There were five of them pointing at the fire, but before she could get a clear look two of them broke off into the forest. The other three approached, two guys and a woman.
"How about this place? It looks like someone made camp from last night." Said a boy about her age. He had curiously fox shaped ears, a kitsune.
"They probably left earlier this morning. Good." Said the other male, a young man of about twenty who was dressed in simple clothes. "We won't have to worry about building a fire from scratch, we can just blow on the embers." He called over his shoulder to two others a little farther behind. "Could you get some firewood?"
"They haven't been alone together for a while, and I'm sure they won't mind." Said the woman. She was wearing a slightly nicer kimono the other two, obviously from a wealthier family. She also had an ivory comb in her hair. Yet she looked capable and stern faced, not like a hoity toity rich man's daughter. She carried a sword and the other man carried a heavy looking cudgel. The third boy had a spear. Momoko felt it would be a good idea to stay under Katsuya's cloak. She knew it was the reason they'd been able to sneak away unseen, it turned her invisible. She soon learned the woman was Michiko, the kitsune was Shouta and the stern faced young man was Ichiro. Shouta was carrying ducks. He sat down and began to pluck them.
"I can't believe Kouhei is carrying firewood. Big powerful yokai like that would never stoop to do something like that, especially when he eats animals raw."
"It's because of Isano, you know that." Michiko said. "He hasn't been eating animals raw anymore either, because it disgusts her. Love makes you do strange things."
"Kouhei doesn't love her, he's using her." Ichiro grunted. "The way he uses all of us."
"Kouhei could have any number of less powerful demons than he doing his will. But instead he chose you, a farmer accused of murder, you, a kitsune who sneaks into houses to play tricks but is of no use to anyone else, and me, a woman running away from a bad marriage. Why? Because Ichiro can go into a city and buy things for her, because Shouta makes her giggle and me because I also can be her friend. The question is, why did he chose Isano? She is the only one who didn't find him or ran away from a problem. He found her, took her away from her family."
"Yes, yes we all know the story but that doesn't mean he loves her. She's a beautiful girl and he's using her for sex."
"They haven't had sex, she's told me that. She helps him out because she has a supernatural ability to see harmful spirits. She spotted Katsuya coming that one time to kill him, and she's saved all of us so many times. She was a miko in her village until Kouhei went and got her. She followed him so of course she's in love with him. He may have been using her at first, but they've been together for so long he's fallen in love with her. Look at him, at the way he treats her."
Momoko knew about mikos, women who interpreted supernatural signs for villages, and was curious to see this Isano She'd never seen a miko before. But when they came out of the forest it was not Isano she looked at. Katsuya was walking behind the woman. It took a second for her to realize it wasn't him though he had the same white hair, the same long, straight nose and shapely chin and talons at the ends of fingers. At a solid 6' Kouhei was the tallest man Momoko had ever seen, barring Kogaratu and Katsuya. He was broader though, his face wider and less effeminate, forehead broader, hair tousled and short, his skin tanner and his limbs thicker. He had a wolfish, wide grin and the tips of his canines protruded from his mouth. His hands were blunter and he wore a simple kimono with a belt around the waist to keep it from swishing around his feet.
He carried a bundle of wood and gave it to Ichiro who put it on the fire and coaxed up a flame. They sat opposite to where Momoko was. She glanced from Kouhei to Isano and saw she was blind. She knew most mikos were. Isano was not as pretty as Michiko was, with her white skin and delicate features. Isano was tanner, had milk white eyes and rougher skin. She had a blunt nose and wide mouth, and she was tall. She was 5'7" and came up to Kouhei's shoulder. Instead of having her hair pinned up neatly in combs it hung thick and heavy down her back. But she WAS pretty and Momoko could tell by the way Kouhei sat next to her that he liked her.
Momoko couldn't help staring at the young man. He had all the same features, only his eyes were an orangish red and when he talked expression was in his every feature, unlike Katsuya's dead face. He seemed so like Katsuya and yet rougher, less polished. The ducks Shouta had spitted and put over the fire began to sizzle and Momoko's stomach rumbled. She crawled closer and sat between Ichiro and Shouta, waiting for a chance to steal some food. Kouhei's nose wrinkled when she moved. He was staring at her too now, like he could see her. She wrapped herself a little more tightly in the fur. His nose wrinkled again.
"I can smell my brother." He stated. Instantly everyone was on their feet, their attention on him. Isano turned her head in Momoko's direction and stood suddenly. In three quick steps she'd crossed from her seat to Momoko and her fingers closed around the invisible mantle.
"She's here." The fur was yanked off, and Momoko was revealed. She crouched silently on the ground, her eyes huge and scared. Weapons surrounded her. Kouhei looked down at the fur in disdain. "That is Katsuya's. Your white eyes saved us again."
"Who is she?" Isano asked still holding it. The initial alarm had passed, and her blind eyes seemed to stare down at Momoko with pity instead of the suspicion on the other's faces. She had a sweet face.
"Who are you? Where did you get Katsuya's demon robe?" Michiko asked roughly.
Momoko found the strength to speak. She stood and looked at the girl holding the fur. "Please give that back, Katsuya sama put that in my keeping."
"So she is with Katsuya, she's a demon!" In one fluid motion Michiko drew her sword, almost as long as she was, from her back. Ichirio caught her arm at the same time Isano said "NO!"
A third voice broke through the melee. "She's not a demon." Said the white haired youth in a bored voice. "That is my brother's cloak, but she's not yokai. Can't you tell by the way she speaks and looks? She's ordinary. Right Isano?" The other girl nodded. Momoko stared at him. With that bored look on his face the resemblance was stronger than ever.
"Don't you remember hearing something about this?" He asked. "Remember when we crossed paths and fought, and I knocked him off his dragon into the woods? We looked and looked, could not find him. Apparently I gave him a paralyzing blow and she took care of him for a while. That was years ago and we haven't heard from him since. Has my brother turned into a nursemaid?" He asked, staring back at her insolently.
"What IS he doing with her?" Michiko asked, hand still on the sword. Momoko looked around her, all her emotions under control. Her face was as blank as Katsuya's.
"Are you not afraid?" The kitsune asked. He was quite a bit younger than the others, but even so he stood a head taller than her. Momoko looked at him and shook her head. "Katsuya sama is coming back for me." She said. She put her hand out for the fur, but the girl Isano still held onto it. She looked serious now, and frightened?
Momoko looked at the yellow eyed boy. "Do you know my master? He never told me he had a brother." 'Not, that he tells me anything anyway.' She thought.
"Of course he wouldn't."
"Are you telling us, he's coming here? What are we going to do?" The fox asked, looking worried.
"We'll wait for him, of course." Kouhei said. "He's not going to do anything while we've got her. Don't worry, she's no threat. But..." He looked at her, "It's not like we want you around. Feel free to leave anytime."
"Katsuya sama made this fire." Momoko said defensively. She couldn't help but look at the food as she said that.
Isano seemed to be able to tell. "Would you like to join us?" She asked sympathetically.
"Are you now feeding our enemies, Isano?" The other girl asked. "This is a helper to Katsuya!"
"Isano's kindness is stretching its bounds." Ichiro agreed. "We should probably let her go, as Kouhei suggested, before Katsuya comes."
"Whose scared? Not me." Said Kouhei, he'd sat down. "Let him come if he wants, no one's running."
"Michiko, Ichiro, the girl's hungry. That's why she's here in the first place." Isano said sharply. She handed the fur back over to Momoko, who held it like something precious.
"Or maybe she's just protecting his fire." Michiko said. But the others, taking Kouhei's cue, sat down. Momoko found herself sitting between Isano and the fox boy. She stayed well away from the other three. She didn't like the way Ichiro was looking at her, Michiko still stared at her suspiciously, and Kouhei unnerved her. It was a strange mix of yokai and humans she'd found herself with. The kitsune ignored her, but Isano asked questions as Ichiro divided the food into six shares.
"What is your name?"
"How long have you been with Katsuya?"
"For a long time. He just came and rescued me from marrying Kogaratu." She sensed the other's interest when she said that, and abruptly shut up.
"Is he nice to you?" The fox boy said unbelieving. Momoko nodded, smiling at the thought of her beautiful caretaker's face.
"Does he tell you he cares about you?" Isano asked sympathetically.
Her face fell a little. "He doesn't talk to me as much as I'd like, but I know he does care about me. Or else, or else he never would have come back." Her chest heaved suddenly at the thought of all those months with her uncle, but she quelled it and was still once more. The others were staring at Kouhei, which he was trying to ignore.
"Well." Ichiro glanced at Kouhei. "It seems your evil brother has a soft spot." The yokai shrugged, but she could see he was studying her out of the corners of his flame-colored eyes. That was how Katsuya looked at her most of the time.
"What does he feed you?" The Shouta asked.
"Oh, I have to get that myself." Momoko said, chewing on a wing.
"mmmf." Isano didn't sound pleased. "Kouhei, Katsuya hates you because you live with us, indicating weakness, yet still managed to beat him. Twice. Now he has this small child with him? That can't be right."
"What? You don't expect me to lecture my brother about how to bring up a brat do you?" Kouhei asked.
"I don't expect you to tell me anything." Everyone leapt to their feet once more as
Katsuya appeared only a few yards away. "Except what you're doing with my fur." Momoko stayed seated, but she turned around and grinned. His callous violet eyes flicked over her for a second, then he started to walk away.
"Why is he doing that?" Isano asked astounded.
"He's waiting for her, without losing face." Ichiro said, hitting it right on the button.
"Look at all that bread he has in his hands, demons don't eat bread."
When Katsuya turned around it was not Momoko but Kouhei he found at his elbow, with Isano close behind. He hissed, baring his fangs in involuntary displeasure.
He hadn't talked to his brother since they'd fought and Kouhei used his dragon fang sword to deliver him the paralyzing blow ultimately responsible for him meeting Momoko in the first place. Katsuya despised him because he had fallen in love with human, and he would never rule a kingdom. It had once been his passion to gain respect through terror, but anymore Katsuya didn't know what his younger brother wanted. He was traveling with a group consisting almost entirely of humans, with feelings for the girl at his side. The one demon he kept company with was second rate, cutsie ones like the kitsune. Now they all lived in a house together and were probably just on their way back now from visiting the miko's parents in her village. Which was actually what they had been doing. Yet he had somehow managed to conquer Katsuya the few times they'd met in combat, something Katsuya had a hard time coming to terms with.
"What do you want?"
"What are you doing with a human child?"
Katsuya glared at him and at Isano, who felt the poison of his glance but stayed serenely behind Kouhei.
"Do you think I'm about to leave her with you ragtag army of brigands, who have no choice but to stay together because you don't have enough strength to stand on your own?"
Kouhei growled and reached for his sword and just as quickly Katsuya had him by the throat. Instead of thrusting his sword through Katsuya's belly however, Kouhei took his hand off his handle and relaxed in his older brother's grip. It was then Katsuya saw Isano's hand on his little brother's arm. Something was happening here, and it wasn't what he and Azuka had together. Though it might not be that different either.
Isano spoke. "We're just saying, if you ever need a place to put her. I know a woman in my village who will take her. Her name is Ume and she does not refuse hospice to anyone who enters her door. She lives..." Katsuya had released Kouhei and was walking away, "...in the southern district."
"Proud fool." Kouhei said, back on his feet again. "How long do you think she'll last with the company he keeps?"
"Like you should talk." Ichiro said, joining them.
"Don't worry Kouhei." Isano said. "Your family has a history of taking care of humans, and I don't think your brother is an exception anymore."
Kouhei grinned. He knew his mother's identity was still held in question by many in the spirit world. "Some spirits father offspring that don't inherit demonhood, but have a trait or two that other humans don't have." He mused. "I've heard about her lightfootedness. That girl is not a demon, but she might not be entirely human either."