Trick me once
– – –
Trick me once, shame on you. Trick me twice, shame on me . . .
In a large clearing, deep in the heart of an ancient forest, a young woman squatted on her heels by the banks of a muddy stream. Trees rose around her in thick pillars of smooth gray and crusty auburn bark. The branches were long and wide and hid much of the light that tried to penetrate the dark womb of the forest. The woman was playing with several round stones as smooth and silky as eggshells, not bothering about trying to be silent, and she was not afraid.
There was a section of forest far on the outskirts of the northern province that were near legendary because of what they housed in them. Those woods were home to many creatures of the shadows, creatures that were so far beyond the faintest of human comprehension that it was too terrifying to even try to think about it. They were creatures that fed off nightmares and ritual and death; creatures that lived simply for the kill and the hunt and the pain. You did not go into that forest. Not unless you were planning on committing suicide. You just didn't go there. Ever. Because, of the creatures that lived in the mist-shrouded catacombs of the forest, many did not look dangerous in the least. That made them all the more deadly.
There was one particularly deadly one that looked like a young child, all huge brown eyes and soft black hair. It caught it's pray by appearing so helpless and defenseless that you got careless and went over to it. Once near enough, it would latch onto your flesh with tiny, pearl-white teeth, and start to suck you until you were drained dry of fluids. Then, once it had eaten its fill, it would toddle away, leaving a dry husk behind. Another very deadly one, though it wasn't originally of the woods, was a young woman dressed in the tattered robes of a priestess. She had arrived at the forest not long ago, and ever since then travelers had been finding shattered corpses half in and half out of the forest. Like they'd been running from something. And they weren't always human corpses.
There was a village less than half a day's walk from the forest. It had been established by a merchant whom had stood at the crossroads between two major cities, each more than two fortnights journey away from one other, and said, here, here I can make a profit. And he built the first house of the soon-to-be village. Originally, it had only been meant as a trading post/rest stop for travelers, but people had slowly but surely gathered there, despite the ominous forest looming over them. Or, perhaps for some, because of the forest. As years past, more people came, more people left and less people stayed. The people that did stay there were very superstitious, as one might imagine they would be, with them living so close to that curse-riddled forest. But they were also proud of the fact that only they, and only they (though it was a private and much known fact that those who lived there were all lunatics to some small degree), dared live so close to such a dangerous place. Every family that had stayed had some claim to fame; had stories about the forest, or about the creatures of the forest.
–Once there was a creature that–
–Huge thing made of night, chilled me to the bone it did–
–Couldn't even see its face, it was so tall–
–Tiny! No bigger than you're biggest toe, but it can bring down something a thousand times its size–
–Walked like a man it did; but no man could have looked like that–
But it got a bit tiresome after a while. The stories were all well and good, but the were the same ones that had been told over and over again for the past several decades or so. That's why, when demons were starting to be seen – migrating for lack of a better term – away from the woods as fast as their feet/wings/power/etc could carry them, the people began to murmur among themselves. What could cause creatures so terrifying that they had been know to drive men mad from only a single glimpse, what could be causing them to gravitate away from the woods that had been sanctuary to them for countless centuries like shadows being chased away by sunlight? There were hundreds of new stories birthed about this new circumstance, hundreds of new stories being told, hundreds of guesses being made about what might be causing this. The tales became more and more fantastic; ghosts and demigods, demons that were made of mist instead of flesh, sorcerers practicing in the forbidden black arts; death magic. Each suggestion was wilder, more terrifying and less likely than the first. But people kept telling them because an intrinsic and very basic fact about human nature is that we love to be scared. We love the adrenalin that the stories make pulse through our veins and make us break out into cold sweat. The market for this love affair with fear paid well in capital and was one of the chief resources of the small hamlet.
Then one mild summer evening one old man told a tale that put the rest to shame. It seemed that he'd been on trade route to the village with his tinker's wagon, pulled by his faithful mule Bakayarou, when the poor beast had started to limp. Because he was such a kind master, he decided to just stop for the day right where they were to give the beast a chance to mend slightly. Yes, he told his audience primly at their snorts of disbelief, he had heard the stories about the place; he just hadn't believed that anything could be as bad as rumors portrayed it to be. Surely, he had thought he said, the beasts wouldn't come out of the woods into the cleared land even at nightfall.
He wasn't completely foolhardy though; he set up his camp on the opposite side of the road from the forest, and made sure to make a very generous offering to Buddha for protection that night. It had been dusk, he said, just that instant between day and night when spirits can escape from the immortal realm, on the cusp of the death of the sun and the birth of the moon. The time when everything around is dressed in exotic, muted shades of silver, lavender, peacock, and pearl. Foxfire skimmed over the rice-paddies, curling wisps of colored moonlight that played with the gold dust glitter of the fireflies where they drifted on the wind.
He'd been scrapping out his dishes when he'd heard the howl. It was the kind of sound that shimmies up your spine and pushes it's way into the shell of your skull: reverberating deep in the marrow of your bones, making your joints ache. It had scared him, he said, but he had to check it out. "Just to make sure that someone wasn't in danger," he said. He studiously ignored the (many) eyebrows raised in disbelief.
It wasn't hard to find the source he said. The thing that'd made the howl was a huge beast well over thirty hands tall. And uglier than a dung-pile to boot. It had a head that was reminiscent of a wild pig, complete with tusks, yellow as the color of ancient ivory and at least as thick as his wrist. They sprouted from either side of a huge gaping pink scar of a mouth, dripping saliva and flecked with spittle. Twin beady eyes peered out from folds of wart-covered flesh, and sat close together just above a pig-like snout. From the crown of it's head rose a stiff ridge of spiny hair, or maybe hairy spines. He hadn't really been close enough to tell. Nor was he about to get closer, if he could help it. The ridge had trailed down it very prominent backbone, ending in the small of it's back. Its body, the tinker said, was vaguely human. Its shoulders were almost as broad as it was tall. Long, ropy arms fell almost to the ground, like the arms of some child's clay figure stretched much too far out of proportion. Huge hands sheathed in claws as long as his forearm were outstretched at something. Its legs and hindquarters were diminutive and did not seem suitable for any sort of fast movement.
"But," he reminded the people around him, "appearances can be deceiving, especially among demons."
He had been all prepared to run for the proverbial hills, when he caught sight of something small, and white and crimson beyond the boar-youkai, hidden from view by its bulk. Keeping down wind of it, he snuck around to see if he could get a better view of whatever it was that had captured the demon's attention so thoroughly.
For whatever the reason, the youkai did not sense him at all as he moved around behind it. Once he moved to a spot where he could see things, he immediately saw that a young woman dressed like a priestess stood before the beast. She was so diminutive compared to the huge youkai she seemed no bigger than a child. Her clothing was ragged and worn, but she was, for the most part, clean. Shining. Even the waterfall of dark hair that fell in graceful tangles about her was gleaming dully, like highly polished obsidian of the purest grade. Her skin glowed almost iridescently in the half-light. Skin the color of moonlight, and he fancied that he could see the shadows of her bones ripple like water under that flickering membrane, giving it a depth that it wouldn't have otherwise. He could even see her eyes – huge liquid pools of mist surrounded by black lace-like lashes – though he was at least twenty to thirty horse-lengths away from her. She was the polar opposite of everything the demon before her was. She was tiny and perfect where it was huge and flawed.
Then, he told the people, going pale; then she lifted her hands up to the creature, still snarling and slavering and foaming at the mouth like something mad, and put both of her tiny white hands on the things outstretched hand – "It didn't 'a ever move," he swore fervently to his audience, "not once did it make ever a make a single move for all the noise it made." – and the thing gave a scream that sound so almost human that it made him feel sick. Under the woman's hands the beast shuddered once, twice, then fell. Spasms convulsed through its body, making it tremble and twist horribly on the mossy ground.
"Blood fell from its eyes and mouth, and coursed from its nose and dribbled from its ears," the man trembled as he spoke, and parents covered their children's ears. "It was as if something had killed it from the inside. Clutching its insides with some unseen hand and bursting the organs there one by one."
He had crouched frozen for a moment longer, too stunned to really connect the fragile, glowing form with that of the convulsing body in the widening pool of blood and vomit. "Then she raised her eyes and looked straight at me!" The man's giggle held a glittering edge of hysteria. "They chilled me to the bone, her eyes did." Her eyes held no pupils, or maybe no irises. Either way, they were solid swirls of darkness so deep one would think they could see the birth of a galaxy within them. They were completely empty and as cold as death. He just turned and ran. He bashed his way through the trees, towards where he thought he'd come from.
"I couldn't 'a stopped running if I'd 'a wanted to," he told his audience empathically. "The woman's eyes were not natural." How he reached his camp, he never knew, nor did he know why he'd been left alone as he tore through the woods at top speed making enough sound to raise the dead. All he knew was when he reached his mule, he threw what he could grab into the back of the wagon and took off.
The crowd that had gathered around him was hush. Then, very anticlimactically, an empty bottle of sake rolled from the sack at his feet. A collective sigh and groan rumbled through the crowd and someone even called out jeeringly, "Just how much did you drink last night oyaji?" A splattering of laughter rang out. The old man protested vainly that he hadn't been drunk; that he'd really seen a girl in a priestess robe with dead eyes in the youkai forest, but by then no one was listening to him any more.
It was a shame, the people said; he was one hell of a fine storyteller. So they disregarded the old man's story, and continued to spin their own explanations for the sudden movement of the monsters. Disgruntled with the lack of belief from the villages, the old tinker moved on, muttering to himself all the while that they should have more respect for working men like himself. Because they considered it to be a drunken old man's fantasy, the villages forgot his story and did not repeat it.
The problem is, they really should have.
On the greasy banks of a stream of muddy amber water, a woman knelt. She played with several swallow's egg-sized stones, just as smooth and warm as their analogy. A small smile ghosted in the corners of her mouth, giving the illusion that she was just about to smile.
She slid the rocks from one hand to the other and then back again. Back and forth, back and forth, then still. She turned her head gracefully, though there was an odd stiffness to the movement like she had been asleep for a long time was only just now waking up, and stared blankly at the water. It bubbled softly around the debris that cluttered up the waterway. She raised her hand and held it out over the water. In a slow, drawn-out movement she tumbled the stones from her hand and into the liquid green glass of the stream. They made little plopping noises as the water voraciously swallowed them.
And she was not afraid.
She tilted her head back, staring up that the huge branches overhead that were casting dappled shadows over her pale form. Her face was serene, and she seemed to be listening to something.
As if on cue, a pained whimper came from her right. The woman turned her head with the same stiff grace and passively observed the unconscious and battered form of a young girl sprawled inelegantly in the moss and dead leaves carpeting the forest floor. A bow and quiver lay neglected beside her. The girl had her face slightly turned towards the ground, obscuring more than half her countenance from view. She gave a pitiful moan deep in her throat again and stirred sluggishly.
The woman got up, joints moving loosely, and went to the girl. Dead leaves crunched under the woman's knees as she knelt beside the girl. The child was young, only fifteen or so by the looks of it. She wore a thick, bulky gray cable-knit sweater over a longish navy pleated skirt. Her legs were bare, and covered in goose flesh from lying in the chilly shadows. Thick dark hair fanned out around her head like a corona of obsidian.
"Uhh," she moaned, hands convulsively clutching at the ground beneath her, unconsciously searching for the sheet that wasn't there. She curled her body inward slightly, trying to warm herself. Then, slowly, the girl expelled her breath and her eyes fluttered open as she came to awareness.
Suddenly, she pushed herself upright quickly, too quickly, and had sink back down to the ground. She passed a shaky hand over her eyes. The woman regarded for another moment, then touched her hand to the girl's forehead.
"Shibireru," she said, weaving a few weak threads of power into the word. Under her hand the girl struggled and twisted round. Her silver-blue eyes widened in recognition.
"K –Kiky –Kikyo," She tried to drag herself away from the woman, and a frown pulled at Kikyo's mouth, though it did nothing to the expression of complete serenity on the rest of her face. The girl tried to push the older woman's hand away.
"Wh –what are you doing," Her limbs refused to hold her and she collapsed into a heap. Sobs ached deep in her throat. "Kikyo–"
Kikyo frowned more deeply and wove more power into her words. Forcing them into the girl. "Nemuri; shibireru." The girl struggled to keep her eyes open, but the spell was too strong and her eyes soon rolled back in her head. The woman called Kikyo nodded in approval, the frown melting away into passive blankness once again. She watched the girl for several more moments, looking for signs that the girl-child was shaking off the sleep spell. When satisfied that the child was well and truly asleep, she slung the bow and quiver on her back, gathered the girl in her arms, and stood up. The soft glimmer of metal caught her eye and she noticed the fine silver chain coiled around the girl's neck. She stared at it thoughtfully for a moment, then reached up with one hand while balancing the girl carefully and wrapped the pale metal thread around her fist. She twisted her hand and heard the screeching groan of the silver give way and the tiny glittering blue charm fly off. The necklace left a slim red line that was bright around the girl's pale throat. Kikyo dropped the chain on the ground like it was trash and rebalanced her battered cargo.
Kikyo seemed not to feel the weight of the sleeping girl, who was almost the same size as she was, and moved with an unnatural speed through the forest. Though she did not bother to hide her passage, nothing troubled her.
Her destination was a sheltered alcove of weeping ash trees at the edge of a mirror like pond. The trunks of the trees were covered in silver and tope colored bark that was peeling from the wood like an old sunburn. The ashes grew close together, providing an effective shield to block any view from the outside. Tiny, crumpled heart-shaped leaves were scattered on the still water, causing minute ripples that were gone before they ever really came into being. Bones, bleached white from sun and time, were strewn up and down the length of the shoreline.
She placed the girl in a large nest made from the over-grown roots of one of the larger ashes and a healthy growth of olive-colored moss that had the sheen and texture of old velvet. Kikyo looked down at the girl for a moment, and one might have even called the look on her face a type of fondness. But had they been able to see her eyes, they would not have even suggested the emotion.
Now that the girl's face was in clear view, one could make out a startling resemblance between the older woman and the girl. Both had a sweet heart-shaped face, with wide set, impossible large, eyes. Both had long, slim limbs and thick obsidian-colored hair. The only real differences between the two were the length of their hair and their clothing.
Kikyo smiled suddenly. The expression almost reached her eyes.
She squatted down beside the girl and used a hand with the same stiff grace she had exhibited earlier to brush the younger girl's bangs from her face. Her hand lingered almost lovingly on the girl's cheek; then she grasped the girl's sweater and started to tug it off of the younger woman. She methodically striped the girl of her clothes, though how to unhook the binding on the girl's breasts gave a momentary pause. Once the girl was naked, she gave her a scrutinizing look, not unsimilar to the way one would glance at a piece of fruit or meat to see what kind of quality it was. The girl was quite physically lovely to look at, breasts that were full without being too full or large, a small waist and with a long torso, legs, and neck. Tiny feet, and slender hands. She had only one visible scar; a tiny, iridescent pale pink starburst shaped one on her abdomen. For a moment Kikyo felt a twinge of curiosity as to how she would have received such a scar, but it faded almost as quickly as it came. She could see why the half-breed was so enamored with the woman-child.
Kikyo stood up then, and went over to a large rock that hung out over the water. Using the calm water as a wavering mirror, she drew a small stone knife from her waistband and stared critically at her reflection in the water. She made the first cut to her hair just below her shoulder blades. It made her head feel oddly light. The second cut was just about at shoulder length; a slightly shorter layer to go on top of the longer one and caused her hair to curl at the ends slightly. She made a third cut to her hair just slightly below her bangs to make them thicker and more ragged; more like the girl's. Once satisfied that she looked enough like the girl to pass for her, she turned back to the girl and started to change her own clothes for those of the girl.
She was half way dressed when she paused and pursed her lips, not quite frowning but coming close. Even if, she realized, she looked exactly like the girl; it wouldn't matter. He would be able to tell by her scent that she wasn't the girl. Her brow creased in thought.
How could she prevent that?
She almost smiled suddenly. From her encounters with him the last few times, she knew for a fact that he hadn't changed much. He was still as impetuous and temperamental as he had been fifty years ago. She could benefit greatly from that. It would only take a minor adjustment in her plans; dress the girl to look like herself, and use one or two simple spells to muddle his senses enough that he couldn't tell which one was which by scent or sight . . . Yes, that would do nicely. Even better, actually, than what she'd originally planned to do. It would be much, much more damaging to him. Once he realized what he'd done, that was.
She moved awkwardly over to the girl – the strange skirt the child wore was a little snug around the waist – and rubbed some of her cut hair on the girl's skin. Giving the girl some of her scent. Then, she began the slow process of dressing an unconscious and inert person. She frowned vaguely once the younger woman was in her robes. Though she did bear a striking resemblance to Kikyo, the older woman still felt that something was missing. She glanced down preoccupied at the ground, and caught sight of a forlorn hank of her discarded hair at her feet. She almost smiled.
With apt fingers, she picked up the thick handful and quickly wove it into the girl's shorter hair, tying it off with a soiled strip of her robe. She made sure it was secure and stood back to admire her work.
The transformation was incredible. Had she not known that she was herself, she would have mistaken the girl for herself. She set the bow and quiver down where the girl could see them, and, if she wished, reach them with very little effort. Then she went back to the shoreline, this time to the spot where a small estuary burbled into the pond. She deftly caught one of the brown speckled trout hiding among the river stones, and carried it still thrashing to the large rock on which she'd cut her hair.
She stood tall and with a deft flick of her wrist, twisted the trout's head off. She savored, for a moment, the wet snap of the fish's spinal column as she bent it beyond the point of breaking. She was careful not to let any of the warm, sticky blood spill. She murmured a string of unpronounceable liquid syllables in an ancient arcane language as she smeared the steaming blood and entrails of the trout into the symbols required for this particular spell on the rock face. She then let some of the blood dribble into the water, watching the pink ripples spread outward from the rock. Only moments later curls of mist twined upward from the water and soon the entire area was covered in a viscous, colorless fog.
She almost grinned.
Kikyo dipped two of her fingers in the remnants of the trout blood and smeared some at her hairline. Then some on her legs and hands. Her nails were encrusted with rusty crescent of blood. She let a tiny bit stain the sweater in a few choice places, adding the appropriate rips as she went, and did the same for the skirt. Then she threw the fish's body into the trees, and carefully wiped the topaz fish-scales from her hand with a chunk of dried-out moss. Now all she could do was wait.
She looked over at the girl still lying unconscious in her nest of roots and moss. She felt no pity or remorse for using the child; it was all a means to an end. That was all. It must be true; history does repeat itself. Soon her reincarnation would die at the hands of the same man that had killed her fifty years ago. Her expression as she gazed at the girl was something close to tender.
Kikyo almost smiled. She almost smiled but for the fact that her eyes were cold and filled with hate.
And she almost smiled and her smile was almost joyful.
He had left Miroku and Shippo at the village of the forest almost immediately after the disgruntled old tinker told them in indignant tones of how no one had believed him about the woman in a priestesses robes wandering around in a demon-infested forest.
"Young people today," the old man had fumed. "They have no respect for their elders." Inuyasha was fairly certain that the way he just ran off had done nothing to disillusion the old man of that belief. Not that he cared. He just pitied the houshi and kitsune that were left behind to bear the brunt of the oyaji's indignation.
But he gave the matter no more than a passing thought. He had more urgent business at hand, namely finding Kikyo and getting back Kagome. He had instantly recognized the old man's description of the girl in the woods; in his opinion it could be no one else. It was a long shot though; it had been several months since the tinker's story had initially taken place. But Inuyasha was willing to bet the tetsusaiga that he would find her there. It was just a feeling he had.
The rage he had felt since they'd discovered that Kagome was missing had built into a bloodlust that would put his brother to shame. But even while he longed to rip out the lungs of whoever had dared to challenge him by stealing one of his possessions – he winced reflexively at the term, imagining all the 'sits' Kagome would give him if she heard him call her his possession – from under his nose, his heart cried out in agony. Why? Something in him whimpered. Had whimpered since he'd first smelt Kikyo's scent in the clearing of the Bone-eaters well with Kagome's pack. Why had she had to hurt him the worst possible way she knew how? He was certain that Kikyo had known about the terrified hysteria that had clawed at his gut and throat when he'd found the fool girl's backpack at the foot of the Bone-eater's well. He remembered how, for an instant, he'd thought that she had accidentally dropped it as she'd been jumping into the well. They had just had a particularly nasty fight over something she'd called 'midterms.' She'd been insistent that she needed to go 'home' and prepare for them. He could never understand why she didn't realize that her home was with him, not the strange stone and metal world on the other end of the well.
He'd told her with the arrogance unique to only something young and male that she was not allowed to go 'home' and that he expected her to be ready to move out at first light; there been a rumor of a Shikon shard in the eastern mountains. He remembered with pain how her eyes had filled with a fury that burned away any tears that that had been in her eyes. Though she only sat him once, the words that she'd said while he was lying on the ground in front of her like a fucking animal had hurt more than a thousand 'sits.'
"You Inuyasha," she'd spat, "are a selfish boy. Don't bother ever coming through the well again. I'm going to have Grandfather close it up." And she'd stalked away swiftly while he was still struggling to get up. Something in her voice had alerted him that she just might mean it this time, so he'd followed her, feeling confident that he'd catch her before she reached the well. He'd studiously ignored the feeling of panic that rose up in him as the conviction that her words were more than an angry bluff this time set in. And when he'd gotten there, and found only her backpack, he'd been so frightened that she had left, that she was gone, that he had been prepared to jump into the well right then and there and find her, and even drag back if need be. That's why he hadn't noticed Kikyo's scent right away. Once he had recognized it, he'd almost torn down the forest looking for the two women.
At first he'd been angry that Kikyo had shown such blatant disrespect for him and his abilities as to attempt such a bold maneuver in broad daylight. He'd started to worry when the sun began to set and he still hadn't found a clue to either of their whereabouts. At moonrise he gave up and returned to the old witch's hut. He had hoped that maybe he'd been mistaken, or that maybe Kagome had gotten away and returned to the village for the protection of the houshi, though the thought of someone other than himself protecting her bothered him greatly. The blank faces of Miroku and the kitsune told him what he needed to know the instant he stepped in the door. If Kagome had been there, the kitsune would have had a look of smug glee on his face, and the houshi would have an amused superior look on his face and the old witch would look exasperated. That was always his clue that he was about to be 'sat' until he couldn't move.
"Where the hell is she!" He roared finally, perched on one of the stronger branches of one of the larger trees. He didn't try to conceal his presence from whatever wildlife lurked in the shadows of the hardwood. Indeed, he would have welcomed such a thing enthusiastically as a much needed distraction just then. At the moment, he had an almost overpowering urge to sink his claws into something with soft flesh and shed it apart. The slightly wistful thought that it would be nice to taste warm, sweet blood on his tongue lingered at the back of his mind.
"Kosu," he muttered, surveying the surrounding area with baleful, but sharp, molten gold eyes. "Where the fuck is she?" He leapt down from his branch, landing lightly, and put his nose to the ground. A host of scents paraded past his sensitive nose. Several lesser demons had passed by here recently, and there had been a killing here one or two days past, but the blood was old and stale, and most definitely not human. It smelled more like a wolf or possible a fox. Something musky, and natural, and most definitely not Kagome. Nor was it Kikyo.
He turned away and moved on.
Hours later he was still searching. He crouched on the ground and growled deep in his chest, digging his claws into the firm moist earth. It was impossible. There was too much ground to cover and the trail would be old, if it was even there that is. Kagome was probably dead by now anyway . . .
He shook his head forcefully, though it made the garnet-colored prayer beads around his neck clatter together musically and he wailed internally at the physical reminder of Kagome. He was not going to give up until he was given an absolute proof that Kagome was dead. He would find her. He couldn't afford otherwise.
It was just after midday, and the air between the trees was heavy and stifling: thick with the scent of decay and growth. And though the sun was blocked from reaching too deeply into the forest, it was still murderously hot. Inuyasha could feel beads of perspiration dot his brow and soak his chest and neck. Though a firerat hair kimono was excellent for battle and during the colder winter months, it was torture in the warmer seasons. It was almost as bad on those freak days that sometimes occur during the winter and early spring were the temperature skyrockets and makes one forget its really winter. It was just his freaking luck that today happened to be one of those freakish days. Fuck. He resisted the urge to hang his tongue out and pant like a dog. How the hell was he suppose to find Kagome's scent if all he could smell was his own sweaty body? His ears twitched suddenly, and swiveled around, distracted by the faint sound of a splash. He grinned at the familiar sound, and bounded off in the direction his ears told him it had come from.
His sprint to the stream was heralded by the angry squawk of bird life startled from the shrubbery and foliage by his noisy movements. He clattered tiredly into the icy water of the stream, skidding on the smooth round rocks loose on the shore and in the streambed. He crouched down low in the water, submerging himself up to his neck, sucking it up in greedy mouthfuls, and almost drowning himself in his haste to appease his thirst.
Perhaps it was because he was down at water level that he noticed Kagome's necklace. Because when he glanced up, across at the bank opposite him, he immediately saw the glitter of the silver chain hidden amongst the dead leaves and moss. He felt more than he heard himself utter the strangest sound, a mixture or a growl and a moan that was somewhere between a cry of pain and a shout of triumph. He scrambled across the stream, reaching for the thin strand of linked silver as if he was a drowning man and the chain was his last hope in this world. He fucking hated the way his hands trembled as they held the chain, but couldn't stop it for the life of him.
The necklace, minus the small blue crystal charm and snapped close to the lock, was the one Kagome had been wearing when he'd last seen her. He could remember it because it had swung out of her sweater at some point during a petty argument they'd been having right before she'd announced that she had midterms. The white flash of the silver and crystal had caught his attention immediately; just as had the way she'd looked guilty about it and tried to stuff it back in her sweater. Though she refused to say whom it was from other than, 'a friend,' Inuyasha had his own suspicions about the 'friend.' He was almost positive that it was the whelp Mojo –Pogo: whatever his name was. He remembered making a decision to look into the boy later.
Now he felt a hysterical giggle bubble upward in his throat and he tried to calm down. Because Kagome's necklace was here, she and Kikyo had to have at least passed through here. He purposefully ignored the other possibility, that it had been dropped somewhere else and a crow or magpie, seeing it's bright glitter, had carried it off and dropped it here when he'd come bounding through the trees like he had. He had to believe that they had passed though here. He had nothing else to go on.
He scavenged along the slightly softer bit of bank along the stream, and found a perfect set of footprints. They were tiny, three or four sizes smaller than his at least, and bare. Kikyo had been here. He turned around in a small circle, testing the air and scanning the ground. He jerked into a defensive position suddenly, catching a flash of unnaturally pure white with the corner of his eye. His body was singing with an eager readiness to fight. After waiting several minutes, he relaxed his posture and felt foolish. It had most likely been his imagination. He returned to scanning the ground for some other sign of either Kikyo or Kagome.
He was rewarded with a maze of prints embedded in the soft mud of the riverbank. There was a second set of larger prints mixed in with Kikyo's smaller ones, but the larger ones were older so he ignored them and focused only on Kikyo's. There were some on the riverbank, more leading into the mossy clearing that had held Kagome's necklace, crushed into the ground were it was more soft moss than hard ground, and a final set leading into the woods beyond. He set his nose to the ground, searching among the rich loamy scent of the earth and the heavy metallic scent of the stream for either of the women's scents. He found Kagome's almost immediately. It was the strongest, overlying the copper and nitrate smell of the damp earth. There was another scent there as well, one that was oddly familiar, but he couldn't quite place it, and since it was neither Kikyo's nor Kagome's, he ignored it. Kikyo's scent was not really discernible, but it didn't matter. He only needed one scent to track them.
The prints and the scents lead into the forest. His luck was with him now. The wind was coming from the way the prints were heading, so he and the stream behind him were downwind. His eyes gleamed with renewed fury, and he gave a deep-throated growl as he sprang up into the trees and started to move.
He kept his eyes on the ground, searching for more signs of passage, and his nose into the wind to catch even the faintest of scents. The trails lead to a large copse of ash trees growing closely together. The fog that had been growing for the last hour of so had made it hard to see the physical details of the trail he was following, but the scent had grown stronger the closer he got to the grove. He crouched high in the branches of an ancient tree that was twice as wide as the tree Kikyo had killed him on nearly fifty years ago, watching the copse for signs of movement.
Damn this fog! He snarled silently. I can barely see the ground. He was preparing to scout around the stand when a scream sliced through the murky air and drove like a knifepoint into his heart. The scream had been a sound of pain, not true fear. It had been full of defiance and rage. He recognized it as Kagome's instantly.
He dropped to the ground and forced his way through the tree. It was oddly silent around him. There was no sound other than shuffled hiss of the material of his clothing and the parting rustle of the foliage as he moved forward. The odd thought that the fog seemed to be muffling his senses darted though his mind for an instant like a carp though murky waters, but it was immediately pushed away by the almost overwhelming, primitive urge to make the blood flow of whoever dared to threaten one of his.
When he broke through the trees, there was no more time to think, to feel. He had an instants impression of Kagome crouched in the gravel of the shore like an animal, her skin was stained with drying blood in numerous places, and she clutched a small blade that dripped with macabre brightness against her sweater. Kikyo stood across from her, in shooting stance, with a bow drawn back, straining and ready. A thin sheet of blood flowed from her arm and dyed the pristine arm of her kimono red. Her face was fierce; lips pulled back from her teeth in a snarl. Inuyasha felt a moment of pride that Kagome had scored blood. He was moving forward as he saw Kagome turn to him, and though he wanted to shout at her for being an idiot and drawing Kikyo's attention to him, he didn't waste his breath and charged.
Perhaps it was because he was half human, he didn't really know, but whenever he fought, whenever he killed, there was a part in him that wailed. It was the same past that had been intrigued by the selfless young priestess guarding the Shikon jewel fifty years ago, and the same part that still craved his mother's touch. He had learned to shut that part away when he killed. That was also one of the reasons why he wanted the shikon jewel so badly; so he could either lock that part of him away forever, or so he could lock the demon in him away. The shikon jewel could give him relief either way.
It only took about ten seconds. Twelve seconds at the very most. He charged, resolutely forcing back that voice in his mind screaming at what he was about to do, and as he charged, Kikyo started to turn. He had only meant to knock her out. He swore to himself he would only knock her out. But she started to turn. She started to turn and he didn't have time to check his speed. There was no time.
He had prepared his blow to catch her in the side and knock the wind out of her. While she was incapacitated, he would knock her out and then grab Kagome and leave. But he hadn't counted on her turning. His blow was supposed to catch her in the shoulder, maybe her ribs. It would have not damaged her much. Maybe dislocate her shoulder or crack some ribs, but she was only a shell made of clay and sticks. It would not do her irrevocable damage. He had to convince himself this all in a matter of milliseconds. Then she turned. He saw the bowstring tremble, and saw her fingers prepare to release the shaft, and she turned. The man in him saw the opening and screamed. The demon in him saw the opening and snarled.
She was about to shoot Kagome, he told himself harshly. He wanted to convince himself that she was going to shoot, if only to stop the man inside him from screaming.
She turned towards him, and her bow lowered an inch though it didn't waver from her target, leaving a clear opening for a blow directly to her chest. The man in him wept. The demon in him took the opening. The fog seemed to rob the area around him of all other sounds, and it clogged his nose, muffling Kikyo's loamy scent of earth and the underlying scent of Kagome on her. He could hear the thick wet crunch of her breast bone under his hand; felt the soft wet tissue part and snag on his hand as he forced his way though her chest and met air on the other side. The metallic copper scent of her blood burnt his nostrils.
Her hands became lax on the bow, and the arrow slid between nerveless fingers to her feet. Her large silver-blue eyes held a look of surprised incomprehension in them. A bit of bloody foam frothed at her lips, staining them darkly pink. He let the body slide limply forward on his forearm, and he repressed a shudder. He held her up with one hand and withdrew his other arm from her chest as gently as he could. Splinters of shell-pink bone stuck to his hand and arm, colored a pale washed-out red with Kikyo's blood. He was suddenly, irrationally glad that the firerat hair his kimono was made of was resistant to most types of stains, including blood. He withdrew his support and she crumpled to the ground in a graceless heap. He stepped way from her body, and reminded himself that she was just a clay shell with greenwood for bones. Not Kikyo. Not real. He managed to ignore the fact that clay husks don't bleed.
And this had all only taken a few seconds.
He went to Kagome then and lifted her up, suddenly in a hurry to be gone from there. He felt tired and drained and held Kagome close to his heart.
"Just hold on for a little while Kagome," he whispered hoarsely. "We'll be gone from this fucking cursed place in a minute." Kagome did not respond, and he did not pay attention to the stiffness with which she held herself to him. He did not once look back at Kikyo.
"Inuyasha," Kagome asked softly, several hours later. They were sitting in a fairly sheltered clearing somewhere in the demon-infested woods. Inuyasha had taken them as far away from the ash wood copse as he could. He didn't care if it was in the opposite direction as the village. He didn't care that they had nothing to eat or sleep on. He just didn't care period.
Kagome was sitting to the left of and slightly opposite to Inuyasha; her feet curled up under her and stared with an odd expression at the silent dog-demon. Wisps of fog still swirled between the trees, but it was much less now. He just sat there, staring blankly a head of him, replaying again and again the moment when Kikyo turned and he saw the opening and made his blow just that little bit stronger.
"Inuyasha," she repeated. He looked at her this time. She tilted her head slightly and asked in a curious voice, "did it hurt to kill someone you loved so much?" He stared at her uncomprehendingly for a moment, then something painful rolled over him like a wave. His chest caved in over his heart and lungs. He couldn't breath. A sob. He was crying. He flung himself at her and wrapped his arms around her torso and wept dry, heaving sobs into her shoulder. He ignored the fact that she smelled of loamy earth and greenwood. He ignored that fact that her eyes were a one-way mirror, only reflecting a mild curiosity for the fact that it had hurt him to kill Kikyo, and no sympathy or empathy at all.
And of course he ignored the fact that she didn't put her arms around him to comfort him as he cried.
When Inuyasha woke up, Kagome was sitting on a decaying moss-covered log, humming to herself and playing with something gleaming in her hands. She wore his firerat kimono top around her shoulders like a cloak. It had gotten chilly during the night so he'd insisted she take it. It was early morning, butter-colored bars of sunlight sliced across the clearing, giving it warmth it did not have the night before. He just lay were he was for a moment, content to just watch the obsidian-haired girl where she sat in his kimono. This, he suddenly knew, was what he wanted. She was his home.
After several moments of just watching the girl, he sat up and shook his head, momentarily confused as to where they were and why. Memories of the previous day came slamming back into him with vengeful force. Oh yes. He'd killed Kikyo yesterday, he thought dully. He remembered now. Funny how the little things could slip your mind like that. He got up and stretched mechanically. He brushed his hair from his eyes and noticed with surprise and distant horror that he hadn't clean the blood from his hand.
"Kagome," he cleared his throat. He wanted to get her attention so he could tell her that he was going to find them so food. He actually wanted to go back to the village straight away, but he didn't know when she'd last eaten. He tried again. "Kagome."
The girl looked up blankly.
"I'm going to go get us something to eat," he ventured hesitantly. "Will you be all right here by yourself?" She ignored his question and continued to stare at him blankly. It disturbed some small, still undisturbed part in him. But he ignored it. He was becoming very good at ignoring things. She wasn't answering, and he reluctantly turned to leave.
"Inuyasha," she questioned in her soft voice. He turned back to her, and noticed that it was his prayer beads she held between her hands. His hand went automatically to his throat, distantly troubled. He couldn't remember her taking them off him.
"Inuyasha," she questioned again, idly rubbing each bead like she was cleaning them and staring serenely at him.
"Yes," he said.
"Why do you keep calling me 'Kagome'?" He recoiled, all the things he'd forced himself to ignore suddenly clamoring for his attention. She just almost smiled.
"Because you are Kagome!" His voice rose several octaves and held an almost child-like quality of terror in it. No, no, he told himself. This is wrong. This is not real. The girl cocked her head to one side.
"No I'm not."
"You have to be, you're wearing her clothes." He grasped at anything he could to shield himself from the knowledge with. "Only Kagome wears those clothes." The girl shook her head. She almost smiled.
"I'm not Kagome," she chided gently. "You killed Kagome. Remember yesterday? Remember I asked you if it hurt to kill someone you love. You cried, remember?"
"No," he shrilled. "I didn't. I didn't kill Kagome." He had dropped to all fours and was huddling into him chest, hiding behind his shock of snowy hair as if to hide from himself. I didn't, I didn't, Ididn'tididn'tididn'tididn't, he chanted to himself in terror.
"Yes, you did." The girl corrected softly, as if speaking to a child. "You punched your hand right through her chest, remember? See your hand? The red is blood. Kagome's blood." The youth looked down at his hand in horror, staring at the brownish-red crusting around his fingernails and dried in streaks on his skin. Then something in him snapped. In a sudden, frantic move, he started to claw at his arm. His claws tore red rents in his flesh as he tried to get rid of the old blood staining it.
"Get it off!" He shrieked. "Please, please get it off!"
"Stop that now," the girl commanded sharply. The white-haired boy flinched and huddled into himself again, rcking himself slightly. "Come here," the boy obediently slunk closer to where she sat. She almost smiled.
He crept closer and rested his chin on her knee. His eyes were large, molten gold and haunted. "Are you going to make it better?" He asked in a small voice. She just almost smiled.
She suddenly flung the prayer beads over his head, and the sudden movement caused him to recoil and scamper away. She almost laughed. The beads felt heavy and strangling around his neck. He whimpered and clawed at the beads, trying to get them off.
"Bad boy," the girl reproved, startling him and making his hands go still. She wove a rune in the air between them and murmured the incantation that would cause the spell she had placed in the beads to activate. They glowed brightly for a moment, lit from the inside, and then the necklace seemed to shrink a size or so. Inuyasha whined and clawed at his throat again, but his eyes became cloudy and dull. A pale, washed-out yellow color like the sun after rain. She almost smiled
"Who am I?" She asked, gently solicitous.
"Kikyo," he said dutifully, as if there could be no doubt.
"Who is your master?"
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Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters. All characters are property of Rumiko Takashi.
Youkai – demon
Nemuri – sleep
Shibireru – go to sleep
Oyaji – old man
Bakayarou – idiot!
Kosu – shit
I have re-written this story. Well, not really re-written it; just fleshed it out a bit more. I felt that it wasn't quite as dark as I wanted it to be. So I thought, why not re-write it? So I told myself; then do it. And, I did. I, personally, am actually quite pleased with the way this has turned out. Not only do I think it's as dark as I wanted it to be, but I also think that it's more disturbing than I wanted it to be (though I'm not totally sure that that's a good thing . . .). I wanted to write something that would have you looking over your shoulder after you read it. I wanted to write something that would stay with you. I think I accomplished it, but I would love other people's impute. Please tell me what you think.
Forgive me, if you will, for the action scenes, I just cannot write that kind of stuff. At least, not well. Generally I skip the scene and let you imagine what happened.
The title came from the fact that in the manga Kikyo manages to trick Inuyasha one time and steal the shikon shards (don't remember exactly how). The phrase 'trick me once, shame on you. Trick me twice, shame on me,' just seemed to fit somehow.
Also, though this is still a one shot, just as was it's predecessor, I have been toying around with a semi-sequel type story for it. I have left an opening in the story for a sequel (remember the scene with Inuyasha at the stream? Remember the splash that had alerted him to the stream in the first place? Remember the white flash the he caught with the corner of his eye? He never did find out what that was. Or whom the second set of foot prints and oddly familiar scent belonged to, did he?). Not a really happy ending one, but it would be plausible. I personally don't think I'm gonna do it. Honestly, I think that a sequel would just dull the impact.
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