Chapter 12: Webs
Honor, duty, love,
ties that bind the heart and mind,
fine threads shaping life
Not too far from a path that led north out of the village and into the forest and towards the Takeda lands, an abandoned hunter's shack gave off a soft glow in the dark night that let any passerby know that someone was using it. Inside it, a young man sat beside a small fire, his knees drawn up to his chest, rocking back and forth in impatience. Moonlight filtered through gaps in its walls as his fingers played with a piece of wood.
"Stupid dog," he said, looking at the blood stains on his kosode sleeves. "It just had to go and bleed all over me when I killed it." He threw the stick in his hands on the fire. "Stupid Joben. He had better get here soon."
"Heitaro do this, Joben says. Heitaro do that. Heitaro, go and take Hana's dog and kill it in front of the hanyou's new house. Joben doesn't worry that his wife will have a fit when her sister comes crying about her damned dog. Nope. Not Joben. Joben says we need to let'em know that some folks don't want the mononoke living here. No youkai or the whores who'll marry them. We got to let the headman know that he and the miko don't speak for everybody."
He sighed deeply. "And I let him talk me into doing it." Heitaro threw another stick on the fire, and watched the sparks spray out as it slowly began to flame. "Ever since Father died, Joben's gotten angrier and angrier. I can't stand it anymore. I hope he tells me I have to go to Grandfather's house. Anything to get me out of this rotten village and far away from hanyou and miko and especially Joben!"
He idly wondered how the hanyou had reacted when he saw the dog at his entranceway. The wind began to pick up and rattle the old shack. Reaching inside his kosode, he pulled out the charm his brother gave him to protect him from the dog's ghost and fingered it carefully. The shack gave another shudder. "Damn it, Joben! You better get here!"
Somewhere, he heard a dog howl. He could feel the hair on the back of his hair stand up, and not for the first time, he wished he had run off to his grandparents' house the day before. The wind gusted again, and something hit the roof.
Heitaro looked at the ceiling and stood up, grabbing a piece of wood to use as a club and stepping to the doorway, and pulled back the mat. "Joben? Is that you?" In the darkness, he did not notice a spider dropping down from the roof to the ground.
There was a brief flash of light once the spider touched the ground, bright enough to make Heitaro cover his eyes. As he turned to look, he found an old woman standing there. Even in the moonlight he could see she was a strange figure. Her head was covered with a dark ragged kerchief, and her garments fluttered in the breeze around her, her outer garment made of fabric shreds that caught each puff of wind and danced around her in a strange cloud.
The hairs on Heitaro's neck began to stand on end. The woman's eyes shone with an eerie red glow.
"Who . . . who are you?" he asked.
"Shall we tell him, sisters?" the old woman said. "Does the Yama-uba like the look of him? Look at him, sisters, young and tasty. We can smell the dog's blood on him - and even now the dog's spirit is crying for his revenge."
"What do you want, old woman?" Heitaro said. "You're a long way from the village." His fingers wrapped tightly around the piece of wood he was holding.
"Shall we help the dog spirit, sisters?" she cackled. Standing next to her, the shadowy form of a large white dog took shape, ghostly and translucent next to the woman. Glowing in the darkness, the dog snarled, teeth exposed.
Heitaro took a swing at the image, but his club went right through the specter.
"What a sweet taste of fear you have, youngling," said the old woman. "Fear and anger and resentment." She pointed at Heitaro, and suddenly he found himself unable to move. "What do you know about the enemy InuYasha?"
His eyes got large as she reached out to touch him, circling around him while she spoke, wrapping an unbreakable thread around him as she talked. "Ah. Jealousy we see here, and brothers who hate. What a sweet relish you will be for me tonight, youngling. Jealousy of the dog and lust for a priestess who never looked your way. You will be a rich meal for me tonight."
The thread she wrapped around him grew, glowing with a green light, expanding into a shroud that wrapped him from shoulder to ankle.
"How shall I dine? Should I drink your blood?" said the youkai, circling around him. "Shall I eat your memories? Or shall I let the dog drag your soul down to hell?" She touched his forehead. "Yes, perhaps all three. Sing your death song for me, and we will see."
Shadows enveloped the youkai as she walked, her form changing even as she talked, swallowing up the shape of old woman, growing arms and a spider’s shape even as she reached up to wrap Heitaro with her darkness. He let loose one short cry as the blackness engulfed him until there was nothing left to see.
Crouching in the brush not far from them, a lone man watched. Hearing the last cry of the younger man, he bolted and ran. The spider shape dropped its drained prey and looked up, red eyes glittering.
“Brother,” she said. “He will do.”
Dropping the empty carcass, she shifted shape once more, and took off in pursuit.
Sunlight filtered in from the one small window in the sleeping room. InuYasha lay spooned up against Kagome, slowly drifting awake, unwilling to open his eyes as he enjoyed laying there, surrounded by her scent, her warmth, the steady beating of her heart. Slowly other things eased into his awareness -- the sound of bird calls, the stillness of the morning air and the earliness of the hour. Somewhere, his mind registered the lingering smells of vinegar and blood and incense from last night, but he shoved it all to the back of his mind, and concentrated on the sweet warmth in his arms. Eventually he opened his eyes, looking at ebony hair and creamy white shoulder.
"You're really here," he whispered. "It really happened."
InuYasha brushed his lips gently against the top of Kagome's shoulder, planting feather-light kisses and moved up towards her ear.
"Tickles," she murmured, shrugging her shoulders and moving her head slightly, rescuing her ear from his lips. She pulled the sheet tighter around her and snuggled against him. One arm, thrown over her as they slept, slid down the sheet to the top of her thigh, pulling her closer to him. His fingers drew lazy patterns across the skin there, then slid back up to her tummy. Kagome's breath caught once as she began to wake, and she made an interesting, pleased sound at his touch. Placing a soft kiss on her shoulder, he sat part way up, propping his head up on one arm.
Kagome rolled over on her back. Opening her eyes, she smiled at him, sleepy-looking, but content. "Hey there," she said.
"Hey," he replied. "Good morning."
Her hand reached up, resting first on his shoulder, but tracing the fine line of his skin until it rested on his cheek. He leaned over her, letting his lips gently brush against hers in a soft, chaste kiss.
"Good morning, Husband," she said. "Are you going to wake me up this way every morning?"
“Hmm. Would you like that?"
He rolled half on top of her, supporting his weight on his forearms. InuYasha's eyes were intense, smouldering and dark, as he took in the woman beneath him, and Kagome thought she could lose herself in them forever. She swallowed, feeling the coil of want building in her center. "Could be," she replied reaching up to touch an ear.
His eyes closed at her touch, and he leaned down close enough that she could almost feel his lips. His hips bucked against her, grinding against her thigh.
“I could get used to waking you up this way,” he breathed.
Suddenly, there was a loud banging at the front of the house.
"InuYasha!" someone yelled. It sounded like Miroku.
A wave of annoyance crossed InuYasha's face. He kissed Kagome quickly, then rolled off.
"Why's he here?" she asked, watching the hanyou stand up, and grab his kosode.
InuYasha began digging up his firerat hakama from the chest he had left them in before the wedding. "Something must be wrong, or he wouldn't be here this morning. He agreed to give us today with no interruptions."
"InuYasha!" Miroku yelled again. "Are you there?"
"Hang on, Bouzo," he yelled as he opened the door to the bedroom. "I'm coming."
Kagome sighed, stood up, and found her sleeping kosode. He wrapped his arms around her, kissed her lightly. “I’ll go see what he wants. But you probably need to get dressed.”
He walked to the entrance door as Kagome slid the nando door shut.
"I heard the seagulls,
I heard the seagulls crying
I heard them calling
as I walked the winding road,
"Looking up I saw
White snow upon the mountain,
Tall the white mountain
The land of the cold country.
"Beyond the mountain,
Past the cold country so white,
My love waits by night
By the seashore just for me."
The voice singing was small and reedy. He hopped up and down as he danced on the shoulder of his companion, ignoring the foul air touched with volcanic fumes.
"Lovesick, are you?" asked the old man bent over the anvil. He hit the piece of heated metal he was working with just the right amount of force, tapping it over and over with sure hands and practiced ease. From time to time he would breathe on it, to reheat the metal, bringing it up to just the right bright yellow-orange color and intensify the magic that he was working into it.
The singer crossed two sets of arms and plopped down on the old man’s shoulder. “The woman who taught it to me, she was lovely. And her blood was sweet,” he said. “Sweeter than present company.”
“Well, while you were flying around on that crow of yours, flea, did you happen to notice anything unusual?”
“Like what, Toutousai?”
“Don’t know, Myouga,” he said, wiping his forehead and looking up from his metalwork. “I just feel something’s off with the ebb and flow of things.”
“Things seemed to be settling down since InuYasha-sama and the miko took care of the Jewel, ” said the flea. He looked at the old man’s neck with some consideration.
“Don’t even think of it,“ Toutousai said. “I was right proud how the pup managed to make the Meidou his own. But this is new, I think . . . something’s stirring. You been to see the young’un lately?”
“Not in a couple of months. He and his group seemed to be settling down and not in much need of an old flea like me.”
“Squished you one time to many, eh? Hmm . . . Maybe it’s not about him. Maybe it’s about his brother.” Toutousai picked his hammer back up, shook the kinks out of his neck. “Sesshoumaru ought to be able to handle anything anybody wants to throw at him, though.”
The old sword smith took a deep breath, and his cheeks puffed up to incredible proportions. Slowly, he blew fire onto the strip of metal he was working on, heating it until it met his satisfaction, then carefully began to fold the heated metal with his hammer.
“I did hear something, interesting, though. There was talk about Yama-uba in the mountains near Matsuida,” the flea said after a bit. “I was sitting at a tea house in Annaka . . . ”
“Drunk on sake and the blood of pretty teahouse girls, I suspect, learning new songs,” Toutousai said.
“Ah, lovely Eriko . . . ” said the flea. “Anyway, some people had been attacked.”
“Hmm,” said the old smith. “Gettin’ mighty close to Sesshoumaru’s lands. Still, Sesshoumaru’s a big boy.” He grabbed the flea off his shoulder. “You ever tell InuYasha about his brother’s run-in with them the last time?”
“Don’t think the subject ever came up,” said Myouga. “It all happened while he was still sealed to the tree.”
“Maybe you ought to go check on the pup. No telling what trouble he and his pack are getting into now. I might go check on how Sesshoumaru’s coming along with Bakusaiga.”
Myouga gave a mighty sigh for a small youkai. “You’re probably right.”
“And Myouga,” said Toutousai.
“Stay out of the teahouses on your way there.”
A contrite-looking Miroku stood by the entrance. He was sporting a rather purple bruise and several scratches on his left cheek, and leaned into his staff like that was not the only part of him that was injured.
“You look like hell, Monk,” InuYasha said, leaning against the door frame.
“We’ve run into a little trouble this morning,” Miroku said, smiling wryly.
“I see,” said the hanyou. “I’m assuming this is more than a run-in with Sango.”
Miroku chuckled. “One of the villagers was attacked by a youkai, we think,” he said. “Maybe his brother. You know Joben?”
“Yeah,” InuYasha replied, crossing his arms. “He had some rude things to say about Kagome once.”
“He got hurt. Kaede-sama asked me to bring Kagome down to help with him.”
“And this couldn’t wait until later?”
Kagome walked up behind InuYasha, and rested a hand on his shoulder. She had dressed in her beige and blue work kosode and wrap skirt. InuYasha turned to her, tucked a stray piece of hair sneaking out of her head scarf back behind her ear.
“Wow, Miroku, what happened to you?” she said.
“Youkai problems,” InuYasha said. “Maybe. Kaede wants your help.”
“So tell me about Joben,” InuYasha said as they headed down the path.
“I’m not sure of all the details yet,” Miroku said. “But something bad happened to him and probably to his brother, too. After we had finished with the dog last night, we spent the night out in the woods near the path up to your house, just in case. We didn’t want any, well, pranksters, to bother you.”
“You mean more than you?” said InuYasha.
Kagome turned to the monk, and gave a wry smile. “That was kind. Were there any?”
“None at all,” said Miroku. “It was Sango’s idea. You can ask her when we get to the village.
“A little after sun up,” he continued, “Joben came crashing into our campsite, and fell on top of Toshiro, the headman’s son. He was delirious. He kept saying, ‘The spider ate Heitaro. The spider’s going to eat me.’
“I know he didn’t recognize any of us. He punched and clawed at Keitaro and me when we tried to help him stand up,” Miroku said. “Keitaro’s got a beautifully black eye to prove it, too. Right after that, he collapsed. We brought him to Kaede’s.”
“His aura’s been touched with something dark,” Miroku continued. “But I don’t know what it is. I didn’t sense any youki in the area.”
“So what do you want us to do?” InuYasha asked.
“I think we need to drop Kagome by Kaede, like she asked. And then you and Sango and I should go looking to see if we can find something. Some youkai are pretty good at hiding their auras. We need your nose, InuYasha.”
As the three friends grew nearer to Kaede’s, they could see a small knot of people which had gathered around the front of the miko’s hut. A few people stood, milling around talking in soft tones. Tomoe the headman and Hisa his wife sat with Chiya, Joben’s mother. Chiya, a slender and frail looking woman, sat on the bench there with her grandson on her lap, bouncing him on her knee. There was a bitter set to her mouth, and although she made soft sounds at the child in her lap, her eyes were marked with fear and fatigue. The baby cooed, seemingly unaware of the air of distress surrounding him. Someone, though, had placed an ofuda around his neck on a red cord. She looked up when she heard Miroku talking and saw InuYasha walking towards them, and her eyes grew angry.
“Bakemono!” she hissed as they passed. “What have you done to my sons?”
Hisa rested her hand on the distraught woman’s shoulder, looking up at the frowning hanyou. “Peace, Chiya. They are going to help. We asked them to come”
“We will do everything we can,” said Kagome, bowing politely. “We came as soon as we heard the news.”
Chiya turned her head, and refused to look at her. “Are you sure she was Lady Kikyou returned to us?” she asked Hisa. “It’s hard for me that such a pure soul would ever let herself be tainted by the likes of him.”
Kagome’s eyes grew wide, and her face flushed, almost like she had been slapped. InuYasha put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Kaede-sama assures us that it is so. And she would know best of all,” said Tomoe. He, too, was marked by a long night with little sleep. “Forgive her, Kagome-san. Worry is a hard thing. No one knows where Heitaro is yet.”
“Of course,” said Kagome.
Sango came out of the hut walked up to her friend, took the younger woman’s hand and nudged the three of them into the hut. “Come on, Kagome-chan. Let’s go see if we can help Kaede,” she said.
They stepped into Kaede’s hut. To one side of the room, the young man lay stretched out on a mat, laying there in a ragged sleep. He tossed and moved restlessly, as if in pain, and his face was broken out in sweat. His wife, Akina, sat next to him on the far side of the bed, fanning him gently.
“I’m sorry, Kagome-chan,” said Kaede. “I would have preferred to leave you in peace today.”
Kagome went and knelt by the pallet. She could feel something, dark like jyaki, coming off the young man’s body.
“He lost consciousness after Miroku left,” said Kaede, carrying a bowl of cool water and a cloth over to the head of the bed. “Here, Akina-chan,” she said, kneeling down and wringing the cloth in the water. “Use this to help cool his fever.” She placed the wet cloth on his forehead.
“Is he wounded?” Kagome asked, kneeling down next to the man.
“Just a small place on his neck,” Kaede said, pointing out to a poulticed area. “It’s small, like an insect bite. Maybe a spider bite. There is some sort of venom, a youkai poison, I think. The wound doesn’t seem angry enough for a snake or a true spider.”
“He feels . . . wrong. There’s something dark in him.” Kagome said.
Akina looked up at Kaede. Her eyes were frightened. “Is he going to be all right?” she asked, biting her lip.
“We will do what we can do, girl. We’ll have to wait and see,” said the miko. “Don’t let the cloth get too warm. Wet it again, and put it back on his forehead. That will help with the fever.”
“Did you try to find out where he had been?” InuYasha asked.
“No,” said Miroku. “That’s why I went and got you.” The monk looked at the ailing man thoughtfully. “I am reminded of a story. The great warrior Raiko once was taken mysteriously ill after meeting a strange old woman on his travels. None of his healers could help him. But it turned out the mysterious person was some sort of spider youkai. Once the spider was slain, the hero was returned to health.”
The hanyou, his amber eyes looking at the man on the mat, nodded his head. “We need to find his brother,” InuYasha said.
Shifting a little, he noticed how Kagome was staring at Joben. Suddenly the room was filled with a soft pink light. She reached out her hand, touched the bandaged place on his neck.
“Kagome-chan?” Sango said.
Kagome’s head tilted back. There was a sudden pulse of energy. Kaede turned around, eyes wide, to see the girl and Joben touched with the pink light. Joben bolted upright, and shrieked, “The spider!”