Chapter 02

Hiei looked up from his book when he heard a knock on his door. Instantly, his hand was on his sword as he moved stealthily towards the entrance of his cabin. No one was supposed to know he was out here. He’d paid Rakshi quite handsomely to make sure of that. He scowled as he thought of it. The next time he saw that demon, he was going to have to teach him a lesson.

The knock came again. It sounded hesitant, which brought Hiei up short. He’d never heard anyone knock so uncertainly in his life. You either wanted to do business with the person in residence or you wanted to kill him. But you didn’t visit someone with hesitation. It just wasn’t safe.

He scowled at the door and slipped his sword into the sheath at his side. Whoever it was, if they were dangerous, would find out in a hurry just how quick his draw was. Making another face at the door as a third knock fell, he opened the door and came face-to-face with a tremor demon. He groaned. Just what he needed. Tremor demons were the most superstitious in all the makai and they especially hated male koorime. Normally that would mean that Hiei would be putting that sword to good use right about now, but this tremor demon just looked terrified.

“Hiei, I presume?” the demon asked.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Mist. I’m Yoko Kurama’s associate.”

Hiei raised an eyebrow. “You expect me to fall for that tripe?” He’d heard some lines in his day, but this was too rich. Yoko Kurama’s associate. Seriously. What a lame way to try to unbalance him.

“I-well, no-I’m serious!”

“Uh-huh, sure. Look, buddy, you’ve had your fun making fun of the male koorime, so you can just turn around and make your merry way out of my life.”

Mist looked almost offended by that, which pleased Hiei. Offending a tremor demon was almost as good as killing one. “Listen, you piece-” he stopped mid-sentence, then took a deep breath.

Hiei raised his eyebrows. A tremor demon had just stopped mid-insult. That wasn’t a sight you saw everyday. “Piece of what?” he goaded. “What were you going to call me, hmm? I bet your insults are as unoriginal as your fake claims.”

The tremor demon growled and stomped his way a few feet away from the house, taking up residence on a log Hiei had set up to make outside reading more comfortable. “Stupid Yoko, I told him this wouldn’t work,” Mist muttered to himself, balling himself up.

Hiei was pretty sure the demon didn’t know how good his hearing was-it was a secret he kept well-hidden and it had served him well in the past. Listening to this delusion demon’s rambling probably was probably useless, but he’d learned the hard way that sometimes the most useless comments contained the most important.

“I told him male koorime are an insult to nature, but that fucking kitsune just won’t listen to reason. He’s so obsessed with finding a partner he’ll even consider the most abominable creations in the makai. Just because this demon happens to have the Jaganshi title and would rank as an A class if he were normal doesn’t mean he’s a good match for you, stupid fox. And now I can’t even come back and tell you the problem is that he doesn’t believe I’m your aide because you said I was as good as dead if I came back without him. Hiei is already tainting you and you haven’t even met him. Going to lose the best aide you’ve ever had just because of a stupid male koorime. Fucking Yoko.”

The words of the tremor demon dissolved into tears then and the babble became indecipherable. But Hiei had heard enough of the demon’s rambling to know that he was either delusional or telling the truth. Which was shocking in and of itself, since he didn’t know of any demon who would choose a tremor demon as an aide. They were an ugly and superstitious lot, but more than that…they were absolutely brutal. For one to be sobbing so openly…well, there was only one demon in the entire makai considered more ruthless than a tremor demon. And that was Yoko Kurama.

Hiei closed the door to his cabin quietly and went back to his bed, sitting on it as he tried to take in everything he’d heard and the implications of all of it. He had a tremor demon sobbing in his front yard because he’d been ordered to bring Hiei to Yoko Kurama and couldn’t do it. But he hadn’t used force, which he could have easily resorted to, so it was easy to infer that Kurama hadn’t demanded Hiei’s presence but requested it. There was no other reason a tremor demon would avoid the use of force.

On top of that, he’d just learned that if the stupid rules in their ranking system weren’t in place, he’d be considered an A class demon. He knew he was strong-that was pretty apparent in the way his enemies fell before him-but he’d thought that he was potentially C class, B class at best. But A class. That felt like it was miles away for him. To have heard so casually that he already was A class in terms of his power was thrilling. But the last thing he’d heard was truly the most important.

Yoko Kurama was looking for a partner. Hiei had heard rumors to that affect, but had dismissed them as ludicrous. There was no way such a ruthless solo needed a partner. Besides, Hiei had never met any demon who was competent enough in his eyes for him to consider partnering. He knew, deep down, that he was a partner in essence, but he’d always been forced to fly solo. He’d had to make his own decisions about everything for the last hundred years. He wasn’t sure he was ready to give up his freedom. Not even if it meant potentially becoming partner to Yoko Kurama.

Ah, hell. Who the hell was he trying to kid? Yoko Kurama was a legend. For a long time, he was the thief Hiei had modeled his own skills after until he’d developed his own unique style. And he had to admit to himself that he’d always admired Yoko. Not only for his thieving, but also for his brutality and ruthlessness. He didn’t tolerate incompetence, which was a sentiment that Hiei could agree with all too readily.

Hiei sighed and stood up, beginning to pace around the room. There was just so much to take in. He knew of Yoko, but he’d never met the kitsune, so there was no guarantee that they’d get along. On top of that, he knew that partners were supposed to be subservient in absolutely every way to the demon of the pair who was considered a solo partner, which meant that they didn’t have the drive to claim a partner the way the other partner did. Hiei had always had that drive-he’d just had to ruthlessly suppress it in order to survive. The very few solos that he’d teamed up with had all betrayed him, all used his koorime status as a way to achieve more victories for themselves rather than truly partnering with him. And they had been abusive. Hiei winced at the memories that produced and it made him curious how Yoko would act.

It also made him cautious. Because he wouldn’t just roll over and play partner for anyone. Not even Yoko. Respect and obedience had to be earned; they weren’t something a solo could just expect from a partner.

That brought him to the fact that Yoko had sent his aide to request his presence, not demand it. That was a good sign and it was more than he’d ever had from any of his previous solos. It meant that Yoko didn’t expect his partner to be easily rolled. That was reassuring. Hiei felt a slight twinge of guilt for the fact he had left Mist outside to hyper-ventilate, but it was only slight. It was easily justifiable to allow the demon to continue stewing, considering how horribly his kind had treated Hiei for decades. A little mental distress was nothing in comparison.

The question was…what did he do? Did he answer the request from Yoko and send his life spinning out of control and risk everything he’d built for himself on the mere hope that Yoko would turn out to be the type of solo he wanted to partner? Or did he play it safe?

A knock at the door made him tense, before he realized by the sound that it was Mist. He made his way to the door and opened it, one hand on his sword-just in case. The tremor demon looked up at him, eyes red and splotchy.
“What do you want, Mist?”

“I can’t offer you any proof that I’m Yoko’s aide,” the demon said, ignoring the question entirely. “All I can do is what I was told. Yoko told me to come here and request your presence at his estate tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow?” Hiei’s mind whirl-winded. So soon? That wasn’t nearly enough time to make a decision! He narrowed his eyes at Mist. “Requested?” He had already figured it out, of course, but hearing the words…having it confirmed that Yoko had truly asked and not demanded was more important to him than he’d realized.

“Yes. Requested. If you want to go, I shall accompany you.”

“How long of a walk is it from here?”

“For a tremor demon, an hour. For everyone else, about a day’s walk.”

“Yeah, you guys are really good at burrowing, aren’t you?” Hiei said, the comment offhand and not meant to be insulting.

“We’re not worms!” Mist scowled at him, arms crossed over his chest.

Hiei blinked, then laughed. “You have a lot of nerve, getting upset over such a small insult considering the types of things your kind have said about me.”

Mist harrumphed.

“I’ll go,” Hiei said, mind suddenly made up. He wasn’t even aware of making a decision, but the words were out of his mouth and he never took back what he said. It was a point of pride.

“Really?” Mist’s eyes all but lit up.

“Really.”

“So you believe me?”

Hiei shrugged. “I don’t know what I believe. But a day’s walk won’t hurt me and if I find out you’re lying, I can always slit your throat. It’s a no-lose situation.”

“Right. Like you could kill me.” Tremor demons were notoriously difficult to even harm, let alone kill.

“I’ve killed five of your kind so far,” Hiei said, shrugging. It just took figuring out the right pressure points to get past their scaly skin.

“For what reason?” The outrage in Mist’s voice was almost tangible.

Hiei looked askance at him. “Did you really just ask me that question?”

Mist had the grace to look embarrassed. “Not our fault you’re an abomination.”

It was the most half-hearted insult he’d ever heard, so Hiei let it pass. Obviously he wasn’t enough of an abomination for Yoko Kurama to consider him one, and that was affecting the tremor’s demons convictions. As they began the walk towards Yoko’s estate, Hiei could only hope that he was making the right decision.

Chapter 1     Chapter Index     Chapter 3

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