AN: I know, I know. I'm really bad at the updating regularly thing. *sheepish grin* My friend introduced me to this new PS2 game and it's exceedingly addictive. No excuse, I know, but I couldn't help myself.

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IllusionOfAghony: Well, Hiei doesn't go on a rampage in this chapter, but I guarantee that you'll see some action in the next one. Next chapter is a major battle scene between our heroes and one of the enemies. One who just so happens to be an old, shall we say, acquaintance of some friends?

eunice : I'm glad you like it so far. i admit, one thing I always worry about is keeping the characters, well, in character. Good to know I'm doing all right with it. (sorry about cutting our part of your username, but for some reason the uploader won't let me put the whole thing. I hope you don't mind)

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Previously:

Coming to a stop before a door in the medical ward, Mukuro broke the silence. "At the start of this epidemic I had my mechanics create a certain device, a sort of variation of the restoration tanks." Pushing open the door, she entered the room and revealed a series of tanks. "This particular device holds a person in a state of suspended animation. As long as the tank remains undamaged, whoever is inside will remain in exactly the same condition as when they first entered." She turned to Hiei and raised her eyebrow. "This might be the only way to keep your sister alive long enough to find a cure."

-_-_-_-_-_-

Genkai stepped forward before Suzuka could make things worse. "Alright, since we have the means, we might as well use them." She turned to Kurama. "Do you have a way to get back there quickly?"

Kurama raised the small mirror he'd been given before leaving the fortress. "This will create a portal to Mukuro's."

Genkai nodded. "Good. Alright, then you two," she pointed to Chuu and Suzuka. "will carry Jin and Touya. Kurama, it's probably best if you don't get too close to them. You may be half-human, but your still an elemental."

Things moved quickly after that. They managed to get Jin and Touya through the portal and over to the room where Yukina was being held. Yusuke ran off to find Hiei to see how he was doing.

Mukuro glanced over at them as they entered the room before nodding toward two of the empty tanks beside Yukina's.

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Clearing her throat, Mukuro gained the attention of all three of them. "If you're quite done, would you mind paying attention and looking over here?" She directed their attention toward a map on the table nearby. "As you can see, we've managed to map out the activity of the virus. From the way the virus has been spreading, we were able to backtrack enough to get the location of its origin, right here." She pointed to a spot circled on the map. "This is where our information led us. I plan on sending some of my men to-"

"Forget it." Hiei cut her off. "This problem has become personal for us. We will take care of it our way."

Mukuro narrowed her eye at the apparition before turning her gaze on Yusuke and Kurama only to find the same conviction on their faces. Sighing, she relented.

"Very well, but be careful. Two of you are aligned with elements, so you'll be at risk of catching the virus if you haven't already." The last bit was directed towards Hiei, given how he had been holding Yukina after she'd fallen prey to it.

Hiei snorted and turned, already walking out the door with Yusuke and Kurama behind him. "I won't fall until that bastard is dead and Yukina is safe."

Gazing after them, Mukuro could only hope that his words would be true.

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A portal opened up near the castle, dropping Hiei, Kurama and Yusuke deep in enemy territory.

The three of them gazed at the ruins before them in silence. Here before them was the base of the bastard who had created the virus. Somewhere within was a monster who gleefully toyed with other's lives.

Hiei took the lead. "Let's go."

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The three of them darted down the hillside to the edge of the ruined building. Seeing no opposition, Kurama and Hiei took the lead with Yusuke close behind them. The two longtime thieves had done this so many times that Yusuke didn't mind following them. Still, he figured that they would stop at the edge of the woods to scope out the perimeter, so he was rather surprised when Hiei and Kurama didn't so much as pause.

Frowning, he dashed forward to draw even with them. "Uh, guys? I thought rushing in headfirst was my thing. Shouldn't we look around first?"

Kurama glanced at him. "Time is of the essence, Yusuke. We don't have the luxury of following procedure."

"I know that!" Yusuke snapped. "But we won't do much good if we get caught, you know." He blinked, thinking over his words and grimacing. 'Wow, that's a switch. I'm telling them to use caution? Oh yeah, we got some serious problems here.'

Hiei spoke for the first time since exiting the portal. "We're here."

It was fairly obvious that the ruin before them used to be a castle. The walls, however crumbled, still had obvious lookout points and several towers were still in place. On the inside, many of the rooms and hallways seemed to have been gutted, leaving only worthless trinkets for scavengers.

In an unspoken agreement, Hiei searched the uppermost floors for clues while Kurama and Yusuke split the lower levels. Within an hour's time they reconvened in the main entrance, all of them empty-handed.

"Well this is ridiculous." Hiei looked ready to tear someone apart and Kurama didn't seem that far behind him.

Yusuke sighed and looked around. "Hey, didn't Mukuro say something about how there are tunnels underneath this place and they'd been made into a lab or something." The other two looked at him. "We didn't find any hidden doors inside the castle, so maybe it's…" He trailed off at their expressions. "What? What'd I say?"

Kurama and Hiei exchanged rueful glances. "Apparently we're not thinking like proper thieves." Kurama said wryly. "Hiei, would you do the honors?"

Nodding curtly and ignoring Yusuke's bewildered face, Hiei removed the bandana over his Jagan. In the same way he had once searched for the Isle of the Koorime, he now scoured the area for any way into the underground.

Yusuke looked between Kurama and Hiei. "Alright, I'm lost. What the heck was that all about?"

"Hiei is looking for any hidden entrances that may not be visible to the naked eye. With his Jagan, nothing will be able to escape his notice." Kurama explained. "I'm glad you reminded us about what Mukuro said, Yusuke. It seems that our emotions are beginning to cloud our judgment." Kurama sighed mentally. Losing control like that was completely out of character for him, yet he found himself doing so time and again of late. Usually he could push his emotions to the side and move forward with a perfectly clear mind, completely focused on the ultimate goal, but now worry for his friends and comrades had him forgetting all of his thieving standards and acting like an amateur kit going on his first solitary hunt.

Yusuke clapped his hand on Kurama's shoulder, startling him out of his thoughts. "Aw, cheer up fox-boy! We'll get that cure before you know it. We've faced dozens of jerks trying to destroy everything. This jackass demon doesn't stand a chance against us."

Kurama smiled slightly, mentally shaking his head. "You're right, Yusuke."

Yusuke nodded and turned his attention back to Hiei. He hoped that he wouldn't have to eat those words, but he couldn't shake the feeling that things were going to get a lot worse before the end of this. Give him someone trying to take over or even destroy the world and he could handle it easily. Using some sort of specialized virus to kill off certain kinds of demons was way out of his comfort zone. That was more along the lines of Kurama's expertise, although you wouldn't know it with the way the centuries old fox demon was acting.

Hiei's gaze suddenly snapped around to face back into the castle. "There's a hidden entrance in the rear courtyard, beside one of the statues. That's the only way into the lower levels."

Yusuke cracked his knuckles and tilted his head at his friends, giving them a dark grin. "Alright, I don't know about you two but I'm about ready to kick some ass."

Kurama and Hiei smirked darkly in return and followed the Toushin through the building and out to the statue in question.

With his Jagan, it only took a moment for Hiei to pinpoint the trapdoor to the underground network of tunnels. The fire demon went down the ladder first so that if the enemy attacked before they reached the bottom, his speed would enable him to escape easier than the other two could. In short order they were all at the base of the ladder, gazing around at the large, round room. There were five doors, equally spaced around the room. Between two of these doors was what appeared to be a blank screen.

"Hmm. Whoever is behind this probably uses that screen to communicate with anyone else involved so that he doesn't have to face them personally." Kurama said absently, his attention focused on picking through the many scents within the cavern.

Hiei growled. "Great, another cowardly bastard that lets others do his dirty work for him."

"Well, what are we waiting for? Let's get going already." Yusuke strode forward and grabbed the handle of one of the doors.

"Yusuke, wait! Don't do it!" Kurama cried out, holding out a hand as if to stop Yusuke, but he was too late.

Yusuke wrenched open the door and immediately an alarm began going off, echoing down the hallway and within the room making the three demons within clap their hands over their ears.

"You idiot!" Hiei yelled at Yusuke over the sound of the siren. "Haven't you learned anything?"

"Aww, come on. How was I supposed to know there was an alarm?" It was obvious to anyone who knew him that Yusuke was feeling sheepish and his two long time companions could only sigh. The element of surprise had now been lost and they could only hope that they could still reach their ultimate goal without too much trouble.

The siren suddenly cut off and the three slowly uncovered their ears, all of them shaking their heads in an attempt to clear their minds. A small ruckus at the end of the hallway seized their attention and they braced themselves for whatever was coming their way.

A doorway at the other end of the hall slammed open and several demons came running towards the exit chamber. The one in the lead noticed them and slowed slightly but continued on, dragging one of the smaller demons behind him. The little one seemed to want to turn back and return down the hallway. Finally fed up, the lead demon released his arm and yelled over his shoulder. "Fine, if you want to get killed that much then go back to him! You'll just end up the same way." With that said, he took off towards the ladder with the rest of the group as the little one started running back down the hallway.

Parting to let them through, Hiei darted around the crowd to grab hold of the small demon, whipping him around and pinning him to the wall, holding him off the floor. The hooded cloak he was wearing concealed his face from sight.

"Alright you, talk." Hiei growled out, pressing harder when the demon struggled against him.

Yusuke and Kurama came up behind him, silently forming a blockade to discourage escape.

The demon slowly stopped struggling and hung limply in Hiei's grasp. A soft soprano voice spoke from within the depths of the hood. "Are… are you here to stop the master?"

Eyebrows were raised all around and Hiei slowly lowered the demon to the floor, not yet releasing his grip on the cloak but allowing some freedom.

The demon raised his hand and pushed back the hood, revealing not a male's face, but a young female's. The delicate features were distinctively those of a forest nymph. Large tearful eyes pleaded with them.

"Please, I'm begging you, save my brother. The master is using him in his experiments. I'll do whatever you ask, but please save him!"

Hiei released the girl and stepped back, exchanging looks with his teammates. To the girl's credit she didn't ask again, but she also made no move to go back down the hallway.

Nods were exchanged all around. Any chance to get back at the monster behind the virus was to be taken.

Kurama placed his hand on the girl's shoulder in a show of compassion. "What's your name, miss?"

The girl wiped her eyes frantically before meeting Kurama's gaze. "Kayo. I am called Kayo of the North Glade."

Kurama raised an eyebrow in interest. "So you are the mysterious Kayo. I have heard of you and how you guard an apparently magical spring in the northern territories."

Kayo nodded. "Yes, but the water is not magical in and of itself. When combined with my own powers it gains immense healing properties, but that's all."

Kurama sighed lightly. "I see. That's slightly disappointing."

Yusuke cleared his throat. "Yeah, yeah, can we get on with this? We need to take this jerk down soon Kurama, remember? You can talk about this crap later all you want."

Hiei rolled his eyes as Kurama gave a guilty chuckle and Kayo blushed slightly.

"Of course, Yusuke, forgive me." He turned back to Kayo. "Can you tell us anything about this 'master'? Anything about his powers or even just his personality would help us take him down."

Kayo looked up from underneath her eyelashes at him. "Um, I don't know much about anything like that. I was never permitted anywhere near him."

Yusuke groaned. "Great, so we have nothing on this bastard?"

Kayo looked back down at the floor. "All I really know about him is his name and his lieutenant's." She raised her head to look at them squarely.

"He calls himself Dr. Ichigaki and his second in command is called Risho, the shinobi master of earth."

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AN: And the plot thickens further. So who managed to guess who the masterminds were? Sorry about any OOCness from any characters, I think I did okay with reasoning out anything, but you never know.

Anyways, please R&R!