Continuing Tales

The Cursed Monk

A InuYasha Story
by forthright

Part 2 of 9

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Kagome frowned at the tiny map on the back of her brochure. This can't be to scale. Or, it's possible that I missed this turn. What I wouldn't give for a flying neko-youkai right about now. Giving up, she hoisted her pack a little higher on her shoulders and trudged back towards the quaint little tourist town. Traveling on foot was a whole lot less daunting when I was fifteen. Maybe I should rethink this whole 'camping under the stars' thing, too.

When she'd learned about a remote temple with a cave in which the highly-revered statue of a saint could be found, she had been so sure it must be Midoriko's cave. Five years had passed since the Jewel disappeared and the Well stopped working, but Kagome's thoughts often lingered in the past. Hoping for a glimpse of the places she'd visited during her feudal quest, she'd made plans to revisit it. Something about the terrain just didn't feel right, though. The area around the taijiya village was remote, but not this mountainous. A lot can change in five hundred years, but I seriously doubt the hills have gotten bigger over time.

This tiny town's center square was lined with commonplace stores, a couple of restaurants, and an inn boasting a natural hot spring, but it was hardly a bustling tourist spot. Is it so hard to post a sign that says, 'This way to the amazing priestess's statue'? As far as Kagome could tell, these people didn't know the first thing about advertising. It's a miracle their precious local site even has a brochure. She'd found it in a box of Grandpa's things, so it was probably a couple of decades out of date.

I guess I'll just have to ask someone for directions. Choosing a small variety store on the corner, Kagome picked out a couple of snacks and a bottle of water, then poked through the scant selection of postcards before approaching the old woman at the register. The proprietress eyed her critically; feeling a little self-conscious, Kagome smoothed her hands down the front of modest hiking shorts and offered a determined smile. "I was wondering if you could direct me towards the temple that's supposed to be nearby?"

The woman's expression soured immediately, and she eyed the bedroll on Kagome's back with something like disgust. "So you're going to visit Saint Promiscuity, are you?"

"E-excuse me?" Kagome stammered. "I heard there was a cave… with a statue…?"

The shopkeeper harrumphed and flicked her hand towards the north and rattled off, "Follow the road another two kilometers; there's an arch on the left, set back from the road. That's the footpath that leads to the temple. It's easy to miss."

"Oh, I see. Thank you," the young woman replied, but her polite smile did nothing to erase the woman's frown.

"Young people these days," she muttered as Kagome pocketed her brochure and hurried towards the door with her meager purchases. Just before it closed behind her, she was sure she heard the woman add, "Make sure you use protection."

The hike up into the foothills was a rigorous one, but Kagome was so glad she'd come. I know where I am! she exulted. Over the years many things had changed a good deal, but some landmarks stood the test of time; the waterfall was just as lovely as it had been five hundred years ago. Dabbing away happy tears, she gazed down into the deep depression on whose grassy rim she sat. The edges had softened, and the marker was gone… but this was definitely the grave of Miroku's father. By some odd quirk of fate, she'd found her way back to Mushin's mountain temple.

The monk currently in charge had kindly offered to give her a tour once she was done with her wandering, and though she was no longer interested in the statue of a saint she didn't know, it seemed impolite to refuse the kindly old man. But first, I'm going to gather flowers for Miroku's father. Though it was a small thing, it was something she could do for the man who'd borne the same dreadful curse as his son. She collected a generous handful of wildflowers, humming softly to herself and randomly wondering whatever happened to little Rin. Then, she slip-slided down the steep side of the bowl-shaped crater and sacrificed a cup of instant noodles to give her bouquet a make-shift vase.

Kneeling, she bowed her head to offer a prayer… and had a little chat with the perverted father of the perverted monk she loved and missed. Your son was a dear friend, she silently confided. He avenged your family in the end. We killed Naraku—all of us together. You'd be proud of him; in spite of all his peeping and groping and flirting, he was a good man. It was nice, sharing her memories with someone who might actually appreciate the news.

"There have been rumors that the statue was carved by Genko Osusuki, although it has never been confirmed that he visited this region. Still, our saint is on par with the master craftsman's workmanship."

Kagome half-listened to her guide's rambling discourse as they strolled along a meandering trail that led down the hill from the temple proper. Overhanging tree boughs cast dappled shadows on the ground, and they passed several mossy stone lanterns. The pebbled path was too narrow for two to walk abreast, so she lagged in the head monk's wake. The old man was nothing like his ancient predecessor Mushin; he was very tall, very thin, and spoke in a papery voice that had probably never been wet by a long, deep swig of sake.

"According to our documentation, the statue has been here for nearly five centuries. The details are sketchy. Some of the traditions say that the Saint simply appeared here one day, a gift from the god of the mountain. However, it is more likely that the image was carved to honor one of the temple's monks."

"Five hundred years?" Kagome asked. "Is the statue named?"

"Alas, no... though the Saint has earned many nicknames over the years."

"Erm... I think one of the shopkeepers called your statue Saint Promiscuity."

The old man stopped and sighed, turning to face her. "Well, yes. You see, one of the stories handed down speaks of the defeat of a great evil, and it is said that the Saint had a role to play in securing peace for these lands. Peace... and prosperity." Kagome hummed a polite note of interest and her guide continued. "Somewhere along the way, this place earned a reputation for blessing couples with virility and fertility. The locals joke that many of the village residents were conceived in this cave, and there's a measure of truth to the tale."

"I see," Kagome replied faintly.

"Twenty years ago, this area was a popular destination for vacationers looking for a remote getaway. Nowadays, the beauties of this temple are a well-kept secret... though we're glad to share them with those who still search for such things."

The young woman smiled and assured, "I am delighted at the discoveries I've made so far. Thank you for taking the time to show me around!"

"The pleasure is all mine, young lady," tutted the monk as they arrived at the mouth of the cave. "It would be best if I went ahead of you, just to make sure nothing unseemly… well… I'm afraid this cave is still popular with young people. Oh, there you are, Tadao!"

A young man with a shaved head exited the shrine carrying a mop and pail, a bundle of incense sticks tucked under on arm. He smiled and bobbed his head to the head monk, but when he caught sight of Kagome, his bright black eyes grew round. "Tadao is one of our novices, and if you don't mind, I'll leave you in his hands. He can complete your tour, then escort you back to the temple."

The boyish monk quickly laid aside his cleaning supplies and bowed deeply to Kagome. "It would be an honor," he declared in a high, light voice.

"Thank you very much," Kagome replied, returning his bow.

After the old monk excused himself, Kagome followed Tadao towards the cave, ducking under the ropes of braided paper that decorated its entrance. It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust, but her first impressions of the site were of a quiet, cool, dry space... candlelit and incense-scented. The rustle of birds' wings betrayed the presence of swallows in one of the niches; flowers and other offerings were neatly arranged on a low tray before a life-sized statue of a man standing in the center of the smooth earthen floor. In the shifting candlelight, she couldn't make out many details, but the jade figure wore monk's robes, held a staff in one hand, and raised the other as if to offer a blessing. Curiosity drew her closer so she could peer into the statue's face, and she gasped in amazement. "Miroku-sama!" she whispered.

It's really him! The likeness was uncanny, and Kagome had to resist the urge to reach out to her friend. I wonder if Mushin-sama commissioned the statue? Then it occurred to her that this meant Miroku was dead. Well... it's five hundred years later, so of course he's dead, but... he doesn't look much older than the last time I saw him. I hope this doesn't mean he died young. Miroku's expression was serene, but without the roguish twinkle in his eyes, he seemed sad somehow.

"It is Kagome-sama?" inquired a shy voice, and she glanced in surprise at her forgotten companion. "Y-you're really Kagome-sama! Oh, thank goodness!"

She frowned at the novice and shook her head in confusion. I'm sure I didn't give him my name. "Do I know you?"

Tadao stepped closer and caught her hand in his own, drawing her towards the statue, babbling the whole time. "You have no idea how glad I am to see you. I can't imagine how you came to be here... and after all this time... but I will not ignore such a gift from the gods! This is the best chance… maybe the only chance he has!"

"Hey! L-let me go!" She dug in her heels, ready to scream bloody murder.

"W-wait, please! Look... it's me!" With a pop, the youth transformed, and she found herself staring open-mouthed into the furry face of a tanuki. He averted his eyes and gave a sheepish little laugh. "Do you remember me now, Kagome-sama?"


The youkai grinned bashfully and exclaimed, "You do remember!"

Once again, he tugged her towards the statue, and she protested, "What are you trying to do, Hachi? Just explain what you want!"

He shook his head as he guided both her hands until her palms pressed against the statue's chest. "We mustn't loose this chance."

"Chance?" she echoed, completely baffled. And then she realized that something was happening. Cool jade warmed and softened; pale stone darkened until there was rich purple cloth under her palms. Her eyes flew to the statue's face and met a gaze filled with astonishment equal to her own.

"Kagome-sama?" Miroku murmured. "You're here?"

"Miroku-sama?" she returned in an awed whisper. He dropped his staff, letting it fall to the ground with a bang and clatter as he swept her into a fierce embrace. It took much longer for Kagome to react, but she brought her arms up and returned the hug. He's... trembling.

"You're really here?" he asked, his voice cracking. She managed a nod, and he continued, "If so, that means… Has it been so long already?"

Kagome pulled back and gazed into her friend's haunted face. "Miroku, what happened to you?"

Hachi cleared his throat and interjected, "Miroku-sama, the time."

The monk's eyes met the tanuki's in disbelief. "So soon? Yes, of course… Kagome-sama!" he exclaimed, bringing both of her hands into his in a gesture that was sweetly nostalgic. "You must come back tomorrow. Please? Can you return tomorrow? I can explain, then. There will be more time."

"Well, yes..."

"Promise me," he begged, violet eyes desperate. "Be here tomorrow?"

"Yes, Miroku-sama… I promise." He pulled her close again and held her so tightly, it was difficult to breathe. "I'll be here… right here!" she soothed. The monk nodded shakily, and with obvious reluctance, he released her, stooped to collect his shakujou, stepped back into place… and turned to stone.

The Cursed Monk

A InuYasha Story
by forthright

Part 2 of 9

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