InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Fireside Chats ❯ Part Twenty-Eight: Into the Sunset ( Chapter 28 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Author's Note: I refer to Himawari's horse by standard horse descriptions. To give you an idea of how big he is, keep in mind that horses are measured height-wise from the top of the shoulders to the ground. A "hand" is a measurement of about four inches. A standard full-sized horse is about fifteen hands tall. The big draft horses that pull the Budweiser beer wagons are usually about eighteen hands. Also keep in mind that a horse that is eighteen hands is six feet tall at the shoulders. A horse over nineteen hands is considered almost unheard-of.

Disclaimer: In one paragraph, I mention the northern isle, Hokkaido, and Osaka, another major city on Honshu (main island of Japan). I'm not entirely sure if the term "Osaka" was used back in the Sengoku Jidai to refer to the area that is now known as Osaka. I initially used "Okayama" which is slightly north and west a bit of Osaka (I think... I'm not entirely sure, the maps are hard to read) but further research yielded that what we now call Okayama was not called that back then. So I changed it to Osaka..

Soundtrack: (aka the stuff I listened to while writing this chapter) Again, I used Inuyasha character singles to keep me focused, and thus I came up with the name of the chapter -- "Kaze no Naka e" (Into the Wind) and "Rakujitsu" (Sunset) -- since it's taking place late in the day.

  Fireside Chats
Part Twenty-Eight: Into the Sunset


Koe had had a bad feeling all day that something terrible was brewing. From the moment she'd awakened, she'd felt some misgivings. Ashita had insisted that she Saw nothing out of the ordinary, but the limitations of Ashita's gift were greater than its benefits, a fact that was far too easy to forget.

She'd been uncomfortable leaving Ashita behind while going with  Hiuchimaru to chase some half-dead zombies out of the forest before the fire-breathing one set fire to some of the trees. But she hadn't been able to put a reason to her unease... until the moment when she realized just how terrible a mistake she'd made.

Because of her impaired hearing, of course, she herself hadn't heard the call that brought Hiuchimaru around in an eye blink, nearly throwing her from his shoulders. Had she not been hanging onto the mane, she would have ended up face-first in one of the trees.

"What the hell are  you doing!" she'd yelled into the wind as the giant spirit-horse launched off in the opposite direction they'd been traveling.

That call, Hiuchimaru had replied, his telepathic voice pulsing with anxiety.

"What call?"

You didn't hear it? It was a call -- I think it was Opaaru, and it was a high distress call. Something has happened.

That single moment had been among the worst in her life. Hiuchimaru had youkai hearing, yes, and very good hearing at that, but the only way Opaaru could have called to him from this distance would have been if the colt had somehow forced a spirit-transformation. Since Hiuchimaru had taken pains to see to it that his son didn't transform until maturity, the fact that it had happened could only mean that something really terrible had happened.

Something must have happened to Ashita, for this to be happening.

The heat of fear and the racing of her heart triggered an unwelcome memory.

"What are you doing, Meuma?" The deep, metallic voice of the forest guardian boomed.

"I leave this creature in your care, Kuroshima. I cannot be responsible for her anymore. One would think she was a hanyou, with how ugly she is and how poor her senses are. I can assure you she is not, for I would never breed with a human, but that only adds to her mystery. Why, her sense of smell is no better than a human's, and her hearing is even worse than that! I leave her to you."

Kuroshima growled in the back of his throat; "What use do you think I have for the spawn of an outsider? It is your foal, Meuma, not mine."

"She will be a detriment to my herd. She cannot hear what she should, she cannot smell the difference between friend and foe, and she cannot command even a newborn horse-foal! She is useless to me!"

"What is its name?" Kuroshima bent his disgusted countenance upon the tiny child, a mere weanling barely even five years old. It had messy brown hair that tried to curl, a long face with faintly-equine features and bizarrely shaped ears. Her brownish-bronze eyes were filled with tears.

"I have called her Manatsu, because she was born on the Midsummer. You may name her whatever you wish."

"I have no desire to raise your foal, Meuma. Take it from my sight."

"Dispose of her as you will, Kuroshima." The leader mounted her horse and turned it to the south. "She is not my concern anymore."

Kuroshima sighed, realizing that arguing with Meuma's departing back was pointless. He glared at the creature left in his care. "I cannot be burdened with you. I'll give you five minutes to get lost; if you do not leave now, I will put you out of your misery."

"Wait, Father!" another voice rang out. "Don't!"

Kuroshima lowered his hand and turned to the human-like youkai behind him. "Give me one good reason why I should put up with this useless lump of flesh, Moriko."

Moriko bustled past her father and crouched beside the weanling, deliberately placing herself in front as a shield. "She's my sister, Father. Isn't that reason enough?"

Kuroshima snorted angrily; "If you wish to raise that thing, that is your prerogative. I will have nothing to do with it."

Moriko smiled at him; "I knew you had a heart in you, Father. You don't like killing foals any more than anyone else. I'll take care of her. Did Mother give a name?"

"Meuma named it Manatsu."

"Not 'it,' Father. She's a 'her.' The least you could do is to give her that much credit."

Kuroshima eyed his daughter critically. "Whatever. Let's go." He turned abruptly and started back into the forest's interior.

"Just a moment." Moriko picked up the youngster and set her onto her hip. "So, Manatsu, can you speak?"

"Yes," the little one said softly, in a voice that was remarkably sweet and clear. "Who are you?"

"I'm your sister, Moriko. That," she gestured with a toss of her head toward the forest, indicating the cranky old youkai disappearing into the shadows, "is my father Kuroshima. He may seem tough, but he's a very gentle person inside. He's the guardian of this forest here, and as long as you're with me, you'll be safe."

Manatsu's face folded up into a toddler's expression of frustration. "But... why doesn't Mama...?"

"Meuma, our mother, is only a broodmare. She only produces offspring. She's not very good at raising them. She doesn't understand. But she knew enough to bring you here, where I could find you. Don't be afraid, little one."

"Moriko, quit dawdling!" The annoyed voice drifted back from within the darkness amongst the trees.

"There's no need to rush, Father; White Soul Mountain is drawing the intruders away." Moriko strode into the forest's darkness, following her sire.

"How do you know that?" Kuroshima asked the same question he always asked. "Are you seeing it or are you guessing it?"

"I can see it."

"Honestly," Kuroshima said Moriko came to his side, "we need to change your name to Mirai or something."

Moriko laughed, somewhat nervously; "Mirai indicates distant future, Father. I can't see that far. Only just beyond tomorrow."

"Ashita, then, if your sight is so limited." Kuroshima glanced at her. She grinned at him.

"We have this discussion all the time, Father. We don't need to change my name right now. I'm perfectly fine with the name you gave me."

"What of that?" he indicated Manatsu with his icy gaze.

"Father, she's too young for a name change. We don't know what she can do! And for the last time, she has a gender!"

Kuroshima swatted branches aside as he walked, telepathically chastising the trees for being so careless. They knew better than to obstruct this well-used path. He traveled this path weekly. "How did you know about her? I thought you were over by White Soul Mountain's edge of the forest."

"I heard a voice calling me. A tiny voice crying for someone to help."

"So you heard it too? You think it was her?"

"Well, I don't know, but it drew me in this direction, so it could be."

Kuroshima pondered this. "If you're going to raise her, you keep an eye -- so to speak -- on that voice. That might be why she has such impaired senses. Maybe all her power is centered on her voice. If she has as powerful a voice as we suspect, we might consider renaming her something like Koe."

"It's too early for that, Father," Moriko reminded. "But I'll keep it in mind. I like how you said 'we,' though!"

"Humph. I'm your guardian, Moriko. Therefore I'll be guarding that little runt. Don't expect me to get emotionally attached though."

Forty years had passed since that day, and still Koe couldn't shake that memory. The utter despair of knowing her own mother didn't care what happened to her, exacerbated by the cold indifference of the forest guardian, still froze her very soul in memory, four decades removed.

When she was known as Manatsu, she had been bloody afraid of Kuroshima. Even though her sister insisted Kuroshima was a gentle person, she'd always been afraid of him. Upon reaching puberty, her control over her voice had increased to a degree that Kuroshima and Moriko -- newly christened Ashita by this time -- decided to rename her accordingly. From that point on, Kuroshima had been much more tolerable. Koe still hadn't liked or trusted him, but he had ceased being so bloody cold. He'd even taught her how to fight hand-to-hand, using only the claws she was born with, enabling her to become a very capable combatant, capable of protecting herself and her sister. It was one of the few youkai things she could do well. The Eien no Mori uma-youkai respected and feared her fighting skills, though they also knew about her poor hearing and poor sense of smell.

Her sister had been both mother and sister to her growing up. In gratitude to Ashita's dedication to her, Koe had devoted her life to her sister. Since Ashita had been the only person to wholly accept her, Koe resolved to repay that debt with her own life. All attempts at finding a mate for Koe had failed miserably -- most uma-youkai stallions were repulsed by her inability command respect from mundane horses, as well as her lack of  ability to smell the difference between stallions and or to hear the subsonic guttural calls of a stallion. She was deemed a failure as an uma-youkai, despite her affinity for horses.

When Kuroshima died, Hiuchimaru was called to the forest. By this time, Ashita had already produced three offspring of her own, but all three had chosen upon weaning to follow their sires into the open plains, to become standard uma-youkai. Hiuchimaru had been young for a forest guardian, but as the only son of one of the most well-known and strongest of forest guardians anywhere, he had the talent. Ashita had been smitten with him immediately, and her love for him had only grown with the years. Even Koe had grown to love him, because he didn't judge her on her shortcomings. He tended to talk gruffly to her, but even she could see the underlying affection in his demeanor. More often he was just momentarily annoyed with her when he spoke harshly than genuinely disgusted.

Koe was under no false pretenses, though. She knew that Ashita was the mortar that held them all together. Her sister was the mortar that held her very life together. To lose Ashita like this would be to shatter the family and to send Koe into a tailspin of despair and identity crisis.

She wanted to slaughter this young human female for daring to think she could save Ashita from such a wound. How could any human hope to save Ashita from a blow like this? Koe seriously doubted even Nijimaru would have been successful removing the arrow without harming Ashita... but Hiuchimaru had given his blessing, and Koe had to respect his decision.

She didn't have to like it, though.

For her part, Kagome wondered what had possessed her to do this. She had no idea what she was doing, despite all the experience she'd racked up bandaging up Inuyasha, Miroku and Sango. Even all the instruction in the world from her mom's books couldn't necessarily help.

Nevertheless, while Koe used her voice to hypnotize Ashita, to keep  her partly conscious but motionless, Kagome washed her hands in the hot spring and set about trying to extract the arrow without inflicting any further harm. For a moment she feared she'd never be able to do it, but then it almost felt like a pair of warm hands settled on top of hers and began guiding her hands through the movements.

In the dying light of the red sunset, she worked tirelessly, extracting arrow-shrapnel from the wound with a precision she wasn't convinced was her own. Just as she reached the base of the arrowhead, there was a great commotion on the other side of the clearing. She started to look up, but heard a voice say No, concentrate. Let the others handle that. Your job is to save her.

Apparently someone didn't like warm-and-fuzzy moments, Sango noted to herself as she watched with incredulity as the calm scene before her altered into chaos in a heart beat. No sooner had Hiuchimaru said that it appeared he was in her debt (for saving Mimiko) than an angry, aggressive voice had snarled

"That is what I feared you'd say, Hai'iro."

Hiuchimaru froze complete, then lunged sideways, placing himself physically in front of Sango and turning to use his back as a shield, so that Mimiko wouldn't get hurt. A black whip snaked out from the trees and lashed itself around him.

"Himawari," he said through gritted teeth. He pressed Mimiko into Sango's arms for a moment and wrenched the whip off, yanking it out of the hands of his attacker. "What are you doing here?"

"What, I can't come visit my darling little brother anymore?" retorted the voice as its source came forward. What emerged from the trees was the spitting image of Kiniromaru -- but in white, rather than gold. This female youkai had a very pale complexion and snow-white hair. Her clothing resembled Kiniromaru's armor -- close-fitting and functional, allowing free-range of motion -- though she lacked the mantle Sango recalled Kiniromaru wearing. However, this woman's clothing was of much better quality and seemed to flow with her body movements. Strapped at her waist were two blades -- a katana and a kodachi. She also had another coiled whip hooked to her belt.

For a splash of color, she had a sunflower bloom emblazoned on her breastplate. She also wore a small sunflower bloom in her hair.

Hiuchimaru angrily coiled up the whip and threw it at her. "If this is how you greet me, Himawari, I'd rather you didn't visit. This has been one hell of a day, and you're not helping."

"So I see," Himawari said ironically, surveying the carnage. "Well, that barbaric female of yours has definitely made a mess of the place. And you, I see, have gone soft."

There was a fluttering snort and sharp whinny from behind Himawari. A few seconds later, a youba stepped out of the shadows. Compared to a regular horse, it was huge -- Sango was no expert on horses, but that thing had to be well over twenty hands at least. Not only that, but it was a bizarre color -- not exactly white, but not exactly anything else. The blazing red eyes with cat-like pupils were characteristic of a youba, but she was pretty certain that they weren't prevalent in this part of Japan. Her father had told her that most of the youba had fled north to Hokkaido, or west past Osaka.

Himawari was watching Sango's reaction, apparently, because she patted the creature. "This is my partner, Shunme. He shares my distinct distaste for humans. Especially those who proclaim to be taijiya."

Hiuchimaru stepped back, apparently realizing something grave. "Opaaru," he said, his voice remarkably calm, considering how apprehensive his posture was. "Come over here."

The colt was instantly on alert. He scrambled to his feet and came to his father's side.

Hiuchimaru reached into his left sleeve and pulled out a small, flat dark gray stone. Handing it to Opaaru, without taking his eyes off Himawari, he said in a calm, even tone, "I want you to take your sister, and take this, and get out of the way. This isn't going to be pretty. I want you to protect your sister with everything you have. Put up every shield you know how to make, and hold them up for as long as you can."

The command in his voice brooked no argument, but the colt stared at him all the same even as he complied. "But... why are you giving me...?"

Sango frowned as she racked her memory. If she recalled correctly from her research, hogosha-youkai often used a focus-stone, which they used to store their powers of personal shielding when said powers were not in use. If this was the case, and if that stone was what she thought it was, then Hiuchimaru had just given his own focus-stone to his son, which meant that all of his personal shields would center around Opaaru and Mimiko, rather than around himself. And given how powerful his personal shields were, that said something for the danger he presumed his son and adopted daughter to be in.

"Just do it, Opaaru. Don't ask questions. It's for your own good. Now move."

"Aw," Himawari said ironically. "Do you think so little of me, that you'd expect me to attack a child?"

"Why not?" Hiuchimaru spat. "I know how you feel about both humans and hanyou. I've seen you kill human children before. You don't honestly think, after what just happened here, that I'd blindly trust you just because you're my sister? I trusted Hekigyoku, and look what he did."

"Well, then I guess there's no point wasting time. You have crossed the line, Hai'iro, when you proclaimed to be in any way grateful to a member of that hated human clan, the taijiya. It isn't bad enough that you've compensated for your almost-nonexistent fertility by having your mate breed with a human; now you proclaim to be indebted to a taijiya?" Himawari's eyes glowed red for a moment as she coiled up the whip in her hand, prepared to use it. "I'll make you see the error of your ways, one way or another!"


Afterword: First of all, yikes. (*wink*) I need to learn how to cut to the chase instead of long paragraphs of floofy nothingness. (*headdesk*) Hopefully the little episode of Koe-angst at the beginning didn't lose anyone's interest! I just wanted to develop her a little more character-wise, and figured that there had to be some kind of reason why an adult youkai would choose to stay with her sister rather than find her own mate. So... there you go. This was going to be a fight chapter, but it ran long, and so I think the fight chapter will be next chapter. Next chapter is looking at this time like it's going to run long... we'll see.

Also, a word on Himawari's weapons: If you're unsure what a kodachi is, do a look up on Google. In the anime-manga Rurouni Kenshin, Shinomori Aoshi uses a pair of kodachi instead of a regular sword. However, the description of Himawari with a kodachi is just to give you an idea of what she's equipped with. I don't think she's ever really going to use it (because I don't know exactly how it's used anyway -- I get the feeling from Rurouni Kenshin that Aoshi uses them in a way that's not normal for the use of a kodachi).

Original Characters:
(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.
: (female) second daughter of Nijimaru and Saoirse. Presumed dead.
(born Hai'iro): (male) son of Nijimaru and Saoirse. Guardian of the Eien no Mori at the base of Mt Hakurei.
(born Kiniroko): (female) daughter of Nijimaru and Saoirse; leader of a band of uma-youkai patrolling the Niji no Mori. Deceased (killed by Inuyasha).
: (male) juvenile uma-youkai; son of Hiuchimaru and Ashita. The only offspring of Hiuchimaru.
(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) younger half-sister of Ashita; 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.
Kuroshima: (male) previous guardian of the Eien no Mori; Ashita's sire. Deceased (cause of death undisclosed).
Meuma (birth name unknown): (female) once-dominant female uma-youkai in the Eien no Mori. Mother of Ashita and Koe. Current whereabouts unknown.
Rengoku: (male) a consort of Meuma. Sire of Koe. Current whereabouts unknown.
Shunme: (male) Himawari's youba partner

ashita - "tomorrow" or the near future
hai'iro - "gray color"
himawari - "sunflower"
hiuchi - "flint"
katana - traditional Japanese sword
kodachi - a blade that is between a knife and a sword; shorter and lighter than a katana
koe - "voice"
kouma - "colt" or "filly" (basically, baby horse)
meuma - "female horse; mare"
mirai - "future" (usually distant future)
mori - "forest"
rengoku - "purgatory"
shunme - "swift horse"
youba - "youkai horse" - the context I use it in is pretty much the same as the word used to describe Entei.