Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Toma's Challenge

"I wonder what's taking them so long?" Miroku asked of no one in particular.

"What do you mean?" InuYasha muttered disinterestedly, his arms folded behind his head as he marched along at the head of the group.

"Sango and the others," Miroku clarified, frowning somewhat as he spoke. "They were supposed to be meeting with us today, and it's almost dark." The monk made a thoughtful noise as he scanned the skies. "I wonder if something's happened..."

"Aw, c'mon! It's nothing to worry about!" Kaname told him in a cheerful manner. "They said they'd try and meet up with us today!"

"Yeah, Miroku! It's not like there's any real hurry!" InuYasha declared with a roll of his eyes. "Besides, the less I have to deal with that mangy wolf Koga, the better I like it!"

And the less I have to deal with the two of you fighting, the better I like it! Kagome muttered inwardly. But then she glanced over at Miroku, and silently admitted that she also eagerly awaited the return of their wandering friends.

When Sango had agreed to take Michiru and Koga to Mount Houoh to fetch the medicinal mushrooms, Kagome had been less than pleased about her decision. For while she could certainly appreciate the feelings and kindness behind such a venture, the fact remained that Michiru and Sango were spending a considerable amount of time in close proximity to each other. Time in which the Demon Slayer and Miroku could be spending together, mending their relationship.

I wouldn't be so worried if he hadn't screwed up so badly that night of the fire, Kagome fumed, wondering not for the first time why men had to be so stupid sometimes. Honestly, why can you just get serious already?! It's not like Sango's going to wait forever! Shaking her head to this, the modern priestess than thought back to what happened the day they had encountered Koga. I swear, if it weren't for Michiru blowing his stack...

Groaning in her throat, Kagome placed her hand to her temple at that particular nightmare. Obviously, InuYasha's foul temper had rubbed off on Michiru just a bit too much. Oh, well. Maybe this will help Sango get over him, and her doubts about Miroku, she thought in a weary fashion. At least I don't have to worry about Michiru trying to get in closer to Sango. After what happened at the hot spring, the last thing she'll want to do is spend any real amount of time with him. Kagome gave a muted chuckle at this, for while she didn't fault the Shikigami User for being catapulted into the hot spring, she knew how shy Sango could be. It would be a while before she recovered enough from that incident to feel comfortable being alone with him.

Hoping that this condition lasted long enough for things to straighten between Sango and Miroku and things to go back to the way they should be, Kagome sighed and focused on the subject at hand. "C'mon, Miroku, relax. Don't forget, they don't know exactly where we are right now, so they'll have to track us down first."

"Maybe, sis, but I'll still feel better when Koga gets back," Hakkaku commented with a worried frown.

“After all, we can’t make the challenge without him,” Ginta commented as they moved along. “He is the one trying to defend his role as leader.”

“That’s right!” Hakkaku concurred. "And I wouldn't want to get there and have to wait for him. There are a lot of wolf-demons who aren't too happy with him! Or us!"

"Feh! Now that I can believe!" InuYasha grumbled sourly.

"InuYasha..." Kaname murmured, her lips pursed in a frown. She looked like she might have said something else, but instead looked towards their wolf-demon guides. "Ginta, Hakkaku...there's something I've been wondering."

"Yeah? What's that?" Ginta wondered softly.

"Koga told us about all those wolves and demons that are dying because of what Toma's doing," Kaname proceeded, speaking carefully. "But...if that's so, then why are your people following him? Especially if Koga's their real leader?"

The instant this question was out in the open, Kagome felt like kicking herself for not asking it sooner. "Hey, that's right!" Shippo piped up, his eyes going wide to match the modern girl's own. "If Toma's as bad as you say he is, then why would anybody follow him?!"

"That's what we'd like to know!" Hakkaku grumbled disdainfully.

"What do you mean?" Miroku asked in a deceptively mild fashion.

"Well, according to Ayame and her grandpa, the old chief, things have been really bad up there for a long time now," Hakkaku explained somberly. "A few other tribes of demons have been moving into the area, trying to squeeze them out. And as if that wasn't bad enough, a lot of the animals near the mountains have been getting sick."

"Right, Myoga mentioned something about that," Kagome nodded, recalling his story from when they had encountered him in Kasasagi Town. "He told us that a lot of people from the different villages have been getting sick, even dying."

"We know," Ginta grimly responded. "In fact, the wolf-demons here have been...taking advantage of that."

"Taking advantage, huh?" InuYasha growled, narrowing his eyes at the meek wolf-demon. "You mean that damned wolves have been raiding them, don't you?!"

Quailing somewhat at this clear display of anger, Ginta gulped loudly before replying, "Well...yeah."

"Hey, don't get the wrong idea!" Hakkaku cut in, waving his hands defensively. "It's not like Koga was letting them!"

"That's right! When we arrived at the mountains, the very first thing he did was to tell them that there would be no more raids!" Ginta chimed in, nodding rapidly. "Please, you gotta believe us! We haven't killed any humans since the Birds of Paradise were defeated!"

"Not that we killed that many before then!" Hakkaku corrected him, darting a nervous glance at the humans in the group. "Well - what I mean, is -!"

"It's okay, you two," Miroku told them, smiling in a reassuring fashion. "We understand that you were hunting for food, not killing out of maliciousness."

"That's right," Kagome seconded. "Besides, it's like Koga said; that's all in the past." Ignoring the loud harrumphing coming from InuYasha, she focused on the matter at hand. "So, after Koga told the other wolf-demons to leave the villages alone...what happened next?"

"I think it's safe to say that your people did not take kindly to his decision," Miroku commented.

"That's for sure!" Ginta moaned, shuddering at the memory. "Ayame and her grandpa, they were okay with it, but everybody else?"

"Koga already had a lot of enemies up there since he stopped hunting humans, but after that, everyone was calling him a traitor! Saying that he was selling out his own kind!" Hakkaku chimed in. "He tried telling them that raiding a few human villages wouldn't doing anything about the animals getting sick! And that we had to figure out why that was happening before we ran out of things to hunt!"

"Anyway, while all of that was going on, that's when Toma made his big move!" Ginta explained. "While we and a few others were looking around, trying to figure out was causing all the sickness, Toma and a bunch of his followers went out and attacked all the villages that were left! He completely wiped them out!"

"Wiped them out?!" Kaname cried out. "You mean...he killed everyone in them?! Even after Koga told him not to?!"

"That's right!" Ginta answered, nodding emphatically. "Then he and his bunch came back, parading all the corpses around to show them to other wolf-demons, tearing off bits and pieces of them to fling to the crowds!"

"Ugh!" Shippo quavered, shuddering with sheer revulsion.

Growling deep in his throat, InuYasha muttered, "I'm starting to hate this bastard already." As Kagome silently agreed to this, picturing such a happening in her mind and shuddering at it, the half-demon went on and asked, "So what about the scrawny wolf? Did he actually do something about that?!"

"Of course he did!" Hakkaku immediately returned. "But even as he tried to bring Toma down, everybody started yelling at him! Telling him that he too worried about our food to care about our people!"

"Then Koga came back and told them that all Toma's raids had done was wipe out a major source of food!" The instant he said this, Ginta flushed with embarrassment and added, "Well, that is -!"

"We understand. Koga had to make an argument that the other wolf-demons would pay attention to," Miroku acknowledged. "And he was right. By wiping out the villages completely, Toma had not only completely eliminated a major food source for you people, but increased the likelihood that no further humans would venture into their territory. And without any idea as to what was causing the animals to become sick..."

"Yeah, Koga said all that to Toma, but he didn't care! He just said that he was the doing something to help the wolf-demons! That they needed a strong leader, not someone who'd put himself on a human's leash!" Hakkaku told them. "After that, most of the wolf-demons there started falling in line behind Toma! They didn't care about the people in those villages! All they wanted was easy meat!"

"And that's when they started rounding up those demons you told us about?" Kagome gathered, a pit opening up in her stomach.

"That's right, sis!" Ginta confirmed. "Toma said that if we controlled powerful demons, than we could rule over all the other demon tribes, and force the humans to give us sacrifices and stuff to eat!"

"So he's been taking groups out to capture giant demons, like huge bears and spiders and that sort of thing, so he can train them to obey us!" Hakkaku chimed in.

"But...I don't get it!" Kaname protested, glancing about at the two wolf-demons. "If it's going after those demons that's getting your people killed, then why are they still following Toma?!"

"I'm not exactly sure about that part," Hakkaku grumbled, holding up his hands as he spoke. "I know that the foot shortage has got everybody worried, but this ain't helping!"

"Perhaps, but while Toma's plan is extremely specious, it does provide an outlet for the frustrations of your people," Miroku mused, bringing his hand to his mouth in contemplative fashion. "The wolf-demons don't know what's causing their prey to fall sick, let alone what's causing it to happen. They're faced with starvation, and don't have any ideas as to how to save themselves. And that fear and desperation has made it easy for Toma to manipulate them."

"Maybe, Miroku, but in the end, that doesn't matter," Kagome declared, giving the monk a stern look. "What matters is that we have to find some way to take this creep down! And get Koga back in control of the wolf-demons!"

"Hmph! You can forget about that part! No way I'm doing anything to help that scrawny wolf!" InuYasha declared as rudely as he ever did anything where Koga was involved. "The only reason I'm going along with this is so I get this Toma jerk out of our faces as fast as I can! Then we'll finally be able to get back to looking for Naraku!"

"InuYasha, while it is true that tracking down Naraku is our primary mission, that's not to say that a mission of mercy such as this is not without merit," Miroku gently chided him. "Besides, we still have to wait for Koga and the others to rejoin us."

Growling deep in his throat, InuYasha grumbled out, "Yeah, I figured that out, Miroku!" The half-demon gave a loud, irritated snort before adding, "And of course, we're stuck waiting on the scrawny wolf! I knew that little side-trip of Michiru's was a bad idea!”

"No use complaining about that now, InuYasha," Kagome informed him.

Tittering gently, Kaname added, "Besides, you had plenty of chances to stop my bro before he took off!"

"Hmph! Like that would have done me any good!" InuYasha grumbled, raising his eyes to the skies. "You Kururugis are all so damn stubborn! Once you've made your minds, that's that!"

Again, Kaname giggled, and replied, "Thanks, InuYasha!"

While the half-demon was snorting loudly, Kagome found herself frowning at the two of them. Again, those nasty feelings she had felt back at the farmhouse were rising to the surface, something she quickly cursed herself for. C'mon! She's just being friendly! the modern girl told herself, wishing not for the first time that she could force this reality into her brain. And so what if InuYasha is getting along with her easily? She's the sister of his best friend, so of course they would get along!

Clenching her fist, Kagome forced herself to nod to this before attempting to return her focus to the matter at hand. "Anyway, it's not it'll hurt us to wait for them to come back," she began, making an effort to keep her voice even. "In fact...why don't we set up camp?"

"What?! Now?!" InuYasha demanded, his body tensing with annoyance.

"Sure, why not? It's going to be dark soon, anyway!" Kagome replied, gesturing towards the sun as it approached the horizon. "Besides, it won't do us any good to push ourselves too hard getting to the mountains before the others catch up with us."

A growl of displeasure reverberating in his throat, InuYasha looked like he was considering saying something stupid when Miroku came up beside him "Kagome's right, InuYasha. Remember, we're essentially wandering into enemy territory here. The instant we reach the mountains, we have to be fully ready and alert."

"Yeah, I figured that one out for myself," InuYasha grumbled, rolling his eyes in the opposite direction of the monk.

"It's like Kagome said. It'll be best to give the others a chance to catch up with us," Miroku went on in his usual sage manner. "And if they're flying at night, they should be able to spot a campfire from a long distance away."

"Hey, good point!" Kagome beamed, once again grateful for Miroku's sensible mind. With that, she turned to their wolf-demon guides and invoked her voice of authority. "Ginta, Hakkaku, go see if you can scout out a good place for us to camp tonight!"

"Oh! Right, sis!" the two wolf-demons responded as one before turning to dart off in different directions.

Chuckling at the quick obedience of Ginta and Hakkaku, Kagome only shake her head and chuckle as she looked at them go. They're so eager to please! she thought mirthfully before glancing at InuYasha and Miroku. Now, if only I could manage those two as easily as Ginta and Hakkaku...!

It wasn't long before their wolf-demon friends managed to track down a suitable camping site, one that was in the center of a series of crags and boulders, with a nice, grassy patch at the center. To Kagome's mind, this was as ideal a camping site as they could hope to find, save for the one they had enjoyed with the hot spring. Not only were they well secluded and difficult to spot by any ground bound threats, but the campfire at the center would be plainly visible to anything airborne, including Kirara and their friends.

Of course, it'll mean trouble if any flying demons decide to show up, Kagome realized, but at the same time, she wasn't overly concerned about that detail. Demons were a danger she had long since grown accustomed to, and with her own abilities and those of her friends, the threat level was acceptable. Besides, it's Toma and his followers that I'm worried about.

With this thought in mind, Kagome turned towards Kaname, who was working a short distance from where they were. "Kaname, are you just about ready?"

"Almost," Kaname reported before standing up to look at her. "I have to make sure the cards are placed right before I can use this spell."

"I don't see why you'd even want to bother with a barrier, Kagome," InuYasha commented from where he sat. "Even if any of Toma's few scrawny wolves were to show up, looking for a quick dinner, we can handle them!"

Sighing with mild exasperation, Kagome folded her arms before her and grumbled, "Maybe, but I'd rather not make ourselves the enemy of the entire wolf-demon tribe!"

"That's right, InuYasha," Miroku told him as he perched over the campfire, patiently fanning the flames. "Remember, we're supposed to be helping to establish an alliance between the wolf-demons and Koga's Demon Slayer friends, by proving to the old chief that humans can be valuable as allies. We're not going to accomplish that by antagonizing the wolf-demons needlessly."

"Yeah?! Well, I'd rather 'antagonize them' than have to deal with them trying to eat any of you!" InuYasha grumbled, folding his arms before his chest.

"I understand," Kagome told him, aware that the half-demon's heart was in the right place. Aware but annoyed, nonetheless. "But please, let's try not to ruin everything before we even get to the mountains!" When InuYasha snorted his response, she tried to ignore the veins bulging from her forehead. "Look, if the wolf-demons start thinking of us as nothing but enemies, then there's no way that we'll be able to convince them to go for an alliance with other humans!"

"Hmph! If you ask me, this whole 'alliance' is nothing but another of Koga's bad ideas!" InuYasha muttered, his voice heavy with a bitterness that was both old and painful. "To those bastards, you're nothing but another meal! They'd tear you apart without a second thought!"

Sucking in a heavy breath, Kagome tried to think of some way to counter this statement, all the while aware that it was a statement based heavily on past experience. In her initial encounters with Koga, the wolf-demon leader had viewed her as a meal at the least, and a potential method of gathering up additional Jewel Shards at the most. It had only been time and successive encounters with her human friends that had slowly changed his opinion. "Maybe," she eventually conceded, glancing up at Ginta and Hakkaku. Two wolf-demons, fairly typical from her own experience. "But we still have to try. If we can get this alliance to work, then Koga will be totally in charge of the wolf-demon tribe. And that means that they won't be attacking any human villages in the future."

"A goal that we can all share with a good deal of enthusiasm, I would say," Miroku decided with a thoughtful smile.

"Boy, I'll say!" Shippo chimed in.

While InuYasha was grumbling beneath his breath at this, Kaname came up to Kagome. "I've got the cards in place, Kagome," she announced with a slight smile. "I can set up the barrier at any time!"

"Perfect!" Kagome replied, genuinely pleased by this.

"But, don't forget that, once it's up, no demons will be able to get through it," Kaname added with a note of caution. "And includes Kirara and Koga...assuming they show up tonight."

"We understand, Kaname," Miroku told her as he continued to fan the fire. "The barrier is just a precaution. We don't intend for you to use it unless we receive some...uninvited guests."

Nodding to this, Kagome then looked over at their wolf-demon allies. "Ginta, Hakkaku, we're going to need you to help keep watch tonight. If any other wolf-demons show up, I'd rather be able to deal with them without fighting."

"You got it, sis!" Ginta replied jovially. Then he shot his friend a grin and added, "And that means no falling asleep while on watch, Hakkaku!"

"Hey! What's that supposed to mean!" Hakkaku cried out in dismay. "You're the one who's always sleeping on the job!"

"Says who?!" Ginta demanded.

"Says me, that's who!" Hakkaku shot back.

Groaning as the two wolf-demons glared at each other, Kagome massaged her throbbing temple before planting her hands on her hips and shouting, "Knock it off, you two!" Her words hit them like a 'sit' hit InuYasha, freezing them in place and forcing them to look her in the eye. As drops of sweat rolled down the sides of their faces, she leaned in closer so that she was hovering over them. "Now, I want you two to keep watch tonight! Is that understood?!"

"Uh, yes, sis!" the two wolf-demons responded as one, quailing before the irate priestess.

"Good!" Kagome smiled, satisfied that they had been put in their place. With that settled, she heaved a weary breath and looked up at the night sky. "I just hope the others find us, and soon."

"Agreed," Miroku nodded as he continued to work the fire. Making it as bright and visible as he possibly could. "I still don't understand what could be taking Sango so long. She's normally so efficient."

While Kagome was nodding her agreement with that sentiment, Kaname came up alongside the monk. "I'm sure it's no big deal, Miroku," she told him with an impish smile. "Maybe she and my bro just decided to take a little break!"

Blanching with horror, Miroku completely froze up, his features twisting with momentary horror before he managed to regain himself. Giggling at the monk's reaction, Kaname stood there and watched as he slowly turned and glared at her. "Kaname..." he began, speaking low and heavy, "I would thank you for not speaking of such innuendo. It doesn't suit a young lady like yourself."

"What innuendo?" Kaname asked him, innocent as innocent can be. "I was just saying that they may have decided to take a break! What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing...except that you were referring solely to Sango and your brother," Miroku told her in a low, slow manner. "And given his...behavior as of late...I wouldn't be surprised if he made...inappropriate advances on her."

"Inappropriate advances?!" InuYasha snapped, sitting up to look at the monk in disbelief. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?!"

"You know what I mean," Miroku sternly responded. "While I can certainly understand his impulses as a man, his recent actions have been extremely disturbing."

Silently agreeing with Miroku, Kagome watched as he and InuYasha squared off. And as she did so, she took a good, long look at the monk's face, and her mind suddenly exploded with inspiration. "Oh, I get it, Miroku!" she smiled, cocking her head to the side. "You’re jealous, aren’t you? Aren’t you?!”

His eyes popping open at this, Miroku looked dumbstruck at Kagome for a moment before he regained his usual air of sage wisdom. “Of course I’m not jealous! I’m merely stating facts!" With an indignant huff, the monk paused to compose himself. "Michiru may be a valuable ally, but his emotions have been getting the better of him as of late."

“Uh huh!" Kagome smirked in a non-committal manner. She had been traveling with Miroku long enough to know that it was the thought of his rival in love was traveling with his intended woman. And as she realized this, she also realized that she had an opportunity. "You mean like he just happened to fall into the hot springs with Sango?"

Looking away with an indignant expression, Miroku sniffed, “I will not even discuss that act of perversion on his part!”

“What act of perversion?!" Kaname demanded, looking fairly amused. "My bro got knocked into the spring during that fight you caused and Sango caught him! That’s it, end of story!”

“That’s right, and they were holding each other so tightly,” Kagome teased, moving closer to Miroku. Watching as her words sent needles of anger stabbing into him. “He was holding Sango in his arms in the spring, and you’re telling me you aren’t jealous? Please!”

“Yeah, Miroku! Michiru got an even better view of her than you ever will!” InuYasha jibed, enjoying the monk’s plight.

“Hmph! Jealousy is beneath a monk sworn to the service of Buddha!” Miroku responded with sage wisdom. However, his cool exterior was quickly blown by the sound of snickering around him. “In any case, if I were to be jealous, it certainly wouldn’t be of a…socially inexperienced boy.”

“Oh, like you’re so experienced?” Kaname chided with a grin. “From what I hear, the only experience you have with women is trying to get them into bed with you! You prefer playing around to socializing!”

“No arguments here!” InuYasha growled.

“But -!” Miroku tried to protest.

“It’s your own fault, you know,” Kagome stated firmly, driving the final nail in. “You’ve had plenty of chances to woo Sango, and all you ever did was play with her heart.”

“Not to mention her backside!” InuYasha chimed in, grinning even more.

As Miroku looked at all of them in shock and mock-betrayal, Kagome gave him a sour expression. “So if Sango has decided that she loves Michiru more than you, then that’s her own business. Who can blame her, anyway? The only interest you ever expressed in her was in regards to her body, more than anything else! Just don’t come crying to me if something actually happens between them!” With this, Kagome started off again, and the group soon fell into silence as they continued their journey to the mountains.

However, even as they traveled, Kagome took delight in the irritated look in Miroku’s eyes. Yes! This could be it! she grinned inwardly, celebrating this minor moment of triumph. Maybe this is what it takes to finally get Miroku serious about Sango! And if he can make his move while she's still shaken up about what happened before...then we might just get a happy ending after all!

"Whew..." Michiru sighed as he and the others continued through the sky. A hasty breakfast weighing heavily in his stomach, and residual sleep fogging his eyes as the sun slowly brightened the sky. "It's sure taking longer to find the others than I thought..."

"I know," Sango nodded, apparently oblivious to Michiru's hands upon her waist. "But I wouldn't worry about it. We've done this sort of thing before." Then she looked over her shoulder and graced him with one of her tender smiles. "Besides, the others can take care of themselves, right?"

"Besides, between your scouts and my sense of smell, we should be able to track them down, no problem!" Koga grinned, again positioned behind Michiru. Then his grin slipped somewhat and he added, "And the sooner, the better!"

After a moment, Michiru nodded, and it was true enough. He had deployed multiple scouts to search for the others, scattering them in various directions as they flew along. All of them searching for anything that would indicate the presence of their friends. But even as he tried to keep his thoughts focused on this simple task, his mind kept wandering to matters of the heart...and, unfortunately, raging hormones.

My first kiss...my first kiss with Sango...! Michiru thought as he continued to flash back to that blessed moment back on the moment. A moment that would live in him for the rest of his life, and hopefully beyond it. A moment when the love he had felt so strongly was returned, and left him in heaven. Despite being cut short by Koga's appearance, the fact that she accepted his kiss and embraced him gave him such hope. Hope that his efforts to be with her weren't as useless as he had feared at one time.

However, there was a downside to this, one that was fueled by his accidental encounter with her in the hot spring. As a result, Michiru's imagination had plenty of fuel with which to combine this with his first kiss, and amalgamate them into a fantasy vision of him and Sango, alone in the hot spring. The two of them embracing each other, hugging and kissing each other, with no on to disturb them. No shame or fear, nothing to keep them apart. And it was a vision that frequently had Michiru blushing, as well struggling to force it back it into his subconscious so he could focus his mind on the task at hand.

Of course, that's easier said than done, Michiru groaned inwardly as glanced down at his hands, which were wrapped about Sango's slender waist. Even with her kimono on, he could still feel her warmth, and he was painfully aware of the fact that some of Miroku's favorite bodily features were within easy reach. Oh, Sango...

Gulping loudly and trying very hard not to succumb to temptation, Michiru physically forced himself to look away from her, to try and focus on his job. Screwing his eyes shut, he tried to keep his mind on the input from his scouts, to completely ignore the woman he was in love with, the curves beneath her kimono, and the fact that he could just wrap his arms around her and...

"Hey! I think I smell something!" Koga exclaimed, mercifully snapping Michiru from the mental whirlpool he was being drawn into.

"Huh?" Sango started, turning to look at him. "Is it InuYasha and the others?"

Loudly sniffing the air, Koga then wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Yup, it's them alright! I'd know the mutt's stink anywhere," he grumbled as he pointed into the wind. "The scent's coming from...that way."

"Okay, then. Let's go, Kirara," Sango gently ordered. As the two-tail enthusiastically roared before altering course, the Demon Slayer asked, "Michiru, can you have your scouts fly ahead, see if they can spot them?"

"Sure, no problem," Michiru nodded nervously, grateful for this distraction. Better to have something to focus on than an aimless search that allowed his thoughts to drift to forbidden places.

"Eh, you don't have to bother with that, Michiru," Koga informed him in a boastful manner. "I already told you've I've got the scent."

"Maybe, but I don't want to take the chance of you losing it if the wind shifts," Sango explained, to which Koga growled in his throat, but offered no other protest. Chuckling at this, Michiru mentally guided his scouts in the required direction. Fortunately, they were much faster than real birds; in the distance, he could sense some of them already outpacing them, moving to scout out the terrain ahead.

Several minutes passed in this fashion, time in which Michiru was again forced to keep his imagination under control. But this test of his self-control was mercifully brief, as something very familiar impinged on his consciousness. "Hmm...hey, Sango? I...I think I have something."

"What is it, Michiru?" Sango asked. "Did you find them?"

"I think I...yeah. I've got it!" Michiru announced, opening his eyes in his excitement. "We're getting close, Sango. Just turn a bit to the right, and we should arrive in a few minutes."

"Okay. Let me know when we're heading in the right direction," Sango requested before nudging Kirara to the right.

"Wait! Stop, that's perfect!" Michiru told her. "Just keep going that way, Kirara!"

Roaring in affectionate manner, Kirara locked onto the course set for her, and started pushing herself forward even faster. Before long, they spotted an area filled with rocky crags and boulders, and in the center of it, a slight column of smoke was rising into the air. "There it is!" Koga announced, pointing ahead. "I see it!"

"Yeah. And I think they see us!" Sango announced. True to her word, Michiru could see tiny figures below moving about, with at least one of them visibly waving their hands.

"Whew! It's about time!" Koga declared as Kirara took them down. "I can't wait to get my feet on solid ground again!" Chuckling at the wolf-demon's discomfort, Michiru sighed and prepared himself for landing.

A few moment later, Kirara touched down within the grove the group had used as a camping ground. As Koga gratefully slid off the two-tail, Ginta and Hakkaku rushed up to greet him. “Welcome back, Koga!"

“Hey, you two!” Koga replied pleasantly. "Well, it doesn't look like there's been any trouble while I was gone."

"That's right, Koga!" Ginta replied.

"Yeah, everything's been perfectly quiet!" Hakkaku seconded.

"Good. I'm glad to hear that," Koga declared, grinning as he cast his eyes on Kagome. Without a word of warning, he darted over to her, suddenly in her face. "Hey, there, Kagome!" he greeted her, completely oblivious to the fact that his sudden proximity had her bending over backwards. "Did you miss me?"

"About as much as I did!" InuYasha growled, unsheathing his Tetsusaiga. "Now back off, you scrawny wolf!"

Groaning wearily as the two canine demons got lost in yet another of their quarrels, Michiru carefully slid off of Kirara. "Hey, bro! Sango!" Kaname cried out as she, Shippo, and Miroku approached. "Welcome back!"

"Hi, everyone," Michiru greeted them, laughing as Shippo bounded up to his shoulder. "Hey, it's great to see you too!"

As Michiru was confronted by the laughing-faced fox-demon, Miroku focused on the remaining member of their small group. "Hello, Sango. I was starting to worry about you."

"Huh?" Sango replied, looking distractedly at the monk. A few seconds passed as she studied him, as if unsure if he was even there before she lowered her eyes. "Oh, um…” she fumbled, refusing to meet his eyes. “Hello, Miroku.”

Taken aback by this, Miroku cocked his head to the side as he studied the Demon Slayer before finally clearing his throat. "Is everything alright?" he tried again, shifting over to the side so as to look her in the face. "Did something happen?"

"Uh, no. Not really," Sango murmured nervously. “I…twisted my ankle, that's all."

“What?” Miroku replied, his eyes widening somewhat. “Are you alright? Does it bother you?”

“No, it's...I’m fine now, Miroku," Sango responded, barely managing to look at him. "Michiru…helped me recover, so…you don’t have to worry.” Not giving Miroku a chance to offer any protest, the Demon Slayer hurriedly walked away.

"Sango?" Michiru frowned, disturbed by this action. For a moment, he and Miroku looked after the Demon Slayer as she distanced herself from them, but as she got further away, their eyes were slowly drawn towards each other. And despite the fact that he was still occupied by Shippo and Kaname, he was still frozen by what he saw in the monk's eyes.

Eventually, Miroku put up a false smile and said, “Good to see you again, Michiru.” Then he turned about, apparently with the intention of help to settle InuYasha and Koga down. But even as he did so, Michiru frowned unhappily, for while the monk had spoken pleasantly enough, his words were as false and empty as his smile. A weak mask for what had been in Miroku's eyes, a low, angry fire that had just sparked out. A look that said everything Miroku had to say without him actually speaking.

A look that said, Stay away from her. She’s MINE!

As relieved as InuYasha was to be reunited with his friends, the same could not be said with his once again being forced to tolerate the presence of Koga. Almost immediately after arriving, the damnable wolf started hitting on Kagome, a situation made that much more intolerable when the modern girl, true to form, fell for his buttering up as she always did.

Honestly, how anybody could be stupid enough to put up with that damned wolf is beyond me! InuYasha grumbled inwardly as Koga led the way to the mountains. But even as he thought this, he sighed and looked down at the accursed Beads around his neck. Of course, some people might say the same thing about me...

Sighing at this, InuYasha looked over at the impulsive reincarnation of Kikyo, who was just about everything her previous self was not, and shook his head in dismay. While there was much about Kagome that was good and wonderful, there was also a great deal to her that was a major hassle and that completely drove him nuts. As much as he wondered why he bothered dealing with her, he also wondered what he would have done without her.

Besides, I'm the one who let her drag us to a mountain filled with scrawny wolves, so maybe I'm not that smart, either, InuYasha grumbled as the fowl reek of wolf-demon filled his nose. After leaving their campsite, it had taken them until early afternoon to reach their destination and begin the trek up to the caves where the wolf-demons made their home. And as they did so, the half-demon found that his hand never once left Tetsusaiga's hilt.

Everywhere around them, wolf-demons were scurrying about, moving from one place to another, staying just out of sight. Every so often, they would spot one of them, or see a shadow moving, or hear them muttering amongst themselves. And while InuYasha couldn't make out what was being said, he could easily detect the hate-filled tones with which they spoke.

"I don't like this," Kaname murmured at one point as she looked nervously about.

"I know. This is bad," Sango muttered, her body tense with readiness. "They're flanking our position, and it looks like they're coming up from behind."

""What?" Kagome breathed with a hint of alarm. "Are you sure, Sango?"

As Sango nodded her response, Koga grumbled, "She's right, Kagome. Looks like we're gonna have an interesting time getting to the old chief."

"Hmph. Like we didn't see that one coming!" InuYasha growled lowly as he prepared himself.

His own sword held in hand and with Shippo clinging to his back, Michiru glanced about in every direction and asked, "So how much farther to the old chief's place?"

"We're almost there," Koga tersely replied. "It's just up that way, to the left. Just be ready for anything!"

"Sage advice," Miroku noted humorlessly as he looked up at the mountain ledges above. Any one of which would make for a perfect spot for a wolf-demon to lay in wait.

For a short while longer, the group continued their onward trek, always on the alert as they made their way up the mountain. The sounds of the lurking wolf-demons growing ever louder, prompting smells of caution, concern, and in some cases, fear, to rise up from the others. A potent cocktail that InuYasha knew very well, and one that was all-too likely to spur the wolf-demon's on.

As this thought crossed the half-demon's mind, it became a reality as the air was split with cries of bloodlust. Noises of surprise erupted from the others as they looked about, and watched as wolf-demon's erupted from every corner, every nook and cranny. Anyplace that could conceal them until the right moment. "Waauuughh!" Shippo cried out, popping up into the air and waving his arms and legs about. "We-we're surrounded!"

"Feh! Noticed that, did you?!" InuYasha snarled as he unsheathed his Tetsusaiga. Raising the massive fang before him, he felt the winds rising up around it.

But even as the silver-maned warrior was set to strike, Michiru cried out in protest. "Wait, InuYasha! Don't!" Pausing in mid-swing, InuYasha looked about to see a pentagram spinning into existence at his friend's feet. "Let me take care of this! Protective Light!" At this, Michiru's Light Shikigami emerged, and instantly transformed in a protective bubble that enveloped them all just before the first of the wolf-demons slammed into it.

Despite the situation, InuYasha found himself chuckling at the looks of surprise that exploded on the wolf-demons' faces when they caught sight of the barrier. They even had a second or so to try and reverse their momentum before they finally crashed into it head-on, erupting in various yips and barks of pain. "Ha! Serves you idiots right!" Koga sneered, hands to his hips as he marched up to the front of the barrier. "Just what the hell do you think you're doing, anyway?!"

Backing away a short distance, the wolf-demons massaged their injured faces, snarls of conceit filling the air as they eyed Koga. "We're taking care of a traitor to our tribe, bastard!" one of them snarled. "Namely, you, you pathetic, whipped little pup!"

"Yeah, that's right!" another wolf-demon chimed in. "Look at you! You've surrounded yourself with humans!"

"What's worse, he's surrounded himself with a half-breed!" a third wolf-demon sneered, pinching his nose shut. "Ugh, that stench!"

"Hey! Don't say that about InuYasha!" Kaname cried out in protest.

"Kaname, relax!" InuYasha told her, not even sparing the time needed to glance back at her. "It's okay. I can handle myself here."

Despite the fact that he appreciated Kaname stepping up for him, InuYasha knew that this was the worst possible time for such a thing. Fortunately, he wasn't the only one; Michiru placed his hand on his sibling's shoulder. "Kaname, please. Don't antagonize them." When she turned to protest this, he added, "We're not going to get out of this by arguing with them."

"But..." Kaname got out, looking helplessly at her brother.

He's right, Kaname. It'll take a lot more than words to hurt me, InuYasha thought furiously. After a lifetime of being subjected to similar garbage, such words more-or-less bounced off of him without hurting, despite the memories they brought back for him. Besides, yelling at these bastards is gonna wind up making you a target!

While InuYasha was making sure that Kaname was safely reined in, Koga stood defiantly before the accusing throng. "The only traitors here are you, and that bastard Toma! So either you get out of our way, or I'll have to kill each and every one of you!"

"Heh! Like you even could, you human's lapdog!" one of the wolf-demons sneered.

"Yeah! There's only one way you're getting past us, traitor!" another wolf-demon growled as he looked past Koga. "And that's if you hand over those little humans of yours!"

"Yeah! It's been ages since I've tasted live human flesh!" one particularly vicious wolf-demon drooled, half of his face one big mass of scars. “Hmmm, these little girls look tasty!”

“Those boys look quite tender,” a female snarled as she licked her lips. “I bet their livers are simply divine.”

“Back off, you scrawny wolves!” InuYasha growled in response, looking about for some kind of opening. He was certain that he could dispatch the wolf-demon mob with the power of the Tetsusaiga, but he was pressed too closely to the others to risk using it. And there was no way Michiru could maintain his spell indefinitely, and even if he could, that wouldn't get them any closer to either reaching the old chief or getting out of there to leave the stinking wolves to whatever fate they had made for themselves. "Dammit! Anybody got any ideas?!"

"I have one, but you're not gonna like it!" Kagome announced as she doffed her backpack. Setting it on the ground, she quickly rifled through it, and soon brought out a small drum.

"What?!" InuYasha snarled, blanching at the sight of the artifact she held. "Aw, damn! Not that thing again!"

Her face creasing with annoyance, Kagome shouted, "Hey! Do you want to get out of here, or don't you?! Now cover your ears!"

InuYasha was about to give further protest, but when Kagome held her hand up over the drum, he realized that there was no use. Quickly sheathing the Tetsusaiga, he placed his hands over his ears and crushed them as far under his hair as he could. "Hey, scrawny wolf! You better cover your ears, unless you want to go deaf!" Looking about at them in confusion, Koga frowned before complying. At the back of the group, Ginta and Hakkaku glanced at Kagome before finally heeding her words.

"Shippo, Kirara! You better hold on!" Michiru announced, taking both demons in his arms. As soon as the fox-demon had his ears covered and the Kuruugi boy was protecting the two-tail's, he nodded at Kagome.

"Alright, you dumb wolves! Do yourselves a favor and back off!" Kagome cried out before striking the drum, releasing a noise like metal being ripped apart mixed with nails on a chalkboard, only a hundred times worse. As the hateful clattering filled InuYasha's head, he fell down to his knees, marginally aware of the Koga doing the same. Outside of Michiru's Protective Light, the unprepared wolf-demons were falling away, their ears bleeding and their faces twisted with agony. Though he couldn't hear it, InuYasha was certain that they were howling in pure agony, howls that were redoubled as Kagome struck the drum again.

Dammit! Why couldn't Ryokage have smashed that damn drum?! InuYasha snarled, his thoughts jumbled by the second blast of noise. Then a third crashing wave of agonizing sound ripped through him, sending him sprawling to the ground. Crying in agony, his claws digging into his scalp as he tried in vain to blot out the hateful noise, hoping that Kagome wouldn't decide to strike it again.

Several seconds passed as InuYasha trembled with pain, dreading and anticipating another blast from the drum. But eventually, he felt a hand on his shoulder, gently shaking him. "InuYasha?" came a friendly voice, one he barely managed to hear after the deafening din of the Drum of Heaven and Earth. Still shaking badly, he slowly released his ears before looking up to see Michiru and Kaname standing over him. "It's over. The wolf-demons are gone now."

"Yeah, and I sure as hell don't blame them! Owww!" Koga moaned miserably as he staggered to his feet, still off-balance. Glancing over at his friends, he saw Ginta and Hakkaku staggering dizzily about, moaning pitifully. "Kagome, where the hell did you find that awful thing?!"

"Oh...you could say it was a gift," Kagome smiled enigmatically as she returned the Drum to her backpack.

"A gift, huh?!" Koga moaned as he massaged his ears. "Well, do me a favor. Don't ever use that damned thing again! At least not while I'm around to hear it!"

"Hey, what are you complaining about?" Kagome wondered in an annoyed fashion. "It got rid of the wolf-demon's didn't it?"

"Perhaps, but I doubt that they'll stay gone," Miroku intoned. "I suggest we get moving again, before they have a chance to regroup and recover." Then the monk smiled in a knowing fashion, and added, "That is, unless you want Kagome to have to use the Drum again..."

"No way. Not a chance in hell!" InuYasha growled, shuddering in consummate horror at the thought of ever, ever hearing the hateful instrument of torture ever again. "C'mon! Let's just do this and get it over with already!"

"Heh! For once, mutt, you'll get no argument from me!" Koga declared before starting forward, still trembling as he made his way forward.

Fortunately, there was no further sign of any wolf-demons, not that this came as any surprise. As a result, the rest of the journey went smoothly, until Koga paused and pointed at one particular cave. "There. That's it. That's where the old chief lives."

Nodding, Kaname murmured, "Then we better get in there before any other wolf-demon...oh, no!"

"What? What is it?" InuYasha growled, but then he saw what had alarmed Kaname. Another group of wolf-demons was emerging from the wide mouth of the cave.

"Great. I guess we should've known the old chief's cave would be guarded," Michiru muttered bitterly s he took in the new group and the she-wolf that led them. "So...what do we do now? Should we fight, or...?"

"That won't be necessary, Michiru," Sango assured him, smiling broadly as she took in the lead wolf-demon. When he gave her a quizzical look, she smiled and explained, "We know one of them. And unless I miss my guess...she's going to be happy to see us."

"Well, she'll certainly be happy to see Koga, at least," InuYasha grinned as he glanced over at the wolf-demon. Delighting in the way he sweat-dropped and growled beneath his breath.

"Watch it, mutt-boy...!" Koga snarled lowly, clenching his fist as he rose to his feet and signaled the wolf-demons. "Hey, Ayame!

Gasping in surprise, the she-wolf whirled about to look at them, her face turning from confusion to delight. "Oh, Koga!" she cried out happily, practically flinging herself at them. As she drew close, they could better make out the details of her form. As was typical for wolf-demons, she bore pieces of fur about her wrists, lower body, and lower legs, in additional to more traditional armor on her upper body. Unlike Koga, the fur she wore was white, and she wore a cape of the same fur. She had long, red hair done up in a set of pigtails, bright green eyes, and a purple flower at the base of her left pigtail. "Thank goodness you're back! Something horrible just happened!"

"Huh?! What?!" Koga demanded with alarm. "What happened?! Were you attacked?!"

"I'm not sure what exactly happened!" Ayame confessed ruefully. "All I know is, a few minutes ago, this horrendous noise started booming through the caves! I thought that the entire mountain was coming down around us! Koga, we -!"

"Oh. Oh, that!" Koga broke in, smacking himself in the forehead. "Yeah, I...I'm sorry about that, Ayame."

"Sorry?" Ayame repeated, frowning her confusion. "Why?"

Laughing rather sheepishly, Kagome clasped her hands together and confessed, "Uh, well...you see it's...kinda our fault." When the faces of Ayame fell in surprise, the raven-haired girl hurriedly explained what happened, with Koga butting in here and there. "Anyway, I'm sorry about that, but it was the only way I could think of to get those wolf-demons to back off without really hurting them."

"Hmm...well, I'm not sure about not really hurting them, but...I guess I understand," Ayame finally answered, a grim smile on her face. "Seriously, you should be glad you can't hear that evil Drum of yours! I thought the entire mountain was going to explode!"

"Yeah, I already told them that!" Koga groaned, rubbing the side of his head. Then he gave her a wry grin and jerked his thumb at Kagome and the others. "Anyway, we have to see the old chief. I've brought him that proof that he wanted!"

"So I see," Ayame noted pleasantly as she turned towards the others. "It's good to see you again, Kagome."

"Likewise, Ayame!" Kagome smiled, accepting the she-wolf's hand.

"It's good to see you, Ayame," Sango chimed in.

"Always a pleasure," Miroku agreed.

"I'm really glad that you all came," Ayame told them earnestly. "We're really in a lot of trouble here, and...huh?" Squeaking in surprise, the she-wolf frowned as she focused on the Kururugi twins. "Hey, who are you two?"

"Oh, those are the Kururugi twins!" Kagome replied, stepping aside to gesture at them. "Ayame, this is Michiru and Kaname. Michiru, Kaname? Ayame."

"Hello," Michiru said, politely bowing his head.

"Nice to meet you," Kaname seconded.

"Um...right," Ayame got out uncertainly, her smile forgotten as she turned towards Koga. "Listen, uh...but perhaps we should get inside. Grandfather told me that, as soon as you got back, there were a few things he needed to talk to you about. And..."

"And it'd be better to get in and talk to him before those idiots catch their second wind, huh?" Koga grumbled, glanced about at their surroundings. "Sure thing, Ayame. Lead the way!"

Ayame hastily nodded, and turned towards her companions. "Everyone, I want you to stand guard out here. Do not let anyone inside without my authorization! Is that understood?!"

"Uh, yes, Ayame!" several of the wolf-demons responded, while the others made similar noises of assent. Not wasting words, the she-wolf proceeded forward, with InuYasha and the others following a short distance behind.

But even as they entered the caves, InuYasha frowned at the smell of fear wafting up from Ayame. A fear that made him wary, and suspicious of what was to come.

"Ah, there you are, Koga!" Robai chuckled as the group arrived in a large cavern. "My, goodness, it sure has been a long time!"

"Hey, there, old man!" Koga replied with what could only be described as a bashful smile. "So, how're you holding up? Hope you haven't gotten into any trouble while I was away!"

"Hmph! And just what's that supposed to mean?!" Robai demanded in a cantankerous manner. "What, you think I can't look after myself?! Just because I'm old?!"

"Of course not," Michiru chimed in, deciding it best to say something before Koga said or did something rash. "Hi, old man! It's been a while!"

His eyes going wide, Robai came up and clapped Michiru on the shoulder. "Well, I'll be! If it isn't my young human friend! It certainly is good to see you again!"

Chuckling in response, Michiru waved for his sister to join him. "Here, Robai. There's something I want for you to meet. This is my sister, Kaname."

"Hello," Kaname greeted him as she bowed forward.

"Oh, my! The pleasure is all mine, my dear!" Robai smiled happily.

"And that's not all," Michiru continued, bringing out a bundled furoshiki and opening it slightly. "Here. Koga, Sango, and I got these for you, just in case."

“Oh, my! Thank you for the thoughtful gift!” Robai grinned lopsidedly as he looked upon the contents. “These things taste better when fresh, but I still appreciate it.”

“That’s not a problem, old man!" Michiru announced, a pentagram appearing at his feet. "Oh, towering green wood -!"

"Huh?!" came a girlish gasp of surprise. "What are you doing? What is that?!"

"Oh, sorry about that, Ayame. I guess I forgot to tell you," Koga declared even as the pentagram faded away, Michiru's concentration broken. "Michiru and Kaname, they're Shikigami Users."

"Shikigami?" Ayame breathed, her eyes wide with surprise as she looked at Michiru. "Really?! You have the power of the nature spirits?"

Somewhat unsettled by her sudden interest, Michiru hesitated before answering, "Uh, yeah. In fact, I...well, would you care to watch?" Ayame quickly nodded, at which he returned to his interrupted spell. "Oh, towering green wood, send forth the breath of life! Green Wood Restoration!” His body lighting up with magic, the snake that was his Wood Shikigami appeared and bathed the mushrooms with its power. Within mere seconds, the mushrooms were just as good and fresh as they were the day they were picked.

"Woohoo! Now that's more like it!" Robai chortled happily. "Tonight, I get to enjoy my favorite mushroom soup! It's been so long!"

"A...amazing!" Ayame breathed, bringing her hand to her mouth. "I'd heard about humans who possessed the power of the spirits, but...!" Sucking in a quick breath, she then focused on Michiru. "Tell me, is that the only spirit you command?! Or do you have more?!"

Again surprised by the intensity with which Ayame spoke, Michiru needed a moment to recover before attempting answer. "Uh, well...there are ten different powers that a person with our powers can access," he explained nervously. "So far, Kaname and I have only been able to wake up seven of them."

"Seven?!" Ayame gasped, clearly surprised by this. "And...the powers...what kind of powers do you have?!"

"Hey, what're you going on about, Ayame?" Koga wondered. Startled by this, the she-wolf turned to watch her leader approach, his brows furrowed. "Why are you so interested in his Shikigami, anyway? I know you've always been interested in natural magic and stuff like that, but this?"

"It's not about me, Koga! It's just...I was worried!" Ayame explained nervously. "I knew your other human friends were strong, but when I saw these two...I had to be sure! I had to know how powerful they are!"

Grunting his annoyance, Koga retorted, "They're powerful, okay? And why should you be so worried?! I know that things have bad been up here, but still -!"

"Yes, these are indeed troubled times, Koga," came another voice. An older voice than even Robai's, one of sage wisdom. "There is a greater danger confronting our people than you could possibly know." As the voice continued, Michiru and the others quickly looked about for the source of the voice. Then he looked up and saw a large, white wolf seated on a ledge above them, resting under an opening in the roof of the cave that was the source of illumination. "And is it for that reason that I am so glad that you have succeeded in finding your friends."

Gaping incredulously at the white wolf, Michiru was startled from his stupor when Kaname cried out, "Hey! That wolf...he - he talked!" Giving a quick shake of her head, she looked at the others and asked, "But - wait! Does that mean...he's a wolf-demon?!"

"That's right," Ayame nodded. "Sorry, I guess I should introduce you all now." Marching up to the ledge, she gestured up and announced, "I'd like to introduce you all...to my grandfather. Yorozuko."

"Your...grandfather?" Michiru repeated perplexedly as he studied the white wolf. While he looked like an ordinary wolf at first glance, the Kururugi boy could now see almost human facial features, such as large, bushy eyebrows, as well as tufts of hair that resembled a mustache. There was a scar above his left eye, and his lips were curled with amusement.

"You look surprised, boy," Ayame's grandfather commented, sounding amused by his reaction.

"Well...I guess I am. A little," Michiru finally admitted before glancing over the other wolf-demons present. "I mean...no offense, but...all the wolf-demons I've seen before...they all looked...well..."

"Almost human?" Ayame gathered with an air of amusement. When Michiru nodded, the she-wolf's smile turned to one of sadness. "Yes, and once, grandpa looked that way." Then she frowned somewhat and looked up at him. "But...now..."

"I am an old wolf, boy. I've lost much over the years...including my human form," Yorozuko told him. "But my condition isn't important. What is important is...you." While Michiru took a step back at this, Ayame's grandfather shot a quizzical look at Koga. "Koga, would you be so kind as to tell me about your friends here? "

"Uh, sure! Here, let me introduce you," Koga replied in an abashed manner. He then gestured for them to come forward, a gesture that Michiru and the other humans present quickly heeded. "These are Kagome, Miroku, Sango, Michiru, and Kaname. They're all extremely powerful human warriors."

"So you say," the old chief intoned as he studied them. "And would they be willing to demonstrate their strength? As well what form it takes?"

"Of course," Kagome spoke up. "Koga said that the only way that you'll accept that an alliance with the Demon Slayers was if we could prove that we're strong. So, here we are!"

"Yes, so I see," Yorozuko returned. "However, it is not just for my benefit that I would ask you to demonstrate your skills and strengths. In order for my people to accept what Koga has proposed, they must see with their own eyes the power you possess." The old chief leaned in closer to them, his eyes shining with old wisdom and cunning. "Would you be willing to demonstrate your strength for the entirety of the tribe? Not just us few?"

"Well, sure!" Kaname piped up, gazing at the old chief uncertainly.

Groaning heavily, InuYasha massaged his temple before snarling, "Aw, dammit! We come all this way to this stinking hole to help you, we get attacked by a bunch of you stinking wolves, and now you want them to jump through hoops for them?!"

“Hmph! I see this young pup is impatient as ever!” Robai snickered. Then his expression turned to one of utter disgust. “Ugh! Speaking of immature young pups…!”

“It’s nice to see you, too, you decrepit old geezer!” came a loud, boisterous, arrogant voice. As one, they all turned to face the source of the voice, and saw a young male wolf-demon enter the chamber, an attractive female in each of his arms. The newcomer was wild-looking and sinewy with short, silver hair, and a sinister smile on his face as he licked his lips. “So, Lapdog Koga has returned with some new friends in tow. Don’t tell me these tasty morsels are your proof that we should become pets for the humans?”

Sneering with hatred, Koga glared at the newcomer. “Everybody, this waste of fur is Toma, the goon who’s wasting the lives of our people on those monster freaks.”

“Well, it’s like I’ve said, Koga!" Toma shrugged, never once losing his grip on the females. "People respect power, and if we control powerful demons, then they’ll respect and fear us! With those beasts at our disposal, the wolf-demon tribe will be strong as never before!”

"The tribe will drive itself to extinction over those monsters!" Koga snapped back. "They can't be trained, they can't be controlled! And you're wasting what little food we have left to keep their bellies filled!"

"Heh! And you honestly believe a bunch of weak humans would be any better?!" Toma sneered derisively. "They're nothing but food for my darlings...and for us!"

"Gimme a break!” Koga sneered disgustedly. “Those things will turn on us the instant they have the chance! They’ve already murdered fifty of our people!”

Robai made a sound in his throat that got their attention. “Seventy-four.”

Sucking in shocked breath, Koga looked back at the old man in horror. “What?!”

If Ayame had been uncomfortable before, that was nothing compared to the pain in her eyes now. “There’ve been more deaths since you left, Koga," she explained sorrowfully. "Toma brought back another monster.”

“Yeah, but it was well worth it!” Toma bragged, his face filled with arrogance. “This thing’s a real killer! If it doesn’t scare everybody into submission, then I don’t know what will!!”

“You bastard!! Do you have any idea of what you’re doing?!!” Koga snarled furiously, taking a fighting stance. “You’re trading the lives of our people for these worthless monsters!!”

“Relax! With these things under our command, we won’t have to fear any enemy any longer! We'll be able to take whatever want from anyone, human or demon!" Toma grinned cockily. "And as for our losses...well, our women will soon bear plenty of eager young pups to fill out our ranks!” Toma's elbow girls chuckled cruelly at this, a chuckle he quickly echoed. “Just think of those wolves as having done their noble duty to the tribe!”

While they were all looking at Toma in revulsion, InuYasha growled. “I don’t believe this. You were right, Koga! This bastard is even more disgusting than you are!!”

A noise of surprise echoing in his throat, Toma glanced over at InuYasha before groaning in disgust. “Oh, joy, a pathetic mutt! What idiot of a demon had the bad sense to mate with a human instead of eating them?!" Shaking his head in seeming dismay, the cruel wolf sneered at the half-demon. "Talk about a waste of a good meal!”

With that, Toma and his two elbow girls started laughing mockingly, all the while InuYasha was building up pressure. It didn’t take long for him to reach critical, where he exploded. "Why, you...!" the silver-maned warrior snarled, his knuckles cracking as he arched his claws. Without warning, he launched himself at Toma, snarling, "Iron-Reaver Soul Stealer!"

"InuYasha!" Kaname cried out as the half-demon flew at Toma, his claws glowing with golden destruction. Just before he connected, however, Toma and his girls spun into a cyclone before darting forward. While they didn't move nearly as fast as Koga did, it was fast enough to leave InuYasha tumbling past them.

“A little slow, mutt-boy, but I suppose that’s to be expected!" Toma jeered as InuYasha came to land on all fours. "After all, half-demon, half-power, right?” At this malicious jibe, the three of them started laughing again. While InuYasha glared pure poison at the arrogant wolf-demon, he relinquished his grip on his elbow girls and marched up to Michiru and the others.

“So, these are the humans you hope will prove me wrong, eh, Koga?” Toma chortled as he locked gazes with Kagome. “Nice choice! My darling pets simply adore this quality of human flesh!”

“And just what’s that supposed to mean?!” Kagome snarled.

“Well, I’ve been talking with the old chief, and he’s come to a decision,” Toma grinned, a grin that they all hated. “You and I, we can go on and on about whose little pets are superior all we want. And while it's painfully obvious that my little darlings are truly superior...well, Yorozuko decided that there's only one way to prove for certain whose got the winning beasts." Turning to look at Koga, the arrogant beast paused before sneering triumphantly and saying. "And that's to have them fight each other...to the death!"

“Say what?!” Koga howled disbelievingly. His mouth hanging open, he looked up incredulously at Yorozuku. "Chief, is this for real?!"

A beat passed before the old wolf answered, and when he did, his voice was heavy and tired. "Yes, Koga. It is," Yorozuko told him before turning towards Michiru and the others. "It is my decision that a tournament be held, here in the mountains tomorrow, in the pen in which Toma's creatures are being held. And there - if you humans accept this challenge - you will face his beasts, one-on-one."

"What?!" InuYasha shouted, his features twisting with disgust.

"And that the winner of the tournament, whomever that may be, will be declared the true leader of our tribe," Yorozuko continued somberly. Then he glanced over at Toma, who grinned his cruel grin. "And the loser...will be exiled from the tribe."

"Exiled?!" Kagome cried out in dismay, glancing from the old chief to Koga and back again. "You'd really do that to Koga?!"

"No, the new leader of the wolf-demon tribe will be doing that! And that, of course, will be me," Toma boasted as he gestured at himself. "Just a little...suggestion I made. Besides, I thought it would make things simpler. Who wants to deal with a pathetic little loser who goes around, trying to make things difficult for the people?" Then he narrowed his eyes sharply and added, "And in any case...exile would be a much kinder fate then anything I would do to him..."

"I don't believe this!" Koga snarled, shaking his fist at the aged wolf. "You're actually letting this bastard dictate the rules of this tournament?!"

"What can I tell you, Koga? Yorozuko clearly knows how to pick a winner!" Toma gloated viciously. “So, tomorrow, my babies will be feasting on human flesh, and I’ll be leading the wolf-demons to a new age of glory!”

“Not if we win, you won’t!” Kagome declared confidently, staring daggers at Toma.

"What?!" InuYasha bellowed, glaring in disbelief at the modern priestess. “Kagome you can't possibly be thinking of actually going through with this!"

"You better believe I am!" Kagome immediately shot back. “Now, don’t you try and stop me, InuYasha! And that goes for you, too, Koga!” Warding the two of them off with a look, she then swiveled her wrathful gaze at Toma. “I won’t stand around and let a stuck-up pig like this have his way, do you hear me?!”

“Agreed,” Miroku stepped up. “I, for one, cannot forgive such a blatant waste of lives.”

“Count me in, too!” Michiru stated firmly. “Those demons are yesterday’s news!”

“That’s right! They’re so toast!” Kaname agreed.

“I know I could use a good workout!” Sango chimed in, hefting her Hiraikotsu and meaning business. "Besides, as Demon Slayer myself, there's no way I can sit back and let this happen.

Toma and his girls just laughed some more. “Well, they’ve got fire, I’ll give them that much!” With that, Toma started to leave, but before he did, he paused and smirked cruelly. "Oh, and before I forget...there was one other rule that I...suggested for this competition."

"Oh, great!" Koga snarled, shooting a killing glare at Yorozuko out of the corner of his eyes. "I bet I can't wait to hear this one!"

"Trust me, you're gonna love it!" Toma declared in a superior manner. "You see, I have heard rumors of humans with...unusual abilities. Priests, monks, magicians, that sort of thing. A few scraps somewhat better than the rest of the warm meat out there. And it occurred to me that - as unlikely as it might be - that Koga might manage to round up enough of them to edge out a win. And that wouldn't be fair, forcing our people to form an alliance with a bunch of a lesser beings, all because he decided to cheat."

"What do you mean, cheating?!" Koga snarled wrathfully. "And what's special rule you're talking about?! What's going on here?!"

Chuckling deep in his throat, Toma looked up at the old chief. "Go ahead, Yorozuko. Tell them. I'm sure they're all dying of anticipation."

As one, everyone in the cavern turned to look up at the aged wolf, who met their gazes...and eventually faltered. "In order for Koga to win this tournament," Yorozuko announced in a low, somber voice, "You humans most defeat all five of Toma's creatures."

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