Hey all! I FINALLY got this chapter done. My finals were kicking my butt so sorry this is so late. But anyway I hope you all enjoy!
Chapter 5: Arrivals
Gliding silently through the forest, every movement smooth and controlled, a regal man wove his way between the ancient trees. Long silvery hair the precise color of moonlight flowed neatly down to his waist. Cool, angled features fit together into an unnaturally beautiful face, a face set into blank, impassive lines. Dressed in white silk of the finest make, a vivid red pattern decorating one shoulder, he appeared to be nothing more than a young lord out for a stroll, but the angular gray armor covering his chest and the two swords fixed to his waist shattered this innocuous façade.
He was not a young man simply out for a lazy jaunt in the woods. He was not a man at all. Dark purple lines slashed horizontally across both his cheeks, accompanied by a half moon between his brows. Delicately pointed ears poked through his hair and his narrowed eyes glittered gold in the dappled sunlight, making his demon heritage very obvious.
"Lord Sesshomaru! My Lord, please wait!!" a high pitched voice called out desperately.
Ignoring the plea Sesshomaru continued walking, his eyes narrowing as he studied the thick forest ahead. A vague sense of familiarity whispered through the back of his mind as he slowly took in the sharp outcroppings of rock stabbing up from the forest floor and the thick mist gathering in the hollows between the old trees a few meters away. It felt like he had seen this place before, long ago. Concentrating Sesshomaru tried to recall exactly when he would have passed through this way but the memory was elusive, like the details of a dream upon awakening.
He had never had difficulty focusing his thoughts on the past before. Despite their extremely long lives, or perhaps because of them, demons were blessed with long lasting and accurate memories. This vague, ill-defined feeling of uncertainty was alien to him. He wasn't used to being uncertain about anything much less his own mind. Slightly troubled that he couldn't place this odd sensation, but more so because he felt that it was important he remembered, Sesshomaru came to a stop mid-stride, his expression remaining a sculpted mask despite his unsettled mood.
"My Lor…oomph!" Running directly into the now stationary demon's leg a small toad demon tumbled backward with a gasp.
Distracted from his thoughts by his servant's clumsiness Sesshomaru turned his head to the side, glaring coldly down at the prone toad demon at his feet. Without saying a word he reduced the nervous creature into a pitiful apologetic heap. Normally he would have bashed Jaken over the head for his lapse but Sesshomaru found that his hand remained relaxed at his side. Sliding his eyes away from the toad demon he ran another considering gaze over the surroundings. This place… why do I feel as if I should know this place?
At that moment a young girl burst out of the underbrush behind the two demons. Skidding to a hasty stop when she caught sight of them she raised a hand up to scratch at her shaggy mop of dark hair; then her face broke out into a brilliant smile. "Lord Sesshomaru, are we camping here today?" Tilting her head toward where Jaken was still sniveling on the ground the girl's infectious smile slipped slightly. "Jaken what are you doing on the ground?"
Raising his eyes from the dirt the little toad demon speared the girl with a righteous glare. "That is none of your concern, Rin! And how dare you question Lord Sesshomaru so insolently!! It is outrageous!"
Turning his naturally cool gaze to his young human charge, Sesshomaru studied her with a slight frown. It had been three years since Rin had first stumbled upon him in the forest and began traveling with him and Jaken. The time had passed by him as water in a stream flows around a stone, leaving him unchanged but eating away at everything around him. He would have hardly noticed the years if it had not been for Rin's presence. She had grown several inches taller, her young face loosing a bit of its baby fat and giving a glimpse of the woman she would one day become. She had even begun to grow out of her kimono, the hem hitting half way up her thigh rather than at her knee and the sleeves shrinking up practically to her elbows. It wouldn't be long until she became a full grown adult, until she grew old and died.
Already unsettled by the landscape Sesshomaru felt a flickering of dread flutter passed his icy defenses at the thought. Narrowing his eyes imperceptivity he turned his attention inward, shedding a cold and biting light upon the invading emotion. Ruthlessly clamping down on the sensation until he was once again safely insulated within a blanket of bitter numbness he looked away from the girl and once again swept his eyes over the forest. She is human… they are weak… of course she will die. He thought with a conscious detachment, waiting for the tightness in his chest to return. When it did not, his defenses remaining perfectly intact, he nodded his head in satisfaction.
Giggling as if Jaken had said something terribly funny rather than shouting at her Rin skipped forward. "So are we camping here then?" she asked again, completely unfazed by Jaken's sour mood or Sesshomaru's silence, as usual.
Taking a breath to reply, for he knew if he didn't the child would repeat her question incessantly, Sesshomaru began walking again leaving his servant and his charge to follow or be left behind, stepping into the waiting mist with an even stride. A sudden and urgent vibration at his side interrupted him before he could utter a single word. Sliding hard eyes down to his left hip he watched one of his two swords trembling within its scabbard. Tenseiga, the blade he had inherited from his father, rattled nervously against his side, reacting with something in the landscape, reacting perhaps to the same thing that had affected him earlier. It senses something within this forest, as I did. Something… something that has to do with Father? His domain never extended this far South and yet Tenseiga calls to me. What lies ahead to cause this reaction? Father… what did you do here?
Coming to an instantaneous decision to solve the mystery Sesshomaru narrowed his golden eyes. Raising his right hand up to brush some hair behind one ear; Sesshomaru shook his head in response to Rin's question. "No. There is something I must do. You will both stay in this area until I get back," he said evenly, his tone leaving no room for discussion despite the impromptu nature of his decision.
Deflating at the news Rin frowned. "When will you get back? Where are you going?"
"Rin!!" Jaken admonished. "My Lord, what am I supposed to do until you get back?!"
"When will you get back? Where are you going?" Rin repeated, raising her voice slightly so that her question could be heard over Jaken's.
Feeling no need to explain himself further Sesshomaru turned without another word and headed towards a large pile of rocks in the distance. Pausing after a few steps he sent one final glance over his shoulder. "Jaken take care of Rin while I am gone," he ordered calmly.
Hearing the chilly threat hidden in those words loud and clear Jaken shut his mouth and nodded vigorously. "Yes sir."
Satisfied that his point had gotten across Sesshomaru turned his back on his servant and his young charge and quickly left them behind.
"Come on! Stop movin' so slowly. We will never get anywhere if you keep draggin' your feet!" Inuyasha groused, purposely throwing his voice over his shoulder in such a way as to make sure everyone heard him.
"Well unlike you, oh mighty Inuyasha, we are all hot and tired! It is the middle of summer and it has to be about 90 degrees!! You can't expect us to run the whole way. Suki said it would take us a week to get to the river. We have already been walking for six days and I will not be pushed the rest of the way by You!! So shut up!!!" Kagome shot back as she swiped at the drops of sweat gluing her bangs to her forehead.
Stiffening at the front of the group Inuyasha drew his shoulders up in outrage. Spinning around he sucked in a deep breath, growing red in the face as he opened his mouth to shout back at her. "Yeah and if you hadn't been so slow we might have already been there!! We could be eatin' some good food instead of the junk you cook!!"
Looking back and forth between the warring pair, Shippo shook his head with a mournful sigh. Kagome and Inuyasha had been fighting since the moment they had started out on this journey. Six days of nothing but bickering. The times Kagome gave Inuyasha the silent treatment would have almost been a relief if not for the terrible tension it caused to snap in the air. Shippo wished they would just make up already, he was getting sick of all the shouting.
At least Miroku and Sango seemed to be getting along. They weren't screaming at each other every five minutes like some a certain idiot half demon. Granted they weren't laughing with each other as much as they used to, and every once in awhile Shippo was sure he saw Sango go pale with unspoken emotion, but he supposed that should be expected. They were only human after all, not a full blooded demon like he was.
"What is your problem, Inuyasha?" Kagome asked, forcing her voice into a more controlled tone. "You have been acting like a jerk…er… strangely for days," Kagome snapped, waving a hand in a weak attempt to cool her face.
Crossing his arms firmly over his chest the half demon turned his back on her. "I don't have a problem. And if I did you would be the last person I told it to. What do you know! You are just a stupid human girl after all… butt out."
Shrinking away from Inuyasha as his words cut through her anger Kagome's expression broke into startled hurt. Silently cursing Inuyasha's stupidity Shippo fisted his small hands at his side as he watched Kagome fight to regain her composure. The hurt in her eyes passed quickly, replaced by a new wave of fury. Opening her mouth Kagome took a deep breath and enthusiastically shouted back at the half demon as if she hadn't been pierced by his words, and when the idiotic half demon shouted back she squared her shoulders and uttered one devastating word.
Letting out a startled yelp Inuyasha was dragged face first to the ground by the nondescript bead necklace around his neck. Struggling against the bead's subduing spell as it pressed his body flat against the road he cursed colorfully under his breath, promising all manner of violence as soon as he could regain his feet. Raising his hands up to tighten the tie holding his bright orange hair out of his face Shippo sighed again, regarding the escalating battle between Inuyasha and Kagome with now bored blue eyes. I wonder if they plan on doing that until we find the owner of that pretty rock. Gods, I am going to have to plug my ears with cotton.
Watching all of this with a certain degree of expectant resignation Miroku shifted his weight, leaning more heavily upon the staff that he carried. Shippo, looking up at the young monk, was glad to see that Miroku had regained a more healthy color. The six days they had spent walking in the sunlight had bronzed his skin slightly, covering up the sickly pallor which had bleached his face bone white over the last few months. Sango likewise looked more herself now. Standing near Miroku's side, her mouth open slightly as if she would stop Kagome and Inuyasha's argument, she absently adjusted the strap of the huge boomerang hanging on her back.
"Miroku, do you think that we should…" Cutting off in mid-sentence Sango's face flushed an outraged shade of red, her body stiffening up as she turned her head to glare down at where Miroku's hand was casually cupping her bottom. Flashing an innocent grin Miroku gave her a wink. Without wasting a second she brought back a hand and soundly brought her open palm across the monk's cheek, the resounding 'whack' of flesh slapping flesh echoed loud enough to make both Kagome and Inuyasha stop their bickering.
Sighing heavily Kagome rolled her eyes in disbelief, her body relaxing slightly from its tensed stance. "Miroku… you knew that was what would happen."
Gingerly cupping his injured cheek the young monk nodded gravely. "Yes… but it has been so long that I just needed to remind myself what a woman felt like. I fought the urge… but I think it was completely worth it," he replied in an unapologetically cheerful voice.
Her face still a bright beet red Sango marched to the other side of the road, putting herself as far out of touching distance as possible. "Next time fight the urge harder!!" she sputtered from a safe distance.
Raising a hand up to cover the sudden smile blooming across her features Kagome turned her face away from the group. Noticing her expression before she could hide it Inuyasha flattened his ears back against his head with annoyance. "What's so funny?"
Shrugging Kagome continued to grin. "Nothing is funny… it is just… It is just nice that things are more back to normal," she murmured.
Affected by the truth of Kagome's words Shippo felt his face relax into a smile, and as he watched Sango and Miroku did too. Inuyasha stared at everyone for a moment, his mouth firmly pressed into a grim line, before turning on his heel and walking off down the road, but as he moved away Shippo couldn't help but notice that the half demon now moved with a lightness in his step that hadn't been there before. It had been a long time since they had all traveled together, and Shippo was surprised by how much he had missed his friends, including their bickering. This might end up being fun…
Scampering to Kagome's side Shippo was about to jump up onto her shoulder when a loudly echoing shriek cut through the air, freezing Shippo's movements. Gasping aloud the young fox demon dove instantly behind Kagome, throwing his tiny arms around her leg for protection against whatever evil was about to spring upon them.
White ears fixed toward the sound of branches snapping near the side of the road, Inuyasha turned fluidly and leapt in front of Kagome, putting his body squarely between her and the forest, one hand gripping the sword at his side. Moving almost as one Sango and Miroku widened their stances, their eyes fixing upon the faint movements visible just beyond the brush.
The howling shriek sounded again just before a young woman crashed out of the forest and ran onto the road. Spotting Inuyasha's menacing stance she came sliding to a halt, raising both hands up to her mouth in a startled gasp. Dressed in bright, almost ceremonial robes, the hem of which she had firmly clasped in one hand, her black hair done up into a loop atop her head, with a colorful headdress of ribbons and shells framing her flushed face the young woman gaped at Inuyasha and the others with wide-eyed wonder. Behind her a pair of young men stumbled out onto the road, each one wearing a similarly styled headdress as the girl's, both laughing jovially between gasped breaths.
Without a second's hesitation Inuyasha leapt into the air, landing before the two men with a growl, brandishing his razor sharp claws now instead of his sword. The two men ground to a halt, falling to the ground in their haste, their dark eyes fixed upon Inuyasha with a mixture of shocked awe and fear, his hair color and eyes making an incredible impression. "Please, Great Lord, have mercy!" one cried out, his hands raised in supplication.
Unfazed by the pleas Inuyasha pulled back a hand; his fingers spread and ready to attack if the men showed the slightest sign of suspicious movement. "Don't move, assholes, or I'll rip…"
Bursting into movement the young woman dashed across the road and threw herself at Inuyasha's feet next to her two supposed attackers. "Please my Lord. We meant no offense. We beg pardon!!"
Startled by the unexpected development Inuyasha lowered his hand, his expression quizzical as he looked back and forth between the young woman and the two men. "Hey, lady, weren't these mutts chasin' you? You were shoutin.' We all heard you."
"Yes, my lord. But they meant no harm. It is part of the cleansing ceremony we perform every year. All the young people of the village race through the forest, and the fastest is chosen to cross the river and tend the mountain gods' shrine. I shouted because I was winning. It was prideful and I am sorry." As she spoke several other brightly dressed youths burst out onto the road. Grinding to hasty stops they took one look at Inuyasha and dropped to the ground, bowing their heads so low that their foreheads brushed the ground.
Turning to look back at his companions Inuyasha gave a confused shrug and took a step away from the prostrait villagers. "What the hell?"
Seeing that there wasn't any danger Shippo detached himself from Kagome's leg, his mouth spreading into a wide grin as he scampered forward. "Ha! They obviously don't know you Inuyasha! They keep calling you 'lord' like you are someone important."
Shooting the fox demon a deadly glare Inuyasha leaned forward and deafly whacked Shippo over the head. "Shut up, idiot!"
Yelping in protest Shippo rubbed at the lump growing atop his head. "OWW!!"
"Inuyasha do you have to do that!?" Kagome asked as she stepped forward and picked Shippo up, cradling him in her arms. Snuggling into her comforting embrace, the stinging on his head fading somewhat, Shippo stuck his tongue out at Inuyasha.
Unaware of Shippo's rebellious expression Kagome stepped forward, her attention on people on the ground. "You can stand now. None of us will hurt you," she said with a friendly smile.
Angling their eyes upward the villagers shook their heads. "We have always been told that in ancient times the gods traveled these forests… and that when they returned we should show them the proper respect. Although… we were always told that you would appear out of the mist…" A flicker of doubt eased across the girl's features until she noticed Shippo for the first time. Gasping she lowered her head again. "My Lords…" she murmured, now including Shippo in her respectful tone. "It wouldn't be right to stand."
Raising a hand up to rub embarrassedly over his pointed dog ears Inuyasha scrunched up his nose. "Hey, I ain't a…ouff…"
Having sidled up to Inuyasha's side Miroku drove an elbow into the half demon's side. Smiling pleasantly he stepped in front of his now gasping companion. "I am sure he wouldn't mind your standing if you would kindly tell us how far away we are from the Misty mountains. We are looking for a certain village near them that is situated on a river."
Climbing slowly to her feet the young woman smiled, showing off a row of perfectly white teeth. "Why it is only half a mile further down the road. That is where we live. It would be an honor to escort you all to our prince's palace."
"Palace?" Miroku repeated, a calculating gleam brightening his gaze as he threw a glance over his shoulder at Shippo and the others. "And how wonderful that it is so close. We thought we had at least another day's travel ahead of us. Please show the way."
Nodding vigorously the girl urged her companions to their feet and began to lead the way down the road. Riding happily atop Kagome's shoulder Shippo watched the fringed tassels of the villagers swaying as some of the young men ran ahead. Rubbing his small hands together Shippo imagined the mouthwatering food and warm beds awaiting them if Miroku was able to con the local Lord as he usually did.
"Mmm… maybe we can get a bath! If so I call the first one!!" Shippo said excitedly.
Looking a little less enthusiastic, Sango frowned worriedly over at Kagome. "Is this a good idea? Telling someone that they have an evil spirit in their home is one thing… but claiming to be a god is another."
"I don't know. It would be nice to relax a little though. Maybe once we get there we can tell the truth."
Turning around with a finger raised to his lips Miroku shot both girls a sharp glare. "Shh!! What does it matter? We will be able to get information easier this way. All we have to do is keep Inuyasha from saying something stupid."
"Hey!!" Inuyasha cut in, which made Shippo grin.
"Yeah Inuyasha! Just leave it to me!!" The tiny fox demon laughed, pumping one fist in the air.
Having not heard any of their conversation the young woman paused up ahead at a bend in the road. She waited until they drew up beside her, a nervous smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Uh… welcome to our village…"
Raising his eyes Shippo's mouth fell open as he looked over the 'village.' Used to seeing small, rural settlements of at the most ten or fifteen buildings Shippo was completely taken aback by the dozens of neatly arranged houses set almost militarily in blocks. A large open market area took up space in the middle of the town, breaking up its grid like appearance with a winding array of stalls and carts. High up on a nearby hill, its base shrouded in the thin mist rolling in from across the river, a large, fortified castle scatted.
But despite the impressive nature of the man made structures it was the natural creations that sent a shiver down the young fox demon's spine. A gloomy, slow moving river wound its way snuggly up against the far side of the town, its slate gray waters looking dull and deadened despite the bright blue sky above. Flowing sluggishly passed the village it took a sharp turn and disappeared into a thick, fog shrouded forest. Deep within the shadowy woods the barest hint of rocky mountain peeks could be seen through the obscuring mist. Shivering again as he watched the fog shift and roll as if it were a living thing amongst the trees Shippo tore his eyes away from the far side of the river to stare instead at the ground.
"Whoa… I have a strange feeling about this place," Shippo found himself murmuring.
Surprisingly enough Inuyasha nodded absently in agreement, his bright gold eyes fixated on the black forms of the trees. At his side the Tetsusaiga gave a fine shudder within its scabbard, causing Inuyasha to start and frown down at it. "A really strange feeling."
Atop a rise overlooking the village, amongst the silent black forms of the trees, a vague shifting movement displaced a few swirls of clinging fog. Rising up out of the thick folds of the haze seven dark forms appeared. Standing for a moment silhouetted against the thick, murky fog the group remained immobile, remaining so still as to seem carved from stone. Dressed in varying shades of gray, and green they blended into the forest like ghosts, appearing and disappearing with every shift of the mist. Black cloth draped over their mouths and noses and wrapped back to cover their hair leaving nothing of their faces visible except seven sets of narrowed eyes. Gazing in silence down at the bustling activity below they remained utterly still, the mist drifting over their unmoving forms with each gust of wind.
The lean figure standing at the front of the party angled his masked face away from the city below and turned to glance back at his companions. "I think it is about time we paid a visit to these outsider barbarians. I am sick of searching this god forsaken land without a clue of where to go. And if they willna tell us what we need to know we will just have to raze this poor excuse for a town to the ground."
Reaching a battle scarred hand back the leader gripped the conical straw hat hanging from his neck and pulled it up, tying the stays firmly under his chin. Tilting the brim forward so that it shaded his pale eyes from view the man let out a contented chuckle. "This is going to be fun," he murmured as the other members of the group likewise pulled identical hats over their heads. "Come on."