Chapter 1: Empty Shadows
Blue light blazed for a moment, illuminating the park and its few occupants, before sputtering from existence. Kuwabara glared at Yusuke, annoyed he’d wasted his time coming out on this trip and also that yet again Yusuke had taken a fight from him.
“You could’ve killed me, man! Watch where you aim that thing!” The carrot top yelled, getting to his feet from where he’d been knocked onto the ground moments before. He toed the demon beside him, assured it was dead by the gaping hole in its chest. “Even on your off days you’re still pretty strong.”
“Everyone seems strong to you.” Hiei pointed out, arms crossed as he watched from beside Kurama. “It must be boring being so helpless all the time.”
“I’ll show you helpless.” Kuwabara grunted, rolling up the sleeves of his button down.
Hiei glared at him, ducking under the large swinging fist with ease. The short skirmish ended when Kurama checked the time on his phone and announced it to Yusuke.
“Oh shit! I’m late!” The Spirit Detective grabbed his hair. “Keiko is going to murder me! I don’t have blood on my clothes do I? I think the restaurant has a dress code against that.”
“You’re fine.” Kurama smiled at him, despite grabbing Yusuke’s collar to adjust it. “Is tonight the night then? You do seem dressed up.”
Hiei glanced toward the trees over his shoulder, eyes narrowed as he tried to pick up movement he was sure he’d just seen. No one seemed to notice his attention wavering.
“I mean, I got the ring and all, it’s just picking the right time and place. And now she’s on me about getting another job and I think she’ll say no if I don’t have one.” Yusuke sighed heavily.
“Just ask her, man.” Kuwabara deadpanned. “At this rate, she’s going to ask you.”
“Hn. I don’t see the need for any of it.” Hiei threw out, still scanning the canopy and branches of the dark woods. “Who wants to be tied down anyway? And your woman is plenty bossy as is. Why formalize the arrangement?”
The other three men stared at him, then rolled their eyes to each other.
“Things aren’t going well with Mukuro?” Yusuke guessed, raising his eyebrows. “You’ve been coming back a lot more lately.”
“Mukuro and I aren’t involved.” Hiei repeated tersely, for the millionth time in his tenure. This conversation was becoming tiresome. “I just don’t understand your anxiety. Your woman and you live together. You sleep together. She’s obviously not going anywhere despite your constantly disappointing her. At this point, marriage would just be redundant.”
“Gee, thanks man.” Yusuke scowled at him. “You’re a real ray of sunshine.”
“Aren’t you late?” Hiei reminded him with a glare.
The fire demon cut his eyes to the trees again, brow pulling down. There is was again, the faintest tremor of the branches out of place. But when he scoured the shadows he came up empty again. This time, Kurama noticed and turned to him as Yusuke sprinted full bore across the park yelling out is goodbyes.
“What is it, Hiei?” Kurama focused his attention on the trees too.
“Did you pick up any unfamiliar scents?” Hiei asked, glancing at the redhead.
“No.” The fox demon shook his head slightly.
“Okay, well, you two are obviously about to do something weird and demony so I’m off.” Kuwabara waved at them. “I’ve got to finish studying anyway.”
“Actually, I’ll walk with you.” Kurama offered with a warm smile. “I promised Shizuru I would give her movie back the next time I saw you.”
They both turned to Hiei, but he was already gone.
“Does that bother you?” Kuwabara asked. “His little disappearing acts are sort of rude.”
“Hiei is off in his own world. It’s when I hear him I get concerned.” Kurama laughed.
The fire demon rolled his eyes, perched in the trees. Nothing. No aura, no demons, no energy signature. Nothing. But he knew someone had been here. He could feel it despite the lack of evidence. Someone had been here watching him and the others without being detected. The fact Kurama hadn’t noticed something was off was unusual. The fox was always in tune with his surroundings and could pick a demon out of a throng of humans with incredible accuracy every time.
So, maybe their spectator hadn’t been a demon? No. That seemed unlikely. A human wouldn’t have pulled off an escape in the time he’d taken to flicker from beside the others to the branch. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe it was something.
If they were being watched by someone adept enough to deceive the team, then it was likely the culprit would come back. He’d just be vigilant and wait for his chance to catch them in the act. Hiei’s lips pulled up in a malicious smirk.
Poor creature didn’t even know what fate they’d just resigned themselves too.
“Mikamoto, looking good today.”
Iruni didn’t even lift her eyes from the book she poured herself over, sitting by herself in the university cafeteria. “That’s not a compliment and I’m not interested in talking to you.”
“Sheesh, what a bitch.” The man rolled his eyes. “I’m trying to be nice to you.”
“No. You’re trying to get me to be nice to you.” She flipped a page. “We’re done, please go.”
He grumbled and walked away. Blue eyes cut to his back, narrowed, as she watched him walk from under the fringe of her dark bangs. Honestly, these people were the absolute worst. What an entitled group of cretins. Her eyes fell back to the page, her expression shifting back to neutral. Annoyed, she turned back to the previous page, realizing she couldn’t actually remember reading it. That’s what she got for staying out so late.
High tailing it away from the park had felt disgraceful, but there was no way she could survive a showdown with the Jaganshi at this point. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. Of all the members of the Rekai Tentai, he was the one she’d been diligently trying to avoid. Minamino thought nothing of her, they’d been in school together for years. The human boy, Kuwabara, seemed to have decent enough senses but her energy was low enough he never got disturbed by her presence. She’d put herself close to him a few times in crowds to be sure. Urameshi was too obtuse to care. But the Jaganshi, Hiei, he was a problem.
Which he’d proven when he’d tracked her into the woods the night before. She’d been so careful. Sitting up wind, forcing her energy to flicker out, being silent and still. Of course, it had taken him a while to notice her at all. That was promising. And he hadn’t immediately jumped to using his Jagan, a small blessing. But still, it had been too close and if she was going to get what she was after, she’d need to be cautious.
And everyone knows the best defense is a good offense.
That’s why she picked up her book and headed toward the lawn, aimed at a particular redhead under a large tree. Minamino looked innocuous enough if you didn’t know anything about him. Fair featured, startling red hair, intelligent green eyes and a kind smile. He spoke well, talked about his family fondly. His scores were always high and he seemed to study relentlessly. But Iruni knew better. She knew his secret and she pinned it under her tongue as she sat down beside him, her back straight.
Every member of the rag-tag team had a weakness, a break in their defenses. Kurama’s was his curiosity and his reliance on his senses. The idea of toying with his family never crossed her mind, his defenses were too substantial for threats. If she played her cards right she’d win his trust and his interest in her would continue on as benignly as ever.
“Don’t be mistaken. I’m not here to confess some ridiculous attraction to you.” She stated, eyes scanning over the courtyard as he looked over at her with an expectant expression. “You’ve been followed all day, I just thought I’d let you know. The man looks like someone with ill intent and I’d hate to see your mother crying on the news if something happened to you.”
Kurama blinked. Then he glanced over to the street where he noticed Hiei lurking. Green eyes moved back over to the woman who’d come to warn him of this apparent danger.
“He’s actually a friend of mine, but thank you for your concern Mikamoto.” He nodded his head. “Hiei does look a bit rough on the edges. So far you’re the first person to ever say something about it though.”
“There’s been a lot of disappearances lately. It would be a shame for something to happen because I didn’t speak up. Sorry for my mistake, all the same.” She glanced at Hiei, frowning.
“I’m surprised you noticed him, actually. Most people don’t.” Kurama looked over too.
“Maybe that’s why so many people are going missing.” She closed her eyes and stood up, unfurling herself as Hiei came to a stop a few feet away, his crimson eyes narrowed on her. If those were the only two he was using, she was fine. “Anyway, have a nice day. I’ll see you in class on Wednesday.”
She arched a wide curve around Hiei to avoid getting too close to him, her shoulders stiff as she hauled her bag high onto them. Kurama waited for her to go before explaining the situation.
“She has a point. If more humans were aware of their surroundings, they’d avoid trouble.” Hiei pointed out. Then with a bit of an edge he added. “She’s not another one of your suitors is she?”
“No. She very specifically told me she wasn’t.” Kurama rose and shouldered his bag. “Where did you run off to last night?”
Hiei told him. The redhead mulled over the information.
“Given the uprising in activity as of late, it’s good you checked it out. We’ll have to let the others know to be careful.” Kurama then checked his phone. “Oh, Yusuke didn’t propose last night.”
“He’s never going to.” Hiei rolled his eyes. “I’ve never seen someone so powerful beaten so thoroughly.”
Kurama chuckled. “Keiko does have a certain power over Yusuke, doesn’t she?”
“I don’t get it. If he wants to marry her, why is he dragging his feet? He should either do it or stop worrying about it.” Hiei grumped. “I’m tired of constantly hearing about his plans and schemes and them never amounting to anything.”
“He wants to do it right.”
“Perfectionism will get him nowhere.”
Kurama glanced at Hiei. “Would you be any different if it were you?”
“Of course. I would just handle the situation.” Hiei told him firmly.
“You would just propose the moment it occurred to you to do so?” Kurama tilted his head. “That’s rash, Hiei. Some things need to thought about.”
“If someone catches my interest enough for me to think that I want to stay beside them then I won’t hesitate to act on it.” Hiei shook his head.
Iruni paced her home. Thirty-eight steps from the kitchen sink to the couch in the living room. Back and forth. Arms behind her back, eyes narrowed in thought, she stalked from one side of the house to the other deliberately and yet totally lost to her surroundings.
He was coming, she could feel it.
She’d been biding her time, waiting for the right moment to get what was hers. She’d already located the sword once, but when she went to retrieve it from the old psychic on the mountain, it was gone. Now she had a suspicion of the location, but needed a plan. If she was correct, and she normally was, then she’d have to use the Spirit Detective and his team to her advantage.
Kurama was a start. Her warning did well with him. He’d seen it as an act of kindness from a quiet girl.
What she wanted to do was wait for the Jaganshi to disappear back to his side of the line so she could handle the rest of the team. It would be no problem for her to garner their trust and use it. But Hiei? Hiei would remain suspicious and there was no doubt he’d eventually turn that third eye to her and she’d be found out. All she needed was to put space between them.
But she didn’t have time to wait.
He was coming.
Stopping on the threshold of the living room she let her hands fall to her sides, her face lifting toward the ceiling.
With enough time, she could have carefully integrated herself. Then Hiei’s skepticism would have been dismissed as his own paranoia. Now, she’d have to work with shoehorning her way into the team’s trust. It was trickier. A higher risk. But the payout would be the same.
She needed the sword, they were the means to that end. She needed to get their attention on her in a positive way. She needed to become indispensable as fast as possible.
Her lips pulled up, revealing her teeth.
What they were going to need was an expert. How fortunate that no one was more qualified to fill that role than her. And in the meantime, she’d garner their attention with a little pawn.
“You’re saying we were followed?” Yusuke rubbed his neck as he spoke to Kurama. “And Hiei couldn’t catch the guy?”
“They had already fled according to him.” Kurama nodded.
“Why isn’t shorty here to tell us this?” Kuwabara demanded.
“I am here.” Hiei announced himself, making Kuwabara jump with a grimace. “Idiot. You just learned someone is watching us. Be more aware.”
“Don’t take it out on Kuwabara that someone is faster than you.” Yusuke warned Hiei. “It’s not his fault this guy got away.”
“Hn. Don’t you have a woman to disappoint?” Hiei grumped at Yusuke, shoulders hunching. “Isn’t there some ridiculous date you need to be on?”
“Don’t drag Keiko into your temper tantrum.” Yusuke rolled his eyes. “But yeah, I do gotta meet her for a movie. Kurama said this was important though so I told her I had to come.”
“Her purse must be heavy with your balls locked inside.” Hiei noted dryly, earning a glare.
“I’m sure it’s this way.”
The voice cut through the conversation before Yusuke could snap back his response at the shorter demon. Hiei dared him to, all the same, bowing up to the taller man before they all looked over at the two women stumbling out of the trees.
“See? I told you.” Iruni straightened her shirt, squaring her shoulders. Her eyes moved over to the team.
“Mikamoto?” Kurama blinked in surprise. “What are you doing wandering around this time of night? It’s not safe.”
“I can handle myself.” She told him, picking a bit of leaf from her shoulder and flicking it to the ground.
The woman who walked up to her side stood several inches taller than she did, hair a tangle of wild blonde curls. Sharp nails bore chipped polish. She carried the distinct aura of a demon around her, eyes scanning the team. Her fear of them was obvious as she stepped back to stand behind the human girl who seemed none the wiser of her companion’s heritage.
All four men narrowed their gazes on the demoness, who flitted her attention between them and the human who’d been walking with her.
“Say, Minamino, have you seen any fireflies?” Iruni stepped forward with her innocent question, her exasperation obvious. “Shikari has never seen them. I’ve been hoping to find some to show her.”
“No. I haven’t.” Kurama shook his head. “You’ve been wandering the woods together?”
“Safety in numbers.” She nodded.
“Hn. Humans.” Hiei muttered, rolling his eyes away. “They have no sense of self-preservation.”
Iruni flicked her gaze to him, then back to Kurama.
“I think what he means is, you were just warning me about being safe earlier today. For you to wander around the woods at night seems a bit hypocritical, even if you have a friend with you.” Kurama looked passed Iruni to Shikari, who seemed to shrink under his attention. “There are all sorts of dangers in those trees. I’d hate for you to get hurt.”
Iruni turned to look at Shikari over her shoulder, a cool expression in place. Then she looked back at the four men, eyes bouncing from each of them to the next. After a moment she shook her head with a chuckle.
“You’re all so tense.” She remarked. “It’s like you’re waiting to be attacked. I hadn’t realized two women could be so scary.”
The statement eased them a little. Yusuke spoke up. “Nah, we were just surprised by you two popping up out of nowhere. Can’t be too careful, right?”
“Of course. I’m sorry we startled you.” She bobbed her head to his words. “Well, we’ll be on our way. If you happen to see any fireflies, please let me know. I’m dying to show them to Shikari.”
And with the demoness in tow, she walked by the team without seeming to notice the aura of the fighters.
“Your friend has unusual taste.” Hiei glanced at Kurama. “Do you think she realizes her companion could have easily killed her in those trees?”
“Doubtful. She didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. She didn’t react to us either and I was intentionally letting my energy increase.” Kurama shook his head. “She noticed you earlier, but I think she’s merely observant. Maybe a little sensitive like Shizuru. But the demon with her didn’t seem to be dangerous towards her.”
“No, but she sure as hell knew who we were. Did you see her face?” Yusuke frowned. “She looked like she’d seen something terrible when they came out. Maybe she pulled back because of us.”
“No, that’s not it.” Kuwabara stared after the two women. “I don’t know if it was us she was afraid of.”
The others looked at him. Hiei was the one who spoke up, annoyed.
“Idiot. What else would it have been?”
Kuwabara remained quiet, but troubled. The demon had definitely stepped behind the girl when she noticed them. But it wasn’t the act of someone using a human shield to protect themselves. It looked like the way a child might hide behind their parent. The girl never changed, never faltered when she saw them. It was like she wasn’t surprised at all. But the demon was. He turned to look at the direction they walked off in again, brows pulled down. The others wouldn’t believe him if he said it, seeing as how the girl’s aura was nonexistent.
But that was the thing that he had noticed about her. It wasn’t that she had low energy. It was that there was nothing to her aura at all. When she’d walked passed he’d been looking for it, any flicker around her. But a vacuum surrounded her, an intentional emptiness, engulfing empitness.
He’d never seen anything like it before.
“Maybe the SDF would be a better choice, sir.” Botan played with her ponytail nervously, running her hand over the strands of cerulean blue repeatedly. “If it really is him, then shouldn’t we send them instead?”
“No. I think it would be better if the team handled it.” Koenma poured over the papers on his desk, reading through the reports. “It’s on Human World territory and if we send in the SDF it could cause a fight. You know how Yusuke gets.”
“But sir.” She protested, frowning. “This is bad.”
“It might get worse.” He admitted, sighing heavily. “With the artifacts, he’ll be nearly impossible to stop. Honestly, the team is our only choice. They’re stronger than the SDF, especially as a unit.”
“I don’t like it.”
“You don’t have to.” Koenma’s eyebrow twitched. “Just get the case to them, Botan. That’s an order.”
Chapter 2: Calculated Risks
In which the team is put on a case hunting a demon thought long dead, Iruni presses forward with her plans to become indispensable and Hiei loses his temper and a fight.
Yusuke squirmed in his seat, annoyed with the sudden call and for having to host as usual. These freeloaders always ate all of his good food. Well, most of them. Kurama always brought snacks to share. At least their illustrious brat king wasn’t making a physical appearance or his pantry would be done for. Who knew a toddler could pack away so much food?
Botan held open a laptop with Koenma’s face on it, her anxiety as clear as day in the way her shaking hands gripped the device. The others all lounged around the apartment in various states of interest. Hiei glared out the window, bitter he’d been drug here for another waste of his time. If he’d slept in the park instead of at Kurama’s this wouldn’t have happened, but the threat of rain kept him indoors. Kurama sat on the couch near Yusuke, legs crossed at the knees, hands folded neatly in his lap. Kuwabara lazed on the floor between them, legs stretched out under the coffee table, hands full of a can of soda and some chips as he snacked.
“What’s the deal, pacifier breath?” Yusuke griped. “You sent Botan screaming down here just to make us wait?”
“No.” Koenma let his shoulders fall. “I have a case for you. I think it might be a decent challenge.”
“An artifact was recently stolen from our vault. A set of armor that can make the user nearly invincible while enhancing their strength. The demon who claims to have it is already quite powerful and possibly equipped with several other weapons. I need you to retrieve the armor and attempt to arrest them.” Koenma explained matter-of-factly.
“Arrest?” Kurama perked up. “Why?”
“They may have information pertinent to another problem I’m working on.” He told the fox demon easily. “I suspect they are connected to the missing humans.”
“What are the other weapons? Who is the demon?” Yusuke waved his hand in the air. “You’re not giving us a lot of info, here.”
“The demon wields a sword that can conjure flames and is quite destructive. In recent reports it appears he’s amassed a bit of a cult following, and they’ve been attacking humans for food. Reports of poisons being used as well.” The Spirit Prince explained. “But we don’t know how many followers he actually has ascertained, or what their goal is. That’s why I want him brought in alive if at all possible.”
“Sir.” Botan glanced at the screen.
Yusuke noticed the edge to her voice, the paleness of her face.
“Who is it?” Yusuke demanded. “I notice you haven’t given up a name. Botan looks like she’s about to have a stroke.”
Koenma stiffened and grumbled. “The demon goes by the name Amon-Shinpi.”
Kurama tilted his head toward the screen.
“I was under the impression the Takani Clan had all died.” He offered, a dangerous cut in his voice.
“You know about this guy?” Kuwabara craned his head back to look at the redhead, mouthful of chips allowing crumbs to fall as he spoke.
“Not much. Just that Amon-Shinpi was known as a formidable demon back in his day. He was a part of a small clan who ruled their own small slice of Makai. He’s said to have been undefeated until his death at the hands of another demon who wanted his power.” Kurama explained. “It’s possible that the battle ended with him just being injured.”
“Sounds like another waste. This one can’t possibly be stronger than us.” Hiei noted. “What’s the point?”
“Hiei! If this is really Amon-Shinpi you should take it seriously. This demon fought against Mukuro you know.” Botan chided him. “Twice.”
That earned his attention, his eyes moving over to her to assess if she was telling the truth. A demon who fought against Mukuro and survived? Once may have accounted for luck or her mercy, but twice? That was an accomplishment.
“Fine.” He allowed. “But if this is a disappointment, I’m taking it out on you.”
His eyes were fixed to the screen to indicate Koenma as the recipient of his temper.
“Honestly, I hope it is. Our historical records suggest Amon-Shinpi could be quite brutal and was incredibly strong. Not to mention highly intelligent. If this is your opponent, you might want to stay on your toes.”
“Could he cloak his presence?” Hiei wondered aloud.
“It’s a possibility.”
The team each exchanged looks with one another and then nodded.
“You got it, we’re on the case.” Yusuke offered a thumbs up and then slammed his fist into his palm. “This guy has no way of getting passed the four of us.”
Iruni shouldered her bag higher as she crested the steps that lead up to the temple. A small line of sweat fell down her neck, an annoyance. The air seemed a bit cooler up here, a welcomed breeze dancing around her skin and through her ponytail. Closing her eyes she enjoyed it for a moment, then turned her face up to clear sky.
The soft call caught her attention, turning her eyes toward the young woman in a yellow dress. Aquamarine hair pulled back over her shoulders with a matching yellow ribbon, crimson eyes dancing with light.
“Are you here to see Genkai?” Yukina asked and Iruni nodded, noting the basket in her hands. She seemed to be struggling to hold it.
“I’m early.” Iruni explained. “May I help you?”
“Oh, I couldn’t ask yo-“ Yukina’s gentle dismissal was ignored, the basket carefully removed from her hands. Iruni’s fingers brushed hers in the movement, a small contact, but it triggered some recognition in the demoness anyway. “You know, I’ve never been able to shake the idea that we’ve known each other a long time, Iruni.”
“It does feel like a lifetime, doesn’t it?” Iruni nodded following the other woman toward the clothes line.
Blue eyes cut over her shoulder, her expression falling into a snarl as she dropped the basket and rolled out of the way. Hiei landed where she’d been standing, pure bloodlust on his face as he stared at her. Schooling herself not to react to the waves of malice and fury rolling off of him was a feat.
Yukina blinked at him, alarmed by his sudden and hostile entrance. “Are you alright?”
He growled, not taking his eyes off of Iruni, not offering an answer.
Iruni raised an eyebrow at him as she gauged the way he faced her. Did he really see her as a threat? What had changed in the two days since the park? Had he used his Jagan and found her out?
No. If he had he would’ve known who she was and wouldn’t be hesitating to approach her. He was on high alert for another reason, but what had tripped this reaction? She stole a glance at Yukina, then back to the fire demon as she straightened out, moving to step in front of the ice maiden.
She’d narrowed it down to two possible scenarios, either Hiei was furious because an unknown entity had come to close to Yukina, or he wanted the ice maiden for himself. Either way, the plan would be the same. Iruni would do whatever it took to keep her plan in action, even face Hiei in a pointless fight. But more than that, she would defend Yukina with her very life.
“Yukina, go inside. I won’t let him hurt you.” Iruni stepped one leg back, assuming a fighting stance.
“Wait.” Yukina moved to get between them but Iruni pushed her back, carefully remaining in front, acting as a guard.
Yukina was one of the few beings still alive Iruni would actually fight for. She owed the koorime a debt that had yet to be repaid. While defending her might throw Hiei off her trail, if his intention was also to protect the ice apparition, that was aside from the fact she’d have done it anyway. Something dark entered her eyes as she squared off with the fire demon and he saw it.
For the first time, Hiei really looked at her. Even through her blouse her muscles were prominent. The billowy long sleeves helped to hide them, but there they were. Her stance reeked of training. The look in her blue eyes had darkened them to indigo and behind the gaze he recognized the mind of a trained fighter.
Perhaps even a killer.
His lips lifted in a baring of his teeth that was partially a smirk and mostly a snarl.
“That’s an intense expression for a little human girl who has wandered too far from home.” Hiei acknowledged.
“Watch who you call little.” She told him coolly.
He flickered, appearing behind her with a raised hand. When he lowered it to strike her on the back of the neck she twisted away her knee slamming into his stomach with enough force to send him back a step.
In a full-fledged fight, she’d never win. Not now. But Hiei was holding back, she could tell. His energy was barely out. He still viewed her as human and as long as that was the case she might be able to win. All she had to do was let him underestimate her until the right moment presented itself.
Either his team would show him and stop him or she’d gain the upper hand.
Her eyes narrowed as she jumped back when he stepped forward, keeping space between them. Landing on her toes, she raised her fists. The look on Hiei’s face turned malicious, the eyes of a predator enjoying dancing with his prey lighting his face. Were she a lesser being, she might’ve had the sense to be afraid. But she didn’t have time for petty things like fear. Not when her goals were so close.
Not when Yukina still hadn’t gone into the damned temple to get Genkai.
Hiei’s biggest weaknesses were his pride and his tendency to assume his strength could resolve everything. If she managed to beat him, she’d be facing his temper for certain. But also his curiosity. Being beaten by a human woman would be a huge blow, one he’d want to deal back when he could. Even now, she could see it on his face that her hit had bothered him.
He would keep coming at her until he won, normally this would assure him victory. Unfortunately, she’d seen him fight before.
The fire demon didn’t know it, but he’d already lost.
“Back off.” She warned him. “I already told you, I won’t let you hurt her.”
“I’m not interested in hurting Yukina. Right now I’m interested in hurting you.” Hiei pointed out, rolling his shoulders and then his neck.
She had enough time to question his use of the ice apparition’s name before he blurred again, moving to strike her from behind. Iruni shook her head, not falling for his feign as he appeared in front of her this time. She side stepped his attack and this is how they continued for a few minutes. The team was around them soon, watching with fascination as she kept her defenses in place. She hadn’t been able to strike him again, but she’d also managed to deftly avoided any of his attacks.
“Hiei, are you really fighting a girl?” Kuwabara complained. “Come on, man, have some class.”
Hiei didn’t seem to hear him as he sped up, and this time his punch landed on Iruni’s abdomen, sending her flying back. She hit the ground and rolled before pushing herself back to her feet. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth but she raised her fists again, planting her feet even as her bones seemed to shake in her body.
“Stay down.” Hiei demanded. “Another hit like that and I’ll kill you.”
“It’s good that I don’t intend to allow another.” She pointed out, a grin growing.
Hiei stared at her, his teeth grinding together. Who did this mouthy woman think she was? Fine. She wanted to die? So be it. He drew his sword and she eyed the weapon without so much as a single ounce of fear.
“You’re all the same. Overconfident in your own abilities.” Hiei told her, rushing forward.
“Hiei!” The entire team yelled his name.
“You can’t kill her!” Yusuke reminded him.
“What happened?” Kurama turned to Yukina, who explained Hiei’s sudden appearance and the ensuing fight. “Ah, so they both believe they are defending you.”
“Hiei, I think there’s been a misunderstanding.” Kurama called. “Mikamoto wasn’t here to harm Yukina.”
Hiei ignored him too. He sped at the woman while she dodged his initial swing, ready to slice into her stomach. She stopped suddenly. The blade cut through her shirt as she pivoted her body, her arms wrapping around his as she shifted her stance and sent him flying over her head. Panting, she smirked at him, watching as he lay stunned on the ground.
“What was it you said before? Stay down?” She tossed the words back at the demon, eyes gleaming.
Hiei didn’t present any warning, his was just suddenly there. His sword thrust where Iruni’s chest had been, his mind screaming for blood. How dare she? HOW DARE SHE?
“Perhaps before tossing out insults about overconfidence, you should be honest with yourself over your own capabilities.” Iruni offered evenly, crouching on Hiei’s sword with a neutral expression. A small pocket knife pressed against his forehead, the blade angled toward his Jagan eye. Blood spilled to the ground from her hand as she gripped the sword’s blade to steady herself. “Don’t move or you’ll get cut. You’ll have only yourself to blame.”
Hiei shook in his rage, jaw locked, eyes radiating the fire brewing inside of him as he stared at Iruni. Her gaze back was cool, even, yet still carried a certain darkness to it. Her own anger buried under layers of careful masks.
“I’m going to back off now. Don’t attack me again.”
“Don’t give me orders you foul little-“
“Hiei!” Yukina ran over. “What are you doing? You could’ve killed her! Are you alright Iruni?”
“I’m fine, Yukina. Thank you.” The woman nodded, unmoving. “Please back away. I don’t want you caught up in this one’s temper.”
“Hiei would never hurt me.” Yukina sighed. “I was trying to tell you that from the beginning.”
Iruni let go of the sword and slipped off of it, pocketing the knife and backing away from the fire demon slowly, her eyes never leaving him.
“You can’t stay out of trouble, can you?” Genkai’s voice rang over the group of them. They were surprised to see her staring at the blue eyed woman. “Did you have to drag it here with you?”
“I thought you might get bored with me otherwise, Master Genkai.” Iruni bowed her head slightly. “Apologies for the commotion.”
“Don’t apologize unless you mean it, Mikamoto. Get inside. Your tea is ready.” Genkai then looked at the others, who stared wordless. “You all might as well come too. I have a feeling you’re all after the same thing.”
“Jasmine with milk and honey?” Iruni turned her back on Hiei completely, offering the old woman a warm smile.
“Naturally.” Genkai nodded and started moving toward the door as the other woman caught up with her.
“Wait, wait, wait. You two know each other?” Yusuke ran to catch up with them in the entry hall. He moved his eyes between the two women. “How? When? Why?”
Iruni glanced at him, but didn’t answer. Genkai looked at the woman over her shoulder, then let her eyes rove toward Yusuke.
“We met when Sensui almost destroyed the barrier.” Genkai explained easily. “She’d encountered a problem around that time and needed my help.”
Iruni nodded, taking a seat across from Genkai at the table that had been set up for them. Posture perfect, she accepted her tea as Yukina offered it and tossed a dazzling smile at the youkai. “As always, thank you, Yukina.”
Hiei visibly bristled at the display. Kuwabara and Yusuke both edged away from the demon, keeping themselves out of immediate striking range.
“I hadn’t realized you were sensitive.” Kurama turned his attention to his classmate, mentally flipping back through years of their interactions.
“I’m not. That’s not why I came.” She shook her head, then frowned as she picked at the cut in her shirt. Not saying anything, but her face expressing all of her disappointment, she lifted the teacup and sipped. Her gaze fell on Kuwabara though, having to cut to the side to see him as her head tilted just slightly to the side as if she were listening to something far away.
He swallowed, not quite sure what to call the sensation pricking at his nape. It wasn’t fear, exactly. But again, even as his eyes strained he couldn’t pick up her aura. Only the intense emptiness where her energy should have been. And she’d caught him staring, fixing him with that look that sent his senses reeling.
Then her lips lifted, her eyes moving away without addressing the situation at all.
“So, what are you doing here?” Yusuke demanded of the woman, slamming his hand on the table and resting his other fist on his hip.
“I made an appointment.” She told him coarsely, eyes pinching slightly. “Which, perhaps, you should have thought to do.”
“Fat chance of that.” Genkai snorted. “Yusuke doesn’t think about anything until it’s happening. He’s a creature of pure instinct and came here without calling, as usual.”
“Yeah, well, this is important business grandma.” The half demon turned to face the old psychic. “And don’t pretend you’re bothered by me popping by.”
“Popping by would imply you didn’t have to take a train to get here.” Genkai snapped at him. “Now shut up and sit down. Mikamoto is right, she made an appointment. And she was here first.”
“This is ridiculous.” Hiei muttered, rolling his eyes. “We’re on a timeline.”
“If you’d all stop griping like children, I would be able to ask my questions and go.” Iruni closed her eyes, sipping the tea as a chill entered her tone.
Hiei snapped his gaze to her, lips curling back over his teeth. “You might not want to run your mouth.”
“I haven’t heard anything new.” Genkai ignored Hiei and fixed her attention on the woman across from her.
“I have.” Iruni sighed, pulling her hair down from her ponytail and allowing it fall around her in a cascade of black ink, her fingers running through the strands to pick out the debris her match with Hiei had left behind. “However, I’m concerned with what I learned. I wanted your advice. I met a woman who told me she thought she knew who had the sword. Naturally I was overjoyed at first. But she implied it was a demon, a strong one. I’m not sure how to proceed.”
“You don’t. Hiei was going easy on you and you barely managed to survive. My advice is to forget about it.” Genkai sipped her own tea, the callous statement falling easily from her lips. “Even you have your limits.”
“I had a feeling you’d say that.” Iruni’s gaze softened, warmed as she stared at her hands, folded neatly on the table now. Then her fingers tightened as she interlaced them. “But I can’t help but feel like I need to see him with my own eyes. I want to see the face of the demon who stole from me.”
“Did you get a name?” Genkai seemed to think she knew the answer.
“I did, but I don’t believe its accurate. From the lens of my research at least.” Iruni let her hands relax. “The name I was given was Amon-Shinpi, but I have no reason to believe that to be true. It’s likely an imposter.”
“Likely?” Genkai barely smiled, but seemed amused none the less.
“How do you know that name?” Kurama asked her, walking around so he could view Iruni’s face while he questioned her. “And more than that, how do you know anything about demons?”
“I’m a descendent of one.” As lightly as the truth flew from her lips, it landed with a thud on the minds of each of the men in the room. “My great-great grandmother, Kuya, was a demon. According to family lore, that is, and Genkai helped me to verify it.”
Kurama glanced to Genkai who nodded, acknowledging the truth in the words.
“So, how do you know about Amon-Shinpi?” Kurama’s gaze probed her, searching for lies.
Perfect. She had to fight the urge to smile, her plan clicking into place perfectly, even with the heavy heat of Hiei’s gaze beating against her back. She might be sore tomorrow, but she’d be on her way to the last stages of this plot.
“I came across the name in my research. When I searched through my ancestry and came across my demonic heritage, I dove into all the books I could find. I wanted to learn everything I could about demons, their world, their habits. That led me to Master Genkai. She was able to help me confirm my lineage and verify some of the information I’d learned.” Iruni explained, allowing one hand to gesture in the air, her face carefully neutral.
Whether it was her story or the fact he couldn’t sense the lies, she couldn’t say, but Kurama looked bothered.
“Unfortunately, all the works I’d gathered were destroyed in the fire a few years ago. It’s all up here now.” Iruni tapped her temple. “But my mind is a steel trap.”
“Which only makes you more hard headed.” Genkai complained. “I’ve warned her off this path several times and she insists she can handle it.”
“Not like anyone is going to miss me if something happens.” Iruni laughed, a slightly bitter sound.
Kurama frowned, suddenly remembering the fire she mentioned. Tidbits that had scattered through his memory about this woman rushed back, and he pieced together her history with them. She’d always been a quiet, reserved girl. She played violin when they were in grade school. She also participated in cross country and archery. They’d gone to different high schools, losing contact.
Not that he would have reached out to her, they’d rarely spoken.
But he did recall seeing her family name mentioned in the paper a few years before. A terrible incident. Her mother had been stabbed to death by her estranged husband, who then attempted to burn the house to the ground with Iruni still inside. It was something that had stuck out to him, the name familiar but too distant for him to really care.
Now as he looked at the way she studied her empty teacup, he realized he wasn’t the only one who had thought that way. Even now, in the last semester of college as they were, she had no friends he could name. No associations. A life devoid of connections, except apparently Genkai and Yukina.
Is that why she threw herself into the fray to protect the ice maiden? Is that why she didn’t seem in a hurry to leave? She was enduring his questions with uncharacteristic tolerance.
“So the books are destroyed. That sucks.” Yusuke complained, tossing his head back. “We really could have used them.”
“Why?” Iruni squinted at him.
“We’re looking for this asshole too. Our sources seem to think it might actually be Amon-Shinpi for real.” The team leader didn’t bother looking at her, his attention moving to his mentor. “You don’t have copies here, do you? I thought old bats like you kept copies of everything just in case.”
“Idiot. They weren’t my books. I don’t have anything on the subject here. It’s too obscure.” Genkai snapped at him. “Why would I have a book on one particular demon out of the millions?”
“Don’t bite my head off, grandma!” Yusuke yelled back at her. “It was just a question.”
“A stupid question, as usual. Ask Koenma for information. I’m not a damn library.” Genkai glared at her pupil.
Iruni sat back in her chair, her eyes scanning over them. Every word devoured and locked away. Her scrutiny brought her to Kurama’s face and she didn’t hide her interest from him. Let him see it, it would only make her seem more genuine. If she seemed curious, caught off guard, it would help.
“I’ve been trying to recreate my notes.” She announced, blinking at Yusuke. “I hadn’t quite gotten to Amon-Shinpi yet, but I can try to write out what I remember tonight. Shuichi can retrieve the notes from me tomorrow and give them to you, if that’s alright. I can’t guarantee they’ll help very much though.”
Yusuke stopped mid-insult, mouth still hanging open. “Really?”
She nodded and then a dangerous glint entered her eyes. “Well, on a condition, that is.”
“A condition?” Kurama frowned, glancing at Genkai.
The old woman looked bothered, but it was more annoyance and frustration than fear. She knew what was about to be asked and didn’t like it, but not for the reasons he had suspected. That was interesting.
“If I’m right, you’re looking for the information because you intend to fight.” Iruni told them. “I want to come with you.”
“No.” Hiei was the one who answered, sliding off the window sill to walk over to the others. “I won’t be put in charge of babysitting another useless waste like her. She’d only be good for bait. Although-“
“Hey man, just because she embarrassed you doesn’t mean you get to be a dick.” Kuwabara glared at the shorter mon.
“It’s bad enough you’ll be coming. We don’t need another distraction.” Hiei scoffed, crimson eyes boring into the woman in question. “Genkai is right. I barely tried and almost killed her. Imagine if someone without restraint got ahold of her.”
“Well, consider it.” Iruni shrugged.
“You said this demon stole from you. What did he take?” Yusuke eyed the woman. His suspicion showed in the way he squinted at her, getting too close to her face.
“A family heirloom. A sword.” She told him dully. “I’ve been looking for it for ages. It went missing after the fire.”
“Sword?” Kuwabara tapped his chin. “It didn’t have any weird magical abilities did it?”
“It’s a sword.” Iruni rolled her eyes. “It was just an old sword in a red scabbard that belonged to my great grandfather. It’s sentimental to me.”
Genkai raised an eyebrow at the bold honesty in those words. And these boys were eating it up. Of course they were. Idiots. She had to commend Iruni though, on her talent for bending words to her will. All the information she gave them was easily assessable if they knew where to look, and therefore worthless. But she made it sound like she was divulging powerful secrets to confidants.
But one thing was certain, she was right, if she faced this threat alone she’d likely die. Her energy was still a gaping hole at this point and she didn’t seem to be in a hurry to alter that. Genkai had offered a handful of times to help her unlock her power, and each time was refused.
“I’ll write the notes either way.” She stood and pressed the lines out of her slacks, once again toying with the cut in her shirt with a grimace. “Just let me know your answer.”
“There are other ways to get what we need.” Hiei spoke, the dangerous edge to his brusque voice trailing behind the woman as she walked away. “We don’t actually need you.”
“Oh, that’s right, here.” Yukina rushed over to Iruni and handed her a few pieces of parchment. Crimson eyes traced the shape of the wards. “Genkai prepared these for you as you asked.”
“My sincerest thanks.” Iruni bowed her head to Genkai then smiled at Yukina. Her eyes scanned over to Hiei, the papers in her hands tipping down. “Well, good luck with your other options.”
She’d done it on purpose, let him see the wards against psychic invasions. Against his Jagan. His fist curled in his pockets, his glower fixed on where she’d been standing.
“May I walk you out, Mikamoto?” Kurama rushed to follow her out, walking passed the agitated demon to do so.
“If you insist.” Her tone had returned to the cool, casual tone she normally used as she stepped to the side allowing Kurama to lead the way.
But Hiei didn’t miss the slight smirk that crossed her face as she turned away, following at the fox’s heels like a trained dog.
“Why did she need wards?” Hiei demanded immediately, turning to face Genkai. “You’ve just armed a potential enemy.”
“Mikamoto isn’t interested in fighting you. She’s not an enemy.” Genkai told him. “Stubborn, yes, but not inherently evil.”
“I would have liked to judge her for myself.” Hiei growled at her. “Were the seals your idea or hers?”
“Hers. But I think they were a suggestion from another friend after her encounter with your group the other day. Shikari is a flighty creature, prone to rolling over and showing her belly at the first sign of trouble.” Genkai explained.
Hiei thought about that. “The blonde woman. Yes, I remember her. She was petrified of us. So, that foul woman accepts the advice of skittish apparitions?”
“I’m sure you’ll get your chance to judge her when Yusuke inevitably accepts her offer to help.” Genkai thumbed toward her pupil, as he stood with his hands on his hips, a grin growing on his face. “He’s already got that dumbass smile on.”
Hiei had to agree. Only trouble would follow now. But he didn’t miss the way the old psychic deftly avoided answering his question. Genkai’s protection of the woman earned his interest. If nothing else, that meant she was worth watching. The rest was going to be a waiting game at this point.
Chapter 3: The Cusp
In which the team accepts Iruni's help and her plan gets put into motion.
A/N: So, I'm in the process of moving and its an utter nightmare, but this has been a good distraction. I have chapter 4 prewritten as well, and it's a bit of a change. I wrote it from Iruni's perspective entirely. I don't regularly write in first person but I felt like it was a good choice for the content and to get to know her character a bit more and her motives. Anyway. Also I'm working with better way to do break between scenes, since AO3 is still new to me.
Kurama walked beside Iruni over the expanse of the temple's lawn. The laundry basket from earlier lay forgotten a few yards away, disregarded in the heat of battle, most of the clothes still inside. He paused to note the impression in the grass from where Iruni had been thrown. The back of her shirt bore stains of brown and green from the impact. Blades of green wilted to brown, likely where Hiei had landed and his rage had grown palpable.
"Dangerous company you keep." Iruni earned his attention, standing at the top of the stone steps. Her study of him was careful, precise, but also detached. "I'm surprised. I had always taken you for a milder personality."
"It seems we both have our secrets." Kurama allowed with a smile. "I would have never taken you for someone with demonic lineage."
"Because I'm not like your friend." She stated this as fact, not a question, blue eyes flicking toward the temple where the others waited. "You can relax if you're worried about it. I'm not a mazoku. Genkai has already done her tests on me. They came up empty."
For reasons she wouldn't disclose. The old woman alone knew her secret and it would remain that way until it absolutely could not. It would have been hard for her to be half-demon and containing a demon's spirit all at once. Though she bet it would have sent Spirit World into a panicked flurry if it had been the case. Sardonic amusement flitted over her face for a moment at the idea of it, but died away quickly.
"Were you hoping to be?" Kurama tilted his head to ask the question, and despite his best effort his curiosity didn't ring innocence.
She saw the guarded malice underneath his surface. Precise, careful, intelligent and cold Kurama. Ready to defend his friends. Ready to fight. She shrugged and closed her eyes, folding her hands behind her head as she began her descent.
He joined her in seconds, matching her stride easily.
"I think they'll decide to let you come." He told her after a few more moments of silence. "After all, it sounds like you have information we desperately need. Although, I might advise you to avoid using those."
He tapped the parchments in her hands with a sly smile.
"Hiei doesn't appreciate being thwarted, and you doing it twice in a day won't win you any points with him." Kurama explained when she crooked a questioning eyebrow.
"What do these have to do with him?" Iruni squinted at the fox, coming to a stop two steps behind him. It allowed her to look down at his face unobscured.
And Kurama seemed to realize his mistake as soon as she'd spoken, his eyes widening only for a nanosecond before he shook his head and waved a hand to dismiss her question. His noncommittal deference only caused her to tip her head to the side. For a moment, he'd forgotten that just because she'd encountered Hiei didn't mean she knew about the Jagan. He'd simply assumed that was the need for the talismans.
Now he struggled to answer her question without possibly giving up valuable information, while also trying to discern if she was tricking him or not.
Why did she need psychic protection wards if not to use against Hiei?
Iruni watched him flounder with wary amusement. She probably shouldn't be toying with them this way, not when she was trying to earn their trust, but she couldn't help it. How many chances did one get to pull one over on Kurama of all demons? Of course the wards were to protect her from Hiei.
But for just a moment, she got to see Kurama look uncertain and it was a treat.
"Tell me about your friend, Shikari." He deflected her question with a warm smile, rubbing the back of his neck.
Her eyes traced the movement, knowing full well what he was doing but unable to let him see it. Part of her tensed, waiting for the rose to appear in his fingertip when his hand fell away. But it didn't. So she stepped down to his side once more and continued to walk, chatting easily, but without offering too much. The basics that could be verified without too much effort. That she and Shikari had met a few years before. That Shikari offered her information about Demon World and helped her find this missing heirloom.
Kurama listened with rapt attention, not bothering to disguise his genuine interest. It made it deceptively easy to speak to him, when he prompted her so gently with his questions. But still, Iruni locked herself up, her guard higher than his charm could reach.
"And Yukina? How did you two meet?"
"She saved my life, but I doubt she thinks of it as such." Iruni's expression softened considerably, her eyes fixed on a distant memory as she smiled.
That precious little girl with a heart of gold, despite her frigid upbringing. A treasure to behold. The ice maiden reminded Iruni of her own sister who had long before died. That intense, radiating innocence. There was no defense against that power and only two things came of it: you wanted to protect it or you wanted to crush it.
Her mind took her to a lifetime before, when she'd been wayward and struck. The child's kindness had thawed her heart for a moment and she'd never forget that. She had yet to repay the woman still, but she was working on it. One thing at a time.
"I'd like to hear more of that story someday." Kurama offered her a smile full of kindness.
Iruni's heart skipped a beat, her blood running cold as her confusion grew at the expression. A genuine smile, full of warmth and interest. From Kurama? Was this a trick? Her eyes fell to the ground as her mind raced to connect dots that were nowhere near each other. Kindness was unexpected from this one, especially of the genuine variety. She'd been prepared for a polite yet one-sided interrogation, not an actual conversation.
"Maybe we could talk more." She responded carefully. "After this business is done."
He nodded as their feet landed on the cobblestones at the base of the steps. His hands carefully hidden in his pockets.
Readying an attack? No. Not here, he'd have done it where the others could have come quickly. A habit, then. Her adrenaline slowed as quickly as it appeared. She waited for him to say something, crossing an arm behind her back to grab her other forearm, watching his face without much of an expression.
A gentle breeze swept between them, curling through their hair and around their bodies. A secret for her to keep, as a distant memory came along with the tendrils of wind, and with it confidence in her abilities. If Kurama did attack, she could deflect it. His speed wasn't nearly as impressive as Hiei's and despite his reputation, he was quite the humanitarian.
"I'll hold you to that." He told her with warmth that glittered in his eyes.
Her cheeks colored, pink rising up despite herself. So this was the Shuichi all the women flocked toward. She could feel the pull. His eyes sparkled with good intentions, his soothing voice telling of his gentle nature. And yet, she felt this was a trap. A way to undermine her obvious defenses. So she narrowed her eyes and lifted her chin.
This one was far too charming but she was too stubborn for fall for his tricks.
"You'd be lucky to hold me at all." She snorted the quip then widened her eyes in surprise at herself.
Kurama laughed. "You've got more spirit than you let on."
He had no idea how right he was. But she was glad her mistake hadn't cost her anything important, merely an embarrassed flush and some pride.
"Did you want my address?" She tilted her head then, a smile tugging at the edge of her mouth. "Or perhaps my personal number, Shuichi?"
"Are we on a first name basis now?" He pulled a pen and paper from his pocket, ever the prepared one. "Seems forward of you, Iruni."
"You didn't know? Once you share your evil ancestry with someone you are immediately on a first name basis." She told him dryly, writing out the information and he laughed again. "I'll work on the notes tonight."
"Thank you." He nodded, accepting her offering with a brush of long fingers over her own.
Iruni left him then, turning on heel and glancing back to make sure he'd not bothered to follow her. Her back remained straight until she got to the train where she was sure she was alone. There she let the pain of the fight show, wincing as she touched her bruised shoulder. She was lucky it was still in the socket, the impact of her fall had been intense. And the graze of Hiei's sword had let a mark on her stomach. Bruised ribs, aching joints and a pounding head.
Genkai was right. She'd barely survived that fight. Annoyed, she pressed her head against the cool glass of the train as it rushed down the tracks back toward the city. It helped ease the throbbing growing in her skull. Clutching the wards tighter in her fist, she closed her eyes.
Underprepared and severely outclassed. But Kurama seemed confident they'd allow her to come. She only had to get there. After that, their advantage over her wouldn't matter anymore.
Once she got that sword, it would all be worth it.
"Clever fox." Hiei smirked, amused by Kurama's antics as usual, as he paced down the street with the team two days later. "Or should I say, foolish woman?"
"I wouldn't in such a hurry to call Mikamoto a fool, Hiei. She has obviously been far more aware than we gave her credit for." Kurama lulled his response, hands in the pockets of his jeans at the team walked.
"You mean than you gave her credit for." Hiei noted, not adding his thought that Kurama had only bothered to plant the seeds on the woman out of sheer spite for deceiving him.
Which was why they were here. Kurama had accepted Iruni's address and while she'd been distracted by his hand brushing hers, he'd placed a sprinkling of burr like seeds over her shoes and the rolled cuff of her pants. He'd been able to sense her general location since, which helped them confirm her address and her routine.
Genkai had suggested the ploy wasn't necessary, but Kurama wasn't so sure. Iruni held more secrets than he liked and was apparently good enough at hiding them that he hadn't even been aware how many there were. Genkai had also confirmed that the seals were likely against Hiei, advice given by Shikari, but the extent of Iruni's knowledge was largely unknown. He hadn't enjoyed learned that either. He figured if she'd found the seeds, she'd have plucked them off. And if she could sense energy, she'd have noticed them immediately.
And yet, it seemed she hadn't. For a few days he'd been able to follow her loosely around the city, and she'd been none the wiser. She'd also been far less interesting than he'd hoped. Her demon accomplice hadn't come around and the woman herself hadn't done much more than attend classes and go back to her house.
"I didn't know you could use those things to track people." Kuwabara walked backwards, arms folded behind his head.
"If I infuse them with my energy, I can sense where they are." Kurama flexed his hand around the extra seeds cradled there, then released them into the depths of his pockets. "It's not a trick I need to use very often."
"Crafty bastard." Yusuke cut his eyes behind him, grinning.
"Apparently not as crafty as I wished." Kurama came to a stop in front of the small house, eying the unusual flowers growing by the gate. Small iridescent purple petals and thin, sharp leaves. He frowned. The plant was innocuous enough for something pried out of the Makai, but still, he hadn't intended for it to be planted.
And when, exactly, had they been planted? Because he was sure as of yesterday evening that she'd still had the seeds on her shoes.
"They just sprung up. I noticed them this morning." An elderly woman smiled at the group of men, picking her way down the sidewalk with a cane. "Poor girl hasn't bothered with gardening in years. I'm glad to see something new growing."
"Would this, by chance, be the Mikamoto residence?" Kurama offered his warmest, kindest smile to the old woman and watched its effect as she blushed, bobbing her head readily.
"She's not in though." The elderly woman continued to smile. "Left first thing this morning."
The team exchanged a look while Kurama thanked her. She went on her way as they congregated near the gate, trying to decide their next move. They'd come to inform the woman she could join them, providing she had relevant information to their case. If she could identify their target as an imposter, it would be greatly helpful.
"Do you think she ran off and got herself killed?" Hiei asked hopefully, not in a hurry to endure the woman's company again. His pride still felt sore from their fight two days before. Sure, he could have killed her, but the fact she'd managed even her miniscule victory rubbed him the wrong way.
"You're blocking my gate." Iruni voiced from behind them, arms laden with grocery bags as she scowled at them. "Please move. These are heavy."
Not to mention uncomfortable. Her arms were still sore from her fight, her shoulder a murky purple-blue at this point, and the weight of the straps had become an endurance test of controlling her reactions. When the team parted, allowing her to slip through, she went directly to the door and pushed it open. It wasn't until after she disappeared inside that Yusuke started to follow her.
"Yo. You need help?" He tilted his head, craning around the entry hall to peek into the kitchen.
"Now that the hard part is done? Certainly." The dry response earned her a flat stare. "Well, don't just stand there letting the air out. Get in."
They followed her irritated command easily, the door shutting a little too loudly behind Hiei who initially refused to walk further into the house than the entry. Partially because he didn't want to take off his shoes, mostly because he didn't want to be there at all.
The other three hung about uselessly, meandering on the cusp of the kitchen and hall. Yusuke couldn't help himself, his eyes scanning around what he could see of the house with all the interest of a child entering a new store. Kuwabara too, looked around, though mainly his focus kept coming back to the dark haired woman putting away her groceries. Kurama smiled at her, but received no such courtesy back, as she rolled her eyes away, still set on her silent task.
The walls in the entry were empty, other than the hooks for coats that were currently bare. Further down the hall too, the walls remained a clean white. The kitchen offered space for a single apron to hang, but nothing else on these walls either. The counters were as cleared as possible, clean. The table only adorned by coasters, napkins and salt and pepper shakers. No magnets or pictures on the refrigerator. Very personal effects at all, it seemed.
"You can sit at the table." Iruni nodded toward the small in-kitchen table, set up with three chairs with the fourth side pressed to the wall. From the wear of the varnish, it appeared she generally only used one spot. The typed notes were already laid out there, ready to be reviewed.
Kurama pulled the top sheet away and scanned over the contents with interest. Every so often he cut his attention back to Iruni, watching as she prepared tea and food for herself. She didn't offer any more prodding or direction to them.
"Aren't you dying in that shirt?" Kuwabara eyed the small women with heavy speculation. The long sleeved blouse seemed unseasonable in the growing warmth of the quickly approaching summer. "I'm in shorts and I'm already sweating."
"I'm fine." She told him, not bothering to look over her shoulder as she spoke.
Kurama passed the pages around the table as he read through them. The sparse notes were very cut and dry, matter of fact. A physical description of the demon they should expect to see. A quick overview of the artifacts in his possession. A brief summary of Amon-Shinpi's character and power, though these descriptions were vague.
"Who told you about the armor?" Yusuke asked her, moving slowly through the words.
"Genkai. I called and asked if there was more information I should try to find for you. She gave me a list of items and told me to describe them." Iruni placed a tray on the table, five teacups and a plate of light snacks. "Is your dour friend content haunting my hall?"
"Hn. I hadn't realized this was going to be all day affair." Hiei voiced from behind her.
The immediate reaction to his presence caught his attention, and Kurama's from the look of it. Her back straightened, pulse rising, as she quickly stepped away to keep space between them. The startled look on her face almost satisfied him. Good. She'd learned her lesson then. But the way she flinched from his presence with a resolute glare suggested another reason for her movement.
"You can relax. I'm not going to attack you." Hiei told her, helping himself to the snacks. "You humans are so skittish. Where is all that fire you had before?"
She didn't answer him. Something he noted, as he lifted his attention to her once again. His eyes flicked to her shoulder and she flinched under the sudden scrutiny, turning away from him slightly, as if to shield the left side of her body from his view. Now that was interesting. Was she still injured from their skirmish? Amusing. Humans truly were a waste of energy.
"Something wrong?" He asked, a deliberate smirk crossing his features. "You look frightened."
"Hiei, don't be a dick." Yusuke called and the fire demon rolled his eyes. "Who wouldn't be scared of your creepy ass sneaking up behind them? You still give me the willies and I've known you forever."
"I'm not afraid of him." Iruni's terse response to Yusuke made him lift his eyebrows. "I'm just not eager to find myself at his mercy again."
"So you admit it." Hiei gestured to her then, now thoroughly enjoying himself. "That you are utterly outclassed?"
"I admit that I don't have the strength to beat you, yes. However, I am positive I have way more class than you." She shot back at him, and the comeback made the others chuckle.
"Might want to check your tongue before you lose it." Hiei advised, still smirking. "Since you're trying to avoid starting another fight with me. I won't bother with mercy next time."
"I don't intend on there being a next time." She told him firmly, nostrils flaring. The momentary break in usual composure ended quickly as she collected herself. "Is the information helpful?"
"Yes, quite." Kurama nodded.
"If she provided us with everything, we should go." Hiei pointed out. "What's the use of bringing cannon fodder along?"
"We told her we'd take her." Yusuke shrugged, watching the woman bounce her eyes over them. "He's an ass, just ignore him."
What poor advice for him to offer. Hiei was a practiced killer. If she ignored him she'd be setting herself up for a potential attack. Even with his friends around, he didn't seem all that interested in adhering to Spirit World's rules about not attacking humans. She imagined it was a constant burden to him.
"I'll be able to identify the sword." She told them as a unit. "You're worried this demon has the Takani blade, yes? I suspect what he has is my family heirloom, but I'll be able to tell you once I see it. That alone should be sufficient reason to bring me."
"You could just tell what it looks like." Kuwabara suggested. "Not that I agree with Hiei, but it doesn't sit well with me that we're dragging you along. This could be really dangerous and scary."
"I could, but I won't." She forced a smile and it looked as fake as it felt.
"You're awfully determined, aren't you?" Kurama smiled and it touched his eyes.
Yes, she was. He had no idea. And his false friendliness wasn't going to sway her. She was going with them and that was going to be the end of it. With the ward securely in place in her hair, hidden in the strands beneath her bun, they couldn't count on Hiei to pry the information out of her. Taking her was their only choice. But they still seemed skeptical, at odds with the idea.
Then she'd have to use a secondary element to boost the odds into her favor. It would be risky, but knowing their personalities, it should work.
Iruni toed the ground, a slight blush coming into her cheeks while chewed the inside of her lip. Then, resolute and obviously embarrassed, she spoke quietly, as though she didn't really want them to hear her.
"I also, well, I'd like to see you fight." She muttered, refusing to meet their eyes.
Honestly, she didn't need to see them. Their smug surprise at her statement was all but a physical presence in the room. Kuwabara whispered a soft, but heartfelt 'Oh', as Yusuke made a sound of barely contained pride. Kurama shifted in his seat to view Hiei, who glared at the woman, then his teammates.
Idiots. A bunch of idiots he was stuck with.
He'd been defeated in this crusade. He could already see it in Urameshi's eyes.
"You want to see us fight, huh? Has the old bat been talking us up?" Yusuke flexed his arm and grinned.
Offering a slight nod, Iruni dared to look at them and her blush grew brighter. Turning away from them completely she stiffly walked over to her counter and busied herself with some meaningless task.
"Genkai talks about you a lot." Iruni huffed. "About how strong, but thick-skulled, her apprentice is. I never thought I'd get to meet you."
"You want to see me fight?" Yusuke pointed at himself, self-satisfied and gleaming.
"Genkai doesn't say much about the others, if anything at all. Generics. Yukina has spoken to me about Kuwabara though. But I'd really like to see what Genkai's dimwit is like in action." Iruni stopped her fingers from peeling the label off of the can in her hands.
It wasn't that far from the truth. Genkai had told her a lot about Yusuke and his antics. She complained mostly, but Iruni always saw the muted pride on her face. Even the affectionate, disparaging nicknames and comments were enough to tell her that their bond was special. She really did want to see him in action again, considering his growth. Setting the can back on the counter and ignoring the corner she'd been subconsciously worrying over, she stared down at her hands, nearly forgetting the men in her kitchen or why they were there for a moment as she lost herself in her thoughts.
Genkai suggested Yusuke had grown so exponentially in just a few years that she'd hardly believed the woman. But Genkai did not lie. Not to her, not to anyone that she knew. And through the previous weeks of her spying, she'd been forced to acquiesce. Yusuke was forged of something new, unbreakable and wholly bright. This man was a far cry different from the snot-nosed little shit she'd witnessed battling it out during the Dark Tournament years before. In many ways the same, but those were less important. It lined his body, edged his movements, the strength he'd gained and the confidence to wield it.
Iruni closed her hands into fists, mind focused on a distant desire.
If some half-blooded child could grow this way, surely she could too. Her mind turned to Kurama and his inordinate progress. She'd been in school with him most of their lives. She'd watched his power slowly ease its way back into him, watched him grow. And again, the last few years had seen such a lurch in that movement she'd been surprised by his presence when they'd entered their first university class together. Very much the same gentle faced young man, with those careful, intense eyes of his. But also so different. Faster, lighter in personality, more demonic that she'd ever seen him when he walked silently through the hall with that secret knowing smile he wore.
He was her canary, this existence her coalmine. If Kurama could work his power through his limbs with such grace, carry it like a badge, she could too. Even as the thought struck her, she dismissed it, her lips pressing into a line.
The problem was her lack of a catalyst, something she'd known for years. These men had seen their battles, worked for what they had. Their power hadn't come to them naturally, it had been carefully cultivated through years of toil and experience. Just as hers had once come to her. But while they'd been battling demons who far outclassed them, she'd been a spectator.
Breathing out through her nose she narrowed her gaze on her fists, tightening them. Hiding from him. Trying to keep herself cloaked in anonymity. Avoiding any degree of attention. That's why she was so desperate for the sword. Even with this handicap, the sword would be more than enough.
She was so close. So very close.
She could practically feel the rough binding of the hilt in her palms, creating callouses as the weight extended through her arm as another piece of herself. How she longed for it. The desire to test the sharpness on the pad of her thumb. The way it cut through her enemies like the embodiment of her will.
So, so, very close.
Her eyes moved slowly to the side, realizing only then how intently Hiei focused on her. His gaze seared her, locking her into place. Whatever showed on her face had betrayed some piece of her thoughts, she was sure. Her mistake, losing herself in this moment. But the Jaganshi didn't seem alarmed. If anything, his expression rang of mild interest, maybe judgement. Her back remained to the others and she moved her eyes away from his face without saying a word about his staring.
The ward would keep her safe for now.
"When do we leave?" It was intentional, turning away from the fire demon and facing the others with her back to him.
Any other moment in her life and she wouldn't have dared to give her back. It would have been a rookie mistake, but he was proverbially chained and she needed him to continue thinking of her as a sloppy child. So, for the second time despite her raging instincts, she kept him behind her. He needed to question her ability to survive. They all did. They needed to believe that without them she'd die on this mission. It would keep them too close to see anything else.
"Tonight." Yusuke told her with a wide grin. "You sure you want to do this? You looked a little freaked out there."
"I'm sure." She nodded firmly, planting her feet in a natural stance. "Trust me, there is no other place I'd rather be."
Probably one of the first honest things she'd said to them, and it would probably be one of the last.
Chapter 4: Historical Inaccuracies
Chapter 4- Historical Inaccuracies: In which the team faces down Amon-Shinpi’s supposed goons and Iruni drops her guarded secret because she’s petty.
This chapter is entirely from Iruni’s point of view. I wanted to warn everyone of the shift from third to first person because whoa buddy would that be confusing. Also, I want to say thank you to everyone who reviews and reads. It means a lot to me, and I love hearing from you all. I also just like that people are reading this story considering how long and inconsistently I’ve been in and out of this game. Anyway, this following week will be a bit hectic for me but I have the next chapter drafted. As well as roughly 87 pages worth of story. Finessing it into something coherent will be an ordeal, but I’ll give it my all.
I adjusted the sleeves of my jacket, glad I’d brought it to ward off the evening’s chill. Yusuke had stayed true to his word and we were picking our way through a dark forest toward the source of everyone’s chagrin. The team prepared themselves to battle a monster. I prepared myself to take what was mine. I could almost taste the sweet thrill of success already. Father had always warned me not to get ahead of my circumstances, but it was a character flaw that seemed to follow me from one life to the next.
They kept me in the middle of the group, just I’d anticipated. On my left, Kuwabara worked to keep in step with me. A noticeable effort on his part seeing as how his stride was twice as long as my own. But he seemed determined to stay beside me, scanning from left to right with palpable concentration. Endearing.
Urameshi led the charge, swaggering at the point position, leading us toward certain victory. His large brown eyes would glance back at me every so often, to gauge my confidence I’m sure. If he expected me to waver, he was mistaken. I kept my expression arranged, carefully neutral. He never let his attention linger for too long.
Kurama walked at my back. Not ideal, but I couldn’t show my discomfort. The fox hadn’t seemed to guess at my deception so far. I was probably safe.
I don’t enjoy dealing in uncertainties. I prefer more control. I like to know my odds.
I also don’t trust him. Youko had been a devious, deceitful apparition. A legend, sure. Impressive in a variety of ways. But I would never have given him my back. Not in this life or the previous. I’m not nearly young or naïve enough to make that mistake. And yet, there he was, diligently bringing up the rear.
Hiei was home in the trees, flitting through the branches with practiced stealth. Buried in shadow, his presence was only discernable because I searched for him. That was another demon I didn’t want surprising me.
I didn’t trust Kurama.
I straight loathed Hiei.
Every time I glimpsed him, his cloak, his shadow, those bloody red eyes, my shoulder rolled of its own accord. An involuntary reaction. The tender, bruised flesh remembered his assault as if it had a mind of its own.
More than once I caught his gaze fixed on me. My twitch seemed to amuse him.
He wouldn’t be laughing by the end of the night. I had to fight down a smile at the thought of it. Soon, so soon, I would have my prize. Despite my efforts the corners of my mouth tipped up.
Years. I’d been hunting for my sword for years. Twenty-three to be exact. All my wretched existence. And now it was so close. I could nearly wrap my hands around the hilt. All I had to do was walk into the demon’s lair with the all-too-eager team of men.
At the start of our trek, Hiei had suggested simply using me for bait.
He had no idea our positions were reversed.
They would battle the grunts, I’d use that as my distraction and head off the imposter. Child’s play. If I was lucky, I’d flee without incident as they continued to grapple with their opponents.
I don’t believe in luck.
I wouldn’t get out of this without a fight. Hiei, more than likely, would leap at the chance to challenge me again.
My shoulder rolled.
No. I couldn’t fight him again. Not now, anyway. I’d never survive it. If he knew what I was he’d come at me without mercy, full strength. I couldn’t handle an all-out battle with an S-class demon, much less four of them as I’m sure the rest of the team wouldn’t be far behind.
My fingers toyed with the only weapon I brought. An Infinity Chain. Thin, innocuous, but quite useful. Tied around my wrist as it was it could’ve been mistaken for a set of silver bracelets. I hated the damned thing. Finding it had been an ordeal. I’d had to enlist Shikari’s help. I don’t like asking for help. Even then, I’d done most of the work actually retrieving it. The weapon had been forged by someone I knew before. But my hate was centered needing it at all, not the quality of the weapon.
I used to be a king.
I used to be powerful. I faced down armies on my own and came out the victor. I guarded my family and protected our lands.
I was a sentinel.
Now? Now I was nothing. A distorted reflection of my former self. A checker piece on a chess board.
But with the sword, I could rise again. I could finally win this quarter century long fight.
I had to survive tonight.
He was coming.
It was my duty to stop him.
So I wouldn’t fight the Reikai Tentai. I would get my sword. Then, as sick as it made me feel to even think of considering it, I’d surrender. That was the plan I’d decided on the minute I’d realized I could use these men to achieve my goals.
I used to be a warrior.
Now I’m a coward.
My eyes glimpsed Hiei again. He kept darting from my right side ahead toward our destination and back. No doubt that accursed evil eye of his was wide open, scouring the forest for dangers and fixed on their targets. He was such a menace.
“You okay?” Kuwabara earned my attention, his tone and face both laced with concern.
“Are you?” I asked him quietly, eye brow crooked. “You look pale.”
A bead of sweat rolled down the line of his neck, absorbed into the crew neck of his t-shirt. Exertion from the hike or fear of what was to come? I couldn’t quite tell.
“Yeah, It’s the energy in the air y’know? Always ties me up in knots. I hate the way it feels.”
Energy? Did he mean the auras leading us straight to the cliché hideout nestled into the forest’s thickness? We were hunting our prey. How could he be so deeply affected by such a minor display of power? But as I watched him look around, shoulders hunched and hands shoved into his pocket, my confusion faded. I thought, maybe, I understood.
Above all else, Kuwabara was human. Totally and completely. He probably felt things differently, more profoundly due to that. His exposure to the Makai had gifted him with a perspective he had never asked for. He wore this experience like a weighted chain around his neck. It was likely that he didn’t know how much information about himself he radiated, but I hungrily accepted every detail all the same.
Kuwabara was an honest man at the very center of his nature. He didn’t mind displaying his emotions or reactions. Kind to a fault too, I surmised, as he stepped closer to me when the auras ahead grew in strength. A good man.
No wonder Yukina adored him so.
Sliding two fingers into my pocket I produced a piece of gum, offering it to him. He blinked at me, clearly confused by the act.
So incredibly honest.
It was refreshing.
“To ease your stomach.” I explained lightly. “Though the mint might be an issue. It’s potent. You won’t be able to hide from your enemies.”
“I don’t hide.” He snatched the gum from me, tossing it into his mouth defiantly.
This time I didn’t repress my smile.
“Thanks. So, do you feel sick or anything? The heebie jeebies?” He spoke around chewing.
“No.” I turned my attention back to Urameshi’s back.
“No? It doesn’t bother you?”
Kurama was listening raptly behind us. I could feel the pressure of his probing gaze. He’d begun to watch me the minute I’d warned Kuwabara about the mint. A slip on my part perhaps, but fostering potential had always come naturally to me.
“I don’t feel anything.”
Maybe I should’ve chosen different words. It could’ve been the utter apathy of my tone. Either way, Kuwabara’s brows pulled down and Urameshi shot me a wary glance.
“You can’t sense energy?” Kuwabara frowned, rubbing his neck. “That must be weird.”
I shrugged. There was no reason to correct him on this matter. I could sense energy just fine. Probably better than he could, at any rate. But it didn’t affect me the same way. The auras trying to menace us up ahead weren’t my problem. Therefore, I was ambivalent toward them.
“Both of you shut up. They’ll hear us.” Hiei dropped from a tree to my right, his usual sneer deepening into a scowl.
With some amusement I noticed that my conversational partner had jumped. Crimson eyes glared at him, an unspoken complaint clear in his biting gaze. Then Hiei turned to me with a look of annoyed expectation. He thought I’d argue.
I stared back, unconcerned with his sudden appearance or his advice.
“Six.” Hiei turned to Urameshi. “One with barely any energy at all. Four low level grunts. A lower B-class.”
B-class? I mulled that over. A higher rating that I’d figured. Toying with my chain I considered my options. I looked toward the clearing that had come into view. A shiver ran down my spine.
I hadn’t felt this excited in decades.
“Alright. We’ll take out the lackeys then the boss.” Yusuke laid out the obvious course of action. Did they really need this spelled out for them? “Mikamoto, you stay out of the way. Let us handle this.”
I nodded. He wanted to prevent me from becoming a burden or a distraction. Fair enough. Plus, that fit into my plan. Let them handle the meat shields.
The boss was mine.
“I want the boss. You keep taking the good fights.” Kuwabara whined.
I’ll admit not glaring at him took more effort than it should have. He didn’t know. Still, if he intruded on my fight I’d have to hurt him.
“When he inevitably fails, like usual, I’ll take over.” Hiei snorted, derisive as ever.
What was his problem? Did he hate Kuwabara for a reason or was he too insecure to allow someone else into the spotlight? Perhaps he was just thirsty blood. Either way, he was being rude to his comrades. The overwhelming ego of male demons shouldn’t surprise me anymore, and yet, it always found a way to.
“Shut up! I won’t fail. B-class is easy for me now too.”
“I’ve yet to see you win.”
“No one yanked your chain, shrimp.”
“I thought you didn’t want us to give away our position.” I interjected coolly, eyes on Hiei. “Could you stop instigating an unnecessary fight?”
Kurama stifled a laugh behind his hand as he walked up to my side, whispering a sincere thank you.
“She got you.” Urameshi teased the fire demon, hands on his hips as he bent down to grin at the shorter man. “Maybe we should keep her around to keep you in line.”
An offer I’d refuse even if I wasn’t planning on ditching them in a few minutes.
Hiei scowled at him, then cut me a vicious glare. Perhaps expecting me to shrink under his harsh scrutiny. I suppose there were demons who withered under his stare, terrified of him and his powers. How disappointing for him that he had no such effect on me.
I wasn’t afraid, I merely knew my limits.
Ignoring him and his ire, I shifted my eyes to Urameshi, waiting for the signal so we could get this mission underway. Now that I knew how close we were I could barely keep myself from running ahead. He inhaled and let it out slowly, then marched us down the hill leading toward the abandoned factory.
Worn, chipped bricks stained by the elements even in the darkness of night. Broken windows filled with steady yellow light. Vines creeping up, filling the spaces between the bricks and the cracks of the glass. Left to rot after it had shut down years before the old factory was slowly being devoured by the forest around it. A flicker of light caught my attention.
I held my finger out to the little bug, allowing it to land and rest for a moment. Softly, with more feeling than I meant to display, I smiled at the little creature. I’d always loved fireflies.
“Stay behind us.” Kurama’s order sent the insect back into the air.
I lowered my hand without a response. Constantly being reminded that I was a liability had, at best, grown tiresome. I couldn’t rightly be bothered, seeing as how I’d carefully cultivated this image. Still, right or not, I was annoyed. But I kept my mouth shut about it, following at the back of the pack.
It was just as Hiei had reported. Urameshi pushed through a rusted metal door, the hinges loud and abrasive as they strained to open at all. We were greeted by five apparitions. Four armed, already jabbering about murder and the like. The usual talk of blood hungry idiots being used as distractions. Behind them, a woman with grey skin. Her fearful expression tried to be stern as she took us in. It wasn’t convincing.
The leader’s caretaker, then. Perhaps a mistress, from the state of her upknot and fine kimono. A woman who put effort into her appearance, even out here in the forest. Likely an unrequited affection on her end, no matter her role. She’d pose no threat and that might spare her life. I moved my attention back to the grunts, a quick overview revealing unimpressive energies. What they lacked in strength they bolstered in weaponry, it seemed.
“Hiei should go left, Kurama right.” I suggested, eying the weapons. An old habit of mine, trying to control the outcome of a battle by playing to the strengths of those involved.
Kurama was clever. Quick. Fluid. Fighting a demon laden with potions and gases would be easy for him, especially with his cynical spirit. Hiei’s aggressive speed would topple the demon with the spear, a quick and easy fight for him. Yusuke had chosen correctly already, challenging the demon with the sandals that would enhance its speed and jumps. Kuwabara faced off with the largest, a boar. This one’s nose ring doubled his raw strength, and even then, I’d guess he was merely a lower C class. Perhaps mid.
Trinkets and tricks.
Not that I was any better at the moment. But still my pride wouldn’t allow me to lump myself in with them. I may be lacking in power but I’m a trained fighter. I have skills.
Hiei pointedly ignored me, I noticed. He threw himself into a fight against the poison wielder in what I was sure was a defiant act. Moron. I had years of experience in battle, assessing opponents. He was making this harder on himself because he was immature and spiteful.
But, he wasn’t my problem.
When he choked on the thick grey smoke he’d been caught in, I felt no pity for him. Watching for a moment, I made sure they were all adequately engaged before I strolled through the center of the factory floor. This was working out better than I had hoped. Ducking under a flying pot, I ignored Urameshi’s command for me to retreat.
He should be more worried about that demon flitting around him, knocking him down.
“Pull out his ring.” I told Kuwabara as I passed, barely sparing him a glance.
The boar had gained the upper hand, nearly goring the carrot top. At my suggestion, Kuwabara nodded, following the order quickly. He grabbed the ring and yanked on it, twisting the boar’s head in the process and I heard a startled cry of victory from him.
I liked Kuwabara.
A shame, really, considering how this was going to play out.
My feet stopped in front of the female demon, looking her over.
“Call him.” I demanded, fixing her in place with my stare. Having lighter eyes seemed to unnerve a lot of people. It had always been that way for me, in this life and the one before. Something about the shifting hues of blue just made demons and humans alike weary. My fingers worked the knot in the chain, loosening it.
“Never. I’ll die first!” She rushed me.
Heaving a sigh, I stepped to the side, avoiding her futile attempt at capturing me or taking me down. What would she do if she succeeded? I doubted she knew.
“Fine.” I eyed her from the side, unimpressed. “But I’m not going to kill you.”
She came at me again. Slow. Uncoordinated. But desperate. She wouldn’t stop until I backed off or she was down. I hated this. Fighting the weak like this, it had never set well with me. The grunts were weak, sure, but they were fighters. They were armed. This woman was just deluded pawn trying to protect a demon not worth her time.
My fist connected with her chest anyway, doubling her over, and a pang of guilt shot through my chest before I could stifle it. I heard the air rush out of her. She gagged on the pain, arms wrapped around her middle. Maybe I had hit her too hard. I forced myself not to think about it. To dismiss it. This was a fight she had started. I slammed my elbow across her face, watched the whites of her eyes show as they rolled up into her head as she listed to the side. My arms slid under hers, forcing me down into a kneel as I carried her weight to the ground. I needed to beat her, but I didn’t have to cruel about it.
Whoever this idiot worked for, they didn’t deserve her or her loyalty, allowing a creature like this to fight me. They should’ve been here already, fighting in the thick of it with their men.
My anger started to grow. And I already had so much of it to manage. What sort of coward was this imposter anyway? Someone whose name carried no strength so they stole another. Someone who hid behind the weak and the passionate, pretending to be a leader. A demon of the lowest caliber.
I had considered leaving them alive, using them as a distraction for the team to fall on while I made my getaway. But now I had changed my mind. Killing them might open me up to attention I didn’t want, but I couldn’t just allow these deeds to go unpunished.
Someone shouted behind me. I dodged the spear with ease, tossing it an annoyed glance before I continued on my way.
“You’ve got visitors. As a king shouldn’t you greet us formally?” I called, aware that my tone betrayed my utter lack of respect. “Unless you’re not who you say you are, coward.”
That got me the response I wanted. Father had always said I had a way with words. A throaty rumble tore through the factory, the bay door at the back flying its tracks. I had to roll over the floor to avoid getting hit. Rising to my feet, dusting years worth of dirt off my shirt, I watched the entrance of this supposed king of demons.
I had been a king once, but I had never wanted to be. It was a punishment for my atrocious failures. A burdensome reminder that as a knight I shouldn’t have survived my liege. I did not wear the title as a badge of honor. I wore it as an oath to pay for my sins.
This imposter thought himself royalty as he glared down at me. Shrouded in dense armor he stomped toward me on heavy feet, eyes ablaze. He assumed the title made the man. It must have sounded good to someone who had never been shackled by it. This demon thought that if he wanted it bad enough the power would come to him. It was the truth lining his eyes. The hope as his hand wound around the scabbard of a sword older than either of us. It was the desire that kept his back straight under the burden of his armor so that he could lift his chin and look down his nose at me.
I could read him like a worn novel.
He dove at me, saying something I didn’t care to hear. My eyes were glued to that red scabbard. I evaded his advances until he realized he couldn’t simply catch me. Not with his movements restricted by the plates of metal he’d donned. We stood several feet apart in a world of our own.
“Get away from her!” Urameshi bellowed, I’m sure rushing to save me.
My eyes went from the sword to the face of the demon holding it. It looked small in his meaty fist. I didn’t bother memorizing his features. I wouldn’t have any need to remember them. The knot came undone, my chain sliding loose from my wrist.
“You scuffed it.” I gestured to the sword. “A rude way to treat something that isn’t yours.”
The chill in my voice was more habit than intention at this point. Father had always been impressed with my voice and its effect on others, especially during battle. He claimed of all my weapons, it was his favorite. Thinking of him pinched the corners of my eyes as the familiar cold entered my blood. Shame. Pain. Loneliness. The things I always felt when I remembered my family.
“This is mine!” The demon roared.
“Then use it.” My command startled him.
And gods help him, he tried. But the sheath would not relinquish the blade. Footsteps behind me. I didn’t bother looking. There was no more time.
Before I had been too fast for most demons to see, let alone fight. By the time I attacked, I only got to witness their mortal fear. It’s why I won. I always won.
Until I didn’t.
I rushed him, no hesitation holding me back. Looping my Infinity Chain around one meaty wrist, I swung up and kicked him under the chin. I allowed him to swipe at me, trying to push me back. Every ounce of his struggle worked to aid me in ensnaring him. All his fitting only wrapped him tighter in the web I created.
Mine was a weapon manipulated by energy. It would grow or shrink as I desired. It was unbreakable. Undeniable. Relentless in its mission.
It was a good metaphor, I think.
The armor was meant to make its wearer immortal, unable to be dealt damage. But in the face of my rage, even immortals bow. I tugged the wire and brought him to his knees. Lifting my chin, I looked down at him.
The armor was indestructible.
The body underneath? Not so much.
My Infinity Chain slipped through the uncovered joints in the plates, winding around the bare flesh underneath. Fusing some energy into the chain I pulled again. His body separated, cut through with all the resistance of wet clay. Arms and legs, hands and feet. All that stood was a torso with a yowling head, screaming out profanities and idle threats.
My feet carried me to the sword and the minute I touched it I felt at home. The familiar thrum of energy reached into my soul, filling a spot I hadn’t realized had been empty since before I died. Tying the chain around it, I fixed the sheath to my side. The blade slide free without complaint under my hands. Swiping once, I silenced those yowling cries forever. Good riddance.
Silence rushed in. Four sets of eyes glued to me. Four emotional states ranging from fury to fear.
I sheathed the sword.
I wasn’t born a king. I earned my title. I was born a princess. The first princess.
I had never wanted that either. I never cared much for pre-ordained positions. I was a princess by birth, but I worked hard to become a knight. A warrior. A sentinel.
Becoming a king was never my purpose or goal. It was the brand of my failure. It was a title thrust onto me. I rebuked it. As with everything in my life, I chose my own path. I shouldered my burden without the glory it could have brought me.
The people, my people, called me a king.
But that wasn’t the name they cried when they needed help.
“I surrender.” I lifted my hands and knelt down on one knee.
The Jaganshi ripped the sword from me, shoving me face down against the grime streaked floor. His nails cut into my scalp and he clawed his hand in my hair, pinning me down with a knee pressing into my back. I’d definitely have bruises from this later. I could hear him snarling over me despite my obvious compliance.
“Who are you?” He seethed, heat pouring into me with every sharp syllable.
I didn’t struggle in his hold. In another lifetime, I could’ve killed Hiei. We would have been closely matched, but I would’ve won. But that was before.
Before I fell. Before I failed. Before this accursed existence robbed me of my power and dignity and the release of death I’d been vying for.
Even then, even in the end I had some pride. Not much else, but I’d always had pride to spare. I’d made him choke on his rage, reminding him how to address me properly. Showing him that nothing he could do would make him stronger than me. He could never surpass me, the best he could ever hope for was an even match.
I suppose I should’ve listened to my screaming instincts and been more cautious in dealing with the murderous demon pressing his weight into my spine. But I was too overwhelmed with my accomplishment to care. I had the sword. And for the first time in twenty-three years I could say it.
I could say my name.
“Lord Amon-Shinpi Takani.” I grinned, the name tasting so sweet on my tongue despite the swirl of dust I inhaled with the words. “But you may call me your highness.”
A growl, feral and furious, then pain as it sparked through my head. Hiei’s vengeful punch robbing me of consciousness and any way to talk my way out of this. I’d be lucky if he didn’t kill me.
And yet, my last thought would have surely sent him over the edge if he’d been able to hear it. I was glad the ward was still intact for this moment otherwise I would have surely felt the cold metal of his blade rip into me. But as I appreciated that he’d stiffened upon hearing my name, recognizing me for a moment as the demon I once was, I couldn’t help the two words, I barely managed to keep them locked behind my lips.
Chapter 5: Clerical Error
In which the team tries to figure out who to do with Iruni/Amon-Shinpi. Kuwabara gets nagged, Genkai shows up, and Hiei ultimately takes Shinpi's fate into his own hands.
This is the longest chapter so far, and the next few are much shorter. It was all I could do to progress the story where I wanted it go. Thanks for reading!
Iruni winced, pain coursing through her bones, biting at the back of her skull. Raising cautious fingertips she pried at the area. Sticky. Wet. The makings of a scab as well. How hard had Hiei hit her? How long had she been out? Her senses felt muted and she wasn’t sure if that was the fault of the quite likely concussion she was now sporting, or if it was because of the enchanted shackles binding her to the wall.
Sitting up was a tedious chore, but she did it anyway. The room spun for a moment, her stomach rolling with it.
Definitely a concussion.
“They may have blocked my energy, but I still know when I’m being watched.” She opened her eyes slowly, fixing on the spot where Kurama sat.
He tipped his head to one side, silent as death, and ran his eyes over her as if he was meeting her for the first time. She supposed, in a way, he was. And this was the first time he was allowing her to see him too, his knees crossed over one another, rose carefully spinning by the stem in his long, delicate fingers.
Shuichi looked innocuous enough if you didn’t know anything about him.
Kurama, on the other, looked nothing short of the danger he was.
Silence filled the room, other than the sound of her chains scraping against one another. The sound aggravating her tender nerves, echoing in her ears. She could use her arms freely but if she were to stand, she’d be able to take a single step before the restraints stopped her. Looking around she began to assess her accommodations, noting the mirror behind the fox, the stone floor with its drain in the center, a small metal toilet, a bucket of water, the bed she was sitting on with its thin mattress.
Honestly, as far as prisons go, it wasn’t the worst she’d ever been in.
The problem was less about being in prison and more where that prison was located. Even with the door closed she knew she was in Spirit World. She’d done this to herself, she chided internally, because she couldn’t help but take a jab at Hiei. As usual her mouth had landed her in hot water. Pressing her lips into a line she touched her head again. Of all her plans, this one had to be at least in the top ten worst she’d ever had.
“Hiei hit you too hard. You’ve been unconscious for some time.” Kurama’s cool voice snaked over to her. “I’ve brought a salve that should dull the pain a bit, Iruni.”
“I refuse.” She told him, an equal chill in her tone. His eyes narrowed only slightly, but she caught the warning he’d cast at her. “Anything you give me will have the primary benefit of working in your favor and not mine. A toxin to kill me or a toxin to make me speak. Either way, I’m not interested.”
Yusuke, Kuwabara, Botan, Koenma and Hiei watched from behind the two-way mirror. The cell was dim, the low watt bulb above the two demons inside casting thick yellow light downward and outside of that light, leaving shadows. At the woman’s words, Yusuke raised an eyebrow.
“If I wanted to poison you, why would I wait until you give your consent?” Kurama asked her, the rose no longer a plaything in his hands, but an idle weapon as he held it still.
Iruni stared at him, her expression plainly telling him she had no reason to answer his question.
“You have to be in pain.” Kurama pressed, as if this would sway her.
“I’m always in pain.” She responded callously, shifting until her back was to the wall and her legs criss-crossed. Placing her hands on her knees, then turning them palm up, she closed her eyes.
“Is she ignoring him?” Koenma balked at the display.
“She’s hiding.” Hiei corrected him, quiet, his eyes glued to the scene. “She’s in more pain than she wants to let on.”
“Huh, maybe if someone hadn’t wailed on her like a punching bag that wouldn’t be the case.” Yusuke shot him a harsh look. “You’ve gotta control your temper.”
“She knew what I’d do when she opened her mouth. Have no fear, detective, she planned for this.” Hiei tossed back, unapologetic. He tightened the fist tucked under his left arm all the same, the bandages on his knuckles were speckled with blood. He’d be damned if he would admit to the detective that he’d lost control of his strength in the moment.
He almost killed her.
Because this monster had gotten so close to Yukina and he’d been the only one to see it. She could have slaughtered them all, if what Koenma described was true. He hadn’t been able to restrict himself when she’d tossed out that haughty line. Surely a powerful demon lord could handle a blow to the back of the head without dying.
And yet, he’d also forgotten how miserably frail human bodies are even with powerful demons residing in them.
“She’d already surrendered.” Kuwabara glared at Hiei. “Man, you’ll cross any line won’t you? Hitting a girl, no problem. Hitting someone who already gave up, no problem.”
Hiei ignored him. Or at least acted like had was ignoring him, because truthfully, he hadn’t cared that she’d surrendered in the moment. He’d forgotten about it as soon as she’d declared who she was to them. The idiot.
What he wanted to know, more than anything, was why. Why had she told them in that moment? Why hadn’t she tried to fight? Why had she woken up in a prison with a look of drained curiosity and not confusion?
She didn’t speak again, back of her head resting gingerly against the stone wall as her eyes closed. Kurama waited, then stood, leaving the jar behind.
“I’m too aware of your tricks, fox. Take it with you.” The words were cold, and when he looked over his shoulder her eyes were still closed.
Kurama casually picked the jar up and slid it back into his pocket, pausing a moment to study her again.
“And my name is Amon-Shinpi. If you can’t manage that, you may call me Shinpi.” She kept her eyes closed but the admonishment was clear in her tone. “But I won’t answer to Iruni again.”
Iruni Mikamoto had never been a very noticeable girl, aside from her startling blue eyes. She was small, and for a long time he’d thought she was slight. But carrying her here had allowed him a brief examination of her body. Mostly focused on making sure Hiei hadn’t caved in the back of her skull, but he’d checked for additional weapons as well. She was actually quite muscular, this fact hidden under her long sleeve shirts and pants.
He tried to pinpoint any moment in their past together where he should have suspected her, but nothing came to mind immediately. She’d always been quiet, removed from the other students. She’d built up enough walls around her that she had practically faded from existence. Intelligent, though. She’d scored just on the heels of Kaido, if he remembered correctly. A generic student by most other accounts.
She participated in clubs, she read her books, she ate her lunches alone.
A memory came to him suddenly as he stared at her downturned face.
“You’re Minamino, right?” Mikamoto sat across from him on the train, her little legs criss-crosed in her seat since they couldn’t seem to touch the floor. Dark hair cut into an angle over her shoulders, bangs a fringe across her forehead. Large blue eyes that felt a little too probing for his taste.
“And you’re Mikamoto.” He offered her a practiced smile, and it seemed to catch her off guard. But by now he was used to this game, the girls who couldn’t help but approach him.
Her hands tightened on the violin case cradled safely in her lap, her eyes glued to its surface for a moment.
He was nearly charmed that a simple smile had been enough to dissuade her. He’d been mistaken. She cast him a look from under her bangs, a strange chill entering the car under the weight of her gaze. He felt very suddenly like he was on a precipice.
“You love your mother, right?” She asked him and his eyes widened.
“Naturally.” He responded, but he was careful now. His mother. His human mother who had somehow earned his affections. What did Mikamoto want with her?
But she seemed troubled by his answer, nodding and sinking into herself. She didn’t speak again for several minutes and he watched her warily the whole time.
She slid to her feet, face hidden by the shadow of her hair as she kept her chin tucked. She walked to the doors and exited once the train stopped.
Kurama shook himself free of the memory. Nothing had ever come of it and Yusuke had entered his life around the same time. It had fallen to the wayside as an unusual encounter and nothing more. Mikamoto didn’t talk to him again after that, but now he wondered how long she’d known who he was. Had she asked him that because of their shared nature? Or had it been a cry for help?
He left the cell heavy in thought.
“That was a waste of time.” Hiei told him when he entered the side room where the rest waited.
“She’s not going to just freely admit her secrets and her guard is up. We’ll have a difficult time interrogating her.” Kurama explained to them all.
“I’ll go.” Hiei bared his teeth.
“I’ll send in a member of the SDF.” Koenma shut Hiei down quickly. “We want information, not a blood bath.”
Matsuma, a generic member of the Spirit Defense Force with his tall stature and cropped pale hair, sat on the bench across from the woman while Hiei and Botan watched from behind the glass. Hiei had refused to leave, wanting to do as much observation as he could. It was imperative that they learn as much as possible. She’d offered little movement or reactions since Kurama had left. Now her lips quirked up slightly, her eyes peeling open as she studied this newcomer.
“Interesting.” She spoke and this time her tone was lighter, nearly amused. “You’re awfully angry for someone I’m quite sure I’ve never met. Did they send you in to beat the truth out of me?”
“Go ahead. I won’t fight you.” She offered a pleasant smile, but her eyes had turned sharp. “Do you mind telling me why you hate me so much?”
“You’re an abomination.” He told her, getting to his feet.
“Ah, I see.”
He struck her across the face with a closed fist and she let her body move with the hit, head jerking to the side.
Botan gasped, covering her mouth and Hiei frowned.
“If Koenma wanted her tortured, he should’ve asked me. At least I wouldn’t have been so brutish about it.” Hiei voiced, eyes narrowing.
But the woman held true to her word, she made no move to defend herself. When Matsuma hoisted her to her knees by her shirt front she merely hung in his hands.
“What was your goal in human world?” He growled in her face.
She didn’t answer him, teeth a little bloody as she continued to smile and he slapped her again. She made no move to stop him and offered no indication she intended to speak.
“You’ve done this all wrong. You don’t start with the head, especially if your captive is already suffering from a brain injury of some kind. You start slowly, with the extremities. Toes, fingers, hands, feet. Work your way up. Take your time.” The chuckle she allowed at his expense enraged him. “I won’t talk to a boar like you. Bring me Kuwabara.”
“You don’t get to dish out orders, you piece of Makai filth.” He trembled with the urge to just beat her.
All too suddenly he wasn’t holding her anymore. She’d finally brought her hands up, pushing his away from her with ease. Then she drug him forward, the movement bringing him to kneel one legged on the bed. The warded chain wrapped around his throat and she tugged.
“This isn’t a fight. You’re entirely outmatched. This will be a massacre.” She assured him, then just as suddenly the chain slacked.
Matsuma coughed, scrambling backwards to get away from her. He didn’t stop until his shoulders hit the wall behind him, allowing him to pant for breath and nurse his budding bruises.
Iruni sat back on the bed, crossing her legs with a vicious smile as she cupped her chin with her palm, watching him. “Would you like to start again?”
Hiei raised his eyebrows at the display of raw strength. Her energy was entirely bound at the moment.
“She’s hurt.” Botan frowned, noting the bleeding cuts on the other woman’s face. “How can Koenma allow something so vile?”
Hiei shot her a withering glare. “She nearly killed him.”
“He started it.” Botan’s frown deepened. Then she marched from the room.
Hiei didn’t bother asking where she was going. He didn’t need to. She was going to Koenma to complain. Now would be his best chance. Unsupervised, he could enter the room, kick Matsuma out and take over. He’d get her to talk.
But even as the thought crossed her mind those blue eyes scanned over the glass of the mirror and the smile fell into a stoic expression.
“I’ll be waiting.” She voiced, before turning her attention back to Matsuma. “Don’t you have a report to make? Get out.”
He did as he was told and the woman watched him skitter with a look of sheer disgust. Mumbling something Hiei couldn’t quite make out, she waited a moment, staring at the door. When her eyes scanned back to the mirror, she winced, bringing her hand up to her face. She ran her tongue over her teeth and spit a thick glob of bloody saliva to the side.
Reaching up, she tore off her left sleeve and started to rip the fabric, using it to dab at the blood on her face and clean her wounds.
It had taken a second for Hiei to realize she was actually using the mirror as just that, a mirror, and hadn’t actually been staring at him through it. She might not have even known he was there. So he waited, watching her go through the process of doctoring herself. All the while his eyes kept training to her left shoulder. The skin was an angry blueish color, deep purple at its worst. He wasn’t sure why the sight of it bothered him but he almost used the intercom to tell her to cover it up.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Hiei deadpanned at the door as it opened, Kuwabara walking into the cell in time with Botan, Kurama and Yusuke walking into the observation room. “Are you idiots trying to get him killed?”
“He’s been warned to keep back.” Kurama commented, though his tone spoke volumes on how he felt about the situation.
Inside the cell, Shinpi tilted her head, eyes roving over the carrot top while she remained silent.
“I heard you wanted to see me.” He put his hands in his pockets, standing close to the door.
She adjusted herself again, pulling up one knee so she could rest her hand on, freeing up enough chain to gesture with the other.
He glanced at the bench across from her, then back to her. In measured steps he walked over, sinking down onto the bench with a wary glance in her direction. She watched him too, scanning over his form with eyes that made him feel naked. He shifted, a little uncomfortable under the intensity of her gaze.
“You lack refinement.” She told him quietly, eyes narrowing slightly. “And discipline. I don’t know who’s been in charge of your training, but they should be killed.”
Yusuke and Kurama glanced at each other, confused.
“What?” Kuwabara visibly loosened up.
“Don’t tell me you can’t understand basic criticism. That will make this all more difficult on you.” She told him coolly. “You have no form, no composure in your fighting technique. You look like a child wrestling with his friends. Given your power level, I’d have expected you to have at least mastered one form of martial art and yet, you act like a bumbling idiot. I’m disappointed in you.”
“He’s getting chewed out by our prisoner.” The Spirit Detective whispered to Kurama.
“Hey! I try okay! Sorry I’m not like Urameshi and gifted with super blood or something.” Kuwabara shot back at her. “You demons are judgmental as hell.”
“You don’t fail to win due to blood. You fail to win due to discipline.” She snapped at him. “Get your head out of your ass, Kuwabara. I’m trying to help you.”
“If you care about Yukina, you’ll listen to what I have to say. She deserves to be with someone who can keep her safe, not just happy. What happiness will she have if you get killed due to a stupid mistake?” Iruni raised her voice. “So shut up and listen to me.”
Kuwabara clammed up at the mention of Yukina. Inside the observation room Hiei tensed, arm throbbing with his anger. He waited.
“I don’t even need you to describe your current regimen to me. I already know you’re slacking off. At minimum, you should be allotting one hour a day to improving your physical endurance and one hour on your honing your spirit energy. You’ve gotten lucky with natural skill and haphazard training. It’ll take more than that to see you through life.” She leaned back, her shoulders pressing into the stone behind her. “And your defense is shit too. You should be sparring as often as possible with your allies. You let yourself be tossed around like a ragdoll. It’s disgraceful.”
“How do I train my spirit energy though?” He asked her, leaning forward. “I’m not like Yusuke. I don’t have demon blood or whatever.”
“You’re focusing too heavily on heritage. Yusuke won the genetic lottery. You’ve got raw skill that can be developed. If you stop treating every fight like a street brawl and actually focus on developing some semblance of a style.”
“Hey, I’ll have you know I was a the top punk at-“
“I. Don’t. Care.” She let all emotion leave her face. “Don’t bore me with your juvenile credentials. I was wiping out armies before your father was born.”
“And if I hear you use Urameshi’s blood as an excuse for your own ineptitude one more time, I will knock your teeth down your throat when I’m out of here, you got it?”
Her eyes moved to the mirror and she cocked an eyebrow. Then her lips lifted as a smug grin started to curve her mouth. Her eyes met Hiei’s through the glass, and again he wondered if she could see him through it.
Lifting a finger to gestured with it toward the door and Hiei followed the path she drew just as the door opened, Genkai walking into the cell.
“Get up, dimwit. It’s time to hash this out with Koenma.” Genkai’s gravely tone snapped at the woman. “You’re lucky I bothered to come.”
“I’m infinitely grateful.” Shinpi assured her then gestured lightly with her hands. “I’ve spoken to Kazuma so this is divine timing, as usual Master Genkai. However, these chains have proven more restrictive than I’d like to admit.”
“If you’d actually use your damn energy you’d be free in no time.”
“Is this really the time for such displays? I’m trying to make a bid for freedom, after all.” Shinpi smiled lightly. “Do you mind?”
“Moron.” Genkai walked over with a key and unlocked the shackles.
Stretching her arms overhead, Shinpi leaned to one side then the other, careful of her aching head. Gesturing with an open hand to Kuwabara she continued to smile.
“You’ll begin your training now. Focus your energy into her palms and keep it there for an hour. If you can’t manage then you’ll make it up to me through physical punishment.” The lighthearted warmth in her smile totally went against her threat. “How far can you run, Kazuma?”
“I dunno, like, five miles probably? It’s been a while.”
“So one hour of energy training. If you fail you’ll owe me a ten mile run.” She turned then to follow Genkai. “That seems like a nice gentle way to start.”
Kuwabara nearly fell over at her casual demand, fear crossing his face. “Are you serious?”
“Deadly.” She cast the response at him with a look over her shoulder.
“Send me to train at Genkai’s. She knows my character well enough and I respect her. After all, I didn’t actual break any rules by taking on that roach. And there’s nothing wrong with me refusing to offer my actual name to strangers.” Amon-Shinpi expressed blandly. “I’ve never caused a single problem for your little spirit lackeys and I don’t intend to start now.”
Her finale followed up an entire conversation of explaining the recent events to him, sparsely detailed. Genkai seconded a few of her statements, like them knowing each other and Shinpi’s lacking any reason to create havoc in human world. But Koenma remained unconvinced of her altruism. He kept bringing up the sword and its known power, her deceptive personality and hinting at her previous life. Repeatedly she disregarded his concerns, explaining them away with ease.
“You’ve obviously thought this through.” Koenma sneered at Amon-Shinpi. “What’s your goal?”
“I want to kill Hiro.” She told him simply, as if this were the most obvious thing in the world. “And you’re going to let me. After that I don’t particularly care what happens, but Hiro is my problem and I will be the one to handle him.”
“Hiro?” Koenma leaned back in his chair, assessing her. “What’s this have to do with him?”
“Everything.” She assured him, remaining firm in her stance. “And I suspect its him prying humans from their world, so it’d be prudent of you to allow me to continue.”
“Why would he be doing that?”
“Because he’s looking for someone.” She responded, eyes narrowed.
“You.” Kurama surmised, eying her. “He’s looking for you, isn’t he?”
“Yes.” She spoke the word through her teeth, fists curling at her sides. “But not Amon-Shinpi. He’s looking for Iruni, as the last descendent of Kuya Takani.”
“Wait, what?” Yusuke gaped at her.
“Kuya was my sister. My twin. My current incarnation is her great-granddaughter. And this body is all that remains of our bloodline, which Hiro is desperate to control.” Shinpi explained, terse and frigid. “It all goes back to the sword and the territory I once called home. Neither will obey someone other than a Takani.”
Silence followed her admission, and she hated it. But she allowed it, allowed them their moment of quiet understanding as the importance of that statement settled on them.
“Does he need you alive?” Koenma asked, quiet and grave.
“Only until he can produce an heir with this body. Once the bloodline continues, he can dispatch me.”
Everyone shifted, silent glances moving across the room around her. An uncomfortable dance as part of a wordless conversation that didn’t include her. She remained in the middle, eyes glued to the leader of Spirit World.
“It’s imperative that I kill him before that happens.” She pressed the weight of that sentiment into Koenma, sure, but into the rest of them too. Genkai looked at her, frowning deeply, but saying nothing.
“I mean, we can kill him.” Yusuke announced. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re pretty damn capable.”
“No. I will be the one.” She didn’t look at him. “Put me under Genkai’s care. Allow her to vouch for my intentions, if you must involve someone else. I will heed her.”
“She will.” Genkai assured him. “We’ve been discussing this for some time.”
“If Hiro knows who is he looking for, why is he taking so many others?” Hiei tilted his head to the side, probing her with his gaze.
“I don’t know. Perhaps because he thinks a Takani daughter will prove too powerful for him, even after all this time. Maybe for amusement. There is even the option that he simply enjoys it. I’ve never understood this side of him.” She narrowed her eyes with the last words, as if that fact vexed her. “I’ll return to my cell until you decide.”
“If he’s after you to gain power, fighting him would put you right where he wants you.” Koenma pointed out. “I don’t think it’s a sound strategy.”
“He’s after a human descendent. He has no idea who I am.” She declared, rolling her eyes. “No one knows of my situation outside of Genkai. And she only knows because I had to offer some token of trust to her. He’ll be unprepared.”
“This is a lot of work to go through just to kill someone when you failed to last time.” The Spirit Prince remarked sharply. “Taking over a human body. Luring my team into your clutches.”
Her brow furrowed at his accusation.
“I used these ones to get the sword, that much is true, but as for taking over a human body I did no such thing.” Shinpi frowned, head tipped to the side. “I didn’t ask to be reincarnated.”
He paled at her words, then glanced at Botan, who raised her eyebrows high onto her forehead. Looking around the room, Shinpi noted the looks of surprise and suspicion.
“Did you seriously think someone would want this?” She asked Koenma, now thoroughly confused. “I hate every moment I’m alive, especially in this frail little body. I went after Hiro with every intention of dying. If I’m alive, it’s because your side wanted it, not me.”
“Impossible. I wouldn’t have accepted a request like this.” He gestured to her. “Father would have punished me for even thinking about it.”
“Well, I certainly didn’t ask to be born.” She crossed her arms. “I went into that fissure expecting to die. It took years of rebuilding my awareness for me to realize what had happened.”
Another bout of silence, this one far more tense and thrilling with mutual confusion and wariness.
“I’ll look into it.” Koenma told her, offering a single dip of his chin. “While I do, mind telling me why you didn’t end this existence you seem to loathe?”
“I tried. Once. But my human mother intervened. After that I learned that Hiro was still alive and renewed my mission to rid the world of him.” She waved a hand through the air. “Surely your books will indicate the attempt, at the least.”
“Then do your research. Come get me when it’s time to go.” She turned on heel and marched from the room, head high, and willingly allowed the SDF members on the other side to escort her back to her cell.
“I’ll go through her records.” Botan voiced quietly.
“Thank you, Botan.”
The rest of the team remained behind, no one wanting to be the first to speak. Koenma stewed at his desk, conflicted, as he rubbed the seam of the leather on the armrest of his chair.
“What do we know about Hiro?” Kurama asked, the safest question in the situation.
“I don’t know much. Just that his name is pieced with Amon-Shinpi’s consistently. A student, maybe? He was powerful by all accounts, but not a Takani. What I do know from looking over her record is that they were close and then they were trying to kill each other.” Koenma leaned forward, cradling his head in his hands. “This is a mess.”
“Do you know something?” Hiei turned to Genkai with harsh scrutiny. “Since you two seem so close, I imagine she spilled her secrets to you.”
“He took something from her, and she went after him for it. She failed the first time, retreated and came back a second time. He should’ve died. I’m not sure why he didn’t.” Genkai didn’t react to Hiei’s fiery gaze. “This is deeply personal to her.”
“But can we trust her?” Yusuke asked, grim.
“Allow me to decide.” Hiei told the rest of the group, his eye moving to Genkai with an obvious sneer. “Unless there are any objections.”
“Do what you must.” Genkai responded evenly. “But I’ll warn you that assaulting her privacy won’t sit well with her.”
“I’m not worried about her opinion of me.” Hiei assured the elder in the room. “Just bring her here. We’ll allow the Jagan eye to do the rest.”
The others turned to Koenma, waiting for him to okay this exchange. Tension rang clearly in the room until the toddler bobbed his head twice.
“If anyone can see her character right now, it’ll be Hiei. We’ll allow him to make the final call.” Koenma acquiesced to the demon’s demands, but looked grim in doing so. “If you find her guilty, Hiei, we’ll take her back to the cell to await her sentence.”
“I don’t care.” Hiei rolled his eyes back to Genkai. “I’m only interesting in outing her for the liar she is.”
“Good luck with that.” Genkai smirked then, something hidden behind her words.
Hiei posted himself behind the glass again, watching as Yusuke made himself comfortable on the bench across from the woman who once again sat chained to the wall. New bruises and cuts marred her face, over the bridge of her nose and under her eyes. Gifts from the SDF, he was sure.
Given her propensity for running her mouth, he was also sure she’d earned them.
Yusuke sighed, leaning forward to begin speaking to her. Shinpi watched him, mildly interested but reserved.
“What?” Yusuke squinted at her.
“Amon-Shinpi.” She repeated offhandedly. “Iruni isn’t my real name and I see no reason to continue going by it in this situation. You don’t call Kurama Shuichi. I went over this with Kurama.”
He sat back and assessed her. “Amon-Shinpi is a mouthful though. We don’t call him Youko either.”
“M’lord works just as well.”
“You little shit. Don’t make me throttle you. I’m not fucking calling you that.”
She laughed, genuine and bright, a startling occurrence to both men, and then nodded.
“Yukina calls me Hichi.” She allowed, still smiling. “But that is for my closest friends. You may call me Shinpi.”
He nodded slowly, then went on. “Shinpi, or whatever, what’s your plan here?”
“I thought that was clear.”
“No, I mean, what is your plan? You know, over all? We were ordered to bring you in for questioning and you lost the sword you were looking for.” Yusuke leaned forward, one hand on his knee as he waved the other around. “You’re pretty much trapped here.”
“Ah, I see your confusion.” She nodded, her smile turning wicked. “You’re under the impression my being here is your idea.”
Hiei stiffened behind the glass.
“I will assure you, Detective Urameshi, my being drug here was my plan.” Amon-Shinpi leaned forward elbows on her legs and hands clasped together. “If I’m to accomplish my goals, I need Spirit World’s assistance. Hiro is powerful and I will defeat him. But to do that without interference from your team requires me to make it known ahead of time. If your lot appeared mid-battle, it would throw my strategy off. If I can land Koenma’s blessing for this then he won’t send his lackeys after me for the use of my energy.”
Yusuke leaned forward and opened his mouth, eyes falling into a dull stare as he considered her words. Then he closed it, continuing to stare. She waited for him to speak, her expression shifting into something lighter, more genuine again.
“You knew who we were at the beginning.”
“How long have you been planning this?”
“The goal has been the same for years. However, intertwining with your team was only recently a piece of the plot.” She explained.
“And you knew you’d get placed here?”
“It was a high probability.” She nodded. “Once you agreed to bring me I knew I would either have to fight you all to escape with the sword or I’d be forced to surrender. The former wasn’t even a real option. As it stands, the Jaganshi would have killed me without hesitation.”
“I wouldn’t have let him-“
“You can’t stop him.”
Silence followed the statement and Hiei shifted behind the glass, pushing off from the wall to stand straight and stare at the woman through the glass. Her eyes moved from Yusuke and they met Hiei’s through the glass. She stared at him too, almost as if she could actually see him. He wondered again if she could.
“I’ve seen his kind before. And they stop at nothing.”
Hiei narrowed his eyes.
Amon-Shinpi shifted her gaze then, back to Yusuke but her expression had grown grim. “Anyway, surrender was the only choice. And it allowed me access to Spirit World.”
“Did the SDF guys rough you up?” The sharp edge to Yusuke’s tone piqued her interest.
“You can’t blame dogs for their behavior when they haven’t been properly managed.” Shinpi told him lightly.
“I can. I’ll knock their teeth out.” He argued. “You can’t let people just beat you up, Shinpi.”
“Much like when Hiei threw me to the floor, I’m not in a positon to fight. I also don’t need your concern.” She spoke quietly, with more softness. “I assume you didn’t come here just to interrogate me. Your team has reached some decision.”
“Hiei is going to take a look at you.” Yusuke told her with a nod. “He’ll decide what happens next.”
Wrinkling her nose, she looked away from him, weighing her options. A dangerous bet. “And if I refuse?”
“Not an option, sorry.” Yusuke shrugged uselessly.
Even without being in her head, Hiei knew what she was thinking in that moment. Her expression gave her away. He might not have recognized it except that he’d seen it on his own face a time or two. And the others all at least once. In that moment, without hesitation, she had accepted the fact that she was about to die.
“So, I’m to undergo the Jaganshi’s assessment then.” Shinpi kept herself toward the door so she could see everyone in the room after Yusuke walked her back into the office. “That’s the price for your cooperation?”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself. No one agreed to work with you.” Hiei warned her. “This time tomorrow you might be wasting away in that little cell.”
“I’ll be dead, actually. No doubt the ruling will be execution if you find me guilty of anything. Spirit World won’t allow me to exist and prove they’ve made an error in their paperwork.” She corrected him without much care. “So the terms are either pass your test and get what I want, or fail and die. I’m used to working within those odds.”
“Are you saying you’ll go through with this test?” Kurama asked her carefully. “We’d like your consent.”
Her eyes flicked to him then back to Hiei. Huffing she offered a useless shrug. His casual allowance didn’t undermine Yusuke’s words from earlier.
“If it’ll ease your conscience, sure. I accept the terms I’ve been given and will allow the Jaganshi access to my mind.” Shinpi reached up and unbound her hair, pulling the ward out from the strands of black. Shredding the paper she gripped the tattered pieces in her fist.
Hiei stepped in front of her, the Jagan already open and boring into her with its relentless stare. Raising a hand in front of her face, his spread his fingers wide, so close she could trace the patterns that created his fingerprints.
“Stay still.” He warned her, closing his crimson eyes to focus his attention.
And just like that he began.