(Trigger Warning: Explosion Insensitivity. I don't usually put warnings, but this one feels as if it would be completely inappropriate if I didn't. These scenes have been planned out and half-written for months, and it is simply a terrible coincidence that I happened to finish it right now, after the KyoAni fire [07/18/2019]. More on that at the bottom.)
Chapter Eleven: Winter's Search (Part Three)
Somewhere in the Forest of Fools
They had her backed into a corner.
Nope, shitty metaphor. Idiom? Didn't matter, it still sucked because they were on a floating goddamn island that didn't have any corners. Point was that their Ice Maiden enemy was down to the last of her HP points and nearly ready to conk out to wonderland.
Good, because he was fucking freezing.
Ignoring the sting of the scrapes down his arms, Yusuke paused to catch his breath at the far end of their ice laden battle platform. Her every major attack had added thickness to the permafrost until it was a literal ice skating rink. That would have been a serious problem if Kurama hadn't come up with the oddly genius idea of sticking super these sharp burs to the rubber soles of their shoes, turning them into burly winter cleats. But anyway. While that little road hazard managed to slow the two detectives down, it only seemed to speed the demoness up. She was like a figure skater completely at ease gliding along her element.
Yusuke gave her set a seven out of ten—points deducted for murderous intent.
Toru didn't have to deal with any of that, though, because Toru had friggin bird wings and didn't even need to touch the ground. Lousy cheater. To be fair, that was the main reason why they'd been able to get the upper hand so quickly in the first place, since the Ice Maiden's power was limited to that which she could touch and thankfully for all of them and their lungs, air wasn't solid.
She was strong—arguably equally as strong as the puppet master had been—and their fight had the potential to drag out the same way his and Hiei's had, but three against one gave them hella better odds than two against one. When she tried to attack, Yusuke was there with his Spirit Gun to fight head on. When she tried to retreat, Kurama was there to block her exits, always one step ahead. And when she built up icy fortifications, Toru had been the one to knock them down, energy lacing the gusts from his wings like razorblades.
They just needed to keep that up a little bit longer until they could get close enough to knock her out, then they would tie her up in a neat little bow to give to Kagome. Alive and kicking.
Across the way, Kurama ran parallel to the demoness, his steps more nimble and quick than Yusuke had ever seen them in his redheaded form. He used the ice to his advantage by grabbing the trunk of a tree and sliding around it when the crafty woman spontaneously changed directions. A leap put him in the branches where the Fox hand the high ground. Yusuke didn't even see the moment when he had formed a second whip, but the Mazoku cheered when his partner caught an arm with each.
Pulled to a stop by thorns gouging into the flesh of her forearms, the Ice Maiden screamed. She dropped her rapier.
"Reel her in, Kurama!" Yusuke yelled from his resting spot. "Hey, Bird brain, do the thing!"
The Kitsune switched his vines over to one hand, twisted them around his fingers for a stronger grip, and yanked the demoness off her feet and into the air before she could freeze and shatter her bindings as she'd already done twice before. The Hawk was a shadow high in the misty clouds, but drawing nearer with every passing moment. Just before ramming into the Koorime, his wings sprang open to stop his fall. Light sparked as power swelled around him. The strong downward thrust of the bird's huge wings hit the woman with a blast of razor charged wind that slammed her into the ground below.
Her body made a pretty little crater in the ice.
"Hell yeah!" Yusuke pumped his fist in the air. "Someone start the ten count, because she is down!"
Just as Yusuke was about jog across the field to check on their quarry and make sure that they hadn't actually offed her by mistake, a rift opened at his side.
"What the f—?" He jumped as a familiar girl fell through it, scuffed up and tousled.
The half demon caught her before Yukina could hit the ground.
"Guys, I think we've got company."
The portal that sprang closed behind her was different. It wasn't the shimmering Barbie-girl pink thing that Kagome used. It was more like a jagged tear in reality, its edges scorched with black. Yusuke stared at where it had been before turning to the petite young girl in his arms.
Abruptly, he dropped her.
At his feet Yukina grinned. There was all sorts of crazy going on in that grin. She looked up at him.
Yusuke took a step back and added, "Yeah, we've definitely got company."
On the other side of the clearing a burst of frigidly cold energy erupted from the crater the Ice Maiden had made. The rejuvenated aura washed over them like cold water—like walking into a corporate office building in the middle of winter but the air conditioner was still blowing full blast because the CEO was a hot-blooded dick.
Hot damn he was cold.
In front of him Yukina rose to her feet and brushed the dirt from her kimono. What had been disheveled was now crisp and clean. She leveled him with a look of disappointment.
"You are the opposite of chivalrous. At the very least you could have hoped that I was the real girl like the others had. Kagome I did not expect to fool, but how did you see through so quickly? This disguise is flawless."
"I didn't." Yusuke said bluntly before raising his finger. "You just told me. You must be Kagami, then. Pleasure to finally meet you, asshole."
Kagami smirked with his dainty lady mouth. "The pleasure is all mine, Mazoku."
The Ice Maiden's player two has entered the fight.
Second round, start.
Yusuke let his gathered Spirit energy fly.
A fist came out of left field, clocking the Kagemono disguised as Yukina in the jaw and knocking her out of the blast's path. Caught off guard, the petite woman slid to a stop and touched the side of her face.
"What the hell was that, dipshit? I had him!" Yusuke enunciated very precisely as he shoved the shoulder of the Hawk that had landed in front of him. Toru didn't budge.
Kagami started at Toru.
Toru stared back.
A shout from the other end of the ice arena reminded Yusuke that their other opponent had gotten her second wind the moment Kagami showed up—her power boosted from the close proximity of her puppet master. Somewhere between the trees and the clouds, Kurama was fighting her. Alone.
A female shrieked.
Yusuke let out a breath. If there was anybody he could trust to hold their own, it was Kurama.
"So this is your decision?" Kagami asked in Yukina's voice. "You're going to protect them?"
"I don't want to fight you, Kagami." The Bird responded quietly.
The Spirit Detective huffed. "That didn't stop you from attacking like a moron earlier, when you thought the other chick was him. You seemed pretty gung-ho about fighting."
Taller than Kuwabara and four Yusukes wide, the wings on Toru's back ruffled in distress.
"I was angry." He explained, not turning away from the blue clad girl. "You left us."
"Me?" It was strange seeing Yukina's face twist in anger like that. "You were the one who left me. I expected you to follow. None of you followed."
"We searched for you for years!"
"The two are not the same!"
"Come back home. Kagami." There was gentleness in Toru's words that totally threw Yusuke off balance. Damn near pleading. "Please. We can make things right."
The Tori stepped closer to the Shadow Beast, but Yukina's form stepped back as if the claws on his outstretched hand were tipped with poison. She started at him, incredulous. Her form shifted. It was like watching water mold into putty. Blink once and you missed it completely. She became Kurama, dressed in orange corduroys and a cable knit sweater. Then again to the mahogany skinned puppet master in a strange sort of Demon World tunic. For a split second he grew to a taller man in a black hoodie before shrinking back into Kurama's human form.
The false Kurama growled.
"I'm making things right." He said. When his gaze shifted to look at Yusuke, his eyes darkened with hatred, raw and spiteful. "The way it should have been from the very beginning."
"Hey, man, if you've got some sort of problem with me, then come over here and fight me! There'll be time to chat with your boyfriend after I've pummeled your ass into the ground!"
A burst of power interrupted them. It shook the earth at their feet.
Next thing Yusuke knew there was a massive wave of needle-like icicles making its way across the southern portion of the island. The trees in its past leaned forward, stretched wide, to push it back, but there was simply not enough life in them. They snapped like brittle twigs beneath the raining torrent of ice.
It was coming towards them, Yusuke realized.
"Dodge!" He screamed as he ran to avoid being impaled by the edge of the roaring tsunami.
Toru lunged at Kagami.
Kurama was nowhere to be seen.
Yusuke heard him scream.
Even though the land was flat, the world was loud with the sounds of a mountain avalanche.
When the noise calmed into the creaking of something very heavy settling into position, Yusuke pulled himself up off from the ground from where he'd been thrown. He coughed, stumbling to his feet. "Kurama?" He called out before the dust and snow had completely cleared. "Kurama!?"
The little light that managed to penetrate the haze caught the silhouette of a figure standing high above him. They were on the top of a newly formed ice hill, he realized.
Only it wasn't Kurama.
The figure belonged to the Ice Maiden.
She leaned forward, peering over the end of the world to the clouds beneath them. Her attack had pushed them to the very edge of the island. The flow of her ice spilled over like a waterfall frozen in time. Satisfied with her inspection, the demoness turned to the Detective.
"What the hell have you done?" Yusuke demanded, refusing to let the panic sink in.
Cackling like the wicked witch she was, the otherwise voiceless Koorime took a step in his direction.
Then she froze.
When she looked down, there was a green vine wrapped tightly around her ankle.
It pulled over the edge without warning, into the unknown below.
Kurama had pulled her over the edge with him.
Yusuke fell to his knees and shouted into the empty white.
"My deepest condolences." Kurama's voice said from over his shoulder.
Yusuke's breath caught. His blood ran cold.
"It is painful when someone so close to you dies. But now I get to fight you face to face. This is good timing."
"He's not dead, you bastard." The Detective growled through clenched teeth. When he pushed off the ground to raise to his feet once more the ice cracked in a spider's web around him. Fists knuckle white at his sides, he turned around to see the false Kurama standing in the middle of the field, hair tossing in the wind and expression neutral. "You obviously don't know anything about Kurama. He's too smart to die. If you were smart, you'd do your fancy little magic trick and transform into someone else, because you looking like that is really starting to piss me off." Gripping the wrist of his shooting hand, Yusuke leveled his pointer finger. The tip of it began to glow an angry, demonic red. "And pissing me off is a pretty stupid thing to do."
The Kitsune grinned. Yusuke stood as still and severe as death itself as the Shadow Beast opened a portal behind his own back and embraced the darkness within it with a trust-fall. Muscles taught, he didn't move when the silence fell around him, didn't shoot off his blast as the portal blipped closed.
He didn't even flinch when he felt the familiar hands of his friend as they wrapped around his neck.
Where the hell was Toru?
"Do it." Yusuke goaded. "Steal my body, my powers. I won't stop you. Hell, I'll even give you time to power up. I've got no problem kicking my own ass."
Blunt fingernails dug into his windpipe. Kurama's aura grew stronger until the air was thick from the pressure. Hands trembled.
"What the hell are you waiting for? Go on." Yusuke smirked despite the petechiae starting to dot his cheeks. In his current state of mind, the half demon felt none of it. He took in a haggard breath. "You've got no clue what it's like being me."
At that the Kagemono's grip tightened. Then he released.
"You have no idea…" Kurama's voice whispered eerily close to the Mazoku's ear. "…how much I want that."
Yusuke spun around to land a punch but he was gone.
"It should have been me. I should have been the one to kill him." The words were spoken over by the ice mound. "But it was you."
"What, have you got leaves in your ears? Nobody killed Kurama!"
Kagami stalked around in a wide circle. "I was going to wait to find you, but after I learned that you had allied yourself with her—with Kagome, of all the demons in the realm…" The Shadow Beast shot him a cocky grin. "I just couldn't help myself. You've all made this so easy for me, by coming together. Now all the dues owed to me can be paid off at once."
"You sure like to hear yourself talk, don't you? Well how about you take your batty monologue and shove it up your—Wait, wait, wait. I don't owe you shit." Yusuke waved his hands, realizing something. "You don't think—You think I killed someone? You think I killed your mark, is that it? That's just rich. Well, who was it? Kagome killed your girlfriend—I get that. But me? Really? Who could I possibly have killed to get you so tight up about fighting me? One of the sorry saps from an old assignment? A lizard, maybe? I can see the familial resemblance there. Oh come on, don't leave me hanging here! At least let me know who I'm being blamed for!"
Fake Kurama started at him, incredulous. "Isn't it obvious?"
"No, Mighty-morph, it isn't. You're about as transparent as a politician. So enlighten me. Who the fuck did I kill?"
"The man who gave you your strength." The Kagemono said. Wind started to whip around him as his fury rose. "The demon who could have prevented all of this; who could have made things different. The one with the potential to be the most powerful of us all. The start of the end. The Mazoku. The one who was supposed to be mine! Raizen!"
Yusuke balked. "Raizen?! I didn't kill Raizen! He jumped on his own sword!"
"Were you not there when it happened? Were you not actively trying to bring about his death?!"
Kagami transformed again, this time turning into one of the many monks who'd followed the late great king of Makai. "Didn't you instigate the final fights that brought him over the edge?"
"I said shut up!"
Power exploded from the Detective's hand, sending a barrage of shotgun bullets spraying across the frozen field. Transforming back into the more agile form of the Kitsune, Kagami leapt towards him, whip forming. A blast tore into his shoulder. Another drew blood from his calf. But it was the handle of a small knife ebbed in his gut that brought the Kagemono to a stop.
The green of the thorny rose whip fell away to dust.
He stared at the hilt, then he touched it, hands coming away red with his own blood.
"Toru." Kagami pulled the black blade from Kurama's stomach and clutched at the wound. Shaking, he dropped it to the icy ground where it skidded with a clatter. "You hit me. With a knife."
"Stiletto." The Hawlk man corrected bitterly as he dropped down beside Yusuke, the half demon already primed for another shot. Toru pulled another blade from a strap on his thigh and flicked it open. "No one expects stilettos in a Youki battle."
"Hey Gambino, you're late." Yusuke quipped.
"Sorry, I was too busy playing eenie-meenie-miney-moe."
"Is Kurama safe?"
"How should I know?"
"You mean you didn't fly down to catch him!?"
Toru gave him a sideways look. "Why would I do that?"
"Why!? Oh I don't know, maybe because you can fly!"
"You said it yourself, he's smart. Kurama's a big boy; he can take care of himself."
Yusuke fumed. "When this is over, remind me to teach you the definition of teamwork!"
A feral noise brought their attention back to the bleeding Shadow Beast. He transformed into Yukina again but the form wasn't held long before he switched back to Kurama. The demon staggered forward. He stopped after only a couple steps, fixing his eyes on Yusuke.
"I should have been you." Kagami said to him, his voice dripping with accusation. He looked drained. Was that from the wound or from shifting so many times in one battle? It was impossible to tell.
"Yeah?" Yusuke spit back. "Well why the hell aren't you?"
═════ 犬夜叉 X 幽遊白書 ════
He was falling from the small deserted island that they had been using as a battlefield. And was that blood? A droplet of red flew upwards into the sky before the full force of the pain struck him. There was a barb of ice run through his side, Kurama realized, his brain calculating the damage to his person faster than his falling velocity.
It was a clean wound, through and through. He would be fine, just as soon as he was no longer falling.
The island hadn't drifted too far above him; there was still time for a saving throw.
But first he needed to take care of the largest threat to his teammates.
Green eyes locked on his opponent. Her form was distinct against the cloaking backdrop of fog and ice as she turned away. The target was small, but it was just close enough.
He would only have one shot.
Focusing all of his strength into his right arm, Kurama cast his rose whip forward and with the accuracy of a seasoned fly fisherman he secured his prey. Sudden tension on the line nearly pulled the vine from his grip, but the Kitsune held strong. Only the weight of his own body was necessary to drag her along over the edge. The ice she'd been standing on was a slippery thing, she should have known better. As soon as she fell free into the open air, the Ice Maiden screamed.
Conjuring up his second whip, the Fox aimed for the underside of the floating island where the forest's bare roots dangled over the sky below. They twisted and tangled in a brush denser than the actual forest above, and catching hold of a solid one wasn't difficult. He swung down then up, following a pendulum curve of his vine until he was able to grab hold of the uppermost belly of the beast on the other side. The roots welcomed him like a hammock.
The hard part wasn't getting himself to safety, but rather dragging up the squirming Ice Maiden on the other end of his fishing line. She was wide eyed and panicked, nearly hyperventilating as he hauled her unceremoniously to somewhat solid ground.
"Don't let me fall." The woman whimpered when he finally got her close enough to grab, and he wondered if Kagami's hypnosis had been broken by the shock of the fall.
"I won't." Kurama promised, grabbing her hand, helping her.
As soon as she was safe in his hold, her eyes went blank.
He was wrong.
Kagami still had her.
The Ice Maiden grabbed the Kitsune's upper arms and dug deep into the muscle tissue. Frost spread from her skin to his. He bit back a gasp. Before he could restrain her, to stop the onslaught of shooting cold pain, she had already let go, dropping back down to the abyss below.
She'd served out her purpose to Kagami and was no longer useful.
Now, Kurama could have simply let her fall and declared their fight over. She'd been the one to let go, after all. Only she hadn't. The Shadow Beast was the puppet master pulling the strings behind her every action. She did not choose to fall to her death of her own free will. It was not suicide. It was murder.
And if he stood by doing nothing he was just as much to blame as the Kagemono who cast her off.
She was an innocent and Kurama would not have her death on his hands. He would not accept that guilt over the convenience of his own safety.
So, doing what any lunatic with a conscience would do, the Fox Demon let go from the safety rope and swan dove into the sky below him.
He promised that he wouldn't let her fall.
He was going to hold true to that promise.
Sometime between letting the roots slip from his fingers and grabbing the falling demoness in his arms, Kurama wondered if he would have ever considered doing such a thing before he'd been born as a human. The answer to that was not a simple no, but more of a resounding absolutely not. His own life had always taken priority above anybody else's. But now? Now he was throwing himself off cliffs to save strangers just because it was the right thing to do.
He caught her. A spark of static electricity bit him when he wrapped his arm around beneath her obi for a better hold, other hand crossing the skin of her neck to grasp her shoulder.
She would survive.
That brought him immense relief, even while they were racing towards the ground. Taking that leap meant that the shift in his morality had not simply been stitched into the lining of his human body—it had changed within his very soul. Losing that mortality did not mean this his humanity was forfeit; he wasn't going to go back to being a cold hearted bandit over night.
But perhaps that was the wrong thing to be worrying about at that moment.
A tingling sensation at the back of his next was the first indication that something was horribly wrong.
The Koorime in his arms moved against him, struggled for freedom, her face pressed against his neck. The scent of her skin, like the first frost in the fall, filled his nose. The touch of her flesh to his. The curve of her back. He gasped when the sensations began to overwhelm him. His grip tightened. Aura swelled.
Power rose inside his chest, demanding release.
He felt hot.
Before he could lose his ability to do so, Kurama sent a precise wisp of his energy to the specific seed he needed to activate that would save their lives from that southward tumble. Leaves exploded at his back, growing huge until they were the size of a hang glider. He'd used them once before in their fight against Sensui; the fronds of a demonic orchid that just so happened to resemble the tendrilled wings of a bird-butterfly. Red and white, the plant warned of poison and matched the two colors his hair had been with ironic cruelty.
His mind couldn't focus on much else until the two of them tumbled to the cold hard dirt of the ground below.
Shaken, Kurama rolled away from the body of the Ice Maiden, even as he yearned to draw nearer. She'd passed out just before impact.
That was probably for the best.
Blood rushed in his head. Electric red energy crackled across his skin when he couldn't press it back. He could feel the seeds hidden about his person as they began to sprout, roots searching for that power. Hungry. They needed more. Urgent.
He wasn't aware of his own yelp when he tore the ice stick from his side.
Blood painted the ground.
Vampiric vines slithered from his neck like leaches seeking the warm spot of wetness growing beneath his shirt. Panicked, he ripped them away.
A moan brought his attention back to the woman on the ground. His eyes widened. Kurama stared down at his hands before lurching up to his unstable feet.
He had to get away.
But there was nowhere to run. No getting away from the battle about to happen. The problem was within him.
Still, so long as he stayed there that woman was in danger.
It was a struggle to get further into the dormant forest with his own plants threatening to take control. He felt the glamour of his human form flicker and fall as an aura-eating tillandsia found the end of the weave. When the Kitsune slumped against the trunk of a dead tree the bark of it warped and gnarled beneath his touch.
Branches reached toward him like the undead hands of skeletal ghouls.
Kurama pushed away and stumbled.
Deeper into the frozen woods he wandered, breathless but determined to win back command from an inner beast he hadn't had to placate in well over twenty years.
══════ With Reason ══════
"Guys, we gotta go! It's not gonna hold!" Kuwabara shouted over the sounds of fighting beasts and falling rubble. He sensed a huge chunk of ceiling stonework before it crashed down and he jumped back so that it could squish a pair of squirming nasties instead. He was doing a fantastic job slicing and dicing, but there seemed to be no end to the lesser demon hoard. So he aimed for the doorway and cut a pathway through the blockage to feel like he was actually accomplishing something.
From the center of the room, Kagome gave a shout of agreement. The ground was already moving beneath their feet when a farther portion of the floor gave way to the story below. The Youkai, mindless as they were, didn't seem to care that their numbers were destroying the few supports that the room had left. A black blur zipped past Kuwabara-Hiei if he had to guess—and not long later Kagome joined him through the hole to the threshold that led to the already broken stairwell. She shot a blast of energy through the writing mass of claws and tentacles as she went, but still they just kept coming.
Did he mention that they were gross? Like rank gross. Their stench was probably going to linger in his hair for a couple days. But at that moment he had bigger worries, like the fact that the crawly, flying beasts were about to totally flood the castle and Yukina was still inside somewhere.
Just then the turret room gave way; the roof collapsed from the far window first, crushing whatever lucky saps happened to be beneath it. It moved forward a rapid wave of destruction, pushing the hoard ever still closer to them and opening up the space to the demon filled sky beyond. The stairs lost another step. Dust joined the choking miasma in the air.
Kagome loosed another arrow. Kuwabara cleared the room above him with a radiant slash and jumped across the gap before the whole thing could cave. Hiei sliced the stragglers that managed to get past to the hallway.
The sound was deafening as the room went down. Cries of blood and carnage, thunderous stones. Still, the mass persisted. More from the outside. Some from below. The light of the sky had nearly been blackened by bodies. A wall in the stairwell fell, pushed in by toothy worms. Dirt fell on them from the unstable ceiling.
Now, Kuwabara wasn't an architect, but he'd been in a few collapsing buildings in his career and he played a mean game of dominoes. He was about to suggest that it'd be best for them to hightail it out of there when Kagome beat him to the quip.
"You two keep going and find "You two keep going and find Yukina before the entire place crumbles! I'll catch up. I can clear most of them, but not until you two are out of the backlash zone."
Hiei didn't stick around to ask questions; from the corner of his eye, Kuwabara saw the dark little apparition start off down a random hallway. Then, after a moment of tense hesitation, the human man decided to trust Kagome to do her thing while he focused on the more important part of the mission. He offered her a tight nod, which the Kitsune returned with a flick of her tail and a little nod of her own.
He ran off. A burst of light flared behind him, but he didn't turn to look at it. Kuwabara was focused.
Up ahead the hall came to a T. The little dot that was Hiei turned left without pause.
"She's not down that way!" His voice was rough and nearly drowned out by the ruckus. Kuwabara tried again, shouting louder as his feet pounded the stone. "Other way!"
Hiei appeared when Kuwabara got to the end of the corridor and rounded the corner. The tiles of the floor behind him were beginning to give way. This time the Fire Demon didn't question the redhead's direction. Instead he gave a hissed curse and joined the taller man down the right hall.
There were scummy lesser demons even there, congesting the way and shrieking as the two detectives drew nearer. Hiei flit ahead in a flash. With a draw on his power that sent a black, putrid chill down Kuwabara's spine, the crazy blackberry ice cream half pint drew up an inky flame. He shot it down the way, incinerating everything in its path. Not for the first time, Kuwabara begrudgingly appreciated that Hiei was on their side—especially when his attack left nothing behind but little black smudges on the walls and ceiling. They looked like evil cave paintings.
"This way!" Kuwabara pivoted and led them down another alcove that had a set of stairs leading to the door. It was nearly identical to the first, with a ward plastered to the wooden barrier.
Again, just like with the other, the magic of the sealing talisman popped beneath the touch of Hiei's heat.
With the grace of a tactical swat team, Hiei and Kuwabara kicked in the door and swarmed the room with weapons blazing. The very dilapidated, very empty room. At the center there was another chair; its binds, already cut, lay encased in heaps of ice on the floor. Hiei walked over to kick one.
"She was here." He stated, as if Kuwabara wasn't able to feel the resonance of the Koorime's living essence that lingered in the place. The air was still sweet with winter's chill.
Something at one of the room's shattered windows caught the human's eye.
"Hey, take a look at this." He waved Hiei over so that the demon could also gander at the impressive ice structure clinging to the outer wall of the turret. "It's like some kinda ladder."
"She escaped." Kuwabara honestly couldn't tell if Hiei was pissed or impressed—he really only seemed to have one setting, so Kuwabara was just going to assume pissed. Then it dawned on him what it actually was that pinched the Forbidden Child's face like that. It wasn't anger—it was concern.
Freaky demon maggot concern, but concern nonetheless.
Just after identifying the foreign emotion, Kuwabara also realized why Hiei was suddenly so concerned.
"So she's out there somewhere. With those things." He didn't need to gesture to the sky to identify just which threatening things he was referring to.
Suddenly a loud boom shook the castle. Kuwabara stumbled to remain on his feet. From the window they saw the brilliant light of Kagome's power as it encompassed the western portion of the sky above. Moments later, as if rushing past them in a wave, the force of that energy rippled past them. Time, it seemed, had trained the Black Fox to control her shock-wave and send it into a specific direction, but the recoil still nearly knocked like a blow to the stomach.
If they'd been any closer that could have really hurt without some sort of barrier.
Clay and mortar crumbled onto Kuwabara's hair. A stone fell between him and Hiei. They both stared at it briefly before looking back up to one another. Then, in an unspoken agreement, the two Spirit Detectives leapt in tandem out the shattered remains of the massive, arching window.
"Yukina!" Kuwabara shouted over the courtyard as he formed a long spirit sword and used it to slow himself into a tumble on the dead grass of the ground.
Hiei landed with the eerie grace of the devil's butterfly beside him and took off running the instant his boots hit dirt.
"She couldn't have gotten far!" Lunging into a spring, Kuwabara held his pinky finger high. He caught the pull. The feel of his red string wrapped a warm embrace around his soul. He wondered how he could have ever mistaken Kagami's artificial lure as the real deal. "Over there!" He shouted to invisible ears that were sure to hear him.
They came to a place in the gardens that, like the rest of the structure, was half finished and grossly overrun with dead and rambling vines. What looked like a fountain stood center, covered in branching cracks and filled with coagulated pools of what could have been old blood—Kuwabara cussed his overactive imagination and tried not to look at it too long. Further still, in a feature that might have been a statuary at one point but was now filled with a collection of shattered, screaming stones, was a floweret of sharp and pointy ice.
It wasn't nearly as large or as impressive as Kagami's display had been, but at the same time this Yukina, the real Yukina, barely had access to her powers. She was still warded.
Getting to the Ice Maiden first, Hiei disposed of the demons circling too far overhead for her to reach. There were more, Kuwabara realized, a lot more, already dead and scattered in a perfect circle around her and her tiny defenses.
Again he shouted, this time with gusto. "Yukina!"
The glowing form of the short young demoness turned to face him; her eyes alit bright with white. "Kuwabara?" She breathed. "Mr. Hiei." The light faded. Whatever aura she had pulled from within herself snapped back to her core like the crack of a rubber band. She winced before the ice of her features broke into a soft smile. "Thank goodness." Yukina let out, and then she fell.
Hiei caught her before her knees could be scuffed by the ground. From her back he ripped a ward. The paper burnt to ashes, releasing her aura to wash over them like a beautiful and refreshing gust of January wind.
They did it.
They found Yukina.
Kuwabara grinned, feeling tears welling in his eye holes. They were manly tears, well deserved manly tears. He didn't even care if the scrawny little fire punk saw that he was crying. They found Yukina.
Behind him there was a sudden loud noise, and shortly after he could barely hear anything else over the cacophonous roar of the castle finally giving in to its damages. It collapsed in a torrent of wind and dust.
He didn't turn to watch it fall. Instead he padded his way over to Yukina, strutting his best badass impression as the destruction played out at his back. He was a knight in shining feathers, a peacock on a white steed, on high from the rescue of his princess. Yukina peeked up. She watched him with amusement, then, when her gaze drifted around his torso, the Koorime's red eyes widened.
"Kagome!" She yelled out, hefting her voice louder than Kuwabara had ever heard it. "The castle! It is a greater trap!"
It all happened at once. As Yukina was getting her warning out Kuwabara turned and slow motion snapped into effect. Kagome was back there, across the barren courtyard and looking disheveled as she walked from the ruins of the building. Just before the Maiden finished, there was a resounding blast that once more rocked the earth, only this one was deeper, bigger. This time there was fire. The Black Kitsune's reaction was instantaneous. She didn't have time to turn around to face the explosion, so she dropped to the ground where she stood, hands colliding with the soil as she raised up a barrier wall.
She was just barely fast enough.
Orange hot flames slammed against the invisible glass of her barrier and shot upwards, scorching the sky. The heat of it could still be felt and damn was it hot! Even from where Kuwabara was standing as a human shield before Yukina and blocking his eyes, he could feel it.
He was going to have one hell of a nasty sunburn later.
When the blast subsided, nothing remained of the castle but white ash and bubbling red rock. The forest was wiped bare for some distance; only their little patch that Kagome saved still stood. Any of the lesser minion demons that had survived the collapse or were hiding out of bounds were probably dead now—very, very dead. Not even crispy critter dead, they were extinct.
Kagami was insane.
Kuwabara let out a strangled, disbelieving laugh.
Kagome fell to her forearms.
From behind him, Yukina clambered out of Hiei's grasp. She ignored his protests and darted for the Priestess. "Kagome! You're injured!" She cried, alert and concerned as she placed herself in front of the older Demoness.
Pushing back up, Kagome gathered her breath and gave a quiet reassurance that she was fine, but even Kuwabara could see the flash of the hole that'd been burnt through her jacket. A lock of hair fell to the ground beside her. His feelings of relief and triumph suddenly tainted with worry, Kuwabara began to make his way over to the women. He slowed when he heard the Fox once more pose her question of identification to the Ice Maiden.
"Yukina. Who is your brother?"
The look in the Priestess' glowing blue eyes was scary intense, but unlike Kuwabara, Yukina did not falter.
Understanding the importance of the question, she gave her answer straight.
The human Spirit Detective froze in place. Then, in an abrupt about face, he turned to stare at Hiei. The wide-eyes look of absolute horror on the apparition's face would have been the funniest thing in the world, if it hadn't been tainted by Kuwabara's own shock.
They were—? No. It didn't make—! Shit! Kuwabara cussed under his breath, because it did make sense. It made every lick of sense! Well, duh. No shit!? So, that whole time—
"You knew?" Hiei let out, his breath far more incredulous.
Seriously, now that he was looking between the two, it was pretty obvious, Kuwabara thought. It was like super freaky,even. They had the same stature and jawlines. Heck, they even had the same darn eye color for crying out loud! He'd never really thought about it like that before—red was probably a common color for demons, right? But no, this was a very specific shade of glittering crimson...
Yukina turned and gave Hiei a delicate nod. "I've known for a long time." She said.
At his sides Hiei's hands clenched white as if he were going to lash out, but Yukina didn't flinch. His entire body was tense, like super unhealthy tense with his knees locked and everything. Kuwabara watched as the blood drained from his face, leaving his usually tan face pale. He looked like death.
"Dude's gonna drop!" Kuwabara warned as he took a side step away from the apparition.
Sure enough, Hiei lost consciousness and fell to the ground.
Yeah, Kuwabara probably could have caught him, but like… why? Hiei'd never done a single nice thing for the human and it was way funnier seeing the big tough shrimp eat dirt. He wasn't exactly a mighty timber, so he didn't make much of a sound; it was more of a little thwup.
"Geeze," The gangly redhead said and went to stand over the heap of Hiei. His adrenaline was just beginning to simmer down, and with Yukina back to safe and sound he was beginning to feel humor again. "What a drama queen."
"He'll be alright." Kagome said as she dropped her barrier. It took Kuwabara a second to realize that she was reassuring Yukina and not him. "He's just over exerted himself."
Not physically, she didn't add but Kuwabara deduced. He hadn't used enough of his power for that. Hiei had burned himself out in a way that he had far less experience in—something more complex than simple combat fighting. The pompadoured young man couldn't help but snort. "I guess it pays to be in tune with my emotions, otherwise I'd probably be right down there with 'im. He shorted a fuse." Very used to being on Hiei duty, Kuwabara bent down to pull the tiny demon up and over his shoulder. He couldn't count how many times he'd had to carry the twerp back from a battle as if he were lugging a little brother back home after being beaten up on the playground.
A little brother…
Wait a minute.
The realization hit him a bit later than it should have and Kuwabara stood up quickly, his back straighter than a ramrod. Hiei almost fell off, but Kuwabara grabbed him.
Holy cheese on toast, he was in love with Hiei's sister.
If he ever married Yukina… that would make Hiei his…
Bristled, Kuwabara shook away the goosepimpling thought and jogged over to the girls. Desperately he changed the subject, not that they could hear what was going on in panicked circles in his head. "W-we're going after Kagami now, yeah?"
"Kazuma, your face is all red. Are you in pain?"
Kagome smiled at Yukina's inquiry before rising to her own feet and turning back to examine what no longer remained of the hideout. The state of her back was not a pretty sight. "No, I'm sending you three back home. Tuck Hiei in a safe place and recoup. I'll catch up to Yusuke and see how they're fairing on their front."
"But you're all…" He was going to say crispy, but she shrugged him off.
"It's superficial. It'll be gone by tomorrow. I'm the only one who can make the portal to get there and anywhere else if he happens to jump us. This is my mess to clean up. We should have someone at the temple to make sure nothing gets through when we all return to the human realm. I trust you to keep everyone there safe."
Kuwabara considered arguing, because he would have really liked to clock Kagami in the face, but at the same time he wanted to go back to the temple. He wanted to make sure that Yukina was two hundred and fifty percent okay. He wanted to not let her out of his sight until everything settled down. And he wanted to hold her hand and talk to her throughout the night.
As if reading his mind, the radiant young Ice Maiden extended her hand towards him. He grabbed it, his large paw threading her tiny fingers. She was warm. Then she pulled him down; he was putty in her grasp, dazed and amazed as she reeled his tall form to her level and planted a gentle kiss on his cheek. "You should rest now. Your spirit was rather frayed in the excitement."
Her presence was a soothing balm. He flushed, helpless to resist.
"Okay, I'll go back. Kurama and Yusuke probably already have 'im beat, anyway." When he straightened back up, Kuwabara couldn't fully look Kagome in the eye. He fidgeted and straightened the unconscious Hiei. Wow. That was awkward. Good thing the little beastie didn't wake up there.
Kuwabara was a lot of big talk when it came to his relationship with Yukina. Proclaiming his love to the world came easy, but he was always pretty shy about the actual physical displays of affection. Yukina, on the other hand, didn't mind stealing a kiss every now and again behind closed doors—she was always the one to initiate, Kuwabara never wanted to push anything on her—but she wasn't one to freely admit her feelings. Actual PDA wasn't a thing yet, and still most of their friends probably figured that the relationship was one sided.
Kagome, though, acted as if she already knew. Weird as it was, she probably did, too.
"You'll make sure we get him, right? Kagami needs to know that he can't just mess with the Spirit Detectives like that and get away with it." He said to the Fox. He was far more levelheaded with Yukina at his side. "He's crossed the line, Kagome. I get that you were close once, but if you let him go, I'll just go after him on my own."
The Kitsune woman's mouth set in a firm grimace. If anything, she knew he was telling the truth. If the Shadow Beast slipped through their fingers, Kuwabara would chase him down to the ends of the earth and tear him to shreds like a bluetick coonhound.
Ears pinned back, the priestess nodded.
"He's going to be brought to justice, Kazuma." She assured him. Her hand rose to touch her chest just below where the jewel sat at her collarbone. "I'll see to that personally."
══ Inuyasha X Yu Yu Hakusho ══
After the portal blinked shut behind Kuwabara and Yukina, leaving her alone on that barely green island surrounded by bleak, still-somewhat-on-fire devastation, Kagome shuddered. She wrapped her arms around her shoulders to where the fabric of a jacket had been burnt away by the heat that had transferred through her barrier. Her reflexes had been quick, but still, no barrier built in that short of span could be perfect.
The burns were painful, but they were insignificant; as she told Kuwabara, they would heal. More than the pain of her raw flesh, the priestess was struck by a strange new fear. For her entire life as a demoness, those past five hundred years, she knew almost exactly what was going to happen next—world events, societal and cultural changes, the personal stories of those strongly involved with the future of the Three Realms. Yet now, for the first time since she was a teenager, Kagome no longer knew what was going to happen next. She could only make educated guesses, and as that clash had just demonstrated, she wasn't always going to be right.
Taking a deep breath, Kagome ran through her locks to shake away the bits that had broken off. Then, when she was fully prepared for her next round of battle, she focused on the half-demon Spirit Detective's aura and opened up her portal.
There was no telling what action awaited her beyond the door.
Firmed and determined, the now experienced Demoness took a sure step onto the ground on the other side, only to slip on an unexpectedly sleek dancefloor of clear ice.
"Careful, shit's cold."
Kagome caught her balance and spun to the voice. The shimmering pink portal blinked from existence, revealing none other than Yusuke Urameshi sitting on the frozen ground behind it. He was tossing a familiar thin knife in the air.
She'd gotten lucky. The Jewel's portal didn't always guarantee and opening directly next to her target. Sometimes it opened up to half a kilometer away; it had a little to do with how emotionally connected she was to the being she was looking for, but mostly it was just random.
"They're stilettos." He said, not looking back to her when the Kitsune woman did not say anything right away. "Nobody expects stilettos, apparently."
The area there was deserted and frosted in layers upon layers of thick and jagged ice. Only Yusuke remained.
Was this another trick?
Had Kagami gotten to him as well?
"Yusuke," she spoke gently. "What is your father's name?"
The tossing of the knife stopped abruptly. "Raizen was not my father." He growled.
"Not Raizen. Your real father."
At that Yusuke gave her a one eyed glare from over his shoulder. "You're real fucking creepy when you do that you know, right?" Then scoffed and turned back to the trees coated in their fine shimmering fortress of glass. "Bastard's name was Kinsuke I think."
Kagome let out a breath. He was the genuine Detective all right. "It was Kosuke."
"See? Real fucking creepy."
"Yusuke... Kagami showed up, didn't he?" She asked. The signs of the battle were everywhere, yet the Mazoku was just calmly sitting there in the middle of it all, waiting for her to arrive.
"You mean the Yukina lookalike? Yeah, he's long gone."
"And Toru? That's one of his blades."
"Funny thing, right? Who brings normal knives to a Youki battle? I mean, except for maybe Chu. But that son of a bitch's got his own brand of crazy."
Kagome firmed her tone. "Yusuke. Tell me where he is. Did he—?"
"Fly through a magic portal after the Shadow of his childhood buddy?" Yusuke interrupted in a carefree manner that was laced poison thick with sarcasm. "Sure did. Say, hey. Since we're talking. You tell me something now. Do you think you left out something really important when you were giving us the lowdown on Kagami's tragic backstory?"
The priestess, who'd been scouting the Realm for her best friend's son, paused. "What?"
Yusuke bristled but still didn't turn to look at her. "Don't you what me. Raizen. When were you going to tell me that Raizen killed Kagami's freaking mom?"
Stunned speechless, Kagome let her mouth drop open. That was not what she thought he was going to say. Her reply sounded just as taken off guard as she felt. "He... what?"
Yusuke sighed and started up his fiddling of the knife once again. This time when he spoke he seem to be genuinely disappointed in her. "Oh, don't give me that. There's no way you didn't know."
But she didn't.
She honestly, truly-how could she not have known that!?
"Yusuke please, you have to believe me. I didn't know." Stepping carefully about the slippery ice, the Kitsune swung around to face the young man. "Kagami never spoke about his family. I just assumed they disappeared with the rest of his clan when Naraku was killed. It must've been beyond my time, Yusuke. I wasn't there for anything that happened before Naraku."
As she was arguing her case, Yusuke looked up to study her with a tired frown. If he thought she was lying this time, the Priestess didn't know how she would ever be able to win back his much-needed trust. Luckily, he must have seen it in her eyes, because as soon as she finished talking, Yusuke raked long fingers through his disheveled hair and said, "Well, apparently they had a scuffle before the mass extinction. Which, what the hell was that about?"
Kagome could breathe again when he held out his hand and she helped him to his feet. For some reason, his shoes had a better grip than hers did. She kept a hold on his arm to keep from sliding away across the ice rink, her tail tight around her thigh.
"I still don't know for sure, since Kagami is now the only survivor. But we think they all gathered to seek power from Naraku to defeat... the Mazoku. Oh."
"I... didn't think it was going to come up. I didn't realize Kagami would hold that over you. He would have just been a little kid at the time and you weren't born a Mazoku. I would have warned you if I knew."
Yusuke fought with himself to keep from biting back. His calmer, more mature side eventually won out to coat his next words in tongue-in-cheek humor instead of anger. "Well? You know now. What were they fighting over? Who could be the most pretentious? Wait. Does it have anything to do with why he couldn't transform into me? Because he tried that and it didn't work. Please don't tell me he's like my long-lost brother or something."
"He tried?" the Priestess' glowing eyes grew wide and panicked.
The Atavism shrugged. "Yeah, I let him take a wack at it."
"You... For shit's sake Yusuke. You let him!?" She stopped as her inward thoughts raced. "But if he couldn't... I need to confirm something. Where's Kurama?" She looked around, but again Yusuke was the only one up there with her on that floating platform. No other Fox in sight. When she turned back to Yusuke, he looked askance to the edge of the island with shame. Her ears pinned back tight against her head. "Yusuke. Where is Kurama?"
Suddenly, as if she'd summoned it from the beyond, Kurama's energy flared. Wild, untameable, dangerous, from the land so far below them. Just a flash and then it was gone. A sharp ripple raking across the land.
To Kagome, the feeling was terrifyingly familiar.
Yusuke jumped at the sensation unaware of the foreboding it brought, and sprinted to the edge of the hovering ball of ice. "Fuck! Thank god, he's okay! I mean, I totally knew he was but, yes!" His joy belied how absolutely worried sick he had been, stuck up there in the sky with no way to get home.
And he had absolutely no clue just how wrong he was.
Kagome fell still, and then she spoke.
"Yusuke. I need to get you home. Right now."
═══════ Tsarashi ══════════
Chapter Thirteen: End
Tsarashi – Hello and thank you for reading this new chapter of With Reason. This concludes the 'Saving Yukina' mini arc, which means that we can finally move on to the deeper meat of things. Originally these three chapters of 'Winter's Search' were meant to be written out in a single chapter. Needless to say, that didn't happen. I hope you've enjoyed reading this so far and know that, while it may be slow, there is still more to come.
In regards to the warning at the beginning of the chapter; I believe it is fair to understand why I put off posting this chapter by a few days, even though I had finished writing it on the 17h. It was a terrible coincidence that this scene happened to coincide with such a tragic event and I most certainly was not going to post this in the wee hours following the aftermath of the KyoAni fire. I had debated back and forth about deleting the explosion and starting over—destroying Kagami's temporary hideout and all trace of his having been there in a different way—but in the end I ultimately chose to keep it and trudge onward. Why? Because in the past I have had people comment positively on how my stories do not gloss over pains and hardships, and I want to continue to embody that, even within my everyday life. It would be counter-intuitive for me personally to delete these words I'd written.
To quote Johnathon Larson: The opposite of war isn't peace—it's creation.
Even if that creation is from Kuwabara's way-less-than-sensitive point of view.
So, In lieu of sweeping away the shame of my heinous happenstance under a rug, I am going to embrace it with hesitant arms and ask that you please take the time after reading this to share with me a moment of silence and appreciation for the 34 creative individuals who lost their lives last week.
As you all undoubtedly have already heard, there was an attack on the Kyoto Animation Studio last Thursday, 07/18/19, in Japan which resulted in the largest malicious loss of life in post-war Japanese modern history. The world has been brutally robed of so many amazing artists and creators by this act of hate—it truly was an attack on culture. KyoAni was one of the few studios that vowed to treat their employees, both men and women, justly and produced works of a genuine wholesome nature. My heart goes out to all of the employees, the victims, and their families.
In the US, Sentai Filmworks, another fantastically wholesome and supportive studio, has started up a GoFundMe to help aid KyoAni through this terrible time. Do please consider showing your support by donating, if not as a fan of the studio, but as a member of the anime community, or even as a member the international community at broad. Money will not bring back the lives of those that were lost, but any little bit will help to rebuild those that have been shattered by this tragedy.
Please stay safe out there.
Until next time.