InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity Redux: Vivication ❯ Disappearance ( Chapter 18 )
Saori sat on the stone bench, staring without seeing as the almost hazy afternoon sun soaked into her skin. It was a beautiful day, and yet, it was completely lost on her. The call of the birds, the vivid colors and vibrant crispness in the air, the feeling of life that surrounded her completely bypassed her as an insular thought spun around her brain, unwilling to let go of her, it held her so tightly . . .
Letting out a deep breath that sent her bangs flying upward, she set aside the book she'd borrowed from the prodigious shelf in the expansive library. She'd meant to come out here, to get some fresh air as she read, as she tried to distract herself from the questions that plagued her.
Just where was Fai?
She frowned. She didn't remember much about the afternoon or evening after he'd taken her to visit the distillery. To be honest, she hadn't realized that she could get that drunk. It hadn't happened to her before—at least, not like that. She’d gone out drinking many times with her college friends, with family at times, but that day? She vaguely remembered Ivan, telling her that the vodka that she'd been sampling hadn't yet been processed. Most of it, Ivan had said, was diluted to bring the proof down slightly before bottling.
She did, however, remember waking up somewhere around two in the morning and spending the next hour or so, bent over the toilet, puking, to the point that she actually was rather thankful that Fai wasn't there.
Then she'd spent the rest of the day yesterday, suffering a hangover that convinced her that she was never, ever drinking vodka again. She'd fallen asleep, somewhere around nine last night, and when she'd woken up this morning, she was relieved to find that she felt almost normal again . . .
But that was when she'd realized that she hadn't seen Fai since he'd put her to bed, and she'd gathered the courage to ask Vasili where he was . . .
“Is there something you require?” the old butler asked after Saori had followed him around for a few minutes.
Biding her time, wringing her hands, she had been trying to decide just how to state her question. “Oh, um . . . I just wondered if you knew where Fai-sama is?”
He stopped in the middle of his task of sorting through the day’s correspondence to quirk an eyebrow at her, and it seemed to her that it took him an inordinately long time to answer. “I do not know, Miss.” Then he turned his attention back to his task, summarily dismissing her entirely.
“He . . . He didn’t mention anything to you?” she pressed. “I mean, it’s just that—”
Staring at her through narrowed eyes for a long moment, he managed a very tolerant little smile that reminded her of the kind of expression one would get when dealing with an obstinate child. “If His Grace wished for you to know, I imagine he would have told you,” he replied.
Saori wrinkled her nose, her expression darkening as she scanned the empty landscape once more. She'd gotten no answers, but she could tell that Fai wasn't on the estate.
'Well, it isn't like you really have the right to know where he is all the time,' her youkai-voice pointed out slowly, reasonably.
She knew that. Of course, she did. The knowledge didn't really help her, though. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if Yerik were around at least, but . . .
And Yerik . . . He'd been gone over a week now, and that, too, bothered her. It shouldn't, maybe, but it did. Given that she had nothing at all to distract her, her often-times overactive imagination was working overtime on that front, as well. Sure, Fai had admitted that Yerik was skilled enough to be a hunter. That didn't mean that things couldn't happen, and, considering it was his first real hunt, any number of possibilities crept into her thoughts, too . . .
'Yerik will be fine, and even if he isn't, it really isn't your concern.'
Making a face at her youkai's blunt, if not entirely frank, supposition, Saori's frown darkened. 'He's a friend—well, kind of . . . and he's Fai-sama's brother, so . . .'
'Maybe, but don't forget, you're here to be punished.'
'I know . . .'
'Do you? Anyway, he shouldn't be gone long. At least, I hope not . . .'
Still, she couldn't shake the feeling that Fai just wasn't the type to take off without a word, either, and that, more than anything else, bothered her.
So, where was he . . .?
The sound of blatant throat-clearing drew her attention. Vasili bowed just a little when she finally looked at him. "Your meal is ready," he said, clenching his hands before himself. "If you wish, I can see that you're served on the veranda."
"Oh, uh, thank you," she said, retrieving the book as she rose to her feet. "That would be fine."
"Very well," he said, turning to go.
"Have you . . .? Have you heard from His Grace?" she asked before she could stop herself.
Vasili stopped, turned halfway. She couldn't rightfully interpret the expression on his face, in his eyes. "I have not," he told her. Then he nodded at her once more and started away again.
She sighed, falling into step behind the butler. She didn't think he was lying. She almost wished he were. Then she'd have a reason to be mad at him, at least . . .
"So, you're the fearsome tai-youkai . . . Not much to you, is there?"
Fai said nothing as he slowly regarded the ragged-looking inu-youkai that stood across from him. He was tired, having driven all night to reach the spot where Dominick Mastoyev had demanded that he meet him: an abandoned rock quarry near the Mongolian border. "You issued me a challenge," Fai said, getting right to the point as he crossed his arms over his chest, absently feeling the weight of Kamennyy-Nozh, hanging from the ancient ash wood scabbard on his hip.
Dominick laughed heartily, mud brown hair tossed in the wind. "I will be the tai-youkai," he predicted. "Your experience is nothing compared to mine!"
He'd stood here before—maybe not in this exact spot—but on ground where the air was rife with the stagnant hatred, misplaced pride. It was that same kind of misplaced pride that tended to weaken greater opponents, and Fai knew it well. Standing straight and proud, he waited, his calm an absolute barrier against Dominick's unsettled youki that rippled and surged violently, almost wantonly, in the air around him. "Don't ever let your mind get away from you, Faine. A clear mind is your friend, your confidant. Let it all roll off your back like water in the springtime and retain your calm, always . . ."
Sound advice, that was. It had served Fai well in the years since he'd become tai-youkai.
He'd heard the rumors about this particular youkai. He was strong, they said. He thought that Fai was too young, too wet behind the ears to be an effective leader. He didn't want to effectively bow and grovel before a pup younger than his own children, he'd said. Maybe that was why Fai wasn't entirely surprised when Vasili had handed him the missive that had arrived while he was at the distillery with Saori. It didn't really matter. The end result would have to be the same.
"You think that the fact that you're older than me has any bearing on whether or not I'm a decent tai-youkai? It doesn't," Fai remarked. "It has nothing to do with it, at all."
Dominick snorted indelicately. "You and your ilk! You've all forgotten the old days!" he scoffed. "The office of the tai-youkai was never meant to been a familial thing! It bends to the mightiest! You . . . You're simply caught in the crossfire. It was your bad luck to be handed the title that should have gone to the strongest upon your father's demise. Concede, and you can walk away: disgraced but alive. It's your choice, Your Grace."
"Many others have made the mistake of underestimating me," Fai replied. "Are you sure you want to join their ranks? They're all dead now, you know."
Eyes flashing as the air surrounding him spiked with his rising ire, Dominick shot forward, flicking out his hand, unleashing a volley of wind blades from his claws that Fai neatly avoided by leaning to one side then the other before they could strike him. His hair fluffed out, driven by the gusts of wind as they bypassed him entirely. Uttering a derisive grunt, Dominick drew back, brought his claws down as Fai caught his wrist, spun him away in a fluid motion, knocking him back as Fai pushed away from him, lighting a few feet away.
"Give up, Dominick. You cannot defeat me," Fai said.
"I'll see you dead!" the dog-youkai scoffed, launching himself at Fai once more, the flash of his sword little more than a blur of motion.
Fai drew his sword, grimaced when the blades met, the high-pitched groan ringing in his ears. It was true that Fai wasn't going to win a battle of brute strength against Dominick, but he held his ground easily enough. With a loud grunt, Dominick heaved against his sword, propelling himself back a few feet. Then he spun around, bringing the blade up and forward. Fai knocked it aside and righted his grip on the leather-wrapped hilt of Kamennyy-Nozh.
Unleashing a frustrated growl, Dominick sprang again, hammering down with a rain of blows in rapid succession. Fai countered them all as the reverberations of each one rattled up his arm, straight to his brain, and he gritted his teeth in sheer concentration.
"Not bad, boy," Dominick gnashed out without relenting in the physical onslaught. Eyes glowing with an almost insane kind of light, he laughed maniacally as the blows slammed down, harder and faster.
Smacking Dominick's wrist with the blunt side of his blade, Fai kicked up and out, straight into Dominick's chest, sending him staggering back. Fai flicked his sword in a tight circle to loosen up his wrist.
Righting his stance, his outrage rife in the air, stagnating around him like a blackened pall, Dominick howled, smacking his sword against the earth, unleashing a fissure of fire and flying dirt, straight at him. Fai echoed his movements, and the explosion where the two intercepted each other sent out a flash of light, a wave of dirt and debris as he raised his arms to shield his face.
Dominick shot through the gale. Fai barely had time to react. Spinning to the side to avoid the brunt of the blow, he grimaced when the youkai's claws scraped deep against his cheek. Dominick's laugh echoed around him, an air of primitive gloating, thick and rancid. "First blood!" he hollered, inordinately proud of himself.
Fai wiped his cheek against his shoulder. "A few paltry scratches really aren't grounds for celebration," he pointed out mildly.
"I'm going to enjoy killing you," Dominick spat.
"If you think you can."
The older youkai sprang forward once more. Fai gripped the hilt of his sword in both hands, bore down on it, burying the blade, deep in the earth. The shockwave that reverberated out and away from it were akin to an earthquake as the ripples of his youki shot out of the embedded blade, surging through the ground. Boulders on the rises of the perimeter of the old quarry shifted, tumbled, rolled down, faster and faster, a veritable landslide of pebbles and rock and stone. Dominick barely had time to right his stance as he tried to avoid the projectiles.
He howled when a large boulder smacked into his arm, his shoulder. Sword jarred right out of his grip, he stumbled back, directly into another boulder—not as large as the first—but traveling much faster, and he grunted when it smacked against his back.
Before he could roll over, before he could regain his footing, Fai strode over, turned him over with the toe of his shoe, stepped down hard on the youkai's chest, leveling his sword at his throat. Something about the unfairness of it occurred to him in a vague sort of way. Even so, it wouldn't matter in the end.
"Do you have anything you want to say to me before you die?" Fai asked, his voice calmer, entirely even and completely at odds with the sense of fairness that was eating at him. Cutting someone down like this? It wasn't sitting well with him . . .
Dominick half-groaned, half-laughed. "You think you've won, do you?" he scoffed. "Think again!"
Hopping back, doubling over, Fai shook his head as the handful of dirt flew into his face. He couldn't open his eyes, couldn't see a thing as tears spilled over, as his body furiously worked to rid itself of the debris.
A white-hot pain ignited in his chest as he fell back with a gasp, a grunt. Rolling to his feet, he reacted on instinct, springing out of the way mere breaths before the heavy metal thud of Dominick's sword echoed in the air where he had been.
Shaking his head, forcing his eyes open, Fai couldn't make out anything in the bleariness of his wavering vision. Stretching out his youki, he dodged another round of attacks as blood soaked his shirt, dripped onto the ground. He didn't know where his sword was, but he couldn't have used it, even if he wanted to. All he could do was buy himself a few minutes in hopes that his vision would clear.
"You're a fool!" Dominick spat, his voice sounding entirely triumphant. "Putting trust where you have no business believing . . . It'll be your end."
"What are you saying?" he demanded, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. "What are you babbling about?"
Dominick's laugh was entirely facetious, as bitter as it was full of loathing. "You're boring. I just want you to die!"
Launching himself forward as he bellowed the rest of his words, Dominick closed in fast. Fai couldn't see him, but he could feel him. Focusing his youki, he drew back, knowing that this fight would end here, one way or the other. A sudden flash—stormy grey eyes with just a hint of blue—wavered before him, and he steeled his resolve. ‘Saori . . .’ One of them was not walking away, and he would be damned if that one would be him . . .
Something about the simple thought of her was enough to calm him, to restore the iron-clad conviction of his station. He could feel Dominick's approach. Springing forward, swinging his fist, he felt the flesh give way to his fingers, to his claws. It was only a second, a blink, a breath, and yet, he could feel it all in exquisite and finite detail: the sinew of muscles, tearing under his assault, the squish of tissue, the scrape of shattering bone . . . He felt the crazy-mad thud of Dominick's heart as he wrapped his fist around it, as he squeezed it with everything he had, as the youkai's blood spiraled down his arm, flowed from his elbow in a river of macabre rain. In the ring of his vision, he saw the dilation of Dominick's eyes, the slack-jawed shock as the light in his gaze faded.
He barely had time to close his eyes, to whip his head to the side as Dominick's body exploded in a violent gust of wind and dust and light . . .
Drawing a few labored breaths, Fai blinked as a dull silence fell over the old quarry. The light breeze returned, and slowly, the sounds of birds picked up. Blinking hard as he slowly shifted his gaze at the now-empty area, Fai swallowed hard, shook his arm, sending sprays of blood—mostly Dominick's—misting down.
"Putting trust where you have no business believing . . . It'll be your end."
'What did he . . .? What did he mean . . .?'
There was no answer. Even his youkai-voice remained silent. Glancing down at his torn chest, Fai grimaced. The cut was clean enough and wasn't actually deep, thank God. Dominique's one chance to finish him off, and he'd failed magnificently. His eyes actually hurt more than the paltry cut on his chest, and he let out a deep breath as he set out to locate his sword . . .
It was late.
Fai had no idea what time it was. He didn't actually remember, driving home, for that matter.
By the time he stumbled through the front doors, greeted by Vasili, who informed him that he had a hot bath waiting for him in his chambers, Fai felt close to catatonic, grunting out some terse answer that really didn't mean anything as he followed the butler up the stairs and down the corridor that led to his room.
The fire had been lit on the hearth, his bed was already turned down, waiting for him, along with a glass of vodka on the nightstand. Fai didn't really notice any of it except for the silver dome covered plate on the small table near the windows. He said nothing, but he did grab a slice of black bread, realizing vaguely that he hadn't actually eaten a thing in over two days.
Sure enough, the antique, claw-footed tub situated in the center of Fai's bathroom was full, steam rising off the water in a wholly inviting kind of way. Though he didn't use the bath that often, the soreness in his body welcomed the idea as he wolfed down the bread in two large bites.
"Do you require anything else, Your Grace?" Vasili asked from the doorway.
Glancing over his shoulder as he peeled off the shirt that was sticking to him, he shook his head. "No, Vasili. You're excused for the night."
The butler offered him a low bow before slipping out of the doorway and out of the bedroom beyond.
It didn't take long for Fai to scrub himself down in the shower. With a grimace and an unsolicited groan, he sank into the still-hot water in the tub. Vasili had added some oils and herbs to it, and he closed his eyes, head falling back, as he felt himself relax just a little for the first time in days.
He'd tried not to think too hard about the altercation on the way home. There'd be time enough to hash it over tomorrow. Tonight . . .?
"He ruined your face."
Blinking as he forced his eyes open in time to watch as Yerik wandered into the bathroom, settling on a short stool beside the tub, Fai shrugged. "It'll heal," he muttered, taking the glass of vodka that his brother offered him. "Your hunt?"
"Silenced," he replied. "You should have waited for me."
"There was nothing you could have done, Yerik," Fai replied dryly. "It was a formal challenge."
"Maybe not, but I could have gone with you. You look like hell warmed over."
"It's fine," Fai insisted, draining the vodka and handing the glass back. "It's done, so let it go."
Yerik nodded slowly, stretching out his long legs, crossing his ankles, his heels propped on the floor. "Saori's a bit out of sorts," he ventured a little too casually. "You didn't tell her where you were going." It wasn't a question.
"She was drunk," Fai replied almost defensively. "I took her to the distillery, and she sampled a few too many drinks. Anyway, I didn't have time to wait till she sobered up to tell her, and even then, she didn't need to know."
"Except she isn't stupid. She didn't say, but I guess she knows where you went—in a vague sense, anyway."
"I didn't have a choice, Yerik. It's not like I can pick and choose when I get to be tai-youkai and when I don't."
Yerik nodded. "I realize that," he said. "She was worried—worried. Worried enough that she didn't even ask me where I was or what I was doing."
"She knew where you were," Fai replied. "I told her. Maybe she just didn't care if you got hurt or not. Did you think of that?"
"Well, now, that was mean," Yerik protested with a soft chuckle. "Look, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I'll fill you in on the details of the hunt tomorrow. Fair?"
"Okay," Fai agreed, closing his eyes again.
He felt his brother's retreat more than heard, and that was fine. Letting out a deep breath, he concentrated instead on the feel of the oils and herbs as they soaked into his skin, as they melted away the tension and soreness that had set in during the drive back to the castle.
It occurred to him that he ought to get out of the tub, but he didn't. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a voice that sounded entirely like his mother whispered to him, reminded him that he could very easily drown if he fell asleep in the tub. Too bad it was calm, comfortable, soothing . . .
The feel of hands, rubbing the muscles of his shoulders near his neck, however, drew him out of the lull that he'd slipped into, and he opened his eyes, only to see Saori's face, hovering above him, a thoughtful frown drawing her brows together. Her gaze was fixed on the cuts on his cheek, and he tried to smile for her benefit. It didn't really work.
"Your muscles are really tight," she commented quietly, as though she were afraid of shattering the comfortable silence.
"A little," he allowed. "That . . . feels good . . ."
"Have you cleaned those?" she asked, nodding at his face.
"In the shower," he told her.
She didn't look impressed with his claim. "Do you have a first aid kit? Where is it? I'll clean those for you, and—"
"I don't have one," he told her to forestall the fussing tornado he could feel, gathering around the edges. "It's fine."
"It's not fine," she insisted. "I think I might have seen some little ears while I was exploring the grounds, and—"
"Little ears?" he interrupted.
She blinked and gave a little shrug. "I don't know the proper name," she told him. "I always called it that because it looked just like tiny ears . . ." Waving a hand, she shook her head. "Anyway, if I can find it, I can create a poultice that'll draw out any infection, and—"
"And you're not going out there to find little ears right now. It's the dead of night, and I swear, I'm fine," he told her.
She looked like she wanted to argue with him, but she heaved a sigh designed to let him know just how irritated she really was and kept rubbing his shoulders instead. "He wasn't poison or anything, was he?"
"No, he wasn't," Fai told her, pulling himself up just enough to let her rub the back of his shoulders.
"Keh," she intoned. "You know, I could have gone with you," she pointed out. "I can fight, too . . ."
"It was a challenge, Saori. You couldn't have interfered."
She bit her lip, shook her head. "But you shouldn't have gone alone," she insisted quietly. "What if you get a challenge, and they fight dirty? It's happened before, you know . . . What if they bring along someone else, someone who tries to double team you?"
"Then they forfeit their lives," he responded a little too rationally. "It's part of the job. I cannot pick and choose."
She didn't look any happier about that. "I know what it means," she told him. "I know that you can't ignore a challenge. I know that. I just . . ."
"You don't like it," he finished for her. "I'm sorry."
She blinked, her gaze lightening by degrees. "You . . . are . . .?"
He nodded slowly. "I didn't mean to worry you.
She digested that for a long moment, and then she nodded. "Don't do it again, Fai-sama."
He chuckled then sighed when she found a particularly tight muscle. "I won't, Saori."
Kamennyy-Nozh: Stone Blade; Fai's legacy sword.
== == == == == == == == == ==
M ——— xSerenityx202 ——— Silent Reader ——— Goldeninugoddess
Okmeamithinknow ——— minthegreen ——— TheWonderfulShoe
Nate Grey ——— lovethedogs
Final Thought from Fai:
Wait … Why did I just apologize for doing my job …?
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Vivication): I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga. Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al. I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.