Peaches From The Banyan Tree
Inside the dream realm, Toshi emerged into a massive grove of banyan and mangrove trees, all altered by the residents of the grove into houses and apartments. The residents, however, were all absent, lending an eerie silence to the area.
"Hello?" Toshi called out, picking her way through the trees, past abandoned houses and dinghies, some appearing to have been hastily moored before the residents cleared out. "Is anyone here?"
There was no answer from the grove-village, aside from the sound of water lapping up against the tree trunks and far off birds in the canopy.
Toshi sighed and kept going through the village, stopping only to peer into the occasional window or knock on a door.
Finding the village strangely vacant, the Demonhunter sat down on the steps to a house with a large porch surrounding the tree.
"Um… excuse me, could you help me?" A soft male voice came from behind the Demonhunter, making her perk up and look around.
"Where are you?" Toshi asked, standing.
"Down here." The voice continued. "I'm stuck."
Toshi looked down to see a pair of bright yellow pupils staring at her from underneath the porch's boards. "Oh! All right, I'll see what I can do."
The Demonhunter picked up one of the boards, wrenching it free from the porch, followed by two more.
As Toshi tore up more of the porch, the owner of the yellow eyes climbed out, revealing a seven foot tall púca in an anthropomorphic rabbit-man form wearing little more than tattered shorts, his pitch black fur making him blend into the shadows. The púca towered over Toshi as the Demonhunter helped him climb over the broken boards.
"How in heaven's name did you get down there?" Toshi asked, as the púca sat down on the steps to stretch out properly, some of his joints cracking softly. "Better yet, why were you down there?"
"Someone came to tear down the village." The púca started. "Many of my friends either ran deeper into the woods or hid. I panicked and managed to wedge myself under this porch… then I realized that I couldn't get comfortable enough to switch to a smaller form without breaking a limb. … Thank you for saving me."
"It's my job." Toshi laughed. "So, you don't know where the other informants are, do you?"
"No idea." The púca shrugged. "I've not seen anyone around for days."
"I'll tell you what." Toshi started. "I'll help you sort out the problem with this stranger, and you help me get a message to the underworld."
"I've never been to the underworld before…" The púca shrugged. "I wouldn't know where to start."
"Hey, I'm not the Demonhunter for nothing. I'll get you down there and in the right direction." Toshi grinned. "What's your name, sweetheart?"
"Linden." The púca blushed under his dark fur. "It's an honour to meet you, ma'am."
"Please, call me Toshi." The Demonhunter smiled. "Come on, show me where this guy is."
The púca stood, starting to lead the Demonhunter towards the villages' exterior dock, where a man in a suit and hard hat was looking at blue prints while machines worked on altering the landscape, starting to build the foundation of a large complex in the swamp.
Toshi approached the man, tapping him on the shoulder. "Excuse me, may I see your permits?"
The man turned to Toshi, looking at the fox demon like she was crazy. "I don't need a permit."
"Yes, you do." Toshi crossed her arms. "This is a populated, protected area. You have to have permission from the residents to change the environment."
"Well, the people who lived here didn't seem to mind moving, and nobody's come to stop me." The man shrugged, going back to his blueprints.
"Actually, I'm the authority in this area." Toshi took the blueprints from the man. "So, you really need to leave."
"And give up this prime real estate?" The man laughed at Toshi. "Lady, there is no way I'm leaving this place!"
"Do you even know where you are?" Toshi raised an eyebrow.
"Florida?" The man shrugged. "I woke up here, but nobody will give me a straight answer. Doesn't matter one way or another once this timeshare complex is built. The tourists will turn this place into a boom town soon enough, and then I can call it whatever I want."
"Actually, you're in the dream realm." Toshi caught the man's attention. "Most people don't wake up in this place, so that means that you must have died in your sleep."
"There's no way I can be dead!" The man protested. "I haven't felt this good in years!"
"My point exactly." Toshi dug a gateway coin out of his sleeve, flipping it into the water. "You don't belong here."
The man moved to take a swing at Toshi, but the Demonhunter moved out of his way quickly, taking him off balance and tripping him into the water that was rapidly turning dark red around them.
A skeletal hand emerged from the water, dragging the man into it's depths. As the man disappeared under the surface, the machinery and the damage it had done faded away, returning the swamp to it's original state.
Linden stared open mouthed as Toshi passed him, heading back towards the grove.
"Come on, let's see if any of my informants are home. They'll take good care of you in the underworld." The Demonhunter tossed over her shoulder as her mile eating stride took her closer to the village.
The dark furred púca jogged to keep up with Toshi, his long legs catching up to her quickly. "I don't know what good I'll be to you…"
"Nonsense!" Toshi waved off the púca, turning slightly as she made her way up the stairs of one particular house, the Supernatural Control Research Division insignia hanging in the window. "Do you have any family around here?"
"No… my parents were killed by poachers when I was little, and the nuns from St. Nicodemus raised me and brought me here when I was old enough to live on my own."
"Well, it's good to see that they raised you right." Toshi smiled, knocking on the door.
"Are you sure someone's in there?" Linden asked. "I thought everyone left the village."
"My informants never stray far from here." Toshi turned from the púca to pound on the door again. "I haven't got all day!"
A poltergeist in a three piece pinstripe suit and trilby hat opened the door, rubbing one of his eyes sleepily. "H'lo…?"
"Well, good morning, Todd! I'm so glad you decided to grace me with your presence!" Toshi's irked tone was palpable.
"Tosh, you're lucky you're my favourite doll, or I'd tell you to go chase yourself." Todd made a squinted face at Toshi as he adjusted to the light. "What's the word?"
"I was wondering if you could help my friend Linden get a message to the Underworld." Toshi motioned to the púca, who waved meekly.
"We can do that for you, sweetheart." Todd nodded, looking the dark furred rabbit-man over.
"I want him to do it, please." Toshi shook her head. "And once he's down there, I'd appreciate it if you could steer him towards getting a job."
"You thinkin' of replacing us, sweetheart?" Todd raised a spectral eyebrow.
"No, no." The Demonhunter shook her head. "There are openings in almost every department. I'm sure someone will take him on."
"There is one of project one of the new hires has been working on. She might appreciate the help." Todd smiled.
Toshi rifled around in her sleeve, coming up with a sealed black envelope. "Just make sure this gets downstairs."
Linden took the envelope from Toshi as she turned to leave. "What is it?"
"Some questions I need answered." Toshi shrugged. "Give it to the first council member you see."
"I'll make sure it gets where it needs to go." Todd nodded, holding the door open for the púca. "Do you want to stick around for a belt of whiskey, Toshi?"
"Thanks, but I've got to get back to the waking realm." The Demonhunter shrugged. "Tell your boys I said hi."
"Can do." Todd tipped his hat to Toshi, as the Demonhunter headed back into the woods.
In the waking world, Phoebe and Maigo were working over the scrying pool in the temple, while the others were waiting for Toshi to come out of her trance.
"Is she okay?" Alexandriel kneeled near the Demonhunter, who was breathing quietly.
"She's fine." Yasashii nodded as she tidied up the offering area in the temple, stoking the fire and removing old offerings. "Toshi goes into the dream realm all the time to talk with our informants."
The Demonhunter started to come around, shifting her weight as she opened her eyes.
"She's waking up!" Alexandriel perked up, getting the group's attention.
"How'd it go?" Maigo asked, as she and Phoebe joined the others as they collected around Toshi.
"Aside from the guy that was trying to build condos over the mangrove swamp, it was okay." Toshi stood, brushing off her dress. "I've got a new recruit taking my letter down to the Hell Council, and Todd's looking after him."
"I've made a portal to the next nearest ley line nexus ready to go." Phoebe started. "It should drop you off around Namida's mansion in the Black Forest."
"Wait… we're not taking your portals?" Alexandriel looked at the Demonhunter.
"Phoebe's are far more potent than mine." Toshi shrugged, as she approached the water. "Besides, we can't waste any more time on travel. I'm going to ask Namida to hop us as far as she can the moment we get to her place."
The Greek priestess laid a dried asphodel flower on top of the scrying pool, making the water turn black and lose it's reflection. "You're ready to go."
"Thank you, Phoebe." Toshi smiled, as the others stepped into the pool, disappearing below the surface. "C'mon, 'Xandy."
The angel took a deep breath, stepping into the dark water and holding his breath as it closed over his head.