Posted July 8, 2007
AN: …I'm alive? Hehe…
•• Purgatorio ••
By: Shun'u Hanashiro
Chapter 6: On Hallowed Ground
The serpentine path of the garden was lined with well-worn cobblestones. Pony-tail bobbing with her movement, Rin loped along the path as she searched over and under each of the seven stone statues of the deities that guarded the inner garden. She had already scoured the estate for her guardian earlier and discovered that he had stepped out of his estate. Inquiring in the kitchen, the housekeeper and maids informed her that Sesshoumaru-sama had left in the wee hours of the morning before sunlight had even begun to glimmer in the horizon. A little prodding had revealed that Jaken was not with him and was holed away somewhere on the grounds.
"Jaken-sama," Rin yelled for what seemed like the hundredth time.
The little green retainer was nowhere to be found. Last night Jaken-sama had been absentminded and gruffer than was his wont, causing a niggling anxiety to disturb the otherwise imperturbable girl. Rin frowned and stopped next to a stone bench.
Left and right she looked. Nothing was out of place. In fact, everything was peculiarly normal: peculiarly quiet. Normally, when Sesshoumaru-sama left on one of his travels or to patrol his lands there was an understanding that everyone in the castle could relax. Rin wasn't oblivious to the change. She was a child still and people tended to forget her existence other than to provide her meals or ensure that she was bathed. They often forgot that she had eyes and ears just like anyone else. And she was an exceptionally observant child. What her senses were telling her now was that something was not normal in the air. There was too much stillness, too much silence, as though the air itself had stopped circulating.
Rin resumed her search a bit faster. Panic was not there yet, but it was slowly building a bubble within her chest and she was suddenly afraid. She had not been alone in a very long time.
A thump sounded. Rin skidded to a halt and her eyes widened. Carefully stepping over the cobblestones and squeezing through the bushes, she peered around a flowering bush of deep pink azaleas. Rin gave a small gasp of joy and clapped her hands.
"Jaken-sama, I've found you."
Jaken moaned. He was face down next to a hidden stone stool that was nestled beneath one of the willow trees. The kappa groaned as he pushed off onto hands and knees. His staff of two heads was propped up against the willow tree, the lady facing Rin.
"Ugh," Jaken grunted when his left arm gave out and he fell on his face.
Rin ran up to him then and helped to prop him up into a sitting position. "Jaken-sama? Are you all right? What happened?"
"Rin?" Jaken croaked through a parched throat. His beady yellowed eyes blinked slowly. He still felt disoriented but at least he was talking.
"Jaken-sama, where is Sesshoumaru-sama?" Rin asked bluntly.
She did not normally worry over her guardian as he was fully capable of taking care of himself, but that earlier panic in the back of her mind would not let up until she received a proper response. Jaken rubbed at his aching head. He peered at Rin from bleary eyes, coughing a couple of times before he could speak.
"Lord Sesshoumaru went to Inuyasha's Forest," Jaken finally said.
Rin released a breath she did not know that she had been holding. That was all? If Sesshoumaru-sama was just going to Inuyasha's Forest then there was nothing to worry about. He often went there to check up on his brother and Kagome Oneesama. Rin felt the panic finally melt away. Sesshoumaru-sama would be back after he made sure that Inuyasha and Kagome Oneesama were all right.
"Ne," Rin nudged the snoring kappa awake, "why didn't you go with him, Jaken-sama?"
Jaken jerked awake and grunted as he shook the cobwebs from his head. "I was going to…"
Rin blinked and waited. She knew from long experience that there was more to the story coming. And indeed the kappa began to sweat under her steady gaze. Jaken stabbed his toe into the ground and hunched his shoulders. Rin tilted her head to the side. The end of her pony-tail brushed her shoulder.
He huffed and hopped up onto his feet. Rin followed him as he waddled through the brush onto the paved walkway, mumbling along the way about his aching bones. As they neared the steps that would lead them back into Inuyama Castle, Rin heard Jaken grouse about bad-tempered dog demons and their inability to make up their minds. Rin blinked and tried to interpret the rest but Jaken's grumbles became even more indecipherable after that point.
"Sesshoumaru-sama!" Jaken scrambled to catch up with his lord.
Jaken tripped over a thick tree root overlaid with moss. He cursed and met up with his lord next to the Goshinboku. The ancient tree was easily the largest and grandest of all living things in Inuyasha's Forest. Its trunk was nearly the span of a small outbuilding. Lord Sesshoumaru was silent and still. Jaken could tell that he was listening for something as he had a tendency to tilt his head to the side when he was in deep concentration. It was a habit adopted as a child from his lady mother; one that he had never outgrown when he reached adulthood.
Jaken took a moment to catch his breath while Lord Sesshoumaru observed his surroundings. They had trekked the distance from the heart of the Western Lands to Inuyasha's Forest in half of the time it normally took them. Lord Sesshoumaru had seemed in a great rush, never stopping to give his retainer the frequent breaks that he normally did. Instead he had set a fast pace that would have left Jaken in the dust if he had not used his cloud of youki to expedite their travel.
Finally, Sesshoumaru spoke, "Jaken, you will return to the castle."
"Sesshoumaru-sama?" Jaken exclaimed before he could stop himself. When the taiyoukai turned to look narrow-eyed at him, Jaken quailed. "I mean, yes, Sesshoumaru-sama. Right away, Sesshoumaru-sama."
Sesshoumaru stared at him a bit longer, making the kappa feel about as large and insignificant as a fly with those aged gold eyes penetrating through him. Jaken dropped to the ground and started yammering in fright. He hadn't seen that feral expression directed at him in a long time, and although he somehow knew instinctively that his lord was not focused on him, and was somehow looking through and past him to something that only he could see, Jaken feared for his life.
"You will watch over Rin," Sesshoumaru said. His voice was soft and distant. "I will be away indefinitely."
"Yes, my lord." Jaken trembled when he felt the taiyoukai's youki gather. And suddenly he was airborne and on his way back to the land of the west, back to the ancient temples and gilded castles nestled in rolling hills of green. He lost consciousness when Lord Sesshoumaru's minor castle, Inuyama-jo, came into sight.
Sesshoumaru did not wait for Jaken to disappear from eyesight before he strode over to the dry well sitting just outside the line of trees. The surging energy that had lapped against his senses upon nearing Inuyasha's Forest was strongest near the well. A well that he knew led to Kagome's time and home. Sesshoumaru frowned. His keen nose was able to detect that Inuyasha had been here recently as well as the monk and taijiya. The traces of their energies left behind indicated that Inuyasha had entered the well. Sesshoumaru's jaw tightened involuntarily.
Coming to the lip of the well he gazed down into its depths. Allowing his awareness to expand, he could see the energy flow from the forest into the well like a waterfall of spiritual energy. It was as if the forest was a funnel and the well the receptacle for the spirits. The crying that he had heard in his shared dream peaked here at the well, and if he focused he could see the individual spirits like strands of string roped together. The rope was thick and white, and jammed the old well to capacity. Tenseiga pulsed and quivered in its scabbard next to the dormant Toukijin.
Placing a hand on the hilt of his legacy, Sesshoumaru placed the other on the lip of the well. Energy sizzled and sparked where his palm met weatherworn chipped wood. Old magic wrapped around his fingers and slithered up his hand to run parallel along the crimson markings at his wrist. Sesshoumaru felt the force of the spirits pushing at his back and yet at the same time the well repulsed him away. He hissed in unvoiced fury, disliking that anything would dare to coerce or force him in any direction that he did not desire.
Sesshoumaru gripped Tenseiga harder, feeling the scabbard creak under his fingers. The sword flared in that moment and a blue iridescent light could be seen from the edges of the scabbard where the metal was encased. Sesshoumaru blinked. In that brief moment of clarity he had seen within the funnel of spirits a slip of time. The well was full to overflowing with spirits being vacuumed into that darkness and there was no room in it for a living being to traverse. Yet Tenseiga had shown him otherwise.
And now he sat in Kagome's home. A myriad of scents assaulted the demon lord and he had to fight to retain his composure. Across from him the ghostly kitsune was smirking and the shikon shards in his earlobes seemed to mock his discomfort with their twinkling light. Sesshoumaru clenched his jaw and looked elsewhere before the urge to shred the kitsune to pieces overtook him. He could hear Kagome bustling about in the kitchen. The clang of pots and the susurration of softly running water preceded an odd ticking noise and then a pop. He could smell burning and could only presume that she was making tea as she had suggested before leaving him with only the kitsune for company.
"So," the ghost began.
"This Sesshoumaru does not wish to converse with you."
The kitsune rolled his eyes, somehow conveying annoyance and resignation all in one motion. "You never change, little prince."
"Lord Sesshoumaru to you," he rebuked.
"Need I remind you that I fully remember your first steps as a toddler?" the kitsune's eyes brightened with malicious humor, "Or that once upon a time you used to wake up crying because you missed your daddy?"
Sesshoumaru slammed a hand down onto the low table before him and rose to one knee. He had every intention of reaching through and ripping the spine right out of his former teacher's body via his throat when the sound of muffled laughter reached Sesshoumaru's ears. Head swiveling around, he discovered Kagome, shaking and trying not to rattle the tea tray in her hands. Her blue eyes were watering and she was biting her bottom lip in a futile attempt to reign in her laughter. It was apparent that she had heard the entirety of their exchange.
Had it been anyone else, they would have blushed or become embarrassed or tried to stutter out some kind of explanation to recover their dignity. However, this was Sesshoumaru and he was above such things. Instead he gave in to his baser urges and reached across to swipe at the smug kitsune that was the cause of his current predicament.
Kagome yelped in surprise and nearly dropped her tray of green tea and teacakes when instead of making contact Sesshoumaru flew through the ghost and landed across the table.
"Sesshoumaru-san, are you all right?" She carefully set her tray on the table and hurried across to where he had landed.
The kitsune glided up behind her to peek over her shoulder at the fallen demon lord. Sesshoumaru hadn't taken much of a fall as he had caught himself mid-propulsion to pivot on his feet, but that did not mean he was happy about not being able to physically harm the fox demon. He glared at the smirking kitsune all the while that Kagome inspected him for injury.
She finally sighed after it became obvious he suffered no harm besides his wounded dignity. Returning to the teapot, Kagome knelt and poured out three cups of tea. Although the ghost could not consume any it had seemed rude to not offer some to her guest.
"Sesshoumaru-san, Yuurei-san, please have a seat."
The kitsune calmly lowered and crossed his legs in front of him. He curiously sniffed at the tea cup set before him and his hands wrapped around the blue glazed cup. There was a soft white glow about his hands where they hovered just above the ceramic.
"Ah, how long it has been since I have felt this warmth," he sighed wistfully. His slightly upturned nose twitched as he sniffed at the aroma. "I can smell the heavenly scent. Thank you, little miko."
She bowed slightly. "I am Kagome; please call me by my name." Across from her, Sesshoumaru frowned at her friendly attitude towards the ghost. He would have to speak with her later about that.
"And my name is Inari," the kitsune dipped his head. His name was familiar to Kagome but she could not recall exactly in what context she had heard it before. Shoving the random curiosity to the back of her mind, she took a sip of her tea.
Sesshoumaru shifted impatiently. "Why are you here?"
Inari blinked as though he had forgotten the demon lord's presence. "As to that, I was hoping that the little miko could enlighten me."
Both pair of eyes trained on her. Kagome shrank a little under the intense scrutiny.
"Ah, um," she rotated the cup in her hands twice before looking up. "I have no idea." The slight questioning lilt to her answer made both males blink. Kagome sighed.
"What I mean is that I don't know any more than you do as to how you arrived here, Inari-sama" she said. A thought occurred to her. She frowned. "And how did you get here, Sesshoumaru-san?"
"I came through the well," he stated as though it was the simplest thing in the world to do.
"But how?" Kagome fisted her hand beneath her chin and rested her elbow on the table. "I tried to go through it earlier and it would not let me."
When Sesshoumaru did not answer immediately, Inari glanced at him. There was an almost imperceptible discomfort in his mannerism, one that Inari was all too familiar with from days long gone. As a child Sesshoumaru would only be reticent for one of two reasons. Either he had done something that he was not supposed to do, or he had done something that he did not fully comprehend. The kitsune was willing to bet this was the latter as the young lord very obviously came to this place and time to meet with the miko.
"You do not know, do you," Inari challenged.
A muscle in Sesshoumaru's jaw jumped. His eyebrow shot upwards as he looked down his nose at the kitsune. "This Sesshoumaru knows not what you infer."
"Hmph," Inari snorted. How typical. "Of course you do, little prince. You came through the well – which by the by I would like to know a little more about at a later time – but you do not know how you got here."
"That is neither here nor there," Sesshoumaru said. "And I did not come here to converse with you."
"No," Inari retorted, "You came here to visit your girlfriend."
Kagome promptly choked on her tea. Coughing and gasping for her breath, she managed to get out, "I'm not his girlfriend."
"I can't believe you did that," Kagome stomped her way upstairs.
"And I cannot believe that you offered to let that cretin stay here," Sesshoumaru replied venomously. "What idiocy has overtaken you now?"
Kagome stopped and pivoted on the balls of her feet. She glared up at the demon lord. It was almost pitiful how she still had to crane her neck despite the fact that she was one step above the one he was standing on. Without thinking about it her finger came up and poked him in the chest.
"He isn't staying here." She poked him again for good measure. "He's just staying on the shrine grounds until we figure this thing out."
Sesshoumaru's amber eyes narrowed to slits. "Do you normally offer sanctuary to random spirits or are you doing this just to irritate me? Because I fail to see why his homelessness is our problem."
Kagome tugged at her hair in frustration. "Listen, Sesshoumaru, I know that you don't care for your sensei-"
"Former sensei," he interrupted. "A very dead sensei. One which you offered to allow free reign in your home. Perhaps I was mistaken in thinking that you were brighter than Inuyasha. What is it with you two and dead people?"
Kagome gasped in outrage.
The fine hairs on the back of Sesshoumaru's neck stood on end as he belatedly realized he stood on hallowed grounds and that he was currently insulting a time-traveling miko of unknown powers. Being the demon that he was, Sesshoumaru refused to back down or apologize for his slanderous comments. He held his ground as the air around Kagome electrified and caused the long strands of their hair to levitate. Sesshoumaru felt a prickling heat form along his skin and his youki surged in response to the holy power. The shrine trembled beneath their feet as energy fluxed between them and a rumbling could be heard for miles away.
Outside, lounging in the God Tree without a care in the world, with one leg dangling beneath him and the other stretched out on the branch he had chosen for the night, the kitsune rolled his eyes heavenward.
"He's done it now. Maybe I should have concentrated more of his studies on politics and diplomacy than swordplay."
Inuyama-jo (Inuyama Castle)– literally translated to "Dog Mountain" Castle
hmm… something that I've added to give a little reality to my fic. Some history behind Inuyama Castle: Constructed in 1537, Inuyama Castle's donjon is considered Japan's oldest. The castle has never been destroyed – unlike other castles that have been rebuilt over the years. The castle stands on top of a small hill next to the Kiso River, and offers great views of the surrounding region from its top floor. From 1617 until the end of the feudal age, Inuyama Castle served as the seat of the local Naruse lords. After a 24 year long interruption in the beginning of the Meiji Era, it is now again the property of the Naruse family and Japan's only privately owned castle. It is actually situated in western Japan, nearest to Nagoya which is a little northeast of Kyoto and Osaka and West of Tokyo (Edo). I am using it as Sesshoumaru's getaway estate. His main seat of power is in Kyoto (Heian) – in my fics anyhow…
Taiyoukai – great youkai, inferring higher demon
Youkai – demon
Youki – demonic energy
Sensei – teacher
Hanyou – half demon
Kitsune – fox spirit/demon (usually very playful and tricky)