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Saturday, May 7th, 2016 08:13 pm
Wilde Spirit (The Karmic Shuffle)

Summary: What if predators used to be collared in Zootopia's distant past?

Nick Wilde didn't ask to die after being framed for a murder in his speakeasy Wilde Times, but he's spent enough years as a spirit to prefer to forget what happened 50 years ago. In the company of Judy Hopps, an exorcist set on finding out more about the past, Nick makes a reluctant walk down memory lane.
Spoilers: Only if you have no idea why Nick and Judy would work together, and if you're not aware of the collared predators storyline.
Rating: T
Genre: Gen
Warnings for: Supernatural elements, mythical beings and vague references to the Chinese Taoist religious system. Implied off-screen character death
Disclaimer: Not mine as I'm not smart enough to think of the collars storyline.


Nick's repeated visits to Cliffside didn't make him like the place any better. He hadn't liked it when he and Judy visited the place to find Mr Otterton and were chased by guard wolves for their efforts, and he didn't like it any better now.

The top three of his numerous issues with the abandoned hospital at Cliffside were easy. For one, the abandoned hospital was over running water. Under normal circumstances that should have been a no no for a spirit like him. Every time he entered the building, he felt as if he were gutted out, aura scooped out of him until he was a pawpsicle mould with the pawpsicle yanked out. But normal circumstances did not account for Judy Hopps, who didn't do anything the way exorcists like her should and had no qualms about sharing her aura with a fox spirit who would do anything he liked with it. Nick knew Chief Bogo expected him to misuse his privileges, and that perversely Nick toeing the line was akin to waving a red flag in front of a, heh, bull.

Nick was a perverse creature, and so he toed the line and made sure to grin every time he caught Chief Buffalo Butt looking.

The other reason why he was being an unusually good little pot ghostie and doing what the other exorcists apart from Judy wanted was because when he was tapping on Judy's aura, he had a very strange sense that the water flowing beneath Cliffside was having some kind of pissing contest with her. He wasn't just saying that because of the pun. Judy had nearly drowned in Cliffside's river a few months back when tracking Mr Otterton, and it seemed the water had taken her continued survival personally.

So water that wanted to drown mammals was the second reason why Nick didn't like Cliffside. Since for once Judy wasn't in trouble because she had gone looking for it, Nick did his job as a good guardian and made sure he had her back here. Not that he didn't in the other situations. There was just a lot more grumbling in the other situations.

The third was that somehow Nick and Judy kept coming back to Cliffside despite not particularly liking the place. The latest was the entire operation that had the Zootopia Exorcist Department aka ZED generally in a tizzy and specifically in a tizzy at this particular location. This was the operation to reseal the Original 10, the spirits rumoured to have broken the karmic cycle.

Since Nick was still around a good 50 years after his death and not in whatever afterlife there was, he supposed that the Original 10 were a good enough explanation as any. The more cynical part of Nick did sometimes wonder, since the Original 10 had all met their end at a protest over collars.

The ZED didn't seem to share Nick's doubts and were going all out to seal the Original 10. The reasons for Nick's dislike for Cliffside were also the reasons why it was an excellent place to seal these spirits. The water would wear away at their aura, and with no means of replacing it like Nick had they would remain under for a very long time. The hunger water was also far too happy to keep them suppressed.

Unfortunately to get the spirits to Cliffside and seal them was a long and complicated operation. Right now the operation required Nick to stand in the middle of a complicated array of wards and shields, the workings of which he disingenuously pretended he was not using his charm to help along and genuinely did not understand. He wasn't Judy after all. If he wanted to know he just had to turn and ask, since Judy was standing next to him in the array that had been spread across the entire hospital courtyard. Her wary and alert stance explained why she was here apart from lending her aura to Nick. She had been behind the design of many of the wards, which coupled with her skill of enhanced senses made her responsible for watching the array to make sure it stayed intact. Her enhanced senses would make her the first to know if something went wrong.

Nick was not as sure whether he wanted the operation to succeed.

His ambivalence must have bled through in what little aura he had, because Judy squeezed the paw she was holding. "Are you OK?"

"Am I enjoying being the only spirit around to keep the Original 10 from the living world? Absolutely, wouldn't have it any other way."

"The other guardians didn't have help from their exorcists to cross the water." Nick thought it was a reflection of how Judy was much better than the other exorcists, but he didn't comment. Judy was already barreling on to the next topic. "If this reminds you too much of your grave - "

"You'd think I'd remember if there were that many wards around me."

Judy had a way of cutting right to the heart of things. "ZED's always used the same seals on any spirits they believed to be dark."

That was another of the many things that troubled Nick about this operation. Having been on the inside of ZED's sealed boxes for dark spirits, he wasn't sure if he would wish such a fate on anyone, even the Original 10. He was sure they wouldn't have broken the karmic cycle if they'd known it would land them in a permanent prison.

But he also didn't feel strongly enough about it to want to break 50 year old wards. So he said to Judy, "Are you really worried about this only after we've sealed nine spirits? Carrots your concern astounds me."

Judy's flippant tone was almost on par with his. "Oh I didn't want to come across as smothering to someone who's just helping themselves to my aura."

"You should have thought about it before you offered your aura up like a drink fountain at a buffet. Do you think we could get Diet Coke flavour in this? I need to watch my figure."

"Wilde! Hopps!" Chief Bogo bellowed. "Concentrate! The last of the 10 is almost here. Or do I need to impress on you the urgency of today's operation?"

"Here he goes again," Nick muttered, knowing that Judy's superior hearing could pick it up when the Chief could not.

"The last time the Original 10 were active, they exclusively murdered living mammals. We cannot afford to let them get loose, especially when they have tricks such as drying up the rivers they've been buried under."

Chief Boogaloo's lecture made Nick very glad his grave under an extremely dry river bed was not widely known. Here, only Judy knew his secret, and she was on the same side as him.

Well, except for the part where she said, "Sir, yes sir. We understand."

"Teacher's pet."

"Only to save your fluffy tail. Tails."

"You know you like them." He was rather proud of his second tail, seeing that it had come with the boost to his skill set fox spirits received every 50 years. He flicked both his tails across Judy's arm, but she had gone stiff. Nick only felt the echoing thrum in Judy's aura when the van containing the last spirit drove through the second set of Judy's wards. It was showtime.

Judy drew her sword just in case, though she kept the blade pointed down. Nick pulled on a pair of white gloves he had for special occasions such as this. It was circles and shields only for now to protect the exorcists themselves, with Francine, Rhinowitz and Delgato channeling their aura to the shields. Nick checked the flow of energy. "Rhinowitz, dial it up on your side."

Rhinowitz had bitched about listening to a guardian spirit the first three times before Judy laid into him about how his energy was messing up her work. Bogo too had let Judy go ahead with her verbal barrage, which had been tacit approval in itself. That was why Rhinowitz just channeled more of his aura into the array, and Nick also bit his tongue about how the energy was clumping. Instead, he used his skills boosted by Judy's aura to smooth things out and make sure the energy was evenly distributed across the active parts of the array.

Then Wolford and Grizzoli entered the courtyard carrying the box between them. Even seven seals down and through several shields, Nick could feel the aura of the lynx spirit contained within. Thank God he had smoothed the energy of all the shields. There was something about the aura and the way the box was rattling that put Nick's teeth edge.

It seemed Chief Bogo agreed, because he'd shifted his grip on his own sword and slotted it into array.

The burst of aura that was added had Nick blinking spots of light away. He knew the Chief didn't have a guardian, and now he knew why. There was no give in the Chief's aura that allowed for the type of cooperation Nick and Judy had, and Nick could count with one finger the number of spirits he knew with that kind of aura to match. He really didn't want them to ever meet each other though. When Nick was done with that chain of thought, the wards to boost the shields were up.

"There's something wrong with the box," said Judy.

Nick took Judy's paw - he was not going anywhere near Chief Bogo's aura, his role in making things go smoothly be damned - and let her have back some of her aura. If there was anything wrong, she could identify what it was much faster than he could. He really didn't understand the array that well.

What Judy said next had nothing to do with the array. I hear a lot of tiny metal things."

Nick's ears went back in immediate distaste. "Who put pins in that box?"

"Why, are pins too much for your delicate spirit tastes?" Wolford snapped.

Nick would have reminded Wolford that pins were a kind of torture device for spirits, was he sleeping at the Academy, if Judy had not cut in. "No one has opened the boxes since they were sealed." It was a bit of rational calm in the tense situation.

But that didn't change the fact that the box contained an angry spirit, whose aura now made Nick think of a swarm of bees. An angry black swarm of bees. Each step the box bearer took made the box clink and the aura inside spike.

Finally they reached the center of the array. "Last check on seals," Wolford prompted, and he and Grizzoli proceeded to check the seals in front of the rest of the ZED. Their checks were thorough, Nick had to admit. They tested each of the seven seals in turn with their aura, checking the flow to see if it was right.

"Placing the box," said Wolford.

Their mistake was dropping the box in place. Just because they'd done it for the other nine spirits did not mean they could do it for a spirit buried with pins.

With her senses opened to spot any shifts in the array and without Nick's aura as a buffer, Judy immediately picked up on the pain and anguish the lynx spirit was going through now. Nick sacrificed a bit of aura and concentration to go solid and give her a brief nudge to an upright position again. She steadied herself by adding her own shield, but he still didn't like how her pupils were blown wide and black.

"His anger's bleeding over to the other spirits," she said. "If they get agitated enough, they could break their seals."

"Not if we do something about it," Chief Bogo grit out. "Wolford! Grizzoli! Step back and power the wards. Those on shields, reverse the direction to keep that spirit in. Wilde, keep the array steady. The rest of you watching the nine already here, if those boxes so much as twitch you bring your aura down on them. Understood?"

"Sir yes sir!" the exorcists around Bogo chorused. Despite not being an exorcist, Nick winked and gave Bogo a lazy salute that had the buffalo rolling his eyes.

Wolford and Grizzoli got into position, changing the energy flow in the array. The array resisted the change in direction at first, but a flick of Nick's hand had the energy going through just fine. The three on the shields flipped the shield's direction as they had the last nine times. Perhaps the tenth time was the charm.

Or perhaps the tenth time was when the spirit in the box caught the shifts in the array, figured out how it worked, and added its own aura to the mix. Damn lynxes and their vibrational perception. The shifts in the array were like flies struggling in a cobweb, letting the lynx spirit in the middle of it all know where its prey was.

And like icing on the proverbial cake, the array was not designed to take the aura of any spirit at all. Even Nick had been just nudging energy already in the array to go the right way, since crossing the river meant he had little enough aura of his own to make any difference. The exorcists had been counting on the water and the array to keep the aura of any spirit down. Whoopsie doo, seemed that wasn't the case, and they were all going to pay dearly for it.

Judy probably knew these overwhelming odds even better than Nick did. But Judy didn't know when to tap out. She slammed her own aura via her sword into the array, and started to rework the wards.

It was a long shot at outwitting the lynx spirit, but Nick specialised in making long shots happen. rather than hand more aura back to Judy, he directly released their meshed aura into the array for Judy to use as needed.

To the ZED's credit they took the changes in stride. Wolford and Grizzoli kept the shields boosted, while Francine and Delgato kept the shields closing in on the lynx spirit. Nick let the last of his borrowed aura go, taking him out of the fight. It was up the exorcists to shift the array enough to keep the lynx in.

If it had been the lynx spirit alone that might have worked. Judy had looped the array to send the lynx's aura going in circles. But the lynx was no longer channeling aura in the already saturated array. It was channeling emotion. It avoided the easy targets, like Judy with her senses still held open to trace changes in the array. Or maybe the exorcists weren't the targets at all.

Nick didn't understand arrays, but he did know what effect emotion had on the aura from experience. Like raising hackles, emotions pulled out parts of aura that spirits, and Nick in particular, usually kept hidden. He felt his teeth growing longer, his claws growing sharper, his senses growing hungrier. The lynx was letting all the spirits know it was time to put Grandma aside and go Big Bad Wolf.

But Judy had never been Little Red Riding Hood. Her personal shield expanded over Nick before he could show teeth. Judy remembered what most exorcists forgot - a shield wasn't just for keeping things out; it was also for protecting whatever was within. The shared protection was the buffer Nick needed to keep from showing the darker side of his skills.

The Original 10 didn't have the luxury of a similar buffer and probably didn't want it. Sealed away for 50 years, with the prospect of being sealed away for many more, the lynx's anger fanned their own. Their aura roiled against the insides of the shield holding them back, looking for somewhere to go. The exorcists pushed back, determined not to give any ground.

The trouble with standing your ground was that you had to be like the ground - solid and immovable. That was what Chief Bogo was and Nick definitely wasn't and Nick preferred it that way. Nick knew what he was good at and he liked his deflecting and changeable techniques. Rhinowitz however was neither and yet he opted to push.

For his trouble his aura was clumped into a tiny tight ball and tossed back at him, forcing him to withdraw his energy from the array. Through the gap left behind by his aura, the aura of the Original 10 seeped through the array and stained everything black. The snicker snack of their aura ground against the shields of those gathered, plucked scratched at things they came across, and set the entire array rattling around the exorcists.

The vibrations were exactly what the lynx spirit needed to find the next set of arrays meant to seal the 10 spirits at once.

The trouble with arrays was that they were a pattern of shields and wards put together to get a particular effect, assuming you went with what the designer wanted and activated all of it. But someone that was spiritually aware enough would be able to pick and choose which part of the array to activate. Someone like a spirit that had had decades to mull over how it would break free once it had the chance. Someone like the lynx spirit.

It skipped the shields and went straight for the parts of the array meant to link the Original 10 together to use their aura against them. Another spirit followed its lead, followed by another. And another.

Chief Bogo swung his sword and snapped the connection between the array and the spirit like a rubber band. The energy rebounded against the spirit it came from, shoving all of it back into its box. Following Chief Bogo's example, the rest of the exorcists followed suit.

It wasn't going to be enough. Chief Bogo had broken the circle formed by the 10, but there were many other stable shapes that lent themselves to channeling power. Of all the shapes, a triangle wasn't a bad shape for an array to end up in.

Before the triangle could be broken, the three remaining spirits activated their new array. Seals burst apart on the three boxes and the aura within them overflowed, blotting out the staff, Cliffside, and most of the other exorcists. It made Nick want to sidle away and find a safe place.

But Nick could see Judy. He followed the line of her sight to find that in the middle of the miasma a lynx shaped figure had appeared. If Nick squinted, he could make out the mask of a raccoon, the flipper of a sea lion. He was sure Judy's enhanced senses let her see more.

Yet she seemed to be fixated on the eyes of the lynx, flashing gold in the darkness. Her breaths were coming out short and quick. On her cheek, three claw marks started to glow.

Nick fought against every instinct to flee and broke their stare by getting in between.

The lynx spirit spared a glance that flicked quickly from Nick's ears to the tips of his two tails, then turned its eyes away. The darkness dispersed, as did the three spirits from everyone's sight.

Nick turned away from the exorcists who were recovering from their shock to focus on the aftermath. It was Nick's turn to ask Judy, "Are you OK?"

The scars on Judy's face were no longer apparent, but her aura was still dim and diminished. "We weren't able to keep the Original 10 from the living world."

Yet again Judy had cut to the heart of things. Nick did not offer any platitudes that she could see through, and stood with her in their little oasis within her shield.