- Text Size +

Chapter 17: Under the New Moon part 3

Jun's feet ached. Walking was such an ineffective method of travel. Her legs could barely support her. They were meant to support her weight during short bursts such as when she hung on a branch or while she slept upside down. But this new function was new to her body. And it was clear; her legs did not like it. Her muscles pulsed with pain, begging to be granted a respite from this ridiculous action. Jun's eyes turned upwards into the moonless night sky. That was where she belonged. With the clouds, wind, and stars as her companions, not mud, rocks, and dirt. A bird flew overhead free of the burden the earth had shackled her with. This was no way for a demon-bat to live. Jun suppressed a growl and returned her gaze to her aggravating companion. For the past day and night, Jun had followed behind the female oni, who called herself Moriko, with no indicator of their destination. If not for Moriko's vague promises of revenge against the half-demon, Jun would have abandoned the sake-gulping demon two days ago. The thought of that red-clad mongrel sent another flare of pain roaring up her back. She could still feel his claws ripping through her body and robbing her of her most precious attribute. That disgusting creature would die for this indignity. Painfully and slowly.

If they ever sought him out.

Jun had lost track of which forest they were in. From the scents of rice paddies, incense, and firewood she was picking up, they were entering human dominated territory. What possible purpose humans could have in her revenge, Jun could not be sure. But Moriko trudged on, sipping her massive bottle of sake all the while. Jun wondered if she had made an error in following this drunkard demon. The two never spoke save for Moriko altering their nearly endless expedition or making another empty promise for revenge that would satisfy them both. There were no details given or any discussion of Moriko's grudge against the half-demon.

Jun did not care for the latter, but she would require some indication that this demoness had half her wits about her.

Truly, only desperate curiosity and a seething rage kept her legs moving forward. It would take months or perhaps years to return to demon-bat territory in the far north. And even she if did, their great leader Taigokumaru would humiliate her, at best, for her grounded state or eliminate her for being useless to the clan. Most likely both. His son and heir Tsukuyomaru would, perhaps, take pity on her. But that meant banishment. Attempting to establish her own territory in the demon filled north with no wings was an impossible task. Either the Birds of Paradise would pluck her from the ground like a centipede or those aggravating wolf tribes would overwhelm her with their numbers.

Jun growled. Her fate seemed to end only one way.

But as long as she could bring the half-demon's head to hell with her, death would be welcome.

Jun's ears heard Moriko stop short. The bat-demoness nearly halted and shot a glare at her companion.

"We've arrived," Moriko said simply.

Jun glanced around her. In her reverie she had not noticed that they had gone off the beaten path and entered a thicket. The trees were packed tightly together making grand movements difficult. The ground was slick with fresh blood. A sizable boulder sat in the center of the odd location. Old and withered bodies encircled it, as if something or someone had quite literally sucked the life out of them. They were human women from their lack of fangs, claws, and slender bodies. But most curious of all was the occupant of the boulder.

A human man pale skin and long curly hair sat before them. His narrow eyes beckoned them to approach. Blood trailed down the corner of his already colored lips. Though Jun doubted the red of his lips came from rouge. He wore traditional human warrior armor with a purple surcoat overtop. There was no family crest on his robes. Why Moriko wanted to meet a human with no clan connection was beyond her reasoning. At the base of the stone laid a great war axe. The axe-blade larger than any human she had seen before. The weapon towered over the man even as he sat. Jun wondered how the human was able to use such a weapon in battle.

Moriko approached with zest. "I had a rather difficult time finding you."

The man chortled. A laugh that lingered in Jun's ears longer than she liked. "I prefer to keep my horde moving rather than stay in one place."

Moriko scoffed. "Scrawny humans do not count as a horde."

The man shrugged, unoffended. "So you say. But they do have their uses."

"It is those uses that I seek."

The man's narrow eyes fell to Jun. The demoness flinched under his gaze. "Perhaps…." He said, his voice like a snake. "This is best discussed privately?"

Moriko motioned to Jun. "She's part of this."

"Part of what?" Jun exclaimed. "You promised me revenge! Not some torturous walk so you can speak freely with your damn human friend!"

"You believe me to be human?" the man said, his lips forming into a vile smile. "How quaint."

Jun sniffed the air and immediately realized her error. It was faint and difficult sense, especially with two demons so close together, but there was a third demon odor among them. But it was hidden among a haze of human scents.

Jun sneered at the newcomer. "So you hide amongst humans? Why? Unable to fend for yourself?"

The man gestured to the withered bodies. "Witness my bounty from this night alone and tell me again that I am unable to fend for myself."

Jun growled, still unamused by the stranger. "You have others hunt for you while you reap the rewards. A trait of laziness and cowardice."

The man scoffed as he reached for Moriko's sake. "This coming from the demon who uses her music to control the actions of others?"

Jun hissed at the hidden demon. "My music is art! It took me years to learn the most captivating songs and even longer to find demons susceptible to its beauty. You just round together a group of desperate humans and run amok in the countryside! There is no art or effort in how you hunt!"

"Enough!" Moriko barked. "I did not come all this way to debate hunting practices."

"Then why did we come all this way!? Certainly not to kill the half-demon!"

"You're wrong, Jun. That is exactly why we are here."

Jun could only stare at the ogre demon.

"This is Gatenmaru," Moriko introduced finally. "He is a moth demon and leader of a substantial amount of human bandits. Combining his bandits with my horde and the half-demon will fall to our might."

"And what is my role in all this? You seem as if you already have what you need in this coward."

Moriko shook her head. "Your role is your music. As disgusting as the half-demon is, for my purposes, I need him alive."

Jun bared her fangs. "Alive?! You want him alive!? You promised me vengeance! I have no interest in your purposes! The half-demon dies!"

"He will die," Moriko assured her. "But at the moment he may have knowledge that would benefit me. Once I extract what he knows, he is yours to torment. My horde does not understand the term 'bring back alive', that is why I need them under your control."

Jun seethed but retracted her fangs. She nodded at Gatenmaru who seemed more interested in finishing off the sake bottle. "And him? What do you need him for?"

"I have been informed that the half-demon either by weakness or misplaced morality will not kill humans."

Jun smirked as the pieces joined together in her mind. "I see."

"This is all dependent on my agreeing to your convoluted scheme," Gatenmaru said, tossing the empty bottle of his shoulder. "You have yet to divulge how this benefits me."

"What is there to discuss?" Moriko said. "When I get my lands back from the usurper you and your men will be paid accordingly."

Gatenmaru spat at the ground. "Payment, humph. I am a bandit, not a mercenary. When I want payment, I take it."

"A minor difference," Moriko shot back. "You and your men will be paid for your services. More than they make on your regular raids, when I retake the lands stolen from my clan."

Gatenmaru chuckled. "If, when. My horde moves on sure things, not vague promises from an ousted demoness."

"When you and your men raid a village, do you not move on the promise of riches, women, and rice?"

"That promise is always fulfilled," Gatenmaru replied. "Besides, this alliance seems to be forged solely on revenge." The demon bandit leaned against a tree and folded his arms. "I have no quarrel with this half-demon and to see two full-bloods so ruffled by one mongrel is laughable. Perhaps it would be best for me to recuse myself and watch the two of you stumble over each other to kill one fool."

Moriko growled her hand moving to the kabano on her hip. Gatenmaru frowned and dropped his arms closer to his great-axe. Jun glanced between them, curious as to who would prevail in a bout. But if one killed the other, the plan would collapse and her opportunity for revenge would be lost. Like it or not, Jun needed these two. Gatenmaru just needed a proper motivation.

"The half-demon travels with a beautiful priestess."

Gatenmaru's frown dissipated almost immediately, though his eyes remained on Moriko. "What's that?"

"The half-demon travels with a beautiful priestess, named Kagome. She is the twin sister of the priestess Kikyo. Surely you've heard of Kikyo, correct?"

This time, Gatenmaru faced her fully. "What demon has not heard of Kikyo?"

"Then you understand the opportunity Moriko has presented you with," Jun said. She could already see the lust build in Gatenmaru's narrow eyes. Jun motioned to the withered corpses of women at his feet. "Judging by your tastes, his companion Kagome would be more than adequate payment for your services. There is a little one too named Kaede, if your taste runs that far."

Gatenmaru licked his lips. "A woman is a woman. Age makes no difference."

"In any event imagine it, this priestess Kagome falling under your sword."

"Kagome and her sisters?"

"I can promise you Kagome. I cannot promise you her sisters."

Gatenmaru nodded. "Fair enough."

"So, you will join us?" Moriko asked, her fangs retracted.

"Aye," Gatenmaru said with a smirk. "Who could turn down such a prize?"

Behind them Jun heard a twig snap and the rustle of fast moving feet. Human feet. In the air she could smell human but once again there was a faint demon scent coming from the bushes.

"This conversation is no longer private," Jun announced.

"Chief!" a nasally voice shouted. "Chief! There's a problem at the camp! Chief!"

Gatenmaru sighed. "Remove yourselves. I have yet to reveal my true form to my compatriots."

"We will remain in contact," Moriko said with a nod.

As they reentered the forest, Jun laid eyes on an oddly shaped stone. She could have sworn she saw it tremble under her gaze.

"Jun!" Moriko shouted.

The demon-bat grunted in acknowledgment and brushed past the stone.

A stone was not worth her time.

Not when revenge was within her sights.


The demon Gatenmaru rose to intercept his sprinting comrade. The two exchanged words, something about an attack on the camp by a group of humans. As the comrade spoke, Gatenmaru became incensed and cuffed the newcomer over his bald head for his foolishness. The bandit leader dragged the semi-conscious man through the bushes, presumably back to the camp to survey the damage of this supposed attack. The rustle of their footsteps echoed through the cramped forest. With each passing second, the hidden demon's steps grew fainter and fainter until all was silent under the dark gaze of the new moon.

The silence remained until a newt crawled over a quivering rock in the bushes. The rock tumbled and burst into cloud of azure smoke, accompanied by a balloon-like pop. The newt scrambled away and a tanuki spilled out of the cloud, his body still quivering.

Hatchi wasn't sure who to thank for his current fortune. Neither the gods nor the teachings of Buddha really spoke to demons. But the trembling raccoon felt some deity needed to be honored for keeping him alive and undetected from the treacherous trio he had witnessed. His fur stood on end to such a degree that Hatchi was sure he'd be mistaken for a porcupine. His purple kimono was drenched with his sweat and judging from the large dark circle on the center of his pants, he needed to find a new pair very soon. Still…at least he was alive. For now…..

The image of one the three demons returning crossed his mind and Hatchi very nearly added another dark circle to his pants at the thought of it.

"Oh…..why do I always listen to that crooked monk….." he whimpered. "'Go north', he said. 'There's no danger in the north', he said. Mother was right; I should have been a ferryman…."

Still, the life of a ferryman didn't offer the same rewards the monk provided him. But then, at least the payment of a ferryman was consistent and didn't involve sneaking into the camps of dangerous demons.

With a sigh Hatchi took a leaf and placed it on his forehead. His minor demon aura flared and in a puff of blue smoke, his body shifted into a golden gourd. As he took to the air, the raccoon wondered where he could find his master. He sniffed the air around him and decided to go with the usual method.

Follow the scent of wine and whores.


Gatenmaru stood in front of his tattered camp, his lips curled downward into a scowl. His men nursed broken noses, damaged ribs, and a diminished morale. His cocoon had been destroyed, the monk missing, and the few women he was saving for later, gone as well. His men gathered before him, ghastly silent as he mused over their current standing. Gatenmaru's tongue flickered behind his teeth. He wished to drain the blood of each one of these incompetent fools. If they could not even hold the camp while he away for the night, what good were they?

"Tell me again, what happened…." He muttered, his voice barely audible.

"Ch-chief….we already told you three times already…." His lieutenant, Kouji said.

"Tell me!" Gatenmaru snapped, nearly revealing his fangs in the process.

Kouji immediately dropped to his knees. "When you took the women away for the evening, we did as you said and remained in camp. We were glad you left us with enough women to keep us occupied. But then….some boy dressed in red attacked us!"

"A boy?"

"Yes…..he looked to be in his adolescence. He had long black hair and wore a red kimono. He attacked the men while a priestess freed the monk and the women…."

"You allowed a boy, barely a man, and a girl to beat you and rob you of our prizes. All in the span of a single night?"

"Y-yes chief…"

"The boy was a monster!" one man shouted. "He fought like a demon!"

"Aye, chief, aye!" an older bandit exclaimed. "I've never been hit with such force! It was like being hammered by a boulder!"

Gatenmaru growled, silencing them at once. "Where is this boy now?"

"We…do not know…chief…."

Gatenmaru's hand thrust forward, wrapping around Kouji's neck. His weak human windpipe already giving way under his grip. A gurgled cry for mercy squeezed out of his lips. "Then your services are no longer required, Kouji."

"C-C-C-Chief…please….!" His body writhed in Gatenmaru's grip. Drool rolled down the corners of his mouth while his eyes were filled with fear. The moth demon placed his free hand onto the minion's forehead and in a single twist, his neck resembled a knot. A panicked gasp rang out among the horde as Kouji's corpse dropped to the ground. Gatenmaru kicked the body at the gathered men who quickly scrambled out of its path. He could have drank Kouji's blood as well, but that meant exposing his true nature. Moreover, the blood of human males tasted disgusting.

Gatenmaru strolled towards his horde, their trembling evident. "We will find this boy."

"B-b-but chief…it…was…just one i-incident…shouldn't we just…let it…go?"

In one motion the fool's neck was in Gatenmaru's hand. "If we allow one foolish boy to attack us with impunity then we are no longer a horde to be feared! Imagine if this little incident gains traction. What happens when some lord, such as Takeda, or Oda, or, Hojo hears how easily we were bested! How soon until their men crest our hills!"


Gatenmaru dropped the idiot and mounted his horse. Fools, all of them. Moments like this made the demon wonder why he bothered with this little scheme. A zealous boy and his priestess maiden would never dare rob him of his bounties in his demon form. It didn't matter to him how long it took. The boy would be found.

"But how do we find him chief? We don't even know his name…."

"He travels with a priestess does he not?"

"Y-yes chief…."

The demon bandit smirked. "Then we simply do what we do best. I have an inkling that he will find us in due time. And when we do, I want his head on a spike. All will know the penalty for defying us! Is that understood?"


His horse galloped up the road to the northeast. His demon blood boiled.

This boy would die. Painfully and slowly.



Kikyo suppressed a sigh. Her body went through the needed motions to dispel the incoming demon, while her mind wondered how many more demons were out in the forest this evening. The night of the new moon had always been a time of wariness for her. While the start of a new moon cycle meant new opportunities, she had always found that the night itself was far too often treacherous. The lack of moonlight to illuminate the way meant that traveling at night required torches or other forms of external light. Those touches made any traveler a walking target for bandits and brigands. In her own experience, the new moon brought out the demons in full force. Kikyo theorized that the demons believed, due to the darkness, she would be at some type of disadvantage. But as her uncle had always said, "a warrior who relies on eyes alone is no warrior at all."

With her leg injury still healing, Kikyo had been content to remain indoors on this new moon. But Sayaka had insisted on inviting her to dinner as a gesture of gratitude for saving her daughter and the rest of the village from Yura's clutches. Kikyo was rather ashamed to admit to herself that she had nearly forgotten that Sayaka's daughter Azumi had been one of Yura's first victims. Had Sayaka not sought out her aid at the river, Kikyo never would have taken notice of Yura's presence until it was far too late.

She had been sitting on the hill overlooking the village when the demon decided to test its luck. Since Yura's defeat there had been a brief lull in demon attacks. Yura had most likely killed many of them when she first established territory in the area. With her dead, the demons were slowly beginning to return. With her injured leg and the new moon, the demons must have thought now would be the perfect opportunity to strike. It was a valid strategy. Basic but at least the demons were attempting new methods. The stratagem did have its merits. It would not be the first time she'd be caught off guard and weakened during a new moon after all.

A smile grew on her face, despite herself. Her master and uncle would no doubt think it strange of her to have fond memories of the last new moon. That had been the night she had collapsed in the rain after she had exerted too much energy slaying demons. Such a result should have been considered a personal failing on her part.

But that had been the night she met Inuyasha.

True it was not a conventional meeting any sense. And certainly not like any of the romantic songs or haikus she had heard in her travels. But there could be no doubt that it had left a mark on her.

At the thought of the red-clad half-demon, Kikyo reached into her pocket and found the seashell of rouge he had given her. Laying it flat in her palm, she traced its edges as she found herself often doing since he, Kagome, and Kaede had departed. In truth there was no practical reason for carrying it with her. She did not see herself coloring her lips during battle and to wear colored lips around the village would send the wrong message to the village men. It would be better if she kept it in her hut as usual.

Yet each morning and each night she made sure she had it with her.

"Lady Kikyo!" a young bright voice exclaimed behind her. Kikyo jolted to her feet, causing a wave of pain to run up her leg. The limb buckled ready to give out, but the priestess supported herself with her bow. As the pain subsided, Kikyo turned to greet Azumi, quickly pocketing the seashell as she went.

"Azumi-chan," she said gently. "You startled me."

The child smiled. "I'm sorry. But mother sent me to fetch you. Dinner is ready."

Azumi took her hand and led the way, chatting all the while about the flowers she liked and the other children she played with that afternoon. Kikyo allowed herself a small smile as listened, pitching in small questions every now and then. By the time they reached the hut, Kikyo wondered how the little girl still had air in her lungs.

Dinner was a rather meager affair, despite the celebratory occasion. Carp with some radish and red beans along with miso soup. While Azumi filled the space with her tales of attempting to catch a dragonfly with her friends, her mother, Sayaka remained sullen. The lines on her face had deepened. Dark circles entrapped her eyes and when she spoke it was faint and fragile. When her infant son began to cry, Sayaka rose but she moved as if a boulder had been placed on her slim shoulders. Kikyo was tempted to bring attention to Sayaka's behavior but Azumi seemed oblivious to it. There was no need to worry the child. Kikyo continued her meal responding occasionally when it was warranted. By the time the meal was completed, Azumi finally ran out of energy and slipped into a deep sleep next to her infant brother.

"I thank you for the meal Sayaka," Kikyo said with an incline of her head. "The koi was delightful."

Sayaka merely grunted as she cleared the small table.

"Is there something troubling you Sayaka?"

Sayaka sighed and from the sleeves of her kimono produced a small roll of parchment. "I received news today, Lady Kikyo. News that I cannot bear to share with Azumi….nor anyone else…."

Sayaka slid the parchment to the priestess, glancing over her shoulder as she went. Kikyo unrolled the parchment and her eyes scanned the message. It was a message from her eldest son, Souji. It was a brief, hastily written message. From the small water stains, most likely written during a rainstorm. The ink had run over the course of travel and exposure to the elements but the urgency of the message was clear. Kikyo's heart dropped as read the boy's news.

"Your husband has been killed….."

Sayaka nodded. Tears rolling down her cheeks.

The details of his death were vague. As a villager, it was doubtful that Sayaka's husband, Hajime, was a high ranking soldier. He, like Souji, were conscripted for Lord Hojo's latest border skirmish with the Takeda clan. Kikyo could still remember the day Hojo's messenger arrived at the village, demanding every able bodied man and boy for ashigaru service. But that had been at least three years ago. It was doubtful that Souji ever had time to properly write his mother. To finally receive word from him after so long, only for it to be such somber news must have been devastating for her.

"I am sorry for you loss, Sayaka," Kikyo said. An empty platitude that failed to provide any comfort for the new widow, but there very little else that could be said. Distressingly it was a platitude Kikyou found herself repeating on many occasions. To the point where it was becoming almost banal. Such a thought burdened her soul more than anything else. "Do you wish for me to recite a prayer for his soul, so that he may find peace?"

"I thank you Lady Kikyo. Your prayers are welcome, but that is not why I reveal this letter you."

Kikyo raised an eyebrow.

"Please, read the first lines again."

"Mother," Kikyo read. "I regret I have been unable to write you over these long three years. Our general has kept us on the march. However, I have news that needed to reach you at urgent speed. I hope you read this by fire. I can think of no other way to say this: Father has fallen. He joins our other comrades who have given their lives for Lord Hojo-."

"That is enough," Sayaka muttered.

Kikyo scowled at herself. Of course there was no need to continue. Sayaka had no doubt read the letter far more times than anyone. "Forgive me. However, I do not see the purpose of this Sayaka."

"Place the letter near the fire-pit, Lady Kikyo."

Kikyo glanced at the woman before complying. Careful not to burn the parchment completely, the priestess held the message over the moderate flames in the center of the hut. The flames danced underneath the parchment while the embers nipped at Kikyo's fingers. After a few long moments, the priestess failed to see the reason behind the action. It wasn't until she leaned in closer to the parchment that she get her answer.

Under the light of the flames, a new message overlapped with the initial one. Small characters blocked together in far more practiced and precise writing told an entirely different story. Kikyo squinted taking in each character and word as she went. She read the hidden message at least nine more times before turning to Sayaka, the older woman's face stern.

"Soji believes his father was poisoned by Lord Hojo…." Kikyo whispered.

Sayaka looked away, her eyes burning with tears. Kikyo read over the message a tenth time for any irregularities or any sign that it was some type of forgery. But who would go to the trouble to forge a letter written by a mere foot soldier? Soji had just lost his father, perhaps in his grief he jumped to this wild conclusion? The letter did not offer much proof.

"Do you believe this claim, Sayaka?"

"Soji has always been an earnest boy. He has no reason to lie to me about such matters."

"I understand. However, what is it that you desire of me? Why reveal this message to me?"

Sayaka swallowed a lump in her throat. She dropped to all fours and lowered her head to the point where her forehead nearly touched the floor. Her voice was muffled, but the desperation was clear. "Lady Kikyo, I ask you to please discover the truth behind Soji's words. Please find who took Hajime from me, and protect Soji. If what he says is true then it will not be long until he is killed as well. I beg of you Lady Kikyo, help my family once more."

"Sayaka, I am a priestess," Kikyo said gently. "My duty is to protect the jewel and the village. I cannot involve myself in political matters."

"Please Lady Kikyo! I have nowhere else to turn! If eyes other than yours found Soji's letter, his head would be presented to Lord Hojo in seconds! He is only a boy he does not know the full extent of the danger that surround these nobles!"

"Surely Headman Hisashi would be more appropriate," Kikyo offered. "He has connections within the Hojo clan."

Sayaka shook her head. "I dare not ask, Lady Kikyo. Who's to say his connections will not simply behead my son as soon as the letter is brought to their attention? It must be you Lady Kikyo. I can think no one else as just, kind, and pure as you!"

Kikyo bit her lip. Sayaka's faith was flattering but the environment of politics was a dangerous one. Her duty was first and foremost the Sacred Jewel. To properly investigate this claim, she would need to leave the village for an extended period of time. It was possible to take the jewel with her but that was akin to diving into shark infested waters with an open wound. Her eyes turned to Azumi, who remarkably, was still asleep. Sayaka probably did not have the heart to share the news with her daughter. The girl had to be at least seven, already old enough to have lasting memories of her father. The loss would leave a lasting scar, that much was inevitable. How deep the wound would cut was the true question.

Kikyo could still remember the day her father perished. She could see surviving soldiers pulling on a wooden wagon, filled with corpses. Her mother had made a futile attempt to shield her eyes, but the damage had been done. He had been a simple man. A farmer from an unremarkable village. No one cared about his death. He was just another in the long line of peasants to be sacrificed in the name of the warlords' ambitions. If not for her uncle, she would have been swallowed by the madness of her grief.

Kikyo gripped the hem of her hakama. It would not bring back Azumi's father. But it would spare the child years of emotional anguish to at least know why her father was murdered by his lord.

"Very well Sayaka," Kikyo said, her voice measured. "I cannot make any promises but I will do what I can to learn the truth and ensure that Soji is safe."

A joy swept Sayaka's face. The mother prostrated faster than Kikyo could keep up with. Her voice cracked, filled with sobs and declarations of gratitude.

As she rose to make her departure, they promised to meet every month at the start of the new moon cycle in order to share any new discoveries or developments. With another unadulterated show of gratitude, Kikyo made her leave.

The first few rays of sunrise were there to greet her.

The long moonless night was finally over.

However, Kikyo feared the coming days would be far longer.

You must login (register) to review.