There once was a boy that was not at all the same.
She never learned the new child's name, although it was said constantly. It trailed through her mind and she let it go, not caring.
What she did notice was how spoiled this brat was. His mother --a new favorite of Honorable Mother because she was a favorite of the Master-- did not lift a hand to care for him, leaving that responsibility to the other women. But the damage had already been done before their arrival here.
Apparently, they had been stored at one of the Master's other homes that the women had departed from not long ago. Her son had been born there and there he had run wild. So wild that he was a raging forest fire in comparison to Sesshoumaru's more composed and centralized flame.
That brat could get into more trouble in a day than Sesshoumaru had in all his life. He sometime even went so far as to make a scene in front of his father, whenever he came home. The Master would always punish him, accordingly, often in front of the crowd just to show he was still in control.
But she never failed to see the grimace of disgust on his face during those moments. She knew what it meant.
This boy was nothing like the son he'd given up, and he knew it. He was just too damn proud to accept it.
She could not help but watch those beatings with a shameful heart full of joy, knowing deep down inside that he was a fool and that he was only getting what he deserved.
Then she would catch sight of Sesshoumaru, lingering at the edge of the crowd, and his blank face would freeze any warm thoughts out of her.
The Master may be a fool, but his pride had ruined everything for the one person she felt anything for in this place.
And she could not fix it.
There was a son she no longer recognized.
She barely saw Sesshoumaru any longer. Now that the brat was growing, and all attention was focussed on him, the other son was tossed in the shadows. It amazed her how easily he was forgotten. Gone were the teachers, the guards, and most of the servants. Only one would be seen hovering around the young youkai's quarters, waiting for him to either exit or return, she never knew which.
The best time to try to spot the boy was when his father returned. Sesshoumaru would always emerge from wherever he'd vanished to in order to be present, even as the Master ignored him completely. Yet he still came, remaining the obedient son he'd always been. He never said a word, except when spoken to. Which he never was.
According to the estate manager, who would sometimes hop her way, Sesshoumaru often disappeared for a long amount of time, only to return bloody and filthy, much to the estate manager's chagrin. The old flea never said much about it, but he always seemed to know that she was grateful for even that little bit of news, no matter how heartrending it was. Apparently he remembered that Sesshoumaru was her --and unfortunately his-- son, even if everyone else seemed to ignore that fact.
Sometimes, she wished her son would just run off and stay gone, but she knew that was impossible. His father would hunt him down. He couldn't loose anything that was his, even if it wasn't wanted anymore.
Sesshoumaru knew this, of course, and therefore he would always drag himself back from wherever he had gone, only to hide in his rooms to lick his wounds the best he could. Then, once his presence was recorded and the wayward object had returned, he would always leave again. Slinking in and out of the shadows, he would wander just far enough on his tether until he was snapped back again.
There once were two boys that were so thinly united that the tie was nonexistent.
"Ah! Look, there he is!"
The brat sat upon the walkway, feet swinging ungracefully as the collected mothers clustered around him. He raised a hand, jumping up to attention. "Over there, see him. That ghost."
Kneeling back towards the house, she had some trouble seeing what he indicated. Inching up, she peered around the collected bodies and swallowed the heart that leapt to her throat.
It was a ghost. The ghost of a beloved son, draped in white and propped against a tree. Sesshoumaru looked to be asleep, his eyes closed and everything about him strangely limp.
But the moment the brat stepped off the porch, he was alert. Gold eyes snapped open and narrowed in vehement anger.
"What, don't you even have a set of rooms now?" the brat sneered, malicious joy etched on his face.
Sesshoumaru gazed at him, unperturbed. He did not even rise as the brat stalked closer, mapping out a half circle as if he was hunting prey.
"What, can't you talk, aniki-sama? Maybe that's why Father gave up on you, huh? You're nothing but a stupid mutt, huh?"
Sesshoumaru didn't respond. He simply turned his head to the side, ignoring him.
The brat was not pleased. In fact, he began to scream and rant, spitting out terrible jeers that Sesshoumaru ignored completely. It was a one-sided fight as that brat continued to throw around words that, to her, spoke of nothing but his own insecurities. As she watched him become increasingly on edge, she realized that the brat hated his elder brother for many reasons. The most vivid one was fear.
She couldn't help it--it went against her upbringing and all her instincts-- but she felt proud that her son could strike fear with just his silence. The brat couldn't even do that with a sword.
There once was silence.
That was not the first nor was it the last that those two would meet. Every time the brat would speak, then yell, and his words would get him nowhere.
Never once did Sesshoumaru say a word to him. In fact, he never even acknowledged the other youkai's existence, openly.
But she knew that Sesshoumaru wasn't as inattentive of his sibling as he appeared to others. He was keeping a constant eye on the little brat. Sometimes she would see him hovering at the edges of the brat's training sessions, or haunting the edges of the garden during the younger youkai's daily visits.
As more time passed and the brat grew stronger, these strange behaviors in her son increased. It was almost as if he was stalking the younger boy, waiting for a moment of weakness.
Or, perhaps a moment of strength?
Because, no matter what he had lost, Sesshoumaru still had his honor, if not his pride.
There once was a moment that changed everything.
It was a normal day, just like ones before. The brat was out again, amongst his cloud of mothers and doing nothing but staring at the rising outer walls.
And then Sesshoumaru was there. He appeared as if imagined, stark against the gaudy kimonos on the walkway. He took calm, measured steps forward, eyes meeting the brat's for the first time.
Apparently the younger youkai wasn't as foolish as she'd thought. He leapt to his feet, hands scrambling for the sword at his side. He took a swing--
No one knew what happened until his head lolled across the polished grounds. The blood popped and hissed, boiling as it hit the ground, the flesh was melting away as they stared, wide-eyed. They didn't even think to scream.
And there Sesshoumaru stood calmly, gazing down at the slumping body with a look on his face that was too blank to be an expression. He shook his hand once, tiny droplets that were not blood falling from his fingertips and she knew what it was.
Cast aside by one family, he'd awakened the power of the other. The power to heal…and destroy, that which she carried in her veins. And he would never know that. He would never get the chance.
As the unavoidable, hysterical cries began, she was forced to admit the truth to herself.
He would be dead within a day.
And she couldn't help but be glad.
There once was a time when fratricide bought favor.
The not-lord came swooping home shortly after. Her heart trembled as she watched. He approached his only living son with smoldering eyes and Sesshoumaru stood calm, meeting his gaze squarely.
"You killed him."
"Yes." Simple as that.
The Master's face relaxed some and confusion bubbled through the crowd. Did he look…pleased? "With poison?"
"How did you come across this singular ability of yours?"
The not-lord laughed, a smirk of a sound, and he stepped over the laid out body of his youngest to clutch Sesshoumaru's closest hand. He did not notice his son try to step back. "From here, they tell me. Green, they said, and able to melt skin, muscle, and bone at the touch."
Sesshoumaru stared up at his father with placid eyes. "Yes."
"Father," the Master corrected, glancing up sharply.
"Good boy," the not-lord said then, dropping his hand and shuffling him forward. "You shall come with me tonight, my son. We have a conquest for tomorrow."
She suddenly had the urge to be ill. This was not what she'd wanted to happen…
She wanted the not-lord angry. She wanted this ghost of her son dead.
Because, staring into those darkened eyes, she knew that this wasn't Sesshoumaru any longer. She just wanted his misery to end.
It was impossible now.
I love you so much…please stop hurting like this…
There once was a time, like many others, when she could do nothing.
She knelt through the years, demurely and in favor after the rest of her heritage was revealed to the Master. She watched what she could of the world at Honorable Mother's side, honored by the women but completely unknown to her own son. It was nothing different.
News came of the men's exploits. The Master plowing through the West until he had collected or killed every last scrap he could dig into. The not-lord had a faithful shadow at his side through it all. Where one name was the other was quickly dragged after.
She heard more about her son than she saw him. In fact, for an uncountable amount of time, neither came home and the women were left to linger.
Then, to everyone's shock, things changed. Aid began to grow scarce and soon they found themselves living on the edge of poverty as the castle decayed about them.
She thought herself above the splendor, but soon discovered that she grew annoyed at the sudden absence of wealth. She had grown soft it seemed from her once hardy family roots.
"Where has the Master been?" one woman asked as they hurried to collect water from the leaking ceiling one rainy night.
"Has he forgotten us?" another cried, trying to mend yet another hole in her once lovely kimono.
Honorable Mother did not answer. She merely looked haggard, a pale specter on the edge of the room.
Guards and servants were beginning to desert them now, for mysterious reasons. In a blink of an eye they were reduced to a handful of loyal retainers, one of which was the estate manager. The old flea looked so worn, especially after hours of frantic questions from the ladies.
"Things are not going well for the Master," was all he said.
She was afraid then, a sudden choking fear that threatened to kill her. Not going well…
It was only when the figure appeared in the rain that they learned the truth.
There once was another woman.
No one knew what to do at the warrior's approach and many of the women panicked. Their protection was gone and they had a right to fear this formidable figure walking towards them.
It was only as he drew closer that the fear turned to frenzied surprise.
Heart up in her throat, she shoved her way to the front. It was just barely he, she noticed. He'd grown so much and wore a warrior's armor that made him look even larger. Soaked by rain and yet so pristine white, he appeared almost ethereal, a man that had built himself up within a body of stone.
He said nothing to them as he pushed his way inside, one of his soaked sleeves slapping her in the face as he came into the room. Only then did they notice the bundle he carried. Or rather…whom he carried
It was a tiny slip of a girl in many layers of multi-colored kimono. Her face was nearly as pale as his, her makeup running in streams.
And she was blatantly human.
Honorable Mother was up in an instant, standing beside the boy that had once been scant inches below her height. He now towered over them all like a silent mountain.
"Sesshoumaru-sama…" was all she could say before the woman moaned from the floor. She said the Master's name.
All movement stopped. Then Sesshoumaru moved, turning back to the door.
"Father wants her cleaned up," he informed them, his voice cold. "He will be returning here shortly." He stopped, giving Honorable Mother a final glance over his shoulder. When he spoke it was with enough bitterness to make the other women draw back. "I would recommend that you treat her like some living doll--Father is quite possessive of his little precious one here."
With that he was out in the storm once more, stalking off towards the left of the complex, vanishing from sight quicker than a mirage.
There once was a time of unexpected warmth.
The not-lord did return. He did not appear to notice the shabby establishment. He only had eyes for this human woman, who they'd noticed with some dismay was growing with child.
He was absolutely besotted with this girl, who did nothing but kneel at his side and gaze at him with shadowed eyes. He did not appear to care that the other women saw; in fact he would spend long uncomfortably hours in the women's quarters as the rest of the building fell around them.
Sickened by his presence and unable to contain herself, she went outside. It was winter now, the snow was harsh and biting, but she remained standing. Everything was falling apart--these were nothing more than extra pain to mix in.
"You should not be out here."
Her heart thudded in her ears, almost blocking out that agonizingly familiar voice. Turning, she saw Sesshoumaru standing behind her. He was covered in a layer of white snow, frozen strands of hair glimmering in the faint light.
Her lips felt frozen. It was only the overworked beating of her heart that made them able to move. "My apologies, Sesshoumaru-sama…" she whispered, the first words she'd ever spoken to him in all these years. There was so much there, behind them, and her eyes stung.
I am so, so sorry…
He was at her back in a flash, arms snaking around her to cross her chest. Surprisingly warm hands gripped her arms as matted hair coated her like ice. She couldn't move, feeling him this close with his breath on her neck and his lips against her ear.
Life was full of irony…irony… That he should love her like this…
"It's all that woman's fault that everything is falling apart," he whispered in her ear, his voice pitched so low she barely heard him over the wind. "Do you not think so, mother?"
There once was a bittersweet moment of family.
"How did you…?" she began to ask from her semi-dry corner. Huddled under a piece of his travel costume, she sat in what had once been his room. There was nothing here now besides old, rain-drenched furniture and a few travel bags. It was a frugal lifestyle, born of wandering.
He stood, back to her, in the open doorway. Snow whipped into the room, coming to rest within arms reach of her feet.
"Figure it out? Simple enough. You still happen to have living relatives. Some of which bear a mark I can quite identify with."
Her breath caught in her throat. What…? "How can that be…I saw them all be slaughtered by--" she stopped, not willing to go on.
It wasn't as if he didn't know, however. Glancing back at her, he gave her a solid, opaque look. "My Father, yes. Your so-called husband, yes. I know all that. So do they. And yes, one did survive--a young cousin of yours. Must I say that she was not very pleased to see me?" He laughed, humorlessly, a grimace of a smirk crossing his face.
She just stared at him in silence.
"Do you know what's happening, with Father I mean?" he asked her, softly. She shook her head, eyes pleading with him. She didn't know what she asked, but she knew she wanted to give anything in return.
Sesshoumaru sneered, his head whipping around in the direction of the women's quarters. "He's been taking human women now. Not by conquest, but through stealth. He grabs them from their sleep, little whores for his abnormal tastes. I've lost count of the number of aborted hanyou."
He looked at her then, his eyes glistening in anger. "It is for this lust of his that I waste my time--that he lets his empire fall to ruins. The empire that belongs to me--he owes me at least that much." The last was growled like a true canine, raising the hackles on the back of her neck. Yet his face returned to its natural smoothness in an instant, like ripples disappearing under the placid mirror of a lake.
She knelt, cowed by his wrath, staring at the stiff line of his back. Then her fingers gripped the fabric draped around her and all she saw was kindness. Small, absentminded, but it was there all the same.
"Sesshoumaru-sama…" she began, hesitant. "Why is this woman here, then?"
He did not raise his voice to her again, as she thought. In fact, he sounded weary and much older than he was. "Pride. Other youkai called Father a wasteful fool, told him that he should not take a human. But he does not answer to others--at least he tells himself thus-- and therefore he took and kept the next he found. It just happened to be this contemptible wretch.
"Did you know that she cried nearly the entire trip here?" he commented, a stab at nonchalance. No one but she would note the quavering of his voice.
She rose to her feet, went to go stand beside him, but he stopped her with a glance. "You must return now; they know you are gone."
She bowed her head. "Of course."
A stirring of snow and she found herself at the door to the women's quarters, warmth gone from her shoulders and Sesshoumaru faded into the white curtain beyond.
But, standing there with chilled feet, she found herself revoking her foolish, selfish wish. For this may not be the boy she'd yearned to understand, but it was the man she finally got the chance to know.
Let him live forever she pleaded to no one but herself.
There once was a sword smith.
"Ah…so this is the fang, then?"
The Master sat with his new pet in the women's quarters. Across from him knelt a scraggily youkai with great bulging eyes. The other women giggled about the eccentric old man from behind well-placed screens. She just watched him.
"Yes," the Master said, closing his mouth and pointing an imperious claw at the other youkai. "You are Toutousai, the smith able to make youkai swords of immense power, are you not?"
"So they say…" the old youkai replied, airily.
"Then you shall make one for me."
"For you, huh?" Toutousai remarked, a blackened claw tapping his pointed chin. He peered at the Master, bug-like eyes narrowing. "No."
That word reverberated in strained silence. The women were too frightened to even whisper amongst themselves.
"No," the Master asked, evenly. His eyes blazed like torturous flames.
The old youkai shook his head as if displeased. "That's what I said, isn't it? No. I won't make this sword for you, Inu no Taisho." He swung a finger around to the cowering woman at the lord's side. She covered her face with a moth-eaten fan. "But I will do it for her."
Silence again and the lord actually appeared flabbergasted.
"That is what you want this blade for, isn't it?" Toutousai asked, shifting on his knees. "For this hanyou you insist on bringing into this world? I guess I must give you more credit, Inu no Taisho. You aren't as bone-headed as they all say you are."
While the not-lord growled his dislike for the old youkai's cheek, she watched Toutousai. She was shocked when he turned her way and grinned.
There once was a disgruntled youth.
"He is having a sword made."
It was not a question, but she nodded anyhow as she once again huddled under a far-too large haori. Sesshoumaru actually sat for once, legs crossed and his expression both bitter and thoughtful. Wind roared in through the half-closed door, snow buffeting the thin shoji like a tsunami wave.
"One which he cannot use himself?"
She nodded once more, tucking her hands within the sleeves. "The old man returned again to speak to him and I listened to them." She should have felt ashamed, but she did not. "He took a fang from the Lord's mouth to create this sword."
"And he intends to pass it down to the bastard child?"
She couldn't stop herself from flinching at those words. "Yes, Sesshoumaru-sama."
Sesshoumaru was on his feet shortly after, pacing in small controlled circles, arms crossed within his sleeves. His anger trailed after him, palpable in the frigid air. She watched him pass, worry bubbling up in her chest.
But she dare not say anything, so all she could do was wait. She was surprised when he stopped abruptly, collecting something from one of his bags upon the floor. Coming over to her, he held it before her eyes. "For you."
She recognized it immediately--it was one of the robes she had once worn in her village. She stared at it, uncomprehending. Mild irritation crossed Sesshoumaru's face before he dropped it in her lap. She clutched the material reflexively. "Think of it as a gift from your living family, although they do not know it is gone."
Her lips moved but she didn't know what to say. Words truly were useless at such a time, anyhow.
There once was a parting to leave her lonely.
"Where do you go now, Sesshoumaru-sama?" she asked softly, hovering in the open door as he prepared to leave. She felt out of place here, being uninvited and having forcefully breached ingrained protocols. But she would not let her own weaknesses keep her away any longer.
"Father has been challenged by a clan of cats from the west. Even he cannot let such a threat alone. It won't just disappear, much as he'd wish it would." He glanced back at her then, a contemptible sneer hovering just on the edge of his lips. For her sake, he turned back around.
"Why must you go?" She spoke before she could think it through and she swallowed the biter aftertaste of those words with a grimace. She was not here to whine or coddle. That was impossible.
"Must you ask?"
"No, I suppose not."
She watched him go, disappearing into the deep forest with his Father. The not-lord did not look back once, but Sesshoumaru just trudged ahead, unfazed by the old youkai's indifference.
Seeing this-- knowing what was to come, what had been-- she so dearly wanted to know why he would put his life on the line for him.
But there just some things she could never understand.
There once was a crying, frightened woman.
It was not long after the men had left that the human woman finally let go of that hanyou child. It was a painful progress. She knew, because she had been forced to aid the others. Even with the assistance of multiple demon women, the human still bled terribly, her blood scent stinking up the entire castle.
It was for this reason that they were all pleased that the Master was gone.
She had the position beside the woman's head, a damp cloth over the human's fevered, tearful eyes.
"This isn't real…" the woman mumbled, incoherent. "This isn't a baby…this can't be life…Babies aren't killers and I'm going to die…I don't want to…"
"Oh, shut up," one of the nearby women hissed.
"I hate him…" she breathed, ignoring the angry woman as her painful eyes pinned on her.
Startled, she could do nothing but tell her the truth. "I know. So do I."
Then the woman screamed and screamed, her voice dying hoarse and they all cowered back in pain. The same woman as before struck her hard, cutting of the squeals momentarily. "Be quiet and take it like a real woman!"
The human didn't even try. Amidst her own wails and broken sobs came the gurgled cries of an infant.
None of them were very pleased.
"But at least it wasn't deformed too much," one woman mumbled as the new mother wept wretched tears onto her baby's little head.
"Although its dog-ears were very stupid," another sneered.
But what she saw, what made her stomach sink deep, was that this terrible thing was a boy.
She'd come to expect the worst with those.
There once was a mighty sword.
"He's not at home?" the old sword smith asked, looking perplexed. Honorable Mother stood at the door; her stern expression marking no passage as the others clustered behind her in the shadows. The human woman was still stuck in bed, her baby clawing at her breast as she whimpered.
Toutousai craned his neck to see back into the room but Honorable Mother blocked his view. "I will call a guard to escort you off the premises, sir," she lied boldly, knowing very well that they were defenseless.
The old youkai shook his head, stepping back. "Ah, I mean you know trouble, Honorable Lady. I merely came to give your Lord his commissioned sword."
Apparently eager to show off his masterpiece, he drew the sword with a flourish, making the women draw back in fright. But they all calmed when the blade came into view. It was old and rusted, nicked in innumerable places and hardly worthy of a youkai Lord.
"Are you…sure you have brought the correct sword?" Honorable Mother questioned, cautiously.
The old youkai nodded, shoving the sword back into its sheath. "Yes, I am quite sure. It is a sword of the like I've never made before. Tessaiga is a weapon in a class of it's own!"
The women in the room giggled.
"Perhaps you would like to stay until the Lord returns?" Honorable Mother asked, apparently finding his senility amusing. "I can have someone serve you tea."
"Yes, please!" Toutousai exclaimed, his big eyes wide. "I would appreciate that very much. I can't tell you the last time I had some good tea!"
The women tittered again while she watched the man with narrowed eyes.
When the old youkai was settled, she was the first to volunteer. Honorable Mother let her go.
There once was an old youkai who held a false face of senility.
"Ah, thank you so much, Honorable Lady!" old Toutousai crowed, slurping the tea she poured him. She sat with her head bowed to hide her face as she tried her best to play the proper lady. She had not had to do this in many years.
"Honorable Master honors this humble one with his kind words," she whispered, hands dainty in her lap.
"I see your Master's hanyou child survived."
The abrupt change in conversation left her hanging for a moment. She felt the old youkai's eyes on her. "That is not for this humble one to speak of, Master," she stalled, not knowing if she should divulge this information or not.
Because, she may hate him, and she may find that human wretch disgusting, but she couldn't find any fault in the little boy. She'd discovered this a few days ago after she'd pondered it over relentlessly. What harm could a hanyou do to her son? That was all she had to worry about.
"This sword was made for that boy," Toutousai remarked. His tone was light but she read the depth underneath. He already knew and her resistance was unnecessary. "That is the only reason I am here."
"It was less than a week prior, Master."
"I see… And it appears that you've all been kind enough to keep the two of them fed and cleaned, despite certain things…" he remarked, shrewdly.
"Yes, Master," she murmured. She could play this game, too. "There is much needed for a child, no matter the species."
"You would know, wouldn't you? I'm sure your son was quite a handful."
Her blood ran cold, instantly.
There once was an old friend of her youth.
She lifted her head then and found Toutousai peering at her intently. "How do you know of my son?" she demanded, eyes narrowing.
The old smith simply took a sip of his tea. "You wouldn't happen to know of Bokusenou?" he asked simply, switching topics like the wind changed directions.
Bokusenou. Her heart jumped at the name. "I--" she began, but Toutousai began to speak again.
"He is an old forest spirit who dwells very close to your old village, isn't that right?"
"He remembers you quite fondly and knows much of what had happened to you, Ten-san." Those bulging eyes looked strangely serious in spite of their peculiarity. She was not shocked by the use of her recent name. This man knew far too much, more than she'd ever imagined. "In fact, he wished for me to give you greetings and tell you that he saw your boy recently, passing through his woods."
Her mouth felt oddly dry. She wasn't the only one who knew… And that she had such a venerable spirit as old Bokusenou interested in her son… She could barely keep her heart from fluttering outside her chest.
"You might as well have some of that tea, Ten-san. There is no way I can drink it all and make the ride home without stopping," the old youkai said with a crooked grin.
She did as he said automatically, forgetting etiquette completely in her shock. She was remembered…
"In fact, it was Bokusenou who gifted me with the wood to create Tessaiga's sheath. That's when he asked about you," Toutousai was saying as he watched her drink. "He also said it was a shame that such a boy as yours would be left with nothing for all his hard work."
She dropped the cup in her hands, spilling the scalding tea over the front of her robes. But she made no motion to clean herself even as Toutousai stared at her in surprise. "He has worked so hard…" she croaked, something other than tea choking her. "And all for…all for…" she couldn't say it. It just broke her heart.
Toutousai looked at her with kind eyes. "I see that you know as well as I do that the Inu no Taishou is loosing his land and prestige. This hanyou is only adding to his troubles."
Her hands clenched in her lap as something hotter than the tea burned her eyes. She couldn't bring herself to say anything. It just hurt so much.
"Perhaps," Toutousai remarked, offhandedly. "If I were to get another fang I could…Well, I could give that boy at least something."
There once was a Dragon.
She didn't get a chance to decide. Toutousai's head whipped up suddenly and he stared straight into the ceiling with frightened eyes. "Oh no…"
She went to ask him what he meant, but then her nose caught the heavy scent of dragon. A dragon which was descending on the castle as they scrambled to their feet. The earth trembled as she made her best attempt at a sprint back to the women's quarters.
Everything around her was heaving, smoke filled the air. As she rounded the corner she heard the shrieks and stopped short. Toutousai stumbled to halt beside her before taking a hasty step back.
There it was. A powerful sinuous body of fire-touched scales topped with a massive, smirking head. The few loyal guards that had stayed on where nothing but meat under the beast's heavy coils.
The dragon lowered its head to peer into the main door to the women's quarters, where she saw Honorable Mother standing, hands braced against the doorframe. "Be gone, Dragon! It is nothing but women and children here--"
"As I expected," the Dragon hissed with a mammoth voice, tongue slippery against bloody teeth.
It happened so fast that she barely saw it. One moment Honorable Mother stood there, and the next…she was gone, the Dragon was crunching on her bones.
The women inside screamed, their voices mingling with the crackling flames.
She didn't have time for that. Pushing open the closest door, she grabbed Toutousai's arm. "This way. We have to get them out."
He stared at her blankly, his expression just edging on terror. "This really isn't what I came here for," he whispered.
She merely pushed him into the dark passage before snapping the door shut.
There once was a moment of compassion.
There was only one other entrance out of the women's quarters. She was just able to reach it as the castle shuddered, the frame cracking under the pressure of the Dragon's tail against it. She stumbled, coughing in the smoke. More women screamed and suddenly the door in front of her was whipped open.
Standing there was one of the women with her daughter. Both where burnt and gagging. They barely saw her as they ran off into the belly of the castle. She went to go call after them, telling them to stop, but it was useless.
"Come on," she growled, grabbing Toutousai once again and forcing him into the smoky room. Blurred shapes buzzed around her as fire ate at the walls. Women were shrieking.
Grabbing the closest body, she shoved them out the door. "Run out of the castle!" she shouted as she snatched another. She saw Toutousai finally cooperating, running closest to the flames to gather up the women.
The castle trembled again as she charged into the fray, sleeve over her nose as she tried to direct the frenzy. It wasn't working as well as she'd planned, especially when the Dragon's claw cut right over them, tearing a sizeable hole in the roof. That left most of the women paralyzed in fear.
"GO!" she screamed, her voice hoarse.
That was when she heard the wailing infant.
Turning slowly, she saw two terrified eyes peering up at her from the corner futon. "I can't walk!" the human screamed, attempting to rise one last futile time. "I don't want to die!" she wailed, holding out the keening infant as if he could save her.
She stared at them. The human cried, tears rushing down her face.
'… she cried nearly the entire trip here…'
Gritting her teeth, she ran over to them. Grabbing the woman by her arms she hauled her to her feet. Bending down, she tossed the startled human over her shoulder, feeling the woman tuck the baby close to her shoulder.
As she ran through the haze to the almost invisible door, she saw her son just like he had been that day, back to her in almost shameful silence. That had been compassion, hadn't it?
She wanted that compassion to have come from her.
There once was a time to run.
She ran. The castle was falling into itself, burned out. She saw a glimpse of the old sword smith fleeing the flames, but that was all she had time to see. The human woman was an extra burden on her already stressed body.
But she had to make it to the woods.
"Oh, why is this happening?" the human wailed in her ear, tears scalding her cheek.
She ignored her. She heard the Dragon roar and she ran faster. Straining, she tried to force the material binding her legs to split, but it would not. The imposed splendor was slowing her down.
The ground danced under her feet but she kept going. She was almost there--she saw the woods. Just keep running and running…
Something long and sharp pieced her back suddenly, causing her to stumble. Choking on the blood the rushed up her throat, she struggled to continue. There was a wet pop and pain flashed through her, but she was able to run again. The Dragon bellowed behind her, sounding so dangerously close, but she kept running even as the blood burned down her skin.
There. Bramble snapped under her numbing feet as she broke into the trees. The smoke had to have reached the forest--everything was so blurry here. She coughed, trying to clear her lungs, but it hurt too much. Arms trembling, she lowered the human woman down to her feet.
"You have to be strong and run!"
The human just stared at her, her child whimpering against her.
"Go!" she shouted, her voice gurgling in her throat uncomfortably.
The human didn't budge, looking terrified.
Stupid woman. She thought, bitterly. Don't you have any motherly instinct? It is for the female to protect the child, no matter your weakness…
That's something I should have known so long ago…
Gathering up her waning strength, she went to attack the woman, claws extended. Apparently her bloody, battle torn form had the effect a normal courtesan would not. "GO!"
The human left. The woman was as graceful as a newborn, but she managed to stumble away and out of sight.
Only once the human was gone did she let herself close her eyes. She felt suddenly very heavy and tired. Perhaps she would just wait here for Sesshoumaru…
There once was a woman…
Somewhere far away she was shaking. It didn't make sense.
"Are you still alive?"
Alive? Was she…? She didn't quite know. Somehow she saw so many faces and things where there really shouldn't be any. It all danced before her eyes and she tried to catch just one, to hold on to a tiny thread of coherence.
One face was thrown into focus as scraggly hair brushed her face. "Hey! We have to get out of here."
She saw Toutousai's face but wished she didn't. That wasn't who she was looking for.
"The Inu no Taisho arrived--don't you feel the earth moving?"
Where was he?
"Are you listening to me? Ten-san…no, look at me. Can you get up?"
Her eyes wandered. Where are you?
Toutousai continued to speak to her but she didn't listen. All she could think was that he wasn't coming. It was a joyously lonely thought. At least the last thing she would see wouldn't be her son's death.
Somewhere within the overcrowded spiral of her mind, two thoughts collided. Toutousai…Sesshoumaru.
…who sacrificed everything.
"Take…my fang." It wasn't her voice. It was a crone's. It was a withered, broken thing. It did not display the power of her conviction, or the explosion of relief throughout her cloudy brain.
She wasn't going to die, was she? She was going to live just for him, wasn't she?
Toutousai sputtered, stuttered, protested. She would win this battle.
She wasn't above begging.
He conceded. He didn't not say the words, but she knew it by the way his shoulders sank.
"You…remember what you said…don't you? Make it something great…give it to him, please." Her throat was uncomfortably tight and she forced the words through sheer will alone.
A pause and her eyesight wavered. It frightened her…
"All right. I will give it to him. He will learn of his mother's noble--"
…but not nearly as much as those words.
"It is to be from his father. I--"
…am no one of any importance.
She was nothing. Nothing but a forlorn broken woman.
But she could die with that. It was so simple to do and she'd had enough struggles in her life.
"Before I die…please…"
She didn't even feel it. She just stared at the smoke above them, the earth trembling so far away from her that she felt as if she was floating. Echoing down the tunnel of her life she heard a roar, knew a battle raged, but she just closed her eyes.
All the fight had run out of her. It was finally time to rest.
There is a blade, Tenseiga.
A little girl lays in the grass, waiting with the rest of her party for that strange old man to come back. She pulls idly at the weeds, gathering them in her hand because she thinks they're pretty, even if they aren't real flowers.
"Jaken-sama, what's Tenseiga?"
The little demon glances at her, eyes narrowed. "You are a very stupid girl, aren't you? As if you don't know that Tenseiga is Sesshoumaru-sama's sword."
"I know that." Rin tosses a stem at Jaken, but misses. She continues, eagerly. "But, that doesn't really answer Rin's question. What is Tenseiga? What makes it special? It isn't like any other sword Rin has ever seen."
Head up, beak out, Jaken puffs up like an arrogant bullfrog. "It is a sword from Sesshoumaru-sama's honorable father, the Great Inu no Taisho."
"That Inuyasha has a sword from Sesshoumaru-sama's father, too."
"Rin remembers a little," the girl begins, ignoring her companion. "Rin really doesn't like to remember most of it, except for…well, Rin doesn't really know what to call it. It felt like…like." She stops, knitting flowers between her fragile fingers. "It wanted to help Rin… It…was warm…it whispered…"
She stopped, questioning with her eyes. "Is that Tenseiga?"
Jaken doesn't comment. His stubby fingers drag through the grass and he doesn't admit it. He'd felt all that, too.
Rin looks up from her sprawled weeds, watching a familiar white shadow haunting the edge of their field. He is mending, she knows, but something still isn't quite right.
It's only once that sword comes back and they're walking again that she feels better. It's only then that the picture's complete.
Because, to Rin, Sesshoumaru-sama isn't the same without that sword. Tenseiga has always been there.
Trailing at Sesshoumaru-sama's side, she watches the sword and tries to find something different about it. Something she can see.
But there is nothing. The sword is content in its silence.
Almost as if there's nowhere else it could possibly wish to be.
And Rin understands.