AN: This collection of Shiori stories is a prequel to my Kohaku Chronicles, which I'm currently writing as well. Shiori's interactions with the bat youkai and Kohaku will happen before Kohaku returns to his sister's village, and he forms a friendship with her on the way. These are all post-Manga and in-progress. These updates will be sporadic because they will be influenced by various themes on contests on Livejournal. Enjoy!
Prologue: The Potential of Hope
Shiori tells herself that she will not become like her mother Shizu. She will not give her heart to a man she should not love. Though, Shiori is grateful that her mother and father met to have her, she knows she has to be more careful.
Hanyou are not as lucky to find suitable partners; therefore, if she does find someone to love, it may only be in vain, and to not have such feelings returned will only break her heart. She will not put her heart through it, so she resolves herself to always lead a lonely life.
She does not tell her mother such things. Shizu is getting older, and she only wants the best for her daughter. Shiori doesn't delude herself; she knows her mother will not always be around.
When she turns fifteen winters old, Shiori learns from a traveling human merchant about bat youkai migrating from the South. They are said to be peaceful (like her father had been, not bloodthirsty like her grandfather's ilk), and even the merchant can speak on their behalf.
They are also very wise, and though they do not interact with humans often, they seek knowledge as much as they can, and they travel to strengthen their pack and learn how to fine-tune their powers the best they can.
Shiori finds promise in this. Maybe these bat youkai will not condemn her for being a hanyou. She can only hope, but she does not want to wish too much.
She tells her mother about this wandering bat youkai pack coming from the south, and she asks if they happen to pass by their village, if she can learn from them.
At first, her mother is worried, but she must see the determination in Shiori's eyes, and Shizu reluctantly agrees.
Shiori feels relieved. Maybe when she meets them she will finally ease her endless loneliness. Even if Shiori's chances for finding a mate someday are rare, at least she can spend her life with people who may accept her.
Word has reached Shiori's village and the bat youkai are arriving in two days. More news has spread among the humans of the village, and surprisingly, they appeal to Shiori to greet the youkai on the village's behalf.
Shiori is awed that the people of her village trust her so much, but Shizu tells her they are just scared. They don't want to lose the peace their village has finally achieved after the death of her grandfather.
They pray that if the wandering bat youkai see Shiori there, it shows their village is peaceful and tolerant of their kind, and they will think before attacking them.
Shiori frowns at the prejudice and fear that still exists in her home village, but she cannot blame them. She thinks nothing of it, and she is grateful at least for the opportunity.
The next day, Shiori hears good news. A human male is traveling with the bat youkai, and though he is not a member of their group, they appear to value his counsel. Even odder, he is a demon slayer, one of the last. Shiori remembers meeting a demon slayer once when she was younger, and she idly wonders if this human is from the same village.
The knowledge makes her even more anxious to meet them, and her hope increases. If the wandering bat youkai can tolerate a human, even regard his advice, then perhaps they may accept her after all.
Another day has passed, and the wandering bat youkai have not come as expected. As the day turns into dusk, Shiori worries that she may not meet them at all. She refuses to have her hopes dashed, so instead of waiting for them to come to her, she leaves a note for her mother before dinner and takes off toward the south.
She packs some food, wears her good turquoise robe, and sets off down the road on her own. The chance to meet them consumes her hours and days, and Shiori refuses to wait any longer.
Her pace quickens through the deep forest, and she watches her surroundings, noticing exactly when she goes past familiar territory. Her muscles tense as her journey takes her farther into a tangle of trees and down a rockier path. Leaves and branches grab at her skin, and she thinks about turning around and waiting for them to arrive on their own.
She sucks in a deep breath and lifts her chin. She can't give up now; she's come this far. She knows her mother is worried, but she will understand.
Suddenly the quiet, looming forest rattles with intense youki, and it nearly knocks her on her backside. She hears screams, and instincts kick in, and she starts running toward the source. Ahead she can hear scuffling, fighting, and mixtures of youkai energy dispersing throughout. Birds and woodland creatures have long since run past her, but she dives straight through the thicket, right at the heart of battle.
When she comes upon the scene, she stops and observes several injured bat youkai on the ground, either near death or unconscious. The human slayer that accompanies them is fighting a massive swarm of boar youkai charging for him, and he brandishes a large sickle-shaped weapon to keep them at bay. Shiori's eyes dart around, and she sees the Elder of the pacifist bat youkai trying to regain her strength as another tries to help her to her fight. In the Elder's hand, she holds a long scepter with red jewel on the end, glowing dimly as it fades in sync with the Elder's strength.
"Please, Haruna-sama, you must stay strong. You are the only one that can use this scepter," says the bat youkai, a middle-aged male with bright green hair and coppery skin. He tries to bring her to her feet, but her health is failing.
"I can't," she says weakly, as if she barely has the energy to breathe. Bruises and gashes cover her body, and Shiori suspects one of the boar youkai had trampled her and her companion and paralyzed them all with their overwhelming youki before they had a chance to take flight. These bat youkai are much weaker than the ones of her grandfather's clan, and Shiori suspects their pacifist ways hinder their fighting abilities as well.
The slayer continues to fight, but he becomes outnumbered, and Shiori is anxious to join the fray and contribute to the defense. She knows that any good person would help, and she is bat youkai like them. As far as she knows, these pacifist bats are part of one of the last cohesive tribes of her kind.
She hears a moan as the Elder finally collapses, and her companion begins to weep, trying to keep her steady. The light in the jewel of the scepter goes dull and dark, and the remaining bat youkai look mournfully at it, as if their hopes have faded along with it.
Suddenly, Shiori stops thinking. She runs forward, and as the slayer continues to fight and protect them, she flies past him and toward the scepter on the ground. She may not to be able to use it for any power, but it is the only weapon that she can see. If she can bash a few boar youkai with it, she will at least be doing something with her life instead of hiding behind her mother's past and inside a village that hates her. No, Shiori wants to do something meaningful, even if she must die to save the last of her kind.
"Hey!" the slayer shouts after her after she's picked up the scepter. The bat youkai who are still conscious look at her with shock, but no one makes a move to stop her. She picks up the scepter and waves at it the boars.
"Come get me!" she yells, and quickly she plans to run away from the injured, hoping to distract the boar youkai so they will follow her, and the slayer will have good sense to get the injured to safety.
Her plan suddenly backfires as she tries to pivot into a sprint. Instantly, she feels power surging like hot oil through the scepter and up her arm. It's so surprising that she almost drops the thing, but she realizes she can't. It has fused itself with her, and she stands frozen as the scepter shines so brilliantly it blankets the forest with energy. She stands in confusion, and the more the power seeps within her, the more she feels it search out her heart, but more importantly, her desire to save these people.
The slayer falls back from the fight and runs toward her, and Shiori stares agape as the boar youkai are squirming in agony as the light of the scepter hits them and begins to burn away their skin.
Suddenly the light becomes unbearable, and the boar youkai's pain is too much for her to stand, and she loses her grip on the scepter. It thuds on the ground, and the light dissipates, and soon the forest is silent again. The only thing she hears is the hissing sound from the disintegrated boar youkai, gone and no longer a threat.
The air relaxes, and Shiori hears moaning around her as the bat youkai start to rise to their feet and check their wounded. Shiori's body stays rigid, and she tries to move her muscles but can't. She wonders if she may be in shock, so she looks down at her hands and sees blisters and burns all over her fingers and palms.
"Young miss, who are you?" the slayer asks her, and he approaches her cautiously, but she can see relief in his large brown eyes. She stares at him, noticing his pleasing freckles and the handsome angles of his face. She feels her cheeks go hot, especially when he looks at her impressed, as if she is his own personal savior.
"I'm… Shiori," she stutters, and when the feeling comes back into her nerves and muscles, she shies away from his intense stare. She looks behind her, and she inhales a breath of relief when she sees many of the bat youkai recovering and healing from their injuries. She smiles, and she turns back to the slayer when she feels his hand on her shoulder.
"I'm Kohaku," he says, and she sees him smile with gratitude. "You saved our lives."
"I… I had to, but I don't know how," Shiori says and stares curiously at the scepter on the ground, and promptly she remembers why she is here. "I'm from the northern village. I heard of the traveling bat youkai that was journeying toward us. I'm sorry to intrude, but I just had to come. You are the last of my people I know."
She feels Kohaku watching her as the Elder, now awake and shaking to her feet, approaches her with an easy smile.
"Child, you have saved our lives, and you have done a most miraculous act," she says. Shiori looks at the scepter, now back in its owner's rightful hands. "No one but a true leader can wield this scepter. It has been passed down for many generations of our tribe. Unlike many tribes, the scepter does not pass through family – it chooses its next wielder, and though many of our kin are worthy people in body and spirit, it has sadly not picked any of them."
The Elder pauses and inspects Shiori closely, and she watches as her companion – perhaps her servant or a trusted aide – whispers in her ear.
"It appears as though it has chosen you. I cannot tell you how happy I am, child, for I am getting up in years, and we have been searching for my replacement for some time," she says, and Shiori glances behind her and sees the confused and stunned faces of the other bat youkai.
"But why me? I am hanyou. Surely the scepter would pick a pure blood bat youkai," Shiori says, and she hates deprecating herself, but she knows this is what her late grandfather would have said. She shudders in memory when she thinks of the horrible beast.
"It does not matter," the Elder says, her smile still bright on her wrinkled face. "I am far too old to care about such things as race. Our tribe is dwindling as it is, and the world is changing as more humans take their fill of it."
Shiori hears her words, and quickly, she begins to cry. The Elder bat youkai approaches her and places a hand on her cheek. "Oh, child, your life has begun with great misery, hasn't it? Well, no more. You will see nothing but auspicious days from now on. You are the hope of our people." Her touch is light and warm, and Shiori nods against it. "Please excuse me, I must attend to my people. Kohaku-dono, would you please tell Shiori-san more of our story?"
He bows to her and nods. "It would be my pleasure, Elder."
Shiori quickly wipes the tears from her eyes, and she feels embarrassed already within Kohaku's presence, though she does not know completely why. Maybe it is because he is the first human boy to look at her in such a way – any way that does not contain contempt.
"I have been protecting them while they search for their successor," he says with a sigh of relief. "It has not been easy, and they are not that used to wandering so much. They have elderly demons that would prefer to stay in a cave and meditate."
"So your journey is over then?" she asks a little sadly. If he has been searching for her, that means now that he's found her, he has no purpose of staying with the bat youkai.
Surprisingly, he shakes his head. "I must escort them to a new home as well. There is a place in the northern mountains they wish to retire, and the Elder wants to train her successor by a sacred waterfall. I promised the Elder that once her successor is found, I would accompany her as far as my home village and break from there."
Shiori nods in understanding, though she cannot deny the ache she feels in her chest. So Kohaku will stay with them for a while, but he will leave for his home. It is just as well, she thinks. Shiori hardly knows him; Kohaku could have a demon slayer fiancé back home for all she knows. She is getting ahead of herself anyway; she cannot help her rising feelings for meeting him at first sight, but she's mindful enough to know these feelings are mere attractions of her body (and she thinks of her promise to herself, to not love so her heart cannot break).
And Kohaku is human. It is foolish of her to think of him beyond that, especially since they have only just met.
Still, he will be with them for a little while longer, so Shiori will be happy to get to know him regardless.
Before turning away, she studies him for a second, quickly noticing his gentle smile. He also has the kindest eyes she has ever seen, and he does not look at her with fear or spite. Maybe Kohaku will not be the only human boy in the world that will look at her this way, but he is the first, and Shiori finds that special enough.
"Shiori-sama, are you ill?" he asks, breaking her out of her trance. She blinks and meets his gaze, and shakes her head once.
"I am sorry," she says, still awed by his honorific. Does saving his life and using the scepter grant such prestige? "I feel tired. It must be from the Elder's staff."
Quickly he attends to her, and she finds herself easing with him as they sit on a nearby rock. She feels his hand on her back, and he watches her with worry. Shiori bites her lip, and her face feels too hot for normal. She feels like a lovesick fool, but she cannot help it. She hopes that may be if she learns from the bat youkai, that she can control these confusing emotions.
She has never regarded a boy like this before, and she almost wishes he wasn't sitting so close. She starts to catch her breath, and the feelings start to dull, and Shiori recovers as she sees the Elder approaching her again. When she stares into the ancient woman's serene face, Shiori's bothersome emotions about Kohaku begin to fall aside.
"Shiori-san, I have talked to the others and we have all agreed that you show extraordinary potential. Our clan would benefit well from your hidden talents," she explains, and Shiori is honored and awed by their regard. "We would like you to learn the secrets of our magick and train with us to become our next High Elder."
"I… I don't even know where to begin, Elder-sama," Shiori responds, bowing her head low. "I have to tell my mother, yes…. She will not want to part with me, but I know… I know this is what I'm meant to do."
The Elder Haruna reaches out her hand and places her palm on Shiori's cheek. "We will speak to your mother, but little one, this is your decision of course." She pauses and Shiori can feel her intense gaze scanning her, almost as if the woman is looking into her soul. She swallows uncomfortably, but the woman's aura soothes her again. "You have been alone and afraid for too long, my child. We can help you resolve that pain."
Tears begin to stream down her cheeks, but Shiori cannot hold back her happiness. At last… finally her life will have meaning, and Shiori can barely contain her elation of what's to come. She can only hope that her mother will be proud of her, and maybe these bat youkai will be kind enough to let her mother come along.
Shiori can hope for it. After all, hope has brought her this far. Hope has brought her to her new people, and it has showed her that humans like Kohaku will notice her and look at her as a person, without prejudice or hate.
If her mother knows all this, that this is what will make her daughter happy, Shiori knows she cannot fail. She nods her consent to Elder Haruna, and she and her people seem relieved. A soft hand rests on her shoulder, and she inhales an unsteady breath as she meets Kohaku's eyes again. In them she sees hope, and Shiori cannot help but revel in the flutter in her heart.
She knows that Kohaku will not stay with them long, and maybe she is meant to be the lonely high leader of her new people, but she can still hope, can't she? She can still wish and pray a little bit more that Kohaku becomes a part of her future as well.