A/N: Thanks for the reviews; it's Metronome's 1 year anniversary! Wow time has seriously flown by. So now, prepare yourselves for the longest chapter of the story...probably. It was also re-written like a million times over as well. Also, if anybody wants a good theme for Kizami then check out Temposhark's 'Don't Mess With Me'. Found the song way after I'd created him but the song fits insanely well.
Spirit of the Dead: Lol, for real, those were the days! Although I didn't really update every day back then either. XD Anyhow...maybe there is, maybe there isn't? Don't let Kizami be the one to tip you off to anything; I let him tell his story, told him to make it quick, and then he went bye-bye. Being honest here when I say he's gone for good! And don't worry, Saturn's not being forced to hang out with him or anything. But yes, he is a total creeper...I imagine being voiced by the guy that did Akito in the Fruits Basket dub.
Mew Aqua Spirit: We shall definitely have to see...again, maybe, maybe not. *dodges thrown objects*
SissyPeregrin: Answered your questions via PM! Hope you got it and that it made sense.
aquafina_rain: I always figured if one senshi died unnaturally or unexpectedly (like they didn't return to the Cauldron or something like that), it might throw the world out of balance because they basically embody their elements. But that's just more weird headcanon on my part. And somehow I've made Kizami into one of those likeable villains, we love to hate him and all. I originally was going to have Kizami try to have his way with Saturn but didn't want to raise the rating for that one scene and all. I can't believe how many reviewers are hoping for a happy ending here! May have to change my mind...?
twinwindfans: Thanks so much for your review, glad to see a new face among my reviewers! Again, I'm actually surprised people liked him so much! I tried to make unlikeable as much as I could and gave him a potty-mouth to boot but I guess that didn't work. XD And no worries, he wouldn't have been much of a villain if he didn't cause problems for our characters...and right now he's caused a pretty big one.
MundaneFlames: Answered via PM!
Sailor Saturn fan: Thank you! Not quite at the real ending yet, but we're getting there. ^_^'
My body had carried out my actions perfectly, having done this all before. I could feel the muscles and joints in my legs and arms tighten then relax...but I was numb. I couldn't really feel anything at that point. I simply was not there, watching this scene unfold from somewhere outside of myself...watching with eyes that were not my own.
I was numb, motionless, rain pelting against my face. Sinking, I felt like I was sinking, about to drown in the onslaught of rain but my vision stayed the same...the world didn't spin, it didn't grow darker or start to fade within the murkiness of water. It was the same. Nothing had changed.
My body had resisted change as well, my arm familiar and yet foreign all the same. It should be black and charred from hellish flames...but the skin is unmarred.
When feeling returns to him, he has no concept of time or place, only the knowing, sinking feeling that Hotaru Tomoe and the warrior Saturn are dead. The two souls, along with the false king, had been obliterated and vanished from this plane of existence...no, from all planes of existence. They were gone forever...or so one should believe.
The orb...the glowing ball of light-energy that radiated warm with a familiar heat; there was no sound, nothing, yet it spoke of Hotaru to him. Was it her soul? A memory? A hallucination created by his tired and troubled mind to deal with the pain and stress of realization? Rarely was he one to give into panic or become its prey, much less allow emotion to take hold of him and drive his actions but...
The storm overhead was growing worse, he knew he had to inform someone of what had transpired. Perhaps the Pluto-woman already knew, still, if the old story he'd heard as a child in Makai was true then...this was no mere storm. If one of the Celestial Warriors were ever to die of an unexpected cause or situation, it would throw the entire world, realms, planes of existence, and all into chaos. It only made sense for it to be true as countless demons spoke of capturing a Celestial, one of the many reasons why rather evident.
His best option would be to alert Kurama, who could then tell the others. He had no desire to be the messenger of death to the woman Hotaru regarded as her mother, regardless of whether she knew already or not. Nor did he want to be present when that group of females heard the news...it would be nothing but squalling and wailing, and maybe some half-attempted threats on his person. That didn't really matter though, despite how numb and out of place he felt, he could take any of them in a fight should they decide to rush him. After all, surely they would blame him for her death.
When all was said and done, the groups decided Reikai would be the place to reconvene and learn the full story; the Pluto-woman left as the emissary of their larger group along with himself and Kurama. The trip there would be short but it felt like eternity as his mind began to drift aimlessly...how dare she put him in this place? How dare the both of them leave something like this hanging over his head? He didn't really care whether her family and friends blamed him for her death or not...but there was still the insinuation that he'd done nothing to help her. But that was also technically true. He'd done nothing as an alternative measure, attempted to find another way to save her but...his train of though broke as Hotaru came to his mind.
"I forgive you..."
She didn't blame him, and that was all that mattered.
When he broke his stare and joined his companions back in reality, he realized that they were standing in front of the doors to Reikai. He felt unusually ill suddenly, like a wave of disgust had just washed over him. He couldn't go in there...he'd have to leave, find some place to clear his mind and calm down. Again, panic was close to over-taking him. He could feel his hands inside of his pockets begin to twitch and waver, his eyes very nearly repeating the same action before he calmed them down again. Without a second thought, he took a slight step backwards.
"Hiei, don't you dare..." warned the red kitsune, like a guard to his prisoner. Which, in retrospect, may not have been far from the truth...he'd killed Hotaru who had been human at the time, and the charges Reikai had against him had him under strict warning not to kill any humans lest he be executed himself. Would they kill him? Was that why he was so afraid to enter? Or was it the simple fact that Hotaru and Saturn's deaths were still hanging over his head?
He had to go inside, he had to face this no matter what.
Under different circumstances, Setsuna might have been slightly amused that Koenma did often keep tabs on his Spirit Detectives, having set up various Reikai surveillance around the town and various other places to watch their fights. However, these were not amusing times...something must be done about retrieving Hotaru and Saturn as quickly as possible.
"...I see. So Kizami resurfaced earlier than we thought and possessed Hotaru's body. Hiei did the right thing by destroying all three of them. We can't allow Saturn's power to fall into the hands of an enemy or frankly, anyone who would misuse it. That power is horrific and must be contained carefully..." Setsuna trailed off for just a moment, the harsh reality of her words sinking in, "And without Hotaru here to contain the aspect of death and destruction as a harbinger, then the world will become further unbalanced and fall into chaos; Saturn isn't strong enough to exist in a body of her own, so getting Hotaru back is our top priority at the moment. The current storm plaguing our city right now is a result of the imbalance, but left much longer, it will spread and it won't be limited to just a simple storm."
"You mentioned Saturn also ruled over the aspect of rebirth. Hotaru mentioned to us sometime ago that every time she died, she was going to be reborn. If that's true, then where do our concerns lie?" Kurama questioned.
"That is true, but only due to the spirit of Saturn within her. Now that Saturn and Hotaru's souls have been obliterated and ultimately separated...I can't say for sure. Hiei's attack was powerful and rather absolute so I doubt even a fragment of them still remains. Without at least one of their souls, I won't be able to reach out to her in the Galaxy Cauldron...neither Saturn or Hotaru has returned there yet, I'm afraid...if they ever do..."
"Wait just a minute! Ogre, rewind it back to that part!" Koenma, who'd been pouring over the captured surveillance during their discussion, suddenly shouted from where he sat perched on the edge of his desk. Setsuna and Kurama quickly turned their attentions to the screen as well to try and see what had caught the toddler-sized ruler's attention. "Look right there...do you see that bright light? It disappears way too quickly to get a good glimpse! Ogre, slow it down some more!"
"He's right..." Kurama murmured, his eyes quickly picking up on the blur before the playback had been slowed. "But what does it mean? It certainly doesn't look like a glare that the camera might have picked up." Closing his eyes, the red-haired kitsune sighed, "I suppose the only one who may have an idea would be Hiei..."
The fire demon only needed to watch it once, his eyes fast enough to pick up on the light without any need of the video being slowed.
"Feh, it's that stupid crystal. Don't bother going to look for it because my attack crushed it in the blast. The shards have probably been washed away by the rain by now." he explained.
"Crystal...? Do you mean the Taioron Crystal?"
Hiei simply turned his gaze to her in response...like he knew what the thing was called. Hotaru hated it so he'd pretty much eliminated it from his mind.
"I suppose I can see why Kizami had it with him...was there anything else strange? Please tell us what happened after this." Setsuna calmly requested, the surveillance video had only recorded and transferred footage up until he'd released the dragon. The unfortunate camera had been caught up in the explosion as well.
"..." Hiei was silent, searching for the right words to say...what if that orb he'd seen had merely been a hallucination, something his distraught mind had created? Still, it was worth a shot.
"Incredible..." Pluto breathed, "that tiny orb...you said it felt like Hotaru, her aura, yes? I think I have an idea of what happened then." For the first time in a long while, Setsuna let a small smile crawl across her features. "If my thinking is correct, Saturn did force you to unleash the blast to kill them, but at the last minute, she took control and forced Hotaru's soul out of the body and into that crystal, thinking she would be safe. That crystal wasn't just a piece of jewelry, it was a power core from the Tau Star System...ultimately, it boils down to this: that crystal was created for absorbing despair, malice, pain, anything of that nature. With as much pressure and pain as Hotaru's soul was under at the time, it was no problem for the crystal to absorb her. Saturn must have realized this...however, the crystal was too close and got caught up in the blast radius which caused it to crack...but only just. Once the crystal shattered, Hotaru's soul must have emerged from it...it's possible that the soul separated itself, or it could have been a result from the attack. But Hotaru is still very much alive. As for Saturn...I'm afraid her soul is now forfeit..."
Hiei's face went blank, surprised, his mouth slightly agape. So...he hadn't killed Hotaru? He saw no reason to mourn the warrior's death yet...after all, she had made the choice to sacrifice herself for Hotaru's sake. The time for mourning would surely come once they got Hotaru back...if it was possible. After all, what good would a soul do them? Hotaru's body was also gone and there was absolutely no way of getting that back. He asked her as much, to which she was eager to supply an answer.
"Souls are fragile, I'm afraid, and can only exist without a physical body for so long. Either the soul becomes stuck on its end because the body can no longer except it, or, the soul withers and dies because it does not have a body to return to at all. I'm just estimating here but...we should have about 48 hours before Hotaru's soul disappears, and with all of the senshi and your friends out looking, the task shouldn't prove difficult at all. After that, that's where Reikai will come in." Setsuna explained, pausing to look over her shoulder at Koenma.
Koenma grumbled a little bit before speaking, "This is a task meant more for Paradise but we'll do what we can...after all, Hotaru is a very important human. Once we have her soul here, it'll be easy to reconstruct her body just the way it was."
"How are we supposed to find the soul fragments? They split up into six separate pieces if you were listening."
"Oh please, do you think we've just been sitting here doing nothing?" Koenma laughed, jumping to his feet on top of the desk. "I've already sent out a search party to look for the pieces." The toddler-sized ruler laughed, holding up some kind of remote. This only made Hiei growl...damn him, sending out who knows what to reclaim those fragments...
"But...what will you keep the soul fragments in while we wait for the body to be created? If they disappeared before, who's to say they won't do the same again when gathered?" Kurama asked, having been silent for quite some time.
Koenma halted in his laughter...oh right, he hadn't quite thought that far.
"I suspected as much." Kurama resumed. "But hear me out on this, what if we used the Orb of Baast?" It was one of the only artifacts that hadn't been damaged by themselves or Yusuke after all; he'd cracked the mirror and they'd left the sword coated in blood. "True, it's main purpose is for extracting the souls of humans, but it also has the ability to contain them as well, correct? It may not be the most hospitable place to hold a human soul in but our options are limited."
"Good thinking Kurama!" Koenma cheered, but quickly lost his thunder again when the thought of his father crossed his mind, "Only...I'll have to convince my father to take them out of that lockdown. It won't be easy getting back in there after the number you two did on the vault." Koenma put a hand to his forehead, already dreading the outcome of that conversation. Suddenly, the remote in his hand beeped loudly, "Quick Ogre, put this up on the big screen!" With a toss, Jorge (or simply Ogre, as he was mainly called) caught the remote and transferred it to the giant monitor.
"Lord Koenma, we've found a piece of the soul, sir. We'll be bringing it back to Reikai shortly." The red ogre on the other end of the transmission informed, looking a little unsure about the whole process. There was no telling exactly where they were in the city from the image being broadcast. Luckily, transporting souls back to Reikai happened to be their specialty so the task of bringing it back there wouldn't prove difficult at all.
"Be careful with that!" Hiei shouted before he'd realized he'd done, casually turning his eyes away in what could be called slight embarrassment at his outburst.
Before long, a total of three soul fragments had been found, and with the permission of King Enma, had been placed safely inside the Orb of Baast. Enma had been surprisingly compliant, but Setsuna supposed he had no other choice, not when the world was in danger of becoming unbalanced without the girl's presence. It helped that Kurama and Hiei weren't mentioned in the process of things.
"Just three? Pathetic. I could have found all six of them by now. I'm sick of waiting around." The fire demon announced, he and Kurama standing some distance away from Setsuna and Koenma.
"It's not a contest or a game, Hiei. Surely you realize that."
"Don't misunderstand me, Kurama, that's not what I meant. Why I was refused is beyond me, my Jagan could find them much more quickly than a group of low-level ogres and spirit-tracking reapers. It would significantly lower the window in which we have to find them."
As the figure of Setsuna began to draw near them, the two demons cast their eyes up at her but didn't change their expressions or posture. Setsuna, still in her senshi garb, relaxed her hold on the Garnet Rod and sighed. "I'm afraid...we really aren't making much progress like this. So I'm prepared to make a deal with you."
"Let me guess, now you want me to go find them...and then what? You'll offer me some kind of reward?" Hiei interrupted fiercely but the senshi of Time and Space seemed unaffected by his bluntness, instead hardening her own features to match his.
"Not quite. If I allow you to right this wrong, I'll give you the Orb of Baast and entrust you to keep Hotaru's soul fragments safe until they can be returned to Reikai. The "reward" will be getting Hotaru back, naturally."
"Is that wise?" Kurama asked, causing Hiei to shoot his glare to the kitsune. Since when did Kurama retract his trust in him?
"To be honest, it doesn't really matter what I think. It was Saturn who left Hiei in charge of protecting Hotaru after she was gone, and seeing as Saturn has officially passed on-."
"That's not a job I asked for! Nor one I wanted in the first place!"
"So your answer is 'no' then?" the senshi of time's face fell, crestfallen. What she had said was true, while waiting for Hotaru to return from the alternate timeline, Saturn specifically mentioned the fire demon and how she hoped he would protect Hotaru should anything ever happen to her. Of course, Setsuna also knew full well there were still many things obstructing that from happening...things only she had the ability to fix.
"...Give me the orb." Hiei demanded, holding an outstretched hand towards the senshi yet not meeting her gaze.
Setsuna looked sadly down at the giant green orb that rested in her hand where inside lay half of Hotaru's soul, the soul of a child she treated very much like her own. She wanted to trust the demon, she did. Saturn believed in him, and Hotaru clearly liked him...maybe a little too much. Still, without his memories from the previous time line, just what was his incentive to protect Hotaru? To keep this orb safe? To return to Reikai with it on time? Would the personal code the demon held himself to come through? Would his own feelings do the trick, or be his downfall? In this time line, Hiei was especially hostile towards Hotaru; the two of them were still distant while their previous time line counterparts had already formed some kind of relationship.
"I do have one more condition. I'll need to speak with you in private though." Setsuna said softly, glancing over at Kurama who merely nodded his head and left them to converse.
"You say...you don't want to protect her, that you have no reason to. I understand why you're behaving this way, it's not really something you can help right now, Hiei. I suppose...I'm to blame for a lot of what's transpired as well. I was just too afraid of the old time line repeating itself."
"Stop speaking in riddles. It's irritating."
"...as you are aware, Hotaru recently traveled to the past and caused herself to appear in an alternate time line, one presumably similar to this one. Somehow, she managed to make it back on her own. However, this wasn't the only instance of time travel for her. The current time line we are in right now, is not your original one. As the senshi of time-space, it's easy for me to jump time lines as well as move people within them...in the previous time line, the one we were all originally from, Hotaru traveled back into the past and disappeared. We couldn't reach out to her and lost her. I reversed time to before she left and moved us to a different time line in the hopes that things wouldn't repeat themselves. I even partially sealed some of my own memories to keep from slipping myself but...it looks like even memory suppression didn't work. Hotaru began to have dreams about you, your past, those hiruseki stones...it was because of those stones that my own memories re-awakened. I see now that sealing everyone's memories was not the right thing to do. It's only caused us more grief..."
The fire demon was silent for a moment, as if he was trying to absorb all the information the Time Guardian had just spewed. It all sounded like drivel and nonsense to him...but something, no, that nagging in the back of his mind was telling him it was true. If what she'd just explained was true, then he had a feeling he knew full well just what that nagging feeling was whenever he happened to be around or thinking about Hotaru. Raising his head, he gave a small laugh, "So then, you're going to give me back those memories? What purpose does that serve? It won't change anything." he said flatly, crossing his arms. "After all, if the time line is repeating itself, like you've explained, then our dispositions towards each other shouldn't have changed any, correct?" If things were just repeating themselves, then that only made sense, right?
Setsuna only smiled before bringing her Garnet Rod forward and lowering the Garnet Orb to rest before his face. "You can try and fight this all you want, but the memories will still find their way to you. Hiei, you may not want these memories, but the fact remains that they still exist."
It was true, he found he could push the projected memories coming from that staff from his mind but it was like a constant barrage...they just kept coming. And the light of that damn orb seemed to be growing brighter...he couldn't concentrate like this...damn it all, tiny pieces were beginning to slip by until finally his mental shield broke and the memories began to pour in. It was as if...someone had begun some kind of movie reel in his head. The memories were perfectly clear, no unbroken or missing pieces anywhere...what he was seeing was the truth.
He saw...he saw how they met...how their allies met and became friends...how the two of sparred and fought with each other...how they would sit near each other, most of the time never saying a single word...the actual battles they fought where Hotaru would put her own self in danger just to save him...how she'd protected him, letting herself take the brunt of an energy-based attack several times over just to make sure he didn't get hit...how she'd worried about him more than herself whenever she went to heal him...all the time and little moments they'd spent with one another before she disappeared...
He could no longer hate her...he never did.
He could no longer distance himself from her...he never really wanted that.
That nagging feeling at the back of his mind was gone, or rather, it wasn't just as the back of his mind. It had now spread throughout all of his body. Not only had his mental memories returned but the physical ones, the emotional ones...
Hiei cared about her, about Hotaru.
He had to go to back to the human world immediately.
He'd made it back to the human world in a record time, quickly activating his Jagan and seeking out the familiar energy he knew was out there somewhere.
Finally, he got his results and sped off at top speed. So...the 4th fragment was at a temple? Perhaps it had been drawn there because of the energies surrounding it? From what he'd gathered, souls sometimes activated like fixated ghosts, either lingering in places they recognized or places they felt affinity with. Hiei couldn't really remember Hotaru mentioning anything about a temple...it certainly wasn't the temple that belonged to that old woman, Genkai, not that Hotaru had even been there to begin with. No, this temple was different...one that was meant more for praying.
The long stretch of stone steps leading up to the place did little to hinder him, quickly flash-stepping over them as quickly as he could. Once at the top, he noticed the lights of the temple were still on...he'd have to be quick and not cause some idiotic human to panic. It was the last thing he needed right now.
"Don't take another step, you!"
He froze in his step, unsure as to why as the power level of the voice that called to him was significantly weaker than his own.
"Hey wait a minute...it's you! What are you doing back here?" Out of the shadows emerged a long, dark-haired miko still dressed in her traditional garb. Now that he was seeing her up close, she could have been Hotaru's twin sister. Their eyes were practically the same shade of purple, as was the slightly purple-tint to their black hair.
"I'm looking for something. Don't get in my way, woman." he shot back, turning and ignoring her for the most part.
"Why...you...! Hey, don't ignore me! Don't think you can just walk wherever you like, this is a temple and it's sacred ground! And you're a demon, aren't you?!"
"Woman, be silent! You're voice is grating to the ears."
"Oooh, you are so asking for it! I don't care what Hotaru sees in you, I'll burn you to a crisp, pal!"
"I'd like to see you try. Now, get out of my way, I'm trying to find a soul fragment." Damn, he'd let that one slip...he wasn't really sure whether or not he was allowed to inform the other Celestial Warriors but what did it matter now, he supposed.
"Soul fragment? Then maybe...come with me!" the miko announced, heading off in the direction of the temple, Hiei following after her at a normal running pace. "Oh, and my name is Rei, not woman, you asshole."
Once inside the temple, the miko lead him to a room up front. "Is that...is that her?" Rei questioned, slightly timid and unsure. "I was just about to try and go to bed when I noticed this strange orb heading toward the Sacred Fire room. I thought it must have been an evil spirit so I followed after it. It is Hotaru, right?" The fiery princess of Mars asked, as the two of them continued to watch as small white orb, outlined by a purple light, haphazardly floated about the room. The first time she'd been able to come back and stay at Hikawa Shrine and something like this happens...
With amazing speed that even the Martian princess was amazed at, Hiei caught the orb calmly and gently between his hands. This feeling...this was definitely Hotaru alright. Keeping his right hand around the orb like a crescent-barrier, he pulled the Orb of Baast from his coat and held it close to the soul. Although confused, Rei watched on in silence and gasped when the orb and the fragment found affinity with one another, the soul was sucked inside of the orb.
"What did...what did that just do?" Rei questioned as the fire demon quickly stuffed the orb inside of his robes, obviously ready to head off to the next destination. "Hey you, don't ignore me! Errgh, I don't understand what's happening but you better find her and take care of her! Do you hear me?" Rei called, chasing after the boy as fast as he could out into the open air of the night, but he already seemed long gone. Putting her hands together, she said a quick prayer and solemnly headed off to bed.
Damn it all, he had to quicker! He'd wasted too much time here already.
The fifth fragment appeared to be somewhere inside of a house...a lot of good that information did him. Still, he supposed it wouldn't be too hard to find considering the house was massive in size and appeared to be the only house in radius that didn't appear occupied.
'Why this place?' Hiei wondered to himself as he stood before a giant, white-colored mansion. Again, Hotaru had never mentioned anything about this place. It definitely wasn't her normal house, a place he was expecting to visit before the night was over, but instead a place situated much further on the other side of this human town he rarely visited. He had no reason to after all. But the real question now was how was he to get inside? ...well, how was he to get inside without alerting someone to his presence? Just because the house appeared unoccupied did not make it so. And humans were fearful creatures to begin with; an alarm system for night-time burglars was the last thing he needed to set off.
"Hey, aren't you...?"
"Yeah hey, what are you doing here?"
Hiei looked up and cut his gaze over to his right. Some feet away were two women, a tall brunette and shorter blond girl who sported a red ribbon in her hair; like the miko before, these two were among Hotaru's friends. They hadn't snuck up on him per se, he just wasn't overly concerned with human passerbys at any time of the day or night as it was now.
"Is Hotaru gonna be okay?" the blond girl asked, concern flickering upon her face as a hand came up to her chest. "I mean, if you're back here then something must have been done, right?"
"Yeah, Setsuna said this wasn't like all the other time where Hotaru would just come back as a baby. But she didn't really say anything more than that..." the brunette echoed, her hands coming up to her hips. Her concern appeared to be more of a frustration...perhaps a frustration similar to his own in regards to their helplessness to do anything about the situation they were thrust into.
He was silent only for a moment, but decided he couldn't ignore them. "What is this place?"
Both girl's eyes widened in surprise at his sudden questioned, then their eyes trailed upward to the house they stood in front of.
"This place...kind of a coincidence, huh?"
"I'll say...I guess Hotaru didn't really have much a reason to tell you guys about this place. Ya see, this place was Hotaru's old home. Not the one that got burnt down though. They moved into this place, just her and her dad. And then...after her dad passed on, Hotaru decided to leave the house where it was and just go to live with the Outers. The house is still in her name of course since she inherited it but I doubt Hotaru's been back here since the funeral. Why do you ask anyways?" The brunette questioned, unable to piece what little information she had together. If Hotaru had never told him about this place, then why was he here? She couldn't have told him, not if he was asking them what this place was.
"I need to get inside. When Hotaru died, her soul was split into 6 fragments. 4 of them have already been found. I can sense another one inside of thi house-" But before he could say anything else, the blonde girl had quickly jumped over to the high-standing wall that acted as a fence around the estate and had begun to try and climb it.
"Hey, don't worry about it! I know exactly where Hotaru hides the spare key! Come on Mako, give me a boost!"
"Mina! You're gonna get yourself hurt, get down!" The girl called Mako answered, obviously not amused with the blond's antics. Going over herself, she tried to pry the girl from off the wall but to no avail. He could only watch on in confusion...just what the hell were they doing? They didn't have time for this! With a swift jump on his own, Hiei landed atop the wall-like fence with ease, then turned around and grabbed the blond's wrist and pulling her up and over the wall. With a small yelp, she managed to land on her feet on the other side of the wall...Mina thanked her senshi training for that. It was only a split-second later that Makoto followed suit and landed beside her albeit on her backside.
"Tell me where that key is now! We don't have time to be fooling around. Hotaru has only 48 hours before..." Hiei trailed off, his once strong voice haven fallen off at the end. Why, he wasn't sure, but if the look the two girls shared between themselves meant anything then they appeared to catch his meaning. Of course, if he'd had any idea of what the key looked like, he could have simply used his Jagan to locate it.
"Okay, give me just a second here...man, we should have brought a flashlight!"
"Mina, we did bring a flashlight. You just didn't put any batteries in it. Seriously...who goes out for a walk in the middle of the night without a working flashlight?"
He bit his tongue to stop himself from saying 'you.'
"Ta-da!" Mina announced after a few minutes of scrounging in front of the front entrance. She'd turned over the door mat, potted plants, and anything else she could get in her hands on. She'd have to apologize to Hotaru later for the mess. With a bounce, she popped back onto her feet and unlocked the door which swung open with an eerie sound. The house definitely hadn't been visited in quite awhile if the creaking door hinges were any indication. "O-okay..." Minako stuttered, the darkness of the house getting the better of her courage, "you can go in now." she announced, robotically turning to look over her shoulder as she spoke, but saw only Makoto when she did so. Makoto turned to look at the fire demon who'd once stood beside her but also found him gone.
It was easy to cover the entirety of the ground floor with his speed, despite the amounts of dust he was kicking up. It was more of annoyance to him than anything else. There was nothing down here but normal human living implements so the fragment had to be somewhere on the 2nd floor, most likely the room Hotaru had once occupied when she lived here. He raced up the stairs at a normal pace, throwing open every door he came to as he advanced down the hall.
Finally, he found what he was looking for. There was a name plate not unlike the one Hotaru had at her normal residence hanging on this particular door. He simply pushed open the creaking door and went inside. It was dark, like all the other rooms obviously, the curtains that framed the window having been pulled in to block out the sunlight. Not even a speck of light was getting in here. But of course, he didn't need it. Hiei spotted what he needed almost instantly. The tiny but familiar orb was situated at the foot at the bed, almost as if it were asleep. He wondered...would this fragment show him a memory as well?
Hiei hadn't said anything to the other girl at the temple, but once he'd caught the orb...something odd happened. It was almost like a movie was playing out before his eyes, like someone had layered a memory on top of the present. He could see the women Hotaru was friends with as well as the girl herself, all situated in this fireplace room of the temple. They were happily talking about something, he couldn't hear any sound despite it. Still, she was happy...this temple was a happy memory for her.
Surely this place, her old home, would be the same way. Humans were oddly sentimental about things after all even when they didn't really matter in the long run. Calmly walking over, he raised his right hand above the orb. Suddenly, the few lamps scattered about the room flickered and came to life, shining brightly before they died down and fizzled out. Again, that movie-like phenomena was happening, a memory being layered over the present.
Beside the bed, a ghostly image of Hotaru appeared sitting on the floor.
She appeared to be writing something in a small journal, but quickly closed it and put it away. The image stood up from her spot on the floor and headed to the window, looking out at whatever she could see below. Whatever is was, it was not enough to make her smile or keep her attention and Hotaru walked back from the window, her arms wrapped around herself. She sat down on the bed and silently began to cry, tears easily visible on the apparition's form. But what on Earth was she crying about? Was it because she was alone? She appeared to be trapped in this room if he understood what he was looking at.
But he never got his answer as the memory flickered out, the orb showing him nothing more. He knew he couldn't rightfully pick up the fragment, he might end up damaging it, so he easily pulled the Orb of Baast from his robes and let the soul become absorbed into it.
It was going to be okay...there was just one more to find.
As he left, he noticed the two girls from earlier had seemingly disappeared themselves. They must have helped each other back over the wall and ran for it. The flickering lights from the lamps probably having scared them away.
The last fragment...he just had to keep pushing forward. With any luck, he'd only wasted a few hours.
His last destination looked to be a school, one that still very much in use. Again, it was on this side of town that he rarely ventured to...it was no wonder their paths had never crossed before, he noted, Senshi or Spirit Detectives. However, because it was the middle of night...or rather, now that it was nearing dawn, the school was still closed and he'd be damned if he was going to wait for it to open. Koenma would have to deal with a little vandalism on the fire demon's part...he'd done well to avoid doing any for this long anyhow.
The enormous sign that hung above the simple looking entrance read 'Mugen Gakuen', the Infinity Academy. This place was actually not unfamiliar to him as he'd heard Kurama mention it before during conversation; it was never addressed to him specifically, it wasn't as if he had an interest in human schools. Hotaru had also mentioned it during the tournament so he supposed there was that instance as well. This place was built strictly for genius-level students, even though Hotaru claimed she was only getting a "free ride" as her father had once owned the school.
With a swift punch, he made a sizeable hole in one of the glass doors, just wide enough for his hand to reach inside and undo the lock on the door. Of course, these doors were opened by keys so flipping a button or node was out of the question so he'd have to pull the handle off. He figured by now some kind of alarm system would have been triggered but there were no blaring sirens or any kind of watchmen around either. Unless, of course, there was a silent alarm. Again, he'd have to be quick. But this damn school...Japanese schools were built in an upward fashion to conserve space and he doubted he'd have enough time to check all the floors as well as every classroom before some kind of human authority showed up. However, as long as he didn't caught or spotted for any reason, and he had confidence that he wouldn't, then Reikai wouldn't have a reason to hold this little breaking and entering act against him.
The ground floor was empty, no lingering auras came to his immediate attention. The fire demon supposed he could try using his Jagan to pick up on the fragment again but they somehow seemed to be growing weaker and locking onto them was becoming a much harder task. As he headed for the staircase, he paused at the foot of the stairs, having to skid to a stop thanks to his superior speed. At the top of the stairs...there was the orb.
With a rush, he was up in the stairs in the blink of eye but the orb disappeared, the swordsman practically phasing through it. Something wasn't right here...Hiei turned to look over his shoulder and watch as the orb appeared to take on a more solid shape before shifting into a ghostly image of Hotaru. Another memory...? The image in front of him appeared to be dressed for school, bag in hand as well as some kind of paper in the other...she almost seemed lost. Her expression quickly turned to one of sadness before soundlessly sighing and heading for the staircase that lead up to the next floor. Right on the image's heels, he pursued but the orb nor the image of Hotaru was anywhere near the next set of steps. Damn...just when he thought he was onto something.
However, something quickly caught his eye. It looked to be some kind of signboard, almost like a map but with words instead of pictures. From what it explained, the floors were partitioned off by grades. Having never hung around any human schools before (minus Kurama's of course), this sign really wasn't of much help. But...Hotaru and the detective were the same age were they not? That would put her in junior high like them then. He could check 3 floors easily enough.
The 7th was entirely empty but the 8th floor was another story. The orb floated almost ominously in one of the corridors, hovering right in front of one of the classroom doors. He calmly walked towards it until the ghostly image of Hotaru appeared once more. She stood outside the room, staring at her shoes more than anything else before heaving a sigh and opening a ghostly door rather than the physical one he was seeing. When the ghostly image shut the door, the filtered, fuzzy layer produced by the orb disappeared which told he was free to go inside.
There, in one of the chairs, sat the orb. It was almost disheartening to see, but nothing could have prepared him for the oncoming and final memory of the night. The orb disappeared, spreading out the filtered, fuzzy layering over the physical realm. Human children were all huddled around one desk while one boy remained seated; his arm clearly in a cast with bandages covering most of his body. As if sensing it, Hiei turned around in time to see a ghostly Hotaru open the classroom door and come inside, a forced smile on her face. She didn't see, she couldn't have, and simply phased right through the fire demon and walked over to the children, his red eyes never leaving the scene for a moment.
Naturally, the girl was concerned and went over to offer her condolences and question as to what happened to him. There was still no sound to be heard, but their expressions told him all he needed to know. These children were scared of Hotaru, and the injured boy thrust her hand away from him when she reached out. She seemed confused, unsure of what was happening around her...she was frightened like a cornered animal would be only there was no corner...she ran. With a turn on her heel, the ghostly image fled, re-phasing back through the demon before the memory filter disappeared and died down.
The orb was still floating pristinely on the chair that he assumed had belonged to Hotaru. Strange...that Hotaru seemed a little younger so perhaps that memory wasn't as recent? Still, it had hurt her deeply and it was one that she carried with her still. He could feel something tug at his chest...he knew what it was like to feel that way...to be shunned and outcast.
Walking closer, he held the orb over the last fragment and allowed it be absorbed.
Dawn had passed. It had been a little over ten hours since this ordeal began, giving them a solid 38 hours remaining to accomplish their tasks. Hiei had kept up his half of the deal quite nicely, retrieving the last three soul fragments in just under 3 hours himself. When he returned to Reikai, the fire demon expected some kind of progress to be made on Reikai's end but...
"What do you mean the body isn't ready yet?" he roared, tempted to slam his fists on the desk of that damn toddler had he not been holding the orb.
With a start, Koenma jumped up in his chair, "Give us a break, Hiei! We're working as fast as we can! It's not a simple task to recreate an entire body back to its original state. I've got every available hand who knows what they're doing at work. You have to be more patient!" Koenma ordered, causing the fire demon to reluctantly back off and calm down some. "Until then, Setsuna wants you to hold onto the Orb."
"What purpose does me keeping it serve? It would safer to leave it here in Reikai. It's still an artifact you realize...if any higher-level demons have slipped through the barrier they'll be able to detect it and likely come after it. Why can't you people ever think ahead?" Hiei scoffed before turning his back, "Where's that damn reaper? I'll just give it to her." It wasn't that he didn't want to keep it, it really would just be safer here in Reikai. He didn't want to risk the Orb being stolen or broken in some way. They...he...was so close to getting Hotaru back, it would be unspeakable if something happened to it now.
"That may be," Koenma began, slightly used to Hiei's tone of speaking with him, "but Setsuna and Saturn both put you in charge of protecting Hotaru. That was the deal, remember? Besides, Botan isn't here right now anyways." the junior leader of Reikai pointed out, a little too uppity sounding for the fire demon's tastes. "And yes, you may be right about the barrier, but we'll have to deal with that problem when the time arises. Right now the barrier is weak but the Dark Tournament did just end a month or so ago so it's pretty unlikely that apparitions of any kind will be stirring up trouble."
"Fine, don't blame me if something happens to the Orb." Hiei shot back angrily, carefully replacing it within his cloak and disappearing from Koenma's sight.
"...and I really hope that barrier holds up." Koenma murmured to himself after the fire demon had left. Of all the times for this to be happening...with the way things were going, it wouldn't be much longer until the barrier finally fell apart. Once the Dark Tournament was over and done with, that should have been it for Toguro as well as Sakyo but something just wasn't right. The elder of the Toguro brothers had managed to get away but not before being heavily injured himself, but he was actually the least of their worries. It was almost as if...Sakyo had a copycat of sorts, someone who was trying to mimic his same course of actions. But, just as he had mentioned to the fire demon, it was a problem that could only be dealt with once it fully arose.
Hiei stared down at the orb in his hands as he sat on the branch of a tree back in the human world. It was cold...lifeless. Unlike the soul fragments which had been warm and radiating familiar energy, the fragments were blocked while being trapped inside this thing. It was a demon artifact, it was meant to trap human souls for any number of reasons so he couldn't imagine it being a hospitable environment inside...another thought that caused his blood to boil in anger at the incompetence of Reikai for failing to have anything else to use. If it came down to it, Koenma could have asked Paradise for help outright if he really wanted to...Hiei had overheard that little information bit when the toddler and Pluto-woman were talking. Paradise was the land of the Gods who in turn were responsible for anything that fell under the label of creation: animals, humans, foliage, etc. Demons like himself had supposedly originated in the Netherworld but no one would ever be truly sure of that; the one thing that was certain was that they didn't belong in Paradise. Hotaru was human meaning her body had originated from Paradise initially...just what was keeping them from contacting that plane of existence?
On the other hand, Pluto had mentioned something rather interesting to him while they had waited in Reikai. Yes, Hotaru was human, and the body they were constructing for her would be human in essence, however...Saturn was gone now. The Celestial Warrior had passed on meaning that her position, so to speak, was now open. Someone would have to rise and become the new harbinger of the power of death...who else would be suited for it if not Hotaru? Honestly, it was hard for him to imagine the petite and timid girl as ruling over that aspect but she'd been through plenty and although she was not hardened to the situations around her, she was strong...he believed in her. It was a power that no one wanted, Setsuna explained, that the entire reason it was given to Saturn in the first place was because she refused it. It was only wise to do so; a reluctant soul would surely be hesitant to unleash that power for just any old reason.
Once the body was created and Hotaru woke up, Setsuna would offer her that stick. If she chose to accept it, she would become the new Saturn and live the rest of her life as a Celestial and the body would ascend to match; she would no longer be human. She would become the new ruler and ultimately princess of the planet of Saturn, and when the time for them came to resume power, she would control the throne...albeit alone. Saturn was a planet like any other during the Silver Millennium but once Saturn herself was born, the people feared the bad omen of the child who would one day destroy the world and ultimately fled the planet. Eventually, the Saturnian people dwindled on a whole until Saturn herself was the last remaining one. A kingdom with no people...a ruler with no one to rule over...it was a sad existence to think about. And that wasn't even the biggest problem in retrospect. What must it be like to overseer death and destruction? What kind of horrors would she be forced to watch and endure...alone? What if the time ever came when the world should be destroyed? It would be Hotaru at the helm, the initiator...the one who led everything into destruction. So maybe...it would be better for Hotaru to refuse the stick? Ultimately, it was her choice and Hiei knew that, but wouldn't she be happier in the long run if she chose to live her life as a mere human? She would be powerless, weak, and ultimately in need of constant protection should enemies ever attack them again. Upon resurrection, the girl might even lose her healing powers. She wasn't much of a fighter, never having liked conflict, but the thoughts of leaving her behind as they ran off to battle, watching as the girl fell into her own sort of depression...there was a pull at his chest. If he ever did manage to journey back to Makai, then she could never follow him. Humans couldn't withstand the miasma of that world, it would kill them in mere moments. Honestly, he didn't like either option.
Damn it all, he hated waiting around for something to happen...it led his mind to wander. And it wasn't like he could just go to sleep...it was morning, day time, in the human world now. Even though he was slowly beginning to succumb to the advances of sleep from pure exhaution, he knew he couldn't give in. The fire demon had to stay awake and protect the Orb. He couldn't fall asleep here in the middle of nowhere up in a tree. He'd become accustomed to not falling out of them but the Orb would be a different story. Maybe he...he had to go to some place else.
Whenever he felt like sleeping inside, which was a rare occasion, he'd normally seek out Kurama's human home and 'hibernate' on the floor. But given the time, Kurama wouldn't be there; the red-haired kitsune was attending that school he loved so dearly. That meant the only other place for him to go might be...he'd have to make sure he could get inside first. He still had the key to the entryway to the underground training room underneath the Outer Senshi's mansion. No one would be able to find them there.
Once he arrived, he noticed the house appeared occupied although the Pluto-woman was not there. Instead, there were two people, a blond and teal-haired couple who Hiei recalled were Hotaru's official adopted parents. The two of them belonged to the senshi group as well despite their standoffish and lone-wolf attitudes; either way, they shouldn't hinder him. He slipped in unnoticed and silently headed for the room, locking the passageway behind him as he did so. The training room itself was still dark, no one having touched it since he himself had last been here. It didn't take long for him to situate the orb beside him, his hand haphazardly reaching out for it in the darkness as sleep was finally allowed to overtake him.
Hiei wasn't much of a dreamer. From years of sleeping outside, he'd adopted a "sleep with one eye open" attitude in case of oncoming attacks and other bandits trying to rob him of things that were rightfully his...namely his life. Compared to when he'd hibernated in Kurama's human home, sleeping on the outside always made time seem to move faster, almost as if he had blinked and the morning was here again.
But this was different. It didn't really matter where he'd fallen asleep at, this dream appeared to be something that was a long time coming, so to speak. It was familiar and yet foreign, a sensation he'd grown all too used to at this point. He couldn't fight the dream nor push it away, much like the memories the Pluto-woman had returned to him. This dream was...
He blinked, finding himself standing on his own two feet in the middle of a purely white room. He was dressed normally, no injuries or anything of the sort that might be deemed out of place. Of course, he had no idea where he was though. The room was devoid of life and color, and appeared to have no adjoining exit. Just what did this all mean? Some kind of ridiculous dream where his subconscious was telling him he felt trapped? Suddenly a flash of light blinded him, causing him to draw up a hand to shield his eyes. Once the light died down, he noticed a door...but that wasn't all.
The space he occupied appeared to have transformed to a degree. The white space was no longer pure white, in fact, it had begun to resemble a hallway but only just. The floor had morphed into an assortment of tiles found in human homes and buildings but only stretched so far before they fell back off into the whiteness of the abyss. It was the same with the door and the walls that ran along either side of it; the walls were textured and off-white, a single plaque hung adjacent to the doorway on his left. It read 'O.R.T.' Strange...he'd never heard of that before nor did he recognize the abbreviation. Did those letters actually mean anything or was this just more 'dream' foolishness? He ran the combination of letters over and over again in his head many times looking for a match, he compared people's names despite his short list of them but found nothing. It must be a human term he wasn't familiar with. Still, he was in no mood for dreams. The fire demon wanted his rest and nothing more, best to go ahead and end this silly dream business for good.
Without a sound, he moved forward and opened the door, turning the knob as he did so. The room that opened up to him was a sight...it was a hospital room. He'd only been to a human hospital once, back when he and Kurama were still considered armed and dangerous thieves by Reikai. Kurama had taken him to see his human mother, aptly explaining his only reasoning for stealing the mirror, the Forlorn Hope. Hiei had scoffed at him at the time, opportunely pointing out Kurama's weakness at the hands of mortal coil. Now...now he beginning to understand. Although a part of him still tried to deny and tell him otherwise, he was beginning to understand just why Kurama found his humans important.
The room was not empty. His mind immediately flew to the idea of Hotaru, but the person who laid motionless in the bed appeared to be wrapped in bandages from head to toe. On top of everything, there was one thing ultimately bothering him...the smell. There was a stench hanging over the place but he couldn't exactly pinpoint just where it was coming from although he knew the smell quite well. It was the stench of burnt flesh, namely human. The person in the bed must have been charred beyond repair for them to give off such a powerful smell...it was a wonder they were even still alive...or were they?
Hiei found himself venturing closer to the bed, his curiosity and attention now fully captured by the occupant. Maybe it really was Hotaru under those bandages and he was having some kind of nightmare? Then again, when one found themselves in a nightmare, didn't they normally have little realization that they were in a dream? He on the other hand knew just what he was experiencing. At the end of the bed his eye caught a single clipboard, something human doctors did so as to keep their patient differentiated his mind told him.
At the top of the clip board, he found a name. It read 'Keiko Tomoe.'
A/N: Oh sweet lord, this chapter took forever to write, then I had to go back and actually re-write it because I ended up hating it. So allow me to apologize for any loose ends, rushed scenes, or anything of the sort. I've been trying to push this chapter out forever but I've really just not had the time and forcing myself to write only churns out total junk. I've just been super busy with work, school, and conventions since I'm a rl cosplay nut whoops.
I honestly can't believe the amount of PM's and reviews I've been getting about this story lately! I'm so surprised and pleased and just super happy! Not all of them were good but hey, I can take criticism and actually enjoy it. But there are a few things I'll clear up: there will be no sequels or branch-offs, just some short omake type scenes once the story is finished. I've been slowly making a list of scenes I wished I had time to include or a place to actually put them, or scenes I would just like to write in general (there might even be a lemon one somewhere on that list, oooh la la). So in conclusion, I really appreciate any reviews you might send my way!