Sanctum City by SHORTFRY

Neon Rain

Written for the 2021 SessKag Big Bang. I think I bit off more than I can chew.

I was partnered with Orpheus who created an accompanying fanart, check it out at orpheusunderneath [ d o t ] tumblr [ d o t ] com


Chapter 1 – Neon Rain

The night had been quiet.

At least, relatively quiet for this disreputable part of town. Clouds of opaque black blanketed every crevice of the stifling sky, though not enough to subdue the vivacity of a metropolis stuffed with overpopulation. The cacophony of sounds was a constant drone to the sensitive hearing of a silent observer.

Like an insect forever trapped, it was buzzing. Sibilating.     

It was an itch he could never scratch. Only muzzled, but never silenced. Deliberate suppression had been the remedy and not the cure. Prior attempts to be rid of the incessant noise had been futile, unless the goal had been to become entirely deaf. Such efforts had ceased long ago.

Slanting a glance through the tinted window, another thorn pricked displeased senses of the spectator, eyes narrowing at the inglorious scene.  

Dingy streets were set aglow with contrasting electric blues and bubblegum pinks of endless neon signs. The vibrancy was garishly unnatural, but darkness had still managed to linger like a depraved stalker. A permanent overcast, brushed in shadows. The brightest light source could not chase away the constant overlay.

Not even the gaudy, three-dimensional holograms of colossal proportions. They climbed on every crumbling surface, slathering buildings in digital billboards as high as it could reach and inescapable from every field of vision. Privacy was practically nonexistent as they hunted its prey, mining for information to feast upon herds. They called to an artificial need, a fruitless want. Stripping of cash and souls until nothing remained but a hollow vessel, full of junk.

And yet, there were always more real estate for the endless supply of capitalistic propaganda. Towering superstructures of the downtown core stood side by side as monolithic totems, fading like a spectre into the heavily-coated smog. Never ending, the new Jack and the Beanstalk.

They were gods in the urban backdrop.

A sensitive nose twitched in disdain. The rain would soon fall, the tell-tale odour permeating the air like stinging miasma. What had once been earthy petrichor now reeked of slums and acrid trash – the signature fragrance of what this moralless place had become. A condensation of all failures. No longer cleansing, it became the glue to filth and pollution, coming down in waves of tainted water. It did not wash the streets, only burning away hopes and dreams.

He remembered a time before the concrete jungle had appeared brick by brick. Back before the human populous had exponentiated to the point of near downfall. Before technology of the late 21st century had spring-boarded to plateauing heights, while simultaneously decimating the very land it had been built upon.

Fresh was a fantasy. Nothing was green anymore, every step a graveyard.

But the time had long since passed for anything to be done about it now. Too late to stop what had already been put in motion by the river of greed, fed by the lake of gluttony. The fetid fumes of industrialization had refused to cease, now just a dulling stench to desensitized noses of his kind.

It was all too late to change the past.

A blinking illumination caught the corners of observing eyes, pulling thoughts away from a dismal reality. Turning to the projection screen within the dark vehicle, he checked the time before dimming the display. No need to draw unwanted attention, though barely anyone was out and about on this side of the district. Not at this time of night.

It was a dichotomy that littered the city. For each bustling, thriving area of business and nightlife, there were equal parts – if not double – sights like these; parts hidden in obscurity, illicit activities run by the same megacorporations that dominated the capital with an iron fist. Small businesses had been wiped clean, gobbled up by the ever-growing hunger of these giant syndicates. Governments were nothing more than puppets to these monopolist enterprises. Puppets to assuage the masses into misplaced security.

Trust was a well-timed joke amongst the elite.

Everything was controlled by the few.

He almost sneered at the malfeasance of it all. But dwelling on the immovable would prove pointless. For at this moment, more pressing objectives occupied his mind.  

Patience was beginning to run thin, stretching his skin taut. The case he’d been working on for the past six months had nearly consumed all waking hours, not that much sleep had been needed to begin with. Beings like him scarcely ever required it. But the caseload had been taxing, still. Every lead had led to a dead end.

So for tonight, surrender was given to patience’s rein. The rear entrance of a nondescript building was visible for undisturbed surveillance from his vantage point hidden within a desolate laneway. The din of rowdy night goers and drunken clubbers on the other side of this gritty street were nothing more than white noise fading easily into the background.

Time ticked by slowly, each dying minute a digital flash to signal its end. He waited an hour, and then another, before the large, rusted metal door eventually swung open.


The observer slipped out of the vehicle with ghostly stealth, keeping to the covers of overhanging shadows. A woman had emerged and was now standing along the back wall. Her constant glances along the street indicated to an impending arrival, and suspicions proved accurate when not just a few minutes later, a vehicle sloped, shooting out wind and dust in surrounding directions to slow its descent, coming to a hover just a foot off the ground.

This was one of the few technological advancements that he did not disprove of. Though its size and shape had not changed much over the past century from the antiquated roots of its gas-powered ancestors – the latest models sporting gradually sleeker lines and speedier aerodynamics – its engineering had definitely revolutionized. Electricity had thankfully replaced hydrocarbons as fuel, eliminating the rumble and roar of combustion motors, as well as the migraine-inducing, despicably potent exhaust fumes that came along with it. As a result, nothing but the electric buzz of the propulsion system could be heard as it manoeuvred gracefully into the slim laneway.

He kept hidden behind the adjacent alley, listening intently, watching attentively.

The hovercraft’s door swung open on its vertical hinge with a silky hiss, and a figure he couldn’t quite see the face of exited, handing the woman a metal briefcase. Words were exchanged in hushed tones. The points of his ears strained, yet still indecipherable of the conversation over the atmospheric static. Reaching into a back pocket, he pulled out a slim device and proceeded to snap a photograph, taking note of the serial plates. Though, he knew the plates to either be fake or registered under a pseudo name. Most who deal on the dark side of the law knew better than to use their real identity on any official registrations.

His eyes kept trained on the scene until the figure re-entered the angular vehicle. It lifted away as silently as it had come. His attention was kept on the briefcase, now in the hands of the woman. She was cautious, he observed, head swivelling around almost skittishly on alert, grip becoming knuckle-white on the handle of her parcel.

Then she started away from the building.  

Discreet steps brought him a few strides behind to follow closely. She turned a corner, then down another vacant street unhurriedly. He soon noticed their path would converge with areas less abandoned, leaving only a small window for interception. He loomed closer. It was now or never.

Upon the next turn, panic froze over the second she felt cool skin cover her lips, a large hand clamping tightly over her mouth.

The scream died immediately, muffled in her throat like garbled cotton. Dread and fear washed over as she felt herself being dragged into a dark walkway with ease. She kicked and tugged and pulled and scratched, but it was no match for the iron grip that held her captive.  

Cornered, she was pressed against the solid bricks of a scratchy wall, back of her head knocking almost painfully against it in attempts to flee.

But it was no use. She was utterly immobilized. And as she finally chanced a look at her attacker, blood drained from head to toe upon the sight.

There, shining through the blackness that enveloped them, were two pools of glowing, fiery amber.

Her assailant was youkai.

Heartbeats raced erratically within a confined chest, adrenaline pumping even harder through constricting veins with nowhere to flow.

The briefcase swung frantically like a tornado in a clutched grip, but he was quick to grab her wrists, pinning them above her head and causing the case to drop with a clatter. Pointed claws pricked like needles into supple skin as she continued to kick and pull, trying desperately to wedge out of his strangling grasp. She still couldn’t scream, the pressure against her mouth swallowing any and all vibrations against every attempt.

Then, she heard him.

Cease your struggles.”

The command was firm and sharp, cutting through her ear like a blade.

But fight-or-flight instinct was taking center stage, and right now, they were both activated – to fight and flee.

And as efforts increased in kicking and tugging and pulling – a low, reverberating growl punctured the air in another command.

“Cease this. Now.

Within a split second, all motions stilled as she slowly lifted her head, terrified eyes meeting his gaze. The citric scent of fear spiked harshly, pulse in her wrists goings miles per minute.

“Do not make a scene.” His voice was a low tenor, sounding distinctly malevolent as he stared her down. “I am from the D.C.A., and have questions regarding your employer. Nod if you understand.”

Her breathing was still erratic, each exhale from her nose wheezing against the side of the hand still clamped over her mouth. But she nodded once in comprehension. Slowly, one hand slipped away as the other was kept locked on her wrists.

The thumping of her heart continued to pound her ears like drums. She had been fearful for her life. She hadn’t known if this was a going to be robbery, or a rapist trying to corner her, or even a serial killer. And quite frankly, she was still fearful as she appraised the appearance of the demon before her.

Long, palish hair cascaded like a layer of silk over a dark, full-length trench. Electric pink tinted its hue, reflected from the corona of the nearest shop sign, masking its true shade. His face was mostly shrouded in shadows, but twin stripes peeked the edges, marking each high cheekbone in a dark burgundy, almost black. From her limited knowledge of the few demons that cohabitated the world, these were tell-tale signs of a Daiyoukai.

They were extremely rare. Extremely powerful.

A nervous gulp materialized, swallowing the dryness that coated her throat like sandpaper.

“What,” he began with a tilt of his head in a downward direction, “is in the briefcase?”

Shit. How was she going to answer? She didn’t know this man, and couldn’t trust his organizational claim at face value. What if he was a rival? What if this was a test? To test her loyalty; to see who would snitch? And could she lie? Could this youkai sniff out a lie like some of the ones she’d heard about?

“N-nothing. It’s just something my boss asked me to pick up for him.”

Her response was purposely vague. Dark eyes were darting around, looking at anywhere but him. Avoiding. Retreating.


“Naraku Nishikawa,” he affirmed out loud, the name a clear recognition as she flinched upon its utterance.

She remained quiet, not confirming nor denying, hoping that her minimally true answer was enough and that he would go away. But she was not so delusional as to actually think that were the case. He would not have gone through all this effort just to ask ‘hey, what’s in the briefcase? Nothing? Oh alright, off you go, miss.

Suddenly, she felt her jaw caught in a firm hold, head yanked up to meet his piercing gaze.

A deer in headlights, sapphire eyes widened like saucers, glimmering with streaks of reflected pinks to turn a cool violet matching the colour of her shoulder-length tresses. At this point, there was no choice but to answer the question burning in the face of danger.

“Y-Yes,” she stammered in a single breath.

And right when she wasn’t sure if he would let her go or kill her, she felt the pressure release from her wrists, arms dropping down to her sides. Between her bangs, she watched with a held breath as he bent to retrieve the fallen briefcase before rising again. The coded lock broke away easily with the flick of his claws, bearing open its contents for display.

However, what was inside was not what he had expected.

Enraged at another seemingly dead end, he turned to the girl and willed his frustration to a simmer. Closing up the briefcase with a snap, he grabbed her arm and started down the path from which he came.

The girl gasped, pulling away in renewed panic. “What are you doing? Let go! Where are you taking me?”

“To the police station. You are under arrest for the possession of –” he sized the weight of the briefcase in his other hand, “– three kilograms of cocaine.”

“What!” she screeched, his ears twitching from the affront, “But that’s not mine!”

“Henceforth the charge is for possession. Ownership of said narcotics is irrelevant.”

His strides did not slow. The woman was still trying to pull out of his grasp, stiletto heels echoing loudly on the empty pavement. And as they reached a parked vehicle, she immediately recognized the QUADRA-E76 that was standard issue for the Demonic Council Authority, having seen its military-like design flash across headlines quite a few times.

Shit. He was the real deal.

Her panic elevated to atmospheric heights. She can’t go to the station. She can’t be anywhere near the police. Her employer had made sure of that.

“Please don’t take me there, I can’t go there!” she begged desperately. “He’ll know I went to the police and he’ll kill me! You wanted answers on Naraku – I know about his operations, I’ll tell you everything, just not at the station, please!”

The door swung open upon his palm print on the handle as the control panels engaged, lighting up the interior all around. Without another word, he pushed the resisting woman none too gently into the backseat before closing the door and rounding to the driver’s side. Once seated comfortably, he turned facing her, who was already banging on the transparent screen that divided the front from the back sections.

“Are you quite finished?” he asked with a raised brow.

Unbidden tears had begun trickling down blurry eyes by this point, black mascara trailing messily. Her life was on the line, and she was now stuck in the back of this inescapable contraption with a total stranger.

“I can’t be at the station,” she implored again, voice cracking, hoping he would listen. “I’ll tell you everything I know about Naraku, please –”

“What is your address?”

“I can’t –” she stopped mid-sentence, thinking she’d misheard amongst her pitiful wails. “What?”

A GPS map had popped up like an apparition from the control panel, vibrant orange lines showing a 3D grid comprised of city streets.

“You will address my questions at your place of residence.” Angling his face to chance a narrowed glance, he drawled, “Unless, you would prefer to discuss this downtown.”

The situation had been carefully assessed. Her offer of information would prove invaluable to the investigation, especially if she had further knowledge of her employer’s criminal dealings. It was not uncommon to garner the aid of a confidential informant, and this could be used to his advantage. Girls like her who worked for men like Naraku usually only did so out of necessity, not loyalty. So long as she remained cooperative, he would keep her out of the slammer.

Her head shook immediately at the latter suggestion. “I live right by Chuo Line, in Nakano,” she answered in a small, weary voice.  

When she saw him simply entering the location in the system, she released a sigh of relief, gathering tiny sniffles while wiping away remaining tears. The back of her hand came away inked in dark eyeliner, completely smudged. Leaning against the window, eyes closed briefly, allowing the chill of the glass to sink into a heated forehead. She was just glad to be going home.

Moments later, the car began to move, weightless like a drifting feather. The ground telescopically grew further the higher they went. They were soon merging with the designated airstreams that criss-crossed the skies like a veritable net. Aerial traffic was busy as usual in and around the central core. Hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of varying hovercrafts, drones, and flying cars jetted through the atmosphere in organized chaos. Tail lights and head lights flashed annoyingly bright, only adding to the artificial glow of the city that never sleeps. There were more airstreams than there were roads, having become the most efficient mode of transport.

Down below, she could make out tiny specks of people patronizing the many businesses lining the streets. They were the size of ants from way up here. And further still, they became nothing.

A glance out the other window gave the view of a ginormous cola ad on a skyscraper. The bottle spun in place showcasing a newly branded label, before the hologram of a bikini-clad woman eagerly drank with vulgarity, the innuendo obvious.

She looked away, fixing her gaze first at the black leather seats, then to the front where the man had been completely silent. Another quick glance at the illuminated dashboard indicated they were almost to their destination. She just hoped that he won’t be pressing any charges if she assisted him. She did not give a rat’s ass for her employer. If anything, she hoped that this might be the chance she needed to finally escape his grasp. To finally be out from under his oppressive, manipulative thumb.

Naraku could go to hell, for all she cared.

In the midst of her silent fuming, she did not take notice when they had finally touched ground in the residential sector, parking street side. The backdoor opened, and she looked up to see that he had already gotten out and was waiting for her to exit. She was thankful – and somewhat surprised – that she was not in cuffs.

But then again, he could chase her down and subdue her efficiently enough without it.

Stepping out, a shivered raced up her spine as the cool spring breeze caressed bare skin. Her jacket had been left back inside the club. She had intended on retrieving it after receiving the package, but obviously, plans had diverged. At least she had her purse with her.

“My place’s just a block this way,” she indicated with a small tilt of the head, and he followed wordlessly behind.

As they walked steadily, the surroundings were assessed with the same scrutiny whenever he ventured into unfamiliar places.

Chatter sounded from small vendors bordering both sides of the street, mostly bartering for cheap foods and disposable electronics. Though he’d never actually been in this area before, these types of markets were not new to him. Most unlicensed tech merchants operated the same way. He could bet that almost all of them here sold a bulk of inexpensive smartphones; maybe a dozen would have the higher tier SATCOM-8s, and a select few would carry knock-off BIOware. Majority of those pedlars he had no issues with; they were just trying to make a quick buck here and there. But it was the ones that dealt in BIOware that would leave a taste of disgust in his mouth. Connecting the various livewires to organic nerves required a certain level of precision for installing such a device, and these jittery swindlers never had the proficiency of such a task. He’d come across a few dead bodies as a result of such a hack job.

As for the vendors that sold food – if he could even call it that – he was not surprised that there were still a few groups of patrons crowding around what appeared to be the more popular stands in this ungodly hour. In the year 2149, dinnertime was anytime.

As they passed by one of the groups, he glanced over to see that it was still the same low-grade, pre-packaged, mass-produced garbage that these humans consumed for sustenance. Especially for the residents of this district – which he could tell was probably one of the poorest areas in the city – groceries were a luxury. Restaurants were already obnoxiously priced, so people here ate what they could get their hands on.

They continued on silently, the figure of the woman ahead kept well within sight as his senses expanded around.

Unlike the downtown core they had just been at, residential units piled atop the ground-level shops instead of commercial real estate. The buildings here weren’t the giants that dominated the centre, but they weren’t meagre in size by any means. Many of them were over forty storeys high. Most seemed like construction had been planned for two thirds of the building, with the other third added as an afterthought as population grew. It was evident by the differing exterior colour and visible erosion. Fissures skated along the sides like cracked glass, seeping from building to building like a virus. And yet residents still lived there unbothered, having nowhere else to go.

Practically a prison, packed like sardines. Concrete slabs upon concrete slabs. Grey upon grey.

His nose scrunched at the dense, putrid odours. Sulphuric mist from copious manholes transformed the scene into an open sauna, making the stench worse with each step as his line of sight fogged. He purposefully steered clear of these pits, his leather shoes faring poorly in the puddles of muck that lined the gutters as he avoided another group of stumbling patrons. He only hoped that they would soon arrive at the woman’s dwelling. There’s only so much he could take of this before needing another dose of a scent-neutralizer. The one he had taken earlier in the day had long worn off. He was not a fan of the drug, but it had been required whenever having an extended stay at ground level. The last thing he needed was a migraine induced by over-stimulus. 

“We’re here. I’m on the 54th floor.”

His glance fell away from the street to land on the woman before him. She had stopped by a shady-looking entrance into a nondescript apartment building. Fishing out a small access card from her purse, she flashed it on the archaic reader before the worn gates buzzed open.

“Your building still utilizes a card scanner?” He had not seen one of those in use in ages.

“It’s an old building, and they don’t care about security enough to bother upgrading to a retinal scanner,” she offered without looking back. He followed her in.

The elevator had been quick to arrive. No one else seemed to be coming or going. The hallways sported only a few dim LED strips, some flashing on and off from poor electrical wiring, or just plain old deterioration. The walls were a nauseating green; splotches of unknown substances staining an otherwise mediocre paint job. This place looked as though it had never been cleaned, never been cared for.

Just like the rest of the city.

Giving a slight whiff, he could confirm it, too. At least it wasn’t carpeted, their steps echoing eerily loud against the empty corridor on the tiled flooring. He could feel the bottom of his soles sticking with each step.


What kind of hellhole was this woman living in?

His train of thought on the building’s upkeep stopped when she did. Flashing the same access card, a steel door slid open to her unit.

“Feel free to sit anywhere,” he heard her say as she entered first. He looked around as the door closed automatically behind him.

The anywhere was almost a nowhere.

The apartment was practically a shoebox. The entire place was just one room, aside from the bathroom, which was where the woman had disappeared into.

A wall of glass lined the side opposite the entrance, leading out to a small balcony that overlooked the district below. On the left was a narrow white counter with a small sink, and an old-styled lamp that looked oddly out of place amongst the minimalistic lines prevalent in the current era of interior design. A radio-thermal oven and a refrigeration unit nested below, its see-through casing clearly showing the empty contents within. The topside was comprised of cabinets that blended into the wall for storage. Towards the end of the kitchen, and right by the balcony, were a small rounded glass table and a single chair.

He glanced to the right. A small mattress jutted out on a pallet attached to the wall. Clothing were strewn about, the bed unmade. More cabinets lined the wall above for additional storage space. The washroom’s entrance was between the foot of the bed and the balcony.  

Her apartment was only a fraction the size of his penthouse. He wondered how anyone could live in such a space and not feel claustrophobic. But then again, there were worse ways to live. At least it was not one of those coffin suites he’d heard about; those only had enough room for a single bed.

Bones ached to stretch at the thought of being so confined. Shaking the discomfort away, he headed over to the only chair that could be seen and sat, waiting for the woman to emerge.

The clouds were still looming outside, and the first drop of rain soon began to fall. Before long, it was pouring, heavy as it pelted the windowpane in a steady staccato. The conurbation was plummeted in acetic torrents, but thunderstorms and cherry blossoms flashed in his mind, bringing reminders of the hiraeth he so often felt.

“Would you like some tea?”

Not noticing when she had appeared, the woman was by the sink now, filling up a kettle.

She didn’t get many visitors. None, actually. But regardless, proper manners of a host had been deeply ingrained. Plus, tea – as unauthentic as it were in those pre-packaged satchels that mimicked the real thing – was really the only option, aside from just plain water.

When no answer came forth, she looked up from her task to see him staring at her studiously. The dim lighting in the room was just a candle to the flame of those effulgent eyes. She nearly dropped what she was doing at the sight.

It was paranormal, and she couldn’t find any words to fill the void.

But luckily for her, he was the first to break the silence.    

“Your hair is different.”

Her fingers brushed absently along a few strands at his remark. Gone was the straight, vibrant purple that he had seen her with earlier. In its place lay a crown of inky black waves cascading down to lower back. A single streak of voltaic blue peaked out on the side to frame her face. It stood out like a lightning bolt amongst the midnight mass. For whatever reason, he found that this look suited her much better.

She fidgeted slightly before setting the kettle on the thermal conductor pad, thrown off by his acute observation.

“Sometimes I wear a wig to work, change up appearances. It keeps things interesting for the customers.”

He had picked her up from the back of the NineTails Lounge. No doubt he already knew what she did for work, with the way she had been dressed in her five-inch heels and micro skirt. It was a good thing she had changed into a t-shirt and loose-fitting shorts while in the bathroom. It would have been utterly discomfiting to know that he would be staring at her like that, so exposed, while grilling her with the many questions that she knew would come.

It would be a long night.

The whistling indicated to the boiling water and she focused back on making the tea, glad for the distraction.

He had noticed her sudden shyness, and wondered at the thought briefly before discarding it. It wasn’t long before a steaming mug was set in front of him. He nodded in appreciation as she sauntered over to sit on the edge of the bed, extra chairs lacking.

“So, how do you want to do this?” she asked, hands clasping around her own mug as it warmed her skin.

He took a sip of his beverage, tasting peppermint. “We will start with your name.”

“Oh, right!” Duh. This whole time, no introductions had been made. But then again, their meeting had not been typical. “My name’s Higurashi Kagome. And yours?”

“Taisho Sesshomaru,” he answered formally before taking another swath of the drink. Surprisingly, he found it helped clear away the remaining stench from his nose. It was also fortuitous that her apartment did not smell foul like the streets outside; a benefit of being so high up away from ground level, no doubt. “Begin with how you ended up working for Naraku.”

Straight to the point. No room for small-talk. This was not a social call, after all.

Kagome put the name to the man.

How fitting, the Killing Perfection. He had definitely rattled her nerves back in the alley. Even now, the demon only seemed all the more imposing. Commanding. The large frame of his body seemed so out of place in her tiny apartment. Without the conflicting tones of the streetlights, she could see clearly the stark silver of his silky strands. Never had she come across hair colour like that in person before, not even when bleached and doused in dye. It flowed like snow against a tailored black dress shirt and matching slacks. And though the long coat had been taken off and folded in a pile to the side, and sleeves rolled up to the forearms, the casual look did not sway the intimidating image of him.

She bit her bottom lip out of nervous habit, eyes trailing along the two magenta stripes lining each sculpted forearm.

A Daiyoukai, indeed.

Shaking off any remaining apprehension, she focused on the brewing storm outside, trying to decide on a starting point.

“When I was seventeen, we got into a car accident with another vehicle. Both my parents died on scene. I didn’t have any other family, and was too old to be put into a home or get adopted. I needed to find a way to support myself, and fast.”

“So you decided to work for Naraku.”

She frowned at the accusatory tone, a tad infuriated by the insinuation. As if she’d gone straight to that sleazeball for money, like he had been her first choice. But she held off any retaliatory comments, and told herself that he didn’t know of her situation yet.

“Not at first. I tried a few jobs here and there, but nothing was stable.” She smiled bitterly. “Kinda hard to keep up with only one leg. No one wanted me.”

Sesshomaru quirked a brow, attention sweeping her entire form, confusion evident. “One leg?”

“I didn’t come out unscathed,” she peeved before stretching out her left leg. Pressing a finger to the inner side of the knee, smooth tanned skin suddenly faded away to dark gun-metal.

Amber eyes widened minutely at the sight. Standing up, he paced over for a closer inspection.

It was a state-of-the-art, fully functional bionic limb; blending seamlessly with her natural flesh where it attached at mid-thigh. She extended it closer as he crouch near her, a claw reaching out to skim fleetingly over the soft casing. It felt like real skin, drawing intrigue at the brilliant cyan glow of the circuitry beneath. The frame mimicked human bone structures, likely constructed of high-density titanium or chromium. Instead of blood and muscle though, the rest seemed to be hundreds of fibre-optic threads surrounded by some type of transparent, gel-like substance. Most likely a coolant, from what he knew of biotech. He had lived through the years when it had first ballooned into the trillion-dollar industry it was now today, but he had never the need for such a product. Nonetheless, the advancements had been fascinating. It was one of the few achievements he had truly given the human species credit for.   

“Works just like the old one.”

He caught the wiggle of her metallic toes, and looked up to see a playful smile upon her lips, forlorn disappearing.

Withdrawing his hand, he stood and ventured back to his seat, facing her from a distance once more. “I assume this is related to how you ended up working for your current employer,” he pressed.  

“It is.” Touching the spot on the side of her knee again, the artificial limb blended back with the rest of her body like a chameleon, untraceable to the naked eye. “Like everyone else, my family had been renting. Without a job, any savings we had quickly dried up. Eight months after the accident, I was homeless and begging for scraps in the red-light district. That’s when Naraku had found me.”

His expression turned contemplative. She had been nothing more than a disabled child at the time, thrust into a world without protection, without support. Yet she had survived. “That is not the most favourable of areas. Where there no better places to panhandle?”

Kagome shrugged, taking a drink of the cooling tea. “Men who frequent that area have more disposable income. Or at least, they care less about where their money goes.”

Made sense. He nodded for her to continue when her pause had lasted a bit longer than it had been, their eyes locking briefly.

“I was offered a job at one of his nightclubs. In exchange, he paid for this,” she gestured to the leg in a wave, “That was eight years ago. I’ve been working for him since.”

A sombre tone befell once more, surrounding her in a blanket that was hard to lift. Without the clustering melting pot of unsavoury odours, he could now clearly make out the scent that was uniquely hers.  

Hints of lemongrass and lavender.

It was refreshing, and he found himself enjoying the reprieve from the usual stifle of clogged senses. It was a scent he could get used to.

But he was digressing. Shaking the thought away, he sustained, “I assume the duration of your employment was not by choice, then.”

Kagome sighed deeply as dejection marred flawless features. “Once he has you under his thumb, he owns you.”

“You are not loyal to him.”

Glancing at the perfect claws resting upon the table, she almost snickered. “Like you said; not by choice.”

When she saw a twitch in those claws, she made eye contact again, adding, “I’m not going to snitch to him about us meeting. I don’t want to end up dead yet.”

Her snitching had not been his concern. He had felt no deceit from her, and she had already expressed great aversion to letting Naraku know about any interactions with law enforcements, which included him. He also didn’t doubt the claim of threat to her life, either. But her words from earlier were still fresh in mind with a suspicion.

“You mentioned that he would know if you came to the station. By what method is he tracking you?”

This time, it was Kagome who stood up from the bed to inch closer. Once she was standing by the table, she turned her back to him and swept aside the mass of hair at her nape, exposing the back of her neck.

It was so small, that even with his superior eyesight it was hard to notice. But it was there. A tiny scar no more than a few millimetres in length rested between the C3 and C4 vertebrae.

A micro implant.

“You had allowed this?” he asked, brows furrowing at the implication.

She resumed her position on the bed, arms crossing and head leaning back to stare at the ceiling. Soft luminance filtered in from outside, a false radiance of scattered light particles in the atmosphere. Various items in the room were casting shapely shadows onto the ceiling. A warm, orange glow emitted from an antique reproduction of a lava lamp on the kitchen counter. Blobs of coloured wax floated languidly within the transparent liquid like they were caught in a dance.

Mesmerizing. She had spent much time staring at its brilliance in the past, lost in a trance. Memories of the last few years resurfaced through her mind. Most were unwanted, despite having a roof over her head.

“Honestly, I was young and dumb and gullible. All of the girls have the chip. He had said it was for our protection, that in case anyone tried to kidnap us, he would be able to find us.” Her head tilted back down, countenance turning hard, mouth pulling into a frown. “But that’s obviously bullshit.”

He considered her words, and recalled the statistics. It was true, though. A large percentage of missing persons reports consisted of women like her.

Females. No family. Unscrupulous careers. Unnoticed if gone from society.

And her despicable employer was twisting fear to suit his needs, tagging the women like cattle. Like his personal property. His distaste for Naraku only worsened.

“Have there been attempts to remove the tracker?”

Kagome shook her head in the negative. “I don’t think any of girls I know has tried. But I will one day though, when I have the means to flee. He knows where I live, and he’ll know as soon as it’s been removed or disabled and come after me. So until then, I’ve just been biding my time and money.”

Sesshomaru contemplated all she had said, and decided that he would help free those women once Naraku has been taken down. There were a few connections he had that could help them all get a fresh start, if they wanted to.

But for now, her continued position as employee was more valuable. It was the only viable way to get close without suspicions. There was a laundry list of suspected crimes, and key intel had hinted at a more heinous plot.

But Naraku was sneaky. Slick. Left virtually no usable trail.

He knew there was something bigger at play than a petty drug ring. This woman here could be his leverage on the inside.

Sesshomaru’s expression hardened impassively, frozen over ice. “Tell me of his operations. The illegal ones.”

And she did. In as much detail as she could remember, Kagome relayed any information she knew of his drug routes, movements, employees, and known affiliates. Names and places. Numbers and faces. She had been one of the girls at the club the longest, and had learned over the years to keep her head down and ears peeled, just in case. And it seemed that now, those efforts were finally paying off.

At least, she hoped. She really, really hoped that this was the lifeline needed to get out from under Naraku’s seedy grasp.

She had wanted out a long time ago, but could not manage a way to escape. Her life had been threatened. He had told her that she belonged to him. That he owned her, that her soul was his and that there would never be a way to escape. She had been beaten one too many times within an inch of death to try leaving again. But that hadn’t meant she had stopped looking for any potential opportunities. She just needed to believe that this was the final breakthrough.

Sesshomaru had kept mostly to himself the rest of the night, allowing the girl to speak freely. Attention had been situated at noting down all relevant information. Some he had already known, while quite a few tidbits were new and quite informative.

When he heard her let out a tired yawn, he realized that it was already past three in the morning. Standing up from the chair, he reached for his coat.

“This will be enough for tonight.”

As he dressed, she noticed the briefcase that was left on the floor by the table. “What about the drugs? Are you going to confiscate it?”

He shook his head. “No. You will do what you would normally do to deliver them. I do not wish to raise suspicions.”

Kagome nodded in affirmation, relieved for not having to make up a story about stolen cocaine. Shoulders slouching, she followed him to the door, peering up into an aurulent gaze when he paused in the hallway. Just like in the dark alley, those deep, unreadable pools looked as though they had their own inner glow. And in her sleep-deprived state, she couldn’t help but think they were distractingly beautiful.

Sesshomaru surveyed her drowsy expression. She was looking at him oddly, pupils almost glassy and taking on a far-away focus. He chalked it up to fatigue, and felt a mild pang of guilt. He had questioned her for nearly three hours straight. It had not felt that long to him, but there had been much to decipher. She had been cooperative, and provided the break he needed in the case – whether she knew it or not. He was sure this would not be his last meeting with the woman.

Before he could stop himself, his hand was brushing a lock of hair away from her cheeks. He pulled away quickly. “I will contact you should I require additional information.”

Then abruptly he left.  

After closing and locking the door, Kagome collapsed onto her bed, ready for sleep to take over, welcoming dreams of silver and gold.  



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