The youkai sniffed the air again, sure of the trail it was following. The air around it shimmered with a dark miasma. It crouched in the underbrush on silent, huge feline feet, flicking its tail, watching the field below. Extending its awareness, it took in the auras around it, mostly sensing small life, wild and feral, but that is not what it was hunting.
Its hunger was for something different.
Extending a line of awareness the direction of the scent it was trailing, its mind brushed the thing it was hunting. Young. Female. Innocent. The creature’s body thrummed with anticipation and hunger as it savored the feel of the aura it touched, mouth watering at the thought of that innocence, how it would shatter beneath the weight of its body, how the taste of the female’s fear would sate the dark need burning inside of the youkai.
It let out a cry, bird-like, eerie. Most creatures who heard it went to ground or ran away.
They were in a meadow just beyond the woods around their home. Kagome, standing on her knees, tugged on a leggy and woody plant, and with her digging tool, popped it up out of the ground. “There, I got you,” she said, breaking off most of the branches before placing it in her basket.
She looked up as a shadow fell across her work. Looking up, she saw her husband, his silver hair dancing a little in the afternoon breeze. He dropped two rabbits next to her basket. “Ah, there you are,” she said.
“So where’d Rin get off to?” InuYasha asked his wife.
“I think she went down towards the river,” Kagome said, looking up where she was sorting through the herbs she had been gathering. “She said something about looking for some fujibakama flowers. It’s a lot more fun gathering flowers than digging up roots.” She looked at InuYasha, saw the way he was sniffing the air, the way his ears were searching for sounds, and the serious look of concentration on his face. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m not sure. Something I noticed when I was hunting. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something feels not right . . . ” he said, his voice drifting. His eyes narrowed as he scanned the woodland beyond the meadow.“Go back to the house. You don’t have your bow. I’ll go see if I can round up Rin.”
Kagome sighed. This day had been beautiful, her stomach had just recently started behaving again, and she was enjoying the pleasant warmth of the autumn afternoon. For once, InuYasha had given her a little breather from the hovering he had been doing since he realized she was expecting. Nonetheless, she began gathering her herbs and basket and digging tools and stood up, brushing the little bits of grass off her red hakama. If he was on edge, there was something out there.
InuYasha bent over to pick up her basket for her. Suddenly, he froze, then half-turned and shoved the basket towards her. “Did you hear that?”
“What?” Kagome asked, taking the basket from him.
“Get back to the house NOW,” he said, leaping into the woods as he headed down towards the river.
The youkai pawed silently as it made its way along a small ridge of land overlooking the drop towards the river below. Wrinkling its brow, it focused on the shape moving along the river bank. Black haired and fair of skin the girl moved among the plants growing in the area. She was wearing a bright kosode that contrasted sharply with the vegetation surrounding her, making it easy to trace her movements. The riverbank was screened somewhat by reeds and low growing willows, making access hard except for one area. It flexed its forepaws in anticipation, snaked out its tongue, tasting the air. The scented air was of untouched woman-child, seasoned by some sort of magic. The magic had done nothing to interfere with the purity of her blood and scent. The miasma around it grew stronger as it waited for the right moment to launch its attack, black and red vapors, the colors of pain and illness and death and blood, all the things it relished most.
It totally focused on the girl, her scent, her aura, her voice. She bent down to pick up a flower, singing softly:
“I cannot count them
on the fingers of one hand,
for there are seven,
seven flowers of autumn.
“The moon watches them
nodding in the autumn breeze
while the fireflies dance
seven flowers of autumn.
“If I pick them all
on an autumn afternoon,
luck they will give me,
seven flowers of autumn.”
The girl’s voice was sweet; what she said made no sense to the youkai, but the sweetness of the tone was one more thing to devour, one more reason it grew excited. It waited, waited, for her to draw just a little closer, to be in just the right place. Its hindquarters wiggled in anticipation as it steeled itself to spring . . .
Suddenly, from above, there was a flash of red, and a hard kick that threw the creature against the tree truck it hid near.
“What in the pits of Hell are you, and what are you doing in my forest?” growled a low, angry voice. InuYasha stood in front of the creature, sword drawn, eyes glowing and ears that signaled his readiness to attack.
The creature turned towards him. Its face was monkey-like, staring at him with angry blue eyes. It snarled, revealing large sharp pointed fangs, and raised one tiger-clawed paw up. It gave its cry, bird like, eerie, that sent shivers up the spine of its challenger. The cloud that surrounded it thickened and glowed.
Rin screamed and dropped her flowers.
“Hanyou,” the creature hissed. “I am Nue. Move away between me and my prey.” It flexed its claws and pawed a warning to him.
“You ain’t fucking getting near her,” InuYasha said. Light from the power wrapping around Tessaiga glowed, even in the sunlight. The creature spit a stream of acid his way, burning the ground as it flew through the air. He dodged it but caught a glimpse of Rin kneeling on the ground covering her head.
He slammed into the monster, knocked it further away from the river. Slipping of his suikan, he threw it to the girl. “Cover up, Rin,” he yelled as the monster righted itself on its feet, and faced the hanyou.
The monster leaped, gouging InuYasha’s shoulder and neck. He bit, and InuYasha could feel the acid burn into his wounds. InuYasha slashed back, gouging the creature’s belly. The youkai snarled, and let go enough for InuYasha to throw him off. Slamming his sword into the ground, the hanyou yelled “Kaze no Kizu!” as five incredibly bright lines of energy and a fear-inspiring subsonic rumble headed towards the creature on the ground. With a burst of light and a shriek, the creature was no more.
InuYasha rotated his shoulder, feeling the burn from the creature’s bite. “Keh. Serves you right,” he said. “You’re lucky it was me and not Sesshoumaru.”
Suddenly, he leaned on his sword, tired. He breathed slowly and deeply as he regained his composure for the walk home.
Rin, covered with his jacket, lifted her head. “InuYasha-sama! You’re bleeding!” She stood up and ran over to him.
“Keh, these are just scratches. They’ll be gone by morning. You all right?”
“We better get home then.” He sheathed his sword and looked down on his kosode, bloodstained and tattered.
“Damn,” he said, taking the girl’s hand.
“What’s wrong, InuYasha-sama? Can I help?” Rin asked as she handed him back his suikan. He draped it over his uninjured shoulder.
“Kagome’s gonna kill me. She just washed this shirt, and now look at it,” InuYasha said, pulling at his tattered, bloody neckline.