The sun streaked uninhibited across the sky in its full radiant glory, painting the cloudless sky a brilliant blue, driving away all shadows from the little planet wherein which earthlings dwelt. Lightyears away from the sun, a young gardener toiled on in his little garden. It was a hot day, beads of perspiration formed along contours of his chiselled features. He absentmindedly wiped them away with the back of his hand, pausing for a split-second before he started digging again.
"The depth has to be just right so that they can grow well..." he murmured more to himself than to his compatriot who was watching him with great distaste.
"Hn." He knew that that had been his little gruffy friend's way of catching his attention.
"Yes?" He asked cheerfully, right on cue.
"I don't see why you have to waste so much time weeding and digging and sweating and getting yourself all hot, tired, dirty, smelly and soily..."
"Soily? I'm afraid I haven't heard that word before, I wonder what it means?"
His friend gave him a first-class glare before getting back to what he was saying, "... when you could just as effortlessly use your powers to grow whatever lousy vegetables it is you want."
"Hiei, you're right. I don't have to waste so much time weeding and digging and sweating and getting myself all hot, tired, dirty, smelly and soily... but I want to."
"Hn. Crazy fox," Hiei muttered before he flitted off. Although Hiei was out of sight and hearing, Kurama could still sense his youki. That meant that Hiei was still somewhere around the vicinity studying him as he engaged in his 'mind-bogging and totally useless Ningen activity' as Hiei would mildly put.
Gardening gave him a sense of calm and solitude. It gave him time to organise his thoughts as his hands worked meticulously on those lovely greens. It made him feel very much alive, in synch with nature and its beauty. He highly doubted that the fiery little youkai would ever come to understand it. Just a few more seeds to go... there. He had finally finished bedding the seeds in the little holes he had dug earlier. Time for a short break. Kurama stretched out on the well-cut lawn and shut his lovely green eyes against the sun's blinding rays as he let his mind wander back into the past.
The silver youko bounded gracefully across the massive room to the ornately carved golden statue of a ferocious tiger. At last, he had found it! The greatest treasure in the region, the magical Shinzaho of the mystical Byakko no Miko! Legend had it that the Shinzaho was closely guarded by the 7 seishis of Byakko, each endowed with great powers which made them more than a normal mortal. However, Youko Kurama was never one for legends, he was more interested in the monetary value of such a treasure. Once it was in his hands, the Shinzaho would no doubt fetch a handsome sum. Surely there was no other catch worthier of him, a thief of the finiest calibre.
He looked at the object resting on a raised platform just beneath the gaping jaws of the golden statue. It was... it was... it was a mirror. Just an ordinary mirror. There must have been some mistake, the great treasure was just a mirror, like any other mirror he had seen in his life. That couldn't be the treaure. The tiger! It had to be the golden statue of Byakko, that was the true treasure. The mirror was just a decoy, strategically placed in order to distract lowly thieves who didn't know any better and couldn't tell the difference between a real treasure and a piece of worthless junk.
Youko Kurama had never been caught thieving and did not intend to ever let himself be. The room was empty. Indeed, the passage to the vaulted room itself had been an easy one with no obstructions, no traps, no seishis, nothing that hindered his trek or barred his way there. Yet, one could never be too sure. Kurama cautiously crept forward, his golden eyes darting to and fro as he approached the awesome statue. It was gargantuan, there was no way he was going to be able to carry it out without being noticed. He wondered if he even had the strength to lift it up in the first place. He knew he was a strong youko, yet, he looked dubiously at the immense golden tiger glaring back at him and swallowed nervously. He had the strangest feeling that he was being watched by hidden eyes. For a fleeting moment, he almost thought he saw a flicker of life in the statue's dull and unseeing eyes, as if it was just waiting for the right opportrunity to pounce on the youko and swallow him whole. The statue's disapproving eyes bored into Kurama and he shuddered slightly. Youko Kurama, you're getting jittery. Fancy imagining that a statue is out to get you. Yeah right, any moment now, it's going to jump off its pedestal, bellow monstrously and spit out living balls of fire. Kurama chuckled quietly at the silly turn his thoughts were taking and reached out toward the statue.
A large thick green snake whipped around his wrist and checked his progress. Kurama gave a startled cry of surprise. A second snake followed the first, wrapping itself securely around his other wrist; more green snakes flew towards him, firmly grasping his ankles and his waist. Kurama struggled fiercely and for all his effort, he was rewarded with the snakes coiling tighter around him, crushing him. He ceased his futile struggles. Trapped. He was caught now. There was no way he could escape from the snakes. They whipped and hissed angrily around him, as if waiting for a magic word before they moved in for the kill, before they struck out at the beautiful silver-furred youko.
He was going to die. For the first time in his life, Kurama was truly afraid. He started shivering within the green coils of death. Large fat tears splashed onto the ground as Kurama began to sob. Shivers of utter terror wracked his entire pale form. "Don't kill me," he whimpered. "Please don't kill me. I don't want to die."
He had been watching the youko for a long time. Youkos were nothing but trouble, always stealing, always leaving behind a trail of chaos and destruction wherever they trod. This particular youko was no different. He watched as the youko glanced furtively around to make sure that he had not been seen. He was definitely up to no good. The youko made a beeline for the great statue of Byakko, where the Shinzaho was. He decided to wait and see what tricks the youko had up his sleeve before he acted. The youko paused before the statue, he was now looking at the Shinzaho with a crest-fallen expression. Then, he looked up at the imposing figure of Byakko before him and hestitated a little before he reached for the Shinzaho. That was it! He could not let the youko get away with his beloved's mirror. He could not, would not allow that. The mirror was the only tangible thing he had left of his beloved. He had sworn to guard it with his life and he would endeavour to do so even if he had to kill to do so, even if he would be killed in the process.
A slight burst of his energies sent tendrils of green snaking out towards the youko, wrapping him up in thick green vines, trapping him. The youko struggled violently, but in vain, the vines only tightened around the youko the more he tried to set himself free. At last, spent, the youko went limp and to Tatara's surprise, started sobbing uncontrollably, begging for merciful release from his terrifying capture.
Tatara stepped forth from the shadows towards his trembling prey. It was only a little youko kit, barely even reaching up to his knees. He wondered how the kit got thus far into the compound without being spotted by the other Byakko seishis. Knowing them, one would be out chasing after pretty young girls, while another would be running after the first and hurling abuses at her husband for being the playboy he was, the rest would, of course, be conveniently indisposed. Leaving only him to deal with the youko kit. With a slight gesture of his fingers, the vines slackened and fell away from the youko.
Tatara had expected the youko to dart away as fast as his little legs could carry him but he was unprepared for what happened next. The youko cowered in a little heap on the ground, making whimpering noises and shaking uncontrollably. A pang of guilt hit Tatara for having frightened a kit so badly. He bent down, reaching out to the kit in an attempt to comfort him and soothe his fears. Suddenly, the vines which had fallen away from the kit squirmed and lunged at him, throwing themselves around him and pulling taut against him, effectively pinning his limbs by his side. The youko looked up at him, hate burning in his slitted golden eyes, eyes that promised only pain and death. The youko clearly did not know the extent of his powers. A slight frown furrowed his brows and the vines withered.
The youko's eyes grew large and watery again.
He blew it. The one final chance at an escape and he blew it. This time, there would be no mercy for him, his captor was definitely going to skin him alive and use his soft silver fur to make a winter coat. His death would be a slow and painful one. The seishi was... the seishi was going to... to torture him... He could not allow that to happen, summoning his energies again, he tried to will the vines to attack again. The vines jerked once, twice, then lay still. Kurama could feel his eyes filling up with tears again as fear took over.
The seishi picked him up. Kurama cried even harder. They were going into the torture chamber now, he was sure of it. Only Inari knew what painful fate awaited him there. He trembled violently as the seishi pulled him closer, to prevent him from trying to escape. The seishi sat down on a chair and placed Kurama on his lap. He's going to spank me! Relief flooded his being, he wasn't going to be killed, not yet anyway. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and steeled himself for the stinging hand that was sure to land heavily on his behind in no time. Nothing. It would come soon. He shivered.
"Am I so frightening, child?" a soft voice that spelt amusement asked. Kurama could feel a finger brushing his tears away from his cheeks gently. He open one eye, then the other. The seishi looked at him with warm brown eyes.
"Don't worry, I'm not about to eat you up. Youkos taste nasty. Especially baby youkos." There was a playful twinkle in the seishi's eyes as he said this. "I'm Tatara, one of the 7 seishis of Byakko, guardian of the Shinzaho you tried to steal." A wry smile crossed Tatara's lips as he said that.
"I'm Youko Kurama, not a baby," Kurama ventured bravely. He hestitated before adding, "And I don't taste nasty."
Tatara chuckled. "I see."
"And I wasn't trying to stealing that lousy statue, I couldn't carry it anyway, I merely wanted to have a closer look."
Tatara's warm laughter reverberated throughout the room, " The Shinzaho, my little youko, is the mirror, not the statue."
"But! But... the mirror looked so ordinary..."
"Ahh... but looks can be deceiving."
"If it's so powerful, then what can it do?"
"Now, wouldn't you like to know? Perhaps it can turn naughty youkos into frogs." Kurama turned a pasty shade of green.
"I'm not naughty, " Kurama hastily said, he held his tail in one hand, nervously twisting it around his hand.
"I never said you were, " was Tatara's reply.
Little Youko Kurama stayed with Tatara. He got to know all the other Byakko seishis and was spoilt silly by them. He adored them, they doted on him. Kurama also learnt about the adventures the Byakko seishis were caught up in when Byakko no Miko had arrived from another world. He learnt of the wish that could not be fulfilled, of the sorrowful parting between Tatara and his beloved, Byakko no Miko, of the long-distanced love that had existed between them.
"Knowing she is happy back in her world, just knowing that is enough for me. Even if she eventually marries another... as long as she's happy, I'll be content. Her happiness is my happiness. Although we both live on 2 different worlds, our hearts are joined by our love, we are always together, a single entity existing on 2 different planes." Tatara's eyes were touched by sorrow as he tried to explain to Kurama why it didn't matter to him that Byakko no Miko had to return to her world, why it did not matter to him that they could not be together.
Kurama listened quietly to the wistfulness in Tatara's voice. It does matter! It would mean the world to him to be able to live happily ever after with Byakko no Miko. Kurama desperately wished he could do something to get the 2 star-crossed lovers together. It didn't seem fair for them to be set apart when they obviously loved each other so.
Under Tatara's tutelage, Kurama mastered his control over plants. Learning how to shape blades of grass into sharp swords, how to grow the types of plants he'd require for various wounds and ailments. He learnt about the plants themselves, learnt to differentiate the poisonous ones from the medicinal ones, memorised their uses and the types of climate they could be found in. "You control the plants, Kurama. It's all in your mind, If you wish hard enough, they will obey your bidding and do as you command them to..."
"I can't, Shishou! They refuse to do what I want them to." Kurama wailed as the plants he'd newly grown withered before his eyes.
"Patience, Kurama, you are already much better than I was at your age. When I was as little as you, all I could do with plants was to stuff them in my mouth and chew them up." Kurama giggled. Tatara continued, "Joking aside, remember, the plants belong to you, they are yours to use as you please, you own them. You are their master. Now focus your energies..."
A shadow fell over Kurama, he reluctantly pulled himself out of his memories and forced his heavy lids open. "Hiei?"
"What is it?"
"Who is Tatara? You were murmuring the name in your sleep, I thought you were having a nightmare, so I..."
"Tatara was someone very dear to me. He taught me what I knew about plants."
"Hn. Humans! Foolish human-loving foxes will come to no good." Hiei insisted.