InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ The Ghosts of Suicide Forest ❯ One-Shot
Inuyasha, and the characters therein, are the property of Rumiko Takahashi. I am in no way affiliated with Takahashi, or VIZ Productions.
Happy Halloween! Much like I did with Tommyknockers Tommyknockers knocking at my door... and And a child shall lead them... this canon divergence doesn’t directly involve the Halloween holiday itself, and instead merely has a spooky edge to it that is holiday appropriate. This story doesn’t take place during any specific arc of the manga, although it is fairly early-mission in that Kagome still has her little bottle of jewel shards and there are presently still more jewel shards to be found. I’m guessing she’s been going back and forth approximately three or four months now, give or take. Long enough for Inuyasha to realize she’s important to him, even if he’s not quite yet ready to admit just how important. Kagome definitely knows how she feels about Inuyasha, even though she hasn’t had the courage to tell him yet. They’ll get their feelings for one another sorted out eventually, provided the ghosts don’t get to Kagome first...
~ The Ghosts of Suicide Forest ~
Sighing in frustration as she frantically tried to scribble down everything her math teacher was writing on the blackboard, over half of it making absolutely no sense to her whatsoever, Kagome found herself wondering why she even bothered anymore. What was the point in going to school one or two days every couple of weeks?
So okay, she was still studying enough in the Feudal era to get passable grades on her tests, but there were all sorts of everyday lessons she was missing out on completely. With the school board presently still buying all of her grandfather’s illness excuses hook, line and sinker, it’d probably be better to just drop out, temporarily of course, claiming she needed to focus on her recovery and-
Crap, she’d been zoning out again!
Mentally groaning as the teacher asked her to solve the latest problem he’d just written on the board, she fumbled back through her notes. The instructions for how to solve that equation just had to be there somewhere.
It only took her a second to find the notes she was looking for. Eyes going back and forth between her note paper and the blackboard, she did a few quick equations in her head and took a guess. She was right.
As the teacher wrote out a new problem and chose his next victim Kagome slumped back in her seat. The one good thing about being called on like that was that once it was over you knew it wouldn’t happen again. She took the opportunity to reflect back to that morning right before the bell rang. She’d gotten to school a few minutes later than she would have liked, having barely returned home from the Feudal era early that morning. For a brief moment she’d contemplated skipping the day. What was one more day, right? But with a surly hanyou only giving her three days to be back home, including that day, she’d wanted to take advantage of an extra day of schooling if she could manage it. She’d never gotten showered and changed into fresh clothing so quickly in her life!
Rushing up the school steps she hadn’t been surprised to not immediately see her friends waiting for her. Yuka, Eri and Ayumi...they didn’t wait for her anymore, never knowing when she would actually show up for a day of classes. Their absence hadn’t hurt her feelings in and of itself; it was yet one more symptom of the double-life she had chosen to lead. It was her duty to repair the Shikon no Tama and stop Naraku and she would not begrudge her fate or wallow in self-pity. So it was not their initial absence that had surprised her, but upon entering the school, when she’d seen Eri and Ayumi speaking with Hojo, no sign of Yuka, that had surprised her. Despite what had become of her, those three were still inseparable. As she’d gotten closer and realized that Eri and Ayumi were both crying the miko had begun to panic.
“Eri-chan! Ayumi-chan!” she’d called out as she’d rushed up to them.
“Oh, Kagome-chan!” Eri had said upon seeing their supposedly sickly friend. “It’s so horrible, have you heard?”
Kagome’d felt the bottom of her stomach drop out at her tone. No...no it couldn’t be...
“Yuka’s mother passed away last week,” Ayumi had explained then, her voice holding none of the cheerfulness it usually did.
Even Hojo had just stood there looking solemn. He’d bowed a short greeting to her as she’d approached but he’d never actually said anything to her. Kagome had supposed that even he knew it would be inappropriate to comment on her own apparent recovery and to ask for a date in the wake of such sad news.
Even so, despite the terrible tragedy that was Yuka’s mother’s terminal cancer, the future-born miko hadn’t been able to help the small sigh of relief that had escaped her at realizing an inevitability they had all been dreading had merely come to pass as opposed to some horrific, unforeseen tragedy. No wonder Yuka was absent if-
“And that’s not all...” Eri had added then, sniffling. “Yuka-chan, she-”
Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd then the bell had rung.
“We’ll tell you later, Kagome-chan,” Ayumi had said then as they all began walking swiftly towards their first classes. “You need to focus on your studies.”
How the hell am I supposed to focus on my studies when I don’t even know what happened to Yuka-chan? Kagome thought as she halfheartedly continued to take notes until the bell rang and everyone got up to move on from math to their next class. It was going to be a long day...
One long day later, Kagome was for once looking around for her friends as she left school with the purpose of meeting up with them, instead of trying to ditch them to run home before they dragged her to WcDonald’s to discuss her ‘jealous, two-timing boyfriend’. Usually she dreaded such meetings because if they kept her away too long on a day she was due to return then said jealous, two-timing boyfriend would show up looking for her.
Even when he kept himself hidden from her friends, she could still sense his youki. It was so embarrassing, them asking her questions about him she couldn’t answer properly because she knew he was listening in! What was worse, she knew Inuyasha knew what the modern term ‘boyfriend’ meant, and yet he’d never once commented on it. Did it bother him that her friends thought he was her boyfriend, that...she had told them he was her boyfriend? Did he see himself that way, and that was why he’d never tried to deny it, figuring it was true?
Shaking such random nonsense free from her head, Kagome didn’t have time to worry about the inner workings of a hanyou’s mind, and where she might or might not have stacked up against her predecessor. He wasn’t waiting for her that afternoon, but even if he were and her delay would in fact trigger his appearance she would still get to the bottom of whatever had happened to Yuka.
Spotting her other two girlfriends talking with Hojo again she rushed up to them, this time not bothering to call out their names. They’d seen her at the same time she’d seen them and watched with sad faces as she approached.
“Okay guys, spill. What happened to Yuka-chan?”
“We...we don’t know, Kagome-chan,” Eri explained morosely. “She took her mother’s death really hard, and told us a couple of days ago she needed time by herself to think, to reflect. At first we just thought she was taking time out of school, but now we think she...”
Eri couldn’t fish, as she turned and leaned into Hojo, crying silently as he wrapped his arms around her. It was a friendly, platonic gesture, the look in his eyes as he met Kagome’s gaze holding only remorse for their friends.
“Her father called our houses yesterday morning, asking if she had stayed the night with us. That was when we all realized she was missing,” Ayumi took over, explaining, “Searching her room he found out her computer was left on a webpage about Aokigahara. We...we think she went there. Her cellphone was left on her dresser, and...her sleeping bag and a pillow is missing.”
“Suicide Forest?!” Kagome asked in shock, aghast. No, not Yuka. She was strong, she was a fighter, she...
Had just lost her mother after a long battle with breast cancer. Swallowing, Kagome supposed anything was possible. Still...
“Well has anyone bothered going to look for her?” she asked, finding it hard to believe the girls she’d thought were inseparable best friends would just let one of their own trot off to their doom without a fight.
“We tried, Higurashi,” Hojo said then, speaking up for the first time. “Yesterday, the three of us, plus her father, we all went to look for her. We couldn’t find any sign of her, although we found...other people.”
He shuddered at the memory of finding the various bodies they’d seen either hanging from the trees or lying dead in their tents.
“It gave me the creeps,” Eri said, shaking as well even though she finally pulled herself back and out of Hojo’s friendly embrace. “They say it’s supposed to be calm and peaceful there, that people who already want to die go there to find peace, find some sort of inner connection with the world beyond, but I don’t know...”
“I’m not even remotely suicidal,” Ayumi added, picking up where Eri left off, “but being in that place, I started to feel...depressed, and not just the kind of depression you’d think you’d feel because of the other suicides. There’s a negative energy in that place they don’t put in the brochures.”
Kagome was feeling so many different emotions as she listened to her friends explain all that had happened that she couldn’t decide on which one to stick with, running through the full gamut more than once. She’d been saddened to hear the news of Yuka’s mother, and then shocked to hear of her disappearance and possible suicidal tendencies, agitated and bordering on enraged that the others would just let it happen without trying to stop it and then surprised, distraught, and downright suspicious after hearing the explanation of how they had in fact tried and failed to locate her. Her suspicions did not lie with the people standing before her, but with Aokigahara itself. Finally, she settled on determined.
“I’ll go. I’ll go and I’ll find her, no matter what.”
“Kagome-chan, be reasonable...” Eri beseeched. “With your health issues, you shouldn’t overexert yourself, and you especially shouldn’t go alone. It’s such a massive forest, and we don’t even know for sure that she-”
“Then where is she?” the miko interrupted, and everyone was silent.
“Do me a favor,” Kagome spoke back up then, earning three sets of eyes on her.
Kneeling and slipping off her backpack, she opened one of the smaller front sections and retrieved her money, emergency ATM card, and, discreetly, her bottle of jewel shards. The rest of the pack was useless to her, containing nothing but school books and notes at the moment. She would not burden herself with the weight of it. Standing back up and tucking her money, ATM card and the jewel shards all into her skirt pocket, she handed her backpack to Hojo, who took it from her automatically, his eyes both confused and concerned.
“Will you please take this to my mother?” she asked. “And tell her what I’m doing. Tell her everything, be honest. She needs to know, just in case...” She nearly said ‘in case something happens to me’ but didn’t want to worry her friends. “In case she’d worry about me going off like this, you know? Let her know I’m fine, and I have no intention of committing suicide. I’m looking for our friend, nothing more.”
Unable to wrap her head around Kagome’s determination, but realizing there was no talking her out of it, Ayumi didn’t bother trying.
“Here, take my cellphone,” she said instead, retrieving said item from her own pack and handing it to Kagome. “Now you have an obligation to return, because I had better be getting this back,” she tried to joke.
Tucking the phone, which was too large for her skirt pocket, into the inside of her left sock, Kagome offered Ayumi a warm smile. “I’m coming back,” she assured them. “And I’ll find Yuka-chan. Even if...well, either way, I’ll find her.”
Eri, Ayumi and Hojo all nodded their deeper understanding, their faces grim.
“I guess I’ll call my mother, then, so you guys don’t have to break it to her, but I’d still appreciate it if you could take her my backpack for safe keeping.”
“Of course, Kagome-chan,” Eri said.
They walked with Kagome to the nearest bus station, staying with her, though remaining silent after that, until the bus arrived and they all watched as she walked on and paid the fare. Turning to look over her shoulder, Kagome waved, and the others waved back. As the bus pulled away the trio then turned and made the long trek back the other way to the Higurashi shrine.
Back on the bus, Kagome found herself a seat and then, sighing, retrieved Ayumi’s cellphone from her sock.
It rang a couple of times and then, “Hello, mama? Something’s happened...”
Mrs. Higurashi didn’t know what news was more shocking to her, the fact that Yuka may well have been contemplating – or had even already committed – suicide, or that Kagome had run off after her.
Of course, the shock of the latter had worn off pretty quickly, knowing well what her daughter did on a daily basis in the Sengoku jidai, but she also knew she could not let the trio of junior high school kids in front of her know of her daughter’s double-life. She supposed that any other mother would have demanded on the phone that their daughter come right home this instant, so how could she justify to Kagome’s friends having allowed her daughter this little excursion?
Honestly, Mrs. Higurashi knew Kagome could take care of herself. It was somewhat disconcerting, what her daughter had told her about Eri and Ayumi both saying they’d felt a strange, dark energy in the forest, a detail the girls had omitted as they returned Kagome’s backpack, but Mrs. Higurashi knew that if anyone could walk into such a thing and emerge unscathed it was her daughter. Moreover, if Kagome did miraculously find Yuka alive, then she had zero doubt the two of them would be leaving the forest together, alive.
However, playing the overly protective mother was a good enough excuse to get her daughter’s friends to leave before they began suspecting she was reflecting an unnatural lack of concern. It wasn’t true, anyway. She was very concerned. How could she not be? Her daughter was facing an unknown evil force, and she could only pray that the young miko emerged victorious, as she had from every other battle thus far. For the first time since her daughter’s journeys in the past had begun, Mrs. Higurashi found herself wishing that she could travel through the Bone-Eater’s Well, herself, so that she could retrieve Inuyasha.
Why hadn’t Kagome just come home first to get the hanyou boy so that together, the two of them could go then rescue her friend? She’d even suggested that very strategy, urging her to come home but only to get Inuyasha, and Kagome had replied apologetically that there was no time. She had no idea what condition Yuka might be in when she found her and every second counted.
Mrs. Higurashi had wanted to argue that logic, especially since, with Inuyasha, the hanyou and miko pair would be able to cover much more ground more quickly, but hearing her daughter’s conviction she’d let it go. She suspected that if Inuyasha found out – when Inuyasha found out – he would question Kagome’s thinking, too, except he’d use a few more curse words. But really, Mrs. Higurashi understood. Kagome had a feeling, and she understood that as a miko, Kagome had to follow her feelings. That did not mean she would not send the hanyou boy after her daughter if he just happened to show up.
As Kagome’s mother shooed her daughter’s friends out the door in a falsely frazzled state, she momentarily contemplated following after her daughter herself, perhaps not to bring her home but even just to join her in her search so that she wasn’t alone, but after a couple of minutes she thought better of it.
Kagome needed to do this, and if she could trust her daughter to stay safe on the other side of five hundred years then she could certainly trust her to stay safe on the other side of Mt. Fuji. So instead of heading down to where their car was parked on the street, she headed over and around to the honden at the back of their shrine property. She clapped, bowed and clapped again out front the closed doors, asking then in a soft murmur for the shrine kami to please watch over her daughter.
It had been a small commute, but worth it, having taken that first bus to the nearest bank where she could withdrawal the money needed for a taxi. Kagome had then gotten on another bus for the majority of the trip, finding a taxi in the local community near the forest to take her the last of the way. Arriving at Aokigahara, she had assured the driver upon the unspoken concern in his gaze that she was not there to kill herself. She knew how it looked, going to such a place in her school uniform and with no hiking equipment. She clearly wasn’t your average tourist.
Making her way through the parking lot, Kagome realized a couple of the cars looked a little more abandoned than others, piles of pine needles and other debris accumulated against the windshields. It was a rather eerie sight, especially with the way other people were just coming and going as they pleased, paying the abandoned cars no attention. There were a few people milling about, some hikers wearing backpacks entering the forest together. One young man in hiking clothes was also looking at the large ‘You Are Here’ type map that was up off to the side.
It was crazy how such a tourist hot spot had also become such a hot spot for suicides, she mused, although fortunately the suicides themselves weren’t usually what drew the tourists. They came to enjoy what was otherwise supposed to be a very beautiful forest, and to see the caves, like Ice Cave and Wind Cave. She supposed there might always be a few morbid weirdos who actually wanted to see the bodies, but those people could always join the other volunteers to do the regular body searches if they were so inclined. Kagome, for one, hoped she didn’t encounter too many dead bodies, but knew that thanks to her time in the Warring States era she at least wouldn’t freak out if she did.
She hoped it really had just been seeing the other dead people that had freaked out her friends. Maybe it would turn out there was nothing overly spooky about this place, after all? Even so, Yuka needed her help.
“YUKA-CHAN!” she yelled out quite loudly in that moment, hoping against hope she’d catch her friend already on the way back out of the forest because she’d already changed her mind. “YUKA-CHAN, CAN YOU HEAR ME?!”
She earned herself a couple disapproving glances from some hikers who were exiting the forest and heading towards their cars, but no Yuka.
Sighing, Kagome straightened her shoulders in determination and, after reassuringly patting the pocket on her skirt that held her jewel shards, she marched with conviction into the forest.
“Yuka-chan!” she called out again after a few minutes, although not quite so loudly.
It was unusually quiet all of a sudden, she noticed, so her voice traveled a fair distance. What’d happened to the birdsong? She distinctly remembered hearing chirping birds while out in the parking lot and the forest’s edge, but the deeper in she went, the quieter it became.
Heading past a couple of signs, the first one urging those contemplating suicide to reconsider, the second urging actual hikers and tourists to stick to the designated trails, Kagome followed the path for a little while longer until it turned and split, one way with a sign for tourists saying it led to the caves, the other path roped off with a sign urging people not to go that way because they could easily get lost. Knowing nobody coming to this place to commit suicide would follow a designated hikers’ path, she exhaled slowly and nodded to herself before stepping over the rope.
She continued to follow the path, grateful there was one. She assumed it must have been okay at one point for explorers to go this route, but they’d roped it off in modern times upon too many people actually losing their way. She knew people had been coming to this forest for centuries, so it wasn’t as if the paths were new, scraped out by park rangers or something.
On the other hand, what was a relatively new addition to the ancient forest, she noticed, were the occasional colorful strips of plastic tape that went out away from the trail in a few different places. She’d heard about that. Even though she had been missing a lot of school lately, she’d always used to have perfect attendance, and so she’d had plenty of opportunities in the past to hear all of the various rumors and horror stories associated with this place.
Apparently, many people who chose not to follow the trails marked their routes with the tape so that they could find their way back out again. It was a tactic used by both rebellious hikers who had no intention of committing suicide as well as those still uncertain of their decision who wanted to be able to find their way out of the forest should they change their mind. She’d also heard that it occasionally got removed by forest officials as part of an effort to keep the place litter free, but inevitably more plastic tape would always reappear in its place.
Of course, one would think the people who’d actually followed their own tape back out would remove it with them as they left. Some people might rudely leave it as trash, but she’d like to think that most of them wouldn’t. Most of the tape that got left behind, then, was probably from people who had been hesitant but ultimately killed themselves, she assumed.
She supposed it really served two purposes, then. If the person changed their mind, the tape would lead them home, and if they did not, it would lead others to their body. Usually only those determined to die marched straight into the woods without the worry of getting lost, hanging themselves without delay, leaving no marker, their bodies waiting to be found by chance. Yuka had brought her sleeping bag, so that told Kagome not only that she was still hesitant, but also that there might still be a chance. Knowing following the tape was bound to lead her to...something...she hoped and prayed that Yuka had left her own tape to follow.
Finding one that looked newer, still strung taut on the branches instead of broken in places and lying more or less discarded on the ground, she swallowed, and stepped off the path.
“Yuka-chan!” she called again, her voice the only sound besides her shoes crunching on the rocky ground and the very slight breeze rustling the leaves overhead. “Yuka-chan, if you’re here, please answer me!”
A particularly chilly gust of wind had her unconsciously wrapping her arms around herself.
Maybe Mama was right, maybe I should have gone to get Inuyasha first... she thought as she headed a little bit deeper into the forest.
Even if Inuyasha didn’t know Yuka’s own scent, she was sure he could at least sniff out any living person, and from the number of times he’d stealthily spied on her with her friends Kagome realized he probably actually did know Yuka’s scent. Even if he didn’t know who was who, if he knew the three scents of her three friends then that was all he’d need to know to recognize it the minute one of those scents hit his nose.
It was decided. If she could not find Yuka by nightfall she would regrettably have to leave, anyway, not wanting to worry her poor mother senseless, but it would only be a temporary pause in her search. She would be back, and with Inuyasha.
Still, her initial instinct had told her she had to come right away, that there was no time to lose. That had to mean something, right? If there was one thing she’d learned after all her dealings in the Sengoku jidai, it was to trust her instincts. Inuyasha called her naïve, but every time she’d ‘stupidly’ trusted somebody they’d just met, they’d turned out to be a good guy in the end. She could tell who was good and who wasn’t. She could usually also tell which forests were good and which ones weren’t. She was still on the fence about this one, but she was leaning towards the latter. The unnatural quiet unnerved her. There weren’t that many tourists that came through here on a regular basis; there should have been birdsong, or the occasional scampering of small rodents, but there was nothing.
Coming to the end of the tape and finding a scene that was much more sad than it was disgusting, at least to her, Kagome offered the man’s body a small prayer and turned back around, following his tape back to the path but leaving the tape in place so that his body could be found again by those whose job it was to remove the bodies for proper burial.
A few times as she walked she stepped away from the colorful tape, but never too far that she couldn’t see it if she turned around. The canopy was thick overhead, and what sunlight shown through was sparsely dappled, but her eyes were used to such a setting and so far she could actually see her way through the woods just fine.
“Yuka-chan, can you hear me?!” she called out again, wanting to keep calling for her friend on a regular basis.
“The whole forest can hear you,” answered a male voice from closer than she’d been expecting.
“Oh, you startled me!” Kagome said on a gasp as she whirled around, hand on her heart.
Where had he come from?
“Are you a hiker?” she asked.
He was just wearing a normal long-sleeve shirt and pants, just like the clothes the-
“You can...” he started to say in a surprised tone, interrupting her thoughts.
He looked caught off guard for a moment, but shook it off quickly, cutting himself off mid-sentence.
“Are you a hiker?” he asked her then, his eyebrow raised in a skeptical manner with a smirk on his lips.
Not paying attention to whatever it was he’d initially started to say, she blushed at his tone and knowing expression. She knew how it looked, being dressed in her school clothes and all. She told the man the truth.
“I’m not suicidal, and I’m not here doing pranks, either. I promise. I came in here looking for my friend, Minamoto Yuka,” she explained. “Have you seen any other fifteen-year-old girls in here besides me?”
“You’re the only one,” the man answered. “If your friend is really suspected of being in here, then you should notify her parents.”
“Her...her father and some of our other friends already looked for her yesterday.”
His eyes took on a sympathetic look at that information. Kagome felt she could trust this man.
“If she’s missing, you should file a missing person’s report.”
“I’m sure her father probably has, but in the mean time I can’t just sit at home and do nothing, you know?”
He offered her a half smile at that, as if finding her foolish but at the same time admiring her loyalty.
“Just be careful you don’t become a missing person. There are more of those here than you know.”
Well that warning was...unsettling, although it seemed well-intentioned. Kagome wanted to tell him that she had plenty of experience navigating strange forests and was confident she’d be able to find her way back out all right, especially since this forest actually had neat things like plastic tape trails and hiking paths, but she knew how it’d sound so she kept her mouth shut. Instead, she bowed politely and offered him a warm smile.
“Thank you for your concern. I will be very careful.”
The man nodded his head and then turned to leave, disappearing through the trees back towards the area she was currently heading away from, towards where that other man’s body was lying face down near the base of a large tree. It had appeared as if that man had been sitting propped up against the tree and had then slumped over when he’d died. He had probably poisoned himself.
Watching this man go for a moment longer, Kagome shook herself out of her stupor and turned, continuing to follow the tape back to the main path. Finding the next strip of tape that also looked relatively new, she wasted no time following it to wherever it would lead her, continuing to call out Yuka’s name all the while.
Ten minutes later, she was bowing respectfully before another body that was (thankfully) not Yuka’s, quietly murmuring another short prayer for the elderly gentleman, figuring there was nothing much else that she could do. This wasn’t the Sengoku jidai and she knew, just like with that previous younger man’s body, that even if she had a shovel she couldn’t just go around digging graves for whomever she stumbled upon. She needed to leave the bodies where they were so that when the people whose job it was to officially look for bodies found them they could be properly identified, their families notified.
Turning around and following his tape back to the path she chose yet another newer looking string that went off in yet another direction, following that one next. She still called out Yuka’s name as she went, and there was still no response.
At the end of that tape she found a young man at the end of his rope, both literally and figuratively. From the looks of things, that tape hadn’t been quite as new as she’d thought it was. If she’d stumbled upon such a sight a few months ago, before everything she’d experienced back in the past, she would’ve probably thrown up at the sight of him. Now, she only looked upon him with pity. At least she wasn’t feeling the heebie-jeebies the way her friends had been. This forest wasn’t so bad, after all, it just had a bad reputation. Offering that man a prayer as well, she moved on, unaware of the eyes that followed her back to the main path.
“Yuka-chan!” she called out again. Nothing.
Heading along the path for a while longer, she found another promising string of tape and followed after that one. She didn’t even know if Yuka had bothered with the tape, or even if she’d come this way at all. There were other trails, after all, other paths, but she had to start somewhere and it was better than wandering completely aimlessly. This way, she had aimed herself, she just didn’t know if she was pointed towards the right target or not.
“Uwan!” someone or something shouted back in the distance; a male voice.
Caught completely off guard, Kagome spun around, gasping in surprise.
“That wasn’t funny, whoever you are!” she cried out after a moment.
Damn teenaged boys and their pranks. Or was it? Kagome had never used to believe in youkai, but, well...obviously that line of thinking had been false. And she knew that at least the tatarimokke or ‘soul piper’ still existed in her time, so why not an uwan? They were supposed to be invisible, named for the sound they shouted out, although they were supposed to frequent old buildings, not forests...
Shrugging, she closed her eyes and concentrated a moment, searching for the familiar feel of youki. She felt no trace of a demonic aura whatsoever. Well, that settled that, then.
Coming upon the end of the tape, she found the remains of a miniature campsite. There was a tent, and a few random items strewn about. How that had happened with seemingly no animals in the forest she wasn’t quite sure, but there definitely weren’t larger animals or else there would be reports of them feeding on the bodies and that had never happened that she knew of. Holding her breath, more in anticipation of what she might find than in anticipation of the smell, Kagome crept closer to the tent.
“Hello?” she nearly whispered as she got close, exhaling slowly. “Is somebody in there?”
Swallowing, she moved the flap aside to peer within.
It was empty.
Why was it that finding an empty, abandoned tent, was actually more spooky than if there had been an overdosed body inside? She supposed the empty tent begged the question, what had happened to this person? Had they wandered off and killed themselves away from their camp? Had they suddenly realized they didn’t want to die and ran back out of the forest as quickly as they could, abandoning their supplies for fear they’d change their mind again if they took the time to pack up?
That was a nice thought, albeit unlikely. Had somebody else found them? But if officials had found the body then they would have removed the tent and other trash.
Abruptly deciding that she didn’t much care to know what had happened, in part because she knew she’d never find out anyway but primarily because this line of thinking was distracting her from her search for Yuka, Kagome turned tail and headed back to the path again.
About halfway there, she thought she heard footsteps besides her own and came to an abrupt stop, as did the other steps.
“Hello?” she voiced again, to the reply of deafening silence. Going for broke, she inhaled deeply and wailed at the top of her lungs, “YUKA-CHAN! YUKA-CHAN WHERE ARE YOU?!”
Ah, so there were a few birds in the trees overhead. They all scattered at her shout, but she didn’t much care about that, or whoever else might’ve been in the woods at that moment who might have heard her. She continued towards the path, and when the echo of a second set of footsteps picked back up again, she ultimately chalked it up to her own footfalls actually echoing off of the trees. She’d already looked over her shoulder more than once like a paranoid idiot; there was nobody following her.
Coming back upon the main trail, she continued down it further, forgoing a couple different strips of tape that were clearly older and clearly not Yuka’s. She wasn’t on a suicide corpse sight-seeing mission; she was here to find her friend, and nothing more. Or so she thought until she came upon a small tent set up right smack in the middle of the trail.
Who did that, honestly?
Of course, she was thinking like a forest traveler of the Sengoku jidai again, where you knew you wanted to veer off the main path and make camp far, far away from where anybody traveling down the road might see you. This person, to camp here, where camping overnight was not permitted anyway, and to then set their tent up on the road...?
They wanted to be found.
She only hoped she wasn’t too late.
Getting closer, she tried again. “Hello? Is someone inside that tent?”
A quiet rustling told her that yes, somebody actually was.
“Sorry...I don’t mean to trouble you...sorry...” came a quiet male voice’s response.
You block the road and then apologize for it?
Mentally, Kagome snorted. This man clearly wanted somebody to find him, wanted attention, but the sad part was that if nobody had shown up he very well might have killed himself. He still might, but not if she could help it.
“It’s no trouble at all. I’m looking for my friend Minamoto Yuka, but I’m happy to have found you for the moment. My name is Higurashi Kagome, but you may call me Kagome. What’s your name?”
It was quiet for a minute, and she started to think that he wasn’t going to answer her, but then the tent flap actually unzipped so she could peer inside.
“Tanaka Kichirou,” he answered slowly, his voice so quiet she barely heard him.
She bowed low so that she could glance inside. Kichirou was sitting on his legs, wearing a simple long-sleeved shirt and slacks. It was similar in style to what that other man had been wearing but in a different color. Working man clothes. Not a physical laborer, more like office work. A paper pusher, nobody important within the company. He appeared to be in his late fifties if she had to guess. She wondered what unfortunate event, or series of unfortunate events, had led him to this place.
Shifting to sit on her knees before him, Kagome offered him her best ‘your life is worth something’ smile.
“How long have you been out here, Kichirou-san? Do you have enough food and water?”
“I...only two days, if I remember. Yes, yes... I have food and water,” he answered, turning to glance behind himself as if to make sure.
“Two days, hmm?” she asked, her tone and smile polite. “Do you plan on staying here very much longer? I don’t think camping is permitted. If you were ready to head home I can walk with you back through the forest so that you’re not alone.”
“No I... I know the way out. Thank you,” he answered, looking unsure. He probably wasn’t used to having a young girl be so nice to him.
Kagome tried a different tactic.
“Since you’ve been here for a couple of days, have you by chance seen another girl my age around here? I’m looking for my friend, you see. We’re all so very worried about her. Her mother just passed away and we’re afraid she’s very depressed right now and not thinking clearly. The rest of her family and all her friends, we all love her so very much, but she’s so sad right now that she doesn’t realize there are still so many people who love her and would be very sad to lose her too after just losing her mother. I know her mother would want her to live and be happy, no matter what.”
If Kichirou got the deeper meaning behind her words he didn’t show it, but he did appear to take the direct meaning of her words to heart, in regard to Yuka.
“You...you’re a very good friend,” he said. “You’re right, she should honor her mother by living a happy life. I hope you find her.”
“I need to keep looking,” Kagome acknowledged, nodding more to herself than to him. “What about you, though?” she asked him then, deciding to be more direct. “I would feel bad if I just left you here, if you are also feeling sad and lonely right now. Please, may I walk with you back to the parking lot?”
A part of her rued the lost time such a task would lead to, but it would be worth it, for sure, if she could save this man’s life.
“I...I remember the way, Kagome-san,” he answered hesitantly, as if unsure if it was appropriate or not to address the junior high student by her given name, even though Kagome herself had given him permission to do so.
She only continued to smile at him, the look in her eyes showing her concern for his sake.
“If you’re sure...”
Her concern was having an affect on him, she could tell, as the look in his own eyes seemed to lighten up ever so slightly.
“Go find your friend, Kagome-san. I can’t be responsible for delaying your search. I can find my own way home.”
This time, he actually sounded like he meant it.
“Okay then. You take care of yourself, Kichirou-san. At some point I’ll probably be passing by this way again on my way back out, so if you’re still here we’ll see each other again at that time.”
The unsaid so please don’t make me see your dead body after I’ve spoken with you was implied and understood. Kichirou nodded.
“Good luck with your search,” he said, his voice sounding more and more sure every time he spoke.
Another small bow, and Kagome was gone, heading past Kichirou’s tent and further up the trail.
Or was that down the trail? Trying to remember the large map she’d only just glanced at in the parking lot, she shrugged. Sometimes she was going up, sometimes down. She headed further along the trail in that moment, and called out Yuka’s name again.
Another gust of wind had her shivering, and for a brief moment she wondered why it was suddenly so cold, until she chalked it up to it becoming later in the evening. Even though she was on the western side of Mt. Fuji the slowly setting sun was probably being blocked by a building, cutting off direct sunlight sooner than it would’ve happened otherwise.
Even so, even though no direct sunlight was poking through the treetops any longer, there was still plenty of light to see by. Nightfall was still a couple of hours away.
“Yuka-chan, can you hear me?!” Spotting another promising looking lead of colorful tape, she added, “Yuka-chan, it’s me, Kagome!”
“Kagome...” she thought she heard whispered back to her. She turned around quickly. Had that been a female voice?
“Who’s there? Yuka-chan, is that you?”
Turning back the way she’d been headed and picking up speed, she followed the tape a little faster than before. Gasping in surprise at the sight that greeted her, she came upon a sleeping bag, but not Yuka’s. This one had clearly been there for a while, and so had the body within it. She would seriously need to reevaluate what looked like ‘new’ tape in her mind.
Apparently, so long as it didn’t get torn down then it stayed fairly pristine for some time, being plastic and not in direct sunlight and all. But surprise over the nearly unrecognizable female corpse lying in the bag, an empty bottle of water and presumably empty bottle of pills lying beside her, had not been what’d made her gasp in surprise. It was the unexpected sight of the woman standing beside the body, gazing down at it with an unreadable expression on her face.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to just rush up on you like that,” Kagome apologized, embarrassed and bowing a little.
It was then that the woman belatedly turned her head to gaze in Kagome’s direction. Her eyes were still hard to read, but it was almost as if she hadn’t realized Kagome was there until she’d spoken, looking mildly surprised by the miko’s sudden appearance. At least she did not appear angry, and that was good enough for Kagome.
“Did...did you know her?” she ventured to guess.
With the body unfound – until now – one would assume the deceased woman’s loved ones had not been officially notified, but it was always possible this woman had been doing what she herself was doing, searching for her friend, even months after the woman’s disappearance, for closure if nothing else.
Kagome sincerely hoped her own search would not take that long, and that it would have a happier ending.
“Know her...?” the woman asked slowly, pulling Kagome from her thoughts. Her tone of voice, it almost implied she hadn’t understood Kagome’s question.
Turning her head to gaze back down at the body again, it took a moment, but then the woman resumed speaking, not that her words did Kagome much good. She found her words as hard to understand as the woman had apparently found her own question.
“I always...come back here. This is...where it ends...and begins. I want to go home...but I am home...”
Despite the strangeness of the riddle, Kagome’s heart went out to the woman at the unmasked despair she could hear in her voice, despite the expression on her face still not changing all that much. This woman, the dead woman, she must have been somebody very important to the woman standing before her, for her death to have caused this other woman to lose so much of herself.
A twin sister, perhaps? It was said that a surviving twin sometimes got a little wrong in the head if their sibling died. The poor thing. That was probably it.
She hated to ask, under such circumstances, but...
“Have you...that is, I know you’re grieving and I apologize, but have you seen another fifteen-year-old girl in these woods besides myself? I’m looking for my friend, and I think she’s here somewhere. I want to find her and, hopefully, stop her before it’s too late.”
“Seen...?” the woman asked, slowly raising her eyes back up to Kagome’s again.
The miko felt an unexplainable shudder run through her as their gazes locked. There was no wind at the moment.
“Nobody sees but you...” she said at first, and then as if understanding Kagome’s question a little bit better, she added, “You are only one I have seen.”
Kagome nodded her understanding, silently wondering if maybe Japanese wasn’t this woman’s native language. She looked Japanese, but looks could be deceiving. She could have been from America, for example, and was now learning Japanese as a second language. The way she spoke was just so unnatural, but if she were trying to translate from English in her head then that would explain it, the miko supposed.
An unexpected and rather loud rustling in the brush had her turning around to glance behind herself. Nothing. Turning back, she was going to bow to the grieving woman and thank her for her time, but her eyes widened in shock instead. She was gone.
“Hello? Oba-san? Are you still here?”
Looking around, there was no sign of anybody. It was only her and the corpse.
That’s...kind of freaky...
Why on Earth would the woman have darted away like that? And how could she have, anyway, without making a sound?
Gulping, Kagome momentarily contemplated approaching the body in the sleeping bag and pulling the top flap of the bag down, to see what type of clothes the dead woman was wearing, but shaking her head, she thought better of it and headed back out towards the trail again.
Okay, now this place is starting to give me the creeps, too... she thought, although she would not let that dissuade her. She’d been in plenty of other creepy forests in her day.
Another rustling, this one closer than before. Spinning around, she narrowed her eyes at the bush she thought the sound had come from. Finding and picking up a nearby stick, she poked around at the brush, rustling it herself. It was the same sound, so that had definitely been what she’d heard, but no little critters darted out as she prodded. Deciding to hang on to the medium sized stick for the time being, she unconsciously clutched it in her left hand just like she would normally have done her bow, and resumed walking.
Silence. Another deep inhale, and then...
Not even a flutter of birds that time.
Wrapping her arms around herself while still holding on to her makeshift staff, trying to ward off the steadily increasing cold, Kagome kept going. There wasn’t much else she could do at that point. “Yuka-chan!” she called again, refusing to give up.
Coming around a bend in the path, the miko gasped in surprise to find a boy, not much older than her, standing there staring at her. His expression was almost completely blank, except for a spark of something in his eyes that she couldn’t quite identify. Was it annoyance...or, concern? In almost slow motion he raised his right hand up in front of his face, index finger extended.
Kagome didn’t know whether he was merely trying to shush her in a rude way, or if he was actually trying to caution her. Although the latter seemed silly. Caution her about what? Why did she need to be quiet? She couldn’t be quiet, she needed to find Yuka!
Still, deciding to err on the side of caution, it was with her voice significantly lowered that she asked the boy, “Have you seen another schoolgirl in these woods, besides myself?” Worrying her lower lip, she was aware she was shivering and tried to keep her voice steady as she added, “I...I’m looking for my friend.”
He didn’t answer her verbally, but shook his head in the negative.
Kagome resumed walking, surprised when as she passed right beside the boy the temperature dropped noticeably by another several degrees. Why was it so freakin’ cold all of a sudden? And how was the boy not freezing in only his jeans and t-shirt?
Deciding not to ask him, figuring he was trying to scare her with that weird blank look on his face, she supposed he was probably there playing pranks and kept right on walking.
“You should...go home...” he said as she began heading away from him, his voice so hoarse she almost hadn’t understood him.
She turned around then, intent on politely telling him she would be fine and needed to keep searching for her friend, but he was gone.
That’s twice now...
Or was it three times?
Actually, the only person she’d met so far that she could say she knew for sure had been alive was Kichirou. She’d never used to believe in ghosts, either, but again, after her experience with Mayu-chan, Kagome now knew that anything was possible. Was it really so surprising that there might be a few lost souls wandering around this place? She supposed not.
Not that it wasn’t still creepy as hell.
And annoying. Surely a ghost would know if Yuka was there or not, right? Mayu-chan had been just like a normal person, not all weird and cryptic at all, but then again, she’d become a poltergeist, seeking revenge on her mother and brother for how she’d died. Maybe poltergeists were different. Maybe suicides were different. All she knew and cared about in that moment was that she needed to find Yuka, and before her friend became a suicide ghost.
Recollecting the boy’s presumed warning to be quiet, but simply not having that luxury, she called out “Yuka-chan!” once again as she resumed walking.
The wind picked up through the trees as she walked on, and after a moment Kagome thought she heard the sound of whispering, but dismissed it. It was probably just the wind rustling the leaves and her ears playing tricks on her, but even if it wasn’t and she really did hear whispering, it wasn’t as if that was going to stop her. “Yuka-chan!”
“Kagome!” she thought she heard spoken back to her. Was it a quiet murmur uttered right next to her ear, or a full-throated shout cried out from far, far off in the distance?
She couldn’t tell.
“Yuka-chan! Yuka-chan is that you?!”
Nothing but the wind in the leaves.
Getting frustrated, Kagome walked on. She followed a couple more new-ish looking strips of tape, but they each led her to the remains of somebody other than her school friend. She took a moment to say prayers again for each body before pressing onward. Again she thought she heard the echo of footsteps besides her own as she walked, but she ignored it. A few times she thought she saw movement of some type darting in and around the trees, as if someone were spying on her and then trying to duck out of sight before being seen; she ignored that, too. The forest was trying to screw with her mind, she’d concluded, but she wouldn’t let it.
Although, on the other hand, she couldn’t not investigate what could very well actually be Yuka actually calling out for her. Spotting an area that went off trail towards the left, a narrow path that looked like it had been traveled a few times and was on the verge of becoming a foot worn trail all its own, Kagome decided to chance it. The female voice calling her name had sounded like it was coming from this direction.
If it was suspiciously fortuitous that such a foot path would appear heading off in the right direction right as she heard the voice calling her name, she didn’t dwell on it. Surely Yuka could have seen the path herself and come this same way. She was pretty sure the path was noticeable enough to follow it back, but just in case, she broke off a collection of small sticks about a foot in length from the nearby trees and also picked up a good amount she found along the ground. Dropping them horizontally along the path more or less evenly spaced as she walked, it sort of gave off the appearance of railroad ties, marking her path in a way she would definitely be able to recognize and follow back to the main trail after she was done exploring wherever this smaller path might lead.
“Yuka-chan, are you down this way?”
It continued to get steadily colder as she walked, which she chalked up to the sun continuing to dip further down in the western sky. She didn’t wrap her arms around herself that time, still clutching her larger branch in her left hand like a stand-in bow while she held on to her cluster of smaller sticks in her right, dropping them one by one as she went. Getting low on her markers, she took a moment to find and collect some more from the trees right beside her, and then she kept going, the narrow path in the brush she was following looking fairly recently disturbed based on her acquired knowledge of forests and tracking.
True, she relied perhaps a bit more heavily on Inuyasha’s senses than she should, but she had picked up a few things in her months of traversing the wilds of the Warring States era. She knew recently trampled foliage when she saw it.
“Yuka-chan! Yuka-chan can you hear me?!”
Another faint whisper of “Kagome...” had the miko spinning around a full 360 degrees, but she didn’t see anything.
She was unable to tell from which direction the sound had come that time, and she was also unable to tell if it had been Yuka’s voice. Somebody had definitely said her name, however. Somebody or something.
“Hello?” Clearing her throat, she spoke up a little louder. “Is someone out there?”
Reaching the end of the trail, she sighed. A dead end, although thankfully at least not in the more literal sense this time around, as she hadn’t come across another corpse. The brush looked less disturbed the further into the forest it went, and she didn’t want to step completely off any semblance of a path whatsoever. Whomever had previously walked this route before her must have also stopped at this point, turning back. She turned back herself, then, thankful for the marker sticks she had dropped along her way. Keeping her gaze downward, she followed her sticks back towards the main path, not bothering to pick them up as she went. Unlike the plastic tape, her sticks were not litter.
Everything was still quiet, still cold, as she walked. Once, she paused and glanced up when she thought she again heard footsteps besides her own, and upon the footsteps stopping as well she frowned at an unfamiliar looking tree, but then, glancing down, there were her sticks to guide her. She recognized those. She must have just missed seeing that particular tree as she’d more or less had her gaze downcast when walking out there in the first place, as well, watching where she dropped her sticks more than anything else.
Besides, most trees kind of looked alike if you walked in a forest long enough. Thinking nothing else of it, she resumed walking, knowing the main path she’d been following should be just a little ways up ahead.
It wasn’t until about twenty minutes later or so that it dawned on Kagome that something wasn’t right. It hadn’t taken her this long to walk in, to reach the end of the faint, barely there path. She had also walked in at a slightly slower pace than she was walking out, since she’d taken the time to carefully drop down the sticks she was now merely following back. She should have definitely rejoined the main trail by now. She should have rejoined it ten minutes ago.
Glancing up and around again, Kagome realized with an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach that she definitely didn’t recognize her surroundings, at all.
Had somebody else also done the same thing with the sticks and she’d somehow followed a different path back after an unnoticed fork in the road? Turning around, planning on retracing her steps again in the hope of finding her correct path, Kagome gasped, eyes wide. The trail was gone, and so were all the sticks.
What the hell?
Turning back to face the way she’d been heading, that trail of sticks was gone as well, as if it’d never been.
Turning again and running in the direction she had come from, a thousand thoughts were swirling around in her head. What was going on? Had she really zoned out so badly? Had she blacked out? Was she hallucinating? But what could cause something like that? A natural gas leak, perhaps? Or something more sinister? Maybe she wasn’t imagining things, and the forest had actually changed.
But missing trail or no missing trail, she was now headed back the way she’d come, right?
Even if she’d taken the wrong fork, she should still end up back at that faint path’s dead end going this way, and then she could try again. But the more Kagome ran through the trees, the more she realized this area was completely unfamiliar to her. Maybe she should just turn back around again, and try again to meet back up with the main trail.
That was somewhere behind her from the direction she currently faced, wasn’t it?
But then, wasn’t that the direction she’d already been heading in? And yet after spending more time walking than she should have there had still been no sign of the main trail, so she obviously hadn’t been heading in the right direction.
Come on Kagome, you can do this…
She never got lost! She didn’t need Inuyasha’s sense of smell. Thinking back, Kagome remembered distinctly. The small, barely there foot-worn path she had decided to follow had gone off towards the left away from the main trail she had been traveling down. It had been more or less straight; this she knew from the appearance of her marker sticks indeed looking like railroad ties every time she’d glanced behind herself as she walked, and also when she’d first reached the dead end and had turned back around. She had dropped her marker sticks at a more or less evenly spaced distance from each other.
Reaching the dead end of the mini-path, she had turned around and followed her markers back, except...had she?
They had not led her back to the main trail, and then suddenly before her very eyes they were gone. So now she was headed back again, assuming it a wrong turn. She should have met up with the mini-path, but hadn’t found that either. So the main trail, it was behind her, wasn’t it? She had been traveling in straight lines, hadn’t she? But then again, the only way she could have not come back across the main trail was if she had actually made a gradual turn without noticing, to ultimately wind up walking parallel to the large, main trail, and since she hadn’t noticed her narrow path curving, she had no way of knowing if she’d curved to the left or to the right, which now meant the main path could either be to her left or right.
Oh no... Kagome realized with a sense of foreboding. I am lost.
“Hello?! Anyone?!” she called out then. “I...I can’t find my way back to the trail! Can someone help me please?!”
The sound of silence.
A sudden thought occurred to her.
“Kichirou-san! Kichirou-san, can you hear me?! It’s me, Kagome! I need your help, please!”
Closing her eyes and willing herself not to freak out, Kagome breathed slowly and tried to think things through logically. She was lost, she was cold, and slowly but surely it was getting dark. Finding Yuka at that point was becoming less of a top priority, although she would still be coming back with Inuyasha. For right in that moment in time, however, Kagome knew she needed to switch gears. Top priority now was simply getting out of the forest. If she could just get her bearings, figure out which way was east or west, then she would know in which general direction to head that would ultimately lead her out of the woods. The sun was already down, but she didn’t need the sun when she had something even better; Mt. Fuji. Aokigahara Forest bordered the massive volcano, so heading directly away from Mt. Fuji would therefore lead her out of the woods. Not to the same place she’d entered, for sure, but that didn’t matter anymore.
Trying to peer through the trees in all directions, then, she was looking for the looming figure of the snow capped mountain, which should still be visible to her in the dark grayish blue sky she could see peaking through the treetops. The foliage was too dense, however, to spot the volcano’s summit, no matter which direction she faced. Maybe if she could get to a higher vantage point she could spot the mountain more easily, or maybe even lingering red hues from the setting sun. If she could find the sunset, then that would also work, since Aokigahara was on the northwest side of Mt. Fuji. Heading towards the sun would be synonymous with heading away from the mountain.
She also knew how to tell east from west by the stars, not that she really wanted to sit around and wait for the stars to come out, worrying her poor mother to death in the meantime. It was getting late, but it wasn’t dark yet. She also doubted she would be able to see very many of the stars with such a thick canopy overhead. It would be a last resort but hopefully Plan A would work just fine.
Finding a tree that looked climbable, then, she got to work.
Inuyasha always makes this look so easy... she mentally grumbled as she pulled herself up to a pretty good height, grateful for her practice hoisting herself up and out of the Bone-Eater’s Well on a regular basis.
She got as high up as she dared and looked around again, but despite having an excellent view of the forest from that angle she could still see nothing but evenly colored dark blue sky above the trees. No lingering pinks and purples from sunset, and no volcano. Sighing, she climbed back down.
Well...she might be a while, then. Better call her mother so at least she wouldn’t worry too much.
“I hope there’s cellphone service in here,” Kagome said to herself, worrying her lower lip as she crouched down and retrieved Ayumi’s cellphone from her sock.
If there had been another person there with her, they would have been justified in scolding her for having just jinxed it with that statement.
Pushing the small button on the top of the phone that woke it from its slumber, she slid over the unlock icon with her fingertip, and frowned as she realized she had zero bars. Pushing the telephone icon anyway, hoping against hope it’d make the call, even if it was garbled with static, she wasn’t really surprised when an error message saying there was no service appeared on the screen instead. Sighing, she pushed the top button again, locking the phone, and tucked it back into her sock for safe keeping. She could keep checking it as the evening progressed. Perhaps she’d find a sweet spot?
Staying in one spot definitely wouldn’t acquire her cell coverage, nor would it accomplish her possibly finding another trail to follow, so with that last thought in mind, Kagome closed her eyes and tried to hone her latent miko senses to hopefully help guide her in a good direction, and then after ‘feeling’ which way she should go, she started walking again.
She still occasionally called out for Yuka as she walked, of course, just in case. It would be foolish not to. So far, though, she had neither come across Yuka nor any other individuals since her last encounter with that teenaged boy. Determined not to give up, she trudged onward.
The sound of whispering was back, she noticed after a few minutes, and it was even louder than before, as if the trees themselves were talking about her, maybe even laughing at her. She tried to keep her cool, but slowly but surely wound up walking faster and faster, eyes scanning for anything that looked familiar. It was almost as if the trees could alter their appearances. Wait, were they moving?
Surely it was just her eyes playing tricks on her.
Getting tired after another twenty minutes or so she came to rest against the first tree that caught her fancy. She needed to calm down. “Come on, Kagome, be rational,”she ordered herself aloud, trying to slow the frantic pounding of her heart.
As if the forest had heard her, and was wholly against the idea of her thinking rationally, there was a loud crack in that moment followed by an even louder thump that had her whirling around in surprise. Almost afraid to look, she chanced it anyway, preferring to know what she was up against because the scariest thing of all was the unknown, right? Peering to look behind the tree she’d been leaning against, then, she stared, wide eyed, as what she saw in that moment immediately made her question that belief.
Lying prone on the ground, presumably where she’d landed after her fall, the hanged woman slowly began to move, not dissimilar in appearance to how Inuyasha would push himself up after one of her subduing commands, minus the bit of rope tied around her neck, of course. It never even remotely passed through the miko’s mind that this woman could have possibly just now attempted to hang herself when the branch broke, some cosmic coincidence allowing her to be in the right place at the right time. Such a scenario never crossed Kagome’s mind because it was exceedingly obvious by the woman’s appearance that that was not the case. The woman in question in fact appeared to have successfully hanged herself...several weeks ago.
All rational thought left Kagome in a flourish. Slowly, she tried to back away before turning to make a run for it, hoping to sneak out of sight before the zombie woman noticed her. Even all irrational thought came to a screeching halt, however, when she realized she was stuck on something, unable to step away from the tree. Her shirt was caught.
Under less terrifying circumstances, Kagome would have rolled her eyes at herself for snagging her shirt on the tree. As it was, though, as the deceased woman raised her head and their eyes locked, the miko felt like a trapped bunny staring up into the eyes of a hungry wolf. Frantically then, she tried to turn enough to see where she was hooked, and promptly lost it when she spotted a collection of sticks coming off of a branch that looked distinctly like a hand, a hand that was holding on to a fistful of white blouse.
Screaming bloody murder, Kagome took a swing at the tree with the large stick she’d still been carrying around with her all this time, her panic and instincts automatically making it flare to life with her miko powers. She whacked the tree, hard, and the unnatural branch-hand disappeared as if it’d never been there. No sparkly dust like when she purified a youkai, and indeed she hadn’t sensed any trace of a demonic aura, but even if one could argue she’d just been seeing things, she had not hallucinated being caught, and now she was free. And the zombie, regardless of whether it was real or not, was still lumbering towards her. She ran.
Kagome raced off in no particular direction, and kept going as if her life depended on it, which for all she knew, it did. The brush whipped at her exposed legs as she darted between the trees but she paid the burning stings no mind, her focus solely on escape. Escape from what, she couldn’t say, a large part of her not honestly believing she had actually seen a zombie, although figuring it was a ghost didn’t really bring her that much more comfort. The entire forest seemed out to get her, and that was all she needed to know as she fled.
A few stars began to twinkle in the twilight sky overhead, and still she ran, dodging through the trees, ducking low to avoid lower branches, jumping high over roots and rocks. She didn’t have Inuyasha’s incredible night vision, but she definitely didn’t suffer from night blindness. Not after all her time in the Feudal era. Even as the surrounding forest became engulfed in darkness, even as the approaching trees became black on black shadows, she could still see them well enough to avoid running into anything.
The trees almost appeared to chase her. She saw figures in the shadows now, and felt that feeling of being watched. The whispering had increased to voices, but she still couldn’t understand what they were saying, like being in a crowded auditorium. Even though she couldn’t make out what any of the voices were saying, she still got the distinct impression they were promising her doom. It wasn’t as if she were overhearing people simply talking amongst themselves, they were talking to her. Shadows started dancing in her peripheral vision, then. They began closing in all around her, urging her forward. Fight or flight was locked firmly in flight mode and Kagome’s instincts were telling her she was a goner if she stopped. There was no Inuyasha to save her from the monsters this time around, and she understood that.
This time, she had to save herself.
Still, she was human, and not a trained marathon runner. Plus she hadn’t been going at a swift but steady marathon type of pace, nor was the ground very level. She had been sprinting like a frightened bunny, and even Inuyasha could not maintain his top sprinting speed over an extended period of time. Her legs burned, a serious stitch in her side was causing agonizing pain, but even so she did not cease her run voluntarily. Inuyasha used to call her clumsy; it was really only a matter of time before her unnatural agility borne of necessity outlived itself. Finally, she stumbled, coming to an unceremonious and rather abrupt stop as she fell to land on the forest floor face first.
Thankfully, she saved her actual face by catching her fall with her hands at the last second, but both palms were scraped pretty badly, as were both knees.
Stupid skirt...from now on I’m wearing blue jeans!
Hissing in pain as she got herself up into a sitting position and made a grab for her bow/branch she’d thankfully dropped as she caught herself so she hadn’t twisted her wrist or smashed her fingers, she sat where she’d landed, clutching the stick with both hands as she leaned it against her shoulder much like Inuyasha would do with the sheathed Tetsusaiga.
Instinctively, her body was still on high alert, expecting an attack at any moment.
An attack that never came.
The sound of voices had also come to an abrupt stop, she realized belatedly. They had stopped as soon as she’d fallen, almost as if she’d been listening to something in ear buds that had been dislodged when she fell. As ridiculous as it sounded, she was afraid to get back up and start walking again, lest the voices resume. So there she sat, just to catch her breath and rest a moment, she told herself, as she contemplated the true direness of her current situation.
She was lost. She was lost in a strange, scary forest, alone, at night, with corpses and ghosts and who knew what else.
Inuyasha was right... she thought in despair. Sure, he never said it anymore, but she knew he still thought it. I’m weak, and useless, and helpless, and clumsy...
She would have added ‘ugly’ except that was the only one she didn’t quite believe, believing he had said that one to be spiteful because after all, just because she wasn’t as pretty as Kikyou, that didn’t make her ugly.
Besides, her looks could hardly be blamed for how she had gotten herself lost tonight. It wasn’t as if the forest itself had taken one look at her and had decided to trap her here to spare the rest of the world from having to gaze upon her one moment longer. That was just silly. Yes, the forest was clearly haunted, but it had just been her own stupidity that had gotten her lost. Just like it had been her own stupidity that had shattered the Shikon no Tama.
Stupid, stupid Kagome!
Even Kaede had said it, hadn’t she? She would’ve looked just like Kikyou if only she’d look more intelligent. Everyone preferred Kikyou to her. She would always be second best, and how could she blame anyone, really? It wasn’t their fault she didn’t measure up; they were only being honest.
I...I can’t compete with Kikyou, because I’m still alive... Wasn’t that what she’d said, when she’d so foolishly, so blindly told Inuyasha that she shared Kikyou’s desire to be with him?
Maybe if she were dead like Kikyou then Inuyasha would love her too? Maybe if she sacrificed herself for his sake, freeing him of the guilt of having to choose between them, then maybe he would love her better in death, just like he loved Kikyou...
Well that was a stupid thought.
What the hell kind of backwards logic was that? Even if he did indeed love her more after she was dead, then what? She’d be dead! And unlike Kikyou, she highly doubted a youkai witch would come alone and bring her back to life. But, on the other hand, maybe that was the point. Maybe...maybe if she killed herself for his sake, then he would come to realize just how much she’d loved him, how much he’d hurt her, and he would hurt, too, realizing his love for her too late. Maybe he would feel a little bit of the pain he always made her feel, and she would have her revenge for all of the times he’d broken her heart.
“Kami...what am I thinking?! “
Speaking her horrified reaction to such twisted thoughts aloud, Kagome clutched her safety branch even tighter, despite her stinging palms. She had never ever been suicidal!
Sure, she would sacrifice herself for her friends’ sakes, if it came to that, if her death were for the greater good, if it saved their lives, but as an act of revenge, to hurt the ones she loved? No way! She just wasn’t that type of a person. The darkest her thoughts had ever gone was wishing Kikyou was out of the picture, and she’d immediately felt guilty afterwards for such thoughts.
Even if she did want to hurt Inuyasha by disappearing out of his life forever, that was what the well was for!
But did she really want Inuyasha to suffer like that? Of course not! She loved him, and if you really, truly loved someone, then you wanted them to be happy, no matter what. That was why she’d asked him if she could stay by his side in the first place, because she didn’t want to be away from him, and, let’s be honest, she knew he didn’t want to be away from her, either.
Even if it meant she had to suffer, even if it meant she had to...die...she didn’t want to think that Inuyasha would suffer too as a result. She would want only to free him so that he could be happy with Kikyou. But how could she possibly think that he would be, under such circumstances? What if she were wrong, and in trying to free him she wound up causing him the greatest pain ever? She was important to him, wasn’t she? Of course she was! She knew how overly protective he was of her, and she couldn’t believe it was only because of her ability to sense the jewel shards.
After all, Kikyou could sense the jewel shards, too. Maybe she really had been nothing more to him than a shard detector back in the very beginning, but ever since Kikyou had been brought back to life she was no longer unique in her abilities, and...as Inuyasha had always used to point out...Kikyou was smarter, and more agile, and a better archer, and prettier...and just all around better than her. Yet, he wasn’t with Kikyou all the time, now was he?
Sure, he’d run off to see her, but only when Kikyou came calling. He’d never once left Kagome on a whim to go search for Kikyou when he hadn’t thought the undead miko was in immediate peril. On a day to day basis, he was okay with not seeing Kikyou, but yet whenever Kagome wanted to go back home just to catch up on her schoolwork it was like pulling teeth, like he couldn’t be away from her for even a day.
She’d used to buy his excuses that it was all about the jewel shards, and that she was ‘wasting time’ with her ‘useless tests’ but Sango and Miroku, they had told her all about how he moped around whenever she wasn’t there. He didn’t pace back and forth angrily, or even take advantage of the opportunity to run around to the nearby villages hoping to catch wind of a new rumor they could search out upon her return. Knowing how long she’d be gone, that gave him the perfect opportunity to run at his top speed, without the ‘weak humans’ holding him back, and take off on his own for three or four days, to check on shard rumors or heck, even to go find Kikyou, but he never did. Instead, he stayed around the well, moping about like a lost puppy looking out the window, waiting for his master to return.
And she had very nearly broken her promise to always return to him. She had told him, no...she had asked him, she had asked him if she could stay with him, and he had seemed relieved by the question. It was very obvious to her that, regardless of whatever he might still feel for Kikyou, she was also very important to him, and he wanted her in his life. Maybe as nothing more than a friend, but even so, she knew it would hurt him deeply if she killed herself.
She didn’t want to kill herself! Hadn’t she sworn to everyone she’d met thus far that she wasn’t going to kill herself? Plus even if Inuyasha didn’t care, she knew he did but even if he didn’t, she had to think about her mother! And what about Jii-chan, and Souta?! How could she possibly contemplate killing herself over a boy when she had a family and other friends who loved her? She had come into these woods on a mission! She was supposed to be looking for Yuka! But she couldn’t find Yuka... Yuka was gone, and now she was lost, but that was still no reason to kill herself.
It’s this place...
Ayumi was right, it was screwing with her head. How long before she lost her resolve again?
Suddenly, she remembered Ayumi’s cellphone, still tucked safely away in her sock, and Ayumi’s ultimatum that she had to return to them, because she had to return Ayumi’s phone to her. It was a pretty weak obligation, but it was an obligation nonetheless, and if there was one thing the future-born miko had come to understand, thanks to the iron fist of fate, it was that you couldn’t ignore your obligations.
Chuckling mirthlessly at the broadness of that statement, Kagome pulled the sleek smartphone back out of her sock in that moment, hoping against hope that there would be at least one bar of service in her current location.
Pushing the button that was supposed to wake the locked phone from its slumber, she blew her bangs up and away from her forehead in exasperation as the screen remained dark. She pushed the button a couple more times...nothing. The battery was dead. Perfect. When the hell had that happened? It’d had over fifty percent remaining when she’d checked it earlier!
Realizing her best chance at getting rescued was out the proverbial window, Kagome tucked the phone back into her sock for safe keeping and drew her legs up, dropping her branch as she wrapped her arms around her legs. She couldn’t say how long she sat there in despair. Curled in on herself, sitting on her butt with her knees raised, feet flat on the ground, arms wrapped around her legs and head down and buried, she cried quietly, wishing she could turn back time.
Unfortunately, she could only travel back in time five hundred years, and only with the aid of a magic well. She was just as powerless as the rest of mankind when it came to turning back the clock by only a few hours. If she just stayed where she was, how long before somebody found her? Some of the bodies, they’d clearly been there for weeks, if not months. They were removed when the authorities found them, so that meant the official people who checked the woods for bodies did just that, they checked the woods for bodies, probably only once or twice a year. By the time they’d find her, she’d be just another body. No, she wouldn’t kill herself, if she could help it, but it didn’t take very long to die of thirst, did it? Three or four days?
Maybe she could stay alive long enough for Inuyasha to come through the well checking on her once she was late, and then surely her frantic mother would immediately send him after her. Yes, if she could only stay alive long enough for-
Loud stomping footsteps that sounded like they were rushing right towards her immediately captured her full attention and she bolted to her feet, temporarily forgotten branch picked back up and wielded like a weapon to the best of her ability. The sound got louder and louder, but right as it sounded as if whoever, or whatever it was, was about to clear the brush and burst in on her, the sound abruptly stopped.
She exhaled and sobbed once, the sound a broken, bitter laugh.
The forest was trying to make her go crazy, and it was succeeding.
“Whoever you are, you better not mess with me!” she shouted, using some of her miko powers to make the tip of her makeshift spear glow a light pinkish purple. What did she care if somebody saw? It was dark out and the light from her reiki illuminated the surrounding area.
Not sensing or hearing anything, she let her power recede after a minute, not wanting to needlessly waste the energy. She was caught completely off guard when, as her light faded out, another eerie, spiritual glow illuminated the forest from behind her.
Whirling around, staff raised, she saw an elderly woman standing there, but unlike some scary looking crone you might see in an illustration of various traditional female youkai, this woman had a decidedly kind look and aura about her. Kagome immediately felt herself relax and lowered her weapon.
“Sumimasen Obaa-san, you...you startled me,” she said, bowing in respect as she apologized for having brandished her weapon at the old woman.
The woman smiled at her kindly, if not a bit sadly. It took Kagome a minute to realize what it was that seemed different, and more...right...about this particular woman. Had she really gotten so used to traditional dress during her few months traveling in the Sengoku jidai? This woman was wearing a traditional kimono. A simple kimono, comprised of a yukata and wrap skirt. Her hair was tied back in a head scarf, and simple straw sandals prevented her from being barefoot. She would’ve fit right in in Kaede’s village, an elderly farmer’s wife.
“You are strong, miko, but not strong enough in your current mind-set. If you do not regain yourself, it is only a matter of time before they break you.”
Even when they speak coherently they make no sense... she thought, sighing. At least she should be able to get some answers this time.
“Before who breaks me?”
“The yuurei of this forest.”
A ghost is warning me about...ghosts?
She let her voice trail off as she hoped the woman would elaborate. She stretched her senses. Now that she was actually looking for it, she realized she could indeed feel the presence of the woman before her, like a spiritual fluctuation. She was definitely not human, nor was she youkai. It was...different.
Elaborating as Kagome had hoped, the woman spoke back up again.
“Angry spirits of those left to die.”
“Left to die?” Kagome questioned, furrowing her brow. “But...but everyone comes here voluntarily to commit suicide.”
The woman nodded.
Kagome crinkled her brow. “I’m confused.”
“It is ubasute, it was what was done.”
Kagome’s eyes widened at that. Ubasute was a horrific, archaic practice! Nobody did it anymore, of course. It was completely illegal and you’d go to jail for murder. But hundreds of years ago, poor families who could not afford to take care of their elderly would literally abandon their elderly to die in some remote location, such as deep in a forest. The term meant ‘abandoning an old woman’ although it was used in reference to male family members, as well. It had probably originally been more common to abandon women, Kagome supposed, since for a while there the shift in perspective between the sexes had put men much higher up on the importance scale.
Nowadays, some people crudely joked that some lesser nursing homes qualified as ubasute, but the reality of it was that it was a dark time in Japan’s history. You were supposed to honor your elderly, not abandon them to die! True, it hadn’t really been viewed as an evil act at the time. It had been a sad, tragic necessity, for the families who had practiced such a thing. Still, Kagome had to imagine that not too many of the abandoned persons felt compassion towards their younger family members who had left them to die. No wonder there were dark, restless spirits in these woods!
“So the ghosts here are not of the suicides?” she asked the woman then.
“Some yes, but they seek not retribution from the innocent,” the woman explained. “Vengeful souls who feel they have been wronged often seek the deaths of others for recompense, and the more pure the soul, the more innocent, the more greedily they wish to break it.”
Kagome was instantly reminded of Kikyou again, and how, initially upon her reanimation, she had desired Inuyasha’s death. Of course, at that time Kikyou had honestly believed Inuyasha to be the one who’d killed her. Sure, he felt responsible for her death in a roundabout way, because he had failed to protect her from Naraku, but Kikyou had thought Inuyasha had sliced into her body with his own claws, drawing her life blood. She had thought he had betrayed her in the most literal and vicious way possible, and that was why she had desired his death, stating at the time that it was the only thing that would appease her soul and allow her to rest.
Even with as up in the air as the whole Kikyou issue still was, even Kagome knew that the undead miko no longer wished to drag Inuyasha to hell with her now that she knew about Naraku. She still hated Inuyasha, because she was locked in that moment of hating him, but she knew, logically, that his death would not appease her because she now knew he was not the one who had killed her, and so she did her best to ignore her hate for him as she sought Naraku, desiring Naraku’s death. It was definitely not the same situation as what this woman was describing, as far as angry, vengeful spirits, or yuurei, craving the death of innocents.
“Why do they want to break me?” she asked then.
“You, especially, glow with so much purity and power about you. It is very tempting to corrupted hearts.”
Automatically, Kagome’s hand moved to rest over her skirt pocket, and the jewel shards hidden within.
“Yes, we can sense your sacred jewel shards, but they are of no use to us. Beyond that, your own light, your soul, is what they wish to own. They cannot kill you, so they try to break you.”
“Until...until I kill myself...” Kagome realized aloud. The woman nodded.
“Some people do want to die on their own. They come here, they kill themselves. It is fast, and the yuurei are unaffected. Other times, people come here in their weakest moments, but do not truly wish to die. These are the ones the yuurei feed upon. They bring out your fears, your despair. They make the decision for you.”
“But I hadn’t even been contemplating committing suicide when I first came in here,” Kagome argued next.
Increasing the thoughts of depression somebody was already feeling to tip the scale she supposed made some kind of sense, but to impart upon a soul such feelings of despair when that person had not previously been suffering at all?
“Unblemished souls are more fun to corrupt. Sometimes, people who had merely been hiking here are given a seed of darkness, and later, they return to the forest. Sometimes, people who come here not meaning to die never leave the forest at all.”
Somehow, even though she wasn’t moving all that much, the ghostly woman gave off the impression of shrugging.
“You are very strong, but the stronger the soul, the bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward. Knowing you can see us gives them even more power against you.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Kagome asked her then, surprised to finally come face to face with a ghost willing to spell it all out for her.
“The yuurei hold no power over me because they did not twist my heart when I lived. The people who have taken their own lives at the yuurei’s bidding...they are forever tormented by what they have done. Some cannot accept the truth and are in denial, others honestly do not understand. There are many lost souls here.”
Kagome nodded her head. For her, this was the first thing she’d heard all night that actually made sense. The term ‘lost soul’ reminded the miko of just how lost she was at the moment.
“My path...I had marked my path, but it was changed, my markers removed. I guess the yuurei did it. Now I’m completely lost. I don’t know the way back out of the forest.”
The woman nodded sadly.
“It is easy to get lost here. When my son brought me here, I cut at the trees with a small knife as he carried me. I did not want him to get lost on his way back out.”
“When your son...” Kagome’s eyes opened wide in shock. “You were left here? Your own son committed ubasute?”
“It was what was done,” she repeated, seeming to shrug again.
“Why aren’t you one of the yuurei, then?” Kagome asked, genuinely curious.
The woman smiled then, but it wasn’t an evil, twisted smile. Her eyes held such warmth.
“I came willingly,” she explained, and Kagome nodded in deeper understanding.
This woman, she hadn’t truly been abandoned, then, or at least not against her will. She was sort of a cross between an abandoned woman and a suicide, Kagome supposed, if she had willingly allowed her son to drop her off in the forest for the greater good. She must have really loved her son, to have been able to accept such a fate without holding a grudge.
Feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude well up inside her, realizing that if it wasn’t for this woman and the goodness of her soul, she herself would be halfway towards insanity by now, Kagome bowed low, unable to stop the few fresh tears that flowed down the paths still marking her cheeks.
“Thank you, Obaa-san, for speaking with me, for helping me. I would truly be lost without you, in more than merely my inability to find my way out of this forest. I feel that even if I am still lost in that sense, that at least thanks to you I have found myself again.”
The woman’s smile got even larger at Kagome’s words, and she nodded, before the edges of her smile lowered a bit, a hint of sadness coming into her own eyes, as if remembering.
“So often I try to help, but they do not hear me,” she stated.
Kagome could only imagine that one against who knew how many weren’t very good odds for this one poor soul of light amongst all the darkness. How could she possibly overpower such negative influences when the humans being tormented by the vengeful ghosts couldn’t even see or hear her? Kagome had never felt so thankful for possessing such strong reiki.
Sure, on the one hand, that was what had drawn the yuurei to her in the first place, but really, that had only made her all the more desirable to them when they would have still gone after her anyway. After all, even Ayumi had said she’d started to feel depressed the longer she’d stayed in the forest. Surely they would have still gotten to her, they would’ve still seen her as a desirable target, and while without her ability to actually see ghosts they might not have been able to pull off some of their more elaborate parlor tricks, neither would this woman have been able to appear in order to warn her.
“Thank you again, truly,” Kagome stated, knowing a simple ‘thank you’ wasn’t really good enough, but still...
“You must hurry now,” the woman stated then. “While there is still time.”
Kagome was confused again, but eager to follow whatever instructions this guardian angel would give her.
“Time to leave the forest before the yuurei make me forget myself again?” she asked, unsure of what else it could be. She felt hopeful. Was this woman going to show her the way out?
She shook her head in the negative.
“Time to save your friend,” she said instead.
“Yuka-chan?! She’s still alive?” Kagome asked, even more hopeful now, as well as relieved. Overjoyed even.
The woman merely nodded, her expression neutral for the moment.
“I can lead you to her, but I grow weaker. If I take you to her I cannot lead you both out of the forest. Or, I can show you and you alone the way to escape. I will lose this form before I can do both, and it takes me many days to recover.”
Kagome didn’t even waste time contemplating her decision.
“Take me to Yuka!” she begged, her tone pleading and not a demand at all.
Even her having dropped the honorific bespoke of her desperation to find and save her friend, concern for her own well-being flying out the proverbial window, following after her previously believed last chance at rescue in the form of dead cellphone batteries. If this woman couldn’t help both her and Yuka escape together then she’d worry about that later, but at least Yuka would still be alive, and she would not let the yuurei screw with her again.
Worst case scenario, all they had to do was stay alive for two more days and then surely Inuyasha would show up to rescue them, and in that time they would not just sit on their asses waiting for dehydration to take affect. After all, perhaps tomorrow morning she’d be able to see Mt. Fuji through the trees and finally get her bearings on which way was west. There were always other options.
Clearly pleased with Kagome’s decision, the choice indeed having come naturally and not having really been a decision at all in the technical sense, since the miko hadn’t acted as if there was a choice to be made, the woman smiled warmly at Kagome once again.
“So much light,” she stated more to herself as she turned and headed slowly away, in reference to Kagome’s soul.
As they walked, Kagome at first wondered if perhaps it had been a test, and she had chosen wisely, but even that possibility did not bother the miko as she followed behind the woman who more floated than walked as she moved without a sound through the trees and underbrush. She soon realized the woman had been telling the truth, though, as she realized she could start to see through her ever so slightly. The woman was becoming transparent. She was not fading very rapidly, however, and as Kagome began to see through her she could still see the woman well enough to follow her without issue.
The voices were also blessedly silent, for the moment, at least. Or perhaps they were still there, shouting even louder than before, but Kagome had learned not to hear them. What she did hear, after a few minutes, was the muffled sound of somebody sobbing.
Pausing, her eyes widened in astonishment, her blue-gray orbs reflecting their gratitude as the ghostly woman turned her way and offered her one last, silent smile, before fading fully away into nothingness. She really had only had a limited amount of energy left, and could only lead Kagome in one direction or the other.
The miko smiled. She had definitely made the right decision.
“Yuka-chan?” she called out at normal speaking level. The sobs immediately quieted, but she knew from in which direction the sound had been coming.
Kagome walked onward, finally coming through the last row of trees to find another sleeping bag strewn on the ground, this one familiar, and with a very much alive person sitting upon it, head in her hands.
“Yuka-chan...?” The girl in question jerked her head up at the sound of Kagome’s voice, her eyes wide with fear like a spooked wild animal. “Yuka!”
Kagome rushed up to her friend at the sight, dropping to her knees before the frightened teen. Yuka blinked a few times, as if she wasn’t sure what she was seeing was real.
“K-kagome-chan...?” Her voice was shaky, her face pale and sunken in.
“Oh, Yuka-chan! Thank the kami!” Kagome exclaimed, wrapping her arms around her friend and holding tight. “It’s going to be all right,” she assured her. “I won’t let the forest get you.”
This statement seemed to surprise Yuka even more than Kagome’s initial appearance.
“There...there are things here, Kagome-chan, things that...” She worried her lower lip, afraid of sounding crazy. Maybe she was, but she didn’t want her friend to think so.
“Ghosts, yes I know,” Kagome volunteered then, proving otherwise. She knew for a fact that Yuka was not crazy.
Yuka swallowed, then nodded. Just because she couldn’t see or hear a ghost like a flesh and blood person, like Kagome could, that didn’t mean she couldn’t see or hear the things the ghosts had used their collective energy to make her see and hear. Nothing more than a few darting shadows and some footsteps, really. She hadn’t heard any whispered voices, and she hadn’t experienced the forest changing itself, or the trees seemingly coming to life themselves to torment her. She hadn’t needed to. The forest had tormented her all the same, with feelings of despair, with the desire to kill herself because she believed nobody could possibly understand the pain she was feeling, and she wanted to be with her mother again. She would rather die to go be with her mother in the next life than to remain in this one, surrounded by people who didn’t get her, who didn’t understand.
But the bottle of sleeping pills she’d brought with her was still unopened, miraculously enough. Kagome took it from Yuka’s shaking fingers and tucked it firmly down into her bra, making the distraught and malnourished girl laugh a little through her sobs as the miko joked she’d have to risk copping a feel if she wanted her pills back.
Brokenly, Yuka told Kagome her story, then.
She explained how her mother had passed in her sleep right at sunrise, as if dawn’s first light had come to retrieve her soul, and hoping that if she killed herself at sunrise as well her soul would more easily be able to follow after her mother’s, Yuka had intended to swallow the entire bottle of pills shortly before dawn. She had brought with her a digital watch with an alarm clock feature, setting it to go off a half hour before sunrise, figuring if she’d merely tried to stay awake all night she could have fallen asleep on accident and missed her mark. This way, she’d allowed herself to sleep, her alarm set to wake her when it was time to prepare for her final sleep.
What Yuka had not anticipated on happening, however, was having a dream of her mother that night. A vision, really. She chose to believe it was real, and as Kagome heard her friend retell her experience, the miko agreed with her. Yuka’s mother had come to her in her sleep, and had begged her not to do it.
When her alarm had gone off yesterday morning shortly before dawn, Yuka hadn’t been able to stop crying for over an hour, unsure of what to believe but suddenly feeling riddled with doubt. She still wanted to die, or more accurately, she didn’t want to live on, but on the other hand, she hadn’t wanted to go against her mother’s wishes, either, if that really had been her mother. She didn’t want to upset her. She’d wanted only to join her. So there she’d sat, trying to wrap her head around whether it had only been her own subconscious or really her mother’s soul communicating with her.
And even if it had just been a figment of her imagination, something her own mind had concocted, shouldn’t she still listen to it, even then? Wouldn’t that mean her own mind, then, was telling her that deep down inside, on a subconscious level, she knew her mother wouldn’t approve of what she was doing, and that her mother would want her to live? That she wanted to live, somewhere, deep down inside, if her mind had sent her such an image to stop her from killing herself?
She’d been completely torn, legitimately unsure of what to do, but one thing she had known was that she wanted to kill herself at sunrise, if indeed she was going to do it at all, and so she’d sat there that second day, the entire day, weighing the pros and cons.
She’d sipped a little at her water, but had been careful not to drink all of it, needing to keep some for swallowing her pills, just in case. Ultimately, by nightfall, she had made the decision to do it, to kill herself. But then, that night, last night, she’d again dreamt of her mother begging her not to. Her mother’s pleas had been more frantic that time, telling her how her father and friends had been trying to find her, and how the ghosts of the forest had kept her from hearing their distant voices crying out for her.
Her mother had literally begged her not just to not kill herself, but also to leave the forest, leave the forest before the evil spirits completely corrupted her. It was that morning, the second morning awaking in Aokigahara, that Yuka had decided to abandon her plans and return home with her tail between her legs. The only problem was, she’d realized that second morning that she could not, for the life of her, remember the direction from whence she came. She had not marked her path with the plastic tape, nor had she followed any foot worn path after a time, deliberately getting herself lost in the middle of the woods to make it harder for her father or anyone else to find her. Now, she had absolutely no idea how to get back out again.
As she’d sat there, distraught, starving, mentally exhausted, the last of her water gone, she’d realized she was bound to die, anyway, and that when they eventually did find her they would assume she was a suicide. Her father would never know she had changed her mind. He would never know her mother...his wife...had come to her in her sleep, twice, and had convinced her to live. He would never know; she hadn’t brought anything to write a note with.
It was then that the forest ghosts had really started to screw with her mind, as far as she knew, at least. Kagome supposed they couldn’t be blamed for Yuka’s initial suicidal thoughts. But as she’d sat there utterly broken, rocking herself back and forth as she wept openly, she had heard things and seen things. Footsteps and shadows. Enough to make Yuka perk up each and every time, thinking somebody was out there who could rescue her. So many times she had called out into the stillness to receive no reply that by the time she’d heard Kagome’s voice calling out for her she’d thought for sure she was just imagining it, or that it was the forest itself toying with her in a new way.
“You’re really here? You’re really you?” she asked Kagome then. The miko held her tighter.
“I’m real, I’m really me, and I’m really here. You’re not alone,” Kagome assured her friend, running her hand down soothingly over Yuka’s short hair.
Of course, now that the two of them were together, they were lost in the forest together, but she didn’t need to burst Yuka’s bubble just yet. For the next twenty minutes or so, Kagome quietly held her friend and just let her cry, Yuka’s grip tight around her waist as if afraid to let go. Kagome didn’t doubt that she was.
Finally, Yuka was the one who started to pull away, and Kagome sat back then, meeting her friend’s eyes.
“Yuka-chan, we’re in this together, all right? We’ll find a way out of here.”
Yuka’s eyes widened in partial understanding at Kagome’s words.
“You...don’t know the way out either?”
Kagome couldn’t help down-casting her eyes.
“How...how did you find me?” Yuka asked her then.
Meeting the other girl’s eyes again and smiling, Kagome decided to tell her friend the truth.
“A friendly spirit led me to you.”
Yuka’s eyes widened just a bit more, and she looked torn between how she never would have previously believed such a thing, and how now...she kinda-sorta did.
“I...uh...” How much should she tell? She couldn’t reveal anything about the well or the jewel, obviously. “Well, you know I’m from a shrine family...” she began then. Yuka nodded. Kagome shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant about it. “Turns out I’m a reiki user, like the miko in all those old legends. It’s real, and in my bloodline.”
She decided to demonstrate her powers then, picking up a nearby rock and charging it up with her reiki before letting it fly. With enough energy, even those without ‘the sight’ could see her power; the rock glowed brightly as she threw it off into the shadows before the light dissipated from it upon impact.
“Kagome...” Yuka stated in awe, hand covering her mouth.
“It’s not like there are a bunch of youkai monsters running around in this day and age,” the miko stated then. Hey, that was true, wasn’t it? “But all the old legends and stories, they’re true. That’s why I realized there really are ghosts in this forest, because I already believed in ghosts, I’ve already seen them before.”
Deciding to go for broke, she confessed, “Sometimes, I don’t even realize they are ghosts at first, they can appear so real to me, but there are hundreds of spirits in these woods, and while some are merely lost souls, others are dark and twisted, and they deliberately made me get lost, before they started screwing with my mind. I very nearly sought out the nearest leftover rope to hang myself with, myself, before I snapped myself out of it, realizing that killing myself over my love life would be the stupidest thing ever because even supposing Inuyasha doesn’t really love me the way I love him, my family loves me. How could I possibly do that to them? And I know they’ve got to be worried sick about me, knowing I came here to look for you. Fortunately, I was able to pull myself out of the darkness, and that’s when the good spirit showed herself and told me what was going on, before leading me to find you.”
“Can...can she lead us both out of here, then?” Yuka asked hopefully, deciding to believe everything Kagome had just told her.
The miko shook her head sadly.
“Unfortunately, she said she was only able to show herself to me for so long, and she could only lead me out, or to you, before she faded away. She said it’ll take her several days to rest up before she has the energy to manifest again, so that’s too long to wait. She can’t help us anymore.”
“And you chose...me?” Yuka sounded both surprised and humbled with a touch of disbelief at that revelation.
“Of course I chose you!” Kagome stated with conviction, pulling her friend into another brief hug. “Yuka-chan, the only reason I’m here is for you. I could never leave you behind, especially after she told me there was still time to save you.”
“But now that you’re here to save me, who’s going to save you?” Yuka asked then, and it wasn’t an unreasonable concern.
“We’ll figure something out, but we’ll do it together.”
Deciding then that they might as well settle down for the rest of the night, neither of them really feeling like wandering around the forest in the dark, Yuka and Kagome snuggled together within the single sleeping bag. The good thing about that was that they had both been silently shivering the whole time and now, it was nice and warm.
Of course, just as Kagome started drifting off the whispering picked back up again. Yuka couldn’t hear it. To her, it was only a rustling in the leaves. Subconsciously, though, she could sense the ghosts as well.
“I’ve got the heebie-jeebies all of a sudden,” she said, instinctively feeling uneasy, as if they were being watched.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got you. They can’t hurt you,” Kagome assured her.
A loud branch snapping from not too far away had both girls jumping, and Kagome’s hand was immediately sticking out of the sleeping bag to grasp at her branch-staff.
“Try all you want, you bastards, but I’m not afraid of you. Not any longer,” the miko stated with calm, quiet authority.
Thinking it best not to tempt fate, Kagome sat up a little before quickly reaching into her shirt for the bottle of sleeping pills, opening it. She dumped out all of the pills into her cupped hand and with a flourish, she threw them all far off into the trees, the pills scattering like magician’s confetti away from the girls to pose no threat to either of them should the yuurei successfully warp one or both of their minds.
After all, Kagome understood, only all too well, that they weren’t merely up against a haunted forest trying to spook them. There was literal mind play also at work here. The yuurei, they had gotten into her heart and soul, warping her perspective on a vast collection of accumulated heartache. Inuyasha no longer called her weak, or useless, or clumsy. He only bitched at her for ‘stupidly’ putting herself in danger whenever he’d have to rescue her from an enemy because he cared so much, because it would break him to see her get hurt. She knew...she knew she was important to him. She would bet he even loved her the same as she loved him. The only problem was, he also still loved Kikyou, and the poor boy was confused and torn up inside because of his mixed feelings.
Kagome’s heart actually went out to him at his dilemma, and she had never brought it up or attempted to force him to choose between her and her predecessor because she loved him and knew such a subject would bring him nothing but pain, and she did not want to cause him any more pain than what he was already doing to himself in his own head and heart.
Killing herself would be the opposite of not causing him pain, she knew. It would most definitely cause him pain and she understood that now, and even beyond for her family’s sake, it was especially for Inuyasha’s sake that she would not kill herself, regardless of the fact that he might still choose Kikyou in the end. She would be there for him through it all, every step of the way, and yes, yes the selfish part of her hoped and prayed that in the end, he would choose her, but regardless, she wanted first and foremost for him to be happy, and if he chose Kikyou, she would be crushed, but she would let him go.
Killing herself to ‘free’ him was the stupidest thought to have ever crossed her mind and she would not let the yuurei put such flawed logic back inside her head again.
With that last unsettling thought, Kagome lied back down and tried to get some sleep, vowing to ignore come morning whatever nightmares might plague her that night.
The next morning, Kagome awoke before the sun; a side effect of months of shard and Naraku hunting. Perhaps it had been her last thoughts before sleep that had spared her, but whatever the case, Kagome’s sleep had fortunately been relatively nightmare free. She certainly hadn’t dreamt of Inuyasha calling her all of the bad things he’d used to call her that first couple of weeks they were together, which she had feared she might. She’d been mentally prepared to see a vision of him telling her he didn’t love her, and to go ahead and kill herself, but she wouldn’t have believed it, and that must have been why the yuurei hadn’t bothered.
Instead, she did remember running, being afraid, as if something was chasing her. She’d felt in her dream that there was no hope, that whatever monster was out to get her was going to win, but as she crawled out of the sleeping bag in that moment Kagome snorted at such a thought. She refused to believe in that dream, either. The monsters would not get her, or Yuka.
Speaking of Yuka, the non-reiki-using schoolgirl had been blessed with a dreamless sleep, her mother’s spirit apparently satisfied that she was in good hands. She woke up at the sounds of her friend moving about. Cracking an eye open, both eyes sprung wide open at the sight of what looked like Kagome about to climb a tree.
“What are you doing?” she asked, more than a little perplexed.
“Trying to get a better vantage point to determine which way’s east,” the miko answered. “Once we know that, we can head west and away from Mt. Fuji,” she explained.
Yuka nodded her understanding to that. Heading away from the mountain meant heading out of the woods. The same thought had crossed her mind yesterday evening, too, but just like Kagome, she had been unable to see the volcano through the trees, or the setting sun once it had started getting late. Climbing a tree had not crossed her mind, but then, Yuka didn’t have a love interest who spent at least one third of his life in the treetops.
Having found an ideal tree for climbing, the miko was making a lot of headway. Her hands and legs both still bothered her, her palms and knees still scraped up pretty badly from her fall the night before, but she’d had a lot worse at times back in the past and she wasn’t about to let a little thing like superficial scrapes and bruises get her down. Completely ignoring her discomfort, she hoisted herself higher and higher, as high as she dared, to hopefully be able to gain a nearly panoramic view of the area.
For the longest time she couldn’t see past the thick forest canopy, but finally tenacity paid off when she reached a sweet spot that gave her a mostly unobstructed view.
“All right, gotcha!” she said in triumph, spotting the volcano standing proudly against the orange glow of dawn. Immediately looking down to her friend, she told Yuka which direction the mountain and sunrise was in, instructing the girl to make mental note of the direction during her descent so that she wouldn’t have to worry about getting turned around during her maneuvering back down through the branches.
Obediently, Yuka remained facing in the direction Kagome had pointed. Once the miko’s feet touched ground they immediately gathered up Yuka’s sleeping bag and pillow, as well as her empty water and pill bottles which were shoved inside the pillow case for easier transport, and headed in the opposite direction.
“Are you all right, Kagome-chan?” Yuka asked as they walked, in reference to her scraped legs.
They looked a lot worse than they really were, all dark and bloody. The miko had had nothing to wipe the blood off with when it’d first happened, and honestly, as soon as she’d found Yuka her mild injury had not even registered in her mind.
“It’s just a couple of skinned knees, Yuka-chan, I’m fine,” Kagome assured her. Carrying her branch-staff in her right hand, Yuka’s pillow in her left, the miko wasn’t even limping.
Yuka, her rolled up sleeping bag on her back like a backpack, her arms through the straps, was having difficulty keeping up with her friend’s agility. Despite two skinned knees Kagome seemed to be maneuvering herself through the trees like somebody who went hiking in the woods on a daily basis, easily stepping over or around rocks, roots and dips that kept tripping up the less experienced girl.
Kagome could hear her friend’s uneven footsteps, and paused often, allowing Yuka to catch up. After one particularly noticeable stumble, Kagome whirled around while dropping both the pillow and branch, reaching out for Yuka with both hands just in time to catch the girl before she fell.
“You okay, Yuka-chan?” she asked, concerned.
Yuka blushed lightly and laughed at herself in mild embarrassment.
“Just tripped, I’m good.”
Secretly, the fifteen-year-old was stunned by Kagome’s swift reflexes, and wondered if it had something to do with her possessing reiki like the legendary miko of old.
Nodding in acceptance that Yuka was fine and had merely lost her footing, Kagome bent down to retrieve her cargo, unaware of how incredible her friend had found her actions. Turning, they resumed walking, both girls unaware of the multiple sets of eyes that watched them go, displeased.
The whispering was back, but Kagome did her best to ignore it. She saw shadows darting around between the trees out of the corners of her eyes, but she did her best to ignore that, too. Yuka felt weirded out, the forest giving her the creeps, but believing Kagome when the miko told her that the yuurei were active, she did her best to ignore her feelings of unease, trusting in her miko friend to keep them both safe.
About an hour into their walk or so they came upon another dead body, and Kagome knew it was a legitimate suicide corpse when Yuka could see it too.
The normal girl shuddered in revolution at the sight.
“Gross. That’s at least an eight on the creep-o-meeter, right there,” she tried to joke to conceal just how frightened she actually was.
Turning to glance her friend’s way as she wondered if her comment had bothered Kagome at the other girl’s silence, Yuka’s eyes widened to realize her miko friend was actually praying over the dead body.
Kagome had heard Yuka’s comment but chose not to reply because she knew her friend was really just scared, and it wasn’t as if she could honestly disagree with her, anyway. The old her would’ve been just as creeped out, just as disgusted. Admittedly, the corpse was not a pleasant sight. The smell wasn’t great, either. She supposed it was a sad thing, indeed, to realize how used to death she had become. How many times had she and her friends stopped in a village only to bury the former inhabitants? Such a depressing thought. Everyone died in the end. What was the point of-
No! Not going there!
Damn yuurei, they were tricky, telepathic bastards. What was the point in living when you would just die in the end? Really? Mentally, she snorted at such absurdity. She would not dignify such a foolish question with an answer.
Clapping her hands over the body as she finished her prayer, some movement in lighter colors than black shadow people caught Kagome’s attention then and she glanced up to see a young man standing not too far from the body, staring at her with an unreadable expression. He was dressed the same as the decomposing corpse, and Yuka’s lack of reaction immediately told Kagome that he was not really there.
Not in the physical sense, at least. But unlike that false zombie who had almost definitely been a centuries old ubasute victim just screwing with her, this man was a genuine suicide ghost, and meant them no harm. Kagome offered him a warm smile, but he just continued to stare at her, almost as if she were the ghost, as if he couldn’t be sure what he was seeing. But then, the miko was pretty sure this was probably the first time anybody had ever looked him directly in the eye after his suicide, let alone offered him a friendly smile. Hopefully, his soul could find at least some small measure of peace. Wordlessly, she turned and resumed walking with Yuka, then, careful to make sure they were still heading in the correct direction.
Or so they both thought, at least. As the sun started to creep a bit higher it dawned on them both that in the few random spots where the sun was peaking through the leaves, it was actually shining in their faces. Were they actually heading east? When the hell had that happened?
“Hold on, something’s not right here,” Kagome said, as she sought out the first climbable tree she could find and once again scaled up it to the top, rising high above the forest floor.
As she climbed, she longed for Inuyasha’s super strength and ability to leap from treetop to treetop; she could’ve had the two of them out of there in no time.
“Are we turned around?” Yuka asked from her place on the ground, trying respectfully not to glance up Kagome’s skirt although it was a little hard to avoid as she followed her friend’s progress.
She definitely wanted to watch Kagome as she climbed just in case she fell. Even if she would get hurt too in the process, Yuka would definitely try to catch her friend if the miko needed her to. After everything Kagome had already done for her, she owed her at least that much.
“I’m afraid so,” the miko answered in that moment, “although I’ve got no idea how the hell that happened.” As she descended, Kagome thought about it and amended that thought. “On second thought, I bet I know exactly how it happened, or at least who was behind it.”
“The g-g-g-ghosts?” Yuka asked, terrified by the thought.
Kagome nodded. “Afraid so.”
“But if we’re being careful to go in a straight line, how did the y-yuurei make us turn around without noticing?” Yuka asked then.
Kagome shrugged as she touched down on solid ground and picked her makeshift staff and Yuka’s pillow back up from where she’d sat them.
“Very subtle turns, or maybe by getting into our brains and making it so that we don’t even realize we’re turning.”
Kagome shuddered at the thought.
Dead, rotting bodies didn’t bother her, aside from feeling pity over the lost life, but the idea of evil spirits poking around in her mind and soul, now that bothered her.
“They want us dead, and if they can’t make us kill ourselves then I guess Plan B is to just keep us lost until we die of thirst.”
“You don’t sound too concerned,” Yuka observed, finding encouragement in Kagome’s show of strength. “Do you have a plan?”
Kagome wanted to reassure her friend that they were bound to be rescued by tomorrow afternoon at the latest, but she couldn’t, or at least, not without revealing some other, bigger secrets about herself she’d rather her modern friends didn’t learn about. But Kagome knew, seeing as she was due to return to the past tomorrow afternoon immediately after school, and how Inuyasha would probably show up around five minutes after school was out to insist she was late, that it was inevitable that he would come for her.
He probably wouldn’t even be able to make it to the house. By that time, if she still wasn’t back by tomorrow, her mother would probably be camping out inside the well-house awaiting his arrival, wanting to send him after her the very instant he arrived.
Made crazy by her mother’s worry, he’d fly to Mt. Fuji. He’d be able to sniff her out in no time once he got to the forest, Kagome was sure, especially since her scraped knees would make her that much easier for him to find, knowing how in tune he was to the scent of her blood, not to mention how frantic it made him.
But Kagome would really rather her friend didn’t witness Inuyasha swooping in from the sky in all his blazing hanyou glory, so she would only bite the bullet and confess her secrets by the time tomorrow afternoon rolled around and it looked inevitable that her secrets were about to be found out, anyway. That meant she had until about midday tomorrow to get the two of them out of the forest on her own, if she wanted to keep her secrets. Preferably, she’d get them out of there today.
“I don’t have a plan, per se,” she answered Yuka then, “but I’m certainly not about to give up.”
Once again having a fix on which way was west, they trudged onward, being even more careful this time to make absolutely sure they didn’t falter.
So naturally it was about an hour later or so, when Kagome wisely choose to climb another good tree ‘just in case’, that they discovered they were once again heading in the complete opposite direction, Mt. Fuji not lying behind them, but in the direction they had been walking.
“Oh it’s hopeless!” Yuka wailed, the stress of the situation starting to get to her.
“So long as you’re alive there is always hope,” Kagome said with a tone of voice that suggested she actually knew what it was like to face a life or death situation. Yuka assumed her friend was referring to all of the various ‘illnesses’ she’d battled.
In truth, Kagome knew they were running out of options, aside from sit and wait for her hanyou in shining fire-rat armor. Knowing he would come for her was what was keeping her from panicking; knowing he wouldn’t be coming until the following day and not wanting to spend another night in the forest was what kept her determined to find her own way out that day.
Thinking of one possible course of action in that moment, Kagome figuratively grasped onto her hope with both hands. She knew the odds were low, but low odds were better than not trying anything at all. This plan was risky, but she would take that risk.
“Obaa-san, can you hear me?”
She knew it was a long shot, not to mention kind of dangerous, calling out for one specific ghost when there were so many other ghosts all around. She could feel their collective energy, now that she knew what to look for. It was kind of like sensing youki, except different.
“Obaa-san, we really need your help, if you are able. Please.”
Whirling around at the disembodied whisper, her surprise drew Yuka’s attention.
“Did she answer you?” she asked, hopeful.
“I’m not sure...” Kagome answered honestly, letting her words trail off as she left her various concerns unvoiced.
She knew it was potentially dangerous, foolishly so, and if Inuyasha knew he’d have a cow, but nevertheless…
Moving the branch in her right hand into her left, the pillow still clutched tightly under her left arm, Kagome extended her right hand out, palm up, in a friendly gesture.
Concentrating, she channeled her reiki down into her hand.
“Obaa-san, if you are too weak to show yourself you may tap into my energy.”
“Don’t mind if I do!” shouted a twisted, evil female voice, complete with cackle.
Kagome gasped as the woman appeared right in front of her face, not the same woman as before, and as she grabbed tight the miko’s wrist her flow of reiki washed over and into the vengeful spirit.
The increase of energy enabled Yuka to see the woman as well, and she completely freaked out at the sight of a partially transparent, evil looking woman holding tight to her friend’s arm.
It all happened so fast.
Before Kagome could even think about stilling the flow of her energy, the ghost woman’s evilness was purified. Kagome watched then, intrigued, as her vicious smirk morphed into a relieved, peaceful smile.
Miko-sama...arigato..." the woman stated softly before fading away, her touch on Kagome’s wrist fading as well as she disappeared as quickly as she’d come.
“Wait!” the miko cried, but it was too late. She was gone.
At Yuka’s relieved and inquisitive look, Kagome sighed at the lost opportunity. When Yuka asked, she explained that no, that hadn’t been the same woman as before, it had been one of the ‘bad ghosts’, but apparently her reiki had purified the woman’s soul.
Kagome had originally hoped the friendly woman who had led her to Yuka would be able to use her power to re-energize herself. Not that she really understood all that much about how ghosts worked, but she knew evil ghosts gained power from people’s fright, pain and suffering, and indeed their very deaths. Friendly spirits who didn’t want to harm anyone were probably the ones most often responsible for things like flickering lights, or battery drain...such as what had happened with Ayumi’s cellphone.
At first, for that first split second, seeing one of the bad ghosts grab a hold of her instead had frightened Kagome, but the woman had already started to become purified before the miko had even had a chance to react, the woman’s taint fading away at her touch as quickly as purifying a jewel shard. She’d watched, then, fascinated, as the darkness left the feel of the soul before her, as the once vengeful spirit found her peace.
In the next split second Kagome had hoped that perhaps the newly purified ‘good ghost’ could lead them out of the forest, but no such luck. With her heartache cleansed, she had apparently been able to move on. Why that other good ghost was not able to feed off her reiki Kagome couldn’t say. Perhaps the previously vengeful spirit had simply beaten her to it, but with so many other yuurei around she figured it was a lot cause trying to feed her energy to that one particular ghost; she would probably keep getting pushed back by the stronger, angry spirits.
That her reiki had purified the evil thoughts out of this other woman, it reminded Kagome again of young Mayu-chan, and how she had done the supposedly impossible even back then, when she’d had no idea what the hell she was doing. She had calmed Mayu’s soul, even after the tatarimokke had fully opened its eyes. She had quite literally rescued Mayu from the depths of hell, and now, she’d spared this other woman further torment in her own personal limbo. It gave the miko ideas about returning to this forest again sometime, with Inuyasha by her side, of course. That was a worry for another day, however.
But the fact that her reiki had in fact purified the woman’s spirit gave Kagome another idea in that moment, and one that was relevant to her and Yuka’s present situation. She hadn’t previously thought her reiki would have an affect on the yuurei, at least in that sense. They weren’t youkai, after all. But they were still dark spiritual energy, and so apparently, her pure energy was still able to combat them.
If...if I can make and hold a barrier around us, then the yuurei shouldn’t be able to affect us from within it.
It was a sound plan. The only problem was, Kagome was still a novice when it came to purifying barriers. Miroku and Kaede had started to show her how to make one, but it was still difficult for her, and required a lot of concentration. Silently, Kagome reached down with her still empty right hand and pressed her palm against the outside of her skirt pocket, and the bottle of jewel shards held within.
You know I never use your power for my own purposes... Kagome silently spoke to the shards she carried, knowing full well that they would hear her thoughts. But this is an emergency, and I only need to borrow a quick power boost, then I’ll let you go, promise.
In answer, a pulse that only she could sense came from the tiny glass bottle, similar to what Inuyasha could feel from his Tetsusaiga at times.
Nodding in thanks and swallowing down her nervousness, Kagome stealthily removed the bottle of shards from her pocket, concealing what she was doing easily enough by shifting her posture as she pretended to think while looking up into the treetops, the large pillow she was carrying pinned under her left arm hiding what she was doing from Yuka’s view at that angle.
It wasn’t that Yuka couldn’t know, but she’d just rather not have to explain it. At Kagome’s comment of wanting to make sure they hadn’t gotten turned around yet again in their dealings with that spirit, that she wanted to make sure they still knew which way was west, Yuka glanced up through the treetops as well, giving Kagome the few seconds she needed to reach over with her other hand and pop open the top on the bottle, dumping the few shards out into her right palm. With her back turned to Yuka, it just looked to the other girl like she was hugging her pillow to herself, having no idea what Kagome’s hands were up to.
The miko watched, fascinated, as the jewel shards sank into her palm. It had been painless, and as they rested just under the surface she could still see them of course, but knew her friend would not be able to. She watched on, relieved, as the shards did not darken even in the slightest. Truly, she did not want their power for selfish reasons, unless it was considered selfish to want to save both her and her friend’s lives.
Slipping the empty glass bottle back into her pocket Kagome grabbed back a hold of her branch-staff with her right hand, continuing to grip the pillow with her left arm. Experimentally, she tried to see if she could channel her power into the wood, like Miroku could do with his Buddhist staff, beyond what she had previously done just to make the tip of it glow a little.
She sighed in relief at how easily it came to her. With those jewel shards in her hand, she had much more power than before. She was borrowing from the goodness that was Midoriko, she knew, her own goodness helping the ancient miko’s spirit to keep the youkai within the jewel at bay while she gave Kagome her power boost, and she would keep her vow to relinquish that power as soon as she and Yuka were safely out of the forest.
“I’m going to try something new,” Kagome told her friend then, turning to meet Yuka’s curious gaze. “Now that I know my reiki will apparently purify the darkness out of the yuurei, I’m going to see if I can maintain a purifying barrier around us as we travel. It should prevent the yuurei’s influence from warping our minds again.
Yuka’s eyes perked up upon hearing this plan, her hope clearly returning.
“You’re amazing, Kagome-chan,” she told the miko, an inflection of awe back in her voice again.
Kagome felt a little bad about deceiving her friend, pretending that this power was solely her own, but honestly, it was something she was supposedly powerful enough to do on her own, according to Kaede and Miroku, at least. She just didn’t know how to tap into all of her hidden reiki. It was almost like there was a seal deep inside herself preventing her from reaching her full potential. Under the circumstances, she would forgive herself this minor deception, in not informing Yuka of the jewel shards in her hand. A white lie was better than staying in the forest and continuing to let the yuurei mess with them.
The miko smiled at her friend, and then holding out her staff, even Yuka could see it as the branch started to illuminate, as a shining, glowing sphere of energy shimmered to life all around them.
“Now then,” Kagome stated, peering up through the trees one last time just to be certain, “west is that way.”
With the sun passed its zenith, all they had to do now was follow the direction of the slowly setting sun. Its light poked though the trees in a few places, enough for them to get a baring on its location.
Yuka felt all of her pent up anxiety leave her as she walked closely beside Kagome, engulfed within the miko’s barrier, and she didn’t believe it was solely from trusting in her friend and her abilities, either. The average schoolgirl found, for herself, that Kagome’s purifying aura was even taking away all of her own personal darkness and heartache.
Up until that point she had been able to maintain her conviction of not killing herself only because she sincerely believed her mother’s spirit had begged her not to; she had still felt depressed, still feeling the hopelessness that was the prospect of life without her mother. Not killing herself had almost become a greater sacrifice in her mind, that she would bear the pain for her mother’s sake, hoping that maybe one day it wouldn’t hurt quite so much. She never would have believed that that ‘one day’ would be today, but her pain was gone.
Yes, she still missed her mother, but she could look back on her memories of the woman with a happy smile. Kagome had healed her heart; she would never forget that, or just how special the modern-day miko actually was.
It was a slow and steady process as they walked, Kagome making sure to stick to a pace Yuka could handle. The girl hadn’t eaten in a few days, and only one bottle of water wasn’t enough in that time span either so she was both malnourished and dehydrated. Kagome wished again that she could carry her friend like Inuyasha would carry her when she needed it, but she couldn’t, or at least, not while maintaining even the speed they were presently going. Without super strength, bearing Yuka’s weight would slow Kagome down beyond even their current pace, so instead she stayed with her friend, listening to her footsteps, ready to catch her again in the blink of an eye should the other girl stumble.
Constantly, the miko also paused to glance up, just to make absolutely certain they were still heading in the right direction. As time wore on and the sun got lower and lower, and easier to follow, they thankfully knew they were definitely still headed west. Just a little bit farther, and they should finally be out.
With the yuurei no longer a concern the miko had something else to deal with as she and her friend walked on in silence. She could feel the jewel shards pulsing just under her skin, the youkai of the jewel promising her all sorts of lies if only she would give in to them, but it was legitimately unappealing to her, a bit of presumed sweetness doing a poor job of concealing something foul, like chocolate covered cockroaches. She could feel Midoriko’s essence within the jewel as well, and it was almost like the ancient miko was watching out for her. Finally, a good ghost was helping her when nobody else either could or would.
It took at least another hour of traveling steadily in the right direction, but slowly but surely, the trees started to thin out. As they neared civilization, the late afternoon sun was like the proverbial guiding light from beyond, leading them towards salvation. Abruptly, they exited the treeline, emerging alongside a paved highway.
Kagome immediately dropped her barrier, feeling they were safe from the yuurei now and not wanting to risk any passing motorists noticing the spiritual light. They sat there for a few minutes on the side of the road, taking a break at Kagome’s insistence, although it was for Yuka’s sake that the miko had wanted to stop. Her school friend gave her her thanks, Yuka needing to rest a moment, but she also wanted to get the hell away from the forest and so it was only about ten minutes later that they were back on their feet again, heading down the road towards the town of Fujikawaguchiko.
A couple of cars passed them as they walked, but the drivers didn’t pay them any attention. Coming into town, they garnered a few strange looks, but it was nothing the miko wasn’t used to and honestly, it only half registered, Kagome’s only concern in that moment being finding a phone. She approached the person closest to them.
The middle aged woman walking down the sidewalk found herself getting involved with the girls despite her original aloofness as Kagome got her attention, whether she liked it or not, the miko rushing up to her in a hurried manner that would normally be frowned upon, except this was an emergency.
“Sumimasen, Oba-san...” she began, bowing respectfully. “Do you please have a mobile phone my friend and I could borrow for only one minute to call my mother?”
The woman’s initial, mild annoyance, fled as quickly as it’d grown after turning to get a good look at the fifteen-year-old miko.
“Oh, goodness!” she exclaimed in surprise.
Both girls were a dreadful sight. The sleeping bag and pillow were rather obvious clues as to what may have happened, at least in part. Yuka was completely disheveled, and she looked far too pale, her short hair dirty. Her sunken in eyes had dark circles under them and her lips were chapped. Despite it all, she was smiling at the woman, her hopefulness that the woman would help them also clear in her gaze.
Examining the girl who had spoken to her next, the woman saw that Kagome was in better shape all around, except for those nasty scrapes on her knees, of course. Whatever had happened?
Sensing the woman’s multitude of questions, Kagome volunteered, “We, uh...had a stay-over in Aokigahara, but we’ve decided to go home now and I need to call my mother.”
“Absolutely, absolutely,” the woman murmured, retrieving an older style but perfectly functional flip phone from her purse. Kagome had to restrain herself from snatching it rudely from the woman’s hand in her haste.
Patiently, she accepted it from the woman as she handed it over, bowing again in thanks before dialing her mother.
To say that Mrs. Higurashi was relieved to hear her daughter’s voice on the other end of the line would be like saying Inuyasha would somewhat prefer it if Naraku decided to drop dead. ‘Relieved’ was far too inadequate a word. Kagome’s mother instructed the girls to stay right where they were, insisting she was on her way and would be there as quickly as she could, after phoning Yuka’s father to also give him the good news, of course.
Asking for a business name as their meeting place, since it was a decent sized town so she needed to narrow it down, Kagome named the small restaurant she could see just up the road, telling her mother that that was where they’d stay for them. Quickly, Mrs. Higurashi told Kagome just how proud she was of her, and then she hung up.
Trying not to cry at her mother’s praise, Kagome thanked the woman one last time as she handed her back her phone, and then she and Yuka headed to that small local restaurant. She’d picked it as their meeting place in part because restaurants had bathrooms and she needed to rinse her legs off, but even more importantly, because her friend needed to eat something. Her stomach had been growling non-stop for the last couple of hours so she could only imagine how hungry poor Yuka had to be.
Fortunately, Kagome still had some money in her pocket, having originally prepared for the possibility of taking public transportation back home again, so she had more than enough to get them each a bowl of soup. Alone in the bathroom a moment, Kagome also took advantage of the opportunity to remove the jewel shards from her palm, which came out easily and without discomfort. Putting them back into their little bottle, they were still as pure as ever.
About an hour and a half later, Mrs. Higurashi arrived at the restaurant, and Yuka collapsed into Kagome’s mother’s embrace with tears streaming down her face as Mrs. Higurashi told the girl, not in a patronizing tone, how distraught her father had been and how overjoyed he was to find out she was still alive. He was on his way as well, so Mrs. Higurashi stayed with the girls for the next twenty minutes or so until he got there, not about to leave with Kagome and leave poor Yuka all alone.
Said fifteen-year-old ran across the street and into her father’s arms as he rushed towards her, not giving a damn about making a public scene. Before they departed, Yuka’s father approached Kagome and pulled the miko into a hug, as well, breathing, “Thank you...” into her hair.
His pain and relief were both so tangible Kagome could feel it in his aura.
Kagome didn’t know what to say, since ‘you’re welcome’ sounded so stupid under the circumstances, so she said nothing, merely meeting his eyes with a look of conviction in her own before nodding her head firmly, wordlessly stating it had been her duty, and that she was indeed pleased to have been successful. He seemed to understand.
Both parents and daughters went their separate ways, then, and during the ride home, even with as exhausted as she was, when Kagome’s mother asked her what on Earth had happened the miko didn’t hesitate to tell her the entire story, unedited. She had to be honest. Mrs. Higurashi cried, herself, upon learning how close her baby girl had come to ending her own life at the dark spirits’ command, but she was even more proud of Kagome to hear how she had then overcome their spell, and how, in the end, she had been able to guide herself and her friend to safety.
“This is why I allow you to travel through the well,” Mrs. Higurashi stated, surprising her daughter and earning her full attention. Kagome had never really thought about it before, having insisted herself that she had a duty to collect the jewel shards, her mother and grandfather never really having argued with her over it. Seeing her daughter’s expression in that moment, Mrs. Higurashi continued.
“Your karma is beyond my comprehension at times, Kagome. You have a greater purpose, and I realize that more and more every passing day. It scares the hell out of me every time you jump down that well, but I know that if you weren’t supposed to go into the past, then you wouldn’t be able to. The kami have a plan for you. You were born with the Shikon no Tama within your body, for goodness’ sake! And to possess such strong miko powers? This is your destiny, and whatever happens, wherever or whenever you end up when it’s all said and done, know that I love you, and I’m very, very proud of you.”
Kagome couldn’t stop crying for the remainder of the drive.
As soon as she got home, Kagome was tackled by her younger brother. Their mother hadn’t made him go to school that day, like he could have really concentrated on his studies knowing that his sister was lost or maybe even trapped in a haunted forest. To realize it was a bit of both, the eight-year-old hadn’t been able to hold back a few rogue tears, although Kagome didn’t tease her brother about it. Glancing up to where her grandfather stood in the doorway, Jii-chan nodded his head almost sagely at his granddaughter, his own eyes suspiciously misty though no tears fell.
Once the family reunion was finished, including giving Buyo a big, squishy hug, the miko immediately called both Eri’s and Ayumi’s houses, letting them both know she was alive and well, as was Yuka. Each girl squealed for joy into the phone, and Kagome found herself wishing she had recorded the two calls so that she could compare and determine who had squealed the loudest. She also told Ayumi she’d get her phone back to her as soon as she could, but as predicted the girl hadn’t really been all that worried about her phone, except of course for how it’d gone straight to voice mail when she’d tried to call it last night to check on her.
She’d thought that giving Kagome her phone would give her a way to reach out to the miko, and so she’d been less worried; with a dead phone her panic had risen, knowing it’d meant that Kagome was all alone without that connection to the outside world.
Kagome confirmed how the battery had indeed died, apologizing for worrying everyone, explaining that that was why she hadn’t called anybody until now. Ayumi tried to apologize for the battery, saying she’d thought her phone had had at least half a charge, but Kagome assured her that that was correct, it had previously had half a charge. She said honestly that she thought the ghosts in the forest must have drained it, and Ayumi laughed nervously, telling the miko she shouldn’t joke of such things. Kagome’s reply was that she wasn’t joking, but she didn’t elaborate after that, sensing her friend’s unease.
Each conversation ended about the same way, with Ayumi and Eri each telling Kagome both how utterly relieved they were to learn that she was all right, and beyond that, how unbelievable and fantastic it was that she’d actually managed to find and save Yuka. She was a hero. Blushing, and grateful they couldn’t see it, Kagome had argued with both girls, insisting she had only taken her turn to search for Yuka after the both of them had already had their go of it, reminding them of how they’d both gone, along with Hojo and Yuka’s father, the previous day. They could have just as easily been the ones to find her.
Kagome had, of course, not informed either girl about all of her various encounters with the ghosts, or her use of reiki and such. She figured Yuka would probably tell them, but that was Yuka’s call. Right now, the starved and traumatized girl had more important things to worry about, Kagome knew, like getting her health back. She would probably be out of school for the next few days still, her father not wanting to let her out of his sight, not that Kagome could blame him. She felt bad for her own mother at the thought, the woman having just spent the last twenty-four hours worrying herself sick only to have to turn around and say goodbye to her time-traveling daughter again the following afternoon, but, as her mother had pointed out in the car, that was both her duty and her destiny. She’d worry about that tomorrow, though.
That night, Kagome enjoyed a nice long soak in the bathtub, and then after that, a nice heaping bowl of oden, which she ate slowly and carefully and with much enjoyment. Her bed had never felt so comfortable in all her life. Sleep came easily and was blessedly free of nightmares. She didn’t even dream about math equations.
The following morning, Kagome did not go to school, but it was at her mother’s insistence, and when Mrs. Higurashi called the school to inform them of why, instead of Kagome’s jii-chan, she actually told them truth. Well, a highly edited version of the truth, leaving out anything and everything that had to do with vengeful spirits and holy powers. Instead, she just told them that Kagome was exhausted and she was keeping her home, that she had gone into the forest looking for her friend – and was successful – but that she was a little rundown now because of it. Let them assume she was referring to one of Kagome’s many supposedly preexisting conditions; Mrs. Higurashi never specifically came out and said that her daughter was sick.
Kagome was grateful for the day off. A true day off, without shard hunting, or battling ghosts, or doing math equations. She slept in, and when she eventually came downstairs for breakfast her mother spoiled her with Western style fried eggs, sausage and buttered toast, in addition to the rice and miso. It sure as hell beat ramen or fish-on-a-stick.
That day, the future-born miko indulged in doing absolutely nothing. Their mother allowed Souta to stay home from school again as well, and the siblings partook in something Kagome never did anymore: they watched TV. Lunch was a peaceful affair, and as the afternoon rolled around Kagome began packing up her backpack for the return trip through the well. Her mother had already assured her that she would return Ayumi’s phone to her, driving it over to the girl’s house in a little while. It had been Kagome’s intention to travel back into the past by herself, perhaps even a half hour earlier than normal because she felt like being nice, but that plan was thwarted when, a full hour before school let out, she suddenly felt the pulse of a demonic aura against her senses.
Kagome furrowed her brow, glancing at the clock, and decided he must have come early in preparation to get her as soon as she got home.
In fact that was exactly it. Inuyasha had been feeling uneasy since yesterday, although the others had insisted he was just being his usual, impatient self, telling him to leave Kagome alone for once. He and the miko hadn’t parted on bad terms, per se, although he had been pretty strict about her coming back in two days, in the afternoon of course, which would actually give her three days at school provided she went that same morning she returned. No day off preceding school to contact her friends to get notes to study from; if she wanted her full three days of classes she had to go in blind. Under the circumstances, he hadn’t dared show up a day early to check on her and risk her flipping out on him.
Finally unable to wait one minute longer come early afternoon on the promised day, he’d figured going to her time a little early wouldn’t hurt anything. She should still be at school right now, anyway, and so she’d never know just how early he’d actually arrived. That thought went out the window when he realized immediately upon exiting the well-house that not only was Kagome already home, but she was injured. The scent of her blood was faint, but not one drop of Kagome’s blood could get past his nose.
His feet didn’t seem to touch the ground as he virtually flew across the yard and up to Kagome’s second story window. The miko had barely finished thinking about how Inuyasha must have decided to come early in order to meet her as soon as she got home from school, and then the next thing she knew she was staring into a pair of anxious, concerned golden yellow eyes, as he sat perched on her open windowsill. He must have been wondering why she was home from school, and obviously, he could both smell and now see the not-yet-healed scrapes on her knees and palms.
“Hey there!” Kagome exclaimed happily, hoping to snap him out of his worrisome demeanor.
She gestured to the nearly full backpack on her bed.
“Don’t worry, I’m not mad that you’re a bit early,” she teased, offering him a playful wink. “I’m actually almost ready to go so just give me a sec.”
Surely he’d be pleased to realize she was actually ready to go this early. He certainly couldn’t complain that she was late.
It was a nice diversionary tactic, but Inuyasha wasn’t detoured. Stepping down and into her room, he eyed her up and down critically, his nose flaring, picking up both the lingering trace of blood on her day-old injuries, as well as her growing anxiety.
It wasn’t a question.
She was also home when she shouldn’t have been, yet. Granted, she was packing, preparing to leave with him, so that was good, but she hadn’t been to school. That much was obvious. He wasn’t about to accuse her of merely lying about needing to go to school in order to take time off for something else, though. Maybe he would have a couple of months ago, but the more he’d gotten to know her and her need for school, not to mention her sense of honor and duty, he knew she would never lie about classes in order to sluff off on her other responsibilities in his time.
Besides, if she’d been lying and had secretly had other plans he would have been able to smell it, just like he could now smell her nervousness.
Kagome mentally cursed her canine companion’s keen sense of smell, knowing she was busted, and not just about the scrapes themselves. They were rather obvious, after all.
Perhaps she could have bluffed her way through it if she’d been quick witted enough about it. Theoretically, she could have just fallen at school; skinned knees in and of themselves weren’t really that big if a deal. It certainly wasn’t a serious injury. If she’d managed to keep her cool and brush off his concern, she just might have gotten away with it.
Unfortunately, her nervousness at his statement was rather obvious to the hanyou’s nose, as well, which had him narrowing his golden yellow eyes at her.
Kagome didn’t even try to lie, knowing there was no point.
At first she only intended to tell him a little bit, just a few of the details, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
“...and so I just felt like I had to go and look for her, myself, and then-”
“Are you crazy!?” he interrupted, eyes wide in panic as if she were proposing something she was about to do, instead of informing him of something she’d already done. “You can’t just go off all alone like that without telling anyone! What if-”
Interrupting him that time, Kagome explained how Ayumi had given her her phone – something the hanyou vaguely comprehended – and she’d assured him that she had called her mother, and that-
“And she just let you go off like that?!”
He turned to head out the doorway but Kagome was quicker, and grabbed his sleeve. He stilled, letting her make him stay, and she then shut the door to her room, not wanting to bother her family with his ranting.
Kagome then informed the hanyou that her mother actually had tried to plead with her to come home first, to go and get him so that the two of them could go look for Yuka together, but she also explained how she’d just felt like she hadn’t had the time for that.
“What, you thought I wouldn’t wanna bother helping you find your friend?” The hurt in his voice was evident, although he tried to hide it with his usual gruff exterior.
Kagome’s eyes softened, and she reached forward and rested her right hand on his left arm, both of his arms now folded and within his sleeves in his usual posture, the protective body language clear to her.
“It wasn’t about that. I was sure you would have been willing to help me look for her. But something, like instincts, was just nagging at me. I just had to go, I can’t explain it. I’m sorry. I know it was stupid, and-”
“You’re damn right it was!” he yelled, startling her. “Kami, Kagome, you’re always doing stupid fucking shit like this, putting yourself in danger, never thinking things through. What if something would’ve happened to you, you baka?!”
As if realizing he was almost starting to sound too concerned for her own well being, he added as an afterthought, “We need you to see the jewel shards!”
Kagome kind of flinched at that, turning away, and Inuyasha immediately realized that perhaps he shouldn’t have added that last part, after all.
Crap, I better fix it before it gets worse...
For once, he knew exactly what to say to not muck it up even more.
“Plus...plus I...well...shit.” He couldn’t say it, but... “What if something happened to you?” His voice dropped to a soft murmur that time, his eyes still clearly reflecting his fright, and Kagome smiled softly then, understanding.
“Something did happen to me,” she told him then, and his eyes lowered to her skinned knees, “and I don’t just mean this...” She gestured to both her knees and her palms, holding her hands out for his inspection. “This is simple enough, I fell. But I fell this hard because I was running, and I was running because...”
And so she told him. She’d already told him initially of Eri and Ayumi’s bad feelings, the forest creeping them out, when she’d said she’d decided she had to go look for Yuka herself. Now she confirmed it, telling him of her experiences with the various ghosts, good and bad. Every time she tried to leave a detail out he wound up questioning her on something or another that caused her to reveal that detail as well. She got to the part where she was running, afraid for her life, and how she’d collapsed in on herself after her fall, lost – temporarily – to the darkness.
At his quiet, hesitant question of if the forest had actually made her want to kill herself, too, Kagome turned her face away in shame, unable to prevent the couple of tears that leaked down her cheeks.
“The yuurei were good manipulators, but I pulled myself out of it,” she answered, hoping to leave it at that.
No such luck.
Perhaps it was because he already, regretfully, thought he knew the answer, but Inuyasha asked her then, “Kagome, what...what thoughts did they make you think, that could possibly make you think you should k-kill yourself?”
He pretended she hadn’t noticed him stutter; she pretended not to notice.
While the miko cringed, and silently contemplated what all she should possibly tell him, what all she even had a right to tell him, under the circumstances, Inuyasha found that the renewed look of pain in her eyes spelled it all out for him. He wasn’t stupid. He knew what the only possible speck of darkness in her heart had to be about. Deciding to cut her some slack, then, he spoke back up again before she even started trying to answer him, his words letting her know he already understood.
“I...I’m glad you didn’t do it. I’m very glad you didn’t do it. I...that isn’t...” He sighed, and pushed through it. “Things are complicated, but I want you alive, and...and not only because of the stupid jewel shards.”
Kagome met his eyes at his words, shocked by the tenderness of his statement, and while she didn’t quite dare to hope that the look in his golden sunshine orbs was the type of love she wished it was, it was nevertheless obvious to her in that moment that he cared for her very deeply, in whatever capacity he was able.
“Thank you,” she murmured softly.
“So then what happened?”
Sighing, but not from a sense of not wanting to tell him – she was just remembering it all and was feeling exhausted all over again – Kagome told him about the good ghost who warned her about the angry spirits and who led her to Yuka, Kagome explaining how the woman had only had so much energy left and how she had chosen to be led to Yuka rather than out of the forest, refusing to just leave and save herself after knowing there was still time to save her friend.
Inuyasha listened, without interrupting this time, as Kagome then gave him the basic rundown of her time with Yuka, of informing her friend about her miko powers and reassuring her that she wasn’t crazy in regard to the ghosts. She told him about how she’d stayed the night with Yuka and that they’d begun the trek out of the forest the following morning. She told him about how the yuurei had still managed to mess with them, turning them around a couple of times, and also about how she’d never been truly worried because she’d always known, deep down inside, that if she hadn’t made it back home in time for him to come get her that afternoon that he would have rushed to her rescue.
Instead of blushing and feeling awkward at her praise, his eyes softened, and he told her only that of course he would have rushed to her rescue.
Kagome then went on to explain how she’d gotten the idea to borrow power from the jewel shards in order to create a purifying barrier, and how, as best she could tell, Midoriko herself had aided her in that endeavor. The shards had not tainted, and she’d kept her promise to remove them once she hadn’t needed them anymore. She hadn’t even used their power to heal her superficial injuries. The only thing she had cared about was being able to make a barrier to protect Yuka and herself, and finally lead the two of them out of that dreadful forest. Sure, the youkai of the jewel had tried to talk to her, but after warding off manipulative yuurei, dealing with and resisting the normal temptations of normal youkai had been a cakewalk.
Instead of going off on her again about how stupid it had been to use the jewel shards in such a way, something Kagome was mildly concerned he was going to scold her about, Inuyasha seemed to sense what her renewed nervousness was about and assured her in that moment, “That...that was actually pretty smart, using the shards like that, in a way that didn’t taint ‘em ‘cause your desires were pure.”
Turning and having a seat on the edge of Kagome’s bed, looking down at his feet, Inuyasha remained silent until he felt the bed push down beside him. He turned his head and met Kagome’s eyes as she sat next down to him on his left, butterflies in her stomach.
“What’s done is done, and I guess it looks like ya made it outta there all right. You better not pull any stunts like that again in the future! But...” He sagged a little, and offered her a small smile. “Good job, Kagome.”
The miko beamed at his words, and he immediately knew he’d said the right thing. Feeling emboldened, he decided to go for broke.
“Plus...well...” Hesitantly, he reached up with his right hand to rub awkwardly at the back of his head, the miko at his left remaining quiet, letting him gather his thoughts. “I can’t get it outta my head, the shit that must have been in your head, to make you wanna kill yourself, and I know it’s my fault, which is makin’ me feel like shit right now.”
“It’s not your-” Kagome started to say, but quieted as he raised his left hand to silence her.
“I told you you were useless, and a crappy shot with the bow, and well fuck, you were at first, but how the fuck are ya supposed to know how to shoot when you’ve never done it before? You’ve gotten a lot better. Same with everything else I said comparing...well, ya know, comparing you to Kikyou.”
Kagome tried not to let the sound of that woman’s name upset her as she let Inuyasha continue, able to tell he had a lot he needed to get off his chest and not wanting to jump to any conclusions until he was finished.
“I mean, fuck...I know it’d upset me if someone I...if someone important to me kept telling me how I wasn’t as good as Sesshoumaru or somebody. But ya know what? As much as it’d make me hate Sesshoumaru even more than I do now, it’d also make me wanna get better. What I mean is... Look, I was a dick, okay? But I was also trying to help. I wasn’t just tryin’ to put you down, okay? I mean, I never meant to make you feel bad about yourself or nothin’. I was tryin’ to make you wanna get better, but tender encouragement crap just don’t come natural for me. I figured if I insulted you, you’d get pissed off and then do a better job to prove me wrong, ya know? And you have gotten better, way better, at everything, but if what I said before really stuck and really hurt you...I’m sorry. You...you’re not Kikyou, you’re Kagome, and it don’t matter if she’s a master archer. She had years to learn the bow. I bet she sucked at first, too. Ain’t nobody perfect, not even Kikyou. But I don’t wantcha to be like Kikyou, I want you to be Kagome.”
Sitting there, staring at him, Kagome tried not to cry but couldn’t help it. That was the sweetest, most heartfelt thing Inuyasha had ever said to her!
Flustered by her reaction, but knowing enough to know that they were good tears, Inuyasha wasn’t sure what to do and nervously opened his arms to her as he twisted himself sideways a little bit. She immediately collapsed against him, and wrapping his arms around her he just held her and let her cry.
They stayed like that for several minutes, the hanyou not-so-discreetly inhaling the scent of Kagome’s hair. It reminded the miko of their first new moon together, and when he had confessed to lying about hating her smell. Knowing he was ruled by his canine instincts more than he’d like to admit and also knowing that he liked the way she smelled, the miko had to suppress her desire to giggle as she caught him sniffing her hair, but she managed to contain herself. Which meant he continued to smell her as he continued to hold her, not spooked away in embarrassment from knowing she’d caught on to what he was doing.
Knowing they couldn’t stay like that forever, Kagome eventually, regretfully pulled out of his embrace, and he released her just as regretfully, having seemed to really enjoy holding her in his arms. She knew that wasn’t something that’d be repeated any time soon. At least not until the next time they were alone. She wouldn’t do anything to embarrass him in front of their friends, but perhaps the next time the two of them were together in her room like they were now she would just go up to him and hug him to see what he’d do. She’d bet five cups of ramen that he’d wrap his arms back around her and smell her hair again, which was just fine with her.
Softly, she said, “I want to be Kagome, too, and I want you to be Inuyasha.”
He knew what she meant. She didn’t want him to use the jewel to become a full youkai, or a human. She liked him just the way he was, as a hanyou. That concept was still hard for him to wrap his head around at times, but he knew she wasn’t lying. Again, he’d be able to smell it if she were.
Wordlessly letting her get back to her packing, it was only a few minutes later that the miko was ready to go. Inuyasha decided to carry her backpack for her, which earned him another smile from the miko. Heading downstairs, Kagome’s mother was standing in the living room near the base of the stairs, almost as if she’d been waiting for them. The miko imagined she probably had been. Mrs. Higurashi smiled warmly at the couple. Kagome offered her mother a return smile and then turned to the hanyou beside her.
“Can you wait for me in the well-house a minute?” she asked him, and the tone of her voice, coupled with the fact that she wasn’t sending him back through the well without her, had Inuyasha nodding his understanding and consent before heading out the door.
Once they were alone, Kagome looked up into her mother’s eyes, the older Higurashi woman offering her daughter a proud smile.
“My baby girl...” she said with a wistful sigh. “You’re all grown up now, aren’t you?”
“Mama...” Kagome didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what she could say.
Fortunately, her mother did.
“It’s all right, Kagome,” she assured her daughter. “You go and do what you’ve got to do. This is bigger than us. It’s bigger than all of us.”
Hugging her mother, Kagome managed to keep any new tears from falling, just barely.
Meeting Inuyasha in the well-house, the hanyou offered her a cocky smirk and nod. Kagome grinned and nodded in return, and let him take her into his arms once again. Holding her tightly, he jumped, and together they plunged back through time, their destinies waiting to unfurl before them.
~ Fin ~
Note: Aokigahara is real, and really is Japan’s #1 suicide destination. Ubasute was also practiced there possibly even into the 19th century. A lot of my visual descriptions of the forest were inspired in part by documentary videos on YouTube. I took a few creative liberties, of course.
And for those of you who rolled your eyes at Yuka stuttering “The g-g-g-ghosts?” I just couldn’t help myself. ^_^
Oh and yes, I completely made up Yuka’s family name. It just seemed more appropriate to me that Kagome would refer to Yuka formally when speaking about her with other people.