DISCLAIMER: Guess what? I don't own Inuyasha, because if I did – this little number would be in fictionpress.net ^_^
AN: Yep, here it is, the not so long awaited sequel to Soul Exchange. I never planned on making it – in fact I had no intention of making one. But even though I am happy with the way it ended before, I felt that I could still do more with the setting and situations. So don't mistake this for a continuation – because it's not. It's a sequel with a new plot.
And since someone complained about Shippo's lack of appearance, I'll be able to fit him in here this time ^_^
If you're new to this story then I suppose you don't have to read the first story, so just to help people get their bearings, or to those who can't remember what happened in the last story I'll have to include that kind of detail in the story. If you know it, feel free to skimp past it – if you don't – feel free to skimp past anyway! ^_^
Bearing in mind, Soul Exchange was one heck of a complicated story, so it's going to be quite hard to describe the settings and current relationships without making the story seem dull at the beginning. I'll try my best though (here's hoping).
Kagome's New Phobia…
Every turn seemed to lead no where, every doorway opened into another corridor, and every corridor appeared to stretch before her eyes. It was almost as if the palace was deliberately trying to keep her there forever. Well it was working… she was quite completely, and seriously lost.
She rounded another turn in the corridor and threw herself inside one of the doorways to her right, slamming the door shut and leaning against the side of the new corridor she was presented with. She couldn't run anymore… she was exhausted. Her breath came in short gasps and her hair had long fallen strew from their pins and her bangs plastered to her cheeks and neck with sweat.
Her mind was screaming at her to keep running, but her legs justcouldn't obey any more. She could run for years and she'd never find her way free… this was the Northern palace of the little offshore island, and the place was a labyrinth of corridors and dungeons. Though what else was she to expect? Sesshomaru governed this place… well… maybe he had governed this place. But he was the one who built it… he was the one who made it impossible for prisoners to escape.
Made it impossible for Kagome to escape.
A distant sound reached her ears and she clapped a hand over her mouth to still the noise of her heavy panting. She stared at a dark stain on the floor before her as her hearing strained to catch the distant sound in the near silent palace.
Footsteps. Unhurried, and sure footed. He always walked that way, like he knew where he was going all the time, like he owned the ground he walked on. Well, he really did now. The palace belonged to him.
Gradually they grew louder, as he eventually came closer… Kagome wanted to start running but she was torn. If she ran he would hear her, and he would know exactly where to find her. If she stayed, he might find her anyway, and it would then be too late to run.
The footsteps grew louder, and closer and she snapped her head towards the screen door she'd just come through, knowing he must be close now. The footsteps creaked the wooden boards of the corridor and she heard the planks under her own bare feet groan in answer.
He was on the other side of the door…
The footsteps had stopped and she didn't dare breathe as she waited. Was it too late to run? Did he know she was there? Was he even there, or was her mind playing tricks on her again? It did that a lot these days… Mostly because he made it that way…
For a moment she questioned her senses, wondering if she'd even heard the footsteps at all… before her eyes snapped from the floor to the screen with a sharp intake of breath. She bolted into movement, shoving away from the wall, the same moment the screen was thrown violently to the side to allow him entry.
She hadn't even run three steps before she felt a strong hand seize her arm and twist it roughly behind her back, forcing her to her knees with a stifled cry of pain. "No!" she choked out, trying to steady herself on the floor with her free arm.
"I'm tired of chasing you, I thought it might be amusing to keep you here like a rat in a maze…" she heard the scraping of metal on metal and twisted to look behind her. "But I'm bored, so you can go now."
And he didn't mean he planned to let her leave. For a moment she focused on his sharp eyes before looking up at the sword he was raising above her, ready to strike towards her neck. It wasn't his sword. He'd stolen it, the same time as when he'd stolen his brother's life. Toukijin… Sesshomaru's sword. He'd thrown away Tessaiga in favour of having a more powerful weapon that didn't falter when it was used to take human life.
"Please…" she whispered, cringing away from the blade that glinted in the light from the torches.
"Please?" he smiled, in a way that wasn't nasty or menacing. It was a pleasant one… let down only by the fact he was poising a sword steadily above her to detach her head from her body. He was mad. "Don't worry, I'll make it fast. You were always my favourite."
"Inuyasha…" she pleaded again, but his eye's didn't soften to her pleas. He barely looked like his old self anymore. He looked older, taller, a more formidable opponent than he had looked when he was seventeen. Now he hated the hair she loved so much, he'd hacked it in half and scraped it into a tight forbidding tie near the top of his head. He wasn't the boy she loved… not anymore.
He moved his arm, about to complete the swing that would end her life when he stopped and lifted his head to look into the distance, his ears twitching at some far off noise only he could hear. She stared at him in bewilderment for a moment… wondering if his conscience had finally clawed its way to the surface…
Until she felt the floor begin to tremble beneath her knees. She stared at her hand that picked up the very slight, but continuous rumbling. It could have been a small earthquake, but it only grew until the doors were flapping in their frames and distant crashes sounded the fall of objects off shelves and tables.
But all sounds were drowned out, including the pounding her heart made in her chest, as a faint splintering crack sound was heard. Followed by a soft roar of air… or… something…
"Earthquake, don't worry." Inuyasha reassured her, his grip tightened again on her arm, though she didn't catch his words as the corridor continued to quake around them and the roaring sound in the distance increased. He prepared to flick the sword towards her again, and suddenly Kagome didn't care about the distant noises in the old palace.
Until water suddenly crashed around the corner at the far end of their corridor, and started hurling towards them at break-neck speeds.
It was only seconds before the deafening roar of waves hit them that it all went eerily quiet and she heard Inuyasha speak, in a tone that made it seem like he was talking to her. "What does this mean?"
Then the roaring water switched back to full volume and crashed over their heads…
It was the third time that week she'd had the same recurring dream… She knew the meaning well. She'd known it ever since that day a few weeks ago. She'd denied what she'd seen… what her intuition had been telling her.
In a way, she still didn't believe any of it.
Inuyasha couldn't possibly be planning to kill her…
It had been a little over three years since everything had settled down. A little over three years was how long Inuyasha had been ruling the Southern half of the Inu Youkai's island. After the fuss of who was to take the throne after Inuyasha's father's death, it had finally found an owner. It wasn't easy being King… and looking back, Kagome wondered if that was what had drove him insane. He'd always confided in her about how tedious and boring the job was. Sometimes it was too challenging… and sometimes it wasn't challenging enough.
It was a big Kingdom… and a lot of Inu Youkai in one big Kingdom added up to a lot of problems being thrown at their leader day in day out.
But after a while, Inuyasha had began coping with the problems, learning about which ones to ignore and which ones to take priority in. He'd started to become to type of ruler that the people could depend on.
Or so everyone had thought. It turned out that maybe the confident (if not cocky, egotistical and arrogant) smile of his had been a fake mask to hide his true feelings. His true nature.
Well, whatever the reason for his slow decline in sanity, it hadn't been apparent for a long time. But Kagome had started getting a hint of unease after she woke up from one of her more disturbing dreams. She'd managed to discuss it with Miroku later on that morning.
"A bad dream?" Miroku raised an eyebrow at her across the bed they were both making. "That's unusual. Don't you have dream catchers for that sort of thing?"
"They're only for the superstitious morons." Kagome rolled her eyes.
"Well they usually work for me." Miroku shrugged with placid smile.
"Uh… no offence or anything…" Kagome added quickly, fluffing up the pillows of Sango's bed.
"So what was it about?"
Kagome looked down sheepishly. "Stupid really…"
"Go on. I don't care. I listen to Inuyasha talking a lot. I hear stupid things all the time." Miroku reasoned.
Kagome sighed as she turned her attention back to making the bed. "Well… I was in a palace… this one I think… or the Northern one…" she shook her head as she tried to remember the sketchy details. "Someone was chasing me… an Inu Youkai I think… I remember the white hair."
"Who was it exactly."
"I don't know." Kagome gave an annoyed shrug. "A guy with white hair. Or a girl."
"On an island full of people like that…" Miroku looked thoughtful. "That narrows down our suspects to… about six thousand people?"
She sighed as she set the pillows back down and pulled the blanket straight with his help. "That was the tame bit. I had my head sliced off by a big sword after that…"
Miroku gave her a worried look. "You mean… like Inuyasha's-"
"No!" Kagome shook her head quickly. "Not Tessaiga… it was thinner… it didn't transform or anything…"
"Maybe it was Bankotsu's sword… what's it called… Banryuu?" Miroku gave a slanted smile.
Kagome laughed at that. "It wasn't that big… besides, the guy had white hair remember?"
"Or maybe that's what he'd like you to believe." Miroku said in a wise tone.
"I don't understand what you have against that guy." Kagome reasoned. "He's human, like us. That makes the number of humans on this island add up to a grand total of… four."
"Don't forget Lady Inu." He pointed out.
Lady Inu being Inuyasha's mother… she was more ferocious and determined at heart than a whole village of Inu Youkai put together. She had to be, she was Inuyasha's mother after all. "Right… five then."
"And don't forget Fushi, and the baby." Miroku continued.
"Alright… seven then."
"And if Sango's next child isn't the love child of her secret lover then that'll be eight humans." He said proudly.
"Don't count your chickens before they hatch, Miroku." Kagome warned him playfully. "Anyway… what do you have against Bankotsu anyway?"
"He's the new guy. You always have to give the new guy a hard time."
"That's no excuse."
"Ok then…" Miroku narrowed his eyes. "What I'd like to know is how a guy like him managed to worm his way into top position in the army in under three weeks upon arrival in this place? I mean… he's human for god's sakes."
"You make it sound like it's a bad thing." Kagome scolded him.
"You know what I mean." He gave a sigh. "He just rubs me the wrong way."
"Well… he got to be captain of the guard because he's a good fighter… experienced… and loyal… His power could probably equal half the men in the army already. He's a great asset to us." Kagome said reasonably.
"Yeah… but that's what makes him so dangerous." Miroku sighed again. "I don't know Kagome, but I don't think we need him. At the way things are going, I don't think we're going to break out into war with Sesshomaru any time soon. Putting a guy like Bankotsu in charge of the army is like loading a bow with an arrow that never misses and aiming it at Sesshomaru whilst yelling 'it's ok, we're not seriously trying to attack you or anything!'. See my point?"
"Vaguely." Kagome frowned at him with concern. "A little tense these days are we?"
"Well… third kid. The mood swings are hitting Sango hard again… one more pot thrown at me and I think my hair will start turning white."
Kagome's gaze slid up to his hair. She made a show of gasping and staring at him. "Oh god…"
"What?" his hands flew to his hair at once.
"I think I just saw…" she shook herself out of her stare. "It's probably nothing. It's impossible to go white at twenty one isn't it?"
"Kagome." He gave her a dry look.
"Only kidding, where'd your sense of humour go?" she smiled cheerfully at him and pick up a bundle of cloth to toss to him. "That's for Sango. The seamstress had them freshly made for her seeing as her dresses don't fit anymore."
"Great. Yet another way to point out how big she is." He looked from the bundle in his hands to Kagome. "This is just asking to get punched."
"You should be used to ducking by now." Kagome started for the door. "Anyway, I have stuff to do… you go make sure she gets those dresses."
"Bye Miroku!" she left him to tidy up the rest of the room by himself.
Inuyasha sighed inwardly as he started rolling his stylus backwards and forwards across the table before him. He starting matching it to Bankotsu's pacing, sending it left when Bankotsu turned and walked left, and then right when Bankotsu turned back the other way.
"So as you can see, enrolling more soldiers is the key to an invincible army." Bankotsu was saying. Inuyasha was only half listening. "The men are impressive as they are. They are quite skilled and… so on… but I'm sure that if you make it a law that every male over the age of fourteen should enrol in the army, then you'll have a one thousand strong army in no time."
"Full of amateurs and adolescents who know how to hold a hoe better than a sword?" Inuyasha slipped in evenly.
"Then we'll train them."
"And while all the men are off training for this so called 'war' who will be tending the fields and providing the food that we eat? There aren't enough women to cover all the jobs that men do." Inuyasha shook his head. "Nice idea… but not really necessary."
"But there is word from the spies over in the North kingdom that Sesshomaru has managed to obtain a new weapon. A sword… Toukijin, I think. They think its power could rival that of your Tessaiga."
"No sword can rival Tessaiga." Inuyasha rolled his eyes dissmissively.
He didn't notice the way Bankotsu's fists clenched by his sides. "Ok. But what if he decides to test this theory out for real? Then we'd find our selves hip deep in battle."
"Well that's when we'll start to worry." Inuyasha frowned. "You're becoming as bad as the royal pain-in-the-ass advisors. Stop worrying over nothing."
"This isn't nothing. Sesshomaru poses a serious threat to this Kingdom. He's still after your throne." Bankotsu argued turning his gaze back to the floor as he resumed pacing. "You told me about his attempts to force it from you three years ago. He failed, but his army has been growing stronger, and he has been growing stronger as well. All you've done is sit back and procrastinated."
He took Inuyasha's silence as sullen acceptance of this fact. "I say we go ahead and increase the number of men in the army, then we'll be a formidable force against the North again."
There was a knock at the door, interrupting Bankotsu's speech, "Come in!" he barked.
The door slipped open and Miroku glanced around the study before looking at Bankotsu. "Who're you just talking to?"
"What, are you blind? I was talking to…" he trailed off as he turned around to find an empty desk. The window behind it was now wedged open and the drape was swaying in the light breeze beside it. "Shit… not again…"
"Don't worry, he did that all the time to the last captain." Miroku shrugged. "If you ask me he's just jealous because you have a bigger sword."
"I agree." Bankotsu smirked in approval. "I'll just have to talk to him later." He said, marching past Miroku as he left the King's study.
Kagome journeyed across the extensive green meadows that lay before the palace, past the two lakes that stretched before it like a sort of moat, and headed into the forest around the green bowl towards an old brook that flowed through the trees. It was quite a walk, but it was pleasant. Being on the South side of the island, the weather there was almost tropical and nearly always hot… sometimes a little too hot on those humid summer days. But it was just the start of spring, the time of year when trees and plants were beginning to blossom and the weather was comfortably warm without any humidity.
There wasn't a cloud in the sky.
She slipped through the spaced out trees, heading down the beaten old track she must have taken hundreds of times to the brook. Along the way she smiled as she noticed signs of the new year were sprouting along the path. Irises were beginning to bud and a few orchids here and there…
Every now and then she stopped to pick a few of the bright flowers and added them to an accumulating bunch in her hand. Perhaps she'd give them as a present to Sango, to try and give her some comfort through the pains of pregnancy.
Or maybe she should give them to Inuyasha…
She reached the brook after a few minutes and slipped out of her sandals and socks to sit on the bank and dangle her feet in the warm water. It must have flowed from a spring for the water to be so pleasant… that's why it was her favourite to just sit by and listen to the birds sing.
This was what life was all about. It wasn't about the adrenaline rushes of adventures and action… the cold sting of hurt and betrayal that struck every now and then. It wasn't about the heat and gore of battle or the immense joy at victory, or the incredible woe of defeat…
Life was like this… just partaking in simple pleasures that she could enjoy everyday. The companionship of real friends that she would be with for the rest of her life… the warm summer days she could enjoy outside, and the cold winter nights she could spend curled up in her warm bed with a good book.
That was another thing that made her smile. If it wasn't for Inuyasha, she wouldn't be able to read those books she loved so much…
This was how it was meant to be. But she still couldn't help but feel there was still something missing in her life. Though she knew exactly what it was.
A few metres behind her she heard the heavy tread of a horse's hooves on the soft ground along with the snort of the animal's breathing and the clinking of its reins. She didn't bother turning around. She just kept her eyes closed and carried on basking in the sun's warmth.
"Oh look, it's a girl about to get a sunburn."
"Oh look, it's a boy about to screw off along with the horse he rode in on." Kagome replied evenly.
"Jeez… are you still mad?" she heard him come closer and she cracked open an eye to make sure she wasn't about to get trodden on by his huge horse. "I said I was sorry."
"You didn't seem sorry at the time. You looked like you were enjoying it." She shot back, shuffling further along to bank and out of stomping range. "In fact you laughed."
"Well… it was quite funny…"
"Sadistic little git…" she grumbled, shuffling further along as his horse stepped closer to the bank of the stream.
"You sting me." He sighed. "And here I was ready to apologise and give you these."
She looked up at him and saw the flowers he was holding down to her. "Oh – Inuyasha – for me?"
"Well… actually they were for Sango, cause she's mad at me too."
"Why's she mad at you?" she took the flowers anyway.
"For just blinking too loudly I suppose." He shrugged.
"Well… these were for Sango too, but I suppose you could have them." She held up the flowers she'd picked and smiled when he took them. "Now you can give her my flowers and I'll give her yours."
"No way – my flowers look better – gimme them back!" he stuck his hand out.
"You romantic fool, you." Kagome laughed and kept a hold of the flowers in her hands. "You handed them over. They're mine now."
"Don't refuse the King, little girl." He said with mock seriousness.
"Ooh – good impression, I nearly shivered." She snickered.
"Alright. I warned you." He leaned over and hook a finger around the edge of her sleeve, before urging his horse to walk into the stream.
"Inuyasha – no – not again!" Kagome stammered as he pulled her along with him. She desperately tried to stay on the bank. "No – this is my best kimono you rat bag! There could be leeches in there! And… sharp stones! And killer fish!"
"I heard they had Piranhas too." Inuyasha grinned as he gave her a sudden tug that had her staggering into the water.
"Ew! No!" She gaped down at her wet kimono… but he only pulled her deeper into the water, while he stayed nice and dry on top of his horse. "Oh my god – something brushed past my foot! Leech! Oh god!"
She hated leeches. Her second phobia after mosquitoes and other biting insects that sucked her blood. Just the thought of slimy unseen invertebrates under the water, latching onto her bare, tender legs was enough to have her freaking out in a major way.
"Relax Kagome… there aren't any leeches in the water." He told her, with a good laugh at her expense.
She stopped squirming and glared at him. "I. Hate. You."
"That's too bad, because I just love you."
A painful pang shot through her heart and she tried to keep her expression from faltering. He said things like that from time to time… and they hurt, because she knew he didn't mean them. His words didn't even come close to how he felt about her. Sure there was affection… but was there love?
She forced herself to smile as she let the pain pass as easily as it had penetrated her soul. She gripped his hand and gave him a sharp tug. He half fell, only catching himself just in time from falling in. "Wait – Kagome – I don't bend that way – let go!"
"No – this is too much fun!" she laughed at his expense this time as she walked backwards, dragging him with her.
"Ah – shit!" he slipped off the horse and right into the water that came up to her waist. He disappeared from view and Kagome laughed quietly to herself as his horse ambled off seeing as his master wasn't on board anymore.
For a long time Inuyasha didn't surface, and after a while Kagome was beginning to get nervous. "Inuyasha?" she called with a fading smile, wading forward through the water with her arms stretched under the surface, trying to feel for a body. "Inuyasha – don't play games – this isn't funny!"
She couldn't see him, or feel him, and she started to panic and began looking around. The current wasn't that strong… he couldn't have been swept away… but what if he'd hit his head?
Kagome cast that thought aside – Inuyasha's skull was too thick to even contemplate brain damage.
Suddenly something pinched on her calf and she squeaked, whipping around to try and see the offender. Inuyasha suddenly surfaced out of the water, pushing his incredible hair out of his face.
"You pinched me!" she accused.
"No I didn't." he held up a squirming little black slug-like thing between his claws. "It was a leech. I got it off you."
Kagome's scream was so powerful he cringed a little and had to flatten his ears. He'd never seen a human move so fast in his entire life as she pegged it for shore, still screaming.
She hauled herself up onto dry land and quickly began running her hands over her legs frantically. "Get them off! Get them off! Get 'em off me!"
"I think we found you a new phobia." He observed as he tossed the little bug into the water and started wading back towards shore and the hysterical Kagome. "Chill, Kagome, it's gone – there aren't any more,"
Kagome made a strangled noise, but her hands slowed down from where they clawed at her legs. She gave a great shudder. "I… HATE… leeches…!"
Inuyasha pulled himself onto the bank and without much thought, took hold of her ankle and pulled her leg up, causing Kagome to topple back with an 'oof!'. He tutted critically at the little mark on her calf. "Looks like you got a little hickey. And look – it's shaped like a star."
"More like a star fish actually." Kagome huffed, pulling her leg out of his grip indignantly, hoping he would mistake her blush for her still getting over her panic attack.
He laughed and stood up, giving her damp hair a short ruffle. "You're a funny girl."
He probably meant 'funny' as in 'strange'. It was an affectionate compliment either way. She watched him with a hopeless sigh as he went to retrieve his horse and pulled himself up onto the saddle, a little stiffly since he was weighed down by wet clothes.
Once he was up he steered towards her and ran a hand through his hair. "Oh yeah – Sango says could you try and find Fushi? She's lost him again."
"She's always losing her son."
"He's been running away ever since he could walk." Inuyasha nodded in agreement. "But she's busy, and since you're like a magnet to the kid she figured you could help her with that."
"As always." She gave him a mock salute and he returned it as he started to walk the horse away from the stream. Kagome watched him go until he was out of sight, half wanting to kick herself for being such a lovesick fool.
Then she wanted to slap herself when she realised he'd snagged both bunches of flowers for Sango. "That rotten little…"
Bankotsu lay back on top of one of the large boulder rocks along the beech, his head cushioned on his arms and a faint smile as he absorbed the warmth of the sun on his face. After spending nearly a decade underground in a grave, dead to the world, it was nice to cherish the sunlight. He'd never appreciated it before, but… that's what second chances were for.
"Bankotsu, elder brother!"
He sat up to see two figures making their way through the sand towards him and his boulder. One of them was running towards him happily, the second hung back, walking at a more sedate and dignified pace.
"There you are Jakotsu." Bankotsu gave him a short cheerful wave. "How's it hanging Renkotsu?"
"Low." The monk-like man commented dryly, watching Jakotsu run haplessly to sit by their leader with a distasteful frown.
"So – how's the infiltration going?" Jakotsu asked happily. Hanging around the beech all day with Renkotsu was not the highlight of his life, obviously. It was refreshing to see Bankotsu again.
"According to plan." The young man replied smoothly. "They don't suspect a thing… though that monk, Miroku, may be some trouble…"
"Oh we can handle him." Jakotsu dismissed with a wave. "I can't wait to meet your friends."
"They're not our friends." Renkotsu broke in.
"I was being sardistic."
"You mean, sarcastic."
"Yeah, probably." Jakotsu shrugged. "So how strong is their King? Is he anything like Lord Inu."
"Hard to tell." Bankotsu scratched his cheek thoughtfully. "I've only been around for three weeks, he hasn't shown off any skill as of yet. But… he does have a certain… air similar to his father."
"Do you think he's stronger?" Renkotsu frowned.
"Possibly." Their leader shrugged again. "Well, it doesn't matter for now. I assume Suikotsu is off on his little mission then?"
Renkotsu smiled at this and Jakotsu broke out into a grin. "Of course. He left for the Northern Kingdom this morning. By nightfall he should have overthrown their King and become the new ruler of the North."
"Excellent." Bankotsu grinned. "By the end of the week I'll be in control of this Kingdom and we'll have the whole island at our beck and call. Looks like this revenge stuff is working out just as planned…"
AN: And there you have it, the first chapter to the sequel ^_^. If you don't know who Bankotsu, Jakotsu and the rest of the Shichinin-tai are… then the best I can do is direct you to the manga translations for more character info. and things like that. Since they were the main villains through volumes 24 – 28 I'll be using them in this story. They hung around stubbornly for quite a while… like bad tomato stains on your best white shirt or something…
Anyway, feel free to ask questions if you think I need to elaborate on some things, because I have a feeling I skimped over some detail somewhere.