Ali took the opportunity to rest her eyes while she awaited rescue. She had no doubts they would be able to find her, and there wasn’t much she could do otherwise. Hiei’s voice in her head woke her some time later. We’re close, he told her. Looks to be an old fort from the war era, but with newer fortifications.
He explained that Kurama had planted some sort of tracking device on her and could lead them directly to her. She forgave him for taking such a precaution as she was grateful it was directly impacting her escape. Her plan had been to raise her energy to let them know her precise location. This was easier, and less likely to give their location to the enemy.
Despite taking care to bind her, Hitokiri hadn’t stashed her at the center of the stronghold. Hiei informed her Kurama could sense her in a lower level, but one that was near the edge rather than at the heart. He told her Yusuke and Kuwabara would provide a diversion while he and Kurama snuck down to free her. Then he was silent.
An explosion somewhere above her alerted the whole base. She could sense Yusuke and Kuwabara’s spirit energies as they fought the minions, no doubt exacting some small measure of vengeance for earlier. Hiei and Kurama were making their way towards her. As they neared, she could hear them scuffling with the guards outside her door.
There were a handful of thuds and a jangling of keys. The door opened and the light that had blinded her earlier was now the most beautiful sight to behold. The scent of roses filled the room as Kurama hurried to her side. “Are you alright?”
She felt tears well up in her eyes as his hands cupped her face. His voice was so soft, his concern genuine. The shame of her treachery, of knocking him unconscious in her desperate flee to nowhere, heated her face. “Kurama, I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
He smiled. “You can pay me back later.” She nodded. She would spend the rest of her days paying him back.
Hiei broke her shackles with his sword, freeing her arms first. She stretched them out to the sides before throwing them around Kurama’s neck and sobbing into his shoulder, whispering thanks between breaths. She offered the same to Hiei when he freed her legs as well, but he was less receptive, and stiffened under her embrace.
Hastily, she rubbed the tears from her eyes and massaged her chafed wrists. “So what’s the plan now?”
“We get you home,” Hiei answered sharply.
She frowned. “What about Hitokiri?”
“We’ll take care of him,” Kurama answered. “Hiei and I will join Yusuke and Kuwabara and put an end to him while you return to the estate.”
“What? No, I’m coming with you,” she demanded.
“Ali, please,” Kurama replied. “It’s not safe for you here, and you’re hurt.”
She scoffed and rubbed her chin. “This is nothing. Besides, I want to help.”
Kurama looked to Hiei for assistance. The dark haired man was studying her, measuring her. After a moment he shook his head. “Let her come,” he said, surprising both of them.
“Hiei, this is too dangerous,” Kurama pleaded.
“Let her come,” he repeated. “Or do you really think it wise to let her out of our sight?” He turned towards the door. “Our enemy could be waiting for us to leave her so he can recapture her while we’re occupied with his underlings. If not him, there could be others waiting for the opportunity to take her. The best place for her to be is with us.”
Ali nodded. “I won’t be useless this time, promise,” she said. “I can fight.”
Kurama looked from her to Hiei, then sighed in exasperation. “Alright, fine. I suppose it does make sense,” he admitted, “but promise me you will be careful and stay with us?”
Ali’s face broke into a smile. She was finally going to get to fight alongside comrades. “Absolutely.” He tipped his head sternly. “I promise,” she said, trying to refrain from giggling. She clasped his hand tightly and met his eyes and Hiei’s. “You guys too. Be careful.” Hiei gave a non-committal grunt. Kurama grinned and nodded affirmation.
Without another word, they moved as one back to where Yusuke and Kuwabara were fighting. Seeing her alive and safe invigorated them, and together they worked to dispel the small defensive horde. Ali threw punches left and right, alternating kicks as the boys utilized their various weapons to eliminate the threat surrounding them.
“You’re not half bad,” Kuwabara commented when they had a brief respite.
“Yeah, where was that earlier?” Yusuke asked, catching his breath.
Her face flushed. She didn’t want to tell them she thought they were all dead either way because of a vision she’d had. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “There was a lot about that encounter that took me by surprise.” They nodded acceptance of her apology. Hiei seemed to be the only one aware that she was being evasive. His eyes narrowed but he made no comment.
“Well I’m just glad you’re on our side,” Kuwabara grinned.
“Any ideas where our friend Hitokiri is?” Yusuke asked.
Ali shook her head. “I only saw him the once, when he came to my cell to gloat. I’m just as blind as you guys here.”
Hiei snorted. “Please, I’m sure you could figure out where he is if you tried.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “If I could, I’d already have his head in my hands.”
She ignored the glances the other boys cast among themselves. Hiei eyed her skeptically. She persisted her pointed glare at him. She didn’t feel the need to explain to him the extent of her psychic prowess. Her range was wider than most, but she wasn’t all-seeing. It took focus and knowing her target in order to be successful and she’d spent five minutes with the man, most of which involved him using her as a punching bag. She hadn’t been able to get into his head in that time.
Yusuke cleared his throat in an attempt to ease the rising tension. “Maybe we could see if any of these bastards still have enough breath to guide us?” He gestured to the floor covered with the dead and dying minions they had dealt with.
They went among the demons and searched for the ones that were still alive. They dispatched the uncooperative ones. None would talk, or none knew where their master was, and so they finished off most of them. Ali held one in her grasp when she felt it.
The others all looked up from their detainees at the same time. A massive rise in power coming from the north end of the fortress. Hitokiri was enraged that Ali had escaped and seemed to be calling them to him. Ali’s quiet rage took over and she grinned at the beacon. “He’s waiting for us,” she announced and dropped the demon she’d been about to interrogate.
Hiei caught her arm before she could run towards her captor. She whipped her head around to rebuke him for restraining her, for keeping her from her vengeance, but his eyes cautioned her to patience. “We’ll get him,” he said.
She swallowed a snarl. Kurama placed a calming hand on her shoulder. “We’re a team,” he said. “We’ll go together.” He wasn’t excluding her. She relented and let him take point with Kuwabara as they advanced towards Hitokiri’s emanating energy.
They were slowed along the way by remaining guards and underlings. A slash of Kuwabara’s sword, a slice of Kurama’s whip and they fell writhing at their feet. An intersecting hallway held a small group of sentries that tried to split the team. Yusuke threw punches while Hiei made cuts with his sword.
Ali hooked one and kicked him into the path of Kuwabara’s sword. She leapt and dodged, throwing quick jabs and knocking feet out from under another. She could feel Hitokiri pulling her. She wanted to face him, not these worthless minions. Frustrated, she spun and slammed her heel into the throat of the demon lying prostrate beneath her, crushing its windpipe and snapping its neck.
“Damn,” Yusuke muttered.
She ignored the concerned glances that he and Kuwabara cast her way. “C’mon,” she said, “he’s not much further.”
They were beset with enemies twice more before reaching their goal. Ali’s fists hit harder with each setback. Part of her wanted to make up for her uselessness in the previous fight, but a larger part of her wanted to fight the man who had tried to manipulate her. These obstacles were tedious. She could sense the discomfort of the detectives as they watched her defeat their enemies with singular malice, but she didn’t let it touch her.
Kurama and Kuwabara burst through a door at the end of the last stairwell, Ali hot on their heels with Hiei and Yusuke on hers. They exited to the roof, the building stretching out before them, their enemy awaiting them a hundred meters away. The eastern horizon was pinking and the waxing moon was well past its zenith, casting Hitokiri in an eerie light.
Her malice quavered in the presence of his power. Sensing it from below, it had invigorated her. She hadn’t considered what it would mean to actually confront it. She glanced around at her teammates to gauge their reactions. The low light made it difficult, but their emotions were strong enough she could feel them. Fear was not among them and she took comfort in that as her eyes returned to her captor.
His rumbling laughter echoed all around them. “I really must congratulate you,” he announced, arms outstretched in a mock bow. “First, you manage to locate my stronghold. Then you destroy my property and steal my prisoner. You defeat the majority of my elite guards and you still have the gall to come after me. I’ll admit, no one’s ever made it to me before. But seeing as you’ve brought her this far, ” he extended his hand towards Ali with a beckoning grin that made her skin crawl, “I’ll be taking back what belongs to me.”
“Like hell you will,” Yusuke shouted, rolling his shoulder to loosen it. “We’ve been looking for her all night. Thanks to you, now I’m gonna be sleeping through classes today.”
“C’mon Urameshi, you’d be sleeping anyway,” Kuwabara laughed, swinging his arm across his body. “Kurama’s the one who should be upset.”
Kurama chuckled and wrapped his whip around his arm. “I’m sure I’ll manage just fine.” Hiei made no comment aside from rolling his eyes.
“You people are amusing,” Hitokiri droned. “But you are no challenge to me. If you leave the girl now I won’t pursue you.”
They all looked to Ali. Hiei seemed to consider it for the briefest of moments before his eyes glinted with the same smirk as the others. “No, she’s coming home with us,” Yusuke announced.
Hitokiri sighed heavily. “Very well. I was going to let you live, but I guess I’ll have to send you back to Koenma personally.”
The air exploded around her as the fighters all converged at the center of the rooftop. Ali tried to follow the action but she found it difficult to keep up. Hitokiri moved so quickly, the boys almost attacked each other as often as they attacked him. After the third near-miss from Kuwabara, Hiei tripped him and sent him sailing away from the scrum. Kuwabara cursed him out but leapt right back in the action, taking more care not to swing in Hiei’s direction.
Blows were landed all around. Mostly to Ali’s friends. They got in a few solid hits, but Hitokiri mainly brushed them off and returned the favor twofold. A particularly nasty hook caught Yusuke and sent him flying into Kurama. They tumbled to the edge of the roof together as another powerful punch knocked Kuwabara to the other edge. Hiei struggled with Hitokiri while Ali scrambled to help Yusuke and Kurama untangle themselves.
She shouldn’t have taken her eyes off the fight. Before she could reach her teammates, she was pummeled from the side. Her upper thigh burned afresh as his kick reminded her of his earlier abuse and she fell awkwardly on her arm as she tried to catch herself. Muscles still sore from being restrained wrenched painfully at the impact.
Hitokiri placed his foot on her hip, striking a conquering pose and smirking down at her. The early dawn sky threw his sharp features in relief, making him appear the most sinister she’d seen him yet. “You are misbehaving,” he crooned. “I promise you, your punishment will be severe. Pain you can’t even imagine awaits you once I’ve dealt with these.”
Ali swallowed the pain and gritted her teeth. She retreated into her mind, distancing herself from it. Inhaling, she mustered a laugh. “I have known pain far worse than your wildest nightmares. You can break my body a hundred times and not come close to inflicting it.” Again, her voice sounded foreign to her own ears and Hitokiri’s face twitched as it had in their previous conversation.
“Brave words from an ignorant child,” he muttered. His lips turned down and he brought his fist up to drive it into her. She braced herself for the impact but it never came. Hitokiri was thrown off of her as Hiei kicked him away from her.
He followed after Hitokiri to continue their battle, Yusuke and Kuwabara rejoining him almost simultaneously. Kurama came to her side and helped her to her feet. She muttered an apology as she winced from the pain in her side. His smile encouraged her. “You can leave this to us,” he said. “We’ve faced stronger fighters in recent weeks. He won’t beat us when we work together.” Sparing a wink for her, he joined the fray.
She watched as they started making use of combination attacks. Kuwabara and Hiei kept Hitokiri occupied with their swords while Yusuke charged up his spirit gun. Kurama spun his rose thorn whip into the mix, ensnaring Hitokiri as the swordsmen leapt out of the way of Yusuke’s attack. Their faces showed varying degrees of smugness and pride. That illusion was shattered as the dust cleared.
Hitokiri stood at the center, fresh cuts dripping from where Kurama’s whip had punctured him, but otherwise no worse off than he had been at the start of the battle. “I’ve had enough of these little games,” he growled. The air grew cold. His eyes darkened as he threw his arms out to the sides and raised his hands as though he were conducting a symphony.
The four fighters were pulled off their feet into the air, hovering several meters off the ground. Hitokiri met her eyes and peeled his lips back in a bone chilling grin. He turned his gaze up to his opponents dangling precariously in the air. Their stunned expressions made him roar with laughter. With a flick of his wrist, Kuwabara was driven into the ground.
“Kuwabara!” Yusuke shouted at his best friend to get to his feet, but the ginger was unnaturally still. Turning his fury on one who could hear him, he snarled at Hitokiri. “I’m going to kill you for that.”
Hitokiri chuckled. “And how do you plan to do that? You can’t even move.” As if to drive the point home, he whipped his arm forward and Yusuke flew towards the encasement that held the stairwell back into the building.
Ali cried out to him but he didn’t emerge from the rubble. “He’ll be alright,” Kurama’s voice above assured her. He was smiling at her despite being held upside down against his will. “It’s not like Yusuke to be taken out by so simple an attack, but maybe he hasn’t fully healed from our recent battles.”
“Not helping, Kurama” Hiei muttered.
“How unfortunate for you all,” Hitokiri sneered. Driving his arm down over his head, Kurama sailed into the ground near Kuwabara’s unconscious body. He did not get up either.
Ali looked to the one who remained. Hiei’s aggravation was evident in his narrowed gaze and menacing snarl. He swung his arms in a circle, attempting to swim through the air, but all he accomplished was to elicit further laughter from Hitokiri. “That won’t work,” the demon pointed out. “Here, let me assist you!”
Hitokiri rotated his hands around each other as though rolling an invisible ball between them. He then thrust one upwards and swung it back to his side. Hiei’s body launched towards the sky and was pulled back down with each motion.
“Hiei!” Ali cried. Her stomach dropped with his fall. He was different from the others; he couldn’t be taken down the same way, could he?
Hiei groaned and pushed himself up to one knee. Ali sighed in relief but froze as an intrigued smirk appeared on Hitokiri’s face. “Interesting,” he commented.
Hiei spat blood on the ground as he got back to his feet. “Bastard. What’s so interesting?”
“Fate,” he crooned. “The passing of time may erase memory, but it cannot alter fate.” His features quickly darkened again. “However, it would be troublesome to allow you to live.” He extended his hand once again and an opaque sphere appeared around Hiei’s head as he slowly floated above the ground.
Hiei clawed at his neck and his feet swung wildly as he hung. Ali couldn’t hear his voice but she was certain he was gasping for air inside that bubble. She had to do something or he would suffocate. “Stop it!” she pleaded.
Hitokiri did not look at her. “No, I don’t think so.” His concentrated gaze was wholly focused on Hiei. “This one will burn everything if I let him live. To put out a flame, one must remove all oxygen.” His eyes narrowed. “You will forget him just as you have forgotten your past.”
“And what do you know of my past?” she demanded. She had to keep him talking, buy enough time to gather her energy and save Hiei. If he was talking, he was splitting his concentration.
“Do you really think the name those humans gave you is your true name?” He closed his fingers into a fist and Hiei struggled harder. “Sometimes memories are the worst form of torture. Your torture will be severe once I’ve finished with these.”
That was the second time he’d insinuated she didn’t know herself. It angered her. She knew who she was. She was Ali Shinamori. Daughter of a hunter. Blessed with supernatural powers and abilities. She could beat this demon as she had defeated all her other pursuers.
Ali swallowed her panic as she summoned her own spirit energy. After seeing the others do it, she knew she could manifest hers too. Her father had taught her how to use a bow. She envisioned it as Hitokiri continued to focus on killing Hiei. She could feel the energy flowing to her hands and knew that it would take the form she was most comfortable with.
She extended her arm out in front of her, pleased with the shape her aura had taken. With her other hand, she pulled back effortlessly and an arrow appeared as she did so. Her aching shoulders protested the motion as though she pulled a physical bow, despite the absence of real resistance. The first rays of the morning sun warmed her as she loosed her spirit arrow at her enemy.
Startled by the sudden energy coming at him and blinded by the sunrise, Hitokiri relinquished his hold over Hiei to dodge it. Hiei landed on his knees and coughed as his lungs hungrily swallowed the air. Ali pulled back a second arrow. She didn’t intend to miss twice. It was all she had left.
Unfortunately she had lost the element of surprise. “Do you honestly think I would let you get away with that a second time?” Hitokiri bellowed as he deflected her second arrow back at her. She was too exhausted to move out of the way.
Hiei moved so fast she barely had time to register he had recovered enough energy to stand, let alone intercept and carry her to safety. His breathing was still heavy, but it was steady. His strong arms did not tremble as he set her gently on the ground. “Thank you, Hiei,” she sighed.
He frowned at her. “Idiot, we told you to let us handle it.” He stood and turned to face Hitokiri once more. “Rest. I’ll finish this.”
She nodded, knowing he couldn’t see her but trusting his words as her eyes fluttered closed. She was certain that when she awoke, they would all be home safe.