KEEPER OF TRUTH
Shadows dwell in a night of flames,
Where blackness shrouds, and dark prevails.
Silent eyes keep in their vigil true,
A stealthy fox in a world of lies
Watches, waits, where the shadows shy.
The ground rumbles and groans, as a lone watcher clad in white scan the horizon, bright brown eyes sparkling with interest. He does not mind the tremors around him, but focuses instead on the roiling blue waters of the sea that lies ahead. He shifts his feet in eagerness, yet even that simple gesture is made with a profound grace that other youkai would envy. He wills himself to stillness, knowing that he may well be watched in the treacherous world of Makai. His silvery hair flows with the breeze, glinting reddish-gold in the late afternoon sun. Soon, night descends, and his journey begins.
Soon, the last rays of Makai's sun fades, and the slender figure of the watcher begins his treacherous descent from the jutting cliff into the sea below. The task will not prove to be an easy one, for the ground is slippery and still shakes with the aftershocks from past tremors. Yet the figure climbs down with ease, for he is Youko Kurama -- graceful and deadly, sure-footed and swift. Today he is alone, for he dares not take anyone on this journey. No, he amends his thought silently, he dares not trust anyone. For he is about to seek life in a realm of death.
He reaches the bottom of the cliff where the waters pound on the rocks incessantly, as if attempting to break free of all boundaries to sweep into the vastness of the realm of Makai. Kurama stands at the edge where the shore ends, and he smiles as he feels the powerful force of the waves swirl around him, lapping across his feet, surging forcefully as if attempting to push him back. But the youko fox will not be cheated of his price, and he steps toward the sea. Immediately, huge waves surge forth as if to engulf him. Kurama allows himself to be engulfed by the waves. He plunges into the depths of the water, holding his breath. He allows the waves to roll over him, to carry him deeper into the water. To guide him to the realm of the sea-dwelling youkai named Gyuryuu, the keeper of the Orb of Shade. Where shadows hide the past, and foretell the future.
One huge wave sweeps over the kitsune thief and plunges him into the further into the depths, and Kurama holds his breath further, though he feels his lungs are about to explode. Being a youko, his body is tough and resilient, but even then, he cannot go too long without air. But the price he seeks, to his mind, is worth it. He seeks information. About the great treasures of Makai, both those protected by demon lords and those that had been lost through time. About other powerful youkai -- those who would be allies and those who would be foes. Lastly, he seeks to know his fate -- and to know his death.
At last, the surging waters carry Kurama into a vast underwater cave. Surprisingly, as he enters, the water beings to drain, and an air shield forms as a temporary refuge against the waves. He studies the cave with veiled interest, outwardly calm, and yet he feels his pulse racing with excitement. So there is truth to the legends after all, he muses. He shakes the water from himself, then steps deeper into the cavern. Uncanny green light emanates from algae clinging to the cave walls. The passage is long, but Kurama proceeds forward with evenly paced steps, using his senses to scan ahead for possible danger.
Suddenly, eerie laughter echoed from ahead. Kurama crouched, extending his senses forward to detect anyone who might emerge from within. Yet, no one came, though the laughter continued, growing louder with each mocking chuckle. Kurama growled softly, clenching his fists. For the sound did not only resound in his ears, but his very soul. For the laughter carried with it a whispered message. One that foretold of doom.
"Some foxes peacefully dwell in their lairs,
Yet not this seeker, this sly fox so fair.
I see a past forged of blood and deceit,
Yet soon, wily one, your life be forfeit…"
"So ne!" Kurama exclaimed, his voice rising above the mockery. "Show yourself and tell me with certainty where my fate lies!"
The laughter faded into a dry chuckle. Pale green eyes loomed out from the darkness. Suddenly, a figure clad in a strange pink outfit such as Kurama had never seen before stepped forward, its face calm and impassive. The figure was smaller than he was by almost a foot, yet a strange jolt passed through Kurama, as if he should recognize who stood before him, though he is certain they have never met before. The man had flowing red hair and an air of silent confidence, but what struck Kurama most was the blood-red rose that the figure clasped idly in one hand. Somehow, though they did not look alike, Youko Kurama was somehow reminded of himself.
"Gyuryuu, I presume," Kurama said evenly, as the figure came to a halt before him. The man shook his head slowly, a wry smile of amusement on his face. "Then are you to lead me to him?"
"What do you seek, Youko Kurama?" the figure stated instead. "You are a wealthy youko, owing from your conquests. You are powerful enough that others feel awe and fear at the mention of your name. You are certainly more than attractive enough to draw youkai lovers to your feet, begging for a night in your arms. Are those not enough, kitsune?"
"No, never," Kurama replied, shaking his head, his smile tinged with irony. "There are treasures there yet to be found. Yet to be mine. And the power I wield, though formidable, is not enough. I must survive and grow in strength. Those are the prospects that entice me. But that, I suspect, you already know."
"Perhaps," the other replied, a sad smile on its comely face. Then intense green eyes bore on golden brown ones. "I find it amusing, though, that a four-tailed youko wants yet another tail. You are intelligent and cunning, surely, yet about being wise I have my doubts."
"That is not for you to judge," Kurama replied coldly. "Tell me my fate, Gyuryuu. For you are sworn to reveal the future to anyone who manages to find and enter your dwelling."
"Very well," the redhead sighed, twirling the rose about his fingers. Kurama could not help but watch the rose with interest. "You have two possible destinies, Youko Kurama--the first is that you continue being the dangerous kitsune thief you are. Cold, unyielding, distant--filled with hunger for power and treasures, yet alienated from the concept of true affection. You will gain friends and lovers, yet not know true, unconditional love."
"Feh, more useless riddles," Kurama muttered, eyeing Gyuryuu darkly. "I have friends, Gyuryuu. I once had an ally named Kuronue whom I cared for but unfortunately lost. But though I grieve, I live--that is what is important. So this particular path of destiny--it tells of life?"
"What passes as life for you now, yes," the redhead replied, laughing. He sniffed the rose delicately and smiled benignly.
"I will not be mocked this way," Kurama said, then sprung for the redhead. Gyuryuu's eyes widened slightly in surprise, and Kurama smirked. He made a habit of surprising his enemies. Normally, he relied on his ability to control deadly Makai plants in battle. Yet he was not without martial arts skills. He had held his own in many a fight, and certainly this seemingly frail and gentle redhead wouldn't stand a chance. He reached out to grab the youkai.
When suddenly he found himself entangled in a whip of vine and thorns.
The redhead grinned, his hand now holding whip made out of thorns instead of a rose. Kurama's eyes widened in amazement. Gyuryuu tightened his hold momentarily, and the steel-like thorns dug into Kurama's skin. Youko Kurama clenched his teeth but refused to cry out. His golden brown eyes now sparkled with a mixture of anger and amusement. Gyuryuu continued to watch the struggling fox demon, then sighed and uncoiled the whip. The whip turned back into a rose, which he handed to Kurama. Kurama accepted the former weapon with interest.
"I did not know you could manipulate plants," Kurama said carefully. He examined the rose and found it to be of a strange variety. Certainly the fragrance wasn't that of anything he had encountered in Makai. The scent was more subtle somehow, the folds gentler and the petals softer. Yet he found it no less attractive. In fact, it intrigued him all the more.
"I couldn't before," Gyuryuu laughed. "Nor will I again."
Then Gyuryuu's form seemed to blur and shift. Within moments, the redhead was gone--to be replaced by a wizened old man with flowing white hair and pale yellow eyes that hinted of malice. The youkai regarded Kurama with a self-satisfactory air that infuriated Kurama, but the kitsune veiled his anger and smiled winsomely, still holding the strange rose. There was yet one destiny for him left untold.
"I presume I am facing your true form, Keeper of Truth," Kurama stated smoothly. Gyuryuu nodded. "You have told me of life. Now what of death?"
"Where all else fails, you use charm, Youko Kurama," the youkai cackled, rubbing his hands in glee. "And use it well indeed. So desu. Now I will tell of death's life." He fixed the kitsune thief with a stern gaze. "You have met him, Kurama. You have stared into the eyes of life. You hold in your hand a piece of what life can be. Yet you must renounce your present life so that you may find love."
"That redhead? In what I assume to be a ningen outfit of sorts?" Kurama frowned. "You keep talking of love. What do you know of it, Gyuryuu? You who has kept the Orb of Shade for a long time--a seer who delights in foretelling doom? What can you tell me about love?"
"Just that you seek it in your heart, though the rational, insidious Kurama will never admit to it," Gyuryuu shrugged. "Only that you have known lust, and perhaps deep affinity in friendship--but never truly found a cause worthy enough to give your life and soul.
"The second destiny is that you must die. But in your death you will live on in another form--a ningen form. With less power perhaps than you wield now. Yet with certainly no less intelligence and courage--and certainly no less of heart."
"Hn, very comforting," Kurama remarked sarcastically.
"You sought me, Youko Kurama," Gyuryuu replied, shrugging. "And now, you must choose. For the price that truth asks is choice. Think well."
The youkai then produced a round black stone from within the folds of his robe. The stone--the Orb of Shade, Kurama surmised--seemed to gather darkness around itself, its smooth surface gathering light instead of reflecting it. The orb seemed to be encased in shadow, with only a single spot of light within, silently pulsing with a regular rhythm. Gyuryuu shut his eyes momentarily, then stretched forth his hand toward Kurama, the stone dark and forbidding in his grip.
"Reach forth and touch the stone, Kurama," Gyuryuu intoned, his voice shallow and distant. "Then the truth revealed shall keep within yourself, and live to bear."
Kurama's eyes were strangely distant as he reached out and clasped the stone. His eyes blurred, and his soul felt like it was being wretched from his body forcibly. Kurama gasped as he found himself soaring in the air, watching a palace beneath him. Suddenly, a silver fox emerged and Kurama's eyes widened as he recognized his other form. Then, a youkai hunter emerged, screaming curses at the kitsune. There was a flash of steel, an explosion of blood, and a flight from death. Kurama saw his soul in energy form flee toward Ningenkai. Kurama watched transfixed in fascination. He then felt a roaring sound from below calling him back, and his spirit reluctantly flew back to where Youko Kurama held the Orb of Shade in his clenched fist.
Kurama opened his eyes, his mind still on the vision he had seen and almost seemed to experience first-hand. Gyuryuu drew the stone back and hid it within his robe. He eyed Kurama grimly, then nodded. He then laughed merrily, his pale eyes shining in the darkness. His voice was high-pitched and cracked and piercing in the darkness. Kurama merely stood silent before him, watching the old youkai in his display of sardonic glee. Then, the kitsune thief turned and began to walk out of the cave. Gyuryuu watched the departure of the youko with amusement. He had silently been watching Kurama as his destiny was unfolded, and knew that the fox had made the choice the Keeper had suspected he would. For beneath his cool façade was a person who yearned for a deeper sense of purpose and integrity of being. Gyuryuu suspected that Kurama would eventually find both.
"Hail and farewell, Keeper," Kurama stated, glancing back at the Keeper. Gyuryuu nodded in acknowledgment, then his form receded back into the darkness.
The Keeper and the Youko separated--one to guard the Orb that foretells destiny, and the latter to fulfill the truth in his.
Finally completed this fanfic, which became a two-week project due to a busy work sched. :( This is probably my strangest work so far, the most "what-if" of the fanfics I've written. Oh well. So there, for any comments, suggestions--the usual--write me or sign my guestbook!