The Low Down: To get things straight, Kikyo is dead to begin with… wow… don't I feel Dickens-ish. You'll notice… Miroku steals the show for a while here. I just can't deny my love for the man.
She turned with the sound of fast footsteps coming towards them. The great doors flung open as a dark haired man ran forward, breathless and fearful.
"What has happened?" Miroku asked urgently.
Sango turned her gaze to the being sitting above her on the dais with questioning eyes. He held his head in small hands and his shoulders shook as though he were crying.
"Why did you send for us, Shippo?" she asked gently.
"Kikyo…" The he whispered, lost in some private memory
Sango and Miroku cast sideways glances to each other. They feared the worst in the little ancient's trembling. Shippo sighed and looked up with glassy eyes at his two angels.
"A crisis has developed." He said, and they stood at attention silently as he quickly wiped at his eyes and pulled himself away from the sad memories.
"The demon Inuyasha and the priestess Kikyo, who had been brought together by love, have been tricked into fighting each other. Tragedy has befallen them." He said with dignity in his child voice.
The two angels gasped and looked to each other in confusion. "What has happened?" Sango said. "And how? I watched them only yesterday."
"I don't know how yet," Shippo said, "But only this morning did the priestess, weak almost to the point of death, call on what little remained of her spiritual powers to cast a spell upon an arrow, and fire it into the heart of Inuyasha. He was turned to stone in the garden and she stood over him, declaring he would never again hurt the world."
"What would have made her attack?" Miroku said.
"I do not know, Miroku." Shippo said, sinking more and more into his depression. "But it was enough to strike her down. After her condemnation of Inuyasha, she returned to her village and asked to rest. They found her dead later that afternoon with grievous injuries of which she told no one."
He bowed his head into his hands once more. Sango, much to her comrade's surprise, stepped forward onto the dais to kneel before the high backed chair where Shippo sat. She placed her hands gently on top of his own and looked up into his eyes when he jumped in surprise.
"Shippo," she said gently, "You grieve for the priestess, who we know you loved dearly, but perhaps you grief is too severe. Will her soul not join us soon in our world, and be at piece here, having forgotten the petty woes of mortal life?"
"No Sango." He shook his head. "I'm afraid it is not so. Their souls will not rest. They cannot pass on."
"Then what will happen to them?" Miroku chimed in from below.
"That is why I need you two." Shippo said. "I need you to guide them so one day, they can have peace. She will be reborn, and Inuyasha will sleep as stone forever, unless…" he trailed off.
Sango looked questioningly at him, but Miroku nodded and stepped forward to take her hand and lead her down the dais and towards the hall. "We understand, Sir." He said firmly. "We will guard the priestess and Inuyasha's statue until balance is restored."
Shippo nodded to him and Miroku pulled Sango back out of the grand room. "What was that all about?" She huffed and jerked her wrist free as soon as the doors were closed behind him.
"He is grieving." Miroku said simply. "And he is our superior. It is not right for us to witness his times of weakness. He may look it, but you know well that Shippo is no child. It is disrespectful to treat him thus."
"It is not a matter of his age." Sango argued. "He grieves for the loss of one he cared for and so deserves our sympathy."
"It is our duty to obey commands, not to give comfort." Miroku said calmly. "And our orders are to protect the priestess Kikyo and Inuyasha."
Sango wondered, as she walked beside the stoic figure, if it was simply common for soul guardians lack any empathy. From what she gathered, she could only assume Miroku had not lived among mortals in his time as a guardian and the though made her somewhat sad. Did he not know love? sympathy? loss? joy? death? as she had in her life in the mortal world…
How could he guard the souls of those if he could not understand and comfort?
"And speaking of…" Miroku coughed into his hand with a gleam in his eye that put Sango on guard. "There really is no need for both of us to try to look after both at once. Were we to divide, you making sure no harm befalls the stone Inuyasha, and myself watching the priestess until the time when she is reborn and of decent age, we could more affectively bring the two together again."
Sango stopped in her steps and observed him coldly. His words, as often they did, made perfect sense, and she might have had no objection to the wisdom behind them, were it not for that glint behind his eyes and the hint behind his voice to accompany it. Sango remembered the lady, as well as any one. She had been a beauty beyond the like of any village maid for miles around.
Miroku's uneasy posture and shimmering layer of sweat was not a help to his case as he continued with somewhat less confidence, "It's only that you are less experienced, having only come into your place as a guardian. I thought only for your benefit and that of the lady if I took her soul into my care."
"No." a chirping voice sounded from their feet with a puff of green smoke. Shippo stood looking up at them with arms crossed over his chest and a stern expression. "I forgot to tell you, I want Sango watching over her. The last thing I need is for you to come popping in on her while she's bathing with the pretense of protecting her from possessed soap."
"That only happened once…" Miroku muttered, cursing his own forgetfulness at being caught again by his superior's ability to dissipate.
"You stay with Inuyasha." Shippo pointed to the grumbling Miroku and with another blast of smoke, vanished from sight.
"I hate it when he does that…" Miroku muttered, earning a smile from his satisfied partner.
"Come on." She grinned and tugged on his sleeve. "Duty calls, remember?"
"Kagome! Your friend is on the phone." Ms. Higurashi's voice called from down the hall. Kagome snapped the text book she was reading shut and hopped off her bed.
"Coming!" She called as she left the room. Sango sat in the corner and watched as the door closed behind the young girl. She couldn't hold back the smile; the girl was sweet, lively, honest, and level-headed.
She had been there for every moment of her young life, from her first breath of life, and through every scrapped knee and lost tooth. For sixteen years, she had come to love the girl like the family she had lost centuries ago.
Sango heard a sigh next to her and rolled her eyes. "Shouldn't you be guarding your statue?" she smirked. "What happened to duty?"
"Guess how many bugs crawled over Inuyasha today." Miroku sighed.
"I don't think I want to know." Sango laughed. "But what if he gets chipped while you're away whining. We must be ever diligent in our protection."
"Why can't we switch for just a decade or so?" He asked desperately. "I'm so bored Sango! At least your protectorate moves every once in a …Whoa!"
Kagome chose that moment to re-enter the room. She took the book up again and sat down at her desk, unaware that this put her directly in front of the two seated guardians, and her chest directly level with Miroku's nose.
"When did those… I mean she get so big?" Miroku said.
"She's sixteen, Miroku." Sango looked at him in disgust.
"That's all!" Miroku looked at her in awe. "I forgot how quickly mortals age. You know… she might just be ready to…"
"To what?!" Sango snapped. "She's still just a child."
"She's definitely not a child." Miroku said with a silly smile on his face. Sango turned and to her horror, saw that Kagome, having changed her mind on studying more that night, was changing for bed.
"Miroku!" she yelled and placed herself between him and Kagome. "Get out of here, pervert!"
"Sango, how can you suggest such a thing?" He genuinely looked hurt. "I am a holy being! A guardian! I am not subject to baser… desires… of self gratification… like… mort…" His speech slurred as Kagome's shirt came off and Sango, in desperation forcibly pushed him through the bedroom window.
"Go back to your lawn gnome!" she yelled as he hit ground.
Kagome pulled her pajama top over her head and looked up confused at hearing, what she thought, was a thump below her window. But she saw nothing when she looked out, so she shrugged it off and climbed into bed.
Sango watched as the girl got comfortable and drifted off to sleep. She was still fuming over Miroku's leering. Weren't guardian angels supposed to be pious? But as much as she hated to agree with him on the subject at all, she couldn't deny the fact that Kagome was no longer the child she'd watched with almost motherly tenderness.
But now that it was so close, the five-hundred year wait did not seem long enough.
Kagome was setting the table for dinner as her mother came through the kitchen door, obviously exhausted, and carrying three bags of groceries. She quickly took the heavy bags from her mother and put the contents away. Ms. Higurashi fell into a chair at the kitchen table and smelled the air appreciatively.
"You made dinner?" She said gently.
"Just a quick stir fry." Kagome said from inside a pantry. "I thought you'd be too tired after a double shift."
"Thank you." She said with utmost sincerity. "I really am. The days just seem to get longer."
"Mama, what if I tried an after-school job to help make ends meet?" Kagome said shyly as she placed the dinner on the table. Her mother worked too hard to support the family of four and she wanted so badly to help make things better.
Grandpa was a temple priest without a parish, but in his mind, the old man was warding off demons left and right and was always making purchases they couldn't really afford on some new charm or ward he found. He always promised he'd get another position in a temple and solve all their problems, but there wasn't that much demand for senile old men performing exorcisms.
"There's no need for that yet, Kagome." Her mother smiled gently. "I want you to just be a happy normal teenager for as long as possible and just focus on school and your friends. You don't need to worry about all that yet."
It was the usual motherly argument that Kagome knew she wouldn't win again, so she put off the suggestion for another time.
"Kagome!" Sota's young voice called from the living room. "How much longer until… Yes! Mom's home! We can eat now." He ran into the kitchen and launched himself into his seat.
"Hey Gramps!" he yelled. "It's dinner time."
Kagome almost snorted at her brother's enthusiasm. It was family tradition that they always waited until everyone made it to the table to eat, and for the young boy, it was a daily torture.
"I'm coming! I'm coming!" the old man walked in grumbling and playing with his latest, all purpose/ completely worthless demon warding charms.
Kagome shook her head at the men of her family and went to serve the food, however much to the dismay of the hungry males, a loud knock at the front door interrupted her before one tiny morsel made it to their plates.
"Not now!" Sota pouted, still holding his dish up.
"I'll get it." Kagome sighed and placed the bowl back on the table, teasing the men's salivary glands.
She ran quickly to the front door and cracked it open. On the front step, giving her a friendly smile, was a pretty young woman in professional dress and a high black pony tail. "Can I help you?" Kagome said quietly.
"Hi there." The lady smiled. "My name is Sango. May I speak with Mr. Higurashi?"
"The only Mr. Higurashi here is my grandfather." Kagome said, opening the door wider and allowing her to step inside.
"I believe that is who I'm looking for." Sango smiled. "You see, I came to ask if he would be interested in taking the position as priest of the Sunset Shrine."
"You want to offer Grandpa a job?!" Kagome gawked at her.
Her mother's voice called from the kitchen, "Kagome, who is it?"
"A lady to talk to Grandpa…" She said walking back into the room with Sango in tow. "About a job as a shrine priest."
"Yes, that's right." Sango smiled and bowed politely to the family. "I represent a small shrine outside of the city in need of a talented priest. We've heard wonderful things about your reputation, Mr. Higurashi, and we would be very pleased if you would share your expertise with our establishment."
Some disbelieving scoffs and under-breath remarks coming from the grandchildren put Sango a little on edge. She had to get them to accept this offer, some how or another and she couldn't let them have any plausible reason at all to decline. She'd have to pull out all the stops right away to make sure everything went to plan.
"The shrine is prepared to offer you this salary in return for your expertise." Sango presented a folded slip of paper and handed it to the eldest Higurashi. The old man discretely opened the fold and his eyebrows, not so discretely, shot up into his receding hairline.
"Sota!" he yelled, "Go pack up my charms!" He bolted from the kitchen and up the stairs, thanking every known deity for rewarding his patience. Kagome followed him with her eyes before darting glances back to Sango, who had an amused and satisfied smile, then her mother, who curiously picked up the slip of paper her grandfather had dropped.
As she read the figure, Ms. Higurashi's brows flared high before she gave a happy chuckle. "Looks like you'll get to stop worrying about getting an after-school job, Kagome." She said with her eyes twinkling with relief or joy. Kagome wasn't sure which it was; maybe a mixture of both.
"Aren't we ever going to eat?" Sota pouted and slumped down in his chair.
Kagome gazed at her surroundings in wonder; she had never been anywhere so beautiful in her life. With the sun gently setting behind old world architecture and full, billowing trees swaying gracefully in the breeze, it was like stepping straight into a faerie tale, just in want of the happily ever after.
She stood at the top of the mountain of stares absorbing her surroundings while her grandfather and brother did tugged at luggage below her. She was so absorbed, just watching multi-colored leaves dance across the stony path, she didn't notice a man in dark robes approach her from the side.
"Good evening." A cool, melodious voice called her from her reverie and made her jump.
"Hello." Kagome said quickly. "I'm sorry, I didn't see you there."
"No." He smiled down at her with sparkling violet eyes and she could hardly help noticing that he was more than just moderately handsome. "My apologies for startling you. Call me Miroku."
He bowed to her slightly and Kagome felt her cheeks heat. "I hope you are comfortable here and will call on me if you have need of anything." He said. "I am training with this shrine to be a priest."
His smile and speech were completely polite and kind, but she still got a funny feeling from the way he looked at her; almost as if there was something he expected from her in some way.
"Would you like a tour of the grounds?" he smiled sweetly and her cheeks darkened a bit more. "To become more acquainted with your new home?"
She squirmed slightly under his gaze, imagining a slight glint behind his eyes that made her uncomfortable, but she passed it off as ridiculous. He was a training holy man. He wouldn't possibly lust after a girl he'd only just seen.
"Yes a tour!" Grandpa appeared suddenly at the top of the stairs. "Wonderful way for me to inspect the grounds. So you're my apprentice eh? Well, it'll be hard work, son, but have no worries, I'll teach you everything I know. Now lets get off!"
The old man grabbed the sleeves to Miroku's robes and dragged him off down the shrine paths, babbling every bit of his knowledge of ancient legends and antique artifacts, while Sota bounded after them, bombarding Miroku with a million questions at once. She couldn't help laughing quietly at the monk's distress with her relatives. She and her mother gave each other knowing glances and followed from a safe distance, observing the beauty of their new home and tuning out the ramblings of the eldest Higurashi.
They walked all through the grounds, past old fountains and goldfish ponds, through the building and temple, and explored the courtyards, all the while Sota running around excitedly and Grandpa pestering Miroku who was valiantly keeping his patience through the entire ordeal. They walked past one door, almost crumbling it looked so ancient, and Kagome pulled away from the rest of the group to look at it. The wood was so rotten, she was afraid to touch it, or else she'd bring the whole thing down, but she was curious to what was hidden behind it.
Vines grew over the top of the wall, suggesting no one had gone into this section of the shrine for quite some time. Kagome took a quick breath and steeled her nerve. Even if she got in trouble, she could always say she didn't know she wasn't supposed to go inside.
The door swung open much more easily than she had expected and she fell forward as she lost its support, landing smack on her chest on the stone pavement. With a loud 'Omph!' she looked up and found she was inside a garden, overgrown and wild, but still completely beautiful.
"Wow! Cool!" Sota jumped over her prone figure and rushed in front of her, exploring every corner of the hidden Eden. Her mother and Grandfather came in after him, also looking around with fascination. They didn't look back at Miroku, leaning casually against the wall and pealing an ancient scroll from the rotting door frame.
The wood crumbled and fell to the ground, no longer having a five-hundred year old sealing spell as it's structural support and Miroku pocketed the paper with a secret smile, then moved to help Kagome to her feet. When he'd made that spell, so many years ago, he had made it so only one soul would ever be able to break the seal.
"Do you like it?" he whispered quietly. "It's a very old garden that hasn't been kept for years."
"It could do with some cleaning up." Grandpa piped up, tugging at a hanging vine on one of the walls. "But we can always get it right again."
"Actually, I kind of like it like this." Kagome said a little louder than she had intended, embarrassingly bringing all attention to herself. "I like how wild it is. I don't think I'd like to change it much at all." She blushed.
Then, as the winds blew weeping vines from the trees, something hidden in the back caught her attention and she stepped quickly towards it.
She pushed back vines and found, covered in moss, a statue of a boy with an arrow in his chest and triangular ears on top of his head. But most striking was the boy's face.
It was the saddest expression she had ever seen in her life.
"Miroku," she called back to the front. "What is this?" She turned back to the statue and felt like her heart would break just looking into it's stone face.
"Ahh, yes." Miroku looked over her shoulder with a cryptic smile. "This is something very special. There is an ancient legend that goes along with this statue."
Now Kagome had heard these words more times that she'd like to remember, but coming from Miroku, they didn't get the customary roll of the eyes that always came with her Grandfather's "ancient legends."
"They say that five-hundred years in the past, there was a priestess who fell in love with a demon. But they were tricked into hating and fighting each other and she killed him with her arrow and later died herself. This statue is a reminder of their tragic fates." He looked down to her, surprised the amount of sympathy she showed to the statue.
"He looks so sad." She murmured.
"Yes, he does." Miroku nodded. "Some say he is the stone body of the demon of legend, and will sleep for all time from his lost love's spell."
Kagome shook herself back into reality when she heard the enthusiastic 'Ooos' and 'Ahhs' from her brother and grandfather, peeking in at the stone figure at her side.
'His stone body?' she thought, looking into his sad grey eyes.
Suddenly Miroku laughed at her shoulder and walked back up the path. "No more than some silly folk tale." He grinned back at her and waved the family on. "Come along now, and I'll show you the house."
Her family milled back out through the door they entered and Kagome followed a few steps before stopping and looking over her shoulder once again.
Of course it was just a legend, a folk tale, and there was no way it could possibly ever be true, but she had been so fascinated by the story of the sad boy who had been killed by the woman he loved. His eyes... they just seemed so heartbroken and hopeless in a way no artist should be able to capture.
She pulled back the vines once more and slipped in close to the statue to get one more look into his face. It was just too perfect. How was any sculptor that skilled to carve him with such intricacy. The feather fibers at the end of the arrow were so fine and delicate, Kagome was amazed by their sheer perfection. With gentle fingers, she reached forward and brushed the arrow's end with her fingertips.
The whole shaft of the arrow, from stone feathers right up to the boys chest, crumbled to dust and fell to the ground.
She gave a frantic yelp of surprise and panic and dropped to the pavement to see if there were any pieces. But it was completely un-reparable. It was dust! Not even big enough specks to glue together.
"Great!" she whispered in a panic. "Just great! I'm here for five seconds and I break a five-hundred year old statue!"
"Kagome!" she heard her family call out and she looked around frantically to see if any one had seen. She gave a slight sigh to discover she was quite alone, but not enough to soothe her pounding heart. If Miroku found out, he'd make sure her grandfather was fired before sunset and they'd all be shipped back home!
She couldn't let that happen to her family!
She gave one last frantic look to the crumbled arrow, hoping it would have magically reassembled itself so she could reattach it to the statue, but of course no such luck.
"Coming!" she called and jumped back to her feet, pushing back through the vines and closing them as to best hide the broken statue. There was only one thing she could do now if they ever found out: Deny everything!
She rushed back through the gate to find her family and prayed no one would notice. She'd just pretend nothing had ever happened and if anyone did ask her any questions, she had one philosophy.
One philosophy never failed: When in doubt, play dumb.
Next Chapter: Stone Faced