Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

The Tournament

"I don't believe this! I just don't goddamn believe this!" InuYasha snarled hatefully as he sat in one of the caves, his nose filled with the disgusting stench of wolf. A stench that he wanted to rip asunder with his bare hands, along with the filth that generated it. "First that stupid old wolf cooks up this crazy tournament of his, then he says that we only win if we manage to beat all five of whatever creepy creatures that bastard Toma has, and now he has the gall to lock us all up in here?!"

"He didn't lock us up, InuYasha," Kagome retorted, her tone making it clear that what patience she had with the half-demon's griping was rapidly dwindling away. "Robai and the others told us that we could sleep here for tonight!"

Snorting loudly at this, InuYasha glared at the entrance to the cave. "Oh, sure. And those bars are just for decoration!"

Kagome visibly winced as she was forced to look over at the bars in question. Bars that, while ungainly and poorly made, were also thick and durable looking. Enough so that it was clear that it would take more than brute strength to dislodge them. "C'mon! Robai already explained that those are there to keep Toma's followers out, not to keep us in!" the modern priestess wearily reminded him. "Besides, it's not like it would be that hard to blast our way out of here...if it came down to that."

"Hmph! And if you ask me, that's exactly what we should be doing!" InuYasha grumbled, his right hand inching towards Tetsusaiga's hilt. "I can't believe that you still want to waste your time, helping these mangy flea-feasts after all that crap that demented old wolf spewed!"

"InuYasha, we've already explained our reasons for going along with this tournament," Miroku broke in, his own tolerance and patience becoming increasingly taxed. "If Toma gains command of the wolf-demon tribe, then they will start attacking anything that lies in their path, human and demon alike. And that means we have to prevent him from succeeding, if at all possible."

"Yeah? Well, from what I saw, that rabid wolf's already running the show around here!" InuYasha shot back, sticking his nose up in the air. "Did you see the way that damned old chief of theirs caved in to him?! This tournament is rigged against us, and you all know it!"

"We know, InuYasha," Michiru conceded in a sad voice. "But...I'm not so sure that Ayame's grandfather is going along with Toma because he wants to."

InuYasha's mouth popped open at this, but before he could say anything, Sango nodded. "I noticed that, too. Remember how concerned he was when we first got there?" she commented thoughtfully. "He sounded as worried about what Toma is doing as Koga is."

"But...if that's true, then why would he set up the tournament to help Toma out?!" Shippo wondered, looking blankly at the others.

"That's a good question, Shippo," Miroku admitted in a thoughtful tone. "Unfortunately, I suspect that only Ayame or Robai could provide an answer."

"And, of course, we haven't seen hide or hair of either of them since we got locked in here," InuYasha muttered gruffly, shaking his head in disdain. "Dammit. I should have just killed Toma and gotten it over with when I had the chance!"

Giving voice to a sigh of dismay, Kaname murmured, "InuYasha, please! Don't even talk like that!" With a noise of surprise, the half-demon looked up at the Kururugi girl, who paused to take a breath before elaborating, "Look, I know you were upset about what he said to you, but killing Toma like that...it would have just made things worse!"

"And how the hell does killing a bastard like that make things worse?!" InuYasha demanded.

"For the same reason we couldn't attack the wolf-demons when we first arrived here," Miroku intoned in a sage manner. "You keep forgetting we have to do more than help Koga become leader of the wolf-demon tribe. We have to convince the tribe as a whole that humans have the potential to be viable allies. Something that we won't accomplish by killing any wolf-demons that get in our way."

"But they're the ones that attacked us!" InuYasha protested.

"We know that, InuYasha! But most of the tribe doesn't!" Kaname told him.

"That's right," Miroku seconded, glancing over at Kaname and nodding in an improving manner. "And with Koga as unpopular with the rest of the tribe as he is, we can't afford to add to that. If we do, we may well ruin any chance he has of becoming leader."

"Besides, there's something else," Michiru chimed in with a look of worry. "If you had killed Toma, you might have made him a martyr for the rest of the wolf-demons."

"A martyr?!" InuYasha spat out in pure disgust. "That filthy bastard?!"

"Don't be so surprised. Michiru does have a point here," Kagome agreed. "We already know things are bad here. And if the food issues and other problems are as bad Koga and the others said, it probably wouldn't take much to set the wolf-demons off." Pressing her lips together, the modern priestess placed a gentle hand on InuYasha's shoulder. "Don't forget, Toma already had them wipe out all those villages. And if they're desperate enough for that, then who knows what else they might do?"

"Especially if we were to provoke them unduly," Miroku concluded. "InuYasha, I realize that you are eager to put an end to this and get on with our quest, but we need to handle the situation in a delicate matter. We have to be careful, and above all, patient."

InuYasha's response to this was to growl deep in his throat, prompting Shippo to smirk and comment, "Yeah, you know. All the things that you couldn't do if your life depended on it!"

Several veins bulging from his forehead, InuYasha clenched his fist at the fox-demon. But before he could say or do anything, his expression changed, shifting from anger to concern. Grunting lowly, he turned to look towards the bars that divided their portion of the caves from the rest. Clearly recognizing his shift of attention, Kagome asked, "Hmm? What is it, InuYasha?"

"Someone's coming this way," InuYasha muttered as he rose to his feet. His hand firmly on Tetsusaiga's hilt, he made his way up to the barred gate.

"Who is it?" Michiru wondered.

"I can't tell," InuYasha gruffly admitted. "There's so many wolf-demons in this mountain, I can't tell one stench from another!" Then he narrowed his eyes dangerously, and added, "But whoever it is that's coming...they're not alone." As this, the rest of the group stood, every sense they possessed focused on the gate, tensing for action. Long seconds passed as they waited and watched, until at long last their human ears could detect what InuYasha's keener senses had. The sound of approaching footsteps that were even now drawing closer. Prompting them to grow ever tenser, to ready themselves for the worst.

Finally, the source of the footsteps rounded the bend, and everyone but InuYasha sounded their relief. "Hey there...everybody," Koga began, hesitating as he glanced over at Ayame, who was at his side. "Sorry to take so long in getting back to you, but I had a few things to discuss with Ayame's grandpa."

"Well, it sure took you scrawny wolves long enough!" InuYasha sneered as the rest of Koga's party came within view. Ginta, Hakkaku, and Robai were all there, carrying various pieces of meat, as well as what looked like small fruits and vegetables. "And...hey, what are you doing?"

"Bringing you dinner," Robai responded in his usual cantankerous manner. "What's it look like, you impertinent whelp?!"

Stepping back and watching as Koga worked the gate, InuYasha sneered but didn't say anything as Ayame entered. "Here. I know it's not much, but you have to keep your strength up," she told them as she and the others started passing out the food items, as well as a simple water pouch made of animal hide. "You'll need it for tomorrow."

"We know. Thanks," Kagome smiled as she helped the wolf-demons pass out both food and drink.

Watching as they prepared for their simple meal, Koga sighed and shook his head. "Look, Kagome...all of you...I'm really sorry that I dragged you into all this," he finally told them, his words low and heavy with guilt. "I had no idea that Toma had arranged for all of this!"

"Hmph! Don't you mean a certain old fleabag arranged for all this?!" InuYasha sneered, glaring daggers at the wolf-demons in general and Ayame in particular. "As I recall, it was your grandpa that set this whole thing up!"

"I know, but please, don't blame him! It’s not like grandpa can help it,” Ayame pleaded with eyes filled with sadness. "The tournament was all Toma's idea! He forced my grandpa to go along with it!"

"That's right, you arrogant young pup!" Robai chimed in, shaking his fist at InuYasha. "Ginta and Hakkaku already told you about the influence Toma has here with many of the tribe! Ever since his blasted parade of meat, he and his followers have been spreading their false promises all over the mountains! And all those idiots out there are too busy listening to their aching bellies to even try to think with their heads!"

"Yes, they did explain that to us. But perhaps there are a few things you could explain to us," Miroku spoke, holding his hand up to them. "It's obvious that Yorozuko is worried about the ruinous influence Toma has. If that's so, then why is Yorozuko making it so that the tournament rules are slanted in his favor. Indeed, how exactly is he able to force Yorozuko to allow such a tournament to begin." Rising to his feet, the monk came up to the visiting wolf-demons. "Is it simply because of the number of followers Toma has? Or is it something else?"

Grunting disgustedly, Koga nodded and replied, "Oh, there's something else, alright. It's one of the things they just finished filling me in on." Heaving a deep breath, the wolf-demon lowered his eyes somewhat and began. "The pen where Toma is keeping those monsters of his is a large cleft in the mountains, with lots of small cracks. The monsters are all penned into small chasms, and when he and his goons are working with them, they're let out into the cleft. When he wants them to go back in, he lures them in with their dinners. Now, the only thing keeping those monsters from escaping from there is a large gate."

"Toma had it built before his raids on those villages. We didn't know what they were for at the time, and with all our other problems...we didn't pay any attention to what he was doing," Ayame explained with a heavy voice.

"A mistake that we're all paying for," Robai grumbled lowly. "The gates themselves are strong enough to withstand just about anything. But the mountings keeping them in place...that's a different story."

"The gates are held in place by a strange, black substance. It's very strong and sticks to just about anything," Ayama explained. "However, it also burns very easily."

"Meaning that it would be very easy to dislodge the gates," Sango nodded, her eyes lighting up with comprehension. "And if Toma had some way to destroy all these mountings at once..."

"There ain't no 'if' about it," Koga growled with deep disgust. "There's a small cave there with trails of that black gunk leading out to all the gates, including the main one, and Toma has some of his goons there all the time. All any of them has to do is ignite them, and every last one of those monsters will be free to do whatever they want!"

"And considering that they were imprisoned by your people, I don't think they would treat any wolf-demon kindly," Miroku nodded. "I suspected that would be the case."

"Huh?! W-wait a minute!" Shippo spat out, looking wildly about the others. "Why can't you remove that stuff, or put it out if he tries to burn it?!"

"That won't work. Toma demonstrated this substance to us," Ayame replied with a solemn shake of her head. "Once it's set in place, it's almost impossible to remove it. And nothing, not even water can stop it from burning."

"Sounds a little like Greek Fire," Kaname muttered thoughtfully. "Remember, bro? When we were doing that project about the Byzantine Empire?"

"Hmm? Oh, right! I remember now!" Michiru replied with a snap of his fingers.

"Greek Fire?!" Robai repeated blankly. "What in blazes are you two talking about?!"

"Greek Fire is an incendiary weapon that was created by the Byzantine Empire. It's...well, it was an empire from a land far away from here," Kaname trailed off lamely, realizing that there was no way that the wolf-demons would know about something so far away. "They used it to set fire to enemy ships, because once they started burning, nothing could stop it."

"But how in blazes would Toma get his hands on some weapon from an empire we've never even heard of?!" Koga demanded incredulously.

"Well, according to what we've read, the Chinese - you know, people from the mainland - well, they made their own version of it," Michiru told them, wracking his mind for anything he could remember about the substance. "And...well, I guess it's possible that Toma got his hands on it. Or at least something similar."

"And this is a human weapon?!" Ginta gaped with Hakkaku mirroring his incredulity.

"Yeah, well, it doesn't matter where Toma got it from!" Koga growled huffily. "What does matter is that he told Yorozuko that unless he was declared the new leader of the wolf-demons, he'll let those monsters loose! And if that happens, they'll rip these mountains apart! Along with everybody in them!"

"What?!" InuYasha gaped, utterly incredulous. "But - hey, hold it right there! If that's true, why all this fuss with a tournament?! Why didn't Toma just have the old wolf make him the leader and be done with it?!"

"Because being chief isn't enough for Toma," Ayame explained. "He's out to humiliate Koga, to completely discredit him in the eyes of our people. To make sure that everyone knows that Toma is the one with all the power."

"And what better way to do that than to arrange for us, the ones you've chosen to represent you in battle, to be slaughtered before the eyes of every wolf-demon here," Miroku intoned thoughtfully.

Nodding grimly, Koga turned to Kagome. "I really sorry about this, but..."

"Don't be, Koga," Kagome returned pleasantly. "Even if we'd known about what Toma had planned, we'd still be doing this. Right, everyone?"

"That's right," Michiru agreed, along with the other humans present. "We’re all your friends here, so if you need help, we’re there.”

"Hmph! Speak for yourself!” InuYasha growled, his arms crossed. “The only reason I’m putting up with you stinking wolves is to see Toma’s face when all of his little pets go up in smoke tomorrow!”

Koga just smiled gratefully, a wry hint to his expression. “Thanks, you guys. And you, too, little mutt.”

"However, there is one other matter that we need to discuss," Miroku intoned, drawing the gazes of everyone there. "Assuming that we are victorious in the tournament tomorrow, what happens next?"

"What happens next?! You mean you even have to ask?!" Koga growled dangerously. "We toss that bastard Toma out on his butt, along with everybody stupid enough to follow him! That's what happens!"

"It may not be that simple, Koga," Miroku countered. "If, as you say, Toma can unleash his monsters at any time, then what's to stop him from doing so, even if he loses the tournament?"

"Good point, Miroku," Sango nodded, her eyes narrowed. "If Toma's defeated and loses his bid to become the leader of your tribe, then he'll have nothing to lose by releasing the rest of his demons."

"Feh! So what if he does?!" InuYasha smirked dangerously. "If Toma sets those damned things loose, I'll just blast them apart with my Tetsusaiga!"

"Wait a minute, InuYasha!" Michiru spoke up. "If you do that, you might hurt the wolf-demons at the tournament!"

"That's right," Kagome spoke up before the half-demon could say anything in response to this. "And not all of them working for Toma."

Giving Kagome a look that asked, 'And just how stupid do you think I am?', InuYasha retorted, "I know that! But I bet they'd rather be a little messed up than in the belly of one of those monsters!"

"Agreed. But perhaps there's a better way to deal with them," Miroku murmured, a keen look in the monk's eye. "Ayame, this cave where they can ignite the Greek Fire. Do you know where it is?"

"Yes, of course," Ayame nodded. "But it's guarded at all times by Toma's followers. If any of us try to break in, they'll ignite it and release the monsters!"

"Then we'll have to be a bit more subtle than that," Miroku smiled deviously. "And as it happens...I already have an idea..."

After spending roughly an hour in conference discussing Miroku's plan and hammering out, making sure that there were no flaws, the wolf-demons left InuYasha and the others to their sleep. And it was certainly an uncomfortable sleep, despite the straw bedding provided for them. By the time morning came, everyone, including InuYasha and Shippo, were stiff and sore.

"Oh..."Kagome groaned as she rose to her feet, stretching this way and that to work the kinks out. "This is why I like sleeping on a nice, soft bed!"

"Hmph! Anything's better than these stinking caves!" InuYasha muttered sourly as he stretched as well. "The sooner we get out of these damned mountains, the better I'll like it!"

"No arguments here," Kaname seconded as she craned her neck this way and that, vertebrae popping as she did so. "So...what now?"

"Well, the first order of business is breakfast," Miroku commented as he also stretched. "Ginta, Hakkaku, could you...huh?"

"What is it?" Michiru wondered before glancing over at the two figures that sat on the other side of the gate. A moment passed before the Kururugi boy groaned in dismay. "Oh, no! Don't tell me they're asleep!"

"What?!" InuYasha growled before turning to look for himself. Sure enough, the wolf-demons left to keep watch on them in their slumber had tumbled off to sleep themselves. As soon as he realized that, the half-demon growled in disgust. "Why, you worthless little..." he growled as he marched up to the gate. Reaching out from between the bars, InuYasha grabbed both wolf-demons by their backs and hefted them into the air. At once, both Ginta and Hakkaku awoke and started babbling incoherently. "What do you think you're doing, falling asleep on the job?!"

"Hey! I w-wasn't asleep!" Ginta cried out in protest.

"We were just - uh - pretending to be asleep!" Hakkaku forced out. "You know! That way if Toma or any of his goons showed up, we could bust them!"

"Yeah, that's it!" Ginta agreed.

"Oh, please! Try selling that to somebody else!" InuYasha snarled before letting both wolf-demons fall to the ground. As they groaned in pain, massaging their offended posteriors, the half-demon folded his arms and ordered, "Now go get Koga or somebody else to get us something to eat! Or do I have to come out and do it myself?!"

"Oh, no no!" Hakkaku stammered out. "That won't be necessary!"

Nodding worriedly, Ginta seconded, "We'll be back before you know it!"

"You better!" InuYasha sneered, but the wolf duo was gone before he had even gotten the second word out. "Damn! Some guards!" he growled, turning back towards the others. "I knew I should have kept watch myself!"

"No, InuYasha. You needed your rest, the same as the rest of us," Sango told him.

"That's right," Kaname smiled in agreement. "If something goes wrong out there, we're going to need you to help us out!" A low growl from the half-demon made it clear that, while not very happy, he was somewhat mollified by her comment.

"Say...Kaname?" Michiru spoke up. When she and the others looked at him, they saw a look of intense concern on the Kururugi's boy's face. "Listen, I've been thinking, and...there's something we need to talk about."

A quizzical sound escaping her throat, Kaname frowned and asked, "Huh? What are you talking about?"

Michiru approached his sister, and gently placed his hands on her shoulders. "Listen, this...this tournament...it's going to be like nothing you've ever experienced before." When Kaname frowned her confusion, her brother sighed and explained, "You heard the old chief. As soon as the tournament starts, each of us...we're going to be on our own out there. You...you're going to be on your own."

As soon as these words were spoken, InuYasha wanted nothing more than to take his head and start bashing it against the walls. "Oh, no! That's right!" Sango breathed as she and the others there made sounds of dismay. "I didn't even think about that!"

"Neither did I!" Kagome confessed, sounding as if she felt as stupid as InuYasha did just then.

"What is it?" Kaname spoke perplexedly as she looked from one face to another. "Is something wrong? Did I mess up or something?"

"Why do you always assume that whenever something goes haywire, it's your fault?!" InuYasha demanded. "Dammit! It's all about us being so stupid!"

"Agreed, InuYasha," Miroku chimed in. When Kaname continued to look perplexedly at the monk, he sighed and explained, "You see, each of us here has been forced to fight on their own on one occasion or another. But you..."

Her mouth popping open, Kaname drew in a low breath and said, "I...I know. I'm not as experienced as the rest of you, but..."

"Kaname, it's more than just that," Michiru told her in a kind, yet firm manner. "The things we're going to be fighting out there...they're going to be stronger than the demons you've been fighting so far. A lot stronger." Sighing heavily, he cocked his head to the side and continued. "Now, I don't know strong these beasts are, but Koga's already told us that they've killed a lot of the wolf-demons here. So we know they're very dangerous."

"But..." Kaname got out, hesitating as she looked deeply into her brother's eyes. "But...I couldn't just do nothing! Not with all of you...I..."

"I understand. Toma's not giving us a lot of choice here," Michiru conceded. "I'm just saying that we're going to have to use...that spell."

The moment this was said, Kaname sucked in a breath and brought her hand to her mouth. "What?! Y-you don't mean -!"

"Hey, what are you two going on about?!" InuYasha muttered, caught between confusion and concern. "What spell?!"

"Remember how I told you about how I...accidentally blew up this one place I'd been using for my training?" Michiru explained, a touch of humiliation to his words. "You know, before we went to fight Ryokage?"

"Yeah. And from what you've told us, that happened a lot!" As Michiru blushed at this, InuYasha cocked his head to the side and asked, "So? What's that have to do with anything?!"

"Well, you see, the reason it had blown up was because I'd be experimenting with a new attack spell," Michiru explained. "One as powerful as Light of Judgment, except that it wasn't as tiring, and it focuses all the power on a single target."

"Say what?!" InuYasha demanded, his face reflecting first surprise, then irritation. "Hey, wait a minute! If this spell is as great as all that, then why didn't you use it on Ryokage?!"

"Because I'd only just started experimenting with it! Like I said, that's how I blew up my first training spot!" Michiru retorted, his cheeks heating up that much more. "I was able to release the power I needed for the spell, but as soon as I did, it went completely out of control! If I hadn't gotten out of there when I did, I'd have been blown up with it!"

"That's...hardly encouraging, Michiru," Miroku commented with a great sense of understatement.

"Tell me about it," Michiru grumbled. "It wasn't until after I started training Kaname that I'd figured out what the problem was. So I did some experimenting, and then..."

"So now you can use this spell?" Sango asked, glancing between the twins. "Both of you can?!"

Kaname gave a quick nod to this. "That's right. It's still a little tricky, but it's very powerful."

"Well, if that's the case, then why haven't you used it yet?!" InuYasha wondered.

"Well, for one thing, like Kaname said, it's a little tricky. We'd need time to set up the spell before releasing it; otherwise, it'd go completely crazy." Then Michiru let out a low, gusty sigh, and added, "But the real reason is because...well, this is spell is dangerous. Really dangerous. And I didn't want to take the chance of using it unless we absolutely had to!"

"I understand. But I think you're right, Michiru; we can't afford to hold anything back today," Kagome commented, glancing in Kaname's direction. "Still, I'd feel better if you didn't go first, Kaname."

"Agreed. In fact, I think it would be best if Michiru were allowed to fight before you," Miroku decided, glancing over at the Kururugi boy. "From what you've said, neither of you have done anything with this spell beyond simple experimentation. Is that correct?" Both twins nodded to this. "In which case, given his greater level of experience, Michiru would have an easier time not only invoking the spell, but dealing with it should anything go wrong. And if you observe him using it, Kaname..."

"It'll give me a better idea of what to expect if I have to use it," Kaname gathered.

"Exactly," Miroku replied before looking about at the others. "Does this sound reasonable to you?"

"Sure, sounds good," InuYasha decided, at which the others there made other sounds of agreement. "And now that that's settled...I think I smell breakfast coming this way!"

True to InuYasha's word, a few seconds later, Koga and their other wolf-demon friends appeared. "Sorry to keep you waiting," Ayame told them as Koga opened the gate, allowing Robai, Ginta, and Hakkaku to enter and start passing out food and water. "Here's your breakfast. It's not much, but hopefully, it'll see you through this."

"That's okay, Ayame," Sango replied with an easy smile. "We don't want to fill up, anyway. We don't need to start cramping up out there."

"Heh! That's for sure!" Koga grinned before turning towards InuYasha and Shippo. "Listen, mutt. I talked to Yorozuko, and I managed to arrange to get you and Shippo seats with us and Toma."

"Oh, great! Just what I wanted to hear over breakfast, scrawny wolf!" InuYasha commented irritably. "What, are you trying to make me lose my appetite?!"

"Hey! We discussed it last night, remember?! It's all part of the plan!" Koga growled heatedly. "Besides, I don't want to take any chances of Toma slipping away before we've gotten him! And that means I need you there, okay?!"

"What was that? What did you just say?" InuYasha grinned, cupping his hand to his ear. "Did the great Koga actually admit to needing me?!"

When Koga growled deep in his throat, his entire face turning red with frustration, Kagome shot the half-demon a killing glare. "InuYasha..." she muttered, her tone of voice making it clear that he was one word away from being smashed into the ground. Grimacing at this, the half-demon suffered a wave of irritation at his fun being cut short, annoyance at this latest reminder of the control over him, and a slight measure of fear and relief at his close call. "Anyway, thanks, Koga. Now, you all know your parts in this, right?"

"Right! Sure do!" Ginta and Hakkaku responded as one.

"I'm as ready as an old fogey like me can be," Robai chimed in with a self-depreciating smile.

"I know I'm ready," Ayame confirmed. "If it'll keep my people safe, than I'm more than ready!"

"Heh. And that goes double for me!" Koga confirmed. As Ayame glanced over at him, the alpha wolf bent down and added, "Just...do me a favor and...be careful out there, okay?"

"I'm not sure how careful I'll be able to be," Kagome ruefully admitted. "But I'll do my best."

"In a situation like this, my girl, that's about all any of us can do," Robai muttered. Something that none of them could disagree with.

As soon as breakfast was done, the group was forced to split up, something that InuYasha chafed at. It wasn't that he was unfamiliar with being separated from the others; in fact, there had been several occasions when they had to separate, such as the time when Kirara had been poisoned by Naraku's miasma, and he and Kagome had gone to find Jinenji, a half-demon who grew miraculous herbs that eventually cured the two-tail. He had provided protection for his friends while they had been forced to escape situations too dangerous for them.

But this was a vastly different situation. Today, it was his human friends that would fighting for their lives, as well as the fate of the entire wolf-demon tribe. And while InuYasha was far from fond of Koga and his constant come-ons to Kagome, he certainly couldn't fault his concern for his tribe. And despite the fact that the wolf-demons backing Toma had to be the dumbest pack of mongrels the world had ever seen, he would rather have them under the command of Koga then being lead around by a moron with delusions of godhood. But even so, none of this changed the fact that he would be on the sidelines, unable to do anything to help his friends except cheer them on.

Well, that's not the only thing I'll be doing, InuYasha reminded him, thinking of the plan they had formulated. But at the same time, his role in this scheme was a minor one, and would only come into play if everything else worked the way it was supposed to. And at least I'm not the only one stuck on the sidelines...

"So how much further, Koga?" Shippo asked plaintively, the little fox-demon glancing this way and that at the wolf-demons that were meandering about. All of them looking for a good spot from which to watch the tournament.

"We're almost there, kid," Koga replied, sounding as displeased about being benched as InuYasha was. "I just hope we don't catch anything from hanging around that rabid menace..." It required more effort than InuYasha was comfortable with to refrain from laughing at this. The last thing he wanted was for Koga to think that he thought he was funny, let alone had even the slightest amount of respect for the scrawny wolf. He didn't have to struggle for very long, however, because it was then Koga grumbled, "And speaking of which..."

"Why, hello there, Koga! How good of you to join us!" came a malevolent chuckle that InuYasha instantly recognized, as well as a stench he knew to be fouler than that of a the typical wolf-demon. "Ugh! And I see you brought that little mutt of yours!"

Bristling at this, at yet another reminder of the contempt he received because of his mixed heritage, InuYasha took in the scene before him as they emerged from the caves and onto a ledge just above the cleft where the tournament would so be taking place. A heap of straw had been laid out for them to rest on. Yorozuko was resting near the edge, with Ayame at his side, running her hand through his fur. Toma was lounging a short distance away, accompanied by the same two females they had seen before. "Peace, Toma," Yorozuko spoke up, his voice heavy with age and wisdom alike. "InuYasha and Shippo are our guests here. They have a right to be here for their friends."

"And all the while they're filling these mountains with their stench!" Toma sneered, his elbow girls echoing his jibe with a laugh.

"Nothing around here could possibly smell worse than you!" Koga snarled before glancing over at InuYasha. "Not even him..."

Deciding that now was not the time to tell Koga what he thought about his sense of smell, InuYasha instead focused on the main problem of the day. "Hmph! Have if your way, then!" Toma sneered, gesturing for them to seat themselves. "If he wants to watch your defeat and humiliation, then who am I to complain?"

"Heh! Defeat, Toma?!" Koga sneered as they sat down, fixing a killing glare on the malevolent wolf. "I'd suggest you save your gloating for later! Assuming you actually manage to win this thing!"

"Ha! My pets are the most powerful beasts we could find, while yours are sheep, waiting to be ripped to pieces!" Toma cruelly chortled. "I've already won, Koga! And you and that filthy half-breed freak are the only ones too stupid to realize it!" With that, the malicious wolf gestured out at the crows of wolf-demons gathered at the rim of the cleft. "Look! Look at them! They know who has the power here! They know who their true leader is!"

To InuYasha's immense disgust, it seemed that Toma was correct about him being the favorite in this competition. Save for the few that were their immediate allies, every wolf-demon that had turned for the tournament was crying out in anticipation of what was to come. Their voices overlapping, becoming virtually unintelligible, but he could still hear them well enough to know that they were weren't rooting for his friends. Not that that's any real surprise. To them, humans ain't nothing but a quick meal, InuYasha knew, recalling his own history with most full demons. But then he smiled, knowing that this would make it all the more enjoyable when Toma's plans blew up in his face. Just be sure you do this right, Shippo...

Glancing over at the tiny figure, video camera still in hand, InuYasha then looked at Toma. Unsurprisingly, the arrogant bastard wasn't concerned about his unwanted company. Instead, he was sniffing the air victoriously. “Ah, there’s nothing sweeter than the scent of fresh human blood in the morning!” he chuckled, glancing over the scrawny wolf he sought to dethrone. “Don’t you miss that sensation, Koga? Don’t you miss the days before you became a human’s pet?”

“You’re too wild to be leader of the tribe, Toma. You’re too out of control,” Koga sneered in response. “You haven’t learned that there’s more than one kind of strength, something that my friends will show you today.”

“Just you watch, you rabid wolf! I don’t care how nasty your little pets are, they’re all gonna die today!!” InuYasha seconded. "So when's this thing gonna get started, anyway?!"

"It begins when I say it begins, InuYasha," Yorozuko told him, the aged wolf rising up and making his way up to the edge. Drawing in a deep breath, he then called out, "Here me, my fellow wolf-demons!" Despite himself, InuYasha was surprised by the force with which the old chief spoke. He didn't howl, he didn't shout or scream. And yet he managed to speak with such force that he could almost feel the words branding themselves into his brain. A quick glance at the others showed that they were similarly affected, including Toma and his elbow girls. And all around the cleft, the many wolf-demons gradually fell silent. All of them awaiting the words that needed to be spoke.

"We as a people are faced by difficult times, and even more difficult decisions. And we are here because we must act quickly, in order to insure our survival," Yorozuko continued, sweeping the crowds with his gaze. "Now, we have been presented with two possible paths by those who would claim leadership of our people. One of them has embraced the path of power, no matter the cost." Pausing at this, the old wolf glanced back at Toma, a poisonous look in his eyes. "And the other has suggested another path, a path that goes against our instincts, but also holds great promise." There was a brief round of booing at this, one that did not go unnoticed by the chief or anyone else. "But only we can only choose one path, and if we choose incorrectly, then it will certainly mean our doom. And so we have come here, where the challengers have marshaled their forces. Here, we will witness the power they have gathered together, and learn beyond a shadow of a doubt whose might is greater. And whose path...is the right one." This time, Yorozuko's words were followed by howls of excitement, the kind of excitement that came about when wild animals were lost in the thrill of the hunt. "Before we begin, however, there are three rules that both sides must abide by. The first is that, if Toma's beasts are victorious in any one of their matches, then Koga will be lose by default."

This particular rule was met with a raucous wave of triumphant howling, one that left Koga growling even deeper in his throat. Man, scrawny wolf. They're giving you this kind of crap, and you're still trying to help these bastards, InuYasha thought sourly. I don't if that makes you a hero or an even bigger idiot than I ever thought...

Trying to stuff these thoughts out of his mind before they actually made him feel sorry for Koga, InuYasha instead focused on Yorozuko's next words. "The next rule is that, if either candidate or their allies interfere with any match, then they will lose by default. And the final rule is that, when the tournament is over and the winner is declared, the loser and all his followers will hereby be banished from these mountains, never to return."

Hmph. Finally, a rule I agree with! InuYasha grumbled inwardly, glancing over at the grinning bastard and his girls. Though I'd rather just blast him with a Wind Scar and be done with him!

"Now, let the first round of the tournament...begin!" Yorozuko called out, setting off an even greater round of applause and howling.

All InuYasha could feel at this point was his insides tying themselves in knots. This was it. There was no longer any chance of turning back from this. No way of getting his friends away from the madness. All he could do now was watch and wait as one of them was ushered through the one of the small doors leading into the cleft proper, and hope like crazy that he or she would be successful. Because no matter the amount of faith he had in his friends, no amount of hoping took away from the fact that, at that moment, he was completely powerless.

"So...who's up first?" Koga wondered idly, leaning forward to get a better look.

"I dunno!" Shippo admitted, trying to get a better look. "I can't really see the door from here!" Not saying anything himself, InuYasha shifted his position, trying to get a better look without being obvious about it. An effort that was blown straight to hell when he saw a figure make her way out into the cleft. And though it was difficult to make out any details from a distance, he could all too easily see the girl's

raven-black hair as it danced to the wind.

“Kagome?!!” both InuYasha and Koga bellowed simultaneously. They might have done more, but Kagome looked up at them, smiling as she waved her reassurances.

"Ah, at long last! My rise to greatness begins...and ends!" Toma grinned, sitting up and looking down at the many small enclosures, as well as the beasts held within. “Now, which of my little pets should have the right to make this kill?” he mused, looking from one to another before finally snapping his fingers, a sadistic grin upon his face. “Ah, of course! The first one I ever captured! This beast took down five of my men before we succeeded in subduing it, but it was well worth it!!” Chuckling cruelly, he paused to look at InuYasha and the others, a look that made even the half-demon want to take a bath. "Take a good, long look at that girl, fools! Because it'll be your last chance to see her...in one piece!"

With that, Toma gestured towards a particular cave, one which in which InuYasha could see two wolf-demons at the ready. And more importantly, he could see several lines of black substance disappearing into the cave's interior. At his signal, Toma's servants nodded, and a moment later, one of the black trails caught fire. With shocking speed, the flame travelled up the line towards one of the enclosing gates, where the black line split and ran towards the mounts. As soon as the fire reached the mounts, they exploded into flames, melting away in seconds, allowing the gate to fall forward with a crash.

"Yes! Come forth, my precious pet!" Toma grinned as the beast emerged from the darkness. Before long, a mammoth bear-demon stomped forth, causing the ground to quake beneath its feet. The beast towered over Kagome, its claws like swords, its teeth stained with blood. "Go! Slaughter that little wench!!”

Though it was more the fact that an apparent prey was placed before it than Toma’s order that got the monster bear going, the result was the same as charged forward, roaring in rage and hunger. The earth trembled beneath its feet, something that InuYasha knew would send most humans fleeing for their lives. But he also knew that Kagome wasn't most humans.

Freezing for a mere moment as she took in the rampaging beast approaching her, Kagome then raised her bow, nocking an arrow to it. The arrow lighting up with her spiritual power, she then loosed it at the bear with accuracy that was an easy match for Kikyo's own. The arrow struck home on the bear's head, and exploded into a display of brilliant light. “What?!?!” Toma yelped as the bear's head exploded into a geyser of blood and gore before it's body fell down in a dead heap, its blood spilling out across the ground. "But - how -?!"

Chuckling triumphantly even as the wolf-demon audience howled in surprise and outrage at this upset, Koga sat up and grinned, "Heh heh, that’s my girl!!”

"Watch it, scrawny wolf...!" InuYasha muttered even as Ayame lowered her head.

"The first round goes to Koga and his allies!" Yorozuko announced even as the bear's body started steaming, it's flesh dissolving away until nothing was left but bone. Then the aged wolf looked down at Kagome and declared, "Now, young lady, if you will clear the field, we will commence with the next round."

Despite the fact that he couldn't hear Kagome's response, InuYasha could still see her waving in a girlish fashion before turning about and departing. Leaving the half-demon to sit back and issue a sigh of relief that one hurdle had been overcome. "Heh! What do you think of that, rabid wolf?!" he grinned, turning towards the object of his scorn. "If that's the best you've got, you might as well call it quits right now!"

Noises of consummate frustration accompanied the bulging of several veins from Toma's forehead, increasing InuYasha's mirth. After several seconds had passed, however, the malicious wolf-demon slowly reined in his anger, and began smiling even more hatefully then before. "Heh...I don't think so," he muttered heavily, his eyes lighting up with a feverish evil. "So you managed to find a priestess to fight on your behalf! So what if I lose some of my pets?! This changes nothing, Koga! I don’t care whatever little tricks your humans have! The rest of them will be meat!”

"Wow! That was sure great, sis!" Hakkaku grinned as he escorted Kagome past the gate.

"I'll say!" Ginta chimed in. "That stupid bear didn't even have a chance!"

"Thanks, you two!" Kagome smiled happily as she returned to the others, wiping her brow. "Whew...I have to admit, that thing sure looked mean!"

"True, but that doesn't mean it's powerful," Sango commented as she glanced at the steaming remains of the bear. "I've fought things like that more times than I can remember. Very strong physically, but in terms of intelligence or demonic power..."

"They are little more than mindless animals. And easily dealt with," Miroku agreed with a ready smile. "And if that bear was any indication of the kind of demons that Toma has gathered, this might not be nearly as dangerous as we were led to believe." Even as he said this, however, the monk directed a look at the Kururugi twins. "Still, it would be best to remain cautious."

Nodding to this, Michiru then glanced at their wolf-demon friends. "I guess I should go next. I still need to see if this new attack will work the way I want it to," he decided, sounding less than happy with the idea. "Besides, Toma probably isn't very happy about what happened to his last pet. The next demon probably won't be as easy as this last one was."

"Yeah, that's for sure!" Ginta commented as Hakkaku nodded his agreement. "I could hear him bellowing all the way from here."

Not sure if their wolf-demon friends meant that literally or figuratively, Kagome frowned and considered Michiru's words, and found that they made sense. If for some reason Toma had decided to start out with a weaker demon, whether because he was underestimating them or was hoping to lure them into a sense of false security, then they would have to be careful. "Okay. Michiru, have you got everything you need ready for this new spell of yours?"

"All set, Kagome. I'm as ready as I'll ever be," Michiru confirmed, holding up his sword and several of his cards. Then he shot Kaname a knowing wink. "And even if doesn't work...we've got a few other tricks we've been working ready...just in case."

"That's right," Kaname confirmed.

"Okay. I just hope you don't have to use them," Kagome murmured worriedly.

Nodding solemnly, Michiru started turning to leave when Miroku cleared his throat. "Before you go, Michiru, there's something I'd like to talk to you about."

"Now?!" Michiru exclaimed, his eyes going wide with shock. "Miroku, are you serious?!"

"It's important, Michiru. Watching Kagome's match made me realize something, something I should have thought of before," Miroku explained, tightening his grip on his staff. "That this tournament is about more than helping Koga become the new leader. It's also about demonstrating the potential strength of humans. In specific, Koga's Demon Slayer friends." Glancing over at Sango, the monk asked, "Now, you said that Daisuke had gathered quite a few humans with special abilities."

"That's right. Spiritualists, priests and priestesses, itakos...that sort of thing," Sango confirmed, frowning perplexedly. "Why do you ask?"

"Because a couple of things just occurred to me," Miroku intoned, studying the crowds of wolf-demons above. "The first is something that Toma said when we got here last night. That it wouldn't be fair to mislead the wolf-demons about the potential of this alliance."

"What?!" Hakkaku cried out in dismay. "You mean you're actually paying attention to anything that psycho says?!"

"Toma may indeed be power mad, but he does have a valid point. As Koga's representatives in this tournament, we are, in essence, an example of the potential power of his Demon Slayer friends. And that means we should try to use abilities that they would be able to use themselves," Miroku explained. "Now, given what you've told us, Sango, Daisuke has people under his command with abilities similar to Kagome and myself. But tell me, does he have any Shikigami Users? Or least some other form of magic users?"

"I think so," Sango replied with a quick nod. "It's been a while since I saw him, but Daisuke was always very serious about recruiting people with strong skills or abilities."

"In which case, there's a chance that they would have abilities comparable to Michiru and Kaname." As Sango nodded to this, Miroku nodded thoughtfully. "Good. Then our matches should give at least a fairly accurate representation of the Slayers capabilities. At least enough to satisfy the wolf-demons." Then Miroku narrowed his eyes and went on. "There's one other thing, however. I noticed that the wolf-demons out there weren't pleased when Kagome won her match."

"Huh?" Kaname squeaked as the rest of them looked at the monk. "Well...yeah..."

"That's not exactly surprising, Miroku," Kagome grumbled, folding her arms across her chest. "When Koga first brought me back to his people, all they wanted to do was eat me!"

"Yeah, and I don't think they're too thrilled about a human beating a monster that's already killed a several wolf-demons," Michiru chimed in unhappily.

"But that's my point, everyone," Miroku went on, increasing their perplexity. "Right now, those wolf-demons see us as prey at best, and as long as they do so, they'll resent our abilities, as well as those of the Demon Slayers. Even if Koga becomes the leader of the wolf-demons, he can't simply order them to think otherwise."

"Well..." Michiru frowned hesitantly. "Then...what do we do?"

"We have to do more than defeat Toma's creatures. We have to do so in a way that will make the wolf-demons wantto embrace this alliance," Miroku explained, his smile broadening as he went on. "We have to do more than fight these creatures. We have to make an exhibition out of this competition."

"An exhibition?!" Sango repeated incredulously. "You make it sound like this was a game or a play!"

"That's not my intention, Sango. But we have to face facts. Unless the wolf-demons are willing to accept Koga's lead, as well as this alliance, then even our winning this tournament might not be enough to insure that he is able to take command. Therefore, we have to get the wolf-demons excited about the possibilities of an alliance with the Demon Slayers," Miroku explained, looking as if he was planning on performing one of his fake exorcisms of a rich estate. "We have to give them a show."

Several seconds passed as they considered this, time in which Kagome found that Miroku's words made more and more sense. They were, in essence, trying to sell an entire people on Koga's vision of the future. Even if Toma was discredited and his monsters destroyed, that by itself wouldn't necessarily change the wolf-demons' minds about allying themselves with humans. They had to, in essence, advertise Koga's alliance, show them the possible benefits. "Maybe," she finally conceded. "But how do we do that?! It's not like Toma's demons are going to make it easy for us to put on a show!"

"I realize that, Kagome," Miroku explained. "I just wanted Michiru - and all of us - to take this into account during our matches. That we have to try and impress the wolf-demons."

Smiling in a self-depreciating way, Michiru declared, "Well, we've got a few other spells we've been wanting to try that'll probably be pretty impressive, Miroku. But...well...if I run into trouble out there..."

"Then don't try anything fancy. Just do whatever you have to do to win," Miroku replied, nodding in thoughtful manner. "I just thought that I should mention my concerns."

"Well, if you're done mentioning your concerns, the crowd's getting pretty impatient!" Hakkaku commented in a wry manner.

"You better get out there, and fast!" Ginta chimed in, coming up to Michiru's side. "I don't want Toma deciding that you forfeited the match!"

Wincing at that image, one that seemed far from impossible after everything that had happened, Kagome grimaced and said, "Right. Just be careful out there, okay?"

"Yeah. You take care of yourself, bro," Kaname agreed with a worried smile.

"Okay," Michiru nodded, smiling tenderly as he glanced about at them. Pausing to look the longest at Sango, a gaze the Demon Slayer met and returned a gentle affection. "I'll be back shortly."

"I know," Sango softly responded. The two of them stood there, gazing at each other for a short while longer, before Ginta and Hakkaku's sounds of impatience prompted the Kururugi boy to turn and make his way through the gate.

A bit concerned by Michiru's growing infatuation with Sango, Kagome made a mental note to try and arrange for some alone time between the Demon Slayer and Miroku at the next opportunity. For the moment, she and the others went up to the gate, and watched intently as Michiru stood with his sword at the ready. "The second round of the tournament...begins!" came Yorozuko's voice. A few moments later, one of the gates restraining Toma's monsters fell to the ground, allowing yet another monstrosity to come forth.

As Kagome and the others looked on, the air was a split by a horrendous, shill roar, one that had them grimacing in pain. "Ugh! What the -?!" Kaname cried out, recoiling from the hideous noise. Only for her mouth to pop open in surprise when she saw the source of the roar; a monstrous, dragon-like lizard that was even now looking at Michiru like he was the blue plate special.

Again, the monstrous reptilian roared, and began scrabbling towards Michiru. It's gait was wild and out of control, almost comical in appearance. But there was nothing funny about how quickly it was moving. Oh, no! Kagome blanched, fearful that they had sorely underestimated the opposition. Michiru better do something fast, or that thing will have him for a snack!

As if in response to her thoughts, Michiru took a battle-ready stance, holding up both his sword and his cards, both of which were glowing with magical might. "Alright, then...you want something to eat? Then let's see how you eat this!" He then tossed the cards into the air, but to Kagome's surprise, instead of tumbling about, the cards flew in an orderly fashion, one after another as they flew about to the tip of the Kururugi boy's sword, beams of light interconnecting them, forming a pentagram. "Forces of nature, heed my call!" Michiru called out, magical and natural energies swirling about within the pentagram like a vortex. "Unite your powers unto one, Shikigami! Hyper-Star Blaster!”

At this point, the lizard-demon became aware of the building intensity of Michiru's spell, and realized that it meant bad things for it. Digging it's claws into the ground, it cried out in dismay as it tried to halt its progress, but it was already too late. With a brilliant flash of light, a mammoth river of destructive power erupted from the pentagram, the recoil of the blast very nearly sending the Kururugi boy tumbling to the ground. Her face falling with astonishment, Kagome could only stand there and watch as the blast leapt forward, taking on the form of a dragon. With a roar that stilled every wolf-demon's voice, the mystical dragon slammed into the lizard's open mouth, blasting it apart from the inside-out before exiting the demon's tail. Not diminished in the slightest, the blast then proceeded to slam into the wall, sending the remaining creatures scrambling about their caves in shock and confusion as the very mountain trembled from the forces of nature unleashed.

As rocks tumbled and the demonic beasts that remained in their cages screeched in confusion, Kagome found herself glancing at Miroku. "So...when you said that we should put on a show...was this what you had in mind?"

"Well..." Miroku hesitated, pausing to swallow. Watching as scraps of the lizard's skin fell to the ground, all the remained of the monster. "It'll do."

"Grreeeeerrggghhhh!!!!" Toma growled, fists clenched and eyes bulging and bloodshot as he took in the decimated remains of the lizard-demon.

As Koga looked down at the battlefield, he found himself beset two separate, equal and opposite emotions. On the one hand, he was glad to see that one of his human friends had succeeded in defeating another of Toma's creatures. He was one step closer to becoming the undisputed leader of the wolf-demon tribe, of setting his plans for their future in motion. And yet, after an eternity gazing at the shredded demon, Koga could only turn, give his rival a hateful glare, and ask him, “And just how many of our people did you waste on that brainless beast, Toma?”

As steam exploded from Toma's ears, the rabid wolf inarticulate with rage, another voice broke through his grunts and growls. “Hey, excuse me?” Surprised, Koga and the others turned about to see Michiru waving and smiling at them. "That was pretty boring!" he commented, indicating the defeated demon’s remains. “You got anything stronger than that one?”

If Koga had thought that Toma was as furious was possible, he would have been proven wrong that very instant. "Yoooouu...!" the rabid wolf growled, his elbow girls distancing themselves from him, lest they draw his wrath. "You...miserable...little...!"

"Aw, what's the matter, rabid wolf?" InuYasha grinned, not bothering to disguise just how much he was enjoying Toma's misery. "Don't tell me you're letting a few humans get under your skin, are you?"

The way Toma began swelling up, Koga was certain that he was but a few seconds away from exploding and being reduced to a similar state as his lizard. Which he would not have complained about in the slightest.

"Way to go, bro!" Kaname cried out in delight as Michiru rejoined them.

"Oof!" Michiru grunted as Kaname ran into him full force and wrapped him up in the biggest bear hug she was capable of. "H-hey! I'm glad to see you, too, Kaname! But that doesn't mean you have to crack my ribs!"

Chuckling at this display, Sango approached the twins and told them, "Still, that was veryimpressive, Michiru. I know you told us that that spell was powerful, but I certainly wasn't expecting that!"

"Yeah, well, I wouldn't expect to see it very often," Michiru admitted. "Without the cards to form a pentagram, it's almost impossible to control and regulate the flow of magic. And with as much time as it takes to set up the cards..."

Knowing full well what Michiru was talking about, how fast a person had to react in order to fight demons and be ready for danger that could come from every angle, Kagome nodded and told him, "Maybe, but it sure helped save the day this time around." Then she frowned and added, "Still, I don't think razzing Toma like that was such a good idea."

Shrugging helplessly, Michiru answered, "Maybe, but after all the grief that creep's caused, destroying all those villages and everything...I just couldn't help rub it in a little."

As Kagome rolled her eyes, thinking that InuYasha had rubbed off on Michiru just a bit too much, Miroku put her thoughts into words by saying, "Perhaps, but I would not recommend taunting someone proven to be both a murderer and in an untenable. The more rounds we win, the more likely he is to do something drastic."

"Right, right. Good point," Michiru nodded, any triumph he might have felt evaporating. "So...who's up next? Miroku? Sango?"

"Uh, actually, I think I should go next, bro," Kaname told him, smiling in a sheepish fashion. "I mean...maybe it seems stupid, but...the longer I stand here waiting, the more butterflies I get in my stomach!"

Gently smiling, Miroku nodded and told her, "That's quite understandable. And seeing as we will all have to fight eventually..."

The monk glanced about the others, to which Sango replied, "I don't have a problem with that."

"Me, neither," Kagome decided, knowing full well where Kaname was coming from. It was one thing to be brave in battle. It was quite another to remain brave waiting for battle, while your imagination was constantly conjuring up every horror and nightmare that the human mind could envision. "What about you, Michiru?"

A low, uncertain sigh issuing from his mouth, Michiru paused to study his sibling for a time. "Well..." he began, looking about at the others, as if searching for an excuse to keep his sister from going into battle. Eventually, he lowered his head in defeat, and smiled wearily. "Okay, Kaname. Just do me a favor and try and take...whatever monster Toma sends out down as quickly as you can."

"You don't have to tell me twice, bro," Kaname replied with a weak grin. "At least we know the Hyper-Star works. And I have a few other spells to fall back on...just in case."

"Okay, sounds good," Kagome decided, hoping the 'just in case' didn't happen, while suspecting that it would. "So...whenever you're ready."

"Okay," Kaname nodded shakily before making her way through the gate.

Oh, I'm so nervous! Kaname thought as she made her way out onto the tournament grounds. Wincing at the stench of the demons Kagome and Michiru had fallen, she held up five cards and her sword, preparing herself for action. Already hoping that lightning would strike twice in her favor, and that she would be able to end this match with a single blast. I...I feel like my heart is going to pop right out of my chest!

Gulping loudly, Kaname began scanning the huge, heavy gates that kept Toma's beasts contained, wondering which of the shadowy figures would be released to destroy her. As she did, she was having seconds thoughts about her volunteering to battle. Rationally speaking, she knew that there would be no point in delaying her fight. That by the very nature of the tournament, she would have to fight, sooner or later. And that she might as well fight now, rather than her nerves fray that much more before going last.

And yet, as the cleft was filled with the crashing of another metal gate falling to the ground, Kaname couldn't help but wonder if all she had accomplished was to hasten her demise. A concern that grew more pronounced when she saw the monstrosity that she was supposed to fight.

"Ugh...a spider?!" Kaname cried out in dismay as the biggest, hairiest, most horrific creepy-crawly the world had ever seen ambled out into the open. It was built along the lines of a tarantula, only it was the size of a department store, with huge, thick, hairy legs that caused a minor earthquake with every step it took. The head was like that of an oni, but it had at least a dozen eyes scattered almost haphazardly on its face, and it had huge fangs curling out of its mouth.

When Michiru had told her about his adventures in the Feudal Era, he had told Kaname about their encounter with the giant spider in Akebi Village's old temple. He had gone into considerable detail about how horrendous the creature had been, something that had had Kaname shuddering in revulsion. Like her brother, the Kururugi girl simply couldn't abide even normal spiders; the towering abomination was currently eyeing her like she was a light snack was at least a thousand times worse.

Gulping loudly as she surveyed her enemy, Kaname belatedly took a battle-ready stance, trying to shove her fears to the side as the monster started towards her. C'mon, you can handle this! Just do what your bro did! she told herself, looking down at the sword and cards in her hands. One shot! All you need is one shot, and that thing is bug juice! Forcing herself to remember, to see that moment when her brother had triumphed once again, she then pictured the spider before being destroyed in a similar manner. Yeah...that's it! Now go ahead and show this thing who's boss!

Heaving a deep, clearing breath, Kaname empowered both her sword and cards. As she did so, she kept a close eye on the spider. To her considerable relief, it wasn't moving nearly as fast as the lizard Michiru had defeated, affording her precious time to align the cards around the tip of her sword. Once they had formed into a pentagram, she aimed it at the spider, and invoked the full power of all her Shikigami, using her Light Shikigami to channel them into the pentagram. "Reveal your hidden forces, Shikigami!" she invoked, the power building up to greater levels of intensity. "Unleash your powers as one! Hyper-Star Blaster!"

The next few seconds slowed down to a crawl, allowing Kaname to take in everything that happened. She watched as the Hyper-Star built itself up to even greater levels of intensity, the wolf-demons growing hushed, anticipating a rout like the one just prior. And more importantly, she saw the spider-demon pause in its progress, it's eyes focusing and reflecting on the gleaming power she was channeling. Guess it must've been watching my bro's match, she frowned as it's body tensed up. But there's no way it'll be fast enough to dodge this! This was all she had time to think as her spell reached it's critical levels, and with a mammoth flash and a savage roar of fury, the full force of her Shikigami erupted from her weapon and streaked towards the spider.

Struggling to remain on her feet, Kaname gritted her teeth and watched as the dragonhead of her blast flew swift and sure at the spider. The massive beast was scuttling about, probably too scared too move. It was too late to dodge, too late to do anything.

Then the spider roared...and leapt into the air.

"Huh?!" Kaname squawked, her jaw plummeting and eyes bulging as the tremendous spider flew into the air with all the ease of a bird, leaving her attack to fly harmlessly underneath, expending itself uselessly against the crags of the mountain.

While she was wondering how on earth something so huge could manage to lift itself off the ground, Kaname was brought back to the moment when she heard Michiru cry, "Kaname! Look out!"

Brought back to the present by her brother's voice, Kaname looked up sharply, and very nearly died of sheer terror when she saw the hideous beast coming down from its leap, it's trajectory sending it right at her. "Aaahhh!! Protective Light!!" Almost falling over as she summoned her Light Shikigami's power, the Kururugi girl erected her protective barrier just before the spider landed, sending her crashing down on her butt.

"SSss-rraarrrgggh!!!!" the spider roared, it's horrific cry sending Kaname tumbling backwards as it opened its hideous maw. While her nose was being stifled by the demon's rank breath, it thrust it's head forward and attempted to wrap it's jaws around her. However, instead of tender flesh, it's cruel fangs bit down upon magical light.

"Kaname, get up! You have to get moving!" Kagome cried out as the spider continued to grind it's teeth down upon her Protective Light. "Get away from that thing!"

"Hurry, Kaname!" Michiru seconded. "Your Protective Light won't hold out forever!"

Kaname knew this. As strong as her barrier was, there was no way she could sustain it forever against the spider's constant attempts to bite its way through it. But she was having great difficulty thinking through the fog of fear that had wrapped around her mind. The only thing she could think about was getting away from that open mouth. But she could barely even move, let alone run. All she could really do was stare into the spider's gaping maw and...

Wait! That's it! Kaname realized, her body acting on her sudden inspiration. "Take this, ugly!" she cried out as she raised her sword again. "Prominence of Flame!" Flooding with the power of her Fire Shikigami, her sword begat a stream of white-hot flame that poured through the pale bubble around her, and ran down the spider's throat.

"Skkreeeeeee!!!!" the spider howled as it retreated. Smoke rising up from its mouth, it shook it's head wildly, trying to recover from the excessively spicy meal it had just endured.

Watching from within her Protective Light, Kaname was sorely tempted to laugh or sigh in relief. But at the same time, she knew she had only won herself a brief reprieve. The spider was hurt, but far from defeated, and now it was wounded, and would be that much more determined to kill her. I can't give it the chance. I don't know how much longer my Protective Light will hold out, and I might not get the chance to cast another one! Thinking furiously, Kaname considered her options. The only attack spell she had that would be guaranteed to bring this behemoth down in a single blow was her Hyper-Star Blaster, but it would take too long for her to prepare it, and there was a risk that the spider would simply leap over it again. Which means that I need to buy some time. Distract this thing somehow so I can make my move!

With this in mind, Kaname rapidly considered the spells in repertoire. Blue Sky Confusion could confuse the spider, make it impossible for it to tell her from its allies...if it had any. Great River Attrition would certainly drain some of its strength, but she had no way of knowing if she could weaken it enough. Both Binding Blue Sky and Green Wood Snare were possibilities, but she wasn't sure how effective they would be against something of this size. Which took care of the tried-and-true spells that she had.

However, it didn't eliminate all of the spells that she wasn't so familiar with. The ones from her father's book of spells that had so far gone untried, as well as the ones she and Michiru had experimented with. Spells that had yet to be tested in battle.

That is, until now! Kaname groaned as she gathered herself up, invoking the power of her Wood Shikigami. "Oh, towering green wood, release the blossoms of chaos! Green Wood Madness!"

"Grr...so close!" Toma grated, his fists clenched as he oversaw the madness below.

Yeah, I know! InuYasha thought, trembling with the effort of restraining himself. When he had seen the spider-demon leap towards Kaname, it had taken every ounce of self-control he possessed to remain where he was, to not leap out into the cleft to defend her. He had sat there, watching the spider try to chew its way through her Protective Light, reminding himself over and over that to interfere would be to ruin everything his friends had fought for. If she hadn't managed to get that damned bug off of her...I'd have been down there, anyway...

Clenching his fists and wishing for something to vent his pent up worry and fear on, InuYasha watched as the spider visibly recovered from the flames it had been subjected to. Come on, Kaname! You gotta do something before that damned thing comes after you again!

Fortunately enough, Kaname seemed to realize that time was her enemy as well. Even at a distance, InuYasha could see a pentagram spinning into existence, releasing one of her Shikigami. He couldn't tell precisely which one it was, though he could see it when it released...

"What the -?!" Koga gaped, his eyes going wide at the effects of Kaname's spell. "Are those...cherry blossoms?!"

"They sure smell like them!" Ayame confirmed, sniffing the air as the fragile petals filled the air, circling about the mammoth spider. "But...what could she possibly be trying to do?!" InuYasha was wondering the same thing. Why on earth would Kaname waste a possible opening conjuring up cherry blossoms? It made no sense.

And yet...as the cherry blossoms swirled and blew about the spider, InuYasha couldn't help but think there was something very familiar about it.

While InuYasha struggled to remember where he had seen this before, he was suddenly given a sharp reminder when he heard the wolf-demons gasping in surprise. Snapping back to the present, he was about to ask what was happening when his mouth fell open with surprise. The cherry blossoms were still swirling about the spider, but now he could see something else amongst the petals. Before his very eyes, human figures were materializing, one after another, all of them laughing and floating in mid-air.

"Come and get me, you big ugly monster!" the many figures called out in Kaname's voice, echoing and reverberating over and over again.

"Dammit, of course!" InuYasha grinned, finally realizing where he had seen this before. The spell Kaname was using was very similar to the magic of Shunran of the panther-demon tribe, who made extensive use of cherry blossoms in her magic. "It's an illusion spell! It's all a distraction!"

"I see! Now that dumb spider can't find her!" Koga grinned, clenching his fist as the spider looked this way and that, eyeing the many Kanames that now surrounded it. Then he glanced over at Toma and added, "Looks like all brawn and no brains is about to lose out again!"

As Toma again growled his frustration, the giant spider echoed it with a roar of pure hatred. Acting on sheer animal instinct, it leapt at the cloud of Kaname's with its mouth wide open. The simple illusions and cherry blossoms gave way to the very real demon, who flew out towards the walls of the cleft. Instinctually bracing himself, InuYasha watched helplessly as the tremendous spider crashed headfirst into solid rock. Screeching in pain, the spider tumbled to the ground, the mountain shaking from the impact.

"Dammit!" InuYasha snarled as he clung to the ground, watching as the others there braced themselves against the shockwaves to the best of their ability. Watching as several wolf-demons, already positioned dangerously close to the edge, cried out in fear as they tumbled down into the arena...

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