Alone.

Silence resounding off the rocks and the sky and falling down to be muffled by the trees. Silence muffled? that was an interesting idea. Her mouth twisted into a bemused half smile. It was so so quiet that she could feel the silence dripping down the shoulder pieces of her armor. Maybe that wasn't the silence that was dripping. Nope definitely sweat left over from just finished training exercises. she chuckled this time. Oh well so much for all her poetic waxing about silence and the trees and so forth. But it didn't matter. The important part was that she was alone. Alone and that there was silence. No one here but her. another grin twisted her mouth as she glanced above the tree tops, this one more wild and devilish. My that rock face looked tempting.

Half way up, the rock split and nestled down right in the middle of the gap was a patch of earth with grass growing merrily out of it. The perfect place for sitting in silence and being alone. Sango sprang over the face of the great rock finding all the delicate places to fit deft hands and feet into, climbing gracefully to that patch of ground jammed into the mountain. Her hands found the crevice first, the grass cool and silky between her fingers as she pulled herself up. She stood there on the edge for a moment looking out over the tree tops and feeling herself shrink against the shear size of the mountain. Something about being able to stand in the middle of it made her feel powerful, like a conquerer. She sank to her knees. It was good to sit on soft grass after a grueling day of training. Her father had bested her again with the katana, but a severe trouncing of Kohaku in no weapons had made up for it. He had pouted like all younger brothers do and seen to it that every time they spoke, she knew exactly how much he hated the fact that she'd beaten him.

It was no wonder she wanted to get away so badly. As if Kohaku wasn't bad enough, her father had been pushing them harder and harder in an attempt to get them ready in case what people were saying was true. Rumors had begun to spread from the west that there were demons no one had seen for centuries lurking in the forests. There had been news of villages decimated and some sort of restless uneasiness that seemed to be a greater evil lurking just below the surface, biding its time. The people in the village had been forbidden to make any unnecessary trips outside especially at night and the night guard had been doubled. Her father had had them working like animals from sun up to sun down for the last month and to top it all off: no unnecessary trips included hikes in the woods, the only time Sango ever had alone.

The remedy? To sneak out. Much more difficult than one might imagine given the fact that her entire village was full of demon slayers, people who trained night and day to be alert at all times. Today hadn't been too difficult, not the getting out part at least. It was the getting back in that would require a bit more attention. But she didn't need to think about that yet. No one would really miss her until dark.
She leaned her head back against the rock. A breeze filtered through the lower part of the crag picking up speed as it rose. It rolled across Sango's body and across her face bringing a smile to her mouth. It smelled of forrest and earth and... something it should not smell of. Blood.

She was on her feet in an instant, scanning the horizon for anything that could tell where the scent was coming from. Nothing. Not a tree out of place or a cloud out of the ordinary. But that scent was unmistakable, even for her less than powerful human senses.

The wind picked up again, hoisting with it the same acrid odor, this time stronger, more pungent, and definitely human. Human blood, Sango's mind began to race. Enough human blood for the stench to carry this far. Then the rumors were true, and the youkai really had attacked. The cry of urgency in her brain rose to a fever pitch. The wind came from the west and as it vanished over her shoulder it took with it all doubt that this was anything but a demon attack. A demon attack meant one thing to a youkai slayer. Defend.

She vaulted over the edge of the rock, her grace turning into speed and she hit the ground running in the direction the wind had come from. As she began to pick up speed she made a mental list of her assets. Heading into the wind, good they couldn't smell her. In the forrest, good she could find cover easily and she knew she could move through it silently although one always had to assume that the Youkai could do the same. Her armor slid silently over itself at the shoulders as she ran. Armor was a good thing and the katana she still had from training, no match for her Hirokotsu, but a trusty weapon none the less. But one little sword was only a spark against a band of youkai.

She felt the toes of her left foot dip down slightly and through the thin soles of her shoes she recognized wolf print. Ok so possibly wolf youkai. Oh wonderful. Just what she needed. Fierce, loyal, always ran in packs. What was she doing? She ought to have gone back to her village in the first place and gotten help. But that was typical Sango: act first, remember to think halfway into things. Damn! Curse her and her reactions. Honorable, noble, and stupid. Utterly stupid.

Her toes dipped again finding the same pattern over and over. The pattern lengthened, the wolves were running. She bent her path and followed in the direction that the wolves had gone, dodging brush and tree limbs as she ran. Fear began to creep up Sango's back now and the wind began to blow more insistently in her direction. More blood stench, gods there must have been a massacre. she could hear nothing though, and another thought crossed her mind: what if they were all already dead? What if she was too late to do anything? But a devilish streak of curiosity would not have let her turn back even if her honor had. Some thing was happening and she had to know what it was.

A mile later, she was beginning to tire. There had been no sign of a village, a camp, a road, anything. Sango was starting to doubt. It had just been one smell. One lousy smell and she had gone cavorting off into the middle of the wilderness for what? To save some one? To... Immediately the mental commentary ceased. She heard something.

Some sounds make you scream, some freeze every bone in your body in utter terror, but there is only one reaction to the sound that wolf youkai make when they kill: a shudder. Not the kind of shudder that happens after you've eaten something particularly nasty, the kind that starts in the pit of your stomach and radiates out in all directions. The kind that makes you seriously contemplate the meaning of horror, the kind that rattles your teeth in your head. So naturally Sango shuddered.

Wolf youkai. She unsheathed her katana and moved closer. Crouching, There were four of them, two female, two male and they were youngish. Probably only adolescents. They were gathered in a circle, taking turns attacking. A child. They were attacking a child.

Her head snapped back as one of them grabbed a foot, dragging her a yard or so and letting go. She could see her tiny arms flail as one raked claws across her back tearing her clothing and splattering blood across the ground. She could hear the others laughing. They were taking their time, killing her slowly. It was a game to them, just a game.

Rage cascaded through Sango's body, bleeding out the color, and the sound, and the time until the world was all red and there was nothing left but her and the youkai. Suddenly she was standing in the center of the circle, one foot on either side of the now prostrate girl, katana raised in defiance. The moist heat from the demons' breath prickled her skin as they panted, saliva dripping off their teeth. She snarled in anticipation as the youkai began to attack.

The first few passes were easy to block. One of the females charged rashly from behind. Basic maneuver: slip to the side and bring the katana down on the passing snout. One down, three to go. The second required a little more agility. One of the males had launched himself high in the air, foaming mouth aimed for her throat. She dropped foreword and he sailed harmlessly over her head, howling his frustration. Panting slightly, she tightened her grip on the hilt of her sword and moved again to place herself between the beasts and the girl.

The demons attacked again, this time with more fluidity and accuracy. They spun around her like a hurricane, churning and taking a swipe at her every time she turned to block the previous pass. She whirled around in a desperate effort not to leave her back exposed. The Youkai screamed again, hungry for the kill. This was sport no longer; she had killed their sister. They screamed for revenge.
They were too fast, too many, and the slayer felt the realization creep up her legs, binding her feet to the ground. There was nothing she could do. One of the males lunged forward and she spun around to meet the rush, katana making contact with the beast's chest. Teeth found her thigh and she was hurled to the ground. Pain like she had never felt before seized her leg. She thrust the katana in the eye of the attacker and felt its blood on her face. Warm and sticky. In her mouth, in her eyes. She couldn't see. She felt herself thrown into the air by the jaws still locked around her thigh. She could hear the blood lust screaming from the throats of the youkai. The jaws released and she sailed through the air, not remembering which direction the ground would fly at her from.

Her right side apparently. She saw dirt out of the corner of her eye for half a second before... blackness. And silence as if someone had shoved her head inside a wet blanket. She was suspended in space, the stars flung out all around her as she spun backwards, around and around. Nothingness, over and forever into infinity. Was this what it was to die? Useless youkai hunter, couldn't help even one person. Died before she even started. Her own voice rang inside her head. Some thing was oozing down the side of her leg. Blood. But she was dead, why was she still bleeding? It pooled on the ground around her kneecap mixing with the dirt she'd loosened on impact. Dirt? Ground? Pain. Shooting pain lancing up her leg ripping mercilessly into somewhere near the back of her abdomen. She rolled onto her stomach and heaved, dry and hacking into the ground.

Sango raised her head. Night had fallen while she had been gone and the youkai had fled. Somewhere in the clearing a light shone, the white incandescence showing silver on the leaves, illuminating the still body of the girl. She couldn't be more than twelve, if that. Just a baby, too young to be ripped apart that way. And she hadn't saved her. She'd been too slow, too weak to do anything really, except perhaps delay her death for a moment. Shadows flickered against the tree trunks as a movement turned her gaze to the source of the light.

A form materialized behind the girl, silver light streaming from his head, his clothes, his face. He was no ordinary man, no man at all.He was a tai youkai, a lord of demons. Her breath caught in her throat. Any feeling of minuteness that she had felt in the presence of the mountain earlier that day paled in comparison to what she felt now before this youkai. He stood behind the girl, sword raised and blazing over her still form. He paused, poised about to let the sword plunge down into her little body.

Sango froze. He was going to desecrate her poor broken body. He had scared off the other youkai and now he was going to finish the job. She growled and pushed herself off the ground, eyes locked on the face of the demon. No demon was going to taste human blood while she still had breath left. She made for where her katana had fallen and raised it to defend the poor girl one last time.
The youkai's eyes raised to the slayer's attack, the look of serenity never leaving his face. He moved one hand from it's place on the hilt of the sword and halted her with one tiny gesture. "Stop," it said, "You will understand." Placing his hand back on the hilt he drove the sword down, deep into the chest with a sickening crunch, her tiny body shuddering. The next instant, both sword and girl exploded into beams of light, her limbs tensed from the electric-like shock. Sango was thrown to the ground in the face of the sliver eruption, her arms shoved above her head in attempt to prevent the blinding light from reaching her eyes.

On the ground with a face full of dirt and youkai blood, the realization suddenly hit her. This was not simply a tai youkai, this was the legendary Sesshomaru, Lord of the Western Lands, the power of Shinjuku. And she had just attacked him. Squinting she raised her eyes to peer out between her forearms. His robes writhed around him sucked towards the girl who was now engulfed in a whirl pool of the ever intensifying light. The tree branches bent towards the funnel and even Sango was being drawn towards the source, the suction growing stronger and stronger until she felt herself being dragged forward in the dirt.

Struggling against the pull until she was sure that the girl must be gone and that any minute the entire forrest would be sucked into the whirlpool she caught another glance of the Lord youkai. Like a rock, like the mountain he did not stagger, his hands never faltered on the handle of the great sword, now glowing sliver through his fingers. There was not even the slightest look of strain on his face, only something resembling determination and then...

Silence. Not the resounding silence that meant you were alone and at peace, the kind of silence that implies a thousand soundless screams, so much weight that you fairly suffocated on it. Even the sound had been sucked into the blazing hole where the girl had been and for a split second there was nothing. Neither lord nor hunter breathed, the light was frozen and even the earth ceased to spin. Sango's eyes widened as the silence gathered tension, a bow pulled back, waiting to be fired.

The second time the clearing erupted into a blazing field of light Sango was sure that they would die, if they had not already. At some point the sound had returned and now the roar was deafening. Even the bloodcurdling scream of a dying person or the death cry of a Youkai was left behind. Face once again hurled into the dirt, small rocks grinding into her cheek bone, she could feel the earth shaking as the roar intensified. For what seemed an infinite length of time she lay there quaking against the noise until it fell from the tree leveling roar it had been at and began to pass away the way the wind sighs away after a storm.

Silence again. This time the kind that covers you like a blanket and makes it safe to breathe again. She tried to move and found she could still use her arms and legs in a somewhat normal fashion. Still shaking she blinked and discovered that she could still see. Her own ragged breaths were suddenly one of the greatest sounds she had ever heard, but she heard something else as well. Something determined saying, "Get up." She raised her eyes to find a foot not three inches from her face.

He stood above her in the same stance he had been in when she had first seen him, this time the moonlight settling across his face making him appear even more awe-inspiring than before. Regal beyond words, only now instead of a sword raised above his head, it was sheathed at his side and in the arms of the most powerful youkai in the world lay a sleeping girl. The same girl, not dead, not even bloody. Asleep with her eyes scrunched closed and mouth turned down into a pout at the corners. Sango faltered. She would die now. It was a miracle she had not died before this, but now it was certain. She had attacked him, she had killed several other youkai. She was a demon slayer, for that alone he would kill her. She bowed her head ready for the coming blow. But it never came. She could feel the intensity of his eyes upon her back and suddenly she remembered his order. She scrambled to her feet in front of him, eyes filled with the
fear of what he would do to her now.

She had never been short by any means, but she was dwarfed before him and realized again the power of mighty Sesshomaru. She bowed her head.

"You are no enemy to this Sesshomaru," His voice was like the ocean, beautiful and terrible and above all commanding respect. "You are a warrior, show no fear." His voice seared through layers of her self, straight to the center of her heart. Show no fear. She straightened her back and raised her chin to look him in the eye. There was formality, honor and lordship, but no malice there. He was not the monster that the many traveler's tales spoke of. He was a king among the living, a demon, but no monster.

She stood drawn up to full height, stripped of any remnants of self assurance she had had. In its place was shame for acting like less than she was but also a pride in herself that she had never tasted before. Here was she, a small not quite youkai hunter face to face with Lord Sesshomaru and he told her not to fear, to be the warrior she was.

Still bearing the girl, the lord turned and vanished into the forrest, leaving a speechless Sango to gaze after him in awe and a new found respect. A tiny voice in her head stated frankly that nothing would ever be the same again. She nodded. It was right; it would be impossible to experience something like this and not change. He had just brought a human back to life. A youkai, helping a human. Previously inconceivable to her mind, and yet something about this seemed to fit. Like a piece in a story that was about to be written. She had tasted her first real battle, at least one in which her parents weren't there to bail her out if she needed them to. And it had gone terribly. If it wasn't for Sesshomaru-sama she would be dead. So maybe this was one part of the whole ordeal she would down play to her parents.

Blood still leaked down her leg, staining her armor an unusually deep shade of red and for a moment, she wobbled as though she would fall. Catching herself she limped to where her katana lay in the grass and picked it up, wiping off the blood and sheathing it at her side.
As she began the long journey home she thought about what she would tell her parents. Gone all night, injured, attacked by demons, saved by the Great Sesshomaru himself? She shook her head. She had a better chance of them believing her if she told them that a giant butterfly had come out of the sky and told her to run for her life or she would be eaten by masses of dragons from China. No one would believe a story like this one. But as she thought about it more, feeling beginning to leak back into her leg, she realized that it wasn't so important that they believed her anyway. She had seen what she had seen, and that was enough for her. She had taken on four wolf youkai and lived to tell about it, she had stood in the presence of Sesshomaru and not been killed. It was less important that they believed her, and more important that she knew what she knew.

She could not tell then just how often the scars on her thigh would remind her of the lord youkai and how truly honorable this Sesshomaru really was. For the moment it sufficed that she was alive, and that for all her mountain climbing earlier, she had just beheld the mightiest mountain in Japan and they were not enemies. "Show no fear." and suddenly Sango could not think of a single thing that could frighten her.

Silence settled down again over the forest, broken only by the sounds of night birds and the slow steps of a warrior limping resolutely home.