Dark
Shouting
Fire
Screams!
Running, dragged by the hand
Heart-hammering
Stumbling—falling hard
Rolling
A shriek—Mother!
A rain of hot, dark droplets
Crashing into brambles that scratch
Tearing free

Running alone

--------

The old dream shatters with the appearance of the long shadow. There is a flash—moonlight on a perfect curve that seems to hang, like a second shining sickle in the sky. There is no war cry; the blade announces itself with the ring of steel clearing its saia. After a single, weightless moment, the sword's brightness blurs in the speed of its fall.

An instant later the hoarse screams of men replace the terrified cries of women and children.

When the blade rises again, its sheen is duller, black and wet-looking in the colorless light.

-----------------------------

Rin jolted awake.

She sat up in the grassy hollow where she'd lain curled, sleeping. The old terror clung to her like the smell of blood, and her gaze darted around her as she searched for the blurred shadows of men and horses. Her kimono had gotten twisted during her fitful sleep, and she clutched the rumpled front folds with one small hand. The cloth was damp with her sweat, and she could feel her heart pounding through bone and flesh and fabric.

Where was she?

There were no blazing houses in sight--no leaping, hellish light giving ruined bodies a grotesque semblance of movement. Instead, she saw only a moonlit field dotted here and there with trees. Nothing human stirred out in the great silvered sea of grass.

At last, Rin allowed herself to exhale softly with relief. Settlements and people were far away. A soft summer wind whispered in the grasses, and gently lifted the ends of her sweat-dampened hair. Still seeking reassurance, she cast a quick glance to either side, to make sure her demons were still with her.

They were. Ah and Un lay coiled in the grass to one side, and their glittered-green eyes slid open to meet her wide, dark ones. They gave her a questioning look that turned more un-curious by the second, until one set of dragon lids drooped shut, and then the other followed. She didn't have to look for Jaken. A noise like a sick pig snorting through a flute announced that he was sleeping nearby, concealed by the tall grass.

She was safe.

But . . . she never really felt like she was "home" unless Sesshomaru-sama was with them. To Rin's silent disappointment, he left often, especially at night, on mysterious missions of his own. She never complained, and neither did the others, even though she sensed they felt his absence as keenly as she did. It simply wasn't their place to tell him when he could come and go. The great Inu Yokai was Lord of the Western Lands, and Rin, Jaken, and Ah-Un belonged to him—not the other way around.

Still, when he was in residence, it felt like they were a type of family. When he was gone, Rin felt a void inside. But as an orphan and former village pariah, she was used to loneliness, and she stoically endured the long, empty hours the way she endured the cold of winter and the bitter lash of rain. It was just a part of the world and the way things were.

So when she stood up to see if the Demon Lord was close by, she didn't really expect to find him in their rather sorry little camp. He had better places to be—such as tearing through the air like a shooting star or running among the clouds in his true form.

But to her surprise and immense joy, she actually found him present, sitting with his back up against the trunk of the spreading maple tree that was their current shelter. He was facing away from her, but she could make out the silver-white of his long hair and the spiked epaulette of his shoulder armor.

She resisted the urge to run to him as she was, since he preferred to see her clean and tidy. Actually, he tended to kick Jaken if the little green retainer allowed her to become unacceptably disheveled. Hoping to reflect well on her small, unwilling caretaker, she quickly straightened her kimono and retied the ribbon that held her hair out of her face.

Once she was presentable, she padded through the grass and stopped to one side of Sesshomaru, folding her hands in front of her and politely waiting to be acknowledged. He seemed preoccupied, but she was patient. Really, she was content just to stand near him in the nighttime quiet.

At first he didn't respond to her presence; instead, he stared off across the field as if his mind were far distant. Rin had no idea what he was thinking about, but she was sure it was important. In any case, he was sitting in his familiar watchful-defensive posture—a guard modified for the fact that he had only one arm. He'd pulled Tensaiga forward so that its saia lay horizontally across his stomach, and he'd rested his wrist on its handle. It looked like a careless gesture; in fact the languidness of his pale, long-fingered hand would almost have seemed effeminate, if it weren't for the claws. From experience, however, Rin knew that any apparent delicateness on his part was an illusion. He could be out of that comparatively-relaxed position and blasting an enemy into the next world faster than the eye could follow, if he had to. It was one of the things that Rin found the most comforting about him.

When Sesshomaru was deep in thought, he generally ignored people who tried to talk to him—or else gave them a look that strongly discouraged any further attempts to disturb him. He would, however, respond to potential threats, or if Rin needed him for something. Apparently, seeing her in an unacceptable state of want was serious enough to warrant a reaction.

This time, she waited less than a minute before he turned his head toward her, and a stray shaft of moonlight picked out a gleam of amber in his eyes.

"Rin," he said simply.