Hiei watched the sun rise over the ocean from his perch high in a tree at the forest’s edge. The sky had been a lovely shade of red in the early hour, though not quite as deep as the skies back in Makai. He enjoyed these mornings most because they reminded him of home. He wasn’t a sentimental man, but there were times he missed the chaos and lawlessness of his world.
He’d been dreaming of it lately. He rarely ever dreamed, but they’d grown more frequent over the last few weeks. He attributed it to their fights in the Dark Tournament. He’d hardly been in such close proximity to so many demons since coming to the Ningenkai, and taming the Dragon of the Darkness Flame had nearly cost him his body. It was really no wonder he struggled to sleep.
He heard Kurama approach below. He didn’t need his telepathy to know that the redhead had been sent to retrieve him for yet another asinine mission for Koenma. The young lord of the Reikai was unfailingly predictable.
Kurama was one of only a handful of people Hiei would allow to approach him unchallenged. He was also the only one who seemed to always know exactly how to find Hiei. He admired the fox demon’s strength and companionship, but that uncanny ability to locate him even when he did not want to be found was an annoyance. “Good morning, Hiei!”
Sighing, Hiei dropped from his branch and landed at the other man’s feet. “I take it your mission the other day was a success.”
Kurama’s mouth quirked in a smile. He knew Hiei was not one for small talk. “Yes, indeed.”
When he didn’t offer anything more, Hiei glared up at him. “And now Koenma has further need of all of us? Or are we to check in daily now?”
The kitsune chuckled. “I’m no psychic like you, but I would wager we’re being brought in as bodyguards for the girl Yusuke and I rescued.”
Hiei’s frown deepened. “I’m not a babysitter.”
“You are whatever Koenma requires you to be,” he smirked, “if you ever wish to return to the Makai a free man.”
Hiei’s shoulders tightened. Kurama had another annoying habit of reminding him that Koenma was being gracious by allowing them to work off their crimes in the Ningenkai rather than waste away in a Reikai prison.
Hiei acted like he couldn’t care less, but he had grown accustomed to the moderate freedom his indentured servitude provided him. “Is she as strong as Koenma expected?”
Kurama shrugged. “We sensed a strong aura when we were searching for her, but it vanished as quickly as it appeared. It could have been her, or it could have been an enemy she eluded.”
Hiei raised an eyebrow. “If it wasn’t her, how could she have eluded it?”
“That, is the million-yen question.” His emerald eyes sparkled. This girl intrigued him. Hiei rolled his eyes as he walked past Kurama.
He wasn’t keen on being a glorified babysitter, and definitely not for some human girl who may or may not have incredible hidden power. But Kurama’s curiosity was infectious and Hiei wanted to see for himself what was so interesting about this particular human girl. They traveled to Koenma’s without another word.
Yusuke and Kuwabara were bickering about some stupid human thing, Hiei thought he heard the phrase “video game” come up, when they arrived. Kurama smiled and greeted them warmly. Hiei hung back near the corner. He had no great fondness for spending a lot of time with foolish humans, and he’d spent far too much time sequestered with these of late.
Koenma emerged from the room adjacent to his office. Hiei smothered a smirk at the man’s appearance. He had actually put forth the effort to appear as a young adult instead of a toddler. During the Dark Tournament he had complained how much time it took for him to pull off the look, and yet here he stood appearing almost regal in his teenage form. He wasn’t fooling anyone who knew him; this was a lame attempt to appear relatable to the girl they were about to meet.
“Good morning gentleman,” he began in his cheeriest baritone. “Thank you all for coming again on such short notice.”
“Cut the crap, Koenma,” Yusuke barked. “A couple days ago, you called us all here only to tell us you only needed two of us. If it’s not that important, you could send Kuwabara and Hiei since Kurama and I already did a job this week.”
“Hey!” Kuwabara protested. Hiei held his tongue.
Koenma sighed. “Very well. I’ll skip the background where I explain how Yusuke and Kurama’s mission the other day was a success and jump right to the part where today’s mission involves keeping our new friend safe.”
“Why do we have to do it?” Yusuke muttered.
Koenma folded his arms across his chest and furrowed his brow at Yusuke. “Because you are the strongest team I have and are currently without assignment.”
Kuwabara intervened before Yusuke could dig himself any deeper. “So, what are we looking at? What’s so special about her she needs protecting?”
The young prince considered him over his pacifier. Hiei recognized when Koenma was going to tell them less than he knew. His jaw tightened in anticipation for the half-truth they would be given. “She’s being hunted by some very dangerous people, human and demon alike. There’s an immense power within her, that she may not even be aware of, which these bad people wish to exploit. It is your job to make sure this does not happen.”
“How could she not know how strong she is? If she has that much power, why can’t she just protect herself?” Kuwabara scoffed.
Hiei grunted amusement. “As usual, your puny mind can’t grasp the simplest of concepts.”
“You wanna go, shrimp?”
“Please, I’m not looking to extend my sentence here.” Yusuke put a restraining arm against Kuwabara, but he was holding back laughter. Hiei pointed at them. “All I’m saying is that you two fools are walking examples of the ignorantly powerful.”
“I’m not sure if I should feel insulted by that or not,” Yusuke chuckled.
“I think what Hiei is try to say,” Kurama interjected, “is that you both have great power, and have always had it, though you might not have known it at the beginning. Yusuke, when we first met, you had no idea how strong you were, and you still managed to defeat us both.”
“Indeed,” Koenma added, trying to regain control of the meeting before it turned into a walk down memory lane. “There could be other factors at play here as well, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that she is ignorant of her own strength. In fact, I would like to operate under that assumption. She’s agreed to be placed under our protection, so let’s not fail her.”
“But why us?” Kuwabara asked. “Shouldn’t we let the police handle this or something?” He glared at Hiei as Hiei sighed. The man never did use the chunk of meat between his ears.
“Because the nature of her power is unknown,” Koenma answered before Hiei could make a scathing retort. “What we do know is she’s already being hunted, and not just by power hungry humans like your old pals of the Dark Tournament Committee or the Black Black Club. Over the past couple years, I’ve flagged several demon scouts in the mountains she calls home.” He paused, then sighed. “I realize how melodramatic this is going to sound, but if my suspicions are correct, the power she holds could tip the scales of balance between the realms. For that reason, we must keep her safe.”
A heavy silence fell on the room. Hiei was sure Koenma was just being overly dramatic for the sake of getting them on board with such a flimsy mission. He wasn’t convinced, but Koenma’s little speech had the desired effect on the humans in the room. Yusuke’s shoulders slumped and he avoided Koenma’s stare. Kuwabara’s jaw took on a stubborn set as his mind tried to comprehend the gravity Koenma’s words had implied. Only Kurama’s face remained soft. He was smart enough not to fall prey to Koenma’s mind games.
“Well, when are we gonna get to meet her?” Kuwabara broke the silence. “Yusuke and Kurama have already met her but Hiei and I don’t know what we’re dealing with.”
Koenma nodded and walked back to the door he had used to enter the room. He opened it and swept his arm in front of him, beckoning the person within to join them. A moment later a young woman emerged, her smile cautious, her eyes flashing with uncertainty. “Guys, this is Ali. Ali Shinamori.”
She bowed, her dusty brown hair falling over her shoulders. “Pleased to meet you,” she said, her voice soft and smooth. “I’ll be in your care.” She rose and smiled at the group.
Her eyes flashed through Hiei’s mind and his whole body tightened. He was certain he recognized them. He mentally reached out to try and read her mind but found himself blocked. She was definitely no ordinary human.
“Good morning, Miss Ali,” Kurama’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “I trust you slept well?”
She nodded. “Very well. I think I’ve slept more over the last couple of days than I have in months,” she laughed. “I’ve already met you, Kurama and Yusuke, but I’ve yet to have the pleasure…” Her voice trailed off as she extended a hand to Kuwabara.
“Kazuma Kuwabara.” The ginger leapt to his feet and grasped her hand firmly, his apprehensions already dissolved. “You have nothing more to fear young lady. I will definitely keep you safe from harm.” The girl giggled and Hiei rolled his eyes. The fool’s knight-in-shining-armor routine grated on him but at least it wasn’t directed at Yukina for once.
“We all will,” Kurama said, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Isn’t that right, Hiei?” he grinned as he turned everyone’s attention to the fire demon.
Hiei narrowed his eyes at the man, flicking his gaze to the girl very briefly. Her face held a touch of color and he was once again frustrated to find he couldn’t read her. He wasn’t sure if she was actually embarrassed or simply playing them all for fools.
“Hiei?” Her voice echoed in his ears. Again, he found himself drawn by her eyes. He couldn’t decide if they were blue or silver. He shook his head. What human had silver eyes?
He frowned and turned to leave. He’d seen enough. “Yeah, whatever.” He waved a hand behind him. “Call me when you have real need of me,” he snarled to Koenma and left before the man could retort. That girl-Ali, was it?-unnerved him, and he had no desire to remain in her company. Still, she was hiding something, and he was going to figure out what it was.