A Warrior Reborn
Snarling his rage, InuYasha rushed forward, his eyes narrowed at the slavering demons that were surging towards him. With a growl of effort, he swung the Tetsusaiga at them, it's curved blade arching to the side and sundering the demons in a flash of light.
Snorting loudly at the this minor victory, InuYasha looked up from his handiwork and surveyed the chaos that he and Kaname had just plunged headfirst into. It was difficult to see much in the courtyard of the Demon Slayers' fort, what with the many buildings and the roaring flames, but he could see just enough to make out the tremendous battle that was still going on. Demon Slayers were scattered here and there, fighting their own battles. All of them fighting bravely, just as Kaname was.
"Swords of Thunder!" the Shikigami User invoked, almost in response to InuYasha's thought. Turning about, the half-demon watched as Kaname sent a barrage of lightning swords at another wave of demons. The wretched monstrosities never even got close to her before being electrocuted into nothingness.
The corner of his lip curling up, InuYasha paused to watch as Kaname addressed another wave of demons that were coming at her from the side. Throwing a bunch of her cards at them, she invoked, "Green Wood Corruption!" In response to her Wood Shikigami's power, the cards exploded into swarm of vines that quickly wrapped about the demons, sinking roots into their very flesh.
"Heh! Not bad!" InuYasha noted as the demons fell to the ground, the enchanted cards draining the life from them. As the little monsters shriveled up, the half-demon spun about and slashed at a bunch of demons that had attempted to sneak up on him. Snorting loudly, wondering if they had thought the half-demons ears were just for show, he then glanced back at the Shikigami User. "So how're you holding up, Kaname?"
"I'm okay...so far," Kaname replied, doing her best to put up a brave face. Then she whipped about and skewered another demon with her wooden blade. "I...I don't believe this! How did Naraku get all these demons to come here?! Is he really that powerful?!"
"Feh! More likely he just told him that the Slayers were going to be vulnerable or something and that now would be a great time to attack!" InuYasha sneered hatefully. "That's basically what he did with Sango's village!"
"What? Really?!" Kaname blurted in surprise.
Pausing to dispatch another few demons, InuYasha replied, "It's not like it'd be that tough! If these Slayers are anything like Sango's people, then they've made more than their share of enemies! And -!" A sharp, pained howl cut him off, stopping the half-demon in mid-swing and prompting him to spin about. "Kaname! What -?!" he started, only to cut himself off when he saw what had happened. The Kururugi girl, distracted by his explanation or perhaps something else, had missed a small demon slipping in close to her. A demon that now had its fangs sunk deeply into her thigh.
"Aaacck!" Kaname cried out from between clenched teeth. Her eyes tearing with pain, she glanced down at the vicious monster. Before she could do anything about it, the scent of her blood being spilled drew even more demons towards her, all of them hungry for her flesh.
"Dammit! Get off of her!" InuYasha snarled, his own attackers forgotten as he leapt towards her. Holding the Tetsusaiga off to the side so it wouldn't imperil her, he dove into the demon with his claws. "Iron Reaver Soul-Stealer!" The little monster let out one final scream of pain as it shattered before the force of the half-demon's claws, but the damage had been done; Kaname fell down on one knee, her injured leg no longer to support her effectively. "Aw, damn!" InuYasha growled as she looked from the deep red bite marks to him. "You better heal that right away! No telling -!"
"Look out!" Kaname cried out, raising her sword up an instant later. His eyes going wide, InuYasha thought for a moment that she was taking aim at him, only to cry out in surprise as a wave of fire balls shot forth off to the side of his head. A screech of pain immediately followed, and when he turned to look, the half-demon watched another demon fall to the ground, it's head completely burned away.
Realizing his close call and taking a moment to kick himself for allowing himself to be so completely distracted, InuYasha then turned back to Kaname. "Uh...nice shot!" he managed to get out before looking back down at her injury. "Look, you better start healing yourself! And you better use that anti-poison spell of yours as well! No telling what kind of crap that thing might have left in you!" The Kururugi girl hesitated, quickly glancing about before opening her mouth. Realizing what she was about to ask, he assured her, "Don't worry, I'll cover you!"
"Oh, okay!" Kaname replied before looking down at her injury, a pentagram already spinning into existence at her feet.
As Kaname begat her healing spells, InuYasha took a battle-ready stance before her, glancing about at the demons that were moving about the fort. "Anyway, how'd you let that little thing get in so close to you?!" the half-demon growled, stung by the frustration that one of his friends and comrades had been injured while he did nothing to prevent it. "What happened to your Protective Light?!"
"It...it faded," Kaname admitted as she applied her healing magic. "I cast it right after we got inside, but with all this fighting going on...!"
Growling deep in his throat, InuYasha realized what had happened. While a powerful defensive spell, he knew from his journey with Michiru that the Protective Light tended to fade unless the caster was actively concentrating on it, especially when it was suffering constant abuse from an attacker. And with everything that was going on, Kaname had likely lost focus enough for a demon to slip in and get her. "How's your leg?" he wondered, glancing back at her. "Can you stand?"
"Uh huh," Kaname responded even as she rose to her feet.
Furrowing his brow, InuYasha glanced over the injury. The wounds had already healed over, and there was no discoloration to indicate any poison. The new flesh was a bit paler than the surrounding skin, but he knew that in less than a day, there would be nothing to indicate she had been hurt. "Alright. Just be careful, okay?!" he told her, grateful that she had been as lucky as she had been. "The next demon that tries something might go after your neck instead!"
"Okay," Kaname replied, clearly shaken, but otherwise fine as she once again took a battle-ready stance. Her scent making it clear that she was bit more fearful after her close call, but not panicking. She was still in this fight.
Damn. She sure has come a long way since she first got here, InuYasha couldn't help but think as she went back to work, striking down another group of demons. The half-demon flashed back to when Kagome had only just begun traveling in the Feudal Era, and how long it had taken for her to be stop being a complete load. Then again, Michiru sure shaped up in a hurry, and she is his sister...
"InuYasha!" came Sango's voice, snapping the half-demon from his thoughts. Turning towards the voice, he was gratified to see the Demon Slayer and Miroku descending on Kirara.
"Damn! What took you?!" InuYasha instantly complained, not wanting to admit how glad he was to see they were alright. Then he frowned at the other figures descending to the ground. "Hey, who're you?!"
"That's Daisuke," Miroku commented as he and Sango dismounted. "We ran into him while we were dealing with the demons outside."
"Huh. So you're Daisuke," InuYasha growled softly as he took in the newcomer and his avian ally. Even at first glance, it was obvious that Daisuke was a skilled fighter in his own right. The way he moved, his build, the way his eyes swiveled about, seeming to miss nothing. And then there was the scent of blood that marked him. Blood that was that of many, many demons.
"Sango's told us about you," InuYasha continued, looking forward to seeing Daisuke in action.
"And she told me about you. At least, that you were her friend," Daisuke replied, his voice making it clear that it was only because of Sango's word that he was being as cordial as he was. "I'm glad to see that she has made good friends, given everything that's happened." Pausing, the veteran Slayer's expression became that much more serious. "She's also told me about what happened to Koga."
Groaning at the mention of the scrawny wolf, InuYasha watched as Kaname stepped forward. "I know that Koga's your friend. I'm sorry."
Frowning somewhat, Daisuke took in the modern clothing Kaname wore, clothing that was completely out of place in the Feudal Era, and seemed to dismiss it as unimportant before moving on. "I appreciate your kindness, but unfortunately, we don't have time for words. We have to put an end to this madness. Now."
"Feh! No arguments here!" InuYasha replied, grateful that someone was focusing on the immediate situation. "So do you have any ideas how to do that?!"
Nodding quickly, Miroku answered, "Kagura is hiding in one of the towers, using a barrier stone to keep the Demon Slayers from reaching her."
"Kagura?! Kagura's here?!" InuYasha demanded, completely blown away by this revelation. "But...that's impossible! If she were here, I'd smell her! There's absolutely no way I could ever miss her stench!" With that, he paused to take an experimental sniff of the air. With that one sniff, he detected the stench of fire, the filthy stink of the many demons attacking, the sweat and fear of humans fighting for their lives, as well as many other, far subtler aromas. But none of them matched the particularly noxious reek that clung to Naraku and everything born from his flesh. "Are you sure about this?! Did you actually see her?!"
"We didn't, but Daisuke did," Sango quickly explained.
"I saw a woman who Sango says matches the description of this Kagura," Daisuke promptly corrected them. "I don't know if she actually is this enemy of yours, but I do know that she's still hiding in that tower." The veteran warrior than turned and pointed towards the tower in question. "As you can see, the barrier is still in place around that tower. As it's been since she took it over." A moment passed as InuYasha studied the tower. True to Daisuke's word, it was surround from top to bottom by a magical light that he recognized as a barrier spell. "InuYasha, Sango says that your sword has the power to dispel barriers. I ask that you aide me in reaching the creature responsible for this, so that I can deal with her."
"Feh! Don't you mean 'so that we can deal with her'?! Because if you think I'm going to sit back and watch you get yourself killed fighting Kagura - assuming that's even her up there - then forget it" InuYasha growled impatiently. "C'mon, everyone! Let's get up there and finish this!"
"Hold on, InuYasha. If it's all the same to you, I think Miroku and I should stay down here and help the other Slayers," Sango announced. "If that is Kagura up there, then I don't think Miroku or I will be much help to any of you. And besides, someone has to stay here and help protect them."
InuYasha didn't say anything at first. Instead, he simply stood there, and studied his Demon Slayer companion. As he did so, he found himself understanding her request. When her home had been ravaged by Naraku, Sango had been away, embroiled in a trap set by their enemy. By the time she had learned of what happened, her people were already gone, and even now, he knew her to be haunted by the guilt that she had not been there for them. "Okay, fine," InuYasha finally grumbled. "I guess you'll have better luck helping them than we had!"
A puzzled noise sounding in her throat, Sango frowned and turned to Kaname. "We tried helping one of the Slayers when we first got here," the Kururugi girl explained in a sheepish manner. "I, uh...I guess he thought we were demons, so..."
"So he took this weird bow and started shooting about a dozen arrows at us all at once!" InuYasha concluded in a more irritable fashion.
Daisuke didn't say anything to this. Instead, he stood there for a time, once again eyeing InuYasha's ears and Kaname's clothing, before finally turning to his fellow Demon Slayer. "Alright, Sango, go help the others. But be sure to return safely. I lost you once before, along with your father and all the others. I don't want to go through that again."
"Understood," Sango nodded politely. "C'mon, Kirara, Miroku. Let's go." Not bothering to wait for them, the Demon Slayer darted away, plunging headfirst into battle once more. Kirara was quick to follow, as was the monk.
"Kokoro, go with Sango," Daisuke ordered before the three of them were out of sight. "With everything that's happened, the others might be alarmed by the arrival of strangers. But with you present, their fears with be assuaged." Kokoro responded to this with a worried look, one that the veteran Slayer apparently understood. "Besides, your wings will be of no use in the tower. There won't be much you'll be able to do to help there."
Emitting a few more chirps and tweets of worry, Kokoro eventually nodded before turning to leave. Lifting up off the ground with a single flap of his wings, he started after the other three. Once the silvery phoenix had disappeared along with the others, InuYasha glanced at his unlikely companions and grinned. "Alright, let's get moving!" he declared, darting towards the tower. Kaname and Daisuke were quick to follow, everything else forgotten as they ran.
A few seconds into their charge, more demons appeared seemingly from nowhere, determined to thwart Kagura or whoever it was responsible for this. InuYasha responded to this challenge with a snarl of hate and Tetsuisaiga's razor-sharp edge. Not even slowing down for this minor challenge, the half-demon soon found himself confronted by another pack of demons, who met the same fate as their fellows. As they continued their forward charge, Daisuke and Kaname were forced to fight as well, dealing with demons that came at the from the side. But this was but a minor delay for the both of them, and before long, the three of them reached the base of the tower.
"So Kagura's in there, huh?" InuYasha frowned as he looked up and down the tower. Pausing to sniff the air, he grimaced and announced, "I'm still not picking up her scent!"
"Perhaps not, but there is someone up there," Daisuke assured them. "Of that, you can be certain."
Still not satisfied, InuYasha held up the Tetsusaiga before him. "Well, one way or the other, we're about to find out!" he declared as a wave of red washed up his blade. "Wind Scar!" Lashing out with the power of the Red Tetsusaiga, the silver-maned warrior watched as the augmented Wind Scar spread out across the magical barrier, shattering it effortlessly.
Watching as the last vestiges of the barrier faded away, Daisuke nodded his approval. "Impressive sword, InuYasha," he commented straightforwardly before starting forward. "Now, let's keep going."
"Hey, hold on!" InuYasha growled, holding out his hand in Daisuke's path. "Demon Slayer or not, you're still a human! I'll go first!"
Pausing, Daisuke studied the half-demon for a time before responding. "InuYasha, I know that, as a demon, you possess greater resilience and durability than a human, but I will not hide behind anyone. Not now, and not ever."
Despite the fact that he respected the courage behind this statement, InuYasha retorted, "And I'm not going to stand around and let you get yourself killed! Because if that is Kagura or something else Naraku cooked up, you'll be dead the instant you go in there!"
"I respect your intentions, InuYasha, but don't underestimate me," Daisuke firmly countered, more than a bit of pride to his words. "I've never asked anybody to do something that I wasn't willing to do myself, and I won't start now."
"So who's asking?! I'm doing this because I want to, stupid!" InuYasha growled, rapidly losing patience. "Now just stand back, and -!"
"Um, excuse me," Kaname broke in. When the two of them turned to her, the Shikigami User wore a look of mild annoyance. "I'm sorry interrupt your argument, but don't you think we should go stop Kagura?"
A beat passed as the two males glanced at each other, then back at her. Groaning uncertainly, InuYasha tried, "Well, yeah, but -!"
"Indeed we will," Daisuke intoned. "But with so much at stake, I simply can't stand by and..."
"Oh...I have an idea!" Kaname piped up, suddenly smiling. "We'll compromise, and...I'll go first!" With this simple statement, Kaname succeeded in throwing InuYasha's mind into confusion, and it was clear that Daisuke was similarly befuddled. A condition that lasted long enough for her to step past them and enter the tower.
"Kaname, wait!" InuYasha immediately protested.
"It'll be fine. Protective Light!" Smiling as her Light Shikigami emerged and enveloped her in its magic, Kaname gestured to the two of them and added, "Now, c'mon! Let's get going!"
Stupefied with shock as Kaname started up the stairs, InuYasha simply stood there until Daisuke commented, "Quite a strong-willed young woman, I'd say."
No kidding! I knew she'd toughened up since coming here, but this...! InuYasha thought, still trying to process what had just happened. Then he realized that now was not the time to be thinking of such things, and looked over at Daisuke. "Well, we can't let her go in there alone, so..."
"Together, then," Daisuke decided. Seeing nothing wrong with this, the two proud warriors entered the tower and started upwards.
"Kaname! Hold on!" InuYasha called out as they hastily ascended the staircase, quickly catching up with the Shikigami User. "You can't go in there alone!"
Turning to face him, Kaname smiled shyly. "I know. But I had to do something to get you two moving again." InuYasha frowned somewhat at this, prompting her to add, "I'm sorry, but..."
"No, it's already, Lady Kaname. We were wasting time when there is already precious little to waist," Daisuke commented with a hint of chagrin. "Come. Let's face this danger...together."
"Hmph. Sounds like a plan," InuYasha decided as the three of them started upwards again.
They were met with no further surprises as they ascended the tower. There were no sign of demons, or any demonic scents, which continued to fuel InuYasha's certainty that Kagura was not there. But at the same time, he couldn't leave Kaname or Daisuke to face whatever threat waited for them. So he said nothing as they continued onwards, until at last they reached the head of the stairs, which led to a door from which a subdued blue light appeared. "There," Daisuke told them in a low voice. "The barrier stone is inside."
"Alright, then. This time, I'm leading!" InuYasha declared. Not giving either of them a chance to protest, the half-demon leapt up the remaining flight of stairs and ducked through the door. His sword held at the ready, he then froze at the sight of what was inside.
“My, my. InuYasha," Kagura purred, holding her fan at the ready. The incarnation of the wind was standing at the center of the room, next to a large blue crystal that had been severely cracked. "I thought I'd be having company when the Demon Slayers' little barrier stone broke apart. Though I didn't expect it to be you."
"Life is full of surprises," Daisuke commented as he and Kaname came up from behind InuYasha, the two of them instantly ready for battle. "Now, then...Kagura, is it?"
"That's right," Kagura answered, snapping her fan open. "And what's this? Brought a new human friend with you, InuYasha?" Shaking her head in apparent disappointment, she gave him a poisonous look of disdain. "And here I was so hoping that Koga would be the one coming to rescue his dear ‘allies’.”
"Feh! Sorry to disappointment you, but the scrawny wolf ain't coming!" InuYasha sneered, once again scenting the clean air. "Now do us all a favor and stop pretending! We know you ain't Kagura!"
"Is that so?" Kagura murmured in a poisonous manner. "And yet, look at you. You still came here, along with two of your little friends. Oh, wait. Three of them." Again, the wind witch turned her chilling gaze to Kaname, her expression becoming colder and more cruel. "Who is this little girl, InuYasha? She must have some power of her own if you're willing to drag her into a situation such as this."
Taken aback by Kagura's words, Kaname hesitated, peering curiously at the wind witch. "InuYasha, something's wrong," she fretted. "I don't sense any water flowing in her body, no breathing, nothing!"
"Is that so?" InuYasha growled in a low, dangerous voice. "Feh! I knew it! A demon puppet!"
"Indeed," the psuedo-Kagura confirmed, but not in Kagura's voice. Instead, InuYasha heard the voice of evil itself; the voice of Naraku. “And the way you saw through this demon puppet, girl...yes, now I know who you are. The resemblance to Utsugi...it's unmistakable." Chuckling malevolently, the malicious puppet master speared Kaname with his puppet's eyes. "So, Utsugi's descendants have found a way to traverse time with their own power, a feat that Utsugi himself could never accomplish. A very interesting development."
"Enough talk, Naraku!" InuYasha snarled, raising the Tetsusaiga up to their enemy's avatar. "Where's Kagura?! What're you scheming this time?!"
"My plans will become clear soon enough, InuYasha." Then the demon-puppet smiled its creator's smile, and told him, "As for Kagura, she was here for a time...but only to pick up a few toys with which to amuse Koga. And Utsugi's other descendant."
A beat passed before InuYasha realized the import of these words, at which he snarled hatefully. "Damn you! You've been watching us the entire time?!"
"Don't be so surprised, you fool. Nothing escapes the eyes of Naraku," the demon puppet smirked superiorly. “So while Kagura is busy killing your friends, why don’t I keep you...occupied?” With that, the demon-puppet grinned dementedly before its body bulged horrendously beneath its kimono. Before long, the simple cloth gave way to a massive pile of brown tentacles and grasping arms that filled the room. "Ha ha ha! Soon the power of the spirits and the Shikon Jewel Shards will be mine to command!"
"Not happening, you bastard!" InuYasha snarled as he leapt into the hideous mass before him.
“Haven’t you found anything yet?” Ayame pleaded for what felt like the umpteenth time that day. "Please, you have to do something! Koga's running out of time!"
I know, Ayame, I know! Michiru exploded inwardly, making certain that this declaration didn't achieve physical expression. The fact that the redhead was hovering right over his shoulder didn't do his self-restraint any favors. And neither did the knowledge that she was right.
Despite the best efforts of Kagome and Ayame, the crystals sprouting from Koga's body had continued to propagate. And even as they continued to chip away at the crystal, they could do nothing to stop it in its entirety. Almost the entirety of the wolf-demon’s body was now encased; the only parts that remained free were his face and parts of his arms. Even worse than that was the expressions worn by Shippo and the others, the looks of sheer hopelessness they had as they looked on, unable to do anything to help.
“I’m reading as fast as I can!” Michiru added, not even bothering to meet her eyes. The last thing he needed was to see her desperation, to let it push him so hard and so fast that he could no longer think straight.
"Well, read faster!" Kagome declared, the force of her words causing the Kururugi boy to wince in dismay. "We can't keep Koga's face clear forever! You have to do something!"
"I know that!" Michiru exclaimed, only to hiss in dismay at the realization that his frustration was getting the better of him. Pausing to take a few deep breaths, he then looked Kagome squarely in the eyes. “Look, the problem is that the power the Jewel Shards are channeling into Koga is unstable! That’s why these crystals keep popping up!" he tersely explained. "So if we can stabilize that power, then the crystals should stop growing!"
"They should?" Kagome repeated, putting more emphasis on that word than Michiru was happy.
"It's the only thing I can think of! But I still haven't found anything on how to do that yet!!" Michiru protested, again annoyed at how easily his frustration came to the fore. Again pausing to breathe, he shook his head before explaining, "I'm sorry, I really am trying, but -!"
"We know you're trying, Michiru," Yorozuko informed him an even fashion. "Just do you best, my young friend. I'm sure that will suffice."
Hoping that the white wolf was correct, Michiru sighed before returning his gaze to the book, the words and pictures on the pages blurred for a moment. As he studied the information before him, trying to find something that would accomplish his task, Robai cleared his throat and moved closer to the entrapped wolf-demon. "You know, Koga...since we're just sitting around here, doing nothing...there's something I've been meaning to tell you."
"Feh. Please, old man. Don't...act like I'm dying, okay?" Koga grumbled good-naturedly. "The last thing we need...is to go around...tempting fate."
"Who said you were dying, you impertinent little pup?!" Robai snorted with sudden irritation. "You're too blasted stubborn to be killed off by a few damned crystals! We all know that!" Now it was Koga's turn to snort, though his was more of amusement. And when he did, the elderly wolf-demon coughed mildly before explaining, "I just thought that, since it looks like we're not going anywhere any time soon...this might be as good an opportunity as any for a little chat. That's all."
Groaning in his throat, Koga slowly replied, "Well...I'm not feeling...all that chatty, old man...but if you've got something to...talk about, then...go right ahead."
Studying the alpha wolf for a moment, Robai sighed before saying, "I just wanted to say that...you certainly can be impossible at times." Jumping at this, Michiru couldn't help but look up from his book in response. And he wasn't the only one surprised. Kagome, Ayame, Ginta and Hakkaku were all looking at the aged wolf-demon like he had just become senile. A confused groan sounding his throat, Koga simply looked up at Robai as he started again. "Well, what I mean is...when you first suggested this alliance, I have to admit that...I thought you'd lost it."
A beat passed before Koga snorted a laugh. "Yeah, well...you weren't the only one...old man."
"So I noticed," Robai muttered in a wry fashion. "And there were certainly plenty of us telling you this was insane, it'd never work, and that sort of thing. Weren't there?" Giving a muted snort, Koga rolled his eyes as the elder wolf-demon continued. "But even so, you kept going. You didn't let anybody change your mind for you. You just kept going, no matter what got in your way. And even when Toma wiped out all those villages, just to lure everyone to his side with promises of easy meat, you never wavered. You never doubted yourself, and you kept pushing for what you believed in." Silence falling in the wake of his words, Robai shook his head slowly and looked at Koga with paternal affection. "I guess what I'm trying to say is...that I'm proud of the person you've become."
"As are we all," Yorozuko seconded. "You've become our leader in more than just name, Koga. You have earned, not just our respect, but the respect of the entire tribe. And that's a rare thing, believe me."
Nodding with a pleasant smile, Kagome added, "The same goes for me, Koga."
"And me," Ayame assured him.
"And us, too, boss!" Hakkaku chimed in while Ginta nodded in agreement.
"That's right," Michiru added, pausing in his research just long enough to shoot Koga a supporting glance.
Looking from one kindly face to another, Koga groaned before resting his head again. "Aw, damn. You really do think I'm gonna bite it, don'tcha...?"
As one, each of their faces turned to expressions of astonishment, leaving them unable to do anything but stare incredulously at Koga for several seconds. Then Kagome groaned irritably and commented, "I don't believe this! How could you ruin the moment like that?!"
"Really! We're trying to be nice to you, you idiot!" Robai grumbled good-naturedly.
"I swear, he'll never change," Ginta muttered, to which Hakkaku folded his arms across his chest and nodded.
"Hey, gimme a break. I'm...I'm just saying that..." Koga started again, only to be cut off when a sharp gasp was heard. "Huh?"
Lowering his book somewhat, Michiru then let it fall into his lap when he saw Kagome gazing down at the compass hanging from her neck lifting into the air of its own accord. Realizing what this meant, Michiru groaned inwardly as the wolf-demons looked on in confusion. "Kagome, what is it?" Ayame asked as she gazed at the glowing compass as. "Why are you doing that?"
"I'm not! The compass just picked up a powerful demon!" Kagome groaned, more resigned than alarmed by this latest alert. The magical artifact sent out its pointing beam, which shot off to the priestess's side and went past the many trees and bushes. "And it's coming this way!"
Ginta's and Hakkaku's jaws both clattered to the ground at this. Yorozuko and Robai looked on grimly as Koga groaned wearily. As for Ayame, she looked from the compass to Kagome before asking, "Could it be InuYasha or the others?"
A quick shake of Kagome's head shot down that possibility. "Trust me, Ayame. When this thing starts acting up, it's always bad news!" the modern priestess explained tersely as she followed the beam with her eyes. "Michiru, can you send one of your scouts to check this out? See what we're dealing with?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, sure!" Without another word, Michiru drew one of his cards from its holster and empowered it with his Wind Shikigami. Transforming into a bird, the scout flapped its wings and took off even as he closed his eyes in concentration. Now seeing through the eyes of the transformed card, he waited as it followed the path of the beam, avoiding the various trees and bushes that lay in its way, eventually leaving the woods behind. And when it did so, the Shikigami User sagged with horror. "Oh, no...!"
"What?! What is it?!" Ayame asked fearfully.
"It's Kagura!" Michiru reported as he opened his eyes. "She's heading this way!"
"What?!" Shippo gaped, his little face filling with horror.
"Kagura?" Ayame repeated perplexedly. Then her features hardened, causing her to bare her deadly fangs as she turned to Michiru. "You mean...the one Koga told us about?!"
Nodding quickly, Michiru added, "It gets worse. She's got what looks like several Demon Slayers with her. Dead Demon Slayers!"
"Dead?!" Ayame repeated, her face falling with shock.
"It's like...before!" Koga weakly gasped. "She's using...the bodies of those Slayers...like she did those...of our people!" Wearied by the simple act of talking, the alpha wolf turned to look at her as best as he could with his head restricted by the growing crystals. “Ayame...everyone...you can't fight her." The eyes of everyone there turned to him, and thus saw the desperation inscribed on his face. "You...you must…leave me...save yourselves."
"No. Never!" Ayame told him with equal amounts of heat and desperation. "Not even to save my own life!"
"That's right, Koga! We're not going to abandon you!" Kagome told him on no uncertain terms. "Alright, here's the plan. Ayame, Ginta, Hakkaku! I need you three to get Koga out of here! Take Robai and Yorozuko, then get as far away from here as you can!"
"Huh?!" Ginta started as Hakkaku stared at her slack-jawed. "B-but what about you, sis?!"
"Michiru, Shippo, and I will stay here! Buy as much time as we can!" Kagome told them.
"Wh- no!" Koga groaned, his face creasing with alarm. "Kagome, you...you can't fight her...you...!"
"We might not be able to beat her, Koga," Michiru broke in, placing his father's book back in his pack and freeing his arms up for the fight ahead, "But we can slow her down, and take care of those corpses while we're at it!"
"That's right!" Kagome quickly agreed before glancing down at the compass. "Now you better get moving! We don't have much time before she gets here!"
“Right, sis!” Ginta and Hakkaku answered as one. While Kagome was again wincing at being called 'sis', the two wolf-demons dashed over to Koga and bent down beside him. Grabbing hold of the crystal carapace, the both of them started grunting with effort, straining their muscles to their limits in order to lift him up.
After several seconds of straining futilely, Robai glared irritably at the two wolf-demons and demanded, "What is the matter with you two?! Hurry up! We don't have all day!"
"We're...we're trying!" Hakkaku groaned out from between his gritted teeth. "But...he won't budge!"
"This thing...it must weigh a ton!" Ginta chimed in. He and Hakkaku continued to strain at the crystal before finally giving in. "It’s no good, sis! This crystal junk he’s in won’t move no matter what!”
"But that's impossible!" Kagome blurted in disbelief. "There's no way it can weigh that much!"
"No, it can't," Michiru frowned, opening his mind to the senses of his Shikigami. As he opened himself to the forces of natures, he could see the corrupted natural forces that were a part of the crystal carapace. And to his horror, he also saw why their friends were unable to move Koga. "Oh, no...Kagome! The crystal! It's taken root!"
"Taken root?!" Ayame repeated incredulously. "What's that mean?!"
"There are shafts of crystal reaching into the ground! They're all tangled up with the roots of the trees and other plants!" Michiru reported tersely. "There's no way we'll be able to pull Koga free of that in time!"
Kagome was visibly stunned by this revelation, something that immediately turned to anger. "Why didn't you notice that sooner?!"
"I'm sorry!" Michiru replied, wincing with guilt as he looked at the helpless wolf-demon. "I guess...I was so busy looking through Dad's book, I -!"
Bringing her hand to her forehead, Kagome groaned, "Ugh! Never mind!" Shooting Michiru a killing glare, she sighed and turned to the others. "I guess we don't have a choice! We’ll have to protect Koga as well!”
“What?!” Ayame yelped. “But we can’t just leave him!”
“There’s no time to argue!" Kagome declared irritably. "With any luck, those crystals should keep Koga from being hurt! But there's no way Michiru and I can protect all of you from Kagura." Ayame simply froze in place, along with the other wolf-demons. "Look, I know how you feel, but you all have to go now! This alliance will be done for if all of you get killed!”
Hissing from between clenched teeth, Ayame stepped back, her entire body tense with resistance. Her hands her clenched into fists, and her eyes were wild and dangerous, like that of a wounded animal. For a long time, Michiru was certain that she would flat-out refuse. But then a weak, weary voice penetrated her emotional chaos. “Ayame..." Koga groaned, prompting her to look him in the eyes. "I...I know you...don't like it, but...you have to…listen to Kagome." The redhead sucked in a horrified gasp, but she didn't protest, didn't look away. “You have...to go. Now. Kagura...she’s already slaughtered...so many of our people…all on her own power." Heaving a deep, raspy breath, Koga struggled to work up the strength to say what he said next. "Please...don't let her...kill you...as well."
The two wolf-demons continued to look at each other, untold emotions flowing between them. Emotions that were soon running down Ayame's cheeks as she screwed up her face and turned to Kagome. “Please...I'm begging you," she pleaded desperately, "don’t let him die.”
“Don’t you worry about that,” Kagome promptly reassured her. “Now, please, you have to get out of here! We're almost out of time!”
"Understood," Yorozuko nodded quickly. "Ayame, everyone, we have to go." The other wolf-demons promptly nodded, and one by one, they cast a final look at Koga and their human allies before disappearing into the woods. Once they were gone, the white wolf smiled at them both. "Truly, the human race if blessed to count people such as you as members of that species. You honor us all with your bravery."
"Uh...thanks," was all Michiru could think to say to such a statement. He was about to remind Yorozuko that he should leave when the aged wolf-demon turned and darted off into the woods.
Once the wolf-demons had departed, Kagome turned and asked, "So, you got any ideas on how we can beat Kagura and all those corpses?"
"Well...I don't know about beating them, but I can think of a way we can slow them down!" Michiru replied as he reached into his card holster. Making a mental note to restock at the next opportunity, he tossed fives of the cards into the air and brought his hands together. "Oh, brightly shining light, protect this space from evil's touch! Light of the Divine Sanctuary!" His Light Shikigami rising up into the air, it infused the five cards with its power. As one, the cards shot down into the ground around them, light spilling forth and interconnecting them, forming a pentagram.
"Whoa!" Kagome gaped as a wall of light rose up from the pentagram, surrounding them at all points. "It's like that spell you used back at the hot spring."
Nodding, Michiru replied, "Except this barrier should keep out the corpse warriors as well. Not just demons."
"It should keep them out?" Kagome repeated, her enthusiasm dampening considerably.
"It's the first time I've used this version of that spell," Michiru admitted with a hint of embarrassment. "Kagome, I'm trying, really! But..."
Sighing, Kagome waved her hand in negation. "No, that's okay. I understand. Let's just get ready, and..." Trailing off into a frown, she started glancing about the enclosure. "Wait a minute. Where's Shippo?"
"I-I'm right here, Kagome!" came a loud gulp. Turning about, Michiru watched as Shippo peaked out from behind Koga's crystal carapace. "Do you really think we can...handle Kagura? All by ourselves?"
“Maybe, at least long enough for InuYasha and the others to get back,” Kagome replied as honestly as she could. "Besides, we did pretty good against her when we fought her the last few times. So if we can take out her corpse warriors, we'll have a chance."
Sounds of uncertainty escaping his lips, Shippo then asked, "Uh, so...what should I do?"
Knowing how frightened the little fox was, Michiru took another card from his holster. "How about we do what we did last time, Shippo?"
"Huh? You mean...combine?!" Looking from Michiru to the card in his left hand, Shippo trembled for a moment longer before screwing up his face with determination. "Alright! Let's do it!"
"Right!" Michiru replied, placing the card on Shippo's forehead. Channeling his power into his friend, he morphed the fox-demon into a new weapon about his left arm. This time, the fox-head held a large, circular saw-blade in its mouth. Brandishing his sword in his free hand, the Shikigami User declared, "Okay! We're as ready as we're ever going to be!"
"Good, because we're out of time!" Kagome declared, readying her bow and arrow as the sound of approaching footsteps reached their ears.
However, even as he and Kagome geared themselves for the inevitable battle, he couldn't help but suffer a pang of remorse. He knew how much his friends hated Kagura, nor could he blame them for the way they felt, but at the same time, despite everything that Kagura had done, Michiru couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. He knew that Kagura didn’t follow Naraku by choice, that her loyalty to him was the result of him literally holding her life in his hands.
I wonder...do we really have to fight it out? Michiru couldn't help but wonder. We worked together once before, so... His chain of thought was disrupted when a figure appeared from the cover of the many trees of plants, causing the Shikigami User to recoil in horror.
It was a human being, a Demon Slayer, judging by the uniform. A young man, probably not much older than Michiru was. Unfortunately, he was also unmistakably dead. A huge, bloody gash ran down the side of his face, his mouth hung open, and his eyes were blank and filmed with white. Gulping loudly, the Shikigami User took a step back and watched as even more of the walking dead filed into view. Some of them wore what he knew to be fairly typical clothes, some where young and others older. And each and every one of them dead, under the control of the woman that now approached them.
“Well, now...what do we have here?” came a deadly, feminine voice. A voice Michiru instantly recognized before its owner came into view. The wind witch ambled casually up to the Divine Sanctuary's outer perimeter. "Hmm, if isn’t InuYasha’s favorite human. It’s been quite some time, hasn’t it?”
"Not long enough," Kagome shot back, but the target of her barb was already looking elsewhere.
Waving her fan about like a proper noblewoman of ancient Japan, Kagura focused her pinkish-purple eyes on the other human present. "And Utsugi's descendent. I must say, I never imagined that we would ever cross paths again," the incarnation of the wind commented, sounding almost amused. "You know, Naraku was quite certain that you would find you way back to this time."
"Wha...?" came Koga's weak voice. “Utsugi’s…descendant…?”
“So there you are, Koga. I didn’t even notice you,” Kagura spoke, turning to look at the incapacitated wolf-demon. “Well, this certainly explains why you didn’t rush off to defend your new allies. However did you get stuck in all of that crystal?”
Glancing back at the wolf-demon, Michiru then looked back at their opponent. "Listen to me, Kagura!" he began, knowing that this might be his only chance. In each of their prior engagements, Kagura had paused to converse with him and the others before initiating a battle. He hoped that she would do so this time, so as to give him the chance he needed. "We don't have time to fight with you right now! If we don't find a way to break Koga free of those crystals, they'll just keep growing and choke him to death!"
"Really?" Kagura replied, arching an eyebrow at the Shikigami User. "And why do you think that I would care about Koga's welfare?"
"I don't. But I do know that you care about the Sacred Jewel Shards in his legs." Approaching the magical wall, Michiru stared hard at Kagura, feeling no fear of her. "But you can't get to them. Not while they're buried in all that crystal."
"Who says that I'd have to get to them myself?" Kagura wondered with deceptive mildness. "What's to stop me from simply taking the mangy wolf back to Naraku, crystal and all?"
"Because you won't even be able to move him," Kagome told her. "The crystals are anchored to the ground. You wouldn't be able to lift him, let alone take him to Naraku's castle."
Nodding, Michiru added, "It's true. Why else do you think Ayame and the other wolf-demons left him here?"
Her expression souring somewhat, Kagura glanced over at Koga, studying him carefully. "I see. You have a valid point, boy," she finally conceded. "So what you have me do? Simply leave, and go back to Naraku empty-handed?"
"No. I just need a little space," Michiru replied evenly. "You and your forces leave us alone, give us enough to figure out some way to get Koga of there, and then if you want to fight it out, then fine."
Pressing her lips together, Kagura cocked her head to the side before saying, "And simply stand around, waiting for InuYasha and your friends to appear? Sorry, but that's a risk I'm not willing to take."
"You'd be taking that same risk if you try and take us before going after the Jewel Shards," Kagome informed her. "Like we said, there's no way that you'll be able to break through those crystals or make off with Koga before the others get back. Especially if you have to fight your way past us as well."
Again, Kagura paused to consider the matter. "You speak the truth," she finally admitted, lowering her fan. "Unfortunately for the both of you, I didn't come here for the Sacred Jewel Shards."
Michiru's eyes popped open at this, and a quick glance at Kagome revealed that she was having a similar reaction. "You...you're not interested in his -?!"
"I never said that I wasn't interested in the Shards, boy. Only that they aren't my only reason for coming here." Again holding up her fan, Kagura looked intensely at Michiru, enough to send a chill running down his spine. "Naraku sent me for two specific reasons. He wants Koga dead...and for me to bring you before him. And that won't take nearly so long."
Startled by this, Michiru took a step back before instinctively falling into a battle-ready stance. "So that's it," he muttered lowly, thinking back to Miroku's theories regarding Naraku and his present motives. "Naraku lost Utsugi's powers, so now he wants mine instead?"
"Don't be so surprised. All Naraku the cold has ever cared about was obtaining more power for himself," Kagura commented with unmistakable bitterness.
Realizing that there would be no reasoning with Kagura, not while her heart was still held in Naraku's hand, Michiru prepared himself for action as Kagome smiled and informed the wind witch, "Well, you'll have to break through this barrier first! And that's not about to happen!"
Snorting a tiny laugh as the corner of her lip curled up, Kagura retorted, "Oh, my. This reminds me of when we met in the Castle Town. The only difference was then, I was the one who had the barrier rock. I was the one who thought that she couldn't be touched." Chuckling wickedly, the wind incarnation turned her eyes to Michiru. "Let's see now...what was it that you said to me then. Oh, wait...now I remember; I don't know about that." A pit opening up in his stomach, Michiru suddenly realized what was about to happen. Raising her fan back, Kagura then snapped it forward. "Dance of the Cataclysm!" she cried out as a series of dust devils took shape and swarmed the perimeter of the Divine Sanctuary. As the demonic winds surged up and down and the magical wall, Michiru gasped in shock as he felt them eating away at the protective magic.
Just as he was thinking that this couldn't possibly be happening, Michiru heard something burst into flame. Looking about, his eyes bulged when he saw that it had been one of the cards that formed the basis of the barrier. "What?!" Kagome squawked, putting the Shikigami User's feelings into words as, one by one, the remaining cards exploded and burnt away to nothingness. The last of them gone, the Divine Sanctuary sputtered and rapidly faded away, leaving them vulnerable. "No! The barrier's been destroyed?!"
"Heh heh...I wasn't just going to wait for you," Kagura grinned, taking extra delight in the proverbial shoe being on the other foot. Raising her fan up to them, she then ordered, "Now, take the boy! And kill the others!"
"Not happening!" Michiru responded even as the undead forces advanced. "Kagome, keep Kagura busy! I've got an idea!"
"Keep her busy?!" Kagome retorted incredulously.
"Hmph! As if you even could!" Kagura sneered, drawing back her fan for another attack. "Dance of Blades!"
Crying out as a barrage of wind-blades shot towards her, Kagome desperately threw herself out of their path. Shooting another glare at Michiru, she then fired an arrow at Kagura. The wind witch conjured another wind to deflect the arrow, sending it flying away harmlessly. But in this moment, Michiru was charging towards the undead forces advancing on them. Holding out his left arm with Shippo still attached, he manipulated the transformed fox-demon, increasing the size of his head and the saw blade in his mouth until it was larger than even the Tetsusaiga. "Alright, all of you...rest in peace!" he called out as he struck with the massive spinning blade, catching the undead forces across their collective waists.
"What?!" Kagura cried out, her face falling in shock as her undead forces fell in half, their upper bodies tumbling to the ground.
"You're not the only one with new tricks, Kagura!" Michiru informed her, grimacing at the sight of the undead monstrosities. Despite being sliced in half, their lower bodies will still advancing, while their upper bodies were struggling to rise up. Determined to keep going, to take them down.
Sneering at this, Kagura waved her fan. "Perhaps, but let's see what you think of this trick!" In response to her gesturing, the undead bodies floated into the air, acting as if they were puppets dangling from an invisible string. Gaping in horror at this, Michiru froze for a moment, something that the wind witch was quick to take advantage of. Snapping her fan, she sent the corpses flying straight at Michiru. Stunned with revulsion, the Shikigami User was unable to do anything but stand there as the undead bodies crashed into him.
"Auuugggh!!" Michiru cried out as he was sent flying by the impact. Tumbling through the air, he then crashed to the ground and rolled about on the dirt for a moment before coming to a stop.
"Michiru!" Kagome cried out as he slowly forced himself to sit up. He knew that he was in danger, that he had to move quickly before he was hit by another attack. But his body was stunned and hurting, and was slow to respond to his mind's commands.
"Don't worry, boy. Naraku made it very clear that he wanted you brought to him alive," Kagura continued, her undead forces still swirling about overhead. "Though by the time he's done with you, you'll wish that I'd ended it right here and now!" With a fierce battle cry, the wind incarnation snapped her fan again, sending the bifurcated corpses shooting down towards him.
"You're not finishing anyone, Kagura! Not today!" Kagome declared heatedly, her words punctuated by a flash of golden light that came between the corpses and their target.
"What?!" Kagura cried out as the light resolved into a golden dragon. The magical beast roared as it tightened its coils about the many corpses, preventing them from reaching their target. "Where did that thing come from?!"
"Sorry, Kagura. But it's like Michiru said!" Kagome announced as she held up the dragon's control rod for her to see. "You're not the only one who's got some new moves! So get used to it!"
"I think not! Dance of the Dragon!" Kagura countered, releasing a wave of tornadoes at the modern priestess.
Grunting, Michiru desperately forced himself back to his feet before dashing forward. Interposing himself between Kagome and the attack, the Shikigami User then invoked his Protective Light just in time to ward off the devastating tornadoes. "Back at you, Kagura! Piercing Thunder!" he invoked, unleashing a thunderous blast of lightning from his sword. The spell struck home, lighting up Kagura's form as she convulsed from the electrical blast.
Once the spell had run its course, Kagura gritted her teeth and snarled at the Shikigami User. "Damn you!" she spat, clouds of smoke rising up from her sizzled flesh. "I'll make you suffer for that, boy! Dance of the -!"
"Swift Blue Sky!" Michiru invoked before Kagura could complete the wind up for her next attack. His Wind Shikigami wrapping him in its magic, the Shikigami User shot forward in the blink of an eye, his sword raised high overhead. Now it was Kagura who froze with surprise, giving him ample time to race up to her and strike her in the face with the wooden blade.
"Arrgh!" Kagura cried out as she spun backwards from the blow. Even as Michiru came after again for a follow-up strike, she recovered and held her fan up over her head. "Dancing Cyclone!"
At this invocation, Michiru felt his Wind Shikigami reacting to a disturbance in the air. A moment later, a powerful wind rose up around Kagura, expanding to meet his charge. Before he could even think of reversing his charge, the growing cyclone slammed into his Protective Light with enough force to send him flying backwards.
"Michiru!" Kagome cried out as he tumbled head over heels towards her. Fortunately, his Protective Light absorbed the worst of Kagura's counterattack; just before he hit the ground again, he was able to use the effects of Swift Blue Sky to right himself in mid-air, as well as cushion his landing. As Michiru rose up and again readied himself for battle, the modern priestess commented, "Whew! Not bad!"
"But not good enough to stop me!" Kagura countered vehemently. "Dance of the Dragon!"
As the wind witch released another wave of tornadoes at them, Kagome countered, "Maybe not, but how about this?!" When she held up the control rod, the gold dragon's eyes glowed before it rapidly uncoiled, releasing the corpse soldiers and hurtling them towards Kagura. Then it opened its mouth, a deep golden light shining in its throat a moment before it spat out a powerful blast at the undead troops, sending them flying into Kagura's attack. The already-ravaged corpses slammed into the miniature tornadoes, and were immediately shredded by the intense winds within them.
"Wow, Kagome! I didn't know you could do that!" Michiru gaped as the dragon continued to push the corpses into the Dance of the Dragons.
"Neither did I!" Kagome admitted with considerable pleasure as the mystical tornadoes finally faded. "Alright, then! Let's see if you can wrap up Kagura as easily as you did her troops!"
The dragon roared in response, it's eyes flashing dangerously as it undulated towards Kagura. "No! Dancing Cyclone!" she countered, another whirlwind whipping up around her just before the dragon reached her. The golden creature smacked into the wind barrier head first and was sent flying with an indignant roar.
"Oh, no!" Kagome cried out as the dragon flew backwards, glowing with golden light before streaking back to the control rod. Within moments, it had reformed into a statuette, leaving the modern priestess to look from it to Michiru. "It's out of power!"
"A pity, little girl, for as you can see, I most certainly am not!" Kagura announced with a cruel smirk, winding back her fan. "Dance of Blades!"
"Protective Light!" Michiru called out, again positioning himself between Kagome and Kagura.
As the magical shell formed about Michiru, sparing his friend from the vicious assault, Kagome called out, "Listen, Michiru! We're running out of time!" Glancing back at her, he watched as she glanced over at Koga. Over the course of the battle, the two of them had been pushed further away from the wolf-demon; Kagura was now only a short distance from her. Making matters worse was that the crystal carapace imprisoning him had visibly grown since the battle began. "If we don't stop Kagura soon, we won't be able to save Koga!"
"I know, I know!" Michiru replied tersely as the Dance of Blades bounced off his shield. "But what can we do?!"
Drawing an arrow from her quiver, Kagome gave him a determined look. "Let's see if that wind barrier of hers can hold up against our combo attack! You with me?"
After briefly considering the matter, Michiru nodded grimly. They couldn't afford to let the fight drag out any longer, not if they were to have any chance of saving Koga's life. "Let's do it, Kagome," he gritted before summoning the full force of his Shikigami. "Forces of nature, heed my call!"
"Oh, no you don't!" Kagura spat out as she realized what they were up to. "Dance of the Dragon!"
"Unleash your power, Shikigami!" Michiru concluded even as another wave of tornadoes roared in their direction.
Waiting just long enough for Michiru's Light Shikigami to appear, roaring its fury as it shot towards their foe, Kagome then loosed her arrow. "Hit it!" she cried out as her arrow shot through the dragon's brow and the pentagram on it, carrying the full power of the Kururugi boy's Shikigami straight and sure at Kagura's Dance of the Dragon. The mix of spiritual and magical powers enabled it to pierce the lead tornado effortlessly, but the subsequent winds succeeded in sending it off course. The next tornado it hit similarly effected it, knocking it well off to Kagura's side, and sending it right towards Koga.
When the arrow found the helpless wolf-demon, it impacted the crystal cocoon heavily, cracking it before digging deeply into it. A deep cry of pain was heard from Koga...just before his prison exploded.
"Noooo!!" Kagome screamed in consummate horror, dropping her bow as Michiru's heart plummeted. A tempest of light and destruction erupted from where their combined powers erupted, filling the area with blinding light. Blinded by the power they had unleashed, the Kururugi boy simply stood there, unable to believe what had just happened. That a good friend of theirs had just died, and by his hand. His mind rebelled against this idea, but could do nothing to keep it at bay, keep it from filling his consciousness.
And ultimately, that was his downfall.
"Dance of Gales!" Kagura called out. Too stupefied with shock to react, Michiru could only stand there as their enemy sent a powerful wind plowing into him. Feeling as if he had been struck by a giant fist, he cried out in pain before crashing to the ground.
"Michiru!" Kagome shouted, but then she too was struck by the magical assault.
"You little fools! You'd have been wise to keep your focus on the battle, rather than that mangy wolf!" Kagura crowed. Groaning in pain, Michiru slowly managed to prop himself up on his elbows, at least enough so as to be able to see her. He couldn't make out her face, his vision blurring and then sharpening again as his body worked to recover from the blow, but he could sense the gloating expression she wore in her laughter. "Still, I must thank you for saving me the trouble of finishing Koga off myself." The wind witch started forward, ready to deliver the finishing blow. "Now, come. Naraku demands your presence at his castle."
Michiru wanted to cast a spell. He wanted to summon forth the power of his Shikigami, to defend himself, to blast away at Kagura, anything to keep her at bay for just a few seconds longer. But he couldn't. He could barely even focus on Naraku's incarnation, let alone summon the power to defend himself. All he could do was lay there, heaving breath after weary breath...before his eyes went wide with shock.
"I don't think so, Kagura!" came the familiar voice of Koga as he placed his hand on her shoulder. The wind witch whipped about to face him, her face falling in shock just as he threw a blistering punch with his free hand. The sound of cartilage breaking filled Michiru's ears as Kagura shot up into the air, screeching in agony as she tumbled over his head.
Dumbstruck by what was happening, things happening too fast for his addled mind to keep track of them, Michiru glanced back at the flattered incarnation before looking back at someone who simply couldn't be there. "Koga...are you...but, I -!"
Snorting a laugh, Koga replied, "Yeah, I thought I was history, too! But...damn! Will you check this out?!"
"What are you -?" Kagome started as she looked up, visibly clearing the cobwebs from her mind. As her eyes focused on the wolf-demon, however, her jaw fell as her face reflected the confusion Michiru felt. "Koga! What the - what happened to you?!"
It was an excellent question in Michiru's mind. For while Koga now stood free of the his crystalline prison, sections of clear, quartz-like crystal were still seen adorning his frame. But unlike the gross mass of crystal that had imprisoned him, these crystals were stable growths, ones that seemed to act like armor plating, covering sections of his forearms, lower legs, chest, back, and forehead. On his brow, what looked like a crown of crystal with a pentagram in the center shown brilliantly.
“I don't have a clue, Kagome, but I sure as hell ain't complaining about it!” Koga declared as he flexed his right arm, making a fist and studying the crystal formations that now adorned his knuckles. “I’ve never felt this strong in my life! I can feel the power coursing through my entire body!”
Before anyone could say anything to this,
a low, sinister breathing was heard as Kagura rose back to her feet. “Is...that
so?" she grated, blood trickling from her mouth as she glared hatefully at
Well, let’s test that out!! Dance of Blades!!” With a scream of consummate rage, the wind witch sent another volley of the wind-blades screaming towards Koga, ready to slice him down to the bare bones.
An instant before they reached him...he simply disappeared. A puff of smoke and the feel of air rushing to fill a vacuum the only things to indicate that Koga had once stood where the deadly Dance of Blades ripped through the earth.
"What?!" Kagura gasped again, her skin paling with shock. Glancing this way and that, her features twisted with rage. "Where are you?!"
In response to Kagura's demand, Koga seemed to blur into existence to her left. "Right here!" he grinned dangerously as he delivered another punishing blow to her face. Crying out in pain once more, Kagura tumbled about the ground before crashing into a tree. With Naraku's incarnation groaning in pain as she struggled to get back to her feet, Koga again paused to glance down at his hands, to feel the new power the flowed through his body. Then a feral grin marked his face as he growled, "Kagura...I am so gonna enjoy this!"
Again, Koga blurred, launching into a flying kick that Michiru could barely track. Realizing her peril, Kagura blanched before crying out, "Dancing Cyclone!" Responding to her command, her defensive wind appeared about her just before Koga could complete his attack. Forced away by the powerful winds, the alpha wolf was sent skidding backwards, his feet digging furrows in the ground as he recovered.
"Dammit! I've had enough of this!" Without another word, Kagura plucked the feather from her hair and threw it down beneath her feet. It quickly grew from a tiny feather to one large enough for her to ride on. “I’ll let you get away with this today, but I swear I’ll be back!!” With that, a powerful wind surged beneath her, propelling her into the air.
"No! Get back here!" Koga furiously demanded, but it was already too late. Kagura was already well out of reach, rapidly shrinking away from them as she flew away. "Damn you, Kagura! You won't get away from me next time!" Shaking his fist hatefully, the wolf-demon trembled with unspoken hatred. "I don't care how long I have to chase you and Naraku! One day, you will die! In the name of my comrades, you! Will! Die!”
As the raging wolf-demon continued to stand there, glaring his hatred at the long-gone Kagura, Kagome and Michiru paused to look at each, each of them baffled by what was going on. A moment later, the modern priestess managed to get to her feet and make her way over to his side. "Koga...what...are you alright?"
A quizzical noise sounding in his throat, Koga promptly forgot all his anger and smiled for her. "Sure am, Kagome!" he boasted, pausing to flex his biceps, which were now significantly larger. "Heh! Check this out! Now this is what I call a power boost!"
"I didn't say that it wasn't," Kagome replied, glancing at the taut cables of coiled steel that now lay beneath the wolf-demon's skin. "But...how is this even possible?! How did it happen?!"
"Hmph! Don't know and don't care!" Koga replied giddily. "All I know is that, right now, I feel more powerful now than I have in my entire life! And I'm putting it to good use!"
"Wh-what do you mean?" Michiru wondered shakily, hoping against hope that his friend wasn't planning on doing something reckless.
Unsurprisingly, Koga lost no time in disappointing him. "What do I mean?! C'mon, ain't it obvious?" the wolf-demon demanded, looking at Michiru like his brains had been completely scrambled during the fight. "In case you've forgotten, Daisuke and the other Slayers are being attacked by Naraku! Which means that we have to get over there, as in right now!"
"Wha- now, hold on, Koga!" Kagome quickly protested. "We just got done with, what, two or three battles already! And we have no idea what caused you to change, let alone what kind of side-effects it might have on you!"
"Who cares about any of that stuff?!" Koga retorted with a measure of annoyance. "The only thing that I care about right is that my friends are in danger! And if you think that I'm going just going to stand by while Naraku wipes the Demon Slayers out of existence, then forget it!"
Kagome looked like she was about to say something in response, but then her eyes lit up with inspiration. "I'm not saying that, Koga," she then went on, speaking in a sweeter, gentler tone. "But don't forget that you have to protect right here! Don't forget that Ayame and the others are nearby!"
"Yeah, that's right!" Michiru piped up, realizing what Kagome was going for. "And if Kagura spots them, then what's to stop her from attacking them or even worse!"
A beat passed as Koga processed Michiru's words, after which his face fell in shock. "Aw, damn! That's right! I have to go after them first!" Without another word, the augmented wolf-demon blurred and disappeared, leaving behind a slipstream that very nearly pulled the two humans off their feet. A moment later, a massive gust blew ruffled their hair and clothes as he blurred back into sight. "Uh, you two'll be okay while I go look for the others, right?"
"Hmm? Oh, sure, of course!" Kagome promised him, smiling as sweetly as she knew how. "I mean, it's not like you'll be gone all that long, right?"
"Besides, it'll give me a chance to send a scout to the fort, see what's going on," Michiru chimed in helpfully. "With any luck, I should have an idea of what's happening there before you even get back."
"Oh, good! Great! You do that!" Koga grinned eagerly. "And don't worry, Kagome! I'll be back before you even know it!"
Once again, Koga blurred, kicking up another huge gust of wind. Crying out as her hair was whipped into her face, Kagome shielded her eyes from the resulting dust and debris. As the wind settled, she sighed and looked after the wolf-demon for a moment before turning to Michiru. "It's times like this when I can understand why Sango does her hair up in a ponytail."
"That's why I just keep it short. I've never enjoyed fussing with it," Michiru admitted with a shrug.
"Yeah, I figured as much," Kagome nodded. Then she exhaled slowly and frowned. "Michiru...do you have any idea what's going on here? How did Koga change like that, anyway?!"
"Those are good questions, Kagome. But right now, I'm not sure if I have any real answers," Michiru admitted with a shrug. "I mean, obviously it has something to do with our combo attack, but..."
Nodding as he trailed off, Kagome paused to straighten out her hair before telling him, "Listen, you better send out that scout. And while we're waiting for it to get back here, why don't you see if you can figure how Koga wound up like this?"
Narrowing his eyes in consideration, Michiru was about to respond when another voice broke in. "Uh, Michiru? Excuse me?" Blinking in surprise, he glanced down at his left arm, and found it looking back. "Can I ask you something."
"Oh! Shippo!" Michiru replied sheepishly. Raising the transformed fox-demon up so he could look him in the eyes, he realized that he almost forgotten that he was there. "I'm sorry! Sure, go ahead!"
"Since the battle's over, can I please come off your arm?" Shippo asked hopefully. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm really glad I was able to help and all, but...I'm getting kinda cramped like this!"
"Of course you can!" Kagome replied instantly. "Isn't that right, Michiru?"
Nodding, Michiru added, "Besides, I'm gonna need both my hands if I'm going to figure out what's going on with Koga." Carefully sitting down, he held out his right arm and broke his connection with Shippo. The fox-demon immediately exploded in a puff of smoke before falling to the ground in his original form.
"Whew! Thanks!" Shippo sighed in contentment. Watching as the little fox stretched like a cat, Michiru sighed, wishing that he could afford to take the time to relax. Then he drew a card from his holster and channeled his power into it. Hoping that his friends and sister were having as much luck as they were.
"Green Wood Devourer!" Kaname invoked, sending her Wood Shikigami into the structure of the room they were in. A moment later, vines started erupting from every wall, their spear-like tips burying themselves in the demon puppet that had trapped them in the tower.
The monstrous creation that now only barely resembled Kagura recoiled at the sight of the many vines, but could do nothing else as more and more of them embedded themselves in the thing's body. The demon puppet had long since filled up much of the room they were in, making it impossible to avoid the numerous vines that were now buried in it, spreading roots throughout its earthen body. "InuYasha! Daisuke! I've got it!"
"Well played, Kaname!" Daisuke commented, his tone making it clear that he wasn't the sort who gave compliments on a daily basis. "InuYasha! Strike at the thing's chest! That's where -!"
"The doll will be! I know! I've fought these damned things before!" InuYasha growled, raising the Tetsusaiga over his head. "Take this, you bastard! Wind Scar!"
"Demon Blaze!" Daisuke cried out as he launched a wave of blue flame from his cannon in conjunction with InuYasha's own attack. The Wind Scar combined with the demonic fire of the cannon before slamming directly into the demon puppet's chest. The resulting blast completely incinerated the creature's main body, blasting through it and the wall beyond it.
"Alright!" Kaname cried out in relief as she sensed the demon puppet losing power. Already, the menacing tentacles that had surrounded them were breaking apart, the magic that had once held them together fading to nothingness, rendering the monster little more than harmless mud and clay. "We can finally get out of here!"
"Hmph! And not a minute too soon!" InuYasha growled lowly, clearly nowhere near as satisfied with their victory as Kaname was. "We wasted enough time on this damn doll! We've gotta get going!"
Initially confused by InuYasha's attitude, it was soon brought into clarity for Kaname when Daisuke nodded. "Indeed. This thing was sent to stall us, not defeat us. Whatever plans Naraku has for Koga and your friends, he wanted to make sure that none of us would be able to interfere."
"Yeah. Which means that we better get moving!" InuYasha growled irritably as he started back down the stairs. "There's no way in hell I'm letting Kagura get her hands on Michiru or the scrawny wolf's Jewel Shards!"
"Agreed," Daisuke muttered lowly as he moved to follow. "I won't abandon an ally to a fiend such as Naraku. Not while I still have strength in me to prevent it."
Watching as the two alpha males made their way downstairs, Kaname was stung by their words. That's right...Kagura...she's going after Michiru and the others! she realized, shocked beyond measure. Although she remembered the demon puppet declaring Kagura's role in Naraku's schemes before the battle had begun, the truth was that it hadn't really sunk in for her at the time. Not when confronted with a monster out for her own blood, forcing her and her allies to fight with everything they had, just to stay alive.
Now, Kaname could focus on it. The adrenaline coursing through her was fading, exhaustion from her many exertions and spells was hitting her, and there was nothing to distract her from the fact that her brother could well be facing a threat far greater than the one she and the others had just defeated. That is...unless he's...
Shuddering at this, Kaname grimaced, refusing to let herself finish that thought. No...I can't think that. I won't! she decreed inwardly, clenching her fist with determination. My bro's way too tough to get killed off that easily! With this, she thought back to the battle with Toma, when the hateful wolf-demon had transformed himself into a hideous monstrosity. Michiru had not shown any fear in the face of such horror, and instead had leapt into empty air in order to attack him right in the face. And if he can do that against Toma, then...there's no way that Kagura would be able to stop him, either!
Taking this thought and doing her best to hammer it into her mind, Kaname started after InuYasha and Daisuke. As they descended, she continued to tell herself that Michiru had to be fine, practically making a mantra of it as they finally exited the tower...and her thoughts were emptied by what she saw.
When the three of them had entered the tower, the battle between the demons and Demon Slayers had still be going full blast, with sounds of battle and cries of pain and hatred echoing through the air. However, in the time it had taken to defeat the demon puppet, that battle had apparently died out, with groans of pain and suffering filling their ears instead. And as Kaname looked about, she realized that it wasn't just the fighting that had died out; the fires that had been ravaging the fort had consumed much of the wooden structures within, leaving nothing little but the gutted frames of the numerous buildings that had once been the homes of the people there.
As Daisuke paused to take in the ruins of what had once been his home, Kaname came up alongside of him and looked at him with purest sympathy. "I'm sorry about all this. I..."
"I...I thank you for your sympathy, Lady Kaname," Daisuke replied, his voice momentarily faltering. "However, now is not the time to mourn what has been lost. We have to keep moving. Keeping fighting."
"No arguments here!" InuYasha growled lowly. "C'mon! Let's find Sango and Miroku so we can get moving!"
Giving a sharp nod in response, Kaname followed as the two of them started forward with InuYasha taking the lead. Sniffing the air, the half-demon effortlessly navigated the carnage, stepping past the bodies that littered the ground. Wincing every time she caught sight of one, the Shikigami User hurried past them and came up alongside of InuYasha. "You okay, Kaname?"
Glancing up at the half-demon, Kaname swallowed and nodded. "Yeah. I'm sorry," she told them, glancing back at the many corpses. "I..."
"Hey, c'mon. It's okay," InuYasha replied, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Blushing at his touch, Kaname met InuYasha's golden, slitted eyes. Eyes that were inhuman, and yet held nothing but kindness. "InuYasha..."
"We understand. It's never easy to find yourself confronted with so much death," Daisuke stated, his voice even and heartening. "And it never gets any easier, no matter what anyone tells you." Heaving a heavy sigh, the Demon Slayer looked out at the ruins of his home. "But right now, our duty is to those that we can still help."
Giving another shaky nod, Kaname sputtered out, "I - I know, but..."
"I know," InuYasha told her, pulling her tighter against him. "C'mon. We gotta keep moving." With that, the unlikely trio started forward again. As they went onwards, Kaname felt the warmth of the half-demon's body on her, and slowly, steadily, felt her fears abating. And for a time, she was sorely tempted to return his embrace, to close her eyes and forget where they were. To close her eyes to the death and destruction surrounding her, and lose herself in this moment with the kind, brave soul that was doing his best to lend her his strength.
But even as this temptation visited her, she was forced to ignore it, because she knew that her friends were right. They still had work to do, which left Kaname no time to indulge in flights of fancy. Besides, I...it wouldn't be right, she thought somewhat sadly. I mean...InuYasha, he...he's already...
"Daisuke!" came an unfamiliar voice, one that startled Kaname from her thoughts. Looking up in surprise, she watched as a trio of Demon Slayers darted towards them. "Daisuke, thank goodness you're still alive!"
As the three Slayers approached, stopping a short distance in front of them, Daisuke smiled and responded, "I could say the same about you, Choza." The leader of the trio nodded as Daisuke glanced at the other two. "Hayate, Ebisu. What's our current situation?"
"We have five more wounded, Daisuke. Two of them badly," Hayate promptly reported. "Even with the best healing techniques, they'll be out of action for at least a month."
"But they will recover?" Daisuke asked, to which Hayate promptly nodded. "Then that is what's important." The other three Slayers nodded to this. "Have you checked on the people in the caves? Did any of the demons reach them?"
"They're fine, sir," the one called Ebisu reported. "We just got back from checking the caves. None of the demons were able to breach the barrier down there."
With this, Daisuke's expression lightened that much more. "Excellent. Then it seems we weathered this storm far better than I could have hoped for." Then his eyes narrowed somewhat. "What about Saburo? Has he had time to examine Atsui's remains?"
"Not yet. He and the others in the caves have been busy tending to the wounded," Choza answered. Then he frowned and asked, "But Daisuke, why bother with an examination! Atsui was a traitor! It's because of him that the demons even managed to breach the -!"
"Things aren't always what they seem, Choza. I would have thought that you had seen enough to realize that," Daisuke broke in, his voice instantly deflating the other Slayer, bringing shame to his face. "Besides, Atsui may have had his grievances about our alliance with the wolf-demons, but he had never demonstrated any prior intent to do us harm. So until it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he acted solely of his own will, then I will not disgrace his name without need. Is that clear?"
A beat passed before Choza answered. "Perfectly, sir."
It was obvious that Choza wasn't happy about these orders, and it was equally obvious that Daisuke didn't care whether he liked the orders or not, just so long as they were followed. "We have another situation we have to deal with. Find Kei and have her sent to me. Once that's done, round up every able-bodied warrior we have and prepare them for battle."
"Battle?! But -!" Choza initially protested, only to be halted when Daisuke gave him a look. "I mean, yes, sir!"
"Then get moving. We don't have much time," Daisuke told them, never losing that even voice of his. As the three Demon Slayers darted off to carry out their leader's orders, he turned to glance at InuYasha and Kaname. "Kei is a powerful spiritualist who possesses a viewing stone, a sacred artifact that allows her to see things and people that are very far away."
"So...you'll be able to see if my brother and the others are okay?" Kaname gaped, hope warring with fear.
Nodding, Daisuke turned to InuYasha and informed him, "It won't take long. By the time we're ready to mobilize, Kei should be able to tell us what we'll be dealing with."
"It better not take long," InuYasha grumbled impatiently. "I've fought Kagura before, Daisuke! And compared to her, that demon puppet was nothing! If Michiru and Kagome are fighting her, then they're gonna need our help!"
"All the more reason to be prepared for anything when we leave to confront her," Daisuke informed the half-demon. "I won't risk my people's lives by not taking the right precautions."
"Fine! Then don't risk them!" InuYasha snorted impatiently. "C'mon, Kaname! Let's go find Miroku and Sango, and get the hell out of here already!" Nodding, the Kururugi girl started forward again, only to pause when something registered in her mind. "Kaname? What is it?!"
"I...I'm sensing something," Kaname murmured, looking up into the sky. Narrowing her eyes, she focused her eyes on in the general direction the disturbance was coming from. Eventually, it drew close enough for her to make out the form of a bird, as well as the distinct aura surrounding it. "It's one of my bro's scouts!"
"Really?!" InuYasha blurted out, watching as the bird drew closer. Reaching out to it, Kaname watched as it fluttered its wings before reverting back to the form of a card.
"My word. What a rare display of Shikigami power," Daisuke commented as Kaname took the card in her hands.
"Bro! Michiru, are you alright?!" Kaname asked worriedly, mingling her Shikigami with the magic of the card.
Kaname! came Michiru's relieved voice in her mind. Oh, great! I was so worried about all of you!
"Same here, bro!" Kaname replied before glancing up at the others. "It's my bro! He's alright!"
"You're sure about that?" InuYasha wondered disbelievingly. "What about Kagura?! Has she gotten their yet?!"
Pressing her lips together, Kaname then looked back to the card. "Michiru, have you seen Kagura? We found out that she's heading your way, and..."
She was already here, sis. But don't worry, we're all fine on this end, Michiru quickly explained. That Demon Slayer with you, is that Daisuke? I noticed that he has a cannon with him, like Sango said.
Nodding, Kaname answered, "Yeah, this is Daisuke, bro." Pressing her lips together, she held the card up closer to her face. "Listen, what happened?! You said Kagura's already been there?!"
"What?! She's already there?!" InuYasha howled.
That's right, but it's fine, sis. We managed to drive her off, Michiru explained. What about you? Are you all okay? What about Sango and Miroku?
"We're looking for them right now." Glancing at the irate half-demon next to her, Kaname then asked, "Listen, bro, you said you were able to drive Kagura off?"
While InuYasha's eyes were bulging from their sockets, Michiru answered. That's right. Also, tell Daisuke that Koga's okay now. Then her brother paused, then added, Well, actually, it looks like he's better than okay. It's a long story.
"Yeah, I got that feeling," Kaname admitted with a laugh. Then she turned to Daisuke and reported, "My bro says that Koga's okay now."
A slight smile ghosted Daisuke's face at this. "It would seem that this is a day for saving graces, wouldn't it?"
As InuYasha gave his opinion in the form of a loud snort, Michiru went on to say, Anyway, Koga's wants me to say that he wants to meet with Daisuke right away. He still wants to proceed with the alliance, as well as see if there's anything we can do to help the Demon Slayers.
Nodding, Kaname quickly relayed Michiru's message to Daisuke. The Demon Slayer leader didn't answer right away; instead, he paused to study the fort for a short time. "Agreed. The fact of the matter is, I have something important to discuss with Koga as well," he finally declared. "But if it's all the same with him, I would prefer not to meet with him here. Would it be possible for us to travel to his location, and conduct our meeting there?"
A bit surprised by this, Kaname quickly relayed Daisuke's message. As soon as her brother answered, she nodded and reported, "Koga doesn't have a problem with that."
"Good. Tell him that there a few things I have to take care of here before we can leave, but we will be departing as soon as possible," Daisuke instructed her. As Kaname began relaying this message, the Demon Slayer turned to InuYasha and told him, "Since it seems our help won't be needed right away, there are some things that I need to take care of. If you'll excuse me...?"
"Hmm? Oh, sure, uh...go ahead," InuYasha responded querulously. "Besides, we still need to track down Miroku and Sango."
"Understood. And thank you," Daisuke replied, bowing politely before turning to leave.
As the proud Demon Slayer departed, InuYasha frowned and wondered, "What was that all about?"
"He must have a lot on his mind," Kaname decided as she glanced about the ruined village. One that was another battlefield for them, but was home for Daisuke and all the other Demon Slayers there. "I mean...his people have been hurt, his home wrecked...that can't be easy for him."
Pausing to look at the Demon Slayer leader, as well as the shattered fort, InuYasha slowly nodded. "Yeah, good point," he muttered lowly. "Anyway, let's go find the others. I'm sure Sango will be glad to hear Michiru's okay."
"Right," Kaname agreed, and with that, the two of them started off in search of their friends.