The characters of the Inuyasha universe are the creation and possession of the brilliant Rumiko Takahashi.
Author's note: This story takes place in Feudal Japan, starting before, and then overlapping the manga story line. It takes place in the same continuity as my other ongoing Inuyasha fic, "Half-Breed."
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I remember Kikyo.
How could I not remember her? As her younger sister, I shadowed her every step until the day she died. She filled nearly every waking moment of my life. And then, even when she was gone, she filled a good deal of my thoughts afterwards.
I am old, now. I have lived through three score turns of the seasons. Memories and experiences fill my head and push my youth far from me until it seems as intangible as mist.
But there are times... times like now, as I stare into the sacred flame and hear the old spirits whispering secrets of ages past, present and future to my soul... These are the times when I remember it all like it was yesterday.
The spirits whisper, the flame dances before my eyes... and I see Kikyo as she was back then, nine years my elder, towering over me in strength, power and beauty.
Like the rest of the villagers, I was in awe of her. At seventeen years of age, Kikyo was a legend. She was Priestess, Protector, Youkai Slayer, and Guardian of the Shikon Jewel. Power such as hers hadn't been seen in our village, or even the entire West Lands, for generations.
And I... I was oh, so proud of her. Kikyo. Onee-sama -- my honored older sister.
The flame dances before my eyes, and I remember her.
And the demon who loved her...
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The air, still warm from the last of traces of a fading summer, smelled of pine needles and wild flowers. The forest was lush and green, and the mid-morning sky, tufted with high-flying clouds, shone brilliant blue.
Kikyo looked up from where she knelt on the grass, carefully spreading out sheets of stiff parchment on a smooth spot of ground, and smiled at me as I ran towards her.
"Kaede-chan, you are so quick," she said, reaching out to greet me, smoothing my wind-tousled hair with one gentle hand and patting my cheek. I was warm and flushed from running so fast from the village, and her hand was cool against my skin. "Do you have everything?"
I nodded, gulping air into my lungs as I held up the basket that contained the ink stone, the ink pot, and the two calligraphy brushes that I had retrieved from her belongings. "Will you... show me... how to make... the wards now?" I gasped.
She laughed. "I told you I would. Now catch your breath while I fetch water from the stream." She picked up the ink pot and went over to the small brook that ran down the forested hill towards the village. Ever the picture of unconscious grace, she didn't just plunge the pot into the stream, but rather measured the clear water in her cupped hand, filling the pot with just the right amount so that the powder she ground from the ink stone would create ink of perfect fluid consistency.
She could have trained me in the village, I suppose, within the protective incense-choked walls of the shrine. But Kikyo loved the forest, with all its vibrancy and life. She often said she felt more in tune with her power sitting in the shade of a tree on a sun-lit day, than in the confines of four walls, sacred or not.
When she returned, I was ready, kneeling anxiously before the piles of parchment. Though I was no longer flushed, I was near breathless with excitement. I had waited so long for this. I knew all the prayers and holy words by heart. Kikyo had helped me learn them long ago, but finally, finally, on my eighth birthday, she was going to show me how to put real power into the sacred kanji. Power to help and to heal. Power that could bring better health and harvest for our village. Power that could drive away the most evil spirit, or the fiercest youkai.
For, like Kikyo, I had the Gift, the Sense for such things. Though my Gift was stronger than the average shaman's, and thus nothing to be taken lightly, it was weak, nearly trivial in comparison to Kikyo's power. After all, I could see the aura of light that radiated from my older sister. I could feel her power, and I knew all too well that it dwarfed my own.
I might have blamed my power's comparative weakness on my youth, had I not been told over and over again by the villagers that when Kikyo was my age, she was already creating wards powerful enough to drive away some of the more dangerous youkai that skulked the surrounding lands.
But I didn't care that my Gift wasn't as great. I didn't want to fight youkai. The thought of youkai filled me with terror, for I had seen them from afar, with their burning eyes, their evil black auras, and their malicious thirst for human misery. It was well known that an unprotected human who fell into the hands of a youkai was as good as dead -- or worse.
I knew. I had seen the recovered, shredded remains of those unfortunate enough to fall into the merciless hands of those hell spawn.
Yes, I was more than happy to let Kikyo deal with the youkai. She was strong and courageous. Her skill with the bow was unequaled, and her sacred arrows always flew true to their mark. The youkai knew of her power, and they feared her. They feared her even more than they lusted after the Shikon Jewel that she always wore around her neck; the Jewel she was sworn to protect. And, for the most part, the youkai stayed away. As for those that didn't stay away, Kikyo destroyed them, utterly.
She knelt beside me and put her hand on my shoulder, stirring me from my grim thoughts. Self-consciously, I carefully dipped my brush into the ink pot.
"You know the brush strokes," she said softly. "Now, as you put the brush to the parchment, focus on the prayer. Let its meaning fill your heart. You will feel the power stir within you. Let the power of the prayer flow through you, into your hands, into the ink..."
I closed my eyes, brush held ready over the parchment, and obeyed. The prayer was a simple one, for the health and safety of a newborn child. As the words flowed through my mind, I reached inside myself for the familiar thrum of energy and felt...
I blinked, frustrated. "I can't feel it," I said.
"You're too tense," Kikyo said gently. "Relax. Don't try to force it. You know what it feels like. Just focus on combining the prayer with your..."
She trailed off abruptly. I opened my eyes to look at her, and saw that she was staring off into the distance. Her head was cocked to one side, as if she was listening to something far away. Her hands reached for her bow, and the quiver of sacred arrows at her back.
"What is it?" I asked, a sudden feeling of dread filling my insides.
"A youkai," she said, frowning.
Every muscle in my body tensed in fear. "Where?"
"Close." Kikyo's brow creased with concentration for a moment... and then she relaxed. "It's Inuyasha."
I felt my skin go cold.
Inuyasha. I had heard of this youkai. This creature was powerful. Dangerous. A savage humanish demon with yellow eyes, sharp claws and fangs, and the ears of a wild dog. Rumor said its claws could cleave through the hardest stone or the finest tempered steel.
And Inuyasha, like nearly every other youkai on earth, lusted after the power of the Shikon Jewel that my sister wore around her neck.
I stared at Kikyo in shock. "Is it coming after the Jewel again?" I asked. She nodded absently, still staring off into the distance, and I swallowed hard. "Why haven't you destroyed it yet?" I demanded. Her actions made no sense. Youkai were vicious and deadly, with no regard for human life. I glanced around nervously. "It keeps coming back. It's not giving up. What if it kills someone?"
Kikyo turned and gave me a sharp look. "Inuyasha has never taken a human life," she said firmly.
I was surprised at both her words and her tone, and it showed in my face. Her own expression had changed from her usual calm, to an anxious defensiveness.
A sudden impossible thought blossomed in my mind. "You... you don't want to kill it," I said incredulously.
"Kaede-chan." Kikyo looked at me, her eyes pleading with me to understand something beyond my comprehension. "There is a good reason. Inuyasha..." She paused and seemed to grope for the right words. "He... isn't like other youkai."
"What do you mean?" The thought of a youkai being near terrified me to the core, and now my priestess sister was acting strange. Why would she let such a creature wander so close to the village? I had seen what a youkai could do to an unprotected human. I had seen the... the blood, the carnage, the death...
"Kaede-chan, listen to me." Kikyo grasped my shoulders gently and looked me in the eyes. "I understand that you are afraid, but you have to trust me. Inuyasha is not a full youkai. His father was a demon, but his mother... his mother was human."
I blinked, stunned. My blood felt like ice in my veins. "Human," I breathed. I was young, but I was far from ignorant. As the younger sister of the village Shamaness, I had learned more of the world and its many faces of evil than some people twice my age. I knew enough to understand what her words implied. Inuyasha was half-youkai. Which meant that a youkai and a human woman...
Oh... The poor woman. She couldn't have willingly...
I found myself trembling.
But Kikyo didn't seem to be thinking about the fate of the woman who had been forced to bear a monster child.
"He is half human, Kaede-chan," she said, her voice dropping into an intense whisper. "He has a conscience. But he... he is confused. He is fighting a war within himself, torn between his two natures. At times he is as violent and terrible as the worst youkai... but I can't destroy him... I won't destroy him unless I know--"
She broke off, and raised her head abruptly, staring into the trees that lined the hillside behind me. Then she met my gaze and gave me a firm look; a look that came from the Priestess, and not my sister. "He is coming," she said. "Hurry, run back to the village. I will handle this."
She stood and gave me a gentle shove, but I didn't move, still reeling from fear and the confusion her words had stirred in me.
Something rustled in the foliage at the edge of the clearing.
"Go," Kikyo commanded.
I moved. Turning, I fled swiftly down the hill through the thick trees. I ran through shrubs, through branches and pine needles and thorns that tore at my skin and drew blood, but I kept running...
And then I stopped.
Kikyo was alone. A powerful youkai was coming -- a youkai for whom my sister felt a strange incomprehensible compassion.
She didn't want to kill it. Not yet, at least. What if the demon deceived her? What if it lured her, with its cunning treachery, into lowering her defenses? It would kill her. My dear, sweet sister. She would offer it misguided kindness, and it would murder her and steal the Jewel; it would absorb the Jewel's power...
Kikyo would be angry with me if I didn't return to the village where it was safe. But I couldn't leave her alone. Not when she herself was torn between compassion and duty...
Shaking, swallowing the fear that thickened my throat, I turned and crept back up the hillside, through the thick foliage, as silently as possible. A deep, primal part of me was screaming that I was being foolish; that I was only putting myself in danger. What could I possibly do to help her if the youkai should attack?
I would do something. Anything.
As I drew closer to where I had left Kikyo, I heard voices. My sister's gentle murmur. And a male voice, shouting angrily.
"...don't want to hear it! So shut up already!"
"Don't want to hear what? That I can feel that your heart is human?"
At Kikyo's soft-spoken words, a terrible bestial snarl rent the air, leaving me trembling where I lay, face down, in my hiding place amongst the thick foliage. I prayed fervently to the gods to protect my foolish sister.
"I said SHUT UP, OR I'LL TEAR YOUR THROAT OUT!"
"I've known you a long time, Inuyasha." My sister's voice was insanely calm. "You can't fool me with your empty threats."
Another snarl. "Empty, are they?"
There was a horrible moment of silence, when I couldn't hear what was happening, and I didn't dare move or raise my head for fear of being discovered.
The silence was broken by the hiss of an arrow piercing the air, followed by a solid thunk. The first arrow was quickly followed by several others, each arrow thudding loudly in its target.
I blinked. Had she..?
"Arghhhh! Why you--!"
No. It was still alive. But then, even with my fear at hearing the youkai's voice, at being discovered, I raised my head to see what had happened, knowing that my sister must have done something...
And, through my cover of leaves, I saw Inuyasha for the first time.
Kikyo had artfully pinned him by his scarlet robes to the trunk of a large tree, and he was furiously, if ineffectively, trying to pull free of the sacred arrows.
But that wasn't what left me with my mouth hanging open in shock.
My sister was right. He wasn't like other youkai. His aura was unlike anything I'd ever seen; a swirl of stormy gray, scarlet and gold. Certainly different from the evil-permeated midnight black auras of other youkai I'd seen.
My next impression was of how young he seemed, which was strange considering that he was obviously at least several years older than I was. He looked to be about the same age as Kikyo, if not a little younger. His face was boyish and smooth, and he appeared almost human, but for his long sweeping mane of ghost-white hair, the gold gleam of his slitted-pupil eyes, and the white-furred canine ears atop his head. His fangs were bared in frustration as he struggled futilely to free himself from Kikyo's impromptu prison. I had heard tales of his legendary strength, but the sacred arrows had rendered him helpless.
He stopped struggling after a moment, and looked at my sister, his golden eyes heavy with resentment and anger. Then, sullenly, he dropped his gaze. "Dammit, Kikyo," he said. "Why don't you just kill me and get it over with?"
A fleeting, tight expression crossed my sister's face. Then, slowly, she straightened, turned away from her captive... and began to walk away.
Inuyasha's ears twitched at the soft sound of her bare footsteps on the grass, and his gaze snapped up.
I've seen youkai eyes before. Their eyes burn with a maliciousness and a hatred of all things human, even when they are smiling. Especially when they are smiling.
Inuyasha was not smiling, and his eyes were filled with... something else. Anger, most certainly. But there was also... confusion. And...
I blinked in surprise.
"Don't come around again, Inuyasha." My sister's voice was weary and sad as she walked down the hill. "It's a waste of my arrows."
Inuyasha said nothing. He just stared with impotent bitterness at my sister's back until she disappeared amidst the trees.
Oh no. Kikyo was gone. An icy sweat broke out along my spine as I lay nearly face down in the dirt. She was returning to the village, and I was alone, hiding in the shrubbery, less than five body lengths from a youkai.
I held perfectly still. Not a difficult task, since my limbs were rigid with terror. I wanted to close my eyes and bury my head in my arms, but for some reason - fear, fascination, or both - I couldn't tear my eyes away from the trapped youkai-boy in front of me.
Inuyasha clenched his teeth as he twisted his left arm backwards, trying to reach the arrow that pinned his sleeve. He was agile enough, and his robes were loose enough that, after a moment of maneuvering, it was well within his reach.
Then he paused, his clawed fingers hovering just over the surface of the smooth wooden shaft. A flicker of hesitation flashed across his face.
His eyes narrowed. Taking a deep breath, he reached out and grasped the arrow tightly in his fist. Tendrils of smoke rose from his fingers, and a hiss of pain escaped through his teeth as the youkai warding seared his demon flesh, but he held on. With a tremendous yank, he pulled the arrow from the tree. With one arm free, it was only moments before he had quickly, if painfully, removed the rest of the arrows that held him prisoner. Dropping lightly to the ground, he examined his burned hands with disgust and clenched his fists.
Then he raised his head... and looked right at me.
I was so petrified with terror that, even if I'd had the time to react, I couldn't have done a thing. He was next to me in a single swift leap, and before I knew what was happening, he plunged his hand into my leafy hiding place, snagged me by the back of my kimono, and pulled me none-too-gently from the shrubbery.
As I felt myself torn from my hiding place, I opened my mouth to scream, but all the moisture had evaporated from my throat, and all I managed was a gasp. I looked into the youkai's face and felt my blood gel in my veins, fully expecting to die violently in the next moment.
"Huh," he grunted, holding me up to his face and scrutinizing me with his feral golden eyes. "You're just a kid!" He seemed genuinely surprised. Then he sneered, his lip curling back to expose one fang. "Who do you think you're hiding from?" he asked derisively. "I could smell your human stench from a hell of a lot farther than that tree. In fact..." His eyes narrowed slightly, and he raised an eyebrow. "You smell a lot like Kikyo. You look like her too." Then, realization lit his features. "Hey, I bet you're that kid-sister she's always talking about, right?"
When I didn't respond, he scowled and shook me a little. "What's the matter with you, brat? Don't you know how to talk?"
My mind was numb; I couldn't comprehend what he was saying. Even so, I finally found a vestige of my voice. "P-please..." I whimpered hoarsely. "D-don't kill me..."
Inuyasha blinked. "Wha--?" His expression twisted strangely, as if he wasn't sure whether to laugh, or fly into a snarling rage. He finally settled on a mid-point of looking extremely annoyed.
"Look, brat," he said. "You're Kikyo's sister. Even if I wanted to, I'd be a fool to kill you."
I blinked, tears of relief abruptly pooling in my eyes. Of course he wouldn't kill me. If he did, Onee-sama would avenge my death. If he killed me, he would be signing his own death warrant. My body trembled with vestiges of terror, relief and amazement. My sister had saved me, and she wasn't even present.
My intense relief that Inuyasha was going to let me live, however, was quickly squashed with his next words. He paused, and gave me an appraising look. "Naw, I can't kill you." A wicked smile quirked at the edges of his lips. "Not when I can exchange you for the Shikon Jewel instead."
I froze. He lifted me by the back of my kimono until I hung in front of his face, staring into his glinting, golden eyes. "Whaddya think, kid? Is your life worth enough to your sister that she'd give me the Jewel to get you back?"
My eyes widened in horror. "No," I whispered, as I suddenly understood what he was planning. "Please... She can't give you the Jewel... not even for my life."
He barked a short laugh. "Yeah, right. Kikyo's always been a sucker for mushy crap, like... family and stuff." Inuyasha rolled his eyes in derision, and yet... he seemed suddenly uncomfortable. In that moment I thought I saw that strange look of distant, haunted pain in his eyes again.
But the look faded quickly as he held me up in front of his face again. "Kikyo risks her life to protect total strangers," he said, "so hell, she'd probably do anything to protect her own sister." He smirked. "This is perfect! I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner. With you, I'll have the Jewel in no time."
A spark of anger flared within me as I listened to him plot to use me as a pawn against Onee-sama. The spark burned through my paralyzing fear for the first time since I'd laid eyes on this demon. It also, unfortunately, loosened my tongue.
"I'm not the one who's underestimating my sister, you are," I snapped. "She's the greatest priestess around! Her duty to protect the Jewel comes above all else, even family! She'd sacrifice anything to keep it out of your hands!" I glared at him with as much ferocity as I could muster. "And so would I," I added.
Inuyasha stared at me, his golden eyes wide with shock at my outburst.
As soon as the words left my mouth, my brief spark of courage fled from me, and I was abruptly, acutely aware of the feel of Inuyasha's claws, razor sharp, gripping the back of my kimono. I can't believe I said that, I thought, my fear returning with such intensity that I could suddenly feel my heart beating swiftly in my throat. Still, the words were true. And, in spite of my fierce desire for self-preservation that made me want to suddenly cry, to plead and grovel for my life, I wasn't about to take them back.
Inuyasha looked at me silently for a long moment. "Are you telling me," he asked softly, "that you'd rather die than let me have the Jewel?"
I swallowed hard. Trembling, I nodded, even knowing that the truth might get me killed.
"Because," I said hoarsely. "You're a monster."
Then, slowly, his countenance darkened, his surprise melting to a fierce scowl.
Without another word, he flipped me around and tucked me under one arm like a sack of grain, causing me to shriek in sudden terror. The next moment, Inuyasha leaped in to the air and rushed into the thick of the forest with inhuman speed, leaving behind the village, my sister, and all my hopes of salvation. The wind roared in my ears at our passage, and the scenery flashed by so fast that I clenched my eyes shut in fear.
"Monster, huh?" I heard Inuyasha murmur angrily. "Not yet, I'm not.
"But just you wait until I get that Jewel."
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Next time: Hostage