“You’re not blind, idiot,” came a familiar voice in cutting tones. “There’s just no light.”
Kurama tried sitting up and his back protested angrily. He groaned again, his ears flat against his skull. He must have sprained his back when he went hurtling to the ground – no, when Yomi hurtled into him and both of them went hurtling to the ground.
“Are you all right?” Yomi’s voice sounded supremely indifferent.
A sarcastic remark almost left Kurama’s mouth but he swallowed it just in time. He sighed and decided to turn back into Shuuichi. At least he wouldn’t be so cranky in that body.
A moment later he was brushing red hair from his eyes and feeling pleased because the inclination to bite somebody’s head off had lessened considerably. He could even summon up feelings of concern.
“How about you, Yomi? Are you hurt?”
“You sound as if you’re saying that through gritted teeth,” Kurama observed.
“There you are again.”
There was silence this time, but the temperature in the dungeon – for it was a dungeon they found themselves in – fell a few hundred degrees. Slightly daunted, nevertheless Kurama crawled across the stone floor towards the direction of the voice.
“Ow!” Kurama muttered as he crashed into something. He groped out a hand.
“Do you mind?” The voice could freeze hellfire.
“Sorry.” Kurama sat down beside him and removed a seed from his hair, intending to make some light. However, when he tried to summon his youki, it seemed very far away, across oceans and deserts. “I can’t make light,” he stated.
“We’re warded.” There was a silent “baka” added to the end of that sentence. “If I weren’t, don’t you think I would have blasted out of this place already?”
“You probably would have,” Kurama agreed. “But no matter!” He fished around in his pocket and produced his stepfather’s lighter. “And then there was light,” he pronounced, holding the lighter up. It illuminated the dank little cell in flickering yellow.
He moved closer to Yomi to check for injuries. He gasped as he saw his back. It looked as if it had been splashed with acid. His clothes hung in tattered strips, exposing red, blistered and bleeding flesh. “How did this happen?” Kurama enquired, concerned.
Kurama’s eyes widened as realization hit him square between the eyes. It must have been from that explosion and that light. If Yomi hadn’t flung himself on top of him and shielded him…
He let the little flame go out. “I have some plants that would be useful for that,” he said, “But unfortunately…” He trailed off into silence.
He heard Yomi shift and move in the darkness. “Are you all right?” Kurama asked.
“Do you have any idea who might be behind this?”
Kurama sighed. Well, he supposed he should be glad Yomi was even deigning to answer him at all. He leaned his head against the wall. He didn’t like this. Oh, he was used to darkness, used to the night when wild creatures hunted and the Makai was transformed from a dangerous place to a deadly one, where it was a matter of survival of the fittest. But there had been light in the darkness, the light from the moon, the light from torches, the light from flickering fireflies. Kurama closed his eyes and remembered that sometimes, at night, when there was a full moon, he would find a lake or a pond, and sit at its bank in his fox form, gazing at the reflection of the perfect moon on the still, black waters. He had liked to do that, he recalled, because it reminded him of the old story the old women would tell sometimes, of how you could catch and steal the moon when it came down to the lake.
But he never did.
Someone was calling his name. He lifted his head. “Yes, Yomi?”
“I’ve been shouting myself hoarse here,” Yomi said, sounding annoyed.
“I was - remembering,” Kurama replied, unconsciously echoing Yomi’s earlier statement.
“Well, do it later. Right now I want you to pay attention. I think I’ve managed to find a chink in the wards around me. I think… I just may be able to open a portal out of here. When it does – if it does, I want you to be ready to leap through it at once because I can’t hold it open for more than two seconds. Do you understand?”
“Wait a minute. You want me to jump through a portal which may lead away from here.”
“It will lead away from here.”
“All right. What about you?”
“I can’t hold the portal open and jump through it at the same time.”
Kurama heard the other youkai take a long, deep breath. “I’m going to be expending too much energy as it is trying to open the portal with these wards on me. That’s why it’s not going to remain open for more than one or two seconds. You have to act fast and go through it the moment you see it appear.”
“I’m not going to leave you here.”
“Why not? You’ve done it before.” Yomi clamped his mouth shut. Stupid stupid stupid! he berated himself. He hadn’t meant to reveal how much his betrayal hurt. But it does, he thought silently to himself. Even after all this time, it still burned a hole through his heart.
He felt Kurama moving closer, then his hand was on his shoulder. “I won’t leave you, Yomi.”
He swallowed thickly and said, “You have to. There is no other way to get out of here.”
“They’ll find us. Yuusuke and the rest would have realized I’d disappeared and they’ll come looking for me.”
“Do they even know where to look? Do they even know what has happened? And maybe by the time those wimpy friends of yours come barging in to the rescue we’d be dead already.”
“I’m not leaving you.”
“I have no wish to die. If we both stay here we’re as good as dead. Go through the portal when it appears. I can’t make a long-range one so in all probability you’ll end up somewhere near here. You can go find your friends and lead them here then.”
Yomi reached for his youki. It was faint and weak beyond the wards, but he found the tear, and through it his youki was stronger. He extended his power, murmuring the words of the spell under his breath. A shimmering doorway appeared in the pitch darkness.
“Damn it, Kurama!”
“I’ll come back for you!” he shouted, and leaped.
The portal closed, and the darkness returned with amazing swiftness. Yomi slumped forward, his energy expended. “You can come out now,” he whispered, “Whoever you are.”
The door to the cell swung open and footsteps paused just inside. A faint fragrance permeated the tiny cell.
“You knew I was here all along.” A woman’s voice, sweet and childlike.
“You knew I was going to form the portal. And yet you did nothing. You deliberately let him escape, didn’t you?”
“Now why would I do something like that?”
“Because you’re mad? You certainly must be, to kidnap me. Don’t you know who I am?”
“Who are you?”
“I am a lord of the Makai. I have armies under my command. Release me now, and I might let you live.”
Laughter, clear and mocking. “I have you under my power. And even though you found the weak point in my wards, you’ve expended all your power forming that gateway. You should have used your energy to destroy me.”
“How were you sure I wouldn’t?”
She laughed again. “I knew you’d use it to let your friend escape.” She paused, and when she spoke again, her voice was different. “He is Kurama, after all. I am not surprised that he can command such loyalty from even one such as you.”
Yomi became very still. “What do you know about Kurama?” His voice was quiet.
“Considerably more than you do, I would say.”
He tried another tack. “What are you going to do with me?”
“Kill you, of course.”
“For what purpose?”
“Oh… you’ll find out soon enough. Or maybe not. Either way, it wouldn’t matter, because you’d be dead.”
“If you’re going to kill me, then do it now. What are you waiting for?”
“Don’t you want to give Kurama a chance to come rescue you?” She sounded surprised.
“I doubt you would want that.”
“Oh, but I do.” The footsteps receded, and then there was the sound of the door clanging close.
He crawled over to the wall and leaned against it, because he was sure if he didn’t lean on something, he was going to topple over like a stack of cards. He sighed softly. The expenditure of his youki had exhausted him, more than he thought it would.
Sleep washed over him slowly like a quiet ocean. In his sleep, he remembered something Kurama had said, before he became a red-haired human. It was after a successful raid, and they were sitting around a campfire – Kurama being so confident of his abilities that he had risked making a fire – and they were very slightly drunk and Kurama was twirling a gold necklace round and round, flashing in the firelight, and he said – and he said –
“There’s some blue cheese in the tea.”
He jerked awake in the darkness, which was no lighter now than it was before. He had a feeling he had been asleep for hours. Briefly he wondered if Kurama would really come back, or if he was going to pay a visit to that accursed Reikai place soon.
He heard footsteps outside the cell. For a moment he wondered if it would be worth it to get up, hide behind the door and maybe ambush his captor when she came in. But he was still very tired and disoriented, so he stayed where he was.
The door opened, and again there came the scent of some sweet fragrance. Roses, Yomi realized suddenly, she smelled of roses.
“Your friend Kurama is near,” she said, “But he will never find this place. Not before I let him, of course. Not before I take your life.”
“What do you want?” he asked her, trying to play for time. “I am a powerful lord, I can give you whatever your heart desires.”
“What do you know of my desires, blind mazoku?” Her voice was mocking and angry. “But yes, you will fulfil my heart’s desire… when I kill you…”
“At least tell me the reason why I am to die.”
“Dead people do not need to know why they are dead.”
“Kurama.” At the name, he could feel her stiffening. “You surround yourself with the scent of Kurama. Why?”
“It is none of your concern!” she hissed. Suddenly he could feel her shock. With a sharp intake of breath her body seemed to freeze all over. “It’s – not possible,” she whispered, voice laced with pain. “They’ve – broken through – my defenses?”
Yomi wanted to say something mocking about how nothing was impossible for the Urameshi Team, but that would be wasting time, for in that instant, the wards around him weakened. A perfect opportunity to blast them away into smithereens.
He heard her stumble. “No…” A sound of horror.
He stood up, his youki surrounding him like wings of fire. He bound her in chains of air. Now that his power had returned, he could “see” her. She looked like a ningen, with black eyes and long red-gold hair. She was dressed all in white, which made her look like an apparition.
“Answer my question,” he said quietly. “Who are you?”
She was silent.
“If you answer my questions I might let you live,” he went on.
“You ask me for my name?” she inquired coolly.
“I ask you who you are.”
“My name is Kagami. I am a youkai. But I look human, do I not? Kurama always told me I look like a pretty ningen girl.” She smiled, did a little pirouette for him.
He drew in his breath sharply. “Kurama. What do you want with him?”
“Ah, so protective,” she giggled. “My lord, you are pathetic.”
“I asked you a question.”
“What do I want with him? Nothing. Nothing much. I just want him to suffer the way he made me suffer, for two hundred years…” She giggled again. “Nothing. Nothing at all.” When she looked at him, her eyes were sly and she was smiling. “I thought… when he came back for you and found you dead… he would never forgive himself. For leaving you behind. For this second betrayal.”
Something sharp and cold and burning sidled up to the region of his heart and threatened to run him through. “What is he to you?”
“Nobody. Nobody. Nobody at all.” Her sing-song voice reverberated in the walled dungeon. She laughed, then, just as quickly, burst into silent tears. “He left me… left me all alone… I loved him and he left me! How dare he! How dare he!” She crumpled onto the floor, burying her face in her hands. “How could he…”
Yomi stood frozen as she sobbed quietly before him. Slowly he approached her. She looked up, her tear-streaked face like a child’s. “You said you wouldn’t kill me.”
She nodded. And then she smiled. “Tell him… tell him he will pay for what he did to me. All his sins will come back to haunt him one day. He can’t run away from the past. And he will pay.”
He broke her neck. He thought it would be hard to kill her, he thought he would sympathize, but really, it wasn’t very hard at all.
He stood looking down at her, his lacerated back burning a trail through his senses. Her voice echoed in his head. “How dare he! How dare he!” And his own, laced with the same bitterness, the same rage, the same pain, spoken hours, maybe days ago:
“How dare you!”
He stood at the very edge of the cliff, listening to the cacophony of the ever-restless sea. The wind whipped his clothes and his long hair into a frenzy. Restless…
He sensed his approach long before he came to stand beside him. Yomi smiled softly to himself. All the neat little benefits of the wonderful power. How had he ever managed without it? He might talk all he wanted about friendship and loyalty and betrayal, but in the end, he was a youkai, and all that ever mattered to a youkai was power.
He bowed his head, still smiling. Perhaps if he told himself that often enough, he would even begin to believe it, and maybe then he would stop feeling as if his heart had been turned to stone.
“I can’t wait for this to be over,” Kurama remarked, sighing softly and running his hand through his hair.
“This tournament. It’s meaningless. I just wish someone would win and we can all go home.” He stopped, looking slightly shocked, then he laughed softly. “What am I saying? It must be homesickness.”
“Yes. It’s a human ailment. Don’t worry. The Makai being as it is, youkai are immune to it. How’s your back?”
“It’s healing, thank you for your concern.”
Kurama regarded him silently for a few moments. “Did you ever find out about the youkai who attacked us? Did her body really disintegrate after you killed her?”
“Yes. Why would I lie?”
“I didn’t mean to say that you lied.”
Yomi hesitated. “She… she said her name was… Kagami.”
Kurama tilted his head to one side, considering. “Did you know her?” he asked finally.
Yomi shook his head, letting out the breath that he didn’t know he was holding. “No. No, I don’t.” He paused. “But I may have forgotten. There are so many people… so many voices in the past, all clamoring to be heard… it’s almost impossible to remember…”
Kurama stretched and transformed. He yawned. “Yes, and one shouldn’t live in the past anyway. Like I keep saying.” He smiled, silver hair falling into his eyes.
“But some of us can’t live anywhere else.”
Yomi felt a hand on his shoulder. He did not shrug it off. He listened to the sea, and he thought he understood now how Kurama could have betrayed him all those years ago. Yes. Perhaps now he finally understood. Or perhaps he didn’t. What was the truth anyway, and did it really matter so much?
“Yomi,” Kurama said, his voice uncharacteristically grave. “Nobody can change the past. I wish I could, but I don’t think even Inari can do that. We all have to live with our mistakes. I’m sorry. Forgive me.”
He nodded. He couldn’t seem to speak. What was “forgive me” after all, but another form of “goodbye”?
He sensed Kurama leaving. “Kurama,” he called out. Kurama stopped and looked at him. “You were my only friend, you know,” he said.
“You were my only friend too, Yomi,” Kurama said.
He turned and left, and Yomi stood where he was, unmoving, listening to the quiet sounds of the sea.