Kagome hummed as she left the village by the Bone Eater's well, her heart light and happy. Kaede received word from a runner that a neighboring village had come down with an unknown disease and, since InuYasha and Miroku had already left a day earlier to slay a yokai bothering a distant daimyo, Kagome had taken it upon herself to help them.
The other village wasn't far away—she'd be there by nightfall—so she wasn't worried about making the journey on her own. After all, she had her bow and arrows with her, along with some ofouda, if any yokai crossed her path, but she doubted she'd see them.
They'd seen no traces of bandits or yokai for weeks. InuYasha's regular patrol seemed to have chased most of them off.
She mentally catalogued her herbs as she walked, hoping she'd remembered to bring everything. Since she didn't know what the village had been infected with, she'd brought anything and everything that she'd thought could help, though it meant that she'd be forced to prepare the medicine there.
It was at midday when she'd stopped for a short break and a meal that she began to feel like something was wrong.
The land around her was silent. No cicadas, no birds, no wildlife at all made a sound. It was more than a little spooky.
But she hadn't been able to find anything or anyone when she'd looked around and, after a few minutes of searching, had finished up her meal and then pressed on. She really wanted to make it to the village before it grew too late.
No matter how hard she traveled, however, she couldn't shake off the feeling that someone or something was stalking her, though her reiki found no lingering traces of yoki around her.
Maybe I'm just a little jumpy, she thought to herself. It's the first time I've traveled on my own without InuYasha and the others in years. Yeah, that's probably it. It's just a case of nerves, that's all. She took a deep breath and pressed on.
As dusk began to settle over the land, she found a man ambling along on a crutch, his left ankle shoddily bound up. Instantly, Kagome's desire to help kicked into gear and she rushed forward, ready to help.
It looks like it might have bled, she thought as she studied the bandage. As soon as she was in earshot, she called out a greeting and as she did so, the man turned and his ankle nearly gave way.
She rushed forward to support him before he stumbled and fell. "Careful," she said as she helped him regain his balance. "Do you think you can stand?"
He looked down at her, a little dazed. "I think so, Lady Priestess," he said, his words slow and carefully spoken.
She reluctantly pulled way and let him balance himself, knowing how proud men could be in this era. From the look of him, she guessed he was probably a samurai, but one that clearly either worked for an impoverished house or had fallen on hard times, given the worn look to his clothing and the slight fraying of his armor.
"I'd be happy to look at that ankle, if you'd let me," she offered, unsure if he would accept her offer but unable to do anything less. This man clearly needed her help.
The man looked around and, instead of answering her, said, "Lady Priestess, where is your entourage? Surely a small girl like you cannot be traveling on your own."
She flushed, though it wasn't because she was embarrassed. Instead, she was annoyed at the insinuation that she couldn't take care of herself. She was twenty-four years old and more than capable of looking after herself—in this era or her own. "I'm a traveling priestess," she explained, wanting him to understand that she could take care of herself.
"Hmm." The man looked down at her for a moment longer and then nodded his head. "I would appreciate it if you did look at my leg."
She helped him sit down before she gingerly took his ankle and lifted it. "How did you injure it?" she asked, beginning to unroll the bandage wrapped around it. She didn't bother to look up at him, still a little annoyed at his insinuation that she couldn't protect herself.
"A battle with bandits," he answered her after a moment and she sensed more than heard his distraction. "Are you sure you know what you're doing, girl?"
She met his gaze then, pressing her lips together until she felt calm enough to respond. "I have been studying for almost a decade. You're in good hands, sir." She then looked down at his unbandaged ankle and stared.
Though the bandage had been bloody, there was no sign at all of any injury on his ankle, let alone any bleeding.
A horrible feeling washed over her as she met his gaze again. "You aren't injured."
He grinned at her as lust dilated his pupils. "No, I'm not. But we'll thank you for looking after us with such...care, priestess." He licked his lips. "I've always wanted to be the one to soil a pure little girl like you."
She jumped back and rose to her feet, intending to flee, but never got the chance. She was surrounded by eight men, not including the one sitting before her, and she was thrown to the ground before she took more than a step. A moment later, her clothing was ripped and cut off of her and her weapons were tossed to the side, just out of reach, and then she felt their hands everywhere.
Oh gods. She squeezed her eyes shut in fear as her hands scrambled to find anything she could that might be used as a weapon to defend herself.
But all her hands found was dirt beneath her fingertips. She could do nothing at all to stop them, for against evil men, her reiki was almost useless.
At some point, she realized she was screaming as they plowed into her in turns. At first, they chuckled at her screaming and her struggles to free herself, but when she didn't stop, she felt hands slide around her throat, squeezing her flesh until she was gasping for air.
Moments later, she lost consciousness entirely.
Kagome awoke to a lump on her head and blood drying and clumping to her legs. She could still feel the hands squeezing her throat as others grasped and tugged at her body, forcing her to service them again and again.
Whether it was the memory, the pain, or the inevitable concussion, she didn't know, but she rolled her battered and bruised body to the side and vomited, expelling everything left in her stomach. When she finished, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and winced at the pain that raced through her at the simple gesture. Worridly, she looked down at herself and noted that the bandits hadn't even bothered to cover her up before they'd left her.
They'd left her for dead, she realized, staring at the bloodied cuts and bruises that covered her skin. They'd left her for dead, uncaring about what anyone would think when they found her. In this era and in this condition, she might not even be buried properly and even if she was, her friends likely would never have found out what happened to her.
It was that thought that had her pulling herself up and forcing her battered body to move. She was much closer to the other village—the one she'd gone to help—but all she could think of in that moment was home. She began the long, arduous task of dragging herself home, hoping that her movements wouldn't reopen the scabs forming over the cuts they'd left behind.
Kaede will know what to do, she reassured herself. And Sango and Miroku. They'll help.
It was that thought alone that kept her walking all through the night and when she finally saw her village appear in the distance, she collapsed at the sight, too worn out to take another step.
She never even heard the screams of her friends.