Blood Call
Chapter Ten - Doko wa Ariodh!?

by Talya Firedancer

The glare of the streetlights against the shiny metallic surface made him wince as he sat up, rubbing at the knot on his head. "Itai!" Yuusuke complained, glaring at the innocently-blinking Keiko, whose attempt to look sweet was foiled by the frying pan still gripped tightly in her fist. "You hit too damned hard!"

"That's 'cause it takes a mighty hard blow to get sense through your thick skull," Keiko retorted, then sank to her knees beside him on the pavement, brown eyes shadowed with a touch of concern. "Are you all right? What did she do to you?"

"Uhh..." Yuusuke faltered, cheeks flaring red as he remembered how Ekoi had lured him into the alley.

"Yuusuke no baka!" Keiko cried, slugging him. "You didn't!"

"She kissed me! That's all, I swear!" Yuusuke held up his hands defensively. "And I didn't enjoy it much at all, I promise!"

Keiko eyed him suspiciously. Then abruptly she threw her arms around him, soft brown hair brushing against his cheek. "I'm glad you're all right."

"You saved the day," he admitted grudgingly, sneaking the opportunity to goose her. Keiko jumped, then smacked him into the brick wall.

"Well, what are we going to do with her?" Keiko demanded, getting up to nudge Ekoi's limp sprawled body with one foot.

Yuusuke sighed heavily and regarded the youkai who had come dangerously close to killing him. He must be getting soft, if Ekoi had managed to come so close...either that, or his legendary Urameshi luck was beginning to fail him after all this time. He tugged a little gold communicator out of his pocket and flipped a button.

"Ya-ho! Yuusuke, daijoubu!?"

Yuusuke goggled as the blue-haired Reikai ferrygirl swooped down from the sky on her oar at top speed, a worried expression plastered over her cute features. Botan moved fast, but not usually that fast. Hell, he'd just paged her! She hopped off her oar, poking around him anxiously.

"Daijoubu, daijoubu?"

"Aa ' ehehe...Botan, that tickles," Yuusuke squirmed as Botan poked him in the ribs with a curious expression. Something in one of the voluminous sleeves of her kimono began to beep insistently. She pulled out a gold compact and flipped it off.

"You're paging me?" she gave him a cheery grin. "I'm here!"

"I noticed," Yuusuke replied dryly, then gave her a thumb's up. "Yosh'! Botan, I collared Ekoi! All that's left to do is'"

A pointed cough caused them both to look over, where Keiko was still absently prodding the fallen purple-haired youkai in the side with her toe. "Who collared Ekoi?" she demanded, folding her arms implacably. The frying pan twitched significantly.

Yuusuke's face fell. "You did," he admitted reluctantly. "But I softened her up for you! I mean, if she hadn't been throttling me at the time, you never woulda been able to sneak up on her'"

Botan goggled at them both. Then she began to giggle, her blue ponytail bobbing as she rocked with mirth. "Wait till I tell Koenma-sama this one..."

"Oi! Don't you dare!" Yuusuke exclaimed, face growing an unsightly mottled shade of red.

"Botan, you should get Ekoi back to the Reikai for detention before she starts to wake up," Keiko suggested, smiling sweetly in Yuusuke's direction. "I'm sure you can tell Koenma-sama all about it later."

Yuusuke sputtered.

"Hai!" Botan nodded firmly, then eyed the prone form of the tall woman, a sweatdrop forming to eclipse her face. "Ano... Yuusuke, you'll have to help me."

Keiko nodded. "Yuusuke, why don't you help Botan?" she agreed.

Yuusuke threw up his hands. "I'm henpecked," he muttered helplessly.

* * *

The Rose Whip lashed out and caught the white-haired youkai high on the shoulder, and despite himself Kurama was rocked by the stunned, betrayed expression that scrawled over her delicate features.

Ariodh stumbled back, clutching at the gash. "Kurama...why?" she pleaded, her white eyebrows contracting in distress.

Kurama faltered.

"You ' you're not..." His mouth firmed. "You can't be Ariodh. I saw her die, taking Hino Seiki with her." He leapt forward again, raising the Rose Whip.

Ariodh lifted her hands and then frowned mightily, her expression turning closed and hard. "Fine then. Have it your way..." she muttered, shaking her head abruptly and diving under the Rose Whip, leaping to her feet beyond him, turning as they faced each other again to stand poised, on guard.

"Where is your Masamune?" Kurama repeated, voice cracking.

"I don't know!" Ariodh shouted back, then caught the Rose Whip in her hands as he lashed out again. As he stared in shock, she gave him a little smirk and tugged. He actually lurched forward a step, surprised by the strength in her wiry small arms, before he wrenched his weapon free of her grasp.

Kurama put a hand to his mussed red hair.

"Oh, no you don't!" Ariodh snarled, starting forward. "Not again!"


Kurama jerked in surprise as he avoided the blow from one tiny fist, swinging back and away from her determined expression. When had he used seeds on Ariodh, in the first place?

He flicked his fingers in her direction, and a tiny black seed flew out in her direction, a hard-shelled thing that glistened as the light struck it. Ariodh's eyes widened impossibly large and she flinched.

The seed emitted a charcoaled little puff and vanished in a greasy little curl of smoke.

"N-nani!?" Kurama exclaimed. That particular seed was not flammable, let alone capable of spontaneously combusting.

His green eyes narrowed dangerously as he considered the small white-haired youkai before him. "You," he said, his tone cold.

The small pointy chin nodded once, grimly. The blue eyes were suddenly sly and limpid. "Yes, me," the youkai agreed, practically purring. "What's the possibility of that?" She smiled with satisfaction.

Kurama stumbled back against the windowsill. The slender youkai advanced a step, lifting her slim hands. As she approached, he reached back over the sill and broke a vine off the framework that hung against the building.

"I could finish you now," she told him, pressing a finger against her upper lip, "But then it would be no fun for me at all. I really wanted to kill Hiei, anyway...not, you, Kurama." Her glinting smile held more than a measure of possessiveness to it.

"That will never happen," he informed her coldly, casting the tendril of vine at her feet.

The youkai's eyes had an instant to snap wide open with fright and apprehension before the vine erupted around her slender frame, fountaining up into a score of tendrils that grew thickly around her body, drawing tighter than rope. She fell to the ground, struggling and suddenly her face grew very still in concentration.

Kurama leapt forward and cracked her a good one across the cheekbone before she could summon the youki to burn free of her bonds. The youkai slumped in her cocoon of vines, pale face lolling. For good measure, he grew a tiny plant beside her head, its heavy fumes to ensure she would stay unconscious, while he considered what to do with her.

He couldn't kill her.

Not while there was the slightest chance that Ariodh was still alive, somewhere.

Kurama sat heavily on the edge of his futon and his brow furrowed in concentration. What's the possibility of THAT? Her smirking, sly expression.

He stood up abruptly. "It's not possible," he breathed, recalling Iryoku suddenly. Her specialty had been the manipulation of probability...and if Hino Seiki could somehow end up wearing Ariodh's body...

He lifted the pinioned youkai's slight form carefully in his arms. He had to get to Genkai's temple as quickly as possible. Only Genkai-shihan might have any sort of idea what to do...

But where in the three worlds was Ariodh!?

* * *


Kuwabara staggered back, falling to his knees. The rei ken vanished as he brought up shaking fingers in front of his face, eyeing the streaks of crimson with a surprised expression. Then his jaw hardened. "Teme..." he growled, ignoring the wound in his shoulder that streamed thickly down the front of his shirt. It had bounced off his collarbone and he wobbled from the shock as he got to his knees, but the rei ken appeared in his fist again.

Ryuji looked somewhat surprised. "I'd forgotten you humans have bones there..." he uttered, with a little moue of distaste. Then he scowled and brought his sword up. "That should have finished you off!"

He lunged again and their swords clashed, Kuwabara's rei ken throwing off sparks. The larger human was reeling, blood liberally soaking both the front and back of his shirt now. "

Kazuma, be careful," Shizuru cautioned. "If you don't pace yourself you'll pass out from blood loss."

"'Neesan!" Kuwabara screeched, mortified. He faltered under a locked-hilt shove from the lumpish-faced youkai. "Itai..."

He wrenched away and the rei ken sputtered in his fist. Ryuji smiled coldly. "Are you prepared to die?"

Kuwabara scowled into the youkai's ugly face. He clutched at his shoulder again, grimacing at the thick, wet feel of the warm blood under his hand. Ryuji advanced swiftly, his sword upraised.

Kuwabara grinned at him, a wide foolish expression.

Then he tossed the handful of blood into the youkai's eyes.

Ryuji emitted a yewling noise, his sword slashing out uselessly to block the strike he thought was coming from the front, even as Kuwabara extended his rei ken, forcing it longer and longer. In a last explosive blast of reiki, Kuwabara forced his weapon out to ten feet of curving rei ken, twisting it around to strike Ryuji in the back, its hot yellow crackling edge striking over the creature's tender wings.

Ryuji howled in pain and collapsed to the floor.

In that moment of vulnerability, Kuwabara practically fell on top of his adversary, clubbing him senseless. He kicked the sword away and it skittered across the floor, coming to rest somewhere behind the couch.

He turned to his sister who stood with one hand braced against the entrance to the living room, cigarette burning in that upraised hand. She gave him a cool nod.

"I did it...I got him..."

With a huge grin eclipsing his craggy features, Kuwabara collapsed to the floor.

Shizuru heaved a small sigh. "Oh, Kazu."

* * *

The woods of the Makai were ominously shadowy as they plunged into its depths, and the bloody moon hung low. Hiei glanced over at Ariodh's profile, at the closed-off, intent expression etched there as they moved along swiftly.

"How did you survive it?"

Ariodh's head turned at the blunt question, and she made a curious 'hmming' noise. Her expression was quizzical.

"Ariodh, we thought you were dead," Hiei scowled at her, struggling to express his concern. They leapt from ground to tree, and back again. They had already covered a lot of distance but not nearly enough as far as Hiei was concerned.

She gave him an impish little smile and tossed back her streaming white hair. They leapt to the ground again and paused, both barely breathing hard. "Where are we going?" she inquired.

Hiei frowned harder. "I thought you were leading."

She shook her head from side to side, long half-bound tresses swaying. "Uh-uh."

Hiei glanced around. He didn't quite recall being here before, but this was near Mukuro's territory. Abruptly he remembered that yes, he was pledged to Mukuro's service ' and that had been where he was headed when he had been ambushed.

But if he returned to Mukuro, what of Kurama?

Hiei resisted the very un-youkai like urge to sigh and bury his head in his hands. Kurama would not be stalked by the shapeshifter forever. But even once that was cleared up, there would always be other dangers. And he knew he couldn't stay apart from that fox for long. The realization that he was being unfair -- that he wasn't giving Kurama enough credit, that he was underestimating him as HE had always been -- made his crimson eyes widen.

But...there were other considerations. He had left Mukuro once already for Kurama, without even quite realizing that was why. It would be the worst kind of stupidity, for an ambitious youkai, to leave Mukuro again ' permanently ' for a mere youko, a demon fox who would surely tire of him within the century.


"Don't know where to go?" Ariodh's soft voice interrupted his intense self-scrutiny.

He closed his eyes for an instant. "I know where to go." Opening them, he fixed her with a curious, considering glance. "Getting there is the problem."

She cocked her head, wide eyes reflecting the backwash of light from the mottled reddish moon. He was about to open his mouth to ask where she had been -- for two days she had been gone, dead he'd thought, saving his life at her own expense in a foolish inexplicable sacrifice move. Not only that, but he had thought he'd failed her, in giving her the rudiments of an instruction proved woefully incomplete.

"Get down!" Ariodh knocked him over and sat on his chest.

Shock broke over his features as she squirmed close on top of him, and in the next instant a shape hurtled through the air mere inches over her head. He struggled to get up, to leap up and into action but Ariodh pinned him to the ground, wisps of milk-white hair tickling over his face as she shook her head.

The shape unfolded into a standing position, its featureless face turning this way and that. It started forward and stopped, dark body quivering like a bloodhound scenting for prey. Blind, Hiei realized.

"Hiei-sama..." the creature rasped, casting about uselessly for a trace of their presence as they remained utterly unmoving.

Ariodh's body was very still atop his. He could smell her scent, a strange musky mixture of Kurama's herbal shampoos underlaid with her own sweat and a distinctive youkai fragrance, bound up in the familiar scent of Kurama, permeating the sweatshirt she wore.

"Hiei-sama... I know you're here," the croak continued, sounding almost...reproachful?

Ariodh's small hands continued to grip his arms tightly. Was she hoping the creature would just go away? They had to kill it. He wriggled experimentally, and stifled an undignified yowl as she clamped down hard.

The dark shape grew frighteningly still, and a soft curse escaped Hiei's lips in the instant before that long-limbed shadow exploded into a flurry of action.


Hiei darted for the trees to his right as the creature lunged for them unerringly, its shadow-limned figure cutting through the clearing with speed that almost matched his own. He sensed Ariodh jumping back from the blind hunter youkai's strike and half-turned, hand dropping automatically to his katana.

"Ariodh!" he barked, as the two figures were locked in darkness.

A limp body dropped to the ground.

Iie...he started forward, drawing the sword swifter than thought. Not again. He would not permit anyone to put their life before his own, not ever again. Not Kurama, not person deserved to sacrifice themselves for him.

Wide eyes glittered up at him and he relaxed minutely although still on guard. The body of the hunter youkai lay at Ariodh's feet, twisted at an odd angle. She looked feral, a smoldering white fire and he felt like flinching back for a moment before his gaze hardened. He was afraid of nothing...yet, this was not the Ariodh he'd met.

"Is he...?"

"He's dead."

The reply was curt and briefly he wondered what had happened to the withdrawn, timid youkai he'd stumbled upon so recently.

"You had no business killing him before we discovered what he wanted, and who he was working for," Hiei snapped out curtly, staring her down. Just the fact that the creature had addressed him with the honorific of 'sama' was enough to make him suspicious...only a minion of'

"You..." Ariodh started towards him, her tread softly noiseless.

Bright light flared and their heads snapped up reflexively. Their gaze was confronted by a corona of fluttering wards topping a cloaked figure that seemed lean even despite the billowing cloak. One of the salmon-colored ribbons came to rest at Hiei's feet and his eyebrow twitched in acknowledgment of the tall figure who still there, one eye glaring down in wide unblinking vigilance. As the wards were stripped away, they revealed the other eye, brown and narrowed at the slender black-cloaked fire demon.

Hiei, of course, very typically refused to bow.

"Hiei." The flesh on the mostly non-robotic side of the body quirked. "It's been awhile. How disappointing...if I had known you would return to the Ningenkai and find a lover, I never would have let you go at all."

* * *

The rooftop of the building was a shattered parody of human habitation. In the underside of a toppled watertower split open like an eggshell, wards had been affixed to the jagged out-thrusts of metal. They flapped ragged in the fitful gusts of wind, worn ensigns that somehow remained riveted to accomplish their purpose of shelter. For whatever comfort they could provide to the battered youkai within.

Iryoku sliced open the palm of one hand with a swift jerk, dropping the sickly green shard of the Orb she had used to rest in the cooling embers of a fire nearly dead. The thick fluid welled up, drops spattering over the flickering tongues of flame, and her drawn features contorted further into a grimace.

"Saa..." she muttered, the hoarse rasp of her voice twisting into a darker mimicry of a master's commanding tones. "Fail me wrath delayed. Fail me twice...your fate is made."

Fat coppery droplets spilled from her cupped palms into the shuddering remains of the fire, and laughter welled up, deep and triumphant and thoroughly inhuman.

"Blood oath, I now call."

Another drop struck the Orb shard.

"Blood debt, wreak thy fall."

As the crimson fluid left its imprint tracking down the cracked surface of the fragment, its dull surface rippled with a diseased spark of light.

And the color of the blood changed.

A strained cry forced its way out of Iryoku's throat, and the white-faced youkai toppled over curled in agony around a hollowness even S-class magic's seductive promises of revenge could not alleviate.

The blood continued to flow.

* * *

"Ara, ara, are you going to stop clowning around?" Keiko battered at his ears ferociously.

Yuusuke winced away from her, folding his arms resolutely and scowling. "I'm not gonna touch her. You touch her," he challenged sulkily. "Besides, she could be faking it. She might pounce up at any instant. She's already attacked me three times."

Keiko frowned, obviously ready to start badgering him.

Ekoi twitched from her slumped position on the pavement.

"See!?" Yuusuke jittered, leaping back in an exaggerated pose of surprise.

"Yuusuke no baka!" Keiko fumed at him.

Botan stood back from them both, sweatdropped, and clutched her oar nervously, prepared to wield it against the purple-haired youkai. "Ano...we must get her in custody soon, or else..."

Ekoi's arms jolted across the pavement, her fingers groping for something, and she released a shrill, high scream.


All three of them jumped back, startled by that desperate, frightening wail.

"Yuusuke!" Keiko cried out.

"Iya-iya-iya I didn't touch her!" Yuusuke denied, holding his hands up defensively. "I was right here the whole time!" To prove it he pointed to the pavement at his feet, a good five yards away from the writhing purple-haired youkai.

Ekoi's body jerked and flopped like a tortured animal, and she screamed again, a sound devoid of reason or any emotion but raw terror. Then with a sickening crack, her body jerked once more and went limp. For good.

Keiko's eyes went trembling-wide and she clapped her hands over her mouth.

Botan shook her head back and forth incredulously, side strands of blue hair wafting gently.

"She can't be..." Yuusuke uttered disbelievingly. "No one came anywhere near her!"

" she...dead?" Keiko demanded.

"Well, maybe," Yuusuke muttered, eyeing the body. Keiko and Botan eyed him expectantly.

"Oh, nonono!" Yuusuke exclaimed, recognizing that look aimed at him from two sources.

"Yuusuke...onegai...I just don't want to touch that...body" Keiko clutched at her mouth.

Yuusuke heaved a sigh. "Fine, fine already."

Keiko winked at Botan.

Botan beamed back.

Cautiously he approached the sprawled tall feminine figure, partly covered by coils of long purple hair. He nudged her with a toe, and Ekoi moved limply over with the prod, and sagged. Making a face, he knelt and grabbed her wrist.

Keiko and Botan held their breath.

Finally Yuusuke got to his feet. He shook his head grimly.

"She's definitely dead."

"Koenma-sama is NOT going to like this," Botan fretted.

"How could this happen?" Yuusuke demanded, confused. "She was just lying there!"

He approached the body again, pushing her over with his foot. Ekoi's eyes were wild and panicked, already glazing over with death, fixed on a point beyond him. Yuusuke shuddered; her mouth was open in a silenced scream, the spine-jolting echoes of it still beating in his head at that sight.

A thin trail of blood extended from the corner of her mouth.

* * *

"WHAT!?" Kurama exclaimed, as the unconscious body of the white-haired youkai began to writhe and contort against the pinioning embrace of the vines that tied her. She shouldn't even be able to twitch, considering the strength of the fumes in the plant he had given her.

Her head tilted in a piercing scream and he hurried to stuff his sleeve into her mouth, wincing as her teeth gnashed down hard. "Itai..." It wouldn't do for his neighbors to call in a police report. And the vine bindings would be somewhat difficult to explain.

As suddenly as she had erupted into action, Ariodh's body went boneless under his hands. He stared down at the white brow beaded with sweat, the huge eyes working furiously under the silken lids.

"Ariodh..." Kurama drew his sleeve from between her teeth. "What happened to you?"

With a sigh he hoisted her slight body into his arms again. Something had to be done. He just hoped it wasn't too late already.

As he carried her out of the apartment her head lolled in the crook of one arm. A thin trickle of blood had started out from the corner of her mouth.

* * *

"Oi, oi, oi," Genkai grumbled, getting wearily to her feet as the clanging of the bell resounded in her head. "Give these old bones a chance to move that far, ne?"

The bell clunked once more, then fell silent.

Genkai pushed back frazzled pink hair and sighed wearily. She was just getting too old for this.

She entered the courtyard and Kuwabara Shizuru's pale face confronted her. The girl pushed strands of straggling unkempt brown hair back, one hand loosely clutching at the shoulder of the big body sprawled in an ungraceful heap by her kneeling figure. Kuwabara...and she could already see the cause of the visit, from the seeping crimson stain spreading down the front of his shirt.

"Genkai-shihan," Shizuru gave her a nod. "My brother is hurt."

"I can see that," Genkai grumbled back irritably. "That damn fool. Doesn't he know it's the middle of the night?"

Shizuru's lips twitched.

With a sigh Genkai turned to wake Yukina up, and practically stumbled over the dainty Koorime, white-faced and holding a hand to her trembling mouth.

"Ka-Kazuma-san," she choked, eyes wide. "Is he badly hurt?"

"We'll have to find that out," Genkai said in a somewhat gentler tone, patting the Koorime's shoulder.

Mutely Yukina nodded and they hurried down the steps to join the young woman. Genkai was impressed -- somehow Shizuru had managed to lug her brother's big heavy frame all the way over here, probably at least partly due to an upsurge of adrenaline. "You were right to bring him here," Genkai grunted, gingerly touching the boy's shoulder and beginning to peel back his clothing.

"I thought it would be a bit hard to explain the fact that it's a sword wound," Shizuru said dryly. "The doctors might have called the police."

Genkai nodded curtly. "At least your head is on straight."

Shizuru chuckled, her face a bit wan, and took a long drag of her cigarette. Her hand was still quite steady, Genkai noted.

Yukina's little heart-shaped face was intent and determined as she examined the wound. "We shouldn't move him yet," she murmured, pushing aside the ripped portion of the shirt. Her fingers hesitated over Kuwabara's buttons and she blushed bright red.

"Here, let me," Shizuru offered, unbuttoning her brother's shirt to give the ice maiden access to the deep gash. She gave Yukina a slightly wry, considering glance. Yukina didn't notice, eyes fixed only on Kuwabara.

The orange-headed boy's face twisted in pain a bit and he winced as she laid hands on him. Yukina murmured something soothing and he subsided, the ghost of his usual silly grin tugging at his lips. "Yukina-san...?" he muttered, twitching again.

"I'm here," Yukina assured him. "Right here, Kazuma-san."

Kuwabara relaxed and went limp.

Genkai and Shizuru exchanged a wry, knowing glance.

"Genkai...Genkai-shihan!" a familiar alto voice called out.

Genkai levered herself to her feet. "Not another one," she grumbled, spotting the lithe figure approaching with a small bundle in his arms. "Oi, was Hiei hurt, too?"

Kurama stopped at the edge of the circle of light cast by the lanterns, and she could see him flushing. "Ano...this isn't Hiei, Genkai-shihan."

Genkai grunted. It had been a logical assumption. "Then who...?"

He displayed the limp body of a white-haired youkai netted with a cradle of green vines. "Ariodh."

She started. "Good god, boy, what happened to that girl?"

Kurama approached, placing Ariodh's body gently on the ground. "She's not quite...herself, Genkai-shihan."

Genkai's lips twitched. "Well, was she dead, or not?"

Kurama looked confused. "I'm not sure. She shouldn't be alive at all! I thought she was the shapeshifter..."

"A reasonable conclusion," Genkai nodded.

"And she didn't have her soulsword...but, Genkai, she acts like the woman she was killed with!"


"I think...Ariodh's body was possessed by Hino Seiki."

* * *

"Mukuro," Hiei uttered in surprise, then his expression hardened. "That is NONE of your business. Whom I take for a lover is not your purview."

Mukuro glared down at him. "It most certainly is. As my heir, I have the right to govern every aspect of your life...including the reservation of your affections."

His crimson eyes widened slightly in shock. "That was not part of our agreement."

"It was an implicit part of our agreement," Mukuru contradicted stiffly. "You're MINE, Hiei."

Ariodh took a step forward, her sapphire-blue eyes narrowing. "I don't think so."

Hiei blinked.

Mukuro's gaze shifted from him to the small white-haired youkai, barely taller than Hiei himself. She gave Ariodh a quick, dismissive once-over. "Who are you?"

Ariodh's pale lips lifted in a tiny, feral smile. "I'm the one who's stopping this misguided attempt to take Hiei."

Hiei opened his mouth to object. He was NOT some toy to be fought over by two women.

"And you're the one who's going to die," Ariodh continued, her wide sapphire eyes resolute as she lunged forward, a blur of white hair and gray sweats, to attack Mukuro.

Hiei tensed. That baka! Mukuro was an S-class; there was no way Ariodh could overpower her, and without Masamune... He leaped forward, wrenching free his katana. If anyone was going to fight for his freedom, it would be him, Hiei.

Mukuro dodged Ariodh's attack easily, with a contemptuous flick of her cloak. "Try harder, little girl," she taunted.

Ariodh whirled, her cold face focused. "Don't worry, I will." Her fingers were outstretched and stiff as she lunged again, jabbing out sharply. Mukuro reeled as her searching fingers encountered a nerve cluster at the base of the neck...and Ariodh dangled limply from the metal hand. Too fast. Even too quickly for him.

"Mukuro...don't..." he said, his voice dreadfully quiet.

If she did this -- if she killed Ariodh ' he would be forced to break his liege-oaths, and pit himself against the woman he had pledged to serve. Ariodh had died for him, and that was something he couldn't simply ignore or walk away from. It was a debt of blood between them.

Mukuro's face twisted as she looked at him, the lax head of the white-haired youkai lolling in her tight grasp. "She had no right to interfere."

Hiei started forward as swiftly as he could, but Mukuro was faster. The sharp crack of bone snapping echoed through the whole clearing, a noise piercing his ears, and he stabbed out with his katana for the tall figure as the body of the white-haired youkai fell to the moldering leaves.

Mukuro leapt clear, landing on the other side of the clearing. They squared off, both determined, both adamant. Mukuro's expression was faintly regretful. "Now, there is nothing standing between us."

"Except her death," Hiei gritted out, raising his sword. He didn't want to mention Kurama...if Mukuro thought Ariodh had been the one, that meant one less person gunning for his lover.

A dark shape rose up behind Mukuro, and Hiei blinked in surprise as a heavy object clanged hard over the bionic woman's head. Mukuro wavered on her feet, mouth soundlessly working, brown eye boring into Hiei's surprised crimson orbs as she slumped to the ground.

"Dare da, kisama!?" Hiei demanded, on a hair's edge of attacking whomever had just knocked Mukuro unconscious. Surprising an S-class didn't bode well for him.

A dainty figure stepped into the faint light thrown down onto the moon-lit clearing, shaking back long blue tresses bound up in a familiar deluge of long ponytails. The eyes were wide and amber, completely the wrong color, and pointed ears peeked out from the overhanging cascade of hair. But the expression on the small face with its pointed chin and wide cheekbones was familiar as the youkai offered him a strange crooked smile.

"Who are you?" Hiei repeated, warily alert, unwilling to trust the evidence his senses gave. Ariodh was dead, crumpled near his feet.

"Masamune," the creature replied.

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