Chapter 40: Mistakes of the Father
“This is what it is to be inu. To be me.”
Kagome heard the wellspring of emotion, laid bare in his voice, and she softened. She couldn’t help herself, didn’t want to give in and forgive him for being an ass. I’m such a pushover, she thought her irritation turning inward, I can’t stay mad at anybody. And, given a few minutes where Sesshomaru had forced her mind to catch up with her mouth, Kagome could admit that she might not have meant exactly what she said. She probably shouldn’t have said it in that way. Their current disagreement might be the teensiest bit her fault. She was embarrassed, and that was perfectly normal. It would have been awkward trying to inform a modern-day boyfriend that she had taken precautions – that she was anticipating having sex with him.
That the boyfriend in question was Sesshomaru, and he was most definitely not modern, only made things worse. The daiyoukai had an ego so large, she was surprised he could stand up straight under the weight of it. And while he deserved any praise she was willing to give out regarding his face, form, or irresistibility, he didn’t need it. And she wasn’t going to give him the opportunity to point out how she wanted him. The entire situation would make him beyond smug. He would probably also leap to the conclusion that she was agreeing to mating when she agreed to sex. Just because she loved him, just because she was pretty certain she was going to say ‘I do’, that didn’t mean she wanted to go through with it right now. It certainly didn’t mean she wanted to take a permanent step before she was sure that what she felt was reciprocated. So when he had asked about the pill, she had tried to brush him off, and when backed into a corner she had overreacted a little.
I’m not the only one, she reminded herself, trying to shore up her resolve. Sesshomaru had flipped out, for absolutely no reason. Well, maybe he had a reason, it just isn’t a very good one. Although, perhaps it was.
Kagome wanted to shake her head in disbelief at how she had managed to so many nearly catastrophic miscommunications with him in three days. He had instincts, she was vividly aware of that. They had managed to find a compromise on the jealousy issue. If there was anyone with more experience than her in putting aside hurt feelings and misunderstandings, well…she felt bad for them actually, because it kind of sucked to always have to be the one giving in, letting go, and moving on. Still, he was trying to be reasonable. He just wasn’t very good at it. When it came down to the wire, his culture and instincts – things that had been drilled into him since birth or were even coded in his genetics – should take precedence over her embarrassment. His tact could use work.
He really was trying though. He had opened up, said more about himself and his feelings that she had ever heard or expected from him. He had said he desired her as his mate. It wasn’t a declaration of undying love, by far, but it was enough, it hinted at enough, to make her heart flutter. Stop it, she ordered the traitorous organ, this is serious. Firm rules first, mushy puppy love later.
Mind made up, when mokomoko slid away from her face she held up one finger, calmly. “I am going to talk now, and you are going to listen. Understand, Sesshomaru?” She looked him in the eyes and did her best to ignore what she thought might be a possessive sort of heat building behind all that beautiful gold. At his sharp nod, she continued, “We are not mates.” His arms tightened around her, almost painfully, and a low growl reverberated in his chest. “Yet,” she emphasized. She wanted it, so badly she wanted it. But more than that, she wanted him to want it. Kagome had done the unequal relationship before – and there was nothing more bitter than realizing you loved someone more than they loved you. Before she made the most important commitment, she needed to know that Sesshomaru was involved just as deeply, as powerfully. He might not ever say it, but she had to be convinced that she had a secure place in his heart before she was ready to risk speaking hers. “You agreed to a courtship, Sesshomaru, to testing this out. That does not mean that you can treat me like this is already a done deal.” His grip eased somewhat and his head tilted slightly in consideration. “Not,” she added hastily, “that what you said is cool with me even if we do get mated. That is a choice that we make together, Sesshomaru. And when it comes right down to it – it is my body.” He blinked, slowly, and she was struck again with how foreign her ideas must seem to him. Her voice softened, “I would like children someday, with my husband, er, mate, but I want it to be a decision. One that we talk over and make certain the time is right. And I really don’t want either of us to worry that we became mates because there was a baby on the way. That is not a great foundation for a relationship.”
His growl died off when she said she did want children, but he remained silent, as she had requested. Kagome was grateful for that. If she heard his deep voice agreeing, or offering her his patented not-apology-apology of ‘Hn’ and a change of topic, she would be tempted to drop it. She couldn’t – not when there was so much left unsaid.
“I am not having a child right now, Sesshomaru, not if I can help it. If, when,” she corrected herself with a gulp and a blush, “we take things further, I do not want to have to worry about protecting a baby while Ryustokokken is still out there. I would have thought you would agree that we don’t need to be putting anyone else at risk right now.” She tried to temper the reproach in her tone, the disappointment, but it was there and he heard it. His body tensed as if from a physical blow, his eyes sliding away from hers. She had to work to not hold her breath against all the awkwardness that reddened her face and made her want to look away. This was not a conversation most couples had after, and she was being generous, a month of dating. “Does that seem reasonable to you, Sesshomaru?”
She waited, dying to grab his face and force him to look at her, to talk to her. Eventually, before she threw patience out the window, he turned and pressed his forehead against hers. He was so close, she couldn’t focus and saw only a halo of burnished gold across her vision. “You are correct.” His voice rumbled so low she almost couldn’t hear it. “It is a logical choice, but I let other concerns cloud my thinking.” He ran his nose along the side of hers, another way of saying sorry without really saying it. She let him have that.
“I am,” she had to clear her throat to remove the husky note that threatened to overwhelm her no-nonsense tone, “actually more upset about the other thing.” When he didn’t respond, she sighed, “’No other shall touch you’. Really, Sesshomaru? How could you think I was even considering someone else? Why would you think that? I am with you, because I want to be with you. It actually,” she bit the inside of her cheek to keep up her ire and not let tears even think about forming, “kind of hurts my feelings, that you would jump to the conclusion that I was thinking about sex with someone else. Is that what you think of me?”
“No,” his answer was swift and brutally honest. He pulled back to meet her eyes. “I know you to give your heart wholly, Kagome, and to be honorable. I…” he paused, dipping his head once more to breathe against her neck before pulling away. “I know you would never willingly take another while you have made a commitment to me. I do not wish you to live in fear that what happened to your friend Ko would ever happen to you.” Her shocked expression, swimming with the shadows of fear and shame that had been with her in at least a small part since her escape, wounded him. “I will protect you.” He thought on Kimi’s advice and the vow he had made to himself. “I will help you to protect yourself,” he added.
“Oh,” she breathed. For a moment, there was nothing else she could say. Nothing she could do but drink in the fierce pledge she saw in his expression. Possessive, protective, respect for her, trust in her. Affection. The affection was obvious but she thought she saw something more as well, something deeper and stronger and overwhelming. “Oh-kay,” she managed to say, hoping she wasn’t imagining things that she badly wanted.
He squeezed her again and nuzzled the side of her face. He released a slow, hot breath against her neck and then he was standing, taking mokomoko with him and helping her up as well. Her backpack had been pushed off one shoulder during their argument, so he reached out and took it, slinging both straps over his unarmored shoulder. Sesshomaru reached for her hand, and she gave it to him without hesitation. Her brain was still dizzy, spinning in circles without coming to any conclusions. How stupid it seemed, after they had talked. If she had been more mature and not tried to cover her embarrassment over the birth control, they could have discussed it without all the drama. Sesshomaru was overbearing, there was no denying it, but he wasn’t trying to force her to do anything she didn’t want to. He wasn’t judging her harshly for a more modern view of sex and reproduction. He just wanted her to be safe, to feel safe, and to know that she wanted the same things he did from a mate.
There should be a handbook for this stuff, she thought. What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Youkai in Your Bed. Demon Dating for Dummies. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, Youkai are from Andromeda. The Secret. Actually, she was pretty sure that last one was a real thing. His palm was warm and smooth against hers, and she laced their fingers together. With his free hand, he tucked a stray hair behind her ear and cupped her cheek, tipping her face up. His claws prickled gently, and she had to repress a pleasant shiver. She looked into his face, calm and collected once more but his eyes still burned with intensity. Kagome offered a small smile.
“Thank you, for talking about it.” She pressed her hand over his. “I bet there is going to be a few more of these conversations, before we sort out all of the modern-human/ancient youkai conflicts, and I’d rather do it this way than with screaming, crying, and snarls.” Although letting him assure his instincts over his jealousy issue had been nice too. More than nice.
“As would I,” he agreed. He brushed a light kiss across her lips, which turned into a second, harder kiss. Then a third. They were both breathing heavier than normal when he pulled away. His gaze shifted to somewhere over her shoulder and he paused. If Kagome hadn’t known that Sesshomaru didn’t feel fear, she would have said he was gathering his courage. “There will be pups,” he stated finally. “You do want to have my pups.”
Her heart almost broke at the uncertainty that flashed across his face, gone so quickly no one else would have ever seen it. He was fighting so hard against himself, for her. She could bend too and give him what he needed as well. “Yes,” she assured him. “Yours.” She leaned up as far as she could on tiptoe, and he bent down to accommodate her. “Someday.” Her lips brushed against the hard angle of his jaw and she whispered, “I would like some time alone with you first.” She interpreted the low, growly vibration that rumbled in his chest to be agreement.
“Inuyasha-sama,” a young fledgling, too young to have to fight in a war, waved from a distance and the hanyou stepped away from the sparring he was supervising.
“You’re a crane, Bitou,” he pointed out to one of the less competent soldiers, “You’ve got more speed and agility than this moron,” he pointed to the red panda that was partnered with the bird, “use it for fuck’s sake.”
“Yes, Inuyasha-sama.” Both combatants bowed to him, and Inuyasha struggled not to roll his eyes at the stupid gesture. The fledgling had nearly reached him, and he smelled of excitement, worry, and sweat. For a moment, Inuyasha wished that Kagome was with him, or Sango, Rin, hell, even Shippo smelled better than a camp full of unwashed soldiers who were training hard. He wondered briefly how Sesshomaru could stand to go on campaigns. Then again, most of his army was inu, so they probably tried to keep the stench manageable for the sake of their own noses.
“Keh.” He shook himself and glared at the soldiers. “Get to work.” They bowed to each other and took up a new stance before he had even stepped away. “What?” His bark made the skinny little fledgling crane tremble, and Inuyasha had to forcibly remind himself not to snap and demand answers. Instincts ran deep in birds too, and they weren’t naturally fond of canines. “I ain’t in the mood to chase game, kid.” He tried to channel Miroku’s calm demeanor, and not for the first time in the last three days, wished the monk was with him instead of rounding up the wolves. Whatdaya need?”
“Uh, there’s a,” the kid gulped, and Inuyasha closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. The fledgling reeked of nerves whenever he was around, which Sango had told him was expected, given what he had probably been through during the Eastern massacre. That and the nature of birds and dogs. That and Inuyasha’s considerable amount of youki. The hanyou took a deep breath, and tried to reign it in. He was bitterly aware that he did not have the control over his aura that Sesshomaru, or even another full youkai, did, but he was trying. On the bright side, everyone knew whenever he was really pissed and stayed the fuck out of his way.
“Let’s go,” he managed in a quieter voice. The little bird hopped beside him, pointing the way back to the medical tent. Not that it was necessary. Even with everyone else packed into the camp, the fresh trail of the fledgling was easy for Inuyasha to find. The medical tent was in considerably better shape than the only other portable structure they had – which was supposed to be for Inuyasha. At least, the crane soldiers had decided that. The hanyou found the idea ridiculous, and he had no intention of sleeping under a ratty canvas that could easily become a deathtrap if they were attacked. He let the few female youkai that were with them use it for bathing and resting. Except for the three ameonnas.
He could feel the blush threatening to explode on his face as he walked by the stream. As usual, when the female rain youkai – the only ones of their kind Inuyasha had ever met – were not on duty they were bathing or fishing in the water. Naked. They didn’t seem to mind the stares, and the rest of the troops enjoyed it. But the hanyou found it to be downright awkward. He had also worried that they might give males the wrong impression, but he quickly learned that it was usually the right impression. At least, if the sultry looks, heated scents, and beckoning fingers they often directed toward him were any indication – their goals were obvious. When they weren’t interested, they also made that abundantly clear. The ameonnas had the ability to temporarily turn into water – with an electric shock that would put even the most eager male out of the mood. It only took a few smoking perverts for everyone to figure out not to mess with the rain ladies. Great fighters, excellent distractions, hell on Inuyasha’s libido.
Not that I’m goin’ after that, he re-convinced himself as he continued past their position without responding to the gentle calls for attention. He also snagged the back of the fledgling’s shirt and pulled him along too. He had no idea when he took over an army that he would be required to spend so much time pulling youkai out of their own hormones. One of the few officers left from the East had assured him that it was typical of a large group of soldiers. It didn’t mean Inuyasha had to like it.
Soldiers backed out of his way, some nodded, a few bowed shallowly as he stomped up to the medical tent. He was nearly there before he could make out any distinct smells beyond the muddled blood, pain, and herbal miasma that generally surrounded the place. He ordered the kid to wait outside and drew the flap apart to enter. One of the monks recruited by Miroku stood inside, wiping blood off his hands. For the life of him, Inuyasha could not remember the human’s name. He and several others, none with any strong holy power compared to Miroku, had come with the army to serve as medics and help lay defenses and traps for enemy youkai.
“Captain-san,” the man greeted him. Thankfully, he got right to the point. “The crane solider you sent out before we last broke camp has returned.”
“Get out,” Inuyasha ordered, his eyes locking on the only occupied futon. Anticipation roiled in his gut. This is it. That fucker better have taken the bait.
“I must protest, Shujin-san.” The monk bowed shallowly, but the scent of disapproval was strong. “This demon barely made it here alive, his injuries are severe. I cannot allow you to wake him until he has a chance to heal the worst of the damage.”
“I ain’t askin’ permission,” Inuyasha narrowed his eyes. The anxious shifting of soldiers outside and the paling of the monk’s face made him aware that his youki had flared. Again. He clenched his jaw and breathed deeply through his nose. I need this information, damnit! I’m trying to save lives – your life, you demon-killing, weak-limbed, bookworm! In the last few weeks, he had experienced difficulty keeping his aura under control. He was in no danger of turning, Tessaiga saw to that, but he was ready to bite off a few feathers to make himself feel better.
Inuyasha let out the breath, slowly. “I’ll keep it short, and I won’t let him move around. But I am going to talk to him.” The monk nodded, smelling relieved when the youki let up and still managing to look judgmental.
The tent flap closed behind the human and Inuyasha made his way over to the soldier, kneeling by his side. He had seen worse wounds – but not many. The crane had been cleaned up and bandaged enough to easily identify the misshapen chest caused by broken ribs, the bloodstains of numerous gouges, cuts, and bites, and the ugly stitching that held youkai skin together until the soldier could replenish his energy supply to begin the healing process. His right side had taken the worst of the damage. His eye was swollen shut and the ear completely torn away. There was a chunk missing from his shoulder; the dent in the bandages was deep enough to make Inuyasha think it went down to the bone. The arm below the bandage was small and bloody, even through the strips of linen. Only one finger and a thumb extended from his hand.
“Daigo,” he said quietly. Not sure where he could shake the crane to wake him, or if he could handle being shaken, Inuyasha just waited wishing he could prod the soldier gently. As though it happened by thought alone, warm youki swelled inside the hanyou and pushed out. To his surprise, it gently touched upon the crane’s unblemished forehead, then retreated. He didn’t have time to wonder about it. A large, grey eye opened and blinked at him.
“Inuyasha-sama,” he made a short, percussive call. Six weeks prior, Inuyasha would have had no idea what that meant. After spending so much time rounding up stray bird youkai and training with them, he knew it was a sound that asked for attention. Every hair on Inuyasha’s body seemed to stand on end, he held his breath, even his heart seemed to wait for the results. “They took it.”
A feral grin broke out on the hanyou’s face and he couldn’t help the satisfied growl that erupted. The crane didn’t seem to mind, but also smiled. “I could hear them, while they were chasing me. They were eager to get it to the North. I-” He coughed, and his one eye widened in sudden pain.
“Don’t overdo it,” Inuyasha commanded gruffly. “They got it, they’ll take it North. Good job.” He stood, and looked down at the youkai. It would take a week for the wounds to heal enough for him to fight. It might be years before he had full use of his arm and eye again. He’d be lucky if the ear grew back. The pain that radiated off of the crane was intense, but still, his smile was satisfied. Inuyasha knew that feeling. The, I’ve been beaten, but you’re gonna get yours, feeling. The, you fuckers don’t even know what’s comin’, feeling. “Next time,” he said quietly. The grey eye focused again. “Try not to let them make a meal of you. Don’t know why the idiots want to chew on bird anyhow – too goddamn tough.”
The injured youkai smiled, and Inuyasha smiled back – full of fang and unspoken compliment. When he left the tent, he spent several minutes standing still, staring down into the Eel Valley unseeing. Everything had been taken from the East. Those cranes had been doing their duty, protecting their homes and families and the dragons had destroyed it. For what, fun? The thought fanned the embers of fury in his chest. Inuyasha had seen enough violence, enough pain caused for the enjoyment of someone else. Enough death resulting from the boredom of someone strong enough to kill. Enough evil. The crane inside was willing to give everything to play a part in stopping that. Inuyasha could do no less.
“You,” he gestured to the fledgling and started walking, not waiting for the kid to catch up in a flurry of feathers and anticipation, “you can write?” At his nod, Inuyasha continued, “Make a list of everyone in camp. Keep it with you at all times. When I tell you, you put a mark next to a name, got it?” The crane nodded eagerly, still smelling of anxiety over being so close to a powerful canine, but also excited to be given responsibility by the leader of their army. “Start with that guy in there.” He used his thumb to point back at the tent. “And find me somebody who can make things cold.” His eyes narrowed, unknowingly sending a message to everyone that watched him march through the camp: No enemy shall live. “Those dragons are gonna beg us to send them to hell – just for the relief.”
Shippo resisted the urge to stroke his tails – barely. He could tell Hisao was irritated, not that the captain wasn’t often irritated, but Kento was calm. Besides, Kimi-sama had told them at supper about the new servant. A tutor, light-duty guard, nanny and playmate all rolled into one. The youkai was going to help watch over the young ones in the pack until Kagome and Sesshomaru returned. Even afterward, Kimi-sama said that they were going to need more supervision, since the adults would be busier dealing with political matters.
The inudaiyoukai had said it like that so as not to frighten the little kids, Shippo knew. He also knew, and had confirmed it with Rin, that what was really happening is that they were being given an extra keeper, because the West was preparing for war. It was a little insulting, Shippo thought. He and Rin had followed their parent-figures all over Japan in the quest to destroy Naraku. Shippo himself had helped in more than one battle. Usually he was an escape balloon or a distraction, but still, he knew about fighting and death. He didn’t need to be coddled, not like Nankae and Emi.
More importantly, most importantly – and he couldn’t believe Kimi-sama hadn’t mentioned it – the new youkai was kitsune. Excitement and trepidation warred within the little two-tails. He hadn’t spent much time with his own kind since his parents died. A few weeks at a time over the past year at a kitsune school near Edo was all he had been willing to be away from Kagome. She would have let him stay longer, he knew, but it made her sad. He didn’t want that, and he was old enough and honest enough to know that he would have been sad too.
But this…this was big. Important big and maybe the best chance he could ever have to learn new tricks. Normally, Shippo would not have been shy about jumping right up to the newcomer, introducing himself, and begging to know all about how they got their tails and if they would teach him something. He held back though, because Hisao was irritated with the kitsune. Because Emi was frightened and Nankae suspicious. Because Rin had been staying right by his side since Sesshomaru had left to find Kagome. Because Kagome was gone. Someone had taken her, and she was safe now, he knew, with Sesshomaru. But she had been hurt and taken from him again and he hadn’t seen her yet and bad things happened all the time even when you thought you were safe and-
He took a deep breath and furiously drew his youki around him, working to keep his scent concealed like Kimi-sama had shown him. Working to keep his mind clear and process everything he heard and smelled about the new kitsune – just like Inuyasha had been teaching him. Trying to smile in a friendly way and not make any rash judgements until he had gotten to know the servant; Kagome would want that.
“Aina-san will be helping out in the family quarters. Rin-yojosan,” Kento nodded to the adopted daughter of his lord, “Please let Aina-san know what activities you would like to pursue and the schedule Kagome-sama left for your studies. She will go with you everywhere, and she is responsible for your safety.”
“If there is ever an issue with that,” Hisao spoke up, his eyes narrowed on the adult kitsune, “you must tell Eiichi or Eiji right away.”
“I very much doubt there will be any problems,” Kento said with a disapproving frown to Hisao-san.
The kitsune ignored both males and stepped forward, bowing at the waist to Rin and then kneeling into a seiza. “I am very eager to make your acquaintance,” she said, smiling. Her eyes were green and they sparkled with mischief. Youki tripped through the air, dancing over the heavy, solid wall of the captain and the defined structure of the secretary. Shippo could feel a response in him clawing to break free. He wanted to play, so badly. He wanted to get out his top and show off. He wanted to display his two tails and then pop into a second Rin and see which kitsune was the better trickster. He also knew the danger in trusting too easily. That resulted in friends being soaked into human tree fertilizer or an unmother trying to eat your soul. Rin must have sensed it, because she put her hand on his shoulder. He shared a look with her, trying to communicate that he was anxious as well as excited. Caution, caution, his mind warned and his youki wrapped around the friend he hoped would be his sister tightly, for just a moment.
“This One is pleased to have been introduced,” Rin answered formally. For a full minute, everyone seemed surprised that the little girl had responded that way. Of course, it was her right, expected of a daughter of the Saidai Mao, really. But Rin rarely drew attention to her position. “We would prefer to take lessons in the upper ima, at this time.” Shippo’s eyebrows raised. Smart, he thought. The ima was a large, open room that could be used for many different things. He had played there some with Rin, because it was empty and rarely used. It was situated between the family quarters and a corridor leading to the main staircase. It had its own little garden, but was not connected to their sleeping rooms. It would be large enough for even kitsune lessons and private enough that Sesshomaru would deem it safe. At the same time, it would keep Aina from having any reason to go into more private areas.
The kitsune nodded with a smile, and Shippo felt something ease as the rock brothers appeared to escort them all to the ima. Kimi-sama had hired the youkai, so she couldn’t mean them any harm. The rock brothers would be close by, so the little ones would be safe. She wouldn’t have any opportunity to see Kagome’s books or any strange future stuff, and Rin had been given authority to set lessons and decide if the youkai female should stay or go. Without any concerns that hadn’t been addressed, Shippo finally allowed himself to act as he wanted to.
One red tail popped up over each of his shoulders, “How well can you imitate others?” Eiichi stiffened and Eiji frowned, but Shippo ignored them both, watching the older kitsune smirk.
One tail peeked over her left shoulder. One tail wrapped around her waist. One fanned out against her right leg, another flipped to lay in her lap. “Well,” she said bracing her hands against the floor and leaning forward, “I believe I can hold my own.” A fifth tail shot into the air over her head and pointed towards Hisao-san. He had not moved, but surrounding him were tiny puppies. The regular, non-youkai kind. They were fat, and fuzzy. Adorable brown eyes stared up at the captain. Tiny, fluffy tails wagged. One curious little furball sniffed at a polished boot and lifted its leg.
“Enough!” Hisao growled. Shippo couldn’t stop the delighted laugh from escaping, although Rin managed to cover her mouth. Emi smiled and waved at the little illusory animals, while Nankae let out a tiny growl of his own, clearly ready to challenge the little animals that were surrounding his hero. Aina just smiled her secretive smile. Shippo couldn’t wait until Inuyasha came to visit again. He rubbed his hands together with glee.
Later that afternoon, when Jaken brought dinner to the ima, the rock brothers called Aina outside. Shippo, despite his hunger after hours of playing with foxfire and trying to master a new spell with his acorns, snuck closer to the shoji screens to listen.
“Don’t think this one day earns my trust, fox.” Hisao’s voice was easy to recognize, even if his youki hadn’t been pulsing quietly. “These two soldiers will be watching your every move, as will I.”
“Really, Captain-san?” Shippo’s eyes widened at her purr. He knew that sound well, from his time at kitsune school, and the women who fell all over Miroku – until they saw Sango’s boomerang. He could well imagine big green eyes leaning in far too close for the captain’s comfort. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind as I prepare for the day.” Shippo blushed bright red, sure that was too intimate for polite conversation. Apparently Hisao agreed. He growled, and his youki bucked. “Now, now,” Aina chuckled, “don’t be a spoilsport. This is all in good fun.”
“Make certain,” Shippo barely overcame the urge to duck his head and bear his neck at the threatening sound Hisao made, “that your fun, does not bring any in this House to harm.”
“Or the Saidai Mao will let his acid seep into my bones,” she sounded amused.
“If these pups are hurt under your care, kitsune, there will be nothing left for my Lord to deal with.” There was another pulse of youki, and a feminine gasp, and then Shippo had to scramble away from the doors so that Jaken and his helpers could leave. The screens slid open, and the rock demons were standing outside as usual. If they were perhaps stiffer or more vigilant, no one commented on it. Shippo was more interested in the flick of a foxtail as it disappeared around the corner and the strange scent still lingering in the hallway. He breathed deeply, trying to commit it to memory so he could describe it to Inuyasha later. Whatever Hisao was angry about, it wasn’t just a servant he didn’t approve of. And Aina smelled far too serious for a kitsune simply out to flirt with a straight-laced dog.
“What the matter, Shippo-kun?” Rin said quietly from her spot at the table.
“Grown-ups,” he answered shortly, shaking his head. “They’re so dumb.”
Ryustokokken stalked through his castle with a satisfied air. Wei had finally found the witch, and she was already laboring to produce what he needed to take back his miko. His tongue flickered out in anticipation. Adrenaline surged in his veins. The human would come to him, walk to him without any threats or summons, and it would be the most complete defeat of Sesshomaru. The pup would have to watch her leave his side to come to the dragon. Perhaps Ryustokokken would even allow the pretender to the title of Saidai Mao to live long enough to see the miko fall to her knees before her rightful master. To see her smile as she worked her power as he desired. To see her eagerly pleasure him.
Abruptly, he changed course toward the training grounds. Exercise would be beneficial to leach off some of the expectation humming under his skin. It would also help him assess the troops. Sou and Natsou had given proposed assignment proposals, but he preferred to review individuals’ skills himself. No dragon who could not meet his standards would serve in his army. And those that were the most vicious, with the most thirst for inu blood, they would be his front line. Natsou would leave by nightfall with a quarter of his forces to meet with the bastard, Inuyasha. Arashi would lead him in negotiations – the slick-tonged whore’s son was best suited to lying and convincing weak-minded fools to follow the North to their deaths. And if he failed…Natsou had orders regarding that eventuality.
The dragon Lord stepped into cold morning light, filtered through storm clouds and tainted with a bitter wind. Soldiers were already practicing in the field beyond the castle wall. He flipped his black hair over his shoulder and with two powerful bounds leapt over thirty feet of stacked obsidian and landed in the center of the training grounds. The ground under his feet cracked, but did not shatter under the force of his arrival. All motion stopped, and a circle cleared out around him, making space for the Lord. Each dragon bowed, lowering their eyes to the ground and holding that position until he would give them leave to move.
“Shianma,” he called for his great sword, and it took only a few minutes for a servant to arrive with the blade. He did not bother with armor or a blunting sheath for his weapon. None could touch him, none could make it past his skillful kata. Any who could not parry him, deserved their wounds. He would not aim to kill, but lessons were best learned by pain, and his army would learn all he had to teach them. He would engrave it on their flesh and they would become blood-borne to new heights of greatness. “Come,” he said, and two soldiers immediately straightened and stepped into the ring. They did not taste of fear, but of determination and resignation. This was his army. An ordered wave of death that would sweep through his enemies feeling nothing by satisfaction when their weapons drank deeply, and fulfilled duty if they died on the battlefield. This is how he would reshape Japan into his empire.
As the volunteers began to circle, he considered the witch and her magic. When it was ready, he would recall Arashi – if he was still among the living – and the spies in Sesshomaru’s den would make certain that the miko became his. Then the stain upon dragon blood would be cut down. Arashi would not see the blade of his better, his predecessor, his Lord until it was too late. Ryustokokken had manipulated them all to his benefit. He had arranged the tiles to fall at his command and strike down his enemies, paving the way for his triumph.
He wanted Japan, and he would have it.
He wanted the weak little dog to suffer, and he would.
A dark laugh broke from his lips in a cloud of smoke and heat as Sinanma bit into the first soldier, bringing him down. Ryustokokken’s long wait was nearly over. The dragons would return.