The blade cut the flesh of the earth. With an exhausted heave, a woman with her long blonde hair pulled back in a sweat-slickened ponytail, lifted a shovel with its pound of dirt over her shoulder, adding to the pile behind her. She rested the shovel on the floor of her hole, wiped the glistening moisture off her forehead which left a streak of dirt from her filthy gloves, and caught her breath for a moment. Then she stabbed the soil once more and jumped on top of the shovel, cutting a bit deeper into the ground, but frustratingly not as deep as she would have liked. While not exactly petite at 5′ 4", the woman didn’t have near enough fat on her bones to make a significant dent in her project.
Months of running and digging and unearthing aged manuscripts and balancing conflicts and calling home to lie and say everything is fine can do that to a person’s body.
“Had to be Japan,” she grumbled as she cut another scoop of soil. “Had to be a graveyard.” She threw another pound of earth next to the displaced gravestone. “Had to be in summer.” She smacked her neck, killing yet another mosquito. “Had to be freaking Fukushima.” Despite the city recovering from the nuclear meltdown in 2011, the idea of digging around in a place that had once been filled with radioactive material left a bad taste in her mouth.
With a thud, the shovel hit something considerably harder than packed down dirt. Furiously working, the woman scraped off the layer of dirt covering a long cement slab. When the shovel became too unwieldy, she fell to her knees to brush the slab clean with her hands. English words in a Japanese graveyard engraved in the cement soon revealed themselves to her fingers.
To: Jenny Harkness, year 2012 AD (or thereabouts)
The woman laughed at the greeting through time, more from relief than joy. “Hello Jackie,” she said. “It’s good to hear from you. I’m about six years late, though. I hope you don’t mind.”
Jenny threw the shovel out of her grave-sized hole and grabbed a pickaxe. If she were an archeologist, perhaps she would have found a way to preserve the specimen of anachronistic cement and evidence of written English in early Feudal Japan. But, no, she was not an archeologist. Without a breath of hesitation, she swung the instrument over her head and into the slab beneath her feet.
In quick rhythm, she pounded the pickaxe into the ground.
Slowly, the aged cement chipped away. The pickaxe dug through the material that had held together for centuries, breaking it into little flakes until it broke through the outer layer. With a small hole in the cement, she was able to break the cement even further until she’d opened a cavity large enough to fit both her hands.
Abandoning the pickaxe, Jenny fell to her knees and pointed her headlamp into the hole while brushing away the dirt and debris. Despite the stream of light breaking through the darkness, the space inside remained obscured in shadows. She slipped her hands through the hole, hoping the cement tomb’s contents hadn’t rotted over the last few hundred years or so.
When her fingers took hold of something solid and dry, a smile crept onto her face. “Finally.”
From the cavity, she pulled out a flat rectangular box made of cedar wood. It still had a fresh heady smell to it as it escaped from its underground cell. When shaken, something soft rattled around inside it. Jenny grabbed a backpack sitting outside the grave-sized hole she’d made, and stuffed it in.
Reaching in again, she found something long like a flattened cylinder, wrapped on one end with cords. Below a disk-like protrusion, the cylinder felt cold and made of a rich, hardened and lacquered wood. With a pit of maneuvering, Jenny slid out a katana. She couldn’t see much detail in the harsh light from her headlamp, but from the weight and the detail on the tsuba, she could tell it had great value in an ancient day, and more than likely, in contemporary markets as well.
Taking the hilt in one hand and the sheath in the other, Jenny exposed the top part of the blade to open air for the first time in centuries. Despite its poor storage, the blade still shone brightly without a speck of rust or damage. No doubt it would be as sharp as the day it was forged, she supposed. A thrill ran through her body at the sight of the blade, a thrill she couldn’t quite explain. Something about this sword held more than meaning, but her mind couldn’t quite find the word to describe this rush and almost spiritual tingle in the back of her head.
This she added to her backpack’s load before her brain could wax more eloquent.
One last search through the cement tomb produced nothing else but scraped fingers on the sharp remains of the box, so climbing out of the pit, Jenny took her backpack with its valuables safely stuffed inside and began to run.
Thud thud thud.
Cracking open his eyes, Sesshomaru idly wondered why his heart had decided to come alive and beat like he’d found himself in the middle of an ambush. Something must have given his body and unconscious mind cause for a sudden anxiety. Then he wondered how long he had slept. Dragging open his heavy eyelids, he came to the conclusion that however long it had been, he had been asleep long enough.
Bones creaked as he moved his limbs. As he sat up, he brushed a heavy layer of dirt and dust off his clothes. With some level of disgust, he realized he had cobwebs all through his hair and the fur pelt over his shoulder. Thankfully in the dark, he couldn’t see the poor state of his attire. All he had to focus on was crawling out of the cave and forcing his arms and legs to bend and pull and bear weight. A deep, dull pain radiated from his chest throughout his body, something he might have described as an ache.
Ache. What a disgustingly human thing to feel.
The cave ran deeper and lower than he remembered, forcing him to stoop embarrassingly low. But perhaps in his need to rest, he hadn’t made note of its actual length. It had been a long week of battle after all.
He recalled leaning on Bakusaiga, perhaps a little more than he intended. Blood seeped through his kimono, staining most of it red. But that could hardly compare to the carnage surrounding him. In a field in Fukushima, bodies lay heaped upon the earth. Bodies of yokai, humans, and the unwitting animal steeds that had born the thousands of warriors into battle. Torn flesh, shattered bones and twisted, mangled bodies had been thrown as far as his sharp eyes could see. The setting sun added a splash of crimson to an already gore filled earth.
A woman in a black kimono splashed with silver flowers and tied with a white obi, who wore crow’s feathers in her black tresses, shrieked at him the moment his final enemy fell. Almost like it had been yesterday, he could still hear her screaming for her son that Sesshomaru had sealed away in the Underworld. “Do not think you have nothing left that I can take!”
Izanami, he called her. He didn’t know if she was the Izanami, mother of the Underworld, but she acted like it nonetheless. Mother of Daiichi, the Destroyer of Life, self-proclaimed enemy of Lord Sesshomaru and nearly the downfall of civilization if it hadn’t been for his intervention.
After digging graves for the few he would call friends — Ah-un, the first and noblest to fall; Jaken, loyal to a fault; Kohaku, dependable, brave and clever; and InuYasha — he did not see how he had anyone else to lose to Izanami’s wrath. Burying their bodies hurt his soul more than he wanted to admit. When he found no trace of InuYasha’s body, or even of Tessaiga, in the rubble of Daiichi’s fiercest blast of demonic power, Sesshomaru mourned more than he thought possible for that insufferable hanyou that shared his father’s blood.
The battle and grave digging and slashing Izanami asunder with the decomposing blast of Bakusaiga, took nearly every last ounce of energy out of the daiyokai. For the first time in his life, he understood what exhaustion must feel like to a human. So when he had come across this cave, sleep sounded delicious.
Sesshomaru squinted at the light that seeped through the mountainside as he emerged from his cavern. From its bluish hue, he could tell it was the moon that illuminated the mouth of the cave. Its faint light practically blinded him for a few long minutes. From the state of the foliage and the hot night air, it appeared that he had slept until late summer. He wondered if he really could have slept for an entire half a year.
Taking in every scent and sound of the forest, Sesshomaru took time to adjust himself to his surroundings. Birds, vermin, and other prey wandered through the forest, although in a significantly lower degree than he remembered. The explanation came from the sounds of human voices, machines and other strange, unexplainable noises that reached far deeper through the edges of the forest than they used to. This place used to be a haven from humankind. It seems their reach spread even this far now, and in such a short amount of time.
What he did not smell was yokai. Not a touch of youki energy anywhere in the air. The only hint of it was his own. But considering the damage his last battle had wreaked, perhaps he was the cause, he thought. No yokai dare enter these parts of the land ever again after what happened with Daiichi.
As he followed a deer’s path through the trees, Sesshomaru could feel something else touching his senses. An energy he’d felt few times before. He carried that energy with him at his side in the form of Tenseiga. And when his half-brother fought, he could feel it in Tessaiga’s attacks.
Did the Inu no Taisho have a third sword forged?
The thought made him curious, leading to a fierce hunger in his mind that had to be satisfied. Gathering up what strength he had, he took off into the night sky, flying just over the treetops to avoid being seen. What had once been something that came as naturally as walking, flying took a bit more concentration than he liked.
Perhaps this is what ‘groggy’ felt like.
Aiming for the source of the energy, Sesshomaru effortlessly breezed past the landscape, noting in the back of his mind that he seemed to be heading back to the battlefield where he had made his last stand against Daiichi.
As he left the forest, he kept to the higher skies, blending in with the clouds. But they were not too thick to see the phenomenal changes made to the landscape below. The humans had not only created new paths made of black stone and trimmed the vegetation down to its barest roots, but the latest inhabitants had brought strange contraptions to assert their dominance over the earth. Rounded metal and glass boxes raced across the pathways and roads in orderly lines, all of them illuminated by lights that had to be artificial. The buildings, annoyingly numerous as always, had exploded in size, frequency and density.
But what humans did or didn’t do mattered little to the daiyokai moving faster than any of the inventions of men below him. All he needed was to find the source of the burst of energy.
Before long, he came across a small grassy meadow with blades that hadn’t been cut short to expose the carved stones laid in the ground for many a season. He recognized the place at once, even before he saw the one hundred, perhaps 150 stone pillars and slabs with detailed carvings marking the final resting places of a few generations of a small human village. Deep in the back of the overgrown graveyard, with a metal fence running around most of the lot and trees filling in the missing gap, Sesshomaru knelt at four forgotten, handmade stones.
To his dismay, Sesshomaru found that all had been left unmolested save one. The stone marking where his brother would have rested had been dug up and shoved aside. An abandoned shovel laid at the edge of a hole big enough to fit the body of a human. At the base, a broken up, hollow box laid empty and abandoned.
Anger rising in his throat, Sesshomaru searched for every last sign of what heathen could have desecrated his family’s grave. An abundance of human sweat, a drop or two of blood, traces of leather, ink and cotton. These scents mingled together created an image of a human woman — yes, this thief was female — that seared itself into his mind.
A sharp leap into the air, and the hunt was on.
The backpack clunked as Jenny tossed it onto the chunk of batting, fiber and springs masquerading as a hotel bed. As much as she wanted to dig into its contents immediately after her drive from Fukushima to Tokyo, she needed clean hands first. Peeling off her sweat-stricken tank top and khaki capris, she dropped every stitch of her clothing on the floor of the cramped bathroom and began scrubbing her skin clean of the dirt she had collected that night. Gray filth ran down in a torrid stream toward the drain of the bathtub.
While concentrating on getting clean enough to think properly, Jenny could hear a change in the wind, like something angry had electrified the sky. By the time she’d finished her rapid shower and gotten dressed in a clean pair of jeans and t-shirt (the knock-off TARDIS on a baby blue background she’d found in a market in Tokyo seemed to speak to her), a lightning storm had descended over the hotel. Even when the bolts struck down hard and fast, growing closer to her building, her focus remained on the contents of the bag taking a better rest than she had in the last several years.
After brushing out the matted tangles from her hair, Jenny hopped up on the bed and folded her legs under her. “Let’s see what you’ve got for me today,” she said as she slid the cedar box out of the bag.
Now that she had a proper source of light, the details of the box came out clearly. Namely that the box had no details to speak of. It had the normal sandy, tan and rose colorings of normal cedar wood, but not a hint of water damage, scuffs, or even dirt that could have seeped into the grain. Running her hand along the top, it felt like someone had sanded it the day before. Hints of sawdust came off on her fingers.
The sides nearly had no seams to them. Along one edge, a long rectangle fit in between four walls, but no nails or glue held it together. Yet when she jammed the edge of a pocketknife into the seam, the wood refused to budge. She pressed harder and harder until the knife flew out of her grasp, nearly slicing the fingers on her left hand as the blade left her control.
The blade left no scratch.
“What the heck?” Jenny remarked at the perfectly unremarkable box. “How am I supposed to open you?”
Her eyes fell upon the sword poking out through the backpack. The whole idea of wielding a sword to slice open a box looked as ridiculous in her head as it probably would in real life. But at least the weapon could bear examining. Pulling it out of the backpack, Jenny absorbed every detail of katana, from the red wrappings around a black hilt and tsuba, to the smooth cordovan lacquer on the sheath. With a bit of amusement, she noted that the sword’s primary colors, red and black, were the same that her little sister used to wear.
“Why on earth would you leave me a sword, Jackie?”
She’d studied Japanese before beginning this strange mission in Southern Japan, but the kanji engraved at the top of the scabbard escaped the reach of her lessons. So she climbed off the bed with the sword in hand to grab a Japanese-to-English dictionary from her suitcase sitting at the foot of the bed.
“Ketsugō-kiba,” she said after some searching through the dictionary. “Binding Fang. That must be your name. No offense, but it’s an odd one.”
Suddenly, in the midst of another crack of thunder, the flimsy door of Jenny’s hotel room burst open in a flurry of wood splinters. Jenny instinctively reacted to the cacophony by grabbing the handgun off her nightstand and pointing it at the danger.
A tall, massive figure half hidden by shadows stood in her doorway. A green glow came from a katana held in his right hand. He took one step into the room, moving silently despite the weight of the black lotus petal armor around his torso, steel spiked pauldron over his left shoulder and white and red traditional Japanese clothes. Jenny blinked hard a few times to ensure she wasn’t imagining this out-of-place intruder. Amber eyes bored into hers, daring her to use the weapon in her hand.
Most tourists in a foreign-speaking land learn phrases like, “Where is the bathroom?” and “Which way is the train station?” Jenny immediately whipped out the first Japanese phrase she’d made sure to learn: “Nokosu ka, watashi wa uchimasu zo.” Leave or I’ll shoot.
Pointing a finger that looked as sharp as a tiger’s claw, the man began to speak in a calm, but sharp, voice. “Haka dorobo.”
His lips pulled back into a snarl of disgust, revealing sharp fangs. He could probably hear her blood racing with adrenaline, betraying her fear even as she clenched her jaw, forced her arm to keep her aim steady and refused to blink as they shared a glare in order to give the impression of dominance. “Despite what you think you see, I am no thief,” she replied in his language. (Rosetta Stone proved good for something.)
The intruder raised his sword, pointing it in her direction, making his intentions quite clear. “You desecrated the grave of a brave warrior to steal a sword. Why?”
Remembering the trouble even getting this katana she held in her left hand, Jenny clutched it closer to her body while refocusing her aim at the intruder’s armored chest. More worrisome to her was the fact that he stood closer to the cedar box on the bed than she did. “That’s something I can’t explain to you.”
“Nonetheless, you will give me that sword. It belonged to my father, and as his heir, it belongs to me.”
“Yeah, no.” Jenny fired three shots as fast as her finger could squeeze the trigger. The first bullet hit him in the chest, forcing him to bend backward, but then he moved. All she could see was a blur, the figure going to her left, then a flash of green glowing steel almost right at her face. A second later, her trigger finger pulled empty space as the pieces of her gun fell apart in her hand.
“I do not enjoy killing foes as weak as humans,” he said, raising his sword again. “They are too easy to dispose of.”
In true cowardly fashion, Jenny resorted to the other weapon in her hand to defend herself. As the intruder’s katana sliced through the air, she took the sword in both hands and held it up to stop his blow. She braced herself to feel a bone shattering impact of sword on scabbard.
But it never came.
A translucent red sphere suddenly encapsulated her, bouncing his attack back at him and throwing him backwards a few steps. She could feel a hum of energy from the sword through her fingers, letting her know exactly what had created the shield.
Jenny could read the confusion in the man’s face. Although he had distinctly non-human features — the magenta marks on his cheeks, a crescent moon on his forehead, pointed ears and unnaturally long silver-white hair being among them — anger and frustration had universal use amongst Earth’s inhabitants. He glared at her with eyes that could have struck her down that instant if he hadn’t been more focused on the sword that gave her protection.
“Do not think you have some sort of advantage, woman,” the inhuman man snarled. His sword seemed to spark and grow in power the angrier he became. “I can break through any barrier.”
This time when the blow came, Jenny refrained from flinching when his katana came down on her. Again, a red sphere forced the sword and its wielder backwards hard enough to send him flying into the destroyed doorway. “This seems like an advantage to me,” Jenny replied.
If she thought that the intruder couldn’t look any more intimidating, her egging him on only drew out more of a beast-like fierceness. She hoped her eyes were playing tricks on her, but as he drew himself back up to his feet, his eyes began to turn red, his bared teeth became sharpened, and the fur pelt over his shoulder seemed to raise like the bristles of fur on a dog’s back when he’s backed into a corner. “Surrender now before I rip your throat out!”
“Over my dead body.” Taking the sword by the hilt and holding it the same way she would a softball bat, Jenny swung the sheathed katana at the intruder with all the force she could summon.
A flash of red energy shot him straight through the remains of the doorway, over the outside railing and into the parking lot a story below.