In a different place, far away in the land where Katsuya made his home, he entered his dwelling place. This is where he had lived ever since he began, the place his mother had given birth to him before being sent to hell by a holy warrior. He sat on an ivory chair, forged from the bones of his enemies, in front of a table carved out of marble.
"Hello?" He looked up, and for once was thoroughly surprised. A tiny girl approached.
"Can I stay, Katsuya sama?" She stood on thin legs, and thick black hair hung down the back. Her voice sounded familiar, what was it? He, who didn't affiliate with humans, certainly didn't know any of their brats.
"How did you get here?" No human could enter his domain, no one could even approach the base of the mountain without being vaporized by the poisonous air, how was this possible? And how had she arrived without him sensing her? Then he realized that no matter how hard he looked, the features of her face were indistinct. Feh. An apparition, no business here. With that realization his perplexity cleared away, leaving his mind at peace. He was about to warn her away, or ignore her, when something stopped him. Of course he knew Azuka was trying to see into his dreams again, but even she couldn't fully penetrate his mind like this.
Something else was happening, his own mind was trying to dredge something up he'd forgotten. It was forgotten because he'd purposed to forget it. That was the only way things were hidden in his brain, because Katsuya was a fully cognizant being. Rather than shove the memory back into his brain, he decided to let her stay. He was curious, what about this girl was so dangerous that he'd thought he should lock her away?
"I just wanted to get back to the way things were. I thought I could stay with you awhile." She stood uncertainly in the doorway. "Unless, you would rather I go."
"Do whatever you want." While feigning indifference Katsuya watched her from the corners of his eyes. She seemed to be about eight years old.
"How have you been?" He asked and when she smiled something awoke in his brain. He still couldn't remember the features of her face, but he was sure he knew her now.
"I'm glad you're here." The smile brightened, and he really was glad.
Azuka's ebony eyes glowed as Katsuya slept. She gazed into his subconscious as if it were a large pool that reflected every image passing through his mind. She mentally spoke to him; It seems you haven't purged your memory as thoroughly as you would have liked. My warrior. What was this being dredged up? A human girl?
Oh Katsuya, she is not worthy of you.
Azuka increased her spell and whispered to him, "Who is this girl?" The child's features were growing distinct, there was no sound, just a smile....a voice whispered, "Momo-." And then it was all cut short as Katsuya's hand caught her arm in a vice-like grip and she found her eyes locked in his fixed stare. He sat up, rubbing the back of his shoulder.
"Who is this girl?" She asked him. "Who is she that she is more important than I am?"
"She is nobody."
"You have an unusual aptitude for humans, Katsuya, for a yokai. You have a link to this girl that even you could not break when you tried, that is evident. Or perhaps you didn't want to?"
He didn't say anything. Momoko didn't mean anything to him, Azuka did.
Momoko was almost nine. Things had gone alone well, until now.
"She's dead." The priest said, holding the woman's pale wrist. He began the incantations to send her soul on peacefully to the next life, while Momoko and her uncle stood by. A few weeks ago her aunt caught a fever, faded rapidly and despite all the healer's spells and medicines, died.
"Poor child." The villagers whispered, "No mother, no father, now her only real kin has died."
She went to the pool to cry. She didn't come back until the moon had moved across the sky and was about to set. She found the gates locked, climbed a tree and dropped into the courtyard. The dogs knew her and let her by as she slipped inside the house. She crawled onto her pallet, eyes dry and tired from sobbing, and instantly knew something was different. Weariness forgotten she leapt off the pallet and threw it to the side. On her hands and knees she felt around under it, everywhere, her heart thudding in her throat. When she finally realized it wasn't there, she sat up on her haunches, closed her eyes, and screamed.
A sliding door slammed and Ryou came out of his room, enraged. "MOMOKO! SHUT UP!"
"WHERE IS KATSUYA SAMA! WHERE IS HE? WHERE IS HE? WHERE IS HE?"
Her uncle grabbed her and shook her.
"SHUT UP!" He roared. "THE YOKAI PAINTING IS MINE AND NOW YOU WILL DO AS I SAY!" She writhed away, still screaming. Her uncle reared back, brought his hand up and down in with crack against her skull. Momoko fell unconscious to the floor. Ryou stood still, momentarily taken back by the damage he'd done. As little use as he had for women under marrying age, he had never knocked one unconscious before. Her screaming had gotten on his nerves. When the small girl moaned and opened her eyes he let out a breath he hadn't known he held.
"Gomen." He murmured as he turned shamefacedly away. Momoko blinked dizzily as she watched her uncle disappear into his room.
The next day he asked her to get his brushes for him, he wanted to do calligraphy. Momoko went into his room like an obedient child, her face carefully devoid of any emotion. A few minutes later Ryou stood up and went inside the room, livid that he had to get up.
"What are you doing?"
Momoko looked up with her grandmother's painting half drawn out of its container.
"This is mine." She stated. She jumped up when he took a step forward, face red with anger.
"Give it back, brat."
She shook her head, wary, her stance like that of a tiny fighter ready to dart in any direction. He took another step forward and grabbed her shoulder when she made a break for the door. She twisted, brought her teeth down hard on his arm. He screamed in pain and she ran out the door. Cursing and howling he ran after her, but she was way, way too fast. She opened and was out the gate door before he'd even left the house. Furiously humiliated Ryou picked up a stone and hurled it at his retreating niece. When it struck her back she squealed in pain but kept running, painting in hand.
After that they circled each other warily. She came in to sleep but disappeared before Ryou woke up. But she had to come back sometimes for food and Momoko became very good at dodging objects.
It was common knowledge that the lord of the house did not like the girl. He never had a kind word for her, and only looked at her with annoyance. Now that his wife's love for the child was not there to stop him the villagers often heard him scolding, yelling, and sometimes his impatience boiled over and she left his house with bruises.
"To live with yokai for two years, and then have this happen!" The people whispered, "Poor child." But no one offered to take her in, because they didn't have any use for a girl either. Momoko began spending more and more time in the forest.
She ran there to get rid of the whispers and her uncle's condemning silence and sudden episodes of violence. She had no family, no friends, and the pool where she'd last been with Katsuya was her only solace. She spent hours sitting there, alone. 'I am desolate.' She thought.
Katsuya turned over in his sleep. He was back at the pool. There was a rustling and a girl appeared, wearing the brown tunic of a village maiden. He knew right away something was wrong, because she walked unhesitatingly to the water's edge while he was in plain view. No regular child would approach a pond while a yokai sat there. She did not appear to see him, and her expression was void. Instead of her skin being tanned from the sun it was white, white as rice. Why could he not smell her? Was it a ghost? White feet stepped into the water without causing a ripple and the girl began to descend into the pool. Katsuya watched as it moved smoothly past her knees, her hips disappeared, then she was covered to her collarbone. When she was standing in black water up to her chin, she looked up and smiled at him. He realized with a shock it was his girl.
"It's okay." Momoko's voice came clearly. "I knew you weren't coming." In a smooth motion the head disappeared completely in water. Katsuya stared down at the water. He plunged his hand in, searching for the small head. He searched for a long time. It wasn't there.
Momoko did not see Katsuya when he actually came. She was sitting on a large rock, back to the cliff, one barefoot in the pool. She did not cry, a habit she had picked up while traveling with him. He never showed any emotion, so she strove her best to emulate that, even alone. However, she was sad, and lonely. Her dress was last years' and she was growing out of it rapidly. Spindly legs stuck far out of a too short kimono and all the bones in her face jutted out sharply. She was not eating as well as she had when her aunt was alive. Katsuya saw all this from where he stood behind her, unnoticed.
Momoko sat there for a long, long time. Finally, when it was too cold for even her, she sighed and started down the path to her village. She had been thinking of happy times with the lordly Katsuya sama and her gentle aunt. The painting had been found and sold long ago.
That night the lord of the house had a nightmare. A demon was growling in his face, his features were twisted out of shape and markings stretched across either cheek, a demonic symbol glowed at his forehead. The yokai's shape was caught somewhere between human and beast with its fangs, long snout and pointed, dog-like ears. Claws dug into the man's forearms as the mononoke snarled at him.
"W-what do you want?" He asked, immobile with terror. The yokai's guttural noises grew louder, and the man thought horror would tear him apart. "I'll sacrifice anything! The girl, you can have her!"
Sharp spikes from a collar on the mononoke's chest were stabbing into the man's body as the demon moved closer. He hissed into his face.
"I want...you...to know...if I find that she has been harmed in any way you will die." He released the man and stood back. His face, twisted out of shape just a moment before, had abruptly changed to that of a detached and handsome young man.
"Honor your wife's promise." He said blandly. "Or I will rip you apart."
A freezing mist enveloped him and the man woke up, his shirt bloodied and torn to shreds. Drenched in an icy sweat, Ryou couldn't erase the demonic face from his mind. He had heard that Momoko was dropped off by a yokai, but he had never believed it until now. Why would a yokai want the brat?
He had heard whispers that her lightfootedness and her ability to outrun even the grown men in the village were supernatural abilities born of living with spirits. And there was her incredibly high endurance for pain. Not. That. He hit her that hard, but even when he bruised her face with a swipe that sent her sprawling on the floor, she never made a sound. She would sit there and look up at him with those large eyes, quiet. She was like what he imagined a kitsune would be. Feh, spooky child. He would have to get rid of her.
Azuka's perusal of Momoko was starting to annoy Katsuya. She couldn't leave the subject alone, but brought it up day by day.
"Do you love her?"
"So you don't love her more than me."
"But if she were in trouble and you were made aware of it, you would go to her." She asked with one sleek eyebrow arched over an obsidian eye.
He glanced at her, and discerned she was posing a question, trying to get a rise out of him. He removed his gaze. That wouldn't work, nothing would. She wasn't even in his class and he was starting to grow tired of her.
"I left her with her own folk. She's out of my hands. It's a human matter."
Azuka relaxed and smiled. "You don't suit each other anyway. She doesn't belong with you. Humans are just compilations of weaknesses, and only the strong survive." She said this with utmost sincerity and scorn. Katsuya raised his eyebrows.
"She would have survived with me." He said, his deep voice holding a note of warning.
"What, because the almighty Katsuya can do anything? Believe me, keeping a human whelp around would just debilitate you eventually. Your spiritual powers would wear away as you tried to instill immortality in her, something she could never accomplish, and eventually she would drag you down." Azuka was speaking as one stating the obvious. "That human, that thing, can add nothing to you." She touched his arm. "Unlike I."
So, she did fill that hole inside him. She completed him as a counterpart, yet he knew something else too. She didn't give for no reason. Like she took something from the dragon she was taking something from him as well, or trying to.
"This place used to be a thriving habitat for mountain demons." She had told him. "Until Cetsah came and swept it clean with his power. He finally went into remission after a reign of terror that took centuries, he was the one who turned this place into his desert home. I've been alone for as long." But she hadn't been lonely, demons do not feel loneliness. She had used those many years to hone her power. She had seen Katsuya's arrival as an opportunity and used it. He had known this, and allowed her to because he was using her as well, for fulfillment.
She was right, her power did seem to fill the hole inside. She was much, much stronger than average demons. Born strong, she had spent years in the caves honing her power alone. It broke through any barriers he had put up, seemed to wash away any former weaknesses when they combined strengths like this into one. Now, when he walked on the earth he didn't think about weaknesses. He was back, he had been restored. He was alone again, and he was all right...for now.
Momoko was taking the long way around the village to put off going through it and going home. Momoko usually didn't walk this way for good reason, but today she'd forgotten.
"Hello." She looked up suddenly, and stood still. As swift as she was, she knew she could never hope to outrun the wolf demon, Kogaratu. He stood there now, wrapped in his black wolf skin, grinning at her. He was taller than the village men, and cords of muscle stood out on his neck, arms and legs.
"We usually don't meet like this, you and I." He continued. "I hear you have become an accomplished calligrapher, and you specialize in spells." Mostly wolf spells. Surely he knew that too. She nodded. He stepped closer and it took all her being not to flinch back. She had seen the remnants of some of his victims, innocent travelers who had not known to avoid his home.
"Are you not afraid?" He asked. As powerful as this demon was, Katsuya sama was so much more powerful she knew. He could decimate Kogaratu...if only he were here, she really wouldn't be afraid. Then she remembered something and her hand sneaked into the pocket of her dress.
"I hate wolves." She said in a low voice.
Kogaratu looked amused. "Oh you'll have to get over that." He said.
"You've already been promised to me by your uncle." He stepped even closer.
"NO!" With a swift movement Momoko yanked out a piece of paper and held it out in front of her. The powerful spell on it froze the wolf demon for a second as she whirled and ran. The paper fluttered to the ground and he speared it with his talon.
"Huh. Katsuya sama." Kogaratu read. "This is her demon-binding spell?" He looked at her retreating form. "She's fast."
"Why didn't you eat her?" A cold, feminine voice asked. Kogaratu looked over his shoulder at the beautiful demoness.
"That's the one you meant?" He asked. She nodded.
"Don't worry, I'll take care of her." He grinned dangerously, maybe not right away or the way she wanted, but he would definitely take care of her. He had plans of his own.
Katsuya's ultra sensitive ears heard voices, Azuka's and the guttural ones of some demon. What was this? No demons dared to arrive since the dragon of death arrived decades ago. He stood in a corridor and heard everything.
"As long as you don't allow Katsuya san to hear about this." Azuka was saying.
"You don't know him at all, and you've been with him for how many years? If he's here, he knows already." The other yokai replied.
"But doesn't care. He told me so himself. This girl is no longer part of his life."
"Yes well, shortlived as they are it doesn't matter, does it?"
They turned to see Katsuya standing at the end of the hallway. The other demon hastily departed, its work done. Let Azuka deal with an angry Katsuya. His cold hearted ferocity was legendary. Azuka turned to see her lover standing in the doorway, his face as ever giving nothing away. "It's too bad she's going even further out of your reach."
"Why is a wolf demon marrying an eight year old human child?"
"What is it to you?" She asked. "Break that connection, she is nothing, you said so yourself." Her lip curled into a sneer of mirth. "Or perhaps, the reason you don't, is because you don't want to. This girl, has made you less powerful." With those words Azuka sealed her fate. "Stop your endless worrying, or you might as well be human yourself." The silly mononoke was acting like he was the thing's father. Of course a REAL father would have cause to worry, it was common knowledge that Kogaratu ate his wives. Katsuya stood as still as a statue at the end of her hall, his terrible eyes glowing and the hair on his head rising the way a hackles rise on a beast under duress. A tremor of fear shot up Azuka's spine, she knew she had gone too far. Instead of answering, Katsuya turned and receded into the darkness.
He's going to kill me, or leave me at least. Azuka thought. This is it, I will wipe that welpling from the world forever. It is obvious that Katsuya is connected to her in an inexplicable fashion, something I know I shall never understand. He belongs only to me. Azuka rose on the dragon's back out of the cavern, knowing that even he could not kill her on Sarutahiko. Katsuya was long gone, he would never know.
She was barely up in the air when she knew something was wrong, the dragon was behaving oddly. Something was drawing it, something was moving...within the mountain. The very air around them had changed, it was charged with expectation. Sarutahiko was flying towards a crevice, no matter how much she urged it somewhere else. Wait, someone had broken the seal? Impossible!
Then, with a roar the mountain split apart and a massive neck shot out in the midst of magma. It was evident Sarutahiko was no match for this, its father, but she rose to the challenge heedless and flew straight into the gaping hole. The old, old dragon, almost as large as the mountain, rose half way out, hissed at them and retreated inside. Cetsah's offspring was irresistibly drawn to meet in battle one of the few monsters that could kill her. They would fight to the death. Her last moments on earth, Azuka looked up and saw Katsuya standing at the lip of the broken mountain. With the lava from inside lighting up his face and his hair, he looked like a fiend from hell.