Disclaimer: I don't own anything, including the summary. That comes from chapter 73.

AN: So this is the start of a series of shorts that I'm almost positive won't be updated very regularly. I'd like to say that each member of the cast will get a chapter, but odds are that most of them will be neglected because I'm not too confident in my ability to write them convincingly. I do know that Kotarou, Negi, and Setsuna will have multiple chapters though... that doesn't really make up for it, but whatever.

Anyway, this particular chapter takes place sometime before the start of the series. Try to enjoy.

Rain splashed Kotarou's face as he stared up at the sky, his eyes completely out of focus.

All of him hurt.

What had he been thinking, trying to steal food from demons? It didn't matter how hungry he was or how tempting their fire looked, it would always be a stupid idea. Humans were better targets; mundanes didn't watch as closely. Or hit as hard. The worst he'd ever gotten from one of them was a few bruises that didn't even last a day. These… he didn't think he'd last long enough for them to heal.

Dazedly, he tried to look up at his opponent. The gigantic demon was grinning down at him, sharp teeth dripping with rainwater. It looked more like a wild animal than a true demon. It reached down, claws ready to tear into flesh.

Kotarou couldn't move. Everything hurt too badly to even think about moving.

It didn't usually hurt like this, did it?

…Had fighting always been this hard?

The demon's claws dug into Kotarou's scalp as it lifted the unfortunate child into the air. Something warm trickled down the back of the boy's neck. Rain wasn't that warm.

Feebly, Kotarou tried kicking out at his captor. It didn't work very well. His foot couldn't even reach the demon's chest. His legs were too weak. Some of the earlier pain was starting to fade, but as much as he hated to admit it, there was nothing left of him. The demon had pretty much destroyed his body. He almost wished that his opponent would just get it over with. It'd had its fun, hadn't it? What the hell was the point of continuing this?

"Hey, give it a rest, would ya? I think the brat's learned his lesson. Besides, he's not even worth killing."

Kotarou felt his slowing heart skip a beat.

The demon looked back at the fire pit its partner was sitting next to. Then it glanced at its victim's lifeless body and huffed in irritation. "Yeah, yeah, all right." It smirked, teeth glinting in the firelight, and patted Kotarou's cheek lightly. The boy barely felt it. Something was burning in his veins. It blocked out his other senses. "Now you run along and be good, kiddo. No more stealing from the big boys."

Kotarou's tormentor flung the half-demon into the ground, sending him skidding into a puddle. Kotarou lay there, silently watching the other demon by the fire. His opponent's partner hadn't bothered looking at him even once after the first time he was thrown to the ground.

And now… now even the giant of a demon was ignoring him and walking back to the fire. Like he really was nothing.

Who the hell did they think they were?

Kotarou was dimly aware of his fists curling, squelching mud into his palms. Shivering from the cold and the strain it put on his muscles, he pushed his body as far off the wet ground as he could.

"Hey," he choked out, coming close to coughing up his lungs. The two demons didn't react. Groaning, he forced his legs to start supporting some of his weight. His limbs felt like they were on fire. Even the chill of the rain wasn't enough to cool them down.

But that didn't matter. Not now. Not when the jerk he was fighting thought that it was okay to just walk away while he was still conscious. Fights weren't supposed to end like that. And this one… his body ached with the reminder of how casually the demon had thrown him around.

There was no way in hell this fight was over.

With a burst of effort that had his legs screaming, Kotarou stood up, panting heavily and glaring at his opponent.


The demon turned to look at him. Kotarou swayed on his feet, blinking stars out of his eyes furiously. "Don't—don't you dare look away. This fight's just getting started."