West of the Moon
She didn't make it back to Sesshomaru. She barely made it out of the house.
She told Yukichi in a sort of scrambled rush that she was going home, she kissed her nephews and new niece, hugged Niwa and was out he door looking for Ahun before she had even thought about what she was doing.
Somehow, though, the thought of going back to Sesshomaru rose in her like a bubble and carried her on without even thinking to take food or reclaim her fur coat from her nephews.
She had only just reached out to Ah to pat the sleepy dragon's nose when there was a thundering crash just on the northern edge of the village. The ground beneath Rin's feet trembled and she heard a few strangled yelps of panic from the villagers around her.
She could see a few trees topple and tumble out of the forest like they were nothing more than twigs, and then she heard a sound that made her blood run cold. There was a yip and a howl and then the frenzied growling, teeth snapping sound of a dog demon in pitched combat.
For half a second she thought it was Sesshomaru, but then there was another snarl and more trees slammed into the frozen ground and she knew what was happening. "Jiroemon!"
She ran towards the sound, towards the battle, without thinking. There was nothing she could do except be in the way and end up dead, but it had to be Jiroemon being pushed out of the barrier.
Someone had found him. Now there was no hope of bringing down the barrier. It had been – she thought quickly counting the days – It had been four days since he had left. If Sesshomaru intended to attack on the seventh morning, then there were only two days left.
Behind her she head the roar and crackle of Ah and Un's lightning as they tried to warm themselves into action and follow her, but she didn't wait for them. Niwa screamed out her name, calling her back, but that didn't stop her either.
She knew what she was doing was stupid, but she had no intention of interfering. All she could really think was that in a battle she was no use, but she at least owed it to Sesshomaru to see how this entire thing played out.
She had left her Lord, she had sent Jiroemon into this danger, and all she could do to try and make it right was not run away from the things she was responsible for.
Rin slid into the nearest tree, clutching its rough, chilled bark and panting. She could feel her heart pounding fast and hard in her chest, but all she could hear was a sudden ripping, squealing snap that echoed through the sudden silence.
And then a long howl that made her think of a wolf towering over his kill.
She forced her fingers out of the little crevices in the trees bark and crept forward carefully.
The fight seemed to be over, and there was a treacherous hope in Rin's chest telling her that Jiroemon had been victorious, but she wasn't going to trust that just yet.
There was no need for her to worry though. As soon as she was close enough to see, Rin peeked through the bare twigs and shrubs and saw what looked like jagged, icy boulders strewn around a rough clearing that had never been there before.
Jiroemon stood in the center of it all, very small looking in his human form beside the ice chunks, wiping a smear of blood from his cheek onto his sleeve.
He paused a moment, head turned slightly, and then his eyes fixed on her with deadly accuracy.
"Yes," she said, trembling a little as she emerged from her hiding place. She hadn't been scared racing to a battle she knew she couldn't fight, but somehow she was afraid standing in front of this demon.
"You are alone."
He didn't ask her where Kiyoshi was, or where Sesshomaru was, or why she was there, and she found that made her feel a little better.
"What happened here?"
Jiroemon looked around, seeming to just realize there were giant ice blocks around him. "Oh. Ine was the youngest and weakest daughter of Tomoji. She was foolish to attack me, but we were lucky she did not simply report back to her father that she had seen me."
Rin's stomach lurched a little. The giant ice pieces around her were actually the remains of Ine, the ice demon. She had to remind herself that this was what happened in war, and that the death of the ice demon helped to even the odds.
"Have you had any luck destroying the barrier?"
Jiroemon looked at her with his muddy eyes, and while he was clearly related to Sesshomaru there was no way for Rin to read his face.
"You should not be here alone."
"I was on my way back," she told him. "My village is just beyond these trees, Ahun is waiting to fly me away."
Jiroemon looked passed her, as though he would be able to see the village. "Kiyoshi is not with you."
"No." Rin looked down at her booted feet, noting dimly that her coat was still back in Yukichi's home. "I left."
"But you intend to go back?"
"I made a mistake," she admitted, looking back up into his face and meeting his almost familiar eyes. "But I will not abandon Lord Sesshomaru."
He nodded, looking at her intently. "Even if it means your death?"
"Sesshomaru seems to have chosen wisely indeed," he murmured.
There was a sudden scream of rage from overhead, and both Jiroemon and Rin watched in surprise as an enormous creature flew overhead, darkening the already gray skies.
"Vulture. If Tomoji did not know of Ine's death, he will soon." Jiroemon fixed her with a look she wasn't sure she liked. "Lady Rin, this village you spoke of… There are creatures there that you care for?"
She nodded. "My brother and his family."
"If you wish to keep them safe from Tomoji's wrath for the death of his daughter, you must not return there. The vulture has no doubt scented you and will know if you flee in that direction."
"But Ahun is there. How will I get back without him?"
"You will not. If you cannot go back to the village, I cannot allow you to wander out here alone. Sesshomaru would have my head. You must accompany me."
Rin couldn't help that her jaw fell open, but she didn't have any argument to make. "What about your mission?" she asked, shocked.
"Do not slow me down."
Rin couldn't believe she was walking right back into the heart of the frozen barrier, following behind Jiroemon the way she had once followed Sesshomaru. There hadn't been a choice really, afterall Jiroemon seemed to believe he had no choice but to bring her along, but it still seemed crazy.
He moved quickly, but without the supreme self confidence Sesshomaru had. Rin was still able to keep up. She knew that in part it was because she was taller now, no longer a child, but she also suspected Jiroemon had slowed down for her despite his warning.
He had also insisted that they camp for the night, even though Rin had protested that they were wasting time.
It wasn't that she wasn't grateful, but she wished he would just leave her behind and get to wherever they were going quickly. He seemed to have some idea of where to find their goal so as far as Rin was concerned the sooner it was destroyed the better. If she was left behind then that was how it had to be. As it was, it was the fifth day since he had left Sesshomaru's camp and time was quickly running out.
The next morning found her following Jiroemon once more.
"You know where to find it, don't you?"
The demon didn't look back at her. "Yes. Ine was left to guard it; no one expected that she would have to defend it. But we fought a long battle over a great distance and we are no longer as close to it as I was."
"What is it?"
"As you thought, Lady Rin, a spiritual object. It is in a box, but I could feel its energy anyway."
"So if you know where this thing is, why are you wasting so much time with me? Go and destroy it."
His eyes flicked back at her, and then back to the land around them. They had passed through the barrier the night before and Rin couldn't help the fear that welled up in her that the barrier seemed to be growing. She was sure that she had traveled farther on Ahun than the distance they had walked.
"I cannot do that Lady Rin."
"Not even if I ask you to?"
"No. I cannot leave behind Sesshomaru's chosen mate anymore than you can abandon him."
Rin stopped dead in her tracks.
"I am not his…mate." Her voice sounded strangled even to herself.
Jiroemon turned and looked at her again, studying her carefully. "Not yet. But we have all long suspected that was his intention."
"All?" Now her voice was high pitched, squeaky even
"Of course. Jaken said that there was no possibility. The Lady Mother, General Kiyoshi and I are not so easily fooled though. He is very attentive towards you. I assumed he intended to take you as mate."
"But…" Rin tried to bite back a bubble of panic that she didn't understand. "But I'm human. Kiyoshi and Tane hate me. And what about his wife? Didn't Sesshomaru loose his wife?"
"I cannot speak for The Lady Mother or Kiyoshi, but you have proven yourself far more devoted and trustworthy than I believe Mitoyo was even capable of. Being human is of course unforgivable, but irreversible as well. If you were not human I would see no reason for you to be an unsuitable match.
"Of course, if Sesshomaru has not spoken to you of this, then perhaps we were all badly mistaken, but I do not think three of us could so misread Sesshomaru and his actions as to be wrong about this.
"As for Mitoyo… I fear someone has misinformed you. I do not think she and Sesshomaru even spent three hours put together in the same room in all the time she lived in the palace. The match was solely for land, and someday an heir, but I have never before seen anyone look so indifferent as Sesshomaru did when he heard of her death. He is hardly mourning her loss."
Rin could only stand and stare, trying desperately to reweave this story of Sesshomaru and Mitoyo with the truth she now knew. Kiyoshi had done so much more than only pretend to befriend her, he had lied to her. He had lied to her about everything.
And for what? To hurt her? To get her to leave? Because he thought Sesshomaru wanted her the way his father had wanted Izayoi?
She felt a hot blush rise up her neck and face, and shook her head to clear her thoughts.
"Jiroemon, please, let's just destroy this thing and get out of here," she said, marching past him with renewed determination. "It seems I have a few things I need to set straight with a few demons."
"Yes, Lady Rin."