Preparations for Peace
As Kagome dangled the compass by its string, she was aware of the wolf-demons who were working around her. Some of them muttering in disdain for the human priestess, others were looking on hopefully. And then there were those who simply standing there, waiting and watching curiously, wondering what she was about to do.
Despite the situation, Kagome couldn't help but be a bit embarrassed at being the center of so much attention. So she dealt with it in the only way she knew how. Pausing to smile pleasantly at her impromptu audience, she then focused her thoughts on the compass in her hands. Obediently as always, the magical artifact glowed with spiritual light, its pointer spinning about for a moment before sending out a beam of sacred light into the center of the lake before her. "Ah, there you are!" she grinned as she held up the object in her free hand. Channeling her spiritual energy into it, she told it, "Okay! Time to go to work!"
A moment later, the statuette she held, that of a serpentine dragon coiled about golden rod, lit up with spiritual might. The dragon's eyes flashed a deep crimson before it exploded into a pillar of golden light that flew up and away from Kagome to shoot over the lake. There it circled about wildly, until at last resolving into a majestic golden dragon.
To Kagome's satisfaction, the dragon was now the center of attention, rather than herself. "You know what to do!" she commanded as she held up the rod of the statuette, which linked her powers to the dragon. "Got get that rock!" Letting out a fierce roar, the dragon roared and shot down into the lake with a great splash. A moment or so passed as the wolf-demons looked one from the shore, murmuring lowly in wonderment.
The murmurs changed to shouts of astonishment as the dragon erupted from the lake, sending forth a huge spray that shown like a rainbow in the sun. Obedient as could be, it then wound its way over to Kagome, and lowered its head before her, depositing a craggy, aqua-blue rock the size of a beach ball on the ground. "Good work!" Kagome beamed, smiling appreciatively at the dragon before holding up the rod to it. "Now...return!" At her command, the dragon roared once more before glowing gold. In the span of a few seconds, it had shrunken back down to its original size and wrapped itself about the rod once more. Then the light faded, giving no indication as to the true nature of the statuette and its power.
Making a mental note to thank Wyvern for this useful gift, Kagome then looked up at the sound of approaching footsteps. "Way to go, sis!" Ginta grinned as he and Hakkaku approached. "Wow, you weren't kidding about that magic statue of yours!"
"Sure weren't!" Hakkaku agreed as Kagome carefully returned to her backpack. "Where the heck did you find something like that, anyway?!"
"Oh, it was just a gift," Kagome replied in a nervously casual manner. "I got it from a...a lord back from where I come."
"A lord? From your home?" Ginta wondered.
"Eh, yeah. I, uh...well, InuYasha and I were able to help him with something, and he...gave us a few things," Kagome answered in a more uncertain manner.
His excitement subsiding, Hakkaku frowned asked, "Uh, this lord of yours...he wouldn't be the same guy who gave you that awful drum of yours, would he?"
This simple question crushing her smile into nothingness, Kagome groaned hesitantly before responding, "Well...yeah. Of course, he's given me a lot of other stuff, like the dragon and everything, so..."
"Hey, don't worry! We're not mad at you or anything, sis!" Ginta assured her, holding up his hands as he spoke. "Isn't that right, Hakkaku?"
"Hmm? Oh, sure! Right! Of course!" Hakkaku replied, nodding rapidly as he did so. "I mean, I could never be mad at you, sis!"
"Of course not!" Ginta seconded with an easy smile. A smile that took on a more pained cast as he added, "Still, that's one item that I really wish he hadn't given you..."
"I know, and I really am sorry about that. Believe me, I won't be using it again anytime soon," Kagome assured them. At least, not if I can help it, she added inwardly. As the two wolf-demons smiled at this bit of reassurance, the modern priestess glanced down at the crystal she had retrieved. "So, how are the other teams doing? Have they gotten any more of these things?"
A beat passed as the duo processed the sudden shift in conversation, at which their expressions turned serious. "Oh, have they ever, sis!" Hakkaku confirmed as Ginta nodded. "Between you, your friends, and everybody else, we've already found..." The mohawked wolf-demon paused uncertainly at this, then held up his hands and started counting off of them. Muttering beneath his breath, he then blurted out, "They've found more than ten of these things so far! And that's all that we know about!"
"Right! They might have gotten even more that we don't know about yet!" Ginta seconded worriedly as he glanced down at the single stone Kagome had retrieved. "With all these things messing up the water, it's no wonder all the animals have been getting sick!"
"Tell me about it!" Hakkaku agreed. "How the heck did Toma manage to get them all in the water without any of us noticing it, anyway?!"
Just as Ginta was opening his mouth to speak, Kagome held out her hand and declared, "Look, right now, it doesn't matter how they got them in, or even who actually did it." The two wolf-demons gave her a look of surprise, but she held out her hand in negation. "All that matters is finding all these stupid rocks before they cause any more trouble!" Pausing just long enough to make sure that they got the point, she then sighed loudly before looking about. "And speaking of which, we better get moving. There are still three more ponds in the area, and I'm betting that there's a crystal stone in each of them."
"No way I'm taking that bet!" Hakkaka announced in a self-depreciating manner.
Folding his arms behind his head, Ginta seconded, "I don't think there's anybody around who'd be stupid enough to take a bet like that!" The two wolf-demons exchanged a chuckle at this before returning their attention to Kagome. "Anyway, we better get back to work! Koga wants these things brought back to the mountains so we can figure out to get rid of them!"
"Right, good idea," Kagome nodded thoughtfully. "As dangerous as these things might be, we can't risk destroying them just yet."
"Grr...I still don't understand why we can't just smash these stupid things and get it over with!" InuYasha grumbled sourly.
Sighing lowly at his friend's grumblings, Michiru brought his hand to his forehead before glancing over at him. InuYasha was standing a short distance away, the Tetsusaiga resting on his shoulder as he watched a group of wolf-demons retrieve one of the now-infamous crystal stones from the bottom of yet another pond. The two of them had just worked together to clear a path to the stone, with the half-demon blasting a path through it with the Wind Scar, which Michiru had followed up with by using his Ice Crystal to freeze the water in place afterwards. "Come on, InuYasha. You know we can't do that," the Kururugi boy reminded him as patiently as he could. Though he had to admit that after everything that had happened as of late, his patience was a bit more frayed than he would have liked. "I mean, we might not know how exactly these things work, but we do know that they've made the water poisonous! Who know what would happen if bits and pieces of them were sent flying all over the place!"
InuYasha's response to this was a large snort, something that didn't surprise Michiru. He had learned quite quickly that his half-demon friend had a deep dislike for wolf-demons in general, and Koga in particular. And while the Kururugi boy wasn't exactly surprised at InuYasha's annoyance over Koga's flirting with Kagome, this wasn't the time or place for such thoughts. Deciding that a change in subject might be in order, the Shikigami User went on to say, "At least we know that the water will be safe once all the stones are gone."
"Hmph. No big surprise there," InuYasha muttered unenthusiastically. "It's the aura of these stupid stones that was making the water go bad! Once that's gone, then it's just normal water again."
"Yeah, I know. But still, I'm glad we made sure," Michiru responded, recalling the moment of panic he and the others had suffered when they had realized they had all been drinking potentially toxic water. "And I bet Kagome will feel better knowing that as well." Giving another mild snort to this, InuYasha looked away in a manner that the Kururugi boy recognized as being a grudging acknowledgement of a valid point. Chuckling slightly at this, he cocked his head to the side before coming up alongside his friend. "Look, I know you want to get back to going after Naraku, but it's not just the wolf-demons who depend on the water here. And if we can do something to help..."
"Yeah, I know! Kagome already have me that speech, okay?!" InuYasha crossly grumbled as he turned to face his friend, his brows furrowed in annoyance. As the two of them stood there, looking at each other, the half-demon finally sighed and shook his head wearily. "Look...I know this important. I know that," he finally muttered in a low, less irritated voice. "But dammit all, you now we can't stay here!"
"I know, InuYasha," Michiru told him in a placating tone of voice.
Shaking his head with pent up frustration, InuYasha looked across the horizon. "Seriously, for all we know, Naraku's got some new scheme already in the works! We don't have time to spend hanging around with this pack of wolves!"
"Yeah," Michiru nodded, knowing painfully well that his friend had a valid point. He thought of all the people that had been hurt and killed because of Naraku, and not just the people he had directly assaulted and used to his own ends. There were also the loved ones his victims left behind. Loved ones that they had not been able to find, let alone soothe their grief, something that the Kururugi boy sometimes found gnawing at him. "And I know that we have to stop him, InuYasha. But...well, look on the bright side."
Turning back to his friend, InuYasha raised an eyebrow before saying, "There's a bright side to this?"
"Well, sure," Michiru responded easily. "Now that Koga's in charge of the wolf-demon tribe, he can have them be on the alert for Naraku or any of his schemes. So if he were to try something up here, they could let us know about it."
"Feh! You make it sound like those scrawny wolves could find their own tails!" InuYasha sneered with a derisive roll of his eyes. "They couldn't even find these damn rocks on their own! What makes you think they could find Naraku?!"
"Because Naraku's a lot less subtle than these stones," Michiru replied, tittering over the loud groan his friend issued in response. "Besides, didn't you tell me that nobody could ever miss Naraku's stench?"
Snorting loudly, InuYasha smiled and countered, "Well, maybe. But I wouldn't bet on this pack of scrawny wolves being useful! Not when they spent all that time sucking up to Toma!"
"Trust me, InuYasha, those days are over and done with," came an annoyed, female voice even as Michiru sensed a disturbance in the air behind him. Whipping about, he and InuYasha watched a small whirlwind laced with leaves appear, only to dissipate just as quickly, revealing Ayame. The redheaded she-wolf had her hands on her hip and a smug smile on her face. "And I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss our help in searching for Naraku if I were you."
Taken aback at his friend's caustic commentary having been witnessed, Michiru flushed with humiliation. As for InuYasha, the half-demon paused for a moment before cocking his head to the side. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. Just that Kagome told me before that you don't have a clue where Naraku is," Ayame commented in a snarky manner. As InuYasha was jolted by this statement, a vein bulging from his forehead, the redhead's smile faded. "And don't forget that we have plenty of reasons of our own to want Naraku dead."
Nodding to this, Michiru answered, "I know. Koga told us about what happened to his pack. I'm sorry about that."
"Thank you," Ayame replied before again focusing on InuYasha. "But don't think for a moment for a moment that we wouldn't help you in finding Naraku. Especially after everything you and your friends have done for us."
For a while, InuYasha just stood there, studying the she-wolf as if he were weighing the worth of her words. "Yeah, well...whatever," he finally grumbled before turning to his side. Then, looking at Ayame out of the corner of his eye, he asked, "So what are you doing here, anyway? Checking to see how many of these rocks we've found for you?"
Smiling at the half-demon's gruff exterior, which Michiru felt was a more like Koga's than InuYasha would ever admit, Ayame answered, "Not exactly. I just wanted to tell everybody the good news. Koga's heard back from Daisuke, and that he's agreed to meet with us to discuss the terms of the alliance!"
"Really? That's great!" Michiru enthused. "So when's the meeting?"
"Tomorrow. We're meeting at a field halfway between here and the Demon Slayer fort," Ayame gladly explained. "Koga's already making plans with Grandpa and Robai, trying to decide who to bring with us and everything. We can't afford to make any mistakes now, not when we're so close." As Michiru nodded his comprehension, the redhead smiled and added, "Anyway, why don't you two head back to the caves for now? I still have to find Miroku and tell him -"
"Miroku?" Michiru started, immediately surprised. "I thought he was looking after Sango."
"Heh! Knowing him, he probably got sent flying after grabbing her butt. Again," InuYasha smirked in a knowing fashion. Ignored the puzzled look this garnered from Ayame, the half-demon asked, "So what's he up to now?"
"I don't know. All I know is he took several wolf-demons with him to start looking for...something," Ayame admitted.
"Well, if any of those wolves were girls, then it won't be hard to find him. Just wait for something to go flying in the air, screaming all the way, and that'll be him," InuYasha snickered dangerously.
Chuckling at this image despite himself, Michiru then turned back towards the wolf-demons working nearby. They had just succeeded in retrieving the stone, and were now in the process of carrying it away. "Well...I guess I could use a break," he finally said as he looked back towards her. "So...okay. We'll had back for now. But if you need any more help..."
"I know. And thanks again," Ayame beamed before darting away.
As soon as the redhead was out of sight, InuYasha muttered, "So, the big meeting's tomorrow, huh?"
Nodding, Michiru made a sound of agreement in his throat before looking at his friend. "What's wrong? Don't think they can make it work?"
"Hmph. You really want to know?" InuYasha responded in a voice rife with cynicism. Cynicism that Michiu knew to be based upon what to be years of being chased and hated and mistreated by both humans and demons alike.
Deciding that he honestly didn't want InuYasha to give voice to his honest opinion, Michiru replied, "Well...at least they're trying. And...well, that has to count for something..."
A moment passed in silence, after which InuYasha muttered, "Well...maybe..." Snorting mildly, the half-demon added, "Anyway, let's get going. I just hope we have some noodles left. I'm starving!"
"I know. So am I," Michiru admitted with a weary shrug. "I'm still a little drained from that mess with the tournament."
"Heh. You and everybody else!" InuYasha replied with a laughing snort. "The next time we drop by Kaede's Village, we're packing up all the food we can get!"
"And making a quick stop at home," Michiru chimed in, pictures of home wafting through his mind. "You know, InuYasha, maybe you could drop by our place, next time we go there." The half-demon made a quizzical noise in his throat. "Mom has a great recipe for pork cutlets. I'm sure you'd like it."
InuYasha blinked a few times at this, before finally curling the corner of his lip. "Eh, sure. Why not?" he soon decided. "Besides, I wouldn't mind going a round with your old man. Show him what I think about what he did to me the last time I saw him." His own smile faltering at the image of his best friend fighting with his father, Michiru hesitated as the half-demon started forward. "Anyway, let's get going. And hope like hell that these scrawny wolves don't want any more favors outta us!"
Sighing at his friend's reiterated impatience, Michiru was quick to follow. "Well, I don't see why they would," he commented as he caught up. "Toma's gone, we've found the stones, the meeting's all set up. What else would the wolf-demons need us around for?"
"Hmph. Well, I'll tell you this much!" InuYasha growled in a more impatient tone. "I don't care what Koga or Ayame or any of them say, there is no way in hell we're sticking around here for so much as one more day! Not one more damned day!"
"I don't believe this..." InuYasha fumed in a low, weary voice. His head slumped forward as if he were bearing up under a huge weight, wearing an expression that would sour milk chocolate. "You mean you actually want us to go with Koga to this meeting of his...?!"
"Oh, c'mon, InuYasha!" Kagome retorted. Sorely tempted to comment that it wouldn't kill him to drop the attitude for just a few minutes, the reborn priestess folded her arms before her and glared dangerously at him. "You heard what Sango said. Daisuke just wants to meet us, that's all."
"That's right," Sango confirmed. It had been some time since she and Koga had met with Kokoro, time enough for the wolf-demon leader to compose a response for Daisuke and send the silver phoenix on his way back home. And time enough for her to meet with her friends in Yorozuko's chamber, and tell them of Daisuke's message, and his request. "Anyway, he thought it would be good to have some extra security."
"Yeah, and with Toma out there somewhere, we can't take the chance of having him mess things up!" Kagome broke in, invoking the voice of authority that made it clear that she wasn't in the mood for any backtalk. "I mean, think about it! We're this close to making this alliance work! An actual alliance between humans and demons! We can't let anything go wrong now!"
"Hmph! If you'd let me take care of Toma when we had a chance, we wouldn't have to worry about him," InuYasha snorted in response. "Dammit! Why can't Daisuke or Koga provide their own damned security?! What do they need us for?!"
"Because we don't want to bring a full force with us, InuYasha," Ayame informed him in a weary voice. "We're going to be going to negotiate an alliance, not fight a war. And Daisuke already warned us that some of his people still have some doubts about this all working out."
Snorting lowly, InuYasha looked away and muttered, "No surprise there."
"InuYasha, please! Don't be like that!" Kaname piped up, her voice one of disappointment. "Look, I know I haven't been with you and the others for very long, but I can't believe you're not even willing to give this alliance a chance! Not after everything we've done to make it happen." The half-demon just glanced her way, his face hard, unreadable, causing her eyes to fill with sadness. "I mean...look at us. Not all of us are human, and we're all friends, right?" When the half-demon didn't say anything to this, she swallowed before trying again. "So humans and demons...they don't have to enemies. So...there's no reason that this alliance wouldn't work, right?"
Nodding to this, Ayame told her, "That's right, Kaname." Then the redhead swiveled her gaze to InuYasha, and went on to say, "I know it won't be easy to make it work, InuYasha. All of us do, including Koga. But we will find a way to make it work." Heaving a deep breath, the redhead let this sink in for a moment before speaking again. "But at the same time, we don't want to make any mistakes here. And taking a large force of wolf-demons with us would be just asking for trouble."
"Knowing Daisuke, he'll probably only bring a few of his people with him as well. And not just because he won't want to risk his group looking like a fighting force." Sango commented. "As he said, there are still Demon Slayers who have their doubts about this. So he can't afford to bring anybody who might panic or make some other kind of mistake."
"So once again, we're the only ones who can do the job. Is that it?" InuYasha grumbled, his voice more of weary resignation than anything else. "Aw, damn..."
Chuckling at the half-demon's obvious concession of defeat, Kagome smiled and told him, "Aw, c'mon, InuYasha. It's just one more day. One more day, and then we can get back on the road again."
"Feh. Yeah, right!" InuYasha grumbled with considerable bad grace. "Damn, I knew we were in trouble when that miserable flea-feast Koga showed up..."
Chuckling despite InuYasha's obvious disdain for Koga, Ayame told them, "Well, anyway, I better get going. I need to help get things organized, and..."
"Ayame?" Sango spoke up, looking perplexedly at the she-wolf as she trailed off. "What is it? Is something wrong?"
"Do you smell that?" Ayame frowned, her nose wrinkling with disgust.
"Smell what?" Michiru wondered, taking an experimental sniff before shrugging. "I don't smell anything."
"I do," InuYasha growled, sniffing before wincing. "Ugh...smells like...rotten meat!"
Now it was Kagome's turn to sniff the air. Like Michiru, she didn't smell anything unusual, but at the same time, she knew that InuYasha's sense of smell was vastly superior to her own. So she instead looked at him and asked, "Can you tell where it's coming from?"
Giving a quick shake of his head, InuYasha answered, "No. Only that...the smell's getting stronger."
It wasn't long before Kagome realized that InuYasha was correct. In less than a minute, the foul odor he and Ayame had scented became strong enough for her own human nose to detect. And the instant she smelled it, she suffered the urge to gag on the oppressive odor. "Oh, gross!" Kaname groaned as she covered up her nose, an action that the Michiru and Kagome herself were quick to take as well. Sango wrinkled her nose, but then tensed for possible action. As for InuYasha and Ayame, they covered their noses with both hands, turning a sickly shade of green as the smell progressively worsened. "Where's it coming from?!"
Before anyone could say anything to this, Kaname's question was inexplicably answered when a familiar face appeared at the entrance to the chamber. "Hello, everyone," Miroku smiled. Or at least Kagome assumed that he was smiling; the monk was wearing a heavy piece of cloth over the lower half of his face as an improvised gas mask. "Sorry to take so long in getting back."
"Miroku?!" Sango gaped, her surprise increasing as the monk ventured into the chamber, a large bundle slung over his shoulder. "What are you...what is that...?!"
"Hmm? Oh, the smell," Miroku responded in an absent-minded fashion. "Of course, I'm sorry. I should've warned you."
"Warned us?! Warned us about -?!" InuYasha cut himself off when Miroku shifted his bundle off his shoulder and placed it on the floor, which loosened the bundle somewhat, allowing more of the rancid stench. "Aw, dammit!" Taking a step back, the half-demon pinched his nose shut before glaring pure death at the monk. "Miroku, what the hell is in that thing?!"
Kagome could almost see Miroku's mouth opening beneath his improvised gas mask, but before he could actually speak, Ayame broke in. "Wait a minute!" the redhead growled disgustedly. "I know that smell!"
"Yes, you should," Miroku replied before bending down to open up the bundle. As the cloth fell away from it, Kagome blanched and very nearly gagged at the sight and smell. Curled up at the center of it lay a squirrel and a small boar, both of them dead. Large patches of their fur was missing, revealing skin that was a toxic purple. "They're animals that have been poisoned by the crystal stones."
"Ugh! That's so sick!" Shippo grimaced, holding his tail to his mouth and nose to help filter out the smell.
"Damn! Why'd you bring those things in here?!" InuYasha demanded, his eyes watering as he glared pure death at the monk. "Get 'em away from me!"
"I'm sorry, InuYasha. With everything that's been going on, I guess I forgot to warn you," Miroku apologized, never once losing the mannerisms of a truly pious monk. "Michiru, Kaname, can you do something about the smell?"
"Ugh...I sure hope so!" Kaname groaned, turning purple as well as she tried to avoid breathing. "Oh, overflowing blue sky, fill this land with your cleaning winds! Blue Sky Purification!” With this invocation, her Wind Shikigami appeared, exploding into a wave of cleansing wind that blew through the chamber. Before long, much of the offensive odor had been driven away, enabling everyone present to breathe easier.
"Well...that's a little better..." Ayame announced, heaving a deep sigh. "I can still smell it, but...it's not as bad as it was."
Nodding his agreement, InuYasha fixed the monk with a nasty glare. "Alright, Miroku, now that we can breathe again, why don't you tell us why you decided to bring those damned things in here?! Because if you decided to suffocate us just for the heck of it -!"
"No, InuYasha. I'm sorry about this, but believe me, I did have a valid reason in retrieving these carcasses," Miroku explained in an even manner. "You see, after you all went out to track down the crystal stones, something occurred to me. It had to do with something Yorozuko said before. About us having no proof that the stones were in fact the cause of the sickness in the area." Kagome frowned her confusion at this, as did several of the others. "You see, he had a very good point. That we needed to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's these stones causing the problems, and not something else."
"We've already found those damn rocks in just about every lake and pond for miles, Miroku! I think that qualifies as proof, wouldn't you?!" InuYasha growled irritably.
"Yes, I would. But at the same time, it's not conclusive proof. Not enough to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that these stones are not only the culprit beyond the wolf-demons' problems, but that removing them will help solve them," Miroku told them. "As Ayame told us, we can't afford to have the wolf-demons start doubting Koga. And that means proving that he's actively working to solves their problems."
"But he is!" Ayame told him plaintively. "He's been working hard, trying to set up the alliance, and with all of you working to find those stones...!"
"Yes, Ayame. I understand that. So does everybody else here," Miroku assured her, not even bothering to acknowledge the loud snort his words inspired in InuYasha. "But knowing it and proving it are two very different things. Especially given the seriousness of the situation." Pausing, the monk looked about at them, then back at the corpses he had brought. "Even though the stones have been removed, the damage they have done remains. As a result, it will be some time before the local wildlife can breed back the numbers that were lost to this sickness."
"We already know that, Miroku," Michiru told him in a sad manner.
"I know that, Michiru. And likely, many wolf-demons are also aware of this," Miroku continued. "But at the same time, the longer the problems persist, the more likely they are to become dissatisfied, even rebellious. Now, I'm sure that you're aware of this," the monk assured them when Ayame opened her mouth to protest, "and that you're trying to think of ways heading off such problems. However, I thought it would be best to deal with their concerns by proving that Koga's making the right decisions. By reinforcing the fact that he's dealing with your problems in an effective manner, it'll help reassure your people."
Groaning as he rolled his eyes, InuYasha grumbled, "And like I already said, Miroku, we've already proven it! Michiru and Kaname told those scrawny wolves that the stones were mucking up the water!"
"Right, and besides, Ayame told them about what happened with the fish!" Kagome added.
"But Michiru and Kaname made this assessment using sensory perceptions that the wolf-demons don't have. And more importantly, they are Koga's allies, just like Ayame and the rest of us," Miroku explained, his tone becoming that much more serious. "As such, some wolf-demons - those who disagree with this alliance - could call their veracity into question."
"Veracity?" Shippo frowned before looking up at Kagome. "What does speed have to do with this?"
Chuckling despite herself, Kagome met the little fox's eyes and explained, "No, Shippo, you're thinking of velocity. Veracity is basically another word for honesty."
"Then why didn't Miroku just say honesty?" Shippo wondered.
Now it was Miroku who was chuckling, along with a few others. "In any event," the monk continued after recovering, "I wanted to find something we can use to show the wolf-demons that the stones are indeed the source of the trouble. Give them evidence that they can see with their own eyes, rather than being forced to depend on the words of others. That would likely help pacify any doubts they might have."
A beat passed as they looked amongst themselves, considering the monk's words. "That makes sense, Miroku," Sango finally decided. "But what does that have to do with these carcasses you found?"
"I wanted to test a theory that, if correct, would provide the wolf-demons with that proof." With that, Miroku turned towards Ayame and asked, "Could you bring me one of those crystal stones?"
"Huh?" Ayame got out, her eyes widening at the sudden shift in subject. "Uh, sure. Why not?" Turning about, the redhead cast one more quizzical glance at Miroku before darting away.
Less than a minute passed before Ayame returned with one of the hateful stones they had recovered. "Ah, thank you!" Miroku beamed as she arrived, depositing the crystal on the ground before him. "Now, then..."
"Miroku?" Sango frowned as the monk turned back to the two corpses he had brought. Tucking his hands into his sleeves, he then carefully wrapped the cloth about them, until they were completely covered. Once this was done, he bent down and carefully lifted up the dead squirrel. "What are you doing?"
"Testing my theory," Miroku explained as he gently carried the dead rodent over to the crystal. "It occurred to me that, if the crystals truly are what killed these animals, then directly exposing the bodies to their aura could cause some kind of reaction in them. Something that would convince the wolf-demons that the stones are indeed the cause of their troubles."
Frowning slightly, Kagome considered the monk's words. On the one hand, his theory did make sense, and giving the wolf-demons proof that they could see for themselves could only help them. "But, Miroku," she began as flaws in Miroku's theory came to mind. "With as weak as the aura of those stones are, it might not even do anything. And if it doesn't..."
"If it doesn't, then I may have wasted my own time, but I won't have damaged Koga's image in the minds of his people. And that's what's important," Miroku responded as he gingerly set the small corpse down on the crystal. "Now, let's see if that is indeed the case..." Standing up straight, the monk then stepped away from the stone, his eyes and those of everyone else fixed on the tiny carcass.
Several seconds passed, time in which everybody watched and waited in silence, looking for even the slightest sign that Miroku was right. As they waited, the silence grew, becoming more and more oppressive. As time continued to crawl past, Kagome looked up at her friends, some of whom met her glances with ones of their own. And she could see them thinking the same that she was, that Miroku had been wrong.
Until a loud hissing sound was heard.
"What the -?!" InuYasha started, narrowing his eyes at the corpse. The purple skin was beginning to bubble, like its innards were coming to a boil. A moment later, the mild stench that still hung in the air increased tenfold, sending the half-demon scooting back in horror. "Aw, dammit!"
"Oh! The smell!!" Ayame wailed, covering up her nose and mouth as best as the corpse continued to deteriorate. "Ugh! I-i-it's horrible!"
I know! Kagome thought, unwilling to actually say it aloud, lest she let even more of the foul stench into her lungs. Backing away from the degrading corpse, she watching horror as the last of the squirrel's flesh melted away and started running down the sides of the crystal stone even as much of it was steamed away. In seconds, the only thing remaining of the tiny corpse was a skeleton that quickly fell apart, the bones tumbling down to the ground.
As the group looked at the little bones and pool of sludge on the floor, they struggled with both the silence and the stench. "Well, Miroku," Shippo groaned from behind his own tail, "if you wanted proof that these rocks are bad...I'd say you've got it!"
"And it's certainly something the wolf-demons can see. And smell!" Sango concurred, her skin turning a pasty grey.
"No kidding! This is -!" Michiru seconded, only to be caught off by a loud thud. Looking about, Kagome and the others saw Ayame sprawled out on the floor, her eyes wide and glassy. "Ayame?!"
"Ohhhh..." Ayame groaned miserably, her arms and legs twitching sporadically. "He...help me...I...I'm gonna die...!"
"I know the feeling!" InuYasha growled woefully. "Michiru, Kaname! Do something before -!"
"I know, I know!" Kaname replied as pentagrams appeared beneath her and Michiru. "Oh, towering green wood, cleanse this space of corruption! Green Wood Cherry Blossoms!"
"Bubbling Great River!" Michiru invoked. As one, the Wood and Water Shikigami rose up, releasing a hailstorm of cherry blossoms and a wave of bubbles that quickly began scouring the floor. Almost immediately, the foul stench eased, and was replaced by the far gentler and sweeter scent of cherry blossoms. Meanwhile, the bubbles flowed over every surface, seeking and pulverizing even the slightest traces of grit and grime.
As the two spells continued to work, Kagome let out a heavy sigh before taking a breath of the quickly improving air. Though not entirely free of the foul stench, it had improved enough so that she could breathe once again. "Whew...that's better," she finally sighed, taking in another, deep breath. "InuYasha? Ayame? Are you two okay?"
"Ugh...I'll be alright soon enough," InuYasha growled, waving away whatever residual stench still offended his sensitive nose. "And as for her..."
When the half-demon trailed off, Kagome followed his eyes, just before placing her hand to her mouth. Ayame was still prone on the floor, completely insensate. Her eyes resembled little more than squiggly spirals, and unintelligible moans were exiting her mouth. "Oh, dear. The smell got to her!" Recalling the number of times that had InuYasha had been rendered similarly stunned by a horrendous smell, the modern priestess pretty much fell to her knees beside her. "Somebody! Get me some water!"
"Uh, right! Water!" Michiru sputtered out, another pentagram spinning into existence at his feet. "Um, uh...Great River Torrent!"
"What?!" Kagome spat out in response. Certain that she could not have possibly heard what she thought she had heard, she whipped about to look at Michiru...just in time for water to fill her field of vision. An instant later, there was a large splash, one that left her utterly soaked.
"Aaack!" Ayame cried out, returning to the waking world even as Kagome gasped in shock. "Wh-what the -?!"
"Michiru!" Kagome cried out even as she looked down at herself and took stock of the damage. The Kururugi boy's spell had soaked her from the waist up, leaving her shirt to cling oppressively to her skin, dripping water all over the place. Glancing over at Ayame, she found the she-wolf to be in a similar state, but with her red head plastered over her face like a ragged old mop. Realizing that her own hair was likely in a similar state, the modern priestess glared at him with as much force as she could muster. "What do you think you're doing?!"
"I - well, I -!" Michiru sputtered out, a huge drop of sweat rolling down his now crimson cheeks. "Well...you asked for water, so..." Again, the Shikigami User's words fell flat in his mouth, most likely due to the angry glower that Kagome was shooting at him, as well as the noises of distress Ayame as making. "I - I...I'm sorry! I'll dry you both off right away!"
"No, don't bother!" Kagome grumbled as she clambered to her feet, brushing aside an errant tangle of hair from her eyes. "I can dry myself off, thank you." Stung by her words, Michiru retreated a few steps, hanging his head in shame. Suffering a twinge of guilt at this, she sighed and shifted her focus to more important matters. "If you want to help, you can go find Koga and tell him what we found out."
As Michiru nodded to this, Miroku added, "We should also mention that we have another carcass for use in another demonstration. One that should leave the wolf-demons without any doubts about what's responsible for their current predicament."
"It could also leave them without the use of their noses!" Ayame groaned woefully as she attempted to straighten out her hair. Sighing as she shook her head about, sending water flying in every direction, she then looked squarely at Kagome and decided, "Still, you're right. We should tell him about this right away."
"Yeah, and we should also tell him that if he decides to have another demonstration, that he should do outside!" Kagome agreed, giving Ayame a wry smile.
"Feh! No arguments here!" InuYasha muttered, glaring dangerously at the crystal stone, and what little remained of the corpse it had boiled away.
Sometime later, InuYasha was sitting cross-legged on one of the many cliffs of the wolf-demon mountains, looking down at the multitude of scrawny wolves that had gathered. The sun was slowly setting, but there was still plenty of light to see by. Enough for him to watch the demonstration that Miroku had suggested be made reality.
The multitudes of wolf-demons had gathered around a cleft, one smaller than the one that the now-infamous tournament had taken place in. At one end of it, Koga stood along with Ayame, Robai, and Yorozuko, giving yet another speech to the waiting masses. Rolling his eyes, InuYasha did his best to tune out the scrawny wolf's yammering, and instead focused on the cleft, and the single crystal stone that had been brought there.
Snorting loudly as Koga continued to yammer and yap, InuYasha rolled his eyes and thought, Aw, c'mon, scrawny wolf! I know you're all talk, but get to the important part already!
Shaking his head, the half-demon found himself tempted to just roll over and take a nap. But just as he was entertaining this notion, he noticed movement down in the cleft. Two wolf-demons, ones that he didn't recognize, were carrying the diseased boar that Miroku had found. They were each using one hand to hold one of its legs, while using their free hands to cover their mouths and noses, something InuYasha couldn't blame them for. In fact... he frowned, pricking his ears as he sniffed at the air. Sure enough, he remained upwind of the cleft, and thus was in no danger of being exposed to the stench that he knew was about was to billow up from below. And it's a good thing, too, because once was enough! Snorting at this, he paused to note that Koga and the others were also positioned safely. Heh! You're lucky you've got Ayame looking out for you, scrawny wolf! Though what she sees in you is beyond me!
Curling the corner of his lip at this, InuYasha focused his attention on the wolf-demons in the cleft. They had just reached the crystal stone, and just as Miroku had done before, they carefully draped the dead boar on top of the crystal. As soon as they were certain that it was securely in place, they darted away as fast they could. Smart move, scrawny wolves, he thought sadistically. And as for the rest of you, sit back, relax...and wait for your noses to get knocked off your faces!
Chuckling wickedly at the image this thought inspired, InuYasha watched as the many wolf-demons watched and waited, wondering what was about to happen. They weren't long in waiting, for several seconds after the boar was placed on the stone, it's flesh began to boil and steam away just as the squirrel from before had. And though he couldn't smell the resultant stench, he could still see the horrified reactions of the wolf-demons who had been unfortunate enough to decide to stand downwind of the crystal.
"Ha ha ha! You shoulda warned 'em, scrawny wolf!" InuYasha chortled, watching as the affected wolf-demons fell back into their fellows. Panicked and pained yips rose up from the pained masses as they attempted to free themselves of the foul smell. "Then again, considering the kind of grief they've been giving us..."
With one final snicker, InuYasha stood even as Koga started into another speech. Deciding that he wasn't in the mood to listen to him, especially since the fun part was basically over, he started down the path that led to the cleft, intent on rejoining the others. Besides, I'm going to be stuck dealing with him all day tomorrow as it is, the half-demon thought, rolling his eyes at the prospect. Ugh...like I really need to have to deal with him flirting with Kagome and all that...
Wondering not for the first time why Kagome tolerated Koga's advances, InuYasha shook his head and continued down the path, only to pause as an errant breeze carried a familiar scent to him. Pausing, he gave an experimental sniff, and furrowed his brows before muttering, "What the...what's she doing out here?"
Sniffing the air a few more times, InuYasha was able to orient himself to the source of the scent. Darting down the path, he followed the trail of the scent as it continued to grow stronger. Until at last he emerged onto a ledge littered with small boulders. And one of them, a familiar figure was seated, apparently unaware of his presence. "Kaname," he spoke as he drew closer. In response to his words, the short-haired girl turned about and gave him a surprised look. "What the...?"
"Oh...InuYasha!" Kaname breathed, blinking a few times as he approached. "I - I'm sorry. You...surprised me, that's all."
"So I noticed," InuYasha replied as he came up alongside her. "What are you doing out here, anyway?"
Shrugging, Kaname answered, "Well, with everything that's been going on, dealing with those stones and all the wolf-demons and everything, I...well, I just wanted to get some peace and quiet."
"Heh. Can't say I blame you," InuYasha grumbled as he sat down on a nearby stone. "Still, I wouldn't go wandering alone around here. In case you've forgotten, there are still plenty of scrawny wolves here who would like to have you as dinner!"
"I'm not worried about the wolf-demons," Kaname replied in a sad, dismissive fashion. Before InuYasha could tell her that she should be, she lowered her eyes and added, "Besides, I...I just wanted to be by myself for a while."
"Be by your...?" InuYasha repeated, trailing off as her words struck a chord in him. "Why? Is something wrong?"
A beat passed before Kaname sighed and responded. "Well...kinda..." Slowly shaking her head, the Kururugi pressed her lips together before meeting his gaze. "You see...it's about my bro."
Of all the things InuYasha would have expected her to be bothered by, this was not even close to being amongst them. "Wha- Michiru?!" Pausing a moment, half-wondering if this was some kind of joke, he then bent over closer to her, and saw in her eyes genuine concern, as well as sadness. "What's wrong?" Narrowing his eyes, he struggled to think of any reason anyone would have a problem with him. "Did you...have a fight or something."
"No. I mean... not exactly," Kaname soon admitted. "Well...it's just..."
When Kaname trailed off, InuYasha frowned. "Just what?" he wondered impatiently. Realizing that he had come off as a bit too gruffly, he frowned and more carefully asked, "C'mon, what is it? Just tell me, okay?"
Looking up at him, Kaname frowned for a moment before sighing, "It's...about the tournament. About something that happened...after it. You know, when Toma released his monsters?"
"Heh! I'm not going to be forgetting that any time soon!" InuYasha grumbled in all honesty. "So, what about it? What's the big deal? We won, right? And all those damned monsters are dead! So what's the big deal?"
"It's...well..." Fumbling on her own uncertainty again, Kaname shook her head again before trying again. "When my...when Michiru blasted you, he..."
"What?" InuYasha frowned, initially puzzled. But as he thought back to the events of yesterday, as well as the incident in question, realization dawned upon. "Oh, c'mon, Kaname! So I got knocked into that damned toad's mouth! It was an accident!" When she failed to be reassured, the half-demon shook his head and muttered, "Besides, Michiru already apologized!"
Her eyes widening somewhat with this revelation, Kaname replied, "He did?"
"Sure! This morning, just before he headed out to start looking for those dumb stones!" InuYasha told her earnestly. "Besides, it's not like that blasted toad actually hurt me or anything! I'm just fine!"
"I know that! But - InuYasha! Even if he apologized, it doesn't change the fact that he could've killed you!" Kaname protested, growing more upset. "He didn't even try to get you free of that monster! He just opened fire like it was no big deal, and -!"
"Huh?!" InuYasha got out, even more surprised than before. "Wait a minute...that's what this is all about?! Him blasting me with that spell?!"
"Of course! I mean, I know he didn't mean for you to wind up in that toad's mouth, but still...it was like he was aiming directly at you, InuYasha! And when you got hit by that blast, I...I..." Kaname then trailed off, her voice turning from disappointment to confusion as the half-demon chuckled. "InuYasha...what...?"
"I don't believe this! That's what you're so upset about?!" InuYasha grinned, unable to believe what he was hearing. "You're mad about him blasting me, and not that dumb toad?!"
A beat passed as Kaname studied the amused half-demon. "Well...yeah," Kaname tried again, giving the impression that someone had just told a joke that she didn't get. "I mean...he shouldn't have been using an attack spell at all! Not when that toad still had you all tied up in its tongue!" When he responded with even more laughter, the Kururugi girl slowly shook her head and wondered, "I don't get it! What's so funny about this?! He didn't even try a weakening spell or anything! He just fired and -!"
"He fired because he knew that there wasn't any time to waste on messing around with weak spells to get me loose," InuYasha her in a straight, firm tone. Then, before she could say anything to this, he added, "And he also did it because he knew that his attack wouldn't hurt me."
Kaname opened her mouth to say something to this, but whatever response she might have had fell flat in her mouth. Instead, her mouth hung open, along with her eyes as she cocked her head to the side. "Huh?" she finally managed to get out. Then she gave a quick shake of her head and looked him squarely in the eye. "What do you mean, it wouldn't have hurt you?! Of course it - it could have -!" Her voice breaking down as she struggled with her words, Kaname sighed and tried again. "InuYasha, I know you're tough, but you're not indestructible! And that fire spell -!"
"That's right! It was a fire spell!" Noting the confused look this garnered him, InuYasha took hold of the hem of his kimono. "I guess nobody told you that this was made of the fur of the fire-rat."
"Huh? Fire-rat?" Kaname repeated blankly. "You mean, as in that robe from 'The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter'?"
Shoving aside the memories that particular story inspired in him, InuYasha nodded. "That's right. And not only is it better than any human armor, it also protects whoever wears it from fire."
"Really?" Kaname gaped, her eyes widening with girlish curiosity. A moment later, that light was replaced by cold-hard realization. "Wait...so you're saying...?"
"That's right. Your brother knew about it. That's why he used a fire spell to try and blast me free; because he knew it would hurt the demons, but not me," InuYasha explained, smiling gently as he did.
With this, all the ire and confusion fled Kaname, leaving her to slump forward. "Oh, no," she moaned heavily as she placed her hand to her forehead. "You mean I've been all mad at my bro...for nothing?"
"Well, I wouldn't say that," InuYasha decided with a wry smirk. "More like you were mad because he didn't bother to tell you about my kimono!"
"I - I didn't even give him a chance to explain, or - or anything!" Kaname moaned, placing her other hand to her forehead. "Oh, I don't believe this! How can I be so stupid?!"
"Hey! You're not being stupid!" InuYasha protested, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I mean...if you didn't know, then you didn't know, okay? It's not like it's your fault or anything!"
Sighing heavily, Kaname sat up straight and said, "Maybe, but...it doesn't change how I've been treating him." Pressing her lips together, she then looked InuYasha in the eye and asked, "Look, InuYasha...can you...help me find him? I need to talk to him, to...say I'm sorry, and..."
As she once again trailed off, her voice incapable of carrying the emotion she felt, InuYasha couldn't help but smile. "Sure, no problem," he told her, rising to his feet. As she did the same, he gestured for her to follow him. "Let's start looking down near Yorozuko's place. That's where I last saw him."
"Right," Kaname nodded as she came up alongside him. "Oh, and...InuYasha?" Glancing over at his human companion, the half-demon found him greeted by a cute, kindly smile. "Thank you."
Two words. Just two, simple, tiny words. That's all Kaname had said. But as InuYasha continued to look at her, those two words that he so rarely heard directed at him continued to echo in his mind, along with the heartfelt emotion with which they had been spoken. And as they did so, he could feel his cheeks burning before he averted his eyes. "Eh...don't make a big deal out of it," he replied, his voice sounding smaller and more hollow than he would have liked. "Now, c'mon! Let's go."
"Yes," Kaname nodded, and with that they made their way back towards the caves.
As Kagome rode her bicycle along the grassy plains and gently rising hills, she couldn't help but smile as she was again reminded of some of the more pleasant aspects of life in the Feudal Era.
The day had started pleasantly enough, with a decent breakfast and some pleasant conversation as Kagome and the others discussed the planned meeting with the Demon Slayer. It was soon decided that Koga, along with Robai, Ayame, and the old chief, as well as Ginta and Hakkaku, would represent the wolf-demon tribe. The elderly wolf-demons had much wisdom in dealing with other tribes of demons, as well as humans and Demon Slayers, and thus would be an invaluable asset in these negotiations.
And speaking of which, Kagome thought as she slowed to a stop and glanced over her shoulder. "Hey, Robai, Yorozuko? You two doing alright?"
"We're just dandy, Kagome!" Robai grinned from his perch on Kirara's back. "I must say, I certainly don't mind giving these old feet of mine a break!"
Chuckling at his fellow wolf-demon's enthusiasm, Yorozuko added, "And we must thank you, Kirara, Sango, for your gracious assistance. I have to admit that it's been some time since I last made a journey of this length."
Chuckling mildly as she walked alongside Kirara and her passengers, Sango smiled and said, "It's no trouble. We know how important this all is. Right, Kirara?" The two-tail growled affectionately, an act the Demon Slayer responded to by massaging the space between her ears. "Besides, you need to be rested and ready for the negotiations."
"True. Establishing the rules by which our people will deal with one another is key, and will likely take some time," Yorozuko commented with a wry look. "As will assuring the Slayers as a whole that we are willing to abide by those same rules."
"What do you mean?" Michiru wondered, glancing back at the two wolf-demons.
"That Daisuke had many good reasons to be distrustful of us, of being unwilling to send his own people to stand before us. Even before Toma and his followers annihilated the neighboring human settlements," Yorozuko admitted, his eyes narrowing with unspoken pain. "In the past, Demon Slayers were summoned to stand against our kind, resulting in battles that were costly for both sides."
"That's right," Robai muttered somberly. "And if we are to make a new beginning, we must show that we are willing to change, and learn new ways.”
“Such as ceasing the attacks on any humans in this area?” Miroku asked, his voice low and serious. admitted. “I realize that Toma and his people destroyed the remaining villages, but there's always the possibility of other settlements being founded. In which case, I can't imagine the Demon Slayers standing by and allowing such acts to go unmitigated."
"Yeah, we know," Ginta commented from the back of the group. "But you don't have to worry about that."
Nodding enthusiastically, Hakkaku seconded, "That's right! Koga already said that if anybody even thinks of attacking humans, then he'll take them down personally!"
“Not that that’s much of a worry. If humans do begin building in our territory again, I'm certain they won't be dealt with as easily as those of the past,” Robai noted with grim humor. “Humans are getting more organized, making better weapons." Snorting loudly, the elderly wolf-demon lowered his eyes and admitted, "The fact is, before those stone started making the humans sick, we hadn’t been able to mount a successful raid on any of the villages in quite some time. We’ve been able to ambush wandering merchants, or small groups of humans traveling alone, but…those days are coming to an end.”
“Even Toma knew that the old days were coming to a close. That’s why he came up with the idea of harnessing powerful demons that we could use in our raids,” Yorozuko explained sadly. “So many wolf-demons are still addicted to visions of glory and easy meat. Losing a few of our warriors was a small price to pay in their eyes for the bounty Toma promised them.”
“I see,” Miroku mused. “It probably won’t be easy for them to accept such changes.”
“And yet we must accept that change is inevitable…or we will be faced with certain extinction,” Yorozuko replied. Gazing at the humans, Ayame’s grandfather smiled in a knowing manner. “As we have already witnessed for ourselves, the days when humans can be taken lightly are quickly coming to a close.”
"No arguments here!" Kagome commented with a bit of foolish pride as she started forward again.
The group continued in silence for a time, leaving Kagome and the others to enjoy the quiet woods and blessed breezes. When the silence was eventually broken, it was by Michiru. "By the way, Yorozuko?" the Shikigami User began in a quite manner. "There's something I've been wondering."
"Oh? And what would that be, my young friend?" Yorozuko asked.
"It's about the crystal stones," Michiru began, his expression one of utmost seriousness. "I know that you had them stored in one of the caves, but I was wondering, what do you plan on doing with them?"
"That's a good question," Yorozuko admitted. "Obviously, we cannot simply destroy them. With their toxic auras, there's always a chance that, even after being broken apart, they could continue to poison the land and water."
"I agree," Michiru replied with nod. "Besides, if the Shikon Jewel can cause so much trouble after being shattered..."
"Then there's every chance that those stones could be troublesome in the same way," Robai agreed.
Nodding to this, Yorozuko then returned his attention to Michiru. "As for what we intend to do with the stones, we will be conferring with Daisuke and his people to find the best way to safely dispose of them. With the spiritualists and priests under his command, it is likely he has people who are capable of purifying them."
"Well, you know that I could have helped you with that," Kagome commented, giving the old chief a puzzled look.
"Yes, of course. And Koga is certainly fortunate to have a young lady so willing to assist him," Robai grinned in a somewhat dirty manner. Her cheeks quickly burning, Kagome was about to protest when the old wolf continued. "But we decided that it would be best to hold off on that for now. At least until we could get the alliance settled."
Frowning somewhat, Kagome considered this for a short while. Eventually deciding that this made sense, and that the stones would likely be safe enough until then, she was then snapped from her thoughts by a loud rushing of wind was heard. Seconds later, a tornado blew into view, winding its way over towards them. As soon as it drew close, a familiar figure exploded from within to land before her. "Hey, everyone!" Koga announced, all business as he jerked his thumb back the way he came. "I just got finished scouting the area ahead! So far, we're all clear!"
"Our scouts haven't spotted anything, either," Michiru reported at this. "So far, anyway."
"Right, but they couldn't see through the trees from above," Kaname added in a more cautious voice. "So if anybody's hiding in the forest..."
"Don't worry. Remember, Ayame's scouting the woods ahead!" Koga reported in an even manner. "If Toma or his goons are hiding anywhere up ahead, she'll be able to sniff them out without them even knowing she's there!"
Nodding, Kagome readily shared Koga's confidence in the redhead. Ayame had proven herself to be a skillful tracker in the past, and was skilled at stealth as Koga was at barging ahead at full speed. "I just hope she doesn't find anything," she then admitted with a hint of concern. "The last thing we need is Toma showing up to make even more trouble!"
Snorting mildly, InuYasha folded his arms across his chest. "Eh, he'll show up Kagome. You can bet on that," the half-demon muttered crossly. "There's no way he'll blow his last chance to screw everything up for us! Not after what happened with the tournament."
"Hmph! I wouldn't be so sure of that, little mutt," Koga smirked confidently. "Even assuming that that bastard's cronies haven't killed him already - something that wouldn't surprise me - how's he supposed to make trouble for us when he doesn't even know that we're meeting Daisuke, or where we're meeting or any of that?"
"Feh. Who knows?" InuYasha smirked nastily. "Maybe by tracking that stench of yours, scrawny wolf?"
"Hey, watch it, little mutt!" Koga snarled, clenching his fists.
Shooting the wolf-demon a look that was basically a dare for him to do something stupid, Kagome was about to say something about it when Kaname piped up. "InuYasha!" she protested, her voice one of disappointment than anything else. "Please, don't antagonize him." When the half-demon shot her a look of pure astonishment, she shrank back a bit, but then pressed her lips together and added, "Look, I know you don't like Koga, but...now's not the time to start arguing with him."
"Yeah, listen to my sis, InuYasha," Michiru told him in a gentle manner. Then he turned to Koga and added, "But he does have a point. If Toma or any of his people spotted us leaving the mountains, than it wouldn't take him long to figure out where we're going, or what for."
"At which point, he wouldn't lose any time in moving to intercept us, or try and find some way of ruining the alliance before it could be set in place," Robai commented in a snippy fashion.
"Hey, I know that! I'm not some dippy pup anymore, okay?!" Koga retorted in a heated manner. Opening his mouth to say more, he then paused, clenching his fists even more tightly as he visibly struggled to rein in his emotions. "Look," he tried again, this time in a softer voice, "I know we can't take any chances here. I know that. I'm just saying that it's pretty damned unlikely that Toma will be able to make a mess of things!" Snorting loudly, the alpha wolf looked away before muttering, "Hell, I'd be willing to bet that bastard was killed right after he and his lackeys were exiled."
"You'd lose that bet, Koga!" came another voice. Looking about, Kagome and the others watched as a whirlwind laced with leaves appeared and subsequently vanished, revealing a female figure in its place.
"Ayame, what is it?!" Koga blurted as the redhead rushed up to them. "What happened? Are you alright?"
"I'm fine! But Koga, we've got trouble!" Ayame frantically reported. "I was checking the woods ahead, when I picked up Toma's scent! Him and his followers! "
His eyes bulging with shock, Koga recoiled, then grabbed Ayame by the shoulders. "What?!" he shouted, his voice shaken with surprise. "Are you sure about that?! How many were there?!"
Nodding shakily, Ayame reported, "Judging from the tracks and scent trails, I'd guess about thirty of them! And they were heading towards the field where we're meeting the Slayers!"
"They're what?!" Koga snarled, his eyes practically exploding from their sockets. "But how the hell could they know where we're meeting?!"
"I don't know!" Ayame replied nervously. "He must've guess that we'd be meeting somewhere between the mountains the Slayers' fort!"
"Either that, or he's arrogant enough to think that he and his followers can wipe out the Demon Slayers as they had all those human villages!" Robai grinned dangerously.
"Or perhaps he's planning on killing Daisuke and his people, and making it appear as if you're the ones responsible," Miroku muttered thoughtfully.
"Whatever the case, you have to track down Toma immediately," Yorozuko declared.
"Huh?" Ayame frowned. A frown that quickly deepened when Yorozuko slid off of Kirara's back. "Grandpa, what are you doing?"
"You must move quickly to stop Toma, before he ruins everything for all our people. And speed is something that neither I nor Robai are capable of," Yorozuko explained as Robai came down beside him. "Koga, Ayame, we must entrust you with the future of our people. Please, you and your friends must do everything in your power to stop Toma. Once and for all."
A moment passed as Koga met Yorozuko's gaze, a moment in which the young leader and the old chief seemed to speak to each other without saying anything at all. "Alright," he finally muttered with a nod. "Ginta! Hakkaku!"
"Uh, yes, Koga!" Ginta spoke up as he and Hakkaku seemed to appear from out of nowhere.
"You two, stay behind with Yorozuko and the old man," Koga sternly ordered them. "I don't want any of Toma's idiots slipping back here to grab them or anything, got that?!"
"Got it, Koga!" Hakkaku replied, standing bolt upright.
"Will do!" Ginta seconded, emulating his friend's posture. "We won't let anyone get anywhere near them! You can count on us!"
"That's exactly what I'm doing, you two." This said, Koga turned his eyes forward, narrowing them as he brought his fists together. "Alright, Toma. I guess if being exiled isn't enough to put you in your place, then I guess I'll just have to that the hard way!"
"You know, you could've done that before. You know, right after the tournament," InuYasha commented in a snarky fashion. "I told you should've let me take care of him when we had the chance."
Snorting loudly at this, Koga retorted, "Yeah, well you won't be settling it now, either. Toma's been screwing things up for our people long enough." His features darkening, the alpha wolf shot a cold, deadly glare at InuYasha. "Today, I'm putting an end to it. Once and for all..."