InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Possession ❯ ThirtySix ( Chapter 36 )
[ Y - Young Adult: Not suitable for readers under 16 ]
A/N: Hello…anyone still there? Oh good. I've missed you too.
One of many, he floated within their consciousness like a scrap of driftwood tossed by the restless sea. Waves rolled over him, through him as darkness and light, then darkness again. He had no body, no blood, not even memory of his name. Without fingers to touch, without a tongue to speak, he could no longer taste the salt of her tears or the rich sweetness of her kiss.
Now and then, he was able to swim to the surface, riding the heady torrent of fury and bitterness. He drowned in the multitude, gasping for breath and flailing against the panic. Here was a wretched choir of voices, so many, so angry! Worse was to dive deeper, into pure silence and nothingness, a quiet dark void so cold and empty that it terrified him.
It was death. It was his death and every time he drifted close to it, he called it by its name. Nothingness offered escape; nothingness seduced him with all the promise of redemption. Frightening as it was to a lonely, severed soul, that deep dark was the only shore that might offer him rest.
Give up, the voices chanted in unison. Join us or swim for the lonely shore, there is no other choice. Fire and madness at one end, ice-cold solace at the other, whichever way he swam it seemed that he could not escape. He was tired; he was so very tired of fighting them. A battle should be won or lost, not continue for eternity.
Such was the hell of the Shikon no Tama.
A cursed jewel, he suddenly remembered. Where they began was a balance that existed without advantage for either side. Darkness born from drops of blood scattered across earth, soaked in the ambition of men until the forest floor was rotten with it. Souls that wandered the sky, cut loose from their bodies and doomed to find no rest or peace until they coalesced into a writhing mass of simple need.
Some invaded the forms of animals; others took shape from the crawling insects, the slithering snakes. Still more sought out the decaying stench of corpses, wielding their pain like a flail against dead flesh. One by one, they grew, fed, and devoured until hunger became their definition, lust and fury their very existence.
Nameless and many, they attacked anything living. From the foliage that withered from their touch to the human children snatched from their beds, whatever they could feed upon became their prey.
Then, like a pillar of light arising from the depths of the endless night, She appeared. Although her blood smelled mortal and tempting, the brilliance of her unspoiled soul was pure intoxication. They yearned to bask beside its shimmer, slake their thirst with the coolness of its waters. Hungry and drawn to the light of that soul, desiring only rip aside the mortal flesh that imprisoned it, they would crush the bones and sinew that restrained them from such an intimate embrace.
In the beginning, it wasn't hatred that drove the demon souls of the Shikon no Tama.
It was love.
Kagome bit her lip and winced as Tessaiga fell to the floor with a loud clatter. Her knuckles were bloody from where she'd scraped them raw against the rough stone and her palms were slick with sweat. It hurt, it really hurt, but she didn't have the luxury or time for licking her wounds.
The sun was setting. Although she couldn't see the horizon, she knew that her time was running out. The shadows were growing deep, stretching across the floor like tendrils of fear. Trapped here for hours, she hadn't been able to think of anything but escape and survival.
She'd managed to break one of the chains. Delirious with hope, she'd pressed on until her wrists and knees were weak and trembling. Her back ached and she was hunched over like an old woman, but Kagome was proud of that broken chain. Even if it hadn't won her freedom, she'd proven herself against her nightmares one more time.
It was a small victory, but a victory all the same.
Gathering her strength, she pushed herself up from the floor. She didn't have time for self-pity, not when every second was precious. The heavy chain clanked against the floor as she circled the boulder that held her prisoner. Massive and immovable, it had become symbolic of everything that stood between her and freedom.
It was fear, it was hatred, it was shame...all the things that held her back, kept her from becoming the woman she was meant to be. A frightened, devastated child had climbed out of that well so many years ago, unaware of this boulder on her back. All those years she'd carried the weight of this hard stone as she tried to reclaim her life. It became part of who she was, an invisible burden that made each step forward more difficult until she staggered and finally lost sight of herself completely.
"No more," Kagome whispered. "I won't let you hold me down again."
Wrapping both hands around the chain, she heaved hard and was surprised when she felt the impossible give way just the tiniest bit. Kagome stopped and stared at her hands, unable to believe that she'd suddenly acquired superhuman strength.
No, that wasn't it! She dropped to her knees and dug at the dirty floor of the ruined temple. In the back of her mind, she could see Inuyasha's face, manic and distorted when he'd twisted the chains around her arms, gleeful as he pinned them under the huge boulder. Kagome tried to focus and concentrate on the memory, see beyond her panic and loathing.
The floor was shattered under the boulder, crushed from when the huge rock had slammed through the roof only gods knew how long ago. The gritty texture gave under her fingers and Kagome realized that the length of chain under the boulder was actually embedded in soft earth. She could dig her way free.
After hours of pain and hopeless fear, it was ridiculous how little time it took for her to dig out the chain. Her arms were covered with welts and bruises, her back ached even more now that she was relieved of the heavy weight that had nearly pulled her arms from her shoulders. Giddy with her sudden freedom, Kagome stumbled over her own feet and fell to her knees once again.
Fine, so she'd crawl out of here if that's what it took, inch by miserable inch. She'd forgotten how to give up, flinging her contempt into the teeth of despair like a challenge.
Just try to stop me, just try it!
The loss of Sango and Miroku had immobilized her; Inuyasha's betrayal had nearly destroyed her, sent her into a spiral so deep that she'd lost sight of what mattered most. She'd curled inside herself, tried to banish the pieces of her heart that hurt only to find that without them…she herself was the unfinished puzzle. She was the one left incomplete and missing, not the ones that she had left behind.
By the whim of fate or just damned bad luck, the incomplete puzzle was yet again upended and the pieces scattered. Only this time she knew what she was doing. She knew where the missing pieces belonged and nothing, not even staring into the face of Inuyasha's savagely torn soul, was going to scare her away.
Slapping both hands against the floor hard enough to shake her bones, Kagome lifted her face and turned to stare into the setting sun.
“You don't scare me,” she whispered, biting off each word with the venom of conviction. “I'll find a way to take him back!”
As to answer her challenge, a low moan caught her attention and she immediately went to Kohaku's side. He had betrayed her, betrayed even himself, but in the end he'd tried to come to her defense when he'd witnessed the extent of the evil he'd unleashed. Sango's lost and suffering little brother, his life was as precious to Kagome as if she were his own sister.
She'd never once considered leaving him behind.
Sliding her hand over his pale skin, Kagome winced at the horrific scars on the left side of Kohaku's face. Cast into Naraku's fire, Sango made a terrible bargain that saved his life at the cost of her own body and soul. The burns went deeper than his flesh, just as guilt and remorse had eaten deeply into this young man's heart. Kagome could well understand the why and how of Kohaku's painful atonement for his sister's sacrifice.
“Kohaku,” she called softly, “we have to get out of here. Can you stand?”
He groaned at the sound of her voice, his face twisted. Inuyasha probably hit him hard enough to kill him, but Kohaku had already died and been dragged back to this world once before. If nothing else, he had his sister's stubborn will to survive and Kagome was counting on that stubbornness to save them now.
She slapped his face lightly, then once again harder to bring him around. Muddled by pain, he was forced back to consciousness and managed to focus on her face. Taking that as a hopeful sign, Kagome tore off a strip of her sleeve to wipe at the blood crusting his forehead.
“Ka...Kagome?” he asked, as if he couldn't remember why she was here.
“Hey there,” she said, forcing cheerfulness in spite of the dire situation. “I thought you were going to sleep all day.” As if she'd only awakened him from a light nap, Kagome got to her feet and held out her hand.
“I know it hurts, but...” Her voice shook only a tiny bit, proving that she had already lost her mind.
“We really don't want to be here when Inuyasha comes back.”
The stillness of the forest unnerved her, made her listen carefully for the sounds that were strangely absent. Birds didn't sing, there was no pleasant chatter between the trees. Even the air was still and silent, not so much as a simple breeze to lift her hair away from her sweat-soaked neck.
As the sun descended in the sky, Kagome prayed for the cover of darkness although it made moving even more difficult. Half-dragging, half-carrying the injured Kohaku was painfully exhausting for them both. The young exterminator seemed barely able to stay conscious; it was all he could do to keep his feet while Kagome tried to navigate the darkening forest.
“Just leave me,” he whispered as he slid to the ground when she stopped. Groaning softly to herself, Kagome wondered if she could even get him to stand again. As for her own strength, it was quickly depleted and she was running on the fumes of adrenaline and pure fear.
Inuyasha was out there somewhere, searching for them. She knew that right down to her tired bones and broken heart.
“I can't,” she said, simple now with no energy for persuasion. “Kohaku, I can't. I can't just leave you here to die.”
She could almost see his smile in the darkness and his warm hand on hers was the only reality she could bear. Kagome knew he was right to tell her to leave, save herself. She could easily imagine Sango doing the same, trying to protect others even if it meant sacrificing her own life.
Sinking down beside him, Kagome knew that Kohaku had passed out again when she felt his fingers go limp in her hand. She leaned her head on his shoulder with a sigh and felt something dig painfully into her spine.
Tessaiga. Kohaku wasn't the only one she couldn't bear to leave behind.
Sliding the sword from her back, Kagome smiled sadly, thinking of the strange alliance between Inuyasha's father and Midoriko. A priestess who carried a bitter burden, a youkai lord moved to pity by his natural enemy. A woman who had killed the man she loved because it was her only option and a fiercely proud demon who once laid this very sword at a human's feet.
Why had Midoriko made sure to give her these memories? Tessaiga could no longer restore Inuyasha to sanity; its ability to seal Inuyasha's demon blood had long since disappeared. Was she expected to call upon this sword to...
Kagome swallowed hard. She didn't like where those thoughts were taking her, a desperate place. One where it would be her hand used to turn Tessaiga against Inuyasha.
“You can't expect me to be a part of that,” she murmured as she ran her fingers over the ancient sheath. If that was to be the parallel of her future and Midoriko's past, that she would take the life of the one she loved, then Kagome wanted none of it.
Besides, she thought with a wry smile in the darkness, it wasn't as if she'd ever had any skill at fighting. Midoriko might have been a legendary warrior-priestess who battled a thousand demons, but Kagome was all too aware of her own limitations. She wasn't Midoriko, just as she wasn't Kikyou, and simply surviving her present situation was the only victory she was hoping for.
Leaning against Kohaku's shoulder, Kagome felt her mind start to wander. She was just so tired, so worn out. She'd spent every ounce of herself just getting free, helping Kohaku escape and finding cover in this unnaturally silent forest. Even her terror of being captured again by Inuyasha, or rather the vicious thing that he had become, couldn't make her summon any extra reserves of energy.
The darkness fell over her like a thick blanket, warm and heavy. As her eyelids fluttered, Kagome's last thought before drifting into sleep was that she wished she could see the sky.
Shippou stopped, reaching out to grab Rin's arm while sniffing anxiously at the soft breeze. His nose was nowhere near as sensitive as an inuyoukai or wolf demon, but he had learned to track a scent well enough.
Kouga told him it was nothing more than basic survival, being able to follow a trail or detect an enemy's presence. Kitsune were known more for their tricks and guile than a fox's similarity to dogs or wolves. They were expected to be clever and crafty rather than hunters or trackers. Shippou didn't argue the point, but a fox raised by wolves wouldn't live very long if he didn't learn to use both his head and his nose.
“What is it?” Rin asked softly, her hand sliding into his.
He was quiet for a long moment, his ears twitching and green eyes almost glowing in the near darkness. Finally, Shippou sighed and shook his head.
“Lost the damn scent again.”
Natsu cursed under his breath, but Shippou and Rin ignored him. As promised, he'd led them to find Kohaku, taking them right to the base of foothills that emerged from the dense forest. It immediately became clear that although Kohaku trusted Natsu as his subordinate, he hadn't trusted him with the exact location of his unknown allies.
“This is as far as we can go,” the big man muttered, restlessly kicking a dusty hole in the thick, dry weeds. “Never followed him beyond this point, said it was a dangerous place.”
“What made it dangerous, Natsu-san?” Rin asked.
“Hell, girlie, I don't know.” Unexpectedly, Natsu looked embarrassed that he'd never once questioned Kohaku's word, or perhaps ashamed that he was forced to question him now. “Can't you feel it? Like the place wants to push us away, keep us out. A dead place, you know, like when you plant seeds and give 'em care, but nothing ever grows just the same.”
“Poisoned,” Shippou whispered, almost to himself. His nose twitched and with a grimace, he found that he agreed wholeheartedly with Natsu on the subject. Just looking around, his nerves became brittle with the desire to get the hell away. It was eerie, as if the hillside was staring back at him, glowering with anger at being disturbed. Under normal circumstances, he'd leave it alone.
“I think they're here,” he muttered, half to himself as if Rin and Natsu were only an afterthought. “Their scent was strong just before we came out of the forest, now it's like something is...”
Shivering, the kitsune took a few steps back and reached for Rin's hand. The warmth of her skin comforted him and the quick squeeze of her fingers was encouraging. Not that he was afraid; it would just be childish to be afraid of an open hillside when so much was at stake. On the other hand, it was just plain stupid to ignore his instincts when they were screaming at him to leave.
“We should keep moving,” Rin said softly in his ear. Turning to look at her, the girl's face was pale in the dying light. Coming over that hillside, even the sunset had no strength to color her features, diffused as if he was looking at her reflection on frosted glass.
“Yeah,” he answered, turning towards the darkened forest and immediately feeling a bit better about things. “We'll double-back on the trail, see if I can pick them up again.” Holding tight to Rin's hand, he kept her close at his side.
“Don't worry,” Shippou said, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt. “We're going to find them, I promise.”
Kagome's eyes snapped open and she sat up with a gasp. Her heart was pounding, her pulse raced as if she'd just had the scare of her life. She'd awakened from a dreamless sleep, comforted somehow by the illusion of complete safety. How could she be so stupid? Exhausted or not, they didn't have time to rest, not when they had to put as much distance as possible between themselves and Inuyasha.
Had...had he been completely transformed? Kagome shuddered, haunted by both Inuyasha's fierce madness and Sango's decayed and wraith-like body. The twisted demons that ruled over the physical remains of her dearly loved friend agreed to cooperate...to share...the stronger youkai body of Inuyasha. Thinking about it made Kagome grind her teeth again in outrage.
They had no right to him, no right at all!
His mind already tormented by the Shikon no Tama's poisonous spirits, Inuyasha had fought his way back and reclaimed himself from their control. Only to be destroyed, shattered like that cursed jewel. There was nothing she could do other than try to save herself.
It was happening again, she realized with sinking despair. Her choices and decisions slipped away like water through sand and she was helpless to do anything about it. Even if she managed to escape and make her way to the village, she still didn't have any better options. As Kohaku's predictions unfolded before her like recurring nightmare, Kagome's journey would bring her to the inevitable ending.
She would take Rin and Shippou back to Sesshomaru and Kouga.
She would tell them about Kohaku's terrible bargain, the destroyed Sango, the pitiless and deranged demon souls that devoured death in order to survive.
How Inuyasha was betrayed, how his love for her was used as the bait to lure him into the trap. How he fought as the demons ravaged his body and soul and how he'd lost himself again, this time forever.
She would stand watch for the days or weeks that were spent in hunting him down, destroying the abomination that wore his face like a mask and took his body like a trophy. Afterward, when word reached her that it was done, it was over...
She would collapse under the weight of her grief and mourn him for the rest of her life. That was the last thing she had to give, the only thing left that belonged to her and her alone. Kagome knew that she would find no comfort this time, no well of solace to fall into and escape the wrenching despair and regret.
“I can't do it,” she whispered, abruptly realizing that she was rocking back and forth where she sat with tears streaming down her face. “I'm not...I'm not going to be strong enough. Why did this happen? If I didn't come back, he'd still be alive.”
Pressing her face to her knees, she began sobbing helplessly. In a moment, she was crying harder than she could believe possible. Her voice was a pitiful, soft wail of pain, punctuated by choking gasps for air. She gave herself over to it, her whole body aching as the sobs were wrenched from her lips.
All these years, she thought she'd cried for Inuyasha so often that nothing else could be taken from her. She was wrong, there was always something left for her to lose.
Kagome… don't cry.
A tiny voice, she heard it again. She lifted her face, staring straight out into darkness. Her eyes were wide and the tears dried on her cheeks.
Who was it that called to her now, begged her not to cry? That voice sounded so much like him...
Like a bolt from the sky, the world flashed white. Kagome cried out, her body stiffened and she was flat on her back with shock. Power surged from the tips of her toes to her fingers, flooding her with painful light. The surge enthralled her, made her reach up to the heavens like she could capture the stars and bind them to her command.
It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time. When a shadow crossed the brilliance of her vision and Kagome found herself staring down from the sky. This was no dream. She knew in that instant that her mind was compelled to relive the past, Midoriko's past, and bear mute witness to what followed.
Below her, a savage battle was raging and a woman was fighting for her life. Although her body was only mortal and her sword merely steel, the purity of her spirit shone like a protective aura. Furious creatures dove and slashed, trying in vain to bring the shining warrior to her knees.
They tried to overwhelm her with their menace, with their slavering mouths and sharp claws. Physical attacks broke upon the glittering aura, howls of pain were etched in misshapen faces as the demons crawled towards their goal. They couldn't touch her, not yet, but they steadily drove her backwards in retreat.
Kagome held her breath, anticipating the final blow as Midoriko was forced into a rocky grotto, her back against sheer stone and sparks flying from her armor. Greedy and sensing victory at last, the demon horde closed in on the lone priestess, their power and corruption filling the grotto and turning every surface into a seething, heaving mass of putrid flesh.
Her eyes stung, watching the ancient battle play out as it had so long ago. Kagome remembered her first visit to this place as a young girl, how Inuyasha carried the injured Sango here so that she could tell the story of how the Shikon no Tama was born. How Midoriko had seized the souls of the demons and bound them with her own pure soul, creating the jewel and a stalemate. A battle that would be fought for eternity, a war with no victory and no defeat, but an endless dance of balance and conflict.
Purity and corruption. Selfless sacrifice and absolute destruction.
Staring down at the final battle, Kagome could feel the power building as the demons closed in for the kill. The weakened priestess, already wounded and dying, faced the swarm fearlessly. Unblinking, she cast away her sword and raised her arms as if to welcome her murderers, embrace them lovingly.
Sensing victory, the demons began to howl...
Midoriko's aura unexpectedly expanded and filled the grotto with its shimmering light. Caught in her trap, the demons struggled and lashed out wildly, destroying each other even as their souls were purified. The howling became a din, a terrible blade that sliced the air to bloody ribbons, burning everything around them to ash and cinder.
In the center of the destruction, Midoriko's figure burned brighter and hotter than a furnace. Her aura contracted, the energy concentrated as she ruthlessly pulled the corrupt demons inside her pure soul.
By your own strength, whatever that may be.
Pain. She could sense the immense pain that radiated from the demons as they were forced to their destruction. At the center of the storm, Midoriko shone more brightly than sun, but it was a light that radiated no warmth, no mercy. As Kagome watched, the wild energy of the demons seemed to grow more desperate, more furious, until at last…
There was a pulse of power like nothing she'd ever felt before. The air charged, pure white and crackling like a star reaching critical mass, Midoriko's body and spirit suddenly fused with the angry demons, blinding Kagome with a flash of light and purified energy.
Next thing she knew, Kagome was standing in the middle of what had once been a rocky grotto, but now was only blasted earth. In front of her, there was a smoking hole in the side of what had been a sheer stone cliff. In a few centuries time, she knew that the earth would recover and this place would grow green and lush.
Right now, the air smelled of burning flesh. Charred remains crunched ominously under her feet as she moved to stare at the dark entrance of the cave. Deep inside, she knew that the newborn Shikon no Tama was sleeping, exhausted perhaps by the brutality of its birth. No one was left to witness what had happened here, no one to grieve for Midoriko's final sacrifice or sigh in relief that the monsters had been defeated.
Not entirely defeated, she thought as a shudder of fear ran down her spine. Contained, forced to submit, but their hatred still burned in the back of her mind when she remembered the insanity of Inuyasha's eyes. Their rage was still every bit as poisonous and the thought of it unleashed without Midoriko's soul to restrain the darkness made Kagome's human heart quail with primal panic.
“What am I supposed to do now?” she whispered.
From the depths of the cave, she heard a voice answer her soft question. “You will do what you must.”
Kagome's mouth dropped open, surprised beyond words as a shimmering form appeared. Glowing with her inner purity, the figure of Midoriko emerged from the cave like a star falling from absolute darkness. Instead of the elderly woman who had comforted Kagome in kindly visions, this was Midoriko at the height of her power and conviction. Her expression was stern, so cold and pitiless that Kagome wanted to shrink away in dread.
“You will finish what I began,” the ghostly priestess said, her voice a pale echo in Kagome's ears. “This is the reason why you were brought here, your reason for living, as mine once was.”
Eyes wide, Kagome took a step back and shook her head. “No,” she said, feeling every bit the wretched weakling. “I'm not you, Midoriko. I'm not strong, I'm not a priestess. I'm just an ordinary person…”
“Nothing you have done is ordinary,” Midoriko answered, her coldly glowing eyes fixed on Kagome's frightened face. “You survived because there was a reason, something that needed finished. You were chosen, Kagome. You were chosen to bring an end to it. Only one who has loved as I have and lost as I have could be strong enough.”
The words ate into her skin, made her want to scream at the unfairness of it all. That she would be brought back here to fall in love with him all over again, just to lose him again…all for the sake of finishing Midoriko's battle struck Kagome as a bitter destiny.
“I won't do it,” she whispered. “Someone else…Sesshomaru or Kouga's wolves. I can't be meant to kill him, not after everything we've been through!”
“It can be only you.” The priestess was unmoving, a glimmering statue of cold light. “Only you can be my hands, only you loved him enough. Your Inuyasha is gone, Kagome. It is your fate to free him from their grasp and destroy the body that carries their souls now.”
Kagome dropped to her knees. “Isn't there any other way?” she asked, desperate now. Even if Inuyasha was gone, his soul devoured by the darkness, she couldn't be the one to strike the final blow. Not when that tiny bit of hope, the part of her that believed he would still be saved, was all that she had left.
“Save him,” she whispered, staring at Midoriko's ghostly spirit.
“Don't ask me to do this.” A desire that seemed impossible had hardened inside her heart, taken the form of unshakable necessity. “I…I will save him.”
Something shifted, etched the face of Midoriko's ghost with solemn regret. “If it must be this way,” she murmured. “Your heart must be resolved, as mine was, instead of conflicted by doubt.”
Kagome closed her eyes, thankful to have been spared.
“When the time comes…I shall use your hands without your will.”
“No!” With a burst of energy, Kagome was on her feet to confront the ghostly priestess. “I said I wouldn't do it!”
Midoriko returned her fire with dispassionate ice. “You have refused,” she said softly, sending cold slivers into Kagome's heart with each word. “It must be done, if not by you, I will take this burden of duty from your shoulders.”
Anger flooded her and Kagome tasted bile in her mouth. To be used as a tool and to live with the knowledge that it had been her own hands to destroy the one she loved…it would be unbearable. As if by allowing this to happen, every good thing she had ever felt, every happy memory she had left of Inuyasha, would be murdered along with his violated and stolen body.
Turning away from Kagome's outrage, Midoriko faced the dark cave where her soul and the bound Shikon no Tama would spend centuries locked together in eternal battle.
“This has always been your destiny, you cannot escape from it.”
The cold words were despair curling around her body. Too easily, Kagome could imagine Midoriko's will taking over her body, driving her forward to hunt him, sword in hand, and repeat the final battle that she had just witnessed. Her and Inuyasha, locked forever in the hell of balance and conflict, trying to destroy each other until both of them completely forgot that they had once been friends, been lovers…
Trembling, she took a step forward and flinched when her foot kicked something amid the rubble. A battered sword was half-buried in the ground and Kagome reached for it without thinking. Her fingers curled easily around the worn hilt as if her hand had been made for it. She could almost feel the weight of armor on her shoulders, smell sweat and smoke from the battlefield. Tears burned in her eyes as she squinted against a glaring sun and the wails of the dying reached her ears like voices straight from hell.
I will become her, the part that was still Kagome whispered in her mind. This is what she meant, I'll become her and I will hunt him down myself. I'll forget that I loved him, that he loved me.
I will forget Inuyasha and I will kill the demon.
The darkness of the cave spoke to her, whispered with a seductive ease how it would be easy to forget him, forget what was painful. This was her chance to make right what she had made wrong, this was her destiny. To atone for the crimes he'd committed, to ask forgiveness for her failures and wipe the slate clean. Perhaps her soul would be purified by this sacrifice and someday, in another lifetime, they would meet again.
Staring into the black mouth of the cavern, Kagome struggled against those thoughts. She was only a woman, standing alone with a broken sword in her fist, facing nothing less than her own deepest fears. Sweat ran down her face and her body twitched as if an electric current flowed in her veins. As she tried to fight the compulsion to enter that cave, her mind filled with dark water, drowning all sense and reason with the desire to abandon herself to Midoriko's powerful will.
Kagome didn't move.
Slowly, she raised the broken blade. The sharp edge glittered with promise and the swirling clouds began to part. Of course…of course that was the only answer.
“You can't stop me,” she whispered, her eyes blank and glassy as they filled with darkness. “If this is how it must be, Midoriko, then my answer is still no.”
Holding the point of the blade over her throat, Kagome could feel a presence reaching out, trying to keep her arm from moving. Grinding her teeth, she fought it, straining to drive the sharp edge into her flesh. Suddenly she knew what Inuyasha had felt when he'd tried to escape the demons that overwhelmed him. She could see him, bleeding as he tore at his own body to drive them away, banish them with self-destruction.
It would be better to die than be used as their host.
It would be better for her to die than to be used to kill Inuyasha!
“Let me go!” she screamed, raging at the unseen presence in the darkness. “Let me go, goddamn you! I've had enough, I won't do it! I won't kill him!”
“Kagome, stop it!”
Shocked by the reality of that shout, Kagome found herself staring into Shippou's terrified eyes. The light that burned her eyes was a torch in Rin's hands. The girl's face was white, tears streaking her cheeks as she sobbed quietly. Kagome wondered vaguely how they'd gotten here and why Rin was crying.
“Kagome, can you hear me?” Shippou's voice was tense, shaking with strain. “Let go of the sword, Kagome.”
She looked down to see her hands around Tessaiga's blade, both of her arms outstretched and trembling as she tried to plunge the rusted point into her throat. Shippou had a death grip on her wrist with one hand while his other held Tessaiga's hilt, trying to pry the sword away from Kagome's grasp without slicing her hands to ribbons.
Kagome squeezed her eyes shut. “Is it really Shippou?” she asked aloud, hating that she couldn't tell reality from her nightmares anymore. “Is…is this another trick?”
“He's real,” a pained voice answered her. Kagome forced herself to look down, acknowledge Kohaku's words. On the ground, Natsu had the exterminator sitting up as he clumsily bandaged Kohaku's wounds. The big man wouldn't look at her, his face flushed with shame or anger, maybe just too focused on tending to his boss to spare a crazy woman any attention.
“Kagome?” Worry had etched lines into Shippou's face, the skin around his eyes and mouth was white until she finally released the blade. He exhaled heavily as she let go, allowing the ancient sword to fall at their feet. Dazed, she could only stare at him as he put his hands on her shoulders, grounding her in this world and banishing the visions of death and despair that seemed to haunt her every thought.
Taking in her battered and bruised condition, her shredded clothes and the vivid scratches on her skin, Shippou frowned. Exhaustion made her eyes deep pits, her face thin and worn like brittle silk. Tramping around the forest for hours, only stopping to eat a quick meal, he'd asked Rin to light the torch so they wouldn't trip over tree roots or stumble in the darkness.
Moments later, they'd walked right into a small clearing in the deep forest and his heart almost stopped. Kohaku, dead or unconscious on the ground. Kagome, staring into the quiet forest with a manic expression and about to impale herself on Tessaiga.
Let me go, goddamn you! I've had enough, I won't do it! I won't kill him!, she'd screamed and Shippou knew he'd never moved so fast before in his life. A half-second too late and he would have been grieving over her bleeding body as the life ran out and soaked into the soft earth. If they'd hesitated, if they'd stopped to rest, taken a different turn…it would be over for her right now.
“You look like hell,” Shippou murmured, keeping his voice soft and easy. Kagome was skittish as a wild rabbit, her eyes darting from side to side and breathing in shallow gasps that hurt to hear. “Why don't you just sit down for a minute, catch your breath and calm down?”
Silently, Rin handed her torch to Natsu and pulled a blanket from her pack. Together, they eased Kagome to the ground and covered her. The night air was chill and they needed to build a fire, get something warm into her before shock could set in. It physically hurt to see how weak she was, how desperate. It had only been three nights since he'd seen her, but it felt like years.
“What happened to them out there?” Rin whispered as Shippou knelt beside her to help with the fire. Her expression was bleak. “It was Inuyasha, wasn't it?”
“I guess.” Shippou was surprised at himself, he should be ranting with fury right now. Wasn't this what he'd been afraid of, that Inuyasha would show his monstrous side again and attack the ones who had trusted him?
Instead he could only feel loss and a profound sadness that made all his anger insignificant. Kohaku looked like he'd been beaten half to death. Kagome, dear gods, she looked like she'd been raped until she'd lost her mind. The stark expression on her face, the way her arms had strained against him as she tried to kill herself on Inuyasha's sword…that was something he never wanted to see again.
Lost in dark thoughts, he didn't hear Rin speaking to him or feel her hands on his arm as she tried to get his attention. He thought he'd be relieved to find them, but all he felt now was beaten and tired.
“Sorry,” Shippou murmured, reaching an arm around Rin's back to comfort himself. Again, her touch supported him when he felt like was going to give up, when he couldn't move forward without suffering. Funny, that she was strong for him now when he'd thought she was just a hateful and spoiled brat. Maybe it was because she didn't have to bear the weight of his memories, but when he turned to look in her eyes, Shippou knew Rin was struggling to accept what Inuyasha had done.
“I wouldn't have believed it,” she said quietly, holding tight to his hand. “I didn't want to believe it, Shippou, that he could do something like this.” Rin glanced over at the sleeping Kagome and shuddered. “What do we do now?”
“I don't know.” Staring into the fire, Shippou couldn't think right now, couldn't summon up the energy to be angry or fight. “I guess we should go back to Shiori and tell her what's happened. At least we were wrong about Kohaku. It looks like he did everything that he could to stop Inuyasha.”
“You got it wrong, Shippou.”
Kohaku was on his feet, supported by Natsu's arm as he made his way towards them. Bruised and bandaged, he could barely walk and he looked like he was about to be sick on the ground by the time Natsu had helped him sit next to Rin.
“Boss, you shouldn't try to talk,” the big man muttered. “I'll carry you home, just try to rest until then. You can sort it out later…”
“No, I can't.” Wincing, Kohaku touched the burn scars on the side of his face as if trying to remind himself of where he'd come from. Taking a deep breath, Kohaku faced Rin and Shippou with the resignation of man who was finished with lies and secrets.
“It's time you all knew the truth.”
Staring up at the sky, his eyes followed the round white disc above him for a long time before he realized that it was the moon. His eyes watered and he remembered how to blink. His lips were dry, his throat parched, and he swallowed convulsively, tasting salt and crusted blood in his mouth. Weak as a newborn, the demon was disoriented, reeling as the earth spun and made him feel so dizzy that he might be sick.
“What happened?” he whispered, waiting until the sickening motion stopped and he could raise his head without vomiting on himself. Around him was quiet, a soft breeze that made the long grass whisper in his ears. Strangely, he couldn't remember how he'd gotten to this place or why he was left here.
Time. He'd lost all sense of time. He might have been lying here for days for all he knew. Sensation returned slowly, making his fingers twitch and his legs shake until he found himself scowling at such weakness. He wasn't weak, this he knew in down to his bones. Whatever he was, he wasn't…
Catching his breath in his dry throat, a sudden spasm had him coughing. The demon rolled over, gripping the soft grass in his fists while he struggled to breathe. Exhausted, his terrible thirst was the only thing that kept him from slipping back into blissful unconsciousness.
Water. He needed water and thought he could smell it nearby. No sounds of a gentle stream could be heard, the water he smelled was stale and still. Even a rank puddle held the promise of relief and he was surprised to find that he had strength enough to crawl on his belly towards that promise.
His body was shaking by the time he found it, a rocky crevice in the soft earth, surrounded by more long grass. Deeply grateful, he lay flat on his stomach to lap at the stale water like an old dog that was too tired to stand. Finally, some awareness began to seep back into his addled mind and he sat up, wiping his mouth on the back of his fist.
“Where am I?” No one appeared to answer the question and the demon felt fear as he waited in the silence. It pulled at his nerves, crept down his back with icy feet, a sense of wrongness that made the moonlight into something sinister, the soft breeze a menace.
He was exposed here, alone and abandoned. It made him feel vulnerable, as if he should seek out a den to hide inside. Anywhere else would feel safer than this lonely hilltop, swept by the wind and the light of the full moon, but desolate and barren under the open sky.
Standing, the demon could see the edge of the forest in the distance. Something about the dark line of trees filled him with sorrow, as if its sanctuary was only an illusion. Was he trapped here then, held in check by some nameless menace that wouldn't let him escape? Somewhere beyond those trees was solace that he would never reach, but he couldn't say why.
“Who am I?” His whispered question was caught by the wind and he looked down at his empty hands. He didn't know, he didn't know his own name or why he was here. He didn't know what had brought him to this place that filled him with dread, or if the unease and nameless fear was all his own.
Then, at the moment when panic was starting to hammer in his pulse like a drum, a memory surfaced from the cold void. Just a face, a woman's eyes and lips, her hair tangling in the wind like dark ribbons. Without realizing it, he reached out for her, trying to touch the soft skin before it vanished. His fingertips met the empty air and sadly, he let her go because he had no other choice.
That woman, he'd sworn to protect her, to save her. Disappointment crashed over him, knowing that he'd somehow let her down. If he'd saved her, she'd be beside him right now, holding his hand and letting him rest in her arms.
“I need you,” he said, wishing there was a way for her to hear him. “I'm lost without you. I love you and I don't even remember your name…”
Closing his eyes, he felt them start to gather and more memories surfaced. Pain…unrelenting pain! Their rage was building, there was more of them now and he could feel each furious and hateful thought burning at the back of his mind. Their consciousness was like acid eating into his soul, hot and corrosive as a foul miasma, and he knew even without memories that he had no way to resist them, no hope of fighting them off.
They were part of him now. Inside him, burrowing deep with sharp teeth and poison claws. The demon swayed on his feet as the madness began to engulf him, drag him down into the darkness once again.
As he fell to his knees, his body pulsing with their madness and power, the last vestige of his ruined soul surfaced to recall the woman's face one last time and he remembered her name.
As he listened to Kohaku's story, Shippou kept his mouth shut and his jaw clenched against the outrage that threatened to explode from inside him. From time to time, Rin squeezed his hand until her fingernails broke his skin and he concentrated on that tiny pain as a distraction. Not that he didn't want to know the truth, he just wasn't sure he could live with it.
When the exterminator's voice finally ceased, he managed to raise his eyes and glare at Kohaku. “That's it?” he asked, grinding the words between his teeth as if he could crush them to bits. “That's the truth you wanted us to hear? That you betrayed Kagome and let that monster loose on purpose?”
Staring at the fire without seeing it, Kohaku seemed lost in his own regrets. “I made a terrible mistake,” he whispered. “I was trying to put an end to it.”
Shippou felt nauseous, he wanted to crawl into the bushes and vomit. If he thought too much about it, he surely would be sick. Sango's death was a memory that he'd avoided all these years, too painful and raw to speak of even if he'd wanted to do so. To find that the reality was still more horrifying was something he hadn't prepared himself to face.
“And you helped that thing,” he muttered, raking his hand through his hair. “Kohaku, you bastard.”
“She was my sister!” Kohaku's anger suddenly blazed, lighting his face with a terrible intensity. “I couldn't leave her like that. What else could I do, I was trying to destroy it!”
“How many people died because of you?” Shippou demanded, getting to his feet and trembling with rage he couldn't vent. “How many, Kohaku? How many more are going to die now? Sango wouldn't have wanted it this way!”
Kohaku's face twisted in pain. “You think I don't know that?” Defeated, he put his head in his hands. “It would have killed Shiori if I hadn't done what it wanted. I knew that Inuyasha had used the jewel and it twisted him. Using him as a sacrifice so that I could put an end to it all was the best I could do. He deserved to die if it meant I could save my sister and protect my family.”
Growling in the back of his throat, Shippou squatted down in front of Kohaku so he could be face to face. “It didn't work out like that,” he said, pointing a finger at Kohaku's chest. “You're responsible for that monster, Kohaku. Now you can't stop it and it's going to come after Kagome!”
“I know that,” Kohaku answered, his voice bleak. “I told her to leave me, let me die. She saved me anyway, Shippou. Even though I betrayed her and Inuyasha, she wouldn't leave me behind. That's why I'm begging you and Rin to help me now. Go to Kouga and Sesshomaru, tell them what happened. If they want to kill me for what I've done, fine. I know I deserve it.”
“Kohaku,” Rin whispered, wiping her eyes even as she spoke. “What if you're wrong? What if the wolves and the inuyoukai together can't destroy it? Inuyasha was very strong on his own, but you say they overwhelmed him. Now you're saying that there were already demons possessing his body and they've joined with the others?”
Shippou scowled, digging a claw into the ground as he tried to think. “That's what I want to know,” he muttered. “Where did they come from and why so much hatred for Kagome? Why are they obsessed with her? It wasn't until Inuyasha used the sacred jewel to become a full youkai that…”
They all turned to stare as Kagome entered the circle of the campfire. Her face was still exhausted, she barely resembled the girl of years past. Even the beauty that she had grown into was worn away, but in its place was a quiet strength that Shippou had never seen before.
It was as if she had been sculpted by resolution, forged like a blade in the fire of determination. Either that or loss shattered the brittle shell that she had used to protect herself, leaving behind a woman who was naked and fearless in the face of all confrontations.
“Inuyasha didn't use the jewel,” Kagome said, her voice quiet. “He didn't wish for this and he never wanted to hurt either of us, Shippou. The jewel used him, broke itself when the demon souls inside saw a chance to escape. Somehow, when he held it in his hand and I used the rosary at the same time, it broke the balance inside the Shikon no Tama.”
“Kagome,” Shippou burst out, “you can't blame yourself…”
“I don't.” She sat down, tucking Rin's blanket around her body as if she needed it to keep herself together. “I don't blame myself or Inuyasha for what happened, not anymore. And I don't blame Kohaku for what's happening now. We all made choices based on our fear rather than our strength. I could have trusted Inuyasha and not used the rosary, he could have trusted himself instead of letting the jewel fill his heart with doubt.”
“That's…that's why he pretended to betray us?” Shippou's face was pale, reliving the painful, terrifying moments. “I don't understand.”
Kagome shrugged, a sad smile like a ghost on her lips. “He treated you cruelly to drive you away, in case he couldn't control himself. As for me…the demon souls inside him knew that I was the only one who might reach his heart. They wanted me dead, but he couldn't bear to let me go. They could only twist his feelings, but they couldn't make him abandon them.”
“Now what?” Rin asked. “If he's gone now, if he's really lost forever…what else can we do, but try to destroy him?”
Kagome sat silent, staring into the fire and watching the flames dance.
Choices made from fear, not from love. That was what Midoriko had meant when she'd said that only one who had loved and lost as she had could be strong enough. Although the priestess had meant that Kagome would be strong enough to destroy what Inuyasha had become, like the warped souls of the Shikon no Tama, she couldn't make Kagome forget that she still loved Inuyasha.
I think I proved that point, Kagome thought, remembering the steel and glitter of death. Somehow she knew that Midoriko would not be able to control her, not now when she'd found the resolve to do what she knew was necessary.
Quietly, she pulled Tessaiga from beneath her blanket. Running her hand over the sheathed blade, she felt a debt of gratitude for had done…and what he had not done.
By your own strength…
“Rin,” she said, passing the sword to the girl. “I want you to hold onto this for Inuyasha. If the worst comes, you can give it to Sesshomaru and tell him that I did my best. Even if he has no use for it, I don't think Inuyasha's father would be happy if this blade was ever in the hands of anyone but his sons.”
Rin nodded, holding the blade carefully as if it might break. “I understand,” she said softly. “I'll make sure he gets it if Inuyasha…if Inuyasha can't take it back himself. But…what are you going to do, Kagome?”
Indeed. What was she going to do now that she'd refused Midoriko's will?
Whatever that may be…
“I'd like to borrow your bow,” Kagome said, standing up and walking over to where Rin had left it and her arrows. Slinging them over her shoulder, she found that she was smiling. “In the meantime, Natsu will take Kohaku back to Shiori. She's worried about him.”
“Yes, priestess,” Natsu answered, respect in his voice for the first time.
“What about us?” Shippou was watching her carefully and had already decided he didn't like what he was about to hear. “You expect me and Rin to just sit here while you try to take him on yourself?”
Kagome gave him a firm look. “Where I'm going, you can't follow,” she said with conviction. “I don't think you could even set foot on that hill, am I right?” When Shippou didn't answer, she leaned over and kissed his cheek.
“If you can't stand to leave, then wait here for me. I won't be gone for long.”
Shippou gripped her hand tightly, pressing it to his cheek as if promising to wait here forever. She could see the love in his eyes, but it was the right kind of love this time instead of misplaced desire.
By her own strength…
“What are you going to do?”
Her strength was, and always had been, her love for Inuyasha.
“I'm taking him back,” Kagome said, her voice absolute, certain as a sacred and solemn vow.
“I'm going to save Inuyasha.”
Mailing list for updates: http : / / groups . yahoo . com / group / wheezambufics/
Writing journal: http : / / wheezambufix . livejournal . com/