It was late. He should've been at his castle, in his bed, if not sleeping then at the very least meditating to prepare for what was to come tomorrow.
But he could not. He was simply too restless.
And what better way for an Inu-daiyoukai to relieve his restlessness than to hunt. To let his demon loose and relish in a kill.
He'd ended up flying for hours before being drawn here, seeking a suitably powerful opponent to vent his frustrations upon. And now, with the world around him illuminated by an almost-full moon, Tōga walked through the tall grass of the meadow he'd found himself in.
He could sense that whatever power it was that had drawn him here was close, yet even as he moved towards it, the daiyoukai's thoughts turned of their own accord back to the source of his restlessness.
He did not really want to take that female as his mate tomorrow. But if he did not, he could not guarantee the security of his position in the West. The Inu-daiyoukai Kingdom of the Sky was too powerful. Their armies too unreachable, fortified from above as they were. It was their undeniable advantage, which meant that if he wanted his new Kingdom in the West to remain on good term with the Sky Pack he now called allies, then he had to cement their treaty by taking the female as his mate.
He thought again about her prideful eyes and the derisive way she'd looked down her nose at him all those years ago when they'd first been presented to one another during the public announcement of their betrothal. The memory of it made his eyes flash with fury once again.
Who did that woman think she was?! Did she not know who he was?! He was Tōga! The great Inu no Taishō! He had carved a bloody swath through Japan in a mere few centuries, claiming a vast territory in the West for himself and his Pack. He would NOT be looked down upon by some crescent-moon bitch!
And yet still he had to take the Sky hime to mate… Hence his current restlessness. The situation was unpleasant, to say the least, but by all the Kami, he was determined to beget an heir upon her as soon as possible, cementing his undisputed position of power.
These were the thoughts that plagued him as he made his way across the meadow. Whatever this strange power was, it was even closer now, yet he couldn't quite pinpoint its source.
He stopped, silver-white hair blowing gently in the midnight breeze. It did not feel like the youki of a demon and yet… He lifted off the ground, floating up into the air to survey his surroundings.
In the distance, across the nearby river, he could see a small human settlement. It was nothing more than a few scattered huts. He took no notice. It was beneath one such as he to take notice of things like anthills, or beehives, or human settlements.
Instead, he focused his senses on the hum of power that he could feel emanating from somewhere nearby.
And then he spotted it. A faint glow coming from further across the meadow, closer to the river. He swooped lower, hovering above the glow for a moment, before landing in the grass beside what appeared to be a well of some kind.
Tōga could hear the faint trickling sound of water coming from within, and when he looked down inside, it appeared as though the water at the bottom of the well was glowing a phosphorescent blue-green.
He blinked a few times. The well appeared to be empty, and yet he could not deny the thrumming power that emanated from its depths.
Curiosity piqued, he jumped lithely over the edge of the well, seeking out the source of this strange power that called to him. But before his body could fully enter the well, a flash of light blinded Tōga and a pulse of power sent him flying backwards, out of the square wooden frame of the well and into the sky.
He hovered there for a moment, growling low to himself, allowing his eyes to readjust to the darkness after the light subsided.
He was still not prepared for what he saw next.
Rising up out of the well, standing on a sparkling column of blue-green water, was a woman.
She was dressed in an iridescent shift-like gown, the fabric clinging to her as though it dripped with water. Her hair was a soft silver-blue colour that cascaded down her back and over her shoulders like waves on the ocean. Pointed ears were decorated with gems of different colours and thin strands of silver and gold chain adorned her neck and chest.
The woman looked up from her perch upon the column of water, locking eyes with Tōga. He unsheathed his sword, So'unga, and hovered, prepared to strike but waiting to see what would happen next.
He did not have to wait long.
"Come, come now, Tōga, Lord of the Western Lands. There is no need for that."
Tōga's eyes widened a fraction at her use of his name. "Who are you?" He asked.
"Me? In many lands I have many names… Amphitrite, Nephthys, some simply call me the Lady of the Lake… But you, Tōga, may call me Lady Nimue. I am the Kami of this well."
Tōga's eyes widened further still. "Kami?"
As powerful as he was, Tōga knew not to challenge a Kami in her own domain. To trifle in such matters was to court the unknown, and no ruler worth his steel would jump into a fray without first assessing his opponent.
Nimue did not answer his question. Instead, she said, "Come down here, Tōga. I would give you a gift on the eve of your mating."
Unwilling just yet to discount her claims of godhood, Tōga slowly lowered himself to the grass of the meadow, settling a few feet away from the well. He didn't yet sheath his sword, though. Instead, his stance remained predatory.
"Come now, puppy," Nimue said. "Put that thing away! What I have come to give you is too important for such nonsense." And before the growl could even form in Tōga's chest at being called a puppy, there was another blinding flash of light.
Blinking away the momentary blindness, he found himself seated on a plush stack of furs and cushions, So'unga sheathed and laying in the grass beside him.
Nearby, Nimue sat on her own plush pile, and a small fire now crackled just to his left, illuminating the slight greenish cast of her skin.
Tōga could not understand what had just happened. "How—?"
She cut him off. "For one such as I, time has no meaning. And yet, we haven't the time to waste."
From the corner of his eye, Tōga looked the Kami over with a wariness akin to respect. "What do you want of me?"
"Tōga, Tōga. Always so direct. Your question is not a difficult one, though you may not like my answer." She paused. "What I ask from you is no less than your life."
Tōga stiffened at her words, instinctively reaching out his hand toward So'unga.
"Stop, Inu no Taishō. I mean you no harm. Moreover, the war to come is not one that you can win by blade alone."
"A war? What mean you by these words? Is the Kingdom of the West under threat?" His voice rose with the repercussions of her words, eyes narrowing to dangerous slits at the idea.
Nimue laughed then. A lilting sound, like water trickling over the pebbles of a creek.
"No, no, my darling pup. The West is quite safe... For now at least."
Tōga was quickly losing patience. He felt the restless ire that had brought him to this meadow returning in full force.
"For now? What does that mean? You speak in riddles!"
Nimue did not answer. Instead, she cocked her head to the side, peering at him. "You dislike the path you are set to embark upon tomorrow."
It was a statement, not a question. Tōga said nothing, but his silence was confirmation enough.
She continued, "Would it soothe your soul then? To know that, for the safety of your kingdom, what will be MUST come to pass?"
Again, Tōga did not like the hidden meaning he felt hung in her words. The idea that his kingdom was under threat while he lounged beside a fire did not sit well with him.
"If you know of a threat to my power you must tell me!" It was a steely command, spoken in a tone that brooked no dissent.
She laughed again. "But of course, my Lord. Did I not tell you that I had a gift to give you?"
He merely glared at this woman who claimed to be a Kami. Kami or not, he did not like being toyed with.
Seeing the fire in his eyes, Nimue's face turned subtly contrite. She sighed. "Tōga, the gift I would give you bares a heavy burden, but for the sake of your kingdom… of your Pack… of so much more… I would see it given to you. It is not a gift I can force upon you, though. You must accept it of your own free will, knowing that from this day until your last, nothing will be the same for you again."
If Tōga had been anyone other than the Inu no Taishō, he may have squirmed uncomfortably at those words. Instead, he turned to look her fully in the face before asking, "And if I refuse your gift?"
"Then your sons, and the sons of your sons, and all youkai from now until the end of all days will perish."
Tōga inhaled sharply, his eyes widening in shock. After a moment he exhaled slowly, disbelief warring in his mind with the magnitude of the words this woman had spoken.
"How do you know this?"
"Puppy…" Nimue's eyes meet his. In a sad but firm tone, she continued. "Have I not just shown you that for one such as I, time has no meaning?"
Tōga's gold eyes shifted between the liquid blue of each of hers. Staring into them, he tried to assess the truthfulness of her words. Finally, as if in acceptance, he spoke again. "And this gift you wish to give me, it will protect my heirs from destruction?"
Nimue clarified, "It will set them upon the path. There are limits to even my power. What you do with the gift I give you – what they then do after that – will determine the inevitability of their fate."
Tōga turned his head back towards the fire, staring into the flames for a long moment. Calmly, he finally spoke. "I care NOT for lesser youkai, nor anyone else for that matter, but if your gift will ensure that my line will continue on… then I accept."
This time her laugh was a rueful one. "Very well, my Lord. Regardless of your reasons, you have accepted and so I will give you what it is I have come here to bestow."
Tōga glanced back at her then, looking from her hands to the furs and cushions around her. "I see nothing. Where is this gift you speak of?"
A soft smile pulled at the corners of Nimue's mouth. "The gift I would give you is two-fold. Come, sit closer by me. I will need to place my fingers upon your brow."
Reluctantly, Tōga shifted himself closer to the Kami. He watched her hand as it rose toward his forehead, stiffening slightly as her fingers crept closer.
Nimue paused just before touching him. In a voice barely above a whisper, she spoke again. "Remember, Tōga, you have accepted this two-fold gift of your own free will. And, as I said before, nought will be the same for you after this."
Tōga blinked once, then gave a slight nod. "I still accept."
He inhaled sharply as her cool fingers touched his brow. Paralyzed, the Kami's blinding light enveloped him again and before he could process what was happening, his mind tumbled over the edge of itself.
Everything Tōga was and everything he would be – his very soul – was suddenly filled with flashing images of things to come.
Memories he had yet to experience, faces he had yet to know. He saw his life… and his death. Yet still, the flashes continued as he witnessed the battles that would be fought long after he was nothing more than a towering pile of bones.
Amongst it all… He saw his sons.
In waves, emotions rose up and crashed over the daiyoukai's unused heart. They stole his breath as the visions unfolded further and further into the future, showing him the utter destruction and devastation that would come should his gift not be heeded.
If felt like a lifetime – ten lifetimes – had passed while he watched the flashing images play across his mind… And yet, he knew it was over in an instant.
When the Kami's fingers left his forehead, Tōga fell forward on his knees, hands in the grass, bracing his panting body.
Somewhere in the back of his awareness, he registered that the furs and cushions, even the small fire were all gone. And from his position on the ground, he could see Nimue's bare feet walking away towards the well.
"Wait…" He whispered on a jagged breath.
Her small feet stopped their forward motion. He looked up at her then and saw that she was looking back at him from over her shoulder.
Tōga tried to find words to make sense of what he had just seen. The horrible gift he had been given. "If I… Can they... Can we be saved?" He found his breath again, composing himself enough to sit back on his heels and look up at her.
She was quiet for a moment as if pondering his question. Finally, she spoke. "As I said before, I can merely set you on the path. What happens next…" She let her words trail off before whispering "I will do what I can to be of aid, as I know there will be… others… who would wish to see our efforts fail."
It was all she was willing to offer him, he knew. She continued her slow pace back towards the well.
Tōga felt weak and lightheaded. The emotions that had erupted within him during his powerful vision had not subsided. It was as though his chest had been cleaved in two… and yet what she'd originally promised him bubbled back up to the top of his mind then.
"Lady Nimue," he called her out by name for the first time. She paused as she reached the edge of the well, waiting for him to continue.
"You said this gift was two-fold. Yet, beyond these visions, I know not what else you have given me."
Nimue stepped up onto the wooden edge of the well, and then up again onto her luminescent column of water. Only then did she turn around, the same blue-green glow emanating from around her now, as well.
She opened her mouth to speak then, and the reverberating tone of her words made Tōga feel weak all over again. He finally comprehended the full power of the being whose presence he was in.
"Great Inu no Taishō, strongest of all daiyoukai, Lord of the West. To you I have granted that which you will need most, to ensure that your steps do not falter on this path that you will walk."
"What—?" He could not finish his words.
She spoke again, softer then, yet still full of power.
"I have granted you the gift of compassion."
And with a final flash of blinding light, she was gone.
Tōga knelt in the grass for a long time. He wondered if it had all been a dream, but the visions in his mind did not fade, and the well too remained where it was in the meadow near him.
Finally, he rose from his knees and walked carefully over to the edge of the well. Peering in, he saw that it was now empty. No trickling noise. No glow. No water at all, in fact. Nothing but a bare patch of dirt remained at the bottom.
Dawn was beginning to lighten the eastern horizon. He scrubbed his hands over his face and went to retrieve So'unga from where it still lay in the grass.
The Kami had been correct. Nothing after this night would ever be the same. The mighty Inu no Taishō allowed himself a rueful smile then. He had accepted this fate and walk this path he would.
Knowing that his mating ceremony was scheduled to begin with the rise of the full moon this coming evening, Tōga lifted himself into the air.
But he did not head west.
Instead, he raced towards the barren wasteland that the weapons-master, Tōtōsai, called home. He needed to commission the creation of two new swords first.