Author's note: Finally updated this ^^ I'm curious on how it will turn out.

YYH Fanfiction "A Story to Tell"
Chapter 15: Initiation

"You are confusing me," Mukuro stated flatly. Her eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Yomi tilted his head, then spread his hands apart. His expression was innocent. "Whatever you say, Mukuro," he said in a casual tone.

Irritated at him, Mukuro looked back down to the tama board. All his moves, thus far, seemed to be aimless. She couldn't figure out what strategy he was employing. She frowned, scowling to hide her lost.

"Your move, Mukuro." She glanced back up to him. Yomi was idly scratching one of his ears. He looked bored. That bothered her further.

"Whose idea was this?"
"Yours. You said you were bored, remember?"
"You brought out this game, Yomi."
"I must be good host, Mukuro."
"I was going to leave!"

"Please do not shout. I can hear you all too loudly. Disappointed by my choice of game, Mukuro...?"

"That's it. I'm leaving.
"Bad loser."
"I'm not losing."
"You're the one forfeiting."
"You're the one with no strategy."

Yomi suddenly leaned forward. His hands flattened on both sides of the board. Mukuro leaned back automatically, almost falling over on the bed.

"Let's make this more interesting..." Yomi murmured. Mukuro definitely didn't like the look in his eyes. She shook her head.

"... Scared?"
"I am not!"
"Then, agree."
Mukuro stared at him indecisively. "... What are the conditions?"

Yomi smiled. "If I win, you will take Shura-"
"Yomi, damn it! I will not bed Shura!"

"Let me finish. You will take Shura to your territory to do with him as you please for six moons. Train him? Torture him? Whatever."

"... What kind of a father are you?"

"Better than yours. But!" Yomi said loudly before Mukuro could hit him. "Do we have an agreement? I beat you at tama, you take Shura with you."

"And what do I get if I win?"
"What do you want from me, Mukuro?"
"... I can get whatever I want from you?"
"Yes."
"Even say... you have to go back to Gandara stark naked?"
"... You'd like that, wouldn't you."
"Or maybe you have to kiss Enki goodbye later..."
"The first idea was much better."

"How about docking those ears of yours... no, that would be too cruel. Let's see... What else..."

"..." I better win this game, thought Yomi.

Three days later...

"No, no, boy. Don't hold your sword that way," Shigure admonished him and held up his own sword to show the proper way to Shura. "Like this."

Shura nodded, imitating Shigure's hold, ignoring the jeers from other trainees and warriors watching them. On a balcony overlooking the training square, Mukuro seriously considered interfering. Her warriors were treating Shura too harshly.

It's only the first day..., the reasoning part of her whispered. It's expected. All newcomers must prove themselves. Her frown deepened as she leaned forward, elbows resting on the balustrade. This is what Yomi planned... for Shura to endure hardship.

Indeed, very few in Gandara would dare to test Shura. In her kingdom, Shura would be challenged at every moment by even the lowest level youkai.

Below, several youths had gathered and were muttering among themselves. Mukuro didn't like the narrowed looks Shura was getting from them.

... Even if I didn't do with Shura as Yomi wants... Mukuro straightened abruptly. Those youths were moving towards Shura, whom Shigure had left alone.

... Yomi, you coward. You couldn't stand to see Shura hurt... so you left it up to me.

***

Shura winced as he tried to remove his tunic without moving too much. He had been beaten up quite badly. He dropped his tunic and rubbed at his right eye, which had swollen to a nice black and blue.

He heard a knock at the door and turned towards it with a questioning frown. He really didn't want anyone to see him right now so he kept quiet, hoping whoever it was would go away.

Again there was a knock and a third. Then the door slid open, and Shura was startled for no one was there. He waited a few moments to see if someone would come in. When there was no one, he went to the door and looked in the hallway. There was no one there.

"Are you all right, Shura?" He jumped and whirled around to find Mukuro in his room. "My Lady..." He said hesitantly, staring at her. Then he flushed and looked away. "I'm all right," he murmured softly. He was embarrassed that she would see him in such a battered state.

"Close the door, Shura." Surprised, he glanced at her uncertainly and blinked. "... Lady Muku-"

"Just close the door, Shura," she repeated in a somewhat patient town.

***

Shura breathed in sharply when her fingers found a very tender spot on his spot. He was lying on his bed on his stomach and trying quietly to endure Mukuro's ministrations on his bruises.

"Who did this?" There was steel in her soft query.

"... I don't know their names," he replied softly. Then, he added, "I am all right."

"... Did they do something else...?" The way the question ended made Shura tensed, and he quickly turned over on his back to look up at her.

"No, they didn't," he said immediately, ignoring his body's protest at his sudden change of position. At his answer, Mukuro relaxed and glanced around his small windowless room.

Her expression turned wry. "Shigure is making sure you don't have an easy time here."

He smiled slightly. "I'm fine, Lady Mukuro." Then he turned serious. "There is something I would like to request."

"Hmm? What is it, Shura?"
"I would like to stay in the barracks."

She was startled. "... The barracks?" She repeated, looking alarmed.

***

"He himself requested to be housed in the barracks? With the other trainees?" Shigure asked again. He didn't look like he believed her. Mukuro lifted an eyebrow at him haughtily, and he submitted though slowly and with a somewhat suspicious expression.

"Very well..., but he won't be welcomed there," Shigure said with certainty. Mukuro tilted her head slightly. There was a note of grudging acceptance in his tone. "The boy isn't what I expected," he admitted.

"No, he isn't," agreed Mukuro, nodding a little. She couldn't quite hide her concern. "But Shigure-" She paused to find the right words while he looked at her curiously. "I don't want to return Shura to Yomi in a box," she finally declared flatly, staring at him seriously.

"... You want me to baby-sit him-"

"No, I just want you to make sure he survives," Mukuro interrupted.

Shigure looked at her askance. "... I've seen him fight. I'm sure he can handle it-"

She interrupted him again. "He didn't fight back just a while ago. He didn't even try to defend himself." That she didn't understand.

"... He wants to prove himself to the others..." Shigure reasoned slowly. Mukuro suddenly felt he understood Shura's motives more than she did.

She then felt tired. Boys will be boys... This was all a male thing... "Shigure," she finally said, rather loudly, "Just make sure he doesn't get himself killed. All right?"

"Yes, of course, Lord Mukuro," said Shigure obediently, and Mukuro glared at him. He sounded like he wasn't planning to do a single thing to help Shura at all.

***

Shigure watched as the trainees lined up at the ration station. He could see the younger ones jostle each other playfully while older cadets were more behaved. He could see all of them were pointedly ignoring Shura, who still held himself straight despite sporting numerous cuts and bruises.

He cupped his chin, thumb stroking thoughtfully. He knew that once he wasn't looking, Shura would be bullied again. His initiation was ten times as hard. Everyone here knew who he is.

"Hey." He turned to see old Jita behind him. The healer youkai looked grumpier than usual. Shigure was more worried that Jita also looked concerned.

"Jita?"
"You going to tell them to stop tormenting Yomi's kid?"
"Should I?"

"He had three broken ribs yesterday. Lucky, he can heal himself cause no one would help him to the healing bay."

That was serious. "... If I tell them to lay off... they'll treat him even worse than before."

Jita muttered, "Can't be worse than what he's going through right now. I haven't seen anyone had this bad a welcome before. How much more does he have to prove?" With that, Jita gave Shigure a curt nod and shuffled away.

... A lot more if he wants to survive here, thought Shigure.

One moon later...

"Attention!"

Shura suddenly stumbled forward and fell to his knees. Jeers and yells followed quickly as he stood up. He didn't bother to find out who had shove him. He was standing in the first row of the battalion.

"Watch your feet, Shura," Shigure said loudly in order to be heard over the din, "you wouldn't want to be down during a real battle. You'll get run over." The unfriendly laughter grew louder, but Shura kept his composure, keeping his eyes on Shigure, who was smiling slightly at him. While Shura still had to earn his fellow trainees' respect, Shigure seemed to have accepted him.

Shura could only hope Mukuro didn't have anything to do with Shigure's change of attitude towards him.

"Silence!" Shigure shouted again, and the laughter died abruptly. All eyes locked on Shigure. The training square was empty today save for their group, composing of a thousand youkai. Since the clear plain in the middle of the jungle could accommodate more than a hundred thousand, it was eerily quiet except for the usual noises from the dense jungle around them and the muffled sounds of the thriving city adjacent to citadel and barracks.

Where are the other legions? Wondered Shura, eyes lifting to track the sun's location in the sky above. Usually, at this time of the day, the square was half full. Mukuro's army composed of more than 10 thousand veterans with five times that number being recruits and trainees. Though Makai was considered peaceful these days, fighting was still the main way of life.

"Today, we have a special treat for you, greenhorns!" Shura turned his attention back to Shigure, who now looked like a speck to Shura. He was at the far end of the line from Shura. How he manages to make himself heard to a thousand was beyond Shura. Shigure wasn't using any artificial form of amplification yet Shura could hear him clearly.

"We have a visitor from Gandara who claims he has made an obstacle course that's impossible to get through!"

Shura straightened attentively at that while his companions began muttering amongst themselves. Who could it be?

***

"A pleasure to meet you all." Mukuro smiled as the wind draft from the foliage surrounding the training square brought Seran's voice clear up to the balcony where she was in. She could see Seran standing before the trainees. Shigure was beside him.

She narrowed her eyes and scanned the front row of the legion until she spotted Shura. She couldn't see his face, but she was certain he was pleased to see his teacher. Well... either pleased or upset. Mukuro sighed. Shura had made it clear he didn't want her help or Shigure's. He was determined to gain acceptance on his own.

Seran was saying, "As a show of the respect Lord Yomi and his people have for Lord Mukuro and her people, we bequeath to you a gift worthy for those born in the jungles of Makai!"

The center of the square suddenly exploded, spewing dirt and dust upward. Trainees yelled and scattered, thinking it was a trap.

"Please calm down!" Seran yelled. "Get back to your places!" Shigure shouted. Those who ran were slow to return. Everyone watched the center as the cloud of dust settled and cleared.

Suddenly, someone yelled, "Akuma no Ki!" Panic spread through the trainee ranks when it became clear there was now a grove of Devil Trees in the center of the training square.

***

"I know only two individuals who have survived being surrounded by these trees," Seran said, "and they didn't look too good afterwards either." He glanced to Shigure. "Master Shigure here should not have too much trouble getting through this bunch, but it's still very risky."

Shigure nodded at Seran's words. "If even one tree manages to puncture into your flesh, your energy will immediately be reduced drastically." He shrugged. "I've cut down Devil Trees in my lifetime, but I prefer to stay clear of them. Encountering one is bad enough."

Mukuro covered her mouth and her smile as they continued talking about the trees. The trainees were a riveted audience. Behind them, the stand of Devil Trees was a menacing site. Branches waved, leaves noisily rustled. The evil faces on their trunks seemed to be painted on.

Mukuro knew quite well how dangerous the trees were. Once a victim is trapped, branches punctured into the skin and feelers spread through the body. It took a very short time for a Devil tree to incorporate a victim into it. Even mere seedlings were effective parasites.

And prisons... Mukuro's eyes closed. In a deep dark basement in the citadel, a Devil Tree grew steadily, feeding off the life energy of her father, whom it was keeping alive and whom it was continuously torturing. Hiei's gift to her. The abusive bastard deserved it.

Below, Seran was demonstrating. He hurled a ball of youki into the groove. As it hit one of the trees, its energy was immediately absorbed. "They are greedy for energy, these trees," Seran mused as Shigure flung his circle sword into the trees.

It flew straight, cutting through branches and whipping past to lodge into the trunk of the largest Devil Tree located in the very center. A low growl ensued from it, and as they watched, the tree glowed. Its cut bark began to regenerate. Several moments after, its wound was healed over and part of Shigure sword was covered by bark.

The trainees were stunned silent when Shigure said, "One of you better get my sword back."

***

"Ahhhhhh-" The trainee's cry was cut off abruptly as he landed headfirst into the ground. A sympathetic sound came from his companions. He had been thrown quite a distance by one of the trees.

Twelve trainees at the time took the obstacle course. The trees were surrounded with a trainee at thirty-degree increments. With a thousand trainees to go, it was assumed that it would take days to finish. However, the Devil Trees did quick work. Almost at every half minute, a trainee was send flying out of the course. Oftentimes two or three or more go out together.

As another trainee dashed forward for his try, Shigure glanced aside to Seran. The healer was looking intently at the waiting trainees, at Shura no doubt.

Shigure asked, "What sort of energy does these trees like anyway?" Seran had manipulated the genes of these trees. They were not the usual extremely dangerous Devil Trees.

Seran blinked first before looking at him. Then he smiled with pride. "They like light energy, like sunlight or released youki."

It was Shigure's turn to blink. "... I don't know how you did that, but that means if you don't attack them they'll ignore you." Suddenly, this obstacle course sounded too easy.

Seran shook his head, his smile widening. "I splice the tree gene with the gene of a lumi bee."

Shigure balked. Lumi bees were colonies of winged insects that were notorious for killing anything in their territory. They didn't need any prey since they feed off the energy of sunlight; however, soldier lumi bees regarded anything not their kind as a threat to their queen.

Shigure pointed to the much larger than usual Devil Tree in the center and moved his arm to encompass the other smaller trees. "You mean these are actually lumi bees?!"

"No, of course not. Otherwise, there'd be many casualties right now. They're Devil Trees that feed off light energy and who are protective of their mother. Plus, they glow in the dark."

"... Lumi bees kill, but Devil Trees don't kill," Shigure said slowly, then his face lit up. "These trees won't let anyone near their mother who isn't palatable."

"Correct," said Seran, "If you don't light up, they'll throw you out."

"... Seran, I want my sword back."

***

Shura winced as three more trainees hit the dirt. More than half of the legion was done, and still no one had managed to get to the center. Shura watched as another youkai tried to slice his way through, his energy glowing around him. Thick branches suddenly whipped around and surround him. He began blasting the trees with youki, but soon he was drained, and the trees grabbed him and threw him out.

As soon as there is no more energy, they're thrown out... mused Shura. These trees were safer than the regular Devil Trees. Another youkai managed to approach the center tree without using youki, but as soon as he touched it, branches captured him, and he was thrown out as well.

Shura scratched his head. If youki isn't used, they're thrown out too...

***

... What sort of Devil Trees are these... Mukuro wondered as steadily the number of trainees left dwindled. At least Seran kept his promise that no one would be killed. These trees weren't at all interested in taking prisoners.

... It will be Shura's turn soon.

***

Shura stood just outside the boundary of the trees. His hand tightened on the handle of the sword his father had given to him, and he unsheathed its blade. In one stroke, he cut through the trunk of the tree nearest him. However, it didn't fall. Instead it glowed, and the wound healed over. Shura dodged before its branches could capture him.

Cutting through won't work, though Shura as he distanced himself from the angry Devil Tree. He didn't stopped running until he arrived at the point opposite his starting point. He heard the taunts of the other trainees saying he was a coward for running away. But he shook his head, clearing his mind. No one has managed to retrieve Shigure's sword so far. If he failed as well, then those insults would have basis.

... A shield. Shura began commanding his youki to form a shining barrier around him. As with the other trainees who had used shields in the obstacle, branches and vines immediately covered his shield, cocooning Shura inside. However, Shura knew that just like with the others, the trees wouldn't throw him out yet.

Inside, Shura waited for branches to poke through the barrier, and he surprised when nothing happened. ... Is this a prison then? Shura stared at the branches surrounding him, knowing that if he tried to cut through them, he couldn't run away and would be immediately thrown out. That was what happened with many of the other trainees who had used shields.

... I wonder. Shura allowed his barrier to die down. Moments later, the branches withdrew, releasing Shura.

... They like the shield... why don't they just capture us and drain our energy? Shura shook his head, utterly confused, and started to dash towards the center. I know I can reach the center as long as I don't use youki. He soon arrived at the center tree and stared up at it. Another trainee had managed to reach Shigure's sword before him.

No! Shura could only watch helplessly as the other youkai balanced on Shigure's sword without touching the trunk of the tree it was embedded in. It was over. He would get the sword.

Then as he stepped onto the trunk, branches suddenly swarmed around him. He shouted angrily and managed to pull the sword out halfway before the tree growled and glowed again. Bark began growing around the sword again, locking it even more firmly into the trunk as branches wrenched the trainee off the sword and throwing him out of the obstacle.

... Shura breathed out and took air in deeply. He was so certain it was over. I must not fail, he told himself firmly, leaping up high to land on the sword. Nothing happened, no branches came to capture him.

Shura stared at the sword he was standing on. How was he supposed to pull it out without touching the tree. That was the mistake the previous trainee did.

... If I shield myself and the sword... Again, his youki formed a barrier around him and the sword. As before, branches immediately surrounded him and cocooned Shura and the sword.

Good. Shura stepped down into the circle formed by the sword and landed on the branches covering the bottom of his barrier. He grabbed the sword handle and began pulling. He paused when he heard the tree growl. The trunk began glowing again, healing the wounded bark.

... It acts like a wounded animal... Shura's eyes lit in realization. He quickly bent over and pressed his hand to the trunk. The branches around him began to shudder and to contract. Shura ignored it and concentrated his youki into the wound. The tree growled again, but this time softer. It now sounded like it was purring.

That's it... Youki glowed from his hand against the trunk. Then his eyes narrowed, and his other hand tightened around the sword handle. In one quick pull, he wrenched Shigure's sword out.

The tree screamed, and Shura was thrown up and out of the obstacle course.

***

"Good work, Shura!" Seran beamed at him and ruffled his hair. "I knew you could do it."

Shura winced. His entire body ached with cuts and bruises. The Devil Tree had thrown him so far away that he had landed in the jungle.

"Congratulations, Shura-kun." He blushed when Mukuro said that, giving him a warm smile.

"Thank you, Lord Mukuro," he murmured, finding that he couldn't look at her straight. He was sitting on a bed in the main healing bay of the Citadel. He ignored Jita and Seran fussing over him. Shigure was present too and holding his circle sword tightly.

Jita harrumphed, sounded suspiciously like Yoda. "Passing the obstacle course should make you more welcome around here," he said with certainly, then telling Shura to hold up his right arm so he could check the bruises on it.

***

"He's making things harder for himself," Seran mused loudly, and Mukuro nodded, saying, "You sound like you expected him to do that."

"I know him well, and Shura has always been a stubborn boy."

"He is indeed. So, how is Yomi and Gandara faring without Shura?"

"Uhm... not too well, I'm afraid. Gandara, I mean."

***

After receiving his rations, Shura walked towards an empty table in the cavernous dining hall. Suddenly someone shouted, "Hey, Shura, come eat with us!"

To be continued...

Author's note: ^^ I've said it, and I'll say it again. I adore Shura! And the tentative title for the next chapter is "Tournament of Makai."