Chapter 1: winner take all
Disclaimer: After reading this, you’ll probably be glad I don’t own Inuyasha...
WARNINGS: This is a darkfic, not a romance. Sesshoumaru is not ever going to be a good guy in this. Anything that looks like affection on Kagome’s part is Stockholm Syndrome, nothing more. May contain disturbing imagery, non-explicit non-con interactions, violence, death, suicidal angst, etc.
Author’s note: With this I wanted to see if I could write a convincing dark/horror story featuring Sess and Kags. Updates may be a little random since I’ve got other projects to contend with, but comments/concrit/encouragement certainly help feed the muse. ;)
S t a s i s
– 1 –
.winner take all.
It is easy, she thinks, to forget one enemy in the presence of another.
Easy to remember again, once that enemy is gone.
Naraku lies in scattered pieces over the wreckage of Edo village. The air is foul with his poison. The ground is awash with his blood. But he is dead. The battle is over.
In vain, she waits for some sense of victory to find her. But it, too, lies scattered, lost amid the glassy stares of her fallen friends and allies.
In the end, only three remain. She, and Inuyasha, and him.
She is kneeling in the blood-churned earth, too weak even to stand. Her bow rests useless at her side, its string snapped clean in the final killing blow.
Before her, Inuyasha leans heavily against his sword, likewise exhausted.
Sesshoumaru alone stands fully upright. His armor is cracked. His pale hair and clothes are stained and torn, yet he more than any of the others looks the part of conquering warrior.
Stoic and regal, he strides forward into the heart of the carnage, where the completed Jewel looms dark and sinister in Naraku’s severed hand.
The moment he takes it in his claws, she remembers.
"The prized trinket of half-bloods and lesser beings," he says to himself, though to her the sneer in his voice is louder than anything she’s ever heard. "But perhaps I have a use for it yet."
"Hey…what the hell do you think you’re doing?" Inuyasha is calling out as he straightens.
Sesshoumaru glances back, the gilded surface of his gaze cool and reflective.
"Well done, little brother," he replies, his voice dripping condescension as he unsheathes his sword. "Perhaps now, at last, you have proven yourself worthy of my full attention."
No, she thinks, no.
The second time it leaves her as a scream.
They lock swords, but the battle is short and one-sided. Bakusaiga is the superior weapon, its master the superior swordsman. He cleaves a gaping hole in his younger brother’s chest, one which even his hanyou defenses cannot hope to mend.
Inuyasha slumps to the ground, broken, and she shatters with him.
Inside her, a roaring din of pain and sadness eclipses even her own keening cries.
No, no, no…oh gods, no…please no…
Sobbing, she crawls toward him through the muck and her despair. Her hands and knees slip through Sango’s blood, slice open against one of Kirara’s busted fangs.
She reaches for him as he reaches for her.
Sesshoumaru drags her to her feet by her hair, tilts her chin up with the flat of his vile sword. In his iron grip she struggles and whimpers, her scalp a mass of blinding agony.
Inuyasha stares up at her in dim horror, fingers twitching toward Tessaiga even as the corruption spreads.
"Don’t worry, half-breed," Sesshoumaru consoles him mockingly as he sheathes his blade, "I’m not going to kill her."
The heel of his boot comes down hard on Inuyasha’s searching fingers.
"Tessaiga belongs to me now," he continues calmly as his brother chokes in pain, "and I’ll need a human at hand when I choose to wield it.
"Mine is lost, it seems." His free hand smoothes up over her chest. Roughly, he squeezes her through the ruin of her shirt. "But yours, I think, will do nicely."
"You monster!" she seethes, trying to pry loose his hold. But it is hopeless. She is hopeless.
He releases her to retrieve something from inside his haori. It is the Shikon no Tama. When she reaches for it, his other arm bands hers tightly against her sides.
In his palm, the bruised light of the Jewel deepens to black.
"Unlike you, Inuyasha, I will not be giving up what I have won this day." His voice lowers as the orb begins to pulse and flare. "Not ever."
As the last light fades from his brother’s eyes, as the dark magic of his wish engulfs her body and soul, he turns her and crushes his mouth to hers.
And she screams.
Chapter 2: a matter of honor
– 2 –
.a matter of honor.
She has never hated anyone. Not even Naraku. If anything, she pitied him for what he was. For what he became.
But she thinks she might hate him.
Inuyasha’s eyes stare at her endlessly, glazed and still. It makes her heart sick to look upon them, but she cannot tear her gaze away.
“Bring him back,” she whispers, trembling. “Please…you can…please…”
“I could,” his voice replies smoothly behind her. “I could revive all your companions.”
But you won’t, she realizes in that moment of pause. Bitter and heavy, the knowledge settles in her throat.
“…But how would that benefit me?”
His words brush her cheek in a warm caress, and she shudders.
“I-I’ll give you whatever you want…” Her tongue darts out to lick at her dry, cracked lips. “Do whatever you want…just please…bring them back.”
And, now, she hates herself as well.
He scoffs. Silver-white hair swirls as he steps around her and plucks Tessaiga from the mud.
“It is no use,” he says, wiping the filthy blade against the sleeve of Inuyasha’s red haori, “to bargain with what is already mine.”
She knows she should hold her tongue. But the sight of him cleaning Inuyasha’s own sword against the arm of his corpse fills her with sudden rage. Her hands ball to fists at her sides.
“I don’t belong to anyone, least of all a sick jerk like you.”
The hand that strikes her face is so swift she hardly sees it.
She staggers. The blow had little force behind it, but in her weakened state it still sends her plummeting to the sodden ground.
“You do belong to me,” he states coolly as he looks down upon her. Beneath the hard glint, something else glimmers in the shadowed depths of his eyes. “And you would do well to accept it.”
She would rather die.
Clutching her stinging cheek, she glares up at him in undisguised loathing.
If only, she thinks, her bowstring hadn’t snapped.
“What about Rin?”
His gaze hardens still. “What about her?”
“You brought her back,” she says, her voice gaining strength. “How could she have ‘benefited you’?—she was just a little girl. But you brought her back all the same.”
He crouches down before her. There is a smile on his lips as he catches her chin between his fingers.
It is humorless. Cold.
“It pleased me to return her to life,” he answers. The pad of his thumb strokes across her lower lip, and she flinches. “It would not please me to resurrect that infuriating stain on my house, nor your fallen comrades, who would no doubt prove themselves a nuisance over my ownership of you.” His smile deepens. “Particularly the wolf.”
Her eyes stray to his unmoving form. Even in death he looks fearless and proud.
She envies him.
Desperation strangles her voice. She clasps his stony hand in both of hers. Her eyes brim. The image of his face trembles and, mercifully, obscures.
“How would it benefit me?” he demands of her again.
“It…your honor…?” When he says nothing, she tries again: “Y-your soul? Inuyasha is your brother…”
“Was,” he corrects her, his breath ghosting over her lips. “But those are feeble reasons, both. What honor is there in restoring a bunch of humans and weaklings, who brought death upon themselves through their own meddlesome interference? As for the ‘soul’ of which you speak, I have little concern.”
Wholeheartedly, she believes him.
Hot and fast, her anger burns through the film of her tears.
“You have no right to judge them. They had more cause than you to hate Naraku. And all of them fought harder and longer against him.”
He hauls her up by the arm as he rises. Almost tenderly, he combs back her sweaty bangs with his claws.
“I have every right,” he tells her in an even tone. “I alone hold the power over life and death, the sword that breaches the boundary between earth and the netherworld.”
A sword that was given to you, she thinks but does not dare to say. A power you don’t deserve.
“And I deem them unworthy.”
The eyes trapping hers are two dark yellow pools of death. How had she ever found them beautiful?
“Kill me,” she softly says.
The words are empty.
There is nothing left.
When he gathers her up, she is weightless.
“No,” he tells her as he begins to walk away.
The smirk he wears carves her out like a fleshing knife.
“This Sesshoumaru has given his word.”
Beyond his shoulder, her hollow eyes see a crow land in Inuyasha’s hair. Little black feet scrape against the silvery fur of an ear as the crow cocks its head to the side and regards her beadily in return.
Then it lowers a sable beak to the golden eyes she loves, and heartlessly rips them out.
Chapter 3: nightmares and realities
– 3 –
.nightmares and realities.
Exhaustion snares her in its jagged claws, drags her down into a fitful sleep.
In her dreams, one horror bleeds into the next.
She stands alone in a darkened place.
There are no walls, no ceilings. She cannot even see the floor. Naked and fearful, she clutches herself and moves forward—or what she thinks is forward—into the abyss.
The fathomless space around her contracts and expands. But apart from the shifting blackness there is nothing.
She wanders in growing dread. She suspects she has lost her way.
She suspects there is no way.
A sudden noise pierces her ears. An animal call.
It sounds like raucous laughter.
Black wings sweep past her face. In comparison to them, the surrounding darkness is pale.
The crow alights before her. From its beak dangles a sticky string of red.
“G-go away,” she stammers in terror and revulsion. “Shoo! Go away.”
The bird turns slowly, fixes her with its Eye. She catches a glimmer of gold before its neck snaps back at a hideous angle.
Its beak twitches open. Her name rasps out.
You thought you could be rid of Me , a Voice calls after her from the void.
Her footfalls are heavy and sluggish. The rustle of feathers is close behind her.
She shuts her eyes. She covers her ears and screams.
“Stay away from me! Leave me ALONE!”
She stumbles to her knees.
Her legs struggle to rise, but the tar beneath her sucks her down. It grasps at her ankles and wrists, and she is sinking.
The darkness chokes her as it rushes in, and now she sees that it is not really darkness at all—but light.
Light that has taken on the color of his soul.
She emerges onto the battlefield.
It is high noon. Naraku’s strewn tentacles fester in the sun. The red earth is baked and fractured.
Her friends lie within the cracks.
“We have won,” Miroku says. Blood dribbles from the corner of his pale, smiling lips.
“Yes,” Sango agrees softly, her entrails glistening beside her in the light.
Across the blasted ground, two battered hands meet.
She can feel something tugging at the hem of her jeans.
“Mama…Mama, are you proud of me?”
Shippo’s dull green eyes gaze up at her from a shallow pit. Half of his fluffy tail is buried in the dirt.
She leans down and kisses him on the brow.
“Of course I am, Shippo-chan,” she whispers against his icy skin. A small smile pulls at her lips. “More than proud.”
When she looks up again, the hateful crow has returned. It hops about near Shippo’s tail, pecking at the tip.
“Don’t you touch him!” she cries out in hurt and anger, snatching the limp boy up in her arms.
There is a wet shredding sound as his tail rips away from the rest of his body. Ribbons of crimson flesh trail in its wake.
“No,” she moans in anguish, “no…”
The crow dances around the grisly shreds.
Its head jerks back as it swallows them down.
Numb, she lays the rest of him before her and slowly backs away.
Her shoulder smacks the wooden frame of Kaede’s hut. Hugging the wall behind her, she slides past the noren curtain and into her own bedroom in Tokyo.
Inuyasha is perched at the edge of her quilt, staring at the clock on her wall.
She sits down behind him on the bed, slides her arms around his chest. The frayed edge of his haori tickles her fingers.
“I love you,” he tells her in a rattling voice.
She whimpers, clinging tighter. Her face nestles into the silky fall of his hair.
A soft, wet patter on her wrist has her drawing back.
She touches her fingertips to his damp cheek, murmuring, “Please, don’t cry—”
“Don’t you see what he’s done?” The words that interrupt her are furious, strained.
He turns toward her, and she gasps in fright.
His left cheek bears a gruesome red smear. From the empty sockets of his eyes, blood trails in thick, clotting streams.
He reaches for her with broken black claws.
“Don’t you see?”
Her eyes fly open.
The instant they land on him, she wishes she could return.
He is holding her in the crook of his arm. The side of her face is pressing against his unarmored chest. After a few bewildered moments, she realizes that the warm soft something wrapped around her is his pelt.
It is nighttime, and they are sitting together on the floor of a small cave. Through the narrow opening, she can see the falling rain.
It smells to her like despair.
“Let go of me,” she says, attempting to escape his hold. She would prefer a blanket of needles to his touch.
He tightens his grip.
“You were thrashing in your sleep.”
“I was dreaming,” she responds through gritted teeth.
Her meager strength soon abandons her, and she collapses against him. Her lashes flutter over a lock of silver hair.
She can feel him studying her with his cold yellow eyes. Resolutely, she glances away.
“What were you dreaming of?” he asks her after a while.
Her first, better, instinct is to say nothing. But the spite in her wants him to know.
She raises her face toward his.
“My friends,” she answers in a hard voice. “Inuyasha.”
His gaze flickers, yet his expression remains as stony as hers.
“You loved them.”
It does not sound like a question, so she does not dignify it with a response, despite the painful swelling of her heart.
Love, she laments within. Love, not loved.
It is the only truth she knows.
It is the only thing she has left, and it is devouring her from the inside.
“I wish I had died with them,” she confesses on a sigh.
Lids slide shut over her haunted eyes.
The point of a claw traces down her temple, dents a path along her cheek. He teaches her another truth.
“It would have made no difference.”
Chapter 4: knife's edge
– 4 –
The noise continues in a tireless metronome.
Pitter-patter. Pitter-patter. Pitter-patter…
It is the sound of water on stone, of blood on skin, of heart in chest. A weak sound, a dismal sound.
A funeral sound.
Each drop is a note in their requiem. Each strike a hammer blow to her crumbling sanity. And she listens to each one in helpless captivation, as she stares out into the grey.
Random thoughts enter her mind, then slip by like the rain through her fingers. She is ill-equipped to seize any one of them for long.
Souta’s birthday is coming up, she remembers. I promised Mama I’d help her pick out a gift.
Do high school admissions staff take medical history into account?
Sango would have looked so lovely in her wedding kimono…
The man I love is dead.
“Come back inside,” a cool voice slices through the muddle.
Her wet hand recedes from the opening of the fissure, falls listlessly to her lap. Propped up against the cold wall of the cave, she has almost forgotten the monster at her back.
Like a leash, the sound of her name pulls her inexorably toward him, and she turns, considering him over her shoulder.
His form and face are shadowed, his ochre eyes gleaming in the dark. Against the pale fur of his pelt, the violent slashes across his wrist stand out in stark relief, and she is grateful for the distinction.
There is no humanizing him this way, no mistaking him for what he truly is:
Demon. Killer. Perfector of death.
The name leaves her lips like a muttered curse, and his gaze narrows.
“You will address me with respect.”
A short, bitter laugh escapes her. She returns her attention to the grey world beyond.
“I don’t feel any respect toward you.”
There is a swish of silk as he stands. Though she cannot hear his footsteps, she can sense him approaching her, his malevolent aura smothering her spirit like smoke to the lungs.
Clawed fingertips sweep her hair to the side, and her spine stiffens in wariness. Her nails carve muddy crescents into her thighs.
“What you feel is of no consequence to me,” he assures her, his icy whisper stirring the fine hairs on the back of her bared neck. The fingers that exposed it return to her mass of tangled locks, scratch sharply at her scalp as they delve deeper in. “I am your lord and master, and you will know your place.”
He leans forward. His lips brush the shell of her ear, his words low and dark with promise: “In time, you may even come to feel it as well.”
She lurches to her feet. A few strands of her hair rip against his claws.
Facing him, she begins to back away through the opening of the cave. Her throat is dry. Her eyes are hot and damp and stinging with anguish.
“I could never feel anything toward you but anger and disgust,” she says through the mulish clench of her jaw. She slants her arms across her chest, digs her shaking fingers into the torn sleeves of her shirt. “I…I despise you!”
He is still kneeling just inside the entrance, watching her in predatory stillness.
“Come here,” he orders her in a soft, warning tone. “Now.”
“No!” she chokes out, shaking her head as she continues to retreat. Her shoes splash through a shallow pool in the rock. “I’m not one of your subjects—I’m not your possession. I don’t have to do what you say!”
To this, he says nothing, his mouth a hard thin line.
One heel slips off the sharp end of the ledge, and she sways, nearly losing her balance. Heart pounding, she cranes her neck, watches a few chips of slate plummet over the side of the cliff toward the treetops far, far below.
She swallows and glances back at him. He has risen to his feet, but he makes no move to advance. She notices now that his youkai clothes have mended, yet the bloody stains remain.
Behind her shuttered lids, they linger still.
“I’m not yours,” she whispers again, but the words are lost in a cruel breath of wind.
She opens her eyes. The rain, she sees, has finally stopped.
Her gaze rises to the emerging sun. Tears dribble down her dirty cheeks at the brightness of its face.
Pitter-patter, the teardrops fall against her feet.
A tremulous smile tugs at her lips.
Something vital in her at last gives way.
In quiet rapture, one last, beloved name tumbles forth. Staring heavenward, she presses her hands to her heart.
And, joyfully, steps back.
Chapter 5: proper etiquette
– 5 –
The sun pulling farther, and farther, away,
—a brief eternity of pain—
Sight returns to her shrouded eyes, air to her stilled lungs.
Her bones and flesh have mended, though bitterly so. She can feel her body’s resentment with every shaky breath.
Out of the corner of her eye, something glimmers. Turning her head through the agony, she sees a thin silver blade extended toward her, condensation beaded along its chilly length.
At the sight of it, she wants to laugh, but all she can manage is a dry, empty sob.
“That was a foolish display.” His voice is even colder than his sword, and far less forgiving. “What did you hope to achieve by it?”
She rolls her head to the other side, away from him. Her hopes don’t matter anymore, least of all to him.
There is a soft grating sound as Tenseiga returns to its sheath. His hateful shadow looms over her as he crouches, steely fingers clamping around her jaw.
“When this Sesshoumaru asks you a question,” he says silkily, turning her face toward his in a painful wrench, “you will answer.”
Her lips twist shut in defiance.
Or what, she dares him silently, you’ll kill me?
A small smirk tugs at his lips, glints in his darkened gaze as he reads the challenge in her own. She has time to experience a flash of apprehension before liquid fire scalds her cheeks and chin.
“Threats of death would only oblige you, it seems.” His half-smile deepens. Beneath the torment of his acidic claws, she jerks and whimpers. “But I have other, stronger, methods of persuasion.”
She tries, and fails, to summon her reiki. Damply, she glares up at him, cursing herself for her weakness as she gasps to him in answer.
He snorts, and the acid recedes. “As I said, foolish.”
By her aching jaw, he lifts her to him. One hands slides between her shoulder blades as the other falls from her face, to be replaced by his rasping tongue. She cringes at the slow slide of it over her broken skin.
“Why…” she breathes, as he licks his acrid poison from her wounds. “…why?”
His tongue glides along her jaw in a parody of affection. She shudders.
“Because you are mine.”
It is spoken with easy conviction, as if this answer of his were some great indisputable truth.
The sky is above, the earth is below—and between them there lies she, splintered all over again.
“…stop,” she pleads on a whisper, shoulders trembling as she pulls her wrist over her burning eyes. The simple exertion nearly drains her. “…stop it…”
His free hand smoothes along her thigh before hooking under her knees. Lifting her, he rises. Her arms and legs are limp as doll parts, dangling loose and useless from his hold.
Being his, she finds this rather fitting.
He carries her beneath a rocky overhang. The ground he sets her down upon is dry. The stone against her back is rough and cold.
Her limbs loll to the side as she watches him walk away.
She has never seen a more welcome sight.
Yet all too soon his pale figure is breaking the thin tree line, returning to her with another pathetic something swaying from his claws. It is a young rabbit, freshly killed. He tosses it at her feet.
“Eat,” he orders tonelessly, sparing her a heavy glance as he turns. “I will be back before sundown.”
She eyes the dead rabbit. In frozen terror, it eyes her back.
Her pity for the slaughtered animal only extends so far. It has still evaded him far better than she.
Eat, she thinks suddenly, I haven’t eaten since…
She doesn’t know. Doesn’t remember.
Though the world beyond the overhang is misty and wet, there are some dry branches around her to make a fire. There are a few sharp rocks nearby to clean and carve up the kill—had she the energy or the appetite to attempt it.
Even so, the rabbit’s still black eyes remind her too strongly of Sango’s.
(don’t you see)
She shivers, staring past it toward the scraggly grey-barked trees.
Time passes. How long she cannot say, only that at the sight of him approaching she thinks, not nearly long enough.
Under his arm are a few parcels wrapped in rice paper. On his face is a look of obvious displeasure.
“You haven’t eaten.”
Her eyes lift toward him. “I’m not hungry.”
“You will eat that rabbit.”
“No.” She turns her chin away. “I won’t.”
She hears the parcels drop against the ground. Her throat parches as she feels him drawing near. Expecting him to punish her, she is surprised when he takes the rabbit in hand instead.
Surprise bleeds to horror as he shreds the carcass with his claws, withdrawing a bloody sliver of meat—a crow’s meal.
She flinches sharply away.
“It is unmannerly,” he tells her in a low, dangerous tone, sticks snapping and rocks crunching as he steps to her side, “to refuse what your lord and master has so graciously provided.”
Once again, his fingers seize her jaw, bringing the raw slice of rabbit flesh to her lips. She locks her teeth against it, repulsed.
“Open your mouth, Kagome.”
She shakes her head as best she can in his rigid grasp. Her eyes clench shut along with her jaw.
With a sigh of irritation, his clawed fingers retreat from her cheeks—only to clamp around her nose instead.
No—her hands rise and fall ineffectually as her lungs begin to sear—ohgodsno…
The slippery meat is pressing against her lips. When they part at last to breathe, he forces the sliver nearly down her throat.
She gags and chokes. She bites down on his invading fingers, but her teeth do not even break the skin.
“Swallow it,” he commands.
Eyes streaming, she eases the raw flesh back. As it slides down her throat, she can feel the bile rising.
“Bring it up, and I will feed it to you again.”
The nausea is a living thing, writhing inside her. Sweat beads on her brow as she struggles to contain it.
Another crimson strip rises toward her.
“Please, no…no more…”
He pushes it into her mouth. The moment the meat touches her tongue, she attempts to spit it out, but his palm has sealed her off.
Glazed in congealed blood, the uncooked rabbit is stringy and foul, and she swallows it down as quickly as she can. And the next piece. And the next.
By the time he has finished feeding her, her eyes are raw as her meal, her face feverish and damp. She draws in air in slow and measured breaths. She gazes at him in slow and measured hate.
“Why,” she asks again, a different question this time. “Why me?”
He gazes back at her, unanswering.
Her insides are roiling. Not from sickness now, but fury.
“I thought it was rude,” she says in a seething whisper, “not to answer when someone questions you…”
She braces herself for poison but receives an upturned lip. He leans closer. Sallow eyes narrow at her in feigned consideration.
“I suppose," he says dryly, "you caught my attention.”
“Like Rin?” A fragile thread of hope twists through her words.
“No.” He brushes her lip, removing a droplet of thickened blood. “Not like Rin.”
As he takes that bloody claw into his mouth, she remembers something important about his ward. About his sword Tenseiga.
It only works…once.
Chapter 6: rinse and repeat
– 6 –
.rinse and repeat.
She has found something to live for. How strange that it is death.
Toward him, she is downcast and meek. When he goes, she follows. When he addresses her, she speaks.
She is his perfect little creature.
Or so, she thinks, he thinks.
In her pocket is a small sharp piece of slate. A talisman and more. She touches it for assurance.
“Are you thirsty?” he asks.
“Yes,” she replies. For many, many things. But she will settle for a few.
Through the woods a stream appears, clear and calm and deep. They stop on its bank. She kneels at the water’s edge and looks over.
A familiar stranger stares back.
Water fills her cupped hands, flows down her throat in an icy draught. She imagines it freezing her from the inside out. Maybe then, she might be as unfeeling as he.
Three swords dent the shore beside her. Her eyes stray toward him before darting away again, as a stretch of white silk flutters to the sand.
The surface of the stream ripples at his entrance. Her shadowy doppelganger warps and flickers. She can no longer recognize herself.
“Kagome,” he calls to her.
Reluctantly, she raises her head. He is standing in the middle of the stream, his lower half mercifully obscured. She releases a captive breath.
In wariness, she rises. Divesting herself only of socks and shoes, she wades fully-clothed into the stream. Her arms hug across her chest. Her teeth begin to chatter. The water is cold as death—
She would know.
He calls out to her again, and what little warmth is left in her leaches out.
“Remove your clothing.”
She freezes, stares at him. Like uncooked flesh, her indignation is difficult to swallow.
She makes her way to a half-submerged boulder. With her back to him, she shucks off her ragged skirt and panties and places them atop the rock.
In one closed fist hides the chip of slate. She slips it into her tangled hair as she shrugs out of her shirt, sinking below the surface to unclasp her bra.
Arms locked around her naked chest, she turns and resumes her course. Sand soon gives way to smooth slick stones, and she stumbles more than once before reaching him.
Warily, her eyes travel up to his face. His expression is shrewd.
“Inuyasha never claimed you.”
She looks away. Her jaw clenches in mortification—in bitter regret.
“Did you hate him so much?” she finds herself asking quietly.
“No.” A crooked finger slides beneath her chin, directing her wide-eyed gaze toward his. “He was not worthy of my hate.”
Liar, she seethes within, as her lower lip begins to tremble. I saw how you looked at him.
His hand drops from her face to her wrist, peeling back one arm as he places something slippery in her fingers. A bar of green soap.
He turns and crouches before her, the water licking just below his shoulders. “Wash my hair.”
His request startles her. She wavers, clutching tightly at the soap. The thought of touching him fills her with aversion. But she has a ruse to maintain.
Slowly, she lathers her hands and sets the bar down on his shoulder. His silver hair is heavy in her grasp, a damp silken rope. She fantasizes fleetingly of cinching it around his throat.
Her fingers ghost his scalp and forehead as she cleanses his bangs, lip bitten in revulsion. When she starts to withdraw, his arm snakes back and seizes her around the waist. With a twist of limb, he seats her on his thigh, presses her spine against the hard plane of his chest.
“That half-breed never even touched you, did he?”
She cringes at the harsh warm whisper of his breath. His thumbnail is digging into the bottom of her breast, and she struggles not to squirm.
“W-we kissed, but…” Panic chokes her. Her head gives a tiny shake. “Please—Sesshoumaru-sama…could you please…let me up?”
His arm unwinds, fingertips grazing her stomach in a languid caress. As he draws back, she splashes to her feet.
“Clean yourself,” he says, wringing out his hair. “I will be near.”
Not wishing to see him naked, she waits a long while before turning. When she does, she sees that her clothes and shoes are gone.
But her obedience has paid off. He has left her alone at last.
With shaking fingers, she extracts the shard of slate. She studies it in her open palm. Lowered lashes dip like dark wingtips into her gaze.
In one quick hard motion, she drags the razor edge across her neck.
The chip falls from her fingers. Blood blossoms pink in the stream below. With a gurgling half-breath, she sinks.
Cold water closes above her head, and she is drowning.
This time, she makes it to the Bridge.
Before her lie the shadowed fields of Yomi, Land of the Dead. A deep mist veils the way.
Blindly, she moves forward with outstretched hands. The air is icy and reeks of decay. The Bridge grows slick with moisture.
A clawed, rotting hand reaches toward her, and she grasps it with a cry of rapture.
The hand’s owner pulls her through the mist and into his arms. Gruffly, he speaks her name into her hair.
Clutching him, she sobs in relief, as the thick clotted blood of his chest wound seeps through her shirt.
“I was afraid…I was afraid I’d never see you again…”
He draws back from her, pressing clammy lips to her brow. When she looks up at him, she sees his gaze is golden and whole. Her heart lightens further.
“Come on, Kagome,” he says, taking her hand and leading her along a dark path through the reeds. “We’ll have plenty of time to catch up after you eat.”
They come to a giant stone hearth, behind which sits a long table, laden with decadent food. Sango and Miroku are seated there, along with many other gloomy figures.
“Kagome-sama,” the monk says with a wistful, wasted smile, chopsticks in hand, “it is good to see you again…”
Sango’s voice is bittersweet as she turns, one hand holding her stomach closed. “I’ve missed you very much, Kagome-chan.”
Eagerly, Inuyasha walks her past the fire, fraying dog-ears peaked. Leaning down, he nuzzles her cheek bloodily.
“Once you’ve eaten, Kagome, you get to stay—”
At the head of the table, a Lady rises. The face of Izanami no Kami is as beautiful as it is terrible. As her elegant lips part, a bright red centipede crawls in, escaping a moment later through a hole in her cheek.
“This one is not welcome at My table.”
Inuyasha grits his broken teeth. “Whaddya mean, ‘not welcome’, you ugly old hag? She’s dead, ain’t she?!”
“Inuyasha!” she gasps in horror.
The goddess of Yomi glares at them both. “The girl is cursed. Look closely at her, half-demon. Do you not see what binds her, even now?”
Scoffing, Inuyasha turns, his eyes flaring wide at something behind her. His ears flatten to his head.
“What…what the hell is that?!”
Heart pounding in dread, she slowly follows his gaze, glancing over her shoulder—then down, to where a fine black chain hovers in the air behind her back. Grabbing at the cold glinting links, she feels an answering tug deep within her chest.
The chain pulls taut. It begins to drag her back.
“No!” she cries, looking desperately at the goddess Izanami. “Please don’t send me away! Please don’t send me back to him!”
“It is not I who sends you back, child.” Izanami no Mikoto frowns, pity gleaming in her dull brown eyes. “I am sorry…”
“Please!” she shrieks as she lurches toward the Bridge. “Inuyasha! INUYASHA!”
With a curse, he lunges for her, but the chain is faster. His claws brush only her fingertips as she hurtles toward the mist.
She can still hear him howling her name as she flies across the Bridge between worlds, through the pall of Darkness, and into the Land of the Living once more...
The world is a watery blur.
She coughs, and even more wetness spills out. Her throat aches, though she cannot remember why it should.
She cannot remember—
“So,” a cool voice remarks above her, “you have returned.”
Slowly, her vision swims into focus. Her memory, also.
Drenched, the one she hates is kneeling above her in contemplation. As the haze of death fades at last, she catches a glitter of something dark in the palm of his hand.
“You,” she rasps wetly, gazing up at him in terror, and rage, and despair. “…what have you…done to me?”
Chapter 7: the river styx
– 7 –
.the river styx.
It is the second time she has taken her life.
Yet here she remains. In the world of the living. With him.
“You should be grateful,” he says to her, a brittle smile on his lips. “I have liberated you from death.”
Yes, she thinks. She sees.
And now she is his slave.
Not even a god could end her bondage. Not even death could free her from her suffering at his hands—
Hands which are now running down the tender new skin of her neck, moving over her breasts and sides and hips in slow, unhurried appraisal. His yellow lantern eyes are shaded, indulgent.
She shifts in discomfort. Sand grates her back. Digging her elbow in the coarse wet grains, she rolls onto her side, curls her knees to her chest.
Like polished silver, the stream shines in the noonday sun. It seems to her an otherworldly glare. To have emerged from there alive was the very opposite of a miracle.
She entered those waters with thoughts of death. Now such thoughts are gone.
She considers his look instead.
Young and inexperienced she may be, but she recognizes lust when she sees it. Young and inexperienced, she mistakes the source of it just as well.
“Are you…” She swallows in trepidation. It hurts. “…are you in love with me?”
He laughs. It is short and cold, a humorless sound.
“Love,” he tells her, as he trails a claw along the pathway of her shivering spine, “is only a human notion.”
He lifts her, carries her back into the stream. He sits down upon a sunken rock. When the icy waters touch her hip, she shies away.
“I hope you are finished testing this Sesshoumaru’s patience.” His tone is almost conversational as he lowers her into the slow freezing current, settles her between his knees on the edge of the rock. The billowing silk of his hakama teases at her thighs. “Damage this body of yours, and it will repair—and all the more painfully for your efforts.”
His hands tighten around her upper arms. Clawed fingertips prick her skin.
“Continue to defy me,” he says against the shell of her ear, “and I may carve you up myself.”
Smooth as riverstone, his palms slide to her shoulders, and he plunges her beneath the surface of the stream.
Not a part of her remains above.
“…It is not my wish to mistreat you,” he continues dispassionately as he draws her up, shivering and spluttering, against him, “nor anything else which is mine.”
Briefly, he releases her. When his hands return to her shoulders, they are slick with soap. He washes her neck and arms and back with mechanical efficiency, as though he were cleaning one of his swords.
She has never felt less human.
Until his attentions shift to her front.
“This soft mortal flesh…” His fingers glide down her chest, mold over her breasts like ribs of steel. Tears of humiliation sting her eyes. “I have made it strong, unbreakable.”
One hand uncurls, sliding down her stomach in a meandering, serpentine path.
“Is that not generous?” His fingers wedge between her thighs and stroke. “Is that not kind?”
“Stop!” she cries, clutching at his wrist as she tries to retreat from his invading touch. “Please, stop!”
The violation ends as casually as it began, and he is raising her legs at the knee so he can cleanse her down to her toes. By the time his fingers land in her hair, she is sobbing.
He scrubs lightly at her scalp. His claws weave through the soapy strands, untangling the knots almost gently. It would be soothing, were he anyone else. Even if Naraku appeared suddenly behind her, she would feel some sense of comfort.
“I will tell you a secret, Kagome,” he murmurs, fingertips trailing along her furrowed brow. “Of all that I have won, of all that I possess…”
He cups her cheek, turns her tearstained face toward his. His expression is cool, but there is a certain smugness in it.
“You,” he says, catching her quivering lips against his, “…please me most.”
His kiss is the pin in her chain.
The water he pours over her, an anointing.
Ashore, he wraps her in his outer haori, which is dry, and leans her against a tree. He leaves, and her head falls to the side. Her eyes fix upon the stream. Lit now by the setting sun, it curves through rock and sand like a ribbon of seething flame.
When he returns, she follows it still.
He made a wish, she remembers, eyes narrowing. But how could the Jewel give him such power over me? There must be a catch, somewhere…
The smell of cooking meat wrests her from her musings. She sees him roasting what looks like rabbit-on-a-stick. A queasy feeling churns her insides.
He brings the skewer to her.
“Where are my clothes?” she asks him, as she reluctantly accepts the meat.
When he glances toward the fire, she finds her answer. The underwire of her bra glows red-hot amidst the burning tinder.
Watching the metal warp and melt, she pushes past her nausea and eats. As she finishes, he kneels before her. His thumb swipes a spot of grease from the corner of her mouth.
“I've acquired new clothing for you.” He retrieves a covered parcel from the ground near her hip.
Beneath the rice paper is a simple yellow kimono with a cornflower sash. She wonders whose dead corpse he prized it from.
“Put it on.” He orders her as he stands.
Shrugging out of his haori, she rises and dons her new uniform. Clawed fingers descend to the obi at her waist, helping to lock her properly in.
He gives her a look of approval. She gives him a look of contempt. His head tilts to the side.
“What are you thinking of?”
Her tone is so soft it is cutting.
“I was just thinking,” she replies, “how much I prefer the sight of Inuyasha’s rotting face to yours.”
She flinches as his hand comes toward her—only to finger a damp lock of her hair.
“So, you met my bastard half-brother in the netherworld, I take it.” The twist of his lips is wry, but his eyes are two jaundiced chips of ice. “I hope you gave him my regards.”
“Trust me, Sesshoumaru-sama,” she whispers back, shaking with anger and grief, “you were the furthest thing from my mind.”
His expression sours. She yelps as his grip on her hair tightens, and she is pulled against his stony chest.
“A lapse easily corrected.” His fingers clench in the strands at her nape, angling her head back. His eyes are cold and assessing as they lance her own. “From now on, let there be no shortage of reminders.”
His mouth claims hers, hard and bruising. Sharp fangs bleed her lips. When she screams, his tongue invades her. When she bites down, his caustic blood singes her.
Her dormant reiki gives a feeble stir. He growls and crushes her closer.
She sags as her vision begins to fade. Lips and chin smeared red, he draws away at last.
“Tell me, girl,” he rasps against her cheek, “will you forget this Sesshoumaru now?”
“…never,” she breathes back hatefully, still choking on her own blood as she grasps his arms for support.
But I will find a way, she promises herself. I’ll find a way to escape this curse…
Her eyes widen, breath catching in her still-sore throat.
…the way out.
Chapter 8: the way back
– 8 –
.the way back.
One day flows into the next.
She despairs of sunrise as much as sunset. She has lost count of them both.
They travel Japan in an incomprehensible circuit. Against all expectation, she has come to prefer the West. Within his territories, she is sometimes left alone for days on end, and in his absence, she can almost remember what it is like not to be completely miserable.
Yet beyond the Western Lands, he is ever at her side. In battle, he wields Tessaiga without exception. Each time he unleashes the Wind Scar, the wound in her heart rips anew.
From the sidelines she watches him and prays for his defeat. But it is as futile as any of her other hopes have been. Even she can see that he has no equal.
It is the nights she dreads the most, when the still darkness between them deepens and she can see him looking at her like he looks at his brother’s sword.
He never eats or sleeps that she can tell. Perhaps the vast reserves of his evil sustain him.
Even still, her reiki refuses to be roused.
With quiet resentment she obeys his commands. He touches her less this way. And when he does pet and hold her, she endures it, only because she has no choice.
The nightmares are her only reprieve from his presence. In them, the rustle of dark wings pursues her, and she cannot determine what it is she fears the most—whether they overtake her, or not.
She never learns the truth before she wakes.
Maybe that, she thinks, is the truth.
“What were you dreaming of?” he asks her.
It is always the same question. Always the same air of disappointment when she gives him her answer.
“The crow, again.”
He tucks her more firmly against his side.
She has begun to forget the details of her own time. Train stops and schedules. School subjects. Places where she and her friends would go on weekends and after class.
When she is alone, she takes a stick in hand and scratches the beginnings of a math formula into the dirt. Halfway through, she strikes it out in frustration.
She forgets Ayumi’s birthday. Forgets street names and favorite foods and how her mother’s face looks when she smiles.
It becomes harder and harder for her to remember that the Modern Era exists. Harder still, to convince herself that she should remember it at all.
Her hatred of him eclipses thought and memory. She lives almost blind in the shadow.
When her feet tread a once-familiar path, she does not notice. When at last she glimpses the well through the trees, she does not recognize its shape.
He is the one who reminds her.
“Goshinboku,” he says, drawing to a halt before the Sacred Tree.
Here now before it, another enchantment breaks.
She draws in a sharp, bracing breath, as though it were her first. He glances down at her in question.
“What is it?” he asks, silver brow arching in disdain. “Thinking of the half-breed?”
Always, her heart replies.
Nodding her head, she retreats a step, turns slowly toward the sunlit clearing behind her.
There in the middle lies the Bone-Eater’s Well, vine-covered and dilapidated as ever. Dreamlike, she wanders toward it.
Her fingers brush the rough wooden ledge. Sunlight has made it warm to the touch. The vines have a tangy, wild smell.
(I love you)
Teardrops patter against the weathered ledge, staining it. For the first time since she threw herself from the cliff, a true smile steals over her face.
“Inuyasha…” she whispers. The wind lifts her hair, and she pretends it is a half-demon’s sigh.
She ignores him and sits upon the lip of the well, swinging her legs over the edge. She peers down, into the pitch-black depths.
Had the well always seemed so bottomless and dark?
She looks back at him over her shoulder. His eyes are narrowed and blazing—
“What are you doing?” His fangs gleam white in a flash. “Answer me.”
She turns away from him, her smile still in place as she pushes herself off the ledge. Her voice rises up the well shaft in echoing triumph.
“I’m going home!”
Chapter 9: questions and answers
– 9 –
.questions and answers.
Darkness rushes up to meet her. Darkness alone.
An instant before she lands, she thinks, something isn’t right.
Then she finds the bottom of the well.
Lying on her back, she stares up at the roiling shadows. She has seen this sky before. But it is not the familiar sight she hoped to see.
The ground beneath her is not ground at all, but cold smooth stone. Her nails scrabble over it, seeking hard-packed earth—to no avail. In dismay, she scrambles to her feet.
Two mists surround her: light and dark. Spanning them is the Bridge. Standing upon it is she.
Her lips tremble as she reaches behind her, grasps the fine icy chain sprouting from her back.
“NO!” She wrenches at her tether like a crazed thing, gnashing her teeth. Hot tears bubble from her eyes as she wails in misery. “It was supposed to send me BACK!...It was supposed to send me HOME!”
She rips at the chain, stomps on it, bites down upon it viciously. But it does not yield. It does not break.
Her slackening fingers let it fall. She drops with it.
“No,” she whimpers again, her legs sprawled beneath her. “Mama…Souta…Jii-chan…”
In her mind, they, too, are shrouded in mist.
She holds her hands to her face and cries. The falling teardrops make no sound.
As the chain begins to reel her in, she hears footsteps on the Bridge. A dark figure advances through the pale fog of Yomi. A ball of blue light precedes the hazy form.
Her eyes widen, drying. She smiles faintly in expectation.
The light that emerges is a lantern. The hand that holds it is too slender to be his. Her heart sinks.
Cloaked in midnight hues, the mysterious figure pauses before her. The fingers not clutching the lantern rise to the blue-black fabric of a hood, pushing it back. Corpselike, yet lovely still, the face of Izanami no Mikoto regards her in silence.
“Kami-sama?” she questions softly.
The goddess’s dead brown eyes lower to the chain pooled near her hip. A deep frown curves the Lady’s bloodless lips.
As the fused links slither back toward the Veil, a dark naginata appears in Izanami’s left hand. Wisps of shadow rise from it like smoke.
“Vile creation...” Izanami mutters toward the tether, disgust saturating her regal tones. “Would that I could sunder thee Myself.”
With a crack like thunder, the goddess spears the chain through the Bridge between worlds, drives it deep into the moonstone arch. The dark glittering length closest to the Living World draws taut beneath the point of the naginata, while the rest of the line remains slack.
“Now,” the goddess of Yomi says, her loam-colored gaze shifting from the chain to its bearer, “let us talk.”
“Izanami-sama,” she begins in hesitation, “why can’t your weapon break the chain?”
The goddess sneers, the ragged hole in her cheek tearing further from the strain. “My powers hold no sway over the realm of the Living, nor its…objects. My Lord Husband has seen to that.”
She can feel her features crumpling. Her fists clench the hem of her skirt in desperation.
“Please, Kami-sama…there must be something you can do to help me. I can’t go on like this, I can’t.”
Izanami’s expression softens as she kneels. Her touch is cool yet calming.
“It is detestable what has befallen you, child.” Her lips thin. “This unnatural state. It offends Me, yet what aid can I give you but My counsel: that you discover what it is which anchors you to the World of the Living, and that you destroy it.”
Her brow furrows. A shred of death-memory flutters to the surface of her mind, dark and glinting. The other end of the chain.
“It’s him,” she chokes in horror, lifting her gaze to Izanami’s. “Sesshoumaru. I saw the chain coming from his palm.”
“Sesshoumaru…” the goddess repeats in clear distaste, “Demon Lord of the West. He cannot cease interfering in My affairs. Arrogant Dog! Yet he has Tsukuyomi’s favor… Vanquishing him will be no easy task.”
“It’s impossible!” she cries. Her fingernails bite into her temples. “My reiki is sealed—by this stupid curse, I think! I’d have better luck tearing apart rocks with my bare hands!”
Behind them there is a sudden grating sound. She glances back. The Spear has begun to slant through the stone.
“No…” Her upraised arms are trembling. Her eyes are riveted on the slow-moving chain. “What can I do?...Izanami-sama, what can I do?”
Clammy fingers wrap around her wrists, peel her curled hands from her face. Pleadingly, she stares into Izanami’s flat brown stare.
“If you cannot kill him,” the goddess of Yomi states, “then you must unmake the chain.”
“…Unmake it?” Her eyes lose focus. Beyond her shoulder, Izanami’s naginata gives a high-pitched scrape. In a breath of dread, she whispers, “The Shikon no Tama.”
The goddess straightens, a sprinkling of grave worms raining from her sleeves. Her expression is severe.
“So, that accursed Jewel is the cause of all this trouble. I should have known. And now it has escaped into the Void once more…”
The Void, she remembers. Yes, that’s where it is. That Voice—
Her spine prickles. She straps her arms across her chest.
“That’s why the well won’t work for me,” she whispers shakily. “Because the Jewel has left the Living World again. His wish sent it away…”
“It will return,” Izanami assures her, a sheen of pity glazing the Lady’s mud-brown gaze. “When, I cannot say.”
She is frozen. Static. In terrible foreknowing, she looks upon her curse.
With a sharp snap, the chain breaks the Spear’s hold at last. The shadow weapon vanishes as the tether leaps up from the gash in the Bridge, dark coils unspooling fast.
Collecting the lantern of ghost-light at her feet, the goddess prepares to depart. As the hood of her shimmering cape rises over the dark silk of her hair, Izanami turns to her once more.
“I wish you well, child.” A deep sadness tinges the Lady’s voice. “I know what a torment it is, to be long separated from One whom you love. Yet I must ask that you not return to My Lands while you bear this curse.” The goddess sets off toward the fields of Yomi. “…Doing so will only bring more pain.”
“Wait!” she cries after her, reaching out as the chain pulls her back. “Izanami-sama, please—just let me see Inuyasha one more time! PLEASE!”
But the goddess does not wait. The white mists swallow Izanami’s shadowy form, and she is alone again on the Bridge.
“…No,” she grits out, attempting to stand, but her leash prevents it—inflexible as his will.
She falls forward onto the arch. Her chest and stomach glide over the retreating moonstone. Her dragging nails scrape for purchase where there is none.
The dark Veil closes around her.
She awakens with a scream.
The sound of it echoes again and again.
There are knives in her back, ivory dagger-points carving up through her chest. Her fingers score the musty earth. Dirt clumps beneath her sweating hands.
Against the darkness of the well shaft, he is blinding. A vision descended from the world above. Filtering sunlight bends a halo around his spun silver hair, illuminates his pale angelic face.
She has never seen a more beautiful disguise.
The yellow of his stare sours the image. He is frowning, the merest downturn of his lips.
“What detained you?”
She opens her mouth to curse him, but the agony is more than she can bear. Her sight is fading. A clawed hand seizes one of the curved bones protruding from her breast.
When he retrieves it, she is lost.
Sometime later, she finds herself again.
She is lying on her stomach in some stranger’s hut, a soft bedroll laid out beneath her. Across the wooden floorboards, flames dance above a paneled hearth.
She does not like to think how he procured this place.
A hiss of pain escapes her as something is withdrawn from her back. Turning her head to the side, she watches a white chip skitter across the floorboards. It joins with a loose pile of other fragments, their jagged edges tipped with blood.
“You never answered my question, Kagome.”
Cool breath flows between the blades of her shoulders. She shivers when his tongue traces the spot which the bone chip left behind.
“I asked you,” he murmurs against her skin, “what detained your return?”
Her face scrunches with the effort of memory.
“The chain got stuck,” she rasps, vocal chords still raw from screaming. A splinter of defiance wedges into her words. “Maybe your wish isn’t as foolproof as you thought.”
He is silent. She thinks she has stricken a nerve. When another buried shard twists savagely near her spine, she can only consider her own.
She cries out, thrashing weakly, but all that dislodges is her boldness.
“Where did you think that well would take you?”
The muscle of her back is aflame. Her eyes are two stinging wells of salt.
“…where?” she repeats faintly in confusion, as her vision begins to dim. “To…my family…”
It is not quite an answer, but he seems satisfied nonetheless. He picks the shard from her back and presses his mouth against her, one hand sliding between the futon and her silk-clad front.
Her pain ebbs to relief as he continues this pattern of plucking and laving. She is almost dozing by the time he reaches her lower back.
Then he rips the rest of the ruined kimono from her hips.
She tenses. His fangs graze her backside. There are a few bone slivers here—but not, she suspects, in those dips where cheek meets thigh.
And not between them, either, where his hands are sinking, spreading her legs apart.
She can feel him settling in the gap, can feel him scorching her with his gaze. One claw-tipped hand smoothes up her thigh, over the curve of her backside.
She bites her lip, trembling uncontrollably. She has never felt so vulnerable, so exposed. So degraded. She had tried, before, to steel herself for this eventuality. Sooner or later, she told herself, this will happen.
She had been so naïve. Nothing could prepare her for this. Nothing could make her accept it.
Bitter gall coats her tongue. She cannot help but spit it out.
“Is this how you want me, Sesshoumaru?”
His grip tightens on her flesh. Then, unexpectedly, releases.
She can sense his ire as he stands. A moment later, there is the sound of a reed curtain smacking its wooden frame.
He has left her.
Drained and shaking still, she wraps herself in the tatters of her kimono, weeps until exhaustion overtakes her.
In her sleep, she dreams of dusty tunnels stamped with crow’s feet, of a smiling patient darkness, and of a door that will not open, for centuries to come.
Chapter 10: ghosts
– 10 –
One day, they visit Toutousai at his forge.
Inside the dark skull, her eyes strive to see.
The old demon sits at his anvil. Iron wisps of hair hang bedraggled from the tie at his nape, frame the wrinkled corners of his mouth.
She wonders if he, too, will age. If his proud back will bow beneath the weight of time, if the centuries will weather away the unblemished marble of his face.
Glancing at him, she berates herself. Another foolish hope.
Toutousai brings his hammer down against the shape of an emerging chest plate. His leathern face is weary. His mouth is a grim set line. His bulbous eyes are downcast.
They look at anything but her.
Dry straw crunches beneath her fingers. Next to her on the pallet, the three-eyed ox lows in faint distress.
Look at me, she seethes in silence. Don’t pretend I’m not here, Toutousai. Don’t pretend you can’t see what he’s done.
Her heated stare shifts from the swordsmith to his patron. Against a wall of bone, he reclines. In his tarnished mirror eyes, the hammer falls stroke after stroke.
It is a gavel ruling in his favor, a drumstick swinging to the tune of his victory.
She hates the image, hates the sound. Hates the way his claws rest on Tessaiga’s hilt as he turns and regards her back.
In agitation she rises, attempts to wrest herself from the eternal coolness of his gaze. She stalks toward the open mouth of the skull, but she cannot shake the chill.
At the anvil, she pauses. Beneath her looming shadow, the swordsmith glances up—glances through her, toward the demon at her back.
She is trembling. Her hands ball to fists at her sides. Anger surges within her, rests like bile at the back of her throat.
“Coward,” she spits as she pivots on a heel. The straw-stuck hem of her yukata lashes at her legs.
No hand lifts to restrain her. Even he hasn’t touched her in…
She clenches her jaw, ducks beneath an awning of jagged fangs.
Outside the skull, the air smells of sulfur and ash. Heat shimmers above the blackened earth. Bubbling pits of orange-red pockmark the surface.
It is a smoldering wasteland. A place of desolation. And he has brought her to it.
For what purpose, she cannot say.
Still shivering, she wraps her arms about herself.
Cold, she wonders vaguely, am I cold?
Touching her own skin, she doesn’t know.
Arms locked around her, she kicks off her wooden sandals and pads barefoot toward one of the lava pits. Hot pumice scorches the soles of her feet.
It feels a little like pain.
She crouches at the edge of the glowing pool. Simmering before her, the molten rock hisses in warning. She ignores it and stretches out her hand.
Her fingers hover just above the liquid blaze. When a bubble of lava collapses, a tongue of fire licks across her open palm. With a cry she draws it back.
The heat has split her reddened skin. Blood and clear fluid weep from the blistering gash. A fog of agony clouds her vision. She rocks back on her heels and cradles her hand to her chest.
Surely this is real, she thinks on a whimper. Surely this means I’m still—
The pain recedes.
Glancing down, she watches the blisters smooth and fade. New pink skin erases the seam in her palm, seals over the source of her torment like clay in the red cracked landscape of her dreams.
The curse swallows all sensation, and she is numb again.
Had she felt anything…at all?
The sun comes and goes. She lingers near the mouth of the giant skull. A stub of fang covered in soft hemp netting becomes her haunt of preference.
Seated there, gazing out over the valley of rock and flame, she thinks she is beginning to understand.
Then, a dark presence buffets her spine.
She turns. He is standing half in shadow, Toutousai’s latest workmanship gleaming from his frame. He is studying her, awaiting some sort of reaction. She gives him none.
“Well?” he presses in a brisk tone. “What do you think?”
Her eyes lower to the chest piece. Intricate scrollwork engraves the plate, its silvery surface inlaid with onyx stone. This gaudy new armor seems more delicate than the old, but like all else he wears, it must be a deception.
She lifts her eyes to his. “I think it’s excessive.”
Inexplicably, her words have pleased him. His pale lips curve upward at the corners.
It is like watching a statue smile.
“Come along,” he says to her, his aura dragging across her skin as he strides past.
As she stands to follow, a shuffle draws her attention. Behind her, Toutousai emerges from the bony maw of his dwelling, pinpoint pupils swiveling to a glare.
“Leaving so soon, eh, Sesshoumaru?” the swordsmith grumbles after him. “Too busy, I take it, to spare an old man a word of thanks…”
He pauses. All warmth abandons the air.
“You are the one who should be thankful, Toutousai,” he replies, his voice as cruel and barbed as the new spikes curving from his armor, “that this Sesshoumaru still finds you useful enough to suffer your existence.” He glances back in disdain. “Give me cause to reconsider, and you may yet learn how well-suited I am to my name.”
Toutousai blanches, his grey mustaches quivering. “W-what cause?! That armor is the finest I’ve ever made.” His voice pitches low, almost to a mutter. “…Even still, no armor is unbreakable—you must remember that!”
For a moment, she almost feels as though the swordsmith is addressing her. Looking away, she dismisses the notion.
Why would he speak to one who isn’t there?
With a frown of resignation, she joins the only demon who sees her. Together, they return to the West.
That evening begins like any other. She bathes and eats. He offers her his pelt, and she refuses. He offers her himself, and she curls up against the hardness of the ground.
Many nights she does not sleep—tonight is no exception. Only the reason for her sleeplessness has changed.
Thoughts of her own isolation plague her. Sticks and bits of stone cling to one empty side. Her stomach is full, yet she is starving still.
On wary feet, she goes to him.
He is reclining amidst the gnarled roots of a tree. As she stops before one up bent knee, he meets her gaze in calm expectance. She scowls.
He knew this would happen, she thinks with a stab of resentment. He knew I’d come to him, eventually. He knew.
Her need for contact is a bitter one, but she cannot help herself. Her hand flies toward his face—
And he catches her wrist in his claws.
The feel of his fingers seems solid enough. Then she remembers what he is.
This touch from him proves nothing.
Yet in his countenance something shifts. An undercurrent stirs the frozen depths. In reaching for him, she has extended an invitation. Before she can retract it, he pulls her down against his chest.
“Sleep now,” he tells her as she struggles in his hold.
In weariness, she soon collapses. The idea of indulging him rankles her, but his arms are so warm around her, that fur of his so soft against her cheek…
She loses herself unwillingly to sleep.
Eyeless faces fill her dreams.
In the morning, he is gone.
What he does in his absence remains a mystery. He never tells her, and she never asks.
On the days that she is free of him, she has taken to wandering through the western towns.
She likes to observe the townspeople going about their daily lives. They quarrel and fall in love. They age, and they die. New lives spring up in the places they leave behind.
She never stays for long. Eventually, the contrast between them becomes too much for her to bear, and so she leaves, as unnoticed as she arrived.
She is preparing to depart again when she sees him—a dark-haired specter from her past. Tall and broad-shouldered, he is conversing with a merchant across the street. Though she cannot see his face, she knows the weapon strapped across his back.
A kusarigama, demon-forged. The scrollwork on its sickle is unmistakable.
As he turns toward her, his dark eyes widen slowly. His masculine features echo her own disbelief.
The silk obi she was admiring slips from her unfeeling hands.
“…Kohaku-kun,” she breathes.
Chapter 11: friends and enemies
– 11 –
.friends and enemies.
She stares at Sango’s younger brother.
Still and silent, Kohaku stares back.
Between them stretches another invisible chain, its links forged from the grief they share. His eyes darken with recognition. Harden with familiar resolve.
Before she can place his look, she feels a tugging on her sleeve.
“Miss,” an old woman is saying to her, a dust-covered obi shaking in one spotted hand, “please be more careful with my wares!”
“Oh…” She turns and bows. “I’m sorry, I—”
“Get away from her!”
Stunned, she straightens. Across the muddy street, Kohaku is glaring toward her, his gloved hand reaching for the sickle at his back.
“Get away from that blue-eyed girl!” he shouts to the startled villagers. His expression twists in rage. “Get back—she isn’t human!”
“…Not human, eh?” The elderly merchantwoman peers at her with rheumy eyes.
“Youkai!—it’s a youkai!” another customer exclaims.
With a shriek and a clamor, the bystanders scatter. From the corner of her eye a glint approaches, and she flinches left, as Kohaku’s kusarigama crashes through the wooden stand behind her.
Heavy metal links draw taut through the wreckage. Eyes wild, she stumbles back.
“Wait,” she gasps as the chained weapon returns to his hand. Her own palms lift toward him in plea. “Kohaku, wait! It isn’t what you think…”
“Silence, demon,” the taijiya seethes, dark brow furrowing as he falls into a battle stance. “I’ll not listen to your lies!”
Like a striking snake, the curved blade streaks past her as she darts into a narrow alleyway, a stack of pots shattering over her shoulder. Her hands and knees jolt briefly against the wet ground before she struggles up again.
Staggering, she makes for the trees on the outskirts of town. At the sound of pursuing footfalls, her pace quickens.
Between the clustered huts, she weaves a frantic path. Her heart hammers behind her breast. Air enters and escapes her in tiny frightened pants.
She thinks of the rabbit with Sango’s eyes, and wonders if this is how it felt.
A rough-hewn fence is all that separates her from the forest. She scrambles over the log rail as the sickle whistles through the air behind her, catching the meat of her calf.
The pain is searing.
With a scream, she topples to the other side of the fence, rolls down the leafy embankment to the forest floor below. Her temple smacks a tree root near the bottom. Green thorns tear at her yukata and her skin.
Dazed, she attempts to right herself. The small cuts from the brambles have begun to disappear, but the gash in her leg still streams with blood.
A dim blurred figure stalks toward her through the undergrowth.
“How dare you,” a man’s deep voice grits out. “How dare you steal her face…”
In his grip, the wicked scythe trembles, watery and indistinct. She blinks her eyes to clear them. Moisture trickles down her stinging cheeks.
She gazes up into his crow-dark eyes, curls her legs toward her hip. She remembers it now. The woods and the chase, the shaking sickle blade, the puppet with the shard in his back.
The comparison is flawed.
Time has chiseled the boyish softness from his face. He is not Naraku’s young pawn, but a free-willed warrior, and she is the one possessed by a monster.
The edge of a blade presses to her throat. Dampened lashes lower over her eyes.
If only, she thinks, I could die truly at his hand…
“Kohaku-kun,” she whispers to him, a fragile smile pulling at her lips, “I’m glad I was able...to see you one more time…”
Wind rustles softly through the trees. The pressure against her neck subsides.
Her eyes open in surprise.
Kohaku kneels before her with a tightened jaw, the kusarigama dangling from his lowered hand. The sharp point of the sickle bites the ground.
“It is you,” he exhales harshly. “Kagome…”
Warmth spreads through her chest at the sound of her name. How long has it been, since a voice other than his last spoke it? Looking at the man before her, she yearns and dreads to know.
Kohaku swallows, the hard lines of his face relaxing slightly.
“But how…” he murmurs, drawing short as he regards her. “How can this be? You’re still so young, so…”
He ducks his head.
Beneath a messy fringe of black, his eyes are hidden from her view. A flush spans his high cheekbones, dusts the straight bridge of his nose in place of the freckles of his youth. But in a way he resembles, still, the shy boy she once knew.
Another smile wrings from her, no happier than the first.
“I failed, Kohaku-kun. I’m sorry.”
Frowning, he meets her gaze. “Failed, Kagome-san…? I don’t understand.”
“The Shikon no Tama,” she explains, glancing away now herself. “We defeated Naraku, but…” Her eyes narrow at the bitter memory. “But the wrong wish was made, and the Jewel escaped. Until it returns to the living world, I’m trapped here…in this state.”
Her voice breaks near the end. She peers down at the leg he cut, only to find it healed and whole.
Kohaku’s eyes have followed hers. In them, she reads the last proof of her fate.
He holds her gaze like she is made of glass.
“I will help you, Kagome-san,” he promises her quietly. “Tell me, what can I do?”
She looks at him, lost. He is asking her to involve him. He is tempting her to hope again.
Neither would be wise.
Her fists tremble to suppress her loneliness. But the ache of it is more than she can bear.
“…Hold me?” she asks of him.
Her voice is small and wretched, desperate even to her ears. Frozen, she watches him, fearful of his answer.
When his arms slip around her shoulders, she breathes again at last.
Her tears stain the collar of his uniform, his bound hair brushing softly over her knuckles. The muscle of his back is hard beneath her fingers. Tense.
Uncertain at first, Kohaku gathers her more firmly to his chest. The strength in his arms secures her. He smells of leather and polished steel—of assurances, old and new. And she savors them both, even as she discounts the latter.
Beyond them, the sun perishes in a slow descent.
As it sinks beneath the horizon, another distant presence draws her focus, ices the blood in her veins. Within her chest she feels her slave bond taking rein, and detaches herself from Kohaku’s warm embrace. Sluggishly, his hands release her.
“I have to go now,” she tells him as she stands.
Once more she glances at his handsome face, and prays her memory of him will sustain her. She can ask for nothing more than this.
“Thank you, Kohaku-kun.”
A true smile touches her lips. Before he can speak, she disappears into the shadow of the forest.
In the deepening gloom, a pale figure appears. Seated on a rock at the edge of a clearing, Sesshoumaru waits for her, patient as death. Yellow eyes sweep over her form, take in her battered appearance with a glimmer of question.
Before he voices it, she answers.
“I fell down a hill.”
It is not the first time she has returned to him in shambles. Considering this, he inclines his head.
Reluctantly, she approaches. From the folds of his haori, he produces a small gold coin. Clawed fingers press it into her palm.
Her hand curls around it with an expression of distaste. He means for her to buy new clothing with this.
Tomorrow, the money will grace some poor villager’s doorstep, instead.
She will gladly work the rice fields for a new yukata, rather than accept the slave wages he gives her.
Smirking slightly, he tugs her forward by the wrist he holds, until she stands between his knees. How his voice can sound both cold and smug escapes her.
“You seem spirited today. Could last night's sleep be the cause?” At her glare, his smile deepens. “Humans crave companionship, do they not? And affection, as well…”
His free hand trails over her side, and she stiffens.
But he is right.
Deep in her fettered soul, she knows Kohaku’s touch has saved her.
From herself, at least.
Sesshoumaru’s hand stills on her waist. He hauls her closer, and there is nothing teasing in his actions now.
“Tell me, Kagome,” he says to her, a cool look of suspicion on his face, “why do you smell of that taijiya boy?”
Chapter 12: deception
– 12 –
Anguish scalds her eyes. As her jaw locks tight, her teeth catch the inside of her cheek. The copper taste of blood bathes her tongue.
Slit pupils contract in a yellow glare. She knows he can taste it, too.
“I…” she begins, faltering.
What point is there in denying the truth of his senses?—the truth that weakens her voice, that twists her features into an expression of despair? No lie can conceal it.
But maybe, she thinks, as her heart gives a wild, desperate thrum, maybe another truth can explain it.
“Kohaku,” she resumes softly, bowing her head in remembered pain, “he tried to kill me. He thought I was a demon.”
Her heart pounds in her ears. In the silence it is loud.
Hesitantly, she lifts her eyes.
“A demon?” he echoes with an upturned lip. Amusement swims in the lamp oil of his gaze. “What a foolish boy.”
Her fists clench in anger.
He isn’t a boy, she almost snaps—before some breath of intuition steals her words.
Still, the lightness in his voice has calmed her. She struggles not to show her relief. To this end, the clawed hand lingering on her hip is a welcome irritation.
“There is a cave nearby,” he tells her, “where we may pass the night.”
He pushes off his stony perch like a gargoyle come to life. His touch remains upon her. Hard, claw-tipped fingers graze her stomach as he turns. They sink beneath the fabric of her yukata, burn beneath her skin.
In the marrow of her bones she feels his violation. It lurks there, simmering, a different kind of poison. More consuming, by far.
The cave he leads her to is a familiar one. They have sheltered here before.
Near the entrance, a dark pool wells up from the rocky ground. She veers toward it, hitching up her skirt. Dank leaves and forest litter line the bottom of the pond. Her bare aching feet sink a few inches into the muck. She must have lost her sandals in her flight.
Ripples crease the liquid glass, distort the moon’s ghostly reflection. Tonight, its face is full and gloating. She closes her eyes against the sight.
On her legs the flakes of dried blood are softening, sloughing off into the chill of the spring. In their wake will lie unblemished skin, pale and ageless as the moon above.
She shivers, frowning at the image. How wrong to her it seems.
Dropping her skirt, she wraps her arms about her shoulders. Even in imitation, Kohaku’s embrace disrupts the cold lonely orbit of her thoughts. For a moment, there is calm. Warmth, even.
Then she feels the venom of his stare.
Her eyes open, meeting his.
No words are needed to draw her to him. The pull in her chest is gravitational.
Leaves cling to her feet as she climbs ashore. The wet hem of her yukata hangs like lead above her ankles. She is freezing again.
There is no fire at the mouth of the cave. There is no supper. He has not brought her here to see to her needs.
Knowing this, she pauses before him. The floor of the cave is smooth beneath her feet.
Beneath her naked back, she suspects it will be grating.
His swords and armor rest gleaming against the wall of the cavern. Battered and misused, Tessaiga seems ever out of place among them.
She looks down at her ragged nails, at the smudged torn material of her clothing. “Why do you want me, Sesshoumaru?”
She has asked him this question before, though not with the same implication.
It is some time until he answers. His smooth inflection wrinkles with disdain.
“I still have my father’s…tastes, it seems.”
Startled, she glances up at him.
Bloodless fingers grip her skirt. “You mean there were others? Other human women before me?”
“One other,” he replies, a forbidding glint in his eye, “long ago. But it was not the same.”
Only one, she thinks, though the knowledge does nothing to soothe her.
“Did you care for her?”
He leans down, slides a knuckle beneath her chin. The smile on his lips is pure cruelty.
“I despised her.”
Trembling, she backs away.
“Did you kill her,” she chokes out, “after you…?”
“She died,” he answers tonelessly, stepping toward her, “as all humans do.” He reaches out, catches a lock of her hair between his claws. “All—except for you.”
“Because I’m yours?” she whispers at him, still quivering with hate and fear.
“Hn.” He tilts his head in contemplation, inky strands gliding between his fingers. “Turn around.”
She pivots slowly in place.
Will it be easier this way? she wonders, as he guides her to the ground. Downy fur cushions her knees.
…I won’t have to look at his face.
He removes the wooden comb holding half her hair. Black waves tumble free, frame her face in a soft dark curtain. A temporary refuge.
Cool fingers sift through the tangles. Plucked thorns and twigs patter against the rock. Knifepoint nails scrape her scalp, trail down to the middle of her back.
She imagines he is trying to put her at ease.
It is a wasted effort.
Eventually, he grows as weary of it as she.
He grasps the cotton fabric of her sleeves. A firm tug bares her shoulders. A sweep of his hand bares her neck.
His fingertips skirt her collar. The tip of his nose brushes her ear.
“Yes, Kagome,” he says against her jaw. His voice is low, indulgent. “I want you.”
His words crawl beneath her skin. She squirms at the sensation.
One hand has returned to her sleeve. As the front of her yukata parts, his other hand cups her breast, squeezing.
A hiss of breath escapes her.
The gap in her clothing widens. She can feel the fabric straining at the seams.
His mouth latches onto the column of her throat.
She tenses to the point of pain.
A sound of popping threads. The scratch of fangs above her pulse. A thumb-swipe over pebbled flesh.
His answers to her plea.
Silver flecks her vision. Her starving lungs scream in animal distress. Her lips part uselessly, then close. Human instinct moves her hand instead.
Against her palm, the back of his hand is no less hateful than the front. Swallowing her disgust, she curls her fingers lightly around the thumb still anchored to her breast, and searches for a better truth to hide her reluctance.
It bears down upon her as she speaks.
“Sesshoumaru, please,” she murmurs, sagging in his hold, “I’m still so tired…”
His hand withdraws from her chest. Clawed fingers curl around her chin. Icy breath fans across the side of her face. Her lashes flutter in the draft.
“And will you be tired tomorrow night?” His grip tightens, thumbnail pricking her cheek. “The night thereafter, as well?”
She says nothing. Her silence is answer enough.
He releases her and stands. Behind her comes the sound of buckling armor, the clink of swords. He circles her kneeling form, his fingers curved around Tessaiga’s fraying hilt.
“I do not grow accustomed,” he says, each quiet word drawn out with purpose, “to being denied.”
One hand rises to her gaping yukata. Staring at Inuyasha’s blade, she struggles to hold both halves together.
He leaves her stranded in the cave, his length of fur still pooled beneath her, his declaration still hanging in the air—a warning and a sentence both. He has led her to the gallows and handed her the noose, and thinks himself the benevolent executioner.
But he will not wait much longer for her to choose.
“Bastard,” she snarls as she rises, kicking his pelt out into the woods. “Devil! I will never give myself to you—never!”
Reiki flares within her chest, before the darkness smothers it to embers. Lungs heaving, she hunkers down against the frigid wall of the cave and despairs, for once, of how very little time she has left.
He will take her innocence from her, as he has taken everything else. That is the only truth she sees.
Closing her eyes, she blinds herself to this, hugs herself again. Comforts herself with a lie that lulls her to sleep at last.
When the sun rises, she is stiff and sore. In the morning light, her blue-and-white yukata is a tattered ruin.
It takes her many days to pay off a new one. Hard labor is excruciating for her. The curse does not allow her skin to thicken or even to blister. So as she works, she bleeds.
Today, when her raw fingers bloodied some of the washing, Inari-san caned her legs red to match. But she now has new sandals which actually fit her. And above all, she has her pride.
Sleeves still pinned above her elbows, she walks gingerly toward the village square. There is a straw shed across town where she could spend the night. The farmer who owns the shed lets beggars and orphans shelter there, so long as they promise not to steal. Many do, anyway, and the man suffers for his kindness.
She wishes she had more coins to leave him, except she does not know by what means Sesshoumaru obtains his wealth. What is his money worth, in blood?
Has she paid the farmer’s troubles with another person’s pain? Perhaps suffering is her only currency. Perhaps suffering is the only currency.
Frowning, she makes for the woods instead. She will not benefit from Sesshoumaru’s gold, even indirectly.
She is only a few yards away when she hears the screams.
“Oni! The oni have returned!”
“Demons from the south!”
“Hide—lock your doors!”
She hurries back toward the square, as a pair of towering horned demons crash through the southern edge of town. The screaming and scrambling intensifies. One elderly man is trampled in the chaos.
Reflexively, she reaches behind her—for a bow that isn’t there. Her jaw clenches in helpless fury.
A fair distance away, the red-eyed oni are roaring with laughter. Crude iron blades as broad as tree trunks smash down upon the wooden structures beneath them, crushing villagers in their homes and sending those out in the open running for their lives.
“Look at them,” she hears one chuckling. “Scattering like ants.”
“Run, little ants,” the other sneers, raising one massive leg.
There is a sickening crunch as the demon brings it down again.
Cringing, she flattens against the wall of the building beside her, sweating as her reiki burns and cools, burns and cools.
Like ants, that monster said.
“Help them!” she cries out in anguish, slamming her tender hands back against the boards as she glares up at the orange sky. “Help these people, you stupid gods! You let him seal my power away. So help them in my place!”
Another loud scream splits the air. Bloodcurdling and inhuman.
Her eyes snap back to the south of town. A gasp of shock escapes her—in the form of a name.
There, standing tall atop the wreckage, is Sango’s younger brother, demon-forged throwing scythe in hand. Crouched before him, one of the oni howls in pain, clutching at its butchered sword-arm. Black blood gushes in a torrent from the stump.
As the other demon charges from the left, Kohaku sprints across the broken beams, leaps out onto the shoulder of his injured foe. Enraged, the wounded oni lurches to its feet, clawing for the taijiya as the other barrels past, demolishing Kohaku’s former perch in an explosion of wooden planks.
In awe, she watches the demon-slayer deftly avoiding the swipes and swings of his enemies as he loops the kusarigama’s chain about the crippled oni’s throat. She has never seen a human move with such speed and strength—not even Sango’s skills could compare.
He slaughtered the best taijiya in their village, she remembers with a sudden chill, when he was just a boy. Maybe Naraku’s Shard was only part of the reason why he could…
Both ends of the chain in hand, Kohaku drops to the ground between the attacking oni. As he dashes through the other demon’s legs, he drags the crippled one down and forward by the neck, its jagged yellow horns spearing its companion through the chest.
She covers her ears against its awful shrieking, the earth shaking faintly as the demons topple to the ground. The kusarigama’s links retract in a brilliant flash, shearing clean through the chained oni’s neck as they return to the base of the sickle. With an almost casual flick of the arm, Kohaku beheads the other one as well, and blessed silence descends over the village once again.
Then, the whispering begins.
“Who is that man?” a merchant asks his wife in a hushed tone, peeking through the window of their shop.
“Could it be…Kohaku of the East?” the woman wonders softly, as she cranes her spindly neck toward the approaching figure in black. “They say he has slain a thousand demons.”
“Two thousand,” another man hisses at them from the square.
“Well, then!” the shopkeeper’s wife huffs. “I suppose now it is two thousand and two!”
“They call him The Reaper of Youkai,” a bright-eyed young man says with a grin of admiration. “He’s the best taijiya in all Japan!”
“The greatest taijiya in centuries, the traveling monks say!”
“A living legend!”
A legend? She blinks, gaze following her best friend’s brother as he steps into the square. A shy smile blooms across his handsome face, as the villagers surge toward him with cheering and applause.
She looks at him, his muscled frame lithe as it is strong, imposing in his stature and the dark uniform he wears, great bone scythe gleaming fiercely at his back. Then she looks past the hero, toward the carnage he left behind.
For a moment, she sees another headless corpse in the oni’s stead. Long silver hair spills out across the bloody ground, yellow eyes fixed in a dead endless stare.
She shakes her head to dispel the illusion. Beautiful though it is.
Some lies are just too dangerous, she thinks.
Even to tell to herself.
Chapter 13: a balm for sorrow
– 13 –
.a balm for sorrow.
She has grown so used to being invisible. When Kohaku looks toward her, she forgets that he can see.
His black eyes are keen and piercing. Dark as the ones which shadow her dreams.
Her breath catches like dust in her throat.
She breaks his stare and flees.
She can hear him pushing through the crowd. He calls to her again—louder now—but she does not pause in her retreat.
I shouldn’t have stayed, she berates herself, nails digging into the flesh of her palms. Why couldn’t I just leave?
The ache in her heart defies all question. It is sure and it is selfish, and it will destroy them both if she allows it to.
Twilight descends. Through a canopy of branches, the moon emerges. Kohaku pursues her still.
“Kagome-san, please wait.”
She slows. “Go back to town, Kohaku-kun.”
He stops behind her but makes no move to leave. Bitter anger spikes her fear. Her lips part to order him back, to send him away before his meddling brings disaster.
He reaches for her as she turns.
“Don’t!” she cries, jerking back. “Don’t touch me!”
Stricken, Kohaku lowers his hand.
“Forgive me,” he mutters, frowning, “I just thought that—”
“I know,” she interrupts him, hugging her arms across her chest. Her gaze falls to the moss below. “But last time was a mistake. I shouldn’t have asked that of you. It was wrong.”
“How was it wrong?”
She looks up at him, pained. “Kohaku, please. You have to go.”
Dark eyes search her expression. In the fading light, they gleam.
“If that’s what you really want, Kagome-san, I will.”
Her traitorous heart rails within her chest, hammers at its cage of bone. She braces a trembling hand against its protests, and thinks that nothing could be further from what she really wants.
“I didn’t understand at first,” she admits to him, her voice soft and worn with pain, “but I never left the battlefield that day. I died with them. I died, and now…”
Her words fall away, useless to describe the hell that surrounds her. Her gaze returns to the wilderness.
“Forget about me, Kohaku-kun. That’s what I want you to do.”
But Kohaku does not forget.
More often than not he finds her, in villages and on the road. She does nothing to acknowledge his efforts. Yet he persists in seeking her out.
While she works and she wanders, he tells her of his travels. Of the training he sought as a young man. Of which demons he has slain and where.
Sometimes he speaks of his childhood with Sango, and it is all she can do to hold back the tide of grief that threatens to overwhelm her.
Don’t talk about before, she wants to scream, swallowing the words like bile as they rise.
In vain, she tries not to listen. But she can no sooner ignore Kohaku than he can ignore her. Each time they meet, her stony silence forms another crack.
Then one day, it shatters.
She is scouring pots when he approaches her with a smile. Despite the chill of her demeanor, her heart still warms to see him.
“Kagome-san,” he greets her, in a tone of pleasant surprise—though they both know there is no coincidence to their meeting.
As she resumes her task, he sits down beside her on the wooden bench and takes up a dirty kettle of his own.
“Another border town was attacked last night,” he tells her as he begins to clean, “three dead and twenty wounded. It seems the oni raiders are growing more determined.” A heavy pause. “Or more desperate. Either way, it's troubling to me that Sesshoumaru-sama has yet to intervene.”
Gritting her teeth, she attacks a stubborn spot of grease and struggles not to shake.
Intervene, she thinks in scorn, why would he? As if Sesshoumaru-sama cares about some human village at the edge of his lands…
The grease spot is long since vanished when she lifts her eyes again.
A few villagers have stopped to gawk at them, startled to find the fearsome demon slayer assisting a peasant girl with her chores. Kohaku watches them back. As the onlookers shuffle off at last, he lowers his voice to her and continues.
“Kagome-san…I’ve been searching for leads on the Shikon no Tama. I haven’t found anything promising yet, but I think that—”
She stands up. The pot in her lap clangs to the ground.
“Stop it,” she snaps at him, strangling the cleaning rag in her fist. “Stop following me like this—stop trying to interfere in matters that don’t concern you! Can’t you tell by now that I don’t want you around? Idiot!”
As she prepares to throw the rag at him, Kohaku rises, catching her by the wrist.
“You think the Jewel is none of my concern? Have you forgotten how Naraku used it to enslave me, to force my hand against my own father, my sister—even you, once? And while I lay injured, unable to fight, the last member of my family was killed in the battle to reclaim it.” Kohaku’s arm falls slack, though he does not release her. “…Or do you not remember?”
The wet cloth slides from her fingers. She stares at the hand on her wrist, feels the scratch of calluses where the fabric of his gloves does not extend.
“I remember,” she says quietly, meeting his gaze.
Like her, he is stranded. In his eyes she sees the place where his memories have left him. She can see herself there, too.
Sadness is the ocean in which they drift, together but alone. He thinks that he can save them, but clinging to one another will only drown them both.
Knowing this, she pulls away. Reluctantly, he lets her.
“Why…?” he asks, as her hand slips through his fingers. “Why won’t you let me help you?”
Her hardships, she finds, have left calluses of their own. There is no softness in her answer.
“Because,” she tells him, “you can’t.”
Regret follows her in Kohaku’s stead, to a creek in the woods where she scrubs her skin until it bleeds, to the dark castle where Sesshoumaru awaits her.
It is a desolate place, a sprawling complex of decrepit buildings, buckling slowly beneath the weight of time. She does not know how long it has been abandoned by man.
Dust blankets every surface. The air is dank like the inside of a tomb, though there are no corpses that she can see. No ghosts apart from herself.
Within the small side palace, she runs a lacquered comb through her hair and struggles to forget the demon beside her.
The monotonous brushing lulls her into reverie. She thinks of Kohaku-kun.
“Such a gentle expression,” Sesshoumaru remarks, hooking a claw beneath her chin. “Have you grown weary of despising me?”
She turns her head from his grasp. Let him think what he likes, she tells herself, so long as Kohaku is safe from his suspicions.
“I can’t spend every moment hating you.” Her tired arm slumps to her lap. “Though I’ve tried.”
He plucks the comb from her clenched fingers. From a drawer in the low table before her, he retrieves a string of jade beads and drapes it around her neck.
“This Sesshoumaru has gone to great lengths to indulge you. I have safeguarded your health and your youth, I have given you this castle and all its wealth, yet you curse my name and roam the countryside like a hapless beggar.” A claw tip trails along the base of her throat. “Is there nothing that can please you?”
The beads weigh heavy at her nape. She casts a glance toward the painted screens, the inlaid chests full of kimonos and hairpins and jars of scent.
A lady lived here once, in this little palace on the outskirts of the grounds. Perhaps she was a mistress of the daimyo, or an errant daughter whose sins had been discovered. In one chest, a yellow ball lays nestled amongst the silks—a child’s toy.
Her gaze falls to her wrist. “Nothing that you can give me.”
Happiness is the warmth of a touch, the brilliance of a smile that throws all misery into sharp relief, like pinpoints of starlight in an inky sky.
Unbroken, the darkness becomes easier to bear. There is security in the sameness of it, but there is no joy, no satisfaction.
She remembers how lost Kohaku looked as she dismissed him, for fear of the monster that looms now at her shoulder, his yellow eyes dark with challenge.
Am I wiser now, she asks herself, bowing her head, or am I just a coward?
It is a question that remains with her as she leaves the ruined castle and returns to the realm of men.
She thought she had succeeded in driving Kohaku away. She does not realize how desperately she has been hoping otherwise, until he is leaning next to her on the fence.
The workday has ended. In the empty village square, a couple of dogs fight over a scrap of bone.
Yellowed fangs snap through fur and flesh. With a yelp, the loser limps off to lick his wounds, while the winner snatches up the bone and buries it in the dirt.
She watches the dog settle down to guard his prize. For once she is the first to speak.
“How many years have passed, since the battle with Naraku?”
“Seventeen,” the taijiya answers, his hard eyes softening as they slant toward her. “One, since I first saw you again.”
The years rise up before her, a swell of grim reflection that sends her reeling as it breaks. She can see the clock ticking in her dreams, feel the black chain pulling in her chest, dragging her down into the depths of her despair.
“Oh gods, it’s true,” she chokes, her fingers catching weakly at the wooden rail behind her. “More than half my life…I really am…”
I really am his.
Kohaku is gripping her beneath the shoulders. He lifts her up, and she surfaces with a gasp. Her hands clutch at him, her nails digging into the material of his sleeves.
His eyes are wide with panic. A shiver runs through him as he takes her in his arms.
“No,” he mutters against her hair, “I won’t allow it. I won’t let you get lost in a place like that…in a place where I can’t find you.”
Her heart is racing. Her head feels far too light. She shifts unsteadily in his hold, and he steps back a bit in contrition.
“I wasn’t entirely honest with you before, when I told you my reasons for seeking out the Jewel. It’s true that I want justice for Sango and myself, but more than that…more than that, I just want you to be free again. I want to see you smile like you used to, without any sadness or pain.”
“Kohaku-kun…” she whispers, tears trembling at the corners of her eyes.
“I love you, Kagome. I’ve loved you since I was a boy.” A tinge of red stains Kohaku’s cheeks, and the years seem to melt away before her. “After the final battle, when we couldn’t find your body, I’d always hoped I would see you again someday.” He shakes his head. “But not like this. I can’t stand by while you are suffering. I can’t just leave you alone to this fate. So please—don’t tell me that you want me to go.”
The tightness in her chest is ripping her in two.
Is happiness worth the hurt that it can bring? A lifetime ago, she would have said yes.
She was brave, back then.
A shaky breath escapes her. One hand rises to cradle his cheek.
She wants to be brave again.
“Kohaku…please don’t go.”
Her hand slides back as he leans forward. His lips press against hers, smooth and soothing, and it is bliss.
She parts from him breathless, her damp lashes fluttering in the space between them. He touches his brow to hers.
“Come away with me, Kagome. We can travel Japan together, and when the Jewel returns, I’ll help you to destroy it.”
She can see it in the lights of his eyes, another life at the tunnel end of her isolation. A life of love and adventure more beautiful than any dream, yet equally out of her reach.
Wretched, she draws back. “I can’t go with you, Kohaku…I’m sorry.” Briefly she averts her gaze. “I have to stay in the western lands.”
His arms stiffen around her. The light in his eyes is gone. He studies her face with a bitterness that sweeps the earth out from underneath her.
“It was him, wasn’t it?” he demands of her, a mirthless smile twisting his lips. “It was Sesshoumaru-sama who made the wish.”
She stares at him in dismay.
Happiness is a candle they hold between them, a palliative against the drowning darkness of regret. As the last warmth of it fades, she clings to him.
And finds they are sinking still.
Chapter 14: release theory
– 14 –
“So it’s true.”
Miserable, she clenches her jaw, unable to refute him.
Kohaku releases her and turns away, his hand resting on the katana at his hip. The slayer has replaced the man, and his voice is steel.
“Then I have to kill him.”
“No,” she exclaims, latching onto him. “You can’t go after him, Kohaku—promise me you won’t!”
He rounds on her, his eyes flinty with suspicion. “Why would you demand such a thing?” His expression darkens. “Don’t tell me you actually care for that demon…”
She drops his arm as if burned.
“Care for him? He murdered Inuyasha before my eyes. He stole the Shikon no Tama and turned my life into a living hell. No one has more cause to want him dead than me. And I do.” She clutches at the neck of her yukata, a terrible hatred softening her words. “…More than anything.”
“Then why are you trying to stop me?”
She wishes she could spare his pride. But she is not a delicate creature.
“Because you’re no match for him, Kohaku-kun. If you challenge Sesshoumaru, he’ll kill you for sure.”
He opens his mouth to challenge her, but she cuts him off with a slash of her wrist.
“It doesn’t matter how strong you think you are. He’ll cut you down just like all the others, and I can’t—” Her voice breaks at last, her eyes watering in fear. “I can’t bear it…the thought of him killing you, too.”
“Kagome,” he says tightly, his fingers tensing around the hilt of his sword.
Her words have become her only weapon, honed to sharpness against the stony skin of her oppressor. It is a cruel blade she pierces him with now.
“Take one more step, and I’ll never forgive you. Whether you live or die, I’ll remember how you turned your back on me when I begged you not to. How you told me you loved me and then left me standing here alone and afraid.” She circles him, gazing up into his fierce dark eyes as she twists the blade. “Do you care more about hunting down Sesshoumaru than being with me?”
His hand falls from the hilt, his shoulders sinking in defeat. The hardness melts from his features as the tips of his fingers brush across her cheek.
“There is nothing I want more,” he says with quiet conviction, “than to be by your side.”
She covers his hand with her own and softly shuts her eyes. “Then let’s not talk about Sesshoumaru anymore. Let’s just be together.”
As the weeks go by, time regains its meaning.
The days take shape around their assignations. She savors the moments when they are together and counts the hours when they are apart.
Her mind is so full of Kohaku and her happiness that there is little room for oppressive thought. For the first time since the wish was made, she finds freedom in her captivity.
They do not speak of Sesshoumaru again, though the occasional thinning of Kohaku’s lips gives voice to his discontent. He is terse with her when she asks about the twist of dry herb he has taken to wearing around his neck. Through gritted teeth he tells her it is there to hide his scent.
Yet whenever yellow eyes linger on her mouth and throat, she worries that their secret cannot be hidden well enough.
In her dreary little dollhouse, she airs out the covers of a futon while her captor watches on. Dust motes swirl the air. She tracks their glittering movement as they settle like snow over the ruined tatami mats.
Beneath the open window, Sesshoumaru reclines, his gaze dulled to amber in the lantern light. Outside, the moon is full.
She turns her back on them both as she lies down upon the aged mattress. Unbound, her hair spills out behind her. Kohaku-kun prefers it free.
So, too, does he, although he does not remark upon it now. He has said little to her this evening, and though perhaps she should be unnerved by his silence, she cannot summon enough consideration for him to care—let alone to think of spiting him by tying up her hair.
Imprisonment is a state of mind. She can dwell upon the bars of her cage, or she can look through them at the world beyond.
This is what she believes as sleep ferries her far from the shambles of the palace, the phantom pressure of a kiss upon her lips.
She finds herself in another ruin.
The grass grows tall here, green blades stabbing up through the rotted floorboards of her family home. The walls have fallen away. Tree limbs twist through the empty space, creating a dark bower out of the wreckage.
She steps over the threshold. The boards groan and shiver beneath her feet.
Anticipation pools low in her belly, simmering as she makes her way toward the broken stairs.
Some of the steps are missing. The rest crumble to ashes as she climbs.
At the landing, she spies her bedroom door, standing upright on its own. When she touches the handle, invisible hinges swing open on a whine.
Books litter the desk and floor; their titles make no sense to her. Her lone screen window hangs suspended in midair, offering a pointless view.
On her bed, something sinuous moves beneath the sheets.
Trepidation fills her. She rips back the covers with shaking fingers. A horrified gasp leaves her throat.
Two snakes writhe atop the mattress, their smooth bodies slicked with blood. Coiled together, each snake devours the other’s tail, fangs shearing through scale and muscle as their jaws distend to swallow deeper, white plated flesh thrusting in and out of straining throats—bloodied and obscene.
Desire curdles in her gut. She stares on in morbid fascination.
“Kagome,” a gruff voice rasps against her neck.
She trembles as his arms enfold her, easing her down to the rug below. Clawed fingers tug at her clothing. His body is already bare, save for the rosary around his neck.
“Inuyasha,” she breathes, her voice choked with longing.
She trails her fingers through his shaggy bangs, sighs into his mouth when he surges against her. Heat spreads like poison through her veins, an agony of dark expectation. She buries her hands in the silver of his hair and strives against his plunging hips.
She whispers his name like a prayer, the slithering sounds above her twisting her yearning into a bitter, mangled knot.
A tapping at the windowsill draws her attention.
There sits the crow, glaring at her with its too-black Eye.
“Go away,” she says, her sour lust churning with resentment. “Leave us alone.”
She looks back at Inuyasha’s face, her own features contorting in misery. His golden eyes are flat and unblinking. His mouth gapes open listlessly.
“No,” she groans in dismay, her body still fraught with tension, still moving beneath his rigid corpse.
And something…something is moving back, driving steady and deep between her parted thighs.
“No!” she yells again, fighting to push his dead weight from her chest.
The slithering is no longer above her. It is nearer now. Nearer, down below—
She jolts awake with a cry of terror, tears streaming down her face.
Sweat soaks her naked skin. Her breasts are heavy and aching with need, heaving with every labored breath. A sudden stroke within her tears a ragged moan from her lips.
Her legs clench around the point of intrusion. Frightened and disoriented, she squirms against the firmness at her back.
“Stop struggling,” Sesshoumaru speaks into her hair.
His arm is an iron bar beneath her breasts. He shifts, and from this new angle she can see down the plane of her stomach, to where his pale hand is buried in the junction of her thighs.
“No…” she whimpers as his fingers start to move again, curling tortuously with every plunge.
Like a knife he jabs at the base of her spine, and she stills her feeble thrashing, arching forward with a sob. Sticky wetness coats the bedding beneath her. She feels she will never be clean again.
“Stop this, Sesshoumaru,” she begs him, as her muscles seize under his assault. “Stop this, please…”
His free hand cuts off her pleading, closing like a shackle around her throat. Her airway constricts. Her vision dims. A sickening pleasure builds inside.
Her lips part in a muted scream, bitter release storming through her. She bucks reflexively into the cradle of his hand, loathing herself almost as much as she loathes him.
“…You’re disgusting,” she pants when he withdraws his fingers, claws glistening and streaked with red.
Roughly, he pushes them into her mouth, and she gags at the violation, at the tang of blood and arousal on her tongue.
“You enjoyed it,” he says against the shell of her ear, guiding her hand between them. “…This Sesshoumaru, as well.”
Her shriek is muffled by his encroaching fingers. He closes her fist around his hardened flesh.
“I could take you now,” he tells her coolly, his tone pitching lower as he begins to pump her hand. “I could take you whenever I choose.”
Her other arm is locked in the crook of his elbow. Shuddering, she endures his crushing grip, submits to the repulsive plundering of her mouth. Sullied claws glide over her lips and tongue, his sharp teeth dragging across the tender casing of her pulse.
“Kagome…” he says, his voice fraying with what she assumes is lust, “you…belong to me.”
He pulls his fingers from her mouth, slides them damply to her breast. A short cry escapes her when he pinches her there.
“Tell me,” he seethes, tightening his hold as he jerks into her palm, “tell me to whom you belong.”
Her raw eyes lift toward the window. Somewhere beyond its frame is a place where she can be free. But she cannot see it.
All she sees are the walls of her prison. All she feels are the iron hands trapping her to him, her humiliation still seeping onto the futon below.
“You,” she answers brokenly, squeezing her fist. “I belong to you…Sesshoumaru.”
He draws her flush against him, sinking his fangs into her shoulder as he empties himself against her back. Her arm is still twisted behind her. Hot liquid sears her skin, drenches the ends of her loose hair.
She is filthy. She is worthless.
She is his.
Chapter 15: desperation
– 15 –
She is frozen.
Her body lies glued to the mattress. The thin blanket above her might as well be made of stone, for all she can move beneath it.
Her eyes are wide and staring. Her lips are cracked and dry.
Shadows creep along the wall, their shapes sinister and obscure. As morning fades to noon, they meld into the darkness of one dusky corner, and she can follow them no more.
The blanket slides back like a funeral slab. With effort she rises, wincing at how her skin sticks to the bedding. The sensation forces a memory, reminds her of the one who cemented her there.
She does not want to be reminded.
She does not want to remember.
But the blood on her thighs does not allow her to forget.
He has hollowed her out. He has created a void inside her. Like sand in a funnel, she can feel herself collapsing inward at the core.
Stiff and crusted with shame, she pulls her arms through her discarded yukata. She tightens the sash to the cutting point, as if doing so can help to hold her form. As if by covering herself she can hide what he has done.
What she has done.
A trembling hand presses to her brow.
Suddenly, the musty air is stifling. The walls are pressing in too close.
Lurching to her feet, she stumbles toward the screen door. Outside, the hallways constrict around her, smothering her as she gropes her way toward the exit.
Sweating, panting, shaking with nerves, she bursts forth from the entrance of the side palace as though expelled from the mouth of a beast.
Sunlight scalds her face.
She pitches forward against one of the outer supports. Her arms cling to the splintered beam, nausea roiling through her.
This castle is a dead place. A graveyard of dusty remains.
It will bury her too, if she lets it.
It will bury her alive.
With a groan, she pushes away from the wooden post and ambles down the steps. Rocks in the courtyard slice open her bare feet. Bloody footprints follow her into the woods.
The shade is not welcome, but it welcomes her. She wonders if this is where the shadows go.
Miles pass, or none at all. She finds herself standing at the edge of a creek.
The water is a band of dark glass.
She slips from her yukata and breaks the mirrored surface. If only she could shed her skin so easily.
The flakes on her back strip off in the current. It is the film they leave behind which makes her still unclean.
Distressed, she digs her nails into the oily slickness. Her hand is coated in it, too. With sand dredged up from the creek bottom, she scrubs her slimy flesh. The grains fall stained with red, yet the taint of him persists.
Shivering, she wades out toward the icy center.
Water stings her grated skin, a feeling far more pleasant that the one between her fingers. The pain fades as her wounds stitch shut. She lowers herself beneath the surface.
Cool darkness floods her mouth, rushing in to fill her. From the other side of the looking glass, she stares up at the warped face of the sun.
Her lungs burn against the chill. She closes her eyes, suspended in the silence.
More than air she craves the peace of death, however fleeting. The flight of soul from body as it returns to the Void, the few moments of blissful oblivion before her earthly consciousness reawakens on the Bridge with chain in back.
He will punish me for this, she thinks, uncaring.
No breath releases from her sigh.
The sun blots out above her. The darkness is complete.
Her soul is halfway free when she is wrenched up from the depths.
“…Kagome!” a voice seems to say.
She is being shaken. She is being fed air. She convulses, and water spills from her mouth.
Gasping and shuddering, she curls her fingers into the warmth that surrounds her, her feet slipping as she struggles to stand. Light blinds her bleary eyes. She blinks and blinks to clear them.
“Kagome…thank the gods…”
She is swept up under the arms and knees, seated gently on the stony shore. Soft cotton wraps around her shoulders. The face of her savior swims into focus.
“What were you thinking?” Kohaku says, gripping her above the elbows.
He is crouched on the ground before her, black eyes flashing, features taut with alarm. She turns from him in guilt.
“Something has happened to you.” His grip tightens, voice lowering. “What has he done?”
Her eyes drift back to his. “…You’re hurting me, Kohaku.”
Kohaku’s jaw clenches as he loosens his hold. His tone is hard when he speaks.
“You’re not going back to him.”
“It’s not that simple,” she says, sharp enough to make him flinch. “You don’t understand.”
“I understand you would have drowned yourself if I hadn’t intervened.”
She draws the yukata more closely around her. “It wouldn’t have mattered.”
His heroics are wasted on her. Death is not her enemy. She resents each breath she takes.
Kohaku frowns thinly.
“When was the last time you ate?” he asks, tucking a damp lock of hair behind her ear.
“…I’m not sure.”
“Can you walk?” He straightens. “The village I’m staying in isn’t far from here.”
She nods and lets him help her to her feet. The loose yukata slips from her shoulders as she stands. Reddening, Kohaku averts his gaze.
“This way,” he says, taking her by the hand.
He leads her through the forest of shadows. As they emerge on the other side, the smell of salt carries on the breeze. She had not realized they were so close to the sea.
Kohaku’s hut is perched on a cliff, at the edge of a fishing village. Mumbling something about tidying up, he disappears through the door of slatted reeds.
Alone, she wanders toward the edge.
It is a long distance to the rocks at the bottom. Flecked with foam, they line the face of the cliff like rows of jagged teeth.
Those rocks would tear her to pieces if she fell. How long would it take to reassemble her body, if parts of it were swept out to sea? She leans closer—
Kohaku watches her from the doorway, his expression wary. “You should come inside.”
She steps back, chastened. He pulls the reed curtain aside for her as she passes through.
The space is small, but warm. She sits down on the rumpled futon while Kohaku busies himself at the hearth. They eat their stew in strained silence. Dark eyes stray often to her lips.
He collects her empty bowl and turns away to rinse it. The muscles of his back ripple with his movements, shifting beneath the black material of his uniform.
Something shifts within her, too.
“It’s getting late,” he remarks from the entrance. “It would be best if you stayed here for the night.”
“Where will you sleep?” she asks him, rising.
He glances back at her, one hand poised on the reeds. “I’ll be just outside, if you need me.”
As he resumes his departure, she crosses to him quickly, arms sliding around him from behind. He tenses.
“Kohaku,” she murmurs, molding herself to his back, “I need you.”
He turns, fingers threading through her hair as he brushes her lips with his. Chaste at first, their kiss deepens like the darkness outside. As he breaks it to descend upon her throat, she tugs at the fastenings of his uniform.
“Kagome…” he mutters, uncertain.
But she is frantic for him. The fabric peels from his chest, and she is running her fingers over the planes of hard muscle, her touch searching lower, dipping beneath the sash at his waist—
“Kagome,” he says again, halting her by the wrist.
“Please, Kohaku,” she whispers, freeing the knot of her obi as she draws him toward the futon. The folds of her yukata part, to the sound of his sharpened breath. “Stay with me.”
He sinks down with her into the blankets. His mouth seeks hers again, his hands mapping her naked flesh. She arches into his palm when he cups her, writhes when he grazes the bone of her hip. When his fingers slip between her legs, she stills.
“…What’s wrong?” he breathes against her lips. “Do you want me to stop?”
“No,” she says, eyes closing as she guides him in. “Don’t stop.”
He glides along the opened seam, probes at the edges of the void. She grits her teeth as they begin to crumble.
He strokes inside her, but it is not enough to overlay the loathsome images in her head.
In agitation, she reaches for him, squeezing in her insistence, and her name escapes him on a groan.
She cries out in relief when he joins their bodies, the stretch of him a welcome pain. Each thrust cinches her tighter, contracts the emptiness within.
Behind her quivering eyelids, a golden dream plays out.
As he delves deeper, she spears her tongue into his mouth. With increasing urgency they plunge, until she breaks for him like a wave upon the rock, and he fills her as he shatters.
And then it is over.
The dream fades. He withdraws from her, and she is empty again.
Dark eyes hover above her own, hooded with satisfaction.
“I love you,” Kohaku says.
She forces a smile and raises her lips to his.
He is gone by the time she wakes.
She shrugs into her yukata and attempts to smooth her hair. Her expression softens when she spies the pot of miso he has left simmering for her above the hearth. Padding over to it, she retrieves a bowl and carries her breakfast toward the door, eager to watch for his return.
But she is not alone.
Scarcely past the curtain, the bowl drops from her numb fingers.
“…Sesshoumaru,” she greets in quiet dread.
Chapter 16: lost causes
– 16 –
A short distance away stands her tormentor, staring out at the iron sea. Not turning, he begins to speak.
“The herb bitter-root,” he says without inflection, “is quite effective in masking scent. Taijiya have employed it for centuries to clever purpose.” His eyes slant toward her, penetrating and cool. “But you’re a fool, if you think that this Sesshoumaru cannot smell where that human has been.”
Her hands are shaking. She swallows past the dryness in her throat. “What have you done to him?”
“Nothing,” he answers, “as of yet.”
“Please,” she says, resenting how feeble she sounds, “please don’t hurt him. I won’t see him again, I promise.”
“A convenient vow,” he remarks with a curl of the lip, “now that you have had your fill.”
She quails as he steps toward her, yellow poison in his gaze.
“I wonder,” he says quietly, acidly, “did you think of him even once while he was inside you? Or were your only thoughts of spiting me?”
“Stop it,” she whimpers, clutching at her sleeves, “that isn’t true…”
“You detest me, yet even I mean more to you than he.” The tip of his claw dents a path along her cheek. “The taijiya does not warrant my attention. So long as he proves himself no further nuisance, I see no cause to end his life. He is as far beneath my notice as he is beneath yours.”
She glares at him, trembling, grasping for a way to refute his claims. Kohaku is not an instrument of her defiance. He is her only solace, her only light in the gloomy hell of her existence.
Yet why does she feel this upsurge of guilt? Why, when she recalls the events of the night before—why can’t she picture Kohaku’s face?
“Come,” Sesshoumaru says, preparing to turn. “We are leaving.”
He is halfway around when she sees the glint.
There is a moment of paralyzing shock, before pain explodes in her chest.
As she collapses, Sesshoumaru hunches forward. A curved blade sprouts like a crow’s beak from the back of his punctured plate.
She stares at him in a haze of disbelief. The blow should not have landed. And yet it did.
The gash is mirrored above her breast. She presses her palm to it in fevered awe, blood rising in her throat.
The taste of it is ecstasy.
“I’ve longed for this,” Kohaku confesses lowly, his eyes hard and glinting as he approaches Sesshoumaru with chain in hand, “for the day when I could finally put you down like the mad dog you are.”
He does not see her kneeling there, half-hidden behind her captor’s hateful form. His slayer’s gaze is riveted on the monster before him.
“I see now what Toutousai meant when gave me this weapon.” The corner of his mouth lifts in grim approval. “He said I might find a special use for it someday.”
Her gasp is muffled by the blood.
The armor, she realizes, her eyes flaring wide. The armor is cursed.
A blue glow lightens the matching scrollwork on plate and sickle blade. Grisly claws strain at them both—to no avail. The weapon locks the armor; the armor locks the weapon.
Drawing his sword, Kohaku yanks the chain, forcing Sesshoumaru to a knee.
“I will set her free from you,” the taijiya says, laying the edge of his katana against that stony throat. “You will never hurt her again.”
Sesshoumaru smiles, slow and cruel, his gruesome fangs steeped in red.
“You fool,” he says. “Her existence is bound to mine. If I die, she dies as well.”
Kohaku scowls, his sword arm tensing. “You’re lying.”
A bead of blood trails down the demon’s marble skin. Sesshoumaru’s expression darkens, youki rising about him like the wind in a storm.
“You are killing her, taijiya. Look at her and see.”
Dark eyes shift to her at last, widening in horror.
Beneath her hand, crimson blooms through the pale pink cotton of her yukata. When she parts her lips, a scarlet thread spools out.
“Ko…ha…ku…” she chokes, reaching for him with slippery fingers, “…kill him…please…”
But the gash in her chest transfixes him. In anguish, he whispers her name.
The chain slackens in his grip. The katana wavers at Sesshoumaru’s neck. In that brief hesitation, darkness smothers the soft blue light, and a pale hand streaks upward, closing around Kohaku’s throat.
A bloody scream tears from her lips.
Kohaku is wrenched over the cliff side, the kusarigama’s chain drawing taut again, ripping the sickle blade out by the slayer’s own hand. Seizing the weapon in his claws, Sesshoumaru casts it aside like a child's toy, and it follows the katana into the sea below.
“She knew she would die, but she did not tell you,” Sesshoumaru states to the man thrashing in his hold. “You were a tool to her, nothing more.”
“…No!” She rasps, struggling to her feet. The wound has begun to close. “Kohaku…don’t—don’t listen to him!”
“Even when you had her, she was not yours.” Ivory fingers tighten like a vise. “She could never have been yours.”
Kohaku’s fingers cease their scrabbling. He looks at her in raw despair, his legs dangling listlessly over the edge of the cliff. The sight of it cleaves her chest anew.
“Sesshoumaru!” She staggers toward him, salt stinging in her eyes as she buries her nails into the sleeve at his side. “Please…if you care anything for me…anything at all…then, please—let him go!”
He peers down at her in vague reproach, his extended arm relaxing slightly. She does not dare to breathe.
“If,” he says to her, a terrible softness to his tone. “…How could you doubt?”
Far above the churning sea, he opens his hand, and lets Kohaku go.
Chapter 17: the color green
– 17 –
.the color green.
A shout fades in the shape of her name.
She pitches forward, throws herself toward the edge as far as the arm about her waist will let her. Her eyes scan the grey-blue water, the knifepoints of rock. At first there is nothing.
Then, the waves recede.
Something black and broken drags over a stump of stone. Blood smears the pitted surface. Raven hair lists toward the sea.
As the surf sweeps back in to bury the dead, another sound rings along the cliff side, high and keening. It lances her ears and sours her stomach. It is a moment before she understands—
The source of that sound is her.
“No…” she sobs, tears coursing down her face. They mix with the blood at her mouth and splatter rosily upon the crag.
She sags against the arm restraining her. When he begins to draw her back, she whirls, striking him hard as she turns.
“You monster,” she seethes, her palm throbbing where it met his stony cheek. She balls her hands to fists and attacks his chest. “I hate you—I hate you!”
Reiki scalds her insides. Her knuckles split against the ruined surface of his armor. When he reaches for her, she claws at him, blunt nails breaking against his skin.
He is impenetrable, and she is weak. So disgustingly weak.
“…Why?” she grits out, fingers still poised to strike even as she falls against him. “Why are you so cruel?”
“Cruel,” he muses, gathering her up. “Did you not beg me to release him?”
What blood she has left is boiling beneath her skin. The tears on her face burn away, as if she had never shed them.
She smothers the mad impulse to laugh.
Her chest shivers as her head lolls back, dim eyes rolling toward the empty sky.
Where is the crow? she asks herself, knowing the answer.
It lies only in her dreams.
Through the dark corridors, she wanders. Searching, ever searching…
The tunnels of her nightmare give way to another darkened place. Its familiar walls are wreathed in shadow. Through gaps in the shuttered window, light seeps in like pus from an opened wound.
She raises herself up from the loathsome futon. Her yukata is torn and stiff with blood.
Beside her rests a basin of water, a film of dust griming the surface. Her hand alone turns the contents a murky red. She pushes to her feet and staggers toward the door.
The flimsy screen is locked against her. She tries the window, but it too is sealed by his youki. The malevolent aura sickens her. Pale faced and trembling, she reels, kicking out at the basin in impotent fury.
Redness spills across the busted floorboards, bleeds through the tatami and the rumpled bedding. Crashing against the wall, the basin explodes in a spray of shards.
It is not enough.
With a cry she rips at the bloodied sheets, tears her nails through the painted screens, smashes her fists and heels through the inlaid chests, the ornate vases, the lacquered tables, and all the other finery. Loose beads of jade skitter across the floor. Silk fans and kimonos flutter down in shreds.
All of it is rotten, all of it is diseased. Nothing pure remains in this place. Everything bears the taint of him.
She braces her forearm against the wall, lungs heaving in the dirty air.
“Why have you done this to me?” she whispers, sinking. “ Sesshoumaru…” She slams her fist against the wood. “What do you want from me?”
Shoulders shaking, she leans her brow against her sleeve. For a while she remains this way, until a shock of color draws her attention.
The cracked bottom of a chest proves false. She pulls away the pieces to reveal a hidden cache of letters, resting on a bed of green silk.
The paper is worn and fragile with age. Carefully, she unfolds the topmost note. It is written in a masculine hand, the ink smudged and blotted, as though by tears.
My dearest Izayoi, the letter reads, I am grieved I cannot be with you to welcome our son into this world. An old enemy has arisen to challenge my rule, and I must answer. Do not fear for me, my love; I promise I shall return to you soon.
I have thought of a name, at last. If it please you, I would like for our son to be called—
“Inuyasha,” she breathes.
Heart pounding, she snatches up the second note, tearing it a little in her haste. Her eyes scan the fading characters, but Inuyasha’s name is not among them. Nor does she find it in any of the other notes to Izayoi.
At the bottom of the stack lies a letter of a different sort, afloat on a sea of emerald green. The rice paper is a paler shade. She unfolds it partway, and discovers that the author is not the same. The ink strokes are delicate and thin, yet so haphazard she can scarcely read them.
My lord, it begins.
I know this letter can never reach you. Yet I must confess. I must tell you why I have failed you. I do not expect your forgiveness, but perhaps you may understand.
Please know that I have tried. I have endeavored to forget that night, what he did to me. The pain was immense, yet I told myself I could bear it. What I could not endure were the words he inflicted upon me. Long after the pain, they lingered, like a poison in my mind. I cannot think even of you now, my love, without recalling his terrible face…
The next few lines are indecipherable. She skips to the end.
…This sickness will take me. I do not have the will to live on in this corrupted state. I am not fit to be a mother, when I look at our son and all I see are yellow eyes, full of hate. Burning into me, burning—
The brush stroke descends in a crooked line, disappearing beneath the last fold of the note. With numb fingers, she pulls back the flap of paper, her muscles taut with dread.
There, below, the black line curves, tracing again and again the shape of a sinister crescent moon…
At the window, a dark presence appears.
She lowers Izayoi’s letter, unable to breathe as she looks across all the pretty rubble, to where Sesshoumaru is regarding her in silence.
In the dingy light, crimson gleams across the front of his haori. She knows the blood is not his own.
“So you’ve killed him, too,” she says, meeting his gaze. “…Toutousai.”
“The old swordsmith betrayed me. Each breath he drew was an insult to my honor.”
Slowly she stands. Izayoi’s letter crumples in her grip.
“Honor. How can you even say it? Was it here in this room that you raped Inuyasha’s mother? Was it on that bed over there?” She casts a vicious glance at the mangled futon. “Is that why you brought me to this place—so that I could be your Izayoi?” She steps toward him, eyes flashing. “Is that what you want, Sesshoumaru-sama?”
There is no change in his expression. His features are inscrutable.
“No more than you wanted Kohaku to be your lover,” he replies, “when you had him take you. Your use of him was no different from my use of Izayoi.”
Her lips thin as she continues to advance upon him, pieces of the letter trailing from her grasp. The moon drawing stains her clammy fingers. Her heart weighs heavy in her chest.
“I wasn’t thinking of Kohaku when I slept with him, it’s true,” she confesses, her tone sharpening with defiance, “but I wasn’t thinking of you, either.”
His gaze flickers, and suddenly she can see it—all the ugliness, all the rancor. All that festers beneath his marble façade. The sight fills her with sadistic pleasure. She cannot help but drive a wedge into the crack.
“So that’s it,” she declares, her mouth twisting in triumph. “You’re still jealous of your dead, ‘half-breed’ brother—”
Her spine slams against the wall as he pins her there, yellow eyes glaring into her own. Hatefully, she glares back. After a moment, he relaxes.
“Why should I envy Inuyasha?” he asks her lowly, slitting the obi around her waist. “How can I covet what was never his?”
Her yukata parts sluggishly. Claws trail between the valley of her breasts, cutting paths through the scaled and flaking blood, leaving gooseflesh in the wake of their descent.
“Go on then,” she tells him in a harsh whisper. “You think I care anymore what you do to me? You’ve chained me body and soul, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll never truly be yours, and you know it. My heart will always belong to Inuyasha. If you take me now, it’ll only prove how pathetic you really are.”
His eyes narrow. “Don’t be absurd.”
She gasps as her back slides up the wall, one set of claws holding her suspended.
“If I wanted your heart,” he says, curling the points of the other against her breast, “I would carve it from your chest.” She grimaces, her hands flying to his shoulders as he lowers her just upon him. “If I wanted your love,” he sneers, making her cry out when he breaches her completely, “I would not be fit to call myself ‘Lord of the Western Lands.’”
Her fingers are clenched in his sleeves, her breathing rapid as she struggles not to faint. Tears leak from the corners of her shuttered eyes, her torn flesh striving to mend itself around him.
“Look at me,” he orders, her lashes fluttering open as he grips her under the jaw. “I am not the taijiya. I will not permit you to substitute that bastard’s face for mine.”
She exhales in a shaky laugh, her eyes locked with his. “…Like I said, pathetic.”
Her vindication fades as he begins to move against her. Sweat slickens the blood between them. The wall groans beneath the impact of his thrusts, each one more grating than the last.
A sword hilt jabs her naked thigh. She swears she can hear Tessaiga screaming.
“Do not,” he growls, “mistake me.”
Both hands grip her underneath, crushing her hips to his in heightened urgency. His brow is braced against her own, his eyes as raw as she feels on the inside.
“I care only…for your submission.”
He shifts within her, inflicting a new brand of torture upon her with every angled stroke. Low in her throat, she whimpers, tightening around him even as her head shakes in denial.
“Open your eyes,” he demands, his voice rumbling through them both. “Open your eyes and look at me, Kagome. Look only at me…”
She stares into his splintered gaze, assures herself that this is her victory. Yet, why…
Why does it feel so much like defeat?
Chapter 18: stasis
– 18 –
At the end of the tunnel, there is a distant gleam.
She has been following it for ages, it seems. A trail of black feathers guides her way. One misstep into the surrounding darkness, and it will devour her whole.
The feathers thicken beneath her feet. As she draws closer to the tunnel’s end, she sinks ankle-deep into the carpet of prickly down. Her teeth clench at the sensation.
The light at the end is a mirror.
Its surface is yellowed. She steps up to it and gazes at her dim reflection. Her face is unchanged, as ageless as a doll’s. Forever frozen at fifteen.
Her skin is translucent. Through it, she can see the rotting bones, the putrefying flesh. Her insides are riddled with grave soil. Worms and maggots wriggle through the muck.
She recoils from the sight. Something sharp stabs into her retreating foot.
She looks down.
A black talon gleams amidst the feathers, its base ragged and smeared with blood. Beside it lies another, and another still. All around her, the ground is littered with their broken, sickle-shapes.
And in her hand…in her bloodied hand she holds the still-black Eye.
“No,” she whispers, sick with horror and despair. “No!”
She throws herself against the mirror. It cracks but does not break.
“Let me out!” she screams, slamming both palms against the surface. “LET ME OUT!”
Fissures spread like spider webs through the yellowed glass. She stares ahead, but all she can see is her own broken reflection—and the darkness of the tunnel at her back, looming before her as behind her.
Stretching on and on, forever, without end.
She dreams no more of the crow.
It is another source of dread which disturbs her sleep.
Clawed hands upon her body, sharp fangs drawing blood in their greed. The hard press of him against her, inside her—relentless in pursuit of his release.
Each night he reaches for her. When she bleeds, which is rarely, he takes her again and again.
She welcomes the pain, however fleeting. It is the pleasure that sickens her, that rots her to the core.
His own does not content him.
Each moan he draws forth is a betrayal. Each lick of pleasure scalds her bitter soul. And he is intent upon it all, as if such extortion could bend her to him truly. As if by force of will he could banish the image that remains fixed behind her open eyes, of that beloved face which he so envies and despises.
In a way, she pities him.
His cause is as hopeless as her own.
Another night she spends beneath him, another teardrop in an endless sea. He frowns as he finishes inside her, claws locked around her wrists and neck.
She does not know why he restrains her so, when she offers him no resistance. She does not know why she puts forth the question, when she asks him to let her go.
Her insinuation does not escape him. His fingers tense around her throat. In the hard yellow of his gaze, she finds his answer.
The floorboards creak as he shifts his weight, sliding out of her and down. There is no pause at her fettered breast. His claws descend to her hips instead, pinning her fast like the prey she is as he lowers his mouth upon her.
His tongue is the cruelest lash of all. She writhes and cries and curses him even as she breaks. And in the stillness thereafter, between the labor of her lungs and the dull leaden pounding of her heart, his steady swipes punctuate the silence, repeating, ruthlessly repeating—
And so, the years go by.
Chapter 19: an ending
– 19 –
No longer does she leave the castle.
The world of men has lost its savor. It reminds her only of what has been denied her, of what she can never hope to regain.
Or to lose.
Young or old, green or browned with age, human lives are swept away, like leaves in a current.
And she is the rock upstream. Time flows past her, unable to move her but for the slow, perpetual weathering of her mind. Her thoughts are rendered featureless—her memories, also.
Who was Higurashi Kagome? Did a girl such as she ever truly exist?
It seems inconceivable to her now, that it could ever have been so.
Her identity strips away. What remains is unrecognizable, even to her. Skin and bones, and nothing more.
Another empty ruin, dwelling here in desolation.
Within the palace grounds, she wanders, a ghost in living form.
She counts the stones that fill the courtyard. She counts the wooden boards and roofing tiles. She counts the weeds in the dirt, the trees at the edge and all their branches. She counts them countless times.
With storms and seasons, the figures change, and she dismays.
Her ventures from the small palace become less frequent. Within its four walls, all but the shadows are neatly contained.
Closing her eyes, she sees them still, following the course of the sun.
She tars and boards the windows.
Yet one remains.
Nightly it descends, darker even than the blackness that surrounds her. It falls upon her and invades her.
It fills her heart with hate.
She retreats within. In the still depths of her mind, there is only despair.
“Make me forget,” she begs him.
He tilts up her chin. His lips brush against hers in the darkness, unsmiling.
The yellow of his eyes is the only light she sees. It hovers before her, above her.
She cannot blot it out.
“Why?” she asks him. “Why keep me here like this?”
He withdraws from her, presses hot and slick against the inside of her thigh. “I am not keeping you here. Within my lands, you may go wherever you please.”
She grips his shoulders as he starts to rise. “But why—why keep me at all? You must know by now that I will never want you.”
He pauses, his muscles stiff as banded iron beneath her hands.
“I know that you are obstinate to the point of defiance.” He sinks his hips, spreading apart her thighs as he positions himself once more at her entrance. “Prone also,” he says, pushing forward against the sharp hiss of her breath, “to declaring too boldly of what you ‘will never’ do.”
She grits her teeth as he settles fully within her. Her fingers curl to fists against his skin.
“I hate you,” she breathes.
His hair glides like silk across her cheek. She turns her face away, turns the tender flesh of her ear to his mouth as he says to her, “I know this, too.”
The fall of his shadow is heavier than before.
She wilts beneath it, yet he makes no move to take her.
His dark presence chokes the air. Stifled, she glances up at him. His flat stare holds no reflection.
“Sesshoumaru?” she asks, uncertain.
There is a whisper of metal sliding free, a shock of pain as Bakusaiga runs her through. She gasps bloodily, clutching at the gash in her stomach as the sword’s noxious youki decays her from within.
Slumping to the side, she mouths his name once more in bleak confusion.
Blood patters from the blade tip to the floor.
Her agony begins to fade, the sallow light of his eyes dimming at last to black.
In the space between worlds, she wakens, the chain that binds her no less heavy than before.
She sits down upon the Bridge and waits.
He is still there when she returns.
“I apologize,” he says, sheathing Bakusaiga with a click. “It was not my intention to take your life.”
Weakly, she raises herself up against the wall. Her lips part in vain to question.
“Rest now,” he tells her. “I will return.”
The screen door slides open and closed with a snap. She stares toward the sound in stunned silence, unable to frame a response even in her thoughts.
Low in her stomach, there is a dull, persistent ache. As she puzzles over his actions, it worsens, until she curls upon herself in pain.
Clutching at her knees, she clenches her jaw, a piteous whine catching in her throat. Her stomach muscles seize like a vise, a strange wetness seeping between her thighs.
She staggers toward the window as her legs begin to stream. With a cry she claws at the boards, ripping the planks free with bloody fingers as the light of day comes flooding in.
Wincing, she collapses to the dingy floor, hiking up the skirt of her kimono. Blood gathers beneath her, thick and foul, her lower stomach contracting in an agonizing rhythm. Distressed, she whimpers, pushing instinctively against the pain.
Her teeth puncture her lower lip, pierce the inside of her cheek. With a strangled gasp, she passes another dense black clot of blood.
Sweating, shaking, she digs her nails into the rotted floorboards and waits for the pain to subside. It ebbs away, leaving only an echo of itself in the rawness of her throat, in the weary ache of her legs and stomach and spine.
The daylight burns to red.
She hauls herself forward, stares bewildered at the pool of dark blood glistening on the tatami mats below.
Something solid breaks just above the surface. She drags her fingers through the congealing blood, brushes faintly against that small alien shape.
And finds something familiar.
Her trembling turns to spasms.
She did not know—
She did not believe—
That a part of her could still die.
“ No ,” she moans, tears coursing down her face as she closes a shuddering hand around that still and bloody shape. “What have you done? Sesshoumaru… what have you done? ”
“I have done what was necessary,” he answers, stepping toward her through the darkness. “I have no need of heirs, and no tolerance for half-breeds.”
She looks up at him, all the long suffering of her life laid bare before him in her eyes.
“Give me this,” she begs, blood gliding sluggishly down her wrists as she raises her palms to him. “Just give me this, and I’ll forgive you. For everything.”
His left hand is resting on Tenseiga. She can see herself crumbling in the reflection of his gaze.
He reaches down, closing her fingers around his own flesh and blood as he pushes them both away.
“I will not.”
She flees inside her mind, into the depths that are no longer still, but quaking and caving in the wake of that one final hope now extinguished. Crushed, like the tiny form within her squeezing fists.
She feels the boundaries of that stolen life give way, her last chance at happiness slipping cold and slow between her fingers.
Her grip tightens still.
When at last she releases it, nothing remains but a smear.
Her face cracks slowly, in the shape of a grin.
She stands and presses her bloody hands to his chest.
Chapter 20: (strange light)
– 20 –
Something. Something to remember.
She scowls and resumes her pacing. Beneath her feet, the floorboards creak and moan, and she shushes them in frustration.
Where has her yellow backpack gotten off to? She is sure that if she could just find it—
She halts, turns abruptly toward the shadowed wall behind her.
“Inuyasha,” she demands, “how many times have I told you I need to study?”
The wall gives no reply.
“It’s important, you know.”
With a huff, she strides over to the dusty basin, pushing up her sleeves.
“Fine,” she mutters, “ fine . I’ll make your stupid ramen for you.” She shakes her head. “Are all guys this helpless, or are you a special case?”
She swirls a finger through the tepid water. A few drops spill over the side.
“Just a minute,” she says, one corner of her lip twitching in a smile. “Just another minute, okay?”
Humming softly, she rocks back on her heels.
The water chills her hand. She stops stirring and wanders toward the window.
Outside, the stars glint with an icy light. Next to the moon they are warm.
The whisper of the screen door draws her attention. She turns toward it with a frown.
“Sesshoumaru,” she says, “have you seen Inuyasha? His dinner is getting cold.”
He ignores her question, his expression schooled. The floorboards whine at his approach, and she covers her ears against their cries.
The sound of her name is muffled. He pulls her wrists back from her temples and leads her over to the futon.
Kneeling on the mattress, he feeds her strips of dried meat and watches her in silence. She chews sullenly, her eyes streaming.
When she is finished, he gathers her to his chest. He presses his face to her neck, and she shudders.
“Mama must be so worried about me,” she says.
One day, she burns the small palace to the ground.
It pleases her to watch the flames, though she cannot quite say why.
He finds her standing in the courtyard, captivated by the sight. A broken string of jade beads hangs listless from her hand.
She turns toward him with a smile. The beads click softly at her side.
He says nothing.
That night they leave the Western Lands. In the distance, she can still see the smoke, rising, rising.
He takes her South, to a demoness who touches a golden spyglass to her brow. Twice, she peers in and shakes her head.
The second time he guts her where she stands.
In the mountains of the North, she drinks a steaming elixir, which places her in trance. When she emerges from it, she looks away from the sorcerer and asks him, “Where is Inuyasha?”
Outside the cave, she can scarcely sing above the screaming.
Toward her, there is only resignation now—a dullness of the eye that wrings a certain pleasure from her, though she cannot imagine why it should.
Lying back, she gazes toward the rising sun and thinks, how wide and open is the sky.
In the East, the dead lie all around her.
She picks her way across the battlefield, the hem of her yukata heavy with dirt and blood. Sightless eyes stare up at her. Frozen faces grimace toward her, ever still.
One face looks so familiar that she cannot pass it by.
She bends down and closes its staring eyes, bats away a persistent fly.
“He could be your twin, Miroku-san,” she says to the empty air beside her. “Let’s say a prayer for him together—”
“Kagome,” a cool voice calls back to her, “come along.”
She glances up at him, hands still clasped before her, and wonders at the whiteness of his form.
A strange sensation tugs at her senses.
Straightening, she turns her head to the side. In the distance, she sees a gleam.
She makes her way toward the light, as though in a dream. Distantly, she hears him calling out to her, feels her feet slipping and sticking in the muck, swelters beneath the heat of an envious sun.
The light is all—and she can see it. At last.
It gleams from a warlord’s sunken chestplate—purple and roiling and whole. With trembling fingers she reaches toward it, until a flurry of dark wings drives her back.
Black talons curl along the armor’s bloodied edge. Black feathers glisten greasily in the sun. A black beak dips into the hole in the warlord's body and plucks out the Jewel of Four Souls.
Breathless, she stares at them both, her mouth dry, her heart choked with desperate fury.
Cocking its head to the side, the crow locks its beady eye with hers, and she remembers that Inuyasha has none.
A shriek pierces the air.
Sharp claws score her wrists. Rank blood gushes over her skin. Screaming, sobbing, she digs her nails through feathers and sinewy flesh, until the crow can shriek no more.
“ Give them back! ” she cries, crushing its spindly neck in her fist. “ You thief! You bastard! Give back what you stole! ”
Its beaked jaws gape soundlessly.
Its eyes are two bloody craters in its face.
Bile rises in her throat. She casts the crow’s broken body away and curls her fingers into the hardening mud.
“His eyes,” she whimpers, “his beautiful eyes…”
Quivering, she looks up.
He stands before her, gazing down. In his claws, the Jewel glows darkly.
A cry builds like laughter within her chest.
“It is rare,” he says to her, “that this Sesshoumaru has cause to regret his actions.” He considers the Jewel. “Yet I see that I have acted wrongly. With this, I shall set all to right.”
He kneels down before her, cups the back of her head in his hand. “I am not my father. Surely he saw his death in Izayoi, as I saw my own in you so long ago, when you pulled Tessaiga from its resting place. Yet I have cured you of your mortal affliction. It will not pass to me.”
Darkness seeps into the air around them, darker even than the shadow of his gaze. She draws in a shaky breath, unable to recoil as he brushes his lips against hers.
“I will have you.” He draws her closer as the darkness pervades. “Not a part of you shall escape me. With you under my power, I am as the gods.”
Her lips part against his in a silent scream—
Within her mind, there is only darkness.
Chapter 21: the shores of lethe
– 21 –
.the shores of lethe.
Her name is Kagome.
Of this, she is almost certain.
It is what he has called her since she regained her memory, and she can see no reason why he should lie to her about that.
In her mind, the past is a dark icy sea.
The further she attempts to wade in it, the more adrift she feels. She can no sooner see the bottom than she can see the end of it, and all she gains for her efforts is a bone-deep, bitter chill.
“It is useless to think of such things,” he tells her. “You were mine before, and you are mine now. That is all you need remember.”
I have no choice, she thinks, but to be content with that.
She supposes she has much to be content with.
He has given her the run of his vast estate—a mountain castle deep in the heart of the Western Lands. It was in shambles when he gifted it to her, but over the years she has seen it restored to greatness.
For a while it diverted her to manage the palace and its surrounding territories. Yet as her subjects began to age, a melancholy descended over her.
She had always sensed that he was different, but with the people around her she felt a certain kinship. It saddened her to watch them fade—and yet somehow more, to watch herself remain the same.
Time and again she stares into the looking glass, searching for signs of age in her reflection.
Only her eyes seem to harbor the weariness that she seeks.
Yet closer she looks.
Closer—and closer, still.
Sometimes, in the smooth planes of her face, she can almost see the cracks.
It is a profound mystery to her, the nature of her existence.
There is only one other who knows about her, and he does little to satisfy her curiosity.
“You were human, once,” he tells her. “Now, you are more.”
The hollowness she feels stands counter to his claim. But she does not protest him. What good would it do, to put him again to the question, to press him for the truth when he seems so determined to omit it?
Her thoughts turn inward, alighting once more upon the shores of that waveless deep. Lurking beneath its still dark surface, what foul things might there be?
Perhaps it is better, a small voice within her whispers, that I should never know.
The nature of their relationship is another source of mystery.
She cannot account for the aversion she feels toward him.
His touch reviles her as much as it inflames her.
When he takes her to bed, she submits to him with a resentment that wells from the very marrow of her bones.
His features darken, as though in recognition of it.
He shifts her atop him now, watches her impale herself upon him with glaring eyes and clenched jaw.
Her fingers curl fruitlessly, unable to seize purchase against the hardness of his chest.
Holding her gaze all the while, he places his hand over hers and sinks his claws through his own marble flesh. Her breath hitches, her muscles tense.
The sight of his blood is ecstasy.
Afterward, they sit together.
She drinks the bitter tea he gives to her and understands, once again, that there will be no children.
It is one of the many understandings that pass unspoken between them.
She sets her empty cup down on the table. “I heard a story today, in town.”
“Is that so,” he says, considering her. “What story was that?”
“The legend of the Shikon no Tama, a Jewel with the power to grant any wish. An old monk was telling of its origin, of its corrupting influence, and of its destruction some centuries ago.”
“A tale from Sengoku Jidai,” he remarks without interest. “But your monk has mistaken the ending.”
She looks at him sharply. “What do you mean?”
“The Jewel was not destroyed.”
A sudden restlessness takes hold of her. She rises from her cushion and crosses to the window.
“According to legend, a miko from a faraway land sacrificed herself to destroy the Jewel and its wielder.” Her eyes lift to the sky, as though searching for confirmation in the trailing wisps of cloud. “Surely,” she says, “surely there must be some truth in that.”
“There is some.”
“Then tell me,” she says, glancing back at him, “how does the story end?”
“With a wish,” he answers, eyes glittering darkly. “Or do you not believe me?”
Her gaze returns outside, to the world she has created. To the fine castle buildings, to the beautiful gardens and walkways and arches.
To the east, there is a burned patch of land, a scar in the earth where even now not a blade of grass will grow. Her eyes linger briefly upon it before she turns back to him with the shallowest of smiles.
“Of course I do, my lord.”
Chapter 22: the collector
– 22 –
In the main building of the palace, there is a secret room.
Shelves line it floor to ceiling, crammed to bursting with polished gems, with chunks of glittering stone.
Once placed, there her treasures sit, gathering dust in the gloom.
And she disdains them all.
“A fine piece I have for you today, Kagome-sama.” The merchant smiles, a flash of yellowed teeth and gold. From the trunk at his feet he retrieves a deep red stone, large as a hen’s egg. “Fire ruby, the most prized and rarest of jewels, taken from the hoard of a Persian king.”
An insatiable need simmers low in her belly. Eyeing the gem, she pulls a thin pipe of ivory from between her lips and exhales a fine mist of smoke.
“I’ll give you twelve ryou for it.”
“ Twelve ryou,” the merchant exclaims. “My lady, surely you cannot expect me to part with such a treasure for less than twenty!”
“Fifteen, then,” she replies. “And not a mon more than that.”
“Kagome-sama, you will make a pauper of me yet,” the merchant simpers, with a bow and an oily grin. Reaching for the coin purse, he says to her, “Give my regards to your lord husband.”
Her lips thin. “Take your money and go.”
When the merchant is gone, she dismisses her guards and servants from the room. With trembling fingers, she unclasps the box of polished wood and takes the ruby in her hand.
It is cool and heavy on her palm. She holds it up to the lantern light, marveling at how it glows within, as though aflame.
As she examines it further, her excitement begins to fade. A familiar disappointment sets in.
In the evening he finds her there, brooding still.
He settles just behind her, pale fingers closing around the jewel in her lap. “Did you purchase this today?”
He opens the collar of her kimono, places the ruby just below her throat. Against her skin, it is dark as blood.
“Shall I have it set for you?” he asks, lips brushing the shell of her ear.
When she turns he catches her mouth with his, and the gem thuds to the tatami mats, forgotten.
It is late in the night when she retrieves it.
Barefoot, she makes her way down the darkened halls, toward a room whose door only she can see.
It has no lock or hidden latch. His dark magic conceals it.
Sliding open the door, she sets her lantern on the dusty wooden flooring. A thousand facets glimmer in the light.
She clears a spot on a random shelf and sets the ruby there. For a moment more she contemplates it, willing it to bring her some small measure of satisfaction, before her thoughts and her surroundings grow too oppressive for her to bear.
Bitterly, she departs.
He is lying on the futon when she returns to him. Amber eyes watch her through the darkness, simmering with a familiar, burning need.
She crouches next to him. When he reaches out to part the thin silk of her robe, she snatches his hand.
“Tell me,” she demands, her voice trembling, “what am I to you?”
He pulls her to him, tucks her beneath him in one fluid motion. Cool breath fans over her parted lips.
“You,” he answers, filed claws running over the curve of her hip, “are mine.”
She cries out when he buries himself inside her, her body soon straining against his for release. She is the object of his desire, the vessel for his pleasure, and when it is over, she leaves him as empty as she.
In the spare light of dawn, she looks about her sleeping chamber.
A few dust motes sparkle in the air. She must remind the servants to be more thorough in their cleaning.
Across from her, he is tying back his hair. Retrieved from the secret room, his three prized swords gleam against the dark fabric of his haori.
“I am travelling abroad,” he remarks to her over his shoulder. “What gift would you have me bring?”
She lies back, presses her palm to the center of her chest as she closes her eyes.
“Bring me a jewel,” she says.
Chapter 23: the thief
– 23 –
The bow is supple in her hands.
She draws back the string a little farther, feathery softness tickling the skin of her cheek. On a breath she releases the arrow. The string thrums softly in its wake, a sort of music—the bow itself the instrument of her will and focus.
Her aim is true. Some fifty yards away, the point of the arrow cleaves a fat yellow plum from its stem.
One of the servant’s daughters hoorays, darting off to retrieve it.
“Well done, Kagome-sama.” Her instructor beams. “Truly you are a gifted archer.”
She inclines her head in respect. “I am the student of a gifted teacher.”
It is the old man’s turn to bow.
“You honor me, Kagome-sama,” he says, “but I cannot take credit for your talent. From the moment you took up the bow, it was as if you had wielded it a hundred times before. Seldom have I seen such skill in a new pupil, and never in one so young.”
Her smile does not reach her eyes.
“Join me for tea, sensei, if you have the time.”
“Forgive me, my lady,” he replies, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “But I fear my wife has made a similar request. To deny it would be to see my hours upon this earth grow fewer still.”
She hands him the bow and quiver. “Then let me see you to the gate.”
They pass through the castle courtyard, the scent of spring carrying on the wind. The gravel path soon gives way to a red wooden bridge, freshly painted for the season. She spares it an appraising glance as they alight upon it, the reach of her gaze extending to the pool below and to the flowers that frame its waters like the gods’ own mirror, reflecting the heavens above.
All is in order, she thinks. All is as it should be.
She reminds herself she is content.
“It is a fine day,” her teacher remarks as the torii gate draws near, “made finer still by surroundings such as these. A pity their master is not here to enjoy them.”
“My lord’s business often takes him abroad. To Europe, and to the Americas, as of late.”
“Western ambitions,” the old man nods. “My son speaks of the same.” At the gate he turns to her, smiling warmly. “Let us pray that in seeking new horizons they do not forget the charms of home.”
She returns the gesture as best she can. “That would be wishful thinking.”
Alone, she crosses the bridge again, lingering for a moment at the arch. Her empty hands clutch in her sleeves.
Without the bow, she feels strangely bereft.
Inside the palace there is commotion. Servants scramble from room to room, arms laden with silks and silver.
Frowning, she wends her way toward the suspected source.
“Mei!” she calls out. “What’s the meaning of this?”
A young woman turns toward her, wearing a cool expression and a kimono too fine for her station.
“Kagome-sama,” she greets without a bow, “it is a household matter, nothing more. I hope our work has not disturbed your archery practice.”
She sets her jaw, ignoring the gibe. “Answer my question. Why are the servants running about in such a panic?”
“Rumors from the Kansai region. The Kyoto Thief has struck again, the third estate pillaged in a fortnight.”
“And?” she demands. “What of it?”
Dark eyes narrow, glinting in reproach. “A master thief terrorizes the region, and you would do nothing to safeguard my lord’s treasures against him?”
“You are wasting your time,” she says as she turns. At the end of the hallway she glances back, the corners of her mouth falling faintly. “There is only one treasured possession in this house.”
Bitter envy simmers in the other woman’s gaze. She ignores it and resumes her departure.
In her rooms, she finds a mysterious gift. A long wooden box, gleaming with lacquer. Beneath a silk cord, there is a note which bears only her name.
The box opens to reveal a longbow and quiver, both of fine craftsmanship. With the tips of her fingers, she traces the smooth polished curve, before closing the case with a sigh.
“Sensei,” she says, shaking her head.
Though he has never forbidden it, he has also never granted her permission to take up the bow. To keep such a gift, she suspects, would be to invite his disapproval. She has no choice but to return it.
Forcing the thought from her mind, she takes her dinner and prepares for sleep.
It is late in the night when she awakens, disturbed by a presence she can neither hear nor see.
Like a stone breaking the water’s surface, it sends ripples through her senses. Sitting up, she turns toward it, staring through the darkness.
How the bow came into her hands, she does not know. Half-drawn, she holds it before her as she steps out into the corridor.
The air is cool and quiet.
She pads softly toward the hidden room, sensing the door ajar long before she sees it. Broken magic crackles against her skin. She peers inside briefly before passing it by.
Outside the south entrance of the palace, her breath catches in her throat, the scent of iron heavy in the air.
The guards posted at the entrance have all been slain. From the neat slices in their necks, blood oozes still, moonlight shading it black as pitch.
“Little girls shouldn’t wander from their beds,” a wry voice says from behind her. “It isn’t safe, you know.”
She whirls toward the sound, pulling the bowstring taut to her cheek. Somewhere to her right now, the voice rumbles with laughter.
“Put that down, Hime-san. Your eyes are too weak to take aim in the shadows.”
“Show yourself then,” she calls out, holding her ground as she searches outward with her senses. “Or are you too afraid to face me in the light?”
“Bold words, little princess,” the voice replies. “I’d love to stay and chat with you some more, but the hour is late, and my pockets are heavy with jewels. Another time, perhaps.”
She breathes out deeply, letting her shoulders fall slack. In the quiet of her mind, she can see it—a density of darkish energy, moving away beyond her left shoulder.
Inhaling, she turns precisely toward the aura of her retreating foe, her bow raised and drawn in one swift motion.
There is the thrum of the bowstring, the distant shout of pain, the silence of the waning night. To her, the last seems loudest of all.
Lowering her bow, she makes her way toward the thief’s dim presence.
At the edge of the forest she finds him, a sliver of moonlight revealing a boyishly handsome face. The shaft of her arrow protrudes from his chest, holding him upright against the tree at his back.
His head is bowed, eyes closed as though in sleep.
She reaches out to brush the dark hair from his brow—when an iron hand clamps onto her wrist, and the thief’s golden eyes open wide.
Chapter 24: recognition
– 24 –
“Shit,” he growls, glaring at her, “that fucking stings.”
His free hand rises to the arrow lodged in his chest. With a grunt of pain, he rips it out, the wooden shaft clattering against the tree roots where he discards it.
“What the hell is your problem, Hime-san?” He hauls her closer as he sags against the trunk. “You must really have a death wish.”
She struggles not to follow him down. “Give back what you stole, thief.”
“Like hell I will,” he laughs, yanking her to his chest. “Now give me a kiss, and maybe I’ll forgive you for putting that arrow in me.”
She reels back from him, glaring.
“You’d have me steal that too? Well, then—have it your way, pretty Hime-san.” He smiles as he tilts up her chin, showing her a glint of too-sharp teeth. “I’ll admit, it’s more fun for me that way, too.”
She turns her head aside at the last moment. His lips press into her cheek instead.
With all her strength she shoves against him, and he loosens his grip with another infuriating laugh.
“So you really aren’t being coy with me. Very well.” He leans over her, all amusement vanished from his expression. “Now then,” he says lowly, “what should I do with you?”
“If you value your life,” she replies, holding his reflective gaze, “you’ll return my belongings to me and let me go.”
“Oh, there is nothing I value more, I can assure you. But you’ve seen my face, Hime-san. It’s a very distinctive one, wouldn’t you agree?” He smiles again in a baring of fangs. “Perhaps you even have an idea of what I am.”
“You aren’t human,” she says, retreating a step.
His smile widens. “No.”
She gasps as he flickers from sight, only to reappear behind her. His arm locks around her shoulders, lips ghosting the curve of her ear as he whispers to her, “I’m not.”
A cry goes out in the distance. Through the trees, points of orange light emerge from the darkness like a host of winking eyes.
“Looks like my presence has been noticed,” the thief remarks near her ear. “Perhaps your absence as well. Either way, they’ll soon be searching for their missing princess, won’t they?”
She pulls fruitlessly at the arm barred across her chest. “You would do well to let them find me.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
Dark energy wreathes around her. Her chest burns as it blankets her skin, crawls like smoke through her lungs. Before she can scream, the thief’s free hand clamps over her mouth.
“You’ve put me in tight spot, Hime-san. I’ve never killed a woman before.”
Her eyes are burning, blearing. He tightens his grip as her knees give way.
The distant lights fade out.
She is lying on her side when she wakes.
Her wrists are bound before her. She shifts, and straw crackles beneath her shoulder and her hip.
With effort, she rises.
The room before her is a cavern-like space, the sculpting labors of wind and rain given aid by human hand. Treasures gleam from shelves of stone, set alight by the glow of a sunken hearth at the center.
The red gem that was taken from her shines bright among them.
As she stands to claim it, her bound ankles send her crashing to the floor.
Grimacing, she struggles against the ropes that bind her, red lines of pain blossoming and fading against her skin.
“Awake at last, I see.”
In the doorway leans her captor, one hip pressed against the smooth archway of stone. Arms crossed, he regards her, eyes glinting through the dark fringe of his hair.
She glares up at him. “Release me.”
“Those ropes are for your own good, Hime-san. It’s a long way down to the ground from here. One wrong step past this doorway, and I’d be scraping whatever’s left of you off the rocks.”
“Where are we?” she asks, straightening.
“My home-away-from-home,” he replies with a grin. “Here, let me show you.”
Before she can protest, he is gathering her up and launching them both through the archway. A gasp escapes her as they sail briefly through the salt-laden air, landing on an outcropping of rock some distance below.
“Now, if you promise to behave, I’ll let you stretch your legs a bit.”
Faintly she nods, and he sets her down upon the grassy rock, her bonds falling free with a slash of his claws.
The ocean stretches before her eyes, an endless fabric of shimmering blue. She has never beheld such a sight before—at least not that she can remember.
Rising slowly on stiff legs, she pads to the edge of the outcrop and peers down. Frothy waves crash against the distant crags, skirting the shore with foam.
The outcrop she stands upon is one of many—a series of rocky pillars, spiraling up from the sea like a set of disjointed stairs.
“This…” she begins, turning back to her captor at last. “...what is this place?” Her gaze sharpens as she advances. “Who are you?”
“Me?” he says, cocking his head to the side. “I am but a humble smuggler, Hime-san. This place is my base of operations, you could say.”
“No.” She stops just before him. “What are you.”
He frowns, running a clawed hand through his messy black hair.
“My name is Yashamaru. As for what I am, Hime-san—well, I’d think it should be obvious to you by now.”
Her brow furrows. “Why is that?”
“Well you’re a miko, aren’t you? How else could you have put that arrow in me? You must have sensed my youki.”
"I..." She takes a step back, clasping her hands together as she shakes her head. "You're mistaken. I'm not a priestess."
"Then what are you?"
He crosses his arms, awaiting her reply. As always before, when she has put herself to the same point of question, she finds no answer to give.
"Kagome," she says to him instead. "My name is Kagome."
The sound of her name hovers in the space between them. For a moment more he considers her, his gaze shadowed.
His arms uncross, a faint grin pulling at the corners of his lips.
"Is it just me, or does it feel as though we’ve met somewhere before?"
Chapter 25: bound
– 25 –
She sets down her bowl of half-eaten stew.
On the opposite side of the hearth, Yashamaru glances toward her. Two empty wooden bowls are stacked beside him. At the look on her face, he sets aside his third.
"Why did you bring me here?" she asks.
"What choice did I have?" he says, leaning back. "You saw my face, Hime-san. It was either kill you or take you with me. Fortunately for you, I have a soft spot for human women."
Her gaze lowers to the smouldering coals.
"What do you intend to do with me now?"
"Well there's always a market for foreign beauties–not my usual line of trade, but I suspect it won't be too difficult to find a decent buyer, especially with those eyes of yours."
She stares deeper into the fading embers, watching their light shrink with every breath she takes.
"A soft spot," she whispers.
She looks up at him. "You said you have a soft spot for human women. Your wife, is she...?"
The smile is gone from his voice. He picks up his bowl of abandoned stew, now studying the dying coals as well.
"My mother," he says.
Every few days he takes her down the giant's staircase, to the bottommost pillar of the island, where Western tradeships come to port.
His own small ship moors there as well. While Yashamaru schemes and swindles, she climbs aboard, making her way to the bow.
From here she looks out upon the open sea.
It is a view into the infinite. Where sky and water meet, where the planes of heaven and earth coalesce–
An unbroken glimpse into eternity.
What lies beyond the reach of her gaze? At the end of all things, awaiting, yet unseen?
Amidst the gentle rocking of the waves, a dark foreboding settles in her mind.
It is there that Yashamaru finds her–frozen, still, in thought.
"Ho there, Hime-san," he calls up to her from the docks.
She blinks, turning toward him.
He jerks his thumb over his shoulder. "Let's get going."
Each time he brings her down to shore, she wonders if it will be her last.
She descends, bare feet warming against the sunbaked planks. As she pads over to him, he shakes his head in a show of frustration.
"Cheap bastards. I go out of my way to negotiate with these slavers, and their offer is hardly better than the last crew's. Premium price," he scoffs, "my ass."
He turns, crouching down before her. "Well, hop on."
Hitching up the skirt of her yukata, she climbs atop his back. As he rises up, she loops her arms around his neck, clawed fingers gripping her behind the knees.
With each bound, her hair streams out behind her, ocean air rushing past her upturned face. Higher and higher they go, and she smiles, wondering if this is what it feels like to fly.
"Tell me about your mother."
Two weeks have gone by without a slaveship coming to harbor. He does not remark upon it, and neither does she.
Yet she is curious all the same.
Yashamaru pauses in his task. "She was kind, beautiful...what else would you like to know?"
"Was?" she asks, frowning.
He drapes the oilcloth he was using over a knee. Eyes downward still, he twirls the point of a dagger against his palm.
"She died a long time ago, when I was just a boy. Before that, she lived here, on this island."
"Oh?" she says in surprise. "But how did she come to this place?"
"My father brought her here." The knife stills in his hands. At last he meets her gaze. "He built this whole island, just for her. Raised it up out of the sea."
She smiles softly. "Your father must have loved her very much."
" Loved her," Yashamaru snorts. "Who knows."
He drives the dagger into the wooden benchtop beside him, making her start.
"But she hated him. She hated him for stealing her away from her home, for keeping her trapped here in this cold and lonely place," he says, one corner of his mouth rising grimly. "That much I know for sure."
She stands before a shelf of jewels.
Beneath a fine layer of dust, the gem Yashamaru stole from her some weeks ago gleams a dull red.
"You haven't sold it yet," she says, "the ruby you took from me."
Even from across the room, she can feel the warmth of his eyes upon her.
"There are a few I like to keep."
"Is that so?" She brushes a finger against one grimy facet of the gem. "They're rather pointless, aren't they? I've been collecting them for years now, and I've yet to find a use for any of them."
"A use, you say," Yashamaru laughs, joining her at the shelf. He plucks the fire ruby from its resting place and spins it in the tips of his claws. "Not every jewel can be the Shikon, Hime-san. But until I find it, these other ones are nice to look at, at least."
She frowns. "The Shikon no Tama was lost long ago."
"Says who?" he laughs again. "Humans have short memories. The Jewel vanishes for a hundred years or so, and they think it's gone forever." His eyes narrow as he contemplates the ruby in his palm. "But surely a miko like you can sense it as well as I can, that craving at the corners of your mind, that whisper of power and glory and vengeance."
She steps back from him, the fine hair at her nape rising, as though from a chill.
"No," she lies, "I don't sense anything like that."
"Then you're even worse at being a miko than I thought." He considers her a moment more before returning the ruby to its shelf. "Let's go down to the beach."
Together they descend the rocky outcrop, make their way across the pebbled shore.
By the time her feet touch the water, only sand remains of the earth below. As the waves pull at her ankles, she wonders what will remain of her in the decades to come.
She wonders what remains of her now.
"When I was a kid, I always felt guilty for coming to this place," Yashamaru says from her side. "There my mother was, trapped all day in that dark musty cave, while I was out here playing in the sun. But I wasn't strong enough to carry her down with me." He shakes his head. "I was always too fucking weak to do anything for her."
She turns toward him. "You were just a boy."
"I was," he says, holding her gaze. "But not anymore."
Reddening, she looks past him, out upon the open sea. Somehow to her, the Western horizon seems far closer than before.
"Yashamaru," she says reluctantly, "it's time for me to return to the castle."
"Why?" he says, taking her by the shoulders. "You aren't happy here, with me?"
"It's not that..."
"Then what is it?"
"He'll be returning soon," she replies. "Sesshoumaru-sama."
His grip tightens. "Your husband?"
"No," she says. "He's not my husband."
He releases her, crossing his arms over his chest. "What is he to you then?"
Within her, with each ebb and flow of the waves, an invisible bond draws tighter still.
"My lord and master," she says.
It is late when they arrive at the outskirts of the castle.
As she surveys the palace walls in the distance, a familiar oppression descends upon her. She raises a hand to her chest, as if to lighten the iron heaviness settling there.
"Will I see you again?" her captor asks.
At her side he stands, golden eyes darkened by a bleakness she swears she has seen somewhere before.
Cold pale fingers fan out against his cheek.
"Goodbye, Yashamaru," she says.
Stepping out at the edge of the gardens she spies the servant Mei, perhaps out for an evening stroll.
Their eyes lock briefly, no trace of surprise evident in the servant woman's gaze. After a moment, Mei breaks away with a bow and a simpering, "Kagome-sama."
In the palace and in town, commotion ensues at her sudden reappearance. It is not long before the daimyo's men arrive, requesting an audience.
"It is heartening to see you alive and well, Kagome-sama," the elder samurai begins, taking up his cup of tea. "For a young woman such as yourself, escaping unharmed from the clutches of a notorious bandit would seem no easy feat."
"I was fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity," she replies in an even tone.
He pauses to drink, hard black eyes not straying from her own. "Fortunate, indeed."
"Kagome-sama," the younger samurai asks hesitantly, "can you provide us with a description of your captor?"
"A man of average height and build. Brown hair, brown eyes," she recites as though bored, picking up the kettle before her. "Would you like more tea?"
"Yes...thank you," he replies, stiff with disappointment.
Nothing more of substance passes between them.
Her face is a mask, her voice an iron door.
She is free now, to go wherever she may please. And yet with each passing day, the walls of the palace creep closer in around her. The shadows of the trees lengthen, darkening her every step.
To the far corner of her room she now retreats, gaze fixed upon the crescent moon waxing cold and bright through the slats of her shuttered window.
Soon, she thinks. Soon.
She feels him before she sees him, a darkish energy prickling at the edges of her senses. By the time she makes it to the window, he is perched upon the sill, eclipsing all view of the world beyond.
"Yashamaru!" she greets in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"Isn't it obvious?" he replies, crooking a smile. "I'm here to steal you back."
"No," she says, shaking her head. "You have to leave. Now."
"Fine." He extends a clawed hand toward her. "We'll leave together."
A cry goes out in the distance. Footsteps crunch against the gravel of the courtyard below.
She wraps her arms about herself, looking at him in desperation. "Please, Yashamaru, you have to understand–he will never let me go."
"Let him come for you then," the hanyou growls. "I'm not afraid."
There is the sound of frantic movement in the hallway beyond. Raised voices call out to her through the screens.
"You don't understand!" She rushes at him, digging her nails into the rough fabric of his shirt. "He will kill you! He will–"
Blood splatters across the side of her face. Behind her parted lips is the taste of copper, crimson droplets beading in her lashes like tears.
A sword protrudes from Yashamaru's chest, its silver point a hairsbreadth from her own.
The scent of corruption fills the air.
As the sword withdraws, he falls forward into her arms, gasping bloodily. Together they crumple to the floor.
Trembling, she lifts her eyes to the window, where the crescent moon looms above her yet again–a sliver of purple against a backdrop of ivory skin.
Chapter 26: the gift
– 26 –
He steps down into the room, his sword Bakusaiga dripping blood and poison. With a flick of his wrist, he flings the droplets from the blade, as though in distaste. Yet his face betrays no emotion.
She regards him in wary silence. Within the circle of her arms, she can feel the life fading from Yashamaru with every quickened beating of her heart.
The screen doors fly open as his breathing stills.
A flood of guards and servants pours in, freezing at the sight before them–their mistress, bloodied and pinned beneath the thief's dead body, and their master, standing suddenly before them in the flesh, his baleful sword outstretched above it all.
"That's him," Mei declares triumphantly from the front of the crowd. "That's the strange man I saw Kagome-sama consorting with on the night of her return."
Ochre eyes snap to the servant woman's face. "Return?"
Mei quails, the other members of the crowd shooting her dark looks. The lord of the castle strides toward them, the point of his acrid sword coming to rest beneath a guardsman's jaw.
"Speak," he commands.
"M-my lord," the guard begins, "Kagome-sama was...was abducted during a burglary a few months back."
"Why was I not sent word of this?"
The man yelps in pain as Bakusaiga's poison singes his flesh, his mouth working fruitlessly to form words of apology.
"Because they feared your anger," she answers woodenly in the guard's stead. "They hoped I would be returned to the palace before you arrived, and so I have. Please, Sesshoumaru-sama, let them be."
He turns back to her, lowering Bakusaiga. "Leave us."
The crowd retreats, the screen doors closing swiftly behind them.
Alone again, he considers her.
"So," he says at last, "you care for this half-breed."
Her arms tighten around Yashamaru's lifeless form. "Yes."
"And yet you returned to me. Why?"
She looks up from Yashamaru's golden eyes and into his own still yellow stare. A world of difference lies between the two shades. It is a truth seared into the pit of her heart–a truth she has always known, yet only now remembered.
"Because," she answers in resignation, "I know my place."
His gaze flickers, even as he nods. "It is well that you do."
He sheathes Bakusaiga and retrieves another blade. In his hand, the thin length of silver gleams faintly blue.
"Do you know this sword?" he asks her.
"It's Tenseiga," she replies. "Your birthright."
"A frivolous weapon," he remarks, studying the sharpened edge. "Still, never before have I wielded it with regret."
He approaches on soundless footsteps, the dark silk of his haori setting his moonwhite skin aglow.
Leveling Tenseiga, he draws to a stop before her, a strange cast to his expression.
"What would you give me," he asks lowly, "in exchange for the half-breed's life?"
Her mind races at the question. Hopelessly, she meets his gaze.
"What more could I give you, than what I already have?"
His lips quirk faintly, an echo of that same hopelessness in his reply.
"Nothing, it seems."
In one smooth arc, Tenseiga slices through the air above her, blazing. As the sword returns to its sheath, the body in her arms inhales a shuddering breath.
Life returns to the thief's golden eyes. Slowly he blinks, one hand rising to her bloodspattered cheek.
"Yashamaru," she whispers.
Tears obscure her sight.
"Only once can Tenseiga restore one to life," Sesshoumaru warns, turning from them and moving to the door. "Remember this when saying your farewells."
With that, he leaves them.
"You didn't mention," Yashamaru rasps, "that your lord is a daiyoukai."
"Would it have mattered if I had?"
"No," the hanyou laughs weakly, "I guess not."
Cursing, he pushes himself into a sitting position. New pink skin seals the wound in his chest.
"The gods themselves couldn't keep me from you, if I knew you wished to be with me."
He sighs, ruffling a set of claws through his dark unruly hair. Frowning, she reaches out to him, guiding his face back toward her own.
Their eyes hold one another across the distance. In the burnished surface of his gaze, time falls away, until only their immortal selves remain–two souls drawn together in the space of a moment, the chasm of fate ever widening between them.
"There is nothing I want more in this world," she says with quiet sincerity, "than to be with you."
"But you don't choose to be," he corrects her, half-smiling.
"I choose for you to live," she says softly.
"And so I will, for whatever that's worth."
Wincing, Yashamaru rises from the floor, and she with him. Dusting off his pants and straightening his obi, the thief glances at her shrewdly. Before she can protest, his mouth is upon hers, hungry and warm, fangs nicking her lower lip as she pulls away, breathless.
"Take care, Kagome," he whispers against her ear. "I won't forget you, so don't you go forgetting about me."
With one bound he is through the window, the sound of his voice calling back to her in mocking farewell.
How could I forget, she thinks, closing her eyes as his presence fades to the east.
In the cold loneliness of his absence she turns, crossing at last to the door.
The main palace is silent. Her breath catches in trepidation, her senses guiding her outside, toward the castle gates.
As the torii arch draws into view, she stills, one hand rising to her mouth in horror.
Before her is a scene of slaughter. Guards and gardeners, servants and scribes–each and every resident of the castle lies strewn upon the blasted ground, cut down like straw beneath the scythe.
And in the center of it all stands their executioner, not a drop of blood upon him. Only the fixed stares of a hundred knowing dead.
"Come," he says to her over his shoulder. "It is time for us to leave this place."
She follows him into the wilderness.
By the side of a stream, he forces her down. Her back grates against the rocky shore, the skin at the corner of her eye stretching taut beneath Yashamaru's dried and flaking blood.
She winces as her head snaps back, scalp stinging beneath his merciless grasp.
"Look at me," the one above her demands. "Look to whom you belong."
She looks. And she sees–as Mei must have seen, the instant before her brutal demise–the monster that he is.
She awakens to the rocking of waves.
A smile touches her lips before she remembers–her sunlit days on the island are gone.
Wrapping a shawl around her shoulders, she ventures out onto the deck. The water is choppy and dark beyond the railing. Land is nowhere to be seen.
Aimlessly, she wanders toward the bow, the crew granting her a wide berth as she passes.
She thinks of Yashamaru's mother, of how she must have felt, looking down at the churning sea from her place of captivity. Did she, too, wonder at being swallowed up in the tumult of the waves, at sinking down to rest in the quiet darkness of the deep?
She steps forward, wondering still, until a strange sensation gives her pause.
Turning, she sees Sesshoumaru approach her, a curious glint shining through the material of his haori. Transfixed, she watches as his claws slip beneath the collar, extracting a small rounded chunk of black crystal.
She gasps when he drops it in her palm. Before her eyes the blackness recedes, replaced by a faint purple hue.
"What is this?" she asks him, heart pounding in her ears.
"A piece of the Shikon no Tama," he answers. "For you."
For a while, she studies the fragment, while he studies her in turn.
Holding it close to her chest, she looks up at him at last.
"Will you have it set for me?" she asks.
Chapter 27: across the sea
– 27 –
.across the sea.
Idly she touches the pendant at her breast.
Her fingers trace the smooth outer curve, worry at the sharp angles that decorate the half-sphere's jagged face. It is a broken thing, yet it warms beneath her attentions.
There is, she supposes, a small comfort in that.
Leaning back against the couch, she raises the jade pipe to her lips again.
"Pace yourself, dear," the lady reclining across from her chuckles. The pearl strands of her hair ornaments clatter at the motion.
Another acquaintance laughs as well, taking up her own pipe from the lacquered table between them. In the low light of the lanterns, her long pointed nail guards take on a sinister gleam.
"Too much, and you will lose your senses," the woman warns with a smile.
Returning the gesture, she takes a slow deliberate pull from the mouthpiece, all her troubled thoughts vanishing in a swirl of smoke. Lost in the haze, she closes her eyes, listening.
Outside there is the clash of cymbals, the thunder of fireworks, the cheers of a jubilant crowd.
Celebration in the streets of Shanghai.
Her head lolls back, the pipe stem slipping through her listless fingers.
At the dawn of another century, she welcomes the darkness of oblivion.
He does not approve of her diversions.
From across the room, she can sense his displeasure–ripples in the darkness that forever surrounds him.
A malevolent aura, uniquely his own.
The jade pipe snaps between his fingers. Blue-green dust falls glittering to the floor.
He turns toward her, eyes molten.
She smiles, her leg dropping from the couch. Her hand is outstretched toward him, shadowing the curve of her inner thigh.
"No more," she promises.
They both know it is a lie.
Yet he takes her hand all the same. He parts her dress the rest of the way, smoothes his palm over her heated flesh, and she sighs.
Under the spell of the smoke, she can almost endure him.
Even with open eyes, she can almost pretend.
Reclining against the silk cushions, she takes another long draw from her pipe, only half-listening to the chattering of her companions.
Through a shimmer of smoke she studies the object of their fascination. A portly man, clad in red and ornamented with gold.
Huan claims he is a mystic. Yet she sees nothing mystical about him.
Catching her gaze, he smiles broadly, eyes glittering beneath the tassled fringe of his hat.
"Noble Mistress," he begins, "how may I entertain you? Lady Huan tells me you do not believe in soothsayers or prophecy."
The truth, in part–
She doesn't believe in anything.
"Perhaps a story then?" he says.
Indifferent, she looks away, breathing in from the pipe again.
He leans forward, like a cat on the verge of a pounce.
"Long ago," he begins, "the earth was a dark place, inhabited by fearsome demons. Great and terrible beasts they were, though some did hide their monstrousness behind a handsome guise."
Her eyes stray toward him, the pipe lowering from her lips.
"The demons warred with one another and preyed upon mankind, who was defenseless against them."
In the courtyard of her memories, a scattered heap of corpses lies, singed and broken. Faintly smoking still.
"Yet the gods favored man," he continues with finger upraised, "and bestowed their holy powers upon him. With the gods' blessing, man fought against the demons of old. And over time, the demons perished from this world, and the gods reclaimed their powers from the descendants of man."
A voice from the past, Yashamaru's voice, rises unbidden–
Well, you're a miko, aren't you?
A chill runs through her.
"For in all things, there must be balance," the mystic concludes, dark eyes flicking from her face to the fingers curled at her chest, gripping the blasted chunk of Jewel.
"Now the demons are no more, and man wars only with himself."
She regards him in measured silence, her expression belying the youthfulness of her face.
"Such a somber tale!" Huan laughs at last. "Where did you ever–"
In painful clarity, she rises from her seat.
"There are demons, still."
It is more than she has ever taken. Far more than she ever should.
The half-Jewel burns against her breast, a living thing. It whispers to her of times forgotten. It speaks to her in formless words, in shifting shapes of thought.
Beneath the deepening fog of the opium, something glimmers in response to its suggestions.
A halo of light in the roiling darkness.
She stumbles to the door.
A carriage, at once.
Her coinpurse presses to the young driver's chest. His wariness abates.
He half-carries her aboard, and they are off.
Through the fog and the darkness–within and without–she travels.
Two half-moons loom before her. One above.
The other below.
At the docks, she dismounts, collapsing. Nervous hands attempt to lift her. She shoves them off and struggles to her feet alone.
Dreamlike, she wanders through the haze, wooden planks moaning beneath each step she takes, as though in protest.
She can taste the salt on the air, feel the crash of the waves in her bones.
Standing once more upon the precipice of that dark and icy sea, she stares down, down into the churning depths below.
Do you see?
The Jewel blazes.
DO YOU SEE
"Yes," she answers, reaching. "Yes, I see."
Brighter than any sun, the light beckons her beneath the surface. And she is falling, falling slowly toward that missing piece.
Her eyes sear, her lungs strain. One agonized breath, and the flood rushes in.
She claws at the water, her screams smothered, her tears diffused.
The chain about her neck has snapped. Helpless, she watches the pendant sink, a new brand of darkness eclipsing her view.
In her ears is the sound of laughter, but it is not her own.
Her sight fades as the sound roars ever higher, the two halves of the Shikon no Tama meeting together at last, at the bottom of the deep.
Chapter 28: revelations
– 28 –
A glimpse of something in the distance.
An archway of pure white stone–
She gasps wetly, saltwater streaming from her lips and eyes.
Her throat is aflame, despite the dampness. She coughs in vain to soothe it.
His anger is palpable. It seethes like a current around her.
Blearily, she looks up at him, her breathing ragged from more than just the sea.
"Where," she asks, half-choking, "where is the Jewel?"
He glares down at her. "It is gone from you."
Gone, she thinks. No, not gone.
On shaking arms, she raises herself up, elbows slicing against the rocky shore. A hiss escapes her, though she hardly feels the pain.
"You," she manages through gritted teeth, "it was you. You took my memories from me."
He stares down at her, unblinking.
"Yes," he says after a moment, "it was I."
Her left arm buckles, a sort of cry wresting from her lips. It is not a sound of sadness or dejection, but of anguish all the same.
It is a sound of desolation, a confirmation of the secret knowledge in her soul. With unscaled eyes, she looks upon him, and in the flat yellow surface of his gaze, sees only his unfathomable greed.
And the hollowness of her own existence.
"It must have been terrible," she says, her voice low and trembling, "what you did to me."
He kneels down above her. With one pale icy hand, he smoothes back a lock of hair plastered to her cheek, his thumb stroking across her lower lip. An act of ownership, masquerading as affection.
"I was careless," he admits. "But it is of no consequence now."
"You took my life from me," she accuses.
His features harden.
"I have given you life in abundance." His hand slides back, fisting in her hair. "I have given you youth, health, prosperity." His grip tightens to the point of pain. "All that you need, all that you could ever want, I have given to you."
Hatefully, she holds his gaze.
"The only thing I want," she says, "is to be free of you."
His expression is shadowed, close. For the first time she can recall, he seems weary.
In the span of a breath, they weigh one another, across the centuries.
He releases her and draws back.
"You will always belong to me."
There is no heat behind his words, no force of conviction. He states them with the cold assurance of truth.
A truth she will never accept.
Her strength has returned. With a steady breath she rises, turning wordlessly from him as she picks her way across the shore.
He makes no move to halt her progress, yet she can feel the sear of his gaze upon her back, branding her through the layers of wet heavy silk.
Chapter 29: cat and mouse
Author's note: Thanks for hanging in with me so far - hope you're enjoying the story, dark as it is! This fic is written in full; however, I'm publishing the remaining chapters on about a weekly basis as I make my final edits. Want to read more in the meantime? Check out the Sess-POV prequel Ab Initio. You can also preview upcoming chapters of Stasis on my blog (link in my profile), as well as a brand-new Sess-POV side story to Stasis called Abaddon which I'm posting there as I write it. Happy reading & would love to hear your thoughts! <3
– 29 –
.cat and mouse.
Back at port, she trades her hair pins for passage to India, and in a month's time she sets foot in an unknown land.
The air is dense with exotic spices, with the clamor of foreign tongues. For a time she diverts herself with exploring this new country and its customs, though beneath the pulse of it all is the same human experience to which she finds herself eternally at odds–a thing as beautiful as it is fleeting, as alien to her as the past she will never know.
And yet she was human, once. Or so he told her.
She cannot help but crave kinship with another. The loneliness, the longing, builds within her to the point that when he appears before her at the window of her suite, she does not turn away.
It is no coincidence he is here now. He can sense her weakness as well as any predator.
She backs into the bed as he stalks toward her, pressing his advantage.
Yet he, like her, is a living fixture upon this earth–unchanged and unchanging.
It is enough to let him slide the sleeves of her gown from her shoulders, to lock eyes with her as he cups the heated flesh between her thighs.
"Kagome," he breathes against her neck, and she shudders. "My Kagome."
Every touch fills her with self-loathing, every stroke shatters her illusion of freedom.
Tears spill from her eyes as she cries out against him–in anguish, in fury–despising herself even more in that moment than she despises him.
Above her he is relentless, determined. When she attempts to push him off, he pins her down by the wrists, driving into her even harder than before.
He is here to remind her of her place. And when it is over, he leaves her there, still trembling in the wake of that knowledge.
By the end of the next day, she is bound for Egypt. A few years later, Istanbul.
As the novelty of her surroundings fades, she moves on in search of new horizons–new distractions from the monotony of her existence, and from the monster ever at her back.
From Turkey, she wends her way through Europe. Germany first, then Italy, then France.
She collects languages like souvenirs. Although by the time she moves to London, she finds, unsettlingly, that English comes to her much easier than the rest.
The friendships she forms now are strictly for convenience. Her only enduring interest is in the study of history, and she admires the young scholars she meets as one would flowers in spring.
But there is solace in the subject itself, not least because it is more ancient than she.
With enough time, she sees, there is change.
That patterns of events repeat themselves, that history is often cyclical does not escape her. Neither does it deter her.
It is only, she thinks, a matter of perspective.
As the world wars with itself again, she abandons England for the Americas.
In the jungles of the Amazon, a shaman leads her to the shores of an uncharted lake.
These waters, he tells her, are fed from the underworld.
Kneeling at the edge, she peers down at her reflection. A length of black chain protrudes from her back, its glinting links coiled around her in a serpent's embrace.
At her side, the shaman mumbles a quick prayer.
"What does it mean?" she asks him, fear stabbing through her at the sight.
"That you are bound," her translator answers, "in life as well as in death."
Somewhere behind her is the flutter of wings.
She cannot see where the chain ends. She does not need to.
Even now as she senses him draw near, her bonds are losing their slack.
Her sudden laughter startles the shaman–startles them both.
She doubles over from the force of it, her shoulders shaking, her last possible route of escape cut off from her before she could even begin to contemplate it.
She should be crying. She should be screaming.
But all she can do is laugh.
Chapter 30: (a forgotten memory)
Author's note: We're in the home stretch now! :) Thanks so much for the comments, kudos & subscriptions!! Abaddon pt. 5 is posted on my blog if you wanna check it out!
– 30 –
.(a forgotten memory).
She sits alone on a park swing, her eyes lifted to the sky.
A faint breeze is blowing. It tousles her short hair and whispers across her cheek, and she leans into it for a moment, imagining it to be her father's touch.
Behind her is the sound of laughter, the clang of sneakers against the slides and steps of a jungle gym. School friends, playing King of the Castle in the background.
She has never been fond of the game. Her favorite is Hide and Seek.
Still, she should go back and play, even though she doesn't feel like it right now. She doesn't feel like doing much of anything right now, despite the occasion.
Today, she is six years old.
She sighs, ducking her chin. On her white blouse is an electric-blue icing stain. She rubs at it half-heartedly before staring down at the ground.
In the fine sand beneath the swingset, she draws her home with the toe of her shoe. First, Goshinboku, then the wellhouse shrine, then the two-story house with kitten Buyo on the doorstep.
It is a picture she has drawn many, many times. So many times in fact, that when she begins to draw her family in the foreground, it is her father who takes shape first.
She freezes as if struck, her toe still hovering above the stick-figure image as her eyes begin to blur.
A sudden cry seizes her attention.
Above her lands a dusty old crow, its black claws rasping against the top of the swingset as it struggles to find its perch.
It is an ugly, balding thing. Its beak is cracked and broken. Its glassy eye weeps darkly as it cocks its head at her and stares.
Clutching at the chains, she stares back.
A chill breeze washes over her, and though it does not stir one grimy feather, the crow must have felt it too, for it turns toward the source of it and shrieks before taking flight.
She turns as well, gasping at the sight.
A man is standing a short distance from her, though he is unlike any man she has ever seen. His hair is long and silver, his eyes so light they are almost gold.
He looks, to her, like an angel.
"Kagome," he greets her.
She eases down from the swing, heart pounding. "Who are you?"
He smiles slightly as he begins to walk toward her. "An old friend."
Instinctively, she retreats from him, the seat of the swing digging into her lower back. She shakes her head.
"I've never seen you before."
He is not the sort of person she’d be likely to forget.
"You have," he corrects her, drawing to a stop. "You are simply too young to remember."
She swallows, looking at him uncertainly. "What do you want?"
"I’ve brought something for you," he answers, one pale hand reaching into a pocket of his suit. "A gift. Today is your birthday, is it not?"
She nods, entranced by the object now resting in the palm of his hand. It is the size of a large marble, dark and glittering. As she watches, the darkness seems to swirl within it, like stormclouds in a night sky.
The moment her fingertips brush the surface, the stormclouds retreat, replaced by a soft rosy glow.
The stranger breathes in sharply. She looks up at him in surprise.
He is no longer smiling. His eyes are fixed on the gift between them, now faintly smoking in his hand.
"You must keep it safe," he says, his gaze snapping to hers. "You must keep it with you always."
She opens her mouth to promise that she will, when something pierces her through the chest.
Choking, she looks down.
Pale fingers protrude from her ribcage, buried knuckles-deep. White shirt, white skin, splashed with red.
Her knees give way.
She feels herself falling slowly, vision dimming as she is lowered to the sand.
"It is your treasure," his voice sounds from somewhere above her.
Yellow eyes swim into view. His hand withdraws from her, yet a weight remains. Distantly, she can feel it, sinking through her like a stone.
Wet fingers trail across her face. Icy lips whisper against her own.
"As you,” he says, “are mine."
A scream awakens her.
It is her mother, crying out her name.
She stirs, pushing sluggishly up onto her elbows. Her shirt is stiff and caked in red. It tugs at her skin with every shaking breath.
She is still staring at it in confusion when her mother reaches her, collapsing at her side. Frantic hands tear through her bloodied shirt, searching over and over for a wound that is not there.
"Kagome, Kagome," she sobs at last, in relief, in shared confusion. "What happened to you?"
Her breathing is steady now. Meeting her mother's gaze, she frowns.
"Mama, I don't know."
Chapter 31: the auction
Author's note: Thanks so much for the comments & kudos, you guys! <3 For those of you following Abaddon, part 6 is now posted on my blog. :)
– 31 –
At the end of the western world, she contemplates her choices.
Crossing from the bed to the window, she buttons her blouse, gazing out at the restless sea. The water here is clear as glass—clear as her intentions.
“You are leaving.”
She glances toward him briefly.
There is no need to answer.
Beyond the setting sun lies her homeland, an ocean’s breadth away. To travel any farther west is to find herself east once again.
It is a prospect she now faces in despair. It is the end of the mirage, the shattering of her illusion of progress.
And yet her hatred of him compels her onward, repels her with magnetic force.
Yellow eyes have followed her to where she stands. In them is a reflection of her own dim resignation.
He catches her by the wrist as she walks past. “This is a vain pursuit, Kagome.”
She knows that it is.
A pursuit as vain as his own.
Glaring down at him, she takes up her purse and says to him, “Let me go.”
Though she did not ask it, in the hard set of his jaw she finds his answer, even as he lets her go.
For the moment.
Multiple flights booked in multiple names. Only once she arrives at the airport does she decide who she will next pretend to be.
“Kaiya Amano” her boarding pass reads. Closing her eyes, she reimagines herself, all the way to New York.
It is a place she has visited only a few years before. A place he will not be as likely to suspect.
In the crowded city streets, she finds the space to breathe again.
She resumes her studies of history and modern culture, searching for patterns, for answers to a circular question which she can only begin to frame. Her zeal is infectious as always. One acquaintance becomes another, and another still.
It is with one such enthusiast that she finds herself here now, exchanging discourse over cocktails in the gallery of an auction house.
The artifacts on display hold little interest for her, yet the activity is distracting enough to turn her thoughts from the knowledge that shadows them.
From the dark, cold certainty that he is coming for her—soon.
Distantly, she hears the bidding begin. Ancient treasures are sold one after the other, destined for new homes, new masters.
In this, they are freer than she.
As the final lot is sold, an attendant rushes suddenly to the auctioneer, whispering fervently. The auctioneer clears his throat.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he announces, "I apologize for the confusion, but it appears we have a very last–very exclusive–item up for auction this evening. If I may have your attention, please..."
Murmuring, the crowd reassembles, as a covered display case is wheeled on stage. The covering is lifted, and a description is relayed, though not a word of it reaches her ears.
The world around her is silent. Her eyes are riveted on the item behind the glass.
A fire ruby, as large as a hen's egg.
Her hand rises to match the opening bid, and again to match the next. When the gavel falls at last in her favor, she exhales a shuddering breath.
A staff member approaches her to make arrangements for delivery.
"May I see it now?" she asks instead.
He leads her to a private gallery. In the center of the room lies her prize.
"A moment, please," she says absently, stepping forward to claim it.
As the door closes at her back, she opens the lid of the display case. From its bed of lush dark velvet, she plucks out the gleaming red jewel and rests it in the palm of her hand.
Light pools in the facets, trembling faintly as the sheen in her eyes.
Two centuries of loss, crystallized now before her.
She does not hear the door open behind her. It is a shift in the air, a prickle of dark current along the ridge of her spine that causes her to turn.
A streak of silver in his jet black hair, but other than that he is unchanged. Golden eyes glint at her as he grins.
Chapter 32: reunion
Author's note: Thanks for the feedback since last time! Abaddon is now COMPLETE!! Check out the last installment on my blog. :) And stay tuned for more stories in the Stasis-verse...I've got at least 1 or 2 more up my sleeve ;)
– 32 –
The ruby clatters to the floor.
"Yashamaru," she breathes.
His smile softens as he steps toward her. "So," he says, "you haven't forgotten me."
Tenderly, she meets his gaze.
"How could I forget?"
His lips find hers as he gathers her to him, and she feels herself transported back, to that night in the palace where last they stood. Entwined together, on the precipice of ruin.
Reluctantly, she pulls away, head shaking. "No–you should go."
"I'm not leaving you," he murmurs against her throat. "Not again."
"He'll do more than just kill you if he finds us here like this," she pleads, taking his face in her hands.
Claw-tipped fingers cover her own. He frowns down at her, crow's feet pulling at the corners of his eyes.
"After you left that night, I went to America. I thought to myself, 'If I go here and stay here, I'll never see her again. I'll never be able to find her.' But then six years ago, you showed up–right here in New York. I couldn't believe it at first, but I knew it was you. And before I could figure out what to do about it, he showed up, and you were gone again. I felt like such a fucking failure."
"It's all right, Hime-san. I didn't pity myself for long because I set to work. I was determined to find a way to help you, to free you from that asshole. For years I searched with nothing to show for it, and then...I found this."
From the pocket of his slacks, he retrieves a small black box and holds it before her. With a rap of his claw, the box vanishes in a cloud of youki.
Her breath catches in her throat.
In the center of his hand, where the box used to be, lies a glowing purple orb.
"The Shikon no Tama," Yashamaru says. "Take it, Hime-san. It's yours."
With trembling fingers, she reaches toward it, the purple glow receding under the shadow of her touch.
In her hand it feels surprisingly light.
"It's said that the Jewel can grant any wish to the person who possesses it," Yashamaru tells her. "You can use it, Kagome. You can use it to set yourself free."
She looks up at him desperately, heart hammering in her chest, terrified even now to hope. "How can you be so sure?"
The corner of his mouth rises. "Because I know that you've been searching for it, too."
And she has, she admits. For as long as she can remember, perhaps longer still. Seared into her heart, into her soul, beneath all conscious thought and memory, is the image of the Jewel she now holds.
Yet something bothers her. An uneasiness that grows stronger as she studies the gem in her hand.
She is struggling to make sense of this unease when a dark, familiar presence assaults her senses. Her head snaps up in alarm. Swallowing, she clutches the Jewel to her chest.
"Dammit," Yashamaru growls, moving between her and the door. "Stay back, Hime-san. I'll hold him off for as long as I can."
"No, you won't!" she cries, grabbing at his arm.
"Stop saying stupid things. Do you think if I valued my life that much I would have sought you out?"
"You're the one being stupid," she seethes, thrusting the Jewel back toward him. "Take this, and escape from here!"
"The Jewel is of no use to me, Hime-san." Taking her by the shoulders, he pulls her close to him once more, leaning his forehead against her own. "My only wish," he says, "was to see you again."
Darkness encroaches, pressing in on her like smoke. She digs her nails into the fabric of his shirt.
"Please," she whispers, "don't do this."
He pulls back, tipping up her chin with a finger. "Make your wish, Hime-san–but be clear in your purpose. There's something about that Jewel I don't trust."
Screams echo from the floors below. She looks into his golden eyes a moment more, then nods and steps back.
"Perhaps in another life," he says, smiling ruefully, "we could have been together."
Her eyes glimmer in return.
A whiplike crack. A burst of green light. The door to the gallery room splits, then crumbles.
She retreats as Yashamaru lunges forward, cursing.
In a corner of the room, she crouches, concealed behind a large gilt vase. The Jewel burns like a hot coal in her hands.
A Voice sounds in her mind, hollow yet heavy, foreign yet somehow familiar.
So, tell Me, Miko, what is it that you desire most?
Its address catches her off guard. Her gaze hardens.
If you know so much, she answers, why don't you tell me?
A crackle of laughter, like the crunch of broken glass. Inside her mind, a trapdoor opens, and she is falling, falling fast.
Very well, it sneers.
Chapter 33: the void
Author's note: One. Chapter. Left!!! Omg, I can't believe we're almost at the end...! Thanks for the kudos & comments - love hearing your thoughts. :) There's another short companion fic posted on my blog if you wanna check it out!
– 33 –
She stands in a pall of darkness, her footsteps echoing with every step she takes.
Where the Jewel has brought her, she cannot imagine. And yet it is here with her, too.
In the twist and swell of the shadows that surround her, she feels its gloating presence.
Why tarry, Miko? the Voice of the Shikon no Tama resounds. We both know, even now, the one desire of your heart.
"How can I be certain of anything," she challenges back, "when I don't even truly know myself?"
Then I will show you the truth, the Voice answers silkily.
Though it will change nothing.
The shadows part, and in the lighter darkness between them, stands a mirror framed with thousands of sharp, black sickle-shapes.
Approaching it, she studies the image trapped within. It is herself, yet not herself. A girl of fifteen mortal years, clothed in green and white, with a quiver at her back and a bow in her hand, and on her face an expression of hatred so savage and determined and fierce that she recoils from the sight of it as if burned.
The darkness around her echoes with mocking laughter.
Are you frightened now, Miko? Frightened of the truth you claim to seek?
She grits her teeth and steps toward the mirror again.
Foolish girl, the Voice goads her.
You should be afraid.
Her hand extends toward the looking-glass, fingertips rising to meet those of her reflected self.
She is Pandora.
She is Eve.
She is Izanami.
And with a scream of rage and grief and pain, with a cry of such great and terrible knowing that the mirror shatters and the darkness around her dissolves in an explosion of rose-colored light–
She is Higurashi Kagome.
Her eyes are open.
Tears stream from them, only to be scorched away by the radiance that enfolds her like a candle flame. Flickering, pulsing, her powers strain against the dark bonds of the curse that binds her still.
Now do you see? the Voice sounds in her mind, though less imposing than before.
And she sees. She sees Sesshoumaru standing triumphant yet again, Yashamaru's lifeless body slumped at his feet. She sees the blood on his hands, the greed in his expression.
It is a sight she has seen before.
Yet when he turns toward her at last, for the first time in more than five hundred years, what she sees in his eyes is fear.
Now is the time, Kagome. Take your vengeance for the ones you love. For Yashamaru. For Kohaku.
She trembles at the sound of that precious name, once lost to her mind, but never to her heart and soul.
This is your wish now, as it was then. You need speak only the words for it to be so.
At this, she stiffens, her gaze falling to the Jewel in her palm.
I don't need a wish to kill Sesshoumaru. After I've destroyed you and broken the curse, I'll kill him myself.
The Jewel blazes with purple light, its Voice a roar in her thoughts.
It takes her a moment to understand–its outburst was not of anger, but of glee.
Ignorant girl, the Voice jeers, even if you could destroy Me, the curses laid upon you would remain. Your memories, too, would return to the Void, for I reveal them to you only now under My own power.
You lie! Izanami-sama told me–
Yet here she falters. For in truth the goddess had only told her that the Jewel could be used to free her from Sesshoumaru's tyranny. That, and nothing more.
The Jewel laughs again, long and deep.
NOW, DO YOU SEE.
She falls to her knees.
Bitterness chokes her lungs. Tears cloud her eyes. She cannot dispel them.
And yet the path before her is clear.
"My task", she says faintly, "my task was to destroy you..."
A fool's errand, and pointless besides. Who is there to hold you to this task?
Who is there…
The holy blaze around her dims. Her strength is fading, bleeding from her through the rends in her heart.
And he is advancing upon her now, scenting her weakness like a wolf on the prowl. Closing in on her, once more, through the carnage.
Yet she forces herself to look past him, to look down at the Jewel simmering in her palm.
Staring at it, she can see now with perfect clarity the dark tendrils that extend from its polished surface, black threads that weave between her and Sesshoumaru like puppet strings.
It is easy, she remembers, to forget one enemy in the presence of another.
"Who is there," she repeats, fingers clenching around her ancient foe, voice trembling and powers flaring brighter with every gritted word.
Faces flash before her–Shippou's and Miroku’s, Sango's and Kohaku's, Yashamaru's and Inuyasha's...
Even Kikyou’s and Naraku’s.
Faces that are no more. Lives undone by the architect of her own demise.
"There is no one," she answers the Jewel at last. "You have seen to that."
The full force of her power floods the Shikon no Tama, and it burns in her hand like a dying star.
NO, the Voice howls, as the Jewel begins to splinter. You stupid girl!
Without ME you will never be free
Sorrow sharpens to the keenest point within her. And though her resolve wavers, and though every fiber of her earthly being cries out against her, she looks down at her last chance for salvation and wishes to it, "Begone."
A scream of anguish lances the air, deafening her, though whether it was torn from the Jewel or from her own throat, she cannot say–only that in the silence thereafter, the Shikon no Tama is no more.
As the last shimmer of it disappears into the Void, she struggles to hold fast to her memories, slipping through her mind like the sparkling grains through her fingers.
Her friends are forgotten, her family too. In the end only two remain–her love and her hate, between which she cannot choose.
And so they swirl together, in fragments of remembrance so sharp and piercing that even as they tumble into oblivion, the impression of them remains, like a scar upon her mind.
Blinking, she looks up at Sesshoumaru at last.
In infinite weariness. In peace and hostility.
In victory and defeat.
"I'd like to go home now," she says.
Chapter 34: equilibrium
Author's note: This is it!! Thanks a billion for all the comments & kudos - I'm so incredibly happy to have been able to share this story with you all. :) Would so much love to hear your thoughts! Oh, and because I couldn't help myself, there is yet another side story (Halcyon) posted on my blog! Anyway, thanks again, dear readers! Couldn't have done it without you *bows* .....And now, onward - to Transgressions!
– 34 –
Time does not slow for the undying.
A year passes in a moment, as it does for all those who have reached a certain age.
And though they no longer care to keep a tally of its passing, they mourn it just the same.
It is a handful of such moments that have brought her here, to Tokyo.
She brakes slowly, easing her rented bicycle to a stop before a torii gate. Somewhere behind her, a siren blares past, and she starts at the sound, uncertain.
Why did I stop here, she wonders.
The action had felt almost mechanical, like the biking itself. Unconscious yet deliberate, and curiously natural to her.
Leaning the bike against a meter, she smoothes her pleated skirt and steps toward the gate.
Before her a series of worn stone steps cuts up into the hillside. As she ascends them, a two-story house comes into view. Relatively modern, it sits apart from the old stone path, which ends some distance back, at the door of a decrepit wellhouse.
The wellhouse stands in a clearing. Beside it is a lone aged tree, its massive trunk encircled with a strand of sacred chimes. "Goshinboku Shrine," a polished stone marker reads in the grass before them.
She walks up to the tree. Above the chimes, a shallow gash extends in the smooth grey bark, a wound long since healed over. She touches the rounded edges briefly before turning toward the well.
A rope fence bars the entry, yet she pays it no heed, stepping over it and onto the threshold of the small, crumbling enclosure.
At the center lies an old wooden well, its mouth sealed by heavy planks. As if of their own accord, her fingers prize at the boards, but they are nailed down firmly and do not budge.
In the spare, dusty light she examines the well. At the back of it, a series of drawings beneath the ledge catches her attention.
Etched into the ancient wood are flowers and birds and four-leaf clovers, smiley faces and a stick-figure family of five–a child's artwork, and lovingly signed, "Higurashi Kagome."
Her breath freezes in her throat.
With trembling fingers, with burning eyes, she traces the characters of her name, and those apart from it, carved in a much steadier hand, an older hand–her own:
K + I
"May I help you?" a stern voice calls from the entrance. "This area is off-limits, and the first tour doesn't start until 11 o'clock."
Wiping her eyes, she exits the wellhouse at once. Outside on the pavement stands a woman in her mid-fifties or sixties, her arms crossed over her chest.
"Gomen," she says to her with a hasty bow. "I didn't mean to intrude."
At this apology, and perhaps sensing her distress, the woman's expression relaxes. "It's quite alright...since you're here early, would you like to come over to the house for some tea? I've just put a kettle on."
Still feeling shaken by her discovery, she smiles in thanks and follows the woman inside.
The house is warm and bright in a way that lifts her heart and pangs it all at once. Over the rim of the teacup, she studies the shrine owner, searching for a resemblance, for anything that might resonate with her in the same way, yet there is nothing to be found.
"It was always my dream to own a historic site like this," the woman says. "As soon as I had enough money saved, I began looking, but the Higurashi shrine had been in the family for many generations, and I never imagined they would want to sell."
Strengthened by the tea, she meets the shrine owner's gaze intensely. "You knew the Higurashis?"
"Personally? No, I am sad to say. But from what I understand, they had lost a daughter some years ago–a teenage daughter. She went missing and was never found, at least to my knowledge, and the family wasn't the same after that."
"Is that so?" she says softly, carefully, setting the teacup down on the table as her hands begin to shake.
"Yes, and considering the circumstances, I can hardly blame them for wanting to move away. I would probably have done the same, in their position."
"Did they move far?"
"To Kyoto," the woman answers, looking at her curiously.
"And they live there still?" she presses on, undeterred.
The woman hesitates, a pitying look entering her eyes. "A few years back I attempted to contact them there–I had some questions about the shrine, you see. But I wasn't able to reach them. Later...well, later on, I learned from a friend that they–mother and son both...that they had been killed in a freak accident."
Across from her, a clock ticks on the wall.
Sick with loathing, she stares hard at the flitting second-hand, as though she could will it not only to stop, but to turn in the opposite direction. To travel backward, not merely into the past–
But into her past.
"...I see," she says at last, swallowing in bitter defeat. She pushes back from the table, rising unsteadily to her feet. "I've forgotten that I have an appointment to keep. Thank you for the tea."
"Of course," the woman says quickly, rising as well. "But you will come back, won't you, Miss–what did you say your name was again, dear?"
At the doorway she pauses to consider.
"Kagome," she answers, glancing back. "Higurashi Kagome."
They have traded a palace of wood and stone for one of metal and glass.
It is modern and elegant. A cage of her own choosing.
When she returns to it, he is not there. And she is glad of it.
The wrath she had subdued in the shrine keeper's presence wells up within her, and she storms about the mansion laying waste to every room–shattering the windows, the vases, the pictures and ornaments and antiques. Shredding clothes and books and curtains, smashing fragrance bottles and crushing strands of pearls and diamonds beneath her heel.
She tears at her hair, at her skin until it bleeds and heals and bleeds and heals again.
She screams and curses him, and curses herself for whatever she did to become so irrevocably enslaved.
Sobbing, she stumbles at last into his own private study, where the three swords he holds almost as dear to him as she are mounted prominently above the hearth.
A sudden idea occurs to her. She rips the swords off the wall, bundling them awkwardly to her chest as she stalks to the back of the room, where a set of double-doors opens out onto a balcony overlooking the western sea.
It is a sheer, steep drop to the water below. Climbing up onto the narrow railing with swords in arms, she peers down, her heart pounding in her throat.
Like a mad dog, the waves lap at the cliffside, frothing and foaming in their greed.
And like a madwoman herself, in an ecstasy of rage, she opens her arms and feeds Bakusaiga and Tenseiga to the sea.
Held closest to her, Tessaiga strikes the balcony railing instead, and falls with a clatter behind her.
She steps down and retrieves it, unsheathing it in the process.
Battered and rusted, the sword rests in her open palm. She glares down at it, her own blue-gray eyes glaring back at her in dim accusation.
But they are not alone.
As she prepares to toss Tessaiga over the rail, she catches sight of Sesshoumaru's reflection in the sword and turns, meeting his fury with her own.
"Return the sword to me, Kagome," he says, his words dangerously low, yet somehow perfectly clear even above the din of the waves.
"Get away from me," she answers, her voice choked with anger, her outstretched hand trembling from the weight of the sword. "You monster, you murderer–I hate you so much I could die!"
"But you cannot," he says ruthlessly, moving toward her, yellow eyes flashing. "So return the sword to me at once, and perhaps I will overlook this insolent behavior."
With a tremor, she lowers her arm, bringing Tessaiga inside the balcony railing once again. Slowly, hatefully, she approaches him, the ruined sword tip grating against the balcony floor.
A few steps away from him, she stops.
“I never wanted to hate you,” she confesses. “I could have loved you, I think, if you hadn’t hurt me so deeply.”
“So you say,” he replies. “But your love was never my objective.”
“To have you,” he declares, “and I do.”
Her head lowers, her shoulders shake. A laugh escapes her at the hopelessness, the absurdity.
Abruptly she raises the sword in her hands, and though she is far slower than he, the sight of her brandishing Tessaiga against him gives him the strangest, slightest pause.
It is enough.
She slashes forward, clumsily, but intently, and the sword, though blunt to all outward appearances, slices nonetheless cleanly through his cheek and across his chest.
With a howl of agony and rage and something more terrifying still, he lunges toward her as she strikes again, the blade glancing off his collarbone and splitting open her own.
He tackles her to the ground, and she releases the sword with an anguished cry. It slides beneath a gap in the railing and down into the hungry sea.
She thrashes and twists against him, wet with his blood and her own. Her nails dig viciously into the rend in his cheek, making him snarl in pain even as he pins her underneath him, the back of her skull hitting the balcony floor with a crack that leaves her stunned.
And now his hands are at her neck, at her breast, crushing her windpipe, ripping through her shirt and skin in a frenzy of manic need. He is growling, laughing, his eyes red and his face split in a wicked, sharp-toothed grin.
"My Kagome," he thunders above her, claw tips curving against the middle of her chest. "How perfect you are."
She screams when his fingers plunge beneath her flesh, and he descends upon her, smothering her mouth with his as he breaks past her ribs and curves his hand around her still-beating heart.
"You chose this," he gloats, though she scarcely hears him over the roar of her blazing nerves. "You chose me."
Her vision is darkening, her body falling slack. Not merely from the shock of pain, but from the sear of truth in his words.
With a grind of bones, with a sickening suck of muscle and skin and blood, he withdraws his hand from her chest and raises it to his lips. His tongue glides out as her consciousness fades, moving languorously through the gore, savoring the taste of his victory.
And in her dreams, as in her waking thoughts, the scar of her wish remains upon her.
It is a brand she has laid herself, though she does not remember, a grotesque melding of love and hate, forever upraised in her mind. It is a collection of broken images, fused together haphazardly, like a ball of shattered glass.
Fragments, shards–the rest of the pieces lost to her forever.
And so she must make do with what she has–a kiss now beneath a sakura tree, a rusted sword pulled from a pedestal of bone, a crow with a string of crimson in its beak, a gentle hand with sharp-tipped claws, a thin smile and a glint of fangs–
Pale skin, tan skin, slashes of magenta, swathes of red–
White hair, silver hair, golden eyes, yellow eyes–
Gold and silver–
Yellow and white–
Blinking slowly, stiffly, she gazes up at him from the crook of his arm, her lips thinning in bitter hatred despite the love that still mists her eyes.
They are out on the bloodstrewn balcony still, reclining in an unscathed corner. From far below, the sea breeze rolls in, chilling her, and he draws her closer, though there is neither want nor need.
"What were you dreaming of?" he asks, studying her expression.
"You," she admits, at last.
A slow smile spreads across his face.