Kagome ran. She ran harder than she ever had in her life. She could hear that horrible centipede woman’s screams growing closer. The screams were even more maddened than before. More desperate.
“Shikon no Tama! Give it to me!”
It was too close.
Frantic, Kagome plunged up the steep bank beyond the village’s rice paddies. When her feet slipped, she grabbed fistfuls of grass. Clawing and grasping, she pulled herself up the slope.
How could this be happening? This morning, she had been on her way to school. She had just turned fifteen, and her mother was going to make her a cake with strawberries for dinner. This morning, life had been normal.
“Shikon no Tama!”
The ground exploded under her feet, and Kagome was sent tumbling through the air. She sailed over the crest of the hill and landed just within the forest beyond. Quickly, she struggled to her feet again and ran while the centipede recovered from slamming herself into the hillside.
The forest was dark, lit only by what little moonlight could pierce through the trees. As she ran blindly, bushes tore at her clothes. Low-hanging branches clawed at her hair. Ahead, she could see a gleam of moonlight through the trees. Kagome angled herself toward the light.
‘Maybe… That light… An opening in the trees? Maybe there will be someone there…’
Something caught her foot. Kagome pitched forward, landing hard on her stomach with a cry.
She lay there for a moment and then, wincing, the girl pushed herself up into a sitting position.
“Ow, ow, ow.”
Rubbing at a throbbing knee, Kagome looked around. She was in a small clearing. It was bright here with the nearly full moon shining above. It was the light she had seen, but, it was empty. It was also quiet. There was nothing to hear but wind rustling through the trees.
Uncertain, Kagome looked back the way she had come. Maybe the centipede had gone another way.
As she squinted into the dark trees ringing the clearing, Kagome became uncomfortably aware of the sensation that someone was watching her. Slowly, she turned around.
The man she had seen earlier, the man pinned to the Goshinboku with an arrow through his heart was watching her. Against all reason, his eyes were open, staring at her impassively. Open, they were a pale golden glow in the moonlight.
Kagome let out a gasp and scrambled backward.
“You are a poor excuse for a miko,” said the man.
“Huh?” Kagome could only gawk at him in confusion.
“Hmph. Either you’re untrained or simply an idiot.” The man looked away from her dismissively. “It won’t matter soon enough.”
“Hey!” Finally, Kagome found her voice. “What are you talking about? I’m not a—!”
Before she could say anymore, there was a roar in the forest.
“Give me the Shikon no Tama!”
The centipede youkai exploded from the treeline. Its all-too-human face split in an inhuman snarl as it dove at Kagome.
The girl scrabbled at the ground, desperately trying to escape the frenzy of arms reaching for her.
“Stay away!” Kagome screamed, throwing her hands out to slap away the countless grasping hands. Instead, a brilliant rose-colored light blossomed from her palms. Frozen, Kagome watched in shock as the centipede woman shrieked at the barest touch of the rosy light. Then, the creature was thrown back, leaving several of her arms behind. They fell to the ground, snapped off at the elbows like broken twigs.
Kagome finally regained her feet and stepped away from the tangle of limbs. Her legs were shaking.
“This light—” She looked at her hands. They were shaking too. But, the light was gone.
“So, you do have power.”
It was the man pinned to the tree. Unknowingly, Kagome had nearly backed herself against his prison. Now, his cool disdain had faded into something more calculating. A flicker of indecipherable emotion played across his face. But, it was gone long before the girl could name it. He regarded her levelly.
“Remove this arrow.”
“What—?” Kagome stared at the man dumbly.
“Remove the arrow, woman.” The man’s eyes narrowed to slits. “If you wish to live, remove this seal.”
“Ha!” It was the centipede woman. She was up again, a sneer on her lips. “What can a sealed hanyou do? Miko, give me the Shikon no Tama!”
Without thinking, Kagome twisted around and grabbed wildly for the arrow. Her fingers wrapped around the rough wood.
‘I don’t want to die!’ she thought. ‘If he can help—’
She pulled on the arrow with all her might, pouring all her desperation into that single act.
There was another burst of pink light, and the arrow disintegrated. Startled, Kagome toppled backward, her hand grabbing at nothing but air where the arrow had once been.
As she fell, the centipede’s terrible face, still parted in that tooth-filled sneer, filled her vision. Kagome squeezed her eyes shut.
Then, it was quiet.
Blinking, Kagome lay where she had fallen. ‘It’s gone?’
Confused, she opened her eyes. And, gasped.
The silver-haired man stood over her with one hand wrapped around the centipede woman’s throat. Her eyes were rolling in terror.
The man regarded his captive as though she were something he had found crawling under a rock. “I tire of your incessant noise,” he said. His hand tightened, drawing a strangled gasp from the creature. “Die.”
Almost casually, he tore the woman’s head from her shoulders and threw it aside.
Kagome could only stare in open-mouthed shock.
Then, the silver-haired man turned to her. His eyes narrowed.
Kagome felt her blood run cold. 'What does he want?'
Earlier that day, when she first came to this strange world and found the man pinned to the ancient trunk of the Goshinboku, she had been unnerved by his presence. And, he had seemed to be peacefully asleep then. Awake and free of the vines that had grown around his spellbound form, the strange man was an intimidating figure. He was taller than she had thought, clad in a white kimono with an armored breastplate. His face was like carved marble, perfect in its smooth features and frozen in perpetual disdain. The two furry, dog-like ears on top of his head were so comically out of place above his stern face that Kagome half wondered if they had been put there by some prankster while he slept. Though she couldn't imagine who would dare.
After a moment of shared scrutiny, the man shifted his gaze beyond Kagome to watch the trees expectantly.
Kagome debated her options. ‘Maybe I should just go. Say, “Thank you for taking care of that monster. Have a nice day,” and go.’
But, before she could move, voices broke the sudden silence.
“Kaede-sama, they went this way!”
There was a crashing in the trees, and then the villagers rushed into the clearing. They were brandishing an assortment of farming tools, and a few even had small bows.
“Thank goodness,” Kagome whispered to herself.
Finally, it was over.
“Hmph. Don't think such pathetic creatures can save you,” said the silver-haired man.
Kagome started to turn and ask him what he meant. But, in the instant before she could move, his hand closed around her throat. A short squeal escaped her as he effortlessly swung her into the air.
‘I'm going to die.’ The thought lanced through Kagome's mind as the world around her spun dizzily. ‘He's going to kill me just like the centipede woman. No!’
Desperate, Kagome tried to get away. But, the tall man held her well above the ground. Her feet could only kick uselessly at empty air.
Distantly, she could hear the villagers shouting. Then, there was a sudden whistling in the air. Kagome caught a flash of movement.
But, her captor's free hand cut the arrows in half with a single, dismissive gesture.
He returned his attention to Kagome, his hand tightening around her throat.
“S—stop!” she gasped. “Why—?”
“You possess the same power as the woman who sealed me,” said the man. His voice was calm, level. He almost sounded bored. “This Sesshoumaru does not repeat his mistakes.” His hand tightened inexorably.
The grip on Kagome's throat suddenly slackened.
Confused, Kagome tracked the voice with her eyes. After a moment, they found the old miko, Kaede, standing across the clearing. Her hands were clasped as though in prayer. The village men had gathered behind her.
But, the man, Sesshoumaru, wasn't watching Kaede or the villagers. His eyes had dropped to the front of his kimono.
Kagome followed his gaze. With surprise, she found that a string of beads had appeared around his neck. They were glowing faintly, but, as she watched, the light faded.
Sesshoumaru looked back at Kaede. “You think such a thing can hold this Sesshoumaru?” he asked. There was an implicit sneer in his calm voice.
“With the right power behind it, it will be sufficient,” said Kaede.
“Hmph.” Dropping Kagome unceremoniously, Sesshoumaru rushed toward the old woman. He was on her in an instant. His clawed hand lanced out.
Sesshoumaru froze. His claws, gleaming with youki, were only a foot from Kaede's face. And, there they stayed.
Breathing out a sigh of relief, Kaede stepped back and unclasped her hands, releasing the barrier she had created. Then, she glanced at the men behind her. They were watching Sesshoumaru with open terror on their faces. The braver ones were fumbling to reload their bows.
“Hold,” said Kaede. “The danger is past.”
Although, another inch and Sesshoumaru would have connected with her barrier. From there, it would have taken him only moments to shatter the frail defense. Moments she had meant to use to instruct Kagome. Thankfully, the girl had unwittingly activated the rosary on her own.
“What is this?” Sesshoumaru snarled.
“The power of the rosary.” Kaede turned to Kagome. “That will be the word to bind him, child. Stop.”
“Stop?” Kagome repeated as she slowly stood. Her voice was raspy, and her legs felt like jelly.
Sesshoumaru uttered a guttural growl at the word, feeling the pull of the second command.
Kaede ignored him. “Yes,” she confirmed, moving to Kagome's side. “And, Sesshoumaru,” she looked back at the frozen man, “if you kill Kagome, those beads will never come off. They will remain there so long as you live, ready to be used by the next powerful miko you encounter. Only while Kagome lives can you be freed.”
“Kagome had the power to break your seal, did she not?” asked Kaede. “The rosary is now bound to that power.”
“My... power?” Kagome looked from Kaede to the motionless Sesshoumaru.
“Yes. Come, child, I will explain everything.” Kaede turned to walk toward the villagers. Someone had appeared with a saddled horse clearly meant for the elderly miko’s transportation. “And, you might want to say the word a couple more times so we can travel in peace.”
To Be Continued...