I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi
As Rin and Kimi and Tazu looked up, they watched the strange bird circling overhead, then drop from the heights. As it dropped, its huge size became quite clear, but nobody in the field felt alarmed at the sight, just curious. Birds of prey flew over their part of the world quite often, and the three of them had not heard nor seen any of the unusual events of the morning.
It screeched again, a loud, nerve rattling sound.
"Is it hunting something?" Tazu asked. "It sure is big. I've seen other birds do that."
"Rin thinks it looks like an eagle," Rin said. "It's got a funny head for an eagle."
"It does, doesn't it?" Kimi said. "I've never quite seen one like that. We'll have to talk to Akimori-otousan. He knows more about birds than anybody else here in the village."
"He does?" Tazu said, surprised. "I didn't know Ojiisan knew that."
As they watched, it stopped circling lower and moved into a dive. It screeched again, louder.
Kimi laughed. "That's because Fujime-okaasan won't let him talk about them around her. She says he puts everybody to sleep when he starts."
As they watched, the bird stopped diving, and began to circle around much closer to the ground. Its odd, vaguely chicken-shaped head was clearly visible. It skimmed just above the level of the trees that separated Koume's field from the next plot of ground.
"I wonder what it's after?" Kimi bent over and pulled up another weed.
"I wonder what it eats," Tazu said.
"Something that big, just about anything it wants, I suspect," Kimi said. The bird flew directly overhead, then circled once more, gaining altitude. Kimi shivered as it did. "I don't think I like it. It shouldn't have a head like that."
Suddenly there was a crashing of brush from the direction of the field to the right, and a streak of red and silver followed as InuYasha, carrying Kagome on his back, ran into the field.
"Kimi-chan! Rin!" Kagome said, her bow at the ready.
Kimi dropped her hoe, and jumped as she saw the two running her way. She grabbed Rin's hand, knocking the girl's gathering basket out of her hand, and then grabbed her daughter and pulled her close. She threw both of them on the ground and covered them with her body.
"Okaa?" Tazu said, totally confused by the sudden turn of events.
Kimi peeked up at the couple, focusing on Kagome's drawn bow. "What is it Kagome-chan?" She turned as much as she could while keeping the girls under the cover of her body. "Is it a youkai? Bandits? Where? I don't see anything."
The bird, already flying at the edge of the young miko's bow range, gave a loud screech and flew off, heading west. The young miko lowered her bow. The breeze blew her bangs across her eyes, and she pushed them out of the way, quite unhappy as she watched.
"It's safe," Kagome said, disappointment in her voice. "I'm sorry we frightened you."
"Damn bird. Look how fast it's going," InuYasha said, pointing. "We could try to chase it."
Kagome shook her head. "Chasing something that flies like that when we don't even know where it's going won't do much good." She slipped off his back. "Even you would have trouble following that scent. We'll have to try something else. I guess we'll just have to go to see what happened to Toshiro's animal. Maybe it'll give us another clue."
"Damn it," the hanyou said. "So close . . . "
"But not close enough," Kagome said.
He nodded. "Not close enough."
"It has strong youki," the miko said, slipping of her husband's back. "I could feel it flair, right before we got here. It was strong enough, anybody nearby could have felt it." She walked over to Kimi and gave her a hand. "I bet you felt something." Much to the two girls' relief, Kimi got shakily to her feet.
"I did," Kimi said, nodding.
"Well, the one I met almost kicked my butt," InuYasha said. "I might have been young and stupid, but a low-level youkai wouldn't have done that. Don't know much about yosuzume, but I know that much."
Kimi stood up and brushed off her dress. "A youkai? Here?" Slowly Tazu got to her knees, and pulled a broken bit of tade out of her hair. "What did you call it?"
"A yosuzume, Kimi-chan," Kagome said. She slung her bow back over her body.
"I thought they were little," Kimi said, pulling a bit of tade out of her sleeve. "I've heard stories . . . "
"Not always," Kagome said.
Rin got up more gracefully, and helped Tazu to her feet, plucking a bit of weed out of her hair. "Rin thinks you need better flowers than that," she declared, throwing it on the ground.
This was not able to break the frightened look in the girl's eyes. Tazu looked at InuYasha, scowling. " You scared us."
"Sorry, kid." His ear flicked, as if in embarrassment, but the seriousness in his eyes didn't change. "You saw that bird? It wasn't just a bird. We couldn't catch it, but at least we chased it away. Who knows what it might have done to you."
Kagome rested her hand on her husband's arm. "Don't make her more frightened."
He took a deep breath and shrugged. "It's the truth."
Tazu, unnerved by the adult action, grabbed her mother's sleeve, and snuggled close. Rin, though, looked at InuYasha and Kagome and then back at the sky. The bird was a tiny dot on the distant horizon.
"That . . . that was a youkai?" Rin asked, perhaps more unnerved by being clutched by Kimi than the appearance of InuYasha or the strange bird. "Rin has not seen a youkai like that, before."
"Yeah," the hanyou said. Before he could say more, he was interrupted by an almost panicked voice calling Kimi's name.
"Kimi-chan!" Eiji said, running into the field from the road, not having InuYasha's ability to deal with bushes or trees. Susumu followed right behind. "Kimi! Are you all right?"
"Eiji?" Kimi hurried to her husband's side. "What's going on?"
He panted as he neared, then put his hand under her chin, looking at her carefully. "When I heard you singing here, I got scared. And when I heard Rin talk about the bird, I came running."
"Of course I'm all right," she said, shaking her head free, flickering between frightened and confused. "You must have been close. Where were you?"
"Michio's field." Eiji pointed in the direction they had come from. "So what are you even doing here?"
" Haha-ue asked me to check on her tade patch. We were just weeding it." She frowned. "The way everybody burst in here, I thought we were under a bandit attack or something. But all this talk about youkai . . . Are you all right?"
Daitaro, the first to head to the field and the last to arrive, strolled up to the gathered group.
"No bandits this time. Besides, they don't like to pass through this time of year. The rice is too young," the old man said.
"Did you see the bird?" Kagome asked.
"It was too big to miss," Kimi said. She bent over and picked up her hoe. "I've never seen one quite that large. Or that odd-looking." She shook her head. "Like an eagle and chicken. And there was something about it - I got the shivers when it got close."
"That's its youki," Kagome said.
Kimi shrugged. "If you say so. I thought it was because it just looked . . . looked . . . so wrong."
"Did it land?" Susumu asked.
"No," Rin said. She picked up her gathering basket from where she had dropped it when Kimi had grabbed her. "Rin thought it was going to. It was heading to that tree over there," she said pointing to a tall, but mostly dead tree on the edge of the field. "Rin wondered if it was hunting rabbits."
"Feh," InuYasha said, crossing his arms. "Not rabbits. Not a bird like that. It was looking for something bigger than rabbits."
He left unsaid what in the field might be bigger than rabbits. Kimi shivered a little. "At least it's over."
"It's not over," Susumu said. "Whatever it is, is still flying around. But I'm not sure what we need to do next." He frowned, scanning the sky.
"First things, first," Eiji said, resting a hand on his wife's shoulder. "Did anybody pick up any feathers?"
Kimi shook her head. "Why?"
"Good," Susumu said, ignoring her question. "Why don't you three head home? Kaede-obaasan has a sick man at her place. Rin, you might want to stay with Kimi. Haha-ue's entertaining a group at my house. I hear she's got some new chimaki from the last market day. If Hisako-obaasan hasn't eaten them all, I'm sure she wouldn't mind sharing."
"And they know all about what's been going on," Eiji said. "They'll bring you up to date better than I can. I'd feel better if you were there today. Or go to Haha-ue's, or your okaasan's place."
Kimi gave her husband an odd look, seeing the unspoken pleading in his face, which surprised her. "It's that bad?"
"Maybe not. We don't know yet." He shrugged. "Better with others when strange things are happening. But stay out of the fields."
"It was such a weird bird," Tazu said. Suddenly, she coughed, and put her hand to her neck. "Okaasan, my throat hurts."
InuYasha and Kagome exchanged glances. Kimi frowned at that, especially the worried look in Kagome's eyes.
"I'm sure that Hisa-obasan has something that can make it feel better," Kimi said. "Sometimes when you're around too many flowers blooming at once, the dust from the flowers can make your throat itch. And getting spilled onto the ground didn't help. Here, let's pick up everything. Hisa-obasan gets some of the best chimaki. Almost as good as Haha-ue's."
That made Tazu giggle, and Rin smile. The girls retrieved their gardening tools and baskets, and with a little more nudging, the three of them headed down the road.
"How are we going to farm if we have to watch out for something like this?" Daitaro asked.
Eiji shook his head as he watched them walk off. "I wonder . . . I heard a story last market day that makes me think about our situation."
"That marketplace is full of nothing but talk" InuYasha said. His ear flicked, and he scowled, still upset about missing the chance at the bird. "So what does this have to do with our youkai?"
"A peddler from back east was telling a story that happened in Kyoto not long ago." Eiji rubbed the back of his neck. "There was a member of the fire brigade in that town. He was being charged with setting fires."
"Isn't that an odd thing for a fire fighter to do?" Kagome asked. "Isn't the fire brigade responsible for putting out fires?"
"Indeed," Eiji replied, nodding. "But in this case, the fire fighter had been setting fires so he could go with his crew and play the hero."
"I've heard of things like that," Susumu said, scanning the field once more, also a bit impatient. "Someone doing something bad so he could rush in and save the day."
"Keh," the hanyou replied. He looked at Kagome, who looked at him questioningly. "I know someone who would do something like that . . . except he only did it with words, never pulled a bad stunt to get people to believe."
Suddenly, it dawned on Kagome that InuYasha was talking about Miroku, and her eyes widened a bit with amusement. She put her hand over her mouth to cover her smile, not wanting to laugh at such a somber moment, and when she was able to look more serious, she said, "But what does this have to do with the youkai?"
"I have heard that yosuzume are supposed to be harbingers of coming disaster," Eiji said. "But if the youkai can cause a sickness like the peddler's, or destroy things unseen, like what happened to the cow, perhaps the youkai is actually not being a harbinger of bad things, but the cause directly?"
"But what would it get out of it?" Susumu asked.
"A good question," Eiji said. "I don't know the answer."
"Youkai always have a reason," InuYasha said. "It may not be a human reason, but there's something going on."
Daitaro lifted his jug, and this time took a drink. A deep one.
Not long after that, Sesshoumaru, nearly halfway between Kaede's village and where he had started from earlier in the day, was passing under the branches of a massive tree. It was an ancient sakura. He had passed it many times, and in a way, considered it the boundary between his world and the world of the village he was heading towards. Ignoring Jaken's chatter, he put his hand on the tree's trunk and paused for a moment, his eyebrows knitting together as he scented the air.
"I smell . . . " he said, but did not complete his sentence.
"My lord?" Jaken asked.
There was a screeching bird cry, and a gray feather floated down in front of him.
A girl's voice laughed. It was a light sound, like all girls' voices, but with a deep malice that did not go with the sound of the voice.
"I smell . . . " the girl's voice said. "I smell . . . dog!"