Edited by thymecat.

Disclaimer: I do not own any character created by Rumiko Takahashi.

Chapter 4 – Reprieve

Sesshomaru gazed at the moon, a fat, slightly flattened circle that hung large, heavy and low on the horizon, a burnished orange that was strikingly different than its normal wan, shy glow. Shutting out the squabbling of his small pack, he let his senses roam as they would, his mind alert for any trace of a honeyed scent or beguiling presence.

He'd come to terms with his desire to have her back, he who needed nothing and no one. It wasn't anything that resembled what humans referred to as love; more the phantom ache of a missing limb without which he couldn't quite function. The amputation of his left arm had not left him with this peculiar feeling of loss; the death of his father had stirred much more raw, distressing emotions. He wasn't quite sure what to make of this quiet longing, despite the many hours spent pondering why the female would stir such a reaction and the lengths he would go to retrieve her.

A small, snide, increasingly quieter part of him wanted to find her in order to inflict upon her the same humiliation he had suffered at her hands (or shoulder, to be exact), if that were, indeed, possible. Nowhere in his memory could he find an instance of a taiyoukai being paralyzed, thrown over the shoulder of a female like a sack of rice and lugged across country. Then again, it wasn't something to which a taiyoukai would admit, him included. The shame would be too great. So, what punishment would fit her crime? He'd have to be creative.

However, as that disgruntled voice was pushed into the background, he realized that he didn't want to hurt her. She had felt good curled next to him, wrapped around him, squeezing him dry. After so many years alone (Jaken didn't count and Rin's entire life span was a mere blink of the eye compared to the number of years he'd lived), it would be nice to have someone with whom to relieve the monotony. A strong someone, no less, and an invigorating way to pass the time! Having spent limited time (conscious) in her presence, he had no idea the extent of her power, but so far, he was somewhat impressed, if mildly disturbed. He certainly had no complaints about the sex: he hadn't had this much fun bedding a female since…well, a very long time. Paralyzing venom and headstrong ways aside, she would make a pleasant companion: quiet and lusty.

Thus, without much deliberation, he'd collaborated with his half-brother's pack, an action he would never have considered in other circumstances. Also surprising was Inuyasha's cooperation, albeit reluctant, loud, and rather obscene. He supposed that the boy intended to claim her for himself, but had no qualms about disappointing him. No, he just couldn't get the vision of flaunting his new toy in the boy's face out of his head. Inuyasha could sit on Tetsusaiga, pointy end up, and he still wouldn't release the female to him.

His final analysis was that he wanted her back. Therefore, he would have her. It was simply a matter of time.

It was Rin who had found the first clue to her route, literally stumbling over it as she'd fished for her dinner from the same stream in which the female had disappeared.

"Ooh, Master Jaken, this fish is napping!" the child pointed to a withered silver fish floating down the river. "So is this one!"

Jaken was quick to take charge. "Don't touch them, stupid human! We don't know what killed them."

"But they'd be so much easier to catch," Rin protested, watching the fish float by with yearning eyes.

"I said, don't touch!"

"Jaken." Sesshomaru silenced the toad as he strode to the bank of the stream, extending his senses to examine the dead fish from afar. They did not smell of poison, nor were they injured beyond the obvious desiccation of their bodies. Odd, that a fish could wither while in the water.

So, once again, they'd traveled upstream, this time following the sparse trail of fish carcasses caught in weed beds that grew at the water's edge until they'd reached the font of the stream as it burst from a crack in the mountainside. A lesser youkai would have been daunted by the near impossible task of tracking a shape shifter riding an underground river, but Sesshomaru was not a lesser youkai. Using his keen hearing in a way he'd never done before, he'd trained his ears to the quiet rush and gurgle of water under his feet, knowing that sooner or later, she would emerge from the ground, if for no other reason than to feed.

He wasn't disappointed. Though he didn't find the exact point at which she'd left her subterranean lair, the dry husks of birds, still carrying a trace of her sweet scent, had given him a new trail to follow.

Again, Rin had found the next big clue while picking mushrooms for her dinner: a pair of sandals. Squealing in delight, she'd slipped on the sandals and clomped through the forest back to Jaken, proudly showing off her new footgear. Jaken had been less than impressed, but Sesshomaru had gone to investigate, well aware that humans did not cast away their possessions so carelessly and yet not smelling a human corpse that would explain their presence. The wind had changed, carrying with it a teasing curl of her fragrance and he'd flared his nostrils in appreciation, quickening his steps. Instead of to his female, Rin's footsteps and the scent of sweet venom led him to an unassuming heap of clay. A bow and a quiver of arrows, both tainted with miko power, lay near a flowering shrub. He'd stared at it for a long moment, trying to make sense of what his common sense and youkai senses were telling him.

'Ah, of course. The undead priestess that so captured my half-brother's heart,' he'd thought as memories clicked into place of a golem bearing Kagome's features and part of her soul. Apparently, his female had reclaimed what belonged to her. He'd nodded in smug approval.

A tiny figure rising into the sky stirred him out of his musings and he glanced away from the harvest moon, squinting against the darkness to make out what it was. 'A giant feather – Kagura,' he blinked once and strode in that direction, his steps measured, purposeful, and unhurried, his eyes fixed on the feather's erratic movements. Behind him, Jaken squawked and Rin pleaded with him to, "Wait for me!", but he paid it no mind, as always.

The wind witch bred trouble, almost as much as his female, and it was too convenient to be coincidence that Kagura had run into something powerful enough to shake her feather in the same vicinity to which his female had fled.

Follow one to find the other.

XxxxxxX

She stared unblinking at the orange disc at the bottom of the sky, knowing that there had once been a time that she'd done this with another person. Snatches of conversation tickled her ears, silver ears twitched at the edges of her vision, but every time she turned to look or respond to a comment, the person was gone. She was alone. Solitude didn't please her as much as it used to.

The shallow cave that she had chosen for her den was no longer appealing and restlessness had settled into her bones. It was dangerous, she knew, to start traveling again but the stifling isolation was driving her further and further away from her haven during her nightly hunts. Eventually, she wouldn't bother to return. The buried voice that missed a dog-eared boy moaned for companionship and it was beginning to mold her cravings.

Sighing in frustration, she scattered herself to the wind and let it carry her, trying in vain to recapture the lull of contentment that had once been brought by the wandering breeze…until the wind became distressed as she was.

It howled and strained against an invisible force, tugging at her yet trying to push her away. Curious and looking forward to whetting her appetite on a challenging foe, she coalesced into solidity, the grasses whipping around her legs scratchy and sharp against her skin as they found their way under the hem of her billowing pants. Claws of air tangled in her hair, dragging a purple curtain over narrowed, violet eyes. Blinking away the moisture caused by the debris whipped into her face, she focused on a female standing next to a funnel cloud, laughing as it pummeled a creature caught in the center.

The woman turned cruel, red eyes on her and sneered, "What are you looking at, wretch? Do you want some of the same?"

Something about the female bothered her; it brought on that deep feeling of recognition that she had begun to despise and desire. Familiarity brought on confusion, and with confusion came the voice that was so concerned with names. She flexed her claws, savoring the upcoming fight and feast of powerful youki.

"You carry shards of the sacred jewel," the woman purred with a twisted smile, her red eyes alighting with greed. With a flick of her fan, she dispelled the contrived tornado, sending its occupant skidding across the ground and careening into the base of a boulder. The bundle of furs and torn flesh lay still, to the satisfied nod of the woman. "So, priestess, unless you want to share a similar fate, hand them over."

'Don't give them to her!' the voice screamed needlessly in the back of her mind. As if she would give this creature anything but a painful death. Growling, she bared long white fangs in a menacing snarl.

The woman took an involuntary step back, her eyes widening quickly as her eyes raked over her opponent's form. "Some priestess you are," she sneered as she recovered her composure. Closing her fan and tapping it against her chin, the woman sent her another appraising look. "Still, you resemble that bumbling idiot who follows Inuyasha…"

Her shoulders stiffened, the growl in her throat crescendoing into a low roar as she leapt at the condescending woman who dared mention that name.

"Dance of Blades!" the woman shouted, sweeping her fan in an elegant arc, but she had already dispersed her body into a fine mist, the bolts of energy passing through her with an electric sizzle. Surging forward, she surrounded the female holding the fan, pouring her amorphous form into the witch's nose and mouth, and drawing out the strong youki. The female screamed, twirling in place as she summoned a maelstrom around them to buffet against the force that was consuming her from the inside out.

Like ribbons of flypaper, the false wind attached to her body, dragging it from the youkai and expelling her out of her body in a compressing rush. Dropping to newly formed knees several feet from the painted female, she shook her head to clear it of the churning masses of fog that came from an unplanned transformation. Her opponent staggered, staring at her with livid, agonized eyes as she tugged a small, white feather from her hair and threw it into the air.

"Don't think you've seen the last of me, wretch!" the woman leapt into the air and landed on the now giant feather, spiraling shakily into the air with a last glower over the edge.

The pitiful heap of fur groaned and twitched, and her attention swiveled to him as he slowly stretched into the shape of a man. "That wind bitch, I'm gonna kick her ass…" he grumbled between the creaks and pops of his bones. He managed to climb to his feet with the aid of the boulder, his back to her and high ponytail obscuring his face, but as soon as he let go, he collapsed back into the dirt with a low groan.

She watched him with a dispassionate scowl, irritated that his suffering had distracted her from her prey. Though perhaps it was just as well, because now she had a fairly strong meal that had been pre-tenderized.

The male flopped onto his back and stared up at her with blue eyes dulled with pain. His furs hung off him in tattered strips, baring hundreds of oozing gouges. With one shaky hand, he readjusted a dented chest plate that had become uncomfortably skewed across his abdomen. If not for his obvious weakness, he would have been a handsome male: tanned skin stretched over lean, corded muscles, speaking of strength and agility despite his dilapidated appearance. Of course, he in no way compared to her male…

She stopped in her tracks, dreaded recognition flooding her brain as the voice in her head cried out in frantic panic, 'It's Kouga! He's a friend: he'll help us.'

"Kouga," she whispered before she could stop herself. She kept her venom to herself, unsure of what she wanted to do with him. This male was not as threatening, nor as powerful, as the others and her alter ego considered him a valuable acquaintance. However, she didn't need a "friend", as the voice put it, and she felt no great desire to rut with him. Just the same, the longing for companionship held her to the spot.

The wolf blinked up at her, propping himself on one elbow and tossing his dark ponytail over his shoulder with a quick jerk of his head. "Who're you?" he snarled, sniffing in her direction. He blinked again, sneezing slightly as the snarl melted into a goofy, lopsided grin. "Come closer so I can get another whiff of you," he pulled himself up the boulder and held out his hand.

'That jerk! He doesn't even know that it's me!' Amused by her mind's offended ramblings, she stepped forward, tensed and ready to attack at a moment's notice. The wolf leered as she approached, studying her closely with a lascivious twinkle in his eyes. The voice was getting more indignant, huffing as his eyes lingered on her breasts.

"Hey, wait..." Kouga's eyes snapped to her face, searching for something he'd seemed to already find in her bosom. "Kagome?"

She stopped, not liking to hear that name spoken aloud. The voice in her head harrumphed good naturedly, 'Who else?'

Kouga didn't notice her sudden hesitancy or the darkening of her violet eyes. "Wow, Kagome! That's…a new look for you! Did you change your hair?" Limping forward, he tasted the air with long breaths, bewilderment skittering across his face like storm clouds. " You're not human, anymore… I'm not saying that I don't like it, but you smell..."

He reared back, almost loosing his balance and catching her shoulders for balance. She stood still, resisting the temptation to rip his hands off of his wrists as her ire rose at his manhandling. Giving her shoulders a little shake, Kouga glared into her eyes and growled, "That albino mutt touched my woman! Where is he? I'll kill him!"

He glanced around, trying ineffectively to shove her behind him when she had enough. No male had the right to claim her, not without her approval, and certainly not a battered, weak male who let himself be pummeled by equally weak wind witches.

Pushing aside the protests of her inner self, she drove her claws into his side and latched onto his mouth with hers, swallowing his surprised cry and then pushing a stream of her dissolved particles down his throat. The wolf choked and coughed, bucking against her iron grip as she drained him of his youki, drawing it in through the wispy tendrils that burrowed into his stomach and lungs. His struggles magnified in intensity as his weight decreased, his skin beginning to wrinkle and darken like a raisin in the sun. Only partially transformed, she dug her nails deeper into his withering flesh and pressed him against her body.

Pain exploded behind the backs of her eyes as the little voice in her head became a shrieking, clawing banshee. Stunned by the assault from within, she flung her head back and screamed, loosing her connection to the wolf and dropping his desiccated body. Staggering drunkenly to the side, bloodied claws clutching her head as she shook it vigorously, she howled in agony as the incorporeal parts of her body reformed and slammed into the back of her throat. Her sight bled red, as if her very brain had been shredded by the voice frantically protesting within, and her breath lodged in her lungs. Blind, choking and in excruciating pain, she collapsed, unconscious, in the grass.

Kagome woke to the most terrible headache she could ever remember having. The entire Rose Parade, complete with giant floats, marching bands, and those old guys in tasseled hats driving miniature cars, was parading around and around the inside of her skull. She even had her own commentator, though it was shouting things like, "Get up, we're in the open!" instead of, "Wow Bryan, the Rose Queen has outrageously purple hair!"

Groaning, and then wincing when the slight effort of making that sound triggered a wave of nausea, Kagome cracked open an eye and was more than a little unnerved to see a bright, moonlit night screened by a curtain of purple hair. She squeezed the eye shut and took an easy, shallow breath through her mouth, trying to ignore the cloying sweetness that coated her tongue. Convince that she wasn't going to throw up, at least not at the moment, she let it out through her nose and opened both eyes.

'It wasn't a dream,' she thought despondently as she watched the grass waving in the cool night breeze. '…but so vague.' She clearly remembered the strange youkai female who had bewitched Inuyasha and Miroku and her subsequent fall from the cliff, but the rest of it was a blur. An uneasy tightening of her chest and brief impressions of familiar faces and wildly new sensations gave her the feeling that she didn't really want to know. At the very forefront stood Kouga, writhing in agony under her lips, and she sat up with a strangled gasp, pushing purple hair out of her eyes.

"Oh no, Kouga!" squinting her eyes against the pain in her head, she scanned the trampled grass for her friend and almost gagged when she saw him. Like an untidy pile of kindling, the once-proud wolf lay huddled on the ground, leathery skin hanging off a thin, bony frame. His heart fluttered weakly and his chest rose almost imperceptibly with each labored breath. Stretching out a timid hand, Kagome gently touched his face with bloodied fingertips. He flinched from her touch and groaned, a sickly rattling sound. Snatching her hand away and wiping them both on her pants, she whimpered quietly. She had a fairly good guess as to whose blood it was.

"I did this to you. Kouga, I'm so sorry," she whispered to his broken form, tears leaking from her eyes to leave sugared paths on her cheeks. How, she didn't know, but she had reduced her trusted friend to this state. Once again, she tried to caress his brow, only to be met with a feeble snarl.

Sobbing quietly, she backed away, reluctantly at first, and then faster as she gave into the echo in her head to run quickly back to her shelter. Finally, she turned and fled, feet skimming the uneven mountain terrain as if she'd been born to do it, trying to out run the pathetic image of Kouga that wallowed in her mind.

'I almost killed Kouga! What else have I done?' she thought as she raced down the mountain, ignoring a bizarre urge to return to a dank, dark carven further up the incline.

Sesshomaru's face was most prominent in her mind, up close and more personal than she'd ever been with the taiyoukai. Blood stained most of these glimpses into her memory, hunger and pleasure twining about them like his fluffy boa. They scared her, almost as much as Kouga's wasted body, and she wondered if she had hurt him, too. For the most part, Inuyasha was strangely absent, and this frightened her the most.

It wasn't until she'd skidded to a stop at the edge of a tall bluff overlooking a dark, sprawling village that she realized that she hadn't sensed Kouga's jewel shards. Her bottle of shards was still suspended from its dainty chain around her neck, but the kakera within were a clouded, dusky pink and eerily silent. Whimpering quietly to herself, she tucked the bottle back into her kimono…then got a good look at what she was wearing.

A classic miko's uniform: white kimono tucked into crimson hakama that bloused over her legs. Though she could have acquired it anywhere, a cold coil of dread and a fleeting impression of clammy, serpentine youkai and a pair of sorrowful brown eyes belied the idea that it had come without a price.

They had struggled so hard to help the priestess overcome the bitterness and hatred to which she had been reborn. Though still cold and emotionally withdrawn, even from the hanyou that never failed to prove his love, Kikyou had become an uneasy ally against Naraku. Perhaps not fighting by their side, but fighting on the same side for the same goals. Kagome had rescued her from destruction twice, not gaining a word of thanks but perhaps earning a grudging respect. And now, in her heart of heats, Kagome knew that she was responsible for Kikyou's second fall into hell. Not Naraku, or even an enemy, but her own reincarnation had taken her life.

Falling to her red-clad knees, choking on the sobs that wracked her slender frame, Kagome cried for her incarnate and cried for herself, both forever changed with no hope of going back to what they had been. Chill fingers of despair plucked at her brain and wrapped around her heart, squeezing and freezing the muscle into leaden ice.

Insistent and growing more bothersome, an impulse to move away from her exposed position broke her out of the spiral of depression into which she was falling. But where could she go, what could she do? Returning to Inuyasha after killing Kikyou was impossible; she would never be able to look him in the eye after murdering his love. Human born, now youkai, her miko powers were gone and she would never be welcome as a shrine maiden as Kikyou had: she wasn't even sure if she could pass for human. She didn't have the skills to live alone in the wild and though her new instincts whispered advice and information into her ear, she despised them for what they had already made her do and pushed them aside.

With a long, shuddering sigh, she decided that the village was probably her best bet. If she could find something to cover her hair so that she wasn't tossed out on her butt the moment she showed her face, or worse yet, attacked by a mob of townspeople, then maybe she would have a chance to show the villagers that she wasn't the evil sort of youkai. She decided to leave the question of what she would do once she got there for later.

Kagome froze, her fingertips touching her lips, the sensations magnified such that the delicate pads felt each wrinkle and crease in her lips just as her lips mapped the whorls and ridges of her fingerprints. She had thought of herself as youkai, as if she were used to the idea already. How long had she been like this?

Once again, she looked down at herself, past the clothes to her body. Claws, yes. Her tongue made a quick exploration of her mouth. Fangs, yes. Delicate points had replaced the rounded curve of her ears. Twirling a long lock of silky hair around one clawed finger, she confirmed that though there shouldn't have been enough light for her to see, she could clearly distinguish that her hair was, indeed, a rich eggplant. It had never been one of her favorite colors. A quick pat down of the rest of her body revealed no strange growths, such as a tail or wings or tentacles or kami-knew-what that youkai sometimes sprouted. She was a bit thicker about the midsection, giving her a small potbelly, and Kagome growled at the presence at the back of her mind. The least it could have done, while hijacking and running wild in her body, was to keep her figure trim.

Huffing in irritation and though her blood raged against it with an almost physical unwillingness, she searched out a narrow trail that cut through the sheer wall of the bluff and stumbled down it. At least, she thought she should be stumbling, but her footing was as magically sure and steady as it had once been prone to finding protruding roots and rocks. In fact, by the time she reached the bottom of the bluff with a graceful leap ten feet through the air, she was quite certain that she would have broken her neck several times over in her previous life on that same climb.

'There, a silver lining,' Kagome congratulated herself for thinking optimistically. With a spark of hope in her heart that things weren't quite as bad as they seemed, she seated herself against the wall of the cliff, squirming until she was somewhat comfortable. Though the tall torches placed on either side of the village gates burned brightly in the night, seeming to welcome her back to civilization, she knew that few villages in the Feudal Era allowed travelers in after dark.

So be it: she would wait until morning.