Chapter Twenty – Snared
That silky voice that frightened her to her very core was mixed in with her echoing cries, reaching, searching for her with an amused malice.
"We are the same, you and I."
She felt a cool palm caress her cheek and she shivered in disgust and fright. When she reached to knock it away, however, there was nothing there, and yet the sensation of a chilled touch still tickled her skin.
"No," Rin whimpered as the hairs on the nape of her neck rose in warning. She swatted behind her, trying to stave off the phantasm as she turned and twisted, continuing to fall.
She hated this; she wanted to escape, to strike back, to at least feel some control in the situation, but she seemed incapable of anything.
Suddenly, the world was right-side-up again, and she stood in the darkness as if nothing had happened previously. She quaked violently and would have stumbled if weight were a factor in this strange place she'd fallen into; for even as she stood in the darkness, she could sense below her feet that she was suspended somehow, possibly floating, but she was not on solid ground and supporting her own weight, she knew that. The whole thing was quite unnerving, if not fascinating, and if it had not been for the disembodied presence that still lurked somewhere around her, she might have taken to investigating the situation.
The man in the white pelt knelt before her, materializing out of the darkness, and bent his head.
"We are not so different," and from within his robes came a hand, extended towards her. Uncurling his fingers, she saw the tiny sapling that she had touched and watched take root only moments before. The empty sockets of the baboon's pale face leered at her.
Without thinking, she reached towards it carefully, feeling as if she were drawn to the plant.
"We both create," his voice frightened her, but it seemed to melt into the background and become unimportant as she looked at the young tree.
Slowly and carefully, her fingers plied the sapling from his grasp, lifting it out of his palm and nestling it close to herself protectively as she preened the leaves with her opposite hand lovingly. She felt soothed by the plant's presence, and she mused lightly to herself as her perception of the danger around her abated. She'd have to put it back in the ground soon if she didn't want it to whither…
The little tree grew again, the roots wrapping about her fingers lightly as tiny flower buds formed at the tips of the branches. The flowers bloomed…
"…And we both destroy."
…a bright red that flared out and consumed itself. Like dried blood, the petals turned a sickly brown and curled in on themselves, stiff and brittle. Some fell, withered, dead, to the empty abyss below her, where their faint coloring disappeared within seconds against the black. The tree went limp, sagging exhaustedly as it waned from green to yellow to brown and then crumpled into dust.
Rin jumped, thrusting her hands away from her with a yelp of surprise and despair.
"N-no," she felt the wind catch in her throat, confusion and shock sending her mind into a frenzy.
The white pelt loomed forward, startling her with its sharp, bright contrast to the inky blackness of her surroundings. The withered face of the monkey leaned down towards her, closer and closer until it was a mere few inches from her face. The scent of death and tanned leather assaulted her nose immediately, and before she could react, the baboon's face had become warped, resembling now the ragged, elderly face of the Manticore.
Rin's breath caught in her throat again as she recognized the yellowed, mournful eyes and the weathered skin, aged and raw. The Manticore had been a disguise? No, that couldn't be, there was no way that this fiend could get into an area protected by Inutaishou…was there?
Feebly, she tried to back away, but her efforts proved fruitless. Despite her attempts, she was merely drifting, and even that was gaining her any more ground than a few centimeters a minute. She felt as if her movements were hampered like when she was underwater, or even in a dream. Suddenly, a thought sparked in her mind, but it was overpowered as the baboon loomed forward again, this time threatening to engulf her.
She gave a plaintive squeak and threw up her arms to guard herself, but she received no impact. Lowering her arms, she looked about, but there was nothing, not even the faintest hint of her aggressor was anywhere.
An echoing laughter chilled her as it reverberated around her, seeming to pull coax her gently as it rang out.
"Ku, ku, ku, if the tree withered from your touch alone, what effect do you think your mere presence is having on this world? …On your friends?"
It was like she had just been shot through the heart, her eyes grew wide and fearful as the words wound their way through her mind, planting seeds of doubt. Was that why Sesshoumaru never seemed to want to be around her? Was she hurting Koto and the others just by being near them? A sick churning knotted her stomach and she knew that she had gone pale. Nervously, she pulled at her fingers and then balled them up fearfully as she pulled her arms closer to herself again. What if- what if she made them disappear in the same way that she'd done with the tree?
A cold, icy hand stroked her cheek again, holding her chin as another arm sought to pull her closer. Rin was so consumed in her thoughts, though, that she realized none of this, or rather, seemed unable to notice at all.
The knot in her stomach tightened and she felt tears sting at the edges of her eyes. Biting on her bottom lip, she tried to shove the thoughts aside. No way, there was no way that could be true. Stuff like that only happened in shoujo manga, and besides, there was no proof outside of what she'd seen in this odd place that it was even real. The idea that had popped into her head earlier suddenly returned and she hurried to grasp on to it. In this fleeting moment of confidence, she wasn't about to let go just yet. 'Get it together, Rin!'
The thought was slippery, weaving and darting away from her, dancing just on the edge of her reasoning before jumping away again. Frustration made her desperate and desperation caused her to lose focus; if she wasn't careful, she'd forget the idea altogether. Then, just as she'd nearly reached her limit and was about to give up the struggle, it hit her.
This was all just a dream! There was no other explanation, it just had to be.
As if a bomb had gone off, a tremor suddenly rippled through her and continued onward, outward, up and away until the very core of her surroundings was trembling from the unseen blow. Rin flinched, every hair on her body felt like it was standing up as the wave of realization passed from her, leaving her mind clear again.
The man in the baboon suit seemed to have been pushed back by the tremors, because he was hunched some way off now, breathing heavily. Rin felt her heart jump; what was she going to do now? Before she could even finish the thought, though, a hand was about her neck and she felt herself knocked down. The hand didn't constrict or even make more than the simplest of efforts to keep her down, but still the blow had knocked the wind from her.
"Ku ku ku, if you're not careful, you'll lose everything that way, Rin-chan," he laughed again when she shivered and attempted to ply his hand off her throat.
"W-what-!" Before she could finish, though, she found herself engulfed by water, the surface shimmering just beyond her reach, and a hoard of bubbles escaped her as she cried out in surprise. Frantically, she tried to force him away from her, but he just continued to laugh, unaffected by the water around them.
'It's just a dream, it's not real, it's just a dream,' Rin thought to herself, but to no avail. Her body was convinced that she was drowning, and no amount of mind-over-matter chanting would cause it to alter at this point.
Her eyes stung, her throat burned and her lungs were screaming in dismay as an inky blackness loomed around her. Her limbs grew heavier and despite her efforts to continue thrashing, her muscles wouldn't respond without oxygen. Two red eyes was the last she saw as her eyes closed…
"Another world?!" Kagome had half a mind to throw the young girl out of her house. First she came barging in and now she was talking about Rin being spirited away to some other world? Just how stupid did this girl think she was? Just because she lived at a shrine didn't mean that she believed in all of that weird stuff her grandfather was always going on about!
Rumiko looked back at her seriously, not even the slightest hint of humor in her features. "Well, in a way yes, and no. It's more of a… shadow-world of our own, I suppose you could call it."
Kagome's jaw hung open in shock and anger. Was this girl serious? She looked every bit like someone telling the truth, but her story was just ludicrous! Perhaps she was insane?
The girl adjusted her glasses and took to investigating the room, poking her head down the hall on either side before pointing to her left. "Rin-chan's room is in this direction, correct?"
Kagome jumped forward, feeling the last of her patience snap as she followed after Rumiko, who had gone on down the hall without waiting for an answer to her question.
"Hey, get out of there," Kagome yelled when Rumiko opened the shouji doors to Rin's room and walked inside nonchalantly.
Kagome stopped dead as she reached the door, startled when several pieces of paper had been shoved ruthlessly towards her. "Eh?"
"Look," Rumiko adjusted her glasses again, frowning as she jabbed a finger at an illustration on one of the pages. Kagome opened her mouth to speak when her eyes caught a glimpse of motion on the page. She stopped, speechless, staring at the drawing, or rather, what was happening to the drawing.
Naraku knelt on the forest floor, his hand lightly pressed against Rin's throat as she convulsed, her eyes closed. Her breathing was heavy and then choked, but she didn't stir into wakefulness at all. Naraku chuckled to himself as she finally fell still, her breathing even, but her face deathly pale.
He picked Rin up effortlessly, gathering the white robe about himself as he stood. Stopping, though, he turned back and smirked as Sesshoumaru stepped from amongst the brush, threateningly flexing his claws on one hand.
"Ah, Prince Sesshoumaru," Naraku made a show of bowing slightly. "Out for a walk?"
"Put her down," Was his cold reply.
Naraku drew Rin closer, placing her face very close to his own and stroking her cheek delicately with his other hand. "Ku ku ku, can the Prince of the West not keep track of his things? Or perhaps," Naraku traced a claw along Rin's throat, "you are afraid?"
Sesshoumaru's face stayed blank, his eyes following Naraku's movements lazily. Still, there was a cold steel hidden there.
"Release her," he ordered again, this time laying a hand to his sword.
The claw that Naraku had been tracing along Rin's throat halted and the slightest pressure was added as he looked up at Sesshoumaru. "And what if you hit the girl? Wouldn't that be most unfortunate?"
Sesshoumaru's hand stayed on the hilt of his sword, but he relinquished his grip, his brows narrowing visibly in anger.
Neither spoke; the dead pause had the air around them crackling with sparks of hatred. Even as she slumbered somewhere inside herself, Rin felt the inklings of their confrontation and shifted uneasily. Naraku smirked wider when she struggled lightly.
"It would appear that she's afraid," Naraku laughed and stroked her face again, engrossed in his mockery of the Demon Prince before him. "Ku ku ku, poor thing."
Sesshoumaru saw his opening; Naraku had dropped his guard, if just for a second, to devote his attentions to taunting Sesshoumaru. In a flash, Sesshoumaru had jumped forward, coming at Naraku from the side. The other had the briefest time to react, and he did, though he did not come out of the attack unscathed. Naraku had dropped Rin and dodged back away from Sesshoumaru, who now stood over her protectively, with a look of anger.
He smoothed his features over immediately though, smirking as he looked from the girl to Sesshoumaru. Darkness pulled at him as he let the wound on his cheek bleed freely. "Ku ku ku, do not think that I have given up, good Prince; this is just the beginning."
And then he was gone, swallowed by the dark vortex that had grown behind him as he spoke. Sesshoumaru growled softly, shaking the few droplets of blood from his fingers as he backed down. Kneeling, he paused as he looked Rin over; she was still pale, but there was some hint of color returning to her cheeks now, and her breathing was soft but audible.
Gently, he picked her up.
I'd like to thank my friend, Skittlez, a lot for her help on that last leg of the chapter there! I had a big brain fart/writer's block moment and was fretting about keeping the characters IC, but she talked me through it and was very helpful. Thanks so much, Skitz!!
Hee, thanks for the reviews, you guys! I really appreciate it! And I'll try to update again really soon, since I'm on break and all.
Well, Happy 4th to you all and see ya soon! Ja'ne!