Fruits Basket Fan Fiction ❯ Embers of Summer's Glory – Flames from a Dying Sun ( Chapter 65 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

DISCLAIMER: Altogether now…original Fruits Basket characters belong to Takaya-sensei. I only claim the storyline, original characters, plus my toothbrush as my own.
 
Special Note: This chapter is quite long, a bit of indiscretion with the language, and of course, angst and mayhem…along with multiple scenes that occur all at once. Confused? Read on!
 
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`The future of our reality is seldom as bad as the future of our fears.
scholar
 
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Embers of Summer’s Glory
Chapter 65: Flames from a Dying Sun
 
Serenity…tranquility…peace…it never changed in this part of the world, not as far as the aging gardener was concerned.
 
The summer breeze blew threw the grounds as soft as a feather.
 
The groundskeeper was quietly tending to his duties of pruning shrubs and pulling stubborn weeds. It was a task that only a privileged few had…his employer was rather reclusive and preferred as little interaction with the public as possible. Yet his family has had this privilege since five generations back, and if he continued his service faithfully, future generations of his family will have the same privilege as he.
 
Birds were aflutter, gently crooning from their perches on the branches.
 
Wiping the perspiration from his brow, he stiffly stood up and stretched, content with the work he had done. He then gathered his tools and wheel barrow to proceed to the next patch of flowerbeds that surrounded the tall statues. The flowers always thrived best at this next sculpture, attracting many a weed to suction off the very life force of the delicate petals.
 
The gentle breeze ceased.
 
The wheel of the barrow squeaked along the stony path, accompanied by the off-tune whistling of the gardener. He noted that the path itself will need a light whisk of the broom as leaves littered the ground all about. The gardens must remain pristine at all times.
 
Not one bird could be seen nor heard.
 
He came upon the grand statue, its beauty never failing to stir his pride in being able to work so closely with it. It was a remarkable piece of art, even he knew that. The detail of the delicate leaves on the sturdy branches…the intricate expressions conveyed on the small creatures that were complete opposites from one another…it was all very elegant. If only he could guess what the illegible inscription at the bottom stated…his family never did know what it said.
 
He whipped around to look behind him. Nothing. Yet the very hard beating of his heart along with the fine hairs on his neck told him otherwise.
 
All was still…silent…waiting…
 
He felt cold to the core, his shivering now pronounced. He felt very alone yet he knew he was not. His eyes were darting all around him, frantically searching… Still nothing.
 
The faintest of whispers was carried softly through the gardens by nothing at all for there was no one else around.
 
He didn’t recall his legs giving out from under him but there he sat, trembling in tune with his rapid heartbeat. He felt the eyes of another on him yet his panic-stricken eyes saw nothing. And then…he heard it…he heard them. From behind…
 
Indistinct whispering was coming closer.
 
His eyes widened further as he slowly and painfully turned his head to look over his shoulder. His breath…heartbeat…shocked beyond capacity… Each and every petal at the flowerbed now lay wilted at the base of the Nezumi and Neko’s sculpture.
 
“Betrayal…”
 
“This family…”
 
“…wrath…”v>

 
“Her family…”
 
“…deadliest of blades…”
 
“His family…”
 
“…if only—”
 
“Your family…”
 
“Traitors will DIE!”
 
“Our family…”
 
It was all coming at him all at once from everywhere, the soft whispers mixing with screams that made no sense, let alone that sounded human. The large courtyard that surrounded him pulsed with the very echo of the shrieks. He jerkily stood on his feet, pure fear now driving his feet to just run. And run he did…until his body came to a complete halt at the edge of the courtyard. His body shook violently…it was behind him…watching him.
 
The sudden silence was deafening…until it was broken.
 
The ground beneath his feet shook from the impact of absolutely nothing. But the impact tremors he heard behind him did not lie, neither did the vibrations he felt under his feet or in the air. They came closer to him. Sheer terror had moved his next actions.
 
He turned around.
 
An inhuman screech was heard by no one as it rang throughout the property of the Jyuunishi Gardens of Sohma.
 
—ooo—
 
“PLEASE HURRY, IT’S THIS WAY!”
 
“Momiji-kun! Slow down…you may run into someone!” Kazuma couldn’t say he missed being dragged out of the deluge of interviews by an insistent Usagi, but propriety dictated he at least finish with the unpleasant business, not ditch them on plain camera. He will need to assuage many a ruffled feather after taking care of this matter. This brings him back to the same problem…
 
“Haji-ojiisan, why are we here? Will you please answer me now? There’s no one else around these hallways at this time of day.” He was certain of that…this part of the building was currently off limits to the general public due to the tournament. And the only words the elder Sohma deigned to give him at the time of his `abduction’ were that there were too many ears.
 
He hadn’t questioned the elder man…the look Master Haji had given him then had his blood run cold. And the one word…
 
`Kyo…what’s happening with you?’ he worriedly thought for the six hundredth time.
 
“YOU NEED TO HURRY UP! NOW!!!
 
The urgency in Momiji’s voice carried through the large hallway. Master Haji abruptly halted in front of Kazuma, his hand clenched onto his chest. Kazuma was at his side immediately.
 
“Haji-ojiisan…are you ill—”
 
“We’re out of time. HURRY! Follow the Usagi and don’t stop…RUN NOW! I’ll meet you there!
 
“Haji-ojiisan—”
 
“GO!!!” And with that he shoved the younger Sohma away, his eyes glazed…his hand still clutching his chest as if in pain. “The Neko…he won’t stop…”
 
As dearly as he loved the elderly man, his love for his son outweighed all else. He paid heed to Master Haji’s words…he ran. He ran faster than he thought possible, every moment he breathed consumed with fear of what may be happening just beyond his reach.
 
He paid no mind to the tremor he felt beneath his feet.
 
—ooo—
 
His heart pounded against his chest, his breathing heavy as he ran to the elevator. He felt it…deep in his bones… He couldn’t let Tohru anywhere near this level of—
 
`What the HELL was that?!’ The tremor beneath his feet came as he was about to push the elevator button. It wasn’t massive in any way, merely a vibration, but he felt the immense power behind it. Strangely, he felt connected to it in some way…a tingling in his blood stirring in response to it.
 
Heavy…the air all around him became heavy, pressing down on him from the inside. His heart continued to pound loudly…his hands…they trembled of their own accord. His left wrist…always the damnable beads…it seared against his flesh.
 
“Oi, Sohma…what’s the holdup?” Hajime was just as confused as the others with him and was willing to vocalize it. He was this close to finding that pathetic member of their dojo…so close to letting Sohma Yuki feel pain by his own hands no less.
 
Hiko was of the same sentiment. “The elevators should be still good to use, right, Hajime? That tremor was nothin’ at all.”
 
“Yeah, come on, let’s get up there before—”
 
“Would you two just SHUT UP?!” Kyo had been trying to make sense of these sensations that were only increasing with each passing moment. Distracting him with their nonsense was making his ill mood worse. He turned around to send them on their way but never had the chance to.
 
His frown was completely gone now, only to be replaced with a haunted stare. “No…it can’t be…”
 
The desperate plea was understood by no one that was with him as they, too, turned to look behind them at the empty spot the teen was staring at. Kyo saw differently as he pushed his way through the throng of athletes until there was nothing between him and…the boy.
 
The small boy that held such joy and pain in his eyes when found in his dreams…there he stood. Still dressed in the same formal kimono as before, he stood alone, in the middle of a wide open lobby where anyone can see him but no one does. But Kyo’s Jyuunishi spirit could…he saw very well.
 
He saw the grin that could not belong to that of a child.
 
“Come closer.”
 
The blood in his veins seemingly ran as cold as ice when he heard the soft whisper of a bell flow smoothly in the air. His Neko spirit furiously beat against the restraint of the beads…to get away…to get closer…he didn’t know. What he did know was that he refused to play the games of others, even that of child.
 
He cracked the knuckles in his clenched fist. He lowly growled, “Stay the hell away—”
 
Come, Neko.”
 
There was certainly no doubt now as to whom the child was speaking to. It angered him further. “Just SHUT THE—”
 
“The Neko is afraid of the rats. Hehe, yes, he is…m-hm.”
 
`That little troll is now making FUN OF ME?! Twirling around the floor like this was some JOKE?!’ He paid no heed to those around him as he stomped over to the being before him, his rage no longer restrained. LITTLE FREAK, I AIN’T—”
 
An icy, transparent hand clamped onto his left wrist with such swiftness that it stilled all speech and blood flow. The cold, dark stare from the child rivaled the coldest of winters, his dark blue eyes now pitch black. It was that unnatural, as was his voice. “You were gifted with these beads…by her. And now you BETRAY HER?”
 
“WHAT GIFT?! WHAT BETRAYAL?! YOU MAKE NO SEN—!!!”His hand clutched his chest, the pain excruciating but not wholly unfamiliar…unfortunately, it was never to this degree of madness. He sank down to his knees as he breathed heavily. He immediately looked to the hand the child released, the blaring absence of the beaded bracelet noted with muted horror.
 
“Is there something wrong, Neko?”
 
`How?! HOW DID HE DO THIS?! HE’S NOT REAL!!!’ He looked up to the boy that stood proudly over him, the unnatural grin back on his face as he twirled the bracelet on his small finger. His voice was strained but he pled pitifully, “Give…back…”
 
“You should never have betrayed her.”
 
“KYO-SEMPAI, YOU ALRIGHT?!”
 
“Oi, back up, guys! Give him room to breathe!”
 
“But Hajime-sempai, he’s white as a SHEET!”
 
“Damn if he don’t look like he’d seen a ghost!”
 
“Kyo-kun! Please stand aside! Kyo-kun!”
 
`DAMMIT! Why hadn’t Rin taken off with Tohru already?!’ But knowing that she was there still, worriedly calling out to him…it was the strength he needed to act. He could control the monstrous being within him from breaking through if only for the next few moments. It had to be enough.
 
“GET OFF ME!” Stamping down the growing terror from within now that his bracelet was gone, he shoved off the hands from his caring teammates and stumbled to his feet. Shakily he stood on his legs, sheer will propelling his feet forward to reach the boy that stood further away now. Gathering the dark pits of his rage, he leveled a glare at the boy that was murderous. Give me that DAMN THINGBACK!”
 
“No.”
 
Little FREAK—”
 
And the child ran off…with his bracelet.
 
SHIT!!!COME BACK HERE!!!” he yelled, now on a dead run following after the quickly disappearing child. Up he went up a flight of stairs…the second floor’s vast open balcony… `Smart…DAMN SMART. That little freak’s gonna hide it up here with the other displays.’
 
“KYO-KUN!” Tohru swung around to try pulling her arm from the tight grasp the determined lady had on her. She pled once more. “ONEGAI!!! Isuzu-san, please! We have to help him! He’s…he’s…in trouble or… HE NEEDS US BOTH, ISUZU-SAN! PLEASE…please…”
 
Rin wasn’t sure if she was preventing Tohru from leaving or just hanging on to keep the volatile emotions at bay. Her bond…the wretched bond she cursed day and night…it was ringing in her ears as loud as the screech of high winds. Whatever was going on with Kyo and his behavior, it was definitely impacting their blood bond with one another. There was no choice…she had to follow the pull of her bond…in Kyo’s direction.
 
It was all Kyo could do to keep his emotional state at bay…it was draining what reserves he had mustered from deep within. The transformation…it was only moments away…it loomed as ominous as the dark thunder clouds he once saw in a daydream not too long ago…
 
“Do you feel that, Neko…do you?”
 
It was a soft whisper at the shell of his ear…he whirled around. And there on the floor, so innocently laid out, was his beaded bracelet. He quickly snatched it and slipped it on his wrist. Yet no sooner was his sigh of relief released when he started feeling a clashing of unseen forces within his veins. The flames of his Neko spirit’s volatility were fiercely opposing the strength of another…
 
Kyo’s eyes widened in stunted shock, his breathing quickened as he was taken aback when he realized what that opposite force was.
 
“Good. The Neko understands.”
 
The inner opposing force in his blood intensified, forcing him to kneel and groan audibly. `Understanding is proving to be a bitchnowadays…’
 
“He was always with us…always.”
 
A piercing screech assaulted all his senses then…his hearing, sight, even his sense of smell—his sinuses were sharply stabbed repeatedly. The very vibrations of it were felt all around him…the pressure against his chest unbearable. He gasped for air, yet it felt too thick for him to breathe it in. It was all incredibly frightening in its intensity…even the very ground beneath him shivered in fear.
 
`The floor…’ All need for air and relief left his mind as he stared dumbly at the marble floor beneath him. The hard tiles were literally shaking—
 
Such a silent stillness came upon him then…heavy and just as oppressive as the screech. He heard not one word of concern from his confused teammates as they gathered around him. Normally silence was not as soundless as one would think `silence’ would be…there was a ringing in the ear, a constant hum. Yet, there was not even that bit of normalcy in this stunted silence
 
It was the stillness that was found with the dead.
 
(KLAK—BOOM!)
 
All eyes turned up, far up.
 
(KLAK—BOOM!)
 
The hanging tapestries shook precariously above their heads with each explosion from above.
 
Yells and screams were heard now. Kyo stood silent.
 
(KLAK—BOOM!)
 
The air…the ground…all around them the impact of each one was felt…closer…
 
Many of the dojo members were frantically looking for cover, urging Kyo to do the same. He remained motionless.
 
(KLAK—BOOM!)
 
It fell from above in great wavesdirt, powder of some type…the tapestries fluttered harshly by a fierce wind gust.
 
Kyo paid no heed to the calls of his teammates…Tohru’s frantic call also lost to the wind…
 
(KLAK—BOOM!)
 
The second floor fared no better. Each glass window, display case…they all crumbled under the unseen pressure.
 
It was enough to knock everyone, including Kyo, to the ground.
 
“Let’s see the Neko land that.”
 
Coughing harshly from all the dust in the air, Kyo almost didn’t hear the soft whisper. But he did…and the voice was unmistakable. As he stood up shakily, through the billowing clouds of dust which were finally beginning to settle, the outline of the person’s figure was vaguely seen, but his eyes…the unnatural glow of a Jyuunishi…
 
Yuki remained where he was.
 
Rin’s eyes widened with utter disbelief. Her grip on Tohru’s arm was iron-clad as she began to tremble from the severe pressure of her bond. Her bond with the Jyuunishi…it was demanding, no, crying out with a fury never known before.
 
Retribution. It will have this at all costs.
 
“Isuzu-san…onegai…you’re starting to hurt me,” remarked Tohru anxiously as she tried to pull her numb arm out of Rin’s strong grip, yet the Horse paid no mind to her pleas. Tohru tearfully called out to Kyo but still no reaction. Her calls to both Jyuunishi didn’t reach wherever their minds had taken them. It was all she could do to crouch by the large, antique wooden chest with minor physical discomfort. However…her heart…
 
Helpless…weak…like so many other times, it was breaking her heart. And like those times, she will stand witness to the power of the Sohma curse.
 
“DAMMIT! My cell is gone, too!” Hajime cursed again as he tried to make his cell phone respond but the severely cracked LCD screen rendered the device useless. Chucking it aside, he stood up and dusted himself off, stomping angrily to stand by Kyo.
 
Hiko rushed over as well. “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?! It felt like an earthquake that started from ABOVE! WHAT THE HELL?!
 
“No way… NO DAMN WAY IN HELL DID THAT JUST HAPPEN! cried out Hajime loudly simultaneously. Gripping his hair and shaking his head in disbelief but knowing his eyes had seen what they had seen as he stood against an armored statue—it left him shaken to the core. Still feeling that deep pressure in his chest, he heavily breathed, his eyes still seeing the fleeting image through dust and tapestries.
 
`No, man, it can’t be…that’s absolutely IMPOSSIBLE!’ Yet reality slapped him with the hard fact that indeed the very individual that fell from above stood motionless before them all without injury. He just…stood there…
 
And isn’t it…inhuman…for eyes to glow with a light of their own?
 
Hiko didn’t spare the words or any thought to what had occurred. He acted as he always did with the smaller Sohma. He ran straight to him with fists ready. And with one hefty swing from the left, his hand contacted perfectly with unblemished skin.
 
It wasn’t his intention however for it to make contact with an open palm that felt nothing like flesh but more like concrete. His sight never registered the Sohma’s small defense…nor did it register the sudden yank to propel him forward. He did, however, hear very clearly bones cracking before pain even hit his nerves. And again…and again…
 
“HIKO!” Hajime rushed over to his fallen comrade, rage etched in his face when he saw Hiko’s broken collarbone pierce through flesh. From where the Sohma had abruptly pulled Hiko forward, the arm looked very much ripped from its shoulder socket with only the skin keeping the limb attached. There was little doubt that the limb itself was dislocated with how it was unnaturally positioned on the floor.
 
Hiko couldn’t even scream in pain, his mouth trembling…eyes glazed with unspoken agony.
 
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU, YOU INHUMAN FREAK?!”screamed Hajime to the Sohma that never moved from his original position. Really, the teen hardly ruffled one strand of hair when he swiftly took Hiko down with just one hand. It was as unnatural as the Sohma’s fall from above their heads.
 
Yuki seemingly ignored the cutting remark as he passed by them. Hajime seethed and blindly grabbed whatever was on the floor next to him. An old spear was enough for what he wanted.
 
He swung down hard against the back of Sohma’s head. His sneer morphed to utter disbelief.
 
The spear was held off with a firm defense by the saya in Yuki’s firm grip. The sheathed sword knocked the spear to the side as a high kick made contact with Hajime’s lower jaw then swung swiftly to his midsection. He was thrown back to the floor with a thud, struggling for air as his lungs painfully drew in oxygen. Yet the pain was nothing compared to the agony he felt from his face.
 
`My…lower jaw…it’s BROKEN!’ He couldn’t even open his mouth to verbally lash out as his hands frantically tried to assess the damage to his jaw. He could only ferociously glare at Yuki who had calmly walked off, never once sparing another glance to the two he just wounded so ruthlessly.
 
It left another individual speechless…mere thoughts couldn’t even register with the shock coursing through his system. He felt wobbly at the knees, exhausted but still high on his adrenaline rush that carried him from the arena to here at a record pace.
 
Heaving heavily after his marathon through the maze of corridors, Haru had finally reached the second floor balcony where he was able to sense them all to be. He was all too grateful for the painkillers Hatori had given him…he never would have been able to ignore the pain from his injury without them. And he would have completely missed out on this phenomenal event. Truly, he who would’ve rejoiced in seeing Yuki taking a stand but this…he had not been prepared in the least to witness this…this annihilation.
 
The thrum of his bond…the constant rhythm he was accustomed to feeling in the very marrow of his bones since he had been birthed….that which had turned to a volatile mess not so long ago…it was silent. The unbridled fury he had felt at the arena until now…it was dead quiet.
 
“Haru…”
 
He swerved to look behind him…only shattered glass from the display cases. There… under a heavy table… “Rin, what—”
 
“What are you doing here? Go away!” harshly cut in Rin as she emerged from under the heavy oak table with Tohru.
 
“NO! I’m sorry, Isuzu-san, but—Hatsuharu-san, please…you have to help!” tearfully implored Tohru as she struggled to free herself from Rin’s hard grip. “Isuzu-san, please let me—”
 
“NO! Stay put here!” was Rin’s harsh remark to Tohru’s torn face. “See with your OWN EYES what that Rat TRULY isNO MORE LIES, JUST THE PLAIN TRUTH!”
 
Tohru shook her head in denial and resumed her efforts to free herself. “YUKI-KUN! KYO-KUN! THIS ISN’T YOU…PLEASE SAY SOMETHING!”
 
“And which `truth’ is that, Rin?” asked Haru quietly as he pinned the Sohma girl with a hard stare. “Did you have something do with this?”
 
She returned the glare evenly. “You feel the truth just as I do…our bond tells no lies. That RAT just betrayed us all. Just LOOK at Kyo.”
 
“KYO-KUN, YUKI-KUN! PLEASE ANSWER ME!!! No reaction. Tohru couldn’t help the words that spilled forth…her greatest fear said aloud for all to hear, STOP LIVING BY THE STORY!!!
 
Haru moved closer to the two motionless Jyuunishi. Clearly not one word from the distraught girl was reaching them. They remained as they were…staring at one another without an ounce of emotion.
 
Rin was right, though. The plain truth was bare for ALL to see. It left him instantly numb.
 
Cursing his own name repeatedly for not having waited for Hatori when he rushed over here, Haru quickly sprung forth. Grabbing the first dojo member from behind a broken case, he started issuing out commands without further thought.
 
“EVERYONE—OUT, NOW!”
 
Such words were best left to the wind as it had little effect on those that were there. But he continued…he had to. He must. He just saw Kyo move one step forward.
 
Oblivious to all others but to the one that stood mere feet away, Kyo broke the silence.
 
“Enjoyed your step off from sanity…Nezumi?”
 
It was not exactly the declaration of war one may have expected from the Neko, but, there it was. After a pregnant pause, the casual remark was surprisingly returned in kind.
 
“I didn’t `step off’…but I did take quite a leap from the sixth floor. The elevator was…not available.”
 
And you got up there by…?”
 
Another pause.
 
…the stairs.”
 
Kyo nodded. Time halted as he simply stood there…critically observing the impassive Nezumi yet surprisingly keeping his tone neutral. “I could’ve landed it, too, you know.”
 
Yuki’s eyes shimmered brightly in response. “Now who is the one that has taken a `step off from sanity’?”
 
The glimmering orbs silenced Kyo from commenting any further…the glimmer he saw in the eyes of the Nezumi reminding him of a cold, cruel gleam he saw recently in the eyes of one hated clan head. And having Akito back in his foremost thoughts stirred the raging embers he barely kept at bay. Already the angry fires in his veins loosened his hold over his tongue.
 
Why don’t you take a good, hard look at your life, Nezumi? A screwed-up mother that would beat you raw…a deranged brother that can drive anyone around him nuts with his lunacy… If your dad is any better, I’d be damn shocked! See a pattern there?
 
Many seconds ticked by with neither Jyuunishi paying mind to the shocked gasps or Haru’s more volatile efforts to `escort’ everyone out. For once, Tohru didn’t struggle from Rin’s hold, pitifully shaking her head in denial to what she had heard. True Yuki’s parents were a mystery to her, but surely…someone as kind as him had to have been taught kindness from a loving parent. It just wasn’t…but it was…deep down she knew what she had heard was only the truth. That’s all that was being spoken now…the unforgiving truth.
 
It was another long pause full of tension before Yuki softly responded. “That is my family. And what you think of them means absolutely nothing to me.”
 
The unfeeling retort was enough to stop Kyo in his tracks…the words so eerily familiar to Akito’s earlier remarks. It was so blatantly obvious now how much time the two spent together. His knuckles now white as he clenched them repeatedly at his sides. “Yeah…I get that a lot.”
 
Neither Jyuunishi looked away from the other. The tick-tock of silence stretched on indefinitely it seemed, oppressive as ever.
 
“Do you hate…truly hate from the deepest recesses of your soul?”
 
The Nezumi’s question was oddly familiar though Kyo couldn’t think why at the moment. He was tired of thinking, though…of doubting…no more.
 
“That word don’t cover ONE BIT of what I feel for you.”
 
“What of love? Do you feel the true depth of that blessing in your very soul, too?”
 
Time began to pick up a pace far too fast for rational thought to take root. This was not what Kyo had anticipated in being asked at this moment of contention. Yet his hesitation cost him…
 
“Do not THINK of hesitating now, damn Neko…do you or don’t you?
 
Kyo’s hold on his volatile spirit was at its limit. That’s none of your f—”
 
The Neko fears to give me a simple answer…how PATHETICALLY predictable—”
 
“I’M NEVER AFRAID OF YOU!”
 
“Yes or no will suffice—”
 
“YES, DAMN YOU!!!”
 
Innocence’s purity—that was the true quality the Nezumi exuded in life. Yet to all who saw Yuki now, even to Kyo himself, what they now witnessed was anything but innocent. It was pure, unadulterated fury. It thrummed in the air…in their veins…
 
It softly whispered…literally.
 
“Good.” Yuki merely smiled. And his smile softened the harsh tone he had been using earlier. Yet the words he spoke next…those words…
 
That `love’…that `HATE…those two together… Multiply it by the infinite numbers of beyond, and you will have an idea of why I’m about to do this.
 
(CLAMP)
 
`So damn FAST!’ thought Kyo as he struggled in the Nezumi’s iron-clad grip. “Crazy bast—”
 
Silencing further remarks with a further tightening of his hand clamped on Kyo’s throat, Yuki softly whispered into the stunned Neko’s ear, “Sanity’s overrated…bake-mono.
 
(SMACK!)
 
The Neko had never been flung so far before and with such unimaginable force.
 
The shock that registered in all the faces present for this confrontation was nothing compared to the sheer blow that the Neko suffered both psychologically and physically. His back hit the wall with unforgiving grace, his skull making a dull `thak’ upon hitting the wall as well. He felt no air in his lungs for the moment as he struggled to breathe. Yet what truly bothered him was internal…he literally felt the tremors in his bond from the overwhelming presence of the Nezumi’s rage, leaving him quaking from the inside as the Neko spirit within battered against a cage and leash to be let free…truly and completely free.
 
Who was he to deny it?
 
Seeing Kyo easily and brutally thrown to the far wall with a hard smack that left him cringing, Haru was ready to leap in there. Unfortunately others were all too eager to charge at the enraged Sohma heir.
 
“GET BACK HERE!!!” yelled Haru, quickly taking two charging members by the collar of their outfits and yanking them back with the grace of the Ox.
 
The storm broke…and a melee of legendary proportions was now on their hands. And it didn’t even include the brawl amongst the dojo members and Haru.
 
Kyo was on his feet and into the air as he tackled Yuki, all within a blink. He flung the Nezumi to the far reaches of the wall as well. Only the Nezumi was far too agile…and fast…
 
`TOO DAMN FAST!’ Kyo observed how the Nezumi landed flawlessly against the wall and pushed himself off, all with the same momentum. And once again, he was in Kyo’s face…he barely had time to dodge the blows to the face, abdomen…
 
`NO!’ The thought was one that his Neko spirit screamed in his mind. He paid heed to it.
 
He pinned the Nezumi abruptly against the wall, each one’s eyes mirroring the other’s fury. With his arm braced roughly against the slim neck of the Nezumi, he ground out through clenched teeth, “You should’ve just crawled back to that hellhole the moment you first walked into the dojo—you’ve done nothing but RUIN MY LIFEEVERYONE’S LIVES WHEN YOU LIVE OUT HERE WITH US!!! WE’RE ALL BETTER OFF WITH YOUDEADRIGHT ALONG WITH THAT MASTER OF YOURS—(OOMPH)
 
A knee firmly shoved up into the abdomen and a well-placed hand thrust to the chest cavity…all with the grace and force of a hammer. The wind was knocked out of him, though Kyo couldn’t tell if it was from the hard impact his back made with the floor or if it was from Yuki’s offensive moves.
 
The Neko had no chance to recover as the Nezumi loomed over him momentarily before yanking him up in the air, only to send a hard kick swinging across his head and send the Neko flying further away, sliding across debris-laden floors. As damaged as he was, Kyo no longer fought back his instincts as they ruled over his body’s reactions. He immediately thrust up his arms to defend his face against another kick, then quickly propelled himself forward and lunged at Yuki. Throwing all his weight forward, he managed to finally pin the Rat to the floor, only then noticing that one of Yuki’s hands he was holding down had a large sayain its grip…a very familiar scabbard…
 
He was back to being thrown in the air when Yuki sent him catapulting over his head. Thankfully instincts were now in full mode and he lightly landed on his feet.
 
He eyed his opponent wildly, eyes aglow with the full release of his spirit…as was the same for the Nezumi.
 
Both crouched and both lunged at one another. Kicks…thrusts…dodges…flying through the air to either avoid being hit or to simply land with a painful thud to the floor or the wall… Somersaults were obviously within the Nezumi’s abilities as he lithely sprinted from the floor to the wall then back into the air to land well-placed kicks or shoves or punches to whatever anatomy the Neko left exposed. Reflexes were Kyo’s gifts as they time and again helped to block many of those strikes, enabling him to use his raw strength to drive hard lunges or kicks against his opponent.
 
It was during these throes of furious fighting that each felt a heavy weight against their backs. Yuki quickly was held down on the floor, both arms bent backward in an obviously painful manner. Kyo fared no better as he was pinned by two others against a flat wall, both arms behind his back held at painful angles.
 
“KEEPBACK, ALL OF YOU!Momiji, help Hatsuharuand get everyone out of hereand keep them out…NOW.
 
Kazuma’s livid yell was enough to render most dojo members still and send Momiji scurrying about to aid in moving people away from the fight. The teacher had shown up out of the blue…of course, the majority present had been too distracted by either Haru or the fight between Kyo and the disgraced teen few held any respect for…
 
Each pinned Jyuunishi battled hard against the restraints but neither gave. Kyo struggled harder only to feel Master Haji croak loudly and unkindly into his ear, “ENOUGH, BOY! THAT IS ENOUGH OUT OF THE BOTH OF YOU!”
 
Cursing them both fluently, Kyo thrashed about despite the pain he felt.
 
“KYO, EASE DOWN!” cried out exasperatedly Tetsuya as he held the teen firmly against the wall.
 
NO!!! GET OFF OF ME…HE SHOULD DIE!!!THAT SICK PIECE OF SH—JUST DIE ALREADY, SICK MOTHER—”
 
“Let me go.”
 
The demand was softly stated unlike Kyo’s, but there was no mistaking Yuki’s intention. Kazuma gravely looked down to his charge and shook his head, firmly keeping his hold. “NO. Yuki, your behavior today—”
 
“RELEASE ME.”
 
It was louder…and if possible, from the Nezumi of all people, the warning was made clear in the dark tone of his soft voice.
 
Kazuma did not relent but his heart did give pause upon feeling the dark chill invade his veins like a virus. Yuki’s words…they held such promise…to hurt…to cause immeasurable pain…
 
No. He will protect Kyo however he could. “Yuki, you will remain as you are until we’ve notified Shigure or—”
 
“I only have one guardian to answer toand that MONSTER left her for DEAD!
 
It was in Yuki’s last terrifying remarks that the chill in Kazuma’s veins exploded into a fiery rush of sordid heat. He felt stunned and dazed as he vaguely wondered how he wound up on his back, his lungs taking in ragged breathshis limbs weighed down by unseen weights…looking up to the high ceilings above…the draperies fluttering in the unseen wind…dust still falling all around him…
 
And the point of a fine blade held steadily to his face…with an enraged Nezumi looking down on him with a dark rage.
 
“Do you see this…BAKE-MONO?! DO YOU?! I ask you AGAIN…do you HATE?!
 
Yuki’s actions stunned many there into silenceor rather, overpowered them with fear. With the sheer force of his chilling words that had sent Kazuma sailing through the air…no…the Sohma teacher was sent barreling across to the wall, only to then slip to the floor like a lifeless lump… Then with the inhuman speed he used to stand up and reach Kazuma while fluidly drawing the sword out from the saya he had held onto this whole time like a crutch… And his remarks filled with palpable hate and despair…
 
He was truly feared at that moment.
 
Kyo was speechless, but not his spirit. His Jyuunishi’s eyes saw what it saw…and it reveled to join it.
 
“I do HATEYOU.”
 
Yuki’s smile was angelic as it was bitter. “Do you love, truly love?”
 
“I do.”
 
“Good.” Tilting his head slightly to face the Neko, his bittersweet smile still remained in place. “Because even now, what you feel comes no closer to what I feel. So…let me help you.
 
Life does not pass one by in slow motion. It swiftly moves forward with every second that passes. One only needed to blink for life’s little moments to pass unnoticed…
 
Kyo did not blink. His horror stricken gaze took in all the little moments before him, drawing out the scene frame by frame…
 
A bittersweet smile vanishing to reveal the dark fury beneath the innocence only the Nezumi could still carry…
 
A sharp, long blade twisting…one blade becoming two…swinging…one high in the air, a shine along the sharp edge…the other swooping down in one smooth stroke…
 
Blood
 
“NO!!!!”
 
Kyo had never heard his voice cry out before with such terror. Never had he felt such concentrated fright in his being…no, not even when he found his mother dead. His mother had died by her own hand…but this man…Kazuma…
 
“Now you truly feel it all. A true betrayal…
 
The Nezumi’s soft-spoken words cut through the Neko’s spirit as any treachery ever could.
 
Master Haji had always known the story of this Neko would play out much differently than any of its predecessors. Unlike the hopeless despair or resignation that defined previous owners of the Neko spirit, Kyo and the Neko possessing him simply refused to accept…to give up. This generation’s Neko had hope like none other before him…desperate to cling onto hope this time around…and it refused to die.
 
The elderly Sohma did nothing to hold back Kyo. Neither did Tetsuya. It was inevitable…Kyo had exerted an extraordinary amount of raw energy that sizzled the blood in their bodies.
 
And off Kyo went…intent on eliminating his adversary once and for all. It was a call for blood that both forms of his Neko spirit demanded.
 
His adversary was well prepared for the onslaught.
 
Yuki sprinted off and away from Kazuma, swiftly bringing his one long blade up to meet the repeated harsh blows from the weapon Kyo had grabbed off the littered floor. Strangely, he calmly held the blade’s twin behind him with his left hand, never once bringing it around. It was only after a particularly strong down-swing from Kyo’s naginata that the Neko had noticed this.
 
STOP HOLDING BACK, DAMN NEZUMI!!!
 
(THUNK)
 
Is that all you can do?! Just STAND there and hold up ONE DAMN SWORD?!”
 
(SHINK)
 
SAY SOMETHING!!! he screamed, gasping slightly from his exertions but mainly from his unspent rage. With no response from the Nezumi, he furiously swung down with a strength that only raw rage could muster. “ANSWER ME, DAMN YOU!!!”
 
The gray-violets hues of the Nezumi’s gaze reflected an eerie glow that grew stronger with each beat of the heart. His response was not verbal.
 
(THACK)
 
Another moment in life passed Kyo’s eyes in less than a blink.
 
He was suddenly without his chosen weapon, the naginata now split in two from the sheer force Yuki swung down with the sword on his left. Kyo’s breath escaped him momentarily before his rage refueled his efforts to retaliate with his fists. He never made his shot as he was abruptly shoved to the side, his back sliding across the messy floor a good deal away from Yuki.
 
“WHAT THE—”
 
Kyo-kun…(ARGH)STAY WHERE YOU ARE! cut in Master Haji, grunting with effort as he held up a sword of his own against the Nezumi’s bizarre strength.
 
Yuki remained quiet and cornered in his position, the blade in his right not once relenting in its force against Master Haji’s blade.
 
The cold stare from the Nezumi chilled the elder’s bones, but he would not let up. He couldn’t. His old eyes had just about witnessed the Nezumi’s true depth of intent…and his strength was bar none above and beyond the Neko’s, however illogical that was. He had just seen it…the simplicity of Yuki’s strike against the spear in Kyo’s hands. It was executed so effortlessly…and without an ounce of remorse, much like when the Rat had slashed his blade across Kazuma’s neck. The blood…
 
He put that event out of his mind…emotions would do no good now except to cloud his thoughts. But this Nezumi…Yuki…he was intent on eliminating the Neko.
 
No one, not even him, had ever counted on this…this bitter wrath the Nezumi unleashed. It was unheard of for the Nezumi was always, ALWAYS known for its mild-mannered temperament since generations past. But then…if Yuki’s earlier allegations were true…
 
No one in their family’s history had ever struck the `god’, the `Emperor’ of the Jyuunishi…no one had ever sought to harm the other half of the Nezumi’s spirit, his soul… No one had ever betrayed the Nezumi…and to strike down the `god’, the `Emperor’, was an act of betrayal that will never be forgiven…not ever. Even he knew this.
 
`Letting their story unfold had come with irrevocable consequences for all…’ Master Haji bitterly pushed out these turbulent thoughts and feelings and focused on his grip. It was very good that he had help in this intervention. “Oi, Tetsuya-kun…how are you doing back there?”
 
Tetsuya was always considered one of Master Haji’s top pupils for a reason…he was able to read his teacher with practiced ease and able to anticipate his reflexes, never letting his emotional state hinder him, all doubts and confusion put on hold. So when his elder teacher made a move to intervene in this fight, he quickly readied himself as well with an available sword, grateful that such items in pristine condition were readily found on this floor in their shattered display cases.
 
Holding his blade down firmly against the sword in Yuki’s left hand, Tetsuya had aided in immobilizing the seemingly talented Sohma heir. “I am well, Master Haji. Yuki-sama…your actions today are unforgivable—”
 
“Unforgivable?” cut in Yuki frigidly. He had locked a hard stare with the elder Sohma, not once turning his head to look at the person behind him. His eyes simmered with repressed rage as he quietly continued, “How BLIND you have proven yourselves to be.”
 
“Yuki-sama, you WILL release these weapons…or I will do it for you.” Master Haji’s equally cold glare held no room for argument…or mercy.
 
The Nezumi was not intimidated in the least…and he did not release the swords. But he did catch the two off guard as he literally propelled himself in the air and flipped away from the two to avoid from being cleaved in two by a naginata. This spear seemed much sturdier than the previous one that Kyo wielded, the blade far more curved and lethal.
 
“KYO-KUN, NO—”
 
“Don’t you EVER butt in, Oyaji…not ever.”
 
Kyo paid no further thought to those around him…his seething Jyuunishi spirit bent on focusing on one sole being, no one and nothing else. In allowing his spirit full, unrestrained control, he had never felt so clear and powerful as he did at that moment. The very handling of his weapon proved how clear-minded he had become, the naginata being smoothly spun on his wrists then balanced perfectly in his hands. It was no surprise then that a literal blur of limbs and the blades they held cutting the air and meeting time and again was all that could be seen and heard. But it wasn’t just from the dueling Jyuunishi…
 
Master Haji did not relent in his attacks on Yuki, and Tetsuya was just as adamant to bring down Kyo. The two elder Sohma met stiff opposition from the enraged teens, clearly not pleased with their continuing interferences, Kyo more vocal and unpredictable in his retaliations while Yuki silently but effectively held his own. Neither Master Haji nor Tetsuya ever thought their honed skills to be inadequate but these two were certainly giving them ample reason to rethink that.
 
Both Nezumi and Neko defended themselves well from the all-around onslaught. Time and again Yuki managed to slip away and drive a sounding kick or fist to the distracted Neko. Infuriated, Kyo drove away his distraction with unprecedented force and skill, and in turn lunged at the Nezumi with the heavy spear, always missing his mark…but, almost…so close with each attempt…
 
From one extreme end of the balcony to inside the second floor‘s high-vaulted rooms…not one area was left untouched. Many of the dojo members that were mere bystanders to this lunacy scrambled to get out of the way of the dangerous duels and their more dangerous blades. So much yelling and shouting from all…chaos…and Haru struggled futilely to keep the more unruly bunch away from Yuki. At least now he knew why a number of his teammates had shown up here…
 
“DAMN JERKS, CAN’T YOU SEE HE’S GONNA SLICE YA UP GOOD?!” yelled the Ox as he once again swung one male against another, knocking both to the ground. “HE’S NOT FOOLING AROUND! CAN’T YA SEE THAT FOOLS?!”
 
And of course more came to replace them, the bystanders from before now gathering enough courage to at least take him on while the others made a break to reach Yuki. His stamina…his injuries from before…he cursed profusely as he realized that he couldn’t stop them all—
 
“GET OFF HARU-CHAN! A loud crack was heard as one member had his nose crushed and profusely bleeding down his shirt. He was then kicked squarely in the chest, the poor sap sent flying back into another, both now having the wind knocked out of them as they wallowed on the floor. “AND WHERE DO YOUTHINK YOU’RE GOING, IDIOTS?!”
 
Even Haru in his darkest moods knew better than to stand against the charge from the Boar of the Jyuunishi. “Pft, damn Kagura-nee…ya damn freaky when you’re pissed…”
 
“Shut it, Black Haru-chan!” shot back Kagura as she sent another member into a wall with a hard kick to the gut. Bracing her back against his, she breathed heavily, her fatigue evident to the Ox. Licking her dry lips, she lowly remarked, “Haru-chan…we need to take them out—”
 
“What the hell do ya think I was doin’?!” angrily cut in Haru as he was cut off as well by the increased bellows and frenzy from members still able to have use of their limbs. But what had alarmed him most was the presence of security guards…an increasing flow of security guards…
 
“Aw hell…”
 
“Exactly,” replied Kagura in turn, having seen the new bodies pouring into the building as she was coming up to the second story balcony. The flow was fortunately stemmed due to the security steel gates blocking most entry points now, with Momiji diverting the majority to other floors of the exhibit hall. Yet those that did make it up to the second floor balcony had eyes that were seeing too much. The tragic nightmare around them was now becoming an unalterable reality…and there was no waking up from that.
 
It was all Haru could do to keep the majority from coming in direct contact with Kagura. Those that did manage to break away from his aggressive attempts to keep them restrained were met by an unforgiving kick and/or fist from the lady Sohma. It was no accident that she had led her team to victory at the international tournament. And now, with these odds against them…neither Jyuunishi could hold back…exposing themselves even further as `inhuman’…
 
There were witnesses all around this melee…the majority looking on with sheer disbelief. Some were looking on with bitter satisfaction. But one soul saw it all with a profound sense of sorrow.
 
`Yuki-kun…Kyo-kun…’ Even if she tried closing her eyes to the epic clash before her, Tohru continually saw in her mind each kick, each thrust of the fist, and every stroke of a weapon. Her tears had longed disappeared, but her eyes did not betray her despair.
 
How had it all come to this? Could she have stopped this, somehow, someway? Was she a fool to have believed that an age-old curse would not have had its way with this generation? Her companion certainly heard that unspoken question.
 
“Stop it already, Tohru,” remarked Rin sullenly, not at all thrilled with the escalating situation. “This was inevitable from the moment the Rat and the `god’ was born in the same generation.”
 
And that truly broke her heart that had hoped for them all.
 
Hope. Maybe that word never had belonged to a Sohma after all.
 
Master Haji quickly lost his hope that he could restrain Yuki. Each encounter with the Nezumi was only making the teen angrier, if that was possible. And if it were truly possible, Yuki was getting better with each parry…too good.
 
Years…so many of them he had lived and not once had he ever been in an altercation in which his honed skill of the sword was truly put to the test. The formal training and exercises of the art was nothing, absolutely nothing compared to the combat version…the art he had learned well had now become a means of survival. He never thought he would have to resort to this level of fighting, not ever. Yet he couldn’t say that the art wasn’t partially present…
 
As angry as the Nezumi was, Master Haji couldn’t help but admire the beauty he exuded in his style of wielding not one sword but two. Two. Each strike from those blades that were once hidden in one sheath was not merely wild thrashes as one would expect from someone that had never held a sword before. Graceful arcs of light as each blade reflected the rays of a glorious summer sunset met his wizened eyes and his chosen blade. So mesmerizing…lethal in their own right as they sought to disarm him time and again, much as he himself had tried to disarm the wielder of such fine blades.
 
Yuki was simply not to be defeated or deterred from his goal of attacking Kyo. Over and over the gray-haired teen would effectively parry his strokes and somehow, someway, he’d find an opening to slip through. He would then launch a swift and often brutal assault on the distracted Neko…a hard kick to a knee, a knock to the head…but never with the swords, just with his foot or fist. It was a repeat performance across the large second floor rooms and even larger balcony…twist, clash of blades, evade, parry…
 
Fatigue…momentary, but Master Haji saw it in the teen’s eyes.
 
“Yuki-sama, please…stop…THIS.” With a particularly hard thrust of his sword, Master Haji finally had the Nezumi once again against a wall. It was his small hope that Yuki would at least feel how tired his body had become with all this.
 
Yuki did stop his struggles…and pinned the elderly Sohma with a pained look, his icy response coming forth in a hushed whisper, “Would you let it go if he had BETRAYED your TRUST?”
 
And therein was all that this came down to. Betrayal.
 
Another Jyuunishi legend has come full circle for the Sohmas…with the same sad ending.
 
“I can’t…I won’t let it be,” murmured the distressed Nezumi as he looked away to the Neko. “…forgive me.”
 
Master Haji wasn’t all too sure at that moment on what he was asking forgiveness for. But in the next moment, it became clear.
 
(WHAM)
 
The crowd all around again became stunned speechless and unmoving as they saw another body flung clear across the floor and into the air, only to fall with an unforgiving impact into a standing display. Master Haji registered nothing else but an explosion of icy fury within his veins, leaving him numb and motionless. But he saw it all from his vantage point on the floor…he saw the blood…and fully understood Yuki’s much earlier words…
 
`Dear God…what has he done?’
 
No sooner was the elder Sohma off him that Yuki yelled out, “KAGURA…RESTRAIN HIM!”
 
While others wondered who he meant given the countless number of males in the area, Kagura knew well what he meant. And true to her nature, she did not hesitate.
 
“Gomen ne, Haru-chan!” Opting for the quickest route to her target, she used the poor Ox’s shoulder as her trampoline and vaulted high into the air and over many a body, to land abruptly within reach of her target. And she was not kind in her use of force.
 
It literally felt like his arm was being pulled out of its socket as he was suddenly torn away from his opponent only to land on his back a ways away. Stunned, he struggled to lift his head, only then to have a foot at his throat pinning him down. He looked up to see Kagura looking down on him with determination.
 
“I can’t let you interfere anymore, Tetsuya-kun…it’s not your place,” she remarked resolutely.
 
Tetsuya angrily bit out, “Do you have anyidea what—”
 
“It’s YOU who has NO idea of what this is about, Tetsuya-kun!” shot back Kagura as her foot pressed in harder to his throat. She carefully glanced back at the other two Jyuunishi as she dejectedly remarked, “You understand nothing of what’s going on. And it has to be that way.”
 
She had never wished so hard before now to have this curse gone from their lives, instead of having to witness it come to life, brutally so.
 
Kyo profusely cursed his continuing weakness, this time his disregard for his guard costing him mobility as Tetsuya had him pinned good against an antique wood bureau. As he saw Master Haji fly across and land motionlessly, much like Kazuma, his rage almost pushed him to the edge, but the talented swordsman had him perfectly restrained with the edge of his blade against his throat. His mind whirled for a way out, but came up with nothing until he felt the sudden absence of his opponent, only then to see Tetsuya hurled up in the air and slammed down on the floor with a painful thud. Kagura always had little mercy on how she brought down her opponents…he knew from experience.
 
Yet he spared no time in thinking why she had done so. In the next moment, a sharp blade pierced the wood next to his ear, cleanly cutting his cheek and ear, the sting worse than any paper cut he ever had. Suddenly an enraged Nezumi was before his face in close proximity. He then registered his shirt fisted and yanked to pull him away from the bureau, then to be thrown ruthlessly across the floor into a wall. Out of breath…moments…it was all mere moments…he was coming again…
 
Yuki had to give it to the Neko…his reflexes were outstanding. Barely did Kyo manage to swerve the naginata to protect his vulnerability. And his swiftness…to meet face to face with the Nezumi as he barreled against the lithe body to slide across the glass floor…
 
Finally…the staff in his hands restrained the Rat, choking him…he had dropped the two blades while he struggled but Kyo held firm, his sense of self and all self-control nonexistent.
 
“You two SPAWNSFROM HELLwon’t EVER hurt MYfamilyagainNOT EVER!” screamed the raging teen, his red-orange eyes blazing in a fiery glow all its ownhis rage fully unleashed.
 
“KYO-KUN, STOP!!!”
 
The Neko only heard the rush of his blood beating in each and every vein. It was all he could hope for to finally, finally have the Rat at his mercy. He will have no regrets when this was over…none.
 
Another moment…another blink of the eye…and everything changes direction
 
Two slim hands suddenly released their fervent hold on the staff crushing their throat and instead instantly clamped onto the sides of the deranged Neko’s temples above him. Yanking the Kyo’s head down closer to his, Yuki’s raspy, icy response was for the Neko’s ears only, “No…YOU won’t EVER hurt MY family again, NOT EVER.”
 
The scorch of the Neko’s rage that lit each cell in his body on fire was cooled to the depths of winter the moment Yuki finished his hushed declaration. Chilled…numb…frozen…he was no match…
 
(CRACK)
 
A gush of blood spewed from Kyo’s nose, jerking him out of his frozen stupor, his mind only registering then the painful connection from Yuki’s fist. And he realized way too late the sudden lack of breath as he reeled backward on his feet, only to feel the same foot that delivered the vicious kick now knock his head to the side. Gravity did the rest.
 
Yet the Nezumi thought otherwise…
 
The Neko’s body was pulled upright before it crumpled to the floor, Yuki grasping him by the collar of his shirt. The moment Kyo’s face was in view, Yuki gave another merciless blow, this time one eye taking the brunt of it.
 
The pain…his eye was swelling shut after all…there should have been excruciating pain, especially from his nose. Especially from the now constant blows to his face, torso… But Kyo could only register cold…numbness…a distinct hum echoed in his veins…in his hearing.
 
`Concussion maybe…pft, wonderful…’ He would have laughed at his pathetic state if that damn hum wasn’t so aggravating. However…that damn hum…it was louder, more distinct…broken words…snippets of a voice that wasn’t…
 
“She remembers.”
 
Deep arctic winds surely couldn’t compare to the blizzard flowing in his blood. A long ago warning from a broken nightmare…
 
“We ALL remember…”
 
He had failed her.
 
“NOOOOO!!!!”Kyo’s battle-cry was abrupt and unleashed a torrent of fury that stemmed from years of the Neko spirit being repressed. It did not want to slither away in defeat…it did not want to accept failure.
 
He blindly retrieved his spear from the ground, thrashing it with vigor at Yuki. Somewhere along the way, the gray-haired teen had managed to retrieve the two swords and lock them back together, using it to parry the naginata stroke for stroke. A slash…block…kick…punch…thrust…they literally were sending each other across the floor with each counterassault. The raging fury of each spirit refused to relent…
 
It was in the midst of this heated fight between two long-suffering Jyuunishi spirits that one spoke out bitterly. It was to be the last words to be exchanged between them.
 
Even with your eyes wide open, you see NOTHING!” cried out the Nezumi in despair, stilling for only a moment. Do you FEAR so muchthat your HATE has made you so DAMN BLIND?!”
 
Another chord of memory was plucked…and the voice that came with it…
 
Are you still afraid of the rats?”
 
It came as a whisper on the wind…and it angered and frightened Kyo all at the same time…enough so that he felt the chill of winter’s breath once again in his boiling veins. Immobilizing him with a rush of clarity that shook him to his very bones…
 
In time we hate that which we often fear…
 
…Words spoken by a young woman on a summer evening not too long ago. But even then, those words were not her own but those of another. They belonged to the one being…
 
“Do you hate?”
 
the one and only being…
 
“…are you still afraid…”
 
…the only one that could ever…
 
“Do you hate?”
 
“…afraid…”
 
like Akito.
 
“I wonder, Kyo-kun[…]the fears Akito-san carries must run very deep if it manifests itself into such anger…hatred. I wonder…what it is that Akito-san fears so much?”
 
What Akito hated…in truth, feared…
 
“Do you hate…truly hate from the deepest recesses of your soul?”
 
`Do I fear, is what he really was being asked. And as the wheels of reason finally spun
 
— “…what you feel comes no closer to what Ifeel.” —
 
An onslaught of epic proportions bombarded his ears all at once from indistinct voices that resonated from within his mind at lightening speed. They were loud…so very loud…
 
“Come on, count to ten, and then see if you can catch me!”
 
“[…] to be free as the sky above me.”
 
[…]dothe dreams you have when you doze off mean anything more than what they are?”
 
“[…] guilt and regret is all that you’ll be left with. You deserve better.
 
— “[…] the clarification you’re looking for will soon become apparent to you in time.
 
— `If only it could be undone, if only the light could shine in the darkest of plights. If only I hadn’t failed…if only…’
 
“Betrayal is the deadliest of blades[…] fear it…, but above all…”
 
And the screeching train that the voices came out to be twisted into a morphed dream that was solely visible to his wide, terror-stricken eyes. Fleeting images of each vision he ever had…all playing out too fast for his eyes to react to…
 
White glimmer in the dark…no…two shine in the dark. Sharply spread in an arc…spreading further apart…further away…
 
`The damn traitor…the fault lies there…’
`GET AWAY FROM ME!’
 
“Do you believe me?”
 
Let’s not be afraid anymore.
“We have a traitor, Eldest Brother. And darkness is coming soon.”
 
“…You’re not scared, are you?”
“Betrayal is a deadly blade…”
Anyone can wield the blade of betrayal. Will you wield it? […]
`…it always starts with someone.
“Are you still afraid of the rats?”
 
“A betrayal nonetheless…”
Do you still fear rats?”
“Look at the time…the hour grows late.”
…trust it to always be there.”
[…] refuse to lose the little hope that I have just because I’m afraid.”
You’ll remember to look for it, won’t you?
 
`Stop…’
 
“Don’t let her remember.”
 
`Stop…’
 
“She remembers.”
 
`DAMMIT, STOP!!!
 
“Do you hate?”
 
`I’ll stop…’
 
“We ALL remember…”
 
`I’ll stop.
 
“Do you believe me?”
 
“Now…you see.”
 
Tohru was intent on reaching them. Rin had disappeared from her side without her notice, so absorbed was she in the fight before her. She crawled at times, staying against the walls, becoming the wallflower she always believed herself to be. Hours, months, years…time blended altogether for her as only the hard beating of her heart reached her ears. Kyo…Yuki…the others…it was overwhelming to see them all struggling, fighting…fighting with no mercy. She wanted to reach them…the two who were in so much pain that it blinded them.
 
Yet, as one took the moment to breathe, it stopped. Literally mere moments…from one blink to another…in a heartbeat…really, that’s all it took. Yuki had screamed at Kyo, his words echoing across the floor and then the next instant…the next few moments…Kyo…
 
He had dropped his long-bladed spear, blood dripping from his fingertips. Still…so frozen he was to the floor. And moments after that, Yuki…
 
He smiled…so brokenly. In five steps, he reached the young man that he had given such a beating to. Another moment in time, he leaned in, whispered into the ears of the silent Neko…and promptly reared his left hand back, palm open…and thrust it forward so viciously that Kyo was sent flying several feet into the air…
 
…and over the balcony.
 
(Wheezing) Damn” Yuki grasped his chest as he struggled for each intake of air. Shaking his head, he wryly grinned. He would’ve laughed if he could. (Gasping) Lucky me I just gave him a warning.”
 
She didn’t know what had her worried most…Kyo’s limp form sailing through the air to land loudly and no doubt painfully on the first floor or Yuki’s current physical and mental state. Yet the sound of a sword clattering on the floor stirred her blood to life once more. He simply stood there, wavering on his feet…gasping…wheezing…
 
There was so much blood from his left foot…
 
And then…his knees buckled.
 
It was instinct…she knew this to be true. How could it not be? She cared so much… But it was careless…foolish…stupid on her part. She instantly regretted it and felt pained in a manner that hadn’t been felt since her mother had died.
 
She caught him, fondly calling out to him. And he naturally transformed to his Jyuunishi form, the heavy breeze flowing in the hall blowing away the smoke easily.
 
How could anyone not see it…see Yuki no more but a rat in its place?
 
“Yuki-sama?” lowly remarked Tetsuya in utter disbelief.
 
“WHAT THE BLOODY HELL?!”
 
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU FREAKS?!”
 
DAMMIT, GET BACK, BASTARDS!!!
 
“Haru-chan, HOLD THEM OFF!!!” Kagura released her charge and rushed to Haru’s side to push off the surge of onlookers that wanted a closer look. Keeping them in safe distance now became a monumental task but she managed, barely.
 
Still, general chaos ensued. Tetsuya and members of the dojo that were still around continued to call out for an explanation but that’s not what Tohru paid heed to. She couldn’t even look down to Yuki’s second form…not when he was snatched away as if on fire… And certainly not when she felt the distinct pain associated with a hard smack across her face, cutting her lip in the process. She was stunned into silence once more.
 
“STUPID BITCH!!! DON’T YOU TOUCH HIM WITH YOUR FILTH!!!”
 
“Akito, please, let’s see to Yuki first!” called out Kureno as he reached her side, relieved that it was enough to draw her attention away from the distraught girl.
 
“Akito!” cried Hatori as he raced up the stairwell, hefty medical bag in hand, to reach his runaway patient. He had chanced to see Kyo’s form go over the balcony to land with a thud on a forgiving table that was laid out with brochures. Momiji had quickly materialized at the Neko’s side, providing immediate first-aid that he himself had taught the Usagi since he first came under his roof. Really, it could have been worse…
 
And it was much worse…up here. Akito…Tohru…Yuki’s Nezumi form in full view…
 
“Hatori-nii! Yuki…he’s
 
“Hatori-niichan, Yun-chan’s foot…he’s bleeding all over—STAY BACK!
 
“Yuki had severed a vein it seems on his left foot, Sensei…” remarked Tetsuya as he unsteadily stood up from the floor, his hand massaging the soreness from where Kagura had pinned his neck. Shell-shocked with all that had happened…with all that he had seen, he made his way to Master Haji‘s slumped form, softly commenting along the way, “Can’t believe that guy actually sliced up his own foot just to prove a point…”
 
Hatori quickly went over to Akito grateful she had ceased her assault on Tohru and was now cradling the Nezumi to her chest and out of view. “Akito…let me look.”
 
Kureno, who had gathered Yuki’s clothing from the floor, worriedly looked over their shoulders. “He’s…having trouble breathing…”
 
He dared not touch the Nezumi’s body, it being in such delicate condition. But after many experiences with Yuki’s health in the past, he was able to visually assess the frail state of his body, from the bleeding coming from his tiny foot to the shaky breaths he was taking in. Time was precious…but so was their secret…their curse to bear.
 
“Akito…you must make the decision,” quietly remarked the doctor, steadily looking at the young woman who knew exactly what he meant.
 
Although her eyes were solely on the being in her arms, Akito was well aware of all the attention her bundle drew. The Ox and Boar were very thorough in incapacitating many who had dared to cross them…just as they should…but there were those that were still mentally coherent and kept their distance, knowing who/what she carried though none came any closer. Truly, the moment her presence was felt upstairs, it chilled the blood in their veins, stilling their movements. The frigid aura of true authority…they couldn’t even look to such a person much less take a step in their direction.
 
Still, the damage was done. There really was no other option.
 
Akito turned her heavy gaze onto the doctor. “Yuki will have his medical needs handled by a doctor of your choosing, Hatori…do you understand?”
 
A doctor of `his’ choosing…yes, Hatori indeed knew well the responsibility he was just given. And he knew of only one other medical professional that he trusted completely and could entrust Yuki’s care to…he only hoped Akito would not object when she found out.
 
Absolutely.” To Kureno, he gave him further instruction. “Yuki will no doubt transform back once his spirit is assured of its safety in Akito’s presence. I will have the doctor meet you in the ER at the family hospital. They will make all the special arrangements necessary for Yuki. His personal medical history is specially locked in the family medical files and will need this pass code to access it. (He slips a small card to Kureno.) Give it to the attending doctor when you meet up. I will also leave instructions that Akito be in Yuki’s presence at all times…that should help keep Yuki’s spirit calm and therefore won’t prompt the transformation.
 
Kureno tucked the card away and made to escort Akito away but the clan head remained. “See to this matter, Hatori, as expeditiously as could be done, am I clearly understood?”
 
“Hai,” he replied with a low bow.
 
“And as much as I want YOUR senseless head cleared of any and all memories of us…” continued to coldly remark Akito as she turned to Tohru’s kneeling form, “…I will only allow you to continue to retain them if you never, EVER come near Yuki. Swear it on your mother’s grave.”
 
Pitifully Tohru tried to form coherent thought at what had been demanded of her but Akito was not going to wait.
 
“Hatori, rid her of them ALL right now before me. Each and every one—”
 
“I swear it. Please…(sniffle)…I won’t come near him anymore. Just…please help him…please…(sniffle)
 
Akito’s eyes coldly observed the broken girl before her for a few more moments before turning away, seemingly satisfied with the response. “Hatori, also have those imbeciles on their asses help you with cleaning THEIR mess immediately. Come to the hospital once you are done here.”
 
Kureno followed the clan head dutifully as she took long strides to the staircase. It was an eerie silence that followed the clack of her shoes as she walked off, the security sirens thankfully having been silenced a while ago. So many felt the oppression of her anger…the rage that ran painfully cold. Truly, the very blood in their bodies had run ice cold when the two had finally left with their delicate cargo.
 
Not once did Akito stop nor Kureno. Until she sensed the other’s presence close by.
 
She paused in her hurried pace and slowly turned her head to glance at the crouched blonde-haired teen. The Usagi was staring back at her with no little fear but he seemed bound and determined to remain between her and the injured Neko behind him. Even the Sheep and Tiger were by the Neko’s side, just as determined.
 
It meant nothing to her.
 
Be sure that thing gets back on its feet…I would hate for him to miss the reality he just created.” With that, the embers of all her rage fluttered on the unseen wind, her frigid aura now an ominous shadow that stayed with her.
 
And as she marched off with Kureno, the void they felt in their Jyuunishi bond now rang with an ache so poignant that their tears burst forth unexpectedly.
 
Kyo could only close his eyes in despair…after one tear had fallen.
 
*-*
 
Saga continues (0902-09):
 
Wow…was that…long? Heh, I had anticipated these last couple of chapters to be all in one,but as you’ve read, that would have been a monumental chapter.Hope you guys made it through in one piece.
 
As I mentioned previously, this chapter took some months to put together. Quite a number of months but honestly the main portion was done by mid-July. I’ve been polishing it ever since then. It had to be just right on every level…this chapter was one of the original turning points in the story that I had outlined from the very beginning. It took years to get to this point so I wasn’t about to do this half-way…it was all or nothing.
 
I intended to integrate the supernatural element of their curse into this chapter and basically shine a very big light on it. Essentially this was an underlying element that was hinted at for so long, but now in this chapter it basically exploded in all the wrong ways that it could. I, of course, as the author embellished as necessary but hopefully you would find the action scenes not overblown or unrealistic, given the circumstances and nature of the characters.That part actually took me the longest to put together…I’m no action writer,but I pray I didn’t butcher it too badly.
 
There were many moments in previous chapters that hinted to this catastrophe. From Yuki taking quite a big step into the unknown to Kyo fighting his demons, this was all alluded to on some level in chapters past. Kudos to those observant readers that wondered about certain aspects of the story! Hopefully there will be those that can see how I integrated these `connect-the-dots’ throughout the story and to end up to where I am now.
 
Betrayal…fear…and the hate that connects them. This was what the story boiled down to,and towards the end of the chapter, it’s what Kyohad finallyunderstood. He was literally being overwhelmed by the sheer force of all these elementsas they fed off each other. Poor Kyo…he was warned long before Yuki had to spell it out for him with his fists and blood.
 
I wonder if anyone caught that little tidbit…Yuki never actually cut Kazuma but his own foot. The next chapter will clarify this more. Yuki…the poor Rat just can’t get a break…but he certainly broke plenty of bones! Word to the wise…don’t piss off the Rat. He’s not `top dog’ for nothing! Also, regarding how far Yuki fell, I figured that since Kyo jumped from a second story window in the manga (early chapters), then Yuki could very well make a landing of his own from greater heights. Eh, just something I wanted to share since early on in the fic I really debated on how many floors he fell down from.
 
Sorry, I’m rambling…
 
Okay, musical hour..I really listened to a lot of music for these scenes. I will list a few of those that I listened most towards the end and that I recommend. “Duel of the Fates” from Star Wars soundtrack; “Liberti Fatale” from Final Fantasy 7 orchestral soundtrack; from the Final Fantasy 7 Advent Children movie soundtrack, off the second CD, we have tracks 1 (Tenrai-Divinity I), 4 (Tenrai-Divinity II), and 9 (Sairin Kata Tsubasa no Tenshi – Advent One-Winged Angel); lastly, “Quixote” by Bond. These are mainly instrumental pieces but I think you’d like them as much as I have.
 
Wow, looking at my stats certainly made me happy. I am now on the fave list for 101 readers! You all send me over the edge of ecstasy! Thank you for keeping my fic that close to you…I only hope to continue to deserve it. As always, thanks to all my readers, reviewers and passers-by…it’s a joy to have this much attention for my epic fic!
 
Take care and hope to catch you all again in the next chapter release!

Embers of Summer's Glory = Turning Corners
Embers of Summer's Glory = Public Sentiments