Chapter VII – The Past
The blue surrounded him, and Souta struggled to see beyond its blinding flash. When it evaporated suddenly, he was still at the bottom of the well, held tight in Hakkaku's arms.
"You can put me down," he mumbled, embarrassed he was being carried like a six-year-old. Nothing had happened. Besides a bit of light, they were where they'd started.
The youkai didn't oblige, staring at the stones against them and whirling around. "What is this?" He cried, panic making his voice hoarse.
Ginta echoed his movements, examining dirt and rock sides with wide eyes.
Souta realized with a start he could see them. The night's consuming blackness had vanished. Craning his neck up, he saw fading sunlight above. Sunlight? Where was the shrine's roof? "What's going on? Did we travel back?" He knew before they answered. "Are we in the past?"
"We are," Hakkaku set him down with a slow nod. "But not our past."
Before Souta could ask for clarification, the smell of burning wood reached his nose; not the kind of comforting atmosphere a crackling hearth gave off, but the hot fire of numerous logs – or structures he jolted. Was his home burning?
"We have to get out of here!" He surged for the well's sides, clawing soft dirt with a mania he didn't know he could muster. "The house is on fire!" His fingers slid in thick clay, and he grasped ferociously.
Hakkaku grabbed him, and he and Ginta leapt the great depth, bunching legs in concentration. They sprung into the air for a moment before landing in soft grass.
Grass?! Souta's mind screamed in question. The well-house floor was wood – he had helped Grandfather replace rotting planks the summer Kagome said she'd faced the Thunder Brothers. Why was their grass?!
"Calm down," Ginta crouched before him as Hakkaku released him. "You're alright."
"What's going on?!"
"We traveled back, just like we guessed we would."
Souta felt hysteria creep in. "Why is there burning?!"
Ginta wagged a finger. "That's the question pup," he straightened his legs and rose. "And we'll find out together."
Souta followed his gaze as he surveyed the area. The shrine, full of perfectly trimmed trees and landscaped tiles, was gone. A few houses rimmed an open field in its place. No – not houses, with clapboard sides and paned windows – huts, his mind supplied. The kind he'd seen in textbooks. They were all on fire, flames licking their thatched roofs in eager delight.
His mouth dropped open. There were no firetrucks rushing to the scene, uniformed figures spilling from an oversized truck with long hoses in tow. Only darting flashes of movement and screaming circled the scene.
He jerked. Screaming? Cries of terror – unfamiliar in their pitch and fervor – rent the air, filling him with a dread that left his stomach weak and his knees wobbly. He had never heard such panic, but instincts long neglected in the 21st century reared. There was danger ahead.
Souta looked to the wolf youkai beside him, cringing as another cry pierced the early evening. "Help them!" He managed.
Wordlessly, Ginta bent down and motioned for him to climb atop his back. Souta scrambled on as best he could. As soon as he'd clasped his hands together around the youkai's neck, he was off, Hakkaku right behind, running and leaping toward the huts. The world lurched as Ginta jumped a pile of bark-peeled logs, then reeled again as he hurdled the beginnings of fence posts staked into the ground.
"How do you know this isn't your time?" Souta asked breathlessly, too afraid of the scene fast approaching to be enthralled at this new method of travel.
"The smell is all wrong," Hakkaku said, surging ahead. "There are less people, and miasma is thick in the air."
"M-Miasma?" Souta didn't like the sound or taste of the word.
"It's dark energy given off by very powerful youkai," Ginta responded, slowing as they neared the outpost. There weren't enough huts to name it a village. "This miasma smells of Naraku, but that's impossible. Kagome defeated him."
Hakkaku glanced back over his shoulder. "It can't be him. It's not nearly as strong as he was."
Souta looked past them as they took a hill and crested it, now close enough to feel the fire's heat. He stared around and horror replaced his dread.
A handful of bloodied, crumpled bodies littered the ground, staining the grass red. Long, horizontal gashes marred their chests and faces, as if a large, rampaging animal had attacked, and Souta blinked, uncomprehending. He had never seen death up close, and the violence of these was jarring. A droning note of panic began buzzing in his ear, fogging his mind with white noise.
"W-What…?" He fumbled for words. "W-What's happened…?"
The wolves didn't answer, tense as they scanned the field. A clump of tall grass shifted nearby, and all three turned, spotting the small face of a girl, trying to hide. A wound gushed at her eye, obscuring half her face in dark, oozing blood.
"I-It's okay," Souta called, fighting to be heard above the drone between his temples.
The girl, no more than seven, shook her head mutely, pointing upward as a deep voice broke out across the sky. Flashes of red and white zipped overhead, and a canine snarl ripped through the air.
"Get away from me wench! The jewel is mine!"
Though the taunt was leering and angry, there was a quality to it Souta recognized. The tall grass shifted, and the little girl disappeared.
"Give it back!" A woman cried. "You can't do this!"
Hakkaku and Ginta both gasped, ears and noses twitching furiously.
"It… it can't be…," Ginta mumbled.
Souta squinted to learn what they'd just gleamed. Two forms raced each other in the sky, jumping across treetops to the outpost's center. They were too hard to make out, moving faster than he could track.
"How could you?" The woman accused. "I trusted you!"
"Keh. Your mistake."
The pair drew closer. Without trees to keep them aloft, each began descending on the huts. As they slowed and came down, Souta's mouth dropped wide.
A woman dressed in old fashioned miko robes, who looked a lot like his sister, had an arrow trained from the head of a long bow on a man. A man with white hair, sharp claws, and a red haori. Souta blinked at the cruel smile on Inu-Yasha's face in disbelief.
They each landed in tandem and faced off, seemingly oblivious to the two wolf youkai and human boy.
Souta felt his fingers unclamp from their vice. "We have to stop this!" He whispered, almost unaware he was speaking. "Something's happened to Inu-Yasha!"
The hanyou's ears swiveled at the sound of his name, and his eyes shifted momentarily away from the priestess.
"Who the hell are you three?" He called, drawing one hand behind his back.
The action wasn't fast enough; even from a distance, Souta caught the glint of his grandfather's shikon charm dangling from a necklace in his grip.
The woman took his distraction and fired her arrow.
Inu-Yasha reacted, ducking low. He shot up and leapt for her, arm outstretched. "You think you can kill me?!" He growled, slashing claws across her chest. "I know you Kikyo!"
Blood burst out in the white of her robes, and she staggered back, trying to escape the bite of his inhuman strike.
He made to swipe again, and Souta screamed, wrestling for Ginta to put him down. "No!" He leapt from his perch, stumbling into a run. "Leave her alone! You don't want to do this!" He raced into the square, leaving the two youkai staring bewildered behind him.
Not for long.
Twin shouts yelped as the chikai pulled them forward, and Hakkaku and Ginta barreled through the distance Souta had created, rocketing for his rushing frame.
Kikyo and Inu-Yasha froze, watching as both men turned in mid-air, ducking and rolling to avoid colliding with the boy. They each landed on their feet, palming the ground with matching snarls.
"Stop!" Hakkaku barked. The word was barely decipherable, sounding more like a warning yip than actual speech
Souta understood and halted, looking back. "He's not himself," he whispered. "He's being puppeted by the jewel, just like Kagome was."
Ginta rose, shaking his head. "You don't know who he used to be before he met Nee-san," though he spoke to the boy, his eyes lifted to the bewildered priestess and hanyou. "He was as much a murderer as we were."
Inu-Yasha's surprise melted to fury, and he glowered, baring fangs. "You don't know me demon," he spat. "And this business doesn't concern you."
Hakkaku stood, brushing himself off and fixing the other man with a hard glare. "It does actually. You've upset my little brother, and I won't stand for it," he flexed his claws, lowering into a crouch. "Leave this woman and her people alone."
Inu-Yasha's lip curled up in derision. "Why? They're only human."
"Only?" Souta choked. "Kagome and I are 'only' human!"
He blinked. "Is that supposed to mean something to me?"
The youngest Higruashi's fists clenched at his sides, and Ginta stepped up, sweeping him to his back in one fluid motion.
"Hold on cub," he said. "We need to be able to move freely to end this."
Souta nodded numbly, opening his fists and lacing his fingers around his collar. "How is the jewel doing this? Why did it send us to the wrong time?"
Ginta showed his own fangs, lower and more canine than Inu-Yasha's. "One problem at a time."
Kikyo retreated further as her foe turned to face the wolves.
"I don't know who the hell you are," he growled. "But if you're here for the shikon-no-tama, you'll have to go through me to get it."
Hakkaku leered. "That's the idea Inu-koro," he launched himself forward without further pretense, and Ginta followed a breath behind. They roared, leading with sharp claws.
Inu-Yasha dodged their swipes deftly, becoming a blur of red as he outpaced their assault. "You can't stop me," he taunted. "I'm the son of a great demon lord!"
"Yes, yes, we know," Ginta swiveled back around, keeping himself between Souta and the hanyou. "Your half-brother is Sesshomaru, and your father's sword is Tessaiga. We've heard your boasts before mutt!" He leapt again, this time digging into a shoulder of fire-rat fabric.
Inu-Yasha barely reacted to the blow, staring at the face inches from his with wide eyes. "What sword? How do you know of my family's fang?!"
"It helps you protect humans!" Souta yelled from Ginta's back. "Remember? Your friends?!"
Inu-Yasha swore and jumped back, shock splayed across his hardened features. "I've never met any of you before! How do you know me?!"
Kikyo straightened, clutching her wound. "The jewel already spreads your infamy, my love," the endearment was bitter on her lips. "More will come for you. Let me destroy it, as we planned."
Inu-Yasha shook his head, reeling and staggering back. "I was going to wish to be human," his voice wavered. "For you."
"A lie," she shot back, letting go of her chest and retaking up her bow with both hands. "You just wanted its power for yourself."
"Enough!" Hakkaku barked. "We know what evil the shikon-no-tama is capable of! We want no part of it!" He sprung at Inu-Yasha, raking nails down his cheek. "Leave this village ALONE!" Red erupted from four slash marks, marring his face from ear to mouth.
Ginta was right behind him, staying close so Souta's lack of proximity wouldn't hinder his movements. "Go Inu-koro! Go make your wish!" A vicious thought occurred to him. If Inu-Yasha wanted something for selfish means and became trapped inside the jewel, as Kagome had told him was the fate of all who did, then Lord Kouga would have nothing standing in his way. His sister would join their clan freely, and be part of their family without reserve or regret.
Inu-Yasha slipped the necklace into a fold in his haori, clutching his face as blood ran down his neck. "This isn't over wolves."
Hakkaku advanced, making to swipe again. "You're right for once Inu-koro. This is just the beginning."
The hanyou sent him a dark glare before crouching and leaping into the sky. He touched down on a burning hut roof, caving it in as he pushed off and jumped again.
"No!" Kikyo cried, loosing an arrow after him. "He can't escape!" The missile burned with pink light but flew wide, streaking several feet past him. White hair and bloodied haori disappeared into the forest, leaving only the smell of smoke, and the tingle of released miko energy in the air.
Ginta and Hakkaku felt the hair on the back of their necks rise, realizing for the first time they were dangerously close to a priestess who wasn't Kagome.
"Were we just… brave?" Ginta whispered to his compatriot, staring at the woman in dawning horror. "What's the little one done to us?"
"I don't know," Hakkaku didn't let his gaze stray from her angry eyes, appraising them in near-fury. "But I think now's a good time to regain our senses and run."
Ginta nodded in agreement, when he felt the small hands move at his neck. Souta left his roost a second time, landing heavily at the youkai's feet.
"Are you alright?" He called across the square. "I'm sorry he hurt you – he's not usually like that."
Kikyo's eyes narrowed. "It seems Inu-Yasha has deceived us both child. He has finally shown his true nature."
Souta moved to take a step forward, but a strong hand stopped him, grabbing his upper arm.
"She's a witch Souta," Ginta spoke urgently. "Nee-san has fought her many times."
The boy wrenched himself free. "Maybe she's as different as Inu-Yasha is," he walked towards her, willing them to argue.
The spell tugged again, and they trudged forward warily, wanting only to disappear into the trees as the hanyou had done.
Kikyo watched their exchange with a guarded expression. As Souta drew near, she studied his jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers. "Your attire is strange," she said softly.
He stopped before her, feeling the twin warmths of Hakkaku and Ginta come up behind him. "I'm not from around here," he managed.
"Indeed," she flicked attention back to the wolf youkai. "How do you command these demons? They follow you and fight on your behalf. Do you control their will?"
Souta sighed. "No. They're only bound to my side by a spell."
"Hmm," interest lit her features. "A powerful priest."
"He thinks so," he joked lightly.
Ginta shifted in unease. The boy was being too candid. He had faced this woman himself in battle, and though she barely resembled the clay and earth puppet she had been then, he remembered the sting of her arrows and the eerie call of her soul stealers well.
Kikyo allowed pain to flash across her face as she palmed her chest. Red seeped down her front, reaching for her waist. "Your arrival is most fortuitous, little acolyte. Will your youkai aid me in putting out these fires?"
Souta nodded without even glancing back. "But they're not mine."
"Then how do you know they will?"
The boy turned and reached for Ginta's hand. Trust burned brightly in his eyes as he met the man's gaze. "Because friends help each other."
A lump grew in Ginta's throat. Souta looked much like his sister, caring and sincere in a way only she had been. He took the outstretched palm, swallowing small fingers in his own.
The past was going to be a treacherous place.
Kouga had grown desperate, but even enlisting the help of the old man and Kagome's mother hadn't dissuaded the girl from getting out of bed. Her grandfather had threatened another spell as she stood in the doorway of her bedroom, but Kagome's stare had darkened dangerously, and she'd warned that no one would help him clean the shrine for the new year if he tried anything more.
He had recoiled and held up placating hands, offering Kouga only a helpless look.
"The shrine is very large," he mumbled. "Too many rooms for just me."
Mrs. Higurashi pursed her lips. "You need your rest dear."
Kagome waved her away, starting for the stair landing. "Kouga sent Ginta and Hakkaku to check on the well an hour ago," she cast a meaningful glance around the quiet second floor. "They haven't returned."
Her mother paled. "I'm sure they're alright. Souta's probably just showing them something in the garden."
"At night?" Kagome reached for the banister. "And when has he cared about anything in the outdoors? Fresh air practically burns him. If you'd said he was introducing them to his Xbox, then I'd believe it," she beckoned Kouga to her side. "I haven't heard any angry shouts or button smashing," she looked to the wolf youkai for confirmation.
"There's been no Box of X smashing downstairs," Kouga admitted reluctantly. "But you've been through a great ordeal. We need to learn more before you go near the well. We could be playing right into the jewel's hands by letting you visit it."
Kagome stepped down the first stair. "We're not going to learn anything just sitting in my bedroom," she took a second, then third. "Are you coming?"
Kouga sighed. "Yes," he left her grandfather and mother in the hall, tail swishing as he reached her side. "But I'm lodging a formal protest."
A smile stole the corners of her mouth. "It's noted."
They made their way downstairs, entering the kitchen where Souta's lack of sandwich making skills had left an aftermath on the counter. Kagome surveyed the mess of mustard globs, dirty knives, and bread crumbs with a weary sigh.
Moving to close the open bread bag, she spoke over her shoulder. "Do you have any siblings?" She tied it quickly and returned it to the cupboard.
Kouga retrieved the shiny metal daggers he knew humans often needed to cut things without claws. "No," he set them in the sink, remembering it was the washing pail Mrs. Higurashi had used earlier. "But my parents died when I was very young. If they had lived, who knows? Maybe I'd have a little brother as ill-equipped to fend for himself as yours," he sniffed a bag of meat left out nearby.
Kagome had crossed to the sink, about to take a sponge. She halted as she processed his words. "I had no idea," her hand hovered in mid-air. "I'm so sorry."
Kouga shrugged and retrieved the bag. Studying its top for a moment, he pinched two fingers and sealed it closed. "I wasn't even one hundred when it happened. They were leading a raid against the Northern Wolf Tribe, and it ended badly."
"You've never mentioned them before."
Kouga stowed the meat under an arm. "Their death doesn't define me."
As others you know, he added silently.
"Still," she reached past and grabbed the sponge. "It must have been hard going on without them."
He allowed himself a nod, wondering how he'd gotten Kagome to give out such a tone. It was supportive and empathetic in a way he'd only heard once before – when she'd discovered Kagura's slaughter of his people. "Hakkaku and Ginta were only pack-mates then, born in the same year in separate litters," he said. "They rallied behind me, even as the rest of the clan fought over who would succeed my father."
Kagome wiped up a smear of mustard by his wrist. "How did you win the title?"
Kouga scoffed. "It was mine by birthright. I didn't have to win anything."
She gave him a knowing look. "Yet you were challenged."
"I was," he offered her the bag, and she took it, turning for the refrigerator.
Opening it, she replaced the bag in their drawer of deli meats, waiting for him to continue.
"It was a member of the Northern Tribe who finally came to take my father's place. His name was Roko, and I defeated him soundly," he suddenly wondered how she'd gotten so much out of him. That damning tone drew out everything.
Kagome closed the fridge, cleaning up the rest of the yellow staining the counter with a few quick swipes. "Wasn't Roko the elder who protected Ayame and her grandfather? Did you spare his life and make a bargain for peace?"
His eyebrows hiked high. "I had no idea you listened to my tales so diligently."
"You talk enough that its hard not to pick up on some things," despite her quick answer, red burst out in her cheeks.
Kouga found the forgotten cheese bag and echoed Kagome's movements, adding it to the above ground cold cellar. "Your conclusion is an astute one. I did negotiate for amnesty between our two tribes."
"Even after they killed your parents?"
He paused. "I told you. I didn't let their death rule me, or impact what was best for my people."
Kagome returned the sponge to the sink, looking over with an unreadable expression. "What about what was best for you?"
He answered without thinking. "There's no place for my wishes anymore."
She grew quiet, and he yearned to hear her thoughts. Did she know all the unspoken things he desperately wanted to say? How choosing her as his future mate had been the first decision he'd made purely for himself since that fateful day?
Kagome cleared her throat. "You wear the mantle of leadership well."
Kouga waited as she crossed the room, fighting for enough breath to answer. Her praise was high indeed, and he felt his legs grow weak at such esteem. "I've felt its warmth – and weight – all my life."
They left the kitchen together, Kagome pensive at his arm. Kouga tried sniffing out her mood, but only the dull sting of the yellow condiment and old wet of the sponge answered.
She led them to the outside door, and they broke into the night air, surrounded by stars and bright moonlight.
"You're different," she whispered, hugging arms around herself in the chill. "It's… nice to see this side of you."
"I've always been this way," he answered, resisting the urge to pull her close and keep her warm. "You just haven't noticed."
She opened her mouth to retort, but snapped it closed as she considered. Her feelings for Inu-Yasha had blinded her to much of the surrounding world – specifically him. "You didn't make it easy," she managed. "Spouting nothing but ego and bluster – treating me like I was some piece of property to acquire."
He acquiesced with a bow of his head. "I'm sorry."
Her eyes widened – she hadn't expected an apology.
Kouga took her arm, drawing her to his side as they stepped off the tiled stoop. "Would it help if I reminded you that I come from five hundred years in the past? There is not the equality among sexes I see today."
Kagome smiled. Had he always been so clever? The word charming came to mind, and she shoved it away as if it were a lesser demon rising up from the shadows. "A bit," she allowed. "But now that you know, I expect different treatment."
His grin outshone the full moon. "Of course."
The amusement in his eyes made her both pleased and uncomfortable, and the disparity between the two reactions roiled in her stomach, vying for dominance.
"Come on," she heard herself say. "Let's check the well-house."
Kouga picked up on her discord and nodded, wisely keeping quiet. He could tell when the woman he loved needed to sift through her own emotions. She wore them as a second school uniform, and didn't like others chiming in on how they matched or clashed.
She had changed out of her pajamas after the shikon-no-tama's attack, and now wore a pair of gray sweatpants and a dark t-shirt emblazoned with the nonsensical phrase 'Snow Patrol'. Did Higurashi shrine guards walk the streets in winter, guarding her family's territory? Why did she wear something that advertised such security? Better intruders meaning the property ill-will discover it at the end of a sword or club. The depth of Kagome's kindness continued to impress and infuriate. Was she so worried about her enemies that she'd warn them in her daily garb?
Though her clothes now were not nearly as scandalous as her usual uniform, they were a vast improvement to the bulky pajamas she'd donned earlier. Lines obscured by a thick layer of pastel were defined once more, and Kouga resisted the urge to admire her figure, knowing somehow such regard would be frowned on in this era of 'equality'.
They made their way to the well-house, this time being mindful of the chikai's range, checking their strides to match each other's. Kouga sent a glance to Goshinboku as they passed, wondering what history the ancient tree had seen in its nearly millennial existence.
Kagome stopped at the mouth of the small building, peering into the darkness. "Souta?" She called tentatively. "Are you there?"
The silence that answered was thunderous.
"Hakkaku! Ginta!" Kouga barked, trying to assuage her growing unease. "This isn't the time to be hiding!"
Nothing but shadows and moonlight answered. They looked to each other and walked forward wordlessly.