The characters of the Inuyasha universe are the property
of the brilliant Rumiko Takahashi.
Author's note: This story takes place in Feudal Japan,
many years before
the manga story line, and is also a prequel to my Inuyasha fic, "Vigil."
Illustration by Shannon Galvin. Click on the picture to go to his awesome art gallery.
Part 1: Prelude
by Krista Perry
Inuyasha peered at the human boy carefully from his shelter of branches, foliage, and night darkness. He sat hunched over on a thick branch of the tree, clutching it with his clawed fingers, keeping steady, silent balance. The white-furred canine ears atop his head were alert and twitching, and his eyes were carefully narrowed, ready to blink shut if necessary. After all, if the boy should chance to look up, he would undoubtedly be terrified by the dim glow of golden eyes above him, scrutinizing him from the shadows with unwavering curiosity. And Inuyasha didn't want to scare the boy away.
At least, not at the moment.
The boy appeared to be slightly older than him, about eight or nine years of age. Old enough that his family had apparently given him the responsibility of fetching water from the well on the outskirts of the village. It was strange, Inuyasha mused. Usually, no one came to the well after dark, and were it not for his keen senses, the boy might have taken him by surprise, but he'd had plenty of time to climb the tree and find adequate cover. As it was, he was inwardly delighted. He'd never had a chance to get a look at someone from the village this close before.
The boy set down his empty bucket and carefully hefted the wide square lid from the well. The inside of the well was pitch black; the starlight shining from the cold, clear sky was unable to reach far enough into the darkness to touch the still, silent water. As the boy reached for the rope to haul up the water, something rustled in the nearby bushes, and he froze, his eyes wide and scared, staring out into the dark forest
Inuyasha stifled the urge to laugh. It was nothing more than a squirrel, from the smell of it. But the boy didn't have his sensitive nose, and couldn't tell, of course.
At that moment, Inuyasha's wolfish ears pricked up. Someone was coming up the dirt path from the village. Another human. An adult human. He could already smell the man's sweat from a day's work in the hot sun; hear the quick, deep thrum of the blood through his veins. He tensed apprehensively, his claws digging into the rough bark of the tree branch.
"Sho!" the man called, and the boy at the well started from his frozen fear, and turned to look up the path.
"Father," he called back.
A moment later, the man appeared over the crest of the hill. He ran towards the boy, and knelt down next to him, grasping his shoulders. "Sho," he said firmly, yet Inuyasha could hear a confusing blend of both fear and relief in the man's voice. "What are you doing? We've told you time and again that you are never to come here by yourself, especially after dark!"
The boy looked up into his father's face. "I was just getting water for Mother to make supper," he said shakily. "I just wanted to help."
The man's expression softened. "That's good, but you should have asked me first. We got water from Taketeru-sama. There was no need to come this far away from the village."
"I'm sorry, Father."
"You know these woods are filled with Youkai. They are monsters, evil and merciless, as fast and silent as the wind. They kill humans with their terrible teeth and claws, they have the power to melt flesh with a touch, and they would feast on your blood if they were to catch you. Do you want to end up like that boy, Asami, or the old woman Moto?"
The boy paled in the darkness, and his eyes widened further. He didn't know Moto-san personally, but Asami had been a few years his elder, and the grotesque, mangled remains of his body had been found near the village only a few weeks before. "No," he whispered.
"You must never come here alone again, do you understand? And never after dark."
The boy nodded quickly, casting a terrified glance back towards the woods. The man's eyes followed the boy's gaze, his expression a reflection of his son's. And then, as if following some inner instinct, he looked up to the overhanging branches of the tree above him.
Inuyasha snapped his eyes closed, and held very, very still.
An eternity passed. Inuyasha felt the wind stir the leaves around his face, felt it tug at the tangled mane of ghost-white hair that fell around his shoulders. He could hear the swift throbbing heartbeats of the man and boy below.
"Come." The man spoke at last, hoarsely. "Your mother is worried."
The father and son walked quickly, almost running up the hill that led to the village. Inuyasha listened to them leave, and opened his eyes just in time to see them disappear over the rise.
He let out his breath in a low hiss through fanged teeth.
A moment later, he landed silently on the ground and was running with inhuman speed back into the forest.
The old priest opened his eyes from his meditation to see his young charge standing before him. Kikyo was no more than a child, yet already she wore the robes of a priestess. In her small hands, she held a pile of stiff, white feathers. "Will you help me make more arrows?" she asked politely.
He smiled. "Kikyo, you are perfectly capable of making your own arrows," he said.
Her mouth puckered in a small frown, and her brow furrowed over her large grey eyes. "But I can never get the spells just right," she said. "I need your help."
Taketeru chuckled ruefully. "Child, your worst arrows are already more powerful than mine have ever been."
Kikyo's eyes widened in shock at his words. "Taketeru-sama..." she protested.
He waved her silent with one spotted, withered hand. After all, it was true. As young as she was, the girl had spiritual gifts and a second sight that far surpassed his own abilities. And she had a natural talent with the bow. Which was just as well, if the rumors that were spreading around the village were true, and he suspected that they were. He had felt the dark taint of Youkai around the bodies of the boy and the old woman who had been killed earlier that month. Yes, the girl needed to learn to use her talents as soon as possible so that she could defend the village. And he was wise enough... or scared enough... that he could swallow his pride in deference to her greater abilities.
"If you feel that your arrows are inferior," he said, not unkindly, "all the more reason for you to make them yourself. For you need the practice, and only you can know when the wardings are powerful enough to satisfy yourself."
Kikyo looked at her pile of feathers and sighed. "All right," she said with heavy resignation. She went to sit in the corner, where her pile of straight, smooth arrow shafts lay, to begin the painstaking fletching process.
At that moment, there was an urgent rap on the wooden door of the hut. "Taketeru-sama," called a man's voice.
Taketeru looked up. "Yes, come in," he said.
The door opened, and a man stepped through. He bowed deeply before the old priest, who raised a grey eyebrow in response. "Nishi-san," he said, half amused. "Did you need some more water?"
The man raised his head. His weathered, lined face was pale. "No, honored one. I have come to tell you that I have just seen a Youkai at the edge of the village."
Taketeru frowned, his heart contracting painfully in his chest. "A Youkai," he said seriously. "Are you sure? There is no moonlight to see by this evening."
"I am sure, honored one. The creature was lurking in the branches of the great tree by the well. It had long hair the color of bleached bone that stood out in the shadows, and its ears were that of a wild dog."
Taketeru glanced over at Kikyo. Her eyes were wide with fearful fascination as she listened, the white feathers clutched in her hands.
"Yes," the priest said at last, clearing his throat. "Well, that does seem to fit the description of the demon that killed Moto-san in the fields, doesn't it."
"What should we do, honored one?" Nishi's face had gone waxy with terror at the priest's confirmation of his demon sighting.
"You have the wards I gave you and your family, don't you?"
"Keep them over your doorway and in your windows. When you go to the fields, carry them with you. Tomorrow we will spread the word to the others, and warn them to be cautious at all times."
Nishi bowed. "I will do as you say, honored one."
Taketeru dismissed him with an encouraging smile. When the man was gone, he turned to Kikyo, his expression grave.
"What think you of this, child?" he asked.
Kikyo was pale, and she swallowed hard. "If... if it is a Youkai, it needs to be destroyed before it can kill more people."
"Indeed." Taketeru lowered his gaze, feeling sick as he did so. It was too soon. For both of them. "Do you think you can do it?" he asked quietly.
"Me?!" Kikyo dropped her feathers, and they drifted slowly to the wooden floor around her. "Destroy the Youkai?"
Taketeru sighed. "I am too old. My eyes are weak, my hands unsteady, and my powers are a pale reflection of what they once were. But the power within you, child..." He lifted his gaze and met her terrified eyes. "You could do it if you set your mind to it. Kikyo-sama."
Kikyo blinked. Her master and teacher had never called her by the honorific before, and she felt a sudden flush of pride and fear rise to her cheeks.
She thought furiously. Could she do it? She was only ten years old. Well, almost ten. And she had stopped several spirits, wandering ghosts bent on mischief, with her spells. But were her arrows enough to stop a powerful Youkai? Destroy it?
She had seen the bodies of Asami and Moto-san. Asami's head was gone -- not torn off, but rather, melted, almost. Dissolved away by some unspeakable power. The same with Moto- san. Too old and deaf to hear the warning screams of the others, she hadn't noticed the Youkai until it was too late. There was almost nothing left of her to cremate. Each time, the sight of the carnage had left her retching and shaking with revulsion and fear.
And this Youkai, with the long, bone-white hair, was back; intent, it seemed, on stalking her village, her friends and family, for sport.
Her fists clenched, and she realized that her eyes were wet with tears. She was trembling.
"I'll... I'll try," she said.
Taketeru closed his eyes and nodded sagely.
The night was nearly over. Pale pre-dawn light began to creep into the darkness at the edge of the forested horizon. Inuyasha ran, carefree and fearless through the thick trees, returning once again to a familiar vine-covered hillside.
Home was a cave. So different from the strange, sturdy huts built from wood, stone and clay in the village. Inuyasha crept towards the concealed entrance, listening, sensing, smelling... There was nothing nearby, no creature, sentient or otherwise, who might observe his passage. He slipped among the tangled mass of vines that covered the rock face, his small body wriggling with practiced ease through dense foliage that was at least as deep as the length of his body, until he came to the opening of the cave.
The ward was up. He could feel the pressure of it holding him back, prickling against the smooth skin of his face, making the fur on his ears and the back of his neck rise in response. If he tried to go further, there would be terrible, burning pain. He knew from past experience.
"Mama," he called softly into the narrow mouth of the cave. "Mama, I'm back."
She would be listening for him, he knew. Waiting, the way she always did when he went out into the darkness, drawn by the sweet smell of night wind that could soothe the strange fiery wildness in his heart. The forest was his playground, a veritable feast of sights and smells, trees to climb and animals to hunt. So he could never quite figure out why he always ended up back at that stupid village...
He could smell her, hear the calming sound of her steady heartbeat and the rustle of her multi-layered kimono before the light of her small lamp penetrated the darkness of the bend in the cave corridor. She rounded the corner a moment later, tall and beautiful, the glow of the paper lamp shining in her anxious eyes, on her smiling face, framed by long, rich black hair that seemed almost liquid in the dim light.
She quickly came over and removed the ward -- sacred kanji painted on stiff parchment hanging from a thick silken cord over the entrance -- and set it out of the way on the dirt floor, along with the lamp. Immediately, Inuyasha felt the strange prickling pressure ease, and he pounced through the opening, flinging himself up into his mother's waiting arms.
She held him tight as he wrapped his small arms around her neck, and she whispered into his pale hair. "Inuyasha, my son, my joy... my wild child. You've come back to me."
She said this every time. It was almost ritual, and Inuyasha had long stopped wondering why his mother should be so surprised at his return each night.
After a long moment, she set him down and turned to replace the ward and pick up her lamp. "Come," she said, reaching down to take his hand. "I've fixed you something to eat. Are you hungry?"
Inuyasha looked up at her. "A little," he lied. He'd already eaten. The squirrels were getting fat for the encroaching winter season, and he hadn't been able to resist hunting down at least one or two. Of course, he couldn't tell that to his mother. She didn't approve of him eating raw meat, and insisted on cooking whatever he brought back for her -- like that wild boar he had killed a few days ago -- even though cooking the meat completely ruined the taste. Self-consciously, he licked his lips, afraid he might have missed any flecks of blood that he had painstakingly tried to wash from his face and hands at the river before returning.
The darkness of the cave gradually lightened as they came upon their living area. They emerged from the narrow corridor to a spacious room, hewn from solid rock by huge claws that could cleave through stone as if it was nothing more than soft river clay. In the ceiling were long, narrow holes; ventilation ducts that led to the outside and that let in sunlight or starlight, filtered through the protective camouflage of vines. The holes were all covered now, to keep in the warmth, except for the one directly over the fire pit where his mother had been cooking.
The rest of the cavern had been lovingly decorated with silken drapes, paper screens, bright, colorful tapestries, and lots of paper lamps that she kept constantly lit, except while they slept. It was home, and it was warm and safe, and surprisingly cheery.
His father had made this place for his mother, he knew, long before he was born. Which was about all he knew of his Youkai sire. He often found himself standing at the walls of the cave, running his fingers across the deep, smooth gouges in the wall, gazing in quiet amazement at the huge claw marks, and wondering once again about the demon father he'd never known. If the great canine Youkai, the ruler of all the West lands, had ever deigned to show his terrible demonic form or even his semi-human guise to his half-human son before his death, Inuyasha could not remember.
He knelt on the tatami mat next to the fire, and allowed his mother to serve him a vegetable broth soup, laced with salty strips of pork. He brought the bowl to his lips and sipped carefully, looking at his mother across the rim of the bowl. She was gazing at him with that familiar affection that always made him feel warm inside.
"Mama," he said, setting the bowl down and looking at her curiously. "Are you really human?"
She blinked at him in surprise. "Of course I am, dear. Why would you ask such a thing?"
Inuyasha cocked his head to one side. "Well, you smell like a human," he said matter-of-factly, "but you don't look like one."
His mother raised her eyebrows. "Why do you think so?"
"I've seen the women of the village when they work in the fields. They don't look like you at all. They're all stooped over, and they have small droopy eyes and their skin is tough and wrinkled. You're not like that at all."
His mother laughed softly. "It sounds like you've only seen the old women. Not all women look like that, but some do, when they get older. In fact, someday I might look like those women in the fields."
Inuyasha's eyes widened in horror. "Why?" he asked.
"Because that's the way humans are. After a time, they grow old, and wither... like a cherry left out in the sun."
"Oh." Inuyasha's face clouded. After a moment, he stood and went over to his mother, climbing onto her lap and wrapping his arms around her torso. He leaned his head against her chest. "I don't want you to grow old," he said. "I like you the way you are now."
She held him gently, and stroked his hair and his soft, velvet-furred ears. Her smile was sad. "Sometimes we don't always get what we want."
He thought about that for a moment in melancholy silence, seeking comfort from his mother's warmth. "Will I grow old?" he asked without looking up.
His mother paused, then held him close. "I don't know," she said quietly. "I don't know."
Inuyasha closed his eyes and sighed. Too often, that was the answer to many of his questions.
"You should know," his mother said quietly, "that tomorrow is the new moon."
He groaned and looked up at her. "Already?" he asked, all thoughts of growing old forgotten. Then he remembered the meager crescent that had hung low in the darkness of the early pre-dawn sky, and he growled softly at his own stupidity.
She smiled ruefully. "I'm afraid so."
"I hate the new moon," he said vehemently.
"I know," she soothed. "There's nothing to be done for it, dear. And it's only for one night."
But, in Inuyasha's opinion, one night of suffering through the new moon was one night too long.
The next evening, Inuyasha woke to the sensation of the change. Somewhere, beyond the stone walls of his home, far out into the sky where it hung impassively, dictating the form of his body against his will, the last sliver of light vanished from moon's face.
New moon, he thought, and sat up suddenly. Even in the absolute darkness, he could see that his mother was still asleep, lying next to him in her furs. As usual, the fear gripped him as the change began to seep through his body, squeezing his heart. Trembling, he reached out to wake his mother so that she could hold him, comfort him the way she always did with the darkening of the moon and the changes it wrought on him.
But then, he paused as an idea struck him; an idea so powerful and exciting that his fear was suddenly forgotten. He withdrew his hand as, for the first time, he decided not to wake his mother. Not this time, he thought. No. This time, if his idea worked, the new moon might actually be... fun. So, gathering his courage, he sat back, wrapped his arms firmly around his knees, and waited.
It was like being smothered slowly, and yet still being able to breathe. First, the scents of everything, his mother, the lingering odor of smoke and cooked food, the earth and stone... it all faded to almost nothing. He found himself inhaling deeply with quick desperation, as if trying to recapture the lost sense. He had to force himself to calm down, to breathe normally, because it was gone.
And then the tingling, sharp and painful like a thousand needles under his skin, all the way to his core, as if his entire body had fallen asleep. He tried not to gasp as the Youkai blood ebbed from his veins like the low tide; as he felt his sharp claws pulling back into his fingers, becoming dull and flat; as his fangs pulled back into his gums. He squirmed in silent misery, squeezing his legs with his arms and rocking back and forth as his scalp, and the skull underneath, began to crawl with the sensation of his ears sliding down either side of his head, shifting in shape and texture until he could no longer hear the comforting sound of his mother's heartbeat.
And then, the worst. His eyesight dimmed, as if someone was pouring the blackest of ink into his open eyes, until he could no longer see the sharp non-colored shapes of his surroundings. Instead, there was only total darkness.
Inuyasha trembled, and fiercely fought back the tears that wanted to escape his wide, unseeing eyes. The change was complete. He was blind and deaf, his senses irretrievably blunted for the duration of the new moon. He knew, without being able to see, that his moon-white hair was now as black as wet soot. If his mother had been awake, she would have lit a lamp for him. But she wasn't, and as he sat there in the encompassing blackness, the idea that had seemed so wonderful just a few moments ago lost much of its appeal. He longed to cry out and wake her so that she would take him in her arms and make the darkness go away; ease the fear he felt at being so crippled.
But he didn't. Instead, he sat there, hunched over, staring out into the dark, fighting back the terror within him.
And, as he did, he realized that he wasn't sitting in complete darkness after all. A few embers from the cooking fire, that had long since burned down, still glowed a soft orange from the fire pit. And as his eyes adjusted to the minuscule light, he felt a flood of relief wash through him. And with the relief, a new sense of purpose.
Yes. He wasn't completely blind, nor completely deaf. He knew that, he'd just forgotten with the rush of fear from the change. He could do it after all.
Quietly, carefully, he stood from his furs, and padded slowly and unsteadily towards the narrow corridor that led to the outside, his arms outstretched to keep him from running into a wall in the near-darkness.
It didn't help. His waving hand scraped against the stone corner of the wall, and he hissed in pain, bringing the back of his hand to his mouth to suck on it.
He was bleeding. This stupid body, he thought in sudden disgust. It's so fragile. Breaking at the slightest thing. And his blood didn't even taste good. Just flat, and slightly metallic.
He would have to be more careful, and remember not to injure himself.
Now that his hands had found the wall, though, he was nearly there. Cautiously, he felt his way down the corridor, inching his way around the bend until he felt a cool breeze against his face.
The vine covered entrance was right before him. And above him, the ward hung from its silken cord.
His heart was beating in his throat. He'd never tried anything like this before. He didn't even know if it would work. The memory of the terrible searing pain he'd experienced the one time he'd tried to leave without first letting his mother remove the ward made him shiver convulsively.
Warily, he slowly extended his hand towards the entrance.
Nothing. No pain, no warning prickle against his skin. Just the cool wind blowing through the tangled vines.
Inuyasha grinned. And without a second thought, he crossed the threshold, and squirmed his way through the thick foliage.
In moments, he was on his way at last through the moonless night, heading towards the village where the humans lived.
End of Part One
Next time: A Fateful Meeting