A Twist in the Myth

BY : Dunkelgelb
Category: InuYasha Crossovers > General
Dragon prints: 8747
Disclaimer: See full disclaimer in Chapter 1

Chapter summary: Kikyo and Kohaku travel the Japanese countryside together on a sort of ‘pilgrimage,’ visiting Shinto shrines and clearing villages of demon infestations as they search for leads to Naraku’s whereabouts.  Such a lead comes to them at very high speed when Naraku attacks Sayaka’s shrine and village.  They travel there as quickly as they can and find revolting photographic evidence of Naraku’s crimes via Kikyo’s ability to commune with the souls of the dead.

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A Twist in the Myth

Chapter 19 – Of a Miko and a Taijiya

 

(Soundtrack: Opeth – Eternal Rains Will Come)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUk4l_VMskg

            During the twilight darkness of early morning, in a small rice farming village a few dozen miles inland from Honshu’s western coast, a middle-aged man led his bag-saddled mare to the barn that stood near his house.  The bags contained rice he had just harvested from his nearby paddies, so he stopped his mare in front of his house to offload them for storage, then continued on.  Several yards before reaching the barn, the mare abruptly snorted, neighed, then reared back in fright, seemingly repelled by the presence of someone or some thing inside the barn.

            Keeping tight hold on the horse’s reins, the farmer tried to calm it.  “Whoa, girl!  What’s wrong?  Do you smell something?”

            Inside the farmer’s barn, something skittered across wood, something with claws.  Bravely, but perhaps somewhat foolishly, the farmer secured his mare to a wooden column supporting his house’s front porch, then marched to his barn and threw its sliding front doors wide open. Grabbing a pitchfork that leaned up against the inside of one of the doors, the farmer shouted out.  “Whoever’s in here, come out now!  Show yourself!”

            Peering back at the farmer from the darkness was first one pair of glowing red eyes, then ten.  They farmer gripped his pitchfork with both hands, as if making ready to fight, and one creature the glowing eyes belonged to leapt out into the growing light.  It was a snowy white fox demon, a kitsune not unlike Shippo.  Presumably the leader of its pack by its alpha nature, it puffed itself up impressively and snarled out at the farmer, challenging him to attack.  The farmer wavered in place, and when the fox demon made a forward feint, he dropped his pitchfork and ran.

            “Youkai!  Youkai!” the farmer cried out as he ran to his neighbors, seeking strength in their numbers.

            A terrible racket ensued in the village as one household after another roused to the farmer’s voice.  The village guard, a modest contingent of a dozen or so disciplined, diligent men, sounded their alarm bells, alerting anyone not within earshot of the farmer to the danger that had arisen.  The guards converged on the farmer’s demon-occupied barn, armed with swords and polearms where the farmer had only been armed with his pitchfork.

            Outside the village, along the well-worn dirt path connecting it to its distant neighbors, the sound of the village’s alarm bells reached the ears of a certain miko, one other than Kagome and Sayaka.  Walking in wooden sandals, she wore a miko’s customary red hakama and white haori, a wooden longbow and arrow quiver slung over her back.  Blessed with classic Japanese female beauty, she wore her long, glossy black hair bound behind her back in a low, elegant tail, her forelocks flowing down her chest to curve back upward over her shoulders and integrate with her tail.  Her alabaster skin glowed softly in the dim moonlight, her smoky grey eyes shimmering with both great intelligence and a miko’s spiritual power.

            Given the general darkness, one could overlook the extra pale complexion of the miko’s skin, for no blood moved within her.  She did not truly live.  Her body was a humanoid construct of bones, clay, and grave soil, animated by the dark magic of the ogre-witch Urasue.  Her name: Kikyo – InuYasha’s one-time lover, the woman from which Kagome was reincarnated, and once again, the target of Naraku’s vile machinations.

            At Kikyo’s side walked her ‘protector,’ none other than Sango’s brother, Kohaku.  At this point, Naraku had not yet attacked Sayaka’s village or resurrected Kagura.  As Naraku would taunt to Kagura in the coming hours, Kohaku had matured from an adolescent to a full adult in the seven or so years the wind witch had been absent.  He was no longer the lanky teen that Kagura knew him as, but a young, yet fully grown man of about Miroku’s stature.  He stood eye-to-eye with Kikyo now, and his increased height, combined with his increased muscle mass built from years of running around Japan on foot, fighting demons and pursuing his taijiya training, had necessitated significant modifications to the fit of his black/green taijiya bodysuit.

            Kohaku took to travelling with Kikyo soon after Naraku killed Kagura.  Up until shortly before then, Naraku had been controlling his mind to employ him in his various schemes.  That control began when the oni lord lured him, Sango, the taijiyas’ father, and the best of the other taijiya from their village to the castle of Kagewaki Hitomi, posing as Kagewaki himself.  Via demonic possession, Naraku surreptitiously used Kohaku to kill his own father, kill his fellow demon slayers, and seriously injure Sango before allowing him to be shot to death by Kagewaki’s archers.

            Maintaining the guise of Kagewaki, Naraku ordered the bodies of the taijiya, Sango and Kohaku included, to be buried in Kagewaki’s castle garden.  Simultaneously, he passed word to the taijiyas’ various demonic enemies that the taijiya home village was undefended, and a slaughter on the order of his attack on Sayaka’s village ensued.  Despite being buried alive, Sango clawed her way out of her shallow grave and Naraku took advantage of her disorientation to nurse her back to stable health, thereby ingratiating himself to her.  He used that ingratiation and trust to set her against InuYasha, but that plot of his ultimately failed, resulting in Sango joining the hanyou warrior’s pack on a permanent basis, eventually becoming one of his lovers.

            While Sango survived the blade of Kohaku’s kusarigama, his chain scythe, Kohaku himself did not survive Kagewaki’s arrows, and Naraku resurrected him into a depraved state of living death using a shard of the Shikon jewel.  Buried into the base of Kohaku’s neck, the shard sustained his body’s biological and neurological processes as normal, with the added effect of making him vulnerable to suggestion in the form of Naraku’s orders.  Naraku took full advantage, suppressing Kohaku’s memory and using him as his soldier and spy, using him as just another of his incarnations.

            Eventually, Naraku partnered Kohaku with Kagura to carry out his insidious plans, and it was the wind witch’s sultry, backhanded, yet fundamentally benevolent temperament toward him that began to eat away at the oni lord’s control over his mind.  One especially depraved order from Naraku, the order to kill all the inhabitants of a castle at which Kohaku and Kagura had been safeguarding the Infant, strained Kohaku’s latent conscience such that it broke Naraku’s control completely.  Having regained his memories and overcome Naraku’s control without his knowledge, Kohaku played along with the evil hanyou’s schemes to try and sabotage them from the inside.

            This period of Kohaku’s life came to an end with Kagura’s death at Naraku’s hands.  Naraku discovered his ruse of feigning amnesia, knowledge that Byakuya, his apparently loyal replacement for Kagura, had inherited from him, so Kohaku could no longer exploit it.  With the return of his memory also came terrible guilt for what he perceived as his crimes while under Naraku’s spell.  He knew that it was his blade that had killed his father and friends, as well as leaving a permanent, disfiguring scar in Sango’s back.  For this reason, he could not bear to be near Sango until he had achieved retribution against Naraku, so he began to travel with Kikyo, finding some measure of peace at her side and finding purpose in serving as her protector.  Kohaku embraced this peace and purpose knowing full well that one day, Kikyo might have to remove the jewel shard that sustained his life.

            Back in the present, Kohaku heard the village alarm bells as Kikyo did.  “Trouble ahead,” he said to her.  “Shall we check it out?”

            “Let’s,” Kikyo agreed.

            By the time Kikyo and Kohaku reached the farming village, the village guards had surrounded the demon-infested barn, a crowd of villagers having built up behind them to watch.  Kikyo’s miko outfit attracted attention right away and the villagers beseeched her to purge the demons for them.  The crowd parted for her and Kohaku and the two of them approached what looked like the guard in charge of the cordon around the barn.

            The guard turned to see Kikyo and Kohaku approaching.  His eyes widened at the sight of Kikyo’s red-and-white miko garb as well as Kohaku’s glossy black taijiya bodysuit, and a relieved smile crossed his face.  “A miko!  And a taijiya?  Thank God.  You’re just in time,” he said.

            “My name is Kikyo,” Kikyo introduced herself, then gestured to Kohaku beside her.  “And this is Kohaku, my bodyguard.  We heard the alarm bells.  What’s going on, here?”

            “We have some youkai holed up in this barn,” the guard explained.  “The owner of this barn says they’re kitsune, ten or more of them.  We’re…not quite sure how to fight kitsune in close combat, so we were about to burn the barn down.”

            “You mustn’t do that,” Kohaku warned sternly.  “Fire is a kitsune’s natural element.  The most you’ll do is provoke them to attack and make them stronger in the process.”

            Kikyo nodded at Kohaku.  “Kohaku and I can remove the demons without burning anything,” she said to the guard.  “Does the barn have a back door?”

            “Yes, it does, on the side opposite us,” the guard answered.

            “Kohaku, go to the back door.  Cover it and be ready to open it on my signal,” Kikyo instructed.

            Immediately, Kohaku was off, dashing around to the rear of the barn.  The Shikon jewel in him and the natural power of his body made his movements quick and graceful; he moved like youkai now, the very creatures he had been trained to fight.  Arriving at the back end of the barn, the taijiya found that the back doors were the same as the front, two sliding doors that met in the middle.  He readied his kusarigama, its sickle blade in one hand and its weighted chain in the other, and waited for Kikyo’s word.

            With Kohaku in position, Kikyo advanced, stepping past the guards circling the barn.  She reached into her white haori and retrieved a pair of enchanted seals, casting them at the barn as rectangular paper darts.  Guided by her reiki, the seals flew edge-first, then in the last few inches of their flight, they changed orientation to apply their backs to the barn’s outer wall on opposite sides of its front doors.  The seals detected the presence of youki inside the barn and their Japanese ideograms, handwritten by Kikyo in black ink, began to glow a bright, purifying blue.

            The seals’ glow enveloped the entire barn, turning it into a spiritual ‘oven’ that the kitsune would not be able to stand for long.  Kikyo raised her voice so that Kohaku would be able to hear her on the other side of the barn.  “Kohaku, open the back doors!”

            Kohaku transferred the weighted chain of his kusarigama from his left hand to his right, holding both the sickle and chain in his right hand to briefly free up his left.  He rushed forward and grabbed onto the handle of the right hand door.  His Shikon-enhanced strength enabled him to throw the door clean open in one thrust of his hand and he leapt back away from it, preparing himself to engage whatever came rushing out of the darkness inside.

            The Shikon jewel shard augmented most aspects of Kohaku’s physiology, including his eyesight, so even in the darkness, he could see the outlines of the kitsune within.  They appeared to be of assorted ages, ranging from full adults to young kits, each of them covered in rather beautiful, snowy white fur.  They growled out their rising discomfort as Kikyo’s purifying seals worked their effect, and the ‘alpha’ of the pack launched himself at Kohaku first, going for the taijiya’s throat.

            Kohaku proved too fast and too skilled, even for the alpha.  He dodged the kitsune’s lunge and used the weighted end of his kusarigama’s chain as a projectile weapon, casting it at the kitsune’s neck with great accuracy and carefully measured force.  The steel weight found its mark with a dull, bloodless thud and the kitsune gave a pitiful yelp as all strength seemed to flow out of it at once.  Unconscious but still living, the alpha kitsune augured into the grassy ground outside the barn and Kohaku bound its slender legs with his kusarigama’s chain, lifting it up and taking it under an arm.

            “I’ve got your leader,” Kohaku spoke out to the alpha’s pack as they cowered inside the barn.  He spoke with the knowledge that they could understand him; the kitsune were not mere animals, something that his father had made sure to teach to him and Sango.  “I won’t hurt him or any of you.  Now come on, follow me.”

            Hesitantly, the next largest, strongest kitsune crept out of the barn, followed by the rest of the pack, one by one.  Keeping his ears open for any sign of attack, Kohaku turned and bounded out of the village with the alpha in his arms, making for the forest that stood nearby.  The pack followed him, and once a safe distance inside the forest, he lay the alpha on the mossy forest floor.  He unbound its legs and leapt up into a nearby tree, watching it from a position of safety and waiting for it to come back to consciousness.

            The rest of the pack arrived shortly after, surrounding their unconscious leader.  Soon, the alpha stirred and shook its vulpine head to clear its senses, returning to its pawed feet.  Cocking its ears, it looked up to see Kohaku in the tree above, regarding him with uncertainty.  Addressing that uncertainty, Kohaku spoke: “I’m a demon slayer, but I only kill when it’s necessary.  Today, killing you wasn’t.”

            The alpha blinked in comprehension, though unable to render an intelligible reply.  Smiling pleasantly, Kohaku pointed over a shoulder, in the general direction of the village he’d removed the alpha from.  “From now on, you and your pack should probably stay away from human villages.  Now go, and be safe.”

            With a respectful dip of its head, the alpha turned and ran, deeper into the forest, followed closely by its pack.  The foxes disappeared into the wooded darkness and Kohaku hopped down from his perch, leaving the forest and moving rapidly to return to Kikyo.  He found her waiting at the village’s outskirts, along a road that led out of the village in the direction they had been travelling before they’d heard the alarm bells.  She held a small canvas pouch in a hand and as he reached her, she tossed it to him.

            “I’ve negotiated our pay,” Kikyo said as Kohaku caught the pouch.  The taijiya opened it and poured its contents into a hand, finding a shiny pile of assorted gold coins.

            Kohaku’s chocolate brown eyes widened at the amount he counted in his palm.  “This is very generous!” he exclaimed to Kikyo.

            “The villagers were very grateful,” Kikyo said.  “The kitsune caused no injuries, and the village guard didn’t have to burn down the barn the kitsune had occupied.”  Noting the complete absence of blood on Kohaku’s bodysuit, either human or demon blood, she added with a knowing smile: “You let the kitsune live.”

            “Yes,” Kohaku admitted.  Privately, he was relieved that his and Kikyo’s act of helping out the villagers did not end with overt violence.  “They weren’t evil or anything.  There was no need to kill them.”

            “You have a good heart, Kohaku,” Kikyo complimented.  “You’ve done well to keep it, after all the things you’ve seen.”

            “And done,” Kohaku punctuated Kikyo’s compliment grimly.  “I guess…I guess I’d like to avoid adding to that list whenever I can.”

            Right at that moment, Naraku began his attack on Sayaka’s shrine and village.  The flux in his demonic aura traveled at the speed of light, originating along Honshu’s northeast coast and travelling hundreds of miles to reach Kikyo and Kohaku’s position near Honshu’s western coast in a fraction of a second.  Kikyo bristled as the echo of Naraku’s youki rippled over her and she looked away from Kohaku to face the direction the echo had come, facing due east.  In reality, she directed her eyes to a forested horizon, but she focuses her miko senses to ‘see’ much further, visualizing Naraku’s aura as a mass of inky blackness upon a greyed-out, neutral plain.  A mass of light, the aura of a miko other than herself, collided with Naraku’s as if in combat.

            “Kikyo-sama?” Kohaku asked, concerned by the stern expression on Kikyo’s face.  Briefly, he looked in the direction she did, seeing nothing but trees but knowing the miko saw more by her Shinto training.

            “It’s Naraku,” Kikyo revealed, much to Kohaku’s alarm.  “He does battle with a miko somewhere to our east.  The distance between us and them is great.”

            “Is it Kagome-sama that Naraku’s fighting with?” Kohaku asked further. If it was Kagome, then Sango probably wasn’t far removed from the scene.  His shame caused him to eschew Sango’s social company, but he still felt compelled to intervene, protect her from danger, especially when Naraku was involved.

            Kikyo looked away from Naraku’s aura and that of the unidentified miko, turning her head to her right to face further southward.  There, she saw Kagome’s aura shining as an unmistakable beacon of purity in the hundred-mile-plus distance.  “No, this is someone else,” she said to Kohaku, to the taijiya’s partial relief.  “But if I can feel Naraku’s aura at this distance, then Kagome can, as well.  She, InuYasha, and all of their friends will undoubtedly move to pursue him, including your sister.”  Kikyo paused briefly to study the conflict on Kohaku’s face.  “I understand your reluctance to see her.  Therefore, I leave the decision to investigate to you.”

            Kohaku shook his head.  “I won’t be a coward,” he said.  “Let’s go!”

(Soundtrack: Cauldron – The Leaven/Fermenting Enchantress)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6v_eXpb2iQ

            Kikyo nodded and invited Kohaku to follow her down the road they stood in, further away from the nearby farming village.  Once she was certain that no one could observe her or her taijiya bodyguard together, she flexed her reiki and summoned her Shinidamachu, her insectoid, serpentine ‘soul collectors’ to her side.  Youkai by nature, they had been following her and Kohaku all along, trailing them from above and made invisible by simple, light refracting energy barriers powered by their youki.  Now, the soul collectors dispensed with their invisibility and descended.

            Hovering close to the dirt road, five soul collectors sidled up to each other and interlinked their short, reptilian arms to lock themselves together, creating a pallet-like surface on which Kikyo and Kohaku could ride.  The miko and taijiya stepped aboard, then knelt atop the ad-hoc aircraft the soul collectors created and they lifted off, climbing above the height of the nearby forests and turning east.  Using their youki for thrust, the Shinidamachu accelerated slowly so as not to throw their passengers off.

            In the air, loaded with about 200-250 pounds between Kikyo and Kohaku, Kikyo’s soul collectors had a limited top speed, perhaps fifty miles per hour.  This was fast compared to the general state of human transportation of the era, but it was only half the top speed of InuYasha and Sesshomaru’s combined pack.  With their greater speed in the air, achieved through Sesshomaru’s and Ah-Un’s natural ability to fly combined with Shippo’s and Kirara’s ability to transform into airborne forms, the two dog demons and their friends reached Sayaka’s village two hours ahead of Kikyo and Kohaku.

            Separated by hundreds of miles, Kagome and Kikyo each used their miko senses to observe Naraku’s behavior at Sayaka’s village as they approached.  Kikyo could feel Naraku’s aura absorbing Sayaka’s to some extent, and then she could feel the oni lord’s demented orgy between himself, Sayaka, Byakuya, and Sayaka’s nine junior priestesses begin in earnest.  Right then, Kikyo felt grateful that her imitation body didn’t have a stomach to purge.  Even the emotional impact of such depravity committed against a fellow miko was blunted; after all, her body was running on only part of a soul, the balance made up by the spirits of the dead that her Shinidamachu brought to her.

            Kikyo and Kohaku arrived over Sayaka’s seaside village by mid-morning, well after InuYasha, Sesshomaru, and their respective packs had departed to return to Edo.  No actual village remained there for the miko and taijiya to find; InuYasha had flung all of it into a Meido created by his Tetsuseiga’s Zangetsuha technique to prevent the villagers, turned into undead monsters by Naraku’s demonic parasites, from escaping into the countryside and causing further havoc.  In the village’s place lay a vast, crescent-shaped crater, now filled with seawater that glimmered in the rising sunlight.

            The only human structures left in the area were those of Sayaka’s shrine, positioned up a forested hill outside the reach of InuYasha’s Meido.  Kikyo guided her soul collectors to fly herself and Kohaku to it, descending to land near the shrine’s red torii gate.  “Naraku isn’t here,” Kikyo said to Kohaku as she stepped down onto solid ground, looking around her and searching for any trace of the oni lord’s aura.  She found none.  “We should see if there’s anyone inside the shrine.”

            Kikyo’s soul collectors, having joined to form a flying pallet, separated into individuals and loitered in the air above the shrine, while Kikyo herself and Kohaku walked briskly along the path connecting the torii with the shrine’s worship hall.  Using one hand to keep the scabbard of his katana steady for a quick draw, Kohaku approached the hall’s front doors before Kikyo, throwing them open and stepping through them to confront whatever danger lay inside.

            The worship hall was dark and empty, but a certain smell hung in the air.  Kohaku sniffed experimentally and wrinkled his nose.  “It smells…odd in here.  Is that…semen?” he asked, taken aback by the implications of smelling such a thing inside what was nominally a place of worship.

            Kikyo could not immediately confirm or deny what Kohaku smelled.  Excluding her hearing and her eyesight, her own physical senses were limited by the artificial nature of her body; she could not taste, smell, or feel as a normal woman could.  Stepping inside the worship hall behind Kohaku, she looked to one corner of the hall to see an assortment of very large, concave brass pans piled up on top of each other.  Inspecting them more closely, she saw traces of viscous white fluid clinging to their edges and insides.  Now able to answer Kohaku definitively, she said: “Yes, it is.”

            Kohaku followed Kikyo over to the pans, seeing the remains of Sayaka’s customers’ ‘offering’ for himself.  “God.  Is this Naraku’s?

            “No, this semen contains only human energy.”

            “Whether it’s human or demon in origin, why would there be semen in a worship hall, of all places?” Kohaku wondered.

            “Sometimes, when donations run low, a priestess may resort to unconventional methods to fill her coffers,” Kikyo replied furtively.

            “Have you…have you ever…well, you know…?” Kohaku asked in embarrassment.

            “Have I ever engaged in sexual activity, or have I ever supported my shrine by selling my body, you mean?” Kikyo countered with a rare twinkle in her smoky grey eyes.

            “Uh…” Kohaku faltered.

            Kikyo smiled, then turned her attention to the worship hall’s back door.  “There’s nothing here.  Let’s check out back.”

            In the small courtyard that lay between the worship hall and the bath house, Kikyo and Kohaku recoiled at what they found: faintly smoldering piles of human remains, the bones of the village guards that investigated Naraku’s demonic presence at the shrine, and those of Sayaka’s junior priestesses.  Naraku had implanted all of them with his demonic parasites and set them upon InuYasha and his friends, leaving them no choice but to defend themselves with deadly force.  Once they were cut down, InuYasha directed Shippo to immolate their bodies, fearing they could somehow rise again and attack someone else.

            Kohaku spotted the charred form of one of Naraku’s parasites in one of the piles and approached it cautiously.  He unsheathed his katana and skewered the dead monster, dislodging it from the surrounding detritus and lifting it up to get a better look at it.  It was as some kind of mutated spider.  “Look at this,” he said to Kikyo.  “What is this thing?”

            Kikyo moved to Kohaku’s side, channeling her reiki into a hand and reaching out to the parasite suspended by Kohaku’s sword.  The parasite evaporated into glowing ash as the reiki purified it.  “It is demonic in nature,” Kikyo said.  “One of Naraku’s creations, undoubtedly.”

            At her command, Kikyo’s Shinidamachu flew overhead and descended to the smoking piles, extracting the spirits of the dead as spheres of glowing blue light and bringing them back to their mistress.  Kikyo took one and used her reiki to manipulate it between her hands, closing her eyes and concentrating her mind to commune with it.  The spirit was that of one of the guards; in her mind’s eye, Kikyo could see and even hear the guard’s last moments, as he made a brief, futile strike at Naraku that ended only in his own bloody death.

            Kohaku looked on, mildly disturbed as Kikyo pulled the spirit to her chest, absorbing it into her body.  She breathed a sigh of relief as the spirit’s energy merged with her internal reserves, giving her a much-needed boost of raw life force.  The next spirit she drew to her was that of one of Sayaka’s junior priestesses.  Before absorbing it, she communed with it as she had the guard’s, and for better or worse, it contained decidedly more information.

            From the much younger miko’s perspective, Kikyo watched a nude Naraku forcibly drain an equally nude woman – another miko – of what appeared to be her reiki.  Visibly older than her junior priestesses, the woman had quite the voluptuous body, her hair cropped very close to her head.  Kikyo heard Naraku speak the woman’s name – Sayaka.  Then, the oni lord’s body was as a withered husk, and the influx of Sayaka’s purifying light appeared to reverse the withering, returning him to his full evil, muscular, well-endowed glory.  Shortly after, Naraku achieved a powerful erection and initiated his tentacle-coiled, semen-drenched bath house orgy with Sayaka and the other mikos, with the view of the one whose eyes Kikyo co-opted soon filled by a nude, highly-aroused Byakuya.

            To her horror, Kikyo found that the young woman suffered two deaths.  The first came when Naraku used one of his transparent tentacle cocks to pump thick, white demon seed into her lungs.  Her vision darkened to pure black as she drowned, then abruptly returned as Sesshomaru used his Tenseiga to revive her and the eight other women.  Next, Kikyo could see InuYasha, Sesshomaru, and all the other members of their packs gathered around.  Kagome comforted each, speaking to them and asking what Naraku had been after.

            Before any could answer, Kikyo watched the junior priestess to whom Kagome spoke suddenly double over, clutching her sides in pain.  Naraku’s parasite erupted from her chest in a bloody deluge, driving Kagome and the others backward.  The woman through which Kikyo spectated collapsed as well, blood spattering the floorboards beneath her as her own parasite ‘hatched.’  Screams and shouts ensued as more arachnoid parasites clawed their way out of the other women and even the guards outside the bath house, their ruined bodies animated beyond death by Naraku’s magic.  To Kikyo’s relief, the terrible scene ended when InuYasha, back-to-back and shoulder-to-shoulder with his other friends as they defended themselves, used Tetsuseiga to cleave her avatar’s head from her neck.

            Distantly, Kikyo heard Kohaku calling her name as she came out of her telepathic reverie.  The taijiya grabbed her arm to shake her and she came back to herself with a visible jolt, stepping back away from the spirit her soul collector held.  “Kikyo!” Kohaku shouted with concern.

            Blinking a few times and shaking her head, Kikyo gave Kohaku a bewildered look as she regained her senses.  “I’m okay,” she assured, grasping Kohaku’s outstretched arm with both hands to steady herself.

            “The spirit showed you something,” Kohaku stated, relaxing a bit.  “What did you see?”

            Carefully, Kikyo processed what she saw in the junior miko’s soul.  Beyond the dark pleasure Naraku took in violating Sayaka and her girls, Kikyo perceived the real reason for his appearance; he was ill in some way, and a miko’s reiki was the medicine for that illness.  The oni lord’s murder of the younger women was sadistic, yet practical; they were witnesses to his reiki intake and killing them would provoke Sesshomaru to use Tenseiga.  Implanting his parasites in them ensured that in the event the daiyoukai did use the healing sword, they wouldn’t live long enough to tell what they had seen, and then be totally beyond saving.

            Kikyo looked into Kohaku’s rich brown eyes.  If she told him what she had learned, she would be putting him in further danger; Naraku had enough reasons to kill him, already.  “You don’t want to know,” she said.  “All you need to know is that Naraku is responsible.”

            Recognizing the steely intensity in Kikyo’s gaze, Kohaku relented immediately.  “Okay.”

            Kikyo stepped back up to the spirit of the young priestess that her soul collector held, then brought it to her chest, as she had done with the guard’s.  “I apologize for this,” she whispered to the spirit.  “Your journey to the afterlife will be only slightly delayed.”

            The spirit osmosed through Kikyo’s white haori, entering her body to join the guard’s.  Kikyo absorbed all the other spirits in this way, feeling their energy buoying her own inside her.  Even then, she would need more.  On the way over, she had felt a great mass of human life force disappear abruptly.  By Kikyo’s speculation, if Naraku had infected the bodies of the villagers downhill from the shrine as he had done with his victims at the nearby bath house, then it stood to reason that InuYasha would use his Meido Zangetsuha to quarantine them all in the netherworld.  In that case, their journey to the afterlife was greatly expedited, though at the cost of Kikyo being unable to use their spiritual energy for herself.

            Having absorbed all available souls, Kikyo gestured to the piles of smoldering bones and clothing.  “We should bury these, now,” she said to Kohaku.  “Then, we will pray, to help the dead find some measure of peace.”

            Kohaku nodded in agreement, then walked over to a wooden tool shed that stood along one of the shrine courtyard’s walls.  Inside, he found several garden implements, including a pair of shovels.  The taijiya took both and handed one to Kikyo; the miko was not averse to physical labor.  Together, the two of them excavated four neat graves in the earth to one side of the cobblestone path connecting the bath house to the worship hall.  They accomplished this in good time; Kohaku’s Shikon-enhanced strength made digging through earth easy, and by the ogre-witch Urasue’s design, Kikyo’s body was significantly stronger than her previous, ‘real’ one, granting her digging ability similar to Kohaku’s.

            Kikyo and Kohaku transferred the remains of the dead to their graves with as much reverence as possible, given the circumstances.  The incinerated bodies were mixed together and proper identification, even separation was impossible.  Kikyo made sure to purify Naraku’s parasites out of them, so at the very least, they wouldn’t be laid to rest with the very monsters that had killed them.

            Filling the graves back up with dirt, Kikyo and Kohaku knelt before them and began to pray for those they had interred there.  Their prayers were as honest and genuine as any they had made in their lives.  They prayed not only for the dead, but for their own fates.  They shared the dead’s misery: Kikyo and Kohaku had both been killed before, placed in a grave by Naraku’s actions, fifty years apart.  They had risen from their graves by unnatural means and they knew that one day, they would return to them, as they each lived on their own borrowed time.

            Finishing the prayer she shared with Kohaku, Kikyo directed her Shinidamachu to reform into their flight pattern, then she and her taijiya bodyguard climbed back aboard.  The miko’s internal energy reserves had been only partially replenished by the few souls she had just absorbed, and she needed more.  In the Sengoku Jidai, the dead were plentiful, their souls able to be gathered in huge numbers by the various provincial wars going on around the country.  Having travelled Japanese lands for several years in her current, semi-undead state, Kikyo knew of a safe place relatively near Sayaka’s shrine, a hot spring surrounded by a forest that bordered on two warring provinces.  There, she could dispatch her soul collectors to the battlefields and, upon their return, refuel herself as she needed.

 

-To be continued-



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