On a fine April morning which was in fact afternoon but felt like morning I was looking over this story, and when I realized that the last six chapters had taken me a year I felt very guilty. (The way I knew this was that I mentioned my birthday cake in a review reply in chapter twelve. Ye gods! When did years get so short? Of course, four months spent sulking helped with the whole delay thing…)
And two months after that I finally had a postable chapter. Did anybody remember that this story existed? Well, it's back, and drawing toward its conclusion. Here goes! Gomen nasai, minna!
Dedication: To Grandma.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Nothing. I am in a state of total non-ownership. Nothing is mine. Even my ideas are stolen out of the head of the rather better author who has my brain on time-share when I'm asleep. Even that joke was stolen from Terry Pratchett's explanation of the Luggage in The Art of Discworld. So you see I have nothing. Except sixty-three dollars in change that I spent twenty minutes counting after I dumped it out of my piggie bank that isn't shaped like a pig.
Oh, yes. It was all very well for Naraku's new business associate to send her to fetch his slave (actually it wasn't well at all and if Naraku hadn't been in the room, with that crazed glint in he'd had in his eye lately, she would have told the redhead just where he could put his orders) but he could have at least told her where to look! He wasn't in the kitchen, although she hadn't expected him to be. She'd only gone there to rendezvous with Yanagi. He wasn't in his little room, which was so much a closet she wondered if she had been right about the elf spending his off-duty time folded up on a shelf, which she had meant as a jibe.
In the end it was only by chance that she raised her head after examining the courtyard for signs of life (which signs consisted of a single beetle) and saw the patch of green on the top of the wall. She rolled her eyes, drew her feather, and gusted herself up to him. "Tch," she said. He was slumped on the narrow outer wall like a puppet whose strings had been cut, staring out across the uninspiring view. She had never seen a living thing look so dead. "Stop acting like you're both inanimate and invertebrate," she told him, "and come with me. Your boss wants you."
Lelentaeli flowed upright and leapt onto the feather, and Kagura wafted them toward the entrance. There was something she did not like about the green and grey shadows who had followed Kileb here. They were…what was the word…creepy. Yes. Kagura had no prior experience with things feeling creepy, not even when Goshinki had been reading her mind, but she thought this was probably it.
"Look," she said as they disembarked. He looked at her. His face could not have been more devoid of expression had it been a melon. "I'm putting my heart on the line to say this," she said, "but if you've got any mind left behind those big green eyes I suggest you start using it now. Naraku's servants are hatching a scheme and brewing a plot and all that rot. I know you hate your master. I'd rather have you with us than against us."
The elf regarded her stonily for several seconds. If Kagura had had a heart in her breast she was sure it would have been beating half again normal time. She could have miscalculated. Then Lelentaeli met her eyes, laid a finger to his lips, and darted inside.
"And you can't hold a conversation!" Kagura called after him.
Kileb was designing a 'whoseewhatsit.' He designed them whenever he needed to do something he didn't have a particular set way to do already. A finished whoseewhatsit could look rather like an ornate sort of fetish, but it had been carefully assembled from whatever came to hand according to a careful pattern that he made up as he went along. All that said, they worked, although the occasional whoseewhatsit worked very well for making coffee when what he'd wanted was a death ray.
The current whoseewhatsit was a seek-and-find-er for Aghenu, the Lady Queen. He was fairly sure that Naraku hadn't really squished her, even in that human shape she seemed to have taken to after he bound her there. She had beaten him back rather neatly in that tower, hadn't she? He felt bad about the tower. It had been a nice place. He'd done a good job circumventing physics there. He'd go back after he was done tormenting Naraku.
He looked up. Lelentaeli was standing woodenly several yards away. "Oh, there you are," he said, as if the elf hadn't been standing there for five minutes. "You were supposed to get another 'treatment' today. You're overdue, and I do so look forward to the screaming." Kileb smiled at Lelentaeli, who responded not at all. The redhead shrugged. "Lucky for you Naraku dropped a mountain on the queen and her Amadaun, so I need you to go watch the place to see if they come out and accost them if they do. You will behave properly this time, I trust?" An elegant arching of eyebrow.
Lelentaeli bowed. A less careful eye than Kileb's might have missed the slight quivering in his limbs. "Of course, milord," he said.
"See that you do. I think I impressed upon you the importance. Oh…if you see a suitable opportunity, though, you have my permission to behave as though you have defected and join up with them. You'll like that, won't you? Friendly company at last. Save the betrayal for the most painful moment."
Lelentaeli bowed again. "Of course, milord," he said.
"Oh, do say something else, there's a good chap," replied Kileb. "I know I provided you with a good three dozen acceptable phrases, straight from the Thrallmaster's Handbook."
Lelentaeli considered. "Very good, sir?" he tried.
"The butler did it," remarked Kileb. "Yes, yes, hurry off, Jeeves. The breeze-girl is transport again today. Coordinates eighteen six two by five three one, if she doesn't know where she's going." He went back to his whoseewhatsit, apparently forgetting that his slave existed.
Lelentaeli bowed for a third time and slipped off. Kileb hummed quietly. "Nothing matters / But knowing nothing matters / It's just life…" he sang pleasantly to the object taking shape under his fingers.
It was just like house cleaning.
That was what Kagome told herself. She could handle it just fine. Just like house cleaning.
Provided the house in question was subject to periodic explosions and the occupants had a religious objection to picking anything up. The sort of house where the floor is a legend akin to the phoenix.
Say, a house inhabited by teenage boys. Maybe a house inhabited by five of Inuyasha for a few months. Yeah, that would do it. He had a flair for calamity. Anyway, she would prove herself equal to the cleaning even in such a domicile, and then pray never to encounter one.
She looked up the slope. They had made excellent progress. Sango was at the top, bossing wolves around. They seemed to have taken a liking to her. Kouga was sulking. Kagome wasn't sure what about, but he had SULK written all across his visage in giant grey kanji. Oh well. At least he was still helping. Right now he had his shoulder to a roughly spherical rock that had to weigh twelve times what he did. Demons had certain advantages like that, hm?
The stone rolled away, bumping down the hill at a steadily increasing rate. Shippou darted into the cavity left behind and began to scoop out gravel and stones, accidentally showering Kouga just as the wolf prince struck a dashing pose. Kagome tried not to laugh, but it was difficult as Kouga fished pebbles out of his breastplate, with a studied expression of nonchalance. Shippou continued to burrow like a large junior mole, calling out to Inuyasha in his piping voice.
"Alright." Inuyasha very nearly spat out the word. It contained all the force one expects it to have at the end of an argument, when the speaker is ceding the battle gracelessly, but unless Inuyasha had been telepathically communing with her subconscious, he and Aerie hadn't argued for thirteen minutes and twenty-three point six four two nine seconds.
"Huh?" said Aerie, appropriately enough.
"What did you write beside your little drawings?" It was clear he felt that his not knowing was an intentional personal affront to himself on Aerie's part. The argument, the girl surmised, had been with himself over lowering himself enough to ask.
She shrugged and tapped the first drawing, the one wearing a robe and carrying a staff. "Well, this Miroku one is complaining about his hair. This one's me," she went on, pointing to the next sketch. "I'm saying 'Welcome to Japan. May I take your order? Thank you, do you want a disaster with that?' And this one's—" she broke off and smiled, the somewhat desperate smile of an amateur conman who has just realized he's playing against an old and expert card sharper and is wondering how he is going to leave the table with the shirt on his back. "Well, it's—"
"Inuyaaasha!" a high, youthful shout slipped between the stones of their little dungeon. Three heads snapped up.
"Shippou!" exclaimed Aerie. She raised her voice. "SHIPPOU!" she hollered at the top of her lungs. Inuyasha winced and covered his ears, giving her a resentful look, but did nothing to get back at her, which came as a surprise. There was a beat of time with no response, and each of the three captives had time to think they might have imagined the little fox's voice, and then he replied, in a muffled sort of way, as if through a very thick wall,
"Aerie? Oh, you're ok, I'm glad! Is Inuyasha there? Kagome's been so worried! Miroku? Miroku's ok, right? What about the dragonfly-man? Aerie?"
"Inuyasha and Miroku and I are fine!" she yelled, to another wince and glare from the hanyou. Tough luck for him. He could suck it up, she told herself. She had been smiling at Shippou's string of questions without gaps for either answers or breath, but had abruptly ceased at the mention of Trisak, whose status she had been avoiding considering. No, shut up, he's been around for millions of years; he's not about to let some little mountain take him down. "We hope to stay fine, but could you get us out of here before Inuyasha eats someone?"
"Eats someone!" Shippou shrieked in distress. "Inuyasha, don't eat anybody! Kagome would sit you into the fire she says is in the middle of the world!"
"I'm not eating anybody, whelp!" Inuyasha shouted. "Now dig!"
"I have been diggi– Hey, Kouga, no fair, I just found them, you can't pull me – Aaaaaaaah!" The last cry faded into the distance; Aerie presumed that Kouga had thrown him, and hoped the little fox wouldn't be hurt when he landed. What was Kouga doing up there anyway?
"Hoi, puppy," called Kouga's voice, "you alive?"
"What do you think, asshole?" replied the voice of Inuyasha.
"No, we're dead," put in Aerie, with sarcasm so thick you could have cut chunks out of it and roasted them. "That's why we're talking to you. Get us out of here!"
"Is he there?" shouted Kagome aboveground, voice thick with worry.
"Yes!" Kouga called back, his well-trained self-esteem burying his disappointment in the matter.
"Yessssssss!" shrieked Kagome, jumping for joy. A fist punched the air. Her smile was so wide Sango wondered that it didn't hurt her face. "Thank you so much, Kouga, I really owe you one now!"
"Is Miroku all right?" the taijiya asked. Not waiting for the answer, she dropped down beside the wolf prince and cupped her hands to her mouth to holler, "Lord monk! You there?" There was silence in reply and her heart skipped a beat. Kagome's merry face grew grave. "Monk! Speak, Miroku. Are you down there?" There was another long beat of silence, and then the monk's voice filtered up.
"Here, Lady Sango." He sounded the auditory equivalent of blurry.
"Are you alright?" the taijiya asked anxiously.
"He's fine, Sango," Aerie called up. "He's just been sleeping. Miroku! Stop angling for sympathy!"
Sango grinned in relief. The houshi was fine. "Thump him for me, would you?" she requested. "But not too hard," she added after a moment's consideration.
"No, I can't do that, we're friends." Aerie answered.
"Thank you, Aerie-" began Miroku gratefully.
"So Inuyasha, you do it." The girl finished. The monk let out a groan.
"Ok, sorry to break up the touching reunion," said Inuyasha, after a cursory thumping of Miroku, "but are you gonna get us out of here or not, flea-brain?"
"Depends, dog-breath," replied Kouga, smirking. "Are you gonna ask me nicely?"
"Please, Kouga," said Kagome, touching the wolf's elbow and making him jump. She had scrambled up the slope during the discussion and was now craning over everyone's shoulders, as if expecting to see Inuyasha's head sticking out of the floor. "I've asked you nicely already."
"But it's not you I'm rescuing this time, Kagome," Kouga pointed out.
Kagome sighed. She knew she could get him to give in with just a little persuasion, but on the other hand he had a point. And it would do Inuyasha some good to have to ask politely. She called his name. "Can you hear me?"
"Yes, Kagome, I can," he answered, voice dropping into a gentler key than usual. "You're alright?"
"Of course. Are you?"
"Fine. But Tetsusaiga is starting to bend."
"Why are you telling me about the health of your sword?"
"Because it's holding up the ceiling, wench!" he snapped, reverting to his usual tone.
Kagome's hand flew to her mouth. "Oh! Kouga, we've got to start digging again right away!"
There was a certain miffed quality to the prince's bearing as he turned to start directing his 'children' to begin clearing away around the hole he and Shippou had made. Through conference with the prisoners it was established that a particular slab was the one being held up by the bending sword, and through inspection it was established that there were an awful lot of rocks on top of it that had to be dealt with before Aerie, Inuyasha, and Miroku could be released from their tomb.
About two hours had passed. By this time, Inuyasha and Kouga were no longer speaking to one another. All communication was relayed through Kagome. Luckily, they were a good deal closer now, separated by only one sheet of rock, so her throat was not quite raw. The slab had finally been freed, but the edges had turned out to be so closely laid against the surrounding rocks that no one could get hold of it. Even Shippou's tiny fingers couldn't fit into the crack. Inuyasha could have lifted it from within, but no one was sure that the whole place wouldn't collapse when the lid came off, so he was needed for bracing the walls. The problem had already been worried at for ten minutes without any breakthroughs.
"Aha!" said Kouga suddenly, unsheathing the sword that was always at his side with a shik and holding it aloft so that it caught the sinking light of the sun. "I always knew this would come in useful some day."
"What?" demanded Inuyasha. "What's the moron going to do?"
"He's taken out his sword," Kagome replied.
"He has a sword?"
"You never noticed?"
"No," answered the great hero, put out. "How come you have a sword, flea brain?"
"He wants to know why you carry a sword, Kouga."
"I'm a prince, aren't I?" responded Kouga. "Far be it from me, my fair lady, to be seen without the symbol of my rank."
"I'm guessing you're going to use that as a lever," said Sango. "Isn't that bad for the blade?"
"It's not as if I use the thing," replied Kouga with a shrug. "We may need two, though. Give me yours."
"While they finish with that, you tell me about this drawing," directed Inuyasha.
Aerie jumped. "What? But, Inuaysha, why? It's just a doodle."
"You seemed a little too relieved to get out of telling me about it."
Aerie spread her hands and cast her eyes heavenward. "Oh, Inuyasha, of course I was relieved! They were rescuing us!"
"You weren't all that worried about being trapped here in the first place, as far as I could tell."
Aerie couldn't confess that this was because she possessed the assurance that they would get out of it somehow, due to being in a story and therefore having to expire in a climactic manner. Knowing that your life is subject to narrative causality can do funny things to the motivation. If you happen to be the hero and you find this out, it can do funny things to the story. Proud, stubborn, and taciturn Inuyasha might be, but Aerie knew who her unfriendly neighborhood hero was.
Besides all that, he wasn't likely to believe her anyway. "I was worried," was her assurance, "I just hid it really well."
Although, Aerie mused, maybe she got to be a sort of visiting hero. After all, she came with a villain. It could be like what Marvel comics did. 'Guest starring Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and Aerie Gannon.'
Er. Maybe not. She wondered if Daredevil and Inuyasha would get along. Probably not. All they had in common was fighting, lunacy, and good hearing. Oh, and nice red uniforms.
"Keh," said Inuyasha. "Fine, then. You didn't care about telling me. So tell me."
Aerie stonewalled, ineffectively. "What, now?" she asked, as if such a thing were absurd.
"But we're about to get out."
"Better hurry up, then."
Eyes locked. There was a brief battle of wills. Aerie lost, rather to her surprise.
She turned to her final doodle. It had by far the largest speech bubble, as tall and as wide as the figure with which it went. The triangles perched atop its head made trying to lie about it being Inuyasha a lost cause. She cleared her throat, addressed a mental prayer to whatever supernatural entity might happen to be paying attention, and narrated, " 'Lady Sango, that was your name wasn't it?' " Aboveground, Sango covered her face. Not this. Why did Aerie have to drag up the most disturbing thing that had happened in the miserable…one, two…seven days they had known her? " 'Please, you are so beautiful. Grace me with another smile, for it is like the rise of the sun.' " Miroku, Sango, Kagome, and Aerie were all writhing. Kouga was nonplussed. No one dared to look at Inuyasha to see his reaction. " 'You reassure this unworthy one that there is hope left in a confusing world.' That's, er, a direct quote," she added, closing her eyes against Inuyasha's impending ire and wondering if she should add, 'please make it a quick death' to that as well. Dammit, why hadn't she lied!
Seconds passed, and she didn't die, unless the experience was a whole lot less dramatic than she had been led to believe. She cracked an eyelid. Inuyasha had 'trauma victim' written all over him.
"I really said that?" he asked. Aerie opened her eyes all the way, trying not to be relieved since she had obviously just done a very cruel thing.
Not to worry. The color was already coming back into his face. His fists clenched furiously. "Damn that Kileb! He should have someone messing up the inside of his head some time, see how he likes it! I wish to hell I was in his mind right now!"
It took a moment for Aerie to remember certain facts. About midnight spells and café lattes and things Inuyasha should not say. The same moment that it took the over-ground crew to finally get the lid off, for Miroku's lips to form an 'o' of horror, and for all three of the formerly buried to start to glow. To glow blue. Trisak's blue, the color of his eyes when he was very angry, a state she had seen him in twice and would live her life happily without seeing ever again.
There were no swearwords strong enough, so she didn't use any. "Inuyasha," she said, "I am so, so sorry you're an idiot."
Someone was shouting. The world began to look scrambled, as if some deity had decided that what he really, really wanted for breakfast was Sengoku Omelet. There was a green blur and a flash of blonde hair, and then a sensation that she was almost sure was a body crashing into her.
And then the world went away.
And that seemed like a good stopping-point. Next chapter should be considerably faster, because I've got lots of stuff written and school's out for the summer. Yes, it's odd: Kouga does have a sword, and he has never to my knowledge noticed it. And yes, I've been planning what just came to pass for a long time. Cue evil laughter.
Sango: So...where are they going?
TrisakA: You'll see.
Sango: Bet I know.
TrisakA: Bet you do.
Kagome: Sakusha-san, is it just me, or did you not manage to get this chapter written until you worked on it at four in the morning?
TrisakA: Not just you. That's the only time my frontal lobe is out of commission enough to allow me to commit this kind of thing. Another stumbling block in the path of writing fanfiction during the school year. But oooh, oooh, guess what I got!
Inuyasha: The All-New Guide to the Humiliation of Defenseless Characters?
TrisakA: Close, but no cigar. I got a Japanese Grammar book! Ooh, ooh, you guys, is it really true that Japanese verbs don't conjugate differently for different persons? And that you leave the subject out whenever you can? And that there's no future tense? Is it really true that you only have two irregular verbs? And these things called particles, they do the jobs of prepositions plus some other jobs and they always come after the word they modify, and, and, and… :D!
Naraku: (shakes head) A grammar geek. Very sad.
Trisak: … (hits him with a pie.)