This is a fanfiction by Kogata. The main characters are Kurai and Shiro.
This one’s going to be short, so don’t expect too much! Just a little backstory on the history between these two characters, to better explain their relationship (because I can’t think of a way to fit this into the White Out Cycle). Also kind of a writing exercise. Enjoy!
No music for this one!
Kurai stared at the violet flower in front of her, wondering if she was following the instructions correctly. She glanced down at the book, and sure enough, the method was clearly as it appeared to be. Kurai sighed. No point in putting it off any longer. She reached out and closed her fingers around the stem of the flower, breathed out, and sent the energy of her own soul down through her fingers and into the flower. According to the necromancy book on her lap, a simple life form like a flower would not be able to host a certain amount of energy from a human soul and so would wither and die. Afterwards, the energy of the flower would flow back into Kurai, along with the energy she discharged into the flower.
At first, nothing happened, and Kurai almost gave up then, but suddenly she noticed that the petals were a bit more crinkled then they had been before. Slowly but surely, the life from the flower drained until it was nothing but a wrinkled pile of ash that was quickly caught up in the wind and scattered.
This thing isn’t just some occult rubbish, huh, she thought, turned the book over in her hands. I should hang on to this.
The remainder of the day was spent practising the control she had over her own soul’s energy. Soon, she could not only bring death, but life as well. After several failed attempts, she had succeeded in reviving a dead bird and a couple of crushed beetles. Feeling proud of her progress, Kurai propped the book up next to her scythe (recently obtained in a skirmish with an imp-like creature) and decided to call it a day. The cave wasn’t much of a home, but it was all she had for now. At least, until she gathered the willpower to build herself a real house. She smiled to herself and folded her arms behind her head. She doubted she would be working on a big project like that for too long. Maybe some other time, she thought. After I figure out this necromancy thing, maybe.
Kurai closed her eyes and fell into an uninterrupted, peaceful sleep. She was so exhausted that she didn’t notice the small girl creeping into her cave and reaching out with long, uncut nails towards her scythe…
She awoke the next morning to find that her amazing air-cutting scythe was missing. “Hey son, whatever happened to that shock-proof, water-proof, fire-proof, painfully expensive wristwatch I gave you?”, Kurai thought, a bitter smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. “I lost it”.
Thankfully, the necromancy tome was still there, if nothing else. Her herbs and food supply were untouched as well, but without her scythe she was still as helpless as a kitten if a demon happened to come by. But maybe the book would be able to help her get her weapon back. If used correctly, necromancy was a powerful weapon in itself, and sometimes reading chants straight from a book could act as an amplifier for magic.
But then, she had only been practising for a day. Kurai doubted she could call up any energy powerful enough to down a thief—not on cue anyway. Still, I’ve got to try. It’s that, or lose the scythe forever. Right when I was getting good at using it, too.
She quickly gulped down a couple of bitter herbs to strengthen her and a bunch of berries, grabbed the tome and set off to track down the thief. The first thing Kurai checked was the ground: thankfully whoever had come into her cave had neglected to cover their footprints, and—even better—they were definitely human footprints.
Perfect, she sighed. I’m glad it wasn’t a demon. I would really be in trouble then.
Carefully she followed the footprints away from the cave and tracked the thief into a deeper part of the forest that she didn’t often visit. The further she went, the more anxious she became, wondering how far into the forest this person lived. As Kurai had discovered (the hard way), the further into the forest you went, the more demons there were. The most dangerous demon she had the misfortune to know about lived right at the centre, and from the looks of things, that was where she was headed. The thief couldn’t be that demon, surely… After all, she was sure the footprints had been human. Hadn’t they?
Kurai stopped short and dodged behind a tree when she heard a voice up ahead. If she had walked much further, she would have been seen, judging by the proximity of the voice.
“…Nothing but scrap. I told you to bring me back something worth my time!”
Kurai carefully peeked around the side and held back a gasp. A young girl was standing next to a pile that seemed to be made from assorted metal objects. The back of the girl’s kimono was torn in places by a row of spines running down her back, and her hands were clawed and covered with scales. A middle-aged man with yellow eyes and a long rat-like tail was towering over her, looking angry. The girl picked a silver locket from the pile and showed it to him.
“But look at the workmanship of this locket!” she insisted, pointing at a design that was too far away for Kurai to make out. “The Ouroboros symbol has been carved into the silver with such care. You could count the scales if you wished. An item of this value is surely beyond price, my lord!”
He swatted the locket from her hand. “I don’t care about price!” he growled, silencing her protests. “How many times do you need to be reminded that I want something that can make me powerful! Not all this useless junk!” He jabbed his finger at the pile. “What does it take to make you listen to me, you foolish child?”
The footprints looked normal, she thought, wincing. But they’re both definitely demons.
“I apologize, my lord,” she said, bowing low. Then she brightened. “Ah! If you seek an item to increase your strength, then might I offer this?”
Kurai’s fingers tightened around the necromancy book. The girl was offering the rat demon a scythe. Her scythe.
Lord Rat Face looked interested. “A scythe. Interesting. Explain the properties of the item, Ayaka.”
She glanced down at the scythe for maybe half a second before giving an explanation. “A scythe crafted by shinigami. Forged from silver and iron, the blade contains three, no, four ghosts, allowing it the rare ability to cut air as well as flesh. Designed for reaping mortal souls, but can wound immortals as well. In the right hands, a deadly weapon, and in the wrong hands would provide more use cutting grass.” The demon girl, Ayaka, tapped the end of the scythe against the ground. “Is this the kind of thing you require, my lord?”
He greedily reached out for the scythe. He was all but foaming at the mouth.
I should do something, Kurai thought with some urgency, flipping the tome open to a random page. Let’s see…
A summoning spell. She skimmed the warning at the start (just a bit of claptrap about how summoning sometimes resulted in death and serious injury), pulled out a crow youkai’s feather—an instrument she had read was sometimes used to make magic more potent—and read the incantation.
“Servant of Inari, come forth,” Kurai began, tracing out a symbol shown in the book with the end of the feather. “Obey my commands, for I hold your spirit in my hands.”
This was said quietly enough for her to be able to listen for the sounds of any summoned spirits but loudly enough for her to be heard. The rat demon withdrew his hand from the scythe and he whipped around to glare at the bushes. He barked a command to Ayaka, and Kurai hastily began to repeat the mantra, redrawing the symbol. I have no offering, she thought in frustration. Perhaps that is why it’s not working? Now is not the time to get all high and mighty, Inari! I’ll give you an offering later!
“You,” Ayaka said, drawing closer to Kurai. “Identify yourself!”
Kurai’s only response was to continue chanting, but she was losing confidence in the spell. Maybe she just wasn’t powerful enough to summon a spirit. Kurai stopped chanting and decided to try and distract her with talking while she planned an escape route.
“My name is Kurai,” she said, stepping into the open with her hands raised. “I am merely a merchant passing through.”
“A merchant, you say?” Ayaka asked, her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What are you selling?”
“I sold metalwork from my forge,” she lied smoothly, “but most of my goods were stolen, so I have come looking for them.”
The girl blushed slightly and averted her eyes guiltily. Were I not already aware that she was the thief, no doubt I would have figured it out by now anyway, Kurai thought contemptuously. She needs to work on her acting. And apparently she doesn’t know how to disguise herself as a human, either. I’ll just pretend not to notice for now.
“Ayaka!” Rat Face bellowed, barging into the clearing. He saw Kurai, pointed at her and said, “There’s the eavesdropper! Dispose of her at once!”
“I don’t think she heard anything, my lord,” Ayaka said anxiously. “She appears to be a simple merchant.”
He seemed to swell with rage. “Are you disobeying me, you insolent child?”
Ayaka paled. “No, of course not, my lord. I shall do as you ask.” The girl took a step forward, flexing her claws. “I apologize. I must kill you now,” she snarled, leaping forward. Kurai ducked out of the way and ran, but she promptly tripped over a root and fell to the ground, narrowly missing another slash of the demon’s claws. Ayaka’s boot pressed against Kurai’s back, preventing her from standing. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, raising her hand for the finishing blow. “I really am.”
And just as she was about to strike, something huge and white cannoned into her, sending Ayaka flying. Kurai sat up in disbelief as the white creature landed lightly in front of her. It flashed a glance over its shoulder and with a start she realized it was a fox.
“That was close,” the fox said, startling her further. She was fairly certain that foxes were not supposed to talk. “I guess I’ll take it from here.”
Rat Face took a step back. “Wh-what is this? Ayaka!”
Ayaka had hit a tree and appeared to be unconscious. There was no way she’d be able to protect him in that state.
“Why don’t you just leave?” the fox suggested. “I doubt anyone would miss a guy like you, and you wouldn’t have to get hurt.”
But he hadn’t given up yet. The rat man lifted Kurai’s scythe and aggressively lashed out at the fox, and Kurai was sure he’d be hit, but the fox was too quick for him, somehow managing to dodge behind him and knock him off balance. With a swift flick of his paw, Rat Face was easily disarmed and defenceless once more. The fox sighed, a very human-like gesture. “Honestly. No one ever listens to me. I did warn you, you know.” The fox sank his teeth without warning into the man’s hand, biting off three of his fingers. The demon howled in pain, and suddenly he was not a man, but a rat, which scampered away into the darkness.
The fox sat back and licked the traces of blood from his paw. “Some people,” he said, shaking his head helplessly at Kurai. He trotted over to Ayaka, examining her head carefully. “Not unconscious,” he said to no one in particular. “Just pretending. You can wake up, now. The crazed rat person is gone.”
Ayaka’s eyes instantly shot open. “Really?” She leapt to her feet, glancing left and right. When she found no trace of her master, she let out a cheer. “Free at last! I was wondering when the old bag would be beaten. It was only a matter of time, I said.” She suddenly looked disappointed. “Oh no. Now I have to return everything I stole. Ah well.” She held up the locket with the Ouroboros design. “Think I’ll hang on to this, though. Thanks!” she called to the fox, and then suddenly she was gone, along with the whole pile of metal.
At last, the fox turned back to her. “And what can I do for you? Is there anything else you require?”
“I’m sorry, what?” Kurai spluttered, completely lost. What the hell was this fox doing here? Why was it talking?
Now the fox looked confused. “You summoned me, didn’t you? Three times, in fact. You sounded rather urgent.”
“I, uh…” Then she remembered the summoning spell. I expected a kitsune, she thought, slightly annoyed. Not a weird arctic fox with an English accent. “Yes, that was me. I just needed some help, but seeing as you’re still here, can you answer some questions for me?”
He thought about it for a second. “Of course. But only three. Three is my number for today.”
“Pardon? That wasn’t one of the questions!” she added hastily, covering up the slip, but it was a fraction late.
“Three,” he began, “is to be my lucky number for today for several reasons. This is the third time I have been called upon for assistance since the start of the year. I bit off three fingers from that man, and that seemed to work well enough. Also, three threes are nine, which is a nice number because it looks somewhat like a fish, and I’m hungry. So from now until I find a better number, everything I do shall be in threes, to maintain my luck and fill the day with good omens.”
An Obsessive Compulsive arctic fox, she added glumly. Thanks a bunch, Inari. “Okay, then,” she said, trying not to sound too ticked off. “Who are you?”
The fox straightened slightly. “My name is Shiro. I am not working directly under Inari, but I happened to be the only fox in the area when you called, and she is a bit short-staffed at the moment. Kitsune nowadays,” he added scornfully. “Give them a few more tails and they start to think that’s an excuse to skip work! But I digress. In response to your question, I’m afraid there is not much more to say on the matter.”
“Last question,” Kurai said, considering carefully. “Do you, uh, think it’s a good idea to practise necromancy?”
Shiro considered it. “I wouldn’t really know too much on the matter, but a lot of people who have practiced that branch of magic usually end up being publically executed. Some are a bit, eh, sensitive about bringing things back to life. Apparently it’s socially unacceptable in some societies. Can you imagine?” he added. “I’m not against it at all. If you think you have a talent in that area, then by all means learn how to use that talent well! However, don’t get ahead of yourself. Using too much energy at once can be dangerous for your health. In a summoning, for instance. One might even pass out after channelling continuous summoning energy, and—Oh dear. Are you feeling okay? You suddenly look very pale.”
Kurai’s head swam. I wish he would shut up, she thought woozily.
“I see. You’re likely to faint about now-ish. Ah, there we go!” he added as Kurai’s vision faded completely and she collapsed on the forest floor.
She woke up some time later back in her cave, with her scythe propped up against the wall next to her necromancy book. Kurai blinked and rubbed her eyes. When she regained the strength to move, she stood and checked the state of the scythe. It was still intact, thankfully, but it looked as though it had been sharpened and polished. With a start, she noticed that there was a note impaled on the end of the scythe. Curiously, she removed it.
To Kurai the Merchant,
I apologise for stealing this scythe. I know I really shouldn’t have, but my lord asked for it and disobeying him wasn’t really an option! In any case, I’m glad I didn’t have to kill you after all and hope you can find it in your heart to forgive a lowlife scavenger demon such as myself. Have a peaceful sleep!
P.S. Are you sure you’re a merchant? Because that book next to you looks pretty suspicious.
Kurai allowed herself a chuckle at that and put the note aside. She hadn’t realized she was such a convincing liar. She bent to pick up her book and it was at that point that she noticed a second note tied to the front of it. Another one?
I hope the ride here wasn’t too bumpy. Do feel free to complain. Oh, wait. You’re unconscious, and I’ll be long gone before you wake up. But to be sure (because you seem like that kind of person), don’t come looking for me just to return the favour or some other noble cause like that. I mean, it’s not like it was out of my way or anything. However, I doubt I’ll be able to respond to your next summoning, because I now have an important new job (which I don’t care to describe, but I can say that it involves two adorable little twins) that requires my full attention. I think I’ll have Inari remove me from the list. Enough about me, though. I think Ayaka’s hand is getting tired from all this dictating, so I might as well end this letter here. (I sincerely hope you didn’t think I wrote this myself.)
Kurai winced. Was she really that predictable? In truth, she had been planning to return the favour to Shiro somehow (he had saved her life, after all), but it seemed like this was the last thing he wanted.
“Oh well,” she said aloud, pocketing the note. “I’ll probably end up doing it anyway. It’s not like I have to listen to what he says.” Kurai grinned. “I never do what I’m told. No reason to start now.”
Well that was the first actual story I’ve written in ages, so I hope that wasn’t too painful to read. In any case, I shall get back to work on Battle of Ice as soon as possible!