Happy belated New Years and Merry Christmas! I can't believe this chapter has taken me so long, but I hope it lives up to your expectations. Also a big thank you to all my reviewers, you gave me motivation when I had none! Enjoy!
Disclaimer: Mugen Spiral belongs soley to Mizuho Kusanagi
Yayoi blinked her eyes open, as she had squeezed them shut during the light show and wrenching feeling that accompanied the transfer between worlds. Funny, she didn't remember it being like that the last time she was transported that way, but she had been unconscious the first time, and the second time they had only gone to the midway point in the Land of the Gods.
After that, all thoughts of transitions between realms were put on hold as she got her first glimpse of the demon world. Her first impression was that it was some sort of convoluted replica of Japanese culture, splashed here and there with Middle Eastern touches, and just a dash of western accents. There were open bazaars in every open space on the wide main street, stall keeper's yelling out their sales pitches at passersby. The main fashion seemed to be a variation of traditional Japanese kimonos and robes, with alterations somewhat like Ura's and Hakuyo's own clothes. The demons laughed and talked on their daily routines, gossiping and haggling over prices at different booths. A stone wall surrounded the city, and in its center stood a castle-like structure that could have put the palaces of India to shame. It was all graceful arches and domes, with beautiful etching that she couldn't quite make out from this distance. All this she observed from a hilltop a short distance from the city's gates. Quite frankly, the whole city was larger than she had expected; she had no idea there were so many demons.
She was snapped back to reality when Ura commented to Hakuyo. "You got 'em?"
"Of course," he answered, pulling three cloaks from out of seemingly nowhere, and a make-up kit. Yayoi had to muffle her laughter behind a hand at Ura's sulky scowl at the fake beard Hakuyo handed him. He shot her a glare, but put the fuzzy contraption on, and then fastened a bandana over his scar. Hakuyo dabbed some makeup on his face and added hair extensions, pulling off the effect of a beautiful courtier with the gender generic robes he wore. By the end of their disguise session, they looked like a well off merchant and his daughters.
With an unspoken signal they were off, with Ura in the lead, face set in grim determination beneath his disguise.
Making it through the city's gates was the easy part, with barely there security as only a formality. After all, what human had the power enough to reach this realm and who would be foolish enough to bring one here?
Apparently, their prince and his cousin.
So Yayoi, the first human to ever grace the realm of the demons, passed through the gate and into the city without even a flicker of hesitation. It was getting into the castle that was going to be the hard part. Even knowing this, Yayoi took the opportunity to watch the citizen's go about their daily lives.
"Welcome to the Infinite City," Ura murmured from beside her.
Everything was just so… normal. The demon citizens all acted like the humans did back in her home world. A middle aged woman was haggling with a fruit vendor to her left, a gaggle of children kicked a ball around in an empty alley over there, and a young couple was lost in each other's eyes as they walked down the street. Normal things she saw every day in her own world reflected back at her through Ura's people. It made her already changed perspective on demon kind from interacting with Ura and Hakuyo warp even more. Living with her two demon housemates had shown her that the two races weren't so different after all, and walking in their kingdom now, seeing firsthand the lives of their people, just cemented that fact.
She felt an object collide with her leg and looked down at a leather ball, and she bent to pick it up. As she straightened, Yayoi caught sight of a young-looking boy demon child wading his way through the crowd to her. "Is this yours?" she smiled, holding the ball out to him.
"Yeah, thanks pretty lady," he answered with a grin, taking the ball from her hands and hurrying back to his playmates Yayoi could see watching them, where they resumed their game.
"Aren't you quite popular?" Ura teased after she had turned back to see her two companions waiting for her a few paces ahead.
Yayoi held back a blush and smirked at him. "Jealous?" Her reward was a brief grin before his face hardened again to seriousness. It seemed the closer they came to the castle, and by extension his father, the tenser Ura became. She exchanged glances with Hakuyo, unspoken understanding passing between them. They trusted each other to look out for him no matter what happened.
Soon enough, though it seemed longer to Yayoi, they came into sight of the castle gate. Something flickering caught her eye that jutted into the sky just in view from over the walls wrapped around the castle. She turned her head toward it and made out a flame burning on a flat platform-like pillar.
"What's that torch for?" Yayoi asked, barely able to take her eyes off of it. The feeling she got from it was powerful and ancient magic, alien but similar enough to identify it as a type of signal magic.
Ura followed her gaze, and if possible, his face became even more rigid. It was Hakuyo that answered her quietly. "That's the Flame of Trial, the signal to start the fight for the new king."
"Oh," she said softly. No wonder he had reacted so coldly. It was like the physical embodiment of all that had gone wrong in Ura's family; Ouga going mad with his power, his father on his deathbed, and Ura himself coming to the human world to kill her to save his father with her powers.
There was no more time to ponder over everything now though, as they finally reached the line to enter the castle. As the demons in front of them trickled through, Yayoi grew more nervous and tried not to let it show on her face. She must not have been as successful as she thought, because when it was their turn for inspection, the guards seemed to take special notice of her.
"Turn around a little to your left," Guard number one, who Yayoi had dubbed Bushy Brows for his abnormally thick and wild eyebrows, ordered. She complied, and faced the stone wall. She could swear she heard Ura growl softly, but just thought she had imagined it.
"A little more," Nub Nose, the second guard, said in a strangely satisfied voice to her. This time she was sure she heard the growl, just before she felt a sharp jerk on her arm and she was twirled around behind Ura's back.
"Enough, you little mmrrff-!" Hakuyo slapped a hand over Ura's mouth. The guards were shocked for a moment, and then they started to splutter angrily. Yayoi was confused as to what had gotten Ura to lose his temper so close to his goal.
"Father is very protective of little Ya-Yaya-chan! She's the baby of the family," Hakuyo covered hurriedly. "He makes sure to review all her choices very thoroughly." Even with Hakuyo smiling for all he was worth, it still came out threatening.
The guards paled as one, feeling the atmosphere chill with Hakuyo's power. They nodded jerkily, finished their inspection double time, and Ura, Hakuyo, and Yayoi were on the other side of the palace guard wall, Ura's hand firmly clamped over hers as he dragged her behind him.
Still not completely sure what had just gone on as they made their way to the servant's entrance, Yayoi was sure they had just dodged a bullet there.
Yayoi was lost within minutes of navigating through the palace corridors.
There were twists and doors at turn, corner, and nook. It amazed her that her two demon companions seemed to be making their way through this maze with ease, and still managing to elude all the servants and courtesans randomly rounding the hallways the group had been walking down, causing all three to duck and hide in the nearest hidey hole. If they didn't have the time to hide, walking down the hall like you had something important to do seemed to work just as well.
Hakuyo and Ura became more cautious as the surroundings became more opulent. Less and less were there random pop ups of others and after a while the only ones they saw were guards making their rounds. Yayoi started to make her way around a corner when Ura's arm shot out to bar her way. When she looked at him questioningly he whispered, "We're here."
Hakuyo peeked around the corner to scope out the security. He turned back and informed them, "There are two King's Guard in front of His Majesty's door."
"How are we going to get past the guards?" Yayoi whispered.
"Just leave it to me. I'm not the most beautiful out of a supremely beautiful race for nothing," Hakuyo said over his shoulder as he stepped around the corner. Ura and Yayoi exchanged glances and then rushed to take positions to watch around the corner.
"Hello, boys," Hakuyo was saying. "I was hoping you could help me with a little something." To their credit neither twitched more than to turn their heads to watch Hakuyo's approach. "You see, there's a little…problem in the servant's quarters, and we need a couple warrior types to clear it out. Would you be able to help a few girls out?"
The guards exchanged glances and the left one confirmed, "Alright, lead the way."
Hakuyo winked over his shoulder as he led the two guards away.
"I owe you one, Hakuyo," Ura muttered before beckoning Yayoi after him and into the demon king's rooms.
Hardly any light penetrated the darkness of the bedchamber, only the few candles placed strategically around a canopied, four-poster bed. Ura paused a few paces from the bed and glanced back at Yayoi with a pained expression. She gave him a grim smile in return and stepped up the last few steps separating her from Ura's father and the purpose she had travelled all this way.
Yayoi's breath caught at the sight of Ura's father's body. The progression of the scar of darkness was almost complete. She would have to hurry.
Yayoi held her hands over King Araku's prone body, feeling her healing powers being drawn to the surface. Pushing them into Araku, she started purifying the dark energy she came across. Immediately she knew this would be much harder than any other healing she had done, the dark scar having encompassed his whole body except for his heart, the only thing keeping him alive at the moment. Probably where Ura gets his stubbornness, Yayoi thought with grim humor. She took a deep breath and focused back on the task at hand. Gritting her teeth, she kept at it.
Sweat trickled down her face, catching in her eyelashes and down her back. Finally, she gave one final mental push, and the healing was complete, leaving her to give in to the exhaustion that was coursing through her body, and her legs gave out from under her.
Strong, warm arms caught her before she could crumple to the floor and brought her back against a hard, muscular chest. "Yayoi?" Ura's concerned voice came from next to her ear, his breath swaying a few tendrils of her hair.
"I'm alright," Yayoi managed to tip her head back a bit and give him a weak, but reassuring smile. "Just a bit drained, but your dad should be fine now."
As if to prove the truth of her words, the demon king started coughing weakly and pushed himself into a slumped position against the headboard.
Ura's arms tightened around her briefly as she heard him suck in a breath, and in the next moment she was being set down gently before Ura walked over to his father, never taking his eyes off him as if he might be an illusion.
"Da-" Ura was cut off with his father's foot in his face and was thrown against the opposite wall.
"Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my room?" Araku, King of the Demons, demanded from his almost-deathbed, managing a very menacing glare from his prone position.
"What was that for Dad? Did you forget the face of your own son?" Ura shouted at him as he sat up, cradling his jaw. The fake beard dangled from one ear, revealing Ura's irate face.
Araku squinted at his son's fuming face before saying, "Ura? What is that thing on your face? It looks like a dead squirrel. And what's with that getup?"
"I had to sneak into the palace to get to you, you ungrateful old geezer!"
"Why the hell would you have to do that, idiot son? You live here." It seemed that the king wasn't aware of his surroundings after a certain point. He froze for a moment, then grimaced. "Wait. Ouga."
A pained look crossed Ura's face at the mention of his younger brother and he slumped over his knee a bit, still on the floor. "I don't know where he is now, but a creepy feeling man took him away somewhere from the Land of the Sleeping Gods." This time a slipper hit Ura square in the face.
"Older brothers are supposed to look out for their younger brothers, not let them be kidnapped!"
"It happened too fast for me to do anything, and I was already injured from the fight anyway!" Ura shot back, getting to his feet.
That comment seemed to bring Araku out of his previous train of thought, hardening his features into a stern, regal mask. "He tried to curse you too, didn't he, and then tried to kill you?" At Ura's confirming nod he continued. "I assume you won, since you're here and all, but how did you cure me? Only the caster can remove the dark curse after it has been cast, or else the powers of a human mystic were used."
"About that…" Ura trailed off, looking stubbornly at a loss for a moment, studiously not glancing at Yayoi, who had been watching their verbal tennis match with wide eyes from her position on the floor.
"I healed you, your Majesty," she broke in, straightening herself up to her full height as she did so. Both male's gazes swung to face hers and she met them unflinchingly. Close as they were to each other now, and both up and lively, Yayoi could see the family resemblance. Araku could have been Ura's twin if he wasn't obviously older than his son, shown in the slight wrinkles and careworn creases around his mouth and eyes. His chin was a little more square shaped, and his nose a little crooked from a past break, but the biggest difference between the two was his eyes, which were a dark brown, almost burgundy color with slit cat pupils, compared to Ura's amber cat slit eyes in his true form.
"And who would you be?" Araku questioned in a firm tone.
"Yayoi Suzuka. Pleased to meet you." Her mother's ingrained polite habits kicked in as she bowed slightly in greeting.
"Suzuka… a human mystic." The demon king's eyes narrowed thoughtfully at Yayoi. She could see Ura tense slightly from the corner of her eye but she kept her attention on his father. "And why, exactly, would one of the Suzuka line help me? Our peoples haven't exactly gotten along peacefully in the past."
"Because I care about Ura and Hakuyo a great deal, and we both owe each other our lives." She smiled briefly at Ura who's mouth upturned at the corners in return, before continuing. "It would also be to my benefit if you were up and still king so that no more demons come trying to take my powers."
"I see," Araku stated quietly to himself. And Yayoi could tell that he did see, maybe more than she assumed he would. He studied her for a moment more and seemed to approve of her and nodded slightly to himself. Ura relaxed at this gesture, relief making its way across his face. "If I may, how exactly did the two of you meet?" he asked, causing Ura's eyes to widen in brief horror.
He tried to catch Yayoi's eye, but she ignored him. "Ura came to take my powers almost half a year ago so he could heal you, and I ended up sealing his powers and taking him in. Hakuyo came to look for Ura right before Ouga attacked us, and they've both been living with me ever since."
King Araku surprised her by bursting out laughing, long and hard, before quieting enough to speak between his chuckles. "Well, Ura, do you remember that promise you made to your mother? It looks like she's a feisty one, but not anything like a beast!"
The comment was lost on Yayoi, but Ura seemed to understand. "Dad!" he protested.
"For such an idiot son, you sure got lucky," Araku chuckled. He sighed. "I've worried your mother long enough. You two find Hakuyo and come find us in Kitsuka's sitting room. Be ready to tell us the whole story then." He shot them both a steely eyed look, just daring them to argue, clapping Ura gruffly on the shoulder, before sweeping out of his room and into the hallway on his way to be reunited with his wife.
After a moment Ura seemed to shake off whatever thoughts were swimming through his mind and offered Yayoi a grin, eyes glittering amber and face lighter than she had seen in a long time, if ever. One of the biggest weights on his shoulders lifted now that his father was cured. Yayoi couldn't stop the elated grin from forming as she let herself be pulled into a hug, ecstatic that she had helped put that look on his face. It always left her feeling satisfied and good after helping someone, but this was special, more somehow, knowing that the one she had helped was Ura.
He gave her one final squeeze before releasing her saying, voice gruff. "Let's go find Hakuyo." She could see a light blush working its way across his cheekbones before he could turn away.
And she wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else, she thought as she teased him. "Aw, you're embarrassed."
Yayoi was lost again, making her way down a deserted corridor. Ura had been right beside her as they looked for Hakuyo, making their way to the servant's quarters, when she had turned one corner and realized Ura wasn't with her. She had backtracked and gone down the path she thought he had taken, but so far she had seen no sign of him. This palace was a labyrinth.
She was just about to turn down a well-lit hallway when she heard voices from behind a door just a little farther down the hall she was currently walking down. She debated internally for a moment, thinking it could be a couple of servants, before deciding to go investigate, just in case they could point her in the right direction. As she got closer, she realized that the voices belonged to her two lost companions.
She was about to go in when Hakuyo's voice raised suddenly, making her halt with her hand on the door.
"But you know as well as I do that as long as Ouga's around, that the curse could come back at any time, on anyone else as well!"
Yayoi felt her blood run cold. She hadn't thought of that, too wrapped up in the elation of finding a solution to Ura's problem with his father and the subsequent dejection that he and Hakuyo wouldn't be coming home with her. Before she could begin berating herself for being so shortsighted, the demon prince's voice sounded from the room.
"I know, but Yayoi doesn't need to. She never asked for us to come into her life in the first place, and keeping her here will only put her in more danger. And the Flame of Trial is still burning. It ain't over yet, not by a long shot."
"Ura…" Hakuyo sounded both resigned and sympathetic at once.
Yayoi gripped her hand tightly around the doorknob, making the decision that would alter her destiny forever, and opened the door. Both demons heads snapped up at her entrance.
"You didn't think you could get rid of me that easily, did you?" Yayoi asked, shattering the shocked silence her entry had made. Ura stood up from the chair he had been sitting in and stepped closer to her.
"This isn't your world, Yayoi. You don't have any reason to be here." Ura stated harshly. Even though she knew he was only saying this to make her go home in a misguided way to protect her, the truth of his words still stung.
"It may not be my world, but I've made looking out for you my business. You're my family now." Yayoi's voice cracked softly on the word 'family', but she continued on as if nothing was wrong. "Besides, if Ouga, no when Ouga comes back you'll need my help."
Ura's face had softened as her argument had continued, and his right hand lifted up towards her face, seemingly of its own accord, as he opened his mouth to speak.
"Your Highness!" a voice called from out in the hall, cutting Ura off before he made a sound. He made a face at the door and turned back to Yayoi. "I'll be right back," he said with a faint smile, fingering a piece of her hair briefly before he walked out the door, leaving Yayoi and Hakuyo alone in the silence of the room.
"Don't worry; I think you got your point across. And for the record, I'll be glad you're here."
"Thanks, Hakuyo," Yayoi said, touched. She was about to turn to face the door again, when the platinum blonde demon broke the silence again.
"You do realize as long as you're here, you will have to play the part of Ura's betrothed." Hakuyo stated, seemingly out of the blue.
"Huh?" was Yayoi's stunned reaction to Hakuyo's statement. She whirled to face him to see if he was joking, but was met with serious purple eyes.
"Because it gives you a great deal of protection and it makes it harder for random demons to get close to you, and possibly find out that you're a human, and not just any human but the Suzuka head. And besides, before Ura went to the human world he did all he could to avoid all females, and it would turn a lot of heads and start rumors all over when he is hanging around with you so much." Hakuyo smirked. "Her majesty is going to love this."
Yayoi floundered, trying to come up with something to say, but never had the chance.
Ura poked his head back in the room, looking like a man headed to his own execution. "My parents are ready to see us now. Let's get it over with."
Questions, comments, concerns, opinions? All are welcome!
~Moonlight Through the Water