The Ushi Oni
Slowly, sounds began to punch through his darkness, and his ear twitched. He began to notice some things as consciousness slipped back in. The feel of the futon beneath him and the cover above. The sliding of a door and the sound of children playing. A familiar jingling. A cool cloth wiping his forehead. The soft murmuring of a voice chanting. The smell of tea.
He flexed his arms and legs, clasped and unclasped his hands. He felt very stiff, as if he hadn’t moved in a long time. Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes.
The light was almost too bright at first and he blinked trying to make sense of what he saw, and slowly, the room grew into focus. With great effort, he managed to roll over.
Miroku, sitting by the fire pit, turned as he heard the sounds of InuYasha shifting. “Ah, you’re back with us,” he said, moving a kettle of water off the fire. He got up and went to the hanyou’s bedside.
“Wha . . . ” InuYasha started to say. His voice was harsh, barely above a whisper. He swallowed. “What happened?”
“Thirsty?” Miroku asked.
InuYasha nodded, and Miroku got up and poured water into a cup. Kneeling next to his friend, he helped him sit up enough to drink. Afterwards, he collapsed back on the bedding, his silver hair cascading over the bolster in an unkept mess.
“What happened?” he asked again. “Last thing I remember is talking to you and that boy, then everything went black.”
“You passed out from the ushi oni’s venom,” Miroku said. “Think you could handle some soup? Hideo’s wife made it.”
InuYasha nodded, and this time he managed to sit all the way up, and crossed his legs in front of him, leaning forward. Miroku walked back to the fire pit, and pulled the lid off a small pot that was pulled to the side, close enough to stay warm without overheating. The air filled with the smell of the hot, fish-based broth. Grabbing a bowl, he ladled it out carefully, then recovered the pot.
“How long have I been out?” InuYasha asked.
“Almost three days,” Miroku said, recovering the pot. He carried the food back to the hanyou and handed him the bowl and chopsticks. “I must admit you had us worried there for a while. I did not want to go back home and tell Kagome-sama that I failed in, how did you put it? Ah, yes, getting your butt back home.”
He smiled at his friend, who looked up from his soup bowl, and gave him a wry smile. “No,” the hanyou said. “She wouldn’t like that very much.” He took a swallow of the soup. “So what happened after I passed out?”
“Well, we found the search party that was looking for Yoshi, or should I say, they found us, following the flash from your Kaze no Kizu . Hideo and Yoshi’s father Michio helped get you down the mountain. The cut on your ear started to fester almost immediately, and you had a fever for two days straight. You didn’t move, you didn’t make a sound and you barely breathed.” Miroku went back and grabbed his teacup, took a sip, but drank it anyway. “But the local healer was evidently able to draw the venom out, because last night your fever broke and you started to move again in your sleep.”
InuYasha put down his bowl, and touched his ear, then twitched it. “Still tender,” he noted.
“It looks a hell of a lot better than it did yesterday,” Miroku said. He poured a fresh cup of tea. “I’m glad it’s healing. Kagome-sama would have been unhappy if you came home with a mangled ear.” He grinned.
InuYasha scowled at him in return. “Where’re my clothes?” InuYasha asked, throwing aside the cover. He was dressed only in his undershirt.
“On the shelf against the wall.” Miroku pointed to the far wall behind InuYasha. “Tessaiga’s with them. You think you’re ready to get up?”
InuYasha, with effort, stood up, wobbling a moment, then took a deep breath and headed towards the shelf. Grabbing his hakama, he slid into them and fastened the ties. “Never get back on my feet if I stay off of’em,” he said. He grabbed his jacket and slipped it on.
“Now that you’re up,” Miroku said, standing up, “I need to go talk to the headman. And I’d like to stop by the family who lost their son to the oni. I promised them I’d say some sutra for him. You’ll be all right?”
“Yeah,” InuYasha nodded, fastening his jacket closed.
“There’s more soup in the pot.” Miroku grabbed his staff then slid the shoji door open.
“Keh,” InuYasha said. Grabbing his bowl, he moved towards the fire pit as Miroku closed the door.
Grabbing another bowl of soup, InuYasha took it and went out to sit on the verandah. Fighting against the lightheadedness he felt, he sat down carefully against a pillar, and ate his soup, enjoying the feeling of the sun on his face, and the scent of the open air. He looked towards the tree he had sat under his first day here, and saw farmers working in the fields beyond. As he drank the last of his soup, he could hear a woman somewhere nearby, fussing about the sloppiness of her husband while she scrubbed her laundry. A group of children ran down the street playing chase, almost running into two men walking by who were discussing a bet they made. The men smiled at the hanyou as they passed by, bowing politely.
The hanyou turned and watched Hideo walk up to the guest house and sit down next to him. “I saw Miroku-sama a few minutes ago, and he told me you were out of bed. It surprised me. Even after hearing that your fever broke last night, I didn’t expect to see you looking so well yet.”
“I heal fast,” InuYasha replied. “I’ve had a lot of experience at it over the years.”
Hideo raised an eyebrow, as if wondering what the hanyou meant by that, then shrugged and scratched his chin. “That’s sort of like our village. A few days ago, people were walking around fearful of everything. But now look at it. People are back into the fields, even the ones up near the mountain. Nobody’s looking over their shoulder or wondering if they’ll have enough to eat until the harvest comes in. Although,” he said smiling, “I have heard a few grumble how Takeshi won’t be giving away free sake anymore.”
“How’s your nephew?” InuYasha asked. “I know he got tossed pretty bad by the oni.”
“Oh, he’s got some bruising from that. And maybe another one or two when he got home, but he’s all right. I don’t this his parents have let him leave the house yet, though” Hideo sighed. “He’s a good, curious kid, always getting into little scrapes, but his was the craziest thing he’s done. His parents are mortified that you got hurt because of his disobedience.”
InuYasha shrugged. “I’m glad he’s doing all right. Kind of reminds me of my own son.”
“Then,” Hideo said, “You must have your hands full a lot.”
“Yeah,” the hanyou said. Suddenly, all of his satisfaction at a job well done evaporated as he thought about his family, and was struck by a strong pang of longing. It was time to go home.
Two days later, after another day for InuYasha to heal up, and a public feast and one more dinner at Hideo’s home, Miroku and InuYasha were gathering their things, making ready for the trip back across the mountains.
“By the way,” Miroku said, as he gave a tug onto the binding of his travel bag. He hefted it onto his back. “One of the families here asked me to take one of their sons as an acolyte.”
“You? You sure you want to add another mouth to that motley crew you have at your place?” InuYasha said, drinking one last cup of Aka’s excellent tea.
“Always room for one more,” Miroku replied. “Besides, they might have just sent him off to be someone’s servant anyway. He’s the third son in his family. There’s not much future for him in the village, and evidently he’s become more than they want to handle. They were talking about sending him to a big landowner in the next village down the road when I convinced them otherwise.” He tossed a pouch at InuYasha. “He wouldn’t have much of a life there.”
“Feh,” InuYasha said. “Well, just not let me be there when you tell Sango. I remember what happened when you took in your last acolyte.”
Miroku rubbed the top of his head in memory. “Ah yes, I remember that day well. That, friend, is why I built a separate house for my students.”
The hanyou looked inside the pouch, counted the coins. “You know you’re one greedy monk,” InuYasha said, shaking his head.
“Well, we have our expenses, you know. Not easy raising a family and doing the Buddha’s work.” Miroku grabbed his staff. “Anyway, it was a lot cheaper for them than feeding that oni forever.”
InuYasha snorted as the shoji door opened wide.
“I’m ready, Miroku-sama,” said a young voice. A small boy sat there at the entry, his head bowed.
“Yoshi?” InuYasha said, surprised.
“InuYasha-sama! I’m going with you! Miroku-sama’s going to teach me to read and I’ll get to see you all the time! Do you think I’ll get to play with your son?”
The hanyou took a deep breath. It was going to be an interesting trip home.