knittingknots (knittingknots) wrote,
knittingknots
knittingknots

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After the End, Chapter 14

Another dark chapter

Chapter 14: Daylight Nightmares


_______________________

I searched in the dark --
you were just beyond my grasp,
but then, morning came.
_______________________



Morning sunshine filtered through the trees, scattering light on a mostly forgotten mountain path.  A butterfly flitted across the way, investigating a cluster of flowers.  The movement did not go unnoticed by the small group of travelers heading up the trail.  A soft girl’s voice broke the silence.  

“The yellow flowers
called the butterflies to come,
dancing in the light
all around Jaken’s green head,” sang the voice.  The singer, a small girl of about ten, rode on the back of a two-headed dragonet, swaying as the creature walked.

“I do not have butterflies around my head, impertinent child,” said the small green imp walking beside her.  He pushed his cap up on his head, and checked with a quick look around him, just to be sure

“Rin knows, Jaken-sama.  Rin is only singing,” she said, leaning her cheek against one of the dragonet’s necks.

Jaken grumbled something too soft to hear.  Rin smiled, and started singing again.

“Jaken shook a fist
as the butterflies came near,
Jaken waved his staff,
but the butterflies still came.

“‘O Jaken, Jaken
Why are you so green?’ they asked
circling his head.
Then they landed on his cap.”

Jaken touched the top of his cap, finding nothing as the girl giggled.

Sesshoumaru ignored the banter behind him as he walked quietly, almost gliding along the path.  They did not see his eyes narrow or the muscles of his back tighten, almost imperceptibly, and he resisted the urge to touch the swords tucked into his obi, but there was something in the air that put him on edge with a touch of the uncanny.  It was very faint, but he knew he should remember it.


He breathed in again.  The smell that was bothering him wasn’t exactly the smell of carrion or death,  although Sesshoumaru could smell the blood spilled in a battle site they passed three days earlier, another one of those events that ningen felt compelled to participate in and he didn’t pay much attention to, as long as they kept to themselves and didn’t molest him or his.  When he found it, the bodies for the most part had been removed, so Rin had not been bothered, and was a week old by the stench.  Now that he was paying attention to it, he noticed it had  grown slightly fainter than he would have expected. No doubt it had rained over the area, as if even nature had lost patience with the antics of mortal men playing for power.

The thing setting him on edge wasn’t a smell of fear; he could still smell the fear of the couple he surprised two hours ago, their discomfort raised as his youki brushed near their hearts and their own small auras.  He knew them to be outcasts from human society, eking a desperate living off of hunting and gathering from the forest, unwanted and not tolerated by their fellow creatures. Sesshoumaru suspected they still huddled in their small hovel hidden back in the woods, away from the eyes of bandits and samurai who used the road and might strip them of what little they had.   The way they behaved and the way they let others use them proved their unworthiness in his eyes.  He hadn’t even bothered sending Rin into hiding as they passed by.

No, the scent held a note of glee, excitement  tinged with black, wicked hope.  Lower youkai, and even some of the higher, those  who liked to toy with their prey would emit that smell when they had cornered something that delighted them, such as a small child or an even more unfortunate youkai. The dark hanyou Naraku’s shouki always stank of it, since the main pleasure he had in life was destroying the lives of others, no matter how small   But there was nothing else on the wind to link the smell with.

Closing his eyes for a moment, he opened his other senses, raised his aura, but could not find any other clue.  This irritated him, although he did not let the feeling surface on his face.

Instead, he merely took one last deep breath.  “Cease grumbling, Jaken,” he barked.

They continued their walk. Behind him, hidden in the branches of a tree, a spider watched him and his passing, and unperceived by the Daiyoukai, laughed.


================================================

Kaede looked up from where she was bent over Joben and saw the headman’s wife from where she had pulled the door mat open.  Hisa, her dark eyes serious and her face pulled into a frown, gestured to Tomeo.  “Husband, you need to come out here,” she said.  

A loud keening wail could be heard from outside of the hut.   Kaede thought it sounded like Chiya.

“Someone found Heitaro,” Hisa announced.  “A crowd’s gathering.  We need you.”

Tomeo nodded, stood up and brushed the dust off his hakama.  “Kentaro, Toshiro, stand with me. “ The trio followed Hisa out of the door.

“Damn,” Miroku said. Chiya’s keening was joined by several other women outside of the hut.  He wearily stood up, rubbed the bruise on the side of his cheek with the back of his hand.  “Sango, you stay here with Akina, and I’ll go see what needs to be done.  InuYasha, we’re going to need you.”

Akina lifted her hands off of her face and straightened up,  looking up at the monk with red-rimmed eyes.  “What about my husband?”

Kaede moved next to her and rested a hand on her shoulder.  “He’ll be all right,” the miko said.  “We will find out what’s attacking him and Houshi-sama and I will make sure he will be himself again.   As long as the ofuda is on him, he’ll be able to rest safely, and he needs to rest.  We’ve dealt with worse, and Kagome-chan  healed his body already.”

“We will hunt down and take care of the youkai who’s done this and it will be all over,” Sango added, patting her hand.

The frightened woman nodded her head, and went and knelt down by her husband, brushed the stray hair that had fallen out of his topknot away from his face.  “He really is a good man, but afraid of things he doesn’t understand,” she said, sighing. “I told him and his brother to leave well enough alone and enjoy the feast, but they had to go off somewhere.”

InuYasha, still holding Kagome closely, lifted his head.

“I know,” Sango said.  

“I thought everything was going to be all right when Heitaro came and took my sister’s dog yesterday afternoon.  He said he was going to tie it up so it couldn’t disturb the wedding.  That’s the last I saw of him.”  She pulled on Sango’s sleeve.  “What happened to them?”

A soft but threatening growl started from where the hanyou was sitting.

“InuYasha,” said Miroku, lifting an eyebrow.  The growling increased slightly in volume.  The monk could feel the lightest tingles on the back of his neck as his friend’s youki rose as he listened to Joben’s distraught wife.

“We’ll find out, Akina-chan.  We won’t let what hurt them hurt you or anyone else.”  Sango rubbed soothing circles on her friend’s back while flashing dagger looks at InuYasha.

“InuYasha,” Miroku repeated.

The hanyou looked up, his growling immediately ceasing.  Miroku swallowed hard at the look on his friend’s face, anger blended with worry and frustration.  The monk sighed, feeling guilty that they were even in this situation.  “We need you outside with us.  We need your senses.”

Kaede stood up, and went to a cupboard, and pulled out a futon, stretching it out next to InuYasha.  “You can lay Kagome-chan out here.  She needs to sleep.  She used too much energy up healing Joben.  There is nothing Joben can do right now. I will keep watch over her.”

InuYasha’s eyes flashed, and his face set in determination, a look that Kaede knew from long experience meant he meant to say no.  “You must go with them, InuYasha,” she said softly.  “You are the village protector.  You are honor bound to this now.”

“Damn it to hell,” he breathed, then kissed Kagome on the forehead, pulling her closer to his chest.  

“Please, InuYasha.  Tomeo needs you,” Miroku said.

Closing his eyes, InuYasha took a long deep breath, as if wrestling with himself, then exhaled quickly, as he made his decision.  He opened his eyes, and then  slowly and carefully, lay Kagome down on Kaede’s futon, and gently spread the coverlet she handed him over the unconscious woman.  “I’ll be back as soon as I can, Koibito,” he murmured, then kissed her gently on the cheek.

Standing up, his hand gripped the hilt of Tessaiga tightly, and his amber eyes were steely cold.  “Let’s do this thing,” he said.

Miroku nodded, and led him out of the hut.

==================================================

Kagome found herself in darkness, drifting.  She shivered at the memory it evoked of the final battle with Naraku.  Thinking about it, she found she could flare a bright pink aura  that would chase away some of the gloom.   

“Am I dreaming?’” she said.  Shortly afterwards, she realized that although she was surrounded by darkness, her feet were resting solidly on rough and rocky ground.  She could feel the uneven ground under her sandal-less and tabi-less feet.  It felt cold and gritty.  Something rough prodded against her left foot, and she kicked the offending  stone out of the way.   It landed with a slight thud.

Something in the landscape seemed to stir at the tiny noise, echoing the sound of the rock, like an intermittent thrum.  A cool breeze began to blow.

“Did something just wake up?” she whispered.  She shifted her feet, but found it was nearly impossible to move forward.  Nervously, she brushed a strand of hair out of her face.  “I have to be dreaming.”  Her voice sounded flat and muffled to her ears. But the thrumming sound grew louder.

Peering into the darkness, she could make out no forms, no horizon, only something that looked like the shadows of branches, bare of leaf, reaching up like a canopy over her head.   Looking up, she could see no stars, no cloud, no moon, but only more of the faint branch shapes. The thrumming became more distinct, as if something was moving her way. Slowly, the sound became clearer, a drum beat, pounding out a regular but intricate rhythm.  

DUM duh duh duh DUM,
duh duh duh DUM,
duh duh duh DUM DUM

It pulsated through the place she was at, demanding as a heartbeat, filled with a defiant, dark magic.  Almost as if there were a wind, the branches seemed to sway with the rhythm.

“It better be a dream,” she thought.

DUM duh duh duh DUM,
duh duh duh DUM,
duh duh duh DUM DUM

“Think, Kagome, think.  What was the last thing you remember?” she asked herself. “I know this isn’t where I expected to be.” Slowly, images of Kaede’s hut came back to mind, and the sight of  Joben lying on the floor.  “I remember . . . I remember thinking how badly he was doing and that he might not make it, and how sad that would be for Akina-chan.  Then I pulled back the bandage.  There was something about that wound on his neck   I could feel it pulse, and I knew I had to touch it.  It was like it drew my hand to it . . . ”

The sound grew closer, louder, more demanding, pinging against the pink light of the barrier that surrounded her, but surprisingly, Kagome felt no fear, even though she was alone.  Everything felt so unreal that whatever magic was in place had no sense of danger for her.  Perhaps, she thought, she was here to watch or be a witness like if she were at a festival.


A dark purple light grew on the edge of her sight, slowly drawing closer.  Distantly, she could hear voices, many voices, all female, at first not much louder than a mumble, chanting in time with the drum, and the sad sound of a flute.  The sound slowly grew in strength and clarity as the purple grew nearer.   After a while, both the light and the drumbeat seemed to stop growing, and the voices, old and young, joined together, began to be recognizable.     The flute wailed, a slow, sad dirge that made the hairs at the back of her neck stand up and a shiver pass through her, and then the chorus began to chant:

“Each new day that dawns
brings with it uncertainty.
Will it be my turn
before the sun sets
to leave before the others,
Or will others go
before the dew falls,
leaving me behind, alone?
Will death come today?
Who knows when Enma will call?

“Countless drops of dew
Shining in the bright moonlight
are those who have gone,
taken that dread path,
leading the way before us.
Morning may dawn bright,
we happy, in health.
But by evening,
naught left of us but white ash.
The winds of impermanence
Blow through our brief lives
And close our eyes forever.”

The chanting stopped for a moment.  The drums and the flute grew silent.

“A funeral procession?” Kagome whispered, but her voice seemed to echo through the silence.

Suddenly, she heard a rustle of fabric, and soft footprints walking to her right.  Turning, she saw an old woman walk past, moving in front of her.  She was dressed in ragged clothes, a worn and torn kosode, covered with a tattered cloak, gray wisps of hair hanging down in front of her face.  The woman turned and looked at her, raised an eyebrow and let a wistful grin touch her face for a moment.

“Watch and learn, miko,” she said in a thin, reedy voice.

There was a sudden flash of light as she pulled off her cloak and tossed it to the ground.  Instead of an ancient, there stood a beautiful dark-haired woman wearing a white kosode.

“Sisters!” she said in a loud voice.  “Today, I return to the Mothers, until the Mothers choose to send me back in the flesh again!  Hear my death-song!” From somewhere, the flute began to play once again.  The woman, moving slowly, began a slow, somber dance and began to sing:

“Even though you call,
your cold wind touching my heart,
Body destroyer,
O Emna, Lord Death,
I mock you while others walk
that road marked in blood –
my sisters and I
one soul bound under the moon,
one life many forms
safe in our mother’s strong hands.”

The drum began its rhythm, weaving in and out of the flute music.

“Behold,” the woman said, lifting her hands to the sky.  “Today, I give my flesh to the hands of the lesser son of the Great Dog.  But doing it, I have found the tool who will give us the death of our chief Enemy!  Weep not for me, sisters, for although my flesh will be no more, my song will join with all of you as we bring the Enemy down!”

She turned towards Kagome and pointed at where she stood.  “Behold the tool!  And rejoice!”


A huge roar of approval filled the air.  

She pointed at Kagome.  

=====================================================

“Damn,” InuYasha said.

A small crowd had grown in front of Kaede’s hut.  Hisa held Akina and Joben’s son while other women were crowded around a wailing Chiya, who knelt next to the still form laid out on a blanket.  Chiya lifted up slowly and cried out, “My son!” then collapsed back towards the ground, her arms wrapped tightly around her waist.

The two of them walked closer, standing next to Tomeo,  and looked at the body stretched out on the blanket.  The young man’s hair was in disarray, and his face was contorted in fear and pain.  His face was very, very pale, almost as white as the white substance that surrounded his limbs.  Miroku bent down low and touched it.  

“Feels like spider webs,” he said.  “But so much of it.”  Fishing an ofuda out of his sleeve, he placed it on the young man’s chest.  It sizzled as it touched the white.  “Youkai silk.”

InuYasha lifted the young man’s head.  The back of his neck and shoulders were as pale as his face.

“How and where did you find him?”

“He was in front of that hunter’s shack near the north-south road,” said a young man with reddened, troubled eyes.  He was wearing a dirty indigo kosode, with bits of white stuff stuck to the dark fabric, especially over his shoulders.  He had obviously carried him here.   “I knew he sometimes used to go up there when he was wanting to get away from . . . ” The young man sighed, swallowed, and shook his head. “Anyway, Daishiro and I headed out there when we heard what Joben was hollering, and we found him, just laying on the ground like that.  Damn.”  The young man held his head down, overcome.

“You did the right thing, Masako,” Tomeo said.  “Thank you.”

Hisa, bouncing Akina’s son on her hip, said, “Tell Akiko that I will come see her tomorrow.”

Masako nodded.

Shippou pushed through the crowd to stand next to InuYasha, and jumped on the hanyou’s shoulder.  His face grew dark looking at the dead man, and his nose twitched. “He smells funny,” Shippou said softly.  “Like spiders and dogs and blood.”

Miroku’s head jerked up, looking at the two of them.  InuYasha nodded his head in confirmation.  

“Go get Kaede,” InuYasha said, just as softly.  “She should probably be out here, too.”

Miroku picked up one of the dead man’s hands, and saw blood splatters on his sleeves, and noticed them on his hakama as well.

Chiya looked hard at the monk.  “What are you doing to my son?”

“We merely wish to determine how he died, Chiya-sama,” Miroku said.

“Isn’t it obvious?  A bakemono attacked him,” she said.  “A village that accepts bakemono is asking to be attacked.”  She began to wail again.

The baby in Hisa’s arms, picking up on his grandmother’s grief, began to shriek.  Hisa bounced him up and down.  “There, there, little one.  It’ll be all right.”

Chiya looked up.  “How can you even say that?  You have all your sons.  My son is dead and his brother is possessed and poisoned.  Don’t you talk to my grandson, you ugly thing!  Youkai lover!”

Miroku sighed deeply.  “Joban is no longer poisoned, Chiya-sama.  Kagome-sama purified the toxin.  After he rests, he should be fine,” he said.

She spit at the monk.  “You, you friend of monsters!  What good has happened since you showed up?  Presiding over the marriage of a youkai and a miko?  And looked what happened!  Surely the Kami have turned their backs on us today!”

She curled back up into a ball, covering her face with her hands.  “My sons, my sons!”

Kaede walked out and knelt by the weeping woman.  “Joben is resting easy now, Chiya.  Let these people help and kill the youkai who did this to them, and he will be healed.  Let us help you.”  She put an arm around the grieving woman.

“What am I going to do if Joben dies?” Chiya sobbed, leaning into Kaede’s shoulder.  “How will I live?”

Tomeo knelt down.  “We will take care of you, Chiya-sama.  But Joben will not die.  He will live and give you many grandchildren.  We are here for you.”

She nodded.

There was a sudden sharp scream from within Kaede’s hut.

InuYasha leaped towards the hut.  “Kagome!” he yelled.

Kagome, her eyes wide and wild and breathing hard, pushed past the door mat and ran into his arms.  “InuYasha! I know where the youkai is hiding!”

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