Sarishinohara

_"Distant Fields"_

~x~

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Chapter Three: Rats' Nest

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It's been years since Riku last dreamed of her father's death. To be dreaming of it, to her anyway, means some sort of bad omen. For the rest of the day, on a Monday morning, she's wary and cautious of everything and everyone that's close to her. Naturally, this draw upon her her attendants' concern. Which lure the attention of her mother and grandfather.

"No, really," she repeats for the nth time this morning. "I'm fine and I'm going to school so don't offer again, mom."

Wakana Nura sighs fretfully. "Are you sure?" she asks again for the billionth time since she's seen her daughter in such a down state. "I can call school for you—"

"No, mom, seriously," says Riku, getting frustrated at her mother's over-protective nature. "I'm okay." She stands quickly when her mother seems ready to protest again. She leans forward and peck her mother on the cheek. "Just had a bad dream about dad... thought it was some sort of bad omen."

"You better be careful then," remarks Nurarihyon coolly from his seat by the kotetsu, flipping another page on the newspaper. "Oh, and Riku—"

"She just left." Wakana says, sighing.

Nurarihyon raises an eyebrow at his daughter-in-law's distressed sigh. "Why the sad face?"

"If she can't handle a mere nightmare, how am I going to tell her the truth?" the human woman rubs her forehead, her brown eyes downcast. "She's going to freak—and that's not all, she's going to think her parents are freaks."

Nurarihyon hums thoughtfully. "Riku is a thoughtful girl," he says slowly, gauging Wakana's reaction. The woman isn't looking at him anymore, instead, she's looking down at the photo she's always carrying. "I'm sure she won't judge you, her mother, of all people that terribly."

"Not entirely her mother."

"You raised her."

"She's also someone else's."

"..." Nurarihyon purses his lips as he finds some word to say to the mortal woman. "You can't hide the truth forever. She must know; or something unwanted might happen between them."

"You think anyone else has notice?"

"Gyuki's starting to piece everything together."

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"My name is Yura Keikain. It's a pleasure to meet you all."

The new girl smiles, fleetingly, at her new classmates. There's something in her that unnerves Riku, sending a red alarm off in her head. The Nura studies the new girl more carefully and she can say that the girl is no yokai. Still... she unsettles her and it nearly makes her panic when Yura's assigned seat is next to her.

The two girls exchange a mutual smile, lack of true warmth and willingness to be friends. Riku wonders does the girl feel the same way to her as she does of her. For the rest of the morning periods, Riku tries to distract herself by actually concentrating in class.

Lunch period came and when Yura leaves her seat, Riku nearly lets out a sigh of relief. She stretches, arching her back, to relieve herself of stressed muscles. When she relaxes into her seat again, Kana has already approach her and is by her side, a concerned frown on her features, reminding Riku heavily of her own mother.

"Hey there, Kana," she smiles wearily. "What's up?"

"You seem tired and stressed. What's wrong?"

"Nah," Riku waves her friend's concern off. "Just a bad dream. You know... that dream."

"Ah... I see." Pause. "But you seem to have a personal problem with Keikain-san. She seems nice enough, so... why?"

Kana really knows her well, Riku isn't surprised, they've been friends since pre-school. The problem is that Riku doesn't know how to answer her friend's question, the question of her best friend who is still ignorant of her true nature. Thinking about that, putting it that way, makes Riku feel guilty; she averts her gaze to the exercise book on her table.

"Well...—"

It is at this moment that Kiyotsugu waltzes up to them and starts quizzing them about yokais. Riku has never been more thankful for his existence and obsession with yokai. Though he's been annoying for the past few years ever since the Gagoze incident with his obsession of yokai and his goal to find the yokai boy that had saved them—namely, Riku. To top it all off, Kiyotsugu never apologized to her for the time he's mocked her on the existence of yokais. He's one of the reasons why she chose to live a more human life.

Even to this day, she can still remember his words: yokais are evil. It's a good thing she is against violence or she'd beaten him up.

"Next question, which fire yokais can fly and control birds?" The group stare blankly at him. Riku does know the answer but she merely doesn't want to draw attention to herself; the more information she has on yokais, the more Kiyotsugu will bug her—shaking her head, she turns her attention back to the book she's reading. Kiyotsugu doesn't comment on her unenthusiastic behavior, choosing to continue what he has to say: "The choices are Tsurubebi, Furabibi and Ugabibi. Well?"

Saori and Natsumi—best friends and sometimes are in a group to themselves only—exchange baffled looks, not knowing the answer and not trying to figure it out. Shima raises his hand, timidly, and says, "Is it Ugabibi?"

The young Nura has to cough to cover her snort.

"You're wrong." Surprisingly, the one to say this isn't Kiyotsugu. Riku turns to see Yura Keikain standing by their side, a few tables away from her. "The correct answer is Furabibi."

"Impressive!" Kiyotsugu's eyes shine with admiration, urging Yura to say more. "Tell us more!"

Yura does; Riku stares at the other girl, a frown creasing her brows, her attention no longer on her book. The other thing that draws her immediate attention is what Kiyotsugu practically shouts to the world.

"—to celebrate the new member of Kiyojuji Paranormal Patrol, we shall hold an inaugural ceremony for !" Kiyotsugu frowns for a moment, rubbing his chin in thought before he suddenly turns to Riku, giving her bad vibes but before she can say anything, he continues. "—at Nura's house!"

"What?!" the outcry that falls from her lips is followed by many disapproving words which go unheard to the other celebrating group.

Riku slumps back in her seat, defeated; she presses a hand to the crease in her brows, groaning. "I'm so dead."

Kana laughs, not understanding her friend's depression, clapping the other girl on her shoulder. "Things will be fine, Riku, don't be such a worry-wart all the time!"

Oh the irony, the one that usually is the worry-wart is Karasu Tengu, not her. Just as things can't get any worse, Riku looks up and she nearly balks at the two familiar, humanized form.

What are they doing here?

To answer her question, Tsurara flashes her a thumbs-up while Aotabo holds up a sheet of paper, we'll help you, scrawled there. Before she can say anything, the two vanish, leaving her gawking at the hallway full of passing students.

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When the last period's over, Riku is the first person out of the door, the classroom and the school. She doesn't bother stopping to return Tsurara's and Aotabo's greeting, knowing full well it's rude but not caring in the face of a much greater crisis.

Thankfully, neither of her attendants are offended by the treatment, knowing the problem at hand too. Riku is the first one to reach the mansion, taking off her shoes and throwing them away recklessly, she calls out, "I'm home!" as she slides open the shoji door.

"Welcome home, M'lady!"

A chorus of voices answer Riku's call.

"Huh...?" Riku gapes at the state of disarray in her house. The stinking and sour smell of alcohol and sake assaults her nose and she nearly gags; she pushes a drunk yokai out of the way. "All of you! Gather around!" she taps her foot repeatedly on the tatami mat as the yokais drunkenly pull themselves together and try to do as they're told. Riku jabs a finger at the mess. "What is the occasion for such a celebration?" she demands.

Natto Kozo laughs and from his tone, Riku can tell that he's already intoxicated. "To honor your transformation, M'lady! We're celebrating with sushi and sake!"

Riku's eyes flare. "Don't give me that—you all just want an opportunity to party!" Instantly, all the yokais went silent and she knows she's right; she sighs heavily. "Whatever, just clean up. My human friends are coming and I don't want any of you to appear before them. There's an omnyōji as well," she turns and steps away. "Unless you want to be exterminated, feel free to ignore my orders."

And she slids the shoji door shut.

Following her leave is a cacophony of groans and whines; much to their chagrin, the yokais start to clean up their mess. They may love partying but they love their lives—and mistress of course—more.

Natto Kozo groans childishly. "I didn't know M'lady is friends with an omnyōji."

Silence answer him. Finally, Kubinashi breaks the silence by saying, "Friends with an omnyōji?"

"WHAT!"

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Wakana Nura chuckles slightly at her daughter's distressed state. "If you keep pacing, you'll wear a hole in mat, dear."

Riku stops immediately, turning on her heel to face her mother with a pout on her face. "Mom—you know things will go awry if they find out!" The little princess makes a disgruntled tsk! when the bell rings, accompanied by a chorus of greeting from outside. "What I don't get," she mutters under her breath but still loud enough for Wakana to hear her. "is why Kiyotsugu always chose me to bug."

Wakana giggles, not at all helping her daughter. "Maybe he likes you." She said teasingly.

"Ew," Riku responds childishly, eliciting more giggles from her mother as they head out to greet the—unwelcome—guests. Wakana walks ahead, eager to meet her daughter's friends, not noticing how her daughter deliberately lag behind. Talking about crushes—however briefly—brings Riku's thoughts to Rikuo.

Listlessly, her fingers brush her lips; the memory of a pair of cold lips on her own taking her away from reality. Her heart thrums with the wish to see him again.

"Riku, what are you doing?"

Blushing, she shakes her head, sending short strands of her dark hair flying. She shoots her mother a glare when Wakana wiggles her eyebrows suggestively. She turns to her friends, ushering them towards the parlor.

"Right! Let's begin—" Kiyotsugu frowns briefly at being interrupted but the negative expression melts when he sees who's serving him tea.

"Whoa... Nura, we didn't know you had such a hot older sister!"

Kana blinks. "Riku doesn't have a sister."

Riku throws Shima a poisonous glare for blatantly ogling Kejoro—though if it's Kubinashi here, her classmate would've been dead the moment he's out of her sight. And Kejoro isn't even embarrassed, in fact, she seems flattered and happy. She stands, grabs her attendant's arm and drags her away.

"And for the record, Kejoro's a servant here! I don't have a sister!" Riku shouts out, exasperated, as she hauls Kejoro down the long hallway and into the kitchen where she ushers her in. She nearly screams in frustration when she sees that the yokais are walking around in the open. "Don't you know that my human friends are coming?"

"Oh? We didn't receive the notice."

"That's fine then," says Riku, sighing as she rubs her forehead to stall the oncoming headache. "Just—just don't come out. Pass the word around, hide. Don't show yourself, not even to stave your own curiosity."

And with that said, she leaves the kitchen. She drags herself, full of dread, back to the parlor. She opens her mouth to say something only for the words to die in her throat. No one is there where her friends are suppose to be.

"No!"

She's going to kill Kiyotsugu for instigating this.

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Yura Keikain is the real culprit actually but what Riku Nura doesn't know won't hurt her... the only one getting hurt is Kiyotsugu. The Keikain heiress looks around, the poker-face of hers not altering once. She pokes her head in every room, trying to discern where the yokais are hiding because the yoki here, in Nura Mansion, is just so powerful. She wonders how many yokais lurk here, cursing Nura and her family.

"Hm." Yura turns her head sharply, ignoring the chatters of her classmates coming from behind her. She gazes out at the courtyard; she thinks she hears some chatters there as well but...

"Yura, is something wrong?"

Yura shakes her head at Kana's question. "No, it's fine. Must be my imagination." Her eyes scan the courtyard greenery again but when she sense nothing else, she motions for the rest of the group to another part of the house. From the corner of her eyes, she sees Kana moving around with ease, with familiarity as if she's been here before.

"Kana... you're familiar with Nura, right?"

Said girl looks up, nodding and smiling—the latter action tinging with sadness as the courtyard fades from view. This time, Yura voices the question that Kana asked her earlier.

Kana looks sheepish now, rubbing the back of her head. "I remember when Riku and I are younger, we used to play here with her father, her mother watching from the sidelines and then there's this..." she frowns, brows creasing. "No... there's only the two of us."

"Why do you look so sad about a memory which is supposed to be happy?" Yura inquires curiously, silently wondering where Riku's father is and wonders is he nice or not; his wife is splendid though there's very little people in such a big house. And she wonders why Kana is sad, playing with her parents isn't something she's ever experienced. All they ever asked of her is to train and train to be a better omnyōji because she's a girl and she must be powerful enough to inherit the clan. Her fists clench at the thought of those sexist bastards.

"Well... Uncle Rihan has been dead for a few years now and ever since, Riku never invited me to her house anymore... I suppose it's too painful for her." Kana looks up at her and smiles, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. "But you guys cheer her up so much she's willing to let us in. Sometimes, Kiyotsugu's obsession with yokais can help a lot. I'm glad we have such friends."

Yura's eyes widen. "You think I'm a friend?"

"Of course!" Kana hesitates, biting her lip. "Or... you don't—"

"No!" Yura protests, reaching out to clasp Kana's hands. "Of course I want to be friends with you guys!"

All her life, Yura has been wishing for sincere friends. Those that want to be close to her because she's her, not because of her family's wealth or fame or power. These people here have never heard of Keikain, she hopes that they won't change even after they know of the Keikain clan.

Before Kana can answer though she looks positively happy, Kiyotsugu lets out a yell and throw open a random door. Yura blinks, sensing yoki omitting from inside and rushes to the doorway. She sees nothing and when her friends ask her what's wrong, she shrugs. "Nah... it's nothing."

"This place is blinking huge!" Shima remarks as they make another turn down a hallway—identical to the one they just left. "What if we're lost?"

"We already are," Yura says miserably. She sighs and there's that feeling again. Her head jerks up, looking high above at the ledge close to the ceiling. She frowns, moving on and silently wondering what was wrong with her sense today. It continue, this false yoki senses—like from behind the cupboard, near the stairs and when they reach the dining hall, a lone and stinking Natto Kozo on the plate. She looks around, sliding another shoji door open and she backs away.

The group of humans gawk at the man behind the door. Veins pop on his face belied his anger and he looks ready to yell at them but he suddenly coughs and hacks blood. Snarling, "Get lost!" he continues his coughing fit, leaving the humans not knowing that to think.

Stunned, Kiyotsugu slides the door shut in an unusually subdued manner.

They hurry down the hallway and darts into a room, ignoring the calls and angered shouts of 'Pathetic!' from the man they just left.

Shima sighs, rubbing the sweat borne of fear from his forehead. "Safe."

"This is even more creepy." Kana mutters, her eyes flitting along the numerous Buddha statues.

Yura hums in agreement, sensing particularly strong yokai presence—there's a great number of them in here, too much for them to hide. She grins, knowing that she's got the yokais lurking in this house cornered now. Her hand reaches out to touch the surface of one of the statues but a cough stops her from doing so.

She turns. "Huh?"

An old man stands, smiling cheerfully at them, at the doorway. His head protrudes backward in the shape of a gourd though it reminds Yura of a clump of large potatoes sticking together. Other than the odd head, he looks like any old man on the streets.

"Who're you?"

The old man chuckles. "I would advise against touching them. They're sacred to our religion."

"Oops. Sorry," Yura pulls her hand away quickly, drawing another smile from the old man.

"I'm Riku's grandfather," he says cheerily, starting to hand out candies to them. "Thank you for taking care of my granddaughter, she's always so clumsy and without—"

"Grandpa!" the door slams open loudly and in tumbles Riku Nura, her brown hair disheveled and amber eyes wide with alarm. "What are you doing here?"

"Ah, he's just giving us some candies!" Kiyotsugu replies. "Thanks, old man!"

"Hey!" snaps Riku as her grandfather skips away. "Don't be so rude to my grandfather!"

"Right," mutters Kiyotsugu, sounding and looking apologetic and guilty under the heavy glares of his friends. "Sorry..."

Riku huffs. "Why did you leave without telling me? You could've waited!"

"Hey, hey," Kiyotsugu backtracks when Riku turns on him. "It's not me! It was—"

"Rat!"

"Yokai!"

The two different outburst draw the attention of the rest. Riku inhales sharply, she's given specific orders not to show themselves. What on earth is that yokai thinking? She rushes forward but Yura thrust out and arm before her, stopping her in her tracks. She's thinking of ducking out of the way when Kana screams again and clings onto her.

"Kana—what's wrong?" The hyperventilating girl doesn't reply, pointing fearfully to a corner of the Buddha statue. "Huh—oh." Relief seizes Riku's body because the rat yokai is unrecognizable and does not belong to her clan so Yura can exterminate it and hopefully clear her suspicion of Riku's house.

"I can't stand rats!"

"Right, it's gone now. Yura chased it away." Riku mutters, wriggling out of Kana's hold and pushing her onto Kiyotsugu, allowing the taller boy to console their mutual friend. She runs after Yura who's chasing after the fleeing rat yokai, calling out, "Wait!" Dimly, she registers Tsurara and Aotabo's presence following her and the omnyōji.

Riku halts, suddenly interested and alarmed all the same when Yura, from her puse, draws out some paper charms.

"What are—" she starts to ask but Tsurara cuts in, fear and wariness lacing her voice.

"Shikigami. Paper charms and main weapons of omnyōjis."

"Thankfully, that yokai isn't from our clan." Aotabo remarks as Yura throws her shikigami and exterminates the rat, which disintegrates into ashes.

"Are you okay?" Riku blinks, suddenly realizing that the Yuki Onna and Aotabo has already disappeared the moment Yura's attention turn towards her.

"Um... yeah," the Nura answers, smiling lop-sidedly. "Is that..."

"Really a yokai?" Yura continues, blinking coolly. Riku nods. "Yes. Your house is full of them—" Riku winces and she hopes Yura doesn't notice—"are you really okay? If you want, I can exterminate them all—"

"Wargh!" Riku blanches, coughing to cover her distressed outburst. "No, no, it's okay. I'm used to it and they don't bother us anyway. Mom's family had been cursed for years so it's pretty normal for us!"

Yura blinks slowly, trying to process the information that a human doesn't mind living under the same roof as a yokai. But, finally, she smiles. "If they're bothering you, I'll kill them all!" All that said in a cheerful tone and an excited gleam in her eyes sent a shiver down Riku's spine but she smiles anyway.

Riku—accompanied by Wakana and Tsurara and Aotabo and Kejoro—waves her friend off, seeing them waving back and happy, she smiles. Her hand falls back to her side after the group of completely normal humans leave her sight. She sighs in relief, clasping a hand to her heart dramatically. "Thank goodness nothing bad happen today."

Aotabo glances at his mistress, baffled that she could think so. "Did M'lady forget about the rat yokai? It's not a friendly yokai, ya know?"

Riku looks to the side. "Let's just forget about it."

"Yeah."

But apparently, they cannot forget about it. The moment they re-enter their own home, a group of small yokais carrying bandages—some of the small yokais are rolling it to make it move as they are too small to move it—and some larger ones carrying tubs of water nearly run into them. Disheveled apologies are thrown towards them before they disappear down a hallway.

Riku blinks in concern, recalling a particular tub filled with crimson liquid and scented of blood. "What happened?" she asks, snagging the collar of a yokai and inquiring.

"M'lady!" the small yokai greets, bowing and nearly dropping the roll of bandages she's carrying. "I—Is there something you need, M'lady?"

Riku studies the humanoid yokai close, noting that she's never seen a yokai with the form of a young girl before—the blue hair and eyes are hard to miss after all. "You're new, right?" she surmises since the familiar yokais never stutter around her.

The young yokai blushes, nodding.

"The problem in the house?" Riku prompts.

"Ah, r-right!" the yokai stutters, as if she's afraid Riku will smite her to bits. "S-sir Ryota-Neko f-from t-the Bakeneko clan c-came by an h-hour ago, when M'lady is e-entertaining h-her friends." The girl gulps once more, the pink on her face deepning into a crimson shade. "H-He's injured—um, very badly I – I think—and h-he collapsed in f-front of the h-house—"

"What? Who attacked him...um... who are you?"

"I – I'm Zashiki Warashi, M'lady. A – and—I'm sorry!—I don't know. I'm a newbie, the higher-ups won't trust me with such information." Zashiki Warashi looks mortified to be saying such things as she excused herself and flees from the trio of 'higher-ups'.

"Odd kids," Aotabo grunts. "Won't be able to do much in battle though."

"Who cares," Tsurara says. "I have to go help tend to the wounded!"

"Right, I have to go up our defenses as well and make sure no other territories of ours are stolen," Aotabo raises a hand and waves at Riku in parting as he leaves. "Don't leave the Nura mansion, M'laday!"

"Okay..." says Riku to the empty air before she turns and makes her way back to her room. She wanders in, sliding the door shut and opening the door to the courtyard instead where she can enjoy the scent and sight of the cherry blossom tree in the Nura estate. Just as she settles down, a small gray rat, wearing a yukata scurries towards her from the shadows; she stiffens in alarm.

"You... who are you?" Riku asks, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

The rat yokai, a messenger from the looks of it, bows in respect but that doesn't lower Riku's guard. His eyes dart around wildly, as if searching for a threat—which Riku thinks is ridiculous because, messenger or not, he's in enemy territory. "I bring a message from Master Kyuso, Lady Riku."

"Talk, rat."

" 'We have your human friends. If you wish to save them, give up your rights to be Third Heir of the Nura Clan or I'll kill them.' Please write a letter, M'lady; you can have me send it to Master Kyuso or you can deliver it personally."

Riku would've snap at the rat if not for the trembles on the small frame. Her eyes soften, knowing that he's merely a messanger and she can't take out her anger on him. She takes in a deep breath, silently wondering what should she do. She doesn't have to ponder long because at the moment, the door to her room slides open, revealing her grandfather in all his glory and his own personal attendant, Karasu-Tengu.

The rat yokai squeaks and Karasu-Tengu lunges for him.

"Wait!" yells Riku, snatching the crow yokai from the air and stepping on the rat's tail to prevent him from leaving. "He's just a messenger—he means no harm!"

Karasu-Tengu pulls back, disbelief on his face. "You're too trusting, Lady Riku!"

Said girl sighs. "I know," she admits, shoulders slumping as she heads to her desk and rummages around for writing utensils.

Karasu-Tengu who has heard the message from Kyuso through the rat yelps in alarm. "M'lady, what are you doing! You can't be serious about writing your resignation later! Don't listen to his bullshit! How do you even know they're caught!"

Wordlessly, Riku jabs a finger at the piece of cloth draped over the rat's back, drawing Nurarihyon's and his attendant's attention to it, finally noticing that it's not a yukata but a handkerchief and it has the smell of the human friend of Riku's.

"I can smell Kana's scent there, the tiniest drop of her blood."

"That's great—!"

"What?" Riku whirls on Karasu-Tengu, fury in her eyes as she slams her fist on the table. "I knew something like this will happen someday—it'll increase and get more dangerous if I ever inherit the title. I hate this, I hate being related to a yokai family!"

"Lady Riku! How could you! Do you hate us that much!" Karasu-Tengu yells in aghast. He turns to Nurarihyon who has been silent all the while, tears in his eyes. "Master, tell her that she's being stupid!"

"Whatever you do, Riku, see it through the end." Nurarihyon says before he departs, still blowing puffs of smoke into the air with his pipe. The crow yokai gapes at him then at Riku before he flies after his master.

Riku's fists remain clench on the table.

"They're mistaken, aren't they?" Riku sniffles, wiping the tears from her eyes and turning to the rat yokai who's gazing at her in sympathy. "I never wanted to do this to you but Master Kyuso is holding my family hostage—please understand, Lady Riku, I have children and a mate, I can't endanger them. Either you come with me or you can give me the letter or... or..."

"Let your family die?" Riku continues miserably. "You don't have to worry, I'll deliver the message myself. You just have to wait long enough to guide me to where Kyuso-stupid is—"

"—or we can fight back, defeat them and everyone wins. Well... except them of course but still..."

She stills.

The rat yokai leans closer. "Lady Riku, the only reason Master Kyuso's doing this is because he fears you—he may not admit it or it's just at a subconscious level, but he's scared of you. You have your yokai side to fight for you, he fears that you'll lead the Hyakki Yako someday and—"

"It's not him, is it?" Riku's frowning now, mind whirling as possibilities swirl in her mind. "He's being controlled by someone else... a traitor, here... among the ranks..."

"M'lady!" she looks down. "I'll go stall, please, I don't want you to lose so please—come and bring your army of a hundred."

"I don't—" she starts to say but the rat's already gone. She gapes at the empty spot he's just been; did the rat realize he's just left her with the task of saving him and his family plus her friends? She stands, abruptly, and runs down the hallway and into another one before she reaches the room where Ryota-Neko rests. As she's expected, the people she wants to see is there—not entirely though, the other people she wants to see is her father and her yokai self and neither are present in her sight.

"Kubinashi, Kejoro, Tsurara, Aotabo, Kappa, Kurotabo—lend me your fear."

The aforementioned yokais gape at her but she sees the light and hope shining in their eyes. Ryota-Neko's looking at her too, his mouth ajar but he quickly gathers his wits once he realize what she's meaning to say.

"Wait, Lady Riku—I want to come too!" the cat yokai struggles to stand but he staggers and would've fallen had Kubinashi not catch him. "I have to get him back, for the honor of my clan and for my clansmen and myself!"

Riku hesitates, unsure if bringing an injured person to the battlefield is wise. But her heart throbs harder and faster, the burning sensation flooding her body; she inhales sharply, staggering to the cherry blossom because he's holding out his hand to her and he's just there.

"Don't worry, I'll deal with it from here. Sweet dreams... Riku."

Rikuo rises to his full height, ignoring the awed looks on his attendants' face, smirking as he rests his blade on his shoulder.

"Come on, we'll be hunting rats till dawn."

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Yura Keikain has to add this event to the list of Times Yura Keikain Is A Loser. Now, she's mentally berating herself for letting her guard down and if she has no need to stay conscious so she can protect her friend, she would've been hitting her head on the metal bars of her prison-cage till she passes out from blood loss. Heck, she'd even let Ryuuji bully her till she cried if that means she can remedy this mistake. Her arrogance and overconfidence that has them in this sorry situation; and Kana's whimpers aren't helping her guilty conscience.

She shifts back, her arms shielding Kana protectively, and glares at one of the rat yokais—hideous creatures, really, with the head of a rat and body of a furry man.

"Hey, boss," one of them says. "That brat of Nurarihyon's isn't coming. Why don't you just let us have our way with these girls?" At the end of his sentence, he leers suggestively at Yura and Kana, eliciting a tiny shriek from the latter.

"Stay away! I'm warning you!" Yura snarls though she knows she can'r do anything because without her shikigamis she is as weak as an average human. She squeezes her eyes shut and for the sake of Kana, starts to beg mentally for someone to save them.

Just as one of the rat yokais hand reach out to snag Kana's shirt, the wall next to them crumbles. Yura's eyes snap open, hungrily taking in the sight before her. Bizzare and terrifying, the hundred new yokais' eyes glow crimson; Kyuso and his stinking rats definitely have the right to be trembling in fear. The Keikain's eyes widen, she's only heard it from stories but this must be it... her eyes search the crowd of gathered yokais, immediately recognizing the protruding spiky hair amongs the yokais.

The stupid rats scramble back the moment they realize this. However, even more idiotic than his minions is Kyuso himself seeing as he narrows his eyes and actually dares to step forward, challenging the seemingly stronger-looking yokais (all of different sizes and species).

"Who are you lackeys and what do you think you're doing? Who ordered you to mobilize the Hyakki Yako? I demanded Nura Riku here to retract her claim as heir, not you—"

"And I am here."

As Yura suspected, the boy with protruding hair is the leader. His crimson eyes are inhuman and cold, glinting with cruel amusement. But they soften the moment they land on a particularly small and normal looking rat yokai. He scoops up the rat, gently ruffling the fur. "You did good," he murmurs, his voice cutting through the silent air.

Kysuo snarls. "So you're conspiring with them, Gin?"

The rat yokai—apparently a traitor—in the hands of the Nurarihyon flinches but say nothing against the accusation. The leader of the Hyakki Yako pats the head of the rat, Gin, once before he passes the wounded rat to one of his comrades.

He assesses the situation with calm crimson eyes, then he points the tip of his blade at Kysuo. "Slaughter them all."

And with that said, the bloodbath starts.

Kana screams in fear—being the only human amongst them that has no experience with yokais—and recoils, covering her eyes and sobbing, at the gruesome scene before her. Yura instantly wraps her arms around the girl, trying to find a way out of the cage amidst the slaughterhouse but she needn't to. She jolts when the gigantic yokai she heard someone called Aotabo grasps the metal bars in both fists before pulling them apart—large enough for both girls to crawl through—as if they're made of jelly.

Her jaw drops. "W... why are you, yokais, helping us humans?"

The giant yokai grunts, flexing his muscles. "Because, omnyōji, I do not harm children." And he's gone, punching rat yokais left and right.

"U – um, miss human?" Yura turns and her gaze lands on a young yokai girl. "P-please leave now. O-or y-you'll be i-in d-d-danger."

"What about you?" It is not in Yura's nature to care about humans but this yokai looks just so damn like a pre-school child.

"I – I tend to the wounded." The child smiles. "Y – you don't have t-to w-worry a-about me, miss human." And like the yokai before her did, she disappears.

Yura would've liked to exterminate yokai but... she has Kana to take care of. She steals one last glance at the Nurarihyon leading them and notices that he is standing calmly, not raising his sword or doing anything in battle, merely focusing on drinking his sake.

She takes Kana by the hand and starts pulling her away from the fray, punching a yokai out of the way and is about to make a mad dash for the large hole in the wall (courtesy of the Hyakki Yako) when an unearthly howl of rage fills the room.

She turns, bowing to her curiosity's will, and she nearly gasps as Kyuso mutates; growing larger and larger, more fur on his back and uglier than before. A cat yokai lunge at him, making scratches on his face a few times before being swatted away by Kyuso himself. It's laughable for a rat to defeat a cat but this is the world of the yokai, not the world compromised of science and reality where cats always defeat the rats.

Then, much to Yura's surprise since she can't believe he's that stupid, Kyuso turns on the Nurarihyon who's still calmly sipping his sake. Kyuso roars trimuphantly as if he's already won even though he hasn't even made a move. Just as she thinks that, the rat yokai lunges for the smaller yokai. The Nurarihyon merely smirks, holding up the saucer to his lips as if he's going to continue drinking. But to everyone's surprise—judging by the chorus of gasps, Yura included—he purses his lips and blows gently.

The gentle breeze from his lips births demonic flames in the form of liquid. The blue flames surround Kyuso who hasn't even a chance to lift his claws against the Nurarihyon. Even from the distance and the sounds of battle, Yura can tell what he's saying because she's quite the avid lip-reader.

"Secret Technique: Soul Mirror, Deadly Water—Cherry Blossoms." A long and a pain in the ass to say but somehow, when the yokai says that, he sounds never-endingly cool; something Yura is sure she'll never be able to pull off. "Flames produced that will never quells until either the ripples quell or the opponent turn into ashes—which you will be in a few more seconds." A dark chuckle falls from his lips. "You might have stood a chance had you not come after me. I wasn't planning on interfering at all but since you initiated the attack..." he shrugs helplessly as he watches the yokai burns. "...I can't let you leave a scar or anything marring this body... because I'm just so-o-o precious."

He giggled at the end there, Yura swear she hears him does so. Her jaw drops and so did the yokais surrounding their master. No one pays much attention to what Kyuso's howling and Yura doesn't understand a word of it... he wants more freedom, as if he's chained and is a slave to someone's will.

She shoots the Nurarihyon one last look, promising herself that someday, she's going to hunt him down.

From across the distance, he looks her in the eye and smirks: challenge accepted.

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"Master Rikuo?"

Rikuo stares at the silhouette of the girls before he turns to acknowledge Tsurara's call. "Hm?"

"Ah," the Yuki Onna blushes prettily—that, Rikuo can admit; but in his mind surfaced the face of another girl, blushing furiously, face the shade of the petals from the cherry blossoms he loves so much. "Nothing, shall we head home now?"

"Yeah..."

The mist lifts, the sun shining down on them. But Rikuo's stubborn, he holds on, clings on long enough until he reaches the Nura mansion before he allows himself to retreat into his subconsciousness.

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A/N

The longest chapter I've ever wrote so I'm not going to say much here. Just... review...