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Stealing Heaven by Freya Ishtar

Accidental Discoveries

(The title Stealing Heaven actually comes from an old movie, which I haven't seen, I just spotted the title on the cable guide one night and it stuck; explanations for furnished surnames follows the chapter.)

Disclaimer: I do not own Inuyasha or any affiliated characters.

Chapter One

Accidental Discoveries

"In archeology," the professor began as he strolled to the center of the room carrying a large and ornately painted vase by its neck and holding it up for the students, gathered at desks set in a circle around him, to see, "this is what you're looking for . . . but this," he let go, the vase shattering into hundreds of pieces as it impacted the tiled floor, "is what you'll find."

It was in that moment that Higurashi Kagome knew it was going to be her favorite class. She wasn't like the other girls- and even a few of the guys- in the class who hung on every word that tumbled from the lips of their professor, noted archeologist Taisho Sesshomaru, with hearts in their eyes. It was rumored that he had European blood, which was how his eyes got their pale amber coloring . . . it was rumored that he'd suffered some horrifying shock at a young age, turning his long once dark hair silvery-white. Everyone said that rather than aging him, the sharp contrast to his lightly golden-olive skin tone made him appear more youthful. But Kagome didn't concern herself with rumors, or how old- or in this case, young- their professor actually might be.

This course wasn't a choice she'd made after spotting the handsome scholar strolling across campus during an open house, it was a decision she had made long before she'd even been old enough for college. Kagome was there to learn. When she leaned forward in her seat, it was to better hear what this brilliant person was saying, her vibrant blue eyes were never on him- and they most certainly had no hearts in them- but on her notebook as she scribbled down everything he said. That first day, her gaze had leaped from him to that shattered vase instantly, her mind already picking apart the rubble to fit the pieces back together like a jigsaw puzzle.

A semester and a half had passed and this was the day Kagome had been waiting for . . . so impatiently that she couldn't help glancing at her watch every few seconds. Class would be let out any second and still there had been no mention. As she checked for the umpteenth time she felt a nudge in her side. Looking from the elbow pulling away from her ribs to the person attached to it, she met the calm brown eyes of her dorm-mate, Ryoushi Sango.

"Will you chill?" the girl hissed in a barely audible whisper.

Frowning deeply, Kagome nodded as she squared her shoulders and sat back only to be hunched over her watch again in less than a minute's passing. Sango held in a sigh- Kagome's fidgeting was starting to give her a headache.

"Before I dismiss you," Professor Taisho said and instantly Kagome bolted upright in her seat, folding her hands in front of her on the desk and assuming the picture of the perfect, attentive student, "I would like to talk for a moment about the internships. When you leave, you will find the list of those who've been accepted posted outside the door. I will not hear any arguments if you find that you didn't make the list. All applications were received and weighed against academic performance, legitimacy of your request based on said performance- that's to say how serious I think you are about pursuing a career in this field- and your essay answers on why you want to participate Now, while 'seeing a Central American sunrise' is quite poetic," he paused, straight-faced despite the murmur of laughter that rumbled through the class, "it is not exactly the reasoning I'm looking for.

"That being said, I would like to apologize to anyone that should be on that list, but is not- I trust you will know who you are. Funding being what it is, there are only a few seats available and I did have some tough choices to make once it was down to those students that truly deserve to take part. If you are among those, I am sorry- there's always next term's excavation."

A moment later the class was dismissed and everyone was out of their seats to bolt for the door and- in some cases- the list hanging outside of it. Much to Sango's surprise, Kagome wasn't among them. Shouldering her messenger bag and rising from her desk, Sango turned a tight-lipped look on her friend. Kagome was placing her things into her worn yellow backpack at a snail's pace.

"Okay, what gives? You were a basket case all morning waiting to find out and now that you can have the answer you're practically a statue."

One corner of Kagome's mouth twitched a little as she zipped her bag shut and pulled it up onto her shoulder, but still didn't stand, her eyes in her lap. "I just . . . what if I didn't make it?"

A long, unattractive groan forced its way out of Sango's throat as her head fell back and she dropped herself down into her seat. "Oh my God, that is the stupidest thing ever. You're like the best student in this class. I can maybe understand it if my name's not there, but there's no way you are not on that list."

Nervously pushing a wave of long, jet-black hair behind one ear, Kagome spoke with her gaze still averted. "But you heard him- there's no guarantee as to who made the cut."

"If he's as smart as he seems to be-"

"He is," Kagome grumbled.

Sango frowned, but nodded. "If he is, then he'd ground his own assistant to make room for a student like you. Now, get your ass up and let's go have a look, okay?"

A long, silent moment crawled by before Kagome gave into a nod and allowed her friend to pull her up, away from her desk and out the door. When they were at last in the hall Sango turned Kagome to face the list only to find the stubborn girl's eyes squeezed shut. Repressing the urge to utter another ugly groan Sango flicked Kagome's ear.

Blue eyes snapped open as Kagome let out a gasp, clamping a hand over her ear. "Sango, what the . . ." Sango's finger was already on the list, a metallic-purple nail pointing and Kagome couldn't help following it.

Instantly her hand dropped as she stared, her gaze wandering back and forth across the letters a few times before shrieking excitedly and throwing her arms around her friend's neck.

"Didn't I tell you?" Sango scolded after letting Kagome strangle her for a few minutes. "Guess what?"

Kagome pulled back, her eyes so wide that they looked as though they were about to fall out of her skull. "What?"

Sango pointed to the list again, breaking her usual calm expression to give a bright grin. "I'm going, too!"

There was another round of excited-girl screeches- earning them scowls from passing students- but they managed to collect themselves and focus their attention on the list once more. On the bottom was bright red scrawl, stating that they would receive confirmation letters via email which would outline suggested travel supplies, necessary vaccinations and any other possible arrangements they might have to make within the six weeks leading up to the summer-long excursion. Kagome glanced back up at the other names- she'd heard them both in passing, but it was no one she recognized right off the bat.

"Oh, no," she said softly.

"Hmm?" Sango was already linking her arm through Kagome's and steering them in the direction of the dormitories.

"Kikyou didn't make the cut," she replied, blue eyes lowering a little guiltily.

One look at Kagome's face had Sango shaking her head. "Uh-uh, no- don't do that! You feel bad 'cause you're going and she's not? That's fine, but don't go feeling like it's your fault, okay?"

Kagome and Nisou Kikyou- both of their grandfathers serving as priests at the same shrine- had been practically glued at the hip all through grade school and junior high. The friendship ended bitterly during high school when they'd fallen for the same boy. Even after he'd been sent away to live with his mother in America they had never quite been able to forgive each other- or themselves- though things had mellowed a little, allowing them to settle into a slightly more comfortable, yet often no less tense, academic rivalry. Kagome always secretly hoped that one day things would be able go back to how they'd once been, but an opportunity to make that hope a reality simply never seemed to present itself.

She was quiet and miserable for a solid minute before nodding. She might not be responsible in any actual way, but she still felt like if her own name wasn't on that list, there would have been room for Kikyou. "There's always next term," the hollow echo of their professor's words was all she could muster right then.

Sango let it slide- she knew that once this feeling passed, once Kagome started packing and making her medical appointments, she'd again be excited about the adventure that lay ahead of them. "Exactly. Well, unless you bump her off that list, too."

Kagome laughed in spite of herself. "You can be so mean."

"I do it out of love."

"Uh-huh."

* * *

From the moment they arrived at the site, Kagome knew there was something odd about the area. It was nothing tangible, nothing that she could put her finger on, but she could feel it in her bones all the same. She'd seen a location close to here on a television program, but she already knew that had nothing to do with the strange sense in the back of her mind.

The camp was set in one of only a handful of clearings scattered throughout this section of the rain forest. There were interns from other universities, but not nearly as many as Kagome had expected, which- as it was explained by Professor Taisho in a bored and calm tone that hadn't even required him to lift his nose from the notes he was skimming- was because many of the students wanted to wait for more prominent digs, or for a location like Egypt.

Aside from the students- whom Kagome already knew were to handle all the support work from recording their progress, to cleaning and cataloging artifacts, and even really miniscule tasks like making coffee- there was a native guide, a translator, a smattering of archeologists and anthropologists and a few assistants that probably all had PhDs of their own, if she was guessing correctly. It was a surprisingly smaller set up than what she was expecting, they numbered perhaps eighteen in all, but even the shortage of people left no room for modesty. Only two stations of portable utilities had been provided and it wasn't likely they would be designated as gender specific- since Kagome and Sango seemed to be outnumbered- but rather used on an as-needed basis. The bigger downside however, was that once a week they were expected to pile into a beat up pick-up truck and endure a few hours long ride over bumpy terrain to reach something that resembled civilization to restock supplies and have a sit-down meeting- to discuss the dig itself and what they felt they were learning- in a local school that was kind enough to donate the use of a room to the expedition.

Kagome and Sango felt they were at least lucky in that they were assigned three people to a tent and their third person was a girl from France whom they couldn't easily communicate with, but seemed very sweet. After unpacking and familiarizing themselves with the camp site they reported to Professor Taisho; due to a departure delay they had been the last group to arrive and though this only put them a few hours behind, the professor was still eager to catch them up.

With no preamble whatsoever, the moment all of his students- and his assistant, Souryo Miroku- were gathered before him, the man stuffed the notepad he'd been reading from into a pocket and turned on his heel to stride off into the wilderness. It wasn't until they were out of earshot of the camp that Professor Taisho began explaining the historical significance of the area. Every effort had been made to disturb as little of their surroundings as possible- only the thinnest of paths had been carved out and only where it had been absolutely necessary, marked by colored arrows adhered harmlessly to the trees.

Kagome had never seen anything so vibrant or colorful in all her life. It seemed like walking through a waking dream. And the sounds! So many noises on so many levels all the time- everything from the buzzing of insects to the chirping of birds and the rustle of herself and her group moving through the jungle, even the professor's words added to the cacophony despite the fact that she couldn't make sense of them just now. She imagined that if they halted completely and listened hard enough, she might even hear the distant breathing of curious animals watching them.

That thought should be a little more nerve-wracking, she realized somewhat dimly. No doubt that some of those watchful beasts would be predators, but she simply couldn't feel nerve-wracked. There was that feeling that was with her . . . sitting in her bones and edging around her brain. This place was somehow a comfort to her, she couldn't begin to think on why, though.

A sudden clicking near her ear broke her reverie and she looked over to see Sango snapping pictures of the barely-visible trail. Miroku was nearly stumbling in his endeavor to keep up with Professor Taisho's long-legged gait, dutifully capturing what his boss was saying on a hand-held recorder. The other two students- a vertically-challenged boy named Tabakaru Shippo and a feisty girl named Garou Ayame- were scribbling away in notepads as they trudged on, likely jotting down their impressions of the location and Kagome almost felt useless for a moment, but then her sketch pad, pencils and charcoals were in her pack and she wouldn't really have any use for them until they reached the . . . whatever it was. Professor Taisho still hadn't told them exactly what they'd be working on, only that it was recently discovered and a shame that a larger team couldn't be amassed to assist in the excavation.

"What was stopping it?" Kagome muttered thoughtfully, her gaze locked on a colorful bird nested on a branch high above them. The group's movement ceased suddenly and Kagome hadn't even realized until she almost tripped over Shippo.

She looked ahead to find that Professor Taisho had stopped and was looking at her from over his shoulder. Instantly forgetting what she'd been thinking, all Kagome could manage was, "Hmm?"

"Do you have a question, Higurashi?"

Kagome refrained from forcing a gulp down her throat- she abhorred being put on the spot, but she knew that all eyes were on her now, it was either remember what had been going through her head or let herself feel like a fool for interrupting over nothing. "Um . . ." her mind ran through what he'd said in a split-second, "I'm sorry, I was just wondering what was barring the site we're working on from discovery until now?"

Professor Taisho's head tipped to one side thoughtfully before he turned to face them, a corner of his mouth quirking ever so slightly as he folded his arms across his chest. "Well, that is a fair question, but I will remind you that pyramids, temple mounds and tribal burial sites are still being uncovered in places where it was previously thought there was nothing. Why should this site be any different?"

For the first time she found herself grateful for nights when there was nothing to watch on TV but documentaries. "I remember seeing something a few years ago about the Halls of Lost Records."

Silver eyebrows shot up and there was some definite snickering from the group, but Kagome forced herself to continue. "Okay, I know that wasn't the best lead-in, but hear me out. I'm pretty close to positive that an area not at all far from where we are now was one of the proposed sites of the Hall due to some unnatural rock formations that were thought to possibly be land markers. There was an actual, legitimate expedition and they combed the jungle looking for . . . well, anything." She shrugged, "Therefore, whether or not it pertained to their search, I can't help but wonder how they'd have missed something that was of any archeological significance."

Those brows remained raised as the professor nodded and turned back, starting off again as he called over his shoulder, "Nice bit of accidental research, there. The reason it wasn't found was because the cavern we're going to was submerged until recently. Ground shifts in the aftermath of some of our planets recent earthquakes caused water levels in some areas to recede. What you'll find interesting is that- if testing that's going to be conducted proves me correct- its possible the Mezzo-American tribe that was here used that cavern because it was submerged, or at least a portion of it."

"So they put something were they couldn't even reach it?" Ayame asked in a mixture of uncertainty and disbelief.

"Not that they couldn't reach it," Professor Taisho explained smoothly as the students began to make out a mountainside, its face obscured by plant life that had grown to conceal it long ago. "I believe it was simply to make reaching it more difficult as opposed to an intended impossibility."

"Like a rite of passage, maybe?" Shippo chimed in.

"Precisely."

Shippo beamed while Ayame scowled.

They followed the professor as the path curved left until they were turned in almost a complete circle to face a cavern that could not be missed as becoming a hole in the ground after venturing the first few yards in. It was foreboding and that upset Kagome, given how tranquil the rest of the jungle had felt to her. Everyone was retrieving their lanterns from their packs and she absently scrambled to do the same.

"Can I ask a philosophical question?" she inquired, dropping her voice a little as they proceeded into the damp-reeking darkness.

"I don't see why not."

"Do you think that-"

"Me as in doctor of archeology or me as in whoever I am outside of my PhDs?"

Confused a little by the question, Kagome glanced at Sango in the sparsely illuminated cavern who could only shrug and make a well, go on gesture. "I guess both. If humanity's ancestors could be witness to an archeological excavation, do you think they'd feel honored that we're preserving their memories or horrified no matter what our intentions and think we're no better than grave robbers?"

The professor paused again, but only briefly, aware that the question also had the girl's classmates and his own assistant thinking about how they would answer. "I believe . . . they'd be disappointed that we'd ever forgotten them at all."

There was something humbling about that thought. There was no more speaking from anyone as they continued down through a winding tunnel that became increasing dank, the sea-salt in the air thicker and the distant, impossible-seeming sound of waves lapping met their ears. Eventually it widened out again and after a few yards the group found an enormous cavern opening before them. The professor stayed at the entrance with the students as Miroku moved on ahead. A few moments of edgy silence passed and then the depths of the cavern became lighter as Miroku flicked on standing lanterns.

"This is what we'll be working on," Professor Taisho said in a quiet, almost awed tone, "and, along with the rest of the team back at camp, we're some of the first people to set foot here in centuries."

They faced a massive temple sitting alone on an underground shore, pitch-black waters lightly touching damp sand and rolling back again. Numbly Kagome switched off her hand-held lantern and pulled down her pack to get her sketching tools. She pushed aside how she was feeling . . . like if she looked away for too long, if she turned her back on it, something was going to come rushing out of that ancient structure and snatch her away.

* * *

It was a few days later- countless sketches had been made, items had been retrieved and cataloged, remote recording devices had been set up inside both the cavern and what parts of the temple had already been surveyed and tedious translations of the text lining the interior walls had begun- when Kagome brought to Professor Taisho the final draft of the temple exterior's rendering. He nodded slowly, almost making her cringe as he turned the page this way and that before handing it back to her. "Perfect."

She nodded in response, turning on her heel- it was her time to take over cataloging duties from Ayame- when he called for her attention. "Yes, professor?" she asked politely, turning back with a mystified lift of her eyebrows.

"Are you feeling alright?"

Her gaze darted around curiously for a moment. "Yes, I'm okay. Why?"

The professor frowned- she seemed fine now, yes, but since arriving here she'd simply not been the same girl who'd been sitting in his class room all term. "You've been giving off an air of . . . listlessness."

Kagome's shoulders slumped- he'd noticed she was distracted? It must have been more obvious than she'd thought, though Sango hadn't mentioned it- but then she was distracted, herself, with Miroku's flirting. "No, I'm sorry, I've just been a little . . . I'll be more . . ." she didn't even know how to finish the sentence, because she couldn't say for certain how she'd been.

His frown deepened and he took a stack of notes from the folding chair near his and set them on the table. "Please have a seat."

Nodding stiffly, she rolled up the sketch and sat down, lightly clutching the page in her hands. She didn't like making a nuisance of herself. The professor should be pouring over artifacts and photographs, not taking his time to deal with her.

"If there's anything at this site that is making you uncomfortable somehow, I would like for you to tell me."

"Huh?" Her brow furrowed- did he think she was being bullied or harassed by someone? "No, no," she let out a small, tension-releasing laugh as she shook her head, "it's nothing like that I just . . . I don't know how to say it, except that I almost feel like . . . this place is familiar."

"You feel as though you've been here before?"

She shook her head again. "I know it sounds ridiculous, but . . . ."

"Why?" Professor Taisho asked with a slight shrug.

Again Kagome was confused. "You . . . believe in past lives, professor?"

He pursed his lips for a long, thoughtful moment before replying. "I don't necessarily know that I believe in reincarnation in such strict terms. What I think is that," he lightly tapped the tips of his fingers against his chest, "this is a machine. And like any machine it takes energy to operate. Energy doesn't 'die', it only changes forms. When we die, what happens to that energy? Without actually having the answer to that question, we can't actually rule anything out. I don't know that it means a person can live more than one life, but what it does mean is that its possible you may have been here before just . . . in a different form."

She nodded slowly, unable to find her voice at first. "I'll keep that in mind and again I'll try to be less distracted. I should go, Ayame's shift is up."

He halted her again as she rose from the chair. "This jungle feels safe to you, then?"

Kagome couldn't help smiling a little as she glanced around at the trees. "Actually yes."

"But not the cavern?"

"What?"

He was back to frowning. "When you're in there you look as though you're expecting something to jump out at you."

"Oh," she lowered her eyes. He noticed a lot of stuff, didn't he? "No, it doesn't feel safe to me." If she didn't know any better, she could have sworn this made him curious.

"What does it feel like, then?"

She didn't want to say that it felt like they weren't supposed to be there, or like the temple wasn't supposed to have been found. That was defeatist to everything their field was about. "It feels like . . ." she shrugged, finally settling on an explanation, but unsure if it sounded any better, "like something's hiding in there."

The professor's brow furrowed and then another long moment stretched out before he seemed to realize he was keeping her. "I'm sorry, you can go."

Kagome crossed the camp site to where Ayame waited, pacing and checking her watch. She tried to shake the feeling that, for whatever reason, Professor Taisho was actually taking her impressions into consideration. On an entirely different level, but no less jarring to her, was that for a moment- when he'd been explaining his view on previous incarnations- she thought there might've been hearts in her eyes.

------------

(Ryoushi- Hunter [there was no exact translation for 'slayer']; Nisou- Priestess [miko is translated as 'sorceress' and 'shrine maiden']; Souryo- Monk [since houshi, as Miroku is called in the manga, actually translates rather specifically to Buddhist Priest]; Tabakaru- Trickster ['cause kitsune would've just been too easy]; Garou- Hungry Wolf [I wanted Ayame's name to differ from Ookami, which means 'wolf', as that is Kouga's name])

 

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