Continuing Tales

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 9 of 42

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
Tales from the House of the Moon

"No battle is worth fighting except the last one." - Enoch Powell

His sensitive hearing picked up the distant sound of the alarm as he came down the mountain, toes barely skimming the cool grass that flew by beneath him. It was rising up from beyond the ruins of his ancestral home, in the sprawling, new-built compound further down the mountainside – a call to arms, dark and shrill against the heavy night. His hand was already on the hilt of his sword, waiting for the first dead body to come running out of the house.

"In war, it is best to think of them as corpses," his father had said, his voice rich and dark and the blood still fresh on his sword. In front of Sesshoumaru, still small and young, the headless body in the middle of the road twitched and stank of bowels loosed. His father had been taken by surprise, and hadn't made a clean cut the first time. Later, Sesshoumaru would learn to make a clean kill, quickly and efficiently, so the trauma wouldn't void the bladder and the bowels. But right then, he had just wanted to vomit from the stench.

"They may be moving, they may still be living," the musical voice had continued, and the little youkai with silver hair and the burden of fate felt his stomach turn violently, "but they are corpses all the same. Just breathing, walking corpses, who will try to make you a carcass as well. But you are my son. You are the conqueror, and they are not. They are just corpses in your way."

...They are dead, but they don't know it...


As it turned out, the first corpse come to pay his due was Suikoshin, stumbling outside. He must have been visiting Hatore, the new lord. Suikoshin, an inuyoukai like himself, his father's friend since long before Sesshoumaru had been born; Suikoshin, who had given Rin's only eulogy.

"At least she was a bit of fun," he had said, reeking of her death.

Now he looked ridiculously small against the darkness of the mountainside, and his sword was already out. Sesshoumaru wondered why this man had loomed so large in his mind – he was pitiful, aging – and he watched the old inuyoukai struggle upwards. There was a grim satisfaction in that, and Sesshoumaru was burning with cold fire as the wind whistled by his ears and he plummeted down the mountain, sword still sheathed.

Quick now, you can't hesitate, his father had said, and had showed him how to rip out a heart with his claws without going through the sternum. He had practiced on a monkey, who had screamed pitifully, and at the noise scraping down the inside of his skull, Sesshoumaru's skin crawled over his bones.

No hesitation, said his father, blood running down his arm as he made quick work of the heart.

No hesitation, my son. No joy, no fear. No mercy.

Suikoshin was perilously close, raising his sword high above him, preparing to deal a quick stroke to Sesshoumaru's head to cleave it in two, and his mouth was open in a warrior yell. Sesshoumaru couldn't even hear it over the blood pounding in his ears.

No mercy, he thought.

Closer, closer, he was almost there, and then Suikoshin was right in front of him and Sesshoumaru banked sharply to the right drawing his sword as he did so, and he felt the steel – reinforced by the weight of his body – catch Suikoshin's clothes and bulbous stomach, slicing cleanly through layers of fat and muscle, dragging the other inuyoukai around to face his back. Immediately Sesshoumaru pivoted and brought his sword up, blocking the desperate downward stroke – injured, bleeding, stumbling desperate stroke – and Suikoshin tripped past him, bent over, struggling to breathe. His long black hair, held up in its queue, fell to the side, exposing his neck.

No hesitation. The hilt of his sword was already whirling heavily in his hands as he moved the sword into position in a tight arc, and Sesshoumaru brought the blade down against his opponent's neck. The sharp steel bit into skin, and then through grating bone and leathery cartilage, and Suikoshin's head rolled down the mountain while the rest of him twitched and collapsed. He didn't stink of shit; Sesshoumaru felt distantly proud of his clean kill even as he turned and flew on, racing to the next corpse, and now the whole household was up in arms.

It was a female youkai with a sharp ax and Sesshoumaru feinted with his sword, blocking as she put her weight behind a swift hacking motion down and to her right. He hooked the ax with his own blade as he ducked down and into her unwilling embrace, breaking her hold on the handle as his left arm shot straight upwards, through the soft underside of her chin. He didn't have to go any further into her head – brains are so messy, his father had said – but released poison straight into her blood and her mouth.

She probably gagged and gurgled as her lungs melted, but Sesshoumaru was already leaping up and arching back to see, upside down, a sword wielded by a younger male narrowly missing him, and around him his allies were fighting and the clang of metal on metal and the hiss of arrows and fire and lightening were rising against the night.

The world righted itself as he landed on his feet. He felt the muscles in his legs slide against each other beneath his skin as the young man turned, off balance and in slow motion, to face him, his eyes glazed over with fear. The young youkai could see his own death as Sesshoumaru dropped to a crouch, coiling his power, before propelling himself forward sword already aimed straight and true, through the boy's neck. In reverse this time, Sesshoumaru thought as he stabbed through the esophagus first and then through the spine, severing the nerves.

No time to draw it out, he thought regretfully as he placed his left hand on the young youkai's shoulder, a sad parody of a brotherly pat, and, as the boy fell to his knees, used the leverage to slice through the left half of the youkai's neck, freeing the blade.

He didn't even have to turn to know someone else was already breathing down his back, and he shifted his weight, bringing the sword to his right in a tight upward semi-circle as he slid his feet around. The blade met and broke through bone, severing the right wrist of his newest attacker and slicing partially through the left. Sesshoumaru lunged forward, feeling his left foot slide against the grass of the mountain, feeling his blade slide against the throat of Jurekaru the horse. Sesshoumaru twisted his wrists, digging the blade in as he stared into the eyes of the man who had helped teach him to fight, who had spoken to him first that night.

"She should have run," Jurekaru had said, and Rin's tears had clung to him in the light of Sesshoumaru's burning life.

Should have run, should have run, should have run, run, run – the words echoed inside his head as he drew back, twisting the blade again.

Long ago, he would have thrown the words back. He would have taunted him, twisted more than just the blade.

"I wanna be just like you, nichan!" Inuyasha told him, so little, so frail and so human as they played at fighting in the courtyard of his step-mother's home. Sesshoumaru taunted Inuyasha, and Inuyasha taunted back, but Sesshoumaru always won, even as his baby brother laughed in delight and flexed his little claws. No joy.

She should have run, we've been waiting, should have run.

The blade leapt free of Jurekaru's neck, tiny droplets of blood flying off the blade and onto the youkai's shocked face. More blood spilled, staining his collar.

Should have run.

No joy, his father said.

Sesshoumaru watched the light fade from Jurekaru's eyes, and leapt away.

And then the world faded a little, and he was running on automatic, running through his ruined home, running through his enemies with an old borrowed blade that wasn't his. He wanted his swords again, wanted the power of life and death in his hands so he could bring an end to suffering, wanted the comforting weight of Toukijin settled at his hip. But he didn't have any of that yet, so he fought on, fought so he could.

He slashed and hit and poison leaked from his fingers, and all around him they fell, skin hanging from bone, blood soaking the earth, sometimes spraying; his white haori was stained with brown splotches that weren't his. Each throat or soft stomach that came away in his hand was bloated with the stuff, full of copper and iron, and with each kill there was more blood, clogging his nostrils. Close your eyes when you make the cut or you'll be blinded...

There was too much. Too much blood, too much warm meat clinging beneath his claws, too much noise outside his head, and inside his mind his father droned on and on, ticking off the correct way to make a downward slice, what to do with two opponents from opposite sides, how to rip the larynx with only one's teeth, what to do, how to do it, do it, do it, do it right the first time, and overlaying all of it was the silent sound of tears falling, of failed obligations and lost honor. Too much gone, not enough to fight for, except himself, except the memory of swords at his hip, the memory of servants waking early in the morning and preparing the day, the memory of Jaken, loyal to the last, and the remembrance of Rin, who threw clothes out windows and planted impossible gardens and sang him songs and plaited flowers into his hair when no one else was watching.

Faded memories pressed in even as he thrust a hand into the soft hollow of a throat, even as he nearly choked on the smell of blood, even as he soared over the charred remains of the House of the Moon, burnt and crumbled. His brain was on fire, filled with rage.

You are sad, Kagome had said, and it was true. Threaded through the fury was shining sorrow, cobalt blue against the crimson of his anger, contrasting with it, intensifying it, burning it into his heart, and each dead enemy only made his rage blaze hotter, only made him more cold with despair.

Somewhere buried beneath it all – the sorrow and the rage, the screams, the lectures and the muted tears – Sesshoumaru roared, and plunged onward.

The magic caught, and Kagome didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so she did both, just a little bit. It wasn't a loud laugh and it was only one tear, but it encompassed her feelings accurately enough. She was feeling just a tad overwrought again.

Gently the magic laid her down at the bottom of the well. The sudden, true darkness above her told her she was inside the well house again, and the rancid smells of the city came crashing down over her head, telling her she was in her own time, where she clearly belonged.

Mmm, exhaust, she thought, the dirty smell crawling into her hair that she had last washed in a clear – albeit chilly – feudal stream. The smell made her a little queasy. Kagome coughed as she climbed to her feet and grabbed the first rung of the ladder.

A sharp pain ran through her hand, and she sucked a quick stream of air through her teeth as she drew back. "Ouch!" she hissed, bringing her hand closer to her face for inspection.

"A goddamn splinter," she said aloud as she plucked it out and winced. "That's just perfect." Kagome huffed in annoyance as she looked up the ladder to the top of the well. It wasn't as if she hadn't contracted a ridiculous number of splinters back in high school – the old well had never been a paragon of good repair – but for some reason, right now, it seemed a particularly petty slap in the face. She pressed her lips together and shifted her backpack, and then, using only the curved fingers of her injured hand and the full fist of the other, made her way slowly to the top.

When she finally walked into the shrine courtyard, it seemed like she had just left. Nothing much had changed; Goshinboku still stood, great and silent, and the stars – muted and grey now that she was back in her own time – glittered down from the sky while the trees all around the courtyard rustled quietly in the breath of a soft breeze. The lull of tires on pavement reached her ears, and somewhere in the darkness a bird trilled lightly.

It was so... unnatural. Kagome had just spent several weeks tramping around in the wilderness, and now the contrast of concrete and greenery was something of a shock. Goshinboku stood in a circle of stone. It seemed wrong, somehow. Everything seemed wrong. But everything had been wrong in the past as well – there was no Inuyasha and no Sango, or Miroku, or Shippou – and now it was all wrong here. No comrades, no companions... no sweet first love.

Both then and now, the world seemed shattered and poorly glued together, almost as if it was an accident and someone was trying to cover it up. No one was supposed to notice that everything was suddenly off-kilter, but she did. No one was supposed to point out the fault lines suddenly running through her life, the fractured edges where everything had broken apart.

But Kagome could see them.

No. That was then and this was now. Nothing had changed in the present, except that she had missed her exams. She was still the same, except her heart was broken. But that didn't mean the world was different. Shaking herself slightly, Kagome walked across the courtyard and to her house, before sliding the door back and taking her shoes off in the entrance hall. Not knowing what time it was, she didn't want to call out, but it appeared that someone had heard her.

Her mother poked her head out of the kitchen as she peeled her shoes off. "Kagome!" she said brightly. "Welcome home!" As if she had only been at the library. Bright and cheerful, just like when she used to go back and forth between the worlds. The same, and yet different.

The weight in her heart felt even heavier and Kagome suddenly found she couldn't speak. Finally she settled for a watery smile. "Thank you, Mama," she said quietly.

"Did you have a good time?" her mother asked, although Kagome could see her expression change, into something indefinable, mixed with equal parts concern and protectiveness.

"I had... an interesting time," Kagome replied as she walked into the kitchen. On the table was a pot of tea and a single cup. Her mother was already fetching another one from the cupboard. She gestured to the table.

"Why don't you sit down and tell me about it," she said in a soft voice, and Kagome was already moving to seat herself before she even thought about it.

Sinking to the table, Kagome could feel the tension already draining out of her shoulders. She was home; the lights were cheery yellow and the floor smelled lightly of polish, and in the air the scent of rice and fish was still lingering from dinner. As long as she was here, she could ignore the fractures that ran through her.

Her mother bustled over and settled down across from her, pouring a cup of tea. She handed it to her daughter and leaned her elbows on the table, looking the picture of the concerned and interested mother. "Now," she said, "why don't you start from the beginning," she said, and Kagome remembered.

How may I be of service to you?

There was no fire, but there was tea, and a concerned face, and she thought of Sesshoumaru, and without warning the loneliness hit her so hard she couldn't breathe. She had switched places, except she hadn't, and suddenly Kagome, the kind miko who wandered and who cared for everyone else with innocent affection, felt as though she was the one who had lost everything, who had been cast out, who had wandered the earth and was now a stranger everywhere she went.

And that wasn't the worst of it. The worst part was suddenly realizing that this horrible, strangling alienation was not unique – it was just like everyone she had known. Just like Shippou, and Sango, and Miroku. Just like Inuyasha. Just like Kikyou, a stranger in her own body. Just like Sesshoumaru, a stranger in his own lands.

Suddenly she wanted to laugh and cry all over again, but most of all she wanted to hide, ashamed. She had presumed to touch them all and give them advice and pretend she knew what they were feeling when she hadn't known anything; surely they had seen through her. They had known. Sweet, naive little miko with her pure, pretty arrows – sweet, naive little Kagome who thought love could conquer all. And now it was her turn.

Kagome looked into her mother's eyes and burst into tears.

Much later, after an excruciating amount of crying that wracked her body with sobs, and a hot bath that made her cry all over again, Kagome stared up at the ceiling of her room as she lay in bed, and felt so out of place she just wanted to go jump in the well. It wouldn't even matter to her if the well took her back or not – just to be somewhere neither here nor there. It was almost pain to curl up beneath the cool sheets and bury her face in the fluffy pillow beneath her head. It was too much for her to deal with, lying in her childhood room.

She wondered if she'd ever feel at home anywhere again.

Kagome snorted into her pillow. Let's just assume that I won't, she thought to herself, feeling a sliver of cynicism slide into her mind. And while we're at it, let's just assume that I'll never find love or have a family and my career will go nowhere. That way I won't be so disappointed when it happens. Let's expect everyone's death so we won't be surprised. Let's just forget about dreams, because reality never, ever lives up to what you want.

It seemed particularly pessimistic, but at that moment, Kagome didn't care. Inside her was a huge, painful emptiness, and if expecting the worst might lessen it the next time something happened – and there will be a next time, she thought sourly – then by all means she was going to be a pessimist. Definitely.

Except for that damn hope that was welling up inside her, poking her, telling her that she might still be able to find Shippou, or Sango and Miroku, or Kouga, and why didn't she try the well again? Why, why, why...?

Shut UP, she told herself, turning over in the bed again and shoving her head under the pillow. As if that had ever stopped the voices inside her head – the whispering, promising voices that said maybe she could keep going through the well, and maybe Inuyasha would love her, and maybe she would be happy in the past or he in the future. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, she thought angrily. None of that happened. Those were all lies, remember?

Except... they hadn't been lies. There was always the pretty word maybe hanging on the end. And that was the tricky thing about hope. It couldn't really let you down, because it had never really promised anything.

That didn't stop her from being angry though. And in the back of her mind, a little bit of determination solidified, and she didn't let it be hopeful; she let it curl around her, and made it her will. Hope had nothing to do with it.

She would go back.

Hatore had tried to escape, but it turned out that allies were good for something because they had apprehended him and brought him back to the new compound – Sesshoumaru refused to think of it as a fortress or a castle – and put him, in chains, in the middle of the courtyard. He was kneeling but held his head high, as if he had something to be proud of.

"Sesshoumaru," he said when Sesshoumaru walked into the courtyard.

Sesshoumaru said nothing, but thought about all the times he had dreamed of this and wondered why he didn't feel any satisfaction in the victory. His land was his again, and he still felt only anger, although it was a small, cold anger now, one that made his head ache slightly.

He had found Toukijin and Tenseiga, sitting side by side in a disused and dusty room. It looked like no one had touched them for years, and that was probably the case – Toukijin was too evil, full of hatred and betrayal, and Tenseiga was too useless. Clearly none of them had been able to use it, even though they probably knew the rumors about it. A sword that gave life, and a sword that gave death, and none of the traitors that had taken them had been able to wield the swords properly. It made him darkly pleased to know that. They both sat in their rightful place now.

His borrowed sword was also at his hip, making him feel as though he were some sort of traveling sword vendor. He didn't need three swords, but he couldn't very well let anyone else handle the weapons that were his, nor the weapon that had carried him through battle. It wouldn't have been right.

And now his hated enemy, whose death he had wished for, was kneeling in chains, like the chains Sesshoumaru himself had been bound with, except Sesshoumaru hadn't been killed. Whether out of some twisted compassion, or bizarre honor, or foolish hubris, Sesshoumaru was still alive. But the prince, back in his own kingdom, wouldn't make that mistake. They had thought him weak, but their error would not be his own.

"I will make this quick," Sesshoumaru told him finally.

There was a smile lingering around Hatore's lips. The youkai that had sought to take his place was dark-haired and dark-skinned, but older than himself. There were streaks of grey at his temples, and a line or two on his forehead and around his mouth. He hadn't changed much since Sesshoumaru had last seen him, looking regretful and even a little guilty, but he also remembered that Hatore had pity shining in his eyes as Sesshoumaru was heaved off the cliff and began his long descent into the sea. It made him sick to think of it.

"Just like your father," Hatore said suddenly.

Sesshoumaru only arched a brow, slightly confused but keeping his mask in place.

Hatore chuckled lightly, almost as though he had seen the joke that no one else had. "Honorable," he informed him, another smile tilting the corners of his mouth. "Your father was honorable, even when he was weakening."

Sesshoumaru was insulted. "Weak?" he said icily. The smell of dried blood stirred in his nose.

Snorting, Hatore gave him a sidelong glance. "Well, not now," he amended, amusement coloring his voice.

"No," Sesshoumaru replied. "Not now."

There was a silence before Hatore spoke again. "It will be an honor to die at the hands of such a worthy opponent."

Sesshoumaru drew his sword – his borrowed sword, because even though he had Toukijin, he was not the conqueror yet – and began walking toward the kneeling figure. "Yes. It will."

He suddenly felt very tired; not battle-weary, but bone-weary, as though all his marrow had been drained and replaced with water. There was a time when he would have savored the victory, rolled it around on his tongue like fine sake, but now it just seemed repugnant to him, a necessary duty.

He walked to Hatore's side, and the youkai bowed his head, his hair falling to the side. Sesshoumaru slowly placed the blade against the back of the exposed neck so the muscles would tense and the cut would be clean.

"You know," Hatore suddenly said, conversationally, "I think we really did do you a favor."

Sesshoumaru waited, the cold metal still on warm skin.

"Ridding you of that girl really has made you stronger," Hatore finally said, his words muffled by his chest.

They say that losing someone makes you stronger, came the voice of the miko, Kagome.

"Yes," Sesshoumaru replied.

Hatore chuckled into the ground. "She really was a weakness."

Sesshoumaru laughed his short, sharp laugh.

"No," he said, and brought the blade down, swift and sharp.

And then it was over.

His allies were gathering in the house, where dinner was still laid out and there was plenty of sake to go around, but Sesshoumaru stayed where he was and let his gaze fall on the carnage all around him. The place reeked and he would have to have it cleared out by tomorrow before noon. That shouldn't be a problem – there were still some servants alive, who hadn't fought; Sesshoumaru would have them gather tomorrow at dawn and clear away the dead. And then... he would see.

Slowly, he walked a little way up the mountainside, treading on corpses as he went, until he reached the charred remains of the House of the Moon. He wondered why Hatore had never had them fully removed. Perhaps it was to show that Hatore had been the conqueror, and to remind the youkai and humans around the area what had been done. A warning, of sorts, although the only real warning a traitor needed was that he couldn't be trusted.

He could see the floors and rooms still, mapped out in charred timber and stone, and he felt like he was walking on ghosts.

Sesshoumaru felt troubled. He was still angry, still filled with indescribable melancholy and rage, but there was no one left to pay for Rin's death. No one left in his way; he was free to reclaim his old life. Free to make everything the way it was, but he knew that could never happen.

Rin was avenged. Her spirit could rest in peace, but Sesshoumaru's spirit was still restless, still pacing in the cage of his body. His land had been taken and taken back, but he was just a stranger returning to a house he didn't recognize, in a country that was no longer entirely his. His enemies were dead, his father and mother and brother were dead, and he was all that was left.

He had been alone before, but always by choice, always sought out. Now there was a different quality to it, an extra dimension he'd never really seen before, and it was like a lead weight, dropped through his center, and the phantom feeling of severed companions surrounded him.

He should be celebrating, but instead all he wanted to do was sink down into the ruins, lie in the dew-covered grass, and never get up again.

Sesshoumaru lifted his eyes to the moon. It was still rising in the sky, not even at its zenith, and for the first time he found no comfort there. It was constantly changing, growing, rising, shrinking, falling, and suddenly he felt trapped, suspended again in the void in which he had hung for years, suddenly master of everything and nothing.

Everything had changed, and he remained the same.

Tales from the House of the Moon

A InuYasha Story
by Resmiranda

Part 9 of 42

<< Previous     Home     Next >>