A/N: Um, hi there! It's been a while, hasn't it? ^^; I'm so incredibly sorry—last-minute summer work has had me drowning, and I just haven't had time to update. Time flies so fast . . . I hope this chapter is up to standards.
Anyway, since school is starting again in a few days (bleargh), thought I should leave you lovely people something before I disappear again!
Part of this is based off of one of my favorite animes, xxxHOLiC. And I also think it's about time I introduced another person of Jack's seasonal family. :)
Disclaimer: I do not own RotG.
Chapter Summary: After a very long time, Jack reunites with one of his seasonal siblings. Unfortunately, it's not just a social call.
With a contented sigh, Jack stretched out on the tree branch he was sitting in before pulling his knees to his chest. A soft smile played on his lips as he gazed across the horizon, the last few rays of light gleaming across his hometown. Winter was coming to an end soon, and with the arrival of spring—Jack would have to clear out, lest he incite Flora's wrath.
. . . Although, it would be very amusing to see the blonde-haired spirit appear in a burst of flower petals, green eyes flashing as she told off the younger winter spirit for overstaying his season.
The sun sank lower in the sky, shadows quickly creeping along the land—and soon the warm, golden glow was replaced by the silvery light of the moon. Jack enjoyed quiet moments like this as he listened to the animals beginning to stir, the feel of the approaching rebirth of spring beginning to awaken in them.
He had always adored animals.
(. . . ck!)
A few years before he was made a Guardian, he'd become very attached to some of them—a fluffy Arctic hare, a colony of penguins, and a warm-eyed polar bear cub and his family to name a few. When Jack was feeling his loneliest, these were who he would seek out for comfort.
His thoughts of his friends somehow seamlessly melded into faint, blurry images that he couldn't seem to recall . . .
Were those dolphins?
The winter spirit's eyes flew open (when had he fallen asleep?), and he yelped in surprise as a honey-gold gaze bore into his own, making him scramble back against the tree trunk in shock.
"Honestly, Jack," huffed a strikingly familiar female voice. "I haven't seen you in decades and that's how you greet me?"
Eyes of bright blue glanced up at the slender, black-haired girl who was standing on the tree branch with impeccable grace. Her amber eyes glinted teasingly in the faint moonlight.
Jack's face broke into a grin.
"K-Kasai, what are you even doing here? Summer's not even close to starting in the eastern United States—I mean, not that I'm not glad to see you . . ."
Jack knew he was babbling, but the joy of seeing his seasonal counterpart made him keep talking. He never really get to see Kasai very much (due to a very obvious fact), but he enjoyed being around her whenever he got the chance. Easily his favorite sibling, Kasai was closer to his age biologically (around eighteen), and she was a little more mischievous and reckless compared to the other two seasonals. It made for some very fun pranking.
He had missed her, but he understood why she never really instigated visits if she could avoid it. Kasai had a huge temper, and her magic often responded to such emotions, like all of the seasonal spirits. She never said it aloud, but Jack knew that she was afraid she'd hurt him.
The summer spirit pouted. "How many times do I have to tell you to call me nee-chan? You did before."
Jack snorted, picking himself up from his sitting position on the tree branch. "Kasai, I was only 56 when we met. I'm 314 now."
"Ah, but still a baby compared to me—I'm your older sister, aren't I?"
"Hey, I'm not a baby!" Jack argued, though he couldn't help but smile after. Siblings were a pain, but he loved them anyway. Was this how Emma felt as the younger child? Even after 300 or so years, it was still a little unsettling that he was suddenly the youngest of his family after being used to being the caretaker and not the one being cared for.
Kasai's lips quirked into a smile of her own, her sharp canines glinting. She sat down on the branch, then patted the seat next to her. Jack joined the other girl (being mindful of the sandy tails poking from Kasai's yukata), swinging his feet in the air much like a child would in this situation.
"So why did you come here, Kas?" Jack asked soon after, turning to look at the summer spirit.
She laughed as she folded her hands in her lap. "I knew that you would figure out that this wasn't just a social visit, little brother," she said, her eyes still trained on her her hands. "You see, the truth is . . . I need your help."
Jack was surprised. In addition to her impulsivity and explosive temper when angry, Kasai also held an extraordinary amount of pride. The fact that she put it aside meant that it was something serious. "You mean, Kasai, the proud and mighty kitsune, needs my help?"
Yup. Kasai, looking almost human in appearance, was a kitsune—a Japanese fox-spirit. They had the ability (after 100 years) to shift into a human form. As a controller of thunder and lightning (like Jack had reign over ice and snow), she was responsible for the strong summer storms, with occasional help from Flora for more rain.
A look of frustration appeared on Kasai's face at Jack's question. ". . . Yes. My hoshi no tama was stolen by the Jorōgumo."
His eyes widened. "Stolen? By the Jorōgumo?" Jack repeated in horror, dumbfounded. "What?"
"Yes! I told you that, so you don't need to go repeating it, you knucklehead," Kasai snapped miserably, her previously-hidden tension and worry showing. ". . . And you were the only one not busy with seasonal stuff, so you were the only one I could ask," she added petulantly, frowning.
Now that Jack was aware of the anxiety his sister was going through, he was able to pick up on the messiness of her normally immaculate braid and the ruffled state of her tails.
"So I was a last-minute option," Jack said dryly before he could stop himself. "Nice." He then winced inwardly as his sarcasm came out at an extremely inopportune moment.
Agh, stupid, stupid, stupid!
"You know what I mean!" she said indignantly, fire blazing around her body.
With a startled yelp at the sudden appearance of the bright orange flames, Jack toppled backwards out of the tree. Thankfully, the hook of his staff caught onto the branch before he could crash to the ground, but that feeling of momentary terror was still coursing through his veins. He gulped as he swung gently from the wood, his hand trembling as he gripped his staff tightly. His breaths shaky, he slipped to the ground with a light thump.
A horrified gasp made him glance up. "I'm so sorry, Jack!" Kasai cried out, her golden eyes wide with panic as she leapt down from the branch. "That's why I didn't want to ask you—"
Jack hastily scrambled to his feet, staff in hand. "Kas, calm down, it's al―"
"How can I 'calm down' when I almost killed you?" she shouted.
Jack then pulled the older girl into a hug, trying not to wince at how much warmer she was compared to a normal human or spirit. "It wasn't your fault," he said firmly, pulling away much quicker than he would've liked to due to the discomfort. "I'm fine, okay? And I'm still going to help you get back your hoshi no tama from that crazy spider lady," Jack tried to assure her. "I promise. Don't worry."
A small smile. "Thanks, Jack," Kasai said gruffly, still obviously embarrassed by her outright show of emotion. Then she stumbled a little, her hand shooting out to latch onto the sleeve of Jack's hoodie.
"Are you okay?" Jack asked, steadying her.
"I'm fine," she replied, the grip on his arm clenching tighter. "We just need to get the hoshi no tama back from the Jorōgumo."
Jack frowned as Kasai stepped away. This wasn't good. In Kasai's human form, her hoshi no tama, or "star ball," held some of her magical power. In addition, it was her life force. The orb was constantly protected by the summer spirit by hanging it around her throat as a necklace, but something must've happened to Kasai before it was stolen by the Jorōgumo or one of her servants for it to be taken so easily.
A torrent of flames then surrounded Kasai's body, and in her place was a sand-colored fox with amber eyes and seven tails. Flying up, she said, "The Jorōgumo is considered the mistress of Jōren Falls in Japan . . . or at least, what I've heard. Let's go."
Her voice was quiet at the last sentence, and Jack felt sorry. He nodded, recognizing the urgency of the situation, and called for Wind, joining Kasai in the air.
When they arrived at the falls, the sun was shining brightly. Tourists were milling about the area, obviously not able to see the two spirits close by, but Jack still felt uncomfortable when he felt their empty gazes. Kasai had switched back to her human form as soon as they alighted next to the fence surrounding the pool, and now they were both staring at the little waterfall.
"Um, how did you know exactly that the Jorōgumo was the one who took your hoshi no tama?" Jack asked, peeking sideways.
A twisted sort of grin then appeared on the girl's face. "How could I not know that it was her, after waking up after that huge rainstorm the other day with dead spiders all over my body? That spirit can hold a serious grudge."
Jack shuddered. He hated spiders. "Right. So how do we get to her lair?" he said, changing the subject.
Jack felt a fluttering sensation in his stomach. "Dive," he repeated, trying to quash his panic.
"Yeah," Kasai said, looking at him strangely. "Is there a problem with that?"
"N-no, I'm fine," Jack insisted, turning away. "I'm good."
"If you say so," Kasai said, that strange expression still on her face. She looked back at the roaring waterfall and quickly climbed over the fence, unhindered by the yukata she wore.
Jack dutifully followed, but still eyeing the burbling water suspiciously. Calm down, Frost, he then told himself, annoyed at how scared he was. It's just water. It won't hurt you. Fear attracts Boogeymen—don't be scared.
Kasai turned back and winked. "See you on the other side." And then she dove in, barely making a ripple.
"All right, you can do this," Jack murmured. "You're a big boy." With a deep breath, Jack threw himself into the water.
Panic immediately overcame him and ice began to coat the surface, but he forced it down and focused on trying to figure out where Kasai had gone. The pond was a little deeper than he expected, but he continued following the kitsune.
Suddenly, it started to become lighter, making Jack become a little confused. They'd been diving deeper into the pond . . shouldn't it be getting darker instead of lighter? But then he somehow broke . . . the surface? And then he gasped and flopped on the sandy shore.
"W-what the heck happened?" Jack said wildly, still a little giddy from his time underwater.
"The pool was a bridge to the Jorōgumo's home," Kasai explained, a weak fire blazing over her skin to dry herself off. "I did say that, right?"
She rolled her eyes as the water clinging to him started to freeze, and Jack grinned innocently in response.
"The Jorōgumo's in there," Kasai then said, turning away from him and pointing at the decrepit stone building in the distance. "It's gonna get pretty hairy in a place full of that woman's poisonous miasma, so stay strong, okay?"
Jack nodded firmly, already sensing the danger that was to come.
The air was suffocating.
Kasai didn't seem to be affected—probably due to the pure nature of her being—but it was making Jack feel dizzy. It only got worse as they went deeper into the dilapidated stone building, and he would've collapsed if it wasn't for Kasai's steady hand on his shoulder.
"Stay strong, otouto," she consoled. "We're almost there. Don't pay attention to the poison—just focus on my voice."
Jack mumbled something in response—an argument, maybe?—but the throbbing headache soon chased away any additional fight in him.
"We'll be there soon. I promise."
They reached the bottom of the stairs, and pushed open the heavy stone doors waiting for them. As soon as they walked in, they were greeted with ribbons of white hanging from the ceiling, and an inhumanly beautiful woman sitting almost seductively in the middle of all of the strands.
And with a jolt, Jack realized that the woman was the Jorōgumo . . . and that the thick white ribbons were spider silk. He tried to suppress a shudder, but failed as shivers overtook his body. He'd said it before, he'd say it a million times—he hated spiders.
The Jorōgumo smiled when she glimpsed the duo, her dark eyes glittering with malicious intent. "Kasai. How lovely to see you again. And you've brought the winter Guardian with you as well," she noted, crossing her stockinged legs. "He doesn't look too well, does he?"
"Cut the crap—you know what I want!" Kasai shouted in response, fire dancing around her body. "I'm here for my hoshi no tama!"
The white-gold orb swung lazily from around the woman's pale throat as she leaned forward. She fingered the chain, her smile not slipping even once. "Do you mean this?"
As Kasai's anger grew, the flames roared, glowing brighter.
"Kasai, calm down," Jack said weakly, steadying himself on his staff. "We don't want to make her—"
And without warning, webs shot down from the ceiling and bound the kitsune, extinguishing the flames and dampening her already-weakened fire magic.
"Kasai!" Jack shouted in panic, ignoring the pain in his body as he limped to her side and tried to tug the sticky strings off of her. When he couldn't, he glared at the Jorōgumo. "Let her go!"
The spider spirit tilted her head, a small smile on her face. "Do you care for her, Guardian?"
"Of course I do!" Jack said, staring at her incredulously. "She's . . . she's my nee-chan. And family never abandons each other." He could almost sense Kasai's smile as he then steeled himself and stepped forward, brandishing his staff and only wobbling slightly. "Now give Kasai's star ball back," he ordered with as firm a voice as he could, his blue eyes glinting icily.
"And why should I?" the spider queen asked coyly. "The hoshi no tama is the life force of a kitsune. With this, I could control her . . . and even perhaps wreak havoc on those pathetic little mortals on the other side of the water."
Jack bit his lip. How could he convince her to release her hold on Kasai's life? His grip on his staff tightened as a plan began to take root in his mind. It was only half-baked, but for now it would do.
"But as you've oh-so-cleverly pointed out, I'm a Guardian," he argued. "Wouldn't I have more value than a summer spirit? The Man in the Moon and Mother Nature both have claim over me. I'll exchange myself for Kasai's hoshi no tama."
The two spirits stared at each other unblinkingly for a few moments before the spider queen replied.
". . . I hate that," the Jorōgumo said flatly.
"Do you really believe I would trade something as precious as you claim that this hoshi no tama is for something that has no personal value?" she asked, lowering herself gracefully on the ground. "Do you really think that you could exchange something that doesn't mean anything to you for something this important?"
Jack gulped nervously as the Jorōgumo made her way over and tilted back his chin. He forced himself to stay calm—he had to get Kasai's hoshi no tama back. "But you are such a cute boy . . ." she sighed. "The power of a Guardian and a Lieutenant is nothing to ignore. Jack Frost, you have a deal."
"Jack, no!" Kasai immediately shouted from where the spiderwebs trapped her. "The star ball's not worth your life. We'll think of another way!"
"Nee-chan, there is no other way," Jack said quietly, knowing that she would be able to hear him anyway with those hypersensitive ears of hers.
"Now, Jack Frost," the Jorōgumo said, "you must give me your name."
Jack's eyes widened. "M-my name?" he asked. "But you already know— . . . oh."
The spirit nodded, still quite poker-faced . . . though there was a glimmer of glee present in her features. "Yes."
He was almost tempted to say no right then and there. Jack knew the consequences of handing out his true name, his identity. Legend had it—and most legends were true—your true name held your soul.
But seeing Kasai still squirming in the webs strengthened his resolve. It would be a good trade for Kasai's hoshi no tama.
A soul for a soul.
"You'll have to give me the star ball first," Jack said calmly, trying not to make his voice shake.
"Don't trust me, Jack?" the Jorōgumo purred, cupping his cheek gently, her dark eyes mesmerizing.
Jack shut his eyes, shielding himself from the allure of her gaze. "No. I don't," he said forcefully, looking at her. "Now please give Kasai's hoshi no tama back. It belongs to her, and she needs it."
Slowly, the spider spirit unclasped the chain from around her neck, the white-gold orb swinging slightly. It seemed to glow brighter now that it wasn't being suffocated by the miasma surrounding the Jorōgumo. Jack stretched out his arm, and the pendant was dropped in his hand. He nodded in acknowledgement, then turned to walk to Kasai.
Jack glanced back. The Jorōgumo's arm was outstretched, an innocent smile on her face. "Your staff. To prevent any . . . backstabbing."
Jack forced a cheerful grin. "Of course." He surrendered the weapon, trying not to think of how he was once again trading his staff for someone precious to him. Jack walked over to where Kasai was trapped and gently fastened the clasp around her neck. The ball glowed as it was reunited with its owner, and the spider webs around Kasai fell away.
Spider silk then shot down from the ceiling, but the summer spirit quickly transformed back into her fox form and deflected them with her tails. "Jack, grab your staff and go," Kasai whispered harshly as the barrage of spider silk kept raining down. "It's you she wants!"
Jack nodded, run-hobbling from Kasai's protection. The thick ribbons turned to chase after him instead, and he tumbled to the side to avoid them. Quickly jumping up, he continued his haphazard path toward the spider spirit, feeling a stinging sensation on his elbow.
He quickly glanced at it, his stomach dropping a little when he saw the hole in his hoodie and his scraped, slightly bloody skin. Oh, well, he thought grimly. I'll just steal Phil's sewing kit when we get out of here.
Jack was getting closer, but the room was getting hotter as Kasai shot fireballs at the webs trying to ensnare the two of them. If it wasn't for his slight frame, his quick reflexes, and the fox-fire, they would've been caught a long time ago. But despite Kasai's good intentions, the flames, heat, and the poisonous air were slowing him down—hopefully Jack would manage to get his staff back before he collapsed.
"I expected this," the Jorōgumo then said coldly. "There was no way you would willingly give yourself up, Jack Frost."
"Like heck I wouldn't!" Jack panted, the exertion from running and jumping and rolling getting to him. "Especially to an old hag like you!"
"I had taken a liking to your power, Jack," the spirit replied with a snarl marring her beautiful face. She stretched out her hand. "But it's quite a shame that seasonal spirits are so fragile."
When the next web was shot at him, Jack dove to the side again, but the sticky strand curved at the last minute, wrapping firmly around his torso and binding his arms to his side. He stared blankly in shock as it squeezed tighter around his middle, eventually lifting him up in the air.
Jack struggled weakly before falling limp in the web's hold, finally feeling the exhaustion from the poisonous air and the heavy warmth. He couldn't move even if he tried his hardest.
But then a loud growl made his eyes fly open. Jack didn't even realize that he had fallen unconscious, but almost instantly—he knew that he was in a very grave position. His head was lolling back and feeling unusually heavy, and his throat was exposed and vulnerable. Jack could feel that the Jorōgumo's sharp nail was pressed against his jugular, and a dull sting there told him that the nail had broken his skin, blood quickly oozing from the cut.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jack glimpsed that Kasai had transformed back to her human form, and that bright flares of fire were dancing around her body. Her golden eyes held an anger that Jack was grateful wasn't directed at him.
"Don't worry, Ka-chan," the Jorōgumo crooned before she poked out her tongue to lick the red droplet off of her finger. "I'll take good care of your precious baby brother."
Apparently that seemed to be the last straw for the already tense summer spirit. With a loud yell, her magic blazed in all directions. Jack swayed in the web's hold before a whip of fire tore through his bonds, sending him falling to the ground. Flames were surrounding him as he fell . . .
"Izumi!" he heard Kasai scream. The sound of footsteps. "Otouto, no!"
Before he knew it, Jack had landed harshly in his sister's arms, and he blinked tiredly up at her.
"We're getting out of here, Jack, okay? You'll be fine," Kasai was saying as she stroked his hair.
"M-my staff . . ."
"Fox fire and spider webs don't seem to mix well, do they," the Jorōgumo said almost fondly as she gazed at the two spirits. Obsidian eyes met scorching amber, and then to the weakened child spirit in her arms. "I suppose it is time for me to take my leave. Kasai, Jack, take care."
The staff fell from the Jorōgumo's fingertips as she vanished, making a clattering sound on the stone floor.
Kasai glared at the spot where the spider spirit disappeared before shifting her unconscious charge onto her back and reaching for the staff that her brother prized so much.
"Thank you, Jack," she whispered affectionately as the familiar weight of the orb around her neck settled against the hollow of her throat.
A small groan escaped Jack's lips as he came to. He slowly sat up, mindful of the headache still present, and found himself leaning against a thick tree trunk.
"You're awake? Thank goodness . . ."
Blue eyes sought out the owner of the voice, who was sitting nearby. "Did we get back your hoshi no tama?" Jack asked, grimacing at how raspy his voice sounded.
Kasai nodded, procuring the glowing orb from under her yukata. "It was all thanks to you."
Jack smiled. "Good." Then a thought occurred to him as he noticed that Kasai was looking at him again with that same expression from before they first dove into the pond. He tilted his head. "Hey. Do I have seaweed in my hair or something?"
She blinked, apparently startled out of her reverie. "What? N-no. I was just thinking. And there's no seaweed in this pond, anyway."
"About . . . how great I was in beating that Jorōgumo for you?" Jack suggested, poking her arm playfully.
"No," she said, looking miffed as she swatted his hand away. "As I remember it, I had to save your sorry ass."
Jack stuck his tongue out in response.
"Child," Kasai snorted. Then her face softened as her amber eyes looked gently at him. "It was water, wasn't it," she said with a sad smile.
"What do you mean?"
"How you died."
Jack's eyes widened before he averted his gaze with a hurt expression and pulled his knees to his chest. The look of sympathy that then appeared on Kasai's face was unnoticed by the winter spirit as she lightly hugged him.
"I died in a house fire," she said, a distant look in her amber eyes. "M-my younger brother was with me, too. I . . . I wasn't able to save him."
"What was his name?"
". . . Izumi," she whispered after a few moments. "He meant the world to me."
"I'm so sorry," Jack said quietly. He understood the bond between siblings better than anyone.
"It's all right," Kasai said, a weak smile on her face. "You know, Jack—you remind me a lot of him."
Jack was momentarily stunned. "Do I?" Then he realized. ". . . Oh. So that's why you called me 'Izumi' back in the Jorōgumo's home."
She laughed softly. "Yeah. I'm such a sad excuse for a summer Lieutenant . . . I still haven't gotten over Izumi's death. He should've been the one to be brought back. He should've survived. Not me."
"It's okay, though," Jack said, rubbing her shoulder. "Even if Izumi did die, at least he did knowing that his nee-chan loved him."
"You always do know that to say," she said, the twinkle beginning to return to her amber eyes. "I should've told you this sooner."
"That's what I'm here for, Kas—nee-chan," he corrected himself.
"Brat," she said affectionately. "Oh, and I still owe you a favor, don't I?"
Jack blinked. "For what?"
"As tradition, a kitsune must grant a favor to anyone who assists in returning her hoshi no tama," Kasai said, a wicked glint in her eyes.
"And I get to" —he gulped— "to choose the favor, right?" Jack asked warily.
"Normally, yes," she conceded, "but you fainted halfway through the mission. So I'll give you the favor myself."
He shrank back as Kasai stood over him, a satisfied smirk on her face. Oh, no.
"Jack Frost, I'm going to get you over your fear of water!"
Jack's eyes widened.
Notes and Translations:
otouto: little brother
nee-chan/onee-chan: big sister
yukata: Japanese garment, a casual summer kimono usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric, and unlined. (Thanks, Wikipedia! I had considered a kimono for Kasai, but the word "summer" called out to me, and so I had her wear a yukata. ^^;)