So she found herself again on the way to the City of Lords, again. The band of brothers didn't seem interested in talking to her much. Mostly they talked among themselves of the slaughtering they'd just gone through and laughed boisterously. She felt an old feeling of detest rise in her, as well as a new hatred after what she had seen. She still felt safest close to Bankotsu. She didn't like the way the others were looking at her, Genji especially. Bankotsu at least, she knew was disinterested. The only thing he liked to do was smash things, and women were only an afterthought to his mind. She found herself riding behind Touya, who had the least amount of things on his horse. He liked clothes, and thus his pack was fairly light.
They reached the City of Lords in one day, a walled city on top of a mountain. The peasants didn't look them in the eye as they passed, but no one tried to stop them. They went through the gates and rode into the heart of the city, where they dismounted in front of a palace. They entered the palace through the front doors, and people bowed respectfully at them. Momoko looked around. She got the feeling they'd been there many times before. They were ushered into a lord's presence.
"You have something for us, I hope." Bankotsu said after the necessary respects were paid. He did it with a slight sneer, almost as if he thought the lord were not worth paying respects to.
The lord looked down at them. "Bankotsu, none the worse for wear I see. I'm glad you got rid of those worthless hangers on you'd become affiliated with." The lord was middle-aged, battle scarred, and gruff. He sat up on a dais surrounded by his entourage. Momoko stood behind the five brothers in front of the dais. She felt out of the place in her commoner's kimono and dirty face, like a street child who'd wandered in from a side door. She never felt like this when she was with Katsuya, though she didn't remember him taking any effort to make sure she didn't feel out of place.
"Yes, I do have something for you to do. Please send the others from the room so I can discuss this with you." The servants were sent away, and Momoko with them. She went with them to a washing room where she helped the ladies wash linens for the rest of the day. Finally at night, she ate with the servants.
Momoko was tired. She'd spent all day cleaning with the castle girls. She watched as the bandits came and went as they pleased. Evidently they were not planning on leaving right away. Genji was often seen talking to some girl or other. The others seemed to keep to themselves more or less. She also saw some of lord's family who lived there. They dressed well, but not as well as Katsuya had. Thinking back on it, she had it really well with him. She hadn't lived in a castle, this was actually the first one she'd been in, but she'd actually lived better than some of these people. No servants, but every other luxury, never went hungry, never worked... she had been happiest when Katsuya was there. She'd been happy too with her aunt, and Ume.
"You're new here, eh?" Whispered an older girl to her. Momoko nodded. "The lord's daughter is coming. Be sure to bow your head respectfully and don't look her in the eyes. She's a little demon." Momoko looked up to see some brightly dressed women coming into the adjacent room. They had with them several little girls, but the one in the middle was easily defined as the lord's daughter. She was a 4 or 5 years younger than Momoko; a porky, priggy girl with large black eyes and flowing black hair done up in buns. The red silk kimono she wore caught Momoko's eye because it reminded her of the one she'd had from Katsuya. She looked down quickly as the nobleman's daughter met her eyes.
"Who is that?" She cried in a loud voice.
"A new girl, my lady. She serves Bankotsu san."
"I want her for my playmate."
"She is below your stature, Bani-chan." Her nurse said. "Just look at the clothes she's wearing."
The girl's eyes sparked. "So give her one of my old kimonos." She said sharply. "You know what father said, I can do whatever I wish."
The nurse sighed and crooked a finger at Momoko. "You, girl. Come upstairs and let's get you suitable for Bani san." Momoko got up obediently and followed one of the servant girls upstairs, while the girl she'd been talking to sighed in exasperation behind her. "Bani-chan does this every time. Wants new playmates..." Momoko came back down in another kimono, a little too big for her with blue embroidered flowers.
"Girl, what is your name?" Bani asked imperiously. When Momoko didn't answer immediately, she slapped her. The girl's chubby hand connected with her face and Momoko jerked back. She'd endured a lot during her lifetime, and compared to Ryou or Touya's abuse it was nothing, but it made her angry.
"Don't you ever do that again." She snapped and Bani puckered, looking like she was going to cry.
"Have some respect!" One of the ladys in waiting said.
Momoko narrowed her eyes at the girl, then deliberately relaxed them. "Gome." She said quietly. "What do you want to play?"
"Um..." Momoko remembered playing with those when she eight, at her Aunt's house. "I don't have one." Momoko was given a little stick doll and together with the other little girls they went out into the garden. Once she got past the annoying snobbery Bani displayed, she had fun. She remembered what it was like to be in Bani's position, everyone katowing and being polite to her because of her wealth (and protector), but she couldn't remember being as overbearing as Bani was. She resolved not to let it get the better of her, and after a while it didn't. Playing dolls beat working.
"You're not like the other girls." Bani said, as they crouched under a hydrangea bush with their doll babies. "You're not afraid of me. No one else would dare speak back to me like that."
Momoko sighed. She'd been through too much to be afraid of some lord's brat. She remembered the look on Katsuya's eyes just before he slew someone, blank.
"You shouldn't have treated me like that." She said.
"And just who are you?" Bani asked scornfully, looking at her roughened hands.
"I was a princess once."
Bani's eyes widened.
"And then the bandits captured me."
Bani was enchanted. "Are you sad?"
"No." Momoko said. "Not sad that I'm not a princess anymore. I'm just sad that my family isn't here with me." She wasn't even sure who she meant anymore, Katsuya-sama or her aunt. She could barely remember her old family. She looked up and saw Genji talking with one of Bani's lady's in waiting. He looked down at her. She was pretty sure she'd seen Touya's cool gaze watching over her too.
Later that day, when Bani went to get ready for dinner Momoko went back to the main part of the castle. There she found Bankotsu and the others talking with some soldiers.
Suddenly the soldier snapped to, and Momoko and the other brothers looked around as a group of people passed. This group was bigger than the one surrounding Bani. In the midst of this group, was a tall woman a little over twenty. She was dressed regally, bore herself upright, and looked neither to the left or the right. Everyone bowed, except the brigands, who never moved for anyone but kept their positions insolently. Touya was the one closest to the door. He remained seated, his sword dangling in pieces across his legs, and Momoko saw him watching her as she past. The woman's strongly marked features were strikingly beautiful, and her resemblance to the castle's lord was unmistakable.
"That is our noble lord's oldest daughter, Wakana." The soldier said, relaxing when she had past. "Beautiful is she not? The most beautiful woman in the land."
"I believe it." Said Bankotsu. Touya didn't say anything, but he'd stopped polishing his blades. His eyes followed the woman down the hall.
"We've seen her before, but never met." Ryouji said from across the room.
"Of course, why would a high born woman like her ever take notice of lowly brigands such as yourselves?" The soldier asked scornfully. Touya smirked.
After the soldiers left the brothers began talking about the job they'd been assigned.
"Are you sure we can do this, Bankotsu?" Genji asked, "We've never taken on a demon of that capacity before."
"I've heard about this one. He's fierce some, he used to ride on dragons and regularly slaughters ogres. I've heard he is the reason many of the cities around the coast have no brigands like ourselves, he went on a purge for a good four years. No one knows why, he'd live in the cities and kill them." Ryouji said.
"No one here in this city has ever seen him anyway, the best they can do are pictures." Shinji claimed. "He changes into a huge white beast with fangs and spawns offspring. His daughter comes along with him wherever he goes, changing into a snarling white cat that eats the bodies."
"Katsuya-sama." Momoko breathed. She had been staring at Bankotsu, who was assuring his brothers that they could do this, but now she looked over.
Touya was sitting opposite to her, and she felt his hostile eyes on her face. "Do you know this yokai, imouto?" He asked. He saw her lips compress and there was an answering smirk. "Yo brothers, did you know that the demon princess everyone has been talking about, is our servant girl?" The others looked at Touya in unbelief. His hooded eyes flicked over to her.
"That thing? You've been drinking too much."
"Think about it. We got her from a village where the yokai was last rumored to be around. That red dress belonged to her, and she's claimed to the lord's daughter to be a princess already." The end of one of his blades lifted her chin. "Isn't that so?"
She tipped her chin down in agreement.
"You were a princess?" Banktosu asked. "I never would have figured that. Do you know this mononoke?" She nodded again. "Speak girl." He growled. "Tell me everything you know." Touya's blade was still dangerously close to her throat. Keeping her head still, she fixed her eyes on Bankotsu's face.
"He is more powerful than anything, the most powerful demon there ever was. Nothing can defeat him, you must give up."
Touya said. "I hope you do know that demon...that will just make it all the more fun to kill him." 'Miserable kid. I should have killed him when I had a chance.' Momoko thought. 'Not that I could now. I don't know what came over me back then. I could never attempt that again.'
"What is your connection with him?" Ryouji asked.
She looked down at the floor. That was the question, wasn't it? She wasn't sure she knew the answer. "He was my protector, until he left me with lady Ume."
"Your protector? I find that hard to believe." Genji said, thinking of how vulnerable the last village they'd sacked had been.
"For how long?" Bankotsu asked.
"Nine years. He does care for me, because he came back for me after my aunt died. He saved me from the demon Kogaratu when he found out I was in trouble."
"I heard about that tryst between Kogaratu and this mononoke. The yokai from some mountain village was he not? I heard he was quite powerful and a dog demon brought about his death." The brigand leader looked around the circle. "Well, this is interesting. If what she says is the truth, this girl might come in handy."
It was night, and Touya woke Bankotsu for his watch. The sleeping forms of the rest lay all around as Touya slipped out the door.
"Where are you going?" His older brother asked.
Touya's voice drifted back to him. "There's someone I need to pay a visit to." He murmured. "It's long overdue."
The moon rose over the garden, and shone its silver light into Wakana's room. It reflected off Touya's back as he entered the window. The tip of his sword dragged along the floor, he never went anywhere without it. Normally he carried it over his back, but he had needed his arms free to gain entrance to the Wakana's heavily guarded room. She had no guards in it though. Normally she had servant girls sleeping in her room with her, but not tonight. The wood floor felt good to Touya's silent feet. His silk kimono swished around his bare legs as he crossed it, and approached the woman's bed. She woke when he touched her hips. He stood over her, his face in a shadow. The light from the full moon came in behind him, and all she could see was his statuette and the strands of hair that had escaped from his bun. She rose, and he sat on the bed next to her.
"I was waiting for you to come."
"Hello again, Wakana."
Bankotsu sat against the wall of their room, his head tipped back and his eyes open. He was the strongest of the five brothers, and he always took the longest shift. It was through his might that he held the band together, more than any brotherly love. He was not a great tactician, nor did he aspire to be any type of lord, because he loved what he did; and that was to be strong and kill. He opened his eyes. Something had entered the room, and though he could not see it or hear it, he could FEEL it.
"Bankotsuuuu." The voice was as hushed and strong as a current of wind moving overhead, and the bandit stood ready as the form materialized in the room. Long black hair floated around a surreal face, blue and green tinted skin stretched smoothly over a moon-shaped face. Eyes the color of stormy skies, dark and shrouded under all the hair, a figure wrapped in cloth as shady and fine as fog. Bankotsu didn't respond, only waited for the spirit to speak, as his hair rose and his skin tingled with the electricity that filled the room. This was his first encounter with yokai, he had never worshiped them or sought after them, and now he waited for this one to speak.
"This yokai is unlike any foe you have ever encountered. He is cunning, and strong, a force more powerful than and older even than this castle you stay in. Years ago he defeated a dragon your father's father's fathers feared. I wish the land he currently roams in as my domain, but he is powerful and stands in the way. You alone have something that can defeat him, so it will serve both your purposes and mine if we join together to kill him. He will not expect the attack from me, and you hold is only weakness."
"What is that?" Bankotsu asked.
"The girl-child you rogues foolishly keep for a servant, he has held it close to his heart for many years now. As long as she is with you, you are safe. I will also lend my might to protect you, just bear in mind, keep the girl with you and together we will kill Katsuya."
Touya arrived back to the room it was almost morning. The moon had set and it was only a matter of time before the sun rose. Bankotsu was still by the door, alone. He watched Touya enter.
"You're more of a man than I thought, Touya."
"I have nothing against visiting a pretty woman."
"But it takes the most beautiful to satisfy you, eh?"
Touya's eyes slid down to Momoko's slim form. "Sometimes."
They decided to keep Momoko up in the room. She stayed there, except when she complained that she had to use the restroom. Then they let her go down to the outhouse outside the castle.
They were going to try to kill Katsuya-sama. She didn't know how it was going to turn out, but she knew there would be a lot of blood. She started looking for a chance to escape. She didn't know if she would ever find Katsuya-sama again, but she needed to get away from here. Her chance came one evening when someone very foolishly picked a fight with Shinji, the most irascible man of the group. It was nightfall the fourth day they'd been in the castle, and Shinji was following her outside when a drunken soldier bumped into him. Shinji shoved him back and the soldier yelled. "Stinkin' brigand. I can't wait until the lord finishes you off." That started the fight.
Amazingly, it seemed Shinji had learned some self control. Instead of going all out and attacking the man with blades he merely hit him with his fists. In the adam's apple. Then the man's friends jumped in, and Momoko could tell the fight would last a little while. She looked up, saw Bankotsu watching from one of the windows, and didn't try to run away. Instead she walked back up the palace stairs and up to the room they shared, alone. She found Touya in there. He stood in the corner of the bare room holding the trick sword he carried with him everywhere. He was wearing a kimono that barely reached his knees, a loose and embroidered, the type he favored. She stood a moment before he saw her in the doorway, and took in his thin, taut legs and muscular arms. She'd never noticed how pale his flesh was, like rice, stretched tight over honed muscles. He looked up at her, and at the dark, hungry look in his eyes an image came to her of Katsuya coming out of the bath house dripping wet and feral. And she recognized the look. She backed away, but it was too late. There was an eerie whistling sound as the many blades that comprised his sword flashed out. It curved around her and struck the door frame, blocking her exit.
"Where are you going?" He asked silkily. She tried to duck under the swords and escape, but strong arms encircled her from behind and pinned her against his body. His breath purred into her ear. "Foolish Momoko, don't you know I always get what I want?" She remembered how his strength always surprised her, because he was such a girly guy. Try as she might she couldn't tear out of his hold. She felt his hot mouth on her ear. "Keep struggling if you want, it just makes this better. You know you can't escape me." His fingers dug into her sides.
"Ow! Let me go, you sick pervert!" She kicked at his shins with the back of her heels and battered his ribs with her elbows. He laughed at her and bit her ear. In desperation she reached back and used the last weapon available to her, her nails. The second after she did it she was glad he didn't have his hands on his sword. He released her, spun her around. In his eyes was amusement and rage and red claw marks streaked across his face.
"I'm going to hurt you in the worst way possible." He said.
"Touya." They looked up at the woman's voice. Standing in the doorway was the most beautiful woman Momoko had ever seen. "So this is what you are?" Her eyes were blazing and disgust filled her voice. "Let her go, and get out of my castle."
Touya released his hold on Momoko. "What did she think I was, a saint?" Wakana disappeared and from behind her came Bankotsu. He didn't say anything about Touya's slashed face or Momoko's tearful appearance.
"I heard from Nobuya again. We're leaving." He had told his brothers all about the demon visit from lastnight. Bankotsu got his sword as the other brothers came into the room. Shinji was slightly the worse for wear. "Ryouji," he said over his shoulder. "You're in charge of the girl. Make sure the other three contain themselves, we need her."
They took her to the base of the mountain where Naraku lived. Momoko was traveling in Ryouji's care. It was twilight when they reached it the next day, and a heavy fog was descending as they went to a higher altitude.
"What's that?" Touya asked. They were just done crossing a swinging wood bridge that stretched over a cavern. Something was appearing in the fog, a tall form that Momoko knew only too well.
"Katsuya sama!" Momoko cried. He had returned from the war for her, and there he stood, larger than life. He stood there in the mist like her angel in a nightmare.
"He preceded us. I guess Naraku let him know we were coming. That's fine." Bankotsu said, unleashing his large sword. The brothers began to spread out, Momoko temporarily forgotten. Katsuya stood alone, heavily shrouded in fog. He held out his hand, stretching all his fingers full length, and then bent each in turn with a crack. The killing time had begun.
Ryouji delt in fire. He had a flamethrower he carried with him at all times, and he lit it. A blast of fire shot out and engulfed...the place Katsuya had been standing. In the next instant he was beside Ryouji and his claws were slicing through his neck. Ryouji crumpled as Touya's trick blades came whistling through the air. Again, Katsuya wasn't there to meet them. He was moving through the air with super human speed to come face to face with Touya.
"Don't let him get close!" Bankotsu yelled, preempting the yokai and swinging his cleaver. "Shinji!" Momoko found herself in Shinji's grasp, trapped between him and Genji who was still crossing. Katsuya stopped his attack momentarily to watch as Shinji forced her back onto the bridge. Bankotsu chuckled throatily. "A false move, and we'll slit her throat and throw the body over the bridge."
"Not that it really matters." Touya said. He flicked his wrist and all the blades returned to a one pieced sword. "We're going to kill her anyway."
Katsuya's purple eyes swept past Momoko to him. A second later he was jumping towards the bridge, his feet barely touching the ground. 'How dare he turn his back on us?' Touya thought and lashed his sword out again. It circled around Katsuya's retreating form. 'Got him!' And the next instant was deflected back at his face. Before he could move it had sliced through the air in front of him and landed at his feet.
"He just missed killing me." Touya said, eyes huge. That had never happened to him before.
Another sword whistled through the air and Genji slumped as the ogre's fang sliced through him. After passing through his body it had slowed down just enough for Shinji to slap it down with his iron claws. Bankotsu stared as yet another one of his brothers fell to the demon. But then Katsuya stopped just short of the bridge. Shinji's hand blades were cutting into Momoko's throat, and she cried out in terror.
"Come any closer and I'll slaughter her." He said assuredly. He didn't look afraid, but then that was a facet of Shinji. Anticipation of killing something shut off any other feeling in him, that was what he liked more than anything else in the world. Bankotsu looked at Ryouji and Genji's lifeless bodies. They had been killed in an instant, but to admit defeat went against Bankotsu's nature. Shinji and Touya both looked at him, they would follow to the death whatever decision he made.
Bankotsu said. "This man is vastly more powerful than I'd thought. But no matter!" He brandished his sword, "We can take on anything!" He roared. At that moment Katsuya felt the air around them change. It was charged with power. A protective aura was enveloping the remaining bandits, and they were disappearing. Suddenly Katsuya was in the middle of the bridge. He cut through the crackling miasma with his talons and was inside the bubble with Shinji and Momoko. His claws raked through Shinji's face as it disappeared. It would have torn his face off, if he had still been there. Just before everything evaporated the mononoke caught a glimpse of the inside of a building, where the bandits were reappearing.
That is where they found themselves, a multi-roomed, empty farmer's house on the other side of the mountain. Bankotsu looked around, only Shinji and Touya remained. "I'm disappointed that Nobuya didn't feel we were up to handling one demon on our own." He said. "Now that we have time though, let's think of a better strategy. We will kill next time."
"No one can kill Katsuya sama." Momoko said in a low voice.
"Did she come too?" Bankotsu said, noticing her for the first time.
"Can we kill her now?" Shinji asked.
"Sure. We don't need her anymore. Katsuya will come find us whether she's dead or not, and someone must pay for our brother's deaths." Bankotsu looked over at Touya standing on his left. "You're the misogynist, you do it. Shinji, we need to take care of your face." The two older brothers walked down the stairs while Touya chuckled. He looked around and his eyes settled on a heavy whip on the wall, left over from when the building had been a functioning farm. He lifted it off with one arm. Momoko instinctively ducked as the first blow whistled down and the blow landed on her foot, stinging with a vengeance. She gasped in shock, then as the blows rained down curled into a ball and put her arms over her head. The whip carved a streak of searing pain everywhere it bit, and Touya moved it too fast for her to anticipate the blows. It sang around her, and her body received its horrendous music of pain. Within minutes her kimono was in shreds and heavy blood oozed out of her torn skin. Touya stopped. Her eyes were tight shut and her teeth clenched, she drew ragged breaths through her nose. 'I'm not going to cry for him.' But an endless whimper was coming out of her mouth, through her teeth. Touya smiled.
"This is the point where men are screaming in pain, telling me to stop." He peeled off his kimono and the leather armor underneath and picked her up, holding her against his naked chest. She withdrew further into herself. "I'll be the last thing you see as you die." He told her and walking to a wall, set her up against it. Momoko heard, sensed him move to touch her. Without opening her eyes, Momoko thrust out her hand to push his arm away, but she was in too much pain to do anything, too weak from blood loss. Touya laughed and brushed it aside. He peeled back her tattered kimono. The tunic underneath was too covered in blood for him to deal with.
"You're so small, so helpless." His hands kept slipping in her blood. 'Is he still talking?' Momoko wondered through a blur of pain. 'Why can't he just leave me alone? Katsuya, hurry! I'm about to be swallowed up.' She was overwhelmed with pain, her head light and her body on fire. Her life was flowing through the innumerable rips in her skin. Red spots appeared when she closed her eyes and black spots when she opened them. Touya caught her wrist as she tried to cover her face. He was sitting on her legs, his knees on either side. Her blood was covering his chest, flowing over her arms.
"You won't be here much longer." He lowered his head and licked her tear streaked face.
"Touya." She murmured. "I have something to tell you." She moved her face close to his ear and then bit down on it as hard as she could. Her sharp little teeth found the cartilage.
"OW!" He yelled more in shock at first, then in real pain. He jumped up, but she wasn't letting go. He felt like his ear was being severed off. He shook his head and then when she didn't unattach punched her face. At the third blow she felt something in her jaw break and she let go, slumping back against the wall. The wall burst inwards and Katsuya stepped through the crack, followed by Kouhei, Ichiro and Michiko.
"Did you think you could escape me, you scum?" His sword sliced Touya through the middle, and then a backslash cut through his torso. As Touya fell in three pieces on the ground, Katsuya's violet eyes swept the room. It was then that her rescuers saw Momoko curled in a fetal position against the floor, half naked and covered in blood. She opened her eyes and Katsuya saw her looking at him before she shut them tight again. Michiko scooped her up in her arms. 'She must not weigh much at all, for Michiko to be able to carry a nearly full-grown girl in that position.' Kouhei thought. 'Of course, if all that blood on the floor is hers, she weighs a lot less now.' Michiko's voice broke through his thoughts.
"Kouhei, Katsuya!" She yelled, "Get the others in the house! I'll take care of her." She turned and came back through the way they'd come, a gaping hole in the barn house back to where Isano and Shouta were waiting on horses.
Back at Isano's home in the hills, Momoko still had her eyes closed and was losing consciousness. Gently Isano cleansed the deep gashes in her body and put an herbal paste in all her wounds. It stopped the bleeding and would cause the healing to come much faster than anything else. She wrapped the girl in clean linens, and with Michiko's help put her into a bed. Momoko's eyes opened, she was crying in pain.
Shouta was there, sitting against the bed, and Momoko's voice was making him cry. "Why couldn't that bastard trust us?" He sobbed. "Why wouldn't he let her come with us? How could Katsuya let this happen?"
"He isn't omnipotent, and he did trust us a little." Isano said. "He left her with Ume remember? To protect her. He didn't know the village was going to be overthrown." Her own eyes began to fill. That was ultimately how they had gotten involved, they'd come back and found Ume dead and the village disrupted. Kouhei's nose had put them on the trail of the bandits and they'd finally caught up and found Katsuya there dealing with them. Together the brothers found the house...and Momoko. She wiped her eyes, and glanced at the two children. One was on the bed, horribly hurt, and the other was in an emotional wreck. She couldn't let them see her tears, she couldn't cry yet. It wasn't over.