Sesshoumaru discovers that there is truth in legend, but when forced to face a foe unlike any he has ever known, will Rin live -- or die?
Inuyasha is the creative property of Rumiko Takahashi. This work of fan fiction is for entertainment purposes only. Where the original characters in this story are concerned, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
The Body Thief
Crouched beside the black waters, watching and waiting… Waiting and watching, prying and spying, moment to moment, night after night, and day upon day! No matter how intensely she hated her fate, for now, she could do no more than measure time by the wax and wane of bleary light and the wind’s ghostly paeans. Both of those were constancies as maddening to her as the slow mineral trickle over her head -- the steady drip drip drip of the stalactites -- and her body’s alarming rate of decay. ‘A sign… Show me a sign.’ Expecting nothing as she cast this pebble of thought into the waters of time, she was pleasantly surprised when a string of bubbles broke the placid surface near the center of the underground lake. The water receded from the shore, gathering itself into a fathomless vortex. Hints of eerie green appeared, flashing and whirling inside it at first, but then, swelling and spreading until a strange phosphorescence suffused its entire body. Wearing borrowed skin and a smile as thin as a sickle moon’s, Okuma watched, Okuma waited…
The current slowed, allowing the now glowing water to advance back. As it resumed more of its natural boundaries, its green softened into gold, and an image began to take shape.
‘Took you long enough,’ she sulked as she stared into the water. ‘I’ve been trapped in this bag of bones for three days.’ Desperate for omens, for answers to her present dilemma, Okuma leaned closer, but too far over her gazing place. A lock of her hair fell into the pool, disturbing its surface with shallow ripples.
The image faded and the water clouded. Biting back screams of utter humiliation, Okuma threw the offending hank over her shoulder with a hiss. Its sloppy ends thwacked against her back, but she did not feel the spreading wetness. How could she have been so careless? Something was there -- right there, and now, who knew when or if she’d ever see it again! Time wasn’t exactly her friend, these days. Crestfallen, she waited for the lake to reassume its usual mien of darkness and uncooperative silence; and for a second time that day, she received an unexpected gift.
The water did not fall back into stillness. Its strange color and slow-churning clouds remained.
Somewhat encouraged by this turn of events, Okuma retreated crablike up the pool’s sloped shoreline. Determined to revisit the sight without further interruption, she inched along an adjoining ledge until she lay on a higher plane, a rocky outcropping that jutted to a ragged point above the water. Although she’d witnessed just a flash, a flicker before the image’s disappearance, nevertheless, she knew it was something important. Very important. Something she might need if she were ever going to leave the confines of the cave and the grounds of the ruined estate beyond it.
A means to an end.
Where time had meant nothing to her in her true form, it now meant everything.
Lying prone, white knuckling the brink of the limestone ledge, Okuma peered cautiously over it into the cavern’s underground pool, where its still-troubled waters incandesced eerily as they roiled. She could not afford to cast even her shadow into the water -- not now! And while the only other lights in the cave were a smear of rainy daylight at its opening, the dull glow of a pit of banked coals along the far wall, and the struggling tips of a few incense sticks wedged into the crannies behind this, she wasn’t taking any chances. Gazing intently into the patterns made by the swirling silt, mesmerized by the flashing specks of gold in otherworldly green, Okuma waited without breathing.
Soon, her persistence was rewarded: the cloud cleared, presenting her with the murky image of two travelers on a steep incline. One of them was an adult; the other was a child. The former, whose face was obscured by a veil of long silver hair, was some sort of warrior by the look of his heavy white garb, his armor, and the swords he carried; the latter, struggling to keep pace with him on the steep path, was a shivering girl about nine years of age.
Such an odd pair to be abroad in a storm! Wearing nothing but a ragged yukata, a kimono more suitable for an early summer’s day than late autumn’s bitter rains, the child, who was little more than skin and bones, was soaked to the skin. The man, on the other hand, seemed as indifferent to her plight as he appeared impervious to the effects of freezing rain and wind. He was a cold fish, Okuma thought, and not her father, either. Surely, a father would show some concern if his daughter was freezing to death. Cocking a grizzled eyebrow at the sight, Okuma decided the girl was a prisoner of some kind, a prize won in war -- a child bride, perhaps? She wrinkled her nose. Disgusting practice, that.
A gust of wind rattled the canopy of withered vines at the cave mouth and a wave of sleet pinged against stone. Realizing she was witnessing the present, Okuma’s sickle moon smile widened to a crescent. As she watched the pair with hungry interest, hoping to nudge it just a little bit more, Okuma tossed another kernel of thought the pool’s way: ‘Where…where are they?’
The image in the water grew brighter, stronger, and more solid. Losing pace with him and her footing, the child stumbled and fell heavily, landing on her stomach. She must have cried out, for the man turned and rushed to her side. As he did, a gust of wind whipped the curtain of pale hair from his face, revealing the crescent and stripe markings of a taiyoukai -- a tall, muscular, and handsome one, at that (even if he was no better than an inugami). Okuma’s eyes widened at the sight of the youkai and human travelers. Truly, this was something one did not see every day! The girl appeared too young and too weak to be the inugami’s master (no matter how many airs they gave themselves, or how fearsome their powers, they were all just inugami to Okuma -- and for good reason). If any emotional connection existed between them, his stony features didn’t betray it. Hoisting the child over his shoulder in one fluid movement, head against the sleet and driving rain, he resumed his journey.
The image spread, allowing Okuma to see more of the road upon which they traveled and the surrounding countryside. Paved with slippery stones and overrun with roots of ancient trees, the winding overgrown track was one she knew well. Their way lead to only one place: Mugentoru, which was also home to a shrine for a certain sacred spring and the grotto that served as both her home and her prison.
Perhaps time was her friend after all!
As she strained for a better look at her would-be guests, Okuma noted a strange aura surrounding the little girl. At first, she dismissed the spectral glow as mere artifact. Tsukai, whose body she now animated, had been somewhat near-sighted. Of course, the pearly curtain untimely death had so recently seen fit to draw over those eyes wasn’t helping, either. Turning her head to the side and squinting, she favored the girl with a sidelong glance, only to find that the aura remained, enveloping the child in an unbroken, pulsing, blue cocoon. A second soul! Such a phenomenon would only manifest itself if the child had been dead and then, brought back to life!
The realization and its implications nearly sent Okuma rolling off her perch and into the water. Had he done this, her inugami friend? Having done this, being responsible for something this, would bind him to her as her guardian until she was grown. Not the usual way an inugami found its master, certainly, but Okuma could think of no other reason why the two of them would be together…
More important though, was this: if he’d retrieved a soul from the Deathlands once, could he do it again?
The waters trembled and dimmed, but not before leaving a disturbing vision in their wake: Okuma’s borrowed reflection gawped back at her. Shuddering at the sight of her assimilated form, Okuma squirmed back off the narrow precipice. Groping her way back to the fire pit, she cursed the wretched shrine keeper, the miko Tsukai, for dying -- dying in a drunken stupor and in the blasted cave, no less -- before the transformation was complete. And while she, a disembodied spirit, could do more with a body than without one, Tsukai’s body was already starting to rot.
She needed another body -- preferably a younger, stronger body -- and soon!
She pushed her hair out of her eyes and a clump came away in her hand. Disgusted, she tossed the white strands into the fire pit, where they sizzled on the coals, fizzling into blackened whorls, abstract tattoos on pulsating red. A body, a body, she needed a body… Drawing her knees up, she crossed her arms over them as she stared into the fire. His was a fine specimen, but assimilating that was out of the question -- the usual route of appropriation having been destroyed long ago. Inuyoukai did not dream -- and thank you, most honorable idiot grandfather for your role in creating that little anomaly -- so she could not enter and incorporate him. No, his mind was a country whose borders were tightly sealed. The girl, on the other hand, was not so well equipped against parasitic psychic entities… Night would soon fall, humans did dream -- had to, in order to keep their precious sanity -- and once the girl was asleep, not even he could protect her in her dreams. Okuma worried a loose tooth with the tip of her tongue. Yes, the girl, with her more permeable boundaries, suddenly looked quite promising.
Okuma spat the tooth into the fire. “The child it is, then,” she croaked. Her voice mimicked her hollowly, resounding around her as she rose.
That left only one more thing, one more detail, one more obstacle to surmount. She had to break the binding spells, the ancient sealing charms that kept her chained to this place.
She had to escape.
Picking her way among the debris that littered the narrow passageway, heedless of the branches and stones that gouged and scraped her hapless flesh, Okuma headed to mouth of the cave. To the shadowy recess, the natural atrium created by the thick tangle of vines growing over and hiding the shrine gates.
Hewn from the mountainside centuries before, the narrow gate pillars were inlaid with crystals and inscribed with upward spiraling arcane glyphs and symbols. Squinting, Okuma tried to follow this litany of banishment and warnings for the curious as it wound its way to a crumbling lintel, but her stolen eyes were not strong enough to refocus in the gloom. If there were further engravings on the lintel, she could not see them. Backlit and overgrown with vegetation, it appeared as only a hulking silhouette. Nearer their bases, the ashen stone of the gates bore the ghosts of talismans past in a pastiche of peeling, faded ofuda.
A layer of ice coated the vines and the weary patch of dried grass beneath. Sleet drummed a steady susurrus against them and overhead, before dripping down to form freezing puddles and slick spots on the already uneven ground. Beyond the living bars of what still remained her prison, the opalescent light teased as it gleamed.
Wondering if her cloak of flesh would be enough to outsmart otherworldly magic, Okuma eased through the cave mouth. Of course, there was only one way to answer that question. Slipping and sliding, she edged towards the near pillar, nearly falling twice before she reached it.
She did not touch it immediately, but paused for a better look at its engravings and was heartened by their weathered state. If flesh and stone could erode over time, couldn’t spells, as well? Time, she decided, was a hungry bastard; but then, she knew a little something about appetite, too, did she not? Gingerly, she placed her fingertips upon the stained limestone column.
Tendrils of white light instantly appeared. They crackled and snapped as they skittered along the outlines of Okuma’s hands, as if trying to divine the identity of the person touching them. They seemed weak, but Okuma knew if they recognized her inside Tsukai’s body, their power would increase, culminating in a brutal blast of back lashing energy, one that would tear her from it if it didn’t destroy her completely. Gritting her teeth, Okuma held her position. To show fear or hesitation of any kind was as good as an admission of guilt.
The ground trembled, shuddered, and then, stilled. Above her, something groaned, sending a hail of stones and icy slivers down upon her head. Suddenly, the ground heaved and rolled again, throwing Okuma off balance and away from the column a split-second before a lightning bolt hit the place she’d just been standing. Her arms pinwheeling as she sprawled backwards into the cave, Okuma landed flat on her bottom with a dispirited grunt.
Exploded at its inner base, the column crumpled on itself. Unable to bear its own weight, the heavy ornamental stone lintel fell towards it with a loud protesting groan, pulling the twin pillar and most of the vines with it as it plummeted earthward. Crashing into it with a force that shook the ground, the last column scattered like a pile of blocks.
‘That could have been me,’ Okuma thought as she scrabbled to her knees. A flume of thick oily clouds boiled into the rainy twilight, as multicolored currents flickered, sputtered, and died along a heap of smoking rubble. The sealing spells were broken!
The skies opened, inundating the land with sheet after sheet of freezing rain and sounds of crackling and snapping filled the air. In the misty gloaming, rocks, trees, and grass shimmered like deadly jewels.
It was the most beautiful sight Okuma had ever seen.
Struggling to her feet, Okuma spied Tskuai’s hat stuck in a crevice. It wasn’t much as protection against the weather or a disguise, but it would have to do. Pulling it over her head, she scrambled from the entombing cave for the last time.
Spreading her arms, Okuma turned her face to the sky and screamed with manic delight, “I did it! I did it! I’m free! Free! Finally free!” Closing her eyes, she could almost feel herself inside the child’s pliant skin. So close, she was so close now, and all that stood between her and victory were a few hours of rapidly waning daylight! Years of banishment and Tsukai’s moldering body meant little to her now. What were years to one who waited for only a single day to end! Oh, and the day would dwindle, darkness would blanket the earth, and once the girl fell into forgetful slumber, she would slip like a thief through night’s window to claim her prize. One way or another, at last, she would have a living body!