"Can I ask you something, Koenma-sama?"
"Of course, Botan."
"Can you please let go of my kimono sleeve?"
Koenma, in his handsome teenage form, glared daggers at the ferry girl. He moved his hand nonchalantly and clasped it with the other behind his back. "I wasn't holding your kimono sleeve, Botan," he said, and strode on ahead without waiting for an answer.
Botan stuck out her tongue behind his back. Sighing a little, she followed him, holding the folds of her kimono with one hand so that it wouldn't get snagged on the underbrush. Flying on her oar would be much more preferable, but practically impossible in this tangled Makai jungle.
"Are you coming?" her boss sounded annoyed.
"Yes, Koenma-sama!" She caught up with him and they ventured deeper into the jungle. After a few minutes of silence, she whispered, "This is giving me the creeps, Koenma-sama."
"Botan, why are you whispering?" Koenma whispered back.
"I don't know," she said, in an even lower whisper. "Why is it so dark here? It's afternoon, isn't it? Shouldn't it be brighter? Where's the sun? What's that noise?!"
"Botan, shut up," Koenma snapped in a normal tone of voice. He was about to say something else, but a loud crashing sound interrupted him. Botan shrieked.
The apparition that greeted them was a creature half of woman and half of snake. It reared up, its head towering above them, a forked tongue slithering out between needle-like teeth. "Well," it said, hissing, "What have we here?"
Botan tried to hide behind Koenma, who was trying not to look as if he was going to wet his pants at any minute. "Nure onna," he managed at last, and was gratified to hear that his voice didn't tremble too much. "What are you doing so far away from your dwelling place?"
"But there isss a river here," it replied. A truly scary grin was beginning to appear on its face. "They look nice," it went on, "Very tasssty. Very tasssty indeed."
Koenma backed up a step. "Now look here," he began, "I'm the son of Enma Daioh..."
"It chattersss," hissed the snake-woman. "It boresss."
"Botan," Koenma whispered.
They spun on their heels as one and took off. They ran as fast as their legs could carry them, ducking under branches and leaping over fallen trees, but the crashing sound of pursuit behind them were getting nearer and nearer. Suddenly, Koenma tripped and fell head-first onto the ground. "Aarrgghhh!"
He turned around, just in time to see rows and rows of fanged teeth closing in on him.
He closed his eyes, flinging up his arms in a futile but automatic attempt to shield himself from the dripping fangs. He heard a loud roar, and then... nothing.
The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes were patches of sky between dense clusters of swaying leaves. Then he shifted his line of sight slightly to the left and saw Botan holding a broken oar. He sat up.
"I broke my oar!" Botan wailed.
The nure onna lay slumped in a heap at his feet. At seeing that, reality slowly returned to him and he breathed a sigh of relief.
Botan was still wailing. He frowned at her. "Botan, it was either your oar or me. Help me up."
He dusted himself off once on his feet. "Well, that was a close-"
There was a rustle behind him, and he froze.
"Look who dropped by for a visit."
The voice was familiar - almost - but the soft, slow laughter that followed wasn't. There was the sound of steel being leisurely drawn from its sheath. Koenma swallowed and turned around, warily.
"What does the little Reikai prince want?"
"Hiei, I... the Reikai needs your help." Koenma narrowed his eyes, trying to spot the fire demon, but he saw only shadows.
"I feel like killing Reikai princes today. Give me one reason why I should not." A smile was in the voice and Koenma swallowed again.
"The three worlds are in danger," he said, hurriedly, "They'll be destroyed, everything will be destroyed if we don't do something. There's-"
"Oops," came the voice again, interrupting his speech. "Wrong reason."
Koenma froze. There was a moment of utter silence, and then something - too fast for his eyes to detect - hit his chest and knocked him over on his back. As his breath left his body in a long whoosh, he saw the flash of a katana glinting in the sunlight, and a crazy thought came to him, Who do gods pray to when we're about to die?
He screamed a name.
The blade halted an inch from his throat. He tried not to breathe.
Okay, time to talk fast. "I have information about him, about Kurama. About his death eighteen years ago. If you agree to help me, if you agree, I will give you that information. I have given my word not to give that knowledge to anyone, but I will break it. If you agree to help me."
The silence seemed to last for several eternities. Finally, Hiei spoke, leaning in close so that they were eye to eye. "If you are lying..." He let the threat hang unspoken.
"I'm not lying," Koenma said, trying to look into the hard red eyes without flinching.
The katana was removed from his throat. He finally started to breathe again.
August 99 (uploaded Nov 99)