((DISCLAIMER: I don't own Ushio, Tora, or any of the other wonderful characters of the Ushio & Tora universe--they all belong to Kazuhiro Fujito himself. Original characters created here do belong to me, so please don't take them without permission!))
Author's Note: "Secret of the Beast Spear" is based entirely in the world of Ushio & Tora as introduced in the anime. So little was explained in the anime that I just had to begin to outline a story of my own, giving a new--if unorthodox--background to the Beast Spear and its lore. The manga is not yet translated and isn't readily available, and I was unable to learn the truth until long after I'd already begun this story. Little or no actual manga concepts are incorporated into this fanfic, so "Secret" can be considered an Alternate Universe continuation--my version of the hidden secrets within the ancient Beast Spear and how it was made. The story begins a couple months after the last episode of the anime.
Secret of the Beast Spear
by Becky Tailweaver
Chapter 1: Hungry Shadow
Morning had not yet even truly bloomed over Tokyo. The light was still faint, gray, and the air was heavy with the cool, soothing mist that blanketed the hills beyond the city. The soft wind was brisk and cold, yet gentle, carrying the odor of growth and life. The sweet scents of young plants, fresh water, and damp earth heralded the advance of spring.
There was a cave in those hills, a den hidden securely yet near enough to be within sight of Tokyo. In the cool grayish light of early morning, something came forth from that cave, a soundless shadow amongst the forest foliage.
It went slowly; its movements were stiff and weary but completely lacking in awkwardness, marked by a deliberate, ancient grace. Its steps were catlike and almost-fluid, silent, like an elderly tiger. Its color was so pale a whitish gray that it blended perfectly with the mist between the trees, making it near-invisible in the predawn gloom. It paced along some invisible path through the forest with the calm, unhurried air of one out for a morning stroll.
Reaching the forest's edge, it stood quietly on the hillside looking down on the sleeping city below. As night's fog slowly crept away and dawn advanced by inches, more light framed the clearing and made the misty shadow visible.
It was large, four-legged, furred, and vaguely feline, but there its resemblance to a tiger ended. Its tail was long yet bushy, as a wolf's, and though it had the hindquarters of a beast, its shoulders were built too much like a man's and its forelegs terminated in five-fingered hands rather than paws. It was thin, almost frail-looking, its fur rough and even sparse in places. Its face was lined and loose-jowled, almost bearded, apparently with great age; that given, it had probably been some other color in its younger days, with the faint gray stripes across its silvered back. Its shaggy mane was thinned with years, but the hairs were tipped with thunder-gray, revealing what shade they must have been long ago.
The creature looked down over the city, but it didn't gaze at it for long. Nostrils set at the end of a grizzled muzzle flared, testing the air; rheumy yellow eyes that might once have been golden slid closed. Given its age, its eyes were probably good for little now anyway.
The old beast took deep breaths, sniffing, reaching out with other senses than its eyes--and senses even beyond normal human reckoning. Its jaws parted slightly, revealing blunted, yellowed fangs that were missing a few of their breathren. A low creaky rumble came from deep within its chest.
A cool and beautiful dawn, it thought, soaking in the sensations that all of its senses brought it. All is at peace...none are troubled. The locals are well, mortal and immortal alike. Sleep soundly, brothers and sisters...
Something caught its attention; its head cocked slightly, ears and nostrils and othersight testing, before it slowly smiled. Ah, there you are...out hunting again, are you, little Yin-Liao? And what prey...? Oh, you've finished your hunt, you have...good boy, good--another danger vanquished in the night. And where is your companion, eh, young one?
The elder beast reached out, then chuckled softly to itself. I see...the yearling cub hunts alone this dawn, does he? Good, good...a wise sensei you are, thunder-brother--teach him confidence, self-reliance. Let him run the trails by himself and make the kill on his own. You are a fine teacher, thunder-brother, though oft you do not wish to be. He watches you, he learns from you. See him run, see how he hunts! Each dawn he grows stronger.
It reached out to the little hunter again, watching fondly. Run swift, hunt well, youngest half-brother. Test your skill, your courage. Such a brave, strong, worthy little one...
The ancient creature suddenly started, a gasping breath sounding loud in the morning silence. Its nose flared wide and its ears pricked up fully straight, its body going tense and rigid. Even its near-useless eyes snapped open. It sent out again, further, trying to find the shadow it had glimpsed...
And there it was, that dark thing. Something else was watching the young hunter--something black and sinister with a stench of evil about it that made the ancient observer's hackles bristle in hatred and distaste. It was far too close to the little hunter, watching with eyes alone--but its foul dark aura was quickly recognized.
You, the Old One realized, allowing his snarl to rumble forth. So, you've returned from the Farthest West, you conniving Hungry Shadow. Have you eaten your fill of hellhounds, kelpies, and marlbeasts? You're following, stalking...why do you watch the little hunter? Why is your gaze so starved when your belly is already full from a night of slaughter? He is mortal; useless to you but for food in your stomach.
Pale, ancient eyes narrowed suspiciously. Hnn...can it be that you plan to destroy him, to keep him from hunting you? Heh, you cannot. Such power is beyond even yours. It is certain death to face him; even you must know it, the way you skulk. So what are you plotting in that cunning cruel mind of yours? Greed, hunger, envy, hatred... Foolish shadow-demon...what do you think you will do with him?
With a hoarse rumble, the Old One turned his attention back to the young hunter he'd been observing before. Those wise, fierce eyes softened, filled with care and concern. Run swift, little Yin-Liao, and hunt with caution...the Demon Eye is watching you...
"He took great pains to hide his rank and always wore travel dress, and he did not allow her to see his face. He came late at night when everyone was asleep. She was frightened, as if he were an apparition from an old story. She did not need to see his face to know that he was a fine gentleman. But who might he be? Her suspicions turned to Koremitsu. It was that young gallant, surely, who had brought this strange visitor. But Koremitsu pursued his own little affairs unremittingly, careful to feign indifference to and ignorance of this other affair. What could it all mean? The lady was lost in unfamiliar speculations..."
Removing one of his hands from where it braced his chin, Tora delicately turned the page using the tip of one talon. Smoothing the thin paper down with one finger, he put his chin back in his hand and continued to read.
It was early morning, and the sun was well up enough for even a human to be reading in its light. Tora lay stretched out on his stomach on the Aotsuki Shrine roof, his book propped against a stone on the beam in front of him.
The front gate clattered, then creaked open. Ushio Aotsuki stumbled in, shedding muddy long black hair as he went. He was looking weary and disgruntled, the Beast Spear braced heavily against one shoulder.
"About time you got back, Brat," Tora rumbled, not even looking up from his reading as Ushio passed the Shrine on his way to the house. "Took you long enough."
"Shut up," the young boy snapped, glaring up at the roof and its occupant. "You were no help. I was chasing that super-sonic slug across half the district all night. It would've been handy to be flying."
"Wouldn't it?" Tora replied boredly.
Ushio's face pinched in frustration. "Dammit, Tora! How the hell was I supposed to know I couldn't stab him? The bastard was made of Jell-O or something! You just said, 'Hey Brat, there's a monster sucking people's brains out near the train station.' Well, thanks for no information!"
"I said more than that." Tora gingerly turned another page, careful to avoid tearing holes in the paper with his claws. Reading books while posessing talons was almost an art form; one had to be coordinated. "You're smart, aren't you? I thought you'd figure it out."
"Brain-dead bakemono," Ushio muttered. "And you've still got your nose in that book."
Tora ignored him, so Ushio stuck his tongue out in the monster's direction and stomped into the house.
He kicked off his shoes and trudged up the hall--then spotted a clock. "Aw...crap. Only a couple more hours 'til school..." he groaned, dragging himself upstairs; at this point in the morning his father was likely to still be snoring into his pillow, so at least the old man wouldn't catch him awake and go off on one of his "since-you're-up-anyway-here-do-this" chore lists.
In his room, Ushio set the Beast Spear against the wall. With a sigh, he pulled off his sweaty shirt and kicked off his mud-coated jeans. He'd need a shower--he had mud, monster slime, and his own perspiration all over him--but he was dead tired, and the shower could wait. With a yawn, he threw himself facedown on his futon.
Ahhh, his pillow felt heavenly! He'd stayed in Spearbearer form all the way home, using his alter-ego's enhanced speed and endurance to get home quickly without collapsing from lack of sleep. But once he'd arrived, becoming himself again had been like letting all the air out of a balloon--he was limp and tired and couldn't wait to flop into bed.
Stupid monster. If the damn thing had just stood still and let itself be fried, he would have been asleep hours ago--and he'd be able to survive school today. But that slimy little bakemono had oozed and darted around the neighborhood, hiding in gutters, rain-barrels, trash cans, or ditches. It was barely waist high, and deceptively harmless-looking; just a grayish-green blob of phlegm--that could pop up, engulf your head, and literally suck your brains out before you knew what had slimed you. It was fast.
It moved faster the more damp the ground got, too--hence the mud. It had led him on a merry chase along one of the local construction sites, and Ushio had ended up on his butt in the grime more times than he'd really wanted to. Having more than a yard of mud-gobbed hair hanging off his head had only gotten him dirtier, but he'd had to press on--if he let up on the slimy bakemono, it would just slither off and grab another victim for a recharge.
Stabbing the little booger did no good, either. Amoeba-like, it just put itself back together when he slashed it and flowed around the Spearpoint when he jabbed it. He had to use power to destroy the thing--Tora's lightning would have been handy. By the time he'd figured out how to get the Spear to stab and fry at the same time--without knocking out nearby windows and cracking the sidewalk in the process--they'd reached that wonderful construction site and Ushio'd had to corner the slippery creature before he could fricassee it. Later on, some worker was going to be scratching his head about the giant lump of coal with a hole in it sitting in the cab of one of the big cranes.
Ushio winced, remembering the damage done to the innocent machine in the process of the hunt. Bad enough it had received a couple of Spear-marks in its metal skin as he'd chased the booger into the cab, but he'd damn near torn the door off its hinges in his hurry to get at the thing. The upholstery was shot, too, what with the leftover phlegm and the Spear's powerful discharge. At least he'd been able to keep from blowing up the whole crane; the Spear seemed to want to go a little overboard at times.
He was glad no one knew Ushio Aotsuki was causing such property damage; he could never pay for it all. They'd probably just write it off as another of the weird paranormal-type things that had been happening pretty often around these parts. Ever since he'd picked up the Spear, of course...
He felt rather proud of himself though, despite everything. He'd gone out without Tora tagging along, "coaching" him--more like nagging him--through a hunt. And he had figured out how to kill the slimeball, just as Tora had mentioned. Tora'd been too busy reading to come along, obviously having more fun than a hunt would bring. "The Tale of Genji" no less...ugh, dry stuff. How the bakemono could stand to read such boring nonsense was beyond him...
Somewhere in his thought processes, Ushio must have dozed off. The next thing he knew, his father was rolling him out of bed with a rough hand and a loud voice, ranting something about...breakfast and...he was late for school...?
"Aw, crap!" Once that thought sank clearly into his brain, Ushio threw himself out of his futon and was careening down the hall toward the bathroom before the rest of him was even fully awake. He almost bowled over the senior Aotsuki in the process.
"Slow down, boy!" Shigure called after him. "You won't make it if you break your neck on the stairs!"
Ushio couldn't hear him; he was already in the shower, scrubbing hard. "Dammit, dammit, dammit..." he muttered in a little litany. "Dammit, stupid slimeball...dammit, dammit...stupid Tora...dammit...!"
After what was possibly the fastest shower in the history of mankind, Ushio sprinted back to his room to get dressed--ack, he'd forgotten to wash his uniform, but no time now--wrapping up and snatching the Beast Spear and catching his bookbag from his dresser. He took the stairs three at a time--almost getting the Spear caught in the railing in the process--yanked on his shoes, and all but fell out the door. His father met him on the front step, a breakfast roll held out in one hand; Ushio snatched it with a quick "ThanksI'mlatesorrybye!" on his way through.
"Have a good day, boy," Shigure said, but Ushio was already out of earshot.
As he raced across the yard, Ushio caught sight of Tora on the roof, still reading. As he tore through the gate and off down the road, irreparably late, he thought sourly to himself--not for the first time--that it would be really nice if he could fly.
About half an hour after Ushio left, Tora looked up from his book, frowning.
He just...felt something.
No scent, no sight, just a trace of something foul. Like catching a whiff of supernatural rotten meat when a faint breeze blows your way from a butchery's dumpster.
Such an aura usually accompanied monsters of the very worst sort; he'd have to check up on this to confirm his suspicions. Tora wrinkled his nose and narrowed his eyes, carefully closing his book--after marking his place with a piece of dry grass. Leaving the book tucked under the Shrine's eaves, he floated out in the direction the sense seemed strongest.
It led toward the city, and it had passed quite recently. As Tora drew closer, his nose began to pick up something as well. What began to disturb him was that the strange thing--whatever it was he was tracking--was following the very same scent-trail that Ushio had left behind on his hurried way to school.
Ushio was a complete wreck at school.
Aside from sleeping through the first two periods--and getting in trouble for it, as well--he all but botched the pop quiz in the third because he could barely keep his eyes open. Asako Nakamura scolded him unmercifully between classes, demanding to know what he'd been up to and why on Earth he was even more idiotic than he usually was.
All he could tell her was that he'd had a rough night and hadn't slept. He couldn't very well inform her that he'd been chasing a bakemono booger instead of sleeping.
Lunch period was thankfully a mercy. He was able to talk quietly with his only human ally, Mayuko Inoue, and tell her the whole truth. Once she understood, Mayuko helped keep Asako distracted so that Ushio could snore through lunch. With Mayuko running interference, at least Asako was less likely to get any more irritated with him; Mayuko was one of those people it was almost impossible to get angry at.
It came as a surprise, however, that it was the Beast Spear that woke him up at the end of lunch, instead of Asako--who would probably have done it with the flat side of her lunch box. He was snoring peacefully when the mind-piercing, deep-toned, ringing thrum echoed through his head. It was almost painfully loud, and so sudden that he lurched out of his seat with a sharp yelp even before he was fully awake.
As the Spear's warning tone faded, Ushio blinked awake from his desk-top nap, staring at the shrouded weapon in puzzlement. A foe to fight? Here at school?
He glanced around, but the Spear gave him no clues as to what the threat was or where it came from. Its cautionary wake-up call simply vanished, leaving him with a slightly tense feeling that he didn't like at all. He caught Mayuko's eye, caught her quierying look--Did something happen?--and frowned with a faint nod.
There were no further warnings from the Spear, however. It remained silent, and when the bell rang for the end of lunch, he had to sit down and resume class with everyone else. The Spear's convenient little alarm had woken him up so abruptly that he still had adrenaline swirling through his muscles, leaving him quite awake and aware for the next few periods.
Despite the Spear's apparent quiescence, he just knew this didn't bode well. He was probably going to have to go hunting again tonight.
The sun was quite high in the sky by the time Tora found himself in the vicinity of Ushio's school. Tailing the strange creature had proved problematic; at times its scent seemed to completely disappear, and until he realized that it was solely following Ushio, he had wasted a lot of time circling to find trace of it again.
It was the strangest thing he'd ever tracked.
It seemed to have a scent...but then again, it didn't. It was almost a weird sort of...not-smell. He couldn't even catch the odor of an actual bakemono, which should have been easy to find under these circumstances.
Instead, he found himself following a strange conglomeration of scents that made up the not-smell. They seemed to be normal scents, almost unnoticeable, but they just didn't belong here. The smells of tar, of black oak pitch, of fog, of cold earth, of dark marsh water, of cave rocks, of charcoal, of night air...
Odd not-smells, more like ambient sensations than actual odors. Such things would usually be found filling up certain places...not tracking in a path following Ushio Aotsuki to school.
All right, you weird bastard, Tora thought to himself with a rumble as he paced along, head low as he tracked the thing. What are you after the Brat for? He's my meal--don't think you can just waltz right into my territory and start snacking.
The trace of the thing he followed suddenly diverged from Ushio's trail.
When he looked up again, Ushio's school was just across the street. Apparently, the strange creature hadn't followed the Brat straight into the gates. Narrowing his eyes, Tora carefully continued to tail it around the back of the school grounds, near the wooded area.
Near the condemned, half-destroyed old school building where he and Ushio had faced down Ishikui the Stone-Eater, the Evil Chameleon.
Tora's nose wrinkled as he paced invisibly alongside the wrecked building. Ishikui had not been a weak bakemono; it was old and powerful, and its death had left a strong mark in this place even after so many months. A certain darkness remained here, and would for a time...and Tora could almost sense the thing he was following--it was nearby.
Within another stinking bakemono's aura is the perfect place for a foul thing to hide. The remnants of Ishikui's dark, perverted aura of stone and torture and fear and death was a fine concealment for another beast of...similar inclinations.
I know you're here, you skulking coward. Tora went on full-alert as he approaced the shadows of the gaping hole in the building's midsection. And I think you know I know you're here, too. So come on out here and face me...
The place where Ishikui had once stood still remained...tainted, even though it was out in the sunny open area in the destroyed part of the building. It would take either years of time or a priest's blessing to restore the balance to this location.
Tora's fur bristled as he passed beneath the crumbling roof, stepping toward the undamaged part of the structure. He paused, and realized that the thing he tracked had to be right there; he'd just gotten another whiff of its dark aura full in the face, making his nose wrinkle. It was positively foul to his senses--more of that rotten-flesh feeling, as if it was crawling with maggots--and the sensation made his skin prickle.
Even Lord Nagatobimaru, at his very worst five hundred years ago, had not been so utterly vile. Tora took one step forward; his left forepaw brushed the shadows beneath the broken roof.
What happened next happened so quickly that even Tora was unable to assemble it all until well after it had taken place.
He just touched the shadows and they moved, coming to sickening life in front of him. The shadows--or was it just one particular shadow?--lurched upward, forward, as if peeling off of the wall and floor. It came at him, spreading and shapeless and black like an animated sheet of tar, its form shifting and writhing like the patterns on the surface of an oil slick. It was horrifying; it had no shape, no form, no vital points--it was just this shaded mass, with no dimension and all dimensions at once.
Tora stumbled back half-frozen as it came at him. The shadow-thing flowed around him, surrounding him, reaching for him--and its filthy aura choked him almost physically, almost made him gag. And there were maggots in it; some kind of things--wriggling struggling things--but it was more like they were writhing in torment inside it, trying to get out, instead of gleefully feeding and burrowing in as real maggots do.
The thing was everywhere; the maggots, or creatures--he heard their voices screaming--screaming and howling from within the shadow, more horribly than he'd ever heard--and was that his voice too?--and the black living shadow pressed in--unholy terrifying eyes in the dark and hunger, hunger, hunger...
On panicked instinct alone, Tora let go with the biggest thunderbolt he'd ever produced in his life. Blue-white light exploded around him in a crackling flash that lit the entire scene and turned the oil-slick shadow into a sharply-defined black thing. It seemed to boil in the light, seared by his power, and recoiled with the most sickening, horrid noise he'd ever heard.
With a rush of that putrid aura and a brush of black along his sides like the touch of the Reaper, the shadow-thing flowed away from him and whipped past him, heading out into the woods. In the shadows of the trees, it merged and vanished like a ghost, leaving Tora panting in the ruins of the building.
A mere couple of seconds had passed.
Tora stood motionless, chest heaving, still frozen in shock in a way he hadn't been since he was very young. He stared at the trees, at the place where that awful thing had gone, his eyes wide and fierce as lightning continued to crackle around his forehead.
"What...in all the unholy hells..was that...?" he finally rasped.
Right then and there, Tora decided that he hated the shadow-thing. It was rare that he actually hated an enemy; most bakemono were quite matter-of-fact about fights and such, so hatred rarely became involved. But this...this foul putrid thing...it had attacked him on his own territory--and worse, it had actually frightened him.
Tora would never admit it to anyone, but for the moment the shadow-thing had had him in its clutches, he had been terrified. For a single instant, he was frozen with the fear that he was just about to die--or worse, become one of those struggling screaming things inside the shadow. Those pitiful wraiths inside...were living things of some sort. Trapped--devoured by the shadow...
That...thing...was hungry. He had sensed it as it came at him--an all-encompassing hunger, a ravenous desire to consume that had nothing to do with meat or stomach. It wanted...power.
...unholy terrifying eyes in the dark...
The shadow-thing's eyes had been the most horrible of all. The eyes were the only part of the creature he'd recognized--the rest was nothing but oily, shifting shadow. It had red eyes, dark red; not sign-red or brick-red or oni-eye-red--but a sickening heavy red the color of seeping blood, of old blood, of blood that flows from a mortal wound, thick with damaged life. Just like that thing...
Damaged. Sick. Putrid. Vile beyond all hope of redemption.
Tora shuddered involuntarily, almost hastily leaving the broken building. The shadow-thing's not-stench still remained, making his hackles bristle. He had never seen or sensed anything like that weird shadow, not in all his many centuries--and he felt no pressing inclination to follow that foul thing any further. It had come so close--too close--to getting him...which was not an experience he'd like to repeat.
Every once in a rare while, Tora acknowledged that he'd need some assistance to defeat a particular foe. Now was one of those times. Ushio's Beast Spear would come in handy for defeating something that foul--something that Tora wasn't sure if he should attack, or even touch.
Not even Lord Nagatobimaru had ever been been so completely evil.
To be continued...
Now go read her fanfiction. That's a polite command!
Note from Becky: I just have to give a big thank you to my very best author-friend Ysabet, the Goddess of Ushio & Tora Fanfiction herself, who was a major help and inspiration for me during my first attempts at venturing into U&T fandom. A fount of wisdom, a forgiving reviewer, a wonderful sounding board, and all-around friendly ear. It was her faith in me that gave me the courage to post "Secret of the Beast Spear" for the very first time!
Now go read her fanfiction. That's a polite command!