A/N: The world and the characters of Natsume Yuujinchou do not belong to me. Much thanks to gatogirl1 for beta-ing this story. Please read and enjoy.

Worthy of a Name

A blur of white and silvered black flashes underneath a crescent moon. The fight is vicious, accompanied by the occasional low growl, the steady, regular chiming of bells, and the snapping of wood as the surrounding forest bends beneath the force of their conflict. Suddenly the two break out into a clearing, and for the first time since the fight had begun, there is a moment where they can catch their breaths.

"You! What do you think you're—"

He is interrupted as the black creature rushes up and forward, carrying the white beast into the sky.

"Foolish of you, to weaken yourself so," the other speaks, his voice deep with amused contempt. He detaches himself to watch his opponent, quietly surveying the effects of the night's wine on the creature.

"Shut up," his target growls, moving further away so that he floats freely in the clear night sky. Yet even as he attempts to maintain a standing posture, his body lists back and forth, and his eyes refuse to focus. "Even like this, you won't be able to kill me."

"Ah, but I have no intention of killing you."

There is a brief moment of stunned silence.

"Then what—"

"I only need," the black creature speaks softly, barely holding back a trace of laughter, "for you to stay out of the way."

His last words are punctuated by another rush, this time from above. The white beast roars in outrage as he dodges the blow, but in his preoccupation he misses the rope that shoots out from the forest below. It entangles the hind legs, dragging the beast back down to earth. When the white beast turns to bite it off, another appears to bind his neck, then another to bind his tail.

Then he is down, bound and held by ropes strengthened with the power of a hundred seals, flickering and glowing a darkly purple in time with his movements.

The perpetrator lowers himself down, then chuckles from his vantage point on a cliff, watching in smug satisfaction as the white beast below struggles in vain to free himself.

"This won't hold me for long," the beast says.

"It will hold you long enough."

"Long enough? You overgrown toy horse, when I escape from this place I will—"

"Rest quietly, Madara. It will be over soon."

"Over soon? If you hope to steal the Book of Friends from the boy, you'll need more time than this will give you!"

Misuzu smile only deepens in response. Then before Madara can add another retort, he vanishes in a swirl of leaves. The continuous echo of chimes is all that remains of his presence, and that too, gradually fades into the night.

On the other side of the mountain, a boy turns over in dreamless sleep.

He does not look worried, smiling and laughing as he is, walking alongside the other two human children he occasionally spends time with. That alone is proof of just how often his so-called guardian goes off on his own. Misuzu watches through the eyes of one of his servants, careful to hide his presence from the boy. As powerful as the boy is, he will eventually detect the servant as well, but Misuzu does not mind that in the least.

It isn't until the boy gets home that a flicker of worry crosses his face.

"Sensei? Nyanko-sensei?" he calls. The human child pauses briefly in the empty room, then bites his bottom lip. "I guess he's still out partying," he says, but it comes out false.

That is when the boy finally notices the servant's presence. The window opens, and Misuzu sees the face loom overhead.

"Oh. What are you doing here?" he asks, the smile on his face ever gentle. Misuzu is pleased when the boy brings his servant in, handling the frog carefully in the palm of his right hand. Then memory triggers recognition. "Aren't you Misuzu's servant?"

The servant is lowered onto a table, but any further questions are interrupted as a voice rings out from below.

"Takashi-kun! Dinner is ready!"


Once again the face looms overhead, and the human child smiles again.

"If Nyanko-sensei comes back, try not to get caught by him, okay?"

The door slides shut, and all that Misuzu can hear is the quiet thudding of feet against the hardwood floor. That is enough. A silent order has his servant leaping off the table, then back onto the window sill. Misuzu removes his presence from his servant, and commands it to return to him, quickly.

By the time the human child returns to his room, there will be no one there.

Afterward Misuzu immerses himself in the work of keeping the human boy, and thus the Book of Friends, safe. It is annoying work; there are far too many overly-ambitious minor spirits running about, but it is by no means difficult. In the meantime he listens to reports of the human child's activities from other spirits.

A week passes.

"Lord Natsume has been looking tense," a tree spirit says. It cannot move far from the tree that is both body and dwelling, but the tree in question is located near the path the boy takes on his way to the human school. "When no one is around he searches, calling for Madara. At least I assume it is Madara. Lord Natsume calls him by a rather odd name."

"Madara takes on a different form when he is with humans," Misuzu says.

"I see," says the tree spirit.

Two weeks pass.

"Lord Natsume came searching near the river today," the tiny spirit squeaks. "I was almost seen, but I ran and hid in the grass." It then pauses, then timidly adds, "Lord Natsume seemed very upset."

Misuzu nods, but does not comment on the last sentence.

Three weeks pass.

After returning from checking on Madara's bindings, Misuzu finds a group of sparrow spirits waiting at his lair. They greet him enthusiastically, then start to chatter.

"Lord Natsume is in Yatsuhara, with another human…"

"… No, two, silly! Two humans, with Lord Natsume."

"We saw them enter the temple…"

"… But not before we heard some of what they were saying."

"Yes, yes, but not before!"

This went on for some time, until Misuzu grew tired of their incessant chatter.

"What did they say, before entering the temple?"

"Aaah… a test!"

"A test?" Misuzu prompted.

"To see a pond. And the fish."

"Yes! Lord Natsume has been worried, see. We heard him wondering…"

"… Wondering if he's lost it, see?"

Once again, Misuzu was forced to intervene.

"Lost what?"

"His ability!"

"His ability to see…"

"… To see spirits."

"Wanted to know…"

"So the other human suggests that Lord Natsume see…"

"See if Lord Natsume can still see the fish pond in the garden."

"And the human, the foul one…"

"The foul one who drew those unlucky circles…"

"… Suggests drawing them again!"


"To catch a spirit…"

"And question them!"

"Lord Misuzu, that would be bad…"


Pleased though Misuzu is to find out that things are unfolding in the way he wishes, it could become complicated if the humans do decide to draw more circles.

"You have been forewarned then. Warn the other spirits that the foul one may draw more unlucky circles in the near future," Misuzu says, careful to emphasize the immediacy of the probable events. The lower spirits never do have a strong concept of time. And that also means that Misuzu will have to move quickly, before the other two humans become more involved.

The seals on Madara are rapidly weakening. They will not be able to hold the beast for more than two to three days, at most.

When the sparrow spirits fly off to do as Misuzu had instructed, he summons one of his servants again.

It is time to act.

One of the humans is still with him when the human child reaches the door. The other human is worried, speaking softly in words that probably cannot be heard by other humans, but are clear enough for spirits.

"Natsume, what if the reason Ponta disappeared was because he was attacked by a powerful spirit? We know now that you haven't lost your power, but that still means that for the past three weeks no spirits have appeared in front of you. Maybe they're connected."

"You mean that the same powerful spirit that might have trapped Nyanko-sensei may also be keeping the other spirits away?" the human boy replies, his face unreadable.

"Exactly. Before we go off searching for Ponta by ourselves, shouldn't we ask for someone else's help? I thought you said you knew someone else who could see spirits just like you."

"I haven't heard from Natori-san in a while," he says. "He's very busy, and besides he…" There is a pause. "… He is an exorcist. I don't want to involve him until we know for certain that it is an evil spirit. Otherwise he'll probably exorcise it."


The two humans fall silent as they look awkwardly at each other.

"Tell Taki not to start drawing those circles until we're together. Remember what I told you about what happened before."

"Don't do anything stupid, Natsume."

"I know. Thank you Tanuma, for helping. You've given me some ideas now."

"That's good." The human is smart enough to know when to leave. "See you later then."

"I'll see you tomorrow."

Having seen enough, Misuzu withdraws from his servant, laughing as he does so. It has taken a while to reach this point, but it is finally going to happen. Misuzu has seen what the other human had not been able to see in the human child's expression.

Tonight, the boy will use the Book of Friends.

And that is when everything will fall into place.

Misuzu's lair is a system of vast underground caves, and while Misuzu waits, he checks over the items that have taken so much time and effort to gather.

First, mermaid's blood, taken with the consent of the mermaid in question. She had volunteered the blood herself, when Misuzu had sent out the request.

The second item was the blood of an ancient mountain god. The god too, had given his blood freely once he had heard Misuzu's reason.

"Tell Natsume to come here, when it is all over," the youthful looking god had said, smiling wistfully. "We didn't part on good terms, last time."

The third was a bowl carved from the wood of a tree spirit, using neither knife nor stone to do so. Long dead, yet nevertheless freely given, it had been a final thank you to the human child who had helped her at the end.

All are where they should be. Ready, and waiting. Ever careful, Misuzu tests the protections placed on them, created to prevent destruction or theft. By the time Misuzu finishes, full night has fallen, and that is when Misuzu feels it.

A tug— gentle, but insistent just the same.

Misuzu does not fight the call. There is no doubt of where it has come from after all.

"Good evening, Lord Natsume," Misuzu says quietly when he finally arrives. "You have summoned me?"

"Misuzu…" the human boy pauses, ever unsure, but there is relief in his voice. "I'm glad you're still safe."

"As am I, Lord Natsume," Misuzu says dryly. He casts an eye at the surrounding area, looking for an opening, and finds it immediately. "I note that your guardian is not at his usual post," Misuzu says, eyes flickering to the empty spot above the boy's left shoulder. The motion is not missed, as Misuzu had known it wouldn't.

"Nyanko-sensei's been gone for three weeks now," the human child blurts out. "I've searched everywhere, but I can't find him. I'm worried that something has happened to him. Perhaps he met a more powerful spirit?"

"I have sensed no other spirits in this area, excepting me."

"Then what has happened to everyone? I haven't seen any spirits at all, so I was worried. Is everybody safe?"

"You are worried about the other spirits?" Misuzu hides his pleasure carefully beneath a mask of neutrality.

The question catches the human child off guard.

"Shouldn't I be?"

"Surely it can only be to your benefit. That you have seen none at all can only mean the Book of Friends is now safe. Perhaps that is why Madara has disappeared."

"No!" Beneath the white cloth the boy has used in place of a white robe, the golden eyes flash in certainty. "Nyanko-sensei wouldn't just leave me like that. He's told me countless times… told me that he wouldn't leave until the day he gets the Book of Friends. That's why." The human child looks like he wants to say more, but after a moment presses his lips tighter together.

"If that is the case, then Madara may indeed have been captured," Misuzu concedes.

"Can you help me look for him?"

"It will be difficult. If Madara has disappeared for this long, he may in fact have been sealed. Unless someone knows the exact spot, a spirit can pass right over the area without ever knowing that Madara is there."

"I have to try," the human child says, "Nyanko-sensei has helped me more times than I can count. I have to try, especially now when he needs me."

This is it. Only centuries of experience keeps Misuzu's expression neutral.

"There may be a way," Misuzu says slowly, imitating great hesitation. "I know of a rite. Normally I would not suggest it, but for a human you are unusually powerful. More powerful than some of the higher level spirits I know. But it is a dangerous one, Lord Natsume. You may lose your life."

The boy pales at this, but Madara can see that the human's resolve remains firm.

"I'm prepared."

"Then come with me."

As the two of them head deeper into the forest, the human child opens his mouth to speak again.

"Thank you, Misuzu. If this works, I promise I will return your name." In the darkness, the child ducks his head. "I always forget." There is a pause. "I'm glad I forgot this time though. If I hadn't…"

"Surely there are other spirits you could have summoned."

"Well, yes. But for some odd reason I kept thinking of you," the human child confesses. "I'm not sure wh—ah! I saw one of your servants three weeks ago. It had been on my window sill."

"That one. Yes. My servant is rather fond of Lord Natsume."


A wave of power rushes through the surrounding area, and Misuzu narrows his eyes in speculation. Madara is beginning to break free. Too soon, too quickly. But there is still time left.

"Lord Natsume, time is passing. It would be faster if I carried you."

"Did you feel something, Misuzu? It was like a wave…"

"Yes. Please get on my back. We must hurry."

For a moment, the human child studies him, and Misuzu freezes, wondering if somehow, the child has uncovered his plans. But then the boy nods, as if to himself, and climbs up on Misuzu's back. Misuzu waits only a moment for the boy to settle, then takes off into the sky in the direction of his lair.

The protections there should buy Misuzu some more time.

By the time Misuzu arrives with the human child at his lair, another wave of power has pulsed through the surrounding area. The boy is nervous, and understandably so.

"Misuzu?" the child says, while biting his lower lip.

"This way, Lord Natsume. I have the tools for the rite here. Do not worry. I have many strong barriers placed here."

"Is this your home then?" Unaware of the honor Misuzu has bestowed upon him, the human child looks around the entryway of his lair with open curiosity.

"Yes," Misuzu says, and leads the boy deeper into the caves, lit magically by foxfire of glowing blue, amused by the human child's complete trust in a powerful spirit such as him. Trust in the spirits is a dangerous thing. Surely even Madara has taught the human child that. But then, it doesn't surprise Misuzu to find out that Madara is lacking in that area also. Indeed, it is a wonder the beast has managed to keep the human child alive for as long as he has.

Soon though, that will no longer be a worry.

They arrive in a small cave, hardly bigger than a storage closet.

"Change into an appropriate white robe here," Misuzu says. "A rite such as this does not allow substitutes."


"I will prepare a room for the rite. When Lord Natsume has finished changing, I will return."

The rite circle has long been ready, studied carefully for errors, and rechecked again. Misuzu does not look at it as he crosses over to the shelves where he has placed the rest of the items.

A fifth of the god's blood is mixed carefully into a bowl of finely crushed madder root, making the already red paste an even brighter red. The rest is poured into the wooden bowl along with the mermaid's blood, then laid carefully aside.

There is no time to waste. Madara can break the third and final rope at any time.

"Lord Natsume, I have returned. Are you ready?"

"I think so," the human child says, emerging barefoot from the small cave dressed in a white silk robe. He does not seem aware of how fine the material is, but clumsily fusses one-handedly with the colorful cloth belt instead. The Book of Friends is clutched tightly in the other hand. "I'm sorry Misuzu. I don't know how to tie this, and it was the only thing I found in there."

"Come, I will fix it while we head to the place I've prepared."

The child is startled at first when Misuzu mentally nudges and moves the cloth belt into its proper arrangement.

"I'd wondered," the boy murmured, not realizing that he is thinking out loud.

"A spirit as powerful as I is hardly handicapped by the lack of human hands," Misuzu says.

At this the human child flushes, but says nothing else until they have arrived at the cave containing the rite circle.

"This is…"

"When the rite begins, Lord Natsume should stand in the center there," Misuzu says. "But before that, there is one last thing that needs doing. Lord Natsume, if you would please retrieve the two bowls on the table and bring them here. Be careful not to spill the contents."

At that point Misuzu senses the last rope break.

"That's the third time," the human child says, stepping carefully around the rite circle while carrying the two bowls, one stone and one wood. The Book of Friends remains with him, tucked inside the front of his robe.

"Yes, but the rite will be done in time. Now stand still."

Weaker spirits require a brush. Misuzu simply removes the red paste and images the patterns onto the boy's skin. The human child's eyes are lined with red, with a circular pattern in the center of his forehead, then a line down the nose and chin, with several more on each cheek. Patterns encircle the boy's ankles and wrists, arms and thighs. A similar circular pattern is imaged onto the chest, and another on the small of his back, invisible underneath the robe.

Meanwhile the human child remains silent, but his eyes grow wider as the paste in the bowl gradually disappears until there is nothing left.

"Place that one on the floor, behind you. There is no more need of it."

"What's in this bowl?" the child asks, carrying the remaining bowl with both hands. He follows Misuzu into the circle.

"Blood," Misuzu says. "You will drink it when the ceremony begins."

"What?" The human child's voice is tinged with both horror and disgust. "Misuzu, did you—"

"All rites have a price, as you know. The blood has been freely given."

"They're not dead?" the child asks, relaxing a fraction. But he continues to give the contents of the bowl a look of disgust.

"No. In fact, one of them wishes to meet with you, Lord Natsume. If the rite succeeds, I will tell you how."

"Oh." Then the boy falls quiet again, reminded by the fact that there is a possibility that the rite can go wrong.

"Shall we begin then, Lord Natsume."

A pause, as the human child gathered his thoughts.

"Yes." There is determination, and no matter what the human child may believe, a great deal of courage also.

"Very well. If all goes well, when the rite is over, Madara will appear at your side."

Suddenly the cave walls seem to vibrate. Then again, and again.

"... –me!"

"Drink!" Misuzu says. One by one, the barriers are peeled away, but not quick enough.

Lifting the bowl to his lips, the human child begins to drink, his eyes closed tightly. As he drinks, the circle begins to glow, at first a faint yellow, then brighter and brighter.


Misuzu smiles. It is too late.

Trembling, the child lowers the bowl, contents empty. By now the room is an incandescent white, the rite circle on the floor no longer visible, burned away by the light.

"Once, I had told Lord Natsume that you were not worthy of holding my name," Misuzu says, unable to keep the triumph out of his voice. "I retract that statement."

The wooden bowl drops to the floor, cracking evenly in two. Gasping and shaking with visible pain, the boy collapses, no longer in any state to listen. If he had heard what Misuzu had said, he gives no sign of it.


Madara bursts into the room, roaring anger and defiance.

"A timely appearance, Madara. Rare for you, I should say," Misuzu says.

"You vile excuse for a horse!" Madara shouts. "What have you done to him?"

Within the circle comes a scream.

For a brief moment nothing is visible. There is only whiteness; all shadows are burned away. Even prepared as he is, Misuzu is blinded.

Gradually the light begins to fade, but the screaming continues. The boy's body has contorted with the pain, but there is oddly no visible sweat. His eyes are wide open, the pupils barely visible, and his chest rises up and down at uneven intervals as he struggles for breath.

Madara enters the circle, rushing to his side.


Slowly, the breathing dies down, turning light and regular. The muscles in the boy's limbs relax, and the pupils return to a normal size.

"Misuzu," Madara hisses, the fury nearly a separate entity from his voice. "What have you done to him?"

"Lord Natsume lives?"

"No thanks to you!" Madara snaps. "I am going to kill you Slowly. Agonizingly. Bit by bit. It will be so horrible, the spirit world will speak of your fate with terror for all eternity."

"That will be up to Lord Natsume to decide," Misuzu says, lowering his head.

Madara is not enough of an idiot to think that Misuzu would be lowering his head in respect to him. For the first time since the white beast had entered the cave, Madara takes a close look at the circle, rapidly fading into nothing. The golden eyes switch to study the patterns painted on the limbs and face.

"Misuzu… this…"

His voice fades away, unable to think of anything to say. All of Madara's earlier anger is drained away, so great is his shock.

"It has taken you long enough to notice."

Before Madara can find the words to speak, the body next to him stirs.


"Ah, Lord Natsume has awakened."

"Natsume, don't move. Do you feel all right?"

"Nyanko-sensei? Is that you? You're back." Ignoring Madara's instructions not to move, Lord Natsume, boy no longer, sits up, the expressions on his face only that of relief and joy, overlaid with exhaustion. "The rite worked after all."

"Indeed it has, Lord Natsume," Misuzu says. "You have done very well."

"It couldn't have succeeded without you, Misuzu." Lord Natsume turns to Madara, and lays a hand gently on the white beast's nose. "I'm so glad you're back, you stupid cat. I've been so worried."


Madara's voice is choked and strained.

"Hm? Nyanko-sensei? What's wrong?"

Somehow, Madara finds it in himself to speak. Misuzu is impressed in spite of himself.

"Natsume, listen carefully. Did Misuzu say anything, anything at all, about the purpose of this rite?"

"Purpose? I thought it was to find you. Right, Misuzu?"

Now that it is all over, Misuzu finds it hard to face him, though his feeling of success never wavers. He lowers his head.

"Lord Natsume, I confess that I have not been wholly honest in dealing with you."

"I'd already known that, Misuzu," Lord Natsume says, smiling gently, as is his way, but Misuzu can tell that he still does not understand. No, knowing Lord Natsume, perhaps he doesn't want to understand.

"Misuzu, whose blood did you take?" Madara says, not quite snapping. "I know mermaid's blood is one of the ingredients."

The smile on Lord Natsume's disappears, to be replaced by blank incomprehension.

"Wait… mermaid's blood?"

"Lord Kai willingly gave up some of his blood when I went to request some," Misuzu says, avoiding Lord Natsume's question.

"Lord Kai. That's the name of the god who pretended to be a human for a while," Madara says. He narrows his eyes in thought. "I see. So you hadn't merely intended to turn Natsume into a spirit like one of us."

Next to him, Lord Natsume sits, frozen and silent. His eyes are blank.

"Hardly," Misuzu says. "I am not as arrogant as you."

"And just where did you intend to find worshippers? He'll need that now."

"You think too narrowly, Madara. Not all worshippers are human. Unstable, undependable creatures. No. Lord Natsume's followers will be spirits, but that is assuming that he doesn't already have them."

"The idiotic bunch over at Yatsuhara," Madara mutters.

"Exactly. And I suspect more besides. The spirits Lord Natsume has helped have been numerous. Indeed, that part of his life will change very little, if at all."

"And the human part of his life?" Madara's voice is thick with sarcasm.

"It may take awhile," Misuzu admits. "Lord Natsume has only just finished his transformation. But he has enough power to maintain a human body. Seeing as Lord Natsume was once human, that should not be too difficult."

"Once… human?" Awareness has finally returned to Lord Natsume. His eyes, previously blank, now held a flicker of light. "I don't understand. Aren't I human?"

"You idiot." Madara, ever irreverent, turns to Lord Natsume. "Haven't you realized what you've let this stupid toy horse do to you? I thought I told you to listen."

More awareness returns to Lord Natsume, which he reveals with an expression of surprise.


"He'd planned this all along. First by trapping me to keep me out of the way. Then by making it so that you'd think of him and go to him for help. And finally by doing this." Madara's expression is the picture of disgust. "The only question now is why."

"I had told Lord Natsume earlier, during the rite."

"As if he would have been in any condition to hear you."

"Perhaps not. Very well, I will repeat what I had said earlier." Misuzu straightens. "Lord Natsume, I had told you once that were not worthy of holding my name. I retract my statement."

"That's your reason?" Madara roars in outrage. "And you call me arrogant? Of all the selfish, disgusting reasons you could have picked, that was it? You! Death is too good for the likes of you."

"As I said before, that is for Lord Natsume to decide," Misuzu says, interrupting before Madara starts to repeat himself. "He holds the Book of Friends. If Lord Natsume wishes to destroy me, he can do so, easily."

"Well, Natsume? You have this foul horse's permission. You can burn his name, or rip it to tiny pieces. It's up to you. Or if you want, you can order him to stay still, and I'll eat him for you, right now."

Misuzu narrows his eyes. Predictably, Madara immediately jumps on the idea that will benefit him the most.

"No. I promised that I'd return Misuzu's name to him after everything is over," Lord Natsume says, softly.

Even Madara is shocked.

"You are not angry with me?" Misuzu asks.

"I probably should be," Lord Natsume says with a shaky little smile. Next to him, Madara rolls his eyes. "Misuzu, you said that the reason you did this was to make me worthy of holding your name, but that's not the real reason, is it? If it had, you would have reminded me to return your name countless times before this."

"You were an interesting human," Misuzu says.

To his credit, Lord Natsume does not wince at Misuzu's deliberate use of past tense.

"And why did you find me interesting?"

"Your behavior," Misuzu replies without hesitation. "Your utter inability to stop yourself from getting involved in spirit affairs. Even when they ask you not to interfere, you still cannot help yourself."

"So Natsume is interesting because he is an insufferable busybody?" Madara says. Lord Natsume shoots him a mildly annoyed look.

"How many humans have you known, Madara, who deliberately places himself in harm's way to help a spirit?"


"Do not try to answer, Madara. It was rhetorical," Misuzu cuts in smoothly. Ignoring Madara's low growl, he turns to look at Lord Natsume, who now looks thoughtful.

"You were afraid for me," Lord Natsume says suddenly, his eyes lighting up. "A human's life is very short compared to you. Normally that wouldn't matter, but…" He smiles sweetly, in the only way Lord Natsume knows how, a smile that, until now, Misuzu has refused to admit had captivated him. Had always captivated him. "You are as bad a Nyanko-sensei. Would it have killed you to admit that you'd miss me when I died?"

"It was selfish of me," Misuzu admits, bowing his head.

"I never wanted the power to command the spirits. I still don't," Lord Natsume says.

"I know."

"And that is why you decided to turn me into a god."

The words are gentle, but tinged with a myriad of other emotions. Regret. Sorrow. Resignation. But Misuzu also senses one other emotion: acceptance.

Slowly, Lord Natsume reaches into the folds of his robe, and pulls out the Book of Friends.

"Misuzu, I return your name to you. Accept it."

As Misuzu bends forward to receive his name, he knows that Lord Natsume will never need to hold his name to command him. Even if someday, should all the other spirits disappear from this earth, so long as Misuzu remains, Lord Natsume will live on. Misuzu suspects though, that Madara will manage to remain upon this earth longer than him just out of spite.

He chuckles to himself.

"What's so funny, you stupid horse?"

Madara may not have realized it yet, but Misuzu is certain that Lord Natsume has already. May in fact, have always known.

There, protectively surrounding Lord Natsume in a cloud of white fur and sullen anger, sits the god's first and most faithful worshipper.