Tales of the Crimson Cloak begin about a month after the funeral. Initially, Sesshomaru suspects his brother. The half-breed has never shown a shred of decorum before. It would make sense for him to be masquerading behind a false death report and his fire rat robe.
Their estrangement aside, Sesshomaru is glad for the rumors surfacing in court. Inuyasha may have been ignorant and foolish but he was still a member of the Taisho line and that made him pack.
As the weeks proceed, more stories leak in through the palace walls. Numerous sightings of the Crimson Cloak confirm the faceless vigilante in the forest is not a swordsman but an archer. Sesshomaru’s hope fades. His brother was never patient enough to master the bow.
But if he is truly gone, where is Tetsusaiga?
And who is beneath the hood?
These are questions that he ponders often. His routine is monotonous, giving him ample opportunities to consider the rising folk hero. Sesshomaru has to admit; he is envious of the Crimson Cloak’s freedom.
He longs for the days when he could wander through the unclaimed wilderness, a vagabond of no consequence to the mountains or sky. Those glorious days are behind him. As the only male heir to the Taisho line, Sesshomaru is bound by duty, caged by his obligation.
Between reviewing scrolls in his study and attending council meetings, Sesshomaru’s mind drifts over possible culprits, each as unlikely as the next.
The first is Inuyasha’s mate. She is a cold woman, though skilled with a bow. He believes her to be the crusading archer until word arrives at the palace that she met her end beside his brother.
His next consideration is a demon slayer. They are a rare group, nearly extinct these days but their versatility with weapons is impressive. Sesshomaru is aware of only two survivors in the slayer clan— a brother and sister. His scouts report that they were last seen traveling with a monk near Osaka. The most recent sighting of the Crimson Cloak was less than a mile from the palace. It cannot be either of them.
His last option is the elderly healer. Kaede is a tough human, forged from a difficult period and hardened by time. Sesshomaru has never asked her age and he never will. She is the one mortal who has earned his respect. He will not tarnish her opinion of him in search of useless facts.
Though strong, he has never seen the woman pick up her bow. Kaede had the weapon from her former life, one that she left behind when she agreed to come work with Lord Touga, Sesshomaru’s father. She has been at the Taisho’s disposal ever since and not once has Sesshomaru ever seen her handle a bow. Even if she could, he doubts she possesses the swiftness of the Crimson Cloak.
No, the hooded hero is someone younger and sprier than the aged mortal. He only wishes he knew who it was.
He continues to ruminate over possibilities as he spars. The early morning hours are reserved for training. None of his guards can match his prowess with a blade nor can they predict his movements. He is swift. He is agile.
He is tired.
It has been hours. The sun is now rising over the Western Palace, casting an orange hue over the terra-cotta tiled roof. After several sleepless nights, exhaustion begins to take a toll on him.
Stepping up onto the porch, Sesshomaru calls to his attendant, “Kagura.”
She is always near, awaiting his instruction. The demoness approaches and bows. “Yes, my lord?”
“I require a massage,” he tells her. “I would like to undo these knots before my meeting with the council. Have someone sent to my chambers. I expect them there before I return from the bathhouse.”
“Of course, Lord Sesshomaru.” She bows again and departs with her orders.
He ventures across the courtyard to the hot springs. The natural element is enclosed and gated for his privacy.
Sesshomaru shucks off his boots and strips free of his many layers.
Sinking beneath the scalding water eases some of the tension from his body. Losing his father was a blow. He had not expected to feel the same in regards to his brother. They had rarely seen eye to eye.
For many years, Sesshomaru viewed Inuyasha as an insolent pup. He acted rashly, more concerned with brute force than strategy. Sesshomaru never understood why their father had gifted Tetusaiga to Inuyasha. A blade with so much power should have been bestowed onto his firstborn.
The sword was the source of their disagreement. It had driven them apart; Inuyasha departed for Edo and Sesshomaru remained at the castle.
Though they had not spoken since that fateful argument, Sesshomaru followed the hanyou’s progression through the observations of his scouts. For years, his half-brother did as Sesshomaru expected— nothing remarkable or noteworthy. It was not until Inuyasha demonstrated maturity by taking a stand against Naraku that Sesshomaru regained an interest in his brother's movements.
The spider hanyou is the cause of Inuyasha’s untimely death and the demise of his mate. Like the others who have opposed him, Naraku ended their lives. Sesshomaru wonders if he possesses the sacred sword now. Is that why the Crimson Cloak keeps attacking him? Does the vigilante seek revenge?
Sesshomaru stares at the swirls of steam rising off the water’s surface. The tendrils dance above the edge for a moment before vanishing. They are impossible to capture just like the answer to this mystery.
He finishes cleaning his skin of sweat. Wrapped in a fresh towel, Sesshomaru exits the bathhouse to return to his chambers.
As he nears the room, there is a crash and a muttered curse.
He slams the sliding door open to reveal a girl on her hands and knees hurrying to gather up the shards of a broken vase. Her blue eyes go wide when she takes him in.
“Apologies, my lord. I do not possess grace.”
Sesshomaru does not recognize her as one of Kagura’s usual servants. He has allowed the demoness to select her staff because he knew she prized poise, discretion, and beauty. This girl only possesses one of those traits.
“Who are you?” he demands.
She bows. “Kagome, my lord. I work in the kitchens with Kaede.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Kagura requested assistance with cleaning,” the girl explains, keeping her head lowered.
Sesshomaru regards her long, ebony hair and her smooth skin which is the color of cream. There is a touch of sun to her cheekbones and calluses on her fingers, traits she has likely earned from hours laboring outside. Her scent is insignificant. It is a mixture of the kitchens, the laundry, and the servants' quarters. There is nothing noteworthy.
He does not recall Kaede mentioning a new addition to the staff but she seems able-bodied. It’s all he can ask for from a human servant.
“Clean that up and then arrange the table for my massage,” he commands.
The girl nods silently.
Her steps are almost inaudible as she moves about the room. Sesshomaru watches her, surprised she can maneuver in such a manner. Admittedly, the girl is accident-prone, though, from the looks of it, she appears as elegant as a dancer.
“Where are you from?” he questions.
“The East,” she replies.
He frowns at her ambiguous answer. She does not take notice. Her head is inclined forward so far that her chin nearly touches her collarbone.
“How did you come by this position?”
“Kaede offered me the role because of my talent with herbs,” the girl informs him.
“You are a trained healer?”
“No, my lord. I am merely skilled at finding the correct plants to produce effective remedies,” she says.
“That is a favorable quality,” Sesshomaru remarks. “Has Kaede offered to teach you?”
The girl nods. “Yes, and I am eager to learn.”
“What have you studied thus far?”
Another obscure response. She is practiced at avoidance. Sesshomaru wonders if her aversion to a conversation is because he intimidates her or because she is hiding something. He can scent fear but is unable to deduce the cause.
As she finishes dressing the table for his treatment, he traps her. The girl stills, pinned between him and the bench.
“Have you studied the stimulation of pressure points and the method of rebalancing energy?” he asks.
“I— I have, yes, my lord.”
“Then you will show me what you’ve learned,” Sesshomaru demands.
He hears her heart rate increase and sees the flush of color spreading across her face and neck.
“Is there a problem?”
“No, my lord, of course not,” the girl assures him.
“Good.” He steps back, smirking. When she does not move, Sesshomaru suggests, “You may wish to step outside until I have finished disrobing.”
The coloring of her skin turns scarlet and she scurries out of the room like a frightened rabbit. He chuckles, pleased that he has regained control of the situation.
Once she returns, he will determine her reason for working here and whether or not she will be allowed to continue.
Kagome leans against the wall, one hand on resting her chest and one clawing at the fabric of her skirt. She wants to scream. She wants to cry. She wants to run.
Lord Sesshomaru wasn’t supposed to return to his chambers so quickly. Kagome watched him for two weeks to memorize his daily routine. He’s methodical in how he conducts himself. She’s never seen anything like it.
Kagome knows she had the timing correct. He shouldn’t have been in that room for at least another five minutes.
As soon as she felt his approach, she’d panicked and knocked over a vase to cover her tracks. Sealing her reiki is uncomfortable but necessary if she wants to remain anonymous amongst the demons living here. Kagome has only used her powers a handful of times since Kaede brought her in. Each time, she has made sure to be alone to prevent anyone from noticing. She’s been so careful.
None of that matters now because she’s trapped.
Lord Sesshomaru may not know what Kagome is but he certainly suspects her of something. She swallows nervously. Entering that room is madness, but not entering the room isn’t an option. He has her cornered.
Kagome takes a steady breath. I can do this. I can do this, she chants to herself. There is still much she needs to do, so many things left unresolved that she must make right. Kagome can’t let one arrogant demon lord stop her.
Steeling her nerves, she knocks and masks her emotions. “My lord?”
She slides the door open and slips into the room. Lord Sesshomaru is lying on the table, his head resting on a pair of thick, muscular arms folded in front of him. He is covered with a sheet that leaves little to the imagination.
Kagome feels her resolve weaken. She’s never been this close to a naked man before. Her skin feels hot and itchy like it’s been pulled taut across her bones.
He opens his eyes lazily as she approaches the bench. “You may begin,” he tells her.
Kagome tries desperately not to compare him to the friend she lost, even if his long silver hair and golden eyes make her throat constrict. She reminds herself that they are similar in those two aspects alone. That harrowing thought helps her maintain her composure.
The cabinet behind her holds all of the oils needed for this treatment. Kagome knows them well. She wasn’t dishonest about the fact Kaede has trained her. She only lied about the length of time she has studied. Lord Sesshomaru does not need to know that Kagome has been Kaede’s pupil for nearly all of her life.
He doesn’t need to know anything about her.
She pours a fair amount of oil onto her hands and presses them firmly to his back. The muscles beneath her palms are tight. Kagome balls her hands into fists to knead the strained tissue.
As she works, the demon lord remains impassive. He doesn’t hiss the way others under her ministrations have. He doesn’t move at all. If she wasn’t able to feel his lungs expanding rhythmically, Kagome would worry she rendered him unconscious. There are tension points along the spine that can ease pain or cause it. There are also pressure points that cause paralysis, loss of consciousness, and, in extreme cases, death.
She’s learned to avoid these locations when conducting a massage but when it comes to combat, Kagome leverages all of her knowledge to her advantage. Though anatomy differs between humans and demons, the concept is the same. A solid strike to certain pressure points will render any opponent motionless, at least for a little while.
Kagome considers this as her hands move across the expanse of bare skin. Attacking the lord in his chambers is risky— too risky if she means to stay here. She can’t incapacitate him with force. Maybe if she manages to put him to sleep with a scalp massage. Inuyasha always enjoyed them— something to do with his dog demon side. Kagome can only hope the same can be said of his older brother.
She steps to the front of the table, sliding her hands along his neck toward the base of his skull. Just as her fingertips brush his hair aside, the door opens.
“Lord Sesshomaru, I have come to— What are you doing in here? Get out!” Kagura snarls at her angrily.
Kagome withdraws her hands immediately. She’s only taken one step before a hand clamps around her wrist. Lord Sesshomaru adjusts the sheet around his lower half and sits up. He doesn’t release his grip on her.
“I wish her to stay,” the demon lord tells his attendant.
Kagura’s red eyes harden but her smile remains intact. Kagome knows she will be on the receiving end of a beating tonight. Kagura doesn’t tolerate disobedience. She’s as ruthless as she is manipulative. Kagome wonders if Sesshomaru knows his head of the house is in league with Naraku.
“My lord, there are more skilled girls who could—.”
“She is a healer. Why do you confine her to the kitchens?”
Kagura’s face slips only for a second then she’s grinning demurely at Lord Sesshomaru again. “She hasn’t been properly trained for servicing the court yet, my lord. With the funeral proceedings, there hasn’t been time.”
“So make time,” he insists tersely.
Kagome fights the urge to release her powers in retaliation for the withering glare Kagura gives her.
“As you wish, Lord Sesshomaru,” Kagura says with an obedient bow of her head.
The moment she slides the door shut, Kagome wrenches her wrist out of his hold. “You shouldn’t have done that. It’s not my place to be a healer. I’m better suited for cleaning,” she says, rubbing her arm.
“No,” he returns sharply, standing so he towers over her. “It is not your place to make demands of me. This is my land, my property, my staff. I expect that what I request will be done. That goes for Kagura and you.”
She holds his gaze. It’s a mistake. Servants don’t refute their master’s orders. They accept them. Kagome is annoyed and her patience is wearing thin.
Somehow she manages to keep her voice even when she replies, “Forgive me, Lord Sesshomaru. I assumed you’d desire a more experienced woman.”
His eyes glint as he catches the double meaning of her words. He smirks and she catches a glimpse of his pearly-white fangs. “I believe I said I wanted you.”
Kagome doesn’t let his sultry tone unravel her. If he wants to play this game, she’ll match him turn for turn.
“Then may I suggest lying down on the table?” she prompts.
Lord Sesshomaru pauses to study her face. Kagome isn’t sure what he’s looking for. He must find it because his grin widens and he situates himself beneath the sheet, face down on the table.
Kagome sends a silent prayer to the Kamis that her hands will have the same effect on him as they did his brother.
She starts with featherlight touches along the nape of his neck. Slowly, Kagome increases the pressure and works her way up along the curve to the crown of his head. Her fingers drag languidly through his hair. She alternates between combing the tresses and rubbing soothing circles into his skull.
When she touches his ears, he makes a noise that Kagome can only describe as purring. Inuyasha’s ears were reminiscent of a dog’s. Sesshomaru’s are similar to hers, though longer and pointed at the ends. Kagome starts at his earlobes, gently pinching the flesh between her thumb and forefinger. The purring increases, vibrating through his massive form. She takes this as an indication and continues the process up along the curvature of his ears until she reaches the tips.
Eventually, his breathing evens out and Kagome feels the last bits of tension release. Quiet snores fill the room. Cautiously, she unmasks her powers to inspect the slumbering demon. When she confirms that he is truly asleep, Kagome exhales in relief.
She gazes over her shoulder at the doorway to his bed chambers.
Time to get to work.
Sesshomaru blinks and suddenly it is night. He jerks upright, causing the table to shudder beneath him. Glancing around, he confirms that he is still in his chambers.
That woman, he seethes.
He tears the sheet away from his body and tosses it to the floor. Storming into his bed-chamber, Sesshomaru moves toward his wardrobe to procure fresh garments. His eyes catch the glare of a shiny object in the corner.
Instantly, he is crouching over the token, snatching it up in his clawed hand. They are a string of prayer beads. The necklace is not his but Sesshomaru recognizes it. The jewelry belonged to Inuyasha.
His half-brother’s scent still lingers on the piece as does the smell of Inuyasha’s mate, Kikyo. There is no other trace on them.
Sesshomaru scowls. He does not believe in ghost stories. Even if he did, the dead would not visit him. Someone left these in his room, either by accident or as a taunt. He does not appreciate the idea of either.
He dresses quickly, clenching his jaw as he fastens his robes closed. First, Sesshomaru will track down whoever snuck into his chambers. He will make them beg for death. He does not indulge deception nor does he permit trespassers. His rooms are for his private use. Anyone who enters without an invitation is asking to be punished. Sesshomaru is all too happy to provide some.
Once he takes care of the intruder, Sesshomaru is going to hunt down the girl.
He flings open the porch door just in time to see a shadow dance across the courtyard. His focus latches onto a figure racing across the rooftop.
Sesshomaru leaps into the air, landing soundlessly on the roof several meters behind the red-cloaked figure. He is surprised to see the vigilante within the palace walls.
Until he remembers the beaded necklace.
With a menacing growl, he rushes at the fleeting figure. The red robe billows around the vigilante as he leaps off the ledge, soaring over the outer wall. Sesshomaru swipes at the fabric. His claws tear through it and the figure lands unharmed beneath the tree line.
They pause to glance back at him but only stall for a brief moment before continuing on.
His eyes narrow. He will not be bested.
Sesshomaru pursues the faceless interloper. He locks onto the sound of their labored breaths. No matter how he tries, he cannot pick up on a scent as is if there is none.
He grins. It has been centuries since he met such an intriguing challenge.
The trees blur as his boots hit the ground. The vigilante is fast though not nearly as swift as he is. Within seconds, Sesshomaru is side by side with the Crimson Cloak.
This time, when he attempts to rip the hood away from their face, a burst of pink light blinds him. The power strikes him, burning across his skin like fire. He hisses in pain and collapses on the ground.
The Crimson Cloak halts, shoulders shaking with ragged breath. They observe him from underneath the shadowed veil of the hood, which remains intact.
Sesshomaru reaches for his whip. He did not intend to kill the vigilante but now that they have struck the first blow, he is within his rights to seek retribution. The light of his weapon shines brilliantly in the dark wood. He snaps his wrist, aiming for the Crimson Cloak.
His whip slams up against a barrier. The contrasting energies crackle. Sesshomaru snarls, trying again only to generate the same result. It is not possible. The only thing strong enough to withstand his weapons is reiki. If that were the case that would make the Crimson Cloak a woman— more accurately, a miko.
“Priestess,” he murmurs, withdrawing his whip.
The figure in the fire rat robe does not speak. Doing so would only confirm his assumption. He suspects she is also shielding herself from him. It would explain why he cannot scent her.
She is clever.
He has only come across one other miko in his lifetime. His brother’s mate had been strong but this woman— whoever she is —possesses infinitely greater power.
“I received your offering,” he tells her, holding up his brother’s necklace.
The priestess takes a step toward him then, as if remembering herself, backs away.
He pockets the piece in his robes. “Would you like it returned to you?”
“Drop your shield.”
There is a pulse of reiki. Her power stretches beyond the barrier, rippling over him in waves.
He takes it that her answer is no.
“If you tell me what you were searching for, I may be able to offer assistance,” he suggests.
She shakes her head.
“Then we are at an impasse,” he states.
She nods and turns to continue on her way.
“I will hunt you,” Sesshomaru warns her. "With or without your scent."
The Crimson Cloak does not glance back. The only acknowledgment that she has heard him is the stiffness of her shoulders.
From beyond her barrier, Sesshomaru watches until she vanishes into the forest.