Chapter Three: Drowning in the Cold
The small creatures that filled the night with sound gave Sesshoumaru a wide berth, so Kagome knew the moment that she stepped outside of his proximity. Insects began to chirp, despite the late fall season. An owl whooped from the branches of a gnarled tree. Something small and quick rustled the leaves that scattered the barren ground. The Western Lord was not a warm man, but even the air seemed colder once she was alone. She drew her clothes closer to her as the damp air sank into her bones. The frail fingers of a bare branch gripped at her hair, which was matted, dirty, and still reeked of smoke and she spent a long minute fighting to free herself.
This was a mistake. What kind of idiot marched out alone into unknown territory without even her bow and arrows? She didn't even know what part of Japan they were in. She'd seen Sesshoumaru fly. Theoretically they could be anywhere.
Was he going to come for her? Inuyasha would have been there already, probably making things worse but at least ensuring her safety. If he was around in the first place, and not off solving problems with Miroku, or helping another village, or running errands. This wasn't the first time she'd been left alone since choosing the Feudal Era over Tokyo, but it was the first time she'd been truly alone in the wilderness in a long, long time.
The uncertainty pressed itself deeper into her heart as her ire died down. She stepped into a hole and screeched as she pitched forward, landing hard on her hands and knees. Palms stinging, knees burning, she sagged against some meaty roots that jutted up out of the earth and rested her face against the cold bark. Her eyelids were heavy. Her arms and legs were like lead. She reached for some spark of energy, but came away empty handed. Groaning, she pushed herself up.
What the hell was wrong with her?
The woods loomed around her and she shuddered. A river gurgled behind the trees, and she followed the sound. A river was a path. People set up camps and civilizations along the water, and she was a priestess out alone after dark. She'd find help, a place to sleep for the night, and then directions towards home. With any luck, she'd run across Inuyasha before too long. He was probably already on her trail.
Where was he?
Again, uncertainty gripped her. The last thing she remembered was following a bright path with Shippou, his hair burning a brilliant orange in the bleak landscape. A monk's staff jingled behind her, and she assumed that Miroku followed her. It felt like old times. She frowned, rubbed a sore spot on her temple, and swore. Was she remembering what happened before she lost consciousness, or something from before the jewel was complete and their adventure was done? Was this memory real, or just wishful thinking?
She dragged her feet in the stones at the river and knelt to drink, suddenly parched. Her stomach rumbled as she cupped her hands and drank in deep gulps, noticing for the first time how parched she was, how raw her throat had become.
Her headache receded, but her stomach started to ache. She was tempted to wade into the frigid water and wash herself, but she had no way to warm up after, so she settled for rubbing sand along her skin, over her face and arms until she felt less gunky.
Something rustled behind her and she whipped around, gripping a large rock.
Her voice was shaky and the cold water had left her throat raw. She scanned the tree line. Something moved in the underbrush, and she pushed some of her spiritual power into the rock. It was difficult. Her power felt far away, curled so deep inside of her that she could barely brush it.
Panic set in and she threw the rock in the direction of the sound, picking up another one. It made contact with something, and a small "ow" made her pause, despite her rabbit heart.
"Who's there?" Kagome asked, a bit softer, and the bushes parted to reveal Rin. The child rubbed her shoulder.
"It's not nice to throw rocks," she chastised.
Kagome deflated into the riverbank. "I'm sorry. I thought you were a demon."
Rin grinned at her. Her missing baby teeth had begun to grow in, but there was a gap that made her sweet smile all the more charming. "Sesshoumaru-sama and Jaken-sama are demons, but Rin-chan is just a girl."
"You should probably head back to your camp."
Rin stretched out a small hand. "Come with me Kagome-sama."
"Just Kagome is fine." The child continued to smile and hold her hand out, until Kagome relented and folded their palms together. "Will Sesshoumaru-sama be mad at me?"
"No. He doesn't get angry very often. And I think he's injured." Rin spoke very quietly, as though she was betraying her lord and was afraid the night would gobble the secret up. She pressed her other hand to her lips.
"I think I'm lost." Kagome admitted in the same tone, though her voice was still hoarse.
"You can't be lost when Sesshoumaru-sama is there! He always knows exactly where he is, and if you're with him then you'll know too!"
Kagome couldn't picture using the distant lord as her compass, but Rin's faith was reassuring. She allowed the little girl to pull her onto a game path between the trees, but she hadn't stepped onto the flattened grass before something sent her heart spiking and she reared back, yanking Rin behind her.
"I'm not sure," Kagome admitted, herding Rin back towards the river.
A hulking form stepped between the trunks. It was so wide that it bent the trees as it brushed them, snapping branches off. Kagome assessed it. It was big, and strong, but its bulk made it slow. It was built of something hard and faceted, like rock, and moss grew up its side. It had hands that were human in nature, with blunt fingertips, and up its tree-trunk arms was a thick neck that held a mossy head. It looked at them with glowing eyes. It threw its head back and roared before it charged them. Rin screamed and ducked down with Kagome following suit.
They narrowly avoided a swipe from its hand. It lunged all at once, and when it made impact with the ground it shook the forest floor. Rin and Kagome screeched and went down. "I think it's after me," Kagome said. "Go back to Sesshoumaru!"
Rin nodded and took off, but the creature swiveled, faster than Kagome expected, and snatched Rin up. She was dwarfed by its massive hand. Kagome reached into herself and grasped at what little power she could find, but she was barely able to make the rock she picked up glow. It sputtered at the last moment and she threw it as hard as she could at the creature. The rock sparked against its flesh and left a small round mark. It roared in pain, and she noticed several similar marks across its torso. It turned towards Kagome but she was winded and couldn't move. Rin darted to her, crashed into her, and the two of them pitched into the water. The river that had seemed so shallow from shore swallowed them whole and carried them downstream while the demon seethed on land.
The current carried the girls through a wide chunk of the woods. Kagome clung tightly to Rin with one arm, struggling to keep them above water as they were tossed around and churned under. She felt like a yolk caught in an eggbeater, like they would split at any moment, and her hand shot out and caught the rough branch of a fallen tree. Her arms jerked and her hand slipped on Rin's wrist before she felt sharp nails scrabble against her forearm. Rin climbed up her and then pulled herself up on top of the tree and started pulling on Kagome's arm. It took everything that Kagome had to pull her torso up. She laid for a long moment across the log with her cheek pressed against the surface, while Rin picked her way to the water's edge and gazed around them curiously.
"Don't worry. Sesshoumaru-sama or Jaken-sama will come soon."
If that was the bright side of her situation then she needed to get moving. Kagome groaned and scrambled up onto the log. It shifted with her weight and Rin yelled just before it gave way. Kagome leapt for the shore and hit the rocky bank hard, rolling, finally, to safety.
She forced herself up onto her knees and looked around. This spot was almost indistinguishable from their previous position, excepting the angry hunk of youkai trying to kill them. The woods were filled with the forest's song again, proof that Sesshoumaru was still out of reach, and the river had widened just a bit. She could hear the crashing of a waterfall in the distance.
That was a close one.
"Rin?" She croaked. She looked around but the little girl was nowhere to be found. "Rin!" Some bushes trembled and Rin came skipping out. She was soaking wet with her hair full of leaves, and it looked like the night was beginning to take its toll on her too, despite her chipper nature. "Don't run off," Kagome pleaded. Rin padded to her and took her hand, tugging gently in the direction she'd come from.
"There's a path, and a temple!" Rin exclaimed. "It would be best to wait for Sesshoumaru-sama, but you look like you need a rest." A wide yawn distorted her words.
Wait for Sesshoumaru my butt, Kagome thought. Her socks squelched when she began to walk. Her shoes had been lost to the river. "And some dry clothes." Her stomach rumbled. "And food." Rin nodded and led her through the trees. It was a short walk from the river to the temple.
There was a small shrine, which Kagome acknowledged on her way through to the larger doors of a large dwelling. "Hello?" Her voice was quiet.
"Hello!" Rin called. She had wrapped herself around Kagome's arm and begun to shiver. Kagome touched her clammy forehead and stepped forward.
"We're coming in!"
The door slid open without any hesitation and the girls peered into the dark temple. There was no indication of anyone living there. No one had lit the candles for the night. There was no fire in the hearth. It was empty except for a wind that rattled through the room. Kagome followed the breeze to a door to a courtyard that had been left open. There was nothing outside but the looming, silent trees and the animals that inhabited them. She closed the door and felt her way back to Rin.
"Help me find some firewood."
Rin scurried through and began rummaging in some low shelves. She made a small sound of triumph and presented a kit for starting a fire. Kagome took them and went to the hearth, but her hands shook. Finally, a spark took and she shuddered at the sudden release of heat.
"Kagome?" Rin's voice was suddenly small and her hand was on Kagome's arm. "There's a man over there."
Kagome looked longingly at the fire, but went to the man anyway. He wore a monk's garb. At first, he looked dead, but Kagome felt for a pulse and he stirred. She looked down into a pair of dim brown eyes and allowed him to take her hand. His skin was soft. He was young, she realized. He clung to a rag doll. Eyes had been stitched into it and they watched Kagome with their unnatural, unblinking stare.
"Are you sick?" She asked, casting a look back at Rin who was huddled next to the fire shivering. She'd pulled off her dripping yukata and laid it out next to the fire. Kagome leaned in to hear his answer.
"No. Just weak and tired."
"It's foggy. There was a woman. She needed a place to stay."
He paused. "No. Are the others… are they dead?"
Kagome swallowed. There was no one else here. The man's hand went slack, like the last of his energy had been used in this one conversation. Kagome felt for a pulse, but he was gone. Silent, still. Rin had found some blankets and Kagome threw one over him, saying a soft prayer before joining Rin next to the fire.
"Should we look for Sesshoumaru-sama?" Rin asked. Kagome had also stripped down and she had put on some of the monk's clothes. Rin was bundled up as best as Kagome could manage. She wanted to make hot tea, but she couldn't stand going back out into the cold, so they ate dried meat that had been stored near the blankets and Kagome ignored the way it made her throat burn.
The temple slowly warmed, but her clothes were still wet and every so often a chill passed through Rin and made her teeth chatter. "No. If Sesshoumaru is worried, he'll find us. Go to sleep." They could bury the monk in the morning and see if anyone else was left. Kagome couldn't fight the feeling that something was watching her, but she was so tired that she drifted off into a deep sleep.
Prompt: Chie's monthly prompt for February 2021, Sweet
A/N: Thanks for reading! I rewrote this chapter six times before I figured out what I wanted from it, but I now have 40 chapters planned out! I'm aiming for more frequent updates now that I know where Kagome and Sesshoumaru are headed. 3