Silence had descended upon the pair, stark and heavy. Neither knew what to do or say or even what had exactly had just occurred. The black pearl still glowed faintly in Inuyasha's hand, and Kagome found herself staring at it as if transfixed.
"…They never found my old man," came the murmur, low and hollow, that roused her from her stupor.
Inuyasha was not looking at her, but at the towering remains of what had apparently once been his father, one of the most powerful daiyoukai in all of Japan. Nor did it seem that he was speaking to her. His eyes were distant, looking back on some memory she could not see.
"What do you mean, never found?" Kagome reiterated, frowning.
He blinked slowly, a bit of the haze of remembrance clearing from his face. He shook his head.
"He wasn't in the court when he died," Inuyasha answered, his gaze lowering to the ground beneath him. "Council told everyone he'd gone out to do an inspection of the northern borders. Everyone figured he'd died trying to put down some of the youkai hordes up there.”
“They sent out a search party, but no one found the body. Everyone knew he was dead, though, 'cuz the feel of his youki had disappeared from around the Heian-kyō."
"Every Tennō does it. Forms a barrier around the court. Like marking territory. Lets everyone know not to screw with your land. Disappears when you die, though," he said.
Kagome cocked her head, frowning as she tried to recall the feeling of the court.
"But I've never sensed a barrier around the court in all the time I have resided there," she said, wondering if perhaps her senses were off.
Inuyasha's frown deepened into a scowl, his gaze darkening.
"I'm only half, remember?" he bit out. "Not enough youki to create one."
"Oh…" Kagome said softly, uncertain what else to say.
"Feh," Inuyasha huffed, his shoulders jerking in a sharp shrug of dismissal. "Doesn't matter."
She bit her lip, certain that it did matter to him a great deal. Still, there would be time later to deal with that issue. For the time being they had much larger, more skeletal problems to deal with.
"Then, if no one was ever able to find your father's body before, how in the world did we happen across it?" she asked, gesturing up at the looming figure.
"The hell if I know," he replied, a hand coming up to scratch at the back of his head. "Can't even remember how we got here."
"Me neither," she said, frowning. "We were at your mother's grave and then…"
She trailed off, unable to recall anything beyond that. She looked to Inuyasha to see if he might be able to supply more.
He had taken the black pearl between two fingers and was studying it intently, a fang peeking over his bottom lip in concentration. He brought it close to his face and sniffed tentatively, brow creasing.
"I think I remember this," he said at last.
"The pearl?" Kagome asked.
He nodded slowly.
"I only saw it a few times, but…I think it belonged to my mother," he said, straining to remember. "When I was really little, I think she showed it to me. She carried it…she carried it in a special pocket inside her robes. And she said… something about how she looked at it when she wanted to feel close to my old man."
"Feel close to?" Kagome echoed thoughtfully. "Well, it was obviously given to her by your father, so…perhaps she meant it literally? It has got your father's youki in it and reacts to your mother's blood. Perhaps…perhaps your father gave it to her so that, if ever she needed him, she could get to him with ease?"
"You mean, if she needed to see my old man, she'd just…what, make a wish on this thing?" the hanyou said incredulously, holding the pearl up to eye it once more.
"Not a wish, maybe. Just…just a desire to be near him, I think. I mean, we were discussing being able to see your father right before…well, right before this," she answered, gesturing to their surroundings.
He was silent for a stretch, considering this. His expression grew heavy, perplexed. She could see some of the childlike confusion creeping back into his eyes.
"It makes sense, doesn't it?" she prodded gently. "He wanted to be near her and she wanted to be near him. The court made things complicated, but that never changed."
His gaze lifted from the pearl to meet hers. There was a frown on his face, but it had none of its usual edge to it. Kagome felt a sharp pang go through her at the sight.
"Then it was me he didn't want," he murmured, his tone an odd mixture of resentment and resignation.
He was on his feet walking and moving towards the skeleton before she could even process
the words. She felt as if she had been struck, her eyes stinging at the raw pain that had been evident in him for just that brief moment.
"Inuyasha…" she called, her voice catching.
He either did not hear her or did not want to hear her. He continued towards the remains.
Kagome bit down punishingly on her lower lip, swallowing back her tears. Silently she berated herself for having pushed too hard.
She had thought that it would be a comfort to him, learning that his father truly had loved his mother despite how it seemed. She had never stopped to consider what that might mean for him, his father never having bothered to try and see him.
She couldn't bring herself to believe that his father hadn't loved him. But she couldn't provide him with any proof that he had, either, and Inuyasha had already lived his entire life believing that the former Tennō wanted nothing to do with him. It only made sense that he would take these new revelations as confirmation of that.
Kagome breathed a deep sigh before climbing to her feet. She jogged after the hanyou, intent on getting him to talk all of it out with her before he came to conclusions all on his own.
"Inuyasha," she called, reaching out to place a hand just above his elbow once he was within reach.
Inuyasha pulled his arm away, not bothering to look at her.
Kagome blinked, her heart sinking. She let her hand fall to her side.
"Just let it go for once, Kagome," he cut in roughly. "It ain't like I had no idea how my old man felt about me. Who'd be proud of having a half-breed for a kid? At least now I know the old bastard wasn't mistreating my mother. So just let it go."
Kagome opened her mouth. Closed it. She had no more to offer him. She bowed her head, trying to swallow back her own sadness for his sake.
"…I'm so sorry, Inuyasha," she managed at last, unable to think of anything else to say to him.
"Let's figure out where the hell we are so we can get back," Inuyasha said, as if he hadn't heard her.
Kagome's eyes darted up to his face.
"But…what about your father's body?" she ventured. "Now that we've finally found him after all these years…"
"It's sat here this long. It can rot here for the rest of eternity for all I care," he said dismissively, turning and striding off in another direction. There was a tall sand dune visible in the distance that he seemed to be heading towards.
Kagome frowned, trailing after him.
"But…can't I at least perform the final rites for him before we go? I would feel terrible just leaving him here like this."
Inuyasha stopped dead, spinning to face her. Kagome came to a stumbling halt just short of running into him.
"Cut it the fuck out, Kagome!" the hanyou barked, with a genuine anger that made her blanch. "Why do you have to poke your fucking nose into everything? I don't need you to try and fucking fix my life! So just back the hell off and deal with your own shit for once, alright?"
She gaped up at him, mortified.
Slowly her face crumpled, tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. Her clenched fists shook slightly at her sides. Inuyasha felt a bit of his ire cool at the sight.
"Do not bother," she hissed, her lower lip trembling with the effort it took to keep from crying. "I understand perfectly now, Inuyasha-sama. I am sorry to have been such a bother."
She swept past him, striding with purpose towards the sand dune. Inuyasha stood looking after her, a sinking feeling in his gut.
Well, if she wanted to be pissed off, fine. As long as she stopped prodding. Kami knew she meant well-she meant well in just about every fucking thing she did-but he didn't need to hear it anymore. So what if his old man hadn't given a shit about him? It wasn't like he hadn't known that his entire life.
A pained cry had him racing towards her before his mind could even process the sound. She was lying on the ground several feet away, unmoving. Inuyasha's stomach lurched sickeningly.
He slid to his knees beside her, slipping a hand beneath her shoulders to help her sit up. She let out a soft groan as he pulled her against his chest, his eyes scanning her body frantically for any sign of injury.
"Ow…" she moaned, brow creasing as her eyes fluttered open to meet his.
"What in the hell happened?" he asked, his heart still pumping erratically at the abrupt scare. Kami, he turned away for one second and…
Kagome lifted her hands to examine them, blinking at them a bit dazedly. The flesh of her palms was an angry red, blisters beginning to form. He took one of her hands carefully in his own, examining the damage. It looked painful, but superficial at worst.
"There's some sort of barrier," Kagome murmured. "I…I didn't sense it at all. I ran into it and…it must be made of some sort of youki…"
She flexed her hands tentatively, wincing as pain lanced through them. The hanyou frowned. He brought one of her hands up, thumb sliding carefully along the edge of the tender flesh. Kagome frowned up at him, a slight flush stealing over the ridges of her cheeks.
"It's not that bad, really," she muttered, trying to take her hand back. He held it fast.
"D'we have any bandages?" he asked, gesturing with his chin towards her pack that he wore slung over one of his shoulders.
"I think so," she said.
He released her hand and set her down carefully on the ground before pulling the pack from his shoulder. Kagome watched him rifle through it, feeling a bit of her previous ire return now that the shock had passed.
"Please do not trouble yourself, Inuyasha-sama," she said stiffly, struggling to stand without using her hands to lever herself up. "It will heal on its own."
A hand on her shoulder forced her back down, and Kagome glared up into his face.
"Calm down, wench, and just let me do this," he ordered, brandishing a small handful of herbs almost just under her nose. "These are the ones for burns, right?"
Her eyes nearly crossed as she attempted to examine the herbs. She frowned, her eyes slanting to meet his.
"How did you know?"
"Smells the same as the ones you used to treat that old lady in the one village we passed through," he answered with a shrug. "Hands."
Kagome's scowl returned. She pulled her hands behind her back defiantly.
"As I have already said, Inuyasha-sama, that will not be necessary."
He returned her glare with one of his own.
"Quit pouting and lemme see your hands," he growled, brandishing one of his hands expectantly.
"No," she said, unable to keep the note of petulance from her voice. “And I am not pouting.”
The hanyou stared hard at her for a long minute. She met his gaze evenly, unmoved. He huffed a sigh of resignation, muttering something under his breath.
"Sorry," he grumbled at last, the word so muffled it took her a moment to understand it.
She stared at him for a few moments, some of the edge draining slowly out of her expression. Releasing a small sigh, she shook her head.
"I didn't mean to pry into your business," she said softly. "I only wanted to help."
She held out one of her hands to him, a peace offering of sorts. He took it, pressing the herbs lightly against her burns.
"My business…is your business," he said lowly, his eyes intent on her hand as he worked. "Kami know you've made it that way since you showed up…and I-I don't completely hate it, I guess."
She blinked up at him, slightly surprised and more than a little touched at the admission. A small smile lit her face, a hand coming up to tug affectionately at one of his forelocks. He gave her an irritated glance before returning his attentions to her hand.
"Are you certain you won’t come to regret saying that?" she teased, unable to resist one last jab.
"I already regret it," he muttered, tying off the bandages on her hand. "Other hand."
She offered up her right hand obediently and watched as he proceeded to treat it with the same level of concentration. The sight of his expression as he worked, brow slightly furrowed and eyes fixed intently on the task, inspired a happiness within her that she could not entirely understand.
He tied off the bandages on her hand and looked up at her. The sight of her smile, glowing and grateful, caught him entirely off guard. He experienced a twinge of some feeling so strong that it was almost pain. He looked away hurriedly.
"The, uh, the barrier…you couldn't break it?" he asked, clearing his throat.
Kagome shook her head.
"It's too powerful for me to handle by myself, especially after I've been expending so much energy on the villages for the past few weeks," she explained, turning her attention back towards the unexpected hindrance. "I would venture to guess that the barrier is the reason no one was able to find your father. I imagine that anything inside the barrier is invisible from the outside and it's difficult to even sense the energy of the barrier if you're not looking for it."
"Why would the old man go to that much trouble to keep his corpse from being found?"
"I don't think it was him," Kagome said slowly, her brow furrowing as she tried to recall. "The energy of the barrier…I only felt it for a moment when I connected, but it did not feel the same as the youki of the black pearl."
"Then some other youkai put up the barrier after he died?" Inuyasha asked incredulously.
Kagome shrugged, shaking her head.
"I suppose so."
Their eyes met, the unspoken 'why' of the matter passing between them. His eyes shifted towards the skeleton that loomed a short distance away.
"Do you know of any youkai who would have wanted to protect the sanctity of your father's body that much?" Kagome asked.
Inuyasha shook his head slowly, gaze lingering over the swords which protruded from various parts of the remains.
"No way," he said. "If they'd been concerned with protecting sanctity or whatever, wouldn't they at least've bothered to clean up the body a little? And why leave him out here? If the youkai was so loyal, why not bring him back to the court?"
"Whoever the hell it was, they didn't want the body to be found," he said firmly. "I don't know much about my old man, but I know he was a tough old bastard. I never understood how a border inspection coulda been the end for him, even if he was alone and caught off guard. But, if someone planned it, it makes sense that they'd wanna hide the body to keep anyone from ever looking into it."
"You believe his death was planned, then?"
"I just don't think taking down a youkai like my old man coulda been a spur of the moment thing. And you said that villager said my old man went after the raiders, right?"
Kagome nodded, watching his face curiously. She could almost see him piecing fragments together in his mind.
"My old man…he died about a month after word came to the court about the raid on the Konoe clan. I always just figured it was a coincidence, but if he really did go after the raiders, who's to say it didn't take him a month to track them down?"
"There were supposed to be several ceremonies held the month after the raids to honor the Konoe clan, presided over by my old man, but all of them were cancelled by the Council. No one in the court knew why. And if he really did sneak outta the court, the Council would've wanted to cover it up."
"He had a reputation for doing whatever the hell he wanted, and the Council always tried to cover it up to keep order. The border inspection always sounded like a load of crap to me, anyway. It ain't exactly the sort of thing the Tennō goes off to do alone, and without anyone knowing about it except the Council."
"Then you think your father was killed by the same raiders who killed your mother?" Kagome asked, frowning as she attempted to follow the line of his thoughts.
"I think the raiders meant to kill my old man and killing my mother was just a way to get at him," the hanyou said, his eyes darkening.
Kagome's eyes widened.
"You…Don't you think that's a lot to assume, Inuyasha?"
The hanyou shook his head. He met her eyes, his own fairly burning as he followed the trail of his own thought like a hound that had caught the scent.
"Like I said, there's no way in hell some band of nobodies just happens to take out the old man. And the Konoe clan, they were a minor clan at best. Their residence couldn't have been that great, and I doubt they had anything there worth goin' through all that trouble to steal. So why them?"
"Unless they knew about how close your mother and father were," Kagome filled in, warming slowly to the idea. "They attacked knowing she was there, and that he would come alone if she were in trouble because the court didn't approve of them. But why the month long gap between their deaths?"
"They would've wanted him as far away from the court as possible-the further he was, the less chance of anyone comin' to help him or seeing the raiders who were trying to off him without attracting any attention. So they spend a month letting him track them as far away from the court as possible," he replied, sounding more and more certain by the moment.
"An ambush," Kagome said thoughtfully. "They drew him out and attacked him when they knew they had the advantage."
Abruptly Inuyasha stood. He proffered a hand to her, gesturing for her to get up.
"C'mon," he said.
She offered up her forearm, avoiding her burned hands, and he pulled her lightly to her feet before starting off toward the bones. She trailed after him.
"Inuyasha, what are we doing?"
"There's something about the body that whoever the hell murdered the old man didn't want anyone to see. We're gonna find it," he replied firmly.
"And you're…alright with that?" she ventured delicately.
He glanced back at her out of the corner of his eye.
"Even if he didn't give a damn about me, he didn't deserve this. It's one thing to die in battle, and another to be murdered in cold blood. And if these really are the same bastards that killed my mother, they deserve everything that's comin' to 'em when I track 'em down," he said darkly.
Silent admiration welled within her. He concealed it alarmingly well, but when it came down to it Inuyasha had more heart than most. She quickened her stride to walk alongside him.
"What are we looking for, then?" she said.
"Hell if I know," he replied.
"Anything and everything it is, then," she returned dryly.
They reached the foot-quite literally-of the towering frame of Inuyasha's father. Kagome bit her lip, craning her head back to look up at it.
"This might prove to be a bit difficult," she murmured, uncertain where to even begin.
Inuyasha knelt down before her, offering up his back.
"Get on," he said. "It'll take forever if you try to do it on your own."
Kagome situated herself on his back, yelping slightly when he stood and hitched her up so that she rested more closely against his back. She gripped his shoulders, her face warming faintly as it always did at the close contact.
"Hold on," he said, scarcely a second before launching them both upward.
Kagome felt her stomach drift upward out of her body, marveling silently at the ease and grace with which he moved beneath her. She bit her lip, fighting to keep from laughing at the sudden thrill.
He alighted on one of the lower ribs after a few leaps, a handful of oversized arrows protruding a few feet away.
Kagome slid down off of his back, balancing carefully as she walked over to examine the arrows.
Proportionally the shafts were much shorter than those of her own arrows. They also appeared to be made out of bamboo, the feathers at the base unfamiliar to her. She knelt down, stretching out a hand to see if she couldn't pry one of the arrows loose to inspect it further.
Inuyasha's hand around her wrist stopped her short. She glanced up at him questioningly.
"It's faint, but it smells like shōki," he said by way of an explanation.
"Shōki…" she murmured to herself, storing that piece of information away. "Well, if they thought ahead enough to coat their arrows in shōki then they must have been expecting a powerful opponent. These arrows…they don't look like any I've ever seen before, either. I've never seen arrows crafted from bamboo."
He frowned, taking this in silently. After a moment he knelt and offered his back once more. Kagome climbed on and they continued onward, making their way up and around the towering figure in leaps and bounds.
They stopped once more near one of the swords that Kagome had observed earlier. It was also exceptionally large, obviously meant to be wielded by a youkai, but that was not the only thing unusual about it.
The blade was double edged, coming to a sharply pointed tip. Admittedly Kagome knew little of swords, but she had never seen its like before in the court. It was as anomalous as the arrows.
The picture etched into the grip of the sword caught her attention, as well. It appeared to be a dragon, hooded and lacking any legs like a serpent. It was carved roughly, with choppy strokes.
Her brow furrowed, some faint memory tugging at the back of her mind. She had seen it before somewhere. She struggled to recall, but the memory danced just beyond her reach.
"I've never seen this kinda blade before," Inuyasha said, confirming her suspicions. "It doesn't look like any of ours."
"The picture carved into the grip looks familiar," Kagome said. "I can't recall where I've seen it before, though."
The hanyou remained a moment longer, staring hard at the sword as if to force it to offer up some sort of answer. At last he shook his head with a huff, launching them upward once more.
The body was littered with the remnants of Inuyasha's father's last fight. Swords and arrows, of the same odd make, protruded everywhere. Deep and numerous scores on the bone bore witness to the strength and number of his enemy. They had attacked in what must have been no less than a swarm, and they had been merciless.
The pair reached the skull without having found much that provided any real answers. The massive jaws of the former Tennō gaped wide, fangs bared as if in one last great howl.
Something glittered in the midst of that gaping maw and Kagome frowned. She squinted, shifting on Inuyasha’s back as she tried to get a better look at whatever it was.
"Inuyasha, do you see that?" she asked, pointing over the hanyou's shoulder. "Inside of his mouth."
Inuyasha moved them a few steps closer, straining his eyes down into the darkness of the gaping cavity.
"What?" he said.
Kagome slid down off of his back, moving in closer to inspect it. Sure enough numerous silk-like threads were intertwined across the opening, glinting faintly in her vision.
"Can't you see them?" she called back to him, one hand reaching out toward the threads. "Right here-"
She gasped, nearly stumbling backwards as light flared through the threads. For just an instant they were illuminated, the spider-web pattern and ghostly spider sitting at the center of it becoming apparent.
Inuyasha was beside her before she could blink, a hand on her back to keep her from falling. He scowled, pushing her back behind him for good measure.
"What the hell is that?" he asked, though he could no longer see the thing.
"Some sort of barrier," Kagome replied, peeking over his shoulder to get a look. "It looked like a spider's web. It's difficult to tell, but it might be made of the same youki as the barrier surrounding this place. Why here, though? If there's already a barrier protecting this place…"
"The back-up plan," Inuyasha replied lowly. "Whatever the hell it was that they didn't want to be found, it's probably down in there."
"I-Inside?" she said, blanching slightly at the thought.
It was one thing to hop about the body like a pair of fleas. It was entirely another to go poking around inside of it. Things were beginning to get a bit sacrilegious for her tastes.
"You think you can break that barrier?" he interrupted her thoughts.
"Yes, I think so," Kagome replied, eyeing the threads. "It's relatively small, and there's not nearly as much youki in it as the barrier surrounding here. But, Inuyasha, is it really alright to…?"
He turned a dry look on her, one dark brow lifted critically.
"We're standin' on a pile of bones, and this is what you flinch at?" he said.
She frowned, her lower lip protruding petulantly. She pushed lightly at one of his arms, trying to move him out of her way.
"Fine, then. Move so that I can break it," she said. "You have to admit it's a bit grotesque, though."
He stood aside and she pulled her bow from its place inside her quiver. She restrung it with a practiced motion and drew an arrow, notching it and leveling it at the place she remembered seeing the spider's outline.
She drew her arm back in a smooth motion, holding for a long moment to focus her energies directly into the tip. She released, the arrow flying true and straight to connect solidly.
The outline of the spider flared once more as her arrow made contact. Sparks flared, crackling between the two as the opposing energies clashed. Kagome blinked, a flash of memory sparking simultaneously.
The arrow pierced, shattering the barrier in a flash of blue light. Both spider and web vanished.
Inuyasha moved forward, intent on entering. Kagome did not follow.
Realizing he stood alone, Inuyasha turned back to order her to hurry up. He paused at the look on her face.
She stood with her bow still held in position, though her arms sagged slightly. Her eyes were unfocused.
"Kagome?" he called.
She blinked, presence returning to her face. Her grey eyes swung up to meet his own, the turbulence of her thoughts lighting them in that strangely mercurial way.
"That spider," she said slowly. "It keeps appearing everywhere. In that little boy, at my village, and now here."
"You sure it's the same one?" he asked.
She shook her head, her gaze sinking.
"The one in the little boy and at my village…I'm certain those two were the same. They had the exact same energy. This one…the youki has been here for years. It's much harder to tell."
"But at the village the spider youkai said something to me. I was dazed and it didn't make any sense at the time, but…I think it may have mentioned your father's death. It was vague, but here's the mark again. Don't you think it's a bit too much of a coincidence?"
Inuyasha's face darkened, the line of his jaw tightening.
"Then the ones who did all this…"
"Are still in the court," Kagome finished grimly. "Whatever they've been planning for all these years, they're not done yet."
"Great," the hanyou growled, just managing to keep from slamming his fist into one of the bones. "Just fucking great! One more thing we've gotta worry about. Can't we catch a fucking break already?"
Kagome sighed, unstringing her bow and sliding it back into its place in her quiver. Silently she shared his frustration, biting the inside of her cheek. Things never seemed to get any easier.
But it wouldn't do to give in to despair, she reminded herself. So she took a deep breath and resituated the quiver on her shoulder, starting towards the hanyou.
"At least we know to be on our guard now," she said. "For now let's just focus on the problem at hand."
She gestured into the darkness before them expectantly. Inuyasha snarled something under his breath, upper lip curling back as he fought the urge to lash out.
He knew she was trying to be practical, but she just didn't seem to get it. It wasn't just that this was one more obstacle to overcome. It was her, too. One more thing to threaten her life. One more thing to test his sanity.
Managing just barely to swallow back his anger, he swung around and squatted down to offer up his back once more.
"Get on," he said, a bit more roughly than he intended.
Kagome frowned, but climbed on without comment.
The hanyou made a small leap, landing nimbly atop one of the massive fangs. Two sets of eyes peered down into the seemingly endless darkness.
"Should we light a torch first?" Kagome asked apprehensively.
"I can see just fine," Inuyasha said, before launching them down into the darkness.
Kagome muffled a shriek, her arms winding tightly around his neck. She couldn't see a thing, not even the hanyou she clung to so tightly. It was a bizarre sensation, falling through absolutely nothing. It felt as if her stomach was trying to escape her body through her throat.
"Inuyasha," she said, uncertain if her own voice would even make a sound in the muffling darkness.
"Huh?" came the reply, reassuring despite its ineloquence.
"Can you see where we'll land?" she asked, peering vainly in the direction she assumed was downwards.
"Yeah, it's comin'. Hold on."
A few moments later she felt the impact, his legs bending beneath her. The normal feeling of pressure, weightiness, returned and she sighed in relief.
Inuyasha squatted down and she slid off of his back, wobbling uncertainly in the darkness. A hand pressed against her back steadied her.
"Hold on," she murmured, raising one of her injured hands above her head.
A little bit of concentration sparked a small ball of blue light in her hand, just enough to dimly illuminate their surroundings. And to throw into sharp relief the face of the hanyou standing a bit too close to her.
He flinched back from the ball of light that had been mere inches from his face.
"Watch it with that thing!" he snapped, a hand coming up to check that his nose wasn't singed.
"Sorry," she murmured. "Didn't realize you were so close."
"Yeah, yeah," he huffed. "Let's just find what we're lookin' for and get the hell out of here, alright?"
She nodded, turning in a slow circle to see if she could spot anything. For the most part there were only solid walls of bone on every side. Her light skimmed over something anomalous for an instant and she paused, turning back.
"Inuyasha, there," she called, pointing towards it.
The bones in one corner seemed to have warped to form an altar of sorts, a raised dais into which was thrust a sword.
Kagome crept closer to examine it. The sword looked rather old, the wrapping on the grip frayed and the blade nicked in various places.
"What is this?" she murmured skeptically to herself, half-turning to see if there was anything else of prominence to be seen.
She caught sight of Inuyasha standing just to her right, his eyes fixed on the dais. His expression was oddly serious.
He cast her a glance out of the corner of his eye, but his gaze quickly returned to the sword.
"It's his sword. The old man's sword," he said.
Kagome blinked, her brow furrowing slightly in disbelief as she turned back to look at it.
"But it's so small," she said, trying to imagine the thing in the hands of the great inuyoukai. It would have been nothing more than a toothpick to him.
"It changed when it was in his hands," the hanyou said, his eyes distant. "It was legendary. Passed down from Tennō to Tennō. The old man had it re-forged outta one of his own fangs when he inherited it. Could slay a hundred youkai with one swing."
There was a sort of reverence in his face that she had never seen there before.
"So it was a mark of the Tennō-sama's right to rule," Kagome said thoughtfully. "And it was lost along with your father."
"Then this is what they didn't want to be found. They weren't only trying to hide the fact that they'd killed your father. They didn't want the sword found, either. You said it's legendary. It would have given too much power to the next ruler," she said, thinking her way through it all aloud.
"Then why didn't they just take the sword?" Inuyasha said. "They coulda had that power for themselves."
She frowned, not having considered that.
"…I don't know," she admitted. "But it's the only thing down here, isn't it?"
"I guess," he replied, glancing at the emptiness around them.
"Then go get it already," she said, gesturing towards the dais.
"The sword. Go get it," Kagome repeated.
"The sword is for full youkai. In my hands it'd be nothing but a hunk of rusted metal," the hanyou protested.
Kagome frowned, sensing something more to it than just that. There was no way something that small would keep him from taking the sword after they had come this far.
"Do you not want your father's sword?" she ventured.
The hanyou's gaze dropped.
"It's not that," he said lowly. "He wouldn't have wanted me to have it."
Her heart sank.
She glanced up at the sword and made a quick decision. She turned and started toward the dais, hopping up onto it and going straight for the sword.
"I refuse to let you leave here without this, Inuyasha," she said stubbornly, wrapping her bandaged hands around the grip. "You are wrong about this. I know your father would have wanted you to have it. I just know it!"
She tugged upward with all of her might, ignoring the burning of her hands. The muscles in her back and arms pulled and strained for long moments, but the sword stuck fast. Her hands slid from the grip and she stood breathing hard, scowling down at the sword.
"Kagome, cut it out! I don't want the fucking sword!" Inuyasha called angrily.
She shook her head, repositioning her throbbing hands around the sword's grip. She planted her feet firmly once more and pulled, straining with all of her might.
Her hands burned terribly, the wounds chafing beneath her bandages. She bit her lip to keep from making a sound, but a slight whimper slipped out.
Hands were on her shoulders almost instantly, tugging her away.
"Would you cut it out, you moron? You're hurting yourself," Inuyasha snapped.
"I…can't get it...out," she panted in return. "It's…stuck."
He groaned, pressing her lightly aside. He hesitated for a moment before stepping up to the sword.
"You want the sword so bad?" he groused. "Fine. Let's get the fucking sword so we can get out of here already."
The moment his hand made contact with the sword's grip there was a palpable pulse of energy, travelling up the length of the blade into the grip and up through his arm. Inuyasha’s entire body began to pulse in time with the blade, like the beating of a heart.
Kagome watched, eyes widening, as the youki of the father flowed up from the blade to wrap around the son as if in an embrace. In turn Inuyasha's own youki was pulled forth to wrap around the blade, sinking into the metal to become a part of it.
She realized as she watched the blade slide easily from the bone in which it was encased that this was why the sword had not been taken. It was meant for Inuyasha. It would be useless to anyone else.
Silence stretched between them as they both gazed at the sword. Inuyasha looked slightly awed, uncertain, the blade in his hand both foreign and familiar. Kagome watched him, wondering if he would see the blade's acceptance of him for what it was-the ultimate sign of his father's approval.
A low hissing interrupted both of their thoughts. Kagome turned this way and that, trying to find the source. The scent of decay caught her nose and her stomach lurched sickeningly at the flash of memory that hit.
"Shōki," she breathed, hardly able to get the word out. "Shōki! It's filling up the room!"
But the hanyou was already at her side, draping his haori over her head and wrapping it tightly about her much smaller frame. The sword was tucked into the tie around his hip and he swung her up into his arms.
"Keep that on," he ordered, launching them upwards as the shōki began to close in around their place on the dais. "I'll get us out of here."
But even as he spoke the poisonous clouds were swirling up around them, billowing in from every level.
"Hold your breath!" he barked, tugging the edge of his haori down over her face. Not before she caught sight of the shōki beginning to eat away at the flesh on his hands and face, though.
She cried out, trying to push at least one hand free of the haori he'd trapped her in so that she could purify some of the poison around him. He held her fast, though, knowing it would melt flesh and bone the moment it made contact with her.
He gritted his teeth, continuing to bound doggedly upward despite the patches of his flesh he could feel melting and bubbling. One glance told him that the poison was beginning to eat away at Kagome’s hakama, tabi, and zori. His heart jerked in his chest, spurring him onward faster than before. He at least had to get her out.
A light appeared, signaling that their exit was just ahead. His feet connected with a rib and one last great push had them sailing out Inu no Taisho's gaping mouth.
He allowed them to plummet downward, falling the length of the body before landing lightly at the foot. An elbow from the thrashing woman in his arms caught him on the chin before he had much time to feel relief.
He scowled, setting her down a safe distance away before whipping the haori off of her head. She blinked for a moment before lunging at him.
Inuyasha braced himself for an attack, but instead her hands settled gently on the sides of his face. He opened his eyes warily and was greeted by the sight of her tearful face, her expression anguished. He winced. He would have preferred the attack.
"Look at you! You're burned all over!" she cried, her hands trailing from his face down to his hands. "Why in the world would you…? I could've at least purified some of it!"
"It would've burned your hand off, idiot," he said, though his words lacked any real force. "I'm hanyou. I can take it. It's healing already, see?"
He held up one of his hands for her to inspect, the flesh at the edges of a hole in his palm already beginning to mend itself.
Kagome stared at the proffered hand for a moment before her face crumpled, frustrated tears flowing even more quickly down her face. She cradled his hand gently between both of her own, her hands shaking slightly.
"Don't you ever do something like that again!" she managed to choke out. "I felt so helpless! I-I thought you were going to die! What would I do…what would I do if you…?"
He gazed down at her, at a loss. It was almost frightening how deeply it seemed to affect her. Something tugged in his chest, his hand moving to touch her damp cheek gingerly. He leaned in to say something, anything, to take that look off of her face.
A resounding crash jolted them both back into the present. Inuyasha only just managed to throw them both clear as a fragment of melted bone came crashing down.
"Kami, Inuyasha, your father's body…" Kagome breathed, her eyes widening.
The shōki was quickly eating through bone and armor, seeping through the cracks and out towards them once more. The once great form of Inu no Taisho was quickly collapsing in on itself.
"No time for that," he said, ignoring a sharp pang in his gut at the sight. "We need to get outta here now."
"I can't break the barrier," Kagome said, eyes wide.
"We’ll figure it out," he growled, snatching her up and making a run for the barrier. The shōki was closing in quickly, rolling from the body in thick clouds.
He set her aside as they reached the barrier, cocking an arm back and slamming his fist into it as hard as he could manage. Not even a spark.
Kagome bit her lip, her gaze shifting from his vain efforts to budge the barrier to the rapidly approaching clouds of poison. She stepped in to cover the hanyou's back, drawing her bow and an arrow from her quiver.
She concentrated on purifying any of the shōki that came near enough to be dangerous to them, realizing with a sinking feeling that she was running low on arrows. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the hanyou still pummeling his fists vainly against the barrier.
"Inuyasha, please hurry! I haven't got many arrows left," she called, firing off another one into a plume of creeping shōki on their left. Three arrows left.
He paused, glancing wildly from the shōki closing in on all sides to the arrows in Kagome's quiver. The barrier wasn't budging, but even his haori wouldn't protect her for long once they were completely immersed in the stuff. He needed to get them through now or she didn't stand a chance.
He dug his claws into one of the wounds in his hands, gratified at the blood that welled up. He soaked his claws in it before leaping up, dragging them down the length of the barrier.
Sparks flared where his claws made contact, the barrier crackling all around him. But it remained solid, immovable.
"One arrow left, Inuyasha!" Kagome called, her voice strung tight. The shōki was creeping in on all sides, mere feet away from her now.
Inuyasha snarled, desperation rising quickly within him. He had to protect her.
A pulse resounded against his hip, echoing throughout his body. It was the rusty old blade again, calling his youki to rise.
Without thought he drew it, gripping it with both hands and raising it before him. The pulsing quickened, a flash of light sliding along the blade.
When the light dimmed the rusted blade was no more. It was a sword bigger in size than himself, worthy of being called his father's fang. It was his sword.
Squaring his feet, he raised the blade over his head. With the force of his desperation, he brought the sword down against the barrier.
For a long moment the sword connected and stuck, sparks flying wildly as its youki fought against the youki of the barrier. Slowly it began to pierce through, sliding downward to cut a narrow opening.
"Kagome!" he yelled. "Go!"
She swung around, making a dash for the opening just as the shōki began to reach her. She nearly tumbled through, Inuyasha diving through just behind her as the barrier sealed itself once more.
They both sat panting and dazed in the midst of the sand that they had emerged upon, waves lapping against the shore in a steady rhythm just feet away from them. The final resting place of Inuyasha's father was invisible once more, for all the world as if it did not even exist.
Kagome felt a sharp pang of sadness, thinking of the way in which Inuyasha's father's body had been desecrated. Silently she vowed to hold her own small ceremony for him once they returned to the court.
She glanced over at the hanyou who had just saved them both. He was staring at the rusted blade in his hands as if he could not quite believe it existed.
"Inuyasha?" she said softly.
He looked up at her, lifting the blade for her to see.
"It transformed for me," he said, as if he needed some sort of confirmation that it had actually happened.
"It's your sword, Inuyasha," she returned with a small smile. "Your father must have meant for you to have it. And you just saved both of our lives with it."
His eyes slid once more along the blade, an incredulous grin tilting up one corner of his mouth.
"Yeah," he said softly. "I guess so."
"Oi! You two!"
They both turned at the sudden call. A middle-aged man carrying a large net slung over his shoulder stood on a sand dune just above where they both sat. His skin was deeply tanned and weathered.
"You look lost," he called, eyeing their clothing. "Need some help?"
"Where are we?" Kagome called back.
The man frowned, the question obviously a strange one.
"You're on Tsushima," he replied. "What, you sail to the wrong island?"
The hanyou and miko exchanged a look.
"We're on an island," she said quietly to him.
"We're on a trade port," he said, his expression darkening rapidly. "My old man was killed on a trade port."
And in that moment they both realized that their problem extended much farther than just Japan.
Another country had been involved in the assassination of the previous Tennō.