A Promising Afternoon
The high sun chased away the darkened corners, revealing their secrets and making it harder for the shadowy figure to catch Hikigaeru in a private setting, since the buffoon had left his room even when he had been warned not to. His lips curled into a hate filled sneer as he watched him failing at trying to flirt with one of the castle servants, the very same young bear he had angered so much the day before. The inu’s odd yellow coloring stood out to much, he thought, his irritation growing. The idiot was going to get himself killed, either by Sesshomaru or by him, but for the moment, the fool was still needed.
“Shall I get him for you?” came the sultry voice from behind him. Onkou draped her arm across him, matching his sneer as she watched her supposed to be lover.
“No, you focus on your target. Find out all you can about this afternoon,” he told her. They were running out of time to put his plan into action.
“As you please, my lord.” Her hands traced his shoulders before she disappeared in a flash of blood red lips and dark waist length hair.
“I must go and prepare the council room for this afternoon, my lord.” Kara was saying to Hikigaeru, “please let me go...”
“I will,” he said staring into her lovely chocolate eyes, “if you can tell me why we are called to a meeting when most of the council is not even here.”
“I do not know, my lord,” she said, leaning slightly closer, “but I can tell you that lady Kagome collapsed early this morning, this could possibly the reason behind calling a rushed gathering.” The young bear said quietly, but not so much that the man in hiding missed it. Kara absolutely hated being this close to that particular dog, but lady Kogirei had asked it of her.
“Good.” Hikigaeru gave a sickening grin, “then I will see you immediately afterwards,” he said, his grip on her wrist tightening in warning.
“I will be sure of it, my lord.” Kara managed to keep her smile from slipping until she was back on the servant’s hall. She would see him for certain, there was no way she was missing it. Kara bowed slightly as she passed the only mother she had even known, the foxes green eyes flashing merrily as she went by.
“I have caught you at last, lord Hokoru,” said a silken voice coming up beside him. Lady Onkou slid her arm through his, walking him down a nearly empty corridor.
He tried his best to politely shake her off. “I must attend my lord Sesshomaru, I have not the time to speak with you now.” Hokoru said, attempting to dislodge her again without simply launching her through the wall. The damn woman had become greatly annoying in her pursuit of him. She had begun hunting him down and persistently trying to get him alone since lord Rengou’s small pack had arrived for council.
“It must be tiring to do all that work for him, taking care of responsibilities that he should be doing himself. However do you stand it when lord Sesshomaru goes off wondering?” She said pouty, drawing attention to her red mouth that matched her eyes.
“It is my honor to serve my lord.” He said stonily, taking a hand and brushing hers off his arm. “I must go, if you have need of anything, please address it to lady Kogirei, who is in charge of guests.” Nodding to her, Hokoru slipped away, feeling her glare burning into his back the whole way.
The large council room filled with those of the castle, missing only Kagome, Shikyomi, who was playing her body guard, and the children and their caretaker of the moment, Jakan. The council members took their places at their usual tables, the servants lining the walls. There was a low hum of voices among them, most expecting to hear an announcement that the new lady of the west would be presenting the heir soon.
All quieted as the western lord arrived, Inuyasha proudly walking beside him, glaring at the room in general. He was of a mind with Shikyomi, forget all the posturing and hype, just kill the bastards. Sesshomaru’s cool gaze scanned the crowd of people, stilling them as he and his brother took the dais, both remaining standing. They really did not expect this to be a long trial.
Lord Hokoru stood at the foot of the dais, his copper hair and the blue and yellow of his clothing standing out against the grey stone. “Sesshomaru, lord of the inuyokai has called you here to bear witness of traitors to the west and its peoples,” he said solemnly, his features never changing despite the soft gasps in the room. “Lord Rengou, one of your house has been proven traitor, will you stand for them?”
The proud inu remained in his seat. “I will not. This has been done without my knowledge or approval, my mate and I cut ties with Onkou.” He bowed his head, knowing that she was the only one of his pack of four that could have been so foolish.
“My lord.” The lady said, horrified. “I know not what they speak of,” she said, backing up from him.
His black eyes looked through her, the darkness of them standing out against his pale skin even more than usual. “I know you not,” he said simply before facing the dais, waiting to see if lord Sesshomaru would be merciful on his house. Having a traitor among your pack could mean the entire pack was killed, just to be certain no others remained.
Hokoru looked to Sesshomaru, catching the small movement of his eyes. “We acknowledge that Onkou is not a member of your pack and not protected by you,” he said, moving on. Rengou relaxed slightly, bowing from his seat.
Onkou looked pleadingly across the room, being now stripped of her pack and any title. “I will stand for her.” Hikigaeru said, standing up quickly, the lady happily going to his side. His brother was furious, waves of it rolling off of him. How had they known? They had been so careful for years waiting for the time to strike at Sesshomaru.
Hokoru ignored Hikigaeru’s outburst completely. “Lord Kidotta, your pack also stands accused.”
Lord Kidotta got angrily to his feet, his long dark red hair falling around him. “By what means?!” He demanded.
“By their own breath,” lord Hokoru answered. “Overheard by the beautiful death, lady Shikyomi, and by your allies.” Kogirei made a motion with her hand and five among the wall fell to their knees, all new to the castle by about two years. Kidotta’s own servants stood by, trembling and standing behind Asa, unsure of their fate.
Kidotta braced his fists on the table. He had come too far, was too close to stop now. “It matters not, I am above reproach.” He sounded so proud and certain that he was above all those present.
Inuyasha snickered, finding the outrage on his face humorous. “How stupid are you?” Anyone could see that he could not even compare to Sesshomaru, either by presence or leadership.
“I will not listen to such insults from a half breed mutt!” Kidotta straightened. “I am descended from the great houses and have more right to the west than you!” His red rimmed gaze falling on Inuyasha, who just seemed more amused.
The sound of cutting laughter flowed through the room. All eyes turned to the back, where Katsumi revealed her face by pushing back the hood of her cloak. Reverent whispers went through the host, many of those present never having met the eldest, as she was known by. In fact, most had thought her dead. “What foolishness is this when there are much more important matters at hand?” She had had no luck finding the disturbance that had worried her and Shi. So Katsumi returned to the palace, expecting to find preparations for war, not this ridiculousness.
“A minor thing, Obaasan.” Sesshomaru said coolly. Inuyasha felt the anger though, from the moment Kidotta had insulted him, Sesshomaru had wanted to rip his head from his shoulders. He could care less what one idiot felt about him, but he was warmed that it had angered his brother.
She slowly made her way down the center aisle, stopping by Kidotta. “Tell this one,” Katsumi said, pinning him with her icy blue stare, “Where is the beguiling grace that comes with that fine red you bear? What true trait of the great houses have you?” She came closer to him, her sharply pointed teeth gleaming as she grinned. “Obviously, you have not wisdom, nor strength, or you would have challenged. Courage and honor appear to be lacking in you as well. Tell me, boy, can you even fly?” Katsumi chuckled again as she walked away. Leaning against the dais, she looked over him again, her stare turning blood thirsty. “There is a saying from the days when the great houses were many. Pack or prey. This one needs not anyone to tell her which you are.” A collective shiver went around the room, most glad not to be the object before that merciless gaze.
“Agreed.” Sesshomaru said, “You may choose your fate, challenge this one or flee like prey to be hunted.” Hikigaeru and Onkou rushed from the room, along with those who had been in with them, none moving to halt them whatsoever.
“You do not want to do this.” Kidotta claimed, “There will be no one to govern my lands regularly.” The land was on the border of the west and the north, once a great outpost of the dragon war.
“You are incorrect.” Lord Hokoru told him, noticing Kogirei and Kara slipping from the room. “Your sister is being sent for to judge her capabilities. Even though she is barely a hundred, it is said she is very dependable, being raised away from your care has probably done her well.”
“I challenge the western lord.” Kidotta growled out, knowing that he had a very slim chance of winning. He would not be hunted down like some game animal! However, he did not intend to leave Sesshomaru unscathed.
“Accepted.” Sesshomaru and Inuyasha stepped down from the dais, preparing to go outside where challenges were held. Kidotta had no intention of letting them get that far. As neared, he lunged at Inuyasha, blade bare in hand. Before Inuyasha could draw his sword, Sesshomaru plunged his hand into the inu’s chest, breaking through the skin, muscle, and bone until he held the man’s beating heart in his hands. His savage grin was the last sight of Kidotta, traitor to the west. Sesshomaru slowly pulled the twitching organ from the inu’s chest, poison dripping from his hand, before the western lord tossed it carelessly away.
Inuyasha walked by the body, shaking his head at the wasted life. “Idiot.” He handed Sesshomaru a cloth provided by Hokoru. “Someday, you will have to teach me how the hell you do that without staining all that pretty white.” Katsumi roared with laughter from her seat on the edge of the dais as Sesshomaru gave him a bored look.
Hikigaeru ran, Onkou just behind him. They had a limited time, he knew. Tsuyoi’s guards had yet to move, though they watched them flee. Anger was easy to read on many faces as Sesshomaru was respected and even loved among his people. He kept them safe and well cared for just like his father before him.
The yellow dog did not make it far beyond the palace walls. When they had reached the open courtyard, a slow burn began in his stomach. He slowed, an arm coming across the affected area. It spread outward like the flowing tide, rising, receding, than spreading out farther with every breath he took until it felt like he was being consumed by fire on the inside. He reached a hand out pleadingly to Onkou as she passed him by. “Help me!”
His lover sneered as she went by him. She had been his brother’s mistress, used to control him, she cared little as Hkikgaeru dropped to the ground. Onkou had to hurry before the hunt began, she needed to make it to Kidotta’s ally to the north.
His vision began to blur slightly as his muscles convulsed, rippling beneath his skin. Hikigaeru could barely make out Kara and Kogirei as they walked up to where he lay. “Wow, my lady, what did you do to him?” He heard Kara ask admiringly.
“It was a simple thing, really. Something Shikyomi and I came up with in our youth to punish a group of yokai who were stealing children. It is her poison, heated by fox fire. The herb I used suppresses the feeling for a long while. By the time that it begins to wear off, the damage is done. From what information we had gathered from those yokai as they lay screaming, it feels almost like you are being slowly cooked from the inside, or like acid moving through your veins.” Kei said calmly. “You should really observe this, Kara. I doubt any other will ever have access to this particular poison, but I have made an antidote just in case. Of course this fool is far too gone to administer it, not that I would, but it is a good thing for you to learn in your medicinal training.” She studied his jerking form, tuning out the screams, muted somewhat by the black froth beginning to form in his mouth. “I might have used a bit too much,” she noted, “it has been awhile since I felt the need to use it. It will be over far too quickly.”
The elegant room was dim, the soft crackle of flames the only break in the stillness, as if the very residence held its breath, waiting. Kagome woke, her eyes wide and blurry, pain streaking across her lower abdomen. It built, slowly rising as her body tensed until finely it crested, pulling a gasp from her lips. She seemed to fall back on the bed, already tired, knowing that this would just be the beginning.
“Kagome?!” Inuyasha whispered harshly from her side where he had been watching over her, his hands reaching out, half afraid of causing more pain. It had been several hours since she had been sent to her bed by Kei after her collapse. He was worried, she looked so pale and worn. Sesshomaru was still gone, clearing out the last of Kidotta’s followers from within the gates. None had made it past the barrier around their home, of that he was certain.
Finely, she blinked, taking a deep breath and slowly letting it out, willing herself not to give in to the fear trying to break into her mind. Her vision cleared, the pain leaving behind a constant, uncomfortable pressure between her hips, almost as if her body were slowly splitting in half. It was not hurting at that moment, but unsettling. “Um, Inuyasha,” Kagome’s voice was dry, barely above a whisper, “you may want to go get lady Kei.”
“I ain’t leaving you,” he told her. Inuyasha rose and went to the door, throwing it open. Jakan still stood beside the entrance, precisely where Sesshomaru had put him. “Go get lady Kei.” When the imp went to open his mouth, his usually sneer present, Inuyasha snatched him up by his clothing, growing in his face. “You fuckin toad, move your ass, or I will rip your guts out!”
“Yyes, my lord.” He croaked, looking a sickly pale green, he scurried away.
Inuyasha returned to Kagome’s side, winding his fingers through hers. ‘Sesshomaru…’ his mind called out, wanting his strength and calm presence, missing it being by their side. Right now he felt his absence sharply.
‘Sesshomaru…’ the western lord looked toward his palace, just visible to him in the distance. The sun was high, haloing behind the structure as if it were calling to him. Suddenly, he felt Kagome’s bond forced open, a wave of slow agony finding its way to him, nearly making him growl. “Hokoru.” He waited for the inu’s slight bow, then turned, leaving the last of Kidotta’s pathetic rebellion behind him. He disappeared, a bright streak of light following the call of his mates.
“How sad, left to take care of another one of the lords responsibilities,” Onkou purred from where she had dropped upon the ground before Sesshomaru. Hokoru turned back toward the pitiful creature before him. Large red, soulful eyes looked up at him, her plump lips smiling softly. “So, what is my punishment to be, master?” her tone seductive and sweet.
Hokoru fought back a sigh, not surprised in the least at her last minute tactics. “You are a traitor to the west,” he drew his sword, the red blade glowing slightly, “your sentence is death.” With one swing, he ended the her life, then calmly walked away as the body burned, the ashes fading away before he even made it across the stone bridge.
As Hokoru began to enter the court yard, something stalled him. A small movement in the air puzzled him, though he neither saw nor scented a threat, something left him feeling uneasy. Taking a slow, deep breath, he dropped his guard and released his gift. His aura rolled across the land like fog off the ocean, appearing red to his sight. Going unnoticed by anyone, it crept in all directions, marking the positions of those within his lord’s barrier. Close to the edge of the lake, several long smudges appeared, unlike anything he had seen before. Quickly he, reined in his aura and headed to the palace. They had an intruder, of that he was positive.
Lady Shi was coming from their chambers when Sesshomaru appeared in the hall. His face was composed in its usual mask, but the light shining in his eyes was somewhat frightening. Any that were gathered within the confines of the hall quickly vanished, the scent of their fear clouded in the space. She stopped him before he could throw the door open. “She has to be moved, my son. It would be better if she could walk to the birthing chambers.” Her amber eyes searched his to see if he comprehended what she was telling him.
“There is no delaying the birth any longer?” He turned those frosty golden eyes on her, making her place her hand on his arm for comfort. There was no good word for the emotion running through him, elation and terror churning together in one solid lump in his chest.
“No.” Shikyomi told him, opening the door. “She was lucky to make it most of three months, my son. Your bother was born in a little over two.”
Sesshomaru went into the room, taking in everything before him. Inuyasha lay propped up next to her, his hand holding hers tightly while he watched her worriedly. Lady Kogirei stood beside the bed, her hands resting gently on the mound of Kagome’s stomach, smiling softly. That smile reassured him, releasing some of his tension he felt. He went to the bed, sharing glance with Inuyasha before stopping beside his best healer. “How is she?”
“Fine, thanks for asking.” Kagome said with a small smile, glad that he had made it safely back to them and in time to see their children born. As strong as he was, you never knew what could happen when your loved ones are out of your sight. She took his hand and closed her eyes as the last bit of the contraction eased away.
“She’ll do.” Kei chuckled, backing away. The new western lady was well on her way to giving birth and, so far, was doing just fine, considering. She could not sense any problems with either her, or the pups she carried. “Help her up, but be easy.”
They lifted her from the bed, gently placing her on her feet. Kagome only made it two steps before having to stop, another wave of pain making her lower back ache. Both of her hands covered the area, stretching helping ease it a bit. “I am really not liking you two right now,” she growled through her teeth.
Inuyasha looked a little stunned, but Sesshomaru smiled. The fox had been correct, she was doing fine, full of that fire she always carried with her. After a moment, she held her hands out to them. “Well, come on, let’s go defeat the hallway. I am ready to get this shit over with already.” They could hear Shi and Kei laugh from the doorway, making the lady of the west glare at them as she passed by. “Crazy ass inuyokai,” she muttered.
“You have been lumped with us now, it seems, my tiny little fox friend.” Shikyomi chuckled as they followed behind them.
“I can see where she might want me to be.” Kei said, sly smile tugging at her lips, “After all, people of such great height gather air between their ears, likely to float away all together if they have no one more grounded to bring them back down.”
Shi laughed, almost seeing the outline of nine swishing tails as her friend walked off, very happy with herself.
Hokoru hurried through the palace, slowing only when he came to the family’s wing. When he saw lord Sesshomaru and his mates making a slow progression through the hall, it was easy to tell that lady Kagome was in labor. He knew that it would be unwise to approach them if there was no immediate danger. Unsure what to do, he waited until lady Kogirei was passing by, motioning her over to him.
“What has lord grumpy so wound up?” she asked, teasingly.
“This is not the time for games, woman!” he huffed quietly. “I need to report something to lord Sesshomaru, but…” Hokoru paused.
“You like your head where it is?” Kei asked sweetly. “Do not be afraid, dear boy, give me the report and I will pass it on to lady Shikyomi. She is acting in his stead until after the pups are born.” He gave her a short description of where and what he had sensed. They shared a troubled look between them. “I will see to it that she receives the report, lord Hokoru.” Kogirei promised, starting to move away when she caught sight of the look on his face. “What is it?”
“In the last century we have known each other, that is the only time you have actually called me by name.” he replied, unsure what he felt about his name on her lips.
She just laughed and started to leave. Looking back at him, mischievous green shining, Kei added, “If you ever do find the time or the daring, koinu, I would play a game or two with you, if you say please.” Winking, she continued on, pleased by the bright red color of his face. Really, he was just too much fun, she thought, giggling.