Chapter 19: Start of Ice Melting
Disclaimer: I do not Inuyasha.
The dining hall of the Eastern palace, reserved for the ruling family, was massive and splendidly designed with ornate furnishings. The table was long enough to host a banquet, and the different types of dishes could already feed the entire Middle Lands.
Paintings were hanging on the wall, and opposite of them were tall windows. From the windows, the bright light of morning filtered through, washing away the gloomy-colored decorations, and paint inside.
I entered the hall with Ah Chen, who trailed behind me, and made my way to Father. He sat at the head of the table, Miroku on his right and Kikyou on his left.
I went beside him and bowed in respectful greeting. He glanced at me with an irritated purse of his lips. "Go and sit," he ordered gruffly, as if I'd ruined his morning by showing up for breakfast.
I sat beside Mirouku, which was against protocol, because my place should be next to Kikyou. But no one remarked at my stubbornness today. Maybe because I had been sick for three days?
After the attack in the Middle Lands, I woke up the next day without memories of how I got in the Eastern Lands. Miroku and Ah Chen's worried faces greeted me when I regained consciousness and they asked me if I was okay. But that day, everything hurt. I almost felt paralyzed.
No one mentioned about Shippou, and I couldn't bring myself to ask about his remains either. And, one thing I couldn't bring up was the conversation I overheard before…
The Lord of the East growled, his ever-present anger showing again, and he spat, "I never wanted her to use her reiki again. Ever. This is dangerous for her. She might…die."
"This is certainly a sad news—that she failed to save the child—but I agree with Father. Her reiki. It might save her for a time but it will also be her doom…" Miroku said.
Death and doom.
Did I really heard such conversation, or was it only an imagination?
A clinking of bottle pulled me out of my musing, and I lifted my head to Miroku. He stood up from his seat with raised a glass of sake in his hand. Father's face crinkled with a grin, and Kikyou beamed up at him. Beamed? I've never seen her smile that way.
Miroku glanced at me then to Kikyou. "Congratulations, dear sister. I'm certain this will be a successful mating. And—"
Father interjected with a pleased huff. "Of course, it'll be successful. It's Kikyou! No man could ever ask for more."
I scoffed at his comment but no one seemed to acknowledge my existence at the moment. Miroku continued with a polite smile at Father. "—with such alliance to the North. You have added strength to your family. We are proud."
With a tip of his glass, we drank in one gulp. Miroku sat back on his seat.
I smirked at her. "You're getting mated. Congratulations, sister."
She smiled cheekily at me. "I am happy to bring honor to this family."
My smirk darkened, and I drank more sake. "Of course. You've always been the nice girl."
Kikyou's smiled darkened at little as she picked at her food without looking away from me. Before she could reply, Father spoke, "And you've always been a disgrace."
Smile vanishing, I slowly turned my gaze at Father. He continued eating, his face nonchalant. "Disgrace?" I repeated in disbelief.
"Father..." Miroku's tone was stern but one hard look from Father shut him off. He shook his head at him.
Kikyou, with a mocking look in her eyes, rebuked Father softly. "How can you say that Father? Being part of the Chosen Ones of the West is an honor, and our Kagome did well."
"Ha! An honor. Being a Lord's whore is not an honor," he argued irritably.
Kikyou tried again. "But Father—"
I slammed the glass of sake I had been holding on the tabletop. "Shut up, Kikyou. Just stop."
"Kagome," Miroku warned.
"No, Miroku." I turned to Kikyou. "You know what? I don't need you pretending today, or any other day. I don't need your fake kindness. I can live without it. Now that you're going to be mated, let's stop the pretend."
"Kagome!" Father reprimanded in a hard voice. I ignored him.
I raised a glass of sake, and announced, "You had a toast for the honorable lady in the family. How about a toast for the mischievous lady? A drink for the shame of the East?"
Without waiting for their reaction, I drank from my glass and walked out.
"That rascal!" Father bellowed but Miroku tried to calm him. I slammed the door shut behind me, and walked briskly to my room. I slammed the door of my door too.
I sat on the soft bed, gritting my teeth in helpless anger. I felt Kikyou's aura even before she opened the door.
I glared at her. "What do you want?"
"Talk," she replied softly.
I closed my eyes in exasperated anger. "There's nothing to talk about."
"You transformed to full-fledged form that night…" Kikyou informed me.
My eyes flew open, and I stared at her in confusion. "That's impossible."
"That's what I thought too. A hanyou like you? You don't possess enough power for that. But you did."
"Is this another scheme to get me in trouble? Just focus on your upcoming mating ceremony. I don't have time—"
"Do you remember anything that night?"
I faltered. After Shippou's death, I couldn't remember anything. Except…there's a howl. An anguished one. Did that belong to me?
"You don't remember." She stated when I took a second too long to answer.
"So what?" I asked. "What is it to you?"
She shook her head. "Nothing. I'm merely telling you."
"Now that you've told me, get out."
She glared at me, then she strode to where I sat, and grabbed my chin harshly, tipping it to meet her square in the eyes. "This is the last time that I'll ever have to put up with you, bitch."
I glared back, and whispered sternly, "Never get out of the North then. Rot there forever."
Kikyou pursed her lips wickedly, and the delight was there in her face again. "No, little one. You will certainly rot. The same way your little kitsune had."
I hissed and pushed her away. "Don't you dare include him here! I won't let you dishonor him, Kikyou."
She smirked bitterly and straightened, "Don't worry. You will be with him soon. Perhaps, with your little minion, Ah Chen, and that scrawny Miroku. If you get lucky, you might get Father in death too."
I frowned at her traitorous words. "What do you mean? You could be accused of treason with that."
"And who will accuse me? You? Oh, please." She flicked her hair, which looked liked mine, backwards. "Farewell, then."
She closed the door softly, and I slumped on the bed, heaving in anger and exasperation.
"Ah Chen!" I whined loudly.
A second later, she entered the room with a worried frown. "We sent a letter to the West, informing them that you were sick, and needed more time to recover." A short silence. "Visit Middle Lands?" She asked when I met her eyes.
I smiled softly. "Yes, please."
The Middle Lands were completely destroyed, and there were hundreds of rotting corpses milling around. Those who survived might not live long enough if they didn't receive help. Most of them sustained severe injuries, and starvation was already making them insane.
"Ah Chen," I whispered, lamenting the situation of the people we had helped.
Sohma, Goyo, and Mizuki were doing their best to aid the survivors but it was not enough. I stepped around the corpses, my fingers pinching my nose so I'd only breathe through my mouth. The smell was too much to bear but the sight of the familiar faces of people drove me tears.
By the time, we hauled the corpses for burying, I was already crying a river—no, an ocean. We scoured the Lands for Shippou's remains but it was nowhere to be found.
"Maybe animals ate him. You know that there are wild dogs in the deep forest," Goyo offered for an explanation.
Sohma punched him in the arms, knowing that the comment hit a sensitive mark, but it was a logical conclusion. Without a trace of him, it might be that animals took him for dinner.
I bowed my head down. I couldn't even give him a proper burial. Another wave of tears overcame me and I sobbed on Ah Chen's shoulders. She gently patted my head, offering comfort.
"Ah Chen, thank you. You had always been there for me."
"Kagome-sama, you never treated me like a servant. Instead, you treated me as your sister, your family. Helping you through your difficult times is the only way to thank you for everything."
I hiccupped from the all the sobbing that wracked my body. "Ah Chen, I'm so happy I've known you. It's a consolation, you know. Since Father too me to the East, it'd been too difficult, but you were like a gift. I'd never forget you my entire life."
Ah Chen chuckled. "You better not."
A commotion prompted me to lift my head. Ah Chen and I exchanged questioning glances. People were pointing at the sky as an incoming horde of youkai trailed downward.
I took a step forward, squinting my eyes at their clothes.
"Those are soldiers," Ah Chen whispered thoughtfully. "Inu-youkai soldiers."
"Inu-youkai," I repeated, bemused. "Why would they go here?"
They landed gracefully, massive yet splendid carriages floated down as well. There were twelve soldiers in total, and they placated the curious yet nervous survivors, "We would not hurt anyone." One of them waved at the carriages. "We are simply delivering an aid."
"An aid?" I gasped in wonder. The West giving an aid for the Middle Lands' people?
I stepped forward as Sohma, Goyo, and Mizuki bounded off to inspect the supplies. "There are food!" Goyo exclaimed as he opened the first carriage.
"And medicines!" Mizuki opened the second carriage.
Sohma gaped at the third carriage, and whispered delightfully, "Materials for buildings huts!"
A few tears escaped my eyes but relief enveloped me as well. With tear-stained cheeks, I advanced to the soldiers, and pointed at the so-called aid, "Is this for real?"
They nodded with a polite smile. "You must be Lady Kagome?" When I nodded, he continued, "The supplies would surely lessen your burden, my lady."
I nodded, wiping my cheeks, and grinning widely. "I appreciate the help. But may I ask why the West offered such…?"
He bowed his head, and replied, "Perhaps, out of pity for the poor. The entire world knew about the wide-scale invasion."
I frowned, quite unbelieving.
"Or…perhaps, the Lord must want you back in the West. But knew that your worry for the Middle Lands would keep you away for a longer time," he offered with a knowing smile that contradicted the hard lines of his face.
A joyful smile chased away the frown from my face. "Well, I suppose you could do the honor of distributing this goods? Going back to the West is the only thing I could offer to show my gratefulness for all of this."
I turned to Ah Chen and grinned, "Ah Chen, I should go and thank Toga-sama. I'm certain he's the one behind this charity."
She nodded with a relieved smile and I jumped away to the West.
I stared down the report written across the scroll regarding the result of the first test of the Festivity. The challenge of the mind, which turned disastrous for Kagome, and wondered who ranked this list.
I scanned the ranking, finding Lady Toran as the first, Lady Kanna came in second, and Lady Kagura ranked as fifth. I searched for one name that intrigued me. Kagome.
Twenty-fourth? Out of twenty-four Chosen Ones, she…?
I frowned and stared at it some more. Unfortunately, she remained ranked as twenty-fourth. "She's listed at the bottom of the ranking, and yet she appears in my mind more frequently than the others do," I murmured, perplexed at myself.
With an inward snarl directed at me, I laid down the scroll, and picked up another one in an attempt to distract my thoughts away from her.
After opening the scroll, I mused to myself. "I wonder if her health is faring any better." I slammed the scroll on the desk, and growled at no one. "I should not have left her when the little kitsune was dying. I should have ended her misery by then."
Fangs bared in anger at my misjudgment, I tapped my sharp claw on the scroll a little too hard, making the parchment rip. The sound of ripping pulled me out of my thoughts, and I sighed exasperatedly.
This is too much.
I pulled away from the desk and strode by the window. "Hnn. When she transformed, staying in the pouring rain with all those corpses had contributed to her ailing health. I knew that this would happen. Stubborn hanyou," I muttered to the window.
I paced back, and stood in the middle of the room. "But she would recover. She never liked to show weakness." I nodded to myself. "Did she receive the supplies I sent to the Middle Lands?"
I paced beside the chair, and low table that held a tea. I sat, and fiddled the teacup in my hands. "This Sesshomaru chose the highest of qualities for all of those goods. Hnn." I huffed irritably. "Such fineries wasted on those savages."
Upon realizing that I'd been muttering and thinking and endlessly worrying about the hanyou, I froze, and slammed the teacup on the low table. It shattered to pieces while the table cracked from the impact. I should visit the dojo and release such pathetic frustrations.
With a new goal, I strode to the door, and yanked it open. Only to find Kagome along the hallway.
My heart skipped a beat, and I had to bite back a growl when it did. What is she doing to this Sesshomaru? Perhaps, I should just visit the dojo later…? I grimaced when I realized that I felt anxious at meeting her. Did she get the aid?
Closing the door behind me, I advanced down the hallway, knowing that we would cross each other's path. When she felt my aura, her bright smile dimmed a little. I almost felt disappointed at such reaction. I forged on, feigning indifference.
She stopped in her tracks, and stared at me cautiously. I passed by her, and she greeted with a respectful bow. "My lord."
I stopped, and inclined my head slightly as an acknowledgement. Ask her if she'll well. Should I…?
She started walking again, and I uttered, "Are you already well?"
She glanced at me curiously and replied, "Yes, thank you."
We stared at each other for a long while, each of us scrutinizing what the other was thinking. "Uhm...have you seen Toga-sama?" She blurted, breaking the silence between us.
I blinked as I processed what she just asked. A sign of favor…? Crimson seeped into my eyes, and I asked harshly, "Why would you seek my father?"
She pursed her lips, and stared at me with confusion. "Why are you angry? I just asked."
"Answer the question, Kagome."
"I want to thank him for sending supplies to the Middle Lands. It'd been really kind of him," she muttered, her eyes brightening, and a smile dances on her lips.
Lips that I'd kissed.
But then, realization slammed itself to me. Thanking Father for the aid I had sent?
With a tinge of mortification, I turned my back to her, and forged forward. Such ungratefulness. This Sesshomaru troubled endlessly, and yet she regarded me this way.
I felt Father's approaching figure, and he greeted Kagome delightedly. My fist curled tightly, and my control slipped. A certain amount of aura whirled around me.
"Toga-sama, why is he so angry? I just told him that I came here to thank you for the aid you sent to the Middle lands," Kagome muttered to me irritably.
I kept walking.
"Me? Sending aid? It wasn't me, my lady. I heard that it was Sesshomaru who did," Father replied with a soft laugh.
"Really?" Kagome gasped. "Honestly?" She asked, unbelieving.
"Why would I lie?"
With another gasp, she ran after me.
"Wait! Sesshomaru-sama. Did you really send aid to the Middle Lands?" Kagome asked after me.
I halted in my steps, and she dashed in front of me. Staring at my face as if she saw me for the first time. "Why would you do that?" She asked, looking perplexed.
For you. "None of your business," I muttered, successfully hiding the petulant tone of my voice. "Move out of the way."
She stepped away a little, and I walked ahead. "Sesshomaru-sama?" She called after me. "Thank you."
A small smile tugged at my lips. "Hnn." I continued walking without another glance lest she saw the smile on my face.
Word Count: 2860
Prompt: The Soundtrack Challenge – Fallin'
Sunset Miko's Once A Week Challenge – Letter