Naraku took a deep breath, held it for a few
seconds, and then let it out slowly. He was pleased to note that the small
action had steadied the last of his rattled nerves, brought on by Yakumo's
appearance earlier. Being in close contact with such unbelievable power,
leashed by a temper a hundred time more volatile then his own, had scared him
for the first time he could remember since giving himself to the demon horde
that made him the demon he was today. It was a remarkable feat.
Yakumo was a legend, a phenom over several millennia old. Naraku had never been to the legendary demon world, but he retained the memories and knowledge of the demons he used to make his current form, and it was no great secret that all demons loved to talk about the Makai like it was the demonic version of the Promised Land.
The battle of Yakumo and his followers against Lord Enma and the Reikai was the stuff of legends. That Yakumo had found a way to breach the prison he'd been sealed in for so long was a great testament to his strength, which Naraku grudgingly admitted was far superior to his own. Yakumo could crush him without any real thought; such plans were not in Naraku's plans for the future. It was better to agree to follow the commands of the greatest demon commander of all time and hope to emerge unscathed in the end. He lifted his head.
" Kagura!" he barked sharply. " Come here."
" Naraku-sama." As usual, Kagura drawled his name in her insolent manner. Were she not as useful to him as she was, she would have been discarded long ago. Naraku watched his subordinate walk into the room, her blood-red eyes missing nothing as she did.
Kagura, like her siblings Kanna, Juuroumaru and Kageroumaro, were merely extensions of himself, given life through the power of the Shikon shards he had collected. While Kagura at times had a will of her own, she nonetheless still obeyed his every word. Well, most of the time anyway.
" I need you and Kanna to perform a little task for me," Naraku murmured, turning his head to stare out the window opening again. The winds had begun to gather outside, and dimly he could still feel the faint presence of Yakumo's aura. He shivered involuntarily.
Kagura narrowed her eyes at her 'father', noting the stiff way he held himself in front of her. There was a disturbance in the air, one with which she was unfamiliar, and it unnerved her. " Naraku?"
" You will take Kanna and retrieve Kagome for me," he said slowly. The clouds in the sky above his castle home were always darker then the surrounding area, but as if in response to his mood, they turned black, and a deep rumbling echoed across the valley.
" You will bring her back here,
" Kidnap the priestess-witch?" Kagura repeated. " You've never wanted to go to such extremes before."
" I don't recall asking for your opinion Kagura." Naraku opened his eyes and stared at her. His face remained placid, but his eyes were like white-hot flames, the rage at her questioning simmering in their depths. " I gave you a command. One that you would do well to obey." The flames seemed to rise. " Take Kanna and go, before I lose what remains of my control."
Kagura swallowed hard. It was hardly a secret that she occasionally challenged Naraku's control over her. A part of her resented the fact that she owed her allegiance - no, her very existence to him, and she tested the reigns he held on a fairly regular basis. However, this was the first time he had ever looked at her in much the same manner as a spider would a trapped fly. It was the feeling of absolute control and power – it was her master. For the first time that she could remember, she felt a thin, cold trickle of fear creep up her spine. She bowed her head in a rare gesture of respect. " Yes, Naraku-sama."
Naraku watched a cowed Kagura scuttle out of the room, her long robes swishing around her ankles as though the air that she controlled was reacting to her agitation. He let Kagura get away with a lot, in respect to the power she had, nearly enough to survive as her own separate entity. Still, with Yakumo giving out the orders for now, he had to be extremely careful. Shifts in power could change as quickly as the winds themselves. He turned back to the open gap and watched silently as the storm clouds suddenly opened up and the rain came pouring down. A fine mist covered him as he stared unblinking into the storm that covered just his own castle. He watched the slender form of Kagura floating off into the sky on her over-grown leaf, the smaller figure of Kanna curled next to her and a brief smile crossed his face. Kagura was probably cursing his name as the rain soaked her robes. Amusing.
Then the moment passed and he sat back, with nothing to do but wait.
Hiei grumbled silently to himself as he followed his longhaired lover through the streets of Tokyo. If he had to be present in the Ningenkai he usually preferred roof hopping, leaping from tree to tree and concealing his presence. He had never been comfortable in this world.
Unfortunately for him, he had no idea where they were going and Kurama refused to tell him.
" How much further?"
Kurama waved a hand airily. " Not too long now Hiei. The Higureshi Shrine is close by." He slanted a look at the smaller demon. " You should be able to sense the well fairly soon."
" We should be through the bloody well by now," Hiei countered. " Come on Kitsune, I know you can move faster then this!"
" Maybe I like moonlit walks?"
Hiei snorted. Kurama, sensing his love's patience wearing thin, chuckled and upped his pace, easing into a relaxed, loping jog that ate up the pavement beneath him. Hiei snorted and matched him easily.
" Yes dear?"
Suddenly Kurama veered off to one side, cutting down a narrow side street that had appeared out of nowhere. His youki flared as he did so and Hiei watched as the crafty fox demon melted into the shadows and disappeared in the blink of an eye.
" Damn it Kurama!"
Snarling about tricky foxes and suitable punishments, Hiei leaped into the closest tree, gaining a secure foothold before launching himself after the playful demon. Honestly, he thought to himself in exasperation. You'd never believe he's almost eight hundred years old!
Leap, leap, check the footing, leap and leap again. The speed at which Hiei impacted each landing pad made it look like a formality to touch it rather then a necessity. A black blur was all the presence he showed as he zipped from one branch to another, barely rustling the leaves he touched.
A brief flash of silver alerted him to his lover's presence and Hiei rebounded off the roof of an older, bungalow-style house, landing on the ground in a crouch. Kurama shifted back into his human guise, silver hair retreating into thick red, golden eyes blinking and becoming a cat-like green.
" Fast enough for you?"
" Sarcasm doesn't suit you Fox."
Kurama grinned. Hiei peered up at the large structure they had stopped in front of. Not pretending to be an expert in all things human, he nonetheless knew what a shrine looked like thanks to Genkai. This was obviously one of the older shrines, the warped wooden fence looking like it could have dated all the way back to the feudal age. Which, Hiei supposed, could very well be, if the information they'd been given was correct. He waited for Kurama to go up the stairs first. Kurama did so, sweeping by and winking at him flirtatiously as he did so.
" And they say chivalry is dead."
" Just move, Fox." Hiei counted to ten in his head. It really wouldn't do to kill Kurama before the mission.
Kurama scampered past the Jaganshi and through the old doors that creaked ominously as they were pushed to the side. Inside the shrine, it was dark and musty-smelling, the air obviously stale even though from the reports he had looked over, he knew that Kagome had fairly regular traffic, both human and paranormal coming through the well on a regular basis. The demons equivalent of a bus terminal, he snickered mentally.
At the bottom of the stairs was the famous well. It was covered with a broken slab of wood with what looked to be the remains of paper wards plastered all over it. Sliding down the stair railings, Kurama ran one slender finger across the dried ink and shook his head. Pitiful. Someone had actually thought these scraps of paper would have done some good? Still there was no harm in trying, he supposed.
Hiei was shifting the heavy cover to one side, the broken slab splintering off as he pushed it to the ground leaving the well completely uncovered. They both stared into its depth.
" Kinda disappointing," Hiei commented. " Most portals don't look this dingy. " He peered closer and his red-tinged eyes narrowed slightly. " Are those bones down there?"
" It is called the Bone-Eaters Well for a reason," Kurama reminded his shorter partner. Placing his hands on the rim, the Kitsune winked at Hiei and then flung himself down. Hiei snorted and watched as the bottom seemed to disappear, and Kurama sank through, disappearing with one last jaunty wave. Heaving a sigh, Hiei checked to make sure his sword was securely fastened and then flung himself over the lip after his lover.
He had the distinct feeling of falling, being surrounded by a blackness that was suddenly eclipsed by lights that reminded him briefly of the phenomenon he'd once seen that Kurama had called the 'Northern Lights'. It was odd but Hiei had never been one to panic easily and besides, the colors were nice. Suddenly, ground appeared below him and he landed in a crouch. He blinked as he took in the surrounding walls. They looked exactly the same. A little newer, he amended, noting the severe lack of warping and wood rot that he'd seen before. Peering upwards he saw the familiar blue of the sky instead of the worn roof of an old shrine, and Kurama's cloak-covered head peering down at him with an impish smile.
Hiei grunted and blurred slightly, disappearing from the well's bottom to stand on the ledge, taking in his surroundings.
" From the records, I thought we'd be transported to the Makai," he commented idly. His ears twitched as a bird sang from a nearby treetop.
" It's a time portal Hiei," Kurama reminded him. " This is the feudal era of Japan."
" Where do we go from here?"
" Now, we find Yuusuke and Kuwabara." Kurama held up a small compass with two glowing lights on it. " This will lead us to them."
He tossed the small object to Hiei who caught it and studied it with interest.
" Botan gave you this?"
" Right before we left."
Hiei grinned, his fangs flashing in the light. " She actually came in handy?"
" And Koenma actually gave us the right information."
" I think the world must be coming to an end."
" Good thing I made up my will."
Hiei let out a rare chuckle. " Let's go Fox. I lead this time." He eyed his lover mischievously. " Try and keep up if you can, okay?"
Kurama arched an eyebrow. " Is that a challenge?" His eyes glittered with amusement and anticipation. " What do I get if I win?"
Hiei blurred again, this time reappearing on a sturdy branch about twenty feet ahead of the kitsune. His arms were crossed as he leaned against the trunk in a deceptively casual pose as he smirked down at Kurama.
" I guess you'll have to catch me to find out," he teased. Then he disappeared. Kurama let out a short bark of laughter and transformed into his four-footed form, before racing after him.
Yuusuke yawned. Even though it was still light out, it was rather late in the day. The initial thrill of seeing the old village and meeting Kaede and the other people of that time had worn off quickly and boredom had quickly set in. Both he and Kuwabara had never had exceptionally long attention spans.
Yuusuke was more of an active person and lying around didn't improve matters. Still, there was nothing to be done until Hiei and Kurama arrived. Their past track record in battle had proven that it was best to wait for a full team, especially when dealing with unknown factors. He just hoped they would arrive soon.
Kuwabara however, was managing to entertain himself just fine with some of the local village women who kept bringing baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables for him to sample before leaving, giggling amongst themselves. Kagome and Sango were chatting with him, Kagome wanting to know more about him and Yuusuke and what their roles were.
" I only know of your reputations," she told Kuwabara who blushed and scratched his head in embarrassment. " They are obviously not the whole truth."
Yuusuke chuckled and closed his eyes. Inuyasha was off scouting the forest for renegade demons that might try and steal the Shikon shards Kagome kept in a small bottle tied around her neck. Apparently this was a frequent occurrence. Miroku had gone off to do the same, reinforcing wards he had taken to leaving around the village when the group had to leave and were unable to protect it themselves.
Then he felt a familiar presence touch his own awareness and he grinned, opening his eyes. Across from him, Kuwabara looked up and mimicked his expression. Kagome frowned.
" What's going on?"
" Nothing to worry about," Kuwabara said airily. " Our friends are about to make an appearance, that's all. They're not too far away now."
Miroku and Inuyasha re-entered the village and made their way over. Inuyasha folded his arms and inclined his head.
" Who's coming?"
" Our partners." Yuusuke stood up. " We should go meet them." He stopped. " Then again, with Kurama's nose and Hiei's tracking ability, they're probably almost here as it is."
As is summoned by his very words, two darkly-garbed figures appeared at the edges of the village. Their ki signature was instantly identified to Yuusuke and Kuwabara and their muscles relaxed from the 'ready mode' they automatically adopted, a result of years of battle that taught them to never let their guard down.
Shippo, on the other hand, suddenly bolted upright on Kagome's shoulder, staring ahead at the two newcomers with eyes as wide as saucers. His fur stood on end as he sniffed reflexively. From this distance, he knew one of them was a kitsune even if he couldn't tell which one yet. Though he'd been away from any trace of his kind for some time now, the scent of kitsune was unmistakeable.
Then the wind shifted just a touch, and the scent came at him stronger – from the right side.
The two moved closer, the taller figure's arm raised in greeting. Then the tall one stopped – and stared directly at Shippo. All Shippo could see beneath the dark cloak was a slight grin curving up into that splash of pale skin. He had the distinct feeling the strange kitsune was just as shocked – or at the very least, surprised – by him as he was.
Then the scent triggered a wave within him and memories suddenly flashed over his shell-shocked mind. His tail stiffened into a bushel of wiry bristles much like a spitting cat. The scent was familiar, from a time long ago, from someone he'd met maybe once, maybe twice when he was a wee kit, still being carried place to place securely in his mother's capable jaws. He knew this kitsune.
Shippo stared openly at the cloaked figure in
front of him. He couldn't help himself - it had been such a long time since he
had seen one of his own kind, let alone this one in particular. He trembled
visibly, unable to take his eyes off the newcomer. Kagome blinked as she felt
his weight on her shoulder shift in a fit of nervous energy.
Inuyasha noticed the young kit's barely-contained excitement and turned and stared at the kitsune. Something about him had set Shippo off - whether in a good way or bad way remained to be seen. There was something bothering him too, something he should know. He hated getting half-flashes of memory, knowing there was something important but unable to pinpoint what exactly. Golden eyes narrowed, focusing on the figure, the scent of kitsune.
Their newfound allies had a different response.
Inuyasha started as Kuwabara lumbered to his feet, waving a friendly greeting.
Yuusuke jumped up at the arrival of the two demons. " Oi! Hiei! Kurama! Glad you could make it!"
Lightening ripped through Inuyasha's skull and his body was in motion before he knew it, snarling, his sword already unsheathed and singing, eager for blood as he lunged towards the cloak-clad kitsune before anyone could say anything much less stop him. Finely honed reflexes snapped across his mind and he followed their orders, unhesitating. Tetsaiga swung unerringly towards his opponents face, anticipating the flow of life's blood across it's teeth-
- when another blade blocked the strike, parrying Inuyasha's to one side and driving the massive sword into the ground. The weight of the combined swords knocked Inuyasha off-balance and he stumbled, swearing. A black shadow blurred away, taking its own sword away.
Inuyasha snarled, regaining his balance, barely hearing the gasps behind him as he registered the fact that the kitsune was still standing, and Tetsaiga had been blocked. He yanked the sword free from the earth and fell back in a defensive crouch, snarling angrily at the audacity.
Across from him, blocking his path to the
kitsune, stood the smaller demon, garbed in a cloak of shadowy blackness that
matched his spiky hair, all save for the white starburst pattern at the
forefront. A bandana covered his forehead and his red eyes glared furiously at
the dog-demon with a ferocity that momentarily rocked Inuyasha.
" Who dares?" Inuyasha growled, shifting his grip on Tetsaiga. One who could block the power of his sword was not one to be taken lightly.
" I dare," the demon stated in a cool voice. The smooth tenor however, did not hide the steel tones coating the request. " Sheath your blade, mutt." His eyes looked vaguely amused. " Or lose it permanently.
Inuyasha felt the hair on the back of his neck rise at the combination of familiar insult and implied threat and he snarled, his fingers twisting into claws along the handle.
" Mutt, huh? " He laughed harshly, crouching
down further, gathering himself for another attack. The newcomer was obviously
fast, and he dared not take his eyes away.
Kagome seemed to regain her voice.
" Inuyasha! Wait!"
" Hiei, back off!" Yuusuke suddenly lunged between the two combatants, arms outstretched. Shippo leaped from his perch as Kagome moved forward, laying a restraining hand on Inuyasha's shoulder.
" Please Inuyasha! Just wait a minute!" Kagome stared hard into the dog-demons eyes, willing him to step down for her.
A battle waged war within Inuyasha momentarily. The urge to fight was still very strong, and his blood was still on fire from the combined assault of the insult from the stranger and the blocking of what should have been his first and final attack. Still, Kagome possessed a power over him that he found very hard to deny, and so with a muffled curse, he nodded tersely and relaxed his muscles fractionally. He wouldn't let go of his sword though and his hands flexed around the handle. Kagome shrugged – apparently that was as much as Inuyasha was going to accede.
Yuusuke saw and nodded, breathing a sigh of
relief that at least one of them was in control. He looked at the smaller demon
- Hiei, Inuyasha made note of the name - and spoke with authority. "
Inuyasha's not the enemy here. Put your sword away."
" He drew first," Hiei said coldly. His own grip on his blade did not waver, nor did his position in front of Kurama. " When he backs down completely and we are sure he won't attack again, then I will lay down my blade. Not before."
Yuusuke sighed in frustration and turned to look at Inuyasha who was eyeing them with a grim sort of anticipation, despite Kagome's touch. " Inuyasha, back off! Geez, what's up with you?"
Kuwabara lumbered forward. " Oi, Urameshi! What's going on?" The red-haired boy sounded completely confused.
" Inuyasha tried to attack Hiei and Kurama," began Yuusuke, when the half-demon cut him off with a snarl.
" I was attacking Kurama, not the midget," he sneered. Yuusuke groaned as Hiei's eyes narrowed dangerously.
" Enough Hiei," Kurama said finally. His smooth tone swept over the group and he gently placed a hand on Hiei's shoulder. At his touch, the demon lowered his weapon to his side, sliding it back into the sheath at his side. His eyes however, remained fixed on Inuyasha, silently daring the half-breed to try anything. Inuyasha met the silent challenge with a low growl of his own. Kurama sighed and stepped forward. His jacket hood slipped down, revealing bright red tresses that fell past his shoulders, framing his face. His green eyes seemed to pierce right through Inuyasha who gaped at the sight and then finally found his tongue.
" What the HELL?? You smell of that damned cur Kurama but you're a human!" Confused and a little angry at his confusion, he slammed Tetsaiga home, shook off Kagome's hand and stalked over. Yuusuke, sensing Inuyasha's temper was somewhat partially restrained again, let him pass but fell in step beside him as he faced the red-haired boy. Hiei stiffened slightly but otherwise did not move, holding his place by the kitsune with a lethal glare that promised great pain if he tried anything. " Why do you smell like a kitsune?"
" I think I've been insulted," Kurama said mildly. His eyes glinted with suppressed amusement. Sango and Miroku stifled small smiles. " Is that such a bad thing?"
" Don't mock me human," Inuyasha growled. " Who are you?"
" Well," Kurama smiled. " Since you asked me so politely. I am Shuuichi Minamino. Otherwise known as Youko Kurama." He pulled a strand of scarlet hair free from the rest, holding it up for their inspection. " This is my human form I took on, when I reincarnated myself in the human world to escape from death in the demon realm."
" Reincarnation?" Sango looked at Miroku. " Not another one."
Hiei raised one eyebrow suspiciously but refrained from speaking.
Inuyasha took in Kurama's words and then clenched his fists into claws. " And what do you want from us Kitsune?" he spat out, eyes flashing fire. This couldn't bode well for them. Miroku blinked, sensing the turmoil overtaking the dog-demon.
" Inuyasha. Do you know this youkai?"
" Personally, no. Of him - hell yes! I don't think there's any demon alive who hasn't heard of the legendary thief and seducer, Youko Kurama."
" Thief?" Miroku and Sango echoed.
" Seducer?" Yuusuke and Kuwabara snickered. The two exchanged looks and then suddenly appeared on either side of the suddenly crimson-faced redhead. " Oi, Kurama! Anything you want to tell us?"
" Yeah," Kuwabara grinned. " At least I know why Michiko and Sayuki keep following you home at night. It all makes sense!"
Kurama bore their familiar teasing with a grace
that spoke of years of practice. Kagome couldn't help but chuckle.
Miroku stroked his chin thoughtfully as he went through his memories, thinking hard. The name seemed familiar for some reason but he couldn't quite place it. Maybe during one of his father's lessons years ago…
Hiei snorted and quickly turned and punched Kuwabara who hit the ground, still laughing. Yuusuke 'eeped and backed away, holding his hands in surrender.
" Sorry, sorry!"
The levity was irksome to say the least. Inuyasha couldn't quite contain the growl that burbled out of his chest.
" So what does the legendary Kurama want here? Maybe to add the Shikon no Tama to your collection?" Inuyasha's fingers itched to pull out Tetsaiga. " You'll have to go through me first." His tone indicated that he was hoping Kurama would give him an excuse to start something.
Kurama sighed. " I know exactly what I was like during this time period," he said tiredly. " But I am from nearly six hundred years in the future, and I assure you, I have changed quite a bit from the demon I used to be."
Inuyasha blanched. Six hundred years in the future? That was troubling. He knew as well as anyone else that a demon's power - when not in possession of a Shikon shard of course - came with age. In this feudal time period, Youko Kurama was already famously strong and one of the deadliest youkai alive. Adding on six hundred years of experience...To anyone watching they wouldn't have seen anything out of the ordinary, but Inuyasha's face paled ever so slightly.
Kurama watched him with a knowing look and
decided to make it easier on him. " I am a Rekei no Tantei, here to do a
job with my friends. I mean you and yours no harm."
Yuusuke nodded, coming to stand beside the kitsune. " He's one of us, Inuyasha. Whatever you know of him now, you can't judge him by that."
Sango suddenly left Miroku's side and walked up to Kurama, staring at him directly in the eyes. He watched calmly, waiting for her verdict. He wasn't a fool - he knew of the weapon she wore on her back, and what profession she was in. Sango closed her eyes for a minute, reaching out with her aura and her eyes snapped open. Inuyasha and Miroku tensed.
" I feel no evil in him at all," she declared, stepping back with a satisfied look. " My training as a demon exterminator has given me an enhanced awareness about evil auras. If not for the kitsune-youkai overlap, I'd swear you were a human with exceptionally strong energy." She glanced back at her companions. " I trust him."
Inuyasha growled, folding his arms. Kagome touched his arm again.
" Inuyasha, I can sense evil remember? Sango
speaks the truth. Trust us." She looked him in the eyes, and Inuyasha felt some
of his anger melt away in the face of her absolute faith. " Trust me." She let
her hand stroke down his arm once in a reassuring manner and then stepped back,
watching him carefully. When he didn't immediately tense up again, she smiled
and nodded at Yuusuke.
" Cool," Yuusuke grinned. Inuyasha snorted but relaxed a bit more. Hiei was still scowling, but Kurama squeezed his arm gently, whispering something the others couldn't hear. Hiei let the tension seep away and his hand fell away from the swords grip. Yuusuke clapped his hands together. " Okay, introductions. You already know Kurama. This is Hiei. A Koorime."
" Impossible," Inuyasha waved his hand carelessly. He was still a bit relaxed from Kagome's obvious care for him in front of others. " The Koorime are a race of female ice demons. He looks like a male fire demon to me." He leered at the demon.
" Unless you're hiding something other then
Hiei snorted, refusing to rise to the bait. Whatever Kurama had said to him had taken away much of his eagerness to fight for such a stupid reason. Kuwabara intervened. " He's a half-Koorime. His father was a fire demon."
" A half-breed?" Miroku asked innocently.
This time Hiei's anger re-ignited with anger and he lunged forward with a snarl. Inuyasha stepped in front of the monk, prepared to draw when Kurama's voice cut through the air like a knife.
Hiei stopped in mid-swing and dropped to the ground. He looked at Kurama who wore a pleading expression on his human-like face and nodded once, before blurring suddenly and disappearing. Kurama watched him leave and then turned to Miroku, his eyes suddenly switching from gentle to rock hard.
" You know not what you say, priest, which is why I stopped him. This time. Know that Hiei has had a very hard life because of who he is, and that to call him a half-breed is one of the biggest insults you can say to him. He is a full-demon, a very dangerous one, and you would do well to remember that. I may not be around next time." Those green eyes that were so human, suddenly had flecks of gold in them and Miroku could almost swear he saw silver strands streaking the red.
" I do," Miroku said solemnly, unwilling to test the ire of the enigmatic youkai before him. " And I meant no disrespect. I will apologize to Hiei when he returns." He smiled disarmingly.
Kurama studied the monk and his features softened at the sincerity of his words. Obviously, the monk had experience through Inuyasha in dealing with quick tempers. " Thank you."
Yuusuke wiped his brow, cursing Koenma under his breath for getting them into this. The tension was so thick you could cut it with a dull butter knife and it was starting to feel suffocating. " I'm getting too old for this," he muttered and stomped back towards the camp. Kurama and Kuwabara exchanged amused looks and followed their grumbling leader to the fire, Miroku and Sango right behind him.
Inuyasha stayed behind for a minute, going over Kurama's words. So Hiei was a half-breed like him. A full-demon but only half his kind. Interesting. He spared a quick glance at the dark woods but couldn't detect a sign of the black-haired demon. Ah well. It wasn't his business. He turned and went back to the fire.
Shippo, sensing the heat was off for the moment, hopped back up on Kagome's shoulder, watching the group with wide, unblinking eyes. He had thought nothing would have kept Inuyasha from fighting but he'd underestimated Kagome's powerful influence. Kagome absently stroked his tail and he purred instinctively. There was so much to take in.
He jumped down and crept closer to the fire,
staring. The scent of kitsune was strong, and, having overheard the
conversation, he marvelled at the thought of the famous Kurama being a human.
It was mind-boggling! What kind of history did he have in the future, in
Kagome's time? What he must have seen! His thoughts were then scattered to the
four winds when the object of his attention suddenly sat down next to him,
eyeing him in amusement.
" And who have we here?"
Yuusuke nudged Kuwabara and they grinned at the look of near hero-worship Shippo had on his face.
Shippo's eyes widened until they nearly engulfed his face. Fear warred with shock, but he knew from the conversation that Kurama wasn't the dangerous criminal he had heard tell of. Still, Shippo had heard many interesting bedtime stories of rogue Kitsune's when he was growing up with his mother and father, and it was hard for him to separate the two conflicting ideas he had of the legend sitting before him. Kurama saw the hesitation in his eyes and smiled reassuringly.
" I guess you've heard of me huh? Or at least, who I used to be."
Shippo nodded, eyes still wide. " My mother and father used to talk about you once in a while. You're famous!"
Kurama chuckled softly but his eyes darkened. " My past is somewhat...less, then honourable."
Shippo shrugged. The same could be said for most of their entire group. " So?"
Kurama grinned. The naivety of youth was refreshing. " Who are you, young one?"
Shippo couldn't explain it but he felt the urge to respond in the traditional way of the kitsune, a ritual he hadn't felt the need to do since the deaths of his parents. " I am Shippo, son of Tategame and Kegawa, of the Henka Clan." Shippo bowed his head, feeling a lingering sadness over the cruel deaths of his parents sweep over him as he performed the introduction as his mother had once instructed him. He never thought he'd have to give such a formal introduction ever again.
Kurama nodded, having recognized the kits scent, even though for him, hundreds of years had passed. " I knew of your clan." He winked. " Young prince."
Inuyasha, Sango and Miroku's jaws hit the ground. " Prince?!"
Shippo blushed hotly. Kurama raised one finely sculpted eyebrow. " You didn't tell them?"
" No," Shippo admitted quietly. " My clan was wiped out by hunters. Only my mother and father survived the onslaught of the Thunder Brothers who had suddenly developed a taste for kitsune flesh. They escaped only to die at their hands to save my life." His tiny hands clenched into fists. " As the only surviving member of the Clan, there is no use for titles. Therefore I did not give one." He raised his eyes. " Sango, Miroku, Kagome and Inuyasha are my friends. I wouldn't want them to call me that anyway."
" Like we would," sniffed Inuyasha. Miroku absently batted the dog demon with his staff. " Hey!"
" Behave, " the monk admonished. Inuyasha grumbled but kept quiet. He eyed the kit disbelievingly. The annoying little runt was a prince? Well, he supposed. Stranger things have happened.
Shippo had always been a part of the group, the
first to join. Inuyasha knew a little of the kit's history, having seen a
portion of it for himself when he battled the Thunder Brothers. Inuyasha winced
as he recalled the shock and horror in Shippo's eyes when he saw the fur pelt
of his father wrapped around the waist of his killer. Still, once Hiten and
Manten had been destroyed, Shippo had seemed to bounce back with the resiliency
of youth and no more had been said on the matter. Kagome had been instrumental
in those times, even now, taking upon herself the role of 'mother' and as much
as he hated to admit it, Shippo, for all their arguing, had cast him into the
role of 'father'. Not that he did a very good job, he reflected. Mentally,
Inuyasha resolved to speak to Shippo more about his heritage. Obviously there
was a story here that needed telling.
Kurama smiled sadly at Shippo as his own recollection of the past returned to him. He looked the kit over, seeing Shippo's parents in the kit's colouring, and his eyes were an exact replica of Kegawa's. " I knew your parents, youngling. Your mother Kegawa, was a beautiful auburn, a gentle creature. Your father was very wealthy too, wasn't he?" His eyes darkened. " I was in the Makai when your tribe was first attacked. I didn't even know you're parents had originally survived with you in tow. They were…very kind to me, once."
" Yes," Shippo breathed, his eyes wide. " You knew my parents? My mother? Father?"
" As you know, I was a great thief," Kurama murmured, smiling faintly. " I made it a point to know of wealth of any kind, even among my own."
Miroku had a distinct feeling he knew what kind of 'kindness' Kurama had referred to. He could relate and he muffled a smile. Sango groaned silently and smacked his arm.
Shippo nodded. It made sense. " What clan do you belong to?"
" I am Youko Kurama, of no clan now, but I suppose once it could have been called the Ueru Clan."
Shippo's eyes widened again. " Really? But I thought the Ueru Clan was a legend. Kitsune are shape-shifters, masters of illusion. I thought the ability to manipulate nature wasn't real!"
Kurama smiled sadly. " There is much of our history that is lost, even now in this time, small one."
Kagome looked confused. " What is your
" Please, call me Kurama. And I am a plant wielder." To demonstrate, he reached into his hair and withdrew a seed from some hidden space only he could define. Placing it the palm of his hand, Shippo, Kagome, Sango and Miroku watched in amazement as a bright red glow emanated from the seed, and it sprouted, leaves and vines suddenly trailing over the red-heads hand, and a large red rose bloomed before their very eyes.
" Wow!" Shippo breathed, eyes alight with excitement. " What a cool ability!"
" It almost looks real," Sango agreed. " How extraordinary!"
" It is real," Kurama corrected her gently. " That is the power of the Ueru Clan - it isn't mere illusion."
Miroku touched the petals gently and his eyes spoke volumes. " He speaks the truth."
" Che." Inuyasha folded his arms and looked away, despite his awe at the power before them. " So what? "
" Such a talent would be so helpful among the poor villages," Sango sighed. " They would never go hungry again." She nodded at Kurama. " You are very lucky."
Kurama's eyes darkened a shade more. " In that respect, I would have to agree with you. But the price of being a silver is sometimes more then it is worth." He lay the flower at Sango's feet. " For you," he smiled. Then he rose to his feet. " And now, I'll retrieve Hiei. You can all go to sleep if you like - we will take the first watch."
" Making decisions without your pet here to consent?" Inuyasha asked snidely. " You really have him on a leash." Kagome smacked his shoulder. "Oi!"
Kurama turned and studied the dog-demon. After a few minutes of the scrutiny, Inuyasha felt uncomfortable under intensity of Kurama's jade-green eyes. " What?"
" Inuyasha. I've heard of your name too." Kurama grinned, suddenly looking more like the human boy he wasn't, then the ancient demon he was. " You're almost as interesting as Hiei." With a wink, the kitsune-turned-human vanished into the night.
Yuusuke looked from where the kitsune had vanished to where Sango was cradling the rose with a dreamy expression, and he snickered, nudging Kuwabara. " No matter what time period, eh Kuwabara?"
The tow-headed boy grinned.
Shippo watched Kurama disappear into the foliage. It was if the plants melted before his approach, slithering out of his way to allow him free and silent passage before covering his trail from prying eyes. A real silver kitsune. A true member of the Ueru. The Youko Kurama. His eyes watered. Kurama had known his parents.
It was hard, remembering them. While having a maturity and attitude far greater then any normal kit, he was still just a child, and it hadn't been that long ago that his parents had been cruelly killed. He sniffled.
Kagome noticed the depression that seemed to take root in Shippo and was about to go over to him when she noticed Inuyasha watching the kit, an unfathomable expression reflected in gold-brown eyes. She instead, stepped back and went back to where Sango was still cradling the flower Kurama had given her.
Inuyasha sighed as he saw the forlorn expression on Shippo's face. Turning his head briefly, he watched Kagome leave and cursed inwardly. It was up to him to resolve this. He took a deep breath and then strode forward as though he were off to do battle to the death. Shippo blinked as the dog-demon approached and rubbed his shirtsleeve across his eyes.
" What's up with you, brat?" Inuyasha slumped down next to him. He eyed the kit uneasily. Tears from Kagome was something he could not tolerate - from anyone else, they still made him uncomfortable. He poked Shippo. " Hey!"
" Leave me alone," Shippo sniffed again. Inuyasha sighed. Why Kagome had abandoned him to do this, he had no idea...he sighed again. The urge to get up and go get her and make her handle this nearly had him back on his feet but yet another sniffle from the kit made his heart twist in a way that was nerve-wracking. Since when did he start to care about the well being of anyone other then himself? Self-preservation used to be a finely honed skill of his and now here he was playing nursemaid to a baby fox-spirit.
What he really wanted to do was flex his claws on some unsuspecting youkai. Maybe that Hiei would be up for a fight.
He couldn't really explain it but his nerves were really on a razor edge. Something was wrong with the night and he wanted to get moving – the sooner he buried his claws in Naraku's throat, the sooner this itchy feeling he had would go away.
But he couldn't even find Naraku's scent to get a hint. All around him were the sounds and smells of hundreds of youkai. Since the destruction of the jewel, more and more had been crossing over. And now that this Yakumo had apparently arrived, it seemed that an entire army of youkai was gathering out there, just beyond the reach of his senses. I don't like this, he thought to himself.
Another sniff from Shippo drew his attention and he looked over to see the little kit curled up into a furry ball, trembling in the slight breeze that coasted through their campsite. Inuyasha muffled a curse and then gave in, gathering up the sleeping Shippo and wrapping part of his yukata around him before settling back. The kit's trembling slowly tapered off, and in the light of the moon, Inuyasha could see the trail of dried tears. Hearing Kurama speak of his family must have brought back some old memories, and despite his outward shows of dislike towards the kit and his apparent categorization as the parent, he couldn't help but think of him as a kind of younger brother, sent from the Kami himself to be Inuyasha's personal annoyance.
He glanced around the campsite and saw Sango asleep; Kirara curled up next to her with Kagome using the fire-cat's tail as a pillow. Yuusuke and Kuwabara were sprawled across their futons, snoring loudly, while Miroku was...watching him. Inuyasha gulped and turned red and briefly thought of dumping the kit to the ground. Then Miroku grinned at him and curled up on the ground, under his blanket without saying a word. Inuyasha blinked, and then shrugged.
Before closing his eyes, he took one last look at the surrounding tree line, wondering if the kitsune had found the freaky fire demon. His final thought, as Shippo snuggled in closer, was that he'd better wake up before Shippo did or he'd never hear the end of it.
End Chapter 3