Autumn was fast approaching, and the weather, not too long ago stifling and languid, had turned to greet it. The night was restless and blustery. The sounds of shouts and screaming in the near distance carried through the swaying trees.
Through the darkness, a single demon scrambled feverishly onward, gasping for breath; it's large eyes slitted against the stray thorns and brambles that caught at his wide sleeves. He was out of breath, and the expression on his face was almost frantic. The forests trees and shadows loomed over the little creature as he stumbled on.
Ahead, through the darkness, the trees seemed to be thinning. With a last spurt of speed, the diminutive Youkai crashed into the clearing. Skidding to a stop with the loud stirring of undergrowth, he barely even paused for breath before thrusting up the staff clutched tightly in his claws.
In a flash, blazing, roaring flame surged upward into the night sky, illuminating the otherwise pitch darkness of the new moon.
Miles away, a white shadow lifted it's gaze to stare at the far-off beacon with eyes more golden than the distant flames. Soundlessly it rose to a standing position in it's place amongst the boughs of the ancient maple.
A second later, it had gone.
She had never been so angry in her life.
To fall asleep on watch! To let their guard down so! How dare they even think themselves men!
Of course, the anger was really nothing compared to the extent of what else she was feeling. And she was perfectly justified in the amount of fear coursing through her being at that moment. The desperation. It showed clearly in her large brown eyes, gleaming in the fitful golden glare cast by the roaring flames consuming the village all around her.
She skidded around a corner and her eyes met a fur-clad figure holding a glinting katana stained red with blood. Human blood - that of the elderly man on the ground who had been trying in vain to protect his young grandson - the body of whom lay only inches away from the other. Feral eyes snapped up to look at her, fangs glinted in a malicious grin as the demon eyed her eagerly.
The anger flared suddenly again, overriding the panic. She charged straight toward the creature, heedless of the fallen, splintered timber tearing the soles of her bare feet. Her heart pounded in her chest, her teeth were clenched in an almost demonic-looking snarl as she fitted the final arrow to the bow and loosed at her target standing only yards away.
The wolf Youkai staggered backwards with a sharp outcry and went down. It had left her thoughts even before it had fallen, and she hared on past, sparing a glance and a pang of regret only for her fellow villagers lying on the ground amongst the pools of mingled Youkai and Ningen blood.
There was a sudden shout from somewhere not too far behind accompanied by the sounds of rabid, animalistic snarling, which effectively told her the demon's comrades had spotted her. Fear surged again. She clenched her fists and pumped her legs, dropping the now useless bow and feeling the empty quiver bounce against her back. The sudden, unbidden memory of frenzied wolves, of powerful jaws yanking her hair, of razor-sharp canines tearing into her flesh leapt in her mind. Her heart shuddered dangerously in her chest and she staggered, only just managing to save herself from falling.
Regaining her footing, she darted down a narrow alleyway made between two rows of burning huts, and had only just skidded around the corner when she registered that she was running headlong toward another demon who had not yet even seen her behind him. Pulling her last weapon, the old, intricately crafted dagger from her obi, she lobbed it at the Youkai's back and vaulted over him as he yelled out and fell to the ground.
She pelted on, mentally setting a course for the shrine just outside the village, trying to convince herself that the fact that she could no longer hear or see any running, terrified villagers did not necessarily mean that they were all . . .
She was saved from thinking the unthinkable when she glimpsed darkness and the bridge over the canal leading to the shrine just beyond the flames. A pang of relief seized her heart, but it was short-lived. From behind, there came a sudden, sharp, blood-curdling outcry, and the shrieks of the wolf-Youkai chilled her to the bone. Not knowing what was going on behind her, she sped up instead of looking back, ducking past the shuddering flames as the hair on the back of her neck stood up in foreboding.
With a gasp as though breaking from the surface of water, she burst from the edge of the burning village and ran on without even pausing for breath. The coolness of the dark night suddenly washed over her as she left the intense heat of the flames, chilling her blood-soaked, perspiration covered body. Her bare feet sped across the bridge with muted thuds on the wooden boards, leaving crimson footprints in her wake.
The door to the shrine was open, she noted as she took the little staircase two steps at a time. She slipped inside the dark interior with the grim knowledge that the old priestess, whom she had worked with in this place as her assistant, was not here, and she would most likely never set eyes on the old woman alive again. Validating her thoughts, the matting on the floor of the shrine had been left rolled back, and the secret compartment set in the floorboards was still open. She hurriedly squatted down in the gloom and carefully reached inside in search of any remaining hidden weapons. The blessed bow and arrows were gone and she groaned mentally, shaking off the empty quiver slung over her shoulder in frustration, knowing she would have been best equipped with them, as they were the weapons she was most skilled with. Reaching inside again she discovered a short sword was the only thing left, after tearing the side of her index finger on the blade. Hissing, she grabbed the hilt of the weapon with the same bleeding hand and pulled it out.
Standing once more, she winced as the pressure on her feet reminded her sharply of her shredded soles, but there was no time to tend to them. She had either to somehow get away undetected through the forest, or face off with the wolf-demon tribe that had simply on a whim decided to decimate her village en-route to the clan wars in the south.
. . . So this was how she was to die. She had been saved from the wolves once, but they had come to claim her in the end.
He was not here this time.
She tried to convince herself that she didn't want him to be.
She silently watched as her bloody fingers tightened on the hilt of the weapon in the gloom.
" . . . I'm sorry," Rin though defeatedly for the umpteenth time. "I'm sorry, Sesshomaru-Sama."
She stepped outside to the crash of wood splintering and collapsing somewhere within the fire-eaten village. Swollen flames danced manically, and black smoke rose endlessly into the inky sky. Embers drifted eerily on the air along with the foul stench of burning wood, laced with burning corpses. Rin was sorry that it had come to this, was angry that it had come to this; why couldn't they just have left the village alone? She would never see the people she had come to care for again, and she felt rage and sorrow burn together in her stomach as she slowly descended the wooden stairwell. She had already accepted in the shadows of the shrine that she would meet her end this night. But she would at least try to avenge them, she resolved as she silently crossed the bridge, and gripped the hilt of the sword, ready to fight.
She stopped when she came to the other side, scanning the flames with narrowed eyes and waiting for the wolves to emerge. She was not frightened anymore. She was nothing, in fact. It was as if all other emotion had left her being, leaving only adrenalin feeding her body and a smouldering sensation in her stomach. Her bleeding hand had stained the short-sword's hilt crimson as she gripped it tighter, the pain only fuelling the burning in her blood. Ready to face them, she moved forward.
She hadn't taken three steps before she saw what she was waiting for; a figure appeared amidst the flames and she stopped. Squaring her shoulders, gripping the sword even tighter. Rin was sizing her opponent up when her body suddenly became as petrified as a tree, her mind suddenly tripping over itself and jerkily doubling back in complete disbelief as she struggled to take in what she was seeing.
The approaching figure slowly became clearer, a tall form silhouetted against writhing flame, and Rin's mouth fell open. Her heart quailed and leapt painfully against her ribs, and in an instant, the emotionless, single-minded state flew away, and far too many feelings rushed in to take its place all at once as she recognised the unmistakeable face. The billowing garments. The silver-white mane. The sword and the armour. The wolverine eyes burning brighter than any flame.
. . . N - No.'
Rin heard her own voice as if spoken by another person.
The molten eyes locked upon her glinted.
Awareness of her body slowly began to filter back in. Her heart was pounding in her chest. Blood was rushing in her ears. Her skin was covered in a sheen of cold sweat. The hair on the back of her neck was standing on end. Her whole body seemed to be trembling.
She heard her voice quaver fearfully as she stepped backward.
The approaching figure came to a stop then - and it did nothing to comfort her.
It merely validated that this was really happening.
It was only when she heard the thunk of steel on wood that she registered she'd dropped the sword. Stumbling backward, she wheeled around, her hair flying around her, and bolted back across the bridge toward the shrine, her feet thudding against the worn wood.
She was almost across, when all of a sudden the figure that had been behin her was suddenly in front of her, standing at the end of the bridge and watching her as she came running towards him with haunting, wolverine eyes.
Gasping for breath as if she had just run a mile, a frightened sound escaped Rin's throat as she skidded to an abrupt halt, further tearing her bare soles on the wooden boards. Desperately wanting to get away she blinked fearfully at him with wide eyes as she wheeled around again, but she had not pelted even two steps when the white-clad figure streaked into her line of vision, once again standing silhouetted by the flames behind him and silently watching her with unblinking, molten eyes.
She baulked and scrambled backward once again, her legs unsteady and trembling. They duly gave up on her - she stumbled feebly, and fell.
She landed with a muffled thud and her breath rushed from her lungs as sharp pain lanced up her spine from the impact to her tailbone. The pain then faded, only to be replaced by a wave of full-body trembling as she sat, staring up at the creature standing before her.
Her breath hitched, her heart leaping as the figure moved toward her, his footfalls soundless on the wooden boards.
. . . No . . .' she whimpered soundlessly, unaware of the droplet of blood rolling down her skin from the cut across her cheekbone, or the silent tears trickling down in it's wake.
The figure stopped hardly two paces in front of her, silhouetted by the roiling flames and wheeling embers in the background, casting a long, dark shadow over her slight, scorched, bloodstained, tattered frame.
The voice was resonating and inhumanly calm and familiar as her own shadow and she flinched, her eyes screwed shut, her face soaked with salty tears. The fires roared and snapped angrily in the background.
She baulked, her heart skipping painfully - - but nothing happened. After a long silence, she hesitantly opened large, over-bright eyes - and blinked at the hand held out before her.
Slowly, shakily, she lifted her eyes to see the face of the white-clad creature. His expression was hidden by shadow, but the wolverine eyes gleamed as if lit from within. Something inside her suddenly began to wind down, like tension being slowly released from a spring. She swallowed down the lump that had appeared in her parched throat.
The voice sounded again.
It was followed by a long silence, broken only by churning fire and timber crashing and burning in the decimated village.
More tears rolled silently down her face, and Rin reached weakly for the waiting, clawed hand. Lethal talons brushed softly against soft skin - just as they had once done when she was small and defenceless. She was deftly pulled upright and against solid, antique armour and silk.
Sesshomaru wrapped an arm around her, and Rin knew without having to look that a billowing, silvery mist was forming around their feet. She shut her eyes as hot, salty tears leaked forth, and grimaced against the pain mingled with joy.
. . . I'm sorry, Sesshomaru-Sama . . . I'm sorry . . .'
A wave of dizziness washed over her then, perhaps from exhaustion, perhaps from shock, or perhaps from the disorientation the sound of her own small voice caused; the sound of a little girl child saved from the wolves; and she wasn't sure if it wasn't really all just a dream . . .
It was almost a relief when the blackness took her.
Note - Sesshomaru only has Tenseiga in this story. Tokijin was broken by Mouryomaru in a recent instalment of the Inu-Yasha manga.