Chapter Six: Knowledge Worth Sacrifice
Wolves. Are. Selfish. She decided, running a hand through her grungy hair. San considered herself a wolf, therefore San considered herself to be selfish. She knew Ashitaka had asked her to stay close to the den, but something was out of place in the forest and that damn human she called her mate was nowhere to be found. San secretly wished her quarry was that Kaya-girl lost out here so she could finally put an end to that petty woman's life. Her brow furrowed as she picked up an unusual scent. Birds...? She crouched low to the ground like an animal, peering at the world beyond the edge of the forest. The sight of a single dead crow might not be something she would have paid any mind to, however, when the carcasses of crows lay strewn across the grassy plains in the direction of Iron Town, San couldn't help but be a little suspicious.
It seemed her instincts had been right, something was definitely wrong within her realm. Quickly, San darted between the trees, the Kodama following her every move. Then, she came to a stop. Quiet. Why was it quiet? The usual forest din that littered the air was gone, like the silence before a storm. She instinctively rested a hand over her slowly expanding abdomen and allowed herself to listen to the trees for naught but a moment. Something unfriendly was lurking nearby—something that would provoke her into a fight.
She had assigned Tsume to boarder patrol and sent Kiba in search of Ashitaka... neither of her brothers had returned yet. She cursed under her breath. San bit her lip, ignoring the stinging sensation of her canines digging in to the soft flesh. Blood trailed down the side of her mouth, but she was oblivious to it. San carefully scrutinized her surroundings from behind the cover of her mask. The Kodama had disappeared, and San was now aware of a presence stalking her. She could not fight what she could not see and decided it would be best to go about her daily activities. She would avoid returning to the cave until she could pinpoint this predator and dispose of them properly.
Yet the absence of her brothers lingered with every step she took.
He had hurried in his travels to return to San. Ashitaka wasn't keen on the idea of leaving her alone right now—he didn't trust her to just take it easy on herself. The Emishi felt like something was wrong as he glanced up at the cave San tended to stay in—Moro's cave. It only made sense that she would prefer to live in the place her "mother" had resided. Truly, Ashitaka would never understand the connection San and Moro had once had, but he knew Moro had loved San immensely. Therefore, he could only assume that their relationship had closely resembled that of any mother and daughter.
Ashitaka furrowed his brow. Surely San would have ran out to greet him by now, or Tsume would have threatened him... either way, it seemed the atmosphere surrounding the cave was out of the usual. He turned to face Yakkul for a moment, noting that the elk's ears were pinned back. Suddenly Ashitaka made a mad dash for the cave, calling out his woman's name and slipping on rocks in his haste. With no answer from any direction he felt a rush of anxiety spread over him. He found himself at the opening of an empty cave, save for a few piles of leaves that were used in place of beds. Much to his dismay, they looked as though they hadn't been touched the previous night.
This worried him greatly. He strode to the edge of the cliff and carefully examined the land before him, as he had done many atime before. This time, however, held more meaning than the others, for he knew well that San would walk barefoot into hell to protect this forest... with no fear of sacrificing her life in the process—and, inadvertantly, the life of fetus growing within her. He sighed, seating himself on the edge of the cliff. The forest was huge and San could be anywhere within it; he wouldn't even know where to begin looking for her.
He closed his eyes, losing a bit of faith in himself as her mate. How could he have thought he was worthy of the woman that even forest gods bow to? What exactly had he been thinking when he claimed her for himself? And did that claim make him greedy or just arrogant? He could only remember it being an act of chivalry in an attempt to save her life—if not for himself, then from the villagers whoso sought her death. He supposed it all made him nothing more than human. He opened his eyes to the bright world around him. How different things were from whence she first attracted his eyes. A light smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
Ashitaka's expression was quick to change; his brows furrowed and his eyes narrowed at the trees below. He had to find her.
She had successfully found the intruder and growled at him. What could he possibly want this time? He bowed out of respect for the woman before him, but San was not moved by his flattery. A faux smile spread upon his ugly mug and he stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I had heard rumors, but I never would have guessed them to be true. That Ashitaka's a real glutton for punishment, isn't he?" Jigo chuckled.
San remembered the last encounter she had, had with the monk—it resulted in the decapitation of the forest spirit. She made no move, nor did he. They stood opposite eachother in a delicate balance, the wolf-girl's ugly snarls the only sound between them. "Now, now, Miss. Mononoke, I'm just a humble monk; I'm just trying to get by."
"LIAR!" San roared, outraged and insulted that he would even attempt such deception in her presence.
"Don't get so worked up; that much anger can't be good for the baby," he chastised.
As much as San hated to admit it, he was right; so much intense fury could not be healthy for her unborn offspring. However, even that knowledge only sufficed to keep her from attacking him needlessly; it failed to quell her deep feelings of resentment. He smiled a little to himself at the poor ignorance of the woman before him. She could never understand the ways of anything beyond the edge of her precious forest. There was no way she would know that Lord Asano was behind an uprising within the human lands—an uprising that would put an end to the Gods' reign over this world.
After Asano's last attempt at immortality was foiled, it became clear that he intended no man or beast henceforth could possess such fortune. Those who succeeded in killing any God would be praised and honored with great wealth... and Jigo was very much attracted to the shine of a pretty coin. But again, these were things that the Princess Mononoke would not understand; there would be no reasoning with her on the matter.
A howl that sounded more like an immitation sounded from nearby—Ashitaka always did have trouble getting the proper dialect. San jabbed her knife toward Jigo, "Leave."
"I expected you'd say something to that effect," Jigo confessed with a light shrug, "but as Princess of Beasts, you should know that the Gods of this forest are to be exterminated under the orders of Lord Asano."
He waited to see what she would do with this new information, but was a little surprised to see her remain unphased. San jabbed her knife toward Jigo once more, "Leave."
"I'm going, I'm going. I have no desire to get a knife in my throat today," he joked, "I'll be in Iron Town for awhile. You never know, additional information can sometimes be very useful."
With that he turned on his heels and strutted toward the mouth of the forest. San was fairly confident that Jigo was sincere in his warning, and for that she could allow him his life—for now. He would die at her hands one day, of that she was certain, but that day would not be today. She turned around to see Ashitaka with Yakkul and Kiba. Ashitaka's brow was deeply furrowed. It was obvious he had welcomed the sight of the monk about as much as San did. San could not help but wonder how much of the conversation they had heard. She wasted no time. San hurried to sling herself onto Kiba's back. "Where's Tsume?" she asked her brother quickly.
Had Jigo's warning come too late?
Kaya stepped outside the Iron Works for a bit since the air inside was so filthy and polluted. She was on break right now, so she was sure it would be alright. The men had returned yesterday with more than enough rice for the townspeople. Ashitaka's visit caused a commotion, the arrival of the townsmen caused a commotion, so what was causing the commotion at the gates today? Had Ashitaka forgotten something? It was unlikely, but that did not keep Kaya from hoping. She smiled and popped her head back in to the Iron Works. "Hey! Kiyo!"
"Can you cover me for a few minutes? Thanks, I'll be back!"
Before Kiyo had a chance to object, Kaya was already gone. Excitement filled her as she bounded toward the gates, but the adrenaline was quickly drained when she saw an old monk strolling into town. The eyes of the townsfolk glared at the man with disdain. Kaya watched as Lady Eboshi parted the crowd and addressed the visitor calmly. When most of the bodies had cleared, Kaya went to investigate. The monk was seated at the side of the street, discussing something with the Lady Eboshi.
Kaya's uninvited presence brought a halt to the monk's conversation with Eboshi. "My, my. The girls in your Iron Works get younger all the time!" he joked, "Another brothel girl, is she?"
"Honestly, I haven't a clue. She came seeking Ashitaka and asked for work to keep her stay," her attention turned to Kaya, "What would you have of me?"
"I only sought to join in engaging conversation, Lady Eboshi," Kaya offered with a slight bow.
Jigo burst out laughing. "Well, there's no conversation more engaging than this. Have a seat!"
There were no introductions, for it would not do to become familiar with the grime-coated girl. He doubted that she was of any threat to him, but it would be best to guard his words all the same. He picked up the conversation in speaking about a raid on a glacier in the far north. Melt the ice, provoke the Gods, and incite a battle leading to victory: that was the plan. Naturally, the plan had gone sour and all of the humans involved had been eaten. Jigo chuckled, "I imagine those stupid bears were surprised to see an army of berserker reinforcements when they later scaled that frozen mountain of theirs. Leave it to a viking seige to destroy the Gods of ice and snow!"
Eboshi's brow furrowed as she recalled the last time the blood of the Gods had tainted her hands—one of which she no longer had. "So what would you have me do, Jigo?"
He smiled, "I don't ask for much; I'm just looking to rest here awhile, then I'll move on."
"Stay as long as you'd like, then, but do not endanger the people here who have treated you with such hospitality."
On those words Eboshi removed hersef from the discussion. She struggled in heaving herself to her feet, but frowned upon the acceptance of aid from others. Once she was on her legs, Eboshi strode away, allowing her confidence to carry her to more important business. Kaya eyed the monk carefully. He seemed rather content with the outcome of his talk with Eboshi. When he turned to face the girl in the loose fitting kimono, he shifted his weight—obviously feeling uncomfortable under her intense scrutinization. "Don't you have work to do?"
"No." Kaya lied.
There was something odd about this man; something inexplicably alluring. Jigo scratched his exposed belly, not sure how to forward conversation with the girl seated beside him. She was quite beautiful, but was probably equally brash—much like the other women of Iron Town. Though the more he examined her features, the more she began to appear familiar to him. He could see in his memory the same high cheekbones and porcelin skin on that woman from his past. He ran a hand over his forhead, wiping the sweat of a sweltering day off with a single stroke. He briefly sniffed his hand before drying it on his cerimonial robes. He exhaled a deep breath and looked at her with what could be described as longing. "You know, you remind me of someone," Jigo finally admitted.
Kaya tilted her head to the side. She was perplexed but also curious. She wished to hear more, if only he would tell her. Kaya was deeply disappointed when he did not continue. "Don't stop," Kaya pressed, "Please, I would like to hear more."
She was truly fascinated and intrigued. The monk sighed and assented to her request. "I supposed I have time for one story," he moved his bags aside before beginning his tale, "Long before I took up my role as a monk I was involved with a young woman named Touko. She lived to the west of here in a small, isolated village most people don't even believe exists. It is said they use stone arrowheads and ride on majestic red elk, the Emishi people. Supposedly, they were all wiped out 500 years ago..."
Kaya's eyes widened. She could assume he knew about her village from this Touko-woman, but how did she manage to get away from the village? His story had now engrossed her complete attention. "Touko had strayed too far from her home and was kidnapped by some of Lord Asano's spies. She was taken to his palace and served him as his slave. I, too, was in Lord Asano's service. My tasks were as his messenger. I bought her off of him—she cost quite a fair bit of gold," he paused, "and a lifetime of servitude."
Jigo frowned, "After a life spent hidden Touko wanted to see the world. We lived capricously as nomads and even welcomed a child into the world together. We were not always welcomed everywhere we went, though. There came a time when the wolf God Moro found us camping in her forest. She was furious. In her anger she asked a sacrifice and we threw our baby at her feet to spare our own lives. I have never ran so fast in my life."
Kaya blinked a couple times, "That can't be it!"
He scratched his head, "Well, Touko had some family back home, but I never had a chance to meet them. She said her younger sister Akane was quite a looker."
The Emishi girl opened her mouth to speak, but was quickly cut off. Kiyo grabbed her arm roughly and dragged Kaya away from the monk. "Back in a few minutes my ass! You've been gone for over an hour!"
Kaya traced the outline of a moose in the black smoke filtering out of the iron works, her thoughts all turned to mush. What if that baby was San?
Maha! It took me a full freakin' year, but I did it! I must say, I am rather pleased with how I have advanced as a writer in the past year. Hopefully this update (which deleted itself TWICE—man, I was SO pissed) shall appease you, my readers... at least for a short while XD
Don't forget to leave a review, though! I do so enjoy reading them, even if it takes me awhile to respond with an update :)
(Oh, I am so BACK, baby!)