This chapter's a little longer to make up for the length of the last one. I'm thinking the main problem here is that Misty and I (Alma) have very different writing styles: Misty likes to write crazy people and steeps everything in huge amounts of pretty imagery and confuses the heck out of people, while I have a style that's been described as "journalistic", which is, by the way, a real word. We're hoping that once we get the hang of writing together you can get the advantages of both, but it takes some work so if it seems a little rough or a little overworked, that's probably why. Feedback, as always, is most awesome.
Kaede's hut seemed unusually cramped to Shippou the night after Kagome and Inuyasha had gone to fix Tenseiga. There was something stifling in the air that had nothing to do with the fire pit or the stew cooking over it. He knew it was rude to break the somber mood, but he couldn't help but fidget when his whole body was itching and his mind wouldn't settle. It was Sesshoumaru, he decided. The taiyoukai's ghost was lingering in the village, making sure no one rested until he had his revenge.
The rest of the group seemed relatively unaffected by the restless atmosphere. Kirara was half-asleep, curled up by the fire pit near Sango's feet. Kaede had long finished bandaging the taiji-ya's cuts and put a splint on the broken arm. Sango had busied herself with mixing herbs to make the poison powder she favored in battles for most of the afternoon, but now the mortar and pestle lay unnoticed as she stared meditatively into the flames.
The kitsune shifted positions for the hundredth time, finding the new arrangement even less comfortable than the previous. His mind kept drifting back to the freshly-dug grave in the meadow barely a ri away from the village. Was Sesshoumaru as frightening as a ghost as he had been alive? Shippou wasn't entirely sure that was possible. He flipped onto his stomach and propped his chin up on his tiny hands, facing the fire.
Miroku's eyes opened as he gave up his third attempt at meditation. He watched Sango silently for a moment, and Shippou waited for the obligatory groping. The taiji-ya didn't seem to notice, and despite all logic Miroku chose to make for the doorway, rather than Sango's rear. He watched the monk go, and stole a glance at Kaede, who glared back at him knowingly. Giving in to his itchy feet, Shippou jumped up and followed.
It was rather predictable that the monk would be checking on the grave. Shippou had to give Miroku credit, even if he didn't seem properly afraid of Sesshoumaru's ghost; he at least had enough sense to make sure his wards were secure. The kitsune chose to stay near the edge of the woods, which he deemed a safe distance. Having been a powerful taiyoukai, Sesshoumaru's body had poisoned the earth all around the hole they'd dug. It was only Miroku's houriki that granted him close access, and even then for only a brief period of time.
The monk paused in front of the grave, his hands going through the familiar motions of prayer. Minutes passed and Shippou was losing interest in spying on the monk, and was beginning to wonder if Sesshoumaru's ghost had moved on and wouldn't be appearing that night.
The kit hopped to his feet, weighing his entertainment options. Sango and Miroku were both proving to be extremely boring, and there was no Inuyasha to harass or Kagome to be spoiled by. Maybe Kirara would humor him and play a little…
His train of thought was promptly halted when Miroku stiffened and changed the grip on his staff, looking off in the distance with tense shoulders.
Shippou felt it too. Someone was coming, judging by the smell and the sounds slowly moving towards the meadow…
The kitsune didn't need any more evidence to prove that the youkai lord had indeed risen from the dead and was on his way back to have his revenge. So doing what any intelligent youkai would do, he hotfooted it back to Kaede's hut to alert Sango and Kirara…
…not to mention save his own hide. He figured Miroku would be able to hold off the specter at least until the others showed up to help. Would the Air Rip work on the undead?
By the time Shippou was halfway back to the village, the sounds coming from the woods had become voices and footsteps.
Miroku waited expectantly, straining his ears to decipher what was being said. It was clear whatever was coming wasn't very large, but that didn't make it any less dangerous. He shifted slightly as one voice became audible.
The monk relaxed a bit at the grating calls. He ought to have known they would show up eventually.
"Shut up girl, he's not going to come running just because you called," a new, hoarser voice snapped.
"Sesshoumaru-sama! Sesshoumaru-sama!" the first voice continued, and the second let out a frustrated 'hmph!"
Miroku sighed, not relishing the thought of explaining Sesshoumaru's 'condition' to those two.
It would probably be best not to wait until they were in sight of the grave. As annoying as the toad was, he couldn't spring something as huge as that on him without warning, and if possible, Rin would not be informed at all.
"You, human!" Jaken exclaimed upon noticing Miroku, "You're one of those filthy mortals that hang around with that flea-bitten half breed!"
If Rin hadn't looked so concerned, Miroku would have walked away right then and there and let the frog piece it together himself. As it was, Miroku seriously considered giving Jaken a few new bruises.
Rin cleared her throat. "What Jaken-sama is trying to say," she started, "is do you know where Sesshoumaru-sama is?"
Jaken muttered something under his breath, and turned his nose up at Miroku imperiously. The fact that he was around a third of Miroku's size didn't seem to bother him in the least.
Glaring at the little amphibian gave Miroku a few moments to consider his response. "Ye-es, I'm pretty sure he came this way…"
Rin brightened. "So where did Sesshoumaru-sama go? We waited for a really long time, but Jaken-sama got bored, an…"
"What!?" Jaken squawked, "How dare you insinuate that I, Jaken, whine?"
Rin made a face at him.
"Why you insolent little…!"
Rin pulled her eyelids down with her fingers and stuck out her tongue.
"Stop making faces at me!"
Jaken turned a rather interesting shade of reddish-green while Miroku didn't bother to hide his amusement. Maybe that was why Sesshoumaru let those two follow him around.
Shit. He still had to explain about him.
A yellow-orange blur and a savage roar knocked all of them out of their thoughts. Miroku grabbed the rosary around his Wind Tunnel reflexively, ready to face the threat. When he actually saw what it was, though, he stopped.
Kirara held a struggling Jaken in her jaw, and looked more than a little confused. Sango was seated on top of her, looking around suspiciously.
"Shippo ran into the village screaming about ghosts. Seen any?"
Miroku shook his head.
Sango sighed. "Thought so."
"Put me down!" Jaken finally managed to shout.
"Eh?" Sango dismounted with some care and leaned over to look at the squirming demon. "Drop him, Kirara."
Kirara unceremoniously dropped him in the dirt, then shrunk down to cat size and licked a paw delicately, as if to clear the taste from her mouth. She then took her place on Sango's shoulder.
Jaken sputtered. Rin giggled. Sango looked at the little girl as though she'd never seen her before. She shot Miroku a glance. Miroku shrugged helplessly.
"Rin-chan, we need to discuss something with Jaken-sama. Could you go wait for us at the village over there?" Miroku pointed, "It won't take long."
Rin looked at them oddly and Jaken straightened himself up with as much dignity as one can muster when they have just finished being verbally abused by an eight-year-old girl. He glared at the monk and demon-slayer as if daring them to comment then said stiffly, "Run along, girl."
Rin sighed, and finding no hope of concession in the eyes of the adults, obeyed. Once Rin was out of sight Jaken scowled and turned back to the humans.
"Well? What is it?" Jaken demanded, folding his arms across his chest peevishly as he did.
"Sesshoumaru was here," Miroku said in as plain a voice as he could manage, "And… perhaps it would be simplest if we showed you."
Sango nodded. Jaken muttered pointedly about stupid humans who wasted his valuable time and followed. The jyaki from Sesshoumaru's corpse became distinct before long, and Jaken sported a puzzled expression when he noticed it.
"It's… that is, he… is over there," Sango said abruptly. Miroku watched the little youkai's reaction cautiously.
"What nonsense is this? A grave? Surely you cannot expect me to believe Sesshoumaru-sama is dead! That is impossible!"
Jaken spoke with such absolute confidence, puffing out his meager chest and waving his left hand dismissively, that Sango winced at the hearing of it.
Miroku shook his head solemnly. "Sesshoumaru is dead. You've been around him enough to know the feel of his youki. It's…"
"It's a trick!" Jaken exclaimed, "I don't know what idiot trap you think you can trick me with, but it will not work! No one can kill Sesshoumaru-sama!"
Sango's face contorted, and Jaken continued, "If your aim was to separate the girl from my protection, I can assure you that you will pay severely for the attempt. And," he added haughtily, "You will not escape my wrath!"
The taiji-ya groaned into her hand. Miroku sighed. "I give you my word, this is not a…"
"The very idea is preposterous!" Jaken interrupted, "Sesshoumaru-sama, killed by… what? That ugly half-breed mutt? Ha!"
"Believe what you will, but Inuyasha has beaten Sesshoumaru before," Sango interjected.
Jaken quieted, but not without a soft "humph" to voice his displeasure.
"I understand that this is hard to deal with, but…"
"Impossible…" Miroku couldn't help but notice the worried way Jaken clenched his staff between his webbed fingers. "Even at his best, Inuyasha was never capable of killing Sesshoumaru-sama!"
"It was not his strength alone that defeated Sesshoumaru. Inuyasha lost hold of Tetsusaiga while they were fighting. Kagura had been hidden in the background, waiting for an opportune moment. She shoved a handful of tainted Shikon shards into his arm and fled. Inuyasha's youkai blood and the contaminated shards overcame him and drove him mad. He nearly slaughtered us, but Sesshoumaru intervened. When he finally regained his senses and Tetsusaiga, it was too late. In-"
Jaken shook visibly. "Th-that's not true," he insisted, " I-it can't be. It-"
For the first time, Miroku felt a stab of pity for the little youkai. Jaken continued to babble, staring at the wooden grave marker. Miroku had littered the ground with ofuda in an attempt to contain Sesshoumaru's jyaki -simply purifying the corpse would be risky if Sesshoumaru was to be revived, as well as difficult to do- but Jaken seemed to take no notice of the holy wards as he stumbled towards the grave.
"Ah- hey! Don't walk into tha-"
Sango moved a little faster than Miroku did, grabbed Jaken by the collar and bringing him on level with her face.
"You might get hurt," Sango explained to the sputtering youkai. Jaken snorted in indignation.
Jaken was resolutely refusing to look in their direction. "I don't believe you," he said simply, "Even if Sesshoumaru-sama was defeated, you could not kill him. Tenseiga would have protected him from death."
"I think it tried. After Inuyasha was brought back to normal, we discovered that Tenseiga had been cracked in half. Inuyasha and Kagome-sama left to find Totosai, in the hopes that he can repair the blade and Inuyasha can use it to reverse Sesshoumaru's death."
Jaken looked up. There were two wet patches just below his eyes that he wiped away with an abrupt gesture. "Inuyasha, wield Tenseiga? Impossible."
"I suppose we'll see when he gets back. For now, all we can do is keep the grave safe and wait for them to return. I leave it to you to decide whether or not to tell the girl."
"Rin?" Jaken said slowly, "No. Not until I know if Inuyasha really does have the ability to bring Sesshoumaru-sama back."
Sango and Miroku started to turn around. "Hey! Where do you think you're going?"
Miroku turned back. "We're going back to the village. It's getting dark."
For a moment, the small toad-like youkai became almost pitiable as he stood there looking very lost and alone. After all, Miroku reasoned, he'd just found out his lord and number one reason for living was murdered by his greatest enemy. It was difficult not to feel even a hint of sympathy for his plight.
So, the monk felt compelled to charitable action. "You and Rin are welcome to stay until Inuyasha returns to revive Sesshoumaru."
This seemed to pull Jaken out of his stupor. Puffing himself back up, he attempted to piece together his haughty demeanor and responded in a way that only someone who had suffered for centuries of a Napoleon Complex could.
"Well it would be the least you could do, even though the no-good hanyou bastard is going to be too weak to revive Sesshoumaru-sama, I am now the guardian of his tomb and need to perform the proper rites and mourning ceremonies. You idiot humans have already defiled it enough with your purifying trinkets. I'll just have to endure these foul human conditions in order to serve Sesshoumaru-sama well; he would have wanted that…"
Miroku felt his short-lived moment of compassion dissolve away as they walked towards the village and Jaken continued to drone on. It was a pity Inuyasha would not be returning sooner…
"In hell, there is no place for a hanyou. Just as it is in the living world."
That vaguely amused expression that was the closest he had ever seen his brother come to smiling…
It was amazing how good the full youkai had been at stabbing every little weakness with the utmost precision.
Inuyasha closed his eyes and tucked his chin to his chest, refolding his arms in a snugger position as he marched along. It was easy to tune out the mindless chatter of the girl behind him and the squeak, squeak of the wheels on her bike. The noises in his head were a different story.
It had been strange, the feeling of the Shikon shards inside of him, certainly not the way he'd imagined it would. Admittedly, he didn't remember much of his thoughts, just the feeling of rage, and the sight of his brother's bleeding body.
…And he remembered Sango, and Miroku…
He started, his eyes snapping open and a hand immediately going to Tetsusaiga. "What is it?" The hanyou was all but shaking with anticipation as his eyes moved frantically around the road and woods surrounding them.
"Did you see that bird?! I think it was a robin…" Kagome was standing on her tiptoes, shading her eyes and peering into a section of woods. "It was the prettiest color…I guess it's gone…"
Inuyasha attempted to keep himself upright. Stupid girl. "Kagome! Quit screwing around!"
Settling back into his favored posture, he slowed his steps enough to give the human time to get back on her bike. He didn't notice her silent laughter as she caught up to him.
'I couldn't resist…it's not good for him to brood.' Kagome couldn't help but feel the slightest pang of guilt though. 'It hasn't been just us for a while now…'
They were a day into their journey, and so far it had been relatively uneventful. She almost cursed the peace, because without any violent distractions, Inuyasha was even more introverted and angsty than usual. It would be a blessing in disguise to have a random youkai appear, even just a puny weak one, something to piss the hanyou off enough to forget about all his problems. It didn't even have to have a shard, or be a real challenge…
Kagome's wish was granted in a somewhat unexpected manner. Up ahead of her the sound of Inuyasha cursing, smacking his cheek, and a familiar subservient voice reached her ears.
"Oy, Myouga-jiji, what the hell are you doing here?" Inuyasha made the standard demand.
Kagome caught up to him and peered over his shoulder at the flattened flea youkai.
"My humblest apologies Inuyasha-sama, you know that I mean it as the highest compliment-" The tiny flea was cut short though by the hanyou's finger looming over him once more.
"Get to the point, old man." Inuyasha's eyes glittered dangerously.
That is, until Kagome's palm connected with the back of his head. "Inuyasha! Don't be a jerk!"
"Oy, wench! Don't tell me what to do!"
Myouga was soon forgotten as things dissolved into their usual bickering match and the old youkai was given a chance to assess the situation. It was hard to tell at first glance if the rumors that were spreading across the lands were true or not. Inuyasha certainly didn't look as though he'd recently gone berserk and murdered his own half-brother. In fact, it seemed as nothing had changed at all since the last time Myouga had visited.
"-you ugly old hag!"
Deftly the flea youkai hopped from his lord's rapidly descending head and onto the safe haven that was Kagome's fuming shoulders. No, the hanyou was most certainly exactly the same.
Myouga allowed himself a moment of peaceful happiness and banished all the dark rumors away. That is, until a glint of metal at the hip of the now flattened Inuyasha caught his little eyes.
His heart sank as he took in the sight of what was indisputably the hilt of the Tenseiga, nestled comfortably next to the Tetsusaiga as if to spite him. The sleeves of Inuyasha's haori had been pushed up as he'd taken to the dirt, exposing his forearms, and the fresh scar that only a Shikon shard could leave.
So it hadn't just been rumors.
Myouga began to prepare himself for the next few days. Things were going to be very difficult, and he could expect many squashings and much profanity. It was up to him to be strong and hold fast to his training and honor, no matter how many times his lord flattened him.
All the honor in the world couldn't stop the wails that were building up inside the little flea, and try as he might; the cries of anguish were let loose. "Oh nooooooo, nooooooo, oohhhhhhhhhhhhh…"
"Inuyasha, you call me that one more time and I swear they'll be naming a crater after yo-" The extreme amounts of angst that were oozing out of the tiny youkai finally caught Kagome's attention.
The teen cocked her head, trying to get a good look at the little man as he sat sobbing on her shoulder. Even Inuyasha looked up from his sulking and cursing under his breath.
"Myouga-san, what's wrong?" She asked with genuine concern.
He jumped. It was too late to come up with a cover, and claiming he had a rock in his sandal just didn't seem like it would fly. That left him with the truth, a very painful subject.
"Old man, you never got around to explaining what the hell you're doing here," the magic of the rosary was beginning to wear off as Inuyasha dragged himself to his feet.
"Well…that is, erm-tell me Inuyasha-sama, where are your other companions? Why is it only you and Kagome-sama are out searching for Shikon shards?" The truth could wait a bit.
"The others-" Kagome began hesitantly.
"We aren't shard hunting," Inuyasha replied shortly, and promptly began walking once more, "We're going to Totousai's."
"Totousai's?" Myouga didn't have to feign surprise. "You couldn't have broken the Tetsusaiga again-"
"Not the Tetsusaiga," He ground out, folding his arms up securely and stalking ahead.
Kagome moved to fetch her bike once more, so Myouga decided to move back to Inuyasha's head, even if it did mean compromising his safety.
"Then what business do you have at Totousai's?" he prodded.
Inuyasha visibly tensed, and Myouga couldn't help but let out a little sigh when he refrained from any violent action. "Keh." His only other response was to walk faster.
The sound of Kagome's rapid pedaling in order to catch up with the pair came closer. Panting slightly, she coasted alongside the trudging hanyou, shooting Myouga a sympathetic look.
"We're taking the Tenseiga to be repaired so Inuyasha can revive Sesshoumaru." Kagome explained, then began pedaled harder, pulling away from the youkai in a hasty exit.
"Keh!" Myouga held on tightly to Inuyasha's hair as he moved his head vehemently to the side. "Slow down, bitch, before you get lost!"
Myouga silently thanked his lucky stars that Kagome was with them. Surely she would not allow Inuyasha to kill him…
"But Sesshoumaru-sama is still dead, which means…" There was no avoiding things, he'd simply have to let it out in the open and then as quickly as he could dive into a nearby bush or tree for cover…
"Which means what?" Inuyasha growled impatiently as they caught up with Kagome once more.
"…and Inuyasha was the one who killed him…"
"Myouga-san, are you all right, you're awful red," Kagome eyed him with concern. "And what do you mean?"
The hanyou's short temper was getting the better of him. "Oy, old man, get on with it!"
Like a gluttonous tick that had sucked too much blood, Myouga burst, spewing forth his important information.
"INUYASHA-SAMA IS THE NEW LORD OF THE WESTERN LANDS!"
There was nothing but silence as Kagome stopped pedaling and Inuyasha stopped walking. Slowly the hanyou plucked the flea from his hair and held him at eye-level, his index finger and thumb positioned in a very dangerous manner.
"I'm what?" He asked in a strangely level voice.
"The new lord of the Western lands!" Myouga squeaked out fearfully.
What does that mean?" Kagome asked curiously.
"It means that Inuyasha inherits all the land and duties that Sesshoumaru possessed that he inherited from their father," Myouga explained as patiently as he could with a finger about to crack his ribcage.
"What duties?" Inuyasha asked harshly. "All my asshole brother ever did was run around killing shit."
Kagome rolled her eyes.
"It was Sesshoumaru-sama's responsibility to protect his lands and all the youkai that lived there, provided that he liked them of course…"
"What do I care about a bunch of weaklings that can't even protect themselves?" Inuyasha snarled.
"But your father-"
"-I don't care what my father or my asshole brother did with their lives. I've got better things to do than sit around guarding some dirt patch from squatters."
"Inuyasha-" Kagome began reproachfully.
"-I said I don't care! And it doesn't matter anyway. We're bringing the jerk back to life and we can pretend this never even happened. Now let's go, it's getting dark."
As if to finalize matters, Inuyasha pressed his fingers together, flattening Myouga and leaving him to flit aimlessly to the ground.
Kagome sighed, and waited for the little flea youkai to pull himself together and hop on her shoulder before pedaling after the grouchy hanyou.
Reviewer responses (by Alma)
Not much this time, eh? Considering the last update was just corrections anyway, getting three is pretty good.
Inferna: Wow, it's been a heck of a long time since I've heard from you. Kind of reminds me that I was supposed to finish REIncarnation? and find it a better title.
kakuri: Here's that next chapter. Thanks for the encouragement and all.
rachael: Well, that's a load off of my mind, really. I suppose cliff-hangers can be a little frustrating, but at least they keep you interested!
Insert obligatory request for reviews/attention here.