Through A Mirror Darkly
Has no one told you she's not breathing?
If I smile and don't believe
Soon I know I'll wake from this dream
Suddenly I know I'm not sleeping
I'm still here
All that's left of yesterday.
Chapter 9- Her apotheosiS
There was a softness in the grey dawn, wrapping coolly around Kagome's slender arms, like a blanket that had yet to be warmed by the presence of a body. Grey and not clear or clouded, it was accompanied by an equally gentle tune, rising and falling with the slight breaths of the singer, a young miko, a young woman, sitting at a window and looking outside and forward to the dawning of a new day, that would bring so much change to her life.
Or end it.
There were no words to the tune being sung, only a soft rhythm that had lost its lyrics, flowing into the silence of the grey air, sometimes accompanied by the light chirping of dawn rising birds that lived in the many sacred trees around the jinja, their roots locked together like the possibilities for the future...somewhere, those roots twined with those of the Goshinboku, the tree that connected the two times the girl who was not really asleep lived in.
Kikyou was a dim silhouette in the frame of the door, the dim light padding against the slats in the weaving of the drapery, though the light was not enough to create lacy patterns on the floor as yet. There was only the shapely shadow of the miko, head resting against the doorframe, reclining, knees tucked up to her chest, an arm wrapping around them, the other reaching up to touch the weave soundlessly, trailing fingers across the soft light that was managing to pierce the dark.
The music rose and fell, cadence changing with the whim of the miko who continued to hum it. Kagome kept her own breathing as steady as she might, even and without the unsteadiness of her thoughts, as not to alert the silent figure at the doorway, to keep her from knowing that her future self was wakeful and thinking, not deep in the world of dreams.
Kagome could not tell, in the greyness, if Kikyou was smiling. What could she be imagining, right then? Right there? Sitting at the doorway and looking outward? Was she anxious? Nervous? Afraid, happy, content? Her soft humming, her soft music...these were not actions of an unhappy woman, but one looking forward towards something, perhaps something secret, towards a promise made that she was placing her hopes and dreams in. No thoughts of betrayal would be coursing through her thoughts...perhaps some fear that he would change his mind, would not appear. But appearing and tearing into her with claws, no, that would not be a thought in her mind. That was too violent, to abrupt, to shocking a change in the demeanor of a man who had held her the evening before. Who promised to love her, live with her.
It could still happen. One thing, one thing needed to be changed, to have Kikyou meet Inuyasha in that field, and not some imitation that would shatter the image of one person she did trust and love. Kagome felt the pain in her back, the slicing feeling of sharpness that knocked her to the ground and kept her wounded for days. Kikyou was willing...and had, in Kagome's mind...followed Inuyasha into death from wounds not so different from her own. Kagome had lived, Kikyou had died, their difference existing in who had inflicted the wounds.
Was Kagome willing to die to save someone she loved? That answer was simple. Of course. It was not a matter of willingness, or ability, but of what had happened. Both Inuyasha and Kikyou had been pulled into a trap. Neither knew of Naraku or his existence. Kikyou was injured, and upon returning, saw Inuyasha...the real Inuyasha...tearing apart her shrine. Her home. Her sister was wounded in the attack, the people she cared for and protected hopelessly flailing around in attempts to stop the desecration of their place of worship. If any thoughts of a mistake existed in her mind, if any thoughts of wanting to talk, if even for a moment, existed, they would be wiped away by the crime she was witnessing.
Kagome reminded herself not to sigh. Inuyasha could be such a stubborn idiot.
What would she have done, in Kikyou's place, had it been Kagome standing there with the bow and arrow and the blood flowing from her shoulder, ready to shoot and pin Inuyasha to his fate on the trunk of the Goshinboku?
As Kagome, she didn't think she could fire. But then, what would the consequences of that be? Inuyasha would swallow the Shikon no Tama, and it would mingle with his youkai blood and his eyes would turn red and wild and then...then she knew what Inuyasha would be like, without restraining his youkai blood. There was no Tessaiga to be in his hand.
Could she shoot, knowing that was the inevitable result?
For a moment, she closed her eyes, and the blackness behind her eyelids seemed too dark. She opened them again to the greyness of the early dawn. She struggled to reach out with her mind, to feel that horrible, familiar youki that meant Naraku was in the area. There was none. Still, it had to be today...Kikyou's anticipation of this particular morning and the scene she witnessed last evening proved that. He was here...possibly being created even as she lay on her futon and deliberated about things happening now, happening fifty years ago. The youkai would be pouring into him, devouring what little soul Onigumo possessed and pitching him into darkness absolute.
Should she pity Onigumo, for his wounds? Perhaps she did. Had she stumbled across a man identical to him in her normal journeys, with Inuyasha, Sango, Miroku and Shippou at her side, he would have been a nonentity, a nobody, another random human man with evil intentions. Had he or a band of thieves like him tried to bother them, it would have likely been a little thing to deal with them. Inuyasha would slash a few times, Sango would throw hiraikotsu, Kirara would transform, and, if that didn't work, Miroku would just open the kazaana for a few seconds. That usually scared most bothersome people off.
But then, she knew that in the future, history would be made up of random, human men who were just following orders.
And what of Sango, Miroku, and Shippou?
Shippou...it was hard to say, whether or not Hiten and Manten would have been capable of attacking and killing his family, regardless of the shards they had found and used. Though would they have set off on their initial rampage without the shards to add to their power? The chances stood that Shippou and his family could have survived, either defending themselves or escaping the battle before it began. Kitsune were reputed for survival skills.
Sango...her family would live. Presumably, her family would continued uninterrupted until the time Kagome was supposed to arrive in the sengoku jidai. The taiji-ya were years...decades...from their downfall. No Naraku, no deception, no destruction. She would live, as a taiji-ya, and Kohaku would never fall prey to Naraku's manipulations. He would be able to live as he chose, as a taiji-ya or as the peaceful boy Sango would paint him as when she spoke of her younger brother. There was, in the end, no way of knowing whether Kohaku would have any kind of happy ending, should their story eventually run its full course.
If she could only return to that story, and escape this one.
Miroku. Surely he would never be cursed. Would Miroku-sama even be born? Without his family line being cursed in the first place, would his grandfather and father ever go around asking that ridiculously infernal question to every woman? Assuming they did...Miroku had to have picked that up somewhere. His entire family line, unlike Sango's, would be changed.
And if her two friends never met? She plucked silently at the cloth of the futon, watching the fuzzy shape of her finger move back and forth nervously. They obviously loved each other, despite it all...she just wished they'd just confess it already. Kagome didn't want to break that apart. And yet...there was still no definite saying that, in fifty years time, both would not exist...that Sango would not still be a taiji-ya, that Miroku would not be a wandering sukebe houshi, and that they would not meet in spite of things. True, the chances lowered greatly...but then, what were the chances of a girl falling into a well and being pulled through centuries of time?
Anything is possible...though she supposed some things were more likely than others.
Why was she here? Was it to change things? Or to make sure they happened as they had? Though that was such a horrible thought...that her stopping a few days ago at the cave, of recognizing it, of knowing what could...and was...inside...if she had not stopped, Kikyou would have continued past the cave entrance, never found Onigumo, never felt betrayal, never blamed Inuyasha mistakenly. Onigumo would have died a bitter, wounded man, alone with his viscousness in a hole in the ground.
If that were true...then Kagome was already the source of all her friends pain and suffering. Having not completed the Shikon no Tama, not having lived through it all...her future knowledge meant very little. She didn't know if everything would be okay in the end...if Sango and Miroku would end up with a dozen kids and the sengoku jidai version of a white picket fence, if Kohaku would be revived, if Inuyasha would ever really, completely, truly love Kagome, and allow Kikyou to fade gracefully into her grave.
Kagome buried her face in her sleeve for a moment, hoping it would muffle the sound of her slowly growing heavy breathing, as she drank in oxygen to keep herself from either crying or breaking into a nervous sweat. No, she couldn't be the source of the entire problem in the first place...it couldn't work that way. Even though it already did...stupid Souta, stupid Buyo. If her goofy cat and her timid brother hadn't been playing around the wellhouse, she would never have been here at all. Maybe that was as random as her arrival in this sengoku jidai as well.
The humming paused for a brief moment, and Kagome held her breath, hearing the clothing Kikyou wore shift as she changed positions. A moment later, the sound resumed, and Kagome slowly relaxed. It was a pleasant tune, now imprinted into her mind. The same several sets of notes repeated over and over, sometimes slow and lilting, sometimes faster as though it were some theme to be played for a story. It was easy to lose herself in the sound and forget.
Could she go? Could she go to the cave when Kikyou stepped out that door? Go to the cave with her bow and arrow, and shoot the newly born Naraku? Could she say goodbye to the life she had accepted as her own, despite how terrified she was? So much evil done, all so easily undone, if she released her arrow and let it fly true to the mark.
She was willing to sacrifice her life, to save someone she loved.
To save many people she loved.
Golden light first slipped under the curtain at that moment, gliding across the wood of the polished floor, slightly scented like irises, from the flowers that had been collected the day before. A pile of roots were set on a narrow table by the far wall. She told Kaede last night that they'd stay in that day, and start pounding the pomanders, since she didn't know how to properly steep the roots for medicines. Kikyou was silent, and when asked to help with the boiling, had politely replied that she had some duties to attend in the morning, that may end up effecting the whole of the day. That had puzzled Kaede, and Kagome had managed to smile politely and bury her face in her futon.
There would be no making of pomanders or perfumes, and no medicine making that day. Kikyou, with the golden dawn, was standing, hesitantly, her mood radiating through the air and across Kagome like a tenuous touch. She kept her head low, a hand carefully holding the coverlet to her cheek, cloaking any slight opening of watchful eyes. She heard Kikyou take a deep breath, and then there was a rustle as the drapery was pulled aside, and she stepped through to begin the day.
And so it had begun. A moment passed, then another, as Kagome waited for Kikyou's silent steps to wander far enough to keep her ears from hearing Kagome's movements. She flipped back her cover, pushing herself to her knees and then to her feet to look around the softly lit room. Kaede was a small lump in the corner, one arm flopping out to the side, eyes closed to the world. Kagome slipped to the doorway, pulling aside the curtain and standing in the shadow of the doorjamb to make herself less easily seen, if the miko happened to be glancing behind her. She was not. Kikyou was standing now at the bottom of the steps to the shrine housing the Shikon no Tama, a hand forming a fist at her throat, chin tilted upward as she looked towards the door. Slowly, her hand extended, coming to rest on the railing, and she moved forward, disappearing into the building.
With Kikyou's disappearance, Kagome's fingers released the curtain, and she stepped further inside.
Sit and wait...or go and see.
Her palms itched. Kaede's breathing filled the room. Her bow lay next to Kikyou's in the corner, their quivers of arrows sticking out like quills leaning beside them. Her yellow rucksack was beside her futon, the top flap open, and she could see a flash of green and white through the gap, where her school uniform was peeking. She rubbed her hands on the soft white nightdress she had been lent, then clutched it. She couldn't stay here, one way or another. Not now. She'd be jumpy, too jumpy, if nothing else, knowing what was to happen, knowing what was being created in that hole in the earth not too far from here.
It took only a few moments for her to quickly slip into her school uniform, tug her brown loafers out from where they had been squished in the bottom, and slide them on her feet. She kept one eye on Kaede during her dressing, to make sure the younger girl wouldn't waken and ask why she was wearing her other clothes. It felt strange to be back in the short skirt and sailor collar, usually so familiar. She smoothed the pleated skirt and arranged the red scarf at her neck. Then her bow was in her hand and her arrows carefully over one shoulder, avoiding her wound.
Then she disappeared through the door.
There was dew on the grass, and droplets of water were crushed underfoot as Kagome steadily walked her way forward. Behind the home of the Shikon no Tama, through what was soon to become Inuyasha's Forest. Towards the river. From the river, the lake, and if she walked far enough along the lake and then across the grassy field, she would reach another arm of the forest, and with it, the maw of the cave. That tune Kikyou had been humming danced in her mind, and before long she was humming it to herself. The arrows rattled cheerfully in her quiver as she moved.
The woods drew slowly apart, the breach between the lush foliage growing larger as she drew closer. Blue-green grasses reached up to her thighs, wavering in the wind. It was a beautiful day, bright and sunny, with only a handful of clouds in the sky. The breeze was crisp and cool, scented with water from the nearby lake. It was an ironic setting.
When Kagome arrived halfway across the sea of grass, she felt the first, roiling wave of youki, emanating from the place she had chosen as her destination. Hoping to find somewhere among the trees, she realized it may be already too late to hide herself. The aura of the youkai seemed to pulse, and another wave clouded over the little floodplain. Glancing towards the forest, she could see movement there, small youkai fluttering among the branches, apparently trying to decide if they should join in with the rest that were being consumed...rather than consuming.
She continued forward a bit further, her steps growing heavier, as though weight were being added to her shoulders, pressing her heavily down and trying to prevent her from closing in on the cave. She could see its mouth, black and covered in moss and short, scraggly grasses, opening at the top of a rise in the land.
One small, blackish winged youkai flapped wildly away from the cave, though its progress was slow and awkward, as though diseased. Cautiously, Kagome reached behind her and nocked a white fletched arrow, the bow pointed downward, but ready to be lifted. The creature dropped to the ground a length away from the cave, dead.
Youki was pouring from the hellmouth now, thick and gross, though invisible. It wasn't the blackish miasma she was accustomed to seeing around Naraku, but something weaker, newborn though still rancid. There was a stirring at the entrance, something emerging into the light for the first time. Kagome braced herself, wishing she were a few moments earlier, with time enough to disappear into the woods and watch.
The figure that emerged staggered as it walked. Shreds of white bandages were hanging loosely from its body, remains of the bindings that had covered Onigumo. The man that stood there now had used the blanket Kikyou placed over him as clothing, tying it around himself like a sarong. He stumbled into one of the boulders and hid his face with a hand, blinded by the sunlight of the day, and his shoulders heaving in attempts to breathe with the mishmash of body parts that had become his lungs. A mass of black hair barely covered his head, wild against the rock he was using to clumsily support himself. His legs caved in with his next step, and he collapsed onto the ground, a ragged heap.
It was a pitiful sight. And for a moment, Kagome began to feel pity for him, the way she had when she saw the ruined, burned mess that was Onigumo.
Until the wind carried to her the sound of laughter.
Kagome grit her teeth, fighting the urge to scream. Her arrowhead was pointed forward, forcefully, ready...one shot, one shot, one shot. No pain, no suffering, no death, no manipulation, all gone, all vanished. With one shot, one sacrifice, just one, hers, and the bastard would be dead! And it was hers!
His coughing checked her, deep, lungful coughing made her hesitate, snapping her back to reality. He was groping again, a hand searching for something to cling to. He found a log, overturned and jutting from the ground. He pulled himself upward, upright, and looked out on the world for the first time with blood red eyes.
Those eyes widened as they saw the solitary figure across from them. One, slender girl with long black hair and eyes that should have been soft, training an arrow on him. The pained expression from the light in his eyes was replaced with a curve on his lips, a twisted little smile. One scared little girl, with a little arrow. That was all it would take right at that moment, to kill him. Strength...he needed to grow stronger. Quickly. Or not survive.
That little smile brought back some of that rage she remembered. She swore aloud she'd never forgive him for what he'd done to Kohaku...and promised herself a thousand times she'd be there to see him at his death. When he began struggling to his feet, the arrow's shaky uncertainty resolved itself, and became steady.
"Naraku! Stop right there!"
The man froze, still supporting himself against the tree log, and turned his eyes to her again. The trembling that he'd seen a moment before had evaporated. "Naraku? Ah...me," he said cautiously, surprised at the depth and timbre of his voice. Everything was so new, so strange. There was something his senses were telling him about this girl...power, yes, she had some power...power to kill him. More than that of just an arrow. Much more. She was someone...someone he knew. From before. He lowered his head slightly and watched her from narrowed eyes. "Naraku...I like that name."
Whatever it had been about those words seemed only to infuriate her further, and that power he could feel began to grate as it expanded against his senses, painfully. It was bright, too bright, and it hurt much more than the sunlight on his dark adapted eyes.
Her teeth were clenched tightly and he saw her bow begin to waver again. Whatever drove her to coming here, at this particular time, was conflicted. He took confidence in that as strength began to grow in his body, healing with the speed of the youkai it was composed of. "Why are you here?" Naraku lifted a hand slightly, motioning towards the arrow. "I've done nothing to you, and you're..."
"Liar!" The trembling in her hands grew fierce, and there was pain on her face, tears starting to form in the corner of her eyes. "You...you're a murderer...and a thief...and a betrayer. You tricked Inuyasha," her voice cracked, "and Kikyou...and stole the Shikon no Tama! This is your fault!" The final words grew pitched and wild.
Kikyou...yes...something about that name...something glowed in her hands, something he wanted very much...he could see it through eyes that were not his own, and knew that the sparkling object she cupped was the Shikon no Tama, knowing it with knowledge that did not belong to him, but to hundreds of others, all less than him, Naraku. Yes, he wanted that thing...that jewel, the Shikon no Tama. Very much. There was power there, it could make him strong. But there was this silly girl to bypass. He wasn't strong enough in body, not yet...he had to escape with words. Inuyasha...Kikyou...were these people she knew? Cared for? Kikyou...yes, that name was more important...regardless of the nonsense she was spewing about him tricking her. Though, he supposed, it wasn't a terrible idea...
Silkily, he asked, "And who is this...Kikyou...to you, to care so much?"
With those spoken words, she let fly her arrow.
"I am Kikyou!"
Lilac light bloomed from the metal tip of the arrowhead, soaring forward wildly and slicing through the air with a scream. Naraku's stance that had been growing in strength faltered, and he reeled to the side as the purifying arrow blazed its way beside him, embedding itself into the shallow earth behind him.
It was the first time in his life, and would be, for a very long time, the only time he truly felt fear. Struggling to rise again, his gaze met hers, and in the grey blue of this girls' eyes, he could foresee his death. She would be there. Present, watching. And with the same look of loathing and anger. He was afraid.
Another white fletched arrow was already prepared and ready on her bow. The next one would not miss...the next one would not be a warning shot, though why it was only a warning, he did not know. Perhaps something of that conflict within still held her back. He could feel her concentration on him, the focus. There was hatred there...fury. Righteous fury.
One shot, one shot...Kagome kept breathing, hearing her heartbeat raging in her ears. One shot, stand up, bastard...stand up. How dare he goad her like that. Responsible...he was responsible for everything. Not her. Not Kagome. Naraku. It was always in choosing who to blame. Like everything else. Miroku-sama, Sango-chan, Kohaku, Kikyou...Inuyasha.
Was her life a fair sacrifice for peace?
She wasn't afraid.
Her friends...her family.
All of it could be changed. Every moment. If she could let go of the arrow. Release it, let it fly. Choose to say goodbye to the life she loved...
On the ledge Naraku stood, tense, sight trained on the tip of that arrow. His life rode upon it.
And then...it lowered.
Those anger filled eyes never let his go. Not until he turned. Not until he ran. And disappeared, vanishing into the darkness of the forest.
Time did not exist, not in that span Kagome stood in the grasses, her eyes still on the empty place that Naraku had abandoned. Her decision was made; the monster was gone, one way or another. Gone to destroy the lives of Inuyasha and Kikyou, to alter forever that of Kaede-chan, by stealing away her elder sister. Was it right, to let things happen as they already had? Was it right, to let him go, with the knowledge of what was to come? She had done it, Higurashi Kagome. Her future was her fault, not Naraku's anymore. She had the power to change it, and instead chose to live her life over again, exactly as it was. Both hers...and the small remainder of Kikyou's.
Kagome looked down at her hands. The smooth crescent of the bow rested in her open palm, and the stiff feathers of the arrow were twined between the fingers of her other hand. She ran her thumb over the prickly edge, and found that there was no sensation. No feeling. She pressed harder, and found only that her fingers had become ethereal, passing through the solid matter like those of a wraith. Slowly, as her hands became more ghostlike, the bow slipped through her palm and fell lightly to the ground, disappearing into the grasses. The arrow joined it with a wooden clatter. Then there was only this moment, connected to many other moments, as her hands grew transparent, spectral, though when she thought to move them, they flexed and turned the way they always had.
The quiver on her back slipped down and her remaining arrows scattered on the ground, free from their constraint. She felt like light.
Was this supposed to happen, then? Maybe it was merciful. Maybe she would forget. She wouldn't have to stay and watch Kikyou seal away Inuyasha...where she would be going, there would be an Inuyasha waiting for her. With the rest of their ragged little company.
Because, in the end, she believed in their future.
Then there was nothing in the field but the wind, blowing away an unwinding illusion in the form of a young girl from the future.
Inside the small shrine of the Shikon no Tama, Kikyou cupped the shining jewel with warm hands, lightly, knowing that soon it would be gone from the world. Inuyasha would be at her side, and Kaede...she wasn't sure how Kaede would react to the change that would be coming to their quiet little family. Another face floated on the edge of her thoughts, and, curious, she reached out in an attempt to catch it, though it fled from her memory. Vaguely, vaguely she felt it was a younger face, wider eyed and perhaps with fewer burdens. Perhaps her own? She was not sure, though the shadow was in the likeness of one of her yesterdays.
Today would be unlike all other days. Today, with this cursed tama in her hands, there would be a new beginning, and despite the swiftly fading memory of one she should remember, she smiled at the thought.
Today, everything would change.
(and arigatou to you all)
Riddle of the day: Did Kagome make the right decision?