Disclaimer: Who, me? Own Inuyasha? Er… do I get a prize if I say yes?
Stay out of this. At least I own you.
Ryukasei: And you have no idea how scary that is.
Sesshoumaru: I almost feel sorry for the dragon wench.
I could own you, if I wanted to.
Sesshoumaru: I am protected by Rumiko Takahashi's lawyers.
A/N: Is anyone out there? Yes, medlii, you are, and for that I thank you bunches and bunches. Anyone else who reads this: please please PLEASE review! I live off reviews!
Ryukasei: You are a very sad individual.
Why can't you stay out of things… I created you, show some gratitude.
Ryukasei: I could tell you that Sesshoumaru sleeps nude…
Oooooooooooooooooooh… lick lips
Ryukasei: …but he'd kill me, and I'd be lying anyway.
Sesshoumaru: Damn straight.
The only one who had been talking through the entire five-hour dragon ride was Rin. Ryukasei was almost literally frozen stiff at this altitude; Jaken was also freezing, as well as being too petrified to speak; and Sesshoumaru just sat at the front of the beast, radiating icy unflappability. Rin, on the other hand, wrapped snugly in the inu-youkai's tail, would not shut up.
"Where are we going, Sesshoumaru-sama?" she pestered him for the hundredth time in an hour. "Will there be ramen there? Rin-chan is hungry."
Evidently, even Sesshoumaru had limits to what he could endure. For the first time, he actually answered her, even if he only said six words. "We're landing soon, Rin. Be patient."
'Be patient.' The two most monotonous words in any language, Ryukasei thought, gritting her teeth to keep them from chattering. If he uses them again, I may strangle him. Freezing my ass off... if he isn't doing this on purpose, I'll take the next ride naked and smile the whole way. Damned ice-for-blood bastard. Some of the legends said a few of the most powerful youkai could read minds. She hoped he was getting an earful if he could. The redheaded girl had long since given up trying to keep her fingers and nose warm; she'd settle for keeping frostbite at bay at this point. As it was, her magic wouldn't keep her going much longer.
To take her mind off her miserable state of affairs, the young hunter concentrated on what she was going to do next. Sesshoumaru had yet to indicate whether he was more interested in Naraku's head or Inuyasha's, or even just the Tetsusaiga, but it didn't really matter which he picked. Her course would be much the same in any case: first, find Naraku, or one of the offspring he'd spawned recently. That would give her a hold over him, whether or not the body she found had a shard of the Shikon no Tama in it. She didn't care about the jewel; all she wanted was Naraku.
If it was Inuyasha she wanted, she would make sure there were witnesses to the way she took down the chosen Naraku-clone; word would inevitably get to the hanyou, and he would come charging after it with his band of camp followers. Ryukasei suppressed a faintly aggrieved sigh. So predictable. Oh, well.
If Sesshoumaru only wanted Tetsusaiga, then bringing Inuyasha in would give her access to the miko who traveled with him, as well as the sword. The miko's power would give Ryukasei abilities she didn't currently have, and Ryukasei would then be able to pass a few of those abilities to Sesshoumaru.
It was a strong possibility that Sesshoumaru would ask for all three, if only to potentially amuse himself by watching her struggle. If that were the case, so much the better; he would owe her thrice over. He'd never have to know how much she was serving her own interests by serving his. She'd pick her three favors more carefully than Aladdin had; oh, yes. There was too much at stake to drop the ball now.
First on my list: revenge, she thought, anger a warm fizz along her spine that kept the stabbing chill at bay. The scar on her right hand, in its fingerless soft-leather glove, throbbed, as if to remind her of its origin. That raping, murdering gaki-shit is going to pay with interest for what he did. For every last stab and cut. She refused to let the grief she'd nursed for so long break through, not just yet. She'd save that for when she could look in Naraku's eyes, when he was groveling at her feet, when she could beat that thin-drawn, handsome face of his to a pulp. If Sesshoumaru asked nicely, she'd save him the skin. Pulling it off the nine-lived hanyou bastard while he was still alive was a tempting thought.
Oh, Haha-ue... poor nii-san... Haruki-chan, what am I going to do...
Aaaaauugh! Baka! she scolded herself furiously. No weakness, not now! Not with that one sitting two feet from you! Save it for later, or it'll kill you! She forced herself to calm down, to balance. The cold had begun to bite again.
Let's see, second... mmm. Oh, yes. An envoy to the dragons. The powerful ryuu, not the smaller ones. She felt herself smiling, but there was no humor in her face. The small dragons followed her instinctively, unless a larger ryuu commanded them. She shared ancestors with them, as the small ones well knew, but the ryuu would never acknowledge her as blood-kin, not unless she had proven herself, both to them and to other beings as powerful as they. All she needed was an introduction; she could take it from there. She knew she could at least stalemate most ryuu in single combat.
Last... a way home.
She would find a way. Even if she had to go through the realms of the dead, she would go home. If only to bury her demons.
The two-headed dragon dipped lower, and Ryukasei's stomach followed suit belatedly. She swallowed queasily, refusing to show how much discomfort she was in. They were landing, for the gods' sakes. She could survive that long.
"Are we there yet, Sesshoumaru-sama?" Rin whined. "Jaken-sama, I'm hungry."
"We're almost there, Rin," Jaken managed. "We'll eat as soon as we land."
Heh, Ryukasei snorted inwardly. Not if the High Lord Ice-Ass up there has anything to say about it. Youkai don't eat unless they want to, and he's in a hurry.
But he surprised her. As soon as they touched down—in a little forest clearing that held a faint scent of human—Sesshoumaru disappeared for fifteen minutes, to return with a roast deer slung over his single able shoulder. Rin dug in happily, Jaken less so; apparently, he had more amphibian tastes, but he knew Rin couldn't eat a whole deer all by herself, and might not eat at all if he didn't show interest in it. For much the same reasons, Ryukasei took a small portion. The dragon got the rest, the two heads quarreling over the choicest bits.
"Don't eat so fast, Ryukasei-sama. You'll get a tummyache."
The redhead licked the last juices from her fingers and smiled at the girl. "Gomen nasai, Rin-chan. I'll try to eat more slowly." She couldn't remember the last time someone had expressed concern about her table manners; she'd grown so accustomed to living on her own. It was a little embarrassing.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Sesshoumaru watching her. His sharply beautiful features were too blank to read. How could someone keep their face so still? It was like being studied by an ice sculpture.
"Have you decided?" she asked finally, tired of the pretense that she couldn't feel his gaze. His eyes narrowed imperceptibly, probably at the lack of proper address. She didn't particularly care. She'd never seriously called anyone 'my lord' in her life, and she wasn't going to start now.
"No," he replied calmly. "I was wondering about you."
That caught her off guard. She recovered with a scant shred of dignity. Barely. "Anything in particular?"
"Mm. No. Except that you seem somewhat young to be a bounty hunter."
She smiled without humor. "Would you also say that I'm too young to have seen murder—or committed it, for that matter?"
"I see." Only his eyes showed any glint of interest. "Your upbringing was much like mine, then."
"Likely. I doubt Fate's been inclined to be kind to either of us." Her smile held an edge of bitterness. "We and our kind wreak too much havoc with That One's threads."
" 'Our kind'?" He even kept his voice so damn still. She thought he sounded just a little curious, though. "Your scent is not youkai, but not quite mortal. And if you were living on my lands—" his not-smile matched hers in temperature and tone "—I would know. Where do you make your home?"
She bit off a short, sour laugh. "I haven't had a home for a very long time, inu-san. I don't particularly feel the need for one, either. I'm good at what I do. That's all I need." That, and revenge, and I'll be a happy woman.
"A career girl," he remarked with something perilously close to amusement. "That, I can live with."
"I'm so glad I passed inspection." Damn you for bringing up those memories. And for smiling. He was entirely too attractive when he smiled, even slightly. It made her uncomfortable. He seemed safer as an ice sculpture.
She got her wish; he seemed to deep-freeze before her eyes. He didn't like her tone.
Too bad, so sad, she thought defiantly, meeting him glare for flat glare. I'm not some meek little hime who's going to fawn over him to get what I want. He wants a shot at that sword, he's gonna have to put up with me.
The wind shifted, and suddenly an overpowering gust of Power slammed into her senses. Sesshoumaru's silver-crowned head whipped around; he smelled it, too.
"Sesshoumaru-sama!" Jaken croaked from behind them. "What the he—" he glanced at Rin, and checked his language "—eck is that?"
"Trouble," Ryukasei murmured. She glanced at the inu-youkai, then raised one eyebrow. "Shall we go see what we can do for it?"
He favored her with a small smile. "If you wish. Rin, stay with Jaken."
"Where are you going, Sesshoumaru-sama?" the little girl asked, a pout threatening to form.
"I won't be gone long, Rin," he soothed. "Stay with Jaken and watch the dragon until I get back."
The pout subsided a little. "Okay, Sesshoumaru-sama." She still looked unhappy, though. Again, Ryukasei wondered just what it was about little Rin that seemed to bring out the best in the powerful youkai.
She didn't ponder it long; Sesshoumaru melted silently into the trees, and the red-haired hunter vanished close behind him. The two of them might as well have been tree shadows, for all the disturbance they caused in the forest. In the sharpened state of awareness that made her so efficient a hunter, Ryukasei heard the slight rasp of the leaves that fluttered in errant breezes, could make out the subtle patterns in the dull feathers of a songbird that barely noticed their presence. The scent of Power drowned out all others, though; a blind man with a head cold could have tracked it.
Soon, the scent began to take on definition. Ryukasei could feel different currents in the flow, each telling her different things about the wielder. From the overall shape of the flow, she knew that the quarry was male, a fair bit beyond prime age, entirely human, but still possessing Power. His particular magic was that of Seeing what most mortals could not, and he was not using it at the moment. She caught other bits of information as they passed: a slight eddying here meant the target was at ease, a little irregularity there signified that he was concentrating on something. Probably doing a familiar craft or hobby.
Her conscience nagged at her. An old psychic guy whittling wood. Real tough, girl. You're such a bad-ass. She reassured herself that they probably weren't going to attack the guy. They just wanted to know what was up.
Right. And frogs will puke up ramen noodles and fly rings around Sesshoumaru's head.
The youkai stopped at the edge of a clearing similar to the one they'd landed in. Ryukasei looked around it warily. Very similar. Something felt wrong. It even smelled the same.
"Sesshoumaru-sama!" Rin's face popped out from behind a bush, happy again.
"Sesshoumaru-sama?" Jaken asked as he too appeared, confused. "Are you done already?"
"What in—?" the inu-youkai muttered, actually sounding perplexed. Ryukasei didn't savor the moment, though; she was as mystified as he was. She knew they hadn't been going in circles, so what the hell had happened?
"This way," she muttered to Sesshoumaru, motioning back the way they'd come. He followed her mutely, a silent, bristling, bewildered presence at her back that wasn't at all comforting. Again she followed the scent of magic, this time paying closer attention to the little whorls and rifts in the stream.
Five minutes later, they were back in the clearing.
"What the hell is going on?" Sesshoumaru snarled softly. Rin shrank back from his anger, frightened. So did Jaken and the two-headed dragon. Ryukasei held her ground, much as she would have liked to copy the others. The inu-youkai radiated baffled anger, and the imminent sense that somebody, somewhere, was going to pay for his confusion. But she was just as angry, just as scared, and just as eager for somebody's head. She kept her body tightly under control.
Before she could open her mouth to speak, a second wave of Power rolled over her. She stifled a groan; this was just not her day. Even if she could put off the headache this was going to cause her sooner or later, the extra tension in the air ensured that everyone else—including one tall, strong, and extremely temperamental inu-youkai—was going to have the same problem. And she couldn't delay everyone's headaches.
Then the intricacies of the second flow reached her. And her eyes widened, then narrowed as she began to smile.
Sesshoumaru growled softly in his throat. "What are you grinning about?"
She didn't answer directly. That wouldn't have been any fun. "Follow me," she said instead. The one-armed youkai looked very much as if he wanted to reach over and strangle her for that phrase, but she turned right around and started off, giving him no room for argument. She felt like snickering at the look on his face, but instead she concentrated on following the blaze of Power that was heading, none too slowly, for the first Power source.
The second Power was very familiar, indeed. Ryukasei grinned. Very familiar, and of great interest to them both. She felt her scarred hand pulse in anticipation. Sesshoumaru'd better hurry up and decide, or I might just take all the prizes myself.
The breeze in her face blew harder, and suddenly the inu-youkai was right next to her, matching her stride. His face was expressionless as ever, but she thought she detected a spark of avarice in his eyes. Likely he'd caught the physical scent of their prey, just as she'd sensed the magical.
And his instincts are screaming, 'don't let her get to it first,' she sniffed to herself. Dogs. She accelerated.
They slowed almost simultaneously as voices reached their sharp ears. Two were female, chatting idly. Two more were male, one very young. The hunter wasn't sure, but she thought there were two more men, though if there were, neither spoke. As far as the magic that coated the air, though, there were at least five travelers: one who radiated clerical magic—albeit slightly askew, as if it didn't quite suit him—two full (but minor) youkai, a hanyou, and... she shook her head, disconcerted. Someone else, who didn't fit any category she'd ever seen. Just familiar enough to be irritating, though.
And another presence, one that felt a little less obvious than a thousand-foot-high signal beacon.
She grinned. Hello, Miko-san.