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Sunday, May 22nd, 2016 01:31 pm
Judy and Nick visit graves

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. Lots of references to off-screen character death
Disclaimer: Not mine as I'm not smart enough to think of the collars storyline.

Not many living mammals knew of Nick's grave. He had to admit it was tough to spot an underwater grave under a bridge in the quietest part of the city. Whoever had buried Nick had done a thorough job. Or had done a thorough job until the aura-dampening water had dried up.

That was the only part of Nick's grave that had changed. Nick honestly didn't know how Mr Big had found him the first time, or why no one else had managed that feat. For now, Nick used the seclusion to help him identify those who came by their footsteps. Finnick stomped as if he could beat the ground into submission but didn't have much weight to him. Back when Nick was still running with Mr Big, Kozlov would sometimes make slow ponderous steps when he came by. Judy however had quick light steps, as if it were spring flowers and grass underfoot rather than the dry river bed, now baked to dust by the high noon sun. It was the last set that Nick felt now.

Nick manifested from his grave once Judy passed into the shadows under the bridge. Yesterday Judy had been distinctly cool after his trick with the file, and he wanted to get a start on making amends.

In another shift from yesterday, Judy was in full exorcist attire now - a dark blue high collared shirt with slacks in the same shade. Her ceremonial sword was slung across her back as a symbol of her office, accompanied for today by a clinking bag full of ritual items. Her cape, covering only one shoulder like a toreador, and her sash at her waist, from which many pouches were hung, were the same light blue as her aura. Nick was glad to see the last was back at full strength. The full moon last night had been good for something.

Unfortunately that meant Judy had the energy to launch into her pet topic. "I really think you should move."

"It's a grace, not a house Carrots."

"You deserve better - "

"This is a grave for thieves and murderers." All their work on relocating the Original 10 had only driven that point home, seeing Nick's grave, the old graves and the new graves considered for the Original 10, all had varying themes of "water" and "bridge". "And we all know I'm not a thief or a murderer."

"Is that where you tell me since we both know it doesn't matter?"

"Probably. How many times have we had this argument again?"

Judy struggled not to blurt out the answer, because she knew that showed she'd been keeping tabs. Nick knew she wouldn't be Judy Hopps if she wasn't organised even in this. "13," she finally admitted.

"Wow, go us. Well, thanks to my shabby grave I'm feeling a lot better now." He thought his aura looked good today, if he might say so himself. He didn't actually know what state his body was in, but resting in his grave did help his aura. He'd needed it for all the work he had done yesterday, which he now handed to Judy with a flourish. "So I got you this: Addresses of places Lyndon Lynxington could turn up in, known associates that are still on this plane, and their friends, just in case. You're very welcome Carrots."

"Who are you and what have you done with the real Nicholas Wilde?" Judy teased, even though her eyes had lit up at the thickness of the stack.

"It's a one time deal only, and you've just got the last piece available. Don't let this get around, it'll ruin my reputation."

"This is good stuff." Judy's foot thumped the ground as she flipped through the report. "What are we waiting for let's go!"

"You can't get the goods without paying Whiskers. I think I deserve a reward."

"A reward huh. What were you thinking of?" asked Judy as she tucked Nick's report into the bag of ritual items.

"Come along and you'll see."

She followed Nick out of the riverbed, clamping up a grassy slope to the road proper. Nick knew this route by heart, let the road call him onwards to the abandoned warehouse at the end of it.

Judy ducked inside the warehouse together with Nick. "Looks like the same rickety thing inside and out."

"Is there actually something the Great Judy Hopps doesn't know? Do I get to teach Spirit Powers 101 today?"

"Guest lecture only, don't get too comfy."

"Trust me Carrots. After this you'll ask for repeat performances." Nick found a nice clear spot, and tapped his foot twice.

The drumming woke the earth, stirred the air and echoed off the walls. The place thrummed around them before aura burst from the warehouse structure in a riot of colours. Aura twisted around to form the curves of slides and roller coasters, blossomed into the top of fake palm trees, streamed to form the water of the water rides. Nick watched the amusement park take form with pride.

"Very nice, very Anastasia."

"The Romanenovs were copying me with their ballroom scene, that was a complete rip off of what I just did."

"I'm quite sure what we have here isn't deceased royalty. What is this?"

"The only good thing about the 1960s you need to know - Wilde Times. This amusement park is my baby."

Judy stepped into the memory given form by aura. Nick followed at a slower pace to take in the flashing lights. He made a playful swat at the whack-a-moles, danced across a log set over a fake salmon river and filched a ball of yarn from the ball pit.

Judy didn't touch the park rides like Nick had, but she had leaned down to inspect the controls of a bumper car. "Did you make all this?"

Nick might have puffed up a little, just the teeniest fluff, really just a brief straightening of his spine. "I was the tinker to my father's tailor."

"Who's the soldier and the spy?"

"Us Wildes have our secrets."

"Funny, I never would have thought that with the way you boast."

"That's only 5% of what I'm actually capable of. You can't handle my full awesome Carrots."

"Yes I wouldn't be able to handle so much hot air." Judy had reached the center of the park now where the flashing lights were the brightest. She turned slowly, taking it all in. When she spoke again, it was pensive. "Do you ever wish you had it all back?"

Nick toyed with the yarn in his hands. Here, surrounded by his achievements, it was so tempting to say yes.

"No," he said. "This isn't the best it could be Whiskers. The Roar-a-coaster kept threatening to fall on my office, the wind tunnel still doesn't feel like an actual chase and can you believe there are actually big cats who don't care for yarn?" He gave the ball of yarn a tug such that it fell apart into a tangle.

Judy had started smirking partway through Nick's spiel and was giggling outright now. "Oh yes, I'm sure that only attracted hundreds of visitors instead of thousands."

"I had the thousands, I just wanted the millions."

"And your name in lights."

Nick swung himself up a post supporting the Roar-a-coaster and called out over the memory. "My name in lights at a new location in the middle of Sahara Square!"

He drifted back down to Judy's level. "That would have never been possible in the past. That's why I had to keep this a speakeasy."

Despite the cheer around her Judy's ears had come down. "I forgot how tough it was with collars in the past."

"I'm trying to forget too. To me the past is past. But some other spirits want to recreate what they remember. If enough spirits remember, or the place remembers too, you end up with this." He let the spectacle of the memory speak for itself. So be careful today Carrots. I have a feeling that our Lynxington and friends are capable of this."

"Your hunches are usually right." Her next comment was completely unrelated. "Nick - the tiger that died in your speakeasy, is he still here?"

On the bad days, Nick couldn't get over the weight of the body as he tried to shift it away from the innocent eyes of the younger customers and the awful red the blood had stained his fur, which had led to his arrest. Today was not going to be a bad day.

"I've not seen him but I can keep an eye out."

As Nick had done earlier, Judy used the support of the Roar-a-coaster to clamber up to a height where she could see a fair bit of the park. "Mister," she called out, her voice carrying over the spinning rides. "If you are here, and if you want to move on, just let my friend Nick know, and I'll help you."

Despite taking some time to climb back down, Judy was still grinning when she got back to ground. Nick grinned back. "Talking about moving on, how interested are you in secret passages?"

Her foot started thumping again. "You mean there are more surprises?"

"With me? There's always surprises. This is my personal entrance." He led her into the office that occasionally shook with the memory of a passing roller coaster. He hadn't been picturing his office when he invoked the memory, so everything here was indistinct outlines, maybe a vague shadow of a humongous chair. Nick paused with his hand on the unassuming patch of wall that used to be next to filing cabinets that no longer existed. "Don't be too surprised."

He pushed the hidden door open, and led Judy out of Wilde Times.

Nick liked to think his cover up clinic looked a lot better than Cliffside. Despite being disused for a period of time, his Quick Fix Clinic still retained its brightness and cheeriness where Cliffside was all doom and gloom. Nick hadn't woken this place, so only the red crosses on the cone collars and other things on the walls hinted at the past of the building.

Judy picked up on that detail anyway. "I thought speakeasys were behind restaurants, not clinics."

"Only if they were serving booze. There's a fair number of predators who didn't want to put the collars back on again. Being a clinic gave us an official reason until we could coax them into putting their collars back on."

"You've put a lot of thought into this place."

"I already warned you that you only knew about 5% of my awesome." Nick made it to the boarded up entrance. "Carrots? Exit's this way. You can stare at the wall decorations next time."

Judy had stopped to read the documents framed upon the wall, and started when Nick called her. "Yes. Of course." She looked back once or twice, before rejoining Nick.

They stepped out of Nick's past, and headed towards another's.

So it wasn't the wards that were the difference between Nick's grave and Lynxington's grave. Nick's grave was in a quiet little corner under a quiet little bridge spanning a quiet little stream. Lynxington's grave had been under a larger river, under a larger bridge. Nick couldn't tell how big the grave itself actually was, because everywhere - the dry river bed, the bridge spanning above - had been festooned with flowers and banners and gifts of all shapes and sizes.

Judy had stopped to stare at the sight for a good five minutes, but for an entirely different reason from Nick.

"It's not that hard to understand Carrots. It's like Robin Hood. A thief's a thief until he steals for you. What Lynxington did resulted in the removal of collars for the whole predator community."

"I understand martyrs. I don't understand massacre."

Judy's fists were clenched and her posture hinted she was spoiling for a fight. Nick really didn't want to join in the fight as the representative of the predator community but no one else was around to step up. "I'm not saying Lynxington was right. But another 10 predator deaths were going to do jack squat for getting collars removed. The authorities finally abolished collars in the hopes it would appease the Original 10."

"So this is what he gets for filling entire files with the names of dead mammals?"

Nick closed his eyes. At least she hadn't mentioned her namesake. "Don't go down that road Carrots. An eye for an eye makes the world blind, and frankly the predator side has already given more than its share of eyes. That's why all they can see is no more collars thanks to this guy."

"I don't know who to be more furious at - those who started the collars business, or those who ended it."

Here was Nick's chance to redirect that anger. "Just be very glad you never had to face that choice."

"The past is past huh," Judy quipped.

"Where did you learn such wisdom from? Was it a handsome fox spirit?"

"A fox spirit with Alzheimer's and no idea of what he just said this morning." Judy swung the bag off her shoulder and placed it on the ground. "Let's focus on the work of the present then."

Arguably, if you had a strong enough exorcist or medium anything could be used for scrying. Judy had once used a beach ball for a quick glance at something. However, just as using a magnifying glass was better than a hula hoop when making things look bigger, sometimes a crystal ball was better than a beach ball, especially when scrying for three elusive spirits.

Judy found a suitably tall bollard within range of the grave to balance her crystal ball atop of, with balance being used generously or possibly wrongly. "Remind me again why we're not doing this at ZED instead of brining almost the entire ritual room?" he asked as he poked through Judy's bag.

"Because better exorcists have tried in the ritual room and have not been able to trace any of the three spirits. We're trying with the graves first to see if the traces of aura left behind help, and if that doesn't work that's where your report will come in handy."

"You're the boss." He left Judy to set up. She would know how to create an array with the best spiritual resonance. The advantage of his spirit powers meant all he needed to do was stand in the center as he was now and be himself. "Are we feeling traditional today?"

"I should never have let you know my mother uses a crystal ball."

"Uh huh, and I would never have seen that for myself in my visits to your home." What Judy used next sent a shiver down Nick's spine. The box Lynxington had been encased in went to the south of the circle, with the grave at north. "Don't lend him too much power."

"I won't." Despite saying that, Nick was even more unnerved by the next item that Judy placed to the east of the circle. Generally Nick preferred to keep blood out of his rituals, so the bloodstained cloth was not something he would use in his rituals, no matter how many years old the blood as. There was also something strange about the aura mingled on the cloth.

Before Nick could inspect it more closely, Judy had focused her aura into an electric flame about the blade of her sword. She swung it in a circle overhead before she slammed it into the ground at the west.

Even before the scrying had started, Nick felt his back teeth hurt from the resonance of all the items, as if they were in a garment factory and all the machines were going at once. "Rabbit. What did you just do?"

"Making it impossible for Lynxington to hide," she said as she joined Nick in the center. She curved her paws around the crystal ball and peered inside.

According to the other Hopps, they could catch glimpses of what Judy saw inside of a crystal ball if they happened to be looking at the same time. Without rabbit senses, Nick didn't see any of that. Instead he saw the flow of aura - Judy's aura eddying from her hands to wreath her head and the crystal ball she was gazing into. Sometimes the aura gave off a bright spark as she made connections with whatever she was seeing, with only the barest of nudges from Nick's own aura. She hadn't reached her peak yet - the claw marks from the Grays were not glowing yet from her aura.

Then Judy's aura gained an entire galaxy of sparks and the claw marks on her cheek glowed.

That was Nick's only warning before a swirl of black manifested in the middle of Judy's array. He stepped closer to Judy - he couldn't stop her senses from picking up the maelstrom the array had turned into, but he could at least filter out the bulk of the effect without any damage to himself. Judy still staggered as her senses picked up on the changes, though she recovered without assistance.

In the middle of the swirling black aura was not just the lynx spirit they were looking for, but all three - the lynx, the raccoon and the sea lion. Now that Nick had read the files in detail he could name them - Lyndon Lynxington, Rocky Roni and Stella Otariids. All of them were in suits, and Lynxington's suit over an unbuttoned red shirt was baggy.

Nick showed teeth, but didn't give them the satisfaction of going dark. "You just met me two days ago and you're already copying my style?"

"We weren't allowed to request what we were buried in." Lynxington's voice was exactly what Nick remembered from his dream. "Are you going to offer us some pointers?"

"He isn't," said Judy. "You are not to leave these grounds."

"Oh yeah?" Otariids barked. "Where's your circle?"

Judy's response was to yank her sword from the array. When she swung her sword overhead, it activated the circle she'd sketched in the same way earlier. The circle closed around the group with a whump that displaced the air in the outline's path.

Nick swiped the crystal ball off the bollard so he could lean on it. "It was already here, and you walked right into it."

"They are dumber than you were," Judy quipped. Nick had to agree - there was a satisfaction in seeing others fall to the same trick Judy had used to get Nick's assistance in finding Mr Otterton.

"That still makes me smarter than 99% of the population."

"It wasn't too smart of you to shut yourself in with us!" shouted Otarriids as she flared her aura.

"Funny I was going to say the same right back to you," said Nick, letting his aura permeate the circle instead of keeping it in a concentrated flare. Judy was always better at the concentrated attacked.

As she did now with a bolt of electricity that cohered into a binding spell. The sea lion fell over cursing, but dissolved like sea foam upon hitting the ground. Judy's attack was a signal for the other two to attack. The moment their claws touched what they thought was Judy, they swiped down only to find themselves with fistfuls of leaves.

Nick waved at them as Judy reappeared on his other side. "When you're against a fox spirit, what you see isn't what you get," he called to them.

Lynxington didn't bother with banter, immediately switching his focus to Nick. It wasn't Nick's first time looking at sharp teeth opened to snap his neck. Since Manchas' attack when she went dark, Nick had picked up a few tricks. He bowled the crystal ball at Lynxington, and disappeared while the lynx was distracted.

What Nick did when he disappeared was sidle between states - now here and nowhere, today and tomorrow, light and dark, anything with an edge he could balance on. This world and the next was just one of the edges that he used to his advantage. A graveyard was the perfect place for him, seeing that it was an edge where the living and the dead met.

With all these advantages, Nick disappeared away from Lynxington. Let the lynx try to find him here.

When Lynxington didn't follow, Nick snuck back out closer to Judy's fight. Lynxington hadn't ganged up with Roni to fight her while Nick was away, and neither had Otariids. The lynx was still hunting for Nick on the other side of the circle.

Judy herself didn't need help. With aura in the form of lightning in one hand and flaming sword in the other, Roni had picked a fight with the wrong rabbit. The edges of his aura were signed, and it was wavering wildly.

That didn't stop the raccoon from running his mouth. "You're so pretty," he hissed. "I want to rip off your face and wear it."

Nick punched the raccoon because he could. The vibration from Nick's reappearance drew Lynxington towards Nick. Judy countered Lynxington's lunge with her sword.

Roni tumbled with the force of Nick's attack only to right himself on the third turn. "Why are you wearing the mask of the nice guy when you're not?" he demanded, then made a pulling gesture.

So this was what raccoon spirits were capable of - tugging whatever had been hidden to the surface. Nick found himself scrambling to keep down the darker powers that he had.

Judy, who'd already thrown up a shield to keep Lynxington away, widened her shield to include Nick as well. Nick appreciated the brief reprieve, though he was a little worried about how Roni was scratching at the shield. Lynxington was simply observing.

Nick forced himself to look away from their opponents. "I think I need to swap."

"Me too," Judy admitted. "Lynxington - he terrifies me."

The sensitivity of a rabbit meant they were hit right at the soul level by attacks. The claw marks on Judy's cheek, a relic from her childhood, were proof of a soul level injury. But a trained rabbit like Judy could compartmentalise those injuries to keep going. Fear however was the true danger a rabbit couldn't guard against. A skill for evading enemies by projecting the rabbit's fear, it could make the rabbit freeze up instead, which was dangerous in a fight. Even within the safety of her shield, Judy was clutching her arm in an uncharacteristic display of uncertainty.

Nick pried her grip from her arm and transferred it to her sword. "You're Exorcist Hopps. You can handle it."

This time Judy's nod was more certain. "I'm not bothered by the raccoon."

"And I can keep Lynxington guessing."

"What about Otariids?"

"We'll figure it out when she reappears."

"Alright. Brace." Judy dropped her shield.

This time Roni was more hesitant to attack either of them since he'd expected Nick to pull his bait and switch. That left him right open to the blast of aura Judy directed at him.

That was the distraction Nick needed. He slipped behind Lynxington with some rope he'd borrowed when rummaging in the bag earlier. Except now he found himself looking at multiple Lynxingtons. And multiple versions of Otariids.

"Figure out which one trickster!" the multiple sea lions chortled. "How about a taste of your own medicine?"

"Right now it's tasting really bitter." He made a guess and tossed his lasso. The real Otariids struggled against the rope coiled around her. "But I think you're finding this medicine just as bitter. Didn't you know fox spirits are always lucky?"

To his surprise, Otariids jeered, "Made you look."

Nick looked past her and froze.

Judy was backed up right against the edge of her circle. Lynxington had somehow intimidated her with just the bloodstained cloth Judy had used for scrying. He was holding it out to her now.

"You're not the right rabbit yet," he was saying. "Until then, I think it best to go our separate ways. If you want to know the truth behind this piece of cloth, break the circle. Let us go."

Judy tightened her double handed grip on her sword. Then she nicked her own circle.

The three spirits immediately swirled into black miasma again that flowed out of the open Judy had made. Nick was left with an empty coil of rope and Judy, still staring at the bloodstained cloth Lynxington had dropped on the ground.

Nick scrambled to pick that up. Now that he had a chance to take a closer look at it, he found it wasn't just a bloodstained cloth - pinned to it was a police badge, and a name tag that read Judy Hopps.

"Nick, I'm sorry but the past isn't past," this Judy Hopps said. "Are you ready to tell me the truth yet?"

Nick wondered if what he was feeling now was how other mammals felt after discovering he'd hustled them. Nothing was as it seemed anymore. He was glad he was kneeling, because he didn't think his knees would hold him up in the face of such accusations. "I haven't lied to you about anything. Where did you get this?"

"While you were reading Lynxington's files, I went to the ZPD and asked them for evidence they'd kept to prove Lynxington had murdered Judy Hopps. I found this."

"And that's supposed to mean I didn't tell you something?"

"The array worked. That means Judy Hopps is my blood relation. Nick, you can tell me all you like that there were many rabbit officers in the 60s, but you can't tell me there was more than one Judy Hopps then."

"Carrots, we already have two right here - "

"There was a traffic ticket signed by Judy Hopps framed on the wall of your clinic!"

Nick tried to shake the confusion out of his head. "Rabbit, it's a clinic. Why would there even be a traffic ticket on the wall?"

Judy let her sword scrape the floor with no care for the blade. "You hid the past so well that even you don't remembered the truth anymore."

"Here's a truth: I'm a wronged spirit who ought to be taking revenge for the injustice done to e. What use is the truth?"

Judy knelt down to lean her forehead against Nick's. "I'll show you truth is nothing to be afraid of."


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