Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Flames of Battle

"Say, Ginta?"

Heaving a deep sigh, Ginta looked over at the speaker and asked, "Yeah, Hakkaku? What is it?"

"Do you think Koga and the others are okay?" Hakkaku wondered, a definite edge of concern to his voice. "I mean, it's been a little while since they left, and..."

When his friend trailed off, Ginta sighed, understanding Hakkaku's concern. Since they had been charged with protected Yorozuko and Robai, he had been able to do little more than sit around with the others, as well as tracking the movement of the shadows. Enough to know that some time had passed since Koga, Ayame, and their friends and allies had departed to go after Toma and his forces. Long enough for a great battle to have been fought and won...as well as lost. "I wouldn't worry about it," Ginta finally lied. "I mean, think about it. Koga has got to be the most powerful wolf-demon there is! And then there's InuYasha with his sword, and..."

"Yea, I know about all that," Hakkaku broke in, a bit impatient and annoyed. "It's just...well, with all that, they'd have been beaten him and been back by now." Frowning as his annoyance faded, the mohawked wolf-demon leaned in closer. "I mean...do you think something happened?"

"Uh, like what?" Ginta wondered, hoping that his friend couldn't come up with an answer. It was bad enough feeling the same concerns as he did. Being able to give those fears forms would make it that much worse, especially with the knowledge that there was nothing he could do to abate them.

Frowning at this question, Hakkaku countered, "I dunno! I was just...wondering, that's all!"

"Well, could you do us both a favor and stop?" Ginta requested in a slightly more irritable manner than he had intended. Wincing at this realization, he sighed and tried again. "C'mon, who knows what's taking them? Maybe Toma and his goons ran off, and they had to looking for them."

It was clear from the look on Hakkaku's face that this explanation didn't satisfy him. And Ginta wasn't alone in noticing this. "Hey, you two, stop moping around like that!" Robai told them in a mock-scolding fashion. "You won't do yourselves any good if you worry yourselves to death!"

"Hmph. I would have phrased that a bit differently, Robai," Yorozuko commented with a wry curling to his lip. Then he turned his aged eyes on the two of them and continued, "But he does have a valid point. Thinking about what may or may not be won't help you, or our friends." A moment passed as Ayame's grandfather studied them. "I know how easy it is to let yourself do such things, especially when given too much time to do so. But right now, you have to keep your minds on the present. On what's important."

"Yeah, like doing the job Koga gave you. Namely, taking care of us!" Robai snorted, the aged wolf-demon looking at them like they were idiots. "Now why don't you two go try and find us some water? That should help take you mind off of your worries!"

Jolted by the authority in Robai's voice, Ginta shot to his feet. "Uh, right! Water!" Hakkaku cried out as he did the same, the two of them standing bolt upright. "Right away, Robai!"

"Yeah, we'll be right back!" Ginta assured him before the two of them broke into a run.

A few seconds into their dash, Hakkaku asked, "So, anyway, do you have any where we can find some water around here?"

"How should I know? It's not like I spend a lot of time out here!" Ginta retorted even as the two of them kept running. Then he smiled and added, "Besides, it's a great excuse to get away from Robai! You know how demanding he can be, right?"

"Heh! That's for sure!" Hakkaku grinned in a knowing manner. "I remember this one time when he was looking for Koga, and -!" His face falling in shock, the mohawked wolf-demon quickly dug his heels into the ground and brought himself to a screeching halt. "Oh, whoa! Wait a second!"

Startled by his friend's sudden stop, Ginta slowed to a halt as well. "What is it? Is something wrong?"

"Koga told us to stay and protect Robai and Yorozuko, just in case Toma came after them, right?!" Hakkaku fearfully explained. "So shouldn't one of us stay there and protect them? You know, just in case?"

"Oh, that's right!" Ginta exclaimed, bringing his hand to his forehead in surprise. Then he glanced back at the two elders of their tribe, who were just barely visible from where they were. And though they were very quick on their feet, it was still a substantial distance to travel if someone were to attack. With this realization, he took a step forward, but then hesitated. "But...Robai told us to get him some water! So..."

"Maybe just one of us should go looking for water," Hakkaku quickly suggested. "Then the other can stay and keep guard. That should work, right?"

"Hmm...yeah, but how do we decide which of us goes and which stays?" Ginta asked with a shrug. "I don't want to hang around Robai when he's in one of his moods! And I'm sure you don't, either!"

"Hmm...good point," Hakkaku frowned, folding his arms across his chest. "Let's see...didn't Kagome once tell us about being in a situation like this? Said that she and some other girls...?"

His word triggering a memory in him, Ginta snapped his fingers. "Yeah, that's right! We were talking about that on the way to the mountains." His excited grin then faltered when he realized just how vague his memories of that conversation were. "Now, uh...what was it that she said she did?"

"Well, I think she said that she and her friends held out their fists like this," Hakkaku explained, hold out his fist at waist level towards Ginta, "then they all shook them at once, and..."

"What are you two doing?!"

Those five words hit with the force of a thunderbolt, and for a terrible instant, Ginta felt his heart jump up his throat. The way Hakkaku's eyes bulged out of their sockets made it clear that the same thing had happened to him. As one, the two wolf-demons turned in the voice's direction, and paled horribly as they saw Sango riding Kirara towards them. "Where's Yorozuko and Robai?" the Demon Slayer demanded in a steady voice that had the tranquil fury of a volcano getting ready to blow. "You were supposed to be protecting them!"

"Uh, Sango!" Hakkaku blanched as the Demon Slayers eyes bored into his own. "We, uh...well, we...!"

"Err...well, you see, Robai - he asked us to go get some water, and -!" Ginta tried, only to have his tongue fall flat in his mouth.

"They're right over there, see?" Hakkaku informed her, pointing towards the elders. "Nothing's happened! They're both perfectly fine!"

"Yeah, that's right!" Ginta told her, as she followed Hakkaku's outstretched finger with her eyes. "See, we weren't - Robai just told us to -!"

"Whatever! Let's just get them and get going!" Sango told them, the intensity of her voice causing their spines to go rigid once again. Hakkaku opened his mouth to speak, but the Demon Slayer stopped him with a wave of her hand. "I'll explain on the way! Now move!!"

"Y-yes, ma'am!" one of them responded. Perhaps even both of them at once. Ginta was too petrified of the irate Demon Slayer to think clearly, let alone make such a determination. All he really knew was that his feet were suddenly moving of their own accord, propelling him back towards the elders.

As Demon Slayer and demonic cat flew past them, Hakkaku commented, "Well...at least we know they're okay, right?!"

"Okay?! Are you kidding me?!" Ginta retorted incredulously. "Didn't you see how mad she is?! Something really bad must've happened!" Shuddering at this, he then looked ahead as Sango and Kirara landed, the Demon Slayer already moving to help Robai get on the two-tail's back. "Let's get over there and help her! Before she gets really mad at us!"

"I heard that!" Hakkaku quickly agreed. "I'd rather being fighting Toma and his followers than that Demon Slayer right now!"

There were times when InuYasha couldn't help but think that wolf-demons existed solely to make his life more difficult than it already was.

The half-demon didn't have much use for most demons or tribes of demons to begin with. The vast majority of them were complete monsters who got off on tormenting humans and demons alike, as well as whatever else they could make completely miserable. And that was something he had been forced to tolerate when he had been a small child, so much so that he couldn't stomach the thought of being treated such ever again, or standing by and watching it being done. And in all honesty, he had to admit that the scrawny wolves were far from being the worst of the many kinds of demons out there.

However, none of that made their current predicament any more bearable. Or make it easier for InuYasha to watch as Kaname and Miroku currently worked to mend the wounds of demons that had, just minutes ago, been their enemies.

"How are you feeling? Any better?" Kaname asked as she inspected the injuries of one of the scrawny wolves that had been on Toma's leash. "Does this still hurt?"

"No. Uh, well...not as much. It's feeling much better, now, really," replied the scrawny wolf in question, looking down at the gash on his chest that InuYasha himself had given him. A wound that was now very nearly healed, thanks to her Shikigami healing magic. "Thank you. I don't deserve such kindness."

"You got that right," InuYasha grumbled, just low enough so that he wouldn't be heard by human ears. Though it was clear from the way the scrawny wolf's ears pricked that he had heard just fine.

"That's not true," Kaname assured the wolf-demon with a kindly smile. "It's not like you were working for Toma because you wanted to, right?"

As the rogue wolf blinked his surprise, InuYasha groaned wearily as he was reminded of the reason Kaname and Miroku insisted on wasting their time and energy healing Toma's former followers. When they had woken up to find that the treacherous wolf had been defeated, they had been so utterly relieved that they had very nearly fainted again. They had gone on to explain that Toma had vowed to kill and absorb every last one of them if they failed to heed his commands, that they were his followers only out of fear.

Yeah, like you're really so innocent, InuYasha couldn't help but think, disgusted by the cowardice evinced by the rogues. What, did Toma just show up and tell you that you either worked for him or you died?! More likely you joined up with him, thinking he'd be the next big leader, and only got scared when he showed his true colors!

But even as he thought his, InuYasha knew that the rogues weren't lying about being relieved that Toma was no more. He recalled the way they had sagged with horror when Toma transformed for the first time, and even now, he could literally smell the gratitude they felt at being free of him. But that did nothing to change the fact that they had reacted to their foe with cowardice, and worse, had made themselves subservient to him, just to stay alive for a little while longer, when they knew that he would have certainly killed them, sooner or later, just to feed his own lust for power.

Better to die free than to live in fear, InuYasha thought disgustedly, recalling his life when he had been much younger, living alone and on the run from anyone who might try to hurt him, human and demon alike. A time when he had known nothing but fear.

"Oh...you're so forgiving," the wolf-demon sighed, tears welling up in his eyes as InuYasha snapped back to the moment. "You're such an Angel..."

"Well...you don't have to go that far!" Kaname blushed shyly before returning her attention to her duties. "Well, you should be okay. But let me know if it starts hurting again." When the wolf-demon nodded, she smiled sweetly before standing and making her way over to another rogue. "How about you, Miroku? Need any help?"

His own smile betraying his weariness, Miroku sighed and answered, "Don't worry, I'm okay, Kaname. You just go ahead and check on the others." Heaving a weary breath, the monk returned his attention to the scrawny wolf he was bandaging up. "I'm afraid there's still a great deal of work for us to do."

That's for sure! And we sure as hell don't have time to waste on these damned scrawny wolves! Not with everything else going to hell on us! InuYasha thought, his brow furrowed with disgust as he looked over towards where Michiru, Ayame, and Kagome were laboring. Snorting softly, he made his way up to them, coming up alongside his friend.

"Oh. InuYasha," Kagome intoned, her voice soft and tired.

"Hey, you three," InuYasha responded before shooting a glare at one of the major factors in their current predicament. "So, any luck with the scrawny wolf?"

Michiru opened his mouth to respond, but before he could, a strained, weak voice was heard rasping, "Does it...look like they've had...any luck, mutt-face...?"

Snorting mildly, InuYasha lowered his eyes before admitting, "Not unless you count the bad kind."

As Koga groaned heavily, the half-demon thought back to the recent events, as well as the crystals that had started erupting from his legs shortly after Toma's defeat. Crystals that had quickly spread to encase the entirety of the wolf-demon's legs, including the Sacred Jewel Shards that had somehow begat them. And as they spread, the more of his body they covered, the weaker he became.

And if those damn things manage to cover his mouth... InuYasha thought grimly, trying not to picture that outcome, despite how likely it now seemed. As much as he held Koga in disdain for his past and his constant flirting with Kagome, that didn't mean he wanted to see the alpha woof go out in such a manner. Besides, that'd mean that I wouldn't get the chance to take care of him myself!

Shuddering in consummate horror at such a scenario, InuYasha was brought back to the present when Ayame looked pleadingly at Michiru and said, "There's got to be something you can do for him." When the Kururugi boy didn't respond, she sighed and returned her focus to Koga. "Don't you at least have some idea what's causing this?"

"Well...maybe," Michiru eventually responded with a heavy voice. "I've been looking through this book my dad gave me, and right here, it says that sometimes the power of the Shikigami can be corrupted."

"Corrupted?" Kagome repeated, glancing down at Koga. "Are you saying the Koga's Jewel Shards are the problem?"

"I think so. When Kaname and I combine our Shikigami powers with another person, we channel our powers through that person or their weapons,” Michiru explained, frowning as he turned his eyes back to Koga. “However, when I channeled my power into you, my Shikigami must've supercharged the Jewel Shards or something."

"And now your power's been corrupted by the Shards," Kagome gathered, her own expression souring to match Michiru's. "And now that they're feeding it into Koga..."

Groaning in disgust, Koga let his head fall back to the ground. Only to snap it back up when InuYasha sneered, "Heh. Too bad you didn't just hand over those Shards a long time ago, scrawny wolf! It sure would have saved you a lot of trouble!"

"Feh. Like you'd hand over...that fancy sword of yours...just because...someone told you to..." Koga sneered with as much strength as he could muster.

Kagome frowned and gave InuYasha a scornful glare that said he was one wrong word away from getting a face full of dirt. "Okay, so the Shards are the problem," she commented as she turned back to Michiru. "Now what can we do to help?"

Shaking his head slowly, Michiru finally shrugged and explained, “I…I don’t know. I need more time to study the book and what’s happening to Koga. I might kill him if I mess it up!”

"But...please, you have to something!" Ayame implored, her eyes tearing with desperation.

"I know. And I'm trying!" Michiru replied, shaking his head before returning his eyes to his book. "But I've already tried healing magic, and it just made the crystals spread even faster! I can't risk making another mistake like that!"

"And you won't, Michiru," InuYasha told him, placing a steadying hand on his shoulder. When the Shikigami User looked up at him, he did his best to project the confidence he had in his friend. "Now, c'mon. You need to get the scrawny wolf out of those damned crystals." Then he snorted loudly before looking at Koga. "How are we supposed to get those Shards of his, huh?"

Blinking a few times, Michiru stared at the half-demon for a moment before he smiled. Chuckling quietly, he returned to his labors. Satisfied that he had been of assistance to his friend, he looked about...and found himself confronted by Kagome glowering irritably at him. "InuYasha..."

Momentarily frozen by her gaze, InuYasha decided that now might be a good time to distance himself from the modern priestess. Sniffing loudly, he turned about and started away, folding his arms behind his head. "Hmph...why does she keep defending that jerk, anyway...?" he wondered as he meandered back towards where Miroku and Kaname were laboring. "He kidnaps her, keeps saying she's his girl..."

"There you go! All done!" Pausing in his grumblings, InuYasha looked at the source of the voice, to see Kaname smiling at one of their former adversaries like he was an obedient little puppy. "Now, just take it easy for a while, and you'll be good as new in no time!"

Groaning at this, and groaning even more when the wolf-demon in question smiled in gratitude, InuYasha found himself wondering if sympathy for worthless jerks was just something that girls in general did. "Ugh...dammit!" the half-demon finally exploded, drawing the eyes of his companions. "What's taking Sango so long, anyway?! She should've been back here by now!"

"InuYasha, please," Miroku spoke up, standing so as to look that half-demon in the eye. "I know how you're concerned about the Demon Slayers, but first things first. Koga's too weak to move right now, and if worst comes to the worst, then we have to make sure Robai and Yorozuko remain safe."

"Yes, I know that!" InuYasha spat back at him. "But what I don't get is why we have to wait for them to get back! We have to get to the fort fast if we're going to have any chance of stopping Naraku!"

"It doesn't do us any good to get to the fort if we don't have the numbers needed to fight Naraku's forces," Miroku gently reminded him. "Remember, Kagura and Kanna are still alive, so there's every chance that we might run into them there. Or perhaps another of Naraku's incarnations. In which case, we'll need all the help we can get in fighting them." Turning to look back at the others, the monk then added, "But at the same time, we can't risk leaving Koga unguarded. His Jewel Shards make him too tempting a target for Naraku. Especially since we'll be likely walking right into a trap."

This got Kaname's attention. "A trap?!"

"Indeed," Miroku softly commented. "Think about it. If Toma had managed to defeat us, than he would have taken Koga's Jewel Shards. But if Toma failed, Naraku likely felt that the battle would have weakened us and Koga, making us easier targets. Thus he had his forces attack the Demon Slayers, knowing that Toma would gloat about it. And thus helping to insure that we would rush off to help them as quickly as we could."

"Which is precisely what we should be doing!" InuYasha shot back. "I don't care how good these Demon Slayers are! If they're going to have a chance, then we've got to get moving now!"

"And we will, InuYasha. Just as soon as Sango gets back," Miroku informed him. "I know how hard this is, but for now, we'll just have to be patient."

Patient. If there was a word that InuYasha hated more than the word 'sit', than 'patient' would be that word. As far as he was concerned, being patient was basically dragging around, wasting time on a problem instead of dealing with it hard and fast. And what had him hating it that much more just then...was that he knew that Miroku was right. They couldn't afford to be careless, not with Naraku involved. The scheming monster that was their bane was as manipulative as he was deceitful, and likely had a few more surprises to unleash upon them before this was over.

As these things ran through InuYasha's mind, he growled lowly. He was about to express his opinion of their dilemma when Kaname did it for him. "I just hope the Demon Slayers will be okay until we get there," the Kururugi girl frowned worriedly. "After what my bro told me about Sango and her village..."

"I know, Kaname. We all feel the same way," Miroku told her in a reassuring manner.

Nodding to this, InuYasha was about to say something when a stray wind carried a familiar scent to him. Starting at it, he took a few deep sniffs before muttering, "Well, it's about time she got back."

"Huh?" Kaname started, clearly surprised, and grew even moreso when InuYasha started away from her. "What is it, InuYasha?!"

"Sango just got back," InuYasha replied in a gruff manner as he oriented himself with his nose and ears. As the wind carried more detailed information for his nose and ears to process, he looked up in the direction indicated, and saw a small figure rapidly approaching. And though it was still too far away for him to make out any details with his eyes, he could still recognize the scents of two wolf-demons mingled with her own.

Great! It's about time she found them! I was starting to think those stupid wolves had gotten -! Then something clicked in InuYasha's mind, cutting his inner celebration short. Wait a minute...where the hell are Ginta and Hakkaku?! Aren't they supposed to be with them?! Frowning, the half-demon sniffed deeply of the air, but there was nothing to indicate that the truant wolves were anywhere nearby. Aw, dammit! If they got themselves eaten or something, I swear I'll kill them both!

Not even sure how he would accomplish something like that, but certain that he would figure something out, InuYasha watched as Kirara and her riders rapidly flew closer. "Everybody! Sango and the others are back!" Kaname called out as she and Miroku came up alongside him. The three of them watched as the two-tail carefully descended. "Wow, are we glad to see you!"

"Thank you, young lady. Though I wish the circumstances were better," Yorozuko somberly commented as he carefully slid off of Kirara's back. "Sango told us about what happened...as well as Koga's condition."

"So how is he?" Robai demanded, his aged eyes energized with worry. "He...he isn't...?!"

Quickly shaking her head, Kaname waved her hands before her and assured him, "No, no! He's still...I mean, he's...well..."

"He's alive. For the time being, at least," Miroku broke in. "I won't lie to you, however. It's not looking good." As Robai sucked in a gasp, the monk gestured off to the side. "He's over there. Would you like me to help you over?"

"Meh! Don't treat me like some old fogey! I can make my own way over there!" Robai snarled before starting over. His every move betraying his age and his concerns.

Pausing to watch his fellow elder, Yorozuko then looked up at InuYasha and the others and explained, "Please, forgive Robai his behavior. This is all very hard for him," the white wolf explained. "He helped raise Koga when he was but a young pup, and tended to him like he was of his own blood."

"We understand," Kaname nodded, a sad little smile on her face. "Anyway, where are Ginta and Hakkaku? Did something happen to them?"

"What happened was that they couldn't keep up with us," Sango admitted with a wry curl to her lip. "When I told them what was going on, they said that we should go on ahead, and that they'd catch up sooner or later."

"I see," Miroku nodded thoughtfully. "Well, in any case, now that you're here, we'd better not waste any time getting to the fort."

"Feh! Finally!" InuYasha muttered, glad that the time for action was finally upon them. No more struggling with his frustrations and concerns, no more sitting around, imagining the worst and cursing himself for not doing what he knew what to be done. It had all come down to one very basic reality; he and his friends would either save the Demon Slayers...or they would avenge them. "C'mon, let's get Michiru and Kagome and get going."

"Hold up, InuYasha. It'd be best if we left them here, to tend after Koga," Miroku spoke up, stopping the half-demon in his tracks. "As I've already explained to you, Naraku's most likely after his Sacred Jewel Shards. And when he realizes that Koga isn't coming to assist the Demon Slayers, there's always a chance he'll send some of his forces after him." As soon as he was reminded of this valid point, InuYasha groaned heavily. "Also, Michiru understands the power of the Shikigami better than any of us, and Kagome's spiritual powers have tamed the power of the Shikon Jewel in the past. That means that they could well be Koga's best - perhaps only - chance of survival."

Stunned by the idea of leaving his best friend and Kagome with the scrawny wolf who had dragged them all into this, InuYasha stared dumbstruck at the monk. Opening his mouth to tell him exactly what he thought of that idea, he was quickly cut off by Sango declaring, "That makes sense. And if Naraku does send any demons here, I'm sure Michiru can handle them."

"Uh, yes," Miroku replied, momentarily unsettled. "Let's go tell them of our plans, and then we can proceed to the Demon Slayer fort."

Not even able to enjoy the way Miroku reacted to Sango's faith in the Kururugi boy, InuYasha struggled to find a flaw with the monk's plan for a short time, some reason to object to it, before being forced to concede that he could find none. "Fine! We'll ask them if they want to stay here," the half-demon muttered with considerable bad grace. "Let's just get moving already!"

Less than a minute later, Kaname was standing beside InuYasha, watching as Miroku climbed up on Kirara. She frowned when she the slight smile on the monk's face as he drew closer to the Demon Slayer, doing her best to focus on that and not the butterflies in her stomach.

Unsurprisingly, Michiru and Kagome had readily agreed to stay behind, to tend and defend Koga and the other wolf-demons. This was something that Kaname knew didn't sit well with InuYasha, but at the same time, he didn't offer any real protest to their decision. Instead, he had simply grumbled about her lack of intelligence and how she’d fall for any sob story.

"Now, remember, this will almost certainly be a trap," Miroku told them in a sage manner. "But at the same time, since we haven't encountered any of Naraku's forces in recent times, there's a chance that he isn't aware of Michiru and Kaname. Hopefully, that'll give us at least some advantage here."

"Whatever. Let's just get going already," InuYasha muttered before getting down on his knees. "C'mon, Kaname. Get on."

"Huh? Oh, right," Kaname answered nervously. Moving a bit awkwardly, she carefully mounted the half-demon, who placed his arms beneath her legs. Gently wrapping her arms about his neck, she held on tightly as he stood.

"You ready, Kaname?" InuYasha inquired, glancing over his shoulder at her. When she quietly nodded, he grinned and answered, "Alright, then, let's -!"

"Wait! All of you!" came an unexpected voice. Tottering forward in surprise, InuYasha and Kaname looked about. Her eyes went wide when she saw that the speaker was one of the wolf-demons who only a short while ago been following Toma’s orders. And he wasn't alone; the rest of the former rogues stood a short distance behind, looking nervously at the small group.

"What do you want?!" InuYasha growled dangerously. "We don't have time to waste on you stinkin' wolves!"

"No, wait! Just hear me out!" the lead rogue insisted before falling on his knees. "We...we want to help you. Please, let us join you at the Demon Slayer village.”

Of all the things Kaname could have imagined the rogue saying, this wasn't one of them. And it was clear from the way InuYasha's jaw clattered to the ground that he hadn't expecting that, either. "Say what?!"

"But...you're all still hurt!" Kaname quickly protested, eyeing the partially healed wounds that marked each of them. "You're in no shape to fight! You need to rest!"

"What we need to do is to make up for what we've done!" another of the rogues spoke up, his voice filled with such pain and angst that it was impossible to miss.

"That's right," the lead rogue confirmed, bowing even more lowly before them. "You all saved us from a living nightmare! You healed us, helped us even after everything we'd done to you! To you, and our kin!" Seeming to nearly collapse beneath his own shame, he then looked up at Kaname, and begged, "We have to do something to help you now! Please, give us the chance to make amends for our cowardice!”

Snorting loudly, InuYasha returned, “Feh! You’re awfully brave now that all the real work has been done! Why the hell should we trust you, anyway?!"

"InuYasha!" Kaname protested, unsurprised by his anger but saddened by it, all the same. "Pease, this isn't their fault! Give them a chance!"

"That's right," Miroku chimed in. While InuYasha turned and glared at him, the monk focused his attention on the rogue, giving them a look of keen interest. “Very well. If you people truly wish to battle alongside of us, then we will not stop you.”

Stunned by this invitation, InuYasha bristled irritably, and was about to tell Miroku exactly what he thought of that idea when the lead rogue bowed his head even lower. “Thank you for this chance. I promise that we not disappoint you!" With this declaration, he rose up and turned towards the rest of them. "Alright, everyone! To the Demon Slayer fort!" As one, the rest of the wolf-demons cried out in excitement, raising their fists in assent. With that, the rogues, all of them badly wounded and exhausted from the earlier fighting, started forward, already moving far faster than any of them would have expected.

“We’d better get going, too,” Sango commented as the rogues continued to run. "Let's go, Kirara!" The two-tail released a forceful growl, then launched herself into the air.

Wincing at the sparks of flame left in their wake, Kaname watched as her friends flew a short distance above the ground. Then she was alerted to a low, impatient growl sounding in InuYasha's throat, which was soon followed by him glancing over his shoulder at her. "You better hold on tight, Kaname!" Recognizing the tone in his voice, the Kururugi girl quickly nodded and tightened her grip. As soon as she did so, the half-demon launched himself forward, prompting a gasp of surprise from her as he bounded across the field after the others.

It wasn't long until InuYasha managed to overtake Kirara, and as he came up alongside the two-tail and her riders, he grumbled, “Okay, Miroku, would you mind explaining why you were so hot to have those scrawny wolves come along with us?!"

“Because it is the duty of a monk to preach forgiveness,” Miroku explained in a sage voice. “We already know that, whatever mistakes these wolf-demons might have made, they were being forced to go along with Toma’s wishes. And it seems to me that they genuinely do want to make amends for their mistakes. In which case, to continue to hold their pasts against them would be cruel.” InuYasha's response to this was a loud, disbelieving snort. "And there is another reason," the monk added, his voice somewhat more ominous. "In the event that they are not quite as innocent as they maintain, then it would be best to have them away from Kagome and the others.”

Kaname suffered a jolt at this. "Huh?" she squeaked, uncertain if she had heard the monk correctly. "You mean...you think they might have -?!"

"I think that it's likely that they joined Toma because they originally believed that he would be the better choice of leader for their people, and were against the proposed alliance with the Demon Slayers," Miroku carefully explained. "And while I feel they are genuinely grateful, don't forget that they were exiled from the wolf-demon tribe, and thus have several reasons to hate Koga. And possibly wish him ill."

“Good point,” Sango solemnly agreed. “At least this way, we can keep an eye on them. And they could be a help to us once we get to the fort."

“Hmph! I'll believe that when I see it,” InuYasha grumbled sourly. "Still, I guess you're right. I guess a bunch of half-dead wolves can’t cause too much trouble.”

"C'mon, InuYasha...!" Kaname protested, her disappointment mounting. "I know you don't like what they did, but look at them! They're risking their lives for us right now! To help the Demon Slayers! Doesn't that count for anything?"

"Yeah, it counts for something. And it'd count for a lot more if they'd done something to help a lot sooner!" InuYasha growled lowly. "Look, Kaname, I know want to believe that they're telling the truth, but you've got to face facts! There aren't too many people in this world that are as kind as you are."

Kaname didn't say anything to that. Instead, she sighed and rested her head on his shoulders. And as she did so, she thought back to her conversations with her brother and the others about InuYasha's past. I know it must be hard for you to trust after everything you must've been though, InuYasha, the Kururugi girl thought sadly. But...is it really so hard for you to believe that...?

Even as she thought this, Kaname's eyes widened as her mind seized upon something else entirely. Wait a minute...kind as me? Did I...did InuYasha really say that...?

For a moment, Kaname thought for sure that she had been hearing things. That the half-demon had something else entirely. But as she looked at him, thought of the way he tended to keep the world at bay, as well as the rare occasions when he would let this barrier down, she couldn't help but hold him even more tightly...

"Does it hurt, Koga?" Kagome asked, glancing down at the alpha wolf with obvious concern.

"Heh. Not a bit...Kagome," Koga answered wanly. "And even if it did...I sure as hell...wouldn't want you...to stop!"

Nodding to this, Kagome eyed Ayame, who was looking a bit concerned. "So? You ready to join in?"

"Oh...I don't know about this..." the redhead murmured squeamishly. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Right now, it's about the only idea any of us have had!" Kagome returned urgently. "Now, c'mon! This things too big for me to handle alone!"

When Ayame didn't respond, Koga grinned and told her, "You...you heard her, okay? And do me a favor...and don't be gentle. I need you two...to give it to me...with everything you've got!"

Again, the redhead was hesitant in responding. But after several moments of looking into Koga's eyes, she finally relented. "Well...okay..." Ayame murmured before reaching into her hair and pulled out the iris she kept there. Grasping the stem firmly, she looked up at Kagome. "You ready?"

"Ready!" Kagome grinned, and with that, she thrust her right hand down as hard as she could...and the Sacred Arrow she held smashed into the crystal carapace about Koga's legs, sending chunks of it flying away. Following the modern priestess's example, Ayame brought her flower down on them, the purifying power of the iris having a similar effect.

Pausing to watch the two girls smashing away at the misshapen crystalline growths about Koga's legs, Michiru sighed before returning his attention to his father's book. On the one hand, he was grateful that Kagome had thought of using her spiritual powers and Ayame's purifying iris to help break down the crystals, buying him so much needed time. But at the same time, he wished that the raven-haired girl hadn't used such suggestive dialogue.

His cheeks coloring as he continued to study, searching for some manner of spell that would help him, Michiru's concentration suffered again when Ginta and Hakkaku made their way up to them. "InuYasha and the others are on their way, everyone!"

"That's right," Hakkaku nodded. "And get this! Toma's followers, they decided to go with them to the Demon Slayer fort!"

Michiru felt as if someone had dropped a bomb right on his head, and judging by the way Koga and the girls reacted, it was clear that they felt the same way. "They...that did what?!" the alpha wolf very nearly screamed, pushing his voice to its current limits. "You mean those bastards...they're still trying to screw everything up for us...?!"

"No, no! It ain't like that!" Hakkaku quickly reassured him.

"That's right!" Ginta nodded. "They said that they wanted to help fight for the Demon Slayers! That they wanted to make up for what they did!"

Blinking a few times, Ayame then responded, "Really?"

"Heh! As injured as they are, I'm amazed that they can even move right now!" Robai snorted loudly. "I guess it's true what they say; no brain, no pain!"

"Aw, dammit...old man...!" Koga groaned heavily as he lay his head back. "This ain't the time...for jokes! The last thing...we need...is for those bastards...to cause us...more trouble...!"

"I know. But I honestly don't think we have to worry about that," Yorozuko smiled knowingly. "In fact, I think that Toma's former warriors are about to help us prove that our alliance with the Demon Slayers is not only possible, but will help open the future to our people."

A noise of surprise sounding in her throat, Ayame gave her grandfather a quizzical look. "Wh-what do you mean?"

"Simply put, they've learned firsthand the strength of humans, as well as the knowledge and skill they have to offer." Then Yorozuko narrowed his eyes, a crafty smile forming on his muzzle. "But even more importantly, they are now moving to help humans. To fight alongside of them. And in doing so, they will help prove to everyone, including themselves, that humans and demons can work together and can be truly stronger in doing so.”

As everyone there looked at the aged wolf, Michiru couldn't help be moved by his words. But at the same time, he couldn't help but worry that there might not be any humans at the fort to fight alongside of...

Daisuke, everyone...please be alive! Sango thought as she desperately tried to keep herself from falling apart. You have to be alive!

Her fingers taut about Kirara's fur, the Demon Slayer felt as if she were losing herself amidst a maelstrom of emotion that threatened to drown her in fear and despair. Emotions that flooded her heart, forcing horrible memories back to the surface of her mind. Things that she knew she would never forget, no matter how long she happened to live. Memories of the day her past life ended, along with the lives of virtually everyone from her own village.

Sango hadn't been present for the battle that destroyed her home and the people there. She, along with her father and Kohaku, had been lured away to Naraku's castle, not knowing the nature of the creature they had been hired by, or the danger they were in. But still, she had an idea of what her friends had found when they had gone there and found her people massacred. Kagome, Miroku, Shippo, even InuYasha had been careful not to go into too much detail when they had found her loved ones dead, of the grisly condition of the bodies when they had buried them, of the overall horror that was the aftermath of their final battle.

But even so, Sango could still hear the emotion in their voices when they had described what they had found. Those feelings spoke far more clearly than any amount of words could ever hope to. And these things, coupled with her own experiences as a Demon Slayer, gave her imagination plenty of material with which to visualize the fates of her fellow Slayers...both then and now.

But...no! I can't let myself think that way! Sango told herself emphatically. Besides, this...this isn't the same situation! Naraku destroyed my home so he could get the Jewel Shard we had! He doesn't have anything to gain by wiping out Daisuke's fort...and perhaps a lot to gain by letting the people there live!

On one level, this made a great deal of sense. After all, there was nothing better than live bait for a trap. And keeping them busy by aiding any survivors could work well in Naraku's favor, something she knew their enemy would think of.

But at the same time, she also knew that Naraku delighted in making others suffer, just for the pleasure of inflicting greater pain. And he didn't care who his victims were, as long as he was able to cause pain and misery to others. Sometimes even doing so at the expense of his own long-term plans.

Please...please let them be okay...! Sango pleaded whatever deities that were watching for this slight favor.

As she continued to beg for the lives of her fellows, Miroku's voice snapped her back to the present. "How much further until we reach the fort?"

"Huh?" Sango started, momentarily disoriented before she was able to reorganize her thoughts. "Uh...not much further. We should be able to see it in a few minutes." As Miroku nodded, she sighed heavily as she turned her eyes ahead, searching for any sign of their destination. On one level, she wished that they could have had Michiru or Kaname send scouts to investigate the situation of the fort, to see whether or not they were walking into a trap.

But at the same time, she knew that they couldn't have. Kaname was likely to be at the ebb of her strength after everything that they had gone through that day, and to send a scout would be to risk alerting whatever demons that were attacking that they were coming. And even though Sango knew that Naraku was expecting them, they still couldn't ruin what little advantage of surprise they might have.

Taking her frustration of their predicament, Sango forced herself to busy her mind with other things. She looked down at the wolf-demons that were accompanying them, whose injuries had slowed them down enough so that they were just behind InuYasha and Kaname. She thought about the Kururugi girl, and hoped that her experiences to date had given her the needed experience to see her through what was to come. She thought of all these things and more, if only to keep from thinking of other, more horrible things.

"Sango! I think I see something," Miroku spoke up. This time, Sango was instantly alert as the monk gestured with his staff. "Is that the fort up ahead?" A glance was all Sango needed to confirm that it was the fort.

A glance was she needed to very nearly send her plunging into the depths of despair.

The fort Daisuke and his people had made their home was large, far larger than the humble village Sango had lived in. It's walls were wood that had been reinforced with stone and spell alike, and at each of the corners was a watchtower from which Demon Slayers would maintain surveillance over the area, just in case. However, the seemingly impervious fort was now a shambles of its former self. The walls were all ablaze, and one of the towers had collapsed beneath the corpse of an immense blue ogre. And littering the grounds just outside the walls were corpses. The vast majority of them were that of demons, but even so, she could still see few human bodies amidst the carnage.

No...no no no!! Sango shrieked in her heart, pain and rage welling up in her mind uncontrollably as she spurred Kirara onwards. Determined to make Naraku pay for this a thousand fold.

"Damn you, Naraku!" InuYasha snarled as he raced up to the shattered fort. "Damn you straight to hell!!"

"Oh, no...!" Kaname moaned, her grip slackening as she took in the carnage that surrounded the Demon Slayers' home. Her heart pounding audibly as she looked about, took in the many corpses that were strewn about, many of which had been torn to shreds by demons fighting over the best pieces of meat. "I-InuYasha...!"

"I know, Kaname," InuYasha responded, knowing that he should be trying to comfort her. He knew firsthand how hard it was to be confronted with death, and he had seen from experience how unfamiliar people from her world could be with such gruesome spectacles. And while a part of him hoped that she would never grow accustomed to such horrors, he knew that it was almost inevitable that she would be confronted by them again in the near future.

Coming to a halt, InuYasha quickly surveyed the situation. Unlike the massacre of Sango's people, the battle here was still being fought. There were many demons still flying and shrieking overhead, and he could hear sounds of fighting going on somewhere inside. "Hang on, Kaname!" the half-demon growled as he coiled his legs beneath him. Without further warning, he leapt into the air, eliciting a surprised squawk from his companion. Ignoring it, he landed effortlessly on the top of the wall, pausing just long enough to take in the view of the inner courtyard.

Unlike Sango's former home, the fort's inner area reminded him of a castle. That were numerous, interconnected buildings, most of them two or three stories high. The structures were built along the same lines as the other walls, and seemed quite sturdy. However, the flames that were gnawing away at the fort exterior were also at work on the inside. And amidst the flames, there was a great battle taking place.

"Whoa..." Kaname breathed as they watched the Demon Slayers at work. Everywhere he looked, human warriors fought valiantly with whatever weapons they had. In one direction, a Slayer wielding a massive sword had sliced a disgusting centipede right down the length of its body. Elsewhere, another Slayer had speared a murderous ghoul right through its open mouth. And yet another Slayer was throwing a small object at a swarm of smaller demons. As soon as the projectile came close to them, it exploded in a flash of purifying light, wiping them out of existence.

"Heh! Not bad!" InuYasha grinned. Having fought alongside Sango, he had been expecting these Demon Slayers to be skilled warriors, but he was still impressed by the fact that they were holding their own thus far. "Okay, Kaname! What say we get down there and give them a hand?"

"Right!" Kaname responded, and with that, InuYasha leapt down to the ground. Bending down upon landing, he gave the Kururugi girl enough to disembark before leaping into action. Unsheathing the Tetsusaiga, he fell upon the first he spotted, cleaving it in two with a single stroke. Just behind him, he could hear Kaname bombarding a horde of smaller demons with a barrage of fireballs.

"C'mon, you bastards!" InuYasha grinned as their attacks warranted them the attention of additional demons. "I hope you're all ready to die, 'cause not one of you is leaving here alive!"

"Get out of my way!" Sango howled furiously as Kirara flew towards the cloud of demons circling above the fort.

Gritting his teeth as the demons took notice of them, Miroku took gripped his staff firmly in his hands and prepared himself for battle. "Well...we've got their attention!" the monk commented needlessly as he took in the hideous menagerie of nightmares that Naraku had sent down upon the Demon Slayers. Beasts of every conceivable shape and size came at them, baring fangs and claws and other lethal appendages, shot towards Kirara and her riders with eyes filled with bloodlust.

"That's fine by me! Hiraikotsu!" Sango roared, sending the massive boomerang flying into their foes, Blinded by their hunger for human flesh, the demons didn't even attempt to dodge it, and as a result, dozens of them were instantly ripped to pieces. Pieces that were quickly gobbled up by other demons, Miroku noted to his disgust.

He also noted that the remaining demons continued their charge, their numbers seemingly undiminished.

Sango didn't care. She could have been faced by twice as many demons that day; she still would not have turned away. Catching Hiraikotsu upon its return trip, the Demon Slayer held the boomerang bone out in front of her as Kirara roared furiously, dispatching a couple of the demons with a swipe of her claws.

"Argh!" Miroku cried out as more and more of the little monsters came at them from the sides. Careful so as to not strike Sango, he thrust his staff at one of the demons, the headpiece shattering the creature's skull with a single blow. The demon fell away from them...and was quickly replaced by two more.

Ugh...there's no end to them! Miroku thought as he swung his staff at new demons, cutting them down as well. And there's no way I can use my Wind Tunnel, not with Sango right in front of me! Wincing as his imagination painted for him the likely result of his attempting to use his curse right then and there; if he moved his hand in just the wrong way, Sango would be sucked in without even having a chance to realize how she had been killed, and it was likely that Kirara would suffer a similar fate. In which case, Miroku would be left with nothing to save him from plunging to his doom.

With this in mind, Miroku called out, "Sango, we have to land! There's no way we can fight like this!"

"No! We're fighting this one out!" Sango roared, letting the Hiraikotsu fly forth once again. Propelled by her fury, the huge boomerang carved a path through the attacking forces, once again sending demonic corpses raining down to the ground. "We have to get inside the fort, one way or another!"

Knowing better than to try and protest this, Miroku answered, "We have to deal with these things, first!" He didn't have time to say anything else; another wave of demons was coming in at them, screaming with insatiable hunger. Forcing the three of them to fight as hard as they could, their own proximity to each other working to negate their own fighting capabilities.

After barely managing to avoid hitting Sango while dispatching another demon with his staff, Miroku opened his mouth to once again recommend landing. But before he could so much as say a word, the sound of something burning was heard over the screeching demons. Instantly on the alert, the monk quickly glanced about, certain that they were about to be hit with a blast of fire from one of their attackers.

Instead, what he saw was the demons off to their side exploding into blue fire.

"What the -?!" Miroku gasped, unable to fathom what had just happened. Then the sound was heard again, prompting him to turn and look. Again, the demons attacking them were scorched, but this time, the monk had looked in time to see a residual stream of fire leading up into the sky above them. Immediately looking up, the monk managed to catch sight of something shooting down towards them. "Whoa!" he gasped as the thing shot past them so fast that it was nothing more than a large blur to them. Knocked slightly off-balance by its wake, Miroku could only stare and wonder, "What was -?!"

"Daisuke!" Sango cried out excitedly. Starting at this, Miroku glanced over at the warrior woman before returning his eyes to the flying figure that was even then angling itself upwards again. Only now that it had slowed down, he could tell that it was actually two figures. The larger one had to be the silvery phoenix known as Kokoro, and the smaller of them was a man wearing a uniform similar to hers. He also held some kind of large object, which Miroku assumed to be some kind of weapon.

As the two of them watched, many of the demons hovering nearby screeched in outrage over the death of their brethren, and shot down towards the duo responsible. "Oh, no, you don't!" Sango shouted, whipping out the Hiraikotsu once again. As the massive boomerang mowed down many of the demons, Miroku's gaze was drawn to the Demon Slayer Sango spoke so warmly of.

Screeching his fury, Kokoro continued to rise up towards a mass of demons. Just before reaching them, the silvery phoenix kicked forward with its powerful legs, sending Daisuke shooting up into the air. His mouth popping open in surprise, Miroku's mind went blank as he struggled to fathom what the Demon Slayer could possibly have in mind when the aimed his weapon in the opposite direction of his flight. The huge, skeletal cannon spat forth a massive blast of blue flame, one that propelled him up even faster. Raising his free hand before him, Daisuke shot up towards the demons, who were shrieking eagerly as they shot down towards them. The hideous aberrations were jostling each other, fighting to be the first to sink its teeth into the human's flesh.

Less than a second before the lead demon could strike, a set of three metal claws appeared from Daisuke's armored forearm. The demon didn't even have the chance to scream as the Demon Slayer plunged his fist down it's throat, his claw-weapons ripping all the way through to appear out the demon's back.

Startled by this turnaround, the demons' charge broke, many of them attempting to halt their downward progress. This created a jam of demons in mid-air, forcing the rest to attempt to fly around the others. In the confusion, each and every one of them forgot about Daisuke, which quickly proved to be their undoing. Swinging up his cannon, the Demon Slayer cut loose with a massive stream of blue fire. The blast lasted for a couple seconds, more than enough time for him to play the flame about at multiple targets.

"Amazing," Miroku breathed, his eyes rounding as the many demons plunged to the earth, burning away to nothing but ash. This done, Daisuke swung himself up and wrapped his legs about the demon he was hanging from. With a determined grunt of effort, he wrenched the creature's head from its body, cutting off its final scream before it could be completed.

The demon's corpse already falling, Daisuke pushed off it and spread out his arms and legs, increasing the wind resistance and keeping himself stable so that he didn't tumble uncontrollably. As he did so, demons that had witnessed the deaths of their kin started coming after him from both above and below. He responded to this threat by taking aim at them with his cannon, but he didn't fire. Instead, he allowed himself to keep falling closer to his attackers...as a glint of silver was seen just beneath them.

No...that can't be what he had in mind! Miroku thought disbelievingly as Kokoro shot up towards his partner, his silvery wings slicing through demons like the finest of blades. If he tries to stop Daisuke's fall while moving at that speed, he'll break every bone in his body!

Apparently oblivious to the deadly mistake it was making, Kokoro continued to shoot upwards, his claws ready to snatch up Daisuke. "Sango, we have to go after him," the monk told her. When she didn't respond, he frowned and tried again. "Sango? Sango, we..." The As the two of them continued to speed towards each, Miroku opened his mouth to tell Sango that they had to do something. But as he turned to look at her, those words froze in his throat as he took in the unconcerned look she wore.

"Don't worry, Miroku," Sango responded, apparently unconcerned as she hurled the Hiraikotsu again, doing several more demons. "They know what they're doing."

Miroku could only hope that Sango's faith was justified, for not only did she show no interest in assisting Daisuke, it was now too late to reach him before Kokoro did. The metallic phoenix let out a piercing screech as it closed the final span between himself and Daisuke, his claws shining dangerously.

The bird pivoted in mid-air, turning to allow Daisuke to fall by harmlessly, without any risk of getting caught on his claws. Kokoro then gave a mighty flap of his wings before turning his talons on the demons pursuing Daisuke, even as the Demon Slayer fired upon the hateful creatures that had been in pursuit of his partner.

Miroku's jaw popped open with shock at how easy the two of them made their nigh-impossible maneuver look. "See?" Sango told him, noting the shock that was now radiating from the monk's every pore. "This isn't the first time they've done this."

You mean they've used this insane stunt once before? Miroku thought weakly. And Daisuke's still alive to try it again? Even as this thought ran its course, Kokoro rose up from the cloud of shredded demons, spinning in mid-air before folding his wings, and then shot into a dive. As the silvery phoenix shot down, his speed increasing with each passing second, Daisuke fired his cannon over and over again at the demons below, the recoil of his weapon slowing his fall a bit more with each use. Not enough to save him if he reached the ground, but more than enough to allow Kokoro to reach him with time to spare. Once the metallic bird was close enough, he spread his wings, absorbing much of his momentum, allowing him to deftly reach done and snatch a couple of highly durable straps that were wrapped about Daisuke's shoulders.

Watching as Kokoro cried out in triumph before angling himself upwards again, Sango smiled and murmured, "They sure are a great team. It's been so long since I saw the, I'd almost forgotten, but..."

Unsure whether he was more alarmed by Daisuke's stunt or the fact that it was almost routine for him, Miroku cleared his throat and commented, "Uh, Sango? I don't think now is the time for this."

"Hmm? Oh, right, of course," Sango nodded. Heaving a deep breath, she slid the Hiraikotsu over her back and spurred Kirara forward. "Let's go."

Growling her response, Kirara leapt forward, angling herself down towards Daisuke and Kokoro, carefully adjusting her course as the phoenix gained altitude once again. "Daisuke!" Sango cried out as they came closer, prompting Kokoro to look in their direction.

"What the...?" came Daisuke's voice, just barely audible. "I...that voice...!" Before he could say anything further, Kokoro bent his head down to look down at his partner, letting out an encouraging squawk before turning to look at them. Following the phoenix's gaze, the Demon Slayer locked his eyes on them, eyes that then threatened to become even larger than the sockets that held them. "What...?"

"Daisuke!" Sango cried out with even greater delight as Kirara came to flying parallel to her counterparts. This allowed Miroku his first good look at the Demon Slayer leader. Daisuke was a large, thickly built person wearing a uniform very similar to Sango's own. He was a weathered, sturdy-looking person whose face was marked with morning shadow. "Oh, Daisuke, thank goodness you're alive!"

"S...Sango?!" Daisuke gasped, sounding as if he were sure he was dreaming and didn't want to wake up. "I...am I alive? Or am I hallucinating?" The Demon Slayer gave a quick shake of his head before beginning. "I...I thought I saw you before, but...Sango, is that really you?!

“It’s me, Daisuke!” Sango grinned, obviously gratified to see this man.

Daisuke broke out in an enormous grin, all exhaustion forgotten as drank her in with his eyes. “My goodness, it is you! Oh, my, Sango!!" Laughing broadly, he shook his head in disbelief. "When I heard about your village, I was sure that - what are you doing here?!"

"We were helping Koga deal with Toma," Sango explained tersely. "When I found out about your invitation, I had to come and see you."

"Koga?" Daisuke repeated, only to gasp as realization struck. "Did you see Kokoro while you there?" When Sango gave a quick nod, the veteran Slayer smiled at his companion. "No wonder you were so excited when you got back last night! You were trying to tell me about her!" Giving an affirmative squawk, the Daisuke shook his head and replied, "Kokoro, you are a brave friend and companion, but I have to admit, there are times that I wish that you could say what you want to say in words!"

"Excuse me, Daisuke?" Miroku broke in. "As much as I hate to interrupt your reunion, I'm afraid that we have more immediate concerns that we have to deal."

Sighing as her blessed moment of rejoice was cut short, Sango let her smile fade before getting back to business. "You're right, Miroku," she somberly admitted. "Daisuke, what happened out here? What about the others? Are they alright?"

"For the most part." Like Sango, all joy fled Daisuke's visage as he looked down at the ravaged fort.
We lost about a dozen in the initial attack, and who knows how many others since. Fortunately, we managed to get most of the people down to the caves beneath the village." Pressing his lips together, he shrugged somewhat before explaining, "I and a few of our best warriors stayed behind to deal with the demons, but..."

"I see," Miroku frowned as he considered the situation. "How did the attack start? What exactly happened?"

"What happened, monk...was that we were betrayed," Daisuke answered, his voice low and hateful. "This morning, one of my own people destroyed one of the barrier stones that protected our village."

"A traitor - wait, what barrier stones?!" Sango demanded perplexedly.

"After what happened to your village, Sango, I had our best spiritualists, priests, and Shikigami Users work together to create a set of four powerful barrier stones," Daisuke tersely explained. "Once in place, they could be used to project a barrier that surrounded the fort on all sides, preventing anything, human or demon, from getting in or out." Pausing somewhat, his face furrowed with grimness as his mind rolled back to those earlier events. "Unfortunately, the stones proved to be quite vulnerable...when attacked from inside the barrier."

"And you say that a traitor did this?" Miroku frowned, not liking the sound of this. "A Demon Slayer?"

Daisuke nodded somberly at this. "He was on guard duty during night, manning one of the towers where the stones were kept," he slowly explained. "This morning, when the demons came, he rang the warning bells. When we came out to see what was happening, he told us about the Demons, then told us that we were all traitors to humanity for agreeing to an alliance with the wolf-demons. Before we could do anything, he shattered the stone."

"He shattered one stone?" Sango frowned. "But what about the others? Couldn't you use them?"

Nodding tersely, Daisuke answer, "We could, and we did. But the loss of that one stone meant that the barrier at that corner of the fort was weak." Pausing, the Demon Slayer again relived the events of before in his mind. "Our people were able to reinforce the barrier, for a while at least. Enough so that were able to keep the demons at bay while we got as many people to safety as we could. But then, another demon joined the fray. A demon in the guise of a human woman."

"A woman?" Miroku frowned, immediately intrigued, and not simply because of the prospect of encountering an attractive female. "Daisuke, this woman...did she have her hair done up in a short ponytail with feathers? And she carry a small fan on her person."

"Yes, she did," Daisuke muttered gravely. "I take it that you know our attacker?"

"We know her, alright. Her name is Kagura. She's one of Naraku's incarnations," Miroku explained quickly.

"Naraku? You mean Koga's enemy?" Daisuke frowned.

"Yes, and believe me, Daisuke, Naraku is everybody's enemy! He's the one responsible for what happened to the fort, and my people," Sango exclaimed.

Daisuke's eyes narrowed sharply at this revelation, sparking with an intensity that Miroku had yet to see from him. "Is that so?" he rumbled lowly, like an earthquake about to unleash its full force. "In that case, I'll have to have words with this witch of his."

"Are you saying that Kagura is still here?" Miroku demanded intensely, suffering twin waves of wariness and relief. For while he certainly didn't relish the thought of confronting the powerful mistress of the wind and the dead, he was still glad to hear that she wasn't going after Koga and his Jewel Shards.

"Yes. She's been calling the dance since the attack began," Daisuke informed them. "She's been overseeing everything from one of the towers, using our own barrier stones to ward us off."

More likely she's been waiting for us, in case Toma failed, Miroku frowned as he glanced at Sango. A nod from the warrior woman was all he needed to know that similar thoughts were running through her mind. "In that case, I think it's time we dealt with her directly," the monk spoke aloud. "Daisuke, two of our members are already inside the fort. If we can rejoin them..."

"Then we can work together, and cut off this nightmare at the source. These demons won't be nearly as brave without their leader," Daisuke intuited. When Sango and Miroku nodded in response, the veteran Slayer frowned. "But we'd first have to find some way of getting past the barrier."

"That won't be a problem," Sango responded in a low, silky voice that Miroku knew meant trouble. "Let's go, Kirara! I'm not going to let Naraku win! Not this time!"

Kirara roared proudly, making it clear that she felt similarly to Sango, and then propelled herself down towards the fort. A moment later, a set of powerfully flapping wings was heard, and then Kokoro and Daisuke were again flying alongside them. "Still full of spirit, eh, Sango?" Daisuke commented with deceptive mildness. "I hope your fighting skills are just as I remember them as well!"

"No worries there, Daisuke!" Sango assured him as they descended towards the shattered forward. Each of them tensing for battle...

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