Second Alliance – Chapter 15

Back to Chapter 14: Passing Notes

Chapter 15: Of the West

Despite the cold, Kagome took a deep breath of fresh air – and promptly coughed. Sesshomaru was flying high enough and fast enough that the wind froze the moisture in her nose and mouth. She tucked her face against his chest and sucked in the warmer air trapped between their bodies. She could practically feel his eyes on her.

“I’m fine,” she mumbled. She had argued far too long and hard for the privilege of going with him, she wasn’t going to let him take her back because she was chilly. He didn’t say anything, but his mokomoko draped around her. Even with the heavier weight pants and jacket Aki had made for her, she was grateful for the fur and told him so.

He had attempted to go without her. She woke that morning, the morning after their unsettling conversation on the future of demons, to discover him on all fours above her, his nose pressed into her neck. He was fully dressed, and the incongruity of the situation had her so off balance that she almost missed it when he told her he was leaving to inspect reports of attacks and she should remain in her rooms, under guard, while he was gone. She had bruised her forehead on his chin and almost strangled herself with the bedding, but she managed to stand and demand that he take her with him. He had promised, in the springs, that she could go if she agreed to his conditions. He pointed out that the situation had changed – she was not well.

Kagome took a deep breath, pushed her pride as far down as it would go, and agreed. She told him she was worried about how effective his youki bandage on her reiki would be if they were apart. He hadn’t looked like he believed her, and left the rooms with a ‘hn’. She was still struggling with her kimono so she could chase after him when a servant arrived carrying the new clothing. She also brought a message that Sesshomaru-sama would leave from the courtyard in fifteen minutes, with or without her. Kagome cursed him, but the servant helped her dress in record time and shove a few things into her bag. She arrived out of breath just as Rin was saying her goodbyes. She managed quick kisses and hugs, and laughed when Shippo told her to stay safe.

“Of course, I’m with Sesshomaru!”

Hours of flying and countless stops later, Kagome had lost her excitement. The first village had been bad. Entirely youkai, they had been grateful to see their Lord. They were wary of his human companion at first, but Sesshomaru introduced her to the local healer and word that Kagome-sama, Miko no Mao, had arrived spread like wildfire. He was never more than ten feet from her, but Kagome couldn’t spare a thought for him. She was far too busy with the ill. Approximately half of the village had survived. Kento had made certain that inoculate and instructions for making more were spread to the villages as soon as it started showing results with the infirmary patients. The first village had also experienced the trailing edge of her power. They described a brief pink wind, and immediate improvement of those who were sick – although no outright curing. The healer, a demon that appeared younger than Kagome, took her to visit a few very young and old who had not recovered enough to come outside. She had to walk past the dead to get there.

They were all wrapped with care. Clean red and white shrouds that had been neatly folded and tucked around fathers, mothers, children. There were so many. Kagome bypassed the exposed graveyard and tended to the sick. She soothed brows and held hands. She smiled and kissed children and bowed deeply to elders. She praised the work of the healer – who had been third in line for the position before the pox had taken the others. Kagome made adjustments to treatment and left instructions and herbs. Then she returned outside.

Sesshomaru was waiting for her, ready to leave and go on to the next village. She looked back to the dead, and signaled him to give her a moment. Quietly, she stood at the end of the line of bodies. She could feel the tears pricking at her eyes. She had seen death before. The feudal era was a dangerous and brutal place, but rarely was she exposed to such large scale destruction of life. The youkai wrapped in those shrouds could do nothing to fight the thing that was killing them, killing their families. They didn’t even understand it. Kagome knew the same was true for the human villages, but for some reason the deaths of the demons hit her harder. Such powerful creatures, their long lives cut down to a fraction of what they could have been. Sesshomaru stopped behind her and she spoke in a low voice she knew only he would hear.

“Would it be offensive, or inappropriate, if I prayed for them?” He was quiet for a moment. A crowd had drawn together, most of those left alive, and they stared at the miko and their dead with hollow eyes.

“As you will,” he finally responded. Kagome set down her bag and dug around for a few items. She requested a candle and incense, and the healer disappeared into a hut and then brought them forward. She lit both, and then closed her eyes, trying to remember a prayer for the deceased. When it was over, she instructed the healer to burn the bodies. Then Sesshomaru pulled her to his side and they rose on his cloud again.

Kagome shivered, not from cold, but from the image of the youkai left alive. They stood and stared, some crying, others empty from so much grief. She didn’t remember what she said, only that the words sounded right. The six coins she left seemed insignificant in comparison to the number that lay ready for cremation. The next village was worse. Wholly human, it had been outside of the range of her reiki, and most of the people had already died. Others lay suffering, but there was no healer left among them to administer the inoculate or even ease their pain. Kagome moved among them while Sesshomaru appointed a new village leader and gave instructions for defense. Again she prayed over the dead, and then they left. On and on they flew, slowly criss-crossing the Western Lands and moving north. Sometimes they were surprised and there were more survivors. One village, the only mixed human-youkai village she had seen, was completely untouched.

As they moved further north, they began to hear reports of attacks. The stories were whispered with a fear borne of the unknown. The last village they stopped at, in the late afternoon, had become home to several refugees. The village itself had been decimated by disease, only eleven survived. Those who had lived through the attacks…Kagome shuddered again. She had not started or flinched at their wounds, but treated them as she would any patient. Inside, she wanted to scream. Lost eyes and limbs. Ragged scars. Kagome wondered what sort of weapons could cause such damage. The psychological injuries were the worst. Kagome knew what caused that. Watching family and friends beaten, raped, tortured – having the same treatment then inflicted on them – would kill a person’s spirit just as easily as a sword could kill the body. Sesshomaru sent the youkai refugees back to the castle and ordered the villagers to pack what they could and move further south to a village that would have ample room for them – once they burned the dead.

A slight change in their flight brought Kagome out of her memories. The sun was low in the sky, and she searched the ground for the next village they would assess, but was unable to find anything. “Why are we stopping?” The daiyoukai did not answer right away, but landed in a sheltered clearing. The wind was completely blocked by the trees, and although snow was still falling, it had not drifted in the secluded area.

“We will stay the night here.”

“Why not in one of the villages? Surely that would be saf- ah, warmer?” Kagome didn’t want to offend him by implying that he would not be able to protect them, but it was winter, and she had seen enough to know that there was something or someone very dangerous in the area. Sesshomaru studied her, his head tilting slightly.

“The smell is most…displeasing.” She nodded, silently berating herself for not thinking of it. The stench of death was noticeable to her, she couldn’t imagine how offensive Sesshomaru must find it. “You will accompany me while I hunt.”

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” she responded quickly. As much as she enjoyed roasted rabbit, she could barely clean them herself without completely losing her appetite, and watching Inuyasha kill them was worse. “I’ll stay here and build a fire.”

“Miko,” his voice was a reprimand, and Kagome was startled. “You will accompany me.”

“Really, Sesshomaru, I’ll be fine. I have my bow and arrows, and you’ll be able to hear me if-”

“This enemy will not give you time to scream.” His flat statement crushed all of her protests. She nodded, trying not to think about how quickly a youkai attack in the night could be. She left her bag and followed him, trying to stay as quiet as possible. If the number of dirty looks he gave her were any indication, she wasn’t successful. When he came to a standstill she stopped behind him, shivering in the cooler air where the sunshine did not penetrate. The mokomoko wrapped around her, and they waited in silence until a stag walked within three feet of the daiyoukai.

It was over in an instant, without a drop of blood on Sesshomaru’s white silk. Kagome blinked. A single puncture wound oozed sluggishly on the back of the deer’s neck. He severed the brain stem. Sesshomaru bent and efficiently gutted and skinned the animal, leaving the inedible parts for other animals to scavenge. The remainder he butchered and wrapped in the skin to carry back to camp. Kagome was surprised to find that she was not nauseated. Those years with Inuyasha, she had assumed it was the hunt and kill that bothered her. It was interesting to find out that it was the suffering, however short, that the game felt when the hanyou slit its throat that turned her stomach. She would have to tell him there was a more humane way to kill his food. Humane. Demon-ane? Hanyou-ane?

She gathered wood on their way back to the clearing and soon had a small fire going. Sesshomaru quickly spitted the meat – all of it – and settled down to watch it cook. Kagome busied herself with making tea and clearing snow at the bottom of a tree for her sleeping bag. They ate quickly. She was content, despite his insistence, with two generous helpings. He finished the remainder, as though eating an entire deer was nothing, with perfect manners and in an amazingly small amount of time.

“Where do you put it all?” She blurted, then blushed in embarrassment. He gathered up the skin and tossed it far from their camp.

“I am more than this body,” he said simply. She looked him over, still not understanding how that equated to fitting one hundred pounds or so of meat inside his stomach. He banked the fire and sat down on her sleeping bag, his back against the tree. “My true form is my beast. This is a mask for the other.” Kagome recalled the few times she had seen his huge dog form. She traced her fingers along the wrist and hand exposed as they lay on his knee. She understood the laws of physics, she just wasn’t sure how or if they applied.

“It doesn’t seem like an illusion, and you don’t appear any more dense.” A tiny smile lifted the corner of his mouth.

“This form is real, it is just not true. Although I inhabit it, I have the power and strength of my true self…and must sustain that form.”

Her eyes widened, “So you always have to eat as much as a dog the size of a house would? When do you find the time?”

“I usually hunt in my other form every few days. And I do not take the time to cook my prey.”

“Is it…” she glanced back at the fire, then at his face, “Do you prefer it that way?” He shrugged, almost imperceptibly.

“It is food.” She took that to mean they both tasted good. It was strange, to think of Sesshomaru not as she usually saw him, but as the massive canine he became. The dog that he was. She had kissed him, held him and thought things that were…intimate things. He was a dog. A very large, very intelligent and deadly dog, but still. Unbidden, the image of her being licked by a tongue bigger than her flew into her mind. She wasn’t sure she was ready for that. But then, if she wanted Sesshomaru, but she couldn’t want his true self, could she really be with him? And why was she even worried about it? He had kissed her, touched her, sniffed her in a strangely erotic way, but it wasn’t like he had asked her out – if that was even something youkai did.

Kagome pushed back feelings of embarrassment and disappointment. She probably shouldn’t think about it. Sesshomaru might not hate humans, as she once thought he did, but she very much doubted he would be interested in one, at least, not in a meaningful way. There were lots of demonesses that would probably fall all over themselves to ‘be intimate’ with the Western Lord. And they were a lot prettier, more exotic, and, she was sure, better bred – with courtly manners and the ability to walk in a kimono without tripping over their own feet.

She had intended to make herself less uncomfortable by getting rid of thoughts of his beast, but instead she made herself sad. It was stupid and immature, but without even realizing it she had begun to like Sesshomaru. She liked him. He had kissed her and it made her knees weak. He gave Inuyasha reasons to respect himself, and that made her chest swell with pride. He cared for his daughter, and her kit, and her heart melted. He was intelligent, challenging, gorgeous, and absolutely dangerous. She wondered how on earth she had allowed herself to like him. She wondered how she could not.

“Stop that,” he ordered sternly. Kagome shook herself out of her stupor and stared at him in confusion. She wasn’t doing anything. “You are sad and…other things. Stop.” His nose twitched, and Kagome remembered how Inuyasha could smell her tears even before they fell. He always said her anger burned his nose. Apparently, Sesshomaru could tell a lot more about how she was feeling from her scent than his half-brother could. Only he would order her to stop feeling, and assume she would be willing and able to obey. She responded the only way she could. She laughed.

“Oh, Sesshomaru! I can’t just decide how I am going to feel. It doesn’t work like that. No matter how much you would like to command everything around you, you just can’t.” He narrowed his eyes and pulled her closer to him, careful to make sure her head rested against his unarmored shoulder. Her hips and legs were tucked between his, resting on the sleeping bag. The mokomoko covered them both and she sighed, relaxing into his heat. “I wish we could do more,” she said after a few minutes. “These villages have suffered so much, I just wish…”

“You have done much, miko. More than any other. You have given my people hope. You have brought treatment for the disease. You saved me, so that I might protect my lands. Leave it to me to destroy the enemies of the West.” His arms wrapped around her under the fur and secured her to him. She could hear the beat of his heart, and found the steady, slow cadence soothing. They were quiet again as darkness settled fully around them and the temperature dropped. Kagome was nearly asleep, her hands thrust into the mokomoko, when he spoke again, “I will not allow what is mine to be so grieved.” She frowned in her sleep, thinking that was a strange turn of phrase, to call the West sad.

ooo

Sesshomaru knew the moment she stirred from sleep. Her breathing changed slightly; her heart beat a bit quicker. Her hands made fists in his fur, squeezing and kneading the flesh underneath. He blew out a long breath that formed a cloud of frost in the air. The steady snowfall had become sheets of fat flakes and stinging ice during the night that buried the little fire and the rest of the clearing in almost two feet of snow. It was still coming down. The temperature had continued to drop as well, and the wind rose. He had grown concerned for the miko’s health. Despite his own heat and mokomoko, her face had felt chilled to his touch. He had taken drastic measures to keep her warm.

“Sesshomaru?” she called faintly. The daiyoukai looked down on her with one eye, unwilling to back away enough to get a better view of her, for fear the snow coating his back and head would fall onto her. She was completely buried in white fur. Her back was snug against his foreleg. He had wrapped his tails around himself to cover her like a blanket. Her eyes were wide and she smelled…good. Warm. Healthy. Happy and surprised. Sweet and…like him. She had carried his scent since he brought her to the castle, and it had deepened as he slept next to her at night. After hours completely surrounded by his true form, his scent layered her own in a way that strummed a deep chord of contentment in him.

“When did you – of course you can’t answer that. Two tails, just like Shippo. I bet you didn’t have to play any tricks to get the second one.” She shifted a bit, pushing up out of his fur to stand. A gust of wind made it around his body and she gasped. “It’s freezing!” He raised his brows. Obviously. She stepped closer, leaning against his side and burrowing into the fur over his ribs. “Thank you, Sesshomaru.” Her entire body molded to him and her hands patted and rubbed along his skin. He wondered if she had become so much more comfortable with him, she carried no trace of embarrassment, or if it was his form that eased her anxiety. How strange that the miko would be more at ease when I am at my deadliest. “I had almost forgotten how big you are,” she mumbled into him. “You are absolutely magnificent!” He refused to allow his tails to wag.

He peered up at the sky, knowing it would be difficult to fly in such weather. The miko would be especially chilled on his cloud. He was not certain if even his mokomoko could provide enough heat for her. He could fly in his true form, but with the snow and the strange winds, it would be near impossible for him to safely make it back to the castle. The miko needed better shelter. As it was, she would quickly freeze without his body heat, but she would also need to eat soon and he could not hunt with her burrowed against him. Sesshomaru knew his lands well, and the next village he had intended to visit was close by. He could reach it, even in the storm. He glanced at the miko again. She would have to ride on his transformed back, his fur would keep her warm and he could move much faster on four legs through the snow. Flying would be a risk in such weather, with nothing to protect her back from the wind. Regaining his smaller appearance would waste energy that he should conserve, in case they met with the band that had been attacking from the north. He hoped she would understand.

He used his nose to press her bag closer to her. “What do you – oh.” She lifted her face from his fur and glanced between him and the bag. “Do you want me to pack up?” He blinked, slowly. She smiled, “No problem, Sesshomaru. I’d rather not stay out in this weather, either. I suppose you already have the perfect place in mind to wait out the storm? I bet. You never do anything without a plan.”

She continued her cheerful chatter and the great dog would have smiled, if he were able. Always finding the good in a situation. It took her only a few minutes to roll up her sleeping bag and settle her bag on her shoulders. “All ready!” He stepped back, unable to prevent the shivers that shook her the moment she was exposed to the elements, and used his nose to push her behind the tree. Then he shook himself, releasing a blast of youki to dry his fur. A soft wuff brought Kagome peeking out with wide eyes. He lowered himself to the ground, and she quickly realized what he wanted.

“I should get on?” Her voice and scent were excited, despite the visible tremors that were shaking her small frame. “This is so cool. I hope my shoes aren’t hurting you. Can I grab onto your fur, I don’t want to-” He let out a low growl, to let her know he was losing patience. If the foolish woman didn’t climb up quickly, he would become covered in snow again. She seemed to understand the command, grabbing handfuls of his fur and scrambling up his side – although she did not stop talking. Most of it was easy for him to tolerate, as she was primarily complimenting his size, the thickness and texture of his fur, and his form in general. Within moments she was settled between his shoulders, her feet tucked over his spine and her knees angling towards his sides. Her face rested on the scruff of his neck, her hands buried in the long hair there. “Okay, I’m read-”

He did not wait for her to finish, but took off at a loping gait through the snow. When they cleared the trees, she let out a sound of displeasure and burrowed deeper against him. The cold was intense. It was immediately apparent that the miko could not stay outdoors for very long. She needed shelter. Immediately. He let out a sound of warning, and then started to run through the drifts. She gripped tightly with her arms and legs, but did not protest his motion. The storm was growing worse, and the miko was quiet. Her could feel her presence, although her weight was almost too light to be noticeable. Her heart rate was slow, her breathing even, and she smelled tired. Sesshomaru worried. The emotion went beyond concern as he considered how much more delicate she was than a youkai. He remembered how human deaths had always increased in the winter, when the cold weather sapped the strength of the old and ill. She was not as strong as she could be, and he had brought her with him.

It was selfish, he berated himself as he ran. He desired her company. He wanted her alone with him as he traveled. He wanted his people to see her, to respect her and to know that he respected her. He wanted to take her into the forest at night and lay next to her where no one else could hear or scent them, where he did not have to guard his expressions or words so closely. Where no one else had claim on her time. On her attentions. Her smile. It had been a mistake. He should have made her stay at the castle where she was safe. His youki could have remained with her, even from that distance. Or he could have sent someone else to check on the villages. He wanted both – to be master of his lands inspecting any harm that had come to his people personally, and to keep her at his side. The miko was so fragile, so human. The disturbing thought crossed his mind that he might not be able to fulfill all of his responsibilities, at least, not in the manner he wished.

Abruptly, the village came into sight. It was half-burned, and even through the storm and the lingering scent of charred wood and flesh he could smell blood. It was only a few hours old. Sesshomaru came to a stop and circled the perimeter. He could not hear anything moving, and there was only one, faint youki signature. It was dying. Sesshomaru got as close as he was able to with his broad shoulders and large feet, and then in a swirl of energy compressed himself to his smaller form. The miko shivered in his arms, already feeling the loss of his fur.

Mokomoko covered her and he stepped into the hut. He could not locate the youkai at first, despite the unexpected neatness of the house. There were no no pox marked corpses or attack victims. His nose adjusted quickly, and he picked up a faint trail of blood from the doorway towards the raised platform at the back. The single room was dark; he knew the miko was unable to see anything. For the first time, he was grateful for her weaker senses. The wooden floor was deeply scored from a struggle. Bits of torn paper littered the room and the sharp smell of ink emanated from an overturned writing table.

A youkai, inu from her scent, lay on a messy futon. There was little blood on her, only traces at her mouth and hands, but she still smelled of injury and death and traces of many, many other youki. Sesshomaru’s jaw tightened. The scent of those others had been disguised, but he knew how they had mortally wounded her without external blood loss. Rape was the instrument of lesser youkai not fit to walk his lands. Causing such extensive damage that the inu female could not heal would require not only the weapons provided by the males’ bodies, but also other implements, used with vicious intent. When he found them, they would pay with their lives. And their pain.

Her breath was shallow and uneven. Her eyes opened, narrow slits of red that proved how close she was to her beast. She had not transformed, not that her other state would be much more powerful as she was not daiyoukai, but he determined that she was drawing on its energy to stay alive. Her youki was expressed as well, but she had created her barrier poorly, as it deflected towards the ground rather than up and over her body. Her mouth fell open, and it exposed the raw stump of her tongue, severed with a poisoned weapon that did not allow regeneration. Sesshomaru’s rage grew.

A low vibration, a whine and a growl intermingled, came from deep in the inu female’s chest. A sound of warning and subservience. “Sesshomaru?” The miko whispered. He took her hand to lead her, keeping her pressed close to his back with mokomoko. The female spoke again, in the simple, primal language of their kind. It was all that was left to her by those that had taken everything else.

“Young. Care for them?”

“This one will make certain they are well.” The miko gripped his sleeve when he spoke, but remained quiet and secure behind him.

“Your female.”

“She will protect them as her own.” The inu relaxed, the tension easing out of her body and the youki barrier shimmering, weakening. Her eyes closed, and a final rumble from her burned his ears.

“Dragons.”

ooo

Kagome wasn’t sure what was happening, she was itching to get light, but she trusted that Sesshomaru would keep her safe. If there was any real danger, he would have already taken her away, or killed whatever was in the hut with them. She breathed in the clove scent of him and pressed herself against his warmth, listening to the strange animal sounds. Sesshomaru must have understood them, as he answered.

“This one will make certain they are well.” Kagome tightened her hold on him, wanting to ask who, but holding back. “She will protect them as her own.” Who? Her reiki sparked, just a little, and she sensed the youki of the other one withdrawing. There was something else as well. Her energy pushed a bit against Sesshomaru’s youki, prodding aside the thick ropes of power he had bound around her. There was something else in the hut. Something…or someone.

There was another growl, and then Sesshomaru let out a roar that shook the walls and roof. His entire body was tensed, and she could feel his youki swirling and thrashing around them. The other, the thing that had been speaking, was gone. She smoothed her hand against his back and hugged the mokomoko to her. His anger and unadulterated rage was a tangible thing and Kagome worried for a moment that he would lose control. This is Sesshomaru, she reminded herself. She pressed against his back and looped her arms around his waist, waiting for him to calm. It took only a moment.

“I will take care of the body. Stay here.” He pulled away from her, drawing the mokomoko away as well. There was a faint rustling, and then he passed by her again. “Do not move.” She rolled her eyes in the dark, if she moved she would probably trip over something. The door opened and closed, letting in a gust of wind and snow. She shivered, feeling his youki swirl outside and then move to the edge of the village. She wondered if there was any firewood inside.

A small sound, something so tiny she almost missed it, interrupted her thoughts. She strained her ears, listening hard, and heard it again. It sounded like… Kagome dropped her bag to the floor and dug around until she found her lantern by touch. It flared to life in the hut, bathing the room in the cool light of modern LEDs. Her reiki stirred, urging her forward. A futon, stained with blood and other fluids was quickly pushed aside to reveal the platform that had been built for it. It was a strange design, perhaps thirty inches off of the floor. She swept aside the bedding and found a latch, placed in a depression in the wood. Her reiki was screaming at her while her heart thumped in fear and a strange certainty of what she had to do. Kagome pulled on the latch.

Inside were three children. She blinked, and they stared up at her with wide, frightened eyes. The oldest appeared to be six or seven, and had his arms around the others protectively. His fangs poked out over his lip and feathers dripped onto his shoulders instead of hair. Kagome did not get a chance to look over the others, as a ball of blue cloth and black hair hurtled at her from behind the larger child. It was growling, small claws pricking at her chest and neck. “Shhh,” she whispered softly. “It’s okay, little one.” She tried to pat the narrow shoulders and was met with another growl. She wondered if the child was inu, and allowed herself to go limp. “Why don’t you smell me? I’m a friend. I came with Lord Sesshomaru; we’re here to help.” A nose pressed into her skin, hesitant at first, then growing more insistent.

Russet feathers and large, dark eyes peeked over the edge of the hiding place, “Nankae?” The bird youkai stared at Kagome and her guard.

“She smells good. Like inu, but not.” Kagome tried and failed to keep her heart from breaking at the distrust in the oldest child’s eyes. A cool nose nudged her jaw and claws retracted. “She’s good, Paho.”

“Did you really come with the Saidai Mao?” Paho’s whole face appeared above the edge, still uncertain.

“Yes,” she smiled and slowly sat up, reaching her arms around the demon on top of her and pulling him to her lap. “Sesshomaru-sama is my friend. Would you like to come with us?”

“I -” He looked down into the hiding place and his face hardened. “I have to stay with them.”

“It’s okay, I need lots of friends. Everyone can come.” Kagome held her breath while the child weighed her offer, and let out a sigh of relief when he stood and climbed over the edge with a murmur of assent. Her vision was blocked by slitted silver eyes and a wriggling nose.

“Are we gonna be part of your pack?” Inuyoukai, how adorable. How small. How alone. How heart wrenching.

“She doesn’t have a pack, she’s human,” the bird said condescendingly. The inu boy stuck out his bottom lip.

“I belong to a pack,” she corrected. Kagome turned the boy in her lap to sit on her hip and crept up to the hiding place. Inside was another, smaller child. A girl, Kagome guessed by the doll tucked under her arm, sat in the corner. Dark blue eyes stared out of a pale face. She didn’t look more than three. “It’s okay, sweetheart. Do you want to get out of there?”

“Emi doesn’t talk anymore. She’s scared,” the boy in her arms stated simply. The older boy, Paho, pulled her out and sat down next to Kagome. He looked exhausted, and worried. She wondered how long they had been hiding.

“You promise you’re going to help us? You won’t hurt us?” His frank words were too serious for someone his age, but Kagome had seen enough of the villages that had been attacked to know that he had probably lost most of his innocence in recent days. She mimicked his solemn tone and put her free hand over her heart.

“I promise, I will do everything I can to help you, and I won’t let anything hurt you again.” The demon nodded, and let his head lean back against the wood. The girl was leaning towards her, sniffing, and Kagome smiled gently.

“Sensei said someone would come,” he continued. “She said that if we were very good, and very quiet, someone from the West would come and take us away. She said the Saidai Mao would punish the bad ones who came.” Kagome considered the stained bedding crumpled on the floor and the growled conversation Sesshomaru had with whomever had been guarding the children. Their sensei, their teacher, had probably given her life to protect the three demons. Kagome vowed that she would not let them come to harm. The little girl stretched out her arms, and Kagome reached for her without thinking. She held the inu boy on one hip and snuggled the toddler against her neck on the other side. The bird youkai leaned against her arm, just as the door reopened. The children tensed, and Sesshomaru shut out the snow, staring at them with unblinking eyes.

“Your sensei was right, Paho,” she said with conviction. She rubbed the backs of the two she held and gave the daiyoukai a determined smile. “I am from the West and I will take you away with me. Sesshomaru will find the bad ones, and they will get exactly what they deserve.”

Chapter 16: Lessons Learned

Leave a Reply