AN: While I was browsing this and other websites, I came across the idea of crossovers. Now, I know that those tangles of plots and characters are often the worst thing an author can get involved in, because fleshing out characters from different stories and making their involvement with others plausible or, heaven forbid, realistic, is far more difficult than it sounds. Plot alone is incredibly difficult to find, especially if canon is a factor to consider.
But alas, going through some great stories, I came across a few good KagKur stories, and, really, that is where it all began. This would never have been written if not for the idea that I have gotten and perhaps you would never be reading it if I hadn't made certain that this story could have a beginning, a plot and an ending that satisfied me. Surprisingly, this is the first story that I have completely planned out, with every twist and turn along the way. I usually make things up as I go, really. I suppose genius ideas come only once in a while.
Nevertheless, only to clarify what couldn't be stuffed into the summary: This will be a IY-YYH crossover, thus will soon be moved to that section, featuring an original plot, an action-adventure romance with bits of angst here and there, because, really, that's how I like it. Pairings might turn out to be semi-canon in most cases, but let me emphasize that only in most cases. KagKur fans, read on, but expect a more, shall we say, historical setting involving pre-YYH-manga events in Makai, if you get my drift. Watch out for kitsune heading your way. I think you have me converted, by the way, though I still ship SessKag just the same.
All ownership of YYH or IY is hereby disclaimed. Only the plot is mine.
Any mistakes and corrections or just plain old reviews, send them my way. Keep flames to a minimum, please, and try to enjoy the story. Hopefully, it will turn out as I want it to, a novel-length story with a possible sequel in the making.
Now we can officially begin.
Thank you for reading.
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The tale of the tragic apprentice
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"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live."
- Norman Cousins
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She was a priestess, or as close to being one that any of the pupils her teacher had taken had ever gotten. Ironically, this said much about her character, more than anyone might suspect.
None of the other candidates had lasted; all had left, sooner or later, willingly or not. Her teacher tolerated only perfection, if she tolerated anything at all, as students were more pests than a joyous treat to her. But they were an inevitable occurrence and the sensei had learned that it was no point in telling them that they hardly had what it took to survive with her.
It was only a matter of time before they left on their own accord, once they saw and experienced the life she led every day. That warfare and battle were her destiny. That one could never be certain when the hour of their death came, though with the powers she wielded, it was unlikely that that hour would come anytime soon.
But the hopes and illusions of a long life and a distant death had now been stripped away. The apprentice priestess felt hollow even remembering it, facing the horrible scene in a mind's eye; the moment she had found her sensei… like that.
Make no mistake, the sensei was alive. Just… not among the living. As close to death as a creature could be without actually crossing the threshold of it. Fighting evil even at the very moment of her physical demise. And she left behind the one unlikely apprentice that hadn't given up on the training.
But her sensei was...
Not dead… gone forever.
That notion would take some time getting used to. And the mantle had been passed down to her, the woman-child who had stumbled into the village where the sensei resided seemingly out of nowhere. Through her determination – or pigheaded nature, dedication – or foolishness, and persistence – or downright stupidity, she had outlasted all the other would-be pupils of her sensei, watching them gather throughout the years before finally summoning the courage to try it herself. Her admiration for her sensei was blind and she had withstood daring trials that a girl her age would have run from.
Years later, she still wasn't the priestess she should be, but was as close to finishing her training as one could be, if it was indeed training and not simply a test of her own willpower.
She had spent half her lifetime learning the arts of the Shinto priestesses and wore their colours proudly, even though the sensei had not. She used their traditional weapon, a longbow, even though the sensei had not. The sensei… she had been a warrior to the core, and thus wore always the clothing resembling the armour of a samurai. And, fittingly, there had been a sword at her side, always, the sword which was still engaged in a motionless battle, even now.
It was the woman-child who had extracted the pure sphere from the horrible scene that the villagers were faced with, seeing their honourary protector tangled with demons, seemingly dead but too alive to be truly passed away. The presence of the sphere was another mystery, but the young priestess hardly dwelled on it. It was a relic of her sensei. And she would protect it with her life, sensing the power radiating from it. It was pure, a gem that was like the soul of her sensei.
It was that notion that gave her the idea that it might be the product of the merging of souls, though she had never seen anything like that before. If only her sensei was there. She would have explained patiently what it was and how it could be made, and she wouldn't have to wait to seek out the wisdom of an aged monk that passed through the village days later to pay his respects.
"This is a sight to behold indeed," the ancient monk said upon witnessing the glory of the stone. "And one to be careful with too, miko-sama." Miko-sama. It felt wrong to take the title of her sensei. "This is a merger of souls, to be clear. The jewel that contains the soul of both Midoriko-sama and the demons she battled, the strongest ones. It is the Shikon no Tama, the Jewel of Four Souls. Aramitama - Courage, Nigimitama - Friendship, Kushimitama - Wisdom and Sakimitama - Love. When all united in one person, such as Midoriko-sama was, they form a powerful balance within the soul that can be used for immense good or great evil."
The young priestess listened carefully to each word and began to understand. Demons, youkai, they would come… come for the jewel. And if one of them would get its hands… claws… talons… whatever! on the sacred object, it would try to absorb its power and use it to plague humans more than it ever would have without it.
"Take it, then, houshi-sama." the young priestess said. She saw that the powers of the monk far outranked her own, along with his experience. "Please." The addendum was a plea.
But the monk shook his head with a wheezy chuckle. He seemed very ancient when doing that, and it was then that the priestess understood what he was about to tell her himself.
"Miko-sama, I am old. A decade ago, I would have taken the burden off your shoulders with thanks for your trust; today, I must politely refuse your generosity. I will warn you against such kindness, though. I would not deceive you, miko-sama, but, forgive me, not all holy men and women are as holy as they might claim. Demons will yearn for the jewel, true, but you put too much faith in humans. They too have evil in their hearts and will seek to gain the powers of the jewel for their own selfish needs."
"But why would they?" the priestess asked, bewildered and suddenly slightly frightened. "Why would they take a jewel that increases demonic powers?"
"Because the power will be tempting and some souls are not above selling their very selves to demons for the sake of power." the monk explained with a grave face. "Ningen are weak in their minds, miko-sama. It is their nature, I fear."
"But surely there is someone more fit to protect this jewel." the priestess tried finally. She knew her own limits, despite her fervent denial of her own weakness.
The aged monk smiled, but it contained sadness as well as pride. He knew that the poor girl, who had already sacrificed her own happiness for the good of others, would be condemned to an even lonelier life than that of an ordinary Shinto priestess. But the jewel responded to her own purity, he saw that, and adding to that that it was the soul of her teacher, with whom she had shared a special connection… needless to say, she was the best candidate in the world to protect the jewel and inwardly, perhaps she knew it as well, though it was hard to accept for her young mind.
"Miko-sama." the monk said finally, "guard the jewel with your life. There is a chance that you will once be free of your eternal task." She was listening intently to each word. "If by chance you ever discover a selfless, entirely pure wish that would not corrupt your soul or those within the jewel, a wish that would be good to the very core, you are free to make it and the jewel will grant it. In that case, it will likely allow the souls within to finish their battle and break free from their prison. Then, the jewel will likely disappear and you will be an ordinary miko-sama again. But beware the wish you make. Should it be even in the slightest way selfish, cruel or wicked, the jewel and your heart will become tainted, perhaps forever, and your grief and pain will be exploited by evil."
For the rest of his life, the short time that awaited him before rising to Nirvana, the old monk would remember the sad look on the tragic face of the young priestess as he left her with her task. The trials ahead were many and she was alone for them…
And the trials didn't have to be waited for.
They came on their own accord, soon. Demons, weak and strong, assaulted the protector of the jewel, and it was only because of the memory of her sensei, the houshii-sama and her task that she prevailed. Those thoughts gave her strength and allowed her to become famed throughout the land, though that was more ill than good when it came down it. More demons came – she destroyed them. Humans wanted to capture the power of the jewel, failing or giving up when seeing her power. And sometimes, she smiled, because some reacted to the sight of her inner goodness and suffering.
Her suffering, her loneliness, her burden. The first too didn't last long. The third would follow her through eternity.
Because no matter how far and wide she searched, no wish was pure enough, no desire good enough, no hope strong enough. Alone, alone, always alone, always fighting, always prevailing.
And so inevitably there came a moment when, ultimately, her power was not enough.
It was a strange déjà vu, the sight of a horde of demons sweeping through the village like a hurricane in the southern lands.
They gave no mercy. They knew none.
While they were drawn to the power of the jewel, they also wanted the revenge and pleasure in the pain of others. And her arrows ultimately couldn't save all the poor humans. They were the first blow to her, the first direct hit. She knew she couldn't save them, but at least she attempted to run herself, hoping that the demons would follow her and praying that the sacrifice of the lives of her friends and comrades would not be in vain. She ran and ran, aimlessly, followed by the demons, until she could run no more.
In knowing the moment of her death, she was fortunate. But the promise she had made to guard the jewel with her life was not so easily broken.
Staring into the eyes of her doom, she was fearless, which was an irony, as it took something as small as an earthworm to earn a yelp or scream from her. Of demons, she wasn't afraid.
But she wasn't Midoriko-sama. She couldn't slay ten of them with one stroke. The tale of the tragic apprentice of the great miko-sama would be forgotten, if ever told. And the Jewel of the Four Souls would be lost to darkness. But she couldn't bring herself to believe that it would be so. With her dying breath, she would defend the treasure. With her death, perhaps she would purify it completely.
With her death, there came only a flash of light.
She had never considered what might happen if she ever died. She faced death every day; she woke with it and went to sleep with it. Death was her only companion. Death awaited her at every turn.
But the actual death of the body was different than she would have expected.
When her body tumbled to the ground, her last strength allowed her to grip the jewel that had slipped from around her neck with her hand and grip it tightly. Her mortal, dying shell would have to be ripped to shreds before she gave up. But her clothes were entirely red now, the crimson colour of the setting sun, of blood.
But as she died, the spiritual energy that had been enclosed in her body, residing within like a guardian spirit, was released in one blast, be it her dying wish or not. All that remained was the corpse of a young woman, clutching her treasure, and the ashes of the assaulting demons.
At last, she should have been at peace.
But death was a curious thing, the priestess discovered, and she couldn't even summon the energy to scream upon witnessing her physical body in front of her, still bleeding, but clearly dead. Her long black hair was looking messier than ever, the strands sticky with blood and glued together. Her eyes were still half-open, their almost unnatural pale blue color shining like some message from the spiritual realm. Her youthful face was in pain and shrouded in was a horrible sight to behold, for all her beauty.
Yet she continued! Her physical body was irreparably damaged, lying there, right in front of her, but the eyes she possessed didn't need the physical self to see! She looked down at her own figure, seeing the clothing matching that which the broken human doll in front of her wore, but hers were pristine and looked as fine as they never had before. She touched her head, feeling her hair, devoid of blood and silkier than she had ever thought it might be. She touched her face and felt the spot on her chest where her heart should be felt beating – that was the only thing that was absent.
Tamashi. She was dead. A soul. A spirit, whatever that could be called. But why did she still linger on?
"Do not fear." But she almost did, jumping a bit – was that even possible for a dead soul? – at the sound of a feminine voice nearby. "Everything will be all right."
The priestess turned to see a woman of seemingly her age or close enough to it standing nearby, holding what seemed to be an oar with a long, graceful arm. In a way, she seemed to have the grace and inner calm of Midoriko-sama, but her jet black hair was tied back in a bun and her matching eyes lacked the adventurous spirit of her former sensei. This woman was also dressed in a pale blue kimono with a wonderful iris pattern in places. She looked like an o-hime-sama, truly, save for the oar, which was downright odd.
"Who… who are you?" the dead priestess asked shakily.
"I am known as Ayame, a ferry girl from Reikai." Ayame. Iris. That explained the flowers. But she hardly seemed delicate like a flower, this woman. "You could consider me a shinigami, I suppose."
Now that was a word that the priestess understood and allowed herself a nod. Shinigami, death gods, came to claim the souls of… well, the dead. So it was true. She was really dead. Strangely, she felt a kind of peace upon finding out that she was right. It was over.
But then, panic crossed her features. "But if I'm dead, what of the jewel?" she asked desperately. "It cannot be left here for any wandering demon to seize!"
It seemed to take even the calm Ayame by surprise. A recently departed soul was worrying about her worldly concerns. That was a first, truly. Souls were rarely that virtuous. Instead of answering, she approached the dead body and crouched next to it, gently prying the fingers of the tightly shut palm open through some invisible force. There was the jewel, the cause of her death, the bane of her existence. Strangely, Ayame didn't touch it, only took it by the end of the thread that gathered the pendant-like necklace and handed it to the priestess, who was downright surprised to be able to touch it despite her current state of death.
"This is an object not of this world." Ayame said, breaking the girl's train of thought. "It causes great unrest in the Ningenkai and makes it harder for us to proceed with the separation of the Makai from this world." The priestess understood only bits and pieces, but started to believe that the jewel wouldn't be left here.
Steps and cries were heard and both the ferry girl and the priestess turned to see the villagers, what was left of them, rushing to the site of the battle. They saw the ashes and the dead body, earning it a cry of despair from one of the women as they gathered around it and began crying, one by one. The priestess almost cried out to them that she was there, that it was all right, that the jewel was safe, but they didn't see her. Nor did they see Ayame, who watched this with a levelled expression, as if she had witnessed such things before.
Finally, a voice cried that the jewel was gone, which led to an uproar of murmurs, but even as her surroundings were searched, the artefact wasn't discovered. Some scorned the searchers for their hypocrisy; couldn't they see that their miko-sama was dead? It was a disgrace to think of such things when she had been taken from them. Others insisted that the miko-sama died to protect the jewel and its loss would make her sacrifice all for naught. But the priestess, silent, watching, felt no sadness upon seeing the general uproar. They had been saved by her death. Now, no monsters would assault their village, hoping to attain something they could never have.
"What happens now?" the priestess asked when she finally regained her voice. She couldn't look at Ayame.
And the ferry girl understood. "The jewel makes your case a special one. Normally, you would be simply taken to heaven for your virtue, as stamped by Koenma-sama. However, the situation is not usual. The jewel must be dealt with and you have been its protector for all its existence. I was ordered to take you to Koenma-sama as soon as possible. If you are ready, we should depart."
The name stirred a memory. True, she had served as a Shinto priestess for all her days, but she understood some of the Buddhist ways and linked the name. Enma was the death god, the underworld deity of Buddhism. Ko meant… child? Perhaps it would be a different form of the deity, the priestess mused. But now that she knew that her belief was true and that deities existed – as she had known all her life – she was at peace in a way. She nodded to the ferry girl, Ayame. She was ready to depart to wherever she had to, be it heaven or hell or purgatory.
What she didn't expect was that Ayame would whip out the strange oar around which her arm had been snaked previously and hold it in a horizontal position. The ferry girl sat down on it, and, miracle above miracles, it remained floating a meter above the ground, carrying the weigh of the ferry girl with absolute ease. And though the priestess knew she was dead and that miracles were to be expected, she looked at the oar with amazement and bewilderment. Then she realized that Ayame had made room for her as well and she sat down behind the ferry girl, albeit slightly distrustfully. Of course she couldn't die again, she realized, but it was nevertheless downright odd to witness something that would one day be universally defined as the force of gravity without the involvement of wings.
And if seeing Ayame ride the oar had been bizarre, it was nothing compared to actually riding it with her. The little priestess clung to it for dear life, as if that mattered anymore. they flew higher and higher, and the priestess looked back, seeing trees grow small, settlements vanish, mountains become anthills. There was no mistake about it – they were leaving the land of the living.
The entire journey was silent and the priestess stared as they reached a giant doorway where Ayame identified herself and her guest to a strange metallic box. She stared as the ferry girl led her through halls filled with ogres of all colours and expressions, dealing with what appeared to be a giant mass of… paperwork. There was chatter all around, along with strange machines that could only be defined as futuristic. Finally, Ayame led the way to something that resembled a study or office, or at least the priestess believed that. She had been to a lord's estate previously, but all the boxes and devices were disturbing her and taking away her attention.
At last, Ayame stopped before a fancy table and a strange chair, nodding respectfully to the occupant, who was almost invisible to the priestess, as he was obscured by a giant mass of papers and engaged in a fiery argument with a one-horned blue ogre. Finally, the ogre outwore his welcome and the occupant, who the priestess thought was likely Koemna, jumped on top of the papers to beat some sense, literally, into his assistant.
Ayame politely cleared her throat again, discreetly waiting for the unfortunate ogre to scramble out of the office with several papers in hand. "I have brought you the priestess Kagome, as requested, Koenma-sama."
Her initial guess proved strangely correct. Ko did indeed mean child. Literally now, as she found herself fixed by two intelligent brown eyes that shone from a child's face. But the priestess was far too shaken by what had transpired less than an hour ago to believe that it was in any way amusing for a god to be a child in form. After all, she had seen just how the ogre had fled from the tiny lord's shouts, which were mighty indeed.
"Ah, Kagome!" the toddler lord said approvingly, with a nod in her direction. It was a somewhat familiar way of addressing her, but then again, she was a priestess and he was a god. "Good to see you for real at long last." The bewildered expression on her face changed when she saw the strange boxes nearby start to display events as if they had been stuffed into the tiny container. Moving images… she saw images of what likely was taking place at the current moment. "Don't mind those. We have access to all kinds of technology you humans have yet to invent. It can be quite handy, let me tell you." Koenma said proudly.
Kagome could only nod. It seemed to her that nothing could surprise her now. "Ayame-san mentioned you wanted to speak about the jewel."
"Yes, let's get down to business." Koenma said, hopping back to his desk and took a file Ayame handed him with care. He hardly needed to go through it, but did nevertheless, then tossed it aside after a few seconds. "First of all, welcome to Reikai. That's the Spirit World, where we currently are. It's the only world that is thus far unaffected by that jewel. The demon involvement in the Ningenkai – the world in which you and all other mortals live – is becoming a problem for us."
For a child, he spoke surprisingly imperiously and seriously at the same time when he wanted to.
"I have therefore decided to permanently separate it from Makai, the Demon World, meaning that any and every demon currently residing on the other side will be taken to the Makai willingly or not. The creation of the Shikon no Tama has given us some problems, as it contains great power that could perhaps be enough to defy that rule if taken by a strong enough demon."
"And the jewel will be safe here in… Reikai?" Kagome asked carefully, hoping she remembered that.
How could a child's face grow so grim? "Well, to be honest, no. our vaults are safe when it comes to most dangerous artefacts. But that jewel is different. As it contains souls of both demons and a greatly powerful human, it has a certain will of its own that could be activated. Suppose it selects a demon as the best candidate for its usage. Then said demon would stop at nothing to gain it and would possibly be bold enough to break in even here."
"Aside from that, the jewel seems to react to you." Ayame interjected, but strangely, Koenma didn't snap at her or even glare.
"Exactly. Your separation from it might cause it to lose its purity rapidly and a tainted all-powerful demon magnet is the last thing I need on my hands now." Koenma said, satisfied that someone seemed to understand his concerns.
Even Kagome understood where he might be going with that, but decided not to be the first to suggest it. Rather, she frowned. "So why don't you destroy the jewel, then?" she handed the pinkish sphere to the child-god, but he didn't reach out to take it. "Can't we solve it that way?"
Somehow, it wasn't altogether surprising that both Koenma and Ayame shook their heads. "The jewel contains souls. It cannot be destroyed by conventional means. the only way is purification through a single wish and I don't think my wishes would be entirely unbiased." The toddler lord confessed somewhat grudgingly. At least he was honest, though. "I'm afraid we cannot do that. there is another option, though."
"Which brings us to you." Ayame added and ignored the reproachful look Koemna gave her for stealing his lines.
But he composed himself with a brief cough and turned back to Kagome. "While we cannot use the jewel to suit our purposes in the form of a good wish, it can be employed in other ways. You died prematurely, Kagome, and that can't be remedied. However, you still possess considerable spiritual power and holy power to remain a protector of the jewel." That made it sound like they wanted to take away her peace even in the afterlife and an outraged Kagome was about to protest when the child-god quickly raised his hand to make her wait, clearly a bit frightened by her righteous anger. "Let me finish. You'll get another chance at life, but not an ordinary human life. I want you to remain the guardian of the jewel and a member of the staff here."
"You want me to be a ferry girl?" Kagome asked, glancing at Ayame.
"Not quite. I want you to be something of an executive force in Makai." That sounded strange, but caught Kagome's attention. "Makai is a world of demons, where order is scarce. But it must be built in order to maintain harmony between the realms. It isn't good for mortals to know about demons, we've discovered that a bit too late, I guess. And the jewel can help us in separating them from humans. You see, it can manage to attract demons into Makai through its powers. We'll use it to lure demons there and then cut off their connection with Ningenkai. You will serve as my representative with the Makai lords and help maintain order there." Koenma sighed when he spotted Ayame giving him a rather doubting look. Kagome only stared. "It will be hard work. Demons adore bloodshed and will not hesitate to try and kill you to obtain the jewel."
Death. It wasn't such an unfamiliar concept now. Would she end up in this strange office again?
"Unfortunately. But the jewel will grant you more power and you will be something like a ferry girl – your physical self can be destroyed, but it isn't a mortal body anymore. It won't age as long as you possess it and that might be a very long time. Besides, it's not like you'll be alone for too long. When and if we discover a warrior or holy person strong enough to join you in this task, we'll send them to you and you'll get to choose partners. Plus, you'll be trained first, naturally. Spiritual power will be worth nothing if you can't use it in the Makai."
Though Koenma seemed satisfied with that arrangement, the ferry girl Ayame understood the mix of emotions that crossed the priestess's face. An eternal life in the demon world… "Of course you don't have to be in Makai all the time." Ayame assured her, which earned her a weak smile. "You will be needed only occasionally, to solve disputes and spread order."
Even the toddler lord now looked at Kagome without any imperiousness, witnessing the rather torn emotions she felt. Truthfully, Koenma wasn't one to turn to for comfort, but there weren't many solutions he could choose from when dealing with this Shikon no Tama. Besides, Kagome was the perfect person for the job, at least he hoped. The jewel would help her and hinder her at the same time, though to a lesser degree now that she would be in full command of her powers. Still, it was quite a predicament and he understood that. but he didn't really have the words to voice it, especially when Ayame was around and seemed to be doing a good enough job at calming the priestess herself.
The priestess was shaken. Here she was, in the spirit world, given an offer to be a successor of Midoriko-sama, and she was faltering in her devotion to the cause. Certainly, she had faced demons before, but a full world of them? And she couldn't imagine what it might be like, helping build a world exclusively for youkai. But then she remembered the faces of the villagers that had carried her limp body and cried for her, those she had vowed not to disappoint.
Would this be betrayal? What would be the punishment for defiance?
She struggled for words, but couldn't even find the strength to faint and save herself from that. Did spirits faint, anyway? It would have been nice to know. Nevertheless, she remained standing there, staring at those two supernatural entities, Ayame and Koenma, knowing that she couldn't refuse even if she wanted to, knowing that her future was decided.
"I'll do it." she said, faintly but audibly.
It seemed that both of the deities were surprised, but Koenma was the first to recover, his grim face replaced by a beaming grin only a child could muster. He seemed to have taken a liking to Kagome already.
"I knew I could count on you, Kagome!" he said happily. "You'll do great, I'm sure… I hope, because if Father would consider it a failure…" the toddler lord cringed slightly, but recomposed himself almost immediately. "Anyway, we'll deal with that if that time comes."
Ayame was quickly assigned to being her guide in the basics of her new life, and the dark-haired ferry girl seemed to have acquired a newfound respect for the dead priestess, though she showed it only in her gestures. She was as polite as ever otherwise, showing Kagome the parts of the offices, introducing her to particular ogres of importance – which Kagome found downright bizarre – and then, finally, showing her a room she could now consider hers.
"We will teach you everything you need to know about those." she said with a slight smile when Kagome attempted to figure out the television set. "You handled everything exceptionally well. Some souls can be hostile after their death or fall into despair and, eventually, insanity. I'm glad that wasn't your case."
Kagome gave a shaky laugh at the mention of such a fate. "Yes, I am too. Koenma-sama was kind to me."
"I think you surprised him a bit by accepting that easily." Ayame said, sitting down on the nearest chair with far too much elegance. "Your task will likely last until we find a way to purify the jewel, which might take many decades. Centuries, perhaps. I admire you for that."
Kagome nodded in thanks. "I know it will be difficult. But… it must be done." she said, her voice resigned to her chore. Duty called…
Duty which became her sole sustenance for many years.