Author's Note: Terribly sorry for the long time it took me to post a new chapter. Shortly after my last update, my grandmother passed away and it's been a trying few months to say the least. I'm also about to start a different job that's throwing my schedule out of whack, so it's doing unfortunate things to my free time as well.
Anyhow, a warning ahead of time that this chapter turned out completely different than what I had originally planned in my fic outline. It's also fairly unedited, so I hope there aren't too many glaring mistakes. I can only say something possessed it, and I'm not sure if it's the good sort of entity because I think it's sorely lacking something (and with iffy characterization at best). But knowing myself, if I tried to tweak it... I'd only end up scrapping the whole damn thing for a rewrite and then it'll never get posted. Don't be surprised if I come back to edit things later.
Cycles of Destiny
Chapter 7: Uncertain Gravitation
So fierce was your intent, when the only assurance is uncertainty.
Kagome hitched her backpack roughly, trying but failing to ease up the weight it bored on her shoulders. It had only been a few hours, but already, it felt as though she would never see the end of her journey. Trees. That was all she saw since dawn, and it was still the only thing she could see everywhere she looked. It made her feel like she was going nowhere fast.
Coming to an abrupt stop, Kagome closed her eyes briefly and took a long, deep breath in an attempt to calm the panic and frustration that kept trying to burst out of her chest. Blinking slowly, she stared at the ground in determination. She could do this, had to do this.
I'm coming for you, Inuyasha.
Kagome could feel the sting in her eyes that foretold tears, but she only forced herself to push forward through the path of the forest once more. As far as she was concerned, Inuyasha was not dead and she refused to shed any more tears as though he were. Still, she could not ignore the feeling of loneliness that overwhelmed her. It had been so long since she walked through the wilderness like this, and doing so now only served as a reminder that she was all alone this time. Now, more than ever, she missed him and the rest of her friends terribly.
By now, Kagome thought, Kaede should've already found the note she had left behind. With silent apologies, Kagome hoped once more that Kaede wasn't too worried about her. She had considered on leaving only after she had spoken to old miko this morning, but she knew Kaede would've never allowed her to leave the village on her own. And with the village's current condition, Kagome realized she would only be an extra burden for them if someone were to accompany her. It was her journey to take and not theirs after all.
In truth, however, Kagome barely had any idea as to what her plans consisted of. The only thing she could think to do was to find Miroku and Sango first. Kaede had mentioned they were going to stop by Sango's village before heading over to the northern mountains, and from what she had gathered, the northern mountains was where the final battle with Naraku took place. Subconsciously, she had already made up her mind to see it for herself. To see the place where this nightmare all began. She had to believe that she would find Inuyasha there. There was nothing else left for her to place her hopes on otherwise.
Moving alongside the toad, Rin tugged at Jaken's arm once more as they followed the youkai lord through the path back to Inuyasha's forest. "Jaken-sama," she began, her voice filled with curiosity. "Can you do it again? Please?"
Jaken scowled at the girl's unrelenting pleas and huffed irritatedly. "Stop pestering me, Rin! This magical, holy staff is not a toy!"
Unfazed by the toad's response, Rin only looked at him with wide eyes. "A holy staff..." Her words trailed off as she watched Jaken's shoulders straighten up a fraction. Grinning brightly, Rin praised, "Jaken-sama was so great to make it turn like that for Sesshoumaru-sama!"
Perhaps the years of interacting with Jaken had gained the little girl an uncanny ability to trigger the pride in the toad that would spur on a speech of sorts. Whether it was her intention or not in this particular case, it appeared to work just perfectly. Jaken's chest puffed up proudly almost immediately as his walk began to resemble something akin to a pompous march. Hitting his chest with a closed fist, Jaken cleared his throat in exaggerated modesty to begin one of his many grand proclamations.
"Of course Sesshoumaru-sama would entrust such a powerful and magical staff to his most loyal servant. He gave it to me long before even you were born and said I'd be able to serve him if I could find a use for it. The staff must've known that I, Jaken, was none other than..."
Rin tried to keep up to the toad's stride and zoned out momentarily as she often did whenever Jaken began one of his speeches. However, once Jaken began talking in this manner, there was usually no stopping him.
"...and not only can the staff create fire at my will, but it also reacts to the great Inutaishou-sama's tomb where the only known entrance is through the black pearl hidden inside Inuyasha's eye." The toad lifted his nose upwards and swung his tiny shoulders as though he was immensely pleased with himself. "The staff turns at my command to point at the location of Inutaisho-sama's tomb, so you see girl, the greatness of Sesshoumaru-sama's trust in me by handing me such an important staff..."
Slowly drifting to a stop, Rin tilted her head thoughfully. She had always heard about Sesshoumaru's father and was just reveling in the idea of visiting the tomb Jaken spoke of when she noticed a small, furry rabbit hopping about in a bush nearby. Her eyes lit up instantly, and true to the nature of children, all thoughts of the two-headed staff was temporarily forgotten in light of something else that had caught her interest. With outstretched hands, Rin began to tread towards the animal in tip toes. Then as though the rabbit had sensed her approach, it dove into a bush and disappeared from sight. Frowning, Rin concentrated on the spot and crawled after it without a second thought.
In the meantime, Jaken continued to talk onwards proudly as he followed his master in their journey, not noticing in the least bit that Rin was gone, nevermind no longer listening to him. So absorbed in his glorified rambling, he had also failed to see the pause in his master's steps.
"...and since the staff has not responded to Inutaishou-sama's tomb after Inuyasha's disappearance, this must mean-"
The youkai retainer froze mid-sentence as Sesshoumaru turned to look downwards at him. Swallowing thickly, Jaken wondered if he had said too much. "Y-yes, Sesshoumaru-sama?"
Sesshoumaru's gaze flickered calmly behind Jaken. "Where is Rin?"
Jaken let out a relieved breath and gestured in the air. "She's right behind me, Sesshouma..."
Jaken's eyes widened as he whipped his head to the left and then right, realizing for the first time that Rin was nowhere to be found. Frantically scurrying from bush to bush, he began to sweat as he tried in vain to search for the young girl.
Sesshoumaru stood for a moment, the emotions of Inuyasha's human wench still barreling through his mind stronger than even before. Not sparing his servant another glance, he turned to the left and stared intently towards the direction that he had sensed his young charge taking. By the time Jaken had turned around to inform his master that he would go search for Rin, the youkai lord had already gone.
Kagome lifted her arm and wiped the beading sweat off her forehead with a tired sigh. Looking up at the sunlight that peaked through the trees looming over her head, she wondered if she would reach a village soon. It was already a couple of hours past noon, but as exhaused as she was, Kagome knew it would not be a good idea to rest. After all, night would be arriving soon and no matter the greatness of her determination, she was well aware of how dangerous it was for her to be by herself in the forest after dark. Having a Shikon shard would certainly not do any favors for her either.
Glancing down at the bow in her hand, she gripped it tightly and hoped to dear God that it would be enough to protect herself with. Kagome had taken a set of bow and arrows from Kaede's village when she left, but now they didn't seem to bring her the same confidence and comfort as they had earlier. Briefly, she imagined what it would be like to encounter a youkai on her own. Then shaking her head, Kagome bit down on her lip and was about to berate herself for being prematurely afraid when she thought she heard a sound of movement coming from the clutter of tall bushes to her side.
Kagome immediately jumped backwards nervously as she fumbled with her bow. She clumsily dropped an arrow and cursed silently at herself. Of course, she thought, her training had to abandon her just when she might need it the most. She didn't have time for any more thoughts, however, when a startled scream erupted from her lips as something leapt out at her.
Bow and arrow forgotten, Kagome's arm flailed frantically as she topped backwards and landed hard on her butt. Her scream echoed through the forest until it trailed away and promptly fizzled out as she spotted her imagined youkai emerging from the bushes. Her eyes dropped down at a ball of fur in half-lidded wariness at her own silly reaction-- she had wasted her nerves on a mere rabbit that managed to look even more terrified than she had felt just seconds ago.
"Ha..hahaha..." Kagome really hadn't felt like laughing in the least, but it seemed to be an appropriate response for her to have as she gathered her bow and clambered to her feet in relief. No sooner had she made the attempt, though, it quickly transformed into another half-scream when a pair of arms suddenly shot out of the bushes to grab on to the rabbit.
"Gotcha!" A gleeful voice rang out.
With a yelp, Kagome reeled backwards and almost lost her footing again when she found herself staring into a pair of dark, wide eyes. She looked down dumbly at the unaffected, tiny figure in front of her who was now holding the rabbit captive and happily petting its fur. Her heart still pounding furiously from all the commotion, Kagome looked around to make sure nothing else was going to leap out at her before she returned her attention to the girl and the rabbit.
Kagome took a tentative step towards the girl. "Um..."
What was a human girl and her pet rabbit doing in the middle of the forest with no village in sight?
The young girl tilted her head and looked up at Kagome curiously until a toothy grin broke out of her small face at last. "Ah! You're the pretty, sleeping lady on the ground!"
"Sleep- sleeping... on the where?" Kagome stuttered, completely bewildered by the girl's odd exclamation.
She was about to ask what the little girl meant only to have her question abruptly die in her throat as she caught sight of another figure that had seemed to literally appear out of nowhere. Whipping her head around, Kagome saw him fully then and belatedly felt the oppressing youki that she should've recognized earlier. Her eyes widened, and for a moment, all she managed to do was stand rooted in place as she stared at the intimidating youkai in horror. He looked exactly like how she remembered him to be, but somehow, she had forgotten the fright he could instill with just his presence alone.
"Sesshoumaru," Kagome whispered, her voice betraying the increasing dread she felt.
Kagome watched him watch her, and the way his eyes narrowed slightly made her want to crawl out of her own skin with a shudder. Almost imperceptively, his golden eyes slid over to the little girl next to her, and that alone was enough to jerk Kagome out of her frozen state. Quickly grabbing the girl and instinctively shielding the small body with her own, Kagome took several steps backwards and raised her bow. Her arms shook as she aimed an arrow at the youkai lord. I'm going to die, she thought deliriously.
Kagome wanted to whimper. Of all the youkai she had to meet first, it just had to be the scariest one. Vaguely, Kagome noticed that the other girl didn't seem to be the least bit frightened. In fact, the girl was giggling behind her as though it was all a game. Kagome supposed it was just as well; she didn't think Sesshoumaru's patience would bode well with the cries of a panicked child. Her brain kicked into high gear, and she began to grasp at anything that could possibly get her out of this situation. Running away was out of the question. He'd catch her faster than she could say Boo!
"What- what do you want?" Kagome cringed at the way her question came out. So much for a brave front. It sounded more like a squeak than anything.
One delicate eyebrow raised as though to say she was insane if she could give him what he wanted, and it made Kagome want to scowl at the annoyingly calm youkai that had no right to appear as such when he was making her want to break out in hives. It was at that precise moment, however, when he took one step towards her and she blurted out the words without processing the possibility that they could be the last thing she ever uttered.
"Come any closer and don't think I won't shoot, Sesshoumaru!"
Sesshoumaru paused, his lips curling faintly. He did not doubt her blazing statement one bit as he watched the tense lines of the human's face crease defiantly at him. He could smell the palpable fear in the air around the woman, but his mind clearly sensed something else much stronger coming from her that made him frown internally. He had not counted on seeing her again after Tenseiga saved her, and the healing bond should've started to fade by now. Yet the connection between them seemed to have solidified into a steady plateau.
His cold gaze took in the whole of her appearance, including the arrow that she was firmly aiming at him, albeit in a fairly shaky manner. Sesshoumaru wasn't sure if he was amused or offended by the wench's action. Amused because she apparently thought she was capable of protecting Rin with such pathetic attempts. And offended because she dared think that he, Sesshoumaru, would stoop to taking advantage of a small, human child.
It came suddenly, and Kagome imagined she would've seen death flash by had she been afforded the time to think as the taiyoukai materialized just inches away in a blur of motion that was too quick for her human eyes to follow. A glow of green filled her vision, and she barely caught the way his fingers enclosed menacingly around her arrow before it melted into nothing. Something acidic lurched at the pit of her stomach as her own fingers lost its grip and the string of her bow snapped forward, vibrating violently between her and the very being of death. Déja vu struck her swiftly, and Kagome remembered with a sinking feeling, just who she was dealing with.
"I would think past experiences have taught you that your arrows are of no use against me." Sesshoumaru looked down at the young woman, eyes fierce with contempt. "But being the human that you are, I should not have been surprised by your lack of plausible judgment."
Fear morphing into indignance, Kagome opened her mouth and realized a second later that she had no idea what to say. Without any means of protection and with all caution thrown to the wind, she instead resorted to glaring up at the arrogant youkai lord. Gathering as much dignity as she could, Kagome straightened up and decided that she'd die before shriveling up from his overpowering threat to her current existence. Later, she would wonder what might've happened next if the little girl behind her had not cry out at that moment.
"Ah! The rabbit!"
Horrified, Kagome watched the girl leap off after the rabbit that had managed to escape from the cradle of her tiny arms. Casting a quick glance at Sesshoumaru, she chased after the girl and hoped that he would at least have enough honor in him to not attack them at that moment.
The child plopped on the ground after the rabbit and smiled triumphantly as she stood up with it in her arms once more. Kagome had barely caught up to the girl when she took off again. This time, much to Kagome's dismay, the girl ran straight for Sesshoumaru himself. Kagome winced, a brief image of a bloodied child and shredded rabbit flitting through her mind until her eyes buggered at the sight before her.
The girl stood in front of Sesshoumaru and held out the rabbit as though she was offering it up for sacrifice. And then she smiled brilliantly at the youkai lord. "Sesshoumaru-sama, can I keep it?"
Kagome gaped at the pair, her open mouth grazing by the dirt on the ground, she was sure. Looking up at Sesshoumaru, she found his cold eyes staring straight back at her, challenging her to say something about the mind-numbing revelation that invaded her jumbled thought process. Although he was not acknowledging the little girl's words, Kagome did not miss the clear lack of hostility he held towards the human child. The fact also remains that the girl had not only known the youkai's name, but she had actually addressed him rather fondly. But before Kagome could properly react to that realization, they were once again interrupted. It was a testimony to her worn out nerves when she hadn't even spared a missed heartbeat at yet another emergence from the bush. It's a cursed bush, she thought vehemently.
"Sesshoumaru-sama! Sesshou- gawrk!" The panting voice gurgled like it was choking on excess saliva. "You!"
Kagome wearily watched the all-too-familiar toad crawl into view before jumping to his tiny feet and jabbing his staff in the air at the little girl. Exasperation was evident on his face as he wheezed and appeared to have just run a marathon. The child only held the rabbit up once more, and Kagome was torn between feeling disturbingly amused and completely flabbergasted by the odd turn of events.
The girl, on the other hand, was oblivious to Jaken's anger. With a grin, she exclaimed cheerfully, "Jaken-sama! Look at what Rin found!"
Just when Kagome thought she had landed in some strange, mad tea party, except without the tea, the toad's two-headed staff gave a foreboding creak before springing to life all by itself. Alarmed by its movement, Kagome cringed away from the staff apprehensively as one of its faces turned and seemed to grin mockingly at her. Then, without warning, it began to laugh shrilly and steadily gained momentum until it finally croaked to a halt shortly after. The deafening silence that settled in the air was almost tangible. When Kagome determined that it wasn't going to do anything else, she looked up and suddenly found three pairs of eyes focused on her in varying degrees of awe, shock, disgust, and something else she couldn't quite place.
Eh... Kagome twitched a little and backed away, a visible bead of sweat rolling down the side of her temple. With a nervous laugh, she looked back and forth between the stunned trio and the now-silent staff. "Uh... that- that was interesting... ha...ha?"
Jaken gawked at the staff, looking utterly scandalized as though it had just betrayed him in the most horrible way possible. He shook and waved the staff about, and Kagome thought Jaken looked like he was testing it for defects while muttering something along the lines of "That's impossible!"
In the midst of it all, Kagome was only dimly aware of the toad throwing accusations at her for tampering with the staff. Instead, it was the advancing youkai lord that claimed her attention in its entirety and she wondered faintly if it was possible for her to be suffocated by just the intensity of his gaze.
His eyes were narrowed as he stared down at her, and Kagome willed herself to not be intimidated by the indecipherable glint in his eye. When Sesshoumaru finally spoke, she couldn't help but wonder if she had missed something crucial.
"Inuyasha is not here."
Whatever it was that she had expected him to say, this was not it. Kagome didn't think he was looking for a confirmation from her, yet it seemed almost out of character for him to mention something so blatantly obvious.
Now, she thought, is a good time for something else to jump out of that blasted bush.
November 29, 2006. Remember, possessed chapter. First, much thanks goes out to everyone who helped answer the 3 questions I mentioned in the previous chapter. It seems Kagome's birthday is unknown, but all your speculations were very helpful! All your reviews were greatly cherished as well, and I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to reply to them with everything that was happening. I'll be sure to reply this time though. As always, reviews are loved, but you already know that eh?