Initially, Amaya worried that learning about nearly being possessed would have troubled her too much to properly focus on cooking. However, once Yukina showed her the layout of the kitchen and told her what they would be making, she fell into the familiar, comforting rhythm of cooking with someone. The busywork served as a welcome distraction, allowing her mind to drift to other, less stressful topics. “Hey, Yukina? Do you mind if I ask you something?”
Yukina looked up from the tofu she had been chopping with an inquisitive hum. “No, I don’t mind. What is it?”
“I was just wondering,” Amaya said slowly. “Are you and your master the medical staff for the…” She faltered for a moment. “This… Spirit Detective agency thing?”
Yukina blinked. “Not really. I don’t work for King Yama, and neither does Master Genkai. Spirit World only allowed me to stay in this world pretty recently.” Her eyes drifted towards the ceiling, her expression pensive. “Although, now that I think about it, I’ve had to heal Kazuma a few times since I met him and Yusuke, so I suppose that counts.”
The new name caught Amaya’s attention. “Kazuma? Don’t you mean Kurama?”
Yukina snapped her gaze back to Amaya, staring at the other girl blankly for a brief moment. “What? Oh, no, not at all. I don’t think I’ve ever had to heal Kurama. He seems like someone capable of taking care of that on his own.” She paused for a moment, her gaze sliding down to her hands as she resumed chopping. “I suppose the same could be said about Hiei.”
“Oh,” Amaya said. “I thought you were pronouncing Kurama’s name wr…” Her voice tapered off before she gave a brief shake of her head. “Never mind. I haven’t met anyone named Kazuma yet, or Hiei. Who are they, and what’re their jobs?”
Yukina glanced at Amaya, eyebrows raised. “Job?”
The question and expression on the ice demon’s face made Amaya feel acutely aware of her ignorance about her new position, bringing warmth to her cheeks. “Well, I’m Spirit Detective, Botan is my guide to train and educate me and I think Kurama is my… partner?” She paused for a moment, brow furrowing. “Or maybe he’s our bodyguard until I’m strong enough? Botan didn’t really tell me what his title is.”
“I don’t think anyone else besides Yusuke was ever given an actual title like that,” Yukina said. “Kurama and the others are just Yusuke’s friends. They liked to help him out whenever he had to battle with criminals.”
“Oh, I see,” Amaya said quietly. She took a moment to pour rice into the rice cooker before she continued, speaking at a more normal volume. “So what happened to Kazuma and Hiei when Mr. Urameshi retired? Was Kurama the only one who decided to help out the new Spirit Detective, or will I get to meet them soon?”
Yukina let out a thoughtful hum as she set aside the diced tofu and reached for some green onions. “I’m not sure. Kazuma would probably help if you asked, but he’s busy focusing on studying for entrance exams right now.” She paused for a moment, her gaze going distant. “As for Hiei… I’m afraid he’s probably never going to come back to this world.”
Amaya stopped in the middle of reaching for a carton of eggs to focus on Yukina. Something about the way the ice demon phrased her answer seemed off to the Spirit Detective. “What do you mean? Did something happen to him?”
Yukina snapped back to the present and glanced over her shoulder at Amaya. “Oh, no, it’s nothing like that. Hiei chose to leave. You see, Demon World has gotten pretty dangerous lately. One of the three kings of Demon World invited him to stay at their palace and fight for their army, so he left a few days ago.”
“Oh,” Amaya said. A second later, the implications fully sunk in, causing her eyes to widen. “Wait, army? Never coming back? You mean he left to die in a demon war?”
A meaty thunk of the knife biting deep into the cutting board made Amaya jump. The temperature around Yukina dropped noticeably, giving the dark haired girl goose bumps. Tension hung in the air like a fog, so thick that it was almost suffocating. Amaya scarcely breathed, afraid that the slightest sound or movement could cause the ice demon to snap. After a moment that felt far longer than it really was, warmth slowly returned to the kitchen.
“I’m sure it’s nothing like that,” Yukina said, an odd note that almost could have been mistaken for cheer underlining her voice, had it not been so tense. She turned to smile at Amaya before she went to the stove and turned it on, the expression not quite as happy as she likely intended. “Hiei never really liked being here in Human World. He’s been wanting to return for quite a while now. I’m sure he’ll be much happier there than he was here.”
The discomfort Amaya felt was intense. She tried to ignore it and the little voice at the back of her mind that reprimanded her for being so thoughtless with her curiosity. “I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean… That was rude of me to say something like that.”
“It’s okay,” Yukina said softly as she focused on adding ingredients to a saucepan. “It’s nothing I haven’t asked myself already… But Hiei has reasons to keep fighting, so I’m sure I’ll see him again someday.”
Amaya knew that the topic needed to be changed, but it took her a moment to find some segue that did not make her appear even more insensitive. The last thing she wanted to do was to create a bad impression on one of her new co-workers, particularly after Yukina had been so nice to her so far. Not to mention she felt distinctly nervous about angering a no doubt powerful demon. “Y-you would know better than me, so you’re probably right. I’m guessing you came to Earth to avoid the war, or…?” Her voice trailed off on an awkward note, as she hoped that she was not blindly wandering into another sensitive topic.
Yukina blinked and cast a curious look in Amaya’s direction. “Yes, actually.” She paused briefly. “Well, I should say it was one of the main reasons why I chose to stay here. My friends all live here in Human World, and Demon World is so dangerous that I really don’t have much of a reason to go back there except to visit Ree.”
Amaya allowed herself to relax slightly. “Who’s Ree?”
“She’s a friend of my mother,” Yukina said. “She raised me since I was a baby.”
If Amaya had not grown skittish towards the conversation, she would have pried a little further into Yukina’s background and shared her own experiences with adoption. She was more than well aware of how sensitive a topic adoption was. “Have you thought about suggesting to Ree that she should come live here with you? I mean…” She hesitated, not wanting to imply that Ree would be at risk from the war like Hiei.
Yukina let out a thoughtful hum as she slowly stirred the miso soup. “I never thought about it, actually. I doubt Ree or any of the other Ice Apparitions would be willing to leave Glacial Village like I did. They prefer to ignore whatever is going on in the rest of Demon World, and they’re safe hiding away on a floating island that constantly changes location. Besides, there’s not much else there besides snow and ice, so I can’t imagine any of the kings would want to bother taking over a place like that.”
Despite the light tone, Amaya suspected Yukina held some form of bitterness towards the homeland of the ice maidens due to the way the red-eyed girl phrased the explanation. However, the Spirit Detective did not intend to call attention to it. “That’s good! Er, it’s good that they won’t be in danger.” She whisked the eggs as she fumbled for something else to say. “So, how do you like living here so far?”
“It’s so interesting here,” Yukina said. “Kazuma has told me so many wonderful things there are to do and see here in Human World. In fact, he promised to show me something amazing called a movie later today. Have you ever heard of it?”
Amaya tried to suppress a smile that crept up along the corners of her mouth. “Yes. Actually, I’ve seen a few myself. A lot of them are really fun to watch.”
“I can’t wait to see it,” Yukina said. “I just hope no one gets hurt.”
Amaya set the bowl of eggs beside the stove, the plastic making contact with the counter a little harder than she intended. “Why would someone get hurt?”
“Because something is going to blow up because of a man and a woman who keep missing meeting each other during a festival,” Yukina said. She paused for a moment, her eyes drifting upward as she lightly tapped her chin. “I think there was something else about a rival fighting them and trying to pit them against each other. Oh, and there was something about hearts being destroyed.” She turned back to Amaya, clearly confused. “I have to admit I wasn’t sure about some of the things Kazuma was talking about when he was explaining the movie to me, like how love can be a shape, but he assured me it was good.”
Amaya felt taken aback for a moment before she considered the movies that were in theaters. The description was strange, but there were not many films currently playing that involved festivals and an emphasis on love and hearts. She could only hazard a guess as to what Yukina had in mind. “Is the movie called ‘An Explosion of Love?’”
Yukina’s eyes lit up. “Ah, yes, that’s it! Now I remember.”
Amaya did her best not to let her amusement at Yukina’s innocent ignorance show. “My friend Nanako saw that movie earlier this week with her boyfriend and told me all about it. It’s a romance story about a couple who fell in love while writing letters to each other and are trying to meet face to face despite a jealous ex-girlfriend interfering. There’s no real explosions involved, I promise. It’s just called that to sound more exciting and catch everyone’s attention.”
Yukina blinked. “Oh, well, I suppose it worked, considering how excited Kazuma is about seeing it with me.”
Amaya suspected that this Kazuma person was more likely interested in the company rather than the movie itself, but decided not to say as much aloud. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. A lot of people have been giving that movie positive reviews.”
The tension lessened as the girls set about to finishing their work preparing breakfast while making innocent small talk. While Amaya did want to know more about Yukina’s background and Yusuke’s friends, she hesitated to dig deeper. Instead, she indulged in the ice demon’s curiosity by retelling the plots of some of her favorite movies and trying to answer some unusual questions.
“I’m afraid I’m still confused,” Yukina said as the two girls carried the food out into the dining room. “Why would loving more than one person at the same time be bad? I love all of my friends. I can’t imagine just choosing one over all the others.”
Amaya felt as though she was getting in over her head with the conversation. She had been ill prepared for how little Yukina knew of not just about humans, but about romance as well. She could handle the former, but the latter made her acutely uncomfortable to discuss. “Love triangles are a bit more complicated than that. You’re probably better off asking someone who’s experienced in going out on dates and being in relationships about it. They’ll be able to explain it better than I could.”
Yukina blinked at Amaya, her red eyes wide with curiosity. “What’s a date?”
Unwanted warmth came to Amaya’s cheeks as she found herself at a loss for how to respond. “Well, um… that’s… Hang on a second. Let’s put these down first.” She tried to buy time by focusing on setting out the dishes, but all too soon, the task was done, leaving her with the uncomfortable dilemma of figuring out how to explain the concept of dating and romance to someone painfully ignorant to it. The conversation was growing so awkward she started hoping that someone would come by and interrupt it.
The trill of a large bird spared Amaya from having to answer. Both girls looked up in time to see Pu push open the outside door with his beak, allowing in a burst of cold air. The Spirit Detective had the misfortune of being close to the door at the time, the head of the giant blue phoenix with a mane of shaggy black hair and drooping puppy ears appearing right beside her before he letting out a loud twitter for attention. Instinctively, she shrieked and jumped to her feet before scrambling further into the room, away from Pu as he shook snow from his wings onto the walkway. “Wh-what is that?!”
“Don’t be afraid, Miss Mamori,” Yukina said, her voice soothing. “This is Pu. He’s Yusuke’s spirit beast.” She turned to Pu, blocking him from entering further into the room. “I’m sorry, Pu, but there’s not enough room in here for you to sit with the table out, and it’s too cold for you to keep the door open while you eat outside. Go ahead and get comfortable in the other room. I’ll bring breakfast to you there.”
Amaya held her hand over her chest and tried to will her rapid heartbeat to calm down. “O-oh.” She watched Yukina shoo Pu down the walkway, feeling foolish and a little annoyed with herself for getting scared, however briefly, by another ally when first meeting them. “S-sorry about screaming like that. He startled me.”
A scratchy woman’s voice came from behind Amaya, causing the Spirit Detective to jump with a yelp. “A little early in the morning to be so high strung, isn’t it?” Genkai gave Amaya an appraising look through narrowed eyes as the young woman whipped around to face her. “If you get so jumpy about every little thing, you’re not going to last very long in this line of work.”
“Good morning, Master Genkai,” Yukina said cheerfully with a nod of her head. “Did you sleep well?”
“Up until I heard all the racket out here,” Genkai said, her gaze still focused on Amaya.
Amaya felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment, and she backed up so that she could properly bow to Genkai. “I’m sorry, Miss… Master Genkai. Please forgive my rudeness. I think I’m still a little… on edge from yesterday.”
Genkai looked at Amaya a moment more letting out a quiet snort. “At least you have better manners than that dimwit.”
Amaya straightened up and did her best to regain her composure. “My name is Amaya Mamori. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for healing me… and for stopping that… monster from possessing me.” She paused briefly. “Oh, and thank you for letting me stay here last night.”
Genkai raised her eyebrow ever so slightly before a ghost of a smile tugged at her lips. “You can thank me by trying harder not to get yourself killed next time.” She turned to approach the table, hands tucked behind her back. “I’m not running a charity or a halfway house for Spirit World or Demon World you know.”
Amaya felt uncertain how she should respond, as she hesitated to go with her first instinct to give another apology for something she knew she could not help. Mercifully, the appearance of Kurama, closely followed by Botan, spared her from having to say anything.
“Good morning, everyone!” Botan said, her voice brimming with cheer.
“Good morning, Botan,” Yukina said. “Good morning, Kurama. How are you feeling, Botan? Are you feeling any better?”
Botan rolled back a sleeve and winked as she pumped her arm, showing that not only had her shoulder mended, but also the bruises had disappeared from her wrists. “I’m fighting fit and ready to face the day.” She breathed deep and beamed as she turned towards the table. “And the first thing I’m going to take on is this delicious looking breakfast.”
Amaya felt a little more relaxed seeing Botan doing better, which allowed her to greet the pair with a sincere smile. She had noticed the reaper’s injuries the night before, despite Botan’s attempts to hide them, and was glad that her guide had recovered as well. It allowed her tension to ease slowly as they all sat down for breakfast.
The peace was barely lasted long enough for Amaya to take two bites.
“Amaya,” Kurama said, “would it be alright to ask you what happened after I left yesterday?” His expression was serious, but the hint of softness to his eyes promised the Spirit Detective that he would understand if she did not wish to speak.
The miso soup suddenly held little more flavor than warm wet mush in Amaya’s mouth and she swallowed it hard. For a moment, she almost asked if she could do it later – she had already gone over the battle in her mind so many times that she felt as though she was drowning in the memory, and desperately needed more time to breathe. What stopped her was the knowledge was that debriefings were also a part of being a detective. She sipped her tea to buy her a few more moments to mentally prepare herself, as well as figure out where to start.
Amaya straightened up and tried to look Kurama in the eye when she spoke, even if her insides squirmed due to being the center of attention. “Well…,” she said haltingly. “When you ran off, you left too quickly for me to warn you that I saw a lot of people coming from all directions outside… and that they didn’t look right.” She grimaced at the memory of the way the workers moved – particularly their twitching eyes. In the end, focusing on how they moved saved her, but it still disturbed her. “After you left, I also saw through Irokafue’s body. It was like the front half of her chest wasn’t real, so that it could hide two these strange black spheres where her uh…” Her gaze slipped down to her chest and she noticed that her borrowed kimono was a bit more open than she would like, so she tried to adjust it without being too obvious about it or her embarrassment.
Kurama raised his eyebrows. “Can you describe those spheres?”
For one strange moment, Amaya found herself distracted by how the question could have been taken in a different direction, particularly since the person asking was male. She gave herself a mental slap, as Kurama had not shown himself to be anything but a gentleman so far.
Genkai snorted, a wry smile tugging at her lips. “Funny, asking about a woman’s ‘spheres’ sounds more like something the dimwit would do.”
Amaya covered her mouth to hide her sudden urge to laugh, though it came out as a less dignified snort through her nose. Botan was less inclined to hide her giggling, while the blank expression on Yukina’s face made it obvious the innuendo went completely over her head.
Kurama took the quip in good humor and chuckled as well. “Yes, I suppose he might at that.”
Amaya cleared her throat to make sure she could keep her voice steady, privately grateful to Genkai for easing some of the tension. “The… spheres…” She had to pause for a moment to keep a tremor that was almost laughter out of the word. “…W-were black, like tinted glass, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the Psychic Spyglass or if that’s how they actually looked, but I could clearly see that there something like fire burning in each of them, but the fire was white.” She paused for a few seconds before deciding to continue before someone could ask her more questions. “I… I thought they must’ve been her weak spots if she was trying to hide them, so I tricked her into getting close to my Territory, then destroyed one with my talisman.” She paused as she looked down at the hand she used to touch Irokafue, which bore no sign of yesterday’s battle, feeling embarrassed that she was naïve enough to think such a thing. “The other one I shot with my Spirit Gun when she tried to make me kill Botan. It seemed like it finished her off, but…”
The amusement in Kurama’s expression gave way to something more serious. A quiet hum thrummed at the back of his throat as he took in this new information. “Botan, as I recall, you said you heard a scream before the two demons and the workers stopped moving?” He waited to see Botan nod before he looked back to Amaya. “Was that when you destroyed the first sphere?”
Amaya nodded as the moment played vividly in her mind. “I tried destroying both of them at the same time, but as soon as I touched it with the talisman, it exploded and I couldn’t get a shot off with my Spirit Gun. I…” She hesitated, caught in the memory of the pain that had distracted her and slowed her down at a critical time. “Before I could try again, she was already using dozens of workers as human shields, and I couldn’t get a clear shot until I tricked her into thinking she managed to control me too.”
“It was a convincing performance, to say the least,” Botan said. “Even I was fooled!”
Amaya felt her cheeks warm as she gave Botan a smile that mingled an apology and thanks. “I used to be in the drama club, so I’ve had practice with acting.”
Kurama’s expression betrayed nothing of what he thought of this new information. “Was that how you tricked Irokafue to get close enough for you to use your talisman?”
Amaya blinked, surprised that Kurama had guessed so accurately, and then nodded. “Yeah. You see I…” She let out an awkward bit of laughter as her embarrassment mounted. “I kind of… acted like a total catty bitch.” Just saying the words made her cheeks turn a rosy hue, and she forced herself to finish her explanation quickly. “I thought that if I kept insulting her and made her angry enough, she’d get closer to yell in my face, and she’d be so distracted trying to intimidate me that she wouldn’t realize what I was up to until I got her, and it, well, half worked at least, so…”
Botan’s eyebrows shot up as she stared at Amaya with wide eyes. “You really did that? I can’t even imagine it.”
Genkai snickered behind her teacup. “Sounds like the typical tactic of our favorite dimwit.” She set her cup down. “He’d probably be thrilled to know the next Spirit Detective is carrying on the tradition.”
Strangely, Amaya felt a little relieved by the favorable comparison to her predecessor, even if she felt fairly certain that Genkai was merely making a wry remark.
Kurama inclined his head slightly towards Amaya. “Was there anything else you observed that stood out to you in particular? Not just while we weren’t there, but anything you didn’t have a chance to mention before, or any concerns you might have?”
Amaya could have spent hours rambling ad nauseum about the many concerns she had, but she worried that she had voiced too many complaints already to speak up about others. Or at least, anything that felt more like a personal grievance about her role as Spirit Detective. “Well… it has been bothering me that Irokafue’s flute didn’t work on me. Not that I’m complaining!” she hastened to add after seeing the others’ curious looks. “I don’t even want to think of what would’ve happened if it did, but… Well, I figured it didn’t work on you, Kurama, because of how powerful you are, but if it made even Botan move against her will, then why didn’t it work on me?”
“That’s an excellent question,” Kurama said in a near mutter. “Unfortunately, all we have right now are guesses rather than answers.”
Botan felt her skin crawl at the reminder, compelling her to rub away the goose bumps on her arms. “I don’t know about you, but I’m just happy that it didn’t. Anyway, they took the flute back to Spirit World and are examining it as we speak, so we’ll probably have more answers about what exactly it was really capable of soon.”
“So, um…” Amaya hesitated for a moment, poking at her rice with her chopsticks between glances at Botan and Kurama. “Would you mind telling me what happened after you both ran off… and while I was unconscious?”
Amaya remained silent as she took in every word Kurama and Botan said, refraining from doing more than grimacing at the more unpleasant parts – such as when Botan was injured and how a number of the controlled people came to dying in the crossfire of Kurama’s ‘game’ with the purple demon. They left out mention of the victims of the meatpacking plant, as well as the lengthy conversation the pair had with Genkai afterward, due to their unspoken agreement that it was too soon for the Spirit Detective to know too many things upsetting things all at once. The blue-eyed girl was unaware of these omissions, save for one – the attempted possession.
“Oh, that reminds me,” Botan said, bringing Amaya’s thoughts away from that little detail. “I received an update this morning from the cleanup crew. It seems they couldn’t find any sign of that demon you froze, Kurama, or that weapon of hers. All they found was ashes encased in blocks of ice and those dead flowers of yours.”
Kurama was unconcerned to learn that the flowers he grew were dead – he used his energy to end their lives before he left with Amaya. What bothered him was the lack of a body, though he could not say that the news surprised him. “I suppose that’s to be expected. Once Irokafue died, her body, as well as those of her ‘children,’ self-destructed with white fire.” He glanced towards Amaya. “Perhaps it’s somehow related to the flames that were inside those spheres she carried with her.”
The conversation had dulled the taste of the food, but Amaya continued to pick away at her half-eaten breakfast, both out of politeness and because she knew that she needed to regain her energy. She washed down a mouthful of bland rice with weak tea before she asked a question that had been bearing down on her since she woke up that morning. A part of her hesitated to voice it, because she could not think of any answer that would not trouble her. “What’s going to happen to the children now?”
Botan blinked, startled by the sudden question, and lightly tapped her lower lip with her chopsticks. “Well, they’ll be sent home of course.”
The quiet question brought an undercurrent of tension in the air, though both Botan and Yukina appeared confused. Botan was the first to break the silence. “What do you mean?”
Amaya hesitated for a moment as her stomach twisted itself in knots, making her regret her persistence to continue eating. “Some of them…” She paused to find a better way to phrase her thoughts, her eyes drifting to the table. “What Irokafue said about the children not aging… the summer clothes… that many children going missing without it being all over the news…” She forced herself to meet Botan’s gaze. “She must have been doing this for years, kidnapping only one or two at a time so that no one will notice. How can the ones who have been trapped there for years go home again when they haven’t aged at all?”
Botan flinched back slightly from the question, stammering for a few moments in her attempt to come up with an answer. “Uh, well, I…” She grew more uncomfortable as everyone present focused their attention on her. “Last I heard, a committee is being put together to decide how best to deal with this situation, but I think they’ll probably come up with a convincing story to explain everything and make sure that none of the children will have to remember anything that happened to them.”
Yukina looked to Botan, hope in her eyes. “So the children are going to be okay then? That’s such a relief.”
Amaya found little comfort in Botan’s words even if Yukina could, as they did not really answer her question. She felt compelled to press further on the topic, but she found herself at a loss for words. Explaining away Horumon’s rampage had felt flimsy enough – though admittedly it likely felt that way since she had witnessed the truth up close and personal – but she could think of only one way what happened to the children could remain hidden. “So you’re sure that they’ll be able to go back home?”
Botan blinked owlishly at Amaya, as though the Spirit Detective had spoken another language. “Well of course! Why wouldn’t they?” She paused for only a beat, cutting off any chance for a reply. “Anyway, you really shouldn’t worry about it, Amaya. Spirit World intelligence has been covering up demonic activity for centuries. If anyone can figure out a way for this whole mess to blow over completely without anyone else finding out, it’s them.”
Concerns still lingered at the back of Amaya’s mind, but she forced them back as best she could as her eyes dropped to the table. She wanted to believe Botan, and have faith in the people who chose her to be Spirit Detective. She opened her mouth to ask about one last detail that would not leave her alone, but quickly covered it up with her cup, swallowing both her question and a generous amount of lukewarm tea in one gulp. She could not ask here, now, with so many people around. Her one question would open her up to many in return that she did not want to answer. She regretted that she had not thought to talk to Botan about such a personal topic last night when she had the chance, but she supposed she would find out the answer either way eventually.
The doors slid open with a clatter as a loud, boisterous, and rather rough voice broke through the weighty atmosphere. “Good morning, Yukina, my love!”
Amaya jerked at the newcomer’s sudden appearance, her instinctive yelp drowning in another mouthful of tea. She choked the liquid down before coughing as she rapped her chest to clear her lungs.
Yukina’s face lit up with a smile as she turned towards the open door. “Good morning, Kazuma. I didn’t expect you to arrive here for a few more hours yet. I would’ve made more for breakfast if I had known.”
The tall teenage boy with the burnt orange pompadour standing in the doorway could have been intimidating due to his size and the toned body barely hidden by his long green jacket, if not for the goofy smile on his face and the way he giggled. “Don’t worry, I already had a big breakfast on the train. I was just so excited to spend time with you that I couldn’t wait until our…” That was when Kuwabara noticed the other people in the room. “Huh? Kurama? Botan? What the heck are you guys doing here so early?”
“Freeloading,” Genkai said, though her sarcasm lacked any real bite. “What else?” She sipped her tea calmly without once glancing towards the door, her eyes rarely straying far from the Spirit Detective.
“Good morning, Kuwabara!” Botan said, smiling brightly at her friend. “Actually, we’ve been here since last night.” She spared a brief glance towards Kurama and Amaya. “You see, we just closed a new case, but there’re a few… problems, so we came here for Master Genkai’s help.”
Kuwabara’s eyes widened in surprise. “New case?” He paused, as a sudden thought struck him like thunder. “You mean Yusuke’s back?” He looked around for his friend and rival, but halted upon noticing Amaya. “Huh? Who’s this?”
The question made Amaya too self-conscious to reply, at least not right away, so she drew out the chewing of her rice to delay her response.
Botan felt flustered as well, but recovered much more quickly, sparing Amaya the need to answer. “Oh, right, you two haven’t met yet. Kuwabara, allow me to introduce you to Amaya Mamori. She’s…” The rest of what she intended to say slipped away from her, as a part of her still refused to voice the simple fact that Yusuke had been replaced.
Kuwabara failed to notice Botan’s hesitation or the hint of pain in her expression, as he already focused on the newest member of their team. “It’s nice to meet you, Amaya.” He flashed Amaya a grin before subtly shifting his stance, his chest puffing out slightly. “The name’s Kazuma Kuwabara, the number one punk of Sarayashiki Junior High.”
“It’s nice to meet you too,” Amaya said, and she meant it despite the awkwardness she felt. She glanced at Botan, wondering if her guide would explain the situation, until she saw the look in the other girl’s pink eyes. “I–”
Kuwabara let out a short bark of laughter, accidentally cutting Amaya off. “About time I got to say that without that punk interruptin’ me.” He returned his attention to his friends. “So where is Yusuke anyway? If he thinks I’m gonna help when he came back early without lettin’ me or Keiko know, he’s got another thing comin’ unless he’s got a darn good excuse!”
Botan felt her stomach churn unpleasantly. “A-actually Yusuke is still… uh… still visiting Raizen.”
Kuwabara’s expression turned blank. “Huh? But I thought you said we had a new case. How can there be a new case if there’s no Spirit Detective to take the case?”
Botan shifted in place as she moved her chopsticks around on her plate without any real purpose. “Oh, uh… well… a-about that…”
“There is,” Kurama said, his voice just loud enough to interrupt Botan while still carrying a soft undertone. “King Yama has already seen fit to appoint a successor for Yusuke.” He gestured towards Amaya, who looked up almost on cue.
Kuwabara stared at Amaya, blinking slowly. “A successor?” His entire body jerked as the ramifications sunk in. “Wait, what?!” He failed to notice how Amaya flinched at his shout and whirled towards Kurama. “What do you mean King Yama replaced Yusuke?! Koenma’s the one in charge of who gets to be Spirit Detective, and there’s no way he’d let that fly!” He paused when he remembered the new Spirit Detective was present with them, and cast a sheepish glance Amaya’s way. “Uh, no offense.”
Amaya fixed her eyes to the table, her hands moving mechanically to force herself to finish her breakfast. The polite thing would have been to lie and claim that she was not upset by the topic, or by the fact that they were talking as though she was not present. I wonder if they all reacted this way.
“Now, wait a minute, Kuwabara,” Botan said. “I’m as upset as anyone…” She glanced at Amaya. “Er, I mean, I… Well, I mean I didn’t want Yusuke to leave either, but Human World still needs a Spirit Detective right now, and since Koenma, uh, took an extended leave of absence, King Yama had to take over and pick out someone who could handle the job.” She turned towards Amaya pointedly. “And I think you’re doing a wonderful job so far, Amaya. I’m sure Yusuke would say so too if he were here.”
Amaya swallowed the last bit of food she had spent too much time chewing, as warmth spread through her cheeks. While she hesitated to completely raise her head or speak, she showed her appreciation towards Botan with a smile half hidden by her bangs.
“I agree,” Kurama said, casting a kind gaze Amaya’s way. “In fact, I dare say Yusuke would feel relieved that you’re here while he’s away. Your help was invaluable yesterday.”
The heat intensified in Amaya’s face and she fumbled for a moment before she could reply. “Th-thank you…” She straightened up, tucking her bangs behind an ear as her smile strengthened. “I’m glad… that I could help.”
“Yesterday?” Kuwabara looked from Amaya to his friends and back, his expression hovering between frustration and concern. He sat down at the table beside Yukina with little grace, settling on feeling sour towards secrets kept hidden from him. “Okay, someone better fill me in about what’s going on right now.”
It was tricky to be brief when summarizing the events that had occurred in the past handful of days, despite leaving out certain things that Botan and Kurama had agreed to keep from Amaya for now. Botan did most of the talking, with Kurama taking over whenever she faltered on certain details, and Amaya speaking up only sparingly. By the time they finished, Kuwabara was leaning back on his arms, his eyes wide.
“Whoa…,” Kuwabara said. “That’s heavy stuff.”
“Those poor children…,” Yukina murmured.
Kuwabara straightened up and leaned across the table towards his friends. “So, what, the kids are gonna be alright, right? You said they got changed back and are gonna go home, but I don’t wanna think they’re gonna have nightmares of having eyes that glow in the dark.”
Botan tried to smooth over Kuwabara and Yukina’s concerns with a smile. “Don’t worry. Spirit World will make sure none of the children remember anything that happened to them. They’re going to be just fine, I’m sure.”
“I sure hope so,” Kuwabara said before he exhaled deeply. “Man, why do I always gotta be the last one to find out about these things? If I’da known there were demons that got through the portal, I would’ve hunt ‘em down myself and sliced ‘em into itty bitty pieces with my Spirit Sword!” He held his fists close together and pantomimed cutting down invisible demons for a few moments before he scowled. “And how long were you gonna wait until you told me Yusuke’s been replaced, huh?” He paused and glanced at Amaya with a hint of guilt in his expression. “Er, no offense.”
Despite the fact that her breakfast was not sitting well in her stomach, Amaya wanted there to be more for her to eat so that she could use it as an excuse not to respond. As things stood, she could only give Kuwabara a half-hearted smile in an attempt to diffuse the awkwardness of the situation.
Botan shifted around to find a more comfortable position to sit in. “Uh, well, that… well it isn’t exactly an easy topic to discuss, you know. And it’s not as though we were keeping it a secret or anything. King Yama only told me about a few days ago – he hasn’t even made a public proclamation to Spirit World about it yet – and I was just looking for the right time to let everyone know about it.” She placed her hands down onto the tabletop. “B-besides, if I interrupted your studies again, I’m pretty sure Shizuru would kill me!”
“Botan does have a point, Kazuma,” Yukina said. “Shizuru has been cracking down on your studies pretty hard, hasn’t she? She only lets you visit Master Genkai and me after you pass those practice tests she gives you.”
Kuwabara’s expression contorted at the thought of Shizuru – more specifically his sister’s wrath. “Okay, I guess I can understand that. It’s not like I’m wild about getting on my sister’s bad side either.”
“Besides,” Kurama said, “you’re far from the last person in our group to find out.” A wry smile tugged at his lips. “For instance, I doubt Hiei has any idea of what’s been happening on this side of the barrier since he left.”
Kuwabara let out a short burst of laughter. “Hah! So Shorty gets to be the one left outta the loop for once.” His grin stretched nearly from ear to ear. “Serves him right for running off like that.”
Botan felt a growing sense of relief that the tension in the air was slowly fading away. “Anyway, there’s nothing more any of us can do right now except wait for Spirit World intelligence to track down where the demons might be hiding.”
“And continue my training,” Amaya said. A beat later, when everyone looked her way, she almost regretted saying anything at all. “Right?”
Botan felt her enthusiasm multiply thanks to Amaya’s willingness to grow as a Spirit Detective. “Right you are! We’ll be much better prepared for the next mission. I guarantee it.” She paused and glanced over at Genkai, her gaze almost innocent. “And speaking of training…”
The look Genkai returned was deadpan. “Just because I took the dimwit as my successor doesn’t mean I’m going to be training every Spirit Detective King Yama sends my way.”
“Yes, well,” Botan said, flustered. “I wasn’t trying to imply… But you, trained those boys from Mushiyori, didn’t you? Amaya also has the power of Territory, so perhaps you could at least give her a few pointers on how to use it? Any sort of tips you might have for her at all would be of great help to us.”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to do it,” Genkai said, her voice not quite as sharp as before. “Showing you kids how to not get yourselves killed is easier than picking up the pieces. Just don’t expect me to pull off the same results I got with Yusuke.” She cast a pointed gaze in Amaya’s direction.
Amaya tried hard not to flinch as Genkai stared hard into her eyes, despite feeling as though the elderly woman was somehow gazing deep into her soul and judging her lacking. She tactfully averted her gaze towards the table as she bowed her head. “I appreciate whatever help you’re willing to give me, Master Genkai.”
The corner of Genkai’s mouth quirked upward slightly.
Kuwabara’s curiosity grew as he looked to the new Spirit Detective. “Oh, so you’re from Mushiyori like Mitarai and the other psychics, huh? So what kinda stuff can you do?”
Amaya felt almost relieved to be given a chance to prove that she could do something worthwhile. She traced a circle on the table around her teacup, creating a glowing blue ring that turned a dome that completely surrounded the cup. “Those barriers I made that we told you about? Those are my Territory.” She carefully balanced her empty rice bowl on top of the glowing shield, demonstrating that there was a distinct space in between two dishes. “I also know how to make protective talismans, and Botan taught me how to fire the Spirit Gun.”
Kurama watched intently as Amaya push the bowl down through the barrier with little resistance, until the dish was balanced directly on top of the teacup. “That reminds me… Where did you learn how to make your talismans? I don’t recall you ever mentioning that.”
Amaya blinked and looked up at Kurama in the same instant that her Territory disappeared. “Oh, I got it from a book I once read. I’ve been reading books on the supernatural since I was little and, well, when those demon insects invaded, I kept testing different symbols until I found something that works.”
Kurama tilted his head slightly. “Do you remember which book you read that told you how to make the talismans you’ve been using for your charms?”
Amaya’s brow furrowed as her eyes drifted towards the ceiling. She was not completely able to suppress her discomfort as she finally gave Kurama a shrug. “I’ve read a lot of books.”
Genkai rose to her feet. “Alright, that’s enough sitting around talking. Come on, Girl.” She spared Amaya only a short glance before she headed towards the doors, her arms folded behind her back. “If I’m going to teach you anything, I need to know what you’re capable of.”
Amaya moved to her feet quickly after a belated start and spared the others a brief glance before she followed Genkai. She felt her pulse quicken, as she suspected that she was going to be tested more critically than with Botan or Kurama, if the elderly woman’s attitude was any indication. She tried to ignore the sound of the others’ footsteps as they followed as well, likely out of curiosity. She did not need the risk that performance anxiety would make her do something humiliating in front of a small crowd.
The place Genkai brought Amaya and the others was a sizable clearing in the woods a fair distance from her home. The large pine trees overhead had caught much of the fallen snow from the previous night, leaving nearly a circle of brown grass that framed dozens of large rocks lying scattered about. The master of the Spirit Wave technique jerked her thumb towards one of the more sizable boulders. “Let’s see how much damage your Spirit Gun can do to this rock.”
Amaya looked at the stone then nodded, somewhat relieved. This test was not much different than the one Botan had her perform the other day. “Alright.” She nearly asked if Genkai wanted to see the full extent of her power using the Concentration Ring, but thought better of it. Botan had not wanted her to use it during her initial trial of the Spirit Gun, and she did not want to look foolish by asking unnecessary questions. She closed her eyes so that she would not focus on how so many people were standing nearby, watching her as she shifted to a more braced stance, and focused instead on her task and the small relief she felt that her hands were well enough that she could perform.
The experience was much like the first time Amaya fired her spirit gun, only the tension was noticeably higher. She feared failing the others’ expectations even more thanks to the realization that everyone present, even Botan, wished that it were Yusuke standing there instead of her. She forced herself to ignore the strange tension that built inside her body when she gathered her Spirit Energy, the sensation focused particularly where her finger glowed a brilliant blue. She knew now was the time to release that energy, but somehow it seemed noticeably more difficult without the Concentration Ring. For a moment, she panicked that her bad experiences with the Spirit Gun had created some form of subconscious interference, and she forced herself to unleash her attack.
The light of her Spirit Energy was almost blinding when Amaya used her Spirit Gun. The recoil shuddered up her arm and rocked her to the bones. For the span of a heartbeat, there was a sense of bewilderment among those watching, as the energy never left her body, leaving the boulder completely untouched. Confusion turned to alarm as the Spirit Detective teetered backward, crumpling like a ragdoll.
Kurama almost reacted too late to catch Amaya before she hit the ground. He called her name, but the Spirit Detective did not answer. Her jaw was taut, blood trickling from the corner of her mouth where her teeth bit into her cheek when they clenched. Her eyes were skewed closed, spilling trails of tears down her face, which served to highlight the agony etched in her expression.
Botan ran to Amaya’s side along with the others. “Oh my goodness! Amaya!”
Kuwabara took one look at Amaya before he turned his attention to his friends, and then their surroundings. “What the heck happened? Did someone attack her or somethin’?”
“No,” Genkai said, her voice calm despite the situation. “There’s no one else here but us.”
“Oh dear,” Yukina said. She knelt beside Amaya and brought her hands to the Spirit Detective’s cheek, healing the only injury that she could see.
“Amaya!” Kurama said, raising his voice. “Can you hear me?”
Amaya shuddered as she slowly moved her head in a nod, though it was clear the action took a toll on her. With much effort, she managed to open her eyes as she forced her teeth apart. She moved her mouth as though speaking, but the only sound that passed from her lips was her ragged breath.
Yukina looked over Amaya, a growing sense of confusion mingling with the worry in her expression. “I don’t see any injuries, do you, Master Genkai?” She turned to Genkai, who had been the last to approach, though the martial arts master had been watching Amaya the entire time with sharp eyes.
Botan hovered nearby, not wishing to crowd Amaya or get in the way of Yukina or Genkai. “What happened? Where does it hurt?”
Amaya did not utter a sound, though her lips still moved as though she was speaking with great difficulty.
Botan had been ready to ask another question when Kurama spoke first. “She can’t speak,” he said, never taking his eyes off Amaya. “Amaya’s voice stops working whenever she’s in significant pain.”
Kuwabara outright gawked at Kurama. “Say what? How do you know that?”
“It’s what she’s trying to tell us right now,” Genkai said, only sparing Kuwabara a brief glance out of the corner of her eye. “You’re lucky at least two of us know how to read lips.” She moved in closer, Botan and Yukina moving aside to give her some space as she examined Amaya more closely. After a moment, her brow slanted as she let out a low, displeased hum.
Botan felt her anxiety grow stronger by the second. “What is it, Master Genkai?”
Genkai regarded Amaya, who tried to look back at her with eyes that were reluctant to focus. A second later, she struck, her fingers jabbing the Spirit Detective’s neck where Yukina’s ribbon covered it. Amaya’s eyes rolled upward as her eyelids closed, her body going completely limp against Kurama.
Kuwabara jerked then whirled towards Genkai. “Hey, what the heck did you do that for?”
Genkai ignored Kuwabara, turning her attention to Kurama instead. “I have a strong hunch about one of the seals.”
Kurama’s gaze lingered only a moment longer at Amaya’s face, now relaxed and free of pain, before he met Genkai’s gaze. “What is it?”
“Whoever wanted to hide Amaya didn’t want her hurting anyone either,” Genkai said. “At least not by herself. If I’m right, unless she uses some kind of tool like her talismans to draw it out, whenever she tries using her Spirit Energy to attack, it’s going to rebound inside her and make her feel like she’s being dragged through Hell.”
“Master Genkai,” Yukina said, “isn’t there anything we can do to help her?”
Genkai shook her head, her expression stoic as she regarded the others. “There’s no injuries for us to heal, so it’d be a waste of time and energy to try. This is just the seal using Amaya’s own Spirit Energy to torture her whenever she does something she’s not supposed to. Not even painkillers will do much to help her right now.”
Genkai focused back on Amaya, but no matter how often she looked at the girl, there was no trace of Spirit Energy to read, just the barest hints of something more that eluded all of them. “The best thing we can do for her is to let her sleep through it.”