Chapter 21 – Desperation

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Hiei ran faster than he ever had before, back through the Gates of Judgement and down into the human realm, through dark alleys and out into the streets. From the streets, he leapt to rooftops and ran toward the edge of the city, to the forest. He scented blood on the air.

He lost a step. Not again. He couldn’t be too late again.

He found her trail and followed it to the site of her battle. Splintered wood and packed snow told the story of the battle’s path. It led him to the corpse of what he could only assume was the Manawydan. Long-limbed, scaly, with a thin tail, this one was in two. The blade that had severed it lay corroding in its blood.

“Augh! What is that thing?” Kuwabara yelped.

“It would appear to be the enemy we were warned about,” Kurama surmised, casting his eyes about and taking in every detail of the scene for reference later.

Yusuke poked at the corpse’s bug-eyed head with his toes. “Yeah but where’s Ali?”

Something was wrong. It hadn’t taken them that long to arrive. She should have still been here. There were no footprints leading away, no signs of a body dragged either. He looked up at the trees. Of course. “She’s running,” he said.

“Where?” Yusuke followed his gaze. The detective was keen-eyed enough to spot the blood in the branches that did not fit the scene.

Kuwabara grunted. “Wouldn’t she just go home? Or to Koenma’s?”

“No.” Kurama’s voice was cold. “Something about this fight spooked her. Hiei’s right, she’s running away again.”

Yusuke sighed. “Great. Cause that worked so well last time.”

Hiei scowled. The last time she ran because she thought she was protecting them. Could she have had another vision? “What’s on your mind, Hiei?”

He turned his frown on Kurama. “Last night, she told me the reason she ran that time.” Yusuke and Kuwabara exchanged curious glances. Hiei went on, ignoring them. “She said she’d had a vision of all of us dying. She thought if she ran, it would keep it from happening.”

“She’s a Seer,” Kurama murmured.

Kuwabara gaped at him. “Wait, like she can see the future and stuff?”

“It’s entirely possible.”

Yusuke shook his head. “That makes no sense. We didn’t die.”

“Her vision came true,” Hiei growled. “At least to the point of our defeat. She interpreted it wrong, but it still came about exactly as she had seen it would.”

They fell silent for a moment. Kurama inspected the dead Manawydan a bit closer. Kuwabara was the one to break the silence. “But if she saw what was coming, and ran to prevent it, but it still came true, then why would she run now? If she saw something, wouldn’t she realize that running wouldn’t change anything?”

“It might depend on what she saw,” Kurama said.

“This is all really interesting,” Yusuke barked, “but it isn’t bringing us closer to finding her.” He turned on Hiei. “Where would she have gone?”

Hiei’s frown deepened. “Why would I know?”

“Because you spend the most time alone with her. Because you’re the only one she confided in about her future visions. Because you have a Jagan eye that can find her. Take your pick.”

Hiei blinked back his surprise. It wasn’t like Yusuke to call him down like that. The others had their eyes on him as well. Kurama had a bemused expression that Hiei didn’t care to interpret. He folded his arms across his chest and turned away from them. “I don’t need my Jagan to find her.” He pointed to the blood on the bark overhead. “She went north. The only place of significance that way is the place her parents are buried.”

“We need to get to the training portal. Maybe we can head her off.” Yusuke ordered.

Hiei ran ahead of them. The portal dropped him on the path that lead to the burned out husk of her childhood home. Fresh prints alerted him to her presence before he sensed her. He found her kneeling in the snow in front of the grave markers. His relief was eclipsed by panic when he saw the sword in her hands. It was unsheathed and aimed at herself.

He moved instinctively, kicking the blade from her hands as she tumbled backwards in shock. “Are you crazy? What were you thinking?” he shouted at her.

The color drained from her face and her pupils shrank at the sight of him. He frowned as she scrambled away from him. “No,” she whispered, then screamed, “NO!”

“Ali? What has gotten into you?” He took a step towards her but she just clasped her hands to her head and kept shrieking.

“Get away!”

The others arrived and looked from her to him with angry, troubled faces. “What did you do?” Kuwabara demanded.

Hiei pointed to the sword sticking into the snow behind him. “She was about to kill herself! I couldn’t just let her!”

“But why?” Yusuke’s eyes narrowed in confusion as he looked at her. He tried to walk towards her but she screamed and crawled further away. “Ali, what’s wrong?”

“It’s us,” Kuwabara said as placating as he could. “We’re your friends.”

“No!” she shook her head violently, eyes wide, hands trembling at her temples. “All my friends are dead. Their blood is on my hands.” She slowly lowered them in front of her and began furiously scrubbing them with snow. “It won’t wash off,” she muttered. “It won’t come off. Stained. My fault. I killed them. It will never come off.”

Yusuke and Kuwabara looked at each other and Hiei helplessly. He had no idea what to do either. Kurama smiled at her and produced a flower of pure white petals with a yellow center and vibrant red spines. Hiei had never seen such a flower before, though he’d heard it described once, long ago.

“Ali, everything is going to be ok,” he crooned. She ceased her frantic hand washing and froze at the sight of the flower coming toward her. “You are safe now. No one is going to hurt you.”

She reached out as he got closer. When she touched the flower, the petals burst and danced around her head. “Rakuen…” she whispered as tiny spores floated in her face. Her eyes glassed over and she crumpled to the ground.

“What did she say?” Kuwabara asked as Kurama scooped Ali into his arms.

“Paradise,” Hiei muttered. “Kurama. Was that a lunar flower?”

The redhead smiled sadly. “It was just a facsimile, a ruse to get close enough to deliver the stun spores. As the name would suggest, lunar flowers only bloom at night in the moonlight. However, no one has seen a real one in centuries.”

Yusuke came to his side and frowned at the unconscious girl in his arms. “Why did she stop when she saw it?”

“Because it is usually only visible to wolves.” He turned to head back to the path. “There are many questions we do not have answers for, but first we must get Ali back to Koenma. I suspect she will need some time to recover before we can ask those questions.”

Hiei stayed behind as the others made their way back to the portal with Ali. Yusuke’s words rattled him. They hadn’t known about her vision from that time. He knew she’d had secrets, but why would she confide them to him instead of the others? What other things had she told him that he’d dismissed?

He retrieved her sword from the snow and returned it to its sheath. He headed to the clearing where they had their makeshift training grounds and to the hollow tree that served as a home for it. He hesitated as he held the blade over the hole.

What if she woke up and decided to come back to try again? Until they could be sure of her mental state, leaving weapons lying about in places she could easily access seemed foolhardy. He adjusted the straps on the sheath so he could wear it on his back.

Yusuke was waiting for him at her apartment when he returned to town. He raised an eyebrow at the extraneous sword strapped to Hiei’s back, but he didn’t comment on it. “They’re taking her to Genkai’s,” he explained. “Botan, Yukina, and a couple of spirit world healers are with her right now.”

“So many?” Hiei wondered. “She didn’t appear that injured.”

Yusuke shrugged. “I think they’re just being cautious because of how she reacted when we found her. Kurama is briefing Koenma on what we found.”

Hiei grunted acknowledgment. “And Kuwabara?”

“Taking the first shift as bodyguard,” Yusuke said in an infantilizing mimicry of the ginger’s voice before chuckling. “That compound is the safest place in the region even without muscle, but you know how he gets whenever Yukina is involved.”

Hiei debated rushing off to Genkai’s, despite knowing how the place made him uncomfortable. Yusuke’s smug grin did not lessen his desire to run but he did not want to give the detective the satisfaction. “Did Kurama say how long his plants would keep her under?”

Yusuke shook his head. “Even so, I don’t think the girls would let us anywhere near her unless they were convinced she was in perfect health.”

“They can’t keep us away indefinitely,” Hiei grumbled. “We have to find out what happened in that fight.”

Yusuke stretched and straightened off the wall. “And we will. But for now there’s nothing for it but to wait.” He waved to Hiei as he turned to his own apartment. “I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

Ali did not wake up after several days. Genkai grumbled about the high volume of visitors to her home, but even Hiei could tell she was concerned about the girl. It turned out that Ali had taken a fever the night she arrived at the compound and it had persisted for days.

“I just don’t know what else to do,” Yukina murmured on the fourth afternoon. “Aside from the fever, she’s in perfect health physically. But she just won’t wake up.”

Kurama’s concern was greater. He blamed himself for her prolonged slumber. “The effects of the spores should have faded by now.”

“This isn’t due to your intervention, Kurama,” Botan said softly, placing a gentle hand on his arm. “The healers tested her yesterday and there were no traces of the stun spores present.” She turned a morose gaze upon Ali. “This is something completely different.”

“Spirit sickness,” a gravelly voice announced from the entryway. The diminutive psychic stood puffing on her pipe.

“Master Genkai.” Botan and Yukina bowed respectfully as she came to stand over the sleeping wolf girl.

She frowned at Ali, lying restless and sweating through her blankets, trembling all the while. “What sort of battle did you say she was in?”

“She fought a Manawydan,” Kurama answered.

The old woman grunted. “So one of those monsters managed to slip through the barrier, eh?” She shook her head in disgust. “Who did she think she was fighting?”

“We don’t know,” he said. “Does it matter?”

Genkai drew on her pipe and let out a long, slow puff of smoke. “Have you ever fought a Manawydan before?” Her eyes pierced Kurama and slid over to Hiei as well. They both shook their heads. “Pray that you never do.” She gestured to Ali with her pipe. “If you were to class telepathic ability in a similar vein as you class demonic power, this girl would likely be A-class. The Manawydans are almost all S-class or better.

“Combine this with their shapeshifting abilities, they can literally become anyone. All they need to do is search your memories for their inspiration. They become a friend, a brother, a mother, a lover. Imagine you are suddenly attacked by someone you loved, someone you trusted, and you have no idea what provoked them. This is their tactic. Either they kill you, or they break you by forcing you to kill someone you love.”

She sighed before taking another couple puffs on her pipe. “Of course, they don’t usually dabble in the affairs of humans. They’re fairly reclusive, so if you’ve drawn their ire, you must have something they desperately want.”

Hiei met Kurama’s gaze and shared the other man’s concerns. The Manawydans were after the power sleeping within Ali. The next player had finally been revealed, and they could be anyone.

Ali whimpered and ground her teeth. Botan and Yukina grabbed her arms before she could start thrashing about. “So who does she think she killed?” Genkai asked as casually as if she were asking if it was going to rain.

Hiei frowned. “At the graves, she kept saying she had killed us all. But there was only one corpse in the forest.”

“The sword,” Kurama muttered. “It’s been on my mind since we encountered the battle site. Hiei, I think it was yours.”

“That’s not possible,” Hiei scoffed, pulling his sword loose so Kurama could see that it was on his person. “I had this when we found it.”

The redhead shook his head. “Obviously it wasn’t the same sword, but it was a very convincing replica for someone who had been unbalanced by an ambush.”

Hiei’s mouth fell slightly open. “Why would I attack her?”

“Do you spend a lot of time together?” Genkai’s voice was frank, but unwavering. She demanded an answer.

Hiei tightened his jaw. These insinuations were a large part of why he had tried to quit.  “Only as much as is required for the mission.” He tried to convince himself he had no interest in her outside of his assignment to her.

“You were the last one with her,” Kurama mused. “It wouldn’t be strange for you to be strongest on her mind at that point.”

Genkai nodded. “And then you were the first to find her after she had just killed “you.” It’s no wonder the poor girl is in shock.” She clicked her tongue and puffed again on her pipe.

Hiei bit back his anger. “So you’re saying this is my fault?”

“Hardly,” the old psychic grumbled. “The Manawydans are not spontaneous. They’ve likely been planning this attack for months. I’m just wondering why you’re so important to her.”

He watched as Botan and Yukina tended to Ali, pointedly avoiding the old woman’s narrowed gaze. She was wrong. This was his fault. If he hadn’t let her get so close, if he hadn’t let his dreams and emotions consume him, he never would have kissed her. She wouldn’t have been left so vulnerable.

“Master Genkai,” Kurama spoke hesitantly, afraid to ask the question that was on his tongue. “She will recover, won’t she? This spirit sickness, it can be healed?”

The sage psychic regarded the kitsune with hard, dark eyes. She didn’t want to lose the girl any more than they did, but she was not optimistic. “It’s up to her,” she said quietly. “She’s fighting her own mind right now. The body cannot live without the mind. If she loses her battle with her self, she will die.”

Botan let out a startled gasp. The room felt colder with Genkai’s words. Hiei glanced at Yukina. Her jaw was set in a determined grimace, the chill emanating from her unconsciously. Kurama remained outwardly calm, but Hiei could sense his inner frustrations. He felt them too.

The helplessness, the lack of control. He hated sitting around waiting. And deeper than that, he felt responsible. He didn’t need her ghost on his conscience. Somehow, he needed to help her win her internal battle.

“What are you doing?” Genkai’s gravelly voice barked at him as he unwrapped the cloth that hid his third eye.

“You said she’s fighting her own mind. I’m going to go motivate her.”

“Idiot.” She moved in front of him and glowered up at him. “What do you think is going to happen when the man she killed comes waltzing into her nightmares?”

He leered down at her. There weren’t many people he could do that to standing on ground level. “She didn’t kill me. And I’m going to prove it to her and snap her out of this foolishness.”

Genkai continued to glare at him until Kurama chuckled. “He is the best chance we have,” he said. “If nothing else, he can help her fight her demons.”

The old woman turned to leave. “Well, you can’t make it worse.” She shot him a nasty look over her shoulder. “Either you succeed and she wakes up or you fail and she dies anyway. Just don’t get trapped in there with her.”

Hiei stood at the foot of Ali’s mat, gripping the bandana tightly in his hand. He closed his eyes as his Jagan eye slowly opened. “I’ll bring her out. Just you wait.”

A/N: Yes, the lunar flower and Paradise/Rakuen are Wolf’s Rain references. I do that a lot in this fic because I modeled my wolf demon race off of the wolves of WR. On an unrelated note, WR has the BEST soundtrack. I should go listen to that while I work.

Next Chapter: Mindtrip ->

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