1I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 22

Susumu excused himself as they got up to go to the shrine, leaving the five of them to walk down the path to the garden beyond. Kagome felt a little odd and lightheaded, and let the others get ahead of her as she followed them beyond the outbuildings. InuYasha, though, noticed, and dropped back to walk by her side. It was a good thing. Taking a step wrong, she almost fell.

"Are you all right?" InuYasha asked, frowning as he steadied her.

"I think so," she said, giving him a sheepish look. "I feel kind of . . . well, not exactly dizzy, but odd. Maybe it was the sake?"

"Huh," he replied, looking at her carefully. "You didn't drink very much. But your eyes look funny. Let's do this quick so I can get you home."

She nodded, and as he wrapped an arm around her, she let him guide her until they caught up with the others.

The path turned to reveal the sacred rice rope with its folded paper streamers fluttering a little in the breeze, hung between two pillars to mark a sacred enclosure. There, in a small garden surrounded by trees, there was a red-roofed shrine, too small to call a house standing in front of a tall, pointed spire of rock. The others stood near the pillars, waiting for them to catch up.

"This shrine is to the kami of our family," Kaede explained as Kagome moved next to her. "They say this shrine is the oldest one in the area."

"It is the opinion of our family that ours is the most important of the shrines, even more important than the one up the hill," Tameo said, for a moment looking smugly superior, but with a grin, he winked at Kagome. "Although the opinions of the other villagers differ on that one."

"I bet," Kagome said. She could sense the sacredness of the site. It gave off a feeling much like the Goshinboku did, a feeling of being connecting with something that had no beginning and no end. For some reason, she felt comforted by this, even as she couldn't shake the lightheadedness that made her feel slightly removed from all of what was happening. "This is a good place."

"Yes, it is," Tameo said. "And once we introduce you to the kami, you will be welcome to come here any time you want."

A small fountain that bubbled out of a slope in the ground and fell into a stone basin that stood near the edge of the shrine. One by one they washed their hands and mouths. Kaede cut some branches from the sacred sakaki growing nearby, and handed one to Kagome, Hisa, and Tameo.

"I'm not sure if you should offer one," Kaede told InuYasha. Her look was thoughtful, but not unkind.

"You think the kami'd get mad if I did?" he asked.

"Probably not," Tameo said. "But we've never had someone like you come to the shrine before."

"Keh," the hanyou said, putting his hands in his sleeves. "Bet there aren't many kami who've had to deal with something like this. Better to not make the kami unhappy, just in case. This is for Kagome."

"A wise choice, InuYasha," Kaede said, nodding. "He'll understand if we err on the side of caution. And if he doesn't mind, I'm sure he'll let us know."

"You're right," Tameo said. "He is that type of person."

The old man moved towards the door to the shrine. As he neared, he bowed, and clapped, doing this two times to draw the kami's attention. Then, having reached the front of the building, he opened the door. Inside, on a shelf, was the ancestral tablet of his family. In front of that was an offering table. He bowed once more.

Kagome felt a surge of spiritual energy as he clapped the last time.

Tameo stood tall, and something in his manner changed as he stood in front of the shrine. Instead of just being an older, if adroit, peasant, he grew stately and empowered. Kagome could feel spiritual power in him flair to life.

"I didn't know he had reiki like that," Kagome whispered to InuYasha.

"Heh. His grandfather was Kikyou's and Kaede's grandfather, too. Must run in the family," InuYasha said, just as softly.

Tameo laid the sakaki branch on the offering table, bowed once again, and took a deep breath, thinking about his words. "Dear kami of our ancestors," he said, his voice sonorous, and slipping into the cadence of a chant, "You who watches over our family, standing with us in good times and bad, I bring to you this woman for your blessing. We have asked her to join us, kin to kin. She in turn promises to serve our family, our ko, both in good times and bad, as healer and protector. In return, we ask that you accept her, guide her, and watch over her and hers, taking her under your guardianship from this day forward."

He turned to Kagome and motioned for her to come up to stand next to him. "Come, daughter, offer your branch and let the kami meet you."

She nodded and moved forward. As she moved, the sense of lightheadedness, of differentness washed over her. It wasn't frightening, but it was strange, and by the time she reached the table, she felt like she was floating. Even so, she laid the branch down.

Suddenly, as the branch touched the offering table, her world lurched and she was surrounded by light too bright to see through. She automatically closed her eyes. In the distance, she thought she heard her husband call out her name. It seemed very far away. Still, instead of being scared by what was happening, a great wave of peace washed over her.

"You can open your eyes now, daughter," a gentle male voice said. It was soft and low and reminded her of her grandfather's.

Kagome did, and found herself in a place that was all light. The only thing that she could see was the offering table. She turned slowly around, looking for a landmark, the shrine, the grounds beyond it, but saw nothing. "Where . . . where am I?" she asked.

"Welcome to the August Fields," the voice said, then it chuckled. "Or at least the tiny corner of it they let me sit in."

She faced the offering table again. This time though, she saw a man, older, white-haired, and smiling, sitting on the table itself.

"The August Fields?" She knew she ought to be feeling surprised or nervous, but for some reason, nothing could disturb the calm she felt. "Who are you?"

The man was dressed in a farmer's kosode of indigo blue and narrow hakama, with his leg and arm covers on, like he was about to go out to work, and held a hoe over one shoulder. Still, the indigo glowed like it was lit from within, and his skin radiated the same light. But his manner was friendly, very much like Tameo. In fact, they looked very much alike.

He chuckled again, and gave her the smallest of bows, little more than a nod of his head. "I am Kazuo, eldest and kami of the family that my great-great-greatgrandson Tameo wants you to join. I thought we ought to get to know each other a little better before I go around throwing blessings."

"You're the family kami? Then what's this place?" she said. Part of her wondered why she didn't feel panicked. "I'm still in the shrine then, aren't I?"

"In a matter of speaking, you are both in the August Fields, that place where many of the kami live, and in the shrine at the same time, just like the kami who are called to earth to come witness rites or to be asked to help are at both places at once. It's an interesting experience, isn't it?"

"Is that what they do when a human goes to a shrine to ask a kami something? I've met kami before," Kagome said. "They seemed all on the earth at the time, not like this."

"Yes," Kazuo said, nodding, "that can happen too. But if I were to visit you like that, it would take much more of your time. Look!" He waved his hoe.

The white faded. She could see the shrine. Tameo and Kaede were looking at her, Hisa, who had been facing InuYasha turned her head to the offering table, and InuYasha was in mid-leap, trying to reach her.

"You pulled me outside of time," Kagome said. "That's a neat trick."

"Very perceptive of you, girl." He smiled at her once again. "It's not that I'm trying to do anything bad or frighten you, you know. I thought we might have more time to talk this way." He put his hoe back over his shoulder and scratched the back of his neck. "It's not easy arranging things like this."

"I'm not frightened," she said. "Just a bit surprised."

"Good girl," he said, nodding at her again. He sat cross-legged on the table, then rested his elbow on one thigh, and his head on his closed hand. "I'm not the only one who pulls surprises. You've done a lot of things that were a bit surprising, too, granddaughter who isn't my granddaughter. It's actually rather amazing. Like coming to live in a time years before you were born. Marrying a man who is centuries older than you. Killing that awful hanyou. Having a soul that used to visit me a lot."

"Oh!" Kagome said. "If Tameo's your great-great-great-grandson, then Kikyou was your great-great-great-granddaughter."

He nodded. "Yes, she was. Such a sad life she was destined for. A lovely girl. Still, her destiny was too strong, the power of the Shikon no Tama was far more than a family kami like I could deal with, and I couldn't spare her from it. It's really hard for kami to make you humans do anything while you live your lives. We can help, but we really can't force destiny to be anything but what it is." Kazuo gave her a sad smile. "Kami aren't all powerful, even though some of us think we might be."

"That's the kind of thing my grandfather would tell me," Kagome said.

"Your grandfather will be the shrine priest for the big shrine, yes?" the kami said.

Kagome nodded.

"Maybe I told it to him," Kazuo said, scratching his chin. "Seems like something I'd do. I'm a farmer kami, after all." He uncrossed his legs and let them dangle over the edge of the table. "Planting seeds is my type of work. But even though we kami can't make people do things, sometimes we can influence things. I planted a seed when I whispered to Tameo the idea to have you get trained as a village miko. Looks like it sprouted fast. And like any good farmer, I cultivate what I plant."

He leaned forward. "As long as you stay here, I can give you some protection. But I'm not sure you're destined to always be here." He looked at her tenderly, a little wistfully. "No matter. What Kaede will teach you will help you wherever your fate leads you and that hanyou of yours. He's got a good heart. I approve of your marriage."

"Thank you," Kagome replied. "Does that mean you won't purify him if he gets too close?"

"Purify him? Hardly. I worked hard to make sure he'd be here for you." Kazuo said. "I saw him the first time he showed up with Kikyou. Even then I knew he'd be good for this village. I didn't quite realize the mess that evil hanyou would do to scramble things, but I could see the red thread that bound your soul and his."

He stood up. "You have my blessing, little miko. Probably time for you to get back to your people. But remember to come back and see me from time to time."

"I will," she promised. "Thank you."

The kami touched the top of her head gently. A burst of warmth passed through her and the white faded.

"Don't forget to come visit me," Kazuo said as he faded with the light.

Suddenly, the world lurched one more time and she found herself falling into InuYasha's strong arms.

"You all right?" he asked, brushing his fingers across her cheek.

"What happened?" she asked. "How'd you get here so quick? I thought you stayed at the shrine door."

"You laid the sakaki on the offering table, started to glow like a torch, and then started to fall." He shrugged. "I can move fast when I have to."

"Ah," she said. She reached up a hand and brushed his cheek. "The kami . . . the kami pulled me away to talk to him. He likes you." Kagome smiled at him, then yawned. "I feel so tired." Almost immediately she went limp in his arms, unconscious.

"Kagome?" InuYasha said. His ears focused on her, listening to her breathing; his youki flared a little, as he tried to sense what was wrong with her.

"Oh my," Hisa said. She rested a hand on the younger woman's hair, brushing a stray lock of hair out of Kagome's face, then looked up at her husband. "I really didn't expect that to happen."

"I've seen it before, son," Tameo said. He rested his hand on the hanyou's shoulder. InuYasha looked up, uncertain. "Sometimes, meeting the kami takes a lot out of a person."

Kaede nodded. "It's happened to me, InuYasha. Kagome-chan needs to rest a bit. The kami was not intending her evil. Sometimes, he just overpowers us a bit."

"Why don't you take her back to the house?" Tameo said. "I'm sure Hisa will be happy to help her get comfortable until she wakes up."

InuYasha nodded, gave the ancestral tablet a hard look, then stepped outside the shrine into the midday sunlight.

"I know this must seem odd to you, InuYasha-kun," Hisa said, leading him back to the house. "The first time I saw it happen to Tameo, I was shocked, too. But he does this once in a while. I don't know if it's just that he wants company, or what, but it's been happening to the people in Tameo's family a long time."

"Feh," the hanyou replied, as they rounded the bend in the path and neared the house.

"This was not so bad. After Kagome-chan rests a bit, I'm sure she'll tell you all about it. The last time old Kazuo decided to have a talk with Tameo, I didn't discover it for hours. I was frantic something had happened to him when he didn't show up for dinner, and no one had seen him since morning. I didn't know he had come to the shrine. When I finally discovered where he was, he was curled up on the shrine floor, snoring. After my sons and I brought him home, and he finally woke up, he told me he had gone fishing with the old man, and was just about to bring in a big one, when the kami sent him back. Kazuo sometimes has a sense of humor." They reached the house.

"Not sure how much I like that," the hanyou said.

Hisa slid the door open. "He watches out for us though. Once when some bandits tried to sneak in through the hills, he appeared like a ball of light twice the height of a man, and attacked them with his hoe. One didn't run fast enough and got quite a gash. My brother-in-law saw it from where he was hiding, and so did a few others. Even though he does things like what happened with your wife, we're rather fond of him. And Kagome-chan said he likes you. That's got to be a good thing."

"If you say so," he said, not quite convinced, carrying his wife over the threshold.

Hisa laid out some bedding, and InuYasha laid his wife gently down. He sat down beside her, holding her hand. It wasn't until Tameo and Kaede came in, about half an hour later that Kagome began to stir.

"InuYasha?" she asked.

He gave her hand a little squeeze. "I'm here."

Slowly, she sat up. "Was I asleep?"

"You passed out after laying the sakaki branch on the offering table," InuYasha said. "You said something about the kami to me, then fell asleep."

"I remember . . . the kami told me that we would be safe in the village, and he approved of you." She looked around, saw Kaede looking at her with a calm, knowing eye, and Tameo nodding.

Hisa smiled. "Well, old Kazuo gave your husband quite a start. Can I get you anything?"

"How about lunch?" Tameo asked. "All that kami business makes me hungry."

The old woman laughed.