RECAP: Inuyasha has been captured by the Royal Elders, with the help of General Shirabaku and Ukyou, and is currently being detained in his father's estate. He has been informed by Yogo about why he has been kept a secret from the Inu-Youkai people this whole time. The truth being that, in accordance to Inu-Youkai customs, Inuyasha is the proper heir to the throne-not Sesshomaru. This is because Lord Touga, their father, marked his human mother and not Sesshomaru's mother. Meanwhile, Sesshomaru has successfully gained the help of the Wolf Kingdom, led by the leader Kin, and plans to rescue his brother before it is too late.
A.N.: I am so sorry about this chapter! It was like pulling teeth. And believe me, I didn't want this chapter to be so much about OC's either. However, the main point of this chapter is to show what it is like within the Inu-Youkai Kingdom and to give a unique point of view of how Inuyasha's "cure" is being used and manipulated for the Elder's benefit. Hang in there! We're so close to the end!
NOTE: Just in case you find Inuyasha a little OOC, here are some of the physical effects of blood loss:
Weakness. Cool, moist skin, and extremely pale. SHOCK. Anxiety. Agitation. Decreased level of consciousness.
Heart rate above normal-or hypotension:
Hypotension (low blood pressure):
Dizziness or lightheadedness, Fainting (syncope), Lack of concentration, Blurred vision, Nausea; Cold, clammy, pale skin; Rapid, shallow breathing; Fatigue, Depression, Thirst.
I'm waiting. I'm fading.
Day Two of Inuyasha's Incarceration
The three Inu-Youkai chosen for the Elder's experiment blinked dazedly in the sunlight. The guards, who had dragged them through the castle's hallways, released them surprisingly gently in the archway of the exit. They had been taken through the kitchen and servants' quarters to the back of the estate. The female, cradling the child close, turned.
"What will you do to us?" She whispered.
The male Youkai stepped closer to her and she could hear the low growl in his chest. She didn't know who this male and child were but they already felt closer to her than family. Each of them had the same scent coiling beneath their skin.
The two guards glanced at each other. She couldn't differentiate them well with their helmets and armor on, but she could see that there was no malice in their brown eyes.
"The Elders have ordered for your deaths. But enough of our people have been killed," said the guard on the right.
His companion continued, "By some miracle, you have been saved by the disease. So go. And live. We will make sure that you exit the grounds safely. Tell no one what you experienced here or we shall all be executed."
"Will you at least tell us why the Elders have that…that strange boy locked up?" The male said. He and the female locked gazes and he placed a hand upon her shoulder. They both remembered their dazed awakenings to lucidity in the tatami-matted dungeon; to the sight of the bedraggled youth, barely growing into adulthood, nursing his bleeding arms in the corner.
"Oi," the youth had said gruffly. "Finally awake, huh?"
He had tensed when the male slowly sat up. The male looked around him in fatigued bewilderment. "Where…where are we?" He looked at the woman and child stirring slowly beside him. He recognized the telltale signs of the disease: the ripped apart clothing and bloodstained mouths. But when the two females opened their eyes, he saw coherent hazel instead of rage-soaked red. He blinked slowly and looked down at himself. He also had blood on him; could even taste it in his mouth. His last clear memory had been of snarling mouths and the pain of fangs piercing his leg. Then the intense fear when his shoulders started to tremble and jerk. Infected. He had been infected. But…but now…
"You're fine," the youth said. He looked more relaxed since they obviously weren't trying to attack him anymore.
"We did that to you…didn't we?" The male jerked in surprise at the sound of the little girl's voice. She pointed at the youth's arms. "We…we hurt you."
The youth shrugged. "Don't worry about it. I let you bite me."
"What!" The male said. "But that—that means you're infected too!"
The youth stared drolly at him and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, because we all are acting so infected right now, aren't we? Still itching to eat me much?"
The male shuddered but also felt his cheeks heating in embarrassment. That's right. The urge. That terrible, terrible urge. It was…
"Gone," the grown female whispered. "It's gone. We—we're healed."
The little girl started to whimper. She spat and rubbed at her mouth, wiping away the blood.
"But how?" the male asked, feeling dizzy with relief.
"I did it," the youth answered. They all stared at him. "Don't ask me how. My blood just does it so…accept it, okay? You're all fine and you'll stay fine. Got it?" He turned away from their awed, slack-jawed faces, looking strangely shy. "You don't have to worry about it anymore."
The silence was thick, like a tear-clogged throat. It was the little girl who finally broke it.
"Thank you!" The youth jumped and was too startled to stop her when she suddenly leapt into his arms, wrapping his neck in a hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, oh thank you." And then the poor thing, trembling and stinking of undesired carnage, started sobbing into his shoulder. The sight of him hesitantly holding her, his eyes wide, his strange ears laid back against his shaggy hair, broke something as well in the male and female Youkai.
The male had no doubt that the female realized as well that this strange youth had human blood in him. That he was a prisoner of some kind. A hanyou. A creature they should at least pause at. But the hanyou youth was just so…so real. The first real thing that the male had seen that wasn't drenched in diseased mania.
Nearly in unison, the male and female Inu-Youkai crawled closer to the hanyou. They slowed when he flinched but didn't stop until they were in touching distance of him. The air was getting foggy with the smell of salty tears. The male was unsurprised and untroubled that his own vision was blurry.
"She's right," the female whispered. "We don't understand it. And—and we don't know you…But that doesn't matter. Thank you. Thank you so much."
The hanyou flinched, so much like an abused dog, when her hand slowly came up and caressed his cheek. She smiled reassuringly at his shocked expression. "What's your name?"
"Uh," he said warily. "It's Inuyasha."
"Inuyasha," she repeated. Both she and the male could detect the power in the name, even when spoken in the common tongue. They let that be for now. "Thank you, Inuyasha." The wall prevented him from backing away when she came closer to softly nuzzle his jaw with her nose, then down into his neck; much like any Inu-Youkai would for a beloved family member. Inuyasha didn't seem to recognize the rather maternal message her actions were sending: that everything was safe now. They accepted him. The male found his overwhelmed expression very sad.
The male Youkai understood that he should be demanding answers right about now, but he figured they would come soon enough. Right now, he felt a powerful desire to thank this strange person as well. Carefully, making his movements obvious, the male wrapped his fingers around the arm of Inuyasha's that was closest to him. Inuyasha stiffened and tried to glare at him; it was pretty unsuccessful.
"May I?" The male pointed to the ugly bite mark marring the youth's flesh. It was so, so sad how confused that question made Inuyasha look. The male easily pulled Inuyasha's arm closer and started to gently lick at the wound.
That was how the Elders found them.
Needless to say, it had been shocking when the three of them were dragged away. The last thing they saw was the Elder Kikuketsueki stomping closer to Inuyasha before the door had been slammed shut.
"Are they going to kill him?" the male demanded. The guards remained silent.
"They are, aren't they?" the female whispered. Her voice never seemed to get any louder. It served to calm the male down from attacking the guards for answers. The little girl in her arms gasped.
"Why?" the child asked. Her freckle-specked nose scrunched up. "Inuyasha saved us. He let us bite him and saved us. They should let him go. He could help everybody!"
The guard who first spoke sighed. "We can't tell you much. Not many of us know about the hanyou. But…"
The other guard spoke up with resignation, "All we're going to tell you is that the Elders are going to use him to help everybody. It's just…he might not live through it."
After a heavy pause, the little girl said, "That's not okay."
"No, I suppose not."
"Get out of here, alright? We don't want to have to kill you."
"But-!" The female turned and placed a hand on the male's chest, silencing him.
"Alright," she said. "Thank you for this."
The guards nodded and watched as the trio stepped away. The male stopped and turned his head to them for a final word. "You at least know who he is, right? If anything, do you know who he is?"
After a pause, the first guard said in a gruff timber, "The plan is to make sure that no one knows."
The trio traveled out of the estate and back into the common lands without incident. They stayed in the shadows and made sure to hide whenever they saw a soldier. Although, Yuuto, the male, highly suspected that all the guards would turn a blind eye if they were noticed. Escaping the royal grounds proved remarkably easy.
Once back in the relative safety of the forest, the trio introduced themselves to each other. Yuuto learned that the female Inu-Youkai's name, who was about a decade or two his senior, was Asuka while the young girl's was Junko. Asuka was a mild beauty with a rounded nose and blondish hair that was cropped and disheveled, cut by hasty claws. Junko was just as dirty and unkempt—a product of long days trapped in a raging haze—and had an unfortunate scar on the side of her small jaw. When she smiled, it underscored her one dimple. Yuuto figured he did not look much better. Even before the disease, he was not considered a very handsome catch. His black hair was straight and cut to round about his skull, which made his pointed ears look all the more lopsided. He had always been teased about how skinny and gangly he looked, but now, walking in front of Asuka and Junko, he felt much more powerful and controlled.
They walked through the trees until they came onto the eerily quiet village of makeshift homes. It had been weeks since the last Purge but the stench of burning bodies still hung in the air. Yuuto wouldn't be surprised if the smell forever stained his nostrils.
"Do you have homes?" he asked tentatively. "Family?"
Asuka hugged Junko closer. She had not once put the child down. "I have a mate," she said. "I…I do not remember clearly but I think…I bit him." She accepted Yuuto's reassuring pat to her shoulder.
"Junko?" he whispered gently.
Junko sniffled but did not cry. He was proud of her for this but also inexplicably bitter that she had to be so strong. "I don't know. I can't remember."
"It's alright." He squeezed Asuka's shoulder as he said, "We'll stick together and figure out what to do."
Huddled close, they gingerly walked into the village, ears keen on any sounds of manic giggling. Yuuto kept his claws tense and ready. They were miraculously given back their minds and self-control; he would protect them with all he had.
"Sh, Yuuto. You'll wake up Junko."
Yuuto glanced at the back room where Junko was indeed slumbering. They had discovered an empty hut, not surprising with how many had died, and had been lying low since their release.
"But it's too dangerous, Asuka. You'll get infected again and there's no guarantee that you'll be saved twice from the disease. The fact that some secret cure in the form of a hanyou was lucky enough. Incredibly lucky. Downright unimaginable!"
Yuuto glared when Asuka chuckled. "Yuuto, don't be so dramatic."
"I think the situation calls for dramatics. You're being unreasonable. It's too dangerous!"
Asuka's face grew somber. "Fine. Call it what you will. That won't stop me, Yuuto. I'm going to my home and that's final. Besides," she added sadly, "it's most likely empty. I probably won't find…anything."
Yuuto sighed and gently touched her chin to bring her face back up to meet his. "I understand. Really, I do. I…I lost everything too. I saw all of my family become in-infected." He cleared his throat when his voice broke. "But we have each other now and…and we should cherish that. Protect it. It might be empty but it also might not be. You at least shouldn't go alone."
"No, someone has—"
"To watch Junko, I know." Yuuto sighed again and sat back on his haunches. He looked to Junko's room, craning his ears until he heard her soft breathing. These two, they were all he had now. So much like his sisters and little cousins he had to watch burn…Yuuto rubbed his eyes before the tears could come. It was moments like this, when the pain swelled, that made him very secretly yearn for the mindlessness of the disease once more. So he could no longer remember the faces.
No! That wasn't right, he admonished himself, and remembered clearly the one called Inuyasha. Who had so obviously been captured and abused but kept such a strong expression in face of it. There had been determination in his eyes when the Elders loomed around him. Courage. He needed to be strong and brave as well.
"Alright, Asuka." He heaved a sigh. "I'll wait for you. Don't be gone past noon or I'll come find you. And you can bet that Junko will make me bring her along."
Asuka smiled. "Thank you, Yuuto." She stood and walked to the exit. Her outline was framed by the dim moonlight. She hesitated but then left with no last words.
Yuuto resolved himself to no sleeping that night.
The silence of her home descended upon her, made her body and her breath still. Asuka looked around at the home she had not seen for what felt like years. It may have only been a few days; she couldn't know. The plague had wrecked her mind for so long. She closed her eyes, blocking out the sight of the empty room with ripped furs and gouged up floors, for a moment at least. Had she done this? Destroyed her lovely home?
"Mate?" she whispered thickly. She cleared her throat and tried a little louder, a little clearer. "Mate? Are you here?"
A rustling sound. A thump. She stiffened; tightened her fists closer to her chest. One of her feet slid back a bit, ready to twist her body and help her flee.
She straightened herself; remembered the unexpected sight of courage and strength in golden eyes, a rescuer she had not expected.
I can do this.
"Mate. Come on out, my love."
A muffled, growly giggle answered her call. A pile of skinned hide, what had once been their marital bed before this mania had destroyed it, rustled and soon her husband ripped out. Asuka felt relief that it was him and horror of what her bite had caused. He placed his wide, bloodshot gaze on her. His frothing mouth, once capable of the gentlest kiss, pulled wide into a grimace-like grin.
"Oh, Takeo." She swallowed and opened her shivering arms. "I've come home to you, free of the fever." His eyes followed her movements, riveted. His shoulders twitched and shook as he sniffed the air. He started to slowly crawl down to the floor.
"I'm sorry for infecting you, my love. I tried so hard to keep you away but…but you wouldn't leave me. No matter how much I b-begged." She clenched her teeth to keep back a sob. "And I bit you. But I've come back to you. I won't leave you either. Not now. Not ever."
Her mate, still sniffing and crawling closer, tilted his head and sat back onto his haunches. He inhaled the air now, deeply. Blood-lusting delight began to gleam over his eyes. His graying hair seemed to sizzle and lift as though charged with static electricity.
Asuka knew she was about to be attacked. I'm sorry, Yuuto. Junko. I should have said goodbye.
"The Royal Elders have found the cure," she remarked and suddenly found herself smiling as she remembered the startling person she had awoken to once she had been freed of insanity's smothering hold. "I met him. He…he saved me."
Her mate let out a giggling bark and stretched out onto his hands and feet, like a wolf readying to pounce.
Slowly, she knelt to one knee, stance wide and more stable for the attack she anticipated for. "Come to me, my mate," she whispered.
A heartbeat. Aching.
She waited for only that single moment and then her husband ran. She wrapped her arms around his neck right as she felt the agonizing pain of his bite sinking deep into the meat of her left shoulder. The wound would mirror the mark on her right, the one he had given her on their wedding night, she thought dazedly. She let out a gasping breath as he sucked. A blood scent filled the air but it was still not her own. She could smell its heady scent of power, royalty, moonlight, and gentle humanity. It made her a little nauseous even as she fondly gave thanks to Inuyasha for his gift. She placed a hand against her mate's neck, so thankful that she could at least embrace him once more.
A moment she could not time passed before she realized dimly that her mate had still not taken a full bite of her. This was not normal diseased behavior. Instead, he freakishly seemed to be suckling. Then her mate choked deep in throat and seemed about to release her. Without understanding why, Asuka pushed him back to her shoulder. His resistance was weak, almost drowsy. He growled half-heartedly and pricked her back with his claws, and yet she felt his tongue start to lap at her wound again, following the warm tendrils of blood leaking down her skin.
She sniffed him and her eyes widened with realization. At his distressed whimper, she spoke softly, hurriedly, "Hush, love. It won't be long now. Trust me, mate. I love you. I love you so." Oh please, oh please. Please work?
Soon, his quaking and trembling shoulders slowed and slumped. She pulled herself back, away from his mouth. Her mate leaned forward, yearning for more like a cradled infant. He whimpered at her refusal and licked his lips languidly. "That's more than enough. You'll be fine now." He turned at the sound of her voice. His eyes were half-lidded and hazy, growing sleepier. Already, she saw with growing hope, the red of his eyes were dimming. She kissed his forehead, wiping the excess blood from his lips and chin and cheeks with the heel of her hand. More of his muscles relaxed and he did not fight it when she moved his face into the crook of her neck, placing him to rest against the mark he made as her lover and husband. He breathed her in, whimpered again.
"Hush. Sleep now. We're together again." She moved her legs to sit down and cuddled him close to her chest. She buried her nose into his scraggly hair; smelled the cure already start to coil around his scent, making his blood-smell similar to her own. She smiled, feeling her tears slip over her lips. "I met someone, mate. The one who provided this cure. When you wake up, I'll tell you all about him. I bet you won't believe it at first. It's such a crazy story. But we owe him, my love."
She felt the gentled swells of her husband's breaths against her.
"Oh, how much we owe him," she whispered.
Junko looked around the wall she was hiding behind. Asuka and Takeo, Asuka's mate, weren't back yet; they were out looking for food. Junko hoped they would come back soon and in one piece. Asuka's shoulder was healing nicely, especially with Takeo's sweet and dutiful care, but Junko had noticed her wincing just this morning. The lands were still dangerous. Even though the adults tried to hide it from her, Junko could hear far-off giggling and snarling. The disease was still rampant. And the people feared that, in any day, the Elders would announce another mandatory purge.
But Junko understood that they didn't need to hurt the sick ones anymore. She was old enough to understand adult-talk. She knew how Takeo had come to stay with them. She thought that everyone should know, especially the Elders. Then Inuyasha wouldn't have to let people bite him. He could be set free! Junko really wanted to see Inuyasha again. But Takeo, Asuka, and Yuuto thought it would be best if they stayed hidden and quiet. They told her that the land's people did not trust easily anymore and that if they heard about Inuyasha, everyone would panic. It had something to do with him being half-human, but Junko did not really understand. She had heard the stories about hanyous. Her older brother used to tell them to her at bedtime before her parents made him stop, since they frightened her so badly. But Inuyasha didn't look like a monster with a dozen eyes, spiky legs, and a mouth like a snake that could swallow you whole. He didn't look scary, smell scary, or sound scary, so he wasn't scary—simple as that.
If everyone could just meet him, Junko believed they would all come to like him too.
Junko gasped and was literally tossed out of her thoughts when Yuuto lifted her up, hugged her close, and rolled into the main room with her cradled protectively against his chest.
"Ah! Yuuto! You jerk!"
"Sh, sh, keep it down." Yuuto started laughing quietly. She punched and pinched at his arms until he let her go.
Yuuto sat up, still grinning. "Wow, kid," he said in low tones. They still needed to try and be quiet, even when they were playing games. "Your claws are sharp."
"Yeah, and your brain isn't." She tried to glare at him but his pout did her in. She pushed his shoulder, he pushed back, and then the wrestling match ensued. Junko did her best not to laugh or bark too loud. Or give in to the slight tightness in her chest that felt like tears since Yuuto reminded her so much of her brother…
They immediately went still when their secret knock sounded at the door. Yuuto did the answering knock and opened the largely enforced door to Asuka and Takeo. They were both winded and bright-eyed.
"What happened? Were you attacked! Hurry, get in!" Yuuto grabbed Asuka's arm but she pulled it back.
"No, no, no!" She exclaimed breathily. "It's the Royal Elders!"
"They're making an address right now!" Takeo said over her.
"Is it…another purge?" Yuuto asked, face ashen.
"Yes! I mean, no! No. It's…there's a gathering in the middle of town. Come on, let's go!" Asuka grabbed Yuuto's arm and pulled.
"But—it's not safe!"
"You know you're immune. Now, come on! Hurry up, Junko!"
Junko didn't have to be told twice. The four ran down the dirt-trodden road until they came upon a mass of Inu-Youkai, the few bodies that had remained free of disease and ash. The survivors were scraggy and few, dressed in ill-fitting or dirty human clothing or poorly tailored furs; they all shared the same squinty-eyed look, all unused to the outside. Soldiers were stationed at strategic points around the group, some seen on the ground, others on rooftops or between houses. Junko peered closely at them in hopes of seeing the nice guards who had helped them escape. A few of the soldiers were leading pale stragglers out of their homes. Nobody screamed and the struggles were weak.
One soldier, standing atop a collection of boulders that had once been a town statue, opened up a large scroll and lifted it high. "Silence!" he barked, though no one had been loud. The people waited anxiously, in silent dread.
"I carry an urgent missive from the Royal Elders. Be still and heed these words:" He cleared his throat. "'My loyal sons and daughters of the Great Moon,' it reads, 'it is with a joyous heart that I present to you the most wonderful news. For too long has this terrible illness ravaged our people and left us bitter with sorrow. We have all lost many loved ones and we shall mourn them as is proper to our customs. Many prayers have gone out to the Heartland in hope of an end to this malaise. My people, today your humble Elders announce that our prayers have been answered. A cure has been granted to us.'"
Gasps, exclamations of disbelief, and moans of relief cut off the soldier's booming voice. Junko gasped along with them and pulled at Yuuto's sleeve. He immediately picked her up.
"Inuyasha," she whispered into his ear. He nodded gravely.
When the noise died down, the speaker went on, "'Your dutiful and devoted Elders have worked diligently to lengthen this cure's source so that no citizen of this great empire shall go wanting.'"
"So he's still alive," Yuuto murmured.
"'No longer shall we have to live in fear. Our minds, bodies, and souls shall be ours to keep forevermore. We have all been deemed worthy to heal and thrive once again. So thrive, my people. Thrive and know that you have been accepted back into the heart of our beloved land. Let us all do what we must to remain so. Forever your servants, the Royal Elders of the Great Inu-Youkai Empire.'" The soldier ended with a flourish and rolled up the scroll.
He then made a hand signal and a canine-like whine rippled down the soldiers stationed on the road. It was a signal to bring forth a caravan of large crates, each hanging between two large poles that two soldiers carried on either side. Junko counted up to four crates before she was distracted by the uproar of chaos that resulted after the soldiers placed down the crates and opened them.
"Come forth," the speaker shouted, "in an orderly fashion and a single vial shall be given to each person."
The Inu-Youkai citizens ran forward, yipping and crying, pushing each other out of the way.
"A single file line please! There is enough for everybody!"
No one took heed.
"Wait here," Takeo said to the other three.
"But we don't need it," Asuka whispered.
"I know. But I still want to know what they're giving to everyone. I'll just grab one." Takeo walked over to crate already swarmed by desperate, needy hands.
"We should take some," Yuuto said lowly to Asuka's ear. "We don't want to look too conspicuous. It's a miracle we three haven't been recognized yet after all."
Asuka paled but looked around at all of the soldiers who were preoccupied with keeping people calm and handing out single vials to citizens that begged for more. "I think we're okay," she answered back. "I don't think we would be recognized, regardless. I'm pretty sure we were kept pretty hush-hush as well."
"Maybe…" Yuuto noticed the speaker atop the boulders kept glancing at them, the only Inu-Youkai which weren't swarmed about the crates. "We should head back."
"Not without Takeo." Asuka looked up at the speaker as well. "Besides, I have a few questions."
Yuuto hissed at her to come back but Asuka walked determinedly up to the speaker. The soldier, having already given up shouting for calm, saw her and jumped down to the ground.
"Yes?" he said, slight suspicion lilting his tone. Yuuto caught up and he nodded politely at him and Junko.
"What is this cure exactly?" Asuka immediately said. Yuuto stiffened. "Where did it come from? And do you even know if it works?"
The soldier stared down at her, nonplussed by her interrogation. "You would have to try it for yourself, ma'am. I am sure my assurances will do little to sway you. I can, at the very least, say with confidence that it has done wonders for my fellow comrades, along with myself."
"You've taken it?" Asuka wanted to sniff him but it would be too obvious. She would have to lean in close to make sure since her nose was so clogged by the scent of Inuyasha's blood coming off of her and her companions.
"Were you infected?"
The soldier blinked in surprise by her tenacious voice, although her words remained softly spoken. "No, but the Elders have come to the conclusion that it keeps those who have not been infected immune to the disease. And those who were infected were soon brought back to their senses after administering the cure."
"And how were these conclusions met?"
"Well, I…I could not say. You and I are not privy to the workings of the Royal Elders." His eyes hardened with clearer suspicion.
Asuka nodded with a slight smile. "Yes, I would say not."
"Where was it taken from?" Yuuto said harshly into the silence. The soldier downright glared at him, having had his patience stretched thin.
"You heard the royal missive," the soldier said gruffly. "The Heartland provided it to the Elders. Our prayers were answered. You should be grateful."
"Yes. Of course we are. It's a miracle." Asuka took hold of Yuuto's arm. "Thank you, sir."
"Wait!" The soldier barked. He learned forward and very rudely sniffed within the trio's personal space. Through his helmet's opening, Junko could see his thick eyebrows furrowing down into an intense frown. "I have a question for you now. Care to answer?"
"Tell me," he interrupted with a dark tone, "why is it that you three all currently smell of the cure? Hmm? When I know you haven't yet taken it…"
"Um." Asuka's grip tightened painfully around Yuuto's arm, and Yuuto's around Junko. "Well, you see…"
"RUN!" Junko cried. Immediately, Asuka hit the soldier's nose with an upward thrust of her hand. He grunted as his head craned back.
"Takeo!" Asuka shouted. Luckily, Takeo had already received a vial and he dodged past one of the crate guard's grab for him.
The speaker recovered and pointed at the four sprinting away. "Get them! Bring them in alive!"
Down from the rooftops and from the alleyways, soldiers descended upon them. But Takeo, Asuka, and Yuuto were sadly accustomed to running from grabby soldiers during the past purges and the slobbering jaws of diseased Inu-Youkai. With adrenaline heightening their demonic senses, they managed to punch, kick, bite, claw, and jump their way through; even little Junko got a slice in here or there. Knowing the village inside and out, the trio, Yuuto still carrying Junko, zigzagged around, over, and even through dilapidated huts. Their unspoken goal was the thick outcropping of forest surrounding the Empire's capital. They even managed to run far enough in that trees stood all about them.
Unfortunately, the soldiers were accustomed to chasing after both stubborn and deranged citizens as well. They bode their time, a few of them even delighting in the chase, before descending as one into a tight circle, cutting off all exit points. Some were on the ground, others in the trees; they all stared down on the frightened makeshift family of four.
"Yuuto," Junko whimpered into his shoulder. He tightened his embrace, hugging her close to his panting chest.
"Let us go!" Takeo shouted. "We've done nothing wrong!"
A tree creaked and in a flash of speed, the speaker-soldier was there. He dropped to the ground and smugly crossed his arms. "If you've done nothing wrong, then you wouldn't have run."
"Well…" Yuuto straightened his shoulders. "You've given us enough reason to run! Every time the army comes into the village, people die. You're all worse than the disease!"
With a burst of demonic speed, the speaker ran forward and punched Yuuto in the jaw. He and Junko stumbled to the ground. "We were following orders! You ungrateful…cretin!" he shouted down at them. "We were doing our duty and faced the disease head on! We didn't snivel away in hiding. We fought!"
"You killed!" Asuka shouted and it was amazing how her soft voice rose high. "You even killed the innocent—the healthy-!"
"That wasn't our fault! We were following orders!" The soldier, red-faced, lifted an arm. "That's it. You're all obviously traitors of some kind; somehow cheating into getting the cure early. You all deserve to die!" All of the guards growled and readied themselves for the signal.
"No!" Asuka and Takeo grabbed at each other while Yuuto curled himself over Junko.
The booming shout seared through the space and claimed everyone's movement. Silence lasted a short second before blurred shapes zipped in so fast that the embracing Asuka and Takeo swayed from the whipping wind. The sudden gasps of astonishment and pain caused Yuuto to slowly raise his head.
"Wha—they're wolves!" Junko shouted in awe. "Ookami-youkai!"
He gaped at the sight of the speaker and all the other soldiers being apprehended by what he guessed were soldiers from the Wolf Kingdom (he had never seen one before). The wolf demons dragged the Inu soldiers out of the trees, took hold of each one on the ground, and lined the struggling dogs in a line; the wolves keeping their grips tight and unyielding.
The speaker got over his shock and struggled against the wolf pinning his arms to his back.
"Let go! What is the meaning of this? Who sent you!"
"That would be me." Out of the trees came a largely built Inu-Youkai, chest out and proudly displaying the same armor as the captured soldiers. He smiled through a beard that thickened around his neck like bear fur. "I see you've been promoted, sir. As have I."
"Kuma!" The speaker gasped. "B-but…that can't be. I thought you were dead!"
"Yeah, almost did. Then got saved. Was banished and left for dead. Saved again. You know? It's a long story. How about we let these poor people go, you come with me quietly, and I'll explain everything over tea? Oh wait, probably don't have tea. Okay, river water. How's that sound?" Kuma smiled in a way that looked more menacing than cheery. The speaker looked at him, speechless. "Alright, take him back. Let Kasuhama know what happened."
Yuuto watched, mouth agape, as the wolf demons obeyed. All of the Inu-Youkai soldiers were dragged away into the forest, protests ignored.
Kuma, thick hands placed proudly on his hips, nodded with satisfaction. Once he was alone, he walked over to Yuuto and held out a hand. He quirked an eyebrow when Yuuto refused the help, gathered up Junko, and stood on his own. Already, he could feel a bruise building underneath the skin of his chin. The pain of it gave him courage to glare at this newcomer.
Kuma just smiled. "Huh, you're sure a brave beanpole. I like your spunk, kid."
"What do you want?" Yuuto snapped. Asuka and Takeo hurried over to stand around Yuuto and Junko. Kuma looked impressed.
But with one sniff, his eyes flashed and all humor fell from his face. "Alright. I'll tell you. I want to know why you smell the way you do. How did it come about?"
Yuuto sneered. "You're just like them," he jerked his head in the direction where the murderous speaker and soldiers were dragged away. "Just a stupid, low-life!"
"Shut it, kid." Kuma said in a low tone. "I'm not going to hurt any of you. I just want information."
"And I'm not giving you any!" Yuuto stuck out his tongue and Kuma's face reddened.
"You punk! That's not very polite, you know! I just saved your skinny ass!"
"Well, my skinny ass doesn't thank you!"
"Please!" Asuka tried to step in between Kuma and Yuuto. They were too busy glaring at each other to notice. "Please. Explain to us what's going on. Why are you working for the Wolves?"
Kuma gently pushed her aside and went nose-to-nose with Yuuto. "I don't need to explain anything. You do. Now, tell me why you all smell this way!"
"Not until you start giving us answers first!"
"Watch your mouth, beanpole!"
"Why don't you watch it for me?"
"That doesn't even make any sense!"
"Your face doesn't make sense!"
In the uncomfortably tight grip of Yuuto's arms, Junko watched the shouting match between the two, in her opinion, very stupid dogs. Asuka's and Takeo's attempts to diffuse the argument failed. Junko covered her aching ears. Now that Yuuto and Kuma were shrieking about each other's mothers, Junko didn't think there was any point to this anymore. She took a deep breath.
Her bellow immediately shut everyone up. Eyes grew large. Junko uncovered her ears with relief.
She stared straight into Kuma's eyes, unafraid. "We smell this way because of Inuyasha."
Asuka, Takeo, and Yuuto looked at Kuma with trepidation. Kuma stared at the little girl, his mouth agape.
A sharp bark of laughter ricocheted out of Kuma's gullet without warning.
Yuuto yelped when, suddenly, a large meaty arm wrapped about his shoulders. Kuma leaned his weight against Yuuto while he ruffled Junko's hair.
"Now, that's the kind of information I'm talking about! You all are coming with me! Lord Sesshomaru will want to talk to you."
The argument sitting on Yuuto's tongue abruptly fizzled out.
"Wh-what? Lord Sesshomaru?"
"Young Lord Inuyasha…"
His eyelids fluttered open but he saw nothing but blurred colors. He breathed a moan when something soft coiled along his jaw and settled near his mouth. Coolness touched his chapped lips. Desperation rushed through him, leaving him dizzy, when he recognized it as droplets of water. He opened his panting mouth, unable to do anything more. Though he hadn't lost this much blood in a long while, he knew the symptoms well: the dizziness, the cold, and the thirst. Oh, the thirst. He was so thirsty, so thirsty…so thirsty…
"Be still, little lord. I shall quench your thirst."
The voice spoke the truth. Though the water came in a thin trickle, too slow for his liking, it flowed steadily. He waited until his mouth filled before taking blissful swallows. He whimpered with pleasure as the liquid dribbled down his chin and neck. He tilted his head into the soft something that was helping him. The softness didn't feel like skin. In fact—am I…in a tree? Had he fallen asleep during his watch? He couldn't hear his pack below him—Shippo's snores, or Miroku's occasional lecherous mumbling. Was he alone? Out near the well then, waiting again for Kagome to return from the future?
He tried to think back but couldn't. His mind was spinning; thoughts coming and going like petals caught in a storm. Strange and scary images flashed behind his rolling, unfocused eyes. Purple crescent moons, slobbering canine jaws, streams of blood arching across a sky or sloshing in porcelain bowls, leaves changing colors in fast motion, a striped hand reaching out for him, deer running across fields of gold-tipped grasses, dogs pointing their noses upward and howling, howling, howling…
"Hush, little lord." The images dissolved, like they were literally pulled out of his head.
"Who…" Inuyasha couldn't speak more than that. The owner of the deep, whispery voice understood him anyway.
"I am Bokusenou, an old friend of your family."
Inuyasha leaned his head tiredly against the wall. Bokusenou, he mouthed.
"Yes", the one called Bokusenou said in an affectionate tone. "I also know the will of the Heartland and speak for it. The earth feels you, little lord. It knows that you have finally come home and celebrates. It yearns for me to tell you this."
"Oh," Inuyasha croaked. Feeling a little more stable, probably from the water this Bokusenou had given him, Inuyasha tried to focus his vision again. Slowly, the room he was trapped in looked less blurry and distorted. Oh, that's right…I'm in…wherever this is…
He also saw no one with him. "Where…?"
"Here, little lord." Inuyasha felt the softness against his cheek and jaw move slightly. "I am not what you will expect."
Inuyasha turned and looked at the hole in the wall that Ketsueki-bastard had made with his fist. A jumbled nest of vines was jutting out from it, covered with supple leaves and blooming violet flowers. It curled about his head like a makeshift pillow. Inuyasha breathed in the sweet scent.
The leaves shivered as though a wind had blown and the flowers opened wider. "That is correct, young Lord Inuyasha. You do not look surprised."
Inuyasha let out a long exhale. The vines were really comfortable; his neck didn't ache from the rock wall anymore. "Tired," he mumbled. "Also…seen…weirder…"
The vines shuffled with Bokusenou's chuckle. When Bokusenou spoke, he sounded like he was very far away. "Rest easy, little lord. When you are thirsty, the leaves shall bring water for you from the earth." The vines demonstrated by curling its leaves into a funnel-position; small droplets of water began to drip down the tips. "Feel free to eat the flower petals as well. They are sweet and will ease the ache of your hunger. And when the Elders hurt you, sap shall cover and heal your wounds. Do your wrists still pain you?"
Arms still chained above his head, Inuyasha rolled his wrists experimentally. He could feel some stickiness and a dull burn from where the Elders had sliced him open, but that was it. Inuyasha slowly shook his head.
"Good. The Heartland is glad."
Inuyasha closed his eyes. The vines shifted and cradled his resting head and neck. He could feel himself slipping back into unconsciousness. He tried to fight it. "Why…help…?"
Inuyasha could hear a smile in Bokusenou's voice. "Because the Heartland wishes it. It has waited a long time for you to return."
"The spirit of this earth. Legend says that the Heartland and the Great Moon created the Inu-Youkai together. They share in the basking of love that the Inu-Youkai has for the ground and the sky. You must have felt it. The Heartland feels such joy and is reaching to you with its memories and desires. Even now."
The same images as before came in front of Inuyasha's mind's eye, but slower this time, gentler: deer and howling dogs, along with drifting snowflakes, mice scurrying around fallen pinecones and nuts; every single phase of the moon. Inuyasha sucked in a breath as the peace he felt when he first looked down on his father's kingdom came upon him again. Along with that great want to run through this nature. Feel the soil, smell the flowers, chase the animals, and simply be with these images. With the Heartland.
But even trying to bend his knee up took a lot of his energy. Inuyasha whimpered in frustration. He wanted out. To be free. He whimpered again when the images faded away.
"It is alright." The vines caressed his clammy cheek. "The Heartland knows you are fatigued. You must only wait a little longer. Young Lord Sesshomaru plans for your rescue."
Inuyasha jerked in surprise. "Sesshomaru…?"
"Yes. He is—"
"No." Inuyasha twisted his head away. "No…he…can't. He…wouldn't…"
"But he is."
"No…" The hanyou moaned. "Why…would he?" He remembered Yogo's words and could still feel the lightheaded feeling of his hair being chopped off. "No…not for me…"
"Young Lord Inuyasha, why are you speaking like this? I have spoken with your brother. He is determined to find you and…
"No!" The outburst weakened Inuyasha and his breathing became rapid and shallow. "The o-old man…he…did a-a terrible thing. Why would Se-Sesshomaru want to…" His golden eyes glassed over and slowly shut. He continued to mumble, "I didn't ask…for…for Tetsusaiga or...the throne. Please…Sesshomaru…I didn't…"
Inuyasha slipped back into feverish unconsciousness, his face troubled and pale. The vine's violet flowers wilted.
"Little lord," Bokusenou sighed. "But he has even enlisted the aid of the Wolf Kingdom."
Inuyasha could not hear the old Magnolia's words.
"Oh dear," Bokusenou whispered. "I must tell young Lord Sesshomaru of this." The flowers curled closed as Bokusenou's essence pulled out of the vines.
Kouga didn't trust Sesshomaru. Not one bit. You couldn't tell what he was thinking beneath that cold veneer. Most importantly, Kouga knew what Sesshomaru had done to Inuyasha. He had heard about it from Hakkaku and Ginta (who had picked the story up from the grave robbers) and was appalled. He had always been taught that the Wolves and the Dogs were similar in their beliefs and their ways; that any differences they shared could be reconciled with the two Kingdoms' common ancestry.
But to hear that a brother had killed one of his own kin…
Kouga knew about the whole "half-breed" thing, but that excuse didn't really work for him after having gotten to know Inuyasha. The mutt was a fighter, a damn hard worker, who deserved some respect. More respect than a hand through the gut anyway! Not only that, but Inuyasha had even saved the icy bastard's life—TWICE!(Kouga had found out about that juicy gossip too.)
Kouga crossed his arms and continued to glare at the back of that frozen son-of-a-bitch's head (as he had since Uncle agreed to help Sesshomaru). Guy was lucky that the mission here was to rescue Inuyasha, otherwise…
"What!" Kouga heard Uncle shout. Kouga immediately started to pay better attention. They were receiving an important report from inside the Western Kingdom after all.
He, Uncle, Sesshomaru, and Kasuhama had been listening to the small group's fantastic story for some time now. Kuma had brought the scared and confused group in with great excitement. The soldiers that had also been captured had been tight-lipped and no help and didn't smell like Inuyasha anyway. But these four Inu-Youkai citizens did. It had taken some patience, some schmoozing, and finally Sesshomaru's death-glare to get them to open up.
Takeo, Kouga remembered he was called, flinched when Uncle ripped the small vial from Takeo's hand and pulled the cork out with a single yank. He sniffed the contents and growled. "Damn it. There's no doubt about it, little Sesshomaru. It's his. Smells fresh too."
Uncle (was it Kin this month? Kouga couldn't keep the aliases straight) handed the vial to Sesshomaru. Kouga watched in distaste when Sesshomaru tilted the vial into his palm without an iota of an expression. Sesshomaru looked down at the small reddish-black puddle in his hand.
"It feels cold," Sesshomaru said evenly. "They must be keeping it chilled somehow. To make it last."
"And you said you saw four crates of these vials being handed out?" Uncle asked the four dog-demon citizens.
"Yes," Takeo said, an arm wrapped protectively around his mate's waist. "They claim that there will be enough to help the whole Kingdom, sir."
"And the blood doesn't look watered down at all," Uncle Kin muttered. He looked at Sesshomaru. "That must mean they're keeping Prince Pup alive. Letting him heal up before they bleed him again."
Kouga clenched his fists behind his back. Not even hearing that had changed Sesshomaru's expression. Did he really care about his brother at all?
"Indeed." Sesshomaru tilted his hand and watched the blood drip to the melting snow. "It will be difficult to track him now if the Elders decide to move him."
"Very true. Now everyone will smell like Prince Pup." Uncle nodded over at the inu-citizens. "Tell me more about the room they were keeping Inuyasha in."
"No need," Sesshomaru interrupted. "I already know where they are keeping him."
"You do!" Kouga shouted. "Then what the hell are we waiting for?"
"Nephew!" Uncle cuffed the back of Kouga's head, ignoring his cry of pain. "Hold your tongue!"
Sesshomaru slowly balled up his bloodstained fingers around the empty vial. "It's simple. There is a hidden room connected to where the histories are kept. It is where the Elders have all of their meetings. It is a safe place. With thick walls. Sound-proof. It would hold a secret like Inuyasha well."
Kouga waited but Sesshomaru said no more. "Well? Let's go then! We have the entire palace surrounded. What are we waiting f—OW! Uncle!"
"The Elders are not idiots, Nephew. Unlike yourself. They expect little Sesshomaru and are waiting for him. By the sounds of it, they are already working to set his people against him and Prince Pup."
Kouga rubbed his aching head and grumbled, "What do you mean?"
Kasuhama answered, "They are undermining Lord Sesshomaru's authority. The people are already frightened and paranoid. With this cure business, the Elders are securing their place within the people's good graces. They will believe whatever the Elders tell them now. If we do rescue Inuyasha, the people will demand for his death and will rebel against Lord Sesshomaru when he refuses." Kasuhama glanced sharply at Sesshomaru.
Sesshomaru made no sign of noticing.
"But why would they demand for his death?" The little Inu pup, Junko, asked. Yuuto hugged her close. "Inuyasha hasn't done anything wrong, right?"
Kasuhama smiled sadly at the girl. "You're right. Inuyasha hasn't done anything wrong. But he is different and…unfortunately, when people are scared and don't know what to do, they'll place the blame on someone else."
"But…why? That doesn't make any sense."
Kasuhama sighed. "Fear makes it hard to see sense sometimes."
Uncle Kin spoke up, his expression grave. "The Elders are keeping Inuyasha alive for more than just this cure. They plan to use him to take over the throne. They will wait for the perfect opportunity to reveal Inuyasha to the people and claim that he was the cause of this disease. The Elders will be considered saviors when they kill him, most likely in a public manner. And when Lord Sesshomaru tries to stop them, he will be called a traitor to the homeland and dethroned…if not executed as well."
After a heavy silence, Kouga said, "Then what should we do?"
Suddenly, Sesshomaru's fist flexed and the sharp crack of the vial sounded in the air. He opened his fingers and dropped the shards. "We carry on with no change."
Kin clapped his large hands. "Well! It is what we expected. All dismal and whatnot. There will surely be lots of chaos and bloodshed and shouting. Oh yes, lots of shouting. We are heading to the climax of this adventure, after all. Ha! Climax and shouting! Ha, ha! Yes." He wiped an eye. "But yes, pretty dismal."
"But…" Asuka whispered. "What will be done to prevent that? Enough of our loved ones have died!"
"That's right!" Yuuto said. "I'm sorry, Lord Sesshomaru but…" he took a deep breath. "That just isn't right. Our…our people…"
"The Kingdom will be safe," Sesshomaru said. He turned and started to walk away. "If there are any civilian casualties, my Tenseiga will bring them back."
"Only the Elders will perish." Sesshomaru's voice lowered in pitch. "They will pay for their treason."
Yuuto, Takeo, Junko, and Asuka looked in awe at their land's leader. They had never before seen him so close; had never heard his voice. The three who had met Inuyasha could see the distinct similarities between the two brothers. Not only that…
"Inuyasha saved him from the disease, didn't he?" Takeo said lowly. He had been close enough to the lord to smell it.
Kasuhama nodded his head. "That's right."
Asuka leaned into her mate. "He must be very worried."
Kouga snorted. "Yeah, sure looks like it…ow! Uncle!"
"Stop being so rude about little Sesshomaru, Nephew, or I will put you in timeout like when you were a pup!"
"But-! I just don't see how he looks so 'worried'. For all we know, he has a plan to kill Inuyasha himself and secure his throne. Ow!"
"I spoke with little Sesshomaru myself, brat! I can tell that he has no intention to do such a vile deed!"
"Still…how do we know for sure? Ow! Stop it!"
Kasuhama turned to the four inu-citizens. He bowed his head. "Thank you for giving us such helpful information. We greatly appreciate it."
"It's alright," Asuka said, looking distracted and worried by what Kin and Kouga were arguing about. "I'm just glad we could help. Is there anything else we can do?"
"Yeah!" Junko shouted. "We owe Inuyasha for saving us." Takeo and Yuuto nodded their heads in agreement.
Kasuhama looked at their eager faces. "Well…" he said slowly, "I think I might have something in mind for all of you. But I warn you, it could be dangerous."
Yuuto straightened his shoulders. "We're accustomed to danger."
"That's right! So please…tell us." Junko did her best little pout.
Kasuhama smiled. "Alright. Basically, here is the plan. We already have a faction ready to infiltrate the soldiers' barracks. We want to convince as many as we can to join us. The rest will be placed under custody. The Elders will then have no access to them."
"With the wolves on our side, you might actually be able to pull that off," Takeo said. He was right. Kasuhama knew better than most that the Inu-Youkai army was badly devastated by the war and the disease. No doubt General Shirabaku had his soldiers in the area, ready to fight, but with the Wolf Kingdom on their side, the numbers were in Sesshomaru's favor. The main concern Kasuhama had was whether they could convince any of the Western soldiers to join them. If the Elders had their loyalty, it could prove difficult and the resulting chaos of that struggle could claim many lives. Tenseiga notwithstanding, Kasuhama didn't like the idea of his fellow comrades dying.
"Perhaps," Kasuhama replied.
"What would you like us to do?"
"Well, I'm curious about whether we could do the same thing in the common lands."
"You mean…have us convince people to join Lord Sesshomaru also?" Asuka asked. Kasuhama nodded.
Yuuto grinned. "Oh! You want us to do the same thing that the Elders are doing but opposite!"
"But we have a distinct disadvantage," Takeo said with a frown. "We're combating against years of prejudice towards half-breeds, a massive paranoia about the homeland cursing our people…not to mention, the Elders have just given out a 'miracle'. We'll be run out of town!"
"Most likely," Kasuhama said. "But you can cast out doubt and suspicion in the meantime. Question the blood and where the Elders got it. Spread the truth that the cure can also be spread by the ones who have already been cured. We just need to slow this down and prevent the Elders from gaining complete loyalty of the Kingdom."
"Hmm," Takeo cupped his chin. "It does sound risky. A little difficult. But it's the least we can do, right?"
Asuka, Yuuto, and Junko nodded with resolution. "Right!"
"Leave it to us, sir," Junko cried.
"Thank you." Kasuhama pointed over at where Nagaharu, Jinsei, Fumina, and Gengo were watching them with clear curiosity. "They should be able to help. And please…be careful. I don't want any casualties, if it can be prevented."
Kasuhama smiled at the way little Junko saluted. He watched them walk over to a smiling and gossip-hungry Grave Robbing Gang. If anyone needed help with talking, Kasuhama figured Nagaharu was the best one to go to. His smile soon fell.
Kin and Kouga were still arguing. He left them to it. Their words had troubled him enough. For all we know, he has a plan to kill Inuyasha himself and secure his throne. Lord Sesshomaru was standing alone near the outer edge of trees, clenching and unclenching his bloodstained hand. Kasuhama slowly made his way over to him and stood still at the lord's side.
A flick of his golden eyes was Kasuhama's only acknowledgement. Kasuhama also looked at the red-tinted hand of his lord. He remembered the conversation Sesshomaru had had with Kin; his words that Inuyasha was "important." At the time, Kasuhama had been shocked at how gently Sesshomaru repeated that statement, almost affectionately. He is important.
Kasuhama sure agreed. The boy had changed the Kingdom without even being aware. He had singlehandedly saved two Youkai Kingdoms from the plague. He was even upending the government without lifting a finger. He was certainly "important". Kasuhama had even hoped for the past week—as he watched Sesshomaru ruthlessly, almost frantically, get everything ready for this invasion/rescue mission—that Inuyasha's importance to Sesshomaru was of a nobler kind. Perhaps even familial. Loving...
But Kasuhama was also a realist.
Rin had confused Kasuhama, and so had Sesshomaru's actions towards Inuyasha the last few weeks, like when he had healed Inuyasha of his poison. Kasuhama had seen his lord's compassion, though strangely expressed, more times in the past month than he had in all his years of serving as second-in-command.
However, Kasuhama couldn't simply dismiss the uncountable instances that he had also witnessed Sesshomaru's cruelty. He knew his lord as a politician, a politician who had carved out his life with the tools of power and control. For all we know, he has a plan to kill Inuyasha himself and secure his throne. It saddened Kasuhama that he believed this was much more likely.
"Lord Sesshomaru," he said lowly, "what do you plan to do? It seems that the possibility of pulling Inuyasha out of this alive is…decreasing."
Sesshomaru finally wiped the blood off his hand; the stain on the white material covering his thigh was striking. "The plan does not need to change. Inuyasha will survive."
"But how will you ensure that he does?"
"He simply will."
Kasuhama blinked hard, taken aback by Sesshomaru's vehemence. He studied Sesshomaru's expressionless face, trying, unsuccessfully, to figure out what he was thinking.
Out of nowhere, a deep voice spoke up behind them:
"You will have to hurry then, young Lord Sesshomaru, if you wish the little lord to live."
"Bokusenou," Sesshomaru muttered. He turned around to the tree behind him. No face appeared—Bokusenou's true form was a 2000 year old magnolia hypoleuca tree far from here—but his voice rose out of the bark clear enough to understand.
"I have spoken with the little lord. He is fading."
Sesshomaru's spoke tightly, "Explain."
"Of course, young Lord Sesshomaru. I did not find you to not tell you, you understand," Bokusenou said with slight humor. "Fortunately, I have found a small break through the thick walls of the Royal Court's secret room. It is enough for the Heartland to grow through. The earth watches over the little lord and is doing what it can to aid him. It allows me to speak with him though the distance is far for me."
"What is his condition?"
Bokusenou sighed. "Not well. The Elders have bled him considerably. He is extremely weak and sick. He does not maintain consciousness for long, and when he does, he is agitated and hallucinates often."
Kasuhama looked at how stiff Sesshomaru's shoulders had become. He wondered if that meant he was actually concerned. But Kasuhama couldn't help but wonder where that concern was coming from—a brother or an aristocrat?
"But he's alive?" Kasuhama asked.
"Yes. For now."
"He will live," Sesshomaru stated again, fervor still clinging to his tone. "The Elders will want to make his death public and dramatic. They will wait for me."
"Yes…but perhaps they will not need to…"
Sesshomaru frowned. He grabbed Tetsusaiga's hilt. It sizzled and hummed. "What do you mean, Bokusenou? You are implying something. Speak now."
"I am implying, young one. And with good reason. I told the little lord about you and his reply was…troubling."
Bokusenou answered sadly, "The little lord does not believe that you are coming."
Kasuhama was surprised when a sharp growl pierced past Sesshomaru's lips. "Why? He should have no reason to doubt."
Kasuhama thought there were plenty of reasons. However, he assumed Sesshomaru was referring to the promise he had shouted to the sky when General Shirabaku had stolen Inuyasha:I will find you! I will save you, little brother!Sesshomaru was not one to waste words and followed through with his claims, to the utmost fear of many. Sesshomaru obviously believed that that one sentence was enough.
"But he does. He refused to believe my words."
Sesshomaru looked away, his jaw clenching tight. "But why," he whispered after a time.
"If it helps, young Lord Sesshomaru, your younger brother said this to me in his delirium. He said that your father had done a terrible thing. And that he had not asked for the throne…" Sesshomaru's head jerked up.
"They have told him."
"Yes," Bokusenou said flatly, "it appears so. It has obviously weakened Inuyasha's spirit. They broke what little confidence he had for you."
"Foolish little brother," Sesshomaru hissed.
Kasuhama was confused. There was obviously something that he didn't know here. "I don't understand…"
"Traitors!" Sesshomaru interrupted. He spat out these words under his breath, "They vowed never to speak of it. They swore an oath to my father!"
"Obviously it was not sealed with blood…for Inuyasha knows now and it haunts him."
"Does he not fight then?" Sesshomaru asked with disgust coloring his tone. "Has he simply rolled over to die! That is not the Inuyasha I know!"
By the tree's brief silence, Kasuhama thought Bokusenou was just as surprised as him. Whatever that importance may be, Inuyasha was enough to pull out this kind of reaction from Sesshomaru with ease.
"Judging by his wounds, I would say not, young one. But I would advise you not to dally much longer."
Sesshomaru paused for a bit, composing himself. He then said, "Is there nothing more, Bokusenou?"
"That is all. I have done all I can."
"What about pulling him out of there?" Kasuhama hesitantly offered. "Like how you transported us to the Wolf Kingdom?"
Bokusenou sighed. "Through soil, the task is fairly easy but the walls of Inuyasha's prison are thick stone. It would take more time than we have to break through enough to fit a body of his size. We are lucky enough for the single crack we have."
Sesshomaru let go of Tetsusaiga and bowed his head. "Thank you, Bokusenou. You have done much."
"I happily do so. The Heartland desires it."
Kasuhama thanked Bokusenou as well. Right as the two Inu-Youkai males were about to depart and continue on with readying the troops, Bokusenou spoke one last time:
"Perhaps a message from you would suffice in sustaining him, young Lord Sesshomaru. I could bring your words to the little lord."
Sesshomaru, frozen, did not turn around. Kasuhama watched his unmoving features in anticipation. A message from a brother or an aristocrat?
"Do you have anything to say to your brother?"
"No," Sesshomaru finally said. He continued to walk. "It would be a waste."
A.N: Since it's been such a long time, I thought maybe this could be helpful. It's a list of all of my original characters for this story. Since I just added four more (I was going to keep them unnamed, but Yuuto, Junko, Asuka, and Takeo had a larger part than I orginally planned), it may prove helpful.
LIST OF ELDERS:
Shinuguchi: The fat one, with the continual tick beneath his left eye.
Oomuranishi: The oldest; speaks in a slow incremental way; his skin is papery-thin and he has granite-colored eyes.
Hisagawa: His bones are all formed with straight-edged angles, thin pointy nose, thin pointy shoulders, and long interlaced fingers with claws that tapped comfortably against the backs of his hands.
Kikuketsueki: The cruelest; a sleepy-looking old dog, only certain things could arouse him to speak. Violence was one of them. He is the one who likes to bleed Inuyasha.
Yogo: The mastermind; has a long wispy beard that flows from his chin.
THE GRAVE ROBBING GANG:
Nagaharu: An old coyote demon; too trusting; humorous; leader of the grave-robbing gang because of his honesty and compassion; a talker.
Gengo: A burly tiger Youkai with thick shoulders and striped skin; speaks in an earth-quaking tenor; quiet.
Fumina: A robust female neko; Gengo's lover.
Jinsei: A lizard Youkai; slow-talking and wise; an outsider looking in; often gives sound advice.
General Hideyoshi Shirabaku: A wizened dog-demon; the leader of the Southern Kingdom since the original diplomat died; has a vendetta against Sesshomaru bcause of how he has ruled.
Ukyou: A dingo Youkai; gangly; stringy black hair curtaining his face; pretends to be a stammering fool, but he is actually quite cunning and manipulative; has a hardy hatred for half-breeds and humans.
Kasuhama: Sesshomaru's second-in-command; the self-purported realist; compassionate, mature, strict when he needs to be, and very loyal when his loyalty is rightfully earned.
Yasuo: A blonde, happy, smiling, fan of Inuyasha's; a sweet guy who gets frustrated with Sesshomaru's cruelty.
Kuma: Has a thick beard around his neck; a similar temperament to Inuyasha-quick-tempered and stubborn.
Tomi: An older Inu-Youkai, collected, and swift in anything asked of him. There was a hint of gray in the dark brown tufts of fur that traveled down his face and highlighted his jaw. He kept to himself mostly and held a loyal bone within him that would not break for anyone or anything. He was not a good person to have for an enemy, but a great one to have at your side.
THE INU CITIZENS:
Yuuto: His black hair is straight and cut to round about his skull, which makes his pointed ears look lopsided. He had always been teased about how skinny and gangly he looks.
Asuka: A mild beauty with a rounded nose and blondish hair that was cropped and disheveled, cut by hasty claws; decade or two older than Yuuto
Takeo: Asuka's mate; has jagged, graying hair.
Junko: Has an unfortunate scar on the side of her small jaw. When she smiles, it underscores her one dimple.