Step One Ends-Finally!

Well, I would just like to open by say I am SO sorry.

Ok, this would be the part where I offer you myriad perfectly logical and acceptable excuses for my completely unforgivable absence for how many months, but I don't much believe in excuses. Just know that I really am sorry I left you hanging and while it will probably happen again, I will not simply stop. I promise you will get to see how the story ends.

If you're even still interested that is.

The quiet gasp that escaped her lips was like soft music floating on the breeze as Botan gazed around the valley in awe. As Hiei had anticipated, the fireflies were filtering in from all directions, various hues of sparkling gold and silver darting about excitedly, the air rich with their energy.

The energetic balls of light shimmered lightly in the soft moonlight and sparkled brightly against the dimness of the night, like stars that she could reach out and touch. The flowers were just as vibrant and exotic as he remembered them, ranging from rich crimson petals to melancholy blue blossoms and every color in between. Some were as soft as silk and just as fragile, nearly torn to shreds by the pleasant spring breeze. Others were almost stone-like and sparkled in the dim light.

Here and there pools of almost fragrant water bubbled and miniature waterfalls splashed over beautiful marble boulders and creeping crystals that made their homes among the plants and stones. Everything was alive and energetic, a rare find in the Makai so full of death and reality. This little piece of imagination, a scene from a fairytale amid the blood and revenge, was something even Hiei couldn't help but adore.

And Botan…she fit. Like she had always been a part of this world outside the world. The light that sparkled from the fireflies bathed her perfectly giving her an ethereal appearance far more goddess than mortal. Her pretty pink eyes shimmered in the moonlight as she gazed adoringly at the valley, wonder and bliss fighting for dominance in her expression.

She giggled softly as a curious firefly flew up to her nose for a closer look. The quiet hum of the rapidly beating wings was vaguely musical, a melody played just for the two of them. Botan hummed in response to the tiny demon, and Hiei decided he like her voice. Soft and mystic, like crystal bells but never the same one twice. He hoped she kept it up.

The firefly seemed equally pleased, twirling in dizzying pirouettes before settling amid her azure locks, giving her hair that ethereal glow. She shimmered like the water in the pools surrounding them. Yes, she fit perfectly.

"Hiei?" The fire demon shook himself, puzzled at the questioning tone in her voice. "What's the matter? Did something get caught on me?" she asked, twisting around to check her blouse and skirt for various imperfections and local plant life that might be stuck to either one.

Oh! She'd caught him staring.

"Hn. You look nice." His tone was flat, and his voice was low, and even he knew the intended compliment sounded…vaguely insulting in his voice, especially if one was aware of the sarcastic undertones that were a permanent fixture in his speech.

But Botan seemed to understand his meaning, beaming a flattered smile at him and closing her hand around his. Her pale skin was soft and cool against his battle worn fingers. The feeling was alien and unfamiliar, but he liked it and quickly intertwined his hand with hers in hopes to keep her there just a bit longer.

Just as he had imagined, Botan was completely intrigued by the valley. Every so often she ran up ahead when something new caught her attention, and, although he could have easily kept pace with her, he let her skip in front him so he could watch that teasing ponytail bounce childishly against her shoulders. He also liked that every time he caught back up, she grabbed his hand again, flashing him another amazing smile and chattering on about how beautiful everything was, asking about how he'd found this place and if he returned by himself every now and then.

Once again, the ferry girl had run ahead a few feet, this time to examine a low pool filled with the fairy fish. She kneeled on the ground beside the shallow water, fingertips just above the surface as the glowing white fish swam below in their own investigation. Hiei watched her blue ponytail slide over her shoulder to trail in the crystal water and…

…tensed, his hand taking the familiar path to his sword. Why had the fireflies stopped humming? And the creeping crystal was not glowing or pulsing. Even the fairy fish seemed to be retreating back as far as they could into the pool. Everything was suddenly quiet and very, very still.

Whoosh.

If anyone had been watching the fire demon at that moment, they would have seen his eyes darken in an instant from dirty garnet to drying blood as they followed the sound without turning from Botan. The ferry girl probably took the sound for the wind through the trees and other surrounding foliage. But Hiei saw that nothing swayed; there was no wind.

Whooshwhooshwhoosh.

The air whispered, and he strained his ears a little more, trying to hear what it was telling him.

Whooshwhoosh. Creek.

Something was flitting through the trees. That meant whatever it was was close. But he couldn't smell anything he didn't before…

A soft intake of breath.

But it didn't come from him or Botan. Then it clicked.

"Botan, get down!" He didn't wait for her reaction. Within seconds he had her pulled against him and in the air, just in time to hear the shriek.

A frightened gasp escaped her lips, "A Banshee." They landed several feet away from the pool, and he nodded at her assessment as he set her down. His eyes never left the patch of trees he was sure the sound had come from.

His mind raced; Banshees were rare, almost mere myth in the Makai, and he was uncertain of how to proceed from here. But of course even they would be attracted to the energy and life of this place.

Banshees were fairly peaceful creatures that had acquired a bad reputation in the human world. The stories of a Banshee's shriek bringing death had been ridiculously exaggerated, and the ones about announcing death were only moderately accurate.

They fed on pain, usually the kind emitted from a painful, violent death. But the wail of a Banshee did not cause death or pain; actually, it drew the pain to the Banshee like a straw, acting something like an anesthetic for its 'victim'. The shriek itself, however, was not quiet, or something you wanted to get in the way of, hence the human myths concerning them. But for the most part, these apparitions were happy to stay out the lives of the living, content in their own pocket of reality.

Unfortunately, as with any species, there were a few warped ones that did not lead so tame an existence. The shriek attacked the different nerve endings affecting the pleasure center of the mind. When directed at a perfectly healthy being, instead of blocking pain, the sound picked up on every painful experience that being ever had and enhanced it. The result was as destructive as an upper level demon attack; the sad remains of the fairy fish Botan had been admiring were a tragic testament to that. These rogue Banshees hunted and killed prey with their voices, and the victim died in more pain than even Hiei could stand to imagine.

Equally unlucky, since Banshees existed in a pocket of reality, they were almost impossible to kill from where even the members of Spirit World stood because technically they were not there, not all there anyway. This outside existence gave them the ability to hunt in all dimensions instead of just one. With typical Banshees, this was not a problem; in fact it was beneficial in a way, but with rogues like this one…

The intake of breath alerted him, and again he had Botan in the air and out of the way. A creeping crystal screamed with the unimaginable pain caused by the Banshee's cry, a terrible shower of colors and sparkles blending together in what can only be described as hurt, and was forever still.

Hiei and Botan landed just inside the tree line and scanned the valley as the Banshee abandoned the idea of stealth and flitted into the clearing, revealing itself at last.

Like some of the most dangerous things in the world, it was heartbreakingly beautiful. Tall and slender with cream pale skin and milky white hair, though, like all of its kind, it was impossible to tell if it was male or female. A silvery glow emitted from its skin, like a halo surrounding an angel. But its eyes were horrific. Stone grey without pupils and clouded over. In those eyes, Hiei saw the determined single-mindedness of a crazed hunter. And those dead eyes rested on solely on the ferry girl beside him.

Without hesitation, Hiei flitted head on into the Banshee, placing himself between the insane apparition and Botan. In one fluid motion he released his sword from its sheath and slashed at the Banshee. But he knew he was reacting on instinct; not only would his sword have no effect, but Banshees were naturally agile, quick creatures. And this one had already proved to be almost his equal in grace and speed. Without a charm of some kind to bring the Banshee into this dimension alone, the most he could do was distract it. He knew the most he could hope for was that the Banshee chose to play with him. Words would have to be invented to express just how badly that knowledge grated on him.

But the Banshee was not in the mood for games. Its gaze never strayed far from Botan.

Hiei felt his heartbeat increase as he watched the creature's jaw drop. Its chest rose with a sharp intake of breath. Lungs inflated, preparing for the kill with those horrid silver eyes staring lifelessly at the defenseless ferry girl. Hiei saw the moment of vulnerability and struck.

Like all predators, a Banshee has moments where it is left exposed, the moment just before it lets out its infamous shriek. But its moment of weakness will not bring it into another plane of existence, so, unlike anything else that found itself on the wrong end of Hiei's sword, it did not die. But it was extremely pissed off.

Botan forgotten, the creature spun, fluidly dislodging the blade from its chest as well as removing it from Hiei's hand. Its perfect face was a mask of rage, silver eyes growing cloudier and mouth twisted in a feral snarl.

For the first time in his life, Hiei felt intimidated. Involuntarily he took a step back before cursing himself for the display of cowardice. His face melted into his famous condescending smirk, eyes as cold as frozen blood. He felt his body respond to his mindset, falling into the familiar battle crouch. If nothing else, he could go down swinging.

Once again the Banshee dropped its jaw and inhaled deeply, this time stepping forward…

THUD!

A sickening crack followed the thick sound of Botan's wooden oar making contact with the back of the Banshee's skull. Its silvery eyes lost the milky sheen and sparklingly clear for a moment before rolling back in its head as it crumpled to the ground. But Botan was far from finished, bring her oar down swiftly again to the same place several times until the crumpled body faded out of existence.

Botan released a slow breath as pushed the stray hairs that had escaped her ponytail during her relentless attack back behind her ear. Her pink eyes met his confused ones as he relaxed and fell out his stance.

"How?" was the only brilliant remark he could manage to form. His voice did not waver, though his expression had melted into the blank mask that those who knew him took as a pleasant smile.

Botan bit her lip self-consciously as she stepped over the spot where the Banshee had lain moments before to stand at his side. "Death is the only constant in any dimension," she explained. "So, technically, my oar at least exists in all of them at once."

Hiei considered this for a moment before deciding that is was probably for the best that he didn't quite understand, and gave her a brief nod.

The rest of the walk was relatively boring in comparison, but Botan wrapped her arms securely around his left arm and jumped a little at every sound, causing her silky blue hair brush against cheek and neck. Hiei couldn't find a cause for complaint.