Author's Note: Sorry I haven't updated in so long, but at least I've kept my promise and actually came out with a new chapter. The reason this chapter took so long to come out was probably because I was and still am dissatisfied with it, but after rewriting this chapter for more than four times (trust me, that took a long time), I finally thought, "Enough is enough!" so here you have it. After one year (or longer), chapter nine…
A God's GameChapter IX: Master of Immortality
"So you have come," she said, her soft voice barely audible in the song of the night. She closed her eyes, glowing with ethereal power, and laid one, pale hand on the bark of the ancient God tree. She inhaled the scent of the night, feeling the life of the world around her fill her soul and enhance her innate power. Exhaling, she let her power flow steadily into the God tree, willing it to grow and live as it had once lived.
The foliage around her started to grow and bloom at an unearthly rate, reaching for the sky and covering the earth with a green that blossomed forth from her gift of life. Night flowers unfurled, coaxed by the goddess' gentle power, as vines curled around the trees, leaves opening to catch the little moonlight that was out.
Beneath her, the waving grass lengthened and became soft--a pillow for travelers wandering through the beautiful world on this night. But still, as the world around her grew verdant with life, the sacred tree would not change in its appearance. Tall it stood, still green, but the green unaffected by her power, unable to spread its leafy cover to the night sky.
"Do you not know that it is the duty of the sun to cause these plants to grow, not the moon?" the calm voice came from behind her. She opened her eyes slowly, unwilling to admit defeat, but she knew that something within the great tree was keeping her power from taking effect.
"Do you not know that the moon has the gift to awaken the sleeping life within the world that you see around you?" she answered, equally as cool and calm. She faced him, smiling in remembrance as she saw him. Older now, and taller. Time seemed to have been easy on his years, for the passing ages had not seemed to affect him.
He smirked, a trait of his that could not be forgotten. A smile that could not be called a smile, for it was filled with a kind of contempt, disdain and pride that all that had his blood displayed, even her own son at times.
"Goddess, you will never awaken that tree. Especially not since the son of the sun has long been sleeping within its arms."
She looked at him curiously, unsure of what to make of his statement. She knew he was telling her something, something important for he was not one to waste words. But she could not decipher what mystery he was trying to weave around her.
"I had come, originally, to see if the others had returned also, but now I understand that you are the only one," he said, his voice conveying no describable emotion. Almost a hint of regret, or perhaps of a grief not forgotten.
"Those who have gone cannot return," she said gently, reminding him of the natural way of things, though she knew he needed no reminder.
"But a goddess can come and go as she pleases," he said, obvious anger and resentment beneath his words. He smiled suddenly, a smile that was not displayed for any show of happiness. "Did Chichi-ue know that you are one of them?"
"Can the moon ever hide from the grace of the sun?"
His expression seemed to darken, though it could have been a trick of her perception as storm clouds lazily rolled by. Briefly, she watched the clouds, feeling a wild energy pulsing through the floating water in heaven's body.
She turned back to him, and was reminded of his father as his eyes glowed with an inner light in the darkness. But unlike his father, Sesshoumaru's eyes gleamed like ice, like daggers whose blades were exposed to catch the life and light of a distant star.
"The moon never tried to hide from the sun," was his brief reply. "She stood in his path until it was certain that he would see her."
"No moon will fall from its path for the sake of another force," she asserted quietly, the sounds of the night dying away in her ears, allowing her to hear only her heartbeat, an illusion that she could never quite dispel after her time upon this realm. Only his words still lingered in the still air.
"The moon did not need to fall from her flight to steal the sun's light."
He forced himself to calm down and not jump at every sound that he was hearing. He could hear the snap of a twig by a sparrow miles away, farther than what he used to be able to hear, and he could hear the sound of hearts beating behind him as Kagome and the others followed him wearily, the lack of sleep from last night taking their toll. He could hear everything. Or, at least, that was what it seemed to him. The events of the past few days were still a blur to him. His sharp eyes caught the antics of a grasshopper leaping to a higher blade of grass in a distance that he could not have hoped to have seen to before, reminding him of the strange change that had come over him.
A brief glance to the rest of the group told him that he should probably let them rest for a while, although he was reluctant to give them that rest because he didn't want to hear about the speculations of his change, as they were likely to make if he should give them a moment's repose. So doggedly, he dragged them on. A slight rustle to his left and his senses were on alert again, but when he saw that it was only a squirrel, he calmed down again. All these changes were starting to make him paranoid. He could almost feel his ears stiffen with every false alarm he was receiving, but he knew he was just imagining it. He had no dog-ears.
Perhaps that had been more surprising than the fact that his eyes had turned to a violet hue. His eyes always transformed colors on the night of the new moon, but his ears… They had never once looked like the ears that Sesshoumaru possessed. At least, not for the extended period of time that this had been. In between transformations these ears existed, and he had often wondered how he might look like with this type of ears, ears that were a mark of a pure-blooded demon, but he never imagined that he would one day actually have them. He remembered how he used to envy Sesshoumaru when he was young. Of course, he would admit that to no one, but he had wanted to be like Sesshoumaru. Not in his demeanor, perhaps, but in the way that Sesshoumaru was always able to go anywhere he pleased, even without an invitation, and still be welcomed. Though he had been a child, he had still been able to feel that he was unwelcomed, even if an invitation had been sent to him.
"Inuyasha," Shippou whined, bringing him back from his reverie. "I want to rest. If I go on any further, I'll die."
"Fine, take a few minutes," he answered, watching everyone else plop down with a great sigh of relief. He jumped in to the branches of a nearby tree, needing some time to think, as well as a better vantage point. He remembered why he liked trees. They never tried to kick him out.
"Is it just me, or is Inuyasha a bit twitchy this morning?" Kagome whispered to the others, hoping that Inuyasha didn't hear. Unfortunately or fortunately, Inuyasha heard everything clearly as if she were talking right into his ear.
"He does seem to be a bit jumpy," Sango conceded, really too tired to think clearly. Hiraikotsu seemed to get heavier with every passing step, and the lack of sleep last night didn't help any.
"Perhaps there have been more changes than meets the appearance," Miroku suggested. "You do realize that he looks like a full-blooded youkai now, don't you?"
"And full-blooded youkai always have greater power," Shippou said proudly. Inuyasha had to resist the urge of breaking off a branch of the tree and throwing it at Shippou's head. Arrogant brat, he thought, though he couldn't really repudiate the child's words.
"What do you mean?" asked Kagome. "You mean like, he can see and smell better?"
"Perhaps more, if Sesshoumaru is any model," Sango said. "He might be his brother's equal now."
"Keh! Sesshoumaru will never be my equal!" Inuyasha shouted down at them, sounding slightly sulky. He didn't like where the conversation was going.
"Inuyasha, you heard us?" Miroku asked. "So my theory was correct…"
"Idiot, anyone could have heard you up here, with or without better hearing," Inuyasha said in an over-confident manner. A part of him didn't want them to know how annoying and slightly unnerving it was to hear and see everything in a detail so minute that it was starting to drive him crazy. His problem was his own, and no one else's.
"But what about all the times before? You never seemed to have heard what we were saying during those times," Kagome said, her hands on her waist, trying to appear demanding, but her eyes spoke more truth than her words. She was worried, and he didn't like making her worried.
"I always heard you before," he said, crossing his arms customarily. He remembered how his ears pricked forward whenever he was being slightly impudent, as he was now. "I just…ignored it for the time being."
"Sure you did," Shippou grinned, earning fist on his head. Inuyasha had hit the kid half-heartedly, but Shippou already had a large bump on his head and was on the verge of tears.
"Waa--! Inuyasha hit me!" the fox-child wailed.
"Inuyasha, osuwari!" Kagome said out of force of habit as she tried to comfort Shippou. Sango and Miroku sighed as Inuyasha slammed to the ground for the millionth time during their journey together. It seemed like it had always been, but as the receiver of the spell's curse, Inuyasha felt a difference that the others didn't notice. For a brief moment, he had resisted the spell, pulling against it and keeping himself upright. Every time that Kagome had said "sit" before, he had resisted, but he had never been able to pull it off. Yet, even if it was only a few seconds, he had fought against the spell. He felt like he could use this to his advantage and maybe convince Kagome and Kaede to take off this ridiculous rosary, but there was a part of him that warned him against doing such a thing.
"What the hell was that for?!" he demanded angrily, although he already knew the answer. Shippou was such a crybaby and a spoiled brat. Alone, the kid wouldn't last a day.
"Let's just go," Kagome sighed, starting to walk in the direction that they were walking before. She had to suppress the goosebumps that were forming on her arm as she felt a large force of youki pick itself off the ground and follow her grumbling. She knew the others felt it too, and wondered if Inuyasha knew that his youki had increased to such a level that she had trouble distinguishing his aura from that of a high-leveled youkai that they would occasionally fight. The traces of the familiar aura she was accustomed to had changed, and she was wondering a little, hoping that Inuyasha hadn't changed as well.
Though as she looked back at his stormy expression, she could say that he hadn't changed at all. Maybe if he had changed to become a little more mature it would have been better.
Suddenly, Inuyasha stopped and sniffed the air experimentally. The rest of the group stopped, too, waiting for his instructions. Miroku watched Inuyasha carefully, noting how he was scanning the surrounding area faster than he used to be able to, and knew that no matter what Inuyasha had said, the dog demon had changed. Miroku used to be able to sense almost as far as Inuyasha could smell, but now, he could sense nothing while Inuyasha was definitely doing something. For that, he was grateful. He didn't like to admit it out loud, but he didn't have any self-delusions about his strengths and weaknesses, and he understood that somehow, in an inexplicable way, he had grown dependent on Inuyasha. Last night's escapade had proved at least that.
"Keep moving," Inuyasha said in a low voice. "Pretend that there's nothing wrong and keep heading in the same direction." The others looked at him questioningly, but it was a mark of great trust that they said nothing and did as they were told.
Inuyasha walked behind the group, his ears and nose telling him that whoever was following them knew their art well. If his senses hadn't been sharpened, he probably never would have detected that fleeting presence skirting through the branches of the wood.
He heard the clattering of a twig in the direction opposite of the one he was hunting, and realized that the presence may be more skilled than he had originally thought. Trying to trick me? Not on your life! Inuyasha thought. In one swift leap, he jumped to the place where the sound had come from, his senses on full alert. His prey had escaped. But wait… He sniffed the air again and grinned.
The hunt was on.
He felt like a prey. A prey caught in the talons of a great eagle that would only be released into the chaos of death. But no… He was already dead. They had killed him so that he could die again.
"Damn this fucking sword!" he yelled, throwing the blade into a nearby wooden pillar. There was a thud as the sword embedded itself into the wood, swinging slightly in a non-existent breeze. "It's a toothpick compared to Tessaiga. And you expect me to fight off the entire army of gods with this loser blade?"
"Calm yourself," Fuujin said exasperatedly, though still retaining his patience. "The sword was designed so that people with your type of power would be able to use it. There's no point in abusing it like that. It's not a 'hack-and-slash' sword like Tessaiga. With this blade, you must use your patience and concentration."
"Fuck that!" Inuyasha responded angrily, glaring at the stone before him that supposedly the sword was able to cut.
"Please use more appropriate language!" yelled Raijin, fed up with watching the half-god hack away at the stone with no results. The kid was beginning to get on his nerves, which he had previously thought only Fuujin could do.
"Oh yeah? Like 'shut your damn trap, you asshole'?" Inuyasha retorted, his temper flaring with his frustration.
"Why you--! You can't say that to me! I'm your senior!" Raijin shouted back.
"You're no one's senior if you continue acting so immature," Fuujin said, feeling another headache coming on. It seemed like his head kept hurting ever since he was instructed to teach the hanyou.
"Shut up, Fuujin. Whose side are you on?"
"Inuyasha, take your sword out and try again," Fuujin commanded, ignoring Raijin. "We don't have time to waste. Remember the threat that hangs over your head."
Inuyasha grudgingly took the sword out, the cool hilt strangely comforting in his hands. Patience? When did he ever have patience? Concentration? The only thing he could concentrate on was hacking all the gods to pieces, and maybe Naraku as well, if he could ever fight him again. These gods were such fools. They just stood by, watching him hack uselessly away at a stupid rock that did not even have a crack in it, much less break in half. And that Raijin was ticking him off all the time. If only he could hack him in half…
"Hey! Watch where you're aiming that thing!" Raijin yelled, quickly rolling away from the piercing stroke that Inuyasha's sword had dealt him. Inuyasha looked with surprise at Raijin. When and how did his sword do that?
"So do you understand now?" Fuujin asked him, glad that there was finally a breakthrough. "All you do is concentrate, and the sword will channel your power to do your will."
Inuyasha looked skeptically at Fuujin. He stared at that unbreakable rock again and tried to concentrate on breaking it. Break, damn you… His mind conjured up images of him smashing the rock with his fist, using his claws to slice it in half, swinging Tessaiga to chop it into two… The rock still didn't break.
He was angry. Here he was, dragged against his own will to a place that his mother supposedly had come from, that he had never seen, that was supposed to make him master some strange power that was basically foreign to him in less than a week because some self-important god wanted to conquer the heavens, and he was stuck in this hell-hole that called itself heaven because some stupid pebble refused to break no matter how many times and how hard he pounded it. Forget just the heaven's army. He felt like killing everything at this moment. Denizens of the heavens, earth, hell… Everything.
Inuyasha felt a surge come from somewhere deep inside him, and a second later, he saw that the rock had crumbled to pieces and that the tiled floor that he had been standing on was blasted to such an extent that he was standing in the center of its crater. He half expected the rock and floor to reform, as everything else he had destroyed in heaven had, but they never did.
"This is the power that will fell Heaven's Gate," Fuujin said almost to himself, somewhere above Inuyasha. There was a type of awe in his eyes that Raijin did not understand, but he did not say anything. He glanced at the hanyou, his skin prickling as he felt the half-god's energy fade away. As Fuujin floated back down to instruct Inuyasha on what he was to practice next, Raijin seated himself at the edge of the crater, trying to appear casual and indifferent to the destruction that the boy had just caused.
But he was not the god of lightning and thunder for no reason. He had to admit that he was not as smart as Fuujin or as Lord Ryuten, but he did have a gift that the others did not possess. He could feel the energy of the beings around him, or, more specifically, the electrical energy that pulsed within everything that was of the three realms. By this talent, Raijin knew that whatever Inuyasha had just done was not the patience and concentration that Fuujin had been preaching about. There was a lethal edge to the attack, one that was almost feral, barbaric, not trained like what Fuujin was trying to teach.
Another brief glance to those golden orbs confirmed his suspicions. Inuyasha's outer appearance may look that of a god—dark hair, human-like ears—but his eyes told a different story. Those gold eyes were piercing like the sun, but they had none of the sun's warmth. Perhaps Raijin could not read the future, but he felt that things might not go the way that Fuujin and Lord Ryuten were planning.
He loved it. The feeling of the hunt, of destruction. He evaded the branches and trees that were in his way, moving swiftly through the forest like a silent owl, hunting its prey. It had only been a couple minutes since Inuyasha had initially felt the unknown presence, and now he was chasing it through the woods, sometimes catching sight of it, sometimes losing the trail. But always, always, he got back on track and continued the chase, enjoying the thrill it sent through his spine that normal hunts could not provide.
"Sankon Tetsusou!" he shouted, smashing the trees before him into splinters. He was surprised with the amount of force that had been released, but he ignored it for the time being, his mind focused on the presence that had been following them. Whatever or whoever it was was clever indeed, and Inuyasha could not help but compliment the being for evading his grasp for such a long time. Normally, when he was chasing other youkai, he would have already caught up to them, but not this time. He was glad for the challenge.
"Shippou-chan!" Kagome screamed, as a mass of black and white feathers rushed past her, grabbing Shippou along the way. "Inuyasha!" she shouted, about to tell him what happened when Inuyasha leapt over her and landed in front of the mysterious enemy.
"Game's over!" Inuyasha shouted suddenly, his claws elongating so fast it was like a flash. In a speed he didn't know he possessed, reached for Shippou, sending the young child into the safety of Kagome's arms.
"All right! All right!" the blob of feathers and talons yelled, backing away from the dangerous demon. "I give up already!" Inuyasha retracted his claws, realizing that they had grown to such a length that he could have sliced them into a full-grown man's body and not have soiled his hands. He looked over at Shippou to see if he had been hurt, and noticed slight cuts in the child's skin that were quickly healing, but were evidence of Inuyasha's carelessness with his expanded powers.
"Who, if I may ask, are you?" Miroku said, taking his customary polite position, although his eyes revealed something more dangerous. His expression didn't show it, but he was wary of this creature. When Inuyasha was chasing after it, Miroku had heard the sound of the two rushing through the forest, like two strong winds tearing up the earth and leaving only dust behind. It was fast, and there was no telling how powerful it was.
"Can't tell you that unless I want to bring the sword down on my neck," the bird-like being answered. "To give you my name would be, in essence, like signing my death contract. It's a Tengu thing."
"I've never heard of such a thing before," Kagome said, trying to recall anything about the Tengu she had ever heard of, and trying to get the image of that predatory look in Inuyasha's eyes out of her head. She had been impressed by Inuyasha's speed in hunting their hunter down, but the elation that was written on his face was not exactly comforting. Though now he had his usual annoyed expression on, Kagome wondered once again if Inuyasha's change in physical status might be reflective of his mind.
"Tengu?" questioned Miroku, his previous mask replaced with another that reflected more of his true nature. He had almost forgotten what had been bothering him before Inuyasha's supposed "death." "Myouga-sama mentioned something about the Tengu the other day."
"Myouga-jiijii?" Inuyasha asked, slightly curious, waiting for his adrenaline to fall back down. "When did you talk to him?"
"He mentioned that a Tengu was chasing after Kagome-sama," Miroku said, waving Inuyasha's question away. He could see Inuyasha become tense with his words. "He did not say any more than that." But I thought that he Tengu business was over since Inuyasha was… Does that mean his real target is Kagome? Miroku glanced at Kagome, wondering what was going on. It seemed like one event after another only led to more and more questions.
"I wouldn't call my actions 'chasing'," the Tengu said a bit too cheerfully for the situation. "I was 'searching' for her, not 'chasing'."
"Who cares if you were 'searching' or 'chasing'! What do you want with Kagome?" Inuyasha said impatiently, and a little possessively. "And hurry up with the explanation, unless you want to see your guts on the ground."
"Inuyasha!" Kagome chided, although she was a little glad for the protectiveness he was showing.
"Inuyasha, that is no way to speak to your old mentor," the Tengu said, his voice sounding old all of a sudden. The black and white feathers on him started to turn gray and looked like they were wilting on the Tengu's thin frame. Suddenly the Tengu laughed and the feathers got back their luster and filled his frame in, the previous decrepit image gone.
"You…" Inuyasha said, appearing like he was suddenly reminded of something annoying. "I thought you'd be dead by now."
"A Tengu lives forever!" the Tengu said joyfully. "Or, at least until he is killed or his name is found."
"What? Mentor?" asked Shippou, confused. "Inuyasha had a mentor?"
"I was more than a mentor," the Tengu said, bouncing on his feet. "Think of me more like his shishou. I taught him everything that he knows."
"Quit exaggerating, you old coot. You didn't teach me anything," Inuyasha said menacingly, forcing the Tengu to back away and create some distance between the rest of the group and himself.
"What did you teach him?" Shippou asked, ignoring Inuyasha's previous comment and moving a bit closer to the Tengu out of curiosity. He felt a strong hand immediately pull him back and away from the strange creature, throwing him into the arms of Kagome. "What's that for?!"
"This guy kidnaps little children for a hobby, so unless you want to leave this world now, I'd suggest you shut up and stay back there," Inuyasha snarled, his eyes focused on the unearthly being before him. Kirara immediately transformed to her larger form, forming another barrier between the Tengu and Shippou.
"Kidnap children?" Sango asked, realizing that the bedtime stories that her father used to tell her of naughty children getting snatched by Tengu might be partially true. Her hand on Hiraikotsu tightened, ready for action. Beside her, she saw Miroku do the same.
" 'Kidnap children'? Please don't be so vulgar," the Tengu said, seemingly affronted. "I train children."
"After you kidnap them," Inuyasha retorted.
"Well, if you're going to be so persistent about it, then fine, say I kidnapped children," the Tengu said, simultaneously sounding as if he were dealing with a small child and sounding childish himself. It only made Inuyasha angrier.
"Ano… Tengu-san, would you mind telling us why you were following us?" Kagome asked politely, trying to disperse the tension that was building up. Inuyasha was about to say something rude when a look from Kagome silenced him. Instead, he looked off to the side, deciding to keep his silence…for now. Besides, he didn't really want to be sat by Kagome in front of him.
"Of course!" the Tengu said brightly, sounding more like a child then someone's shishou. "Am I correct in assuming you, dear lady, are Kagome?" he asked, using his most dashing voice. The reaction he got from Inuyasha was very interesting, although the girl seemed to be unaffected.
"If he continues on like that, he may be as bad as Miroku," Shippou said, remembering to keep his distance from the Tengu. Miroku feigned a hurt expression while Sango just rolled her eyes.
"Let's assume I am," Kagome said, her voice neutral. "What is it that you want from us?"
"I was instructed to deliver a message," the Tengu said, becoming business-like, his previous frivolity gone. "If you are not Kagome, then I have no business with you. But seeing as how—Miroku, I presume?" he asked, nodding at Miroku's direction. Seeing that the monk didn't deny his statement, he continued on, "Miroku mentioned someone by that name, and if I remember correctly, he called this person 'Kagome-sama', which would immediately imply that he knew this lady. Therefore, I'm going to guess that this lady is you," he said, pointing at Kagome.
"Why me?" she asked out of genuine curiosity. What, is "Kagome" written on my face or something? she wondered.
"Because you're the only one wearing a strange kimono, and Kintaro described Kagome as wearing strange clothes, too," he stated simply.
"Who the hell is 'Kintaro' and what the fuck do you want?" Inuyasha asked, getting impatient.
"Kintaro is the metalworker of Heaven," he said, frowning at Inuyasha's vulgar tongue. He didn't remember teaching the kid those words, but then, three hundred years since the kid ran away was a pretty long time. Perhaps those types of words were common in this era now. Looks like I've been away from the mortal world for far too long, he thought to himself, inwardly feeling old.
"Who cares?" Inuyasha asked again, his violet eyes glaring at the Tengu. Purple?! When have his eyes ever--! thought the Tengu. Then he sensed the difference in Inuyasha, as well as observed the other changes that had come over his former pupil. His aura is different… Definitely not human, but not exactly youkai, either. There seems to be a large part of something missing from him…
"He's the one who told me to deliver the message," the Tengu said, a certain bounce returning into his voice, making his words less serious. But his demeanor did not reflect his thoughts. His aura is missing the feeling of life in it. So he must be dead… But this is not the appearance of a dead person. It's not exactly the feeling of a spirit, either. He feels as if his human side were completely removed from him, though…that's not entirely true, either.
"Kintaro wants me to tell Kagome something about a change and light and dark and…hmm. Ah! That's right! Something about fire and water," the Tengu said, feigning forgetfulness in an attempt to lower their suspicion of him. If a soul is composed of fire and water, then it could be said that water is missing from Inuyasha. He glanced at Inuyasha again, his face showing none of the suspicions going through his mind.
"Fire and…water?" Kagome asked, her face becoming slightly paler. "Wait, I might have something…" she mumbled, swinging her yellow pack down and sifting through its contents. "No… No… Where is—Oh, here it is!" she said, producing the small piece of paper that supposedly foretold the death of the Higurashi family. "Is this what you're talking about?" Kagome could feel the curious eyes of her friends on her, and mentally slapped herself on the head for not telling the others earlier about what she had learned from her family. I guess with Inuyasha disappearing, reappearing, and ghosts and shattered mirrors and who knows what else, I forgot about this… She glanced nervously at her friends' frowning expressions. Or maybe… I didn't really want to tell them.
She saw the Tengu take out a piece of paper from seemingly thin air and start comparing the two. Almost reluctantly, she looked at Inuyasha. She could see that he was worried, although he was trying to cover it up with a bored and irritated look. As the Tengu continued comparing the two, she looked down where her bows and arrows lay. There was a sort of shame that she was feeling, although she knew she had nothing to be shameful about. But that didn't stop the heat from rising to her cheeks, tinting it a soft rose color.
She realized she hadn't really wanted the others to know. This was her own problem. This was her family's problem, and no one really had any business meddling in it. She could deal with this difficulty on her own; she didn't need the other's help on this one—at least, not yet. She shouldn't have given the paper to the Tengu. She shouldn't have let the others know. Now they would just be worried for her, too. She hadn't wanted to add another burden to their already grief-laden journey. Everyone already had their own problems, as she was well aware. Bringing in her family's problems wouldn't help anyone at all. And Inuyasha would be sure to try to do something about it—everyone would. But she didn't really want their help. It was bad enough that she felt useless in battles most of the time. Sure, she could purify a thing or two, but when it came down to reaction speed and physical defense, she was as weak as a newborn child. She knew she was getting better at her archery, and maybe her powers were growing, but she couldn't help but feel as if she was in someone's shadow all the time.
In the beginning, it was Kikyo's shadow. But later on, Kagome realized that she felt dwarfed by all her companions. Inuyasha had a raw type of power and an even stronger determination that allowed him to defeat opponent after opponent. Miroku had his air rip, but even without it, he was fully capable of protecting himself with his staff and wits. And Sango was the strongest girl that Kagome had ever met. Sango lived her life despite her entire family dying before her eyes, and her spiritual strength was just as strong as her physical strength. Kirara, being Sango's companion, was equally strong. Even Shippou, the youngest of the group, or at least, the youngest looking, was stronger than she was. All her friends came from a sorrow that was foreign to her, and because of their hard lives, they were stronger. And all of them could take care of themselves when things became physical, except for her.
Kagome didn't like being the one that the others had to rescue all the time. She didn't like relying only on her purifying arrows. Sometimes, she hated that power. It constantly reminded her of Kikyo. Perhaps, she was really Kikyo's shadow. I guess I'll have to ask Inuyasha about that, she thought bitterly, and became ashamed of herself for thinking that.
But she was only human.
She wasn't a god. She wasn't immune to the somewhat petty emotions of humans. Sometimes she could understand why Inuyasha might want to be a full-blooded demon so badly. To be free from these paralyzing feelings…
But she was Higurashi Kagome. She wasn't Inuyasha who was given the choice of becoming human or demon. She wasn't detached from her emotions like Kikyo. She wasn't strong like Sango, Miroku, Shippou, or even Kirara. She was just…herself. And that was both a gift and a curse.
"It's the prophecy that Kintaro wanted to give you," the Tengu said, breaking Kagome out of her thoughts. He handed the slip of paper back to her. "The words are exactly the same. I don't suppose that you understand its contents?" he asked, the serious edge in his voice again.
"Uh…no," Kagome said, stuffing the paper into one of her backpack's side pockets and feeling slightly stupid for knowing nothing.
"It's all right if you don't understand it yet," the Tengu said, years of experience written in his voice. "I'm sure that the meanings of these lines will soon become apparent. All you have to do is just figure the prophecy out before the last line is complete."
"What is this prophecy that you keep speaking of?" Miroku asked, feeling uncomfortable for not knowing the entire picture. He wished that Kagome had shown them the paper earlier, but he was sure that the matter simply had slipped her mind.
"Oh, it just has something to do with the end of the world," the Tengu said cheerfully. There was a stunned silence.
"WHAT?!" they all shouted at him.
"You don't have to yell in my ear," the Tengu said good-naturedly.
"But I thought…" Kagome started. I thought this prophecy only referred to my family.
"Yes?" prodded the Tengu rather indiscreetly.
"Kagome-chan, what did you think before?" Sango asked curiously. She had noticed that Kagome had become unusually somber while the Tengu was reading the paper, and wondered what had made her friend so gloomy. Kagome was usually a bright and cheerful girl, except when it came to matters involving Kikyo. Although Sango could understand Kagome's mood when Kikyo was mentioned, she couldn't understand why a small slip of paper could make Kagome so depressed.
"Jii-chan gave it to me before I left," Kagome started softly. "Mama had told me that my family is dying…" She saw the others look at her with shock, and looked away, not wanting to meet their eyes. "The prophecy is supposed to tell how our family ends."
Inuyasha frowned at Kagome, wondering when had her mother told her that information. Last time, she had said that she wouldn't tell her children about the family curse, and wanted him to do the same. What had changed that made Kagome's mother reveal to her daughter the secret she had guarded since her husband's death? Damn it. What the hell's going on? He glared at the Tengu, his look suggesting that it was all somehow the creature's fault.
"Your family name…wouldn't happen to be 'Higurashi', would it?" the Tengu asked almost cautiously. Kagome looked at him with surprise.
"Yes, it is," she said, nonplussed. "But how did you know?"
"Ah… It's nothing. It seemed like a fitting family name." Miroku looked at the Tengu skeptically, unconvinced. The Tengu only laughed as if it were all a joke. But in truth, he was remembering something that happened long ago, in a time period when an empress ruled the country of the rising sun.
Heaven was cold to her that night. The clouds beneath her feet seemed to whisper of betrayal as they blew with the lonely wind, seemingly spreading her insurrection. She held her arms, hoping to warm herself up, but the cool, marble bench beneath her seemed to negate her efforts. She didn't mind, though. If she should freeze to death here, she would deserve it.
She could not believe her own daring, even now, when she was helping Ryuten to overthrow her father. Even her youngest sister had not been so daring. Staying with her love for those few days had not been her choice initially, but eventually love had made her wish she would never leave her love's side. If her father hadn't interfered, who knew where the two lovebirds could have gone?
Her sister's decision to love had caused an uproar at that time, she remembered. Everyone had talked about it. The youngest sister had always been her father's favorite, but even his particular favor for her could not change the fact that she had broken one of Heaven's high laws. At the time, she had felt her sister so foolish for wanting to throw everything away for the sake of a man, but now she understood that feeling. The feeling of how the other had always been an integral part of oneself, and the wonder of how one could ever have survived without knowing the other… Yes, she understood now.
But that did not change the suffering that her sister, and now, she herself was going through. At least she could meet with Ryuten whenever she wanted, albeit in secret, but it was better than her sister's situation. That poor girl could only meet with her love once a year, and then, not even for a full day.
She sighed, drawing her legs up to her chin, wondering why she was remembering her younger sister's deeds. Perhaps part of the reason she agreed to Ryuten's plan was for her sister, to end her sister's suffering, and to end these secret, brief meetings with Ryuten. Although she had agreed to the plan, she could still not console the side of her that was obedient, demure, passive—all that a daughter was expected to be. She had always served her father faithfully, patiently, contently, but now, she was going against all that she had once loved—against the only way of life that she had ever been taught. Perhaps the chill she felt that night was imaginary, only real to her because of her fear.
She loved her father. He was kind, he was just, and he was faithful to all that he was responsible for. He loved his children dearly, and treasured his wife before his own life. She could remember times when he would put aside his mountain of work just to spend time with his children, laughing with them, teaching them fondly and patiently. Perhaps he never admitted in words, but he loved them with his eternal love.
Yoko squeezed herself tighter, trying to drive away the cold that was pervading her thin garments. She loved her father, but she also loved Ryuten. He did not save her from the jaws of some evil demon, as she had so often imagined in her childhood, but he possessed a will and strength that she admired. She loved the way his emerald eyes could flash with anger like a coiled serpent, and the way that his green eyes could resemble the serene swaying of grass fields when he was calm. And when he spoke and smiled…
But she knew that she should not love him. The son of a dragon and the daughter of the emperor. Had her father allowed Heaven to love, this match would still be unacceptable. The dragons may have been working under the sea for her father, but they never forgot that it was he who had taken the imperial power from them in the first place. Their bitterness, coupled with her father's suspicion of them would never have allowed them to stay in the same room for more than a brief greeting. No matter what, a new Heaven had to be built from the ashes of this doldrums-like existence.
So why was it that she felt terrible still? She needed to betray her father. It would be the best for everyone. For her sister, for that famous Princess Kaguya—even for her little brother who had been banished so long ago. For their sakes, a new world had to be built. But she couldn't prevent her heart from hurting and her tears from welling up in her eyes when she thought about what Ryuten would be doing. If they failed, they would be terribly punished, but she was not the least worried about that. What she was concerned about was the future act of her betrayal, of the trust her father had for her, lost forever. How could a daughter betray her father? She didn't understand it. She couldn't understand herself. All those times that he had cared for her, the gifts he had given her from his affection, the way he protected her and dealt with her sometimes-willful ways… She would hurt him deeply if she went through with this decision.
In all moral and virtuous aspects, her treachery was unforgivable. She had often thought of stopping Ryuten, but the memory of how her little brother had been punished always stopped her. He had been just an adolescent, his compassionate heart screaming at him to help the mortals he saw suffering. And for his wish to change Heaven to help them, his father punished him by stripping him of his godhood and transforming him into a mortal. And not just any mortal, she remembered, but a female one. A female mortal of the lowest class in society…
The image of her young brother bravely standing there as the glow of his immortality and godhood faded away still burned in her mind sometimes, though it happened so long ago. She would never forget that bloody sunset that day as the emperor's only son was forced upon the earth as a female that would never remember the Heavens as home.
"Why the hell are you following us?" Inuyasha asked grumpily, uneasy around his former mentor. "If the only reason you came here was to deliver a message, then I think it's time for you to get the hell out of here."
"Now, now, don't be so rude to your shishou," the Tengu said good-naturedly.
" 'Shishou' my ass."
"Ne, Inuyasha, what harm is there for him to come with us?" Kagome asked, not really sensing any danger from the Tengu.
"Besides, we would like to know exactly how and what he taught you when you were a child," Miroku joked, making Inuyasha more annoyed. Not to mention I'd rather have him where I can see him, than have him sneaking around doing who knows what, Miroku thought.
"Tengu-san, if you won't tell us your name, then what should we call you?" Sango asked practically. "It would be strange to call you 'you' all the time."
" 'Tengu-san' works just fine," the Tengu said, his form starting to change into that of a human. The next minute, Sango found herself face to face with a Miroku look-alike.
"Of course you could call me 'anata' if you wanted to," he joked. One look from Miroku made the Tengu return to his original form quickly.
"Perhaps it would be better to get rid of him," Miroku threatened.
"Stop joking around," Shippou said excitedly from Kagome's shoulder. He looked at the familiar hills surrounding the village and grinned. "We're back at Kaede's!" And Inuyasha will finally meet his okaa!
"What's so great about being at Kae—"
He stopped. He stared. There was someone on the hill. Someone that looked surprisingly like his mother.
It can't be…
But scents don't lie.
She was sitting in Kaede's hut, sewing a piece of cloth over the hole in one of the village children's garment when she sensed the presence that she had loved and longed for. Immediately placing the needle and garment aside, she pulled the door's screen aside and stepped out, the bright midday sun temporarily blinding her. Despite that, she walked towards the presence, eventually jogging, and finally breaking into a run as her excitement overwhelmed her propriety. The elaborate kimono that she was so used to suddenly became a burden to her, slowing down her progress, and she suddenly wished that she had been able to complete her training in heaven. Then she would have been able to transform anything as she pleased, but seeing as how she could not, the only thing she could do was lift her kimono as best she could and as was appropriate.
What will I say? she wondered, for the millionth time doubting herself. And if he hates me? Despises me for leaving him so long ago? She brushed those thoughts aside, concentrating on seeing him first. It has been so long… I wonder if you will look the same age as I am now? And again the weight and fear of not having seen him in so long crushed her heart. Let me at least look at you…and hold you in my arms…
She ascended the hill with difficulty, finally kicking off her high wooden sandals in favor of running barefoot. Her silk stockings impeded her ascension, causing her to slip on the smooth grass, and frustrating her to no end.
Finally, she was on top, and as she looked up from her climb, she saw the one that she had missed more than her husband for the past four hundred years. Inuyasha…
Mother and child stared at each other, both with shocked expressions on their faces. Inuyasha…is still a child? She could not comprehend what had happened to her son. Perhaps she was still too far away to see clearly. Perhaps that was why he seemed to look so young to her, still an adolescent. She took a step closer to him, feeling the hard, sharp stones beneath her feet for the first time, and suddenly feeling out of place. What was she doing in the mortal realm? She shouldn't be here. She wasn't needed here. This was a place that had become foreign to her. She had lived all her life within the walls of luxury, and to be suddenly thrust in a world where people needed to mend clothes not because they were too expensive to replace, but because those were the only clothes that they owned was strange to her. And she knew that this was the world that she had left her son to. This was the life that he had lived, and she knew that she could never change that. Perhaps worse, she knew that she would never understand what he had gone through, despite whatever efforts she could attempt, and that revelation was the most crushing of all.
She would never know her son.
As she stood there, looking out of place and lost, Inuyasha walked towards her, his senses convincing him who she was. There was only one woman in the world that had her soft scent of lilies, something that not even the deceptive Muonna had been able to replicate. The woman, whatever she was, was definitely his mother. But how? And why?
He was a foot away from his mother, and he had nothing to say. All the times when he had cried out for her as a child, begged for her return, wishing that she could protect him… He didn't know what to say to her. He didn't know if anything could be said.
She smiled, her eyes glowing with her tears. Lowering her head and covering her tearful smile, she started to cry. Inuyasha. Inuyasha… She was afraid to look at him. Afraid for him to see the shame that she felt for failing him. My child. My one and only child. She looked up at him, seeing the confusion and sadness in his eyes.
He still loved her. Even after everything that he had been left to. For four hundred years, she had told herself that he was a strong boy, that he would be able to take care of himself and secure a place in this world. That he could find somewhere to belong. But she had been fooling herself. Even before she had died, she had worried about his future. She had wondered where one that could belong to neither humans, demons, nor gods could go. She had worried about how everyone else would treat him. And now, to see his unwavering love and faith in him when she had given him nothing to love or have faith in… She felt guilty—she was guilty. For deceiving herself. For not performing the duties that were inherent in mothers.
He was her son, but she was not his mother. She was not the mother that he deserved.
"Haha-ue," Inuyasha tried again, quieter, unsure, almost a whisper, like a dream that would not fade from the memory, yet lingered out of the reach of consciousness. She opened her mouth to say something, but all she could do was let out a shaking sob.
"Gomenasai. I'm sorry. Gomenasai." She covered her face, sobbing. How could she face him when she had done nothing for him? She was utterly pathetic. A goddess, and what for? So that she could watch the ones she loved die in front of her? So that she could have the knowledge of her son suffering and do nothing for him? She was a goddess with power, and yet was powerless. How could she have ever convinced herself that she could come here and try to help him, to try to make up for the four hundred years that she was absent? Why had she ever bothered to come at all if she had always had the power and choice of escaping from her prison and yet had done nothing?
"Don't…don't cry," Inuyasha said, sounding so much like the child that she had left behind. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry if I made you cry."
She shook her head, willing herself to stop. Stop crying. Just…stop. Face him. You owe him that at least. Face him. She wiped the tears away from her face and looked at him fully. She bit her lip, feeling her body still shaking with suppressed tears.
"You… I see that you have grown older," she said, her voice terribly calm. The icy, cool edge that had served her so well in asserting her authority in the past only served to deepen the chasm between her son and herself. She hated how distant she sounded, like she had never cared for him. And she could tell that he thought that was what she was trying to communicate.
"Aa," was the short reply he supplied, still unsure of where he stood with his mother. She had left him four hundred years ago for a reason that he did not know or perhaps did not understand, and now she had returned. Did that mean that she had forgiven him for whatever he had done wrong?
"Inuyasha. My son," she said, wanting so much to hold him in her arms, but afraid to do anything.
"Why did you leave?" Inuyasha blurted, the question that had plagued his mind whenever he thought of her finally rolling out. His mother looked surprised. Baka! I shouldn't have said anything! Now she'll probably leave again.
"I saw you leave," Inuyasha said, hating himself for sounding like a desperate child. He shouldn't act so weak in front of her. He shouldn't give her the impression that her leaving had done anything to him.
"I… I thought I—didn't I die of a disease?" she asked, remembering that Ichiro had faked her death to save her son grief. And yet, the boy knew. He had always known the truth somehow. He had always understood her, but she had never fully understood him. Even now, she could feel him withdrawing from her, hiding whatever pain he felt. Just like when he was young. When he was hurt by those who rejected him, whose cruel words penetrated his young soul, and never said a word to her, even when it was obvious that she knew.
"Is that what happened?" Inuyasha asked in a low voice, looking off to the side. Then I guess what I thought I saw that night was all a dream. A dream that I made up because I couldn't accept the death of my mother. He suddenly felt a flare of anger rise within him. But I saw her. I saw her turn away from me, even as I called out for her. Was that all a dream? The gashes that I had from running after her…was that all a dream, too?
But his mother had no reason to lie to him. If she said she had died of disease, then that must be the truth.
"Inuyasha, I," she started again, but stopped. I lied to you because I didn't want you to be hurt by my departure. I wanted to protect you with the only method I knew how. "I did not die of disease. I did not die in this world."
He looked up at her, and the amount of doubt and mistrust in his eyes shocked her.
"I—I, no, Ichiro, no, I… My form was made to deceive everyone so that they wouldn't suspect what had really happened. And I wanted…I wanted to make sure—to protect, but I didn't know anything. I—no, perhaps I should not have deceived you, too, but I had wanted to keep you from thinking…" she started, her incoherent words failing to allow her son to understand why she had left, why she had pretended to die.
"Kaguya-hime, I'm so happy to see you again!" Kagome barged in, trying to disperse the mood that had been created between them. "See? It looks like we found Inuyasha without that Ichiro person's help after all!"
"Y-yes," the princess said, also reentering her shell.
"Do you notice anything different?" Shippou said, wondering if the goddess knew what was wrong with Inuyasha.
"The eyes, Hime-sama," Miroku said politely.
"Lavender…?" she asked, her tears no longer lingering in her eyes, allowing her to notice the differences in her son. "And your ears. They're gone?" She wondered if her memory of her son had been wrong after all these years.
"We were hoping that you could explain," Sango said, shifting Hiraikotsu on her back so that Kirara could have a better view of Inuyasha and his mother.
"Perhaps Ryuten has already separated him," she said, her mind unable to catch up to what they were saying. She was still thinking of the miserable introduction she had presented to her son after wanting to meet him for so long.
"What is this you're talking about?" the Tengu asked, barging into their conversation. "I take it Inuyasha only changed recently?"
"Who—" Kaguya started to ask, but immediately stopped. It was too impolite of a question.
"Tengu-san, if you will," the bird-like creature bowed. "I'm Inuyasha's shishou."
"You are not my shishou," Inuyasha said angrily.
"Tsk, tsk… So ungrateful," the Tengu shook his head.
"Kaguya-hime, the matter at hand is to discover what Ryuten is planning," Miroku said, trying to steer the conversation back to the point. "And what did you mean by 'separate'? I thought Ryuten killed Inuyasha to release the god side?"
"Ryuten wants a power that exceeds his own. If…Inuyasha was not separated into two, he would not have a being that had powers superior to his own," Kaguya explained, trying to process the information that she was receiving from both the Tengu and Miroku.
"By separated, you mean, there are two Inuyashas running around?" Sango asked, not quite sure that the situation presented to her was plausible.
"One is bad enough," Shippou joked, earning a glare from Inuyasha.
"So light and dark have already separated," the Tengu said suddenly. The others looked at him, confused, except for Kagome.
"We have to put Inuyasha back together," Kagome said, determination in her eyes.
"What am I, a piece of pottery?" Inuyasha asked grumpily, not quite understanding what was going on. "And what do you mean there's two of me? I'm me, right?" A stretching silence answered his question.
"Don't tell me you don't notice anything different about yourself," Sango said, wrinkles of worry beginning to form at her brow. "You can feel, just like the rest of us, that your youki has increased, and with it, your youkai powers. If what Kaguya-hime says is true, then your increased demon power is sure proof that your other side must have some sort of power also."
"Hime-sama, has Ichiro arrived yet?" Miroku asked, already thinking ahead. If they could get Ichiro to help them, then there was the chance that this strange turn of events could be reversed.
"Iie, he has not yet arrived," she answered, shaking her head slightly.
"Who the hell is Ichiro?" Inuyasha asked rudely, feeling angry that he didn't know what the others were talking about. He had only been gone for less than a day, yet it seemed that everyone else had passed months, even years without him, leaving him behind to wonder at the changes that had occurred. He felt exactly like he had felt when he woke up from his fifty-year imprisonment. One day, and Kikyo was dead, the Shikon no Tama in the hands of a naïve and seemingly useless girl. One day, and Kagome and the others had already become acquainted with a mother that he had sought for four hundred years without success; one day, and he was suddenly changed from a hanyou, half demon, half human, to someone who was supposedly half demon and half god? He felt like the world had slipped out from under his hands while he was in the mirror—How did I even get into the mirror?!
"Well?" Inuyasha asked, while the others were looking at each other, expecting someone else to explain the events that had occurred while Inuyasha had been gone.
"He is my friend," Kaguya began.
"Inuyasha, there are some things that happened that I think we should explain…"
He looked dispassionately at his hand, feeling a slight pain, almost a sense of tingling radiating from the center of his hand to his ring finger. He closed his fist tightly, hoping to eliminate the uncomfortable feeling, but when he opened his hand again, the feeling was still there.
How pathetically weak the human body is…
He looked out of the window of his dark fortress, feeling unusual fatigue in his limbs. Fifty years… Fifty years and his body was already starting to feel old, starting to break down. It seemed that there was nothing he could do to stop himself from dying. He had the power of a full-blooded demon, but in the end, he was still a half-demon, perhaps even worse for his lifespan was shorter than that of any half-demon alive. It angered him to know that even those like Inuyasha would be able to live longer than he could. In fact, perhaps that lecherous monk would be able to escape the curse that his grandfather and father had fallen prey to.
He glanced into the hallway as Kana slid open the door, entering quietly. The skeletons of the dead inhabitants of the castle again reminded him of his own mortality, and he cursed the part of him that was Onigumo. If only he could rid himself of that lesser part of him…then he would be able to move and live as he pleased, without the restrictions that being half-human placed on him.
"I trust that you have found news of its whereabouts?"
The small, pale girl nodded in silent assent. She raised her mirror slightly and showed him the location of the object that he was searching for. Out of the fog within the mirror, he began to distinguish two bulky objects that stood alone in the sea. As the fog cleared away, the two objects revealed themselves to be two small islands—large rocks, to better describe them, and he noticed that the two were connected by some sort of rope, linking them together as if in holy matrimony.
"Go and retrieve it," he motioned Kana out of the room. She bowed her head slightly, then exited the room as quietly as she entered it. He watched her disappear from his view and began to set his second plan in motion. If Kana could not retrieve the pill of eternal life, then the creation of another one would be called for, and he no longer had any time to waste.
Comments: Special thanks to drk_dreams777 and TM/Inu-chan/Kat(muse) (?). Your words of encouragement really meant a lot to me and helped create this chapter. Thanks to Spectrum for your encouraging email and to my friend, Jenny, who kept recommending fanfiction to me so that I could find my inspiration.
::Ahem:: Well, on to a little miscellaneous information.
The two islands that Naraku (you did figure out it was him, right?) was talking about is known as the "husband and wife rocks" or the "wedded rocks" or "the rocks of Futami" or "Meiotoiwa." They are two rocks off the southeastern coast of Japan, I think, and are connected by some sort of holy rope made of rice stalks. It is said that during certain times of the year, the sun rises from between the two rocks, forming a picturesque scene that turns out to be the origin of Japan's name. In Japanese mythology, Japan was created when two gods made love to each other (the husband and the wife) and by doing so, formed the islands of Japan. Japan's name, Nihon, means the origin of the sun. And somewhere near the husband and wife rocks is the cave where the sun goddess, Amaterasu o-mi-kami, supposedly hid before she was lured out by the ruckus that the other gods were making. And don't forget, Japanese mythology says that the emperor of Japan is a descendent of the sun goddess, which is another reason Japan is called Nihon. Anyway, the entire region around the husband and wife rocks is pretty famous, so if you're ever in Japan, you should probably drop by Futami City. There's a shrine to the sun goddess there, too, if you're curious.
For more information, try google and the search words: japan husband wife rocks. Sushiran and Japan-zone have pretty interesting information.
Who knows when the next chapter will come out? (Hopefully it's sometime before I die.) Anyway, thanks to those of you who stuck around long enough to read this chapter. (I personally wouldn't have had the patience to wait.)