Author's Note: Inuyasha - The Final Act has changed some scenes from the manga, replacing Inuyasha with Sesshoumaru. For example, Inuyasha isn't present when Sesshoumaru cracks Moryomaru's shell (because Sesshy doesn't NEED assistance in the anime, he's too awesome?!) And Inuyasha doesn't fight with Moryomaru / Kinka / Ginka. Nope, it is Sesshoumaru again! (Because his latest attack is so awesome! They want to animate it more often!) As a fan of Sesshoumaru, I wholeheartedly approve. More Sesshoumaru! Woo-hoo!
As for this chapter... It was difficult. I am writing a Naraku x Kagome fanfiction, right now, based on my experiences in a car crash. And I could not help sympathizing with Naraku as I wrote this. : )
Chapter 29: To the Depths of Hell
"Didn't you hear anything?" snarled Inuyasha. Ears pinned down, his golden eyes were gazing furiously around the clearing where they had last seen Kagome. Everyone knew that she was gone, and after the dog-demons scented Naraku, everyone knew who had taken her too.
Miroku shook his head, standing next to Sango, as if the demon-slayer might protect him from their frustrated leader. Sango, in turn, stood defensively with one hand on her bone-boomerang, as if their enemy might reappear any moment, and she could take out her anger on him directly. Unfortunately though, Naraku had come and gone, and they had completely missed it.
"I'm sorry, Inuyasha-sama," the monk said sadly. "I only heard a small sound - I thought she might be crying, so I went to retrieve you..."
"Stupid f--ing humans and their useless senses," the hanyou growled again, running one hand through his hair and pacing the clearing once more. "Damned ears don't even work, and..." Quickly, the half-demon descended into a diatribe on the hopelessness of humans and a string of curses.
To one side, Sora edged forward. He seemed far more sympathetic than Inuyasha. More than any of them, really. Ironically, those who knew Kagome the best were the ones who kicked themselves the hardest, over this lapse in security. "Now, Inuyasha-sama," the half-wind demon began politely. "The humans informed you immediately, when they suspected something was wrong. It is not their fault..."
"No! I know that," the boy with white hair protested strongly. "It's yours! If you hadn't wanted to talk to me in private, then I'd have smelled him, and she'd be fine."
At this, Sora fell silent. Palms raised in the air, he forgot to move for a while. True. It had been his idea to move away from the humans in their group, because he had wanted to inquire about the priestess Kikyou. Everyone else in the group was well informed. And the hanyou seemed embarrassed to speak of the woman around his friends. So, Sora had thought it would be more acceptable without eavesdroppers...
They had still been within range. They should have heard the humans if anyone had cried out. Of course, that was the problem. Kagome never had the chance.
Finally, the hanyou pointed at his instructor, indicating that he should approach. Agreeably, Sora did so, and Inuyasha held out a few of Kagome's belongings. "Here. It's her scent."
"Yes... my lord?" he nodded, a bit puzzled. But now that Sesshoumaru was gone, this young half-demon was his leader. And this particular demon had always done his best for the Western lands, no matter who governed the area.
"Well? Track her," Inuyasha ordered bluntly.
The brown-haired youkai flicked one ear, still quite perplexed. As far as Sora knew, his charge was perfectly capable of tracking scents too. This was not the problem. He was willing to state the obvious, however, in case the boy had somehow missed it.
"The trail moves into the sky, Inuyasha-sama." Scratching his nose with one claw, Sora looked slightly sheepish. "Although I can fly, scent tends to disperse in the upper air, because the wind increases as it rises off the ground." Next, Sora attempted to look as sympathetic as possible.
"So, you're saying you're useless too." With a glare, the hanyou dared him to contradict it. His instructor chose not to reply.
The monk chose this moment to add a positive remark. Well, he attempted to comfort them, at least. "Look at it this way," stated Miroku. "If he wanted to kidnap Kagome, then Naraku has not uncovered the final shard yet. He needs her for something."
Naturally, everyone saw the holes in this argument. Whether Kagome assisted their enemy or not, there was no reason why Naraku should not kill her in the end. Sango's entire family had been put to death, after completing their purpose in one of Naraku's schemes.
"Perhaps he didn't learn where the final shard is?" the demon-slayer asked gently. They had traveled into the Western territory in search of an oracle, known by Sora. Upon their arrival, though, the woman had been killed, and they had been forced to assume that Naraku questioned her first. But maybe that was incorrect?
Growling again, Inuyasha scoffed at the idea. To him, it seemed impossible to view a bright side of the situation. Everything had gone utterly, completely, horribly wrong in only a few moments.
"So, if none of us can track her effectively," he continued stubbornly, "Then how do we find her?"
As usual, he was staring at his teacher like a life-line. The half-wind youkai cringed, since he had been expecting the question. "Ah... In the palace, the Regent controls a large mirror, attached to her dais. She can use it to view anyone inside of the Western lands."
"And if she isn't within that region?"
Sora's ears drooped slightly. "There may be some other suggestions, when we..."
"This isn't another technique to drag me back to the palace and place me under house-arrest, right?" Inuyasha interrupted. "Because I told you before, I'm not going. We have to find Kagome!"
Rubbing the side of his nose, once more, Sora agreed dispiritedly. "Of course. I will not hinder your search, my lord, only help it." A flicker of disappointment showed on his face.
"Gah," Inuyasha sniffed irritably. "Stop calling me that."
Before long, they were airborne, returning to the very building that they had left a few days earlier. A tense silence lingered over the group.
"I'm never going to help you," Kagome noted. "You know that, right?"
She was extremely uncomfortable, but she hadn't been injured yet. This was positive. Or at least, she counted it as positive! So far, during her time in the feudal era, Naraku had never directly harmed her. He hurt all her friends, and he had attempted to kill Kikyou twice now. So, it would probably not be long until he tried to kill her too... But at the moment, she was unharmed.
This probably meant that he needed her cooperation. And what was her most useful skill? Finding Shikon shards, of course.
Still, it was ridiculous to imagine that she might help Naraku to find a shard. He had tried to sway her before, usually with magic or hypnosis, like the time he ordered that little infantile monster to control her mind and 'borrow' her eyes. But even Naraku appeared to realize that she was unwilling to assist him, without coercion.
"I'd rather die than help you," she continued stubbornly. This was true, although perhaps not the wisest remark to say out loud, in the presence of her enemy. Someone who would be more than willing to kill her, if she persisted in refusing to help.
They were flying over the countryside inside a giant, glass-like bubble. Naraku had learned how to create spherical barriers, which he could also use to transport items and individuals. After all, the barrier was basically impenetrable, so there was no danger she would fall out or escape. This method of travel was much smoother, but also much slower than Sesshoumaru's puffy cloud.
Crossing her arms over her chest, she curled inward, trying to avoid being touched by her captor. Naturally, he noticed this and shifted closer, enjoying her discomfort. Once she was sliding up the edge of the barrier's interior, he smirked and dragged her back to the middle of the bubble, depositing her by his feet. Next, he patted her head like a child, like he was hoping to rob her of what little dignity she still had.
"Ugh... stop touching me!" Kagome complained, ducking her head. They had run through this routine many times already. Immediately, she crawled toward the edge of their floating container again.
Kanna was standing behind her master. Of course, the void-youkai had not batted an eyelash at any of Kagome's odd behavior. But then, nothing ever seemed to disturb Kanna. Nothing seemed to reach her at all. Dispassionately, Kanna stared at the mirror in her hands and gestured to the right. "We have arrived."
This time, when Naraku dragged her back to his side, he did not bother to use his hands. A set of snake-like appendages wrapped around her legs and torso, forcing her to sit obediently where she had been placed. As far as tentacle-monsters went, Kagome decided, Naraku was an example of the worst kind. He looked like a man, but he had random slimy or scaly or fleshy or feathery additions sticking straight out of his torso. Along with the improbably spiky armor that he wore, Naraku appeared like what an uneducated human bandit thought that a youkai-warlord should be.
The area that they approached looked vaguely familiar. Kagome shook her head, hoping to remember. From above, there was little greenery. The area seemed to be a crater, and in the center, there was a crumbling pile of stones and wood. It looked like a ruined castle.
But why would the place seem familiar to her? They landed on one side of the depression and circled it, sliding down rocky inclines toward a specific spot. Kagome glanced nervously toward the rim of the crater, wondering if she could use this chance to escape.
Unfortunately, escape was incredibly unlikely. Naraku kept one hand on her at all times, dragging her forward. She could struggle and purify part of his body, running for it. But she was very slow... and she was lost. Where was this part of the countryside, in comparison to Kaede's village or her friends?
As they reached one of the largest pile of stones and rubble, Kagome finally remembered where she had seen this place. At the center of the crater lay the castle which Takemaru had defended, when the man had been resurrected into a zombie and battled Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha. The last time she was here, the palace looked like it had been impaled by spikes. Now, it just looked like ancient ruins. Every stone had been pulled apart from every other stone by looting scavengers, who hoped to unearth treasure. But what on earth did Naraku want with an old battleground?
With a frown, Naraku kicked at the pile of rocks at his feet. Kagome rubbed her arm, wishing that he would simply let go of her. The priestess wished for this so hard that when he did abruptly remove his support, she almost crumpled onto the ground in surprise.
"It is not here," she heard her companion grumble. Kanna, of course, being Kanna, stood passively to one side and stared vacantly at the dirt.
"Nope. No shards here," Kagome added unhelpfully. Obviously, her enemy already knew this. Obviously, she was just being sarcastic by offering to help when it would yield absolutely nothing.
Dark red eyes slid toward her, calculating and unfeeling. "That was not the question I asked your precious little oracle," he replied finally. "I already know where the last shard lies."
It felt like joy had been sucked out of her world. The 'last' shard? There was only one shard that Naraku did not possess? If so, then the few remaining shards had suddenly skyrocketed in value. Two in Kouga's legs, and one in Kohaku's neck. And Kouga was relatively weak, while Kohaku was already under their enemy's control. This was terrible.
From this angle she could recognize the ruined castle at the center of the crater now. But Kagome still had no clue what her captor was searching for. He was not going toward the castle. They were hovering halfway up the hillside, near a massive pile of rocks.
Glancing in the mirror that Kanna held, Naraku reached out and tugged Kagome forward again. It felt like they were dancing to a tune she could not hear. Two steps forward, check the mirror, two steps to the left... Kanna merely trailed after them, like a ghost.
In the end, Naraku smiled and pointed at the ground. "Dig," he cheerfully instructed her.
Kagome stared unbelievingly. "Me?" she answered incredulously. Surely not. After all, he was the one with about a thousand spare demons, ready to do his bidding. And he was a shape-shifter, so it would not be difficult to generate multiple arms to devote to this task.
But no. Of course, he wanted to make her dig. With her bare hands, through a pile of rocks, for an unknown object.
With a groan, the miko began pulling rocks off the massive heap in front of her. The first two stones she threw in Naraku's direction. She did not hit him, of course. The dark-haired man simply acted amused, catching the rocks, before he hurled one in return. It struck her temple, and Kagome cursed, rubbing her forehead.
All right. Obstinate, aggressive behavior only made the situation worse. Trying to hide her distress, Kagome devoted herself to the task at hand, determined not to look at Naraku any longer. Seeing the way he enjoyed her frustration only increased it.
Twenty stones later, the bastard finally decided to join her. Apparently, she did not move fast enough alone. Or perhaps he wanted her to feel strangely grateful for his aid. She didn't. Stupid, evil hanyou and his stupid, random desire to dig through an empty field.
If Naraku knew where the final shard was, and his underlings had been searching for the "boundary between this world and the next" ... then perhaps the final shard was in the afterlife? Sora had scoffed at this idea, when it was suggested earlier, saying that Jewel shards would need to be carried to such a place. A shard could not land there on its own.
But Naraku claimed to know where it was. He had gone to an oracle, whom Sora told them could envision the location of anything they desired. If the location of the final shard was not what he sought, then what had he asked to know?
The answer scratched at the inside of her head. She could feel it there, like a mouse, burrowing deeply to avoid her notice whenever she searched for it. They were in a field, near a castle which Takemaru of Setsuna had fortified... which the sword, Sounga, had ultimately destroyed...
Somehow, it was not until a reddish gleam caught her gaze that she grasped Naraku's objective. She froze in shock, then dropped the heavy stone she held onto the sword she had just uncovered. Sounga was supposed to be gone! It was a sentient sword, which raised the dead, turning them into slaves. Also, it could open portals to the netherworld, and it had tried this in their final fight. But Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru had worked together to defeat it, and the evil sword had fallen into a trap of its own making.
Sounga had opened a portal to Hell, but in the end, it had fallen into the portal too. Right? It was supposed to be sealed away from the world of the living, never to bother them again.
The question that Naraku had asked the oracle suddenly seemed obvious. He must have demanded to know the location of the nearest object or person who could traverse the "boundary" between worlds. But he did not know about all of Sounga's nasty side-effects, like the way it would possess its owners and try to annihilate everything in sight.
The idea of their arch-nemesis getting his hands on this particular weapon? Not good.
Quickly shifting to the right, she piled stones on the area where she had seen the gemstone in Sounga's hilt. "So, what are we searching for?" Kagome inquired quickly, hoping to distract her enemy long enough to thoroughly bury the sword.
It was mild subterfuge, at best. And the question had the opposite effect than she hoped - it attracted Naraku's attention instead. He brushed her hands aside, while an army of scale-covered limbs removed the stones she had just laid down.
"No! Don't touch it!" shrieked Kagome, as she saw Sounga uncovered. "It will possess you!" She nearly threw her body on top of Naraku, in a frantic effort to stop him from moving.
Ironically, it worked. While it was disgusting and creepy to touch Naraku, she clearly grabbed his attention very firmly in both hands when she embraced him. As she moved to pull away, he wrapped one arm around her back, holding her still and forcing Kagome to stare upward to meet his eyes.
"Um... The sword is named Sounga," she mumbled, hating her current position. "It tries to control its wielder, just like the Toukijin, Sesshoumaru's blade. I presume that you don't want to allow a piece of metal to dictate your actions?"
Tilting his head to the side, Naraku peered at the sword she described. Somehow, Sounga looked incredibly harmless, lying there. Even Kagome could feel the unspoken plea, plaintively curling through the air - it wouldn't hurt to pick up the sword, would it? Just for a second?
As if he had not listened to a speck of her advice, Naraku gingerly lifted the sword with one tentacle. In return, a dozen flesh-like protuberances burst from Sounga's hilt and impaled the flesh wrapped around it. With a hiss, Naraku abandoned that portion of his body. For once, it seemed like he had met a sword which matched his talents perfectly. Both of them were shape-shifting monsters, who enjoyed forcing other people to do their will.
The sword hummed with contentment as it absorbed the tiny scraps of demonic flesh that it had been granted. "Kanna," ordered the dark-haired man, "Pick it up."
Squirming in his grasp, Kagome turned toward the void-youkai, then looked up at her captor once more. "No. Wait! What are you doing?" she objected weakly.
"Kanna has no sense of self. She cannot be possessed, because there is nothing inside of her." His tone of voice implied this should be incredibly obvious, and she was an idiot for asking. Kagome shook her head in protest.
As she stepped forward, Kanna offered the mirror that she carried to her master, and Naraku released the priestess in order to grab it. Instantly, Kagome dashed away from his side. Gah! More touching of Naraku. She had hoped to avoid that.
Then, the void-youkai touched Sounga's hilt. And absolutely nothing happened. Wide-eyed, Kagome gaped at the pale, childlike demon in front of her. Kanna was the size of a small human girl, so the blade she held seemed huge in comparison. It stretched out behind her, and she dragged it over the ground toward Naraku, unable to support its weight.
A satisfied smirk stretched over Naraku's cheeks. "Now, tell me what you know about this sword," he continued. "And why you know."
Kagome felt sick to her stomach. This had not gone according to plan. On the other hand, the situation wasn't as bad as it might have been. At least Naraku could not wield the blade directly.
With a sigh, she rubbed her forehead and winced when her palm found a bruise there. Oh, right. He had thrown a stone at her head earlier. And unlike Naraku, she did not have shape-shifting abilities to generate more limbs and catch a damned rock, before it hit her.
"Well, Sounga belonged to the father of Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru. And you already know it can open portals to the underworld..." Trailing off, she tried to guess how much she should say. It was probably best if she did not explain about Sounga's ability to raise undead zombies. That temptation might prove irresistible to the enemy. An image flashed through her mind of Kanna running through the countryside stabbing people and raising an army of undead zombies, while Naraku followed her, laughing maniacally. Kagome shuddered. "It poisons people that it cuts, and it requires demonic-energy to function. It can manipulate and possess humans too, but that takes energy, so it needs youki first. When it possessed Takemaru - a human guy - it loaned him Sessh... a demon's arm to use."
Ruby-colored eyes carefully observed the long sword in Kanna's grip. "And how did you encounter it?"
"It possessed Inuyasha, and I subdued him. The holy aura in the rosary beads broke Sounga's hold... or something like that?" The events were not very clear in her mind anymore, but Kagome did not think it would be a problem to inform him of this. Holy energy was the opposite of demonic energy. Not a groundbreaking idea.
Silently considering what she had told him, for a moment, the dark-haired hanyou scrutinized her closely. She hoped he did not notice all the gaps in her story. But then, he probably did. She usually seemed rather transparent to her friends.
"You seem surprised to find it again," he said at last.
She tugged at the hem of her skirt without meeting his eyes. "Is that a question?" Kagome snapped, irately. "Of course I am. We believed it fell through a portal into Hell, although there was a... minor distraction... at the end. Nobody actually saw the sword vanish."
A 'minor distraction' was all that she could think to call it. Somehow, she did not want to tell Naraku about the vision of Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha's father that had appeared, while Sounga plummeted toward the underworld. Damn it. She had wondered why blue-tinged fire might surround the specter. It had reminded her of an illusion produced by fox-fire, by magic. But she had not said anything at the time.
"Hmm," mused Naraku. "His father's sword and his arm dropped to the ground, right here, and the great Sesshoumaru did not take them? That 'minor distraction' must have been very, very distracting indeed."
Panicked, Kagome waved her hands in the air, as if to negate these words. "Sesshoumaru's arm?" she countered, futilely. "What are you talking about?"
Dark curls of hair shifted over Naraku's shoulders, as he bent to dig further through the pile of stones. "Don't worry." The reassurance sounded utterly insincere. "I loaned an arm to Sesshoumaru once. He owes me one."
The silence was so profound that it seemed to bear down on him like a weight. His footsteps did not echo, they simply disappeared into the infinite, empty black around him. And no matter how far he walked, the path before him simply stretched out into nothingness, and the path behind him simply crumbled into dust at his feet. Sesshoumaru hated it here.
He hated the fact that he had been weak, even for a moment. He had expected the enemy to fire one Meidou Zangetsuha at a time. But late in the game, Shishinki had revealed that he could create multiple spheres of darkness at once. And Sesshoumaru had failed to dodge the very last one, because it was hidden behind several others. The Meidou Zangetsuha was like a vacuum, a void sucking in all the light and air and substance around it. He had not been able to reinforce his legs with youki quickly enough to avoid being absorbed.
Part of him wondered if the fight would have had a different outcome, with others at his side. Like his half-brother, for instance. Of course, it would have been different. Inuyasha held the Tessaiga, their father's sword, and the Inu-no-Taisho had triumphed when he fought Shishinki. Habitually, he seethed with anger. The eldest son had not been granted the strongest sword as an inheritance. It was hard to remember not to hate his brother.
Part of him wondered what would happen now. For years, he had worried about the Western lands, about measuring up to his father, about the fragments of his family... If he never went home, then what would happen to Rin and Jaken? Would the Western territory stay in one piece? Would Kagome miss him?
As if thinking about her had summoned her, somehow, Sesshoumaru could see a flicker of color swirl in front of him on the pathway. It was hard to perceive anything in this nebulous darkness, but he thought that white and green clothing and tan colored legs stood directly before him. He stopped abruptly, staring straight ahead, but when the ghostly image moved, it disappeared. The image of Kagome vanished with one hand in the air, as if she had been reaching out for him.
Apparently wandering through this place for too long, it drove one insane. He refused to lose his mind, although hallucinations were not a good sign. Revitalized by the vision of the priestess, he took a deep breath. Did this pathway go anywhere? Or was it part of the torture that awaited someone trapped inside of the Meidou Zangetsuha?
First, he tried using the Tenseiga. The so-called Sword of Heaven, it was able to generate blasts of the Meidou Zangetsuha too. Because the technique had landed him inside of this void, perhaps the technique could carry him out of the void, as well?
Unfortunately, his crescent moon shaped attack never appeared, no matter how often he swung the sword. It seemed that one had to be standing somewhere other than the void inside the Meidou Zangetsuha, before one could use the attack. Besides, creating another dark sphere might not help. Jumping into the Meidou Zangetsuha again, this might just return him to his starting point...
Grimly shaking his head, the taiyoukai peered over the edge of the cliff-like path on which he stood. The side of the road dropped into complete darkness, and he could not see a bottom, only a sheer, mountainous bluff in either direction. The opposite side of the pathway looked the same.
But when he walked forward, the pathway behind him fragmented and fell into the darkness. It had to mean something. Perhaps if he listened very carefully, then he would learn something about the base of this rocky road?
A few more strides, and the pathway shuddered, fissures working through the stone under his heels. Another two steps, and the road itself crumbled away. With baited breath, Sesshoumaru waited for some sound, a sign of existence for anything in this darkness other than the road itself. And after a while, he heard a very distant splash. It was so soft that he might have missed the sound, if his footsteps covered it.
This opened the door for hope, again. Sesshoumaru decided that he was not a complacent fool, who followed pathways already laid out for him. If there were other places, other things to experience in this darkness, then he should leave the road and explore.
Sheathing the Tenseiga, since there had been no sign of danger yet, he used his right hand to hang from the edge of the pathway, dangling until he found a foothold below. He would proceed slowly, because his environment was pitch-black. The cliff-face was sheer and flat, but occasional bits of stone jutted upward and outward from the side of the rocks. Small notches in the rock would be enough to climb to the bottom of the cliff. Honestly, the only reason he did not jump was that he did not know what to expect. If there were demons or dangers below, then landing in the area without any warning would be unwise.
After descending for what seemed like hours, the dog-demon heard a trickling sound. This encouraged him. The splashing sound he had heard earlier, maybe it signified a river. He could follow a river to its source, and it might climb out of this darkness. Water always flowed downhill, didn't it? He merely needed to oppose the current...
A malevolent growl startled him, and Sesshoumaru flinched. He could not fully spin to face what was behind him, however, because his claws still gripped the rock-face. A short distance away hovered the muzzle of a giant dog. It almost appeared to float in the darkness, but Sesshoumaru realized it was simply camouflaged by its grayish fur. The hound had no eyes - smooth skin covered the space where eyes usually resided. But it was the size of Sesshoumaru in his demon-form.
He growled in return, refusing to submit. A white dog versus a black dog, in the middle of nowhere. That was fine. He would gladly fight back, even if it meant falling further into the darkness.
Hmm. Perhaps he could use his youki to stand in the air? Feeling slightly stupid for not attempting it sooner, Sesshoumaru tested his weight on one leg and then the other, before he stepped into the void.
As he stepped into nothingness, a crackling sound swept around his feet, and another portion of flat rock met his heels. Another road? And all he needed to do was step off the previous pathway? How odd.
The other demon had fallen silent. It seemed contemplative in a way that it had not, a moment ago. Next, he was surprised to hear it speak. "You should not be here," the hell-hound noted. "You are not a mortal. And the solid road shows you are not dead."
The voice sounded slightly masculine, so he felt safe assigning it a gender in his mind. Finally! A hint of direction. The pathway up above, it had simply meandered forever, and endless darkness was wearing on him. Sesshoumaru hoped to escape from the Meidou Zangetsuha, not travel within it.
"Is there a way to leave?" he asked carefully, tapping the smooth stone beneath his foot. Completely unintuitive, this place. One segment of the pathway disconnected from the rest, and the hell-hound in front of him claimed this meant that he was not dead.
Sniffing gently at the air, the giant dog shifted closer. Large paws came into view, with sharp claws that looked like iron. "Back the way you came," he said astutely.
"No," Sesshoumaru replied, quickly stopping in frustration. He had already attempted to use the Meidou Zangetsuha to depart. But he could not activate the portal within this nebulous darkness. "If that was... impossible, then how should I depart?"
The hell-hound snorted, evidently unimpressed. "This area of Hell is for those who reincarnate. Demons leave their bones behind, elsewhere, before they proceed."
The comment sparked a memory. But of course! His half-brother had followed him into the gravesite of their father, where the Tessaiga had been hidden. A massive youkai graveyard, including Father's skeleton. Traveling to Father's grave was not what he hoped to do, but it was progress. He had returned home from that place once before. He might be able to do it again.
Moreover, even if he could not find a way to exit the youkai graveyard, he might be able to use the Meidou Zangetsuha again, when he stood inside of a real, substantial area. The worst that could happen would be returning to this place. "That is fine," Sesshoumaru agreed politely. "Where is it?"
The dark gray hound barked suddenly. Sesshoumaru drew the Tenseiga in shock. Better to defend himself if necessary... But the other dog never noticed the movement.
Papery sounding wings fluttered overhead, and he could barely make out a skeletal bird above them, slowly descending in tight circles. Despite its insubstantial, skeletal state, it somehow remained together in one piece. With a nod, the hell-hound moved away. "She will carry you."
The black dog faded into the darkness, leaving Sesshoumaru without any further explanation.
The void-demon could speak to the sword. In a few terse words, Kanna communicated what it said to her master. And after he fed the blade a bit more youkai flesh, from his figure, Sounga was ready to go. Or at least, it was capable of transporting them to the boundary between worlds, which Naraku sought. Evidently, Kanna could direct the sword, and Sounga was (relatively) willing to comply, if it received snacks as a reward. Kagome wondered how long it would be, until the sword betrayed Naraku too, consuming enough strength that it could overpower its host.
Kanna held the hilt of Sounga, while Naraku held onto his underling, and Kagome's arm was forcibly dragged along by the enemy. It felt like a strange version of the children's game 'Red Rover' - they were all holding hands and if she could break the chain, then she would be the winner. But she didn't have the strength to resist him directly.
They appeared above the clouds, and with a gasp, the priestess recognized their destination. The giant, looming skeleton in the distance - it belonged to Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru's father! It seemed this youkai-graveyard was a "boundary" between this world and the next. And she had been here already.
Gazing at the massive, armored bones, Kagome bit her lip indecisively. Unfortunately, her captor instantly noticed the direction of her gaze. "So, the shard is this direction?" Naraku said darkly.
"Ah? No, I wasn't looking at a shard," she protested. "Those are the bones of... " Then, cutting herself off, Kagome choked on her words. It might be unwise to inform the enemy of such things. After all, great blades like the Tessaiga or the Tenseiga had been created from the bones of this very dog-demon. There was no use in letting Naraku know how much latent power rested in this skeleton.
In any case, the dark-haired man utterly ignored her. Smoothly accepting the transition between worlds, Naraku piloted the glass-like barrier toward the giant structure in the distance. And as they approached, a glint of light caught Kagome's attention.
Soon, the light revealed itself to be a crystalline spear, flying toward them at high-speed. It whizzed straight by them. Even more crystalline spears passed overhead, moving so quickly that she could barely focus on them.
"What is happening?!" shrieked Kagome, ducking behind the void youkai. Kanna remained impassive. Naraku refused to comment on the odd, gem-like spears, although he approached their source slowly and carefully.
As they came closer to the chest-plate that hung off the front of the huge skeleton, Kagome saw a patch of shining crystal on the armor. In the middle of this crystalline patch, there was a tiny skull with horns and glowing red eyes.
"You are not of the dead," spoke a gravelly voice, when they stood just far enough away to hear it. Luckily, their current opponent seemed willing to cease fire, while they had a conversation. "Grave robbers, you seek the Shikon shard?"
At her side, the evil hanyou smirked. "Hmm. It seems you did sense a shard in this direction, after all," Naraku spoke snidely, glancing down at the top of Kagome's head.
She paled, trying to step away from him, only to slip on the inside of the bubble-like barrier. In Naraku's eyes, her only purpose was to inform him of the location of the final shard. If this youkai did idiotic things, like informing Naraku of the shard's presence, then how was she supposed to lie about it straight to his face?
By now, a small frown had worked its way over Naraku's face. He did not appreciate her silence. "Well? Where is it?"
Kagome shook her head, clamping her lips shut. There was a Jewel shard in this creature's neck. And she wouldn't tell Naraku, no, no, no. Although if the idiot down below continued to surrender information quite so freely, she was doomed anyway.
His ruby-colored eyes burned, as Naraku lifted one arm to strike her. Ironically, it was the arm that he had uncovered in the field aboveground. Flinching, Kagome closed her eyes. She did not want to watch what-should-have-been Sesshoumaru's claws coming toward her. But nothing happened.
At last, she hesitantly peeked through one eyelid. Naraku stared furiously at his left hand. It would not seem to obey his command.
He hit her with the other hand instead. Even as pain exploded in her cheek, Kagome felt bitterly gratified. She laughed weakly and gestured toward the limb that he had stolen. "Not agreeing with you?"
The scratchy sounding voice of their companion sounded once more. "As a youkai who governs Jewels, I can hear the voices of stones. So, I cannot give this shard to you, because it does not want to become tainted."
"No. The Shikon no Tama desires to become whole," Naraku snapped. He wrapped one hand in Kagome's hair, dragging her upward to stand at his side. "Surely, the Jewel does not protest the idea of returning to her hands... "
Immediately, the priestess widened her eyes. She knew that their enemy was good at deception, and he often tried to manipulate others, but Kagome had not expected this particular ruse. The original location of the Jewel of Four Souls was the inside of her body - she had been born with the Jewel in her hip. But it shocked her that Naraku would use it, as an excuse to regain a shard. Obviously, he would just take the stone away from her, the moment it was in her grasp.
As she watched, the shard in the Jewel-youkai's neck began to darken. Naraku could not sense Jewel shards, directly, because he was only a half-demon. And she was not about to reveal its location - but before long, Naraku's presence alone might be enough to reveal the shard, by tainting it. Her captor held a majority of the Shikon no Tama, and its impure state seemed to affect other nearby pieces of the stone.
"If the shard went to her - not to you - then yes... Acceptable." Slowly, the crystalline structure of the Jewel-youkai's body became more opaque. The growing darkness of the shard in his neck was infecting him as well. "But that would not happen. We both know it. Do not patronize me."
Naraku pushed Kagome forward, holding her in front of him. "You see what is happening?" he hissed with dissatisfaction. She did not answer, although she continued to watch the unclaimed shard as it blackened. "He will attack, soon. And I will not protect you. Where is it?"
Kagome crossed her arms over her chest, stubbornly refusing to speak. The roots of hair in her scalp hurt, as the dark-haired hanyou pulled her head backward.
"Fine," he finished with a small, sardonic smile. "Once again, I shall assume you are looking straight at it."
Closing her eyes, the priestess tried to blank her face. The bastard was right! She had been watching the shard. She should not have made such a stupid mistake. When they first arrived, he had assumed that she looked instinctually toward the shard, as well. That was not true, but his assumption had not been revoked or proven false in any way.
With her eyes squinted tightly shut, she could only hear the next few seconds. The gravelly, old youkai's voice spoke once again. The Jewel-demon claimed that no one could break through the crystalline shell around his body. Kagome winced. Basically, the idiotic youkai confirmed that whichever spot Naraku had attacked, it was the right one.
In return, Naraku stepped forward, and she could hear slithering, shifting scales. More tentacle-like growths, probably. Then, the situation shifted in his favor. "Kanna," the dark hanyou ordered, "Cut through the base of the neck."
Opening her eyes again in dismay, Kagome saw the tiny void-demon flying through the air, after her master roughly tossed her toward their foe. In her hands, Kanna tightly grasped Sounga. If at all possible, the little void-demon looked even more ludicrous holding this sword, than Inuyasha looked holding his own. Kanna was the size of a small human girl, and Sounga was a sword almost as tall as a full-grown man. Just like the Tessaiga, the weapon's size outpaced its owner.
The Jewel-youkai impaled the white-haired girl on a growth of crystalline gemstone, which emerged from his center. However, Kanna's expression never even changed. She simply released the sword she was holding, allowing Sounga to smash into her opponent, traveling the same speed which she had been.
And it worked. A blow from a demonic sword nearly shattered the outer layer of the Jewel-youkai. Several of Naraku's tentacles snatched the shard away from it, before looping around Kanna's ankle and yanking her back to his side.
"No! You may not have it!" protested the other youkai. The surrounding gemstones in his body looked black enough now that the entire creature seemed dirty with soot. Being tainted by the Jewel shard that it had carried did not seem to improve this youkai's sanity either. "I shall destroy you!"
A spread of gemstone spears appeared, shooting across the divide between them. Of course, this was the same attack which Naraku had avoided once. At close range, however, the speed of the gemstone spears was too great to avoid. Even worse, the barrier that surrounded them - the only thing holding Kagome up - dissolved in the face of the attack.
With a shriek, she plummeted from the sky. Her captor looked unpleasantly surprised, a huge number of spears emerging from his chest. However, Naraku was a shape-shifter. He simply pulled them out. Then, Kagome slipped into the misty cloud-cover below them. It was not fair, Kagome decided, that her last vision should be Naraku's face.
Curling into a ball, she covered her head with her arms, as if it would assist her. Honestly, falling from this height, absolutely nothing would help. She would splatter into a million pieces of jagged stones, and...
A cold arm wrapped around her waist and rolled her over, until a body was tucked behind her. With a gasp, Kagome swallowed painfully, as they slowed. It felt like her stomach rose into her throat, then plummeted into her spine, when they reversed directions.
Wide-eyed, she blinked unbelievingly at the arm that supported her. It had two reddish stripes. Squirming, she pressed her head against the armor behind it. No! Not possible.
Sesshoumaru had caught her, slowed her fall, and now he was lifting her upward again. Kagome thought it would be entirely reasonable to faint at this moment. It would have been understandable, right? Right.
"Sessh-" she began, only to feel his fingers cross her lips. They were rising still, faster than she enjoyed to travel. But she fell silent. The perfect sneak attack, she conceded, would involve returning from the dead to annihilate the enemy. How could Sesshoumaru be here? Sora had said that he died...
Bursting through the cloud-cover once more, she clutched at her savior's chestplate, as he slashed downward with the Tenseiga. Naraku was facing away from them. The evil half-demon had retrieved both his underling and the sword she threw - after all, without Sounga, they could not depart. But because of this, he never saw them coming. A giant crescent of darkness opened in the middle of the sky, halfway inside of Naraku's chest.
"You!" snarled the black-haired hanyou, as half of his body dissolved into thin air. "What the hell are you doing here?"
The crescent looked like an inverted picture of the moon, dark where it should have been light. The air itself began to draw toward the darkness there. Naraku tugged frantically at the fragments of his form, which were bleeding into the void, but he could not escape the tide. Finally, he abandoned that part of his body entirely, rather than allow himself to be drawn in.
If only cutting the evil hanyou into hundreds of pieces actually killed him. Then, they might get somewhere. Instead of watching Naraku reform, over and over, they could have destroyed him by now.
Lifting his sword, Sesshoumaru prepared to strike again. Unfortunately though, the enemy had what he came for. Before the taiyoukai could move, the orb in Sounga's hilt glowed, and the tattered remnants of Naraku's form vanished along with Kanna. Like before, the void-demon carried the demonic-sword.
"You're okay!" whimpered the priestess, both arms wrapped around his torso. It was a new experience for Sesshoumaru. No one had ever tried snuggling his armor until today, although Rin sometimes hugged his legs. "You're not dead!"
He allowed it. A small blue-eyed priestess from the future was the last person he ever expected to encounter in this place. She had deeply surprised him. Twice, he had seen Father's skeleton, and she had been present both times. It was eerie.
Apparently, Kagome had a way of finding the worst possible situations, then throwing herself into them. When Sesshoumaru arrived in the youkai-graveyard, on the back of a skeletal bird, he had decided to pay respect to his father's grave. It was not a common occurrence, to see a place like this. He might never view his father's gravesite again. So, it would be nice to say a few words, before he attempted to depart by using the Meidou Zangetsuha.
Yet when he flew near the massive skeleton, he had been appalled to see none other than Naraku. The vile half-demon had been floating in front of his father's armor, and he was holding Kagome... She had struggled in his grasp, and he had struck her...
Rage bubbled up within his chest at this sight. Where was Inuyasha? The stupid boy was nowhere to be seen. None of the miko's other companions were present either. Just the priestess and their enemy, and the unruffled void-demon named Kanna.
In fact, Kanna had been the only one who stopped him from instantly attacking. Taking another look at the scene before him, Sesshoumaru had recognized the weapon that the void-demon held. Sinking dread had coiled around his chest. How could so much happen in only a few days?
It was not until a third-party on the scene made an entrance that Sesshoumaru moved. Large diamond-like pikes had pierced Naraku's barrier and slammed through his chest, and as Kagome fell through the air, he had caught her and attacked, marveling all the while that she could stay quiet, while so much occurred. She had not made a sound, even as she believed she might plunge to her death. It increased his opinion of her, still more.
Now, the little priestess was sobbing against his chestplate. It seemed like all the rock-solid courage had left her. He raised one hand to touch soft, dark curls of hair. Perhaps he was supposed to comfort her, but the taiyoukai had never been any good at consoling people, and he did not know what to say, so he simply stood still and allowed her to work through it on her own.
The jewel-like demon to one side spoke next. He had been quiet since Naraku disappeared. The red light in his eyes was dimming slightly, now that the Shikon shard inside his body had been stolen. "I have failed," muttered the scratchy, old sounding voice with disappointment. "I promised to keep the Shikon shard from being tainted, and I carried it with me into the afterlife, when I died. But I did not expect to be pursued so quickly, by powerful foes."
Kagome shook her head. She did not enjoy thinking of Naraku as a 'powerful foe' - he was a cold-blooded monster, not deserving of respect of any kind. Also, the other youkai sounded so miserable. Her heart went out to him, even if he was a stranger.
"Don't worry!" she uttered reassuringly. "We're going to win back the shards, all of them!"
Only a foot away, still holding her securely against his armor, Sesshoumaru scoffed. "You should not make promises you cannot keep for certain, priestess."
She glanced up at him, indignantly. "As the Shikon no Miko, I am responsible for the Jewel. You're going to help too. Surely, you don't want to assume failure before we start?"
"No," the golden-eyed taiyoukai countered. "But empty promises to the dead are pointless."
The Jewel-youkai quietly watched them argue for a moment, and then, at last, it seemed a bit more interested. "Strike me," the youkai urged, "Without the shard, holding me here, I do not have much time left. If you are guardians of the Jewel, however, I would prefer to leave a piece of my power in your hands, rather than making it die with me."
Blue-eyes blinked curiously, as Kagome considered this offer. Was she supposed to slap the poor, dying creature, or something? What did it mean?
Luckily, Sesshoumaru instantly understood. And because Kagome was currently supported by nothing other than the cloud around Sesshoumaru's ankles, she came along for the ride. Drawing Tenseiga once more, the taiyoukai swung the blade as if to shatter their conversational companion.
Naturally, this did not work. The Tenseiga was a healing blade, and the worst it could do was make opponents feel better - unless they were from another world to begin with. But a spray of miniscule stone and crystal swept over them both, as the Tenseiga slid off the other youkai's head. Kagome had been standing behind the dog-demon, so she was unharmed for the most part. Sesshoumaru, on the other hand, had an array of tiny cuts that spread over his face and neck.
"Hey!" the priestess protested. "That's not..."
"All you need to inherit Housenki's gift is to create a single nick," interrupted the Jewel-youkai rudely. The crystalline face was completely unreadable, but he seemed to be weighing their value and commitment to the task.
"Preposterous. The human girl behind me cannot withstand such blows, even if I can."
"So put her down," Housenki suggested. Or at least, Kagome guessed that must be his name, based on what was recently said.
"Hn." Unimpressed, Sesshoumaru lifted his sword and examined the edge. The Tenseiga was already covered in tiny shards of diamond-like crystal, from end to end, after the first strike.
Kagome clutched at the side of the dog-demon's sash. She was on the opposite side of his body as the fur that grew over his shoulder, and she felt like she needed to touch some part of him. Nothing was available on his left side, except for an empty sleeve, a sash, and a scabbard.
"Protecting the Jewel's true guardian is more important than gaining a new technique?" prodded the Jewel-youkai, refusing to give up the subject, quite yet.
With this, Sesshoumaru seemed to lose interest. In the end, this entire trip had been about gaining a new technique for the Tenseiga. And look where it had gotten him! He had been carelessly trapped in a void, and he still had not mastered the Meidou Zangetsuha... Harnessing another sword-skill was not the first thing on his mind at the moment.
"There is no need to pressure me," he said flatly, "Into taking steps I already decided to take, long before arriving here."
And ironically enough, this seemed to be exactly what the other youkai had been waiting to hear. The surface of the sword in Sesshoumaru's hand began to harden. The Tenseiga glimmered as a multifaceted, crystalline substance coated its exterior.
"Then I leave it in your hands," finished Housenki, as the remainder of the reddish glow faded from his eyes. Soon, they were alone in the graveyard. The spirit of the Jewel-youkai had fled.
While the taiyoukai continued to investigate the changes in his weapon, Kagome silently tried to peer below them, where she had seen pieces of Naraku's flesh fall. If she was not mistaken, then when Sesshoumaru attacked, their enemy had been sliced in half. And he had abandoned a large portion of the piece-meal, shape-shifting body, as he escaped with the Jewel shard - his only real objective.
Now, she wanted to see if the arm that Naraku borrowed was still in the valley. If so, then... maybe Sesshoumaru could have his arm back? Poking him in the side, Kagome scooted closer to her savior once more. "When you used that... moon-shaped attack... he left some of his body behind, down there."
As usual, the dog-demon managed to look entirely unruffled by her news. He merely raised one brow in question. "Well... what I mean is... Your arm might be down there too," she continued weakly.
Shocked, golden-eyes grew wide in disbelief. "My arm?"
"Oh!" laughed Kagome nervously. "You didn't notice that part. Hah! Yes, ah, you see..." Apprehensively she began to explain everything which occurred aboveground. First, she had accompanied Naraku to a battlefield, and then he had uncovered both Sounga and the limb that Sounga had once borrowed, in order to effectuate the sword's plans. Now, an evil hanyou had tried borrowing the arm too.
Kind of disgusting, really. This was how Sesshoumaru seemed to perceive the situation, anyway. Kagome could tell by the look on his face that it was not good news. Lesser demons were not supposed to try to use his left arm, upon a whim. But feeling possessive about a severed limb was... strange. The taiyoukai closed his eyes for a moment, inhaling deeply.
Then, he breathed out, dismissing the event. "Knowing the location of my left arm is no longer important," he decided. "This Sesshoumaru has learned how to work around its loss."
"But..." Kagome protested. "It still seemed to have a little bit of life in it. When Naraku tried to hit me, your arm refused to cooperate. That's good, right?"
The dog-demon merely stared at her blankly. Too much news in too short a time, perhaps. Deep down, she wanted to know what he was doing there, as well. Only one of them had given an explanation so far.
"Come on!" urged the priestess. "At least take it as a souvenir! If you don't leave your arm lying around... in places... then other youkai will never be able to grab it and... stuff." Honestly, this conversation was beyond weird. She did not expect most people ever had to worry about severed limbs coming back to haunt them.
Eventually, the taiyoukai acquiesced. Following her suggestion, they descended to the base of the valley and began to hunt the area in front of his father's gravesite for his long-lost arm.
As the miko poked and prodded at the stones and dirt around them, surrounded in mist, Sesshoumaru found himself growing more and more distracted. He had learned her story, and how she had come to be in this place again. But it made him feel worse, not better. Even knowing that she was safe now, he was very alarmed by the idea that she had been in so much danger, and no one had been present to help her.
And then, the fact that he felt alarmed on her behalf, this also began to worry him. He was standing in front of his father's skeleton, pondering the health and safety of a human girl. It was like fate was mocking him.
Would they be able to leave, this time? He had been unable to use the Meidou Zangetsuha, while he was standing inside of the void that the Meidou banished him into. But he had been able to use the very same attack, once he stood in this place. It seemed as long as they stood in a substantial place, then the Meidou could be used. However - it was possible that the technique would simply return them to their starting point. Sesshoumaru did not want to accidentally drag Kagome into an even worse section of the underworld. But he could not abandon her, either.
Perhaps envisioning the place they needed to end up, very strongly, would be sufficient?
"Ah!" exclaimed Kagome happily, after a few minutes, "Found it!" There was outright delight in her gaze when she turned around, holding his left arm out, as if it were a peace-offering or a treat. Sesshoumaru had never been looking for it, in the first place.
Lifting the limb out of her hands, he dropped it on the ground, before snagging the miko with his right hand. She squeaked slightly, as he burrowed his nose into her hair, breathing deeply and relaxing into the calming scent.
"Sesshoumaru..." murmured the priestess hesitantly. They had both had an incredibly long and stressful day. But somehow, she had not been expecting a hug. Even though she appreciated it.
Carefully, the taiyoukai tipped Kagome's chin upward with his finger. A small blush worked its way over her cheeks.
Yes, Sesshoumaru thought, it was official. He was cursed. The idea of kissing her while standing in front of his father's skeleton only mildly disturbed him. She was far too interesting for her own good.
"We should go."
"Go?" she inquired meekly.
"Yes," he affirmed. "Right now."
Yet neither one of them seemed to be able to move. Finally, Sesshoumaru simply surrendered to temptation, and leaned down to nuzzle the little blue-eyed priestess, kissing her softly. She responded happily, throwing her arms around his neck and trying to devour his lips. Location was not nearly as important as company.
Author's Note:, Thanksgiving + wedding plans + Christmas + multiple birthdays + Bar Exam Review from January until March = I will not be putting out another chapter for a while. I'm sorry.
Also, I am loosing interest in fanfiction! It is terrible. I don't know how to increase my excitement about it. Please let me know if you care to see this damned story continue. Only 5 or 8 or 15 more chapters. Sigh. Who knows.