Title: Spirt of the Fox
Author: Silver Dragonfly
Genre: General, Supernatural, Drama
Rating: PG -13
Fandom: Yu Yu Hakusho, Teen Wolf
Character Focus/Pairing: Kurama (Yu Yu Hakusho)
Warnings: possession (of the spirit or soul), Canon typical violence, minor character death
Challenge: Big Moxie Q2 – Fusion
Beta: N/A – This is a grammar-checked 1st Draft. I will likely go back and do a full edit later on but wanted to get the story up for Big Moxie 2023 – Q2.
Summary: Ten years after the first Maikai Tournament, Reikai calls on Kurama to help with a case once more. This case takes Kurama to North America where he must learn to navigate a very different supernatural community that he is used to. Reikai’s lack of oversight in the Western World of North America and Europe has created many problems and the further he investigates, the more Kurama uncovers. While uncovering and navigating these new dangers he must deal with his primary task and find the demon that Reikai has detected is breaking free of its prison.
See the main story page for Author Notes.
It was several hours later, clean-up was done, and several items, files, and books of interest packed away that Kurama finally left the dungeon-esque space. The hallway beyond the door led to a stair and it was as he opened the door at the small landing at the top of the stairs and found the entrance was concealed behind a tall bookshelf in what looked like an office. Kurama was both amused and disappointed at eh cliche-ness of it. It would let him secure the space for future investigation, however, which he did so quickly.
Outside of the office he quickly realized the space he had spent the better part of the last 48 hours in was in fact beneath the veterinary office. He could already hear people near what had to be the front desk and main entrance. Kurama quickly found a conveniently placed ‘In Case of Fire’ map and took note of alternative exits. He had no interest in explaining why he was leaving when no one ever saw him entering. He found the delivery door and after checking for an alarm he quickly slipped out and began to casually walk away.
As he walked, he began to plan. He would need to go home to drop off several of the items he had confiscated from Deaton’s secret dungeon, or was it really more of a lab? Regardless he would have to plan a trip back to empty it of all the magical items, resources, and more that should not be left for just anyone to find. He wondered if Botan could open a portal for them to send it back to Genkai’s old place. That would simplify moving and getting it secured for certain. He wondered then if Botan had been able to get him the backup he had asked for. If she had, then he would be able to start working on the problem from two directions, as he was more certain than ever that Peter Hale was caught in the middle of whatever it was that had weakened The Nogitsune’s prison.
With the corrupt mage now dealt with, the dark ward would be a simple enough matter to resolve as the little bit he had seen of The Nemeton and Tzila’s taunting did not lead him to think they were related.
Tzila Hoshino. He had been right that the shadow vixen he had once known and had quite a bit of fun with, had fully given in the void. She had liked her tricks and games of possession with mundanes and had not cared if she crossed the line. It was now clear she had gotten caught and banished to the void, possibly even by Inari herself, which had then allowed Tenko Noshiko to summon the banished for even more mischief. It had become clear that Noshiko had regretted that choice very quickly which had led to her attempting to re-banish Tzila but instead only managing to seal her in a prison anchored by The Nemeton.
Kurama wasn’t sure yet whether the fact that The Nemeton had then been attacked in turn was because of Tzila or just the result of the late Dr. Deaton also wanting The Nemeton’s power for himself. A situation that should not have been possible with The Nemeton guarded in Hale lands. The more he thought about how all the threads were linking together, the more Kurama had to appreciate the long game Deaton had been playing. It also made him reconsider the likely hood of Deaton knowing anything about Tzila, or if the mage had sensed the shadow of her presence and thought to exploit it.
Either way, Kurama had plenty of work ahead of him yet. He turned the corner onto the road that would lead into the neighborhood where his rented home was and rolled his shoulders trying to ease the tension his recent ordeal had caused. A familiar car pulled up on his left and he frowned as he realized it looked a great deal like his Prius.
“Hey, Red, you need a lift?”
Kurama blinked as he refocused on the woman driving. He smiled; his backup had in fact arrived. “Shizuru-san, you are a delight.”
The sandy blonde grinned sharply, “You better believe it. Come on, I’ve got breakfast and necessities. Yukina is waiting for us back at your place.”
Kurama gladly pulled open the passenger door and slid into the Prius. “When did you arrive?”
Shizuru kept her face focused on the road, but Kurama could see her glancing his way out of the corner of her eye. “The night before yesterday. We’ve made ourselves at home and started going through the information you left. We still have some logistics to work out, but Yukina and I already started on a plan for your comatose friend.”
Kurama blinked in surprise, “That is good news.”
“I’ve dealt with the source of that foulness in the area. I’ll have to do a bit more work to clear it up completely but even now I can tell its strength has lessened.
“That’s a relief. It didn’t bug me directly, but it started to feel like someone was rubbing sandpaper on my senses.”
“That is a very apt description, though I’m afraid it got a bit worse for me after the first week or so. Something about my particular nature began to cause it to intensify at random intervals.”
“Geeze, Red, no wonder you called for backup. Nothing serious as a result of your meeting the source?”
“Not at all, we had a lovely conversation about the roses I like to grow.”
Shizuru winced at that but nodded. “Well, that’s one problem settled then.” They rode along in silence for the rest of the short trip and soon Shizuru was parking outside their current residence.
They unloaded her purchases and soon had settled in around the dining room table along with Yukina. “So, what’s your plan, Kurama-san? I’m quite anxious for us to be able to get Mr. Hale into safety for healing.” Yukina spoke even as she deftly sliced up fruit for them all. Kurama eyed her small blade work and once more acknowledged for all her gentleness, Yukina could be just as much of a threat as Hiei with his own blade. Her gentle nature just kept her from turning her skill on anything other than flora.
“While getting Mr. Hale secure is a concern and may yet become a priority, I am most worried about any further open interest shown in his condition will attract attention we do not want,” Kurama explained as he accepted the fruit Yukina offered him. “The individual whom I just dealt with was quite concerned about the research I had already done into the Hale family.”
“For his own purpose or as an informant for someone else?” Shizuru asked with an arched brow.
“Unfortunately, our conversation was cut short before I could determine that for certain. I did find quite a bit of his own resource materials and possibly personal journals; we may yet find the answers there.” Kurama told them both. “I will need to finish dealing with that ward first and see if we can dismantle any safeguards he may have left.”
Shizuru leaned forward and rested her chin in her palm. “So, subtlety and misdirection will serve us best.”
“I’ve been reading up on the long-term care facility you indicated in your notes, Kurama-san,” Yukina said. “They have several job openings listed for nurses and such in their job listings.”
“I know you are the one studying human medicine these days Yukina-san, but are you sure you want to interact that directly with humans?” Kurama asked. The ice-maiden youkai had suffered a fair amount at the hands of humans in the past. It was one of the reasons she stayed living on Genkai’s old mountain retreat, mostly secluded from human society outside of their immediate circle. Shizuru and her brother were the most notable exceptions.
“I know that not all humans are like the ones you and the other’s rescued me from before. I should be quite safe as long as no one recognizes me for what I am.”
“There is a faction of humans well known amidst the supernatural community in this area of the world. They have taken up the mantle of policing the supernatural to protect humanity and claim to follow a strict code. In practice, I have learned they are no better than those you faced, and possibly even worse.” Kurama said, the usual mild cheer in his tone absent. “I would not wish for you to come to their attention and there may be members of that faction monitoring Mr. Hale.”
“Well shit.” Shizuru as always, was accurate.
“Just so.” Kurama responded.
Yukina settled her hands in her lap and closed her eyes. “Very well, we do not want to create a situation where you must delay in helping Mr. Hale to rescue myself.”
“The good news, from all I’ve learned, is the supernatural community in this part of the world has forgotten the youkai who retreated to Maikai. Or at the very least, relegated us to myth and legend. This will give us an advantage.”
“We’ll need more than just a plan to get us into the facility then.”
“Perhaps, simple may still be best.” Kurama offered.
“I’ll see what other openings I can find then,” Shizuru said before settling into her breakfast.
“Very well. I need to clean up and will be taking a short rest. This afternoon, I will head out into the local preserve again to finish cleaning up that dark ward and do a detailed investigation into The Nemeton.”
“That is the magical node you mentioned in your notes?” Yukina asked. “Is that what is crying?”
Kurama blinked in surprise. He knew The Nemeton had been reaching for him and had thought it was his plant affinity that had made him so receptive to its demands. Perhaps there was more to it if Yukina was also feeling it. “Yes, I believe so. I was unable to do more than a very brief survey before the ward caster interrupted me.”
Yukina nodded. “Good. I can tell it is asking for help, and its presence is very upset.”
Shizuru looked skeptic. “A tree is upset?”
Kurama chuckled. “The tree itself has been injured gravely, from what I saw before it is no more than a stump currently.”
“Someone thought it was a good idea to cut down a magical node?” Shizuru’s tone was flat and incredulous.
“I suspect the culprit of that crime has now been dealt with.” Kurama said wryly, “That fact is something I hope to confirm during my investigation at The Nemeton.”
“What about the void thing Botan said Koenma Jr. sent you out to look for?” Shizuru asked.
“Ah, the infamous void Nogitsune. She is still bound in her prison which was anchored and stored with The Nemeton.”
“I say again, and someone thought it was a good idea to cut it down?”
Kurama chuckled at her vexation at someone else’s stupidity.
“You know the Nogitsune, Kurama-san?” Yukina asked, curious.
“Ah, we ran into each other quite a few times back in my time as Youko, before the separation of Ningenkai and Maikai. She had not fully fallen to void when we last met.”
“Will that make this easier or harder?” Yukina then asked even as she came around and raised a hand to his temple.
“Not harder, more complicated perhaps. Healing me isn’t necessary Yukina-san.” Kurama began to pull away when Shizuru cut in.
“Let her, that bruise looks serious. I’m surprised no one stopped you when you trying to walk home.”
Kurama held his hands in surrender and settled back into his chair, letting Yukina’s hand and her healing spread out over his brow. “I may have been using a bit of glamor to prevent any such inquiries.”
He opened his right eye even as Yukina kept healing on his left. “Your own skills have grown as well, Shizuru-san.”
The woman just smirked.
“I knew that asshole was biting off more than he could chew attacking you.” Tzila Hoshino’s voice rippled across his senses as soon as Kurama entered the clearing where The Nemeton trunk rested.
Kurama considered ignoring her, but he suspected she’d only become more annoying if he tried. “Yes, well it seemed the hell rose I planted for him didn’t agree with him.”
Her bright laughter echoed through the clearing. “That’s perfect.”
Kurama hummed in agreement as he approached The Nemeton’s stump, a feeling of expectant welcome emanating from the wood. Kurama settled to the ground, his back to the stump, after a minute of running his youkai over the tree in a surface scan. The tree was wounded horrifically, and nearly all its energy was tied into survival and maintain a bond of some kind. Yet the tree’s spirit was strong, vibrant, and eager.
There was a link between the tree itself and what he recognized as a containment vessel, but it was more of a lock to keep the vessel where it was than any real reinforcement. Kurama could sense there had been more to the link between the tree and the containment vessel in the past that the node just did not have the power to maintain any longer. Kurama realized then, that if Tzila had truly wished to escape, she would have already been long gone. Instead… he reached a bit further and examined the link between the vessel and the tree closer.
“You could just ask me.” Her tone clearly said she was amused by his efforts.
“And would you tell me the truth, or just try to send me off into a spiral of riddles?” Kurama answered even as he continued to examine the strange link.
“Oh Kurama, do you truly think so ill of me? Especially now, in your own circumstances?”
Kurama opened his eyes. “Considering you tried to all but possess me at our last meeting?”
Tzila hummed, “Merging with you would have been divine.”
“It will not be happening now either,” Kurama stated sharply. It had taken him a lot of work and effort to find harmony and balance between who he had been and who he was now. He would not let a possession happy void kitsune disrupt that now.
“I would never. Your new form is quite fetching, for all its humanness.”
“Forgive me if I find that unlikely.”
While the sound was not audible, he got the distinct impression that she was a bit exasperated by his unwillingness to believe her. “The void is lonely Kurama. I had already been lost to it for a century at least when I first found my freedom at the summons of the Tenko. It was not until the years after, bound in this place with The Nemeton that I began to find myself, and some measure of peace.”
Kurama considered that information and how the bond between them would have been if the tree had been at its full potential. For all that the tree was more a child of magic than spirit energy like those he raised across Japan in his youth, it was clearly grounded in earth magic and was purely neutral despite recent attempts by the late Dr. Deaton to poison and corrupt it to his own purpose.
“I cannot set you free Tzila.”
“I do not truly wish it. I do wish to return to The Nemeton, what it has given me.”
Kurama should have been surprised, but youko kitsune of all types had been flitting with aspects of light, neutrality, chaos, and even true darkness since long before he came to be. Such judgments were left to such beings as Inari herself. Not even the goddess’ most devout followers amidst their kind would presume to do such. “What can you tell me?”
A memory of a coy and wicked smile flitted across his mind’s eyes. “I have sooo much to tell you, dearest Kurama. So very much.”
“Very well, you can start by telling me if you know where the late Dr. Deaton anchored this foul ward.” Kurama asked. He had been trying to trace it back to its source while he conversed with the sealed Tzila but had found it continuing to elude him.
“It’s quite twisted. He took heartwood from The Nemeton after it was cut down. He burned it, and then mixed the ash with poisoned blood from the same werewolves he claimed to protect, not that they seemed to notice. It served two purposes for him at the time. It anchored the ward and used the bond between the pack and The Nemeton to begin seeding more darkness.”
Kurama frowned, “How could you possibly know his reasoning for what he did.”
“The fool knew something was sealed here, he thought he was being clever. Trying to entice whatever dark spirit was bound by The Nemeton into being his ally. He talked at us incessantly. He told us everything he was doing, why he was doing it, and what he hoped to achieve. As if spiling his guts to us would make either of us more willing to ally to his selfish and twisted vision of balance.”
“Balance, he was a dark druid then.” Kurama realized.
“You didn’t realize?”
“I knew he was a corrupt earth mage of some sort; I didn’t worry about the specifics.” Kurama said with a shrug. It truly hadn’t mattered just what Deaton was in the end. He frowned then as he studied the energies of The Nemeton in more detail, he could just barely sense the threads of the dark ward trying to tie itself to the tree and unraveling even as he watched. He dug his youkai into the wispy tangle and shredded the remaining threads. The Nemeton almost seemed to breathe out a sigh of relief at his back.
Kurama relaxed further along with The Nemeton as the remaining abrasive suggestions that had been fueled by the dark ward fell away completely. He expected The Nemeton’s energies to surge toward healing itself at that point, but instead they were redirected to another strained bond. Kurama frowned as he tried to determine the origin of this thread that The Nemeton seemed to be trying to protect more than anything.
“The Hale pack. The pack’s ancestors swore a pact of mutual protection and guardianship with The Nemeton. It has been stressed greatly by the corrupted one’s manipulations. The previous Alpha broke the pact when she helped him cut The Nemeton’s physical form down to nothing but a stump. Then, not long ago, something serious seemed to happen to the rest of the pack. The old Alpha died, a new Alpha rose, but they did not come to The Nemeton, and they have now abandoned it as well. The Nemeton now clings to the one remaining bond within its territory. The one who shares that bond is severely injured and The Nemeton spends much of its strength keeping them alive and trying to heal.”
“Peter Hale,” Kurama whispered, the pieces falling into place. His instincts about needing to resolve that issue were correct after all. “Why are you not happy about the seal keeping you here weakening?”
“I have no wish to drift back into insanity, Kurama. I have already promised The Nemeton that I will do all I can to protect it as it has sheltered me. You have no idea just how much of the poison I had been infected with has been leeched from my mind these past years.”
“What will you do when The Nemeton is restored in full?” Kurama asked as this would mean the seal that bound her to this place would return to its full strength, possibly even stronger.
“I will be at peace.”
And that was something Kurama would have never expected the Tzila Hoshino he had once known to say. She had been as arrogant as he himself had been in those days, and while Kurama knew he had often been cold and perhaps even cruel, Tzila had taken a twisted sort of pleasure in toying with those who fell into her little traps. Kurama knew he had changed greatly thanks to the influence of his human mother and friendships with Yusuke and the rest of the Reikai Tantei team. If he had changed so much by the influence of a few humans he had learned to care for a great deal, was Tzila’s change of heart really that different? He took one more survey of The Nemeton’s energies and the bonds still clinging to it and then rose to his feet.
“What are you going to do?”
Kurama paused after he slung his pack back over his shoulder, “I suppose I will bring peace and healing to The Nemeton.” Warmth and hope welled up from the tree stump and radiated out to wash over Kurama in gentle waves even as he left the clearing.
Kurama considered the tasks that he would now need to see completed in order to bring the healing The Nemeton needed as he left the preserve and headed back home. He had made a good start by reducing the chance of further injury and corruption by resolving the issue of Dr. Deaton. That alone would clearly not be enough based off what he had learned during his own observations that afternoon as well as the information provided by Tzila. Information that he could not trust, nor could he fully ignore.
Until he saw Peter Hale in person himself, he would not be able to confirm if he was in fact the one that The Nemeton was reaching for. It was also clear that the tree needed a more spiritual cleansing and would benefit from a kodama colony of its own. The little spirits, for all that they adored gossip, took their roles in nourishing and protecting their chosen trees seriously. He would have to give some careful thought to that matter as The Nemeton itself was not the type of tree that could be a true yorishiro. The tree’s innate magic would prevent it from being a true spirit tree.
He considered that thought in more depth if a ring of such yorishiro could be placed around The Nemeton… it would be the highest level of protection such a tree could have. He suspected it would be more effective than any past protection bonding with a werewolf pack had given the tree. It seemed he may be looking into starting yorishiro on this continent much sooner than he thought.
A familiar energy brushed across Kurama’s senses, and he stood still, his eyes tracking the forest line to his right. There in that dark shadow, a glowing eye stared back at him before it closed and vanished. A moment later he stepped forward a familiar presence now pacing him just inside the tree line.
Kurama reached the rental property and headed around to the back patio. He set his satchel down on the patio table and settled into one of the waiting chairs to wait. He didn’t have to wait long as between one breath and the next the familiar form of the fire spirit he had learned to trust with his life appeared leaning against the wall.
“Hello Hiei, I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Fox. We need to talk.”
Kurama smiled; it was clear Hiei had questions, but he would not simply ask. “Of course, Are you here to see Yukina?”
“You should have told me.”
Kurama shrugged, “I asked if she and Shizuru would be willing to help me with a task that would benefit from her particular talents.”
“And put her in the track of these so-called Hunters? I’ve read your report.”
“Ah, Botan told you.”
“And the brat. He wants them investigated and dealt with.”
Kurama hummed at that. Koenma clearly didn’t want to distract Kurama from his current job, and so he was bringing Hiei in to focus on the supernatural bullies Kurama had uncovered. “What does he expect you to do with them.”
Hiei’s smirk twisted darkly. “I have freedom to deal with them as I see fit, provided I find evidence of them violating human laws against supernatural targets. These so-called hunters are fools, thinking they would never have to answer to anyone in the know.”
“And just what do you plan to do?” Kurama asked, slightly apprehensive his old friend would bring them to Maikai justice.
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. No ningen who makes a business in hunting the supernatural has any business with Maikai. I’m not a fool.”
Kurama smirked, “No, that you are not my friend.” He considered what to tell the fire spirit youkai and found some of the tension he had been holding back easing. “Are we secure?”
“Of course. Yukina is staying here.”
“Ah, of course.” Nothing brought out Hiei’s protective instincts like a threat to his sister. “There is a man, a werewolf, that I called her in to help heal. Shizuru is currently working on a plan to get him removed from the human long-term care facility is currently housed in. However, I suspect one of these hunters, or another affiliated with them is working in the facility and actively working against this man’s ability to heal. If we take action without care, we will tip off the hunter’s and they may show in force to finish the job.”
Hiei grunted. “Anything else?”
“The man’s injuries are the result of a tragic house fire that killed everyone else in the house except him. He was not alone in his supernatural circumstances.”
“Where was this fire?”
Kurama told him.
“I’ll look into it.” He turned to head to the back of the property, the closest part of the property to the preserve. “And Fox…”
“I will look after her, I promise.”
The fire spirit disappeared between one shadow and the next.
The sliding door into the house opened behind Kurama and he heard one of the women step out. “I brought you some tea, Kurama-san. Was that Hiei just now?”
“Thank you, Yukina. And yes, he just left.”
“Good. Botan must have delivered my message,” she said with a soft smile as she settled herself into one of the open chairs at the patio table.
“You sent Hiei a message?” Kurama asked, a little surprised.
“Yes, his protectiveness is easier to keep from being overbearing if I let him know when I’m traveling.” She explained, obviously fond of her brother’s need to watch over her.
“I’m surprised your relationship with Kuwabara has survived it,” Kurama said, curious, but also amused.
Yukina’s smile softened into something sweeter as her thoughts drifted to her human boyfriend. Kazuma Kuwabara had been smitten with her from the moment he first laid eyes on her all those years ago. Their relationship had slowly developed from a shy and fumbling crush and slowly bloomed into something more. Hiei had been more irritated than typical with their fellow Reikai Tantei team member the entire time.
“My brother and I came to an understanding about how much say he was allowed in my relationships and life years ago, Kurama-san,” Yukina explained. “He is allowed to watch over and be protective of me, so far as he does not impede my ability to live my own life. That includes my romantic relationships of course.”
“How did you get him to agree? I know those first years were quite the sore spot for him.” Kurama asked.
Yukina’s smile turned sly and sneaky; an expression Kurama wasn’t sure he had ever seen on the ice maiden before. “I wrote a letter to Mukuro after that first big Makai tournament. Soon after Hiei began taking those month-long patrols of the border with her. “
Kurama was both shocked and amused. “That is very clever and not what I would have expected.”
Yukina smiled. “Yes, I thought so. I’m glad he is here. He won’t say it, but I know he has missed working with you. Other than the patrol groups he worked with; you have always been his chosen partner in crime.”
Kurama smiled at the memories that surfaced. “Yes, we certainly got into plenty of trouble together, didn’t we.”
“Oh, Botan delivered a message while you were gone. She said that she cannot provide a portal for you to transport the items from that man’s dungeon. Apparently, all the spirit paths in this region are twisted and feral which has led to a significant number of ghosts and sprits roaming when they should have crossed over or been ferried ages ago. She worries holding a portal, even just into Reikai open for the length of time you would need would attract way too many of those lost, and then we would have another complication to deal with.”
“Well, I guess we’ll have to use plan B.”
“Plan B?” Yukina asked, her curiosity clear.
Kurama’s smile shifted into a smirk, “You’ll just have to wait and see.”
Shizuru snapped her laptop closed in annoyance. “We need a new angle. Infiltrating the facility, let alone getting a position that would allow us access to the correct ward is going to take time. Time that Mr. Hale continues to be attacked and suffering.”
Yukina frowned, “Could we not just visit him and begin the healing in the facility?”
“It will draw too much attention and get people asking questions. The fact that he is alive with the burns he suffered, and they are healing at all has already drawn interest from a few of the staff.” Shizuru answered. “We need to make him disappear in a way that everyone forgets he was ever there in the first place.”
Kurama considered the ethics of the option he was going to suggest, but as always, when it came to working with the supernatural human ethics versus long-term risk were often at odds. “Hiei is in the area investigating elements I had already reported to Botan. Perhaps we can ask for his assistance. With his telekinesis abilities, it would be simple enough to just walk out with Mr. Hale and leave altered memories behind. Perhaps with the suggestion that Mr. Hale was transferred to a specialized clinic.”
Shizuru opened her laptop once more and quickly began typing and clicking to check options that would work with Kurama’s suggestion. “There are several options. Two are within the United States, but both are on the east coast. There are also several in Europe, specifically in Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden. From all accounts, the Hale Family could afford such care.”
“Unless Hiei objects that sounds like our best option. I had thought to put him up here, but somewhere a little more remote and well within the boundaries of the preserve might be best.” Kurama mused aloud. “Let me get you the contact info for the Hale property manager. I learned that the family owns a large percentage of rental properties in the county and all of the ones in the preserve itself. Something about the land originally belonging to their family before it was granted to the state for the preserve.”
Shizuru accepted the info Kurama handed her when he returned to the room a few minutes later. “I’ll work on this today, so we have the location ready as soon as we are able to move Hale.”
“Good. I’ll be working on my plan for removing all the supernatural materials, items, and books that Deaton had stored up. It will take me most of the afternoon to grow and prepare the storage anchor point here.” Kurama explained.
“Oh, you are going to use the dragon’s hoard!” Yukina exclaimed, excited.
“What exactly is the dragon’s hoard?” Shizuru asked. “This place is a rental so it’s only meant to be a temporary stash, isn’t it?”
“The dragon’s hoard is a type of plant from Maikai. It has an inherent ability to form a sort of pocket dimension and, if properly prepared, that dimension can be linked into more than one parent plant. The ones I raise are also keyed specifically to my own youkai and so no one else will be able to access what they hold. The plants are incredibly durable and loyal. I still have at least two such hoards tucked away in Maikai from before.”
“Huh, just don’t forget where you left your plant.” Shizuru mused.
Kurama chuckled, “Yes, that is one of the risks. I will be growing one of the anchors in a container which will be kept here for now. I will grow its linked partner once I’m back in Deaton’s basement. I will use that one to remove all the items from the basement that we wouldn’t want to fall into others’ hands. I will then force the linked plant to revert back into a seed before I return. As long as one of the linked plants remains whole and healthy, the dimensional pocket they create will remain secure.”
Shizuru nodded. “How about you Yukina?”
“I’d like to help you with the arrangements for Mr. Hale. I also need to do some research of my own. Kurama-san, any books you find about werewolves and what he may be poisoned with would also be helpful.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for just such information.” Kurama agreed before he left the room and headed to the basement level of their rental.
Kurama was both amused and concerned about how easy it had been for him to slip back into the Veterinary Clinic and then slip into the late Dr. Deaton’s office. From there he had easily found the mechanism to access the hidden basement space. He wondered just how the clinic was operating, business as usual, with the disappearance of the clinic owner. It was even more reason for him to get this done quickly before a mundane investigation regarding the late doctor’s disappearance began.
He was pleased to find that his previous clean-up efforts had remained sufficient. There were clear signs of a small fire where he had burned up the final remains of the hell rose and whatever scraps of Dr. Deaton it had left behind. He set down the small container of dirt he had brought with him in an open space on the counter and set the dragon hoard seed into place. He settled himself on the lone stool and began to feed the seed his youkai, taking care with its growth and development so it would be able to meet his need.
The serpent-like form soon sprouted and began to coil even as spikey leaves sprouted all along its primary stalk. Additional stalks soon sprouted out into the dragon-like form the plant was known for. The long coiling plant with its crown of spines and forms that were clearly meant to mimic a dragon’s wings but were made of interlocking leaf blades in place of feathers or leathery skin. Soon the head-like shape formed at its tip and a mouth-like shape framed by spines opened and remained pointed in his direction. Kurama pricked his finger on one of the spines and let a single drop of blood fall into its mouth. The mouth snapped closed and moments later the coils began shifting until the wings rose up to reveal a void of space under the wings and surrounded by the coils. From within he could see the additional supplies he had stored in the anchor plant earlier that day.
Kurama removed one of the crates and set about packing up all the jars and containers of various items, dried plants, and who knew what else. After four such crates had been packed and returned to the dragon’s hoard, he moved onto the bookshelves both in the main room and those that lined the walls of one of the storage rooms. He paused in his packing as he found a volume that’s spine was marked with all the phases of the moon. The cover, like its spine, had no text but instead had a large paw print that could belong to none other than a very large wolf. Kurama set it aside and paid close attention to the rest of the books from the same shelf. Finding several more promising volumes he set them aside with the first before he continued his packing.
He took a short break once he finished with what had amounted to a small, specialized library and checked the time. It was well past midnight, but still early enough he wasn’t worried about staff returning just yet. He finished putting a few boxes of items he had not been able to identify into the dragon’s hoard and then took the time to coax the plant back into the form of a seed. It snapped and hissed its displeasure even as it shrank into itself and was soon back in its seed form.
“I thought you had left your thieving days behind, Fox?”
Kurama smiled as he turned to face the short fire spirit who was casually leaning in the hall doorway. “I was hoping you would show up Hiei.”
“Hnn. You weren’t at the house with Yukina and Shizuru.”
“You’ve found something then.”
“Hnn. Are you done here?”
“Yes, I just need to destroy this room at least. Mundane humans do not need to start investigating what was down here.”
Hiei eyed the space including the room full of various chemical compounds. “I’ll take care of it and meet you back at the house.”
Kurama nodded, thankful that there were currently no occupants in the various kennels in the clinic. He had no desire to kill innocent animals just to cover up Deaton’s mess. Kurama exited the clinic and began walking toward the bar where he had left this car parked. Taking care to remain unseen as he went. He had no interest in a random witness identifying him as leaving the clinic just a short time before it was found burning.
There was a muffled whump and smoke started to rise in the air as Kurama reached his Prius, Hiei appeared as soon as he had unlocked the doors and climbed in the passenger seat. Kurama quickly pulled out from the parking lot and started a meandering path back toward their current residence.
“I found your agent in the care facility.” Hiei stated, never one to mince words. “There is a nurse who is mixing wolfsbane into his regular burn treatments. She monitors his healing closely and whenever he starts to show signs of significant healing, she gives him a diluted injection. Not enough to kill, but enough to set back and slow any healing further than what the poisoned cream is doing already. I’ve already dealt with her.”
“That was quick.” Kurama was slightly surprised, but he knew Hiei was most efficient when it was called for.
“I also checked out the attack site, it’s a wretched place Kurama. The locals are lucky that none of the family became wraiths after what was done to them.”
“Yes, I believe the darach had something to do with that. He had infiltrated their pack as a trusted advisor, but was, in fact, weakening them from the inside out.”
“He got what he deserved then.”
Kurama hummed in agreement. “We would like your help in extracting Mr. Hale from the hospital and keeping it from mundane notice. We’ll be ready to move him as soon as Shizuru and Yukina have the space set up where she will be healing him.”
Kurama smiled. “I didn’t think you would mind.”
“If it keeps any humans from looking to closely at Yukina, it’s no problem. Toying with the mundane is always at least a mild entertainment.”
Kurama chuckled at that. He remembered the random newspaper articles showing reports of a three-eyed alien that sometimes showed up when Hiei was working the Maikai border patrol. That Hiei’s jagan eye was played at the center of his forehead in a vertical orientation only added to the ‘alien’ impression mundanes sometimes remembered. “That’s settled then. Do you have a plan already in place for the nurse?” Kurama asked.
“She’s already handled,” Hiei stated with a casual shrug. “For all that she is both fascinated and terrified by the supernatural, she had a very narrow view regarding those whom she believes to be ‘other’. She was also ridiculously confident in not getting caught, and the fact that even if she was caught, her actions were properly justified. It made her sloppy. Her coworkers and supervisor were already having misgivings about her work ethic and on-the-job mannerisms. It was the work of nothing to make them take even more notice of her. She was caught mixing the wolfsbane into the medical creme on the premises and was detained immediately. I didn’t stick around to learn everything, but at the very least she was being arrested and fired from her job.”
“Well done. Were you able to discern if she was acting alone or if she has nearby accomplices?”
“She was operating alone at this end. Someone was clearly sending her the wolfsbane to use, but they did a thorough job making sure it couldn’t be traced back to them from my brief investigation. The woman didn’t even know who her supplier was directly, only that she would receive shipments irregularly as long as Mr. Hale was kept suffering in the facility.”
Kurama considered that. “So, someone else may or may not come to investigate.”
“I’d like to see them try.”
Kurama glanced at his friend and thought Hiei looked a bit too enthusiastic about the topic. “I’m certainly glad to have you covering that end of things.”
“You found the void fox then?” Hiei asked.
“I did, it’s a bit of a mess really, but I’ve got some ideas on how to deal with all of it.”
Shizuru had been standing guard at the end of the hall leading to Peter Hale’s room when she noticed a young boy sneaking down the corridor. He was moving casually, but obviously to her, taking care not to draw attention to himself. Doing his best to remain just out of sight of the various staff members. He crept carefully past a nurse’s station and slowly worked his way in her direction. He froze when he spotted her watching him. He studied her even as she watched him and soon seemed to come to some sort of decision. He walked directly toward her even as his shoulders slumped.
“What do you need, kid?” she asked as he came to lean against the wall beside her.
“You’re new. Did they hire you to keep me from visiting my friend?”
Shizuru’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “Well, no one told me to watch for a sneaky brat. Where’s your friend?” She asked.
“Room 12-C.” The kid mumbled. Shizuru blinked, surprised, the kid thought of Mr. Hale as a friend?
“Oh? What can you tell me about him?” Shizuru asked, curious to see what the kid might know.
“He was burned badly and is stuck asleep while he heals. But I can tell he’s lonely, so I come visit him whenever I can.”
“And your parents just let you wander around on your own?”
The kid’s shoulder slumped, and he seemed to curl in on himself. “Mom’s in room 6-G. She thinks I’m a monster. Dad is talking to doctors and stuff. He told me to go to the waiting room, but that’s boring and I’d rather visit my friend.”
Shizuru took a minute to parse through all that. “I see. Your mom has an illness?”
The kid nodded. “In her head. It makes her all confused. Sometimes she doesn’t even seem to know me or Dad.”
“Well, that sucks.”
“You have no idea.” The kid answered, his resigned expression rather depressing to see.
“Well, let’s go see if your friend is up for a visit today.” She offered her hand to the kid. “What’s your name anyways?”
The boy eyed her hand for a moment. “You’re not going to try to kidnap me, right? My dad is a deputy, you’d get in big trouble.”
Shizuru almost choked on the laugh that burst from her. “I promise, no kidnapping of little brats.”
“My name is Mieczyslaw.”
“Did you just sneeze?”
The kid grinned. “I get that a lot. It’s Polish. Most people call me Mischief though ‘cause it’s easier.”
Shizuru shook her head in amusement. “Mischief it is. You can call me Shizuru-neesan.”
He whispered her name carefully, sounding it out. “Shizu-nee-san.”
She grinned. “Close enough.”
He took her hand then and she turned to lead him back toward Peter Hale’s room. The boy released her hand and rushed to the door of the room as they got close, and then froze in the doorway.
“You lost, gaki?”
The boy frowned, his confusion clear. “What’s a gaki?” He stepped fully into the room as Shizuru nudged him from behind and then closed the door behind them.
“It’s Japanese for brat. Don’t mind short stuff there, he’s grumpy even when he’s happy.” Shizuru explained. “Suichi, this is Mischief. He likes to come visit Mr. Hale when his father is busy talking to the staff in regards to his mother.”
Kurama came around and crouched down, so he was on even ground with the boy. “Hello, Mischief. It’s nice to meet you. My name is Suichi.”
“Wow! Your hair is even more red than Lydia’s! Did you spill paint on it?”
Kurama chuckled. “I’m glad you like it, and no its all natural. We are getting Mr. Hale ready to move into a private healing facility. I’m sorry you won’t be able to visit him any longer.”
The boy wilted but nodded. He glanced around the room and his gaze landed on Yukina. “You are going to make sure he heals?”
Yukina smiled. “I am, it will take some time yet due to the severity of his injuries, but he will get better.”
He sniffled then. “I wish they could heal my mom.”
Shizuru and Yukina’s gaze met and Shizuru gave a sharp nod. “Hang in there, kiddo. She’s not without hope yet, things could change.”
Mischief scuffed his toes on the floor. “I guess. I just wish she wouldn’t call me a monster.”
“We should get you back to your mom’s room. You don’t want to worry your dad, right?” Shizuru asked as she rested a hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Yeah, okay. Can I say goodbye first?”
Kurama rose to his feet and took a step back to give the kid room, even as Hiei slipped out into the hallway to keep watch. Yukina smiled as the boy clambered up onto the chair on one side of Peter.
“I guess this is goodbye for now Mr. Hale.” The kid said quietly, his tone earnest. “I hope you get better soon and that I’ll see you again, but not in the hospital. When you’re all better maybe we can get ice cream. Thanks for being my friend.” He reached out to touch the unconscious man’s hand, but then pulled back as he felt the bandages that wrapped his arms from fingertips to shoulder. He sighed then slid down off the chair and came back around the bed to stand before Shizuru. “Okay, Shizu-nee-san. I’m ready to go back.”
Shizuru nodded to the two still in the room and then walked the kid out and back down the hall from where he had come previously.
“Mieczyslaw!” A man exclaimed. “You can’t go wandering off!” He rushed forward and knelt before the kid. He seemed about to say more but then sighed, clearly tired and heartsore. He glanced up at Shizuru and gave her a tired smile. “Thank you for finding him.”
“No problem. We just had a nice little walk and chat, didn’t we Mischief?” Mieczyslaw smiled shyly. “Yes Shizu-nee-san.”
“Come on Mischief, let’s go home.”
“Okay. Bye, Shizu-nee-san!”
Shizuru watched them go and turned back to return to the room. Hiei had returned and Yukina was already working to heal Mr. Hale enough they could move him without causing further pain. Surface healing mostly at this point, but anything that would help his own healing abilities get going, the better. A few moments later Yukina stepped back. “He’s ready. Kurama-san, Hiei-san, can you two manage him own your own? I would like Shizuru-san to go with me to visit that boy’s mother.”
Kurama opened his mouth to say something, but then seemed to think better of it and nodded. “Of course, Yukina-san. I understand his pain too well.”
Shizuru was reminded then of the initial circumstances that had brought Kurama into the Reikai Tantei. He had performed a heist that had drawn Reikai’s attention to him all with the intent of wishing for a miracle healing for his very human mother who had been terminally ill at the time. It had been Yusuke’s big heart and stubborn nature that had saved both Kurama and his mother as a result.
“Hnn. One hour and we are coming back looking for you.” Hiei stated.
“Of course, Nii-san.”
Hiei flushed but moved aside as Kurama pulled the gurney, they would use to transport Mr. Hale into place.
“You ready Yukina-chan?” The petite ice-maiden nodded.
“Lead the way.”
The actual ‘rescue’ of Peter Hale was rather anticlimactic when it was all done. The user of Hiei’s telekinetic abilities had made it incredibly simple to avoid any of the staff questioning their permission to remove Mr. Hale from their facility. The suggestion Hiei planted that they were transporting him to a specialized clinic was reasonable. After all it’s not like they could do much more for him then try to keep him comfortable in their own facilities. And while it was true that Hiei manipulating one of the admin staff members to update Peter’s medical file to support this fact was a little ethically gray, it was in the long run a protective measure and didn’t hurt the staff member.
Kurama had been a bit concerned they would have more trouble when their group split so Shizuru and Yukina could visit the mother of the boy, Mischief, who had come to visit Mr. Hale while they were in his room. Kurama had wanted to object, but it had only taken remembering his own history to change his mind. How could he stop them from trying to heal the boy’s mother when it had been Kurama’s own efforts to save his mother from her terminal illness that had brought him into Reikai’s service in the first place. To put it simply, he would have regretted it if they had not at least tried.
Now they had Mr. Hale settled into another Hale rental property. Yukina had already begun her treatments, starting with a counteragent for the poisoned burned creme one of Mr. Hale’s former nurses had been using on him. Then after several days of that she would begin more direct healing treatments. This had started to resolve one of the problems Kurama still had to resolve in full in order to take care of the Nogitsune so it would not be a greater problem in the future.
Mr. Hale’s recovery would free up a great deal of The Nemeton’s energy so they could then focus on cleansing, healing, and restoring The Nemeton itself. It was the cleansing Kurama now turned is focus toward. He checked the time and confirmed it was now early morning in Japan and made his phone call.
“Inari Temple, how may I direct your call?”
“Yes, I need to speak with Osh? Miyagi, please.”
“Your name and reason for the call?”
“Minamino Suichi, I need to arrange a cleansing of a sacred tree.”
“I will see if Osh? Miyagi can take your call immediately Minamino-san, please hold.”
Kurama acknowledged her request as he considered what he was about to ask. He had not thought he would need to call in the favor he had just earned hunting down the kui korosu. He felt that a full spiritual cleansing ceremony was going to be absolutely necessary if he was to heal The Nemeton in the way it desperately needed. The clearly sentient, and perhaps sapient, tree had been badly abused. If Kurama didn’t see to its care, the corruption that even now was still clinging and digging into the tree’s aura, would only continue to get worse until it became a beacon for all sorts of foul creatures and beings alike.
“Kurama-san! I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon?”
Kurama smiled. “Hello Miyagi-san, I need to call in that favor.”
“Well, tell me what you need.”
Kurama explained what he needed and why.
“Give me a couple of days to see what resources I have available for such a working. I can reach you through the normal methods?”
“Yes, that would be best.”
“Good. We’ll talk soon Kurama-san. Stay out of trouble.”
Kurama shook his head as the phone went dead.
Kurama signed and proceeded to seal the letter he had been working on most of the morning. Once it was sealed, he then added a touch of his youki to the sealed envelope. He then handed the envelope to Botan who was watching curiously. “Hand-deliver this to the priestess at Higurashi Shrine in Tokyo. She will hopefully provide you with a seedling of The Goshinboku, a sacred tree on the shrine grounds.”
“Why that tree?” Botan asked curious.
Kurama smiled, “Because it is a very old tree, over a thousand years old in fact. I tended and helped foster its growth when I was in my second century.”
Botan collapsed back into the chair behind her. “That’s… how did we not know that you are the spirit fox who first created the spirit trees?”
Kurama gave a casual shrug. “It is not something I made a big deal out of. It was a project and experiment in my youth that helped me advance my own skills and earn several of my tails. It is not something I wanted to be widespread knowledge across all of Maikai.”
“And this priestess will recognize your youkai?”
“Yes, her story is quite unique, but we have met several times in the past and have been good friends for quite some time.”
Botan looked at him with a narrowed gaze. “Just friends?”
Kurama just smiled. “She is working on her own college studies these days and is quite busy.”
Botan eyed him for a long moment. “All right, keep your secrets. Is there anything else other than a seedling?”
Kurama considered. “Not exactly…” He considered if he should warn her that Kodama would likely follow the seedling if not demand to travel with it. “Just keep in mind that this tree is a true spirit tree.”
Botan narrowed her gaze at him, but then shrugged. “And it won’t come to any harm traveling with me to Reikai and back?”
Kurama shook his head. “No, it will be fine. It may even thrive from the exposure.”
Botan shook her head in amusement. “All right Kurama. I’ll go get your tree baby.” With a snap of her wrist, her oar was in hand, and she transitioned from being physically in the human realm to the incorporeal form she normally manifested as. In moments she had hopped onto the oar and flew off.
Kurama turned to his phone which had begun to vibrate with an incoming call. “Hello?”
“Minamino-san? This is Osh?Miyagi. I’ve gathered a group and we are currently waiting for our first flight. I will need directions to your Beacon Hills, and perhaps an address to a local hotel?”
Kurama blinked in surprise, stunned. It had been three days since he had contacted the head priest of the Inari Shrine in Kyoto, he had thought he would have to start looking into alternatives when he had not heard back from Osh?Miyagi after the first day. “Miyagi-san? You are traveling to the States?”
“Yes, yes. I gathered what and who I would need to complete the cleansing and arranged flights immediately. I will probably have to make several visits to local temples while I’m in that area, but it is worth it to deal with that corruption.”
Kurama found himself smiling at the elder priest’s clear distaste for what amounted to politics. “No one wants a node to be corrupted or destroyed. Trust me when I tell you it would be very bad for everyone.”
“I’m honored Miyagi-san. Can I send the information to you in an email? I will also see about arranging lodging for you.”
“Yes, that will do nicely. We will see you soon Minamino-san!”
Kurama stared down at his phone, stunned. It seemed like things were going to move along faster than he had expected. It seemed like they would be renting yet another of the Hale properties during this venture.
A sharp tap on the glass of the window drew his attention to Hiei’s arrival. Kurama moved to open the window. “You could use the door. It’s not like everyone living here is unknown to you.”
“Hnn. I have an update for you.” The prickly fire sprite stated even as he casually leaned up against the wall beside the window.
Kurama frowned. Hiei’s last report was that he was still researching and monitoring for the arrival of the self-proclaimed hunting groups.
“An older man started asking questions at the medical center we removed Hale from. I followed him and he met up with a woman who was likely his daughter. They went back to the site of the Hale fire. Between what I heard them saying and the bits I picked up from them mentally… these are the ones who organized that fire.”
“Is this good news or bad?” Kurama asked. If Hiei had not been here watching their backs on this matter, Kurama would have been more concerned.
“I tailed them for a bit longer to make sure they didn’t have anyone else with them in the area. They had a whole squad of idiots with them taking their orders. It sounds like they plan to try to hunt for Hale. There was also something about trying to lure other survivors back.” Hiei elaborated.
“Hmm, the timing is not great. Osh? Miyagi is on his way here with a team to perform a cleansing of both the remains of the Hale house and at The Nemeton. Having trigger happy hunter’s lurking around is less than ideal.”
“Calling in Inari’s minions? You are poking a hornet nest there if Inari takes offense.”
“I’m not concerned, but if any of those hunters kill her priests when they are here to do a cleansing… well, I don’t really want to deal with her messengers.”
Hiei looked uncomfortable at the mention of Inari’s chosen messengers. There was clearly a story there that Kurama had not heard as of yet.
“I’ll deal with it.” Hiei crouched up on the windowsill. He paused, looking back to meet Kurama’s gaze. “Don’t leave Yukina alone with Hale or preferably at all until I’ve confirmed these assholes handled.”
“Of course.” Between one breath and the next Hiei was once more gone.
The next few days remained quiet as Kurama made regular trips into the preserve and out to the cabin, they had installed Mr. Hale in. Shizuru and Yukina had decided to stay in the cabin in another of the guest rooms so Yukina could keep a closer eye on how Mr. Hale was healing. From all reports, it was going very well and Kurama thought he could see a definitive improvement despite the man remaining unconscious.
Kurama himself was now waiting at the property he had rented for Osh? Miyagi and his party. He had received notice that they had landed in San Francisco the night before and would overnight there before continuing to Beacon Hills. Whether Miyagi would want to rest the rest of today or head directly to one of the two sites, Kurama couldn’t guess. The priest may need to access both locations himself to determine the amount of time needed and in which order they should be handled. Regardless, Kurama was making himself available as needed.
With a shimmer of spirit energy Botan appeared on the cabin’s porch beside him, a small pot with a tiny tree seedling cradle in her hands. “Kurama! You didn’t tell me she was the Shikon Priestess! Koenma has been trying to find her for the last decade.”
Kurama just smirked, “Must have slipped my mind.”
“She almost shot me!” Botan exclaimed as she pushed the small ceramic container into Kurama’s hands.
Kurama took the ceramic with care and studied the young tree. As he studied it a little kodama peered out from its trunk and rattled its head at him in greeting. “Oh, you will do perfectly. I’ll get you settled in your new home soon, but until then please don’t wander from the seedling.”
The kodama clattered its head again and then faded from sight. Kurama set the ceramic dish with its precious inhabitant down against the wall.
Botan huffed beside him. “You didn’t say anything about it having kodama.”
Kurama arched an eyebrow at her in disbelief, “I did tell you it was a true spirit tree.”
Botan wrinkled her nose at the reminder. “Fine. You still could have warned me that the priestess was likely to shoot first. Honestly, Kurama, you’ve been more of a trickster during this whole job than I remember you being.”
Kurama chuckled. “Well, I admit, I had a lot of classmates to foster harmless mischief on in those days.”
Botan shook her head in disbelief. “I hope you never get truly bored.”
Kurama laughed then, “Probably for the best.” He then looked up at the sound of at least one vehicle approaching. “Looks like Osh? Miyagi is about to arrive.”
“Good Luck!” Botan called out and vanished from sight. Moments later a pair of SUVs pulled into the drive and came to a park. Kurama stepped down to meet the group as they began to exit their vehicles.
“Minamino-san! This is lovely.” The familiar face of Osh? Miyagi called out in greeting.
“Osh? Miyagi, thank you for coming. Please feel free to get settled in.”
“Thank you, the drive from San Francisco was not bad, but longer than I’m used to.”
“Go rest Osh?-san. We will take care of the luggage.” One of the other members of the party said quietly and Miyagi nodded.
“That would be nice, Thank you, _Minion Priest Name_. Come Minamino-san, tell me more about these two sites. How long have they been corrupted? What you believe is the cause and so on. Then we can decide how best to organize ourselves.”
Kurama smiled, “You never have been one to waste time when there was a task to complete.”
“Of course not! Doing so leaves time for boredom and mischief. I may be the head priest of the Kyoto Inari Shrine, but that does not mean I am immune to her messengers’ mischief. Best to be interesting for any that are observing so they are not tempted.”
Kurama chuckled. He thought it unlikely that any of Inari’s messengers had followed the priest from his temple on this trip, but he would humor the man regardless. He guided the priest to the living room space and began telling him in detail what they had learned about the Hale family fire and the burned remains of the family home.
“And your friend who did an in-depth reading of the location’s energy said something about wraiths?”
“He felt the ones responsible for the fire were lucky that the entire family had not turned into angry wraiths,” Kurama explained.
“Terrible tragedy. I hope your friend is also looking into whoever ruled that whole event an accident. That kind of cover-up is so thin it’s practically transparent.” Miyagi said wryly. “And you said the family that was murdered are supernaturally bound to the magical node that is in need of cleansing. Yes, I think we best start with the family property then. Put things to rest there before they can fester and twist into something no one wants to have to deal with later on.”
“Will you need my assistance during the ritual?” Kurama asked.
“Better not. It sounds like there is enough mixed heritage already tied into this. We wouldn’t want to hurt you by mistake, nor have your presence interfere in the ritual itself.”
“I understand,” Kurama said, truly he had no real desire to be tied up in such a ritual. It would be mildly uncomfortable at the least. That being said, he was a little uneasy about leaving the group unguarded. “I should warn you that the likely perpetrators of the fire have been seen in the area. My associate is working on dealing with them, but we are doing what we can to avoid drawing more attention to the Hale family or the supernatural at large.”
“Thank you for the warning,” Miyagi said as he considered the situation. “It will take a bit of additional preparation, but we can p put up a temporary seal to prevent anyone else from disrupting our work once we are on site.”
“They will likely be armed with weapons they deem of quality to face a werewolf with, so please, be careful and cautious,” Kurama added, wanting to make sure the Osh? understand the danger. “I can’t guarantee they will respect your vocation or that you are not supernatural yourselves, well mostly.”
Miyagi laughed then. “No, not supernatural. Well accustomed to interacting with it, but not of it.”
Kurama smiled at that, recognizing it for the truth it was.
“Do not worry Minamino-san. We will take the necessary precautions. We even have the appropriate paperwork and permits to do what we will be doing. Verifying those documents could be acquired was why it took me several days to get back to you in the first place.”
“Your expediency was unexpected, but very much appreciated. When do you think you will be ready to visit the Hale property?” Kurama asked.
“Hmm, this type of cleansing would be best done with the dawn. If you could leave instructions on how to get there, we should be prepared enough to complete the first ritual tomorrow. “
Kurama nodded, “Yes, it’s in the file I planned to leave with you. You will likely need my assistance reaching the second site. The Nemeton has been dissuading visitors on its own, but it is weakened.”
“I will have one of the boys with me who is sensitive to nature magics see if they can locate it. If not, we will have you guide us early enough that you can get out of range when we are ready to undertake that one.” Miyagi said reasonably, then he paused considering. “Actually, if tomorrow’s ritual does not take too much out of me, I would like to visit this Nemeton in the afternoon to see if I need to make any changes to my plan.”
“Ah, I did mention there is a void kitsune spirit sealed beneath The Nemeton’s trunk. It was placed there in hopes that The Nemeton’s energies would reinforce the prison.”
Miyagi huffed. “A plan that worked rather well I imagine until that darach you mentioned decided he knew best. Typical of that sort I’m afraid. Do you have a plan to deal with it? The cleansing you requested of won’t take care of that problem if it does make it easier on The Nemeton to maintain the seal.”
“I have a plan in progress, yes. This cleansing is just a part of it.”
Miyagi eyed Kurama shrewdly. “Fine, keep the rest of your schemes to yourself.”
Kurama couldn’t help but smirk. “I will leave you to rest and prepare for tomorrow then Miyagi-san. Please call if you need anything.”
“Keep out of trouble, oh sly one.”
Kurama just hummed an agreement as he exited the house, he paused on the porch long enough to pick up the tiny seedling with its kodama and waved casually to the other priests who were still outside setting things to their liking. He grinned and chuckled as one of them stopped to stare at the seedling, their jaw dropping open. That must have been one of the ‘boys sensitive to nature magics’, that Miyagi had mentioned.
Kurama entered the bedroom that had been turned into Peter Hale’s recovery room. He glanced toward Yukina who stood at Peter Hale’s bedside, her eyes closed in focus. He turned and spotted Shizuru sitting relaxed at a small side table along one wall. He set the potted seedling he had been carrying down on the table and then turned to watch as Yukina carefully ran her fingers and palms over the worst of Peter Hale’s burn-marked skin.
“How is he?”
Shizuru huffed. “Yukina can tell you more when she finishes, but the last thing she told me was that all the wolfsbane had been purged from his system. It had taken some work as some of it had been in a kind of oil that had seeped into his burns and the scars as they tried to heal. Then there was the laced burn ointment that woman had been treating him with, and not just on the burns. I’m pretty sure that bond to that magic tree is the only thing that actually kept him alive.”
Yukina took a deep breath and stepped back. “All his wounds are superficial now. There was something twisted that was fighting my efforts to heal him, but that cleared up early yesterday morning.”
Kurama hummed in thought, “When the Hale house and property were cleansed then.”
“Oh,” Yukina whispered in surprise and sudden understanding. “The bonds he had with his pack were festering and preventing his healing ability from fully manifesting.” Yukina moved to join them at the small table. “I could not separate that pain from the physical injury from the anguish and grief his mind radiates, even unconscious as he is. That anguish reduced greatly yesterday morning and continues to fade, even if the grief is still there. I…” She paused, glancing back over her shoulder at Mr. Hale. “I’ve never seen grief like this. Not even when Yusuke grieved Genkai.”
“I’m not really surprised,” Kurama said in consideration. “From all that I have learned about werewolves since taking on this task, the bonds they form between pack members and their pack leader, or Alpha are integral. They require a healthy and stable bond to help manage the control of their enhanced senses and wolf aspects. Mr. Hale’s Alpha died in the fire. Supposedly, the power and role of the Alpha should have passed to his niece, Laura Hale. Unfortunately, I do not have much information about Ms. Hale other than that she is twenty-three, and disappeared from Beacon Hills with the only other survivor, her younger brother Derek Hale, within days of the fire.”
“She bolted,” Shizuru said with a sigh leaning back in her chair.
“And broke all the bonds to those left behind as she did so,” Kurama said. “The contacts I made in the area during my initial investigation are of the opinion that she is failing as Alpha.”
“What does that mean for those that she left behind?” Yukina asked with a small frown on her face.
“They must find a new pack that will take them in or suffer the effects of being a drift. It is not something any sane werewolf wishes for, or so I was led to believe.” Kurama explained.
Yukina frowned as she turned to study the unconscious werewolf she had been tending. “We cannot resolve the issue of pack bonds for Mr. Hale.”
“Could these broken bonds be why he is still unconscious?” Shizuru asked.
“It is possible,” Kurama said with thought even as he turned to study the small seedling. After a moment he reached out a hand and a small bit of his energy could be seen passing to the plant. A moment later the semi-translucent form of the seedling’s Kodama peered, its head swiveling as it clicked at Kurama. “I hope his bond to The Nemeton will be enough to keep him stable once I finish my work with it.”
“It’s surprising how different these werewolves are from the wolf youkai back home and in Maikai.” Yukina mused. “I wonder…do you suppose they descend from hanyou youkai?”
Kurama blinked in surprise. “It’s possible. Enough of them intermarrying with humans and each other evolved into a new species altogether. It’s an interesting theory at the least.”
Shizuru huffed. “Wherever they came from, it’s pretty amazing they’ve kept themselves hidden for so long. Especially when you consider those so-called hunters.” Shizuru said then leaned down to the messenger bag resting on the floor. “That reminds me, did you see the news articles this morning?”
“Something interesting?” Kurama asked.
Shizuru laid out the paper next to the plant pot on the table. “Here, look at this.”
Kurama scanned the article and couldn’t help but chuckle as he started reading. Unknown Arsonist at Large in Beacon Hills.
Another fire of terrible strength burned down a warehouse in the industrial district. This brings the count of mysterious building fires in the area up to three along with several other peculiar, scorched patches of ground. The most recent incident left nothing but soot and scorch marks without touching the neighboring buildings, a fact officials are grateful for, but confused by. There are no signs of people being caught in the blaze despite several vehicles being found parked at the site that were loaded with significant weaponry and various other items of interest. The vehicles were later found to be registered with Argent Arms. Local law enforcement was not able to provide further comment about why the well-known weapons dealer was in the local area.
Previous events of a similar type include the complete destruction of Beacon Hills Veterinary just earlier this week and the tragic fire at The Hale family home earlier this year.
“My brother has been busy,” Yukina said with a small smile.
“Is that going to be a problem?” Shizuru asked.
“He mentioned he was tracking a hunter team in the area when we last spoke. I had not heard more about the matter before this.” Kurama answered. The tiny kodama caught his attention then as its entire body had begun to glow faintly as it rattled its head in excitement.
“Something is—” Shizuru stiffened, and her eyes opened wide even as a pulse of warm and potent energy washed through the room. “What was that?”
Kurama took a deep breath and smirked. “The cleansing at The Nemeton is complete.”
“Who are you and how do you know about The Nemeton?” A rough voice growled.
The three sitting at the table turned in shock. Yukina moved to step forward, but Shizuru rested her hand on the ice maiden’s arm to hold her back. Kurama kept his gaze focused on the now awake figure laying in the bed. “Hello Mr. Hale, it’s good to see you awake.” The werewolf glared at them, his eyes flashing gold in warning.
“I asked who you are.”
“My name is Suichi Minamino, I’ve been investigating the corrupted energies in and around Beacon Hills at the behest of my employer. These two are Yukina and Shizuru Kuwabara.”
Peter Hale’s glare did not lessen, “You are not lying, but you are not completely truthful.”
“Impressive, what else do your senses tell you about us?” Kurama asked, curious just what the wolf was able to detect.
Peter glanced at the two women and then focused back on Kurama. “Two of you aren’t human…” He frowned as his nostrils flared as he tried to take in more of their scents. “Fox… and water-no…ice.”
“I’m impressed Mr. Hale. You are correct, I am mostly human, but my spirit and soul is that of a spirit kitsune. Yukina is, as you so aptly determined, an ice maiden.”
Peter frowned. “You… you’ve been healing me?”
Kurama opened his mouth to answer further when Yukina huffed and stepped forward out of Shizuru’s hold. “Yes. You have been suffering thanks to your attackers for months Hale-san. We removed you from their reach and began undoing the damage.”
Peter froze as grief flickered hard and fast across his features. “The Argents.”
“Are no longer a problem, at least not those who were responsible for what happened to your family,” Kurama interjected. “The darach who had been poisoning your pack from within has also been dealt with.”
Peter looked skeptical and then confused as he considered that statement, then the confusion cleared. “Deaton. That bastard.”
Kurama chuckled. “Well, you can rest easy knowing the idiot crossed my path and did not survive the encounter.”
Peter seemed to relax in the bedding then. “You still haven’t really answered how you know about The Nemeton.”
“The tale is a bit long, and you should let Yukina look over you first. You can trust this though Mr. Hale, we are only here to help.” The kodama rattled from the table as if to agree with Kurama.
Peter’s gaze traveled to the seedling and its spirit, then blinked. “I… Okay.”
Shizuru huffed as she stepped forward a glass of water now in hand which she offered Peter carefully. Helping him drink. “Red is a good guy, even if he tries to act all tough. Take your time Mr. Hale, we aren’t going anywhere just yet and you have quite a bit to catch up on.”
Kurama moved his chair closer to Peter’s bedside. “Now, let me first tell you a bit about kitsune.”
Kurama had thanked and bid Osh? Miyagi and his party farewell two days after they had finished the cleansing of The Nemeton. The priest and his party had several visits to American temples to complete before they returned to Japan and so had opted to not linger once their task was complete. The impact of the cleansing had been surprising and even more effective than Kurama had anticipated.
Peter Hale, having awoken after the cleansing of The Nemeton had begun to recover by leaps and bounds. Yukina continued to monitor his progress, but she deemed his own healing abilities, now that they were working as they should, were best left to continue the process without her interference. Hale himself seemed to drift from several emotional extremes at any given time. The grief he suffered under was crushing enough all on its own. Then added onto it was the betrayal of his niece for leaving him alone and at the mercy of the hunter agents. Overtop all of that was a simmering anger that had no outlet.
Hiei had reported in and confirmed the identities of the hunter team he had dealt with. Gerard and Kate Argent. According to Peter, Gerard had all but taken over the leadership of the Argent family after the death of his wife. His daughter Victoria was officially the matriarch of the family, but it was clear to all who dealt with the family that Gerard was still guiding the family. Kate, the younger sister of Victoria, seemed to have taken a special twisted fascination with the hunting life and had been clearly favored by Gerard a great deal. Hiei had reported that she clearly liked hunting werewolves for her personal pleasure, in more than one way. The entire family’s history was likely full of incidents that would not have been out of place in the Chapter Black archive once kept by Reikai. Now that these two had vanished under mysterious circumstances Kurama suspected more of the family would come looking.
Thankfully the fire where Argent Arms property and equipment had been found had been officially ruled as being caused by the Argent employees themselves. The remains of the fire had provided evidence of the same accelerants and compounds stored in the vehicles. That the fire had not spread further and caused even more damage was being considered fortunate. No evidence of human remains has been found by officials, but then Kurama knew the Black Dragon when working to Hiei’s wishes would have left nothing for them to find.
This made Peter’s recovery and Kurama’s work with The Nemeton even more important as a strong and stable area would be crucial in keeping further attention away from Beacon Hills. Shizuru had actually taken over most of Peter Hale’s care, almost bullying the man out of the melancholy and despondency he was prone to. Kurama had found himself both amused and a bit concerned as their conversations shifted from sarcasm to flirting and back again. If Hale had any thoughts of giving into his rage or grief, Shizuru was quick to refocus his attention and provide positive goals in their place. Her simple observation that his best revenge would be to live, thrive, and make Beacon Hills a prosperous home for the mundane and supernatural alike.
Hale had seemed stunned but had soon admitted to having such hopes since he was a youth, but had been prevented from implementing any of it by his sister, then Alpha. A restriction that was no longer present, even if the reason why was tragic.
Kurama had chimed in at that point by bluntly pointing out how the late Hale Alpha had failed not only her pack but their ancestor’s oath to The Nemeton. Peter had taken that to heart and as of that morning had begun to request the items and materials he would need to start, even as he finished healing.
Kurama had decided then that it was time for him to shift his focus fully onto The Nemeton and the kitsune spirit sealed and bound to it.
The kodama perched on the edge of the pot as Kurama carried it through the preserve. It’s little legs swinging and kicking as it looked around and rattled its observations. Kurama was pleased that the little spirit seemed so at ease and interested in its’ surroundings. Soon they reached the clearing of The Nemeton and Kurama moved through the space even as a welcoming wash of magical energy passed through the clearing. The kodama rattled happily.
“A kodama? What are you up to, Red?”
Kurama ignored Tzila’s question. His focus solely on The Nemeton and what remained of the tree it had once been. He set the potted seedling down on the trunk and smiled as the kodama hopped down from the pot and immediately began exploring the large tree stump. Kurama sat down and put his back to the stump, closing his eyes in concentration, he reached out to The Nemeton. His innate gift to communicate and control plants flowing between them.
Healing, new growth, friends, and guardians. Kurama offered and waited as The Nemeton considered his offer, the kodama, and the seedling.
More? Strong? Growth? Kurama took his time as he accepted and filtered through the almost empathic response.
Yes, more will grow. You will be strong again, and yes, I can help you regrow to your former size. This seedling is from a tree I raised in my youth. She is still strong and the kodama was born from her and her seedling. They will become part of you.
Kurama waited as feelings of consideration and anticipation washed over him.
Trapped, but will be given a choice to bond, if you wish it. Kurama offered. He could not set Tzila free, but he would restore the integrity of her seal and bond her to The Nemeton if it desired such.
Yes! Help each other! Protect each other! Love, affection, and a sense of pride filled the clearing.
Kurama took several moments to separate somewhat from The Nemeton. He chuckled as he found little vines climbing up his legs from the nearby roots of The Nemeton. He gently guided them to let go and rose to his feet. He circled the large tree stump until he found the nearly buried trap door that led into a cellar-like space hidden amidst The Nemeton’s roots. He guided the overgrown plants back away from the door and then pulled it open. Small glowing spheres of spirit energy floated up out of the space as he carefully climbed the steep steps down into the hidden space.
Kurama looked around at the various nooks, crannies, and shelves wedged in amidst the roots. All sorts of various items and knickknacks had found their way into this space over the years. A small wooden doll, various wooden boxes, and an entire shelf of small clay pots of different sizes. His eyes finally rested on a cloudy glass mason jar. A flickering firefly floated within the cloudy glass.
“A firefly, really?”
A sound much like a huff of annoyance echoed in the small, enclosed space. Kurama studied the trapped spirit fox and took his time as he examined her aura. The corruption that had plagued her aura from centuries before was gone. She was weakened still, but she was no longer a void kitsune, her aura had returned to that of a spirit fox uncorrupted by twisted possessions.
“You have been cleansed and healed,” Kurama stated, “If given your freedom, what would you choose to do now?”
A heavy feeling of trepidation mixed with wistful hope filled the spirit fox’s aura.
“I owe The Nemeton a great debt, I would bind myself to its service.”
“And what if the opportunity to possess another presents itself?” Kurama asked, not willing to let her off so easily.
“I have had my fill of possessions. I have found my purpose here, Kurama. Even if you do not free me from this seal, as long as I remain with The Nemeton I will be content.”
“Would you bind yourself to The Nemeton for the rest of your existence?”
“If that is the price I must pay for my past mistakes, yes.”
Kurama nodded, satisfied. Really the difference in the sealed spirit fox’s aura from when he had first found her sealed here was almost unrecognizable. He picked up the glass jar and carried it out of the cellar space.
“So, you are a spirit fox in human form.”
Kurama turned and spotted Peter Hale looking the best he had since he had first met the man. The scar tissue that had covered his face and arms was only faintly evident now.
“Is that a problem?” Kurama asked. It was clear Peter had started asking questions that Yukina and Shizuru had answered.
“Depends on what you plan to do with that and The Nemeton,” Peter said casually as he pointed to the jar in Peter’s hands. “I’ve known of that thing sealed beneath The Nemeton since before I was born. I was never able to find much information on it other than rumor about a terrible void kitsune that wreaked havoc in this area over sixty years ago.”
Kurama nodded as he turned to The Nemeton and set the jar next to the potted seedling. The little kodama immediately ran up to the jar and pressed up against it. “My own affinity is with plants of any kind, and I promised The Nemeton here I would restore it to full health. As you have likely already learned I was originally in this area to track down the exact void kitsune your rumor mentioned. She was an old acquaintance and had become corrupted from spirit to void a long time ago. Her circumstances led to her being sealed here, your Nemeton began to heal her even as it reinforced her prison. She now has chosen to be bound to it and serve as one of its protectors from this day forward.”
“The Nemeton was never corrupted, was it? That was all Deaton twisting things for his own objective.” Peter said even as he tucked his hands into his pockets and walked forward to rest a palm on the stump.
“From what I have learned, yes. He needed The Nemeton’s natural defenses weakened so he could leech power from it as he pleased. The destruction of its physical form gave him all the openings he needed.”
Peter nodded, his expression thoughtful. After a moment his featured hardened into a blank mask. “You know you and your friends robbed me of any sort of vengeance for what was done to my pack.”
“Revenge would not have brought your family back. Deaton is no more. The specific hunters responsible for the tragedy that led to the loss of your pack have virtually been incinerated.”
Peter sighed. “I can feel The Nemeton, it is clinging to me.” He smiled wryly. “Anytime my thoughts drift toward hate and vengeance it pushes its feelings at me. Do you have any idea how hard it is to rage when love and acceptance are washing through your very soul?”
Kurama smirked, “I never planned to remain in the human world once I had recovered. My very human mother changed everything.”
Peter huffed. “Can I stay here, while you heal The Nemeton?”
Kurama nodded, “Of course. It will only help your bond remain strong.”
Peter nodded before he settled in with his back to the trunk of The Nemeton.
Kurama studied the werewolf for a long moment before he climbed up onto the stump and settled into a lotus position at the stump center. He pulled the potted seedling to just in front of him, then reached for the still-sealed jar. The kodama sat in front of him, the seedling between them and mimicked Kurama’s position.
Kurama carefully removed the seedling and its root ball from the pot and placed it directly on the stump. Next, he broke the seal and opened the jar. The firefly flitted out and settled amidst the seedling’s branches.
Kurama closed his eyes and settled himself. With a flare of his youkai, his form melted into that of Yoko Kurama. He relaxed into the true form of his spirit for several moments, relishing in the ease it now came. He reached out mentally to the seedling and The Nemeton. He pulled power and magic from The Nemeton and offered it to the seedling in a controlled stream. Roots first, he encouraged the seedling. Dig deep and merge with the old form of The Nemeton. Merge, build, and grow on The Nemeton’s foundation. Once the foundation was established then came the reach for light and sky.
Kurama used just enough of his own power to guide the blending of Nemeton with the young spirit of the seedling as they grew and became one. In a surprisingly short time, The Nemeton was no longer just the semi-sentient manifestation of a magical node, but a well-grounded and true spirit tree. Already he could sense and hear the little kodama tending the tree and its spirit, encouraging another kodama to be born of the new tree. Soon The Nemeton would host an entire colony of the tiny tree spirits. He pulled himself free of the meld with just enough time to rise and step back and away as the tree shot up and out. Regaining the girth and height of The Nemeton’s original form. Soon there was little evidence at all that the great tree had ever been cut down at all.
No sooner had he stepped back away from the tree than another figure stepped out from just out of site on the other side of the tree. Kurama studied the humanoid form of Tzila Hoshino. Her hair was a shade of red, several shades darker than his own in human form. It was half pulled up in a bun and ornamented with several carved sticks. The ears of her fox form stood proudly atop her head violet eyes almost glowed with her pleasure. A kimono hugged her bodice save for where it almost draped loosely around her shoulders and extended down into the typical long wide-kimono sleeves. The rest of the kimono fell in several panels leaving long slits for her fabric-clad legs to peek through.
Kurama glanced over to Peter Hale who had also regained his feet and was looking up at The Nemeton with a wistful expression. Kurama smirked. “Peter Hale, may I introduce you to Tzila Hoshino, once known as The Nogitsune.”
Peter turned and blinked in surprise. “Well, I can clearly see why so many fell into her traps in the past.”
Tzila laughed. “Oh, we will get along just fine.”
Kurama shook his head and turned to leave the clearing and let the two get acquainted. He was stopped as Peter Hale caught up to him at the edge of the clearing. “And now you just leave?”
Kurama looked back at the great tree; the spirit fox now bound to it. “My job here is done.”
“And what if the hunters come back to finish what they started?”
Kurama grinned then. “Let me introduce you to my contact with Reikai. It is one of the mandates of Reikai to monitor and resolve issues between the mundane and supernatural. They will be most pleased to begin re-establishing a contact network in the Americas with you.”
Peter Hale blinked but then seemed to understand and he began to laugh. “I can’t wait.”