I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi
Outside of the old miko's house, InuYasha's ear flicked as he heard Daitaro's voice join in with the others of the small group standing outside.
Kaede, not yet hearing her cousin, instead looked up at the hanyou then down at the feather he was holding. It rotated slightly on the red string, a gray feather that edged into almost black at its tips. It was iridescent, picking up bits of light from the room, about two inches long. And for some reason, just looking at it gave her an uneasy feeling.
"You recognize that scent?" she asked. "Are you sure?"
"No mistaking it," he said, raising the feather by its cord up to his eye level. "Doesn't look like much. Not a tail or wing feather."
"Lightweight!" Daitaro bellowed outside, followed by several people chuckling.
Kagome turned her head to the front of the building. "We're getting quite a crowd," she said. "Would you like me to ask them to leave?" She noticed a bit of water on the floor she had missed mopping up earlier, and bent down to sop it up with the towel in her hand.
"Not yet, child," Kaede said, frowning. "Yosuzume?" She frowned. "I have heard a tale or two about them. But they are not common around here. And I've never heard of any magic done with their feathers before. Are you sure, InuYasha?"
InuYasha shrugged. "I had a run-in with one a long time ago when I was young. I was lucky to get away with my ears attached to my head. It's not a scent I would forget."
"Yosuzume?" Kagome said, pausing in her search for spilled water. "I know I've heard that name before." She rubbed the back of her hand that wasn't holding the towel against her forehead. "Now what did Ojiisan tell me about that?" She sighed. "For some reason, I always keep forgetting the stories he told." She sucked on her lip, and then her face lightened up. "I remember! At least a little."
"Miko-sama?" Nakao said from outside the front door. His voice sounded bored, and maybe a bit irritated. "Can I go home yet?"
"Wait a moment more, Nakao-kun," Kagome said. "I'll be out in a minute."
"You've remembered something, Kagome-chan?" the old miko asked.
Kagome nodded. "The stories I heard were that they are small, troublesome youkai that harass travelers in the mountains at night, chirping as they walk. Sometimes, they can cause bad luck. Once in a while, they don't look like small sparrows. Instead, they'll look like black butterflies." She paused a moment. "Oh yes, they can fly into your sleeves, so mountain travelers who had to go out at night would tie up their sleeve strings, so they didn't actually bring any misfortune home." She shook her head. "There's a song you're supposed to sing to ward off them coming nearby, but I don't remember it."
"And the tales I've heard were that they were a portent of disaster," Kaede said. "But no feather magic?"
Kagome shook her head one more time. "None that I've heard of." She gave the floor another look for water spots, and satisfied, put the towel down next to the water bowl.
"Little sparrows?" the hanyou said, his eyebrows raised. "Feh. People don't know what they're talking about."
Hajime, almost forgotten in this discussion, began to snore. Outside, Yaya said, "I'm sorry. I have too many things to do. I'm going home and starting lunch. You tell Isamu if I need to come take some medicine or something."
"This youkai doesn't look like sparrows?" Kaede said. She glanced at Hajime, and rolled him onto his side. The snoring stopped.
"Hells, no," InuYasha said, letting Kagome take the feather from him.
"So tell us what you saw." The old miko adjusted the blanket over the sick man's shoulder.
The hanyou sat down near the fire pit, and looked into the small fire still burning there. His voice grew distant, as if drawing up an old painful memory. "You said the yosuzume was a portent of disaster." He stuffed his hands into his sleeves. "Just living back in those days was pretty much a portent of disaster for me. I was little and on my own. My okaa was dead and my family had turned me out. Didn't stop the stupid youkai from jumping on me because she had some sort of issue with my old man. I was guilty by association." He looked over his shoulder at the unconscious man. "So how'd he end up with a yosuzume feather, anyway? They sure don't hang around this part of the country."
"We don't know," Kaede said. She reached back and rested her hand lightly upon the peddler's forehead. "He feels a little cooler. I wonder . . . "
"That's good," the hanyou said, turning back to look at the flames. "He was sure burning up when I carried him here. Didn't remember me at all."
"It's mighty quiet in Miko-sama's house," Amaya said. She must have been standing very close to the window; her voice, although soft, sounded near. "Do you think . . . "
"Bah," Hisako said. "If InuYasha-sama had to do anything, don't you think half the village would have heard it by now."
"She has a point," Ryota said. "Remember the fights those two used to have..."
"I've heard a fight or two coming out of your house," Daitaro said. "What about you, Tameo? Remember that time, oh, about a year or two before our friends showed up?"
"You wouldn't think such a small woman could have such a loud voice," Tameo said.
"What are they talking about," InuYasha asked.
"Ryota and his wife . . . well, when they were younger . . . " Kaede replied.
"I actually think," Daitaro said, "She can get louder than our young miko here."
Kagome's cheeks pinked as she remembered some of her earlier arguments with InuYasha. "I...I think maybe there is a spell on the feather," she said, changing the subject. She touched it once again, and once again, the light flashed when she did, but much more weakly than the first time. "Do you think I can purify it like I did with the jewel shards?"
"Possibly. It does seem to be getting weaker each time you touch it. Let me see it again, Kagome-chan," the old miko said. "I want to look at it more closely."
Kagome handed the feather charm to Kaede. She spotted one last drop of water. Grabbing the towel and water bowl, she walked over to it, then wiped it up. Satisfied, she moved the bowl and towel to the side of the room and left them there, moving over to InuYasha's side. Sitting down next to him, she asked, "If it didn't look like a dark sparrow, what did this yosuzume you ran into look like?"
The hanyou glanced at his wife, and then back at the fire. "Like a bird. But bigger than a sparrow."
The tone in his voice, sharper than usual, bothered the young miko. "I was just asking," Kagome said. "I've never seen one. And if one's around here . . . "
"Keh," he said, shifting in his seat. "You're right. It's just an old bad memory."
"Okaa-san!" Sora's little boy said outside. "Wanna go home!"
"Maybe I should leave," Sora said. "I know he's getting hungry."
"They get to be an armful at that age," Daitaro said. "Maybe he'd like one of these. Chime made some this morning."
"Thank you, Daitaro-sama," Sora replied.
"Someone else isn't having a good time either, " Kagome said, looking towards the window, where she could just make out the back of the old farmer's head. She rested a hand on her husband's knee. "I understand."
He unfolded his arms and rested his hand on hers, then picked it up off of his knee, and put it on the ground between them. He gave her hand a little squeeze, but didn't let go. "I was about half-grown, and was off in the mountains north of here. One day, I spotted a big gray bird circling around the tree I was sitting in. Never saw anything quite like it before. It was shaped way more like an eagle than a sparrow, and I was wondering if it was a crow tengu, but it wasn't crow-like, either. 'No brats of the Inu no Taisho here!' it screamed. I think I froze more because the bird talked and mentioned my old man than I would have if it had just started to fly at me. And it did come after me, and its claw scraped my ear. I jumped off. Or maybe I got knocked off the branch. I landed badly. Next thing I knew some girl with her hair pulled way up was looking at me."
Kagome exchanged glances with Kaede. "A girl?"
"Interesting," the old miko replied. She stood up to come join the others.
"I hope Hajime-sama makes it through all right," Daitaro said. "Chime always bought a herb powder from him."
"We all bought some," Tameo said. "Even Hisa. She liked the one she torments me with after I drink too much."
"It's that rotgut you brew, cousin," Daitaro said, chuckling.
"So what does your woman use it for?" Ryota asked.
"She says it makes her feel more . . . playful." There was a certain smugness that gave no doubt to what he was talking about. "Nothing better than a playful Chime."
"You old bull, you," Ryota said. "Bet she gives some to you, too."
"Don't need it," the old farmer said. "Not me."
"Hush, you two," Sora said. She sounded a bit outraged. "There are children here."
"They'll find out one day themselves," Daitaro said.
"Okaa, go home?" Sora's youngest asked.
"That cousin of mine is such a tease. One day . . . " Kaede said, sitting down at her place by the fire pit. She took the medicine pot off the heat and put on her tea kettle. "So tell us about this girl, InuYasha."
"Yeah," the hanyou said. "She had bird-like eyes. Kind of like Tameo's pet rooster." He unbent one of his legs and stretched it out, not looking at his wife. "She might have looked like a girl, but she came right at me and gave me a hard kick before I could do anything. Told me to get off of her mountain. She didn't want any dirty inu there." He looked up. "Never did tell me what her gripe with my old man was, but I didn't stick around to find out. She let me get to my feet, and I ran off fast as I could." His lip twisted into a small, embarrassed grin as he looked at his wife. "Yeah, I let a girl beat me up, but I wasn't as tall as Nakao out there. I was really just learning to fight, and she caught me off guard."
"I believe you, InuYasha," Kagome said, giving her husband a sympathetic look, choosing not to add to his discomfort.
"I had heard that the yosuzume had an . . . odd relationship with the inu and wolf youkai," Kaede said. "I even heard that they would sometimes warn people away when travelers were moving into the territory of an okuri-inu."
"Well, the one who lit into me must have been one of those types," the hanyou said. "Went back later when I was older, and never saw any sign of whoever it was. Maybe she ran into an inu who could take her on."
"Like Sesshoumaru-sama?" Kaede asked.
InuYasha shrugged. "Never told me about meeting one. But he doesn't tell me anything, so I wouldn't know."
Kagome stood up and began to move towards the door. "Maybe she didn't get caught by him. Maybe she just moved on. Or there are others."
"What do you mean?" the hanyou asked. "And what does this have to do with Hajime?"
"We don't know yet," Kaede said. "But there does seem to be some dark magic involved."
"Feh," InuYasha said. "All this because of one sick peddler and a feather? He could have picked that up anywhere."
"Yes he could have," Kagome said. "But there's something else going on as well." She lifted the doormat. "Nakao-kun? Would you come in?"
The boy pushed through the doorway. "Miko-sama?"
"Tell InuYasha the story you told me," Kagome said. She looked at her husband. "I think this is something you'll want to hear."