A shrill, inhuman shriek rent the quiet of the forest, causing the animals in hiding to quake in fearful dread, wondering if they had been spotted, if their lives were about to end; however, they remained motionless, frozen in terror, where they hid.
Unbeknown to them, they were not the target of this vicious predator, but one small human girl wielding a bow with practiced ease, defying the beast who charged her with serpentine speed and cunning.
Mouth gaping wide, revealing fangs as long as the girl's forearm, poisonous spittle flying, the demon snake-like creature lunged, intending to bite down into delicate flesh, crushing bones, and ripping sinew, to devour its next meal.
Calm, determined, brown eyes fixed steadily on the approaching serpent. A slim arm drew back on her tight bow string before releasing her missile charged with her pure light.
Aim true, her arrow soared through the air, disappearing inside the beast's gaping jaws. Seconds later, a hissing wail rattled from the demon before a bright, pink light exploded from its mouth. The terrifying cry was cut off short, its writhing body disintegrating from the inside out, purifying the evil essence to ash.
Notching another arrow, the girl eyed the demons surrounding her, red malevolent eyes eyeing her from the trees, her death in their menacing gaze.
Brown eyes narrowed with determination, a will that refused to cower in fear and forfeit the breath that filled her lungs, gave her life, she released her reiki charged arrow, her hand moving behind her, grasping two more with deadly intent.
Come and get me, her defiance taunted them.
A tall, pristine figure walked with sedate grace through the towering forest, his steps long but measured, eating up the ground, but in no hurry as he travelled towards his destination. He had no worry that he would be attacked, no fear that death would claim him this day, for few were powerful enough to challenge him, and many feared his awesome strength.
Just by looking at him, clad in armor with a spiked breast plate, a sword sheathed at his left hip, all knew he would not be easy prey, taken unaware. Keen intelligence shone brightly through his inhuman amber eyes, the pupil thin, cat-like, missing nothing of his surroundings.
The light breeze ruffled his kimono, impossibly white with a red flower pattern running down the billowing sleeves, and marking his haori collar. His long, silver hair, which reached well past his waist, fluttered in the wind, revealing pointed, elegant ears. His thick, long, fur pelt adorned his right shoulder, the end swaying with his long strides.
The sun that filtered through the leaves warmed his handsome visage, showcasing the demonic markings he bore proudly: a blue crescent moon upon his proud brow, mauve eye lids, and two regal stripes that graced his high cheek bones.
Any who saw his face would quake in fear, his visage well known throughout the lands—The Killing Perfection, the Western Lord, Sesshomaru.
Sesshomaru gazed around him, his mind finally at peace now that he was away from his castle, from the demands that kept him busy more hours out of the day than the sun allowed. It was not often he found time for himself, to be alone, undisturbed, that he relished this walk through his lands even though he journeyed with a purpose, his solitude all too soon gone.
He had business with another lord who resided in his domain, the father of his recent betrothed, a beautiful hime whom he respected, viewed as the perfect mate and mother of his future heirs—Sayuri.
Sesshomaru was still young in demon years, a mere two hundred and fifty-eight, but he had responsibilities, heirs to procreate, to secure his lands remain in his bloodline should he, for some reason, die.
His lips upturned in a small grin at the absurd thought of his demise. He was strong, powerful, few could stand up to him in a fight and draw his pure blood, let alone dispatch him to the afterlife.
However, he knew his duty, accepted it.
That's why, months ago, he took serious consideration of eligible females in his own domain, of his own demonic species, to procure a female who would make him a suitable mate not only for himself, but for his domain. Only the best could be chosen to bear the title of the Western Lady, the most powerful, pureblooded, and highborn amongst them.
Not a week ago, he finally found his match in Sayuri-hime, a young demoness who met all his requirements. Upon choosing her, he had dispatched a missive to her father, requesting his daughter's hand. When a reply came a day later with a positive answer, Sesshomaru had barely given the letter his attention, had known without a questionable doubt that his intentions would be received full-heartedly.
Now, today, he was to meet his intended mate formally at her home though such actions were not necessary as documents for the impending mating were already being drawn up, plans set in motion, but he wanted to see her, to make her familiar with him.
It was in inuyoukai nature to be close to pack mates, to establish a bond with each one of them, especially with one's own mate.
Sesshomaru was abruptly brought out of his thoughts when a new scent reached his sensitive nose—blood.
He hesitated for just a moment before he took a step to continue on his way. What occurred with humans were of no concern of his, but for some reason, he could not get that scent out of his mind. It captivated him, called to something deep within.
He could have easily ignored his unfamiliar reaction, but for some reason, he found his steps moving towards the scent of blood and away from his intended.
He had to see, to understand why he was affected so.
With every step, the scent became stronger, the need to get closer intensified. His cold, calculated mind was at work, telling him to seek out the one who could capture his attention, wondering if it was an enemy, some sort of tactic—a spell—to kill him.
A smirk curved his lips.
If this was indeed a trap, a way to enslave his senses, to kill him unaware, then the fool did not know with whom he was dealing. After gaining his answers, Sesshomaru intended to kill whoever dared try to bespell him.
As he approached, he frowned as new scents assaulted him.
Underlying the scent of spilled human blood was traces of demon blood. Senses flaring outwards, he could feel the auras of weak youkai, and the purity associated with a handful of mortals with the power to eradicate his kind. He knew he was about to walk into the presence of either a holy monk or miko, probably the source of the human blood that had caught his attention, called to him.
Was a mortal with spiritual powers trying to summon him?
For what aim?
Determination centered in his amber gaze, he continued forward, determined to gain the answers he sought. And the youkai that were obviously attacking the mortal? He would kill any who got between him and what he sought.
With his keen eyes, he halted several yards from his quarry, the dense trees keeping him hidden while he perused the scene before him.
A young woman dressed as a miko rested heavily against a tree, breathing hard, panting from pain. Crimson stained her left shoulder in no small amount, possibly a fatal wound for one of her kind. With her right shoulder against the bark, her hand clutching her wound, he saw her meager means of defense, a bow, shattered near her feet, with her quiver of arrows still slung over her uninjured shoulder.
Moving his gaze from the dark haired girl, he surveyed the area, sensing a dark presence, but seeing nothing. He eyed the ground, able to see, to smell traces of demon blood from multiple sources. How many had she fought off? How many more had she purified cleanly, leaving no trace of the fallen one's existence?
His gaze returned to her, to see her eyes roaming in his direction, knew she sensed him, but unable to pinpoint his exact location.
He was mildly surprised that she was aware of his presence; his youki suppressed, hidden.
Power emanated from her small form, saturating the area in her cleansing aura. Just how powerful was she?
Her eyes swung to the ground several feet in front of her seconds before a rumbling shook the dirt beneath his feet.
The miko dropped to her knees.
At first, he thought she had collapsed under the ground's vibrations, her hand outstretched, placed firmly on the dirt before her as the ground caved in a short distance in front of her. Cracks formed, dirt rose, flying through the air as a serpent demon emerged with a lethal hiss, jaws wide open as it lunged for the girl.
Sesshomaru tensed, ready to intercept the demon's charge, but a flare of pure energy emerged from the human, emanating from palms plastered upon the ground. Pink streams of electric reiki zigzagged across the ground, heading straight for the charging serpent. In a shower of sparks, the demon was consumed, howling in agony as it writhed on the ground, disintegrating into dust.
She had not fallen, was his amazed thought, his golden gaze once more upon her kneeling form.
Though obviously weary, her wound hampering her, she forced herself back to her feet. Why he felt pride for her show of strength and fortitude, he did not know, but when her brown gaze again sought his location, he felt unfamiliar heat course through his veins.
"It's futile to hide when I know that you are there, demon. Come out. Show yourself."
Though she couldn't see it, he raised his brow at her audacity, at the command in her tone, and that she tried to order him.
He felt himself smirk. Brave, little miko.
Accepting her veiled challenge, he stepped forward, revealing himself as he stopped several feet away from her tense form.
He was silent, allowing her gaze to travel over him.
Shock widened his eyes. He could actually feel her eyes moving on him.
What was she doing to him?
He frowned, narrowed his eyes at her, realizing that she did, indeed, have some sort of hold on him. He perused her in turn, his eyes fixed on her expression as he demanded quietly, "Do you know who I am?"
Surely she must if she had set her sights on him, to try and bewitch him.
Hurt or not, he would kill her for her impudence, but not until after he received the answers he sought.
A warrior god stood before her, clad almost all in white, bedecked with armor and sword. Never before had she seen such a beautiful yet utterly masculine face. She felt warmth suffuse her being, her heart giving a longing pang in her breast.
What was this feeling?
She forgot about her wound, about the pain, about the demons who attacked her. She was sure there were a couple more, could feel their dark aura. In fact, she had thought this angelic being before her had been another of her attackers, but right now, she couldn't think.
Her mind went blank.
All she could do was stare in wonderment at this god-like man.
No, her mind warned, not a man, for no man haseyes like him.
Burnished amber, cat-like pupils.
But even that knowledge could not shake her from the enchantment he wove around her senses. At least, not until he spoke, his eyes no longer passive as he regarded her.
"Do you know who I am?"
She frowned, eyeing him.
Her answer seemed to have brought him up short.
They eyed each other warily, but before either could speak, movement from the corner of her eye had her head whipping around.
Two more serpents slithered closer, their mouths wide open.
Kagome tensed, aggravating her wound in the process, but it couldn't be helped. The beasts were about to attack.
Blue flames generated from their mouths. A second later, they shot their combined blasts straight for her. She raised her right hand before her face, two fingers pointed skyward, the others curved into her palm as she called on her reiki to form a barrier around her, but before she could, the white demon flashed before her, startling her.
Sword in hand, he raised the wicked blade high over his head, seemingly unconcerned about the wall of flames heading straight for him, and swung down. A blast of youki sprung from his blade, cutting through the ball of flame. Instead of hitting them, the serpents' flames shot from either side of them like a wall of fire caging them in from the sides.
Though it was sweltering hot, none of the flames touched her or the pristine figure before her. Hissing screeches were abruptly cut off as the demons died in a blaze of a more powerful force.
That was no minor display of youki, and as she watched the demon before her sheath his sword and turn to gaze at her with his amber eyes, she knew he was much more powerful, that his attack was indeed minor compared to what he was truly capable of.
Was he friend or foe?
She had never met a demon quite like him. Only the more powerful could take on a 'humanoid' form, and most youkai were no friend of humans; however, she had seen those who wished no ill against mortals, but was he one of them?
Not one to be close minded and suspect the worst of an individual, she nevertheless was tense and ready should he attack her.
Still, in a show of gratitude to test the waters, she nodded her head at him.
"Thank you for helping me."
He blinked his strange yet beautiful eyes slowly as if surprised by her gratitude.
Then he nodded his head in acknowledgement before his eyes drifted to her bleeding shoulder. She clutched the wound with her right hand, ignoring the spike of pain when she did. She had lost too much blood, knew by her wobbly knees and lightheadedness that she was in danger of bleeding out.
Still, how could she bind her injury with a possible threat before her?
"You are injured, miko."
It was Kagome's turn to blink at his obvious statement. She eyed him warily, wondering what his statement implied.
Sesshomaru gazed down at the girl, knew she was weakened from blood loss, however she did nothing to staunch the bleeding, knew by her defensive stance that she didn't trust him not to attack.
Knowing he wouldn't get the answers he sought if she fainted, let alone died, he offered, "You may yet die if your wound is not seen to. Do you require assistance?"
Sesshomaru witnessed surprise flash in her brown eyes, wondered if she would refuse his aid, scorn his touch, but she—in turn—surprised him by nodding.
"That would be kind of you. Thank you…uh, I do not know your name…"
Moving slowly so as not to startle the girl, he cupped her elbow, and guided her down to sit and rest her back against a tree. She let him, her breath hissing out in a small show of pain.
He eyed her, watching to see if she recognized his name, but she did not, merely nodded her head and said, "I am Kagome. I don't know why you are here, helping me, but I am grateful."
He paused at her words. She did not call me to her side?
Sesshomaru was confused, for even now his body yearned to be closer to hers, her blood like a siren's call, one he chose to ignore. If she hadn't bewitched him, why was he enthralled by her very presence?
"Hn." His clawed hands reached for her white haori, hesitating just above her collar, his eyes boring into hers. "May I?"
After a brief hesitation, she nodded, allowing him to reveal her wound.
With sure tugs, Sesshomaru spread her haori, making it gap in the front. Instantly, her hand flew to her breasts, bunching the cloth to preserve her modesty even though he could see the top outline of the strips of linin that bound her lush breasts.
A flush spread across her white cheeks, no doubt embarrassed when the top swells of her rounded breasts were revealed.
Sesshomaru knew she had an eagle eye on his face, watching to see if his eyes lingered on her charms. Normally, he would have scoffed at the insinuation that any human could draw his gaze to a frail, weak excuse for a body, but he reflected in consternation, that he very much did want to allow his eyes to linger on her flesh.
Inwardly shaking himself, he gently dragged her sleeve down her left shoulder, revealing the singular gash that tore her pale skin from shoulder to collar bone. However, it was not a deep wound, but then why did she bleed so profusely?
Leaning closer, his face several inches above her chest, he sniffed.
Kagome swallowed when he leaned towards her.
"What are you doing?" she murmured softly, afraid to speak too loudly for some unknown reason.
Sesshomaru leaned back, meeting her gaze. "You have been poisoned."
She grimaced before her eyes fell to her shoulder, noting the same thing he had. Her wound was shallow, yet it burned like fire and bled as if she were dying.
"One of their fangs nicked me. I had already guessed that their saliva was poisonous, but I knew not what type it was. By the looks of it, it seems they inject a burning solution to stun their prey, and slow, if not stop, the flesh's ability to heal," surmised Kagome, familiar with many types of poisons.
Though her situation wasn't great, she guessed she was lucky the serpent's saliva wasn't more harmful, deadly.
"How long ago were you infected?" intoned Sesshomaru, impressed by her knowledge.
"Not long, I think. Less than half an hour ago, but I can't be sure. I was fighting for my life," she smiled wryly.
Though small and lacking amusement, her smile made her face more…appealing to Sesshomaru. He had to admit, at least silently to himself, that she was quite attractive—for a human.
Leaning towards her once more, mindful of the spikes adorning his breastplate, Sesshomaru caged her in with his powerful body. While his left hand curved over her shoulder, he balanced the other on the ground near her hip. Her blood called to him, a heady fragrance that summoned the beast within. Unwillingly, he felt his canines ache to pierce her fragile flesh and saliva pooled in his mouth.
Why does she affect me so?
Kagome tried to inch back when she felt Sesshomaru's breath on her wound, but the tree behind her prevented her escape. Wary, she asked, "What are you doing, Sesshomaru?"
He was eyeing her injury intently, making her uneasy. The scent of blood could turn demons into a frenzy, so she wasn't all too comfortable with his scrutiny. Also, his close proximity was doing strange things to her stomach, and her heart began to race.
Sesshomaru noticed her escalated heartbeat, his eyes lifted to catch her watching him.
Was she merely uneasy with a demon so close to her, wounded as she was, or—his eyes narrowed—was she hiding something?
Instead of answering her question, he asked one of his own. "You proclaim not to know this Sesshomaru, yet you attempt to bewitch me? What games are you playing at, human? Do not attempt to lie. I will know."
She frowned as she continued to meet his penetrating gaze.
"No, I do not know you, nor do I know what you mean by 'bewitch'. I am not a sorcerer or dark miko. That is not among my powers and capabilities. Why? Should I know you? Why do you think I am trying to bewitch you?"
Kagome was confused by his inquiry, but the gaze he leveled on her told her he would be a dangerous enemy to trifle with. Would he harm her? But why? What was he talking about?
Her genuine confusion was clear to see, but Sesshomaru knew expressions could lie. However, it was difficult, no, impossible for a human to lie to someone such as he with his heightened senses. He could tell when one told an untruth by their heightened perspiration and accelerated heart rate. He monitored these telltale signs on the miko, but she did not sweat, her heartbeat had not escalated as she spoke.
Either she was an expert liar, or she was telling the truth.
Not wishing to admit to the pull she had on him—a possible weakness he needed to understand and correct—he refused to answer her questions.
Once again his attention fixated on the blood that called to him, a smell he feared he would never get out of his senses. If she was not to blame for his growing need, then why did she affect him so? Perhaps it was better to ignore, to act as if it did not exist, for this pull did not cloud his mind and judgment. It was merely there. Known. By him, at least.
Next, he wondered if she, too, was similarly affected by him.
As soon as he thought it, he discarded it as impossible.
"Do not move, miko," he murmured to her, leaning towards the gash on her shoulder once more. Ignoring how his mouth watered to taste the crimson blood that stained her flesh, he opened his mouth and grazed the wound with the flat of his tongue.
Kagome hissed at the texture of his rough tongue against her shallow wound. Blazing pain wracked her nerves. Instantly, she knew his actions shouldn't have hurt nearly as much as it did, knew it was caused by the serpent's poison to intensify the pain in hopes of incapacitating her, making her an easier target, unable to defend herself.
She knew she was lucky to have sustained such a shallow wound. If it had been any deeper, then the serpent's aim to render her into a writhing heap would have succeeded. She would have been in too much pain to defend herself—easy prey.
Another graze of his tongue.
Gasping, she clenched her molars, and asked again through gritted teeth, "What are you doing?"
"Removing the poison," was Sesshomaru's matter of fact answer.
She jerked her head in a semblance of a nod and allowed him to continue without a word. She didn't know why he was helping her, this powerful youkai, but she was not about to spurn his aid.
Sesshomaru almost groaned from the first taste of her essence, had to force himself to remain focused on the task at hand and not push her to the ground and lap her up as he desired to do. However, the taste of the poison angered him, tainting the fluid he craved.
For long seconds, he licked at her gash, but no matter how many times he swiped his tongue along the wound, blood continued to spill. Humans were weak, unable to accelerate their healing, but this wound was far too shallow to be producing this much blood—even for a mortal—without the blood coagulating to slow the bleeding.
With one last lingering lick, he leaned back, his face just inches from the mortal's, whose expression was pinched with pain, yet she made hardly a sound.
He felt impressed by her strength, was oddly proud that she suffered in silence, refusing to voice her discomfort.
She returned his gaze unflinchingly when he licked her blood from his lips.
"Is it over?"
He shook his head once.
"The poison has entered your blood stream. You will continue to bleed if it is not extracted."
He could tell she was thinking of ways to rid her body of the toxin by the troubled frown between her brows.
"Perhaps an antidote can be made," she mumbled more to herself than to him.
"There may not be enough time," he said, catching her gaze instantly when she looked at him inquisitively.
"Then what do you suggest, Sesshomaru? I can't just give up, and quite probably bleed to death."
"This Sesshomaru can extract the poison."
She gave him a considering look before replying. "You have already tried that, and it didn't seem to work," she reminded him without censor.
"If you do not object, miko, I would sink my fangs into your wound and draw out all traces of the toxin."
His canines ached at the thought of being encased in her flesh. He almost frowned at the realization, not understanding the pull this one tiny mortal had on him.
He wants to bite me? Kagome thought, blinking in confusion.
Unconsciously, her gaze lowered to his mouth, and though she couldn't see his incisors, she knew they would be sharp. Did she really want such a dangerous creature sinking his fangs into her fragile flesh? She swallowed as she continued to gaze at his closed lips, for some reason, yearning to know what they felt like on her lips, against her skin.
She looked away, flushing at her wayward thoughts. He was quite handsome, the most physically compelling male she had ever come across, and that voice of his—low, deep, masculine. She'd had to stifle a shiver the first time she had heard it.
What was he doing to her?
In an effort to mask her thoughts, she said, "Do what you must. I can't thank you enough for helping me." She turned to look at him again. "Why are you?"
I do not know, he thought. But there was something about her, this strange yearning that compelled him to be near her. He had to understand this strange phenomenon. Until he did, he had to make sure she lived, and not reveal his dilemma to her.
Instead of answering her, he lowered his gaze once more to her wound, the rivers of blood rolling down the swell of her breast, calling to him to dip down for another taste. He felt his fangs lengthen without his conscious thought, aching to bite, to suck.
"Prepare yourself, miko," he rasped.
She frowned at his tone, not understanding, then he leaned in slowly, almost reverently before she watched his mouth open, revealing impossibly sharp fangs. She had a moment's hesitation, fearing she had made a mistake, but before she could call a halt to his actions, he struck.
Incisors sank deep, his jaw clamping down tightly on her shoulder, pinning her in place.
She gasped in pain, white hot agony suffusing her entire shoulder as he began to draw out the poison and her blood in long, slow pulls. Without realizing it, she raised her right hand and clenched her fist around Sesshomaru's haori sleeve over his biceps. She refused to scream even though a cry built in her throat, clamoring to escape.
Sesshomaru almost groaned when his fangs sank deep, but he heard the girl's small sound of pain next to his ear, knew she didn't share in his enjoyment. While she was hurting, his shaft had swollen, hardening unbearably.
He was far from embarrassed by his physical response, but it baffled him to no end that he was reacting thusly to a human miko. He tried to feel anger or resentment towards the fact, but how could he think when her blood coated his tongue, felt her warmth rush down his suddenly parched throat?
His mind hazy, dropping all thoughts of how wrong this situation was, he gulped down another mouthful of her tantalizing blood, not at all happy that the toxin in her veins slightly altered her unique flavor. Focusing on drinking until he no longer could taste the poison, Sesshomaru ignored his body's reaction towards the miko.
After a few long, excruciating minutes, Kagome noticed the pain was lessening. Though Sesshomaru's fangs were still embedded into her flesh, mouth drawing on her shoulder, drinking down her blood, it started feeling…good.
Another suction from his mouth.
An answering thrill of pleasure went straight to her sex, causing her to gasp loudly in surprise. She dug her nails into his biceps, eyes wide open in shock as she felt her nipples harden, felt her breasts swell, and an ache center at her core.
What was happening?!
Without meaning to, she turned her face and pressed her cheek against the side of Sesshomaru's head, burrowing her nose in his silky soft hair, while her whole body tensed with a need she had never felt before. She would have drawn her knees up to clench her thighs tightly together to try and stop the ache between her legs, but he was too close, preventing her from moving.
The poison was gone. He no longer tasted its taint.
Sesshomaru realized this, but he couldn't find the strength to retract his fangs. Finally, he was able to enjoy her sweet nectar without anything obstructing her heady flavor.
He pressed closer to her, swallowed another mouthful of her blood.
His eyes almost rolled into the back of his head, and the ache in his balls was excruciating. He had an almost uncontrollable urge to move his hips, to thrust.
When the miko moved her face against his, an erotic moan escaping her lips, her breath brushing his ear, he took more notice of her than the blood he drank. She was panting, quivering against him, and her arousal was thick in the air around him. The scent equal to match the smell of her blood, called to him to taste her betwixt her thighs. He had no doubt that he would find her wet.
She enjoys my bite? Just like any demoness…
He shuddered against her, wrapping his arms tightly around her back, wanting her closer upon realizing she was just as affected by this moment as he.
"Ow!" Kagome said, blinking through the haze of her lust when she felt spikes press into her breasts. "Sesshomaru," she whispered, finding it hard to speak, her voice husky with desire. "Your armor…"
Sesshomaru froze, blinked open eyes he knew had gone red with lust, and stopped drawing on her wound at her words. He relaxed his arms reluctantly and removed his fangs from her flesh, but lapped at his bite mark with his tongue.
Kagome leaned back against the tree, kept her head turned to allow him to continue, strangely unwilling for him to stop. When he did, leaning away from her, she turned her head to meet his gaze. Then blinked. His eyes…
"Sesshomaru?" she whispered, uncertainly. She wasn't afraid of the crimson gaze he stared back at her with, not after everything he had done to help her, but she didn't understand his change.
Bloodlust? she wondered.
Then she recalled how he had trembled against her, held her closer. Had he…had he felt the same excitement as she had?
"Did you like it? My blood?"
Wait. She flushed. She couldn't believe she had just said that out loud and busied herself with returning her clothes back to rights, covering her wound and bare flesh.
Noting her blush, Sesshomaru almost chuckled in amusement but stifled the impulse and simply stated, "Yes."
"Oh," she mumbled, embarrassed.
"All traces of the poison have been removed," he told her matter of factly, and forced himself to stand, stepping back, allowing her to rise as well.
"Thank you, again," she smiled up at him and without thinking about it, offered her hand to him in a silent entreaty to assist her to her feet.
Surprised by her gesture, he nevertheless reached down and clasped her hand, gently pulling her to her feet. She stumbled. He cupped her left elbow in his other hand, helping steady her as she lifted a hand to her head as if she were dizzy.
"I feel lightheaded," she murmured, shutting her eyes as the ground seemed to shift beneath her feet. She felt weak, as if her legs were about to give out on her at any second.
Sesshomaru frowned, allowing her to lean against him when she moved closer.
"You had already lost much blood, and I had took even more."
"That's what I thought."
Thinking quickly, not wanting her to come to more danger should he leave her in this vulnerable state, he asked, "Where do you reside, miko? I shall escort you safely to your home."
"I do not have a home. I'm a travelling miko, but there is a village I stayed at last night not far from here. They asked me to exterminate the nest of youkai that were here terrorizing their village."
Sesshomaru wondered if it was a good idea or not to leave her in an unknown place where she knew no one. Those cowardly villagers had willingly allowed this slip of a woman to battle greater foes all alone while they hid in their homes. He felt like scowling, but he made no comment to her lifestyle.
"Then this Sesshomaru shall take you there."
Kagome nodded her head in thanks and lifted her head to gift him with a small smile.
That smile did strange things to Sesshomaru, but he refused to dwell on his strange reactions this miko gave him. He had much to think about once he dropped her off. Like how she tasted, and how she responded to his bite. He almost groaned at the reminder, his shaft still hard and aching for release, but he ignored his discomfort.
When he bent down to lift her in his arms, he discreetly sniffed her, scenting lingering traces of her arousal. Blinking his eyes, he forced the red to recede, his eyes returning to their natural golden hue.
With one arm under her knees and the other supporting her back, he easily picked her up, cradling her gently against his armored chest, allowing her head to pillow on his fur pelt.
Kagome sputtered when she found herself in his arms, her own instantly circling his neck as he gazed down at her with an inquisitive gaze.
Not understanding his look, she asked, "Yes?"
"Where is the village?"
"Oh. Right," she mumbled, flushing scarlet, and told him the directions.
Deciding to walk, not wishing to leave her company just yet, he decided against using either his demonic speed or take to the skies to return her to the village she spoke of. His long, easy strides ate up the ground beneath him as he easily took her weight. She was no heavier than a feather to him; he could hold her for hours, days without fatiguing.
Kagome tried not to stare at his handsome face so close to hers, but that seemed like an impossible endeavor. Her gaze continued to travel over his regal features and the beautiful markings on his face, but usually, her gaze continued to drop to his lips, remembering how it had felt to have his fangs deep in her flesh after the pain had dissipated.
She felt like squirming, her body heating up once again, a strange empty ache centered between her thighs. Her arms unconsciously tightened around his neck, her fingers intertwined in his impossibly silky hair.
Suddenly, he lowered his golden gaze, catching her staring at him. She flushed. Could he read her thoughts? Before she could drop her gaze, she saw his nostrils flare as if he were scenting the air, then a heated look she couldn't possibly mistake entered his eyes. His lids dropped slightly as he continued to meet her stare even as he continued walking, not missing a single step.
He could smell her wantonness!
Kagome's flush deepened.
He chuckled, the sound rumbling in his chest. The sound made her heart skip a beat.
Needing to say something, anything, she babbled, "What are these markings on your face? They're very beautiful."
Staring into her eyes for another long second, Sesshomaru released her gaze and looked ahead. "All in my bloodline have similar markings," he said simply without telling her the significance behind them, that they were a silent warning of who he was—the Western Lord.
She was human. There was no need to involve her further in his life.
He scowled at the thought.
And yet he had such a strong, primal reaction towards her, and it baffled him. He had to understand this attraction he felt for her. He wouldn't deny or run away from the fact. If he could just understand what was causing it, perhaps he could negate the effects. Which meant he would probably be seeking this tiny mortal out until he found his answers.
Would it be safe to allow her out of his sight?
Sesshomaru found himself in a dilemma, not knowing what course of action to take. For now, until he could think more on the situation, he would leave her at this village she spoke of. And if she left the village before he returned?
Then he would hunt for her.
Feeling tired, most likely from blood loss, Kagome rested her head more comfortably against the fur pelt across his shoulder. It was so soft and warm. It spelled like him, like dark spices, and she could feel a hint of his youki fused within. She wondered what exactly it was but didn't ask. She was too tired.
"Sleepy," she mumbled, closing her heavy lids, unable to keep them open any longer.
Looking down at the top of her dark head for a split second, Sesshomaru said, "Rest. You are safe with this Sesshomaru, miko."
"Hmm. For some reason, I don't doubt that," she said quietly before his gentle, swaying strides lulled her into a light doze.
Sooner than he wished, he could smell the human village, the rank smell of unwashed bodies, cooking stoves, and bodily waste strong to his sensitive nose. Humans were a low lot, he had always thought, but this woman sleeping in his arms was different. She did not smell unpleasant, but like the forest plants, and she was strong, bold, courageous in the face of danger.
An anomaly amongst her kind, for sure.
When the village came into sight, he turned his nose into Kagome's hair, breathing in her pleasing scent. "Wake, miko. We have arrived," he rumbled in a gentle voice.
She mumbled and lifted her hand to bat at his face in gentle pats in a 'go away' motion.
Closing his eyes with a small smile on his lips, he buried his face deeper into her hair, his breath brushing her ear.
"You must wake, miko."
Kagome blinked her eyes open, felt herself being carried, and memory returned. Flushing, she craned her head back to meet Sesshomaru's gaze.
Nodding before them, he said again, "We have arrived."
Following his nod, Kagome turned to take in the small village before them. Already several villagers had seen them and circled together to watch as they approached. They seemed wary, but one brave man stepped forward and called out hesitantly.
"Are you injured, miko?"
"I'm fine," she called back. "Just a small wound, nothing to worry about." She smiled to reassure them.
Sesshomaru remained silent as he stopped several paces from the huddled humans, eyeing them mistrustfully.
"You can put me down now, Sessh—" Kagome began to say, but was interrupted.
"Who is this man, miko?" asked a hesitant female voice.
Before she could answer, hushed voiced began to filter between them, raising in fear.
"Look at his eyes!"
"He's a demon."
"He holds the miko so familiarly."
Stiffening at their words, taking offense at the fear and mistrust these people instantly leveled on Sesshomaru, condemnation clear in their eyes, Kagome felt anger on Sesshomaru's behalf. What right had they to condemn anyone for their birth? She had never understood the prejudice people could feel towards another for something that wasn't their fault or choice.
Raising her voice above their murmurs, Kagome defended, "Yes, he is a demon, but he saved me. I may have died without his aid. In fact, he helped me save all of you by assisting with eradicating the ones threatening your village. You should be thanking him, not judging him."
Sesshomaru blinked, then gazed at the girl he held from the corner of his eye. She defended him? Before all her kind? She was not ashamed of him. Pride stiffened his already straight back, and he defied the humans with a bold stare, daring them to voice their displeasure…or foolishly attack.
A thin, young man boldly stepped forward with false bravado and demanded, "You can't really be defending this beast, can you, miko? All youkai are ravaging monsters!"
Kagome patted Sesshomaru's shoulder, signaling for him to put her down. He did so reluctantly, not wishing to relinquish his hold on her; however, he kept her close, circling an arm around her shoulders when she wavered on her feet.
"Listen to me—" began Kagome even though her vision had become spotted.
Once more interrupted, a woman screeched shrilly, "She's bleeding!"
Voices grew louder as they realized that she had been injured, blaming her wounds on Sesshomaru. It was as if they weren't listening to her, for they continued to eye Sesshomaru with hatred and mistrust.
Feeling a tick in her forehead, her anger rising at their close mindedness, she began developing a headache. She wished dearly to lie down somewhere and rest. Suddenly, her anger just dissipated under her fatigue.
As the crowd grew larger, their aggression escalating, a voice cut through the crowd, and an older man stepped into view—the village headman.
His wizened face and bent frame made him appear feeble, but Kagome knew he held much sway in this small community. His old eyes took in everything, Sesshomaru, how he had his arm wrapped around her, and how she leaned against him for support without a fuss.
"I see you have been injured, miko. Do you require medical aid?" asked the headman, not unkindly.
Thinking she had finally found a reasonable person to speak to, Kagome smiled gratefully at the old man. "I'm fine. Like I was trying to tell the others, Sesshomaru here helped me. There's no longer a threat from the serpents lingering over your village."
"The villagers and I thank you for your intervention, miko," replied the headman, ignoring her reference to Sesshomaru's involvement.
Before she could become offended for Sesshomaru's sake, the older man's face wrinkled further in a kind smile.
"Come, rest. You must be tired after your ordeal." Then his eyes moved to Sesshomaru as if in an afterthought. "Will your…friend be staying?"
Ignoring the headman's slight rudeness, Kagome looked up at Sesshomaru, and he promptly lowered his head to meet her silent inquiry.
"This Sesshomaru will not be staying."
Feeling slightly disappointed by his answer, she nonetheless gave him a fake, bright smile to hide her reaction. "Thank you again for all you've done, Sesshomaru."
He nodded his head once in answer and reluctantly allowed her to step away from him.
Though her steps were unsteady, she did not stumble and fall.
Since the village headman seemed to accept her presence, though many disagreed with her for 'consorting with a demon', one of the women disengaged from the pack and offered to help the miko to her quarters. As she was led away, Sesshomaru gave the nervous, hostile villagers one last fleeting look before turning and striding out of their humble settlement without being informed to leave.
His eyes narrowed as he entered the forest once more, alone; he decided against continuing his journey to visit Sayuri-hime. He was already late anyway. Perhaps he should be more concerned that he did not formally inform his betrothed's father of his changed plans, but he could not be bothered with formality right now. He was the Western Lord, ruler of these lands and the demon community that dwelled under his reign. His title gave him much leeway, so he was unconcerned how his betrothed and her father reacted to his absence.
He had more important things to do, such as keeping an eye on the miko, for he did not trust the villagers, nor the headman who seemingly opened his village to a miko who championed demons, had in fact allowed one to be so familiar with her.
Sesshomaru found a sturdy oak close to the tree line of the village and jumped, landing on a thick branch. It was late morning. Not knowing if or when danger would strike the onna, he settled in for a long wait, unperturbed to sit there aimlessly.
It gave him the solitude he craved and time to think, to ponder on this new development that entered his life in the form of one human priestess.
Kagome changed into her yukata from the pack she carried with her on her journey, foregoing any substance, and lay down on the futon the elderly couple she was staying with had provided for her use. Though she wanted to ponder and think more about the enigma that was Sesshomaru, tiredness swiftly pulled her into blissful unconsciousness.
Without knowing it, Kagome slept for many hours while the village headman spoke with several men in secret in his own home.
"Why have you called us here, Elder?" Jun, a middle aged store owner, who was much respected in the small community, asked the headman.
Cloudy, dark eyes glanced at all the faces around him, four men he had established as his council years ago even though his decision was the final one, the one to be obeyed.
"We have an enemy amongst our midst," he began softly. "You know of whom I speak—the miko."
A gentle farmer shifted uncomfortably, his large, muscular frame moving in his agitation. "Aren't you being a bit harsh on the young woman, Elder? She did save the village by defeating the serpents."
The headman's eyes narrowed on his jovial face, wrinkled slightly by time, weathered and laugh lines. "You are a decent man, Hachi, but we cannot ignore her close proximity to that white devil, or how she stood up for him. It is obvious the demon has her in his thrall."
"Then what can we do to save her, Elder?" asked Shogo, another farmer.
"I do not believe she can be saved," the headman said after several long minutes of silence, as if weighing their options. Inwardly, he felt blinding hatred towards all demons, for such monsters had killed his whole family, his wife and two sons. Because the miko did not share in his hate, he wished to kill her, to kill any demon lover, for those beasts where an abomination, and any who championed them deserved to die, painfully.
Now that he was the head of this village as he was the oldest and most respected of the people, he would have his way in this. All he had to do was play on their fear of demons, worry for their families, and they would all fall into his hands, agreeing that the miko's death was the right decision, for there was no way—with his feeble body—he could cause her death without aid or notice.
"You can't mean that," Hachi recoiled with shock, gazing at the Elder as if he were mad.
"She's a miko!" Jun added. "The gods have chosen her as a pure light upon this world. We can't just kill her!"
Agitated voices began to rise, and the headman barked at them for silence. Seeing their surprise at his uncustomary anger, he smoothed his expression, calmed his voice, as he murmured with such sad resignation, the others couldn't help but listen—and agree.
"You are correct, Jun. She is among the blessed, but aren't there those who have fallen from the path of righteousness and become dark miko—rogues? I fear this miko has stumbled from her glorious path and into the jaws of the devil himself. Once a heart and soul has been tainted with evil, there is no going back, and well you all know this. We have no choice. We must deliver her from evil, or forsake her soul and any others she corrupts in her path."
All four nodded their silent agreement, expressions grave, though none looked at each other. They were doing what they believed was right, yet their chests were filled with turmoil over killing a woman.
However, one still doubted. Seji, who had been silent all throughout the meeting until now, asked, "If she were evil, then why did she save the village from the serpents? She was injured protecting us."
Tangible unease filled the air.
"How do we know for sure she did? No one was witness to her claim. Perhaps, she struck a deal with them. Who knows, but we do know that no self-respecting miko would allow a demon to touch her person in such an intimate way, or trust one when weakened and unable to defend themselves. No, she has fallen from the gods' grace. We must protect our village and others from her wickedness. There's no telling what she plans on doing. Would you risk your children, any of you?"
Silence answered his inquiry, save for solemn shaking of all of their bent heads.
The headman hid a cruel smile, satisfied that he had won the argument. The miko's days were numbered.
"Soon," intoned the headman, sentencing the miko to death, his heart full of spite.
Kagome awakened, hours later, and though she was still sore from her battle, she forced herself to rise and check on her wounds. Her shoulder was covered in ugly, black bruises around the shallow cut, but what made her blush were the bite marks left by Sesshomaru when he had saved her life by sucking out the poison. Remembering how it had felt after the pain had passed, her body ached in a whole different way that had nothing to do with her soreness.
Forcing herself to banish such thoughts, Kagome flexed her back and almost groaned. She was sure to have several bruises there since one of the serpents' tail had struck her violently across her back, sending her flying, and landing painfully upon the ground.
After putting her clothes back to rights when she was finished inspecting her shoulder, Kagome used the bowl of water near her sleeping mat to wash her face and hands. Then she took a comb from her pack and brushed out her hair, before styling it into that of a miko. Next, she changed out of her sleeping yukata and adorned her miko garments.
She heard movement in the central space where meals were eaten around a cooking fire, so she headed in that direction, and came across the elderly woman she was staying with.
"Hello, Obaasan," Kagome gained her attention respectfully. "I wanted to thank you for your hospitality, but I need to be on my way. I fear I'm already late as it is to start out on my journey."
Kagome didn't wish to be rude, but after remembering how the villagers had treated her after she had defended Sesshomaru, she wasn't comfortable in staying the additional night she had planned on.
"Oh, no you mustn't leave," the older woman fretted, rubbing her gnarled hands before her.
Thinking the older woman merely worried about her health, seeing as she had returned injured, Kagome smiled reassuringly and stepped forward to take the woman's hands in her own. But the elderly woman flinched. Was that…fear in her eyes? Kagome wondered, baffled.
Instantly, the woman stepped towards the fire pit and shakily filled a clay cup.
"Come, come, child. You must be thirsty. Have a cup of tea before you leave," encouraged the elderly woman.
Frowning, wondering if she had imagined things, Kagome stepped forward to kneel on the other side of the small fire. "That would lovely, thank you, Obaasan."
Lifting the cup to her lips, steam hit her nose as well as the scent of the green tea. The liquid had barely touched her lips before she froze, sniffing the brew more closely. It did not smell only of green tea...
Without thinking, Kagome quickly set the cup on the wooden floor beside her right knee, where it landed with a sharp crack, splashing the back of her hand with hot liquid.
"Miko? Are you well?" asked the obviously nervous elderly woman.
Kagome noted with dawning apprehension that this woman had tried to kill her.
"I've got to go," murmured Kagome, not understanding why the woman would do such a heinous thing, only bent on getting out of there, now.
"But what about your tea!" cried the frantic woman, who struggled to rise as Kagome lifted her pack, quiver of arrows minus a bow as she had no spar after hers had been broken, and raced out of the hut, only to be stopped by a mob outside.
Gazing at the villagers around her with growing apprehension, Kagome noted the unfriendly faces that regarded her.
"What's going on?" she asked in a low voice, her hand tightening around the strap of her pack.
Behind her, the older woman raced out, and into the arms of her husband.
"I see you have failed, Umi," came a male voice.
Seconds later, the headman stepped forward from the crowed, eyeing Kagome with a strange expression.
"I'm sorry," wailed the woman named Umi. "She knew it was poisoned when she brought it to her mouth to drink."
Her husband patted her back consolingly.
"No matter," the headman murmured. "Shogo, Jun, raise your bows, and fire at this dark miko's black heart. We must save her immortal soul."
The villagers took up a stance on either side of the headman, bows strung and at the ready before Kagome could think to respond, her shock immobilizing her long enough for them to aim deadly arrows at her.
"Wait! Hold on a minute," Kagome said, lifting a halting hand. "I don't understand what's going on. I'm not a dark miko! You've made a horrible mistake."
"Don't listen to her lies, men. She seeks to enthrall you with the visage of innocence. We must protect the village from her evil, and save her from herself."
"No! Stop!" shouted Kagome, but no one listened to her.
With a thwank, the arrows were released, however, before Kagome could feel them enter her fragile flesh, the projections splintered. A strange, green whip rendered the arrows into harmless sticks.
A familiar youki caressed her senses.
Before the stunned villagers, Sesshomaru jumped from his perch atop the old woman's hut and landed before Kagome protectively.
Shouts and screams filled the air as the villagers ran, trying to get away from the white devil in their midst.
"Don't let them escape!" shouted an enraged headman, pointing at Sesshomaru and Kagome as he ordered, "Kill them! Kill them both."
Shogo and Jun hesitated, shaking with obvious fear as they took in Sesshomaru's intimidating form.
"Run," Sesshomaru commanded icily, amber eyes promising death should they be foolish enough not to obey.
With a cry of panic from both of them, they threw down their weapons and ran.
All that remained of the mob was the furious headman.
"I'm not afraid of you!" he screeched, pointing a boney finger at Sesshomaru.
"Indeed?" Sesshomaru responded without interest, one silver brow lifted skeptically.
Without waiting for a reply, Sesshomaru bent, and once again lifted the miko into his arms. Kagome blushed, knew he had noticed how her knees shook, not with fear but from weakness, still recovering from blood loss. It was obvious, had the villagers not turned on her, she would have been a fool to travel in her weakened state. However, who knew what would have happened to her had she stayed in bed.
Wrapping her arms around his neck, she trustingly allowed him to carry her even after a strange cloud circled his leather clad feet and lifted them high into the sky. Both ignored the vile curses the headman flung at them, knowing he no longer posed a threat.
It was late afternoon when Sesshomaru finally saw something odd. The villagers had gathered before the hut that housed the miko, and half an hour later, the miko immerged, her body language distressed. Rising to his feet on the branch he had claimed as his own as he sat vigil over the miko, unaware, he listened to the brief conversation the headman had with her, before he raced with blinding speed atop the hut she had just exited from.
He frowned ominously at their cowardly assassination attempt, easily intercepting the arrows with his acid whip before they could reach her.
With her finally once more in his arms, he had a sense of great peace settle over him as her scent once again entered his nose. Still she affected him strangely, and while he had been sitting vigil over her sleeping form, he had come to a decision concerning her fate.
He couldn't leave her to fate while he sought his answers about her strange hold over him, for death could come so easily in many guises for a weak human. Instead, he would take her with him, back to his home. An uproar was sure to arise, but he was lord of these lands, and he would be obeyed.
He was brought out of his thoughts by the lyrical sound of the miko's voice.
"It seems I'm always thanking you for saving my life, Sesshomaru."
He glanced down at her to see that she was looking up at him with a soft expression and a smile on her lips, a mouth he desperately needed to kiss.
Denying is desire, he looked away from her, staring into the sky before them as he flew them towards his domain. Perhaps, he could keep her hidden for a time, secluded in one of his smaller homes.
"Think nothing of it," he told her, shrugging off her thanks, disconcerted by her gratitude.
"How did you know I was in trouble?"
"This Sesshomaru never left. I did not trust the villagers when I left you in their care."
She blinked up at him in surprise, trying to ignore how her heart raced to be held in his arms once more. "So you decided to watch out for me? That's very kind of you and much appreciated." Shivering in remembered dread, fearing that her life was about to end minutes before, she murmured, "I'd rather not think about what would have happened to me had you not been here to rescue me. Likely, I would have died."
She felt his arms tighten around her.
"No one shall harm you while you're in my care," he vowed, his eyes narrowed, mentally challenging anyone who dared contradict him.
"For how long am I in your care? Where are we going?" inquired Kagome, not particularly worried, but nonetheless curious. Strangely, she trusted him.
"That remains to be seen," he told her. "For now, I am taking you to my home where you can heal without any harm befalling you."
"And you think I'm just going to do whatever you tell me to?" Kagome asked without any rancor, amusement laced in her tone, for if she was honest with herself, she did not wish to be absent from his company just yet.
"Yes," he told her simply, to which she laughed.
"Well, wherever we are going, is it far? I just realized I'm famished." Her stomached chose that moment to growl loudly, emphasizing her words.
He smirked down at her.
Both were smiling as they continued to fly through the blue sky, the wind gently rippling around them.