The red of the sunset was fading slowly to a dusky purple though the clouds above still seemed to glow crimson. The stream below them gave off little curls of mist that would be sure to develop into a dense fog before morning. The last of the natural light died gracefully on the horizon and it's reflection on the water seems to hover for a few moments more to the human who watched the display from her perch near the base of a massive tree.
She lingered here, looking for answers in the peace of her surroundings to questions she couldn't quite voice. A heavy sigh was rewarded instantly with a comfortable pat on her head. She rolled her eyes up dramatically and pretended she could see through the top of her head to the little form clasped tightly to her, using her hair as a nest.
"Shippo, don't worry so much. We'll find a way out of this." She tried assuring the kitsune but so far, all her words had fallen on deaf ears. He tangled her mane in another knot as he wriggled around until he could pear down at her, bracing his front paws on her forehead. He didn't say anything, he just gave her that disbelieving look that she had been getting all day.
Rin was calmly running in fast circles, trying to catch the first fireflies that had begun their nightly dance. "Shippo-kun, Kagome-sama is right. Sesshoumaru-sama would never hurt you. He's the best!" she said brightly. "Sesshoumaru-sama saved Rin."
"Rin, sweetheart," she heard the little girl giggle at the endearment. "Please don't call me Kagome-sama." she requested yet again.
Rin gave her a perplexed look and announced for the fourth time that day, "Sesshoumaru-sama wouldn't like it if Rin didn't...Sesshoumaru-sama claimed you."
"He did not claim me." Kagome was losing her carefully harnessed calm. These two days had proven to be too much. She had not expected the Youkai Lord to return so early or for him to do such an outrageous thing as to demand her service for what would probably prove to be the rest of her luckless life. This added stress to her already buckling nerves was making her testy and jumpy with even the children.
She had been so pissed with his High and Mighty and his overblown attitude of suffering indulgence. When he had walked away from her last night, she had been stunned into immobility long enough for that arrogant jerk to set up a barrier. A very well made barrier that she could not break or bend.
She scowled. Just thinking about the pompousness of his orders made her cringe in distaste. Damn him...How do I always fall prey to these stupid kinds of events? Now Inuyasha will have to come save me again and I'll never hear the end of it. Kagome leaned back against the rough bark of the tree and contemplated the missing Demon Lord. His unconcern for Rin bordered on negligence as far a she was concerned. He hadn't even stayed to assure the girl that he would be back for her...from where ever it was he had gone. She shook her head. I am so going to make him regret this when he gets back and takes down that damn shield.
"You will be Rin's mother" floated through her head again. His voice, she could recall with prefect clarity, was smooth as silk and about as emotional as a brick, for all that she knew he cared about the child. Suddenly she had an idea. She grinned in amusement and concentrated her powers to form a barrier of her own...a few feet inside the Demon Lord's magical prison. She may not be able to leave, but now, no one could not get in either...she chuckled, imagining the look on Sesshoumaru's face...that is if he ever decided to show expression. Strange that the undead Miko Kikyo showed more emotion then the living Dog Demon...
She felt the weight on top of her head shift again. Shippo had been clinging to some part of her person since the morning sun had risen and she had explained Sesshoumaru's nightly visitation.
The kitsune had not been happy.
A strange feeling slithered over her, touching her already raw nerves and making her cringe. She felt the heat concentrating in a hollow near her neck. Reaching up with one shaking hand, she felt the burning of the jewel shards through her shirt. "What-" she wondered, pulling the broken necklace from under her clothing. It glowed an eerie pink, nestled innocently in the palm of her hand.
"What is going on?" she lightly poked and prodded the jewel around with one delicate finger and stared at the odd glow. "The shikon..."
It began to pulse. It was as if the jewel had picked up a heart beat and was coming to life under her nose. The slight breeze that had been cooling and ruffling her clothing stilled. The birds and insects silenced themselves and hid in the dense foliage, waiting and watching. But for what? Kagome didn't like the quiet. She never had.
The pulse sped up and grew in intensity, lighting the world like flashes of lightning on a storm soaked night. Though it was acting in such an odd fashion, Kagome felt no lingering touches of evil on the jewel. What ever was making the broken sphere react so, was doing it with the best of intentions. The jewel was not being tainted in any way.
Kagome cocked her head to one side and stared hard at the little piece of crystal that had made such a mess of her life and the lives of many others. She sadly pictured in her mind the vast number of lives and tears that had been shed for those lost to the greedy souls who sought after this thing. It was a grim thing that such a tiny object could cause so much hate and violence in the hearts of others.
It's purity in the young miko's grasp was just as intense as the tainted throb of Naraku's portion of the sacred jewel. She couldn't help but wonder if this was somehow his doing...but, when the jewel did nothing more then illuminate the surrounding forest in regular intervals, she relaxed and tucked the bead back into her shirt.
She felt slightly tired and drained, as if she had spent the day exerting all her strength on some strenuous task rather then fuming over her forced captivity. She decided to rest. After all, what more could possibly happen?
Kouga cracked open one swollen eye and searched with his dazed senses for the source of the sound that had dragged him back from the black abyss. A black clad foot centered in the warped haze that consumed his mind. Unable to turn his head to see the new threat hovering over him, Kouga growled a warning and tried to smell the creature.
The strong odor of dog demon was almost swallowed by the lingering scent of blood, wolf, and Naraku's miasma poison. "Leave," he growled at the demon. Nothing moved, but Kouga could feel the energy from the other presence swirl in angry response.
"You are trespassing," a cold voice replied.
The toe of one shoe moved ever so slightly and Kouga almost missed the movement. "Trespassing?" Kouga whispered, mostly to himself. "Am I not still in the Northern Lands?" He tried to lift himself on one bloody arm and failed. "Damn it..."
"You have entered the Western Lands," the cold voice continued. Then, the feet that had suddenly entered his line of vision abruptly left it. The soft tread of sound from the demon Lord's movements would have been lost to him completely if his ear had not been pressed to the ground.
"The west...I ran that far?" Kouga coughed and felt the warm slick touch of blood slide down his throat. He knew he should be dead, and he would be if the shards in his body had not repelled the demon Naraku's touch. "Naraku chased me that far?"
The wolf couldn't contain a yelp of surprise and pain from pouring form his broken body when he was abruptly jerked upward in a solid grasp to face the Lord of the West. "Naraku?" the cool voice was tainted now by a touch of venom. "That coward hanyou is in my lands?"
Kouga could now see the deadly and beautiful visage of Lord Sesshoumaru, a demon he had no wish to be on bad terms with. The silver demon gleamed in the fading light, his features haloed in the dusky pink and gold of the setting sun. Evening was falling and Kouga felt the bite of a lonely night to come. The pain of his injuries was nothing compared to the agony he felt in his heart. "Y-yes..." he whispered in answer to the question.
"Why?" The Dog demanded.
Kouga coughed blood and the sharp grasp on his shoulders loosened. "The shards..." Kouga sputtered, "he was after the shards."
Sesshoumaru grimaced at the pitiful creature in front of him. The broken body of the wolf reeked of the poison Naraku used, but the scent of the actual half demon himself was absent. From the shape the wolf was in, it was obvious that he had not succeeded in defeating the hanyou.
Sesshoumaru used this time to observe the demon in his grasp. He was no ordinary wolf, that was easy to tell, but was a high born tribe member. He was alone, but the scent of others still carried on the wind to the dog's sensitive nose. How this creature had beaten the others of his pack here was undetermined. And Sesshoumaru did not like uncertainties.
A closer inspection of the noble revealed a strange fluctuation in his Youki. He had the normal power signature of a wolf, a demon, and a member of nobility, but there was another energy he emitted that was uncommon. It was similar to the aura of the human Miko he now had in his care.
He frowned, finding his thoughts directed back to the ningen even after all his determined focusing to forget her. It was wasted by this strange reminder. He had to return tonight to the camp in the west where his ward and her new "mother" waited for him. The wolf was not worth his time, but Naraku...that was a thorn in his side that he could not afford to ignore.
Sesshoumaru knew all about the jewel shards and his half-brother's pathetic attempts at heroism and the accomplishments and failures the half human mutt subjected himself to. The quest for the shards had been on going for quite some time and though he had no personal interest in the jewel itself, the Taiyoukai knew that others did. Naraku was one of those others.
Naraku had dared in the past to take advantage of Sesshoumaru's ignorance of the matter of the shards and that was a mistake he would not repeat or forgive the bastard for. The insult to his pride and his honor was not lightly accepted by the Inu Youkai. Even beyond that, the hanyou bastard had mocked Sesshoumaru by presuming to touch his property, namely by kidnaping Rin, insulting him by assuming that the human child had enough sway over the lord's actions to warrant a single-minded rescue, and most recently, had attempted to absorb his person into the collective body of demons that created Naraku, to steal the lord's strength for his own twisted uses.
Sesshoumaru had a score to settle with this particular hanyou and nothing short of a long and prolonged torturous death would satisfy. If Naraku was after the shards, and was in the western lands, he would undoubtedly be searching for his half-brother and his pack of misfits too. That meant that he would be after the girl Sesshoumaru had stolen from his brother, seeing as she was the one that carried the shards of the jewel. That meant that Rin was in danger...
Sesshoumaru dropped the wolf with out a second thought and raced away so quickly, he appeared to vanish all together. It wasn't until he was too far away to turn back that he remembered that he had forgotten to demand to know why the demon spider had not succeeded in stealing the wolf's shards...after all, they had been glowing in a regular pulse from the wolf's legs, announcing to any who cared to look, of their presence...
The stillness that penetrated the air with the dog demon's abrupt departure screamed of danger and barely controlled rage. The very growth of the earth that Kouga could sometimes feel pulsing with its own heart beat was now holding it's breath. Kouga's breath hitched in unintentional sympathy.
He tried once more to get his limbs under him and drag himself to shelter. It was unfortunate that he was left to greet death is such a way...after so satisfying a council meeting. When his forearms refused his weight, he crashed back down to the earth that was fast becoming muddy with his own blood. "Damn it," he ground out.
The wounds, horrible as they were, should have closed by now. They would have disappeared thanks to his demonic healing abilities, except Naraku had sunk his greedy talons in his flesh just long enough to spread his poison. The pain that Kouga was fighting was not so much from the gashes and broken bones, but from the fire eating away at him from the inside. He was left wondering why the demon had recoiled so suddenly from him when he tried to touch the jewel shards. Kouga was aware that the shards had started to glow strangely and was prepared for their inevitable loss. Instead of having the shikon ripped from the skin of his legs, Naraku had been flung away in an explosion of light and power that Kouga did not summon, nor had any control over. It did not hurt him, but the charred edges of Naraku stunk in the heavy air. He sighed, knowing that he would be left to wonder why the shards had protected him voluntarily and then refused to lend their considerable power to heal him...
Gathering the last of his courage, Kouga braced himself to roll over, wanting to see the sky and the green earth before he lost consciousness for the last time. He barley managed to contain his yelp of pain by growling loudly into the darkening sky.
The first evening star twinkled merrily from its home above the treetops. It seemed to be aggressive in its bright flickering, or maybe that was his vision failing...Kouga tried to take a deep breath of the cool night air but found his chest restricted by numerous broken ribs. The slight glow of the moon would be his only comfort in this fading moment.
A twinge of pain shot up his back bone, curving his spine until he was afraid that it would snap him in two. He screamed silently, as he had no breath for it to be vocalized. The twisting heat faded just as quickly followed by a numbness that scared him. Kouga stretched his fingers toward the north, where all his hopes for a future had been brutally violated and whimpered for his loss, for his people's loss...for Kagome and all his dreams.
Those same fingers curled into a fist and pushed his long claws into the flesh of his palm, spilling more of his blood. Even in the time that he was facing his own demise, her face calmed him. His blood sang for her, called for her. Ever since that first time he had touched her skin with his fingertips, there had been a connection there. It was a sensation of everything being right in the world, and things that were not, would be soon enough, if she were there by his side. If nothing else, his love for her was true.
Kouga sighed, knowing that he had no desire to die with hate in his heart, If he had to go, then he wanted to find a last measure of peace to comfort his soul. He knew that there was no thought or feeling more pure then that of his woman and her loving nature. Kagome would not mind if he died with her name on his lips...
With a final smile, Kouga found the breath to make a dying wish that expressed his greatest desire. "Kagome, I wish I could stay at your side to love you and protect you forever..."