I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 274

The stars were beginning to brighten the sky as Kazuo-no-kami looked up. "Well, then, if we're all agreed to let the play begin, let's see what our actors will do with their choices. Wish us all luck, old man," he said, looking at Sadayori.

The ghost didn't say anything, thinking about what he had given the kami permission to accomplish. For a moment, the growing night seemed a heavy cloak. The only sound was the breeze, sighing softly. A dog barked in the distance.

"Well, sooner done is sooner accomplished," Kazuo said.

The two kami looked at each other, and Kazuo nodded. Daikoku knelt down and tapped his mallet on the ground, and a very brief flash of light radiated out from the kami and over the houses in Seiji's family compound and to the woods and fields beyond.

"A bit of luck to smooth the waters," he said. "It feels like the auspiciousness of the day is winding down."

"It is supposed to," Kazuo said. "All gone by moonrise."

Almost as if the mallet's strike had caused it, off towards the river, and heading in the direction of the house, there was a crash in the woods, followed by a slightly drunken-sounding string of curses.

"Our first actor is getting close," Kazuo said, rubbing his hat back and forth across his head. "Let's see if we've been lucky and he'll make the right decisions."

"We're not puppet masters," Daikoku said. "All we can do is smooth the path."

"Sometimes," Sadayori said, "a smooth way is all it takes. And my son . . . he loves the easy paths."

A sad voice began to sing:

"What does a man do
who has no brother,
who has no brother
to stand beside him
when there's trouble on the way?

"The scoundrels mock him
that's what they do,
that's what they do
when a man stands there alone
with nobody to watch his back."

Some animal they couldn't see, a deer perhaps, bolted through the overgrowth as the voice grew closer. The voice halted a minute, as if startled, but then began again, and grew closer.

"What does a man do
when his brother is in danger,
when his brother is in danger
and needs someone to stand beside him
when there's trouble on the way.

"He stands beside him
and does not run away,
and does not run away
back to back against the world
because that's what brothers do."

Kazuo looked down the path. "It seems that your son, Sadayori, is unhappy with what's going on with his brother."

"But not necessarily in the right way," the ghost replied.

As if to prove the ghost's point, Yoshimi moved out of the shadows of the trees, then walked past a field that separated him from the houses. He looked up at the sky. "Damn the elders," Yoshimi said, shaking his fist. His words slurred together. "Damn all the busybodies in the village who don't mind their own business. Damn that stupid woman for pulling her stunt." He looked at the sake jug he was carrying in his hand, lifted it up to take a drink, but it was empty. He threw it away. It landed on a bit of grass, and amazingly, didn't shatter, but the motion destabilized him and he collapsed on the ground. "Damn my brother's rotgut sake," he said, shaking his head as he pulled himself up. "Damn everything."

"Are you sure he's capable of doing anything?" Sadayori asked.

Kazuo sighed. "We might have to do something about that."

Daikoku slapped the family kami on the back in a companionable way. "You're lucky, man. I have just the solution."

While Kazuo was considering the intoxicated Yoshimi, Eiji walked through the village, his lamp a pool of light bobbing along as he moved. The village, for the most part, was a dark place as he walked. The soft glow that came from people's fire pits glowed through the windows, soft and low, and in a few places, lamps brightened the dark.

He could hear soft laughter coming from some places, or children being corrected. Mostly it was calm, but Benika and her husband were having an argument about her actions at the near riot earlier in the day with Yoshimi.

"I don't know who would be harder to be married to," the village guardsman said as he walked away from their house. "Benika or Chiya. They both give their husbands a run for the money in frustration sometimes."

"Oh, Chiya-chan, I'm sure," said a voice to his left. It was an old voice, and fully amused. "Benika doesn't stir the cesspool as much. She'd rather pass that stick to someone else."

Eiji swung in the direction of the speaker, holding his lamp high and a bit behind him so he could see who it was. "Daisuke-ojiisan?"

"Surprised?" The old man, probably the oldest man in the entire village cracked a toothless smile. "If you're going to ask questions, man, expect someone to answer."

Eiji bowed just a little. "Surprised? I am," he said. "I didn't think Hisako-obaasan would have let you out after dark. She tells my wife that the night air makes you . . . well, your back . . . " He shrugged. "It's always something. You know how these women can be."

"Bah," the old man said, then snorted. He was leaning on a stick that looked very much like his daughter's. "Neither of my wives fussed over me like that daughter of mine does. I don't know what I did wrong when I raised her. Treats me like I'm her child, not her otousan."

The village guardsman snickered a bit over that. "Hisako-obaasan is a formidable woman. I think, Daisuke-ojiisan, your respected daughter treats everybody like they're her child. Or maybe grandchild."

"Well," Daisuke said, shaking his head."She needs to leave well enough alone sometimes. Came home after causing all that stink with Tsuneo-sama and Tameo-sama, and that worthless brother of Seiji's, fixed dinner, and fell asleep." He frowned. "She didn't tell me where she hid the sake, either."

"Did she?" Eiji said.

"Why else do you think I'm out of my cage tonight?" the old man said. He grinned, like a small boy doing something he knows is wrong. "Maybe, if I'm lucky, I can find someone who'll give an old man a drink. You have any suggestions?"

Eiji scratched his head, thinking. "That's a hard one, Ojiisan. Your reputation goes ahead of you. Denjiro might, if he has any," he said. "If you can keep from teasing Sora-chan."

"That witch?" Daisuke said, shaking his head. "Last time I went over there, she started throwing things at me. She'd just run off to wake up Hisako-chan, anyway."

"My Kimi would probably do the same thing," Eiji said. "And Tameo's people are all over at Daitaro's."

They walked together for a little bit, heading towards the watch tower.

"The wedding, huh?" The old man cracked a knowing grin. "That lucky dog, Shinjiro. Takeshi's girls, they all are lookers, they are. I bet the oldest one's like a cat. She has that look about her. She'll be curled up in his lap before the night's over, letting him pet her until she purrs. Bet he's having a good time tonight."

Eiji, although not particularly shocked by the old man's comments, since everybody in the village knew how Daisuke liked to make sex jokes, still sighed. "And that's another reason I can't take you home," he muttered, far too soft for the old man's ears.

"What's that?" Daisuke asked.

"I was just thinking it was about time Shinjiro got remarried," Eiji said. "I'm just happy for him."

The old man nodded approvingly."If I could find someone to keep my bed warm, I'd do it still." He leaned against the fence he was standing near. "He's lucky he's still young enough to appreciate it. Those days are long gone for me." He dropped his head and clung tightly to the railing. "I need to walk more. Get winded if I walk more than a few steps anymore." He coughed. "Sometimes that girl of mine is right. Always nagging me to walk more." He looked up. "Is it true?"

"Is what true?" Eiji asked.

"That Seiji pushed the new little miko to the ground yesterday?" the old man said. He let go of the fence rail, but didn't stop leaning against the wood "She's another looker. That silver-haired guy who's her husband, the man who cuts my firewood. Someone told me he cold-cocked the bastard."

"That's right, Ojiisan," the village guardsman said, nodding. "InuYasha knocked him out with one punch." He lifted his lamp. "You're sure you don't want me to walk you home? I have a light. It'll be easier."

"Maybe," the old man said. "And that Seiji's woman walked herself into the river?"

Eiji nodded. "I hear she was beat up pretty bad."

Daisuke coughed again, and spit. "Cursed be men who don't appreciate a woman's flesh," he said. "They only bring bad luck on a village. Maybe InuYasha should have used his sword." He looked up at the guardsman. "Anybody who would push down a pretty thing like the little miko, he's a fool."

"You're not the only one who thinks that way, Ojiisan," Eiji said. "Although maybe not for the same reasons. I sort of think that's not the same reason Hisako-obaasan is so angry."

This, for some reason made the old man cackle. "I'm pretty sure it's not. Tomorrow's going to be an interesting day. Wonder if that old hen will let me go to the meeting?"

"Maybe," Eiji said. "Better be sure to take your medicine."

"Not you, too?" the old man said. He moved a step away from the fence. "Walk me home, man. I want to see what happens when the fat hits the fire."

"I suspect there'll be lots of sparks," Eiji said. And leading the way, the two men headed back to Daisuke's house.

Hidden in the shadows, a figure moved. Not visible to human eyes because of more than the darkness, he stepped over to the place where the two men had been standing. Gently he brushed his hand against the place where Daisuke had been leaning. The area glowed as he touched it, an easy trick for even low level family kami. Briefly the air filled with the sound of their conversation once more.

This kami, like Kazuo, was dressed in the simple peasant clothes of a bygone era, but where Kazuo was stout and jovial, this man looked thin, withdrawn, and somber, and as he listened to their conversation, his face grew even more somber and uncertain. "Perhaps, perhaps I have been amiss, thinking it would all work out. I wonder . . . " he said. "But Sadayori . . . he's been pushing, pushing, pushing for so long. Was I wrong to let destiny take its own course? Or was what Sadayori has been trying to do what destiny wanted, after all?" He shook his head. "Should I go see what he really has up his sleeve?"

A light shimmered behind him, and he turned.

"Maybe we both have misjudged," Shimame-no-kami, the land kami of the village said. She was dressed in resplendent robes of red and yellow. As she looked at him, she flicked her fan thoughtfully. "Daikoku himself has shown up. I do not understand these human things so well. Perhaps . . . "

Tsuneo's family kami, Yoshio, bowed low. "Dono, you honor me."

"Why," she asked. "Why did you allow this to go on so long? Seiji and Toshiro both and Sadayori are under your jurisdiction."

"I...I..." The kami frowned, trying to figure out the right words, but then he hung his head. "I do not really know, Dono. It's just that these squabbles . . . well, they tend to pass with time. I thought that the Wheel would work its way as it usually does."

"Destiny?" she asked.

He nodded, but didn't speak.

"Even those of the August Fields can be destiny's tools, sometimes," she said. "Perhaps . . . "

"Perhaps this was Kazuo's destiny?" Yoshio suggested.

"Perhaps we should go see what they're up to," she replied. "Coming?" She closed her fan, and was gone.

"Do I have a choice?" Yoshio asked. And as silently, he followed the land kami.