Chapter 20- The Ascension

In the moments before the explosive wave hit the train, Watari's scream echoed through the train car.

"DO IT!" the scientist yelled at the top of his lungs. The next thing he knew, he felt Siechirro grab his hand and they teleported together towards the wave. Teleportation usually wasn't frightening to either shinigami. It was something they simply did, instinctually.

This time, however, it was terrifying. Watari felt his heart leap into his chest, as they felt the world shift around them. He heard nothing but screaming, the screeching of the train breaks, and the roar of metal as it was twisted and broken. All around them was chaos. Watari's ears hurt from the noise. He thought Seiichiro yelling to him, but he could not make out the words. Suddenly there was someone else with them, as Tatsumi reached out between the shifting worlds and pulled someone with them. Watari screamed.

"Seiichiro! Don't!"

But his lover and partner did not seem to hear him, or chose to do so regardless. And then who Tatsumi was grabbing hold of became clear.

It was Tsuzuki.

All three shinigami hit the earth hard when they landed. Tsuzuki was stumbled to his feet.

"Tatsumi!" Tsuzuki cried. "Rhodes was still on the train! I don't think he teleported off! I was trying to get to him!"

"There was not time!" Tatsumi barked back. "If that was his choice, then that was his choice!"

"I could have reached him, if you hadn't pulled me back!" Tsuzuki argued back, tears streaming down his face.

"I won't see you sacrifice yourself for him!" Tatsumi retorted. "Not after what he's done!"


"I had to make a choice!" The secretary said directly. "And I chose to save you."

'Seiichiro.' Watari said. He noticed how his lover was shaking with emotion.

Tsuzuki looked at the twisted metal of the train. It was a warped mass that smelled of gasoline and blood. His thoughts went to the moments before Tatsumi grabbed him. Tsuzuki saw the car start to shake itself pieces and the other shinigami were teleporting all around him. But Rhodes remained where he was. His sorrowful eyes went to Tsuzuki and his lips moved. Tsuzuki couldn't hear what he was saying from roar of destruction all about him. He thought about what Rhodes might have said, how those lips moved, and then he realized what the shinigami traitor had said to him.

"I'm sorry." These were the last words of Rhodes existence. Tsuzuki knew for no one could survive such a direct impact. Not even a shinigami.

"No one could have survived that." Watari said. "And it may be that he didn't want to. But how do we find Bon now?"

"I can find him." Bert moaned as he got up off the ground. "I did it before."

Another cry of pain caught the Shinigami's attention and they turned towards the sound. It was from chief Konoe. He grasped his left hip and found he could not rise from the ground. His face was contorted with agony.

"Chief!" Watari cried. "Are you all right?"

"I don't think so." The chief said. He gritted his teeth through the pain. Watari examined him. The chief cried out in agony when the scientist tried to move his leg.

"I think your hip is broken." Watari said. "It will be a few hours before the shinigami healing factor allows you to walk."

"Kurosaki-kun does not have a few hours." The chief said firmly. "Go on without me."

"What?" Watari replied.

"You heard me. And that's an order." The chief said.

"But we can't leave you hear by yourself." Watari said.

"I'll stay with him." Donna said. "You all go on."

Watari nodded.

Tsuzuki looked at the train wreck again. His thoughts went to Rhodes again and guilt tugged at his gut. But the chief must have known what he was thinking, or it was plain on his face.

"Tsuzuki." The chief said quietly. The amethyst eyed shinigami turned towards him.

"Tsuzuki." The chief said again. "You cannot save everyone. Even as a shinigami, it is impossible. So focus on who you can."

"Let's get going." Tatsumi said.

"Donna, call me on my cell if you need us." Watari said.

"Can't." she replied matter of factly. "That EMP would have rendered it useless. But don't worry. We'll be fine."

"Tatsumi," the chief said. "I need to speak to you alone."

The secretary nodded. The rest of the shinigami walked a little away. Bert picked up his gun case, which now appeared as what it truly was, the fuda having been damaged upon their impact. Tatsumi kneeled by the chief, listening.

"Tatsumi." The chief whispered. "Its very important you get the flame of souls back as soon as you are able. Say nothing to the others, especially with Tsuzuki, but I dare not think too much on the suffering the human passengers on the train are going through. Being that they cannot die, some of them must be in unimaginable pain. Get the flame and have one of Tsuzuki's messengers send it back to the castle. We need to let the cycle of life and death continue again, and put some of these people out of their misery. It is the kindest thing we can do."

"I understand sir." Tatsumi said.

"And Tatsumi, failure is not an option. However, the survival of the offenders is. Their tampering with things will put them beyond the flames effects. You know what I mean by that."

"I do sir." the secretary nodded.

With regret, the shinigami left chief Konoe and Donna behind at the landing point. As they stood on the edge of the Aokigahara forest a feeling of dread overwhelmed them.

"This place reeks of death." Bert mumbled.

*There are no birds here.* Katie sent quietly.* No animals, I can't hear anything. It's like I'm deaf.*

"We won't find Kurosaki-kun but just standing here. Come on." Tatsumi commanded, and he entered the forest without looking back.

The moment each shinigami touched the soil of the forest floor, their worst memories were brought into their unconscious. Everyone stopped for a second and took a breath.

*I'm going to transform.* Katie-Chan sent. Her broadcast seemed to tremble, like the breaking of a voice when overcome with emotion.*I... I can't stand it anymore.*

Without a thought to what she would wear next, she transformed and her clothes were shredded around her. She sighed.

*Well that's better. It still hurts, but not as bad now.*

"Good." Bert said. "I wish I could do the same BB."

"I feel cold." Wakaba said, hugging herself. "Something doesn't want us to go any further."

"Don't think about it." Tatsumi replied. "Everyone focus on why we are here, and what we have to do. Myers-san have you caught a scent?"

"Not yet, we need to go further in."

*Further into the mouth of hell.* Myers-san thought.

Hisoka woke up as he was lying on the forest ground. He struggled to sit up. He saw the dark trees and there seemed to be no sun. He couldn't tell what time of day it was. He heard Muraki and Jenni talking about something some distance away from him but he couldn't hear their words. He felt tired, more tired than he ever had felt before his life, or his time with the EmmaCho. He thought he saw someone else in the trees for a moment. Yes, there was someone there. Someone was walking towards them. It was a salary man. For a moment Hisoka felt hope leap up.

"Taskate!" the empath yelled to the salary man. "Onigai! Taskate!"

Hisoka's eyes darted to his captors who had stopped their conversation, surprised at his outburst. But they did not rush forward to him to silence him. For a moment, Hisoka wondered why.

But the salary man didn't seem to hear Hisoka. He took off his tie and before Hisoka's shocked face, the salary man hung himself on a nearby tree. The empath closed his eyes at the sight. He heard Jenni's hideous laugh. Muraki walked up to him.

"There's no one there, poppet." Muraki cooed. "You must have seen a ghost."

Tears welled up behind Hisoka's closed eye lids. He felt the despair of the woods around him seep into his heart. Was there no escape for him?

"Poor child," Jenni shushed in mocking tones. "Do the woods frighten you?"

"Teme!" Hisoka cursed at her.

"That's a poor way to speak to me." Jenni said. "For that, you have to walk the rest of the way."

Muraki grabbed Hisoka by his kimono flaps and pulled him to his feet. Hisoka's eyes went wide in alarm as he felt his kimono open in the tussle. Muraki looked at Hisoka's face, and then looked down at his crotch. The doctor smiled and then brought his eyes up towards Hisoka's once more. The empath felt the doctor's lust not only for his body, but for his screams of agony.

"What a face." Muraki said. "Your shame is beautiful."

"I..I won't move a step unless I'm covered." Hisoka said. He tried to sound stern, but he heard his voice waver.

Muraki's hands went down Hisoka's exposed mid section. The doctor reached in, making sure to brush his cold hands against Hisoka's trembling body. The doctor smiled as Hisoka jerked away from his touch. And all this time, Muraki held Hisoka's gaze in a conquering stare. The doctor found the inner tie to the kimono and brought it forward. He tied the kimono closed, but Hisoka felt no relief.

"Now, thank me." Muraki commanded.

"Go to hell." Hisoka whispered.

"No, poppet," Muraki smiled. "That is exactly where you will go. And I'll send you there myself."

Hisoka's mouth dropped. He felt his blood turn to ice.

"But if you're a good doll, and cooperate, I'll bring you back." The doctor promised.

"You lie." Hisoka said.

"Have I ever lied to you, poppet?" Muraki cupped Hisoka's chin and admired his face.

Hisoka thought for a moment. Sadistic as he was, the doctor was not a liar. Muraki had brought people back from the dead many times before. He could do it, Hisoka realized in horror.

"Tsuzuki is coming to us." The doctor continued. "If you're a good doll, I'll bring you back and you can spend eternity by his side. Or you can be forever alone in the abyss. Don't you wish to see him again? Don't you want to be in those arms again?"

Hisoka as besieged with emotions not only of his own, but of all the ghosts about him. His mind was overloaded. His life essence was drained, and he felt like so much less than what he usually was. Muraki was strangling him with love of Tsuzuki, using it against him. And it was not something he could fight against, not in his weakened state. His shoulders slumped he felt there was no hope, no escape, nothing do but…submit.

"Decide." Muraki said. "Will you be a good doll, and obey?"

Hisoka looked down at the ground, defeated. He nodded.

"Now that's my doll." Muraki smiled. He kissed the boy on the lips. Hisoka did not resist, and his soul did not struggle. When the doctor pulled away, Hisoka's eyes were blank and lifeless.

"Come, beautiful one." Muraki smiled. And without thought, Hisoka followed his beckoning hand, as the lamb was led to slaughter.

"This way!" Myers-san yelled as he ran. Action gave him a reason to press forward, not to think. He was glad of it. He could not wipe the image of his dead daughter from his mind or the image of his mother dying in the hospital. He knew this was the forest's influence, but images that horrific and personal were hard to dismiss.

*Damn forest,* he thought to himself.* It should be burnt down. Even the damn trees don't smell right.*

*Bert. I need to ask you something.* Katie sent privately

*What?! I'm a little busy!*

*If…If we don't succeed, I don't want to go on in a world where they will be in control.* Katie-Chan sent. *If that happens… I can't go through what happened before…so I want you to finish me off.*

*Shut up.* Bert thought harshly to her.* I don't ever want to hear that from you. Not ever again.*

*But you know there's a chance!* Katie argued back.* And I can't ask Randall, he won't do it! You were the only one to tell me how long I'd been asleep back home. I know I can count on you. I need you to promise me that you'll do what he can't.*

*You have no idea what you asking.*

*Yes I do.*

*No, BB. You don't.*

There was a long silence between them as Myers-san led the party on. Then at last he replied to her.

*If it comes to that, after I'm done, I'll finish myself off. But it won't.*

*Even if it costs me everything else.* He thought privately.

"Man what is all that?" Donna asked Chief Konoe. She pointed to the road in the distance. There were massive amounts of people walking. They were carrying luggage and had children in tow.

"Looks like an evacuation." The chief replied. "There must have been a mandatory evacuation issued for this area."

"Why?" Donna asked.

"Well, the probably think that demon was some type of bomb." The chief suggested. "Most likely the authorities will blame it on the Aum Shinrikyo."

"Who are they?"

"Local terrorist group." The chief replied.

"At least once the area is emptied we should be able to move around without anyone seeing us."

"Hmmm." The chief mumbled, putting his chin in his hand. "I wonder."


"If Muraki and Hiru had the area emptied, there must be a reason. Perhaps they didn't want any interference in the ritual. This makes me wonder, perhaps there might be a time when they are vulnerable right now."

"God I hope so." Donna sighed. "I hope Tatsumi and the others can find her."

"My secretary has never let me down yet." Konoe smiled.

In this tumult of humanity that poured out of the town, the cook Muraki had bribed also fled. Muraki had promised to pay handsomely and he only had to have the courage to stay when the catastrophic event occurred. But when the radio spoke of a terrorist attack and the area was going to be quarantine as a preventative to radiation, cowardice overcame greed. He fled. It saved his life, though he did not know it.

Hours passed by and they wandered, looking for any sign. What time of day it was, the Shinigami didn't know. The forest canopy blocked out the sky, making it impossible to see the sun. The air was thick with decay and time seemed to stand still. Uneasiness and desperation started to creep into the shinigami.

"Anything yet?" Terazuma asked.

"If you think you can do a better job," Bert snapped. "Be my guest!"

The oni inside Tsuzuki paced back and forth. And with each moment, Tsuzuki felt his too human control start to slip more and more.

*Let me out! *The oni demanded. *Let me out and I'll find him! Every second that passes is another second we risk losing him forever!*

"No!" Tsuzuki cried out aloud. All eyes turned to him.

"Tsuzuki…" Watari whispered to himself.

*Bert.* Katie-Chan sent privately to her partner. *What if we don't find him.*

*We will.* Bert sent back.

*But what if were too late.* Katie-Chan asked him.

*We won't be! That's the damned forest talking! Now stop it I won't hear any of it!*

Watari put his hand on Tsuzuki's shoulder. The amethyst eyed shinigami had his face covered and was leaning against a tree. Internally, the oni was begging Tsuzuki to be released.

*Let me find him! They can't find him, but I can!* the oni howled.* I fought a god in Hokkaido! Let me do it again, for him who we love! Please! I'm begging you! If you love him, set me free!*

Suddenly a strange calm came over Tsuzuki. He stood up right, and his eyes weren't looking at any of the concerned faces around him. He saw was the oni standing before him.

"Tsuzuki?" Watari asked as Tatsumi's eyes widened in surprise. Wakaba sucked in her breath.

But Tsuzuki couldn't hear his friend. In a second he passed into the place between worlds. All was silent, awaiting his answer. And at last, he gave it.

"Yes." Tsuzuki whispered.

At that moment power surged out of him. His brown hair billowed up and his eyes burst forth with a powerful light. Before their eyes, he grew in height and two black wings sprouted out of his back.

"Tsuzuki!" Watari yelled.

Tatsumi shot out with his shadow tendrils but the oni leapt upward out of their reach. Without a word to them he flapped his wings and flew off into the darkness.

"Come back!" Watari yelled.

"Kuso! Of all times!" Tatsumi yelled as he bolted forward. The rest of the shinigami followed his pursuit. They came to a clearing where Bert suddenly stopped dead in his tracks.

"Wait!" the American yelled. "It's here! The scent is here!"

"What?" Watari demanded. "Where does it go?"

"That way!" Bert yelled. "To the west!"

Tatsumi for a moment thought about what he should do. He could chase Tsuzuki into the darkness that he disappeared. He might never find him. Or he could save Kurosaki-kun. The choice was clear.

"Follow it!" Tatsumi barked. "We'll have to find Tsuzuki-kun later!"

Hisoka was trapped inside of his own mind. He found he had again been transformed through Muraki's magic and cunning to a small and helpless child. He hated it. He was again in the cage his parents put him in. He shook the bars for a little while. But despair flanked him from all sides, and at last he stopped. He sighed and looked at the floor.

*No one's coming for me.* He thought. *No one at all. There is nothing more I can do but to …submit.*

This submission felt worse than death. Far worse.

In reality, Jenni, Muraki and Hisoka walked through the forest. The doctor looked back at his captive who was trailing behind. Hisoka's eyes were glazed and his curse marks were dancing on his skin. Muraki smiled. He always felt so aroused when he had his poppet under his complete control. He thought the empath was beautiful as he struggled against him the previous night. But now, completely docile, there was a different type of beauty that enticed him.

*Yes,* the doctor decided.* I will have to raise him from the dead like Taki when all this is done. I'll keep his soul shackled to me for all time.*

The three came to a hill within the forest. A long set of stone steps rose up ahead of them. At the crest of the hill sat the cursed temple. The steps were flanked with trees, and they had what appeared to be sacred rope with prayers hanging from them. But it was not as it appeared. The ropes, in fact, had the hair of the dead woven into their fibers. And the zigzag papers did not contain prayers, but curses. The beginning of the stairs was crowned with a tori gate. But in a perverse fashion, the wood had been burnt, leaving scorch marks to scar the wood. From the top of the gate, a noose hung from a suicide. Someone had once stumbled across this dark place, and was so over taken with despair that he ended his life there.

*Ah, a fitting tribute to the temple* Jenni thought, smiling at the noose.

They climbed the crumbling steps and came to the temple doors. With a strength hidden in her bony hands, Jenni pushed them open. Inside the temple was full of dust and darkness. The smell of mold and decay filled her nostrils. She put her thin hand on the wall and trailed it along until she found a torch. She brought it back to and handed it to Muraki. The doctor took out his lighter and lit it. He then handed it to Hisoka.

"Hold this, boya." The doctor instructed. "Make yourself useful."

Hisoka held out the torch like a living statue, and the objects of the room slowly came more into focus.

There was a large basin in the center of the dilapidated room. Next to it was a small table cluttered with slaughtering instruments, all of them rusted. There was a small candle there, covered in dust. Above the basin hung a large hook, sturdy enough to hold a small bull. At the far edge of the room there was a meditation pillow and a pentagram drawn on the ground encircling it.

"Let's get started." Jenni said. Muraki nodded. The woman took out the bloodied pillow case she hand grasped in her hand the entire journey through the forest, dumped its contents into the basin. As she did this Muraki took out the medicine bottle holding the fire of souls. He picked up the candle and thrust it into the bottle, lighting the wick. He then put the bottle on the table, disregarding it. For the pure flame would be of no use to them. He put the candle on the table.

"Boya, light the other torches so we can see. Then put the torch back in its place." Muraki directed. Without thought, Hisoka obeyed. The torch light made the room only more sinister as it danced on the instruments of death. Without a word, Jenni began weaving her webs focusing on the ceiling above the door.

"This should be sufficient to hold the half breed when he comes." Jenni said. "I just need to make sure they are strong enough."

"We need more kindling for the fire." Muraki said. "Come Boya."

"Why are you taking him?" she asked.

"Because I have no intentions of getting my hands dirty." The doctor said.

The irony of having Hisoka pick up the kindling that would help cook is very flesh made Jenni laugh.

"Don't take too long." She said. "I might need to feed first before I meditate."

"Follow me, boya." The doctor said.

Muraki and Hisoka left the tainted shrine. The doctor had the boy follow him into the woods. There he pointed to some of the forest litter.

"Gather it." Muraki said. His words were cruel and clear. Hisoka in his trance thought of nothing as he picked up branches and dried leaves. Seeing his silent obedience made the doctor smirk as he remembered the youth's defiance when he took him in his own home. Muraki could feel his own arousal at this memory and seeing the boy bend over. He knew his accomplice would be waiting for them, waiting hungry and eager. But by god! He wanted the boy more in this moment. What would it matter if he was slightly used before the ritual? He wanted to hear this boy scream, he wanted to see him weep and beg for mercy. And even to a mind calculating as Muraki's, the lust, the need was stronger.

Besides, he told himself, no one denied him. Not even her.

"Put what you have there on the ground," The doctor instructed. Hisoka did as he was told and stood before him.

"Take your kimono off." Muraki said. Again with lifeless eyes, the boy obeyed and stood naked before his violator. The doctor smiled and put his hand over the boy's mouth and whispered in his ear. "Now wake up."

The effect was immediate as Muraki wanted it to be. Consciousness flooded back into Hisoka's eyes and he found he was no longer in the cage of his parents but in the clutches of he who had brought him to the edge of despair. His realization that he was naked and now being forced the ground filled him with horror. He heard that sound of the loosening belt and felt sick. Muraki's mouth was a powerful squeezing gag that he screamed against. His breath arrived in panicked gasps, he was hyperventilating. There seemed to be no hope, no escape.

"You know," Muraki said, wrestling Hisoka. "I will miss you when you're gone, poppet. Shinigami really do make the most ideal dolls. You especially."

Hisoka, feeling his life ebbing out of him, was too weak to resist. He felt Muraki's cold hands on him. How cold they were compared to Tsuzuki's warmth! And the curse marks came alive, answering to Muraki's touch. And as they writhed on Hisoka's pallid skin, he sucked in his breath at the pain. It felt like his skin was being flayed, and yet not one drop of his blood was spilt. And as much as Hisoka hated Muraki, and hated feeling the doctor crawling on top of him, he was too weak to fight. Hisoka turned his face away, as he swallowed hard. He sensed Muraki's delight and arousal at Hisoka's self hatred in this submission. He doctor smoothed his hair.

"Yes, shinigami are ideal for this." The doctor cooed. "You're eternally young, and no matter how much you are abused, your body heals itself. Presenting itself, virginal and ready for ravishment. You are my masterpiece."

Hisoka tried not to hear these words, retreating into himself. He commanded himself not to feel what was happening below his waist. Not to hear the doctor's panting, and calling him 'poppet'. And then suddenly he became keenly aware of another presence, of a beloved energy that he had given up hope on ever feeling again. And he could feel the closeness of it.

* No!* Hisoka told himself. *I can't believe it! Not after all this time, can it be possible? Did Tsuzuki find me?*

Hisoka turned to look over the doctor's bare shoulder. In those seconds, there in the darkness, Hisoka saw the blazing amethyst eyes and Tsuzuki's face distorted by the oni's unspeakable fury. And it made Hisoka's heart leap up with delirious joy and relief. All his desperation gave him strength to send with all his might.


He did not need to ask twice.

In the cursed temple, Jenni Hiru heard Hisoka's urgent sending.

"NO!!" She cursed! "NO!! NOT WHEN I'M SO CLOSE!!!" She left her web and flew open the temple rotting door. She ran towards the cry.

Muraki turned from his pleasure in surprise. In one motion, the oni seized Muraki and lifted the naked doctor off the ground with ease of lifting a child. Hisoka stared in disbelief. The empath had never seen this part of Tsuzuki so immense. But nothing was larger than the oni's anger. He was panting and shaking with rage. His eyes burned as they shed tears of purple flame. And his face. His face had an expression that seemed to be from the underworld.

For once in his life, Hisoka now saw Muraki was truly afraid.

"Kotori-Chan!" the double voice called. Hisoka looked from the doctor to the oni's face that was now looking at him. His eyes were like an uncaged animal, and there was nothing human in them.

"Kotori-Chan!" the oni commanded. "Turn away!"

There was desperation in the oni's voice. But it was also a firm command. Without understanding, Hisoka turned his face away, closed his eyes and covered his ears. He retreated to darkness as he was told to go, and held his breath.

But still Hisoka's skin felt the fire of Muraki's agony. He could hear through his covered ears, garbled screams, and the sound of bone and flesh being ripped apart. He became drenched in hot liquid as the metallic smell of blood filled his nostrils. He heard wild thrashing and inhuman gurgling. And suddenly there was complete silence. Hisoka uncovered his ears, and the only sound he heard was of the oni's exhausted panting. Then the oni moved quickly, rushing towards him.

"Keep your eyes shut!"The oni commanded. He bent down and scooped Hisoka up in his arms. At the touch of the oni's skin to his own, the oni's protectiveness flooded into Hisoka' brain. But what also came were memories from the oni's mind. The oni had killed. He had killed as he had before, and it felt no remorse. It killed as animal defending it's young or mate kills, without out any regard to fair play or pity.

In Hisoka's mind, he saw himself huddled, naked on the ground and his hands grasping his head. He saw the oni, grasp Muraki by shoulder and throw him down. The oni then grabbed Muraki's lower jaw with his right hand, and his upper jaw in his left. And then in one terrible motion, in the time barely for there to be one thought, the oni wrenched the top half of the doctor's skull completely off. Muraki screamed a garbled scream from his now exposed throat. His body thrashed like a dying fish. Blood sprayed everywhere. The oni threw the half head aside, for to him it was nothing. The vision then faded into darkness from Hisoka's mind.

Hisoka opened his eyes and saw that Tsuzuki's chest was covered in blood, as were his hands. The wings flapped and fluttered around them. Hisoka remembered the dream he had of this exact moment. He recognized that what he had foreseen had come to pass. Everything was too much. His weakened body could not take the shock, and he fainted in the oni's arms.

"NOOOO!" Jenni shrieked as she caught sight of her prisoner. The oni clutched the naked boy to his chest, his eyes blazing with hatred at her.

"He is ours!" she shrieked. "You are both ours! You won't stop me now!"

She threw her hair towards the pair of Shinigami, but the Oni leapt upward. He spread his great wings, and she caught nothing but air. She lashed out with a powerful psychic wave. The oni shuddered in mid air for a second with her power, but threw his lover into his right arm, leaning him against his hip like a mother with her baby. His left arm was now free. From it a bird of fire, the phoenix Suzaku, shot out like a fire storm.

"You will not harm either of them, witch!" the celestial bird screamed. She opened her mouth and poured out a torrent of flame. Jenni Hiru hissed as she pulled back. She was forced to go back into the cursed temple. She let out a shriek of rage that seemed to shake the very trees of the forest. Her rage made the oni's head hurt, and Hisoka moaned in pain. Some distance away the shinigami bent over in pain for a moment while her yell filled the sky.

*What was that?* Katie asked. *My head hurts!*

"It's got to be her!" Watari said. "Only she can send like that. Something made her really angry!"

"Or someone!" Tatsumi gasped. "We can only hope!"

Tsuzuki shot upward, breaking through the forest canopy into the sky above. The wind whipped around him, making his hair and the hair of his beloved flutter wildly. Gently, the oni cradled Hisoka to him, holding the boy's exhausted face to his own. He kissed Hisoka's lips.

"I'm here baby." He said between hard swallows. "I'm here. You're safe now."

But the oni was shocked at how cold his lover was.

*Kotori-Chan!* the oni sent.* Are you alright?*

There was no reply. He shook him gently.

The green eyes, the beloved green eyes flickered open. Hisoka's lids were heavy and his eyes were barely open to more than a slit. But to Tsuzuki, those eyes never seemed so beautiful.

*Tsu…Is that you? *

Tears sprung from the oni's eyes. To hear him, to feel him, smell him, send in his mind, was the most precious and humbling experience Tsuzuki had ever known.

*Yes baby, Soka-chan. I'm here!* Both Tsuzuki and the demon replied.

*Is this…is this real?* Hisoka asked.

*Yes! Is real! I've come!* Tsuzuki cried. He was weeping now and kissed Hisoka's brow as he held him.

*I… I don't feel well… *

*Hold on!* Tsuzuki replied, for it was a mix now of his human side and the oni, flipping back and forth seamlessly without restraint. *I'll find Watari! Hold on! Just Hold on!*

*Hurr…hurry… *Hisoka moaned. His body went limp.

Tatsumi finally took his hands from his ears. The shriek had at last stopped and silence again filled the haunted wood. But it was not a silence that gave any peace. It felt sinister and played with the shadows of his mind.

"I think it stopped for now." Tatsumi said to the others.

"Thank god!" Myers-san snapped. He exchanged hands he was holding the gun case in. His hands were tired, but Bert welcomed the pain. Physical pain he could deal with. The psychic was something else.

"Myers-san, do you think you can continue?"

"Sure." The American nodded. Then he stopped.

*What's wrong?* Katie-Chan asked.

"I smell death in the wind. Something's wrong." Myers-san said. "His smell…the kid's smell it got really strong suddenly. But he's..."

And the American looked up into the trees above him.

"Above us, and he's not in good shape. His smell is starting to change. And… there's blood a lot of blood. And –"

Before Myers-san could complete his sentence that it was Tsuzuki above them, the oni dove out of the trees. Words cannot express the mixture of shock and relief all the Shinigami felt when they saw Hisoka in his arms.

"BON!" Watari gasped reaching towards the boy. "What happened?!"

"Help him." The oni pleaded, his double voice echoing. "Help him."

Watari started checking Hisoka for cuts. "All this blood," Watari said. "Tsuzuki what happened."

The oni snarled and clutched Hisoka to him protectively. Watari realized that he was not talking to the Tsuzuki he knew, but to the oni within him.

"Don't touch him!" the oni growled, his eyes burned.

"I have to!" Watari argued back! "I have to see what's wrong!"

For a moment the oni hesitated and then opened his arms and let the scientist examine the naked and bloodied boy. Wakaba saw Hisoka's nakedness, and turned her head quickly aside.

"His vitals…they're weak." Watari said. His voice trailed off.

*Bert,* Katie-Chan sent privtely.* His smell is different. What's wrong with Hisoka?*

Bert swallowed the lump in his throat. This brought back to many memories for him.

*He's dying, BB. But that blood. It's not his.*

"What is it!" the oni demanded of Watari.

"He's in shock." Watari said. "We have to keep him warm, or we'll lose him. Let me clean that blood off him."

Watari took off his coat and started cleaning up Hisoka with it. Before long the white lab coat was covered in red. He tossed it aside and Myers-san picked it up.

"Yukata." Tatsumi said quietly as he slipped off his wool blazer and handed it to the scientist. "Here"

Watari took it without a word and hung it over Hisoka's narrow shoulders. The blazer seemed to swallow Hisoka up, and it became clear just how small and fragile Bon really was. In the office Hisoka went to great efforts to have no one think of him as a child. But wrapped in Tatsumi's blazer, haggard and torn, he never looked more fragile. The scientist buttoned it and was glad to see it descended past Hisoka's buttocks, giving the boy some coverage. He rubbed Hisoka's arms quickly.

"Rub him!" Watari barked. "Get his blood flowing! Damn if we weren't out here in the middle of nowhere! I don't have anything! Any tools! Any medicines! Nothing! He's been beaten and more! Damn it I have no way of helping him! He might...not..."

"NO!" the oni cried weeping, clutching Hisoka greedily to him. He folded his wings around the boy in a protective blanket of black feathers. "I can't go on without him! Make it not so!"

"How!" Watari yelled back in desperation. "HOW!"

"The flame of souls." Tatsumi said directly. Watari looked at him.

"The flame is what all the candles in the castle are lit from." Tatsumi explained. Watari saw that look in his lover's eye, when the solution to a problem was clear. "If we give some of the flame to Kurosaki-kun, it might revive him."

"Siechirro… that's ingenious." The scientist said his voice filled with amazement. His admiration for his lover's sharp mind was unhidden. Tatsumi blushed for a moment to have such an intimate moment exposed for all his subordinates to see. But he did not have time for too much embarrassment, for Watari's mind was already leaping ahead.

"Can we do that?" Watari asked. "How are we going to get permission?"

"We aren't." the secretary said firmly. "Kurosaki-kun doesn't have that type of time. And Hiru and Muraki will try to complete the ascension ritual without him, or try to take him back."

"Muraki won't." The oni said. His voice was full of venom. "He can't. He's dead."

"This is his blood," Myers-san asked. "Isn't it?"

The oni nodded and only buried his head on Hisoka's hair. Wakaba gasped aloud.

"Good!" Myers-san snarled, throwing the bloodied lab coat away in to the darkness. "Fucker had it coming."

"How can you say that?" the priestess scolded the American.

"How can I not?" Myers-san snapped back.

"Hey don't talk to my partner like that!" Terazuma barked. "Even if you're right!"

"Terazuma!" Wakaba exclaimed.

"Enough!" Tatsumi yelled, and brought all his subordinates into silence. "We don't have time for any bickering. We will deal with the consequences later. Myers-san build a fire. Wakaba and Summers-Chan, you will stay here and take care of Kurosaki-kun."

*But I want to fight!* Katie-Chan argued. *I have the most reason to be there!*

"This is not about your revenge." Tatsumi said coldly. "This is about saving Kurosaki-kun."

*It's not fair!*

"Life is not fair!" Tatsumi snapped. "And neither is the afterlife!"

*Damn it!* she sent. The bear snorted.

*BB.* Myers-san sent to her privately. *I would rather you stay here. We don't know what were going up against. We might…not all make it back. If that's the case I'd rather know you were alive and safe.*

Furious, Katie-Chan sent privately to him.

*Why do you care?!*

*Because I'm your father.* He replied

This revelation struck her mute. She stared and blinked at him.

"I don't want to leave him!" the oni fumed, clutching his lover. "Not for a second!"

"You cannot take Kurosaki-kun into battle!" Tatsumi commanded. "And that's exactly where were going!"

"Tatsumi's right." Watari said. "If you do, he won't have the strength to survive. I know Tsuzuki, the Tsuzuki I know and is my friend and is in there somewhere." Watari felt his eyes become wet with is passionate plea. "If you care for his boy at all..."

"I love him!" the oni snarled. "With more strength than you pathetic humans have!"

Some of those witnessing this event gasped, but Watari continued.

"If you do love him, then do what's best for him, and have him stay here where he's safe." Watari spoke these words slowly and sincerely, and they were able to reach through the oni's rage. He relaxed his grasp on the boy, and Watari was able to take hold of Hisoka.

"Hold on, Bon!" Watari said as he grabbed hold of him. "Hold on!"

Jenni Hiru was seething with hatred. Hatred for Hisoka and Tsuzuki- how dare they! How dare they interfere with her plans! And Muraki! As brilliant and calculating as he was, he was a victim of his own lust. It had been his undoing, his need to dominate their chattel. She did not she feel sorrow for the loss of her comrade, only fury at being thwarted and now having to try to the ascension alone.

She must kill her enemies first. They were certain to kill her in her sleep; she must strike at them first. She would go to the temple and absorb what magic she could, then attack. There would be no one to alter her plans. She would kill the boy; he had annoyed her enough, that upstart rabbit. She would kill him, and make Tsuzuki watch! And she would steal the half breed's soul and then flay him alive before she devoured him. That would be the price for daring to defy her.

Such thoughts encouraged her as she entered the temple. Now she would not have to be subtle. Again she felt anger at having the situation changed on her- how dare they defy her! She would break them. Yes, she promised herself. She would watch them with glee as they pleaded for mercy. She shot out with her psychic blast and the temple shook. Jenni closed her eyes, and pulled into herself. She rose off the floor as the energy of the place began to serge through her. Her human form fell away, and the spider abdomen revealed itself.

*Yes!* she thought. *Let them see me in my glory! Let them see me as I really am!*

A dark cloud began to churn in the sky over head. The air became dense and heavy. If there was a normal mortal in the forest, he would have been overcome and dispatched his own life on the spot. But the forest was full of nothing but the dead and the damned.

Katie-Chan growled to herself. Wakaba tended the fire and looked over at the bear, saying nothing. The priestess glanced worriedly over at Hisoka. Before they left, Watari placed the fragile boy in the center of the bear's stomach. Katie then curled around him, using her fat and fur to keep him warm. Hisoka's smell did not sit well with Katie-Chan. As Bert had said, it was the smell of someone dying.

Bert, her father. She thought about this fact. She felt anger and joy at the same time. Why had he not told her?! Why had he never told her when he had chance after chance to tell her so many times! Always he remained silent. And now that he had revealed the truth, there was no time to talk only time to rush forward into the unknown and maybe his own death.

She tried not to think about it and pushed it out of her mind. But the knowledge that Bert was her father it infuriated her and delighted her. And then her thought- Randall, did he know? All this time, did both of them know and say nothing to her?

*Men!* she snarled internally. Her thoughts were like a wasp sting and Wakaba winced.

*Sorry,* Katie sent. She sighed. *I'll think about it later."

"It's okay." Wakaba said. She looked at the fire that was growing stronger, and nodded to herself. "I think that fire should help warm him up."

"It doesn't bother you?" Wakaba asked after a long silence.

*Does what bother me?* Katie snapped.

"Well, Uhm...he's you know naked…"

Katie stopped in surprise, and then her bear face seemed to frown.

*I'm an animal now, remember? It's not like I'm dressed.*

At this the priestess flushed crimson. She had not realized that Katie-Chan was also naked, though covered with fur. During her transformation they had ripped from her, and were now no doubt lying on the forest floor, tattered beyond use.

"And that doesn't bother you?" Wakaba stammered. "That doesn't bother Randall?"

*He understands.* Katie sent.*When's the last time you saw an animal in the wild with clothes?! And it's not like he's not wearing Tatsumi's blazer! Besides we have much more important things to worry about than getting embarrassed about stupid things!*

"Gomen." Wakaba nodded.

*He's so cold.* Katie sent, tightening her curl around the empath.* Even now. I'm worried. And his smell isn't right. I can smell Jenni all over him. Damn her!*

Wakaba's stomach gave her a stomach pain. She put her hand on her stomach, and sucked in her breath.

"Do you think there's anything to eat around here?" the priestess asked. "I can't even remember the last time I ate."

*You sound like me know. *Katie sent.* But I wouldn't eat anything in this forest. Nothing, not one berry. The entire place seems polluted some how.*

"I wonder how long it will be before…it starts." Wakaba asked tentatively.

*We'll hear it when it does. Goddamn, that wasn't fair to leave us behind!* Katie snarled.* I can fight as good as them and have more reason!*

"But Hisoka can't be left here alone." Wakaba said. "Who knows what would happen if he was by himself! This forest makes us feel bad and we haven't…gone through what he has."

*I have.* Katie sent back defensively.

Wakaba didn't know what to say accept, "I'm sorry." But the apology seemed feeble.

*Forget it.* Katie growled. She found herself getting angrier and angrier. Then a realization came to her.

*Hey I have a question.* Katie sent.

"Yes?" asked the priestess.

*Uhm, what day is it for you?*

"What, what do you mean?"

The bear sighed.

*Oh good god, don't be coy. Are you about the start?*

Wakaba blushed pink, and then turned back to the fire.

"Oh, that. Uhm yeah, I think I should sometime tomorrow, I guess."

*Damn it.* Katie thought.

"Uhm," Wakaba said, trying to find something else to discuss." It's going to be night soon."

*Well let's hope it doesn't bring any more surprises.* Katie sent grumbling.

But neither of them knew what that night had in store.

Jenni came out of the temple ready to meet her adversaries. She looked down the broken steps, and there was that annoying secretary. She felt his horror and disgust at her form. It pleased her. Then his face darkened. He was livid, and she noticed without his trademark blazer. She guessed where it went.

"Heh." She smirked. Tatsumi felt his breathing increase with sheer rage at her smirk. "So you clothed him again, hmm? Like last time? So you feed your lust later?"

She felt someone's dismay at this. She guessed the secretary's partner was nearby, listening in the shadows.

"Silence witch!" Tatsumi fumed. "You will pay for what you did to him, as Muraki did. I promise you!"

Now it was her turn to scowl.

"I suppose he wanted to hear that rabbit squeal one more time before we ate him." She growled. "He did always lust after the boy too much. I suppose I must thank you, I suspected he would turn on me sooner or later. I had planned to get rid of my competition before our…supper. Thanks for doing the work for me. Tell your half breed to enjoy his triumph while he can, for he will not live long. And neither shall you!"

She bent down her open palms toward the ground, and Tatsumi could feel the air become denser suddenly as it had in his house that one night. He leapt upward, for now there was no roof or wall around him to enclose him, and he could move freely. He felt movement through the air and heard the groan of breaking wood beneath his feet as he shot up ward. He glanced down and two trees that have been flanking him where he stood were now smashed on the ground. Had he not leapt upward, he would been smashed to a pulp.

Tatsumi hurled his hands. The stair case crumbled as a fisher opened up and raced up the hill towards her. But she also leapt up. She reached down to some of the crumbling stones of the staircase and hurled them at the secretary. He moved his hand forward again, and shadow tendrils met in incoming onslaught. Some of the boulders he was able to deflect but one hit him square in the gut and sent him careening into a tree.

"Siechirro!" Watari yelled. He bit his lip when he heard Jenni's words before the battle. He knew these were meant for him to hear, and to provoke Tatsumi. And though the issue was settled, to hear her mocking brought back a moment of painful memory to the scientist. But then he remembered the more recent image of Bon- naked and tattered in the oni's arms. All else seemed unimportant, Watari decided. Bon was dying not far away, and might very well die unless they got the flame. Every other grievance was petty and insignificant in light of that.

But the scientist did not have long to think of these things. Jenni sneered at him and at his cry for his lover to get out of harm's way.

"I'll smash your pretty brains all over the trees!" She lifted one entire step to the cursed temple out of the ground and hurled it at Watari. Watari's eyes opened in surprise, and for a second he cursed that he had no powers and wondered why he had come. Tatsumi and he had argued before they set off, with Tatsumi wanting him to stay and watch the girls. But Watari had won the argument.

*Maybe I made a misteak.* Watari thought as the boulder was feet from him. Suddenly a fuda was thrown with incredible force; at the end of what Watari could only interpret was a bold of lightening or demonic power. It formed a barrier over Watari seconds before the boulder smashed into it, sending a hail of stones everywhere at the impact.

Tsuzuki landed beside the barrier. His human face was full of rage, but Watari was relieved to see it was his human face and not the oni one. Jenni roared in rage at the sight of Tsuzuki and pushed out with her power, a shock wave cut thorough the air. It knocked Tatsumi down as he was pushed Tsuzuki back into the trees. Watari heard the lose branches of the trees snap with the impact.

"How dare you, Mutt!" she fumed. "How dare you interrupt my plans!"

Watari heard Tsuzuki begin chanting to his gods again. And from the darkness of the woods, Suzaku roared forth with her unearthly cry. She arose from the trees like an angel of fire. For a second, Watari wondered where she had been. Fire streamed out from her mouth and shot at Jenni who was consumed. For a moment there was only an inferno standing where she stood, and for a moment Watari thought hopefully that perhaps it was over.

But her laugh, her laugh that sounded like something insane and inhuman. Her form solidified in flames, and she mover her hands, casting the fire away from her in one psychic blast. Her skin was burning and yet it appeared to cause her no pain. Watari could smell the burning hair and skin and he grimaced at the stench.

"She's not human anymore." Watari thought. "Somehow being closer to the temple seems to have amplified her powers."

Suzaku roared above, ready to make another attack, and another form appeared in the sky. It was Terazuma in his shikigami form. Tsuzuki stumbled up and looked up in the sky at his rival, and he couldn't help but smile to see him now. He didn't have time to contemplate the irony of this. Terazuma and Suzaku crossed paths and swooped down on Jenni, one on the left and one or the right. Both of the them spat streams of fire at her. Again she seemed to be drowned in a sea of flame and her form disappeared for a moment.

She dismissed the flame from her a second time and Watari saw she was burned almost beyond recognition. But again she was not bothered by pain. To anyone else the pain had to have been unbearable, Watari thought.

She smiled at him, and it was not a human smile.

"I have only to grow more powerful with each moment I'm here." She sneered. "Perhaps your fire will do just as good a job at burning my humanity away. Come make another pass at me and we'll see!"

*Emma!* Watari thought.* She's using us! We're helping her!*

"Stop!" Watari yelled. "Don't use the flame anymore! We can't risk it!"

Terazuma landed down next to Tsuzuki and his shikigami face seemed perplexed.

"What are we supposed to use?" Terazuma demanded. Watari had no answer.

"Come, Tsuzuki." Jenni beckoned to Tsuzuki with one of her spider legs. "Come to me and let's be done with it. I know part of you wants to kill me, as it killed Muraki. "

"Tsuzuki, don't listen to her!" Watari yelled. "It's a trap!"

Tsuzuki clutched his fist, and remained where he was. She smiled.

"Do you want to know, half breed, how he screamed when Muraki used him like a tissue?"

Tsuzuki felt the oni seizing control of him, but a hand grasping his arm brought him back from his senses. It was Watari reaching threw the barrier.

"Don't listen to her!" his friend begged. "Bon needs you! She's trying to get you up there so she can kill you. Don't give her any help!"

The oni growled in rage, but Tsuzuki nodded. Something his friend's eyes steadied him. He would not let Soka-Chan down now. His eyes became as cool as steel. He moved his hands in the practiced gestures and called out.

"Byakko! Come forth!" Tsuzuki yelled. The one eyed tiger sprang out of nothingness and roared with Tsuzuki's fury. Jenni's face seemed to flash for a moment with surprise. She had not counted on Watari's friendship to be stronger than her taunts.

"Then die together!" she snarled at them. Two trees shook as they became uprooted. As she had launched them into the castle of candles, so she launched the trees at them now. But at the battle of the castle, Tatsumi had not been present. But he was there- now. He reached out with his shadow servants and tendrils. They grasped hold of the trees' roots and twisted serpent like around them. With a grunt he pulled hard and sent the missiles veering off their course crashing into the darkness. There was the sound of it rumbling like the very Titans were fighting.

"You will not touch them!" Tatsumi roared.

"I will do as I wish!" Jenni snarled. Seeing that the secretary literally had his hands full, holding onto his shadows, she sent a powerful psychic blast at his side. Tatsumi heard his lover and past partner scream and then there was a mighty roaring as Byakko leapt in front of the blast. The tiger fired back with lightening and Jenni screamed as the lightening traveled up her spider abdomen.

"Lightening can hurt her." Watari said to himself. "She is not a god yet. We still might have a chance!"

"Kuso, where is Myers-san?" Terazuma cursed. "He should have been her by now!"

Myers-san cursed in the darkness. He knew that something in this forest was evil. What exactly it was, did not know, and did not want to know. But the forest itself was tricking them. He and Randall were lost, running around like "fucking idiots" as he said. The very wind in the trees seemed to be deceiving them, telling them to run north and then south. The two had agreed to flank Jenni Hiru on the side and close in on her. But something knew what they were planning, it seemed, and Myers-san could not find a scent that didn't seem to change its direction.

It didn't help that Katie's fury seemed to singe his very thoughts.

*Later.* Myer-san told himself.* Later. I'll deal with her later.*

"Let's go topside!" Randall said. "The time for our surprise attack is gone."

"Yeah, your right." Myers-san grunted. He threw the gun case on the ground and fumbled with the locks. The sword gleamed at him, like a smile as he looked at it.

*God or not, Jenni dies.* he thought, picking up.

Suddenly the sounds of battle reached their ears.

"Screw this, old man." Randall said."Let's go!"

For a moment they looked at each other. Suitor and father, and both warriors. And they both wondered if this would be the last time they would look upon the other.

"If I don't come back, take care of my baby." Myers-san pleaded.

"I will." Randall-kun promised. "But if we get out of this, she's not going to have sex with me for months. I've never seen her so pissed."

Myers-san couldn't help by laugh grimly. "She's like her old man."

"I told you tell her years ago!" Randall scolded.

"Can't do nothing about it now. Come on. Let's do this! "

Randall-kun and Myers-san burst through the top of the trees. Again the forest itself seemed to be fighting them as the branches seemed to grab them, scratching them. Myers-san cursed bitterly, but was stopped in mid sentence when he saw the great one eyed tiger Byakko careening out of another section of the canopy. The tiger soared up and then swooped down, opening its mouth. Balls of lightening shot from its mouth and a female inhuman scream sounded.

"She's over there!" Myers-san yelled, as he started to charge forth.

"Wait up, old man!" Randall called and his eyes saw the Tiger rising up. He looked at its area of focus and dove at it. He wished again he had his full powers and especially his wings, which would have made him faster than any Shinigami. Still crippled, Randall charged forth. He dove past Myers-san on his descent, and landed on the stair case in front of who he only assumed was Jenni Hiru. For a second he marveled at her disfigurement. Only human would be so both so self destructive and narcissistic to deform themselves in such a way for power. Only human ego could reach so far.

"Get down!" Myers-san warned the other Shinigami. Tsuzuki looked up at the American was puzzled as to what Bert meant. But then he remembered how Hisoka's house had been devoured by light of Randall-kun's holy nova. Terazuma seemed to remember to, for the great dog beast pulled upward out of reach. They had seconds, only seconds now.

"TATSUMI!" Tsuzuki yelled to his former partner, and motioned for him to come towards him. Tsuzuki threw up a fuda and a barrier shot upward. Tatsumi ran, fumbling half the time. Tsuzuki grabbed his arm and yanked as the barrier fully descended. Randall's clothes billowed with power and the air itself became charged. For a second, all the earth seemed to hold its breath. Suddenly light poured out in a circular blast from every pore of Randall. It roared out with the power of a small and contained nuclear blast. It shook some of the stairs to rubble, and flattened some trees. The curses burned on their paper and their ropes were ignited. The broken torii gate snapped and swung wildly and Jenni Hiru herself was pushed back to the temple. But the cursed temple remained standing, though its western wall began to crack. Randall had held himself back in Tokyo. He did not do so now. And crippled though he was, he still as an Angelos- a warrior of the stars. Few could stand against him.

Jenni Hiru hissed and roared with rage. She waved her hands, and suddenly from the darkness in the temple a wave so thousands of spiders poured out. Tsuzuki and Terazuma again recognized them from Hisoka's house. In one collective voice the spiders cried: Death to all who oppose our mistress! They poured out and raced like a living flood towards the Angelos, but he leapt upward out of their reach. As the wave got closer and closer, Tsuzuki, saw Terazuma and Byakko dive bomb in different directions, spraying them with fire and balls of lightening. Clouds of soot and dirt filled the air. Fire licked at the base of barrier while lightening danced on its base. Jenni hissed and threw out waves of webbing, trying to ensnare Byakko or Terazuma as they passed. All above Myers-san watched waiting for the right moment. He gripped the sword handle tightly. He was not good with these old fashioned weapons. He knew he should've given it to Randall; after all he had actually used a sword once. But Myers-san wouldn't give it up. His vengeance was too personal, and even if it was mess, he wanted to be the one to finish it.

*The messier the better,* Bert thought.

*Did you hear that?* Katie asked, jerking her bear head up. Her ears were perked, and her great nostrils sniffed the air. She lifted her lip in a snarl.

*I don't like that smell. It's not right. Nothing about this place is right. It's like, some sick parody.*

"What is it?" the priestess asked, feeling anxiety rise within her.

*I don't know, exactly. It's the smell of the trees, but it's wrong. It smells like rotten wood, but still living somehow.*

"That's strange." Wakaba mused.

*I didn't say it would make sense.* Katie-Chan sent defensively.* But that's what I smell.*

Before the priestess could speculate further there was a great sound of wood groaning and snapping, of stones being unearthed, and of something immense rushing at them from the darkness. From the night came what perhaps was a dead tree, but it had been animated by some unnatural force and rushed at them like a rabid animal. Katie-Chan's eyes went wide at the monstrosity and Wakaba screamed. The thing rushed forward. Katie-Chan snatched the unconsciousness Hisoka in her teeth, holding him by the scruff of the brown blazer. With tremendous strength and animal grace, she leapt out of the path of the thing. Wakaba flew straight up.

*Shit! What is that!* Katie-Chan yelled.

The cursed tree turned and dove a second time at the bear. Again, she leapt out of its path as the thing opened a small creator behind her. It smashed two of its largest branches, which were cupped like two hands forming a great fist, into the earth. Katie felt the ground crumble just behind her as he back paws left the ground. Her animalistic mind scrambled, this thing, whatever it was, wanted to kill her. Her instinct reared up within her. It was a time of fight of flight, and bears do not run. But she was paralyzed to act.

*Damn it! I can't fight with Hisoka in my mouth!* She thought to herself. *Wakaba! Get Hisoka now!*

The priestess swooped down and grabbed the unconscious boy around the middle. She grimaced as felt like her arms were going to fall off as she yanked him up to her and flew off. The tree creature swung at her, knocking her into the tree tops. She felt the wind get knocked out of her, but she did not let go of Hisoka. She held onto him for everything she was worth and tried to climb higher in the sky. The branches tore her clothes, skin and hair, but still she climbed until she saw she was safe out of reach.

Katie-Chan was now free to act. She bellowed at the top of her lungs the old challenge, and the tree monster knew this language. It is the language of grunts and growls. The language man spoke before the fires of civilization. And right now Katie thought it was the most beautiful and simple language in the world. She knew Bert would be overcome with worry when he heard her roar. But in this moment there was nothing else to her but her opponent. She swung her massive claws and bark went flying. She was met by a hail storm of branches slapping at her. The thing groaned for she was merciless. At last she had an outlet for her frustrations and anger and she let loose.

*To be an animal again!* she thought, exhilarated. *Yes! Yes! I'm so glad the spirit of the bear blessed me this way!" She fought with all her fury at her father unleashing it upon her opponent. Splinters went flying. She felt herself panting hard, and human thought left her. There was only this moment, only battle.

And it was glorious.

Above her, Wakaba looked down. She didn't know what was more terrifying. The tree monster or Katie herself in full furor. She felt herself shaking and yes, crying. She thought about her partner, and she never wanted him so much despite rough demeanor. She clung onto the heavy limp weight of Hisoka and tried to clear her mind from all this chaos around her. She told herself to be strong. She must be strong; she could not give into panic.

Jenni Hiru saw it was going badly. It could not be! Not this close to victory to have it snatched from her! If only Muraki hadn't been so foolish to give into his lust, and she cursed him. If she still had the boy here as leverage, then at least she could scramble and fumble her way to victory. Then an idea came to her, and she smiled.

She called out to the boy.

*Rabbit, come to me!*Jenni sent. She felt him nearby, but his life force was very weak. He might die on serving her in the battle.

*No matter.* she thought to herself. She called him again and to her surprise he resisted her! She was perplexed, and for a second was at a loss of what to do.

Then she smiled at herself, the solution coming clear. She concentrated for a moment on Muraki. How his mind had felt. She imitated his thoughts, and by her will her brainwaves seemed to imitate his, and she spoke with his voice.

*Boya, come to you master.* She called. The imitation was flawless. It was as if Muraki had risen from the dead.

In Wakaba's arms, Hisoka's eyes opened. The curse marks on his skin writhed. They knew this call and knew the mental touch of their master. They obeyed. He turned on a shocked Wakaba.

"Get off me witch!" he snarled as he sent a powerful psychic wave that threw Wakaba from him. He fell to the ground and got up. He bolted into the darkness.

"He's possessed!" Wakaba said.

*Whatever he is!* Katie sent.* Well, deal with it later! Help me out here! I'm running out of steam!*

Wakaba saw that there were many small cuts over the bear's body, and in areas her skin was a mass of hair, dirt and blood. The tree creature itself was torn in several places. But the bear's swipes were no longer as furious or as powerful as before, Wakaba realized. A cold chill came over the priestess.

*Katie-Chan is going to lose.* Wakaba thought. *That thing can fight forever because it doesn't have to worry about getting tired, or blood loss or anything! It can just go on and on! Oh I wish I was home! I wish I was in the temple again!*

At the memory of the calm temple came to her mind. She had studied there as her mother, and her grandmother before her. Wakaba had died before she was able to put her training to use. Such was the things lift undone that bound her to the EmmaCho. But now here was the chance before her and she knew it. Fear left her body, as her mind remembered her exorcism spells.

She chanted as she hovered above the battle scene and moved her hands. She wished she had her prayer beads and sacred robes, but this would have to do. From her hands gentle light flowed and she could feel the gods of this world touch her spirit. They moved through her and a beam of holy light shot down upon the tree beast. The light covered it from its tips to its roots and then solidified into stone. The thing, determined to fight, twisted and broke itself asunder. It groaned again as with every fighting movement, it broke apart like crumbling mortar.

Katie-Chan licked an open wound on her side.

*Why didn't you do that earlier?* The bear asked.

"I…I didn't think of it, I guess." Wakaba admitted." And I couldn't because I was carrying Kurosaki-kun."

*Come on!* Katie-Chan said, bounding after Hisoka's scent.* He couldn't have gotten far!*

But the possessed do not feel. They do not think. They do not reason. They can only obey their master's call. Hisoka bounded forward, running faster than he ever had before. And with every step he pushed his body past its fragile limits. He only heard Muraki's voice, calling in his mind.

Back at the cursed temple, the shinigami looked at the obscenity that was Jenni Hiru as her waves of spiders come under the decimating fire of Byakko and Terazuma. As the last of her underlings burned and became shouldering ash, Watari noticed she did not seem alarmed as she had seemed moments ago.

"I have a bad feeling about this." Watari said to his lover. "She seemed almost frightened a second ago. What changed?"

"Whatever it was," Tatsumi replied. "It can't bode well for us."

Tsuzuki suddenly gasped.

"HISOKA!" he screamed.

Watari and Tatsumi followed Tsuzuki's frightened eyes towards a figure entering from the woods. Tatsumi felt a wave of cold come over him as he saw Kurosaki-kun, his eyes empty and the curse marks dancing over him. Watari noted Jenni smirked.

Tsuzuki broke the barrier, running towards his partner, his lover, the one who meant everything towards him. Blindly he ran, ignoring the cries of Tatsumi and Watari to come back. He stood before Hisoka in the burning ash and looked upon those blank eyes.

"Soka-Chan," He said, his voice wavering with emotion. "What…What are you doing here?"

Jenni smiled in triumph. The battlefield had gone quiet, as she he held the one they most cared for in her clutches. Again she would shield herself behind him as she had at the castle, and again they would bend to her will, all of them. In Muraki's voice, she sent to him. "Boya, this one offends me. Kill him."

Hisoka stepped forward towards Tsuzuki, and then stopped. His body quivered as some internal struggle raged.

"What are you doing?" Jenni screeched. "I gave you an order! Obey!"

"No." Hisoka said, gritting his teeth. "You're not him. My body doesn't have to obey you. My mind doesn't have to. Muraki is dead."

Jenni looked at Hisoka, wide eyed, and seemed to marvel at him for a moment. How was it after all this time, he still found something in her to make him defiant to her will? She had thought it impossibility. Then her eyes narrowed.

"So be it, rabbit!" she snarled. He eyes glowed for a second and she reached out to him with her mind. Hisoka fell to his knees and let out a scream, holding his head between his hands. Blood poured out from his ears and nose. Horror stricken, Watari felt himself freeze. Tsuzuki rushed to catch him in his arms.

"Tsuzuki!" the boy cried out. "Taskate! She's burning me! She's burning me!"

There was undeniable panic and pain in his words.

"Shit!" Myers-san cursed to himself. "She's overloading him! Like she did to Katie!"

Tsuzuki in horror saw blood start to flow like tears from the boys tear ducts. He heard Watari rushing towards them, screaming "Bon" and he heard Jenni.

Jenni laughing.

Laughing at the misery she caused, laughing at Hisoka's agony. As she had laughed undoubtedly when Hisoka was raped. She found all this humorous! It delighted her!

And then something in Tsuzuki snapped. And for a moment he did not care that he did not want to hurt others, he did not care that he should not hurt anyone. He wanted to hurt her. Wanted…to kill her.

Katie-Chan and Wakaba rushed into the clearing. Their mouths dropped open when they saw Hisoka screaming in Tsuzuki's arms. Katie-Chan's eyes went wide at Tsuzuki's face.

She had seen that expression before; once over twenty years ago, in her own father.

This isn't about revenge, she remembered Tatsumi's words. This is about saving Kurosaki-kun.

*Yes.* She thought.* Tatsumi's right. This isn't about revenge. This is about… love. AND I WON'T LET TSUZUKI SUFFER LIKE BERT!*

She had never teleported herself in this form. To teleport herself at 135 was one thing, but when pushing 600 pounds was quite another. Could she make it, carrying so much weight? Love for her cankerous and stubborn father- Bert Myers- pushed her through the dimensions as she teleported her enormous bear body to the place she had targeted, behind her former teacher.

Above Myers-san saw his daughter and he felt like someone had caught his soul.

"KATIE!" he screamed as he dove down from the sky.

With a mighty swipe on that disgusting spider abdomen the bear shoved Jenni forward, who was caught off guard in this moment. The monster stumbled foreword. Katie leapt off the staircase, and Myers-san veered upward. Tsuzuki saw his chance that Katie had bought him. She gave him a clear shot.

And he took it.

Holding Hisoka in one arm he extended his right hand forward. His eyes became hard, and the oni within him cheered as he called forth the Kern snake.

Out of his fingertips the Kern snake leapt and Tsuzuki saw in satisfaction that her smile was gone and changed to surprise and fear. Yes! He wanted her to know fear as Hisoka had known fear! As he had felt in his maddening chase to find the boy. The snake bellowed its flame. And its flame made her scream! For the fire of the Kern snake was not like any flame of the living world. It was the fire of the gods, and the fire of death, and it knew no pity when released. The Kern snake slashed across her abdomen like a katana and her hard spider abdomen fell behind her as her torso came falling forward, still alive.

Tatsumi surged forth with all his hatred towards the woman. His humiliation and shame when she had manipulated Kurosaki-kun. It sharpened his shadow tendrils into razors, and they flashed across her neck as she struggled to stand. For a moment, her eyes seemed to roll, and her head sat at a very odd angle. And then it fell off, and before the dreaded thing had hit the stair case, blackness darker than Tatsumi's shadow shot out like blood. A horrid stink filled the air, and the darkness shot out like an explosion.

Wakaba's eyes went wide.

"No you don't!" she cried. She bolted from her spot on the clearing, towards the wave of darkness and pestilence that was careening towards Tsuzuki as he held the limp body of Hisoka. She heard her partner screaming for her, telling her to get back. But this was her moment; this was what she was born to do, as her mother before her. She quickly called out an exorcism prayer and threw her hands forward. Holy light came from her slender finger tips and met the wave of pestilence. The bodiless head gurgled as her cloud dissipated. Randall-kun's eyes went wide at Wakaba's power.

He had not seen something like that even before his exile. This priestess was truly blessed.

Above, Myer-san seized this moment, this moment he had longed for, dreamt of for over twenty years. He dove from the sky where he had remained and waited for what seemed like an eternity in those moments. And when he saw that at last he had his chance, he plunged from the sky down upon Jenni's head. With rage beyond words, he dove the sword made of starmetal through her skull and it exited her neck. She screamed an unearthly scream, and then crumbled into dust.

For a moment, all was silent in awe. Myers-san panted and shook, and felt like crying out of relief and satisfaction. His cursed enemy was dead. Then Tsuzuki's voice broke the silence.

"SOKA!" he screamed, and the boy was thrown in to convulsions. He fought to hold him as Watari raced to his side.

"Lie him down!" the scientist cried. "We have to let it run its course and watch him." He helped Tsuzuki lower the boy to the ground. For what seemed like seemed like hours, Tsuzuki watched helpless as the boy's body shook and shimmied. Then suddenly it stopped and Hisoka was very still.

"He's not breathing!" Tsuzuki cried helplessly. But as the words left his mouth, Watari was already in motion. He forced open the boy's mouth, pinching his nose and breathing into him. The oni within Tsuzuki felt not jealousy at this act, for there was nothing sensual about these actions. The desperation on the scientists face was there for all to see, and it terrified everyone.

"One thousand! Two thousand! Three thousand!" the scientist counted as he pumped Hisoka's chest with one hand over the other. Realization came over Tsuzuki like a cold wave from the ocean.

*Hisoka's not breathing. Hisoka's heart has stopped.*

Again Watari pinched Hisoka's nose and breathed into him.

"One Thousand! Two thousand! Three Thousand!"

Tsuzuki felt like he too could not breathe, or move. He heard Tatsumi yell at him to do something, and then snort in frustration when he didn't respond.

Tatsumi turned on his heel and ran up the broken stairs. Every second counted, he knew, and damn it if he wasn't fumbling as he ran. He leapt over the spider abdomen, and the headless torso, feeling nothing. The secretary flew open the door and his blue eyes scanned the room. He saw the instruments of slaughter, and the large basin where the boy was to be cooked. And next to the empty basin he saw a candle with a small flame. And he knew instantly what that flame was. How Tatsumi knew, he could not tell you, but he did not ponder these things. He grabbed the candle and cupping his hand to protect it from any winds, he teleported next to Tsuzuki.

"How do we get it in him?" Tatsumi asked his partner.

"I don't know!" Watari snapped. "One thousand! Two Thousand! But one of you better think of something and FAST!"

Watari pinched Hisoka's nose again, and breathed into his mouth again.

"One thousand! Two thousand! Come on Bon! Don't you dare give up now! Not when we've come so far!" Watari sobbed as he pumped the empath's chest.

In this darkest moment, when all hope seemed lost, something told Tsuzuki what to do. Whether it was the oni or his instincts he did not know. Perhaps it was something truly divine, or the spirit of his beloved sister. He did not think of the matter. But something touched him. When all else was panic and chaos, a deep calm over came Tsuzuki. He knew what he had to do.

Tsuzuki grabbed the candle from Tatsumi. In one gulp he swallowed it, not bothering to acknowledge Tatsumi's protests or fuming at his idiocy. The amethyst eyed shinigami shoved Watari out of the way and grabbed his lover in his arms. He kissed the boy deeply passionately, and the flame's power went from Tsuzuki' mouth into Hisoka's. Hisoka's chest arched and he groaned aloud. His eyes opened wide as the life force from the flame flooded into his frame. For a moment, his white skin seemed to glow. Then the boy shut his eyes and breathed heavy, exhausted.

"Soka-chan." Tsuzuki whispered. He could feel the knot in this throat. His eyes were stinging.

Hisoka's eyes fluttered open, and he looked about him. His eyes were confused as if he didn't know where he was or how he got there. They fell on Tsuzuki's face.

"Tsu…" the empath said quietly. "Is it over?"

"Yes, baby." Tsuzuki said, dissolving now into a sob. He held his boy close and kissed him. His tears falling on the empath's face. "Yes baby. It's over."

Tsuzuki heard Watari crying in relief. Wakaba too was crying. And Myers-san's words were incomprehensible as he wept. Tsuzuki did not look to see Tatsumi be heartily embraced by Watari, or to see Katie-Chan touch her bear head to Randall's and Bert's forehead in a private exchange of mutual love and tenderness. He did not even look to see Terazuma transform back to human, then back to his beast form as Wakaba placed a large kiss on his cheek. Tsuzuki only looked at Hisoka as he smoothed his hair and held him close.

In this abysmal place, Tsuzuki never felt such relief and joy. The long night had passed and he could see sunlight start coming in through the treetops. A new day was dawning and his Hisoka was there in his arms.



Spoilers warning! Writers note:

So that's it…for now.

I still have many lose ends to tie up. But it felt like this section of the story was over. It began with Jenni and ended with her death.

And there is still so much to cover, so many threads to tie up:

We have: Rhodes Trial

The consequences of Hisoka's invasion of the castle of candles and of Tsuzuki killing Muraki

Tatsumi and Watari- where is our favorite secretary going to live now?

The growing three way relationship between Tsu, the oni and Hisoka- who says it has to be rivalry, hmmm (she asks suggestively)

Tsu and Hisoka's new apartment

Hisoka's path to healing

Katie and Bert making peace with each other and a big surprise for Randall

More history about Randall's people. How is Randall so intimately involved with Tsuzuki's childhood, and what price did he pay?

More about Tzu's father and his family. And how the oni's father is connected with the Kurosaki clan.

I do want to take a little bit of time to apologize to the Muraki fans who might have been offended with his death. But I honestly did not see a way out for him that would not have felt like I was emasculating the story. I knew the oni if it had one chance, would kill him without hesitation. I wrote Muraki, like many serial killers (and let's face it, that's what he is) got careless. The more godlike he thought he was the more mistakes he made that he normally wouldn't have. Same with Jenni. That's what serial killers do. That god-complex is how most of them get caught.

And why did the oni kill him? Because the oni loves Hisoka, pure and simple. And love isn't all hallmark cards and roses. Love can be, and is a primal force that should not be dismissed. That was Muraki's mistake.

Also in RL, I have (unfortunately) lived through many crisis situations. Crisis tends to strip away whatever masks we wear, and shows us as we really are. I have seen a normally self absorbed asshole really rise the occasion when the chips were down. Terazuma's behavior towards Tsuzuki is a testament to this. Despite his rivalry with Tsuzuki, I see Terazuma as good guy deep down. He knows that the chips are down when Hisoka is kidnapped, and he puts his rivalry aside. Even after his fight with Tsuzuki, he still is able to come around when he is able to empathize with Tsuzuki's distress, when he realizes how dire the situation really is. That is a type of heroism that really makes me like Terazuma. He is rough around the edges, and hard to live with, but he has you back when it counts.

Tatsumi I think, like most 'suits' is preverbal hotbed of sexual desire, and unresolved issues. But I like Tatsumi. The most perverted people I've met tend to look all cool and controlled on the outside, but inside they smolder. And yes he has issues, but Watari loves him regardless. And Tatsumi loves Watari.

I also really like Wakaba. I think she has strength of her own that isn't seen that often and hopefully she got to show it here. But she would much rather be in her kitchen making a different kind of magic that involves baking and cooking.

I am however writing a sequel to this that will begin right where this leaves off. It is called the book of Oni.

Until then, Merry Christmas! :)