The Ushi Oni
The air grew foul as the ushi oni entered the clearing, a barnyard smell mixed with the sickly-sweet smell of rot. Miroku popped open his eyes, their violet steeled hard and ready. He parted the grasses he was crouched in, trying hard to keep the dry undergrowth from rustling, then his eyes widened as he took in the sight before him. “That, friend, is one ugly monster,” he whispered, sitting back and gripping his staff.
“Keh,” InuYasha replied.
InuYasha’s right ear twitched as he watched the ushi oni stop, sensing something. The dead brush under the hanyou’s feet crackled very slightly as he shifted his weight, waiting for the right moment. The oni stood half again as tall as the hanyou, nearly nine feet tall, broad shouldered and heavily muscled, although his sagging belly revealed how well fed he was of late. He walked heavily on two feet that ended in bull’s hooves, and InuYasha idly wondered for a moment how he kept his balance, but although his step was heavy, his muscles moved with a powerful grace.
Red-skinned like a common oni, his face tapered into something that approached a bull’s snout with huge black nostrils. He moved his head from side to side, sweeping across the clearing with small black eyes, his unkempt black hair falling around two long and pointed horns that turned forward, a formidable weapon if he wanted to ram with them.
Bovine ears flicked as he listened for sounds as he moved closer to the cave mouth. Unlike a true bull, the monster had long tusks jutting up out of his bottom jaw and protruding from its mouth, like a boar. Spikes of bone adorned both wrists. On one shoulder, he carried a huge club, and the other hand was wrapped around a large net carrying loot from the offering slab the villagers made.
Nearing the cave mouth, he let out another bellow that shook off the rock wall and made InuYasha lower his ears at the volume. Miroku crouched even lower and covered his ears. Small rocks rolled down the rock wall at the sound.
“Who dared put ofuda on my cave?” he yelled.
InuYasha was surprised how well he spoke, considering the shape of his head. The oni turned around, looking and sniffing, coming at last to face where they were hiding. He wore a ragged cloth tied around its waist as its only garment; once it might have been red, but it was impossible to tell any more. His skin was smeared with mud and splatters of dirt and grime, especially across his belly. Those were fresh, as if he crammed things into his mouth and let the dribble down his chin to land wherever.
“Been a while since he saw water,” Miroku noted.
“If ever,” InuYasha replied.
Sniffing the air, the oni dropped his net and readied his club, looking directly at where they crouched. “Come out, come out, wherever you are. I can smell you, you know. Come out so I can eat you.”
He let out another bellow.
As the echo died down, InuYasha murmured, “Guess it’s time to go to work.” He shifted forward into a tight crouch, his long red sleeves brushing the ground as he drew his sword, which transformed silently into a great fang. “Stay here under cover. You’ll know if I need help.”
The monk nodded, and cupped the rings on his staff to keep them from jingling. Leaping up out of his hiding place, InuYasha landed in front of the monster in a flash of silver and red.
“You smelled me, heh, bastard? It’s a wonder you can smell anything over your own stink,” the hanyou said. Tessaiga shimmered with waves of energy that cascaded down it as he held it in both hands. “You reek.”
“A hanyou,” the ushi oni said. “A hanyou with a shiny toothpick.” He snorted. “What did those mealy-mouthed villagers promise you to come up here and die?” The oni slammed his club down, rattling the ground as it struck. InuYasha, reading his move, nimbly jumped away. “It doesn’t matter. You’ll make a nice lunch. Then I’ll clean my teeth with that sword.” He slammed his club down again, and InuYasha leaped once more.
InuYasha crouched into a battle stance, his ears pinned back as an unnerving growl escaped his throat, his feet digging into the pebbly ground underneath him. “That’s it. Thought I might offer you a chance to go somewhere else, but this hanyou going to take you down. You’ve caused enough damage around here.” He raised the sword over his head, and began to bring it down.
There was a sudden rustle in the underbrush near the path to the clearing. “Die monster!” a child’s shrill voice cried out. Both the oni and InuYasha swerved towards the unexpected noise. A small boy dashed out from behind a bush, and ran forward, stabbing the oni in the leg with a knife. “Time to die! You killed Dai, and now it’s your turn!”
“Yoshi!” InuYasha screamed as he made a jump for the boy, but the oni reached down and picked the boy up. “One of yours? No, smells like one of the village brats.”
“Let him go, bastard.” InuYasha crouched down again, ready to leap. “Damn it, Yoshi, what in the hells are you doing here?”
Yoshi looked at the hanyou, his eyes wide and pleading, but was too frightened to say anything. The hanyou jumped up, bouncing off of the oni’s chest. “Tessaiga!” he yelled and slashed at the arm that was holding the boy, cutting it deeply.
The oni cried out, and in one movement threw Yoshi into the brush while dislodging the sword and shaking off InuYasha, who rolled on the ground. Ignoring the blood spurting from his arm, he lowered his head. “I’ll get the boy later. He’ll make a fine tidbit. But first I get you, hanyou.” The oni began to paw at the ground.
InuYasha picked himself up off and shook his head. “Damn,” he said, reaching up to his left ear. “He nicked me.” His ear began to burn with the venom. “This stops now.” Raising his sword one more time, he yelled, “Kaze no Kizu!” and slammed the sword into the ground right after the oni began to run. The sound of the magic made an incredible rumbling noise as five fingers of bright light engulfed the monster and in a massive explosion, the oni was no more.
There was a rustle in the bushes behind him and Miroku, who had been crawling through the underbrush stood up with the small boy in his arms and walked over to his partner.
Yoshi, smeared with dirt and with grass stuck in his hair, battered but alert, looked up at the hanyou turning towards him with worshipful eyes.“InuYasha!”
“You hurt?” InuYasha asked, sheathing his sword. He reached up and touched his ear. It throbbed.
“My elbow hurts,” the boy said. “I bruised my knee.”
InuYasha shook his head. “Damn it, boy. I knew someone was following us. I sure didn’t expect it to be you,” he said. “Your dad’s really going to really make you remember this.”
The boy sighed, and slipped out of Miroku’s hold. “But I wanted to see a real hero. I wanted to be a hero.”
“Feh. Don’t ever do something that stupid again. You almost got killed.” Off in the distance, InuYasha could hear voices calling. “Sounds like they’re looking for you, boy.”
“The monster didn’t kill me, but my father will,” Yoshi said, wiping his nose. “But I’ll be a real hero and take it.”
InuYasha just closed his eyes for a minute and shook his head. The boy’s voice sounded very distant to the hanyou as he felt the oni’s venom begin to work through his bloodstream. His mouth felt dry.
The monk laughed, until he took a good look at his friend. “Your ear’s bleeding.”
InuYasha’s head was beginning to spin. “Yeah, I caught one of his spikes.” He shrugged.
“Yoshi!” Hideo’s voice carried up the mountainside.
“InuYasha?” Yoshi said. He didn’t like the fact that his hero had suddenly gotten pale and sweaty.
The monk frowned. “What do we need to do?”
InuYasha collapsed to his knees, unable to stand up. “I don’t know.”
Suddenly, InuYasha’s world grew black.
To be continued....