The one good thing that came out of her 24/7 protection detail, as far as Ali saw it, was the sudden improvement in Yusuke’s attendance at school. At the very least, she wasn’t the only one suffering. “We don’t have to go to school, you know,” he whined on the third morning. “We could just skip and play video games or go spar or something.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Yusuke,” Keiko snapped at him. “Our class has been doing much better with both of you here. You might actually graduate middle school now, too.”
“Whatever. As soon as this mission is over, I’m going right back to what I was doing before all this Spirit World business interrupted my life.”
Kuwabara hit him with his bookbag. “Idiot. Don’t you want to go to high school and get a real job?”
“Why you…” Ali and Keiko walked on to class while the boys sorted out their scuffle.
The truth was, school provided a decent distraction from her problems. If she had to have bodyguards with her at all times, she would much rather be busy than sitting around staring at them. The nights were bad enough. Kurama had stayed with her that first night as he promised, but she had been between her own apartment and Yusuke’s since. Kurama dropped by each night after dinner, She hadn’t seen Hiei since, but he wasn’t far off.
The night Kuwabara stayed over, Shizuru came with him, because it wasn’t proper for a teenage boy to spend the night alone in a girl’s apartment with no supervision, bodyguard or not. “We’re just going to do homework,” Kuwabara sulked. “Besides, I would never do anything to betray my precious Yukina.” That earned him a knock on the head.
Ali had sensed Hiei in one of the trees outside the building, though. She still couldn’t reach out to him. Her own block frustrated her. She was sure he and Kurama had been communicating silently while she spoke with Yuki. They were holding something back from her.
Kurama told her more about their past. Her own memories filled in some of the blanks. Her Sanctuary. It was a place of peace in the land of demons. She remembered the quiet pool in the woods from her dreams. The cabin held more memories. Idyllic memories. They seemed wrong. She was the focus of a war, and she just hid away in a secret hideout playing house? Kurama assured her those memories were true.
He didn’t have as much to tell her about Sayuri, though. He had only been with her a few months, helped her organize a coup of a demon lord’s castle. She promised him the treasures if he would leave her and spread word of her strength. He knew when to back off, and he did not wish her to be an enemy, so he left with his payment and whispered tales of her exploits wherever he went.
Ali wanted to ask Hiei about Sayuri. Her own memories of her twin were much older. They had fled from pack to pack to avoid the demons that sought them. Inevitably they would be hunted down and the pack would cover their escape. There were years where all they had was each other. Sayuri always protecting Ali. Sayuri was her knight. No harm would come to Ali as long as Sayuri was with her.
And yet Sayuri never went to the Sanctuary with her. Her only memories of Sai after that were a handful of encounters, confrontations really, as Sai grew her power. The Legend said they would fight for the worlds one day. They had promised each other they would never fight, but the more power Sayuri gained, the further she pulled away from that vow.
Hiei knew more about Sayuri, Ali was certain of that. How much he would tell her was another story. Without her telepathy, she couldn’t even force his hand. Still, she was glad for his presence.
The nightmare came on the fourth night. Screams filled her head and fire burned her bones. Sayuri stood against her, sword sharp as her fangs. Ali was helpless against her. She would die and the Prophecy would be fulfilled and the worlds would suffer their fate at Sayuri’s hands.
The world was wrong when she awoke. She was on the couch in Yusuke’s apartment, but that wasn’t odd. It had been his turn to watch and they had been up late playing video games. The sky was clear, no clouds on the horizon despite her instinct howling that a storm was coming.
She was on edge all through school. Every rustle of papers or sliding of chair or door set her heart racing. Every cough and laugh seemed too loud and every whisper crawled across her skin. By lunch she was feeling caged. She went to the roof to try to eat her lunch in peace. She hardly had time for a single bite of her sandwich when Hiei appeared on the roof with her.
“Koenma has sent for us.”
Her heart dropped to her stomach. She swallowed hard. “Just us?” He gave her a curious glance as he nodded. Could he not sense that something was wrong? “Okay.” She wondered if she should leave word with Yusuke as to her whereabouts. It would be much easier if her telepathy wasn’t blocked. “Does Yusuke know?”
He closed his eyes for a bit longer than a blink. “He does now. We should go before he comes up here and starts asking questions I don’t have answers to.” Ali agreed and they left together for Spirit World.
They didn’t speak at all on the journey to Koenma’s. Ali’s mind ran rampant with the possibilities of reasons for the summons. The majority of them started or ended with Sayuri. The energy at the castle did little to alleviate her fears.
Koenma’s office was a hive of activity when she and Hiei arrived. He was barking orders at the ogres and ferry girls and anyone who happened to cross his path. His face hardened when he saw her and Hiei and he sent everyone else out.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
Koenma scowled at the pile of reports on his desk. Her blood went cold with his next statement. “Someone found out about Sayuri.”
Ali’s legs went limp and she had to hold herself up on Koenma’s desk. Hiei’s fists joined hers there. “Where is she?”
Koenma avoided their eyes. “I—I’m not sure. But she’s been taken away from here.”
The wrongness she felt. The nightmare. Sayuri was in pain. Ali had to find her and bring her back. She was the only one who could.
With that thought came clarity. Her body stopped trembling and her mind became calm. She knew exactly where to go and how to get there.
“Ali? Where are you going?” Koenma asked.
She almost laughed. What an odd question. Hiei and Koenma were both staring at her with confusion on their faces. She pointed her thumb over her shoulder. “To go get Sayuri.” Wasn’t that obvious?
“You know where she is?”
Ali blinked at Koenma. “Of course I do.”
“How?” Hiei demanded.
She raised her eyebrow at him. “What’s Yukina up to?” she asked.
The question nearly knocked him off his feet. “What does she have to do with this?”
“You know where she is,” she said. “It’s the same for me and Sai.” She turned to leave again. Which way would be the fastest?
“You haven’t answered our questions!” Koenma protested.
Ali sighed. Were they really so dense? “It’s a twin thing.” She glanced back over her shoulder at Hiei. His shock amused her. “You coming? I know where she is but not what I’ll be up against when I get there. I could use the backup.” He stopped gaping at her and nodded. He followed her out of Koenma’s office as the prince continued to sputter.
She couldn’t tell Koenma where she was going. He would never let her go. Makai was incredibly dangerous, especially for her, especially given her tenuous hold on her sanity. He had no way to know that she was perfectly lucid in her current state, but she was, and she had to go. Sai needed her.
She wouldn’t go straight there from Spirit World. She wasn’t even sure she could. Once, yes, but now? She was out of practice. How many years had it been? It would also be a beacon to the defense force. The barrier was easiest to bend between the human world and the demon world anyway. Surely that much hadn’t changed.
Hiei followed her back to the human world without a word. That was just as well. She needed to think once she got her feet back on the ground. A good place to cross over. It could really be anywhere. As long as she knew where she wanted to go and was familiar with the place she was leaving, she could do it. Someplace quiet and isolated would be best.
They emerged on the overgrown mountain path to her adopted father’s home. They passed the burned husk of the cabin. She barely spared the graves in the back a passing glance. The last time she had been in front of them, she had attempted to end her own life. Hiei had stopped her then.
He troubled her. Four of Koenma’s strongest set to guard her, yet he had spent the most time at her side. She glanced over her shoulder at him. He watched her, face expressionless. She returned her attention to the path in front of her, but wondered what was going through his mind. She was still unable to use her telepathy. Hopefully finding Sayuri would fix that.
They entered the clearing where they had spent so many afternoons training. This was where she had entered this world. It seemed only fitting that this was where she should leave it.
She pulled her sword from the hollow in the tree. There was likely to be fighting where they found Sayuri and she needed to be armed. She didn’t remember putting it there after her fight with the Manawydan and she gave Hiei a questioning look as she adjusted the strap to her waist. “Can I ask you something?”
He hesitated. “Will you answer something for me in return?” She nodded. “Fine.”
“Why are you here?”
He scowled at her. “Didn’t you ask me to come?”
“I did, but that didn’t mean you were obligated to follow me.”
“In front of Koenma? Of course I was. It’s my job to protect you.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said. “You want to rescue Sai as badly as I do.” Ali held his gaze until he looked away from her uncomfortably. He had known Sayuri. Had he known her, too? What was it that tied him to them? Regardless of her acceptance of his answer, he had answered, and she had promised to answer a question of his. “What is it I can answer for you?”
His face twisted for a fraction of a second before he looked at her. “How did you know about Yukina?”
An interesting query. She didn’t want to throw Botan under the proverbial bus since it wasn’t exactly the ferry girl’s fault that Ali had gleaned that little tidbit from her back at Christmas. A half-truth would suffice. She tapped her temple with one finger. “Telepath, remember?” She laughed at the scandalous look on his face. “Not that I needed this to figure it out. I’ve seen the way you look at her. I’ve sensed your anger at Kuwabara for loving her. You love her the only way a brother can.”
“And what do you know of brotherly love?” he scoffed.
Ali shrugged. “Youko was much more an obnoxious older brother to me than a potential partner. He often expressed such feelings as familial love for me and Nikkie that you share for Yukina.” She stopped as that name rolled over her tongue. Nikkie. The other woman in the Sanctuary. The dog-demon thief she had befriended long ago. Had she survived the battle too?
“Who’s Nikkie?” Hiei asked.
She shook her head. There was no time to be worrying about someone who might be dead when there was someone who she knew to be alive waiting for Ali to rescue her. “She’s not important right now. Sayuri is.” Whatever Hiei’s reasons for helping her, she was glad of it. Smiling, she reached her hand out to him. “Come on, let’s go get our girl.”
He hesitated. “Where are we going?”
“Makai.” Ali suppressed a giggle as his eyes flickered from her proffered hand to her face. She was getting to see all sorts of expressions on Hiei today. “So are you coming or not?”
Curiosity got the better of him and he took her hand. She told herself the quickening of her pulse was in anticipation of returning to Makai.
She closed her eyes and concentrated on the ground beneath her feet, the air surrounding them. The worlds were layered one atop the other. All she had to do was find that layer of the human world and peel it back. She felt the edge and grasped it with her mind. A scent, foul yet sweet, poured through the opening she made. Hiei tensed next to her, his hand tightening around hers ever so slightly. She squeezed it back and took a step forward. Into the Demon World. One step closer to Sayuri. Once step closer to who she used to be.