"The gate!", Kikyo shouted. "We can't let it open!"
In the next room they found what looked like an ancient well, with a wall built around it, and wooden planks layed over the top. These were weighted down with a pile of heavy stones, themselves secured with a mesh of crossed chains, and set at intervals with branches from an evergreen tree. Stuck to everything - the walls, the boards, the rocks, the chains - were little paper scrolls, each of which contained a prayer or blessing. Ominous blue smoke issued from beneath, rolling up in clouds on either side of the well.
Just then, there came a low, creaking groan, accompanied by a gust of wind that made the paper scrolls flutter as they stood on end. In an explosion of light, a pillar of blue flame leapt from the floor to the ceiling, where it spread out until it reached the walls, and began to come down the sides of them. And all the while, all manner of demons and foul creatures of every description began to pour from the well. They came like a mass of slithering snakes, writhing together, with wide eyes and gaping mouths, eager for freedom after their long imprisonment on the other side of the gate. There were devils, with hooves and horns, and crude mixtures of man and beast, along with other, stranger abominations, such as a giant, floating eye, and a skull that moaned as it flew past them. Others seemed to have no shape, but were only vague, looming shadows.
Kikyo loosed several arrows, sending purple streaks into the advancing onslaught. Wherever they hit, the grotesque forms they met with would break up, and disintegrate, but they were just as quickly replaced.
"There are too many of them!", she shouted, drawing another arrow, and holding it to her bow. "Hold them off! I'm going to try to seal it!" And she bent her bow and held it, focusing her concentration. The tip of the arrow began to glow.
Sesshomaru remained looking at her for a moment. He did not at all care for the imperious way she'd addressed him, and he took out his frustrations by swatting several of the strange entities nearest him. To his delight, he found them to be quite corporeal and vulnerable to his otherworldly blade.
"Tenseiga, it seems at last I have a use for you", he smiled. Never mind the fact the sword had already once saved his life. As he held the venerable old blade, he suddenly felt a pulse course through it. Looking before him, he saw a whirlwind forming out of a blue mist.
"I can see it. Just like the wind scar - I can see the vortex where the two atmospheres converge. But wait -", he thought, looking over his shoulder at the lamps in the burial chamber, with their flames burning perfectly upright, "There isn't any wind down here. The air in the tomb is stagnant - probably poisonous - there isn't even a slight breeze. Then this vortex must be the collision between boundaries, between this world and the next. I wonder . . ."
And taking up the sword, he drew the Tenseiga back. In that instant, the whole room seemed to draw back with it, and hang suspended, waiting for his hand. Casting forward, the sword let out a blinding blue streak that lit up the cavern like a bolt of lightning in a storm. The blast tore through the cloud of onrushing demons, cleaving it in two.
"It's working!", Kikyo shouted, watching the purple light creep down the arrow shaft towards her fingers. "Just a little more . . ." She took aim at the base of the well.
But then, an awful cry filled the cavern, together with a low rumble that made the floor shake, so that she nearly toppled backwards. Bits of the ceiling rained down around her, and for a moment she wondered if the whole cave would collapse, and entomb them both. Slowly, a giant horned head emerged from the well. Kikyo followed it with the point of her arrow, up - up - as the shoulders emerged, then the body. It was red, like the fires she had burned in, and carried a giant club fashioned from a tree trunk that had been wrapped in iron, and studded with spikes.
The purple light reached her fingertips. She flexed her bow.
But before she could let go of the string, Sesshomaru leapt.
"Go back to where you came from", he said, as the fur pelt of his mokomoko trailed out behind him. "There's no place in this world for something as wretched as you!"
And with a single stroke, he slashed through both the giant demon, and the pillar of blue flame, which at once was extinguished. The beast let out a miserable groan as its upper half began to fall to one side. It never made it to the floor, but instead began to break up in mid air, disinterating before their very eyes, until it was gone, leaving only its awful cry behind, still echoing eerily in the farther parts of the cavern.
The pillar of fire was gone, leaving the chamber dark except for the dim shadows cast by the torches in the next room, and the purple glow of Kikyo's arrow. By their light, they could see the well as it was before, the boards and rocks and chains still in place. The scrolls fluttered for a moment, then were still. A faint blue mist crept up from beneath. As Sesshomaru sheathed his sword, the moment the hilt of the Tenseiga came to rest against the scabbard's mouth, this, too extinguished.
Kikyo relaxed the pressure on her bow. The purple light left the arrow, and she took it from the string, and put it back in it's place. The bodies of the demons she had shot, and the hundred slain by the Tenseiga, had all vanished. In the next room, Yamahiko lay in his coffin, undisturbed. The body of the young man was missing from the hall. One of her arrows was lying in its place. Reaching down, she picked it up, and put it back in her quiver.
The only thing to prove that any of it had ever happenned at all was the hole in the sleeve of Sesshomaru's kimono. This he regarded with no small sense of displeasure. Sesshomaru looked at her. Kikyo averted her eyes. Then he turned, and walked away.
He did not speak to her on the way back. Neither of them spoke. When they came to the village, Kikyo stopped to buy herself a new pair of sandals, to replace the ones she had lost in Naraku's miasma. She paid for them with a golden oban coin. Oban were usually minted to commemorate a special occasion of some sort. They were to be given - and spent - only for very special reasons. Kikyo had the coin left from part of a payment she'd received for slaying another demon, in another village. Looking around at the depressed condition of the little town, with the ravages of the demon everywhere - in the ragged buildings, and streets, and people - she decided that spending anything in this poor little village was a good deed unto itself. And besides, she really needed a new pair of shoes.
And then they left, before anyone else could know they were there. As they walked, Kikyo thought about saying something to him, but when she looked at Sesshomaru, she could see that his hair still bristled, almost ready to stand on end, so she said nothing. They went uphill, and downhill for most of the day - for such is the way of traveling in mountains. At night, they stopped to camp in the clearing, the same one from before, with the ruined castle on the hilltop in the distance.
Kikyo looked at Sesshomaru. There was less tension in his shoulders now. His silvery white hair had finally smoothed out in the evening breeze, though parts of it were still a little out of place. She found herself thinking it could use a good combing.
"I'll make a fire", Kikyo said, and she gathered the wood, and the built the fire, and sat down beside it. She made a kind of game out of trying to warm herself. She held out her hands, and kept turning them, over and over again in front of the fire, trying her best to heat them evenly on both sides, so that they would feel warm, as if she were alive again. Finally, it grew late, and she went to bed. The last thing she saw as she laid down her head was Sesshomaru, sitting with his back against a tree. His pale face and the billows of his white kimono glowed like the moon. Then she closed her eyes, and went to sleep.
They set out early the next day. It was still quite dark when they crossed the little bridge beside the waterfall, and passed the place where Sesshomaru thought he had heard a flute some days before. They kept on walking, until they came to the place where their paths had met, where one road led back to the place where Rin and Jaken were camped, waiting, while the other lead out of the forest, over a small plain, toward the village where Kikyo had first set out.
The grey light of morning moved in among the trees. Kikyo rested her back against one of them; Sesshomaru remained standing, motionless, his side turned towards her. He did not look at her. They remained like that for a long while, with neither of them saying anything. When they did speak, it was Sesshomaru who spoke first.
"I told you" he said calmly, "That I was going to be the one to kill him."
Kikyo turned her back to him.
"I could have adjusted my aim", she said, "Just a little bit, and I would have killed two youkai, instead of just one. Perhaps it would have been a better use of my arrow."
Her voice was very bitter.
"My brother is a fool . . ." Sesshomaru growled.
"Hmpfh!" Kikyo sighed, turning the rest of her back to him, as if in disgust, but really it was because she did not want him to see the pained look in her face.
"I know", she said, "He takes up with humans - but his mother was human, so what did you expect? I've heard all this before . . ."
"I suppose he is better off this way, with that other girl - the one with the strange green and white clothing -"
Kikyo winced, and her shoulders rose up.
" He doesn't deserve you . . . And besides- he'd never be able to handle you. You're far too - formidable . . . Even if you are a human."
Kikyo froze. It took her a moment, to think about what he had said. All the while, as they were standing there, their hair, and the sleeves of their kimono, and the folds of their hakama were caught in the same breeze. Kikyo took a deep breath. If Sesshomaru heard her sniffle, he did not say anything about it. When she was able to move again, she straightened her back, then turned slightly, and looked at him over her shoulder.
"I told you", she said with a smile - a beautiful, deadly smile, "I never was much good at being human."
And then she turned, and walked away.
Sesshomaru remained looking after her. There was something about the manner of her walk - it might have been the way her white, bell shaped sleeves of her kimono seemed to float along side her. Or perhaps it was the sweep of her hair, where it hung down behind her in a loose ponytail, gathering in at the base of her neck before trailing down her back. Or maybe it was the shifting motion of the pleated folds of her red hakama pants. Sesshomaru couldn't say exactly, but whatever it was, it drew his attention.
When she was a little ways off, she stopped, and looked back over her shoulder at him again. But he did not turn away, or make any attempt to disguise the fact that he was looking at her. So she smiled again, a bit smugly, then turned and began to walk again.
After she had gone awhile, she stopped and turned again. When she saw that he was still looking, she smiled once more, then continued on her way. She did not stop or turn around again. Sesshomaru watched her grow small in the distance, until he could no longer see the separation between her white kimono top and her red hakama pants, or the switching of her ponytail from side to side, or the shifting of her gait. He turned halfway round, and paused for a moment.
And then he walked away.
"Where have you been, Lord Sesshomaru?"
"Nowhere", Sesshomaru answered, in that tone of voice that Rin liked so much. He set a small bundle on the ground, then drew out the Tenseiga, his father's old sword, and examined the blade.
Rin looked at the bundle curiously, but Sesshomaru paid it no attention, as if he had already forgotten about it. Carefully, she crept over to the mysterious package, and tugged at one end of the string that held it closed.
"Hey!" Jaken shouted, "No one ever said that was for you!"
Rin reached into the folded cloth, and found an orange and white ribbon that matched her kimono perfectly.
"Thank you, Lord Sesshomaru!" she exclaimed, then flipped her hair forward and tied it up on top of her head, in imitation of what she imagined the hair of the noble ladies at court would look like.
"Stop that! You're being silly!"
"Master Jaken", Rin said, straightening her back and speaking with a very regal tone of voice, "You must not address the Great Lady Rin-hime that way -" She held her serious expression for as long as she could, which was not very long, before she burst out laughing.
"Oh! I don't have to put up with this off of the likes of you! Lord Sesshomaru! Lord Sesshomaru -"
But Sesshomaru was sitting underneath the tree, looking the other way. He was looking in the direction he had come from when he returned that morning. It was the same direction in which he had last seen the Lady Kikyo.
"What is it, Lord Sesshomaru?", Rin asked carefully.
Sesshomaru kept looking in the same direction for a few moments more, then turned to face the other way.
"It's . . . nothing . . ."