InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Phoenix Rising ❯ Chapter Seven ( Chapter 7 )

[ 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.





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: So a little wandering, but I got it out at last. Thank you for the continued support, your words really warm the heart. =)




ADDED A/N: Again, updated mmorg...




Chapter Seven




            Dust rose in choking clouds across the barren landscape. The scrubland they traversed was not true desert, unlike the sand-scorched waste they skirted. Here, in a land of broken rock and dirt, brush took root alongside trees twisted into unnatural shapes by the unceasing wind that howled across the Anvil of the Sun. The heat was inescapable, the pink sky pallid, the hidden sun a red furnace that cast its bloody eye across the rocky landscape.




            Sango slogged behind their guide, an eerily silent youkai whose dark features were covered by the ragged brown cowl he curled around him as a blanket each night. If the youkai had a name, he didn’t share it. Sango didn’t trust him, but there was no other guide in this wasteland that lay between the fertile territories of the East and the unknown empire to the West. Part of Lord Praal’s entourage, they had only the ambassador’s word that the demon would guide them to the lands they sought.




            Hiei, through judicious use of the Jagan, disdainfully relayed that the minor demon was feeble-minded, imprinted only with the need to lead them safely across the desert. There was no other thought in that dull mind, no hint of purpose or personality, which was disturbing in itself, although Hiei and Kurama hardly seemed concerned. Perhaps they were right, and the dark demon was just what he appeared, a dull creature only strong enough to serve in this fashion.




            The demon paused, waiting for them to catch up before pointing a stubby claw slightly left, where the broken land rose slightly before giving way to a low tangle of growth only glimpsed between craggy rocks. Kurama, shielding his eyes, let his nostrils expand, taking in the scent of the unceasing wind.




            “Water,” he said, and nodded at their guide to proceed. “We’ll make camp there.”




            “It’ll be good to get off my feet,” Sango said, her first admission of weakness. She was tired, her feet hot and swollen in leather boots not made for this broken country. They’d been up before dawn, taking advantage of the cool morning air before the hidden sun burned it away. By unspoken agreement, they had pressed on, eager to see this journey’s end. They had been on the road for over a week, slowly turning toward the hot furnace of the hidden sun as it set each night, the scouring winds off the desert whipping across their path as they skirted the true desert that lay to the north.




            Only the foolhardy or desperate would try and cross the punishing Anvil of the Sun, where nothing grew above the sand-scoured dunes that rose and fell with the unceasing winds that howled across their surface. Few demons even lived in the broken wastes that bordered it, although there was more life than Sango first expected. Small animals made their homes here, lizards and rabbit-like creatures, a few birds and some slit-eyed, slinking creatures whose howls and cackles could be heard at night as they fought over prey. Cowardly by nature, they wisely kept their distance from the small party, and Hiei said contemptuously they were not even worth hunting, their meat tough and stringy.




            Of all of them, Hiei seemed the most unaffected by this harsh land. In fact, he embraced the heat that left them limp and dry-eyed as the dust permeated everything, even the provisions they had brought from Gandera. Few of those provisions remained, as there was something in this choking land of dust and rock that spoiled food quickly. Thus Hiei was out hunting to supplement their dwindling supply.




            Even as Sango wearily climbed up the last rise, gravel crunching under her boots, she spotted Hiei silhouetted against the fuchsia sky, where the quickly setting sun was waving banners across the pallid horizon. Stripped of his coat, sword belted across his back, the fire demon had a brace of the rabbit-like creatures to show the success of his efforts as he waited for them to catch up.




            He pointedly ignored their dark guide, who stood a good six inches shorter than the impassive fire demon. Their guide scuttled around Hiei, nervously jerking his cowl tighter about him as he seemed to disappear into the rocky ground. Gaining the rise, Sango saw how the land broke open into a short canyon, the rocky walls rising some seven feet above the small knot of greenery below. The wadi would be a deathtrap in a rainstorm, the flooding waters rising too quickly to easily escape. But they had little to fear in the dry season, where it would serve as a secure campsite, with water and kindling readily available.




            Their guide scrambled about, gathering brush for a fire. They had fallen into a routine, each taking on the various chores needed to make camp each night. Sango didn’t mind cleaning the game Hiei found, although Kurama proved the better cook, adding various herbs he gathered along the way to make the tough meat more palatable. Where the kitsune even found them in this wasted country was beyond Sango.




            Kurama paused beside Hiei, the two exchanging a wordless look that was beyond her, too. She was too tired to care, frankly, just glad they were finally going to stop for the night. The heat Hiei reveled in was draining, the hot wind that would normally revive her too dust-choked for her to want to take advantage of.




            The fire demon turned red eyes on her, staring critically. Sango smiled wanly, more to reassure them, and ran a tired hand through her hair. It had finally grown long enough that she was able to tie most of it back into a short ponytail, but wisps kept escaping to stick to her neck and cheeks in itchy discomfort as the sweat inevitably dried on her skin.




            “You did well.” She indicated the brace of rabbits, and Hiei shrugged, a gesture that rippled across firmly-packed muscles. His natural tan had darkened under the punishing sun that burned across hers, forcing her to use the smelly unguent Kurama concocted to protect it. Kurama now sported a healthy golden color after his first sunburn subsided, but that was denied Sango by her very nature of being a wind-changeling, a “created” half demon instead of a natural one, like Inuyasha. Sango’s fair skin would pale each night, only to burn anew each day as the sun rose.




            Yet another liability she had not foreseen when first she took Kagura’s heart as her own . . .




            “I’ll take those.” Kurama neatly accepted the rabbits from Hiei. Normally, Sango would have protested, but she was too tired to care. If Kurama wanted to fight flies while cleaning entrails, then he could have at it. Shrugging, she readjusted the pack on her back and gamely followed their guide down into the canyon. Small rocks turned under her boots, skittering down the steep trail ahead of her. Sango grabbed a sturdy grey-green bush growing right out of the wall as she nearly slipped. The last bit was a nasty scramble down an almost vertical incline, loose shale showering down. Kurama made a more graceful descent, looking as if he was strolling down a park lane, although he, too, used the sturdy bush for that last treacherous part. Hiei merely used his incredible speed and agility to “disappear” from the canyon top, reappearing on the floor a moment later.




            Both demons could have used their jyaki to teleport themselves, but why waste the effort when more mundane means might serve? Denied the ability by her half-demon nature, Sango thought how easy this journey would be, if only they could instantly transport themselves from Gandera to Te-eth-ret, the capital city of Thet. But teleportation required intimate knowledge of where one was going, else one end up somewhere they didn’t want to be. Or worse, some place in between.




            Shuddering, Sango squelched that idea. No, better to trust in one’s own two feet to get from A to B. She’d always distrusted “magic” anyway. Even using her own wind-based attacks still seemed unnatural, and might always be so. Automatically, she touched the sword at her hip, reassured by its solid weight.




            She surveyed the narrow canyon. Shadows deepened the prickly green brush that grew sparsely along the walls and more thickly along the bottom. A few trees, limbs twisted in odd gestures, gathered over a knot of terse greenery, where muddy water lapped in a small fissure.




            Their guide knelt above his gathered kindling, gently blowing on the twist of dry grass he carefully used to light the larger pile. Kurama dropped his pack by the flat rock he intended to use, and got busy dressing game. Pulling a sturdy pot from his pack, he went to fill their water-bottles. There were certain grubs one could use to clean any impurities from the muddy water - Demon World’s equivalent to iodine tablets - but still creepy to one unused to them.




            Sango gratefully eased her own pack off, rolling the stiffness from her shoulders as she dropped it beside Kurama’s. By silent agreement, Hiei was patrolling the outer edge of the canyon, using his sword to flush any snakes that might lie hidden under rocks. Since Kurama was taking care of dinner, Sango decided to unroll their bedding, which consisted of an ingeniously woven mat Kurama had created that first night while they were still in the fern-rich valley, and their own cloaks. She still felt a little self-conscious, clearing a single space for the three of them on one side of the fire. Though why she should feel so embarrassed, she didn’t know. Except that it made it so . . . obvious, somehow. Not that there was anyone out here but their guide, who hardly cared what they did. He sat gazing into the fire, occasionally feeding it.




            Sango took advantage of the muddy spring to bathe her aching feet. Her nose wrinkled at the dirty brown water, but there was no help for it. She longed for a real bath, with crystal clear water and lots of soap. She felt gritty, and there wasn’t anything she could do about it. At least, not out here. Even using Jin’s wind technique to “refresh” herself and keep the smell down only served to coat her with another thin layer of dust. The wind was rife with it, fine particulates that got into everything.




            Shucking her boots, Sango peeled off her socks, grimacing at the yellowish stains. Her feet were swollen and hot. Rolling up her jeans, she sighed as she settled her feet in the water. Although hardly cool, it helped. Leaning back against the smooth rock, she closed her eyes.




            Kurama brought her one of the water-bottles, the water now murky instead of dirt-brown. Sango gratefully drank, ignoring the creepy grubs that swirled at the bottom. Given more time overnight, they would clean up even the murkiness. The shadows deepened as night rapidly descended. The smell of roasting meat made her stomach growl, and Sango pulled her feet from the water, now chilled in the cooling air.




            She hated the thought of putting her boots back on. A whisper of sound, and Hiei was suddenly beside her. Surprised, Sango looked at him questioningly.




            “You’re more trouble than you’re worth, hanyou.”




            Scooping her up as if she weighed nothing, the fire demon summarily ignored her protest and dropped her on the bedroll. Rather more gently than he treated her boots, which tumbled down beside her. Sango scowled as Kurama chuckled, deftly turning one of the spits over. Their guide simply sat watching, his form muffled in his ragged robe, the firelight glinting in his dark eyes.




            “And you’re high-handed.” Sango bristled.




            “Hn.” Hiei dropped with a smirk beside her. “Feet,” he ordered. When she didn’t immediately comply, he chivied her legs around until they rested in his lap.




            “Hiei!” Sango protested, then melted as his hands, warmed by his jyaki, began massaging. “Oh.




            The sigh was breathless, as his thumbs dug deftly along the arch of her left foot. A tingle followed in its awake, something akin to when he ran those same thumbs down her sides in rising ardor. Sango flushed as a wave of intense heat followed the thought. Disconcerted, she looked up at him, to see his smirk widen as he gauged her reaction. His lashes lowered, eyes hooded, his red gaze turned hot enough to scorch.




            It had been nine days. Nine days since they’d hit the road, had any chance at privacy, and last they’d . . .




            The heat was now on her cheeks as Sango glanced at Kurama. There was a golden sheen to his lingering green gaze, one not transmuted by firelight. But he wryly turned to check on dinner, found it done, and the moment was broken as he offered one of the larger portions to their guide.




            The little demon started. He’d been watching them, too, with rare intensity in his dull gaze. Mortified, Sango yanked her feet out of Hiei’s lap. He wisely let them go, perhaps picking up on her uneasiness or just plain hungry, for he snatched Kurama’s offering and ate with typical dispatch. That is to say, his food disappeared with the same speed at which he moved - instantaneously.




               Seared rabbit on a stick wasn’t that appetizing, but Kurama added some type of seasoning that made the meat more palatable. He shared out the last of the rice balls, somewhat mashed and gummy after being soaked in the pot he would leave to stew overnight. Their guide, dinner done, rolled up in his robe and went to sleep. His soft snores soon joined the other night sounds of insects, the occasional snap of the fire as it slowly died, and the distant moan of the wind somewhere above them.




            “Tomorrow should see us across the desert,” Kurama said quietly, mindful of their sleeping companion as he fastidiously picked through his portion. Like Sango, he tended to eat slowly.




            Hiei grunted. “There are rock formations that looked too regular to be natural. Saw them while scouting ahead.”




            “A village?” Kurama asked, interested.




            “Or an outpost,” Sango said grimly. The fact they didn’t know anything about Thet raised her suspicions. In her experience, empires didn’t become empires by being peaceful neighbors. She kept her suspicions to herself, knowing Kurama would have already thought of them. The kitsune was always thinking three steps ahead of anyone else, which made him an invaluable spy. Enki must have known that, which added points to the King’s acumen in her estimation. There were depths to the large demon that many ignored, only taking Enki at face value.




            Sango was glad Kurama would be the primary one to play envoy. The kitsune was perfect for it. With his charm and intelligence, he was a natural. Sango was honest enough to admit her own faults. Impatient with dissembling and too forthright for intrigue, she had an acute distaste for politics. Deliberately manipulating others to your own ends just smacked too close to Naraku for her to ever be comfortable.




            Kurama hardly suffered the same pangs. In fact, his machinations had increased since he and Youko became one. If he hadn’t such unshakeable morals, Sango might have worried more. But what redeemed Kurama was his human compassion. She’d like to meet the mother one day who had instilled such ideals in him. She must be formidable.




            “I’m surprised we haven’t met any outriders,” Sango said, “if we’re that close to the border.”




            “Who’s to say we haven’t?” Kurama nodded to their guide, a brown lump beyond the dying fire. Hiei snorted, contempt clear. Kurama shrugged. “The desert’s its own ward.”




            “Maybe.” Sango dug her charred stick into the ground, poking holes in the dirt.




            “I, for one,” Kurama drew a hand through his long red hair, slightly dulled by the dusty trail, “will be glad to see civilization. Even if it’s just a border outpost. Maybe they’ll have baths.”




            “That,” Sango fervently agreed, “would be welcome.”




            “Hn.” Hiei abruptly stood up. Back to them, he said, “I’ll take first watch.”




            “Wake me at midnight,” Kurama ordered, making himself comfortable.




            “And I’ll take last watch,” Sango added, aligning herself beside him. The kitsune wrapped his arms around her, and she rested her head against his chest, letting her body relax. She was dimly conscious when Hiei took his place sometime later, rolling over into the fire demon’s welcome warmth as the night chilled, then Kurama’s hand on her shoulder shook her awake.




            “Mhmm.” She rolled up, Hiei making a low sound as he reluctantly let her go. Kurama gave her his shawl, as Hiei was firmly tangled in most of her cloak.




            “It’s quiet,” Kurama whispered, tired enough that he curled into her own pocket of warmth on the blankets. “There’s tea, if you want any…”




            “Don’t worry. I’ll get some. Go to sleep,” Sango whispered, allowing one hand to trail down his arm as he squeezed hers gratefully. Standing up, she stretched, aware of the cool grit beneath her bare feet. The night was dark and quiet past the dim coals of their banked fire. And cold! It was crazy how cold the air could get after the insufferable heat each day.




            Drawing Kurama’s loose shawl around her, she egg-walked her way to their packs, digging out her last pair of clean socks and her tennis shoes. One would think after all Jin’s training, her feet would have grown tougher. But Sango didn’t need to “feel” the air on her bare feet to consciously be able to control it any longer, and she preferred shoes. Jin, who only bound the arch of each foot in loose cloth, must have feet like boiled leather.




            Sango smiled fondly at the memory of the airy demon with his thick, lilting accent. She wondered if he really was Irish, but no one had ever said one way or the other. Ah, well, it’d be better to go walk the perimeter then stand here mulling unanswerable questions. And maybe in walking, she’d finally get warm . . .












            There had never been written an instruction manual on “How to Woo A Human Girl.” Not to Jin’s knowledge, anyway. Not that he’d ever really had a problem. With girls. Or wooing them, for that matter. But this one . . . this one was different.




            And Jin, the proud, the confident, the easygoing, who had wooed more girls into his bed than he could even recall name of, found himself strangely at a loss.




            For one thing, this girl was proving damn hard to find. Kuwabara’s sister or no, Miss Shizuru of the soft brown eyes the color of a wren’s wing was proving more elusive than that shy bird. He’d heard through the grapevine - namely, Yukina to Sazuka to Touya to him - that Shizuru had recently visited Lady Genkai. Of course, she was gone by the time he heard and skedaddled off to see. Genkai, grumpy at his visit - he’d unintentionally interrupted her afternoon nap - had threatened to loose the snakes on him again if he didn’t get his ass out.




            Snakes! Of all the things on God’s green earth between heaven and hell, Jin hated snakes. Loathsome, wriggling, evil little things. And that crazy old hag - who had used snakes to “train” him in the prior six months before the Great Tournament - was sadistic enough to use them again. Especially when that look was in her eye.




            Evil crone.




            Jin left, and stood not upon the order of his going. Right back to Demon World, where he moped around for two days before Yusuke mentioned Kuwabara was supposed to be part of that new Detective team. The one Prince Koenma proposed, using that pretty girl Kagome and her growly dog Inuyasha. Kagome’s family owned a shrine in the middle of Tokyo, and that was where he’d first felt the kiss of his own sweet colleen’s wee fist. Well, not so “wee” as it ’twere. By the strength of it - knocking him right off his feet - oh, even the mere memory could make his toes curl and set his head all awhirl. Though not by the memory of trauma-induced nausea, as Touya so dryly inferred.




            No, that was not what set his heart all a’pounding. It was the fact that she’d stood up to him, all brave and fierce in her sweet, girlish ire. Jin did favor a sprightly lass. One who actually stood her ground, even knowing she could hardly win, what with him being a demon and all. And then to send him sailing - right through the air, and right into love - ah! How could he not fall so quickly, and all too thoroughly, straight into the depths of purest admiration?




            So off he went, straight to the shrine, hoping to find his One True Love there waiting with open arms. Of course, he hadn’t exactly told anybody just where he was going, and hadn’t let anyone know there, either. But to find the shrine deserted - not even that whiny dog standing guard, just some old man sweeping the stone paths.




            Spindly-armed and bent-backed with joint-ail, Old Man Higurashi still knew how to wield a broom. And the old man could move when needed. Chasing a lad off, with several thwacks of the broom to his backside when Jin didn’t move fast enough . . . the indignity of it was enough to squelch even his high spirits. At least for the next hour or so.




            But Jin was nothing if not stubborn. And he’d never been one to see the glass of Guinness half-full. Why, even if it was drained dry, there was always the comforting thought that it would eventually be filled again, and from Bride’s Bottomless Barrel, if a good Irish youkai were lucky enough to find it at the end of the rainbow. (Let humans keep their pots of gold, Jin knew it was better to go for the beer, and let the Leprechauns be. Nasty imps, they were, sooner to bite a man’s fingers off than let him anywhere near their precious stash.)




            So, initially thwarted, he set off to find out all that he could about his elusive little Wren. Enlisting Touya, whose intelligence none could deny, he tracked down Yusuke. The Mazoku was currently pounding his way through Gandera’s finest in the wrestling ring, and Jin stopped to admire the dab way he did it. A smooth hand, Yusuke had, with the lads. Knew just when to use his fists, and with just enough force to knock a few teeth out. It would do that alligator good, it would, to lose a few. But teeth were minor things - they’d re-grow in a day or two, given a demon’s constitution. Harder to heal were broken limbs, especially if they were broken off. But even they, given a few years, would regenerate.




            Hardly winded by the bout that left the alligator vomiting blood, Yusuke hailed his friends with typical nonchalance. “Hiya, guys! Come for a round?”




            “Now, Yusuke, you know I'd hardly be the one to pass on the chance, and yet - ” Jin began, to be cut off by Touya’s more effective (and simple) addition, “No.”




            “Oh?" Yusuke appraised the pair of them, a brow raising as Jin blushed. Just a faint blush, a mere hint of color on his tan cheeks, but still there for all but he wished it weren’t.  “Oh-ho.”




            Yusuke’s knowing smirk sat sour on Jin’s stomach. Not that it wasn’t already in knots, after the daft way he blushed like a girl.




            “It isna what you think,” he quickly said, blush deepening.




            “Yes, it is,” Touya coolly replied.




            Jin glared at his best friend, who smiled slightly.




            “It’s not right,” he said with what dignity he could, “to laugh at your sworn brother.”




            “No, it’s not,” Touya agreed. “But it’s still worth it.”












            Ayumi was good at putting two and two together. She had the math scores to prove it, and the unequivocal envy of her friends, who often called her the “Brains” of their group. When she didn’t know something, why then she just went and looked for the answer until she found it. Whether in the library, which she spent too much time in (according to Yuka and Eri) or by simply asking around.




            “Diligent,” her teachers labeled her, and “too curious for her own good,” her testy old grandmother would add. But Grandmother, despite the respect owed her age, was the only one who really disapproved of her. Grandmother, her mother explained, was very traditional. She didn’t believe in the higher learning of women, even though her own daughter was a lab technician. The old woman had recently come to live with them, and she was always harping after Ayumi to “leave off that nonsense” and learn something useful, like cooking.




            Cooking. If there was one thing Ayumi hated worse, she hadn’t yet discovered it. Although sewing was high on the list, as were clothes shopping, tea ceremonies and beauty treatments, all the properly feminine pursuits Grandmother approved of. Deft in a laboratory, even managing complicated chemistry experiments with relative ease, Ayumi somehow managed to bungle anything involving food. After the third time burning tea, her Grandmother had given up in disgust.




            Which didn’t stop the old woman’s tongue. Ayumi’s faults figured highly in her constant list of complaints, and even Ayumi’s sweet nature was growing short. For the first time in her life, she was confronted by someone she couldn’t please, no matter what she did. And regardless of her mother’s advice that she shouldn’t take it to heart, Ayumi still did. Acutely.




            Which was why she decided to absent herself as much as she could from the house. Her parents both worked long hours, and that just gave Grandmother leave to follow her around after school, telling her what an ungrateful girl she was. How she’d ruin her eyes with all that book-reading - just look at all the money her parents recently shelled out, money they didn’t have (though that had never really been a problem before, that Ayumi was aware of) to buy her glasses. Reading glasses, not every-day glasses, for Ayumi could still see perfectly well without them.




            Not yet, anyway, her Grandmother predicted darkly. And with those ugly bottle-bottoms (hardly, they were only a 1.0), what man could now want her?




            Never bothered before about her appearance, Ayumi suddenly felt awkward and self-conscious, especially around the old woman, who was as apt to list her physical faults as she was any other. Confused, hurt, never attacked before in such a personal way, Ayumi fled.




            Cowardly, perhaps, but for her Grandmother to disapprove of her so thoroughly, Ayumi didn’t know what else to do. Her parents tried to shield her in their own way - Grandmother didn’t snipe half so much where they might hear - but they also made excuses. It was hard for an old woman to lose her independence, hard for her to leave her friends and what she’d always known, to feel unnecessary and unwanted. (There were two aunts and an uncle who’d flatly refused to take Grandmother in.) A part of Ayumi rebelled at the thought. Grandmother might be old, but she wasn’t dead. She wasn’t a cripple, and got around fine on her own. If she poured half the energy into doing something with her time instead of just sitting around complaining, she might make new friends, get some of her independence back. Why, just look at old Mr. Higurashi! He was decades older than Grandmother, but still tended the shrine every day. He might be a little daft, but he was always polite when Ayumi came to visit. He was full of wonderful stories, all about the traditions of the shrine and the feats of his ancestors. Of course, most of them were completely outrageous, but Ayumi liked them all the more for the color the old man added. Everything had a story, according to Mr. Higurashi. And when one didn’t, why he just made one up right on the spot.




            Which probably accounted for the number of “diseases” he could come up with for Kagome. Ayumi frowned unhappily. Kagome had been remarkably evasive since their study-session, when the other girl had let slip that she wasn’t as sick as her friends believed. She had abruptly ended the evening with an awkward laugh and “Where has the time gone?,” all but shoving a stunned Ayumi out the door. And she’d been distant ever since, talking a mile a minute whenever Ayumi caught her on the phone, hanging up before Ayumi could so much as ask how she was doing.




            School was but a distant memory. There was no question now that Kagome could ever catch up, and she had racked up so many absences now that she’d have to retake the whole year. There was some excuse about “relapse” making the rounds at school, but no details. Ayumi wondered how all of them could be duped so easily, but then, she would have been just as blithely ignorant if Kagome hadn’t made the mistake of saying something.




            A mistake the girl flatly denied, the one time Ayumi brought it up. “What are you talking about? Eh-heh-heh. There you go, Ayumi, always trying to cheer me up.” A pretend coughing fit, and then Kagome abruptly hung up. She had always been a terrible liar. Or so Ayumi always thought.




            But a lot of things she had always thought were now proving to be doubtful, if not erroneous. Life had suddenly grown a lot more complicated since she’d entered high school. Friends you could always count on weren’t even there - Eri busy with her new boyfriend, Yuka now working at her uncle’s junk shop after school. Kagome, fake illness or no, never even home when you called . . .




            That was exactly on Ayumi’s mind as she resolutely turned her steps toward the shrine. It was time she cornered Kagome and got the truth. The whole truth, and no equivocating. Armed with determination, Ayumi resettled her heavy book bag and started up the steps. She felt the climb in the back of her calves, and was glad to reach the top.




            Only to stop in astonishment as she saw old Mr. Higurashi careen around the corner of the house, broom in hand, shouting at some tall young man with bright red hair. Even as she watched, the old man swung, and soundly smacked the boy on the backside.




            “Oh, ouch, you old bugger!” The youth yelled in some weird accent, grabbing his sore rump. “What are ye, daft? I’m no meaning any harm - ”




            “Begone, demon!” Old Mr. Higurashi yelled, soundly cracking him again.








            “Oy! I’m a’going, old man, I’m a’going!” The boy suddenly shot up in the air, out of range as Mr. Higurashi ineffectually waved his broom some five feet below him. The fact that he was flying around like Superman wasn’t as crazy as the fact he had a perfectly shaped horn right in the middle of his forehead. Not to mention, a pair of long, pointy ears that would make Spock jealous. Even as she watched, those long ears waggled, and the boy abruptly disappeared.




            Stunned, Ayumi sat down on the step with a thump.