The Fang and the Flower by Chiaztolite

I Think I Know You From Before

The wooden lattice screens that decorated her new second-floor room windows had a distinct basket-weave pattern. It had been the first thing that caught her eyes when Okami-san moved her into this room, on the day she became an official Tayū, a courtesan of the highest rank.

That particular pattern was called ‘Kagome’.

Ironically, she was no longer known by that name. Not in this house, or anywhere else in the yōkai Pleasure District of Nishihara.

In fact, no one had called her ‘Kagome’ for the better part of twenty-five years.

Now, she was known as Higurashi of the Otonari house. A celebrated courtesan, skilled in the arts of conversations, music, and dance.

She considered requesting Okami-san to replace the lattice screens. One with a hemp design, perhaps, or something else. Anything that was not a reminder of her past self. However, she could not bring herself to make the request, knowing she was newly crowned as Tayū. Perhaps in a few months, she could ask for the favour after earning more income for the house and shaving a little more off her debts to the proprietress.

As she looked around her room, empty aside from an elaborate dressing table with a mirror, she caught sight of the dust motes twinkling in the late afternoon sun. The hours grew late; they were approaching twilight. In a few minutes, her helpers and the hairdresser would arrive. They would once again begin the series of rituals that would transform her from an ordinary woman into one of the most desirable Oiran in Nishihara.  

Kagome peered at the outside world through the gaps between her lattice screen, soaking up the last vestiges of the sun. A fleet of ships floated in the distant sky. They were pleasure ships that could be hired for parties and entertainment. Very popular for the upper-class, especially during the full moons, though the wealthiest families would have their own. Nearby, a pair of dragons and some crow demons weaved in and out of the clouds before transforming into humanoid forms and landing on the street.  

She saw the market tables and displays lining the streets during the day had been brought in. Servants from different tea houses were sweeping the roads and alleys free of the dirt and dust that had accumulated throughout the day. Sentries began to apply yōki flame to light the gold and red lanterns that decorated the exterior of the buildings.

Soon, the entire town would come alive amidst the darkness of the night, bathed in a golden and crimson glow.

She turned and approached the dressing table, sinking onto her knees until her face was levelled with the mirror. Then, she opened her numerous pots of paint, rouge, and kohl, picked up a brush and began to apply her make-up.

Soon, it would be her turn to shine too.


The light from the gold and red lanterns was nearly blinding in its intensity. Even the night sky seemed to have received a golden wash across the deep indigo. The entire town was lit up, a glowing beacon that invited yōkai to come from all corners of the realm. They arrived in droves from the sky, land, and sea. A row of pleasure ships docked on the harbour, their colourful flags billowing in the wind. Courtesans in jewel-toned kimono tittered behind silk fans as they climbed up the gangplanks on their way to entertain their patrons.

Sesshōmaru carved his path along the illuminated streets filled with a throng of yōkai. The night was just beginning, but festivities were already in full swing.

A crowd in a public place was not usually his scene. But after he exerted a little amount of yōki, it parted around him obligingly, giving him a wide berth and made things more bearable for him. Females of all shapes and colours leaned over from the balconies and waved, vying for his attention. Some tossed perfumed handkerchiefs onto the street to attract male yōkai with their scents.

Sesshōmaru ignored them all. He did not frequent the Pleasure District. No matter how refined the house was rumoured to be, he still found it gaudy and excessive. The attention of the females was cloying. Their painted faces and perfumed bodies provided him with neither comfort nor solace.

But he knew: Nishihara, despite its reputation as the den for the pleasures of the flesh, was also an excellent place to pick up information. Uncover old secrets, and gather new ones. Periodic visits were necessary to keep himself up to date with the comings and goings in the yōkai realm. Especially when his duties as the Lord of the Western Lands sometimes kept him in the human world for long periods.

He had also heard whisperings about a new courtesan from Otonari house who had taken the red-light district by storm despite her human heritage. If rumours were to be believed, she was beautiful, elegant, graceful, and skilled in all forms of arts.

She was also rumoured to have eyes the colour of the rare azure jade.

When he had heard the descriptions of said Oiran, the memory of a particular human Miko popped into his head. He had not seen or even thought about his half-brother’s former entanglement for two decades. Yet, at the first mention of blue eyes, her face reappeared in his mind.

He could not deny: his interest was piqued.

And invoking the interest of the Lord of the Western Lands was not a small feat.  

He mildly considered pulling some strings to obtain an appointment with the female in question when he saw a procession coming his way. A crowd started to form around him as the throng of yōkai lined up to watch.

Hushed voices rippled through the crowd, reaching his ears.

“Higurashi Oiran… It’s Higurashi Oiran.”

His forehead creased into a frown. Higurashi? That name did sound vaguely familiar.

Curiosity won. He stood aside and watched.

The Oiran was accompanied by two young helpers and four male attendants in a slow-moving parade along the street. One of her attendants scattered crimson petals at her feet every time she took one step after the other on her lacquered black platform slippers. Eyes trained forward, a mysterious smile played about her perfectly painted red lips.

Then, as though she sensed his presence, her kohl-lined gaze slid towards his direction. Their eyes met and held. In truth, it could not be more than a few seconds – the length that it took a butterfly to perch on one’s finger before taking flight. But it felt like an eternity.

I think I know you from before.

Her eyes. He recognized those eyes. Even though they had lost the glitter of innocence they held before, they were undoubtedly hers.

Sesshōmaru detected the shock that rattled her to the core before she smoothed the ruffles down with the kind of expertise that would make any yōkai proud. She proceeded as though no revelation was made.

Without the rumours to bring her existence to his attention, perhaps he would not have recognized her. She had undoubtedly transformed. Dressed richly and extravagantly in multi-coloured robes of black, gold, and red, she was now a far sight from that young girl in skimpy costume who had appeared in the Plains of Musashi out of nowhere. Far from the young woman in red and white Miko uniform, the way he remembered her the last time he visited the village.   

She was now a picture of a woman at the pinnacle of bloom. Posture straightened, head held high, she sashayed under the enraptured eyes of hundreds of yōkai. Alluring, seductive. Out-of-reach for most males gathering in the crowd.

But— she was moving at such a glacier pace he began to wonder if she really was the same girl who had flitted about the Plains of Musashi with a bow and arrow, hunting Shikon jewel shards and fighting demons in the interim. He was surprised any yōkai would stand patiently to witness a slow-moving spectacle like this. He had only watched for a few minutes, and already, his hands itched to pick the woman up and carry her to the destination just for the sake of speeding things up.

Lo and behold, after what felt like a couple of years later, she finally made it to her destination: a tea house merely two hundred meters away.

Once she disappeared from view, Sesshōmaru followed her into the tea house.


When Kagome caught a glimpse of Sesshōmaru standing on the side of the street, watching the procession, she nearly stumbled on her ten-inch-high platform slippers. However, she maintained her poise with nary a pause, and the parade continued like nothing was amiss.

At first, she thought she had been mistaken. Or perhaps— she hoped she had been mistaken.

But there was no mistaking the distinguished figure of the Lord of the Western Lands. Even after twenty-five years had passed, he still looked practically the same.

He wore the same magnificent regalia with his mokomoko draped over one shoulder — even if the white pelt looked quite fuller and longer than she remembered. His hair was the same brilliant silver colour, the same silky texture, though it seemed to have grown by a couple of inches or so.

But in the split second that their gaze collided, she realized: his eyes. Those eyes had not changed. The golden was as intense as ever. And when he narrowed his eyes in recognition, she felt the tremble in her spine.

Kagome had not known what to do, so she kept her eyes trained in front of her throughout the remainder of the procession. She passed the daiyōkai without her giving him any more visible attention.

She heaved a discreet sigh of relief the moment she stepped into the tea house, shutting the crowd behind her.

Alas, he would not grant her the reprieve.

The whisperings of his name and the greetings that were associated with it reached her ears before she even turned around to find him inside the tea house.

“Oh! Sesshōmaru-sama!”

“Welcome, Sesshōmaru-sama!”

“It’s been a while, Sesshōmaru-sama!”

Straightening herself, with her attendants gathering around her, Kagome turned around and dared a look. He stood there, just beyond the entrance threshold: large, imposing, and resplendent. Even without exerting his yōki, his presence was overwhelming. Immediately, with the daiyōkai inside, the elegant foyer of the tea house felt as narrow and cramped as a broom closet.

She had known from the start that working in a place reserved for yōkai meant she might one day encounter Sesshōmaru. Kagome thought that when the time arrived, she would be ready. But the time was now, and she was so far from ready, she might as well be naked instead of wearing multiple layers of kimono and obi.

Fortunately, her Okami-san stepped forward to greet their guest.

“Welcome to our humble tea house, Sesshōmaru-sama. How may we be of service this evening?”

“Okami-san,” he greeted in his smooth, rich baritone voice. “This one would like to meet with Higurashi Oiran. Now.”

The Lord's request brought utter silence down upon those who were present. The proprietress glanced nervously between the daiyōkai and the Oiran.

“My Lord Sesshōmaru.” Okami-san bowed deeply, her tone sufficiently regretful. “Higurashi Oiran has been requested by Lord Ryūji for this evening. Please, permit me to introduce you to another courtesan available tonight. She is beautiful, talented, and—“

“Okami-san,” Sesshōmaru interjected. “This one does not like to repeat himself. I am requesting the company of Higurashi Oiran. No one else’s.”

There was a heavy silence before the proprietress bowed again.

“Sesshōmaru-sama,” Okami-san said. “As one of the lords of the realm, you must be aware of the rules already: the patron does not dictate the service of the Oiran. It is her right to choose whether to accept you as her patron.”

“Then, permit this one to ask the Oiran in private.” Though his words were still reasonably courteous, his voice had dropped to a lower, more dangerous register.

There was another stretch of silence as Okami-san gaped at the insistent Lord.

“Sesshōmaru-sama,” Okami-san pleaded. “This is highly irregular. As customs dictated, a minimum of three meetings is required before Higurashi Oiran may be moved to make her decision. My Lord, I beg you to abide by the traditions. If you wish, I can have the first meeting arranged with Higurashi Oiran at a later date.“

Sesshōmaru’s eyes narrowed.

It was a battle of will, of sorts, between the proprietress of the house and the Lord. Nishihara was perhaps one of the very few places in the yōkai realm where a daiyōkai, no matter how rich and powerful, could not stomp his feet and expect his every whim to be obeyed. The strict rules and traditions had existed for generations, put in place with the specific purpose of allowing the Pleasure District and everyone working there to operate properly and to flourish. Fighting and excessive use of yōki were also expressly forbidden.

Flouting these rules might lead to banishment from the pleasure district.

Kagome must admire Okami-san’s tenacity in maintaining the order and protocol of Nishihara, as well as in protecting her rights and privileges as one of the most accomplished courtesans in town. Even in the face of the Lord of the Western Lands’ chilling glare, designed to intimidate, the proprietress would not budge.

But, if Sesshōmaru was still the same as she remembered him, she knew he would also refuse to back off.

“Okami-san,” Kagome spoke in her most conciliatory tone. “Perhaps, given Lord Sesshōmaru’s name and reputation, we may make an exception just this once? Ryūji-sama is known to be generous and wise. Therefore, we may be able to beg the Lord's forgiveness and understanding. I will be sure to also apologize to him in person later on.”

As Okami-san stared at her, Kagome could see the turmoil warring inside the proprietress’ eyes. She gave her employer her best reassuring smile until the tension in the air began to dissipate.

Finally, Okami-san relented.

“Escort Sesshōmaru-sama to Tsubaki room,” she whispered to one of the servants standing beside her. “Ensure he has everything he needs until Higurashi Oiran joins him.”

Kagome watched the daiyōkai figure retreating into one of the corridors that would lead him to the assigned room. She took a slow, deep breath. How many minutes did she have before she had to go and join him?

The knot of nerves that had appeared when she spotted Sesshōmaru in the crowd steadily tightened.


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