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Awaken the Dawn

Chapter 7: Black Youko, One from Thirteen

by: Korogi

 

Yusuke came close to getting the pounding of his life when he had suggested that they all split into two groups to find this Houmonsha creature that was slowly killing Yomatsu Hara-Sakai and Yo-mawari both in one shot. Yusuke had suggested separating the two brothers and sending two teams and the two brothers in opposite directions. Both had quickly shot down any hope of that plan even working, Yo-mawari sticking close by his brother's side with a look that could have melted the polar ice caps in no time.

Instead, the huge group of thirteen went off as a pack through the dark wilderness, Yo-mawari leading them through to where he swore left and right that Houmonsha was waiting, off in a spot he and Kurama had long-since chosen as their own little ring of homely trees.

On their way, the air became so cold as to reveal the breaths of the thirteen travelers in clouds of white steam about them. Yo-mawari was growing colder, but managed to hide it none the less, only his paling lips giving away the cold he was feeling, despite every effort either Kurama or Hiei lent to help him warm.

Koenma chewed all to intently on the blue pacifier, furiously stamping documents, filing papers and faxing logs. The worlds of Makai and Ningenkai were both in complete chaos for some reason. Spirits were appearing that should have been sent to Hades long ago: and three individual files seemed to bother him the most.

They sat in their own neat little pile aside from Koenma's usual furious bouts of stamping and faxing, each on marked with a big, blue stamp reading 'Re-catalogue: Unconfirmed demise'. The names read Toguro-Ani, Majou, Shigure in order...

Koenma grumbled and tossed a large, brown eye to the pile as another blue-stamped document came into existence from a shaky, blue hand, waving before him so quickly he couldn't read the writing. "Ko.. Koenma-sama..."

Koenma grunted and snatched the paper from his right-hand man, the large kaibutsu, Joruju Saotomei. It only took one thin look from the large brown eyes to reprimand the monster, the lumbering blue creature straightening quickly. "You should read that quickly, Koenma-sama. Kurama's not going to be happy."

"Quiet now," the toddler spoke quickly, tossing his red stamp to the side to read the document. "Re-catalogue: Unconfirmed Demise. At 14 39 hours, Makai time, there was a confirmed encounter of an A-class, Quest ranked youkai outside the bourders to Domain Three: Mukuro no Teritori. Ki-type and energy signature confirming to match that of..." Koenma frowned a bit and squinted down to the faxed document, the blue ink-stamp still wet, bleeding through the paper and onto his hand. "Joruju!"

"HAI!"

"This can't be right... fax Central Intelligence back, have them check this."

"Uh.. I did that already, Koenma-sama. Twice."

"Damn..." Koenma nearly laid the document atop the small pile that had formed, resting it neatly atop the file of Toguro-Ani. "..confirming to match that of ... Karasu..."

Joruju stumbled a bi in his place, pulling up a hand to chew on a long, sharp fingernail nervously, watching his boss grumble to himself as another load of papers and documents came in to be stamped. "Koenma-sama?"

The toddler stood to his feet on the large plush chair, turning to hop easily off to the floor below. "Come on, Joruju."

"Uh dou-shita? Where are we going?"

"To see my father."

The creature stood immensely above them.... or rather... it sat above them, a towering monstrosity resembling that of a plump, grey housecat. It was the Houmonsha they had been searching for, the great creature that was responsible for the slow freezing of the lands, the one they had all set out to kill, despite the Reikai's tough opossal

Houmonsha turned large, red and glowing eyes down as the group broke out of the forest, the light of the moon dancing off the glowing surface to create a sort of spotlight that beamed around the forest, centering easily on the group, picking out Yo-mawari. The creature laughed softly, sending a quaking rumble through the lands under the assault of its great voice, a small mouth opening to reviel row upon row of razor-sharp teeth. "Youkoso irasshaimashita," Houmonsha greeted, spoken heavily, its deep voice rattling through the freezing trees, breaking loose icicles and snow clusters.

Immediately, Yo-mawari slid to a halt, letting the rest of them pass by, the search-light of the creatures eyes trapping him like a wild animal caught in the headlights of a speeding car..

"By the gods, that thing is HUGE," Rinku awed, perching precariously on the edge of Chuu's wide shoulders, the child close to the edge of tumbling from the man's shoulder to the frosty ground below.

Houmonsha turned it's large head, its large, feline ears scraping through the tree tops to send a shower of snow around his head. "Begone, children of the overlands. Yomatsu-Bounds now belongs to me," it spoke slowly, grumbling it's gigantic voice through the lands in a rolling thunder.

Kurama shuffled back past Hiei and Kiroshu to his brother. Yo-mawari's face was still paling, his lips almost blue from the cold the lands felt. He seemed almost like a walking zombie, the living-dead in his present state, the simple look of his brother enough to chill Kurama to the bone. "Kyoudai... do you have any idea how we can go about doing this without hurting you?"

Behind him, Houmonsha rocketed out a guttural laugh... only to have it echoed by Yo-mawari, deep and sinister, softly equaling the thunder softly in Kurama's ear. Kurama frowned a bit and just barely caught Yo-mawari as his knees gave out and he sank slowly to the earth. He continued to laugh, even as Kurama brought him down, echoing the creature quietly, wrapping his arms around himself for warmth, lowering his head down to rest on Kurama's warm chest.

"Kyoudai... daijoubu desu ka?!" Kurama nearly screamed, settling his brother easily on the cold ground, trying to wrap his arms around him as his black double shivered violently.

"Shut up already," Yo-mawari chuckled back, shivering down further to the ground, drawing away from Kurama. "I can deal with this myself. Go back to the others."

Kurama frowned and wiped a hand over his brother's forehead. "We'll get through this, I promise you," the redhead whispered lightly, smoothing his hand over Yo-mawari's cold, wet hair. "I promise."

Behind, bringing up the rear of the pack with Yomi, the only female of the group stopped just short of Kurama's side, turning a thin, blue eye up to the creature towering above her. "Well, here we are," Mukuro half grumbled, more to herself. "So, now what?"

"You do nothing."

The group turned to see Yo-mawari sitting in a neat pile on the ground, his four foot katana resting up on his shoulder, glinting in the moon light. It cast menacing shadows over his face and hands, making him appear completely black, the WatchMan smiling flatly through his blue lips as he arched his eyes around Kurama's thin shoulders. He shifted a bit and managed to rise on his own to his feet.

It was then that it became evident: Yo-mawari was in Youko form…

"By Inari…" Kurama whispered, awed.

Yo-mawari stood a full Youko… but he was not the Youko Kurama knew him to be. Where there once stoof tall, perky silver-furred ears, menacingly black-furred ears sprouted, twitching to catch every sound around him. His hair fell in long, flowing black waves, marred on occasion by streaks of silver showing through. Cruel black eyes starred at each member of the group where once soft golden ones would have sat.

The black Youko seemed to ignore everyone's dispossition, swinging long arcs through the air with his katana, marring the surface of the ground. On the Youko's face, three criss-crossing light scratch marks appeared, turning bright red against pale skin before being quickly re-healed.

Slowly, the black eyes fell on each of the team members one by one again, picking them each out before falling to rest on Kiroshu, huddled under Hiei's arm, wrapped in the black cloak for warmth. The little kit stood just a bit under knee-high to the fire demon, a thumb popped in his mouth as he watched his uncle carefully, watched his uncle glare him down. Instinctually, Hiei bent down and retrieved his son, picking him up to hold him comfortably in one arm, the other going to rest on the hilt of his katana in silent warning. Hiei growled lowly, swinging red eyes over to Kurama who stood back a bit from his brother, totally confused and a bit shocked as to what was going on.

Yo-mawari stretched an arm and laid the blade of the long katana on his shoulder, stepping forward slowly toward Hiei and the kit. "How are ya doing, kiddo?" he winked to his nephew, bobbing his head to the side in a cute little gesture.

"Ii desu ga, ojisan," Kiroshu spoke a bit hesitantly, popping his thumb out of his mouth to wrap his little arms about Hiei's neck.

"Good," Yo-mawari smiled back, bringing the katana out once more to swing it down to the surface of the cold ground below. The metal blade hit rock, sending sparks up in it's trail as another small, thin red cut traced a path over Yo-mawari's cheek before quickly resealing itself. "Would hate for anything to happen to you, Kiro." His tone was less than gentle, the black twin's eyes narrowing to thin, black slits, his voice growling as he looked the kit over sharply.

"'Wari..." Hiei warned, growling lowly, bringing his other arm up to wrap about Kiroshu's small body. He continued to growl deeply, backing away slightly from the black Youko, a thin aura of heat beginning to envelope his body, sending waves of vibrating reality silently rising from him.

Yo-mawari's eyes turned swiftly from Hiei and Kiroshu back to his twin brother standing just beside him out of arms length. "You are all so... so... well, I don't know the word for it quite yet," he winked to his brother, bobbing his head again. "So then, I guess it's payback time, ne Kyoudai?"

The Youko lept easily from the ground to a nearby tree limb, jumping through them to come to rest nearly eye-level to Houmonsha, turning back down to stare at the group. "I know the word now! It's 'Gullible'! You're all so gulable!"

"What in the hell is he doing now?" Yusuke grumbled, cursing under his breath. A thick cloud of white steam floated up from his face as he snorted heavily. Yusuke hated being kept in the dark: Yo-mawari and Kurama were good at doing that... but this time, Kurama appeared totally clueless as to what his brother was doing.

Yomi stepped silently forward, almost floating up beside the young man as in answer to Yusuke's question, Shura at his side. "He's joining Houmonsha."

"NANI!" the entire group gasped.

"Perhaps I did not put that correctly: He has no CHOICE but to join with Houmonsha. Feel the lands around you. They're dying."

Kurama could feel it even before Yomi spoke it. The plant life was slowly dying under the unforgiving cold that Houmonsha had brought to it. The plantlife was crying out, desperately trying to hold onto some shred of warmth that could keept them alive. "Damn, I didn't want to believe it. But the lands ARE dying."

"And Yo-mawari's only hope for survival is to join with the Houmonsha. It seems the bond to the lands can't be handed over by just killing your brother, Kurama. Houmonsha will entice him to willingly give over the heart of the lands, and then ... and THEN it will kill your brother." Yomi paused respectfully as he heard Kurama falter uneasily, the six ears catching every movement the youko made. "He's being turned against his will. You can only save him if you can turn his mind back to the path it has always been on. Only you have that connection to him..."

"Oh Kyoudai-kun!" Yo-mawari sung playfully from the tree tops, flitting about back and forth on the limbs. "I told you it was payback time, didn't I?"

Kurama faltered a bit... seconds before an unseen blast sent him careening across the forest to smash into a tree. His human body flopped back, rattling the tree roughly, sending shards of falling icicles everywhere. A few hit his delicate skin, slicing cleanly and coolly through it to dapple his face and arms in tiny bleeding scratches.

"Kurama!" Hiei snarled, setting Kiroshu carefully on the cold ground before he even begun to think about why Kurama had been attacked. The fire demon disappeared in a flash of black wind to catch his falling lover before he crashed to the ground, cradling the weight as best he could to keep Kurama from smashing into the frozen terrain.

"Oh whoops! Sorry 'bout that, dear brother," Youko Yo-mawari stressed the last two words heavily, chuckling from his treetop perch. "Guess I should be more careful? How do YOU like being blow into a wall?"

As Hiei brought Kurama down to the ground, he checked him over carefully, quick, hot fingers working over Kurama's body checking for damage to the fragile human body.

"I'm okay, just a bit dazed," Kurama said with a grunt, grabbing a hold of one of Hiei's hands to hold it tightly, his own cold fingers warming gently under Hiei's undying heat.

Overhead, Yo-mawari chuckled loud enough for everyone to hear, making sure Hiei heard him clearly. "Gullible, so very gullible" and he disappeared from the treetops.

Hiei's head snapped up from checking over Kurama, for the first time in his life, a horrible feeling of sudden anxiety and utter fear brewing in his chest. . "K'so... Kiro..."

Both parents turned quickly to where Hiei had left the kit standing, both sets of nervous eyes swinging to see the black figure of Youko Yo-mawari crouched down before their son. For an instant, both froze, watching the black figure pushing strands of silver hair over the kit's shoulders, smoothing wrinkles on the black cloak that draped over his shoulders to pile in large folds at his feet.

The kit chewed on one of his fingers lightly and watched his uncle carefully, calm golden eyes watching every movement the black youko made. From what Hiei and Kurama could see, Youko Yo-mawari looked like a black ghost, long strands of once silver hair, only marred in a few places by stubborn black now flowed in total black locks around his shoulders, meandering down nearly to his silver/black tail. Black eyes shot from his white face, deep shadows playing tricks with the light from them, sinisterly.

Yo-mawari brushed a cold hand lightly over one of the small, warm cheeks, smiling lightly as a black ear twitched, listening to the group aroud him. "You would have made your father's proud you know," he winked, watching the kit shiver under his touch.

"'Wari..." a calm, almost gentle voice came behind him, sparking both of the black ears to twitch back in the direction of the sound. Before he even turned, Youko Yo-mawari knew the presence behind him, could feel the presence of his master behind him, though now it made no difference. Slowly, the black youko turned, swinging the jet-black eyes in a loop, their deep color exploding from his overly pale face to see Hiei slowly stepping up behind him, hands out to his side, palms up in a peaceful gesture. "'Wari... just... just don't hurt him..."

Hiei had let all defenses down, his eyes pleading, his face barring the tough punishments of the anxiety that pumped through his veins. Hiei knew Kurama could take care of himself easily, he knew his fox could have fended off his brother. But Kiroshu was a different matter. The kit had yet to turn four years of age, still unknowing to the techniques of fighting and defense, unsure of what was going on. He just knew he was in trouble, the little kit whimpering quietly under the looming, unseen shadow of the black youko that took the place of his uncle.

Yo-mawari completed is turn and rose swiftly to his feet in a blurred flash of black, the residual image of his face melting under the long streams of black hair. The youko chuckled deeply and made a sort of "after you" gesture to Hiei, stepping out from before Kiroshu.

The little kit stood fine, but trembling, stretching out his arms toward Hiei, golden eyes shaking as he whimpered. " 'Tousan..." Hiei made a move towards his son, but stopped short.

"Gods no..."

Kiroshu sniffled lightly and shuffled forward a few steps past Yo-mawari, the folds of the baggy, black cloak shifting to reveal several black shinny objects nestled deep within the folds, neatly camouflaged. There were four in all, all hovering dangerously close to the little kit's throat, the light of the moon shinning off them. The shuriken-youkai. "Damn you, youko."

Four of the tiny, living shuriken sat comfortably on Kiroshu's shoulders, two by two. As the kit shifted, the shuriken glimmered and shifted with him, each just coming so close to slicing through the soft skin at Kiroshu's neck. Hiei tried to find his voice to tell the kit to hold still, but nothing but a choked squeak managing out. All he could do was stand frozen and helpless, watching his son.

Kiroshu sniffled again, his little arms still outstretched toward Hiei as he stumbled forward, nearly falling a few times as he tripped over the cloak. And one stumble was all it took until one of the shuriken dug into kit's cheek, slicing a deep gash that bleed furiously in an instant.

As any child would have done, he yelped loudly and pulled his hands back, rubbing one across the cut in his cheek as crimson fell down his face in rivers, dapling onto the cloak and the shuriken.

" ' WARI!!" Hiei bellowed from his position, the heat of his ki igniting into a purple fire about his body. The fire demon picked his way forward carefully, keeping an eye on the four shuriken glimmering on Kiroshu's shoulder, the other posted on the black youko. The Jagan burned through the warded bandage on his forward, the seemingly stationary purple eye shifting to watch the youko carefully as Hiei fell to his knees before his son.

The kit whimpered and rubbed his face tenderly, smearing his entire cheek in matted clots of his blood, rivers of tears spilling from his eyes and into the gash, making the pain intensify, raising his crying to long bursts of panicked screams. Kiroshu began to panic, grasping the air before him with his other hand as Hiei came forward carefully, slowly reaching out to take the little kit's quivering hand. "What the hell are you doing," he snarled to the tiny youkai, reaching out carefully to one of them, trying to bundle Kiroshu into the safety of his arms at the same time.

The shuriken spun, bundling in Kiroshu's clothing, spinning out to slice through the tip of Hiei's finger, digging into the little kit's shoulder. The fire demon spat out a curse and shuffled back as he himself began to bleed and Kiroshu screamed again, the youkai turning cold, red eyes to Yo-mawari as he once again tried to hold his son.

The WatchMan stood leaning on his katana, chuckling darkly to himself as he watched the display, smiling wider and wider every time Kiroshu sputtered for a deep breath to continue his crying. It was only a mere second or two later that Kurama's shape fell to his knees before the kit, quickly reaching out a hand to the deep gash on his son's cheek, calming the bleeding and the pain. "If you don't want him to get hurt even more, I suggest you keep away from him," Youko Yo-mawari smiled sinisterly, flicking a finger through the air. Immediately, another blood curdling scream registered into existence from the kit, his other cheek being laid open in an equal gash.

"KYOUDAI!!" Kurama screamed, the solid red features of Minamino Shuuichi gone in a flash of silver, streaking through the night to impact the black youko that stood as his twin brother.

Yo-mawari laughed as he was tackled flat by his silver twin, easily countering a riling rose that spun out of Kurama's hair with an equal black one, laughing hysterically. "Hit a nerve did I!?"

"How dare you hurt my son!!!" the silver snarled back, grabbing the neck of Yo-mawari's black clothing, shaking him back and forth violently, occasionally his head flopping to smash into the rocks below him. "How DARE you!!!"

"Touchy!" the black youko chuckled, letting his brother toss him around on the ground.

"I'll kill you.. I SWEAR I'll kill you!!!"

"You don't have the guts," Yo-mawari snorted, flicking another finger through the air, followed instantly by another screech from Kiroshu. "You can't kill me," he sneered.

" 'WARI!!" The silver reeled back a fist to be instantly wound in living shards of plant weapons, hovering menacingly over Youko Yo-mawari's black head, poised to strike...

Youko Kurama faltered for a second, long enough for the sharp plants to dissipate. "..no... this is just what he wants..." the golden eyes turned up to the Houmonsha chuckling above him. "Damn you!! I won't kill him, so try it out on someone else! It's bad enough you're using my family…" Kurama yelled up to the huge animal. "Leave my son alone!!"

"Petty little thing to trifle with, Kyoudai-kun," Yo-mawari snickered under him.

"You shut up!" Youko Kurama snarled back, pounding a fist into his black twin's stomach. "You just keep away from Kiro-chan, hear me? Touch him again and I'll... I'll..."

"You'll what?" the other laughed, bringing his arms up to lace them behind his head, reclining on the cold earth as the silver threatened his existence over top of him.

Kurama snorted and drew back quickly, turning around to face the dumbfound group.

"'tousan..." Kiroshu whimpered, bundling his hands before him, stained in mats of blood from his cheeks, the shuriken on his shoulder glimmering in wild, uncontrolled bursts. He stepped forward again, stretching a hand back out to Hiei. Hiei made a move towards the kit, until one of the shuriken spun, digging into the soft skin on Kiroshu's shoulder again, pulling on the existing wound. The kit screeched and shuffled backwards, tripping to fall back on his bottom in a heavy thump, returning to his frantic, panicked screams.

"Damn you!" Hiei cursed back to Youko Yo-mawari, echoed by Kurama's quick grumbles and silent threats.

Yo-mawari managed to easily slip out from under Kurama's weight, flashing black, evil eyes to his twin before he took to the air again, back to the tree tops eye level with Houmonsha, the large creature laughing lowly, rumbling the lands about him.

Jin took to the air quickly, only to have the remaining two shuriken nearly slice him in two, sending him in an awkward spiral back to sit uncomfortably in the air, the two remaining shuriken holding a threatening watch over him.

"We can't fight the Houmonsha without killing Yo-mawari if that thing is controlling his mind," Yusuke spat. "But maybe we can incapacitate him somehow."

"First thing's first, Kuwabara echoed. "As much as I hate the bastard, our best bet to get Yo-mawari back is Hiei."

"And to get back Hiei, we need to get those damned shuriken off Kiroshu before they kill him," Touya offered his advice, popping his icy blue presence into the huddle.

"Hai. We kill two birds with one stone," Yusuke said, motioning the others to gather around him, tugging over a snarling fire demon to join in.

"Okay listen up, minna: It's obvious that whatever happens to the lands happens to Yo-mawari too. Hiei... we're going to need you to warm the land up again with the Black Dragon, and Touya... see if you can't take out those shuriken. Freeze them solid or something, I don't really care what. We can't make an attack with Yo-mawari beating us down at every turn. And try to keep the plans from Kurama, Yo-mawari's most likely monitoring his mind."

Hiei grumbled a half-hearted agreeance, glancing over his shoulder at Kiroshu who sat bawling on the ground, the silver form of Kurama sitting before him, trying to calm him down. And then, he hardly noticed the firm hand come down on his shoulder gripping him, the still human hand of Mukuro, standing above him. She seemed to reassure him that everything would be alright if he just stuck to plans at hand. He couldn't help his son at the moment, so he needed to help break the defense set up by Yo-mawari.

Behind the huddle from the direction of the Houmonsha, the all-too familiar voice once again chuckled into existence, chilling everyone's blood. "So, now that you've all come ALL this way," Yo-mawari called down from the tree tops, "Now you all get to die."

"Hiei, Touya! Go now!" Yusuke yelled, running forward as the WatchMan lept from the trees, katana at the ready... heading straight for Kurama.

Kurama rose quickly, the youko body fading quickly back to his more elegant and graceful human body, pulling several seeds from his hair as he stood defensively before Kiroshu, planting them in his skin to grow quickly into a defensive net. Yo-mawari rocketed through the air on a point-blank course for his brother. Kurama's defense just barely held him off, deflecting the menacing katana to the side to slice through the skin on his shoulder, sending deep red out to bleed onto the thick, white cotton robes that surrounded his body. Kurama was no stranger to pain: throughout his fights from the Ankoku Bujuutuskai up until the Makai Tournament, he had taken several bad beatings: Gama, Karasu, Shigure... He had become accustomed to feeling great amouts of pain, and he readied himself for a full assault.

Hiei took to his feet, ripping through the IjyuuTaiHou ward that wrapped itself around the bandages of the Kokuryu. Immediately behind, Touya took to the air to draw the attention of the living shuriken. "Hey Urameshi-san. One question. Exactly what the hell do I do with things things when I'm done?"

"I can handle them fine," Mukuro added calmly, waving a hand through the air. "I can ward them to the earth. Just take them out of commission so I can get them safely away from the child."

Hiei pulled back, the head of the black tattoo that wound around his arm lifting to snarl in its awakening, glancing hot, red eyes around the terrain quickly. "Ensatsu..." he began quietly, feeling his you-ki beginning to form around his body in the aura of the Black Dragon. He brought his arms out, the smoky, purple flames of the dragon beginning to smolder from his body, drawing the attention quickly of Yo-mawari from his attacks on Kurama. "... Kokuryuha!!"

Touya lept as the shuriken shifted course to fly after Hiei, the demon of ice bringing up his you-ki to cool a block of air to well below freezing. He sent the block of air out, positioned it between their path and Hiei. "Get ready, Mukuro!"

The Kokuryuha began to seethe and burn viciously around Hiei's body, the fire demon holding the position as he watched the shuriken fly into the trap...

They hit the block of air in a metallic 'clunk', both of them almost instantly freezing solid. Quickly, Mukuro sent out a series of thin, golden ward-line that wound tightly around each of the two shuriken before they managed to break their icy tomb, securing them quickly to the ground.

Yo-mawari faltered in his attack, swinging his head around nervously to see the two shuriken wallowing, held fast to the ground in their golden bindings.

Hiei exploded from the ground, the fires of the black dragon spreading quickly around him, leaping out to singe the treetops around him. The two separated, the Black Dragon flying off into the lands, Hiei leaping to the ground before the black youko, his compact body beginning to turn a sickly green in color. "How dare you attack my son... how dare you lay a hand on Kurama..." his shoulders and chest squirmed as if something was alive under his skin, his red eyes thinning out, the Jagan glowing hot on his forehead. "I should kill you..." one by one, lidless, purple eyes began to open all over Hiei's body, unblinking stares all catching the WatchMan before them.

Behind, Touya and Mukuro had burst out from the foliage just behind Hiei and Yo-mawari. "Don't move, Kiro!" the ice demon shouted.

Yo-mawari jerked back from Hiei in time to see the two separate pockets of air fling the remaining four shuriken from Kiroshu's shoulder, Mukuro quickly binding them in warded, golden line, securing them to the ground and out of worry. "Damn you all!" He yelled, raising the katana above his head.

Hiei lept, rejoining with the Kokuryuha, sent on a bee-line straight for Houmonsha as Youko Kurama lept back to grab up Kiroshu, leaping back through the woods to join at the side of Yusuke and the others, still huddling in thair plans.

"Baka na," Yomi whispered as he and Shura rounded around, sliding to a halt. "Oi, witch!"

"The name is Mukuro, old man!"

"Urusei... Hiei...He's trying to take the Houmonsha on by himself."

"The idiot knows better, he'll kill himself," Mukuro snarled, pushing past the blind wizard, almost tossing him out of her way. "Hiei, you idiot. Get back here right now!"

There was a sharp clang of metal, eyes turning to see Kuwabara and Yo-mawari off in a duel, the light of the Rei-ken swinging through the darkness to light the woods in odd, living shadows. They seemed pretty much equally matched for the most part, Kuwabara managing to hold off the black youko's attacks. As the Kokuryuha began scorching and warming what sections of the land it could, Yo-mawari began to jerk and falter in his attacks, leaving huge windows in his defense that Kuwabara could have easily used to do him in. "Urameshi! It's working!"

The Houmonsha grumbled out a laugh as he batted at Hiei, watching the fire demon swarm around him, sending shards of the Black Dragon to firey meteors down to the earth below. "Little insect," it rumbled, reaching out easily to catch a hold of the mouth of the Kokuryuha. "You shall be the first casulty of this battle."

The Kokuryha fought back with no avail, the Houmonsha beginning to slowly wrip the black dragon into four separate pieces, the destruction traveling quickly down through the black, smoldering body, heading down to where Hiei floated in it's black body.

"Hiei! Pull back!" Mukuro yelled, shoving past Yomi and Shura. "Pull back or he'll kill you. That's an order!"

Hiei ignored her, floating down through the burning black body to stabilize himself on the ground, trying to dump his ki into the Black Dragon to somehow strengthen it. "I won't spare your life..."

"Little stubborn twerp," Mukuro seethed as she felt Hiei's rise in ki. "Hiei! Damn you!"

The waves of destruction continued to pour through the body of the Black Dragon, viscously tearing it into four pieces, the destruction heading straight down for Hiei below, the demon still determined to come out on top of this one. Mukuro lept in a wisp of black air, landing beside Hiei to grasp him by the scruff of the neck, jerking him from the base of the dragon. She held her arms out wide as the destruction came, taking it full force in a massive explosion that leveled the forest around her.

There was a quick silence that came over the group, save for Kiroshu's whimpering as his hid under Kurama's long, silken silver hair. All action stopped, including that from Yo-mawari, all eyes turning to the ring of smoke, dust and devastation that replaced the base of the Black Dragon and Mukuro.

Hiei picked himself up from the cold ground, the black tattoo encircling his arm once more to lay back in its warded position. A burning pile marked the site of the explosion, Jin reaching forward with the power of the wind to blow it out and clear the dust. It was Mukuro.

Surprisingly, Hiei was the first to her side. Her clothing was massively burned completely through at her stomach, revealing where her once human body ended and her cyborg body began. A network of intricate burned patterns wound over her stomach and around her side, bleeding in some places, sparking in others. "Mukuro..." Hiei frowned slightly, reaching out to lay a hand on her stomach.

Her good eye flew open, her hand reaching out quickly to grab his wrist roughly, tearing it from where Hiei had laid his hand. "Hiei. The next time I give you an order you better damn well follow it! Hear me??" she snarled, struggling to sit up against the pain that began to wiggle it's way into her body. Chuu and Yusuke helped push her up, the Makai witch releasing Hiei to lay a healing hand softly over her stomach. "I'm amazed I'm alive," she wondered silently. "I've never felt that much power before."

A sharp clank drew everyone's attention back around. Yo-mawari's katana hovered inches from slicing through the back of Rinku's head, Touya's Koori no Ken fending it off to scrape through the earth, once again laying a thin red trail across Youko Yo-mawari's ghostly white face.

"It's time to finish this," he snarled, tossing Touya easily to the side, smashing into Jin. "I'm getting bored with you all."

Yomi grabbed Kurama's shoulder. "He's still your brother Kurama. Remember that. He has no control over his own mind."

"How do we even KNOW that's still Yo-mawari?"

The wizard cocked his head to the side. "I can find out."

Kurama frowned and bundled Kiroshu further into his arms as the blind wizard stepped past him. He stared stern golden eyes back at his old partner, a low growl beginning in his throat. "If you touch him..." he snarled after the blind wizard, a hand laying over one of the massively bleeding gashes on Kiroshu's face.

Yo-mawari watched Yomi's advancement carefully, snorting and chuckling to himself in his own little conversation, quick black eyes darting aroud to each of the heavily warded and bound shuriken. "You think you can challenge ME, blind man? I have more tricks up my sleeve than you realize."

Yomi chuckled grimly, disappearing from his stance to appear behind the WatchMan, slapping a quick ward around his neck. "You have no tricks left now, save your swordsmanship..." a quick burst of you-ki ripped Yo-mawari's katana from his hand to lodge it firmly in the ground at Kurama's feet. Yomi watched with a half smile as Yo-mawari faltered backwards, his you-ki flowing out of his body to leave him with an empty, powerless feeling.... the last time he had been completely powerless was when Yomi... "No..." he whispered, turning quickly to leap back through the trees.

Yomi took to the air, easily following in an almost effortless pursuit.

Kurama growled deeply to himself, feeling Hiei come up beside him. The fire demon was clearly exhausted, dark circles beginning to form around his eyes, his green skin beginning to fade back to it's normal rosy peach, the various Jagans adorning his body closing and disappearing. Kurama looked to him quickly, bending down to grab Hiei around the waist to keep him from toppling over in his exhaustion. "If he touches my brother again..."

"Leave him be, Kurama," Hiei said silently, resting his head over on Kiroshu's little shoulder. "I know what he's doing."

Yomi chased Yo-mawari through the trees as the black youko tried desperately to make it back to the safety beside Houmonsha, quickly loosing strength as the ward began to bleed him dry of the strength his body gained through his you-ki. He huffed, making the error of pausing on a tree limb to catch his breath, Yomi immediately over taking him in a heartbeat. "And so, here we are again," Yomi spoke softly down to him as he pinned the youko back against the tree with a simple effort.

"No... NO!!" Yo-mawari screamed before Yomi clasped a hand over his mouth, twisting and thrashing under the wizards pinning strength. Panic and desperation were in the black eyes as he tried to struggle, nearly powerless under the wizard, snarling, the black ears laying back against his head as he struggled. "... not again..." he thought, forcing his eyes closed.

Yomi grabbed the youko about the waist and just held him, letting Yo-mawari's frantic mind do the rest, preparing scenarios and remember the past. He had no intentions of going back on his word he had given Kurama, he had no intentions of forcing himself upon Yo-mawari again. His chest still ached from the assault the shuriken had given him that night when Yo-mawari fell prey to his desires.

A deep rumble rang through the woods as the Houmonsha shifted in place, turning around to face Yomi, the large, felinesque creature snarling. "Begone. Leave him be or face my wrath."

"You can't take the lands without his mind. If I keep his mind occupied with thoughts of past events, he'll forget you're there and break the link." Yomi easily slung the black youko over his shoulder and lept off before the Houmonsha's great, clawed hand smashed through the tree he had use for refuge.

The wizard laughed softly to himself and lept off out of range, picking another tree to rest in, far from the reach of the lumbering giant. He drew back from Yo-mawari and stared his lifeless eyes back at the youko. Yo-mawari jerked and squirmed, trying to pull his wrist from it's bond in which Yomi held him securely, the youko form beginning to blink in and out of existence, black ears still flattened back on his head, his silver/black tail thrashing madly. "Leave me alone... go away!" he hissed through a shaky voice. "Leave me alone!!!"

Kurama had bleached back into youko form as he easily lead Hiei down to the ground below, Yusuke removing the tattered green school uniform jacket to lay under the youkai's head as he fell into hibernation. Kiroshu still was crying, shaking furiously in fright as he clung tightly to his now identical father's shirt, wiping a hand over his eyes.

Shura had joined the group now, watching off in the tree tops to where his father was most likely to be. His long, pointed ears twitched slightly, the youngster reaching up to rub the small horm that poked from his forehead. "Kurama-'jisan. You're going to need to catch your brother."

"What?"

"You know... Yo-mawari. You'll need to catch him..."

The youko frowned a bit, thinning out the golden eyes to look off into the woods. The Houmonsha was trying to switch positions to follow after Yo-mawari and Yomi, the ominous sound of cracking tree trunks piercing the air. "Wait... that damn creature seems worried... that means then, he's loosing the mind link to 'Wari-kun, ne?"

"You catch on quickly."

Youko Kurama bled from his fox form to the more fragile, more brilliant figure of Minamino Shuuichi, turning in a hasty circle around to Yusuke. "Yusuke... I need you to take Kiro-chan for a minute..." he began, trying to easily pry his son from his clothing. The kit screamed and fought back, grabbing handfuls of Kurama's wild red hair as he was handed over. "Kiro, Kiro. Don't worry. Yusuke-kun will take good care of you. I"ll only be gone for a minute."

The young kit bawled and screamed as Yusuke bundled him up, adjusting Hiei' black cloak around him as the kit reached for his father. Kurama looked a bit forlorn, gliding his face in to nuzzle little Kiroshu's cheek, smoothing back strands of blood-matted silver hair. "Don't worry, little shinju, nothing will happen to you. Yusuke-kun will make sure of..."

"KYOUDAI!!!"

Kurama jerked back and spun around quickly to see a black shape bounding quickly through the trees, the familiar feeling of Yo-mawari's true ki coming straight for him.. the Yo-mawari he knew.

"Kyoudai! Help me HELP ME!!!" his twin yelled back, frantically, Shura chuckling out the equivalent of an 'I told you so' before he stepped out of the way.

Kurama rushed forward and held his arms out wide as the black shape came straight at him, paniced and fearful feelings beginning to come into his mind from the relay between he and his brother. Kurama welcomed his brother back through his mind seconds before Yo-mawari's slender, black figure popped into view before him, flinging his arms around Kurama's slender shoulders, hanging on for dear life, nearly plowing both of them flat to the ground. "Help me.. he's after me! Don't let him take me again!!"

Quickly behind, Yomi appeared in a simple flash, standing still and straight a few yards from the brother's position, watching. Yo-mawari still stood in the form of the black youko, his head buried deep in Kurama's red hair, shaking and panting, clutching at his brother.

Kurama watched as the black ears and tail began to blink from existence, Yo-mawari's demon-youko form fading from his ki to tuck itself back in his heart. "Kyoudai-kun..." Kurama tried to whisper through a dry throat, watching Yomi bow his head once and rejoin his son.

"Kurama.. what have I done? What in Inari-sama's name have I done?" the other shuttered back, hot, wet tears beginning to seep into Kurama's hair. "It wasn't me, Kurama... I swear..."

"I know. But 'Wari-kun, what happened? Why did you turn against us? Why did you turn against ME? You've got a lot of explaining to do to your nephew, to Hiei AND to me!"

Yo-mawari tried to form a sentence to begin when the sharp crack of a tree trunk broke through again, the lumbering figure of the Houmonsha beginning to slowly stalk through the forest. "To the bounds of Hades with the lot of you. It seems I will have to do my task myself and kill the WatchMan on my own. It wasn't wise to anger me..."

"Great, here it comes," Yusuke snorted. "I guess this is D-day, guys. Everyone ready?" he called around, stepping forward to tap Kurama on the shoulder.

The redhead turned slightly to catch the eyes of his son, though they weren't focused on him. Instead, they watched Yo-mawari closely, an unreadable expression adorning the child's face as he watched his uncle crying on his father's shoulder. Slowly, Kurama reached a hand over to Kiroshu and smoothed a finger over the healing gash on his cheek. "Kiro-chan..."

The kit whimpered and reached out his arms for Kurama as Yusuke handed him over, Kurama expertly balancing the kit in one arm while he still held his brother with the other. Kiroshu instantly began to hide, bundling up Hiei's black cloak over his head and face, pulling long, wild strands of Kurama's hair over his head as he kept a cautious eye on Yo-mawari, clutching at his father tightly.

Yusuke cracked his knuckled, knocking an elbow into Kuwabara's side. "Okay then, just how we planned it. Don't count on much help from Hiei or Kurama," he glanced over to the readhed. "On the count of three, everyone. One.... Two....

Koenma winced under his father's booming voice, praying through his mind that he wouldn't get the spanking of his life for this one.

"You DELIBERATELY let Yusuke and the others go into Yomatsu Bounds against my strict orders, son! You've placed the Reikai, Makai AND the Ningenkai all in danger by your careless actions."

Koenma cringed, but nonetheless held his ground, handing a pile of papers up to his dad. "Before you punish me, I think you should read those, Enma-sama. It appears more goes on in Yomatsu than we know about. It's the crossroads of the paths leading to the underworlds, in fact, the name itself means "Straight road to Hades"."

"I'm not interested in mythology, Junior..."

"Yo-mawari leads the damned souls to Yomi no Kuni in the underwords where they're supposed to be bound for life with no chance of escape. But since his hold on the lands has been challenged by another, greater power, the bonds that kept the demons in Hades have broken and allowed them to escape back into the worlds. The pile of paper there are just a handful of the demons who have escaped back into life in Makai. A few have already managed to get back into the Ningenkai and are causing havoc. We can't ignore Yomatsu... it's an integral part in the balance of reality. Yo-mawari is the only man alive who can keep the heavier S-class demons from escaping back into the world. If demons like Yakumo or Dai-Warugi make it back into existence..."

Enma Daioh seemed to grunt and stiffen at the mention of one of his old enemies, glaring down to his son.

"We almost lost Yusuke and his team to Yakumo once... without the Sphere of Meikai, they don't stand a chance."

"THREE!!" Yusuke shouted as loudly as he could, taking off with a great leap from his position, followed closely by Kuwabara. Like a great team of

Locusts, they remainder of the group all took off, each taking off in their own direction…

A group of trees off beside the Houmonsha suddenly let loose, all their branches suddenly swinging out to strike the looming creature square in the face.

"HAULT!!"

The voice seemed to come from all around them, the Houmonsha letting out a rumbling cry, raising chubby hands to its face. It seemed to whine to itself lowly, stumbling in its position, toppling over, the trees easily up-rooting and sidestepping the falling monstrosity.

Yusuke slid to a quick halt at the booming sound, catching his footing before Kuwabara crashed into him from behind. Eventually, about half of the team ended up in a sprawled pile of arms and legs almost at Kurama and Yo-mawari's feet, the WatchMan still clinging tightly to his brother.

One by one, the entire forest uprooted, all closing in to create a tight circle about the wallowing Houmonsha, until the group could not see through.

"What the… the entire forest just.. Kurama!" Yusuke stumbled, trying to pry himself from under the pile of youkai's. "Kurama, what in the hell is going on!!??"

"The living forest…" the rehead awed quietly, adjusting his light but firm grip on Kiroshu. "The forest is coming to our aid."