Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha. The original author is Rumiko Takahashi; my version is only a fanfic and figment of my imagination.

Authors Notes: Konnichiwa, Mina-san!

Apologies for the long delay. No need to mention, again, how real life interfers with my first love (writing).

A big thanks to my reviewers – the ever faithful Suk-fong – I'm sure you and I are gonna have some words after this chapter; moviefan-92 – please do go back and reread and feel free to point out any mistakes. Shisoukengo-sama – arigatou for all you do and who you are; as always I appreciated the critique, but keep your puns to yourself, thank you very much. Thanks to Arlome for your review and sagittarius88 – keep reading. To Genegargoyle – trust me, when I am able to update this story, no one will be happier than me (LOL). Thank you, guest reviewer; Please join us here at and we can freely discuss anything related to Ainoko.

Well… enough delay. Chapter 22; please read, enjoy and leave a review!

Chapter 22 – Reflections: A Cursed Past

Twelve years ago, I died. Kagewaki Castle – the place where I was killed, where my corpse was desecrated and later, resurrected as the embodiment of evil. All this happened here, in Naraku's lair; where my murderer, my nemesis manipulated my mind and toyed with my innocence. Although Naraku had schemed it all, it was my hand that had shed blood and took lives that fateful day.

I never wanted nor expected to return here… ever. This dwelling bears the weight of my sins, my guilt, my torment. The horrid memories and anger I fought to suppress over the years were now overflowing; rolling off me in waves and I shudder, more from my recollections than the chill from the crisp morning air.

Night is fading, and dawn creeps along the horizon, as I stand on a high cliff overlooking the castle. From my vantage point, I peer down into the eerie mist that creeps stealthily around the ruins, and I realize the once famed Kagewaki citadel is now just a heap of rubble.

The castle wall is disintegrated and the moat – dried up. From what I can see, there is no sign of the guard tower; it's probably demolished and lying amongst the pile of stones strewn over the ground. The castle gate, however, is still visible, the last remnant of the once impressive structure.

Back then – on my first mission as a demon slayer, I was overwhelmed with the castle's grandeur. In my nightmares, it was revived as this daunting, evil omnipresence. Looking down upon this place as it is now, I am neither in awe nor intimidated; I feel only bitterness. Even so, it is a place I never wanted to set eyes on again, not in this lifetime nor the next.

Although reluctant to return, I now see the necessity. Before I can procure my future, I need to, first, face my past. A few years ago, Miroku had suggested I come here to make peace with myself, to cleanse my soul and lay my demons to rest, but I had declined. After all, there was no need to return, since the monk and my sister had long ago dug up the up the remains of my father and brethren, erecting graves for them at the village.

In truth, I never believed the monk's suggestion was enough to repent for what I had done. I had committed unspeakable acts, cruel and barbaric, and although I realize I was under the control of another, it has not appeased my guilt.

What I know with surety is the good deeds I've done over the years has made my burdens easier to bear. I continue to live as requested; I exist for the sake of others – to placate the family that loves me and to inspire the villagers, who revere me. In all these years, I have never sought anything for myself, other than forgiveness.

Once my memory was restored and, my transgressions revealed, I felt empty. The times when I should have been at my happiest - after Naraku's defeat and Sango's return, that feeling persisted; it never went away. Although love surrounds me and I am supported by many, I continued to feel the emptiness, that is… until Rin reappeared in my life.

"Sensei?" Yoichi's groggy voice interrupted Kohaku's musings. The teen had awakened to find the pallet across from the campfire empty. Sitting up, he looked around the rocky terrain and spotted the village headmaster standing near the cliffs edge.

Kohaku stood still as a statue, as he looked down into the valley below. Whatever was there, thought Yoichi, seemed to have his mentor's undivided attention.

Rising to his feet, the teen yawned silently, stretching his arms wide and felt the first gust of cold air. With a shiver, he bent down and hastily retrieved his fallen blanket, wrapping it around himself before joining his headmaster.

The sun had started to rise; the soft amber glow lit up the sky and presented an incandescent backdrop to Kohaku's still form. His mentor's body was at an angled, which casts his face in shadow. Yoichi approached; his feet barely made a sound, as he maneuvered over the rough ground. "Sensei?" the boy called out again.

Although absorbed in thought, Kohaku had heard Yoichi addressing him. Initially, he had chosen to ignore it, hoping for more time to reflect. However, he decided to respond so the teen would not feel neglected.

"Good morning, Yoichi-san," Kohaku greeted the blanket-clad youth. His eyes never left the scene below as he continued, "It's still early; you can sleep more if you like?"

"Oh… thanks, but no, that won't be necessary," he responded and leaned over the edge to look down on the castle. "Is – is this the place?" he asked.

Yoichi heard the deep sigh and looked up to see Kohaku nod in silence. Cocking his head to the side, the teen leaned over to peer into his sensei's face and frowned at what he saw.

Gone was the shy, boyish smile; gone was the kind gaze, full of warmth. Instead, Kohaku's face was a cold mask; his eyes lifeless and devoid of feeling. In all the time he had known his sensei, Yoichi had never seen such an expression on his face, not even during battles.

"Well, since you're awake, there's no need to delay. Come on, let's get this over with," Kohaku's voice was deadpan, as he turned abruptly and headed back to the campsite.

"We... we're going down there?" Yoichi asked, following closely at his teacher's heels, hiking the blanket higher to avoid tripping in his haste.

No response; Kohaku kept walking.

After nearly a week of being ignored, Yoichi had finally had enough. The headmaster had invited him on this venture; the teen was honored and never questioned the reason for the journey nor their sudden departure. However, with the change in his sensei's demeanor, the boy was now reconsidering.

Frustrated, Yoichi stopped abruptly and lashed out. "Sensei! I'm not taking another step until you tell me why we came here!" he demanded.

Kohaku froze midstride. Slowly, his head swiveled around, and his eyes glowered as they settled on the teen. Just being here and remembering the past was taking an emotional toll on him and listening to a student scold him was the last thing Kohaku needed right now.

Whipping around to confront the boy, he intended to deliver a proper set down; however, the words stuck in his throat, as he saw a figure standing directly behind Yoichi. With eyes narrowed, Kohaku took a step closer, observing the size and shape of the apparition. "Chichi-ue?" he whispered.

His mentor's piercing gaze revealed an unexpected ferocity and Yoichi retreated a few steps back. His bravado faltered a bit, but the teen swallowed his fear and stood his ground. "Sensei!" he snapped again. "Please?" the boy demanded, yet tactfully bowed with respect.

Yoichi's voice startled, Kohaku and the image instantly vanished. Focusing back on his apprentice, he noticed the boy had straightened and now faced him belligerently.

Weary brown eyes, slowly receding in anger, clashed with half fearful-half intense onyx. The standoff lasted less than a minute before mentor finally yielded to apprentice.

Kohaku slapped a hand to his forehead and then plunged it into his hair, contemplating what he had just seen. He was smiling, he thought astonished; his father was smiling at him.

The vision had stood behind Yoichi with its hands placed on the boy's shoulders. A smile from his father was rare, as he was a stern individual and harsh disciplinarian. Therefore, Kohaku considered the smile a good omen and relaxed for this first time since arriving.

Was it a sign that his father was pleased that he had continued family tradition; training future demon slayers? Or – was his father happy that he had finally returned to pay homage? Whatever the reason, it was enough to lessen Kohaku's tension.

"Patience, Yoichi-san." The soft-spoken headmaster had returned. Crossing his arms over his chest, Kohaku looked at the boy standing before him. "You will know everything there is to know before we leave this valley; that I promise," he informed the boy. "For now… let's just say; I'm here to bury the past."

XxXxX

"He's where?" Akujikumo gasped. The demon was surprised to hear Kohaku's current location through the Tsuchigumo's web connection. "Kagewaki Castle!" he hissed.

The spider was furious at the news, as he and Kohaku had headed in different directions. "Who would have thought he'd have the guts to go back to that place," the demon wondered.

Releasing the web he used as a parachute to ride the wind, Akujikumo floated down and maneuvered to the tops of the trees. Once there, the demon latched on the leaves and scuttled down the tree, to rest on a branch overhanging the road and waited.

It was early morning, and someone would pass by soon; the demons eight eyes searched the road awaiting a peasant or merchant going to the nearest town to sell their wares. Akujikumo would release his web, attaching it to a cart, horse or a human to hitch a ride over to the next valley. As expected, the spider did not have to wait long; his beady eyes landed on a horse-drawn cart, filled with hay, approaching.

By descending from the sky, Akujikumo already knew the course of the wind and released his web with accuracy. Currently, the breeze blew in the same direction as the incoming wagon; therefore, the spider allowed the cart to pass by before aiming.

Streams of webbed silk wafted on the breeze and latched onto the back of the wagon, lifting and carrying the demon spider along with it. Reeling itself onto the sideboard, Akujikumo scuttled within the confines of the hay and relaxed back for the ride.

Sinister images of Kohaku's demise pervaded the spider's thoughts, as the cart bumped and creaked, carrying him closer to his prey. What Naraku was unable to accomplish, Akujikumo was determined to follow through. He would not make the same mistakes as his master.

"I have you right where I want you, boy," the demon cackled. "I never imagined you would be stupid enough to go back there, but… the more I think about it, it's the perfect," the demon said aloud.

Akujikumo was reaching a level of delirium, as his mind conjured a disembodied demon slayer after extracting the Shikon jewel from his body. "Oh, the irony!" he hissed gleefully. "The place where it all began, is the perfect setting for your tragic end."

XxXxX

The first rays of sunlight seeped under closed eyelids, rousing Heisuke from sleep. The gardener raised a hand to shield his eyes from dawn's coppery brilliance and moved to sit up. Stretching his arms overhead, he arched his back and rolled the kinks from his shoulders, hearing his joints pop in response.

A creature of habit and his profession, Heisuke typically rose early and was in the garden weeding before dew dried. However, he was a little behind schedule this morning, thanks to the passionate woman, still asleep, lying next to him.

Leaning over her, Heisuke allowed his eyes to roam freely over his wife's nakedness. Ikuyo was lying on her back; one arm was raised and arched over her head, and the other lay on her stomach. One leg was bent at the knee, leaning slightly inward with the other leg fully extended. Her face was turned away from him, exposing the graceful curve of her neck. Dark hair fanned out behind her head with soft tendrils clinging to her shoulders, and breast and Heisuke had to suppress the urge to reach out and caress those rose tipped mounds.

The woman he had chosen to marry was a complete anomaly, thought Heisuke. Although untried, she had portrayed none of the typical maidenly behavior. There were no shy blushes, no cowering beneath the sheets; the woman was brazen, flaunting her femininity. However, his wife was no tease; she gave as good as she received (the scratches on his arms and back were proof of that) and he smiled at the memory of their first night of passion -

Trudging back to the house after his shift at the tower, Heisuke had hoped that Ikuyo had left the children with her mother. Since their encounter in the storehouse that afternoon, the gardener had thought of nothing other than his wife's enthusiastic responses to his touch. He could barely keep watch at the tower remembering her soft, fragrant skin, heated moans and panting breath.

Approaching the house, Heisuke noticed only one lamp burned in the main room. As he stepped onto the engawa, he sat down to remove his 'waraji' sandals before entering the abode. The floorboard creaked, alerting the gardener of his wife's presence and he looked up as she approached.

"You're back," Ikuyo stated unnecessarily, standing over him. "It's about time."

As usual, her words were sharp; however, Heisuke immediately keyed into the sultry undertone. As his eyes traveled up, they encountered a pair of long slender legs, bare from ankle to thigh. Tilting his head further, he noticed Ikuyo dressed in a short length, sheer hadagi, which outlined and accentuated her curvaceous body.

Kicking off his sandals, Heisuke rose slowly, his eyes taking in every detail, from her nipped waist to her high breast straining against the bodice. They were out on the engawa, but because of the garden, his house was secluded from the others, not to mention it was past midnight. If he decided to take her right here, right now -

"Are you trying to seduce me, Ikuyo?" Heisuke asked, and advanced on her. The woman retreated by backing into the house, drawing him in.

"You're pretty sharp for a farmer." Ikuyo flashed a coquettish smile, as she continued to back away.

"I'm learning," Hiesuke responded, ducking under the entrance to follow her into the room. Looking over to their sleeping quarters, he asked, unnecessarily. "Where are the boys?"

"With my mother," she stated. "After all, you did request that of me."

"I did; didn't I?" The gardener smirked, as he untied the travel satchel from across his chest and tossed it aside. Slow and methodical, like a tiger on the prowl, he once again advanced on his wife. However, this time, she did not back away; she stood still and waited.

"I'm surprised," Heisuke said, as he stopped directly in front of her. "For once, you listened to me, and you obeyed; that's a good girl. Not bad for a spinster turned farmer's wife."

"That won't happen too often, I assure you, but I'm learning," Ikuyo countered. She was no more offended by her husband's words than he was by hers. The verbal spar was their way of communicating; they both had a reticule of sarcastic wit and snappy comebacks.

As the two stared into each other's eyes, both noticed the atmosphere had changed from the playful banter into something more deep and smoldering. Heisuke read the desire in his wife's eyes; it was blatant. As his gaze moved over her, he noticed her trembling, her labored breathing, and the taut nipples protruding against the fabric of the hadagi.

Heisuke had waited the majority of the day just to be with Ikuyo again and, it seems, she was just as anxious as he to pursue the physical side of their marriage. Stepping closer, the gardener reached out to touch his wife and inhaled her citrusy scent. His hand froze, as her freshness made him realize he needed to bathe.

With an exasperated sigh, Heisuke stepped back and held out his hands, palms up. "I'll just go and… uh, you know," he laughed, a bit embarrassed. "I'm all sweaty, and my hands…"

The gardener was interrupted, as Ikuyo stepped between his outstretched arms, grabbed his hands and guided them to her breasts. "Should be here," she finished for him; her voice was soft and smoky, as she leaned in and slowly licked the side of his neck. "Hmmm – salty," she purred into his ear. "My husband is a farmer; a tiller of the land that produces food for this village. If a little sweat were going to kill me, I would have died the first day I moved here."

Heisuke stilled; he inhaled sharply, surprised at her action and then shuddered in response. "Damn it, woman," he hissed suddenly. The hands at Ikuyo's breasts bunched into fists; he grabbed the material of hadagi and ripped it from neck to hem, the sound and his wife's surprised yelp echoing throughout the small room.

The garment slithered to the floor, and Heisuke stepped back to shrug out of his kosode, as his eyes devoured the bared woman before him. Before he could reach for the ties on his hakama, Ikyuo's hands were already there, pulling them in earnest, hastily helping his disrobe.

The material joined the torn hadagi on the floor at their feet, and Ikuyo's eyes roamed over Heisuke's naked body. Reaching for him, she explored every muscular ripple and contour, every scar from battle; his shoulders, chest, abdomen and lower. She stepped closer; sliding a hand between their bodies, she found her husband rigid and ready. Wrapping her fingers around him, she started stroking, massaging intimately – the same as he had done to her earlier in the storeroom.

"That's what I've always loved about you," Heisuke groaned under her explorations. His hands cupped her face and tilted her head back to stare into her eyes. "You're bold," he whispered against her mouth, before kissing her soundly and thoroughly. "You put on more airs than those elites in the Shogun," he continued. "But, you know what you want, and you go after it."

"You mean like this," Ikuyo murmured, as her ardor increase. Her head was spinning from Heisuke's kisses, her nipples tingling each time they as they brushed against his bare chest, not to mention feeling him expand and grow in her hand. In her growing passion, her hand increased in both speed and pressure.

Heisuke nearly forgot to breathe, as waves of intense pleasure washed over him. In his heightened arousal, he threw his head back and fisted Ikuyo's long hair in his hands, as he fought for control. It had been months since he had last been with a woman; that combined with the fact he was in love with this one, only added to his unbridled hunger.

Suddenly, Ikuyo released him. Heisuke swallowed and exhaled loudly. He took a moment to recover, before looking questionably down on his wife. The glazed look in her eyes, her flushed cheeks, and sensual breathing was a sure sign this was a short reprieve and Ikuyo's next actions confirmed that.

Throwing her arms around his neck, Ikuyo pulled her husband close. In one smooth movement, she hopped up and wrapped her legs around his waist, knowing he was more than capable of taking the full brunt of her weight and, he did.

Heisuke instinctively pulled back, as his wife's sudden movement jerked him forward. His arms circled her waist to hold her steady, as he planted his feet firmly to support the additional weight. "Ikuyo…" Heisuke began, his surprise was evident.

"Now," she whispered in response.

The gardener frowned; he was confused at first, and then his eyes widened as he realized her request. "Like this?" he questioned.

"We can't?" she purred in response.

The little minx, thought Heisuke, as a smile played about his lips. Was she testing him? It should not come as a surprise, he thought, as this woman - his woman was a constant challenge. However, whatever, she was about; he was not going to disappoint.

"Hold on," he ordered and felt her arms tighten around his neck. Hoisting her body up, he slid his arms under her thighs and then lowered her until the back of her knees fit in the crook of his elbows. Spreading his feet slightly apart, Heisuke bent his knees for leverage, as he leaned Ikuyo back to align her softness with his rigidity. Rearing back, he began thrusting his hips forward, gently prodding her soft folds.

With her head buried in Heisuke's neck, Ikuyo emitted a smothered squeal and gripped him tighter. Instead of withdrawing from the pressure, she responded to the demands of her husband's passion and met each thrust with her own. Inch by gradual inch, the barrier was finally breached, and Ikuyo hissed, arching into the exquisite pain. Her nails dug deep into her husband's flesh, leaving a trail from his shoulders down his back.

He would feel the pain from the scratches much later, but at this moment, buried inside her tight sheath, Heisuke only felt the pleasure of becoming one with his wife. Neither moved, each adjusting to the other's body and engulfed in the throbbing sensations consuming them. He watched as Ikuyo slowly straighten, her arms once again encircling his neck. Leaning in, she kissed him – sensual and languorous.

"Hmmm," she moaned. "Finally," she breathed against her husband's mouth.

"No, not final," Heisuke murmured back, deliberately misinterpreting her words. Gripping her bottom, he thrust deeper, moving experimentally to test her readiness for the next phase. "There is much more to come," he promised, as he turned and carried his bride to bed.

The rooster's crow interrupted pleasant memories, notifying Heisuke he was more behind schedule than before. Normally, the gardener was halfway through hoeing before the rooster's first herald.

Turning to the woman at his side, Heisuke smiled noticing nature's alarm had not interrupted her sleep. With one last lingering look at Ikuyo in all her glory, the gardener reached for the blanket at the foot of the futon. After placing a light kiss on an exposed shoulder, he covered her and rose to the call of cultivation.

XxXxX

"Damn it, Kagome, hurry the hell up, would ya?"

The future miko cringed in anger from her position in the 'Bone Eaters Well". Her dark eyes flashed as she looked up at her husband who was awaiting her at the top.

"Cut it out, Inuyasha, I'm moving as fast as I can!" she shouted up at him. "It wouldn't kill you to help me out a little."

A few years older and after giving birth to their only daughter, Kaede, Kagome realized she wasn't as energetic or limber as before. In the future, she held a desk job and, other than walking, had mediocre exercise. Inuyasha on the other hand, as a construction foreman for a skyscraper project, had plenty enough for them both. The job and physical labor were also a way he was able to exhaust his demonic energy in her time.

Kagome seriously wanted to 'sit' him right now, but her grandfather had confiscated the 'subjugation beads' the first year of her marriage to Inuyasha and refused, to this day, to tell her the whereabouts.

"I told ya' over and over, ya' need to exercise more," the hanyou lashed out from above, yet the hands that reached for Kagome were gentle. Wrapping his fingers around her wrists, he pulled her up from the well and into his arms.

After a brief hug, the two pulled away from each other. Kagome leaned back on the edge of the well, as she and Inuyasha looked around the dense forest.

"This place hasn't changed," Kagome said, as she breathed in the fresh air of the past. "I wish we could bring Kaede," she said sadly.

It was disappointing to both, but whatever the reason, Inuyasha and Kagome's child was unable to travel with them through the 'Bone Eaters' Well.'

"Yeah, me too," Inuyasha huffed. "I wanna show her off to that damned Miroku; he's always goin' on about his daughter. Keh!" he snorted. "He ain't met my kid yet."

"It's not a competition, Inuyasha," Kagome admonished. "Miroku's entitled to show off; the man missed five years of his children's lives," she sighed. "So give the guy a break, okay."

"I just… I just wanted Kaede to meet the great friends we have in this era, you know. It would be wonderful if she could become friends Suiren and Shun'ei, don't you think?"

Kagome looked up just as her husband's ebony locks started to change to pure silver. Inuyasha must have felt the change coming, as he closed his eyes; lifting his head to the sky, he began to unravel the long braid looped around his neck, allowing his hair to flow free. Each time he returned to this era, the hanyou's demon blood pumped vigorously through his veins, welcoming him back.

Opening his eyes, a ghost of a smile hovered about Inuyasha's lips as he turned to look down on Kagome. His slate-grey pupils had become molten gold, completing the transformation. "I'd like that too," he responded to his wife's question. "I don't understand all this time travel stuff, but there's gotta be a reason Kaede can't cross over with us. I'm pissed too, but maybe it's for the best."

"I guess," Kagome sighed again. "Do you miss it, Inuyasha?" she asked her husband tentatively. It had been a while since she had seen him in demon form. In her era, the hanyou maintained his human form to blend in with society. It was rare that she had an opportunity to see him as he is now.

"I do," The hanyou was blunt, but placed an arm around a shoulder and pulled her close to his side. "I miss the fresh air, open space, fightin' demons, but – I know what I'd miss more if I stayed," he said with feeling in his voice.

Kagome closed her eyes, as joy swept through her at his words. As she turned to him, her arms encircled his waist, and she nuzzled closer. "No regrets?" she asked softly.

"Naw," Inuyasha answered without hesitation. "You and Kaede are my life now; ain't no other place I wanna be. Comin' here for me is – eh, what's that word?" The hanyou racked his brain to remember. "Vay-cay-shun – yeah, that's it! That's what this is for me, so stop worryin' for nothin'."

"Vacation," Kagome corrected him in her mind and smiled inwardly, as she leaned even closer.

The two stayed that way for a while, drinking in the scents, sights, and sounds of the surrounding forest. Finally, Inuyasha pushed away from the well and tugged at wife's hand. "Let's go," he stated, pulling her along. "The morning classes are gonna start soon, and I wanna see if Kohaku has trained any good fighters."

"You're just itching to use the Tessaiga again; aren't you?" Kagome laughed, trying to keep pace with his eager stride.

"Heh, heh!" the hanyou snickered and lifted the sheathed sword to address it. "You betcha! We're gonna slice and dice something before we go back; ain't that right, buddy?!"

XxXxX

Sesshoumaru's boot-clad feet never made a sound, as he strode down the pristine, marble floors of the council halls. The fluffy boa trailed from his shoulder and floated behind him, bouncing with each step. The youkai lord had been away from the Westernlands nearly a month now and was quickly losing patience with Head Councilman, Kaguma's, indecisiveness. For Sesshoumaru, what had started out as an exciting venture eliminating wayward minions, had only resulted in peace talks amongst neighboring clans.

It was early, but the taiyoukai had decided to meet with Kaguma before the morning assembly. Sesshoumaru had no interest in peace talks; however, if one was planning a war or talks of battle stratagem, then his presence was necessary. If he were going to relax, he could damn well do it in the West, in his abode, instead of council headquarters.

As he approached the hallway intersection, Sesshoumaru keyed into the presence of another youkai. The taiyoukai sneered, as he recognized the demon's scent. Of all the demons he could have run into this morning, why did it have to be him?

"Ah… Sesshoumaru-sama! What a surprise; where are headed so early?"

The taiyoukai stopped abruptly, as he encountered the other demon at the intersection of the hall. Sesshoumaru's eyes cut to the annoying youkai to his left. "Mouko," he acknowledged his colleague in a curt, annoyed tone. "I specifically recall requesting you not address me in that manner." He bared a fang and then stepped forward to continue on his path to Kaguma's chambers.

"Sorry, I keep forgetting," Mouko, of the tiger clan, smiled sheepishly, scratching the back of his orange and black mane. The tiger's demon ancestry was as old as the canine's and Mouko was now the successor of the 'Tora Domain.' In rank, he and Sesshoumaru were equals; however, that did not change the fact that the tiger had once been a subordinate.

"So… where are you headed?" Mouko repeated his question, falling in step with the dog demon, but as expected, Sesshoumaru remained silent.

"Ah… Kaguma's chamber; right?" More silence.

Sesshoumaru was fuming inside; the tiger's constant barrage of questions he found irritable, not to mention that stupid grin he always wore. He was an elite youkai with a decent personality; he was a highly skilled fighter and fierce on the battlefield. However, his social etiquette was lacking, and his sense of humor was odd, at least in Sesshoumaru's opinion. One would never believe he hailed from such a prestigious bloodline.

"You miss home? I know I do," Mouko continue, unconcerned with Sesshoumaru's silence. "I'm headed to Kaguma's also to request leave. I don't mind the peace talks, but honestly, I don't think we're getting anywhere. We need to back off a little; give the groups time to come to an agreement. With Kaguma pressing like this, the clans, as well as the members are getting frustrated. What do you think, Sessho?"

The draw was swift; in one fluid motion, Sesshoumaru unsheathed his sword, pivoted on one foot and moved from the tiger's side to step directly in front of him. Mouko barely had time to draw his double kodachi's and block the canine's horizontal strike aimed at his left side.

"Whoa… that was close," Mouko said, straining against the pressure of Sesshoumaru's sword. "Guess I can't call you that either," the tiger smirked. "Sharp maneuver; thought I had you for a moment since I was on the blind side of your sword,"

"Neither my sword nor I have a blind side," the taiyoukai said, as he pushed back and sheathed his blade. "Don't test me, Mouko; I am not here to entertain nor alleviate your boredom. Just leave already!"

"I'm trying," the tiger pouted, as he put away his kodachi's. "I miss Pyuuma."

"Idiot!" Sesshoumaru thought. Not only was the tiger pining after his mate, but he also openly acknowledged it. But Mouko was no fool; the dog demon admitted reluctantly. He was simply a full-fledged demon that had spent too much time in the company of humans. Unfortunately, the tiger had picked on their various traits, and not all of them desirable.

"Hmmph!" Sesshoumaru smirked, turned and continued down the hall. Sensing the tiger as he, once again, fell into step beside him, the taiyoukai suppressed a sigh.

"I'm not the only one," Mouko started up again. "You're missing the west and Awasu-san. Hell… I'm missing him, and he's not even my kid. Not to mention a certain human ex-priestess; tell me, Sesshoumaru, how long has it been since you last laid eyes, or hands, on your beautiful mate?"

The eyes that turned on Mouko had changed from a rich amber to fierce crimson. The tiger realized he had gone too far, but smiled knowing the dog demon was feeling the same frustration as every other male demon, here at the council, who had spent a month away from their homes and mates. As Sesshoumaru, again, went for his sword, the tiger jumped back and readied himself for the imminent attack.

"Enough!"

Both demons froze and then relaxed their battle stance, as a booming voice bounced off the walls of the corridor.

"You both know the use of weapons is not allowed in headquarters!" Kaguma – the head of the youkai Council and a member of the bear clan, stood at the end of the hall. His massive, hulking frame filled the space in the corridor. "And senior members at that," the bear said, shaking his head. "Is there a problem, Sesshoumaru – Mouko?"

"Ahh… yes, Kaguma-dono." Mouko stepped forward and bowed. "Sesshoumaru and I would like to leave."

"Tsk, don't speak for me," the taiyoukai hissed, as his eyes resumed their normal color.

"It's been a month now, and negotiations are breaking down," the tiger continued, ignoring the other's protest. "Currently, we're at a stalemate, and I think it's in the best interest of the council to take a recess."

Kaguma seemed to consider Mouko's words and then he turned to Sesshoumaru. "What are your feelings on it?" he asked.

"I have none," sniffed the taiyoukai and he nodded in the tiger's direction. "He's the negotiator."

"I'm leaving," Sesshoumaru announced. "I don't negotiate; therefore my presence is not required. Once you reach a decision, notify me; send a summons only if we're discussing war or battle tactics." With that said, he flicked a wayward hair over his shoulder and turned to leave.

"Before you go," Kaguma had the taiyoukai turning back to face him. "Tonight is the negotiations for the dragon's lair," the bear informed him. "Shugoryuu will be present; I think you may want to stick around to hear the outcome."

Shugoryuu – the son of Ryukotsusei, the arch rival of Sesshoumaru's father. Although the two were both acting members of the council, had fought on the same side on the battlefield, there was still animosity between the two.

Sesshoumaru's eyes narrowed in speculation. Even though outwardly, he appeared blasé, he was interested in hearing the proceedings. "Very well," the taiyoukai muttered, before heading back in the direction he had come.

His delicate ears picked up the end of Mouko's conversation with Kaguma. The taiyoukai smirked, as he heard the head councilman grant the tiger's request for a short reprieve. Before Sesshoumaru reached the end of the hall, Mouko had caught up to him.

"Well… that worked out superbly," the tiger rubbed his hands together. "After tonight, we'll have a break, and we can go home to our families."

"And you find that preferable," Sesshoumaru snorted.

"Yeah… I do," the tiger admitted, turning serious all of a sudden. "You feel the same; you just won't admit it, but I know," he smirked. "Besides, it never hurts to check in with the family. Things can change in a short time; you have to keep abreast of what's going on." Mouko winked suspiciously before making a hasty exit down the opposite corridor.

Finally, he was alone; then and only then did the taiyoukai shed his stoic mask. It was just as Mouko stated; Sesshoumaru missed his lands and the odd family he had acquired. Confident that all was well in the Westernlands, the taiyoukai continued on his way unaware of the chaos that awaited him upon his return.

XxXxX

"Is that it? Is that the best you can come up with, Rin-chan?" Hebi purred from her seat in the window sill. "If you think the repetitious, 'I love him' is going to be the extent of your argument, you might as well admit defeat now."

"But our feelings are what's important, right?" Rin said feeling frustrated. The snake youkai had arrived right after breakfast to start their first session. Hebi represented the rational she would need to appeal to Kikyou's cogent mindset, but it didn't seem to be going well.

"Of course feelings are important; however, to some, feelings are fleeting," Hebi informed Rin. "That is why you must present enough information to validate, not justify, those feelings."

"Isn't that the same thing?" Rin inquired, baffled by words that held a similar meaning.

"There's a slight difference," Hebi announced, her husky voice lowered conspiratorially. "To justify is to defend – in this case, we don't want that. You should not have to justify or defend your feelings for Kohaku. Whether those feelings are right or wrong, you are entitled to them. If you start with defense, Lady Kikyou will immediately go on the offense."

"How long have you felt this way about Kohaku?" Hebi continued, summarizing. "Are you sure you're in love? Maybe this is simply an infatuation. How about Kohaku? Is it love for him; how does he honestly feel and how do you know?"

"Those are the kinds of questions you will most likely encounter," the snake youkai schooled Rin. "Therefore, it's the answers to presented first, which validates a reason to pursue and explore the relationship. And that, young one, is the difference between validation and justification."

"Ahhh! Yes… I see, I understand now." Rin clapped gleefully. "If I answer Kikyou-sama's questions before she asks, it means… I have the advantage. Is that right?"

"Well, I can't guarantee that," Hebi chuckled, quite sure Kikyou would find a way to counter. "But, it will put you on equal footing, and you won't be on the defensive."

"Right!" Rin nodded.

"Now… I'll give you some time to formulate answers to those questions," Hebi stated. "Write everything down, and we'll go over it together. While you're doing that, I'll have a word with Yoippari-dono. Where might I find her at this hour?" the snake inquired.

"Hmm," Rin thought. "Since Idzuna is away, I can only assume she is overseeing Konami in the kitchen. Is there a problem?" Rin asked, curious.

"Oh no," Hebi dismissed any concerns with a wave of her hand. "Just council business. Since I was coming here, my brother asked me to speak with her on his behalf; that's all."

"Okay," Rin smiled, feeling relieved that it had nothing to do with her lessons.

"Um – which way is the kit…" Hebi began, only to be cut off by Rin's knowing look.

"Jadoku knows this place like the back of his hand," Rin stated, her brown eyes full of humor. "Your brother gathers information, Hebi-dono, but it is you who stores the information for future use. I'm quite sure I have no need to direct you anywhere in this place," the young woman said, before concentrating back on her list.

"Touche!" Hebi grinned, seeing Rin in a whole new light. "She's observant," the snake acknowledged. It was Rin's look of innocence and humble persona that made one think otherwise. "Well – carry on!," Hebi encouraged, as she sashayed out the door. "I'll be back!"

As soon as she entered the hall, Hebi turned to the left and headed toward the main foyer. Based on her power of retention, the snake just needed to pass the central staircase and follow the corridor to the back of the mansion to reach the kitchen. Just as she reached the stairs, a voice intercepted her progress.

"Looking for me?"

The snake youkai turned to the source and looked up to find the object of her search standing at the top of the stairs. Yoippari's rotund figure descended the stairs, with all the grace as someone as svelte as Hebi. The owl's large eyes encompassed the snake from head to toe. Sensing the intimidation Hebi was trying to hide, Yoippari felt a sense of satisfaction.

"Ah… Yoippari-dono," Hebi gasped, recovering from the disadvantage of being caught unawares. "Yes – I was looking for you. Do you have a moment to spare?"

"Of course," the owl responded, staring up at the tall, willowy, bald youkai with the gold hoops dangling from each ear. "Please." Yoippari extended her hand toward the study adjacent to Sesshoumaru's. "Let's talk in here."

The two entered the study and closed the door behind them. The owl walked over to the desk and leaned on the sturdy structure, while Hebi took special care with arranging the skirts of her mandarin collar dress before sitting. Long legs crossed as the snake reclined in the cushioned seat.

"Comfy?" Yoippari asked, sarcastically.

"Yes – very," Hebi murmured, as she bounced her bottom on the fabric. "I must say the Westernlands has the most comfortable furnishings."

"Glad to hear it," the owl said. "Now… as I'm quite busy and would like to stay on schedule, let's cut to the chase, shall we?" Yoippari's eyes pierced Hebi's composure. "You're here about the scroll I obtained from the council."

Surprise held Hebi still for a moment, and then she ejected from the seat like a rocket. "You mean the scroll you 'stole' from the council!" the snake snapped. The old owl had taken her completely by surprise; the snake had expected a denial, or feigned innocence; at least to ruffle her feathers a bit, but the old geezer had admitted taking the scroll.

"That's questionable," Yoippari stated airily. "But, that's neither here nor there."

"What?!" Hebi hissed, annoyed at the lackadaisical attitude, as well as being annoyed with herself for losing the nonchalant persona she had taken great pains to master over time. "I'll have you know…"

"Are you talking down to me, young youkai?" the owl interrupted the beginnings of a tirade.

"You may not be aware, Hebi-chan," Yoippari continued, as the snake appeared to settle down momentarily. "But I am also a part of the council. The same as your mother, Shinja, and your father, Daija. We may not be active members, but we are its foundation," Yoippari informed the snake. "Therefore, it is not stealing, although after Lady Shinja had told me where to find the scroll, I'm afraid I did not consult with anyone before taking it."

"My moth... my mother told you?" Hebi stuttered disbelievingly. "How did you even get past security? Oh, my!" the snake exclaimed, placing a hand on her forehead in dramatic fashion.

"Calm down, Hebi-chan," Yoippari said, watching her former kouhai's daughter pace the room in agitation. "The scrolls will be returned in three days. Your mother understood the reason the scroll was required, and she agreed to help. The information is being used to help a friend of Awasumaru's."

"Two days!" Hebi stopped pacing and rounded on the owl. "The scroll must be returned no later than that! Document keepers perform random inspections, and Jadoku was informed a few days ahead. He knew I would be coming here and asked me to relay the message. That scroll had better be in place, or all of us will have to answer to the council."

"My brother already knows about the child of the human demon slayers; it seems he's known for a while," Hebi cried. "Obviously, he understands the importance of the scroll, which is why he's kept quiet until now, but we have rules too! Jadoku has worked hard for a place in the council; I won't have you or anyone else undermine his efforts."

"I understand," Yoippari stated with feeling. "Your family has finally shed the jaded image forced upon them and moved on. It's all thanks to your brother, and you as well, Hebi-chan. I recognize that, and my respect for your parents would never allow me to jeopardize Jadoku nor master Sesshoumaru's position at the council."

"Sesshoumaru could care less," Hebi scoffed, "But, I thank you!" She bowed and relaxed, feeling the weight lifted from her shoulders. "Now, if you'll excuse me, Yoippari-dono, I must resume my lessons with young Rin."

"Of course, and thank you for coming to her aid," the owl finally smiled. "I will be visiting with your mother once I return the scroll. You remind me a lot of young Shinja; I must tell her about her feisty daughter challenging an elder; I must say, you've made me feel my age today, young lady."

With her persona back in place, Hebi turned to the older youkai and purred, "Actually, I believe I've aged a few hundred years after an encounter with you, Yoippari-dono, and please, I beg you, do not mention this meeting to my mother… ever."

XxXxX

Mushin spent the better part of the morning recording information from the scrolls Kikyou had brought. The former priestess and her companion, Idzuna, gathered herbs to prepare medicines for healing and detoxification. Shun'ei and Juun were granted access to the temple archives to review the history of the monk's 'Wind Tunnel.'

Kirara was sprawled across Shun'ei's lap, as the taijiya read from the journals of his father, Miroku, his grandfather, Mitsuru and his great grandfather, Miyatsu. Juun listened attentively to each monk's accounts and dealings with Naraku, the demon nemesis who had created the curse.

Most of the information Juun found interesting was from Miyatsu's scribes. The monk focused on and gave more details on how the Kazaana functioned than his dealings with their nemesis. Even though he was unable to control the winds, he left a blueprint for someone like Juun to follow. The blind child listened to the ending statement of the last parchment and the rustle of the paper as Shun'ei closed the scroll.

"Should I continue," the taijiya asked his friend.

No… that's enough for today," Juun responded and stood up to stretch his legs. He heard Shun'ei do the same and the soft patter of Kirara's feet, as the youkai cat jumped to the floor. "I learned a lot; however, I want to figure a few things out first. Is that alright?"

"Sure," Shun'ei said, knowing how meticulous his friend was. He took his time analyzing liked to be precise; to take his time absorbing the information from the scrolls. "I picked individual scriptures to read from," Shun'ei said, as he walked over to return the scrolls the cedar chest. "The ones with the blue ribbon are about the Kazaana; the black ribbons – details about Naraku, and the red ribbon, well… let's just say; we're too young to read those."

"Really, why?" Juun asked, curious.

"Well, it seems the men in my family - my father, grand and great grandfathers were 'lady-killers,' at least that what mother says," Shun'ei informed his friend. "The scrolls with the red ribbons are about 'those' type of adventures."

"Oh… I see," Juun said, not realizing color had spread to his cheeks. "I have noticed your father's voice changes when talking with women."

Shun'ei's sudden peal of laughter caught the blind child off-guard. Surprised, Juun turned to the sound, his dark eyes wide.

Juun realized this was the first time the taijiya had laughed outright, thought Juun. He had heard humor reflected in his tone, but the chuckling spasms coming from Shun'ei now was a new experience.

"Wha… what's so funny?" Juun asked, and found himself joining in, responding to the unknown amusement.

"Do you know how red-faced you are right now?" Shun'ei managed to get out, between chortling.

"Shut up," Juun murmured, turning his face away from his friend while trying to suppress his laughter. "It's just… well you know…"

"Sorry, Juun-san," Shun'ei chuckled, not sounding sorry in the least. "You were embarrassed, but you answered like a true scholar; like you were studying for a test."

"I did?" Juun asked as he thought about it, "Yeah… I guess I did," he stated in a thoughtful manner.

That started a second wave of laughter for Shun'ei and Juun joined in. Both boys were rolling on the floor, doubled over, and that's how Kikyou and Mushin found them a few minutes later.

"If you two are quite finished having fun," Kikyou said sternly, but a ghost of a smile hovered about her lips.

Mushin looked on in awe, also surprised at Shun'ei's mirth. He'd only known the boy to share laughter with Suiren, although he did smile on some occasions. As the monk looked over at Kikyou's oldest son, he took an instant liking to the boy who could show Shun'ei how to relax and enjoy childhood.

"I'm sorry to interrupt your good time, but Kikyou-sama and I have a schedule to keep," Mushin stated. "Shunei… after collaborating, the two of us have decided upon a new training regimen for you." The monk turned to the former priestess for confirmation and to elaborate.

Looking down of both boys, Kikyou took a moment to enjoy the view. Both Juun and Shun'ei had sat up; their lips still twitched with suppressed laughter and their eyes twinkled. It was too bad her next words would re-erect the barriers they had just torn down.

"As we mentioned yesterday, Shun'ei-san, the training you have received thus far has not been beneficial," Kikyou informed the boy. "Purification baths are useless, and meditation is necessary, but is more effective under extreme conditions. Therefore…" the former priestess continued, "… we must expose you to such situations to gauge a reaction. Do you understand?"

"I do," Shun'ei whispered and nodded, his expression, once again, somber.

Juun listened quietly. He wanted to ask Kikyou if all this was necessary, but he already knew the answer. His foster mother never did anything without good reason.

"Good," Kikyou stated, before turning to Juun. "Idzuna will transport Shun'ei and me to our destination, but I would like you to stay here," she told the boy.

"But…" Juun began, but settled back and sighed. "Yes, Yobou-sama."

"Be ready in an hour," Kikyou informed Shun'ei, as she and Mushin turned to leave.

"Ah… Kikyou-sama, may I ask where we are going?" the taijiya inquired.

Without turning around, the former priestess stated. "Instead of suppressing your demonic energy, you need to stress our body and bring it out. There is one place, so enmeshed with evil that not even grass grows in the soil," Kikyou stated gruffly. "Our destination, young Shun'ei, is the Cave of Onigumo."

XxXxX

"Are you afraid, Kohaku?"

I recall Ane-ue's question from back then. My response was a stuttered falsehood. "N…no!" I denied, but my sister saw right through me.

"Don't worry," she said and gave me a soft rap on the shoulder. "We may slay giant serpent and spider-like demons, but father says the demons we should fear most, are the ones pretending to be human."

That statement is undoubtedly true. While under Naraku's control, I encountered many such demons and discovered they have a higher intellect than minions and the ability to plot and strategize. Humanized demons are less primitive, allowing them the patience to manipulate and coerce. That had been Naraku's specialty, and he had demonstrated his skills here, on my first mission, at Kagewaki Castle.

"Welcome slayers!" Lord Kagewaki's voice resounded in my head. "Nightly, a giant spider terrorizes my castle, having devoured several of my people. Are you able to destroy it?"

"Leave it to me," I recalled father's response. "I have chosen my most skilled slayers to assist."

"Liar!" I screamed out in my mind, as I sat there shaking in fear. I wasn't ready for this; I remembered thinking; I didn't want to kill. Back then, I wasn't even sure I wanted to be a demon slayer.

"There is a woman amongst you… and a child; skilled you say?" Lord Kagewaki questioned.

"My daughter and son," my father had answered. "They are the top two fighters in the province. You will be able to witness their skill once the demon appears, my lord."

More lies and I shuddered even more. My fear was born from feeling incapable, as well as feeling inferior to Sango, who was, unquestionably, the person of whom father spoke.

At seventeen, my sister was clearly the most skilled of us all. Ane-ue and the 'Hiraikotsu' were a perfect pair, and she wielded her weapon with accuracy and precision. However, my chain-scythe and I had a long way to go to achieve such perfection.

"Did you hear that?" Ane-ue, kneeling next to me, whispered. "Do your best, Kohaku?"

I was so tense that I couldn't respond. The fear was rising, nearly choking me in its intensity and I wanted nothing more than for this to be over.

Suddenly, the skies darkened and I barely heard father's order to take our positions. I fell back to the rear of my squad, as an ominous black cloud loomed overhead, and I looked up and straight into the crimson gaze of a humongous demon spider."

Yoichi listened attentively to his headmaster's nostalgia. As the two walked amongst the castle ruins, Kohaku, unexpectedly, began the tale about his first mission, first non-simulated battle and, in his sensei's words, the beginning of the end.

Was his sensei even aware that he was speaking, Yoichi wondered. He had that far-away look in his eyes again, but he reminisced in a clear voice. The respect for his father, Sango-sama and their comrades was evident in his voice, along with his doubts, fears, and anxieties.

They had reached, what might have been, the central courtyard when Kohaku stopped roaming and ceased talking. He stood silently, in the midst of the rubble, tilted his head back and exhaled loudly. From where he stood, Yoichi watched as Kohaku struggled to pull himself together. The youth witnessed the beads of sweat that had formed on his brow, the clenched jaw, and fists bunched at his side. The boy watched as his sensei looked around with sad eyes and then, once again, launch into his tale.

I remember the spider descending from the dark sky and landing in front of us. On father's order, we broke formation and surrounded the beast.

Suddenly, from its mouth, the spider reared back and spewed a mass of webs at us. I charged forward, right behind Ane-ue, but got entangled in its stream. I was lifted off the ground and felt the silken threads pulling me as if they were trying to tear me in two. It was my comrade and father's most trusted friend, Oda, who came to my rescue.

"Kohaku!"

I'll never forget that robust voice nor the way he cut through those webs like garden weeds to reach me.

"Take a deep breath and let's go again," he told me, as we both landed on the ground. I was embarrassed by my performance, but there was no condemnation or disapproval in Oda's tone, only concern. Dropping to one knee, I took a breather as I watched my father and the others take down the demon.

Shibata, using his pole flail, plowed into the spider's right side and took out its row of legs. As the beast crashed to the ground, father clamped the crescent blade of his pole weapon against its neck, pinning it to ground in preparation for the next attack.

"Hiraikotsu!"

Sango's weapon came flying. It first struck the spider in the head and then kept rotating, slicing clear down its back, cutting deep through its belly and its spinneret, killing it in an instant. Spiraling back to its owner, my sister deftly caught her weapon and put an end to our assignment.

While the demon was alive and kicking, I realized I was useless. I listened as Kagewaki's soldiers, who had congregated in a group, praising the skills of the woman demon slayer. And why not? Ane-ue deserved it. She was my sister, and I was proud of her.

"Let's finish this!" I heard father shout and I, automatically, moved forward. Breaking down the already dead carcass to create more weapons from its durable remains; that was something I could do. Running toward the others, I experienced an odd sensation – suddenly feeling sluggish, and my vision blurred before a dark shade passed over my eyes.

I was aware of everything, and yet, I had no control over my body. The blackness had disappeared, and with my vision restored, I watched in horror as my chain-scythe ripped through Oda and Shibata's bodies, tearing them both in half. Inside my head I gasped at that scene and, as my father came into my line of vision, I grew frantic and started begging, whoever, to stop this, but…

In slow motion I watched my blade embed itself in my father's neck – striking the vein that was most fatal. My arm raised on its own, and I retrieved a weapon soaked with blood, which trickled from the blade, down my arm, splattering my back and shoulders.

The courtyard was silent; no one moved nor stirred, as all eyes turned my way. The more the blood seeped into my uniform, the more I realized it was I, who had just killed my father and comrades.

"Why?" I heard Ane-ue gasp. "Kohaku… why did you - how could you?"

I started running… towards my sister with the blood soaked weapon in hand. I couldn't believe I was attacking the one person I loved most in this world. I cried out as the scythe left my hands, aimed directly and Sango and breathed a sigh of relief as she dodged in the nick of time. The only thing my blade cut was the mask from her face.

"Kohaku… brother, it's me, Sango. Don't you recognize me?"

Her large brown eyes beseeched me, but me - the 'real' me inside could not answer. It was the killer - the murderer of my father and comrades who responded. I felt the air from my scythe as it spiraled overhead before it tossed out and careened towards Sango. I exhaled sharply, expecting to feel my weapon hit home, but a skilled warrior, my sister unsheathed her katana to deflect my blade. As my chain wrapped around her blade, Ane-ue pulled back and ripped my weapon from my grasps; however, my body was relentless.

Unsheathing the katana from my side, I again charged. My sister met me head-on, her katana blocking my repeated strikes. "What happened, Kohaku? Why are you doing this?" she cried, as she forcefully pushed me back with her blade. Her bewildered, dark eyes bore into mine as we stood straining against each other in a quest to dominate.

Suddenly, Sango's eyes shifted from mine. In one sudden, unguarded moment, my sister delivered a powerful kick to my midsection, causing my knees to buckle, and then tossed me aside. As I struggled to my feet, I Sango running toward Lord Kagewaki with the Hiraikotsu in hand.

With her back exposed, that ruthless killer inside me, dragged my body over to the chain-scythe a few feet away and reclaimed the weapon. I called out… I screamed for her to turn around, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. Every part of me felt the blade as it hit flesh and bone. The 'real' me returned following this hideous deed, and I dropped to my knees. Sango turned to me, her eyes pained and full of stunned disbelief.

"Ane-ue, ane-ue… ane-ue," I repeatedly screamed, as I jumped to my feet and ran to her. One arm reached for her – she seemed so far away. Reaching out, I thought to reach Ane-ue's protective cocoon, but before I could reach her, I felt my chest exploded.

The arrows from Kagewaki's soldiers pierced my armor, and the impact lifted me and threw me back into the dirt. The pain was unbearable, and I knew I was going to die… I deserved to die. I remember Sango's face looming over me, feeling her tears, as they trickled down my face and the warmth of her body as she gathered me in her arms. I sighed and drew a shuddering breath, welcoming death and its darkness.

Kohaku's voice trailed off, ending his story and, at a loss for words, Yoichi stood in stunned silence.

This shy, mild-mannered, seemingly timid looking man had murdered his father, team and had nearly killed his sister. Now Yoichi understood the nightmares his sensei experienced nightly and the mornings, when he came to class looking as if he had barely slept, or worse – recovering from a hangover.

The teen sensed his mentor's guilt and torment, yet he did not have the heart to condemn him. Based on the story just told, to Yoichi, it seemed Kohaku had been possessed by a demon. It was inconceivable that this man – the family-oriented headmaster of their village, would cold-bloodedly kill his father and attempt to kill his sister.

No… there was something else, thought Yoichi – there was more to this story. Kohaku's voice was sincere, as he reminisced; if not for that, the teen would have a hard time believing such an incident occurred. The villagers all held Kohaku in the highest regard; he had saved them all from some hardship and Yoichi was one of the fortunate ones to benefit from Kohaku's kindness. The students in the village worshiped their sensei, and their sensei gave back a hundredfold.

The deciding factor for Yoichi was Sango-sama. The woman watched as her father was cut down by her brother, the same brother she supports and loves to this day. If Kohaku was truly unworthy or unjust, Yoichi believed his sensei would not have Sango-sama at his side, and she would have extracted her revenge a long time ago, of that he was sure.

"Nothing to say, Yoichi-san?" Kohaku's voice was raspy; he still presented his back to the teen, refusing to turn around. "I'm surprised; I thought you would have endless questions."

"No," Yoichi responded. "But, I do have one."

"Okay," Kohaku was abrupt. "Go ahead."

"What possessed you?" the teen asked.

Kohaku turned. His arms hung limply at his side with his head hung low, his bangs shielding his eyes. As Yoichi awaited an answer to his query, he noticed something had changed. Suddenly, there was this ominous pressure and the teen looked up and around the castle courtyard before turning back to his mentor.

"Sensei…"

Yoichi never finished, as he noticed Kohaku had closed the distance between them. The youth stood, rooted to the spot, as Kohaku withdrew the kusarigama and charged. His mentor's overhead strike tore deep into flesh and blood splattered everywhere. Yoichi crumpled to his knees and watched as a single spider web floated across his vision, briefly touching his cheek. Feeling the warm blood plastered to his face and neck, the youth looked up at the figure towering over him and recoiled from Kohaku's dark, glowering gaze.

Til next chapter…