Disclaimer: These characters belong to Rumiko Takahashi and other associated companies.
Chapter Sixty: Forever
An endless galaxy of stars enveloped the travelers as they ascended into the limitless dark of the night sky, the sparkling specks floating weightlessly around them as they walked. Her delicate hand still gently cradled in his, the youkai lord led the way up the shimmering path with the school girl following closely behind, gathering a length of her dress as she took her tiny, careful strides. Winking out one by one, the dainty lights slowly disappeared until only the star-dusted trail remained. Then even the twinkling path faded from sight, gradually absorbed by the invading black of oblivion. Uncertain of where their blind steps were guiding them, they felt the easy slope grow uneven with regular rises. The distinguishable nature of a flight of stairs formed and a point of luminescence beyond in the distance blighted the shadow with its gentle glow.
"Is that it?" Kagome asked as the light emitted by the doorway reflected across the horizontal lines of the steps before it. "Are we free?"
"Hn," the tai youkai snorted and then with a faint sniff, he barely discernibly shook his head. "The fragrance of scent remains lost. We are still imprisoned."
"But we completed all seven fairytales, didn't we?"
A reply of agreeing silence answered her question and they slowly continued toward the waiting portal. Clean and inviting, the warmth of sunlight radiated from it and with a hushed rumbling in the air, the dulled thunder of ocean waves filled their ears. Releasing the miko's hand, Sesshoumaru touched the strangely tangible frame that bordered the entrance, his fingers gliding over the smooth nothingness and then without further thought, he passed through the light. Any trepidation that bound her vanished as the demon disappeared and Kagome hurriedly followed him into the mysterious brilliance.
The clap of polished wood met her elegant sandals and the familiar painted murals and ornate lamps that warmed the walls with a golden radiance then met her sight. They had returned to where it had all began.
"We're in the pagoda?" she wondered aloud, strolling toward the inked lines on rice paper that depicted a lively scene of brave Momotaro leading his band of animal companions toward victory.
Lifting the flat board of wood barring the exit at the end of the room, the tai youkai set the plank down and then pushed the double doors open. Cool drafts of the sea breeze buffeted against him, whipping at his ample sleeves and gathering locks of his silver hair. A dizzying distance below, the shimmering expanse of ocean welcomed his amber gaze with rippling teal waters illuminated by a divided sky, one half brightened by the verve of sunlight and the other by the serenity of moonlight. Drifting lazily on the wind, scattered puffs of clouds shared both sides, the innocuous remnants of the menacing storm that once swallowed the heavens with its vaporous nightmares.
"It's gone," Kagome remarked, stepping beside him to marvel at the surreal sky that was neither day nor night. "The god of storms has been defeated?"
"Perhaps," the demon lord replied, "When I encountered the monk in the last tale, he told me of the importance of the sun and the moon within the scroll. Whether by intent or by guilt, Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi affected this realm with their divinity and gave its prisoners hope for a future beyond the scroll. As a result, pairs of travelers were permitted entrance, one who represented the sun and the other the moon."
"We're the gods?"
"Mere symbols of the gods at best, miko."
"I know that," she huffed mildly, "But, if you say that Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi brought hope for a future beyond the scroll then are we meant to free them? To break them out of the prison of morality?"
"Hn. That would be a feat grander than either of us could dream of accomplishing. In a tall forest of giants, I alone am nothing more than a sapling and you perhaps amount to little more than moss."
"If powerful beings such as Lord Shiro and Kushinada-hime cannot free themselves of their perpetual torment, how can ones as lowly as us accomplish it for them? How can we defeat the wishes of a god?"
"Then why do we give them hope for freedom?"
"We bear witness to their trials," he elaborated, spying down at the earnest look of school girl beside him, "The sun goddess and the moon god fractured the magic binding this painted world, but our venturing into it connects the inhabitants not only with each other, but with the reality they had lost so long ago. To know that you are not alone in your suffering and that there is a place beyond the walls that chain you here is an invigorating truth. We do not give them hope as much as we are their hope."
Having absorbed enough of the impossible scenery to grant him satisfaction, Sesshoumaru returned through the open doors, leaving Kagome to contemplate the depth of his words alone. Leaning forward, she rested her forearms shrouded in navy silk and laden with firerat fur on the rail and absently gazed over the sprawling sea. Her regrettable accident in entrapping herself and the tai youkai through ignorance had done an inexplicable amount of good when trouble seemed the only result. Who she was when she first saw the churning waves of the ocean beneath her seemed like the faded memory of a person who only appeared to resemble her. How she had grown over their brief stay, leaving the idealistic girl behind on the aged paper of the scroll so that she could soon emerge as the wiser woman she had become.
With a refreshed sigh and a pleased smile, she turned from the fantastic sight and re-entered the building that stood as an immovable pillar against the rolling waves breaking at its foundation. Concentrating on a flat plate of pewter-toned metal, the youkai lord traced a clawed finger over the harsh cuts that etched the smooth surface.
"What is it?" the school girl asked as she approached, unexpectedly missing the gentle glow her skin had held in the previous tale and its tendency to illuminate everything around her.
"The renku poem," Sesshoumaru answered distantly and then continued to move his lips faintly as he read the familiar lines silently. Pressing in close at his side, she too joined him.
Ink glides across skin
Shifting symbols part a way
Darkness swallows two
Black water breaks upon wood
Shells sing shelter within wind
Hidden from the sky
Brave through storm the sun and moon
Seeking the before
Distant tales seven there are
Battle cries and wishes scorned
The bear challenges
Boy of golden will and strength
Trees hold victory
Danger mounts seeking your lives
Bird nor insect will give peace
Great journey begins
Rowing to your destiny
Seek house of glory
Tiny voice echoing pride
Hand of princess you do find
A bandit slices
A hidden needle stabs fear
A mallet grants hope
Dog white as snow honors love
Envy black as ash steals all
From tree grinds lost life
Broken to ash it returns
Dust renews Earth's grace
Dying beauty blooms once more
A stained heart may not follow
A lord judges all
Kindness honors the faithful
Evil honors none
A bridge laden with serpent
Only the fearless may pass
A king without hope
His children stolen by night
A hero must choose
A palace beneath the waves
Of white marble and crystal
Fiery eyes wait
Slipping down from the mountains
Kiss of arrow slays
A turtle in jeopardy
A fisherman with kindness
Journey to the sea
A princess awaits her love
Timeless in her keep
Land will not wait for him
Many suns and moons will pass
A box of secrets
Who will bear its gift within?
A choice must be made
Bobbing along a peach floats
Sweet for bitter it is caught
In the hands of love
A proud boy bursts from the pit
Growing tall and strong
Evil ogres rob the land
To their island they retreat
His allies are three
Dog, monkey and pheasant
Conquer beyond sea
Lonely bamboo cutter cuts
A brilliant light reveals
Tiny princess wakes
To his home she is welcomed
Her beauty unmatched
Knights assemble for her hand
Impossible gifts are sought
An emperor's lust
Messenger of moon rescues
Fly home in the night
Seven fairy tales have passed
Their heroes and villains played
The way of the land
The strength and might of the small
The pride of a dog
The peace of a dragon king
The lonely heart of the sea
The value of friends
The faith lent by the waiting
Final words remain
"I hadn't realized there were so many," Kagome remarked once she finished, astonishment whispering her voice.
"And it is not complete," he added, his thin eyebrows furrowing in mild consternation. "If you recall our much earlier discussion, most renku poems are typically thirty-six stanzas in length and this one only amounts to thirty-three."
"So, we're short by three stanzas?"
"Final words remain," the demon repeated the last line aloud and then as a thought snared in his mind, he glanced down at the priestess and frowned slightly, "Perhaps we are meant to finish it on our own."
"Finish it? We write our own lines?"
"This poem is not meant for the inhabitants of this prison since we are the ones meant to seek each plaque and to collect each verse. It would only be fitting that we be the ones to complete it."
"If that's true, what do we say? What do we write?"
"Such thoughts are best mulled, miko. Considering the events and quests we have accomplished together and the nature of the prose, how would you prefer to conclude it?" The flickering of lamplight danced along the ornate walls and across the beautiful wood floors as they stood together quietly, the school girl lost in her contemplations and the tai youkai patiently awaiting her solution.
"If this poem is meant for us," she replied after a moment, a revelation brightening her puzzled expression with a satisfying answer, "I think the end should be about us."
"As it should," he warmly agreed, his pleasant tone reflecting her anticipated and secretly favored response. "Since it has been decided, shall we begin… the end?"
Another sojourn from spoken thought permeated the air with only the muted crush of breaking waves filling the silence. With his lines being the most recently uttered, it meant that she was the next one to speak. Before, it had been so much easier when she only had to decipher a few characters of archaic kanji, but now she had to create the first verses that would ultimately lead to their long desired freedom. A myriad of words filtered through her mind, mingling together and forming combinations before being broken up and discarded by the embarrassing notion of speaking them out loud to the discriminating demon beside her. A nervous sigh heaving her chest, she finally settled on her stanza and with the expectations of success or failure brimming, she began.
"Boldness traded for restraint," Kagome recited hesitantly, her sepia sight watching the youkai lord's placid countenance for likely disapproval. Surprisingly, she encountered none and so she continued on with strengthening nerve. "A girl becomes a woman." Catching her notice as they glittered in a bright blue, the neat lines of skillfully written kanji appeared on the metal plate, each stroke drawn by an invisible painter until the ending syllable of her verses was written. An enthused smile broadened on her face and she looked back at the youkai lord in time to catch his mild smirk.
"Shame traded for pride," Sesshoumaru began, mimicking her style before diverting into his own. "Sacrifice is rewarded. By trust and passion." As it was spoken, his words were inscribed onto the metal like hers, the glimmering light swelling with every line.
"Our roles end with the tale. Together we soon depart."
The final verse written, the blue radiance then illuminated the room with its brilliance, drowning out the amber hues of the lamps as it swiftly spread to encompass the entire plate. A rolling tremble grew next, vibrating throughout the space to the floor beneath their feet. Brighter threads of cracks slowly fractured the metal, creeping along its surface as it drew a many-veined web. Suddenly with a showering burst, the panel exploded, sending hot sprays of molten sparks everywhere. Harmless to the touch, the droplets of light collided violently against the travelers as their shattering revealed the dark opening of a portal where the metal once stood. Wafting into his nostrils, the oddly mixed scents of an open field and the old dampness of a cave drifted from the doorway.
"Is it over?" the school girl asked with a hushed voice, noticing his long and pleased sniffs. "Is it time for us to go our separate ways? To go back to the way we once were with each other?"
With the tickling grace of nails ghosting over her cheek, a warm hand found her jaw and tilted her gaze up to meet the coolness of his golden sight. Leaning forward, soft lips parted her ebony bangs to press against her forehead in a gentle kiss. Eyes glossing with the telling weight of his act, Kagome knew it was over without a single word mentioned and secreted deep within her heart, a buried piece of her mourned the loss she would soon feel. Sensing shuddering breaths quaking beneath his touch, the tai youkai leaned back to spy the salty tears that slipped down her face.
"We will always have the memory, miko," he consoled, stroking her cheek softly with his thumb, "And that we will never lose. The strength of our bond goes beyond the divide between humans and demons. Beyond the notions of love and family. It will not fade with time or distance and it will be forever ours. These tears are spent wastefully for something that cannot be lost."
"I know," she answered, a renewed smile gracing her lips with his kindly given reassurance. "And I will cherish it for as long as I live. Even though I feel sad now, I think that deep down I'm crying because I'm happy. Happy that I foolishly read that stupid scroll and trapped us here and that we shared this place together."
"So am I."
The chill of his loss cooled on her empty cheek as he stepped away and then with an unsurpassable confidence that only he carried, the tai youkai stepped into the darkness and vanished from sight. Pivoting on her heel, the school girl tarried a moment longer to slowly look over the ornate room one last time. Then with a sure nod, she followed him through and disappeared as well.
Swaying lazily under the caress of a summer breeze, reaching wisps of grass swept back and forth, eclipsing the glare of the blinding, white sun nestled in a pale blue sky above. The demon lord lay mesmerized by the hypnotic flow, his reclined figure dappled by the blue shadows cast by the fluttering, green blades overhead. Nearby, a familiar, nervous squawk suddenly disrupted the relative tranquility of his state, rousing the youkai lord to finally sit up. Peering over the even waves of the grass field and across the narrow strip of the dirt road he had traversed upon in what seemed to be ages ago; he spied the tan scales of his twin-headed mount and the sunny hues of his ward sitting patiently under the shade of a few pine trees.
"Rin!" the voice yelled again, harsh and desperate for authority. "Stay put! We must await Lord Sesshoumaru's return and you cannot be wandering off."
"But, Jaken-sama," the young girl objected with a pout and then whispered her reason, "I need to go use a bush."
"Hn. Very well, but do not go far."
"Jaken-sama," she giggled in reply, bending down to pat the head of the toad-like youkai, his diminutive body concealed by the stunted clumps of grass at her feet. "You're so cute when you act like Sesshoumaru-sama."
"Am I?" he asked, a bit of rosiness staining his cheeks before he puffed out his chest in attempt to appear unfazed by her compliment, "I have been his advisor for many years now. It would only be natural for us to resemble each other at this point."
An unexpected, sharp pain struck the little demon's skull with the force of its cause sending him pathetically to the dusty ground. A ruffled string of abrupt squawks plagued the air and Jaken scrambled to his delicate, bird-like feet.
"Rin get back!" he ordered next as he grabbed The Staff of Heads from its rest against a fallen tree. "In lieu of Lord Sesshoumaru's presence, I must protect us as he would!" Twisting the innocuous looking carving of the old man toward the perceived direction of his assault, the toad readied himself for battle. Once hard with undertones of anxiety, his grim expression abruptly lightened to wordless shock as he swiftly discovered who had indeed struck him. Tossing a few pebbles in the air as he strode towards them, the white, black and red figure of the tai youkai casually approached his followers as if he had simply departed but a few hours earlier.
"Sesshoumaru-sama!" Rin called out cheerfully, stepping out from behind the safety of a gnarled, tree trunk to run toward her guardian and then collided with him in an unprecedented embrace. Mildly perplexed by the determined child hugging his thigh, the youkai lord dropped the stones to awkwardly stroke her on the crown of her brunette head.
"I have returned, Rin," he informed her gently, feeling the wetness of her tears seeping through the heavy silk of his pants. "There is no further need for concern."
"Good," she mumbled with her small arms still wrapped tightly around his leg while she shamelessly soaked up his rarely given affection.
Still frozen in place, Jaken stared on in disbelief of the long-awaited return of their master. Quirking a brow, Sesshoumaru examined his subordinate's stunned look, reading the uncertainty and shock painted so effectively there.
"How long was I absent, Jaken?" he asked, the commanding baritone of his voice jarring the little youkai from his amazed silence.
"Seven suns, my lord," he blurted out and then hastily dropped the staff he still had aimed for fiery wrath. "You have been gone for seven days."
"I see. And you have been guarding Rin and my possessions well in that time?"
"Good job," the demon lord complimented, inadvertently reverting the toad demon back into his motionless state of incredulity. A faint smile found Sesshoumaru's lips with the refreshingly silent reaction of his retainer and the tai youkai discovered that the earned pride he had come to accept in his life would quite acceptably replace the shame that had long resided there.
The cool feel of soft soil chilled Kagome's body and she opened her eyes to the dimly lit rock of the ceiling overhead. Bewildered by the worn features of the naturally eroded stone, she laid still in thoughtful absorption as she tried to determine exactly where she was. A moment earlier she had stepped through the darkness and felt the disorienting sensation of her body disintegrating as she evaporated into nothingness. Gone for so long that she hadn't even known to miss it, scent had returned to the air, bringing her the pungent odor of damp earth. And with it, the rush of reality flooded her puzzled mind.
"I'm in the cave!" she exclaimed and sat up abruptly. Discarded beside a deep hole and a high pile of dirt, was the rotted chest that the hanyou had fervently unearthed when they had first arrived, cementing her conclusion with proof. "Inuyasha. Inuyasha!"
Silence meeting her eager calls, the school girl clambered unsteadily to her feet and took her first shaky steps toward the bright rays of sunlight marking the exit. Then the sound of her name met her ears and an irresistible grin spread to meet her cheeks.
"I'm here, Inuyasha!"
"I'm comin', Kagome!" a rough, masculine voice yelled and then a half-demon-shaped shadow filled in the light. "Kagome!" Astonishment and worry etching his smudged and tanned face, Inuyasha swept in and without a whisper of warning, he hugged her tightly.
"I'm sorry," she murmured apologetically, welcoming the warmth and zeal of his embrace as she too held him close. "I didn't mean to make you worry."
"I'm jus' glad you're back," he said quietly, "When you disappeared, I thought you were gone forever." Taking in a deep breath, he steeped his nostrils in her sweet scent and then took several short snorts as the unexpected and rather shocking odor of another seemed mixed with hers. Through heavy firerat fur, the school girl felt a pervading tenseness stiffen the sinewy muscles of his back and she leaned back to find his troubled, golden eyes.
"What's wrong, Inuyasha?"
"Why do you smell like him?" he asked, an inescapable gravity weighing his voice. "Why do you smell like Sesshoumaru?"
"The scroll," she reassured with a kind smile when she spied the root of his concern. "When I spoke the lines of poetry, I trapped him with me in the scrolls that we both had. We've spent what seems like an eternity traveling together. That's all."
"Oh," he replied, his dark brows still furrowed with consternation as he freed his hand to trace the scabbed scrape that marred her cheek, "He didn' hurt you or nothin', did he?"
"No, no. The Dragon King did that. Not Sesshoumaru."
"Later. I want to tell you later, but for now, there's nothing to worry about," she soothed, too exhausted and desperate for the comfort of his existence to explain her adventure to him any further, "Right now, I want to go home. How long have I been gone?"
"Seven days," he answered and as his nails tickled the bare flesh of her back, leaving Kagome to swiftly determine that in all this time since she had reappeared, why she felt abnormally cold.
"I'm naked?!" she shouted in dismay, her cheeks blushing darkly to rapidly match his as he too arrived at the same conclusion.
"I didn' know," he blurted out loud in his weakly supported defense, "I jus' heard your voice and ran in. I didn' even notice that you were naked."
"How could you not notice?"
"What do you mean how could I not notice? You're the one walkin' around naked!"
"All of you men are the same," she accused vehemently, "Whether I'm naked or you're the ones who are naked. It's always no big deal!"
"Look, if you don' want us to look, then don' go walkin' around naked! It's your own damn fault! And what do you mean by men?"
"That's it," she seethed, a frightening look glinting in her eyes that only meant one word and the hanyou winced in dreadful anticipation. "Osu--" Then she caught her tongue and the spell went unspoken, allowing the menacing rosary that hung loosely around his neck to remain dormant in its original intent. Instead, she hugged him close one last time and then released the perplexed hanyou as she smiled at him genuinely. "It's all right. I'm not blaming you. I'm just mad at myself for losing my clothes, but I won't be angry about it anymore and I won't take it out on you."
"Kagome-chan?!" a young woman called out between ragged breaths, "Kagome, are you back?"
"Sango-chan?!" the school girl answered, looking past the dumbfounded half-demon to the relieved taijiya as she entered the cave with a monk and a kitsune fast on her heels.
"Kagome!" Shippou cried out, tears welling in his eyes at her welcomed sight as he bounded forward and scrambled up Inuyasha's back to leap into her arms. "I thought you were never coming back."
"I'm back, so don't worry, okay? I'm here and I'm staying. Are you all right, Sango-chan?"
"We were in the nearby village when Inuyasha took off without a word. We thought it could only have been for you," the taijiya explained her breathlessness before mild shock filtered into her voice. "Where are you clothes, Kagome-chan?"
"See, she noticed."
"I didn't," Miroku remarked coolly between his equally tired breaths, maintaining a wise distance from both women as they sent skeptical glares in his direction. "It is good to have you back with or without raiment, Kagome-sama."
"Right… So, where is my bag?"
Emerging from the cave, the school girl stepped out adorned in her set of faded yellow, pajamas, the only clothing she had in her bag. Slung over her shoulder, the tattered bulge of her backpack hung and draped conspicuously over her forearm was the brilliant red of a pelt of firerat fur.
"What is that?" the kitsune asked with wonderment as he approached. Reaching up as she lowered her arm down so that he could feel it, he ran his tiny fingers over the short nap. "It's just like Inuyasha's clothes."
"I think it's from the same place," she remarked, glancing up to spy the puzzled look of the hanyou a few paces away. There was so much to tell and equally so much that was only for her to remember. Not out of shame or guilt, but for the fact that there were intimate events in life that meant something only to those who experienced it. Others would just not understand.
"What are you going to do with it?"
"With the color, maybe I should think about having some appropriate clothes to match the priestess I'm slowly becoming."
"Yeah?" he answered quietly, unsure of the perpetually confusing information she seemed to be continuing and inadvertently spouting.
"I'm ready to go home."
"Right now?" Shippou asked petulantly, sorrow drowning in his aquamarine eyes at their reunion being cut so short.
"I'm tired, Shippou-chan. I just want to go home and sleep for a few days. I'll be back soon. I promise this time. Nothing will keep me away from you. Not even a god."
Satisfied with the indelible strength of her assurance, the little fox released his grip on the fur and reluctantly hopped toward the comfort of the taijiya's arms to soothe his concern. Crouching down as he turned to face away from her, Inuyasha waited for the slight weight of her body. Wrapping her arms around his shoulders, the school girl gripped his chest with open hands as she clasped against him while he hooked his fingers under her bent knees for support. Power welled into the muscles of his legs; a moment later he sprang away into the dense forest with her tightly secured to his back.
The dappled sunlight filtered through the branches above, leaving brilliant designs on the impossibly white mane that waved be her cheek. Brief in her thoughts, the coarse, tangled hair seemed out of place, as if it was meant to be silkier with a silvery shimmer, but as it continued to brush against her skin, she gradually forgot the other, leaving it to be secreted away into her memories.
"I'm different now. What happened in the scroll changed me."
"I like it," he whispered, drawing a smile from her with his quietly spoken approval.
"So do I. But…"
"I don't want to hide anymore. Our search for the shikon shards. Our fight with Naraku. No matter what, I'm a part of it and I won't let you leave me on the sidelines, even when it's the most dangerous. But even as I won't allow that, I'm not going to be a fool either. I just want us to finish this together."
"Always. Always together."
Worn and splintered, a desolate hovel stood, threatening to crumble to its cracked foundation under the grace of the emaciated breeze. Surrounded by the papery ribbons of dried grass having never tasted the reviving hail of rain, its porch lay with sun-bleached boards lining it. His head resting comfortably on his paws, a white dog dozed, an undefeatable contentment matching the canine smile lining his muzzle. Suddenly the animal's broad head perked up, his pointed ears curving toward a foreign sound invading the empty air while his golden eyes scanned the rise of the hill that concealed its source front of him. Curled tail wagging without a thought given to it, the dog gathered himself up to sit.
"It's your fault!"
"Why is your misfortune and inability to dodge a kiss my responsibility?"
"I wasn' talkin' about that!"
"Hn," the deeper voice snorted. "I see."
"Hey, why are you smilin'?"
"I am not smiling. I do not smile. What is your grievance if not for the kiss?"
"It's your fault that she hit me after that. You were runnin' around in her clothes when she was dressin' and she thought it was me!"
"The princess was in need of assistance and it seemed an innocent enough activity. Would you have rather have done it?"
"Whatever," the gruffer, lighter voice replied, swiftly changing the subject. "I can't believe I agreed to do this with you anyway. I shoulda said no. Why did I listen to Kagome?"
"I must concur with your conclusion, but had we not gone then the fruits of my seemingly eternal and eventually successful battle against your indomitable illiteracy would have been pointless."
"And why do you always have to use big words, huh? Sometimes I think you make half of 'em up. Speak normal for once."
"The miko must be dealt with once we return for her insistence that we do this together.
"Immediately when we return."
"So, where are we now?"
"We are presently in the tale of The Old Man Who Made Withered Trees Bloom."
"This is the one, isn' it? With him?"
"I don' understand. If I'm meant to meet him, shouldn' I have taken your role and you mine? You've already done this, right?"
"It would have been more appropriate, yes. However, further on, I do not intend to spend three hundred years waiting for you on a speck of an island."
"Do not despair. You have previous experience with spending egregious amounts of time in one place. I doubt this time it will be an issue especially since you will have the opportunity to move."
"I believe you are the bastard. Besides, the sacrifice of a few years is a fine trade since I will be inevitably avoiding the embarrassment of being the moon child that will occur later on."
"We are here."
Blending with the pale tones of the washed out sky and gray dirt of the earth, the two brothers approached the small house. Waiting patiently, the white dog panted, his pink tongue lolling from his jaws and his wagging tail dusting the ancient wood it sat upon.
"That's him?" Inuyasha asked incredulously, pointing at the animal in disbelief. "That little dog is my great-grandsire? That's Shiro?"
"Lord Shiro," the tai youkai corrected, sending a knowing glance toward old demon lord.
"But, he's so little."
"You will see soon. You will see."
A/N: And so it ends. Thank you to all who have been patiently reading my story over the past year and ten months. It really has been a journey for not only our two travelers but for me as well. To be honest, in this moment, I cannot believe it is truly completed, but it is and I am both pleased and saddened. I must also express my sincere gratitude to all those who have reviewed and enjoyed this tale of fiction. Your comments have helped me greatly with not only enthusiasm to see this all the way through, but as guides to improve my storytelling with every chapter typed. I have another story that I will be posting this summer, so for those who are interested, keep an eye out for Devour Prometheus.