"This is the place, ne?" Yusuke commented. "Feh, another cave?! How come we always somehow manage to end up in fighting a place like this?" Yusuke sighed in mock-exasperation.
"It's not so bad," I remarked idly. "I've fought in worse places." I scowled, remembering some of the situations I've gotten myself into as Youko Kurama. Well, I suppose I can at least say that I've truly led an interesting life.
"Hn," Hiei stated with an enigmatic smirk, eyeing the cave entrance with interest. "Well, do you all intend to stand around and wait or all day?" He glanced at me with a smug expression. "And I thought you of all people were eager to face this youkai and get revenge for your precious Kashiesa."
"Hai, hai," I said resignedly. Then I squared my shoulders as I peered into the darkness ahead. "Iku so!"
We all stepped past the cave entrance, and immediately we found ourselves enclosed in a shroud of nothingness. I glanced back and found that we were suspended in inky blackness, with pale green tendrils swirling around us and occasionally brushing us with cold, damp tendrils. I repressed the urge to shiver as I felt fear tug into my soul. This environment has got to be part of Yatsuke's plan to unnerve us. Well, it's not going to work, Dark Mage.
"Where are we going?" Kuwabara grumped beside me. He peered around and clenched his fists after the search revealed more emptiness and held no clues regarding Yatsuke's whereabouts. "Kuso…that how do we find that bastard?!"
I produced the Dagger from my belt and closed my eyes, feeling my soul commune with that of Kashiesa. It was an odd, distant feeling, and yet her soothing hum echoed comfortingly in my head. Kashiesa…this is the work of dark magic. Where can we find Yatsuke? Can you lead us to him?
Kurama…listen…he's here…I can sense him…he's just ahead… Kashiesa's voice was firm yet strangely troubled. He masks his ki rather well…just like you do.
How do I get him to reveal himself then? This eerie sense of being watched isn't helping any.
A flash of silver in the night dispels the dark and brings forth the light. Her voice sounded soft, melodic, and somewhat playful.
What's that supposed to mean? I can sense from our faint link that she seemed to be smiling and pleased with herself.
I think you have an idea how, Kurama. Dewa, ja mata… With a faint sigh, the link was gone.
"If you're through being your usual charming self," Hiei stated acidly, "I suggest you share with us just what the siren told you, Kurama."
I glanced at him and nodded. Then I concentrated and willed my youko half to surface. I felt my youki growing stronger as I sensed my clothes alter and my body shift. Within moments I knew I had become Youko Kurama, and my tail twitched slightly in amused delight. Somehow, I feel different as a kitsune, after all these years learning to be human. But I suppose it's time for the fox to hunt.
"Eh, Kurama?" Kuwabara stared at me with a startled expression. "Youko's back?"
"For the time being," I replied softly. Then I cast my eyes ahead into the gloom, noting that my senses were extremely heightened in this form. My sight raked through the tunnel ahead, until I spotted a faint figure in dark robes meet my gaze coolly with pale, vehement eyes. I acknowledged the contact by stepping forward and walking toward him, unmindful of my companions' surprise. I can sense Yusuke, Kuwabara and Hiei stride after me, but I cast my thoughts directly on the Youkai Mage. Yatsuke, I sent the mental message out. At last we meet.
You still have not lost your skill, youkai thief. I sensed the grim satisfaction and malice in his reply. Though I doubt the outcome of this meeting will be in your favor.
We haven't decided that yet, have we? I continued my approach, even as the outline of his figure slowly became visible to Yusuke and the others. I could make out his long-sleeved crimson robes belted at the waist, from which hung a scabbard and a sword with a red-black stone in the pommel. The Youkai Mage stood with indolent ease and arrogance, and his smile revealed a set of sharp, needle-like teeth glistening in the faint light of the chamber.
"So you all finally arrived," Yatsuke stated as his eyes glanced at each of us in assessment. "It took you long enough to find me, Kurama, though I suppose no person would rush to his doom."
"You have rushed to yours by taunting me long enough," I replied coolly. I held the Dagger in my grip and tested the edge with my thumb. My eyes lingered on the sword belted to his waist. "You will fight us here alone?"
"Ah, but I am not alone, Youko Kurama," Yatsuke said with a smirk. He drew the sword from its sheath with a steely hiss. Immediately, I found myself assailed by a continuous barrage of angry mutters resonating inside my head -- whispers that spoke of pure hate and the vicious promise of death. "As you may already have discerned, this is the Sword of Night. And after I have killed you, the legendary Makai thief, your blood rusting on its blade will enable me merge your power with mine.
"Ah, yes, Kurama. I will gain power enough to become supreme over Makai's domains. And I will obliterate any pretender to the Makai throne. Then I will rein supreme, and you will be nothing more than an unpleasant memory."
"Baka!" Yusuke cried, stepping from behind to stand beside me. "Don't count Kurama as dead yet! You'll do the dying here."
"Feh, insolent ningen," Yatsuke said, giving Yusuke a baleful glance. "Though you are more than you seem, you do not have enough power to stop me -- all of you!"
"I have heard enough of idle threats," Hiei muttered darkly, sweeping his cloak from his shoulders and dropping into a fighting crouch, his hand on his katana. "Time to see if you can back them up."
Without warning, Hiei sprang forward with surprising speed, drawing his blade and sweeping downward straight for Yatsuke's head. Yatsuke brought the Sword of Night in front of him in defense, and as their blades clashed, black lightning emanated from the Sword and struck at Hiei. I saw Hiei's form flung into an unseen barrier twenty feet from where the steel had clashed. He slammed into the barrier with surprising force, and he felt limply to what passed for a floor in the blackness. He moaned but did not get up.
"Hiei!" I exclaimed, even as my eyes slanted in fury. I gripped the Dagger firmly and rushed forward, even as I formed a sword of thorns in my other hand. "Teme, Yatsuke!"
"Rei Ken!" Kuwabara formed his spirit sword as he sprung from the right and began running toward Yatsuke as well. I could sense Yusuke's approach from the left even as I prepared myself to meet the Mage head-on. This will be my time of reckoning, Yatsuke. I cannot live with Kuronue's and Kashiesa's memory if I allow your dark schemes to pervade in Makai.
Yatsuke kept his gaze locked with mine, even as I leapt into the air and thrust with my thorn sword, aiming for his heart. He deflected the plant blade even as the thorn blade snapped, the tendrils burned by the Sword of Night's power. Then I immediately slashed with the Dagger, managing to nick his arm before he deflected the blow. The Dagger did not snap, even as a I felt an overwhelming force directed at it, the Sword of Night's black blade sparkling with black lightning. I saw Yatsuke's face break into a slow smile as I sensed the Dagger's blade begin to crack, as the once-smooth silver blade seemed to melt against the Sword's dark fury.
"It is over for your precious siren, Youko Kurama," Yatsuke intoned. "Yet I will allow you to join her in death's damnation."
Kashiesa! I began to feel despair. I could sense Yusuke's approach and his building reiki, concentrated on his fingertip. Likewise, Kuwabara was almost on top of Yatsuke with his reiken. Hold a while! We will defeat him yet.
Kashiesa's silvery eyes gleamed as she witnessed the battle unfolding before her, the mists parting from her soft, melodious voice. She still shared a soul-link with Kurama, and had witnessed his transformation into Youko and the subsequent increase in his youki. He seemed calmer as Youko, less excitable but infinitely more dangerous. If the situation had not been so grim, she would have loved to meet him in that form -- the legendary thief with an ambiguous past, both respected and feared in Makai. She had heard of his reputation for being cunning, calculating, cruel and infinitely deadly. And now, all his skills were being put to the test against the Youkai Mage.
The siren felt her spirit go numb as the Dagger clashed with the Sword, and she felt the full strength of the power embodied within the Sword of Night. She felt the temperature in her confinement world begin to rise as dark flashes of light began to appear and dissolved the tendrils of mists that she manipulated to enshroud and protect her. The black lightning drew closer, and Kashiesa repressed a shiver as she felt a low, angry murmur fill her ears.
That voice…sounds so familiar…yet utterly different. As if I had heard it in the past, but it had never borne that tone of bitterness, of animosity…
Kashiesa used the last of the mists to form a shroud-shield as she projected her thoughts amidst the crackling of dark energy that threatened to dissolve her world, even as she sought to conceal her presence from the entity within the Sword. The weapon is sentient because it feeds on a soul trapped within its depths, and corrupts that soul so that it projects only evil youki. She grimly pressed on amidst the heat she had begun to engulf her. Damn, it controls fire! I have to get close enough without getting my soul incinerated in the process!
The siren felt a small thrill sweep through her as she sensed the core of the heat blasts. There, just off to the left, a gleaming ball of red energy that pulses with sentient thought. She recalled the calming song-spells that had been thought to her as a child. She began to sing in her clear, bell-like voice, conveying confidence and peace. There can be no alternative -- I have to face the soul that powers the Sword. And it is only a question if I can tame the soul, or if it consumes me.
The energy ball pulsed, and Kashiesa could sense the surprise and hesitation in the being. Somehow, she felt pity as she realized that this soul had been unwittingly trapped into the Sword's confinements, perhaps while trying to master the weapon's power. She shifted her tune to a soul-searching spell, and found that the malice emanating from the soul was not its own. The Sword is superimposing on the will of the soul to force it to feel hate and battle-hunger. Finally, the siren lowered her voice and sang a song of invitation. Come and reveal yourself to me…I can help you unbind the chains of malevolence…
The red energy core seemed to contract, then shrink. At last, after a short burst of flame, a figure began to form before Kashiesa's eyes. Kashiesa gasped as the figure turned to face her with hollow, unfocused eyes. The figure was dressed in red robes belted by a short, dark cloth at the waist. The man's unruly brown-red hair fell to shoulder-length, with dark, angular figures and a thin-lipped mouth that seemed curved into a perpetual sneer. But though the face bore a somewhat distorted expression, Kashiesa had no doubt whose soul she was facing, who for so long had fuelled the dark hunger of Yatsuke's ambitions. For she had loved him even after he had left, and had always wished for his return.
"Ryunuen," Kashiesa intoned softly. "masaka…demo -- it is you…oniichan."
I heard Yusuke's cry even before I sensed the release of an enormous amount of reiki, aimed at Yatsuke's back. The Mage frowned in annoyance even as he swung the Sword around and used the momentum to send me skidding away. He was just in time to raise the Sword of Night and use it to block Yusuke's attack. Yusuke's reiki hit the Sword with stunning force, and Yatsuke was pushed a few feet back, the stones beneath his boots cracking at the force of the attack. The reigun hit the Sword squarely but parted harmless when it splattered against the dark blade. Then Yatsuke began to glow as he intoned words from an ancient Makai language. He swept the Sword in an arc as he did so, and a huge wave of energy formed in a curved arc and hurtled toward Yusuke. Yusuke cursed as he sidestepped the blast, but not before the tail end of the energy arc cut into his shoulder like a razor-sharp blade. I saw Yusuke fall with blood spurting from the wound even as he gripped his shoulder tightly and struggled to rise.
Just then, Kuwabara reached Yatsuke, and he immediately brought his reiken to bear. The spirit sword clashed with the dark sword, and a the weapons seemed to smolder in the hands of the combatants. Kuwabara was using brute strength to try to overpower Yatsuke, and while the Mage was slowly being pushed back, I could sense it couldn't last for long. Yatsuke was still burning with mystical youki, and it might not be long before he summoned his magic to dispose of Kuwabara. My orange-haired friend's success was due to one thing -- Yatsuke, who had before seemed relaxed yet completely focused, was now tense and even slightly nervous.
The Dagger trembled in my hands, and I could feel Kashiesa's shock and confusion through the soul-link. Whatever she had encountered in her world must have somehow unnerved her, for I knew her to be typically composed and unfazed. I frowned as I realized that Yatsuke's temporary confusion must somehow be tied to whatever Kashiesa was experiencing at the moment. I smiled grimly as I silently thanked Kashiesa for the momentary diversion. It gave me enough time to execute my final, desperate plan.
I leapt into the air, Dagger in hand, straight for Yatsuke. I saw him turn at my approach, trying to dislodge the persistent Kuwabara. I saw disbelief in his eyes as I cast my thoughts into the void that separated me from my siren. Forgive me, koibito…I only pray that we may meet each other again… But I have promised that Yatsuke's blood will rust on this Dagger's blade for which you have sacrificed much. I cast my remaining youki into the Dagger, as I grasped the Sword of Night even as Yatsuke thrust the blade at me. I gave him a smug smile as I plunged the sword into my body, making sure that the blade was trapped to the hilt, rendering the Mage momentarily immobile. With my remaining strength, I plunged the Dagger directly into the Youkai Mage's heart, and I could hear him gasp and he staggered backward, disbelieving fingers grasping the Dagger's hilt protruding from his chest. He sank to his knees even as I saw his eyes widen in alarm as the plant poison I had placed on the Dagger's blade began to take effect.
"H-how…how could you…?" Yatsuke muttered, his voice sounding harsh and pained.
"I owed your death to Kuronue and Kashiesa," I replied quietly, grasping the Sword's hilt and pulling it free from my body, ignoring the burns in my hand as I did so. I sank wearily to the floor, the flow of blood quickly draining my strength. "The price of my life is something I have been willing to pay for them all along."
"Feh, how noble," the Mage stated darkly. He eyed me with a mad glint in his eye. "In the end though, we are the same…we will both go into the abyss at the same time in death."
"No," I said coldly, grasping the wound in my belly and sensing that the foundation I had laid was almost complete. "The poison I placed in the blade will paralyze you but keep you alive long enough--
"Long enough that for you to bring into damnation memories of Youko Kurama's revenge."
Yatsuke frowned as was about to reply when I used my youki to wake the seed trapped within his heart. Yatsuke froze as twigs began to burst from his body, until he resembled a gnarled, twisted tree with his head set atop at a grotesque angle. The youkai mage croaked, then began to scream - a shrill, morose sound that spoke of an eternity of loneliness and hate. In the midst of this destruction, I laughed, aware that Yatsuke was seeing random images from his life -- those that he had most wanted to hide deep within his soul, never to acknowledge to himself again. Such was the Tree of Hallucination's effect, I knew. I had wanted Yatsuke to live with his guilt before he finally perished from the poison running through the mage's veins.
"Death is too good for you, really," I muttered, sinking to my knees in a puddle of blood I knew to be my own. I smiled smugly as the tortured screams grew fainter, until the mage finally hung his head, his haunted eyes staring ahead with a blank, unseeing expression, the Dagger's shining hilt still protruding ostensibly from his chest. "But I will not risk having your presence disrupt anyone's life further. To your eternal damnation, then, so that other spirits may find rest with your death.
"Kashiesa, koibito, remember me…"
A figure emerged from the swirling flames that was the power of the Sword of Night. Kashiesa's heart leapt at the sight of her brother, though his grim face was twisted in an expression of perpetual regret and hate. A fire sword formed in his hand, and Kashiesa leapt back as he launched himself forward, barely able to dodge the searing weapon. He continued his relentless attacks, and the siren was hard-pressed to defend herself, avoiding his attacks. She felt hot tears stain her cheeks as she faced her brother in combat. She stared into his eyes, dark unreadable pools filled only with mystery and fire.
"Oniichan! Matte yo!" she pleaded, standing defiantly in front of him even as Ryunuen raised the fire sword over her head and prepared to strike her. "You must remember! You have sworn to be with me always, brother! Always!"
"I do not know you," Ryunuen stated coldly, in contrast to the fierce heat emanating from his weapon. "Yet you have challenged me, so I must kill you."
"You will remember," Kashiesa countered, her silver eyes blazing. "I will make you remember."
And she sang. She sang as she had when they were young, her voice filled with love and longing. She sang of green meadows where he had once hoisted her onto his shoulders even as they raced wildly through the hills. She sang of rippling water as he had once taken her boating over sparkling water while the cool summer breeze had wafted by. She sang of falling leaves as they had taken many walks through forest glades in the fall. And she sang of warm evenings beside a roaring fire when he would tell her stories beneath the moonlight and hold her close. She felt him wavering, as the hate drained from his eyes and the fire sword vanished from his hand. He stared at her incredulously even as exultation filled her heart.
His eyes softened in remembrance, his eyes taking on a confused and yet fond expression. Heedless of the heat, Kashiesa rushed to his side and flung her arms around him, embracing him tightly. After a while, Kashiesa felt his arms go around her even as sank to her knees, exhausted by her effort to evoke the love within his soul. Yet she could take comfort in knowing that she has succeeded.
"How did you manage to find me?" Ryunuen intoned brokenly. "I have been trapped in this prison so long, thinking of nothing but blood and death, a pawn to the Sword and Yatsuke. And I am so sorry I have left, Kashiesa. I so wanted to see you again…"
"I have searched for you for a long time, oniichan," Kashiesa replied. "I wanted to find the Dagger, for I knew you were tied to it somehow. And I have found it through Kurama's help, and I have given up my soul for its power. But still I did not find you."
"Kurama?" Ryunuen pulled away slightly, peeking into the Kashiesa's face and frowning at her delighted smile. "The Youko Kurama? I have heard of this cunning, deadly thief. Surely he did not hurt you nor abuse you?!"
"Of course not," Kashiesa laughed at his upset tone. He broke free from their embrace, twirling around almost girlishly and blushing slightly. Ryunuen was reminded of the sweet, innocent child his sister had been so long ago. "He has helped me find you, and he battles Yatsuke that I may have the chance to find the source of the Sword's power and destroy it."
"And why would he help you?" Ryunuen countered. "In all that I have heard of him, he has never done a favor for anyone without getting something in return. That is what has made him a dangerous mercenary thief."
"Because," Kashiesa stated, laughing, "he is in-love with me. And I love him in return, Ryunuen." She smiled at him comfortingly as she softly touched his cheek. "He has given up much for me, and would give up more still if I allow him to. I want us to be together…but if that cannot be the case, then I want him to live. To continue to live out his human life with his friends and family."
"Wakarimashita," Ryunuen nodded. He retreated back into the flames, and the red core ignited as his soul merged with the Sword's power core. "I have disappointed you too often in the past. Now you shall have your wish." Ryunuen smiled sadly, though Kashiesa saw the love and affection behind it. She reached out to touch him, but a searing wall of flame erupted in front of her, throwing her back.
"Go, imotou! Retreat back into the mists! I will destroy the Sword -- I must. You have traded your life for this Kurama. And I shall willingly trade my life for you."
"Aishiteru, Kashiesa. Soshite…sayonara…"
Kashiesa was aware that her soul was flying, soaring to music that was not her creation. She felt the heat and flames recede even as the comforting warmth of the mists enveloped her and shielded her from fiery explosions emanating from the Sword of Night's glowing red core. She was dimly aware that she was crying, that she was losing her brother again, so soon after she had finally found him. Yet some force drew her away, sending her soaring deep into the mists until her sight had been obscured by perpetual swirls of ghostly white fingers.
Why must it end like this, oniichan? Why did we both have to be victims of a youkai mage's quest for power? I so wanted to find you, to once again go boating with you as we had done in our youth. But it was all not to be…
She was suddenly dimly aware of a tug pulling her deeper into the mists, even as she realized that she was being pulled with insistence through her soul-link with Kurama. Yet with each tug the link was growing weaker, and she could sense that he was suffering. She was aware of the warmth behind his thoughts, of the affection that lay within their silent bond. But he was slipping away, and in her heart she felt him bidding her a final farewell. Her sadness was replaced with a sense of panic, even as she projected her thoughts and love through the link that bound them together.
I have lost my brother just now, Kurama. I will not lose you too, koibito. Please hang on!
Part IX complete! Nothing left but to complete the epilogue.J
Before any Hiei-Kurama fans flame me, this fanfic is a "what-if" based on a discussion I had with a friend about what it would be like if Kurama was somehow attached to a girl. This is a non-yaoi fanfic, at least for the moment. For any comments, suggestions, and (heck) even flames, justmail to ryquest! I'd appreciate any feedback I can get about the fanfics. Ja ne!
Yu Yu Hakusho is a copyright of Yoshihiro Togashi / Shue Isha Fuji TV, Studio Pierrot. This fanfic is for non-commercial, entertainment purposes only.