InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Fireside Chats ❯ Part Twenty-Six: Lonely as the Moon ( Chapter 26 )
Author's Note: Hmm. Picking up speed as we near the finale. I plan on ending at chapter 30. I adore this story, but it's pretty much run its course, so I think I'll be wrapping it up. The next few chapters will probably be short because I'm stubbornly set on ending on chapter 30. There may or may not be an epilogue, and if there is, it won't be your usual epilogue. (wink).
Disclaimer: I am aware that there is some confusion as to what Hiuchimaru looks like. I had two separate models of him in mind when I started using him, and I've accidentally oscillated between the two. In the artwork of him with Ashita and Opaaru (posted at DeviantArt) I used the earlier version of him, while in his introduction and further use, I used the revise model of him. Thus, please don't take the artwork literally. I made a mistake on his skin tone and hair color. My bad.
Part Twenty-Six: Lonely as the Moon
After a nice, relaxing bath, the group lounged by the fireside and ate a simple meal of rice and stewed vegetables. The vegetables were stewed in an untraditional combination of spices, more commonly used in western meat stews, which would account for the western flavoring Kagome had smelled earlier. Hiuchimaru didn't touch the food at all, and it was unclear as to whether he was simply not hungry, or uncomfortable in the company of others. However, Inuyasha and the others didn't pay it much thought before tucking in to a very filling meal that made up for their loss of supplies since the run-in with Renkotsu.
After everyone had eaten their fill, fatigue finally caught up with Inuyasha, who had been running on adrenaline and little other sustenance. He'd been unable to rest up completely after the run-ins with Mukotsu and Ginkotsu, and there was something about this area that just sapped his demonic energy...
Curiously, Hiuchimaru also appeared to be quite enervated. After several minutes of silently patrolling the perimeters, he finally came over to the group and sat down beside Ashita. Then, without a word, he simply stretched out, laying his head in her lap and closing his eyes. Ashita began grooming his flaxen hair with her fingernails, meticulously working tangles and knots out. She looked down at him with the most tender, affectionate gaze Kagome had ever seen between two youkai. Yet, Ashita's soft, loving glance still held a silent hint of sorrow. Almost as though Ashita felt she was in love alone, as though she feared Hiuchimaru did not reciprocate her affections. It made Kagome's heart ache in sympathy.
"Your daughter is very quiet," Miroku observed benignly as Mimiko crawled up onto Hiuchimaru's chest and sat there, looking proud of herself. Her ears twitched constantly, like tiny satellite dishes, focusing on whoever was speaking at present.
"Indeed," Hiuchimaru said blandly without opening his eyes. "I've not heard a word out of her since she was born. I am beginning to doubt she has a voice. I suppose it makes sense; the monk who sired her had taken a vow of silence. If I recall correctly, he wanted to cut down on interfering noise in order to better achieve enlightenment. His lack of voice probably transferred over to Mimiko. A shame, really. Quite the unexpected conundrum."
Ashita tapped his forehead irritably; "Don't talk like that, Flint. She has a voice and she can communicate; she just doesn't speak in words."
He squinted up at her mirthlessly; "Oh? And I suppose there are other ways to speak than in words? She'll be able to hear voices from long distances away, but won't be able to convey their meaning if she can't use words."
"So we'll teach her how to write. Don't worry so much!"
"Humph," Hiuchimaru grunted as he closed his eyes again. "Whatever."
Kagome frowned to herself as she saw the wave of pain flicker momentarily through Ashita's beautiful black-brown eyes. He doesn't exactly treat her like he cares much about her. But, I wonder why he bothers to consider her his mate if he doesn't love her?
Sango looked up at the late afternoon sky. "Hiuchimaru, I have a question for you."
"Do you now. "
"Do you know what happened to your sister Kiniromaru?"
"Kiniro...maru? Oh, so she did change her name, did she? I guess the trees were right after all. Huh." He chuckled dryly. "Father always did say Kiniroko was quite the tomboy. I barely knew her, however. I was called to the Eien no Mori when Kiniroko was just a tiny foal. Most of what I know about her is through the information network of demon-trees, and they aren't always the most reliable when it comes to veracity." He absentmindedly flicked an insect away from Mimiko's hair. The toddler bounced a bit on his chest, prompting him to cock an eye at her. "'ey, kouma, hold still! Don't move around so much!"
"So, do you know what happened to her?" Sango pressed. Miroku's forehead wrinkled slightly as he tried to figure out what the exterminator was doing, though Kagome had a pretty good idea already.
"I wasn't finished. Give me a moment to recall what I can about her, I haven't thought much on her in a while. Let me think... I know that Mother was extremely overprotective of Kiniroko because she was very undersized when she was born, despite the fact that Mother carried her for more than a full term. She was a surviving twin, we think. It happens. Mother liked to name her children after colors that were apparent from the beginning. Thus she chose Kiniroko's name. If I remember correctly, she had a golden hue to her skin tone, and her eyes were like amber.
"As for her temperament, I know nothing firsthand. Like I said, she was still very young, not much older than Mimiko is now when I was called away to the forest. Nijimaru visited me occasionally, but he always came alone; he left the forest in her care, as it were."
"Why didn't you ever go visit him?" Miroku asked.
Hiuchimaru opened one eye and appraised the monk silently. "I can't leave this forest. It won't let me."
The complete flatness of the reply startled Miroku into silence. There was much more to the story than those two sentences, but it was also quite clear that Hiuchimaru had no intentions of relaying that information just yet.
"Anyway, I know that she was about Opaaru's age when Mother was killed. Father took her under his proverbial wing and taught her what he could. I always got the feeling that he had particularly high hopes for her.
"Rumors have it that Kiniroko took over leadership of a small herd of uma-youkai at the heart of Nijimaru's forest. Then, when Nijimaru abruptly died, Kiniroko disappeared. The word is that she is dead, but it took several months for the trees to start agreeing on that."
"So you don't know how she died, then."
"I don't know, no. I only suspect. In fact, that's the first I've heard of an outsider confirming it. Even Himawari couldn't confirm it."
Sango let out a heavy sigh. "What will you do when you learn who caused her death?"
"Hard to say. Why do you care?"
"Are you going to seek revenge?"
"Revenge?" He snorted. "You didn't know Nijimaru as well as you let on to have known, if you think I care much for vengeance. That was one thing he was very adamant about, in all his teachings. Revenge is a cold bed. If you make revenge your only goal, you will feel empty and cheated in the end. 'There is no shame in revenge, but neither is there honor. Exacting revenge does not revive the fallen, and the dead do not wish for vengeance to be served.' Therefore, I will not seek vengeance for her death, unless her spirit demands it of me. But why do you care if I do?"
"Because I'm the one who struck the killing blow," Inuyasha interrupted. "Therefore, if you seek vengeance, you seek it against me."
A complete silence befell the camp.
"Well, now, that's a nice, ironic little twist to the story, isn't it?" Koe said dryly.
"Would you mind explaining to me what happened?" Hiuchimaru said finally, his voice surprisingly resigned. "I should like to hear the entire story; otherwise, I have no choice but to judge you on the fact that you killed my younger sister."
Kagome took up the narration; "First of all, Kiniromaru asked him to do it; I tried to stop him, but it was too late. She was suffering so badly. You see..." she paused. "Did you know about the Shikon fragment that got lodged in Nijimaru's heart?"
"Huh? No. Are you sure about that?"
"Absolutely. He even told us as much," Miroku said. "It was after he'd died -- his soul couldn't cross over yet because of the fragment. But he did verify it."
"You'll have to explain that to me, because as far as I know, Father hated the Shikon no Tama. First things first, though," he motioned to Kagome, "please continue."
Kagome took a deep breath and launched an abbreviated account of their original journey through the Niji no Mori, including Kiniromaru's fight with Sesshomaru and how it resulted, ultimately, in Nijimaru's death. Hiuchimaru's face remained frozen in impassivity throughout the narration, though the mention of Sesshomaru caused his eyebrows to twitch in something akin to irritation.
"That wasn't the end of it, though that's probably where she went missing," Kagome said. "She was mortally wounded, but a minion of our enemy Naraku planted a couple of Shikon shards in her to keep her alive and to make her do his will. She came to blame Inuyasha for her problems, saying if he hadn't interfered, Nijimaru wouldn't have died. Apparently she didn't know about the Shikon shards implanted in her heart, and spent an entire month stewing on her hatred of Inuyasha."
Ashita made a distressed noise at that, both her hands coming to rest on Hiuchimaru's forehead, her fingers brushing against the star on his brow. "The poor thing... I hope she has found peace..."
Kagome nodded. "I think she has. But that's getting ahead in the story. She attacked us just outside the taijiya village. She was really proficient with a spear -- "
"Pike," Hiuchimaru correctly. "She didn't use a spear, she used a pike. They are much larger and harder to handle, and do much more damage. I remember Father telling me that she'd nearly mastered using one, which was unusual for forest uma-youkai."
"Well, whatever," Kagome said with a wave of her hand, annoyed at the interruption. "She and Inuyasha went around a few times and beat on each other, and eventually she got worn out, so we took her with us to the taijiya village to try and see if we could heal her."
Hiuchimaru snorted in disbelief and sat up partially, sending Mimiko tumbling off his chest in surprise. Koe scooped up her niece and gave Hiuchimaru a dirty look, which he pointedly ignored as he turned to regard Kagome incredulously; "You took her to that village? Geez, of all places!"
"We didn't know about the death of your mother at the time," Miroku pointed out. "How were we to know? The taijiya village was deserted -- you've heard about what happened to them, haven't you?"
"Rumors, yes. Supposedly they were betrayed and wiped out."
Sango looked stricken but nodded. "That's pretty much what happened."
"You're from there, though, I presume. Your boomerang is from there, at least."
Sango merely nodded, unable to speak due to the lump that had formed in her throat. Shippo and Kirara, both sitting next to her, looked up at her and crawled into her lap simultaneously, trying to comfort her. Hiuchimaru laid back down, and Ashita resumed combing her fingers through his hair.
Kagome finished the story, explaining how she had purified the jewel shards in Kiniromaru, trying to help the mare to heal, but eventually Kiniromaru decided she'd had enough and had asked that they destroy her. She decided to leave out the extra information that Kiniromaru had given them regarding the nature of the jewel shards.
Miroku picked up the story afterwards, detailing how he and Inuyasha met Nijimaru's remaining spirit in the Tsuki no Mori and how the hogosha-taiyoukai had been imprisoned in the jewel shard. The monk also chose to omit some information, namely the events surrounding the death of the demon-tree Eimaimatsu.
Hiuchimaru seemed to ease up after hearing the whole story. After Kagome finished telling the story, Ashita commented softly that she couldn't imagine what kind of pain Kiniromaru must have suffered, to be reduced to such a specter.
"Father did mention once that he thought that Kiniroko was tough as adamant," Hiuchimaru mused quietly. "I don't think even I could have suffered through all of that."
Koe snorted. "Well, no, considering how weak you are, Flint, I imagine not."
"Shut it, Koe," Hiuchimaru snapped irritably. "I'm really not in the mood for this."
"To think, the hanyou who killed your sister also kicked your ass," Koe snickered. "Your father must be hanging his head in shame."
"If I recall correctly, it was the monk who 'kicked my ass' as you say it. I'm still feeling the effects of that damned sutra."
Miroku chuckled; "Sorry about that."
"No need to apologize. You probably thought I was going to kill you."
"You mean you weren't?" Shippo asked, surprised.
"Of course not. My job isn't necessarily to kill, only to drive out."
"That's funny," Inuyasha snorted, not amused in the slightest, "because I recall you saying that intruders are eliminated or something like that."
"Which is what I usually say," Hiuchimaru responded. "But if you leave my forest, I don't follow you and keep trying to fight you. I only kill those who are a threat to the forest and refuse to leave. And I left you a very obvious escape route. Had I really wanted you all dead, you'd be dead. I was trying to drive you out. It's a lot easier that way. When you kill something, you have to dispose of the body. If you drive it out of your territory, there's no disposal necessary."
"How pragmatic," Sango said dryly.
There was a moment of silence in which Mimiko's ears swiveled around and Hiuchimaru's eyebrows twitched. "And thus ends my moment of rest. I have a job to do. Koe, I'll need your assistance, since that fire breather is back in the forest again. I want it to leave the forest as peacefully as necessary."
He rose from his recumbent position in one fluid motion, hitched Kiribitou up onto his shoulder and took a few steps back from the group. Koe sighed and deposited Mimiko in her sister's lap. "All right. I suppose it's a small price to pay for Ashita's peace of mind, if I keep an eye on you and make sure you come back in one piece."
"Keep talking, Koe, it's about all you're good at." Hiuchimaru said irritably as he shed the haori and strapped Kiribitou to his back. He looked down at his son. "Opaaru, I leave everything your hands. No mistakes, kouma," he held up a hand and wagged a finger at Opaaru. "You'll be answering to me if you screw up protecting your sister and mother."
Opaaru grinned and stuck his tongue out. "I can handle it, Father. No worries!"
"I'm counting on that," Hiuchimaru said, patting Opaaru on the head and messing up his hair slightly. Then he turned and exploded into motion. He darted to the center of the clearing, banking off the rocks at the center of the hot springs and launching directly skyward. At the top of his arc, he executed a complex somersault, transforming to his spirit-horse form in midair.
Koe put her hands on her hips. "I shouldn't go with you, since you just keep insulting me."
"Just go with him," Ashita said wearily. "I'll feel better knowing you're with him. Please, Koe?"
"Fine, I'll do it for you, nee-chan," Koe said finally. Then she burst into motion, sprinting to the rocks and using them to launch upward, landing on the great spirit-horse's shoulders. The horse rose up and moved away into the forest.
"Mama?" Opaaru looked over at his mother. "Are you okay?"
"I just don't like it when he leaves me," Ashita said finally. She appeared to have lost the luster in her sparkling personality. She just seemed really sad now. It made Kagome's heart ache even more to see such sadness. "I'm always afraid he'll never come back."
"Father isn't that easy to defeat, Mama," Opaaru said as he collected Mimiko from Ashita's arms. "Forest guardians have the forest's power behind them."
"Forest guardians of the Eien no Mori also don't live very long," Ashita looked up at her son and daughter. Her eyes seemed empty. "This forest is very hard on its guardians."
"He mentioned he can't leave the forest..." Miroku said gently. "What did he mean by that? Nijimaru could leave his forest."
"Most forest guardians can leave the boundaries of their forests temporarily. But not this forest. It's because of that nexus of power under White Soul Mountain."
"Nexus of power?"
"White Soul Mountain?"
Ashita looked over at Kagome and Miroku, "You don't know about it? There's a mountain on the northern edge of this forest, with a strange nexus of power beneath it. Flint said that the nexus is strong enough that it cowed even Nijimaru in his prime."
Inuyasha stood up abruptly, his ears cocked.
"What's the matter, Inuyasha?" Miroku inquired.
"I... don't know. Something just doesn't feel right."
Mimiko struggled out of Opaaru's arms, scrambling in the dirt toward her mother.
Kagome suddenly could have sworn she heard the sound of a bow being nocked with an arrow... and suddenly, almost as if it were premonition, she knew what was going on, when the both half-demons with sensitive hearing felt so unnerved.
Twang! the sound of the bowstring releasing the arrow --
"Ashita! Look out!" Kagome screamed, just a moment too late...
Nijimaru: (male) hogosha taiyoukai guardian of Niji no Mori. His true form is a large chestnut spirit-horse. Deceased (killed by Sesshomaru).
Saoirse: (female) uma-youkai leader of a herd patrolling the Niji no Mori. Deceased (killed by the taijiya).
Himawari (born Hanako): (female) daughter of Nijimaru and Saoirse. Transient uma-taiyoukai. She has an affinity with plants and nature, and often serves as a messenger of sorts.
Midoriko: (female) second daughter of Nijimaru and Saoirse. Presumed dead.
Hiuchimaru (born Hai'iro): (male) son of Nijimaru and Saoirse. Guardian of the Eien no Mori at the base of Mt Hakurei
Kiniromaru (born Kiniroko): (female) daughter of Nijimaru and Saoirse; leader of a band of uma-youkai patrolling the Niji no Mori. Deceased (killed by Inuyasha).
Opaaru: (male) juvenile uma-youkai; son of Hiuchimaru and Ashita. The only offspring of Hiuchimaru.
Kiribitou: (no gender) Hiuchimaru's demonblade, made of flint and infused with the malevolent soul of a fire elemental
Ashita (born Moriko): (female) hogosha/uma-youkai; ancestral ruler of the Eien no Mori, daughter of the previous Guardian; formal mate of Hiuchimaru and mother of Opaaru; she is faintly precognizant and can see possible futures up to 48 hours in advance
Koe (born Manatsu): (female) half-sister of Ashita (they share the same mother); she has a particularly powerful voice and can sometimes speak to souls in other dimensions or time periods
Mimiko: (female) hanyou daughter of Ashita and a human monk, formally adopted by Hiuchimaru
ashita - "tomorrow" or the near future
hai'iro - "gray color"
hana - "flower"
himawari - "sunflower"
hiuchi - "flint"
kin'iro - "golden color"
-ko - (feminine suffix)
koe - "voice"
kouma - "colt" or "filly" (basically, baby horse)
-maru - "circle" (also, a masculine suffix)
midori - "green color"
mimi - "ear(s)"
mori - "forest"
nee-chan - "older sister (familiar; used to address)"
niji - "rainbow"
taijiya - "demon exterminator" (roughly)