“No… no… that not that way to- OUCH! That hurts, you little #$%^&*@-”
“Oops. I slipped.”
“Damn right, you did! You slipped up on purpose too!” Kuronue sighed. “Ok. Tell you what, we’ll take a 10 minutes breather. Sounds good?” His young charge nodded eagerly and darted off into the undergrowth, possibly on a wild rabbit chase. “After that, I’m going to drill you so hard, you’d wish you never had been born,” he muttered darkly.
“Hey Bats!” Kuronue frowned at the offending intruder. “Heard you got yourself a new disciple?” A silver visage materialised lounging on a tree before him.
Kuronue shrugged, “He’s a little wild. Has potential. Needs LOTS of concentration.”
“A quest-class?” A silver eyebrow arched up questioningly.
“Possibly. A baby one though. Doesn’t realise the extend of damage he can inflict, even at his current age. First time he tried to show me what he could do, he damned well blew my entire roof off. I’d be so much youkai chow now myself if I hadn’t managed to get away in time.”
“Feeling your age?” Kurama asked sweetly.
“You don’t want to go there, Fox.” Kuronue grinned. “He’s a good kid. Prime survival material. Managed to live thus far by blowing all his attackers to itsy bitsy pieces before they could even touch him. He’s fast. I’d give him that. Alert too. Just lacks a little focus. Kid can actually create explosives using his youki, infusing them with chemical particles in the environment. Needs some help in controlling the intensity of his powers and prolonging the countdown of his explosives. Hmm… if my theory proves to be right, he can even turn himself into a walking bomb and-”
“Pop goes the weasel.”
“Kurama!” Kuronue admonished, then continued. “Fortunately, he seems immune to his own powers. I’d hate to think of the mess left behind if he were to blow himself up.”
“Honestly, I’d never thought of you as the fatherly type.” Kurama mused.
“I just hate to see potential like that go to waste. Speaking of which, what brings you here?”
Kurama hoped off the tree and landed lightly beside Kuronue. “The mirror. I’ve checked it out. Tonight will be good.”
“Tonight, eh?” Kuronue smiled faintly. Something in Kuronue’s demeanour told Kurama that his friend was not as upbeat about the prospect of the picking as he made himself out to be.
“What’s wrong?” Kurama asked worriedly.
“Nothing much. Just a gut feeling I have. Maybe I really am feeling my age- Bah! What am I saying? I’ll see you tonight then. You better get going. The little critter’s returning. If he sees you, I’ll never be able to get him to concentrate on his lessons.” Kuronue shooed his friend away.
“It’ll be fun! Maybe next time, you can even bring the little guy along.” Kurama added before he disappeared.
“Maybe.” Kuronue answered more to himself. He couldn’t shake the feeling of foreboding he had. A slight chill ran up the length of his body.
“Kuronue?” The little figure slowly approached the still form, hardly daring to breathe lest the pursuers sensed it and returned for him. The bamboo stakes gleamed wickedly, a dull crimson beneath the half-hidden moon. The ground was soaked to the point of saturation with a similar liquid coating the bamboos. Blood. The dark scent of blood mingled with that of the dank soil, creating a foul stench that permeated the air.
“Kuronue?” The tiny voice tried again, albeit shakily. A small hand reached in between the bamboo stakes and tugged lightly at the dark fabric adorning the impaled youkai. Kuronue’s eyes remained closed. A slight breeze stirred several strands of his hair. He was otherwise still, unmoving, like the silent trees that surrounded them.
Tears welled up in the little violet orbs watching the macabre sight before him. “Kuronue?” The last attempt was a desperate broken plea. Soon the tears flowed unabashedly down the young one’s cheeks. Young as he was he’d seen enough death in his short life to understand what had transpired. Kuronue was gone.
When the pursuers returned, they found an urchin of a youkai sobbing piteously by the carnage. Clutched in his hands, the very pendant the thief had sacrificed his life in order to retrieve. Rather than kill off who they assumed to be the young offspring of the thief, they decided to take him back to base. Where he could be put to better use. They tamed the wild little creature soon enough. Dampers were used to suppress his powers. Powers which if allowed to reached maturity would surely bring them ruin. And so the young one served them, at times a tool in battle, at times a toy to play with, satiating their desires, amusing them when they were bored. Until the day he escaped with the help of another.
He never forgot those days of captivity. Times spent with Kuronue soon became a distant memory, a chapter in a book long forgotten. He grew cold, cynical. Suppressing the lonely child within himself. More often than not, he toyed with his victims, prolonging the kill for as long as he could. He revelled in their suffering, basked in their pain, laughed cruelly and scorned them whenever they begged for mercy. He did not believe in sparing their lives. Far better for him to kill them then let the beauty within them wane with the ages. The strength and beauty of their inner being, that raw hatred in their eyes when they looked at him, the fear in their souls, the pure stunningly bright spark of life that welled up from the depths of their souls when they tried that last futile attempt to fight for their life, the tranquillity and quiet when they finally let him have his way and claim their lives.
All that amused him greatly. Yet it could never totally quell the ache deep within himself.
Karasu fingered the gleaming red pendant around his neck as he precariously balanced the chair he was sitting on on its 2 hind legs. “Damn you, Kurama. You left Kuronue and I behind. Ran off to save your own pretty little hide and left us behind to rot.”
He had no other choice.
“Yeah right. Raced off with the booty and abandoned us to the enemy.”
He would have died if he stayed.
“He’s nothing but a coward. Getting shot by that bounty hunter must have being retribution.”
“Don’t Karasu me! He could have returned to check. To see if you were still alive, to see if he could somehow try to rescue me.”
But he didn’t know.
“Don’t try to speak up for him. You’re always doing that. He may be your best friend but you still shouldn’t coddle him that way.”
He didn’t know you were there. Didn’t know you followed us.
“I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about you.”
He knew I was gone. No point risking life and limb just to drag a corpse out of there. The pursuers were too many. If he returned for me, he’d be as good as sentencing himself to death… or worse…
“… or worse… like me…”
He did what he had to do. He did what I would have wanted him to.
“He left us to die!”
If you would only understand… but you were still so young. It was so easy just to put all the blame on him.
“He is to blame! If it weren’t for him and his hair-brained ideas… if he had done his research more thoroughly… So now you’re dead, I’m a villain and he’s living happily ever after with his friends and his human mother.”
“No. I- I just feel that it’s so totally unfair. He didn’t even know. All this while I’ve bee- and he doesn’t even have any notion. If Bui hadn’t come along, I’d still be…” Karasu gripped the pendant tightly, trembling slightly as the remembered past surfaced.
But he saved your life. He made it up to you. He’s sharing his home and life with you. He’s making amends all the time.
“H-he just had nothing better to do,” Karasu stammered, a little unsure of himself.
You know better.
Karasu made an impatient noise. “I’ll show him. I’ll rip his picture-perfect life apart, destroy his beloved ‘Kaasan before his very eyes an- ”
You are still such a child. The mental voice chuckled softly before fading away.
“Kara-” Karasu lost his balance and fell backwards rather clumsily at the sound of the newcomer’s voice. The newcomer rushed over to aid him. “I-I’m so sorry I startled you. Did you hurt yourself?”
“Uhm… no. Thank you, ‘Kaa- I mean, Shiori-san.” Karasu’s cheeks coloured as he was being fussed over by Shiori. He added nervously, “I fine. I really am. I’m tougher than I look.” Dang. Kurama must be rubbing off on me. It’s just one human woman and I’m acting all weird.
“I meant you call you down for dinner. I knocked but you didn’t answer, so I-”
Karasu hastily tried to distract her the best way he knew how. “I take it Ku- uh- Shuuichi’s back from school?”
“He’s setting the table,” Shiori smiled gently at the thought of her son. “Are you happy here?”
The question caught him unaware. Am I happy here? No one had ever asked him that before. As much as I hate Kurama’s guts… He swallowed, then nodded.
Shiori beamed, “You have beautiful hair. Jet black.”
Uh? What the- Ok… I get it. It’s what they call ‘girl’s talk’. “Uh-thanks. Sometimes I dye it yellow. You know what I really want? I want to try one of those rope knots they use to keep their hair in place.” Good thing I’ve been watching too many television programs recently…I know just how to handle this sorta stuff.
“You mean a braid?”
“Yah. That’s the one.”
“I’ll do one for you after dinner.”
End of Part 5.