Tales from the House of the Moon by Resmiranda

Prelude: The Maiden and the Lord of the West

Prelude: The Maiden and the Lord of the West

Kagome settled back in her chair in the lecture hall, her foot twitching impatiently as she waited for the beginning of her class. She was a senior now in college with her Archaeology degree nearly squared away, except for this particular requirement: Myths and Legends of Japan. She'd saved it for the end of her college career for a reason: it was almost a treat, something to reward herself for making it through.

So far, though, it had been rather boring. Secretly, Kagome had been wishing to hear of any news of Inuyasha in whatever dusty tomes her professor could dig up, but so far it seemed that she and her friends – she repressed the familiar, painful hitch in her chest – had passed out of the pages of history, and even out of imagination. All that remained of them was her own memory and the broken well, hidden in the darkness of her shrine home.

However, today might hold some more clues to Inuyasha's family at the very least. During the last class period, she had been immensely excited, barely able to hold still, for they had discussed the legend of Inutaisho and Ryuukotsusei, and as far as she could tell it was fairly accurate. Tenaeda-sensei had told the story of how the Demon Lord of the West had fallen in love and taken a human wife, but since such a thing was weakness, he had been challenged by his vassals to test his strength. The taiyoukai battled a dragon of lightning in order to secure his lands and rule, but the dragon had administered a fatal blow and Inutaisho had only been able to seal it into the mountain. If it hadn't hit her so close to home, Kagome would have thought such a tale to be terribly romantic, but she knew the rest of the story – how the Lord's wife had a child who suffered for his father's death, and how his father's choice drove a wedge between his sons – and she was saddened by it instead.

Her mouth twisted ruefully. Perhaps today's story wouldn't be quite so depressing. This morning, they were going to read a lesser known fable about Inutaisho; one that promised to reveal why the powerful demon felt such compassion for mankind, rather than the disdain commonly felt by the rest of his race. While it wasn't anything about Inuyasha, it was still something, and these days, five years after she had last seen him, almost anything that hinted at him seemed like some kind of connection, something that joined them across the echoing chasm of time. With effort, Kagome stilled her twitching foot, and glanced down at her notebook, ready to take down anything and everything that seemed important. Tenaeda-sensei was an excellent story-teller, and sometimes it was difficult to pick out the important aspects of his stories.

Around her, students grew quiet as the professor wandered in, beaming at them all with bright white teeth and round cheeks. Kagome smiled back, his cheer warming her a little, loosening the ropes of anxiety that bound her heart these days. She realized that she was chewing on her pen and quickly took it out of her mouth, readying herself.

Tenaeda-sensei cleared his throat, and the class sat up straighter, eager to begin. Their professor smiled, and began the lesson.

"Today," he announced, "we will study the legend of the Maiden and the Lord of the West." He made a great show of readjusting his tie, and cracking his knuckles, which just made the class squirm in their seats; everyone liked a good story, and Tenaeda-sensei only delayed when the story was particularly good. Kagome almost bit through her lip.

Finally, ministrations finished, he cleared his throat again, rearranged his notes, and began.

"Long ago, the Youkai Lord of the West was a cold, hard man, who cared little for other demons and less for humans. He was known all across Japan as a ruthless ruler with an iron grip on his lands, and whomever crossed his path, he killed without compassion or mercy or distinction for friend or foe. He had no allies, and no companions."

Sounds like another annoying dog demon I used to know, Kagome thought wryly. How long has it been since I thought of him? She dutifully jotted down a few notes.

"The Lord was powerful in the days of his youth, but he was not invincible and had many battles in which he was injured. After one such skirmish, he was greatly injured, and was left to die on the floor of the forest, unable to move. Now in the Lands of the West, the Country of the Moon, there was a small village, and in that village there lived a small human girl. When she was very young she was orphaned, and she had lived in the hovel of her parents, all alone, until the day she found the Lord of the West beneath a tree.

"She was compassionate and gentle, and cared for the lord until he was able to move again, although it is said that he was ungrateful and refused to thank her, but she did not mind, such was her spirit and kindness.

"Unfortunately for her, shortly after the lord regained his strength, her village was attacked by wolves, and she was killed with one bite, although her body was not devoured for she was but a poor orphan and half-starved at that.

"The Lord of the West may never have known of her fate if he had not caught the scent of her blood on the wind, and returned to find her broken corpse, bereft of life.

"Normally, he would have left her there to be consumed by the birds and return to the earth, but something happened to him as he stared at her lifeless form; he found himself remembering her kindness and compassion, her selfless generosity, and he was touched to the depths of his iron soul. The ruthless Western Lord was moved by her tragedy, and so he summoned his power and courage and opened the gate between the worlds with his sword, descending into hell to find her soul and return it to her body.

"And because he had such compassion for her, he was allowed to pass unharmed between the worlds, and she was restored. From that day forward they traveled together: the Inu-Youkai Prince and the peasant girl."

Kagome's pen stopped moving. Something about this story was hauntingly familiar, made her feel as though someone had opened up the back of her head and poured ice water down the inside of her spine. This is not the story of Inuyasha's father... she thought dimly, and her eyes unfocused so that the classroom, like the past, was obscured. Flashes of memory streaked across her mind, and she was momentarily filled with visions of wolves, and a little girl with a face as bright as the sun, and demon kings, and a sword that could not kill...

"They stayed together for a long while, and as she traveled with him, the Lord of the Moonlit Lands was faced with his first great trial. One night, the girl was stolen by the wind and carried to the lair of an evil hanyou who only wished for power, and when the demon prince gave chase he was nearly killed and consumed by the hanyou, who wanted the power of a full youkai. After many long battles, the hanyou was finally defeated, and the Lord returned to his family home in the West: the House of the Moon.

"The girl grew into a young woman, and stayed with her lord in the House of the Moon. Because she never left his side, and he could not deny her what she wanted, she grew up wild and barefoot, listening to the trees and rivers, speaking with the spirits of the land and sky, and she was happy. For his part, the lord found himself content to watch her in the fields as she grew into a lovely maiden with hair like coal and eyes like honey, long-limbed and moon-pale. She was afraid of nothing but wolves, for she still remembered the death-blow that had dragged her soul from her body, and she loved nothing more than her lord, who kept the wolves away and brought her back from the lands of the dead.

"But all was not well in the lands of the West. There was talk that the lord was growing weak and foolish, that he was addled in the head from caring for a human woman. Restless tongues wagged and waved, spreading lies, telling of how the lord meant to take her as his wife, how he would bring low his dynasty, and how the West would fall with him. The youkai who payed homage to him grew discontent and restless, and finally, when the prince was away in the North, attending to business, his vassals lay siege to the House of the Moon.

"Not a building was left standing; the lord's faithless vassals burned it to the ground and slaughtered his household, soaking the grounds of the gardens with blood and mutilating the bodies. When they found the human maiden that loved her lord and refused to leave his dwelling, they ravished her one by one, and then sliced her body to pieces and buried them, scattered across the land, so that not even the Great Demon of the Western Lands could find her soul and bring her back again, no matter how deep his compassion, or how strong his love.

"When the lord finally returned to find his home in ruins and his rule at an end, he went mad with grief, and challenged the youkai who had ascended to his position, accusing them all of trickery and deceit and dishonor. The youkai agreed, but at dawn the next day, when the duel for the throne of the land was to take place, the prince was ambushed. His attackers broke the sword he used in battle, shattered it into a thousand pieces, but try as they might, the sword that opened the gateway between the worlds could not be broken. Instead it was given to the reigning lord, and the disgraced prince was sealed with magical chains that could not be broken, forged in the inferno of the heart of the world, and thrown into the sea.

"But the lord was strong, and did not die. Instead he broke the chains that were never meant to be broken and was carried on the breast of the waters to the lands of the South.

"Like his sword, his heart was shattered. The exiled prince made his way far to the East, divested himself of his kingly garb and cut his hair. For five and twenty years, and five and twenty years again he wandered, clothed as a peasant, dishonored and in disgrace, and even though he traversed the Eastern Lands, the Country of the Sun, he lingered in shadows, searching for his lost child and calling to her, calling out her beautiful name.

"It came to pass that a miko became prominent in the North, and she was of such great power and such great compassion that even youkai who sought an end to sorrows went to her and asked her for assistance. When the lord heard of her, he immediately traveled to the North, and sought her out and asked her to take away his memories of his child, so that he could overcome his grief and avenge his own dishonor, and her terrible demise. The weight of sorrow on his heart was so great that he had no will to fight, and no means to restore himself.

"But the miko shook her head.

"'You would forget her?' she asked kindly, but not without sorrow.

"'Yes,' he replied. 'I cannot fight, and I cannot bring justice for her.'

"'But to forget her would be to take away your justice,' the miko replied. 'You must work through your sorrows on your own before justice can be served.'

"And the lord despaired, for in fifty years, his grief had not lessened. He took his leave of the miko, but for three nights afterward, he returned, and asked her again to peel away the memories.

"Finally, on the third night, the miko relented. 'I can help you,' she said, 'but I will not take away the memories.' She stood and retreated into her shrine, and returned with thick clothing so black that it faded into the night, and the prince had to concentrate to see it.

"'Take these, and remember her,' the miko told him. 'You must soak these garments with your tears before the weight will be lifted, and then your justice will be served.'

"The prince was surprised, for not once in his fifty years of wandering – indeed, in his entire life – had he shed a tear for anyone. But he took the clothes anyway and went into the forest and sat beneath a cherry tree, and remembered when he first met his child, how her compassion for one such as he had touched his heart in a way no one ever had, and how she laughed at fireflies, and cried out when she heard wolves, and smiled when he looked at her.

"And he remembered how much he missed her, and the lord buried his face in the cloth, and wept.

"When the dawn came, the lord looked at the clothing in front of him and found that his tears had turned them pure white; but far more amazing was the lifting of the weight on his soul, and no longer was the exiled Prince of the Moonlit Lands bound by sorrow and sealed by grief. He donned the clothes that had turned the color of the moon, and gathered his power to him.

"Within a fortnight, the prince had called on old alliances, found new friends, and sent his spies deep into his ancestral lands, and when the full moon reached its zenith and hung in the sky like a tear, he swept across the Moonlit Country and reclaimed what was his, slaughtering the coalition of vassals that had overthrown him, but merely scattering their households to the wind, for they were blameless, and he remembered his child clearly, and knew she would have hated the destruction of innocents. Those who had not stood against him were welcomed back to his fold, and slowly the lord rebuilt his kingdom, and once again resided in the House of the Moon.

"When a year had passed, the Western Lord, restored and strong, built a shrine to his lost child, and around it planted flowers to attract butterflies by day, and fireflies by night, to make her smile in the world beyond.

"And a century to the day when the Prince had first brought her soul back from the dead, the grave keeper made his way to the shrine; and there he found the carcasses of a hundred and one wolves laid at its foot, the final token of affection from the Lord of the West to his child, whom he had loved, and lost, and then found again."

All around, the hiss and rush of breath was suddenly stilled, and then let out in one great whoosh, and chairs clattered as people rose to leave.

But Kagome was glued to her seat, staring at her notebook, and her eyes were filled with tears, blurring the pages in front of her where she had drawn dozens upon dozens of waning moons.


INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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