Disclaimer: I do not own Juromaru (sigh), Naraku(shudder), Rin and Shippo (sob), or any of the other original characters of this enduring and wonderful Manga/Anime series. They are the property of Rumiko Takahashi and her subsidiaries and are used here without permission. I can only borrow them with awe and reverence and hope that if Takahashi-San ever read this story that she would be pleased with how they are portrayed.
I do own my new interpretations of Hakudoshi and Moryomaru, though not their characters or original conceptions. I am also rather ashamed to admit to owning Yukinshuro, and the "Black Dog," and once again apologize to all bears for this stain upon the good name of Bear. I also pray that the wondrous Inushiro family will forgive me for sticking them with a black sheep (or more accurately a black dog) like the cursed uncle of our two amazing Inu-brothers, who I don't own either (darn it!)
If you wish to use any of my original characters or ideas in your own writing, please give me credit and it would be nice if you asked permission too, though once again I am aware that we are all using Takahashi-San's characters and world without her permission.
This story is written for entertainment purposes only and will not be used for profit or financial gain in any way. I make no money from this, and as for the emotional profits, that's all thanks to you, Dear Readers. So in light of the upcoming Thanksgiving season, thank you so much, each and every one of you.
Introduction/Summary: Hello again, my friends. I just wanted to reiterate my acknowledgements from above. Thank you so much for all your support and enthusiasm. I really wanted to post this next chapter before Thanksgiving, so that I could present it in gratitude to all of you. Your interest and continued readership has really added to my joy in writing this story, and I want all of you to realize how much you mean to me and how wonderfully you have helped me. Life can get rough sometimes, and it is through my writing that I find solace and pleasure, but sharing my work with others, especially others who have received it so kindly, like all of you have; really adds the true delight.
Warning: There is some darkness and unpleasantness in this chapter, but there is also the resolution to one or two of the cliff-hangers that I have sprinkled throughout this tale, so I hope that you can enjoy that aspect. Please do keep in mind that this is an M-rated fic, and though I have tried my best to be discreet, there will be some uncomfortable moments, as you have no doubt experienced. Other than that, please read and enjoy and thank you all again for your wonderful support.
Chapter Thirty: Duel Plans Advanced
Juromaru stood in the shadows of the copse of trees, which the road that he and Hakudoshi were staking out, passed through. He watched his companion in wary silence, revealing none of the storm of emotions that raged behind his fierce eyes. He carried a full double-sword Daisho, made out of Naraku's bones. Naraku had simply concentrated and formed the weapons out of his very essence. It was little more than a thought to him and it had created two powerful blades, one katana and the other a ninja-style straight sword.
The Daiyoukai had done a similar thing, but strangely enough, only for Juromaru. This weapon, a Wakasashi, was personally forged by the Dark Weapon-smith Kaijinbo, one of Naraku's latest, but least fussed about incarnations. His re-birth had been achieved by capturing the essence of his spirit, trapped within the shards of the evil sword Toukajin, which he had once forged from the fangs of Juromaru's most powerful and evil "brother," Goshinki. Naraku had retrieved the sword after Sesshomaru had discarded it, and the sword-smith's spirit had been preserved and raised in another demonic body, which he enjoyed very much.
That same sword-smith was reforging the sword for Naraku's use, and since Kaijinbo was now a demon, the blade would not be able to seduce him again. The Wakasashi that Juromaru now carried had been made from the Daiyoukai's fang, but given over when in Humanoid form. Even so, it was a surprisingly generous gift, as was the light armor and finer raiment that Juromaru wore now.
Of course, compared to the finery that Hakudoshi donned, Juromaru appeared as little more than a poorly paid retainer, but fine clothing and riches had never been on the top of Juromaru's list of priorities. His equipment was functional, and impressive enough to make a suitably intimidating first impression, which was the goal of meeting this wandering group of mercenaries that was even now travelling towards their watch-post of two.
Juromaru continued to watch the young lord slouched down beneath the trees, as he took his turn to rest. Unlike Juromaru, he did not need to fear the cold touch of a deadly blade sliding swiftly under his ribs and into his heart. Juromaru would not have chosen to end the hateful Helion's life in so dishonorable a manner even though perhaps he could have, but honor and duty kept him in line. Hakudoshi had no such qualms, and Juromaru doubted that his two powerful Masters would give much of a damn, if the brat had decided to use their isolation to end Juromaru's life for good. Consequently, he had slept very little during his supposed off-shifts.
Even dressed in his expensive travelling garments and with a comfortable tree to lean against, Hakudoshi looked resentful and uncomfortable. His travelling Haorie was black, the spiderweb decoration subtly rendered on left shoulder and right sleeve in orange. The Juban remained blue and the sash blue and purple, but now it was woven in a distinct pattern, one that Naraku used for his obi. With the haorie and juban the boy wore black kurasan bakama and black tabi boots with thick solid soles, and elegantly tooled and trimmed in orange, blue and purple.
He was well equipped too. He wore a fine chest plate in flawless and surprisingly light steel covered in a blackened silver enamel, with a matching Haidate. His boots had hard plates worked into the shins which served as Sune-Ate, but he wore woven steel and silk kote, covered in yugake made of the same black enameled steel as his chest-plate. They were embossed with carved Kamon.
He wore Sode that were both light and protective, but elaborately designed as well. They were skillfully crafted in a padded wrought-steel design of spiderwebs, which almost appeared as decoratively patterned shoulder-pieces. His last piece of clothing was a flowing dark orange montsuki haori, that was much more elaborately patterned with his spiderweb crest, in colors of black and purple.
The dangerous and evil Youkai horse Entei had been destroyed with the first Hakudoshi's death, but his reincarnation rode a black-scaled Dragon-Horse, a Chibai classed Demi-Youkai of the same race as the powerful creature that served the Lord Sesshomaru. It had only one head, and along with the black scales that covered its entire body, were orange scales that formed a semblance of an impressive mane and tail. It was also not an herbivore and its kind tended to be inclined towards evil. Juromaru had to admit that Hakudoshi was strong in a fight. They had encountered several unfriendly parties on their journey to the South, and the Dragon Horse (Flame Horse was actually the correct term for its kind) made a good backup squad. It was named simply Ent, nothing more.
As to the enemies that they had encountered, together the three of them had made short work of every one of them. Unfortunately, Hakudoshi had to be restrained several times to keep from mutilating the bodies and hanging them naked on the trees as a sign of their victory and a "warning of our power." Juromaru had been less successful in keeping him from raping one group of women, who had been captives of one of the groups, to death; even though the women had been innocent victims of their opponents. Once he had freed himself from the brat's entrapping webbing (fortunately the entangling strands would not hold up if Hakudoshi tried to attack Juromaru while he was trapped in the sticky mass), Juromaru had back-handed the boy so hard that he had sent him flying across their camp and crashing into the trees.
Things had almost come to a head then, had a missive from their trailing Saimyoushi not combined the hive into an image of the dark Daiyoukai's face and employed their multi-throated buzz to create a single massive mouthpiece, which had spoken in its image's voice and ordered the youth to accept his punishment for his dishonorable behavior. Juromaru had forced him to help give the women decent burials complete with gold coins on their eyes; and the boy's own funds going to replace their torn garments with fine new robes from a nearby village, and unctions and ointment, both expensive, to wash and anoint their bodies as well. Though the "conflict " was settled, Juromaru knew that Hakudoshi hated him even more now. Still, it was almost worth it to have the upper hand on this Hell-creature that was the young Kumo Youkai; at least temporarily.
The sounds of a fair-sized group of armed men approaching the trees from the direction he faced, drew Juromaru out of his memories and musings and he sprang swiftly to a lower branch of the tree he stood watch beneath, to take them in more clearly. They fit the general description of the band that they sought, so Juromaru grabbed an available pine cone and pitched it down to bounce off the top of Hakudoshi's head. "Wake up, Little Brother." He growled. "They approach."
Hakudoshi responded with a growl of his own, his face set in a dark furious snarl. "Show respect, Brute!" He growled low. "Remember! I am your master here!"
"Then get ready, Master." Juromaru snarled. "Unless you want to ruin the element of surprise with your outraged clicking and indignant clumsiness!"
Hakudoshi's eyes glowed red and his snarl became even more enraged, but he knew that this was not the time to have an out-and-out argument. "You'll pay, Brute!" He growled. "I will make you pay!" Then he turned his full attention to the road.
As the group came closer, Juromaru observed the air of helpless frustration that hung around them. Their armor, once well-maintained and rich was stained, pitted and even showed some signs of rust. Their once expensive garments were stained and worn and they had the gaunt, shabby appearance of men who had not seen a good meal or a decent bath in quite some time. Hakudoshi noticed their state of neglect and sneered in disgust.
"Are these truly the men we seek?" He growled. "They look like little more than a rag-taggle band of armed peasants."
"They lost their Lord in dishonor and shared his dishonor by their own treachery." Juromaru replied. "I doubt that they have been able to find much work with such a taint upon their heads."
Hakudoshi grinned fiercely. "Which means that they're desperate. We should have very little trouble convincing them to join our cause."
"Do not become overconfident, Little Brother." Juromaru warned. "Dishonored men are often the proudest and most dangerous of all mercenaries. If you take them lightly, you may wake up with a knife in your back shortly thereafter."
For once Hakudoshi did not return Juromaru's warnings with his customary anger. "Don't worry, Big Brother." The title was said with a definite cynical contempt, but it was surprisingly mild compared to the boy's usual response. "I know my mission. Just be sure you back me up appropriately or it will be your neck in Chichiue's noose next."
He hissed out several words in a sibilant clicking language that Juromaru did not understand and gestured with his hands. Arcane symbols appeared in the air, forming two round portals through which two large Hell-Spider demons scuttled out. They took their customary places on either side of Hakudoshi and the portals vanished again with a quick fierce breeze that hissed through the trees and then out into the open country. Juromaru had seen this ability of Hakudoshi's several times before, but he still had to admit to some grudging respect whenever he witnessed it. Ent trotted up to stand behind Hakudoshi as well, and the young Lord drew his two weapons and strode out into the middle of the road, waiting for their targets to come closer.
It didn't take long, and soon the group of seven mercenaries entered the copse of trees. They were all Youkai; Shoubai Caste at least, and Juromaru silently identified each one by scent, from where he waited in the lower branches of his pine tree. They were led by a Baboon Youkai and were in turn; a Weasel, a Nekomyou (dark cat demon), a Boar, a Monitor Lizard, a Hyena and a Kurohyou (a panther). They spotted Hakudoshi right away, not surprisingly, and stopped warily, hands straying near their weapons, which Juromaru imagined were the least deteriorated of their somewhat neglected gear. "Who are you?" The Baboon Lord demanded. "Why do you block our way?"
"For the simplest of reasons." Hakudoshi spoke, his smooth-as-cream voice reminding Juromaru unpleasantly of Naraku's diplomatic manner. "I am looking to hire a group of skilled mercenaries, and you fit my purposes perfectly. Do you wish to hear my proposition?"
Their wary manner did not completely leave them. "How did you hear of us?" The Baboon Lord demanded.
Hakudoshi smiled. "From one who thinks very highly of your abilities."
The reply was a suspicious, multi-throated growl from the group that faced them. "You lie! We are marked men. Few others even agree to hire us, and none would speak well of our abilities if they did. They would not advertise their association with those the Lord's Council has condemned to dishonor and exile."
"I care nothing for the opinions of the Lord's Council." Hakudoshi spat, contempt clear in his voice. "And well do I know your story of dishonor and exile. The Former Lord of the East; Kuma No Yukinshuro, turned on the Lords of the West, the Inushiro family; and all the Lords in the Council in a traitor's battle during a celebration to honor the ties of the Noble Daiyoukai realms and the return of the long-missing Neko No Yonshi Princess, the Lady Kirara. You are his vassals and you fought at his side during that now legendary battle. It is precisely for that reason that I have sought you out."
Astonishment lit the faces of the Youkai that faced him now, but the suspicion was still evident. "And why would you be so interested in our participation in that unfortunate incident, Lordling?" The Kurohyou now growled.
Hakudoshi's smile was that of a viper's. "Because I represent a Great Youkai Lord that wants nothing less than the utter destruction of the Inushiro family and the complete subjugation of the high and mighty Lord's Council. We seek out and employ powerful allies that have strong reason to hate both. If you join our cause, you will have gold and power to your hearts' desire, and every pleasure that you can imagine. All we ask is that you assist us in our plan of conquest and vengeance."
"And if we refuse?" The Baboon Youkai asked, taking up the role of spokesman once again.
That was Juromaru's cue, and he dropped from the trees, both weapons drawn, landing in a graceful crouch at Hakudoshi's right. The Hell-Spiders clicked and hissed menacingly, their potent poison dripping from their razor-sharp mandibles and burning small holes into the road's surface. Ent growled and stamped and hot sparks flashed and burned out of its nostrils, as flames flared up around its sharp, heavy hooves. Hakudoshi brandished his own weapons. "Then I'm afraid we're going to have do away with you, since you know too much of our plans. I doubt that the loss of a dishonored group of mercenary warriors will cause many to mourn your passing."
Several of the group growled in fury and drew their own weapons. Juromaru had been correct in his earlier assumptions. Their weapons were still in pristine condition; clean, bright and very very sharp. But the Baboon Lord was a more cautious sort and even those who had drawn, followed his lead. He did not draw, but his hands tightened on the hilts of his own weapons.
"You make a lot of grand promises, Boy." He spoke, "And bold threats too. Stupid, unless you have the power to back them up. You are two men, a Flame Horse and a pair of Nether Demons against seven well-trained and ruthless warriors. You promise us gold and power and delight, but though granted, you dress up like a jeweled popinjay it only takes one successful mission to earn enough coin to buy such finery. Are you ready to stand behind your grand words and boasts, little Lordling?"
Juromaru almost laughed out loud at the Baboon Youkai's ego-cutting words, but he also feared Hakudoshi's reaction to them. They could probably take these men, but they could not lightly afford to destroy such military potential. If they failed in this mission, Naraku would be furious. Juromaru himself had already experienced the worst that his "father" could offer, but Hakudoshi had only experienced his pride and the occasional disciplinary lecture. Despite his antagonism towards this spoiled sibling of his, Juromaru wouldn't wish Naraku's more physical "lessons" on even his worse enemy.
But Hakudoshi remained calm, giving no evidence of any fury that might rage inside. "You may have us outnumbered, Monkey Boy, but not out-powered. I welcome the chance to prove it to your over-confident little band, but I'm a fair man, and so I'll give you a chance to escape such an inevitable and final fate. I will tell you who I represent and then we will see if my boasts are vain.
This Lord is one whose name strikes fear into the heart of every Youkai from Okinawa to Hokkaido Whose deeds are immortalized in the scrolls of infamy and burned into the souls of every one of his myriad victims. He is the future Emperor of the Floating World, and my father. He is the mighty Lord Naraku himself!"
Somewhat to Juromaru's surprise, the mercenaries reacted with awe and fear. "Lord Naraku!" The Baboon Lord breathed.
"Burgeoning master of the dreaded Jewel of Four Souls." The Kurohyou added.
"He who raised the infamous Band of Seven!" The Weasel demon added.
"Who leveled Mount Hakurai and made it part of his very essence!" The Nekomyou gasped.
"Who slew the last of the great Death Phoenix Queens, Tekkei!" The Lizard hissed.
"And conquered her daughter, the powerful Princess Abi." The Boar Demon growled. "They say he revived her with a jewel shard just so he could ravish her and then left her chained and naked in some fiery realm of the Underworld; keeping her as his eternal paramour!"
"That's just your sick fantasy, Butoro!" The Hyena demon snarled.
But Hakudoshi had made his point. Weapons were sheathed and the Baboon Youkai turned towards him with much greater respect. " If you indeed represent the Lord Naraku, then your boasts are truly justified, and our causes match very well. Do we bargain with you, or will you convey us into his presence?"
"The question of hiring you is moot, Lord Bonokongu." Hakudoshi replied. "You have the position, and you can ask up to four times the going rate for expert-level mercenaries as your pay, as well as your share of any slaves and servants that we capture for My Lord's palace, and the stronghold village that will soon be his as well. The question is, can you survive the test of your worthiness to battle at his side?"
Immediatly the wariness was back. "And what is this test?" Bonokongu asked.
Hakudoshi's smile was more poisonous than ever. "We travel back through several of the Nether Realms and even one part of the Underworld, using the power of the Gateway, gained by the possession of Tekkei's bones and blood. We capture more subjects, slaves and servants on the way. If you survive the journey and capture your share of slaves and servants, you will be hired the very moment you set foot in my Lord Father's kingdom. You have one day to prepare yourselves."
He unfastened the large money pouch at his side, reserved for this purpose and handed it to Bonokongu. "We will travel to the nearest village and purchase any supplies that you need, as well as insure that you present a more decent appearance. After that the return journey begins." He smiled again. " I hope your new Band of Seven doesn't disappoint, Bonokongu; my father hates to be disappointed."
Beneath the Moonlight
It was the first night of the moon's first quarter, and despite the fact that all the guests, save Koga and Ayame had once again departed to their own lands, another important ritual was about to take place. As moon-rise approached a small, but eager party gathered in the family garden of the Inushiro palace.
Koshiku and Niechibaku were in attendance, along with Yuchiri, Kikota, Hoshiro, Chenjin, Kenjani and Jenjiya.
Kikyo and Oushiyokama were present as witnesses as were Shishimaru and Enju, Issasegare and Kikunohana.
Hanoneyoiko, Tenshiran's mother, was also there. She had just accepted a new position as Kirara's personal attendant and protector, opening her previous position in the kitchen to another qualified candidate in need of better work.
Sango and Miroku were also there, standing beneath Sesshomaru's Sakura tree, and Koga and Ayame watched from the veranda.
As the moon began to rise, a small but solemn procession entered from the breakfast room. In the lead was Tenshiran. She wore a new white Kimono with a red hiyoku and the red and white Sakura crests scattered all over it in printing and some embroidery. Over that was a red and white Uchiyoku that bore white clouds on the red parts, red and white Sakura crests on the white parts and then scattered patterns of orange plum-blossom on sections of both colors. Her purple hair was done up and secured with a few silk flower kanzashi and a comb carved out of scented wood and adorned with dyed pine-cone bristles to form wooden feathers. The feathers adorned the ornamental form of a small bird, a chickadee. She proudly bore a small planting tray which held several half-grown plants, 10 to be exact.
Behind her came Sesshomaru and Kirara, dressed in plain white garments, though Sesshomaru wore a yellow Juban and Kirara a light jewel blue nagajuban. Sesshomaru carried Rin, who wore pretty white garments as well, but they had patterns on them. The Kimono was patterned with orange plum-blossom, the hiyoku was red; and the uchiyoku kimono was patterned with Sesshomaru's red and white Sakura crests, Kirara's light blue cloud crests and her own orange plum-blossom. She wore her lopsided little pony-tail ringed in more silk plum-blossom, in it's natural bright pink color.
After the first family, proudly marched young Gosairo. He wore a new haorie and sashinuki hakama with a plain juban and a montsuki haorie as an outer jacket. His haorie was red patterned with bright blue bin leaves, his juban was white; and his jacket was red and white with Inuyasha's red momiji leaves on the white parts, Kagome's white dandelion pods (and seeds) on the red parts and scattered clusters of the blue bin leaves on sections of both colors. He too carried a plant; a single fledgling bush in a small planting pot.
Inuyasha and Kagome followed, with Shippo walking between them holding onto both their hands. The second family wore plain red, but Inuyasha wore a dark burgundy juban, and Kagome a green nagajuban. Shippo wore the same outfit as his attendant, but in slightly finer materials and mostly red in color. The haorie was patterned in his scattered blue Bin leaves, and his juban was white. His jacket was decorated in Inuyasha's white and red Momiji crests, Kagome's green dandelion pods, and his own pale blue Bin leaves. His top-knot was worn longer tonight and was decorated with several kunzushe pins decorated with dry rice-paper leaves in green and blue.
Behind them came the Royal Pride, led silently by Issokuryoka and Issokurinku. They fanned around the garden in a vigilant array that still had a good view of the upcoming ceremony.
The small procession headed to the base of Sesshomaru's tree where a patch of earth had been dug up on one side; a new flower bed ready for planting. The night was both cool and balmy, as is often the case in early September and the sky was partly screened with curling, slender clouds that looked very much like Kirara's crest. They were not enough to conceal the bright silver-yellow moon, that shone down on the world below and made dark shadows of the clouds that swirled around it.
The group made their way over to the turned earth and Inuyasha and Kagome drew Shippo to the side with Gosairo close in attendance. Sesshomaru and Kirara stepped forward and set Rin down beside Tenshiran, who set the planting tray down on the ground in front of her. Sesshomaru crouched gracefully down at his little daughter's side. "Are you sure of your choice, Little Daughter?" He asked her gently.
"Oh, yes." Rin replied happily. "Bell-lilies come back every year and spread all over. They can bloom in the spring and the summer, and sometimes even in early autumn. When the bed becomes too full, we can dig up some of the new plants and give them to other people as gifts for their gardens, and even if the palace goes away, they'll still bloom under your Sakura tree forever and maybe grow into a whole field of lilies! Wouldn't that be beautiful, Chichiue?"
Sesshomaru smiled gently, that heartrendingly sweet smile that had always filled Inuyasha with joy. "Yes, Little One; as beautiful as your pure soul."
He kissed her gently on the forehead and then knelt down next to her. Kirara joined them and Tenshiran too as they carefully began taking the little plants out of the tray, preparing to free them from their tiny pots, which Enju had made, and plant them in their new bed.
Just as they had started taking the little plants out of their pots, the Royal Pride let out warning keens and everyone looked to the sky, following their intense gaze. Far off in the Northern Sky a bright star appeared growing rapidly larger and brighter as it came rushing in their direction! Soon it resolved itself into a single shape; that of a beautiful white dog, with a black moon on it's forehead and single purple streaks on its graceful jowls. Long, flowing ears blew out behind it and the pure, white Mokomoko curled around the slender, beautifully formed body, rippling and flowing in the wind of its approach!
Closer and closer the graceful canine raced running through the air on clouds of moonlight and wind! Then she reared once and passed effortlessly through the palace's protective barrier, which had never been closed to her. She shrank rapidly from the size of two houses to that of an elk and then a stag, and landed by the Sakura tree with barely a sound. Both Kirara and Sesshomaru rose to their feet and the servants quickly bowed down respectfully before her. Rin's eyes, however; glowed with happiness and her cheeks flushed pink. Sesshomaru seemed in a similar state, but much more calm about it.
One beautiful flowing shining transformation later, and the Lady Saishoukora stood before them, also dressed in white and red, though with slightly more layers, and a purple and gold nagajuban underneath. Her hair was simply styled; just two combs on either side holding two flowing tails in back, and a gold and crystal tipped pin in the front holding back the center part of her bangs to reveal the moon symbol on her forehead more clearly. The rest of her silver hair was loose and flowing. Her mokomoko wrapped about her shoulders like a stole, trailing gracefully down to her feet and she still wore her powerful, beautiful amulet, though the stone in the center was in its dormant state, dark red in color.
She spread out her arms. "Sesshomaru." She spoke. Even though the tones remained cool, they conveyed a deep happiness and exuberant joy.
"Hahaue." Sesshomaru replied, but though the address and the tone were scrupulously formal, the same thrill of joy colored his voice. He moved gracefully forward accepting her gentle embrace and kissing her on the cheek. "I am pleased that you have returned again so soon."
Then the grand lady surprised everyone with a joyful, silvery laugh and moved with equal grace to scoop up her little granddaughter in a loving and warm embrace. "Do you truly think that I would miss my two grandchildren's Crest Rite?" She chucked Shippo gently under the chin and bent to kiss his cheek causing him to blush adorably. "It is nearly as important as the Naming Ceremony."
Kirara's face glowed with pleasure as well. "Thank you, Shuutome. You are most welcome!"
The Lady Saishoukora took Kirara's outstretched hand and drew her close for another gentle embrace and a kiss and then turned to a rather stunned Inuyasha. "Seijun." She spoke softly. "You are looking well. The robes of a young lord suit you."
"Saishoukora Okaa-san." He greeted her, managing to fight back his moved tears long enough to embrace her and kiss her on the cheek. "Thanks. Thanks for this."
"Oh yes!" Kagome spoke, her eyes shining with her own moved tears and her hands tightly clasped over her heart. "It's so kind of you!"
"It is tradition, Onnako" Saishoukora spoke giving Kagome a gentle kiss on the cheek as well. "And the least my family deserves."
Miroku and Sango bowed to her in turn, along with Kikyo, Oushiyokama, Shishimaru, Enju and Ayame. Even Koga fell to one knee beneath her serene and powerful presence. She graced them all with warm smiles and then regally bade them all to rise. "But enough formality. Let us continue with the rite."
The rite was very simple; Sesshomaru, Kirara, Tenshiran and Saishoukora helped Rin plant the fledgling lily-of-the-valley plants into the ground. They had been somewhat forced in the heat-huts, but the early September warmth was enough to sustain them, at least for a little while. It was somewhat strange to see the high-born and elegant Lady Saishoukora digging in the earth and planting like a simple gardener, but she seemed to enjoy it immensely.
When all the plants were safely tucked into their new bed and snugged around with mulch of pine-needles and leaves, the family rose to survey their work, brushing the damp earth off their hands with satisfaction.
"It's a little sad that they won't bloom yet." Rin said thoughtfully when the work was done. "But they look very happy there."
Sango smiled. "I believe that we can yet see those tiny flowers bloom." She spoke. "Allow me to make the attempt, at least." She crouched down and lay her right hand on the soft fresh earth. Then she concentrated briefly and let some of her youki flow into the ground in a soft green-gold glow. Her eyes lightened to a rich warm honey-gold and her bonding marks appeared on her cheeks, forehead and about her wrists.
There was a fragrance of sweet apple blossom and a whirl of phantom blossoms and leaves and then the little plants glowed and seemed to shake themselves letting out tender stems and buds and then opening in a full array of pure white bell-shaped flowers, which filled the air with their sweet perfume, replacing the scent of apple blossom. Sango stood up again, pleased with her handiwork. Miroku simply gazed at her, love and admiration shining in his deep purple eyes.
Rin was far more vocal. "Oh, Lady Sango!" She cried out happily throwing herself into the surprised Tajiya's arms. "Thank you! Oh, they're so pretty!"
Sango laughed, a soft rich happy laugh and gently embraced the little girl in her arms. "It was my pleasure." She replied, "And the least I can do to make your Crest Rite as joyful as you deserve."
"Thank you, Lady Sango." Sesshomaru agreed giving her a surprising smile that almost made her melt. Kirara simply embraced her soul-sister with warmth and gratitude and kissed her lovingly on the cheek.
Lady Saishoukora smiled too, then stooped and gently broke one of the tender stems off, holding the flower out towards Rin. The plant still in the ground immediately grew another stem of flowers, just as pretty as the last. Then the gracious lady spoke.
"By the power and love of the Inushiro family, your family, our family; witnessed by faithful servants, friends and relatives; beneath the blessings of the Kami and spirits, and in the light of Tsukiyuni's first grace, we hereby declare that this child; Inushiro No Rinjunseihi Ama-Issan, has taken the humble and lovely Suzuran as her personal crest. May the pure, fresh spirit of this simple blossom always bless and honor her through all her days."
There was joyful applause, and then with a bright silver glow the stem of blossoms that Lady Saishoukora held up, vanished with a soft lily scented breeze. The small, but potent zephyr blew swiftly around the grand lady,Tenshiran and the First family of the West, and things changed.
The orange plum-blossom on the robes of Rin and Tenshiran vanished to be replaced with orange patterns of bell-lilies. The ring of plum-blossom around Rin's little ponytail vanished too and was replaced with a ring of fresh lily blossoms instead.
On Rin's Uchiyoku kimono, aesthetically random arrangements of white and orange squares, like the kimono she had always worn for travelling, appeared as well. The pretty lily of the valley blossomed in shadowed, natural images across the orderly arrangements; orange against the white and white against the orange.
Those pretty crests also appeared on Saishoukora, Sesshomaru and Kirara's formally plain robes, along with their own crests, in their preferred colors. Then Sesshomaru and Kirara knelt down on either side of a beaming Rin and embraced her tenderly. "Well done, Little Daughter." Sesshomaru spoke gently. "You have gained your royal crest."
"Oh, Chichiue, Hahaue!" Rin cried happily, and snuggled closer.
"A true princess." Saishoukora spoke gently, and kissed her softly on the forehead. Then she turned to the second family. "And now, it is my Grandson's turn."
Everyone clapped as Inuyasha, Kagome and Shippo headed towards Inuyasha's Momiji tree, still led proudly by Gosairo. There was a new hole dug on one side of the red tree, and it was to this that the family headed.
"So what about you, Shippo?" Inuyasha asked him. "Are you sure the sagebrush is what you want?"
"Mountain Sagebrush, Tosan." Shippo said proudly. "Sensai Kietsugu says that Sagebrush is one of the most potent Bin Leaf plants ever, and this kind especially. If I'm gonna be strong in my magic, I need to chose the right reagent and start working with it as soon as possible. I tested it." He said, even more proudly. "The mountain sage really liked me."
Inuyasha grinned widely. "Then you got it, Shippo. Whatever you need."
Kagome wanted to say something encouraging too, but she felt too choked up speak. Unbidden, both happy and sad tears welled up in her eyes. Her little fox cub was really growing up now. It was wonderful, but part of her couldn't help wishing that he could have stayed tiny and chibi-like for just a little while longer.
The ritual was the same. Gosairo, Inuyasha, Kagome and Saishoukora once again, helped Shippo gently tip the small hearty bush out of its pot and place it firmly into the provided hole. Then they filled in the dirt and mixed it with nourishing pine mulch and dried leaves, tamping the whole thing firmly down around the trunk.
The bush was not much more than two or three years old now, and fairly small, but it would soon grow and spread out. They had made sure to give it plenty of growing space. Once again they stood back to admire their work, dusting off their hands.
"It looks great!" Shippo said proudly.
"It smells good too." Rin agreed.
Then Saishoukora stepped forward once again and broke off one of the tiny bush's leafy twigs. The leaves' invigorating scent filled the air and the bush immediately grew back a new twig. Saishoukora held the twig in her hand towards Shippo.
"By the power and love of the Inushiro family, your family, our family." She spoke again. "Witnessed by faithful servants, friends and relatives; beneath the blessings of the Kami and spirits, and in the light of Tsukiyuni's first grace, we hereby declare that this child; Akagitsune Inushiro No Shiporyoku-Waka-Nissan, has taken the hearty and potent Yomogi as his personal crest. May the rich, magical spirit of this ancient bush always bless and honor him through all his days."
Once again the silver glow suffused the plant and amid awed exclamations and happy applause the plant vanished and another scented zephyr, this one bearing the potent and sharp scent of fresh sage leaves, raced around Gosairo and the second family group. As it had happened with Rin, Gosairo and Shippo's garments lost the less defined patterns of the blue bin-leaves and replaced them with the more distinct sagebrush leaf images. On Shippo's jacket diamond shaped crests appeared; gray surrounding the stylized image of the wedge-shaped leaf, in pale blue, and his Kunzushe were transformed to the shrub's real dried leaves.
The diamond crests appeared on Inuyasha and Kagome's plain red robes as well, along with their preferred crests and colors, on Saishoukora's too; and everyone cheered. Kagome didn't miss how Koshiku dabbed proud tears out of the corners of her eyes as well. Kikyo and Enju each put a comforting arm around her, and Niechibaku gently (and completely platonically) squeezed her hand.
Inuyasha and Kagome hugged Shippo tightly, and as his young strong arms went around her neck, and he squeezed her tight, Kagome found her words at last. "Oh, the cleverness of you, my mighty warrior!" She laughed, quoting a favorite Western fairy tale, "Peter Pan". "My strong, clever boy!"
The ritual ended with great happiness and a celebratory late-night meal. It was nothing big or fancy, but it was special, and everyone was warmhearted and cheerful.
As the meal wound down, Sesshomaru turned back to his mother. "Will you be returning to the Jade Palace tonight, Hahaue?" he asked politely. "Or shall I have your usual chambers prepared for you?"
"Oh no, Kunmigoto." She spoke airily. "There is no need. My own attendants and porters will be arriving shortly with all the possessions that I will require. They know how to arrange things to my liking."
"Certainly my own people can manage to accommodate your needs for one night, Mother." Sesshomaru assured.
"Not just one night, Sesshomaru." His mother replied calmly. "From this moment, I intend to spend much more time with my family. I am moving back to your palace, My Son. Effective as of this very hour."
Interlude: Dark Bargain
Kuma No Yukinshuro soaked indolently in the hot spring that heated the cave that he had awoken in, his back deliberately to the opening into the cave's outer recesses. He didn't fully understand how he was alive again. He remembered his death; oh yes, he remembered it well: Kneeling naked and humiliated at the feet of No Taishou's smug, juvenile son; having to beg for his death before the entire council! And then, THEN, the arrogant little snot-nosed brat had given over the privilege of his execution to that cursed, filthy Half-Breed! Being killed by his great enemy's pure-blooded son was bad enough, but being put to death by that Ningen-stinking, contaminated, obnoxious little dog-eared disgrace was unforgivable!
Why had he been brought back? Was this a harbinger to his even greater disgrace? How much lower could they bring him? After the first surge of victory at his resurrection, the doubts began to set in, and when Yukinshuro felt doubt or fear, he turned his back on it and fought those feelings with an extreme air of non-concern.
The scent struck him before the familiar voice, and despite his determination to feign indifference, he spun around at the unexpected truth!
"I am gratified to see that you still have some sense, Yukinshuro. After all, I have certainly stuck my neck out enough times for your sake. Your arrogant self-assurance may yet turn on a friend; one who has contracted a useful ally in your endless quest for revenge against The Dog General and his descendants."
The Bear Lord stared, disbelief and astonishment written all over his broad-featured face. He knew it all: The long flowing silver hair, with the single crest in the center; the deep blue, razor-sharp stilettos that ornamented that crest, weapon and decoration in one deadly and attractive ornament.
He recognized the tall graceful figure, slender and powerful; the black robes marked with the so familiar flaming spheres in red, and the elaborately knotted and woven obi, patterned in blue and purple. He took in the polished silver chest-plate trimmed in white crystal and tassels, the spiked yugake enameled in black and white flames and embossed with carved Kamon; and the matching kiahan over tabi boots of silver leather.
His eyes traveled up again, to the thick rippling mokomoko, a beautiful silvery black in color. Its origin point was in the middle of its owner's back, but it had been pulled up through the chest plate flowing over the top and then down, ending in a floating train of soft black fur about three feet behind it's magnificent owner. He stared at the two jagged, elegant stripes along each cheek, one in bright blue, the other in purest glittered silver, and the beautiful orange new-moon symbol in the center of the brow. Finally his own dark orange orbs locked with the fierce golden gaze, so like his brother's, his two nephews'; and so many others in the cursed Inushiro line!
"K-Kuroushirou!" He finally gasped. "How are you here? The last time I heard you were..."
"Trapped at the edge of The Void? Pinned to a rock with my cursed elder brother's fang thrust through my black heart? Oh yes. Even after all my hatred and betrayal, even after what I had done to my tender young nephew, his very own heir and son; he still could not kill me in the end. Instead he left me trapped in a tormented sleep, helpless and tortured, on the dark verges of Hell!"
"How did you escape?" Yukinshuro asked feverishly.
"By the very hand of the ally I bring before you, Yukinshuro." The Black Dog replied. "He found me in his wanderings through the Underworld and freed me, mostly due to curiosity I think." The smile was cold and dangerous. "It nearly cost him his life, but soon enough I came to learn that we shared a common cause: The utter destruction of my, Oh so famous and beloved older brother and both of his precious sons! I think that you share that cause as well; do you not, Old Friend?"
Yukinshuro growled low and ferocious, blood-thirst in every vibration. "Now more than ever before!" He snarled. "Who is this ally of yours? If he can offer me such revenge as well as the restoration of my power and former glory; I will be pleased to offer him alliance."
"Allegiance, Kuma No Yukinshuro." A new voice came, and a second figure entered. He was dressed in rich and elaborate travelling robes of black and blue, spiked and deadly looking armor of bone and steel, and four obscene and lashing tentacles emerging from his back.
Long black hair rippled down around his shoulders and back, part of it drawn up in a central crest, similar to what Kuroushirou wore, but secured with an elaborate silver clasp carved in the form of interlocking spiderwebs. His chosen heraldry appeared to be monstrous un-lidded eyes of poisonous green and chartreuse, highlighting the grotesque living example in the center of his chest plate. He too wore a woven and knotted obi, this one patterned in the same poisonous green, and purple.
Fierce ruby-red eyes gleamed victoriously out of a well-boned, handsome face, and he wore a smug and arrogant smirk on his firm, well-shaped lips. Lust stabbed briefly through Yukinshuro's loins and body as he realized the darkly handsome man was a Hanyo, a Kumo, he realized. How delightful. But his next words effectively ended any feelings of lust the Bear-lord might have felt.
"Only your full allegiance to me will be accepted." The dark Hanyo finished.
Yukinshuro laughed in contempt and a certain astonishment at the Hanyo's bold arrogance. "Who are you to demand such a troth, Hanyo? You are not even Daiyoukai Hanyo. What's to keep me from tearing out your tainted arrogant throat right now?"
The dark red eyes seemed to blaze with the fires of hell, and though his voice was warm as velvet, it sent icy shivers down Yukinshuro's spine. "The fact that I am the one who restored your life, Bear Lord. Can you not feel it; the shard that you bear so close to your heart?" Dark energy seemed to spill out of the Hanyo's clenched fist and Yukinshuro screamed! Agony like fire and acid tore through his body, down his spine and then raged and burned in his loins and bowels, nearly causing him to retch with the unbearable pain!
As quickly as it had lashed out, the dark energy retreated and the agony slowly faded, leaving Yukinshuro shaking, sweating and sick, even from just the aftershock. With the pain came the knowledge of what it represented. "A Shikon Shard!" He gasped. His eyes went back to the pale-skinned, red-eyed Kumo. "And you are its master; the infamous Lord Naraku, himself!"
The dark Kumo smiled. "Very good, Lord Yukinshuro. You are not as dense as I feared. Perhaps we can negotiate after all."
"And will that be my reward then? I am allowed to keep my twice-borrowed life?" Yukinshuro growled, fighting back his humiliation and resentment with gritted teeth, grinding out a more respectful tone through his clenched jaw.
The Kumo's smile was warmer now. "The question of keeping your life will not even enter the picture, if you cooperate. Right now my son, Lord Hakudoshi tracks down and hires your former vassals. You will be given their command and they will serve you as they did before. They also gather slaves and servants to repopulate my castle, and once we are together again, I will soon acquire a prosperous stronghold village and an entire armed force as well. You will get your share of all these riches and pleasures; as well as your chance at revenge."
Yukinshuro became slightly bolder. "My pleasures are somewhat exotic, Lord Naraku, as Kuroushirou knows well."
Kuroushirou's beautiful face remained impassive, but a slight knowing smirk flickered across his elegant features at Yukinshuro's last comment.
"Yes." Naraku purred. "Those pleasures cost you your honor, your lands and your life, if I know the story well enough."
Rage filled Yukinshuro again at the memory and his eyes started to bleed red. He growled low in fury. Then Naraku's smooth voice slid over that rage like a soothing balm. "But do not fear, Yukinshuro, the Lord Kuroushirou and I understand your desires and I believe we have the solution to keeping those "pleasures" under control. Perhaps you would like to meet him."
"Him?" Yukinshuro's voice spoke the word, even as his mind formed the thought.
"Now, Pup." He heard Kuroushirou's smooth suggestive voice. "Come forward. It is time to display your negotiation skills."
"As you command, Chichiue."
The voice was rough and deep, sweet and seductive all at the same time. Yukinshuro raised his eyes to the entrance once again and took in the third figure that prowled into the rocky chamber with a wild feral grace that set every sensuous nerve in his body alight.
He was young, though older than a similar creature that had so recently been the Bear Lord's downfall, and he was every bit as untamed and beautiful, perhaps even more so. He had black ears, soft and downy amid long flowing hair, like black rippled silk. His golden eyes were Kuroushirou's, The Inu No Taishou's, the beautiful arrogant Sesshomaru's and his wild little Hanyo brother's, but they were all for Yukinshuro.
He was clad in travelling silks of black and blue, purple and red, exquisitely made and tailored to accentuate the lithe, feral beautifully muscled body underneath. Admiring the well-tailored garments and the suggestive delights beneath the silken folds was maddening enough, but the boy didn't give him long to suffer. With sensual, graceful movements the exquisite Hanyo divested himself slowly of the concealing robes to reveal the tantalizing flesh underneath and Yukinshuro found himself going rock hard, his entire body aflame with desire!
He couldn't tear his eyes away from the slowly stripping youth before him, and barely heard Kuroushirou's departing words. "This is our son, Young Lord Moryomaru. I trust you will enjoy his company."
"We will allow you to begin opening negotiations." Naraku's self-satisfied and suggestive purr came. "I imagine that you will be ready to continue the discussion of your allegiance soon enough."
Then they were gone, and Yukinshuro was alone with the beautiful, wild and feral creature of his dreams!
The Hanyo dropped the last of his attractive garments in a pool about his bare feet. His crest appeared to be the sand burr; how appropriate as there was nothing Yukinshuro wanted more than to have that delicious Hanyo clinging to him as tightly as sand burrs ever clung to cloth, fur or hair!
He watched mesmerized as the boy licked his clawed fingers and slid them down through the valley of dark, silken hair at the apex of his perfectly muscled thighs and over the glorious and beautiful treasure beneath. "May I join you?" His voice was a low rough purr of desire. He slithered down to sit on the edge of the spring, spreading his thighs invitingly, almost as if in an afterthought, revealing the tight puckered entrance into the sacred temple of delights, that awaited the lust-drowning Bear-lord below him. "Long journeys through untamed wilderness can make a body so filthy? Wouldn't you agree?"
It was too much for Yukinshuro to stand. His eyes turned red, and with a roar of desire, he seized the unbearably tempting creature before him and thrust deep and hard, burying his burning loins and blazing desires deep within the overflowing fountain of Paradise that had been so freely offered to him!
He heard the Hanyo scream and smelled the familiar coppery tang as blood began to flow into the waters from his brutal and hungry thrusts, and hard passionate grasp. He cared nothing for these distractions and quickly lost all sense of anything around him and this perfect creation. Only the ecstasy remained; ecstasy beyond anything he had ever experienced in his entire perverse and cruel existence; only the ecstasy.
Moryomaru had not been able to stop the first scream, or staunch the flow of blood that first spilled down his thighs from the perverted bear's insane lust and the vicious un-lubricated breach. But as the first shock faded, his powerful healing abilities quickly took over, and his body closed its wounds and soothed away the pain, replacing it with pleasure. He was made for this; it had been born in him from the very moment his first heat had passed and his adult abilities emerged. As he continued to offer his body for the Bear Lord's uncontrollable lust, he let his other abilities slowly take effect.
With the delight he provided through his skilled writhing squeezing and manipulation, another energy entered his powerful paramour's body and mind; his own youki, laced with potent pheromones and inevitably binding poisons. As he alternately purred and howled his delight, wrapping himself tightly around his lover's frantically thrusting body, guiding him slowly and surely towards his ultimate release; dark magics wove their spells inside the Daiyoukai's heart and soul.
Yukinshuro would never stop desiring him now; he would need Moryomaru as a tree needed sunshine and rain. Further games that the two of them would play, catering to the Daiyoukai's taste for hurting and dominating his sexual partners, would cause that need to grow even more. At the same time, poisons and magics were entering the Daiyoukai's brain, making him more compliant, more obedient, more agreeable.
His Chichiue and Tosama would find that it was much easier to convince the dull-witted bear to agree to their propositions, and this was Moryomaru's function as well. Yukinshuro was impulsive, lustful, vengeful and often out and out idiotic. Another stunt, like what he had pulled at the Inushiro's celebration, could very well sink his two fathers' carefully laid plans. It was Moryomaru's poisons that would insure that they could get that message through their new "ally's" thick skull, and prevent such a disaster from ever happening again.
Moryomaru smiled as the Daiyoukai howled, building rapidly towards his first climax. There would be many more for him before further "discussions" began. Moryomaru would see to that, and Yukinshuro would think himself Master over all his most powerful desires and dreams, as well as the delicious Hanyo that now sobbed and screamed beneath him, seemingly submitting to his "Master's" prowess at combining pleasure and pain into one overwhelming storm of Seme power.
"But it is the submissive, the Uke, who has the true power in such a situation." Moryomaru told the Bear Lord silently. "And as long as I have you in my power, you will never know that you have already been Mastered. You poor fool!"
Onnako: This is one of my creative license words. "Onna" means woman, more specifically young woman, or maiden, "ko" is a suffix usually used at the end of a girl's name. It denotes a daughter, or sometimes "daughter of." I guess a rough translation of the combined word would be "Daughter Maiden" It is the nickname Saishoukora uses to address Kagome, but please keep in mind that this is only a rough interpretation taken from a Japanese/English on-line dictionary.
Juromaru: Since I was corrected in my spelling of Jaken's name, I decided that I better check some of my other spellings of character's names and on an official site, I found the above spelling for the most honorable of Naraku's incarnations. He is the same character that we've been following since Chapter One, but with a new spelling for his name.
Akagitsune: This is the first part of Shippo's new title; the one he was given during his naming ceremony. The original was "Kitsugosai" combining the first part of the word "kitsune" (fox) with a word for red, or yellow too; "gosai," to put together a word for red fox, which is what Shippo appears to be. Fortunately, I have since discovered an even more complete site, which actually has a word for red fox: akagitsune, so I simply substituted the real word for my inexpertly patched together creation of before.
I've used the Japanese names for the parts of a traditional suit of armor quite freely in this chapter and am likely to continue in other chapters, so one more time, here are their definitions:
Sode: Shoulder guards, like Western Pauldrons.
Haidate: An armored belt with extended guards to protect the thighs and other more, um "vital" places.
Kiahan: These are armored coverings for the lower legs, similar to the Western "trews," wrappings worn around the lower shin and calf. The Japanese armor pieces are usually fashioned of woven steel and leather.
Sune-Ate: Like Western Grieves. They are hard plates that protect the shins.
Yugake: Like Western Bracers. They are hard plates that protect the forearms, wrists and sometimes part of the hand.
Kote: They are armored sleeves, usually fashioned out of woven steel and leather.
Daisho (or sometimes "Daishou"): The standard noble warrior's rig. It was a set of three swords: The long Katana, the shorter Wakasashi and a long slender knife known as a Tanto.
kurasan bakama: These are hakamas (loose Japanese trousers) that are worn in a tucked style. The style of trousers that Sesshomaru wears when he travels are kurasan bakama.
Well, My Dears and Darlings that's it for now, and I hope you enjoy my Thanksgiving offering. Please do remember how grateful I am for your faves, alerts and reviews. They really do give me pleasure.
Welcome and thank you to my new reviewers: Maymayliu, Lucy-Erza-Hearthfilia, I love snowy owls, and TheBaker1; and thank you Nightstar28 for that incredible, uplifting Birthday review. You really made my day, Sweetie; thank you so much!
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you; I hope that each and every one of you have a wonderful holiday, and hopefully it won't be too long before I am able to post the next chapter. Praise and bless you all for sticking with me through all the delays. You're all wonderful!