"Akime? Akime, Darling, where have you gone to?"
A small head, covered by a mess of dark, tangled hair, popped around a tree and grinned a gaped-tooth smile at her caller. But she pulled back, staying just enough behind the tree to observe and not be seen.
"Akime, you little woodland child, where have you disappeared to now?" A woman called. She was the most beautiful person in the world, the child thought. Taller than most females in their village home; auburn hair that rippled down her back in graceful, shining waves; an expressive mouth that could offer sweet words one moment and biting punishment the next; eyes that held a world of knowledge that the child had only a small glimpse of. "Come, my child, our search is not over. We still have many things to find for the village's herb supply."
The woman walked past the child's hiding place and slowly the little girl crept up until she was just an arm's length away. Ever so slowly, her arm reached out to grab on to the woman's skirt when a vision took over. All of her senses were bombarded by the images and sounds and feelings and tastes and smells of what she experienced: Sharp, painful claws burrowed into her flesh; Pain and fear for another washed through her mind; The snarls of the Demon and her choking screams of pain hit numb ears; blood splashed on her tongue, the copper taste bitter but her own; The dirty, rotted scent of the demon mixing with the smell of her spilt blood. The child experienced a nauseating sense of vertigo as the woman's body fell slowly to the ground, hair and skirt dancing in a slow motion breeze until she at last rested, eyes closed and a small line of red trickling from her nose and smiling lips.
The child broke free from the vision when both lids met and sat gasping on the ground, trying to understand all she had seen in those eternal seconds. She grabbed at the thing holding her steady and upright, looking over to see the woman's now-worried eyes staring into the child's dilated pupils. "What did you see?" She asked in a whispered hush.
The child gasped for a few seconds longer and forced her way to her feet, grabbing the woman's wrist and taking off. The woman protested, "Akime, what's wrong? My child, what did you see that you are so frightened?"
"Danger. Danger, pain, fear, ending, death." The words spilled from the child's tongue with a heaviness that no young one should have to hold on their shoulder, but there the two were, running away from something only the child knew was coming.
"Akime, what did you see?" The woman asked again, stopping and grabbing the child in her hands, trying to get the young one to calm down. But the child squirmed, fear set deep in her heart.
"We mustn't stop! Go, go go! Move, run, get to the men, the men will protect. Move move move!" The child was screaming, tearing out of the elder woman's grip and turning on her heel to sprint faster than was humanly possible away from the danger.
Then it hit her. The woman. She was alone in her vision! If she stayed by her side, she would not get hurt, she would be saved from-
The scream rang, and it felt as if it had ripped from the child's own throat. She knew that sound better than she knew herself.
The child turned off her mind and ran, ignoring the sticks that cut into her feet, the burning in her lungs that demanded air, she ran and ran with no direction yet coming to the place by memory of sight alone.
Slowly, the child approached the ragged body of the woman. Skin lay open like overripe fruit, split to show its juicy flesh beneath. Everything was as she knew it would be, not a hair or blade of grass out of place.
The child fell to her knees and took up the woman's uninjured hand into her own. The flesh was still warm, even as the child watched the ghostly whisper of the woman's spirit dance on her lips. "Mother? Mother, can you hear me?" The woman's spirit twitched and slithered closer to the child. "Mother, open your eyes. Sit up. Please. Don't leave me. Open your eyes. I want to go home." Fat tears flooded her vision and several began to rain down her face. One landed on the woman's slowly chilling hand. "Please Mother, return to your body. I'll get a healer and she'll fix you. She'll make you better and you can continue living. Just don't leave me. Please. Mother, open your eyes, squeeze my hand, anything. Please." Snot began to drip from her nose but the child took no notice. She could only watch as her Mother's freed spirit drifted closer to her child.
The spirit swept over her face, caressing the wet cheeks, nuzzling into her neck, whispering into her ear, 'It's alright, my little Akime. I am no longer in pain. You are such a beautiful and smart child. You make me so proud to call you my daughter. Now, leave my body.' Her daughter cried out in protest, but the spirit whispered soft, comforting sounds into her ear. 'Do not worry, my little one. The gods have given me just enough time to escort you back to the village. I will be with you for your return.'
A twig snapped, and the child only slowly processed the approach of the demon, claws and maw still drenched in the blood of her mother. She didn't have time to scream before the searing pain of flesh ripping, eyes breaking, mind overtaken by this pain and finally a scream erupted-
-And I sat up, gasping for air and drenched in a freezing sweat. I clawed at my face, running my fingers over my eyes but they were met with whole, healed skin. A dream. It was only a dream. A horrible, tormenting, accurate night terror that was finally over.
A hand touched my back, and I weakly looked to see the concerned face of my Sesshomaru looking at me in the little light filtered in from the campfire outside my little cave room. "You're back." I rasped, throat sore and swollen, most likely from crying and screaming in my sleep.
"Yes." He said with a perfect voice, smooth and unhindered unlike mine. "I returned a few hours ago, while you were sleeping and thought I'd rest with you until you awoke. Now," He wrapped his arms around me and cradled me against his strong, warm chest, "What was it that was tormenting you to scream so in your sleep? You're usually so silent when you rest, barely moving let alone screaming. "
"My past, returning to haunt me." I sighed, the chills leaving my body as his warmed mine, though the sticky feel of sweat lingered on my flesh. "I haven't had that night terror in a long time."
"May I ask what you dreamt of?" He asked softly, petting down the kinks and snarls in my bed messed hair.
"Not yet. It's still too fresh and painful. But I will later. For now, can we go back to sleep?" My words slurred as my mind drifted back towards the sleep world.
"Rest. I will watch over you." He whispered.
I slept, my exhausted mind finding peace after such a tiring memory.
I awoke a time later, still wrapped in Sesshomaru's warm arms. He took a waking breath and shifted as I slowly unkinked muscles and sat up on my own, rubbing sleep sand from my eyes. The fire outside my cave still burned but was dying down. Dawn would be in an hour or two. I stretched my back out and Sesshomaru let out a soft grunt. "Wings." He murmured and with a start I pulled my wings back close to my body.
"Sorry." I sighed, rolling my head around my neck until I was looking back at him. "They have a mind of their own." I stood and felt the stretch of dried sweat still lingering on my skin. I turned back to Sesshomaru, words to tell him of my departure on my lips, when I saw him drift off to sleep. I smiled, leaned down to place a soft kiss on his forehead and stepped out into the warm night. I shook my body out, wings stretching open wide and hopped off the cliff edge, gaining speed and tilting up and out of the earthen crack. I soared above the open earth, glided past treetops and finally spotted the ethereal lit Hot Springs.
The humid air hit my skin and wings, causing me to lift up a little higher, catching the air currents. I drifted down to the ground, closed my wings and danced across the wet ground. I quickly stripped of my clothes and jumped into the water. I could practically feel the grime lifting off my skin, washing away with each wave of water. I ducked under the water several times, scrubbing my skin with a cloth I had brought along, before resting up against one of the natural rock seats. The warm stone did wonders on my back and wings and I had to force myself to stay awake or sink beneath the water.
I began to hum softly, filling the little grotto with sound. It was nice. But I knew it was going to end. It always did.
"Mistress." Knew it.
I groaned and sat up, looking about for the caller. On a rock just outside the water's edge crouched Fuin on spindly legs. His dead leaf eyes looked down at me, with no shame for my nakedness. "Mistress, our Master has sent word to you."
"Then speak." I instructed, leaning back against the rock and closing my eyes.
"Our Master sends his congratulations at a job well done. Upon sending men, he discovered that already the townspeople have resumed their lives with barely a hitch and trade has begun again. He graciously sends a gift for you, to be given at the end of this message. For now, there are no jobs that he has for you, but will send word as soon as one comes up. More jobs will arise when you resume your nomadic journey. To ease your separation from your group, puppets and other slaves will be sent to you with a story already concocted. May you stay safe and ever happy, Master Naraku."
"That was a long message. Did you have it written down or-"
"What our Master says, I remember all. As should you." His voice took on a hint of anger at the emphasis of Naraku being a master of any sorts to me.
My hand wrapped around his tiny throat and cut off his air in an instant, though Fuin showed no signs of struggle or fear. "I belong to no one. I did not ask for any of this and I refuse to act as if this is some amazing gift. I do not belong to that insufferable, halfblooded bastard Naraku."
I caught the angery spark in Fuin's eyes, though his facial expression did not change at all. "Oh, what's wrong? Do you not like that I call your Master by his given name? Naraku? Then go and complain to him, it will not change my mind." I finally released my grip and heard him suck in a huge breath, though again he was able to train his features.
"Here is what the Master wanted me to give you." He handed over a parcel wrapped in cloth and left. Just like that.
I returned to the water, the cool air having chilled my damp skin, and turned the small parcel in my hand. Slowly, I undid the cord ties and found within a folded paper. I unfolded the paper and felt my mood lift as it revealed the clumsy lines and shapes that could only be imagined by a child's hand. It was an oil drawing of the moonlit garden, with the broad outlines of flowers the size of a man's head. There were two people with their backs turned, holding hands. One that could only be my little Usagi and the other taller, with black shapes coming from their shoulders. It was a lovely drawing of Usagi and her artistic rendition of me holding hands and walking through the garden.
I carefully returned the picture to its original wrapping and set it out of the steam. I remained in the pool until the sun just began to rise into the sky and light up the world under its glow. I rose, shook off as much water as possible, redressed and made my way back to camp with my parcel carefully tucked into my pack.
The camp was alive with motion as I swooped down, landing just outside of the ring of children. All heads turned to me, demon, wolf and one human.
"Akime!" Rin screamed, jumping up from the huddle of children and plowing her way over to me. She jumped, literally, into my arms and we both fell to the ground. I groaned as I landed on a wing but ignored the pain as her little arms wrapped tighter around my neck. "I missed you so much! I was worried all the time and even though Jaken told me it was stupid to worry so much about you I couldn't help it. But when I saw Lord Sesshomaru coming to take us to you, I was so happy because I knew you were safe! And You Have Wings!"
I laughed, sitting up and wrapping my wings around the two of us. She spun around in my arms, looking all about and asked, "You can use them, right?"
"Of course, silly!"
"Is that where you went? When you went away. To get your body all changed?"
"Sort of." I said, bouncing her on my knee.
"I like your ears." She said abruptly, reaching up towards my head. "Like a fairies."
I laughed aloud this time, reaching up to touch the large flap of skin- That wasn't anything more than a pointed, humanoid ear. I released Sesshomaru's hand to inspect the other and found it the exact same! Though the twin rings and connecting chain remained in the flesh. I smiled, but the irony was not lost: this would only make my job as an assassin easier, seeing as I no longer had two huge skin flaps to conceal.
"You know what, I like them too." I finally replied to Rin.
She sighed dreamily, still eyeing my wings. "I wish I could fly."
I smirked evilly and grabbed up Rin into my arms, took two running steps and with one great downward thrust of my wings we were launched up into the air. We soared higher and higher into the sky until all of the little ones were tiny dots along the cliff's edge.
"Just keep your arms out and imagine you're flying. It feels the same way I feel when I fly." I said directly into Rin's ear and started flying in a diagonal line upward, building speed before I released Rin.
She screamed with excitement, her hair whipping and tangling behind her as I stayed just out of reach. When she sped up and gravity started to take hold of her I reached down and took her into my arms again, spinning around and climbing up again into the air only to release her again and watch as she spun down in lazy circles.
I had taken hold of her for a third time when the sound of something hissing entered the air, then the rip of tight canvas, followed closely by a horrible pain in my left wing. The wing instinctively curled in tight against my body, causing the two of us to race towards the ground in a tight spiral.
Clenching my teeth and ignoring the sound of Rin's frightful screams in my ear, I forced the wing to spread out to level our descent. My vision started to grow fuzzy and gray at the edges while I timed our downward trajectory towards the young group, but I could feel the hole in my wing starting to grow larger and larger. I let go of Rin, watching only for a moment as she sailed down into one of the adult's arms before the harsh impact of the ground met my body. I bounced and slid across the ground a few moments longer before settling down on the rock.
A crowd of demons began to gather, some yelling or running for help. Sesshomaru was at my side a heartbeat later, hands hovering over my body looking for an injury. "My wing." I ground out, my voice choking up at the end as a sob ripped out of my throat. This was a new pain, a new weakness that I couldn't even begin to understand. Pain shot through my entire body, rippling out from the puncture.
"There's an arrow logged in your wing." Sesshomaru informed me.
Another sob escaped my clenched teeth. "Get it out, Get It Out, GET IT OUT!" I cried, tears running nonstop down my cheeks.
"Don't touch that Demon, it was trying to steal Rin!" A voice yelled, followed by the sound of several people running along the rocky incline.
"What are you doing to that thing? Kill it before it tries again!" Another voice, male, followed.
I started to open my eyes to the new voices but my vision blacked out completely and a yell scraped out of my throat as the snap of the arrow shaft tousled my wing. Sesshomaru continued to move and slipped the remaining shaft out of my flesh and threw it aside.
I could hear Rin shouting and running towards us, yelling "Stop! Don't hurt her again! Stop!"
My vision slowly returned and I rolled on to my right side and curled the injured wing in around me. I reached my right hand out to Sesshomaru and he slowly lifted me up to my feet. The world spun and the beat in my wing increased but I could now make out the approach of-
"Kagome?" I said, sniffling ungracefully up the snot that came with the tears.
Her bow was notched and aimed right for me, but her sighting faltered and she quickly lowered her bow. "Oh my God, Akime?"
"You? You're the one who shot me?" I asked, incredulous. Why would Kagome shoot me, Me, of all people?
"I- I heard Rin screaming, and well, she kept falling and kept getting grabbed up again, and you, I guess were, and she was, well, and When Did You Get Wings?" She replaced her arrow to its quiver and threw her bow around her torso.
"It's long and complicated, but that's not important right now. You shot me! Oww!" I unfurled my wing to look at the hole. Sure enough, a gaping wound three fingers long was cut into the flesh. And it hurt! But as I watched the edges began to pucker and slowly grow back out, reaching for its other half. In a half hours' time the wound would close completely and by the end of the day I would be able to fly again. I curled my wing back towards me and looked over at Kagome.
"What are all of you doing around here? Last I knew, you were at least a two weeks journey from here."
"We were passing through and hoped to find shelter to rest for a few nights." Sango answered, shifting her pack on her back with a grimace. "It'd be nice to stay somewhere that has an actual roof, be it grass or rock."
"And, of course, you are all welcome to my home." Kouga's voice projected, walking toward the group of travelers. "We always have spare rooms available for any groups who are courageous enough to ask a wolf pack for shelter." He cut straight through to Kagome and took her hand with a conspiratorial wink. "Hello again, Kagome. I hope this fool has been keeping you safe, if not sane."
Kagome laughed, distracted from her grief,"I have been well, thank you for asking Kouga. I see that you have been housing Akime for some time now."
"Unwillingly, I might add." I piped in, sticking my tongue out childishly at Kouga when he looked back at me with a look of false sadness.
He chippered up instantly, of course, when he turned back to Kagome. "Might I escort you and your group to your temporary home here?"
"Yes," Inuyasha replied, pushing to stand in between Kouga and Kagome. "I would just love for you to show me where we will be staying. For only a few nights. In which that time I will be by Kagome's side every minute."
"Right you are, Dog Boy. Shall we?" Kouga gestured for Inuyasha to follow him, but the two walked side by side, slowly increasing in speed until the two were practically running toward the rooms with the others jogging behind to keep up.
"If this place becomes any more crowded we may have to share a room with Inuyasha." Sesshomaru joked, his breath tickling the hairs around my ear.
I chuckled, turning to look up at him. "If it gets any more exciting around here, we may just have some alone time to ourselves, won't we?"
He pulled me closer to his body, leaning down to breath softly against my lips the words, "Well, then I hope more begin to show."
I laughed softly and joined my lips to his for a brief moment. "Shall we retire to our cave, then? I'm feeling rather tired."
His eyebrow rose in question, but heat and lust began to rise into his amber eyes. "As you wish."
A/N: AT LAST! This is kind of a get-back-into-the-story chapter. If I'm lucky and my Muse continues to inspire, chapters will be this long or longer from now on! Woot! More to read! Sorry for the wait though, between college, practically full time work, moving into my own place and joining a Wiccan Coven, I've been too busy to sit down or even think about what Akime and the gang will do next. I still have no idea. But I'm working on it! Heck, I would love to hear your input and see what you want to happen next. Best Idea Gets Included With An AWESOME Author Recognition Paragraph. SO! You want something to happen? PM or write a review and if I love it, we shall talk!
Can't wait to hear your ideas! Expect a new chapter soon!