An unprecedented silence hung in the air, with even the crowd of blood thirsty demons left in a state of shock. Both competitors had been devoured by the Black Dragon, leaving not even a trace of soot in their demise; and the barrier had yet to fall, despite this turn of events, leaving even the two announcers stumped. "Ummm... well this is unexpected..." Koto said as she peaked cautiously from behind her desk.

"HEY! WHY HASN'T THE BARRIER FALLEN?!" One frustrated crowd goer shouted from behind Koto, making her jump at the sudden sound. "WHO WON THE MATCH?!" The demons demands brought the crowd back to life, their chatter soon turning into shouts of outrage.

Koto rubbed the back of her head nervously. "The barrier was still up, that meant that both competitors were still alive, right? That's what the rules for the cage match stated." Looking at Juri, who only had a shoulder shrug to give in response, Koto shrank under the increasing demands of the crowd. "Um, please calm down everyone while we try to figure this out-"

Team Urameshi blocked out the growing chaos around them, each one reeling from what had just occurred in the ring. "...she's... she's gone..." Kuwabara muttered under his breath, his jaw slowly tightening as the reality of the situation finally settled into his mind. "W-what the hell just happened?!"

"This- you've gotta be kidding me!" Yusuke shouted, slamming his fist into the iron bars with enough force that they bent in on themselves. "Damn it!" Spinning around on his heel Yusuke ran a nervous hand through his hair. "She was right there..." Growling he spun around, hitting the bars once again causing them to shatter under the force, which only added to his furry. Just another five seconds, that's all he would have needed to- "GOD DAMN IT!"

Kurama swallowed thickly as he tried to rationalize the situation in his mind. "Yusuke, please calm down-"

"How can you tell me to calm down?! She was practically your little sister; shouldn't I be trying to calm you down?!" Yusuke pointed incriminatingly at Kurama who frowned deeply at him. "And you!" Yusuke turned his ire onto Hiei who had yet to move, his wrists laying loosely against the bars and his eyes staring at the spot Cora had been standing just moments ago. "What the fuck was that, huh?! Why the hell would you tell her to use that god damn thing, when you can't even control it yourself!"

"Yusuke, please-" Kurama was cut off by Hiei, whom he half expected to kill Yusuke; heck, the entire island populous, on the spot. The fire demon shocked Kurama though, when he didn't so much as twitch despite the racket going on around him as the cage was removed.

"No matter who steps into the ring, I'm taking the next match." He said, his voice as flat as it always was and his face as stoic as ever.

What ever Yusuke had been expecting from the fire demon, this certainly wasn't it, as Hiei's overall lack of response sent a small shiver down his spine; he'd take a raving mad Hiei over a calm Hiei any day of the week. "Hiei..."

Kurama and Koenma shared a concerned look together; Hiei's behavior was far from what they were expecting in a situation such as this. After all, Cora was now dead, and worse she had been devoured by an attack that Hiei himself wielded. All previous events concerning the small female and her safety had lead to Hiei leaning towards extreme lengths to ensure that what ever was putting her in jeopardy would be dealt with as quickly and painfully as possible; his physical attack on Koenma just a few short months ago, and his willingness to level the entire island when she'd first been taken by Sakyo, proved just how little he cared for his own health and safety when it came to the well being of Cora...it is possible that Hiei is at as much a loss as the rest of us are... this time, there isn't anything to take his anger out on, no foe to defeat... Looking back towards Hiei, Kurama watched him closely, looking for some sign of what the fire demon was thinking. He slowly began to notice the intensity in which Hiei stared off into the ring, his eyes falling in and out of focus and the tightening of his jaw...there is no way to reverse what's been done... Feeling his own throat tighten at his thoughts, Kurama pushed himself to hide his grief. Yusuke and Kuwabara were young, and had yet to suffer the true loss of a friend; he did not have the luxury of such naiveté. And neither did Hiei.

"I have my guides watching the gates for her," Koenma said, placing a reassuring hand on Yusuke's shoulder, drawing the young mans attention away from the ring. Kuwabara, how ever, wasn't about to let the matter go.

"That's all fine and dandy, but no, I refuse to accept it!" He said, pointing at the iron barrier that was currently being removed by hand from around the ring so as to allow the matches to continue. "That thing was supposed to collapse when one of them died, right?! So what gives- why are they havin'ta take it down by hand!" Kuwabara crossed his arms over his chest, his face set in a deep scowl. "Sorry, but until I see some evidence tellin' me otherwise, I refuse to believe that the shrimp bait's gone! Show me a body, then we'll talk!"

"There won't be a body." Hiei stated, drawing back from the iron bars as they began to lift from of the rings edge.

Kuwabara reached out and grabbed Hiei by the front of his cloak, much to his team's shock and mild horror. The look Hiei sent the lumbering ox was enough to curdle Koenma's blood in his veins, and make Yusuke and Kurama grab hold of Kuwabara, knocking his hold on the much smaller man away. "What the hell is your problem?! The night she went missing you were damn near ready to send this whole island to the bottom of the ocean, and now that she might actually be dead-"

"-DUE TO BOTH FIGHTERS BEING ABSCENT FROM THE RING FOR OVER TEN SECONDS, THE PREVIOUS MATCH HAS BEEN CALLED AT A DRAW!" Koto said, earning disappointed shouts from the rowdy demons around her. "Hey! Don't shoot the messenger-"

"Shut up." There was no malice, no hint of a threat in Hiei's tone, but the simple response was enough to send a shiver down the others spines. How ever, Kuwabara ignored his instincts that told him to back off, and instead continued to fight against those that tried to hold him back. Hiei, unconcerned with the struggling teen's, turned back to the ring and resumed his staring contest with the scorched ring floor.

"Cool it Kuwabara, you're making a damn scene!" Yusuke pulled at Kuwabara's shoulder, trying in vein to disengage him from the eerily calm fire demon.

Kuwabara didn't heed Yusuke's words and instead brandished his fist forwards the back of Hiei's head. "Don't try and hold me back guys, I'm gonna pound this little bastard into the ground!"

"-LOOKS LIKE LOSEING ONE OF THEIR TEAMATES HAS TAKEN IT'S TOLL ON TEAM URAMESHI!" Juri shouted into her mic, making Kuwabara cease in his struggles to glare up at her along with the rest of the team. Well, all but Hiei that is; his focus had shifted from the ring to the jumbo-tron TV that was currently replaying the short, brutal match between Cora and Clayton. "BUI'S ENTERED THE RING FOR TEAM TOGURO, SO CAN WE PLEASE GET THIS SHOW ON THE ROAD TEAM URAMESHI?!"

Breaking his gaze from the screen, Hiei removed his cloak and scarf, leaving them lying on the ground before jumping into the ring. He flexed his right arm which was encased from palm to bicep in bandages and sutras, the edges of which were beginning to smolder. "Feel free to take cover," Hiei spoke to his team who had appeared to settle down for the time being, the weight of the situation pushing down on them as if the earths gravity had been multiplied.

"Alright ladies and germs! Looks like this next match up is between Team Toguro's Bui and Team Urameshi's Hiei!" Juri announced as the two fighters came to stand in the middle of the ring.

"Geeze, hasn't that arm healed yet?!" Kuwabara, who had been ready to beat the small demon into the ground only moments ago, sounded genuinely worried as he and the rest of the team eyed the haphazard wrapping wearily. "It's smoldering too!

"I'm afraid you have it wrong, Kuwabara; Hiei's arm is just fine." Kurama's eyes were wide in both shock and trepidation...could he have...

Kuwabara and Yusuke gave each other side long looks, curiosity shinning in their eyes. But before they could act on that curiosity, Juri's clear voice pierced through the steadily rising shouts of the crowd. "BEGIN!"


"What are they doing down there?" Shizuru said as she watched the boy's fighting amongst themselves. To her left sat Yukina who was shaking like a leaf, her face buried into her hands as she tried with all her might not to cry. On Shizuru's other side, Keiko and Botan weren't any better off, and together all three of their states made the older woman sigh. "Seems to me like everyone's getting all worked up over nothing."

"That does it!" Botan, who had trails of tears streaming down her cheeks, jumped to her feet and pointed an incriminating finger at Shizuru who seemed less than moved by the grim reapers passionate display. "I've grown very tired of you callousness! She's DEAD- we just sat here, and watched our friend die! We are perfectly entitled to feel distraught!"

Shizuru tsked before taking out a lighter and a cigarette. "You all seem to be awfully sure about what you think happened." Lifting the lighter to her face, Shizuru paused, her eyes glancing down towards the ring where Hiei and Bui now stood facing each other. Her eyes narrowed a fraction of an inch as an uneasy knot started to form in her belly. "Where ever Cora is, if she's smart she'll stay there for now," Shizuru lit her cigarette, ignoring the curious looks being sent her way from the other three females. "I get the feeling something big is about to go down."

Yukina, who had lifted her head enough to stare at Shizuru inquisitively, now shifted her gaze onto the ring, her brow furrowing in worry as she saw who was up next to fight...please... she can't leave us... not yet... we're not ready...


"Such weak creatures," Elder Toguro said from his perch on his younger brothers shoulder. "Clayton proved himself to soft for this game. And since that girl was crazy enough to take herself out as well, we'll have to see about obtaining a new one."

Younger Toguro didn't make any sound of acknowledgement, though a deep frown had settled onto his face. From beside him Sakyo chuckled as he pulled out a new cigarette, laying it gently against his smirking mouth. "Yes, it's quite a shame; I had such high hopes for him. But it's no real loss. There are plenty more where he came from."


Bui didn't hesitate before moving into the offensive, dashing over to Hiei with speed that was quite impressive given his massive body. Bui leaped into the air, lifting his axe above his head. "Check out Bui's hang time!" Juri said enthusiastically, her excitement mirrored by the appraising crowd. He swung his mighty axe, and the blade struck the ground with enough force that it managed to become lodged in one of the massive stone blocks that made up the rings floor.

Hiei was able to dodge easily, appearing on the opposite side of the ring behind Bui. "Either your aim is as broad as your Axe, or you're toying with me. And I'm not in the mood for games." Hiei bit out, his brow furrowing irritably.

Bui looked at Hiei over his shoulder, his grip on his axe tightening as he gave it a harsh tug. Using his brute strength, Bui lifted all 2,400 pounds of the stone slab that stuck to the blade of his axe. Spinning around on the balls of his feet, Bui launched the stone slab towards Hiei like a baseball. The massive piece of concrete sailed through the air with ease, it's target, Hiei.

Once again, Hiei managed to dodge the onslaught, with Bui sending multiple chunks of the ring at him in rapid succession. A few large chucks of stone flew through the air, completely missing their mark and landing in the audience.

"Nobody can explain to me why the combatants keep attacking the audience!" Koto exclaimed, her ears pushed flat against her head nervously. "Though it does make the pain much more wide spread, and I do love that!"

Fed up with the simple game of cat and mouse, Hiei fired up his energy, the flames of the mortal realm dissolving the bandanna from his forehead to reveal his pulsing Jagan eye. "Prepare yourself." Hiei's fists became engulfed in flames as he went on a more offensive path, smashing the mighty stone slabs as they sailed towards him. One after another, the chunks of stone fell to pieces around him.

As the cloud of debris grew larger, Hiei let an irritable growl rip from his throat; the slabs had stopped flying. "Such and old trick." Bui appeared from the dust cloud, just as Hiei had expected him to; axe raised and ready to strike Hiei down. Shifting his footing Hiei raised his flame covered fist, striking the axe's blade just before it reached him. A spike in his energy and the axe began to crack at the blade mount before splitting off and flying over Bui's shoulder, whizzing past Juri's head and slamming into the crowd.

Bui jumped back, returning them to their starting places and stared are his now broken axe handle, an aura of surprise seeping through his normally stoic façade. With out a word, Bui gathered his energy into the palm of his left hand and produced yet another axe, the same dimensions as the one before it. Hiei scowled; this was not the fight he had hoped it would be. "I'll admit you are consistent, at least in the spectrum of foolishness. As if this axe would have any more impact than the last."

With a grunt, Bui threw his axe at Hiei. Said fire demon didn't even flinch as he caught the much larger weapon by the blade, burning it to ash with a flash of his energy. Gasps of shock and begrudging awe came from the audience, and Koto could hardly believe her eyes. "Wow! T-that's amazing! Hiei not only stopped the blade with his bare hands, he then incarnated it to boot!"


Yusuke let out a low whistle, slapping a visibly freaked out Kuwabara on the back. "Happy I stopped you from picking a fight now?"

"U-uh, yeah- remind me never to let Hiei touch me again any time soon," Kuwabara said, a cold sweat breaking out over his skin. "Or like, ever."

"Riiiiight, I'll make a note." Koenma said.

Kurama watched on with calculating eyes; while normally he would chalk Hiei's actions in this fight as reckless, he could not deny the dramatic difference in the fire demons abilities when compared to the first rounds of the tournament...so my hypothesis was correct; Hiei's power shows no sign of faltering. Need has risen his abilities exponentially in this tournament... but can he hold up to the darkness flame...


A chilling silence fell between the two worriers, one that left the audience sitting on the edge of their seats. "...Sorry to bore you." Bui said, catching everyone in the stadium off guard. "I'll remove my armor."

"WOW! Didya hear that? Bui spoke for the first time in this tournament!" Koto shimmied her shoulders a bit, a distinct blush blooming across her cheeks. "His timbering voice so richly deep, my two little cat ears at tingling!"

Ignoring the announcer and the roar of the crowd, Bui kept his sights on Hiei as he reached up and undid his right shoulder guard, flinging it over the edge of the ring where it smashed into the floor like a ten ton wrecking ball, a sizable dent forming around it. Hiei remained impassive, unimpressed with the exaggerated weight of Bui's armor.


From the sidelines however, Kuwabara had started to panic, a cold sweat gathering at his brow. "H-holly crap! That's heavy enough to take out a tank!"

"Yes, it would seem that Bui is much stronger than we originally believed." Kurama said, his brow furrowing in contemplation. "Hiei will need to put every thing he has into this fight."


Up in the stands, the girls watch with anticipation as Bui continues to remove his armor piece by piece. Joining them some ten minutes ago, George, Koenma's right hand ogre, shouted exuberantly over the heads of those demons that sat in front of the group. "Opportunity knocks Hiei! If you hit him while he kneeling, he won't be able to fight back!"

"Ahem!" Botan cleared her throat, gaining George's attention. His enthusiasm greatly deflated when he spotted the sour looks being thrown his way; why, even Yukina looked perturbed by his encouragement of such a dirty trick. "Hiei is an honorable person and would never do something so deceitful; it's too beneath him." Botan scolded, making George shrink down into his seat.

"I suppose you would just attack a man with his back turned to you as well, wouldn't you?" Shizuru tsked, taking a drag from her cigarette. "Or how about hand cuffs and blind folds, would that be better?"

"That's like cheating." Keiko chimed in, making the ogre shrink even further into his seat.

Yukina nodded in agreement, a soft frown falling onto her mouth. "There is no victory in taking down an unaware victim."

George completely wilted then, the disappointment in the sweet ice maidens voice all but crushing his soul. "...your right, excuse me while I die now..."


Bui, who had nearly removed all of his armor, regarded Hiei once more. "You should know two things Hiei the Swordsman, I was saving this for someone else. And this, is the highest compliment I give," he reached up and removed his helmet, revealing a man with light blue hair and dark grey eyes. A deep, jagged scar sat in the center of his forehead, with two smaller scar's running down the side of his nose and onto each cheek. No sooner had he tossed the helmet to the side then did an ominous energy wash over the stadium, making the hair on the back of everyone's necks stand on end. "It serves as a restraint. You see, my powers aren't easy to contain." To prove his point, Bui clenched his now raised fist, showing off the energy that oozed from between his fingers. Hiei watched with guarded eyes as the aura around Bui continued to grow, it's power reaching such levels that he began to levitate off the ring's surface.


"Whoa!" Kuwabara shouted as Bui's aura pulsed violently across the arena floor. "How did I not pick up on this guys energy?!"

"Because of his armor." Kurama said, uncertainty falling into the pit of stomach. "It contains his power."

"If it contains it, then why the hell did he take it off?!" Yusuke demanded.

"No that's- what I meant by contain is that his armor keeps his power from escaping," Yusuke, Kuwabara and Koenma all gave Kurama incredulous looks. "Definition number two."


Bui, who had until that point remained as impassive as ever suddenly smirked, a glimmer of excitement in his eyes. "I call this Battle Aura; and I'd like to see you try to top it."

The corner of Hiei's mouth twitched ever so slightly. "And so would I; but I doubt I'll have to try." Hiei wasted little time as he went into a full offensive mode, testing the limits of Bui's so called Battle Aura. When physical attacks were easily thwarted, Hiei switched to using his Mortal Flames, sending shots of fire towards Bui. While he manages to pierce the Aura's center, it isn't long before Bui is able to fully recover and send a blast of energy Hiei's way. Hiei fires his own aura in retaliation, and when the two collide they explode, scattering the two auras into the terrified crowd.

Bui doesn't give Hiei time to recover his stance before shooting another large blast of energy towards him. Hiei easily dodged this time, but was surprised to find that the energy began to follow him, honing in on Hiei's own aura like a missile. Hiei flickered in and out of sight as he dodged the energy blast again and again, before directing himself behind Bui, catching the larger man off guard. Expecting Hiei to attack, Bui turned to face him, only to find Hiei gone and Bui's own energy blast hurtling towards him at a rapid speed. With no time to dodge, Bui takes his own attack head on, the force of which was enough to knock him out of the air with an agonized scream, and into the center of the mostly destroyed ring. A large crater formed around him on impact, and the rising smoke gave note that it had been a direct hit.

Hiei landed on the edge of the crater, his brow furrowed irritably; surely that hadn't been enough to take Bui down.


Kuwabara snickered as the light from the impact started to fade. "Man, getting beat by your own attack? That's gotta be gosh-darn humiliating-huh?!"


A eruption of Bui's energy from with in the dust cloud made everyone in the stadium gasp in shock, all being more than certain that such an attack should be enough to kill any man, demon or no. Hiei watched with bored eyes as Bui levitated fro the crater, a smug smirk on his face.

"I told you, you would have to try and top me Hiei." Bui lowered himself onto the ring floor, opposite from Hiei on the edge of the crater. "Maybe now you'll start to take this more seriously, and show me the respect I deserve."

"Hn. So, it take a lot more than that to bang you up..." Reaching over, Hiei ripped off the largest sutra from his right arm, allowing the bandages and smaller sutras to start unraveling. "Then here comes a lot more." A shock wave of energy rippled across the stadium, making every living being inside the stadium suck in a short breath of terror."You're not the only one with a trick up their sleeve."


From the side lines, Kuwabara was going into a full on panic attack as he watched the cloth fall away from Hiei's arm. "Hey, Hiei's taking off that bandage thingy; you know, the one that doesn't heal the hurty parts."

"It seems you misunderstood. On the contrary, Kuwabara, that binding has accomplished precisely what it was intended to do. Which for Hiei, is similar to Bui's armor." Kurama said making Yusuke, Kuwabara and Koenma blanch. "Though it Hiei's case, it's just his own energy that's trapped in that arm."

"W-what?! Are you serious?!" Kuwabara exclaimed before being practically sucker punched by the next wave of energy. Looking up at the ring, he felt his knees start to tremble; black flames danced across the skin of Hiei's right arm, and where burnt flesh once was there seemed to be a rather intricate black tattoo that twisted from his bicep to his wrist.

"Damn..." Yusuke said, his entire body going ridged as if to flee the incredible power that was building up in the ring. "Maybe we should take Hiei's advice from earlier..."

Kurama's face turned grim. "Yes, neither fighter can control their energy..." he looked up into the stands, spotting the four females and the ogre easily among the throng of demons. "If they clash, this stadium could crumble..." Yusuke and the other two members of his team gulp audibly.

Koenma sucked furiously at his pacifier, his thumb poised to push the launch button to his jet pack. "Keonmatron 5000 Jet Pack, ready for take off..."


Hiei couldn't help but smirk at the flicker of horror that came across Bui's face upon the release of the Black Dragon's aura. "Now that I've shown you mine, I assure you, there is no turning back; your fate has been sealed." Spectators who bore witness to Hiei's first attack with the black dragon began to run for cover as spires of dark energy rained down around the stadium. Black tendrils of lightning flashed through the air, taking out large chunks of the audience with no discretion. The very ring beneath the two fighters feet started to crumble into dust under the massive weight of the dragons aura.

"W-what an attack! Our state of the art ring is already crumbling under it's power! This could mean surprise injuries galore-ah! Juri, get back!" Koto shouted, her wide eyes catching a glimpse of her fish tailed co-reporter among the swirling black aura. "That isn't a safe place to be right now!"

The entire stadium held its breath as the pin dropped. Hiei leapt forward, releasing a battle cry as the black dragon sprang forth from his arm, growing at an impossible rate as it careened towards Bui. Screams of horror and agony filled the air along with the dragons furious cry, as spectators in the front rows began to spontaneously combust into black flames.

Bui released a cry of his own as he meet the dragon head on, grasping it's mighty maw in his aura covered hands. The moment to two clashed, the ring beneath their feet exploded sending shards of stone in all directions and leaving the ring as a pile of rubble.

In it's furry, the dragon released a mighty roar as it attempted to devour the reluctant Bui. The momentum of the two clashing power houses pushed them out of the ring and up into the air where the dragon pushed Bui through the stadiums roof. Hiei used the falling debris to jump up to the said roof, keeping a sharp eye on the progressing battle-

-"MOVE!"

The dragon struck, engulfing Cora in the same way it had Clayton before letting out a heart stopping scream-

Hiei snarled and grasped at his head...this is not the time!... he scolded his Jagan internally.

"The Black Dragon's loose and running amok!" Koto shouted into her mic, her voice almost drowned out by the screams of terror and anguish that were coming from the spectators. "Weaker fans are being incinerated-wait, what just happened?!"

"Impossible!" Kurama said, his eyes wide in shock as Bui let out one final cry, releasing an unimaginable amount of power and strength before throwing the Black Dragon away from himself.

The monster screamed with rage as it descended towards Hiei, who cursed himself; he'd allowed his concentration to slip one time to many. Hiei, knowing that there was no time to escape, grit his teeth as the heat of the dragon enveloped him, before he was hit full force with his own attack, vanishing into the thin air as the dragon swallowed him whole.

"T-that..." Kuwabara, along with the rest of his team, were left speechless as the dragon continued to flail around angrily. "W-what just happened?" The dragon began to slowly dissipate, once again leaving behind a shell shocked audience and a torn Team Urameshi. "He... he beat Hiei..."


Rushing wind and scorching heat rushed savagely across Hiei's skin, a sensation he had experienced once before and had hoped to never bare witness to again. The dragon had claimed it's third victim that day, an unfortunately it hadn't been Bui. Hiei's demon adversary had done what no other before him had managed to accomplish; he'd successfully survived a head on attack from the Dragon of The Darkness Flame.

But Hiei couldn't bring himself to care about his own demise. After all, with that idiot gone he had very little to live for apart from his sister. And he would never admit this aloud to anyone, not even when on the verge of death, but he had this horrifying notion that she would be well looked after. He'd rather not admit to who would become her protector, and tried to focus on the fact that at least Yukina would never have to face having someone like him as a brother.

Coming to terms with his death was surprisingly easy, given how hard he'd fought his whole like to survive. Just one more sunrise, one more fight; he never knew if he would see the day after tomorrow. But he fought hard to ensure that he could. But now, there was no reason to fight; he was already dead. Or at least, he should be.

His feet hit solid ground, the unexpected impact causing Hiei to roll across the ground rather harshly, the rough stone beneath him leaving small paper cut sized lacerations on his arms and upper body. Shards of black glass wedged themselves under his skin like splinters, and while the pain it's self was minute he was exceedingly shocked to be feeling anything at all. Was this what hell had in store for him? Being forced to spend the rest of eternity picking splinters out of various parts of his body? If so, he obviously held back far to often when alive; it's clear that he could have gotten away with so much more.

Pushing himself up to his feet, Hiei looked around warily. This place, where ever it may be, had an odd aura about it, almost as if he were being watched from every angle. Though he wasn't entirely convinced that the very lay of the land, or rather cave, wasn't to blame. Huge stalactites hung from the ceiling, ranging from the size of his pinky finger to the size of a mountain. They were all black in color, but each one seemed to shine and reflect upon it's self and the stalactites that grew around it, leading to a rather disorientating notion that the ceiling was much larger than it truly was. Spires of the same black stone rose up from the floor as well, their surfaces just as reflective as the stalactites above, giving off the impression that there were many copies of himself standing around. The unnatural play of the light off of the columns jagged edges only added to the rather unsettling aura of the cavern.

Deciding that he wouldn't be able to make sense of this place by simply gawking, Hiei moved forward at an even pace, keeping his senses on high alert. Even a place as barren as this cave could hide enemies. And if this was hell, he was sure that not even his darkest nightmares could prepare him for what lurked in the shadows. Even as time passed with nothing to note, he couldn't help the cold sweat that broke out over his skin. There had to be something there. Though if he were to be honest, an eternity alone sounded like heaven to him.

But then he heard something; it was muffled at first, as if someone was trying to speak to him under water. The further into the black cave he wondered, the clearer the sound became; was that lip smacking? The sound brought goose pimples to his skin. The familiar symphony of tearing flesh and slurping joined in with the previous lips smacking, and Hiei instantly recognized it as the sound of one creature devouring another. He rounded a corner and caught sight of the grotesque origins; a humanoid demon with short white hair was kneeling over a rather unexpected victim. A young male, with white hair and lifeless blue eyes lay supine on the cavern, his abdomen torn open for his predators feasting pleasure.

Deciding not to interrupt, as he was unarmed and unwilling to fight a new adversary in such a new territory, Hiei back tracked and went around, leaving the crazed beast to its ghastly meal. He wondered for what felt like hours, never spying another white haired creature or anything else for the matter. What was this place? Was it meant to drive one crazy via sheer boredom?

Hiei could feel his senses beginning to dull in this void of a cave; with nothing but the sound of his own foot steps and his own reflection, he almost jumped clean out of his skin when he heard the sound of another's voice. Berating himself internally for allowing his guard to slip, Hiei easily honed in the sound. Female. Crying? It was hard for him to understand exactly what she was saying, as it seemed that she was quite a ways away from him. Looking around, Hiei was unsure of where to go; everything looked the same in that damn cave.

Doing his best to determine the foreign voices whereabouts, Hiei continued on, his pace picking up ever so slightly at the thought of finding another sentient being with in the void. Perhaps, if they are not in fact an enemy, they can point him in the direction of a possible exit. Twisting and turning this way and that, Hiei began to feel as though the spires were starting to close in on him; the corridors were becoming much to tight, and the turns more erratic. And the voice; no matter how far he traveled, it remained at the same distance almost as if to taunt him. Again, he picked up is pace, determined to catch up to this mystery woman...this could be a trap... thinking back to the humanoid he'd seen upon his arrival, Hiei was presented with the distinct taste of bile in his throat...if it is one of those disgusting creatures, I'll just have to make sure I kill it first...

His patience wearing thin, Hiei pushed himself to his full speed, covering a distance of a few miles in less than five seconds. Surely he'd have caught up to that irritating woman by now. When he came to a stop he was in a rather large open space within the cavern, hundreds of his own reflections gazing wearily about. The crying had stopped, causing Hiei's brow to furrow in confusion; had he gone to far and lost her? Turning in a slow circle, Hiei listened for the woman's weeping, but the eerie silence that had plagued him before had returned. "Damn..."

Hiei turned around, intent on going back the way he had came seeing as the open area was essentially a dead end. A moment before he reentered the maze of black mirrors, however, something peculiar caught his eye. Pausing mid step, Hiei ever so subtly glanced over his shoulder, his eye straining to look upon one of the hundreds of reflections of himself that bounced off the spires. Much to Hiei's shock, the reflection stared right back at him, it's shoulders squared as it faced him head on. It matched him to a T, from his wounds sustained from being devoured by the dragon, to each past scar that marked his arms and upper body. But there was one thing that was off; instead of dark pools of crimson, Hiei was staring into a pair of amethysts. Hiei's own eyes narrowed; was this just a trick of the cavers natural stone?...or is this a trick of one of those cannibals from before?...

Not wanting to take any chances of the theory being true, Hiei made the first move. Bursting to full speed, Hiei attacked the reflection, slamming the stones jagged surface with a powerful jab. The surface rippled, and much to Hiei's shock his hand fell through the spire, almost as if it were made out of water rather than stone. His own reflection smirked at him, grasping hold of his wrist and giving it a mighty tug. With wide eyes Hiei fell forward and into the spires watery surface, emerging on the other side to find yet another cavern, though this one did not hold the same eerie as the previous cave. Instead of menacing black, every square inch of the cavern glittered a bright white, with spires and stalactites reaching from the floor and ceiling in an earnest attempt to touch.

He looked around wearily; where had his doppelgänger gone? He'd felt the pressure of the creatures hands upon his arm; it's was as solid as they come as far as living being gos. So then where- Hiei dodged to the left as an unexpected gun shot rang through the empty room. Looking around irritably, Hiei tried to find the origins of the shot. "Where-?!" Tucking himself to the side, Hiei narrowly dodged a heel drop to his shoulder. His assailant struck the floor instead, leaving behind a crack in the otherwise flawless floor. Righting himself, Hiei turned to face his opponent only for his entire body to seize up. "What is this?" He hissed.

Hiei's attacker didn't bother to answer him and instead went for the kill once again, her right hand clutched tightly around her hand gun as the two of them started to play a one-sided game of cat and mouse. Growling, Hiei quickly turned the tables and went of the offensive, aiming a powerful kick to the woman's familiar face. "Don't mess with me!" He shouted. The woman's blue eyes narrowed a fraction of an inch as she blocked his kick, turning his own momentum against him to knock him off balance. Surprised by the strength behind her grasp, Hiei once again righted himself before putting some distance between them. The two stared each other down, garnet clashing with aqua in the white void. "...Don't think for a second that you've got me fooled, cretin. It doesn't matter if you have her face; I'll still tear you apart."

The look-a-like's head fell forward, white hair shifting to cover the majority of their stolen face. "...you'll leave me here... if I'm not strong enough..." Hiei's insides churned; not only did this monster steel her face, it had also taken on her voice. The annoyance inside him began to bubble over. How dare this scum bag. "If I beat you, will you stay?"

Hiei scoffed, falling into a low fighting stance. "That's not going to happen."


Circles. That's the precise direction Cora had been walking in for the last hour or so. Circles. This place, where ever it was she'd been dumped, had to be one of the most confusing and disorientating places she's ever been to. That's saying something considering she's technically in the 9th grade. Everything was made of a kind of glittering white crystal, her mineral lessons in school pulling forward the word quartz; spires and stalactites grew from the floor and ceiling, reflecting her own face back to her by the hundreds. The air was stagnant, and the only sound she could make out was that of her own breathing.

It was hard for her to comprehend what had happened upon her initial arrival. Cora was sure that she had been devoured by the fearsome Black Dragon. She should have been vaporized; but instead she found herself trapped in this never ending cavern of silent beauty. Was this what the afterlife held for people? An eternity wondering around with nothing to do but ponder their life choices, with only their own reflections for company?

"So now what...?" She asked herself, her eyes fixated on the reflection closest to her. If only it could do more than stare back, the same look of dejection upon it's face. Maybe it had asked her the same thing while she wasn't looking... great, only an hour in and I'm already making friends with one of the many me's in here... ignoring her quick decent into madness, Cora trekked on, though she wasn't sure what it was she hoped to find. "I wonder if the others are doing alright..."

Cora felt a wave of regret roll through her; she shouldn't have allowed her pride to get the best of her. She should have come clean to Kurama and Hiei the moment she saw them after receiving Sakyo's invitation; yes, Hiei would have berated her for crying to him about her problems, but on the much brighter side, there's a far greater chance that Cora wouldn't be dead right now. In fact, she probably wouldn't have had to worry about any of it. But her damn pride... just once, she didn't want to be the damsel in distress. She wanted to stand on her own two feet, and fight off her own demons. Cora physically wilted, her body slumping over onto one of the many spires. "Lot of good that thought process did me..." Looking at her reflection, Cora's mouth turned into a deep frown. "What would you have done differently if you were me?" The reflection blinked in response, making Cora's eyes widen in shock. "...Um, excuse me?" The reflection's shoulders rose and fell, as if to let out a huge breathless sigh.

Cora jumped back from the spire, rubbing her eyes roughly. Clearly she was imagining things, correct? Staring back at her reflection, Cora waited for it to move again, but it remained still, mirroring her bewildered expression back at her. Taking a tentative step forward, Cora reached out with her finger and poked the reflection, jumping in shock when the surface of the stone shifted, rippling like water. "What the hell...?" Wanting to test this new discovery further, Cora placed her full palm against the stones surface, her reflection following her movements perfectly. Applying the smallest amount of pressure, Cora's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates when the seemingly solid stone enveloped her hand like silly putty. She experimentally wiggled her fingers, watching curiously as the stone around her hand shifted along with the movements. "Alright, this is-?!" Cora let out a startled gasp when her reflection grasped hold of her submerged hand, giving it a firm tug. "Hey, let go!" Cora pulled back with all her might, and was horrified to find that she was unable to move a single centimeter. Instead, it seemed that the more she pulled, the deeper her arm sank into the stone. "What's with this stuff?! It's like quick sand!" With her arm submerged to above her elbow, was finding herself running out of time and leverage. "H-hey, can we talk this out?! Please, I really don't wanna test if I can die a second time!" As if in response to her last ditch effort pleas, her reflection flashed her a crazed smile before giving her captured arm a harsh pull, the rough action causing Cora to pitch forward into the liquefied stone.

Cora let out a terror filled yelp just before her head was submerged. If she could describe the way it felt to fall through the goo, she would have to say it was similar to swallowing a soba noodle whole, though it was her playing the noodle. Sliding through with ease, Cora was caught off guard when she came toppling through the other side, landing in a heap on this rooms cold, black floor. Gasping for air, as she hadn't been able to take a breath before being dragged under (in? through?), Cora lifted her head to gaze upon her new surroundings.

While the cavern before had been made of pure quartz, this place looked to be made of obsidian, a black stone that held many properties similar to glass; while the white cavern had been relatively smooth in its appearance, this obsidian room's columns of stone were rather rugged, with sharp looking edges and shards of shattered stone covering the floor. Pushing herself tentatively to her feet, wincing when she felt the broken shards of stone cut into her palms and knees, Cora tried to wrap her head around what had happened...is this just some weird property of these caves? Or was this done on purpose... moving to take a step forward, Cora felt an shiver run down her spine when the chill of steel came to rest against the base of her throat, making her instantaneously freeze.

"..."

Who ever held this blade kept quiet, their presence almost undetectable over her shoulder. Her mind conjured up her own reflection, the one that had moved independently of her; was that who was holding her hostage? Had it all been a trap from the beginning? "...what do you want?" She asked, willing her voice not to waver. Any sign of weakness, and she could practically kiss her ass good bye. But again, the stranger neither spoke nor moved, their blade unwavering against her skin. "If you plan to kill me, you're out of luck; I'm already dead. Actually, seeing as you're here, that means that you are too-!" The blade shifted, pressing up into her jaw, a clear warning for her to stop talking and one she took to heart. Already dead or not, if she was able to feel pain from the shattered stone imbedded in her knees, she knew full well that being cut by a blade would also effect her...is it possible to die twice? How shitty...

And then like magic, the blade was gone from her throat. Before she could breath a sign of relief, Cora felt a foot dig into her back, kicking her forward and damn near knocking her over. Yelping in surprise she barely managed to catch herself, and turning to shout at her attacker she physically felt her words get lodged in her throat. "Y-you...?!" He leapt forward, his sword poised to strike her down. Cora barley dodged, escaping the edge of his blade by mere inches. Her reprieve was short, as her attacker took her shoddy foot work for granted by kicking her square in the chest, knocking some twenty feet away from him. Cora came to a rolling stop, coughing and gasping for air despite her protesting ribs...what the hell is going on? He shouldn't be here... pushing herself up onto her knees was harder than Cora thought it could ever be; he hadn't held back.

Hearing the whisper of steel in the stagnant air, Cora once again narrowly dodged a killing blow from his sword. It's tip became imbedded into the stone beside her, shattering the floor in that area into sharp shards. Taking the small opportunity that was presented to her, Cora forced herself to her feet and made a mad dash across the cavern, putting as much space between them as she could while he pulled his sword from the floor. She flinched when he turned to face her again, his brows furrowed and his garnet eyes smoldering. "What the hell- why are you attacking me?! Have you lost your fucking mind?!"

His only answer was to vanish from sight, leaving her further on edge as she tried to gage where he would be coming from...this isn't good; he's obviously not messing around... I don't stand a chance... a kick to her legs, knocking them out from beneath her only solidified her fear further. Feeling the strength of his hand as it wrapped around her throat, Cora reached up in a futile attempt to remove his iron grip. She kicked her legs, scratched and wiggled in his hold, but it was all in vein. Throwing his blade the side, he used his now free hand to restrain her arms above her head...he's really going to kill me- just as Cora's vision began to go black his weight vanished from above her.

She gasped loudly and curled in on herself as every muscle in her body began to spasm from lack of oxygen. A trail of saliva fell from the corner of her mouth as she pushed herself up onto shaky hands and knees, her watery blue eyes watching him wearily. He sat on his haunches, his hands grasping his hair like a vice; it was a wonder he hadn't pulled some clean out of his scalp. When he heard the sound of his sword dragging across the ground he snapped to attention, his head moving so as he could stare directly at her. Cora damn near dropped the sword when she saw his face; eyes wide and jaw clenched tight, he looked far more like a frightened animal than the demon she knew. "Hiei..."


Hiei grit his teeth as his fist slammed into the cheek of his opponent, the force behind it sending her flying through the air. He grimaced when she landed, her body rolling a good three feet before hitting the far wall. This person, who ever they were, looked a mess; Hiei had not pulled any of his punches. But as the one sided fight went on, he was finding it harder to go all out; after all, this thing was wearing Cora's face. A wave of disgust struck him as the look-a-like got back onto her feet, her body wracked with sobs and screams of agony. Fraud or not, seeing his oldest companion in such a sad state was reeking havoc on his resolve.

Not wanting to give this sad creature a chance to charge him again, Hiei landed another blow, knocking them across the room once again. Watching the fraud closely, Hiei was almost relieved when she remained on the floor, her entire body trembling. Tasting bile rise in the back of his throat, Hiei took a step back, intent on leaving while she was subdued. "You've lost; take off her face, and leave-"

"NO!" The creature shouted, her fingers digging into the stone floor hard enough to make their finger tips bleed. "Don't leave me- please! I-I'll get stronger! I promise!" Hiei's brow furrowed irritably as the look-a-like's previous hysterics became amplified. "I'm s-sorry t-that I'm s-so weak- I'll t-try harder-"

Hiei flitted to her, slamming his foot into the frauds side making her scream in anguish, the sound making his jaw tense. "Stop trying to mess with me." He growled, grabbing hold of the look-a-likes throat, pulling them up to his face. Squashing the guilt that bubbled in his chest as he looked upon his partner face, Hiei tightened his hold around her throat. "I already told you once, I'm onto you; no matter how much you look and sound like her, you're not Cora. No matter what, she would never act this pathetic. Cora's stronger than this." She hardly fought against his deadly hold, her only resistance being a weak hold on his wrist. Tears streamed down her face and over his fingers, mixing with her own blood and spittle. "I refuse to perform mercy killings." Hiei threw her down, the harsh landing making her yelp as it jolted her broken body. "If you want to die, be my guest."

Hiei turned away then, unwilling to waste another moment on the pathetic creature. His pride prevented him from killing them; no matter the foe, he refused to be used as an out. If that creature wants to die, they could pull the trigger themselves- Hiei felt the air around him shift, and allowed instincts to take the wheel. Stepping to the side, Hiei easily dodged an attack, and quickly countered with a strong jab to his attackers abdomen, his fingers becoming buried into the frauds abdomen up to his palm.

Time seemed to stop for a moment. Hiei stared down at the back of the imposters head, her entire weight resting against him. Blood dribbled from the corner of her mouth and onto his arm, the warmth of it raising goose bumps on his skin. "Thank you."

Hiei allowed her to fall off him, her body slamming into the ground with a resonating squelch. He stared straight ahead, unwilling to look down upon her. "...idiot." He said, a disturbed frown falling onto his face... if this is hell... I just might lose my mind... he thought before taking his leave, wanting to put as much distance between himself and the corpse as he could.

Having made it some five yards, Hiei froze in his tracks as a tremor shook the cavern. The distinct sound of shattering stone reached him from behind, making him glance over his shoulder, his eyes widening when he spotted the large black cracks that had appeared along the ground. They continued to spread, spider webbing up the Spires and walls, and across the ceiling. "...!" The room around him exploded, sending a massive amount of debris into the air and forcing Hiei to take cover to the best of his ability.

As the room settled, Hiei was able to look around himself, his eyes widening minutely as he found himself in yet another cavern. This time, the floor, walls and ceilings were made of grey stone with veins of black and white crystals running all along the surface. Looking around wearily, Hiei's eyes caught sight of his attackers body; no longer was she made of flesh and bone, but white stone. Moving to get a closer look, Hiei stopped as the body started to disintegrate, turning to a pile of dust. Moving once again, Hiei came to stand above what remained of the look-a-like, his brow furrowing in confusion.

The distinct sound of foot falls from the side caused Hiei to stiffen up, his eyes snapping towards he source of the sound. Much to his surprise, he found himself in the company of an old man, his white beard falling to the floor and his cloudy amethyst eyes watching Hiei curiously. "Well. That's not at all what I expected." The old man said, his mouth poised to either smile or frown, Hiei couldn't tell which.

"And you are?" Hiei demanded, turning to face this stranger.

The man chuckled lightly, the corners of his eyes crinkling up with a hidden smile. "Hmmm, you're a strange one, Hiei." He said earning a glare from the fire apparition. "As for who I am," The old man's smile dissolved, his expression leveling with Hiei. "I'm the old fool you've been baiting all this time." Hiei's brow furrowed suspiciously; he was sure he'd never seen this fossil before, and yet the old man knew him by name. Seeing Hiei's suspicion, the old man laughed once again. "Ahah! You're suspicious of me, and I guess you have the right; after all, I could destroy you with out moving so much as my little finger." As before the old man's mirth turned chilly, his cloudy amethyst eyes sending an unnatural chill down Hiei's spine. "Don't forget, I allowed you to come here."


Spitting blood between ragged breaths, Cora pushed herself as flush to the wall as she could. Something was definitely wrong with Hiei. Peeking around the edge of the spire she was hiding behind, she watched as her partner struggled through what could only be described as a psychological break. His movements were erratic and violent, shifting from cringing in agony and swinging his fists in a blind rage.

"Where the hell are you?!" He shouted, the uncharacteristic volume of his voice making her snap her head back behind the spire; there was no way she could beat him. She didn't want to beat him. She just wanted to escape...I have to get out of here... "Come on, show your pathetic face-!" Hearing him suddenly shout in anguish, Cora peeked around the spire once again. Hiei was now on his knees, grasping at his head with enough force he began to draw blood.

Not wanting to miss this opportunity, Cora forced herself onto shaky legs. Hiei, or whoever this person was, hadn't gone easy on her; every inch of her ached, and the awkward angle of her left arm hinted at a break or two. This would probably be her last opportunity to escape with her life- "AAAAAAAAAAHHHH!" Cora screamed as she took a heavy hit to the side, the force enough to throw her into the side wall of the cave. The shove was followed up by a sharp jab to her abdomen, the strike knocking the wind clean out of her.

"Who said you could leave?!" Another hit, this time to her cheek, left her with ringing in her ears. "Don't ever try to run away again!"

Gasping for breath, Cora tried to shift herself to the side. "H-Hiei... please... you're s-sick-" He wrapped his hand around her mouth and jaw, cutting off her pleas and breath at the same time. She grasped at his wrist, digging her nails into his flesh in her desperation to free herself.

"Shut up!" He hissed at her, his eyes wide and dancing with madness. "I'm sick of hearing your voice; of seeing your face! I should have killed you-" His whole body jerked violently, and the madness in his gaze melted into fear and sorrow. Cora collapsed as he ripped himself away from her, his own back slamming into an adjacent spire. Choking on her own blood and spittle, Cora watched warily as Hiei sank down onto his haunches, his hands burying themselves into his hair while cries of despair ripped themselves from his throat. "I'm sorry- it's not true!" He slammed his head back against the spire, the sudden move making Cora nearly jump out of her skin. "I don't- I-" A strangled cry left him before he started repeatedly slamming his head against the stone spire, the ferocity of his actions causing rivers of blood to start flowing from his hair line.

Fear gripped at Cora's chest, his obvious distress pushing her to move towards him. Grasping hold of the sides of his head, she forced him to cease his self mutilation. "Knock it off! You'll kill yourself if you keep that up!" She scolded, before being roughly pushed to the side.

"DON'T TOUCH ME!"


Hiei kept his eyes locked on the elderly man as he hobbled along the wall, his bony fingers tracing one of the many black veins that marked the caves walls. " I'm growing tired of your ramblings old man; just who exactly are you?" Hiei's face shifted into a scowl. "Keep in mind, I'll kill you if I don't find your answer satisfactory."

The old man hummed under his breath, a thoughtful frown coming to his lips. "I have many names; so many, in fact, that I've no doubt forgotten more than I can remember in my old age." He looked over his shoulder, his cloudy amethyst eyes shining clear and bright. "For this encounter, you may call me Shinobu." He turned away then, returning to his close scrutiny of the obsidian vein. "We've met before now; a couple of times."

"I think I would remember meeting such a decrepit old man." Hiei said, scoffing irritably.

"Hahaha, indeed, this is not my true face." Shinobu said, making Hiei's shoulders stiffen. "I took this form in an effort to prevent unnecessary panic; my goal this day is not to cause lasting harm. Simply to teach a lesson to a head strong youth." The old mans eyes settled onto Hiei, their amethyst gaze clear and sharp, the sudden change making Hiei's breath hitch in the back of his throat. " I know a lot about you, Forbidden Child." Shinobu traced the black vein with his finger once again, before pulling away, bringing with it a trail of black smoke and purple flame. Directing the gathering hell fire to the center of the room, it began to form into a sphere, it's center clearing up to reveal a black cavern similar to the one Hiei had first landed in. "In the two times prior that we've met, I've seen all of you. Past-" the image in the sphere shifted to show glimpses of Hiei's past; his mothers face, the bandits the raised him, getting his Jagan, meeting Cora and Kurama. "-present-" again the sphere shifted, this this time showing images from the last week or so. His fight against Zeru, Yukina's arrival to the island, the conversations he'd had with Cora in the shared bathroom- everything up to the moment Cora's look-a-like disintegrated. "- and futures." Thousands of images flashed across the spheres center, going to quickly for Hiei to pick out any one from the horde. And then as quickly as they came, the spheres center shifted back to the black cavern from before.

Shinobu walked around the sphere, his thin lips pulled into a trouble frown. "You are as conflicted as you are strong," another image flickered across the sphere, one of him fighting against Cora's look-a-like. Watching himself killing her from an outsiders perspective made his stomach churn; he'd always wished he could take her out of his misery, but watching said act happening in real time... "Such conflicting thoughts and emotions- actions." Hiei felt his mouth go dry as the images changed again, showing himself in a rather pathetic and distraught state.

He clawed at his own head and face, and shook with visible anguish. When had this happened? He had no memory of such an appalling emotional display on his part, not even in his younger years. "What the hell is that supposed to be? Trying to trick me with false memories old man?" He demanded, making the old mans frown deepen further.

"This... is the manifestation of your conflicted mind." Shinobu said as Hiei watched his own self begin to slam their head against the floor violently...my conflicted mind... another shock came to Hiei when he found himself no longer alone in the spheres image. A battered, heavily bleeding Cora appeared at his side, her hands wrapping around his shoulders to prevent him from causing any further harm to himself. Hiei's brow furrowed in confusion. "Ah, there she is; I was starting to wonder if he had killed her yet." Shinobu said in a whimsical way, making the blood in Hiei's veins go cold. "You know, I was very proud of your resolve before; your inability to take the life of that young woman's own inner turmoil was commendable. You knew, Hiei, that what you were facing was not your flesh and blood companion, and yet you could not bring yourself to take their life. Not consciously, that is; but this woman..." Hiei winced as his conflict, which had seemed to settle against Cora's grasp, suddenly lashed out at her in a violent and belligerent rage. "Even when in fear for her life, not once has the thought of killing you crossed her mind. Terror, anguish, empathy; time and time again, she risks herself in an attempt to appease your conflicted self."

"Your point?" Hiei bit out, thoroughly fed up with the whole situation. Every hit she took shook him to the core; this may not be real, and Cora might be dead, but just the idea that he'd ever stoop so low as to beat her so viciously was enough to make him physically ill. He'd never be so cruel- "...who are you? Why are you showing me all of this?"

Shinobu hummed to himself. "You see Hiei, in order for you to become worthy of the Dragons Hell Fire, you must cure this confliction." He said making Hiei's eyes snap from the sphere and onto Shinobu's withered face. The old man wasn't looking his way, but was watching the happenings in the sphere with a strange solace. "If you go into battle with a conflicted mind, you are sure to lose; and I do not tolerate weakness. The same is true when it comes to conflicts of the soul, and mind; humans call it a "matters of the heart"." Shinobu reached out towards the sphere and ran his fingers down it's surface along the length of Cora's face. "Many believe that matters of the heart are linked only to the human emotion of love, but this is not true. Acceptance and denial, loss and gain, love and hate- all conflict can be traced back to the same phrase, and all living creatures are bound by its laws." The old man turned to gaze upon Hiei now, his wrinkled face set in a stony stare upon the conflicted demons visage. "All who have tried to gain control over the Great Dragon in the past have failed for one reason only; they were unable to conquer their own conflicted selves, and were instead consumed."

Hiei's brow furrowed in frustration; not only did this old man talk to much, but he also liked to talk in riddles, something Hiei wasn't very good at deciphering...where is Kurama when you need him... "And how, prey tell, does one go about conquering their conflict?"

"hmmmmm, I don't know." Shinobu said making Hiei's jaw clench irritably. "Or perhaps a better answer is that I am unable to tell you. But I will ask you this, Hiei; will you accept the conflict of your mind, or will you deny it?"


Cora sat on her knees, her arms shaking at the effort of holding her upper body up as she panted heavily...if this goes on for much longer, I'll die again for sure... peeking out from behind her bangs, she watched as Hiei once again fell into a fit of despair, his mouth open with now silenced screams of agony. He long since lost his voice, his vocal cords no doubt ripped to shreds inside his throat. He looked just as bad as her, if not even a little worse from the self inflicted wounds he insisted on giving himself...speaking of which... Hiei began slamming his forehead against he ground, the harsh treatment causing is Jagan eye to burst behind his bandanna, making her wince.

Mustering up all her remaining strength, Cora hurried to his side as quickly as she could, her shaking arms wrapping around his shoulders and bringing an abrupt halt to his self harm...this is all I can do... "...I'm sorry..." she rasped out, her own throat sore from prolonged use. "I'm sorry I can't help you..." Hiei, who had gone slack against her tensed up at her words, causing Cora to grow tense in return. She held her breath, waiting for the next phase of this vicious cycle; Hiei's attack. A long moment passed between them, the tension in the air so thick that Cora was finding it hard to breath. When Hiei began to move, she nearly jumped out of her skin, ready to take anther hit. But this time, the air was knocked out of her for an entirely different reason; rather than attack her, Hiei wrapped his arms around her in a vice like embrace crushing her against him and burying his face into the side of her throat. Uncertainty gave way to a flood of emotions as she hugged him in return, fresh tears running down her face and into his blood soaked hair.

"...Don't-"

The room around them exploded, sending shards of shattered stone flying through the air and raining down onto Cora and Hiei's heads. The sudden explosion made Cora scream in surprise, her arms coming up to protect both their heads. As the debris settled, Cora felt a shift in Hiei, one that made her pulse quicken in fear. He wasn't breathing. She attempted to push him away from her to get a better look at him, but he wouldn't budge. It was as if he suddenly weighed thousands of pounds, and his skin was ice cold under her hands. Looking down at him as best she could, she felt her own blood run cold. Instead of flesh she found her face reflected back to her in the familiar black stone. Under her shell shocked gaze the stone began to disintegrate, until his hold on her vanished along with his body, leaving behind nothing more than a pile of black dust.

Hysteria isn't something Cora believed herself to be prone to. Hysteria was something reserved for the weak minded, and helpless damsels in distress that needed a white knight to save them from the big bad world. It was not something a strong willed person could fall to; Cora, had been dead wrong. Her breathing came a an abrupt stop, and her limbs felt as though they had been tied down with thousand pound weights. Her ears began to ring, and a white fog began to take over her vision accompanied by an excruciating headache, one that would have no doubt pushed her to tears had she had anymore to shed.


Hiei could hardly believe his eyes. How could something like this even be possible? He'd watched as she'd been devoured by the Black Dragon, had smelt the remnants of her singed flesh in the ring prior to his fight with Bui; so this couldn't possibly be happening. "Another trick," Hiei sneered, tearing his eyes away from yet another Cora look-a-like as his own double began to disintegrate. "Maybe you didn't hear me while I was beating up your first fraud, but you can't fool me. Cora is dead-"

"Oh? Is that so?" Shinobu said, his tone making pricking Hiei's temper. "And yet," he motioned towards Cora and what was left of Hiei's double. Cora hadn't moved an inch, her eyes fixated on the ground and her jaw clenched so tight, it was a wonder her jaw wasn't breaking. Hiei glanced between the two of them wearily; he knew what he saw at the end of her match. But then, if he could survive and end up in this shit hole...

Against his better judgment, Hiei began to approach the motionless demoness, his brow furrowing in confusion as she continued to stare blankly at the floor. Stopping a mere foot from her, Hiei hesitated; she hadn't even glanced his way though he'd made little effort to mask his approach. Glancing back at Shinobu, who was watching the two of them with guarded eyes, Hiei frowned...I shouldn't trust anything this man says... I should just end this now, while this copy cat is distracted... but even as the thought crossed his mind, Hiei faltered. One key difference was making it's self known to him, between the person who sat before him and the double he'd taken down earlier; he could smell her...how could I have over looked it before... that double, it smelled like the cavern... but this one... The most outstanding smell that came from her was blood; she'd retained all the wounds his own double had bestowed upon her. The second was the scent of burning hair, no doubt from when the dragon had eaten her in the first place; it'd need to be cut to rid her of the smell for good. After that a slew of raw emotions rolled off of her in waves, their potency shocking him given her otherwise blank exterior, and the most palpable of all of these emotions being unfathomable pain.

But beneath all of the grim, the sweat, the agony, there was something Hiei could never mistaken for anything but what it was; What if the old man was telling the truth? "...Cora." Calling out to her, his confusion only grew when she failed to respond; could she not hear him?...she must be in shock... "Wake up-!?" Reaching out and grasping hold of her shoulder, Hiei was overwhelmed by a torrent of pain both physical and mental. Every inch of his body screamed in agony, as though each bone had been broken many times over and his skin had been flayed off him in layers. His head and chest exploded with indescribable torment, the combined physical and mental strain proving to much even for him. Wrenching himself away from her with a shout of misery, Hiei was left quivering on his hands and knees, his stomach clenching as if to expel its meager contents. Looking up at the still blank faced Cora, a grimace fell onto his own face as Hiei tried to decipher what had just happened. Where had that come from- a flicker of black and purple flame licking at the shoulder of Cora's Hiei and grabbed made his eyes widen in shock before a feral growl escaped his lips. Snapping his head around Hiei pinned Shinobu with a furious glare. "I don't know what your playing at, but you will release her." Hiei pushed himself onto his feet, pushing the pain to the back of his mind as he readied himself for a fight. "If you've really seen my past then you should know that I hold no qualms over killing those who insist on testing my patients, and you have far exceeded the normal limit."

Shinobu raised his hands as if to say "what", his eyes widening in what anyone else would assume to be panic. "If it were I that had snared her, I would gladly let her go." He said, earning a far darker glare from the fire demon. The old man sighed, his mouth falling into a solemn frown. "Though once again you have proven yourself quite strong willed to be able to ignore such an intense pain-" Raising his arm, Shinobu grabbed Hiei's ankle as said demon took a shot at him. Hiei's eyes widened in minute shock; despite Shinobu's weak appearance, he managed to hold his ground against the strong attack, not so much as stumbling in his train of thought. "- but as I said. It is not my influence that holds her captive." His grip tightened around Hiei's ankle before he flipped said demon through the air and onto the ground, causing Hiei to have the wind knocked out of him. Shinobu stood over top of Hiei, his cloudy amethyst eyes once again clear and piercing. "If you wish to free her, than you must be the one to do so; if you wish to wield the Black Dragon, you must prove your conviction here and now." Shinobu pointed towards Cora, his tone growing harsh and demanding. "Accept the consequences of your conflicted mind; if you cannot do so, than you are not worthy of the Dragon's respect and power!"

Hiei grunted as he rolled over, once again finding himself on his knees...What he's saying... it is not as simple as- Hiei looked down at the palm of his hand curiously, finding the smallest hint of a dwindling purple flame resting against his skin. Glancing over at the stock still Cora, he was hit with a realization; if he wanted to get them out of there, he was going to have to suffer; after all, it was his fault they were there in the first place.

"If you cannot make up your mind, you will die here boy." Shinobu said, his tone filled with the promise of death.

With a scoff Hiei got back onto his feet. "Like I give a damn what happens to me." He said as he made his way back over to Cora, kneeling down before her. She was silent and as unmoving as she had been before, her normally vibrant blue eyes dulled to the world around her. Part of him wondered what she was seeing that he couldn't; was it a nightmare? Or was she simply in a trance like state, the inside of her mind a black void... "But I won't allow you to make her, or anyone else for that matter suffer for my short comings." Hiei's brow furrowed as the guilt he felt before he entered the ring came rushing back. "...I won't allow her to be held down by anyone's chains; not even my own."

Shinobu hummed under his breath. "That's a large promise to make; are you sure you can keep your word?"

Hiei looked at the old man out of the corner of his eye. "If I go back on my word... kill me." Before Shinobu could delay him any further, Hiei grabbed the back of Cora's head and pulled her towards him until their foreheads connected. Once again Hiei was assaulted with wave after wave of unbearable pain. But bear it he did, even as his body started to feel as though it would turn to dust. Incredible heat surrounded him, and his pulse raced within his own ears but still he held on, anchoring himself with his partners familiar, and soothing scent.


Gasp's and shouts of shock slammed into Hiei almost as hard as the ground beneath his feet. The pain he'd felt before was gone though he could still feel his fingers curled around tendrils of hair, and smell the scent of his partner breath on his face. Heat still surrounded them, though it was quickly dissipating. Opening his tightly clenched eyes, the first thing Hiei saw was Cora's blue eyes staring back at him, their vibrancy catching him by surprise. "...hey..." she said, her voice rough from over use and no doubt heat damage.

"...hey." He said in response before moving back from her enough to look around himself. He couldn't help the shocked sound that left his throat; they were back in the stadium, both kneeling in the center of the destroyed ring. Bui, still lacking his armor, stared at the two of them with open disbelief.

"I- I can't believe what I'm seeing with my own eyes!" Koto shouted into her mic, her voice echoing loudly in the predominantly silent stadium. "H-Hiei's not only returned from the clutches of death, but- he's not alone!"

Hiei allowed the shock to melt from his face... so, time moves that much faster there... a tug on the front of his tank top brought his attention back down to Cora; she still looked a mess, sporting many of the injuries she obtained during her fight against his double.

"Hiei... I think I'm... gonna go to sleep..." No sooner had the words left her mouth than did she fall unconscious, with Hiei catching her around the waist, being mindful of her many injuries.

Standing with Cora hugged to his side, her left arm pulled over his shoulder Hiei shot Bui a pointed look. "Surely you don't mind waiting a bit longer." Bui didn't respond, his shock still rocking him to the core even as Hiei passed right by him.

"Ladies and gentle demons, in all my years refereeing this Tournament, I have to say this is a first!" Koto said, her shock wearing away into blatant enthusiasm. "Not only has Hiei returned in time to continue his match with Bui, but it seems he was also able to pull his teammate, Cora, straight from the gates of hell! I LOVE IT!"


Yukina, who had been worrying her lower lip almost to the point of bleeding, shot out of her seat as if struck by a bolt of lightning. "Oh! It's Cora!" She exclaimed, tears of joy gathering in the corners of her eyes. "She's alive!"

Shizuru brow furrowed in worry when she noticed that the young Meimu demon wasn't walking on her own. "She doesn't look so good- hey! Yukina!" Shizuru, Keiko and Botan all stood up and called out to the ice maiden in shock as she suddenly took to the stairs, running as fast as her kimono would allow her.

"I'll get her-" Botan said, taking off at a sprint after Yukina who had made it half way to the arena's edge. "Yukina, come back! It's not safe-?!" Botan's shouts of worry were silenced as she watched in horror as a particularly large demon stood and blocked Yukina's path, his scared up face split into a sinister smile. "Ah! Hold on Yukina-"

"PLEASE MOVE!" Botan nearly fell head over heels when Yukina hardly even paused, her aura flaring up and causing ice to form around the demons feet. Yukina shuffled around him, giving off a rather rushed apology before continuing on her way.

"Ah-umm- wait up!" Botan called, also skipping her way around the dumb struck demon who remained frozen to the stair way.

"Kazuma!" Yukina shouted, making the orange haired teens head whip this way and that until he looked back to see her coming down the stairs.


"Holy shit..." Yusuke said, effectively summing up what the rest of his team was feeling; Hiei was alive. "I- HOLY SHIT!" Seeing Hiei heading towards them with Cora hanging limply at his side, Yusuke and the rest of team Urameshi rushed to the side of the ring to greet him. "You- she- you're alive!"

Kuwabara sniffed once, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes as he watched Hiei hand the unconscious Cora over to an almost frantic Kurama. "I knew it- see?! Didn't I tell you guys?! I knew she would make it-"

"Kazuma!"

Kuwabara's ears perked up at the calling of his first name; there was only one person apart from his sister that called him that. Turning around, he spotted the love of his life heading towards the railing that separated the arena floor from the stands, her brows knitted together in worry. "Huh? Yukina? What are you-AH!" Much to the shock of everyone, Yukina climbed over the railing and jumped towards Kuwabara, who very quickly moved to catch her, the two spinning a couple times. After getting Yukina steady on her feet, Kuwabara held her at arms length with a panicked expression. "Jeeze, what-"

"I-I'm sorry!" She said, her hands clutching at his forearms. "I... I just..." She looked over Kuwabara's arm, and when he saw where she was looking he gave a heavy sigh.

"It's alright babe; come on." Taking her by the hand he lead her over to where Kurama was now kneeling down beside Cora, a worried look on his face.

Yukina detached herself from Kuwabara and came to Cora's other side, taking the young demons hand into her own. "Cora..." Despite her less than favorable physical state, Yukina felt instant relief flood through her as she held her friends hand. Looking up she locked her teary eyes on Hiei, who had yet to turn back to finish his match, his eyes trained hard on the unconscious females face. "Thank you." Yukina said, making Hiei's eyes lock with her own, confusion apparent in his gaze. "I know you didn't save her for our sake, but thank you..."

Hiei felt the all to familiar pang of guilt strike his chest. "Hn..."...don't thank me for this...

"-w-what- explain this?!" From across the ring, Bui had managed to recover from his shock, but was now shaking in outrage. All of Team Urameshi looked his way, with Hiei turning to face him once more. Bui's went ridged as he locked eyes with the fire demon; something had changed.

Hiei stepped forward, ready to continue their match. "Let's finish this." He said, making the crowd erupt in excitement.

Kurama glanced uncertainty up at Hiei's back before turning back to Yukina, capturing the Ice Maidens attention. "We need to get her somewhere safe- it doesn't look like she came back unscathed."

Yusuke snorted. "Yeah, no shit! She looks like she played chicken with a buss and lost!"

Koenma rolled his eyes. "Tactful-hm?"

"Koenma-sir!" Botan, who had been following after Yukina, jumped over the railing to join them, her face beat red and her breast heaving as she tried to regain her breath. "I-I'm sorry sir- I didn't know she was going to do that, and then I just kind of followed her- she's pretty fast for a girl in a Kimono-"

"Botan! BOTAN!" Koenma shouted, making the grim reaper pause in her panicked rant. "It's quite alright; in fact, I'm glad you're here! Yukina, you too; I need the two of you to take Cora; she needs medical attention, stat!"

Botan clicked her heels together and saluted him. "Sir, yes Sir!" Botan looked down at Cora, a deep from pulling at her lips when she saw the poor state the poor Meimu was in. Kneeling down she let Kurama help her haul the much smaller girl onto her shoulder. "Come on Yukina; lets move to a safer location." Yukina stood and nodded in agreement, following after Botan and giving another glance over her shoulder at the two fighters in the ring. "We should probably take her to the locker room; if we hurry that serum that Clayton gave her will still be active, so we may actually get to heal her a bit-" Botan glanced over her shoulder, catching the look of uncertainty that marred Yukina's gentle face. "Hm? What's wrong Yukina?"

Jumping at the sound of her name, Yukina shifted her gaze from the floor up to Botan's face. "Oh, it's just..." looking over her shoulder once again, her eyes trained on Hiei's back. "...He... he looks wrong."


With every step Hiei took Bui took one in retreat, keeping the distance between himself and the fire demon constant. This wasn't right; he'd watched Hiei die with his own eyes! Then how- "What's the matter? We can continue where we left off." A smirk worked its way onto Hiei face, the sight of Bui's trepidation enthralling to say the least. "Try not to disappoint me. I'd hate to waste the first use of my new attack on a weak opponent."


Yusuke rubbed the back of his neck uncertainty, his face scrunched up in confusion. "New attack? Does he mean..."

"You can feel it, can't you?" Kurama said making the other three give him surprised looks. "The Dragon; it's energy is still very active despite not being visible to us. It would seem that Hiei has learned what no other before him has; how to obtain control over the darkness flame." Unease settled into Kurama's gut. "Now the Dragon is part of him, and at his complete disposal; even Bui must accept what that means."


Hiei's energy skyrocketed, it's massive size weighing down heavily on the shoulders of everyone in the stadium. Bui blanched under it's might, a cold sweat breaking out over his skin...don't be frightened... he thought to himself, his jaw tensing painfully...even if he has contained the dark flame within his body, it's still isn't stronger than my battle aura... Not wanting to give Hiei that time to charge up his next attack, Bui went on the offensive, leaping into the air and pushing all he could into his battle aura.

A pensive sigh left Hiei as he witnessed the fear driven attack coming his way. "Right-" Bui slammed his fist into Hiei's cheek with everything he had, effectively knocking said fire demons head to the side. When no other part of Hiei so much as budged, however, Bui took a few shocked steps back. "Nice." Hiei said, leveling Bui with an apathetic stare, his dismissal of Bui's strength sending a shock wave of doubt through the much larger fighters body.

Overcome by panic, Bui went on a rampage, hitting Hiei with his bare hands and feet over and over again. Hiei took all the hits in stride, his stance remaining firm and his face keeping the same empathetic gaze; he was not impressed. Bui, who was beginning to tire, might as well have been hitting a brick wall at this point.

"Bui unloads like an angry toddler in a therapy session, but it appears that Hiei is absolutely unaffected!" Koto said, causing the outrage of the remaining crowd to reach a new level.

Shouting his own outrage, Bui changes up his attack by grabbing Hiei by the head and swinging him up into the air. Following after the air born demon, Bui unleashes another torrent of attacks, with one kick hitting so hard that it caused Hiei to become embedded in the ceiling of the stadium. Prying the fire demon from the ceiling, Bui used all his strength to throw Hiei back down where he slammed into the ring, leaving a massive whole in what was left of the arena. Panting heavily, Bui too landed back in the ring only to let out a strangled gasp when he found Hiei not only standing, but completely unharmed. Moving in, Bui aimed to strike Hiei once again. With little effort Hiei grabbed Bui's fist, stopping his attack mid air. A spike in Hiei's energy made Bui gasp, his own battle aura suddenly dwindling to nothing.

"Insane! Hiei actually sucked away Bui's Battle Aura, the secret of all his power!" Koto said.

Hiei stepped up to the kneeling Bui, an unenthused frown on his lips. "Come now, are you even trying?" He taunted, growing tired of this one sided match.

Bui, though obviously woozy from having his aura stolen, let out a fierce battle cry as he once again rushed Hiei. Unfortunately for him, his time was up. Hiei struck Bui with a single blow, knocking the warrior into the air and through the stadium's ceiling. Following after him with ease, Hiei slammed his fist into the back of Bui's head, sending him falling back into the stadium where he crashed into the crowd of spectators. Hiei landed soon after, his eyes trained on Bui's unmoving visage. In the background he could hear Juri starting her count, but he paid her little mind; he could easily return to the ring before the ten count was up-

"Finish...me..." Bui's soft spoken words brought a small scowl to Hiei's face. "The first time Toguro beat me, he told me I had the potential to get stronger. " Bui's blue eyes became distant, as if he was looking at something that only he could see. "He was right; it took someone like him to show me how weak I truly was-"

"4!"

"-He kept me at his side while I trained hard to beat him. But as I got stronger, so did he... and I know I've reached my max." Gritting his teeth, Bui clutched at the pulverizes concreat beneath himself. "I'm sure he used his own strength as a bait to keep me improving... but now, you've beaten me, so what's the point? So come one, hurry up and kill me-"

"Hn. No." Hiei bit out, making Bui's eyes widen in shock...to think, I'd have to say this twice in one day... "If you want to die so badly, then kill yourself."

"-8!"

Hiei, having heard Juri's eight count, flitted back into the ring his hands stuffed loosely into the pockets of his pants. "I don't do mercy killings and I don't take orders, especially from those I beat."

"And 10!" Juri's exuberant shout was almost drowned out by the growing unrest of the crowd, their displeasure at the matches outcome reverberating against what remained of the stadiums shell. "The match is over! Hiei takes the point for Team Urameshi!"

Hiei wasted little time leaving the ring, the strain of that days events starting to weigh heavily on his shoulders. He was greeted by an ecstatic Yusuke and Kurama, while Kuwabara and Koenma hung back nervously.

Kuwabara waved his hands restlessly, a cold sweat beading along his brow. "H-hey, this is a no dragon man zone, okay?!"

"Really awesome Hiei." Yusuke congratulated him, with Hiei hardly nodding in acknowledgment.

"Yeah, awesome- why don't you go about twenty yards the other way and take care of the rest of them!" Kuwabara pointed over to those who were left of Team Toguro, his hand shaking ever so slightly.

Hiei's nose wrinkled irritably, not in the least bit impressed with the ape's cowardice. "That's against the rules now you cretin. Besides, my attack's expired." He flexed his fingers in an attempt to ward off the on setting numbness. Yusuke and Kuwabara gave each other curious looks, making Hiei have to hold back an eye roll. "I don't know if your pathetic brains can even comprehend that amount of energy this match has drained-" he paused, yawning rather loudly making Yusuke and Kuwabara's eyes widen to the size of dinner plates, their mouths slack at the uncharacteristic action. "-I'll require some hibernation to get it back. Think you can managing finding a place for my body so it wont get stepped on?"

"Did- did you just say, hibernate?" Yusuke scratched the back of his head, clearly confused by the seeming nonsense his normally stoic team mate was spouting.

Kuwabara sniffed, his brows pulling together in annoyance. "Fancy word for being lazy."

Hiei sneered at them, his arm coming up so that he could put his finger into Yusuke's face making the troublesome teen go cross eyed. "Listen to me as closly as you can you two- I'm trusting you against my better instincts only because I have no other choice. "He dropped his hand, his face going slack as he felt the claws of sleep digging further into his limbs. "Take care of the Toguro Brothers. If I wake up, and we've lost, I swear I will...kill... all o-of- youuu." Unable to fight off his bodies need for rest, Hiei fell over backwards with a loud thump. Upon his landing, Yusuke and Kuwabara hurried over to get a close look at him.

"Holy crap, he wasn't joking..." Kuwabara said as Yusuke stared to laugh heartily.

"Jeeze, and another shrimp bites the dust!" Yusuke said, with Kuwabara joining in on his laughter. "That's Hiei for you though- on the brink of fainting, but he still has time for death threats!"

Kuwabara poked Hiei in the foot, his brows shooting up to meet his hair line. "Hold on! So nothing we do will wake him up?" Kurama and Yusuke both laughed, with Kurama trying hard to hide his behind his closed fist.

Koenma watched the four youths crowd around their unconscious member, their spirits lifted for a brief moment in time. Looking down upon Hiei, Koenma couldn't help the small frown the fell onto his lips... not long ago he was on a streak of terror... if he'd had this power then...

Kuwabara reached into his coat pocket and produced a black pen. "Can I give him a mustache?"

"Hahaha! Only if you want him to make good on his latest death threat!" Yusuke slapped Kuwabara on the shoulder with nearly made him fall onto Hiei.

Kurama shook his head, a light smile still gracing his face. "It'd probably be best if we leave him alone." Kuwabara scratched the back of his neck sheepishly, a rousing laugh escaping him.