starlight lit his eyes as he dreamed of glory destined to him.
'First though... I have to help papa...'
Yomi halted, head cocked sideways, ears twitching slightly. Beside and slightly behind, Shura paused as well. He glanced at his father before concentrating to catch the sound his father must have heard. Yomi frowned. 'I thought I heard something just now... must have been my imagination...' He relaxed his guard and continued walking, his son eagerly following him.
'Hmm... I really should get more rest. I am getting too uptight, jumping at every little noise I hear... Besides, I felt no youki.' Indeed, all he sensed right now were the natural pulses of energy present in the land, air and stationary harmless vegetation.
"How long til we reach our destination?"
"Soon. In three days, we will be out of this jungle."
Yomi allowed himself a pleased smile at his son's enthusiasm. 'Shura... he must be no doubt getting restless. The monsters here are no challenge to him now.' Yomi felt the pride every father feels. 'He's improving just as I have foreseen, even faster than I had hoped.'
Shura was now bordering S-class, and growing taller each day. Yomi had planned that into his genes. His offspring's metabolism was extremely high, allowing him to mature quickly.
When he reached adulthood, his metabolism would slow to normal. Still Yomi, felt a bit guilty. 'Shura is still an infant, despite his physical appearance.' Though his son achieved remarkable emotional control for one his age, there were instances when his underdevelopment was made clear.
'He is so eager to please...' Yomi thought absent-mindedly as he automatically cleared a path through the foliage, his katana gleaming brightly despite the little sunlight that managed to filter through the thick canopy. He didn't notice Shura watching his every move, eyes wide with concentration as he mimicked his sire. s actions.
'He should be playing games instead of battling for his life...' Irritated, he wiped that thought away. 'What am I thinking?! This is Makai! There is no time for such triviality!'
"Get back to work, you lazy good-for-nothing!" The whip came down hard and the young horned youkai screamed as the thorny tips ripped into the barely healed flesh of his back. Whimpering, he turned pain-filled eyes to the slayer, raising both hands in futile defense as the whip came down again... and again...
No use... Yomi whimpered as he fought back the sob in his throat. He was kneeling by a river, trying to remove his tunic without aggravating his wounds, especially the ones on his back. It was a cold night and Yomi was thankful for that. The cool air soothe the cuts and lacerations on his face, hands and arms just as much as a wet cloth would. Now... if he could just take his shirt off...
He pulled harder and stifled a moan. He could feel some of the already healed wounds reopening with every pull of his shirt. He had woken up that evening to find himself in the trash pile just outside the village. He must have fainted during the beating and the slayer had presumed him dead.
Yomi began laughing hysterically, forgetting his tunic. He bent towards the surface of the water, staring at his bloodied face. In fact, most of his body was covered in his own blood, already hardened into molted crust. He continued laughing, the chuckles turning into shrieks of insanity.
He ripped his shirt off, barely noticing the pain, and tore off his breeches. With a howl, he leaped into the river. He didn't care if he drowned! He was already dead anyway!
The cold waters embraced his small form lovingly, and Yomi didn't resist as he began to sink, letting the river take him where it wished.
Yomi blinked, his step faltering, as he withdrew from past memories. His face heated a bit. 'I must be getting old, daydreaming like that...' He hoped Shura wouldn't think him becoming senile. He turned to his son. "Shura, I..."
He wasn't there...
Yomi paled. "Shura!" He bolted lighting quick in the direction where Shura's cry had come. Branches, leaves and vines disintegrated as Yomi flung his youki forward.
His foot caught on something and he stumbled, shock and bewilderment coming in full force as he landed heavily into the ground. 'What the...?!' He righted himself automatically, somersaulting, just as a javelin-like branch buried itself in the spot where he was an instant before.
His breathing quickened as he realized the danger. With a curse, he directed his youki into a protective sphere around him as the environment around him turned deadly.
One day later...
Seran hummed a pleasant tune as he walked towards his herb garden. Even far away from his house, he could smell the pleasant spicy fragrances from his cherished garden.
'What a beautiful day!' He paused, shading his eyes from the sun's glare as he looked skyward, noting the few clouds in the nearly empty sky. 'Though, a little rain would be nice...' With a contented sigh, he continued on his way.
As he neared his destination, he frowned.
His garden was surrounded by a stone wall, two meters high, though such a defense provided little defense against the beasts living in the nearby jungle. Instead, it was utilized as a wind break rather than physical defense. The garden itself was camouflage by a spell. To all eyes except Seran's, there was nothing there except a grassy knoll. Even scent was taken into account. The animals had no idea of tasty and dangerous treats so nearby. ... So why was there a big hole in the wall?!
Seran sped to the garden. 'Oh no, did the spell fail?!' He was far more concerned with whatever went into the garden than the garden itself. Some of the herbs were deadly poisons.
'I don't want to have to drag a carcass out of my garden!' It never happened before, but it was a possibility and Seran didn't like it.
His hold tightened on his staff. 'If I have to, I'll beat it out of there! ... That is... if whatever it is still alive...' Heedless of the danger, he dashed straight into the garden, weapon raised and ready.
"Yomi! What did you do to my garden?!"
Read on to Chapter Two.
A Hermit's Home...
Shura groaned and opened his eyes, only to shut them back tight when bright sunlight blinded him. "Ugh..." He felt so tired... 'Where am I?' He lifted a hand to shade his eyes and grimaced at the clamminess of his skin.
Opening his eyes again, this time slowly, he winced at the bright glare that shined even through his fingers and with his other arm, levered himself into a sitting position or tried to...
His hand met a firm material that softened automatically at the pressure. Frowning, he waited for his eyes to adjust to the level of brightness, impatiently blinking tears away.
As his vision cleared, he found himself staring at a skylit ceiling. Rays of sunlight passed through the faceted surface; most of the light was diffused to a softer quality as rainbow arcs formed from prism-like elements scattered evenly across it.
"What is this place?" He murmured, his attention caught by tiny gleams of light from dust motes floating lazily around him.
"Ahh... you're awake."
Shura twisted his head and saw a figure approach him. Instinctively, he pushed himself from the bed only to fall back when he failed to gain any leverage.
Angered, he rolled and slammed into something.
"Ouch!" Stunned, he fell back to his original position. 'A barrier?! I'm trapped!'
"Hey, stop that!"
Shura ignored the warning and with a growl began charging an energy ball with the intention of destroying the prison holding him and the enemy along with it.
?! "Wait a minute!"
A few minutes later...
Seran sighed as he wiped soot from his face. He ignored the youkai standing a few meters away from him, form in battle stance with another energy ball charging.
"Who are you and where is my father?!"
With a groan, Seran finally looked back at him. "My name is Seran. I'm the one whose lab you just destroyed!" Stifling another sigh, he looked around at the wreckage that used to a clean and efficient laboratory. 'Good thing, I built this place in separate units; otherwise, my entire home would have been destroyed. ... Aack! What am I thinking?! That little imp just demolished my lab!'
"Arrgh!" He growled, frustrated. "Like father, like son!" Muttering darkly, he didn't notice Shura tensing further at his actions.
"Where's my father?!" The youngster demanded again.
Seran fought the urge to attack the little monster. Instead, he forced himself to relax, taking deep breaths and tried to ignore the smoky odor. It wasn't much help.
"Your father is alright." He managed to say evenly despite gritted teeth. "He's in the unit north-east of here."
Shura didn't believe him.
'Control... remember your control...' He took another deep breath. "Look, he's there. If not, you can check the other areas... No, scratch that! Do not go into the other rooms!" Seran grimaced at the thought.
Finally, he looked at Shura in the eye. "I know that you do not trust me. The feeling's mutual." 'You're too trigger-happy for my peace of mind.' "However, I give you my word that Yomi is there."
Yomi's son snorted distrustfully. "The only word I trust is my father's. What do you know of honor?"
"The proof lies in the fact that I haven't punished you, despite what you have just done. You are Yomi's son and I do not harm my friends' children."
Shura's look was skeptical. "You and papa are friends?"
Seran eyes narrowed as he considered the younger youkai. 'How... suspicious he is... Still, he has reason to be so.' "Very well, ... you... are not really Yomi's offspring. You are, in fact, his clone and though you look like a youkai nearing young adulthood, you are only about a year old since you were born from an artificial womb."
Shura's eyes widened at Seran's statement. 'Only papa and Yoda know the truth about me. How did this Seran know all that?!'
Still watching the other youkai carefully, Shura relaxed his stance but held onto the energy ball.
"Who told you all that?"
"No one. I was the one who designed that artificial womb and assisted your father in forming your genetic structure."
"No! Papa created me alone!"
"Good grief! I'm not saying I'm your father too. I just helped your father."
Shura swallowed hard, a sickening sensation in the pit of his stomach. It didn't help the pounding in his head. 'What's wrong with me?!' Cold sweat broke on his forehead and palms as his muscles started trembling. 'I feel so strange...'
A mirage of emotions and sensations crashed into him as his frame jerked in shock and sheer exhaustion. The energy ball dissipated as his body gathered what youki it could find. He didn't see the startled look on Seran's face as he fainted into unconsciousness.
The river wouldn't let him die.
Shivering, Yomi woke up to find himself lying facedown in a mossy bank. As he pushed himself up, nausea overcame him and he vomited involuntarily, spewing out river water and what little food he had in his stomach. It took some time before the spasms ceased.
He coughed and wiped his mouth with the back of hand, pausing when he tasted blood, his own. He looked at his hand, at the blood clotting, closing the deep wound, one of several scarring his hand.
He looked down at his own body. He was clean. The river had scrubbed the dirt and muck off him, cleaning away as well the blood and gore that had clung to him. He was clean.
Carefully, he stood up, still staring at himself. A cool breeze came, caressing him with the gentlest of touches. He closed his eyes, face upturned to catch the wind. Strange, he didn't feel as cold as before.
As the wind died, Yomi opened his eyes to find himself staring at a full moon. The silver disc shone the softest of lights, bright but not the least bit glaring. Surrounding it, the twinkling pinpoints of stars, teasing lights in the blackness of the night sky.
'Beautiful... so beautiful...' He thought, mesmerized. 'I... never did look at the sky at night.'
Since he could remember, it was always survival. Nothing less, nothing more. Yomi never knew his parents. It was the slaver's whip that claimed first memory. Days of toiling, trying to survive despite the high fatality of workers in the mines. So few children his age and those didn't last for long. To the mine barons, children were more nuisances than assets. Too young and weak to do much work, requiring more food for growth and more susceptible to diseases. Breeding was discouraged severely.
From what little information he was able to glean, his parents had been mine slaves as well, and one of the admirable characteristics of life; despite all odds, life goes on.
However, his father had been killed as an example to the other slaves for disobeying the mine baron's dictates. His mother was allowed to live to bear the pains of labor alone.
Another punishment, another example. Yet, somehow, their child survived.
'I am alive...' Yomi wondered at that. The whip and the river couldn't take his life, what could if not those two?
The wind started again and he relished the feel of it, the scent of it, the sound it made, even the taste of it... though he couldn't see it.
He could still feel the wind... and as always, it mattered little that he couldn't see.
Yomi sat up carefully, ears alert for any slight sound, his nostrils twitching slightly as he "tasted" his surroundings. Sensing nothing dangerous, he spread his youki, taking care not to expend too much. His energy reserve was at a limit.
He was in a room, quite large and spacious. The bed he was on being one of the few pieces of furniture there, and it was hard.
"I shut off the pressure mattress and cover, just in case..."
Yomi lifted his head at the voice. "Seran..."
"You people never did like my inventions, despite their usefulness and efficiency."
He turned his head towards the other youkai, focusing his youki on the tiny sliver of energy that identified Seran. "Your camouflage has improved. I can barely sense your youki."
Yomi heard a rustle of clothing as Seran moved closer, and he finally caught the scent of the other. It was subtle, mimicking the fragrance of the environment around. "And your scent is hardly detectable." Yomi smiled slightly. "Afraid as always, Seran?"
"Hmph, you would do better to improve your technique as well, Yomi." Seran sat beside him. "Broadcasting youki is an easy and foolish way to attract enemies. That was how the that groove of Devil-trees found you and your son."
Yomi stiffened at the mention of Shura. "How is he?"
A soft sigh... "He is fine for one who had most of his youki sucked out of him. He is indeed strong and fortunate not only to have survived the rescue, but the double dose of stimulants you administered to him."
Yomi slumped in relief, settling back against the bed. "I wasn't certain of what herbs to give him..."
So pale, Shura was so pale...
Yomi stumbled and quickly regained his balance, carrying his son tightly against his chest.
He continued his run through the jungle, forgoing the ground for the treetops, leaping quickly from branch to branch. Soon they arrived at a river.
After positioning Shura carefully on the branch, Yomi accessed the river. It was white water, churning foam as waves crashed over rocks and boulders strewn across its seemingly shallow surface. Yomi knew however that the river was deep to produce such strong currents. He soon figured a pathway across the river via the rocks. It wouldn't be easy.
Shura moaned and Yomi quickly attended to him. He frowned as he felt the deep punctures in his son's flesh where the roots of the trees had taken hold, possessing the body to draw its life energy. It had been so close. Yomi had to use a great deal of youki to destroy the trees that went after him. The Devil-tree that had Shura had already drained most of the youth's energy, leaving him helpless in its embrace.
So close... Devil-trees were infamous and greatly feared. Anyone who fell victim to them were made forever prisoners, a supply of energy until the unfortunate's body died. They possessed their captives and manipulated their body systems to grant the largest amount of life force without killing the source. Woe is he trapped in a Devil-tree's embrace.
'If I had to... I would kill Shura myself rather than leaving him to such a fate!'
Yomi took a deep breath and positioned his hands on Shura's chest. An emerald light appeared, brightened then dimmed, fading away as Shura's breathing became stronger.
He withdrew his hands and carefully lifted the younger youkai. 'Have to hurry... I do not much youki left to give him...'
With that urgent thought, he leaped down to the riverbank.
"How did you managed to rescue Shura, anyway?" Seran asked. He was working at the table, far right of Yomi, who had just woken up and still resting on the bed, pressure mattress now activated.
"Hmm...?" Yomi wasn't really paying attention, head still groggy, aftereffects of the medicine Seran had insisted he take.
"How did you rescue Shura?
"I... let it take me..."
Yomi winced at the loud exclamation. "I let the tree possess me also."
?!? "Go on..." Seran, his work forgotten, paid close heed to Yomi.
He blinked, trying to remember pass the fuzziness of his memory. "Then... I burned it up!" That last part went up in an loud shout, almost childish.
"Burned it up?" Seran repeated carefully, eyes fastened on Yomi's flushed face. He nodded enthusiastically and suddenly yawned.
'I see...' Seran mused as Yomi stretched like a cat, a clear abandonment in the simple exercise.
'Hmm... So that is why both you and Shura have such deep cauterized wounds.' He imagined the Devil-tree having both youkais in its grasp, and then one of them released a tremendous amount of youki. 'The tree... was already gorged on Shura's energy. When Yomi force-fed it, it couldn't handle the extra amount of power and must have literally burst into flame. That burned away the root systems holding Yomi and Shura...'
Seran looked at the other youkai, already back to sleep, curling like a small kit after long play. 'Excellent move, Yomi. Any other way would have killed your son or left him a prisoner...'
He watched Yomi sleep for a few more minutes before standing up with a sigh. 'I may as well clean up the mess they made...'
After all, a hermit's home is his castle.
Read on to Chapter Three.
A Reason for Everything
Makai is a land of extremes, from the frozen floating island-state of the Koorimes to the desert lands of nomadic monks. Gandara, former of the blind lord Yomi's rule was situated in the temperate zone adjacent and separating them while to the east, dense jungles covered the landscape up to the base of the mountain ranges which mark the boundaries of known Makai. So little is known of what lies further, even at the edges.
"Where's my father?!"
Yomi woke up to the sound of loud arguments, all three pairs of ears ringing.
"Shura! Don't you dare!"
The loud explosion that followed had him out of the bed and running for the door.
"That does it!"
Yomi arrived just as Seran, his clothes scorched and hair singed, flung a struggling Shura over his shoulder. His son was screaming, arms and legs flailing in his effort to get away from his captor.
Seran, face in a scowl, stalked towards the nearest house which just happened to be in the same condition as its owner.
"Not now, Yomi!"
Shura struggled even harder, managing to score a hit, a clenched fist striking Seran across the face.
"Lemme go! Lemme go! Papa!"
Concerned, Yomi ran towards them as Seran pulled Shura from his shoulder, putting the smaller youkai down none too gently.
As Yomi reached them, Seran placed his hand on Shura's shoulder and kept it there when his son suddenly toppled forward, his eyes wide then closing in a faint.
Later in the ruined laboratory, Yomi observed as Seran treated his son. Worry and anxiety clouded his mind and he forced himself not to pace.
'It happened like he said it would, but too soon... far too soon.'
Shura lay on the bed, pale and listless. Once in a while, he would utter a word before lapsing back into delirium. His fine ebony hair, so much like his father's, stuck in clumps on sweat-covered skin. His eyes, when they were open, were blood-shot and wandered aimlessly. Once in a while, they would focus on Yomi with the barest sign of recognition before closing again. His ears drooped more then usual.
He could hear the faint rasping that was Shura's breathing. His youki was weak and sporatic, uneven in its regeneration. His son was ill, very ill.
He heard Seran sigh and quickly turned to him. "How is he?"
"Stable, for now," the other replied. He activated the recently repaired bed and a faint energy barrier covered Shura.
"Can you... cure him?"
Seran turned to him, slightly miffed. "Of course I can, and you know that as well. Why else would you bring him here?"
"You told me before that no treatment was available for Shura's condition."
"What I said was that no treatment was available yet."
"You found something?"
Seran stormed into Yomi's throne room, ignoring the stares that his entrance caused. Yomi's bodyguards quickly surrounded him as officials twittered, outraged.
A single word from the blind lord was all it took to silence the room, and only one gesture to Yoda, and moments later, the chamber was cleared of all except for Yomi and Seran .
Still glaring at his lord, Seran threw a readout at Yomi, who caught the metallic sheet easily.
"Why?! Why did you accelerate the growth process?! You know very well that increases the chaos principle exponentially!"
Yomi answered him calmly in total contrast to Seran's anger. "There is nothing to be concerned about. Shura will be able to handle the acceleration.
"My clone's organic system is strong enough to deal with accelerated growth. You made that possible."
"Shura is still a clone. The degration potential still exists and increases if the process is hurried. It was difficult enough to manipulate the genetic structure into a more stable formation, but it will be near impossible to inhibit degration if it begins."
"Degration has yet to occur, and I trust that you will be able to deal with the problem when it comes."
Yomi stood up and approached him, a reassuring smile softening his stern demeanor, but Seran was not taken in by it.
"Why? Why the hurry?"
His answer was soft yet steel backed every word. "My plans have changed. I need Shura now."
"You were always so hard to please, Yomi," Seran said before sipping his tea, his eyes closed and body relaxed. Across the table, Yomi's teacup was left untouched. He, on the other hand, was still tense.
Hearing no answer, Seran lazily opened one eye then the other.
"C'mon, relax and drink your tea before it gets cold."
Yomi didn't move.
Seran sighed, putting his cup down. "I have already told you. Shura will be all right. As of now, I am more concern for your well being. Your youki is at the lowest level I've ever seen. You need to relax more often. Take a vacation. Really, isn't Yoda looking after you?..."
While Seran babbled on, Yomi's mind wandered, reflecting on all that has happened.
His doing. All his doing led to Shura's condition deteriorating. His desire for an ideal heir led him to have a clone reproduced from his own DNA. After all, what better successor than himself. However, cloning was not a reliable technology. No clone ever created was a perfect copy of the original. There was always a shift from the first. Yomi wanted no less than a perfect clone of himself.
His former chief advisor, Yoda, made discreet inquiries and finally found him someone who could solve the problem.
Yomi frowned upon hearing that voice. 'Familiar... I have heard that voice before...' Beside him, Yoda shifted indignantly. "Quiet! This is his Excellency, Lord Yomi, ruler of Gandara. Show him respect!"
"You didn't tell me I would be working for him!
Yoda was not pleased. "There is no better master to work for than Lord Yomi! You should be honored to have this opportunity!" His impassioned defense of his lord didn't make a dent in the other youkai's dislike towards Yomi.
"Hah! He destroyed my lab and my home! There is no way I will work for him!"
Yoda growled softly and turned to Yomi apologetically. "Please forgive me, Lord Yomi. I was severely mistaken thinking that he was the right one for the job. I will get rid of him immediately." He reached for his comlink to summon the guards when Yomi held out his hand.
"It is all right, Yoda. I will handle him. Please leave us."
Yoda started at his words then recovered his composure to toss a scornful satisfied smile at Seran before leaving the room.
Calmly, he walked to the table and sat down, gesturing for Seran to do the same. A few moments later, he complied.
"I will not work for you," Seran stated bluntly.
Steepling his fingers on the table, Yomi considered him carefully.
"What can I do to make you change your mind?"
"Would it help if I have your lab rebuilt?"
"You shouldn't have destroyed it in the first place!"
"You had something I want."
"It wasn't yours."
"True, but I lost that something that night as well. You will now help me gain what I want." Yomi's voice had hardened into the tone most people fear to hear, but Seran wasn't one of those people.
"You do not need me. There are others who can fulfill the task just as easily."
"The clone I require is not an ordinary one. He must have the stability to endure my plans for him. All my clones have failed miserably... and so have their creators."
It was a threat and Seran knew that as well. Yomi finally sensed uneasiness from the other youkai.
"I won't get out of this easily, will I?"
Yomi allowed a small smile on his face, and Seran sighed.
"... All right. I will do as you wish, but I require certain conditions."
"The process I have in mind is much more complicated than the common technique practiced. I ask for two years grant at the least, three years at most."
"I want full control over this operation, but something tells me I'm not going to have that so instead, I want it made clear to the people I'm going to be working with that I have your full support and leave to do as I see fit."
"I also require the latest equipment and technology possible. In fact, it would be best if we can get hold of some of the regeneration tanks over in Lord Mukuro's kingdom. I know that your Excellency is not in the best of terms with him, but they do have the best bio-based equipment, and we're gonna have need of those..."
Seran was still talking.
Yomi gave an inward sigh and finally took a sip of the tea. The tea, though still hot, was minty and felt cool going down. A warm feeling settled in his stomach and he quickly drained the cup, ignoring his companion's words.
"Fortunately, though Shura was born prematurely, he was able to meet your no doubt extremely high standards. However, because of the shortened gestation period, his body is still on an accelerated growth rate until he matures fully. His mind absorbed the data fed to him, but his spirit remains that of an infant. So what we have here is a youkai with the physicality of an adolescent teenager, the intelligence and knowledge of an adult, and the heart of the child. All that plus the power level of an S-class fighter, and let's not forget that he just recently had a very close encounter with a Devil-tree. Indeed, you have an exceptional son, Yomi!"
Finally he stopped, and Yomi quickly took the opportunity to ask,
"What is exactly wrong with him?"
Seran stared at him coolly. "Why don't you answer your own question? Obviously, you have an idea of the problem, since you came to me."
Yomi's jaw clenched in anger. "You're not answering me."
The two faced off. Seran backed down first in fear of property damages rather than physical ones.
"Shura's genetic structure is deteriorating."
"You heard me."
Yomi sensed the other frowning at him.
"Don't you know...? I warned you of the possibility. Weren't you listening?"
"But Shura seemed fine... except sometimes he acts too emotional, but that's normal..."
"... for any child," Seran finished. "That is true, even for Shura, but he has been steadily losing control over his emotions. His recent trauma weakened him further, triggered and hastened the degration. That loss of control is an early symptom of the DNA deterioration. Next, his reasoning is affected then his body."
Yomi slumped against his chair, tired. "What can be done to save him?" He asked, worry and shock tightening his throat as hopelessness overcame him. 'His son... Shura was going to die...'
Seran hit him.
"Idiot! Why are you so gloomy? Didn't I tell you I can cure him?! Sheesh, all those ears, and you're still deaf!"
"Yomi! Don't you dare destroy my kitchen!"
Read on to Realizations.
Yomi sat by his son's bedside, observing him carefully. His son's condition had improved since the night before. Though still too pale, Shura was sleeping more easily and his youki, regenerating steadily. He heard the door open.
"Still haven't slept, have you?"
Yomi didn't reply as Seran deactivated the bed cover and began examining the patient.
"... I must say you have changed, Yomi," he said conversationally.
Yomi sensed the other's minute energy signature brightened as Seran lowered his camouflage. Gentle azure youki flowed and blended with Shura's dimmed crimson. Energy patterns shifted and merged in Yomi's perception.
'I have no idea what Seran is doing,' thought Yomi. His hands clenched unconsciously as he remembered when he gave Shura some of his youki. Paternal concern warred with sensibility. He wanted to help his son, but he was still so weak that any more sacrifice on his part would endanger his own life. 'Was that how Shura would be cured... simply by giving him youki?'
Then he saw it. Shura's youki brightened, in an instant, crimson turned emerald then back again.
Seran sighed, feeling the minute change. 'The process is tedious, but it is the only way.' Genetic manipulation was never simple and took a great deal of energy and time to be done naturally and properly. 'Shura himself resists the treatment... fortunately there is a better alternative.'
Slowly, he withdrew himself and opened his eyes wearily. Yomi was giving him a strange expression.
"What did you do?"
"Hmm...?" Seran replied noncommitantly as he reactivated the coverlet, pleased to see that Shura was improving even further.
"I saw it," Yomi countered quickly. "Shura's youki shifted to a different wavelength and back. Just what exactly are you doing, Seran?"
"Isn't it obvious? I'm curing him."
"How?!" Yomi's roar was load enough to shatter what little intact glass was left in the recently bombarded lab.
"Shh...! Keep it down, Yomi!" Seran glared at the blind youki and massaged injured ears whose points were still quivering slightly at the blast. Shura, lying on the bed between them, twitched in his sleep.
Yomi clamped his mouth shut, struggling to hold his temper. Seran was never a youkai easy to get along. His unconcerned and eccentric nature made him extremely irritating to say the least. He had lost count of the many times he had been tempted to ship him to Mukuro or Raizen. Let them deal with him!
'Yet, ... he is the best chance for Shura...'
After a while, Seran lowered his hands and smiled at him& ?
"I'm glad, Yomi." He frowned. Seran sounded all too pleased.
"I never thought the day would come when you would have concerns other than your own ambition." Seran walked around the bed to face him squarely, blue eyes looking straight at Yomi's face as if the latter wasn't blind. "You really care for him, don't you?"
Yomi was flabbergasted. He never really considered his feelings for Shura, merely passing off his concerns for the youth's welfare as a natural inclination. He was his clone after all. 'You never cared for the other clones.' That thought startled him further, while Seran waited patiently for his answer.
'What makes Shura so special? Isn't he just anther tool? Something to be disposed once its use was gone? Hasn't he been enough trouble for you already?' Memories came and went, blurring through his mind's eye. The time he had first trained Shura... when they had battled each other... when Shura had challenged him...
Shura lay gasping on the floor while Yomi waited for him to recover. After a while, he looked up at him admiringly, enthusiasm burning with awed pride in young bright eyes.
"You must be the best fighter in the world, Papa!"
That was the first time Yomi had smiled at him.
"I'll never forgive you if you don't use your full strength against me!" Shura shouted at him, stance still belligerent despite his battered condition. "I won't give up! I'll die first before I do!"
He had then scolded him.
Shura was rubbing tear-stained eyes as he tried to keep down his sobs. "Papa, please forgive me... I wasn't strong enough..."
"At the next tournament, you will be."
Even then, he didn't realized the comfort his frank words had given to Shura, and he was unable to see the renewed confidence his simple reassurance had given to his son.
He was falling, the strength of his opponent's blow leaving him senseless.
Still dazed with recollections, Yomi looked down to his son. Shura's eyes were open, staring at him with confusion and concern in their depths. Weariness was also apparent as he struggled to sit up.
Yomi heard an incoherent mumble and a moment later, the bed was deactivated, granting freedom to its occupant.
Shura sat up and hugged him impulsively, burrowing his face into his father's chest. Caught off guard, Yomi automatically returned the embrace.
Behind them, Seran inconspicuously watched them. There was a soft smile on his face and a thoughtful gleam in his eyes. With a small harrumph, he left the lab silently, leaving father and son alone.
"Hmm... seems I was in the right to help you after all... I'm glad."
Read on to Chapter Four.
Written by Yen
Pre-read by Yomi no Miko
In one of the remotest regions of Makai, a hermit named Seran lived in hidden home at the base of the mountain generally known as the Guardian. It was the tallest peak in a mountain range, which marks known Makai from the yet unexplored territories.
File Type: Classified
Seran is one whose genetic heritage comes from the extremely rare race of "Shadow" fighters. Yet, despite his warrior blood, he utilized his youki for the purposes of rejuvenation, earning him the right to the title of healer. His knowledge is broad, specialties ranged from the field of herbal medicine to the science of genetic engineering. His methods were unique due to the singular characteristic of utilizing "natural processes." It was his techniques, which resulted in the creation of Lord Yomi's clone, Shura.
However, he disappeared from Gandara before his Lord Shura's birth. Further information concerning him ends at this point.
From the personal journal of Yoda, advisor to his Excellency, Lord Yomi of Gandara.
"Yomi, Hurry up!" From his position high up a tree, Seran watched as the other youkai made slower progress through the bush, his katana gleaming as it cut down leafy obstacles in its path. "... Would you kindly please leave the foliage alone and get up a tree?" Yomi ignored him, and Seran sighed, going on ahead.
He was on a destructive bent. Yomi slashed easily and efficiently, the severed plants disintegrating from the youki-laced blade. 'I'm wasting energy... but I have to let out stress somehow!' Unlike his son, Yomi couldn't go into the temper tantrums Shura was now often in, much to Seran's relief. One mad youkai was enough, he commented.
Shura was going through a stage, Seran explained. Adolescence was now upon him and at its accelerated state, Shura was in ill condition to deal with it. Yomi remembered his own youth and grimaced. '... and I can't do anything to help him...'
Anger, frustration and anxiety lodged in his mind, stubbornly refusing to be resolved. With a barely repressed growl, Yomi jumped high and began running, limbs blurring as he leapt from tree to tree.
An immense weathered old tree caught his attention, and he sliced through it, flickering from the front to the back, katana held horizontally from his body. He landed, breathless and exhausted some distance away, opposite the diagonal cut, near invincible on the ancient trunk.
There was the softest sigh, then a loud creak as the tree swayed unsteadily. It fell slowly, thick branches and leaves rustling through the air, accompanied by an angry shout.
"Yomi?! You blithering, no-good, poor excuse for a..."
The crash drowned out the rest of Seran's cursing.
A while later, along side the fallen tree, Seran glared at Yomi while picking leaves and twigs out of his hair and clothes. "Of all the trees in the jungle, you just had to cut down the one I was in?!"
Yomi shrugged, a faint smile on his face. "An unfortunate coincidence?"
Seran snorted at that and stood up slowly with a groan. 'I'm getting too old for this...' Yomi looked quite pleased, and he stifled a sigh, gesturing for him to stand as well. "C'mon, we're almost there."
Their destination was a cave some distance up the mountainside. Even with the higher elevation, the jungle still grew abundant and wild in the cooler environment.
"Tell me about this herb which will cure Shura."
"... It is known as the Silver blossom. It is very rare and so far, only grows in a cavern deep inside the Guardian. Its healing power is nothing short of miraculous."
"Silver Blossom? ... You have mentioned that before..."
"I have... that is one of the reasons I came to live here..."
A shadow flitted through the jungle. In an instant, appearing on the ground. The next, skimming across the treetops. It was a slim figure, lightly clothed and shrouded. A muffled sound caused the stranger to pause and to warily look around.
'Such a strong ki blast... too strong to be an animal, but who else could be here so far from civilization?'
More curious than concerned, the youkai proceeded toward the source.
Shura lay on the bed, heavily sedated. Around him, the lab was barely recognizable. His repeated energy tantrums had blackened the once pristine white surfaces. Seran had finally gave up on cleaning and repairs, even the pressure bed was ruined.
The young youkai suddenly stiffened, his body fighting the energy straps holding him to the bed. Even sedatives couldn't keep Shura from giving off high youki pulses, proof of his chaotic internal systems.
The energy pulse radiated outward from its source, interfering with the hidden spell cast on the compound. Fortunately, the camouflage held, but not before someone saw the chameleon effect.
Mukuro frowned as she cautiously approached the supposedly empty area.
'Those were houses. There are people living here?' Eyes narrowing, she focused her youki and concentrated to see pass the spell. 'Whoever hid this place knew what they were doing.' Were not for the fact that she knew it was there, Mukuro would have missed it entirely. Once inside the shield itself, she could see the structures within.
There were seven houses, each identical to the others. All were naturally finished, except for one in desperate need of cleaning and repairs. Gardens and pathways surrounded and interspersed the whole, including a walled enclosure and a bubbling fountain at the center of the entire complex.
'What is this place?' Mukuro wondered. '... there.'
She could only sense only one other person in the surrounding area. She headed for the blackened structure, wondering at the energy signature she was feeling. '... chaotic, unfocused youki... That's the source of the blast I felt.'
Yomi suddenly stumbled, crushing several Silver Blossoms underfoot.
"Yomi, please be careful. These are very rare..."
He was gone.
Mukuro stood in front of the door, which though damaged beyond recognition, was still worked. Slowly, she pushed it aside and cautiously stepped in.
The interior was dusty and shadowy. Little light passed through cracks in the boarded up roof, but was a beam of light that centered on the one bed in the room and the figure lying on it. She moved closer after sensing no danger from the slumbering individual.
'He looks familiar...' Mukuro thought, staring at the sleeping youkai. 'His youki feels familiar as well...' She found herself focusing on the several pairs of ears and horns that the youkai had, frowning at the inflamed and barely healed flesh around the lower sets. 'Looks as if they just broke through the skin recently.
'& If I didn't know better, I'd say this was Yomi... but that's impossible...'
A familiar and much despised youki suddenly engulfed her senses. "Yomi?!"
"Mukuro, stay away from Shura!"
Yomi charged just as she turned to face him. His hands blazed with energy, and Mukuro barely dodged the energy ball hurled at her. Her mind was still reeling from shock and confusion. 'Shura?! That's Yomi's son?!'
Her instincts saved her as she somersaulted backwards over Shura, just as a sword slashed at her. Still in the air, she flung a fireball at him, followed by a dimension slash with her other hand. 'I'll kill you this time, Yomi!'
Yomi's wind blast diverted the fire, and he managed to avoid the cut, knowing that he couldn't cross over that line without injury to himself. He could feel the space near him displace. 'Too weak... I'm still too weak to handle a battle with her!' As he considered his options, Mukuro had already landed, hands red-gold with flames. 'First, I have to get her away from Shura!'
He suddenly leaped high and broke through the ceiling; Mukuro following him close behind.
Seran reached the lab just as two figures broke through the roof and began fighting on it. 'No! Not again!'
"Damn it!' With that, he ran inside the lab.
Yomi engaged her at close-quarters. It was his best chance to defeat Mukuro. He simply didn't have that much energy for long-range combat.
Mukuro blocked his kick and began plummeting him with blows in rapid succession. He jumped away from the attack and suddenly dashed back, his katana aimed at her stomach. He skidded to a halt when his target vanished to reappear behind him
As he turned, she caught him with a blow to the base of his spine, causing him to writhe in pain and swung his sword at her. She avoided the clumsy move with ease and reappeared in front of him as he sank to his knees, gasping in pain. 'Too slow...'
Mukuro frowned at the situation. 'Yomi is too drained to put up much of a fight.'
"Pathetic!" She smiled when he glared at her, murder clear on his pale face.
"What's wrong, Yomi? Too old to fight anymore?" Her eyes hardened. "Is that why you made your son grow faster? To do your dirty work?!"
At that, Yomi struggled to his feet, teeth gritting with the effort and the pain of protesting muscles. Still facing her, he threw away his sword and resumed battle stance. Shimmering emerald youki emerged and outlined his form. Mukuro followed suit but not before ripping off the shroud covering her head and face. Her body flared with crimson energy as she returned his challenge.
Read on to Chapter Five.
A Truce of Sorts
Written by Yen
Pre-read by Yomi no Miko
Yomi and Mukuro faced off, each trying to gauged the other's plan of attack. Though his face showed outward calm, resigned defeat surged through him. 'In my condition, I'm no match against her, but I have to give enough time for Seran to get Shura away to safety.'
With that, Yomi tensed his body for attack, sensing the same action in Mukuro's stance.
The battle began...
... and ended abruptly when he felt a firm pressure between his ribs. There was a startled gasp from Mukuro.
"How many times must I tell you?! Don. t destroy my home!"
"Yomi, shut up!"
He quickly refocused his senses and finally noticed the faint energy outline belonging to Seran. He had his staff between himself and Mukuro. The other was just as startled.
Mukuro stared at the floating staff between herself and Yomi, her bewilderment increasing when a disembodied voice began chastising her opponent.
'Is this place haunted?'
A breeze suddenly caressed her face, and she jumped back when the spirit addressed her as well.
"My lady, are you all right? Please forgive my associate here. He has been through quite a lot recently."
"Who are you?"
"I am Seran, and this is my facility. You are?"
The ghost waited patiently with Yomi staring at a point in empty air.
Finally, she answered, "Mukuro."
"Mukuro...," whoever or whatever this Seran was repeated her name slowly and carefully, the syllables hanging in space.
"You have a lovely name, Mukuro."
The staff suddenly withdrew from its position and rested vertically on the ground. It tilted towards Yomi.
"This here is Yomi. Yomi, meet Mukuro."
Yomi glared at Seran, who was serving tea and enthusiastically chatting with his sworn opponent. Mukuro, on the other hand, had a guarded expression on her face.
"It is so nice to have visitors here. You have traveled far no doubt. You're more than welcome to rest here. Here, have some more tea..."
From the bedroom, Yomi's sharp ears caught a cry from Shura, and he quickly stood up; but Seran was in his way.
"No, Yomi. I will take care of Shura. It is time for his treatment anyway. You stay here and entertain our guest."
With that, Yomi was left alone his worst enemy.
Mukuro watched as Yomi slowly sank back into his seat. She felt sorry for him.
"So, what is wrong with Shura, Yomi?" Mukuro asked, hoping to get answers from him instead of having to get them from a non-corporeal entity.
He shrugged. "Ask Seran. He's the expert."
"... Have things become so hard for you that you depend the welfare of your son on a spirit?"
He shot a startled face at her.
"...?! What are you talking about?!"
"... Yomi, I should tell you this. Seran's a ghost."
His expression was blank as she continued, "Your sixth sense hasn. t allowed you to see that?"
Yomi laughed. Mukuro looked at him piteously and stood up to leave the fool alone in his own world. Strong fingers suddenly grasped her wrist, and she looked down to see him smiling at her.
"My sixth sense is fine and even better than ever, and so are my other senses save for one."
He stood up, still holding her arm. "In fact, you could say they allow me to see past the expected."
There was the soft sound of the door opening and Yomi released her, still smiling at her befuddled expression.
"Remove your camouflage."
? "Oh! Excuse me. Please forgive the oversight. It has become so natural that I often forget that I have it on."
Mukuro watched spell bound as a shimmering outline appeared where Seran's voice came. It was the figure of a tall, slender individual. Energy coalesced, and the youkai was revealed.
She stared at Seran. The ghost was smiling warmly at her. His face was of the pleasant variety, blue eyes clear and bright as they returned her startled gaze. The youkai. s long black hair was carefully combed and tied back, allowing Mukuro to see that his ears were pointed. . He has the ability to hide that thoroughly? & A Shadow Demon?! I thought that race was gone long ago& No matter, he is definitely not a ghost!.
Yomi's smile broadened at Mukuro's astonishment, but he frowned when Mukuro turned to him with an insinuating "I see..."
"What's that supposed to mean?!" He demanded.
"Well, we all know the type that you prefer."
"... I'm not the only one who prefers that type!"
Mukuro glared at him.
Seran watched them with increasing concern. '... I have a bad feeling my living room is in danger...'
Read on to A Short Interlude.
A Short Interlude
Written by Yen
Pre-read by Yomi no Miko
Shura lay still as Seran applied a salve over his body. It was against his nature to be submissive to anyone except for his father, but he allowed the healer to treat him. To be honest, he was feeling better.
He didn't remember much of what had happened. Memories were blurry and fuzzy from the time the monster attacked him and both his father and Seran were not forthcoming with information, though the latter was more than happy to answer any questions about his present physical condition.
He still found it hard to accept that he was an adult now. He still felt the same except that he had difficulty adjusting to his matured body. His energy level had also increased, though Seran blew his top when he accidentally set fire to the library. Fortunately, the fire was put out quickly, but some books and scrolls were ruined not to mention the computer system shorted due to the water used to put the fire out. Though his father had not been involved, both he and Shura were banned from the library.
On the other hand, Seran acted the gentleman towards Mukuro. His excuse being that she had not destroyed any of his property.
Shura wondered why Mukuro was here. It was too unexpected to be simply a coincidence. His father had the similar suspicions and kept close watch on her. So far, they didn't know why she was here, and Seran refused to assist them in their efforts.
A gentle wind suddenly blew through the open windows. It was a cool breeze and lightly scented by its path through the gardens. It lulled Shura to go to sleep, and he did.
Seran closed the bottle with a sigh. Not enough, simply not enough. He needed a great deal more of the flowers to produce enough of the medicine for Shura. It was working, but soon the flowers would be gone as it was the season for them to die. He needed a plan.
"Yomi, let's go!" Seran called out impatiently. He was already at the edge of the jungle, waiting for the other youkai, who was dawdling.
Yomi reluctantly walked towards him when Shura suddenly appeared. "Wait! I want to go too!"
"... Shura, you should be resting!"
"I'm tired of resting! I want to do something else!"
"If you want to do something, go fix my lab you destroyed."
"... I want to do something interesting!"
Yomi waited patiently while Seran and Shura argued. He preferred it this way. At least, he didn't have to leave Shura alone with Mukuro.
"No, Shura. I will not have my patient suddenly suffering a relapse. We will be back soon," Seran said sternly, arms crossed stubbornly and now at eye level with his son.
Shura countered, just as determined. "I can do it!"
"You can't stop me!"
"Don't try my patience!"
"Why don't I help you?"
All three looked up to see Mukuro, high up on a branch above. She was seated comfortably, her back against the trunk, and her eyes turned skyward. She seemed unconcerned. "I can teleport all of you to where ever it is you are going."
Seran's eyes brightened eagerly. "Can you? That's great!"
They turned to Yomi who was frowning with distrust at Mukuro.
"Why are you so helpful, Mukuro?" He said accusingly. "What are you doing here in the first place anyway?"
Mukuro shrugged, her eyes closing. She then looked down at them and jumped to the ground gracefully. She landed in front of Yomi, who tensed defensively. He had been quite edgy lately.
"I don. t have to explain anything to you, Yomi," Mukuro replied, arms crossing confidently as she faced Yomi. "You don. t have to accept my help if you don. t want to."
"& Hiei finally left you, hasn. t he?"
"& What. s that suppose to mean?!"
Seran and Shura leaned against the tree, spectators of the battle.
"Can. t blame him for leaving you! Who. d want an ugly bitch like you?!"
"You. re no better off, you blind, senile, old fool!"
"& I am not senile!"
"Tell that to Kurama!"
Seran sighed, massaging his forehead wearily. . Those two& I. m glad they. re fighting outdoors..
"Hmm& ?" He glanced at Shura who was staring and pointing at something.
He turned just in time to see a house go up in flames.
"My bedroom& "
Read on to Chapter Six&
Written by Yen
& A warrior wears them on his feet
Delicate gold with silver lining it
The jewel lies within&
Jungles are rarely quite. So many live within such a small space that it teemed not only with life but also with the sounds of existence. A sudden hush would be out of place and meant the presence of hunters or outsiders.
Near the gaping mouth of a cave, the air shimmered, rippling like a surface of a pond when a stone is cast into it. An instant later, two figures appeared out of nowhere.
Seran blinked, squeezed his eyes shut before opening them slowly. He looked around in wonder then at himself, looking somewhat anxious.
"& I'm all here, right?"
Mukuro shrugged, and he chuckled weakly, feeling embarrassed at his own concern.
"& That technique of yours is certainly useful," Seran said conversationally. He was walking slightly ahead of Mukuro as he led the way inside the Guardian. "Not only can you teleport yourself great distances apart, you can also move other people as well& "
Mukuro nodded absentmindedly. She wasn't really listening to Seran's idle chatter. The tunnel intrigued her. It was not dark as one would expect being underground. Instead, it seemed to brighten as they went further on. The walls were smooth and speckled with quartz-like stones, whose shiny surfaces reflected and intensified what little light there was. There was also a steady wind that blew against them. 'There must be another opening to the outside& ' Then, the scent hit her.
It was subtle, a floral essence in the air. It was unrecognizable with the other jungle odors, but the fragrance became clearer the deeper they went into the mountain.
"We're almost there," Seran murmured, his pace quickening. Mukuro could now see a brighter light, marking the end of the tunnel.
Silver Blossom - a rare legendary herb. Long ago, these flowers were plentiful and renowned for their curative properties. However, despite efforts to cultivate and conserve them , the species died out. Now, they are barely remembered, mentioned only in old songs and legends. Yet, even though, the Silver Blossom is considered extinct, it is possible that the herb still exist, growing in remote areas of Makai.
Silver Blossom Cave
The cavern was immense, its cathedral-like ceiling soaring high above to a sunlit opening at its zenith. Light that shone into the cave reflected off the surface of a large pool, covering a fourth of the area inside. Hanging down from the ceiling and growing up from the ground were crystal stalactites and stalagmites. Their translucent surfaces glowed milky-white, contrasting the bright yellow of hundreds of Silver Blossoms which carpeted the cave floor from its borders to water's edge.
Mukuro frowned as thoughtfully as she picked up a Silver Blossom. Seran had told her about the flowers and the need of them for Shura's cure.
"Yes?" He replied from his kneeling position among the flowers. Already, he had several dozen packed into a sample bag.
"Why are they called Silver Blossom?" As he glanced up at her, she held the flower in front of his face. "It's quite obvious they're not."
Seran smiled, taking the flower neatly from her hand. With his fingers, he carefully pulled away a petal from the tightly closed bud. Its inner side was a pale white.
"When they bloom, they turn silver."
"& I see& When do they bloom?"
"Only at night." Seran stood up and gave the flower back to her. "However, there must be moonshine." He glanced at the opening in the roof of the cavern. "In the time I have studied them, the flowers only opened when the moon is in a such a position that its light is able to penetrate into the cave." He looked back at her before continuing, "That only happens during this time of the year. The rest of the year, they lie dormant." He was definitely warming up to the subject. "Silver Blossoms are perennials. They only flower once a year. Despite that this area is a tropical region, the flowers go through a seasonal cycle. Soon they will wither and die. That is why we must gather as many of the flowers as possible.
Mukuro considered him carefully. "How long have you studied these flowers?"
There was a slight pause before he answered, "I have studied about them for many years, but it was only recently that I obtained an actual sample. When I came to live in this area about a year or so ago, the Silver Blossoms had already gone dormant. It was only approximately two and a half months ago that they reappeared& "
She only listened with half an ear as Seran went on with his lecture. '& He is certainly talkative& ' Mukuro thought as she nodded occasionally at his words. '& He told me he was Shura's doctor, but I know there is more to it.'
She was about to ask him another question when Yomi and Shura arrived.
Mukuro ignored Yomi's constant surveillance as she sat on the overhang of a mound by the small subterranean lake. Just below her on the shore, Shura and Seran were busy picking flowers while Yomi stood nearby, alert and not really doing anything.
She paid little attention to them. The cavern itself held more interest to her, and she found herself entranced by her surroundings.
She looked down to the lake. It's crystal clear waters shimmered invitingly at her, promising gleams in the sunlight. The lake was continuously fed by a waterfall gushing out of the wall far-side from her position. She found herself wondering where the rest of the water went. Perhaps to an underground river&
& There was an ethereal feel to this place. It pervaded her every sense, from the cool breeze that washed over her to the fragrance of flowers growing everywhere, around her and underneath as well. She could feel their feathery softness, and the air was heavy with their pollen. She could taste their sweetness.
'Strange& ' Mukuro mused as she plucked a flower from its companions. She twirled it around lazily by its stem while her other hand dug into the thickly plant-covered ground. Her efforts soon ceased. '& just as I have suspected& These flowers are growing on solid rock.'
Mukuro glanced at the Silver Blossom in her hand, new respect clear in her eyes.
"Are you finished?"
Seran clamped his mouth shut, refusing to answer Yomi's third identical question. Ignoring him, he quickly closed the sample bag now near bursting point with flowers. He handed it to Shura who placed it by two similarly full bags.
"How many of those flowers do you need anyway?"
"As many as possible," Seran answered through gritted teeth as he opened another bag. Shura already had a neat pile of Silver Blossoms between them.
"& How soon will you be finished?"
"Yomi! Since you are so impatient, why don't you help with the harvest?!" 'He's driving me to insanity!' Seran glared at Yomi as he automatically filled the bag with flowers. 'I don't know how I ever managed to work for him!' The fact that Yomi looked like he was enjoying making Seran lost his temper made him even more irritating.
"I think you should stop."
All three men frowned and looked up towards Mukuro who made the statement. She was standing at the very edge of the cliff. Her head was bowed down, and her hair was loose and flying in the breeze, covering her face and expression.
Seran's frown deepened as he stood up. Yomi was already stalking towards her with Shura following close behind.
Yomi shouted, "Just what are you up to, Mukuro?!"
He and Shura stopped when Mukuro suddenly looked towards them. An instant later, she was in front of Yomi.
Yomi tensed visibly as Mukuro answered, "I am not up to anything, Yomi." She lifted her head defiantly. "And even if I did, I certainly wouldn't tell you!"
Yomi growled and lunged at her.
"Papa!" Shura cried out as he moved to help his father. A firm hand on his shoulder stopped him, and he glanced back to see Seran. He looked like he was about to explode.
"Stay here, Shura," Seran ordered, his voice was deathly calm.
Shura didn't say anything nor did anything as the healer passed him by. Somehow, he felt it wasn't a good idea to get on Seran's bad side. He was suddenly fearful for his father's sake.
Turning back to the battle, Shura was just in time to see Yomi slumped into Seran's arms, clearly unconscious.
A while later&
"Why did you say that, Mukuro?" She glanced at Seran from her observing Shura tend to his father.
"& I do not like being accused falsely," she replied. 'Hmm& Shura is quite devoted to Yomi.'
Mukuro blinked and finally gave Seran her full attention.
"I mean what you said about us to stop gathering the flowers."
She frowned at his words. "& I& felt that& it was wrong& " The words came out haltingly, and she clenched her jaw, suddenly angry at her own uncertainty.
"Why do you feel that way?"
Irritated by the third degree, Mukuro snapped at him, "I don. t know, and I don't care!" With that, she turned back to Yomi and Shura. The young youkai looked at her guardedly, and moved closer to his father, who was sleeping amidst the flowers, his head pillowed on one of the sample bags. She could feel the protective aura coming from Shura. 'Such loyalty& and love& ' Envy came over her, and she shook her head mentally of the thought of coveting what Yomi had. '& Still& he does have something I want& ' All of the sudden, she felt very tired.
"Do you have precognitive abilities?"
Mukuro jerked her gaze back to Seran. The healer was staring at her, a thoughtful gleam in blue eyes. Both he and Mukuro were seated on the ground facing each other, while off side, was Shura, who sat close to Yomi.
"& Why do you asked?"
"What's so important about that?!" Both of them glanced at Shura who was now standing. His now mature face still looked youthful, but there was no mistaking the anger in crimson eyes. He pointed accusingly at Mukuro. "She's here to destroy us! Look at what she did to my father!"
She stood up as well, and Shura went into battle stance. Mukuro narrowed her eye at him, a small smile playing on her lips. "Do you think you can take me on, boy?" She said softly, her tone clearly deprecating.
She could see his throat tightened as he swallowed nervously though the resolve remained undimmed in his eyes. 'Foolish& , but brave.'
"You're just an old hag!"
& That did it. She was about to attack him when Seran suddenly appeared between them. He glared at Shura. "Stop this at once! We are here to cure you not to have you get yourself killed!"
"She started it!"
"No, she didn't," Seran retorted, "Your father attacked her first." He continued before Shura could answer back, "And she wasn't the one who knocked him out either, I did."
"What? You don't think I can do that?"
"How did you do it?" Mukuro interrupted, looking at Seran in a new light. 'I didn't see anything. By the time, I finished space shifting, Yomi was already out cold.'
"That is not important," Seran glanced at her then back to Shura. "Yomi will wake up in a few hours, and the rest will do him good too." He added, "He hasn't been sleeping well these days."
Shura looked undecided, but after a while, he relaxed his guard. He then nodded at her and toss Seran a wary glance before resuming his position beside Yomi.
She heard a relieved sigh from the healer as he turned to her.
"Now tell me, do you have precognitive abilities?"
"We will wait for nightfall," Seran announced, much to Shura's surprise and disbelief.
"Haven't you been listening? Mukuro feels that we should wait for night to come."
"You believe her?!" Shura didn't care that Mukuro was present and able to hear this conversation. All he wanted to do right now was to knock some sense into Seran's head.
"I believe in her instincts."
"My instincts tell me we shouldn't trust her."
"It is her perceptions that interest me." Seran glanced at Mukuro. "I have visited this cave many times, but I haven't sensed what you have felt."
"If papa was awake, he'd tell us what to do," Shura said proudly, "His sixth sense is the best in Makai."
"I will not argue with that Shura," Seran replied, "Yomi is extremely astute, but only in the physical senses. I am referring to that of telepathic capabilities. Insights, which are derived from feelings and intuitions. Of the four of us here, Mukuro is the one best able in such matters."
"Why is that?" Shura demanded.
"She has felt something else in this place. I feel only scientific curiosity and the urgency to provide the cure. What do you feel, Shura?"
"& It smells nice here& "
"Males are usually simpletons," Mukuro stated, and Shura glared at her. Seran didn't help their cause when he honestly said, "That is true in a sense. The female of the species are usually inclined to be more cognitive and to possess a more complex behavioral pattern. & There are exceptions, of course."
Shura was not giving up. "What's so special at night?"
"The flowers only bloom at night."
"& So what? You're still going to grind them all up to make the medicine."
"I don't grind them," Seran corrected, "I distill the sap and pollen from the flowers."
"It's the same thing," retorted Shura. "Whether the flowers are open or not makes no difference."
"I'm not certain about that," Seran confessed, "There is a connection between moonlight and the Silver Blossoms, and I now feel that something might happen tonight."
"& Why tonight?" Even Mukuro was looking at him curiously.
"The moon is full tonight."
A Full Moon
Words cannot give a true description but only mere approximations.
When the sun set and the moon began its journey through the heavens, every Silver Blossom followed its trail like lost children yearning for their mother. It was an eerie yet wondrous sight to see as all the flowers turned to that one point, the opening in their home which allowed their only glimpse of the stars and that silver disc.
Strange things happen during a full moon.
When the full moon reached its mark, its light shining into the maw of the Guardian, the flowers began to bloom. Gold turning into silver.
Mukuro could only watch the transformation in amazement. It was a gradual change. The yellow buds unwinding slowly, revealing their inner color. The white of their petals gleamed silver in the moonlight, earning their name.
Shura was in the exact same state as she was, mouth opening slightly in bewitched wonder. Seran simply looked content while Yomi was still fast asleep. He looked quite the innocent really, of course, Mukuro knew better.
Then it happened. The lake turned silver.
"What the...?" Before Mukuro or Shura could react, Seran was already kneeling by the water's edge. As they watched, he dipped his hand into the water, retrieved it, looked, felt, smelled, and tasted the silvery residue coating his fingers.
"... Eureka!" He stood up and turned to them with a victorious smile on his face. "This lake is chock full of concentrated sap and pollen from the Silver Blossoms!"
"Don't ask me how that happened though... at least, not yet." He suddenly looked sheepish though delight still danced in his eyes.
Mukuro looked down and picked up a flower. It glowed, and there was a warm resin that coagulated in the center of the blossom. She asked, "You mean you haven't seen this happen before?"
"No," Seran immediately answered, "When I came here at night, the flowers bloomed, but never fully opened as the case is now." He paused, a finger tapping his chin thoughtfully, "There is a direct link between the moon and the flowers."
He stared babbling, "Perhaps the lake serves as a conduit for pollination. I have never seen insects and animals or other plants for that matter in this cave, and they are necessary in that aspect. The Silver Blossoms themselves seem to interconnected somehow. There appears to be a network or networks of stems and leaves that run throughout the surrounding area and into the lake itself. That would explain what happened to the lake, and the full moon must serve as a trigger or something similar. The flowers appear to prefer moonlight to sunlight, though perhaps artificial lights might do just as well..."
Mukuro fought to keep herself from yawning. 'Never ask Seran a question...' She promised to herself sleepily. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Shura cover his mouth and yawned, blinking. Seran's next statement shocked her wide awake.
"Shura, take off your clothes."
"What?!" Shura yelled, both bewildered and embarrassed.
"You heard me. I want you to take a dip in the pool."
"This may be the only opportunity we have. The lake is more potent than any medicine I can concoct."
"Let's just take some of it."
Seran shook his head. "I didn't bring the proper containers and equipment, and this situation may soon change." Noticing that Shura had colored slightly, he added, "Don't worry, we're not going to go skinny-dipping. Besides, you don't have anything that I haven't seen."
Shura's blush deepened further and he cast a furtive glance at her. She smiled and said dryly, "I wouldn't mind the show."
He glared at her. "I'm not leaving my father alone with you!"
"Why? Afraid I might do to something to him?"
"Don't you dare touch my Papa!"
"Shura!" Seran interrupted, exasperated. "We do not have time for this." He sat down and began removing his sandals. "I'm sure Yomi will be fine with Mukuro."
Seran glanced up at him then at Mukuro, a wry smile tugging at his lips. "And if she does do anything to him, I'm quite certain Yomi will enjoy it."
The very idea made her nauseous, and she glared at Seran. Shura just looked befuddled.
Having done away with his footwear, Seran stood up and removed his clothes, leaving only his undergarments. Mukuro found herself watching appreciatively as he began to do stretching exercises. He had a nice physique, long lean muscles and smooth skinned. He grinned teasingly at her. "Like the show so far?"
Before she could answer, he took a running dive towards the lake.
"Wow!" Seran yelled as he surfaced, "C'mon in, Shura! The water's great!" He began to do laps.
Shura shook his head and took his position beside Yomi. Mukuro looked at him and glanced towards the lake. 'So stubborn and suspicious... like someone I know...' After a while, she sat down in front of Shura.
He raised his head and looked at her suspiciously, his hand moving to rest protectively on Yomi's chest. Mukuro returned his stare. 'Such beautiful eyes...' she found herself thinking, '...still honest and straight forward... yet unmarred...' She wondered if Yomi's eyes were like his son's. She didn't like the distrust she saw in them right now. '... But why do I even care?'
But, she did.
"What has Yomi told you about me, Shura?" Mukuro asked softly, her tone neither condescending nor demanding. Just a question.
It was sometime before he answered. "... He told me that you are someone who has to be get rid off. ... You are not to be trusted, and that every word you say is a lie til proven otherwise. ...That you want him dead..." His eyes narrowed. "He keeps saying that you're a bitch!"
Mukuro smiled slightly. "I don't think well of him, either. ... What else?"
"I heard that you just like to use people, and if they're no good anymore..." Shura made a cutting motion across his throat. Mukuro tilted her head at that, neither confirming nor denying.
Shura frowned thoughtfully before continuing. "But Papa does that also."
"Who told you that?"
"Seran... I think. He said... he was surprise I was still around."
"You've known Seran for long?"
Shura shook his head, looking quite confused. Mukuro frowned. "Never mind him. What else did your father say about me?"
He looked at her with wide eyes, and Mukuro could see him trembling slightly. 'What's wrong with him?' Concerned, she lifted a hand and pressed it against his forehead. He jerked away, and she let her hand fall.
Shura was burning hot!
She recalled Seran's words about Shura's illness, and knew it was much worse than he had let on. 'Damn them!' She grabbed Shura's shoulders. "Shura! Listen to me! You have to go into the water!"
"No!" He suddenly screamed, wrenching away from her. "You'll hurt Papa!" An energy ball suddenly appeared, and Mukuro was blasted away from him. 'So strong!' Twisting in mid-air, she managed land cat-like on all fours.
Someone helped her up, and she looked up to see Seran, dripping wet from his swim. He was scowling furiously. "Damn it all!" He cursed before vanishing.
"Mukuro, stay here!"
She quickly refocused her senses and finally spotted his dim energy signature. He was running at full speed towards Shura.
Seran charged Shura, knocking the younger youkai off his feet. Shura howled and grabbed at his invisible but tangible foe. Both off them began wrestling on the ground, crushing flowers in whichever direction they went.
She heard a yelp from Seran. "Hey, he bit me!"
There was another explosion, and Seran was hurled into air. He landed hard some distance away from her.
A brilliant flash, and she just managed to evade the energy ball coming straight at her. The wall behind her exploded, pieces and fragments of stone rained down on her.
Mukuro glared at Shura and disappeared to reappear right in front of him. She moved in to attack but slammed into a barrier.
Backing away, she stared in shock at the globe of youki that surrounded Shura and Yomi. '... He's good.' She straightened and smiled at her opponent. 'I guess I can't go easy on him...' She began gathering her energy. The space around her flared with crimson energy. Despite Shura's S-class level, he was still no match against her.
She raised her hand and youki began forming on it. She stared pass the energies that separated them and looked at Shura's face. There was not a hint of fear in those eyes. Defiant, he also began building up his energy. Crimson and emerald raged against their constraints, and Mukuro tried in vain to find the Shura she knew.
'... I don't want to kill him.' Mukuro's resolve weakened. Yomi was one thing, Shura quite another. 'He's still a child...'
Mukuro looked over to where Seran was. He was breathing hard as he struggled to his feet. There were burn marks all over his body.
"Shura!" He shouted, "Stop this! You are ill, we have to cure you!"
Shura shook his head violently, the youki ball still clutched tightly in his hand. "I can't... I have to protect Papa..."
"Listen carefully, Shura. Your father is fine, and he is in no danger. That I promise you! Your life is the one in danger. You have to go in the lake."
Shura began shaking visibly, and Seran walked towards him. He stopped a step before the barrier. "Shura, please!"
Mukuro couldn't stand it anymore. She absorbed the energy around her and stalked towards Shura. He jerked his gaze towards her and prepared to fire.
She stopped and made no move to defend herself, causing Shura stare at her uncertainly, confusion adding to his despair.
"Shura," she said softly but firmly, "I promise that nothing will happen to Yomi." Her eyes met his directly. "If I have to, I will protect him with my life."
Shura sobbed, "How can I believe you?" The look in his eyes was so lost. "You are my enemy."
"... But, you're not mine."
At her words, Shura bowed his head. His body trembled as the globe of energy around him flickered in intensity. Finally, they heard him whisper, "...Papa told me that we couldn't trust you." He lifted his head to look at her. "But... he once told me that you are a worthy and honorable foe." He relaxed ever so slightly. "He said that he had more confidence in you than in any of his generals."
"I'll trust you this time, Mukuro, but I swear if anything happens to my father, I will kill you."
The Silver Lake
Mukuro observed the glow around Shura and Seran. Azure energy flowed from Seran's hands into Shura. Both of them were standing chest-high in the lake, its silver surface glistening in the moonlight.
'They have been at it for an hour.' Mukuro thought as she took a food pack from Seran's bag. From the same bag, she found the cooking unit. Soon, dinner would be ready, and she wondered if by then, they would be done. She doubt it, recalling Seran telling her not to wait for them while showing her how to use his contraption.
In front of her and still sleeping was Yomi. Mukuro couldn't believe what a heavy sleeper he was. He didn't even wake during the battle. She considered dumping him in the pool, but thought otherwise, remembering her promise to Shura.
She liked Shura very much, and just couldn't say the same for his father. With a silent sigh, she opened the pack and dumped its contents into the unit. Add water, and a delicious aroma soon wafted from it as the soup started cooking.
There was a sigh, and she was quite surprised when Yomi finally woke up.
Yomi groaned and slowly sat up. '... Where am I?'
"Good night, you're just in time for dinner."
He started and found Mukuro, who was just a mere meter away from him. An instant later, he tripled that distance.
"... Does this mean you don't want to eat?"
His stomach complained, and it didn't help to have such an acute sense of smell in times like this, or very sharp hearing for that matter. He could hear the soup as it boiled.
Ignoring all that, he searched for Shura and Seran and jerked in surprise upon discovering their locations.
"What are they doing there?" He didn't like asking Mukuro, but he did have little choice.
"... I can't answer that question in any detail. It is suffice to say that Seran is healing Shura. You should be asking why they are there?"
"Say please first"
He forced himself to say it, "Please."
"... Say pretty please?"
Yomi glared at her.
"Never mind. You don't have to say that. Your please is more than enough."
Mukuro told him about what had happened while he was sleeping, and he stiffened when she came to the battle portion.
"& I still can't believe you slept through all that."
"Seran did something to me, I just know it!"
"He admitted it, but he's not giving away any trade secrets." Mukuro suddenly stood up and walked towards him. Yomi followed her every move. Two steps from him, she stopped. "& You have an exceptional son, Yomi," she said softly.
Pride swelled in him upon hearing those words. That she was one of his most powerful foes made the compliment even more significant. Her next statement stunned him.
"Too bad he's just your clone."
"& Did Seran& "
"No," she interrupted, shaking her head. "He may be one of the most loquacious people ever, but he tells very little of true importance."
"It wasn't easy," she confessed honestly, "Little clues and details here and there that I managed to piece together." She smiled. "Frankly, it was just a theory. The expression on your face clinched the whole puzzle together."
Yomi could only face her silently, and when he finally found his voice, a satisfied smile curved his lips. "I was right. You are a nosy bitch."
He could feel indignation flare up in her, and added dryly, "Nosy people are usually intuitive. An admirable trait, but they just can't keep their noses out of other people's business."
"& I shouldn't be surprised that you would make a clone of yourself. It's simply in your character. You're so greedy and ambitious, you can. t stand the idea of sharing with others except with your own self. Blood isn't enough, it has to be yourself for an heir!" Yomi just shrugged sagely at her accusations.
"But," Mukuro continued heatedly, "I bet the real reason is because you are just impotent!"
"& Take that back!" Yomi shouted at her.
"Hah! You just can't do it!" She said triumphantly, sounding so pleased with herself. She started chanting, "You can't do it, you can't do it& "
Yomi lost his temper and attacked her.
"You're senile!" Mukuro yelled at him from her vantage point on the mound. Yomi grimaced at the insult and shouted a repartee, "Scarecrow face!"
"You may be horny, but none of them works!"
"You wouldn't know how one works! Yakumo himself would get sick looking at you!"
Mukuro suddenly appeared in front of him, and Yomi blocked her blow at the same time slashing with his katana. The blade barely brushed against her stomach as she trapped it between her palms. She smiled at him and redirected the sword to miss her. Pressing the weapon against her waist, she pirouetted across its length to deliver a firm blow in his stomach.
Yomi landed heavily, the air knocked out of him as his katana slipped from his fingers. When he recovered, Mukuro was standing over him, a satisfied smirk on her face.
"You're definitely losing it, Yomi," she said, "Too tough for you?"
Yomi shook his head, a smile on his lips. "No," he replied simply, and kicked. His foot hooked behind her ankle and pulled, knocking her off balance.
Mukuro landed on her side, a jolt of pain running through her shoulder. "Getting careless, aren't we?" She heard Yomi quipped.
She winced at that and rolled to her back. Before she could regain her equilibrium, a strong grip tightened around her throat.
Yomi lay across Mukuro, his hands firmly on her neck. He could feel the frail bones quiver as she inhaled sharply. Then he felt a prick against his stomach.
His own katana was aimed directly at him. Mukuro had somehow taken hold of his weapon. Now, it's shiny blade laid across her stomach, the hilt firmly in her hand. He heard her whisper, "Isn't this nice? We'll go to the Reikai together."
It was a stalemate, and Yomi sighed disappointedly. They both remained quiet until he said, "Oh well, Seran would never forgive me if anything happened to you. He's always had a fondness for the weaker sex."
Mukuro stiffened at his words, then relaxed, "I made a promise to Shura." At his quizzical look, she smiled, remembering his words, "He said he would kill me if anything happened to you." She sighed as well. "You don't deserve him, Yomi."
"Well, I'm glad the two of you are getting along."
Both of them looked towards the lake. Seran was standing on the shore with a smile on his face and Shura sleeping in his arms.
At the mouth of the cave&
Mukuro looked up and could barely see the moon, its light flickering into the thick canopy. Ahead of her, Yomi and Seran were talking about Shura, who was firmly tucked in his father's arms.
Seran was reassuring Yomi that Shura was fine and completely cured. Yomi wasn't so certain and he remarked again on Shura's adolescent status. Mukuro could understand his concern. Shura had returned to his younger state, though she did feel that he looked much better.
The healer was embarrassed and explained that he had underestimated the power of the Silver Lake, but also reiterated that Shura was better off this way. Now his body would mature in line with his mind and soul.
Mukuro paused, letting them go on ahead. She turned back towards the cave. Again, she could feel something.
It called out to her, the strange feeling. It tugged at her senses as if willing her to go back into the cave.
She shook her head, wondering what it could possible be. There was nothing else in there except those Silver Blossoms and the now normal lake. Seran was right. As soon as the moon had stopped shining into the cavern, the flowers had closed up and the lake, no longer silver.
There was connection between the moon and the Silver Blossoms.
She heard someone call out to her, and she turned. Seran was waving at her to hurry up. Yomi and Shura were already out of sight. With a reluctant sigh, she walked away from the cave.
To be or not to be continued&
This part seemed to end A Story to Tell quite well, but there is more to come really. ^^;; This one's the longest chapter so far. (massages tired fingers and head)
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