When Botan chose to come along on the mission, she never dreamed that she might become a hostage. It had never happened on previous cases, despite the fact that she was no fighter like Yusuke, and had little means of defending herself when compared to the former Spirit Detective and the others. She had a few tricks, but none were of use against a surprise attack from behind.
Botan had stopped not far from the warehouse where she left her companions, with the intent to retrieve her oar and fly away with the boy. A searing pain struck her back sent her sprawling to the ground with a ghastly scream, forcing her to drop the boy. She nearly forgot about him completely when she realized her clothes were on fire. She frantically rolled around on the ground to smother the flames that ate away at her jacket and sweater, burning her flesh underneath. She had barely snuffed out the blaze when two strong men snagged her arms and yanked her upwards roughly. She struggled and yelled, but the men did not seem to hear her, nor did any of the other humans that gathered and grabbed the boy she had been in the process of rescuing.
The purple, orange, and green demons revealed themselves just before Kurama arrived. The sight of the green-eyed boy filled Botan with hope, despite the threat of having her throat slit, until the controlled humans drew their improvised weapons and turned themselves into hostages. She wanted to call after Kurama when the purple demon pursued him in a terrifying game of cat and mouse, but she had been unable to find her voice until he disappeared from sight.
Botan was able to breathe easier when the weapons were lowered, but she could not feel any real sense of relief. She did her best to glare at the orange and green demons, rallying her courage. “You’re horrible! Absolutely horrible! How can you do all these terrible things to innocent humans like this?
The green and orange demons looked at each other then covered their wide smiles with their stubby hands, as though to hide their giggling. “Because it’s fun!” they said in unison.
Botan felt a flush of anger rise to her cheeks, the sensation accompanied by utter disgust. “In that case, you better laugh now while you still can! Kurama will be back any minute now to take care of all of you, no matter how many hostages you use against him!”
The green demon hovered in front of Botan’s face then bopped her on the forehead, causing her to yelp and jerk back more from surprise than pain. “Silly, silly Grim Reaper.”
“You don’t know anything,” the orange demon said.
“I know more than–” Botan stopped, her eyes growing wide. “Wait, you know that I’m a…” The giggling of the two demons answered her unfinished question. “So you knew who we were all along?”
The orange demon stuck out her tongue. “Maybe.”
“Mamma figured it out,” the green demon said. “Mamma is the smartest ever!”
“Mamma figured out who you are,” the orange demon said. “And who Kurama is.”
The green demon waved her hand at Botan. “Mamma has plans for him and Hiei and that silly looking human with a sword too.”
“And the Spirit Detective.” The orange demon flashed a sharp-toothed grin.
Botan blurted out Amaya’s name unthinkingly before she realized that the two demons were talking about Yusuke. She practically bit her tongue, hoping that they did not realize the meaning behind her slip. If Irokafue was expecting Yusuke, Hiei, and Kuwabara to appear at any moment then perhaps she could use that somehow…
The orange demon tilted her body to the right, limbs dangling towards the ground. “Who’s Amaya?”
The green demon mimicked the orange, tilting to the left. “Is that the priestess you brought?”
“Mamma has no plans for her yet,” the orange said. “Not until Mamma can break that barrier.”
“But she’s a stupid human woman so Mamma will probably do the same thing to her that we do to all the others,” the green said.
Botan felt certain that she did not want to know what they meant, but found herself asking all the same. “Others?”
The demons merely flashed matching grins at her and giggled, their voices high pitched and squeaky.
Botan slowly cast her gaze towards the crowd of workers, a terrible notion forming at the back of her mind. She failed to notice it earlier, but now that the demons had brought her attention to it, she found that none of the controlled humans were female. “What… what did you do to the women?”
“You’ll see,” the demons said as one, dragging out the words in a grating parody of singing.
The faint sound of a woman’s shriek made Botan jump then wince, as the sudden movement reminded her of the injury on her back with a rush of pain. At first, she feared that it was Amaya who made such blood curdling screams, or some helpless woman under Irokafue’s thrall, but when the demons cried out for their mother, she identified the owner of the voice. She allowed herself a smirk, feeling victorious. “You see? I’ll bet that was Kurama taking care of your mother right now. You better just give up quietly if you know what’s good for you.”
The green and orange demons did not move, their expressions shifting from horror to blank. They remained suspended in front of Botan, completely unmoving and unaffected by the breeze that slid through the alley and teased strands of her hair across her face.
Botan found her cheer faltering due to the demons’ unnerving behavior. She decided if they were no longer able to move now that Irokafue was dead, or at least they were no longer paying attention, then this was the best time to make her escape. She tugged her arms experimentally, but the workers’ grip did not weaken in the slightest. She wrenched herself towards the ground, pouring her Spirit Energy into her muscles to give strength to her movements beyond normal human capability. She grit her teeth to suppress the urge to scream when the searing pain from the line of burnt flesh marring her back flared due to her violent movements. The agony was nearly unbearable, but somehow she managed to persevere and slipped from the workers’ strong fingers.
Botan allowed herself a small, breathless whoop of triumph, even if her voice contorted due to the ache that throbbed just below her shoulder blades. A look towards the boy she had attempted to rescue, still unconscious and ensnared by two men, left her victory a little hollow. She was not sure if she could pry the boy free without hurting him. Her wrists were a dark and angry red from where her captors held her, hinting at bruising that would come later. Having a human body can be so difficult to deal with sometimes.
A nervous glance towards the two demons verified to Botan that they stopped paying attention to the world around them, as they did not attempt to recapture her. The controlled workers stood as if they were part of the scenery, save for their eyes, which continued to twitch in a way that made the reaper feel distinctly ill. The silence felt oppressive with so many still bodies standing around her. “Why isn’t it wearing off yet?”
The sound of a shakuhachi playing an eerie melody served to answer Botan. The music itself was faint, but somehow the notes reverberated in her bones, causing an unpleasant tension to form in her muscles. She jerked back when she saw a few of the workers standing around her move then found her legs tugging her back in the direction of the warehouse where the humans were heading. “What on Earth?!”
A strange heaviness settled on her mind, making everything Botan saw and heard less distinct. She did her best to keep her focus, adrenaline fueling her desperate bid for awareness. Her legs moved against her will, carrying her along with the mob of workers. She wrenched her body backwards, trying to regain control, but a spasm of pain exploded through her back, tearing a choked whimper from her throat.
When Botan recovered her wits, she focused her Spirit Energy on the wound, working to heal it quickly so that it would not interfere with her attempts to break free from the involuntary movements of her limbs. She regretted not taking the time to improve her healing or psychic abilities, as the latter would have helped her resist the spell of the bamboo flute. She guessed that the only reason she was conscious, unlike the people around her, was thanks to that skill and because her real body was more ghostly than physical.
The second the pain died down, Botan increased her struggles anew, gritting her teeth as her motions aggravated the wound. “There’s no way I’m letting you use me as a hostage again!” she said between grunts.
The shakuhachi continued to play its siren song, heedless of Botan’s resistance and shouts. The aqua haired girl managed to slow her movements, but she was unable to stop herself completely. A crushing wave of despair overcame her when she returned to the warehouse and saw that not only was Irokafue alive, but Amaya’s Territory was under attack. The wall of bodies surrounding the barrier was so dense that Botan was unable to see the Spirit Detective at all. The reaper’s eyes darted about for any sign of vibrant red hair, but to her dismay, Kurama was nowhere in sight.
Irokafue smiled around the bamboo flute as she turned her head towards Botan. The expression she wore gave the reaper chills, prompting Botan to struggle with greater ferocity, heedless of the pain. The pink-eyed girl had managed to force her foot back a few centimeters before two of the workers seized her by the shoulders. “Not again!” Botan said, practically moaning.
Irokafue lowered the shakuhachi. Botan would have felt relieved, but her body still resisted her efforts to move freely. The silver demon chuckled, a low and rumbling sound, before she turned her attention towards the barrier. “Cow! I have your butcher! If you do not release my babies then it is she whom shall decorate these walls with blood!”
Botan was left baffled briefly by the terms Irokafue used. When she realized what the flute-playing demon meant, a scowl marred her features. “Butcher? How dare you! You’re the one doing despicable things like kidnapping children and using innocent people as hostages and trying to kill us!”
Amaya’s strained voice barely rose above the din of weapons striking the border of her Territory. “Botan? Are you okay? Is Kurama with you?”
“I’m fine!” Botan said. “Whatever she tells you, don’t listen to her! Kurama will save us!”
“I offer you a deal,” Irokafue said. “Submit to be slaughtered like the foolish lamb you are and I shall release Spirit World’s emissary of death. Resist and I shall subject you to a fate far more cruel!”
“No, don’t!” Botan said. “It doesn’t matter what happens to me! Even if they kill me, I won’t really die because this isn’t my real body! Just stay put and wait for Kurama, no matter what you hear!” While her words were technically the truth, the situation was not quite so simple. Dying held a risk, even to a Grim Reaper wearing a human form, but she was not about to let herself be used against her comrades again. “Besides, we… we have backup coming! Hiei and Kuwabara, and even Yusuke!” She gave the silver demon her best smug expression. “If you heard about Kurama then you must know about them, right? They’ll be here any minute, so you best just let us go right now!”
Irokafue slowly turned her head towards Botan. The aqua haired girl struggled to keep her composure, but the blazing eyes of the silver demon seemed to burn into her very core, as though seeing through her empty threats as the lies they were. “If it is as you say,” Irokafue said, speaking in a halting, mocking tone, “then perhaps I need to force your stupid lamb to throw herself to the wolves.”
The melody of the shakuhachi resounded through Botan’s body, more potent than before. The men restraining her loosened their hold as the mob around the barrier parted, granting a view of Amaya and the captive children. The reaper grit her teeth until her jaw hurt, focusing everything she could into keeping still despite how the music urged her muscles to act against her will. Her right arm raised, trembling due to her resistance, then began to twist counter-clockwise. The injury to her back flared, but soon it became insignificant when compared to the pain in her shoulder, which felt as though it her arm was tearing itself right out of its socket. She struggled to hold back a scream, but when her shoulder let out a sickening pop, the agony that flooded through her body proved to be too much. She dimly heard Amaya cry out her name, but her attention focused on her arm as it now dangled at her side, dislocated.
Irokafue paused in her playing to laugh, a loud, scornful sound that filled the warehouse more potently than her music. She smirked as she tilted her head towards Amaya, taking in the pale, wide-eyed expression on the dark haired girl’s face. “Does the stupid cow see the power that is Irokafue? Not even Spirit World can resist me! Remain where you are and I shall have your beloved butcher break her body to pieces until she begs for death to release her from her weak human skin!”
Botan only half-heard Irokafue’s taunt, but the part of her that could think despite the pain and the influence of the bamboo flute knew the intent behind the words. “Don’t!” she said, forcing her voice to work despite its cracking. “Don’t do it!”
Irokafue ran her nails along the contours of her grinning face. “The Grim Reaper wishes for death, but it will not be granted. I shall show her the suffering of a thousand hells!”
Amaya shuddered as Irokafue laughed once more. Worse than the silver demon’s threats and glee, were Botan’s half-coherent pleas that the Spirit Detective leave her guide to be tortured right before her eyes. Amaya’s mind was in a state of chaos, alternating between panic and the desperate need for a plan. I have to save Botan. Oh God, how do I… She’s being controlled like them! If I go out there then… but I can’t just sit here and…
The sound of the shakuhachi raised the hairs on the back of Amaya’s neck. She bit her lower lip hard enough for it to bleed, as she watched Botan fight in vain to resist its control. The orb, I need to hit it! I need to hit it! Now! Her only chance was to use the Spirit Gun, but with how much Spirit Energy she had used so far, she doubted that she could gather up enough power on her own in time to take the shot. With trembling fingers, she pulled the Concentration Ring from her right hand, jerking instinctively against the fresh wave of pain that came from dragging the pointy metal against burnt flesh. Eyes half-clouded with tears, she tried to make her blackened fingers take a hold of the ring, so she could slip it onto her left index finger, only to drop the precious tool with a tiny clink.
Amaya lunged for the Concentration Ring, snatching it before it rolled too far away just as Botan let out another blood-curdling shriek. Almost against her will, she raised her eyes to see her guide’s wrist bend backwards until Botan’s fingers nearly touched the dislocated arm. Amaya wrenched her gaze away, wincing in sympathy at the ghastly sight. She used the concrete to keep the ring steady so that she could work it on with only one hand.
Irokafue clucked her tongue once Botan went quiet. She curled her lip when she looked her captive over. The reaper breathed heavily, face lightly flushed and damp with perspiration. “Pathetic,” the silver demon said. “For a supposed ‘master’ of death, you cannot suffer living, can you? I have yet to break bones or spill blood, yet you act as though you are dying. I expected much more from a Grim Reaper.”
Botan raised her head, the action taking no small effort, and stared hard at Irokafue through half closed eyes. “You’re… one to talk… Can’t even do anything… without using children!”
Irokafue sucked in air through her teeth in a wet hiss before bringing the shakuhachi to her lips. Botan failed to suppress a moan as her injured body began to move, dreading what torture the silver demon had planned for her next.
Amaya braced her arm against the floor when she aimed her finger at Irokafue, using her thumb as a gun sight. She would only have one shot, possibly one second when she lowered the barrier. She had to hit.
The moment before Amaya steeled herself to fire, Botan moved in the way, blocking her view of Irokafue. The Spirit Detective quickly pulled back her energy so that she would not risk the Spirit Gun going off and killing the aqua haired girl. Their eyes met in a shared look of desperation, as Irokafue forced Botan to strike the periphery of Amaya’s Territory with her injured arm. Botan managed to suppress her urge to cry out after the first two strikes, but the third was too much to bear.
Once Amaya overcame the initial horror, she saw a small window of opportunity. She shoved her hand into her bag and pumped as much of her Spirit Energy into the marbles as she could. By the fourth strike of Botan’s arm, the Spirit Detective had torn off her belt bag and flung its contents just outside her Territory, sending them in a mostly straight line from the reaper to Irokafue. Amaya remembered Botan’s suggestion from what felt like a lifetime ago – the idea of creating a circle from throwing marbles. As soon as the tiny spheres of glowing glass slowed she sought out circular shapes where they rested, imagining connecting their bits of energy as she did the tips of her umbrella. It was more difficult than she anticipated, likely hindered by distance, the irregular placement, lack of experience, and her decreased Spirit Energy.
The large Territory Amaya made shattered under the stress of pouring all her power into the experimental technique, causing Botan to fall forward just as the reaper was about to strike the barrier a fifth time. Botan fell into a new Territory, one much smaller and more oval that barely gave her room to hit the floor when Irokafue’s control over her ended as abruptly as severing a marionette’s strings. She nearly wept with relief and looked to Amaya, ready to cheer her protégé for the rescue, but the expression on the Amaya’s face rendered her silent.
Making a Territory around Botan had not been the Spirit Detective’s only plan. Amaya had tried to form two shields – one around Botan and the other around Irokafue. The first worked, but she had been too slow to create the dome around the silver demon. Irokafue had spotted it growing around her and lunged upward, high enough to reach the warehouse ceiling, before landing lightly away from the marbles scattered across the floor. The silver demon smirked as she took in the growing panic playing across the dark haired girl’s face.
“I win,” Irokafue said.
Amaya scrambled to a standing position while focusing her energy into her finger. Botan was in the way. She had to get around the reaper and fire her Spirit Gun. She had barely made it to her feet before Irokafue was suddenly there, striking her across the cheek with an open palm that felt more like a punch. Long nails sliced lines of blood across half her face, just barely missing her left eye. The force of the blow sent her crashing into the floor, her elbow and shoulder sustaining the brunt of the impact.
“You do not deserve a beautiful face, filthy cow,” Irokafue said before licking the blood from her fingers. “But do not worry. You need not worry about marriage after I am through with you.”
Botan banged her good fist against the barrier around her as she watched Amaya hit the floor. “Amaya!”
Amaya did not move. As soon as she recovered her wits, she focused on her Spirit Gun. There was no way to make a new Territory fast enough to protect herself without any additional tools. She had to put all her faith in the technique Botan taught her. Her focus fled her mind when Irokafue stepped on her burnt hand, leaving little but the sensation of pain.
“Still you struggle,” Irokafue said, “like a fat pig covered in filth.” She raised the bamboo flute to her lips as she removed her foot from Amaya. “Though you do not deserve it, I shall honor your spirit, and grant you a small note of happiness. I shall make you kill your butcher before I have you slaughter yourself.”
The scene unfolded much like a horror movie to Botan. Amaya shuddered from head to toe as the chilling melody began anew. “Fight it, Amaya!” If Amaya heard the reaper, she did not show it, as her eyelids dipped lower, already heavy from fatigue, eyes darting about from place to place. “No!”
The Spirit Detective’s movements were slow while she rose to her feet, as though drawn out to amplify the terrible puppet show that Irokafue was performing. Energy drew to her fingertip, amplified by the Concentration Ring, until virtually everything centered in one glowing blue point. Botan pleaded, even after the Territory protecting her shattered and she felt her body grow heavy from Irokafue’s control reasserting itself over her as well. Amaya raised her arm in the reaper’s general direction, eyes still unfocused.
Botan screamed Amaya’s name with every ounce of air in her body, praying that it would somehow reach the blue-eyed girl. Her eyes skewed shut, unable to watch any longer.
The Spirit Gun discharged and the sound of an explosion rang out through the warehouse, accompanied by the pungent stench of an artificial compound burning. Botan found herself knocked to the side by a strong burst of heat that caused her to land painfully on her dislocated arm. She groaned as she recovered from the fall then realized a moment later that she had not been hurt beyond aggravating her wounds. Amaya did not shoot her.
Botan raised her head and saw Irokafue lying a couple meters away, smoke emanating from the second crater scorched into her chest. The silver demon was no longer moving, not even to draw breath. The controlled workers were sprawled on the ground in limp heaps, their eyes finally closed completely. The reaper frantically sought out Amaya, who lay on the ground in the opposite direction of the fallen Irokafue. “Amaya!” Somehow, she managed the strength to push herself to her feet and moved to the dark haired girl’s side. “Are you okay?”
Amaya used her elbow to roll onto her back so that she could give Botan a weak smile. Her left hand was nearly as blackened as the right, the burns mostly focused around the tip of her index finger. “Sorry… I scared you… but it was the only way to get close enough to hit her.”
For a moment, Botan could only stare at Amaya, her expression a mixture of relief laced with confusion, but then understanding dawned, replacing those emotions with shock. “Wait, you were faking? How? Not even I could resist her control, and I’m not really human!”
“I don’t know,” Amaya said with a deep sigh. Her eyelids dipped low, heavy from lack of energy and the intense stress she had just undergone. “I didn’t really feel anything… but I knew I had to pretend, or she would have just killed me… then you.”
Botan shook off her surprise and shared her sunniest smile with Amaya. “Oh, who cares how it happened. I’m just glad it did. You did it, Amaya! You saved everyone!”
Despite the tremendous strain Amaya had gone through, her smile grew a little stronger as she closed her eyes. “I did, didn’t I? I’m so glad…”
“You go ahead and get some rest now,” Botan said softly. “Kurama and I will take care of everything from here.” She watched Amaya a few moments more, until the blue-eyed girl’s breathing grew deep and even, a sure sign that Amaya was getting some well deserved sleep.
Botan inhaled deeply and returned to her feet, mindful of her arm and back, then surveyed the surroundings. The humans appeared none the worse for wear, despite the ordeal. To her delight, she saw that this included the children. The greasy black film and glowing flames were gone, leaving healthy skin in all the normal shades. Her keen senses could spot the tell tale signs of Spirit Energy that indicated that they were alive and healthy, though she doubted they would regain consciousness any time soon.
“Well, that’s that, I suppose,” Botan said. “Now all that’s left is to wait for Kurama to get back. I hope that purple one didn’t give him too much trouble…”
A loud pop caught Botan’s attention. She turned quickly to its source to find a small round demon hovering not far away, where Irokafue’s body had been only moments ago. It seemed similar to the six colorful demons she saw previously, save for the fact that it was gleaming silver with two circular smoky patches on its chest. “How dare you!” the demon said in a high, squeaky voice, as though Irokafue had breathed in too much helium. “Look what you did to me! You ruined everything!”
Despite everything Botan had suffered, a small giggle escaped her lips. A second later, it turned into full-blown laughter, as the absurdity of the transformation seemed completely out of place after all the terrible things that had happened.
Irokafue growled, her small body quivering with rage. “I’ll kill you!”
Botan managed to compose herself just before Irokafue charged. She might not have been particularly strong or fast when compared to her friends, and one of her arms was out of commission, but the silver demon was far slower than before. This allowed Botan to reach into her subspace and pull out a gleaming metal bat just in time for her to take a mighty swing at the demon. There was a satisfying clang as the bat made contact, sending Irokafue flying out the hole in the warehouse wall. The reaper rested the bat lightly at her side and watched in satisfaction as the silver demon smashed into the warehouse across the street. The gratifying action allowed her to ignore how the swing made her back and arm ache anew. She was no fighter, but she did have a ways to defend herself when she was on her game. “Man that felt good.”
Irokafue pushed herself up with her stubby arms, shaking to clear her head. She swiveled about to glare at Botan. “Why you… You’re dead!”
The elegant but rough voice of Kurama, still in his full demon form, drew Irokafue’s attention from the reaper. “I’m afraid you have that backwards.”
Irokafue whipped around and found herself staring up at the threatening figure of one of the most infamous and powerful thieves in all of Demon World. Kurama the Yoko was legendary for his cruelty, particularly to his enemies, and the look he gave her silently promised that he fully intended to live up to his reputation.
Botan could not bear to watch as Kurama dispatched the silver demon for good. She had seen enough of his work when he was angry to know that whatever he did would be something particularly gruesome. The unpleasant sounds she tried ineffectively to block out with one hand were more than enough after everything they had gone through.
When silence descended upon the warehouse, Botan allowed herself to feel the first real sense of relief she had since the case began and exhaled deeply. “What a day…” She turned her weary gaze to Amaya. “And what a first impression.”