Irokafue was dead – Kurama made certain of that. When he destroyed her remains, the tattered scraps of the blue, red, and yellow demons burst into white flame before disintegrating to ash.
With the threat gone, the anger that fueled Kurama’s transformation began to wane, but the sight of his companions’ injuries ensured that enough would remain should he need the power of his yoko body again. He had completely reverted to his human state by the time he joined Botan at Amaya’s side. “How badly are you both injured?”
Botan held a red handkerchief that used to be white over the wounds on Amaya’s face. She raised her eyes to Kurama and gave him a weak smile. “I’ll be alright I think. No broken bones at least. I’m more worried about Amaya. What that witch did to her face was horrible enough, but her hands…”
Kurama noted how Botan’s right arm hung limp at an odd angle before he focused his attention on Amaya. He could not see the extent of the injuries to the Spirit Detective’s face, but her hands suffered severe burns. The right had been blackened worse than the left, but the damage on the right ended just past the wrist, while the burns along the left extended beyond her elbow, the sleeves of her jacket and sweater tattered and scorched on that side. The most disquieting thing was the fact that the burns were saturated with Irokafue’s demonic energy. It was hard to say for sure what affect it would have on the girl – especially considering Amaya’s unusual nature – but given the silver demon’s abilities, he had no doubt that it would be unpleasant for everyone concerned if they did not take care of it quickly. “We should take her to see Genkai.”
Botan nodded, her smile disappearing. “That’s just what I was thinking. If my arm wasn’t messed up I’d fly her there right now on my oar, or at least put some bandages on her. I mean we can’t just carry her onto the train or call a taxi. We could call an ambulance, I suppose, but even if we did they’d want to just take her to a human hospital instead, and we both know regular doctors wouldn’t be able to do anything to help with injuries caused by demons.” She glanced around with a grimace. “Not to mention there’s all these people to take care of. I’ve got to report this to Spirit World before the authorities come by on their own. Their Spirit Energy seems okay, but–”
“Botan,” Kurama said, cutting off Botan’s rambling with a raised but gentle voice. “Calm down. It’s alright. Let me help you get your arm back into place first. After that, you can contact Spirit World while I carry Amaya to Genkai’s home. I can get her there quickly.”
Botan’s shoulders began to slump until a flare of pain reminded her of her injury. She yelped and rubbed her dislocated shoulder. “Sounds like a good plan to me.”
Kurama took hold of Botan’s upper arm, which resulted in a flinch from the aqua haired girl. “On three.” He waited until she braced herself against the concrete with her good hand. “One…”
A bolt of pain flared through Botan’s shoulder, accompanied by an unpleasant sounding pop. She cried out and grabbed her shoulder, which was now properly back in its socket, then glared at Kurama with tears welling at the corners of her eyes. “I thought you said you’d do it on three!”
Kurama had the grace to look apologetic even as the corner of his mouth rose in a small smile. “Sorry, but it’s less painful when you don’t expect it.”
Botan huffed and looked away, her cheeks puffing as her lower lip jutted out. “Okay, I guess that makes sense… but I don’t have to like it!”
Kurama exhaled in a way that almost sounded like a brief note of laughter. He had a feeling that Botan’s anger was more for show than any genuine resentment towards him for his actions. He removed his uniform jacket and lightly draped it across her shoulders. “Here, put this on.”
Botan felt her agitation bleed away at the gesture, confusion growing in its place. “What for?”
“Your back is exposed,” Kurama said. “It would be better if you covered up until you have a chance to heal yourself further.”
Botan blinked slowly at Kurama. Her back continued to ache, but she had healed most of the damage already, or at least she thought so. There was a large hole burnt through her shirt that left most of her back bare, but the chilly early February air helped more than hurt her. In fact, the only thing irritating her injury was her movements and the back of her bra, which barely survived the flames…
Realization hit Botan like a semi-truck on an icy road with no breaks. Her cheeks turned a healthy shade of pink before she began to sputter. She slipped on Kurama’s jacket as hastily as she dared while muttering a quiet word of thanks.
Although Kurama’s smile to Botan was both genuine and convincing, he could not dismiss the anger festering inside of him. Irokafue and her brood were dead, but not before they dealt serious harm to his comrades. The worst part was that the demons only succeeded because they outmaneuvered him and forced him to separate from the girls so that he could not protect them. Had his companions not somehow found a way to weaken Irokafue, they would both be dead. The fact that the demons brainwashed, murdered, and consumed countless innocent people only served to grind salt into the demon fox’s metaphorical wound. Had he not been so concerned about the consequences of leaving Irokafue alive, he would have damned her to a similar fate as the older Toguro brother.
In her dreams, Amaya watched the battle with Irokafue replay itself on an endless loop, the outcome constantly changing. In many scenarios, Botan died a terrible death in front of her at the hands of the silver demon, or, worse, by her hands controlled by the shakuhachi. She saw the talisman fail to free the possessed boy, killing him. Any number of the hostages killed by one circumstance or another, losing her hands completely in the orbs’ explosions or an eye to Irokafue’s claws, and even Kurama falling in battle – they all painted awful pictures that filled her mouth with bile when she finally awakened.
The aching of her hands served to distract Amaya from the acidic taste and reminded her that they were still there. Upon opening her eyes, she saw an unfamiliar wooden ceiling and a rice paper screen door to her side, much like the ones in her aunt’s home. She was warm, covered by a thick blanket, with her head propped up by a low pillow, and a spongy mat beneath her back. It was not the cloud-like softness of her bed, but the futon was a welcome comfort compared to the warehouse’s cold and rigid concrete floor.
Amaya breathed out slowly, her muscles gradually going lax. The battle really was over. She defeated Irokafue and now she and Botan were safe. The children and factory workers were free of Irokafue’s spell. The only real questions pressing on her mind now were if Kurama had made it out okay, where she was, and where he and Botan were.
Amaya turned her head to get a better look at the room and to seek out her guide. Her voice cracked when she spoke due to her parched throat. “Botan?”
A pleasant female voice answered, but it was not the one Amaya had been expecting to hear. “Oh good, you’re finally awake.”
Amaya jerked at the unfamiliar voice and nearly sat up, but thought better of it. The pain that saturated her hands was significantly less intense than it was before she passed out, but she was not eager to apply pressure on them if she could avoid it. Instead, she inclined her head towards where she heard the voice come from.
A rather cute, petite girl in a baby blue kimono moved into Amaya’s range of vision before kneeling beside the Spirit Detective’s head. The girl had long, somewhat unruly turquoise hair tied back into a low ponytail with a frilled red ribbon. She looked at Amaya with dark red eyes that held a surprising amount of gentleness, which matched her kind smile. Her voice was as warm as her expression. “How are you feeling?”
“Relieved,” Amaya said. She found the girl’s appearance comforting, not simply because of the kindly expression and tone, but the vibrant colors of the girl’s eyes and hair suggested that this person too was associated with Spirit World. “We really did defeat that–”
Amaya choked on her words as she noticed something about the girl that she had been too distracted to detect initially. She reared back from the girl while pushing herself up by her elbows. “Demon!”
The girl flinched backwards, startled by Amaya’s reaction, then held up her hands in a placating manner. “Wait, it’s okay! I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not related to any of the evil demons you fought before. I’m a friend of Botan and Kurama.” The girl showed the faintest signs of relief when the Spirit Detective stopped attempting to stand up despite being injured, focusing rapt attention upon her. “I’m sorry I startled you, Miss Mamori. My name is Yukina. I’m an Ice Apparition from Demon World, but Spirit World has been kind enough to give me permission to stay here in Human World.”
For a moment, Amaya debated if she should take Yukina’s words at face value, but then the memory of her embarrassing first meeting with Kurama came back to her, bringing with it an unpleasant heat in her cheeks. She silently chastised herself for repeating the same mistake twice. “O-oh. I’m sorry. I guess I’m just a bit… on edge after what happened before. The demon we fought was…” At the back of her mind, the memory of Irokafue’s laughter rang out, mingling with Botan’s agonized screams. “…Horrible.”
Yukina cast Amaya a sympathetic gaze. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I heard a little about what happened to you. I’m glad you, Botan, and Kurama managed to make it through okay and rescue all those poor humans.”
Amaya allowed herself to relax ever so slightly at the news. “So everyone really is okay?”
Yukina nodded, her expression brightening a bit. “Yes. Kurama brought you here around four hours ago and he seemed just fine to me. Botan arrived about an hour after he did. I think she said she was delayed because she had to make sure all the humans that were hurt were taken care of. She said that Spirit World sent people to make sure that they got home okay and they shouldn’t have any lasting damage from what the demons did to them.”
Amaya let out a breath she did not realize she had been holding during Yukina’s explanation. “Thank goodness.”
“Master Genkai treated your hands for you,” Yukina said. “And I took over once she finished purging the demon energy that was there. Your face is all fixed up, but you should probably stay a little while longer so we can finish healing your hands. But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be fully recovered by tomorrow afternoon.”
Amaya reached up to feel her cheek where the cuts used to be, stopping just short of her healed skin when she reminded herself that touching anything would only bring further pain. White bandages covered her burns completely, wrapped in layers thick enough to hinder her movements, but she supposed that would be more to her benefit, as it would keep her from aggravating her injuries. She noticed that she was no longer wearing her sweater or jacket and was instead dressed in a white short-sleeved kimono. Despite telling herself not to touch anything with her burnt hands only a moment earlier, she felt along her neck to verify that her choker was missing.
Yukina noticed the look of panic that flickered across Amaya’s face after the dark haired girl examined the kimono. “I hope you don’t mind that I changed your clothes while you slept. They were covered in blood and were in the way. They’re in the wash right now if you’re worried about them.”
Amaya held her hand over her naked throat, forcing herself to ignore how even the slight pressure brought pain with it. “It’s… it’s okay. I understand, it’s just…” She found herself unable to meet Yukina’s gaze “I know it’s silly, but I really don’t feel comfortable unless I’m wearing something around my neck.”
“Oh,” Yukina said. The notion struck her as strange, but she felt no need to question it. She untied the ribbon from her hair and offered it to Amaya. “Will this do?”
Amaya felt guilt flush through her over her initial reaction to Yukina’s demonic nature when the red-eyed girl was being so generous and kind to her. She gave Yukina a grateful smile. “Thank you.”
Yukina did not place the ribbon in Amaya’s outstretched hand as the blue-eyed girl expected, but instead moved behind Amaya. “Let me put it on. You shouldn’t use your hands until they’re healed.”
Amaya’s blush darkened. “Oh, right.” She reluctantly lowered her hand from her throat and tried not to squirm as Yukina brushed her hair aside and exposed her neck. She shivered as the ice demon’s cool fingers touched her skin to tie on the ribbon and only managed to relax when Yukina moved away from her. She traced the edges of the ribbon to make sure it was snug. “Thank you for all your help.” She spared a brief glance at Yukina before fixing her gaze on her lap, biting her tongue to prevent herself from apologizing again for being initially alarmed at the other girl’s demonic nature.
“You’re welcome,” Yukina said, a note almost like laughter in her voice. “I’m just glad that I can help. Kurama and Botan have done so much for me, and I’m happy to help them and their friends in any way I can.”
Amaya glanced at Yukina as the red-eyed girl sat down beside her and shared a smile with her. A little more at ease, she shifted her attention to their surroundings. The room was square and small, each wall the length of one and a half tatami mats, which was just big enough to house the futon, a chest of drawers, a low table, and an electric lamp placed in one of the corners. There were two screen doors – the one at her side that she spotted earlier, and the other was set in the wall past her feet. She guessed that one of the doors led outside while the other opened up to a closet. “Where am I?”
“You’re in Master Genkai’s home,” Yukina said. “You’re from Mushiyori City, right?” She waited for Amaya to nod. “Well, I’m not sure how far away that is in terms of miles or kilometers, but I do know that it takes hours to get to the nearest town and a while longer to get from there to Mushiyori.”
“Wait,” Amaya said slowly. “If it takes hours to get here and I’ve been here for four hours…” She glanced towards the screen door she believed led outside, taking in how no light shone through the rice paper. Panic started to bloom inside her. “Oh crap! Mama and Papa must be out of their minds worrying about me! Please tell me it’s at least not past midnight yet.”
Yukina felt both concerned and a little off balance. She had not had to deal with worrying about a parent for quite some time. “No. It’s only eight o’clock.”
Amaya went still, staring intently at Yukina. “Eight?” She thought back to when she last checked the time on her cell phone. “That can’t be right, can it? We got to the warehouse district after two and I might have lost track of time during the battle, but it felt like it lasted a long time… Even if we say it was over at three – which I doubt – that means it took only an hour to get here.”
“Some demons can go very fast when they want to,” Yukina said. “Especially if they’re very powerful. I imagine Kurama managed to bring you here not too long after you received your injuries.”
Amaya raised a finger into the air. She opened her mouth to speak then closed it again and lowered her hand. She thought back to the earlier battle and how she had been unable to keep up with Kurama’s movements much of the time. “O…kay. I guess that makes sense. He is incredibly fast, and strong, and apparently has amazing stamina.” She resisted the urge to rub her temples, leaning back a bit instead. This is going to take some getting used to. She glanced towards the screen door before focusing her gaze back on Yukina. “So where is he now? And where’s Botan? How are they doing?”
Yukina cast her gaze towards the ceiling, her expression thoughtful. “I don’t think Kurama was injured, or at least if he was, he certainly hid it well. As for Botan, I saw some bruises on her wrists, but she said that they’re not too bad so she’ll be able to heal them herself once she rests up a bit.”
Amaya supposed that she should not have been surprised to hear that Botan had healing abilities. “That’s good to hear. When do you think I’ll be able to see them?”
Yukina was unable to answer, as a gurgling growl caught both girls off-guard. Amaya blushed and lightly placed her hands over her stomach. “Excuse me,” the Spirit Detective said. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
Yukina smiled gently and rose to her feet. “Dinner ended a while ago, but I can go find you something from the kitchen if you’d like.” She waited for Amaya to nod before she headed for one of the screen doors, opening it up to reveal an open-air walkway that allowed both girls a lovely view of a well kept outdoor garden and a clear sky glittering with stars. “I’ll let the others know that you’re awake.”
“Thank you,” Amaya said. Just as Yukina started to close the door, the Spirit Detective remembered a crucial detail. “Would you please bring me my cell phone too? I need to call my parents so that they won’t worry about me.”
“Okay,” Yukina said. After shutting the door, she wondered what a cell phone was. It brought to mind a cage with a phone inside it, like the phone booths she saw in the city once. She shook off the image, as she realized that could not be what Amaya was talking about. A phone booth was not something that a human could carry around so casually. She decided to ask Botan about the matter. The reaper knew much more about Human World and their curious customs and gadgets than she did.
Once the sound of Yukina’s steps faded to nothing, Amaya returned her attention to her bandaged hands. She skewed her eyes shut as she brought her arm over her face and sighed. The memory of the battle played itself behind her eyelids, with thoughts of her dream serving as a cheerful reminder of what might have happened if any number of things had gone wrong. I will get better at this… Won’t I?
The main room of the house was quiet, save for the distant rhythmic clunk of hollow bamboo striking stone in the fountain of the koi pond outside. The master of the house, Genkai, held a cup of steaming hot green tea between her hands and drank slowly. Botan sat at the end of the table to the right of the short, elderly martial arts master, swirling the liquid in her half filled cup whenever she was not giving worried glances to the other two seated at her sides. Kurama watched Genkai’s expression with unwavering attention from his seat across the table from her, his cup of tea long since emptied.
Genkai set her cup down with a clack that perfectly coincided with the striking of bamboo, and cast her sharp, dark brown eyes to the two supposed teenagers. “Seems you can’t even take a week off around here without another crisis popping up to bite you in the ass.” Her voice was as caustic as ever, but Botan and Kurama knew her well enough to notice traces of concern beneath the sarcasm. “It sounds to me like there’s been more going on in Mushiyori City than just the end of the world.”
Botan set her cup down, tired of fiddling with it. “Do you think this has anything to do with Sensui?”
“Doubt it,” Genkai said. “Sensui only had one real goal in mind – to get to Demon World and die. Unless he wanted to leave one last mess for Spirit World to clean up, he would’ve thrown those demons at us to buy him more time to open the portal.”
“Agreed,” Kurama said. “Although I believe that it’s too soon to write off any possible connection between the two. I find it unlikely that Sensui knew nothing about the demonic activity in that city, given that he chose it to be the location to create the portal to Demon World and the fact that he was hunting for psychics there for about a month.”
Botan grimaced, her insides twisting themselves into complicated knots. “I’m more concerned about the fact that Spirit World didn’t know this was going on. Some of those children have been missing for years! And all those people in the factory…” Nausea choked off the rest of her words and she swallowed a generous mouthful of tea to wash the taste of bile from her mouth. She set the cup down with a clatter and focused on Kurama. “You’re sure that none of them were still alive?”
The muscles in Kurama’s face were tight, his expression stony, as he inclined his head in Botan’s direction but did not look into her eyes. “There was no trace of Spirit Energy left in any of the victims. The method of execution ensured that if they did not die from blood loss, they would die from a lack of oxygen to the brain.”
Botan blanched at the mental image her imagination helpfully conjured up, and drank more tea to settle her nerves. She felt immensely grateful that she had merely been told about what happened at the meatpacking plant and that she had not witnessed the inside of it for herself.
Genkai hummed, the sound harsh due to the gravely nature of her voice. “This bunch sounds like real experts at keeping hidden and harvesting humans to me. Can’t imagine why they would let a loose cannon like Irokafue into their group.”
Kurama reaffixed his attention sharply on Genkai as she took another sip of tea. “So you believe that there’s more to it than those seven as well?”
Genkai’s eyes half closed as she fixed Kurama with a hard gaze over the rim of her cup, the corner of her mouth twisting, as though her tea had suddenly turned sour. “Anyone with half a brain could figure that out. A hothead who depends that much on hostages and powerful weapons wouldn’t be able to wipe her own ass without help.”
“The question is who,” Kurama said. “And, more importantly, why.”
“You got me,” Genkai said before she drank more of her tea. “But it seems to me that whoever’s in charge set Irokafue up to take care of their food supply. Not even a small army of children turned into cannibals would need to eat that much meat all at once.”
Botan flinched at the choice of words, but she did not doubt that it was the way those demons regarded their victims. “You don’t think it’s…” She hesitated, thinking back to Yusuke and his unfortunate circumstances. It felt like she was somehow betraying him as she forced the words out. “…The Mazoku… do you?”
Genkai shrugged before picking up the kettle at the center of the table and refilled her cup. “Who knows? If three of them could just hop on over to have a nice little chat with Yusuke without King Yama catching them, I don’t see why there wouldn’t be others who decided to stick around for a twenty-four seven buffet. But that’s assuming it’s not just any other type of demon who happens to like the way we taste.”
Kurama stared into the cup in front of him, as though contemplating the lingering remnants of tealeaves at the bottom. “There isn’t enough evidence to lead us to a culprit yet, just hints that there is a larger conspiracy going on that we’re only now starting to see. There is a chance that this could be related to what’s going on in Demon World, say perhaps one of the rulers decided to set up an outpost here before the war starts to gather supplies or for some strategic value. It’s possible it could be a new, previously unheard of fourth faction, who believe Human World is an excellent place to start their empire until they can make their move on Demon World.” He raised his head to look at the two ladies. “However, it’s just as likely that this is the work of a group who has an entirely different agenda, even if it’s merely to live here in secret where there is a constant supply of prey.”
Botan let out a weary sigh, her shoulders slumping. She twitched as her shoulder ached from the action. “So in other words, it could be anyone behind all this, and we won’t know anything until they try something, or until Spirit World intelligence can track them down for us.”
Kurama exhaled deeply as his eyes drifted closed. “That’s about the size of it, yes.”
Botan groaned and held her hands over her face, elbows propped up on the table. “Great, this is just great. King Yama already has Spirit World on high alert because of what’s going on in Demon World. It’s bad enough that some demons got through the portal that we haven’t found yet, but now we might be dealing with the war from Demon World spilling into Human World for all we know. The worst part is we don’t have Yusuke or Hiei to help us on this side of the barrier if it is true.”
Genkai focused her gaze on Botan, the wavy strands of graying pink hair casting shadows over her eyes. “King Yama just might be running you all ragged because he expected something like this to happen.”
Kurama focused his attention squarely on Genkai. “You think so?”
Genkai let out a short, humorless chuckle as she gave Kurama a faint smirk. “Don’t tell me the thought never crossed your mind. King Yama was all hot about killing Yusuke or shipping him off to Demon World like a present because he’s related to one of the rulers. We all know that dimwit couldn’t lead a herd of sheep across a room without losing half of them, let alone lead an army, but that doesn’t mean his ancestor couldn’t hijack his body again and level a few major cities as a warm up before setting up an invasion.”
Kurama slowly raised an eyebrow. “Even if King Raizen’s desire was to avoid doing harm to humanity, which is Yusuke’s desire as well?”
“I doubt that matters to someone like Yama,” Genkai said. “I’ve never known him to be the demon loving type. I’m actually surprised that he let you stay, Kurama.”
“We’ve come to… an arrangement on the matter,” Kurama said.
Genkai let out a quiet hum tinged with dry humor as she sipped her tea. “So you said earlier. You get to stick around with us and your family and all you have to do is just keep doing what you’ve been doing, but with some extra babysitting duties.”
Botan felt her face flush hot as she slammed her hand on the table and straightened up. “Hey now! Just because I don’t fight and wound up being taken hostage doesn’t mean that Kurama is babysitting me!”
Genkai cast an odd look in Botan’s direction before she cocked an eyebrow, her expression turning deadpan. “I was talking about that girl Kurama brought here.”
Words failed Botan, as mortification made her blush spread from her cheeks down to her neck. She muttered a somewhat incoherent apology mixed with a half-hearted excuse as she sat back down properly on her knees. Her shoulders slumped while her body scrunched, as though somehow she might find a way to shrink away and avoid the embarrassment she felt after making such a scene.
Genkai watched Botan a moment more before her gaze shifted in the general direction of the guestroom where Amaya was resting. “That’s another thing I’ve been wondering about. King Yama’s excuse about needing a new Spirit Detective right now might not be that far off the mark, but there’s something else going on there.”
Kurama leaned forward ever so slightly. “Master Genkai, when you treated Amaya earlier, were you able to sense anything at all from her? Do you have any idea how her Spirit Energy is being hidden?”
Genkai rapped her fingers against the tabletop, creating a low, rhythmic drone. “Whoever did it was no amateur, I’ll give you that. Even when I was at my peak I don’t think I could’ve crafted seals as detailed as those.”
Botan felt her embarrassment give way to curiosity. “Seals?”
Kurama perked up at the word. “What sort of seals were you able to detect?”
“Not as many as I’ll bet there are,” Genkai said, her voice low, almost a growl. “The ones I found are not like any I’ve seen before, but they’re close enough to some that are usually used when you want to cover up the fact that there are seals on something to begin with. Only someone who knows what to look for would’ve been able to find them.”
Kurama considered this information for a few moments before speaking again. “Do you think you could remove those seals, if just temporarily, to find out what else is being used on Amaya?”
Genkai gave Kurama a hard stare. “Who do you think you’re talking to? Of course I could. The question is if I should do it at all. I won’t be able to put them back after I take them off, even if it turns out we find something that we didn’t want to get out. We don’t know why those seals are there or what’ll happen once I start breaking them. Unless King Yama decides to let Botan off the hook and tell us everything, the only way we’ll find out otherwise is if the girl knows anything about it or if someone magically drops the answer in our laps.”
Botan flinched at the reminder and squirmed in place when Genkai and Kurama focused their attention on her. She desperately wanted to tell her friends the truth about what she knew. It felt like a balloon inside her chest that kept expanding every minute she was unable to share this secret information, ready to burst at any moment. She bit back the urge to moan in frustration. This is so unfair!
Kurama had considered the risks involved, of course, but he could not shake the suspicion that the seals hiding Amaya’s Spirit Energy were important somehow. There was a very real threat in the unknown, especially when it was a part of someone on their side. “Botan, I understand that what you can tell us is limited, but I imagine if King Yama felt that releasing the seals on Amaya was an unwise course of action, he would want you to warn us of the danger, correct?”
Botan gnawed her lower lip as she thought about what she could tell her friends. There was so much and yet so little that she could actually say. She took a minute to choose her words with care, hoping desperately that King Yama was not watching, or at least that if he was that he would approve of her decision. “I… don’t know, to be honest. This is the first I’ve ever heard about any seals on Amaya.”
Kurama cocked his head slightly. “I see.” He turned his attention back to Genkai. “So there’s nothing you can think of that would allow us to safely acquire more information about this?”
The tapping of Genkai’s fingers increased its tempo while the aging master of the Spirit Wave technique considered the question. “You’d have to find someone who mastered the art of making seals. Unless we luck out and find a psychic out there who just happens to have the power to make a Territory that strips away seals only in their Territory…”
Genkai’s hand stopped moving. Her gaze grew steely as she focused on Kurama. “I’ll admit you’ve got me wondering about what’s going on with that girl. There’s something strange about everything focusing on Mushiyori lately, from Sensui to these new demons to a untraceable Spirit Detective, and I’ll bet King Yama knows a lot more than he’s letting on. Probably even more than he’s letting Botan know.”
Botan twitched before a sour expression twisted her lips. For a brief moment, she considered making some sort of retort on the matter, but nothing suitable came to mind, as a small part of her wondered the same thing.
Genkai only spared Botan a brief glance before she returned her attention to Kurama. “This all seems like the tip of something much bigger, and this girl just might be a part of it, either as a player or a pawn for our side or theirs. Now I know, unlike that dimwit, you actually know how to use your brain most of the time, but I’m going to warn you anyway about not getting carried away. We don’t need someone else trying to rely on dumb luck just because Yusuke isn’t here to do it for us.”
Kurama chuckled softly at both the comment and his memories of some of Yusuke’s more unique victories. “Actually I’d say some of those tactics have helped us rather well in the past, don’t you?” He waited for a moment to watch Genkai’s expression hover somewhere between a scowl and faint amusement. “You needn’t worry. I merely want to know what our options are at this point. I have no intention of doing anything drastic unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Genkai let out a short hum and sipped her tea. The severity of her expression did not waver.
“Wait,” Botan said as she cast an incredulous look Genkai’s way. “You don’t think Amaya is somehow involved with all the demons in Mushiyori City do you?” The silence that followed her question made her anxiety increase drastically. She looked from Genkai to Kurama and back again, seeking out some sign of uncertainty in their expressions. “She couldn’t be… right?”
Genkai took her time in drinking her tea before she answered. “At this point we don’t know anything about what’s really going on.”
Kurama put on a smile to take the edge off Botan’s concerns. “Botan, you know more than either of us about the situation. Do you think Amaya has anything to do with everything that’s been happening in Mushiyori?”
“Absolutely not!” Botan said. She rose until she was practically on her feet as she slammed her hand hard against the table, causing the cups to rattle. “The fact that Amaya just happens to come from Mushiyori has got to be a coincidence! Who cares if she’s got seals that make it impossible to sense her Spirit Energy… or tell that she has a human scent at all? That doesn’t mean it has anything to do with what’s going on! And the fact that she’s got no past and appeared right out of nowhere when she was a small child so we don’t even know if she really is human doesn’t mean that she’s a bad person! She nearly got herself killed repeatedly to save people, including me! So there’s no way that she could be involved in any of this! At least not by choice!”
Kurama waited until Botan had finished her tirade, watching the pink-eyed girl pant quietly due to the extreme emotion in her speech for a few moments before he spoke in a soft voice. “I agree with you. If Amaya is involved, beyond her role as Spirit Detective, I doubt it was her decision. However, it would be foolish to dismiss anything out of the ordinary at this point. Especially after so many people have already died.”
Botan felt her anger shrivel at the reminder, and she practically collapsed back onto her knees with a sigh that came out as a near whimper. She felt, as the Spirit Detective’s guide, she should say more in Amaya’s defense, but the emotional whiplash after the rough day she went through made it hard for her to counter Kurama’s tactful reply.
Genkai regarded Botan through one open eye as she finished off the last of her tea. “As much as I enjoy watching soap operas take place in my living room, I’ve had enough for one night.”
“Agreed,” Kurama said.
The three had barely started to rise to their feet when one of the screen doors slid open. Yukina stood in the doorway of the inside hallway, a troubled expression on her face. In her arms, she carefully balanced a tray of food, wisps of steam rising from the dishes. “Is everything alright, Botan? I heard you yelling from down the hall and I was wondering if something had happened.”
Botan let out an awkward chuckle. “Sorry about that. Everything is fine.” She realized belatedly that she was outright lying to her friend, but she felt too tired to explain her reason for shouting. The last thing she wanted to do was bring up paranoid assumptions about Amaya and risk tainting Yukina’s view of the Spirit Detective before the ice demon had a chance to get to know Amaya as a person first. “So, what’s with the food? It’s a bit early for a midnight snack, isn’t it?”
“It’s for Miss Mamori,” Yukina said. “She woke up a little while ago and she said she hasn’t eaten anything since breakfast so I offered to make her something to eat.”
Fear seized Botan in a cold grip that squeezed her chest, as she wondered if Amaya might have heard her outburst as well. If so, how clear were her words after they passed through the relatively thin walls of Genkai’s house? “R-really?” She tried to smile, but her nervousness tainted the gesture. “That’s good, that’s good!” She moved quickly to Yukina’s side. “Why don’t you let me take this to Amaya? I’m sure she has a lot she wants to talk to me about right away.” Especially if she overheard anything I said about her.
“Of course,” Yukina said as she passed the tray over to Botan. A moment later, her eyes lit up, as she recalled an important piece of information. “Oh yes, Miss Mamori was asking about her cage phone. Do you know where it is?”
Botan blinked, baffled by the term. “Cage phone?”
Kurama covered his mouth to stifle a chuckle. “I believe the term you’re looking for is cell phone.” He pulled Amaya’s cell phone from his pants pocket. “I have it right here. I found it on the floor of the warehouse after the battle. Fortunately, it appears to be undamaged.” He helped Botan balance the tray while she accepted the cell phone.
Yukina looked over the small rectangular plastic device before it disappeared into Botan’s subspace. “I’ve never seen a phone like that before. Where’s the receiver?”
“The phone is the receiver,” Botan said. She let out a small note of laughter when she noticed how the confusion on Yukina’s expression did not waver in the slightest, though her uncomfortable emotions still haunted her voice. “Remind me to explain it to you later.”
“I’d be happy to explain it to you, Yukina,” Kurama said with a smile. “Go ahead and take the food to Amaya, Botan. I’m sure she’s waiting for you.”
Botan cast Kurama a grateful look. She had been worried about how she could tell Yukina that she wanted a private conversation with Amaya without the request feeling awkward, or finding herself forced to explain her reasoning first. With that much of a burden off her shoulders, she managed to be more convincing in her cheer. “Will do!”
In the outside walkway, Amaya dashed away from the main area of the house as quickly as she dared. The socks she wore and the flowing water of the pond’s fountain muffled the sound of her footsteps, but she did not want to risk someone inside the room hearing her retreat. The last thing she wanted to do was alert anyone that she accidentally overheard the others talking about her, especially when she had not intended to eavesdrop in the first place. She had merely been searching for a bathroom.