Nikkie took point on the other side of the doorway. She was the most familiar with the lay of the land, after all. The portal dropped them in the middle of nowhere, as far as Hiei could tell, though Youko grumbled about being in Yomi’s territory. “Gandara is off to the west,” Nikkie explained, pointing towards the lightening horizon. “Rin’s Sanctuary is south of that.”
Kuwabara gaped in confusion. “Wait, if the sun is coming up, shouldn’t that be east?”
“That’s what bothers you?” Yusuke grumbled. “Not that it’s clearly the wrong time of day compared to when we left?”
“Time is not the same in Makai as in Ningenkai,” Youko said. “Nor are directions. Stay close to us and don’t wander off. Humans are not warmly welcomed here.”
Hiei didn’t resist a taunt. “Except as a delicacy,” he smirked. Youko glowered at him as Kuwabara’s face went ashen.
At least Yusuke hadn’t lost any of his determination. “Let’s get moving then,” he said with a meaningful look at Nikkie. “We don’t know how long Ali has been captive or what they’ve been doing to her.”
“Don’t forget what we’re up against,” Nikkie barked. “Youko is right about staying close. Manawydans could become any one of us.”
“I can tell them apart from the rest of you,” Hiei said. He remembered what Ali had said about their psychic prowess being a beacon for her. He wasn’t as strong as her even with his Jagan, but he was leagues above his comrades. “If any slip in among us, I will know.”
Kuwabara opened his mouth to ask how, but the other three nodded without question. Nikkie spoke before he could ask it. “There’s an old fortress in the Forest of Fools not far from Rin’s Sanctuary. I think that is where they are holding her. I tracked her scent there before I came to Koenma.”
Hiei was familiar with the area. Or, he had been, once. There was a boneyard deep in the forest. It was where he had woken up nearly sixteen years ago with no memory of how he had gotten there and a feeling that something was missing. That feeling had faded over the years, until last year, when he was summoned to Koenma’s office and introduced to a young woman with piercing silver-blue eyes and a mind he could not see into.
From the look that passed between Youko and Nikkie, they remembered it too. It could not be coincidence that there was a fortress not far from that blood-soaked battleground. Fate was bringing them back to where it had been thwarted before. He shuddered to think what that meant for the worlds. He looked to the moon-dark sky. How much blood would be spilled before that sky turned crimson again? The horizon turned pink as they approached the forest.
By the time that pink was visible through the trees, they were at the ancient battleground. Yusuke whistled softly at the swath of bones across the open field. The trees at the border were scarred and scorched to match the sere ground. Nikkie and Youko stared with matching expressions, eyes dark with memories they couldn’t quite reach. Hiei also felt a sickening nostalgia looking around at the graveyard.
An explosion further into the forest rattled the ground. They started for the other side of the macabre clearing as two massive energies approached. Hiei recognized Sayuri in one of them. The other had to be Ali. “We’re too late,” he snarled.
“How can you be sure?” Kuwabara’s voice quavered.
Yusuke chastised him. “Don’t be dense. I know you can feel that power too.”
“It’s Rin,” Nikkie said breathlessly, her eyes wide in excitement. “I haven’t felt that power in years.”
The twins burst into the field, Sayuri blasting energy and slashing with her sword while Ali dodged and danced away from every blow. “You can’t run away from me forever!” Sayuri cried. Even at a distance, Hiei could see she was manic. “It is only fitting that this should be your final resting place!” She blasted the ground below Ali’s feet, sending her flying towards the trees at the other side of the clearing.
“Ali!” the humans called out as Nikkie and Youko cried “Rin!”
Their combined voices startled Sayuri. She had been so enthralled in her battle with Ali that she hadn’t noticed the small group of fighters already assembled at the battleground. Her face darkened as her eyes fell on Hiei. “You! Why…?!”
There had been more to her question, but she had no time to finish it as Ali came flying back in with the first counterattack they had seen her throw. It took Sayuri by surprise as well. She barely had time to bring up her sword to parry Ali’s fist, and she slid back several yards from the force of the blow.
Ali flashed a frown at her friends in the brief moment she had before Sayuri launched back into her assault. Stand down, that look said. This is my fight. The others remained where they stood, all nods and serious expressions. Perhaps she had spoken to them in that moment, or they all knew her well enough to interpret her at a look. All Hiei knew was that hearing her voice in his head again was a comfort he hadn’t realize he’d missed.
Someone stumbled out of the forest where the twins had emerged, holding his arm gingerly where blood trickled between his fingers. His blond hair caught the attention of the rest of Koenma’s boys, and, it seemed, Nikkie as well, though she didn’t know the man. Yusuke and Kuwabara exchanged confused looks with Youko. Hiei didn’t need his telepathy to read that look. What the hell was Yuki doing here?
Nikkie was the first to move, followed quickly by Yusuke and Kuwabara. Hiei and Youko watched Sayuri and Ali for another minute before joining the others. They didn’t want to get in the way of the twins fight and the edge of the field seemed a better place to watch and wait.
“You seem different,” Yusuke was saying to Yuki, who stared back as if looking at total strangers while Nikkie tore a strip of cotton from her shirt and worked to bandage the bloody gash on his arm.
“He is not the Yuki we know,” Youko said soberly.
Yuki winced as Nikkie tightened the makeshift bandage. “Are you all friends of Rin’s?” he asked.
“How do you know that name?” Hiei asked. Kurama’s classmate Yuki had only known Ali, but as Youko said, this was not the same man. This Yuki had the scent of a demon, not a human, but there was no mistaking that face.
“Rin and Sayuri are my cousins,” he said, shrinking away from Hiei’s glower. “We grew up in the same pack.”
“You’re a wolf demon,” Nikkie said with barely contained awe.
He frowned at her. “Of course I am. What else would I be?” He turned his scowl to the two women dancing in battle in the middle of the field of bones. His eyes were pained, though not from any physical wound. His heart was aching to watch his kin duel to the death on the very ground they had disappeared from the demon world all those years ago. “I wish they wouldn’t do this. There’s no point to it anymore. The wolf demons are gone, so why do they fight to erase one another?”
“They fight because they have to,” Youko said. “Only one can survive.”
Sayuri was the stronger of the two by a wide margin. She’d always had more raw power and stamina than Rin, but she had spent the last fifteen years asleep, while Rin lived on as Ali, powers suppressed but not gone entirely. Hiei watched as Sai tried to tire Ali with unceasing attacks. It wouldn’t work this time, and she was beginning to realize it.
Her brow furrowed in frustration as Ali dodged every blast, every swing, making no move to counter since that first one they had witnessed. Abruptly, the barrage stopped and a low growl emanated from Sayuri. “You’re holding back!” she shouted.
Ali’s lips curved in a sly smirk. Her eyes shimmered icy blue and she laughed. She was having fun. “So are you,” she said. Sai grinned maliciously as the implications of her sister’s words hit her. “If we’re going to do this, we may as well fight at our full power. We’ll never be sure of who is stronger otherwise.”
“I will make you regret this,” Sai crooned, sheathing her sword. “Don’t forget, you asked for it.”
The bystanders shielded their eyes as the two women were enveloped in light. Ali’s energy shone pure white, Sayuri’s a deep purple. The two spheres pressed against each other, the prelude to the battle that was coming. They clashed and crackled before exploding, sending a shockwave over Hiei and the others. They struggled to maintain their footing in the wake of the blast.
As the dust settled, the earth itself seemed to hold its breath. At the epicenter stood two beings many in Makai and Reikai believed were extinct, glaring fiercely at one another, on the point of lunging for the throat of her opponent. Wolf demons, and the two spoken of in Legend.
On the one side, the side they hoped would win, stood Ali, resplendent with hair and eyes of gleaming silver. Wolf ears and a tail as silver as her waist-length hair were visible in this form. Claws and fangs made her appear fierce, though her eyes were still kind. The scars that had been thin and faded on Ali’s skin as a human were more marked now, though they added to her beauty rather than detracted from it.
Her clothes had changed as well. She wore a more feminine style of the battle kimono that Youko wore. It was white, as his was, but more form-fitting and trimmed in blue silk. Hiei saw Kuwabara do a double-take between Ali and Youko. She was shorter, and more slender, but aside from their differing races they could have been siblings.
On the other side of the battleground was her true sibling, the one she had shared a womb with. Sayuri was as fierce and frightening as Hiei remembered. Her raven-colored hair was streaked with violet, and fell just to her waist as Ali’s now did. Wolf ears and tail as black as night protruded from her head and backside. Her eyes were also silver, but the pupil was crimson instead of black. She was dressed similarly to Ali. Her battle kimono was shorter, falling mid-calf, and black trimmed in red.
“And the one to destroy them will come from among them, corrupting the hearts and minds of those who could save them. Two born different from the rest, a sibling pair with unseen powers. They must pay a heavy price, for only when the two become one will the fate of the worlds be decided.”
Everyone turned to Yuki as he spoke. “What was that?” Yusuke asked.
“The Prophecy.” He didn’t take his eyes off the two fighters staring each other down. “One of them will die today and either end the War or spark a new one.” He grimaced as if in pain. “I wish it didn’t have to be like this. I don’t want to lose either of them.”
Nikkie held his hand gently. “Rin doesn’t want to fight either, but she is tired of running,” she said. “She will do what she must.”
Hiei looked to the wolf demons. Ali didn’t look like she was disinterested in the coming fight. She was more determined than he had ever seen her in all her bouts with him or the others. Or perhaps Rin was truly standing before them now. If she was, he had never seen such anticipation for a fight on her face either. Rin didn’t like to fight, and would never seem eager to fight her sister after all they’d been through to avoid it.
Sayuri’s determination was even more fierce, though it was not an unusual look on her. She had always been a true demon, constantly seeking a stronger opponent, a tougher battle. The only thing odd about her expression now was that it was directed at Rin.
Before the last battle, she had adored her sister, had worked toward growing her power so that no one could challenge her or take her precious sister away from her. She had been ready to burn the world to keep Rin safe and defy their destiny. Now her eyes burned with murderous glee. She was prepared to take her sister’s life and power for her own solely because she believed it was her right.
The air exploded with Sayuri’s attack. The ball of yoki sent from her palm dissipated on an invisible barrier Ali had erected before leaping away to dodge a follow-up blast. As she landed, a shining bow materialized in her left hand, and another ball of light appeared in her right hand as she drew the arm back. She released her spirit arrow at Sayuri without a moment’s hesitation.
The attack did not faze Sai. She deflected it easily and sent it straight back at Ali. Ali took her own attack head-on, reabsorbing some of the energy it contained, but failed to brace herself for Sayuri’s point blank counter attack. Sayuri had closed the distance between them after deflecting the arrow and exploded her yoki right at Ali’s chest, sending her flying back across the field to the edge of the woods.
She had no time to get her feet under her before Sayuri tackled her full force into the trees behind them. They grappled in the timbers. Ali managed to break free of Sayuri’s grip and slip back towards the field, but she wasn’t fast enough to dodge a blast that grazed her leg. She howled in pain as she staggered back into the field.
Her cry pierced Hiei’s whole being. Already she was losing ground and he feared what would happen if she lost the fight. He watched as she continued defensively, dodging and blocking but never taking a step toward her opponent. Her power was overwhelming in this form, but she wasn’t even using it. Why? Did she want to die? To leave everyone who loved her behind?
He wouldn’t let her do that. “She’s going to lose at this rate,” he snarled, unsheathing his sword as Sayuri landed yet another vicious blow on Ali that sent her rolling across the battleground. She didn’t get up. “Damn her arrogant pride, we’ve got to help her.”
Yusuke cracked his knuckles. “Yeah I’m tired of sitting around doing nothing. I want a piece of this twin,” he grinned.
“’Bout time,” Kuwabara muttered, twin swords appearing in his hands as he charged after Yusuke.
“Go see if our beloved dumbass is ok,” Nikkie said, flexing her claws.
“We’ll buy you some time,” Youko added, following her and the others into the fray with his rose whip trailing behind him.
Sayuri’s startled snarl was all the warning he had before the battle erupted into a four-on-one frenzy. He wanted to rush in and fight too, but Nikkie was right. Someone had to check on Ali and keep her out of the fighting for a bit. He wasn’t surprised when Yuki followed him.
They reached Ali at the same time. She groaned as she put a hand to her head. “Ali,” Hiei sighed in relief. She seemed confused to find him there.
“Are you alright, Rin?” Yuki held her hand.
“Yeah, I’m good. Great, even.” Her voice was deeper in this form, an elegant husk tinging it. She frowned at them. “Why are you two here? Where is Sai?”
Hiei pointed to the on-going battle. “Still fighting. We’re giving you a reprieve.”
She pushed herself up to a seated position. “They can’t,” she breathed. “They’ll never win.”
The fight certainly did not appear to be going in their favor. Nikkie and Kuwabara had new tears in their clothes and were bleeding from several cuts apiece and were already fighting to catch their breath. Yusuke and Youko fared little better, Sayuri focusing her attacks on them now that she had sorted out they were the strongest of the four she faced. Would nothing put Sai on the defensive?
Ali struggled to her feet. “She’s too powerful. I have to-“ Her legs gave out beneath her before she could finish the sentence.
Hiei caught her and shook his head ruefully. “You have to rest,” he said. Always so determined, she was. She really hadn’t changed at all after all these years. He felt a smile tugging at his lips and allowed it to show on his face. She was the one who would survive this day. “Leave Sayuri to me,” he said, pushing a stray lock of her hair away from her stunned face.
He handed her to Yuki with a nod. Yuki understood his intentions. What remained to be seen was whether or not Yuki could carry out his task of restraining a stubborn wolf demon woman who wanted desperately to be fighting. Assured of Ali’s protection, at least for the moment, Hiei joined the fray.
Sayuri was less than pleased to find him opposing her. Enraged, she incapacitated all the other combatants by overwhelming them with a wild barrage of energy blasts. When the smoke cleared, it was just the two of them in the field. “What are you doing here, Hiei?” she growled.
“Stopping you from destroying your sister.”
Her eyes narrowed at him, but he didn’t flinch. “It is our destiny to become one,” she cried. “The War won’t end until one of us is dead.”
“The War is over, Sai,” he said. “You are the only one still fighting it. You don’t have to anymore. You don’t need the Prophecy or Legend to define you.”
Her face paled for a heartbeat before her cheeks turned red with fury. “What are you trying to say, Hiei?”
“I’m saying it’s time to stop living in the past. Rin moved on, it is time for us to move on, too.”
Sayuri’s body trembled. “Why do you care what happens to her?”
He thought back to a time when he’d had a taste of love, found it in the form of the woman he now faced, her life as cursed as his was. Their love was dark and scorching and violent, the only suitable love for two as doomed as they. They took comfort in the heart of each other’s darkness. For a long time he’d believed that they were a perfect, if ill-fated, pair.
Then he stumbled upon Rin. She was the same as them, but she did not sink into her darkness. She rose above it and lived for each day, knowing any one could be her last. She knew as Sayuri did that one day they would fight to the death, but she didn’t waste her life worrying about that day. She made a life for herself that she could be happy with regardless of when or how she died. She rarely fought for her own personal gain, she laughed and she cried, and she loved deeply. With her, he knew love could exist without pain, even though it was a love he was not worthy of.
It was because of her love for others that she had sacrificed everything to bring an end to the fighting. A last ditch effort to defy fate and the Prophecy, to die and be reborn as a new person. She had given everyone the chance to start over, to put painful memories behind them and cut the strings that tied them to one another.
And yet fate had brought them together again in this new life. Their bonds had not been broken after all, but he would be damned if he didn’t honor them now. He would not watch her suffer with a smile anymore. He would kill Sayuri himself and spare Rin, and Ali, from having any more blood on her hands.
Sayuri still waited his answer, her irritation growing by the second. “She is better than either of us,” he said. “She found the happiness we could not. I won’t let you take that away from her.”
Her eyes darted from him to Ali. “You can’t mean… her?” She shrieked that last. “You said your feelings hadn’t changed, you hadn’t changed!”
“They haven’t,” he admitted. “But the truth is I had already chosen her before that last battle.”
The spots of color in her cheeks grew even darker. “You bastard! Traitor!” She lunged at him with her claws and fangs bared.
He met her with his sword. He had never intended to betray her, but then he never believed he could love anyone to be able to betray them so intimately. His curse from birth was never to be loved so how could he ever love another? Her curse was to betray the one person who loved her the most in all the worlds. He laughed. They really did deserve one another, he and Sai.
“You think this is funny, Hiei?” Angry tears filled her crimson eyes. “I won’t let her have you! I will burn this world and the next before I ever let her take you from me.”
Hiei swung his sword at her. “I won’t let you drag her down to hell with you!”
“Then I’ll take you with me!” She drew her own sword and parried his.
“That’s fine by me!”
Despite all the practice he’d had with Ali in their team training sessions what felt as long ago as their last battle, he was finding himself struggling against Sayuri. She had always been a formidable opponent with a blade, and it seemed a decade in a frozen slumber had not dulled her skills any. They exchanged several blows before she flipped her sword and put all of her strength into a powerful strike with the dull side of her blade.
The blow landed squarely at his chest and he felt his ribs crack. The force of her swing sent him rolling back to where Yuki was struggling to hold Ali back. She scrambled out of his arms and ran to Hiei’s side. He groaned as she helped him to a seated position. Yup, he had definitely broke some ribs.
Once she was sure he wasn’t in danger of dying, she thumped his shoulder. “You idiot,” she scolded. “I could have told you that wouldn’t work.”
He frowned at her. “You’re the idiot if you thought I was just going to let her kill you.” He rubbed his shoulder. She didn’t have to hit him so hard. Couldn’t she see how hard Sayuri had just hit him?
“I’m sorry,” she said, a slight mocking in her tone. “I didn’t realized you cared.” The smirk on her face took the sting out of her words.
He didn’t rise to her taunt. Instead he took her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I said I wouldn’t make you cry anymore, didn’t I?”
Her cheeks flushed at that memory. Of course, back then, he had promptly made her cry after promising not to, but that wasn’t important now. She had to see he wanted her to be happy. “You’re a terrible liar, you know that right?” She sighed with a grin. “Don’t worry. I don’t go down easily.” She got to her feet and turned to face Sayuri.
“Rin, don’t,” Yuki pleaded. “You’re still injured!”
She looked back at him with a fond smile. “I’m alright now, Yuki. You all bought me time to recover enough to do what I should have done years ago.” She strode purposefully forward.
“Don’t lose,” Hiei whispered encouragingly under his breath. He knew she would hear him anyway.
Sayuri’s energy pulsated as Ali approached her. “Enough running,” she said to herself. To Sai she cried, “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting so long. Whatever happens now, I want you to know I still love you. You are my twin sister. I will always love you.”
Sayuri’s mouth twisted in a snarl. “If you love me, then fight me with every last ounce of your strength.”
Ali nodded. “Let’s end this today.”
The twins summoned all the power they had within them. A blinding blast scorched the earth below them and a single sphere of light enveloped both of them. The other fighters were regaining consciousness as it ascended into the sky above the trees. Even without seeing what had happened, they could sense Ali and Sayuri at the heart of it. The ball of energy crackled and shuddered overhead. Another blinding blast rocked the ground below and everyone peered through shielded eyes to see who had won.
A/N: I took some liberties in describing differences between Makai and Ningenkai. There was really no basis for the east vs west flip or the time change aside from I wanted it that way.