All right. Here we go for one last round! Now for the usual disclaimers:
If you loathe OCs, this is not the fic for you. This fic is being written for two purposes: 1) as a writing exercise for me. I am in the pre-writing stages of my own original work, and I want to get myself back into the habit of writing mass amounts in one sitting. 2) I mentioned at the end of War's Shadow that I would probably write a sequel. This is it, which means this story is the 3rd in a series, so if you start with this, you'll likely be completely lost.
I basically accumulated a lot of the feedback I got from reviews and messages and constructed this story based on that. Because of that, this story is essentially a dogfight (no pun intended) between Sesshoumaru and Kanaye … with several subplots that continue from the last story, as well as a new one that's been playing through my mind for a while. If you've already read the other 2 stories, you're set for this one. The only new character I'm adding is a demon named Kuroshi. Everyone else has been at least mentioned in one/both of the other two stories. And if you see a scene that you suggested in a review or e-mail, you're probably the reason I added it. Actually, the scene between Furu and Kanaye in this first chapter came about directly because a few people mentioned wanting to see that.
I am still in college and ridiculously busy (though I'm currently free until mid-January). I cannot guess at an update schedule or the length of the chapters. Both will probably vary but, again, anyone who's gone through my other stories with me probably knows how I am … the chapters tend to get longer and longer and loooonnnngerrrr as I go along.
Beware the language. It's going to be worse in this one, hence the rating. This is most especially an issue with Kanaye. Obscenities, violence, and perversion are usually pretty rampant with him. I intend to make him worse in this one, so consider yourself warned. :)
For those that need a quick reminder of the OCs or for new readers:
Kanaye – Sesshoumaru's short-tempered, foul-mouthed uncle
Sashe – Kanaye's oldest daughter, "engaged" to Furu
Shinya – Kanaye's youngest daughter
Furu – the southern lord, a bear demon
Zadi – a long-lived human woman who has spiritual abilities
Lien – Kanaye's ex-wife
Ashitera – a hanyou girl who lives with Sesshoumaru and Rin. Sesshoumaru destroyed her family in War's Shadow.
Aite – one of Kouga's wolves and Rin's guardian.
The Serpent's Curse
1 – The Charm of Insanity
The water had layers; silvery and split by translucent fins as fish skimmed insects for their dinner. Further, it grew deeper and deeper still; azure … cobalt … as though in competition with the sky, but there was something else flashing periodically in the depths, and Sesshoumaru moved closer, small hands pressed to his knees as he waited for it to happen again.
He felt like he was discovering something important, as though he was looking at the other side of a mirror. But at that, he instantly scoffed at himself. He wasn't like the other children with their stupid imaginary games. What was the point in those, anyway? They flitted about with their blunt toy swords and took turns as the taiyoukai. It was all nonsense, and nothing he was interested in. What he was seeing now was real, and so he focused his attention intently.
Maybe he'd get a chance to exterminate it, whatever it was. If it was skulking about like that, it probably shouldn't be there. There was no youki, though, no sign that it was anything dangerous, and he worried that perhaps he was spending so much time waiting for the emergence of something disappointingly mundane, like an eel or some fish.
But there it was again, a flash of silvery-blue, like a pair of eyes blinking, this time even closer to the surface. He flexed the short claws on his fingers and edged closer, sure that he was about to defeat some dangerous, human-gnawing youkai …
… and then the wind changed, suddenly blowing harsher in the opposite direction and smelling of rain. Something reached out to touch his shoulder and he whirled, unprepared to find someone standing just behind him. Claiming dignity over a pounding heart, Sesshoumaru rose to his feet, fixing his expression in an icy stare.
"Who are you?" he demanded, eyeing the man who'd had the nerve to touch him and, even worse, apparently sneak up on him. It was a youkai, clearly, judging from the tipped ears, one clothed in a menagerie of expensive robes, layers of silver and blue, just like the water and just like the rest of him. Pale skin, gray eyes, and hair the color of the sea. He had a faint air of incandescence about him, and Sesshoumaru wondered if that explained the lack of youki.
"I wonder," the man murmured in a gentle voice. A small smile crossed his lips.
"Kappa," Sesshoumaru whispered. "Kawako." And indeed he felt certain that he was correct in labeling him that.
"Kawako?" the man repeated and laughed. "Is that what you will call me then? It always seems to change, but it fits in some ways, I suppose."
Sesshoumaru frowned, young face creased in consternation as he tried to decide whether this youkai was laughing at him. Unforgivable, if so. He pointed an authoritative claw at the intruder. "I asked you who you were. Answer me."
"Kawako will do if you like," the youkai replied, unmoved by Sesshoumaru's irritation. "Forgive me for startling you. I thought for a moment that you were Inutaisho, and by the time I arrived I remembered that he was an adult the last time I saw him. Time is strange for me, and so I tend to forget these things." He tilted his head, smiling happily. "Inutaisho has a beautiful son."
The rain smell increased and Sesshoumaru felt the clouds begin to gather, casting shadow as he tried to think of the best way to handle this situation. Apparently, this youkai knew his father, but that did not necessarily mean friendship. He could be a silver-tongued enemy, feigning that affectionate tone. Sesshoumaru already thoroughly disliked him for the "beautiful" remark. He would not underestimate him.
"Where is your father now?"
Sesshoumaru found his mouth moving before he had given it permission. "He's settling something with Kanaye-oji-san."
And he didn't want me to see, Sesshoumaru sullenly added the thought. It had been such a disappointment when his father had denied him permission to watch. He did not have a clear idea of exactly what Kanaye had done, just that it was something to do with the humans. But who cared? Humans were a pestilence.
Kawako looked out over the pond, which was now undulating in the gathering wind, small waves that rippled across the surface like unfolding silk. Sesshoumaru eyed him and found that with each passing moment, he was becoming less suspicious of this odd youkai. Something, some deep instinct said that he knew this man, that if he waited long enough he'd be able to remember his identity, his purpose, without it even having to be revealed by words.
As if reading his mind, Kawako glanced down at him, moving a step closer. "I belong to you."
Sesshoumaru blinked. "What?"
"I belong to your family. Or perhaps they belong to me. It's all so old and intertwined by now, I don't remember which way it's supposed to be." He reached out a pale hand, fingers lightly grazing Sesshoumaru's face. "But it doesn't matter. I prefer to be subservient."
Sesshoumaru took a quick step backward, blood surging in annoyance. It was the second time that fool had touched him. Had he no sense of self-preservation?
"You are a frustrated young boy," Kawako murmured sympathetically. "Caged, chained by your father's rules, his beliefs. They are nothing like yours, but perhaps he will teach you to grow into them. Kindness is a priceless virtue."
"And if I don't?" Sesshoumaru challenged. It was what he had always wanted to say back to his father, but had yet to summon the nerve.
"I will love you the same."
Another laugh, a sweeping sound that filled the clearing as thick droplets of rain began splattering against the ground, pelting Sesshoumaru's face and making him even more disagreeable. Kawako's face became gentle once more, indulgent, as though gazing down on a favorite nephew.
"One day you will understand exactly how tightly you and I are bound."
Sesshoumaru turned at the sound of this voice, more familiar than even his own, and found Inutaisho watching them with an inscrutable expression. The faint signs of a recent battle lingered, but his father seemed very relaxed, encapsulated in his usual authoritative calm.
Sesshoumaru glanced back at Kawako. "Kuroshi?"
The youkai smiled again. "I told you that it tends to change. That is what I am called most frequently. But whatever you name me---"
The rain came down full bore then, an unnatural deluge that soaked skin and bone, and made Sesshoumaru lose sight of both his father and Kuroshi. A roaring gray curtain separated them as lightning split the sky overhead. The rain began to take on some sort of metallic sheen, unnaturally shiny, reflecting …
It's ending soon, Sesshoumaru.
He blinked and found himself standing at the doorway to his home, watching as an early summer thunderstorm drenched the earth. The surrounding grounds were already drowned in pools of standing water. His hand was tightly clenched, a quick glance revealing fingers wrapped around Tenseiga in a deathgrip.
"It's going to end soon, Sesshoumaru. Don't you think?"
Regaining his bearings, Sesshoumaru glanced to his left and saw Rin at his elbow, her own hands wrapped around the thin kimono she was wearing. The warmth of a fire was billowing outward from the main room, bringing with it the smells of charred wood and roasting fish.
"It's been so warm lately, but that fog rolled in and then the rain. It's getting colder."
"It will end soon," he agreed, turning away from the door and snapping Tenseiga back into its sheath. He felt as though he had just woken from a dream, and wondered why such an old memory had chosen to resurface so suddenly. It had been so real, he had completely forgotten himself ….
Kuroshi. Are you why Tenseiga has been acting so oddly?
"Are you feeling all right?"
A hand reached toward his face once more, but this one was small and cool and welcome. Rin smiled faintly. "You seem a little strange."
He gently caught her wrist and brought the hand down from his forehead. "The house is warm. That's all."
"I guess that's why you were looking for some fresh air?" She folded her arms together once more. "I'm just nervous. Everyone seems so sick right now. It's a little scary."
"It's a human illness. It won't touch me."
"Sometimes I forget," she laughed at herself.
Sesshoumaru watched silently as Rin moved to pull dinner from the fire. She then doused the flames, which sizzled in complaint until they finally gave way and extinguished themselves. Immediately the house became gratifyingly cooler.
He knew that Rin was tired of being trapped indoors. Spending so much time with him meant she had become accustomed to being outside frequently, and that had steadily turned into a preference. She was not like the average human woman, who shunned sunlight in the hopes of keeping their skin pale. Rin was perpetually bronze-skinned, dark hair sun-lightened, and he could not understand the human male's tendency to prefer their women sickly-white, like corpses that have yet to putrefy.
It could not be helped. Recently, the human towns seemed to have come under assault by some strange disease, and the mortality rate was astonishing. It was not something he was very concerned with beyond the need to keep Rin away from the stricken human villages, but Rin's concern, as usual, was aimed elsewhere.
"Are you sure we shouldn't go get her? It's early, but---"
"She's a hanyou. Her brother is a hanyou. Their demon blood will protect them. Kyouru has agreed to bring her back if anyone within the town shows signs of it."
Rin was quiet at that. Sesshoumaru knew she disliked having Ashitera out of the house at a time like this, but he had felt it was necessary. The girl had been difficult lately, moody and unhappy. Her interactions with Sesshoumaru had changed, from childish giddiness to melancholy, sullen looks and silence. He had gone from "'Tou-sama' to 'Sesshoumaru' to 'Tou-sama' and back again. She had asked to visit her brother for the summer, and he had not argued. Only Rin seemed oblivious to the cause of Ashitera's unhappiness, but Sesshoumaru recognized that internal struggle, had been waiting for it in fact. She was a smart girl. He had known it would not take her long ….
Outside, thunder roared and the rain poured down even harder, striking the roof until the sound was nearly deafening. His sight wandered once more to Tenseiga, which lay propped next to the door. Inanimate, silent; the magnetic pull was gone, but some sense of wrongness remained in the wake of that memory.
That voice had spoken words that were characteristically soft, but firm all the same. A plea, a demand. He had been quiet for so long. Why now?
But Sesshoumaru was pulled from his thoughts once more as Rin returned, exuding as always that magical ability to divert his attention. In a battle between the kappa and the tenshi, the angel would always win. Strange how he had come to prefer it that way.
After nearly three years, he had become conditioned to expect the assault in some form, physical or verbal, claw attacks, swords, fists, words. At each confrontation he had kept the calm he had been naturally gifted with and nothing productive had come of it; this time, before leaving home, he had armed himself for the apocalypse.
Nature kept its silence, but Furu filled it by not even attempting to mask his presence. He stalked up the cracked stone stairway, which wended itself unevenly up the hillside, past the graveyard, Kanaye's collection of dead humans … his trophies, and so many fresh ones; that bastard's been active recently. The sides of the pathway were still overgrown, trees wended together, choking the life out of each other, and a cloudless blue sky had the gall to shine down on a place that seemed to crave shadow.
Furu's muscles were tensed, one hand clasped around the hilt of the weapon strapped to his back. At any moment, he expected it; that old dog would rain down on him from above in a storm of claws and startling profanity or he would appear at the top of the staircase, blocking the entrance to the crumbling fortress in full armor. Kanaye loved nothing more than the opportunity for a dramatic entrance.
The climb leveled out to find the massive wooden gates thrown slightly open in what was certainly a false welcome, and Furu's eyes darted from side to side, searching for movement. He entered the courtyard and found the house hovering silently in all its ancient, peeling glory, but what struck him as odd was the change in the grounds. That human woman, Zadi, had taken them over as her personal project and had transformed the courtyard into an oasis of small shade trees and blossoms and herbs … all of which now stood parched in the early summer sun, wilted and weed-strangled from neglect.
But Kanaye was near, he could smell him, and Furu unleashed his weapon, pulling it down from his back in an easy motion. He stalked around the corner of the house toward the back, waiting, prepared … or perhaps not.
He found Kanaye hovering over one of the dry flower beds, arms folded in the sleeves of a white sleeping robe, pale hair hanging loosely around his shoulders. The faint scent of blood lingered, as though it had not been completely scrubbed clean. The dog demon's face was oddly blank, and Furu took a moment to find words as he resheathed his weapon.
"Only an old woman prowls around the garden in a silk robe at this time of day. What the hell are you doing?"
Kanaye glanced up, registering no surprise at Furu's arrival. And then it came back, the evil glint that morphed liquid gold eyes to something malicious. The characteristic sneer returned as a clawed hand escaped a sleeve in order to gesture toward the plants. "I'm waiting for them to die."
"They're Zadi's plants."
"Where is she?"
Kanaye pulled one of the flowers from the soil, long roots dangling. "She's gone."
Furu eyed Kanaye warily. For nearly three years, Kanaye and Zadi had been waged in what Furu could only safely label as warfare and the general consensus was that the day would surely come when one of them would simply destroy the other. What was sickest about the entire affair was that, for the most part, the two of them seemed to revel in the utter dysfunction Kanaye refused to publically call a "relationship". "You smell like blood…"
Kanaye stared oddly at him for a moment and then, more frightening than anything, he laughed, a sound his vocal chords were rarely required to supply, and so it was a deep, evil sort of chuckle that sent unnerved birds fleeing to the skies. "I didn't kill her, you stupid bastard," he said roughly, then quickly cut off Furu's next question. "And it's not mine, either. Damn, you people are paranoid. And why am I even having to look at your face? Get lost."
"She's going to kick your ass when she comes back."
"I'm counting on it," came the silky reply.
Furu frowned. There was something written on the other demon's face, a sort of uncharacteristic weariness. Normally Kanaye took up much more physical space than his body required due to the combined intangibles of self-importance and psychosis, but now he seemed thinner, wilted just as the plants around him were. You sad bastard. You miss her, Furu thought.
"When's the last time you actually spoke to someone?"
Kanaye blinked. "Someone alive?"
"The kind that speaks back, yes."
There was silence as the question was given some thought. "That woman, I suppose. I ordered Zeshu off with her."
Furu cast another look around the garden and was certain that Zadi had not been there in quite a while, likely not since early winter judging by the state of things. His annoyance at Kanaye dwindled for a moment as he realized how utterly stifling this place was; the solitude was physically oppressive. He was quickly brought back from the moment of sympathy by Kanaye's usual charm.
"What the fuck do you want, Furu?"
Furu forced his expression to harden. "Since I actually made it through the front gate this time, I'm here to discuss something with you," Furu said coolly. He watched as Kanaye drew himself to his full height which, though normally impressive in relation to others, barely put him at chin level to a bear demon. Furu reminded himself that he was doing this for Sashe, that she wanted this done the right way, and that she had waited a long time … but now his opponent was lounging about in a bathrobe, weaponless save for a scathing tongue and an ego of enough size to crush even the most formidable of foes, and somehow that made the situation even more ridiculous.
Furu passed a hand over his eyes. "Kami, Kanaye, you look like a woman dressed like that."
"Want me to take it off, Furu-chan?"
"Don't even joke."
"Then get on with it, dammit."
"I need your blessing to take a mate," Furu said quickly, muscles automatically bracing as the words left his lips.
Long-fingered hands folded themselves into sleeves once more and Kanaye's head tilted at an angle that was reminiscent of a dog trying to better hear a sound. "Heh. Is that so?"
"Nice try, but you're not nearly pretty enough for me."
Furu closed his eyes in vexation, the fingers on his massive hands folding into fists. "I was talking about Sashe."
"You'd have a better shot with me," Kanaye smirked. "There's no way in hell I'm going to say yes to you. You realize that, right? I thought I'd made it clear each and every time you came fumbling up here with that lovesick, cow-eyed look on your face."
A flash of anger shot through Furu's veins, manifesting months of frustration by grabbing onto the collar of Kanaye's robe. The dog demon was hauled forward until they were nearly nose to nose, and Furu relied on immense self-restraint to keep from throttling the life out of the bastard. But he was stopped by the surprising realization that Kanaye, who always spoiled for a fight, was making no attempt at resistance. The older demon hung almost limply, hands at his sides, but that smirk was still plastered across his features.
"I don't know what the hell is wrong with you today," Furu said in a low, measured voice, "but I'll beat you into a bloody pulp before I leave this place without what I came for. She's waited long enough. I've tried to make this dignified, but you don't speak that language. All you know is violence, so I'm here to give you what you want." Furu released his hold on Kanaye, shoving him back a few steps before unsheathing his weapon once more.
"What I want?" Kanaye repeated coldly. The venomous smile widened. "You're too stupid to understand something like that. That's why this has dragged out for so long."
"You've been waiting for me to come kill you?" Furu spat back. He brought the arched blade up until it was aimed at face level. "Well, then enjoy. You're making her miserable, and I'm putting a stop to it. She belongs to me now. You're nothing more than a formality."
Kanaye heaved a weary sigh, as though speaking to someone who was too simple-minded to understand verbal language. "It's about damned time. Seven hells, man, how long were you going to put up with my shit?"
Furu blinked. "Huh?"
"Since she was old enough to catch the eye of other men, I've been killing off her suitors one by one, and do you know why, Furu-sama?" Kanaye asked, mockingly stretching the honorific.
"Because you're the sickest bastard I know."
"Beyond that," Kanaye brushed off the remark, "not a single one of them had the nerve to come to my face and tell me they were simply going to take her. Do you think I want someone for Sashe that won't do that much? So," Kanaye went on, straightening the robe from where it had suffered abuse at Furu's hand, "let me give you a little advice as your new father-in-law … don't put up with me. If I cause a moment's distress to Sashe, I expect to see your ugly face again and it better be murderous. When you want something, just take it, damn you, and if something is standing in your way, destroy it. No more of this flower-picking, nice-demon batshit you've been flinging around."
The weapon hit the dirt of its own accord. "You're insane," Furu murmured.
"I've been told it's charming."
"They lied to you."
"Heh, perhaps, but do you know what's funniest about all of this?" Kanaye asked conspiratorially.
"There's something funny about this?"
"Sashe was raised by her mother to be traditional, which is lovely in some respects, but obnoxious when you get down to the legalities. You've secured her father's permission, such as it is, but you are forgetting one vital fact."
"I'm not the head of the family. You've got one more rung to climb."
Shrugging the weapon back onto his shoulders, Furu heaved a tired breath, feeling as though he was some kid who was constantly having a ball tossed out of his reach by a couple of bullies. "Sesshoumaru, huh? Then I'll pass back that way."
"He better make you work for it."
"Ah, and Sashe's planning on some sort of party before she leaves. You're invited, too, you know, now that I haven't had to murder you on your own doorstep."
"You speak as if that was a possibility."
Ignoring that, Furu moved to leave, but Kanaye called his name once more and he turned around again … only to have a heavy fist connect with his face. The crack of cartilage was audible and accompanied by a spattering arch of blood that soaked into Kanaye's pristine white robe. Furu staggered back a step at the unexpected hit, annoyed that it was suddenly painful to blink.
Kanaye sneered at him. "You really should know better than to lay a hand on me, moron. Now get out of my sight before I make Sashe a widow."