Incessant ticking and shuffling of papers did little to soothe Kagome’s irritation, her eyes briefly scanning the students, their heads bent and their expressions similar in all seriousness. The exam was long, ten pages worth, and despite turning the last page, a particular question stood out to her, its novelty length quite puzzling.
What did it mean?
Somehow, it sounded vaguely familiar, and although she studied all night with her three friends, she was sure she knew the answer. The only problem she noticed was how it was phrased. It could certainly mean this or it could mean something else entirely. Sighing, she took a wild guess, moving her pencil against the lines of the white paper.
Another round of shuffling papers resounded in her ears, and looking up briefly, Kagome noticed the people seated near her had finished their exam, flipping the sheets over on their desk. Her eyes shifted quickly to the clock which hung above the instructor’s desk. Only a few minutes remained before class ended, and her eyes fell upon her exam once more.
Which dynasty of china was best known for its bronze metalworking? What was the method to which their bronze was made?
This question sounded awfully familiar and recalling the information left in the notes Hojo kindly delivered to her study session the other day at school, she was sure it was mentioned. In fact, she was one hundred percent sure, the answer immediately arriving to the forefront of her thoughts.
‘If I remember correctly, it was the Shang and Zhou Dynasties,’ She thought, but the question was only asking for one dynasty. ‘As for the method to which bronze was made, it would be the … piece-mold casting. I have a feeling they want a description of what the method is…’
With only a few minutes left on the clock, Kagome quickly wrote her answer to the best of her knowledge. As she did, more exam papers were flipped over and quickly skimming over her final answer, the sound of the loudspeaker rang.
“Alright class, put your pencils down and hand your exams to the front. You’ll receive your results in the mail by the end of the month. You’re all dismissed.”
Relieved her classes were finally over, Kagome leaned up from her chair and stretched her arms above her head. Thank goodness she no longer had to worry about studying. All that was left for her was graduation, which would arrive the middle of the month. As she reached for her backpack hanging just below her chair, she slipped her pencil case and calculator inside and stood up, collecting her test sheets before turning them into the instructor standing just beside his desk.
In an instant, Yuka, Ayumi and Eri bounded close to her, one smacking her shoulder playfully, the other intertwined around her arm, and the four made their way out of the room and down the halls to their respective lockers.
Ayumi beamed; her smile couldn’t get any wider as she strolled beside her friends. “The test was pretty easy, huh? Everything we studied was on the notes!”
Eri agreed. “If it wasn’t for Hojo, I’m pretty sure we would have failed.”
Yuka only groaned. “Yeah, well there were a couple questions I was completely stumped on. I think we studied them but I drew a blank during the last few minutes. So, I didn’t get a chance to answer them,” She sighed.
“What were they?” Kagome asked.
She mused. “Well … it went something like to put the world in order … we first must … something about the nation…” Yuka groaned in frustration. “I have no idea, but it was asking who said it.”
Ayumi only laughed. “How could you forget that question? We reviewed all night.”
“Wait, which question?” Eri asked.
Ayumi continued. “It was the dialogue that Confucius came up with. To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right!” She exclaimed.
Eri suddenly nodded in agreement. “Oh yeah! We even made a song so we could remember it word for word. How did you forget, Yuka?” She couldn’t help but laugh.
Yuka sighed. “I blanked. How could I forget it was Confucius?”
Kagome laughed. “Don’t feel bad. I’m sure we all passed. I messed up on a few questions as well, but at least it’s now behind us.”
Yuka sighed again. “Yeah, but this exam is what will determine what colleges accept us.”
“Well, there’s no use worrying about it now,” Eri replied. “Besides, we have until the end of the month to know.”
Ayumi nodded. “And if you don’t get into the college you want, it will be fine. Besides, we did make an agreement we’d all try to go to the same college, even if it was the lowest ranking one. Remember?”
Kagome nodded at this. “Yes. So, don’t worry too much about it Yuka. It’s now the weekend so let’s push all our worries to the side and just have fun.”
“Yeah. You’re right. I guess I’m worrying too much.”
Eri grinned, smacking her friend’s back elatedly. “That’s the spirit! Now let’s get out of here and grab us a bite to eat!”
“Oh, let’s go to Wacdonalds!” Ayumi gleamed.
“We went there two days ago!” Eri replied with a shake of her head. “Let’s get some ice cream instead.”
Kagome nodded. “That does sound good. Ice cream it is.”
As her three friends were making their way down a set of stairs, the phone in Kagome’s skirt pocket suddenly vibrated, and bemused, she retrieved it, flipping it open and lifted it to her ear. “Souta? What’s up?”
“Kagome, something happened to gramps. The police are at the house and—"
The sudden urgency in his voice caused her to pause suddenly, her expression mixed between confusion and fear; her friends noticed this, and curiously exchanged glances. What about grandpa?
“Wait, slow down Souta. What happened?”
“Gramps went missing yesterday. We thought he stepped out but he never came back and mom called the police again. Mom just called me after my classes ended. I’m on my way home now.”
Kagome nodded. “Where could he have gone?” She asked, but her little brother didn’t know. “Okay, I’m on my way. See you soon.” Hanging up her phone, she turned to her friends apologetically. “I’m sorry, but something happened at the house. Grandpa went missing.”
Their eyes widened at this, but they nodded in understanding, offering to follow Kagome on their way and help search for her missing family member. After quickly collecting their backpacks from their lockers, the four girls bounded through the halls and exited the building. They spent about five or seven minutes waiting for the bus to arrive and the drive to Higurashi Shrine took slightly forever. There were more passengers who were getting on and off, so their destination took roughly close to half an hour.
Eventually, the bus finally arrived near the base of the steps, and as the girls looked out the window, they saw three police vehicles situated near the sidewalk. The sight was enough to urge them off the bus quickly and up the collection of steps. Once there, they saw Mrs. Higurashi outside the house, speaking privately with two officers, one of them inspecting their wellhouse with a pen and notebook in hand.
“Mom!” Kagome called out.
She turned in the direction of the four high school girls, especially her daughter, a distraught look upon her face. The officers turned as well, and after finishing their conversation shortly after, the three left the premises.
Quickly approaching, Kagome took hold of her mother’s arms, her cerulean eyes noticing her mother’s tired countenance. “Souta called and told me grandpa went missing. What happened?”
Her mother only sighed. “We aren’t sure. He and Souta were cleaning out the wellhouse yesterday, and after I called Souta inside to help with dinner, we heard a loud noise,” She approached the old wellhouse in the yard and stepped inside, the four girls following after.
As they followed Mrs. Higurashi inside, ignoring the yellow tape the officers had put up, their eyes took in the mess. There were remnants of broken glass and pottery, books, scrolls, old tapestries and cardboard boxes laid strewn upon the floor, an entire metal shelf lying amidst the rubble. The sight was questioning in itself, and they wondered what could have happened.
“How awful. How did this happen?” Kagome asked.
“We’re not sure. We assumed something must have scared him and he took off, but we thought this was unlike him. We searched all day yesterday and even contacted the police. We haven’t received any word yet about him, so we’re still waiting. I was about to head out soon and look around town. I didn’t want to call you and Souta while you were in classes, especially during your exam Kagome.”
Despite her three friends staring silently at the crime scene, or what they assumed was a crime, the girls otherwise shared worried glances with each other.
The rest of the afternoon was spent creating posters with grandpa’s image; it was Yuka’s idea and they printed off around five hundred posters. While Mrs. Higurashi remained at the house, in hopes grandpa might turn up, Kagome and her friends, along with Souta, searched around town, hanging up the posters on windows and anywhere they could find. They asked around, describing the elderly man, but none had seen him.
They even visited old antique shops that grandpa normally frequented, but even the shop owners hadn’t seen him. It was discouraging not being able to find him, but they were sure they would receive a phone call soon.
When evening grew close, Kagome and her three friends went their separate ways, planning to search once again in the morning. As she and Souta finally returned home, they saw the lights on inside the house and approached the door.
“We’re home,” They called together.
Their mother’s head peeked around the archway in their kitchen, and she smiled softly. “Welcome back. How did everything go?” She asked, a rag in hand as she wiped her hands.
Souta only shook his head, dropping onto the couch tiredly. “No one has seen him. We searched everywhere, even underneath the bridge.”
“We managed to hang all the posters. So, for now, we just wait. I’m sure we’ll get a phone call soon,” Kagome replied.
Their mother nodded once more, a weak smile presented upon her face. “Thank you. Supper will be done soon. We’re having steak stir-fry and rice. Why don’t the two of you get cleaned up first?”
Once their mother disappeared back into the kitchen, Kagome sighed and stepped outside, her younger brother quickly following after. Closing the door behind them, her eyes glanced up into the slightly darkening sky. Where on earth did grandpa go? What happened yesterday?
“Do you think someone kidnapped gramps?” Souta couldn’t help but ask.
“I don’t think so. You and mom didn’t see anyone on our property yesterday, did you?”
He shook his head. “No. But, it’s weird…”
“Huh? What is?”
He beckoned her towards the old wellhouse, and as Kagome followed him, he reached for a small battery-operated lantern hanging off the outside wall. Pressing a small switch at its base, the lantern lit up and he and Kagome stepped inside. Like before, the inside was still a mess, and as they crossed the room, lifting their legs above the yellow tape, they inspected the scene curiously.
“This place is a mess,” Kagome replied. “I’m guessing the officers already took pictures?”
“That’s what mom said.”
Reaching for the broom stick lying against the furthest wall, Kagome then picked up a dust pan and approached the mess and began sweeping up the shards and dust. “If you ask me, it looks like someone barged in and knocked everything over.”
“I thought so too, but there wasn’t anyone else here. Gramps was inside with the door closed and I only went into the house for a brief moment to help mom. It wasn’t even five minutes when we heard a loud noise from the wellhouse and heard gramps yell.”
Kagome looked up at this.
“We ran out to see if gramps had fallen or gotten hurt and we found the wellhouse like this. It doesn’t make sense that he would disappear in that short time it took for us to leave the house.”
Kagome nodded. “You’re right. It does sound strange…”
“Mom thinks he might have gotten spooked by a mouse or something and knocked into the shelf. So that would explain the mess,” Souta replied, bending down to lift the shelf, but it was too heavy.
Dropping the broom and dustpan, Kagome stepped over and bent down to help her brother, and together, they managed to lift it back against the wall. Once they were sure it wasn’t going to fall, the two worked together to clean up the mess.
“So, what made grandpa want to clean out the wellhouse?” She asked. “It’s been years. There’s already so much stuff collected in here. He normally never gets rid of anything.”
“Beats me. I think he was looking for something…”
“Looking for something?”
He nodded. “Some kind of book written in Chinese,” He replied, bending down before looking through all the tapestries and scrolls lying on the floor. “It had a lot of sutras wrapped around it. I wonder where it is…”
A book written in Chinese? Sutras? “There’s so much stuff, it would probably take forever to find…”
“Think we should clean this up tomorrow?”
Kagome only shook her head. “Nah. We need to wash up soon anyways. It shouldn’t take too long. Help me put some of this stuff back in the boxes.”
The two sorted through the scrolls, tapestries and books lying in the rubble, and despite not having a rag to clean off the collection of dust settled upon them, they placed everything carefully into a few boxes and placed them onto the shelf.
More shards were lying at their feet, and as Souta took his time to sweep up the mess, gathering it with the dustpan and emptying it into their trash can just outside, Kagome reached for more of the books and scrolls.
As she stood up, the collection of items held carefully in her arms, she approached the shelf and laid them down, placing them somewhat neatly onto the remaining shelves. Unexpectedly, a book fell from her arms, and bending down, she paused briefly to touch it. “Souta, I think I found the book grandpa was looking for.”
Stepping back into the wellhouse and settling the broom and dustpan against the wall, he approached his sister. “Really? Let me see.”
Picking it up, she blew off the dust coating its surface and ran her hand over the old binding. True to Souta’s words, the book was indeed wrapped entirely with sutras, the writing obviously illegible and she held it out for Souta to look at. “This is it, right?”
Bending down beside her, he looked it over. There were Chinese characters written on the front and he nodded. “I think so. Kagome, you took a Chinese class in your first year, right?”
She nodded. “Yeah, but that was when I was a freshman. My Chinese isn’t that good…” She replied, staring at the title of the book. The scrolls were covering parts of the title, and as she peeled some of the old parchment out of the way, she stared curiously at the characters. “Let’s see, it says … The Universe of the … four gods.”
Souta blinked. “The Universe of the Four Gods? What does that mean?”
Kagome wasn’t sure. “From my understanding, I thought China had around one thousand gods they worshipped. Well, whatever the case, this was most likely just a book referencing four important gods of China. “Either way, it’s weird grandpa would have old Chinese books lying around.”
“Let’s read it.”
Standing up, Kagome only shook her head. There were many sutras covering the tome and the idea of opening it unsettled her, even if it was old. “I don’t think grandpa would like that. We should probably leave it alone.”
He pouted and pointed at the book. “Why? The sutras look like they are about ready to fall off anyways. Look, the one binding the book closed is already broken. The wellhouse is already cleaned up, so what’s the harm in looking? It must have been really important since grandpa was searching everywhere for it.”
Kagome pondered this. That was true, and sighing, she approached the old well and sat upon the rim, book in hand as her brother bounded over beside her. “I guess we can take a peek at it. The book is so old, it looks like it could fall apart at any second.”
Opening the book carefully, they were presented with another title page and beneath that, the name Einosuke Okuda written; it was likely the author of the book. Flipping the page, she and Souta were greeted with four interesting images of what they assumed were depictions of gods, if they were referring them to the title of the book. One image was of a tortoise with a black snake wrapped around its shell, another the image of a large tiger. Beside both was a very detailed dragon and a large bird which looked similar to that of a phoenix.
“Looks like they were drawn in ink,” Came Souta’s voice.
Kagome nodded and turned the page once more, only this time, they were both greeted with a blank page. What followed after were a series of more blank pages, and the siblings shared a confused glance. “It’s completely empty.”
“What? Here I thought it was going to be something cool!” He sighed. “I bet you grandpa got conned when he bought this…”
“It wouldn’t be the first time, I imagine…”
The sound of their mother’s voice carried from the house, and as the two looked up at this, they realized supper was probably ready. It didn’t help matters that they were slightly covered in dust.
Sighing, Souta stood up from the well and approached the door, his back turned to his sister. “We better wash up quickly or mom will have a cow.”
Despite also feeling disappointed, Kagome knew Souta was right. Her navy-blue blazer was covered in a thin patch of dust and her pleated gray and blue skirt wasn’t any different. Sighing, she closed the book, a small collection of dust flying from the pages, but before she sat up, something caught her eye. It was faint, but she noticed something shining from the pages. “What the…” She murmured, opening the tome once more. “The pages are glowing.”
Hearing this, Souta paused before the steps of the door and turned, his eyes widening as a result of the light. “How—”
Distracted by this strange phenomenon, the light grew in its intensity, the image of a large tortoise and snake filling her eyes, and startled, Kagome suddenly leaned back.
It was too late. In an instant, Souta saw his sister fall into the well, the book slipping from her hands, and as he ran towards the well to reach out for her, he fell back and shielded his eyes, the light so bright, it suddenly pained him.
Looking up, his eyes half closed, he grabbed the rim of the well and proceeded closer to it, crying out his sister’s name, but the noise from which the light came was loud. Why did it feel so cold all of a sudden? As the intensity of the light faded, Souta quickly peered over the edge of the well, his lantern raised suddenly. “Kagome? Kagome? Are you alright?”
There was no answer, and fearing the worst, he shined his light lower. It was too dark to see anything, and he moved quickly, crossing the wellhouse and searched for the old ladder. When he found it nestled up against the back wall, he struggled slightly as he neared the well; it was heavy, but somehow, he managed to drag it before pushing it into the bottom of the well, careful of its landing. After that, he climbed down, somewhat shakily, lantern in hand.
“Kagome? Kagome? Are you alright?”
Still, there was no answer. An array of cobwebs greeted him, and using his hand holding his lantern, he pushed them from his face. Eventually, he reached the bottom, but as he shined his light, there was nothing. It was like his sister had completely vanished from sight the moment that light appeared. His foot knocked against something, and looking down, he saw the tome which he and his sister were looking through earlier.
Bending down, he took it into his hands. “It can’t be possible…” Curious, he opened the book, the light from before radiating from the pages, but not as brightly. Souta fell back with a thud, his expression confused and frightened. Text slowly appeared on the first page, and as his eyes looked upon it, he realized he couldn’t understand a single word. “What does it mean?”