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A Changing World

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        Kagome loved the Goshinboku that resided on the edge of her family’s shrine. For some reason Kagome had always taken comfort in sitting below the great branches of the ancient tree and resting her back against the wide berth of the trunk. The wind blew ruffling the woman’s bangs across the smooth pale skin of her face, carrying the smell of the forest.

        The aging tree always soothed Kagome. As a child she would sit on her Papa’s shoulders and he would lift her onto the lowest branch. Kagome and her father spent hours pretending that she was a princess locked in a tower, and Buyo, the family cat, was a fire breathing yokai. Her valiant knight would throw Buyo a ball of yarn before sweeping Princess Kagome out of the tower. After her Papa died Kagome returned to the tree, but had never sat in its branches since. When Souta learned to walk Kagome had chased the toddler around the trunk of the tree. She smiled, remembering how she had always caught Souta and tickled him until both siblings were rolling in the grass and laughing. Sometimes at night Kagome dreams of Goshinboku’s branches. She imagines sitting upon the tallest branch and watching over the darkened city. Sometimes these dreams of the great tree wake her and she goes out to the tree in the middle of the night and just talks. Once when she was sixteen, she had been walking out to the tree and she could have sworn she saw a flash of white and red jumping out of the Goshinboku and off into the night. Later on she asked Grandpa about the red and white creature. “Oh, Kagome, that’s just the spirit of the forest. He’s been guarding this land for centuries.”

       “Kagome!” Souta, her younger brother, shouted. Kagome glanced towards the house, no longer thinking about her forest spirit, and saw her brother’s teenage head sticking out of the back door. “Kagome, I think you should come see this.” His eyes looked heavy with excitement and his lips were pulled into a wide smile. Immediately she launched herself onto her feet and ran toward the house. Souta’s words and expression were enough to pull Kagome from her rest and pump adrenaline into her veins.

       “What happened?” Kagome questioned over the thunder of her racing heart.

        Souta waits until Kagome passes through the door and enters the living room. Even then he doesn’t bother answering, he just points to the television set. Mama, upon seeing her daughter’s arrival, increases the volume and together, as a family, they watch the news report that had interrupted Souta’s favorite anime.

       It is difficult to hear the male reporter over the roar of the celebrating people behind him. Kagome can clearly make out both yokai and humans among the crowd. There are probably also hanyous that she hadn’t been able to distinguish from their yokai counterparts. “Earlier today the yokai-human equality rights group, United Life, held a peaceful demonstration in the center of Tokyo. The co-founders, inter-species couple, Inu-taisho Rin and Sesshomaru announced the conception of their first child, and their plan to secure rights for hanyous,” the reporter sited from the busy Tokyo streets.

       The Higurashi family cheers in delight. They, more so than other human families, know the struggles yokai-human mates and their children had faced. The man continues to report, “The Inu-taisho family has presented to legislation a group of over two thousand witnesses and victims of hanyou cruelty in an attempt to prove the necessity of protective laws for hanyous. The case will not be examined for at least a few months and will no doubt last many weeks, but many are gathered here today, hopeful for change.”

     Kagome turned to her family, thrilled. “This is fantastic!” Kagome screamed. She turned and launched herself at her mother and grandfather.

      “This used to be much more pleasant when you were only a child, Kagome,” Grandpa moaned as he struggled to hold himself upright under the weight of his twenty-six year old granddaughter. But his playful, little girl was a grown up now, and was now a doctor specializing in emergency response. A wave of melancholy washes over him before he once again focuses on the present.

      “Sorry, Grandpa,” Kagome laughed as she took a step away from her family. She looks down at her favorite green skirt and white blouse with chagrin.

            “I understand, Kagome,” Mama sighed. “I know how much time and work you’ve put into helping people: human, yokai, or otherwise.”

            “Thanks, Mama.”

            “Yeah,” Souta agreed. “I’ve been to your work, Sis. It’s really messed up how many yokai-human couples have been harassed or attacked. And not to mention the horrible things both traditionalist humans and yokai do to hanyous.” Souta shudders as though he can simply shake away the painful memories.

            Kagome loves working at the Hand-in-Hand community hospital, open to all species, but sometimes it really gets to her. Just last week a mother came in covered with blood after someone had ripped her half yokai baby from her arms and beat her half to death. Kagome treated her wounds, and the woman recovered physically. Mentally the woman would never recover, because as she recovered, her two-month-old daughter did not. The poor girl had died because of her genetics. Kagome couldn’t understand how the beautiful, little, half otter yokai girl was so offensive that those murders would target her. It infuriated Kagome to no end that many people in the city and the whole world didn’t care that these things happened frequently because of their back water beliefs.

            “This is long overdue,” Kagome said. “It’s two thousand and fifteen, yet nearly half the world population believes the same as people from five hundred years ago.”

            Mama rubbed Kagome’s back with a hopeful expression on her face. “So much has changed in the past fifty years alone. When I was your age, yokai and humans were completely segregated. I never could have imagined that my children would be going to integrated schools and open restaurants and stores. It’s wonderful and I have faith,” Kagome turned to look at her mother, “that by the time you have children of your own, hanyous and mixed relationships will be considered normal.” Mama’s dark eyes were bright and joyful with memories and wishes.

            “Yes, Kagome, it’s a changing world out there,” Grandpa adds with an encouraging smile. He bobs his head slightly his traditional beard and mustache swaying in time with his short pony tail. Kagome can’t help but laugh. He looks ridiculous with his arms wrapped in his old-fashioned robe sleeves, his eyes closed, and leaning back slightly in a show of strength and wisdom.

            The Higurashi family turns off the television and begins a celebratory dinner, cheering for equal rights and clinking their glasses together.

            Across the city, in a large, newly constructed, multi-million dollar house very much unlike the Higurashi’s, another family settles down for dinner.    

            Rin, pregnant for the first time, is in her second trimester and she is about to kill her mate of nearly eighty years. Of course as a mate of a powerful yokai, Rin still appears to be twenty-four, the age she was when she and Sesshoumaru mated. Sesshoumaru had always been protective of his beloved human mate. She had meet Sesshoumaru when she was still a child, eight-years-old and recently orphaned by the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. Rin knew as soon as he had saved her from certain death that she loved him and would be by his side, always. And she had, and would for eternity. Rin loved Sesshoumaru fiercely, but she desperately wished she could wield her brother-in-law’s sword and make him shut up. Ever since that positive pregnancy test Sessh had been fawning over her. Rin couldn’t even use the restroom without him trailing after her!

            “Rin, is that food nutritious enough for the baby? Do you have enough water? When’s your next doctor’s appointment? Have you been taking your prenatal vitamins? Do you think that we should have bought a one story house so we wouldn’t have to worry about the stairs?” Sesshoumaru fired off question after question, not even waiting for Rin to attempt a response. Glancing across the table she meet Inuyasha’s eyes. He seems thoroughly annoyed by his half-brother’s ranting about the nutritional content of the food, the safety of the professionally baby-proofed house, and the competence of her physician.

            Rin rolls her eyes at Inuyasha and he responds with an indifferent shrug. Rin finds it extremely ironic that the family behind the yokai-human equality campaign just announced a major development, yet is sitting at the table discussing which brand of disposable diaper they should use for a baby that won’t be born for four months. “Hey, Sesshoumaru, if you insist on killing me, use a sword. I’m tired of listening to your voice,” Inuyasha complains with a wink and a smirk in Rin’s direction.

            Sesshoumaru straightens his spine and glares at his younger brother. “That sounds like a challenge. Perhaps some after dinner sparing could be arranged.”

            “Keh,” Inuyasha mutters. But Rin can see the beginning of a smile on his face. Although the brothers are reluctant to admit it, they like to banter and scuffle. ‘They’re just like puppies,’ Rin thinks. Sessh nods stiffly at the hanyou before returning to his dinner and his prior conversation.

            “Rin, dear, I know you had spoken with your doctor about a home birthing, but are those things really safe? Perhaps we should consider–”

            “Inuyasha,” Rin interrupts Sesshoumaru’s rambling, “are you planning on testifying in the upcoming equality trial?” Her warm brown eyes and Sesshoumaru’s deep amber eyes focus on the stiff body of the hanyou. Inuyasha’s clawed hand is hovering in the air, holding his fork and a helping ramen noodles near his open mouth. His silver dog ears are upright with shock and he is nearly shaking with surprised tension.

            Several moments later Inuyasha drops his fork back into his bowl with a splash, loudly scrapes his chair to the side and murmurs a quiet, “I don’t know,” before leaving the room. Rin watches in astonishment as he literally runs from the room. She flinches when Inuyasha leaves the house, slamming the front door with a gigantic thud behind him. Rin turns to Sesshomaru, her brown eyes wide with pain and disbelief.

            “What just happened?” Rin whispers, voice soft with tears – damn pregnancy hormones. Rin couldn’t hold back the little sob that escaped her mouth. She had never seen Inuyasha like that. Normally the proud hanyou was snarky when uncomfortable. Rin had experienced awkward situations when Inuyasha foolishly challenged Sesshoumaru, uneasy times when Inuyasha secluded himself to hide his human form, and his brashness when meeting new people. However, Rin had never seen Inuyasha look beaten, wounded. Her brother-in-law was always cocky and usually rude. He didn’t submit easily, yet a simple question scared him away.

            Sesshoumaru sighs loudly, “In all honesty, that could have been much worse.” When Rin opens her mouth and starts to ask why, her mate gently shakes his head, golden eyes somber. They finish the dinner in silence and Rin regrets interrupting Sesshoumaru, wishing that he was still blabbing about baby nonsense.

            Inuyasha leaves the house running, his bare feet slapping against the pavement. When he reaches the first building he jumps and lands upon the roof. Coasting from rooftop to rooftop in a desperate attempt to leave Rin’s haunting words behind. ‘The trial,’ Inuyasha considers, ‘would no doubt have enough sob stories without my whining ass on stand.’ Inuyasha soars through the city, not stopping or slowing until he reaches the edge of Tokyo. The modest shrine on the top of the hill was a sight for sore eyes. When the shrine had first been constructed, Inuyasha hated it. He even tried to stop the construction of it nearly a hundred and seventy years ago. He had run around the area, knocking over the wood foundation, scratching the wet cement, and breaking glass. He even went as far as grabbing builders and dropping them onto tree branches. However, the miko was stubborn, and the shrine was built despite Inuyasha’s grievances.

            Inuyasha hopped up the shrines many steps in a single leap. He settles into a tree he’d known since childhood, the Goshinboku. After his mother died, Inuyasha sought safety in the tallest branches of the tree. For nearly four decades he only left the tree to hunt and bathe. Then he met his elder brother. Sesshoumaru was very clear that Inuyasha meant very little to him and the only reason Sessh hadn’t killed him was because of their father. Many nights he had longed for the security and peacefulness of the Goshinboku, but he traveled with Sesshoumaru for more than sixty years. In that time they had quarreled frequently, but never truly fought until Sessh had become possessed by the power of an evil yokai. In self-defense Inuyasha amputated his brother’s arm. From that moment on, the full yokai’s teasing of his brother’s half yokai state increased ten-fold. Soon afterward Inuyasha returned to his forest and his beloved tree only to discover the construction of the shrine. Kikyo, the miko, immediately became Inuyasha’s enemy. No one disturbed Inuyasha’s Forest without the permission of said hanyou. Along with his fire rat robes and sword Tessaiga, the forest had been his inheritance from his father.

            However, Kikyo was stubborn. She refused to relinquish her claim on the undeveloped shrine. Much to Inuyasha’s embarrassment, he soon became enamored with the lovely woman. And one day, she approached him with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Inuyasha had the chance to become human, to belong to a species instead of trapped between two. Inuyasha could transform, and then he could marry his miko. Except none of that was true. He was a monster. And like all monsters, he had been hunted. When he met his love at the appointed time and place he found himself cornered by villagers and shot down with an arrow by his beloved Kikyo.

            Inuyasha would never forget what she had said to him that day. “You are a beast, Inuyasha. A monstrosity. How a disgusting creature, such as yourself, was allowed to live shocks me.”

            “But Kikyo,” he murmured as blood flowed from his arrow inflicted wound, “I thought you loved me.”

            Kikyo had scoffed. “Love? Love?” she questioned. “As long as you roam this Earth love will not only avoid you, but be tainted by your presence.”

            A hundred and twenty three years had passed since Kikyo had shouted those words at him, yet they made regular reappearances in his nightmares. Inuyasha spent months confused about Kikyo’s change of heart. How could she have been so willing to help him and then days later tried to kill him? Until Inuyasha came to the bone chilling realization that Kikyo had always despised him. It had been her intention all along to kill Inuyasha. And like a fool he had bought her act. He had been so desperate for love and acceptance, he never even suspected her ploy.

            Inuyasha rested his head against the old aged bark and dug his claws into the Goshinboku. “Fucking Kikyo,” he cursed under his breath.

            “Hello, great forest spirit!” an elderly voice called from bellow. Inuyasha had been so consumed by thoughts of Kikyo that he hadn’t even noticed the arrival of the current shrine priest.

            “What do you want, old man?” Inuyasha asked bitterly. Although the elderly man meant well, he always ended up grinding Inuyasha’s gears.

            The old priest snorted at his biter mood. “I’ve brought out some sake,” he announced holding up a large cup of alcohol, gesturing for Inuyasha to come drink.

            “Keh, I don’t drink much, old man.”

            He shrugs. “Well, tonight’s a bit of a special occasion.” He sways on his feet and Inuyasha realizes that the priest has been drinking himself. “You may not know, or maybe you do. I’m not quite sure how fast news travels in the forest spirit world. Perhaps you have a television or a radio?”

            “Just spit it out already. I don’t have all day,” Inuyasha bites out with an eye roll. He had spent their entire first conversation, nearly two hours, trying to explain to the old man that he wasn’t a forest spirit. The priest wasn’t convinced that throughout nearly forty years of his life that the being he saw in the forest wasn’t some kind of ghost. In the thirty year since their first meeting, the priest still referred to Inuyasha as a forest spirit. “What? Did your grandkid do something important in the world of humans?”

            The old man shakes his head. “No, this is a much bigger than the simple accomplishment of a single human - even those of my grandchildren.” Inuyasha rolls his eyes and jumps down from his tree to drink the sake. “Finally the people of Tokyo are ready to embrace mixed couples and hanyous. There’s to be a trial for hanyou rights!” Inuyasha spits out a mouthful of sake. ‘Not him too,’ Inuyasha internally begs.

            “Is the sake not to your standards?” the priest asks concerned, not noticing Inuyasha’s extreme discomfort.

            “Keh, it’s fine.” The old man shrugs and continues his ramblings.

            “You know, my granddaughter is an emergency response doctor at Hand-in-Hand open species hospital. She’s the one who really opened my eyes to the severe mistreatment of part yokai and human-yokai couples.” The old man’s eyes glass over in memory. “I remember her first day as an intern at the hospital. She called home on her lunch break crying because a young yokai man had been ganged up on by humans. Apparently this yokai had mated with a human girl and her father along with an angry mob beat him with crow bars and pipes. The man’s spine was so twisted and mangled that he died just minutes after arriving in the hospital.”

            Inuyasha swallows despite the lump in his throat. The story reminds him too much of his father’s and mother’s tragic story. “What happened to the woman?”

            “She was married off to one of the men who participated in the attack. A few months later she had been brought to the hospital as well.” He looks at Inuyasha with teary eyes. “She died of blood loss. My granddaughter said the wounds were self-inflicted.”

            Inuyasha leaves the shrine when the sun starts to rise. He spent the entire night out by the tree with the priest drinking sake and speaking of tragic endings to eternal love. Inuyasha stumbles away from the shrine pleasantly drunk, feet crunching on the colorful autumn leaves scattering the steps of the shrine. His senses are too dulled by alcohol to notice the stalking presence of a neko-yokai.