Okay, I would officially like to apologise for taking thins long with the next chapter. It's just that the last few months have been very hectic for me, what with college applications, SAT exams and a computer breakdown. But, hey, I got accepted in the good ol' USA! So, now I should have more time to write. I just couldn't get in the right mood before now. So, I would like to thank all of you for being patient with me and waiting. I hope I never take this long in updating again. Now, read on, faithful minions!...Er, I mean readers! Yeah, readers...

Chapter 6

The years following Ryuukotsusei's invasion and the Inutaisho males' direct involvement on the battlefield were tense, to say the least. Time seemed to have adopted the habit of moving excruciatingly slowly, one dreadful day after the other. The remaining members of the House of Inutaisho would greet each new morning with heavy hearts, trudging through their daily routine automatically, absentmindedly, and go to bed every night, desperately hoping to somehow awake from the nightmare.

The war hadn't escalated into anything more than short, albeit fierce skirmishes and stalemates under the disguise of negotiations, and even that hadn't reached the magnificent castle in the heart of Shimoharu's territory in a form other than rumors and wild guesses. And maybe that's exactly what made it all so nerve-wracking. There was no certain way to know for sure what exactly was going on at the borders. Messengers were scarce as it was, and when one did manage to reach the castle, it was usually to ask for supplies or reinforcements, although the indirect tactics employed so far would more often than not cause need of the former. It all lead to sometimes months on end of frustrating anxiety.

Miaka had become a pale shadow of her former self. Her previously warm, shining golden eyes had become dull and lifeless, usually outlined by dark bags indicating lack of sleep. Her beautiful silver hair had lost much of its sheen. The grace and regality that had seemed an inseparable part of her persona had given way to a slightly more tired and rigid walk.

The youkai living on the grounds of the castle could clearly see their mistress' depression. Her beloved mate and son were out there, after all, facing all sorts of unknown dangers every day. And although the three other demon lords had joined her men on their campaign, she couldn't help but wonder if the next messenger would be the one to bring her the worst of news weeks if not months after the unfortunate event. The fact that she was completely helpless in the face of death scared her to no end.

Kai himself hadn't been fairing much better, even though he tried to hide it for Miaka's sake. The kitsune suspected that he was the only thing left keeping her sanity whole and intact. Kai knew perfectly well that Miaka thought of him as her second cub, and the feeling was reciprocated hundredfold, there was no doubt there. It was hard though, very much so. With the rest of the inu demoness' family gone, she had latched onto him, in a way. All her motherly feelings and instincts were focused solely on him. He had felt suffocated on more than one occasion, but he loved her too much to really mind; her emotions were brittle enough as it was. So, he sucked up his own misery and tried to be there for her, to be strong for her.

That isn't to say he had had an easy time with reconciling his feelings for his Maru's departure. Days after the taiyoukai and his son had first set off, he hadn't left his forests. He had slept there, he had hunted there, he had lived there, and he had thought there. When he'd finally emerged, seven days and six nights later, he'd been tired, cold, hungry and determined.

He'd thrown himself into his lessons, for once serious about more than just weapons and combat training. In the face of so many changes (ones more often tragic than not), the kitsune's teachers had been more than a bit surprised. Whereas before Kai would use every opportunity to skip his more mundane subjects, now he showed a single-minded focus somewhat bordering on obsession. His eyes never wavered, the determined glint in them hard as steel and his face rarely set in anything but fierce concentration. It astounded many of his senseis; they'd been trying to get the young demon to show such serious behavior for years now with little to no success. The fox had kept up a stubborn wall of mischievous boredom (not a good combination at all), a constant contrast to Sesshoumaru's more serious, studious persona. It all baffled the confused teachers to no end (well, all except Misarashi-sensei that is; Kai had always loved his weapons classes).

Kai knew perfectly well what had gotten into him though. He had decided, while on his voluntary stint in the woods, that there hadn't been anything he could have done to stop neither Sesshomaru nor Shimoharu from leaving. He hadn't been able to protect his precious people from going into a dangerous situation; he felt that he'd failed them somehow. And especially Miaka, the woman who'd been the closest thing to a mother he'd known in his short life. He hadn't been able to do anything to stop the circles under her eyes from deepening, the slouch in her posture from becoming more apparent with every day, and he despised himself for it, despised his weakness. So he'd decided to change that. He'd grow stronger, become a more dangerous opponent, someone who knew how to defend what was important to them.

His Maru had always told him that knowledge was power. That a good tactician, a good leader, a good warrior should constantly keep that in mind, because realizing that an enemy had a weaker defense on their left side was just as important as knowing how to land the finishing blow on that same side. He'd laughed his over-serious friend off at the time, claiming that no amount of knowledge would save a scholar from even an ordinary thief armed with a sharp knife. He wasn't so sure of that now. If they had known of Ryuukotsusei's gathering forces before the cursed dragon demon had pillaged his first village, they would have been able to get rid of the threat before it had even grown into one. Instead, the newly formed tribe had been left to expand and thrive in peace, like a poison mushroom gnawing at the roots of a great oak. Sesshoumaru would have been safe.

Drowning his grief and anger into his lessons kept Kai's mind from the self-destructive (and, though he didn't realize it, misplaced) guilt that otherwise would have plagued him. He'd thrown all of his considerable cunning and intelligence into gaining strength that he felt would help him in his goals. The only thing keeping him going was the thought that once good enough, once powerful enough, he'd join Shimoharu and his heir on the battlefield, help and defend them to the best of his abilities, with the last breath of air in his body, and bring them back safe and sound. Until then, he'd stay with Miaka and do everything in his power to ease her pain; to protect her at least in that sense.

Now, years after that life-changing decision, he glided confidently through the silent and deserted halls of the castle of House Inutaisho, his gait smooth and silent. The time spent on little else than rigorous training and honing of his natural instincts had changed more than the kitsune's mentality.

A swish of silk was the only sound he made while he moved with a fluid grace, every part of his body in harmony with the rest. He hadn't gotten much taller by demon standards, but that was normal for his clan. The modest five feet twenty didn't take away any of the subtle danger he emitted though. His lithe, sleek physique spoke of an acrobat's agility and lightning speed. Six tails swirled and curled around that elegant body, silver tips gleaming in the faint beams of sunlight. Beneath the long sleeves of the dark purple, almost black silk haori, peaked deceptively delicate fingers tipped with razor sharp claws that glittered ominously. The matching hakama flowed down the long legs, revealing a pair of small, bare feet with every step.

As exquisitely beautiful as the body was though, it wasn't what really caught the attention of anyone seeing the owner for the first time.

Kai had never cut his hair in the years following his Maru's departure. As a result of this, the glossy raven tresses now hung in a thick braid all the way to his upper thighs. The rope of silky hair flicked this way and that, sometimes brushing the silver tips of his tails. A few errand strands escaped the confines of the sleek braid and framed a delicate, heart-shaped face.

Thin eyebrows the same dark shade as the braid, were arched above a set of what seemed to be jaded emeralds extracted directly from Mother Earth's womb, bright and shining with an inner light. The green irises were interrupted only by a slit black pupil, giving the kitsune a wickedly impish look, and a few silver flecks here and there. Thick black eyelashes surrounded those incredible eyes, finishing off the undeniably sensuous picture. Below that were a straight, small nose and a pair of plump, soft morsels of flesh, the lower lip being a little fuller than the upper, giving the impression of a constant pout.

The entire masterpiece was painted on a canvas of flawless, golden bronzed skin that stretched down the arch of a slim neck to disappear under the folds of a smoky grey juban, an obi of the same color winding around the slim waist. The only disruptions visible on that satiny skin were three thick black lines that stretched along the cheeks to disappear in the hairline right before the delicately pointed ears, and a thin, almost faded scar in the peculiar shape of a lightning bolt on the partially open forehead.

Kai's physique had once promised to grow into the embodiment of sin and dark beauty. It had held true to its promise. Had the kitsune not been too absorbed by his studies and self-appointed duty of guardian to Miaka, he would have noticed the awed and often times lust-glazed looks youkai and humans alike had been throwing his way. An oversight on his usually observant part, no doubt.

But the oblivious shadow fox never had been one to think twice about what others thought of him. He had his goals set ahead of him and nothing else mattered in his mind.

Still, the kitsune seemed unusually distracted on that fine midsummer day. His feet moved as if on auto-pilot, covering the painfully familiar path to a certain dog demon lord's office. A rather irritating unease had been gnawing at him all day, ever since the arrival of the rather unexpected messenger. Kai had the feeling that whatever the rather pale and haggard looking crow demon had had to say wouldn't be good news.

Since, in the absence of her mate, Miaka was in charge of the entire household, she had been the one to receive the messenger. The mistress of the House of Inutaisho and the crow demon had been holed up in Shimoharu's office for hours. The rather exhausted looking messenger had slipped out of the room only minutes ago, but there was still no trace of Miaka. Kai 's unease had grown. He knew perfectly well that the silver haired inu youkai hid nothing from him, especially concerning the war, so he had been expecting a summons right after the meeting. But none had come.

Finally, the half-lidded emerald eyes came back in focus as Kai found himself in front of the modest shoji door beyond which was the absent Shimoharu's office. Taking a shaky breath in an attempt to squash down the rising anxiety, the shadow fox knocked lightly on the frame and slid the screen open without bothering to bother for an invitation. Stepping into the dimly lit room, he called out, voice so much deeper and smoother than six years ago.

"Miaka?"

For a moment, there was no answer. Then, a quiet rustle of cloth, undetectable to the normal year, attracted his attention. Turning his head in the direction of the sound, he found himself staring at a pair of dull golden eyes, seemingly glowing softly in the semi-darkness.

"Kai, my beloved…"

The whispered words sounded so hoarse and strained that the fox immediately knew his anxiety had been there for a reason. In a few quick strides, Kai was in front of the distressed form of the demoness, kneeling on a cushion and taking the fragile looking hand in his own. Miaka's skin seemed paler than ever, definitely unhealthily so, and the dark circles under her almost hysterically frantic eyes were a sharp contrast to her overall pallor. Her hands were cold and clammy. Her gaze was directed at him, but she didn't seem to be actually seeing him. Kai was on the verge of hyperventilating, he was so worried now, but managed to keep his expression calm by sheer force of will alone. That messenger had most certainly not been carrying good news.

"Miaka, you didn't summon me."

He tried to break her out of whatever trance she seemed to be in, and was proud to note his voice didn't tremble like he was afraid it would. He wasn't worried for himself, far from it. It was Miaka's fragile mental state that had his insides shaking. She couldn't take more than she was already dealing with. The constant stress put on her shoulders was more than enough, the slightest bit of additional strain could break her, and he knew it.

His calm voice and demeanor seemed to reach her and after a moment her eyes lost the glazed look and focused instead on him.

"No…No I didn't, did I?" She still sounded a bit distracted, but the next moment she clutched his hands back tightly and bore her suddenly intense eyes into his "Always be by my side, beloved., understand? Never leave me, Kai. Do you hear me? Never!"

Kai drew slightly back, taken by surprise. Where had that come from? Nevertheless, he didn't avert his gaze and spoke calmly and determinedly.

"Never, Miaka, you know that." He could tell it calmed her a bit, so he continued, determined to find out what had brought this on. Miaka hadn't been this afraid of being left alone for years now, ever since Sesshoumaru and Shimoharu had been gone for about a year "Now can you tell me what exactly happened? Something has upset you greatly, I can see that."

The silver haired demoness sighed, her shoulders once again drooping warily, and gave him a wan smile.

"Nothing ever goes unnoticed by you, does it, Kai-kun?"

The kitsune gave a tiny smirk at that. She hadn't called him that in a very long time, not since before he had gained his third tail. But she was trying to distract him. Silly thing that, didn't she know he was a fox? He wasn't that easily fooled. So he made sure to bring that fact to her attention.

"Nice try, Miaka-sama," He taunted her lightly, using the suffix that he had once heard a few of the servants in the castle add to her name and years ago mistakenly assumed he should as well "but you can't outsmart a kitsune that easily. Now tell me what's wrong. Does it have anything to do with whatever it was that messenger reported?"

He finished in a much more serious tone of voice, all traces of mirth now gone.

Miaka noticed this. She sighed tiredly to herself. Two of her beloved males were out somewhere, possibly fighting for their lives, and she hadn't even managed to protect the third. Kai was no longer her little Kai-kun, a tiny little kitsune cub, shy and suspicious of any and everything, and starved for affection at the same time. He had matured so much in such a short amount of time. Not that she had expected him to remain the same forever…Still she missed those days.

But right now she had an explanation to give and an anxious and worried kage kitsune to placate. Blinking back the memories of happier times, Miaka focused back on the present. She knew how much her Kai worried when her eyes glazed over like she was sure they had during her brief lapse back in time.

"It's nothing good, as I'm sure you already know." She began, and saw the fox's expression harden in preparation for the worst. Frowning, though she couldn't pretend she hadn't feared the same at first, she hurried to reassure him "No, no, beloved. Our men are alive." She didn't bother to say they were 'fine' (they both knew nobody could be fine during a war), and Kai lost a miniscule amount of the tension in his muscles "It's simply…"

Seeing Miaka bite her lip in hesitation, the shadow fox squeezed their still clasped hands tighter in reassurance. The dog demoness took a shaky, calming breath and shot him a grateful smile. Clearing her throat lightly, she continued.

"They're spread thin, Kai. Our forces are much fewer in number than Ryuukotsusei's. They were already having trouble with keeping it only to skirmishes at the borders, but it appears our enemies have allied themselves with a tribe of rogue wolf demons. The reports are more than discouraging." She paused to gather her thoughts and Kai waited for her next words with baited breath and an unpleasant clenching in the pit of his stomach "That wouldn't have been a problem if it weren't for the illness that has taken down most of the Northern Lord's troops, crippling our defenses. Shimoharu is currently helping fend off an attack on the Northern Lands' borders. The worst of the whole situation is that the news of Ryuukotsusei's new allies has not yet reached him and he thinks that he is presently engaging all of the enemy. He does not realize that in doing this, he has left most of the West open to attack, and we have no way of knowing how soon this will be taken advantage of. The Castle of the House of Inutaisho is the heart of our territory, as you very well know." She paused again and added in a hoarse whisper "It does not look good, beloved."

By the time Miaka was done, Kai's head was bowed, the shadows hiding his eyes from view. His mind was working furiously, calculating and scheming of possible scenarios and plans of action. He agreed with the silver haired dog demoness wholeheartedly; it did not look good. The castle's current population was made up of mostly servants and scholars, the few battle instructors aside. They had no way of defending themselves in the case of an all out assault. This did not discourage him though. He had promised himself, all those years ago. He would gladly die, before he gave up and let anything happen to Miaka.

He was brought out of his calculations of the castle walls' height and width by gentle fingers lifting his head by the chin.

"Kai?"

Seeing Miaka's worried gold eyes, he sat up straighter and took a deep, steadying breath. Looking straight in those soft, concerned eyes of hers, he felt a fierce new determination swell in his chest. This female was his to protect now. Shimoharu and Sesshoumaru expected it of him, and he would be damned if he let them down. He growled and clenched his fist so hard, his claws drew blood.

"I will not let anything happen to you, Miaka. I will protect you and the House of Inutaisho with my life. Let them come; I will feast on their flesh and blood before I let them set a single, disgraceful foot in your presence!" Remembering her earlier pleas, he repeated his answer "I will never leave your side."

Miaka could feel the moisture gathering in her eyes. Oh, her brave, beloved Kai. Brave and foolish. It was never about her! Never! She herself was the last person she was worried about. It was him. Always and forever, her pack would come first. She knew perfectly well how fiercely protective Kai had been of her in the absence of her mate and son. She was aware that he was ready and willing to give his life for her in a heartbeat, such was his loyalty. And frankly, it completely terrified her. It was frightening, to know she could inspire such intense feelings in someone and have them ready to throw themselves in the worst of fights just for her protection. And this was her beloved Kai she was thinking about. She couldn't bare the thought of loosing him to a reckless moment in the midst of battle. She should be protecting him, she was the alpha female of the pack, after all.

Letting out a half-choked sob, she threw her arms around his neck and buried her face in his chest. She could tell he was surprised at first, but there was no hesitation when his hands came up to wrap around her shaking form and pull her closer in the embrace. She didn't bother correcting him, she realized it was no use. As sad as it was, she knew he'd fight better if it was to protect her than himself; that was just the kind of person he was. And she had the bad feeling that they would all have to fight soon…

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It was a few nights later that that Miaka's feelings would find their ground. The days since the fated messenger's abrupt arrival had been filled with a tension that was slowly, but surely, grating on everyone's sanity. The few guards left in the castle had been taking double shifts, the servants had been doing their duties with a dagger or some other from of weaponry on them at all times, even the animals had been restless. And true to his word, Kai had not left Miaka's side for more than a minute.

It was now the night of the third day since the message of a possible enemy force headed their way had arrived. The atmosphere in the House of Inutaisho was particularly oppressive. Most of the servants had retired for the night since dinner had already passed, and the guards were doing their rounds, tense and wary of every little sound and shift in the wind. There was a full moon that night, but it was mostly covered by clouds. A few stars were shyly peaking now and then, but other than that, it was pitch dark.

Kai and Miaka were both sitting in Shimoharu's office having some tea before they retired for the night. They too felt the anxiety that permeated the air of the castle and sought some comfort in each other's presence and the safety of the Dog General's most favored workplace, even though the great inu youkai himself wasn't there.

Taking another sip of the calming green tea, Kai snuck a glance in Miaka's direction. He had taken to carrying his favorite pair of sai with him at all times preferring to be prepared, like most of the population of the castle. Miaka seemed calm right then, but he could see the subtle traces of her unease in the slight tension in her shoulders and the barely visible tightening of her soft lips.

"Is something wrong with the tea?" He asked at last, breaking the silence of the room.

Miaka looked up from her cup, slightly surprised at the unexpected question.

"No, it's perfectly fine, Kai. Why do you ask?"

Lifting his own cup to his mouth without drinking, he bore his silver-specked emerald eyes into her gold tinted ones.

"Because," He began calmly "its purpose is to relax. And it's obviously not working."

Miaka looked slightly taken aback, but then she just sighed and smiled a bit sadly.

"I should have known you'd notice, beloved. It is nothing to be worried about, simply the usual apprehension that seems so common nowadays taking its toll on me."

Kai frowned, displeased.

"It's more than that. Don't hide things from me, Miaka. I thought we were passed that."

"No, Kai, it really is nothing. It's just that tonight seems…"

She couldn't seem to be able to find the correct words to finish her thought. Seeing this, Kai gave her a little nudge.

"'Tonight seems…' what?"

"Different." Miaka finished with a quick exhalation of air. "Different."

Kai raised a slightly confused brow, but other than that didn't comment further. There wasn't anything to be said, really. He himself had thoughts and feelings he wouldn't be able to put into words for others to understand if his life depended on it.

They lapsed back into a comfortable silence, the green tea finally doing its job and relaxing them to the point that Miaka seemed to start getting a bit drowsy.

Chuckling softly to himself, Kai put his now almost cold cup on the low table between him and the silver-haired inu demoness and rose elegantly to his feet. Miaka just tilted her head and blinked a bit owlishly in his direction.

"Come on, Miaka. I think the stress has finally gotten to you. You need rest."

And with that, he bent down and scooped her into his arms. For such a fragile looking creature, he was stronger than most of the demons inhabiting the castle. Miaka didn't complain, too tired and drained to argue, and simply sighed contentedly and threw her arms around his neck to get herself more comfortable. Arranging the pale peach colored kimono of the female in his arms so its long sleeves wouldn't trip him, the kitsune smiled softly at her drowsy form and headed for the sliding shoji door of the office.

Right before he reached it, however, there was an ear-splitting explosion, and the very ground lurched under him. With a sharp intake of breath, Kai struggled to remain on his feet, tightening his hold on the now wide awake Miaka.

"Kai! What is happening?!"

The dog demoness sounded frantic, clutching his haori in her delicate fists with all her strength.

There was another explosion and another tremor of the earth, though this one seemed lighter.

"I don't know, Miaka." He growled out, roughly sliding open the shoji door with a foot and rushing into the hall, the female still securely clutched in his arms "But I'm going to find out."

By the time Miaka had taken his words in, they had reached her quarters. The moment she was put down on her own feet, she lunged forward and grabbed the already retreating Kai's wrist, her eyes wide and her entire body shaking.

"No!" She practically yelled, terrified "No you will not! You promised you wouldn't leave my side!"

She knew him. He'd go and do something reckless and stupid and probably get himself hurt, if not worse. She couldn't, wouldn't let another of her precious men go without a fight. Let him think he was protecting her, even if she had every intention of it being the other way around.

"Kai, you can't!" She almost sobbed out "Let the guards handle it, it's probably nothing"

The fox looked at her in indecision. Yes, he had promised he wouldn't leave her side, but he had also promised to not let a single intruder set a foot in her presence. And he had the bad feeling that this was caused by just that, intruders. They had arrived sooner than anyone had expected, true, but…

"I can't Miaka." He finally sighed out "I have to check this out. If you are right and it really is nothing, then there should be no problem, right?" He tried to placate the near hysterical female "But if it is…I vowed I would die before I let them near you."

Near the end, his voice had adopted a sharp edge, his impossibly green gaze blazing like cold fire.

That didn't serve to appease the almost hyperventilating inu youkai, however. Her grip on his wrist tightened further, and she screeched, desperate to keep him there.

"Don't you dare! Don't you dare say that! You will not…I will not…I will not allow you to leave me too, Kai! Beloved, please!"

His will was breaking at the heart wrenching scene, but he steeled his resolve and pried her grip off his hand.

"Miaka, I will not leave you! I will not, ever! But I promised…I have to make sure you are safe! And right now, with who knows what happening out there, your quarters are probably the safest place for you!"

With that, he pushed her into her room and froze the door in place with a touch of his hand and youki (a nifty little trick he'd picked up while exploring the different ways he could use his kind's power). It wouldn't keep her for long, but hopefully by the time she got out, whatever was causing the racket would have been taken care of.

He made his way to the castle grounds, his acute hearing picking up on the shouts and yells of the guards and few wake servants and the unmistakable clash of steel against steel. The explosions had finally stopped. He picked up his pace, his natural affinity allowing him to blend with the surrounding shadows perfectly.

He didn't encounter anyone in the deserted corridors, which lead him to believe that whoever the attacker was hadn't made it passed the guards at the main gates. That calmed his worries for Miaka's safety somewhat, but didn't stop his blood from starting to sing in his veins at the prospect of bloodshed, or the silver in his eyes from swirling and dancing. His natural instincts of a predator were rearing their head. A feral grin broke out on his face and the next moment his hands were twirling a pair of wicked looking sai. His tails swished behind him as he glided faster and faster in the direction the sounds of battle were coming from. His nose picked up the scent of blood and burnt flesh and wood and he practically howled in ecstasy as he burst out of the main doors of the castle and right in the middle of a mêlée of twisting, bleeding bodies and glinting, red stained metal, one of his favorite attacks preceding him by seconds.

He had been right. They were under attack, even if they hadn't been expecting it so soon. Dozens of wolf demons clad in their furs and leather were mixed in with the dragon demons' distinctive scaly bodies. Ryuukotsusei was making his move while the Lord of the House was practically hundreds of mile away, unable to protect his territory.

But none of that mattered now, in the heat of battle. Kai's existence had remained largely a secret for the years he'd been living in the Western Lands. Reclusive by nature, the kage ktsube had been fine with that. So it came as no small a surprise to the intruders when the wide open space covered with bloodstained grass in front of the House of Inutaisho was suddenly flooded with a dark grey mist, its alarmingly cold wisps curling lazily around everyone's feet. A bloodcurdling howl echoed in the dark night. Suddenly, the mist shot out in every direction, extensions similar to tentacles snapping around a random wolf or dragon demon's limb and yanking. Gazers of blood arched into the now bitterly cold night and mixed with the shrill cries of terror and pain beautifully.

The reactions were mixed. The guards bearing the symbol of the House of Inutaisho rejoiced at the sight of their lord's protégé's appearance, their previous despair at the sheer number of the enemy giving way to the tentative hope that not all was lost.

The ookami and ryuu youkai, on the other hand, were in a state of near panic. What could have possibly been responsible for this? None of them had heard of anything like what was happening before their very eyes. What could be responsible for this literal bloodbath?

Since kage kitsune were so very rare, few knew of their frightening abilities and control of ice and shadow, and, by extension, the darkest of magicks. Even fewer were from the world of the living, so the mass confusion in the midst of the attackers was understandable.

Slowly, the mist dissipated, the grey tentacles dissolving into the nothingness from which they first came, taking with them almost a quarter of the attackers' lives. With its departure, all stood still.

When the last of the grey matter cleared, a slender, dark shape was revealed standing in the middle of the pile of enemy carcasses, the still icy wind rippling the folds of the elegant magenta colored silk kimono and whipping a long rope of hair blacker than the sky on a moonless night and twirling it around six long tails of the same color, their silver tips gleaming brilliantly. The figure was ethereally beautiful, the smooth tanned skin of the perfectly proportioned face splashed with the blood of the bodies lying round. Those sinfully green eyes were literally blazing, the silver in them in sharp contrast with the generally dark appearance.

Nobody moved for the longest moment. Then, those wickedly curved lips parted and a small pink tongue darted out, just for a second, faster than a snake's, and retreated after licking some of the red blood off the corner of the mouth. The eyes closed slowly, the thick dark lashes fluttering in clear ecstasy, and bit by bit a sensuous smirk spread over the delicate features, revealing in its wake a sharp pearly white fang.

Eyes still closed, the figure's hands suddenly twirled a pair of simple silvery sai in existence, and a dark, soft voice almost purred.

"Well, I hope I didn't miss much. Shall we?"

And then the figure blurred and at the same moment the nearest wolf demon fell down with a shrill shriek, clutching his bleeding and now, probably, missing eye. When the dark figure appeared again, one of the sai was bloodied.

As if time resumed its pace, the fight broke out with new fervor. Kai's appearance gave hope to the castle guards, seeing as the young demon had been trained in the art of battle by their Lord Shimoharu himself. The enemy, on the other hand, was confused and not a little frightened by the display of power.

And, for a time, that seemed enough.

Kai moved swiftly and efficiently. His speed and agility were unmatched, and his trusty sais' gleam was soon dimmed by a thick sheen of coated blood. Not a move was wasted, not a single thrust met air. Nevertheless, he was soon covered in small scratches and bruises; his beautiful kimono reduced to almost nothing but rags. His braid was partly undone and wisps of his black hair were floating around him, framing his form. He had used up a great deal of his still developing youki reserves to pull off that stunt with the semi-sentient mist, and it was all he could do to power his quickly tiring muscles with energy and adrenaline.

The sheer quantity of enemies was crushing. As elite as fighters the guards and Kai were, they were heavily outnumbered and they knew it. It seemed that, upon seeing that no more man eating mist was coming their way, the ookami and ryuu realized this too, because they became bolder in their attacks and pushed with renewed determination.

Gritting his teeth, Kai ducked a sloppily aimed spear and danced out of the way of a wildly charging dragon demon. This was getting ridiculous. How many of those cretins were there?! With a graceful back-flip, the kitsune landed on the broad side of a sword that would have taken his head if he hadn't avoided it. Even before the folds of his ripped kimono had settled, he was moving. With an upward slash of the sai in his left hand, he ripped open the bastard's gut from pelvis to upper chest, and used the twin of the sharp weapon in his right hand to open a new breathing hole on his neck. Once done, he didn't waste any time to make sure his target was dead (the gurgling and choking sounds coming from he bloody mess of a demon assured him he would be soon), before he made another back-flip, landing lightly on the ground in search of his next opponent.

The battle waged on for what felt like days, but was probably no more than an hour or three. Slowly, but steadily, the defenders of the House of Inutaisho were being pushed back. They had lost a great deal of their men, and the enemy didn't seem to be letting up. They fought, though. They fought tooth and nail for every inch of blood-soaked ground the lost. Every castle guard that fell took at least five of their attackers with them to the grave.

Nonetheless, they were losing.

Kai was getting desperate now. His fighting didn't show it, but on the inside he was more than a little worried. He couldn't let the enemy get to the castle, to Miaka. He had promised…

"Damn it!" He snarled out, plunging his soaked to the forearms with red liquid hands into an unfortunate wolf demon's chest. He had lost one of his sai somewhere in one of his skirmishes and had resorted to using his claws "Why don't you all just die!"

As he lunged for the throat of another nameless opponent, he caught a whiff of a familiar scent. His eyes widened impossibly, his hand freezing where it was plunged into the jugular of the now dead aforementioned opponent. Flowers and cinnamon. His heart literally stopped beating and he paled so much the only color left was that of his victims' blood and the black lines decorating his cheekbones. Flowers, cinnamon and blood. Her blood.

Drawing in a ragged breath, Kai turned around slowly, oh so slowly, terrified of what he knew he would find. He was met with a picture that would haunt his dreams for what would be centuries.

Miaka's wide golden gaze locked on his own green one, her lips slightly parted, and a dribble of blood making its way from the corner of her mouth to drip down her chin and onto the ground. She was pale, a distant part of his mind registered, like the moon that was the symbol of her mate's House. The blade of a thick wooden spear protruded grotesquely from the middle of her chest, bloody and ugly in the face of her unearthly beauty. On the other side of the spear was a slightly surprised wolf demon. His surprised expression, however, was soon replaces with one of triumphant elation.

Several things happened in the next few moments.

She choked out his name. He saw red. She trembled. His lips curled in an ugly snarl. She crumbled forward. He disappeared.

By the time a normal eye could see him again, the kitsune was holding the delicate body of the person closest to a mother figure he'd known, clutching her to his chest with all his considerable strength, mixing the blood of the enemies he'd taken down that night and her own. Behind him lay a pile of fur and bloody flesh mixed in with pieces of bone and intestines that once may have resembled the humanoid shape of an ookami youkai.

Miaka coughed lightly, blood speckling her still parted lips. She took a few pain-filled, ragged breaths and lifted a slender, pale hand to his face.

"Beloved." The whispered word was barely recognizable because of the blood in her mouth, slurring her speech "Beloved."

Kai was trembling worse than Miaka herself. His eyes were wider than ever, and the tears leaking from them were as persistent and unstoppable as the blood flowing from her chest. He wasn't looking in her eyes, nor did he feel the light touch of her fingertips on his face. The only thing he could see at the moment was the spear still imbedded in her and the crimson liquid that kept gushing out, staining the light fabric of her kimono an ugly red. He lifted a shaking hand and touched its sharp tip, smearing the blood on it gently. He couldn't think, couldn't hear, couldn't see anything other than the piece of wood that should have been stuck in his worthless chest.

He didn't realize that he was breathing in quick, shallow pants, or that his grip on the female in his arms had tightened to an almost painful degree. Distantly, he thought he heard someone calling his name.

"…oved, Kai…"

Snapping back to reality, he locked his glassy green and silver with her dimming gold. He saw her smile at him. Pain-filled and sad. Infinitely sad.

He tried forming words, but his throat wouldn't cooperate. He knew he didn't have much time though, so he willed the words into existence.

"Miaka…" He finally choked out "How…W-what…Why?"

He couldn't say anything more, but all of his questions were poured into that half-stuttered stammer. What was she doing here? How had she gotten out of her room so quickly (not that he had any idea exactly how much time had passed in the first place)? Why, why had she done what she had? Protected him when he was the one that should have protected her?

He choked on a sob.

She just kept smiling at him with her bloodied lips and caressing his cheek with her pale fingers. The battle kept on waging around them, the few guards still standing keeping the enemy away from their peaceful, scarlet little patch of grass and dirt.

She hummed lightly, raggedly, still smiling.

"Kai, my beloved Kai."

She whispered, as if that explained everything and answered all of his unasked questions. And maybe, in her mind, it did.

The humming stopped. The hand dropped from his face. Her eyes turned glassy and unseeing. The smile remained.

Kai stood there, still clutching her to him, waiting to hear the next choppy, labored intake of air. It never came.

When under a great deal of stress or dealing with strong emotions and life threatening situations, most powerful kinds of youkai fall into a state of mind called bloodlust. It's accompanied by a great boost of youki that transforms their humanoid bodies into those of their true shape. The males of the House of Inutaisho were famous for their inu forms; great, powerful white and silver furred dogs bigger than mountains, rumors said. In time, the youkai would learn to cause and revert the transformation at will and suppress the bloodlust that would otherwise cloud their rational mind and judgment.

This, though, was Kai's first such transformation. The clash of steel meeting steel and the shouts and cries of pain and triumph slowed and almost stopped when the entire battlefield was drenched in a potent mix of black and grey youki, so powerful it caused most of those still standing on their feet to choke on the very air they breathed and fall to their knees, panting and gasping, their eyes tearing up. The smell of mint and melting snow and ice was overpowering.

The cry that came from Kai and Miaka's now invisible in the mass of youki forms, chilled the blood in the veins of even those faithful to the Lord of the Western Lands. It turned completely animalistic towards the end, feral and lethal in its sound. There was nothing sane about that sound

As soon as it started though, the swirling mass of youki and the bloodcurdling cry both stopped simultaneously. Nobody dared to move. The youki suddenly sprang back to life and shot back to its source, building up in intensity until it formed a literal tornado where the kage kitsune had previously been. The growl that could be heard coming from the centre of the twisting mass of black and grey made the hairs on everyone's necks stand on end. Rage that bordered on madness was what they heard in that growl.

Without warning, two massive glowing silver eyes snapped open in the midst of it all, a slit acid green pupil splitting the twin sliver masses in two. The bloodlust that radiated from those cold and unforgiving as death itself chunks of ice spelled nothing but pain and suffering for those present.

The massacre began.

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The noon sun shone on all, completely unconcerned with the blood and gore filled landscape it illuminated. The Great Dog General, Lord of the Western Lands, Inutaisho Shimoharu didn't care for the sun.

The silver-haired lord fell on his knees in the once soft grass, now coarse with the dried blood that seemed to cover every inch of it. The dead body parts of who knew how many wolf and dragon demons littered the ground, mixed with the occasional castle guard. No one was left alive. Guts and intestines were sprinkled over the flesh of the dead. The vultures were already feasting, even as the few surviving servants tried to chase them away and collect the bodies of their own men.

Shimoharu dimly felt his son join him on the hill overlooking the open space in front of the Castle of Inutaisho, evidently turned into a battlefield sometime recently.

Sesshoumaru's normally calm and collected face was a mask of pure horror.

"No…"

"We were too late." Shimoharu whispered "They got here before us."

There was nothing more to be said.

Later, when questioned on the events of the previous night, the servants would stammer about black youki and silver eyes that spelled death. Sesshoumaru and Shimoharu could believe that. After all, Miaka's body was completely untouched by the carnage surrounding it, safe in its crystal cocoon of ice that wouldn't melt, the wooden spear still embedded in her chest.

And the stench of blood and gore that should have been choking them was almost completely overpowered by the ironically refreshing scent of mint and melting snow.

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"How is he?"

"As should be expected after a first transformation."

"That didn't exactly answer my question, now did it? You know it's different for everyone."

"…"

"You don't know, do you?"

"…"

A sigh.

"It's not that difficult, you know. Repeat after me: 'I don't know.'"

"…"

"Whatever."

"It's strange, don't you think?"

"Hmm? What is?"

"Don't play dumb. You know perfectly well what. Isn't it strange how one of our own turned up like this, out of the blue, in a post-transformation state?"

"…Yeah, it is. I guess we'll just have to ask him when he wakes up, now won't we."

"…"

"How long do you think 'till he wakes up?"

"…I don't know."

A gasp.

"So you can say it!"

"…"

An amused chuckle.

Kai slept on, oblivious to any and everything around him. It was the only dreamless and relatively peaceful night of sleep he'd have for a while.

Now, some of you asked when the Harry Potter verse would rear its ugly head. That won't come for at least another 3 chapters, I think. But be patient, please. We'll get there. If you have any questions, go on right ahead, I promise this time I'll answer what I can. Thanks again, and I hope to add a new chapter soon. Kisses to you, my lovelies!