Chapter 01

Yoko looked down his nose at the demons gathered before him. He turned to Mist, his current aide. “This is the best you could do?” he asked, his voice deceptively soft as he gestured with a hand to the crowd. Inside, he was seething. He’d told Mist to bring him demons suitable to be his partner in terms of both strength and temperament. If this crew was an accurate reflection of Mist’s thoughts concerning him, he wasn’t going to last much longer.

Mist read his mood accurately. “These were the only demons available, Master. All the truly strong ones have been claimed already.” What Mist wisely left unsaid was that Yoko was known throughout the demon world for his solitary nature. The very fact that he was considering a proper partner now was causing a stir throughout the makai. The strong demons with partners were going out of their way to make sure those partners didn’t find the allure of Yoko’s reputation more enticing than their current status. And the unclaimed partners that met Yoko’s expectations were all doing their best to keep under the radar. No one knew how Yoko Kurama would treat a partner. It was unprecedented.

Yoko scowled at the gathered demons, taking a small amount of comfort in the fact that they all flinched back from him. When he’d decided to take on a partner, he had thought it would be easy. After all, he was Yoko Kurama. His name held more weight than any other in the makai and his ruthlessness was legendary. Which, he conceded, is probably the reason no competent demons have shown up yet. But he was determined to find a partner. He needed someone who could watch his back, someone he could trust. Living a solitary existence for the last eight hundred years was enough. Now that he’d reached true adulthood, it was time to find someone who could potentially become his mate. That thought made him glance at the demons before him and he scowled again.

“Mist,” he said, turning to his aide.

The short, slightly chubby, gray-skinned tremor demon looked up immediately from where he was chastising a servant for his ineptitude, giving his full attention to Yoko. “Yes, Master?” he asked, his voice soft and airy.

“If you don’t have at least one competent demon for me in a week, I will replace you.” Yoko waited for fear to surface in Mist’s eyes, the way it normally did when he was confronted with the potential loss of his job. It never rose, which made the kitsune immediately suspicious. He advanced on the tremor demon, towering over him as he placed a hand roughly around his throat, glad that this aide was smart enough not to back away, not to struggle, not to give him any reason to squeeze. Because if he started to squeeze, he would end the demon’s life before letting up. It was how his last aide had lost his job. “Are you holding back on me, Mist?”

Mist swallowed convulsively, fear filling his eyes as he looked up at Yoko. “Not exactly, Master.”

“Not exactly?” Yoko’s voice tightened in disbelief; he forced himself not to shout the words and struggled to retain his calm.

Mist spoke hesitantly. “There is one demon, but he is considered an abomination. I did not want to taint you with his presence, Master.”

Yoko snorted and released his hold on Mist, stepping away from him. After eight hundred years, he’d learned there weren’t many superstitions that held up under rational examination. “And?” he said. “Tell me about this abomination.”

“His name is Hiei,” Mist said. “He was born to koorime and he currently holds the Jaganshi title.”

“That’s a lot to take in,” Yoko said, surprise coloring his tone. The fact that there was a male born to koorime still alive in the world was a staggering one by itself, but throw in the fact that he was also the Jaganshi holder and it was almost surreal. “What element does he have power over?”

“Fire.”

Yoko felt a smile began to tug at his lips. Fire would be a perfect complement to his plants, despite the concurrent danger. “What class is he?” When Mist didn’t answer immediately, Yoko felt himself growing concerned. He turned to the tremor demon. “Well?”

Mist sighed. “You aren’t going to like it, Master.”

“There are a lot of things I don’t like, Mist. You not being immediately forthcoming, for one.” Yoko narrowed his eyes.

Mist closed his eyes, gathering his strength to him. “You’re right, of course, Master. I apologize. Hiei is considered D class.”

“Even holding the Jaganshi?” That was surprising. Such a title was generally reserved for someone of B class or higher.

“He is ranked as a D class demon because he is an abomination. His powers have nothing to do with his ranking whatsoever.”

Yoko rolled his eyes. Typical. Demons were considered an abomination to the human world, which made you think they’d all stick together. But no, there just had to be demons that all the other demons thought unworthy simply because of the way they’d been born. It was sickening. “If he was ranked properly, according to his powers, where would he rank?”

Mist made a face, obviously uncomfortable with considering where an abomination would rank. He sighed in defeat. “He would probably be ranked A class.”

Yoko went from being amused at Mist’s discomfort to instantly outraged by his prejudice. “Mist.”

“Yes, Master?”

“Are you telling me that the only competent demon you found, this abomination, isn’t here simply because you didn’t wish to taint me?”

Mist swallowed hard, the gleam in Yoko’s eye filling him with dread. To answer yes to that question was tantamount to suicide, but to answer no… to lie to Yoko Kurama, that was something you did only if you wished to suffer before dying. His voice dropped to a whisper. “Yes, Master,” he said, dropping his eyes so that he wouldn’t have to face Yoko’s truly terrifying rage.

“Did I ask you for such considerations, Mist? Do I appear so weak as to need you to protect me from such things?”

The questions were asked calmly, but the rage behind them…Mist trembled. He dropped to his knees, sinking his forehead into the ground in abject apology.

Yoko glared at the demon kneeling before him, struggling with the need to take him into his private chambers and teach him a thing or two about service. There were lines that aides just didn’t cross and usually, Mist didn’t cross them. But this superstition made him weak and foolish. “You were so caught up in your belief that such a demon would taint me that it blinded you. As penance, you will personally go to Hiei and tell him that I have requested his presence. And you will say it that way. Requested. Not demanded. Not required. Nothing else. And if he denies the request, I will kill you for your foolishness. Now get up.”

Mist struggled to his feet, holding blubbery arms to his eyes as he attempted to wipe the tears that had escaped. “Requested. Master, I don’t know if Hiei is even interested in partnering. All the things I’ve heard about him indicate he has very stubborn and independent. He may be a solo player.”

Yoko smiled unpleasantly. “For your sake, Mist, you better hope he’s a team player.”

Mist blanched, then bowed once in Yoko’s direction. “I will return with him by tomorrow.” He left unspoken that he wouldn’t show up if Hiei didn’t agree to the request. It didn’t need to be said.

Chapter Index     Chapter 2

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