The Empress lies at the heart of the keep, clad only in the wash of her hair, and listens to the pulse of the Minus Wave.

It pleases her.

She smiles.


There was a time when things were simpler for Doku. He knows that. Even if he was tangled in the cords of love and pain and knowledge of his father's betrayal and his mother's insanity, even then, he could see what had to be done, what was necessary, so much more clearly than he can now. Even the decision to give his life into Kougaiji's hands was more obvious then. Even the . . .

He smooths the cloth along the blade of his sword, and watches his eyes in the reflected surface. From time to time they flinch at what they see.

It would be so easy to solve things by killing people. It's what he does, isn't it? He's a brawler, a bodyguard, someone whose job is to protect his master physically.

And you did that so well, didn't you?

He imagines Nii Jieni's head broken like a ripe melon, blood and brains spattered across laboratory equipment, and the thought is good.

Was killing her the right thing to do then? Would killing again be the right thing to do now? Would it fix things?

He imagines himself standing behind the Empress, sword in his hands.

He looks down. His hands have closed around the hilt of the sword.

He tastes blood in his mouth.

Doku's hands move to his forehead, and he presses hard enough that it hurts, hard enough to leave bruises, fingers grinding against the bone of his skull, and still he cannot purge his thoughts.

Loyalty to Kougaiji is a safe place for his mind to rest. When he loses himself in that emotion, his thoughts of violence and death have justifiable targets.

There was a time when blood wasn't so thick in everything around him, in his mind, in his past, on his hands, on his sword, and in the thoughts from day to day of how to resolve the little problems around him.

Kou, he thinks, come back to me, because you're all that I have left to hold on to, and now you're gone and there's a stranger looking at me out of your eyes who says touch me again and I'll kill you.

Once again the cloth moves along the perfectly polished sword.

Kou, come back to us, because we need you. The cracks are getting wider.

Sometimes he wakes at night, having dreamed of walking through the corridors of the palace, walking in the dark, following scents of blood and sex and violence and pain.

One time he woke to find himself on his feet and fumbling with the handle of his door.

He imagines long strands of red hair between his fingers, and a warm body under him, and in the worst moments he can't be sure which one it is.

Kou . . .

such slender bodies as they all have so frail so weak so easily broken

It pulses in him like a coming storm.


There was a time when her thoughts were different. She is quite certain of that. Not simply before, which you might call all those years at home in the quiet of the stillroom and the serenity of the library, where parents and servants and study and service bounded the compass of her world. Call it rather then as opposed to now. In the time which she considers as then, she didn't have thoughts like this.

Yaone watches as her hands move without conscious volition, slamming pestle into mortar, grinding the dried wormwood into dust.

It makes a satisfying noise. She measures out another portion and begins to work on that.

She thinks about the resistance as her spear goes into a body, and the smell of blood. It's -- strange, how different it smells in the middle of a fight. When she's practising her other trade, apothecary . . .

they say she's an apothecary and I'm to take her to Hyakugan Maoh

. . . perhaps it's the herbs and the dry linen bandages that change the smell of the blood, that make it smell bad.

She has been passive all this time, and it has achieved nothing. Nothing. No matter what she has wanted, she has subordinated it to loyalty. Desire throttled down as inappropriate, anger sealed as improper, every single personal wish throttled aside.

And as she watches her hands on the pestle and mortar, a part of her mind says no, it wasn't like that, it wasn't like that at all, but the rising pulse in her blood is beginning to drown it out.

A truly loyal servant would have rid Kougaiji of the potential threats in his path before they became dangerous.

She imagines Nii gasping as she puts her spear through his stomach and watches him wriggle. Of course it's not immediately lethal. That's the point. Pain pays for pain.

She smiles.

Pain. Blood. Violence. The throbbing in her body.

And of course she could walk down the corridor to the room with the stone pillar where Kougaiji looks blankly at the sculpted lines of his mother's face and body, and she could . . .

. . . she could . . .

A pinch of this. A pinch of that. A drop of liquid to bind them together. By now the actions are automatic. She swallows and it recedes a little, leaving her alone in her head again, without other-Yaone who has the ideas and the dreams and the thoughts which sing in her like strong wine. These connections which she keeps on making are unreasonable, improper, unthinkable. She will not become like the other youkai. She will not. Kougaiji-sama promised to protect her. She is in his service. Doku is her friend. He'll help. She doesn't even have the comfort of ignorance. She can see what's happening, when she remembers to look, but it's getting harder and harder to separate then from now.

One of these days she isn't going to remember to dose herself.

it'll be fun, won't it?

It whispers in her blood, accelerating.


Kougaiji stands and looks up at the stone woman who is his mother, who gave birth to the body which his spirit wears, who gave him the earrings that Kougaiji-then would never have removed. Kougaiji-now has other preoccupations. Coming to stare at this statue is a habit which he has not yet bothered to break. He has other things to think about when he walks the corridors of the palace like a nightmare, and those who pass him are now grateful that he is too preoccupied to notice them.

you look so like your father

and now he is like his father in every way that counts

but you sound like her, and it makes me sick

He doesn't sound like his mother any more. The thought doesn't quite make him smile, but a dark light moves behind his eyes.

The world is in chaos, and he is the colossus that strides across it, taking what he wants, destroying what he wishes, sparing only if he chooses to do so. He had been blind for too long.

Gyokumen is wise and will provide the needed direction to his actions. He saw it in her eyes, in her mouth, as he combed her hair out, as she turned her face up to look at him, as her robe parted to show her breasts. She can hear the pulse which is beating through the entire world, and somewhere she is dancing to it.

He considers his retainers. They will be useful. Or used. Or both.

His body is still. His spirit is dancing. He dreams of blood.

He will find Genjou Sanzou and Son Goku and Cho Hakkai and Sha Gojyo and then he will tear them apart and take the sutra, and perhaps, if they are still alive afterwards, he will bring what is left back to the palace with them, because he will enjoy seeing their faces for a long time yet. They are strong. They could live for quite a considerable length of time.

He will speak and the other youkai will follow him and he will give them direction. The time for passivity is over. There is nothing in the world which can stop him from doing whatever he wants to do.

Lust for blood. Lust for bodies. Lust for flesh. Lust for life. Lust for power.

He's riding the pulse of the storm.


The Empress feels the pulse of the Minus Wave against her skin and through her body, screaming in the minds of the lesser youkai, whispering in the hearts of the higher-ranking ones, and she feels the storm above her, ready to shake the world.

And she smiles.


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