Chapter 22: Eloquence
Kimi listened with one ear to the distant sound of childish whispers while Kento finished his report. Hisao continued to ignore her, in a manner barely toeing the line of acceptable behavior. He quietly studied the maps and scrolls spread across the low table, as though it enhanced his understanding of Kento’s suggestions. In reality, his shoulders were angled just enough to let her know he would not deign to give her his full attention. When his opinion or any additional information was required of him, he spoke tersely – and directed his gaze to the intricate silk hangings displayed on the wall behind her.
Kimi repressed a sigh, but allowed herself a calculated smile. Sesshomaru’s advisors were brilliant at their roles, and experienced beyond their years. Still so young, she thought wryly. Hisao, the captain of the West, was acting like a pup that had been left to care for a disliked spinster aunt. Kento, who had always been far more politically and socially cunning, gave no indication that he did not hold The Lady of the West in all the high esteem that she deserved. At the same time, he smoothly avoided topics that he felt should be reserved for Sesshomaru’s consideration. He was sorely mistaken – both in his assumptions and his tactics.
The Lady absently sent a light touch of youki to the restless little female snuggled in her mokomoko. The pup calmed outwardly, but her sorrow and distress still left a bitter taste in the air. It was the final weight to Kimi’s decision. As much as she enjoyed toying with others, there was work to be done, and foolish posturing and bruised feelings impeded her actions.
Kimi fixed a cold stare upon her son’s advisors. “Kento, send your underling to report to This One. Hisao, your second in command will take your place as captain. This One relieves you both of your duties.”
Her casual statements were met with a silence that Kimi savored. The calm before the storm. She did so love to disrupt patterns, rearrange them as she wished. She had not realized until after Sesshomaru had left, but she dearly missed the daily intrigue of court. Perhaps, once the miko was returned, she would stay to see what machinations she could put into place. Sesshomaru would, obviously, benefit from her assistance – although, like any perennially ungrateful pup, he would deny it. The miko, too, would no doubt be thankful for guidance in the difficult times ahead of her. And it would all be extremely amusing, of course.
“Kimi-sama, if I may humbly-” Kento began with a deep bow and a tilt of his jaw to expose his neck.
Hisao interrupted him with much more concise language, “Not a chance in hell will I leave the West entirely in your hands – not after you convinced him-” He broke off abruptly, snapping his teeth together. His nostrils flared in anger, and Kimi was sure he was absorbing any scent cues he could pick up. She prepared herself and lessened her youki barrier a fraction. The moment her chilling fury reached the two inu they both straightened, emotion wiped from their expressions, if not their scents.
“Our apologies, Kimi-sama,” Kento started again, “we do not-”
“You most certainly do not,” she said curtly. She noted with satisfaction that the secretary nodded in acceptance and lapsed into obedient silence, hands folded into his sleeves. Her gaze returned to the captain, who was struggling to tone down the burnished metallic scent of his resentment. Kimi carelessly flung a loose strand of hair over her shoulder, her fingers brushing against the Meido Stone where it rested against her chest. She could feel Hisao’s eyes on the amulet and she leaned forward with heartless intent, a tiny smile flirting at the corner of her mouth. “However, if you would prefer to take your chances in hell, This One can arrange it.” Kimi, had she been a lesser youki, would have rolled her eyes at the captain’s unsuccessful struggle against subservience. Finally, he bowed and tilted his head slightly, conceding that she was the alpha in the room.
The Western Lady had not been in the palace since the death of Inu no Tashio – before either of the males before her gained their current rank. Their ignorance was not unreasonable, but nor was it forgivable. She found it ridiculous that such displays were necessary for those who were clearly subordinate – socially, politically, and in measure of youki power. At the same time, it was comforting to know that her son, always so distant from others, had inspired such loyalty – friendship – from two honorable inu.
Still, there would be time later to insinuate herself into Sesshomaru’s personal matters and assess his young advisors more thoroughly. Once the West was properly secured and the dragon whelp had been painfully ripped from any sort of existence…but then again, Kimi was not a patient female, and she had always excelled at multi-tasking.
“Now that such distasteful matters of status and responsibility have been determined,” she said, “This One wishes to move on to more pleasant considerations.” She paused to pour herself another cup of tea and take a small sip. The fragrant liquid muffled the tension saturating the room and the action gave it time to dissipate. “Tell This One of the prisoner, Gekien. Has his torture been sufficient to determine if he plays a part in treasonous action?”
Hisao and Kento did not look to each other in astonishment, but Kimi suspected they only barely restrained themselves. She smiled into her cup. Knowing things was interesting, but it was exceedingly fun to throw out tidbits like a lit firework and see what happened.
Kento, as expected, recovered first. “My Lord ordered that the former healer recover from his wounds and endure interrogations only, until he was ready to see to punishment and…encouragement…himself.”
“And what of the results?”
She watched carefully as the captain shed the last of his animosity before he spoke, “Although Gekien has not done himself any favors with his continued slurs against humans and Miko-sama, in particular, he has not incriminated himself or any others of espionage. I recommended that more stringent mechanisms be used immediately to determine what he knows. However, Sesshomaru-sama wished to be present and had not found the opportunity prior to his departure.”
“Males should never have been meant to rule,” she murmured, “so clearly unable to deal with multiple issues at once.” She shook her head in recrimination and continued, “This One’s most generous offer to relieve some of Sesshomaru’s responsibility, for a time, has been graciously accepted. There is no longer any excuse for such idleness, Hisao.” She caressed Emi again with her youki and smiled at the pup while she decreed, as if teaching the young one an important lesson in etiquette, “It is most inhospitable of the West to allow Gekien to languish without attention. This One will see him immediately after breakfast. Hisao, before you attend your scheduled duties, have a respectable set of needles prepared. Kento, see that the servants prepare a work garment for This One – it would be wasteful to soil such elegant work.” She smoothed one pale hand across the intricate embroidery of her kimono. Torture always put her in a mood to purchase new garments. “Your mate will come to the palace this afternoon, Kento. This One will discuss the needs of the pack with her, after defense plans have been reviewed.”
Incredulity, grudging acceptance, even admiration mingled in their scents, and Kimi was torn again between irritation and amusement. The young ones were almost too easy to manipulate, she thought with a pointed glance at the captain. “Hisao, bring back your initial plans for securing the border once you have completed today’s training session with the soldiers.” She dismissed them with a wave of her claws, and called quietly at their retreating backs, “Do send in the little ones, on your way out.”
Kimi refreshed her tea and urged Emi to take a few sips of water before the pup snuggled back into the miko’s robe, still whining periodically for the female who had taken her in. The shoji screens of the small reception room – hers for centuries before she exiled herself – closed behind the advisors, and the Lady was left to consider the small room and the tasks ahead of her while she waited. She tapped her claws against her teacup absently.
She did not think that Sesshomaru would be gone long. Two, perhaps three days at most. In the meantime, it was imperative that the West projected an impenetrable front, and continued to seek out and strangle the traitors’ whispers that were leaving the palace – bound for the ears of their enemies.
The opening of the door brought her out of her musings, and she meticulously noted every detail as the two entered and approached her. The human girl, her son’s ward – daughter, she reminded herself – walked hand in hand with a two-tails. Kimi found it difficult to judge his age, as kitsune grew sporadically as they increased in power, but from the way he protectively wrapped his youki around Rin, she guessed he considered himself to be the more mature of the two. He was well-groomed, although his hair was too long for the childish bow and his clothes were a size too small. He met her eyes, not fearlessly, but determinedly. Kimi felt the beginnings of respect for the little kitsune.
The girl pulled him to a stop a length away from Kimi’s cushion and bowed deeply, the male was only a beat behind in the respectful gesture. “Welcome, my Lady. Rin is most happy that you have come to the palace. Rin hopes you have been well.”
“Indeed, human.” Kimi kept her face carefully neutral. “Come here.” She dropped the kit’s hand and approached readily, stopping within arm’s reach. Kimi snatched the girl’s arm, more gently than she would have, remembering how fragile such creatures were, and ignored the sounds of protest the other one made. “You are still far too thin to eat,” she declared.
“Hey!” shouted the kit.
At the same time, Rin replied, eyes round and smile wide, “Oh, Rin will do better, my Lady. Rin will eat lots and lots, but Sesshomaru-sama says you must not eat your pack.”
“Hn,” Kimi sniffed, and ran her hands through the thick brown hair that hung down onto an exquisite orange kimono. “Pack? You, perhaps, but what is this one?”
Under the eyes of both females, the kit paled, then squirmed, then firmed up his expression into bold determination. “I am Shippo,” he said, then stumbled, his eyes downcast. “Higurashi Shippo, but my pack isn’t here.” Kimi marveled at the tangible proof that the miko had taken in a demon as her own child; the reports she received were, if anything, understated. Grief and frustration were thick in the kit’s scent, and his love for the miko was obvious. Kimi had already been eager to meet the one who inspired Sesshomaru to take a mate, but now her curiosity intensified considerably.
“Shippo-kun doesn’t know you are a good demon yet, my Lady. Rin has told him that Sesshomaru-sama is good, and Kagome-sama knows that too, but Shippo-kun isn’t sure.”
“Rin!” the kit whispered, blushing and frowning.
“It’s okay, Shippo-kun,” Rin continued. She turned back towards Kimi and met her eyes seriously. “We want Kagome-sama to be okay, and I know that Sesshomaru-sama will bring her back, but Shippo-kun thinks he must not want to, since he waited so long.”
“She’s human, Rin,” Shippo muttered. He glanced up at Kimi, hurt and anger evident on his face. “The servants say you wouldn’t let him keep her, that you came to the palace ‘cause you didn’t want some filthy human in your pack.” His face was growing redder, and Kimi stared, fascinated to see what would happen. “He’s stupid! I don’t care if he is your son or a Lord! He’s dumber than even Inubaka, and he shoulda, should have…Kagome’s all alone.” His voice died down to a whisper, and tears threatened to fall from his green eyes. “She saved him, and Mama’s gonna die if he doesn’t help her. Why won’t you let him – make him – help her?”
Kimi crooked one finger, and followed it with a pulse of youki that pulled the young male closer. He was trying bravely to stifle his tears, and Kimi seized his shoulders, forcing him to meet her gaze. “You should never accuse your alpha, little kit,” she said sternly. Then she swept the boy down to sit at her side, inviting Rin to do the same.
It had been too long since she had held a pup, so many years since Sesshomaru had been small enough to want to sit with her and let her run her claws through his hair. She hadn’t realized she’d missed it. She made up her mind then that she would stay at the castle for at least a few decades. The West would benefit from her presence, and her instincts would benefit from having young ones to nurture and help mold.
“Do not confront a youkai stronger than you, unless you mean to defend your life, little Shippo,” she continued. “However,” she pulled the bow out of his hair and eased her claws into the furry mass on his head, “my son is, indeed, an idiot.” Rin sucked in a breath and Shippo sat up to stare at Kimi. The noble inu held his gaze, finally quirking one brow in question. “Do you think he gets his reasoning skills from me?”
“Noooo,” Shippo drew out the word uncertainty.
“You are correct. That, he inherited from his sire. Foolishness when confronted with the desire of his heart. I am much more intelligent. What does your mother do, when you make incorrect choices?”
“She-” Shippo glanced to Rin to gain courage and gulped. “She makes me fix my mistakes, my Lady.”
“Hn,” Kimi nodded and urged both children to stand. She picked up Emi and led the way to the doors. “She may also be intelligent then.” Both young ones sucked in air in surprise.
“Did my Lady-” Rin began.
Shippo spoke over her, “He went after her?”
“Indeed.” She allowed herself a small smile at the surge of excitement and happiness in their scents, and continued into the hallway. “This One shall dine with you, and then you will return to your studies until you are summoned.” A chorus of ‘yes, my Lady’ rang in the hall and the children skipped ahead, quite forgetting proper decorum, toward their breakfast. Kimi scented the inquisitive attention of the pup in her arms, and glanced down, considering her seriously. “And you, my little one,” she murmured, “you shall join me while I exercise my needle skills. Perhaps the nice smell of blood will bring back your appetite, yes?”
The child leaned into Kimi’s mokomoko and the Lady shrugged off the little rejection. “Perhaps not. In any case, it is never too soon to begin learning a useful skill. Pay close attention, little pup.” She gestured with her fingers as she spoke. “You must only insert the point this far – less if there is a nerve – and then….”
Inuyasha shook the blood from his claws and held out a hand to Kouga. The wolf spit out a tooth, and then stood, cracking his joints and shaking loose the tension of battle. The wooded path they stood on continued behind them through a narrow mountain pass for another thousand feet before abruptly descending in switch backs towards the Nikko Valley. Ahead, vegetation became sparser as the mountain rose and rocky soil made the few trees grow gnarled and deep-rooted. Inuyasha flashed a grin, considering the wreckage he and his companion had wrought.
Pines lay in splinters, their white wood drenched in the ichor of a dozen bodies. One half-transformed dragon had been impaled with a thick branch, pinning a leathery wing to an undersized, scaly body. Wolves, most injured, only one mortally so, picked their way through the mess to stand by their pack leader.
“Getting bolder, coming this far south. It’s like they don’t think we’ll defend our ground,” Kouga said.
Inuyasha grunted, distracted by the hole in his arm that had been charred by dragon fire. It hurt like a sonofabitch, but more importantly, his healing would be slowed by the cauterization.
Kouga continued, “Or maybe they just don’t know there is anybody left in the East. Maybe they think they got all the powerful demons at Kuren’s palace.”
“Keh. If they don’t know already, they will soon. That asshole that got away yesterday was hightailin’ it back north. Them dragons are gonna be gettin’ an earful about us.”
Kouga agreed with Inuyasha’s assessment and began looking over his pack while he talked. “We won’t have as much success with our ambush tactics. They’ll be more cautious once they are aware they might meet resistance.” He pulled an acidic fang out of a smaller wolf and studied the tooth. “We should check in with your monk and see how the field preparation is going. If he is on schedule, we can split up. I’ll take the wilder demons through the mountains, and you and what’s left of the Eastern guard can work up the coast.”
It was a plan they had worked out soon after Inuyasha had arrived with orders from Sesshomaru. The Eastern soldiers that had been stationed outside of the castle had survived the massacre, but the pox took a heavy toll on their numbers. Miroku and Sango had administered Kagome’s dried medicine as soon as demons were brought to them, but still, fewer than twenty percent of the original forces survived. The wolves had been instrumental in finding and bringing in the soldiers, while Inuyasha had gathered all of his old allies and any independent demons in the East. The two leaders had little serious friction between them since Kagome had finally put Kouga in his place, and found that their preferred style of battle and planning was similar. Both relied heavily on instinct and experience in a fight, and favored surprise and brute force over complex strategy.
Although, Inuyasha found himself considering his options more often than ever before. He had never had anyone really depending on him before. Sure, there was Miroku and Sango, but they could take care of themselves and they were always ready to take on an opponent. Kagome and Shippo had needed his protection, but they’d always been with him, every step of the way, never out of sight if he could help it.
Sesshomaru – that fuckin’ bastard – had placed a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. If the asshole was to be believed, the whole West was counting on him. And not just the West. Inuyasha had seen with his own eyes the palace of the Eastern Lord. It was brutal, worse than anything he had ever seen before – and that included Naraku. If Ryu-shit-for-brains was capable and willing of that scale of brutality against a youkai rival, Inuyasha had a pretty good idea of what he would do to a village of humans. To Edo. To anything in the East too weak to stand up for itself against that kind of power.
Inuyasha had been that kind of weak once.
When he was a kid, right after his mother died, he had seen what a man, or a youkai, could do when there was no one to stop them. It had been a long time since Inuyasha had been forced to take a beating, or watch someone innocent be killed. He did not want to relive the experience. He straightened his shoulders, managing to contain a wince when his fire rat brushed against the burned flesh on his arm. Inuyasha wiped the blade of Tessaiga on a clean patch of grass and replaced it in the sheath, shading his eyes to look up at the sun. It would set in a few hours, and the crescent of the moon had already begun to rise.
Inuyasha’s eyes widened and he swiftly took inventory of his own body. He swore to himself. In the pressure and constant action of the last week, the moon’s cycle had fallen to the back of his mind. That had happened a few times before, and it’d put both him and his companions in immense danger. Keeping the secret of his human night had always been a priority, but with an entire army against them, with everything riding on his ability to lead and fight, it was more important than ever.
“Five days,” he barked. Inuyasha sprang up into a tree and glanced back at Kouga’s confused face. He gritted his teeth and elaborated. “I need to report to my asshole half-brother, then I’ll swing by Edo and check in with Miroku before heading up the coast. I’ll get the first squadron in place in five days, and then I’ll keep heading north.”
“Good idea,” Kouga nodded. “Lord Sesshomaru might have some more information for us too. Send a runner if you have something for me.” Inuyasha took off, bounding above the treetops, before the wolf prince could finish. His shouted, “Good luck, dog turd!” echoed off of the mountain.
The hanyou increased his speed. He had three nights and three days to get to the Western Palace, grab Kagome, and make it back to the well before the night of the new moon. Kagome would have to stay in Edo afterwards while he headed up the coast – or if the bastard wanted her right away…
Inuyasha snorted. ‘Course he’ll come after her. It’s Kagome. She can’t be left alone for an afternoon without getting injured or kidnapped. He knew too, although he hated to admit it to himself, that Sesshomaru cared too much for the future miko to let her leave his side for long. They would be lucky if the mighty Lord of the West didn’t throw a fit about her going for a visit through the well. Inuyasha grinned to himself, even as the cold winter wind stung his wound and his heart began to pump harder with his increase of pace. Kagome would put Sesshomaru in his place, and that was a scene that was worth leaving the battlefield for.
He hoped the arrogant, tattooed dog was there when he arrived. Inuyasha couldn’t wait to remind him to treat Kagome well. And ‘offending’ full-demon noses with the scent of a hanyou all over the castle would be it’s own reward. He grinned again, and launched himself into the air. The asshole was a fucker – sure – but there was no one he would rather irritate.