Chapter One: Ink on Skin
"Have you found it yet, Inuyasha?" a voice sang out from the glowing cave entrance.
Pausing in his digging, a dusty figure peered over the rim of the deep hole he stood in, his once white ears trained on the source of the interruption.
"Feh," he replied flippantly, his voice coarse and slightly more irritated than usual. 'It was close though. Maybe another foot or two.'
He inhaled the fresh air one last time and bent over, scooping up the cool dirt with his clawed hands. The acrid scent of rust stung his eyes and burned his nose, and it took him a moment to get his bearings. Then with a quick motion, he thrust the dirt between his legs and over the edge of the hole into the growing pile behind him.
Still standing at the entrance, Kagome repressed a smirk as she watched him, deciding that his wrath wasn't worth indulging in a laugh. Shippou had already proven the result after a few choice remarks, and thus received several bumps on the head for his efforts. Despite how ridiculously dog-like it appeared to be, she couldn't deny the efficiency of Inuyasha's chosen method of digging.
His nails singing across a metallic surface, he let out a triumphant cry and quickly swept it free of dirt, searching for the edges.
Hearing what sounded like success, Miroku, Sango and a rather sheepish Shippou appeared beside Kagome. 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 out a large, iron chest from the hole and shook the dirt from his clothes and mane. When finished, he crouched beside it and studied the latches on the once extravagant chest, to which exposure had long since robbed it of its 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 rusted lock.
"Allow me," Miroku offered as he knelt beside him. With a few yanks and a quick blow from his staff, the lock released. His smug smile was only slightly more disconcerting than the ease with which he had been able to open the chest.
Reverently, Inuyasha lifted the lid and began to 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 typically rough and disinterested companion.
Inuyasha eyed them warily as they each picked up a package and delicately unwrapped them. Satisfied with their level of respect, he went back to his search, occasionally pausing to smell different objects, his expression wistful.
"It's a kimono," Sango remarked, surprise in her voice, "And it's beautiful." Holding it 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 princesses from her travels. She held it close to her face, letting the cool fabric brush her skin. Even though she wasn't one to desire decadence, it was hard not to think about what it would be like to be adorned in such richness.
Kagome slipped hers out of its cloth, revealing a black, lacquered tanto. The dagger, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, featured blooming sakura branches entwined around its length. When she removed it from its sheath, she revealed the tarnished, but exquisitely crafted blade. Entranced by the beauty, she didn't notice Inuyasha standing expectantly in front of her.
"Kagome," he said softly, and smoothly slipped a comb-style kanzashi into her free hand.
Enchanted by the new treasure, she accepted the half-moon hairpin. Never had she seen an ivory comb before, and she marveled at the tortoiseshell design along the spine that trailed down each of the teeth. The gold gilding glinted in the low light of the cave. When she looked up, her gaze met him and his gentle expression. A deep blush rose to her cheeks.
"For the yurei at the village," he added after a moment and flashed a knowing grin.
Her blush receded, and her attention fell to the hairpin again. It was true they were attempting to put to rest the vengeful ghost of a princess at the village, one that had eluded their efforts for days.
"Inuyasha are you sure you want to risk this?" she asked, turning the comb over in her palm. "Miroku could be wrong about her desire for the finery of her past life."
"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 left to stalk the mischievous kitsune who had disappeared outside with the playing ball he had stolen from the chest.
"So, are all of these mementos from his childhood?" Sango asked, folding the kimono and placing it once again in its protective wrapping.
"I think so," Kagome replied, thinking back, "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 itself to that theory as well," Miroku added absently, distracted by an old scroll he had found.
Perplexed by its nature, Kagome continued to examine the comb. Ivory was fairly rare in Japan at this time, and she wondered who might have given Inuyasha's mother such a unique and special gift. Drifting into her thoughts, she imagined a great, inu daiyoukai traveling to China or India, searching for the perfect gift for his lover.
A sigh escaped her. 'I'd settle for half a youkai getting me a bowl of ramen.' Almost 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?
Sango rested her reassuring hand onto her shoulder, and she rested her cheek against it for comfort. At least she 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 she made her way to the opening of the cave. Shippou probably earned his punishment this time, but she should at least intervene to keep Inuyasha from getting too carried away.
Miroku puzzled over the ancient scroll he held gently in his hands. The exotic calligraphy appeared like black liquid on the off-white parchment and the kanji characters danced as he shifted it under the candlelight. It was definitely magical, but the writing was so unfamiliar that even he, a well-educated priest, had difficulty deciphering it.
"Kagome," he called out as she reentered the cave, toting a battered Shippou and accompanied by a guiltless Inuyasha tossing a ball in the air. "Can you read this?"
"Maybe," she replied, handing Shippou off to Sango.
With her brow furrowed, she examined the scroll. If he was struggling to read it, then she knew it would be challenging to read, but even the style of the lettering was foreign to her.
"It seems to be about folk legends and perhaps about a portal of some sort, but that's all I could piece together," he offered, his devious hand inching towards her waist.
Absently, she slipped away from his prowling reach, her line of thought intact as she knelt beside her overstuffed backpack. Soon, she was rummaging through it.
"My treasured kanji notes," she exclaimed victoriously as she pulled out a battered notebook and thumbed through its pages. Years of practice came back to her 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 path nearly hidden by a sea of amber grass, the tall, elegant figure paused and looked over his shoulder towards the sound of his name.
"Rin!" an even smaller voice exclaimed, and a tiny, green youkai scurried towards the young girl perched upon a two-headed mount. "Do not bother Sesshoumaru-sama with your trivial needs,"
"But Jaken-sama…" she said.
"No, you must not bother him," Jaken insisted. "He is busy searching for Naraku or something to that end." He glanced up at Sesshoumaru who had since resumed his course.
"But, Jaken-sama, there's a voice coming from Ah-Un."
"A voice?" he replied doubtfully. He opened his mouth, ready to scold her for now wasting his time, let alone their lord's, when he heard something. Something faint and rhythmic.
"Sesshoumaru-sama!" he yelled.
Closing his eyes in mild vexation, Sesshoumaru sighed and stopped once again. The notion of releasing his retainers from their service to him filtered through his mind, and then it 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 and fluid motion, Sesshoumaru pivoted and casually strolled back to investigate the commotion. And it wasn't long before he found himself equally confused. There was a voice. Swiftly, he homed in on it, unfastening one of Ah-Un's packs. Within it, he retrieved an old scroll, an odd inheritance bequeathed to him by his father. It glowed a dim blue in the bright sunlight and the voice echoed from it like water dripping in a cavern.
With a practiced ease, he unrolled the scroll with a single hand and studied the luminous letters inscribed across it. As each syllable was uttered by the voice, the strange glow leaked into the new characters, slowly drowning the paper in light. The scroll had held little interest for him in the past. He had disregarded it simply 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, his eyes widening in dismay, "Sesshoumaru-sama, you're vanishing!"
The daiyoukai's eyes flashed about his person to find that he was staring through his clothes and armor to the ground beneath him and the vague shapes that had once been his feet. He snarled, hot with rage at the apparent trap. He attempted to drop the scroll, only to discover 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. Yet, despite his efforts, he disappeared, and his mind was consumed by darkness.