“Oh...” Sango softly groaned as she uneasily shifted on her bed.
The tajiki slowly opened her eyes and blinked in pain as the flickering of a strong flame pierced her weary eyes. The house was empty but for herself as she sat up and looked around. A small fire was burning in the center fire pit and a pot boiled with a wonderful smelling stew.
From her memories she knew the hut to be Kaede’s, but Sango grimaced as she tried to recall where she was and how she had come to this place. The mountain trail, Kilala wrapped tightly in her arms, and the rain falling down as she sought the path to the village. An indescribable pain wrapped around her wrist. All were fragmented and unhelpful.
“Kilala” she called out in a hoarse voice, one distinctly not her own.
“So ye be awake” Kaede suddenly spoke as she came through the flap of the hut. Sango glimpsed another day of rain and storm outside before the door was shut. “Thy friends are out gathering medicine and tracking our visitor.”
“Visitor?” Sango croaked.
“Aye” the old miko said as she settled down by the fire to tend to the stew. “The youkai lord Sesshoumaru was here last night.”
“To fight Inuyasha again, I suppose” Sango softly mused as looked to the door.
Kaede noticed as she idly rubbed her marked wrist, but she remained silent. Outside the storm rumbled far off in the distance, but soon the calm would break and another fury would arrive.
“He wished to speak with thee” Kaede revealed as she carefully watched Sango. The tajiki appeared genuinely shocked as she turned to the old miko in surprise. “Perhaps thee would know why he was here?”
“I...I don’t know” she admitted as she shook her head.
Sango avoided the gaze of her companion as she thought over the new development. Sesshoumaru could not be involved in the affairs of her family, nor would the great lord wish to dirty his hands with the likes of any human. Perhaps something had occurred during her memory lapse, but she could not understand why her mind was so disjointed.
“I’ve been sick?” she asked Kaede.
“Aye” the elder replied, and for the first time Sango noticed her penetrating expression. “How be ye?”
“Just...just a little uncomfortable” she reassured with a smile as false as her words.
Sango felt as if her body were pulling two ways, and the epicenter of the pain were the marks on her wrist. She noticed the glove had either fallen off or been pulled away, and she carefully kept her arm concealed beneath the blankets.
The urge to look at the marks was distracting, but Sango held back the need. As long as Kaede, or any other of her friends, was around, she could not allow herself time to examine the symbols. However, since the covering had disappeared she could hardly doubt her friends had missed the markings.
Sango looked at Kaede with a new sense of suspicion as she shifted uncomfortably in her bed. Surely the old miko, as keen as her sight still was in her age, had not missed the strange designs on her wrist, yet she did not make mention of them. What gain could she obtain from keeping the knowledge hidden and biding her time to coax information from her?
Then Sango’s eyes flashed as she realized something more must have occurred the previous night, something more than the unusual arrival of the youkai lord.
Two could play at this game of information, but she had one final test to prove her suspicions.
“May I have some salve?” Sango suddenly asked of the old miko. Kaede looked troubled for a moment. “My arm is rather sore.”
Kaede glanced down but for a moment at the arm which lay beneath the covers, and then she was over in the corner mixing the correct herbs. The action was brief but enough to confirm Sango’s theory about missing parts of last night’s story.
“I hope I haven’t been too much worry” Sango lamented as she shifted uncomfortably. She could not seem to keep herself still, but she needed to focus as she laid down her pieces. “I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Hush, child” Kaede argued as she shook her head while mixing the bowl. “Ye have not done anything to put shame on thine self.”
“But what if I had hurt someone?” she asked as she looked to the miko.
A single flash, a subtle twitch, actions missed by the less astute but easily caught by Sango. The reference to harm had sprang some reaction by the old woman and she had a piece of the puzzle in her hand.
“Nonsense” Kaede soothed as she walked over with the finished salve. “Ye should place this on your arm when you can, and then rest. Thy friends will not return for a while.”
Another slip, this one unavoidable. Kaede had not ask to place the remedy herself, but had requested Sango perform the task. As old as the miko was, she rarely insisted the patients care for themselves, especially in the weakened position the tajiki found herself in.
Sango surmised the incident had taken place had involved the markings on her arm, and whatever the consequences they had been terrible enough for Kaede to want to avoid touching the patterns. Now that she had gathered enough information to form a decent picture of events, the tajiki now had to play the part of avoiding slips of her own.
Thus Sango took her time with the salve as she waited for the right moment when Kaede would not be looking. Though the miko knew of the marks, the tajiki wanted to make certain she would not see any progression in their conditions, should one occur.
Sango was relieved to see nothing had changed as she quickly removed her arm during an opportune moment. The pictures pulsed on her skin, and she grimaced as the light from the fire reflected off the marks and for a moment she felt blinded. Then she lathered the ointment over the warm skin, but she felt no pain with her touch as she carefully slid the sticky arm back beneath the blanket.
From the way the marks were inflamed, Sango wondered if Miroku had not taken one of his paper seals to the strange symbols. Perhaps the purifying seals had reacted badly to the procedure and side effects had caused the alarm she now glimpsed in Kaede’s eyes.
Whatever had happened last night, however, Sango knew she could not long remain with her friends. She needed to find the cure to relieve her of the markings, and she could not ask her friends to walk the path which was her family’s shame. They trusted her little after last night, their concerns amplified by the appearance of Sesshoumaru demanding her presence.
However, to lift the cursed symbols she would need to return to the source of the troubles; back to her forgotten village.
Sango closed her eyes to block the memories of the dead rising, unable to find peace. The leader of those ghastly shadows had reappeared in her dreams as an actor to the scene of shame. He would surely know more about her obligation to clear her family and village of the dishonor which kept them from eternal slumber.
But first she would have to slip from the alert eyes of the old miko.
Fortunately the gods sought to bless her on the journey as a villager suddenly rushed into the house. He looked disheveled from the storm and his eyes were full of fear.
“Please, old one!” the anxious resident, a man, pleaded. “My son has taken ill from the cold and we cannot abate the fever! You must come immediately!”
“Does thy son shake, even with warm blankets?” Kaede asked in her professional manner as she rose from the fire.
“Yes!” the worried father affirmed. “We have tried everything you have taught us, but still nothing works!”
“Very well” she sighed deeply as she nodded her head. “I will mix the necessary potions and follow to thine home.” The old miko turned to Sango with concern. “Will thee be fine by thine self?”
“They need you more than I” Sango comforted with a smile. “I will take a nap” she informed as she lay back against her blankets.
“Aye, then” Kaede replied as she gave a short bow and left with the distraught parent.
The moment the door had stopped swaying Sango shot straight up and listened for any sounds. She could hear nothing but the howling wind calling wildy around the hut, and swiftly she flung aside the blankets.
With some effort, for she still felt weak, Sango stood to her feet and prepared for her journey. She gathered together food, blankets, and some medicine in case her condition should return. Quickly the young woman strapped the supplies to her back and placed her hiraikotsu on top for easy reach to protect against trouble.
Cautiously Sango knelt at the door and peered out into the shadowed day. Nothing stirred save for the beating trees and bushes which dotted the village. All appeared safe and bundled within their own homes, and she stealthily stepped out into the storm.
Sango winced as a strong gust tried to topple her to her feet. The cold chill held a danger of rain as she quickly pressed on into the woods not far off. She found herself gasping for air as she held constant battle with the wind and for a moment she wished to have her feline companion with her.
However, Sango swore to herself not to embroil anyone else in this private affair, even if Kilala would be furious. With the thought of the lonely trek she pressed on into the trees, thankful for their brief cover as they blocked the wind from tormenting her on the path. The calming atmosphere, unfortunately, proved a boon to the fog as the white wisps wrapped themselves about her legs and hid the far forest from her view.
Sango found the way to be less treacherous than she feared, though, as she made good time. Soon she had left the village far behind and the woods became thicker with brush and fallen logs. She nimbly traveled along under the darkened sky with only her training to guide her in the right direction.
Strangely the tajiki found her pace slowing the further she explored. A sense of foreboding was rising in her chest and she placed her hand over her chest to feel the rapid beating of her heart. Her eyes began to flit from side to side and small noises before and behind startled her keen mind. Her hand itched to grab her hiraikotsu as all her warrior instincts screamed at her that danger was coming.
And then it arrived.
Sango jumped back as something white smoothly dropped down from the trees above. She grabbed her weapon and prepared for battle, but for a moment she was entranced.
Before her raindrops from the damp trees softly fell upon the stranger who stood motionless as a statue. The water glistened off the shining long hair as the fog of the woods provided a backdrop of haunting beauty as the cold eyes settled on her shocked form.
Before her stood the Lord of the Western Lands.
Sango scowled as he beheld her with his disdainful expression. She tightly gripped her boomerang and crouched down into an attack stance as she gritted her teeth in anger.
He stood so perfectly arrogant and silent in his superiority. The tajiki felt her hands shake at the demon who so haughtily stood in her path without care, and she felt a supreme urge to wipe the smirk from his lips. Sango had to control the welling of anger which threatened to engulf her as she spoke to the creature.
“What do you want, Sesshoumaru?” she questioned as she looked defiantly at his own solid stance.
“You will tell this Sesshoumaru what occurred these past few days” he demanded.
The question caught Sango off guard and she felt her ire subside to a manageable level.
“What do you mean?” she asked as her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
He could not have known about her experience at her village. There had been none but the dead.
“You will also tell me how to remove the marks” Sesshoumaru continued without heeding her own inquiries.
“What marks?” she countered as she slowly lowered her hiraikotsu against her better judgement. “What do you want of me, youkai?” she herself demanded.
For a moment Sesshoumaru appeared to be irritated with her lack of answers and a period of indecisiveness crossed his face. Then his cold demeanor returned and he stepped toward the tajiki.
For the first time Sango noticed his left arm had returned.
“But...how?” she asked as she shook her head in amazement.
Her question was ignored as he stopped before her astonished presence and lifted his right hand to pull back the sleeve of his left arm.
Sango’s eyes widened in utter shock as she beheld the marks which had haunted her the past few days.
“What...what is this?” she cried out as she took a step back shaking her head in disbelief. “This...this cannot be!”
“It is, human” Sesshoumaru impatiently stated as he allowed the sleeve to drop into place. The marks vanished beneath the robe as the tajiki stood stunned. “Now tell me what you know about those marks.”
Sango’s anger returned in a flash as she raised the hiraikotsu for defense. She would not let a mere youkai, even one of the lords, order her to give such sensitive information. Not before he had given as much to her.
“You will tell me how you came by those marks” she ordered as she positioned herself on the offensive. “And you will tell me how your arm was returned to you.”
The two stood at an impasse as neither refused to give in to the other’s request. The storm, however, cared little for their battle of patience as the skies overhead became darker and rain threatened to pour forth from the blackened clouds. Lightning crashed and thunder roared as the noise filled the woods with dread.
The wind danced through the trees stronger than before and the fog whipped about the two opponents. For a moment Sango thought the lights from the lightning and the reflection of the fog was playing tricks upon her sight as she beheld the form of Sesshoumaru change slightly.
His robe changed to armor and back again. His hair, flowing free in the wind, was reined in behind his back. His face, so expressionless, melded with another to become a mix of cruelty and kindness.
Then Sango’s sickness struck her as the fatigue from the journey overcame her refusal to give in to the pain. She felt a dizziness envelope herself as she collapsed to her knees upon the damp ground. The tajiki bit her tongue to keep focused, but the pain was of little use as her hands began to shake.
Her enemy moved to stand above her and she could do nothing more than remain conscious. She felt burning tears of shame roll down her cheeks even as the heavens opened to cry with her. The rain poured forth and drenched the land where they stood, both unwilling to bend to the other.
Sango was surprised when the lord bent down and pulled back the sleeve of her right arm. She could not understand how he would know where to look, but his long perusal of her marks infuriated her pride.
“Don’t touch me!” she suddenly spat out as she slapped his hand away. Her eyes were full of fiery as she looked up at the lord. “You have no right!”
“And you have little strength to object” Sesshoumaru countered with little mirth as he stood to his feet.
The once solid ground beneath them began to transform into mud as the rain engulfed the woods. The darkness became as night as the trees vanished into wild fog and flying branches. Nothing was untouched as the two figures were drenched with the tears of nature.
But Sango would not give in. Her family honor, nay, even their souls were at stake in this small, fruitless game she now played with the youkai. She could not afford to waste any more time in these small delays, and so a deal was formed in her mind.
“I will tell you what you want to know” she shouted above the wind. “But only for the information I seek.”
Sesshoumaru appeared to ponder this simple proposal, and found the idea to his liking.
“Very well, human” he agreed. However, his impatience quickly returned as Sango tried, and failed, to stand to her feet. “Stay still” he commanded as beneath them both a white cloud appeared.
Sango had seen his strange transportation prior, but she was surprised to feel the softness which covered its exterior. Before further perusing, however, she felt herself lifted a few inches from the ground and soon they were swiftly moving through the trees.
Even at such a low altitude the wind blew fiercely against the cloud, and Sango found herself holding tightly to what little she could grab. The scenery passed by in a blur of dark colors, but she could make out the path she had taken to and from her village. Then she noted a distinct turn as Sesshoumaru changed the direction to an area outside of the beaten trail.
Sango stiffened as she realized where the lord wished to have their exchange of knowledge.
They were heading toward the stone pillars, the area where she had been attacked by the girl.