Princess Izayoi, the daughter of the noble Inoue clan, sat in her room playing koto. The perfect melody of her song flew out and into the garden that surrounded the estate she was living in. It lingered among the decorative trees and bushes of the garden, caressed the lush grass, and fluttered over the koi fish pond, where the full moon danced on small waves caused by a breeze.
Albeit she appeared perfectly happy as she knelt in the shoji, enjoying the lovely early autumn evening, the princess was alert and somewhat distressed. A plump bottom lip, red from the rogue she wore, was held between her teeth and her big, glittering eyes darted away from the koto in front of her to inspect the garden full of shadows every once in a while.
She was being watched; she knew that.
And it was not the first time, not the first night something - or someone - was lurking in the darkness, spying on her.
It was a youkai, of that the princess was sure. She let out a long breath to calm herself, then finished her tune and rose elegantly to her feet. As per usual, after practicing music to relax herself before sleep, she went behind a screen painted with wisteria to change in her night attire before she could go to bed.
But tonight - tonight was the full moon, and the youkai was probably going to attack her. She had spotted a flash of white in between the trees more than three times tonight.
A lesser woman would run to others, ask for her father’s guards to defend her, ask for a maid to accompany her to keep her mood. Or would sob, awaiting her fate of being eaten by a monster.
Princess Izayoi was no lesser woman, though, and the youkai that had come to spy on her for half a month was going to learn that fact as soon as he made the foolish attempt at trying to devour the daughter of the once-wealthy, but still noble clan. With her father and his men gone from the manor, with the servants already in beds, with the moon casting its eerie light over the land, she knew that it was the best time for a youkai to attack. She had to be brave and cunning, and even if she was going to die tonight, she was going to fight.
As she slid the shoji leading to the garden closed, the young woman gasped softly and felt a shiver run down her spine. The flash of white could be seen just for a blink of an eye, but it was much closer than any other time. She swallowed and closed her eyes as she walked towards the screen. She had been preparing for this, knowing very well that her life was on the line. It was so bold of the youkai to attack a manor as big as her family’s, but that only proved that he was strong. Hopefully, he was also stupid.
Soon, the young princess was ready - as ready as one could be while expecting to be attacked and eaten by a vicious youkai - and blew out the lone candle, making the darkness fill the room.
Touga, Inu no Taisho of the West, stood under a maple tree, partially hidden behind its trunk. His golden eyes were on the admirable young lady playing koto with skill that not many humans had. His keen ears picked no disharmony in her music, just as his eyes saw no flaw in her serene face. The scent of the woman wafted over the garden, more intoxicating than any flower.
A wide grin appeared on his lips at the thought of what he was planning to do tonight. The human manor was barely guarded, most of the people gathered far from this wing of the complex. The lovely princess was alone and no sword was there to protect her from him.
Not that any human sword could do him much damage, anyway.
He had been stalling for two weeks now, too mesmerized by the princess’ looks and the wonderful music she created during the evening. Sometimes it felt as if she was playing just for him, for there was no one else to witness her sweet tunes played at dusk. But tonight, under the full moon, the Inu no Taisho was going to finally execute his plan and get what he came here for over a dozen days ago.
It had been a dare that one his friends had suggested over a cup of sake. And, eager to cause mischief, Touga had sworn to return to the gathering of warriors - all powerful youkai - with a token of his conquest.
All he needed was a kanzashi of the princess of the sixteenth night, who played koto in the falling darkness and smelled of orchids and lotus flowers, who was truly one of the fairest human women in the land.
And - he hoped to steal something else.
For now, he wished to steal a kiss from those red lips.
He watched her rise from the koto, appearing fragile and ethereal as she lingered for a moment in the open shoji, basked by the moonlight.
He reached up to fix the tie around his ponytail and the princess stepped back in her room, closing the flimsy door behind herself.
He started to walk towards that entrance slowly, not a branch, not a flower moving as he passed the vibrantly colored plants on his way. He was going to step onto the engawa and call out to her sweetly, coaxing her to join him in the moonlight. He would charm her and make her sit with him, make her talk to him, for as long as the moon was overhead. Then, close to the pale pink dawn, he would lean in and ask her for a hair pin - which he hoped she would be eager to part with. In return, he would promise to visit her again and seal the promise with a soft, chaste kiss, that would bear only a hint of controlled passion.
Then, he imagined, he was going to take his leave, leaping into the sky and flying away, followed by the dazed gaze of the princess.
Still entertaining his plans, Touga leaped lightly on the wooden boards of the engawa.
The loose board on which he had stepped, sprang up and only thanks to his youkai agility and reflexes, he avoided a long, nasty-looking nail. Sadly, as he dodged the sharp object, he stepped to the side, just to make another board shift under his weight and the end on which his foot had landed flew up and hit him where it really hurt. This time, fighting for balance as the floor dipped under him for the second time, Touga had no chance to dodge the lethal blow.
Tears filled golden eyes as the mighty Inu no Taisho sank to his knees with an almost soundless whine when a thin wooden plank connected with a part of a youkai not designed for such rough treatment. His hands flew to cradle his abused groin.
The first board fell back to where it lay among its brethren, the moonlight shining off of the sharp point.
Curled around his aching crotch, Touga thanked the kami that out of the two evils, he was spared the worst one.
Honestly, this engawa was dangerous. Was this clan so poor now that they couldn’t maintain their manor? How could one allow for such a hazardous flooring in the fair princess’ quarters?
After a good while of nursing his grave injury, Touga rose to his feet and wiped his cheeks. He couldn’t charm a lady like this. Stepping more carefully this time he approached the shoji and smiled, inhaling the wonderful scent of the young princess inside. She smelled scared - which was no surprise after exclaiming in pain like he’d done. He cleared his throat and spoke in a soothing, smooth voice.
“Princess Izayoi, please, come out..”
“Oh, lovely princess, I swear, I have no ill-intentions. Pray, join me outside, so we can talk and admire the moon,” he continued, and placed his hand on the door, sliding it slowly open. The room was dark and smelled of incense: a pleasant, but almost too strong scent to his sensitive nose.
He peered inside and smiled when he saw the futon unrolled in one corner, a shape under the blankets. Was the princess already asleep? It was no wonder she didn’t answer his call.
He could steal her kanzashi now, but he didn’t want to just get it and leave. He was intrigued with this lady and wanted to get to know her. It would be hard with her asleep. He had to wake her up.
Mind made up, he crept towards the bedding, passing a lacquered table on short legs and a chest for some of her belongings. Her koto was left next to the shoji. The room was furnished sparsely and looked rather tidy, but lacked luxurious items one would expect a princess’ room to have.
In the dim light that fell from the doorway, Touga leaned in over the slumbering woman and reached his clawed hands to pick up the piece of cloth draped over her head. It was somewhat puzzling to see someone sleep with their face covered like this, but he figured out it was some beautiful thing humans did as of late.
“Pri-” he managed, before a cloud of heavy, overpowering scent of incense hit his nostrils and made his eyes water and the world spin. Touga staggered back, covering his nose with a sleeve and blinking away the tears, coughing and sneezing in the cloud of smoke. The embers grew brighter as the fresh air was introduced to the contents of the pot.
Instead of the face of the slumbering maiden, between the pillows was a pot filled with embers and lots of burning incense. Touga waved his other hand to disperse the heavy cloud, gasping for fresh air.
He just regained his composure and got his watering eyes under control when a bag was thrown at him.
“Uh?” the daiyoukai blinked when the cloth pouch hit his chest and fell to the floor, salt spilling from the untied opening.
He had a creeping suspicion that the floorboards of the engawa weren’t an accident.
A soft rustle caught his attention and the inu turned his head to the painted screen, behind which the princess hid to change her clothing.
“I’m afraid salt didn’t work,” he informed her, somewhat amused. “I really don’t mean you any harm, you have no reason to fear me, princess.”
That was when another projectile was thrown at him from behind the thin paper of the screen. Foolishly, he didn’t see a need to dodge it.
What could a petite human princess throw at the mighty Inu no Taisho to cause even the most minor of damage?
The answer was quickly given when a rice ball hit his chest. Deftly, he caught the projectile before it fell to the ground after hitting his chest. It was somewhat deformed after the impact, but he still lifted it to his nose to smell the scent of it.
“Ah, a food offering!” he said cheerfully. “A surprise, but a welcome one.”
His answer was a scoff and some more rustling from the place where the shy girl hid. He was in no hurry; besides, he figured out acting calm and kind was the best way of behaving. He was a stranger, and it was no surprise she was intimidated by him.
He moved the rice ball to his mouth, about to eat it in a show of goodwill. As he bit into it, his fang grated on something unpleasantly hard and he spat the bit onto his other hand.
It was a needle.
“Are you trying to kill me?” he asked the screen. It didn’t answer. He couldn’t smell her, thanks to the incense smoke-filled the room - a smoke that was bound to give him a headache later - but he couldn’t hear her now, either. Gone was the rustling of garments and the fast heartbeat he’d heard before. He could see a darker outline of a person standing there, in the corner, but that was all.
Dropping the food that had distracted him, Touga walked slowly towards the screen, curious as to what the crafty girl was going to do next.
Touga peered beyond the screen to find only a kimono hanging draped from a peg in the wall. No lonely princess waiting to be soothed and convinced of his peaceful intentions.
“Huh?” He instinctively sniffed the air for her, and sneezed when he got a whole load of incense up his nose. Kami, his pelt was going to stink of it for months!
Stepping lightly, he entered the small space and tilted his head to listen. There was a faint noise underneath him, but this didn’t spell the doom of his groin. With a smirk, the daiyoukai crouched down and lifted the hem of the hanging kimono. The mat in the corner of the room was cut and folded, revealing the wooden planks underneath. A more careful inspection revealed that the space right in the corner of the princess’ bedchamber was equipped with a trap door that opened to the dark, dusty space under the manor itself. Touga poked his head in to see a forest of pillars and rocks that held the manor above the ground level. A noise made him look to his right, where the edge of the dark place was visible through a clearing between the pillars.
A person had just stood up and was hastily moving away from the manor.
With a chuckle, Touga closed the trap door back and covered it properly with the cut bit of the mat. Then he stood up and walked through the swirls of smoke from the incense.
His golden eyes glinted as he jumped from the shoji straight onto the soft grass of the garden.
“Let’s give chase,” he purred to himself, easily spotting the figure of the girl disappearing in the thicket of maples. She wore a dark yukata, not a trailing kimono of many layers, which helped her move faster. Her long hair was braided and trailed behind her like a tail. A most alluring sight.
It was a pity that Touga could move faster than her.
“Oh, princess,” he called after her. “I am afraid you cannot outrun me! Can we just talk?”
Then he gave chase, his feet carrying him soundlessly and effortlessly down the path of her scent. She made no attempt to cry for help and she didn’t run wildly; she had a direction in her mind as she made her way to wherever she planned.
Something told Touga there would be more surprises waiting for him there. He smiled, secretly pleased with the princess. She was not only fair and talented; she was also smart and brave. Misguided in her assumption that he meant her harm, but also valiant in her attempt. He could not wait to get to know her better.
Any human not scared witless by a daiyoukai, but instead choosing to challenge them, was worth that.
He caught up to her in no time and grabbed the end of her braid.
“Stop, princess!” he demanded, but there was no harsh order in his voice. “I won’t harm you!”
She staggered as he caught her and - to his shock - spun on her heels to face him. He caught a glint of steel in her hand and thought for a split second she was going to stab him.
But no, she had something more not to his liking in mind. Moving as fast as thought, he used his other hand to grab her wrist before she could cut her own hair to get free from his grip.
“No, please, it’d be a shame to cut such pretty hair,” he whispered and looked into her face with an expression of earnest kindness and friendliness.
A feat hard to achieve with fangs and youkai markings underlining his glowing eyes.
She was breathless, panting after her run. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes wide as she looked back at him. Her lips were parted and alluring. Touga’s hold on her wasn’t hard enough to hurt her delicate wrist, but it was enough for him to sense the tension of her arm.
She scanned his face for a moment in the moonlight, the only noise the rustling of the trees on a breeze. Slowly, oh so slowly, her grip on the knife relaxed and the blade fell to the ground with a dull thud. Touga smiled, trying to encourage her to relax more.
He had caught this crafty girl. He had prevailed in all the trials she had put before him. He was going to make her see that he was not a vile man, but an honorable daiyoukai who understood and liked humans more than many others did.
This adorable woman was so intriguing. Her beauty was only one of the things that drew him to her and made him wish to know her better.
To steal a kiss.
Now, after the chase, Touga felt even more compelled to do that.
So, looking deeply in those wonderful eyes, he let go of her hair and leaned in ever so slowly. She didn’t shy away and his heart started to beat faster when he noticed the tip of a pink tongue steal across her bottom lip.
Gently, he squeezed her wrist and moved closer, elated at the fact that this fierce woman wasn’t trying to flee.
He should have known better.
He was mere centimeters from those sweet lips, her breath smelling of herbs she had chewed to keep it fresh. Her eyelids fluttered shut for a moment, long lashes brushing against pale cheeks.
And then, as he was about to close the distance and kiss her, the girl’s eyes flashed and she moved her head. Her forehead was hard as it smashed against his nose and mouth with all the force that she could mister.
Izayoi wrestled her hand from the youkai’s grip, feeling her forehead hurt after her sudden attack. But she was free and that was what mattered. Quickly, she turned and ran off, knowing that her action caused a mere minor injury to him.
Why was he so strong? He resisted both the incense and the salt, and he had no trouble finding out she was gone and running after her.
And now she didn’t even have a knife anymore.
His hold on her when he’d stopped her from cutting her hair had been gentle. His voice was smooth and he acted more amused than annoyed with her. His golden eyes were mesmerizing and his smile was enchanting - but wasn’t that what was the worst part? Handsome youkai charmed people so they wouldn’t struggle before being eaten.
She was not going to let him eat her.
At least not without a fight.
She was running towards an arbor in the corner of the garden, where she had stashed some other things she could use, just in case. She was getting closer, but worried that the dashing youkai wouldn’t give her a chance to reach the place.
Just as she worried about it, she ran around an old pine. That was when the youkai made his return.
To her shock, he didn’t pounce at her to tear out her throat.. No, he stepped out of the shadows right in front of her and opened his arms. She tried to slow down or change her direction, but it was too late.
In a flash of white she was swept off of her feet and against his chest. She let out a short cry when he leaped up and flew in the air. Her hands, at first trying to push at his shoulders, now gripped the white kimono he wore tightly.
“Oh, kami, have mercy…” she breathed out as she looked down and saw her home and the surrounding area growing smaller as the youkai ascended into the dark sky.
“You have nothing to fear from me, Izayoi,” the youkai said in a soft voice, holding her securely in his arms. She glanced up to see in the moonlight that whatever damage she’d done, it was already healed. There was just a thin trace of blood from his nose to upper lip. “Which is, apparently, more than I can expect from you, warrior princess.”
There was a glint of mirth in his eye when he added that. As strong as he was, she supposed, all her efforts had to seem to him like pranks of a willy child.
“You came to kill and eat me. I had to try to defend myself,” she stated. His smile faded a bit
“Ah, you are a stubborn one,” he said. “I don’t eat humans. You are way too much fun.”
A new fear crept into her heart at those words and she remembered how he’d come into her room and had gone straight for her bed. She remembered how he’d tried to kiss her.
Was he planning to do something worse than kill and eat her? She glanced down - falling to her death was much more preferable than being dishonored by a youkai. This fear was short-lived, when he spoke again.
“My objective was to steal a kanzashi from you, actually,” the youkai said, as if not aware of her looking down. “If I don’t get it, I’ll lose a bet, you see.”
“A kanzashi,” she repeated flatly, glancing back at him. That sounded outlandish.
“Sake was involved,” he admitted, looking sheepish. “And, by the way, my name is Touga. Now, believe me, I have no ill-intentions, I swear. If I land and let go of you, will you agree to my humble plea and talk to me for a while? And let me borrow your kanzashi? It’s a matter of honor, you see.”
High in the air above her own manor, in the darkness of the night, illuminated only by the moon, Izayoi found herself staring at the youkai, who had come to her chambers to - as he confessed just now - get a hairpin from her.
And, suspended in the air only by a creature she knew little about, entirely at his mercy, unable to fight back or flee, Izayoi started to giggle at the silliness of his plea, spoken in that deep, honest voice, full of warmth and devoid of the vicious bloodlust that youkai were famous for. He held her so carefully, too. His calloused fingers were tipped with deadly claws, but none even scratched her or dug into her flesh.
How unexpected it all was. It was nothing like the cautionary tales, depicting youkai as the worst creatures ever, that hunted humans and devoured them. This one, this Touga person, he had not once threatened her, he had not tried to overpower her - well, aside from this floating hundreds of meters above the ground bit - and he sounded so honest. She couldn’t sense deception in his words, and he didn’t ask for anything she couldn’t give. Maybe, just maybe, he was one of the rare nice youkai? Certainly, being fed a needle and other things would irk any vile youkai trying to charm her enough for her to realize his deception. Only time would tell, she knew that. And, really what other choice did she have?
There was more than a hint of hysteria in her giggle, but it was a sign of approval of his plea nonetheless. Touga didn’t hesitate in bringing her back to the ground in the same spot near the old pine. He held her in his arms for a moment, so she could steady herself, then let her go. She took a few steps away, then glanced back at him.
He crossed his arms, as if waiting for her to produce a naginata out of her sleeve and charge at him with it in hand.
Hm, in her stash she had some rope and another knife. She took a calming breath and gestured for him to follow her towards the arbor.
They could talk and maybe - just maybe - she would lend him one of her hair pins.
But if he tried something sketchy with her, she was going to give him an injury much harder to heal than a split lip and bruised nose.
After all, she was Izayoi the princess of the Inoue clan, the only child of a warlord, who had taught her many things.
What she didn’t know was that the youkai smiling at her as he walked beside her was the Inu no Taisho, and that he was already planning to lay siege to her heart.