It would be many years before Kagome would truly come back to herself.

She swam the lake despondently by day, wandering the empty and crumbling grounds at night. Her hair grew long and tangled, her bearing extremely wild.

The beautiful silk gown she had been wearing the night everything fell apart was nothing more than tattered rags, covered in mud and other lake-related detritus. Kagome was sure that her scent was unpleasant, but could not seem to care when the notion arose in her mind, which was rare.

She watched as her father's estate fell into ruin, standing silently by as looters swarmed the old castle. She could not put any energy into worrying; besides, it wasn't as if Naraku kept his most valuable treasures in a place where thieves could easily reach.

She lived as a lakeside wraith and let a time slip by, almost without her notice. The lake was as ageless as she was, making it easy to forget that there was a world outside. It was hard to recall that the key to her humanity lay within the moonlight as well; she would remain as a swan for months on end, sometimes becoming human again completely by accident.

When this occurred, Kagome would spend her nights sobbing in the comfort of her old bedroom, even though the sheets had long rotted away and the mattress sat in tatters. She feared the sun, then, afraid that it would take away her sanity as quickly as it took away the night.

Often she would wonder what she could have done to deserve this fate. Although she was shy, at her core she was a highly social creature. As time went on, she grew to realize that the only one keeping her alone was herself.

One night she was perched on the window ledge of the tallest tower, viewing the moon in its pale glory. Beyond, she could see the beginnings of civilization being raised, and her expression hardened.

What was stopping her now, from living life the way she wanted? She was free of her controlling father, and free of any obligation to Kikyou or Inuyasha. The days were impossible due to her curse, but absolutely nothing was stopping her from taking the night as she saw fit.

Smirking grimly, she looked down at her filthy clothing and tangled hair.

In a whirl of tattered silk, Kagome made her way down through the ruined castle, deep into the dungeons. It was darker than she was used to, but nothing truly frightened her anymore. What was more, her long exile into night had enhanced her vision, making it easy for her to find the way in darkness.

In the bottom-most level, there was a single sculpture of a spider set into the wall, which she pressed firmly, watching as it sunk into the wall and fell away to reveal a heavily padlocked door. Smirking, she reached into her gown and removed an embroidered pouch that had been recovered from the bones of her father.

Inside were some coins, in addition to the silver key that matched the lock before her. As she drew it from the bag, her fingers caught on a lock of black hair curled up at the bottom. It was tied in the middle by a white ribbon that she recognized as Kikyou's. Brows furrowing, she stared at it, wondering what it was doing in Naraku's possession. After a few more seconds, she shrugged and tossed it over her shoulder, eyes growing cold as the memories of betrayal began resurfacing. She turned the key within the lock with more force than was probably required, but the padlock opened with a click, allowing Kagome to enter the treasury.

It was piled with gold, in some cases to the ceiling. Taking a cursory glance, she swept some coins into the pouch and turned to leave, but something glinted and caught her eye. Lying on a table a little bit away from the door was a jewelry box, and a moonstone pendant lay before it. Smirking at the rather appropriate necklace, she picked it up as well, whisking out of the chamber quickly.

Sesshomaru, Crown Prince of the West, marched down the hall of the old palace, displeasure slightly evident on his handsome features. Almost one thousand years of non-stop military service towards his family, and his father's idea of a reward was laughable. He grimaced internally at the memory of the meeting he had just left.

"My obedient son. I have decided to allocate to you the Western Provinces in return for your service to this country and its people." The look on his father's face was proud and vaguely affectionate. It was clear that he was glad to have his heir home at last.

"Only the West, Father?" he recalled asking, pointedly referring to the fact that he was well over the age where most sires would relinquish all of their holdings to the eldest son. His father should be retiring to enjoy his grandchildren, the spawn of his idiot brother, not ruling over the Center Provinces.

"Yes, Sesshomaru," his father replied, voice sounding firm, but tired. "I would be appreciative if you remembered the bargain we made before you ran off on a millennium of crusades." Sesshomaru frowned slightly, silver brows furrowing at was to come next.

"I want you to find a woman and settle down before you take on the responsibility of all six Western and Central Provinces," The dog demon Emperor stated. "A strong leader requires the support of a family." He looked to his left, smiling briefly at the Empress, who returned the gesture warmly before he turned to regard his son again.

" I did not require a woman when I led your armies, Father," Sesshomaru pointed out, working to keep the frustration out of his voice. "And we did win the war."

"Yes, my son, but that is war. You must learn to live in an era of peace, and where better to do that than the West? It has the most land and resources in the entire country, and I've heard that the nightlife in the capital, Occident, is rather fantastic."

Sesshomaru watched in disbelief as his father winked at him.

"Do not be unhappy with me, Sesshomaru. You are my eldest son and true heir; nothing has changed. I merely want you to wait just a bit longer to come into your birthright." His expression softened. "You shouldn't be condemned to rule alone."

His son quietly let out a slow sigh, keeping his golden eyes trained upon the man before him. "Yes, Father. I will make my way to Occident. The palace there is still in ruins, I assume?"

"About that," his father said. "You are free to do as you wish with the palace; but remember that Inuyasha nor his wife will set foot there. You will need to make arrangements for the entire family when we travel there for the Moon Festival in six months' time."

Sesshomaru nodded once, intrigued by the ruins that used to belong to Naraku, the former guardian of the West. Inuyasha had been adamantly refusing to step inside them for eight hundred years. It sparked his curiosity rather well. Perhaps this 'loving exile' could prove to be interesting. With a deep bow, he took leave of his parents and headed for his quarters to prepare for the journey.

It became clear as soon as he entered his rooms that there had been no room to refuse. The servants were already moving the bulk of his luggage to the loading bay, and his assistant Miroku was standing in his study, gazing out the window overlooking the sprawling forest grounds.

"It seems that already I have worn out my welcome," Sesshomaru murmured cynically, giving Miroku cause to turn around.

Miroku was an envoy from the neighboring country, or at least that was what Sesshomaru's father called him. In truth, the human was a hostage, kept in the empire in order to keep a hold on the fragile politics between their countries, while Sesshomaru's favorite niece was being fostered at the Eastern Palace-by-the-Sea in exchange.

Like most of the royal family of Orient, Miroku had dark hair and grey eyes, set in a handsomely pale face. His eyebrows were often quirked, and a smile constantly played around his lips. He was deceptively jovial and humorous; for underneath the easy-going exterior was one of the shrewdest beings Sesshomaru had ever met.

He was a man truly gifted in the art of observation, but it was a necessary skill in the Court of the Moon, especially for a human.

Miroku was one of the last of the Royal Line, which made his value as a hostage nearly priceless, but Sesshomaru viewed him more like a brother. They trained and fought together, and Miroku had proved himself more than capable in both battle and matters of state.

His friend gave him a smirk as he lowered himself onto one of the many cushions littering the floor of the room.

"Yes, it's so depressing to be sent to the biggest party hub in the empire, and even more so since I am forced to come along with you."

Sesshomaru gave him a blank stare. "I don't…party."

Miroku grinned. "Which makes this hilarious."

"Hn." Sesshomaru replied, turning noiselessly to enter his bedroom. "I take it that we depart tomorrow, given the speed that my things were packed?"

"You're correct," Miroku answered in his business tone, eyes growing distant as he analyzed the schedule on his biometric-interface. Most preferred to refer to the imbedded computer simply, calling it the com lens. "Right after breakfast."

Sesshomaru nodded; Miroku bowed. "Good night, your grace."

"Hn."

As the dog demon stripped for bed, his mind wandered to the Matter of the Swan, the official name for what occurred in the west eight hundred years before. He had been away at war at the time, but he remembered the look on his mother's face when she told the story. The tale had always fascinated him, and he recalled that no one had ever found the black swan girl.

He let a rare smirk grace his features as he fell into bed. Perhaps he'd bring her home. That would be quite a sight. Inuyasha would probably have puppies.

Before he rolled over to sleep, he made a mental reminder to have a video conversation with Rin before he departed. He would have to make arrangements to have a gift sent from his new lodgings.