Unnamed Story

BY : Roaming_Firefly
Category: Final Fantasy VII > Yaoi - Male/Male > Sephiroth/Vincent
Dragon prints: 2604
Disclaimer: see full disclaimer below

Author's notes: I'm truly sorry for the long silence, but this chapter has been kicking my ass. Originally I had debated whether to split this chapter in two, then I decided not to, then I was pondering whether I should split this in THREE, it just kept getting longer and longer and... So anyways, I've finally decided to split it in two, it was just becoming unmanageable with how long it was getting. This is the first part, the second part should be up soon-ish :P Real life had been giving me a break, and it was glorious, but all good things must come to an end :( And my window of free time is disappearing. I know I have left a lot of things on the sidelines, stuff I haven't written, stories I haven't read and/or reviewed... But I am determined to get everything that I wanted to get done finished before my free time completely disappears, which would also mean the next chapter of this story. Thank you to all who's been following this story through its erratic breaks, I'll do my best to get the chapters out as quickly as I am able. And know that your reviews mean much to me and do a lot in keeping me going through my own self-doubts :)

Warnings: Don't want to spoil too much, but there will be blood and violence and people getting hurt in this chapter. But it's short and not too too bad I don't think...


Chapter 20 - Murmurs


"You find him pleasing, Seventh?" asked demon-ShinRa, a smug grin on his face, already confident that he knew her answer.

Tah'rh glanced over at him from her examination of the pleasure slave, "He's truly a fine specimen. So very responsive, and he seems to be quite tough." She then turned back to the slave and once again, looked into his blank green eyes, her talons still under his jaw to keep him in place, "Yes...there is strength in him... I expect that he is able to survive and recover from even the most horrible things that an Archdaemon might do to him..."

Demon-ShinRa's grin widened lewdly, "Oh yes, I can attest that he's been well-trained in all manners of service that an Archdaemon might ask of him."

Sephiroth noticed a small twitch in the wolf youkai's pointed ears at Tah'rh's words, but nobody else seemed to be paying enough attention to him to notice.

"I'm curious though, if you'll pardon me asking," Tah'rh released the slave's lifted jaw and trailed a finger down his throat to the black and red tattoo, which Sephiroth could now see was a picture of a pink heart with white wings on a shapeless black background, "if he's so well-trained, why did you feel the need to control him with this?"

"Ah, that," nodded demon-ShinRa, "The news seems to have not yet reached the Inner Circles, but it's been noticed that as a side effect of this taming technique, the slaves performed better in the bedroom service after having this procedure done. I'm sure you've noticed how the lesser beings always seem to have all those unnecessary inhibitions about this and that, and this procedure seems to free them from all that. In the Mid and Outer Circles, you'll find that I'm not the only one who borrows this hex from the crime rings. It's becoming a bit of a trend, actually."

"Really. I can see why." Tah'rh's fingers slowly traced the slave's lips, and the slave parted them slightly, obediently, "It wouldn't do for slaves to say unnecessary things during an exchange, all pleasure slaves have to have something or other done to them to prevent that. If this "trick" of the crime rings also has the added effect of taking away their...reluctance, and enhancing their performance, then I can see it becoming quite popular."

"Although..." Tah'rh glanced back up at demon-ShinRa, "the crime-rings' methods are known to the Watchers, and for some of those methods, the Watchers have found ways to reverse them, restore the slaves' minds to what they once were. I hear just recently, they have confiscated some suspiciously acquired slaves, restored their minds, and were able to gain quite a bit of information for their fight against the crime rings from those slaves. Surely, if demon lords can borrow some tricks from the crime-rings, then they can borrow some tricks from the Watchers also. Think of what things a slave who has had his mind restored to him, would say..."

There, a twitch under his lowered eyelids. The wolf youkai was definitely listening. Sephiroth watched the 4th Circle slave discreetly, intrigued.

"I...have not heard of such things... I was under the impression that this procedure is permanent..." demon-ShinRa's fake smile faltered for a fraction of a second.

"Well, the Inner Circles' diplomatic relations with Heaven and Spirit Realm does give us a few benefits... The most updated information on their internal affairs, new advances in technology, etcetera ." Tah'rh smiled sweetly at demon-ShinRa as she lightly stroked the handsome slave's cheek.

"Are you certain of the...validity of that information?" demon-ShinRa asked suspiciously, "...Not that I'm doubting you, of course not. I have heard of a few immortals who were able to recover from the crime-rings' hexes, but those cases are extremely rare. The minds of mortals are too weak. If recovery is difficult and rare for even immortals, then for mortals...it's impossible! Those outsiders, who knows what they'll say sometimes. If they really do have such a counter to the crime-rings' most powerful hexes, then why haven't the Watchers used it until now?"

"Well, I have a few theories." Tah'rh lifted her finger from the 4th Circle pleasure slave's cheek, the slave had been leaning docilely into her touch, once it's gone however, he seemed to have lost all reason to move. He sat frozen, awkward-looking in his leaning pose, his eyes unseeing, an empty husk.

"One:" Tah'rh began to count off her theories on her fingers, "they have somehow recently acquired new information on the crime-rings, perhaps from someone they captured from said crime-rings, or an escaped slave. And that information has enabled them to develop ways to counter some of the tricks that the crime-rings use. Or two: one or more of their new recruits have some special ability that allow them to restore minds that the crime-rings wiped. The Watchers do have a bit of a fast turn-over rate, and they hire just about anybody from anywhere. Or three: ...well, actually that's all the theories I got. Unless you have some thoughts, Fourth?"

"Ah...I...am not nearly as familiar with the Spirit Realm or the Watchers as you of the Inner Circles, I'm afraid I have nothing to add." demon-ShinRa squeezed his features into a somewhat apologetic smile.

"Hm. Pity." hummed Tah'rh as she let her hand drift back to the unmoving slave still kneeling by her knees, and began stroking his red-brown hair, "If it's true that the Watchers have found a method to reverse these crime-ring mind-hexes, then I'm sure many in Hell would find use for it." At her touch, the slave began moving again, once again leaning into her touch and nuzzling her knee a little.

"Mortals are indeed weak, fragile, and lacking in mental facilities." Tah'rh continued to muse as she continued to pet the pleasure slave absently, "But Spirit Realm doesn't seem to think so, they really do hire just about anyone and anything into their Watcher ranks. Many of the Axis scoff at them for casting such a wide net, but they do catch some colourful fish now and then, don't you agree, Fourth?" she cast a slow smile at ShinRa, "Some of them bearing such colourful talents that even an Undying can only look on in envy. But you are right, Fourth, we shouldn't take what they tell us at face value. Perhaps I should look deeper into this new counter-hex or whatever it is of theirs the next time I see them."

Demon-ShinRa coughed a little around his tea, but before he could say anything, Tah'rh suddenly straightened up.

"Ah, my apologies, I've rambled on. About the exchange. It is indeed an ancient tradition steeped in wisdom. It helps creates bonds through mutual gain, mutual exchange of goodwill. You do something for me, I do something for you. The basis of a mutually beneficial working relationship. And it helps the slaves become better too, as you said."

"Ah...yes, it is a most important tradition indeed, I've always thought so myself." demon-ShinRa stiffened a little, but still managed an almost-natural smile, "So are you agreeing to the..."

"I'm afraid I can not," interrupted Tah'rh smoothly, "my slaves have grievously insulted you, my most honoured guests, how can I shamelessly burden you with their training after letting you suffer such offence?"

Demon-ShinRa opened his mouth as if to protest, but Tah'rh held up a hand and continued.

"I very much appreciate the offer, Fourth, and I appreciate your kindness to your slaves, willing to teach them, willing to use softer methods to correct their behaviours even after such an inexcusably clumsy mistake. I'm afraid us of the Inner Circles cannot afford such gentleness. This is a harsh place, we are a harsh people. Any excess softness will quickly be...eaten." her dark-red eyes slid over to demon-Palmer, who visibly blanched and shrank a little.

"I simply can not let this slide, that would be an insult to both you and my Circle. My slaves will be shown exactly why they should not insult my guests, right here, right now. Albert," Tah'rh turned to the crow butler waiting by the door, "bring in the Punishers."

"Right away, my lord." the crow bowed formally, and then turned to leave.

"And Edelle," Tah'rh addressed one of the pigeon maids, "go bring up our best 'Red Dancer'."

"Yes, my lord." the maid bowed with a slight bit of dramatic flare, then left also.

"Red Dancer?" demon-ShinRa's eyes bulged.

"You've heard of it?" asked Tah'rh.

"Of course," demon-ShinRa smiled, if a little stiffly, "one of the finest liquors of the Axis, the Inner Circles are quite well-known for it."

"Ah, as expected of one as experience and knowledgeable as you." smiled Tah'rh, "Then you must know this also: despite having "red" in its name, the Red Dancer is actually clear, colourless. Why is that, do you know?"

"Yes," demon-ShinRa straightened up a little and smiled a little, armouring up a little for whatever Tah'rh was planning to bring to the table, "yes of course. It's because it's meant to be drank mixed with a few drops of blood."

"That's right! As expected of you, Fourth!" Tah'rh beamed, "And not just any blood, to bring out its best taste, it has be blood that is flavoured with the sweet tang of pain."

Tah'rh gestured to two thick pillars in the room that had what at first glance looked like decorative metal rings attached to it, but at a closer look, those metal rings were heavily enforced, and the pillars themselves were made of sturdier material than the rest of the room, "It's an ancient tradition of the Inner Circles to share the Red Dancer with our most important guests. Though we haven't practiced the ritual for a long time, we still have all the equipment standing right where they always were. I see no reason not to start using them again. My slaves have insulted you by spilling the precious Mountain First Frost you've given us, and now they shall serve you our best Red Dancer with their blood. I hope that this will be adequate compensation?"

Just then a polite knock sounded at the door, and it opened to reveal Albert, Edelle holding a tray with a uniquely shaped bottle decorated simply with a red cloth on its top, and two tall figures in black hooded cloaks.

A cold chill followed the hooded figures as they swept into the room, along with the strong, pungent smell of the poisonous plant, Argonia. Their faces were completely hidden by their hoods, and their hands were wrapped in black bandages. They walked with the ominous jingle of chains, and at their hips swung wicked-looking whips.

Sephiroth was at least satisfied with the look on demon-Palmer's suddenly sheet-white face as his bulging eyes took in what must be the "Punishers". The wolf-youkai slave however, was much more interesting to look at. Upon the entrance of the Punishers, his brows furrowed and he wrinkled his nose, perhaps at the strong smell of Argonia, then his eyes darted to the hooded figures, then the Archdaemons, then straight at the observing Sephiroth, then finally, back down to his lap. All of that was done in but a few seconds, and the slave made no more move after that. Everyone else seemed to have been too busy staring at the Punishers to notice him.

"Ahem, Fourth?" Tah'rh politely cleared her throat at demon-ShinRa.

The blond Archdaemon blinked away from the impressive figures of the Punishers, then plastered on another one of his business smiles, "Of course, Seventh, that's a most creative and fitting solution, as expected of you."

"You flatter me, Fourth. I still have much to learn." Tah'rh smiled back.

The Punishers spared no words and wasted no time. They stepped behind Vincent and Sephiroth, grabbed their collars at the back of their necks, and roughly hoisted them up to their feet as if they were a pair of misbehaving livestock.

Sephiroth puzzled on who these "Punishers" might be while he allowed himself to be dragged and shoved in a less than dignified manner to the pillars. As Tseng had taught them in their lessons, slave masters, especially high-ranked ones, were supposed to have a team of various occupations of slave handlers to help said slave masters with the chores of keeping a large number of slaves. The Archdaemon of the 4th, for example, had chamberlains of course, to relay his orders to the slaves, and he also had a large number of grooms and slave keepers that see to the slaves' basic training and mundane everyday needs such as their food and shelter. "Punishers" were slave handlers who, as their title suggests, dish out punishments when the slave master didn't feel like doing it him/herself, or in formal settings such as this meeting.

Tah'rh, having not planned to have slaves, had long dismissed the slave handlers that she had inherited from the previous Archdaemon. Now that she has slaves, she dismissed any suggestion that she should hire a new set of slave handlers. She insisted that having to pay the salaries of slave handlers was a waste of money, and instead pushed the "handling" of Vincent and Sephiroth onto any hapless soul around the palace that she could grab: her guards, her household staff, her councillors, etc. Her impromptu "slave handlers" took their expanded list of duties in stride however. After all, it provided them the perfect excuse and leverage as they argued and bartered and wheedled their Archdaemon into granting them non-monetary favours to compensate for their time and trouble. Reno made his extremely reluctant Archdaemon give up her front row seat tickets to the annual inter-Circle team-disket championships tournaments to him. Cissnei was more practical, she had Tah'rh move the funding priority of upgrading the guards' equipment and vehicles from 300th or so down the list, to top five, meaning that as soon as they had some Jin to spare after repairing the major infrastructures of the Circle, the guards will FINALLY be having some technology in their gear that was NOT near-obsolete — as Sephiroth had heard several of the guards cheer enthusiastically. The pigeon maids collectively got a staff holiday to the Circle's premium hot spring resort. Albert didn't ask for the resort holiday however, and when asked what he asked for, he simply answered with a small, mysterious smile.

It probably would have been a lot less trouble on Tah'rh, if she had just done it the normal way and hired slave handlers. But she hadn't. And so she had none. So who were these "Punishers" and from where did she grab them on such short notice?

The most obvious guess would be that she had one of her guards or household staff disguise themselves as these "Punishers", but even having them stand so close, their bandage-wrapped hands on his skin, Sephiroth could not detect anything familiar about them — not in the way they moved, the way they felt...nothing.

The Punishers took no notice of the former general's ponderings however, and roughly yet expertly chained him and Vincent each to the metal rings of each pillar.

Pigeon maids then flocked around Vincent and Sephiroth to carefully strip them of their fine, expensive jewelries and clothes, and tied their hair out of the way, then they hurried off as soon as they were done.

Standing behind the now naked slaves, the Punishers slowly unfurled their whips, swung them over their heads, then...

CRACK!

Instantly a line of red streaked across the pale skin of Vincent's back. Sephiroth watched as the ex-Turk hissed and arched away, as far as he could, from the strike, then a whip landed on his own back soon after.

Sephiroth gave a jerk and a grunt at the first strike. It stun. The Punisher was strong and merciless. But...

He glanced at the pale Turk chained on the other pillar a few paces away from him.

It looked bad. Every single strike broke skin and droplets of blood rolled off of the whip and splashed onto the floor and walls as it snapped through the air. And yet the strikes of the whip on his own back didn't feel nearly as bad as it looked on Vincent's, though from his peripheral vision, he could see his own blood rolling off of the whip swinging behind him too.

And Vincent was reacting too much, making more noise than Sephiroth had ever heard from him, and he was writhing and straining against his bonds.

Sephiroth knew well the stubborn gunman's ungodly pain tolerance, and though the whipping was painful, it wasn't something that should be bringing out such a reaction from the ex-Turk.

It was not to say however, that the ex-Turk's performance was over-done and easily seen through. In fact, his act is rather a convincing one. People who do not know Vincent Valentine, his unholy stubbornness and pain-tolerance, would not suspect that anything was amiss at all. Especially if said people have not had to themselves feign pain before.

Well then. Sephiroth let his body quiver with the next strike. Though Hojo and his trainers had vigorously trained him to hide his expressions of pain and weakness, during his days in the labs he had still, on occasion, played up his pain, grimaced and screamed and writhed and panted, to annoy them and scare the lab assistants, and perhaps throw off a test result or two. He'd be punished, of course, but it was not as if they ever stopped hurting him no matter what he did anyway. And on the battlefields of Wutai, he sometimes had to feign pain and injury as part of a strategy to fool the enemy soldiers into lowering their guards, or to simply stop his own soldiers from staring at him with awe and fear in their eyes.

It's been a while since he'd last done this though, but Sephiroth was confident that he could still put up a convincing act, even one that could rival that of the ex-Turk. He let out a choked sound at the next strike, and saw Vincent glance over at him at that. Then he let out another grunt and strained dramatically in his bonds at the next strike, and he could be mistaken, but he thought he might have seen the corner of Vincent's lips quirk up a little. Then the ex-Turk let his head drop down and gave a loud moan at the next strike on his back.

And then it was on.

Sephiroth bit off a choked gasp at the next strike, then let out a shaky exhale as he let his body slump in defeat in his chains.

Let the stubborn Turk try to out-do that performance.

Time passed with Sephiroth barely noticing, so absorbed was he in his "competition" with Vincent. But by the time the whipping stopped, his back really did throb and the shivers running through his body wasn't 100% feigned, and he could feel warm liquid running down his back.

Two pigeon maids then came over and pressed a cold glass each to their backs, then left for the Archdaemons.

Sephiroth could not see them behind him, chained as he was, but he heard demon-ShinRa cough as he downed the liquor that was offered him.

"Packs a bit of a punch, doesn't it?" he heard Tah'rh's voice comment lightly.

"...The famed Red Dancer of the Inner Circles certainly lives up to its name." a somewhat more raspy version of demon-ShinRa's voice answered.

"Would you like some more?"

"No, no." demon-ShinRa then coughed again to clear his throat, "Pardon me for being in a hurry but, we DO have an appointment with the 6th today. Would you mind if we borrow your dressing rooms for a moment? My chamberlain's clothes seem to be a bit stained from the tea..."

"Of course. His clothes do look...quite wet." Sephiroth could hear the grin in Tah'rh's voice.

And then came the sounds of the demons exiting the room, then the closing of doors, leaving only Vincent and Sephiroth, the Punishers and Albert and some pigeon maids in the room.

Albert, pragmatic and efficient as always, quickly set the pigeon maids to work, directing them to clean up the cups and utensils and move the chairs and tables back to their proper places, and wipe up the blood that was splattered on the floor and walls.

Sephiroth leaned heavily against the pillar. It didn't hurt as much as he expected, given the dramatic appearance of the Punishers, but it wasn't exactly pleasant either. He shifted his body a little, experimentally, and found that though his back protested at the movement, the injury seemed to be only skin-deep. If he could but will himself to ignore the pain — which would not be that difficult for him — then the powerful muscles on his back could still move just fine.

He was caught off-guard when something round and strong-smelling pressed upon his lips. Instinctively he flinched away. His eyes darted up to see one of the Punishers holding up what looked like a small brown ball.

"Eat," said the black-cloaked figure, his voice that of a young, adult male, cold but not unpleasant, but entirely unfamiliar to Sephiroth, "it will numb the pain and stop the bleeding."

Sephiroth only frowned at him in response. With the Archdaemons and their posse gone, the Punishers seemed to have dropped their dramatic, intimidating aura, and not only that, they didn't even seem to be physically as big as before, though they were still tall. Sephiroth had assumed that they were demons, but now that this one that was trying to feed him the small brown ball was standing so close in the much quieter, much emptier room, he could feel something...different...about him.

"Fear not," said the Punisher, sounding somewhat amused, "I've no reason to poison you today."

As if that made the strange brown ball look or smell any more appealing.

A strange "cooing" sound drew the former general's attention however, and he turned his head slightly to see some of the pigeon maids...sobbing as they wiped at the blood splatters around him and Vincent. One of them gently dabbed at a trail of blood running down one of Vincent's legs with a washcloth, carefully avoiding his wounds, wiping at her eyes all the while. And the ex-Turk, in an attempt to sooth, gently smiled down at her in reassurance that he was alright.

Sephiroth looked back at the Punisher when the brown ball was once again pressed against his lips.

"Eat." he repeated, his voice somewhat softer.

Sephiroth considered the odd being in front of him for a few more moments, the finally, reluctantly, parted his lips.

The brown ball tasted exactly as bad as it smelled. Sephiroth didn't think he had made that much of a face, but nonetheless, the Punisher chuckled knowingly at him.

"The more unpleasant the taste, the more effective the medicine." he said, as if soothing a small child.

Sephiroth snorted at him, and chewed at the sticky, gooey mess that the ball had disintegrated into. Almost immediately after he swallowed some of that disgusting mess however, his pain lessened, and there seemed to be less warm liquid running down his back. The Punisher smirked smugly — Sephiroth knew he was, even though his face was still completely hidden under his hood. He then sauntered off to give Vincent the same medicine.

Vincent accepted the medicine with as much — or as little fanfare as he did everything else, and Sephiroth watched, fascinated, as the ex-Turk's back immediately stopped bleeding right before his eyes.

The poison of the Agonia plant was still in their wounds however, and their healing were slow, very very slow.

"Should we take them down from those pillars?" the Punisher who gave them the medicine turned to Albert and asked, "Or do you think we better wait until the old fool's gone?"

"It is safer to remain vigilant until he has left the Circle." answered the crow butler, and the Punisher nodded, then walked out of Sephiroth's field of view, presumably to join the other Punisher, who had been completely silent and somewhere out of Sephiroth's sight this whole time.

"Their wolf-youkai..." a pigeon maid — Edelle, Sephiroth noted, recognizing her voice — suddenly asked warily, "...did he notice...?"

"Hmm..." Albert hummed as he considered the question, "he did seem to react when he caught your scent. Perhaps your skills have become blunt, fox."

The medicine-Punisher, as Sephiroth had decided to temporarily name him, snorted, "There is nothing 'blunt' about my skills, crow. It wasn't me he smelled; it was him."

A slight rustle of fabrics. Sephiroth guessed that he must have gestured at the other Punisher.

The other Punisher didn't immediately retaliate at the accusation, but remained silent and contemplative. When he finally spoke, his voice too, was that of a young adult male, cold, like that of the medicine-Punisher, but somewhat deeper. Also unfamiliar.

"That wolf-youkai... He might have been from my world."

"So you know each other..." the other Punisher commented thoughtfully.

"We've only met in passing, but...I would not be surprised if he knows my scent."

"Canid youkai indeed live up to the reputation..." mused Albert, "to be able to pick up a barely familiar scent even with your disguise and the Agonia...you must have left quite an impression in that meeting."

"Or perhaps that wolf youkai is more familiar with your brother's scent?" asked the medicine-Punisher, meaningfully.

Another pause of silence. And the room seemed a little bit colder somehow.

"...Perhaps." the other Punisher finally said, voice laced with ice, "However, he also could have been another one from another world, you informed me of the possibility yourself."

Then, a pause and a sigh.

"But...I imagine it would not make enough of a difference to that idiot."

A chuckle, from the medicine-Punisher, "Family can be such a pain sometimes, right?"

And the room got a bit colder again, but the medicine-Punisher continued his musings, undaunted.

"The canid bodyguard of Archdaemon Shin'Ra huh? You might be staying with us for a while yet."

Another silence.

"...This Archdaemon of yours, she will keep her promise?" the other Punisher quietly asked after a long pause.

"She's not my Archdaemon," replied the medicine-Punisher, "but Tah'rh does what she says."

"Speaking of the mistress," said Albert, "I've just been informed that she will be returning shortly."

"You're not putting away the tea set, Albert?" asked the medicine-Punisher.

"No," said the crow, "I believe my employer would prefer them here when she returns, however much she will regret it later."

The medicine-Punisher chuckled, "They do look expensive. And still you're putting this room back in such neat order?"

"It is my job to do my part as butler to the utmost of my abilities." answered Albert, his voice as monotoned and emotionless as always.

The medicine-Punisher chucked again, a rustling of fabrics that suggested he might be shaking his head, "Ever professional, as always."

It seemed like Albert was going to answer him, but stopped. Sephiroth shifted a little in his chains. The room had suddenly began to feel warmer...and warmer, with each passing moment, until...

BANG!

The doors of the tea room swung open and slammed into the walls.

Sephiroth craned his neck to see, judging that a slave would have plenty of excuse to do so in this situation, without looking to be actively spying on his superiors.

Tah'rh stood at the doorway, her rage rolling off her in almost-visible waves. Tseng and Reno were close behind her as always, though this time they seemed to be standing a bit farther away from their sovereign than usual.

"Archdaemon," Albert greeted with a polite nod, "I assume that the Archdaemon of the 4th has safely departed our realm?"

"He has." Tah'rh nodded, "Safely." then added darkly, "For now."

Tseng gently cleared his throat behind her while Reno snorted a sound of agreement. She then took in a deep breath, forcing herself to calm, and as she breathed out with a long sigh, the heat rolling off of her lessened dramatically.

"Neither you nor old Shin'Ra has changed much, I see." commented the medicine-Punisher, amusement clear in his voice.

"Is that a good thing?" Tah'rh sighed somewhat tiredly.

"We thank you sincerely for your help." Tseng bowed politely to the Punishers.

"Ah yes," said Tah'rh, "Thanks Kurama, Sesshomaru. I owe you one."

By this time both Punishers have taken off their hoods, and Sephiroth could now see that they both indeed appeared to be young men, no older than Vincent's or his own physical age.

The one addressed as "Kurama" was the "medicine-Punisher". He had large silver-furred fox ears sitting atop his head, much like how Fenris had black-furred wolf ears. The one addressed as "Sesshomaru" had pointed, human-like ears and colourful, animalistic markings on his face. As soon as they took off their hoods, they no longer felt like demons, but were unmistakably youkai.

Both youkai had long silver hair and yellow eyes, with Sesshomaru's having cat-like slitted pupils. It occurred to the silver general that those physical traits might be very common in the Axis, given how many people he had already seen with those traits. It was strange to think of them that way, "common", after his own silver hair and slitted pupils had set him apart from everyone so much and for so long.

These two "Punishers", though, Sephiroth had seen them before: he had had a glimpse of them disappearing into a hallway right when Cissnei brought him and Vincent to Tah'rh after hearing of Archdaemon Shin'Ra's arrival. They were the representatives from Spirit Realm that Tah'rh had been meeting with right before the 4th Circle delegation's sudden appearance.

"As long as you keep your word, Archdaemon." Sesshomaru said coldly.

Now that the youkai was standing so close to Sephiroth, with his disguises dropped, the former general noticed that there's something about Sesshomaru that felt...familiar, somehow, though he could not say what.

"Pfft! Of course!" Tah'rh snorted and rolled her eyes.

Kurama smirked at both Tah'rh and Sesshomaru before taking a step forward, "As much as I'd love to stay and catch up on old times, Tah'rh, it is time for us to take our leave."

"Ah, yes, sorry to have kept you for so long" Tah'rh grimaced apologetically, then gestured to Tseng and Reno, "Tseng and Reno will show you to the dock. Nami's already there, she'll show you the best route out of here. No one knows the Current flow of this Circle like she does, she drew and updated most of the maps for it, actually. No prying eyes will catch you with her guiding you. I'd come with you but, I have...things...to do here."

Her last words darkened, similar to when she had talked about Shin'Ra.

Kurama grinned knowingly, then nodded his farewell.

"Until next time then, Tah'rh." he said, then turned his golden, calculating gaze to Sephiroth and Vincent, still chained to the pillars, "And perhaps we will meet again too, hopefully under better circumstances."

Sesshomaru too, glanced at the two chained men momentarily, before following Kurama, Tseng and Reno out of the tea room and out of Sephiroth's sight.

Tah'rh stood where she was and watched them leave, then after a while, turned to the ones who still remained in the room.

"Albert, maids, take them down from those damned pillars and wait outside." she ordered quietly.

The crow and pigeons nodded and hurried to their task without a word. They unchained Vincent and Sephiroth from the pillars, draped clean, soft blankets carefully and protectively over their shoulders, and ushered them out the doors. And once they were all outside, with Tah'rh being the only one left in the tea room, they closed the doors, backed up a few paces, and waited.

BOOM!

The ground shook, the doors of the tea room bent and creaked from the force that hit it, a wave of heat rolled from the gaps between the door and the walls and swept over the birds and humans that stood before it, along with the crystal screams of glass and porcelain as they shattered against the room's stone walls.

But it was over as quickly as it began, and soon everything was quiet again.

The poor abused doors slowly swung open and Tah'rh stepped out, with a somewhat satisfied look on her face. A thing or two was on fire behind her in the room, but she paid them no mind.

"You two, come with me." she commanded the two men, then walked off without waiting to see if they would follow.

Sephiroth and Vincent shared an uncertain glance, then, at the urging of the pigeon maids, followed Tah'rh as were told.


Additional Disclaimers: Sesshomaru of the manga and anime series "Inuyasha" belong to Rumiko Takahashi; Kurama of the manga and anime series "Yu Yu Hakusho" belong to Yoshihiro Togashi; Edel Blau ("Edelle" here) of the visual novel game "Hatoful Boyfriend" belong to Hato Moa. I don't own them, I don't make money off of them, I'm just borrowing them for this crazy world in my head :P



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