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Little Miss Damsel by Lucy Morningstar

I'm Going Flower-A-Pickin' (Part I)

 

I'm Going Flower-A-Pickin' (Part I)

It all started when Shippo decided to go flower-picking.

A few days before Kagome had shown them a book, of which its pages were adorned with various pressed flowers, their colours still vibrant and crisp as the day they were picked.

"I did it for my art class," Kagome said. "What do you think?"

"It's hella neat!" Shippo exclaimed. He had been thoroughly impressed, and now he too wanted his own flower-pressed book.

And so, one fine day in the height of spring, Shippo had gone into the woods by himself, whistling a merry tune as he plucked little stems and tucked flowers into his belt.

And that was when the Demon Child-Eater saw him.

"Hello, my little kit," she rasped. Shippo saw her shadow looming over the bush of red camellia flowers. He flung around as if a bee had stung him.

The woman was very beautiful, so beautiful in fact that he knew instantly she couldn't be human. Her white porcelain skin and red-tinged lips beckoned to him.

"H-hello. I'm Shippo."

"And my name is Okuni. Are you picking flowers?" she asked, tilting her head as if studying an interesting specimen. Her voice was a bit strange, like the rumbling of gravel stones.

"Yeah, and I think you're the prettiest one I've seen yet," Shippo mumbled before he could stop himself.

She raised her head and laughed a loud gurgling cry, and then he saw her long fangs, glinting in the spring sun, and his blood quickly ran cold.

"Ah, you're a cheeky little one, aren't you?" she said. Her smile had transformed into a large grin, one that was a bit too big for her angelic face, and he could see all of her sharp teeth now, each deadly like a tantō blade. She bent closer to him. Her right arm pulled on a large burlap sack hoisted on her back, and it seemed to be squirming as though something alive was within it.

Shippo stilled as a flower fell from his fingers.

"I always like the cheeky ones. They have a tart flavour to them. How would you like to make me even more beautiful, my dear Shippo?"

The next thing Shippo knew, he was tumbling into a strange place filled with darkness, and the shrill cries of help he had never noticed before.

"Oof!" he cried, as he landed on a sea of other demon children, their faces a frosty white, brimming with tears.

"Shippo-chan! Shippo, is that you?"

The squirming mass of bodies underneath him shifted and a head popped out. Shippo squinted, then gasped. It was Rin, that human girl who travelled alongside Sesshoumaru.

"Rin! You're in here too? What in the world is going on?" he yelled, trying to raise his voice amidst the ringing cries of the other children.

"We're doomed, that's what we are!" Jaken popped out beside her. "We're all going to be eaten!"

The children cried even harder. "What do you mean?" they all chorused.

"We've been abducted by Okuni-baba!" Jaken replied.

"Okuni…baba?" Shippo went. "You—You mean she's actually an old hag in disguise? I knew it! There was something off about her!"

"She's not just old, she's ancient! Okuni-baba is an infamous cannibalistic ogre who uses children to make her Elixir of Youth. She skins them alive and boils them to the bones. Or is it the other way round?"

"And then she d-drinks it?" asked a furry wolf cub from the corner.

Jaken's eyes narrowed like stilts. "She doesn't just drink them—she sells the elixirs on the black market!"

"Noooooo!"

"I want my mommy!"

"Someone save us!"

"Everyone just hang on!" Rin called out to the others. "Sesshoumaru-sama will come and he will save us all! He always does!" A strange hope lit up her face. "Everyone, let's call out for Sesshoumaru-sama so he can hear and find us quickly!"

"Sesshoumaru-sama! Sesshoumaru-sama!"

Shippo wanted to tell her and the other kids as they chanted her lord's name feverishly that the sack had noise-proof abilities, but he was occupied with another thought. Would his own friends come to rescue him? Could he count on Inuyasha with the same unabashed hope Rin had for Sesshoumaru?

"Hey, Inuyasha. It's almost dusk now."

Inuyasha's thumbs were punching buttons on the handheld Tetris game that Kagome brought for him. It was probably the next best thing after instant ramen, for he had never come across anything so intriguing. Trust her strange world to come up with such things.

He muttered a curse as he slotted in a wrong piece at the finishing part, and the screen flashed mockingly with the words: 'GAME OVER'

"What is it?" He snapped at Kagome.

Kagome frowned at him. "Are you addicted to that game or what? All you do is play that thing all day and all night. You don't even sleep. And right now you aren't even listening to me."

"Well you're the one who gave it to me, right? So technically it's mine now and I can do whatever I want with it."

Kagome rolled her eyes, holding the urge to punch him. "Anyways, it's pretty late and Shippo still hasn't returned yet. He can't have lost his way, can he?" After all foxes, like dogs, were equipped with a superior sense of smell.

"Beats me. Must be so engrossed in his pansy flower collection that he forgot what time it is."

"Aren't you the least worried?"

"Mmmmm…nope," Inuyasha replied, and Kagome realized he was back on his Tetris game, restarting the previous level.

I swear he can't be depended on at times.

"Inuyasha?"

"…Yeah?"

"Osuwari."

"…gyaahh!"

Kagome turned towards the others. Sango and Miroku were huddled on the grassy slope close beside each other, looking suspiciously cosy. She creeped up behind them. Sango was painting her toes with Kagome's pink nail polish, as Miroku watched closely beside her, and then he too brushed his own toes with polish. Kagome's smile quirked. The priest had purple toes on him.

"Ah, Kagome-sama! Is anything wrong?" He suddenly turned. Sango smiled at her, giggling a bit coquettishly.

Kagome laughed as she took a step back. "Nothing's wrong! Just checking up on you guys. Say, Sango-chan, would you mind if I borrow Kirara for awhile? Shippo's been out pretty late, and I'm kinda getting worried."

"Oh! Do you need me to come along too?"

"Nah, it's okay! I'll be fine on my own. And those toenails rock, girl!"

"How about mine, Kagome-sama?" the priest asked as he wriggled his purple toes about.

"They rock too, Miroku."

* * *

"Hey Kirara, are you sure Shippo went this way? That's a lot of ground we've covered."

Kirara growled in affirmation as Kagome sighed on her back. It had been half an hour since they searched for Shippo in the woods, but all in vain. She gave a cry in surprise as Kirara leapt from the forest grounds and began to soar through the darkening sky. Her breath hitched as she turned to marvel at her surroundings. To her left, the sky was tinged with a peachy orange, blood-red fingers clawing towards the setting sun. To her right however, it had faded into a cool lilac-lavender, the moon quietly peeking from afar against a starry indigo-black canvas.

The miles flashed past below her feet.

Woah, she thought as she gripped on Kirara's scruff, her legs digging into her sides, this is even further than I thought. Something didn't happen to Shippo, right? God, please tell me everything is okay!

* * *

Sesshoumaru's nose scrunched. The cloying smell of citrus weighed heavily in the air. It infiltrated straight from his nostrils into his lungs, its pungent acridity building up in his throat like bile. He covered his hand over his face.

Of all the smells, why citrus?

Earlier during the day when he had returned from a three-day absence ("I have adult demon matters you won't understand", in case anyone asked), he discovered Jaken and Rin had been abducted, and based from Ah-Un's grunts and neighs in his attempt to convey a story, it appeared that a strange woman with a big sack had taken them away. It took Sesshoumaru all of his resolve to not just leave them and let those two trouble-makers just suffer for once.

A chimney blowing clear smoke emerged into view, and it seemed to be the agonizing source of the smell. Sesshoumaru steeled himself to approach the brick-house looming before him, a sturdy establishment sitting smack in the middle of the woods.

There was a sign written on the door: 'PLEASE WAIT TO BE SERVED' Sesshoumaru invited himself in anyway, then wished he had not.

A burst of citrus blasted into him the moment he entered. Sesshoumaru's chest lurched violently in reflex as he retched his throat out. What in tarnation, he thought, as saline tears pricked the corner of his eyes.

"Who are you?" A female's voice floated in his ear. It was a peculiar voice, like the rumbling of gravel stones.

Sesshoumaru straightened himself up and brushed his hair back, trying to regain his dignified air after that horrible coughing fit just now.

He saw the woman hunched over a large pot, boiling over a hearth where glowing coals collected. She was stirring its contents with a long stick. His eyes flicked to the back of her house however. There were cages and cages stacked all over against the brick walls, and in these cages were trapped youkai children, its young captives all crying and pleading for help.

"Excuse me, I'm talking to you. Didn't you see the sign outside?" The woman said again. She was decidedly beautiful, her features fine like a hand-crafted doll—a pity her voice was ghastly. She then continued stirring the pot as if a casual conversation was taking place. "The harvest has just started; you have to be put on a waiting list."

"Harvest?" Sesshoumaru's voice strained behind his hand, still cupped over his stinging face. Damn this smell and damn himself for having a superior nose. Then his eyes roved all over the cages again and it dawned on him.

"You're harvesting these children," he stated coldly.

"Of course! They're the main ingredient for my Age-Defying Elixir—specially concocted by me, Okuni, to stall beauty in its highest prime. I only use youkai ones, of course. I have absolutely no use for those short-lived human mortals."

Sesshoumaru's hand flew to his Bakusaiga's hilt in reflex.

"Hey, hey!" the woman named Okuni called out. "Stop waving that sword about. Sweet Bentei, didn't your folks teach you about manners in somebody's house?"

"That girl you abducted along with the kappa. She is human."

"Ha! Don't joke with me. Do you think I've gone senile and can't differentiate between a wee human child and a youkai? She has youkai stench all over her!" And then Okuni's eyes widened as she gave him a wary once-over, particularly at the large sword in his hand pulsating with an ominous green aura. "Wait—you aren't a customer. Are you in alliance with the APCO?"

"APCO?"

"The Anti-Poaching Child Organization!"

He shrugged. "I am not affiliated with such a cause," he replied, and Okuni clutched her chest in relief, "However if you do not surrender those two right now, I may just have to serve you with my kind of justice."

"Sesshoumaru-sama!" A familiar child's voice rang in the air. Sesshoumaru whirled, his eyes searching for the right cage. It was hard to ascertain Rin's scent, not when his olfactory senses were in distress. He finally caught on to her, struggling inside a cramped space with Jaken and another kitsune who looked vaguely familiar.

"Sesshoumaru-sama!" Jaken cried behind the bars, bawling his tears out. "I knew you would come to save us!"

"Get us out of this cage! I don't wanna die just yet!" Shippo yelled. All the other children howled unanimously.

Sesshoumaru leapt forward, but Okuni quickly blocked his way in a flash, her face marred with a large hissing grin.

"Out of the way, you grizzly mutt. No one barges in through my door and meddles with my operation!"

"Tsk," Sesshoumaru went. Using Bakusaiga in such a close proximity with the children was unadvisable in this situation, and he quickly retracted his sword back to its scabbard. His hand shot out to produce a green lash of youki—but Okuni dodged just in time as it grazed past her gleaming obsidian hair. A few strands floated off. She recoiled in shock before her face contorted in a fit of rage.

"Not my hair!" Okuni screeched. She pulled out a large, heavy metal fan that magically appeared from her bosom, then lunged it against his direction.

"You'll pay for that with the wrath of my tesson! Tender Breeze!"

Sesshoumaru froze as the flow of air revolted against him, storming into a tumultuous, impenetrable wall. It was so lightning-quick that he only managed to evade by swinging his arm across his face, but it had exploded on his body, crashing him out of the house.

When he recovered, he discovered to his shock that his armour had cracked and his chest plate had split open. Sesshoumaru stared at the Demon-Child Eater who had stepped out, her aura flaring, weapon gripped in her hand. This woman had abducted Rin and Jaken, and now she had managed to destroy his armour with just a single blow of her tesson. Okuni, she said her name was. The more he placed the clues, the more it became clearer—she really was the Okuni-baba the court ladies liked to mention in his circles. But that only meant she had to be a few thousand years old…

He surveyed his surroundings. They were outside now. Good.

"Step back, little pup," Okuni warned. "I may look young and oh-so-gorgeous, but I have lived centuries wiser than you. Don't make me use my tesson for a second time—that was just a little warning."

He brushed the dirt off his pelt. "Tender Breeze, huh. That was as tender as it gets."

"Sesshoumaru!" another voice called out from afar.

Sesshoumaru glanced over his shoulder, squinted, then cursed inwardly. It was Inuyasha's lass, of all people. Mounted on her neko ride, she bounced closer to him from the distance. And she was alone, which was strange.

"Ah, I knew it was you!" Kagome said, a disturbing smile lighting up her face.

Sesshoumaru's jaw tensed as his eyes darted from Okuni then to Kagome, grasping the situation slowly.

He bit his tongue. I knew it. I should have just stayed put earlier.Females bring nothing but trouble. And the human lass just has to see me in this improper, dishevelled state.

Sesshoumaru took a deep, acrid, citrus-y breath, and exhaled aloud. Running his hair slowly through his fingers, he cocked an eyebrow at Kagome and asked.

"Are you here for the kitsune?"

Wait for the next chapter!

 

INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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