Note: This story takes place after the third Inuyasha film, "Castle Beyond the Looking Glass," (just after Episode 74 in the series), and after the end of the Buffy series. May contain spoilers for events that happen in the Buffy series finale, Inuyasha episodes 1-74, and the film. Some violence, some bad language and maybe a bit of sexual innuendo, but nothing beyond what you'd see/hear in an aired episode of Inuyasha.1. Every Lock Has a Key
Feudal Japan, Warring States Era
"Naraku-sama, it is said you are the most powerful youkai in Japan. I, Arashthoth the Gatekeeper, humbly beg your assistance in a matter of great importance," said the demon kneeling on the floor of Naraku's audience chamber.
A foreigner youkai, by his accent. Has my fame already spread beyond Japan's shores? From his place on a low dais, Naraku frowned slightly, and adjusted the flowing sleeves of his elaborate kimono.
The supplicant bowed low, both hands properly placed on the floor before him. A long, hooded robe the color of dusty earth concealed every feature save for two glowing red eyes.
It was not that Naraku objected to the request for a favor. It was the fact that he had a visitor at all. Naraku did not approve of visitors.
The barrier around Naraku's castle was a powerful one, that concealed the castle's existence to all but those who already knew where it lay. And in the unlikely instance that any human might penetrate the barrier, the ground within the barrier was covered with a poisonous purple miasma that roiled and billowed over the raked gravel of the walkways and courtyard. So how in the seven hells had this Arashthoth found him, and managed to enter undetected?
Kill him! urged some of the lesser youkai that Naraku had recently absorbed. Kill him and take his strength as you took ours! They squirmed impatiently and Naraku reined them in.
Perhaps later. He was the master here, and he would tolerate no dissent in the unified body he had created from hundreds of his fellow monsters.
"I am not in the habit of dispensing largesse," Naraku said to Arashthoth, in the coldest tone he could summon. "Nor do I seek vassals."
"If you would condescend to make an exception in my case, as a sign of my gratitude I would offer you a talisman of great beauty--and great power," said Arashthoth, undeterred.
"Great power?" Naraku asked, his tone disinterested. He already possessed four-fifths of the Shikon-no-Tama, the fabled Jewel of Four Souls. What could a foreign youkai possibly offer him that might be of interest?
"Yes, yes," said Arashthoth, eagerly. "I offer you the use of a Portal Key!"
Naraku remained silent, unwilling to admit ignorance of such a thing. In any case, a key did not sound like a very impressive gift.
After a long moment, Arashthoth had the temerity to sigh.
Arashthoth bowed again, the sleeves of his loose robes billowing. A faint, dry scent, like medicinal herbs on the verge of crumbling into dust, reached Naraku's nose as his visitor's forehead touched the woven tatami mats that covered the floor.
"It permits the bearer to travel freely to the other demon dimensions," Arashthoth said. "Or within this dimension, across any distance--or any time."
"That is...interesting," conceded Naraku.
More than interesting, actually, though he did not permit his expression to change.
In addition to gifting him with the largest shard of the shattered Shikon-no-Tama some months ago, the treacherous undead miko Kikyo had given him one priceless piece of information about his chief opponent.
The girl who holds the largest portion of my reborn soul is unbound by time's constraints, Kikyo had told him in her deceptively sweet voice. Kagome travels in this realm, seeking to recover the pieces of the jewel, but she dwells elsewhere. Even her friends cannot accompany her there. Find Kagome's true home, and you will find her alone and without her protectors.
"I will accept your gift," said Naraku. If Arashthoth spoke true, then the portal through the Well of Dry Bones might open for him, as it had failed to do on other occasions.
"Thank you, Naraku-sama!" Arashthoth reached into the breast of his robes, and withdrew a fist-sized sphere crafted from dully-gleaming bronze. He placed it on the tatami just in front of his knees.
The object was engraved with a sinuous pattern that seemed to writhe as Naraku studied it, and studded with polished, thumbnail-sized topazes. A silent howl of despair echoed in his consciousness as his restive youkai components comprehended that he did not intend to immediately dispose of the intruder.
Quiet! Naraku commanded them as he shifted slightly on his dais. This lot was proving more difficult than the others to fully absorb. It was taking more effort than usual to maintain his outward appearance of a handsome young nobleman.
"And what is it that you wish of me?" Naraku asked, when he had tired of studying the strange sphere.
"I want...her!" Arashthoth pointed to Naraku's right, a warty, yellow-nailed finger extending beyond the hem of his wide sleeve. "Just for a short while." Arashthoth smiled, revealing crooked brown teeth. It was a singularly unpleasant expression.
Naraku felt rather than heard Kagura's suppressed gasp just behind his shoulder. "And what would you do with my daughter?"
Suddenly remembering his manners, Arashthoth lowered his head, once more concealing his features within his dust-colored cowl. "I have heard that Kagura-sama commands the winds."
"That is so." Naraku inclined his head a little. Very interesting...
"I need her to conjure a storm for me, a divine wind such as my dimension has never known."
"And how do I know that you will return her?" Naraku asked, gently. "She is useful to me, and I would regret losing her, even in return for this portal key."
Behind him, Kagura's outrage smoldered like coals at the prospect of being traded away like a piece of merchandise. But she knew better than to protest. Naraku smiled slightly. She had not forgotten what he done to her the last time she tried to disobey him.
"You have my word--the word of a Gatekeeper--that I shall not keep the Lady Kagura for long!" Arashthoth forgot etiquette and raised his head to stare rudely at Naraku. The dim, bruised light of the audience chamber fell on the features within the hood, revealing a face composed of scabrous lumps. "And if nothing else, I must return to reclaim my loan of the Portal Key."
A loan? What insolence was this? This demon had invaded his castle, requested Naraku's most precious possession, and had the temerity to offer not a gift but a loan?
Naraku made his decision. He opened the front of his kimono, letting the lower half of his body dissolve into youkai form. He heard the eager clamor of his legion as they surged forward across the tatami.
The Gatekeeper screamed, but it was too late--the thick pseudopods of Naraku's essence already held him captive, flowing rapidly up and around the long hooded robe. In a few seconds, he was completely surrounded. Naraku felt him struggle weakly against his fate for a few moments longer, then a new consciousness joined the multitude of others in Naraku's being.
Where am I? What have you done to me? came the Gatekeeper's terrified thought. Why is it so dark here?
Naraku calmly closed the neck of his kimono and retied the sash. Then he looked back at Kagura, who had not moved from her position kneeling behind his cushion on the dais. She was dressed like a noblewoman with her layered kimono, elaborately upswept hair, and thick coating of rice-powder on her face, but her gleaming scarlet eyes and pointed ears betrayed her youkai nature.
"Fool! To think that I would trade away any of my possessions for a bauble," Naraku said.
Kagura's eyelids flickered slightly at the word possession, but he chose not to notice. He leaned forward, and hefted Arashthoth's bronze sphere in his hand. It was warm, and seemed to hum slightly.
And now, he addressed the demon he had just absorbed. You will tell me how to use this...