The Town that Time Forgot, Chapter One
She'd smiled during the ceremony just like they had, dabbing at her eye with a torn handkerchief as the speaker lauded their achievements and extolled their futures. The future… that's what everyone expected from her now.
"We all got accepted into university!"
The lie was for her friends' sake, really. To let them have this moment of glory without having to worry about her as they'd been worrying for the past three years. Her mother was well aware that every college application sat untouched and uncared for in a box under her desk. Her three friends likely knew as well, but they played along.
She'd graduated high school, and that was accomplishment enough. Once she'd feared a middle school education would be all she'd ever reach, and even that had nearly slipped from her grasp. But, looking back… she almost wished she'd just let it go to begin with. Then maybe she wouldn't be so plagued with 'what ifs' now.
They left the school grounds in silence. There wasn't much to discuss on the walk back to the shrine either – both her mother and grandfather knew enough to leave her with her thoughts. Had it been a normal day, perhaps they would have tried to distract her, to keep her from dwelling on all the things that could have been; but this was a landmark day. A day for change. A day to look forward to the future. And that meant letting go of the past.
But before she could let go… she had to face it first.
The well-house loomed tall and black like a tombstone, swallowing her in a mausoleum of memories. Each creak of the steps was a prayer she hoped was heard – whatever god or spirit held sway over the well, they had to know that someone still came here. Someone still needed to use this place. Reverent fingers traced the ancient wood at the lip of the well, feeling the grooves and dips where weight and wear had etched the structure's history. How many times had she gripped this wood with struggling hands as she pulled herself and her heavy pack over its edge? How many times had she been lifted out by clawed hands before she could even touch it? Were any of these grooves from those hours spent sitting atop the well, struggling with whether or not to face the boy who held her fragile heart in his unknowing grip? Or were they from impatient, folded arms as a young man sat brooding, waiting for her to come back from one home to another? How much of her life was ingrained in these wooden fibers? How much was she really willing to let go? How much of her past could she let die here in the dark?
'Inuyasha…' his name carried through her thoughts with familiar weightlessness, drifting without anything to anchor it down. She'd been drifting since he disappeared. 'I can't stop thinking that… maybe… the reason the well stopped working… was that my job was done, and I'm meant to live the rest of my life in this world.' Her hand gripped the wood with earnestness, the finality of her situation finally setting in. 'A world without you.' That's what it meant to live here – there was no 'Inuyasha' in the future. He didn't belong here… did she?
She could make it without him. She'd been making it for years now, building a life for herself – building a life she didn't want. But she'd made that life herself, and the world would applaud her for it. She didn't much care what the world thought, but… what else did she have? Funny, how quickly she'd trade it all away for just one person.
Looking down into the dark well, wishing she could fall into it just once more, even though it never led to more than a broken ankle… this was her last chance. If it didn't work today, if she couldn't get through… there would be no more trying. She'd accept what fate had given her. She'd make a future, and she'd carry her bitterness straight to Buddha in the afterlife if she had to. Not even reincarnation would get its hands on her this time.
"I'm sorry, but I really can't leave with you!"
Her mother's soft voice broke her thoughts with a snap, her head whipping to the beam of sunlight pouring through the shrine doors.
"Please, it's urgent! The deadline is in two days, and we need to start the preparations as soon as –"
"I'm very sorry, but you don't understand." Her mother's patient response was to a voice she hadn't heard before; a young man, his speech polite despite some urgency. "I really can't help you – I'm not a priestess."
Kagome froze as something began to creep up her spine; a familiar feeling of something extraordinary. Her pulse quickened and she swallowed suddenly. This was something she hadn't felt in years, and in her current melancholy, it was as exhilarating as it was terrifying: a supernatural aura.
She stared at the well again, just as black and boding and lifeless as it had been for days, months, years. Was this… her sign?
"If you'll just wait a moment, I can fetch my father. He's a priest, and should be able to help you."
"Uh, the old man? Are… are you sure he's a priest? I mean… forgive me for being rude but… I didn't really sense much spiritual power from him."
"Well, maybe he is a little rusty…."
"There must be someone else here with spiritual powers though! I know I sensed something strong from this shrine! Please, I could really use your help!"
"Oh, there's no need to bow! Well… I didn't want to disturb her, but…."
Kagome's feet were already climbing the stairs. The well wouldn't speak to her, but perhaps it was sending her a message in other ways. Maybe it didn't have enough power, maybe there were other ways, other means to get to the past, other ways to make it work – she didn't know, didn't take the time to think it out. The feeling grew stronger, and so did desperation. The blinding light outside shielded their guest from her view, and blinking away the brightness, she turned one last look at the black square in the ground below, sending a final plea to it before stepping back into the future.
'Inuyasha… I want to see you!'
"Oh, Kagome! I was just about to go get you!"
Her mother came into quick focus, but the stranger took another glance or two to believe. Hair that red and vibrant wasn't something she saw very often, even in the cosplay districts downtown. The strange old haori slung over his shoulder was an odd match to his track suit, which looked old enough in its own right. But none of these oddities shocked her quite as much as the creature perched on his shoulder.
"A- a demon!"
It took only her mother's confused glance and the boy's surprise to let her know she'd said something strange.
The cat-like creature sitting on the red-head's shoulder seemed to double-take as it registered her gaze, looking from side to side with its human features as it singled out where her attention was focused. "Y-Y'mean you can see me?"
Kagome nodded, hesitant to respond more overtly as her mother still glanced from her to the boy in confusion, missing the spot on his shoulder entirely. A relieved mutter of "Finally" slipped past the boy's lips as he slipped the Haori off his shoulder and over his arms – and Kagome jumped as her mother gasped violently and scrambled away. She didn't have time to ask before the boy had grabbed her by the wrist with a hurried but formal "If you wouldn't mind coming with me for a few days, the Disaster Prevention Bureau will see to your care and comfort as preparations are made for the removal of the seal." The air before them shifted and swirled, and Kagome could hardly breathe as a vortex opened up before them, the red-haired boy disappearing inside and pulling her carefully behind.
Inuyasha stood teetering at the edge of the well, on the edge of leaping as well as the edge of a nervous breakdown. He'd smelt her scent – he knew he had! But as he glanced once more down into the dark, there was no Kagome smiling back. His fist clenched, teeth and fangs grating harshly against each other at the thought that this was another false alarm. He couldn't take another snuffed out hope, not now. Not after three years of waiting and dreaming and believing and dying. His hands hit the wood with splintering force, sending all his anger and fear into the dried out timber as he glared into the darkness. Had she been nearby perhaps, just on the otherside? Was she leaning over as well, wishing like he was that it would open up, or swallow them whole, whatever came first? Was it just a scent and nothing more, drifting 500 years through time to mess with his fragile psyche and send him even deeper into the self-destructive hopefulness he'd been fostering since the first day he came back without her? Three years he'd been telling himself they'd be reunited. Three years he'd forced his heart to believe those words when every other part of him mourned the loss of her. He wouldn't give in now. He wouldn't let this be a fluke. 'You hear me, Well?' He thought bitterly, 'you ain't gonna keep messing with me like this. You're either gonna bring her here to me, or dammit, you're gonna let me through to her. There ain't no other option.'
He was ready to jump in and start tunneling if he had to, but then he noticed something different about the dark at the bottom of the well… it wasn't completely dark. His inhuman eyes strained against the distance, but soon he could see the faint highlights and shadows molding around wooden beams, and his dog-ears caught the sound of feminine cries; he jumped before another thought could come.
He swore the trip through time had never taken so long; a whole lifetime passed before his eyes as he sailed through the blue magic of the well. All his memories of Kagome were refreshed with her smell, revitalizing the image burned in his mind which he'd soon replace with a living person. Her dark eyes shining in a smile, her wavy raven hair falling in her face as she laughed… he could almost hear her, and soon it wouldn't even be 'almost'. He'd found her, he'd reached her, he'd never be away from her again. She didn't even need to come back with him; he'd stay in her room for the rest of eternity if it meant he'd get to see her every day.
He'd cleared the lip of the well and leapt up the steps before he realized it, and the harsh sunlight and dry air of Kagome's homeland filled him up with new life. But even as he breathed in the new and oh-so familiar world, something was off. A quick sniff and glance of the grounds had fear seizing his heart: Kagome wasn't here, but her mother was. And shock covered every inch of her.
Inuyasha offered no warning as he knelt beside her, grabbing her shoulders and wrenching her up to meet his gaze. A painful gasp tore from her at the move, but he didn't have time to be gentle. "Where is she? Mrs. Higurashi, where is she?!"
He gave her a moment, despite his inner tumult, to register what her eyes were seeing. Her hands came up, warm and gentle as he remembered, lightly brushing his cheeks before settling there to hold his face in a motherly grasp. Her lips quirked into a disbelieving smile, and for a moment her eyes filled with warmth. But soon enough loss took its place, and she whispered "She was at the well… she wanted to see you so badly… oh Inuyasha, she wanted to go back to you, but…"
"But what?!" He tried not to shake her, but his hands were shaking regardless. "What happened to her?"
"A boy… a boy came to the shrine… looking for a priestess," she released his face to wipe at her watering eyes, and he caught her as she slumped forward slightly, holding her up around her thin shoulders. He didn't remember her seeming so old. "She said… something about a demon… and then, he disappeared! Just like that! And he must have grabbed her, because suddenly she was gone too!"
"She just… disappeared?" Inuyasha felt his heart drop to his stomach. His nose was a fool-proof Kagome-tracking machine, but… it was just like Mrs. Higurashi said. There was no trail to follow. Her scent lingered in the air around the well-house, then nothing. No faint traces leading away, no clues to even begin a search.
"He… he said something though" Mrs. Higurashi continued, grasping the red cloth of his arm to hold herself steady and keep him from flying away as he seemed wont to do, "he needed someone to accompany him to a town. I'm sure he'll take her there."
There it was – that hope again. He'd become friends with it these past three years, and Inuyasha was more than happy to welcome it back. 'Just one more search… and then I'm never letting go again.' "What town? Where is it?"
"Well, I'm not sure where it is. I've actually never heard the name..." Mrs. Higurashi said softly, her gaze falling to the side, expression unfocused, "But I think he called it Tomobiki."
Stepping over loose boards with practiced ease, a shadow slipped into the foyer, sliding feet into soft black shoes in complete silence. Grasping the edge of the wooden door and testing its weight, the figure applied just enough force to unjam it, slipping it carefully along its track until he could make his escape. He didn't bother closing it; everyone would know he'd gone in the morning anyways, once they enjoyed his extra portions of rice and fewer contestants in the food fight, but by then it'd be too late. Crossing to the grass lawn, he was almost at the concrete wall when something small smacked the back of his head. Holding in a girlish squeal of pain, the young man looked back to see his fiancée, fully dressed in hiking gear and a cold frown. Kneeling to pick up the shoe she'd thrown, Ranma tried to force up some bravado even as he cowered on the inside.
"You dropped something."
"I can't believe you" she spoke faintly, trying to keep from waking any of their numerous and noisy relations, "I thought we were past this, but no. Here you are, taking off in the middle of the night without a word on some macho-power-trip. Just like old times, right Ranma?"
He tossed her tennis shoe back, and she caught it with fluidity that came from years of practice and synchronization. The martial-artist wondered if she'd noticed, because it was impossible for him not to. She wasn't nearly as clumsy as she used to be; they'd been well-matched for a while now. "Akane… look, I didn't wanna get the whole house involved in this, alright? You know how Pops can be, and then word spreads, and soon Shampoo and Ryouga and who knows who or what else is on my heels, and –"
"But you couldn't even tell me? Not even when we'll be married in a month?"
"Well, we all gotta go sometime…" his teasing smile fell sharply as her glare hardened, and he realized too late that she wasn't in the mood for banter. "C'mon, what good would it have done? You didn't really expect to come with me, did you?"
Akane didn't say a word as she flicked her arm, a heavy pack falling off her shoulder and onto the ground at her feet. Ranma merely rolled his eyes.
"'Kane, no. You heard what that cat-thing said! It's too dangerous! We don't know what to expect!"
"Don't 'Kane' me, YOU didn't hear what the cat said, I did, because you were too busy freaking out to pay attention!" Shouldering her pack once more and grunting slightly under the weight, Akane closed the distance between them, leaning in to look up into her Fiance's nervous face with determination. It was a face Ranma had learned not to underestimate. "I know more about this than you do, even if you do have Happosai's map. You can't do this without me, and you know it!"
Ranma grit his teeth, wracking his brain for a reason to leave her behind… even when he didn't really want to. It wasn't that she'd get in his way or slow him down or anything, it was just… "It… It's not that simple. I mean… If they took the precaution of putting the old freak under a seal, there's gotta be some dangerous stuff in this Tomobiki place!"
"And if there's a cure," Akane whispered, reaching out to find Ranma's fingers in the moonlight, "then I want to be there with you when you find it."
Then she smiled, and Ranma felt his defenses crumble. He couldn't bear to see her get hurt, not again, not after all they'd been through, all they'd overcome together, all the hurdles they'd leaped to make it to this point, so close to the finishing line, so close to being married…. But no matter what he said, he couldn't say no to that smile. She just looked so cute when she smiled.
"Fine, but I get to say 'I told you so' later, deal?"
Thanks for reading! Not sure how many people will be interested in this, since aside from Inuyasha, I don't know how well-known the other Rumic World series are, but I'm SUPER EXCITED for this story, and I CAN"T WAIT to write more!
And I'm so sorry if you're waiting for updates on my other stories. They're in the works. None of my Inuyasha multi-chapter fics are abandoned (no, not even Epic Tragic Love Story) they're just… taking forever. So please, stay tuned, and have fun with this one! The Inuyasha, Ranma ½, Kyoukai no Rinne, and Urusei Yatsura worlds will all have major involvement and their unique roles to play, and if you're not familiar with all of them, I hope you can still enjoy the story regardless! (and… yes… since this is my story, the basis is kinda mostly focused on InuKag. I'm sorry, I can't help it. It's what I do.)