A Single Wish
Scroll Nine – Journey with a Spider
"Don't you think it would be a better idea to head in the direction that the monster came from?"
Kagome could feel her patience fading fast; she looked over her shoulder at the man who had been following her for the past few miles. He was courteous enough to stay a fair distance behind her, but his presence was still oppressive.
"If you want to go there, I'm not gonna stop you," she snapped.
He had been looking off to one side, as if he were admiring the scenery, but now he turned languidly back to her, holding her gaze steadily and with a flicker of smug amusement. "I couldn't leave you to face that youkai all alone, miko," he said in a light, mocking tone.
She glared at him, feeling a pinprick of anger suddenly swell in her mind, a thousand curses and other violent actions occurring to her. She ignored them along with him, turning her head back to face the road ahead, though it wasn't as if she needed to. The countryside remained bleak all around her, the only colors being those of dead and dying things. Seeing the land that had once been so vibrant in such a state as it was now gave her pause; lost in memories now, her eyes drifted to the side of the rode.
Naraku watched her with carefully concealed interest. The old man had told them that the monster that had scourged this land had risen out of the Northeast, and that would certainly be where the root of this problem lay. However, that was not the direction that the miko had chosen. It was not that she did not see the logic in going to the land where the monster had originated, and yet had chosen to instead follow it as it headed west. No, Naraku knew better. The little priestess was obviously chasing after the monster in hopes of coming across her old companions. Surely they would be doing the same? He chuckled to himself. She was too easy to read.
* * *
Nightfall came quickly, making the landscape around them only that much more unsettling. Following the usual motions, Kagome had settled down when she saw the coming of twilight, ready to begin making camp when it struck her that she had no supplies. She frowned, a twinge of sadness striking her as memories of her friends once again rose to the surface.
Naraku sat not far from her in a very nonchalant manor, not even looking at her, as if it were perfectly normal that he do so. Kagome looked at him sharply, feeling a vein pulse in her head at his attitude. He was doing it on purpose to bother her, she knew it, and by reacting she was just going to be giving him the satisfaction he wanted; with this in mind, she bit her tongue and turned back away, settling down with her back to him. It would be easier to ignore him if she didn't have to keep looking at him.
He continued to watch her, smirking at her naivety when she turned her back on him as she lay down to rest, with not a word or even a look at him. This miko, who shared Kikyou's soul; they were nothing alike. Kikyou would never have left herself so open to an enemy or any she was even remotely suspicious of. It would be far too easy to snap her thin neck as she lay there, he mused over the thought with a pleased smirk, but no, if his guesses were correct, he would need her before this journey was over. It would do no good to kill her now.
* * *
Kagome received no rest that night, her dreams filled with vague images that left her uneasy long into the next day. Her muscles, having become accustomed to her bed, did not take to the hard ground either, and so she spent a majority of her time trying to ignore the many aches and pains that assaulted her as she trudged along the worn path.
Naraku continued to follow her, this time more closely. Kagome kept a close watch on him, eternally aware of his growing shouki. The entire night, whenever she woke from a particularly fitful dream, she'd seen his blood red eyes glowing in the oppressive dark, watching her. Had he slept at all? She grit her teeth at the thought of those hateful eyes.
"Why are you following me?" she asked over her shoulder; she was beginning to hate the silence. It left her to her own thoughts.
"I'm not following you, we are merely going in the same direction," he replied in that nonchalant manner that grated on her nerves. Who said he could act so familiar and easy around her?
"Fine," she conceded, "Why are you going in the same direction as I am?"
He chuckled. "I don't think that's any business of yours, miko."
Kagome fought back her rising anger; not trusting herself to reply in an even tone, she went back to ignoring him, her eyes sweeping the landscape ahead.
There was no sign of inhabitation, nor even any recent signs of others passing along this road. Her heart fell slightly at this, her thoughts reaching out to her friends once more. 'No, that's ok,' she comforted herself, 'they might have passed by a different road. Or they may not have used the road at all.' That's right, Kirara would have carried Sango, Miroku and Shippo and Inuyasha would have run alongside them. Cutting through the forest would have been faster than taking the road that wound around it anyway...
She frowned at the ragged branches overhead, with their bunches of dead leaves, whistling in the sickly wind. The boughs, once so strong and proud, now looked skeletal, raking at the sky longingly, as if begging for relief. Their roots showed, dried out, the dirt crumbling away from them. When the wind stirred it called up small cyclones of dust and dead leaves.
Sighing, Kagome shook her head of her dismal thoughts. Had all of this been caused by the monster that was said to have risen? This couldn't have all happened suddenly, could it? No, it must have come about over a period of time. But...if that were so, how long had it been? How long had she been absent from this land?
* * *
It took nearly a whole day of travel to reach the next village. Unlike Kaede's village, this one was not in utter shambles and already Kagome had seen several people, though they ducked quickly back inside their ramshackle homes as soon as she looked at them.
Naraku had disappeared; though she could still feel his shouki somewhere outside the village. She was comforted that he was no longer following her. It would be easier to try and talk to people if he wasn't intimidating them with his presence.
Turning a corner, she bumped awkwardly into two children whom she had not spotted.
"Ah, sorry," she apologized, smiling at them apologetically. "I didn't see you guys."
Both were peasant children, dressed in shabby clothes that were probably meant to last them through the year, if not more than that. One was a dirty-faced little girl, her wild black hair gathered into a messy ponytail. The other was a scruffy boy who could only be the girl's older brother, his knees and elbows scraped up from many a tussle with other children. When he gaped at her, she saw that he was missing a tooth.
Frightened, the children sprang back, attempting to run. "Ahh, monster-!" the boy yelled, grabbing hold of his sister's hand earnestly.
Kagome stared after them, surprised. "N-no, wait, hey-!" she called after them, jumping forward and catching hold of the little girl by the arm.
The girl cried out and immediately her brother swung around, grasping his sister's arm and pulling as hard as he could to get Kagome to let go, ignoring Kagome as she attempted to explain herself.
"Get off my sister you big ugly monster!" he yelled, then gulped as he caught the ferocious look in Kagome's eyes.
"Ugly?!" she shrieked at him. "Why you little-!"
Before another word could be said, though, a distressed looking rotund woman came into sight.
"Aki? Taro? What's going on?"
Kagome released her hold, getting to her feet, her cheeks slightly pink with embarrassment at being caught in such a situation. Taking advantage of this immediately, the little boy, now identified as Taro, pulled his sister away a safe distant and stood in front of her protectively, glaring at Kagome as the woman drew closer.
"Mom," the little girl murmured, looking slightly abashed. The woman stopped directly behind her children, looking down at them disapprovingly for a moment before looking up at Kagome with an apologetic smile.
"I'm sorry, I hope they didn't cause you any trouble," she said, placing her hands on her children's heads.
Kagome flushed slightly. "N-no, I'm sorry. I must have scared them," the little boy was still watching her warily, his eyes narrowing when she glanced at him. "I'm looking for some friends of mine and I was hoping someone here might have seen them, or have heard of their passing close by."
The woman's brows raised at this and she looked around questioningly. "Are you traveling alone?"
Kagome paused, her mouth slightly agape. What should she say? No, she wasn't actually? That a very dangerous man was lurking outside the village and had been following her? That wouldn't go over very well.
"...Yes, I am," she finally managed to say, hoping that her pause did not make her seem suspicious. "I was separated from my friends when we were attacked by a youkai, but we were heading in this direction and I was hoping that they might have passed before me."
Well, it wasn't too terribly far from the truth.
The woman seemed to accept this and nodded sadly. "I will tell you all that I can, but please, it does not do to stand out here, let us go inside. I'm sure you would like somewhere safer to stay for the night," the woman smiled at her kindly.
Kagome felt a pang of guilt for lying to the woman, but she would like to get out of the open. In the short time that it had taken for them to speak several of the villagers had begun to gather at their doors or windows, regarding Kagome curiously.
She smiled at the woman. "That would be nice, thank you."
* * *
"My name is Umi. And these are my children, Aki and Taro," the woman said with a smile after Kagome had sat down.
"It's very nice to meet you, my name is Kagome," she replied with a small smile.
Umi turned her back, bustling over an old pot that was beginning to steam. Aki stepped forward shyly, presenting Kagome with a chipped bowl filled with rice, which Kagome accepted with a small and a nod of thanks. Taro stayed seated on the other side of the room, glaring daggers at Kagome with his arms crossed over his chest.
"Thank you for the food, Umi-san," Kagome said softly. She knew that the people here couldn't have very much to spare and she with nothing to repay them with...
Umi looked over her shoulder with a large grin. "No need to worry dear; now, you were saying that you were looking for some friends you had lost?"
Kagome nodded. "Yes. A monk, a demon slayer, a cute little kitsune and..." her thoughts lingered on Inuyasha, "a boy with white hair and wearing red. I think they might still be chasing the monster that attacked us."
Umi was silent for a moment, and when she spoke again she was grave. "A fearful youkai passed close to this village some months ago; many of our men went out to try and slay it, but few returned...I did not see any of your friends, but one of the men who went out to slay the monster might have. In the morning you can ask them."
There was a lingering sadness to her voice; Kagome knew not to ask any more tonight.
* * *
Despite her accommodations, Kagome slept no better that night, her dreams filled once more with hazy images of destruction, and once, a dream where Inuyasha walked before her, but try as she might, she could not catch up to or call out to him. Fortunately, though, she was far less stiff than she had been the day before, and that in itself was a blessing.
When she awoke she found that none of the hut's other inhabitants were inside and hesitantly ventured outside into the dismal daylight.
Waiting outside was Taro, his arms crossed over his chest, looking every bit like a disgruntled old man. His mouth twitched slightly upon seeing her.
Kagome gave him a smile, though she felt slightly uneasy. "Oh, uhm, good morn-"
"Ma and Aki 're in th' rice field, so I'm 'sposed ta show ya 'round so's ya can talk ta some o' th' guys that fought that youkai," he turned away from her just as sharply as he had cut her off and stalked away, glancing over his shoulder once to make sure she was following.
The village was small enough, consisting of only maybe fifteen or so buildings. There was a small shrine to the local gods by a spring at the edge of the village and on the opposite side Kagome could now see the rice fields, where somewhere over a dozen different figures appeared to be working diligently. Without much trouble Kagome caught onto Naraku's shouki, feeling only somewhat relieved that he seemed to have stayed far enough away so as not to distress the villagers. And still further away there loomed that overpowering shouki; the monster that had started all of this trouble...
Taro stopped outside of a house, standing to one side of the door and looking dead ahead, his arm's still crossed over his chest in a huff. Kagome stood staring at the door for a moment; it would be rude to just barge in unannounced. Confused, she looked at Taro until he finally consented to look at her and in that brief moment he just rolled his eyes and jerked his head at the door meaningfully before looking away again. Kagome blinked at him but understood what he meant nonetheless. Just go in, stupid.
Knocking on the frame of the door, Kagome peered inside of the hut hesitantly, pushing aside the reed screens that hung over the doorway as she poked her head inside. "...Hello? Sorry for the intrusion."
Inside a man lay on the ground, bandages wrapped around his forehead and over his left eye; he was covered up to his neck by a ragged old blanket, but Kagome had a feeling that other parts of him must be bandaged as well. A young girl sat by his side silently, seemingly preparing him a meal of soup. His right eye watched Kagome as she entered, alert despite his wounds. Somewhere outside Kagome could hear the soft droning of a bug.
"Welcome," he greeted when she knelt by his side. "I was told by Umi-san to expect you. My name is Gennosuke and this here is my daughter, Shizuru. Umi-san says that you are looking for friends and that you were hoping that I might have met them."
He seemed lively and smiled genuinely; his daughter, however, remained silent, not even turning to greet Kagome when she was introduced.
Kagome stumbled at first, having thought that the man would be feeble upon her entrance. "Y-yes, I'm looking for my friends who I think are chasing after the youkai that has been rampaging through these parts. Umi-san said that there were several men from the village who might have seen them."
The man gave her a grim smile. "I'm afraid Umi-san lied to you. Of the men that went to fight the youkai, I'm the only one who returned, and only barely at that, as you can see," he chuckled a little without humor. "Umi-san's husband was one of them. You'll have to forgive her."
Kagome felt a pang of surprise and sadness hit her and suddenly she understood Umi's grim attitude the night before.
"As for your friends," Gennosuke continued, "I saw only one of them in the chaos. The boy with the white hair, he came suddenly and drove the beast farther west."
* * *
Kagome left the hut soon after, thanking the man for his news and wishing him well. Grimly, she nodded to Taro, wondering if he had heard everything that had transpired inside. Taro did not seem like the type to take pity from strangers.
She walked back toward Umi's house, deciding that she would thank the rotund, kindly woman one last time before she set back out again.
Almost as if she had known Kagome were coming, Umi stood waiting at her door, little Aki clinging to her sheepishly. Kagome smiled at them both and bowed graciously.
"Thank you for everything, I really appreciate all you've done for me," she said.
Umi nodded and pressed a small bag of rice into Kagome's hands despite Kagome's protests. "Now now, it's only a little bit, but you look as though all you've got are the clothes on your back at the moment. Good luck finding your friends, dear."
Kagome finally accepted the woman's charity, her cheeks pink with embarrassment and gratitude. "Thank you, Umi-san. Good luck to you too."
* * *
As she exited the village, Kagome was stopped by a voiced that called out to her, and the sound of footsteps hurrying her way.
Stopping, Kagome was surprised to see Shizuru running towards her urgently.
"Kagome-san," Shizuru bent slightly, trying to catch her breath when she finally reached Kagome, "my father said that there was something else you might want to know. He said that a few days before the youkai passed by the village, he saw a ghostly young miko with a magnificent bow, and that she was wandering towards the west. He said that he thought the boy and the youkai were both chasing the miko, Kagome-san."
* * *
Kagome was lost in thought as she left, not even bothering to take notice when Naraku rejoined her about a half a mile outside the village, walking in complete silence almost directly next to her now.
Chewing distractedly on her bottom lip, Kagome was lost in thought. The miko that the man had mentioned could only be Kikyou; she couldn't really imagine Inuyasha running off after any other miko, after all. Perhaps it were all just a coincidence, though, she told herself and immediately scoffed aloud despite herself. Oh yes, of course, naturally.
'If only my life were ever that easy,' she thought sourly, immediately feeling a shock of guilt and embarrassment at her inner tone. Why, however, she was not completely sure.
Her thoughts turned back to the information she had gathered from the man in the village; she had heard at least some news of Inuyasha now, but what of Sango, Miroku and Shippo? Or Kohaku, Sango's younger brother? Surely they wouldn't sit idly by with such a threat roaming the countryside?
"Inuyasha is following Kikyou to the west," Naraku intruded on her inner sanctity suddenly, but in his usual cool, smug tone.
Kagome looked up at him, flinching slightly at his proximity to her. Putting a good distance between them immediately, she watched him warily; he hadn't meant what he said as a question. Somehow, he'd found out what she'd learned from the injured man in the village.
He smirked, that frightening devilish gleam in his eye. "Don't wory, miko, I'm not going to bite you," he chuckled.
Kagome felt her cheeks flush, her anger rising. "How did you know?" she demanded.
He chuckled again, those penetrating red eyes holding her gaze, refusing to let go. From within one of his billowing sleeves he pulled out a round object that Kagome was all too familiar with. The Saimyousho's nest.
Her mind registered a thousand questions all at once, too late she tried to mask her surprise at seeing the home of Naraku's disgusting messengers once more. Had he had that with him all along? When had he- suddenly it dawned on her and she cursed herself for her stupidity. The droning she had heard outside of the hut when she had entered! It could only have been a Saimyousho - after all, she hadn't heard a single natural sound other than that odd noise before that. It should have struck her as odd right away!
Somewhere in the back of her mind, a small voice prodded her, letting her know that Kikyou wouldn't have been duped so easily, but she shoved it away, smothering it as she fought to put together some reply.
"Surprised, miko? I see that you are," he cooed, replacing the nest inside of his robes. "Don't be angry; after all, how am I to keep you safe if you withhold information from me? This was my only means of obtaining any news you might have gathered while in the village."
"What?! 'Keep me safe?!' I don't remember that ever being discussed," Kagome challenged, anger threatening to completely consume her. She simply could not stand him!
"That's because it wasn't discussed; however, you can't mean to tell me you think you can defend yourself in the state you're in now, miko," he said critically, coming closer to her in a purposely aggressive manner, his red eyes gleaming. "Remember, miko, it is your powers that are waning in the face of this overwhelming shouki and mine that are returning and strengthening. With no practical training to aid you in your time of need either, you are as helpless as any other wretched human. Do not think for a second it is you who has the upper hand here, miko; it is only because I still see a use for you that you are even alive now."
Those eyes, fixed on hers with such intensity, truly frightened her.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
H-hello everyone, long time no see, huh?
Uhm, well, first off, let me apologize profusely for how long it's taken me to write this chapter. A lot of stuff happened in life and about a year ago I did start writing this again when suddenly the computer froze up that I was working on, and in a rush to get to class, I ripped out the memory stick that I had been using to save the file on and lost the five or so pages I had written so far. I became discouraged by that, unfortunately and went back to only writing for school projects until, well, just a few days ago.
I'm taking the year off after graduating from high school to save up money for college and to work on different projects, so I have plenty of time to devote to writing at the moment, and I plan to use to its full extent. After graduating I went into a kind of creative stupor and was feel very lousy about everything artistic I had done previously, but now that I've started writing again, I feel much better and I plan to continue for a very long time.
I appreciate everyone's concern and I understand very much if you're angry with me right now. However, I promise to do my best in the future and hope that maybe you can forgive me for my lack of devotion to my projects.
Well, here's to the new year, and I hope to see you all again soon! Ja'ne!