Chapter Five:
Stakes

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Disclaimer: All shows/ books/ video games/ songs that are mentioned in this chapter are all © to their respective owners, I don't own them.

Note: Thanks to all my awesome readers! I really appreciate you sticking with me! 8D

And I know, I'm terrible with updating. Life hit me pretty hard for a while. Work's a bitch, I'm always exhausted and to those who don't follow my other stories and only this one, I'm pregnant, so that also pulls me down the road of exhaustion even further. And it's a girl, for those who might ask. Fear for me. xD

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In the eyes of a cat, all things belong to cats.
- Anonymous

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Kurama's little smile remained on his face as he gently reached for a seed interwoven into his red hair. Reverting it back to a complete seed, disentangling it and pulling it into view, Yusuke ventured closer, his brash grin still firmly in place. "So…what is it?"

"Obviously a seed, Yusuke. I'm sure you can see that for yourself."

Yusuke pulled a face at him. Kurama chuckled. "It is a tracker. I rarely use them, but they're good for several instances: interdimensional traveling is one of them."

Here, he lost Yusuke quite thoroughly. Even Hiei perked and raised a brow in question. After a moment of wracking his brain for a similar explanation, however, Yusuke finally ventured forth with a reply of, "So…it's like a little microchip that tracks people down, like in those American films with the spies and stuff?"

"Similarly, yes, along those lines. But not quite entirely." He allowed it to sprout once more, and little tendrils of vines wriggled in the air like limbs. He replaced it where he had taken it from. "I implant a part of my youki into the seed and the best way to describe it, is that they emit a pulse of that same energy, a thread connecting itself to me, so that I may track its movements and location, even through interdimensional travel such as the Schrodinger's Shadow." He closed his eyes momentarily. "I can feel the one I had planted on Lauren right now. We'll be able to find her."

"That's…rather creepy and morbid. It's on Lauren now?"

"It's attached to her clothing, specifically, but yes. It was a recent idea I had implemented and I am glad I had, Yusuke. Otherwise, we wouldn't be on our way to finding her or Kuwabara." He paused as he reopened his eyes and looked at the detective with another wry, if shielded, smile. "These are very rare to find, so you can see why I rarely use them. Once they have been used the first time, they're useless for future endeavors, and they only last twenty-four hours after being activated."

At that last bit of information, Yusuke became rigid. "Then what the hell are we waiting for? Let's get moving!"

"Have you forgotten we need a way into the Makai, Detective? Contact Koenma and have him form a portal for us." Hiei said, eyeing the wreckage that was once Lauren's room once again.

"And if you can, please have Koenma send a team to clean this mess as well. It would not do if our student superintendent came by for a random inspection and saw this. I'm sure he'll been put on edge for a while, considering our incident with the cats and the tiger in our bathroom earlier this afternoon." Kurama added.

Yusuke paused at that last bit. "A…tiger…in the bathroom."

"Yes." Kurama nodded, looking quite serious. Yusuke eyed him for a moment, and it seemed he was trying to remain stoic and hold back his laughter, but was failing quite miserably.

"As in…there was a-a jungle cat in your fucking bathroom? Oh, my God. The Hangover!"

"Lauren made the same reference, yes. I'm afraid I failed to see that film."

"What, are you kidding me? That's one of the best movies I saw when we were in America with Lupin and the rest of the gang!" Yusuke cackled as he added, "Oh, Kuwabara will love that one! 'There's a tiger in the bathroom!' Ha!"

"Yusuke, as amusing as this all is, please focus." Kurama reminded, to which Yusuke quickly sobered and nodded.

"Yeah, I got ya. Let's get Kuwabara and Lauren back." He agreed, muscles slightly more tense now. "I'm gonna teach those damned cats a lesson that kidnapping humans is a really bad idea."

Yusuke fished out the communicator and popped the thing open to contact Koenma. Giving them both a quick nod, he quickly began relaying everything that had happened to the young prince when the connection established itself. To say that Koenma wasn't happy would've been the understatement of century.

"And where is that damned werewolf, while we're at it? She had the nerve to drop in unannounced to say she'd be adding herself to the protection detail!"

"Fuck if I know, she came in here as soon as Lauren and Kuwabara disappeared, started babbling in, like, ten different languages, cussed us all out and vanished. You know how crazy she's been getting." Yusuke snapped back, much to Koenma's ire. The prince ran a hand over his face, looking world weary in his teenaged form, no longer using the ruse of a young toddler nowadays.

"Fine. First things first, get Lauren and Kuwabara back as soon as possible. That's our top priority at this moment. I'll see if I can't track down our rogue werewolf in the meantime. I give her an inch, and she takes not a mile, but a hundred of them! Every time!"

"Well, don't expect me to put a leash on her, that's Allen's job. He's the only one who can control her." Yusuke grunted before adding, "And can you send someone down here to clean shit up? We can't exactly have a bunch of people running around here wondering what happened with the room here looking the way it does."

Koenma muttered another curse before nodding curtly at the screen. "You have a point. I'll make sure to send in a team later tonight to start fixing things. In the meantime, if you see that woman, keep her in sight until you get back. I have a few words to give her and they certainly aren't going to be compliments for a job well done if things don't get out of hand. I'll set up the portal in Kurama's apartment in a few minutes. Stand by."

Left with half-finished mutterings, the connection ended and Yusuke grimaced. Yep. That sounded like Lupin. Things haven't been the same with Lupin, not since he met her, not for the past couple of years. He felt kind of bad for her, but at the same time, she had done this to herself. He finally turned his thoughts away from said werewolf and turned back to the other two. "Looks like we got our ride now." Yusuke waggled the communicator a few times before pocketing the device.

"Good. I can feel the tracker now, it's faint, but it's there."

Yusuke grinned, a spark flickering in his eyes. "Good. Let's kick down their doors and kick us some cat ass while we're at it."

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"Wow. This place is pretty snazzy looking."

The comment drew Kuwabara's attention back to Lauren, who was openly wide-eyed and gaping. The castle grounds really were amazing, but over the top in his opinion, but impressive, no less. Built up on a hill, thick stone walls and strong, aged wood composed of the castle's main building blocks it seemed. They passed through several courtyards, each of them defended by high walls. Practicing and sparring soldiers lay in the outer most walls, wielding all types of weapons, some not even from Japan, but from other nations. It was no wonder, either, there were different types of cats there as well, from different nations, and strangely enough, plenty of multi-colored cats as well.

They passed through the last gates and were finally within the inner circle where the castle actually lay. A drawbridge lowered around a wide and deep moat—where, Kuwabara spotted, several large shapes swam in concentric circles in the waters below. The tabby from earlier walked alongside them, and noticing his gaze, waved him off.

"Oh, that? That's our collection of aquatic demons that can co-exist together. If our last lines of defense were to fail, we can raise the waters enough for them to snatch any would-be conquerors. It's quite a scene to behold, actually, since most of them are quite poisonous. That's why they won't bother trying to eat one another. One nip and you are a goner. Don't worry; you're under our protection, though. We'll keep you safe!"

The tabby laughed and the mystery behind yet another question answered left him feeling quite queasy. From the looks of it, it left Lauren looking even paler than before as well. Kuwabara felt a little awkward and more than worried at this point, but the second he saw the girl's face, he hesitated before reaching over and giving her shoulders a quick, reassuring squeeze.

"Don't worry, Lauren, Urameshi and the others won't rest until they get here. And I'll keep you safe as long as possible."

She managed a tiny, albeit very nervous smile, but the look in her eyes told him that he'd at least succeeded somewhat in comforting her. She nodded a little in return and returned to sight-seeing, although Kuwabara could tell it was half-hearted this time, and not with the same wonderment and curiosity as before.

The caravan finally stopped and the dais was carefully lowered by the leopard-spotted people, who stayed in their kneeled position. Kuwabara leapt off first and barred off the cats that came to help Lauren off. She wisely chose to stick close by him, knowing she could trust him more than the cats. If Shuiichi had him as a friend, than he must have been a trustworthy companion to be around with.

A small contingent of cats circled them and off they went again, at a reasonable pace.

Inside was an extreme reverse of the outside. While the outside of the castle resembled the old Medieval castles of Europe, the inside was a severe contrast of the Asian cultures. Rice paper doors, teak wood, paper lanterns, and so much more filled the place, it was a wonder how it all seemed to work.

The tabby cat seemed to notice her shock, as well as Kuwabara's, because he grinned that cat grin of his and explained, "Over the hundreds and thousands of years, different cultures have influenced our kingdom's castle. There are bits and pieces of history and inspiration from all over the world here. The reason we've chosen a stone castle is because of its strong armaments and battlements. Not to mention its defenses are more superb. Well, as long as it's all kept in good shape, of course. Can't defend against an enemy's attack if the castle is in ruins beforehand, now can we?"

"Have you ever…had an attack?"

"Several. But we don't let them leave, not easily that is. We can't allow outsiders to have access to our kingdom. It'd be disastrous! Now, come along, Mackenzie-san! We have to get you ready!"

"Ready? For what?'

She stared down at her attire as they walked: jeans, a sweatshirt for the coming winter chill back in Japan, and worn but reliable sneakers. She frowned.

"For your meeting with the king and the delegates of the Demon Cat Kingdom! You're going to be around many higher ups, so to be dressed appropriately is the key!"

That nearly had her tripping over her own feet. She remembered the king quite well; he looked like a miniature lion with the mix-matched eyes. But the news of meeting delegates for this kingdom? That was a new bit of news. She felt nervousness clawing away at her belly and she was suddenly queasy at that prospect.

"Wait, I thought I was only meeting the king?" Lauren pressed, but her guide only waved a paw dismissively as he gave her a cat-grin.

"Well, you'll also be meeting the worldwide delegates of the Demon Cat Kingdom as well, silly! You'll meet them at the royal banquet, and we have to get you looking the part! Come, come, the servants are waiting for you!"

"But, just wait a second, you can't—I don't plan to stay, I—!" She stammered a few incoherent lines out, but to no avail. The pudgy little tabby ignored her pleas and even with Kuwabara's help, it seemed the cat was more deaf than previously thought.

They rushed down a series of corridors, with Lauren gathering more butterflies in her stomach. Kuwabara eyed the guards that stood attentively beside several rooms with a deep frown, thinking hard.

"You know, maybe we should just go along with it for now. If I know the others, they won't keep us waiting for long," he finally told Lauren as they started down a dead-end hallway. Lauren cast a worried glance up at him, and he smiled at her, trying to look reassuring.

"Besides, I'm sure they've found a way here. If not them, then…well…a good friend of ours who occasionally takes up odd jobs with us might. She's…kinda crazy like that. Makes it her job to know these things, though."

"Friend?"

Before Kuwabara could answer, the tabby paused outside a sliding door and pronounced that they had arrived. Lauren was immediately swept into the room, despite her growing protests. Kuwabara took two steps afterwards, but the tabby barred his way. "Ah, ah! Our special guest only! You may go and refresh yourself with our delectable treats in the other room!" He motioned to the sliding door opposite the room Lauren had been whisked away into. He twisted to view it. A servant cat, its fur a splotchy brown and orange and white, opened the door from the inside, head bowed, and motioned with a paw inside.

"If you'll please step this way," the servant cat mewed to him softly without lifting its head. He cast a nervous glance behind him, torn between leaving Lauren to the clutches of cats and gathering Intel on this place. Finally, he slowly trudged into the room, and the servant cat closed the door quietly behind him.

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The seed that Kurama used pulsed with renewed vigor as they closed in on the location where the rift between worlds lay. It was hidden in the back alleyways between buildings in the center of town. The air shimmered every once in a while, but it seemed dim and growing fainter with each passing second.

"Only a cat would hide it in an obscure place where people don't often wander," Kurama murmured quietly as they approached. He could feel Hiei's energy signature not too far, and knew the fire demon was close at hand. Lupin, however, he couldn't sense. She was good at hiding herself when she wanted, and she had certainly delved straight into her usual routine of stealth.

"It doesn't look like it'll be open for much longer." Yusuke said and Kurama nodded in agreement, replacing the tracker seed where he'd swiped it from.

"Then quit dawdling and move it, detective." The other two looked where the voice came from and Hiei seemed to pull himself out of the shadows themselves, red eyes bright and glimmering reflectively.

"He's right. It's now or never. Koenma won't be able to replicate the portal."

"Then what're we waiting for?" Yusuke smirked and he boldly stepped towards the portal. He shot a hand out, testing it. When his hand disappeared and he pulled back, satisfied he had his whole hand back, he stepped through. The other two weren't far behind him, and not a moment too soon. As soon as they stepped into the field of fresh, spring-scented grass and swaying cat-tails, the portal vanished. Yusuke eyed the spot where he had just came through with distaste.

"Great. Now that we're here, how're we supposed to get back?"

"I'm sure they have ways of slipping in and out of the kingdom. Perhaps we could convince another Schrodinger's shadow cat to…open a portal."

"Convince. Right." Yusuke shook his head before eying the valley spread out before him. They were close to a forest's edge, and below there was a village of low huts. Cats of all colors, breeds, and sizes galloped or pranced or rolled about below. A castle loomed in the distance, something straight out of a history text book, but it wasn't in ruins, and it was in great condition, almost like new. The three newcomers, however, were not as enraptured by its sight as Lauren had been when she'd first laid eyes on it.

"So, I'm guessing little miss princess is trapped away in the highest tower, then?"

"Doubtful. Perhaps the main hall or the throne room to meet the king. We'd best slip in as quickly as we can, before we alert anyone of our presence."

"Why? They're just a bunch of cats."

"These cats have guarded their kingdom jealously for thousands of years. Not very many stumble upon this kingdom and even fewer have made it out alive. At least, those who were uninvited."

Yusuke mulled over this information, although he didn't look scared or impressed. "What happens if you are invited?"

"No one knows. Rumor has it in the Makai that the invited guests get turned into cats themselves, to help replenish the royal bloodline. It wouldn't do to have incest run rampant in the royal family." Kurama replied.

"That's kind of gross."

"It's the truth. They may choose from their own subjects or someone outside the kingdom. It usually comes down to a choice of the king or its prince. Or princess, if the heir is female."

"And the queen?"

"If the king dies, then she may choose."

"Wow. Sounds like one big happy family," Yusuke quipped sarcastically. Kurama didn't smile, eyes sharply regarding the castle beyond, and the village below.

"You might want to quit while you're ahead. That woman made it here before us."

Kurama turned his sharp gaze away from the sleepy scene below and looked to where Hiei had moved to. He was leaning casually against a tree, arms crossed over his chest. He nodded towards the branch above his head. A tiny silver capsule with a gray parachute dangled at least a foot above him.

"Well, well, gifts from above. I can dig that." Yusuke grinned as he strolled over, yanked the thing out of the branches and unscrewed the canister's lid. He dumped the contents of the canister into his hands and whistled, eyes growing a little brighter with glee. Three watches spilled lay in the palm of his hand, their faces large and the time ticking away. It was nearly two in the morning, the watches said, already set for time in Japan. Yusuke strapped one on, and gave the dial around the face an experimental twist. The image around him briefly turned to static, before he looked up and down himself. He looked the same and frowned.

"What gives? If she went through the trouble to get these for us…"

"You might want to check your reflection, Yusuke."

"…Wait. You don't mean…?"

Kurama nodded, a smile peaking his lips.

"Oh, come on! Really? I'll kill her!"

"Your ears are rather fuzzy."

"Don't you freakin' start, fox-boy! Don't you dare!"

Hiei gave a subtle, if mocking, chuckle.

"It suits you, detective. Especially the tail."

Yusuke shot a glance at his backside and grit his teeth before repeating, "Oh, come on! Now she's definitely dead! She finally gets us these, and she ends up programming the simplest shit in them, that's bullshit!"

Kurama was able to pry the other two watches from Yusuke's hand and strapped one onto his wrist and twisted the dial. As fun as it was picking on Yusuke for a moment's easy relief, they had a job to do, and theatrics weren't getting them anywhere. He offered the last to Hiei, but the fire demon simply glared at the device, as if trying to will it to burst into flames.

"There is no way I am wearing that thing and end up looking like you two."

"It's only a holographic projection, Hiei."

"It may work for you two, and that insane woman, but I won't be drafted into using one of those things." He pushed away from the tree, starting down the slope. "I'll see the two of you at the castle."

With that said, Hiei disappeared in a black shadow, leaving the two holographic-disguised fox demon and former detective behind.

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