Crossover Fan Fiction / InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ The Journey to the City of Endless Night ❯ Chapter Seventy-Seven ( Chapter 77 )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]

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Chapter Seventy-Seven
 
A chilling howl filled the darkness, shattering the quiet. Sesshomaru tensed, holding Rin closer. He scanned the surroundings, trying to pinpoint their direction. There was another in response, closer by. Sesshomaru growled softly, furious that he hadn't noticed their approach. He listened to decipher what their calls meant.
 
The baying continued, alarming the Demon Lord. He could distinctly make out the words 'weak,' 'half-breed,' and 'captured,' amongst their howls. Opening his ears further, Sesshomaru could hear shouts from camp. They were under attack, and his brother had clearly been the target. He turned his focus back upon the baying. These were those vile Hounds, of that he was certain. In their calls, Sesshomaru picked upon a new word that chilled his blood: sacrifice.
 
How could he have been so naïve? How could he think that his brother would e safe on this, his most vulnerable of nights? Sesshomaru should have insisted upon protecting Inuyasha. After the Grolims had used the hanyou's very mind against him, it should be no surprise that they would physically attack him. No matter the protests or resistance, the Demon Lord should have demanded that he stay with Inuyasha. Now, he had to hope that he would not be too late.
 
There was a problem, however. Sesshomaru couldn't take time to find the wolf-woman to watch over Rin. He also couldn't bring the little girl with him, either. The Grolims were also after Rin. That meant Sesshomaru had to leave Rin behind to fend for herself or stay and risk his brother being sacrificed. He couldn't allow them to sacrifice his brother, and the more triumphant their howls became, the more apparent it was they were about to do just that. The Demon Lord had no choice. He had to stop them.
 
Sesshomaru looked down at the little girl resting in his lap. He kissed her temple, hugging her fiercely. How could he leave her undefended? It terrified him to think they were luring him out so they could harm Rin. There was a chance that they hadn't captured his brother, that it was a ruse. Yet, Sesshomaru knew he couldn't take that gamble with Inuyasha's life. Could he, though, with Rin's?
 
The baying became louder and exultant, making the decision for Sesshomaru. He had to risk that the Hounds were bluffing on the chance that they were not. If he hesitated any longer, it might be too late. With reluctance, the Demon Lord nudged Rin awake.
 
“Sesshomaru-sama?” Rin asked, her voice groggy.
 
“Listen carefully, Rin,” Sesshomaru answered, brushing his nose against her ear. “This Sesshomaru must attend to something. Go in the tent and stay there until he returns.”
 
The Hounds ominous howls echoed through the clearing again, and Rin's frame tensed. The little girl nodded. “Yes, Sesshomaru-sama.”
 
The Demon Lord nuzzled her hair, inhaling her scent. He sighed. “This Sesshomaru will return with the kit.”
 
“Okay.” The little girl eased from his lap. She turned, giving him a chaste kiss on the cheek. She whispered, “Stay safe, Sesshomaru-sama.”
 
Sesshomaru watched Rin disappear into the tent. He turned, crossing to the little boy's tent. He heard silence from inside, indicating that the kit was asleep or keeping quiet in hopes to remain hidden. The Demon Lord had to give him credit. The boy certainly knew when to hide away.
 
Sesshomaru called, his voice even, “Boy.”
 
An alert fox kit poked his head out, his frame trembling slightly. He whispered, his voice cracking, “Yes, Sesshomaru-sensei?”
 
It hadn't escaped Sesshomaru's attention that the boy had forgotten to bow. Under the circumstances, he would forgive the slight transgression. The Demon Lord turned his back on the boy and said, “Come.”
 
They returned to his tent, the little boy scampering behind him. His eyes darted frantically around his surroundings, and he kept very low to the ground. Perhaps the kit wasn't as untrained as he had thought. Sesshomaru tilted his head towards the tent, silently commanding the boy to enter. He scrambled inside without argument.
 
Sesshomaru entered, kneeling next to Rin. He rested his palm on Rin's cheek, brushing his thumb against her jawline. Silently, he asked, “Will you be safe while this Sesshomaru attends to something?”
 
Yes, Sesshomaru-sama.” Rin brushed her fingertips across his cheek stripes. “Rin will make a barrier.”
 
Do you think you can cover the boy with it as well?” The Demon Lord frowned, concerned about Rin overextending herself.
 
Rin thinks so.”
 
Don't let it down until this Sesshomaru returns.” Sesshomaru pulled her to his chest, hugging her tight. He kissed her temple. “Stay safe.”
 
Rin will.”
 
Sesshomaru turned his gaze towards the kit. “Boy, you will stay in this tent until this Sesshomaru returns. Is this clear?”
 
The little boy nodded, his face pale and his eyes wide in fright. “Y-yes, Sesshomaru-sensei.”
 
Stepping out of the tent, Sesshomaru watched in fascination. It took on a blue sheen before a small sphere encompassed it. It awed the Demon Lord that the little girl could do such a thing. Since Tetsusaiga could not break it, Sesshomaru felt slightly better about leaving her behind. As he had done before, he rested his palm on it, feeling it repulse him. Hopefully, he was making the right decision.
 
This Sesshomaru will return.”
 
Rin will be waiting.”
 
Gritting his teeth, the Demon Lord turned away from the tent. He raised his head and inhaled deeply. He could smell the Hounds on the outskirts of their camp. Narrowing the scents assaulting his nose, Sesshomaru caught the faint, tell-tale scent that was his brother in human form. It drifted towards him from the east, and Sesshomaru broke into a sprint, heading in its direction.
 
More haunting baying filled the darkness, urging the Demon Lord onwards. He pressed forward, desperate to reach Inuyasha. The howls grew closer and more frequent. The Hounds barked, taunting Sesshomaru. It became apparent that they were surrounding him. Sesshomaru halted, scanning the trees. He could scent at least a dozen distinct animals. If they dared to stand in his way, they would meet their demise. He assumed a battle stance, ready to defend from any attack. He was no fool. This was an obvious delay tactic.
 
A hulking Hound lunged from the brush, its massive fangs bared. It snarled at him, foam dripping from them. The over-sized dog tried to knock Sesshomaru to the ground, so they could swarm him. He waited until the foolish Hound was nearly upon him before darting away. In one swift motion, the Demon Lord pulled Tokijin and sliced the Chandim's hamstring. It yelped in agony and crumpled to the dirt.
 
The other Chandim warily circled, their green eyes blazing in the darkness. One stalked forward, its hackles raised. It growled low in its throat, its malevolent gaze connecting with Sesshomaru's. The Hound barked, the sound mocking. “You're too late, demon dog. The half-breed's heart is probably burning in offering to Kal Torak by now.”
 
Sesshomaru narrowed his eyes, re-sheathing Tokijin at his side. There was no scent of burning flesh in the air. They were stalling him. Sesshomaru snorted, training his eyes on the circling Hounds. He wouldn't justify their taunt with a response.
 
The Chandim continued, its mouth chewing on its words, “The half-breed had to be punished for slaughtering our brothers. How fortunate for us that he becomes mortal this night.”
 
The Demon Lord held his hand at his side, focusing energy into his fingertips. He knew these taunts were to distract him. There would be a signal and then they would attack. Sesshomaru remained silent, not allowing them to irk him. He suspected they wanted him to lose his temper. If they could provoke him first, they could overwhelm him with their numbers. In this fight, defense would be his best offense.
 
The Hounds circled closer, growling menacingly. The pack-leader sat down on its haunches, eyes focused on Sesshomaru. Its lips curled back in a twisted smile. “It seems appropriate that our human brothers get the privilege to cut the half-breed's human heart from his chest while we Hounds get the pleasure of exterminating you, demon dog.”
 
These Hounds appeared canine and they worked in packs, but they certainly did not think like dogs. By now, they should have attacked. Dogs displayed dominance by action, not through verbal taunts. The Chandim had miscalculated if they thought these puerile remarks would rouse his ire. He may have appeared humanoid, but he certainly thought like a canine. Sesshomaru surmised that they lacked the instincts he relied upon, especially in battle.
 
Sesshomaru kept his energy concentrated in his fingertips. He was becoming impatient. Their stalling grew tiresome, and Inuyasha was running out of time. The Demon Lord muttered, “Foolishness.”
 
“It is unfortunate, however, that the half-breed's sire will miss his divine punishment.” The Hound barked again, the sound more like a dark chuckle.
 
“This Sesshomaru is not his sire.”
 
“It matters not. He will die, as will you, demon dog.” A twisted grin crossed the dog's grotesque face. “It is time we return you to your master. I'm sure the King of Hell has been waiting for your return.”
 
“This Sesshomaru has no master but himself.” Sesshomaru snorted. This conversation was pointless. He narrowed his eyes, the only physical manifestation of his ire. The Demon Lord continued, his tone icy, “Any demon, particularly a Demon Lord who does have a master, does not deserve the title.”
 
The Hound chuckled again, his mocking barks raspy. “You have a master, Demon Lord. She's an unusual one, but the little girl is your master none the less.”
 
Sesshomaru clenched his teeth. How dare they bring Rin into this discussion. He was not her master and she was not his. They did not know about the nature of their relationship. He did not have to explain or define their relationship. How dare they infer such a thing about the two of them. It was insulting. He suppressed a growl, not wanting them to know that they had struck a nerve. He glared at the alpha Hound, not dignifying the taunt with a response.
 
“You do not deny it.” The Chandim snorted. “That is because you cannot, isn't it? How fitting that a demon dog would have a little girl as master. Unfit to have a true master, you have to settle for a human child.”
 
“You presume too much about this Sesshomaru.” The Demon Lord squared his shoulders and rose to his full height. He continued, his voice cold, “Even if he did have a master, as you insist, he would not continue to follow them after they suffered such a disgraceful defeat---as you have done.”
 
The alpha Hound growled, the sound frustrated. It stood and paced, its long tail swishing behind it in irritation. “Your arrival into our world has been nothing but trouble. Our Master would have never allowed you or Naraku to exist here. Once we remove you and that vile half-demon, we can focus on Naraku.”
 
Sesshomaru snorted. He glared at the Chandim pack-leader, contempt in his eyes. If they thought they could provoke him, he would use their weapon against them. The Demon Lord replied coolly, “Your Master is dead.”
 
“No matter,” the Hound rasped. “Once we eliminate Naraku, we can return our focus to bringing our Master back. He will then seek retribution against the Godslayer and claim this world as his own.”
 
“As this Sesshomaru understands it, your Master was nothing more than a mistake.”
 
“How dare you, vile demon. You shall pay for that.”
 
The Hound alpha barked sharply, and as a pack, they rushed Sesshomaru. Instead of dodging, the Demon Lord raised his hand, unleashing his whip. He spun on one foot, lashing the massive dogs. They yelped and howled in agony as his whip sliced through them. It deflected any attack the Hounds may have landed.
 
Once he stopped, Sesshomaru found that he had severely maimed or killed all of the Chandim. Those that had died had reverted back to their human form. He could hear whimpers from the few remaining alive. The Demon Lord scented death from their shredded bodies and knew that he had mortally wounded them. For wasting his time and their insolence, he sprayed poison on the few that were dying, intensifying their suffering. Turning on his heel, Sesshomaru stalked away from the carnage he had just wrought.
 
Continuing into the trees, the Demon Lord ignored the sounds of battle coming from camp. His single focus was to find his brother. Sesshomaru sniffed the air, catching the distinctive stamp of fear in Inuyasha's scent. He was alive, then, and the Hounds had not succeeded in delaying him long enough.
 
The trees blurred as Sesshomaru picked up speed. Even though he had been slowed, the Demon Lord still had time. He ducked branches and wove around trees, pushing himself further. Sesshomaru followed his little brother's scent, not needing anything else to track him. He knew he had to be close, as Inuyasha's scent had become stronger.
 
In the darkness, baleful chanting filled the glen. The Demon Lord slowed and stopped on the distant outskirts of the clearing. He spied the glow of a small fire. He had to be close, now. As they were Grolims, and he knew they may know sorcery, Sesshomaru had to press forward carefully.
 
As he crept closer, the Demon Lord realized the Grolims holding his brother captive were not human. He stood down wind from them, and the breeze carried their scent strongly. It was nearly identical to the Hounds of Torak he had slain. They were Chandim---and even more dangerous. Sesshomaru recalled the old sorcerer stating something about some of the Hounds reverting back to human form. Even so, they were certainly no longer human now.
 
The cadence of their chants grew louder, and Sesshomaru heard faintly but quite clearly, “Thy heart is pure on this night, vile half-demon. Thy blood shall flow upon this altar to satisfy our Lord and King, the almighty Torak, in retribution for killing our brothers. We were told that thou wouldst be the perfect sacrifice on this night, when the evil demon taint within faded and thy humanity emerged. Tonight, thy heart shalt burn sweetly in tribute to our divine Master. Our justice is swift and righteous, and thy sins unforgivable. Prepare thyself to perish and prepare thy soul to meet holy Torak. In his hands thy final judgment rests.”
 
Before Sesshomaru could launch an attack, he heard the high whistle of an arrow cut through the air. Unfortunately, he was too far away, the spike in Inuyasha's fear too strong, and their hideous brazier too overpowering to identify the archer. He could hear the Chandim demanding to know who had fired it. He could also hear the gurgles of a dying man. Sesshomaru wondered why they hadn't shot more arrows. It seemed unusual as they had the advantage over the Chandim.
 
Slowly, a bright light emanated from the clearing. The Demon Lord had to shield his eyes, its brilliance intense. He could feel the hairs at the back of his neck stand on end as the spiritual energy flowed over him. It was overwhelming, and he could not recall ever encountering such a strong display of sacred power. He knew exactly who had fired that arrow: Kagome.
 
It crackled, electrifying the air. The waves of the miko's power rippled through the thicket, making Sesshomaru feel slightly uneasy. The more it brushed against him, the more agitated he became. He had seen Kagome use her power in the past, but never had she unleashed it quite like this. The Demon Lord felt a need to distance himself, and took a few steps back, until her surge of power became tolerable.
 
Its light set the night sky on fire in rosy hues, shimmering in the distance. It seemed to swell, obscuring the trees. Sesshomaru had to squint, its acuteness sharpening. It was like a beacon in the inky darkness. The Demon Lord felt compelled to stare, enthralled. It was an impressive and raw display of power, the likes he had never encountered in a spiritual person before. The little miko was certainly a force to be reckoned with.
 
The Demon Lord could hear agonized screams from the clearing. Her power must affect them. Had she managed to purify them? What of Inuyasha? Would it affect him? Sesshomaru could not hear his brother cry out, so perhaps Kagome's spiritual energy hadn't had any adverse effects on the half-breed. Maybe it was due to his humanity on this night.
 
Slowly, the radiant light faded and darkness reclaimed the night. The Demon Lord hesitated in continuing, still uneasy. While the light had disappeared, Sesshomaru could still feel the remains of her power. He felt a dull ache in his chest, and he leaned against a tree to catch his breath. He felt light-headed and slightly nauseous. Usually he could ignore any effects spiritual power might have, but not at this level of concentration. It vibrated through him, and a low monotonous hum filled his ears.
 
Sesshomaru shook his head, trying to recover. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He clenched his fist, the tips of his claws digging into his palm. The Demon Lord grit his teeth, allowing the final tremors to flow through him. A mild headache settled into his temples and Sesshomaru sighed, willing himself to ignore it.
 
The Demon Lord cautiously advanced. Despite Kagome's shot, he had to discern for himself that his brother and the miko were alright. Sesshomaru couldn't detect any other pockets of Grolims, but that didn't mean they weren't out there. He listened intently, but couldn't hear any Hounds or Grolims. Scanning the darkness, his sharp eyes were unable to detect anything out of the ordinary.
 
In the distance, Sesshomaru heard faint cursing. As he continued his approach, he made out his brother's angry whisper. Inuyasha snarled, “Fucking asshole. Bastard. You could have gotten her killed, you worthless moron.”
 
Sesshomaru quirked an eyebrow and hesitated. Was the half-breed berating himself in the third person? The Demon Lord snorted and muttered, “Interesting.”
 
“No, you ass-licker. You could have let them sacrifice me if it meant that my mate didn't get placed into danger,” the half-demon hissed. Inuyasha snorted and growled. “Necessary my ass. You stupid prick. I don't give a fuck what you need. She's my mate and you deliberately put her in danger. You're just damn lucky I don't know where the fuck you are or I'd kick the living shit out of you, you fuck-face.”
 
The Demon Lord frowned. Inuyasha wasn't arguing with himself. He was fighting with someone else. Since Kagome wasn't a part of the dialogue, he had to assume that her enormous display of power had exhausted her. Sesshomaru knew that meant she must have been rendered unconscious. So, who was the half-breed rebuking?
 
“I'll talk to you anyway I want, fucker,” Inuyasha snarled. “You never said anything about tasks or Kagome's involvement, you son of a bitch. You just told me that the fucking Grolims were coming and that I should alert camp. You set me up, bastard.”
 
Sesshomaru narrowed his eyes, concerned. This had to be that invisible entity his brother had argued with during the fight with the worthless wolf. While the Demon Lord found eavesdropping distasteful, he knew this was perhaps his only chance to observe his brother interacting with it. He needed to know what the nature of this being was. Obviously, Inuyasha was furious with it, but why? What did it want with him?
 
“Trust you? Why should I trust you, you fucker?” Inuyasha growled softly, the sound not as deep in his human throat. “Not in any danger, asshole? They almost cut my heart out, you prick. I'd have to say it's fairly obvious that you have no fucking clue about what you're doing, dickhead.”
 
There seemed to be a slight pause, and Sesshomaru wondered if they were finished. He was about to step closer when he heard Inuyasha snarl.
 
“You're damn lucky they didn't pick Kagome, mother fucker. I hope your opposite pisses in your eye. How dare you gamble with my mate's life this way. I don't give a fuck about your tasks. I don't want to be a part of whatever fucked up agenda you have. Not if you play with Kagome's life that way.”
 
The Demon Lord's eyebrows rose. This entity had an opposite? What agenda did this one have? It had placed his brother in danger on purpose. Sesshomaru seethed inside. He didn't like this unknown being having any influence on their lives. He hated not knowing what it wanted. Who else was it using?
 
“Don't have a fucking choice? I have all the choice in the world, cocksucker,” Inuyasha hissed.
 
Sesshomaru shook his head. The only refreshing thing was hearing Inuyasha insult someone else. Sometimes, the Demon Lord thought his little brother reserved his best verbal venom for him especially. It was nice to know that the half-breed hadn't lost his bark. Lately, his little brother's sharp tongue had lost its edge concerning him. As much as it irked Sesshomaru when Inuyasha insulted him, he did enjoy bickering with the half-demon sometimes.
 
“You can shove your rewards up your ass. I don't need them.” Inuyasha growled softly, the sound frustrated. “I've been just fine on my own without you, you asinine jackass. I hope you fucking choke on your stupid shitty agenda. I'll have nothing to do with it.”
 
Rewards? What had this being promised to his brother? Just what was its agenda and what did it want Inuyasha to do? Sesshomaru frowned, concerned. He didn't like the idea that this entity was leading him on with these supposed rewards.
 
“Fuck you. I'm glad I frustrate you, you ass.” Inuyasha snarled, the sound enraged. “You good for nothing asshole. Fuckhead. Cocksucker. Just fuck off you son of a bitch. You don't know what you're talking about, you mother fucking piece of shit. I'll defeat Naraku without you, fuck-face.”
 
Sesshomaru sighed. He know that the argument had finished. Whenever his brother degenerated into a swearing tirade, it was usually because he had lost. At this point, it was pretty clear that the Demon Lord knew he wouldn't learn anything more about this strange entity. It was time to reveal himself to Inuyasha.
 
Carefully, Sesshomaru approached. There was an eerie blue glow in the clearing his brother and the miko resided. What was it? He knew the miko's power did not emanate blue.
 
The Demon Lord stopped when he got a clear view of Inuyasha and Kagome. There, he saw Inuyasha clutch the miko in one arm and a blue untransformed Tetsusaiga in the other. Around them was a small blue barrier, not unlike Rin's. How was this possible? The sword wasn't supposed to respond when the half-breed was human.
 
Stepping closer, Sesshomaru became enthralled. It flared on his approach, repelling him. It fascinated him that his father's fang had created this. He wondered how strong the barrier was. When had the blade picked up this ability? The Demon Lord moved closer, reaching out to touch it.
 
Suddenly, Sesshomaru felt the cold metal of Tetsusaiga's blade against the column of his throat. He stiffened, his gaze connecting with his brother's dark one. Inuyasha blinked, then squinted, almost as if he saw through the Demon Lord. Sesshomaru realized the half-breed had absolutely no night vision as a human. That meant he had gotten Tetsusaiga at the Demon Lord's throat on instinct alone.
 
“Who's there?” Inuyasha asked, blinking again. His grip on Tetsusaiga was steady. It no longer shimmered blue, reverting back to its original state. “Answer me.”
 
“It is this Sesshomaru, little brother.”
 
“How do I know that you're not some Grolim pretending to be my brother?” Inuyasha's voice quavered, revealing his anxiety. He slid Tetsusaiga up Sesshomaru's throat until it rested under his chin. “How do I know you're not here to sacrifice me or my mate?”
 
Sesshomaru tilted his head up, feeling Tetsusaiga's point dig in slightly. “Do not be foolish, half-breed.”
 
“What, you couldn't cut my heart out as a Grolim so you choose to impersonate my brother to do it that way instead? Is that it, fucker?” Inuyasha chuckled bitterly. “Don't you know the jackass would have just ripped it out without hesitating? If he wanted me dead, I'd be dead.”
 
Sesshomaru's eyes narrowed. “Do not presume to know this Sesshomaru's mind so thoroughly, half-breed.”
 
“That's a pretty good imitation, you fucking Grolim, but I'm still not buying it.” Inuyasha snorted and a sneer crossed his face. “That the best you can do? The jackass has much better insults, believe me. Let's hear the best you've got.”
 
“You're being preposterous, little brother. Furthermore, this Sesshomaru will not entertain such childishness.”
 
Sesshomaru observed that Inuyasha's frame had tensed, his hands sliding up his sword's hilt, choking it. His legs noticeably trembled and his breathing became heavy. He shivered several times, the cold affected his nude form noticeably. Inuyasha blinked then made his eyes wide, allowing Sesshomaru to see the whites of them. He could tell that his brother's instincts demanded that he bolt. If not for Kagome, the Demon Lord was certain that Inuyasha would have done just that.
 
“What? You afraid?” Inuyasha goaded. “Don't have the balls to even try, do you? Try pathetic. He likes that insult.”
 
Sesshomaru scowled. This was Inuyasha's way of verifying his identity. It disturbed him that his brother would associate him by his sharp tongue above all his other traits. He supposed that it shouldn't have surprised him, considering their stormy past. The Demon Lord had hoped that their relationship had evolved in his brother's eyes to be something less tumultuous. He certainly had---enough to consider Inuyasha an invaluable ally.
 
“This Sesshomaru refuses to indulge in this foolish verbal swordplay.” Sesshomaru wrinkled his nose at the stench of fear in his brother's scent. It was overpowering, like a wet blanket that smothered everything else.
 
“Can't think of anything, prick? Need help?” Inuyasha's eyes took on a wild cast as he looked around, almost as if he were certain that he'd be attacked at any moment. “How about weak? Stupid. Worthless. Come on, fucker. Insult me already.”
 
“This Sesshomaru will not.”
 
“Why not?” Inuyasha's voice became pleading. “Fine. I'll do it for you. Useless. Half-breed. Fool. Incompetent. Any of these sound familiar? Need to hear more examples?”
 
“Enough.” Sesshomaru gripped Tetsusaiga's blade, pulling it away from his throat. “This Sesshomaru has heard enough and will not tolerate any more of your poisonous self-hatred. It is destructive and beneath you, little brother.”
 
Inuyasha flinched, trying to pull the sword away. His voice cracked as he said, “Fine. Just sacrifice me already, fucker. Do whatever it is you're going to do to me, you piece of shit Grolim. Just leave my mate alone.”
 
“This Sesshomaru does not attack the defenseless.” He firmed his grip on Tetsusaiga.
 
The half-demon turned human bristled. “I am not defenseless, asshole.”
 
“This Sesshomaru begs to differ.” He pulled on the sword, pulling Inuyasha closer.
 
Inuyasha let go of Tetsusaiga's hilt and fell back on his backside with a grunt. “Fucker.”
 
Sesshomaru gripped Tetsusaiga's blade tightly in his fist, staring down at Inuyasha. The half-demon turned mortal looked up at him, his dark eyes wild with terror. The Demon Lord saw defeat extinguish the fire in them. Glancing at Tetsusaiga, an idea dawned upon Sesshomaru. He knew that his brother had been stripped of his senses, but perhaps there was another way to prove himself to Inuyasha.
 
“If you cannot trust your own eyes or ears or this Sesshomaru's integrity, little brother, perhaps you will trust this.”
 
Sesshomaru flipped the sword over, gripping the hilt tightly. The Demon Lord grit his teeth as Tetsusaiga's barrier burned his palm, but did not let go. It crackled, sending sparks into the darkness. Sesshomaru felt a jolt run up his arm the longer he held on, as if the barrier had grown stronger. He turned the fang in his grip and stabbed it into the ground before finally letting go.
 
“S-Sesshomaru?” Inuyasha asked, his voice uncertain.
 
“Yes. Do you believe that this Sesshomaru is truly who he says he is, little brother?”
 
Inuyasha pushed himself to stand. He pulled Tetsusaiga from the ground, holding it to his forehead. He whispered, “Yes.” He lifted his head and looked towards Sesshomaru, still unseeing. A wry smile crossed his face. “Thanks to Tetsusaiga. One of those Grolim fuckers wrenched it from my grip to throw it and the barrier never affected them.”
 
“That does not surprise this Sesshomaru.” He pursed his lips, looking at the fang. “This Sesshomaru is curious, however. When did it start making a physical barrier around you, little brother?”
 
His brother frowned, his brows furrowing. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
 
“Earlier, before you realized that this Sesshomaru was here, Tetsusaiga was a deep blue. It formed a barrier around you that was not unlike Rin's.”
 
“It did?” Inuyasha ran a finger across the blade, examining it. He shrugged. “I didn't even notice it. Maybe it's another effect from when Garion and I crossed swords.”
 
“Perhaps.”
 
A momentary silence settled between them. Sesshomaru glanced behind Inuyasha, seeing that Kagome remained unconscious. He focused back on Inuyasha when the half-demon turned human shifted. His little brother bit his lip, his dark hair falling into his face. Sesshomaru quirked an eyebrow, wondering what might be bothering him now.
 
Inuyasha whispered, “Why did you come to try and save me tonight?”
 
“Because you're the only brother this Sesshomaru will ever have,” Sesshomaru replied.
 
Inuyasha's head jerked up, his expression shocked. “Do you mean that?”
 
“Yes.” Sesshomaru stepped closer. “Did you not say that to this Sesshomaru once before?”
 
“You remember that?” Inuyasha asked softly.
 
“Of course this Sesshomaru does. It was on your last mortal night.” The Demon Lord paused. It was after you did the same for this Sesshomaru when the sorcerers were fighting.”
 
Inuyasha turned, rooting in the underbrush for his clothes. He cursed under his breath as he stumbled. He rustled the branches and parted some bushes while he looked. With his back turned, Inuyasha paused in his search. He whispered softly, “Thank-you for remembering, brother.”
 
Sesshomaru gasped at his brother's candidness. Inuyasha's openness on his human night amazed him. It seemed to be the one night when his gruff exterior melted to reveal the underlying vulnerabilities within. His brother was his most unguarded not just physically but emotionally. It was a window into his brother's true self and he felt privileged to be allowed in.
 
The Demon Lord glanced around, looking for his brother's discarded clothing. He crossed to a tree, pulling it free from the low lying branches. Sesshomaru returned to Inuyasha and pushed them towards him. He felt Inuyasha grip and take them. Sesshomaru pursed his lips as he watched his brother struggle into his clothes. He asked, “Little brother, when you thought this Sesshomaru to be a Grolim, why did you insist upon being insulted?”
 
Inuyasha adjusted his haori's collar. He looked up and replied crisply, “Because you've always been right about me. I am weak.”
 
“No. This Sesshomaru was wrong.” Sesshomaru stepped closer. “You are not weak, little brother.”
 
Inuyasha chuckled darkly. “But I am. I couldn't protect myself let alone my mate tonight.”
 
“We've had this conversation before, Inuyasha,” Sesshomaru replied firmly. “This Sesshomaru will not tolerate you berating yourself. It serves us no purpose.”
 
“But it is true.” Inuyasha sighed, the sound resigned. “If those Grolims had gone after Kagome instead, there's nothing I could have done to stop it.”
 
“It is possible that not even this Sesshomaru could have stopped them,” Sesshomaru whispered. “They have powers this Sesshomaru does not quite yet understand.”
 
“Maybe, but that doesn't change the facts.” Inuyasha turned his back. “I failed my mate tonight.”
 
“No, Inuyasha.” Sesshomaru moved to stand next to his brother. “It is not weakness to have your mate protect you as she has done tonight. It is what mates do for one another.”
 
“It should have never come to it. I protect Kagome. She should never have to do the same for me.”
 
“Don't be ridiculous, Inuyasha.” Sesshomaru sighed. “It is how this Sesshomaru's very own mother met her demise: protecting our father. It is expected of mates to protect each other.”
 
Inuyasha whirled, facing his brother. His eyes were wide and he sputtered momentarily. “Y-your mother died protecting our father?”
 
“It is what this Sesshomaru has said.” He looked up towards the small patch of stars peeking through the trees. “There is no shame in being protected by one's mate. It is an honor.”
 
“It still shouldn't have been necessary tonight.”
 
“But it was.” Sesshomaru glanced towards Inuyasha from the corner of his eye. “You should be proud of your mate, little brother.”
 
Inuyasha laughed softly and knelt down next to Kagome. “I am. She certainly purified the shit out of those Grolims.”
 
“That she did.” Sesshomaru looked in the direction of camp. “Come. We should return to camp.”
 
Inuyasha eased Kagome into his arms. The little miko made a sound of protest but did not stir. His brother slowly stood, cradling his mate to his chest. “Alright, but you're going to have to lead me. I lost track of camp's direction when those fucking Grolims dragged me out here.”
 
“This Sesshomaru assumed as much.”
 
The progression towards camp was slow. There was several low branches and thick underbrush to navigate. Sesshomaru led Inuyasha by voice, knowing his brother could not see in the moonless darkness. The Demon Lord held the branches out of Inuyasha's way, allowing him to pass. The small thicket seemed immense at the slow crawl they were proceeding.
 
They passed the clearing where Sesshomaru had encountered the Hounds. Inuyasha stumbled, bumping into Sesshomaru's back when the Demon Lord stopped short. His brother cursed softly. Sesshomaru ignored his brother's complaints as he made certain that the Chandim were truly dead. The clearing reeked of death and silence greeted his sensitive ears.
 
“Why did we stop?” Inuyasha asked, adjusting Kagome in his arms.
 
“This Sesshomaru wanted to be certain.”
 
“Of what?”
 
“That the wretched Hounds of Torak that this Sesshomaru had exterminated earlier were indeed dead.”
 
“Hounds?”
 
“They foolishly delayed this Sesshomaru and were duly punished.” Sesshomaru glared down at the Chandim and snorted disdainfully. “Stand back, little brother.”
 
Inuyasha stepped back, cradling Kagome closer to his chest. “If you say so, jackass.”
 
Sesshomaru narrowed his eyes in ire. These Hounds had wasted his time. He wanted to inflict further damage even though he knew that they were already dead. Extending his hand, palm outward, the Demon Lord sprayed a profuse amount of his venom, coating the corpses scattered throughout the clearing. He heard the distinctive hiss as flesh and bone melted. Satisfied that he had exacted the right amount of retribution, Sesshomaru turned his back.
 
“Let us continue, little brother.”
 
They spotted the fires of camp in the distance. Shouts could be heard followed by the clang of swords meeting violently. It was evident that the battle that had consumed camp continued. The Demon Lord held up his hand, signaling to Inuyasha that he should stop. They would have to approach carefully. Sesshomaru heard a mild explosion and felt electricity in the air. Grolims were still around.
 
Cautiously, they advanced, using the trees as cover. Sesshomaru spotted the Godslayer across from them, engaged in a sword fight with a foot solider. Quickly, the sandy-haired king disarmed his opponent, his expression grim. He turned his giant blade in his grip, the blue fire engulfing it. The foot pad reached underneath his chain mail, attempting to pull a hidden weapon. He stood no chance as the Godslayer deftly and cleanly sliced him in half with a brutal downward stroke.
 
Glancing around, the Demon Lord noticed that there were no other adversaries near the Godslayer. Stepping into the clearing, Sesshomaru approached, leading Inuyasha towards him. It would be his best protection for his brother and the miko. The sober-faced king nodded his acknowledgment. He lowered his sword, but did not extinguish its blue flame.
 
Sesshomaru looked towards Inuyasha. “Stay here with the Godslayer, little brother. This Sesshomaru must retrieve Rin.”
 
“Alright.” Inuyasha nodded. He knelt down on the ground, holding Kagome in his lap. He said softly, “Be careful, brother.”
 
“This Sesshomaru will.”
 
Circling back towards his tent, Sesshomaru felt anxiety curl through him. He passed the little boy's tent and stepped towards his own. He stopped when it came into sight. It seemed to be undisturbed, as it was when he left. As he neared, however, he noticed that the sheen from Rin's barrier was absent.
 
Sesshomaru frowned as he neared. He reached out to touch her barrier only to find it missing. Why would the little girl disobey him? He scented the air, knowing the wolf-woman hadn't come. He parted the tent flaps and peered inside. Panic flooded him when he saw only the fox kit but no Rin.
 
“Boy,” Sesshomaru said, his voice tight.
 
The little boy sat, staring ahead at some unseen point. He did not respond or react. His stillness unnerved the Demon Lord. If he hadn't heard the kit's soft breath, he might have thought him to be dead. Reaching out, Sesshomaru shook him, receiving no reaction.
 
“Boy,” Sesshomaru tried again. “Answer this Sesshomaru. Where is Rin?”
 
The boy's head bobbled but his eyes remained glassy. He didn't speak. He didn't look towards Sesshomaru. It was as if the kit was asleep with his eyes open. It disturbed the Demon Lord. Pulling back, Sesshomaru knew that trying to restore the boy was futile. He backed out of the tent and glanced around, trying to spot the little girl.
 
He called out, “Rin!”
 
There was no answer and her scent was fading from the area. The Demon Lord pressed into the trees, trying to locate her. He clenched his fist, trying to control the absolute panic flooding through him. The Grolims had indeed used his brother to lure him away from Rin. He just hoped that he would not be too late a second time.
 
“Rin!” Sesshomaru called out louder, hoping she would hear him.
 
Upon receiving no answer, Sesshomaru snarled in frustration. He felt his chest tighten and he took a deep breath, trying to keep himself from howling. He had to remain calm if he had any hope to find the little girl. Sesshomaru lifted his head, sniffing. He picked up her scent and headed in that direction.
 
The Demon Lord called out, this time with his mind in hopes that she could hear him this way, “Rin!”
 
A cold feeling flooded him, elevating his anxiety. It felt as if he had hit a wall when he called out to Rin within their telepathic link. Perhaps she was too far away? Maybe she was unconscious? He pressed forward, hoping that he could contact her. The Demon Lord pushed branches out of his way, continuing into the grove.
 
Rin!” Sesshomaru called a bit louder. “Answer this Sesshomaru!”
 
Again, it felt as if he had been cut off from the little girl. In fact, something seemed to push back against him. A fresh wave of panic flooded Sesshomaru. He knew that something had happened now. First, the little boy's eerie vacant stare and now this. It was even more important to find Rin than ever.
 
Sesshomaru continued shouting, “Rin! It's this Sesshomaru!”
 
As he pressed further into the grove, Sesshomaru followed Rin's scent. It seemed to go in a straight line which was unusual. Given the darkness and the little girl's night vision, it didn't make sense. It felt wrong to Sesshomaru and he did not like its implications. It was clear now that someone had deliberately led Rin away from their tent. What did they want with her? Had they led her to a second altar to sacrifice her instead?
 
Rin!” Sesshomaru called out again. “Where are you!”
 
Sesshomaru stopped, taking another deep breath. He had to push his own panic aside to read her scent. Thankfully, there wasn't any fear in it. He hoped that meant that the little girl was safe. The Demon Lord hoped, even if it was unlikely, that Rin had ended up with the wolf-woman.
 
Clenching his hand into a tight fist, Sesshomaru silently cursed himself. He knew he should have taken Rin with him when he had gone to rescue Inuyasha. He could have protected her. At least if she had been with him, he would know where she is. Sesshomaru knew he shouldn't have let her remain behind with only her barrier as protection. It would be his fault if anything happened to her.
 
The Demon Lord continued, following Rin's scent into the trees. He called out again, “Rin! Answer this Sesshomaru!”
 
Again, there seemed to be a physical barrier preventing him from reaching the little girl. Desperation filled the Demon Lord as his panic continued to rise. Beyond her scent, he didn't know how far away she was. He couldn't determine any other scent with her. The little girl had come out here alone. Why?
 
In his mind, Sesshomaru imagined the grisly image of Rin naked upon one of the awful Grolim altars. He envisioned her terror. The Grolims would loom over her before they cut her heart out. It chilled him to think they had forced her out here to execute her in cold blood.
 
Rin! Can you hear this Sesshomaru?” The Demon Lord looked around, trying to see if he could spot the little girl anywhere.
 
Pushing deeper into the thicket Sesshomaru followed his only lead. Rin had passed through here no more than a half an hour ago, her scent strong. He increased his pace, hoping that he was getting closer. The grove was eerily silent around him and the urgency to find her only increased.
 
Rin! Please answer this Sesshomaru!”
 
Abruptly, the little girl's scent stopped. Sesshomaru sniffed frantically, trying to locate the trail. It was as if Rin had vanished into thin air. Sesshomaru's breathing became heavy and he felt a fresh wave of panic overwhelm his senses. What rationality he had left shattered and he sunk to his knees, uncertain of where to search next.
 
“Rin!” Sesshomaru shouted aloud. He looked around, hoping to see the little girl. The Demon Lord, in his desperation, cried out as loud as he could with his mind, “Rin! Answer this Sesshomaru if you are alright!”
 
An owl ghosted in on silent wings and landed a few feet away. It shimmered into the form of the wolf-woman. She carefully approached. Poledra whispered softly, “One heard you calling for Rin.”
 
Sesshomaru ignored her, staring up at the stars. He called again, “Rin!”
 
“We will find her. I promise,” Poledra said, kneeling next to him. “Rin translocated from here. We just have to find out which way.”
 
Sesshomaru glanced towards the wolf-woman from the corner of his eye. How could they find her if they couldn't reach her? In the pit of his stomach, Sesshomaru felt dread. One more time, with his last shred of hope, the Demon Lord cried out, “Rin!”

Chapter 76
Chapter 78
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