This story is set strictly in Sesshomaru's POV, from a third person perspective until the very end where Death has Her say.

If you're hoping for a happy ending, turn back now. Darkly-themed, horror-driven, sexual situations/details, desperation, gloom, and a lovely couple, my first and eternal OTP; you are forewarned.

The deviation from the anime's canon is intentional.

DokkasōPoison Flower Claw

Sōū- Dragon Strike

I own nothing.

"Gaily I lived as ease and nature taught,

And spent my little life without a thought

And am amazed that Death, that tyrant

Should think of me, who never thought of him." ~ Rene Francoi Regier

The only emotion that is capable of completely obliterating pride is desperation. A fallacy occurs in that logic however, when love becomes a close second. Hopeless feelings in an impassioned heart form the most powerful weapon: a double-edged blade.

Three days and nights had passed, the sun slipping into a bloody-red outline against the horizon, and come the dawn, the sky bled with the youkai lord's loss of sleep. It was of no consequence, for his body could easily recuperate if given a few hours, regaining the tantamount of his strength within a small time-frame.

The blessing of sleep was his reward, for he had questions that needed answering, inquiries that needed to be fulfilled, at any and all costs to his personal comfort.

The thought of comfort was laughable, but if he was to try and attempt such a feat, amusement would sound satiric, brittle to the ear, and the furthest thing from mirth. There was nothing amusing about this present situation, nothing at all.

Instead of focusing on how he had sunk so low in his life, so low as to where he was seeking answers from the literal underworld, he focused on the why, the what, and more importantly, the who.

Never did Sesshomaru give favors, either willingly, or unwillingly. There was nothing he needed in life from people that asked for help from him, nor did he in return, need their assistance.

He was inexorably wrong.

There was something he had been unaware that he needed, and once more, craved after the first sampling of satisfaction proved to be more than appeasing. As a being who made it personal habit to want for nothing, he found this to be an enigma, an intrigue that he unraveled, again and again until he saw the answer, carved by a commanding wind.

Also, there was a question he needed a reply to, and the only being that could do so wasn't of this world.

'Love and death always did walk in tandem.'

Love. There was that word, and once more, the emotion and sensation that came from such a grave, wondrous feeling. That was what his life had lacked, as pitiful and absurd as that was. From the lord who had seemingly everything in his iron grip, there was one notion that he would never be able to grasp at will; it was a feeling that came on its own, without any semblance of forewarning.

It happened, and it had been too surreal to place into words. Feelings like that could only be described in hyperbole, in endless fashions of metaphor and simile. Those decorative, pretty words would do nothing to even graze the surface of his unearthed emotions, of the intensity of the passion between him and Kagura.

Kagura. Yes, it had been her, that once accursed detachment of his one true enemy. It was a dark irony in the bleakest hour of midnight, a gloom that would shield the appearance of dawn. But the truth remained, for the truth was that blackness: she was now his.

She had once stood on the opposite end of the battle field, and he recalled her sneering at him, the smirk playing on the edges of her ruby-red lips like a renowned musician to the strings. He remembered the way that her eyes flashed with annoyance when he wouldn't accept the compensation for freeing her, and to counter her scorn, dismissed her with a cold shoulder. He hadn't paid her a single thought after those meetings, for she was little more than a doomed creature, doing her master's bidding. Sesshomaru never liked puppets.

All of this was memory, memory not only engraved in stone, but buried beneath the earth in tunnels that would never know of this concrete volition of his, the turnabout that altered more than his mind-set. New memories scratched out the cruel epitaphs he had created with his insolent behavior, and before long, they were swept away on a warm, caring wind, undoubtedly forgiven. He had always thought the elements to be forgiving to those who knew compromise.

It had taken a few meetings, some with her siblings, some without, for him to become in the least bit affected by the creature known as Kagura. Physical beauty, if it was borne of some unique element, could hold him in thrall but he was well aware that those with the faces of angels could have the souls of twisted and cowardly hellions. In the superficial regard, Kagura wasn't beautiful. There was her surface appearance, the peach skin, the long limbs, and the way that her clothes were the perfect contradiction: leaving much to the imagination, but still pronouncing her full-breasted, hourglass figure. She was a beautiful woman, a youkai that governed one of the elements, commanding the winds by birth-right, power breeding an exquisite tone to her being, to her aura. In every regard, she was prodigiously beautiful. There was intellect behind those rose-red eyes, a sharp wit, and a mind to match. She would've made an excellent chess player he knew, for there was calculation in her spirit, a fortitude that remained inextinguishable by mental and physical torment. And he knew that she had suffered, for there was no one who was in as much anguish under Naraku's reign as his underlings. Despite what he knew to be truth, there was strength in her, intelligence...and above all, a worthiness that far surpassed the fools in his court.

This train of thought was dangerous, and above all, unnecessary. He didn't need to be deterred from revenge, to invest time, thought, and his attentions on someone who was desperate for freedom. She was pitiful, pathetic...and he was lying to himself if he claimed that Kagura had no impact on him. It was the polar-effect.

She was unlike any creature he'd ever met. She was otherworldly, exotic, a flower he'd uncovered beneath a bramble of warped, black thorns. There was mystery there as to how she had managed to germinate and stay alive under such trying circumstances, and that only served to propel his intrigue further. She was a survivor, this one, and the very nature of how she remained stable and defiant surged him into the bowels of interest.

One year previously, they had one such solitary meeting. He remembered that it was about nothing more than the passing of news, for this woman that could control both the wind and the dead played the part of the messenger as well. The fact that would've meant nothing to him before now enraged him; someone of her incredible spirit deserved to be the one giving orders, aside from following them.

To see her in such a position before him blistered a hate that drizzled to his core, igniting ropes of flame down his throat, deep into his chest, fanning into a conflagration of rage known only to his inner-youkai. Seeing her before him in the position of servitude, a lowliness known only to commoners and the leeches of a petty archetype of a court throttled him, a hairline fracture splitting his resolve.

Opening his mouth fragmented him, shattering a disciplined self-control. He imparted to her about where she belonged status-wise, he who had barely spoken a handful of words before to her was now bestowing a compliment.

Sesshomaru remembered with fondness how Kagura's eyes had narrowed, blinking in such a way that suggested he spend the next century in a healer's quarters. Foolishness thundered through his body, lightning coursing through his claws, the tips of his toes, his muscles.

What was he doing, suggesting such a thing to her? He had no time to be weak-willed, no time to steer from his path, especially if it involved talking with the one directly connected to his enemy.

Then, remarkably, her eyes softened, and the armor that she donned like a costume fell to the ground. "Thank you. I must admit, I never expected such high praise from you." Her voice was as much of a contradiction as her clothing. She was unafraid to be blunt, to say what was on her mind. Even around her "Master"- a term he despised with every shred of his being - her tongue remained loose. The tone of voice was neither saccharine, nor guttural; it was as if he had found a wavelength that no mere mortal could hear, a sound in-between Sound itself. It was lovely, yet it was surprisingly deep for a female.

The tenor coasted, coiling around his ears, ensconcing his body in a light-headedness that was known only to him after a drain of his power. The sounds became a heart-stopping vertigo, twisting rationale into a malformed truth at his feet, bedding down with what remained of his reserve, of his facade. His feet remained solidly on the ground, the barely-shifting earth beneath his feet conjuring up the image that, if he was to make any sudden movements, his existence would be stuck in limbo, manifesting into nothing more than a chaotic blur. This was what happened when he second-guessed himself, when he allowed himself to feel. It was indescribable, and oddly exhilarating.

All because of this lovely, scarlet-adorned enigma. Lovely, because in this hour, his mind and his rationale were two completely separate facets of his being. If one was going to completely dismantle their will, he was going to do it of his own volition and philosophy, and not on superficial lust.

Kagura was born of Naraku, created by him to serve his will. Kagura herself proved that notion to be false when she came to him, heedless of the consequences it could bring to her safety, and desired nothing but freedom. It was a reckless act, but valor was never known for having any connection to logic. Contrary wise, he was born of his mother and father and stepped out of their shadow, paving a legacy borne from a reign of calculation. Every creature began somewhere, thirsted for something and would go to any lengths to procure that for themselves, especially when it came to the possibility, no matter how transient, of freedom. She shared Naraku's eyes and ink-washed hair; he shared his father's height and his mother's facial markings. Just because someone was born from another, didn't mean that an indestructible connection came of it. That was truth.

Despite what lesser beings assumed, Sesshomaru was a firm believer in free will.

After an undetermined period of time, their eyes met, the brevity of eye-contact a jolt through his veins. He knew that if he was to tilt his head either to the left or right, his ears would fill with the sound of summer winds hitting a frost-lined stream: simmering, scintillating with heat, vaporous clouds billowing from the river-bed.

The scrutiny proved that her oculars held no pupil, a truth which led to a deeper fascination with her physical being. Unbidden, he lost himself in the shade of blooming roses, in the colors of the Goddess's easel that painted the skies. There was profound concentration in her gaze, as if she was mentally trying to unearth his compliment for an untruth, for any degree of a trick. She was seeking anything to indicate a false sense of security, anything suspicious; she would find nothing but the blazing outlines of oblivion, for nothing had been done yet.

As a defense mechanism, she licked her lips, and for the quickest moment, he caught the flash of pink between her teeth. His eyes dropped to her lips, and he entertained the fancy of claiming them for his own, of ravishing her mouth, and if she allowed, her body entire.

Kagura caught his gaze, the subtle change of his expression proving to her that she knew of his desire. Her lashes lowered, lips parting in a silent question, her stance an amalgam of submission and slight impatience. She wished for him to act, for him to indicate the truth of his intentions. Where she stood was the limbo that he once spoke of, a state he could exile himself to, or save her from.

The truth rattled his reserve, jarring his iron-laced core until fragments spread, spider-webbed patterns threatening his solace. It wasn't too late to cease this foolery, to pretend as if these thoughts didn't matter, to smooth this blemish out until fabrication resembled truth.

His blood hissed, blistering with both a chill and intense, muscle-deep heat that wouldn't be quick to depart in Kagura's company. Nothing could ease this sickness without action. A lord never backed down from a new volition.

He was before her within a bat of coal-lined eyelids, as close as he could be in her proximity without overpowering her ability to escape. He granted her the option to leave, to flee back to her Master and creator if this wasn't what she desired. For a creature who was bound in every manner possible, she deserved this piece of a choice, an iota of control in a world that desired the exact opposite from her.

A low, resonating growl rumbled from his throat, one that stated that he wished to soothe her, not scare her to the skies. Her eyes narrowed, curiosity earning him two steps from her, as if she wasn't aware that he could create such a sound. She was close enough to touch, to taste even. He wanted her, in unspoken words, in the shift of his body language: he wished to make her his lover.

'There is no other.'

The affirmation cut him deep, severing reason and the folly of his pride that he still clung to. He knew that if he had the ability to examine his own soul before him, his spirit would be a patina of shimmering white, a slash of discernible red in the middle.

If he had known then what he knew for certain now, he would have listened to the spirit of foreshadowing, of unshakable future grief. Whether or not he would have adhered to it or changed what happened afterwards wasn't something he could answer with truth.

He only had the habit of listening to his inner-conscience, specters of logic and omen forgotten. The one he was paying attention to took one step forward, then a second, and finally completed the four steps necessary to close the gap in their proximity.

It didn't have to be spoken, for he had read the signals correctly: Kagura yearned for him just as equally as he did her. Their mouths met, lips parting to greet ever-ready tongues, insatiability devouring them whole. For a moment, he wasn't sure if he existed as a separate entity apart from her, or if they had been one complete being all along. A moan dripped from her lips, the sound besotting to his ears, a lurch of heat scuttling up and down his spinal column, his toes curling in his shoes. He made her sound like that, he alone.

He gripped her shoulders in his hands, fingers splayed across her back, working the digits in a languid massage up and down her skin, steadying her. Her hands cradled his face, fingers clenching in his hair in a firm but gentle hold, as if she was afraid that he would disappear, as if she was to make love to the remnants of a half-finished dream.

With his lips, he laid her fears to rest. With his hands, he proved that he was flesh and bone, marrow and blood, not the conjured fancies of a lonely creature. They were the same being this night, her sorrow his own, his compassion hers for the taking.

They fell to the ground in a clash of red and white, long limbs and breathless moans. Silence was never known to either of them that night, the hour when hurricane winds caressed their sweat-drenched bodies, every scream and murmur of pleasure circling back to their own ears, reminding them of what they initiated, what they set in motion.

Afterwards, she cried. Her tears were hot, impassioned, and the taste of them was anger itself, saturating his tongue with the tang of wine, of bitter absinthe.

"I'm not free." Her voice had returned, and it wasn't the same tone he heard from her hours previous. This impostor of a voice was disembodied from emotion, a whisper connected to a life that had resigned itself to becoming the embodiment of an unpleasant reality. She stated the obvious, and it afflicted her more profoundly in the afterglow of their coupling. She wasn't the only one that felt pain over this truth.

Kagura's head was bowed, and in their tussling, the feathers that held her hair in place fell away,ebony hair free from any restraints. Her skin was beaded with perspiration around her neck and brow, and instead of her body emanating a welcoming, warm feeling, it revealed that she had become someone who was gravely tired, a being who was sick of feeling hopeless.

Bleached light and shadow danced against her skin, every curve and pore exposed to him in the feathery moonlight, her body appearing darker than the moment before with the trick of light. One minute, she was an ethereal star goddess and in the next, she appeared as a silhouette's doppelganger.

Gently, gentler than he had been in well over hundreds of years, Sesshomaru reached for her. He wrapped his arm around her frame, letting her weep. He let her grip his hand when she sobbed, and she allowed for him to place his head above her own, in the way that he knew other creatures comforted one another. He knew that animals did this to soothe their mates, a flash of memory filling his eyes at the memory of his own lord father doing this towards his late mother.

Patterns repeated, history swirling around and around, dooming the generations borne from past mistakes. His father's demise had come from passion; his own would as well, unless he fled her now, forsaking what they had given one another.

It wouldn't be difficult to extricate himself from her at that very moment, to dissipate into thin air and never come across her again, the memory banishing with the churning of his own mental tides. The assumption that he was a being created by ice would be fulfilled, pleasure sating them for this hour only, leaving a void. He was capable of that, of obliterating this feeling and abandoning her for the sake of his own survival.

A look to the creature in his arms sent that moment of dark insight fleeing, the wraith of doubt shriveling before his eyes. It wasn't that he wouldn't leave her; he was physically incapable. When one gave entirely of themselves in the most selfless and selfish way, the heart revived, destruction coming upon separation and egotism.

When her cries abated, and discomfiture threatened her frame, Sesshomaru slipped his hand from her grasp, and placed his fingers over the skin above her left breast, the part of her body that held her heart. There was the steady thump of life there, the thudding of an existence that was desperate to live, free from chains. It was a phantom drumming against her bones, a shadowed cymbalist against her flesh, creating the tone; she didn't have an organ there, in the way that he did. There was nothing but an echo, and yet the grandest sound he had ever heard. She had more of a heart than he did.

He focused his attention on the disfigurement of the spider mark on her back, the scar that appeared as if she had been branded. If that was true, if that kumo had held a fresh-from the-fire brand and marred her skin, he would spend his days tracking him for her sake only, ripping the skin from his flesh and scattering his entrails throughout the lands.

Nothing could take the one that he had made his own. He was attached; she was his. His mind and spirit had made her his mate, the protective streak of his youkai howling for retribution, for answers that would allow him the pleasure of keeping her in his arms for the remainder of eternity.

'She is not damned; not if I have a say in the matter.'

She gasped aloud, the sounds of her surprise a beautiful sound, her voice returning. His lips closed around the raised lines of the scar, his mouth trailing a heated pattern down her spine. In this way, in the way that he couldn't express with words, he was proving two truths: accepting her for who she was by making the scar something precious to touch, as well as promising her that he would do everything in his power to free her.

He had sworn to a mission without words, subjected himself to the oath of something unspoken. In that manner and regard, it made his pledge all the more powerful. Silence was binding.

Through the months, the months in which they held this tryst, both in the forests beneath whipping branches, and deep in the folds of sheets in his castle, he searched for her freedom. There had to be a way, a way in which he would salvage her spirit and life from being bound to that horrid kumo for the rest of her days, separating her from her Master so that in the event of his demise, she wouldn't be destroyed along with him.

Sometimes, after they coupled, Kagura would lay against his chest and listen to his heart beat, the sound transfixing her into a half-meditative state. Her eyes slipped closed, and he knew that for her, it was the melody of everything Divine and sublime, the symphony of the afterlife that the spirits played on their gold-encrusted instruments forevermore. His existence became her everything, engulfing her spirit in those hours, fear remaining in the skies, at the doorway; he never felt it again, for there was no time for it.

Other times, she would confess to him what would happen to her if Naraku found out about her rebellion, the disobedience that came with making him her lover. With a snap of his fingers, he would kill her, excuses and answers to his inquiries meaning little more than small-talk. If she so much as stood wrong, he would summon her heart and grip it, pulverizing it into ashes, no matter the liability it would give him. She had no idea if she would simply die, her soul fleeing from the supposed sham of flesh her body had become, or if she would suffer in long drawn-out torment. It terrified her, and she trembled against him deep into the night, his growls and kisses luring her to sleep, his thoughts running red.

He lapped her tears away, making sure that her kimono remained free from dirt and wrinkles, caring for her in a way he didn't believe himself to be capable of. He cared for her in a way that would've not only shocked anyone in their company, but stunned them the point of disbelief and denial. He was Sesshomaru, a youkai lord who would've treated the pebbles in his shoes better than the living beings who crossed his path. He was Sesshomaru, a soul that would've sold his soul to grasp the handle of Tetsusaiga and use it for the purpose of annihilating all who opposed him. But now, he had become Sesshomaru, a youkai lord who had spiraled into the abyss of love, unsure of which way was up or down, and beyond caring what was deemed possible. Not a one ever landed gently in love; they fell.

Meaning, for this being of wind and fire, he would travel anywhere to find her a heart, and more importantly, freedom.

Those he conversed with for his mission were of high enough merit and youkai moral standards that his privacy was guaranteed in this matter. They were paid up-front, and in return were to tell him everything they could about granting one the solace of freedom, and a heart.

Some laughed at him outright and told him it wasn't attainable, even if he had been given thousands of lifetimes. Others eyed him warily, as if they couldn't believe that someone who had seemingly everything would be willing to attempt to cheat death, and ignore the fine print of the contract Kagura was bound under. There were some with yearning lights in their eyes, beings who wished to assist him, but the news they brought him was grave. The only way Kagura could be free, they proclaimed with an edge of sorrow to their voices, was to find a way to completely destroy Naraku, and then found some way to save Kagura from being joined with him for all eternity.

There was one statement in common with all those he sought out, an assertion that he was willing to give not only credence to, but partake in. It was madness, requesting an audience with Death Herself.

Sesshomaru knew who they were referring to. This being had no name, and the manner in which she was addressed was subjective to who you were and what you desired. If a being was to come to Her, they would have to cross over the realm of the living, past the dominion of the dead, defeat the guards that defended Death's home lands, and only then be found worthy of having an appearance with Her. She was the one who was said to make death less painful, if you could impress Her enough to be bestowed a favor, and to perform what humans claimed as miracles.

Sesshomaru didn't believe in miracles; he believed in concrete solutions to the matter at hand, a matter close to his heart.

That was why he currently found himself traveling through the realms of the living, deep into the heart of a land where the only sunshine was a weak light, a feeble nemesis to the acidic clouds in the firmament. The creatures here were twisted caricatures of beings that might have been living in the world he knew, or half-alive souls that yearned for form, revealing nothing to his eyes but partially finished beasts that scarcely resembled life.

Roving eyes examined him from the mottled nests of the forests, from the black and dripping foliage by steaming river-beds. Mouths clicked, fangs slick with saliva, bloodied lips curling in preparation for the hunt. Despite his current position, that didn't change the truth that he would never be prey.

Tokijin acted as both a shield and weapon, keeping all harm from him. The poisonous taint of the blade bled through the sickness of this world, keeping all of the beasts that threatened his safe-keeping at bay. If something got too close, he slashed, the abomination shrieked, and he continued on his way.

There was a sudden dip in the path he tread, and far beneath his feet lay a mass of slithering, wriggling things not ten feet from his person. They roared up at him, crimson slated eyes drinking in his form, daring for him to take a false step and fall into the abyss of gaping mouths.

Sesshomaru took a running start, leaping completely over the pit. He landed soundlessly, and moments after he found himself ambushed by scaled oni, an attack he predicted. Those who sought an audience with Death had to be prepared for formidable obstacles after all.

His adversaries were heinous beings, creatures that appeared as if they had been birthed before their time. Some had eyes where noses belonged, hands where ears should've grown, and spines where hair follicles had forgotten to grow.

He might have known this soul in his court as a vile youkai that preferred vanity over creating a safe land to rule. It was pointless to contemplate, as there was no salvaging such a monster. Although, he mused with an inquiry that served to jar his concentration, there was a chance that at the end, he would end up as one of these beings.

He slashed not only at flesh, but at doubt and slithering debilitation entire, rendering whatever and whomever ventured close enough to him a blind, screaming mass of skin. He yearned to unleash the Sōū, but it would waste precious energy he would need later on. One truth remained certain, even as poison and screams permeated the air and gore spattered his garments: he would need every modicum and section of his strength if he was to succeed.

The survivors that clung to their bleeding bodies scampered off, cowards in death as they were in life. Sesshomaru flexed his hands, his candor and resilience never faltering, his blistering pace continuing through the void with all the precision of a silk-weaver. He was growing nearer to what he had come all of this way for.

'She wonders if I will grow weary of these tests.' Ever had he aced every test that threatened and opposed him, through childhood to the crest of his adulthood, be it mental or physical. This time would serve as no exception.

He was attacked three more times, using his poison and forfeiting any thought of mercy. It was of no consequence to him what his enemies had once been, be they a king or a pauper: they were hindrances and he would destroy them all if he had to.

Finality gurgled, dissolving the remnants of the corpses he killed in a stream composed of acid only. The bones dissolved with a stink of organs, bones jutting forward through the black liquid, contrasting dramatically with the gloom of the water. This was where everyone ended up, no matter their status and altercations to their lives.

If this was to be him at the end, he wanted to know victory, know that Kagura had been freed before he was sheathed and bound evermore in the form of a beast. Simply trying and dying as cause would be unacceptable.

The toxic river before him shimmered into glass obsidian, reminding him of scales that rippled the outer-belly of a snake. Attached to part of the land that caved in on itself was a small opening, and had he not been seeking it, would have missed its presence.

It was there: the opening to the chambers of Death.

He brought his katana out to his right, focusing every ounce of his mental stamina into one cohesive thought, one phrase that would determine his ability to follow through on what he desired to achieve, as well as his right to be seen.

'Rise. Rise. Rise.'

The mantra shifted the water to the right, poison parting for his feet, revealing melted segments of land, as well as a graveyard. Skeletons peppered the splintered soil, bones ensnared deeply in the mud, but not deep enough to hide their empty eye-sockets from the horrors of the world. Even in death, residual reminders of grotesque endings and the reality of serving an iota of significance remained.

Ankle-high boots sunk into the earth, his legs propelling him ever-forward, the water staying in place with his mental commands. Tokijin stayed in his palm, a ward to the water and anything he would now face, adequate protection from this point forward only. There was only so much one being could do to prepare for a gathering of this sort, no matter how prideful or skilled the wielder.

The obscured opening of the cave, when the water was pushed aside, appeared as if it was too small to enter, much less be the pivotal point of gathering. Sesshomaru ascertained it as a disguise as well as taxing payment on all who sought Her out. Had he been Death, he wouldn't have wanted to speak with just anyone, only those who were successful to find the door-knocker.

What lay beyond the door had yet to be discovered.

Darkness ensconced him in a light-less womb for several moments, his only awareness originating from the steadiness of his breaths, the beat of his heart. His vision adjusted, noting first that he was treading down a staircase carved entirely out of bone, guard-rails on either side of the skeletal flight made from the spinal columns of countless hell-beasts. Sounds other than proof of his existence here filled his ears, guttural moans and heavy breathing emanating from somewhere in this shrouded place of meeting. Death awaited him.

Sesshomaru held out Tokijin, the pulsing aura lighting up the surrounding area, his eyes discerning everything in his immediate vicinity. He didn't bother blinking, not wishing to falter from the inevitable, both the horrific and what had yet to reveal itself. It was indubitable either way.

Wings flapped from up above, powerful but directionless, without purpose; those with the ability of flight had long since had their will to rebel siphoned out of them, whatever they were and had been.

Keeping his gaze fixed forward, he probed with his mind, releasing the water he had mentally been holding in place. Venom sloshed, a few drops slipping through the fissures in the opening of the cave, the foundation beneath his feet trembling with the poison. Not a drop touched him, and he was grateful for that small blessing. After the tussles, the illustration and reality in this world, he hardly appeared in his prime form. Pride and egotism were opposite ends of the spectrum when one was forced to beg. Besides, he had no knowledge if there was a dress-code to meet with Death.

Howls thundered in his ears, a gathering of creatures forming at the base of the staircase, providing two truths: he was in for a battle that would showcase his worthiness, and Death knew he had arrived.

'There is no sense in wasting any more time.'

Inertia and the strength of his leap pushed him forward, aiming for a solid point on any manner of ground he landed on. The free-flight, the adrenaline from past battles, his volition and mission amalgamated into a wake-up call for his inner-youkai, the part that he denied indulgence. His beast was now caressed, yearning for the carnage and mayhem he would cause, providing both a fail-safe and a cradle for every carnal desire he held within him, the part that anticipated and coveted causing the death of those in his way.

His eyes flashed red and malachite, the slashes of his stripes becoming sharper, arrow-thin points to crimson daggers, prepared for annihilating obstacles.

The beings waiting for him were abominations, far more revolting than what he had fought out in the open. They were gargantuan in nature, lumbering beasts with horns that were too big for their oval-shaped heads, be it from physical deformity or purposeful flaw with their creation. Crimson eyes flashed in their skulls, pupils roving every which way, seeking a soul to inflict torment upon. Forked tongues flicked from their mouths, as if they were not only tasting the air, but the extent of his strength, his battle-song and thirst for their end.

They didn't so much as charge to him as they did stagger, parts of their bodies falling to the ground, dissolving and deteriorating before they even reached the battle-field. Underestimating one's foe had led to the loss of his arm once upon a time, and these beings were no exception.

He was the one to charge head first into the melee, cutting down whatever came his way, or in his direct line of vision. Limbs flew through the air, pieces of tongue hit the earth and heads rolled, mouths gaping and shrieking until the claret bled from their eyes.

Those that didn't die right away screamed and screamed, the sound raking his ears with a disharmony that grated against his sense of hearing entire. The sound vibrated deep into his cranium, a haunting rhapsody that rattled his thoughts, turning an incomparable period of years of battle experience to nothing but a mashing of words and actions, leaving him open, vulnerable.

With what little remained of his mind, separate from pain and consternation, he ascertained what would provide victory, his sanity and any future of becoming Death's play-thing.

If there were no vocal cords, then there would be no way for the monsters to scream, to corrupt and fill his mind with discordant noises that threatened his reticence. If that notion proved to be incorrect, he would tear the brain stems out of the creatures with his claws to seek an end to this attack.

Throats were slashed, heads were tore into from the jaw, and brain juices leaked out, splashing him with a back-wash that coated his teeth, his neck. The screams abated, his mind clear from all but a persistent whisper, a shade of what had been.

He had prevailed, fulfilled every task allotted to him.

Instinct glossed over the patina of rage that threatened his focus, for he knew he was being watched. Not only observed in the physical by whatever state that he appeared in after the trials and blood, but viscerally, intimately. Every nuance and facet of his being was being touched, his mind and spirit examined as if it were a type of jewel that was being weighed and polished before being put to use. From somewhere in the black unknown, across the corpse-littered battle-field was a transient critic, judging his strength, his purpose here. There was no sense in pinpointing the sporadic source; it was Her.

A faint smirk curved his lips skyward, for he knew that in this twisted game of toy soldier, the end to the testing period was upon him. The judgment that he felt coursing under his skin, filling his blood and clotting his pores with an unflinching scrutiny would cease. If he was thrown to the pit once more, he would deliver to the pinnacle of his ability, his strength without bounds, for there was no placing a limit on how profoundly he cared.

He had always believed that strength and the path to gaining power was fashioned from solitude. Pride had no meaning here, and as consequence, he had been gravely mistaken in assuming the origins of perpetual force. It came after the realization that self-serving actions would carve out the same habits, never allowing growth or inner-will to come to light.

For once in his life, he was fighting for someone else's strength, which fueled his own from a bottomless place, endless and without need for solitude. He fought for Kagura, for her right to live.

'Father, I understand.'

In the midst of deafening chaos, probing scrutiny, he found peace and epiphany.

A final monster lunged, disposed of neatly with a maneuver with the sword, claw and sword at the end, pieces of granulated flesh swirling around his being like shredded pieces of ribbon. His face and hair were saturated with something sticky, but he cared not.

Sesshomaru eased himself from the ground only to place his sword in his sheath. Any thoughts of cleaning himself up for the meeting vanished behind him with every step forward, for a warrior never altered their appearance for the march back to their homeland if they proved victorious. It was a reminder that for the moment, he had proved himself and had won. There was not a one that could say that winning guaranteed a clean future.

Even with his unmatched sense of sight, the after-images of apparitions and foul-looking beings haunted his eyes. For those that were incapable of seeing what lingered on the edges of his given path were blessed with ignorance.

The road he tread trickled with a palpable mess of juices, a darker coating of blood, of crusted wounds emanating from the outer-edges of the path. With each step, his boots sank deeper into components that he accepted and ignored all at once, along with the eternal prisoners outside of the trail.

Phantoms both intangible and corporeal shifted on broken spectral tethers, bobbing this way and that, without any semblance of direction, their eyes blank and sightless, their speech nothing more than hushed murmurs. Rattling shrieks rippled through the air, directly from the gaping jaws of wraiths, talon-like fingers tearing at their hair and perforated clothing, pleading with one another and everything, their reasons for screaming lost on the winds of nightmare.

Smaller, child-like youkai eyed him, some without eyelids, some without eyes, abject hollows filled with the plea for him to help them. They wished for concepts he could both fathom and dismiss all at once, personal convictions and truths he forsook.

This was not his business. And yet, it was a scatter-shot of a reflection, a crooked and splintered glass reminding him that he would join them someday, be it soon or after twelve eternities. He glimpsed this, the horror, the blood, the knowledge of what his living presence here meant, acknowledging his past ignorance of both life and death entire.

'Was it worth it?'

'Is she worth it?'

'It isn't too late to turn back.'

The whispers were both self-created and what every spirit surrounding him spoke to him as he pushed onward, the answers coming without a moment's hesitation. Yes, it was all worth it. Yes, she was worth this, and ten more ventures into hell. And yes, it was too late to turn back, for he had arrived.

Any thought of default stoicism, of appearing as an ill-at-ease warrior, both love-struck and foolish vanished, facades unneeded. His emotions, no matter how deeply he yearned for denial, were exuding.

Freedom was his driving force, freedom for another. Irony twisted this mission into the freeing of his own emotions, all masks lifted, personal airs dissipating on cold winds.

Desperation, when love was at the heart of it, had the ability to fell even the strongest of creatures.

He wouldn't be here, in the belly of this abyss, if not for emotion.

A pulsing, gold light came into his sight after what seemed like an infinite amount of time. He waded through a current of groping hands, half-construed bodies and forms, only to reach the throne of Death. The hue of the gilded illumination seemed to be timed with his heart beats, the closer he came to the glow, the more his theory solidified. He was the only living thing here, the single source of light remaining so long as he existed.

It was a warped sort of beauty, light depending on his life.

The base of a large, pearl-polished throne came into view, his feet halting before the ceremonial seat out of a mixture of his own volition and Hers. The frame of the chair was fashioned with the same bone as the staircase leading to the death-pit, a stark contrast to the stairs leading to the place of eternal reign. Onyx stairs, both polished and dotted with rubies winked in the thrumming light, appearing as crimson stars at their final stages of life, captured forever at the feet of embodiment. The pillars that supported the misshapen chair were of the same ebony stone, and if angled properly with the light, revealed what seemed to be skeletal membranes, shifting bone and muscle in the stone itself, captured remains of beasts in perpetual unrest.

Seated upon the jagged throne, wearing the skull of a large bull in a form-fitting mask, was Death. On Her throat a garnet brooch hung on a silver chain, flashing in time to the rhythm of golden lights and a solitary heart, in place of where Her own should have lain.

She appeared before him in a dress fashioned from cloying sentiments: ashes, diamonds, and upon further scrutiny, flesh. How such a gown had been created and placed on Her person he would never know, much less inquire about. The garment hung to Her ankles, showcasing pallid feet, soles that were unused to walking, smooth and unblemished. The skin was unmarred by both age and scarring, despite the harsh world that she had made her home.

She truly was the one who held dominion over all things un-living; whatever he had envisioned for Death had nothing to do with the illustration before him.

The fingers of Her right hand lifted, digits curling, cradling the air with Her demand: that he step forward.

Compliance that was not his own raised his legs, walking him all the way up the stairs, control and whatever remained of past pride stripping away in tatters as he all but glided to Her feet, obedience choking his throat, his alpha instinct roaring.

Only when he was before Her did the enchantment cease, his will becoming his own once again, levity returning his breath, the feeling of the ground touching the soles of his boots.

Whether by his will or another's, he had arrived at the face of Death.

From what he could tell of Death's visage, Her lips were either upturned in a smirk or a genuine smile. It was impossible to tell Her emotions from the mouth up, for the mask concealed the features in intentional bone and white-washed mystery. Nothing living was allowed to see Her face, lest they lose themselves in the horror beneath, or the unnatural beauty that would send souls spiraling to the afterlife.

Petal-pink lips didn't move, but the voice was pronounced, loud and resonating. "Lord Sesshomaru. Tell me what you seek."

There was an unspoken tone of austerity in the air, his status and ingrained greed for respect ensconcing him, stripping him raw and naked before Her. Citrine eyes studied the skull-mask first, and then the scintillating floor of black. He bowed, his knee hitting the stair without his usual candor and grace, his body betraying to Her what his heart and mind already knew: that he was not meant to kneel, but to rule, and Death would strip that from him as well.

Silver yards of his hair wrapped around him, obscuring his vision but doing nothing to lessen his chagrin. The only thought that mollified his thoughts was his mission, his agenda never seeming more clear to him.

Desperation obliterated pride, forevermore.

"I seek an answer, a way for a being to live." He heard laughter, and Sesshomaru knew not if it was meant to mock, or came from a vessel of amusement he brushed on. Regardless of its inception, he continued. "This being is a detachment from an evil entity that holds her captive. She has no heart, and is bound in the contract of flesh." Silence, a resonating hum that filled his ears with a deeper poignancy than an outright admission of futility.

He was not a creature of words, but this was the time for inquiry forming, of voices and questions. "Is there a way to free her?"

It was spoken. If Death needed another detail, she told him nothing.

A ghostly hand brushed through his hair, and it immersed itself into his head. She wished to know his thoughts, the situation that led to a demon lord begging for his intended's life in a facet of the Underworld. He would show Her.

Sesshomaru closed his eyes, the chaos of his thoughts running rampant. He felt a pair of eyes sifting through his memories, briefly glancing at the parts of his life that were of utmost significance to this gathering, and ignoring all else. He wasn't sure if this served as a relief or as the bitter knowledge that his life and memories were of little regard in the connection of their world.

The inner-most parts of what he shared with Kagura were razed from the soil of Memory itself, the seeds split apart, scrutinized with a critiquing eye, and then placed back into the earth, damaged. He gritted his teeth against this intrusion, the violation of the recollection he held most dear. It was not something she took pleasure in he knew, but it was something that she did without a shred of mercy. A necessary sacrifice he hoped.

He wished to say that he wasn't a lovelorn fool that took it upon himself to save his beloved from a locked tower, or from an enchantment that kept her in a comatose sate; he simply wished to free her, in any way possible.

If it was futile, she needed to tell him now.

After what seemed like the passage of eternity, she released Her grip on his mind. He expelled a breath, beads of sweat dotting the back of his neck, adding to the armor of gore and experience he gained while here.

Sesshomaru resisted the urge to massage his temples, for that would've been an indication of weakness, something that he could be called out for. It was the little things that kept the rebirth of his pride from imploding at his feet.

Death spoke, and he listened. "She is the wind. She was fashioned from the element, and the transformed soul of the half-youkai, the one that afflicts the whole for power. Her Master holds her heart, part of her spirit in his hand, and if he squeezes hard enough, she will return to him. The personality however, the being that you have fallen in love with, is strictly her own." The hollowed out parts of the skull looked directly at him, but in the gloom, he could see nothing of Her eyes. He wasn't sure if he wished to see them.

"I have your answer: there is a way to free her." There was too much room for error, too much room for a clause at the end of this hope-strewn statement, that Sesshomaru didn't feel any semblance of relief. He was correct in his assumptions, for nothing was without price. "She cannot live and be free; only death can free her, a quick one, by this blade."

The air before Her split, an electric charge humming around the air. Sesshomaru raised his head, for he knew that this show was for him. She reached forward, grabbing a thin blade that was the length of her forearm from mid-air. The dagger shimmered with a hellish light, and then went still with a dormant aura.

With Her fingertips, she held both the hilt and the tip of the blade out to him, an open gesture for him to take it. He would do as he was bid.

Sesshomaru rose from his crouched position, and walked before Death. He took the dagger and slipped it down his left sleeve, concealing it from all but two parties.

Death spoke again. "Through the heart. She will go directly to the afterlife and there will be no methods that will ensnare her soul, for all eternity." There was a lapse in Her speech, an unspoken something that she wished to say before he was dismissed. The words she had already spoken startled him and affected him deeper than he ever would admit; what more she could do to him was beyond his thoughts. "This is a blade that kills almost instantly, and no being is immune to its cut. Should you wish to join her, there will be no healing, nor will there be a promise of a peaceful reunion."

The blade weighed heavily on his sleeve, his arm feeling as if it was encased in iron. The words were grave, etched with the utensil of grim reality itself. There would be no happy ending, no happily ever after.

He bowed before Her once more, in an unspoken expression of his gratitude. Had he tried to speak, to his utmost shame, he knew he would've pleaded for another way, or worse, felt the sting and burn of tears in his eyes. Neither would be acceptable, no matter how much he longed to do both.

Freedom. He had sworn an oath, the oath to free her, and he would see it through to the end. The sands in the hourglass would be stained with blood.

He rose, easing himself from the gloom, from the darkness, although it was only the physical black that he escaped from. The stars greeted him the moment the water sloshed against the shores, a whisper against sand, the elements careful not to disturb the now stoic lord. In barely repressed silence, he made his way back to the place he called home.

The moment he found himself on safer land, he broke into a sprint. He assumed his true form without being aware of it, and lumbered through and over trees, valleys, and thick geysers of water, all obstacles in his path smashed, obliterated by the destruction of his peace. The land would match his sorrow.

Sesshomaru paused mid-stride, threw his head back, and let out howl after howl of anguish, his throat burning with hell-fire, grief swallowing him, leaving in its place the forlorn cries of devastation. For all those that heard the cries that night, they knew that a being was in mourning for the loss of something dear, for the loss of something that could never be retrieved again.

Desperation, love, and the expense of freedom came at the cost of shattered futures of bliss.