InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Phoenix Rising ❯ Chapter Two ( Chapter 2 )

[ P - Pre-Teen ]
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters, etc., of Inuyasha or Yu Yu Hakusho. This story is for entertainment purposes only, and not for profit.PHOENIX RISING

Summary: Not everyone is happy when Enki wins the Demon World Tournament. A new darkness rises out of the east, threatening the fragile new kingdom, and our heroes find themselves thick in the fray.

A/N: Sakyo’s last name was never mentioned in the anime, and even Wikipedia has him listed simply as “Sakyo N.” I chose “Nakamura,” which is a fairly common last name. I’m also introducing some more minor characters from both series, just to see where it all goes. =P


Onna - woman
Mo nighean donn - Gaelic for “my brown-haired girl”

Chapter Two

She was never one for daydreams, though her father had spun fairy tales like spider webs, as she and her little brother curled around him like puppies, sleepily content as his light drawl drew fanciful tales of heroes and maidens, swords and magic. But she knew those tales were only for children, that the romance spun in a web of lies to entertain kids hid the darker secret of their very real existence. For she knew there were real monsters in this world, monsters who had no problem eating humans and making mayhem, and there existed few heroes to stop them. Rarely did the champion defeat the bad guy, get the girl and the requisite kiss and ride happily into ever after.

Life wasn’t like that. Life was the mundane things, the day to day things, like dirty socks, overdue bills and the high tuition for a brother who felt bad she was paying so much for the school she’d pushed him into. Life was trudging from one job to the next, hoping her tips would be better than yesterday’s, that there would be enough left over to maybe get a pizza on the way home rather than having to make dinner after a long day. Life was scurrying from one train to the next, with all the other rats in this daily race that didn’t end until well after dark, when she came home to flop down on the couch, her feet hurting and her temples pounding as she exhaled the lacy smoke with a sigh from her lit cigarette.

Some might call her a hero, for giving up her scholarship to a good college and sacrificing her own life to take care of her knuckleheaded brother after their parents had died in that car accident. She was barely eighteen, he just fourteen, when the cops came to abruptly change their world. Her bright hopes for the future were cashed in for his, as there was no one else, none that she knew of, anyway. Their grandmother, back in Ireland, had died when she was still young and Kazuma but a baby. Their mother had no brothers and sisters, and their father had never spoken of any, either. There was just the two of them, and she wasn’t going to abandon Kazuma to foster homes while she selfishly went to school. There was no help for it, and so she’d willingly shouldered the burden of raising a boy who dealt with his helplessness at their parents’ death and his difficulties in school by applying his fists.

Those first years had been hard. She’d had to concentrate on making money, paying bills. She’d kept the house by the skin of her teeth, working two, sometimes three, jobs to provide some stability for her little brother in a world that was suddenly so uncertain. Going to cosmetology school at night, she wasn’t at home as much as she should have been, maybe, to keep an eye on Kazuma. But she’d finally been able to quit that stupid retail job to make a little more money cutting hair, and could reduce her second job, waiting tables, to a few nights a week.

She didn’t mind the work. She’d always worked hard, yet another tenet her father had instilled in her along with things like loyalty and pride, and a solid integrity she was proud Kazuma, at least, still held. She carefully nurtured that simple faith in her brother---that right and wrong were black and white, and that good did triumph over evil in the end. She knew the world was gray, that sometimes things just didn’t work out, but Kazuma’s faith somehow made up for her own cynicism, his trust her suspicion. That by protecting and nurturing him with her own sacrifice she made it all---worth it, somehow.

Not that it was a sacrifice. God knows she wasn’t the best parent for her baby bro. She didn’t have the saintly patience of her mother or the tolerance and humor of her father for Kazuma’s often stupid exploits. He’d never been good in school, not caring to apply himself, and her tough love mixed with fond exasperation probably wasn’t the best way to help him do better. But she tried her hardest, and it seemed to be enough, for despite the knucklehead’s rough edges, he was a good boy, and turning into a strong man.

Yeah, she was proud of Kazuma, proud of the way he had turned out. A good man, strong in his convictions and confident in his strength. Okay, maybe a little too confident, and okay, maybe a little too thick sometimes, especially when it came to subtlety. But that was Kazuma, always taking things at face value because he never had anything to hide. He didn’t deal in subtleties, because there was nothing subtle about him. And that was okay. Because he was someone who believed in himself and others and the rightness of this world.

It was a good foil for her own sour opinion of the world, one she carefully hid from her brother. (Which was fairly easy, actually, as Kazuma never noticed anything that wasn’t right there in front of his face.) Let Kazuma keep his childish delusions that the world was a good place, that things worked out, that the Hero always won.

And he was a Hero. There was no denying that. Though Shizuru would never admit that she was relieved when Yusuke and the others had departed for Demon World, and left Kazuma to get back to the more mundane struggle of just being an ordinary teenager. God knew being a teenager was hard enough. Being a teenager trying to save the world was just too damn much.

And damn scary for a sister who worried too much over her little brother, whose brash recklessness often left little room for sense. She didn’t want to lose Kazuma like she’d already lost everyone else. That---that would have been too hard. And perhaps that was why she let Kazuma keep his daydreams of glory and truth and simple right and wrong, because she had lost that a long time ago.

If she’d ever had it. Maybe as a kid, when she didn’t know any better, and her dad was still so big he filled her entire world, and her mother was still that warm hug that wrapped around her when she’d come home crying after being pushed down and called “Beanpole” by some bully in kindergarten. Her mother had wiped away her tears and her father had shown her how to throw a punch---hoping to cheer her up, maybe. Though he’d laughed when her mother had scolded her after she’d gone back the next day and given that dumb bully a knuckle-sandwich.

But she wasn’t ever one to put up with bullies---yet another thing her father had unwittingly taught her---and while she wasn’t as fist-happy as Kazuma, Shizuru didn’t take anyone’s shit, either. And as if her size wasn’t intimidating enough, her unwillingness to take anyone’s crap had completely sealed her “outsider” status in school. Oh, she’d gotten along with others all right, but she was definitely not one of the “in” crowd. Good at grades but not good enough for the nerds---who were too scared of her, anyway---she’d found some friends among the other losers, and maybe that was why she’d rebelled so much as a teenager. Even though she knew it’d hurt her dad, that she’d taken up smoking at thirteen and got busted a few times for skipping school and drinking beer. She knew her mom had been hurt when she’d found out she’d already had sex at fourteen.

Not that that had been all that great. Certainly didn’t live up to all the hype. The virginity held so sacred by other girls seemed more of a nuisance to Shizuru, and her curiosity got the better of her in the back of a friend’s car one afternoon. It was over in a few minutes and just left her wondering what the heck all the fuss was about. Though his fumbling attempts at foreplay weren’t too bad, and she’d wondered---more than she cared to admit---how different sex might have been if she’d ever tried it with someone else. Like Sakyo, maybe. Though she wouldn’t ever get the chance to find out now, would she?

Shizuru’s mouth twisted wryly around the cigarette she’d just propped between her lips. Lighting it, she inhaled deeply, enjoying the simple action, before letting the smoke go with a sigh. She stared down at the expensive lighter, her thumb idly smoothing over the initials carved into it in gold. “SN,” for Sakyo Nakamura. He’d given it to her, just before he’d died. Or blown himself up, rather. Damn egotist.

Of course she’d fallen for him. At eighteen, how could she not? He was, literally, Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome. Rich, suave and sophisticated, he was every girl’s wet dream of a charming Machiavelli, with enough of the cynical bad boy for a young fool to think she could redeem him somehow.

Yeah, right. Shizuru snorted, and smoke lazily curled out of her nose as she relaxed against the porch rail. Sakyo wasn’t about to let anyone save him; his narcissistic megalomania wouldn’t let them. Since he couldn’t destroy the whole world by buying a gateway to demon world, than he’d decided to go out with a bang, and take the whole world---or, at least, the Dark Tournament stadium---with him.

Perhaps he’d found it endearing that he’d had one person there who cared enough to cry. She certainly begrudged her tears for the overly-dramatic way he’d waved at her as the ceiling caved in on him, burying him alive in the rubble. That ironic smile, so self-assured. Sakyo was a cynic to the bitter end---what a jerk. Yeah, only she could fall for a lost puppy like that. A puppy who’d never wanted to be rescued in the first place.  

Maybe one day she would forgive herself for that particular idiocy. For she had loved him, with all the earnest wistfulness of her young heart. At least the bitter experience had taught her early to be far more careful with her emotions. She learned the hard way about getting too involved, keeping herself free from all the typical drama other young women her age went through until they found Mr. Right.

Or Mr. Right Now, rather. Love wasn’t something that lasted forever and ever, amen. Not these days. Not with divorce rates the way they were, and people shacking up with anyone they could. Not with all the mournful gossip she heard dished out at the beauty salon. Women found comfort talking over their problems in that chair. Shizuru hadn’t known she’d turn into a damn therapist when she’d gone to cosmetology school. Lord knew she heard too often the same bitter tale of love gone wrong. Oh, the drama. Some women lived for it.

Not her. She had enough in her life, thank you.

“Hey, sis! What’s for dinner, huh? I’m starving.”

Brown eyes immediately lighting on the big lug, who was barreling up the walk like a freight train, Shizuru hid a smile as she dryly retorted, “What’s new?”

The tall carrot-top scruffed the back of his neck uneasily. “Aw, c’mon, sis. I’m a growing boy.”

“You grow any bigger, baby bro,” she eyed his hulking, six-foot-three frame, “and we’ll need to buy food by the barrel.”

He scowled, and she smiled as she exhaled her cigarette. Yeah, she already had more than enough in her life.


For once, Jin wasn’t even interested in watching the fight. And it was a good one, between that hulk Enki and his bitchy wife, Koku. The two had been going at it for sixteen hours straight. In fact, he had returned from Human World, sat up talking late into the wee hours, caught himself a little shut eye and still they were at it. One for the record books, it was.

It wasn’t the only fight still going strong. Mukuro and that lass Chuu was so keen on, Natsume, were lighting up their okininju stalk like a veritable Chinese New Year celebration. The sparks were fairly flying off of that pair, as each woman stubbornly refused to give in to the other. Although the last pair had just succumbed---that ugly, beret-wearing Suiketsu the winner by last collapse, having delayed toppling over just a few seconds after his opponent, Shuu. But since neither demon was in any shape to go on to the next round, it sort of tilted the sequence all out of whack. There was even talk of bringing Yomi back for the sixth round, as the fifth was taking so damn long. That would be hard on Yomi, for he hadn’t yet recovered from his mind-blowing fight with Yusuke Urameshi last night.

Talk was rife with the unorthodox way the Great Tournament was turning out, but Jin had his mind on other things. Namely, a pretty brown lass with a fist like iron. Ah, the sweet kiss of it---it’d fair taken his breath away!

Jin sighed morosely, blue eyes not even seeing the giant screen at the end of the bar where he’d joined his friends for a late lunch. Not that he could see that well through the matching pair of black eyes the tall girl had given him yesterday.

Was it but yesterday that he had felt the sweet touch of his own true love? It seemed near a lifetime ago---all of everything having happened all at the once. It fair set a lad’s head to spinning, even without the headache that had come with Shizuru having laid his ass out, and the ache that had started up in his very heart right after…


Chuu eyed his friend through the bottom of his drained beer mug. The picture was wavy and distorted, but no different than when he solemnly set the empty glass back down. There the red-haired demon still sat, every merry line of him all but sagging in defeat. Was it Yusuke’s loss last night that had the bloke all off in La-La Land? Or the realization that his little Lily, the taijiya Sango, was no longer available? Nah, couldn’t be that---for Jin had gotten over that little crush long before either of those two former teammates of Urameshi’s had gotten it in their fool heads to finally press their claims on the little slayer.

Could it be all that mess with Kagome and that grumpy dog of hers, Inuyasha, showing up here at the tournament? He knew Jin was somehow mixed up in that, but as the little miko and her doggie hadn’t been seen by anyone since late last night when they’d all taken their leave, the idea seemed a little far-fetched. Well, then, could it be that ugly Suiketsu---the demon who had defeated Jin in the first round of the tournament---having been sucker-punched at the last and only winning this fight to not be strong enough to take part in the next?

But Jin had missed that fight entirely, and wasn’t even interested in watching how the others did. Even though there was plenty of hot youkai flesh on display up there on the screen to make a demon’s blood boil. Never mind that Chuu couldn’t understand how anyone couldn’t watch his own sweet Natsume lit up there like a veritable disco ball of energy as she returned Mukuro’s dimensional-cutting sweeps with lances of pure lightning from the very pits of hell. The idea that the sweet youkai had such control over the nether flames made his toes curl with admiration.

And made him frown all at the same time, as Chuu wondered if he’d ever be worthy of that sweet demoness’s attention, let alone affection. Horrible thought. Gods, he needed a drink.

About to call for one, he paused and suddenly spun around on his seat. By God, that was it! “Bloke’s in love,” he said wonderingly.

“Who’s in love?” Sazuka asked, bored by the fight still going on. No matter how pretty the fireworks, watching only four opponents not getting much direct hits in was yawn-worthy.

“Jin, of course! It’s the sheilas, don’t you see? They do it to you every time.”

“They do what every time?” Rinku asked impertinently from his idle spinning on the bar stool beside him.

“Get you, bledger, right here.” Chuu solemnly placed his hand over his heart.

Shishi rolled his eyes and went back to his card game as Sazuka raised a golden brow and turned to study the sighing wind demon for himself. Suddenly grinning, the golden-haired demon sat back and crossed his arms behind his head. “I think you’re right, Chuu.”

“Of course, I’m right!” the big demon replied. “Ain’t I always right?”

Rinku snorted. Chuu let that pass, mind too busy turning over the possibilities. Jin hadn’t been paying that much attention to any particular demoness that he could tell. Maybe Touya, who was Jin’s best friend, would know. Turning, Chuu’s grizzled face broke into a wide grin as he spotted the ice apparition just coming through the door. “Why, bugger me, if it ain’t just the chap we’re wanting!”

Protests rose with Touya’s brow, as he was only ten feet away and Chuu’s bellow could most likely be heard in the next street. Ignoring them, Chuu jumped down and waded over to his friend. “Ah, there you are, mate!”

“Hello, Chuu.” The ice apparition rarely let anything ruffle his poise, and now was no exception, although every demon but one had turned to stare or grumble at the commotion.

“Why, I’ve been looking for you all night,” Chuu said.

“He has not,” Rinku immediately retorted. “Just in the last five seconds. He’s been watching his sweet Natsume.” That last was said in a nasty, singsong voice as the boy did a headstand on the stool, still twirling idly.

“Shut up, bledger, if you know what’s good for you!”

Rolling his eyes, Rinku nimbly flipped back upright in his seat, folding his hands like a good little boy. He even managed to send one of his yo-yo’s up to spin circles around his head, creating a “halo” effect to match his innocent expression.

“Now, that’s impressive,” Sazuka appreciated.

“And juvenile,” Shishi sniffed from his card game.

Rinku stuck his tongue out at the handsome, cerise-eyed imp, who refused to acknowledge it.

“Let’s ignore them, shall we, Touya, and have us a little talk, eh?” Chuu threw a companionable arm around the much shorter apparition, who suffered the alcoholic fumes breathed right into his ear with an amused look.

“About what?”

“Why, ain’t it obvious?” Chuu demanded, another waft of powerful fumes flooding over the ice youkai. Pointing a big, hairy thumb over his shoulder, he said, “Why, just look at him!”

Touya only met that demand with a lifted brow of polite inquiry.

“Bitten, he is!” Chuu said, dolefully shaking his head.

“Bitten? Who’s bitten?”

“Why, Jin, mate! Ain’t it right obvious that’s what’s wrong with him? He’s been sitting there moping and sighing all night!”

Suddenly very interested, Touya studied their friend critically. “He doesn’t look bitten.”

“Agh! No, not bitten. Smitten!” Exasperated, Chuu slapped his forehead. “By love, mate!”

“Love,” Touya said flatly.

“Too right. Just look at him. Poor bloke’s gone and got himself bit by the love-bug. Nasty business, that.” Chuu sniffed. “Get it m’self about once a week or so. Though this last one’s gotten me hard, being as it was my own sweet sheila, Natsume.”

“And lookee, there,” the big youkai pointed at the television set, “she’s still going right at it---aha, look at her now! She almost got that Mukuro-hussy, she did! Yah! Go on, Natsume! Sock it to the king! That’s the ticket!” Chuu abruptly left Touya to go holler more encouragement at the screen, shoving his way through the disgruntled patrons of the bar to get a good seat. He plucked a poor lizard off of his stool, and when the demon protested, casually backhanded him across the room with a loud, distracted, “Shush, there, mate! Me own sheila’s winning, she is!”

But it seemed Natsume was giving all she had in one last, desperate strike. It quickly became apparent that the tables were slowly turning, and that the red-haired Mukuro was finally gaining the upper hand. The former king’s bright, fuchsia aura was overwhelming the golden sunlight of Natsume’s, although both women’s spheres of power had grown rather ragged, clearly showing their mutual exhaustion.

Chuu’s howl as Natsume slowly, inexorably, fell to her knees beneath the weight of Mukuro’s power went unheeded by Touya, who purposely wormed his way through the tense crowd to Jin‘s side. He tapped a polite hand on the big lug seated on Jin’s right, and the angry demon turned, a belligerent snarl dying unuttered at Touya’s icy look.

“Uh…I suddenly realized I gotta be somewhere…anywhere…else…” the big ogre stuttered to save face and then fled. Sliding into the now-vacant stool, the ice apparition coolly ordered two drinks---a white wine spritzer, and a Jamison, neat.

Sliding the whisky over in front of his friend, he sat back. Jin’s nose twitched. A long second, and then his long, pointed ears wiggled. Jin blinked, suddenly realizing there was a full tumbler in front of him in need of a drink. Well, and how convenient there was an Irishman sitting right there in just as much need. Why, there was no hope for it but that they help t’other out.

Snatching the glass, Jin sniffed delicately before letting the ambrosia trickle down his throat. The trickle soon became a flood, and he quaffed the glass before setting it back down on the counter. Ah, that was much better.

“You looked like you could use a drink,” Touya said mildly.

Jin started. “Oh, it’s you, then. I didn’t even see you there, lad.”

“So I noticed.” Touya smiled into his own glass, taking a leisurely sip.

Embarrassed, Jin rubbed the back of his head. “Well, ah…”

“So, who is it?” The ice apparition sat back, eyes not even on his friend, who flushed red as his hair.

“And what do you be meaning by that…” Jin started defensively, and then his wide shoulders slumped at Touya’s amused look. “Be it that obvious?”

“Only to those who care enough to notice,” Touya reassured him. “You’re our friend. And not just a friend, but a brother.”

Jin gave him a quick, grateful smile for that pointed reminder. Of anyone on this infernal earth, Touya knew him best. They shared a long history, having both been just wee lads when pledged to their Guardian Masters. Sharing the oft-times harsh training of their separate elements, the two young warriors had been brothers-at-arms in more ways then one, for it was Touya who had first questioned the dishonor they’d found among their shinobi brethren.

But then, Touya was often the one leading, with Jin more than willing to follow. The ice apparition was the smartest demon Jin had ever known. Had a mind like a veritable steel trap, he did, with so many thoughts it was a wonder his head didn’t explode. But all those deep thoughts and deep questions often led the ice apparition to long, broody silences that only Jin’s levity could dispel. They were a good foil for each other, and well Jin knew it. He trusted Touya like no other, and when the apparition had dreamed of a land to call their own---where they could be free to make their own choices, why Jin was more than willing to sign up for the Dark Tournament.

Of course, that had not turned out in their favor---having been soundly routed by the Urameshi Team. But that had led the two shinobi brothers to where they were now…free of the torn loyalties of the past and afire with the new purpose that Yusuke Urameshi seemed to instill in everyone he met.

Jin idly wondered how the poor lad was doing, and realized with a start that it was the first time he had thought about his friend since meeting Shizuru Kuwabara. He flushed, in shame this time, and stared mournfully at his empty glass.

Sensing the sudden turn in his friend’s thoughts, Touya quietly ordered the wind demon a second shot, then advised the bartender to leave the bottle when Jin knocked it back as quickly as he had the first.

Usually garrulous by nature, Jin’s uneasy silence was telling. This was something more than just a casual crush. Cautiously probing, the Ice Master asked, “Are you upset about Sango?”

“What?” The surprise on Jin’s face was answer enough for the ice apparition, he didn’t need his friend’s quick denial. “Naw, lad, you can rest yourself assured there be no trouble for me in that quarter. At least, not anymore. But I knew afore even those two fools that was which way the wind be blowing, you ken, for me sweet Lily. Na, lad, rest yourself easy on that score.”

Jin grinned. “Though merry was the dance she led them, eh? And I won’t be suggesting that there wasn’t a time I would’ve been more than willing to…ah, well, that’s neither there nor here, is it?”

“Then what---or should I say, who---is now ‘neither there nor here?’” Touya demanded, lightly teasing his friend’s brogue. Jin’s speech grew more garbled the more he drank, and he was already on his fourth glass.

“Ah, well…” Jin sighed, staring into the golden liquid as the bar erupted in screams around them as Natsume was finally defeated by Mukuro and the second battle, between Enki and his wife, drew to a close. Cheers and jeers were flung wildly as Chuu barreled out the door to go comfort his poor sheila, Rinku following like the ever faithful shadow he was. Touya, looking up, saw Sazuka wave lazily from the other side of the bar. Rolling his green eyes over at Shishi, still playing cards in the corner, the blond demon mimicked “losing“ by a thumbs down and a wide grin for the handsome imp’s disgust over that fact.

Reassured their other friends were fine, Touya turned back to Jin, who had not raised his eyes from his half-filled glass. The amber liquid glowed beneath the ugly, yellow lights overhead as the wind demon distractedly turned the glass in his fingers.

“And, well?” Touya prompted. Jin’s reticence was unusual in itself.

“And, well…” Jin abruptly drank the whisky he’d been playing with and set the glass back down with a thump. Squaring his shoulders, he straightened, determined to make a clean breast of it.

Touya waited patiently.

“And, well, she’s human.”

“Human?” Surprised, Touya mulled that interesting tidbit over.

“Ah, but bonny for all that.”

Well, Touya could admit that he’d seen a pretty girl or two in Human World himself. Not that he’d really thought much about it. He didn’t have anything against humans---they could be just as strong and loyal as demons. Look at Kuwabara, for instance. His loyalty to Urameshi was without question. As was Keiko’s. And there was that beautiful priestess, Kagome, whom he’d met while training under Genkai for six months.

Could Jin be talking about Kagome? If he was, then his poor friend was in for a world of hurt. And not just emotionally---for that inu hanyou had a good swing on that giant fang of his, and was rather possessive of his mate. And just as head over heels in love with the miko as she was with him.

“Jin…” Touya cautioned, but the Wind Master cut him off.

“I know, lad, I know. Usually onna are so…frail. So soft and squeally. Makes a poor demon’s blood shiver just thinking on it.” Jin theatrically demonstrated as he poured himself another glass. Touya might have argued that---but then, he and Jin had different tastes. Though…squeals…okay, there was a cause to shiver. Both demons had more than their fill of rabid fan girls. Something which Shishi, at least, never seemed to get enough of.

Still---thanks, but no thanks. Touya didn’t want to waste his time with young girls who worshipped him just for his name or looks. Although he’d availed himself from time to time of the lurid offers thrown his way, he couldn’t see himself making a deeper commitment with someone who couldn’t keep up intellectually, let alone hold a decent conversation.

“But she…she’s fierce,” Jin worshipfully enthused. “A warrior goddess from old. An Athena, no, a Freyja, no---a Brighid! Ye ken, lad, she be having a fist like iron.”

He solemnly pointed to his matching black eyes. Well, that solved that question, Touya thought wryly. And as to what must have initially caught the Wind Master’s interest. Jin did like a strong woman, one who could stand up to him. There were not many who’d dare. One of the reasons Jin had been so taken with that hanyou, Sango.

Still, that didn’t answer the question of who. “Does this goddess have a name?” Touya queried. “Or don’t you know?”

“Aye, I do. As do you, lad.” Jin grinned ruefully. “Though, terrible is it am I to be admitting, that I’d not thought of the lass in that way afore yesterday, when she fair laid me low, and just for laying me hand on her sweet shoulder.”

Touya frowned, uncertain if such reactionary violence was a good thing. Though rather understandable, if it was the miko…

“Do you yet recall, lad, a tall lass at the Dark Tournament, with hair the color of a wren’s wing and eyes like well-aged whisky? With skin like velvet, and lips like raspberries? And hips just so,” he pantomimed, “and legs that near went on for miles? A modest air, ye ken, who yet carried herself like a queen while never a’calling attention to herself?”

“The Dark Tournament?” Touya frowned, surprised by the reference but reassured, at least, that it couldn’t be the miko, for they hadn’t met Kagome yet. But who…?

“Sadly, I cannot recall this virtual paragon of women,” he said, but Jin missed the heavy irony, so wrapped up in his one-sided lyrical litany of love.

“Ah, but her voice---like the sweetest song ye ever did hear. A Siren, she is…”

“I don’t recollect meeting any Sirens at the Dark Tournament,” Touya said, now amused by his friend’s enthusiasm. Only six glasses, and Jin was all but swooning.

“Ah, but a pity it was that I didn’t know it then, lad. For what time’s been wasted, eh? Not that I can’t but remedy that fact now.” Jin’s blue eyes sparkled. “And to think, all this time, that I be knowing Kuwabara had a sister, and never do I yet acknowledge what a sweet lass she be…”

Touya choked. He shouldn’t have taken a drink just as Jin said that. He turned to stare at the red-haired wind youkai. “Wait. Did you say Kuwabara’s sister?”

“That I did.” Jin solemnly nodded.

Touya shuffled back. Normally, he was pretty good at recalling names and faces, but he couldn’t remember anything about Kuwabara’s sister except maybe…

“Didn’t she smoke a lot?”

“Aye. So?” Jin shrugged, uncaring.

“Yeah, but, Jin…” For once, eloquent Touya found himself at a loss for words. How could one say to their best friend that maybe they were thinking of the wrong girl? That maybe they were seeing her through rose-colored glasses---or beer-goggles, as Rinku would bluntly call them. Now, he could be wrong, for he couldn’t exactly remember what Miss Kuwabara looked like. But Kazuma Kuwabara hadn’t been called “The Boy with the Unfortunate Face” for nothing. And Touya could just imagine what any sister of Kuwabara’s might look like---big, hulking, pinch-faced and slack-jawed. With fists like sledge-hammers and big, strapping shoulders. Not to mention, a feminine version of Kuwabara’s orange pompadour---like Lucille Ball in her “I Love Lucy” days.

Except Jin had said she was brown-haired. Or light brown, rather, since a wren’s wing was not that dark. Which just made the image in his head even more…surreal. Add the hacking croak of a habitual chain-smoker, and…yikes!

Seeing the study of alarm in Touya’s face, Jin chuckled. “Ah, lad, it not be that bad as what you’re thinking, which is writ plain as day on yer face. Why, mo nighean donn---my brown one---she was the lucky one, inheriting all the beauty in the family, thank the Laird. Lemme think…do you yet remember when the stadium was crashing down upon us, and that Koenma, what be the Prince of Spirit World, came running out at the last with a blue ogre and that tall girl in the long skirt?”

Touya considered thoughtfully, and finally nodded in some relief. He didn’t exactly recall the girl’s face, but he did remember a tall, lean figure---thankfully sans her brother’s solid bulk---with large, light brown eyes. He remembered more the emotion in them---a strange, haunting sadness, since they had all been so relieved at having just escaped the collapsing stadium. Though that sadness might’ve been caused by Genkai’s death, since they hadn‘t known at the time that the grumpy priestess would be resurrected by Yusuke‘s wish…

Touya’s attention was suddenly drawn to the television as Koto’s shrill voice cut through the noisy bar. “Wow, folks! This tournament has been something else, hasn’t it? There’s been enough blood to make even my heart pound, and I will be replaying those DVD’s for weeks to come! Speaking of which, you can purchase the edited and unedited versions on eat fist dot com---”

“Are you seriously interrupting the announcement of the final round with a commercial?” Yuda, the pompous, old earth youkai sitting beside her, demanded in disgust.

“Hey! It’s the perfect opportunity for promotion, as everyone’s on the edge of their seats, waiting for me to announce the next contenders for the crown.” The cat youkai scowled, one hand covering her mike although it didn’t muffle her sly aside, “Besides, I get a cut of the proceeds.”

“Sell-out,” the earth youkai muttered under his breath. Koto’s glare was hot enough to scorch.

“Never mind that, folks.” She airily waved the topic aside and abruptly switched to a more serious tone. Her blue-green eyes glittered. “Our combatants have put up a tremendous fight, but it’s now down to the nitty-gritty of the final four, the winner of each group having emerged victorious.

“Now, Yomi was one of the early, odds-on favorites to win this competition, and he has certainly proven his worth, going up against the awe-inspiring Yusuke Urameshi in the last round. A fight which left him completely exhausted. The question is, does the former king of Gandara have enough energy left to tackle the formidable Enki?”

A picture of the regal Yomi---black-haired, six-horned, and blind---spliced with a rather ignoble, current shot of the large Enki. Clad in work boots and a wife-beater, the red demon sat like a huge hill, calmly smoking a pipe, his bitchy wife passed out across one bent knee.

“Enki has been a surprising dark horse in this tournament. A virtual unknown, the large demon has been able to knock the wind out of his competition. Literally---for he just laid his wife out with one blow of his mighty fist. Not that Koku was taking that sitting down---”

A quick video recap of the marital dispute showed how long Koku had fended off her mountain of a husband’s large fists. It was pretty close---Enki was a lava demon, Koku an adamant elemental. They were well-matched. Koto went on to recount the other three fights, enthusiastically adding gory details wherever unnecessary. The cat demon did like to draw out the inevitable, savoring the limelight and as always pandering to the bloodthirsty crowd. She knew just how far she could push them, and finally got to the point just as their growing impatience started to turn murderous.

“All right, folks. The sixth round of the Great Tournament is about to begin. Yes, you heard me right! Because the last round took so long, the committee has decided to go ahead and begin the next-to-last, seventh round of this sweet little slug-fest. And the fighters going against each other will be…Enki versus Yomi, and Mukuro versus Suiketsu!”

“Well, this should be over soon,” Touya said mildly, knowing how Suiketsu had barely managed to collapse right after his friend Shuu during the last fight. He’d be in no condition to fight Mukuro.

A snore met his dry comment, and the ice apparition looked over at his friend. Jin was passed out across the bar, hugging the empty bottle of Jamison like a pillow. Shaking his head, Touya finished up his wine spritzer before draping one of Jin’s thick arms across his shoulders so he could hoist him up.

Noticing what he was doing, Sazuka came over to help. Touya was grateful for the tall blond’s assistance, for Jin was no light-weight. Hefting his solid frame between them, they managed to drag the wind demon back upstairs to their hotel room. Dropping him across one of the two double-beds, Jin muttered something in Gaelic before slumping face down.

Grinning, Sazuka crossed his arms and demanded, “So, who is it?”

Unsurprised by the tall demon’s astuteness---though many were fooled by the arrogant fop Sazuka often used to downplay his very real intelligence---Touya answered wryly, “A human.”

“A human?” Caught off guard, Sazuka laughed---a great, bellowing laugh, full of delight. He was at his most haughty as he drawled, “You can’t be serious.”      

Touya only shrugged, since the sentiment wasn’t really worth comment. Jin was, after all, his best friend. No matter how foolish, the wind youkai deserved his full support.

Sazuka’s laughter abruptly died as he took in Touya’s remote expression. “I guess you are,” he said, and wisely let the subject drop.


Staring dreamily out the window, Ayumi sighed. The patter of rain on the glass was accompanied by the faint squeak of pencils and the shuffling of papers as the rest of the class concentrated on their exams. She felt eyes on her back, and turning, noticed the glare Eri was giving her. The girl motioned to her test, and Ayumi shrugged.

“I’m done,” she mouthed, and Eri’s eyes widened. The brown-haired girl frowned, shaking her head in patent self-disgust before bending back to her own work.

But that was always how it went. Ayumi couldn’t help being quick at her studies. Her best friends, Yuka and Eri, were always ribbing her about how easy school was for her, and lamenting the fact that they had to work so hard at it while she didn’t. They often wished they had half her brains, or her drive. Both girls seemed to thrive on hating school---it was a major topic of conversation, and an on-going jest that Ayumi, the brains in their group, loved learning just as much as they hated it.

Fiddling with her pencil, Ayumi frowned. She wished, sometimes, that she was a little more like the other girls. Of course, she really didn’t want to spend as much time in front of the mirror as Yuka did, or half the time working for her family after school like Eri or Kagome. She usually spent her afternoons with her head buried in a book---if not studying, than just reading. She did love a good story, especially one where the Hero triumphed. She sometimes wished she could be a fairy tale princess who some prince could come carry off on his white horse away from her mundane life...  

She was glad Kagome, at least, was finally back in school and attending regular classes. Though Kagome still had a lot of work to catch up on, and really, she shouldn’t have missed school today. Ayumi had tried to remind her last night about Mr. Tanaka’s exams, but Kagome had been out with her boyfriend, Inuyasha. Or so Mrs. Higurashi said, having taken a message and thanking Ayumi for her thoughtfulness.

Propping her head on her palm, Ayumi turned wistful. She wished she had a boyfriend like Inuyasha to take her out places. She really liked him, he was so in love with Kagome. It was really sweet how jealous he was---Ayumi thought it proved just how much he truly cared. Eri and Yuka, on the other hand, just claimed it proved his paranoid schizophrenia. Although they liked Inuyasha well enough, the jury was still out on whether he was good or not for their friend Kagome. Eri thought he had too much attitude, and Yuka didn’t like that he was such a thug.

Ah, but Inuyasha just had some rough edges. He was always nice to her, and treated all of Kagome’s friends with patience, even when Ayumi knew he’d rather die than spend another moment talking about girlie stuff or high school. He was rather like the Beast in the Disney movie, “Beauty and the Beast.” All gruff exterior and really a kind, gentle heart. Yes, Inuyasha was Kagome’s Beast, and he loved his Belle. You could see it in his eyes. Whenever he laid them on Kagome, when she wasn’t looking, they went all soft, like honey.

Ayumi would never tell him that, though. He’d find it an awful comparison. Though she might mention it to Kagome---she would really like that. Ah, but Inuyasha and Kagome’s relationship was so romantic! How she met him was shrouded in mystery---Kagome could be really secretive sometimes, no matter how Eri or Yuka tried to fish for information. Ayumi liked to think they met during one of Kagome’s convalescents. She could just imagine it---Kagome, bed-ridden and weak with one of her many, mysterious illnesses, and Inuyasha making her soup, like he had that time she was so sick with the flu. Kagome had told her all about it.

Really, it was sweet, and Ayumi tried to remind Eri and Yuka of that time whenever they brought Hojo back up. They lamented that Kagome had never been interested in the handsome boy. True, he was one of the cutest guys in school, and nice as could be. But there was nothing interesting about Hojo. He was just---Hojo.

Ayumi smiled. Maybe she was just projecting her own restlessness on Kagome. Life was just so unexciting sometimes. She wished there was more---but really, no, she didn’t. She liked her safe-and-sound life. She knew where she was going and what she was going to do once she got there. Sometimes, though, sometimes she wished there was something…more.

Ah, well. Might as well start on her homework. She still had thirty minutes left in this class. If she got her AP physics done, she’d have more time for that new romance novel this afternoon. She did love those…

Converting /tmp/phpyoywmT to /dev/stdout