A Little Knowledge

Shippo was almost incandescent with rage. Inuyasha had never seen his kitsune son like this before. The computer room at their company headquarters was fairly alight with the threat of fox fire.

"That monster is alive!" Shippo snarled, fangs bared, hardly aware of what he was doing. He would ordinarily never bare his teeth like this in the presence of Sesshomaru and Inuyasha.

"Are you certain it was Byakuya of the Dreams?" Sesshomaru asked evenly, with deliberate calmness, exerting the force of his quiet authority to dampen Shippo's fury and distress without having to tell him off verbally.

"I'm certain!" Shippo snapped. "His scent was concealed, but that face – those eyes – I know it was him!"

"We've tested the well," Inuyasha muttered. "There's no reason it would function as a portal for him but not for me."

They had spent a good couple of hours examining the Bone Eater's Well, with Inuyasha jumping in and out of it several times, before determining that it held no portal. Leaving Koga and his people to watch the well, the dog demons had returned to their business headquarters to see if their computer systems could track down Byakuya where their youkai senses could not because of all the sophisticated concealment spells used in this day and age.

"He's Naraku's incarnation," Shippo growled. "Naraku, who did all the evil he did purely to possess Kikyo – what will that bastard do now that he has Kagome's reincarnation – Kikyo's second reincarnation?"

"We are not going to get answers by losing control of ourselves," Sesshomaru stated firmly, his first use of a stern tone that night to rebuke Shippo for getting upset enough to snap at his elders.

It instantly forced Shippo into some degree of calm, but his agitation was still too great for him to be of help to Kuromatsu and the other badger demons, who were scouring the youkai database on their system now for a hint of Byakuya's presence.

"The letter Kagome was holding disappeared along with her, but the envelope it came in gives us a lead," Inuyasha reminded Shippo.

"Yes, the quality of the paper is excellent," Kuromatsu agreed. "Not that many firms make such fine kozo washi these days. Our examination of the material suggests that smooth animal hairs are woven into the fibre too, and that should narrow the field a little further."

"What kind of animal hairs?" Sesshomaru asked. "Horsehair is fairly common."

"We have not determined the exact type of animal, but I suspect that we won't need to, Sesshomaru-sama," Kuromatsu replied. "That is because they seem, thus far, to be youkai animal hairs. No human-owned firms we know of would have access to such materials."

The analysis of a small piece of the envelope by the laboratory equipment connected to the computer system soon produced the information that the hairs were from tanuki youkai.

"Tanuki?" Inuyasha's ears pricked up. "Those bloody raccoon dogs who kidnapped Kagome that time… could they be working with the bastard?"

"If we can find them, perhaps they will lead us to him," Sesshomaru decided. "And Kagome."

"Damn it!" Byakuya of the Dreams gasped reflexively, losing his calm despite himself, as Kagome's powers of purification assailed him.

He had come prepared for an attack by her in case she turned hostile; the shield of his spell was giving him some measure of protection. But her powers were great – despite being oddly raw and unrefined for such an ancient and experienced priestess – and they were piercing him through the protective magical coating.

As soon as they reached the intermediate space that he was able to access through the well, he dropped her and sprang away to the other end of the chamber, where he nursed his wounds while eyeing her to make sure she wouldn't fire any arrows (or bullets) at him.

But the girl looked terrified rather than angry. She was trembling as she looked blindly around the empty space they were in, with no features and no visible surfaces of solid flooring or walls that would be familiar to her eyes. Byakuya realised that she could not see very well in this darkness of the semi-portal, and he lit a flame with his magic, holding it in the palm of his hand.

"Miko," he spoke. "Please don't be afraid. I mean you no harm."

She stared at this demon of perfectly human appearance, crossed her arms over her body, and whispered: "Who are you, and what do you want from me? Where am I?"

"Has living for five hundred years destroyed your human memory?" Byakuya asked. "Have you truly forgotten who I am?"

At his words, Kagome realised that once again, she had been mistaken for her ancestress.

"I'm not who you think I am," she said warily, although her fear was quickly ebbing as she saw that Byakuya was in pain from the effects of her powers, and was not making any move towards her.

"Eh? You are the priestess Kagome, are you not?" he asked.

"The first priestess Kagome was my ancestor. I am told that I am her reincarnation."

"Oh." Byakuya looked clearly taken aback. Then he added: "Oh, dear."

"So I'm afraid you've got the wrong girl," Kagome said firmly.

"I'm a little confused," Byakuya murmured, looking at her out of puzzled eyes. "The first Kagome came from the future – well, the future as it related to the past I was created in – and now we are in the future again, but she's not here, and you are…?"

"I beg your pardon?" Kagome asked, startled. "What do you mean the first Kagome came from the future?"

"Well, at the point where Naraku had her trapped in the meidou, and I was slowly fading into death, I saw what he and the Shikon jewel were showing her of her life – and it was an alien world to me then, but after I died and came back, and as time passed, I realised it was merely a future world – the world we live in now."

Every word he spoke was twisting Kagome's mind into a pretzel, and she could scarcely find her tongue to query in a daze: "She was trapped in the what? What's the 'meidou'? Her home – her life – was this world? And did you just say that you died and came back? I – I don't understand any of that…" She was starting to shiver again, from bewilderment and disorientation.

"I apologise," Byakuya replied. "I have been assuming that you would know all this and more – in fact, I wanted to see you because I thought you would be able to tell me what happened to me. But it becomes clear now that I am the one who needs to explain things to you."

"Yes. Please."

"First, allow me to establish how much you do know. Please tell me what you know so that I know where my starting point should be."

"I only know that recently, youkai to whom I was related made contact with me, and told me that was the descendant and reincarnation of the first Kagome. I came from a branch of their family which had married only humans, turned their backs on their demon relatives, and lost contact with them. They tell me that I look exactly like the first Kagome. That's the sum of it."

"Did they say where the first Kagome had come from?" Byakuya asked.

"No. I assumed she came from another part of feudal Japan… another village or something… whenever they mentioned that she had left her home and her family to be with Inuyasha. Perhaps I shouldn't have assumed…"

"Let me tell you what little I know," he said, when her words trailed off into nothing. "It is not much, but it is perhaps a little more than you do now."

"Please."

"I'd like to transport us back to my house first, if you don't mind. I can use this intermediate space permitted me by the well only for limited periods of time. We'll be back in the physical world again. You'll be more comfortable there."

"Is this a portal?" she asked, remembering what she had been borne through by the tanuki youkai, and then by Shippo.

"Yes and no. I have a connection with the Bone Eater's well that I don't know how to explain, and it lets me use an intermediate space within its dimensions to move from place to place. In that sense, I suppose it is a kind of room within a kind of portal, but it's not a regular magical portal of the kind magically skilled demons normally know how to use."

"I don't think I understood much of that either, but I get the picture."

"Good. Do I have permission to approach you?"

"Yes."

"I will have to be in physical contact with you to take you through with me to my home."

"Fine."

"You're not going to hit me with your purification powers again, are you?" he asked cautiously, as he stepped close to her.

"I won't do that, as long as you don't try anything funny."

He hesitated before reaching out to take her arm, and they travelled through the link he had to his home.

Kagome found herself in a tastefully decorated living room in a house that looked like a regular enough human home. She breathed a little more easily as she looked out of the window and saw a garden, and beyond the garden walls, street lights and the occasional flash of light from the headlamps of passing vehicles.

"Please sit down. I'll get you something to drink. Water? Tea? Coffee?"

"Just plain water, please."

He disappeared into the kitchen and returned shortly with a glass of water at room temperature. She sipped it before it occurred to her that it might be drugged. But he was a demon – if he'd wanted to incapacitate her, he would have done it by now. She took another sip, deciding that she would choose to trust him.

"So, what is the little that you know that is more than I know, and which you can tell me?" she asked, wanting to get back to the explanation of the mystery behind the first Kagome.

Byakuya seated himself in an armchair opposite hers, gathered his memories and his thoughts, and began his account:

"I was the last incarnation of Naraku. I had no personal quarrel with your dog-demon relatives, but my maker did, and I was created to obey him. I was with Naraku almost until the end, as he took his last stand against Sesshomaru, Inuyasha, Kagome, the monk Miroku, the slayer Sango, her brother Kohaku, and the fox-kit, Shippo. My final duty to Naraku was to send the priestess Kagome into the meidou – an empty universe mysteriously linked to the netherworld and to the powers of the Shikon jewel, in which the opposing forces of destructive youkai and the defences of an ancient priestess, Midoriko, warred continuously. I did as ordered, only for Inuyasha to retaliate with his Tetsusaiga and send me into the meidou myself. I must have died or sunk into a state of suspended animation not long afterward, because I have no memory of what happened to me in there beyond a certain point.

"But before I sank into oblivion, I saw what Naraku and the Shikon jewel were doing to Kagome: they were tempting her with hallucinatory visions of her life – the life she could be leading with her family, her friends, in her world. What a strange world it looked to me at the time. A world of artificial lights, monstrously tall buildings, amazing devices. I thought she must be not only a priestess but a goddess, to have come from such a universe. I saw that she had a connection to the Bone Eater's well, and that she and Naraku had sunk into the combined dimensions of the well, the meidou and the Shikon jewel. I somehow understood through that magical link with Naraku and the visions that the Bone Eater's well was the magical portal that had carried her from her remarkable world to my world of the past. Then I knew no more.

"Some years after that, I was returned to consciousness, to life, and to the physical world. I simply found myself back out in the world one day, free of Naraku, who was dead. Free of his scent, his control, his poison. I didn't know why I was alive. I asked some careful questions of people I encountered, and calculated from what they said that three years had passed since the time of my death. I didn't hang around Edo, I can tell you that. As I said, I had and have nothing against your inuyoukai relations. I had no intention of tangling with them again, so I fled to the other end of Japan, and steered well clear of them. I knew nothing of their lives, or what might have become of them. But after a few hundred years of living quietly, and adapting to the changes of the human world, I began to wonder why I was alive. I began to wonder exactly what had returned me to the world of the living, and if it had anything to do with the great Tetsusaiga sword, the Shikon jewel, the well and the priestess, all linked with my demise. I began to try and find out what had happened to those things, and the dog demons, and the humans associated with them. I discovered that the Bone Eater's well remained in existence, but that it had not worked as a portal for five hundred years. I then asked my tanuki youkai subordinates to investigate further – but the bungling idiots misunderstood me, and ended up kidnapping you instead."

"Those creatures were your subordinates?" Kagome's eyes narrowed as her voice sharpened just a tad.

"I am truly sorry," Byakuya apologised quickly. "I did not tell them to abduct you!"

"But now you've done just that yourself."

"Ah, yes," he admitted sheepishly. "Again, I give you my sincerest apologies."

"Anyway, you were saying…"

"Yes, I wanted to know why I was here, and if the sword and the jewel could give me any answers. I thought that if the inuyoukai had passed on, I could get hold of the sword and jewel and uncover the mysteries through them. But from what I gathered, the jewel had ceased to exist. And the sword remained with its rightful wielder, Inuyasha – whom I had no intention of approaching, not if I wanted to remain alive. So when I found out through my bungling subordinates that you were still around, and somehow not living with Inuyasha any more, I thought I would look for you and ask you."

"Wait a minute – didn't your subordinates tell you that they knew I wasn't the first Kagome?"

Byakuya looked baffled. "They knew you were not the first Kagome?" he asked in return.

"They didn't know at first, but they found out pretty soon!" she revealed. "Within a half-hour of abducting me, I would guess!"

The demon stared at her. "They found out that you were her reincarnation and not her?"

"Yes. They said so to each other. They said to each other after questioning me for a while that they had the wrong girl."

"They didn't tell me," Byakuya murmured thoughtfully. "I wonder why that is."

"Are they turning against you for some reason?" she asked worriedly.

"I was rather snappish with them that day. Perhaps I simply did not give them the chance to tell me. But I don't know. I'll find out the details. In any case, I will deal with them myself. You needn't worry about that."

"Okay… but what I'd really like to know now is, if the first Kagome really came from this time and this world, why haven't we met her again in this time, if she's not me? You know, all those Back To The Future movies I've watched say you will meet yourself if you go back to the right time… or the wrong time… or whatever. Or have I somehow come to occupy the place in this time and age that ought to have been hers? I'm confused."

"So am I," the demon sighed, leaning back in his armchair and putting his fingertips together.

"If this is her world and her time, then even if she died of old age more than four hundred years ago, Inuyasha could wait for her to be born again here to meet her once more, right? They're very clear on the fact that I'm not her and she's not me, so where is she?"

The demon was quiet, and Kagome herself fell silent for several long minutes. Until the silence was broken by the male, who sat forward in his chair quite suddenly and said: "Something's coming to me."

"What is it?"

"Bear with me, please…" Byakuya murmured as he thought hard. "I might have an idea, but bear with me as I work through it, because it's not a very clear picture yet…"

He walked over to the desk across the room and took out a sheet of blank paper, then picked up a pen. He drew a straight line from the top to the bottom of the sheet, and marked a dot high up along the line. He then marked another dot in the middle of the line.

"Miko," he said. "I don't know if this theory forming in my head is correct, but let's see if it works as we go along."

Kagome leaned forward and looked curiously at the line and the dot. "What is your theory?" she asked.

"This line represents the passage of time, from the past at the top, to the present – or even the future – at the bottom. Time normally should move in a single straight line, am I right?"

"I believe so," she replied.

"This dot in the middle of the line represents where the first Kagome was at the time when she first travelled back into the past through the Bone Eater's well, to this dot at the top of the line. That was where she would have first met Inuyasha, and Naraku, and Kikyo."

"And Shippo."

"Yes. Now, at some point after Naraku's death, she must have chosen to leave her modern world and stay in the past with Inuyasha, correct?"

"She must have, otherwise she wouldn't have become my ancestor," Kagome agreed.

"So all was well for her – she chose a time to remain in, and she lived out her life in that time, then died as mortals do. But time would also have continued moving forward for the family she left behind in her modern world, wouldn't it? Her mother, grandfather, brother and friends would not simply have disappeared into thin air, reabsorbed by the universe, would they? They would have carried on living their lives without her – which means that the timeline would have split. Back To The Future time-travel theories don't apply here."

Byakuya drew another line parallel to the first, its beginning starting at the same level as the dot near the top of the line. He drew a short line to connect the dot of the first line to the top of the second line.

"I believe that when the first Kagome chose to remain with Inuyasha in the past – or perhaps even from the very first moment when she bridged two eras by travelling into the past – she created a new timeline for everything that would come after her. In other words, that is the timeline that you belong to, because you are her descendant, and her reincarnation, and you are among the things that came from her new life in the past."

"And her old life in her modern world…?" Kagome began uncertainly.

"It went on without her, along this first timeline. Her family would have missed her for the rest of their lives. They would never have seen her again, unless she was able to travel through time to see them once in a while."

"But you said earlier that the well showed no signs of having been used as a portal through time since its last use more than five hundred years ago," Kagome said.

"That's right. Which means she never used it again after choosing to live with Inuyasha. Which is why her family never saw her again."

"Was her family… just like my family?" Kagome asked, suddenly feeling a strange ache in her heart.

"I only saw them through the visions granted me by Naraku's magical use of the Shikon jewel in the meidou and the mysterious dimensions of the well, when he was showing her the illusions of the life she could lead without Inuyasha. I saw her family and her friends. Based on what I saw of your relatives when we were by the well, her family seemed very much like the one you have now. No – not just very much like, but identical."

"But if the timelines were different…"

"Miko, that original timeline had a past adding up to everything that the first Kagome knew in her modern world. Why shouldn't the second timeline, which originated from a near-identical past, not produce another modern world and people very, very similar to what had been produced by the first?"

"So when Shippo and Inuyasha told me that I was very like their Kagome, it wasn't only because I was her reincarnation. It was also because I was another version of her in the modern world," Kagome murmured thoughtfully. "I am her equivalent in this timeline, while she has vanished forever in the other timeline."

"Something like that – at least I think so," Byakuya agreed.

"Why didn't they tell me that their Kagome came from a world and a time just like mine?" she wondered aloud.

"I don't know," Byakuya admitted. "Maybe they were afraid that it would be too confusing for you. Or even for themselves to have to try and explain it. It was probably hard enough for you to digest that there are youkai in this day and age, without having to be further bewildered by talk of time-travelling schoolgirls and parallel timelines."

"I can understand that. But still, they could have tried to tell me…?"

"Well, you can take your time asking them that when I get you back to them. I now have to work out how I can do that without them killing me on sight," Byakuya sighed.

"I'll shield you," Kagome offered.

"No, that will only make them think I'm using you as a shield. I won't use the well again. That would be walking into my grave, because I'm sure their people are camped out around it. We're already in the physical plane, in my house, so I'll just have to trust you to make your way home by yourself, and not tell them where they can come to kill me. I'll pay for your cab fare, of course."

"Thank you," Kagome said, standing up. "Oh, and I'm sorry I hurt you so badly earlier. I really thought you were going to hurt me."

"I understand. Anyway, it's healing. I'll be fine."

He reached for his mobile phone lying on the desk and began to ring a cab company, but suddenly looked distracted. Kagome knew he must have heard something outside the house with his demon ears, because she had often seen Shippo cock his head in exactly the same way whenever he detected movements or scents beyond her range of sensing.

"What is it?" she whispered.

"I think my tanuki subordinates are turning against me."

He took her arm and attempted to transport them back into the intermediate space of the well, but failed.

"What happened?"

"Those overweight bastards have put up a one-way barrier around my house," he hissed. "It let me in, but it's not letting me out."

Two puffs of smoke materialised on the other side of the living room, clearing to reveal the tanuki demons who had kidnapped Kagome before. She shrank back instinctively, drawing closer to Byakuya.

"Hey, boss," rumbled the larger of the youkai, the one Kagome remembered was called Hiro.

"Hiya," added the other, Mujina, in a hoarse voice.

Byakuya moved between Kagome and the raccoon youkai, and demanded: "What do the two of you think you're doing?"

"We're doing what you ought to have had the ambition to do all along, boss," said Hiro.

"Which would be…?" Byakuya asked calmly.

"Hold the priestess hostage, get the powerful swords, get the secrets of the inuyoukai's powerful computer systems, suppress your enemies, and command the world," Hiro growled.

"And if I do not want to do any of that?"

"Then, boss, we'll put you away and do it in your place."

"That does not sound good," Kagome hissed. "Can you take them on?"

"Ordinarily, yes, without any trouble whatsoever," Byakuya replied. "But they seem to have worked out all my ways and systems, because this damned barrier is rather cleverly suppressing my specific powers – as well as dampening yours."

"That is not good!" she snapped.

"No shit," Byakuya muttered gloomily.

The tanuki youkai began to move towards them, and there was nowhere to run to.