Continuing Tales

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 26 of 42

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Tales from the House of the Moon

"Dunbar was lying motionless on his back again with his eyes staring up at the ceiling like a doll's. He was working hard at increasing his lifespan. He did it by cultivating boredom. Dunbar was working so hard at increasing his lifespan that Yossarian thought he was dead."
- Joseph Heller, Catch-22

. . .

Kagome was having second thoughts.

They weren't pleasant second thoughts, either. They were scary second thoughts, thoughts like, what if I get killed? and I'm walking into certain pain and no, really, what if I get killed? and I'm a very bad girl and, of course, argh! None of these thoughts were at all comforting, which was what she needed.

Pink elephants, pink elephants, she thought desperately in hopes of driving the bad thoughts away. It worked only marginally.

Kagome ground her teeth and gave a frustrated sigh, forcefully expelling air through her nose in an attempt to ease her tension, but all she got for her trouble was a snotty nose and a sinking feeling. Time to reassess the situation once again, she thought ruefully. She squared her shoulders.

Current location: shrine steps. Current activity: screwing up courage. Current condition: panicky.

...okay, great. What next?

Frowning, she shifted on her uncomfortable perch just below the level of the courtyard, the warm stone beneath her hands scraping lightly across her palms. Kagome was acutely aware that she made quite a sight - she'd already earned several strange looks for the miko outfit and the backpack groaning beneath the strain of carrying everything and the kitchen sink - and crouching on the shrine steps as if she were in some sort of spy movie gone horribly wrong was not helping. She was also fairly certain her behind was in the air in a particularly unladylike manner as well, but there was really nothing for that. Nervously Kagome licked her lips with her dry tongue and slowly inched upwards.

She was going back. If the well wouldn't let her through, it would be a waste of packing and she would happily - quite happily - walk away. But if it did accept her, she would be prepared to accept that fate and to do what had to be done - whatever that may be - but knowing that she was, in effect, lying to everyone made her sick to her stomach.

She was doing a very bad thing. Kagome knew this. Of course, that did not change the fact that she couldn't shake the feeling that if she didn't at least try this very bad thing, worse things might happen. This would not have been a bad thing in and of itself, but there was the tiny problem of explaining it to her mother, who had been the one to greet her the last time she had climbed out of the well and into the modern era. She must have looked like death because her mother's brow had wrinkled, and then she cried, just a little, when she found the scars on Kagome's fingers.

"Please," her mother had begged, her voice flat in the entryway of the house, the golden light of the setting sun splashing over them both from the sliding door, "I don't want you to be hurt any more. Please don't try to go back."

Kagome had bit her lip and let her eyes fall before nodding, earning a relieved sigh and a fierce hug. Now she wished she hadn't made that promise, since she was being forced to break it.

Well, no - that wasn't really the whole truth. No one was forcing her to do this except herself and her own stupid sense of honor. Absently Kagome let her fingers scrape across the stone of the steps as she inched her way upwards and wished - not for the first time - that she weren't such a dutiful girl, that she were not so honorable, as it put her in the worst positions and caused herself and her family more pain than anything else, with the exception of love.

This bothered her on a fundamental level, so much so that she had bugged the philosophy professors the department over all last semester about it. Why were all the noble impulses of man so hurtful? she wanted to know. It shouldn't be that way. Then again perhaps that was what made the noble impulses noble - no reward or happiness should be anticipated because the action was done for the simple reason that it was the right choice. She'd nearly died dozens of times because of the Shikon no Tama that she hadn't even known she carried; she'd healed the woman who hated her because it was the right thing to do; and she'd done the right thing at the end of that long road.

Even now as she prepared to lunge into the future, the memory of the wish she had made still caused a twinge in her chest, low and dark; she felt it like an iron hook sunk into her heart, the past tugging on the line, trying to reel her back in.

Kagome shook her head. Pointless, she scolded herself. We have more important things to do, like concentrate. Hop to it!

Biting her lip, Kagome scooted to the right to press her body against the wall, an endeavor that quickly proved to be rather foolish, as her backpack was so stuffed it kept her about two full feet from her goal. Should have seen that coming, she thought. Kagome allowed her mouth to twist in annoyance as she crept a little ways down the steps and pressed her side to the wall instead. It wasn't as good as being flat as possible, but it would have to do.

She especially didn't want to be seen because she had gone to such great lengths to ensure that no one would find out she was gone. Ayumi was in Europe for six weeks, and if she could sneak into the well without being seen by anyone in her family no one would be the wiser. Of course her mother would probably call after a week or two or three, worried about her, but hopefully she would be back in time to assure her mother that she wasn't dead.

Assuming that I don't die, of course, she thought. The fist that had held her crumpled stomach in its acidic fingers since October clenched just a little bit harder at that.

Oh, yes, now I remember. What did happen to the miko? she thought sourly, pausing in her agonizingly slow scaling of the shrine steps. Kagome had given this quite a bit of thought and had arrived at the conclusion that the miko's fate was up in the air because she lived. If she had died of her injuries, that would certainly have been mentioned. Wouldn't it? Instead, it seemed that she had just disappeared, and the phrase 'back down the well again' had sauntered into her mind and refused to be dislodged.

The thought that she might die had been preying on her mind for almost nine months now, stealing her appetite and leaving insomnia behind; she was thinner than she had been last summer, and there were dark, exhausted bruises beneath her eyes from endless nights of tossing and turning in bed. Her concentration was shot, and when she thought of the task she might have to carry out she felt a spear of ice lance through her entrails. Probably the least pleasant side effect of all this fretting was the simply delightful habit her stomach had picked up of cheerfully rejecting her breakfast at least twice a month. Once a week Ayumi would bug her about going to the doctor since she "didn't want a relapse" - Kagome wished her grandfather had never gotten his hands on that medical textbook - and she was relieved that her roommate had finally left and taken her overbearing good intentions with her.

Still. At least she had cared. Now no one was going to be thinking positive thoughts for her, or waiting for her to return. No one would know.

Kagome tensed in fearful anticipation. Her breath was coming a little too quickly, and she consciously tried to slow her respiration. It was no use; her heart was pounding with her anxiety. She couldn't remember ever being so nervous about a trip to the past in her life, but then again, she had never had such solid evidence that she was walking intentionally into certain pain. Sure, there had always been the threat of injury, but the story in which she might possibly have a starring role had practically guaranteed the whole thing would end in a boo-boo before bedtime.

Yet here she was, ready to take the plunge again. She'd changed into her miko outfit at the apartment she shared with Ayumi since it would be a bit awkward to have to change on the other side of the well, and she certainly couldn't change at the shrine as that would increase her chances of getting caught. She could see it now, one leg over the rim of the well and her mother staring at her from the top of the well house stairs with hurt eyes. Oh no, mom, I'm not going back to the Sengoku Jidai! she would say. I'm just doing my calisthenics next to the well. See? Stretching! What? Oh, the outfit. Um. Cosplay? No no, wait, honoring my heritage. That's it, that's what I'm doing. Um. Yeah. Won't grandpa be proud?

So she'd tied herself into the traditional outfit of a shrine maiden, said goodbye to her apartment - hopefully not for the last time - and forty-five minutes later she was at the base of the steps to the shrine and the final hurdle lay before her: getting into the well house without being seen. She could worry about finding the madoushi and the coming the challenge on the other side of the well, but for now she tried to concern herself only with making it across the courtyard.

Squinting she crept up the steps very slowly until her line of sight crested the landing and she could see a the courtyard. Anxiously, Kagome darted her eyes back and forth, looking for her mother or Souta, or the figure of her grandfather sweeping the stones with care as he had done all his life. To her intense relief the courtyard was empty, and there was a clear pathway to the well house.

There was only one real question now. To run or not to run? she thought. I'll be doing a lot of running if I go to the other side of the well, but I might not make it there unless I run. So running it is.

I hate running.

It had to be done though.

Kagome bit her lower lip and tensed her muscles for the vault over the last step -

- and she was sprinting across the courtyard, backpack jerking uncomfortably on her shoulders, each frantic step jarring her bones as she pounded past Goshinboku, her ears straining to hear the shout she was positive would come -

- and she wheeled into the hut for which she had been aiming, gasping for air as she slid the door closed as quickly and quietly as possible, the weathered wood beneath her hands biting into her fingers. Kagome let her forehead fall against it as she regained her breath and let her eyes adjust to the dimness of the little hut before turning and surveying the jumble of detritus left behind by the flow of the centuries.

When she could make out vague shapes, she inched forward, hands before her to prevent herself from running into anything that might break or trip her up. Straining to see, Kagome let her fingers run along the strange artifacts her grandfather kept, searching for the one she knew was there. It had been years since she had seen it, but it was a valued family heirloom, passed down from Higurashi Saotome before the revolution and the Meiji restoration, and her grandfather would never get rid of something so valuable and so rich in history.

Kagome grit her teeth as she inched along, feeling out old jars, lengths of cloth, rolled paper, little trinkets, until she finally brushed something metal and cloth and intricately carved wood.

Sighing with relief and satisfaction, Kagome eased the old wakazashi from beneath a pile of unidentifiable knickknacks and dusted it off with the sleeve of her haori - no doubt turning the white fabric a lovely shade of grey - before shoving it into her obi. It felt weird resting on her hip, but she wasn't stupid; Kagome refused to go into the past where someone wanted to kill her without some kind of protection. There was no telling if she'd be able to use a bow against the madoushi or not, and though she didn't know how to use the wakazashi very well it was still better than nothing. Not only was it a live blade, but it could probably do a lot of damage even used as a blunt object, and really, it couldn't hurt to have it with her.

I'm so screwed, she thought. If the story hadn't told her the miko would triumph, she would probably not be doing this. Probably. She felt vaguely lucky that she didn't have to make a choice like that.

Kagome paused for a few minutes and practiced sheathing and unsheathing the blade before she felt she had the hang of it - it was harder to aim for that little opening than she would have thought, and it was curiously resistant to being removed from its scabbard. Carefully she ran a finger along the blade, careful not to cut herself, inspecting it for rust or signs of deterioration. Finding nothing she slid it back into the sheath and tried a few steps to get used to having the unfamiliar weight at her hip before the final dash to the well house.

Well, it was as good as it was going to get. Though her fate was uncertain, Kagome was nothing if not a girl who always prepared for the worst, and she had taken as many weapons classes as she could since the beginning of November. She wasn't very good with either the wakazashi or the katana, but she could at least do a modicum of damage with either. If her opponent was particularly slow. Now that she came to think of it, Kagome was beginning to regret not taking even more classes, but she'd been busy with her other obligations; she felt as though she were in middle school again, balancing the obligations of one life against the other.

Theoretically, she supposed she could stay until she was a master swordswoman - maybe in twenty years or so - but there was the heavy knowledge that if she didn't attempt this journey soon the tension from the suspense might literally kill her. Not to mention that she was tired of trying to hold her breakfast down and stumbling through her days as a zombie, as it seemed that uncertain and possibly-impending death put a damper on one's enjoyment of life.

Sighing, Kagome moved again to the door and slid it open an inch before she peeked out into the courtyard. She was unbearably relieved to find it empty - it was getting warm in the storage hut, and the heavy outfit she wore was only exasperating her discomfort. She had to get out of the hut, shut the door, and run to the well house.

I can do this.

She tightened her grip on the doors.

One... two... three!

Kagome wrenched the doors apart - nearly ripping off a fingernail - before whirling around to slam them shut and taking off across the small distance to the well house. She cleared the wooden step with difficulty - that backpack was really heavy - and frantically slid the well house doors open as she skidded inside and slammed them shut, pressing her forehead to the wood more out of anxiety than out of breathlessness.

She could feel the well behind her, squatting in the darkness, its mouth open, begging her to slide inside to meet her fate when it spit her out where it chose. She could feel it waiting for her, could feel it pulling her in, and, unable to escape its gravity, Kagome would fall.

She began to turn to meet it, but paused.

This could be the last time I see my home. It probably won't be, but it could be.

Slowly she slid the doors open a fraction and gazed out into the courtyard. Her eyes fell on Goshinboku, where everything began and ended, where it all circled down to completion. She wondered if it remembered her from the past. How far did her echoes go?

Willing herself to move, she closed the doors a final time, the sound of them clacking together loud in the quiet of the well house. If she didn't know better, she would call it peaceful.

Slowly she turned and faced the steps. Inhaling a lungful of air, Kagome descended until she came to rest against the well.

Sooner or later, she would have to find out her fate. She half prayed it wasn't her; she half-hoped it was.

Deliberately, Kagome placed a hand on the splintery lip and vaulted over the side, letting the well swallow her whole.

. . .

Sesshoumaru, the Prince of the Western Lands, King of the Moonlit Country, and Lord of the House of the Moon, sat beneath the mimosa tree in his garden and, for want of something better to do, studied the shining lock of his hair he had caught in his claws. This held his attention for maybe three seconds before he was bored again, and boredom, Sesshoumaru decided, did not suit him.

It was odd. Even though he had lived for a very long time, Sesshoumaru had never truly been bored. Indeed, now that he thought of it, this seeming immunity was probably a survival trait bred into powerful youkai who spent millennia watching history cycle over and over again. After all, if one was capable of living for eternity, it would not do to go insane from tedium; that would just be a waste of time. Thus they had always found ways of amusing themselves, be it through the intrigue of alliances, the engagement in war and conquest, carnal indulgences, wanton destruction, study, or travel; few seemed to engage in the latter two, but the first four were always a hotbed of activity. In fact it was now occurring to him that almost everything they did was only to kill the interminable time between when they were born and when they would die. Or until the end of the world. Whichever came first, really.

Yet Sesshoumaru was having an excruciatingly difficult time finding things with which to occupy himself. The intrigue did not engage his interest, and the petty engagement in war seemed pointless as he would only win anyway. Wanton destruction was not his style, he'd studied enough for several lifetimes, and travel would take him away, which he was avoiding. Myouga had suggested another extended constitutional, but Sesshoumaru had declined, claiming that he should not abandon his estate again after only a year and a half.

"But the last one seemed to cheer you up, milord," the flea had pointed out, not unreasonably. "Perhaps you only need a touch of relaxation. If you are worried, you could always leave the running of the lands to me; I am more than qualified."

Annoyed, Sesshoumaru had bared his teeth in a silent growl at the old retainer, who hastily made his excuses and departed. It was true, of course - his last constitutional had been a much needed change of pace - but he was reluctant to again engage in such a diversion. He knew it would not be the same.

As for the final option of embarking on one or three sexual escapades, he found himself strangely resistant to the idea. This was an unusual reaction to say the least; it was not that he did not feel the urge, but rather that there seemed to be no acceptable females anywhere. Every one of them, for lack of a better word, bored him. It was all very frustrating, in more ways than one.

Now, sitting in the gardens - planted once by his mother, once by Rin, and once again by his own command - Sesshoumaru eyed the lock of hair he had twined through his claws and, for the third time in as many minutes, seriously considered braiding it.

No, boredom did not suit him at all.

Even worse was the fact that he knew what would ease the tedium of his days, and yet it was out of reach, no matter what lengths he went to in order to procure it. What he needed was so very simple that it was almost pathetic he should fail to fulfill even so modest a desire, and yet here he was.

Sesshoumaru needed someone to talk to, yet no one would indulge him.

Well, that was not entirely true; they would talk in pleasantries or heavily laden innuendos, but real conversation was lacking for the simple reason that no one ever dared to disagree with him, and any casual insult he happened to toss off was always met with groveling and never a witty rejoinder.

There was no denying it: there was a little, sadly-silent miko-shaped hole in his life.

Not that he missed her. He did not miss her, per se, but rather Sesshoumaru found that he felt her absence in almost all the things he did. She had never occupied any room in the House of the Moon, and yet sometimes he could not help but turn to where he thought she should be and open his mouth to impart some witticism, only to find that she was not there. Sometimes he even woke a few minutes before his normal time in order to prod her into the land of the living, only to find that he had just wasted precious sleep for a miko who was now supposedly four hundred years in the future.

He did not miss her, but he did find it almost disturbing that she had managed to lodge herself so thoroughly in his brain, and it did not help that he could not find anyone to take her place.

Naturally he had attempted to find another companion equally as stimulating as she had been, but for some reason the females grew huffy - or murderous - when he attempted to teasingly provoke them, and the males were, quite simply, neither pretty nor engaging.

In fact, the dearth of suitable conversational partners was causing a very tiny bit of self-doubt. As it seemed impossible that absolutely everyone was unacceptable, Sesshoumaru was beginning to suspect that his interpersonal skills might be somewhat lacking and therefore the blame lay with him. The thought caused no small amount of annoyance, but he was able to ignore it surprisingly well, since, clearly, even were he to be less than exquisitely fascinating, the world should bend to him and not the other way around.

There was also the matter of their sparse exchange before she left; nothing had been out-right stated, but the hint of a promise was there, and Sesshoumaru was not in the habit of making promises, much less to humans.

Even worse, he was as unsettled by that almost as much as he was unsettled by the memory of her embrace, which had begun to visit him with ever more alarming frequency, and at the most inconvenient of times. Only two days ago he had been seated in his study listening to two of his vassals bickering about some petty disagreement when he suddenly remembered what she smelled like, and how she felt in his arms. The thought must have had a visible effect on him for the lesser youkai had slowly trailed off and asked him if he was feeling well, snapping him out of the memory. Annoyed, he had ordered them to take the silly dispute to Myouga and to no longer waste his time with such trivial matters. They had bowed and fled, leaving him alone with the memory that no one could relieve from him.

He knew why he felt her absence; he was not in the habit of lying to himself, or of avoiding the truth of a situation. In the private, dusty corners of his mind, Sesshoumaru quietly admitted that no one else knew his secrets as she did, so it was as if the world had dissipated between the youkai lord and the miko, yet remained everywhere else. There had been an intangible barrier blocking him from all others, but she had scaled the wall - or perhaps he was the one who leapt over - that separated them from each other. He feared nothing, but if, if he were to fear something, he would fear this sudden nakedness; he would fear this thing that made him feel as though he were standing on the side of a cliff, feet against the sheer wall and the sky in front of him, this thing that made him feel as though the sea was roaring at his back, howling that he could not defy the pull of the earth. Yet he still stood, face to the clouds and Kagome sliding through his mind.

He tried not to think about that very much.

In short, she was a complication, and the fact that he dwelled on her so much was even more of a complication - one that he did not need - so it was a mystery as to why he continued to do so. He was finding it damnably difficult to stop.

Unfortunately no suitable replacement had appeared to take his mind off her, and if what she had said was true, then, unless she found a way back to this time again, he would have to wait four hundred years to see her. How was he going to pass the time between now and then! The thought caused his mind to recoil in vague horror and even prompted him to consider - very briefly - going on some quest or other, just in case he was supposed to, and she would show up along the way.

He frowned; there was no use dwelling on that when it was so terribly depressing, so Sesshoumaru forcibly turned his thoughts down a different path and wondered if she was going to come back. If she wasn't, would he still remember her in four centuries? If she wasn't, would he find her anyway? She had not mentioned that she had seen him in her time, so that led him to think that he would not. Unless his future self was staying out of the way until she had finished her duties in the past, in which case he found himself to be extremely clever. Mentally, he gave the future him a preemptive pat on the back for such wonderful temporal agility.

As always when he went down this path, he ignored the tiny, nagging question of whether or not he would still be alive in her time.

It was unthinkable that he should die. After all, he was Sesshoumaru.

Having reestablished his identity, Sesshoumaru arrived at the conclusion that this endless obsessing was going nowhere and he should abandon it for something more productive. Sesshoumaru sighed dramatically, as today he was allowing himself the very small indulgence of moping. But only because no one else was around to witness it.

So. Here he was, sitting in his garden, wondering what the hell he should do with himself. If nothing presented itself soon he was going to be forced to either braid his hair or demand the company of one of his subjects. They were all boring, of course, but some were less boring than others so he was feeling particularly well-disposed toward this option. Anything was better than the Lord of the West trying out new hairstyles in the garden - he might be forced to shun himself out of the sheer embarrassment of it - and he would welcome almost anything if it lessened his crippling ennui. He knew they would all bore him with what they thought passed for conversation, but there was one thing that always cheered him up, and that was kicking the ass of some hapless opponent up and down the western coastline.

He needed a sparring partner.

Sesshoumaru frowned, thinking. Finding a suitable opponent means inviting a suitable opponent means ordering a servant to invite a suitable opponent means I need a servant, he thought vaguely. He pursed his lips very slightly in concentration before he rose to his feet and walked into the house, his steps filled with purpose and the hope of finding some luckless underling and making his or her life miserable for the next few hours.

To his good fortune, he found his secretary - whose name he could never quite recall - shuffling nervously through a pile of papers in his study. Sesshoumaru had not bothered to learn the man's name as he would no doubt cease being useful within another year and Sesshoumaru would be forced to find yet another secretary.

This particular specimen, who had seemed so reliable when Sesshoumaru had first engaged his services, had lately developed several nervous tics in his face, and seemed far more high strung than the relatively calm and confident individual he had been but a scant year ago. This seemed to happen a lot with his secretaries, and Sesshoumaru found himself obligated to find a new one every two years as they inevitably developed heart problems and he didn't want them keeling over and making a stink.

Sesshoumaru gave an inward sigh at the inconveniences he was forced to endure as a result of inferior help. No one could be as perfect as he, but sometimes it seemed like they didn't even try.

He cleared his throat.

His secretary shrieked and leapt a foot in the air before executing an impressive half twist to land in a bow. "Sesshoumaru-sama!" he forced out in a quavering voice. "How may I serve you?"

Sesshoumaru thought for a moment, trying to word his request carefully so there would be no misunderstanding. "I find myself desirous of a diversion," he said finally.

His secretary very slowly moved to a sitting position. "What - ah - what type of a diversion is milord in want of?"

"I want someone to fight."

There was a pause.

"Er... you mean a sparring opponent?"

The youkai lord raised an eyebrow as if to ask what else he could have meant.

"So... not a war?"

Sesshoumaru bared his teeth, hoping to get the message across. It seemed to work.

His secretary banged his forehead on the floor in his haste to bow with the proper deference. "Forgive me, milord!" he squeaked. "I will find a suitable guest among your vassals as soon as possible!"

Sesshoumaru couldn't resist. "'As soon as possible' is your clever euphemism for 'now', I suppose?"

"Yes! Yes it is!"

"Good," he said. With that he turned gracefully and strolled down the hallway in search of another servant he could bully into drawing him a bath, leaving his unhappy secretary to tend to his social life.

He really didn't miss her.


. . .

Once upon a time, when Kagome's father had died - so long ago now - she had felt the world change. Effortlessly, it had melted from the brightly lit world of her childhood into a place full of shadows and things waiting to grab her with spidery fingers and drag her away from the things she loved. She began to fear things she had never thought to fear, began to worry about things she had never before considered, and wept more tears than she had ever thought possible, letting them drip down into the empty place in her chest where he had lived, and it was as though she had passed across a border and into another country, and there was no turning back.

It was as if the world had been a droplet of water that had suddenly hit the ground, splashing apart all around her; though she had not known it, she had always been traveling that way, toward that moment.

That, Kagome knew, was fate.

And now, at the bottom of the well...

Malevolence. Cruelty. Despair. It soaked the air, seeped into her skin, pierced the light with darkness.

She couldn't breathe. The magic had released her into a slender iron noose, and the feel of icy molten steel dripping over her heart blocked out everything but the horror. Struggling to live, Kagome sat at the bottom of the well, her powers flaring weakly against the horrible weight of the evil she could feel in the air.

All the good things in the world had burned away, leaving only this heavy mantle of wicked ashes behind; it scorched down her throat as she tried to draw air.

Kagome felt the world change between the shadowy world of her youth into a sinister darkness that no light could penetrate.

Something evil was out there. She was all alone, and something hated her.

The madoushi, she thought incoherently.

And this, Kagome knew, was fate as well.

Her mind was skittish, running from her, threatening to dart away into other spaces and leave her with only her instincts, and her instincts would cause her to do stupid things. Fight or flight? How well would she do both in the grip of mindless fear? No, she had to control this. She'd conquered evil before, and she could do it again.

Her jaw squared with purpose. Kagome scowled as she slowed her breathing so she would not hyperventilate from the panic this evil inspired, and, swallowing, she tried to think rationally about the situation.

What would Inuyasha do? Plunge in head first. So. Not the best example. Miroku, then. What would he do?

The tense muscles in her shoulders unwound a fraction as she stared blankly at the dirt in front of her and contemplated the monk who had always been the most level-headed person she had known; she found that it comforted her to think of him. Kagome listened to her heart begin to slow very slightly as she forced herself to calm down.

Miroku. He would be cautious. He would try to get away from something like this if he couldn't fight it. Then he would make a joke about it and brush it off and then try to find some girl to bear his child. I probably shouldn't do that last thing, but the rest sounds pretty good.

All right. This was her fate, and that's what she would do. On the other hand, it was rather upsetting. Why don't I ever get the good fates? she thought grouchily. Like the 'rich and famous' fate? Or the 'true love' fate? I'm so sick of this 'heroine' and this 'save the world' crap.

Kagome felt her hands curl in the dirt beneath her fingers, pushing slightly damp mud beneath her fingernails, which meant that, on top of the creeping corruption she felt even in the shrine, she was only five minutes into this adventure and she was already dirty. It was probably some kind of record.


A slight swell in the malevolent presence brought her back to the real world, and Kagome determined that she wasn't getting anywhere sitting at the bottom of the well, and she certainly wasn't increasing her chances of surviving by being a sitting duck for the horrible thing that had caused this feeling. She would bet anything that it could sense her powers sparking beneath her skin; she could feel the purity in her struggling to get out in self defense. Unfortunately there was no way she could purify all of this vile aura and it would probably exhaust her to try, so she kept in check as best as possible though it constantly threatened to slip from her fingers.

I have to get out of here, she thought, slowly and deliberately. The story said south or west.

I have to get out of here and get to the west. As if there had ever been any question which direction she would go.

Mouth thinning into a white line, Kagome straightened and squared her shoulders, shakily sucking in air before beginning the long climb upwards into the world as she ignored, with a fierce determination, the fear that nipped at her ankles.

When she crested the lip of the well she was almost shocked to see that it was light outside, though it made sense - after all, the darkness was only metaphorical, and the shining sun had nothing to do with it - and light was good; it meant she had a better chance of seeing what was coming. Cautiously Kagome levered herself over the edge and put her feet down as quietly as possible, trying not to draw attention to her presence.

She could almost feel the eddies she caused in the flow of the horrible aura. Shuddering, she crept up the steps. She winced at each creak as she kept her eyes trained on the square of light above her. Hastily she tried to decide whether to run or walk away - some part of her was still hoping, even though she was obviously stuck in the fairytale, that she would get away from Edo unscathed - and decided that running would draw too much attention. Perhaps if she acted like she belonged there no one would take notice of her, large green backpack notwithstanding. It could work, right?

The wood of the wall caught against the front of her haori as she pressed herself against it, just out of the line of sight from the courtyard outside, and a thin trickle of sweat rolled from her armpit down her side, though her hands felt like ice.

Check it out. You just did this five minutes ago.

It wasn't the best of pep talks, but she managed to force herself to inch slowly toward the doorway until she could peek one eye out towards Goshinboku.

The courtyard was almost ominous in its emptiness, and she couldn't see anyone around, though she could feel the sluggish ebb and flow of evil all around her. Wherever the sorceress and her sidekick were, they were doing a really great job. It was so strong...

Her heart was pounding again, causing a curious tickle in her chest and a heavy openness in her throat where she could feel her pulse hammer at the edge of her jaw. Kagome closed her eyes and, gripping the straps of her back pack so tightly she thought she might break her own fingers, stepped slowly into the courtyard.

Still no one appeared. Kagome took this as an encouraging sign and continued toward the exit, forcing her feet to remain even and sure in their stride, even though the muscles in her legs were twitching minutely with the urge to run.

Closer, closer, she thought. Almost there. The exit, then the steps, and she would be in the city, where it would be easier to blend in. She might even avoid the madoushi all togeth -

There was no noise, but she knew. The knowledge dropped straight into her brain like chilled jelly, causing the dark, primitive part of her that lived in the small of her back to stir in fright.

It was behind her.

At the base of her skull, the part of her that had never stopped fearing the shadows beyond the campfire, that had listened to the howls of predators in the time before history, sank its teeth through her spine.

Run, it whispered. Run, run, run, run, -

She slowed to a halt at the top of the steps.

Kagome turned to face her fate.

The madoushi was strikingly unimpressive. She had a plain face - neither ugly nor pretty - and was dressed in the traditional priestess costume, her long black hair pulled back into a low que. She was looking at Kagome with what might have been lightly shocked bemusement, or maybe surprised fear, but it was impossible to tell; her features were only slightly quirked into her unreadable expression. In her hand was a staff, and she stood with a sort of easy insolence found only in those who believed themselves to be invincible, though if the story had told the truth then that was indeed the case, even if nothing about her suggested that she was privy to such things. In fact, she seemed wholly unremarkable, except for the dark power that rolled out in great, blinding waves from somewhere behind her.

The god was somewhere in the shrine. Where was the real miko? Why weren't there any monks or priestesses or holy men here, drawn by her malevolent presence, to cast her out? Could they not feel it? What had gone wrong?

They were still staring at each other; neither seemed willing to make the first move. Maybe, Kagome thought, if I just leave quietly, I won't get hurt.

Her shoe scraped lightly against the ground as she shifted her weight, preparing to pivot, when the sorceress spoke.

"How did you get past my barrier?" she demanded, her voice low and smooth. "No one has yet been able to breach it."

Kagome did not know how to answer, so she said nothing, only rocked warily backwards, almost, but not quite, stepping back. The muscles in her neck worked in a hard swallow, painfully forcing the sharp object that seemed to have become lodged in her throat down to rest heavily in her stomach. That explains why no one has thrown her out yet, Kagome thought giddily. The madoushi had guarded herself well.

Her rival's plain face was beginning to melt into a frown. "Tell me how you did it," she demanded. "I can tell you are a holy woman. It should not have been possible." Then her eyes narrowed further.

"Who are you?"

Kagome froze. The precious seconds were falling away. Should she say her name or think up another? A lie or the truth? Kagome or - Oh god -

"Kagome," she blurted, unable to decide, knowing that each moment she hesitated made things worse.

Then she wished she had hesitated more, had said anything other than her real name, for the madoushi's eyes widened, and she quirked a brow. "Kagome, eh? Not the Kagome?"

Kagome felt her hands twitch, her fingernails digging into the soft flesh of her palm in her anxiety. Dimly, she wondered if the madoushi or her god could feel her emotions - that would be disastrous.

A vision of Sesshoumaru, always stoic and calm in the face of danger, boredom oozing from every pore, flashed in her mind, and she struggled to school her features into a mask of apathy in imitation. He always seemed so unflappable; she remembered, before they were friends, that his indifference was intimidating when they fought. Be bored, her mind screamed at her. Never let them know!

Then the sorceress was moving, posture straightening into alertness instead of insolence. Kagome saw the hand on the staff tighten, and she realized that her name actually carried some weight, which would be good for deterrence, but bad when she was actually called to live up to it.

The madoushi was speaking again, and this time her voice was tighter, a yellow line of tension running through it. "So, Kagome-san," she said quietly, and Kagome could hear the slight in the honorific, in the lack of -sama, "you've come to stop me?"

"Perhaps," Kagome told her. She felt dizzy.

"Hm," the madoushi said thoughtfully. "I see."

The wakazashi at her hip weighed heavily and Kagome didn't know what she would do if the sorceress began to whirl that staff, but she might get one hit in with the blade. If she were lucky.

But that didn't happen. Instead, Kagome watched as her malicious counterpart slipped a hand into her sleeve.

When she withdrew her hand, there was a glittering knife clutched in her fingers. It flashed in the sunlight.

Kagome watched as, in slow motion, the sorceress began to lift her hand. Her brain was screaming at her to run, but she stayed in place as if she had grown there.

The tiny moments between the grip and the release crept by, agonizingly slow. Perhaps this was when her life flashed before her eyes, but all she could think about was the inevitability of the slice of the blade.

She's going to throw that knife. It's going to go straight through my brain. Or through my heart.

I'm going to die.

The sorceress was almost in position. Her eyes had hardened, her mouth clamped into a grim line, and from somewhere in the shrine behind her a wave of malicious power rolled out, swallowed the figure of the sorceress whole. Kagome could almost see it sinking into her limbs, infusing her with strength and deadly intent.

I'm going to die.

MOVE! she shrieked at herself.

I'm going to die.

Then Kagome's brain, fed up with talking to a wall, hotwired her legs and, as the madoushi's arm began to move past vertical, Kagome felt, from a distance, her feet skid against the stone, the muscles in her thighs slide over each other, the tendons twang behind her knees, and she was in the air, leaping down, leaning back, and she hit a step halfway down.

By some miracle she didn't fall - don't fall don't fall don't fall DON'T FALL - though she felt a sharp pain shoot up through her ankle. But there was no time to think about that. She sprang again, fueled by terror and adrenaline, and Kagome hit the ground running, her feet so light and fast she barely touched the ground.

Get behind something! She glanced about wildly, off-kilter, looking for something - anything - to shelter her, and she fancied that she could hear the sound of the madoushi's feet as she barreled to the edge of the steps, intent on keeping her challenger in her line of sight.

There! Kagome dodged behind a hut, the burden of her bag pummeling her between her shoulders, ankle wrapped in knives. There! Again she changed course and darted behind another, and as she slipped behind a third small hut, she felt herself go through something. Then the evil was gone, and she was running toward the center of the city, to the west.

She'd passed through the barrier. Kagome fled past huts and roads, flying through the budding city she didn't recognize. Her blood pounded in her ears, and she couldn't hear anything except the low, dull roar of her fear, but even so hindered, she could tell something was wrong in Edo. The epidemic? she wondered, her thoughts racing by her in frenetic chaos.

There were so few people around, and the ones she passed only gave her the most cursory of glances before turning back to whatever task they had been doing, but she could see that every last one of them appeared haggard and worn. There was a thinness to them. Even as she raced by, Kagome had to look twice to reassure herself that the light of the sun was not passing through them. There was a pall over everything; she could almost see a dismal fog obscuring the world from her.

Each frantic glance behind her told her that no one had followed, that there was no pursuit, and Kagome longed to slow. Her lungs were burning, and the base of her throat ached with the effort of breathing so quickly for so long. The grating muscles in her legs were screaming at her to stop, and she was getting a stitch in her side, but she only had to think of that hideous evil, only had to look around at what had happened to the infant Tokyo, and her feet were once again flying. The adrenaline was high, and she was passing through the center of the city, moving to the outskirts - god, how long had she been running? it seemed so brief and so infinite at the same time - racing towards the safety of the wilderness.

Then the smell hit her.

Oh god...

Rotten, vile.

Kagome gagged, stumbled.

The scent of feces and blood and rotting meat hit her full in the face and she nearly went to her knees from the force of it. The rancid stench curled at the base of her throat, begging her to vomit up whatever she held, and desperately she shoved the thick sleeve of her haori against her nose and mouth, attempting to block it out as she gasped for air.

Slowing to a stop, Kagome stood very still in the middle of the road, very close to the forest beyond Edo, but certain that if she jostled herself, or made any sudden movements, she would go down on her hands and knees and eject her own stomach from her body. She squeezed her eyes shut, heedless of the tears that trailed down her face from the horrible smell. Despite being winded, she attempted shallow inhalations through her mouth. In, out, in, out. She thought she might be able to taste it on her tongue -


Kagome opened her eyes and looked at the woman who was standing beside her, a piece of cloth across her face, staring at her with weary, concerned eyes.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

"Um..." Kagome replied.

The woman looked embarrassed. "Only..." Kagome watched as the woman reached behind her, towards her backpack. Already skittish, Kagome almost backed away, but then she felt a light pressure and slight movement, and the woman was holding the madoushi's dagger in her hand.

Kagome stared, her brain scrambling to gather itself into some semblance of order, before she realized the woman was handing it to her, as if it were hers.

With difficulty, Kagome kicked her hand into action, though as she watched her hand take the dagger and slide it into her obi, she had the impression that even her body had slipped from her control, and the thing called Kagome was now only a spectator inside the head of this strange instrument, watching herself be propelled from action to action with no intervention of her own.

The woman was still staring at her. Kagome felt herself frown lightly.

"Miko-sama?" she said again. "Did Shina-sama send you to help us?"

Shina - ? Her sudden confusion seemed to slip her back behind the controls of herself, and she shook her head.

"Shina-sama?" Kagome asked numbly. She felt exhausted and befuddled from her flight, and her brain wouldn't leave her alone. Not safe yet, her mind whispered. Not safe, get out get out get out -

"At the shrine?" the woman clarified, and it took Kagome a moment to realize that she spoke of the sorceress in disguise. For a moment she considered taking the woman by the shoulders and shaking her until her teeth rattled, considered screaming at her. Can't you feel that? She's evil! RUN!

She did not, though. Fast on the heels of that impulse came the memory of the fairytale, of the influenza epidemic that had struck the small city of Edo in the late sixteenth century. Was that this smell? What the hell was going on?

"Yes, she did," Kagome blurted quickly, her words muffled behind her sleeve. "I just need to... um... observe for a moment..." She trailed off, not sure what else to say.

Fortunately the woman's face melted a little in relief. "I'm so glad," she said, grabbing Kagome's unoccupied wrist and pulling her towards one of the huts. "They're in so much pain, and these are only some of them."

Kagome's stomach managed to sink while heaving at the same time. It was not a pleasant experience. "Some of them?" she asked.

"These are the worst. They are here, for we feared the illness would spread. Others are just a little ill. Some..." the woman trailed off as they neared the hut, and Kagome saw that it was a ramshackle, run-down old thing. Her guide did not finish her thought, just shook her head and swept aside the flap covering the entrance.

The smell hit her full force again, flooding her mouth with bile. Kagome spat it into the fabric of her sleeve as she ducked inside, fearful of what she might see, compelled to discover the answer to this riddle, and what she found made her freeze in horror.

People were dying all around her. They moaned softly, and Kagome could smell blood, pus, and excrement, each scent oozing over the other. There was another woman in the hut, trying to tend to all of them, but she was valiantly fighting a losing battle; there were so many crammed in here, and they all sweat and stank and gnashed their teeth. She could almost hear the grinding of molars over molars.

Kagome could not look away. Children whimpering, cold sweat, infants too sick to cry, pale faces all slick with perspiration, the rank scent of urine and vomit and something else she could not quite name, but it made her skin shiver and crawl.

And over each of them hung a little of the blackness she had felt at the shrine, squatting on their chests, pulsing with glee.

It was feeding on them.

Her blood was draining from her face, from her hands, leaving her cold. "How did this happen?" Kagome whispered to herself, but her guide heard her.

She came to her side. "We do not know," the woman murmured, close to Kagome's ear so the invalids all around them would not hear. "Shina-sama has given them all medicine and care, but they are not recovering, and she doesn't know what else to do."

I'll bet, Kagome thought. The blackness above the supine figures was stirring a little, as though alerted to her presence, and a sneaking, horrifying suspicion was beginning to creep over her.

This was all due to the sorceress.

As soon as she thought it, she knew it was true. The sorceress had done this, had come to Edo and taken over the shrine and had somehow brought this sickness upon everyone. Kagome didn't know how she had done it, but she wasn't disguised as a miko so she could be close to the suffering - she was disguised so she could cause it without being suspected, and the dark parasite who gave her power fed from the pain she caused.

A wave of dizziness hit her.

Kagome could feel a tickle of anger and compassion curling up behind her breast, but overlaying those feelings was a horrible, guilty disgust, a visceral revolt against the stench of disease and decay that hung heavy in the air. She ached to help, but she couldn't move.

And then the decision was made for her. All around she felt the dark pieces of the evil god begin to draw together.

It knows I'm here.

She whirled and fled the little hut, keeping her head down against her sleeve as she walked briskly towards the woods. The sound of running feet behind her almost galvanized her into action again, but she heard the voice of the woman who had intercepted her. "Miko-sama!" she cried, and Kagome could hear the plaintive note in her voice. Miko-sama, make this better.

Kagome turned and began to walk backwards. There was no way she could do this the way she was now. "I - " she cast about for inspiration, " - I know what this is and how to fix it." That was true, at least. "But I need some time to... to make the necessary preparations to heal them."

Inwardly she winced, but it would have to do.

"You mean to find the right sorts of herbs and things?" the woman asked, following her, her worried eyes peeking over the cloth that bound her mouth and nose.

Relieved, Kagome began to nod. "Yes, I - "

Then she saw it. She nearly fell backwards before stumbling to a stop.

To her left, sad corpses, awaiting burial or burning, she didn't know which, were laid out against the edge of the forest; gray flesh and dead eyes and limp limbs. Men, women. Little children. Babies.

The woman followed her gaze. "Oh yes," she said quietly. "It's hard to find anyone strong enough to bury them all. Progress is slow, but we're managing. You could... perhaps... say a prayer...?"

No, she thought.

This isn't happening. I can't fix this.

Kagome realized she was shaking her head, couldn't believe it, wanted to run back to the well and jump in, but even if she could return, how could she answer all these people in the afterlife if she did?


"I have to go!" she gasped.

The woman took a step forward, a hand outstretched, but Kagome reeled where she stood and took off through the forest, sprinting down the path in the direction of west, towards the only place she knew she would be safe.

. . .

Hotomichi was worried about his lord. As the secretary and immediate underling of the Prince of the Western Lands, it was his job - though truthfully he wasn't sure how long he would be serving in this position - and Sesshoumaru-sama's behavior had been growing increasingly distracted and short-tempered since the year before, when Hotomichi had been hired. Discreet inquiries amongst his fellow servants revealed that the lord hadn't really been himself since he returned home a year and a half ago, smelling of the wild and the north, from his travel. It was difficult, of course, to put one's finger on exactly how their lord had changed since he was by nature a reticent man, but he was definitely more prone to staring off into space - if that were possible - and he was quicker to cut a sharp insult to anyone who annoyed him, and even to some who had done nothing offensive at all. It made life in the castle even more unpredictable than usual, and some of the older servants who still remembered his father's reign were fretting that the son was captured by his father's wanderlust, and we all know where that got him, didn't we?

But perhaps Sesshoumaru-sama was just in need of a good work out. It was difficult for him to find any worthy partners for simple matches, and just killing things had probably lost its luster long ago. After all, what was the use of defeating an enemy if they weren't even alive afterwards to know that they'd been defeated? And therein lay the difficulty - finding someone for Sesshoumaru to fight who wouldn't do anything so uncouth as die. The task had driven him to distraction.

Hotomichi traveled all over the province for two days, looking for a youkai strong enough to at least put up a good fight, when he had recalled hearing from someone who heard from someone else's best friend's mother's cousin who served as a lackey for some wizened youkai to the north that such a youkai did, in fact, exist. A fairly young bear youkai by the name of Keiichi, descended from good blood - and supposedly a brilliant warrior - had been making a name for himself recently by expanding his territory. Several complaints about that had even reached Sesshoumaru-sama's desk, but his lord was too preoccupied with whatever the hell it was he thought about all day to even bother thumbing through the papers he'd received eight months ago, much less anything more recent. Sesshoumaru-sama seemed to operate on the assumption that anything that couldn't be explained in twenty-five words or less was not urgent enough to warrant his attention, a practice which pained Hotomichi's orderly, meticulous soul. Even more disheartening was that this method appeared to work. Urgent things tended to be communicated quickly and precisely, like the gates are being attacked! or fire! or my god, she's naked! whereas tedious things always seemed to take up fifty pages, like land disputes.

However, having found Keiichi-sama, Hotomichi was having forty-second thoughts. The young man had leapt at the chance to fight the greatest daiyoukai in all of Japan, but his attitude was somewhat worrying.

"Hah! Sesshoumaru? Weak! Too old! I'll kick his ass all the way to Okinawa!" had been his acceptance speech.

"You've - er - never met Sesshoumaru-sama, have you?" Hotomichi had ventured.

"Of course not!" Keiichi-sama had snapped. "But I've heard... stories."

Hotomichi swallowed hard. "It would perhaps be prudent to not mention those stories," he ventured.

"Sure, whatever. When do I get to fight him?"

Now, scuttling through the halls, leading the arrogant youth to the back of the house, Hotomichi only prayed that the young man wouldn't do anything to get himself killed before he even had a chance to show off his admittedly-impressive skill.

His lord was sitting with his back to them, in the garden beneath the mimosa tree for which he seemed to have developed quite a fondness. Hotomichi gestured for Keiichi-sama to stay where he was before coughing loudly so he wouldn't startle Sesshoumaru-sama into an accidental decapitation.

Sesshoumaru frowned inwardly. Just how weak did his secretary think he was, anyway? He'd sensed the moderately powerful youkai arrive at his gates a quarter of an hour ago, and he had been patiently waiting to gut him. Not because the youkai's presence had pulled him from vague, distracting musings of what a certain miko might say about his apparent garden fetish - that would be silly - but because he was once again annoyed with himself for allowing her to sashay across his mind and kick everything else out the door. The approach of the youkai had drawn his attention to this disturbing tendency, and this just would not do.

Sesshoumaru needed to blow off some steam.

"I know you are there," he informed his secretary, who gave a whimper. "State your business."

"Er!" his secretary said, and Sesshoumaru did not even have to hear the bouncing in his voice to know the man was bowing profusely. "The opponent you requested has arrived!"

Had he requested an opponent? Oh yes... to relieve the tension...

Sesshoumaru cast a glance over his shoulder, one golden eye perusing the young youkai standing there, looking slightly awed and slightly defiant at the same time. Hotomichi offered up prayers to whatever gods were listening that his lord would find this sacrifice acceptable.

Hotomichi watched as the lord and the upstart stared at each other for a long moment. Then Sesshoumaru turned away and slowly unfolded himself from where he sat before running an absent hand through his hair, straightening it.

Then he walked away.

It took Hotomichi a moment to realize that Sesshoumaru was heading toward the dojo across the little stream. Hastily he turned and bowed to Keiichi-sama, gesturing for the young youkai to follow him, and he felt a little of his anxiety ease as the three of them moved to the rarely-used building.

Hotomichi hurried ahead and opened the doors, allowing his lord and his lord's new opponent to pass through.

Sesshoumaru removed his shoes before padding across the floor to the wall, where an impressive array of swords was displayed, shining dully in the indirect light. Hotomichi watched as, with deliberate care, Sesshoumaru shrugged out of his haori and tucked it under into his obi, before stretching his bare arms to the wall and selecting a weapon.

Keiichi started forward, presumably to pick out his own sword, but Sesshoumaru turned and glared at him. Hotomichi was pleased to see the young man stop, confused and a little unnerved.

Sesshoumaru tossed the sword at him.

Keiichi barely caught it. He hefted it in his hands before looking at Sesshoumaru who took a few steps onto the floor, weaponless and with casual, commanding ease before he stopped and pinned the younger man with another glowering look.

"Fight me," he said.

Hotomichi grinned and slid the door closed.

. . .

"Just tell me how to get to the House of the Moon, and you won't get hurt."

The lizard youkai in front of her trembled. Kagome was aware that she looked less than presentable, but it didn't have to stare.

"What are you looking at?" she demanded shrilly. She could see the tip of her arrow wavering just a little bit from the tension of her fatigue, but it flamed incandescently with her pure powers. They both knew the shot wouldn't have to be a good one to immolate him where he stood.

The lizard quaked at the tone of her words. "N - nothing!" he cried, voice striving to suggest, while he did lizardly-youkai things, that he wasn't a bad lizard-youkai, that he wouldn't hurt anyone unless they deserved it, that he was a productive member of lizard society, that he always gave to lizard charity, that he had a lizard wife and lizard kids, and that his lizard life insurance had lapsed, wouldn't she please think of the children?

Kagome was not in the mood.

"Then tell me where it is," she bit out.

It had been a bad five days. A very, very bad five days. Not only had she crossed the country in that time, not only had she been forced to steal a bow and arrows, not only had she been forced to fend off not one, but two attackers, not only were her feet swollen and sore and there was blood on her haori and her hair was a mess and she was dirty and angry and needed somewhere to be safe, but she could also feel the eyes of the darkness following her.

It was watching her somehow.

Its power had been fading steadily as the time and distance between them increased and now it was all but gone, but the feeling had spurred her on in fear of what it might do if she stopped.

She'd grabbed some sleep, mostly in the back of wagons going west during the day - there was so much more traffic than there used to be, and she felt old thinking that - and stumbling on by herself at night. She'd probably traveled over two hundred miles. It was an insane pace, and she was ready to collapse, but she couldn't yet, not when she was so close to safety, not when she was so close to a place she where would be able to rest before going on.

She dreamed of silver hair when she slept.

He would probably laugh at her if he knew what she had gone through - how could she have been so stupid as to travel alone again when she was so obviously unable to handle such things? he would say, and she would say, because I don't have an endless supply of daiyoukai to bother me - but right now she just wanted to see him. She was very, very alone in this time, so alien from the one she came from and the one she had known when she was a teenaged girl, and just seeing him would help, even if he then turned around and just kicked her back out again.

Kagome was beginning to question her sanity, just a little bit.

Am I really from modern Tokyo, or am I just a raving lunatic? she thought, over and over, and there was no one to tell her differently. It was probably - probably - just the fatigue talking, but just - just seeing a familiar face would convince her that she was merely dead tired and not crazy. She hadn't realized how important it was to have someone who knew where she came from with her; Inuyasha had always filled that role when she was younger, Sinayo remembered her, and Sesshoumaru had been with her the last time she had been here, and even the first five days without him she had been thinking only of Miroku and Sango and Shippou.

Even now, she wondered if she would ever see Shippou again, but, strangely, she needed to see Sesshoumaru even more.

And the dangers of the road! She'd been cornered twice by overly-amorous suitors who didn't care about the outfit she wore and were just looking for a good time with a pretty, unprotected girl. The first one had been a village man who had lured her in with a cheerful, share my supper, miko-sama! Of course, only after did he ask for a bit of payment, since clearly his mother had never taught him the meaning of the word 'share.' Scared sightless, she had tried to punch him in the face, but her aim was completely off, and when she felt her fist whistle by his chin she despaired.

Fortunately, she had aimed perfectly for his throat. He went down like a lead balloon and she had fled, stomach full and virginal honor intact.

The second time she was equally lucky. A soldier who had lost his eye in battle and on his way home had imbibed a little too much alcohol, and had backed her against a wall before she'd managed to make her escape onto the darkened road beyond the village.

"Come on, schweetie," he'd slurred, pinning her right wrist against the wall above her, hot, alcoholic breath washing over her neck, and she'd almost gagged, her entire being revolting against him. He was leaning into her and she had almost panicked -

- before she remembered the wakazashi. She couldn't reach it with her right hand, but he had neglected to capture her left...

"Hey," she murmured, and he'd drawn back at the sound of her breathy voice.

Then she smashed him across the face with the scabbard.

His resulting bloody nose was how she had acquired a bloodstained haori, and she had even felt slightly bad about it when she was safely away from him until she remembered how nauseous he had made her feel, and how horrified she was at his hand on her hip -

She had resolved not to think about either of those incidents until she was safely in a bed, and had plunged on.

Now her feet were a mass of blisters and her legs were so sore they had gone numb, but she was almost there. She just needed to find someone who would tell her where the hell the lord of the land actually lived, and, like always, when she really wanted to find a youkai they'd all gone off to Jakarta to visit their sick grannies. Bastards.

Then this lizard-youkai - not a great demon, but not a low-level one either - had happened across her path. Too tired to control herself, she felt her powers flare briefly in response to his youki, and, sensing her, he had tried to flee.

She had given chase.

This was how she found herself, flaming arrow aimed at his heart, demanding to know the location of the House of the Moon. The youkai's first words in response to that had been, "You want to go where?"

Kagome was half tempted to shoot him just for making her run on her raw feet, and she almost went through with it for that comment.

"The House of the Moon!" she barked. "Tell me where it is!"

The lizard's could not contain himself. "What sort of business does a miko have with the western lord?"

"Shut up," she snapped. Her normally sunny disposition seemed to have disappeared, but she was too pissed off to miss it.

"Unless you want to fight him, he doesn't associate with humans," the lizard told her before adding, rather suicidally, "Not any more, anyway."

That was when she'd yelled at him.

He was looking quite cowed now, as though she had finally pressed upon him the gravity of her desire to reach the lord's home, however little he may associate with humans.

"Directions!" she shouted. "Before I lose my patience!"

The lizard winced. "Two leagues! Straight that way!" he cried, pointing to the southwest. "Near the sea. You can't miss it."

Two leagues! That was six miles! Kagome despaired. How was she going to make it there when she was so tired already? She looked at the youkai's vaguely frightened face. "Get out of here," she told him. "And don't follow me!" she shouted as an afterthought, but he was already racing away.

Sighing, Kagome let her bow fall to her side, the arrow clutched in limp fingers. She couldn't even summon the energy to put it back in her quiver as she turned southwest and began to walk.

. . .

It was finally time to admit that he missed her sorely.

It was a hard admission, and Sesshoumaru felt it cost him dearly, so he slashed Keiichi across the chest with his claws - relishing the feel of skin separating beneath his touch - before flipping back and away.

For his part, Keiichi clutched his bare chest and tried to swallow this new lesson in humility, but he found it tasted just as bad as all the other slices of humble pie Sesshoumaru-sama had force-fed him over the last three days. He'd been injured no less than thirty-five times since their first fight, and even though he always healed by nightfall it still stung like crazy. His pride stung like crazy, too - he had yet to lay a finger on the youkai lord, and Sesshoumaru had yet to draw either of the swords he had strapped to his hips. Keiichi wished he could take back every stupid arrogant thought he'd had just so his ego wouldn't feel as bruised as his body.

"Ow," Keiichi said resentfully, reaching down and wiping the blood from his skin before it dripped any lower and tickled his stomach. He smeared it on his hakama with annoyance before looking back at his host.

And that was the other thing. The lord seemed to take great pleasure in nonverbal communication, but that didn't mean he didn't level the worst insults at his sparring partner; the look he was giving Keiichi now obviously said something very deprecating about the bear's supposed manhood.

"Hn," Sesshoumaru said, clearly so unimpressed with Keiichi that he might actually be impressed with how unimpressive he was. Keiichi grit his teeth and watched as Sesshoumaru ran a hand through his perfect hair and sighed. "Are you quite recovered?" he asked blandly. "We don't have all day."

"Yes, we do," Keiichi said. He wanted to snap, but he didn't quite have the courage. "This is the only thing we've done for the past three days. Did I offend you in some way?"

Sesshoumaru arched a brow. "Only in that your skill insults me," he replied arrogantly, and if it had been anyone else saying that Keiichi would have fought them, but several painful lessons had taught him that rushing Sesshoumaru was never a wise thing to do. Also, what he said was probably true.

On the other hand, humiliation aside this was at least good training for him, though probably not for the lord. His opponent had barely broken a sweat, but he was drenched as though he'd been thrown in a lake. Perhaps he was building character.

Very good, Keiichi. Look on the bright side, he thought glumly.

"Right," he muttered. "Whatever."

"If you are ready?" Sesshoumaru asked the boy, though it was more of a statement than a question. He felt the need for more slashing. The boy sighed and shifted his feet into a passable stance, and Sesshoumaru attacked. This time he just aimed for the sword instead of the man behind it, but he grew bored with that in ten seconds before he decided that one deep wound had not been enough.

I wonder how he would look with a cut right across his face, Sesshoumaru thought, idly malicious. Might make him look older than twelve.

He darted in.

Keiichi cried out and fell backwards just as the doors of the dojo were thrown open and his secretary tumbled inside, immediately crouching on the ground in the most ingratiating bow Sesshoumaru had seen from him yet. He touched down lightly on the dojo floor.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Forgive me, milord!" his secretary burbled. "There is a disturbance at the front gates and your presence is required!"

Sesshoumaru frowned. He hadn't felt any powerful youki moving in their direction, and, come to think of it, he didn't feel any now. "Who is attacking?" he demanded.

His secretary twitched and tried to burrow into the floor. "N - no one, but... your presence is required!"

Sighing, Sesshoumaru flicked the blood from his claws and looked at his handiwork. He'd avoided the eyes, but Keiichi was bleeding profusely from a wound going askew from his forehead, over the bridge of his nose, down to his chin. The boy was already resignedly dismantling his third haori in as many days to tie up the cut and avoid any more blood on the floor. "Would you like assistance, milord?" the bear asked dutifully, though he didn't even try to keep the weary resentment from his voice. Sesshoumaru liked that.

However, before he could answer the bear's query his secretary stirred. "Er - "

There was a silence.

He lost his patience "What?" he demanded

His secretary, sensing he had made a tactical error, tried to cover it up. "Er!" he said again. "Um - argh! She is requesting you specifically!"

"She?" Sesshoumaru demanded. He thought back, trying to think of what female would dare bother him in his own home with her petty questions and propositions.

"She's threatening your guards," the secretary said meaningfully.

He felt the frown melt from his face. "Really?" he said. His secretary nodded.

There was probably only one female he knew who would be so audacious, and he tried to ignore the small leap of hope he felt low in his stomach.

He shot a glare at his guest. "Stay here," he ordered. Sesshoumaru ignored the unhappy but resigned look on the bear's face as he swept past his secretary, gesturing to the nervous servant to follow him, and across the garden. At the edge of his hearing, he could detect a disturbance, and he entered the house, listening intently.

He was unprepared for the wave of relief that washed through him when he heard her familiar, welcome voice, and the fact that she had gloriously raised it in order to chew out some luckless bastard who wasn't him just made the sound that much sweeter. The strength of his reaction was disconcerting, but he found himself almost too anxious to care, and at any rate, consternation was fast on the heels of his relief.

A human miko, at the doorstep of a youkai lord. The neighbors would never let it die.

With only the greatest restraint, Sesshoumaru kept his stride even instead of quickening his pace.

It seemed to take forever, but when he finally walked into the front courtyard his strange relief won out over his misgivings, and, oddly, he felt perilously close to cracking a smile. It would be rather difficult explaining away the presence of a human miko to his guards, but he was reasonably certain a solution would present itself in due time. If it didn't, he might have to cut his staff with extreme prejudice, and he didn't really want to do that; it was so hard finding good help. He would also have to order his guest out with all due expedience, but he had been growing bored with the whelp so that was probably for the better.

And really, it didn't seem to matter anyway. He'd missed her, and now she was here in front of him.

Her back was to him, her hair was wild, and she was clearly exhausted, but she was here. Very definitely here, and just as amusing as ever; he found himself rather regretful that he had not been there to witness how she managed to get past the gates and into the courtyard in the first place, but he was sure he would be regaled with the story several times before the end of the day. For now he watched, strangely pleased, as she aimed her brilliant arrow left and right, trying to keep his guards at bay, and even though her back was hunched beneath both her bag and her fatigue, she was still brimming with her righteous anger.

"I don't care what your stupid orders are," she was saying, "I need to see Sesshoumaru or Myouga, and I need to see them now!"

The guards didn't seem to know what to do, and during their hesitation she appeared to lose her patience. He wished he could see her face.

"Now!" she yelled. Everyone saw her hands tremble on the bow, and a few of the less courageous guards hit the ground and cowered beneath the force of her obvious power and her seemingly impending loss of control.

Then the captain of the guard noticed him standing there, and cast a pleading look at him in mute appeal.

Briefly, Sesshoumaru considered letting this little performance play out as it would, but why bother? For one, he couldn't let her throw her weight around, lest he give the wrong impression, and for another, delaying their reunion wouldn't make it any more delightful than it already was. Not to mention that a few more moments in which he might lose a guard or two really wouldn't make much of a difference. Eager for an excuse to engage her once more, exasperated at the problems he could see blooming against the horizon, Sesshoumaru decided to take pity on his hapless guards. So, too relieved that she was finally here to make his life interesting again, and too frustrated with the complications this would cause, Sesshoumaru said the only thing that came to mind.

"Kagome," he said, "what are you doing here?"

In the ensuing silence, he could almost hear her blood pressure skyrocket, and in the privacy of his head, Sesshoumaru grinned.

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 26 of 42

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