Testing The Limits
"It'll be far more troublesome to wait for you to heal if you push yourself too hard and injure yourself, than it is for me to simply carry you." Sesshoumaru said.
"…But if Rin sees me like this, she'll get worried." Katsumi said.
"She'll get worried either way when she sees you limping." Sesshoumaru pointed out.
"Yes, but she'll know just how serious it was if she sees that I couldn't even make it back on my own two feet. I can just ride Ah-Un with her once we get back." Katsumi said.
"…" Sesshoumaru said. He had to admit, Katsumi had a point. He never would have carried Katsumi if she hadn't been injured so severely. They were only a few feet away from the clearing they had left the others in anyway… Sesshoumaru let Katsumi down, and she managed to look like she was perfectly fine… for the most part.
"Yay, Sesshoumaru-sama and Katsumi-nee are back!" Rin said happily when she saw them.
"Sesshoumaru-sama! Where have you been?" Jaken asked. Sesshoumaru glanced to the side. He could smell the scent of the boy, Kohaku. The boy had come had come near this area… they had a trail to follow again.
"Found him…" Sesshoumaru said.
"Hmm…" Katsumi said curiously as she sniffed the air. Now that she had tried, she could smell Kohaku too… her nose must still be slightly numb from the poison if he was that close, and she couldn't immediately pick up on his scent…
"Huh?" Jaken said, confused.
"I found him." Sesshoumaru repeated.
"Found who?" Jaken asked.
"That brat." Sesshoumaru said.
"Brat? But Katsumi's right here…" Jaken said. Katsumi glared at him.
"Do I look like a 'him' to you? He's talking about Kohaku!" Katsumi said tartly. Sesshoumaru began walking in the direction Kohaku's scent was coming from, and the others hurried after him.
They were getting closer and closer to something incredibly pure and holy. Katsumi could feel it. She had rested on Ah-Un's back for most of the way, but the dragon and Jaken were really starting to feel its affects. Sesshoumaru was as indifferent as always, so she couldn't really be sure how much it affected him… oddly enough, though she could feel herself weakening, it didn't hurt, and she had managed to fully recover from Mukotsu's poison by the time they reached Mt. Hakurei. They stopped just a few yards away from the base of the mountain. Poor Ah-Un was all tuckered out. He and Jaken both ended up nearly collapsing just from being close.
"Are you guys alright?" Katsumi asked as she petted Ah-Un.
"How can you not be affected by this!?" Jaken asked her incredulously. "You may be part human, but you're mostly youkai! Youkai and humans with impure and wicked hearts can't approach the mountain without feeling discomfort!"
"But Sesshoumaru-sama seems fine…" Katsumi said.
"Sesshoumaru-sama is Sesshoumaru-sama! You can't compare him to ordinary youkai!" Jaken said.
"Katsumi-nee is probably fine because she's kind and pure-hearted!" Rin said. Katsumi smiled at Rin.
"Oh, stop it, Rin. You're making me blush… It's more like that's the reason you're okay…" Katsumi chided the girl. Katsumi really was blushing bashfully because of Rin's remark. "I'm a greedy grownup who's been disillusioned by the world, so I don't really get why I'm okay..."
Sesshoumaru raised a skeptical eyebrow. Katsumi was probably the most naïve and selfless woman he knew… which was a miracle in his opinion, considering Tsukihime, her mother's, personality…
"Follow me, Katsumi. Rin, you stay here with Jaken and Ah-Un." Sesshoumaru said as he walked away.
"We'll see you later, Rin. Be good for Jaken and Ah-Un." Katsumi said as she waved goodbye and followed Sesshoumaru.
"See you later!" Rin yelled back. Rin turned to look at the mountain, shrouded in mist. "It sure is a big mountain, Jaken-sama." Rin realized Jaken hadn't said his usual caustic comment, and turned around to check on the imp. Jaken and Ah-Un had finally given in and collapsed from being in such close proximity to the sacred mountain. "What's wrong, Jaken-sama?"
"Pain…" Jaken said as he slumped on the ground next to Ah-Un. "This Mt. Hakurei is sacred ground, isn't it? A lump of evil, like Naraku, couldn't be in a place like this, so… why is Sesshoumaru-sama checking out a place like this…"
Sesshoumaru and Katsumi were pressing on ahead, testing how close they could get before they were affected too. Sesshoumaru came to a stop. He could feel a barrier of holy energy crackling before him. Any weaker youkai would've been purified if they had come this close.
'A holy barrier… huh? I can't get any closer.' Sesshoumaru thought. 'Naraku's underling… that kid called Kohaku, I followed his scent here, but…' The trail of Kohaku's scent had just suddenly cut off once they reached the barrier.
"Is something wrong?" Katsumi asked as she stepped up beside him.
"…" Sesshoumaru said as he stared at her. The entire way there, Katsumi hadn't shown the slightest hint of discomfort. Neither had Sesshoumaru, but there was a difference between being able to tolerate something and being perfectly comfortable like Katsumi was. "Do you not feel the effects of the holy barrier right in front of us?" Sesshoumaru asked curiously. It could be very advantageous if Katsumi was immune to this kekkai. She could go inside and see if the scent continued. Katsumi gazed at the path in front of them thoughtfully. She felt a slight tingling sensation, but that was it… She was feeling slightly weaker now, but it wasn't painful.
"I can feel something, but it's just a slight tingling." Katsumi said. "Should I try to go through?" Sesshoumaru thought it over. She wasn't a full youkai, and the sacred energy radiating off of the mountain hadn't been affecting her so far, but there was still a possibility she could be purified…
"Try getting closer, but don't push it. If the tingling sensation becomes more intense, turn back." Sesshoumaru said. Katsumi nodded. Katsumi cautiously approached the barrier. She didn't feel any real resistance from it, and the tingling sensation wasn't getting any worse, so she continued to push forward. She started feeling weaker, but it wasn't painful. Sesshoumaru watched Katsumi as she carefully tested the barrier she was probably about halfway through when he noticed something strange. Her scent was gradually changing… it was becoming more… human… Sesshoumaru's eyes widened slightly in realization as her markings started to fade. The barrier was turning her human. Without thinking, Sesshoumaru reached out and grabbed Katsumi, pulling her away from the barrier. The sacred energy from the barrier gave him a slight shock, but luckily, it wasn't anything serious. Sesshoumaru was slightly puzzled by his own behavior. His… concern… had just completely overridden his self-preservation instincts. He usually wouldn't make such a mistake.
'Her recklessness must be contagious…' Sesshoumaru thought, dismissing his strange behavior. He wasn't sure he wanted to think about it too hard…
"!" Katsumi cried in surprise as she stumbled backwards into Sesshoumaru. "W-What was that for…!?" She asked, startled by his sudden action. She looked up at him. Her marks and scent were slowly returning back to normal as Sesshoumaru stared down at her. He felt a strange sense of relief that the change had not been permanent. For a moment, he had thought the damage would be irreparable. He wasn't sure how permanent the barrier's side-affects would be.
"… You were transforming into a human. I told you to stop if you felt it start to purify you." Sesshoumaru told her, his brow creasing slightly in irritation. Katsumi's brow furrowed in confusion.
"But… it didn't hurt at all… in fact, it kind of tickled." Katsumi said. "…but, now that you mention it, I was feeling a little weaker, but it didn't feel all that bad. Although, I've been human for most of my life, so maybe that's why it didn't set off any alarms in my mind…"
"…" Sesshoumaru said as he stared down at her. If it were in his character, he might have face-palmed, but it wasn't… so he didn't. "Fool."
"Sesshoumaru-sama sure is late." Rin said as she sat beside Jaken and Ah-Un, who were still lying on the ground in pain from all the sacred energy around them.
'I want to go soon…' Jaken thought miserably. Rin saw a figure walking through the mist of the mountain. It was a boy carrying a kusarigama and dressed in a taijiya uniform.
'Kohaku!?' Rin thought. 'It's definitely him! It's Kohaku!' Rin ran after the boy.
"Ah!?" Jaken cried when he realized Rin was running off. "Hey! Rin!" Jaken yelled as he jumped up and chased her. "Don't go out on your own! Sesshoumaru-sama will scold me, and that brat can be scary too…" Jaken suddenly slammed to a stop when he hit a wall of holy energy. "Gyow!" Jaken yelped in pain as he fried like a mosquito in a bug zapper. Jaken jumped back, still sizzling. "I-I was dangerously close to being purified…" Jaken said as his heart thumped violently in his chest from fright. "Geh! She's gone!" Jaken cried when he looked up again, and Rin was nowhere to be seen.
"Kohaku!" Rin called out as she ran into the cave she had seen Kohaku enter.
"!" Kohaku said in surprise when he turned around and saw Rin. "You… Rin… why are you here…?"
"Great, we can have another talk…" Rin said. "The other time, we had a strange parting, didn't we? I was kinda worried about it, you know."
"Go back! This isn't the place for someone like you…" Kohaku said urgently. It was dangerous in the cave, and he didn't want Rin to get hurt. Kohaku heard a rustling sound. "!" He said in alarm. There was a low rumbling and growling sound as a large group of youkai came crawling out of the depths of the cave. Kohaku stepped in front of Rin, shielding her from them. "Go back, slowly… before they notice you…" Kohaku said.
"Ko-Kohaku…" Rin said worriedly as she clung to Kohaku, in fear of the youkai.
"Return now, Rin. If they find you, you'll be torn apart." Kohaku said.
"What about you Kohaku?" Rin asked anxiously. She didn't want Kohaku to get hurt either.
"They won't attack me. Go!" Kohaku urged her. He needed to get Rin out of there before she got hurt.
"O-Okay…" Rin said reluctantly. She decided to trust Kohaku and leave. 'Kohaku…' Rin thought, worried, as she glanced back while she ran. Kohaku was standing there, on guard, making sure none of the youkai would try to chase after her.
Sesshoumaru and Katsumi were staring down at Jaken as he prostrated himself before his lord and begged for mercy.
"P-Please forgive me, Sesshoumaru-sama. Before I could stop her, that Rin…" Jaken said, breaking out in a nervous sweat. Katsumi glanced up, behind Jaken, in the direction of the barrier.
'Rin is… inside the barrier…?' Sesshoumaru thought as he too stared. If that was the case, they wouldn't be able to reach her if something happened.. Sesshoumaru thought he saw something move in the mist. He took a step forward to get a better view. Jaken launched himself at Sesshoumaru, holding his legs.
"Y-You mustn't, Sesshoumaru-sama! If you step into the sacred ground, even you, Sesshoumaru-sama, would be purified!" Jaken shouted anxiously.
"I can go. It's not like being human will kill me." Katsumi said, taking a step forward. Sesshoumaru held his arm out, blocking her way.
"Be quiet… Look." Sesshoumaru said as Rin faded into view, emerging from behind the mist.
"Rin!" Jaken yelled.
"Thank goodness…" Katsumi said, sighing in relief. Even if youkai couldn't get to her on the mountain, it was still dangerous for Rin to travel alone in such rough terrain.
"Ah… Sesshoumaru-sama! Katsumi-nee!" Rin said excitedly as she ran to them. As Rin got closer, they could smell another scent clinging to her.
"… Kohaku's inside, isn't he?" Sesshoumaru said.
"Eh…!?" Rin said, stopping short. Rin stared back at Sesshoumaru. She was trying to figure out what to say… Rin was afraid he would hurt Kohaku too…
"Speak honestly. Sesshoumaru-sama's nose can't be deceived." Jaken said sternly. Katsumi watched Rin fidget nervously. Katsumi was pretty sure she knew why Rin was so hesitant to speak after hearing how she had spoken so well of Kohaku before.
"It's alright, Rin. Just tell us what happened." Katsumi said gently. Rin swallowed nervously, but decided to trust her Katsumi-nee.
"U-Um, you know, Kohaku helped Rin escape. There were loads of youkai inside the cave…" Rin said, hoping they would believe her.
"What…?" Sesshoumaru said.
"… Youkai?" Katsumi asked, surprised. 'There are youkai inside the sacred grounds?' Katsumi thought, confused. She and Sesshoumaru could both tell that Rin wasn't lying because of her scent, but it should have been impossible… even Sesshoumaru, a daiyoukai, wouldn't be able to force his way through the barrier unharmed.
'I've figured it out… Naraku's trick.' Sesshoumaru thought. He had heard stories about this place before, and if his reasoning was correct… the whole thing actually had a rather simple explanation. Naraku had somehow made a deal with the one responsible for this barrier. 'Once he was able to enter, there would be no safer hiding place… How troublesome.' Sesshoumaru thought.
"This might be a stupid question, but… Is it possible Naraku tunneled underneath the barrier? Like a mole?" Katsumi asked. She didn't know the backstory of Mt. Hakurei like he did, so Katsumi was just taking a wild guess. Sesshoumaru stared at her. The image of Naraku dressed in a mole suit, digging a tunnel, popped into his mind.
"…" Sesshoumaru said. It was a stupid question, and the stupid image it had brought to mind almost made the corner of his mouth twitch upwards slightly. 'That was just absurd, but… perhaps there is an area of weakness in the barrier we can exploit…'
"We can see it now, Bankotsu no Aniki. It's Mt. Hakurei." Jakotsu said as the remaining Shichinin-tai approached the mountain. Bankotsu was leading them on foot, followed Jakotsu. Ginkotsu was following behind them, rolling on his wheels in his new tank-like form, and Renkotsu and Suikotsu were riding on him. "Anyhow, what's with this atmosphere? It feels bad like the last time we were here, but it didn't reach this far…" Jakotsu said. The air was heavy and made him feel sick.
"Perhaps the barrier has been strengthened." Bankotsu said. "With this, neither Inuyasha, nor Kouga should be able to come here."
"Though, it's already intense enough for us, even though we're human." Jakotsu said, grimacing. He was so over this place already.
"!" They said when they saw figures approaching them through the mist.
"… It seems we won't have to go close to the base of the mountain, though." Bankotsu said as Kohaku and what looked like a little albino girl, dressed all in white and holding a mirror, came into view.
"Bankotsu-sama." Kohaku said in greeting.
"Hey, Kohaku. Who's the white kid?" Bankotsu asked.
"Kanna." Kohaku said as he glanced at her.
"…" Kanna said as she held up her mirror to give Bankotsu a better view of it. An image of Sesshoumaru, Katsumi, and Rin appeared in it.
"Aah? This guy is…" Jakotsu said in surprise and recognition. "It's definitely him! It's the guy that killed Mukotsu."
"He's Inuyasha's elder brother… Sesshoumaru. You're to chase and kill him too…" Kohaku said.