Chapter 27: Captured Souls
A dark wind blew through the campsite, sending a chill down Botan's spine. With all three boys here, she knew it was time to break the news to Yusuke. She just didn't know how. "Yusuke, listen..." she started, but she didn't know how to finish. He wasn't going to take this well; he was going to be angry, and he became wild and unpredictable when angered.
"Yeah, Botan?" Yusuke propped himself back against a tree trunk.
"I don't know how to tell you this, but..." Botan bit the bottom of her lip. She didn't know quite how to say it, but he had to know. Gathering her strength, she opened her mouth and released the first words that came to mind. "There's something heading this way!"
Before Botan could say anymore, a glowing, red ball of energy whipped past, right underneath her oar. She raised herself up quickly, her eyes watching the energy, as it flew directly into a tree behind her. As the boys turned their attention towards it, the ball struck the tree, causing it to erupt in flames and scattering burning shrapnel everywhere. Botan instinctively rose, covering her face with her arms, while the boys moved out of the way of the fire.
A powerful blade split the trees, flying low over the ground and whipping towards the team. Hiei was gone in a flash, and Yusuke acted quick, shoving Kuwabara to the ground before trying to move himself. The whirling blade tore past at a speed Yusuke had only previously seen in his partner, Hiei. His effort to dodge was strong, but the blade still caught him at a glance, tearing open a gash in his chest before flying onwards, bringing down more trees as it flew.
As Yusuke worked to regain his footing, barely fazed by the gash torn in his chest, something powerful loomed overhead. A dark shadow passed through the trees, letting out a squawk that made a lion's war seem trivial. An obvious distraction, and Yusuke turned around to see the blade coming straight back for them.
The Spirit Detective raised his index finger, channeling his energy through it. For a moment, he considered his Spirit Gun, to destroy the blade before turning his attention to whatever had sent it for them. Thinking better, he knew he may need all four of his shots, and instead leapt straight up, grasping a branch above and pulling himself out of the path of the deadly weapon. He could feel the air moving as the weapon slid past, splitting the tree from which he was hanging but missing him by several inches.
Yusuke dropped quickly from the tree, while Kuwabara struggled to his feet. A hulking creature stood in the distance, straight in the path of the deadly weapon. As the boys watched, its powerful claw ripped out forward, catching the weapon with ease and stopping its movement. Finally stopped, they could see the shape of the killer blade, a spinning star with four points, sharpened to a razor on all edges. To have stopped the weapon without being sliced in half, this creature must be powerful.
"Welcome to the Forest of Lost Souls," the beast called, before dropping the hood of the black cloak that concealed its features. Standing powerfully, a reptilian beast with dark, brown scales that lay powerfully across its body. Its glowing, yellow eyes vented its hunger, and the long, scaled snout filled with sharp, deadly teeth could eviscerate a human in seconds. Holding the deadly star in its right claw, the crocodile beast roared powerfully through the night. "My lord has grown weary of watching you. I will enjoy feasting on your carcasses."
Hiei reemerged in the trees, sword drawn. "This must be the welcoming party." Looking down at the crocodile behemoth below, a grin grew across Hiei's face. "I will give you three seconds to beg for your life."
"One." The avian creature swooped suddenly, in the clearing made by the destruction of the trees. With the cool, dark sky now visible above them, the creature had an opening to dive. With a jaw filled with deadly teeth and the horrible, leathery wings of a bat, the creature, only four feet long, struck at Yusuke, latchings its talons, two rear and two front coming out of its chest, onto Yusuke's torso. "Two." With the proximity providing it an advantage, it bit at his face as he backed up, pushing at the creature with all the strength he had. Desperately trying to break its lock as the creature made a play for his head, he began to channel his spirit energy again.
"Urameshi--" Kuwabara began before something ripped up from beneath him. Three tendrils gripped him, wrapping around his waist and shoulders and tearing him off his feet, forcing him underground.
"Three." Hiei dropped from the branch, moving in a flash. His speed was unmatched; the behemoth couldn't even follow his movements. All he saw before the strike was a flash of metal, before the blade met his shoulder, where the joint met his neck. Time seemed to slow down for Hiei, as his body moved with a speed he knew could not be rivaled; but when his blade connected, there was only a horrible crack of the steel splitting, as the blade shattered upon the beast's hard scales.
Taking advantage of the momentary surprise, the behemoth grasped Hiei with its claw, dropping the spinning blade and raising him up by the throat, snarling. "Fool," the behemoth roared, "I am TARVUS THE UNBREAKING!" Hiei retaliated, channeling the fires of the human world through his arms, not willing to be held at the disadvantage.
The avian predator snapped its jaws only inches from Yusuke's nose, while the Spirit Detective pushed back at its head with his right hand. The beast, however, was not willing to give up its prey so easily, tearing its right front talon across Yusuke's chest, digging it into the gash the blade had torn open before. Yusuke bit his tongue from the pain, drawing his head back and slamming it straight into the head of the demon. His attack succeeded where his hands had failed, cracking the skull of the beast and dizzying it, giving him the opening to wrench it from his body.
Struggling for breath, Kuwabara was drawn powerfully beneath the ground. More tendrils wrapped around his neck and torso, holding him immobile and strangling the breath out of him. As his arms strained to move, he was pulled down harder, until his entire body was submerged in the soft dirt. Darkness pervaded everywhere, and his world was deathly silent until finally he saw it, a deadly, ripping mouth ready to tear him to pieces. Held strongly by fleshy tendrils, his eyes fell in horror on the wooden devil now only a foot away from him. The terrible mouth at the bottom, aching in hunger, surrounded by wooden armor that rose above the surface. Only one thought came to mind, as he screamed. "TREE MONSTER!"
Rising above the carnage, Botan watched helplessly. "Kuwabara!" she yelled as she watched him fall under, before her eyes scanned quickly for Yusuke. But she couldn't see him; finding Hiei in the claws of Tarvus took her entire attention, and she knew she had to do something. "Hiei, I'm–" something struck, something powerful, from behind her. All she saw was a flash of red and blades, before consciousness abandoned her.
Oblivious to the plight of his apparition, Hiei's fists burned hot with the flames of the human world. Slamming them powerfully into the crocodile's body, he struck over and over, his flames lapping at Tarvus's head and snout, his arms, his neck. Finally gripping the wrist of the claw that held him, Hiei's flames slowly burned, trying to singe the claw and weaken its grip. But the behemoth only laughed at his efforts. "I told you," the creature snarled, "I am Tarvus the Unbreaking. My body is indestructible; NOTHING can harm me."
Hiei, both desperate and angry, refused to listen to this. Letting those fires die, he started a new blaze, feeling the darkness flames, the fires of the darkest depths of Makai, begin to swirl on his right arm. He would not be made the fool, and he would not listen to the prattling of an idiot. "You have no idea how tired I am of hearing that claim." It seemed every opponent that faced him seemed to insist on that. He was sick of it.
The avian devil whirled in the air, trying to regain its latch on Yusuke. The Spirit Detective was prepared for it, however, channeling his energy into his entire fist. As the beast dove, he lifted his fist directly in its path, bracing his arm with his left hand. Waiting for it to get close, he called out at the last second, "SHOTGUN!" Hundreds of shots tore out of his fist, blue bullets of spirit energy whipping over and over again, pummeling the bird beast's body. Hammer blow after hammer blow after hammer blow tore into the creature, before it fell, dropping from the sky and hitting the ground hard.
"BLACK..." Enticed, the darkness flames began to grow,
Kuwabara strained under the ground, as the creature pulled him closer and closer to its gaping maw. Its teeth snapped, trying to devour him, while he struggled panicked against its tendrils. "DOUBLE SPIRIT SWORDS!" Two bursts of orange energy grew from his immobile hands, tearing at dirt and tendril alike. Taking advantage of the creature's momentary surprise and the sudden freeing of his hands, Kuwabara struck quickly, lashing his energy blades into its mouth and head. Letting the left drop, he drove the right blade into its mouth. "Sword get longer!" The energy blade grew back, ripping up through the creature's body and breaking free from the stump above, where the spinning blade had cut it before.
"Hiei, don't!" Hearing Hiei's voice, Yusuke moved quickly towards Hiei and Tarvus. As much as he would enjoy seeing the behemoth devoured by the dragon technique, he couldn't afford to lose Hiei right now. The last time Hiei did this, he went into hibernation for an entire day; Hiei was the heaviest hitter he had. He couldn't afford to be left in the middle of Makai with just Kuwabara.
Before Hiei could finish, Yusuke struck at Tarvus, his spirit energy powering his fists while he rammed them into the beast. Smashing at his head, his body, his snout, striking wherever he could find an opening, he attacked relentlessly in a flurry of punches. But the beast was not fazed by the attacks; it cast Hiei aside quickly, before bringing the back of its claw against the side of Yusuke's face.
A pillar of orange energy burst upwards from the tree stump to their left, and before they knew what was happening, the entire stump exploded. Clawing his way back up, Kuwabara gasped for breath, regaining his composure. "Guh...I'm okay, guys...I'm okay."
Yusuke stumbled back, clenching his fists and readying himself for another attack. Hiei flipped in midair, landing and skidding along the dirt. He reached down and gripped the handle of his sword, ready to channel the darkness flames through it if necessary. Kuwabara stood, gasping for breath but regaining his strength quickly.
Tarvus glanced between the three fighters. The odds were now heavy set against him; even indestructible as he believed himself to be, he did not fancy the thought of facing all three fighters alone. Drawing a small packet from the cloak pocket, he slammed it against the ground hard, causing a cloud of smoke to rise quickly and mask the area. The beast disappeared in the disturbance.
Coughing, Kuwabara was the first to speak when the smoke cleared. "Guh...what the -cough- was that about? I was attacked by -cough- a tree monster!"
A moment passed before Yusuke turned his attention to Hiei. Confused, he asked, "I thought you made those up?"
"So did I," Hiei turned away, his Jagan following the path of Tarvus's escape. "The Forest of Lost Souls has many untold secrets still hidden in its depths. I can't pretend to know everything that lurks in this place."
Rubbing the side of his face, Yusuke grumbled. "Eurr...that thing hits like a bus. What was that about, anyway? Botan, did you catch any thing?" Yusuke looked up, searching for the oar he knew would have been up and away from the action. The sky was dark, the cool night sky easily visible above, but...no answer came. "Botan? You there?"
The lack of a response caught Hiei's attention, and he turned his Jagan away from Tarvus, scanning the sky for Botan. There was nothing, however, but cloud and tree as far as he could tell. She had vanished in the conflict!
"This is bad, isn't it?" Kuwabara spoke the obvious with a master's ease.
"Tarvus..." Hiei clenched his fists, not foolish enough to believe the two events were unconnected. Before Yusuke could say anything, Hiei vanished in a flash of speed, following the path his Jagan showed him. All Yusuke or Kuwabara could do now was to follow.
"...nnn..." Slowly, gradually, Botan came to. Laid out across a cold, stone floor, her eyes squinted in the darkness. There was no source of light in the chamber she was left in, except a faint, glowing object on the opposite end of the room. Her vision was blurry, and the back of her head hurt with a dull ache, a mild bump from the impact that had brought her down.
The chamber was cold, and she could feel goosebumps prickling across her body. The cold air was rough against her bare skin, and as soon as she could manage to think straight, the first thing she noticed was that her kimono was missing entirely. She was left with nothing to protect her from the cold, and that frightened her more than the darkness. Trying to curl her body together for warmth and modesty, she tried to make out the glowing object in the distance, but her vision was still too fuzzy to see. In her efforts, she noticed something else that frightened her; her wrists and ankles were shackled, wrists to the wall and ankles to the floor. This not only prevented her from moving, it also prevented her from covering herself too much. What kind of sick freak had her here?
"Beautiful, isn't it?" A familiar voice spoke in the darkness, one she had heard a couple times in her life. It took her a few moments to register it; the voice of Atsuko, Yusuke's mother. But why would she be here? That didn't make sense. "Can you see it, or do your eyes still need time to adjust?"
"I...who are you?" she strained, trying to make out the figure to the side. An answer didn't come to her, though, not at first.
"Take this one to the dungeon for now," Atsuko spoke to someone standing with her. Botan first thought that she was referring to her. "Dispose of it when there's time. I no longer need it." It was then, in a moment of horrible clarity, that Botan realized just who was speaking. It wasn't Atsuko...it may have been her body, for some reason that Botan didn't quite know, but...it wasn't really her. It was HIM.
Suddenly light illuminated the chamber, from torches set on opposite ends of the wall. Suddenly illuminated in the darkness, Botan blushed, trying once more to pull her body closer together. She wished he hadn't taken her kimono; there was no reason for him to do that, other than to make her feel weak. But she knew, inside, that making her feel weak was enough reason to him; she remembered the last time he had invaded her mind, and now she was terrified.
Behind him stood the red demon that Botan was only vaguely familiar with. Kitrone, one of Yoshi Tsarakino's subordinates. But Yoshi didn't care to have her attention on that; instead, he wanted her to see something else. "Look at it," he gestured at the glowing pod in the distance. "Isn't it beautiful?"
Botan's eyes could see it clearly in the distance, and she was both horrified and disgusted at once. For in the pod was the fruit of Yoshi's labors, laying dormant and unconscious. The image that assaulted Botan's eyes frightened her; what was happening to Keiko...she could only hope that the boys would get here and stop this before it carried any further. For there was Keiko, slowly changing within the pod, laying unconscious with her eyes closed...all three of them.
"Now," Yoshi smirked, before resting one of Atsuko's delicate hands on Botan's shoulder. The images, the memories, all came flooding back to Botan, and she was more terrified than she had been when she saw Keiko. She struggled, trying to get away, the predatory grin on Yoshi's face terrifying her. She screamed, but no one who cared could hear. She struggled, but she couldn't move. Her efforts were in vain, and the shackles held her firm. As her eyes began to glow a horrible green glow, she could hear his voice whispering in her mind. "It's time to take back what should have been mine."