Sharp Edges @chillinvillin
Picking Potatoes in the Sunshine

Chapter Four: Picking Potatoes in the Sunshine

Warmth permeated the temple air, and Kagome awoke toasty and comfortable. Rin and her clothes were gone and for a split moment Kagome worried. She sprang up and threw the door open, squinting outside in the bright morning light.

"Kagome!" Her heart stuttered and then calmed at the delight in the little girl's voice. "Look what I found!" Rin stooped in a garden bed. Her sleeves were pinned up, and she was digging. She presented a pile of long purple potatoes. Kagome's stomach cramped; she couldn't remember the last meal she ate, but she had the sense that it had been days ago.

"Those look delicious."

"When we get back to camp, Jaken-sama will roast them up for us!" Rin began to sing a little song about her lord and caretaker, and Kagome didn't fight the smile that tugged at her mouth. She couldn't imagine that Sesshoumaru and Jaken were great company, but Rin's love for them was undeniable. The morning was uncharacteristically warm for late fall and the temple was beautiful. There was no sign of a struggle here. Herbs popped up beyond the potatoes, though the ones at the end of the bed were black, and Kagome plundered the good stuff to create a small collection. She was bruised, and a little sore, but Kaede had taught her how to make a paste to help dull her aches and pains. The gardens were well loved. There weren't even any weeds to pull. She reached out to pluck a clump of yellow flowers, but they wilted as soon as her hand touched them and she yanked it back. Her collection looked fine, but as she focused on the garden she saw the wilt spread towards her. She unfolded herself and helped Rin gather the potatoes, and together they watched the green shrivel into nothing.

"Do you think these are safe to eat?" Rin asked. Kagome's stomach rumbled. At this point she didn't much care if they were safe or not, but she squinted at them anyway.

"I'm not sure. We can take them back to camp and see if whatever that was infected them. It came on rather suddenly". With their purpose gone, the girls stood in the yard. What was she waiting for? Kagome didn't know. "Have you seen anyone else this morning?"

Rin confirmed her concerns. "It's just us."

"Strange. The monk said that there were others here."

"I haven't seen anyone. What do you think happened to him?"

A chill crept down Kagome's spine as they stared at the rotted garden. "I don't know. It doesn't look like there was a fight here."

"Perhaps Jaken-sama will know. He knows many things."

Kagome doubted it, but she let Rin lapse back into song without saying anything. She wanted to bury the body before they could follow the river back to camp. What were the odds that Sesshoumaru was pissed that Rin was missing? She wanted to be happy with Rin's company and the lovely day, but something gnawed at her. She tried to shake it off. It wasn't strange to be out of sorts, all things considered, but there was something else, something deeper. She hurried inside and changed back into her clothes. Burying the monk wasn't going to be possible: She could barely drag the futon with him on it. She settled for saying a short prayer for him before she stepped outside and addressed Rin.

"Are you ready to head back?"

Rin hummed and collected her potatoes into a cloth, rolling it into a makeshift sack. "Ready!"

Her enthusiasm put some spring back into Kagome's step, but they barely made it to the edge of the grounds before the trees shook. Rin fell to the ground and her potatoes spilled, rolling into the treeline.

The trees bent to the side, and the demon from last night emerged.

It was as terrifying as Kagome remembered: like a giant rock come to life in the form of a man. It bellowed and Rin screeched. Kagome grabbed a potato and lobbed it at the demon, but even well-rested, her power sputtered out. A laugh rolled through the demon.

Rin gripped her hand, and they ran back towards the temple. It followed, each step making the ground shudder. "Get in the temple," Kagome commanded and pushed Rin towards the structure. The little girl looked back towards her as Kagome screamed at the beast. "Hey ugly! This way"! It stretched its hand towards her and she ducked, narrowly avoiding being struck.

She clutched desperately at her power, tried to pull it into her fingertips, but it seemed almost to shrink away from her. The beast swung at her again, and she jumped behind a tree that snapped with the force of the slam. The ground shook. Kagome tumbled onto her hands and knees. It loomed over her.

"Hey ugly!" The echoed scream came from behind it and it swiveled towards Rin, who was pelting it with the last of her potatoes. It took a step towards Rin, and then another, before breaking into a sprint. It was too fast for Kagome to do anything but watch in horror as Rin screamed. "Sesshoumaru-sama!"

The Western Lord burst from the trees as though Rin's terror had summoned him, and maybe it had. He was the silver light of a blade cutting through air. He didn't draw his sword, but beat the demon back with his whip, neatly putting himself between Rin and her attacker.

"Thank the gods," Kagome hummed. His piercing eyes slanted her way, and she gulped at the rising fury there. They were tinged with a red she hadn't seen since they were in his father's grave. The demon spoke for the first time, his voice as deep and gravelly as rolling thunder.

"Why are you helping these humans?"

"I do not need to explain myself to you." Sesshoumaru said.

"Do you not know what they have done? The damage they've caused?"

"We didn't do anything to you!" Kagome yelled. The demon turned towards her.

"The holy men who passed through these woods have caused irreversible damage. I've protected this forest since I was born. You are one of them!"

It ran at her, but jerked at the end of Sesshoumaru's whip, which had wrapped around its neck. A crack formed across the stone-like flesh. Beyond them, Kagome saw the blackened garden.

"Wait! Wait!" Kagome yelled. "Sesshoumaru, wait!" He didn't acknowledge her. "Don't you see that something is wrong here? Look!" She jabbed a finger at the offending piece of land and as if one cue, the grass in front of the temple browned and shrank to nothing. "The monks are all missing, and there's not a single spark of spiritual power anywhere in this temple and he knows what's wrong! Please!"

He growled, but loosened the whip. The demon fell to his knees with a resounding bang.

"What happened?" Kagome asked. She walked towards it, taking care to stay out of the range of his long arms.

"Three days ago, humans like you came through here. They sucked all the power out of this place. They killed every youkai in my forest. I tried to fight them, but ultimately, I had to run."

"They were humans?" Sesshoumaru asked, and he looked like he was disgusted the beast had lost his fight.

"They sang with power; they burned the very earth with it. The forest is dying."

He was right. The grass had lost its lushness. What wasn't dead was quickly dying. Even the trees were losing their leaves, one by one. The wind carried the scent of rot to the adventurers.

"What happened to the monks from here?" Kagome asked.

"I assumed they were part of it."

Sesshoumaru's eyes locked onto the demon and then he swivelled on his heel and stalked back into the healthy-looking part of the forest. "Protect your woods. Miko, Rin, come."

The demon's quiet words trailed after them like a forlorn pup. "There will be nothing left to protect."

Sesshoumaru set an easy pace, which Kagome assumed was for Rin's sake, but the little girl cast several long looks at him with her brows pinched together and her bottom lip tucked between her teeth. They made it the edge of camp before he folded in on himself with a grunt and collapsed on the ground.

They rushed to his side. Kagome put her hands on his shoulder and gasped when it came back coated in dark blood. "Help me turn him," she said. Jaken complied without complaint and let her brush his hair off his shoulder. The fine silver strands were drenched with blood. She dragged the stained material off his shoulder and gasped. His pale skin turned dark at the edges of a wound that went to the bone.

"What happened to him?" Kagome asked.

Jaken sputtered. "This happened when he came back with you!" His staff spit out sparks. Kagome hissed when they touched her hand.

"Watch it!"

She pulled some of the herbs out of her pocket, silently praising the gods she'd gotten to them before they'd been lost with the rest of the garden. "Rin, grind these up into a paste with some water. Jaken, do you have anything to stitch this up with? Thread or something?"

"My lord does not require stitches! Any injuries will heal flawlessly on their own."

Kagome pressed her finger to the dark flesh. The wound was hot. She moved her palm to his forehead and he swatted at her weakly, scraping across her arm with his claws. She pushed his good arm down, ignoring his loud growl.

"Hush!" Red bled into the whites of his eyes. "Don't be stubborn! You're injured. Jaken, I need cold water." The imp looked at his lord, whose attention was locked onto Kagome. "Go!" She snapped. She sprang up and went to Ah-Un. The dragon eyed her warily. She spoke to it in bold tones. "I need something from your side bags. Don't bite me or your lord might die."

The heads hissed at each other, then let her pass, and she slipped her hands into their leather side saddle. It was mostly dried meat, a water skein, some oil for Sesshoumaru's blades. She grumbled until she finally found a few things for sewing. A thin leather cord and a hook that would work as a needle. Sesshoumaru groaned when he saw her returning to him.

"Priestess, if you touch me with that I will kill you."

"If I don't, then you'll be dead."

Rin and Jaken rushed back into the clearing with water and the herb paste. "Traitors," he growled, and Jaken immediately fell to groveling. Rin rushed to grab the bowl of water before it spilled and ran to Kagome's side.

"Sesshoumaru-sama, you are very strong, but you're also very hurt. Please let Kagome help you."

"No."

Kagome put the rag in the water and reached up to clean his shoulder. He twisted away from her and tried to rise. Rin shocked Kagome by reaching out and grasping his obi.

"Rin!" Jaken gasped. She grit her teeth.

"Enough!" Kagome said. "If Sesshoumaru-sama wants to lose his arm again, then that's his choice." She dropped her things and stood, brushing her knees off and walking to the other side of the clearing. She took a seat against a tree and closed her eyes.

There was a long moment of silence, and then Sesshoumaru spoke through his teeth. "You may assist this Sesshoumaru, but there will be no stitches. I will heal too quickly, and they'll be stuck."

Kagome smiled. "Thanks." She walked back to him and set to cleaning his wounds. He grit his teeth and didn't make a sound, even when she jostled his arm. She showed Rin how to dress the wound, how to pack it with the herb paste. His eyes watered from the strong antiseptic smell.

"There!" She patted his thigh when she finished and he snarled again. She rolled her eyes and packed the stuff up, returning it to Ah-Un and even giving them a light scratch when they booped her with their noses. Rin bounced up to her.

"I'm going to go look for food, would you like to come with me?"

Kagome sighed. She was still starving, but she was grimy again, and now she had bad blood on her. "You go ahead. I need a bath." She ignored Sesshoumaru, even as he seethed behind her and picked her way back to the river.

There was nothing around to attack her this time. The woods were blessedly silent. She stripped and laid her clothes on a flat rock that jutted out into the river, and waded into the frigid water. Goosebumps broke out along her skin, but she still took a deep breath and ducked underwater. She stayed well away from the current, remaining on the safe side of the rock, and washed as quickly as she could while being incredibly thorough. Layers of dirt, blood, and grime lifted off her skin and out of her hair and drifted downstream.

She ducked down again to scrub her hair, and when she popped back up there was a jingle behind her. Relief rocked through her. "Miroku?"

Purple robes appeared from between the trees, but the man who leered at her was not her friend. He was taller, thinner, his hair shaved down to nothing. She reached for her clothes on top of the rock.

"Hello priestess." The man greeted her in a deadpan voice. "I apologize for speaking to you while you're undressed, but I needed to talk to you while you were away from your friends. My mistress has a proposal for you."

"Your mistress?"

"Akira-sama is powerfu. She has a grand vision of this world without any youkai in it. And she wants your assistance."

"I would never want to live in a world like that!" Kagome gasped, but something nagged at her. Wasn't that the world she came from? 500 years in the future and demon-free? Hadn't she always wondered where the demons went? What had become of them? They could endure for centuries, but she'd never sensed a single one.

"I see. I must urge you to reconsider. Akira-sama has no mercy for traitors to the human race."

Kagome lingered behind the rock, watching him as he took a step towards her. His staff jingled in the cold breeze that blew across the water. Her heart stuttered, and she considered stepping back into the current again, letting it wash her down to the temple from the night before.

"Are you from that temple? The one that was empty? What happened there?"

"Lady Akira has shown us a better way."

"Your friend died."

"He was a fool who refused to see the light."

They were startled by a cheerful cry from the woods. "Kagome! Look what I found for lunch!"

The monk looked back at Kagome. "It's a shame about what happened to your friend's school," he said, and then he stepped back into the shadows and disappeared, leaving Kagome alone to shrug her clothes on and rush back to camp.

Author's note: Thanks for reading!
Prompt: N/A

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