Chive und Artemisia, Part 2
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Last time on Nexus:
Chive und Artemisia, Part 1

Elli had fun with this bizarre case. The reason for this sudden madness was obvious, it was the tree that had appeared. But it was the how that wouldn't let her go. She liked such mysteries. It was just that she had no clues yet. Dean's victims had proven relatively useless in that regard. She could only exclude mutations and pathogens for now.

Deep in thought, she stowed her equipment away again, while Dean made sure that none of the three woke up. In the process, she noticed that something important was missing.

"Dean? Where's Chloe, by the way?"

Dean looked behind himself.

"She was standing behind me a minute ago, whe- over there!"

Elli glanced in the direction Dean was pointing and managed right on time to see Chloe vanish into an alley way. She exchanged a confused look with her companion.

"So if the Evil Overlord wanted to teach her to be naughty, he succeeded…1"

The two hurried to follow their protégé.

Chloe stood in the middle of the alley, looking strangely glassy-eyed. And she was not alone. Three figures stood around her. One of them immediately caught Elli's eye, not because of her navy jacket, nor because of the balloon cap, but because of the two black fox ears that protruded underneath it. And then there were the six black fox tails. Elli knew this particular species of fox…

"Oh, a Kumiho," she remarked dryly. "One tried to eat me once…"

She paid no particular attention to the others present, which were a man and a woman, given the fact that the main problem was a man-eating magical fox that seemed to have Chloe under mind control.

Elli, who was getting rather pissed off at the sudden hostage situation, put on a smile that would have been able to freeze a medium-sized sun.

"You have five seconds to give me back my friend, otherwise I will open a can of whoop-ass upon you," she said overpoweringly friendly.

The vixen raised her arms in a placating fashion.

"Nobody's going to get hurt. We just want to talk. We-"


"Well, my name is Hoya and these are-"


"We're from the Korean Branch of the Serpent's Hand and you-"


"Now you listen to me for God's sake, we-"

Elli reached into her pocket with a scowl.


The ground was pulled out from under her before she could even pull her pan. The kumiho had suddenly disappeared, had then reappeared in front of her, and was now pressing her to the ground. Elli tried to free herself, but the demon fox's physical strength far exceeded hers, probably able to break her bones without much effort. Dean raised his fists, but apparently didn't know what to do because of Chloe's state as a hostage.

"Why didn't you fight her off?" he asked.

"Because I didn't see her, Dean," Elli pressed out. "She's an illusionist. She confused my sense of sight."

"Do I finally have your attention now?" asked Hoya impatiently, leaning down to her. "Well, what I actually wanted to say-"

Her mistake had been to give Elli enough room to breathe. She took advantage of that to breathe in her opponent's face.

Elli knew, that kumiho, much like normal foxes, possessed a sense of smell four hundred times better than that of humans. If this fact got combined with another fact, namely that her strong mouth odor could be used as smelling salts, only one thing could follow.

Tears welled up in the vixen's eyes and she reflexively let go to shield her nose. The smell seemed to cause her physical pain since she reared backwards.

"OH! Never heard of mouthwash? URGH!"

Elli paid no attention.


He stomped past her to free Chloe as she pulled her frying pan out of her pocket and smashed it against the kumiho's skull. It was far less effective than Elli had hoped, because instead of toppling to the side, it only pulled her slightly toward the same, but she no longer sat on her and Elli crawled away backwards from under her adversary. Before she could strike next, however, Hoya faded like a mirage.

"All right," Elli growled in annoyance. "You want war, you get war…"

Chloe looked around in confusion. She found herself in Ku's library. The former god was sitting in a reading chair, flipping through a book with amusement. Chloe's memories.

"I told you to stay out of my memories," she growled.

"I'm glad to see you, too," Ku grinned, while he closed the book and stood up. "Surely you want to know what brought you here."

"And that would be?"

"Be a little more friendly for once, Chloe," Ku admonished her sadly. "I freed you from your delusions, remember?"

That didn't change Chloe's mood one bit.

"Thanks to you, I'll die in ten months."


Ku sighed.

"Fine, be unfriendly then. But back to the topic at hand. You're under mind control right now."
Chloe frowned.

"What do you mean?"

"Something is manipulating you right now, your senses, your body. You've been pushed out of your own mind."

Chloe's heart sank into her knees.

"Can I go back?"

"Not with your strength alone. Your opponent is powerful. And old, very old.

"And why won't you help me? If he tries to kill me, we'll both die!"

"Oh, I can," Ku replied, grinning widely. "Just say the word…"

Chloe realized where this was going.

"I don't want you to destroy him, I just want you to free me."

Ku chortled humorlessly.

"Girl, you obviously don't realize exactly what sort of power inhabits you. Even if I were to expend just a sand grain from this mountain, you would simply burst. Just a slight twitch from me and you are lying six feet under."

Chloe was silent for a moment.

"So what do you want me to do now?"

"Nothing for now. But if you want to pass the time, I overheard something interesting earlier. There's a presence like mine around here. Something divine."

"That's the tree, probably," Chloe waved it off.

"Not quite," Ku countered, "What I sensed came from underneath it."

Chloe noticed something.

"Is that what got me-"

"No, what got you is more demonic in nature. But that thing under the tree is exerting an interesting influence. Maybe I'm wrong, after all, I don't remember anything about my life, but it seems to want to undo something."

Hoya covered Elli's face with a hard punch to which she couldn't react fast enough, after which she left her primary target behind while it tumbled to the ground, she had to stop the big one, that Dean, from reaching the girl. The three of them would make a run for it as soon as they got her back. The Wanderer's Library books told of how elusive the Atoner was, so a hostage was essential, at least until she explained the situation to her.

She was invisible to all present, so she simply ran to Dean to send him to the ground. She placed herself next to him to pull his feet out from under him with her leg.

She didn't know what happened to her when Dean's right fist in a casual manner suddenly changed it course from the running motion and lifted her off the ground on impact. Gasping, she fell back on top of it.

"Your mind powers will not work on me, ma'am," he explained without pausing his advance.

Hoya looked after him, stunned, before regaining her composure. Ginam was already making his sealing ropes go in a wild dance of circles, preparing a thaumaturgic spell to hold him back.

At least, that's what he wanted to do. Instead, a ripple in reality occurred. Dean and the girl were suddenly standing behind a smiling Elli. How-

How that had happened was beside the point. Hoya created the illusion of a wall behind them so that they could at least stall for some time.

Instead of the wall appearing, her field of vision shattered into a kaleidoscope-like view.

"What the heck?"

"Your powers are based on thaumaturgy," she heard Elli say. "Reality bending, to be precise. Using such skills causes a greatly attenuated reality in the environment for a few nanoseconds, especially in an area like this. In that timeframe, each person effectively becomes a god."

It took Hoya a moment to understand what the woman was trying to tell her.

"Are you saying you perform such things within a nanosecond!?"

"I think faster than others, little fox. And I can sense when reality changes around me. You just surprised me the first time, that's all. And now, if you'll excuse us…"


Hoya tried in vain to summon her illusions again, but all that happened was that her vision returned back to normal. Elli, with the girl by the hand, had already turned to leave.

"Please, we may need your help. The seal of the Shin-dan-su is about to break!"

Elli paused in mid-stride and turned her head with interest.

Bull's eye!

"You do realize that you could have just asked me, right? Why should I trust you after you stole my friend?"

"Because otherwise, despite all your brain power, you'll be in the dark if you want to solve this mystery. Besides, how was I to know that you, as an eternal traveler, wouldn't disappear abruptly? As I said from the beginning, we just want to talk."

"Dean, don't take your eyes off Chloe," Elli ordered, striding toward Hoya.

She looked deep into her fox eyes.

"All right, let's talk, but just one false move and I'll show you why I'm the only one ever who was allowed into the Wanderer's Libraryout of fear…"

Hoya nodded.

Dean eyed Ginam and Dahŭi, that were the names of Hoya's two subordinates, with suspicion. He kept Chloe at a distance while they had an initial exploratory conversation in a square overlooking the Shin-dan-su. It was empty due to the state of emergency. The vixen had hidden her non-human appendages with her powers, making her look like a normal human.

"So," Elli demanded. "What do you know?"

Hoya lit a new cigarette on her holder and took a drag before answering.

"I'm sure you already know that the Shin-dan-su is popping up all over Korea. With periods of several centuries in between."

General nodding.

"Well, that stems from the fact that something wants out of that tree. It's knocking on the door, so to speak. Dahŭi, our spiritual medium, noted a few days ago that the tree would this time manifest here in Mujin City."

"And how does that relate to this psychosis?" Elli asked. "If it was just knocking, we wouldn't have any rabid citizens."

"That's right," Hoya confirmed. "However, it's all part of a prophecy that's kept in the Wanderer's Library. See those bands of cloth on the tree? They're slowly burning away. The seal that keeps this creature under lock and key is getting weaker and weaker. And thanks to the low reality here, it will be able to manifest fully once it is released. At least, that's how it's written."

"What is the Wanderer's Library?" asked Chloe, who understood only little at the moment.

"Something similar to the Nexus," Dean explained. "A massive library between worlds where all sorts of occult knowledge is being kept. But what are we even talking about in this case?" asked Dean. "Surely there's not just anything locked up in the tree that reaches into the domain of the gods."

"The scriptures we've studied don't know the answer to that," admitted the vixen. "Whatever it was, apparently the authors were too afraid to write about it. That should really be enough to show how horrible this thing must be."

"Or how embarrassing it must have been to whoever sealed it," Elli added. "Or there were people making a mountain out of a molehill. So in short, you know little more than we do. Thank you for this exhaustive assistance."

"Oh, would you have guessed that it's not the tree, but something in it? Or, that it's because of the seal?" asked Hoya sullenly.

"Probably," Elli replied with a shrug. "Maybe with the time you've spent with making fools of yourselves."

"And this from the woman who immediately got knocked over…. Possibly that wouldn't have happened if a certain someone had just listened."

"Oh, sorry, I couldn't hear you over the sound of you taking hostages."

"Which I did because it's so abysmally difficult to get in touch with you when one needs help."
"Hey, who am I? The babysitter of the universe or what?"

"I don't know. Definitely bad at oral hygiene."

"Big words from a chimney like that. What's the fourth one you've got there? The fifth? I'm talking about cigarettepacks, by the way."

"Says our little miss booze hound, of course!"

The two women had moved closer and closer to each other during this verbal slugfest. At the moment, only millimeters separated the tips of their noses."

"They're pretty similar, aren't they?" murmured Ginam to Dean from the side.

The latter nodded thoughtfully, thus immediately incurring the wrath of both opponents.

"I AM NOT AT ALL LIKE THAT!" they both roared in sync.

Elli grimly drank a sip from her flask to this statement, while Hoya sucked angrily on her cigarette.

Chloe and Dahŭi exchanged meaningful glances.

"While you two continue your catfight, I'd like to know how exactly Elli is supposed to help," Dean picked up the threads again.

"We don't know exactly what kind of seal it is," Ginam explained." Just as there is little mention of the creature itself, there is little information about this seal. I'm a seal master myself, but when we happened to see you, we were hoping to use your knowledge in case mine wasn't enough."

Elli, who had just been in a staring contest with Hoya, grudgingly conceded to join the discussion.

"I can do some measurements and consult my fact memory, but I have no idea how your handicraft works in detail," she qualified. "Especially with that jump rope you have there."

She pointed to the ropes hanging coiled from Ginam's belt. Attached to them were white strips of cloth, similar to those on the golden tree. Korean sealing ropes, Chloe had been told.

The seal master shrugged his shoulders.

"Who knows, maybe that will be enough. Can I count on your support?"

Elli cast an annoyed glance at Hoya, who grinned challengingly.

"I'm in. Where do we have to go?"

"To the tree itself," Ginam explained. We should find out more there."

The ground shook briefly.

"We should hurry slowly," Dahŭi advised. "Whatever's trying to break out of there is amplifying its efforts."

Dean tucked Chloe under his arm without her prior consent and ran off with the rest.

Next time on Nexus:
Chive und Artemisia, Part 3

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