Hunting the Sage
"'Dear Miss Love, my name is Aisha, and I've been friends with this great guy for the last three years. Many times I think that he cares about me but I'm still scared to ask him how he feels. I really like him. I can't imagine my life without him. I'd rather keep our friendship, though, if he doesn't feel the same way. What should I do?'"
"Why do you have to read me that crap?" InuYasha grumbled as he ran through the forest with Kagome on his back.
"What else is there to do?" she countered as she pulled the magazine away from his grasping hand. "Do you want to hear the answer or not?"
"Keh! Not really . . ."
Kagome rolled her eyes. "'Dear Aisha, you're not doing yourself any favors by not telling this guy how you feel. If he's as great as you say he is, then he'll let you down nicely, if he doesn't feel the same way. There's never any harm in trying, and who knows? You might find that the two of you are soul mates.'" She sighed dreamily.
"Put that away before I shred it," InuYasha ordered. "Girls from your time talk too much."
She made a face but managed to slip the magazine into the pocket on the side of her bag without incident. "Do you think this sage knows anything, really?" she ventured.
He shrugged. "That's what I've heard. They say he's the oldest human alive."
Kagome wrinkled her nose. "He doesn't have a Ninmenka tree, does he?" she asked suspiciously.
InuYasha snorted. "Keh."
"It's possible," she defended her question. An involuntary shiver ran up her spine as she remembered one of the times she had thought she'd lost InuYasha. He'd been human and had fallen over the side of the high cliff with the sage from Togenkyo . . . She could only thank kami that he had been caught on the way down by the Tree of the Human-Faced Fruits, Ninmenka. That the tree had every intention of absorbing InuYasha . . . well, he'd returned to his hanyou form in time to defeat the tree before that could happen.
"Possible, maybe. I doubt that he does, though. Anyway, if he knows anything . . ."
Kagome sighed. She loved being so close to InuYasha, especially when he was being so agreeable, for the most part. Without a second thought, she reached up and rubbed his ear. He flicked the appendage away from her probing fingers. She giggled and grabbed for it again. He loosened his hold on her legs, silently threatening to drop her. Instinctively, she tightened her legs on his hips to keep herself from falling. His grip tightened instantly, and she frowned in confusion as his cheeks reddened.
"Did I do something?" she asked as she leaned forward to better see his face.
"Nope," he answered, his tone tight, controlled.
"Why are you blushing?" she asked suspiciously.
"Keh. I'm not."
Ears twitching like little radars on his head, InuYasha's head snapped up as his eyes darted around. Suddenly he stopped and knelt down to let Kagome off his back. "Youkai?" she whispered, glancing around in a slightly nervous way.
"Yeah . . . and it don't smell friendly. Stay back."
"Okay," Kagome agreed as she stepped back, tugging the bow off her shoulder and reaching over her shoulder for an arrow.
InuYasha cracked his knuckles as he peered around. "Come out. I know you're there," he called.
Kagome gasped as the shining blue-green-skinned dragonfly youkai flew out of the foliage to land before them. Grotesquely human yet bearing the same sort of coloring and scaly skin as the insect, the being hovered above the ground, barring the path, kept afloat on silvery, translucent wings. "You bear it, girl . . . the Shikon no Tama . . . give it to me!"
Kagome stepped back, hand clutching her chest, holding the jewel. InuYasha snorted. "Keh. You want it? Then you gotta get through me."
"A half-breed?" the dragonfly youkai taunted. "You wish to battle me? Don't make me laugh!"
"This half-breed is more than you can handle!" InuYasha assured him. "If you want to die, then just come on."
Zipping forward, propelled by his iridescent wings, the youkai slashed with the razor sharp protrusions on his arms as InuYasha grabbed Kagome and leaped out of the way. "Stay back here," he instructed as he rushed forward, claws extended. "Sankon-tetsusou!" he bellowed, slashing through the air with his claws outstretched.
The dragonfly arched away from the flying claws. InuYasha gritted his teeth as the attack barely missed. The youkai laughed. "So slow, half-breed! Why is that?"
InuYasha pushed off the ground, launching himself at the dragonfly again. Arms straight down at his sides, InuYasha drew back and slashed with his claws again. The youkai extended his arm, shooting a blade out of his upturned palm. He tried to alter his course but wasn't quite fast enough. The spear-like blade caught him in mid-air, impaled InuYasha's shoulder, and Kagome cried out his name as InuYasha's pained scream echoed through the forest.
With a vicious sneer, the dragonfly retracted the spear, and InuYasha fell to the ground, gripping his shoulder. Pushing himself to his feet was slow, but he managed and in the stillness, he dragged Tetsusaiga from the scabbard as it transformed in a flash of brightest light and held it at the ready.
"Ah . . . what a pretty sword! When I defeat you, I'll have to take it, hmm?"
"Keh. Just try it, bastard."
Kagome's eyes widened suddenly as the sense of a familiar youki drew closer. "InuYasha-"
"I'm a little busy here, wench," he growled
"But-" she tried again.
"Kaze no Kizu!" he yelled, bringing Tetsusaiga smashing into the ground as streaks of flame rushed at the youkai who managed to avoid the attack for the most part. One of his wings wasn't so lucky. Acrid smoke filled the air as the youkai screeched in outraged pain.
"Damn you, dog-shit! Are you trying to fucking kill me?" a new voice called out
InuYasha groaned inwardly. "If I was trying, Kouga, you'd damn well be dead."
Much to InuYasha's irritation, the mangy wolf youkai ran into the small clearing and skidded to a stop right next to Kagome. "Oi, Kagome . . . so how've you been?"
"Kouga . . . pretty good . . ."
"Get away from her!" InuYasha snarled without taking his eyes off the dragonfly youkai.
"Having trouble, mutt-face? Let me show you how a real man handles the likes of that weak wanna-be butterfly," Kouga remarked as he swaggered forward and pushed InuYasha aside.
InuYasha winced since Kouga had very deliberately shoved against his already injured shoulder. With a decisive snort, the hanyou broke into a sprint toward the youkai as he raised Tetsusaiga over his head. Kouga broke into a run, too, and shoved InuYasha aside again. InuYasha rolled to his feet with a vicious snarl as Kouga foolishly got too close. "Watch out!" Kagome shrieked a moment too late.
The youkai shot out the spear again. Kouga jumped back but still caught the tip of the spear in his calf. With a hiss of pain, Kouga landed on his feet but stumbled back.
"Keh! Fucking wolf! Get outta my way!" InuYasha bellowed as he lunged forward again. The dragonfly youkai couldn't dodge fast enough, and with an angry cry, he exploded in a violent burst of glitter and dust as Tetsusaiga cut through him. "There," InuYasha remarked as he dropped Tetsusaiga into the sheath. "I could have done that sooner if some stupid jackass would have stayed the hell out of my way."
Turning back with a very smug grin on his face, the expression faded as he saw Kagome kneeling beside Kouga with her first aid kit out. She dabbed gently at the paltry wound as InuYasha's gaze narrowed. 'I damn near get my arm ripped off, and she's fawning all over that fucking bastard? Keh! Fine!'
"Come on, Kagome. We ain't got time for him."
"In a minute," Kagome answered, her tone preoccupied as she rummaged through her kit for a roll of gauze.
With an irritated sigh, InuYasha swung back around again, hands on hips as he glowered murderously at the back of Kouga's head.
"I was looking for you, Kagome. I'm ready to claim you as my woman now."
She dropped the roll of gauze and sat up a little straighter as a wash of hot color flooded her cheeks. "Wh-what?" she managed to squeak out.
InuYasha didn't wait to hear more. Stalking forward to drag Kagome away from Kouga if need be, he grabbed her arm as Kouga grabbed her free hand. "Over my dead fucking body, you nasty little-"
"Ouch!" Kagome gasped as the two tugged in opposite directions.
InuYasha immediately let go, afraid that he really would hurt her if he didn't. Unfortunately the action sent her careening forward. She caught herself with her newly emancipated hand against Kouga's chest. She started to push away but the wolf youkai caught her with his free hand, snaking his fingers through her hair and dragging her forward into a kiss.
Kagome froze, eyes wide with panic as she tried to recover from the shock of being kissed. InuYasha couldn't see her face.
"What the-Oi! You can't-Damn it-Get your fucking lips off her, you stupid bastard!" InuYasha sputtered as he grabbed Kagome around the waist and jerked her away from Kouga. She uttered a small sound as though the rough movement had hurt her, and InuYasha set her down. "If you go anywhere near him again, bitch, I swear, I'll . . ." he snarled, waggling his index finger under her nose. Unable to find a suitable warning, he trailed off before turning back to face Kouga again. The arrogantly smug grin on the wolf's face was enough to make InuYasha drag Tetsusaiga out of the scabbard once more as he advanced on the youkai.
"InuYasha!" Kagome complained as she darted forward to plant herself between the hanyou and his next intended victim.
"See that?" Kouga goaded as he slowly got to his feet. "Kagome wants to come with me, don't you?"
"Ehh . . ."
"What?" InuYasha bellowed as he shoved Kagome behind his back again.
"I think you should go, Kouga," Kagome pleaded as she braced herself on InuYasha's shoulder to peek over at the wolf youkai. She didn't realize it was his sore shoulder, though, until he hissed in pain and jerked forward. She stumbled and caught herself against InuYasha's back.
"No fucking way! He's gonna die!"
Kouga rolled his eyes. "I can't leave you here with this unbalanced mutt-nut. It'd be wrong. Now come on, Kagome."
"She ain't going anywhere with you, damn it," InuYasha ground out.
The two stared each other down for long seconds, neither willing to give an inch. Finally, Kouga nodded slowly. "All right. We let her decide-for now. So . . . which will it be, Kagome? Dog-shit? Or me?"
Kagome sighed. "I can't go with you, Kouga. We still have to figure out a way to purify the jewel, and so I need to stay with InuYasha."
Kouga snorted then nodded slowly. "I can respect a woman who honors her promises. Until then . . . protect my woman with your life, dog-shit, or I'll have to kill you."
InuYasha clenched Tetsusaiga until his knuckles turned white as he watched Kouga retreat into the forest. Not trusting himself to as much as look at Kagome, he put the sword away and started walking-fast.
He heard her gathering her things, heard her rapid approach as she sprinted after him. She fell in step beside him and reached up to tug at his haori and undershirt. "Let me see," she said gently.
"Keh," he snorted, jerking away from her. "I'll live."
"Let me clean you up and put a bandage on it," she offered as she reached out again.
He slapped her hands. "I told you, I'm fucking fine, damn it."
"You're not!" she argued. "What's wrong with you?"
"Not a damn thing."
"Then let me look at your shoulder!"
"Keh! I'll pass."
". . . I'll say 'it'."
He shifted his glare to the side and snorted. "Go ahead. Say it. Say it a thousand fucking times! Then you can go run off with your damn wolf or your damn Houjou . . . I don't care!"
She gasped and drew back as if he had slapped her. She ducked her head, staring at the ground, and before he could warn her not to do it, he could smell the salt of her tears.
"St-stop that!" he growled, voice escalating in near-panic. "Oi! Why are you-?"
"Both of those were your fault!" she yelled as he recoiled a little bit further as much from her tone as from her volume. "You and your stupid baka temper! First Houjou, then Kouga! You can't be mad at me for something you did!"
"Something I-Bitch! Those weren't my fucking lips all over them! They were yours!"
"I know they were mine!" she screamed as tears continued to course down her face. "Stupid! Baka!"
"Stop calling me a bitch!"
"Then stop calling me a baka!"
"Then stop being a baka!"
"Then stop being a-"
Gaze narrowing dangerously as she furiously wiped away her tears, Kagome glared at the hanyou. "Don't say it," she warned.
Stomping along, side by side for awhile in angry silence, InuYasha stifled a sigh. 'All right, so maybe it was my fucking fault . . . damn it . . . I wish I knew what she's thinking . . .'
Kagome spared him a glance as she tried to hide her upset in case he caught her looking at him. 'All right, so maybe I said the wrong thing to Kouga . . . I wish I knew what he's thinking . . .'
She peeked at him again only to find him staring at her through the corners of his eye with a mysterious, almost sad look on his face. She frowned. She had to be imagining that. Why would he be sad? "InuYasha?"
"Will you let me look at your shoulder now?"
He didn't answer, but he did stop and turn to face her, allowing her to inspect the damage from the dragonfly youkai.
Hisadaicho stood in the doorway of the tiny dwelling with a vague smile touching her lips. The old man sat huddled by the fire pit staring at the dancing flames with a faint recognition drawing the lines of his wrinkled, time-wizened face. "I know ye," he murmured without looking away from the fire. "I know ye . . ."
"So you remember . . . I worried that you wouldn't," she said, her voice low, soft, a caress wrapped in a sound.
The man nodded slowly. "The spawn of that evil . . . Why have ye suffered to linger?"
"Such unkind words, old man . . . Did I not bless you with what you desired? What you so greedily accepted?"
Grasping the gnarled cane, pushing himself to his unsteady feet, the faded gray eyes flashed with a vacant anger, an impotent rage borne of the years of torment, of recrimination. "I shall cast ye back to the pits of hell that spawned ye!" he commanded, raising an unsteady hand. "Be gone, ye evil! Ye wicked, wicked entity!"
Hisadaicho dismissed him with a wave of her hand. The old man stopped, unable to move, frozen in place on her whim. Stepping closer, deliberately, slowly, stalking him like a cat stalks a mouse, she chuckled, running her fingertips over his thin flesh, aged into a softness that can only result from the passage of time. "You cannot hurt me. I come seeking an answer, and you shall tell . . . or you shall die."
His terrified eyes shifted to stare at her, filled with loathing, with recrimination.
"I need to know who protects the Shikon no Tama. I need a name."
She flicked her fingers, allowing him to speak. "I shall not give ye a name," he rasped out.
Letting her head fall to the side, Hisadaicho regarded the old man with a tiny grin, an evil manipulation of a twisted desire. Sauntering closer, she leaned in, lips brushing against his ear. "Give me a name," she purred as her hand rose to cup him, mercilessly squeezing the dormant part of him, smiling with wicked delight as he stirred to life in her grasp.
"N-no," he whined, eyes closing as the mix of pleasure and pain collided.
Hisadaicho squeezed a little harder, pumping him slowly. "Her name, old man."
" . . . K-Ka . . . gome," he gasped out.
A few more of the rough movements that ended his physical torture. Her hand dropped away as he whimpered, still held in the confines of her power. "That wasn't so difficult, was it? Too bad you know too much. Now you have to die."
Planting her lips over his before he had a chance to protest, she kissed him deeply, completely, drawing out his soul as her body rejoiced in the throbbing fulfillment of the receiving. Stepping away from him, her smile widened as he fell to the floor, vacant eyes wide and fearful, mouth open and frozen in an unholy grimace of death. Feeding on the souls of men . . . 'Delicious . . .' she thought as her smile widened. The old man had lived a very full life, and it showed in the power of the soul she had taken from him.
"Kagome," she murmured as she turned away from the corpse, a ruthless glint awake in her lavender gaze. "Such a pretty name . . ."
"I think you should do it."
InuYasha snorted and flattened his ears against Kagome's badgering. "I ain't doing it, so drop it."
"It really would mean a lot to the children," she pointed out.
"Then you do it."
She rolled her eyes and giggled. "I can't, but you can . . . please?"
"Just for the sakura celebration, InuYasha! Besides, it would mean a lot to Miroku, and you know he's had a rough time lately-"
Narrowing his gaze on her, InuYasha snorted again. "Keh! You are not guilting me into doing a fucking thing, wench."
She scrunched up her shoulders, twisting her fingers together into a rather perverse looking knot of wriggling flesh. He tugged her hands apart and let go. The forced separation lasted all of ten seconds. "I'd really appreciate it, if you agreed," she ventured. "I'd really owe you one . . ."
That stopped him. Turning to face her, InuYasha folded his arms together and regarded her critically. "What does that mean? That you'd really owe me one?"
She shrugged, carefully keeping her gaze averted as a hint of pink crept up her cheeks. "Well, it means, I'd owe you a favor."
His expression grew even more guarded. "Keh. What sort of favor?"
The shrug came again. "Whatever favor you'd ask of me."
She nodded slowly.
"Any favor?" he repeated.
She swallowed hard and nodded again.
He pondered that a few minutes before he answered. "All right, wench," he agreed at length. "You can't go back on that. You owe me a favor, any favor . . ."
She dared a peek up at him through the thick fringe of her sooty eyelashes. He blinked as a sudden flush washed over his skin before he forced his gaze away. "Thank you!" she yelped seconds before she launched herself at him, throwing her arms around his neck in an ebullient hug. Leaning up on her tiptoes, she kissed his cheek. He froze as she gasped softly and quickly jerked away. "Sorry . . ." she muttered as she tried to hide her deepening flush. "I guess I got a little carried away . . ."
InuYasha blinked and gulped, his mouth suddenly bone dry. Deliberately trying to squelch the surge of primitive emotion that coursed through him, both from the proximity of her body as well as the unintentional kiss, he tamped down his own blush and started walking again. 'How did she do that?' he fumed as a sense of complete frustration washed over him. 'Damn!'
'She does owe you a favor-any favor . . .'
He grinned. He'd have to give that some serious thought . . .
Entering the clearing where he believed the sage to be, InuYasha frowned as he held out a hand to stop Kagome. Something was very, very wrong. Every one of his senses was telling him this-screaming it, actually. He shook his head and sniffed the air.
"What is it?" Kagome asked quietly, gazing at InuYasha with a trace of worry evident in her voice.
"Dunno," he answered in a preoccupied tone. "Stay close to me."
InuYasha drew Tetsusaiga before he started forward again. An odd hush in the surrounding forest nagged at him. The sense that there was some sort of significance in the unearthly silence weighed on his mind. Drawing nearer to the door of the small earthen dwelling, he felt a strange sense of foreboding as he pushed the bamboo mat aside.
Kagome gasped softly and broke away from InuYasha's side to kneel beside the old man sprawled on the floor. "He's dead," she murmured as she gently closed his eyes.
InuYasha grabbed her arm and gently pulled her to her feet and away from the body. "Don't touch him," he demanded.
"InuYasha? Is something the matter?"
He shook his head slowly. "It's wrong," he said, his voice quiet, hushed. 'He ain't been dead longer than a day or he'd already reek, but I can't feel death here, either . . . and what's that other smell?' Leaning in closer, InuYasha jerked back as he realized what the other scent was. 'Someone else was here . . . but who? A woman . . . but she smells weird, almost like she and the old man . . . like he . . .?' Feeling himself flush at the strange realizations he'd managed to find, InuYasha stepped back from the body and snorted.
"Can we bury him?" Kagome asked quietly as she stared out the window, her expression inscrutable.
"Yeah," InuYasha finally agreed as a ripple of ambivalence raced up his spine. There was something about the old sage's death that bothered him-a lot. "Come on, Kagome," he said as he headed for the doorway again.
"Shouldn't I tend to him?" she asked as she headed toward the small back room to retrieve a blanket.
For some reason, InuYasha didn't want her left alone with the sage's body. "Nope."
She frowned but followed him out of the hut without questioning him further.
He stood back while Kagome looked around for a good spot to bury the old man. Try as he might, InuYasha couldn't shake off the feeling that something was desperately wrong. There was something wholly unnatural about the old man's death, something that didn't make any sense.
Kagome stopped under the budding canopy of a maple tree. "Here?" she asked.
InuYasha blinked as he emerged from his reverie. "Keh. Fine."
She nodded and stepped aside as he strode forward to dig the grave. If he could only figure out why he felt like something was missing, he'd be ahead of the game.
Sankon-tetsusou: Iron Reaver, Soul Stealer.
Youki: bewitching energy (youkai energy/aura).
Kaze no Kizu: Wind Scar.
Final Thought from InuYasha:
A favor, huh . . .
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Metamorphosis): I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga. Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al. I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.