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The Sacrifice by Freya Ishtar

Together Yet Separate

Disclaimers: 1) Inuyasha characters © Rumiko Takahashi. 2) This fic is inspired, in part, by the Chinese supernatural horror film The Heirloom. I'd been very intrigued by the myth in the movie and had been considering doing something based on it for a while, but A) it's not usually my style to weave plot based off of pre-existing stories- B) I'd really not had a place for it (I'm not certain if the myth is/was an actual belief or something from the mind of a writer, but I won't be a spoiler for any who want to watch this movie [it's on Netflix]).

Chapter One

Together Yet Separate

Kagome tiptoed up the stairs, pausing as the sound of creaking wood beneath her feet seemed to ring deafeningly through the empty house. Holding her breath, she turned her head to glance over her shoulder and listened carefully for the footfalls from the floors below of anyone that might be rushing suddenly to stop her. Nothing. She exhaled slowly, trying to quell the nervous flip-flopping of her stomach. Her mother and grandfather should still be in town, but sometimes it was as though they manifested back within the house out of thin air without warning.

Reminding herself that she didn't have much time- and it would be even less if she kept halting- she swallowed her anxiety and continued up into the attic. She pushed the door open, finding it odd as she always did that the hinges on it never squeaked, as though someone in the family saw to it that they were always oiled. It unsettled her to think they would be so careful to not want this door to be heard. Kagome frowned and pushed the thought aside, making her way quickly across the expanse of blank wood floor ignoring many dusty steamer trunks and standing wardrobes; were she allowed, she would adore the opportunity to rifle through them, to dig her hands through the scores of family history, of times long past, that she knew were contained within, but there was never time. She wasn't even supposed to be up here.

At last she reached the end of the attic, though it wasn't precisely the very back of the storage space as it should have been, converted as it had been some years before she was born to create a separate room. Foolish as it was at this point, she couldn't stop herself from casting another hurried, nervous glance over her shoulder before carefully sitting on her knees before the door.

She raised her hand to knock, wondering for a brief, flickering moment if she should try the door knob. There was no chance that her mother or grandfather had left the door unlocked- they would never be so careless- but in the back of her mind, she wished . . . not only that it could true, but that she was at least brave enough to try it.

She winced at the too-loud-seeming sound of her knuckles connecting with the aged, but solid wood. "Kikyou?" she murmured uncertainly when there was no immediate reply.

After a strained moment there was the sound of shuffling from the other side of the door, leading Kagome to imagine that her twin had assumed a similar sitting position on the floor. "Kagome," her voice was happy despite the words that followed, "you know you shouldn't be up here."

Kagome frowned sadly, idly tracing a fingertip over the tiny, rectangular slide in the bottom of the door- the one used to deliver Kikyou's meals and new books, reading being the only thing the poor girl really had with which to occupy herself. She found it a small comfort that the family had at least seen fit to teach Kikyou to read. The Higurashi clan was quite wealthy and influential, despite their reclusive habits, despite clinging to old world superstitions and traditions. Painful traditions . . . like locking away from the world the children that were born not quite perfect.

Children like Kikyou, who had earned herself a life of imprisonment for the transgression of being born with a lame leg.

Though the twins had been separated at a very early age, Kagome had never forgotten about her sister. She knew their family had taken strides to keep Kikyou a secret- even from her, assuming that she'd forgotten with the passing of time, as children do- they never spoke of her, preparing her meals silently and mechanically, the same with delivering to her reading material. It was simply a chore like anything, a task taken care of because it needed to be, nothing more.

They had been so careful that Kagome had not known for a very long while where Kikyou was even kept, though she'd sometimes thought that her sister had been sent away. That was the public story, after all, that Higurashi Kikyou had been a sickly child and thus was sent to live with a branch of the family in a constant mild climate for her own good. Kikyou was brought breakfast before Kagome awoke in the morning, lunch while she was outside playing or at school and dinner after she'd gone to bed at night. Then one winter's day during middle school Kagome was home sick and had spied her mother carrying a tray of food up to the attic.

The attic that Kagome had always been warned away from because the storage space was too dangerous.

Something told her not to ask about this incident. She had been indulged once, and only once, as a child when she had inquired about her sibling. Her mother had given her the same story the family had spun for the public, but did not make any mention of this sibling being her twin. Even as young as she'd been at the time Kagome had known her mother had been omitting things.

Instead of making another inquiry, which was likely to be brushed aside with Kagome, did you forget . . . , she waited for a day when she had been left home alone to creep up, into the attic and investigate. It was not until that day- the day that she swallowed her fear of possible punishment, or of what she might find, and ventured up those stairs- that she realized just how far the family had stretched the truth.

That was when she'd found this door; when a jiggle of the locked door knob and a curious knock graced her with hearing her sister's voice for the first time. It had made for a strange, yet teary-eyed reunion; the latter especially so when Kagome learned that her twin had never forgotten her, either.

She had been sneaking up here to visit with her sister whenever she could ever since.

"You always say that," Kagome pointed out, sniffling reflexively- this was the exact way all of their conversations started.

"And it's always true," Kikyou replied, the smile on her face evident in her tone.

"I had to come speak with you today, I never know when I'll get to come up here and next week is our eighteenth birthday." Kagome tugged a folded paper out of the pocket of her neatly pressed black jeans and pushed it through the slide in the door. "I made you something."

"A present?" The amazement in Kikyou's voice tore at her sister's heart; it always hurt to think such simple things were a wonder to her.

Kagome shrugged. "It's not much, but I didn't want it to be taken away, so . . . this way you can hide it in one of your books."

She could just barely hear the sound of the thick sheet of sketch paper being unfolded. Kikyou gave a small gasp, "Oh, Kagome . . . ."

Kagome gave a self-derisive laugh, "I told you it wasn't much." The rendering she'd done of the two of them- or rather, of two of herself, as she didn't know what Kikyou looked like, so she could only go on the notion that they were twins- was all she could think of that would mean something to the both of them. Two girls with the same long, raven-black hair, the same wide, chestnut colored eyes.

"It's beautiful. I'm sorry, Kagome I'd have made you something, too." There was a pause, "Oh, who am I kidding, I don't have anything . . . but I-I could have written you a poem, I have lots of books of poetry; I think I'd be good at that. I just didn't know our birthday was coming . . . I never know what day it is."

It was not a statement that contained sadness or bitterness; it had merely been a fact, a simple truth of her life. Kagome was reminded- as she so often was in these moments- that she could not begin to imagine what Kikyou's existence was like. After all, she had been born the perfect child, she'd been the one doted upon, even spoiled, while her sister had known nothing but neglect and solitude.

Forcing a hard gulp down her throat, Kagome pushed aside a sudden upwelling of tears as her hand shot up to try the knob. It proved to be a futile effort as it rattled and jiggled, but would not turn. She knew this door was opened every so often- her twin had told her as much- Kikyou had her own bathroom and their mother brought in fresh linens and clothes very few weeks and took out the used things to be laundered. Why couldn't the woman forget to lock it just once? Just so that she might get to look upon her own sister's face.

"You know that never works," Kikyou admonished.

Kagome sighed, leaning her cheek against the door. "Maybe I should learn how to pick locks," she groused.

A quiet, musical laugh sounded from the other side of the door. "I wanted to ask you about something."

A dark, arched brow quirking at the caution in her sister's tone, Kagome murmured, "You know you can ask me anything."

"Have you been having . . . dreams? I- I mean about a man with silver hair?"

Kagome stifled a surprised gasp, feeling her cheeks flood with warmth instantly. She knew that twins were sometimes supposed to have a psychic connection- that it was said that they could share dreams, things like that- but the idea that anyone would know about him was so shamefully embarrassing.

She was trying to push back the memories, one washed over her regardless. The sweet, blissful sensation of a warm mouth at her breast . . . the way those impossible golden eyes rolled up to lock on hers as he had gently parted her legs with his hand and began to slide his fingers-

Kagome cleared her throat loudly, feeling awkward suddenly, and dropped her gaze to the floor, as though her sister could see her through the door. "You, um, you know about that? Do you have them, too?"

"Not exactly . . . I catch glimpses sometimes. I just wanted to know where they were coming from. Besides, I don't think he's interested in me."

"Don't think he's . . ." Kagome echoed, letting her words trail off as she snapped her eyes up to the door again. "You're talking about, well, him like he's an actual person."

"I don't know that he is, but-"

Kagome's nerves seemed to fray instantly at the way her sister's voice had stopped short. The sudden silence was followed by the sound of Kikyou's irregular footsteps- one normal foot fall, one shuffling drag- moving hurriedly across the wood floor. She knew Kikyou had gone to look out the window.

Just as quickly, those footsteps came back toward the door. "You have to go, the car just pulled up."

"I'll come back as soon as I can," Kagome assured her.

Her sister urged in a hushed tone, "Go now, please!"

It was more the insistence in Kikyou's voice than the fear of getting in trouble- that her twin could be so concerned for whether or not she would be punished, rather than herself for this was both touching and heartbreaking- that forced Kagome to her feet.

She bolted across the attic and through the door, making certain to close the door securely behind her- nothing could be out of place- and continued down the stairs. Rounding a bend in the corridor, Kagome managed to get into her room, closing her own door just as she heard the one in the main entryway downstairs being opened.

She pressed her back against the solid support of the door and tried to calm her breathing, wondering just when her heart had managed to lodge itself in her throat. Her name rang out suddenly through the house, causing her to give a start.

There's no way they know, there's no way they know, she thought fervently, waiting for her mother to call for her again; waiting to gauge the tone of the woman's voice.

". . . Kagome?"

Calm . . . pleasant, almost sing-song. Okay, so her mother likely hadn't somehow mystically learned of her perfect child trespassing into the forbidden section of the house. Nodding to herself, Kagome allowed herself to open the door and reenter the hallway. Her mother, Higurashi Aiko, had ventured half-way up the curving staircase by the time Kagome reached the top step.

"Sorry, mom, I just . . . drifted off while I was reading," she fell into step with Aiko as the older woman spun on her heel and began back down the stairs. "Did you need something?"

"Yes," Aiko looped an arm around her daughter's elbow. "Your grandfather and I need your help setting the house."

Kagome couldn't help stiffening a little. It wasn't that she didn't love her mother- the woman wasn't anything but loving, and perhaps even a touch overbearing, to Kagome, but to Kikyou . . . . Pretending like everything was sunshine and kittens was no simple task when she was so angry with her mother for going along with the antiquated practice that had seen to her sister being locked away. It proved more difficult, still, after her secret visits with Kikyou.

Her mother and grandfather misinterpreted Kagome's hesitation to respond as the two women reached the foot of the stairs. "Kagome," her grandfather scolded gently, smiling warmly at her, "you will never remember, will you? The waxing moon is approaching."

"Ah, right, of course," Kagome said with a forced brightness, nodding and gratefully using the excuse to step away from her mother by moving to take one of the shopping bags from the pint-sized elderly man's arms.

She bowed her head a little, staring into the depths of the bag as she followed them into the kitchen. Every month during the days that led up to the waxing-crescent phase of the moon, members of the extended family gathered here to give a ritual offering. It seemed ridiculous to Kagome- to continue to pay homage in the modern era to some ancient entity or spirit, whatever, that had supposedly granted their family the wealth and influence they'd had for so many generations- but the family was insistent that they uphold such traditions. Likely more for superstitious fear that not following this custom would put some sort of jinx on their good fortune than any real reason.

When she was young, it had been discussed as though it was akin to feeding a family pet. She'd never seen any cat or dog- or any animal, for that matter- in the recesses of the archaic stone cellar where they placed the offering. There was an odd door that always intrigued her, but the space behind it was always empty. It was only as she grew older that she understood the offerings to simply be a useless family tradition. She had no idea what the offerings were, either- always concealed in a small, ornately painted urn.

Every now and again though . . . . Kagome glanced over her shoulder at her chattering mother- gossiping about someone or other that she'd run into at the market- as she continued to mechanically retrieve groceries and extra toiletries from the bags and set them out on the counter. Every now and again Kagome couldn't help but wonder . . . .

There were moments when she was alone in the house- for snippets of time only, not allowing her the freedom to visit with her sister- that she felt as though something was there with her. Some instances were so intense that she felt certain that if she turned her head just quickly enough, if she glanced over her shoulder at just the right moment, she would see someone standing there behind her. But of course there was never anything there.

It wasn't some subconscious weight reminding her that she was never truly alone in the house because her sister was there. No, Kikyou's presence felt different from this. Kagome was always aware when someone was near her, she couldn't always tell who it was, but she knew people gave off different energies and she wasn't certain how she was able to sense it, it had simply been something she could always do. The . . . feeling that came over her when she was alone was as real, as tangible as her mother and grandfather standing only a few feet away from her right now.

She knew it was a leap, but it made her wonder somehow if their family's imaginary pet might actually be something more than imaginary.

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(2 Notes: 1. Locking away children with disabilities- in some cases, hiding their existence entirely- sadly, was a common practice in several cultures even as recently as up until a few decades ago. 2. I'm also playing a little bit with the widely held notion that twins are often considered to be likely to have some sort of extra sensory ability.

Thank you for reading the first installment of The Sacrifice, reviews are always very greatly appreciated.)

 

INUYASHA © Rumiko Takahashi/Shogakukan • Yomiuri TV • Sunrise 2000
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