A/N: Alright! First chapter back and better than ever, thanks to my trusty new Betas, Caeria and Kat Morning. Claire is also joining the ranks, but will be specializing in the RK fic fronts. So enjoy their handiwork. Things are a bit clearer and cleaner than before, so, while nothing huge has changed, you might want to take another read Oh, and because this seems to be a big point of confusion: this is modeled off of the original fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson. Look on my author's page for a link where you can read it online if you don't already have a copy… which I'm sure so many of you do cough So, again, this is not based off of the Disney version of the story.
General Warnings: If your only resource for Inu-Yasha is through the American dubs or the Viz released mangas, you might be unaware of the hanyou's foul mouth.
Since my acquaintance is through an uncensored version of the script, he will be retaining that foulness.
Disclaimer: I do not own Inu-Yasha or Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid." I just like mashing them together.
Without Words: Surfacing
The sun, brooding upon the horizon of its death, threw angry streaks of red across the churning surface of the ocean. Tonight, the moon would hide its face, leaving only pale starlight to glint off the foam of the waves and dimming the ocean depths to even darker currents. Below, the predators, the demons who could hunt without sight, would prowl the borders of the mermaid kingdom. Above, the Sirens would surface to sing their caressing lures and invite the ships and sailors to sink beneath the inky waves. And once the hunt had lapsed from violence to something more primitive, the foam atop the waves would stain pink.
Tonight, a venture from the haven of the kingdom was for those who sought release from their three hundred years of life.
Tonight marked Kagome's fifteenth year and her Surfacing.
The mirror reflected a pale face starkly outlined by waving black hair. Gray-blue eyes shone too large above fine cheekbones and a mouth thinned in displeasure. Wealth clung to her in restrictive bands of pearl-beaded silver. Delicate shells and pearls crowned her head, weaving through her dark hair, and dipped across her forehead. A corset of pearls and silver hugged her waist just above where skin melted into silver-green scales. Bangles cuffed her wrists and pale-shelled clams clung in a stately line up the back of her tail. They numbered eight in all, a mark of high rank and respect to honor the kingdom's youngest princess.
"Kagome, are you done yet?"
She shifted her eyes up to find the reflection of her elder sister's face hovering at her shoulder.
"Yes." Her knuckles would split if she didn't unclench her hands.
The older girl frowned. "Then why don't you come out? Mother and the others are waiting to see you off." She pursed her lips. "Or are you going to stare at yourself in the mirror right through sunset and the rest of the night?"
Kagome returned the frown and huffed. "I'm coming. I'm just…" she trailed off and stared at herself again, at a reflection she barely recognized.
The jewel hung pale and luminescent between her breasts.
Her sister's face softened. "I was scared, too. Just stay out of sight and you'll be perfectly safe." Something dark flitted across her face. "The young ones are friendly, but the adults are stupid and dangerous." Her mouth flattened into a hard line.
Kagome nodded silently and touched the jewel. Of her four older sisters, Eri had been the most recently introduced to the land above the waves. And before Eri, the princesses had enjoyed a naive opinion of humans.
"I'll be careful." She shoved off the stool and drifted toward the doorway. In truth, she was more wary of her own world tonight than the one above the ocean. Her spirit was like a beacon to them.
"Good." Eri's face lit with a smile. "You're going to have a lot of fun tonight, sister. Grandfather's stories don't do the other world justice." She caught her hand and gave it a squeeze. "And now you can come with us when we surface."
Kagome smiled as she let herself be led from her room and shook her worries from her shoulders. Eri was right; she should be cautious but excited. Since her eldest sister had crossed into womanhood and been allowed her first trip above the waves, Kagome had longed for her own Surfacing with a passion bordering on obsession. Her wait hadn't been made easier by the occasional trips her sisters made, arm in arm, to the surface to lounge on moonlit beaches and sport in shallow coves. The past year had been the hardest when even Eri hadn't been left to commiserate with.
Tonight that would change. Despite the misfortune of having her birthday on the new moon, Kagome would still enjoy her long waited taste of air. After years of stories from everyone around her, she would set her own eyes upon the miracles of the other world. Now she would have her own stories to shape into songs.
When she emerged from her room, the rest of her family was waiting for her. Her mother, the Queen, folded her into a light embrace and checked her appearance.
"Kagome," she sighed, "you look beautiful."
She squirmed lightly and winced as one of the clams tightened its hold. "Do I have to wear all this, mama? It's not like anyone else will be there to see me."
"Of course you do. You are a princess, dear." Her mother frowned at an errant strand of hair and tucked it back into place.
"But it's really uncomfortable." She hated to complain, but she would be slowed by the weight of the finery and her strokes would be only half as powerful with the clinging of the clams.
"Pride must suffer pain," her mother quoted. Kagome managed to keep from rolling her eyes, but a pout puckered her pink-stained lips. If she had a pearl for every time she heard that…
I'd be able to build my own palace and do whatever I wanted. She pushed the wry thought away. There was no use in wishing for something so frivolous. As for the clams, she would visit Kaede and leave them in the old miko's cave before surfacing. Her duty as a miko came before accessories. As long as she retrieved them in the morning before returning home, her mother would never suspect.
"Beware of the land-walkers, Kagome," her grandfather piped. He squinted a stern eye at her and held out a closed fist. Kagome eyed him warily before extending her hand.
Something squishy plopped into her palm. A tiny shiver of disgust rippled up her spine and down her arms and the hair on her neck stood on end.
"There is a long history behind the Sea Cucumber. One of its lesser known properties is the ability to repel beings with ill intent." Her grandfather's tone droned in the solemn cadence of one of his long-winded history lessons.
"Yeah, just throw it at them." Yuka, her eldest sister, wrinkled her nose.
Ayumi, second eldest, giggled. "Seriously, grandfather, what will a sea cucumber do?"
"If anything, I'd say a human might take it as an invitation." Naoko, the middle child, eyed the creature's shape with a dubious eye. She had an interesting sense of humor.
Kagome jerked her hand away from the creature and resisted the urge to rub her palm against her scales to clean it. She shot a mild glare at Naoko who just smiled benignly and shrugged. The sea cucumber sank to the ocean floor and, as the royal family watched, began propelling itself along the sand in search of food.
Grandfather sputtered. "Is that what you call gratitude?"
"Calm down, father." Queen Higarashi placed a soothing hand on his shoulder, "sunset is approaching. We don't want to make Kagome wait any longer than necessary."
Kagome judged the pull of the tide and figured she had about half an hour before dark. If she wanted enough time to check in with Kaede, she needed to speed this up. Fortunately, Eri seemed to sense her impatience.
"Have fun tonight," she grinned as she gave her a brief hug. Kagome smiled and shot her a thankful look as she pulled away.
Taking their cue, the rest of her sisters moved forward to give farewell embraces. As Naoko leaned in for her turn, she whispered in Kagome's ear. "I figure you're going to see the old bat." The tone was disapproving but resigned. "See if she has any charms to keep you safe." Her face was solemn as she regarded her younger sister and Kagome frowned.
"Naoko, I can take care of myself," the old argument was implied in the fall of her voice, "and please don't call Kaede that."
"You wouldn't be in so much danger if she hadn't started training you, that's all."
Annoyance twisted her face for a moment before it melted into a tired sigh. "You know that's not true." Part of the superstition surrounding Kaede was due to the miko's own aloofness and severe expressions. So while she lamented the hypocrisy of her family embracing one miko and being wary of the other, she understood why.
Naoko shrugged a shoulder and her gaze slid away. "I guess."
She shook her head and moved back, turning a strained grin to the rest of her family.
"Have fun and be careful." Her mother's smile was comforting and determined. Kagome could see the thousands of cautions fighting to be spoken, but the Queen kept her peace. After sending four children already, she had to be growing used to the anxiety.
"I'll be fine," she assured.
Now, if she could convince herself of that statement, she would be set.
"Grandmother Kaede?" she sang out as she swept through the waving reeds that shielded the entrance of the cave.
"Aye, child. I am here," Kaede called from her perch next to the miko pool. The surface was polished glass anchored by corals and shells. The elder miko used it as a focus for her spiritual powers and to catch glimpses of the world on land.
Kagome swam up and peered over Kaede's shoulder.
She looked down the tapestry-draped hall of a human palace. A man with wavy dark hair and heavy robes strode down the far end and disappeared around the corner.
Kaede closed her one good eye. "I do not yet know. Youkai energy gathers around him daily, and I sense that he is a danger, but he has yet to act." She opened her eye and the glass cleared until the combed sand beneath it was visible.
Kagome felt a weight settle in her chest and absently clutched at the jewel. The purity it radiated had kept her sleepless the night before. All day she had debated whether to leave it in the hands of the old miko while she completed her ceremony. Her dual duties often kept her eyes glued to the ceiling of her room through the long hours of night.
"Where is he?" She tried to keep from sounding too worried.
Kaede peered at her from the corner of her good eye and smiled. "Nowhere you could reach in one night, child. The jewel should be safe."
The breath whooshed from her lungs and she grinned. "Good. Then I can keep it with me."
"Of course you will," Kaede grumped. "My home is too close to the border of the kingdom to safely leave it here. The youkai get antsy enough when you are here to accompany it, and I am too old to be fighting Sirens."
Kagome smiled. "They cannot use it, though, without a soul."
"No," the miko's voice lowered seriously, "But they would have no trouble finding a wayward land-walker to ensnare that could." She wagged a stern finger at her. "That reminds me, child. I spied a grand ship earlier this afternoon. It looked to be heading in this direction, so be cautious of being seen."
She sighed. "On the new moon? I thought humans were supposed to be smart."
Kaede chuckled. "These looked mostly youkai, and of noble breed. They seemed to be setting up for a celebration." She eased herself from her stool of smooth coral and headed to the back wall. "It's not just mermaids that send their younglings foolishly into danger for the sake of ceremony, you know."
"I wouldn't mind except that mama insisted I wear all this." She waved a hand at her finery and shot a dirty look over her shoulder at a clam that pinched.
Kaede swept a critical eye over her and grunted. "Sometimes I think your mother has no sense. Leave the clams here. You'll need to be free to fight if something comes for the jewel." She turned back to the cabinets lining the back of the cave and plucked something from the shelf. "Here, child, take this."
Kagome took the flat, silver locket and turned it over in her hand curiously.
"There is some paste in there for wounds," Kaede advised. "It will disinfect better than saltwater and will clot the wound to keep sharks off your scent."
The younger mermaid nodded and hooked the small pendant onto the cuff on her left wrist. Always best to be prepared.
"I'm sure you've heard it enough, child, but be careful." Kaede folded her hands across her waist and smiled.
Kagome returned the gesture as her fingers stroked the locket. "I will."
"And Kagome, child…" Kaede's mouth softened in regret. "I know it's hard to remember with all this, but… tonight is a celebration. Relax and enjoy yourself."
The little mermaid just smiled.
The prince kept his back to the rail of the ship for two reasons. One, because he couldn't quite forgive the sun for setting on him this evening, and two, because he knew that watching him change would make the youkai court squirm.
"I should get in their faces and force them to talk to me," he muttered.
Sango leaned against the rail to his right and nodded. "It would probably make them squirm."
A fang caught on his lip as he smirked. He knew he liked the former demon slayer for a reason. For being human, she had a youkai's cold instincts.
"My Lord, you shouldn't strain your reputation at court any further," Miroku chided on his left.
He snorted. "It wasn't my idea to celebrate my birthday out here in the middle of the damn ocean where we can't get away from each other. They can bitch to Sesshoumaru if they've got a problem."
Miroku sighed and joined the other two in their slouch against the railing. Misery loves company.
"Any minute now," Inu-Yasha mused and folded his arms across his chest to wait. As much as he despised his human nights, they had their own kind of charm. Watching the Court try to ignore him without insulting the honor of the kingdom was amusing, because while Sesshoumaru wouldn't breathe word of any breech of conduct to the king, Miroku and Sango certainly would. And watching King Inutaisho glower at his court was high on the prince's entertainment list.
"There's supposed to be a fireworks display just after sunset." Sango stretched her arms out in front of her and rolled her wrists to pop the joints. "Prince Sesshoumaru said you weren't allowed to sulk off below deck."
"Prince Sesshoumaru can bite me."
She shrugged. "Fine, as long as you tell him yourself."
"The sun has set," the monk noted as he straightened and set his staff before him on the deck. Sango shook her arms out and rolled her neck a bit, then braced her feet into a defensive pose at her prince's side.
"Yeah, no shit," he growled as he felt his youkai drain and the world fade from his senses. He would know exactly when the sun set on these nights if he was buried seventy feet below the earth.
The awkward silence on deck announced the Court's notice. That and the studious way everyone avoided making proper eye contact with him. Like if they ignored the quality of his dress they could lump him with his two bodyguards as inconsequential.
"Happy birthday, my Lord," Miroku murmured quietly.
The steady diminishing of pressure against her body was the only indication Kagome had that she was about to surface. The sea was inky with only a faint, phosphorous glow that clung to the milky paleness of her skin and glinted through the length of her hair.
In this darkness, her eyes were useless. Instead, she stretched out her other senses. The subtle changes of temperature marked her passage through ribboned layers of water, but she ignored the soft tug of their currents. And the ever present tingle in her awareness assured her she was swimming parallel to the Earth's pole, South.
Not a spark of light, but she wasn't blind.
She kicked upward through a stream of warmth, then shivered as she crested the current into icy water. The surface was almost upon her and she had yet to run into any trouble. Perhaps she could take Kaede's advice after all.
Kagome grinned to herself and gave an extra powerful kick as the ocean seemed to part before her, hurtling her toward the world above her own.
She shot up from the water in a fountain of sea foam and the glitter of silver and pearls. The wind rushed against her face as she opened her eyes to a velvet curtain dripping with jeweled light.
The sky, she realized, tears forming in her eyes as she opened her mouth and pulled in her first breath of air.
Fire burst before her eyes a moment before the crack of an explosion slammed against her ears. Kagome choked, her arms flailing in the thin air, before slapping against the surface of the water and sinking back into the sea.
For a moment she just let herself sink. Her ears rang softly and spots danced across her vision. Water rushed back into her lungs and she suffocated slightly as her body tried to decide where she was getting her oxygen from. She'd never made the transition before, and to immediately switch back was dizzying.
As the shock of the explosion wore off, her brain sluggishly provided her a replay of what had happened.
"Fire… works." The word tasted funny on her tongue, just as any human word did.
Overhead, the muffled echo of a second explosion filtered through the water. She looked up and stared at the fragmented splash of color as it melted toward her. Kaede had told her stories of grand celebrations where fireworks lit the night sky with violent rainbows, but she was still unprepared for the beauty.
Her eyes still locked on the sky through the prism of the water, she cautiously kicked back toward the surface.
This time when she tasted air, she heard the faint whistle of the little cannon as it shot into the air. The noise was still loud enough that she winced, but she kept her eyes as wide open as possible. No, Kaede had not done the beauty of fireworks justice.
A faint shout tore her eyes from the sky and to her immediate left.
The ship idled on the water like a king lounging on his throne. Kagome gasped and immediately dove back underwater to swim closer. As interesting as fireworks were, they paled in the face of her curiosity about land-walkers. They were the lords of dry land and the surface of the sea, and the mermaid's bane.
"Powerful they may be, but that doesn't mean they're smart enough to tell the difference between a mermaid and a Siren," was Kaede's summation of the relationship between the two worlds. Kagome and her sisters had taken the warnings for granted. To them a Siren looked no more like a mermaid than a land youkai did a human. So it wasn't until Eri had Surfaced that they appreciated the misplaced hatred and fear humans had for their kind.
In her exploration, Eri had followed a small inlet up to the edges of a small, seaside village. The children had been amazed and delighted by her sudden appearance. They'd played for a few minutes before the extra noise brought one of the adults to the shore's edge to investigate. Eri had barely escaped as rocks were hurtled toward her head and a few men waded into the water with daggers and shovels. The village had mobilized in moments to drive off the "sea witch."
Since then, Kagome had taken the older miko's words of caution with newfound gravity. And it was because of this wariness that she waited until she was well in the shadow of the ship before surfacing again. From this angle, the people on the ship couldn't see her unless they looked straight down over the rail. And even then, in the night and with her dark hair, it would be hard for them to realize what she was before she had a chance to duck back into the safety of the water.
She peeked up from the water cautiously. A handful of human-looking youkai stood primly beside the railing of the ship, heads tipped up to watch the fireworks. She eyed the elaborate clothing and the abundance of precious metals and jewels and judged them to be nobility of some sort. Kaede's rule stated that the amount and layers of clothing a land-walker wore was in direct proportion to their wealth and social standing. Kagome had been incredulous at first, since wearing so much clothing would only cause discomfort and impair their movement, but then she'd ruefully remembered the eight clams she was required to wear at any public event.
"Hmm," she mused to herself and startled. Her voice sounded much different traveling through air than in the water. The tone was much sharper and sounded almost hollow when compared to the resonance it had under water. She would have to try singing later when there weren't youkai around to notice.
The fireworks display wore on and Kagome began to grow bored. The youkai were very pretty to look at, but they weren't doing anything particularly interesting. Their appreciation of the show was only interrupted to make an odd remark to their neighbor, and the fireworks made it impossible for Kagome to catch what they were saying.
She floated down the length of the boat and alternated between studying the youkai and enjoying the fireworks. A spot of black caught her eye and she fixed on a trio standing toward the far end of the ship.
Kagome swam until she was directly beneath them and peered up, completely baffled. From what Kaede told her, the relations between the two land races were frigidly polite. The kingdoms tended to be either purely youkai or human, the only mixing occurring in the lowest classes. To find three well-dressed humans on a youkai pleasure ship had to be a rare site. She would have an interesting story for her sisters, after all.
From their clothing, they looked to be a monk, a noble, and a warrior. The warrior and monk flanked the noble, and though they appeared to be enjoying the fireworks, their attention remained with the ship. The noble sulked between them, making no pretense of watching the fireworks, but staring blankly ahead when he wasn't casting suspicious glances over his shoulder. All three looked to be around her age, if a little older. And all three were quickly engraved on her mind's eye.
She wanted to call out to them, to ask what they were doing in the middle of a youkai celebration, but held her tongue. Youkai opinion of her kind wasn't any friendlier, and if they were anything like the demons of the ocean, they had sharper senses.
She was so engrossed in watching the humans that she didn't notice the silence until one of them spoke.
"What a lovely tribute to your honor, my Lord." The monk's voice was low and silken, drifting down to Kagome like the waving of a seaflower.
"Bullshit," the noble barked, "they did it for their own amusement."
She strained her ears and tilted her head even further back to make sure she didn't miss a word of conversation. If she listened long enough, the mystery behind the three would surely reveal itself.
"A prince does not scorn a gift, brother." The voice flowed like an icy, northern current from somewhere behind the three at the rail. The warrior and monk turned to face the man, bowing low in turn. The noble rolled his eyes and kept his vigil of the distant horizon.
"If I thought it was actually a gift, I might be grateful, Sesshoumaru."
Kagome's eyebrows furrowed. That was a demon name. Was the human adopted into a youkai family? Maybe he was a younger prince of a human kingdom sent to be fostered in a youkai court.
"Hold your tongue, prince. I will inform father of this insolence and ingratitude. Do not forget it was his good humor that demanded this celebration." His voice remained smooth, but the underlying malice brought a shiver to Kagome's skin.
The noble's face darkened and he turned away from her to face Sesshoumaru.
"Yeah, I'm sure he wanted me out here in the middle of the ocean tonight. Unlike you, brother," he drawled the word tauntingly, "he gives a shit about my life."
Kagome was terribly lost. She gave up trying to understand the relationship between the human prince and his apparently youkai brother. The situation was too confusing for her to process when she was simultaneously trying to keep her position steady amidst the rolling waves.
She missed the rest of the argument at the sudden awareness of her surroundings. The ocean was becoming increasingly restless and a stiff, cold wind whipped her hair from the water and tangled it about her face. She turned to look at the night sky and found it uncomfortably dark. The stars winked out one by one as a black billow of storm clouds rolled over the ship.
She slipped back underwater and dove down a bit to feel the currents. Her face paled and she quickly resurfaced. This would be a bad storm, the kind that dragged the stately works of man down to the quiet domain of the merfolk. She had seen the bloated bodies of men lost to the waves of such storms before. She hoped her first Surfacing wouldn't introduce her to more.
When she resurfaced, the mood of the ship above her had darkened. The earlier argument had been abandoned as the youkai prince yelled calm commands over the increasing pitch of the wind to his crew and passengers.
The monk and warrior remained at the railing of the ship. She couldn't hear their voices over the troubled waves, but could see the intensity and frustration on their faces. Between them, the human prince stood with his arms folded stubbornly across his chest with a sturdy rope tied about his waist. From their repeated pointing and entreaties, they looked like they were trying to persuade him to go below deck. And the prince would have none of it.
With a final, unheard snarl, he threw up his hands at them and stalked away from the rail and her sight. Kagome hoped it was to go below deck. Humans were much more susceptible to storms than youkai, and she felt empathy for the unhappy prince. She knew what it was like to be ostracized among her own people.
Within a short time, the storm kicked into its full fury and buffeted the sides of the boat with increasingly large waves. The sails had long been dropped and the grand ship looked rather pitiful against the cold wrath of the sky.
Kagome dived and leapt amongst the waves a little distance off. A part of her relished the storm. The waves knocked her a bit dizzy now and then, but she was in no danger of drowning as she'd by now mastered switching between breathing air and water. But her play was dampened by a growing worry for the youkai ship. The waves were swamping the deck with every pass, now. When she rode a high crest, she could see the sodden forms of the crew sliding haphazardly across the deck, anchored to the ship only by the ropes tied to the main mast.
"Please don't sink." Her voice was lost in the shriek of the winds and a moment later she was plunged into the ocean by the wave she'd been riding. She flipped and surfaced again, almost on top of the ship. Wary of being dashed against the sides or, worse, being flopped onto the deck like a fish, she started to dive again when something caught her eye.
The human prince hung halfway over the rail, grasping a young-looking youkai sailor by the hand. The young one dangled over the edge of the ship, the rope about his waist waving a torn, useless end in the wind. The monk and warrior were there as well, aiding the prince as he grappled with the sailor.
Kagome gasped and swam closer, keeping her eyes glued to the sight. If the youkai fell, she would be there to keep him from drowning. She surfaced and fought to keep her position beneath the unfolding drama.
The prince was shouting at someone over his shoulder as they dragged the sailor back up to the rail. The youth scrambled over the side and a few other sailors converged on him with a new rope to secure him to the ship again. Kagome smiled and began to edge back from the side of the ship now that the danger was past.
She almost didn't notice in time as the next wave rose over her back to crash into the ship. The sudden drop in water kicked her instincts into high gear and she dove straight down to avoid being slammed into the side of the ship. The current swept her underneath the belly of the ship and she let herself drift for a moment to catch her breath.
When she tilted her head up to swim to the surface again, she blanched. A body bobbed above her, being tossed by the waves. She shot up in panic, her arms outstretched to reach the man before he drowned. His struggles turned sluggish as she neared and he turned listlessly toward her as his body began to sink under its own weight. Half-lidded, gray eyes stared blankly at her as she closed the distance between them and hurtled back above the waves into the air he needed.
The damn wave had caught him off-guard. There'd only been time for a quick curse as it swept him off his feet and slammed him to the other side of the ship. He gasped as the rope around his waist caught, holding him to the mast, and then snapped, leaving him to the mercy of the wave.
His senses scrambled as he was somersaulted into the water and dragged about by the current. He slammed against something unforgivingly solid and his vision darkened with spots. A growl ripped from his throat and he clawed at the water to try and find the surface. His world narrowed to fulfilling one desperate need: to breathe.
The air was almost as cold as the water, so it took a few moments for him to realize his head was above water. He sucked in a ragged breath and choked as a wave swept over his head and his lungs half-filled with water. He struggled to surface again, but found every attempt thwarted by the incessant press of the storm waves. They held him immobile just below where life begged him to draw in a breath.
His limbs were heavy now, dragging him even further from his world. If he'd been in his hanyou form, he could have lasted much longer. The fight wouldn't be so easily lost. His body wouldn't ache so harshly from its fight with the ship. His vision wouldn't be turning to swirling patterns of gray.
He wasn't aware of giving up the fight, only that he couldn't remember why he was fighting in the first place. And as his eyes finally slid closed, he barely registered a vision he decided he didn't mind dying with.
Blue eyes pleaded with him from a pale and perfect face framed by dark hair. And her arms were stretched toward him, hands splayed.
He couldn't remember a time anyone had reached so desperately for him.
A/N: Yeah, things probably seem a bit weird in both of the kids' situations. We'll get to more of that in the next few chapters. I've wrestled with Anderson's concepts and warped it into something I think resembles the original Inu-Yasha realm quite well. Not everything with the jewel and all that is the same, but pretty close.