The Selection Process by Sereia

Partridge in a Pear Tree

"Don't say or do anything that will embarrass me."

Kagome forced herself not to roll her eyes. Her mistress had repeated this same sentiment multiple times, and it was starting to grate on her nerves.

"I am not a novice anymore, Tsubaki-sensei. I will not do anything unsightly."

"That remains to be seen. You have always had issues holding your tongue."

"Maybe if you'd tell me what this trip was all about, I might be more inclined to—"

Tsubaki whirled around. "You will do nothing. Other than keep your head down and do exactly as I say."

Kagome narrowed her eyes then bowed her head. "I apologize for my outburst, Tsubaki-sensei. My only wish is to serve you in the best possible way."

The older miko stared at her for a moment, then turned back around, continuing down their western path. "If everything goes according to plan, I won't have need of you anymore."

Grinding her teeth together, Kagome forced herself to stay silent. They'd been travelling for days, Tsubaki setting a gruelling pace in order to cover as much ground as possible, without so much as a word as to where they were going.

In the three years that she'd been her apprentice, Tsubaki was never this secretive. Even when it came to things she'd been told in confidence, her mistress had always had a loose tongue.

It was something Kagome had apparently taken for granted because now all she wanted was for Tsubaki to tell her something—anything—about what their current mission was.

She'd been on edge ever since they'd crossed the western border. Kagome had had her fair share of encounters with youkai, but daiyoukai were a completely different breed. They were known for being well trained in multiple ways of combat, and that wasn't even counting their extremely potent youkai abilities.

The creature who ruled the western lands had yet to be defeated in battle.

Even though their paths had never crossed, the rumours about his ruthlessness had travelled far. He was known for gutting a foe simply because they'd been in his way. And he wasn't limited by species either—though most of the deaths seemed to be human.

A stray tree root almost sent her flying to the forest floor, and Kagome rolled her shoulders, refocusing on the path ahead of her. Tsubaki hadn't even glanced back, and Kagome sighed.

It was going to be a long trip.


"I grow tired of this useless tradition."

Inukimi sighed, handing Sesshoumaru another kimono, this one a dark fuchsia, their clan's hexagonal insignia carved in ivory along the sleeves.

"If you had chosen a mate in the last century, we would not be hosting this event," she said, looking for a matching obi. "For a third time."

Sesshoumaru accepted the kimono, but the muscles along his jaw tightened. "My hand will not be forced in this endeavour."

"How do you not enjoy females throwing themselves at your feet while they try to prove their worth?"

"They are not interested in This One. They seek only the title and power that comes from the union."

Inukimi held up a black obi and then one in forest green, trying to decide which one matched the kimono. "Perhaps. But it is you who refuses to see them as anything else."

"And it will continue to be so until this formality is recognized for the farce it is."

Sesshoumaru slipped on the kimono, the luscious silk sliding along his arms as he gazed out the window. He was not against being mated; what made him recoil was having to sit through countless presentations of useless abilities as females competed for the title of Lady of the West.

Every century since he'd come of age was marked with this frivolous event. Females—and their squawking entourages—were housed at the Western Stronghold, and he was forced to endure their company until it was announced that there was no one worthy enough, and they were all sent home.

His claws twitched with the need to escape.

As if reading his mind, his mother tugged on a lock of his hair. "Do not even entertain the idea of running off."

Sesshoumaru bristled, both at being caught and being read so easily. "I am not entertaining anything. That is your role in all of this."

She tugged again, her crimson lips curving up into a knowing smirk. "Lying to your mother, dear son? How low you have sunk."

A low growl escaped his lips as he turned away from her. "Why do you insist on adhering to the council and their useless traditions? I am no less powerful by myself than I am with a mate."

"You forget, my son, that it is the legacy the council is concerned with. Your father was killed before his time, and they are beginning to worry you will follow in his footsteps." She tapped him on the forehead when he whirled around. "I can assure you I have spoken to them about this at length. It is why you have been able to have as much freedom in this as you have."

A slender eyebrow raised, his snarl dying on his lips. The female inuyoukai laughed softly, the melodious sound hidden behind her fan.

"My dear Sesshoumaru, do you truly believe the lords before you were given the freedom to refuse all candidates at the end of this event? Come now. I raised you better than that."

For once, he was at a loss for words. He had thought his mother was as much of a part of this circus as the council, but he'd clearly misjudged her.

"So the reason you have final say in the matter—"

"Is due to the council wishing to retain all of their limbs, yes."

Golden eyes considered her for a moment before taking the obi from her as well, inclining his head slightly as he did so. "Thank you, Mother."

It was her turn to raise an eyebrow, then she scoffed. "You may thank me by actually paying attention to the candidates this time and giving them a chance."

Pale lips pursed, but he nodded again, his pinched expression causing her to laugh as she turned around, her own violet silks whirling around her ankles.

"Take heed, my son. You may come across something you have never seen before this year."


Kagome stared up from the gates to the citadel, her mouth wide with awe. In all her travels, she'd never come across a place like this.

Multiple towers stood in the centre of a large courtyard, connected by sturdy walls and complex bridges. Wide stairs made from stone split the grounds in half, leading up to a set of doors large enough to accommodate someone three times her size.

Colourful stalls filled the right side of the courtyard, youkai of varying species selling products to those wandering around them. Young children clasped the hands of their parents, pointing to their favourite items, their bodies buzzing with anticipation and hope. Kagome's lips curved up into a grin; their excitement was palpable, electricity from their needful cries making her fingers twitch.

It had been a long time since she'd been able to work with children.

Tsubaki didn't like children—would force them away with harsh words when they approached. Her mistress was more concerned with the rewards she could gain in their endeavours. Children had nothing to offer in her eyes.

A small girl crossed Kagome's path, her chestnut hair pulled back into a small ponytail on the side of her head. The bright hue of the yellow flower crown caught Kagome's eye, and it took her a moment to realize the girl was human.

The girl turned to look at Kagome and flashed her a gapped smile, her two front teeth missing.

"I love your crown," Kagome returned her smile. "Are you a princess?"

Brown eyes blinked at her before the child burst into a fit of giggles.

Kagome bowed low. "I assumed as much. Please excuse my lack of manners, oh hime-sama; the gods did not inform me of your presence."

Her giggles only got louder.

"May I rise, hime-sama? I have heard of your greatness and wish to gaze upon your lovely face."

The girl managed to nod between her fits of laughter, and Kagome slowly straightened, still smiling at her. "You are very gracious, hime-sama."

"You're funny! Are you—"

"Rin! What have I told you about speaking to strangers?!" A small, bulbous, toad-like creature waddled up to the girl, a large wooden staff at his side.

"But Jaken, she—"

"No excuses, Rin! You know the rules."

The girl pouted, looking over the creature's shoulder with disappointed eyes. Kagome winked at her, then bowed again.

"Forgive me, hime-sama. I was not aware of your traditions. I beg your forgiveness! Please do not chop off my head." Kagome feigned despair, and the girl giggled again. Her guardian turned around, squinting at her.

"You are not from here. What is your—"

"Don't fall behind!" Tsubaki's bitter tone was like an ice bath, draining the fun and laughter out of the encounter.

"Yes, Tsubaki-sensei." Adjusting her bow, Kagome flashed the girl one last smile. "I hope to see you again, hime-sama." She refrained from patting her head as she walked by, not wanting to get her into any real trouble with her guardian.

Tsubaki was such a killjoy.

She caught up to her mistress, falling into her usual position a few steps behind her as they headed into the central part of the stronghold. Whisps of power fluttered around her, and Kagome straightened her shoulders, clamping down on her own power so she wouldn't be perceived as a threat.

The other miko seemed to be looking for someone, her head whipping around, eyes searching. Kagome wanted to ask, her curiosity bubbling under her skin, but she knew better than to voice anything. Tsubaki still hadn't told her anything, and there appeared to be some sort of royal family residing over the residents of the citadel, so Kagome kept her mouth shut.

She'd learned the hard way that image was everything to the elder miko.

Kagome's sister had pleaded with her to find a different teacher, but Kagome had her reasons for following this woman around.

Personal reasons.

Sighing, she pushed a wayward curl out of her eyes—her ponytail must have come loose again. She hadn't seen Kikyou in over a year now. Perhaps she could convince Tsubaki to travel back to her village when they concluded whatever business her mistress had here.

She could probably get her to agree by lying and telling her a prince was planning to be there at the same time.

They were walking down a corridor now, and Kagome stiffened. While the auras outside had been subtle, brushing against her feet like low tide, the youki inside was stifling. She sucked in a deep breath, trying to calm the sudden roaring of blood between her ears.

There were powerful youkai here.

She'd never felt youki like this before. Reiki curled around her fingertips, the pearlesque light demanding to be unleashed. Clenching her jaw, she forced it back. It wouldn't help anyone to lose control here.

It would be a bloodbath.

An image of the little girl she'd met just a few minutes before flashed through her mind, and she dug her nails into her palms. The pain helped her focus, the urge slowly receding, and she stole a glance at the miko in front of her.

Tsubaki's steps hadn't faltered at all, and Kagome breathed a sigh of relief.

That hasn't happened in a while. I wonder what kind of youkai lives here? She usually had an ironclad grip on her powers. She'd have to be more careful, secretly hoping that their visit would be short.

"This way. We're all meeting in the main hall."

"'We'? Who else is here? You haven't told me—"

Tsubaki silenced her with a look, and Kagome's eyes hardened as she glared back at her mistress.

One day. One day you'll slip up, and I'll have an excuse to wipe that smug look right off your face.

A set of intricately carved doors parted, and Kagome caught a glimpse of a large dog before stepping into the room. A gaggle of females stood in the centre—varying in height, age, and species. She watched Tsubaki square her shoulders before pushing her way through the crowd.

Most of the demonesses got out of the way quickly, hissing at the miko, and Kagome took the opportunity to fall in behind her, almost stepping on the back of Tsubaki's robes.

One didn't move fast enough and was shoved out of the way, the miko ignoring the cry of outrage as the demoness stumbled, an ornate fan clattering to the floor. Kagome picked it up and offered it to her, giving her an apologetic smile before continuing after her mistress as the demoness's ruby gaze bore into her back.

The powerful youki from earlier teased Kagome's senses, and her chest became hot, her reiki trying to answer the call.

She didn't have time to look around, to try and locate the owner of the aura, as Tsubaki had stopped in front of two inuyoukai. Both were clad in expensive silks, with flowing silver hair that shone like stars in the fading sunlight.

Blue eyes widened at the crescent moon on their foreheads.


Kagome's movements were stiff as she stood behind her mistress, her nails digging into her palms again. The two screamed danger, though the female was better at hiding her displeasure than the male. Or maybe she was genuinely amused as her aura reflected her to be.

Keeping her head bowed, Kagome focused on Tsubaki's words.

"Your power and prestige precede you, mighty Sesshoumaru-sama. I am honoured to be in your presence."

The Killing Perfection?

Kagome's eyes widened in recognition. Why were they in the home of a malicious warlord? And why did Tsubaki seem happy to be here?

Although she was addressing the male, it was the female who responded.

"You are most welcome, miko-sama. Though we were told there would only be one of you."

A cold wave of dread slid over Kagome's back, her chest tightening as she clamped down on the power surging inside her.

It wouldn't do any good if she lost control here.

"Forgive me. She is only an apprentice with no real power." Tsubaki bowed again. "I brought her as a gift, my lord. I thought she may be of service to you during the proceedings."

"What?!" Kagome instantly straightened, eyes blazing at the other miko. "You have no right—I'm not a thing to be bartered with!"

"Know your place," Tsubaki hissed.

"I do know my place!" she glowered, refusing to be silenced. "I'm no one's slave!"

The rest of her tirade was cut off by melodic laughter, and Kagome stiffened, suddenly remembering where they were. She slowly turned to the two daiyoukai, incensed but biting her tongue.

Golden eyes gleamed at her over the top of an elaborate fan.

"How entertaining."

Kagome bristled, her aura flaring indignantly as sapphire eyes turned stormy. Spurts of reiki sparked around her fingertips. She wasn't going to attack—didn't want to attack—but the power tied to her heart raged, demanding to be released.

A clawed hand reached out and gripped her chin.

Amber eyes stared down at her, hard and searching. They were the same as the female's, and yet not. Hers were reserved in their power, while his sought to dominate, boring into her soul as he held her captive.

"What are you?"

The cadence of his voice was low and seductive. Or it would've been if not for the malice and venom coating his aura.

Kagome refused to be intimidated.

Tearing herself out of his grasp, she raised her chin challengingly. "Not what, who. My name is Kagome."

A pale eyebrow rose, surprise flashing through his eyes before his features once again smoothed out into indifference. Kagome held his gaze, fed up with being treated like she was dirt under their feet.

Tsubaki treated her like a belligerent child; she refused to take it from some petulant youkai she didn't know.

Regardless of the power rolling off him.

Bracing herself, Kagome opened her mouth, ready to give him a piece of her mind, but was cut off by a soft voice.

"Wisteria-sama, may I please go down to the stables? It's time for Ah-Un's bath."

Kagome started, looking down at the small girl she'd met only minutes before. One of the blooms from her crown slipped loose, landing on the floor between them, and Kagome's face softened. She reached down, kneeling in front of the child.

"Your crown is missing a jewel, hime-sama. May I fix it for you?"

The girl, Rin, turned to her in surprise, her eyes lighting up as she nodded. Kagome placed the flower back in its rightful spot, completing the circle of yellow blossoms once more.

"There you are. Forgive me, hime-sama, I'm not as skilled as you when it comes to crown making."

Rin giggled, and Kagome felt a pang in her chest. The sound was innocent and full of life, bathing her in warmth and safety against the oppressing auras around her.

She wished she could spend more time with the girl.


The girl tore her gaze away, looking up at the youkai Kagome had been about to verbally assault. Instincts bade her to put herself in between the girl and the youkai, but she felt no threat towards Rin, so she forced herself to stay still.

"Sesshoumaru-sama, the miko thinks I'm a princess! She told me so earlier. And she likes my crown!"


Kagome's jaw clenched, but she winked at Rin when their gazes met again.

"This one accepts your offering."

"I told you, I'm not—"

"For only the duration of the event, as a companion for Rin."

She wanted to argue, she really did, but Rin's arms were already around her neck, the girl squealing in delight. Then she was pulled to her feet and led away, Rin chattering on about the strange horse she had in the stables.

Kagome glanced over her shoulder and swore she saw the youkai smirk.

She started listing all the nasty things she could put in his tea.


Inukimi hid her mirth behind her fan as the older miko finally bid them goodbye.

"What an interesting creature."

"Her power is tainted."

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "We both know the incompetent woman masquerading as a being of light is not who I was referring to."


She felt Sesshoumaru's youki reach out, following Rin and her new playmate. He would never admit it aloud, especially in the presence of those seeking to better their station, but her son's protective nature rivalled that of a mother bear with her cubs.

Inukimi found it endearing.

Almost as much as the tiny human herself.

"Rin does not gift her trust to others often."


His eyes narrowed, and he turned away, slipping through the crowd as he avoided those who sought to pull him into forced conversation.

Chuckling to herself, Inukimi sent out her own youki, blinking in surprise as she felt the young miko's reiki curled protectively around her granddaughter.

"A very interesting creature."


INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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