Disclaimer: These characters belong to Rumiko Takahashi and other associated companies.
Chapter One: Ink on Skin
"Have you found it yet, Inuyasha?" a voice sang out from the glowing opening of the shallow cave. Pausing in his digging, a dusty figure peered over the rim of the deep hole he stood in, his once white, triangular ears trained on the source of the interruption.
"Feh," the hanyou replied flippantly, his voice coarse and slightly more irritated than usual. 'It was close though. Maybe another foot or two,' he then thought as he inhaled the clean air a final time and bent over, scooping the cool, stained earth with his clawed hands. With the acrid scent of rust stinging his eyes and burning his nose, it took a moment for him to get a hold of his bearings. Then with a quick deft movement, he thrust the dirt between his legs and over the edge of the hole into the slowly growing pile behind him.
Kagome repressed a smirk at the scene, deciding the wrath of the hanyou was not worth indulging in any greater display of her amusement. Shippo had already proven the result with a few choice remarks and having thus received several bumps on the head for his efforts. Despite how dog-like it appeared to be, she couldn't deny the efficiency of Inuyasha's method of digging.
As nails sang across a metallic surface, he let out a triumphant cry and quickly swept dirt off of it, searching for the edges. Hearing what sounded like success, Miroku, Sango and a rather sheepish Shippo appeared at the entrance of the cave. Plagued by curiosity, they had spent a good portion of the morning wondering about what the secretive hanyou had insisted on retrieving so far from the village they were supposed to be exorcising. With a grunt, Inuyasha dragged a large, iron chest out of the hole and shook the dirt off his clothes and bleached mane. Then, he crouched down and studied the latches on the once ornately engraved box, which exposure to the elements had long since robbed it of its original beauty. 'It had been seventy years after all, fifty of which he had spent sealed to a tree,' he thought to himself as his dirt-clogged claws grazed over the seemingly complex and thoroughly eroded lock.
"Allow me," Miroku assertively offered, kneeling next to the perplexed hanyou. With a few yanks and a quick blow from his staff, the rusted lock easily released. Strangely, the monk's smug smile was only slightly more disconcerting than the ease with which he was able to open the chest. Reverently, Inuyasha removed the lid and began to carefully sort through the neatly packed contents. Their curiosity overwhelming their patience, everyone soon crowded around the chest, desperate to know what had so enraptured their usually rough and generally disinterested companion. Inuyasha eyed them warily as they each eagerly picked up a package and delicately unwrapped various items. Satisfied with their level of respect, he went back to his search, occasionally pausing to smell different objects, his thoughts wistfully wandering back to another time in another place.
"It's a kimono," Sango remarked, surprise hinting in her voice, "And it's beautiful." Holding the fine silk up, she examined the striking pink and lavender lotus flower pattern. She hadn't seen anything quite like it, except perhaps donned by the most elegant himes from her travels as a youkai huntress. Then, she held it close to her face, letting the cool fabric brush her skin. Even though she was not one to desire lavish clothing, it was hard not to think of what it would be like to be adorned in such rich fabric.
Kagome slipped hers out of the soft wrappings, revealing a black, lacquered tanto. The dagger, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, featured sakura blooms and branches entwined around the length of the hilt and sheath. After smoothly removing the saya, she revealed the tarnished, but exquisitely crafted blade. Entranced by the beauty, the schoolgirl didn't notice the hanyou standing expectantly in front of her.
"Kagome," he spoke softly, smoothly slipping a comb-style kanzashi into her free hand. Freshly enchanted with the new treasure, the schoolgirl carefully accepted the half-moon hairpin into her palm. Never had she seen an ivory comb before and she marveled at the tortoiseshell design along the spine that trailed finely down each of the teeth. The gold gilding glinting in the low light of the cave, she gazed back at Inuyasha and his gentle expression with an immediate and deep blush rising to her cheeks.
"For the yurei at the village," he added after a moment, puzzled by her reaction and then flashed a knowing grin. The flush of her cheeks swiftly receding with his obvious obliviousness, she returned her sight to the delicate hairpin. It was true they were attempting to put to rest the vengeful ghost of a princess at the village, but the spirit had eluded their efforts for days.
"Inuyasha are you sure you want to risk this? Miroku could be wrong about her desire for the finery of her past life," Kagome voiced her concern at length, turning the ornament over in her hand. Looking up into his amber eyes, the schoolgirl studied him as he turned the thought over in his mind.
"Feh! I'll dispatch her before she can do anything," he proclaimed with unerring confidence, his hand not-so-subtly touching the hilt of the Tessaiga. Then, with a quick pivot, he strolled away to stalk after the mischievous kitsune who had disappeared outside with the leather, playing ball from inside the chest.
"So are all of these mementos from his childhood?" Sango asked after a moment, folding the kimono neatly and placing it once again in its protective wrapping.
"I think so," Kagome replied, thinking back several years, "I remember the illusion of his mother that was used to trap him once and she wore clothing similar to this."
"The age of the chest lends to that theory as well," Miroku commented half-mindedly, distracted by an old scroll he had found. Perplexed by its nature, Kagome continued to stare at the ivory comb. Ivory was not terribly common in Japan at this time and she absently contemplated on who would have given Inuyasha's mother such a unique and special gift. The image of a great, inu daiyoukai traveling to China or India, searching for the perfect, rare gift for his lover drifted into her thoughts. A despondent sigh escaped her lips. 'I'd settle for half a youkai getting me a bowl of ramen,' she thought unhappily to herself. Two years of attraction and moments of near intimacy had taken their toll on her self-esteem. What was she riding on anyway? All she's managed was a hug and almost a kiss. Not to mention she's been competing with Kikyo for his attention. How was she supposed to win against the dead?
The taijiya rested her reassuring hand on Kagome's shoulder, drawing the schoolgirl's cheek to its comfort. At least Sango understood, but there was little she could do or say anyway. With her own problems in romance, one could debate all night over who was more trouble, Inuyasha or Miroku? A series of gruff curses and a wet squeak startled her out of her self-pity and Kagome made her way to the opening of the cave. Shippo probably earned his punishment this time, but she should at least intervene to keep Inuyasha from getting too carried away.
Miroku puzzled over the worn scroll he held gently in his hands. The exotic calligraphy appeared like black liquid on the off-white parchment with the characters almost appearing to dance on the thin paper as he shifted it under the candlelight. It was definitely magical, but the kanji was so unfamiliar that even he a well-educated priest had difficulty deciphering it.
"Kagome," the monk called out as she reentered the cave toting a battered Shippo and accompanied by a guiltless Inuyasha tossing a ball contentedly in the air. "Can you read this?"
"Maybe," the schoolgirl replied, handing the kitsune off to Sango. With her brow furrowed, she examined the shimmering ink of the scroll. Considering that if the monk was struggling to read it, then it would be challenging at the very least, but even the style of the lettering seemed innately foreign to her.
"It seems to be regarding folk legends and perhaps a portal of some sort, but that's all I could piece together," Miroku explained astutely, his devious, left hand skillfully inching toward her waist. With equal deftness, Kagome slipped away from his prowling reach, her line of thought intact as she moved to kneel beside her overstuffed backpack and soon was rummaging inside it.
"My treasured kanji notes," she exclaimed victoriously as she pulled out a worn notebook and thumbed through the wrinkled pages. Years of kanji practice from school were soon coming back to the enthused schoolgirl as she began to match the various, obscure characters from the scroll to their meanings in her book.
Ink glides across skin
Shifting symbols part a way
Darkness swallows two
Black water breaks upon wood
Shells sing shelter within wind
Hidden from the sky
Brave through storm the sun and moon
Seeking the before
"Sesshoumaru-sama," a small and hopelessly cheerful voice called out. Following a narrow path bordered by an expansive sea of amber blades of grass, the tall, elegant figure paused in his step and looked over his shoulder expectantly at the sound of his name.
"Rin!" an even smaller voice exclaimed and a tiny, green youkai scurried over the hard-packed dirt toward the young girl. With bird-like feet working furiously under his slight frame and with hands invisible beneath the heavy sleeves of his brown haori, the small creature carried a great, wooden staff. Skillfully carved with the crowning heads of a young woman and an old man, it was many times his own size and he almost seemed ready to topple over from the lack of leverage. Yet, he managed to keep his step as he made his way over to the scaled mount and the young girl who was perched upon it.
"Rin, do not bother Sesshoumaru-sama with your trivial needs," Jaken spoke tersely, peering up the side of the two-headed beast and into Rin's quizzical expression. "He is busy searching for Naraku or something to that end." Jaken glanced back at Sesshoumaru who had since resumed his course down the worn path.
"Jaken-sama, there's a voice coming from Ah-Un," Rin said calmly.
"A voice?" he replied, his tone doubting. As he opened his beak-like mouth to readily scold her for now wasting his time, let alone their lord's attention, the little youkai heard a voice, its hollow and faint rhythm echoing into his pointed ears. "Sesshoumaru-sama!"
Closing his golden eyes in mild vexation, Sesshoumaru sighed inaudibly and stopped once again. The notion of releasing his retainers from their duty to his service filtered through the daiyoukai's mind and then lingered longer than usual with the next comment.
"There's a voice coming from Ah-Un!" Rin exclaimed, her observation validated by Jaken's stuttering squawks of anxiety and apparent lack of an explanation. With a swift, fluid motion, Sesshoumaru pivoted and casually strolled back to the commotion. He too found himself equally confused moments before arriving at their sides. There was a voice. Swiftly, the demon lord honed in on the delicate sound, nimbly unfastening one of the dragon-like youkai's packs. Within the satchel, he selected an old scroll, an odd inheritance bequeathed to him by his father. The parchment dimly glowed blue in the bright sunlight and the voice poured from it like water droplets in a cavern. With a practiced ease, he unrolled the scroll with his single hand and studied the luminous letters before him. As each syllable was uttered in the rhythmic tone and the strange glow leaked into the new characters, slowly drowning the paper in the light. The scroll had held little of the daiyoukai's curiosity in the past, leaving him to simply dismiss it as a relic of his father's previously unknown affinity for poetry.
Distant tales seven there are
Battle cries and wishes scorned
The bear challenges
Boy of golden will and strength
Trees hold victory
"Sesshoumaru-sama?" Jaken spoke up, the perfect, yellow orbs of his eyes widening in dismay, "Sesshoumaru-sama, you're vanishing!" The daiyoukai's eyes flashed around his person to find that he was staring through his white, silk robes and polished, metal armor to the ground beneath and the vague shapes that had once been his feet. He snarled, hot with rage at the apparent trap and attempted to release the vile scroll, but discovered that even his hand was a vaporous notion of its former self. Desperately, he struggled to keep his form as his body dispersed into nothingness and finally despite his efforts, his mind was consumed by darkness.