Disclaimer, in case it wasn't obvious. I don't own Inuyasha, or really any other property. Thank you.
Chapter XXIV: An Old Path
Where was she?
Her eyes drifted around her. She was on an elevated position, a rocky outcropping in the side of a mountain, that much she was able to put together quickly. Beyond her was an endless sea of trees as far as her eyes could spy. There were no signs of demons, or monsters, or even how she got here. Had Naraku dropped her off here to just be left in confusion until he called for her again? There was no beating in her chest, so she knew that she wasn't free. This was just another one of his sick games, wasn't it?
Oh well, now wasn't the time to look the gift-horse in the mouth. She stretched and it felt luxurious, given how stiff and uncomfortable her arms had become within her chains. This was going to be a wonderful morning at least. She could take flight to anywhere she wanted and simply drift on a current into somewhere new. When her hand reached back to pluck a feather from her hair however, she felt only her hair being down, rather than her typical bun. She'd only looked at the environment before, but she'd not done anything of a self-appraisal so far, beyond hoping for a heartbeat. No fan either. She placed a hand over her face as she felt frustration kicking in. Well, that meant she was stuck out here without much she could do about it. That was great, wasn't it? Just fucking perfect, even.
Oh, you fucker. Why would you drop me here without a feather or my fan?
Was this some low-key way to just watch her suffer as she went through the forest below. She saw the path along the rocks to get down relatively easily, but that wasn't the nature of the problem. The problem was going to be once she hit those trees and had no idea where to go, she was going to be lost almost immediately and probably being hunted by other demons. She tried sensing Chiyaku or Shorin nearby, perhaps hoping that their powers would be there. She couldn't even sense Naraku.
She couldn't sense anything. The only thing she could feel was the warmth of the sun and a fresh breeze brushing past her. It was actually… kind of nice, being above it all even for a few minutes. If only he'd dumped her somewhere a little less remote, or perhaps somewhere she'd have had less of a problem laying around in, she'd have been less irritated with this predicament. Of course, he just had to be an asshole to drop her here, didn't he? That was the only thing she could think of. It was just another game he was playing.
"I hate him," she seethed. "Really? Not even a feather? No fans? Am I bait for something? Why not tell me first? Or is this another punishment of lesson? What an ass. Nothing can be simple, always plans, within plans, within plans…"
She sighed to herself, noting her material situation. He didn't even drop her off with the crazy human she was shackled with. Admittedly, it was still better being out here among the fresh air and trees, than being in a dungeon with an angry demon-slayer who was shackled to the wall with her.
Maybe she could just lay around until that wretch started to squeeze her heart again. Even if it was fall, she could enjoy a bit of sun, maybe kick her feet up and just enjoy the fresh air. In fact, that was exactly what she was going to do. She didn't need to do a damn thing. She could do whatever the Hell she wanted if that asshole wasn't giving the orders.
Sitting down on the side of the rocks as guided her face towards the warmth of the sun and just gave a small smile of gratitude. Wiggling her butt over to the side, she kept trying to from a more comfortable place to sit, given she was sitting on hardened rock. Her body moved from one side to the other as she tried to find herself a comfortable but she never quite managed it. An annoyed noise escaped her as she repositioned again.
The only thing wrong with this scenario on top of all that, was she was also getting bored. Why the fuck didn't he at least leave her with her fan? She could idly amuse herself. Why not her feathers too!? It's not like she could go anywhere without them. In fact, she was even angrier when she knew that if he started calling for her, it'd take her FOREVER to get back, and then he'd blame her for being slow.
The frustration mounted until she hopped off the side of the rock, landing her bare feet on a patch of dirt on one level of the rock, beginning to look towards the unknown forest beyond. Well, what was the worst that would happen? Getting ambushed and mutilated? She'd probably heal from that, or whatever trap Naraku had in mind would be sprung. If he planned on killing her, he'd do something crueller than this, as far as she could tell.
With a sigh, she resigned herself to a forest-filled adventure by foot. Maybe if she was lucky a bird would drop a feather, and she could manifest a fan with the power of positive thinking.
Stepping over the untouched earth, she found her way towards the path into the forest. The looming trees hanging overhead were ominous. The scent of the wild seemed to come off this place in a way that was concerning. She didn't sense any demonic energies, but that didn't always matter. As she was, even the wrong humans might be a threat to her wellbeing. The shade of the trees might look otherwise inviting, but as it stood, peering into the layers beneath the canopy in front of her felt like looking into a maze where she didn't know what was at the end of it.
Looking back at the relative safety of the rocks she'd been dumped on, Kagura's mind weighed her decision. She'd need to get out of here eventually anyway. And if Naraku needed her to stay put, he'd have told her. It was so frustrating to have to deal with his vague, cryptic bullshit. With a frustrated noise, Kagura looked ahead, steeling herself, her feet began to move with faux purpose over the beaten path into the cleared path through the darkened wood.
As soon as she entered the darkened pathway, she felt her senses on alert. Red eyes darted from side to side as she made her way through the areas around the undergrowth. The most unbearable part of all of it wasn't stepping in moss, or side-stepping a downed tree, or hopping over a path of undergrowth that'd reclaimed the path, it was the slow-going nature of it. She journeyed for over an hour as she felt like she'd made absolutely no progress. In the skies above she was free, free to sweep through the air and go anywhere she pleased. Down here, down in the mud and stepping between roots, she felt hindered in a way she'd never expected. It was beyond disappointing.
"Is this some kind of test?" she muttered to herself aloud as she hopped over a few downed branches, her red eyes scanning the nearby path for any signs of a trap. "Or are you just doing this out of amusement, Naraku?"
There was a breeze that brushed through the forest around her a second later, she could feel herself reading it as it moved by. Every tree it touched in its path had been boring and lacking in noteworthiness, but she could hear whispers in the wind of a pair of voices ahead. It sounded like a pair of humans moving along the path ahead. They were coming from another angle, which meant that the path ahead would likely start to diverge.
Noting her hair was down already, Kagura moved it to cover parts of her ears, and hope her red eyes weren't an immediate giveaway as she moved ahead, walking down the path as the voices became louder, and she could start making out what they were saying.
"I think we're lost."
"We're not lost," a voice returned, sounding like he was filled with fake-confidence. "I come by this way all the time."
"Kohaku, we're lost. I just want to be back at the village before the end of the night, and my feet hurt, and I just want to be home. You said this wouldn't happen this time."
"It's not happened! I know exactly where we're going," he assured her. "Kind of. I know we're going in the right direction. Even if we're off by a bit, once we get into a clearing, I'll get us the rest of the way."
An annoyed voice escaped the female as a nervous laugh came back in response.
"B-besides, my sister will find us if it starts getting too late. She knows we're out here."
"How can you hunt for a living and have no sense of direction?"
"Hey, hey, I know the direction we're going."
"Just not the way home."
"Home is where the heart is, and isn't my heart with you?" he teased.
"You're impossible," her voice responded, clearly having its tension broken as an amused, and almost flirtatious tone overcame it.
It sounded revolting, if she was honest. When she pushed on through the brush, she came upon the lost, but disgustingly affectionate couple. It was a bit of a surprise to see however. She paused as she came into their view, seeing them staring at her. The male was not the tallest, and barely yet a man she suspected. Maybe 18? He might have been slightly older, but not by much. She'd envisioned someone who'd been a soft idiot, but upon looking at him she immediately felt the threaten he posed. There was a sickle-weapon at his side made of what was sharpened demon-bone, and looked like it'd been treated to be hardened. That was a demon-slayer weapon. He looked like he was stringy as well, but it was like looking at tough meat, and she was guessing he was fast as well. That kind of weapon also meant that he was an immediate threat to her as she was now, and there wouldn't be much hope at masking her eyes from him.
The girl on the other hand looked about as soft as the inner lining of a blanket. She was sitting down as her very obvious husband was checking on her feet. They were traveling while she was clearly with child as well, which meant at least they might try to avoid an immediate conflict. The fact that they seemed to have a pair of packs to their side as well, filled with demonic remains, told her that they had been selling their goods, rather than hunting. None of it looked fresh enough.
None of this was happening by accident, she knew that. Naraku must have had some plan for all of this.
Instead of talking to them, she opted to try and avoid the situation all together and-
"Hello!" the woman's voice called out to her. "Wait! We need directions."
"Don't we all?" Kagura remarked back coolly. "Unfortunately-"
"It's alright," the male, who she knew was Kohaku, spoke up. "We know you're a demon. The red eyes are a giveaway. We're not here hunting and we don't just hurt people. We just stop demons that are harming villages. We really do need directions if you have them."
She turned and eyed him suspiciously. Trust wasn't something that Kagura just handed out to people, and for good reason. How did she know that it wasn't just a chance to get her closer? She was perhaps 3 full body lengths away right now. Though… the weapon he carried had a chain, it was clearly meant to be thrown. If he was good, she was already dead. Even if not, he could likely overpower her without her fan.
She cursed her creator again as she reluctantly took a few steps towards the pair. The woman seemed to sigh, moving a conscious hand to her stomach and looking to the side, clearly tired from her journey so far. Why they were traveling while she was like this, Kagura hadn't a clue. It seemed irresponsible, but again, she wasn't a human, and she didn't exactly know why they did what they did. She didn't need to.
"I'm just as lost in these trees as you are," she said, getting slightly closer. "I've no reference point."
"Well, we're a bit better off then that," Kohaku responded. "Do you know where you were headed?'
"… No," she admitted. "I don't know where I'm headed. Where ever the wind takes me, I suppose."
The pair looked at one another and then back at her.
"My wife and I had to head to the village to the south-east, where we were trading some goods. I'd normally not take her, but this is the last time we can travel this far before the winter set in, we needed to make sure we moved one last batch of game before we settled in for the winter. By winter's end we'll have a mouth to feed as well."
"Congratulations," Kagura said dryly.
She hated children herself, she could already tell. Still, best to not look her new friends in the face and say that.
"Thank you," the woman said cheerfully, clearly not hearing her lack of enthusiasm, or more egregiously, ignoring it. "My name is Rin, by the way. It's good to meet you…?"
Internally groaning, Kagura was reluctant to answer before the husband cut in.
"And I'm Kohaku," he announced, smiling as he did.
"Kagura," she answered, before giving a small window into the cheeky thoughts she had of the loving couple. "The two of you seeming very happy together, even if you both seem to be making a lot of wrong turns."
The husband caught on seemingly, and a half frown formed on his face while he looked at her, raising a brow as he did, though the girl seemed to shrug it off.
"Kagura, what a beautiful name," she said before looking at her with a pair of world-worn eyes, something the demoness hadn't expected, her own lips tightened as she felt them almost peer through her. "If you can help us with the satchel I was carrying, we can offer you a place at our home tonight."
"To a demon?" Kagura asked, raising a brow. "Demon-hunters putting a demon up in their home?"
"Well, there are a few half-demons in our village. I'm sure it'll be fine. Inuyasha's normally around-"
That's the game then, isn't it Naraku? That's the trap. I see now.
Internally, she groaned and knew she had to play along. She could almost hear him over her shoulder now and gave a fuller, false smile to the couple.
"I'll be more than happy to help," she offered, picking up the smaller satchel which she knew was the wives'.
"Thank you, Kagura," Rin responded as she hopped off the log she was on, seemingly relieved. "I promise we'll have something good when we get back. I know that Kagome was working on getting dinner ready for a bunch of people and she's a great cook."
"A great cook, now," Kohaku corrected. "I was subjected to her tests over the years. Poisoning might have been preferable."
"Thanks, hon, I'm sure our guest really wants to hear that Kagome used to be a bad cook," Rin remarked, sounding annoyed.
"She can't be any worse than the cooks I've met," Kagura remarked, not giving away exactly who she knew who cooked, but giving away the quality of her meals so far. "If it's not moving and has been over a fire, it's probably better than the ones I'm thinking of."
As they started to walk, she couldn't help but smirk as the couple went back and forth.
"I still say it's going to be a boy," Kohaku remarked.
"I think it's a girl," Rin responded.
I think it's a human.
Kagura kept that line to herself, opting to not get involved in their conversation, at least not in any depth, before she was dragged into it mercilessly.
"Hey, question, what do you think?" Kohaku asked, sounding amused. "She always gets people to side against me, I'm saying boy."
Letting one side of her lip curve upwards, Kagura already knew the answer she had to give if that was the case.
"Girl," she responded.
"Yes," Rin said quietly, sounding vindicated before grinning back at her husband.
They were disgustingly in love, it seemed.
Rolling his eyes and shaking his head, Kohaku did smile back at her before he looked back towards the path.
"Every time, I tell you," he laughed. "No one takes my side on anything."
"I think people just like being on the winning side," Kagura commented in return, before shrugging as they rounded another corner. "Particularly because its easier being on the winning side, when it's not your side."
Most of it was playful, and she actually had to admit they seemed like nice people, which was all the more abnormal. Their journey continued as the couple talked about their plans amongst one another. How he was going to help his sister and brother-in-law, or how she was intending to start providing herbs and demonic components to heal the sick. She even got the nervousness they were hiding over what she knew was their first child.
The path she walked was a strange one, it moved through the forest like some kind of maze, taking them through lower and higher ground as the hours passed.
The fact they were so accepting of her presence didn't feel off-putting either, despite her normal routine of being alone and isolated. It was strange traveling with a group at all, but they were almost familiar to her. As they came into a clearing however, Kagura's eyes widened as she looked to the fall-stricken meadows to their left.
"Told you I knew where we were going," Kohaku said, sounding both vindicated and relieved.
"I wonder how many wrong turns it took," Rin responded.
"As many as needed to get us home."
"… I'll hit you."
The voices of the two faded from her as she looked at the meadow, her feet coming to a halt. She knew this place. The flowers were losing their pedals, their stems going lax, but she'd seen it before. She swallowed hard at the sight, realizing that this was where her encounter had taken place within the fan, while that Ogre-bitch had her opened up. It was awkward to say the least. This was where she was supposed to die. A grim reminder on what was amounting to a light-hearted trip.
"People are going to be happy to see you again," Rin's voice sounded. "We missed you, Kagura."
She'd already paused her movement prior to the words being spoken to her, Kagura didn't look at the pair as she blinked, having sworn she just heard a completely unreasonable remark. Happy to see her again? She barely knew anyone. Chiyaku, Shorin, Yudarin, Kanna, Naraku, and Sango were just about it. Well, she also knew Sesshoumaru and his brat of a brother, and the lecherous Monk.
When she turned her head forward, the pair were gone. The satchel in her hand was gone, even. The fall weather was gone, and it felt warm. Like it was the middle of a summer's day. Her eyes wandered around her as she tried to figure out what was even happening.
The flowers in the meadow were in full bloom. She looked around for a moment and her ruby-red eyes locked onto something unsettling. Sesshoumaru was standing there… with the woman? The same one who'd been walking and talking to her with her husband?
This… this can't be real. Even Naraku doesn't have powers to change the seasons. Am I… am I dreaming? But I don't know any of these people.
Starting to take careful steps forward, her eyes looked around every bit of land around her as she closed the distance. They were a far distance, by foot the walk was almost five minutes. Despite how lovely and pleasant the flowers seemed… it was a macabre journey.
As she came close to them, she expected them to turn to look at her, or acknowledge her presence, especially the killer, Sesshoumaru. She still bore the claw-marks he'd left on her belly, and those had nearly gotten her skinned too. She would need to return the favour at some point. It was so odd to know that he knew her, and she didn't really know him. There was a story here that she didn't have the answers to, and he did. It was beyond frustrating to think about…
"Inuyasha said you were never close to anyone but me," Rin said, her face wizened by some years, perhaps… 5 years? Maybe even more. "But I know you care a lot about Jaken, and you cared a lot about Ah-Un."
There was a silence that fell over the pair of them as the tall demon just stood there, looking at the girl before looking at something else. Kagura finally came to within a body's length, seeing the small set of stones that had been erected there.
"We found this," the woman then said, breaking through the silence, pulling out a fan.
Kagura's eyes widened when she spied at it, and she could see that despite the cold, outer nature of the other demon, his attention turned to it immediately as well. There people knew her? They really did. Was that fan…
It belonged to someone I used to know. I think she'd have wanted you to have it.
Some of the words the dog-demon had said to her came to the fore of her mind as she stared at the item that she'd lacked this entire time. This wasn't a dream, was it? Or was it? She couldn't tell, but she knew that she was looking at something important. She was looking at a piece of her that was left behind.
It started in an off way at first, but Kagura could have sworn she felt her heart beating in her chest as she saw all of this. She didn't know these people. She didn't know any of them. They were all spectres of the demon she'd fought only once. He'd spared her, he'd given her the fan, and it saved her, ironically enough.
Between the two of them, behind them, she could see the small shrine they were in front of. It was a grave-marker as much as it was anything, but she could see markings on it identifying it otherwise. But in it, at the top, she could see the markings that made up… her name. Kagura, that was what it said. The other words were too distant to see, but she could almost feel them from here. There was a shrine here to her?
"Kohaku told me how Kagura saved him from Hakudoshi. If it'd not been for her, he'd have died long before Kikyo could have saved him. It was important to him that we built this after he found it. He didn't want there to be nothing to remember her by. She was his friend, and I know she was your friend too. I know that… I know that you wanted to make sure everything she did wasn't in vain. So, I told Kohaku, the next time we saw you, that you should take the fan with you."
That couple? She'd saved the husband in that couple? But why? Why would she have wasted her time saving some fool who couldn't find his way through a forested path, for his silly wife? Who the Hell was Hakudoshi? Kikyo? She knew who Kikyo was, but she was dead. She'd made friends with some teenager? No, kid? How did that even work?
Why would I die for someone else?
"Kagura died ten years ago," Sesshoumaru's voice cut through her thoughts, despite its stoicism, she could here a distant sadness tinging the words. "It hardly matters if anyone else remembers her."
So, that really was her fate, wasn't it? A breeze picked up, it swept around her as she looked over the field in every direction. It was beautiful out here at least. That was something she could admit to herself. To be surrounded by something so… … … perfect, when she died. Even if it didn't dull her pain, perhaps it offered her some peace. This was the fate she'd wanted to avoid. She wanted to live, and she wanted to be free. Maybe this was a lesson after all? To survive meant to let her freedom die. What a… terrible choice.
But it was odd, these people spoke so fondly of her. This woman, Rin, seemed to imply that they owed a great deal to her. She must have had her child some years ago now. It was odd to think about even… what did she mean now? This had all happened in only a few hours. She was losing her mind.
"It does," Rin's voice countered Sesshoumaru. "Because she was here. People should remember her for the good things she did, and for the life she had, even if it was short. One day, when I'm gone, I hope other people want to remember me too. I hope that people who care about me have things to remember me by."
To preserve a memory, to hold someone still in time… to hold them still in time like these two seemingly were. Were they dead now? She had no idea. She had no idea if this was even the future, and not some maddened delusion. Or not some falsehood she now made for herself. If this was the future, she felt an emptiness inside her. Not because she wasn't wanting to live, but because she didn't know these people, but they clearly… cared about her, all of them did. Sesshoumaru, the boy Kohaku, this woman Rin.
The idea of exploiting the dog-demon as she'd planned felt empty. While looking at these two, she could see a quiet grief, a sense of pain she didn't ever expect to see or understand in relation to her own name. She wanted to be amused by it, or see it as some kind of windfall, an advantage to exploit. But hearing it like this, seeing it in person… it was very… difficult.
This… this is why he gave me the fan.
"I am sure Kagura will be remembered by Kohaku and Inuyasha's friends," Sesshoumaru said, his tone lower than expected. "I do not need the fan."
It seemed to line up with what she knew about him. There was a familiarity here that she couldn't explain herself, but she knew he was pushing the fan away to push away her death somehow. She wished she could have understood what kind of bond she might have shared with someone to make them feel that way. She felt unclean as the weight of what she was seeing was transpiring. Her own eyes turned away as she was left there, her arms wrapping around her midsection as she was left here, wishing her curiosity never brought her out this far…
"Keep it," Rin urged. "For some reason, I think she'd want you to have it."
When she looked back, they were gone. The only thing left where they stood was the stone shrine. It was her gravestone. Clouds passed overhead as the fields around her wilted and died, before growing new again. She saw the cycle of death and rebirth over and over again as it played faster and faster before her eyes. The field changing but the stones not. No moss grew over them, nothing seemed to knock them over. She could see brief frames, brief instances as to why.
They were coming here, again and again. Kohaku, more than Rin, but often both of them. Even as the season's passed she could see it. Sometimes just outlines, other times the pair giving small offerings, but all cut-off in an instant. But she saw them getting old. They were coming back here every time. She saw the young man, the young father-to-be she'd met earlier, becoming a man of his middle ages, then older. She saw him in the rain and snow. They came out here to keep this little altar to her, this reminder, as untouched as it could be.
When the field came to life one final time for her, she heard footsteps in the distance.
"Dad, it's fine, I can take care of it this week," a man's voice rose over it all as time slowed down.
When her eyes turned to the side, she saw a middle-aged man walking ahead, she didn't recognize him, but there were familiar features. Behind him, and old man hobbled. It was the face of a human who'd seen a great deal of years. The way he walked was hobbled, old lingering injuries exaggerated with age.
"Don't dad me," his voice came back, it wasn't harsh, but playful. "As long as I'm still on my feet, you know I'll come out here."
"Yea, yea, I know," the man sighed. "I just hate to see you put your back in worse shape to take care of this shrine. I promised you I'd take care of it."
"Jiro," the older man said, his tone softening, becoming less playful even with his aged voice. "I wouldn't be in any shape if it wasn't for this. Stop mothering me. I've already got your actual mother to pester me over a dozen other things. Besides, you don't need to come out here with me for this."
"I know about the fall, dad," Jiro responded, his voice sounding annoyed. "I don't want you getting yourself hurt."
"I'm old enough that I can do whatever I like," he responded. "And so are you. If you want to come out here, come out here. If not, leave me to it."
When he got to the pile of stones, Kagura saw the world starting to freeze in place. When she looked at this old human, she knew who it was already. This was the human mentioned before. This was the husband, Kohaku. It was so strange to see him like this. Several aged patches on his arms, wrinkles down his face, and a hairline that seemingly no longer existed. He had the same soft brown eyes, though they were almost milky, she suspected his vision was going. Aged muscle still seemed to be on much of the body, though it'd sagged with time, she could tell even only seeing his bare arms. Here stood a shadow of a warrior, a shadow of a demon hunter, but he never ceased being what he was, did he?
When he finished his short trek to the marker in front of her, he knelt down at the shrine, brushing off a few things and making sure it was in order. A small prayer was given and she heard it only on the edges of what she knew was real.
"I know I'm not keeping up to date as much as I used to, Kagura," he said, his voice sounding a bit saddened. "You'll need to forgive me though. My old bones aren't what they used to be. Please hear my prayers on the wind. I pray that you are at peace. Thank you for giving your life for mine. My family, my everything, is here because of you."
She didn't know these people. She didn't know what to say even. Was her death really so bad? It was a question she couldn't have asked only a few hours ago. If her death created these strange, happy people, who were so grieved by her loss… she didn't want to die. But would they be gone if she lived? How much of this was what came before, and would come again? How much of it would never be? She didn't know.
But she knew she was seeing this. This happened. These people happened. Their lives happened, and their families happened. These humans were such strange creatures that she couldn't help but feel their honesty throughout this.
Kohaku placed a few small tokens near the shrine before starting to try and get up. He struggled, his leg buckling as he did. Instinctively, knowing it or not, she walked over, grabbing his arm.
"I can get myself u-" he was going to argue until he turned and looked at her.
Brown eyes met hers as she saw something awaken on the other side. There was a joy there that she'd never seen before. She had nothing to compare it too, but even she couldn't help but give a genuine, warm smile to the man. It felt like she'd known him a lifetime somehow. His free hand grabbed onto her arm, helping himself up as he looked back at her in what was clearly confusion mixed with awe.
"Kagura," he managed. "Are you here?"
She raised her hand, still holding onto his arm as she tried to make sure he didn't get too excited. The world was frozen around them. It was just the two of them. Whether this was real, or an illusion, she didn't know. But what she did know was she didn't have the heart to tell him the complete truth.
"Yes," she answered, looking around them. "You look just about the same as the last time we met, though I think you're a hair shorter, and a few hairs less."
That wasn't a complete lie, but the old man seemed to laugh at the remark before she heard several sniffles from him as he turned his head down, a frail hand reaching up to his own eyes brushing away something. When he looked back up at her, she didn't know what to think this time. He was still old, but he looked younger again, like for a window of a moment in time he was the man she'd met earlier that day. Perhaps, like he was when he'd know his Kagura, even.
"We've come here to tend to your shrine when we could," he said to her, sounding guilty, his voice straining. "I know what you gave up for me. You always looked out for me, and you were there when other people couldn't be. I… I've wanted to thank you for so long. I prayed that you heard it. I've had such a good life and I've had it become of what you did for me."
Kagura herself didn't believe what he was saying in some way, but she knew it was true. This was all true, wasn't it? These people, their connection to her, the events that led to this moment. His confession to her was misplaced. It should have been the one who provided him with this new chance. She'd not done a thing. She didn't even know him until today. But she could see it. He knew her. The way he was now, was like someone meeting an old friend after a lifetime apart.
For this human's sake, and she could barely explain why, she knew she couldn't disappoint him.
"I did," she said, her own vision trying not to blur as she smiled back at him, knowing she heard the final prayer he'd made at the small reminder that she'd lived, and died here. "And you have had a good life. You and Rin looked very happy together."
There were tears still present in his eyes as he nodded back at her, trying to keep himself upright.
"We are," he confirmed, brushing his eye with his trembling hand. "She reminded me to never forget, and I didn't. She's always been good to me."
Kagura smiled back, nodding before a question came to the back of her mind.
"You're first child, was it a boy or a girl?"
A full smile broke out on the man's face despite the emotion he was feeling, he lit up like a small child who'd just had some kind of accomplishment, youthful vigor returning to the ailing body of an old man.
"We had a girl," he said, his voice choking as he spoke, trembling even. "We were so happy. She's still the best thing to ever happen to us. I don't think I could imagine having lived a life without her. You should meet her when we get back to the village. We… we named her Kagura."
Something sharp hit her as she smiled back at him, feeling the emotion radiating off him. It was something she'd never felt before. What was it to be alive? What was it to be free? Did her choices that impacted this man's life come from an honest place, or one of self-interest and were simply misplaced? She had no context. She didn't know. But she knew what she felt in that moment, as odd as it sounded, she felt like she was here in this moment, alive with this man. She wasn't some savior, or a good person, but he spoke like he'd changed his world and helped create something for him that he could never thank her enough for.
He took her hand, taking it firmly in his old fingers while staring at her and nodding again, tears still in his eyes as he took a choked sob, just standing there with her. The seconds felt like hours. All she could do was smile back at him.
The moment seemed to start to fade as Kagura looked around them, Kohaku seemingly stopped moving in front of her. It was slipping past her even now as she felt the hands holding onto hers slowly start to vanish, not that they slipped away, that the feeling gradually just… disappeared. She felt lost as they did, she was staring straight at Kohaku as it happened, but it was as if he was no longer there. When she looked past the image of the old man, she could see behind him, laying to the side at the shrine, as if he'd failed to get up… was Kohaku.
The middle-aged man who'd escorted him was rushing to his side as Kagura felt something erratic behind her eyes, her breathing starting to hitch as she started to panic.
What was happening? This couldn't be… he had just been in front of her. Why was he laying there? He was still breathing but it seemed to be weakly. She pushed herself forward, striding towards the scene as she prepared to help before she paused. The flowers around her started to slowly die once again as the days started to change. Before she could do anything, the pair were gone.
"But…" she spoke to herself, feeling her own anxiety rising by the moment. "He was just here."
When she turned to look back at the shrine, her heart sank, even if it wasn't in her chest. She felt her head tilt to one side as she swallowed down her first response. Her own lip turned as she looked next to the shrine. There was another simple stone, and recently turned earth. She didn't need to read it to know what it said. A shadow fell over it, a pair of them, but Kagura didn't look as of now while she just looked at what she knew was a grave.
She wanted to think that this had happened. If only for this old man's sake. Perhaps even the young man's sake. The look of relief and happiness on his face, the emotion she felt coming from him, the life she saw in his eyes, she wanted to believe she'd given that to him in that moment. But she also knew this was but a dream. It was a dream of something she was never apart of, and looking into lives of people who knew her, but she didn't know herself. She could only understand them as they showed their understanding of her.
Standing in front of what she knew was a grave, was an older woman, but Kagura recognized who it was. Her grey hair and slightly hunched form betrayed the young woman she'd known before. The cheerful girl who had spoken to Sesshoumaru of memories. The one who'd held her fan before giving it to Sesshoumaru. Beside her was a tall, imposing figure, seemingly unchanged with the passage of time.
He stared down at the gravesite himself, and Kagura could see behind the passiveness of his features was a quiet and silent mourning. Slowly, the older woman vanished from view as well, and Kagura already knew why. When she turned to look at the gravesite, she saw another plot, and another stone. Though now when she looked back, she saw a small toad of a demon next to Sesshoumaru, the little creature holding a staff and looking utterly heartbroken at the sight. When she looked at the greater-demon looming above, she could sense an emptiness.
Kagura looked around her, seeing the meadow once more in full bloom. The wind picked up again as she felt her hair beginning to dance in it. Pedals swept upwards as she looked across the field while it came to life in an array of green, white and yellow. The trees at the edges of this clearing swayed in the wind as this place seemingly became very alive. She blinked hard amongst all of it, almost feeling what the air was trying to say around her. It was a grief from beyond the grave, she could hear the song in the wind itself quite clearly. It came from the fan.
But even among the song around her, feeling the familiarity of the wind coursing past her, it was the meadow that spoke the most. It wasn't just the flowers, the trees, or the endless sea that was around them. It was in the air itself, that spoke even without the wind. Despite the graves that lay here, along with the pain and tragedy, she knew something to be true.
There was a haunting beauty in this place that she couldn't quite escape.
Seemingly, none of them could.
The sound of chains unshackling hit her as she fell forward, her face and body hitting the floor from the position she'd been resting in. There was no protection, no moment to raise her hands to defend herself. A pained noise escaped her while she tried to pick herself up. She didn't know where she was. The scent of flowers and the warm breeze was gone. There was no light source here that she could see, and the warmth of the sun itself had vanished. It was replaced by a cold room, with her wrists and neck feeling raw, and a sense of misery surrounding her.
"I hope you have learned your lesson this time, Kagura," Naraku's voice broke through the cloud in her thoughts as she felt far away from where she'd been only seconds earlier.
She didn't even want to look at him. She'd been down in this hole for weeks. Whatever that dream had been, it'd felt like she'd been outside for the first time in a lifetime. It was hard to even imagine getting up off the floor when she realized exactly where she was. Even the heartbeats she'd imagined in her chest were gone. A lack of response was better than giving him the placid answer he was looking for. If she was being let out, it meant that at least her creator needed something.
The sound of Sango's shackles opening next left Kagura's face to turn towards her cellmate, her also limply fell forward, though she'd had the opportunity to raise her hands to defend her face. When she looked up, Kagura saw something wash over her features before the former human rose to her feet.
"The two of you are needed," he said bluntly. "Kagura, take the girl and get cleaned up. You'll both be required to interact with humans."
The way he said the final word, the order, was as if Sango was no longer human. Which Kagura had already summarized in their time together here. The demon-slayer had been thoroughly tainted by Naraku's poisonous self. In truth, she'd been absorbed into him, from the inside. Even if she now appeared healthy, the truth was she was simply another broken-creature. Kagura half wished her counterpart would rise up and charge their master, but was not surprised when the cowed creature just got to her knees and stared at their master.
Even though she clearly knew what he'd done to her, she was little more than a puppet, she just had different strings. A true thing for all of them, was they were all puppets. She knew how real her strings were, and even now as she looked at Naraku, her creator, really, her father, she couldn't help but feel some level of anger over all of these creatures' strings. Even her siblings, she had some pity for in all of this, though she knew she had to look out for number 1.
… Especially after… after whatever that had been. If anything, she needed to remind herself of that. Because she knew if she veered from her path at all, or made a mistake, or got attached, she was going to be finished. There was evidence for that now. But even thinking about that somehow made her feel like she was wavering.
Keep it together.
Naraku's form left the room, leaving her with the woman. There were some pools down here with a connection to an underground spring. Demons or not, they still needed water.
Though when she turned to look at Sango, she saw her cellmate was just standing there, breathing in and out, looking at where Naraku's form had taken flight to. A slow realization crossed Kagura as she noticed something. This was the first time Sango had been out of those chains since they'd met, hadn't it? The first time out of her corner in this darkened place. But even though, she could see the paralysed murder in her eyes. The look of a creature whose true nature was frozen in place. At least that was something Kagura herself might be able to use at some point.
Pulling herself to her feet as well, she'd be grateful at least to get clean after all this time in here. She spied her counterpart, who still seemed almost frozen in place, tormented by something behind her eyes.
"Are you coming?" Kagura asked, trying not to sound too demanding, but knowing she couldn't just let the girl stand there.
It seemed to be enough for her to break her concentration, turning towards her, Sango nodded numbly before she started to wobbly forward, her feet unused to being utilized anymore, Kagura was certain. If anything, they were new feet, to some kind of new creature. These were her first real steps. Walking out into the corridor beyond, Kagura knew the way simply enough, beginning to walk slowly as the half-demon followed her.
"What do you think he's going to have us do?"
"Something mundane, or something violent," Kagura said simply. "If he's choosing the two of us to do something, and he needs us to appear human, it means that we're likely to deal with someone, or manipulate someone on his behalf. Likely someone he doesn't want to meet himself."
It was always possible to see at least the broader spectrum of Naraku's plans, even if you didn't know the finer details. He always wanted someone else, to push someone else, to inform someone else, to undermine someone else. It was always a plan, within a plan, and a manipulation behind the scenes, that ended with everyone losing.
"So, it's just a game to him then?" a small voice spoke out.
"It all is," Kagura confirmed. "Though I don't even know what he really wants, beyond wanting to kill Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha right now."
"What will he do after that?"
"I don't know," she admitted.
Perhaps he'd just start torturing people at that point. That was the only conclusion she could come up with.
Either way, she couldn't wait to just get clean, regardless of whatever little task Naraku had for them. As she entered the cavern where whatever was going to pass for a bath awaited her, she just sighed at the top of the steps. Well, it looked like her and her wonderful new friend were going to have to get used to being around one another more than just in a cell. That was fine, as despite knowing the girl would have her own series of problems, she was already beginning to see what was making her tick, and seeing the control Naraku exerted.
Which was good, because she knew something. She was going to need to know how to navigate her peers and use them as much as Naraku did. Because she was going to survive this. She wasn't going to die in some meadow somewhere.
Seeing the pooled water, seeing it unnaturally becoming warmer upon her approach, bubbles surfacing in it as they grew closer, Kagura slowly started to shed her kimono.
Even now without her chains, she was as helpless as she was in them. That thing stood in front of her and she was on her feet, and nothing happened. She could have wanted to run at him, strike him, claw him, anything. But when she'd looked at him and tried to urge anything forward, all that came over her was a sense of apathy. It only took a casual glance from him, and all of it just sunk to the bottom of her soul. Just as whatever she was sunk to the bottom the night… she… killed… her family. She could still see them all dying, but it'd become numb. She knew she'd done it, she felt herself doing it, she saw herself doing it. Every action felt like she'd had no control, yet all the control in the world.
Whatever had happened to her now, here she was. Warm water felt good on her aching body. The marks on her own wrist had already vanished upon entering the water, and she knew it wasn't from the healing properties of the water. Her flesh didn't feel like it belonged to her anymore. Her blood had turned black before. She remembered the venom trickling through her veins, absorbing itself into every piece of her body.
For the first time she could see her reflection in the pool, and it didn't garner a reaction from her. They weren't her eyes anymore. Just like Kagura had mocked her before, she could see it for herself now. Her iris was as red as an intense crimson blood, becoming softer around the inner most part of her pupil before turning to black. They weren't hers anymore. She knew when looking at her own reflection, the whole thing wasn't hers anymore. The swirls of colour didn't match, and she felt a suppressed sense of loss inside herself as she knew what it signified.
"Hey, you still stink," Kagura pointed out from her edge of the pool. "Wash your hair."
There was a quietness that followed as Sango felt herself almost unable to move while she looked back towards the pool around her. They had some oils nearby she noted before looking back over to Kagura. There was enough warm-water here to get started obviously but-
The other demon grabbed her shoulder and head a second later, half dunking her in the water, when she came back up spluttering, she felt anger come up as she glared at the other demon.
"Well, are you awake now?" Kagura responded. "Good. Now, if you're wanting to survive more than a few minutes within here, now that your chains are off, you're going to listen to me."
So, here came the ultimatums?
Her head was forced forward before she felt a comb at the top of her scalp, before she sensed the oil being pooled in the air. At first hard motions were pushed through, but they started to become gentler as the substance was worked into her hair and scalp.
"Firstly, you're not paying enough attention. Start paying attention to what everyone is doing. What is Chiyaku doing? What is Shorin doing? Where is Naraku? That is going to help you survive in here. If they have a plan, you're going to be apart of that plan sooner or later, whether you like it or not."
The comb pulled through her hair again, this time roughly as her eyes turned to try and look at the other demon, before her head was shifted forward again forcefully.
"You must have been incredibly uncooperative as a child," Kagura noted. "Nevermind, you are incredibly uncooperative now. I'm fixing this for you so we can get moving."
Unthinkingly, Sango just murmured something to herself as Kagura stopped.
"What was that?" she asked.
"I was always cooperative," she answered numbly.
She remembered helping her dad eventually taking care of her brother, and how before he was older that she had to help him with baths and just about everything else. Without their mother there, she'd had to be more than a sister. Neighbours helped out as well, and once her own training accelerated, she had to start distancing herself, if only due to time. It came back to her mind if only because she recalled how easily distracted Kohaku used to get when she needed him to sit still.
Kagura had been speaking again but she barely heard a word she'd said before the comb bit into her ear. She snapped her head to the side as the other demon looked at her seriously from the side.
"What?" she asked coolly in response.
"I asked you if you had any attachments left outside of here," she demanded, before giving her a half-smile "Things that might be used against you, for instance. Distant family, friends from other villages, an angry frog that you came across in a forest? Anything?"
Every face she thought of that came to mind bore nothing. Her father, neighbours and friends were all dead. She killed most of them, or helped kill most of them. Worst of all, she'd… she'd killed her own brother. There was a shiver as she felt her heart starting to race as something stirred in her, clawing, screaming to get out while she tried to scan for anything Kagura was asking. She knew better than to break eye contact.
"Kirara," she managed to say. "I think… I think Kirara might be alive."
"And who is Kirara, exactly?"
"A spirit… a cat spirit that helped my father and I… and… and my brother Kohaku."
The last word was a painful one to say, even as whatever it was inside of her was finally suffocated, drowned in whatever she had become. What was now more concerning to her was something else that she was now seeing. The other set of red eyes, the ones without a visible pupil in the centre of them, or one that was covered by the strange ruby-nature of her eyes, were staring back at her in shock.
Pay attention to what everyone is doing.
She'd just said something that caused that. It was a simple sentence. Kirara was what shocked her? Was Kirara somehow involved in all of this? That was the only thing she could think of. The woman looked almost afraid to ask the questions forming behind her eyes. Was it really something so severe? Did it attach itself to Naraku?
"W…what was that name you said?" Kagura asked a moment later.
"Kirara," she responded back, trying to provide the name in question.
There was a fierceness she saw a second later
"No, the other one."
Other name? What other…
"Kohaku?" she responded back carefully, her brother's name on her lips for the first time since… it'd happened.
Again, Kagura looked at her suspiciously. Had she said something else? Had she said someone else? She didn't understand why she was getting that look.
"Your brother, where is he?"
"I… I killed him."
The frail old man's face was in front of her, blended with the young man she'd met in the forest. Kagura felt the poison of fury in her veins as she looked at her counterpart. She'd not broken contact with her eyes the entire time as she felt herself trying to contain the pure disdain that she held for the woman in that second.
She'd killed him.
That entire life she… that entire life she'd given her own life up for. That kind old man who'd just maintained a shrine to her his entire life because he was so grateful. All of his children were going to never be born. An entire life just vanished because this weakling let herself be controlled, and slaughtered him. She had no doubt the boy hadn't been a match for Sango. The familiar spider-marking was now on the girl's back as well but Kagura didn't care at all. She'd killed him.
"I know what you gave up for me. You always looked out for me, and you were there when other people couldn't be. I… I've wanted to thank you for so long. I prayed that you heard it. I've had such a good life and I've had it become of what you did for me."
Was this why she'd lived through that? Was this why she saw that? This creature in front of her killed… killed someone she'd… killed someone the other her had thought well enough of to die for. In this woman's eyes she didn't see any guilt, or remorse, only the dull echo of what appeared to be a feeling. It was all repressed, buried within layer after layer. It didn't matter though. Briefly, she felt like making a genuine attempt to drown her newfound friend. More than briefly, in fact, as Kagura still hadn't given up on the idea even as Sango now tried to pull away.
But she could sense something. It pulsed nearby her, a vibration through the air as she almost felt her fan calling to her. What did it want? She wasn't fully sure. Did it want her to drown this thing in the pool? Or… or was it a call from the past she never had. Even if she'd only seemingly known him a day, she saw him for a lifetime. Would Kohaku have wanted her to kill his sister for him? She didn't know, and that mattered to her.
Knowing she couldn't hold on anymore, she released Sango's shoulder and the half-demon pulled back from her, even in her dulled state the look of concern in her eyes was enough to tell Kagura that she knew something was errant about the encounter.
She needed to get out of this pool.
Without a second thought Kagura vacated the water, her modesty didn't matter regardless as she stalked towards her new kimono, one having appeared since she'd started to wash. He always knew what was happening. Perhaps even the entire dream was placed by him, but she could see her fan next to her clothes. Slipping on the new white and purple attire, she then grasped her fan. She felt herself make that connection once again with the object, sensing its memory. Her weapon, her defense as much as it could be, was firmly in her hand. Radiating gently from it, she could almost hear Kohaku in there.
Only he wasn't, the shadow of her other self had already explained. It was nothing but a memory. There were no souls here… just echoes.
"What the Hell was that?" Sango demanded as she heard her counterpart exit the water next, the sound of wet feet and sopping water following her.
"That was you getting a pardon," Kagura needled back at her.
"What did he tell you?" Sango's voice edged on the dangerous as she started to get herself dressed in the darkness of the cave. "Whatever it is-"
Kagura eyed her counterpart again, silencing her with a hardened stare all the while knowing they would have to work together. The only thing was, she couldn't say anything inside these walls. This would become an issue and she'd either need to discover the appropriate lie, or a concealed version of the truth, and she wanted to give voice to neither at the moment.
Though even as she did the man that she'd seen die remained in the back of her mind. Maybe with him gone, she'd find a way to survive. Somehow that felt like a much emptier prospect than it had earlier. Her desire to be free was never cut into, but she knew those people. She knew their shadows, at the very least. Seeing the old man laying there at the side of her of the stones he and his wife had put in place, his own aging son trying to come to his aid was now just a moment lost in time. Instead, a young man, perhaps a boy, lay dead with a life utterly unfulfilled. A good life, being left unfulfilled.
She silently wished she'd been there, wishing she could have reached into the past even more recently to change its course and allow it to be better. But as of now, she couldn't even control her present, let alone the past.
I am sorry, Kohaku.
Beyond her the shadow loomed, and she knew who it was. Sango had long before gone silent, the former-demon-slayer now appearing confused, perhaps even hurt. Already Kagura knew who it was. She'd wished he'd not come himself, and had sent Kanna. At least Kagura liked Kanna.
"I see the two of you are becoming fast friends," Naraku's voice mocked from the entrance. "You are to find someone for me within the island of Shikoku. They are a foreigner, and they are human. Their name is Lin Cheng. He has within his possession a series of bones that I require."
"Why not just take them?" Kagura asked. "Or did you want us to find out where they are first?"
"Torment this human if necessary and find the location. Kill him if needed afterward," Naraku said bluntly. "Though if he is in an inhabited area, avoid destroying it. I do not wish for much attention being drawn to you."
So, Naraku doesn't want anyone to know about this? Interesting.
"Just the two of us?" Sango asked, her tone neutral at the assassination they were being asked to carry out.
"No," Naraku further stated as a single small figure emerged behind him, walking out from behind him. "It is important that Kanna join you for this task."
Better Kanna than the fools Chiyaku and Shorin, at the least.
I've gotten like, no writing done for any of my stories. This is the only content I have really in the can and ready to go, I'm posting it now because it's January, as promised. My job's been pretty overwhelming the last while, so the next update will hopefully be next month, but I can't be sure.
It also doesn't help that the sequel to Inuyasha is pretty not-great.
Thank you everyone for reading, please leave me a review, I always appreciate them, and have a great day.
- Recent events from HNY have really just skewed my opinion of the characters involved. I really don't want to write Sesshoumaru, and especially Rin, ever again. No, I don't really care about ship-wars or whatever. I find it deeply disgusting that Sesshoumaru rescued this girl at age 7-8, raised her for at least one year, and perhaps more. Routinely visited her while she was in the village offering her gifts, and then had children with her. If people can't see why that's a problem, I'm not really sure.
I've listed this story as completed. Events that were planned were-
-Kagura merging with her future memories over time.
-Elder Sesshoumaru finding and creating a new sword, Younger Sesshoumaru having Bakusaiga. The two of them squaring off and fighting one more time as Sesshoumaru needed Bakusaiga to stop Naraku. He's mortally wounded by it one more time (this time with no chance of recovery) where he'd go to confront Naraku despite his ailing injury, and die fighting him, but saving Kagura's heart in the process.
- Kagura lives.
-The second act was going to be about Younger Sesshoumaru.
Yep. There you are. It had a lot of other stuff, I might do a proper summary later as a chapter. But yea, this is basically dead to me. I am sorry to have wasted everyone's time, but this franchise is really truly dead to me. I really didn't care who he ended up with, it's not about that. I refuse to create content for something that I think pushes something this... disgusting.
I personally, would say this is an endorsement of grooming on the part of Sunrise and RT. Shame on them.
Thank you for reading everyone.