Here is the long awaited Chapter 26 to Slight Problem. I know it's been a while, but I still don't own Yu Yu Hakusho or any of the characters within that show. The only thing I own are my own Characters, Natalie and Lisa.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

The next morning, after Natalie had eaten and changed into the clothes provided by Kurama, both herself and Hiei were out on Genkai's grounds. The others were standing just a short distance behind them, Lisa looking decidedly worried.

And she wasn't the only one who was worried.

Hiei cast a glance at the woman at his side. "How are you doing, onna?"

The girl frowned slightly, knowing that the hybrid would soon be opening the portal leading to the Makai. "Does the term 'shitting bricks' mean anything to you?"

He smirked. "Just remember your training and you should do all right. Stick to the lower level demons and leave the strong ones to me."

The girl took in a deep breath and nodded. Then she turned to the others. "Well, I guess this is it."

Kurama nodded. "We will see you again in a day or so, Natalie. Be careful and do not drop your guard."

She nodded once more before letting out a long sigh. "Lisa, I'll be back soon. Just stick close to Kurama and we'll tell you what's going on when we get back."

The blonde nodded, obviously nervous and fearful about her friend taking this trip. Kurama had a comforting hand on her shoulder.

Natalie turned back to Hiei then, trying to put on a brave face, but she was pretty sure the hybrid could see straight through it. "Okay... let's just do this. The sooner we find out what's going on, the better."

Hiei nodded. "Hn. I'm opening the portal now." He removed his headband, and his Jagan immediately opened and flared brightly as he closed his eyes in concentration. A moment later, a portal opened before the two of them. His eyes opened once more and he looked at the woman at his side. "Let's go."

The girl took in a steadying breath and nodded. Then the two of them entered the portal together, and it closed behind them.

The blonde woman started to tremble slightly, seeing the portal vanish. Kurama squeezed her shoulder reassuringly and gave her a gentle smile. "Don't worry, Lisa. She's with Hiei, and I know he won't let anything happen to her."

The girl took in a shaky breath and then nodded. "So... now what do we do?"

Genkai looked over now. "The only thing we can do. We wait."

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Once the portal had closed behind them, Natalie tried to fight off her nervousness as she took in their surroundings. The portal seemed to have dropped them off on the side of a mountain in a forested area. Looking at the surroundings, she figured most people would have thought it no different from Ningenkai, but Natalie knew better. She felt the energy in the air around her and it made her skin crawl. She let out a shiver.

Hiei looked at her. "Are you ready, onna?"

"Just give me a minute. The energy being given off here is messing with my senses. I have to focus myself so I can cut through the haze and sense any danger that might be nearby."

He nodded. "Do it."

She closed her eyes and quickly focused, trying to mentally cut through the static-like interference that the Makai was unleashing on her senses. After a few moments of focus, she opened her eyes. "Well, my senses aren't going to be as acute as I would like, but it's better than it was. In order to cut through the interference thoroughly, I would need a few hours of meditation, and we don't have the time for that, so we're going to have to deal."

He looked at her for a long moment and gave a half sigh, half scowl. "I didn't consider the effect the energy of Demon World would have on you, but I guess there's nothing we can do about it. As you said, we don't have the time for you to sit and take care of the issue thoroughly, so we'll just head out. Let's hope that any demons that sense you will be deterred by my presence."

She nodded and looked at him. "Okay, lead the way."

So, staying right at his side on the path, Natalie and Hiei made their way down the trail. After a half hour of walking, the trees thinned out and the terrain turned rockier. Then they rounded a bend and found the trail turned into a six foot wide ledge right on the edge of the mountain.

She glanced at her companion. "I thought you said we were taking the covered route. Won't we be right out in the open if we use this?"

"It should only take us about ten minutes to get past this part of the trail. It will widen at that point, and then lead back into the forest. I don't like it either, but this is the safest method of reaching Mukuro's Palace."

Natalie grimaced slightly and then stepped cautiously up to the edge. Taking a peek over, she saw a winding river with trees far, far below. She had a feeling in her gut that this wasn't the best idea in the world, but if Hiei said it was the safest method then there was little choice. Besides, they didn't have time to debate the issue."

"Well, I guess if we have to. Let's just get it over with."

Hiei in the lead, they continued on, stepping onto the ledge. Natalie was just relieved that it was relatively wide and not something that they had to cling to the rock face for dear life on.

They went at a reasonable pace and cleared the narrowest part in the time Hiei had said they would, much to the female's relief. The area was now much wider, the rocky ground turning into grass and trees further off to the left, while the cliff was just to their right. Straight ahead, the path was clear, heading down a hill and back into the forest about a half mile ahead.

Hiei and Natalie started on their way once more, when Natalie paused, stiffening a little. Hiei looked back at her questioningly.

Natalie willingly sent her thoughts to him. Hiei, I hope it's just the weird static I've been feeling messing with my senses, but I'm pretty sure I feel something watching us from the forest...

He frowned now, turning his attention to the trees himself. A few long seconds passed with no movement or sound and she was beginning to wonder if she was mistaken. Then she saw a small flash of light from the undergrowth and Hiei's hand went to his sword.

Then, all hell broke loose.

The flash came once more, far brighter and larger than the last one and Natalie had to shield her face to keep from being blinded. She heard a loud explosion, and suddenly found herself being flung back from the force of a blast. She thought she heard Hiei call her name and instinctively tried bracing her feet along the ground to stop her backward journey, only to realize that she no longer had any ground to find purchase on.

Opening her eyes, she saw she had been flung well over twenty feet from the edge of the cliff and nothing but air was keeping her from the river and trees far down below. Seeing this and realizing the inertia from the blast had now worn off, the woman did the only thing she could.

She screamed in undisguised terror as she started to plummet.

Her arms and legs were flailing desperately, trying to find something, anything, to stop her descent, but it was no use. There was nothing. Oddly enough, the only thought that went through her head was, Not even an hour in the Makai, and I'm about to become a permanent fixture here! I didn't even get to throw a fucking PUNCH!

She screwed her eyes shut tightly, waiting to find herself standing before Koenma.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

When Hiei saw Natalie disappear over the edge of the cliff, he was momentarily frozen in shock. He knew Natalie had no way of saving herself and he had no way of saving her this time.

She was as good as dead.

This thought made something within the hybrid snap. He then became aware of the small horde of demons approaching him, and the first one to reach him was reduced to dozens of pieces before he could even blink. Hiei was almost in a berserker rage now, his eyes blazing red, his canines and claws extended as he howled and went for the next one. Once he had killed five of them in the span of a few short seconds, he caught sight of something diving down past the lip of the cliff, catching the barest glimpse of red hair and white fighter-pants.

This momentary distraction almost cost him his life as he looked up just in time to see one of the demons preparing to unleash an attack that would have put him in much the same situation as Natalie, but this attacking demon unexpectedly froze solid and smashed to the ground, breaking into pieces no larger than ice cubes.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

The last thing the freefalling witch expected was to actually have somebody catch her. But that's exactly what happened. Someone grabbed her around her midsection, bringing her descent to a halt, before quickly switching her position and holding her bridal style in their arms.

Heart hammering like mad, and thanking every single God she could name, Natalie finally dared to open her eyes once more and found herself looking up at a man with shaggy red hair, pointed ears, and a single horn sticking out amongst his hair just an inch or two above his forehead.

Recognizing him instantly, the woman smiled in unrestrained relief and gratitude.

"Jin!"

The wind master's expression turned from concerned to surprised instantly. He blinked and then grinned. "Well, I'll be damned! Mukuro was right! Ya do know me! But how? I'm sure I would've remembered meeting a lass as cute as you are..."

She unsuccessfully fought of a blush as she cleared her throat. "Um... that's really sweet of you to say, Jin, but... If I were you I wouldn't flirt when we get back up there... Hiei strikes me as being the jealous type."

His eyes went huge hearing this, and then his grin broadened. "Well, the day's just full of surprises! Ol' Hiei's nabbed himself a little lady, huh?"

Natalie hesitated. "Erm... well, sort of. I'll explain about how I know you guys later, but first... Do you think we can find some solid ground now?"

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Once Hiei had realized that Touya, Rinku and Chu were there, his rational side peeked to the surface long enough for him to realize that he could still feel Natalie's aura, right along with Jin's. He felt relief flood through him and just took a few more seconds to off a few more demons before turning to the new arrivals.

Touya looked around at the remains of the attacking demons. "Well, it looks like our timing is getting rusty. We barely made it here in time."

Hiei was about to speak when he turned seeing Jin fly up past the edge of the cliff, holding a shaken, but thankfully alive, Natalie in his arms. He approached them immediately, the other three newcomers following.

When Jin set the woman down, her legs nearly went out from under her, but her rescuer held her shoulders to keep her steady. She let out a shaky sigh of relief, finding solid ground beneath her feet once more.

"Natalie, are you all right?" Hiei asked, keeping his features neutral.

She nodded, and the bare trace of relief crossed his face.

He turned to Jin then. "What are you four doing here? I told Mukuro that her safety would be my responsibility!"

Jin blinked while Touya snorted and crossed his arms. "Well, from the looks of it, you weren't doing a very good job before we got here..."

Hiei's eyes flashed dangerously as he turned to the Ice Master. "Say that again and see how far you get before I cut out your precious voice box..." he growled, his voice low and dangerous.

Jin quickly stepped forward then, having ensured Natalie's balance was regained. "Now, hold on there, Hiei. Ya have ta know that Mukuro makes her own decisions. We were ordered to come out here and help you escort the lass to the Palace. Ya can't be expectin' us ta say 'no' to Mukuro, can ya?"

Chu let out a belch and Natalie could smell the liquor on his breath from where she stood. "Yea. Travellin' with a human down here's a good way ta get yerself ambushed, 'specially when it's such a beautiful li'l Sheila..."

Seeing Hiei's hands start balling into fists, Natalie quickly stepped forward, trying not to look too annoyed with his attitude about the situation. "Hiei, considering the fact that I'd be dead now if they hadn't come, would it kill you to just let it go? They're here now by order of Mukuro, so why don't we just get going before something else happens?"

While he still looked far from impressed with the situation, he simply 'hn'd', crossing his arms. Natalie took that to mean that he didn't like the arrangement, but that he would have to live with it. Then he simply turned and started off down the path once more, Natalie quickly moving to follow. Jin took to the air, and the final three fell in step behind the human girl.

She blinked when she felt a tug on her shirt and saw Rinku looking up at her with a curious expression on his face. "Hey, is it true that you know about us?"

Natalie couldn't help it as she gave him a smile. She'd always found Rinku to be adorable. "Yes, I do. And I have a feeling you guys want to know how, right?"

Touya looked at her with his cool expression. "Well, we have been dying of curiosity ever since Mukuro sent us on this mission. Both she and Yomi have been discussing something of importance behind closed doors as well, and we're wondering if you might know anything about it."

Natalie and Hiei both stopped in their tracks, the hybrid whirling in shock while the woman's eyes bugged out of her skull.

"Yomi is with Mukuro?" they said as one, having not expected this.

Jin flew up to them now and blinked. "Why so surprised? I thought you knew they've been on speakin' terms for a few years now."

The young witch hesitated. "Well, I didn't know that, but that's not what's worrying me..." She and Hiei exchanged a look, the woman looking as if she wasn't sure if they should get into their concerns.

The hybrid turned to them and crossed his arms. "A few days ago a group of demons tried kidnapping Natalie's best friend... a human with no special abilities and no history in our dimension. The only thing that we can think of that would have made her a target is because Kurama has developed an interest of his own in her."

Dawning realization crossed the Wind Master's face now. "Ahhh! An' you think Yomi was the one responsible for the attempted capture of her?"

Natalie frowned. "Well, it's the only thing we've come up with so far that makes any sense. Demons aren't exactly known for having an interest in capturing normal humans for no reason."

Touya regarded her. "I'm not sure about the details of what happened to your friend, but I can tell you with a great deal of certainty that Yomi was not the one responsible. While I'm sure he's probably aware of what's going on himself, he has little interest in who Kurama associates with in the Human World anymore, beyond his idle curiosity. And I doubt he would arrange for his operatives to try capturing a human knowing that she was closely associated with the Spirit Detectives. That would be tantamount to sending people on a suicide mission and would serve no purpose."

The duo exchanged another look. "Well," Natalie started. "If it wasn't Yomi who did it... then who was the one responsible?"

He seemed to think hard for a moment before that scowl came to his face once more. "I don't know. But we won't find out standing here. While I'm liking this situation less and less, we have no choice but to keep going."

Chu put a hand on her shoulder then. "Yea, an' you can explain how ya know us on the way. It'll take us a few hours ta get there, so it'll be a way ta pass the time, it will..."

Natalie sighed as she fell back into step behind Hiei. Being in a group of demons this large, especially considering their power levels, she wasn't overly concerned about a second attack.

"Well, I'm assuming you guys know what a television is, right?"

When she saw them nod as one curiously, she smiled. "Good. And, knowing his hearing, I'm guessing Yomi's going to hear this too, so it'll be one less explanation for me once we get there..." So, once again, Natalie explained exactly how it was that she and her best friend had come across their knowledge of them, and how they had gotten stuck in their dimension in the first place.

The entire telling took over two hours. When she was finally done with her explanation, Jin shook his head, a wide grin on his face.

"Well, now that be a story for the record books! I thought I'd heard everything until now!"

Before Natalie could say anything, Hiei stopped in his tracks, his hand going to his sword. "Someone's coming," he said, his eyes directly on the trail ahead.

Everyone stopped and looked where the hybrid was for a long moment, when a demon that appeared human except for strange triangular ears and facial markings, rounded the bend and stopped upon seeing them.

He took them all in, until his eyes landed on Natalie. Then he grinned broadly.

"Hey, guys! Luck is with you today! I'll give you 500 pieces of gold for the little lady there!"

She felt her eyebrow twitch. "Excuse me?"

Hiei's sword was out of its sheath. "The onna is not a slave, and therefore, not for sale."

The newcomer blinked, and then grinned. "No need to be coy with me. I'll go up to 700 gold, but no more than that!"

A low growl issued forth from the Forbidden Child now.

Natalie, less than impressed with this guy herself, put a hand on Hiei's shoulder. "Please. Allow me."

All of them blinked in surprise hearing this. Hiei looked from the newcomer to Natalie, and then smirked, gesturing toward the new demon.

The girl put a sweet smile on her face as she approached the newcomer, putting a slight sashay to her walk. The man in question blinked and then started to smile, not noticing the knowing smirk on Hiei's face.

Jin hesitated. "Um... Hiei, are you sure this is...?"

"Hn. Don't worry. She'll be fine."

Natalie stopped directly in front of the demon and after a pause that lasted a few heartbeats, the woman's left fist slammed into the offending man's gut, immediately making him bowl over in pain. Before he could react at all, the girl delivered a devastating kick which sent him flying back, slamming him into the side of a tree.

Natalie allowed her aura to flicker over the surface of her skin as she approached the demon again, her smile now gone. She grabbed him by the front of his outfit and slammed him against the tree once more.

"You wanted to fucking buy me? You think that just because I have a set of tits that I should be stripped of my rights and forced into slavery? And 700 gold? Really? For a living, breathing, intelligent creature with thoughts and feelings, you would put a price on them? If you want to fuck something so desperately, then go to a novelty sex shop in human world and get yourself a blow up doll! Or even find a demon girl who's willing and able, because I'm sure there're some of those around too! Just leave me, and any other females out of your fucking business deals!"

"Um... sorry?" he said feebly, realizing he was in hot water.

The woman scowled at him and simply delivered a bone-crushing punch across his face, effectively knocking him out cold, before dropping him unceremoniously on the ground at the base of the tree. Her scowl still in place, she made her way back to the others.

"Let's just go before I change my mind and kill the asshole."

"Hn." She's still too soft, but I suppose I can't expect her to become a merciless killer overnight.

The six of them continued on down the path, Natalie taking up her position directly behind Hiei once more. Jin was now walking on the ground behind her, side by side with Touya.

"No wonder Hiei's interested in her," she heard him say quietly.

She didn't see Touya nod in agreement. "Yeah. Between her looks, attitude, and fighting ability, it's not hard to understand why."

The woman fought off a blush hearing this, but wisely said nothing. Then she blinked, looking past Hiei and noticing that the path seemed to open up again ahead of them. When they cleared the trees, she saw she was on top of a hill, a city with a palace only about a half mile away.

Hiei turned to them. "When we get to the city, we should keep Natalie encircled to keep the scum at bay. We don't need a fight in a populated area."

The others all nodded, while Natalie tried not to feel insulted, reminding herself that these were other demons they were protecting her from, and not mere humans. Looking at the group of them again, she figured someone'd have to be pretty dumb to try something.

Making their way through the city now, the woman understood why Hiei had felt the need for the added precaution. She could see other demons leering at her from the streets, and could hear low mutterings. Something told her she didn't want to know what they were saying. Just the open looks being given to her was enough to make her skin crawl.

They approached the gate to the palace and the two guards first raised their weapons, and then blinked, recognizing Hiei. Their weapons were down by their sides once more as they gave him nods of respect.

"Hiei-sama, welcome home. Mukuro-sama is expecting you and your companion."

The hybrid simply nodded to them, and they opened the gate.

The atmosphere within the walls of the palace was far less tense than it had been within the city. Natalie felt some measure of relief being away from all the eyes of the residents of the city. Walking through the palace now, the staff seemed to give her little more than a cursory glance before continuing on with their duties.

Something occurred to Natalie and she sent a glance over to Hiei. Rather than voicing her concerns aloud, she simply sent her thoughts to him once more.

Um... is there anything I should know before I meet Mukuro? Things such as proper manners when I meet her or anything?

He glanced at her. Then she heard his own voice in her mind as he projected his thoughts to her. Not really. As long as you're not disrespectful toward her, you should be all right. I'm more concerned about Yomi, to be honest with you. I knew they had been speaking for a while now, but I'm concerned over the fact Mukuro didn't inform me that he was going to be here as well.

Yeah, I know what you mean. Something about this situation is sending off red flags, and I don't think Mukuro wants to meet me JUST so she can meet me...

Hiei almost snorted. I knew that from the moment she told me she wanted you down here. Mukuro doesn't make a habit of meeting people just to say 'hello.' She usually has a deeper reason behind wanting the meeting to take place. We're almost at the throne room now, though, so I guess we'll learn what's going on soon enough.

Natalie said nothing to this, and tried to fight off the knot she felt forming in her stomach with little success.

They approached a large set of doors, and Hiei simply opened them and walked in without a word or a single knock. Following him inside, she immediately saw both leaders standing at the head of the room. Taking a quick glance around the room, she found it was mostly bare, and one of the walls appeared to be made of glass and overlooked a large empty room. Aside from the large glass wall, the other walls were bare except for doors leading to other areas of the palace, and a chair reserved for Mukuro to sit in.

The two Super S-class demons turned as they entered, Mukuro giving them a greeting smile.

Once they were standing before the two of them, the former slave nodded to them both. "It's good to see that you made it here alive. I understand that you had some difficulties in your journey. I had anticipated such, which is why I took it upon myself to send additional escorts to aid you." Then the woman's eyes fell on the one human in the room. "So... this is the woman I have been hearing so much about. Your name is Natalie, is it not?"

The girl blinked and then nodded. "Yes. It is an honour to meet you both, Mukuro-sama and Yomi-sama." She gave them both a small bow of respect.

"Welcome to the Makai, and to my home. I understand that both yourself and Hiei were surprised to learn that Yomi was going to be here as well. He has been here for the past several days, actually. There are many whispers and rumours going around throughout the Demon World which concern us, and the two of us decided it would be for the best to speak about these issues, which is why he is here."

The blind demon nodded himself now as he turned his head in Natalie's direction. "I can assure you, I had no role in the attempted capture of your friend. I had promised Kurama to not interfere in his Ningenkai life, and I have no intentions of going back on that. Also, as Touya already pointed out to you, sending any operatives to capture someone close to Kurama would be the same as sending them to their deaths, and therefore would be pointless."

She nodded slowly. "Okay, so that trumps our one theory on who could be responsible."

Hiei frowned. "Yes, but it still leaves us with the question of who did order the attempted kidnapping."

Mukuro nodded. "I agree, that matter does need to be answered. But first..." She approached Natalie and gently led her to the large glass wall, indicating the room within. "Do you know what this is, Natalie?"

She shook her head now. "No, I was actually wondering that when I first walked in the room."

She smiled knowingly now. "It is a fighting arena. Some days, my underlings will spar with one another, and I enjoy watching them as they progress with their training, which is why my throne room is located here."

Natalie blinked slowly. "Okay. Um, forgive me, Mukuro-sama, but... what does this have to do with why you asked me to come here?"

The other woman's expression turned a little apologetic. "There are a few reasons why I asked to meet you. I promise you, I will explain everything in just a short while, but I'm afraid I have to conduct a test first. I apologize in advance for this."

Warning bells starting wailing incessantly in the woman's mind now. She was about to ask why Mukuro was apologizing when she had yet to do anything wrong, but the words died in her throat when she heard a barely discernable click beneath her feet, and a trap door she was standing on fell beneath her. She only managed to let out a cry of alarm and heard Hiei call her name before finding herself sliding down a dark chute.

Natalie felt full blown fear trying to shove its way to the surface, not sure what was going on. It was hard not to be scared, considering that Hiei was not with her at the moment and she had no way of knowing what was going to happen next. Suddenly, she saw a light approaching at the end of the slide, and exited seconds later, dropping a few feet to the dirt ground inside the arena.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Seeing Natalie fall through the trap door, Hiei raced forward immediately. "Natalie!"

The door closed itself once more before the hybrid could jump in after her. He immediately whirled on Mukuro. "What is the meaning of this, Mukuro?" he ground out. "You promised me she would not be harmed!"

Mukuro shook her head. "She will not be killed, Hiei. That is a promise. But if Natalie cannot prove herself capable of facing the upcoming threat, then there is little point in warning her about it."

Hiei's teeth ground together. "You promised me she would not be harmed, not simply killed!"

The female ruler smiled now. "I have healers on standby, and her opponent is merely going to be an upper C-class demon."

"Natalie's not accustomed to fighting against demons! She still holds to the human morality valuing life, and has only killed once! She did not even kill the slaver who wished to have her on the way here! She simply knocked him unconscious!"

"She will have to harden herself to such things very quickly, Hiei. I can guarantee you, she will be involved in many battles soon, and she will need to be merciless in order to survive them. You and the others cannot protect her forever."

Hiei was about to speak up again, but Yomi spoke instead, cutting him off. "Shura is going to be watching the battle as well. If the human proves herself incapable of defeating this opponent, he will step in and save her. There is no need for you to worry."

The hybrid was almost beside himself with rage at Mukuro's deception. But it was too late, and now he could do nothing but watch. He knew he was unable to help Natalie himself right now, and so she had to face this battle alone.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Natalie looked around herself warily, her heart hammering inside her chest. She was alone... in an arena... in the Demon World. Casting a glance back at the hole she had fallen out of, she knew there was no way she could hope to climb back up the way she had come. The trap door was probably shut again, anyway. She was stuck here.

Then she suddenly heard a voice over the speaker system, making her jump slightly. She recognized it as being Mukuro.

"I truly am sorry for the deception on my part, Natalie. Your opponent is a prisoner of ours. We have garnered much information from him, but unfortunately, the torture we implemented has now driven him quite insane. Be warned: He will kill you without a second thought, and hesitation on your part could easily cost you your life. Once the battle is over, should you survive, we will continue our talk. Good luck."

Natalie's eyes were saucers now. "Oh, shit... someone tell me this isn't happening..."

Out of the shadows of a doorway to the far side of the arena, emerged a demon who was about eight feet in height, with a large, muscular frame. A large portion of his body was covered in armour, but the visible skin was covered in scars, evidence of the torture he had endured at the hands of his captors. He carried with him a large wooden club.

Panic momentarily set in as she realized Mukuro had pretty much dropped her in here to fight a battle to the death. "W-wait a minute, Mukuro-sama! Can't we talk about this for a minute?"

Her opponent's eyes landed on her then, going wide. Then, without saying a word, he let out a howl and charged forward, raising his club.

Surprised at how fast a being of his size could move, Natalie barely had time to dodge the attack, and the ensuing shockwave from the impact on the arena floor made her lose her footing. She quickly did a handspring to dodge a second strike and proceeded to do a series of flips across the arena to put some distance between her and this demon. Seeing the impact from the club had left a crater behind, Natalie knew she was in trouble.

She growled. "Damnit! I have no choice but to fight!" She quickly summoned her Spirit Boa and readied herself for his next strike, going into a low crouch.

He charged her again, his eyes protruding wildly. She dodged at the last minute, getting close, and attacked his torso with her boa before launching herself off the back of his shoulders, twisting herself in midair, and landing to face her opponent once more.

Her eyes went wide when she saw that her spirit weapon hadn't even made a dent in his armour.

She didn't have much time to assimilate this information, however, before he was almost upon her again. Natalie quickly dodged out of the way, thankful that his movements were at least easy to read, as he was doing nothing but attacking blindly. Coming up with a different strategy that might at least even the odds for her, she charged him, reinforcing her body strength with her spirit energy. She remembered how she had sliced through that tree earlier in the week, and hoped to do the same to his weapon, seeing as how it was wooden.

This time she met his attack head on, bracing herself against the impact of the club against her boa. The initial impact almost flattened her, but she braced her legs against the force of the blow. She held it off for a few long seconds before her spirit boa actually seemed to bend before shattering. Natalie was only barely able to avoid the weapon and actually felt as it brushed against her arm before crashing into the ground. The shockwave struck again, this time stunning her. She quickly rolled to her feet, trying to get the stars out of her eyes before an excruciating pain exploded in her midsection as her opponent got in a hit and sent her flying across the arena. She slammed into the wall and fell to her hands and knees, coughing up blood in the process.

Won't be harmed my fucking ass! What the fuck gave Mukuro the right to put me into this kind of position, anyway? What gives her the right to TEST me?

Looking up, she saw the demon approaching her again, and Natalie knew she had would have to get creative and take some pretty significant risks if she was going to beat this guy.

For the first time, she felt her anger toward the situation and fed upon it, getting to her feet and gathering her energy once more. She had to end this now.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

Hiei scowled, watching the fight take place down below. Natalie's sense of morality was causing her to try non-critical attacks first, something that was sure to get her killed, Shura or no Shura, if she didn't snap out of it soon. He tried communicating with her telepathically, only to find that Mukuro had placed a psychic shield within the room, preventing him from talking sense into the girl.

He was a little surprised to find himself starting to tremble slightly, knowing that he could do nothing to help her himself. He watched as she took the hit and was sent flying. Even through the glass, all of them could smell the human's blood.

Jin frowned from where he watched. "From the way it's goin' so far, she won't win this."

Mukuro shook her head. "She is most definitely capable of winning this. I would not have placed her in this position if I believed otherwise. She simply has to throw her merciful side out and fight him for real."

They watched as she slowly made her way back to her feet, and blinked when a red aura appeared over the surface of her skin. Seeing her rise to her feet, her opponent charged at her once more. This time, she made no moves to avoid his charge and simply stood there, her head bowed.

Rinku's eyes went wide. "What's she doing? Isn't she going to move?"

Then Hiei blinked and started slightly when he saw a glowing circle with intricate symbols swirling within it extend out around her at her feet. He immediately understood what it was she was doing.

"She's desperate if she's trying this..."

Before anyone could ask Hiei what it was that Natalie was doing, the demon reached her location and swung his club once more. The club hit a barrier created by the circle. The woman made some quick motions with her hands before they effortlessly went through the barrier and she held them against the demons armour plated chest.

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Natalie's body was beginning to strain with the effort to keep the barrier in place and she knew she would only have one shot at this. If she failed here, then she wouldn't have the energy left to launch another attack. Her hands were now in place, and her opponent didn't seem to notice at all, still trying to force his club through her shield. Making sure the energy had been shaped as she wished, she looked into the eyes of the demon, seeing nothing but intense rage and insanity burning within them.

"I'm sorry to have to do this," she said to him, even knowing her words probably wouldn't register.

She unleashed the energy, which took the form of a powerful electrical current, which enveloped his form. He immediately screamed in agony as she kept the current flowing, trying to increase the potency of the energy to bring about his end quicker. His body was seized and paralyzed by the flow of energy coursing through him, until finally the screaming stopped and she pulled back the power.

Not having the energy to properly dodge when she saw him now collapsing toward her, she simply threw herself to the left and let herself hit the ground, narrowly avoiding being crushed by his bulk. She felt her body scream with the impact, and her world was spinning due to the excessive use of her energy, and the fact she had used her own rage to power a spell.

She tried to make her way to her knees, when the world did a 180 on her and she almost collapsed again. This time a set of hands stopped her from kissing the ground. Looking up a little blearily, she blinked when she saw what looked like a young version of Yomi keeping her upright.

"Shura..."

He looked a little annoyed with being there, but sighed. "C'mon. I'll help you up." He put her arm around his shoulders and supported her weight as she stood.

In that moment, one of the panels on the wall opened up and the others joined them.

Mukuro gave her a smile. "Well done. You had us worried there for a few moments."

Trying not to wince with each movement she made, she fought the urge to glare at the female leader. "Forgive me, Mukuro-sama, but was there an actual point to that fight?" she asked, striving for an even tone of voice, but finding it difficult to hide that she was angry at her deception.

Hiei came forward, looking a little less than impressed himself. He took over supporting Natalie for Shura, who seemed relieved to no longer have to do the chore himself as he went to stand at his father's side. Another demon entered the room, this one having been summoned by Mukuro after the outcome of the fight had been determined. It was a female with dark pink hair, bluish skin, and pointed ears, wearing a medical outfit.

"Ah, Yaoni. Please, heal our guest."

"Yes, Mukuro-sama," she said with a smile, approaching the injured woman. As she formed a healing ball of energy in her hand and started focusing on the injury, Mukuro started speaking once more.

"The fight held two purposes, Natalie. The first was to force you to understand that when facing demons, mercy is a luxury one simply cannot afford. I understand that you did not enjoy killing your adversary, but it was necessary as he would have killed you, given the opportunity. The second purpose was to determine if you had the capability of surviving the battles that are now ahead of you. I am pleased to say, that you did pass the test, and you have demonstrated a form of ingenuity with that final move that has actually left me impressed."

Feeling the throbbing pains in her gut slowly fade with the administrations of the healer, Natalie shook her head in confusion. "Coming battles? What coming battles?"

She nodded. "As soon as Yaoni has ensured you are well again, we will go somewhere where you can sit while we talk. You have drained a significant portion of your spirit energy and need to take it easy now."

The healer completed her task quickly, and the group of them left the arena and journeyed through the halls of the palace until they entered a room with a few comfortable looking chairs and couches. Hiei still supported Natalie, knowing her lack of energy would cause her problems trying to get around. He made sure she was seated comfortably on one of the couches before seating himself beside her.

He then looked at Mukuro. "I think we've been kept waiting long enough, Mukuro. What is the real meaning behind all of this?"

She nodded and seemed to think to gather her thoughts before turning her attention to Natalie. "You may be surprised to learn, that you and your friend have actually garnered much attention down here in the Demon World. Especially amongst the Dimensionalists. Have you ever heard of them before?"

A little stunned to learn that herself and Lisa were known among the general populace of the Makai, Natalie shook her head. "I don't recall hearing about them, no..."

The scarred woman smiled. "I'm not surprised. There are very few of them, and for the most part, they lay low. They have the ability to open random dimensional portals to other realms, which is used primarily as a defence against their enemies. However, they do not have the ability to pick and choose what sort of a dimension their portals will link to. In order to do such a thing, they would require a specific form of energy that is inherent to a particular realm... Universal Energy. Of course, this has been impossible for them to obtain, as there has been no source of a different Universal Energy other than our own in our realm... until now. The energy is contained within your own life force, and the life force of every being that resides within its particular realm. Once word of your arrival reached Demon World, it spread like wildfire amongst the populace, and finally reached the ears of the Dimensionalists. As you are no doubt aware, many demons are not content with our own world, and wish to journey elsewhere to expand our territory. This has caused a new group to form in the shadows of the Makai... a group that is determined to seize the opportunity to leave this world behind... and to journey into your own."

Natalie listened to this, and felt all the blood drain from her face when she realized where this was going. "You said... that the universal energy is in our life force... Does that mean...?"

Yomi nodded now. "In order for them to obtain the energy, they would have to drain your life force from your body and separate the universal energy so they would be able to hone in on its place of origin. They would need to kill you."

Natalie's brain went into a state of shock momentarily as her thoughts started to spin. She tried to shake it off, barely even noticing as Hiei placed a calming hand on her shoulder. "B-but... I mean... How many demons are in this group?"

Mukuro sighed. "Hundreds. Perhaps even thousands. There is no way to know for sure. But they are mobilizing and attempting to organize themselves in an effort to retrieve either yourself or your friend. They don't care which." She paused. "I know that you are important to Hiei... his reaction to your sudden trip to the arena made that very obvious... and Hiei is important to me. Yomi and I are of the same opinion in this matter... your realm already has its inhabitants, and should be left alone. For our kind to journey into the human world of this realm is one thing, but to invade a realm for the purpose of killing and enslaving its inhabitants and making it their own... I cannot and will not abide by that. That is why I had you come here. To give you fair warning. It will take some time before they are able to properly mobilize their forces and make a concerted effort to obtain one of you. The attempt spoken of earlier was carried out by a group of the more impatient followers. Their effort was poorly planned, and did not have the approval of the primary group."

Yomi nodded. "By giving you this warning now, it will give you and your friends a chance to prepare for the efforts that will be made soon enough."

"That is why I had to drive the point home about your issues of showing mercy to your opponents. If you care for the well being of your world, you cannot afford to cling to those moral convictions. If you do so, your world, and all the people who inhabit it, will fall."

Natalie turned inward once more. It had been her idea to come here in the first place. It had been her technique that had gotten them here. If those demons got a hold of herself or Lisa, if they opened a portal to their world... then it was all her fault.

The full implications of the situation sent the young woman into a state of complete shock and horror. Images of her family, of her old home, of the world she had grown in and the people that she loved... they might all be destroyed soon because of her actions.

She only barely snapped out of her shock due to Hiei giving her a shake and saying her name. Her head jerked up and she saw his red eyes lock with her own, concern reflected within them.

Her mouth opened and closed, but she couldn't bring herself to speak, and wasn't even sure what she could say after learning this. She moaned and buried her face in her hands.

Hiei frowned and got to his feet. He looked at Mukuro. "Natalie has had a long day and needs her rest, Mukuro. I'll bring her to my room and we will leave for Ningenkai the second the sun rises. We have to let the others know what we learned."

She nodded. "Of course. I offer you the services of my elite team once again, not only to escort you back, but to help in the coming battle. I trust that this time, you will accept my offer?"

Hiei gave her a single nod before gently pulling a shocked Natalie to her feet, and leading her out of the room.

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The next chapter will have an M rating, just to let you all know. I'm not sure when it will be up, but hopefully within a week. In the meantime, review and let me know what you think!

It's good to be back!