"Onna." He said.
She turned to him. "Yes, Hiei?"
He stopped. "I'm leaving. Stay with these people. I will find you." And with that, he was gone.
Dream No More
Yusuke, Kuwabara and Kurama anxiously waited for the newly opened portal to stabilize before they entered it. The leader of the special team addressed them. "It's nearly complete," he said. "Remember, only one at a time entering the portal, and count to fifteen before the next person enters. You have precisely 1.8 days before this portal closes. Got that?" They nodded. "Alright. Good luck down there! First person, ready, go!"
Kuwabara leapt forth, followed by Kurama and then finally by Yusuke. The air around the portal warped, but the portal stayed open, much to the relief of the Reikai Special Forces.
On the other end of the portal, Kuwabara, Kurama and Yusuke found themselves in the same awkward heap that Hiei and Botan had found themselves in not so terribly long ago. After some punching, kicking and hair pulling, the three boys got the mess sorted out and found themselves on the top of rocky hill overlooking the plain and castle.
The trio stood and observed their surroundings. "Well, whadda we do now, Urameshi?" Kuwabara asked.
Yusuke looked in the direction of the castle. "I say we go ask them for directions. Kurama?"
Kurama nodded his agreement, and they began to move.
Botan, after a three day trek, had made it to a secluded mountain village with the rest of the refugees. The village was located in a steep valley along the banks of a river, and the refugees set up camp along the fringes of town. Botan had chosen to set up her camp on the outskirts of the town and away from the other refugees. She supposed that if Hiei did come back as he said that he would, he would prefer to be removed from people.
She was very grateful to the old couple for the mare, as she'd been very helpful in the long climb. It had also proved use, as many assumed that she was newly married and that her husband was either missing or had been killed in the fighting. Resources were scarce, but she'd been provided with some food and blankets. It was winter here, and so the mare also provided her with an extra bit of warmth against the snow and the cold.
Botan set up in the middle of a circle of trees, and spread out her meager belongings- a cup, two blankets, flint, the sword Kurogame had given her and some food- on a patch of earth she cleared from snow. Then, she managed (after some difficulty) to remove the saddle from the horse, who'd she taken to calling Yuki. Before the sun fell, she gathered some tinder and fallen branches from the woods for a fire. Finally, after fighting to light her small fire, she melted snow in her cup, and settled in for a long, cold night.
Yusuke, Kuwabara and Kurama had reached the castle, and after ticking off some guards during an attempt at forcing entry, found themselves before Kurogame and the new queen.
"I am Kea," she told them when they were brought before her. "It is my understanding that you were trying to break into our castle."
"Listen lady," Yusuke said, trying to shake of the guard that held him, "We just want to ask some questions about a couple friends of ours, and these jerks wouldn't let us in! It's not our fault they have no manners!"
Kea opened her mouth to speak, but Kurogame raised his hand to her, asking permission to speak. With a nod, she yielded the floor to him. "Tell me about your friends," he said quietly.
This time, Kurama spoke. "We are looking for a man and a woman. The woman resembles your queen," he said, gesturing toward Kea, "and the man is shorter, has dark hair, and a quick temper."
Kea raised her eyebrows slightly and looked between Kurama and Kurogame. "The ones we're looking for, do you think?" she asked.
"What are their names?" Kurogame questioned.
"Hiei and Botan," Kuwabara answered.
Kurogame and Kea looked at each other in shock. "I'll get Uyeda." She said, and began to walk out of the throne room. "Release them. Immediately," she said to the guards holding the trio.
Once the queen was gone, Kurogame began to speak. "Nearly 2 weeks ago, our former government was overthrown. The previous queen had Botan captured and held prisoner in this castle. I knew her when I served as a double agent. I met Hiei briefly. He helped her escape into the village to our south. They have not been seen since. That village's inhabitants fled during the battle. We believe we know where the villagers went but we don't know if they were among them.
"We are looking for them because our new government wishes to honor them for their involvement. They were in fact instrumental in this revolution. The new king and queen believe that without them distracting our old tyrant they would have been found and executed."
"Wow," Kuwabara said. "That's pretty cool."
"How far away are they?" Yusuke inquired.
"It's hard to say," Kurogame answered. "With your friend's speed, they could be practically anywhere, but it's likely they went to Calum. It's a three day's march from here."
"Three days!" Yusuke exclaimed. "We don't have three days."
The monarchs returned. "We can help with that, I believe," Uyeda said. "Kurogame. Get these men ready to go along with five of your most skilled combatants. Be ready to fly in an hour."
Botan slept fitfully her first night in Calum- in part because of the bitter cold, and in part because she had never fully come off of the adrenaline from the battle. 'You'd think that after so many years with the Tantei, battles wouldn't bother me. I watched the Dark Tournament for heaven's sake!' she thought bitterly at one point.
The following day, she set about making a shelter from the cold. She found two sticks in the woods that suited her purpose and brought them to her camp. Using her sword, she was able to create a whole in the tree nearest the fire she had built and drill one of the sticks into it. She used the other stick, which was forked, to prop up end of first stick that wasn't in the tree. Over this apparatus she draped the larger of her blankets, and anchored it with rocks to keep it from flying away.
After several hours of work, Botan stood in front of her new home beaming. Sure, it wasn't fancy, but it was something, after all! She ate some of the food she'd been given, and then took Yuki down to the river.
That night, she was particularly glad for the little wind break she had as a blizzard rolled in. Conditions inside weren't great, but were tolerable. Outside, the fire was buried within an hour or so of the storm's beginning. Botan was able to coax Yuki inside, and was able to use the horse for extra warmth after convincing the mare to lie down. Botan fell asleep listening to the howl of the wind.
She awoke before dawn to find a fire going just outside the entrance to the tent, and a new smell within it. Yuki had not stirred, which she found rather odd. She squinted to see in the darkness of her makeshift tent, and noted as her mind began to work once more that the wind had died down. As her eyes moved to the trunk of the tree, she saw an outline that she recognized. 'Hiei,' she thought, and she smiled a little. It was hard to tell if he was awake or not, but she closed her eyes and went back to sleep.
The next thing she new, there was movement in front of her. Her eyes opened, and she found it to be day. She sat up, and Yuki to the opportunity to remove herself from the tent. Hiei had indeed arrived during the night, and was currently sitting in front of the fire she assumed he had made. After several moments of silence, she spoke.
"Hi," she said, thinking of nothing else.
"Hn," he responded.
"Where did you go?" she asked after a few moments of listening to the fire crackle.
"To get some things," he said shortly. It was now that Botan noticed the other objects around camp that they had received from the old couple upon their arrival. She wasn't sure what this meant, but she was sure that it meant something. When she turned her eyes back to him, she found he was looking at her.
"Oh my god, Urameshi," Kuwabara said in a slightly frantic voice. "Is that thing what I think it is?"
Yusuke stood, open-mouthed, next to his friend, and nodded mutely for a moment before replying, "If you're thinking that's a dragon, I think you're exactly right."
Kurogame had brought the trio outside to something the soldiers referred to as the corrals, but these corrals weren't for horses. These corrals were for dragons. Kuwabara happened to be standing in front of the biggest beast, a female, standing 25 feet high and with blue and green scales.
"These lovely creatures are how we will be getting to Calum. They have a magnificent air speed, and can get us there within the day," Kurogame said. "I do not expect you to learn how to master one of them in the short amount of time that we have. Instead, you will each be riding with one of my officers." He turned to Kuwabara, who was beginning to panic as the dragon was sniffing him and starting to squawk. "It appears that she likes you. You will ride with her master, then," he said calmly.
Kuwabara looked as if he might swoon. "Likes me?" he asked, his voice quivering. "Are you sure that doesn't mean, likes me so much she won't eat me?"
Kurogame smiled. "Yes, I'm sure. The rest of the party is here now. Let's go."
They arrived in Calum near sunset, and they began canvassing the small town asking about Hiei and Botan, with little success. At this point, it had been ten days since the refugees first arrived, and what few leads there were in town were going cold.
After a few hours, they decided to try the refugee camp, since it was obvious from reports in the village that at least Botan had been here. People in the camp were wary of the soldiers after the battle, and most spoke tersely if at all.
Eventually, the Spirit Detectives caught a break in their case when they ran into two giggling teenage girls.
"You mean the cute little married couple?" one replied when told their descriptions. That surprised them, to say the least.
"Married couple?" Kurama inquired.
"Oh, yes," replied the other girl. "I think he must have been in the army or something, but I'm pretty sure it was one of those arranged marriages, you know? From the middle class, who think they can get somewhere that way."
"Yeah," her companion elaborated. "She's pretty nice, but he doesn't say much. Sure a cute couple though. I'm sure they'll have beautiful children. They live in a little clearing on the other side of that rise. I sure would like to know how she gets her hair that color…"
Kurogame thanked the women for their information, and they went on their way. Yusuke, Kuwabara and Kurama looked at each other, then at Kurogame.
"What. Did. You. Do. To. Them." Yusuke bit out.
"I assure you," Kurogame said smoothly, "that if they were married, it is news to me. They seemed tolerant of one another, but the lady never mentioned anything that would lead me to believe anything like that during our acquaintance."
"Let's go find them," Kurama suggested.
"Right," the others agreed, and they began to move briskly in direction the two women pointed them.
"Booooootaaaaan!" a voice yelled in the distance.
Botan looked up from what she was doing and listened, but decided when she heard nothing else that it was a trick of the imagination. Yuki pawed at the snow across the clearing, looking for grass to munch on, and Botan returned to her work. She could hear Hiei training some twenty yards away. If he was not concerned, she decided, she wouldn't be either.
But then a few moments later, she heard her name again. This time it was closer. Much closer, much clearer. Yuki's ears pricked and she looked up from the hole in the snow she'd made. Botan rose to her feet.
The sound came again, and Hiei's training sounds ceased. Now she could sense something. She called Yuki to her, and was ready to flee if she needed to. Tense moments passed.
Another voice called her, and she could hear Hiei coming towards her. Then a voice called again as Hiei arrived in the clearing, and she recognized it. She glanced at him, her eyes open wide and she called out, "Kurama?"
A figure emerged from the trees, and stood there, staring at Hiei and Botan, and they stared back. Botan ran to him. "Kurama!" she shouted again, and she hugged him fiercely. "What are you doing here?" she asked after they parted.
"Looking for you two. What else?" he replied as they walked back to join Hiei. Three other figures emerged from the woods- first Yusuke and Kuwabara, then Kurogame.
Kurogame walked up to Botan and bowed to her. "Milady, I am glad to see that you are safe."
She turned to face him then replied, "I'm glad to see you're safe too. Thank you so much for your help. I'm not sure what I would've done without you."
After they returned items they wouldn't use, per Botan's insistence, they flew back to the castle. Uyeda and Kea were waiting for them at the gates.
Kea spoke. "I know that we cannot convince you to stay, though we were prepared to offer you a fiefdom in reward for your service to us." The group was shocked, but she continued, "As it stands, I am aware that you two and your companions will be returning to your own time and place and I have no intentions of stopping you."
To Hiei she handed a dark ring, shaped like a Chinese style dragon with purple stones for eyes. She handed Botan another ring, this one a lighter dragon holding a marquee cut purple stone in its open mouth.
"May these tokens remind you of the time you spent with us. They will never be able to compensate you for the services you have given, but I hope they are enough."
"Thank you," Botan said quietly as she slipped the ring on her finger.
"No," the queen replied, "thank you." Kea looked at Yusuke. "I believe that your time with us grows short. May your journey home be a safe one."
He smiled, and the air around the group grew distorted, and then suddenly, they were gone.
Thank you, readers, for sticking with me for these last four years. They have not always been easy, but we have finally made it to the end.
If I get enough reviews demanding it, I can and will do an epilogue. Just tell me what you want to see. I may even do a sequel if you ask.
You guys are the absolute best. I look forward to future projects with you.