Three days passed at the Tengu manor in relative obscurity and infuriating slowness. They didn't lock me up in a tower, but I was never without constant supervision. I had the illusion of freedom by getting to wear western style clothes and wander the manor and grounds all day long—as long as I don't go where I'm not allowed. These areas were never explicitly stated, but it was obvious by the locked doors and "randomly" placed house staff to ask if I needed anything or was looking for something. However, as long as I didn't intrude on these areas everyone gave me an attentive sort of ambivalence. Acknowledging my presence, but ignoring me as long as I didn't interact with them.

I hadn't seen Jun or any of the elders since the feast, even though I knew they were there because the off-limit areas all had something to do with them. The first day I heard cries coming from the weapons room, but when I got there I was met with Jun's guards barring entrance, and when I'd almost stumbled into an elder's council I was "shown the way" back to my room by several anxious maid servants.

I established a routine fairly quickly because it was obvious the tengu had a routine and it was easier to observe them by acting as they did. Early in the morning I would walk to the edge of the barrier where the fox had found me until a servant would come to tell me breakfast was ready, and then I wandered and cataloged people and rooms until I was rerouted to the point of severe annoyance, which is when I would seek out the miniature guard Taro to argue with and play Xiangqi, or Chinese chess, until dinner. Afterward I sat at the edge of the barrier until late into the night thinking and plotting.

"Why do you keep going to the barrier outside?" Taro asked me as he bought time to think about his next move.

"Why would any caged animal stare through the bars of its cage?" I muttered annoyed with the question he asked me every day, and his stalling; we both knew I had him cornered.

"Don't you get enough food? And you get to wear pants and have free reign over the servants. You're obviously a peasant because you don't have the manners that show you were brought up in this kind of lifestyle. So you should really be more grateful."

"I should really not be getting advice from a shrimp that loses to a peasant at Xiangqi."

He glared at me as he sacrificed his last advisor to extend the game one more move. "It's not too late for you to be eaten."

I captured the piece and put his general in check. He had no valid moves left, I didn't even have to capture his general to win. "And it's not too late for you to learn a better strategy than losing."

He stood up abruptly, fury evident all over his small form. "Yeah, well, I can fly away and you can't!" His little wings sprouted at that moment and he stuck his tongue out at me as he pulled down a lower eyelid in the classic akanbe gesture used by children and immature adults in anime to show disdain before flying away from me over the manor roof.

I sighed as I watched him disappear from sight. It's a sad day when my only source of real conversation was the immature insulting and bickering of grade school children. It's even sadder that I can revert back to that age without a second thought.

But this time I caused the bickering on purpose. I had a few real minutes of alone time when I irritated him enough to leave abruptly before turning over supervision of me to another tengu. It gave me the opportunity to wander as deeply and as quickly as I could through the manor to get a look into the restricted areas before another tengu could be sent to watch me. Today I was determined to make it to the weapons room where Connelly had been held before the screaming began, and I could see who was there now.

Since the fox had brought me the bracelet it seemed like every moment turned my thoughts more toward Kouzai, and the anxious feeling in my stomach that made me feel something terrible had happened was becoming more prominent. I know the fox had been caught, but never saw it or heard what had happened to it.

Before I could think about escape I had to find out who was enclosed in that room.

I crept the halls of the manor unseen until I reached the interior where the weapons, council chambers and holding cells were located, having memorized the guard's positions and having a rough idea of the servant's routines. I ducked into a room I knew to be unoccupied before the bend that would take me by the weapons room. My second day I had discovered it, and found its walls to be thin. In a few minutes I knew one of the guard's would announce that he was taking a piss break which somehow lasted ten minutes at least, and while he was gone the other guard would leave for a few minutes to play around with a maid he would meet in the room across from mine.

I listened at the wall and played with stolen my dagger nervously. Please let them follow the routine.

"I'm going."

His partner acknowledged this with a grunt. I literally counted the seconds until I heard his footsteps cross the hallway and round the corner, when they stopped I heard a muffled giggle and a door slid open and shut.

With my heart beating in my ears and my hands sweating, I carefully slid open the door a few millimeters every few seconds, extremely conscious of each miniscule sound I created. Eventually I was able to squeeze through before tip-toeing across the floor. I peeked around the corner like I'd seen army characters do in movies and resisted the urge to make ambiguous hand signals. The ridiculousness of my amateur spy tactics was the only part that kept me from freaking out from anxiety. As long as I could make fun of myself I couldn't take myself seriously enough to trip over myself.

By the time I reached the door my patience was being eclipsed by jitters and pulled open the handle quickly, only to find myself face to face with a particularly ugly tengu guard with the egregiously large, curved nose common to his kind on a thin, taught face. His eyes widened in surprise and before I could respond he grabbed me by the arm and pulled me inside.

His movements were silent and rough as he pinned me against the door on the inside with a hand over my mouth. The skin to skin contact sent a shock down my neck. I was frozen by the remembered feeling. In a blink his black eyes turned a brilliant gold and his features blurred into a recognizable face in the same instant. Kouzai.

The only clothing he had on were dirty, torn pants, and all over his barred flesh was scarred, bruised, and bloodied. His long hair had been chopped off raggedly, and I could smell the sweat and blood without his magic to hide it.

Slowly, partly in disbelief and partly out of fear that I might be seeing things, I touched my fingers to his hand over my mouth and it fell away gently. Several emotions were fighting for dominance on his face; anger, relief, acceptance, and another that I could not place but I could feel on my hot skin.

"What have they done to you?" I whispered, and he slowly shook his head to tell me to remain silent. He nodded to the far end of the room and pulled me toward it.

We sat down behind a wall of armor. Though he moved silently, his movements themselves looked painful and strained. Why wasn't he healing?

"You seem to have gotten yourself into another mess, Karin Curie." He said like a long suffering parent.

"Me in trouble? You look like you've been beaten to death! Twice!" I whispered furiously. "Why are you here? Were you the fox that gave me back the bracelet? Is that how you got caught?"

"Please, Karin, we don't have the time to answer all our questions. The guards will be back within a few minutes. We must focus on the important ones. Like what happened after I left you."

Immediately the images of blood that interrupted my dreaming every night flashed before me, followed by Kouzai's harsh look and the unsympathetic way he left me. I looked away from him and swallowed the lump in my throat.

"I was kidnapped by these tengu because Dr. Connelly convinced them I'm some mythical being called the immortal fruit."

He was silent for a moment. "I know that," he said gently, "…I mean what happened in that backyard."

"I…I don't know. I was so helpless, I was being choked and it scared me, and...that made me so angry. An anger like I'd never felt before just kind of…overwhelmed me and the next moment I felt this release. When I opened my eyes…everything was covered in blood, I was covered in blood. I just up and killed two beings without even trying..."

A swollen hand turned my chin back toward Kouzai. I expected him to look at me with pity, but instead his look was stern, but compassionate.

"That wasn't your fault. You don't have the training or the understanding to use the power like that, especially in a circumstance that threatened your life."

"I don't understand. Where did the power come from? Why are you even here? Isn't our contract complete? Why would you risk yourself to give me back your hoshi no tama?" I hissed at him, my confusion and distress emerging as spitefulness.

He sighed and grinned at me in a self-depreciating way with none of his normal fox-like mischievousness. "That talisman is not my hoshi no tama. Its purpose was only to protect and guide to the real hoshi no tama."

His gold eyes did not move from my face as he waited for me to make a connection. I only looked back in apprehension. Why was he looking at me like that? Oh God, was I actually the immortal fruit?

"It's you, Karin."

"It's me…what?..."

"You are my hoshi no tama. I don't know how, but you are. The talisman protected you and concealed you, but when we shared power to move through time it exposed and opened the connection. I absorbed all your energy when we traveled, so when I left I thought I had my power back. When your life was threatened all that power came back through you. I was left with less power than I had before I met you, which is why it took me so long to get to you."

"So…" How was that even possible? "That doesn't make any sense. A few weeks ago I had never even thought about going to Japan, or had any idea about kitsunes and hoshi no tamas. How could I be one?"

"I don't know yet but—"He paused and his fox ears twitched in the direction of the door. "The one is almost done with his female. You need to tie me back to the pillar."

He got up suddenly and made it quickly back to the pole that had previously been bound to Dr. Connelly. I followed in disbelief, the wheels in my head catching in what was sure to lead to a meltdown.

"What are you doing? You're free! Let's go!"

I was panicking and he knew it, but instead of reacting to it he rolled his eyes at me and looked at me like he had when I'd split the trunk at Harumi's. He sat with his legs crossed and back against the pillar. He put his hands behind his back. "We don't have time for you to panic. Quickly now. Tie me back. I wasn't captured by accident. I'm here for you."

I scowled at him and felt pathetic. "How is you being tortured daily helping me? Even if you are only here because you need my power."

"I wouldn't have gotten into the compound as anything other than a prisoner. Between the guards taking a break now and the changing of the guards before the evening interrogation I normally turn into a disgusting tengu to find you, but you were always surrounded by others. Now that I've seen you, I can tell you the plan. Stop staring at me and tie my hands behind the pillar."

I moved into action finally, expecting the guards to burst in at any second while he spoke.

"You must get an audience with their young leader. I know he wants to take you as a bride, so that shouldn't be hard. Get him into an empty room in this corridor, there are many. Make sure he sends away his guards, I know relying on your feminine charms is a risk but be prepared—" I yanked his ropes tightly and he grimaced.


He shook his head and smirked at me. "It's fine. Just get him alone, and I'll take over from there."

"You're going to fight in the state you're in?"

He shrugged. "I conserved energy for the transformations by not healing. It will work the same tonight. I'll be fine. You need to worry about getting out of here before they get back to their posts."

That statement hit me in a strange way as I realized his injuries were so bad only because he had been trying to get to me and didn't have the power to take care of himself and worry about me at the same time.

I was still crouched beside him thinking when he looked at me annoyed by my stillness. "Get out of here, Karin."

I looked him the eyes and could already feel the shock that was about to come; Ican't believe I'm about to do this. This fox demon had left me paralyzed and on the brink of death, he was only here because he needed my power, and I can't believe what I'm about to do.

"What are you thinking…" He asked narrowing his eyes at me suspiciously.

Before I could deliberate it further I grabbed his face softly, careful of his wounds, and pressed my lips to his. The waves of electricity starting from my lips and travelling through my body were immediate. I became conscious of a sort of knowing, like a contented sigh, as our energies connected; our lips the conduit for a powerful current. The first few seconds he was shocked still before I could feel him straining to touch me more. I hadn't meant to continue so long, but I found I didn't want to stop, but eventually I realized I needed to breathe and time was against us.

When I pulled away Kouzai made an effort to glare at me, but his body was flushed and his breathing was shallow and the glare lost its force. I stared at his body, watching the wounds heal, before reappearing and I looked up at him alarmed.

He shook his head at me, "They're healed, now I have to use my power to pretend that they're still there. Which… is easier now that I have the strength. Thank you." He stared at me unwillingly, fighting the urge to show is embarrassment at being grateful to me.

"Now leave you foolish…clever girl." He whispered sternly, having recovered quickly, but unable to conceal his approval of my actions.

I complied; operating on a strange sort of autopilot as I walked from the room. I felt calm and at ease for the first time in days because it actually felt like there was a chance. Perhaps it was another false hope, but I wasn't going to give up.