So, I logged onto my email something like ten hours after posting Chapter 11, and was greeted by ten fan fiction review/favorite author/favorite story alerts on The Price of Hitsuzen. I was moderately stunned, seriously gratified, and very happy. So, to those 10 reviewers, favoriters, or what have you, Chapter 12 is for you! It's also for xx-BlackXRoseXLust-xx, who informed me via reviews and private messages that she has read the story ten times, the last four taking place in a matter of weeks. An impressive feat, that makes my writing skills preen a bit.

As always, InuYasha: A Feudal Fairytale and XxxHoLiC are not mine, nor will they ever be, unless there's some really weird twist of fate thing going on. I would be in whole hearted support of said twist, but realistically speaking... yeah, not going to happen, I know. Still, a girl can dream, can't she?

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"I say! Anyone who'd see a cat's face and go into a panic must be the rudest of people!" A low, yowling voice scolded.

Startled at the crash behind her and the following exclamation, Kagome turned from where she was dusting relics in the storehouse to glance behind her with watery, narrowed eyes. While she valued the concept of slightly more regular cleaning of the place, she wasn't entirely sure that it was worth the migraine that she was getting from it. She blinked, then stared openly at the sight before her. "You know," She commented, blinking repeatedly in an attempt to fully take in the chaos, "If I didn't have such a bad migraine that even the idea of moving hurts, I would be laughing hysterically right now."

"HEY!" Watanuki yelled from his position lying flat on the floor of the storehouse, with a large anthropomorphic cat youkai dressed in an old but elegant kimono kneeling on the small of his back.

"What's all the noise about, Watanuki?" Yuuko asked, popping her head into the store room with Mokona behind her, "We're all out of snacks to go with our drinks! Make some mirin boshi!" Kagome could tell exactly when her employer caught sight of Watanuki's predicament, as her face lit up "Oh!"

The cat youkai's eyes closed and his lips stretched in a feline smile "Good evening, Yuuko-chan."

"Good evening, Akari-chan!" Yuuko replied, beaming, "So, is it really that time of year already?"

"Ahh, Yuuko-san?" Kagome put in delicately, her hands going up to massage her temples in an attempt to keep her migraine from getting any worse than it already was, "Perhaps we should move this discussion to someplace more comfortable? Or, at the very least, off Watanuki-senpai's back? He already has enough issues with the supernatural, he doesn't need to add spinal chord damage to the list."

"Yeah, let's move the small talk OFF OF ME!" Watanuki screeched.

The cat youkai sniffed, "As I said, how rude!"

"Well, you are sitting on his back," Kagome offered, apologetic, "And from the looks of it, I'd say that most of your weight, meager though it may be, is resting more or less on his kidneys. That's not exactly going to endear you to him, you know."

The cat youkai studied her for a long moment, then nodded. "A reasonable point. And you are?"

Kagome bowed politely, keeping her head down as she had learned in the Sengoku Jidai, "This one is Higurashi Kagome, Akari-san. The one you are currently using as a cushion is Watanuki Kimihiro."

The cat's eyes lit with curiosity, "So, you are Higurashi Kagome. I see..." He trailed off, studying her face carefully while Kagome did her best to meet his gaze. With a nod, he gracefully leapt from Watanuki's back. "Very well then. Let us move this inside. I believe you mentioned something about drinks, Yuuko-chan?"

"Yes, of course! Come to the shop!" Yuuko urged.

Kagome glanced at the clock on the wall and sighed. 5:00 pm already, so judging by the looks of things, she was going to be more than a little late getting home. She would make her excuses in an hour if things didn't look like they were wrapping up, she promised herself. After all, it was a school night, and she had homework to get done, especially given that another archery tournament was coming up in the near future.

It took surprisingly little time for Yuuko and the cat youkai to get so intoxicated that Kagome wasn't entirely sure that they could move without assistance. "Now both of them are staggeringly drunk!" Watanuki muttered darkly as they looked in on the drinking buddies from the doorway.

"Watanuki!" Yuuko cried, "Hurry it up! We need more drinks!"

"Drinks!" Akari agreed, raising a paw, "We need drinks!"

Kagome frowned at the spectacle before her, "Perhaps we should switch them over to tea, or something," She mused, "Youkai can get hung over just as easily as humans, after all, if the sake's strong enough, and that cat? Looks about ready to keel over. Rehydrating them will make it bearable to work our shifts here tomorrow."

Watanuki shuddered in agreement. Kagome could tell he was having a flashback to the last time Yuuko had really overindulged. It hadn't been a good day for her part-timers. "That's for sure!" He agreed fervently, "I'll go fetch them some tea."

As he walked off, Kagome made a mental note to stop by a pharmacy on her way to school in the morning, or perhaps check with her mother to see if they had any eki-kyabe. They were most definitely going to need it, and Yuuko refused to keep it in the shop, as she claimed that insulted her alcohol tolerance by implying that she could get hangovers. With a sigh, she tilted her head to the side and watched their conversation.

"Isn't it just a little early this year?" Yuuko asked, throwing back the last of her alcohol.

"Perhaps," Akari conceded, "But because we've been had so much rain recently, everyone can get together easily. He eyed Kagome as she came in to pick up some of the cups and empty sake jugs. "So. It's you."

Kagome's eyebrows rose, "I'm many things, several of which could be called 'it'. Until I know exactly what you're talking about, I can't say for sure."

The cat youkai smiled brightly, "Ah, a clever one. No wonder the Leaf Clan insists that you are their matriarch. A small clan, yes, but a powerful one."

Kagome tilted her head to the side, "Shippou's clan? The foxes?"

The cat nodded with a typically enigmatic smile. "Indeed. And only a fool would miss the jewel around your neck from this distance. As I am not a fool, I can discern that you are also the miko of the Shikon no Tama."

She smiled back equally enigmatic, "It's certainly possible."

"Isn't she precious?" Yuuko asked, twining her arms around Kagome's shoulders.

Kagome shook her head as she unwound herself from Yuuko's embrace. "If you say so, Yuuko-san. I need to take these to the kitchen. Watanuki-senpai should be here in a minute with more to drink."

"Thank you, Kagome-chan!" Yuuko cheered.

"Yes, thank you, Kagome-san." Akari agreed.

Kagome ran into Watanuki as he was muttering darkly over the tea kettle, and reached out to stop him from slamming the delicate porcelain tea bowls onto a tray. "Calm down, Watanuki-senpai! Do you know how fragile those are? What's wrong?"

"We only have matcha. I don't know how to prepare matcha instead of leaf tea! WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?! WHY DOESN'T SHE HAVE NORMAL TEA!?" Wantanuki shrieked.

"Watanuki-senpai." Kagome said, voice as soothing as possible, "Matcha is normal tea. It's just powdered. And don't worry. I know how to prepare matcha." She smiled quietly, thinking of how she had finally caved and learned how to perform the tea ceremony due to the addition of an overbearing daiyoukai in her party. "I'll take care of it. Set the kettle and the matcha on the tray, and let me go digging for... where does she keep her tea things?"

"Uhhhh... Iiiiiiiin" Watanuki turned in a few circles, pointing his finger as he did. He stopped abruptly to point at a cabinet in the corner. "There."

Kagome marched over, opened the worn cabinet door, and smiled at the sight of a slightly worn looking chasen. She took it out and set it next to the tea bowls, kettle, and small box of matcha. "There. Perfect. Come on, you should know how to do this for next time. You never know when she's going to need some hangover prevention, and I'm guessing that the 'only having matcha' thing is one of Yuuko-san's..." She hesitated over the correct term, "Charming idiosyncrasies." Watanuki shuddered, but followed.

She had to hide a smile at the pouts on the faces of Yuuko and the cat youkai when they realized that their drinks would be of the decidedly non-alcoholic variety. However, the cat youkai seemed to get over it rather quickly. "So... it's this kid, right?"

"Huh?" Watanuki asked, baffled.

"I heard..." Akari continued with a smug smile as Kagome carefully spooned matcha into the two tea bowls, "That the Zashiki-Warashi really likes him?" The girl glanced over at her co-worker, and didn't bother to fight the snicker that resulted from his look of horrified embarrassment. "And he completed the Rain Child's task." The youkai turned to beam at him "You're quite famous in our world!"

"WHAAAAT?!" Watanuki shrieked, drawing the attention of Maro and Moro, who had been lurking in the corner of the room.

The twins skipped over to him, chanting "You're famous! You're famous!"

Yuuko cackled as Kagome snickered as she whisked the tea. "Isn't that a good thing?" The older woman asked as Kagome handed her the tea bowl, "Thank you, Kagome-chan!" She took a sip, then her eyes widened and she smiled, "This is lovely!"

Kagome smiled and passed the cat youkai his own bowl. He sniffed, nodded in approval, and raised it to his lips. "It is indeed excellent."

"And what the hell is 'our world' supposed to mean?" Watanuki muttered darkly, still fending off the attentions of Maro and Moro.

Akari pulled a pocket watch out of his kimono sleeve, opened it, and started. "My, so late already? I've got to get going."

Yuuko's lips formed a pout, then nodded. "Thank you this year as well."

Akari smiled as he pulled two paper lanterns from his sleeves. "It's no problem! Yuuko and I are friends! Besides," He added, handing one of the two lanterns to a startled Kagome, "It's not just a favor for you, this year. The Leaf Clan asked me to pass this along to your employee, as I would be here anyway. As for you, Yuuko," he added as he handed Yuuko the other lantern, "You can give this to Watanuki, this year!"

"Eh?" Watanuki asked, baffled.

"You're a troublesome child," the cat youkai informed him, "But I think Yuuko can handle it. Keep up the good work!" He told Yuuko, "Though the difference is slight, all aspects of him will start to change." He turned to Kagome with an enigmatic smile, "Thank you for the tea. It was quite delightful." He finished off the tea with relish. "It should pay the delivery fee for your ghost lantern. And the delicious snacks from before should pay for his." He took a third ghost lantern out of his sleeve. The lantern started to glow eerily. "Well, see you next year!" He called, heading out into the yard.

"Next year!" Maro and Moro cheered together in farewell.

From the yard, Akari waved once, then vanished, cocooned in streamers of glowing light.

"Yuuko... what is...?" Watanuki asked eyebrows furrowed.

"That is..." Yuuko trailed off with a smug smile as she sipped at her tea.

"Ghost lantern..." Kagome's eyes narrowed as her went through her mental database of supernatural knowledge before growling in frustration, "The name sounds familiar, but I can't place it. Irritating."

Yuuko's smile grew even more smug. "Yes," she agreed, "I imagine it is. With one of these, you can join."

Watanuki blinked. "Join what?"

"You'll know when you join." Yuuko's smug smile had just crossed into smirk territory.

Kagome shook her head "And Yuuko-san wants to be mysterious again. I'm heading home. I'll see you both tomorrow." And with that, Kagome heading out of the shop and towards the subway station.

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"That is?" Himawari asked, taking a dainty bite out of her sandwhich.

"It's called 'a ghost lantern'." Watanuki told her cheerfully.

"What an uncreative name." Doumeki pointed out.

"WHAT DID YOU SAY?!" the other boy shrieked.

"Isn't it just?" Kagome agreed, talking over her co-workers rise towards Psychotic Rant Mode, "It's irritating... the name rings a bell, but I can't place it."

"Well, something weird happened, didn't it?" Doumeki asked dryly. "After all, that one's involved, so something weird has to be going on."

Kagome rolled her eyes. "No kidding. No exception here- we got a visit from a cat youkai. Not that unusual in the grand scheme of things, but considering the fact that youkai aren't all that common anymore."

"Well, according to Yuuko, if you have one, you can join." Watanuki said, more to Himawari than to Doumeki and Kagome, but they still jumped to the other conversation.

"Join what?" Doumeki demanded.

"You find out when you join." Watanuki answered with a shrug.

"Hence why I'm irritated that I'm not connecting the term 'ghost lantern' to what it does." Kagome explained.

"Yeah, that would be annoying."

"That sounds really fun!" Himawari bubbled.

"In that case," Watanuki piped up eagerly, "Himawari-chan! Please come with me tomorrow!"

"Ah!" Himawari said with cheerful regret, "I'm busy tomorrow, sorry!" Watanuki fell forward in his sorrow.

Kagome shook her head before turning to Doumeki. "So, Shizuka-senpai, as one lantern can take two people, would you like to come with me?"

The smile that flashed across Doumeki's face was innocent to have her eyes narrowing. "Are you asking me out on a date, Kagome?"

Her eyes went wide, and she hoped beyond hope that she wasn't blushing furiously like she thought she was. "No, of course not! I thought you might like to see whatever it is." She was proud of how well she managed to keep her voice steady and maintain eye contact. "Besides, it involves spirits and Watanuki-senpai- I need all the back up I can get."

Doumeki stored her reaction in the back of his head to analyze later. The bright red blush was a pretty good indication that his situation might not be as desperate as he had thought. He offered her his usual smirk, and answered "Sure. Could be fun, and you're right- we have to keep an eye on the trouble magnet, don't we?"

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It had just started to get dark when Kagome climbed the steps from the subway to the station near Yuuko's. She shuddered, eyes darting around as she reached the top. They were darting around so much that she managed to walk right into the solid wall of black in front of her. Naturally, she responded by shrieking.

"Hey, Kagome, calm down!" She relaxed as the familiar voice wrapped around her, rather like its owner took hold of her arms to keep her from falling back down the stairs, "It's me."

Kagome righted herself, taking deep breaths. "Kami! You scared me, Shizuka-senpai! What are you doing here? My subway station isn't on your way to the park."

Doumeki raised an eyebrow. "Did you really think I was going to let a girl go walking around Tokyo at night by herself?"

Kagome smiled up at him. "Ever the gentleman, Shizuka-senpai! I appreciate it."

He smirked, "Glad to hear it."

She shook her head. "No, really. I'd just figured out that I was leaving the subway, at night, well, ok, evening, alone. A bit stupid, considering that I'm a girl..."

He laughed, and they headed off to the park where they were supposed to meet Watanuki.

The other boy, as expected, was not pleased to see Doumeki. "YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO COME!" He yelled, flapping his arms frantically, making a brilliant foray into Psychotic Rant Mode.

"It's rude to turn down an invitation." Doumeki said with a smirk.

"IF SOMETHING HAPPENS, I REFUSE TO SAVE YOU!" Watanuki shrieked.

"Ahhh, Watanuki-senpai?" Kagome began tentatively, but Doumeki continued over her.

"Have you ever saved me before?" He demanded bluntly. His request seemed to send Watanuki over the edge of sanity.

"Wow, Shizuka-senpai," Kagome said, awestruck, watching Watanuki as she carefully took one of the two bundles out of her coworkers arms before he dropped or smashed the ghost lantern inside, "I think you might have broken him. He certainly can't speak properly anymore. Just look at how he's been reduced to grunting and shaking his fists."

Doumeki smirked at her. "So, what do we do now?"

Kagome bit her lip. "What time is it?"

"Almost midnight." Doumeki answered after a glance at his watch.

"Alright, then." Kagome started unwrapping the lantern, inhaling sharply when she saw that it was glowing brightly. "Well that's... unexpected. Watanuki-senpai, you might want to snap out of it and get your lantern. I think...it's starting."

"It's glowing." Doumeki said, leaning forward to get a closer look.

"Yes, but it's not hot." Kagome assured him.

"Hey, what's this?" Doumeki asked, bending down to pick up a folded piece of paper from the cloth that had surrounded Kagome's ghost lantern.

She frowned, "I have no idea. I didn't put it there, and I was the one who bundled up the lanterns yesterday afternoon. Weird..."

"'Note'," Doumeki read, "'Only the person holding the ghost lantern will be able to see and join it. So, two people together will have to hold the lantern together just like...'" Doumeki trailed off, glancing over at Kagome, who was tilting her head far enough to the side in an attempt to read alongside him that her cheek was almost brushing his shoulder, "'Just like the way a bride and groom cut their wedding cake together. Yuuko.'" The two turned to look at each other.

Kagome opened her mouth to respond, when Watanuki broke in. "I DON'T WANT TO! WHY DO DOUMEKI AND I– WHY COULDN'T IT BE HIMAWARI INSTEAD!?"

His friends rolled their eyes in concert. "Oi, Watanuki, be quiet! I don't want to share with you either- Kagome doesn't make so much noise!"

She laughed. "It's true, I don't. In that case, should I start humming that Western wedding song?"

Doumeki grinned evilly, "We haven't even had an omiai- just think how disappointed your grandfather will be."

"We already know each other, so it's not strictly necessary. Then again..." She trailed off, offering a smug smile of her own, "He would like to meet you before we do anything permanent."

He smirked back and took hold of the lantern, his hand brushing against Kagome's. By then, Watanuki had come to stand next to them, his own hand gripping the handle to his ghost lantern tightly. The same streamers of light that had wrapped around the cat youkai to transport him away from Yuuko's store wrapped around the group. Kagome squinted against the brightness of the light, then blinked as it cleared away.

"Wha–" that was Watanuki.

"Where are we?" Doumeki demanded.

Kagome was too busy blinking back tears to care. In front of her, there were hordes of youakai, all lesser youkai, or those who preferred to take their animal forms. It was so much like the Sengoku Jidai... so much like that world that she would never get back. Even the feel of youki lurking in the air was like it had been. She hadn't realized just how much she missed it. She shook her head briefly to clear it and took in the scene in front of her. Her eyebrows came together. "Is... is this Hyakkiyako?" she asked Doumeki.

His eyes narrowed, but he nodded slowly, "The thing where ghosts and spirits hold lanterns and march in procession? Yes... I think it is."

"What's Hyakkiyako?" Watanuki demanded.

"It's something that was drawn in the Edo period," Kagome explained, "A picture book of youkai and spirits called Hyakkiyako."

"So... we're in a book?" Watanuki asked, voice started to rise in levels of freaking out.

"I'm not sure." Doumeki answered.

"WHAT?! YOU DON'T KNOW?!" Watanuki demanded.

"No, Watanuki-senpai," Kagome answered quietly, "And do be quiet- you're attracting attention!"

"What are you doing?" A fish youkai called.

"Yes, if you don't hurry, you'll be left behind!" The turtle youkai added.

"And then you can't join the Hyakkiyako." Agreed a raccoon youkai.

"So this is the world of Hyakkiyako." Watanuki said, thankfully at a lower volume than the last time he had spoken.

"Of course!" A rabbit youkai spoke up, "Every year the demons and spirits gather here. If it's not the Hyakkiyako, what else could it be?"

"I mean, this isn't inside a book?" He asked as Kagome covered her eyes with her hand.

"Watanuki-senpai..." She groaned.

"If that's a joke," the fish youkai scolded Watanuki, "It wasn't funny at all."

"Humans draw this too?" A crane youkai asked, confused.

"Oh! We'll be left behind!" One of the youkai pointed out.

"Come on! Let's hurry!"

"How does it feel?" Doumeki asked the others urgently.

"Huh?" Watanuki answered.

"He means do we smell anything or feel anything weird." Kagome answered. "Since he can't tell himself, he wants to know if we do." She turned to the boy holding onto her lantern, "No. There's a high concentration of youki around, but that's just because well, there's a lot of youkai around. It happens."

"Ok, so that means that the spirits in this procession aren't evil, right?" Doumeki pointed out, "They're right in front of you, but they don't make either of you feel uncomfortable. So, they don't mean you any harm. They're not dangerous."

"I... I guess..." Watanuki said slowly, still looking uncomfortable.

Kagome bit her lip, then shook her head. "Not... exactly." She corrected, "The fact that neither of us feels anything tainted means that they don't mean us any harm at the present, yes. That doesn't mean that they're not dangerous, just that as long as we don't offend anybody, we should be fine."

"Fair enough," Doumeki agreed with a nod, "Absolutes are never a good idea, anyway. So, you two... you're like detectors of good and evil."

"Why would you think that?!" Watanuki demanded, "Where's the proof?!"

Doumeki arched an eyebrow. "There isn't any."

"DON'T ACT SO SURE THEN!"

"Actually," Kagome cut in, "Doumeki's at least half right. I can sense impurity in souls. It's part of the whole miko thing. Usually, impurity shows up as evil intentions. You probably can sense ill will directed towards you in particular, Watanuki-senpai. Besides, we really do need to get moving, or we'll be left behind. And I, for one, don't particularly feel like missing my first Hyakkiyako."

"Right. Come on, let's go." Doumeki and Kagome took off at a run, striving to catch up with the rest of the procession.

"ARRRRRGH! DON'T GO SO FAST!" Watanuki yelled as he trailed behind them.

"Sorry, Watanuki-senpai!" Kagome called back, "But maybe you should start working on your running a bit more." She and Doumeki came to a halt as they reached the side of the procession, staring up in awe at the procession. This was, Kagome thought, the single highest number of youkai that she had ever seen in one place. Well, one place that wasn't a battle field. Naraku had called forth more minions in this for the last battle, she supposed, but that definitely wasn't the same.

"But where are they going?" Watanuki demanded.

Doumeki looked back over his shoulder, throwing the boy a look that questioned his sanity... and perhaps his intelligence as well. "How would I know?"

"CAN YOU BE A LITTLE MORE POLITE?!" Watanuki snapped, before turning on his heel... and ramming smack into a crow youkai.

"Ow!" His victim yelped, "That hurts!"

"Oh! I'm sorry!" Watanuki said, wincing slightly.

"That's... really big." Doumeki said softly.

Kagome turned away from Watanuki and his antics to follow Doumeki's gaze. Her jaw dropped slightly. "Tree youkai," She breathed, "That's a tree youkai!"

"It's a really amazing tree." Doumeki murmured, "Feel any loathing for it?"

She shook her head with a smile. "Not at all. It's overwhelming, certainly, but to be that big? It must be a really, really old tree youkai. Which would make it pretty overwhelming almost by default, don't you think?"

Doumeki shrugged. "Makes sense to me."

"From the looks of these flowers, it's really flourishing this year!" A nearby toad youkai said eagerly.

"Yeah, definitely!" Its neighbor, an oni, agreed.

"What are they doing?" Watanuki asked, squinting, "There's a weird glint on my glasses from the lanterns. I can't see anything!"

Kagome stood on tip toe to try to get a better view, then shook her head ruefully. "I can't see over the heads of the crowd. What about you, Shizuka-senpai?"

"It looks like they're holding the lanterns next to the flowers." Doumeki said slowly, "I don't have any idea why they're holding them there, but that's what I see them doing."

Watanuki took a step forward, Kagome could only assume in an attempt to get the light to reflect somewhere other than his glasses lenses, and he brilliantly managed to trip over a raised rock in the ground. "AH!" He yelled, successfully catching the attention of each and every youkai in the vicinity. Kagome groaned and covered her eyes with her hand. She could already tell that this would not be easily dealt with.

"There are humans," The whispered phrase passed through the crowd of youkai, gaining volume steadily as it was repeated, "There are humans!"

"Why do they have a ghost lantern?" An owl youkai demanded.

"More importantly," a tiger youkai demanded, "How shall we deal with these humans?"

"Why don't we eat them?" Suggested an oni with one eye, licking his lips and revealing two incisors that were sharpened to delicate points. A rumble of assent passed through the crowd.

"For the record?" Kagome said quietly, "This would be why I said that the youkai weren't evil, but that didn't mean that they weren't dangerous."

"Right now, that makes a lot of sense." Doumeki muttered.

"So, we're agreed, then?" The tiger youkai demanded, "We eat them?"

The whispers of "Yes, yes, eat them!" were just a tad bit too enthusiastic for Kagome's taste. The fact that they were there at all made them too enthusiastic for her taste.

Biting her lip, she dug in her pocket for her penknife. "I think I can hold a barrier long enough for you two to reason with them..." She began, when she was interrupted rather abruptly.

"WAIT!" A tiny figure ran for them pelmel, going through a tiny gap in the crowd.

"You!" Watanuki said, eyes startled, "You're from the Oden Place!"

Sure enough, it was the little fox youkai from the Oden Cart. He stopped directly in front of Kagome, who had Watanuki and Doumeki on either side of her. His lantern dangling at his side, he thrust one little paw into the sleeve of his kimono and pulled out the fletching of Doumeki's arrow that Watanuki had given him. "I got this from him!" He yelled, holding it up in front of Watanuki.

"An exorcism arrow," a horse youkai from the other side of the circle said, stunned, "What a great present!"

"A human with a pure heart is helping us dispel evil." The owl youkai confirmed, "It's a very good protection amulet."

"He gave this to me after complimenting Father's oden!" The fox kit pleaded, "He's a really good person, so please don't eat him!"

"What about the other two?" The oni asked, his eye alight with a fervor that Kagome had seen in some of her shrines more devoted followers, "They're not him. We can eat them, right?"

The fox kit's face turned mutinous. "NO! She is of the Leaf Clan. You eat her, OR her guest, and we make you pay! She is irreplaceable to us!"

- — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — - —

Doumeki glanced sideways at Kagome as she reached out to set a hand on the kit's shoulder. At least she seemed to know what the kit was talking about, because he sure didn't, and judging from his confusion, he doubted that Watanuki did either. Maybe it had to do with her fascination with foxes... He turned his attention to the crowd. The youkai around them murmured, bafflement roiling through the crowd, and Doumeki found himself wishing that he had his bow with him, just to be on the safe side.

"Enough," A booming voice that Doumeki wasn't entirely sure was solely in the air around him and not in his head thundered loudly enough to break through the babbling. "It is fine. I will give something to the human children as well. The girl with her clan. The boy alone." Doumeki turned to stare up at the tree once again. That voice, judging from Kagome's look of reverence, was from the tree youkai. He had to admit, it was very definitely impressive.

"The tree," Watanuki whispered, "Did you hear that? The tree seems to be talking!"

"That's not just a tree, Watanuki-senpai," Kagome corrected him, "That's a tree youkai. Of course it can speak."

"How is this tree?" Doumeki muttered to Kagome.

She turned and smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry. He's perfectly alright. Just..." She blew out a long breath, "Very intimidating."

"No need to exaggerate," The tree youkai seemed almost amused with Kagome's words.

"Ack!" Squeaked Watanuki.

"Hear that?" Doumeki asked, impressed in spite of himself. The youkai had pretty good hearing... for a tree.

Kagome shook her head with a smirk, "It is a youkai." She pointed out, "A very old one at that. Of course his hearing's good."

"Please," the tree encouraged, "Approach." When they, along with the fox kit, had reached the base of the trunk, he continued, "Welcome. Please, place your lantern hear, boy. You, my dear," he added, and this time his voice seemed directed at Kagome, "Will wait until your clan arrives."

"Yes, youkai-sama." Kagome murmured.

The tree youkai chuckled, and Doumeki thought he could hear a trace of glee under the laugh, the way a young child would laugh and say 'I know something you don't know!' He frowned a little. What could the tree youkai possibly know about the three of them.

Watanuki held his lantern under the flower which the tree youkai had indicated, and a nectar spilled out from the heart of the flower. Watanuki's nose twitched, and he started, staring at the lantern-turned-container. "That smell..."

Doumeki smelled the sweet smell of grapes mixed with alcohol. "Wine?" He asked the tree youkai.

"Mm!" The fox kit answered from where he sat with his arms wrapped around Kagome's leg. "Well, not exactly, but..."

The tree youkai chuckled again, "The kit is correct. It is like your wine, but not quite. This is manna, that only the spirits who join Hyakkiyako receive once a year. Please, drink it sparingly. Thanks to this little fox, you have received a share as well."

Watanuki bent over to shake the little fox's paw. "Thank you!" The kit blushed and buried his face into Kagome's knee. Kagome reached down to stroke the fur of his head in a soothing gesture.

"Child with the unique aura," the tree youkai said, this time to Watanuki, "The things that are attracted to you are not always good. So far, it must have caused much misery. However, it's beginning to change, though the change is slight. Please, treasure it. Especially the transformation you went through after meeting someone." The focus of the voice changed again, and this time, Doumeki felt the full weight of the tree youkai's attention upon him. Even he, spiritually blind and senseless as he was, could feel the tree assessing him for a long moment before reaching a conclusion. "Boy, I am afraid that what is for the girl is meant only for herself and her clan. You must return home with the other boy. Take hold of his lantern."

"But–" Doumeki started to protest. There was no way he was leaving Kagome here without any backup except for a fox kit!

"Shizuka-senpai," Kagome cut in, placing her hand on his arm and cocking her head towards Watanuki, "I'll be fine. I can take care of myself a bit, you know that. And no one's going to hurt me as youkai-sama and the Leaf Clan have made sure that I'm off limits. I'll stop by your shrine as soon as I get back, I promise!"

Doumeki snorted. "Don't worry about getting to the shrine, he told her dryly, "I'll wait for you at the park."

She shook her head, smiling again. "You really are a gentleman, aren't you? Alright, then, I'll see you when I get back!"

He nodded and took a hold of Watanuki's lantern, reluctantly letting the fingers of his other hand slide through the handle of the one he had shared with Kagome. "Later." He said, just before he and Watanuki were enveloped in the streamers of light.

Kagome watched both boys as they disappeared, then turned back to the tree youkai with a sigh. A light tug on her skirt had her looking down at the fox kit. "Don't be sad, great-grandmother!" He told her, smiling brightly, "Now you get to meet everyone! The clan will be here in a moment, to collect our shares of the manna, and we'll go talk for a bit. Everyone's excited to meet the matriarch!"

She laughed and ruffled the fur on his head. "Oh really? Well, I'm certainly excited to meet the family I never knew I had! Are they all as precious as you?" The kit's giggle was accompanied by the rumbling laugh of the tree youkai. Kagome craned her neck upwards to consider him. "I had thought that you would be more formal, youkai-sama, given your age."

"Perhaps with others, but you are an old friend, Kagome-chan."

Her jaw dropped. "H-how did you know my name?"

"Both of the Inu no Taisho's sons spoke of you often, Sesshoumaru-sama more highly than InuYasha-san, true, and you came to my grove once, many, many years ago, when youkai still ruled the Earth, visible to all." The old tree youkai explained, his voice softer than Kagome had heard it yet.

Her eyes closed as chewed her lip, mind trying to process what the tree youkai had said. A tree youkai that had known Sesshoumaru and InuYasha's father, one who had the respect of the elder brother, no mean feat. A tree youkai whom she herself had met... Her eyes flew open. "Bokuseno-sama?" she asked, awe struck, "You're still alive?"

The youkai, who must have been very old indeed, as he had been far from a spring chicken during the Sengoku Jidai, chuckled once again. "Indeed I am. It is very hard to kill a tree youkai. Once we pass a certain stage of growth, it becomes all but impossible to burn us or chop us down. Although, I must say, you have offered me more laughter in one Hyakkiyako than I have had for many years. Now, take your manna. Your clan approaches, and it is your place as matriarch to receive the first lantern full."

Kagome nodded and moved to place her lantern under the flower to collect her manna.

- — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — -

What seemed like a lifetime later, Kagome allowed herself to be cocooned in light so that she could return to the mortal world. Her head swam with new names with fox faces to go along with then and new stories of her Shippou to paint a picture of the reynard her kit had become when he grew up. They were infinitely precious to her, even if they mattered little to anyone else but her clan. But now it was time to set aside her clan and focus on the boy she saw rising from the swing he had been sitting on while he waited.

"Shizuka-senpai! I'm back!" She called, walking forward to meet him.

"You are, and it's a good thing." He told her with a wry smile, "It's almost midnight."

Kagome stared, "You're kidding! It's really that late? Awwwww... Mama knows I'm going to be late tonight, but I was hoping for a pre-midnight subway ride. Oh well. It's my own fault, I suppose. When did you and Watanuki get back?"

"Only an hour or so before you did, so it wasn't like I was waiting for you that long. Anyway, Yuuko was waiting for us when we got back."

Her eyebrows rose as they began walking towards the subway station, "Oh really? What was she doing there?"

"Lying in wait, I think." He told her with a smirk, "Less than a minute after we got back, Watanuki asked why Yuuko had given him the lantern. So, completely out of nowhere, she answered him. Just randomly appeared at the top of that slide over there," he gestured at the largest slide in the playground, "And announced that she had given Watanuki the lantern because she wanted the manna, of course."

Kagome burst into laughter. "Oh goodness, so he was just her errand runner? I bet he didn't enjoy that, since Kichirou was the only thing that stopped him from being youkai food!"

Doumeki frowned, his expression turning quizzical, "Kichirou? I'm guessing that's the fox kit?"

She nodded, still giggling. "Yes, that's Kichirou. Was that all that she did?"

His grin turned evil again, "No. Watanuki was standing at the base of the slide."

Her hand went to her mouth as her giggles started up again, "Oh dear. She slid down and landed on him?"

"Got it in one." his grin widened as he continued, "She plowed him into the ground- after I had taken the lantern off of his hands, naturally."

"Naturally." She shook her head as she continued to giggle, "I really shouldn't be laughing at this. Watanuki-senpai could have gotten hurt."

"Oh, he did." Doumeki assured her, "But what can I say, that's schadenfreude, made even better by the fact that Watanuki worked out the fact that he was just her errand boy immediately after he face planted into the playground dirt."

Kagome shook her head slowly, a smile still on her face, "Poor Watanuki-senpai. What next- did someone tell him that the person who was causing him to change was Yuuko-san?"

"Due to his enslavement to her? Oh yeah. I was the one who pointed it out to him, actually, over a cup of manna."

"You did? Shizuka-senpai!" She scolded with a smile.

"It was too good of an opportunity to pass up." He explained with a shrug. "Anyway, now I can add 'total lightweight' to the list of things to use to rile Watanuki up. He was out of it after two glasses. Yuuko and I had... a conversation."

Her head tipped to the side. "What about?"

Doumeki hesitated for a moment before he answered, "Why she doesn't want me to come into the shop very often, for one. You were right- I don't need the shop to be there, so it causes problems when I try to get through the barriers."

"I thought so. It was the only thing that made sense, really."

"Yeah..." He trailed off, and looked into the distance for a moment before continuing, "We talked a bit about you, actually."

Kagome froze before she turned to look at him. Just what had Yuuko told him? "Oh... really? What did she say?"

"Not much, if that's what you're worried about," He reassured her, "Mostly that for various mysterious reasons she won't tell me, you're related to a bunch of fox youkai, which may or may not be related to your adoration of all things fox. That, and if I ever wanted to find out what they were, patience would probably be important."

Her lips twitched as she relaxed again. "She's right." She agreed.

Doumeki's eyes narrowed slightly. "You're not going to tell me, are you?" he asked as they reached the subway steps.

Kagome beamed back at him. "Not right now, no." She stopped before she headed down the stairs. "Thanks for coming with me, Shizuka-senpai, even if you did have to leave before me, and for waiting for me afterwards."

"Not a problem." Doumeki assured her, before very slowly reaching out to tuck a lock of her hair that had gotten into her face behind her ear. His hand lingered there for a moment, before he let it fall. "I had a good time, nearly becoming youkai food aside, and you know I'm always happy to walk you to your subway."

They stared at each other for a long moment, then Kagome smiled. "Well, I have to catch my train. Good night, Shizuka-senpai."

"Good night Kagome."

With a wave, she turned and headed down the stairs. As soon as she reached the lower landing, she turned and thumped her back against the wall, the blush she'd managed to suppress rapidly staining her cheeks a dark red, and her fingers coming up to touch the lock of hair Doumeki had tucked behind her ear. She stayed there for a long moment before shaking her head and running to catch her train.

Today had certainly been eventful. A good eventful definitely, but eventful none the less, and Kagome figured that it would take pretty much all of her trip across Tokyo to process it all.

- — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — - — -

So, welcome to your bi-annual installment of The Price of Hitsuzen! This time, not only do the apologies come for general busyness, but for general busyness, plus distractions of being in a foreign country, a summer econ class, and hunting for a summer job. So. Blame Montpellier, France for your update being... two to three months later than I wanted it to be. This is what happens in the life of a college student.

Now, on to the slightly more pertinent notes:

1) Eki-kyabe: A direct reference from the manga, finding out what eki-kyabe beyond 'some sort of hangover cure' was a good plan, as I point blank refuse to use something in my writing if I don't know what it is. Thus, I turned to the almighty Sage of Knowledge (aka Google) for an explanation as to what this mysterious thing is. As it turns out, eki-kyabe is what is known as a salaryman's kampo, an over the counter medication taken by salarymen in Japan to make up for some of their less than healthy habits. In the case of eki-kyabe, that would be overeating or drinking, as eki-kyabe is a digestive aid that aids with the relief of nausea, belching, discomfort to the stomach, etc. It's also very, very good for dealing with hangovers. As an unrelated side note, according to the blog posting by a student of acupuncture and Japanese herbal medicine, eki-kyabe means something along the lines of 'cabbage liquid'... but doesn't actually contain any cabbage or cabbage extracted ingredients. Weird, that.

2) Tea bowls, matcha, and chasen: All of these are related to the Japanese tea ceremony, which I'm really not going to go into, because as I've never actually seen one performed, I will manage to screw it up. First of all, in Japan, tea is traditionally served in cups that are more like bowls. They don't have handles, and are larger than the standard Western tea cup. Next in line, matcha is powdered green tea, typically used in the tea ceremony. This isn't standard tea that you leave either in a tea bag or a strainer and let it steep in hot water to produce tea the strength that you want, this is powder that is placed in the tea bowl first. Hot water is poured over the matcha, and then we come to point number three. The chasen is a tea whisk. It's used to mix the matcha into the water to convert it to tea. Made out of bamboo, it is stored on a chasen kusenaoshi in order to maintain its shape when not in use.

3) Omiai: This is a meeting between two young people and their parents, usually with a matchmaker, to determine whether they're suitable for marriage. Typically instigated by parents who are panicking that their son/daughter isn't doing anything to find a suitable partner, omiais are highly meditated, and involve steps such as ensuring that both parties see a picture of the other to prevent rejection based purely on appearances. The omiai not only gives the young people a chance to get to know one another, but slightly more importantly, it introduces the two families. If this is making you think of an arranged marriage, then you would be absolutely right! Omiai is the first step to a Japanese arranged marriage. While it's not quite the same thing as its parallel in Western culture, the general idea is the same. In this usage, it's a joke, as Doumeki and Kagome have been told that they are the 'bride and groom'. Doumeki is both referencing the fact that they aren't dating (yet) and that he hasn't met her family, notably Kagome's very traditional grandfather, who would probably be the one trying to set up omiai if Kagome was about... six years older.

4) Hyakkiyako: Usually seen as two words 'Hyakki Yakō' or 'Hyakki Yagō', this literally translates to 'Night Parade of 100 Demons'. It is a Japanese legend that states that every year, youkai lead by Nurarihyon (the leader of the youkai) will take to the streets on a summer night. Any human who comes across the parade unprotected will die. Traditionally, protection comes in the form of scrolls written by an onmyoji spellcaster, and only a scroll from an onmyoji clanhead is strong enough to stand up to Nurarihyon. Ironically, the Hyakkiyako is related to the game of telling 100 ghost stories that Yuuko instigated in chapter four. The Hyakkiyako is also a popular subject in art. After all, what artist wouldn't want the chance to draw a hundred youkai? Talk about freedom in artwork! The earliest known piece of artwork depicting the Hyakkiyako is an art scroll from the 16th century which can be found in Kyoto.

5) Kichirou: the name Kichirou contains the characters for kichi and rou. 'Kichi' translates to 'good luck'. 'Rou' means 'son'. Thus, Kichirou (using the characters that I did) means 'good luck son', which I found rather fitting for the fox kit. I hope you agree!

5) Schadenfreude: from the German, meaning happiness at the misfortune of others. This is here partially because I wanted to make sure that it was understood as, while schadenfreude is one of my favorite words, it is a bit odd. The other reason that it's here is to give credit where it's due, as I wrote that scene while listening to the song "Schadenfreude" from the musical Avenue Q. I highly recommend it.

On a slightly less technical note, it occurs to me that I unintentionally lied, as another character from InuYasha has snuck into The Price of Hitsuzen. Still, when I reread the chapter and saw talking tree, my mind went immediately to 'tree youkai', and from there, it wasn't exactly a huge leap to 'Bokuseno'. Once the idea was there, it was impossible to dislodge, so I didn't bother. Thus, Bokuseno now produces manna, and is the only exception to previous statements about the presence of InuYasha characters. Period. There will still be no Sesshoumaru, no Inutachii, no Naraku. End of discussion.

Thus, I'd like to close with sincere and profound thanks to all the readers who have put up with the extreme version of my very, very lousy posting habits. Hopefully, the next one won't take anywhere near as long to get up!

...I have to ask, does it make it better or worse that I've had most of the dedication and disclaimer and the first couple of sentences of the disclaimer sitting on my computer since, oh, late October?