Warnings: just some language and somewhat graphic violence

Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha, Sesshoumaru, or anything related to the manga or anime. I do not even own the OC, Reikyotsu, in this chapter as he actually appears for about 2 seconds in the anime…

Chapter Five

Pain surged through the youkai's body as the transporting sphere of light dissipated, leaving her bleeding on the forest floor. Pure rage had her acting on instinct as she tossed her head back and howled her agony into the night. Her burning fury was not at all calmed by the cold satisfaction she felt as every lifeforce in the surrounding area--for several leagues, in fact--vanished, fled from the manically enraged daiyoukai. All that remained was the trembling imp attempting to hide within her pelt.

Sesshoumaru turned reddened eyes toward the tiny creature. Taloned fingers grasped the growing red stain on her left sleeve as if trying to contain the searing pain from her severed limb, gods, how can it hurt when it's not even there, that was amplified by the still-oozing wound across her chest. The amount of pain pulsing through her lean body was more than enough to drive most people mad. As it was, the white inuyoukai was having trouble keeping this humanoid form and the filter that allowed her to maintain a stoic persona regardless of how annoyed she may be, was gone. And it was this filter that often left this imp still breathing.

"Ma-ster," the creature stuttered when he saw murder in those red eyes. Sesshoumaru watched as the imp hunched down and attempted to conceal himself within the fur of her pelt. How dare this weak, insignificant creature think it could hide from her? She was Sesshoumaru and she was aware of every insect that lived within this stretch of wood. And he had his godsdamned fingers in her fucking fur. She hated that. Pulling back her upper lip and revealing wickedly sharp and impossibly long fangs, she snarled at the whimpering creature.

"Leave," she bit out before she killed the small youkai who only served her in order to gain her protection. The imp squeaked at the uncontrolled emotion flooding the white youkai's voice. Never had he seen his master so undone and the intoxicating scent of his fear further enticed the inuyoukai and her fingers clenched around the red-stained fabric in her grasp. She wanted to shred the imp, to feel that leathery flesh split beneath her claws.

"Leave, now!" she barked. The tiny creature jumped before stumbling backwards a few steps. His stubby legs gave out and he landed on his rump. The growling from the inuyoukai grew to a snarl and the small youkai leapt to his feet and quickly vacated the area. Once alone, Sesshoumaru collapsed back against a tree, clutching the bleeding stump where her arm used to be.

Finally, she released the worthless limb her little brother had gifted her with. Red-tipped talons dropped to her side before wrapping around the fine, wooden sheathe of the sword strapped there. The blood-drenched inuyoukai dragged the sword from the restraining obi and placed it across her lap before slowly releasing her grip. It took some force to unwrap each finger. She wanted to hurl it, throw it so far away she'd never have to see the worthless scrap of metal again. She hated it. But it had just saved her life. And the white youkai was sure that it would be instrumental in getting her through the next few days.

It was, after all, a healing sword.

Proof that her father had truly gone mad before his death. What kind of daiyoukai created a healing sword? One that brought the dead back to life? And what kind of daiyoukai expected his heir to be happy about receiving such a sword? How could her father expect her to be grateful for receiving such a worthless piece of junk? After all, she had neither the need nor the desire to bring anything back to life. If something died, then it clearly wasn't strong enough to survive. She had no use for a creature that couldn't survive on its own.

And this is what her father had given her instead of Tessaiga. But she couldn't think of that now. Right now, she would use its gifts, albeit reluctantly. So the sword stayed in her lap instead of being pitched into the lightening shadows of the trees around her.

The daiyoukai cleared her mind, driving away every thought until she was consumed only by pain. Anger in this state would push her over the edge of sanity and she would become a beast. Only the strict training she'd received as a child enabled her to transcend what her base instincts demanded of her. This is what separated her from the other youkai, what made her a daiyoukai. Control. Any other youkai would have let the rage consume it, would have ravaged this countryside until it was brought down by an opponent too strong to be overcome by mere force.

So the wounded youkai joined with the pain, giving it reign to push through her mental barriers until she was completely merged with it. Once it was no longer working to fight the pain, her body could concentrate on repairing the damage.

For two days, the inuyoukai meditated. For two days, the majestic, white creature writhed in agony as she endured the accelerated healing her youki granted her with. For two days, she was able to keep thoughts of a sword and a hanyou from her mind. When the sun reached its zenith on the third day, Sesshoumaru finally opened her eyes.

The inuyoukai blinked as the harsh sunlight assaulted her sensitive pupils. After a few moments, she was able to adjust to the light she'd hidden from for several days. Turning her head slightly, she examined this small patch of forest that had been her refuge. Dust motes danced in thin beams of sunlight that wavered between the swaying leaves in the tree canopy. The trees were thick, this was obviously an ancient stretch of woods, and the trunks rose several times her height before splitting into innumerable branches. If her memory was accurate, and she knew it was, then she was approximately halfway between her brother's forest and the border of her own territory.

Closing her eyes yet again, Sesshoumaru extended her senses. She needed to place every living creature within this territory. The white youkai knew there was nothing nearby that could be threatening to her--if anything had dared to approach, her subconscious would have alerted her--but now was time to impress everything into her conscious mind. As she expected, only a few birds and insects remained. Even tiny forest rodents such as squirrels and chipmunks were still keeping their distance.

The only exception was Jaken. The helpless imp was apparently keeping guard, or more likely staying within the protective cover of her enraged aura. But he was far enough away that she could tend herself without his interference. It seemed the small youkai had wisely concluded that his loyal service to her would not guarantee his safety if he should venture too close.

Shakily, the daiyoukai pulled her legs beneath her. Her limbs were weak and unsteady from the depletion of youki her healing had required and the forced lack of movement over the last few days. She leaned forward, her heavy sway of hair falling over her face as she placed one hand on the ground. Frustration surged through her when she attempted to balance herself with both hands but her left wouldn't respond. The inuyoukai immediately bottled the frustration, instead bracing herself on her right arm. She would have to learn to compensate until she discovered a solution. Anger would not grow the limb back.

After a little fumbling, she made it to her feet. Leaning against the tree that had served as her backrest for several days, she took a deep breath and let the cool air clean out the stagnation within her mouth and lungs. Her hair hung damp and heavy against her, strands clinging to her face and neck. Her clothes were stiff and sticky, congealed blood and sour sweat saturating the delicate fabrics. Her bone armor was shattered.

Leaning her head back against the rough bark, she extended her youki one more time. Jaken was still where she remembered. Bracing herself with one slim hand against the rough bark, she stepped away from the tree. Strands of hair pulled as the rough crevices of the bark grasped after them. Bracing her back, she took another trembling step, bringing herself out of touching distance of the tree. A dozen steps later and the daiyoukai collapsed on the stone bank of a hot spring.

Rarely did Sesshoumaru ever concern herself with the fates or the gods--the powerful daiyoukai accomplished everything on her own power whether with or against their designs--but at this moment she offered thanks to whoever was listening that she lived in a volcanic land where hot springs could be found around every corner.

Sprawled in a tangled heap on the stone bank of a spring, the proud daiyoukai began the arduous process of removing the layers upon layers of coverings.

The first thing to come off was the fur pelt Sesshoumaru wore over her right shoulder. It was also the easiest. Thankfully, the length of fur was simply tucked in strategically and with her right arm intact, the injured youkai didn't have to involve herself in any contortionist movements to grab a hold of the damn thing. She found it ironic that the only thing that wouldn't be a pain in the ass to remove was a piece of herself. The pelt was actually a section of her own hide. Malleable and even detachable, it could be incredibly convenient. As a mountain dog from some of the most rugged sections of the stony peaks, her hide was heavy and thick as protection from the elements--not that the daiyoukai particularly needed it. It had also proved useful as a weapon, something completely unexpected by an opponent. Mostly, however, the inuyoukai kept it in her humanoid form because it was some kind of tradition among her kind. Her mother wore hers; her father had worn his. It exaggerated her size, it made her very recognizable--in case I'm dealing with an idiot who misses the silver hair and unique markings, that is--it was intimidating, and she liked it. At the moment, however, with no ceremony or sentimentality, she kicked it into the swirling waters.

Next, she twisted carefully, picking at the lashings holding the pieces of her armor in place. This was awkward, stretching and bending to reach them on her left side. Not to mention trying to pull at them with one hand instead of two. Finally, however, the heavy bone plates fell unimpeded to the ground with a muffled thud. The white youkai turned away from the shattered pieces. They were worthless now and would be left behind.

The kimono came free easier and soon the smooth silk and soft kosode pooled around her. Reaching for her leather boots, she pulled them free before finally getting the hakama off her slender hips. With the exception of her boots and sword, she shoved every piece into the water. The fabrics floated on the surface for a moment before sinking to the bottom of the crystal clear water.

Dressed only in the ragged bandages that were ever wrapped around her chest, Sesshoumaru eased one slim, pale foot into the steamy pool. The hot water encased her, wrapping her in a sheath of warm comfort. Slipping both legs into the spring, she found that it was deeper than she'd expected. The inuyoukai pushed herself off the rocky bank and into the concealing mist where she sank up to her hips into the water.

Her skin tingled as the bubbling currents of the active spring swirled around her, caressing her flesh. The oxygenized bubbles spiraling from the center of the pool felt like tiny fingers, massaging the exhausted muscles of her thighs, lower back, and abdomen. Bringing up a handful of mineral-rich water, the youkai wet her stomach, washing away the coating of grimy blood and sweat. She repeated the action on her left shoulder, rubbing away the blood congealed on the stump before letting her fingers drift down to where her bicep ended, just above where her elbow should be.

A sensitive layer of skin had grown over the exposed muscle and flesh where her arm had been separated. It would thicken over the next few days until it was of the same texture and sensitivity as the rest of her pale flesh. It was warm to the touch, both on the end of the stump and about halfway up the remainder of her limb, and the pale skin was flushed. Infection. Uncomfortable but nothing to worry about. Now that she was no longer bleeding to death, her youki could fight the infection that had tried to settle in.

The white youkai turned away from the proof of her failure. Using her sharp claws, she cut away at the bandages about her chest. The bloodstained cloth dropped into the water exposing her upper torso to the warm embrace of the concealing mist hovering over the spring. Again, she cupped water from the hot pool before pressing her hand to the gentle swells of her breasts. The final slash her brother had given her had begun just below her left collarbone, continuing over her left breast, down the line of her sternum before ending beneath her right breast. It had been deep--deep enough to cut into her ribs--but was almost completely healed. Only a small line remained which would fade, probably before the end of the day.

Scrubbing the last clump of blood from her healed flesh, the daiyoukai sank into the bubbling water. As her face slid into the hot pool, her hair continued to float along its surface, swirling along the hidden currents like strands of silver seaweed. Eventually, the water infused each strand, darkening them and bringing them below the surface. Completely submerged, the white inuyoukai turned herself, her darkened mane swirling in the water. Stretching her long body along the rocky spring floor, Sesshoumaru finally turned her thoughts to her failed battle.

How could she have let this happen? How could she have lost in battle to her little brother, a half-grown hanyou? How could she have lost Tessaiga and her arm in one night? She couldn't leave this stretch of woods until she found answers to these questions.

Around her, tiny bubbles continued their upward journey to escape the watery depths. Through the shimmering surface, the inuyoukai tracked the progress of the sun as it passed overhead. Watching the shifting golden orb, she faced the answer. She had lost control. From the moment she'd entered the battlefield, she'd been in perfect control. However, when she had seen Tessaiga cradled in those rough hands tipped with stunted claws--hanyou hands--she'd lost it. She'd transformed. Of all the mistakes she'd made that night, transforming was the worst.

There was a reason a great daiyoukai such as herself clung to a humanoid form. It was easier to disguise every sign of her sex. True, her real self was nearly sexless--much like herself. After all, she was a beast of mystical nature. Her true form was a reflection of her true nature. Her size was a representation of her power and the apparent lack of outward sexual organs was expected on a youkai as powerful as herself, it showed she was not driven by base carnal lusts.

However, if one looked closer it would be clear that she did, indeed, have sexual organs. They were simply more discrete than a massive hanging cock--and much more defendable; they were female.

Her humanoid form was quite similar. She was tall, taller than many human men. Her body was lean and muscular without any sign of the softness that excess or slothness could bring. Even the worthless breasts were merely soft swells that were easily flattened by a few passes of tight cloth.

No one questioned her masculinity, and by extension her ability to rule, when she stood in this weaker, humanoid version of her true self. That is why Sesshoumaru never transformed. There were few who'd ever seen her real self, and even fewer who'd lived. Now there were four more. Jaken was much too stupid to have noticed. The inuyoukai could only hope the flea had been too terrified for his own life to be watching. That mortal girl was probably oblivious, but the hanyou…

The white inuyoukai admitted that she'd already underestimated the hanyou once. Transforming had been her worst mistake, but underestimating her little brother had been the most deadly. Normally, an opponent's weaker strength gave her an advantage. And undoubtedly, she was stronger than her little brother, but the inuhanyou's fiery passion and insatiable desire to live had given him the strength he'd needed to defeat her. It didn't make him more powerful than she, it just made him a survivor.

Golden eyes watched from beneath hot water until the sun vanished over the rocky edge of the pool. Deciding she'd soaked enough to finally wash the last of grime and sweat off her body, the daiyoukai pushed off the bottom of the spring and sucked in a lungful of the moist, steamy air that covered the surface of the spring. Most of the remainder of the day had passed since she'd awakened against that tree.

Reaching a stripped wrist back into bubbling water, Sesshoumaru pulled out the lengths of sodden silk, linen, and fur. They were still marred with large rust-brown stains but the blood and sweat had been washed from the cloth and the fabric would bleach back to white with continued exposure to her youki. The strips of cloth she normally wore around her chest were shredded beyond use. First, from her brother's strike across her chest, then from her own claws as she removed the stained fabric. For now, she could slice up the linen kosode that she normally wore beneath her kimono. Jaken could easily find a replacement.

In the center of the large pool was a huge boulder and she spread the white garments and fur over it so they could dry some before she redressed. Surrounding the boulder and just below the water's surface were several smaller stones. Choosing one, the white inuyoukai rested, her thick mane pulled over her shoulder and her back resting against the warm stone. The sun had drifted enough to the west that she hadn't been able to see it from beneath the water anymore. Even now, it was beginning to drift below the tree line. She could only afford to stall a while longer. Then she must return to her lands and restore order there.

Her extended absence surely hadn't gone unnoticed. With her new injury and Tessaiga back in the world of the living, her life had just gotten much more complicated.

Things would have been so much simpler if she had just killed the hanyou. In fact, she should have killed him as soon as she had extracted the pearl. Instead, she'd played with the inuhanyou. She'd killed the oni and the Mu-Onna, she'd even killed that silly mortal girl--who'd had the gall to survive--why hadn't she killed the hanyou?

It couldn't have been family loyalty. If the youkai had felt any attachment to her half-brother then she would have taken him in when he was orphaned. She would have cared for him when he was too young to survive on his own. She'd done neither, she'd expected him to die. In fact, when Jaken had informed her of the hanyou's predicament fifty years ago she'd been surprised that he'd managed to survive so long. It would have been a good death for the inuhanyou. To survive all the hardships life could throw at him only to perish on the claws of the strongest youkai in Japan.

Perhaps that was it. Perhaps she felt some sort of twisted pride that her father, as great and powerful as he was, had been able to sire a hanyou with an amazing aptitude for survival. After all, hanyou were low and pathetic creatures, containing all the weakness of their human and youkai parents. Normally, they were so deformed they died at birth, or were put out of their misery. That her father had been able to sire one that thrived showed how truly magnificent the great daiyoukai had been.

But regardless of the reason, it was imperative that she kill the hanyou. He had caused her to make crucial mistakes. She had let both her façade and her control slip. First, she'd given up the opportunity to destroy him and had played with him instead. Sure, the inuyoukai enjoyed an interesting kill as much as anyone else but never had she gotten so involved in the taunting that her prey had gone free. Somehow, that scrap of a man had made her forget, if just for a moment, that she was suppose to kill him.

Then he'd made her lose control. Regardless of the situation she was in, Sesshoumaru never lost her temper. She got impatient sometimes, she got mad sometimes, sometimes she destroyed things, often she terrified every being she came across, but she did not lose her temper. Something about that impetuous creature had made her lose her temper. She could not afford for such a liability to be wandering about. The hanyou's existence could lead to crucial mistakes so he must be destroyed in order to preserve her own existence.

But, for now at least, she had more important things to do. Her lands would be in chaos when news of her defeat reached them. In her world, only the strong survived--and only the strongest ruled. While she was certain no one would know she'd met defeat at the hands of a half-grown hanyou, her own brother no less, her missing arm would be testimony enough. She would be facing challenges and rebellions upon her return.

With a deep sigh, Sesshoumaru pushed herself up from her rocky perch. She had been away from her lands nearly half a moon-cycle. Even now, the sun was setting, turning the sky a myriad of colors from the reds and oranges of fire to the deepest purples and blues of death. With a few slashes of her claws, she cut long strips of linen from her kosode and wrapped her chest. There was no one in the area but she wouldn't risk leaving the steamy mist of the spring with her breasts exposed.

Grabbing an armful of damp white material, Sesshoumaru hauled the rest of her clothing to the spring edge. Gingerly climbing from the warm heat of the healing waters, Sesshoumaru managed to don her clothing. It was awkward, she'd never noticed before just how many ties were involved with her kimono, hakama, and obi. The twisting and bending involved, forcing one set of claws to nimbly handle the work of two. But her arm wasn't growing back; for now, she would have to learn to survive without it.

But at least she was more steady that she had been earlier. Apparently, spending the day resting in a hot spring was invigorating as well as slothful. The proud inuyoukai stood straight, her legs no longer trembling, and she slipped the hated sword into her obi. With silent steps, she headed off in the direction of her underling.

The grey-green creature was seated in a pile of leathery flesh and brown linen, hidden beneath the rotted remains of an ancient, fallen tree. His posture was defensive, the Nintoujou before him as a warning to any attackers. But his ability to ward off any danger was questioned by the lids closed over dull yellow eyes. The sad, defenseless creature hadn't even noted her arrival. He needed her. If she left him, if something happened to her, he would not last a season.

"Jaken," she said, feeling a trace of amusement as the tiny imp jumped and squawked, the Nintoujou falling from his hands.

Hastily grabbing the two-headed staff, the small imp rushed to prostrate himself before his master. "Sesshoumaru-sama," he gasped into the dirt. Conflicting scents of fear and hope drifted from the trembling form at the daiyoukai's feet.

Feeling slightly uncomfortable with the minor youkai's devotion in light of her recent defeat, Sesshoumaru turned away from the small creature. Hair, silk, and fur swirled over the prostrate form as she began to walk away. "Let's go home, Jaken," she said just as she disappeared into the trees.

The sun was low in the sky, lightening the heavens a pale shade of blue and giving the impression that the world was completely at ease. A false impression as Sesshoumaru noticed as soon as she put one booted foot within her own borders. Her absence had not been unnoticed. The energy she shared with the lands was restless, as if it were being pulled at its seams. Creatures were already desiring to claim her borders as their own, already vying for her position. And it would only get worse.

The lands accepted her back, their powers rushing through her as hers fed into them, a symbiotic relationship that could only be shared by one as powerful as she. The frosty signature of her youki would spread to be felt by every youkai and the more sensitive spiritualists within her territories. Within the space of a few breaths, they would all know she had returned.

With slow but sure steps, the white inuyoukai turned away from her final destination--her stronghold deep within the mountains. She had a stop to make first.

Jaken followed, oblivious to the wealth of information his master was gathering as they made their journey into the dark shadows beneath the rising peaks of her lands. The sky began to darken, not because they had traveled long but because the foliage had thickened until it blocked all but the barest wisps of light from above. Sesshoumaru continued to pass through the thick underbrush as if the land was opening up for her, and perhaps it was. She made no sound and left no trace of her passing. Behind her, however, Jaken huffed and scrambled over tangled brush and fallen branches.

She finally stopped at a particularly heavy copse of trees. They were unnaturally large, even in this forest unmarred by the hands of man. Contrary to the natural needs such plants required to sustain life, they grew closely together. So closely, in fact, that only small animals would be capable of passing between. Root systems tangled and fought for space a good several lengths around the wall of bark and the branches above grew together so that no light passed to the ground and it was impossible to differentiate what branch connected to what tree.

The white daiyoukai waited at the barrier of roots for a moment before they began to pull themselves from the ground and open a path to the largest tree. The bark on the tree shifted and behind Sesshoumaru, Jaken gasped before concealing himself behind her majestic form. Unphased by the kodama's tricks, Sesshoumaru waited impatiently while the bark shifted and concentrated before finally separating from the tree. A beautiful woman stepped from the dark trunk--thick, layered kimonos moving with her every step and black hair swirling around her hips. Dark, green eyes peered from beneath thick lashes toward Sesshoumaru with feigned respect and badly concealed lust.

Again, the daiyoukai silently thanked her father's strict training as she managed not to sneer or gag in disgust.

Painted lips curled into what was supposed to be a smile, but more resembled a leer. "Sesshoumaru-sama," the dark-haired tree youkai breathed, "to what do I owe this pleasure?"

Sesshoumaru felt Jaken stiffen at the dryad's tone and insinuation and was glad she didn't get headaches. Although her brother's arousal during their fight had been unexpected--especially under the circumstances--she had certainly dealt with her share of over eager women and a few men who wished to share in her power and position. This particular creature was no exception.

"I require armor," the inuyoukai stated, her deep voice calm as she ignored the woman's advances. The dryad continued to step forward, circling the inuyoukai and the affronted imp and using her need for measurements as an excuse to survey the beautiful inuyoukai's body. The white daiyoukai had made it quite clear during past experiences that the tree youkai wouldn't be allowed to gather details through any more intimate means.

"And what have you been doing, my master, that would require you to need new armor?" the woman persisted in a tone that border on impetuous. "The last was the finest I've ever made; you must have faced a truly powerful enemy for it to have been damaged."

Sesshoumaru remained silent and was reminded of why she kept Jaken around as the small imp jumped to defend her.

"How dare you, you mouthy wench?" the imp shouted as he jumped in front of the woman who was slowly making her way to the front of the white inuyoukai. "Sesshoumaru-sama fought bravely and spectacularly. It was a magnificent display of his power and ability. If your pathetic armor had held up then he would not have been injured at all."

"Silence, Jaken," the daiyoukai commanded as she was reminded of all the reasons she'd ever contemplated ridding herself of the small creature.

"Injured?" the woman asked, eyes narrowing minutely as her green gaze swept over the white youkai's form before fixing on the empty sleeve swaying in the slight air currents that drifted between the trees. "Oh," the dryad breathed. Those dark green eyes gazed deeply into Sesshoumaru's and the inuyoukai could see the woman considering all the implications to this new development.

Sesshoumaru canted her head, a long wave of silver following the movement. "Are you incapable of fulfilling the request," she asked, her tone mocking with only a trace of threat. But even a trace was very, very real, and very, very deadly.

Immediately the green eyes dropped and the dryad's head bowed before the daiyoukai standing before her. "Of course, Sesshoumaru-sama," she murmured, every trace of disrespect vanished from her suddenly submissive voice.

Sesshoumaru turned her back on the dryad, walking away from the copse of trees. Jaken scrambled after her, leaving the beautiful woman standing before her grove. Above her head, the daiyoukai could hear the murmur of leaves as the dryad sent messages from branch to branch, tree to tree. Within a day, every creature residing within her boundaries would know of her handicap.

Exactly as she had planned.

Biting winds blew across the barren landscape. Jagged rocks broke the path of the rushing air, leaving shrieking whistles and roaring howls in its path. Only the hardiest grasses and shrubs survived this high. The biting cold, thin air, and harsh winds killed off anything delicate. As a result, there was little beauty to be found here and even less reason for anyone to search for any.

The white daiyoukai who ruled over the territories of the west let her cloud of youki dissolve as she placed one booted foot on the hard, rocky ground. Her hair whipped around her, huge waves of silver and white snapping and swirling and, miraculously, not tangling. Sesshoumaru tipped her face into the wind, letting the crisp, clean scents overwhelm her senses. She was home.

This stretch of rock, a series of peaks high above the treeline, was her stronghold. The white youkai was a creature born of and an extension of nature. No fancy mansion or castle for her, she had no need for such human eccentricities. These mountains were as much a part of her as her breath. If she stopped breathing, she had no doubt these rocks would plummet to the earth. While her energies traveled through all her territories, this was the heart they beat from.

Jaken huddled behind her, his heavy layers of clothing protecting him even as he huddled within her fur. She hated the feel of his hands on her pelt, but she permitted it here. The cold-blooded creature was not structured for this harsh environment. He never complained although, to be honest, they rarely spent extended periods of time here.

Letting the superfluous moment of nostalgia flow over her and drift away, Sesshoumaru turned west. Nightfall had already begun to set in and she would have to settle down soon. It wasn't normal that she stopped for the night, but the cold would require that Jaken conserve heat. It wouldn't be much past daybreak when challengers arrived and she wanted to be easy to find.

The last of the sun's pink traces were creeping away over the western horizon when the white inuyoukai crested the small outcropping of rock and turned her golden gaze to the level valley beneath. It was a meadow in some sense of the word. Flat and grassy, during the height of summer some blooms even dotted the ground. But it was far from soft and beautiful. The soil was dry and rocky and instead of a soft delicate carpet of grass, there were small clusters of coarse, rust-brown vegetation that only vaguely resembled grass.

It was an ugly place. A place that proved that strength and power equaled survival and that beauty was paramount to weakness and death. To Sesshoumaru, it was the most beautiful spot in all her lands. And soon, it would be the stage for death.

The tread of her feet made no sound on the stony ground as she crossed the silent expanse. For once, there was no sound of scrambling following her passage as Jaken rode tucked within the thick folds of her pelt. She paused in the center of the oblong field, ringed on all sides by walls of rock as the mountain peaks rose up around her. The youki of approaching youkai touched the edges of her senses, further amplified by the disturbances the creatures were creating in the earth's energies. Didn't they know the earth could feel them and, through the land, Sesshoumaru could feel them like ripples on a still pond?

Apparently not.

Remaining still, the inuyoukai addressed her faithful servant. "Jaken," she murmured just loud enough for the small, barely-conscious creature to hear.

"Yes, my lord," the imp slurred as he pulled himself from the warmth of her pelt and lumbered into a tiny enclave on the northern rock face. Sesshoumaru listened to the gravel scraping as he settled himself and within moments had sunk into deep hibernation. This was not a favorable environment for such a creature.

Once certain the tiny, green imp would not interfere, the white youkai dropped to a knee, reaching out her only hand to brush over the coarse stalks on a small outcropping of grass. Full darkness had set in but the moon was hanging low, having traveled most of its course under the shielding light of the sun. The pale disc was beginning to lose her light, about halfway through its cycle from full to dark, but it was still enough to glow off the ethereal white of her skin and make the dark stripes on her wrist and the back of her hand look like dark stains of blood. As she felt the distinctive youki of six youkai flank her little paradise, Sesshoumaru wondered how long it would take before her hand was stained in very real blood.

From behind her flared a release of youki. Unlike hers, which was saturating the area and bringing a deeper, more bone-infusing chill to the air, this youki brought a tinge to the atmosphere. It tingled along the skin and made her hair float slightly around her head. Even the air tasted slightly metallic.

"Sesshoumaru-sama," a voice floated through the air. It was a dark, deep voice that seemed very appropriate for this desolate landscape. Honestly, Sesshoumaru reflected, it was this youkai who she had patterned her own false tones after.

"Reikyotsu," she greeted without rising--or even looking behind herself--as her fingertips continued to drag through the dry stems. She heard as the elemental sky youkai stepped from the sparse cover of the shrubbery that grew up here beyond the treeline.

"You've been injured," the disembodied voice continued as the youkai stopped just within the boundaries of her little meadow. It lacked any mocking or accusatory sound, in fact, it sounded just as she supposed the older male wanted it to sound. The tone was somewhat soft, sympathetic. Just as an older teacher or mentor would address a student. Sesshoumaru supposed this was deliberate. This youkai had, in fact, been a friend of her father's and she supposed he probably even thought himself her mentor.

But that wasn't why he was addressing her so. He was establishing his ranking above her. The fact that he was older had never mattered as her own strength and power vastly surpassed his, but now that she was injured…

"News travels rather quickly, doesn't it, Reikyotsu?" Sesshoumaru commented, her own sarcasm heavily evident in defiance of his attempt to keep things calm. "And this news means what to you?" she continued, daring him to admit the reason for his visit.

"We must think of what is best for this land, Sesshoumaru-sama," Reikyotsu continued, pretending to be unaware of her animosity, including the fact that she'd yet to rise and acknowledge him.

"Yes," she admitted, letting the hostility slide from her voice. After all, she would do what was best for the land. It was what made her its master and what would make her turn it to another who could serve it better.

"We must find someone to handle the energy flows and keep things in balance. Someone not," his voice broke as the older youkai tried to find the right words without being overly disrespectful, "hindered."

"Yes," Sesshoumaru stated as she finally drew her fingers away from the dry stems and rose to her full height. Still, she didn't face the youkai. Instead, she fixed her eyes to the shrinking moon that was making its way over the horizon. Her hair and silk flapped around her in response both to the unforgiving weather and to the effect her own youki was having on the atmosphere.

"You have taken care of these lands well in the centuries since your great father's death," Reikyotsu remarked, "whoever takes your place will make sure you are provided for."

Sesshoumaru smirked and was glad the dark youkai behind her couldn't see it. She knew exactly how they would provide for her. Even if she were considered too weak to rule these lands, she would still be a threat to any who came after her. She would not live long, if it were up to them. Thankfully, for her anyway, it wasn't up to them.

Sesshoumaru turned, a movement that was very slight except for the billowing of white that followed her as her silver hair, white garments, and the blinding whiteness of her pelt swirled around her before settling back into the soft waves dictated by the winds. The remains of the moon shone down on her and she knew exactly what a picture she made, both to Reikyotsu and to the other youkai who were still hiding in the surrounding crags. Her tall stature was only made more obvious as she literally shone like a beacon of light, or of pure power.

Her guest was her complete opposite. He was darkness where she was light. If her canine heritage hadn't granted her with exceptional night vision he would be difficult to see, even in the fading light of the unhindered moon. Dark hair was pulled into a tight braid at the base of his neck, a braid that trailed almost to his knees. A sleeveless white tunic marked with black was visible only at the neckline before his chest was covered in black armor much like that which she had just ordered. Heavy, round shoulder guards covered his shoulders and black armguards protected his forearms.

Even his skin was darker than her pale complexion. And unlike her, he was unmarked. His face was sharp and hardened, the long tips of his traditional moustache floating in the same rhythm as Sesshoumaru's hair.

"You believe you would be best to lead these lands and keep hold over all its inhabitants?" Sesshoumaru asked, her golden stare narrowed and direct. Despite the differences in the ages between the two powerful youkai, Sesshoumaru was pleased to notice the slight tightening of the other's spine that indicated his discomfort under her gaze.

His red eyes narrowed back at her. Why red? she wondered absently, why must so many youkai choose red? Honestly, she was glad her own form allowed her golden eyes. Red had become so…clichéd. After all, they all had red eyes in their demonic form. Alternate forms were supposed to vary from that.

Blunt-tipped fingers tightened around the staff of his weapon, the lightening blade Raigekijin. "I believe that my strength is comparable with any others in this land and that I would be a suitable choice, baring yourself of course, Sesshoumaru-sama."

Sesshoumaru looked the storm youkai over and she had to admit the truth in his words. Reikyotsu was one of the most powerful youkai in Japan and it was possible he would be able to merge his energies with the powerful currents of the earth without losing himself in the process. However, injured or not, Sesshoumaru was not about to relinquish her position.

"Indeed," she answered, allowing no hint of emotion to color her voice and expressing a control that was essential to her position as daiyoukai, a control she didn't believe the other youkai, even though he was many times her senior, possessed.

He proved her supposition correct as he smiled in pleasure at her perceived approval. "Yes, the lands could use someone of my power and experience," the second qualification added as an indirect slight on her own youth. "And I already have sons that could be groomed to handle these lands along side me," another padded slight.

"Yes," Sesshoumaru agreed, grimacing internally at the thought of the uncouth and undisciplined Lightening-Brothers taking control of the territories her father had amassed and she controlled. That would be almost as bad as letting that damned hanyou brother of hers take control of them.

And considering that the hanyou had defeated her, it wasn't as absurd a possibility as she'd like to think so Sesshoumaru immediately put it out of her mind.

"And how would you prefer to choose a new leader, or were you assuming it would be you?" Sesshoumaru asked, her golden gaze never wavering from the continually narrowing shards of red before her.

"I supposed a trial could be arranged," Reikyotsu mussed and Sesshoumaru found it amusing that he would continue with this façade that he wasn't personally attempting to usurp her power. She could only assume that the five followers he had hiding in the background were more oblivious of his attentions than she. Another reason why none were worthy of her position.

Sesshoumaru nodded and gained another smile from the older youkai. How can this man truly believe he's worthy when he laps after my approval like a pup? she wondered.

"A trial," she repeated quietly, but in this harsh land, the sound magnified and carried to the ears of both her current visitor and her hidden listeners. "I agree, there should be a trial." Only then did she allow a smile to show across her features and reveal a hint of her intentions to the dark youkai who had invaded her private sanctuary.

Reikyotsu barely had time to adjust his grip on his staff when Sesshoumaru rushed toward him, seeming to appear directly before his eyes. She was tall, but so was he so they stood eye to eye. But that didn't stop her from reaching out her only remaining hand and wrapping it around the thickly-muscled throat of the darker youkai. Long, deceptively delicate, claw-tipped fingers wrapped around that dark neck and supernatural strength lifted the youkai a hands breadth from the earth.

"Perhaps the trial should be whoever can defeat me?" Sesshoumaru whispered as she pulled the dark youkai close. A cruel smile crossed her lips when she felt his body tremble under the slight touch of her breath against his cheek. For all his boasting and confidence, the older male was frightened of her, as he well should be.

But then Reikyotsu brought his left hand up to wrap around her restraining wrist and Sesshoumaru saw her error as the blunt fingers on his right hand tightened around the staff of Raigekijin. If she had one more hand, she'd have plunged it into his chest and stopped his heart, or maybe just taken the staff but, for one critical moment, she'd forgotten to fight while assessing her own new weakness.

Swearing under her breath, Sesshoumaru released her grip and spun away from her opponent just as a blast of lightening came down from the sky to strike in the spot she'd just vacated. The dry scent of scorched fur reached her nose as the white inuyoukai peered through the darkness and toward the elemental youkai. The blast had struck him directly but a strike of lightening had about as much effect on an elemental youkai as her own poison had on herself.

Reikyotsu wasted not a moment as he charged her, his staff extended before him in preparation for an attack. Sesshoumaru pulled the sheathed sword from her obi and brought it up to block the attack. The muscles of her shoulders and chest ached beneath the strain of Reikyotsu's two-handed strike.

"Do you believe you can beat me with a sheathed sword, boy?" the elder youkai asked in an impressive growl for someone not of canine heritage, every bit of concern and respect abandoned from his tone.

"It will be more than enough to defeat you," the white youkai gasped as she managed to push him back a step.

Reikyotsu's visage distorted from the effort to keep from losing additional ground, which made the smirk that crossed his face seem like a sick parody from an opium-inspired hallucination. "Too bad you only have that worthless club to strike with, Sesshoumaru," he stated through strained vocal cords. "And now you're missing a set of claws, too. Looks like you won't be able to wield Tessaiga, even if you ever find it."

"Tessaiga will be mine," she snapped as the daiyoukai managed to push him back another step. Just one more and the older youkai would likely lose his grip beneath her strength.

"It is a myth, your father had no such sword created," Reikyotsu growled as his arms shook and Sesshoumaru felt the locked muscles give just a bit.

She smirked, her eyes glinting with the joy of supplying death as a dark quiet laugh extended just as far as Reikyotsu's pointed ear. "It exists and I have found it, it will be mine," she said as she pushed him back one last step.

Reikyotsu stumbled and broke their locked embrace. He fell to the ground and, dropping the wooden sheath of Tenseiga, Sesshoumaru followed him down. Raigekijin slipped from the dark youkai's fingers and the white inuyoukai allowed herself no more mistakes as her knees came down on the forearms of the prone youkai, pinning them to the ground.

As she wrapped her poisoned claws around that dark neck again, Sesshoumaru was reminded of the last time she'd pinned an opponent to the ground like this. For a moment, the dark, red eyes lightened to a familiar golden hue and that black hair faded to white. But unlike that time, there was nothing in this youkai's scent but fear and resignation. And unlike last time, there would be no stalling or last minute distractions.

"And how," she leaned forward and whispered against the older man's ear, "do you expect to control these territories if you cannot defend yourself against a handicapped opponent?" She smiled against his cheek as she let her claws pierce the skin of his neck and the sweet scent of Dokkasou filled the air, mingling and enhanced by the blood of her victim. He opened his mouth but his scream was silent as his vocal cords dissolved away. Soon there was only pulp left in her hand as the neck beneath her grip completely dissolved, separating the head from the body.

Sesshoumaru stood from her fallen victim, nudging the head away from the body with her foot. Not that it was the removal of the other youkai's head that had caused his death. The circulation of her poison through both the body and the skull had been fatal. And while decapitation of a youkai such as Reikyotsu wasn't immediately fatal, no one survived her Dokkasou. Not even arrogant, overbearing elemental youkai. But as Sesshoumaru stared down into the unseeing eyes of her father's friend, she nudged the head a bit further over, turning those eyes away. After all, moving it away from the body couldn't hurt, could it?

Stepping away from the body and over the staff, Sesshoumaru reached down and retrieved the discarded Tenseiga. She'd finally managed to use the damn thing as a weapon, even if only in defense. Take that, Father, she thought and smirked mentally. Two of the youkai surrounding the small meadow had slipped away at Reikyotsu's rather obvious defeat. The daiyoukai took a moment to impress their scents into her memory. They were both traitors and cowards and she would deal with them. Of the remaining three, one stepped into the meadow.

"Are you ready to try for my position next?" she asked without facing the other youkai.

"No, Sesshoumaru-sama," a young voice answered and Sesshoumaru turned to see an adolescent bear bow low before her. "We meant no disrespect, Sesshoumaru-sama. We feared, but you're clearly still the strongest among us."

The daiyoukai nodded, silently wondering how long the young man would stand there if she didn't accept his apology. He seemed awfully repentant and may very well stand there for the rest of the night. And to be honest, Sesshoumaru was feeling rather unmerciful after slaughtering a man she'd known since adolescence. But she recognized the energies coming off this young youkai. He roamed a bit of forest just south of the base of this mountain range. As with all youkai who claimed territory within her borders, his youki mixed with hers as he united with the land. And so far he hadn't been too horrible about upsetting the delicate balances he was to maintain. So after some rather uncomfortable moments, Sesshoumaru took pity on the young youkai.

"Present his staff and armor to his sons," she commanded and the young man rose up and nodded, keeping his eyes averted in a show of deference. She supervised as the remaining two youkai crept from the shadows and assisted in unfastening the heavy bone plates from the dark youkai's headless form. She would have insisted they take the body as well, however the caustic poison should dissolve it completely by daybreak.

Soon, she found herself again alone in the valley, with only the company of a hibernating Jaken and the cooling corpse of Reikyotsu by her side. The harsh winds of the mountaintops were deadened here by the walls of rock that rose around this place so there was little to distract her from body.

"Well," she commented to it, "at least you died with both arms. Such a waste, actually." She turned her attention to the moon which was drooping over the horizon, soon the night would be left in complete darkness. It was possible she would have more challengers but word would spread of Reikyotsu's defeat and, although many would want her position and think they were worthy of it, it was unlikely there would be many--or any--who would be willing to challenge her for it.

And that was just fine. She had something else to do than sit and take care of challengers anyway. Tessaiga was back out in the world, and now she didn't have to search so fruitlessly for it. It was obviously some kind of fluke that the hanyou had managed to use it, and it wasn't as if he'd managed to actually unlock its power.

But what Reikyotsu had said held truth. Could she wield Tessaiga with just one arm? She was still powerful, even still a competitor, but could she ever equal the greatness of her father now that she was so hampered?

She would have to find a way somehow. And the easiest way would be to fix the arm problem. Sure, it would grow back. But that was likely to take years, centuries. Sesshoumaru knew she was patient when she needed to be, but not that damned patient. If Tenseiga were going to heal it, it would have done so already. Worthless sword. While she'd been in her healing meditation she'd hoped her youki would reform it, but that had proven false.

So if she wasn't going to get it back, what else could she do? The inuyoukai let her golden gaze drift back down to the dark headless form at her feet--the form with two perfectly good arms that she was beyond resentful for. "It's too bad I can't just take one of yours," she stated to the corpse as she poked it with a toe again. "After all, it's the least you could do after challenging me."

Then again, there wasn't really any reason she couldn't. Reikyotsu had been managing a piece of land southeast of here since long before her father's death. His youki had been entwined with hers ever since she'd taken control of his territory. The limb may very well accept her.

Sesshoumaru reached down and wrapped her claws around the cold, hard bicep of her slain opponent. Normally, it was beyond beneath her to mutilate a corpse, unless one considered that most of her victims eventually dissolved into toxic puddles of goo. Her nose wrinkled slightly as the inuyoukai closed her eyes and twisted while squeezing the dead arm.

A wet snapping sound followed the sudden depression that formed beneath her fingers as the bone snapped and she quickly pulled at the limb, tearing muscles and skin. Despite all the carnage she'd caused in her life, this was among the most disgusting acts she'd ever committed. As the arm came free, she took several steps back from the body, trying to distance herself from the atrocity she'd just committed.

Turning away, she looked down at the arm she'd decided would now be hers. It as much darker than her normal skin color and unmarked, it would be strange not seeing the stripes that had always adorned her wrists. There were no claws either; the tip on each finger was blunt. She would never be able to use poison from this arm. It wasn't a perfect solution, that's for sure. But perhaps it would last until her own arm grew back.

The white inuyoukai settled herself on the ground, Tenseiga and the borrowed arm stretched across her folded legs. Pushing back the lengths of white fabric, she exposed the tender stump of her arm. The infection that she'd noticed the day before was gone and new skin had grown well over the previously exposed flesh. For all intents and purposes, it was healed. But it ached. It had since she'd awoken the day before. Twinges that felt like they were coming up from the arm that was no longer there and a constant, dull ache.

Wrapping the copious folds of silk around her shoulder, she pinned them in place and reached down for the dark arm in her lap. Bringing the mangled end to her own healed flesh, Sesshoumaru waited to see if the lingering traces of youki in the arm would accept her. Sharp fangs clenched over her lip, marring the pink flesh as the new skin split apart and bone and muscle met and connected. It burned and tore as her own body tried to both accept and reject this foreign flesh, the war playing out on a newly healed and still sensitive wound.

Except for the rapidly healing tears in her lip, no sign of her internal pain showed on Sesshoumaru's face as the arm slowly adjusted and connected to her body. As the burning began to fade and she began to feel the very real sensations of her new limb rather than the mysterious phantom ones she'd been feeling lately, Sesshoumaru flexed the arm and was pleased to see it work. Slowly she claimed control over each finger as she curled them, one by one, into a tight fist.

A smile spread across her face as she felt the full use of the arm come to her. This would certainly last until her arm grew back. And with this she would be able to retrieve Tessaiga from the half-grown brat who thought he could defy her.

A glance toward the last youkai who'd defied her reminded Sesshoumaru of all that came before. The list was long and a good many were like this one, friends or comrades of her father's. It had started before the great daiyoukai's death, when he'd become preoccupied with that human woman. Sesshoumaru had taken care of each challenger while the Inu no Taisho had been otherwise…engaged. She'd never told him who the challengers were and he'd never said a word about his missing friends. But he had to have known.

Her father had been master of these lands because he was the strongest youkai in Japan. But the others followed him because they wanted too. They liked him. Sesshoumaru succeeded him because she was the strongest in his absence, but she was followed out of fear. She could never grow close to those who served her, for eventually they would challenge her just as they had risen against her father when they thought they had seen a weakness.

Is this why you did it, Father? she thought as she stared at the body that was beginning to grow soft as her poison undermined the structure within. Were you so tired of the betrayal that you turned to a lover?

At times like this, when she watched the body of someone she'd known for centuries fall apart, the inuyoukai thought she might understand what had driven her father into the grip of madness. The daiyoukai would never admit to being lonely but it was sometimes…difficult to have no one close.

Except the ever faithful and eternally incompetent Jaken, that is.

As the sun rose over the valley, two acidic puddles marred the meadow of Sesshoumaru's stronghold. A larger one marked a body and nearby a smaller stain was all that was left of Reikyotsu's head. Sesshoumaru began to make her way from the meadow as the shadows of the mountain peaks began to shift across the barren land. As she made her way out of the shelter and into the harsh, icy winds, a sharp burning pain extended up from the borrowed arm.

Startled by this new development, the inuyoukai tried to bring the arm up to examine it only to find that the limb no longer responded to her will. Pushing up the heavy kimono sleeve with her true hand, Sesshoumaru barely refrained from cursing. The arm was dissolving.

From her own poison.

The poison that she had injected in Reikyotsu's body had already infested the arm before she had attached it and, apparently, her own immunity to the poison had not been bestowed on the transplanted part.

Gripping the false limb just above the elbow, Sesshoumaru tore the arm off. There was no pain, proving that her control over the limb had been superficial at best. But the previously healed wound at the base of her severed arm was now open. It would be at least another day before it closed completely.

There was no one around to temper her show of displeasure as she spun and hurled the rapidly dissipating limb from the peak of the mountain. Harsh winds captured it as its inertia began to fade and carried it further. Somewhere, in some far corner of her territory, it would fall to the earth. If it hadn't completely dissolved before the winds released their grip.

The biting gale brushed over her, its fierce pull soothing her in a way only a creature of the mountain could be soothed. It was enough that instead of howling into the lightening sky, Sesshoumaru just brought her hand to her temple, massaging away the headache that was not there. Because Sesshoumaru didn't get headaches.

A particularly invasive gust caught beneath her mane, pulling the heavy wave toward the sky as Sesshoumaru sank to the ground. She would stay here a few more days, a smirk pulled at the side of her mouth. After all, she wouldn't want to miss anyone if she had any more visitors. This time, she wouldn't use her poison and then she could replace her arm. Perhaps with one more useful to her, one with claws or even poison. Then she would come down from the mountains, her position secured, and she would retrieve Tessaiga.

Everything was going to be fine.

The sun settled heavily on the horizon, sitting there as if unwilling to drift beneath the green hills it was cushioned on. Sesshoumaru stared directly into it, the bright light burning through her slitted pupils and reeking havoc on the sensitive light receptors in her eyes. It was a burning that was little in comparison to the dull ache that still throbbed from the arm that was not there. But at least her eyes would heal as soon as she looked away.

It had been nearly a moon cycle since she'd lost her arm. Her lands had settled swiftly and easily, the death of Reikyotsu impressing her supremacy over the youkai within her lands. A few other creatures, young and weak, stupid, had challenged her and they had each been swiftly dealt with.

It would be time to search out Tessaiga soon. If she could just figure out how to take and wield it.

The ground vibrated beneath her booted feet as creatures crested over a hill some distance away. There was no youki fluctuating against hers, which was flowing through every blade of grass much, much further than the eye could see. She was in the northeastern most part of her land; an area not often encroached on by humans. A gentle smile tugged at her lips. After all, she thought, there are dangerous youkai in these areas.

"Bandits," the inuyoukai murmured without turning as the rancid scent of unwashed bodies drifted on the breeze. Not that soldiers smelt better, all humans were dirty, but bandits carried the scent of too many men. Their horses, their armor, even their weapons bore the scents of previous owners.

The thudding that was growing steadily stronger beneath her feet stuttered to a halt and Sesshoumaru realized they'd seen her as they came down the side of the nearest hill.

"That ain't no youkai, stupid," one voice hissed above the sound of stomping horses and shifting armor, "it's just a man. Got some pretty nice looking armor there, though."

Well, Sesshoumaru thought, at least the bandits had taste. After all, she'd just received her new armor a few days before from the gossipy dryad.

Another voice rose up in a battle cry above the restless band, sealing their fate before Sesshoumaru had decided it for them. "Kill him!" the voice called out. "Kill 'im and take it all!"

As the hoof beats resumed, Sesshoumaru turned her blind eyes from the burning sun. It took two heartbeats for her pupils to heal and adjust and she smiled slightly at the approaching men. After all, if they were to die, it was the least she could do.

She flexed the borrowed fingers of the blue oni arm currently attached to her body. Over the past several weeks, she'd tried many. She'd long ago stopped thinking of any as a potential replacement. They were temporary tools.

And this one was about to be used.

Pushing off the ground, the white inuyoukai leapt into center of the mob. Screams filled the air as some of the less fortunate realized they had, indeed, found one of the dreaded youkai in these hills. The more fortunate never knew what happened as their heads rolled from their bodies, slashed free by the heavy claws that in no way matched the grace and deceptive delicacy of her form.

But even those who survived the initial attack perished and Sesshoumaru landed softly atop the hill the unfortunate bandits had just crested. Horses ambled confused for a moment before a series of corpses began to fall to the ground. As the creatures felt their masters' fall, they became restless and soon they panicked and fled.

The daiyoukai ignored the antics of the beasts. The mindless animals had already been spoiled by humans. Unless they made their way back to a human settlement, they would become prey to some hungry predator. Instead, she turned her attention to the blue arm attached to her left side. The leathery skin was becoming flaccid.

A rustling in the tall grasses nearby interrupted her inspection. "Sesshoumaru-sama," the small imp called out and she immediately coveted the days she'd spent on the mountain when he was in hibernation. "An entire gang of bandits," he squealed, "such a great feat could only be accomplished by someone as great as you."

The white youkai chose to ignore the tiny creature, keeping her attention on the state of the transplanted arm. If she turned her attention to him, she might do something rash. But, to further enforce her theory that he was completely lacking in common sense, Jaken refused to be ignored.

"And such an extraordinary arm you have. Of course it would be, procured from that formidable blue oni yourself. I am truly fla--"

Anything else the imp had to say was silence as Sesshoumaru gave in to temptation and placed a booted foot across the small youkai's face. It only took a small amount of pressure to inspire silence from that beaked mouth.

"Perhaps," she informed him, "you should use those worthless holes in your head and look at this arm." Sesshoumaru held out the blue arm, which was clearly dissolving from the surge of her youki that had occurred during her attack.

It had been the same with all the stolen arms. The daiyoukai was simply too powerful to use such inferior parts. As she used them, her youki flowed through the temporary limb, breaking it down from the inside.

"Ack!!" The imp shrieked and Sesshoumaru moved away as the all too common desire to silence the creature permanently pulsed through her. "Is it still no good, Sesshoumaru-sama?"

"The next youkai you find must be stronger," she called back to him as Sesshoumaru dropped the rotted arm and continued to walk away. Putting distance between herself and the squawking creature was seeming to be a better idea with every passing moment. Besides, there was a slight disturbance in the youki undercurrents approaching. "Or I will kill you," she added and relished in the sharp, sweet scent of fear as a chemical cocktail surged through Jaken's body.

Jaken followed at a considerable distance, unaware of her destination as Sesshoumaru slowly made her way toward the source of weak youki that was invading her lands.

"You seem to have a problem," a voice rose from the bushes at the side of the game trail Sesshoumaru was following. "You are the older brother of Inuyasha, correct?"

Well, the daiyoukai thought, wrinkling her nose in irritation, no one's ever addressed me as that before. She refrained from answering as she looked over the kneeling body of the youkai that had addressed her. No, she amended, not a youkai. I smell the stench of human on him.

The hanyou was kneeling with his head bowed. His entire body covered in layers of white baboon fur, a mask concealing his face.

"You are Sesshoumaru-sama, are you not?" the mysterious hanyou repeated. Behind her Jaken squawked but, as much as she wanted to, the inuyoukai decided now was not an appropriate time to silence him.

"And what kind of despicable creature are you?" Sesshoumaru responded without answering the hanyou's question. To be honest, this pathetic creature was already annoying her. The stench of human was grating and the youki being given off was so weak that it barely made an impression on the land. And even though he was acting appropriately reverent, this base creature really had no business addressing one such as her. Besides, a certain stiffness from beneath the copious furs belied the creature's true submissiveness.

And he'd addressed her as Inuyasha's older brother.

Could there possibly be a worse insult?

"I am merely one who hates Inuyasha, just as you do," the creature answered and it was likely the only answer that prevented an immediate death.

After all, Sesshoumaru wasn't particularly pleased with that hanyou, either.

"I offer you a gift, something of assistance so you can defeat Inuyasha," the hidden hanyou continued. "Please, take this arm."

From within the folds of white fur, the hanyou brought out an arm. Of all the arms Sesshoumaru had gone through over the past days, this was by far the most ridiculous. Surely, the inuyoukai thought as she examined it from her place, there must be a reason he's wasting my time with this.

"What joke is this?!" Jaken snapped, outraged, and Sesshoumaru secretly agreed. "Why, that is a human arm, you stupid bastard!"

"Indeed," the hanyou responded evenly, apparently unperturbed by the angry imp. Not that an angry imp was particularly frightening… "But it is also imbedded with a shard of the Shikon no Tama," the hanyou continued.

In a sudden flash, Sesshoumaru understood the implications of such an arm. It was a perfect solution to her problems. A long-term solution.

And of course, because he--like everyone else--apparently thought she needed everything spelled out, the hanyou went on to explain exactly what a human arm with a Shikon no Tama shard was useful for. And she held back a sigh of exasperation as he missed the most interesting implications.

"With the arm of a human, you should have no trouble wielding Inuyasha's sword, Tessaiga," the dark voice continued and Sesshoumaru knew he was correct. A certain amount of humanity would automatically bypass the barrier her father had placed on the sword. Why hadn't she thought of it herself? Oh yes, because she needed an arm hardy enough to handle the influx of her youki and a human arm would never work. But that's where the accursed shard came in. Something the irritating hanyou continued to miss.

"After all," the hanyou's voice broke through her thoughts, "I've heard that Tessaiga is 'The Sword of Protection,' is it not? A sword whose power is for the protection of humans. A powerful and ruthless youkai such as yourself would never be able to wield its power."

Now, according to the myths that was correct, even Sesshoumaru had to admit that. But her father had been powerful and ruthless so there was no way there could be truth in those words. Besides, there was no way her father would have denied her the sword as her inheritance.

And at this point it was clear that the hanyou before her may not even realize what he was offering her. The fact that the arm was human only helped with the immediate problem of the barrier, a problem Sesshoumaru could fix once Tessaiga was in her possession. After all, there must be a rational way around it. The real prize was the shard and what the shard would do that made the arm useful to her.

It would keep the arm from being overwhelmed by her youki. It would keep the arm from disintegrating. But the fact that this creature didn't realize what he was offering her also exposed his true intentions in befriending her. His posture and attitude was of one who wanted to gain her favor but instead it was as if he was trying to manipulate her into doing him a favor.

"Coward," the inuyoukai stated, the casual amusement in her voice bringing a tremor of fear from the small youkai beside her. "You say you hate Inuyasha and yet you are afraid to face him. Instead, you would use me to destroy him."

"You are correct," the hanyou admitted, his dark voice remaining humble.

Beside her, Jaken began to stammer. "Why you impudent ass, you sure have some damn nerve to try--"

"Intriguing," Sesshoumaru interrupted her small minion, "I'll take the arm." The daiyoukai ignored the sputtering of the imp as she reached out and took the offered limb. Honestly, she was a bit disgusted with herself for even considering a human appendage, especially one with a shard of the Shikon no Tama. Both were beneath her and, separately, she would have nothing to do with either one. But used in tandem they were the perfect answer to her current…difficulties.

She began to turn away from her new benefactor when he spoke again. "There is one more thing," the hanyou began, "a young monk now accompanies Inuyasha. This monk may prove even more troublesome than your brother." The hanyou's hand disappeared back into the folds of the white hide and pulled out a round, papery hive.

"Please, take this. It is a nest containing the Wasps of Hell, the Saimyoushou. They will be ideal for disabling the Kazaana in the monk's right hand."

Sesshoumaru narrowed her eyes at the hanyou, wishing she could see beneath that mask and into the creature's eyes. She was being used, that much was obvious and the hanyou had admitted to that. But this manipulation was beginning to feel a bit too staged. I could just kill him now, she considered, then take the arm and the nest.

After a few moments of silence, the inuyoukai finally nodded her head at Jaken who took two stumbling steps forward and retrieved the nest.

"Tell me, beast, what is your name?" she finally asked as Jaken returned to her side, the paper nest clutched gingerly in his stubby fingers. Sliding the human limb into her obi, ironically next to Tenseiga, she reached down and plucked the nest from the imp's trembling hands.

"Naraku," the hanyou purred and Sesshoumaru confirmed her suspicion that his reverence was a ploy as self-satisfaction colored every syllable. "I am called Naraku."

"Naraku," the inuyoukai repeated, feeling her tongue curl around the name. She held the nest up before her eyes, inspecting the innocent-looking ball. "I shall remember it."

Annoying A/N-What can I say? I'm very, very sorry this took so long to get out, I found myself…distracted several times. Plus it was a rather boring chapter to write with the complete lack of my favorite hanyou. I also apologize for making everyone wait for a chapter completely lacking Inuyasha but I thought it was really important to get Sesshoumaru home and healed and in a certain frame of mind before she met with Naraku. She'll meet back up with her little brother in the next chapter.

Also, I've opened a livejournal account specifically for the purpose of tracking my progress on this story although so far it's just full my bits of unfinished work and lots of ramblings. I want to invite anyone to come take a look. I'm working on the plot of a new story and have hit a critical roadblock and I would appreciate any feedback. Please come by and drop a line. I'd really appreciate it.

I also want to thank all my reviewers because you guys make my heart sing. I'd like to think I was secure enough to write for myself but I actually write for you. Thank you so much.

Special thanx to:














Princess Sin




Psycho Demon-Witch