Toma's Last Stand
His bare feet pounding through the grass, unimpaired by the many stones and other abrasions that would offend mortal flesh and blood, InuYasha charged full speed again, his eyes narrowed into slits and his fangs bared. His heart beating vigorously, priming his body for battle once again, and his nose and ears primed and alert.
The battle charge. It was an experience that InuYasha had long since become acquainted with. Time after time, they had run into a situation where urgency outweighed any other concerns, such as stealth and strategy. Which left them unable to do anything but move as quickly as they could, lest they be too late to do anything to avert complete disaster. Kagome was pedaling her bike as hard as she could, with Shippo perched in her basket, holding onto the rim as tightly as he could. Sango and Kirara were flying a short distance away, high enough so as to avoid any potential obstacles on the ground, but low enough so as to be ready to attack the moment it became necessary.
All these things were familiar to InuYasha, but there were a few wrinkles to this particular charge. Koga was running a short distance away, and while this wasn't the first time the half-demon had been forced to cooperate with the scrawny wolf, this was the first time Koga hadn't simply rushed off ahead at full speed. Of course, this probably had more to do with Ayame being present as well than with the idiot wolf developing any new brain power. Michiru was riding along with Sango, clinging to her waist, with Miroku seated right behind him.
Glancing in the monk's direction, InuYasha couldn't help but snigger at the sour expression that adorned Miroku's face. One that he had worn when they had started out, with Sango insisting that he and Michiru join her on Kirara...right before moving to the Kururugi boy and helping him get on first. As a result, Michiru was literally between Miroku and the woman he had set his sights on, and thus was being constantly blasted with a glare that was pure poison.
Grateful that it was the monk's hand that was lethal and not his gaze, InuYasha took note of another, more minor wrinkle to this charge. Instead of hoisting her Hiraikotsu, Sango was holding a set of binoculars up to her eyes. The Demon Slayer had quickly grown partial to this particular artifact from the modern era, and was using them to scout ahead, using the enhanced vision it provided her to look for things InuYasha's own superhuman senses wouldn't pick up.
And then there was one more thing that was different about this particular charge. Something that InuYasha was reminded of when she asked, "Are you alright, InuYasha? I'm not too heavy for you, am I?"
"Relax, Kaname!" InuYasha replied, keeping his eyes forward, lest he plow headfirst into a tree or trip and fall over some small obstacle. While such an event would be more of an annoyance to him than anything else, something like that would not only slow them down, but would also imperil Kaname, who was not nearly as durable. "It's like I told you before; I'm not exactly human. I can handle your weight, no problem!"
Despite this reassurance, InuYasha could practically feel Kaname frowning, but she didn't say anything else to this. Which was just as well, seeing as she couldn't be blamed for this. When they had started out, InuYasha quickly realized that Kirara was already carrying as many people as she could handle, and there was no way the Kururugi girl could join Kagome on her bike. And since there was absolutely no way he would ever trust her to someone like Koga, that left him quickly bending down next to her so she could ride on his back.
"I know, but," Kaname tried again. "I could've used Swift Blue Sky, you know. Then..."
"And wear yourself out before we even found Toma?" InuYasha demanded incredulously. "Not a chance! We need to be at full strength when we finally track that bastard down!"
Kaname didn't have anything to say to this, which was just as well. There was no time to waste breath on doubts and concerns. Each and every one of them had to remain focused, ready for action. InuYasha knew that there was every chance they could walking into a trap of some sort, in which case they would have only seconds, perhaps even less, to react and respond to a potential threat.
And speaking of people who need to stay focused... InuYasha thought wearily as he looked over at Kagome. The modern girl had been glancing at him and Kaname since they started off. It hadn't been very often, but it was just to make it clear that something was bothering her. And it didn't take a genius to figure out what that something was. I just hope she doesn't make a big deal of this later! the half-demon thought as he returned his attention to the path ahead. I swear, the last thing I need is -!
"Everybody! Stop!" Startled by the abruptness with which Sango cried out, InuYasha acted on pure instinct and dug in his heels without even thinking. But that didn't cancel out his forward momentum, and because of Kaname's added weight, the top-heavy half-demon was unable to maintain his balance. With an indignant cry, he wound up crashing face-first into the ground.
"InuYasha!" Kaname cried out in dismay, quickly tumbling off of him. Pulling his head out of the grass, the half-demon looked up to see her worried face. "I'm sorry! Are you alright?!"
Groaning at this minor indignity, InuYasha was about to respond when Koga snickered and cracked, "What's the matter, little mutt?! We ain't got time for a nap!"
A vein bulging from his forehead, InuYasha snarled and rose to his feet. Not even bothering to brush himself off, he glared at Koga, thinking evil thoughts about wolf-demons as Miroku asked, "What's wrong, Sango? Did you see something?"
"Yeah," Sango reported as Kirara landed. Lowering the binoculars, she narrowed her eyes and pointed off into the distance. "Up ahead, in the wooded area to the left. There's someone moving in there."
"What?" Koga frowned uncertainly as he turned to look in the direction indicated. "You're sure?" Sango opened her mouth to answer, but then the scrawny wolf shook his head and asked, "Wait, how can you even see that far, anyway?! Even I can't see anything from here!"
"With these," Sango told him, holding out the binoculars. "Come here. I'll show you how to use them." Frowning somewhat, Koga considered the Demon Slayer for a moment before approaching. Carefully handing the binoculars out to him with the small lenses aimed towards him, she explained. "Now, just look through the small end, and you'll be able to see much further than you can on your own."
Accepting the binoculars, Koga frowned and tipped them one way, then the next. Glancing over at Sango, who gave him an encouraging look, he sighed disbelievingly and placed the modern lenses to his eyes. "Wha - whoa!" he gaped, his jaw falling open with surprise. "You weren't kidding! I really can see farther!"
"Now, look towards the tree line," Sango instructed him, still pointing off ahead and to the left. "I didn't get a very good look, because of all the trees, but if you look closely enough..."
"Yeah, I'm looking. I'm seeing the trees," Koga reported with a chuckle. "Hell, I'm seeing a couple of the bugs on the trees! And -!" His voice falling flat in his throat, the wolf-demon's smile turned upside down as he pressed the binoculars closer to his eyes. "Huh. So that's what you're up to..."
"What is it, Koga?" Ayame wondered, her voice tinged with worry. "Is it Toma?"
"Sure looks like it," Koga growled hatefully as he continued to peer through the lenses. "I don't see him, but I do see a couple of his flunkies moving around down there." Lowering the binoculars, he glanced over at Ayame before handing her the modern lenses. "They're right near the edge of those woods, hiding in the brush."
As Ayame accepted the binoculars and peered through them, Kagome murmured, "Sounds like they're setting up for an ambush."
"It would appear that way," Miroku nodded. "Or, if Toma's planning on attacking Daisuke and his people, he left a small group of his followers behind to delay Koga or anyone else coming from the wolf-demon mountains."
Frowning somewhat, Sango then glanced back and asked, "Michiru, can you sense how many wolf-demons are in the forest? Without using your scouts, that is?" A puzzled noise was the Shikigami User's response, she added, "There's a chance that they don't know we're here yet, and if that's the case, I'd rather not risk alerting them until we're ready to attack."
"What do you mean, until we're ready?!" InuYasha demanded impatiently, taking hold of Tetsusaiga's hilt. "I'm ready right now! I've had enough of Toma and his scrawny wolves! I say we take care of them right now!"
"Hmph! I hate to say it, but I'm with the mutt!" Koga growled irritably. "Besides, if this is some kinda stall tactic of Toma's, then we have to get going and warn Daisuke!"
"Daisuke can take care of himself, Koga," Sango countered in an even manner. "And we should try and find out how many wolf-demons are down there before we make our next move." Not giving the wolf-demon a chance to counter this, the warrior woman again focused on Michiru. "Well? Can you do it?"
Narrowing his eyes in consideration, Michiru then nodded. "I won't be able to give you an exact count from here. Not without a scout. But...I think I can at least give you a rough number."
Smiling her encouragement, Sango replied, "That's all we need, Michiru."
Nodding, Michiru then closed his eyes in concentration. Knowing that he was reaching out with his Shikigami, scanning for disturbances in the air, the water flowing through the living bodies down below, as well as the natural disturbance resulting of demonic power, Kagome asked, "How about I help? With the compass, I -!"
"No, Kagome. The wolf-demons will be able to see the compass's beam, just like Michiru's scouts," Sango countered evenly. "We just need a rough idea of their numbers, nothing more."
Kagome was about to ask why this was when Michiru opened his eyes. "I...I can't be sure, Sango, but...from the strength of the disturbance down there, and...well it felt like there's a bunch of wolf-demons down there. Like...I dunno, thirty or forty?"
"We exiled a little over thirty wolf-demons with Toma," Ayame chimed in, her fists clenching. "If you're right, then that's all of them down there."
"Which means that, even if Michiru's count is off and some of them are somewhere else, that wouldn't be enough for Toma to mount an assault on the Demon Slayer fort," Miroku nodded. "But that still doesn't eliminate the possibility of him taking a few of his people with him to track down Daisuke and his envoy."
"Maybe, but even so, it still means that Toma would only be able to muster a token force to deal with Daisuke and his group," Sango decided.
"A token force might well be all that Toma would need," Miroku countered, his narrowed with concern. "Remember, Daisuke will only be bringing a few of his people to the negotiations. And if they run into an ambush..."
"If they ran into an ambush, then they're probably getting eaten while we're standing around here, doing nothing!" InuYasha fumed impatiently. "Now, c'mon! Let's just take these bastards down and get it over with already!" Without another word, the half-demon sprang forward, drawing the Tetsusaiga.
"InuYasha, wait!" Kaname cried out in protest.
"You're wasting your breath, Kaname," Kagome grumbled, giving the Kururugi girl a sideways glance. "InuYasha never bothers to think about it before doing something stupid."
"It's like I've always said," Shippo smiled knowingly, "he's got plenty of brawn, but no brains!"
"Yeah, well, no matter how strong he is, he'll still be in trouble if he fights on his own," Michiru muttered warily.
"Right," Sango nodded before looking over her shoulder at Kirara's other riders. "Miroku, you better get off."
A beat passed as Miroku visibly considered this. Though Kirara could fly well with more than one passenger, it remained true that the more people she carried in a battle, the more her mobility suffered, and the greater the danger to her riders. "Very well," he soon answered, sliding off the two-tail's back. Looking up at the Kururugi boy still on Kirara, he frowned and told him, "Uh...what about Michiru? Shouldn't he...? "
"No. I'm going to need his help out there," Sango returned without hesitation. Jolted by this, Kagome looked wide-eyed at the Demon Slayer, and could tell that Miroku was suffering a similar reaction. "You ready, Michiru?"
Blinking in surprise, Michiru hesitated before responding. "Uh...hold on. I just thought of something." Before Sango could say anything, the Kururugi boy turned and called out, "Hey, Shippo! Come here!"
"Huh?" Shippo yelped in surprise. Glancing over at Kagome, the little fox then looked back at Michiru before leaping out of the basket. "What is it?"
"There's something I've been wanting to try for a while, but I'm gonna need your help for it," Michiru explained, smiling the entire time. "You up for it?"
His little eyes swelling in his head, Shippo gaped at the two of them for a moment before responding, "You need my help?!" When Michiru nodded, the fox-demon grinned boisterously before leaping up and grabbing hold of the Kururugi boy's shoulder. "Alright! Let's do it!"
Smiling in response, Michiru tightened his hold on Sango's waist. "You heard him, Sango! Let's go!"
"Yeah! Before InuYasha gets himself into trouble! Again!" Shippo added mischievously.
Giving a terse nod, Sango took hold of Hiraikotsu's grip with one hand, and a tuft of the two-tail's fur in the other. "Let's do this Kirara!" With a feral roar, the huge cat leapt into the air, heading towards the woods.
While Kagome and Miroku looked after them, still dealing with the shock of the situation, Koga grinned eagerly before delivering a punch to the palm of his free hand. "Let's get going, everybody! We can't let the mutt have all the fun!"
Giving one last look to Kirara and the people riding her, Kagome sighed and shoved her thoughts and concerns to the side. "Right," she muttered before getting off her bike. Letting it fall to the ground, she took her bow in hand and darted forward. There was no time to be thinking of the bad situation developing between Miroku, Sango, and Michiru. Right now, she had to be focused on stopping Toma.
But even so, Kagome couldn't help but be bothered by the way Sango had dismissed Miroku, while deciding that she needed Michiru's help...
Sango said that...she needs me, Michiru couldn't help but think as they flew forward, the wind whipping the Demon Slayer's hair into his face. Trying very hard not to be distracted by the gorgeous scent filling his nose. But even so, he was having a hard time containing his delight, at putting somewhere out of the way so that he could focus on the crisis at hand.
Michiru knew that the Demon Slayer was focusing on the situation at hand, and that her decision was almost certainly motivated by simple tactical logic. After all, while her Hiraikotsu was powerful and her skill with it was second to none, there was still a danger of accidentally hitting one of their friends with it if they wound up engaging Toma's forces in close-combat. A weakness that Michiru's Shikigami didn't suffer. And they had proven themselves to be excellent fighting combination in the past, so Sango most likely wanted to take advantage of that.
But all the same, there was a part of Michiru that dearly wanted her decision to based on something more. That wanted her to say that he was more than a good friend and companion to her. A part that wanted her to look him in the eyes and say...
"We've got trouble," Sango muttered in a low, dangerous voice. Shaken by these words which most certainly not the ones that he wanted to hear from her, Michiru snapped back to the moment and looked down below. Sure enough, Koga's followers had realized that their trap had been seen through before it could be sprung, and were now meeting InuYasha's charge with one of their own. "Michiru, get ready!"
Nodding, Michiru did his best to put his feelings to the side. "Okay, Shippo! You ready for action?"
"Yeah!" Shippo grinned eagerly. Then his grin turned to a look of confusion as he asked, "So...what do you want me to do?"
“Just this,” Michiru replied, taking a card from his holster. Then he picked up Shippo in his left hand and placed the card on the fox-demon’s forehead. That done, Michiru closed his eyes in concentration as he focused his powers through the card, with then channeled them into Shippo.
"Hey! Wh-what -?!" Shippo cried out, his body lighting up with the power of Michiru's Shikigami. Feeling his magic merging with the fox-demon’s own powers, the Kururugi boy conjured up an image in his mind, one to which Shippo's fox magic responded. With a loud puff of smoke, the little fox-demon transformed. Opening his eyes as the smoke cleared, Michiru smiled with a sense of satisfaction when he saw the results.
Glancing back to see what the noise was about, Sango's mouth popped open. "What the -?!" she gasped as she took in the transformed fox-demon, which was now in the shape of an oversized cannon that was molded around Michiru’s left arm, with a muzzle shaped like a fox's head. "I didn't know you could do that!"
"It's another trick I picked up from that book my dad gave us," Michiru explained bashfully. "It's my first time using it.”
"Your first time?!" came Shippo's shocked voice. Looking down, Michiru watched as the transformed fox-demon demanded, "You mean that you weren't even sure it would work?!"
"Uh..." Michiru hesitated, rolling his eyes to the side as his cheeks burned with humiliation. "No, no! I knew I could do it...well...in theory, that is." As Shippo continued to stare at him, a drop of sweat rolled down the side of his head. A chuckle of embarrassment escaping his lips, the Shikigami User swallowed loudly before getting back to business. "Anyway, you ready to try this new form on for size?”
“What are you talking about? What can I do, stuck on your arm like this?!” Shippo complained, his eyes wide with incredulity.
Curling the corner of his lip, Michiru too careful aim at the rogue wolf-demons below, targeting the area just ahead of them. “How about...this!” Manipulating Shippo as if he were a part of his own body, the Shikigami User opened the fox-demon's mouth. The power of his Shikigami merged with Shippo's fox magic, resulting in a massive stream of foxfire that lanced down towards the ground. The fiery blast struck home just in front of the lead rogues, blasting out a large crater and sending bits and pieces of fiery earth in every direction, stopping them in their tracks.
“Whoa!” Shippo yelped as a hint of smoke appeared from his mouth. “Hey, that was really cool!!”
"It certainly got their attention!" Sango decided, looking down below. The rogues that had stopped to avoid the blast were now being trampled by their fellows, who were forced to change course quickly lest they be sent into the burning pit. "Okay, Kirara! Take us in! We've got a lot of work ahead of us!"
Heh! Not bad! Koga thought as he charged into battle, glancing up at the descending two-tail and it's riders. As he watched, several more blasts of fiery destruction shot down in rapid succession. Most of the blasts hit nothing but soil and grass, but three of them struck their targets, sending two rogue tumbling to the ground, crying out in agony, while the third was dead before he even hit the ground. At this rate, these bastards will nothing but bad memories in seconds!
Even as Koga thought this, his companions were fighting hard to make that thought reality. InuYasha was quickly swamped by several rogues, and responded to them by introducing them to the Tetsusaiga's blade, filling the air with blood and screams of pain. Kagome fired several arrows in quick succession, sending the rogues scattering and others to their deaths. Kaname unleashed her Swords of Thunder on her foes, as well as other spells that sent them crashing down in defeat. Miroku sent several sutra scrolls flying even as he addressed other opponents with his Buddhist staff. And Ayame unleashed a barrage of sharp leaves at her enemies, which cut into their flesh like a hailstorm of shuriken.
But even as Koga took in the damage being done by his allies, he sped past them, not bothering to join in. There was only one wolf-demon that he was interested in fighting. The only wolf-demon that wasn't participating in the battle. And after a few seconds of searching, Koga spotted him standing just outside of the woods they had been hiding in, his arms folded across his chest and a cruel smirk twisting his lips.
"Heh! So there you are, Toma!" Koga snarled as he rushed up to confront the silver-haired rogue. "Should've figured that you'd be too much of a coward to fight your own battles!"
Snorting loudly, Toma countered, "A coward? The only coward here is you, Koga!" Narrowing his eyes in disgust, the rogue added, "Look at you! Trying to make allies out of the humans instead of relying on your own strength! Hoping to pollute our blood by mixing it with theirs!"
Rewarding this goad with a contemptuous sneer, Koga shot back with, "Yeah, well, you're the one standing around doing nothing while your followers are getting all torn apart. And you're the one losing to humans! So what do you have to say to that?!"
"Me? I haven't lost anything! Toma scowled before turning his glare towards the battlefield. "I will admit that I'm disappointed. It seems that our blood is even thinner than I realized." Shaking his head in disgust, the rogue watched as another of his followers was sent crashing down to the ground. “True-blooded demons losing to half-breeds and humans. How pathetic!”
"Yeah! Those idiots are pathetic!" Koga growled, clenching his fists. "But look on the bright side, Toma! At least when you die, it'll be at the hands of another demon!"
"Ha! You mean you actually think you have a chance against me?" Letting out a loud, barking laugh, Toma then shook his head and let his arms fall to his sides. "Well, at least you're confident, for a weakling and a fool! If you think you can fight me, then go ahead and try!" With a few more chuckles, the rogue stepped forward, as if he were presenting himself to Koga. "Come on! Come and get me!"
Disgusted and insulted by the rogue's arrogance, Koga felt his blood come to a boil. "You asked for it, Toma!" he snarled before springing forward. The wind whipping past him, the alpha wolf shot at his foe at full speed. the world blurring around him, he then jumped into a kick.
His foe didn't even attempt to dodge. Toma just stood there, the same foul grin on his face as Koga flew towards him...and caught his foot in his hand. Stopping it like it was nothing.
"Hmph! Not bad!" Toma grinned cruelly as Koga hung in mid-air, his mind emptied by pure shock. Which left him completely vulnerable as the rogue growled and whipped him up, then smashed him down into the ground, resulting in a large crater. Stunned by both the blow and the suddenness of the turnaround, Koga could do little except cry out in pain as Toma again lifted him into the air. "But then, I suppose I should expect you to have some strength! The strength of the Shikon Jewel Shards, that is, you worthless little nothing!" the rogue cackled maniacally. "I look forward to seeing what I can do with them...one I've ripped them out of you, legs and all!"
Staggered by confusion and dizziness, Koga grunted as Toma again lifted him up into the air. Realizing that he had only moments until he was subjected to another crushing blow, he growled and instinctively kicked with his free leg. "Not gonna happen!" he declared as he struck Toma's wrist, a blow that was punctuated by the sound of bones cracking and a cry of pain. Pain that loosened the rogue's grip just enough for Koga to fall free. With instinct as his guide, Koga reached out and landed on his hands, then rebounded up into the air and tumbled away from him.
"Ha! Not bad, for someone as pathetic as you!" Toma grinned as Koga landed, quickly adopting a battle-ready stance. "But soon you'll wish that you'd put those Shards of yours to good use...by running for your life!" The silver-haired rogue then started laughing boisterously. Laughter that soon deepened, his mouth growing wider, his fangs more prominent.
"What in the -?!" Koga started, only to be cut off when a blast of demonic aura exploded out from Toma, very nearly knocking him off his feet. As it was, he was very nearly floored when his adversary began to change...
Okay, this getting tiresome... Kagome thought wearily as she lowered the scroll in her hand, still sparking with magical lightning.
Since she had first started coming to the Feudal Era, Kagome had fought many battles. Some of them had been extraordinarily dangerous, bringing her and her friends to brink of death, like their confrontations with Naraku. Some of them had battles against people who had been manipulated into fighting them, and others had been the result of a misunderstanding that was eventually cleared up. However, the battle she was fighting now was quite likely one of the most stupid battles she had ever been involved in.
From the start, Kagome had been holding back on her assaults. Though the wolf-demons she was facing were on Toma's side, she really didn't want to kill them, not unless she had no other choice. And so she had restricted herself to using her Sacred Lightning scroll. It was powerful enough in its own right, and she could control the force of her attacks, unleashing lightning bolts that were damaging, but not necessarily lethal. She had figured that a few rounds of being electrocuted would make it clear that the rogues wouldn't be winning this battle.
However, the rogues weren't giving up. Kagome had zapped the ones she was dealing with at least five times already, and no matter how many times they were knocked down, or how badly they were scorched or how much they shook and twitched from the spiritual lightning that were scrambling their nervous systems, they somehow managed to force themselves back onto their feet, and start fighting all over again.
And it wasn't just Kagome's foes that were exhibiting this less of stubbornness; all around her, wolf-demons that were bleeding from innumerable wounds, had visibly broken bones, and were suffering from burns and other forms of damage struggled to keep fighting, no matter what.
But why?! What could possibly be worth so much suffering?! Kagome wondered as she watched the battle degenerate into what could only be called a massacre. Are they against the alliance so much that they're willing to die to stop it. Or -?
Kagome's chain of thought was cut off by two things happening in rapid succession. The compass that still hung from about her neck was activating on its own, the light it gave causing her to look down at it in surprise. As she was processing the meaning of this event, a wave of demonic wind blew through the area, very nearly knocking her off her feet. "Wh-what the -?!" the modern priestess gasped in surprise, raising her arm to shield her eyes from the wind and any debris. As she did so, she looked down at the compass's beam, and followed it with her eyes, searching for whatever had caused it to react of its own accord.
To her surprise and horror, that thing turned out to be Toma. Or what had once been Toma.
Before Kagome's eyes, the silver-haired rogue was growing rapidly. His bones were cracking and rebuilding themselves to be thicker and larger, at the same time his muscles bulged with might. His arms flexing seeming of their own accord as his biceps swelled, Toma laughed maliciously as his simple armor strained against his burgeoning form, and ultimately failed. As his body continued to rebuild itself for greater power, fur the same color as his hair sprang up from his skin in waves, spreading out across his arms and legs. His claws grew thicker and longer and darker.
As the transformation ran its course, Toma stood up straight, now eight feet of coiled, steely muscle wrapped in rough fur. His fangs were more like tusks, and his face was a twisted, animalistic snarl that would quickly send children to hide under their beds.
As for Kagome, she just groaned in dismay. Great. Another jerk who can turn himself into an even bigger, nastier jerk, she thought wearily. Where do these guys come from, anyway?
Realizing that the an already annoying battles had just gotten worse, Kagome moved to place her scroll back in her backpack when a low moan of despair caught her attention. Startled by the unfamiliar voice, she looked about, and was stunned to see that it was coming from one of the wolf-demons she had been battling. "Now we are dead...!"
"Huh?" Kagome squeaked, completely thrown by this turn of events. Slowly looking this way and that, she soon realized that all of the rogues that remained conscious wore similar expressions of doom. A couple of them, so battered that they had barely managed to stand, fell to their knees in horror. "Wh-what...what do you...?"
"I'm done with these little games, humans! I'm done putting up with all of you simpering weaklings!" the thing that Toma had become growled mockingly. His eyes narrowing into deadly slits, he raised his clawed hands up at them. "It's time to bring an end to this...!"
"What...?" one of the rogues moaned, just before his eyes went wide with horror. "Wait...no, no!"
“Please…Master Toma! Please spare us!" another rogue cried out as several others cringed in terror, looking as if a private nightmare had just been realized. "We’ve all…been loyal!”
“Loyal, yes. Useful? No!” Before everyone’s eyes, Toma’s claws launched from his fingertips like missiles, striking several of the rogues. The black claws buried themselves in their bodies, causing them to howl in agony.
A short distance away, Koga watched as the stricken rogues fell to the ground, crying out in pain as they convulsed helplessly on the ground. And in that moment, Kagome could see the horror he felt at a fellow wolf-demon being subjected to such torment, so much so that he forgot that these were his enemies. "Damn you!" the alpha snarled hatefully. "Just what the hell do you think you're doing?!"
“Making something useful of these weaklings, Koga!" Toma gloated as his followers' torment increased. As Kagome watched, veins of darkness spread out from where each of them had been hit, veins that caused their muscles to swell uncontrollably. But unlike Toma's transformation, the growths were cancerous, swelling out of control and even bursting out of their skin. Blood gushed out of their wounds even as they were covered over by hideous scars. "Now, go, you fools! Go and kill!!"
In response to Toma's command, the mutated aberrations that had once been wolf-demons rose up to their feet and roared hatefully. As for the remaining rogues, they looked in abject horror at their monstrous brethren before turning towards Toma. "And as for the rest of your, if you want to live, then attack! Show them no mercy!"
What happened next was like something out of an old zombie movie. The horribly transformed wolf-demons struggled to their feet, their mutated bodies so twisted that they could no longer move in a coordinated manner. Adding to this horror was that every move they made caused their bloated musculature to burst open another patch of skin, sending blood spraying before the wound scarred over. Their eyes filmed with pain and hatred, the monstrous creatures staggered forward, groaning and snarling as they advanced on their prey.
"Oh, no..." Kagome moaned, a wad of bile filling her throat as she backed away from the advancing horrors. As she glanced about at her transmogrified enemies, she realized that the rogues that were still recognizable as wolf-demons were forcing their broken bodies to move again. As they advanced, they glanced over at their mutated brethren, the fear in their eyes painfully apparent. Fear that they would suffer the same fate as them.
Not that I can blame them! Kagome thought, realizing that she now knew the reason for the rogues' obsessive need to keep fighting, no matter how badly hurt they were. But what do we do now?! If we beat the rest of them up, Toma will zap them as well!
It quickly turned out that she wasn't the only one to realize this. "Dammit!" InuYasha snarled as he leapt past two of the shambling monstrosities. "I don't know how you did that, Toma! But what I do know is that you're not going to be around to do it twice! Wind -!"
Kagome never even saw Toma move. One moment, the transmuted rogue had been standing nearby, a twisted grin on his animalistic face. The next, he was gone, a puff of smoke the only thing to indicate he had once been there. Before she even had the chance to process what had happened, a cry of pain was heard. As one, she and her friends looked up, and gasped in shock.
"InuYasha!" Kagome cried out in disbelief. The half-demon was hanging in mid-air, doubled-over with Toma's fist buried in his stomach.
"Worthless half-breed!" Toma crowed as he wrapped his free hand about InuYasha's head. "Your blood is polluted by weak human blood! You deserve to die for that alone!" The mutated beast than threw the half-demon down to the earth, a crater forming from the impact. Stunned by the blow, InuYasha could do nothing as Toma followed him down, claws at the ready. "Only the strong survive! Only the -!"
"Protective Light!" another voice broke in. Glancing over, Kagome watched as Kaname sent forth her Light Shikigami, which transformed into a magical barrier around InuYasha. She was just in time, for the instant the magical shell had taken shape, Toma slammed into, the force of his impact sending shockwaves through the earth.
Rebounding off the barrier, Toma looked about, his monstrous eyes narrowing as they locked onto Kaname. "Wretched little girl!" he roared savagely as he came down to the ground. "You're going to be my next meal!"
As the feral monster launched himself at her, Kaname looked like a deer caught in a truck's headlights. But before Toma could seal her fate, another large from charged in at him from the side, carrying him away. A shape left a trail of flame in its wake.
"Kirara!" Kagome cried out in abject relief as she realized the identity of their rescuer. The two-tail had sunk her huge fangs into Toma's waist, leaving him momentarily defenseless. It was a moment that Michiru was quick to take advantage of; with a gesture, the Shikigami User sent a wave of brilliant fiery destruction right into Toma's face. The force of the blast wound up ripping the silvery beast out of the two-tail's mouth, leaving chunks of him still clinging to her teeth as he tumbled through the air to crash into the trees.
Making a mental note to thank Sango for deciding to bring Michiru with her in this battle, Kagome was brought back to the moment when one of the mutated wolf-demons lunged at her. Hurriedly yanking an arrow from her quiver, she nocked it to her bowstring and fired it off with all her strength. The Sacred Arrow struck her target right in the face, causing it to explode in a spray of gore.
There! That's one down! Kagome thought, already preparing another arrow. But before she could take aim at another target, the creature she had just decapitated lunged forward, claws at the ready. Crying out in surprise, the modern priestess leapt to the side, allowing the hideous aberration to rush right past her. Oh, no...don't tell me...! Hoping against hope that she was wrong, that the charge had been nothing more than the dead monster running like a chicken with its head chopped off, she paused just long enough to watch her attacker turn to face her again...and very nearly threw up at what she saw.
From the massive open wound where the monstrosities head had once been, bone and sinew and blood and skin where twisting about and growing. But what they were turning into wasn't a head, at least not like the original one. Instead, the flaps of skin from the neck grew out to form a three-way jaw, with spikes of bone for teeth. At the center of the flaps was a pussy pool of yellow liquid with a darker patch of fluid in the middle that was already focusing on her.
Nauseated by this horror, Kagome reacted the only way she could. Quickly taking aim, she loosed her arrow at the monster's leg, blasting it apart. "Everyone! These things - they keep healing themselves!" she cried out as she distanced herself from the monster, knowing it was only a matter of time before it came after her again. "We can't stop them by attacking them!"
"I know, Kagome!" Miroku responded, a serious expression on his face. "Our only chance is stop this nightmare at the source! Everyone, get clear!" Realizing what the monk had in mind, Kagome nodded and started running. Glancing about, she could see that her other friends were responding to the monk's command, getting out from between him and Toma. "This fight is over! Wind Tunnel!"
Though Kagome couldn't see it happening, she could still hear the massive rushing of air that signified that the void had once again been unleashed. Glancing over in the monk's direction, she watched as two of the mutated wolf-demons fell into the abyssal void and were consumed. And more importantly, she could see Toma being drawn in as well. The hairy beast had his feet and one hand dug into the ground, but while this slowed him down, it didn't change the fact that he would soon be pulled in.
Just as Kagome was certain that the battle was about to end, Toma grinned and snarled, "Grrr...so this is the Wind Tunnel, huh? Impressive power, human!" As he continued to be dragged forward, he reached into the patch of fur about his waist, one of the few shreds of clothing that still clung to his outsized frame, and pulled something from it. "It's a good thing that I was prepared for it!"
Before she could even try to figure out what Toma meant, the massive monstrosity threw something towards the monk. When the object hit the ground, it seemingly exploded, releasing clouds of insects. The insects quickly grew, filling the sky with hordes of large, wasp-like insects.
Kagome blanched at the sight of the huge insects. And a glance at Miroku revealed that he was doing the same. “The Saimyosho?!!” he cried out, hurriedly sealing up the Wind Tunnel before the first of the lethal insects could plunge into its depths. "But - that means -!"
"Naraku," came Koga's voice. A voice that was low with horror and astonishment. "I...I don't believe this..."
"Don't you, Koga?!" Toma laughed uproariously. "You're not the only one who realized that the wolf-demon tribe
is too weak to survive as it is! But while you sought to make us even weaker with the blood of humans, I sought out even greater power!" Then his laugher slowly died down as he turned a poisonous glare at the monk. "It's just too bad that you didn't use your Wind Tunnel during the tournament. If you had, I wouldn't have had to go to all this trouble."
"If you'd use those wasps back then, then everyone would have seen you for the monster you are then and there!" Ayame snarled, her entire body trembling with disgust. Shaking her head wildly, the redhead balled up her fists and demanded, "How could you do this, Toma?! How could you possibly go to a monster like Naraku after everything he's done to us?!"
“And what’s so wrong with that, Ayame? Isn’t it better to have such a powerful demon as an ally than an enemy?” Toma asked rhetorically, grinning all the while. “Unlike the rest of you, he understands the value of power! That only the strong deserve to live! And with the power he's given me, I've been able to grow stronger at every turn! Observe, the power that is mine!" With this declaration, the monstrous rogue turned and grabbed one of the wolf-demons he'd infected with his claws. The monstrosity squealed in Toma's grasp, flailing its swollen limbs wildly about before the silver beast lashed out and drove his massive fangs into its throat. The mutated aberration let out one final shriek of pain before falling silent. And then...
Oh, no...! Kagome thought as she watched what happened next. In the span of a few seconds, the mutated demon shriveled up into nothing more than a husk. As it did so, Toma rapidly grew, his muscles swelling up even more, until he finally tossed the emaciated corpse away.
"There! Did you see that?! That's what it means to be powerful!" Toma roared triumphantly. "The strong devour the weak, and become even stronger! That is the way of the world!"
"I see," Miroku commented in a low, angry voice. “Do I take this to mean that that is the fate that befell the wolf-demons you took with you in order to capture your little pets?”
“Of course. Once they were defeated by those demons, I had to make good use of them,” Toma smirked cruelly.
“You damned fool!!!!” Koga roared. “You actually trust that murdering bastard Naraku?! He’ll turn on you the first opportunity he gets!!!!”
“So what? He’s already given me everything I need! Namely, the power that is mine by right!!” Toma grinned before turning towards Koga. "And soon, I'll again be master of the wolf-demon tribe and have the power of the Shikon Jewel Shards...once I've eaten you alive!"
“Heh! As if that's gonna happen!" InuYasha sneered. Having recovered from Toma's earlier assault, the half-demon now stood proudly, the Tetsusaiga at the ready. "There's no way in hell we're gonna lose to a mangy wolf that put himself on Naraku’s leash!”
"No argument here, mutt!" Koga declared, his eyes burning with intense rage. “You allied yourself with the monster that killed my pack, you got our own people killed just to satisfy your own need for more power, and now you think you deserve to be our leader?! In your dreams!!”
“Of course I will be the leader of our tribe, Koga, you fool!” Toma declared gloatingly. “I have the power in me of all our fallen warriors! You could never hope to challenge me!”
Toma's gloating declaration was answered by a stream of fire lancing him in the arm. Crying out in pain, the silver beast glanced at the scorched fur before turning towards the person responsible. “Maybe not alone,” Michiru declared, his eyes narrowed with scorn. “Too bad for you that he isn’t!”
"That's right!" Sango added fiercely. "None of us are alone, Toma! But you? The only allies you have are the ones you've forced into serving you! The only reason your own people are fighting for you is because they're afraid!"
"And they should be afraid of me!" Toma sneered contemptuously. "I'm the one with the power! I'm the one who chooses who lives and who dies! And when I'm done, all who live will fear me!"
"I could never be afraid of a monster as low you are!" Ayame vehemently declared. "Look at you! You claim to be the leader of our people, but you don't know the first thing about being a leader!"
"Yeah, that's for sure!" Kagome chimed in, coming up alongside of Ayame. "You don't care about your tribe or any of that! You're just using them to get whatever it is you want!"
"And that, little human wench, is what it means to be a leader!" Toma snarled, once again disappearing. The next thing Kagome knew, the entire world seemed to be knocked on its side as her mind exploded with pain.
"No! Kagome! Ayame!" Michiru cried out in dismay as his two friends were assaulted. Knocked into the air by Toma, the priestess and the she-wolf found themselves be grabbed by their legs and hoisted up into the air.
"Get your filthy claws off them, you bastard!" Koga howled hatefully even as InuYasha held the Tetsusaiga at the ready.
"Why? So you won't hurt them when you make your futile attempts to defeat me?!" Toma laughed mockingly. "You still don't get it, Koga! You're too soft to defeat me! You keep worrying about these inferior creatures," he snarled, giving Kagome a vicious shaking, "and these softhearted weaklings!" Subjecting Ayame to a shaking as well, the silver beast than held them both up to his foes and grinned, "And your softness is why you are already doomed! Now, my followers! Kill them all!"
Gritting her teeth at this disgusting display, Sango was snapped back to the present when she felt Michiru begin to slide off Kirara. "No, Michiru, don't!" she told him, stopping the Shikigami User from moving with the force of her gaze. "Attacking Toma right now won't do them any good!"
"I wasn't going to attack him!" Michiru responded in a low voice. "But I thought if I could distract him, maybe use a weakening spell -!"
"He could still kill them the instant he felt your spell taking effect," Sango retorted quietly before returning her gaze to her captive friends, as well even as the battle that once again started in earnest. The mutated wolf-demons and the barely moving rogues fighting against their friends, with the Saimyosho buzzing about both them and Toma himself. She didn't bother to mention that Toma didn't necessarily have to kill them. If he wanted, he could rip off an arm or a leg with his teeth, or even worse, mutate them as he had his own people. "No, first we have to do something about his forces. If we can free up our friends, then we'd have a better chance of rescuing Kagome and Ayame."
"But how do we do that?!" Shippo asked nervously, his worried expression completely at odds with the fearsome visage he wore. "You've seen what happens when somebody tries to hurt them! They just heal and keep going!"
Sango knew that, but at the same time, she also knew that the aberrations didn't heal properly. The new tissue that grew to replace that which had been destroyed was twisted, corrupted. Each time they were damaged, they became that much clumsier, less capable of fighting. Which meant that if they took enough damage, they would no longer be capable of moving, let alone fighting. The problem with this idea, of course, was that an attack powerful enough to render the mutant wolves useless would likely kill the others as well.
But every problem had a solution. Especially when you had an ally who was capable of bending nature to his will.
"Let's go, Kirara!" Sango ordered, gently kneeing the two-tail in the sides. Responding to this prompt, Kirara roared and rose up into the sky.
"Sango, wait! What are you -?!" Michiru protested as Kirara rose up even higher and higher, quickly turning away from the battle.
"I have an idea, Michiru," Sango urged him, turning to look him in the eyes. "Please, just trust me."
A beat passed as the two of them looked each other in the eyes. Soon, the concern flooding Michiru's blue-gray irises abated, and he replied, "I do trust you."
Smiling in response to these four simple words that meant so much, Sango nodded and looked down below at their enemy. In rapid succession, the Demon Slayer considered what she knew about Toma, including his strengths and weaknesses. His strengths, of course, were his enhanced strength and speed, which made a direct assault difficult at best. He also had to possess extreme physical durability, given the limited effect Michiru's earlier flame attack had on him. He could mutate others into monsters, and drain them to make himself stronger.
But at the same time, these enhanced powers had to come at some price. Toma had gotten them from Naraku, and Sango knew that their enemy would never give any amount of power to anyone, not without some way of neutralizing them if they became a threat. He held the hearts of each of his incarnations, which was how he insured their loyalty. There was no way he would give Toma his own powers without also including some kind of failsafe mechanism.
Then there was his mutated followers. Not only were their mental capabilities impaired by their transformation, if not eliminated altogether, but it was also clear that Toma couldn't control them directly. They needed to be ordered to do whatever he wanted them to do, which meant that there was every possibility of cutting them off from him.
However, Toma's greatest weakness was undoubtedly his arrogance. He loved the sound of his own voice, never wasting an opportunity to belittle his enemies, to make them feel small and worthless. Furthermore, he needed to constantly prove his superiority, perhaps as compensation for his disastrous defeats suffered on the day of the tournament. He constantly dismissed all of them as being inconsequential, and thus finding himself surprised and confused every time he was proven wrong, and needing time to recover from it. Finally, his actions betrayed a scattershot mind. He had trouble focusing on what was important, and was easily distracted and frustrated.
Even as Sango thought this, a loud, harsh laugh was heard. "You see that, Koga!" Toma jeered maliciously. "Your precious little humans are running away! They've abandoned you!" Another round of cruel laughter was heard by the monstrous wolf-demon added, "And you know why that is? Because they don't fear you! Nobody fears you! Because they fear me! Me!"
Sango couldn't help but smile at this. Toma had just made a crucial mistake. He had dismissed her and Michiru, and was now focusing on the others. Now she had to capitalize on that error. "Okay, Michiru. This is it," she tersely explained. "We have to lure Toma's followers away from him."
"Lure them away?" Shippo repeated blankly.
"That's right," Sango nodded. "If we can do that, then it should distract Toma long for the others to save Kagome and Ayame. Also, it'll give us a chance to attack them at full force, without endangering anyone else." His mouth popping slightly open, Michiru then frowned in consideration. "Now, can your Shikigami effect them from up here? Confuse them so that they move away from the others?"
A thoughtful noise sounding in his throat, Michiru eventually nodded. "I'm not sure I can fool all of them, but I can definitely get the ones Toma's mutated," he assured her in a level, confident tone. Satisfied by this, the Demon Slayer watched as the Shikigami User focused his thoughts, a pentagram spinning into existence beneath him. "Oh, overflowing blue sky, fill this space with chaos! Blue Sky Confusion!” With this invocation, his Wind Shikigami appeared and flew downwards towards the battlefield, transforming in a wind that spread forth, wrapping about the mutated horrors below...
"What are you fools doing?!" Toma bellowed, very nearly deafening Kagome as she observed the battle going on before them. Only she could hardly call it a battle anymore.
Just moments ago, Kagome had been watching helplessly as her friends struggled against Toma's forces. The wolf-demons that remained themselves weren't a problem; they were so badly battered they could barely move, and were no more eager to get in close to their mutated brethren than she would be. But the unstoppable monstrosities Toma had created were another story. InuYasha had cut down them down time and again, Koga and Miroku had battered their own adversaries, and Kaname had unleashed spell after devastating spell on the creatures attacking her, even getting one of them to swallow a bunch of her Shikigami card, which she had promptly caused to explode within the twisted aberration. The only thing they had succeeded in doing was mutilating the freakish creatures into ever more horrendous nightmares.
Then, just as she was beginning to think that this nightmare would never end, a strange wind had swept through the area. A wind that had been charged with a green, magical light that she immediately recognized as being from a Shikigami spell. Almost immediately, the aberrations paused, some of them stopping in mid-attack. While InuYasha and the others looked on, watching and wondering what exactly was going on, the mutated horrors started looking about in obvious confusion.
"What's going on?!" Ayame asked fearfully as the monsters started roaring at each other. But before Kagome could give her an answer, a wave of cherry blossoms filled the air, swirling about the monsters.
Michiru! It's got to be! Kagome realized as the second Shikigami spell began to take effect, the magical blossoms flowing across the battlefield. As they started to blow away, the creatures grunted and groaned, following them with their eyes. I knew that Sango wouldn't just take off on us like that!
"Don't stop, you worthless idiots!" Toma ranted, his grip tightening painfully about Kagome's leg. "Kill them! Kill th- what?!" The silver beast cut himself off as his creatures started after the fleeing cherry blossoms, excited growls rising up from them as they raced away from their opponents. "What is this madness?!"
That's just what it is, Toma! Green Wood Madness! Kagome thought, recognizing the spell from the tournament. She also recognized that she now had a chance to free herself and Ayame. Toma was distracted, confused, but that wouldn't last long. He would soon realize that his troops' sudden desertion made him a target for the others, which meant that she only had a small window of opportunity before he made of her and the she-wolf as shields. One Sacred Lightning attack oughta be enough to make him drop us! she thought, reaching into her backpack. Oh, please tell me that the scroll didn't fall out! Please -!
"Well, well, Toma!" InuYasha growled dangerously. Looking about, Kagome saw the half-demon hefting the Tetsusaiga, it's blade gleaming in the night. "Looks like you're the one running short of allies!"
No! Stupid, stupid, stupid InuYasha! Kagome screamed inwardly, wishing that she had the time to bury him with 'sits'. On the one hand, she was grateful that he had had the sense to not simply rush in and attack; as fast as Toma was now, he would have no problem intercepting any attack made on him with either her or Ayame. But at the same time, the half-demon had just called attention to Toma's predicament, which meant that she had to act now.
"So why don't you just give it up already?!" InuYasha went on as Kagome felt something solid within her grasp. "Or do I have to make you give up!"
"Me?! Surrender?!" Toma sneered hatefully, and Kagome realized that she was out of time. Without another thought, she whipped out the artifact that she had grabbed and held it out towards Toma...only to blanch in horror.
The Gourd of Revelations?! Kagome gaped, despair flooding her as she looked at the green gourd that had been forged into what basically amounted to a magic water bottle that gave the water it carried the ability to dispel illusions. And was completely useless in a fight. Of all the - InuYasha, I'm gonna - !
"You're the one who's going to surrender, half-breed!" Toma grinned, holding up the girls even higher. "That is, unless you..." The massive rogue trailed off as he looked at Kagome. And more important, the artifact in her hands.
She didn't have a choice. Toma was frozen with confusion, so if she were to act, it had to be now. Acting on pure instinct, Kagome pulled out the Gourd's stopper. "Here's mud in your eyes!" she cried out as she splashed the monstrous wolf in the face, hoping that being blinded with water would distract him enough to loosen his grip.
To Kagome's immense surprise, the results of the water were far more dramatic. And effective.
The instant the magical water struck Toma's flesh, his skin and fur started melting away. Crying out in shock and pain, the monstrous rogue released his hostages, sending both Kagome and Ayame tumbling to the ground. As Toma staggered away, the redhead sat up and looked at him in horror. "Ohmigosh...Kagome, what was in that thing?!"
"Damn you!" Toma howled rage and agony, a glob of molten flesh running down his face. "What have you done to me?!"
"You did it, Michiru!" Sango beamed as she looked down at the battlefield. In fact, the Shikigami User had exceeded her expectations; not only had he successfully lured the mutated demons away from the others with this spells, but had gotten them so far away that there was no chance of the others being imperiled by what they did next. "Are you ready to put an end to this?"
"Ready," Michiru responded without even the slightest hesitation.
Smiling in spite of everything, Sango looked over her shoulder at her companion, and took in his gentle eyes.
He’s become so strong, and so quickly… she found herself thinking, only to shake her head free of idle thoughts. "Then let's do it! Kirara!"
Roaring in response, Kirara angled herself downwards, plunging towards the corrupted wolf-demons. As she did so, she raised her Hiraikotsu and held it off to the side. "Okay, Michiru! Now!"
"Right!" Michiru responded, bringing forth the full power of his Shikigami. "Force of nature, heed my call!"
"You're finished!" Sango declared, hurling the Hiraikotsu into the air above the mutated wolf-demons.
"Unleash your power, Shikigami!" Michiru concluded, taking aim at the Hiraikotsu with the transformed Shippo. The fox-demon opened his mouth as wide as possible, the Kururugi boy's Light Shikigami exploding from it and rising up into the sky. The magical, serpentine dragon roared with fury as it collided with the Hiraikotsu, imbuing it with all of Michiru's magical strength in a shower of lightning. Imbued with the full power of nature, the massive boomerang bone shot down towards the mutated wolf-demons, who looked up just in time to see their destruction approaching. Like a star falling from the sky, the Hiraikotsu slammed back down to the earth, resulting in a mushroom cloud of destruction that obliterated everything luckless enough to be within range of the blast.
Watching as the wolf-demons were incinerated by the force of the blast, Sango couldn't help but feel a wave of sorrow for them. They were never Toma's allies, they didn't actually believe in his cause. It was clear that they had joined him out of fear, more than anything else. As a result, they had been perverted into monstrosities that existed only to carry out his will. Rest in peace, Sango thought as they descended. Aloud, she said, "C'mon. We'll get the Hiraikotsu, and then head back to the others."
Nodding, Michiru then frowned slightly as he glanced back in their direction. "I just hope they're okay."
"Don't worry, Michiru," Sango assured him as they descended, the Hiraikotsu already in sight. "They'll be fine!"
"I must say, I'm impressed, Kaname," Miroku commented as he observed the Shikigami User's handiwork. "That was some quick thinking on your part."
Smiling wearily, Kaname looked down at the ground, where the remaining members of Toma's forces lay sleeping peacefully. "Well, I wasn't sure if Blue Sky Slumber would work on demons, but with them already so tired, I figured it was worth a shot," she admitted somewhat sheepishly. "Besides, to be honest...I kinda feel bad for them, with...well, you know."
"I know," Miroku nodded, recalling the looks of horror they had worn when they had first seen Toma transformed, the way the silver beast had boasted about how afraid they were of him. But then the monk frowned, and returned his attention to the cause of their woes. "But right now, we have more immediate concerns to deal with. We..."
"Wait," Kaname frowned, a massive disturbance in the natural forces registering in her mind. Looking up, her mouth popped open as what looked like a massive ball of lightning was falling some distance away. "Wh-what's that?!"
Looking in the direction indicated, Miroku frowned as the bolt of lightning struck the ground...at which the air was shaken by a massive explosion. Trembling before the destructive forces, Kaname raised her arms to shield her eyes from the blinding light of the blast. "That, I suspect, was your brother and Sango," Miroku commented as a huge mushroom cloud rose up into the sky. "Putting an end to the rest of Toma's followers." At these words, Kaname lowered her arms and sucked in gasp, forcing herself to look at the cloud of destruction with new intent. And as she did so, a wave of weary sadness rose up in her. "Kaname, I'm sure that they..."
"I know, I know," Kaname broke in, holding up her hand to the monk. As much as she felt sorry for the wolf-demons Toma had terrorized into submission, she had also been forced to fight for her life against the monstrosities he had transformed some of them into. And as much as she didn't want to think about it, she knew that her brother and Sango had likely done what they thought was necessary. "Besides...I guess we don't have time for that right now. Do we?"
"I'm afraid not," Miroku agreed, turning his attention to the drama unfolding a short distance away. "Come on, let's go!"
Nodding as Miroku broke into a run, Kaname was quick to follow, her sword at the ready. As the two of them drew closer, the Kururugi girl found herself frowning in confusion. With everything that had been going, from fighting for her life against Toma's mutated followers to rendering the remaining rogues insensate, she had been unable to keep track of events not pertaining to her own struggle to survive. Leaving her dumbstruck by what she saw as she ran up towards her friends.
It quickly became clear that Kaname wasn't the only shocked by the recent events. Kagome, Ayame, even Koga and InuYasha were hovering a short distance away from the immense rogue, staring in shock and horror at what he had become. Not that the Kururugi girl could blame them, for as soon as she got a good look at the rogue, she gasped in horror at what he had become.
The silvery fur that had once covered Toma's body had completely melted away, including the hair on his head. It also looked like the skin had been burned away, leaving behind a blotchy, scarred patchwork nightmare reminiscent of the flesh of his mutated followers. Hideous black veins ran up and down his body, spreading out from central mass on his chest.
"My...my body...!" Toma gasped in horror as he took in his mutilated arms. Then he glanced off into the distance, his face twitching and veins bulging from his brow. "My followers...all of them...!" Heaving breath after heavy he breath, he swung his bloodshot eyes over towards the forces Kaname had literally put to sleep. Taking in their prone forms, he quickly jumped to the wrong conclusion. "You wretched, simpering wastes of flesh! Look at what you've done to me!!"
"Heh! Big deal, Toma!" InuYasha smirked as the mutilated rogue rose to his feet. "That ain't nothing compared to what we're going to -!"
"Rrrraaaarrrrggghhh!!!!" Toma shrieked, raising his claws up to the sky as he snarled, as if cursing the heavens themselves. "You'll all die for this! You'll die in pain!" With this hate-filled declaration, the crazed wolf-demon grabbed the black mass on his chest. Digging his claws into it, he grunted and screeched and pulled at it, ignoring the sickening sound of flesh tearing, the gouts of blood streaming down from it.
What's he doing?! was all Kaname had time to think before Toma succeeded in wrenching the dark mass off his chest. As he flung it away, the many black veins that it had once been connected to instantly shriveled up...and his muscles began to bulge.
"Heh...he heh...yes! Oh, yeessss!!!!" Toma shrieked, pain warring with delight as his muscle swelled up horrendously. It was they were balloons being flooded with too much water, and this time, the rogue's skeleton didn't appear to be growing to keep up with them. Whatever tattered remains of his garment were quickly destroyed as he swell up into a hideous blob of burgeoning flesh. "The power...the power...!"
"What the hell is he so happy about?!" Koga growled disgustedly as they backed away from the expanding monstrosity.
"That thing he tore off...it must've been some kind of power regulator," Miroku intoned as the transformation continued. The bulging of his body becoming more and more horrific, his skin more animate. It was as if a dozen different monsters were trapped inside, trying to erupt from Toma's skin all at once. "Something to dampen his power levels so that he could maintain his normal appearance!"
"Whatever! It just means that he's turned himself into an bigger target!" InuYasha snarled, raising the Tetsusaiga overhead and smashing it into the ground. Several bands of brilliant destruction erupted, the Wind Scar ripping through the earth and racing up its target, carving grooves in Toma's body. The intensity of the blast seemed to grow with each passing second, until at last the mountain of flesh that had once been a wolf-demon shined brighter than the sun, and finally exploded.
"Whoa!" Kaname cried out, raising her arms to shield her face from the force of the blast, as well as bits and pieces of debris that pelted her and the others. A huge cloud rose up from the explosion...and from it, a towering pillar of flame.
"What the -?!" InuYasha started, his voice betraying his shock as the flames grew brighter.
As for Kaname, her mind was thrown into chaos. Something was horribly wrong; a massive power was distorting that of the forces of nature, a hideous wrongness that she could sense through her Shikigami. "Everyone, get back!" she cried out, already summoning the power of her Light Shikigami. "Protective Light!"
"Ugh!" Kagome gasped even as the magical barrier took form. "Something's wrong! This demonic aura, it's -!"
"Powerful, little priestess?" came a cruel, mocking voice. And though the voice itself was unfamiliar, Kaname instantly recognized the tone with which the words were spoke. "Yes, it is! For now...I am power!" These words were punctuated with a monstrous roar, one that dispersed much of the flames...and caused the Kururugi girl to tremble with dread as a pit opened up in her stomach.
The creature Toma had become was both huge and horrendous. He had become a titanic wolf that looked as if it had been patched together from leftover pieces of different demons. Instead of a coat of fur, he had what looked like an external skeleton, and a hide of corded muscle. Large spikes protruded from the sides of his legs, and a long tongue that ended in a series of tentacles hung out the side of his mouth. His eyes were molten red with dark slits at the center, eyes that bored into Kaname's own, making her feel small and helpless.
"Look at you! You actually thought that you could defeat me?!" Toma demanded, looking down upon the tiny creatures before him. "All you've done is insure your doom! For what you've done, I will rend you limb from limb! I will make you scream and beg for me to kill you! I'll -!"
"Aw, shut up!"
These three little words struck with the force of an atomic bomb, and the silence that fell in their wake was deafening. His eyes going wide with astonishment, Toma stared down at the group. As for Kaname, she felt as shocked as the monstrous wolf looked, and immediately looked towards InuYasha. Wondering what could prompt him to say something so stupid...and look so impossibly confident and unafraid when faced with certain doom.
"I mean it, you bastard! Shut up! Just...shut up!" InuYasha went on irritably. "Ever since you showed up, all I've done is listen to you rant and rave about how 'great' you think you are! Well, guess what, Toma! You sure as hell don't live up to your out-sized opinions of yourself! Not that anybody could!"
Did he just say that?! Kaname thought incredulously.
"How dare you say that to me, you little runt!" Toma screeched in pure outrage. "Don't you realize that you're about to die?!"
"Feh! Why? Because you made yourself even bigger and uglier than ever?!" InuYasha shot back, sounding more bored than irritated now. "Well, let me tell you something, moron. The last guy who pulled this trick on me? He's lucky that he only lost an arm before running off with his tail between his legs!"
"That's right, Toma!" Kagome seconded merrily. "I mean, get real! Every single one of you stupid schemes has blown up in your face! What makes you think this'll work out any better?!"
If anything, Toma looked even more astonished by this apparent dismissal. As for Kaname, she felt her own astonishment mounting. She could easily sense the deadly power that now radiated through their transformed foe, so how could her friends be so completely without fear? "It's like I said you before, bastard; all you've done is make yourself an even bigger target!" InuYasha grumbled, holding the Tetsusaiga at the ready. "Size didn't save those dumb monsters of yours, and it sure as hell ain't going to save you, either!"
The monsters. The creatures that Kaname and the others had faced during the tournament, like the spider that had left her trembling with fear as she struggled to overcome it. The beast that had tried to eat her along with who knew how many wolf-demons. The beast she had been forced to face along, battling to the death.
A battle she had won.
As soon as Kaname thought this, a more pessimistic part of her sounded off, reminding that Toma was not merely as large as his pets had been, but he was also a great deal more powerful. He had already proven this during InuYasha's and Koga's earlier attempts to subdue him.
But then she looked at her friends, standing resolutely before this tyrant that had caused so much misery for no reason other than to benefit himself, and Kaname realized that there was another important difference; she wasn't alone on the battlefield.
Looking from her friends back to the monster that now stood before her, Kaname sucked in a deep breath, and slowly, her fear began to dissipate. "That's right, ugly!" she cried out, surprising herself with the intensity of her own voice. "We're not winding up on your menu tonight! Are you ready to die?"
"You...you dare you talk to me like that?!" Toma screeched in outrage. "You won't be so brave when I gnawing on your bones, little girl! Yours and your Demon Slayer friends!"
"Huh?!" Koga started, his look of irritation slipping at this. "What's that supposed to mean, Toma?!"
Heated, hateful breaths snorting out his nostrils, Toma stared at Koga for a moment, before the rage faded from his visage somewhat. "Just that your pitiful little alliance will never happen, you worthless, human-loving fool," he chuckled malevolently. "You see, my 'ally' Naraku had some business with your Demon Slayer friends."
"Say what?!" InuYasha shouted as Koga stared incredulously at the hateful beast.
"That's right! In fact, he sent his forces to their home this morning, even as you miserable fools were leaving the mountains!" Toma grinned, displaying his misshapen fangs for all the world to see. "By now, the only thing left of them are more bones for our people to gnaw on!"
Ayame gasped in horror as Kagome paled, her eyes bulging out of their sockets. Kaname suspected that she was doing all of the above when InuYasha snarled, his hands tightening about Tetsusaiga's hilt. "Well, then, I guess we'll just have to finish you off quickly so we can go help them! Wind Scar!"
Once again the massive heirloom blade unleashed waves of destructive force at Toma, the Wind Scar washing over him and gouging out his putrid flesh. To their surprise, the immense wolf leapt forward through the attack, his claws raised at them. Suffering a bad feeling, the group instinctively scattered, throwing themselves out of harm's way just as Toma launched his claws at them. The dusky projectiles slammed into the ground and exploded, spreading dirt and dust up in every direction. "You pitiful little weakling!" Toma grinned as they recovered from his assault. "Your pathetic little sword is of nothing to me now!"
Unfortunately, this last statement wasn't as much of a boast as Kaname would have liked. As she recovered, she could see the deep gouges Tetsusaiga had carved in Toma's flesh healing in a manner similar to that of his mutated followers. "Well, then it's a good thing that we've got more than just that sword!" Kagome countered, showing no fear as she quickly grabbed her bow and sent an arrow flying up at the malevolent creature. The spiritual energy the arrow was imbued with caused it to explode on impact, blasting away chunks of Toma's flesh and eliciting a pained yelp from the transformed rogue.
"Wretched girl!" Toma snarled even as his wound healed. "Give up! I'm more powerful than all of you now! I'm the most powerful one there is!"
"I wouldn't be so sure of that!" came a familiar voice, one that was soon followed by a familiar shape slicing through the air before gouging a large gash in Toma's flank.
Starting at this, Kaname looked up, her resulting smile practically splitting her face in half. "Bro! Sango!" she cried as the two of them rode Kirara in towards Toma.
"You've been a major headache for us, Toma!" Michiru announced as they flew in over the monster wolf's head. "Now let's see how you like having one! Slashing Ice!" Taking aim with his sword, he sent a beam of freezing cold at Toma, which impacted on his head. Slashing apart the skin and bone on contact, the magical blast caused a large carapace of ice to form, like a perverse helmet.
"Good work, Michiru!" Sango beamed happily before looking down at the rest of them. "Listen! Koga, Kaname! Take out Toma's front legs! Everyone else, go for his eyes and mouth!"
"You got it, Sango! Swift Blue Sky!" Michiru replied before sliding off of Kirara's back. Kaname panicked as she watched her brother fall through empty air, only to recover when she saw how slowly he fell, the magic of Swift Blue Sky helping to counter the pull of gravity. "And as for you, Toma! How about some heart burn to go with that ice cream headache!" With that, he raised his other hand, and unleashed a blazing stream of flame into the monster wolf's mouth.
"Reeaaarggh!" Toma screeched, plumes of smoke billowing up from his mouth. "You will pay for that, you -!" Whatever he said next was too mangled by the wolf-demon's own rage to be intelligible. That did not stop him from attempting to act on his rage; lunging forward, the murderous aberration opened his mouth wide in an attempt to put the bite on his tormentor.
As Michiru scooted backwards in mid-air, another Sacred Arrow flew up, catching Toma right on the nose. The sound of it exploding was almost completely drowned out by the resultant screech of pain, so much so that Kaname barely heard Kagome call out, "Didn't you get the message, pal! We're not gonna be your dinner and that's that!" Then the modern priestess turned to face the Kururugi girl and told her, "C'mon! Let's get to work!"
A beat passed before Kaname snapped back to the present and nodded. "Yeah!" she replied before focusing on the two immense legs before her. “Oh, towering green wood, beget the devourer of evil! Green Wood Flytrap!” she invoked, summoning the power of her Wood Shikigami and sending it into the ground. A few moments passed in which nothing seemed to happen, but then a low rumbling was felt through the ground. Then a large mound appeared between Toma's forepaws, one that cracked open as something large and green pushed its way up to the surface.
"Whoa!" Koga gaped as the immense plant Kaname continued to grow, spreading out leaves that opened into large, toothy mouths. "What the hell is that thing?!"
"A giant Venus flytrap," Kaname explained, watching in satisfaction as the numerous mouths spread out and bit down on Toma's forelegs, drawing blood and pained cries from their captive. "We were hoping that this spell would help deal with the Saimyosho, but I figured it would work just as well on Toma!"
"Well, it looks like it might deal with both!" Koga grinned dangerously. Sure enough, several of the demonic wasps were flying towards the magical plant, drawn by the sweet smelling sap in its mouths. And just like a normal Venus flytrap, Kaname's creation took advantage of this by eating them alive. "Anyway, now that you've him pinned in place, let's see what I can do!"
Even as Toma struggled to free himself from the plant that was biting down on him, Koga shot forward at full speed and launched himself feet-first at one of the legs. His kick struck the joint that was the wolf's equivalent to an ankle, shattering it instantly. Again, Toma cried out as shard of bone exploded out the other side of his leg. And though the damage would soon mend, that leg was no longer capable of supporting the monster's weight. The alpha wolf quickly followed up on this attack, shooting towards the other leg and smashing that joint as well.
"Feh! You did something right for once, scrawny wolf!" InuYasha grinned as Toma's forelegs buckled beneath him, causing him to fall forward. Off-balance and basically helpless, the transformed tyrant roared in pain as the half-demon again unleashed his Wind Scar. The destructive power of the Tetsusaiga hit the monster head-on, washing over his face and burning away both flesh and bone.
As Toma screeched once more in pain, Sango called out, "He's almost done! Let's combine our attacks and finish him off!"
"No!" Toma howled, his voice more of desperation than arrogance as he struggled to rise up. "You - you will not - you can't -!"
"Yes, we can! And we will!" InuYasha snarled dangerously. "Michiru, Kaname! Are you ready?!"
"Ready!" Michiru replied before glancing over at his sister. "Kaname, send you power to InuYasha! I'll work with Koga!"
"Right!" Kaname replied, turning her gaze towards the monster struggling helplessly before her. Barely able to believe that she had once been afraid of it.
"Alright! Here's our chance, Sango!" Kagome announced as she raised her bow and fired an arrow up into the sky above their foe.
"Right, Kagome!" Sango returned as she sent her Hiraikotsu flying up to greet the Sacred Arrow in mid-air. The two slammed together, releasing an eruption of divine power that down upon the hideous abomination, causing his flesh to hiss and sizzle. Even as Toma squirmed in pain, Miroku sent a wave of sutra talismans at him, while Ayame hurled two handfuls of her razor-sharp leaves into his face.
"No! Noooo!!" Toma screamed desperately.
"Heh! Who's afraid of who now?!" Koga demanded of his enemy. "Ready, little mutt?"
"You know it, scrawny wolf!" InuYasha returned. "Michiru! Kaname!"
"Right!" the Kururugi twins answered as one, bringing their hands together as they summoned forth the full power of their respective Shikigami. A moment later, twin dragons of light and power rose up into the sky, both half-demon and wolf-demon leapt into the sky, where the Shikigami engulfed them and infused them with their power.
"Let's see you laugh this off! Backlash Wave!" InuYasha snarled, combining the power of magic and nature unleashed with that of his Tetsusaiga, begetting a maelstrom of power that lanced down at Toma. Seeming to blanch at the sight of the power spiraling towards him, the monstrous wolf-demon howled in desperation, giving everything he had to try and escape, to get out of the way of his own destruction.
At last second before the Shikigami Backlash Wave hit, the vines anchoring the Venus flytrap to the earth gave somewhat. Just enough to allow Toma to avoid taking the blast head-on. But even as he saved himself, he screamed in absolute agony as the combination attack drilled into his right shoulder. Almost deafened by his pained shrieks, Kaname and the others watched as almost half of Toma’s body disintegrated in the maelstrom of light that washed over him.
"Now!" Koga cried out, his voice rising up above the animalistic howls of his nemesis. "In the name of my people!" Diving towards Toma, his feet outstretched and the Jewel Shards on his legs glowing more brilliantly than ever, the alpha wolf flew forward like a ballistic missile. Toma had only enough time to look up and see his own death as Koga struck him on the forehead. The energies released by the impact washed over the evil wolf-demon instantly, filling everybody’s eyes with the light of destruction as his body was pulverized into nothingness.
When the light finally faded and Koga came back down to earth, only Toma’s howls of outrage and disbelief were left to hang in the air, along with his now-scattering remains as the light faded. “Humph! Goodbye and good riddance!” InuYasha snorted as he sheathed the Tetsusaiga. "Damn, what a pain in the ass!"
"Hmph! Tell me about it!" Koga growled irritably. "You know, right now, I really am wishing I'd just offed the bastard and been done with it!"
"Heh! It sure as hell would've been faster!" InuYasha agreed, somehow managing to say 'I told you so' without actually saying it.
Sighing loudly, Kagome folded her arms across her chest and glared at the both of them. "Look, we can talk about that later, you two! Right now we have bigger problems!" the modern priestess informed. "If Toma was telling the truth about Naraku, then that means that he started attacking the Demon Slayer fort this morning! We have to get there right now!"
"What?!!" Michiru cried out, his face falling in horror. "The Demon Slayers...under attack?!"
"According to Toma, they are!" Koga confirmed with a grim nod. "We'll explain on the way! But Kagome's right; we have to get - arrghh!!”
"Koga?!" Ayame jumped, her eyes widening with alarm as he fell to his knee, clutching his lower leg with both hands. "Koga, what is it? Are you hurt, or -!"
"No, it's - arrggh!" Koga howled, gnashing his teeth together as he fell over on his side. "M-my Jewel Shards! S-something’s wrong with th-them!!”
"Oh, no...!" Kagome gasped as she and the others looked at the two tiny shards on Koga's legs. Shards that were glowing like stars, pouring their energy into him. "Koga, you have to get them off before -!"
"Yeeeaaargggh!!!!" Koga howled, his legs convulsing as a large spike erupted from his shin. A large, crystalline spike that glowed with the same light as the shards. This was followed by another, and then another still. And with each protrusion to explode from his flesh, his cries of pain grew even more tormented...