Spirit Bound: Chapter 152

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#154 of Spirit Bound

This chapter was edited by Lycanthromancer

Liam had to gather materials from his house to cleanse Lily's office and to send her off to the Underworld, so he tried to walk home to gather them. However, such an attempt did not go smoothly: his children opposed his leaving unescorted due to his weakened state, and Nathanial requested he escort the police to the backyard where a spying paparazzo had set up camp. Ciaran joined Liam for the trip, and they found two pranks Micah had set up. Unfortunately, the pranks were found after the police officers had set them off.

Chapter 152: Suddenly Called

Liam opened his front door and entered. Ciaran wiped his hindpaws on the mat behind him and stepped through the doorway as well. The door clicked shut, plunging the interior into dim shadows. Dad, of course, had kept the drapes drawn, as usual. A quick glance behind him revealed Ciaran was in the midst of unobtrusively examining the area. His student's eyes paused a bit longer on the umbrella stand -- or rather, Li's cane within the stand. Would this draw Ciaran out of his uncomfortable silence? Liam had expected some sort of dialogue during the walk to his home on the matter Ciaran obviously felt strongly about, enough so that he had said something to Aoife on the matter, but nothing arose.

Ciaran still said naught.

Liam turned and padded to the main hall. "I shall not be long. You may accompany me or peruse the house at your leisure." His student followed him through the kitchen and upstairs. Liam heard his father speaking to someone on the phone in his office and turned to the right after reaching the second floor. Dad did not sound pleased.

Walter sat at his desk dressed in loose shorts and a baggy t-shirt, rather than lounging about in the buff, as Liam had called to warn of his return. The plump Rottie held his phone up to his left ear. "As I've said, I really don't know much about this. Liam is off sick today, and since I'm up to my ears in work, he's staying with some friends so he can be properly cared for." Liam cleared his throat, and his father looked over. "Wait. He just came in; talk to him yourself." Liam took the offered phone. "It's the school board, calling about your tests."

Liam clenched his jaw before forcing himself to relax. He had expected this to be resolved before July ended, but it had been constantly ignored until now. "Liam Smith speaking."

A youngish woman responded. "Candice Bergeron. I was just told you were sick and not here. How fortuitous you materialized. I--"

Liam cut in. He did not appreciate the inference she made. "I am off ill, and I was not here. I arrived, properly chaperoned, to gather some work material, and then I am leaving again. Not that it is your business. However, of more concern, why did you not call me? I left explicit instructions that you were to call _my_phone."

The woman's voice was much more strained. "You should have been in school. It wouldn't have made sense to call your phone when it would be turned off."

"Then why call my father's? He works during the day, as does my mother. I ensured that was also noted in the file. If it was so dire to reach me, you could have called the school office. I cannot see it being so dire, so a message would've sufficed."

Walter rolled his eyes and waved to Ciaran; the Spirit nodded in return before arching an eyebrow toward Liam. Walter rose and slipped by Liam to fill him in. "Liam wrote all of his grade nine exams at the end of last school year -- his grade eight year. He scored 100% on all but his history exam, and he's disputing the points deducted from that. It appears the teacher and principal had a bias Liam ran afoul of, so it escalated to the school board. That's pretty much all I know, other than Liam is..._annoyed_he's heard nothing for a few months." Ciaran nodded in vague understanding. 'Annoyed' was rather polite.

Candice dryly stated, "We felt it important to reach you quickly, and phoning your father seemed to be the best idea. We're trying to work efficiently, since you seemed to have forgotten you have a meeting at 9:45 at our office."

"I did not forget. You did not inform_me. It is impossible to make it there, barring some miracle." It was 9:22. The offices for the Halifax Regional School Board were in Dartmouth, across the harbour. At the _best of times it would take twenty minutes by car to arrive, and shortly after nine was not the best of times to try to cross the city. It would be impossible to get there on time even if his father was able to drive him. Liam felt his hackles rise and lips curl. "Reschedule it for this evening. 7:30 will suffice."

The smugness in her voice put Liam's back up even more than it already was. "We sent out notice of your appointment by mail. I'm afraid we can't reschedule."

Liam's phone rang. He pulled it out to see who it was; it was Cheng Bao. His old friend did not phone during school hours outside of emergencies, and it was almost always on behalf of the Monks. He tossed the phone to his father. "I did not receive the letter. You made no reasonable attempt to contact me, so it is up to you to set up another time."

His father quietly answered the phone. "Hi, sir; this is Walter. Liam's on another call." Walter moved back to his computer.

Candice actually had the gall to chuckle. What possible reason could this person have to be amused by flouting all bounds of professional conduct? "We did. Our procedures are to send out a letter informing the person of the scheduled meeting, and then to phone before the meeting to confirm it. We've done that, so it's on you--"

"When did you send out the letter? Two minutes before calling? This is outrageous!_If you refuse to even _entertain my complaint, then have the courage and decency to say so! I know perfectly well that you have sent copies of my exam to the Dalhousie University Department of History and St. Mary's University as well. From there, professors at Mount Saint Allison, St. Francis Xavier, and Acadia have also read it. Even faculty from the English departments have reviewed it! Not one sided with the teacher, the principal, or your office! You have no grounds upon which to stand. If you are refusing to give me the marks I deserve for other reasons, say so, and I shall meet you upon that battlefield!"

He heard his father murmur, "Candice Bergeron, from the office of Marie Osmond." A quick clatter of keystrokes sounded beneath Candice's angry exhalation, and Walter read out some e-mail addresses for the school board.

Candice hissed, "Don't overreach yourself,pup. The board has graciously given you a chance, and if you don't show up, that's your own problem. Who cares about less than half a percent?"

"That is my question to you. Why do you_care whether I get a perfect mark or not? _I care because I earned_that mark, and I strive for perfection. Not near perfection. Not point four away from perfection. _Perfection. Now, if the elected members of the school board wish to actually give me a chance, I will plead my case before them. If they do not wish to do so, preferring to play games, then I shall escalate this further and go right to the Minister of Education." Liam's phone chimed indicating he had received an e-mail.

"Do you think the minister has time to--" A chime sounded on Candice's side of the line. "--entertain the delusions of grandeur from a pup?" Another chime came through, followed by another, then another, and yet one more before he heard her clicking her mouse a few times. She must be checking her e-mail. Liam did not have to check his own phone to know that Bao had sent out some e-mails to the Monks informing them of this occurrence. It was good to have friends.

Liam couldn't keep the entirety of his vindictive glee out of his voice. "It sounds as if you have some work piling up. Perhaps you, and the board, will be too busy to have this meeting and will need to reschedule anyway. I shall leave you to it, and make my phone call." He ended the call before she could say anything. This was the second time this school year -- the first being when he had tried to get Joseph Harper fired -- that he had relied on his standing with the Monks for his personal benefit. He really should stop before it became a habit...no matter how satisfying it could be.

Walter and Liam exchanged phones. Ciaran passively regarded Liam for a moment. "Liam seems to have a shorter temper than Lowell did. I can't recall seeing you get so worked up over a short conversation before."

Liam snorted. "Lad, you didn't see me when I was fourteen before. Don't tell me you've forgotten the snit-fits Muiry had or even Danny did when they were teens." The tic of Ciaran's left ear indicated he had not. "Yes, I'm sorry I lost my temper, but this issue has been taking far too long to resolve, and the last two months have done wonders to shorten my fuse." Liam turned away from Ciaran and pushed Lowell aside. "Now, Dad, what did Bao want? It is not like him to phone me during school hours."

Walter leant back in his chair and put his paws behind his head. "Checking up on you. I called him yesterday after I got home." Liam gave his father a displeased glare. Walter took a paw out from behind his head and held it out placatingly. "Bao worries about you. He asked me to keep him apprised of your health, and I agreed. He's been part of your life since you were..." He trailed off when Liam shook his head.

"Since I was three. I know. I do understand, and I worry about him, too. When you phoned him, you should have known I was in no danger. Such a call would only worry him and he needs no more worries."

Walter hooked his paw behind his head again. "He's going to worry anyway, just like I am. Hearing more news, even just to say you had an issue and it's being resolved, helps _relieve_the worry rather than the opposite. He hoped you'd be well enough to stop by the kwoon if only to visit."

Liam smiled fondly. He did enjoy sitting and talking to the first friend he had made in this life. It hurt to see how the Panda had aged and how it signalled the approaching end of Bao's time. "I will call him. I do need to thank him for using his connections to apply some political pressure on that insufferable secretary."

Ciaran nodded. "You did seem to be able to make your point quickly, but what question did the teacher mark wrong?"

Liam rolled his eyes. "The question was flawed, not my answer. 'The blank in blank AD marked the first time Christianity wasn't unified.' Of course, the teacher expected students to write in 'Schism' or 'Great Schism' in '1054,' but as you know, this is simply not true. Christianity has never been unified. I wrote an essay pointing out how the teacher's assertion was not true, with many citations. I have contacts within Dalhousie and St. Mary's universities, and they agree with me."

Walter sighed and shook his head, leaning forward to partially settle in front of his computer. "And they also agreed with me that you should've just put in the answer expected. It was obvious what was wanted." He waved them away. "I'm glad to see you looking stronger, Liam, but I really am extremely busy."

Liam chuckled and hugged his father's thick neck. "I understand, Dad. I'll leave you in peace." He turned and heard the clatter of furious typing straight away. Liam shooed Ciaran out. "Last door on the left." They trotted silently down the hall and turned into Liam's bedroom.

Liam went to his closet and pulled out a small box. In it were the last few relics he could use to aid in his task today. They were insufficient, but they would suffice in sealing off Lily's office until someone could gather more from the Hellenic Temple. He wished he had been strong enough to perform the ritual last night, but one more night should not cause problems. 'Should not' was not a safe thing when dealing with the Markses, however.

His pupil looked about once more. The grey and white bedspread blended in with the grey-blue walls, the light oak wood of furniture was in similar shade to the bamboo flooring, and the black-and-white ink paintings did nothing to add contrast, either. Liam smiled. "It doesn't look like my old room in Ireland, does it?"

Ciaran shook his head. "No, Da, it looks almost...sparse." The Wolf smiled slightly. "The styles Mama likes tend to have a lot of colour and at least some ornamentation." He nodded at the ofuda Liam had framed; one was enchanted to promote peace and aided in meditation, the other health and assisted in healing. Together, they helped him recover chi more quickly than he could do otherwise. "Mama would find those to be a bit too plain. I quite like it."

Liam winked at Ciaran. "When sharing a room with someone who has strong opinions on décor, it is not worth arguing over how to decorate. I am sure you have come to that conclusion long ago."

"Yes, Da; Eirne has very particular tastes. I don't. I like the clean lines and subdued shades here, though; it's peaceful."

"Indeed." Liam slid the closet door shut. "Now, to the basement." They both trotted down to the main floor. Liam noted Ciaran stealing more than one glance into the art room. "It will take but a minute to gather the ingredients I need. You may look at the finished paintings, if you wish. Some are out being framed, but I still have some of the paintings to be auctioned here."

Ciaran stopped at the landing and bowed slightly. "Thank you, Da." He turned and slowly walked into the room. Liam paused to watch. Ciaran went to the centre of the room, his eyes gliding about to take everything in. Liam noted when he saw the paintings of Faelen on the wall separating the art room from the kitchen; Ciaran's ears twitched faintly in surprise at the nude, but he approached to examine the portraits in more detail. Liam hastened to finish gathering his materials.

He returned to the main floor at the same time he heard a car pull into the drive. 'Odd. Dad is most obviously not expecting anyone, and very few know I am even here.' He met Ciaran's eyes and twitched his features in the subtle coding they had established long ago. He was mildly perplexed and cautious.

He reached the front door and waited until he heard hesitant steps approaching. The hesitancy informed him the visitor was not hostile, the lightness of the step said it was a smaller individual, and the chi he detected was of a Fur with no chi-training.

Liam opened the door. His heart stopped. "Sakura-sama?" A slight Otter lady stood on the stoop, staring at him in surprise. The carriage she arrived in sat close at paw, the horses whickering and stamping regularly in the late summer heat. Yoishi paid them no more mind than he did to the cicadas chirping in the nearby bamboo thicket. What was Kaoru's sister doing here? Here in the land of her enemy? He bowed as appropriate to a lady of her social stature and greeted her in the proper Japanese custom. <<My apologies, Ohtori Sakura. I should not have addressed you with such familiarity. Please, enter, and be welcome.>>

She quickly returned the bow with uncharacteristic hesitancy and unseemly depth. The Otter raised dainty paws holding a missive bound with seal and ribbon. Why would the lady deliver a letter when she could -- and should -- send a samurai with it in her stead? <<Smith Liam? Are you him?>> Liam's world spun about him; the kimono of the Otter lady shifted to a most professional business suit, long skirt, dark, and neatly pressed; the season became late autumn as was appropriate to the time of year; and the carriage became a rental sedan. The face of the Otter remained the same, that of Ohtori Sakura, though of more years than when he last saw her.<<I-I just wished to deliver this letter to Smith-sensei. How did you know my name?>>

The letter was still thick, folded paper bound in ribbon and sealed with wax pressed with the Ohtori mark. Liam took it with both paws and a slight bow. <<I am Smith Liam. My apologies for startling you. Your appearance is very much the same as someone I once knew and who also shared the name. My offer does still stand, Ohtori-san, please enter and share some tea.>>

She glanced back over her shoulder at the car. <<I have my children with me; I intended to drop off the letter in your mailbox and go on to some place called 'Shubenacadie.' There is a small zoo-like facility there my children wished to visit. I did not expect anyone to be home.>> However, Sakura-san felt the press of custom. <<I would be honoured to accept a cup of tea, though I may not tarry. Please allow me to fetch my children.>>

<<Of course. I will put the tea on.>> He gestured to Ciaran, who lurked silently by the corner. <<O'Conall Ciaran will bring you to the living room when you are ready.>> Sakura-san bowed and awkwardly shuffled to the car. Liam went the other direction and explained what occurred to his pupil. "I have Japanese guests. The lady is named Ohtori Sakura, and is the spitting image of the sister of my last true love. I know not why she is here, other than she wished to deliver a letter. The only correspondence I have had in Japan recently was with the Tokyo Art Gallery. I cannot believe they would return my correspondence in this manner." He put the kettle on and yelled up the stairs. "Dad! We have company!"

"What!? Who!?" Liam heard his father rising from his chair shortly after the questions.

"Some people from Japan! Dress up, if you will!" Faint mutters accompanied the heavy steps crossing the hall to his father's bedroom.

Liam returned to the kitchen proper and dug out a tea service, much of which never saw use. He looked about the kitchen in confusion. He really could not say if his father had snacks appropriate to offer guests, or even where to begin searching for them. Tea was the only thing he ever desired from this room, that or fresh fruit from the bowl on the counter. Ah, well, his father would be down shortly, and in the meantime he should peruse the letter.

The seal snapped cleanly, and the letter unfolded with the faint crinkling of pliable paper. It was indeed addressed to him, and it was from the Tokyo National Museum. Ohtori Sakura was the director of Historical Art. It appeared the Tokyo Art Gallery dealt only with modern art and had turned to her for assistance. Sakura-san wrote she received his letter three days before her vacation was to begin, and by the time she did her research, it would be faster to drop off the response in person. The painting by Fujioka Hikaru was still extant but remained in a private collection, as it had been for centuries.

He heard Ciaran escort the family to living room. A teenaged male whispered to someone else, <<It's just like in the movies! Everyone over here has huge houses. I mean, except for the size of the place, there's nothing here I'd expect from a richer family. They don't even have a TV.>>

Sakura-san shushed him. <<Be quiet. They might keep their electronics in another room, and keep this one for entertaining company.>>

<<They have enough space for it.>>

Dad came down the stairs dressed in tan slacks and a burgundy polo shirt. He looked a little disgruntled at having his work interrupted. He quietly grumped, "Why didn't you warn me?"

Liam shrugged and poured water into the teapot. "I did not know. It is a director from the Tokyo National Museum; she intended to merely drop a letter into our mailbox as she was passing by on her vacation. They will not be here long, just long enough to satisfy protocol. Do we have small snacks of some sort?"

Walter nodded. "All right." He pulled a container from the freezer. "I keep cookies on paw for this. It won't take long to thaw them in the microwave, but that's not the best way to do it. Still, they'll do." He dumped the dozen cookies onto a plate and began warming them. Dad set the tea service onto a tray.

Ciaran moved past Dad and Liam. "I'll bring them out when they're done, Walter."

Liam froze in the doorway. The Fates were truly toying with him. There upon the chesterfield next to Sakura-san sat two children. One was an Akita boy about thirteen or fourteen and the spitting image of Akemi-san, Kaoru's bodyguard; the other was a younger Otter boy, at eleven or twelve years of age, and bore more than a passing similarity to Kaoru himself. He even had the softness of features caused by a little extra weight. Liam was pleased his father carried the tray or he might have dropped it in surprise.

Dad set the tray on the coffee table and poured the tea. Liam hurried forward to gesture to him. <<This is my father, Smith Walter. Father doesn't speak Japanese. Do you speak English?>>

Sakura-san rose, as did the children. She nodded and bowed to Dad. She did not have an overly thick accent, but it remained most noticeable. "I am Oht-- pardon, I am Sakura Ohtori, and these are my children, Akemi and Ichigo."

Akemi bowed. His accent indicated he began learning English at a young age. "Hello. Thank you for welcoming us into your home."

Ichigo mimicked his elder brother and greeted them from rote memory. "Hello, my name is I-Ichigo Ohtori. It is a pleasure to meet you."

Walter smiled at the boys. "Well spoken. Would you care for tea or milk? I think I have some cranberry juice, as well." Ichigo looked at his brother in a bit of confusion. Akemi translated 'cranberry' into Japanese for him.

Liam sat in his normal chair to the right of the Ohtoris. "The tea is a gyokuro from Uji."

Akemi shrugged and picked up his tea cup. "Thank you."

Ichigo smiled shyly at Dad. _"Kurenberi_juice, please and thank you very great."

'Damn, he's so cute. No, this is not Kaoru. Remain in the now. ' Liam summoned up the image of Faelen's beautiful eyes, but they threatened to be replaced by the sad, if love-filled, brown eyes of his last love. Liam added the feeling of his partner's powerful paw cupping his much smaller paw within its palm. 'Faelen.' Yoishi remained restless, however.

Dad nodded and went to stand, but Liam waved him down. "Ciaran heard, Dad." He raised his voice slightly. "It is in the third shelf on the door. Cups are in the cupboard to the left of the sink."

Liam heard Ciaran taking the cookies from the microwave and pouring the juice. The next several minutes were filled with polite conversation before Akemi leant over to his mother and whispered, <<Would it be rude to ask to take pictures?>>

Sakura-san's face went blank; she did not know if it would or would not be within the bounds of decorum. Liam twitched his shoulders up in a small shrug. "It is not rude, as such, but it is an unusual request. What sort of pictures, and for what purpose?"

Sakura-san turned to her eldest. "You ask, Akemi. It's good practice."

"Then shouldn't you tell Ichigo to ask? He needs it more than I do." The flat look his mother gave him was all the response needed. He sighed and tried to phrase the question in his mind before asking it. "Would it be...permitted? Legal? No, um, allowed. Would it be allowed for us to take photographs for school? We, as in all students, have to do a report for school whenever we take a vacation and present it to the class when we return. Photographs or pictures are encouraged. My teacher asked me to...oppose? To show the difference between Japan and Canada cultures."

Liam nodded. "To compare cultures, yes. I can see how showing the differences in people's houses would be a great example, though I would not say this is a typical home."

Walter smiled at Akemi. The kind encouragement Dad showed these children momentarily made Liam wonder if he regretted not having a normal child, one not an Ancient One, or at least one that did not waken so early. There really was not much parenting, and even less _teaching,_required in this relationship. "That sounds like a very good project. You're correct, the word you were looking for was 'allowed.' Yes, you may take some pictures." Walter turned to Ichigo. He spoke a little slower, carefully enunciating and spacing each word. "Do you need to take some pictures as well, Ichigo?"

The little Otter kit smiled shyly, pulled out a smart phone, and nodded. His mother prodded. "Use your words, Ichigo."

"I-If I may, please?" Sakura-san flicked her fingers signalling him to continue. "If I may, please...and thank you?"

Walter asked, "What do you want to do?" He began the sentence to prod the kit's memory. "'May I please take...?'"

Ichigo looked at his mother as if to get her to ask, but she just waved her paw back to Walter. "May I please...please take some...pictures?"

Dad smiled broadly. "You may take some pictures."

They rose and moved to the edge of the living room. Liam waved his paw toward the centre of the room. "This is the living room. I recommend taking a photo from here, and then one by the couches to cover most of the angles; it will also show that the living room and dining room are joined." The two children took some photos, though Akemi also took one from the corner of the room, presumably to cover as much of the two rooms plus the open hallway off of the living room as possible. It likely gave the greatest impression of space that way.

Liam led them toward the entryway next. "The entryway." Two snaps of the cameras, and then Akemi moved to the door and took one looking in.

The Akita noticed the umbrella stand at that point, or more correctly, Li's cane. "You're a fan of the Phoenix Monk, too?" He picked up the cane. "It's tree... No, that's not the right word." It appeared the vultures profiting off stories of Li's life made some of their products using plastic.

Sakura-san trotted over and took it from him. "Wood. Don't touch other people's property without...permission..." She trailed off as she began looking at the cane more closely.

Liam felt rather aggravated that others were handling his cane. 'Peace. Novices not so stupid as to take cane while looking, no. No, no. Know is not smart, yes. Is just wood. A gift, yes, but a stick of wood. Possessions mean nothing. What cannot be possessed is what is of value.'

Liam banished Song Li. "It is my cane, and no, I do not follow any of these graphic novels. I have health issues which, at times, necessitate its use. It is why I am not at school today, in fact. I had an episode last evening." He gestured at Ciaran. "Ciaran is watching over me, as Dad is extremely busy with work."

Sakura-san looked up in confusion. "This is old. It's made from an ormosia wood, and I'm certainly not an expert on Chinese antiquities, but the carvings are...Tang or Song dynasty? Around 1000 CE, I'd guess. Give or take a few centuries. I see similarities between the carvings on this and the toys you have, Akemi, but...the lines the tools made here--" she pointed at one of the larger carvings, "--show it's carved with older tools." Sakura-san shook her head as Liam's words finally registered. "Oh, I'm sorry, Walter-san. If you're busy, I don't want to keep you. We're just taking these photos and going on our way, as it is."

Walter glanced at Liam, who nodded slightly in return. "Thank you for your consideration, Sakura. Just let me know when you're leaving, so I can say goodbye."

"Of course." Walter bowed slightly and turned to trot through the kitchen. Sakura looked at the cane once more before carefully placing it back into the stand. "Liam-sensei, I've been wondering, where did you learn Japanese? You speak it very fluently. I would have thought you learnt it from anime or movies, like Akemi has learnt a lot of his English_,_ but you said you don't read manga. I assume you don't watch anime? Some of your accent reminds me of the Yamanashi prefecture accent, but there are some words and phrases that have a very...archaic pronunciation."

Liam was not overly surprised at the question, though he expected more about the cane. "I learnt Japanese long ago from a few people raised in the Yamanshi prefecture, and more recently refreshed what I learnt from local Japanese Canadians of varying origins. I also studied many older texts which may have resulted in those 'archaic' phrases." He turned and led them down the hall toward his art room.

Sakura-san nodded slowly. "That would explain the kanji in your letter. Some of the style looked very familiar, but I couldn't place it. We've probably read the same texts. Which one mentioned Fujioka Hikaru? He's almost completely unknown outside of art historians. Even there, few know of him."

The children eyed the closed doors in the hallway -- they were rooms Mary had used before the divorce -- but said nothing. Liam shrugged. "This is my art room. Again, this is likely quite out of the ordinary in Western homes, but it suits my purpose." Sakura-san immediately walked to the portraits of Faelen. Akemi and Ichigo saw the nude and blushed furiously. "To answer your question, Sakura-san, I could not tell you. It has been a long while since I read of him, but his work has stuck with me."

Akemi took a few pictures, again seeming to do his best to make the room appear larger. Liam ignored the two for the most part. Ciaran walked about before examining the paintings on the wall once more. "You really can put a lot of emotion into your work. I would've thought you would have more trouble since you only starting painting people in the last two months, but these show off your talent tremendously."

Sakura-san pointed at the lines around Faelen's eyes in Laughter. "Look at the brushwork here; you can see how the lines of the fur are altered ever so slightly to evoke the wrinkles caused by a broad smile, but to just glance at the painting, you wouldn't notice it. It's almost subliminal!" She pointed to the open muzzle. "And here--"

Ichigo exclaimed in surprise, cutting her off. <<Mom! It's the painting in our apartment!>>

The small Otter held up the unframed canvas to show Liam's version of the painting Kaoru once owned. Liam had decided to alter it somewhat to make it his own. No matter how much he loved the original, he could not directly copy it in its entirety; it seemed too...unethical.

<<It is...!>> Sakura-san trailed off after her initial exclamation. <<No...actually, I see many similarities, but there are also a lot of differences.>> She walked up to the canvas and carefully took it from Ichigo. <<Is this why you were asking about Fujioka-sensei? To...pay 'homage' to his work? How did you know about_this _painting, anyway? It's been in my family for centuries.>>

Liam padded over to Sakura-san. <<Likely the same place I read of him. This painting figured prominently, and the awe in which it was held stuck with me. I thought I would try my paw at recreating it based on what I knew of the scene and his style. I would like to allow more of the world to feel that same awe. That is why I wished to include it in the auction.>>

Sakura-san placed it down by the easel, and carefully sifted through the other paintings. Liam was uncertain if she believed him or not. <<It's always been one of my favourites. It's why I brought it from our family estate to Tokyo.>> She glanced over at him before turning her attention back to the paintings. It was the painting of the lane in the Cork Clan; the school flyer featured this one. <<The photograph I saw doesn't do your work justice.>> Nathanial would be most distraught if he heard that, as he was the one that took the photo; that Serpent Jhansi's criticism troubled the Akita greatly as it was.

Akemi held up Muireann's brush. <<What's this, artist? You into pink bows?>>

Liam felt annoyed but countered with his own banter. <<Are you frightened by a bit of colour, soldier? You can't protect the little Otter if a strip of fabric scares you off.>>

Liam was mildly perplexed by the odd look he received from Akemi and Kao...Ichigo, but Akemi still countered with, <<And who is Muiry? Your girlfriend?>>

Ciaran frowned; the enchantment on the coat made the disapproving expression seem most ominous, even to Liam. <<That was my older sister's brush, pup. She...passed on last month. They used to paint together all the time, so my family gave him her brush.>>

Akemi looked ashamed and unsurprisingly frightened. He hastily returned the brush to its proper place before bowing rather deeply. <<I'm sorry, Smith-sensei, O'Conall-san.>>

Sakura-san had stepped away from Liam while his attention was diverted. <<How did you know my husband is in the Defence Force? How do you know so much about my family and its history? I don't think there are any texts that mention Fujioka-sensei's painting of Edo Bay, and Ohtori is an extremely uncommon family name. I'm certain we all live in Japan, but you still recognised me and knew my name. Are you a kami, Smith-sensei?>> She likely did not mean 'kami' strictly as a nature spirit as Liam tended to use the term, but any sort of spiritual being, from minor nature spirits up to gods.

Ciaran chuckled and switched back to English. "I can assure you, he isn't a Spirit, and certainly not a god."

"But how...?"

Liam shooed the children away from his easel and instruments. "Coincidence. I already told you how similar you look to someone I once knew. I cannot offer an explanation as to her name; I did not think it unusual or wonder where she had come by it. I also explained each incidence since."

She looked most disbelieving. <<Once or twice is coincidence, Smith-sensei. This has gone past that.>>

He shrugged. <<I honestly did not know his father was a soldier. In English, it is common to refer to a young man or boy as 'soldier,' 'warrior,' or some such when speaking of bravery. It was purely in jest. Surely a few coincidences are far more likely than my being some sort of kami.>>

Akemi grinned, but Liam could see it was forced.<<Yeah, Mom, he's not wearing black robes or anything, so he can't be a shinigami. This isn't Bleach.>>

Ciaran rubbed the top of Liam's head. <<No leaves, so he isn't a Kitsune, either.>> The jolt Liam felt in the chi of his visitors said that was seriously a concern, and Ciaran had stumbled onto another coincidence. Yoishi had encountered a Kitsune when he stayed with Kaoru, perhaps Kodokuro or one of her descendants had remained in contact with the family.

This, however, was delaying his return to the Markses. It was also a drain on his chi, and he could ill afford that. He bowed his head. <<I apologise if I caused concern; it truly was not my intent. I need to rest, so please let us continue.>>

Ciaran looked a mite concerned and put his fingers against Liam's neck to check his pulse. "Are you sure you--?"

Liam batted his paw away. Why did people feel the need to make such an unnecessary fuss? "I know how much strength I have left. I can finish showing them around to get their photos for school. I will meditate back at Nathanial's."

Sakura-san pulled out a small camera from her purse. "Do you mind if I take some photos of the paintings? My co-workers and I couldn't understand why so many curators of other museums and galleries were talking about this auction, but seeing the pieces in person changes things. The photo really didn't do your work justice."

Liam nodded. "By all means. Come along, Akemi and Ichigo." The two children followed him silently, quickly snapping pictures of the kitchen, staircase, and upstairs hallway. Ichigo remained behind Akemi at all times, only ducking out far enough to take a photo before retreating behind his big brother once more.

It was not until Liam gestured to his room that Akemi spoke. <<Shit.>> He switched back to English. "I can't take a photo of this. Mom would be constantly telling me to clean my room to this standard. Do you ever set paw in here?"

Liam intentionally gave the pup his best disbelieving look. "Of course. I sleep here and meditate here, too. I also do school work at my desk. I am here more than I care to be, at times. Do you not keep your room tidy? It makes it far more comfortable to be in."

Akemi appeared to be unable to discern if Liam was teasing or not. He struggled to translate what he wanted to say, before giving up. <<I keep my room comfortable. I have better things to do with my time than housework. I'm guessing you don't have friends or anything if you're sick so often.>>

Really. That truly warranted a punch in the nose, but Liam forbore from doing so. <<I do have friends, and I am constantly busy. Busier than I care to be.>>

Akemi snorted. <<You're only as busy as you let yourself be. Drop some activities, if you need to, especially if it's affecting your health. You won't get into a good high school if you keep missing classes because you get sick.>>

Liam had heard that high schools in Japan required students to pass entrance exams, and the best could be as difficult to get into as elite universities in the West could be. He shrugged and waved them out. "I am in high school, arguably the best in the province, and on a full scholarship."

Akemi followed Ichigo down the hall, glancing over his shoulder disbelievingly. "How old are you?"

"I turned fourteen in September." Liam saw Akemi and Ichigo stop walking to try to translate the month into the Japanese calendar. "I am two grades ahead of where I should be, by age."

"You get grades like that, and you paint. Was that your violin and...flute? Is flute the English word for a shakuhachi? Those must be all of your activities, then."

Liam shook his head. "Both instruments are mine, but I can play others. A shakuhachi is a shakuhachi, there is no direct translation, but most would know it as a Japanese bamboo flute. No, I also practice martial arts, kung fu, primarily, but some tai chi and ninjitsu. I lift weights, as well."

He was answered with an almost hostile glare. <<No wonder you get sick all the time. How many languages do you know? Japanese, English, and...French?>>

Liam did not wish to answer with full truthfulness. "Those and Chinese."

Akemi cursed under his breath believing Liam would not hear, before drily adding, _<<Right. So, if you aren't a Kami, what are you? You can't be a Fur. No one could learn all that by our age.>>_The two began walking once more, so Liam followed.

Liam laughed. "You sound like you believe in the old tales. What, do you have a Kitsune nanny reading you bedtime stories?" Ichigo stumbled and fell flat onto the floor with a cry. Akemi whirled to stare at Liam in terrified surprise. Liam regarded the Akita in affected confusion. It appeared he was correct.

Walter dashed out of his office, and then down the hall to pick up Ichigo. "Are you okay?" The Otter kit clung to Dad sniffling through his tears.

Liam shrugged. "You really are odd, Akemi-san. If you do not waste time watching movies, or on other trivialities, you might find there is more opportunity to study. I also happen to be blessed with an exceptional memory." He was tempted to find out if the Kitsune actually was Kodokuro, but the children were already most frightened. Liam stepped around Akemi. "Dad, the Ohtori are about to depart, if you wish to come down to say farewell."

Walter stood carefully while still holding Ichigo; the Otter kit wrapped his arms and legs around the broad Rottweiler. "All right." Dad took the stairs slowly.

Sakura-san had heard the noise, and waited at the bottom of the stairs, though she did not wait for Walter to descend in order to ask, <<Are you hurt, Ichigo?>>

A most mournful voice answered, partially muffled by Dad's neck. <<No.>>

Perhaps it was best the kit could not see the glare directed at his back. <<Then why is Smith-san carrying you? You're too old to be carted around like that.>>

Dad put Ichigo down on the landing beside his mother. "He's fine, Sakura. He just tripped and got a bit of a fright." Walter ruffled the kit's ears and grinned down at him. "He's a little fighter; I'm sure he'll be running around in no time."

Akemi skirted by Liam to stand partially behind his mother. Sakura bowed to Walter, "Thank you for your hospitality, Walter-san, but we must depart if we're to keep our schedule."

Dad bowed in return, gesturing toward the kitchen. "It was my pleasure." He led them through toward the front door. "It was an honour to meet you and your children." He bowed to the two. "I hope your presentations go well, and you enjoy seeing some of Canada."

Sakura-san and Akemi eyed Li's cane as they stepped outside. Akemi bowed, mimicked by his little brother. "Thank you for the tea and your help, Mister Smith-san."

"Thank you for the kurenberi juice and the cookies, Mister Smith-san." After bowing, Ichigo took his mother's paw and half hid behind her.

Sakura-san gently pulled him out to stand beside her. "That's 'cranberry,' Ichigo." She did not wait for him to correct himself, but instead said farewell to Ciaran and Liam, who returned them with similar formality.

As the three were about to turn toward their car, Liam spoke up. "If you do plan on attending the auction, or if someone at your museum does, I would appreciate prior notice. I am planning on reserving seats for those from galleries and museums; an estimate on required space would be useful."

Sakura-san bowed again. "This wouldn't be in my department, but I will talk to the board and see what they say. I'll pass on the photos I took to some galleries, as well."

"Most appreciated."

The Ohtoris soon drove off. Liam turned to Walter. "I am sorry for the disruption, Dad. Ciaran and I are leaving now. I have the materials I need from here."

Ciaran arched an eyebrow. "You need more?"

Liam nodded. "From the temple."

Walter sighed and shook his head before Liam could expound on that. "Who's going to get them for you? Don't forget... Right, you don't forget. Sorry."

Ciaran looked back to Liam. The smaller Rottie sighed and then smiled as he heard how similar it sounded to his father. "I am...persona non grata at the temple. I have offended too many of the priests." Ciaran's other eyebrow rose. "Our opinions on the thunder god and Lord Hades differed, as we did on many of their teachings. I chose not to remain silent and challenged their falsehoods on more than one occasion."

Walter laughed. "Timeus can be forceful even when in a five-year-old's body. I can drive down after I turn my work in."

That was not an over-subtle hint. "Then you had best get to it, Dad, but I'll see if Conor or Garret can retrieve them for me. It is for Garret's house." Liam hugged his father. "Have a good day."

"You, too." Walter nodded to Ciaran before hastening back to his oft delayed work.

Spirit Bound: Chapter 153

**Chapter 153: A Special Brownie** Liam turned away from his front door with a sigh. He had not received a call back from the school board, so perhaps he should do as he said he would and contact the Education Minister's office. He pulled out his...

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Spirit Bound: Chapter 151

**Chapter 151: George Montagu-Dunk** Nick woke up five minutes before his alarm was set to go off. Well, _Micah's_ alarm clock, anyway. Once again, he'd been booted from his room and forced to sleep with Mikey, so Liam-sensei and Faelen could sleep...

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Spirit Bound: Chapter 150

**Chapter 150: Morning of the Assassin** Ciaran directed Aedan to whisk up the eggs for some omelettes while he cut the fillings for them. His brother had offered to help chop, but Ciaran had seen how well Aedan could use knives growing up. It was...

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