Chapter 17: Welcoming the Storm
Awake, but with nothing to do until the evening meal, Izayoi headed for the library, feeling peckish and unhappy, for some reason. So much had happened in the last month and a half since she'd come back from the shrine, and as busy as she had always been there, the lack of things for her to do here was stifling at times.
This was one of those times.
She had no idea where Touga was, and certainly had no desire at this point to find Airi – still upset with the girl for her words earlier. Her own ladies were doing nothing more than chattering on and on about her betrothal, and she was simply tired of it all, so she'd dismissed them.
A good book (she found herself using the modern word for scrolls and actually missing the books of Kagome's era, as they were easier to read) sounded just the thing – perhaps some poetry?
It didn't take her long to find what she wanted, and quickly gliding along the hall to her destination, she happened to pass by Airi's rooms – and flushed crimson at the sounds coming from them. Eyes wide with embarrassed horror, she hurried her pace until she was almost running – the thought of her brother doing... well, that, was just not something she wanted to have in her head. Ever.
She quickly evicted those thoughts from her mind and shuddered, determined to never think of it again – though she would probably blush crimson the next time she saw her brother and his wife.
Turning down a different hall, she made her way to a little used, rather small sitting room at the end of the family wing, and curling up near the open shoji into the garden, she unrolled the scroll with a sigh and began reading, the poetry suiting her rather melancholy mood perfectly.
Some indeterminate amount of time passed as she read, her attention firmly on the words she was reading and her mind in the world they created for her, and it took her some time to notice that she was no longer alone in the room. With a startled blush, she looked up over the edge of the scroll into Touga's amused eyes.
"Oh!" she said, looking around and noticing that Kenji was also in the room and watching her with laughter in his eyes, and she blushed even more, lowering her scroll into her lap. "Is something wrong? Why are you both watching me and smiling?" she asked almost petulantly at their amusement, her lower lip bowed in a tiny pout.
Her slightly grouchy attitude and charming pout made Touga laugh; he had to admit to himself just how smitten with her he was to find even her bad moods adorable. With a last chuckle, he said, "Peace, little hime. We just came to sit with you and enjoy the afternoon. Did you sleep well earlier?"
Dropping her face at his affectionate demeanor, she nodded, biting her lip in remorse for her attitude. "Yes. Forgive my peckish temper. I remembered a few more things about Kagome, and I'm simply feeling a little sad."
Kenji looked interested at that. "Oh? Anything good?" he asked.
Izayoi shook her head, a small smile lighting her face at his eager expression. "Not really. But the more I remember of my life as Kagome, the sadder I feel. She was..." she sighed, annoyed, "I was the same age I am now – fifteen – when that life ended and I became Izayoi instead. And the last months of that life were full of heartbreak and pain." She looked down into her lap at the scroll she'd been reading and ran her fingers over the gold-brushed edges. "I can only pray that this time I get it right, and can finally find the happiness I have been chasing through three lives, now."
Both men's faces lost the amused expressions they'd had, looking at her with solemn eyes, but it was Kenji that spoke. "I know it must be confusing and upsetting, and maddening as well, to have all that you have hidden within the depths of your mind. And I am sorry that you must bear this burden. But I am here if you ever need an ear, and I know my Lord Touga is, too. You are not alone."
Touga shot the kitsune a sharp look, then said, "Absolutely. I will always be there for you, no matter what you need; I would never turn my back on my betrothed."
Nodding, though she didn't say anything, an awkward silence fell for a moment, and then Touga spoke again. A flash of temper went through her as his words reminded her of her earlier encounter.
"Tell me what happened earlier to upset you. It had something to do with your brother's wife, did it not? For she also looked angry when she entered the dining room just behind you."
Gritting her teeth for a moment in a futile attempt to calm her temper at being reminded of those vile words Airi had spoken - Is it true your father has sold you to the youkai Lord? - Izayoi finally got herself under control and said, "It did." She shrugged after a moment as he looked at her, obviously waiting for her to finish. "She accosted me and spoke out of turn about our betrothal."
He continued looking at her expectantly, and with a sigh, she elaborated. "She asked if it was true that I had been... sold... to you." She caught the beginnings of Touga's frown, and continued. "When I corrected her she asked how I could stand the thought of being forced to-" she blushed fiercely but continued speaking, "-lay with a youkai and that surely, as I was a priestess that the whole thing was blasphemous. And then she claimed that she would never be able to force herself to lay with a being that was little more than an animal."
Her brow rose as she heard the growls from both throats. "I once again told her off, and then she tried to claim rank – as she will one day be the Lady of Setsuna." She smiled, then, her smile shocking both youkai males into silence with its sharp, predatory edges. "I then pointed out that I would one day be the Western Lady, and so would always outrank her. I also called her on her expression of disgust at the thought of bedding a youkai – I have seen her eyes on you and I know she has thought on just that." She shrugged again, still smiling that jagged smile. "That was pretty much it."
Touga, and Kenji both, were quite taken aback at the human equivalent of a youkai female baring her fangs. That the gentle-seeming, tiny woman could even make an expression like that spoke volumes to the fact that while she might have a gentle heart, she also had a fierce spirit. Touga was definitely pleased; more and more, he was becoming aware of just how able to defend herself in the youkai courts she was. Youkai would definitely be shocked to see a human (a race most youkai saw as spineless and weak) of such power – and indomitable spirit.
She would own the court before she was through, and the youkai within it, as well.
Deciding that a change of subject was definitely in order, as she had most decidedly handled that confrontation well and did not need consolation, he glanced down at the scroll in her lap and asked her what it was she was reading.
"Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets. I felt the need for some poetry – it suited my mood," she replied.
"Well, that work will definitely keep you busy for a time," Kenji remarked – it was indeed something that couldn't be read in a short afternoon.
"I enjoyed that day on the lawns where you read some selections from them. You pitch your voice perfectly to deliver them with the proper spirit and energy."
She smiled; this time it was soft. "Thank you, Touga.
Before anything more could be said, Touga and Kenji both tilted their heads as if listening, and then Touga stood and with a smile of his own offered her a hand as Kenji also stood and headed for the door of the room. "It is time for the evening meal, my dear," he said, and she looked at him oddly even as he helped her up.
"How is it that you know-" she heard the chiming of the dinner bell, and paused, and then finished when the ringing ended, "-before the bell even goes?"
Touga and Kenji exchanged amused looks, and Kenji explained. "We are able to hear the head cook yell for the bell to be rung."
Gently re-rolling the scroll in her hands, Izayoi smiled a bit. "I thought it must be something like that. It would be very annoying, I think, to have such sharp ears – too much noise to filter through." She finished rolling the scroll and moved to the door to walk out behind Touga. "I need to stop by my room to drop this off before I go to dinner, so I will see you both there."
"Never, my dear – I will attend you while you do this, and we will then go to dinner together," Touga said.
She shrugged one slender shoulder. "If you wish," she said, following at Touga's heels comfortably as Kenji followed right behind her – he smiled brightly when Izayoi looked back over her shoulder and smiled at him.
Touga in front and Kenji behind, and Izayoi felt safer than she'd ever been.
It was a nice feeling – and one she had a feeling would be something that would not often be enjoyed in the coming weeks as the consequences of the day's events began to ripple through the ranks of those in the palace.
Instead, she was sure, she would more often feel danger ahead, and behind, as well, and she almost wished suddenly that the wedding was already over and done with. Then, she would most often be in Touga's company constantly in a way she couldn't quite be now.
She sighed. I wonder what rats will be flushed from the walls and rooms of the palace in the coming days and weeks?
Izayoi woke early the next morning and lay in her bed, letting her thoughts wander where they would. Her dreams had been silent for once, and she'd slept well, though she was in a strange mood for all that.
A big, scary word, though not as scary as it could have been had her father chosen any other than who he had.
But being married was a life-changing event. Before, you were considered an adult, true, but really, nothing had yet changed in your life to signal such a significant change had taken place. And then you were married off, and suddenly, the word adult had a whole new meaning.
No longer were you the innocent daughter of a royal house, but a woman, an adult female with a completely different life and new family.
And here she was, on the cusp of just such a change, and she found that it was not just exciting... but terrifying. Was she really ready to leave behind the softly-remembered days of her youth?
With a sigh, she sat up and curled her arms around her knees, leaning her chin on them as she looked with pensive eyes at the walls of her room. That was another thing, she suddenly remembered, frowning. She'd never found out why her father had her rooms redone if she was getting ready to be married off. It made no sense.
Perhaps now that she was already betrothed, her father would be willing to tell her?
She pondered on that for a few moments, and then set it aside.
An even bigger, scarier word than betrothal, one that if she were to allow the betrothal to drag out to its longest allowable extent by her father's design, i.e. the end of summer, still only left her with about seven weeks.
And while that seemed a long time, in actuality, it was not.
She could tell that Touga hoped she would agree to the wedding sooner, but for what reason, she wasn't certain. Maybe if she asked him, he would answer. In fact, today would be a good time, when they had the mid-day meal out on the lawns.
She smiled a little. Hanami had always been a favorite activity of hers, and her mother's, as well. And even though she knew that it was usually a spring activity, her family had always done it during the summer, as well. After all, it was definitely cooler outside under the trees than inside – most of the time.
With a sigh, she stood up and slipped into her yukata just as Mei rapped on the door.
"Come," she called quietly, and the door slid open as Mei bowed, then entered the room to help her mistress prepare for the day.
She watched silently as Mei gathered the necessary items, and then led the way from the room to the bathing rooms, not a word being passed between them. Izayoi sighed again; it was clear that Mei was highly upset with the news of her betrothal.
Once they were in the bathing room, she slipped off her yukata and stepped into the steaming water with a smile as she relaxed into the warmth of the welcoming bath. After a moment to enjoy the heat penetrating her muscles, she looked at her long-time maidservant and shook her head, not seeing any way around it.
"You are upset with my betrothal," she said, making it a statement, not a question.
Mei stiffened, but did not look up at her. "It is not my pla-"
She was cut off before she could even really get started. "Whether you perceive it as your place or not, Mei, we both know you still have an opinion, and the ones on my betrothal are negative. Why?"
Startled out of her determination not to say a thing to her mistress, the maidservant jerked her head around to stare at her charge with dumbfounded dismay. "You can ask me this? For your father to give you away to a youkai for political gain – it is terrible!" she finished softly, wincing at her words, but unable and unwilling to take them back.
"Oh, come, Mei," Izayoi scoffed disbelievingly as she cupped some of the water and poured it over her shoulders. "That is the fate of all hime – why did you think mine would be any different?"
"Perhaps," Mei said, her manner more subdued, "but most hime are not forced to wed a youkai and leave her world to enter his. From the things I have heard in my life, such a fate is nothing more than a death sentence."
Pausing in her bathing, she blinked at the visibly upset servant, and shook her head. "Let me settle your mind, Mei. I am not being forced, as you say. Father and Touga both gave me the choice, and I accepted his suit." She almost wanted to laugh at her maid's stunned expression, but did not. "And as for his world being deadly to most humans, I daresay what you have heard is correct. But since when have I ever been most humans?" she asked gently.
There was nothing that the maid could say to that except, "But I am not, Izayoi-sama. I do not think I am cut out for a life of service in a youkai stronghold, and yet I do not wish to leave you. It is a hard place this has left me in."
And then Izayoi understood most of Mei's fear – while she really didn't want her mistress to marry a youkai, even more did she not want to go live in a place where she would be basically defenseless and surrounded by predators that would be more than happy to devour her the first chance they had.
"That is not a choice you are being asked to make, Mei. You cannot follow me to my new home, for it would not be safe for you. A youkai maidservant has already been chosen for me – from what I understand, she is Kenji's sister. He told me about it a few days ago." She sighed again at her maid's crestfallen look. "Father has agreed to retire you, as this is what I asked of him, instead of you going back into the pool to be given to another as maidservant. You will be given a new room in the family wing in both palaces and follow the family or not as you wish, and will have your pension for whatever takes your fancy, as all your needs will be met just as though you were family. For the care, faithfulness, and even affection you have always shown me, I could do no less."
Mei looked stunned. Normally, a maidservant either followed her mistress to her new home once she married, or stayed behind and became servant to another, continuing to serve until she was no longer physically able, and then was pensioned off, being dismissed from the family's service and usually taking up residence in a small hut in the nearest village. She herself was still fairly young, being in her late twenties, and would normally have many more years of service ahead of her.
But what her mistress had just done for her was something that Mei could only go to her knees and thank her over and over for, because Izayoi knew that her maidservant suffered from a degenerative condition in her back and hips that would eventually leave her bent out of shape and unable to stand upright any longer, as well as in immense pain. She had already suffered years of pain, and had little hope of not suffering years more, but being retired out, she would no longer have to do anything but take care of her own room; she would be allowed to use the bathing rooms in the family wing, as well, though she would mostly be expected to take her meals in her room, that would actually be better for her, in the long run.
She would also be able to call on some of the servants for assistance if she needed it, or as she got older and was no longer able to move without help. That meant that not only would she have a much more comfortable life from here on out than she'd ever had any hope of having, but also her pension money to use for anything she might simply want, as well. As a most honored servant, which was what Izayoi had basically declared her with her petition to her father, and his granting of it, the very expensive tea for pain that she had been given at times, and the other powders for even worse pain, would be available to her as needed, meaning she wouldn't suffer nearly as much as she had always thought she would as she inevitably aged and began to suffer more and more from a body that was degenerating much faster than it normally should.
Tears streaming down her face, Mei thanked her mistress over and over, even as she finished bathing and slipped back into her yukata to walk back to her room and dress for the day. Embarrassed, Izayoi could do little to stop her maid's gushing gratitude except escape her room for the first meal of the day.
Truly, she was happy that her father had agreed to follow her wishes when it came to Mei, for she knew well how badly she hurt sometimes – in fact, more than once she had gone to the healers already since her return to the palace and ordered them to give Mei the tea, letting her maidservant sleep without pain under its influence and quietly taking care of herself – after all, she didn't need help getting in and out of her miko robes, or taking baths herself, and she really didn't like seeing her old nanny cum maid in so much pain – she was truly fond of her. Mei had been the one to comfort a young girl who had lost her mother, when her father had been so gone in grief that he had been unable to comfort anyone, not even himself, and Izayoi had never forgotten that, nor would she ever.
The day went by quickly, and noon found the court out under the trees and enjoying the breeze as they ate their fill of a delicious spread of food; after the meal, Izayoi once again read poetry from the collected works she had been reading earlier, all themed on summer.
By the time Izayoi finished her reading, it was late afternoon, and a summer thunderstorm was fast moving in. While most of the court scrambled quickly to get inside before it could hit, she instead stayed outside, walking back to linger near the rose garden as the servants quickly cleared the lawns of any debris left over from lunch.
For some reason, during the frequent summer thunderstorms, this section of the garden suddenly became gloriously scented, the mixture of the fertile soil, the rain, and the roses themselves giving off a scent that Izayoi so wished she could capture in a bottle – she would wear it all the time. And the odd thing was that very few save her father and Ichirou knew about it – the rest of the court being too afraid of the lightening and getting wet, to stay outside and experience it.
She was perfectly fine with that; on most days dealing with the buffoons in the court was more than she could possibly like, so she was perfectly content to keep the secret to herself.
Her eyes avidly watched the black clouds crowd the afternoon sky, the blue of her eyes silvering to match them with a brighter hue as they swallowed the light blue reflection of the endless deeps of the sky beyond the spheres. They were so dark that the day looked almost as night, and she smiled into the first drops of rain as she watched what would be a very strong storm announce its entrance with a flash of light and a full-throated roar.
Almost immediately, the rain increased until it was almost coming down in sheets, and she tilted her head back and laughed as the rain washed the heat of the day from her skin, cooling her down almost instantly. Continuous flashes of brilliant argent chased darkness across the sky, and she watched it all with excitement at the crackle of sheer power that raised the fine dark hairs on her arms, sparking a response from her reiki that lit up the darkness in rebound.
That was how Touga found her, glowing a brilliant pink as her power mimicked the lightening flashing angrily across a furious sky, and he watched, stunned speechless, at the feral beauty of the woman he was soon to be bound to. Her display called to the wildness in him, and he could feel his blood rise, his youki answering the call and flaring up around him redly, only to dart after her reiki and wrap itself around the pink lightening rising from her in response to the storm, turning it instead a deep rose red.
Startled at that display, he watched the spectacle of their power mingling in ways that reiki and youki were not supposed to, and looked up at her just as she turned her glowing eyes to meet his. There was a wildness in them he had never expected to see in a human, and in another flash of lightening across the ebon darkness of the sky, he realized that Izayoi was unlike any human that had ever existed. Her soul was akin to a youkai soul, and through her blood ran the same animal fierceness that also ran through every youkai ever born.
She was a youkai, born in a human's skin.
In that moment, he could almost see what any child she gave him would be, a mixing of powers that should have instead destroyed each other and yet strangely fed off of each other and strengthened both, a new type of being that would carry power unlike anything else that had ever existed. It made his fierce youkai heart scream for her, and he held her gaze as his desire filled his eyes and then overran them, tightening his body with almost intolerable need.
He was never sure afterward who made the first move, but the next thing he knew, she was in his arms and kissing him in a manner that matched the wildness of the storm still unleashing its fury around them, and he could actually feel her power mingling with his and boosting it, giving him such a rush that he almost passed out.
But he couldn't, because she was his lifeline and holding him to awareness as they both rode out the much more powerful storm of their life energies as they mingled and caressed each other like lovers too long parted. And still she kissed him, running her tongue along his with a moan and exploring his fangs as her scent sharpened with excitement at the feel of them before she pulled back into her own mouth and let him explore her once more.
They may have gone on like that forever if Kenji hadn't come looking for them, drawn by the almost frighteningly powerful feel of their auras mingling. His words shocked both; without further ado, they ran into the palace for their rooms to change into dry clothing and then go to Hiraku's rooms.
Izayoi, her blood still running high from her encounter with not only the storm, but Touga, as well, wasted no time in brushing everyone aside as she entered the room to find her father barely conscious on his futon and surrounded by what seemed to be half the court.
"All of you, leave," she ordered. "Now! My father does not need you all crowding his room like vultures waiting to pick at a carcass!"
Shocked, nonetheless everyone obeyed her, not daring to do otherwise as she fairly radiated power, save her brother and the palace's chief healer; those two stared at her still very wet hair, and the towering youkai Lord behind her with wary fascination.
She looked at the healer, her eyes dark and commanding. "Step aside; let me look at my father." Ignoring everyone's confused looks, she knelt down at her father's side and took note of his pale skin and tired eyes with scarce-hidden sorrow. "How long have you been ill and hiding it, father?" she asked quietly, sadly; immediately, every eye in the room was plastered to her with astonishment.
He sighed, his breathing raspy, and fought to keep his eyes open. A shaky smile met her glance. "For a long while, my dear. I am getting older, and it is normal for older people to begin getting ill as death approaches them."
"And yet you were able to hide it so well that you even marched with the army and have participated in several battles recently. How is that?" she asked, a frown marring her brow.
"The weakness comes and goes – most days I feel fine. It is only on some days that I suddenly feel ill, weak and tired," he said slowly, his eyes drooping again as weariness fought to pull him into healing sleep. A pink glow suddenly encompassing gentle hands, Izayoi smiled at her father. "Sleep, and we will see you tomorrow, father. I promise that you will feel fine when you wake."
Every eye in the room was pinned on the now gentle pink light as it covered Hiraku's body; immediately he fell into sleep, his eyes closing and his breathing smoothing out as her healing powers settled into his body and began slowly working to repair the damage of a long life in trying times.
Holding up a hand to indicate silence, she gestured for everyone to leave the room save her father's manservant; beckoning him to her, she gave strict orders that if her father was to stir at all or if he seemed to worsen, that he was to summon her immediately, no matter the hour. He nodded solemnly, eyeing her with great respect and bowed, then went to settle down on a cushion near his Lord's bed.
With that, she escorted everyone else from the room and bid them to follow her to one of the sitting rooms. Once inside with the doors shut, she sat down and awaited the questions she was about to be hit with, little expression on her face.
Ichirou spoke first. "What's wrong with him?" he asked, coming straight to the point; his fear was obvious in his eyes though he kept it well controlled. He wasn't ready to take over as Lord, nor was he ready to say goodbye to his last remaining parent.
As it so happened, neither was Izayoi. "He's getting old. His body is slowly breaking down just as everyone's does as they age. I think the stress lately has just worn him down more than usual and his body couldn't fight its need for some serious rest anymore, and so basically it forced him into it by swallowing any strength he had left leaving him too weak to do so any longer."
"Izayoi-sama, if I may... what did you do to him?" asked the palace healer, Yoshi, in a nervous voice.
She sighed. "I settled some of my healing power into him. Basically, I'm rejuvenating his body, erasing some of the years from him. It isn't something that can be done indefinitely or repeatedly, but I have given him a few good extra years. But he will still need rest for the next few days; Ichirou, you will have to lead the next Formal Court."
Her brother snorted. "Good luck with that, Izayoi. He'll never miss a Formal Court, and you know it. And since no one here can outrank him and force him to stay abed..." hetrailed off, no one needing him to finish to know what he was saying.
Izayoi chuckled. "I don't need to outrank him. I can keep him asleep for the next week if I so choose, waking him only to relieve himself and eat. And you aren't going to tell me any different, Ichirou," she said sweetly, narrowing her eyes on him, "or else I'll make you sleep for the next week, too – except for during Formal Court."
"Rotten woman," he groused, glaring at her halfheartedly as she yanked his hope from underneath his feet.
She smiled blandly and ignored him. "Any questions?" she asked the other two, and Touga nodded.
She met his gaze, brow quirked in question.
"How long are you planning to keep him asleep?"
Lips pursed, she considered that for a few seconds. "Two days, perhaps. I'll wake him up for meals and to relieve himself several times each day, and at the end of those two days, I'll reassess his condition and go from there. But I'm pretty sure two days will be enough."
Yoshi seemed reassured and took his leave with a rather awed bow at his hime, and Ichirou also took the chance to skulk off, obviously not looking forward to having to deal with Formal Court the day after tomorrow. While irritated and feeling quite nervous about having to take his father's place, and without his sire's guidance, he wasn't really angry at his sister – he would never want to do something that would make his father's health deteriorate. But he'd temporarily forgotten in his sudden awareness of the duty that he wouldn't quite be alone – Izayoi and Touga would be there as well to assist him – and so he was worrying quite needlessly. He'd catch on sooner or later, and then he'd calm down.
Some might think it odd that the heir was so nervous over a duty he should be well acquainted with. And he was – as his father's assistant. He'd even led court a time or two, but it was always with his sire by his side for guidance. This would be the first time he would be discharging the formal duty of the Lord of Setsuna as de facto Lord. And coming in behind his father, he was left with very big shoes to fill. But while he was worried he would not do well, Izayoi and even Touga believed he'd do just fine - once his jitters had passed.
After all, he had been trained by Hiraku, and he was very intelligent and clever in his own right. Just look at the scheme to keep his family from losing any of their prime lands to the Shogun's reward program for samurai, while yet impressing said Shogun with his 'generosity'. It had drawn the Shogun's word of honor that he would not be called on again to give up any more of his land. It was something that no other clan had managed to do, and Touga, especially, was fairly certain once Ichirou's solution to the growing problem of losing lands to samurai came to light, every other Lord would be sick with envy at the slick manner in which Setsuna had come out on top of an ugly situation.
He would one day be an excellent Lord – but both siblings, and Touga as well, hoped that day was a long way off. It was only Hiraku himself that hoped it would come sooner, so that he could join his beloved wife on the other side and finally leave his grief behind.
Once all others were gone from the room, silence fell as the two left in it looked at each other, the evenings earlier events returning to the forefront of their minds. And both stared at each other, lightening still flashing in both sets of eyes... a promise that what had happened out there in the middle of the storm would happen again – and soon.
Before anything could be said, however, the bell for the evening meal rang, and Touga preceded Izayoi, leading the way to the dining room with a protective, possessive, and pleased air that could not be mistaken for anything other than the proprietary manner of a male that had been granted his heart's desire in the form of the woman behind him.
And Izayoi simply walked quietly a half step behind and to his left, an enigmatic half-smile on her fair face leaving everyone who saw it wondering.
Was she really happy to be betrothed to a youkai?
It seemed to all those who saw her with him that she was... and that sparked many different reactions in the people in the palace. Some simply accepted what was to come and shrugged their shoulders with indifference...
But others did not, and it was they that would line the path for the testing of Izayoi that was to come, and that would ultimately decide her final fate... and the fate of many, many others, as well.
The two days that Hiraku was down were hard on Ichirou; they were the first days that a taste of things to come had actually been given to him with his inability to access his father should he be uncertain about anything that came across his desk during his father's 'time out', as Izayoi had called his enforced sleep.
As far as she was concerned, and Touga as well, he did well with formal court, not showing any weakness or any of his apprehension. He rather disappointed the vultures within the court, thinking that he would be the weak link, someone so untried.
It was during that time that the Shogun's letter formally accepting his donation of land came; with it were the agreed upon changes already on a new map. That actually made things easier on their end, for they didn't need to hire a map maker to lay out the new boundaries of Setsuna land.
In the letter, the name of the new Lord was given; Kotsuna Souichi* was from peasant stock, but was a powerful warrior and had a firm grip on his men; it was said they would follow him into hell if he called them to do so. Powerful words to describe a powerful man, and Setsuna would have him in their debt, because although someone somewhere would have been forced to give up some of their lands to him, none of what would have been on offer was more attractive than what they'd offered him. Not to mention he would share a border with the powerful Setsuna clan, almost guaranteeing him allies that would keep other clans from warring against him, as they would not want a war going on near their borders and overtaking the land they'd gifted to him. If he were to lose said land, it would come back under Setsuna ownership, for they would not allow someone else to come in and destabilize the region and eat away at their landholdings.
On top of that, the man was well acquainted with Kohaku, and with this whole scheme coming into play now, Ichirou and the rest of the court became aware of just why the wily Hiraku had sent his brother and his battalion of warriors to the Shogun at all – it kept Setsuna atop the pile of those who were loyal to the Shogun, which was a growing number of clans, Kohaku functioning as an ambassador to any potential new Lords, while being a potential new lord, himself. It was, in fact, only a matter of time before Kohaku was awarded new lands, and he'd already told the Shogun that he'd prefer not to be awarded his own Lordship; rather, he'd prefer to remain in service to him, and any grants for service he would have been awarded, he wished to go to his brother, instead, thereby expanding the Setsuna landholdings and influence. Takauji-sama had been most amenable to his wishes.
The key to all of this was the fertile and rich portion of land just to the North of their current borders that was being wasted and mismanaged by a weak clan with little true power. It was all but in the bag that was the land that would be granted to the Setsuna clan – and they had wanted it for two generations already. It appeared that the genius known as Hiraku would finally be the one to maneuver his clan into position to get it.
Touga, watching all of this and catching on very quickly, was more impressed with Hiraku of Setsuna than any demon clan he'd ever ruled over. The man was a genius, sly, cunning, and dangerous to those who opposed him. And yet, for all of that, he was honorable and took his duties to his family, his lands, and the people on them very seriously, never turning anyone who he owed protection and service to away, no matter their social importance or wealth. And that was why anyone choosing to go against him would have an extremely uphill battle – his people were overwhelmingly loyal to him for the most part; those who would turn on him being the few that had no honor themselves and simply wished to be Lord over such a powerful clan in his place.
Still, the one weakness in all his dealings was the betrothal of his daughter to a youkai. This move was controversial; Izayoi being a prime possession for her clan in the possible alliances she could bring through marriage. Most would not consider an alliance with youkai a viable proposition, and it was in this arena that Takemaru would cause trouble. He would find one of the Lords who'd wished Izayoi as a wife and use him to foment rebellion against Setsuna, and he would do it claiming that he would depose Hiraku and become the rightful Lord of the clan – one who would not claim any youkai as an ally.
As a political master, Touga was well aware that his alliance with Hiraku in such a manner was really a weakness to the powerful man, and was impressed at his willingness to go through with the agreed upon alliance, for his daughter's sake. Because when it came down to it, he was willing to risk his life and his Lordship and all he'd built up for his daughter's happiness.
Touga's own power also factored into the deal, however, because should any of the human Lords rise up against him, he, as Lord of the West, was bound to aid Hiraku. But he found himself building a tight friendship with the man, and knew that, even had Izayoi demurred the hoped-for relationship, he would still have defended Hiraku as Lord of Setsuna on his own merits. He could only wish that the youkai Lords under him were half so intelligent and honorable as he was.
And with Izayoi's acceptance of him, even more was he bound to the house of Setsuna, and he would make sure that they never lost any of their power and influence; woe be unto anyone that turned an unfriendly eye towards Setsuna's borders, or its people.
Finally, on the morning of the third day, a well-rested and surprised man woke from his two day sleep and went to breakfast, feeling better and more energetic than he had in fifteen years. After the meal, he was up and into his office almost before anyone could catch him, and Izayoi received several sidelong grins of appreciation as a healthy Hiraku went over the business of the two days he'd missed.
He was very pleased at his heir's decisions, and let it be known with a clap on the back and a proud smile, his words of satisfaction and pride towards his son making Ichirou redden with embarrassed but pleased pride.
With the letter from the Shogun came the approximate date the new Lord would present himself to Hiraku for an introduction to the land that was now his and the people on it, as well, and though at first it seemed an onerous duty, in fact, it would give Hiraku a chance to assess the man and his potential for himself. It also gave him a date to have an idea of when the proposed adviser would be needed. He would speak with his own monk adviser and have a letter sent to the shrine to request an able man to be sent to the new Lord for a year to assist in a smooth transfer of power and to acquaint him with his new duties.
In the midst of all of the political maneuvering that was going on in the country that Setsuna was clearly caught up in, a powerful courtship was moving forward quite quickly; Touga spent almost every waking moment with Izayoi, even taking to sparring with her in the mornings with her staff so as to continue her training with said weapon. He also assessed her with other weapons, sais included, and found her to have a deft touch with those, as well as a smaller type of sword. It turned out when she'd been trained on the shrine, they'd used a rather outdated type of weapon to train her, and she couldn't find it in herself to become comfortable with it. So he spent much time during the mornings working with her on weapons training – which also had another side to it – he was getting her used to being close to him in tight quarters, and comfortable with his touch, as well.
It was working very well, if the way her desire for him was now simmering just under her skin; he meant that literally, as it seemed her powers answered to her desire, giving her skin an almost constant pale glow that was totally captivating. Many of the males in the palace began damning him in private for his luck in being the one to have her.
For her part, Izayoi was already pretty much smitten with the powerful and handsome youkai Lord, and she reacted a bit badly to some of the talk amongst the females of the court; far too many spoke of bedding him with growing desire, and she found a rather violent streak within herself that had never been there before. It decided to came out and play when one woman blatantly, with her standing right beside him, made a pass at him. She knocked the woman out with one well-placed punch, and the ladies in the court soon learned to keep their lusting to themselves, since Izayoi was dangerous, and the youkai Lord showed absolutely no interest in anyone save her, anyway.
Touga was very taken aback by her behavior, though in a good way. She was acting just as a youkai female would to those who would threaten her bond with her male, and it spoke to him, to his blood in a way no other human female could. It made him almost insane with desire for her, and between them, they were close to setting the palace afire with stifled passion.
But despite that, she hadn't yet given hint that she was ready to be wed, and Touga would not speak to Hiraku about the wedding until she indicated she was ready. But, he thought as he adjusted himself with a painful wince, if she doesn't hurry, I'm going to end up laid up in my rooms and unable to move. And she will soon find that after our wedding night, she won't be able to move, though perhaps she will not mind that. I know that I will not.
Despite the clear warnings from both ends that the couple did not have any desire for their courtship to be disturbed by anyone, there were those that were angered enough to begin looking for ways to split them apart – Takemaru wasn't the only one by a long-shot that wanted to see them fail, that wanted her for themselves and then to use the connection through marriage to take a rich prize as Setsuna away from its rightful Lords – had not the Hojo done just that as they'd ruled the country behind the scenes, leaving a puppet Shogun as a figurehead with no power?
There would be plenty of opportunities for just that type of coup, and it was this path that Izayoi had to walk most carefully, or fall to the jewel in the end. But it was a two pronged danger – because even if she managed to keep her house from falling into ruin, she still had to deal with the jewel, and find the right wish to be rid of it. If she failed in either venture, the results would be the same – the destruction of her house and the deaths of her father, brother, and Touga, as well.
It was a heavy burden for a confused young hime, just as it had been for Kagome. Kikyou had, of all three, had the best chance of dealing with the jewel, one would have thought – she had been trained for years in the use of her powers and had dealt with the jewel for some time, and should have been able to figure out what the kami wished of her with relative ease, even if through nothing more than prayer seeking guidance. She had also been the oldest of the three, being nineteen when she died.* One would have thought she'd have had more experience, as well, than her next two incarnations, who were both fifteen and had far less training to be prepared to deal with such a threat to the peaceful existence of Japan and all of those within it.
And yet it had come down to the last chance, resting squarely on Izayoi/Kagome's shoulders. Every part of her feared that jewel and its influence on all their lives – and she'd not even seen nor held the jewel as Izayoi. But it was one thing she remembered with crystal clarity. A deceptively beautiful, innocent looking round bauble, looking like nothing so much as a glowing pink-hued pearl. Something that would look good strung on a chain – as it had been in the time of Kikyou – and decorating the slender neck of a member of the Imperial court.
It, in and of itself, was not evil. It was seemingly neutral, neither good nor evil. But that neutrality was a fallacy... it was extremely sensitive to its possessor's true being. If you were of evil temperament, it fed off of that, and became blackened with malice, thereby swelling the destructive power of its bearer. If you were of tender temperament, it ate at your mind continuously until you were of evil mind, and became blackened with malice. Either way was a no win situation.
Only Kagome - or Izayoi, could hold it, and not be corrupted by it, because the amount of darkness in her soul was so minimal, the jewel couldn't really get a hold of it and feed it with its own brand of potent malicious madness. Instead, she overpowered its hatred, purifying it and calming the evil tide within it, putting it to sleep. Sometime she wondered if she shouldn't simply take over as its guardian, thus keeping it pure and unable to harm anyone.
But deep down, she knew that wasn't the answer, because eventually, the jewel would find the weakness it needed in one near at hand, and then betrayal and death would come behind it, as Kikyou's story clearly showed.
No... much as she dreaded the idea, Izayoi/Kagome knew that a wish was the only way. The problem was figuring out which wish before it was too late. And she had a feeling that 'too late' was coming very quickly as the days of her courtship ran on, a potent threat that underlay every bit of enjoyment of the time she spent getting to know the male she would call husband.
There was only so much time left...
She had to use it wisely.
Sighing quietly, Izayoi stopped even pretending to listen to the chattering of her ladies, her eyes going to the sky outside through an open window.
It was a rather fine, hot day, and she was bored out of her mind. The men had all gone off to deal with a problem within the army, and then Touga was going back to his citadel to check in with his son, and make sure everything was running smoothly. (Really, she thought he was going to make sure there were no dragons sneaking around his lands, because it sure seemed as though he was frustrated with something and looking to kill anything he could get his hands on that carried cold blood.)
All that did, however, was leave her with nothing to do except listen to the incessant gossiping of the ladies, and she had no interest in that, or any facsimile thereof. She wanted to be with Touga, or she wanted to be doing something interesting. It was funny – in a not funny way – that the future Kagome was from was practically the same. Incessant gossiping that she had not had any interest in then, either. At least, not after going through the well and finding out what life was really like. Once she'd had those illusions wiped away, she had changed.
Just then, she felt that odd feeling on the back of her neck that she'd felt only once before, and for a moment, couldn't figure out what it was. And then the fog of boredom lifted, and she realized what it meant almost with joy, because it gave her an excuse to escape the mind-numbing boredom.
Without further ado, she dismissed her ladies, and once certain she was alone, she smacked a hand over the back of her neck, snickering when she heard the groan and felt the little nomi land in her hand. Bringing her hand around to face her, she asked, "What did you think you were doing, Myouga? You know Inuyasha's going to kill... you..." her voice trailed off in shock as she realized what she'd just said. And the little memory fragment it had awoken – which wasn't much more than she'd just said. She frowned.
"Who's Inuyasha, my lady?" the little nomi asked, obviously confused. She shook her head to clear it of the stunned feeling.
"Um, never mind, Myouga. I was just thinking of something and you snuck into the thought, don't worry. But why were you making a meal out of me, anyway? Are you not here to speak with Touga? she asked, hoping to detour him. It worked.
"Ah, as to that, yes, but I figured that if I simply looked for you, I would either find him with you, or he would feel me here and come running, so that way I wouldn't have to go chasing all over this place. And it looks like I was right," he said with satisfaction, as Touga entered the sitting room almost immediately behind the flea's words.
"Myouga. What are you doing? Did he bite you, Izayoi?" Touga asked, and Izayoi could tell that the flea was going to be in pain if she ratted him out, so she shook her head.
"No, we've just been talking, that's all," she said, to the little nomi's great relief.
"Hm," Touga eyed the innocent pair, and then said, "Good! For I would hate to have to squish him permanently. He makes a most useful spy, but if he were to suddenly get a taste for your blood, my dear, he would have to die. The only one allowed to taste you is me."
Izayoi blinked for a moment before catching on, and then she blushed crimson. "Touga!" she exclaimed in shock. "Don't say such things! And in front of others, too! If you cannot behave then I will not come near you in any type of company," she reprimanded primly. "I don't want such things being bandied about."
Touga chuckled and then looked at his now nervous servant. "So, Myouga, you must have news for me. Let's hear it."
"Well, I'm beginning to deduce that you are right about Takemaru's origin's, my Lord, but the thing is that anytime that name comes up in conversation, the conversation shuts down, People up that way refuse to speak that name." The little flea sighed and shook his head. "And I don't mean the type of refusal that comes with anger. I mean the type that comes with fear. They all fear to speak of him, especially to outsiders, but interestingly enough, when I took control of one of their own, they still refused to really speak of him. All that was said is that to speak that name brings murder and worse down upon the one who does."
Both Touga and Izayoi were taken aback and worried, as well, as to what could be causing such fear in an entire community. "Which town did you go to?" Touga eventually asked, after gifting Izayoi with a significant glance.
"Fudo town," he answered obediently.
"And there are two smaller towns and several villages to the east of it," he mused, obviously thinking of the implications. After a few minutes of sorting things through in his mind, he said, "Continue on in your search. It is even more imperative that we find out everything we can about this Takemaru. Stick to the towns, if possible, but if you don't have any luck there, skip the villages and seek out some of the farming families in their homes, and see what you can come up with," Touga finally said, eyes narrowed as he thought over things.
"Why leave the villages alone, Touga?" Izayoi asked, confused.
"Because if those in the towns there are that afraid to say that name, so too will the villages. It would be a waste of time. But the farming families... while they would not be willing to discuss the subject with outsiders, what might be said within the family is a different matter," he replied, and Izayoi understood.
"Oh. I suppose that makes sense. But I am concerned with how one man frightens whole villages. What has he done?" she asked, frustrated with the whole problem. "This one man seems like a whole pack of lower-level demons. If it were not for his screaming fear every night, and his hatred of anything youkai, I would wonder if he were indeed working with some group of youkai. But the questions he leaves behind just don't add up!"
"Indeed. And that is why my little friend here is going to do his best work with this assignment, isn't he?" he asked, shaking his hand a little and making the seated nomi glare up at his master.
"I always do my best work," he sniffed, tilting his face into the air. Without further ado, the flea leapt from his master's hand before said master could say anything else, and with several large nomi hops, left the room for the outside and his nice, obedient crow.
Touga only chuckled at his little servants antics, and then looked over at a deeply frowning Izayoi. "Now tell me, what was it you two were speaking of when I appeared."
At his question, a deeply troubled Izayoi said, "I remembered something, just a fragment, really..." she trailed off, her voice showing that she was heavily confused.
"Well, what was it?" he asked, now curious, as the look on her face was confusion mixed with concern.
"In that future time, Myouga knows Inuyasha – and answers to him as master," she said, meeting his eyes. "He calls him Inuyasha-sama."
Touga looked completely surprised at that.
Because the only ones that the nomi should be calling 'sama' and addressing as Master...
Were members of his bloodline.
Just who was this Inuyasha, truly?
*Kotsuna Souichi-the Kotsuna name was a valid one during this period of Japanese history, however, I haven't really been able to find much in the way of any kind of clan registry or anything that spoke of specific clans or their origins and members. So, while the Kotsuna name is a historically known clan name, Souichi is my own creation. As well, I do not know the origins of the Kotsuna clan or the date that their progenitor was born, so I'm simply placing them in my story via creative license. I hope no one is offended.
*Kikyou's age at time of death-I am taking this from a timeline of the characters ages according to Rumiko Takahashi, given on a website called the Inuyasha Companion. According to Ms. Takahashi, Sesshoumaru was the equivalent of nineteen, Kikyou was nineteen, Miroku was eighteen and Sango seventeen. Inuyasha was, interestingly enough, two hundred years old, though the human equivalent of fifteen – the same age as Kagome. I can't remember Shippo's age, and I don't remember Rin's, either.