Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

A Relaxing Day Off?

“You want to take the day off?!” InuYasha grumbled disbelievingly.

“Sure! Why not?” Kagome returned pleasantly, having already known that InuYasha would not be pleased since she had thought of making this suggestion shortly after waking up that morning.

Two days had passed since the group had departed Kaede’s Village, and it had been three days since the misfiring of the Kururugi twins’ magic had resulted in InuYasha being frozen in a block of ice. Three days in which the cold InuYasha had caught had continued to plague him, delaying their departure by a day and slowing them down considerably. And even thought the half-demon was loathe to admit it, he had been all too glad when they had found an abandoned farmhouse the previous night, allowing them to take shelter for the night.

Still, Kagome knew that the InuYasha was suffering heavily from his cold. The fact that he hadn’t hit Shippo over the head when the fox-demon had made a snarky remark was proof of that, and him pushing himself so that they could cover as much ground as possible wasn’t going to help him feel better faster. Only time and rest would allow him to get over the wretched cold that was sapping his strength.

Of course, InuYasha would never admit that he ever needed rest! Kagome thought with weary fondness, thinking of all the times he had declined assistance and medical treatment out of pride. Which meant that she needed another reason to get the half-demon to want to take it easy. And it hadn’t been long before she had come up with the perfect excuse.

“I was just thinking that Kaname was probably pretty tired, what with everything being so new,” Kagome went on, glancing over at the Kururugi girl. “Besides, she’s not as used as the rest of us to all this traveling, so I figured we should take it easy today.”

“Oh, I see,” Michiru nodded thoughtfully. “You mean like we did back when I first came here? How we’d split up into pairs and do…whatever we wanted for the day?”

“Exactly!” Kagome beamed at this. “I was thinking that two of us could stay here with InuYasha, keep an eye on him, while the rest of us…”

“Hey, wait a minute!” InuYasha protested irritably. “What do you mean, keep an eye on me?! Just because I have a stupid cold, doesn’t mean I need a babysitter! I’m not…I’m not…I…”

“You’re not what?!” Shippo wondered as InuYasha wrinkled his nose…and let go a monstrous sneeze that very nearly sent the fox-demon toppling. “Auggh!!” Covering up his face, Shippo retreated a few steps as the half-demon rubbed his irritated nose. “Jeez, InuYasha! Try covering up next time!”

“Aw, shut up, Shippo! I’m not in the mood!” InuYasha growled lowly, turning his eyes away from the fox-demon.

Satisified that InuYasha realized that he still wasn’t back to himself, even if he was unwilling to admit it, Kagome tried again. “I’m not saying you need a babysitter. I’m just saying that you need to take it easy for a little while, and let someone take care of you for once.” The half-demon didn’t say anything to this, instead contenting him to growl his displeasure deep in his throat. Knowing this was about as close to admission that she was right as he would come, the reborn priestess focused on other matters. “Now, I figure I should stay here with InuYasha, and as for the rest of you…”

“Uh, wait a minute…” Kaname hesitated, holding up her hands. “Maybe it’d be best if I spent today with InuYasha. I mean, my Flame of Invigoration seems to be helping him feel better. So…”

“I’m not saying that it isn’t helping. But you’ve been using your magic like that for the past few days now. And I don’t think you should be pushing yourself like that.” Kagome told her gently. “Isn’t that right, InuYasha?”

Nodding sharply, InuYasha told her, “Look, it ain’t like I don’t appreciate what you’re trying to do, but you’re still only human.”

“But…!” Kaname tried again, turning towards Michiru. “Bro…what do you think?”

“Well…” Michiru hesitated, thinking out what he should say. “I understand that you want to help, but…at the same time, I guess it would be better if we were all rested and ready for action. Just in case.”

“Exactly. And with you being new to this world…well, it might just be best if you took it easy for now. Get a feel for things around here,” Kagome persisted.

“But…I don’t want to slow you down, or…” Kaname tried again.

“No, Kagome’s right. It’d be better to take things slowly, at least until you get used to things in this world,” Miroku intoned sagely.

“That’s right,” Sango agreed. “Besides, and no offense, Kaname, but while you’ve learned a lot about your Shikigami magic, you still have a lot to learn about using it in battle.” The Demon Slayer paused, frowning thoughtfully before deciding, “Before we reach the northern mountains, it might be a good idea to get some practice in. Get more accustommed to battle conditions.”

“I agree, Sango,” Kagome quickly chimed in. “Still, at least for today, it might be best just to take it slowly for a little while. Because we won’t have much time to rest and relax once we get where going.”

“Boy, I’ll say!” Shippo chimed in with a nervous look. “Especially if Myoga was right and it really is Naraku up there!”

“Then it’s decided! Let’s make today our day off!” Kagome decided. “So, Kaname, who do you want to go with?”

Kaname hesitated initially, casting an uncertain look at InuYasha. It was clear that she wanted to stay with him, including to Michiru, who offered, “You know, sis, I could always stay here for today. After all, you’re not the only one who knows Flame of Invigoraton.” Then he cast a look at his half-demon friend, and added, “Besides, if anything, I’m even more responsible for what happened to InuYasha then you are.”

“Huh?!” Kaname and InuYasha gaped as one, with the half-demon then demanding, “Wait a second! How the hell do you figure that?!”

“Because I should’ve seen what was happening!” Michiru explained, guilt tinging his words. “I should’ve known something strange was happening when our magic went haywire the first time, and…”

“Hey, you couldn’t have known, okay?!” InuYasha stated firmly. “It was just a…a…!”

Frowning as the half-demon stifled another sneeze, Sango came forward and placed a hand on Michiru’s shoulder. “They’re right, you know. And besides, it’s not like any real harm was done.”

Initially heartened by the Demon Slayer’s touch, Michiru then lowered his eyes. “Maybe,” he admitted hesitantly. “But still, I still feel like I should have known.”

Kagome was about to say something, but then she frowned, realizing that nothing would chase away Michiru’s guilt. “Maybe, maybe not. But still, if you really want to, I’d be glad to have you helping me out here,” she told him. “After all, some extra healing magic couldn’t hurt.”

“Okay,” Michiru nodded before looking at the remainder of the group. “So, what about you? What are you going to do?”

Sango paused to consider this. “Well, I might as well look for some herbs,” she decided before looking voer at Kaname. “There are certain poisons and medicines that Demon Slayers use in the field, but it’s been a while since I made any. I don’t want to run, not when we might run into Naraku.”

“An excellent idea,” Miroku chimed in, coming up beside Sango. “How about I go with you?”

Yes! Thank you, Miroku! I knew you’d never waste a chance like this! Kagome thought as the monk made his move. For while InuYasha’s health was the main reason she had suggested taking the day off, she had had other reasons as well. And one of those reasons happened to be jumpstarting the relationship between Miroku and Sango, a relationship that had basically stalled out since Naraku’s revival and Michiru’s return to the Feudal Era.

As these thoughts ran through her mind, Kagome took note of the unhappy look that shadowed Michiru’s face. Also, and more importantly, she noticed the way Sango’s eyes narrowed just the slightest bit before she muttered, “Alright. Just do us both a favor and keep your hands to yourself. Understood?”

“Absolutely,” Miroku replied, the picture of sincerity.

Sango, clearly not as impressed by that picture as most women would have been, frowned slightly before turning about to leave. “Fine,” she muttered before turning towards the rest of them. “I guess I’ll see the rest of you later.”

“Right,” Michiru nodded promptly. Then he gave her a shy smile and added, “Just…be careful out there, okay?”

“You don’t have to worry about us, Michiru,” Miroku stated even as Sango opened her mouth to respond. “It’s not as if we’re strangers to such things.”

Pausing to glare at the monk, Sango then turned back to the Kururugi boy. “But still, thank you,” she beamed before exiting the house. A look of happiness that did not go unnoticed by Miroku, who paused to glance at Michiru before following the Demon Slayer.

So far, so good, Miroku! Kagome thought eagerly, for there was nothing better than a little competition to spark a man’s interest in wooing the woman he loved. Now it’s all up to you to smoothe things over with Sango. And you better not blow this chance!

While Kagome was once again thinking happy thoughts of the eventual wedding between the two of them, Kaname was looking blankly at Shippo. “Uh, I guess that just leaves the two of us, huh?”

“Sure does,” Shippo agreed. “So, any ideas what you want to do today?”

“Well…to be honest…I don’t have a clue,” Kaname admitted with a weak chuckle. “What about you? Got any ideas?”

Folding his tiny arms in thought, Shippo considered the matter for a time before his eyes lit up. “Oh, I know! We could always go looking for some acorns!”

“Acorns?” Kaname repeated dubiously.

“Yeah. Shippo uses certain plants with his magic, like acorns and mushrooms,” Michiru explained. “I didn’t realize you were running out.”

“Well, I’m not. Not exactly,” Shippo explained. “But there’s nothing wrong with making sure that we’re ready for action, right?”

“Right, good thinking,” Kagome nodded.

Clearly pleased with this bit of praise, Shippo smiled and said, “And maybe later, we could do some practicing!”

“Practicing?” Kaname frowned. “What, you mean like fighting?”

“Well, sure! Why not!” Drawing himself up to his full height, Shippo explained, “After all, even with your Shikigami magic, you still have a lot to learn about using it to fight.”

“Right, I know that,” Kaname nodded. “And believe me, I don’t want to slow anyone down, or…”

“Hey! You’re not slowing anyone down!” InuYasha growled, drawing the gaze of both girl and fox-demon. “Just because you’re new here doesn’t make you a burden! Unlike some people I know…”

“What’d you say, InuYasha?!” Shippo demanded, his cool exterior blown to blazes.

Seeing a possible argument in the works and not in the mood for it, Kagome fixed the half-demon with a glare. “InuYasha…” she muttered, making it clear without saying it that he was about one word away from being driven through the floor. As expected, he froze in place, a drop of sweat appearing on his brow as he glanced in her direction. Determined not to waste this opening, Kagome turned towards the other pair to go off that day. “Anyway, you’re not slowing us down, Kaname. But you’re still not as experienced as some of us. So maybe getting in a little practice would be a good idea.”

“Yeah!” Shippo cried out enthusiastically, his dispute with InuYasha forgotten. “Besides, Michiru and I used to train together sometimes! It’ll be fun!”

“Hmm? Oh, right, I remember! My bro told me about that!” Kaname smiled. “You asked him to help you train, and…”

“That’s right!” Shippo confirmed. Then he looked towards the male twin, and suggested, “Hey, maybe after we’re done finding acorns, we could come back here! And then the three of us could train together! What do you think, Michiru?”

Michiru didn’t answer right away, and before he could even try, InuYasha cut in and decided, “Now, that’s not a bad idea.” The Kururugi twin frowned as he turned to his friend. “You could help Kaname out with her magic.” Then the half-demon scowled at Kagome and added, “Besides, it’s not like I need someone watching over me all day!”

Stifling the temptation to utter the magic word, Kagome instead found herself glad when Michiru nodded. “Okay. Thanks, InuYasha,” he replied before looking back at the others. “In that case, I’ll be waiting for you two to get back. Sound good?”

“Alright!” Shippo grinned excitedly. “What do you say, Kaname?”

“Well…okay. That sounds good to me!” Kaname finally decided.

“Great! Then let’s get going!” Shippo declared enthusiastically before bouncing towards the door.

“Okay,” Kaname nodded as she got to her feet. Glancing back at the others, she smiled and told them, “See you later, okay?”

“Right. Try not to get into any trouble,” InuYasha advised her in his usual tactless manner.

“Don’t worry, we’ll back before you know it!” Kaname assured them before heading out the door.

As Michiru, InuYasha, and Kagome found themselves alone, the unlikely trio looked at each for a moment before the Kururugi boy asked, “So…what do we do now?”

“Well, the first thing I’d like to do is to get something together for lunch,” Kagome decided after a moment’s consideration. “And we brought some meat and vegetables from the village, so I think we should be able to put together a good meal for everyone.” Pausing to glance at InuYasha, she then added pointedly, “After all, we can’t exactly live on instant noodles, right?”

InuYasha growling at this implication, Michiru shrugged and asked, “So, okay. What do you want me to do?”

“The first thing I need for you to do is to chop some wood for the fire,” Kagome decided, grateful that the abandoned farmhouse still had several implements that were intact, such as the oven and firepit. “And then you can get the pots and pans cleaned up, and bring some water from the river. Then you can chop the vegetables, and…”

“Sheesh, Kagome! Way to boss people around!” InuYasha grumbled beneath his breath, just loud enough for her to hear him.

Bending down to glare at the half-demon, Kagome demanded, “Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?!”

Holding up his hands in protest, Michiru sputtered, “No, InuYasha! Th-that’s okay! I can -!”

“It means what the heck are you going to be doing while Michiru’s lugging firewood and chopping vegetables and all that other stuff?!” InuYasha asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Really, it’s no trouble! I -!” Michiru tried again.

“I’m going to be straightening up the kitchen, of course!” Kagome countered, a vein bulging from her forehead. “I’m sure you didn’t notice, but it hasn’t been used in who knows how long! And then there are the rats that have been nexting in there, and -!”

“So what?! It’s not like it’ll take that long!” InuYasha sneered.

“Uh, well -!” Michiru tried once more.

“Not that long?! It’ll be at least an hour before I can actually cook in there!” Kagome countered. “Do you have any idea what kind of diseases rats carry?! I don’t want you getting any sicker!”

With a derisive roll of his eyes, InuYasha snorted, “Oh, please! What are you talking about?! You’re using our pots and pans, and the rats haven’t been in them! You’re just trying to -!”

“InuYasha…!” Kagome began, having had quite enough of the half-demon’s unreasonable attitude, “Si-!”

“No, wait!” Michiru cried out, suddenly a blur as Kagome found his hand clamped securely over her mouth. Unintelligble grunts of frustration got past her lips, but not the one word she had been trying to say.

“Whew!” InuYasha breathed as he realized how close he had come. “Thanks, Michiru. I…I…!”

Wincing as the half-demon sneezed, Michiru looked away long enough for Kagome to grab his wrist and pull his hand off her mouth. “InuYasha, sit!” she spat out, and was rewarded with a satisfying thunk as the half-demon’s face smashed down into the floor. The Shikigami User’s mouth popped open at this, and he was about to say something in protest when Kagome beat him to the bunch. “And as for you, Michiru, what the heck do you think you’re doing?!”

Taken aback by this, Michiru shifted his eyes this way and that for a moment before responding, “Uh…actually, I was just trying to tell you that there wasn’t any need to argue.”

“Well, of course I know that!” Kagome told him, placing her hands to her hips. “But unfortunately some people who are obviously too lazy to care about their own health and -!”

“And I was about to tell you,” Michiru began again, in a more even tone, “that I could get the kitchen cleaned up in about…thirty seconds or so.”

“Hey! Would you stop inter-!” Kagome began, only to have her tongue fall flat in her mouth as she realized what he had just said. “Uh…wait a minute…did you just say…thirty seconds?!”

“Uh, yes,” Michiru nodded uncertainly before turning towards the kitchen. “Oh, mighty, flowing river, release the orbs of cleansing!” he spoke, a pentagram spinning into existence at his feet. “Bubbling Great River!” As Kagome and a grumbling InuYasha looked on, a foamy wave of bubbles erupted from the pentagram and spilled into the kitchen, coating every surface and making their way into the many nooks and crannies.

“Whoa! What in the…?!” Kagome breathed as she watched the bubbles move about, actually scrubbing the filthy walls and lifting away untold amounts of dirt and grime. This went on for a little over half a minute, after which the living foam floated into the air and fled out one of the windows. The modern priestess gaped at the impossible sight for a moment longer, then rushed into the kitchen, where she found that all the dirt and grime that had once been there had been washed away. It was in no way spic and span, but it was about as clean as was possible in the Feudal Era, especially given that Michiru hadn’t used any soap or cleansers with his spell.

Running her hand across the simple, stone stove, and looking down to see not even a speck of grime on her hand, Kagome turned towards the Shikigami User. “Whoa! When…when’d you learn to do that?!”

“It was in the book my dad gave me,” Michiru replied with a nervous smile and an easy shrug. “He told me and Kaname a bit about his adventures…including how he wasn’t always about to take a bath or clean his clothes.”

A moment passed as Kagome considered what the Kururugi boy was saying, after which she grinned. “So he came up with spells to do all the stuff for him?!” When Michiru nodded, the modern priestess found her mind suddenly awhirl with possibilities. “That’s so cool! I wish I could clean things up as easily as that! I -!”

“What I wish is that you had a spell to make my back stop hurting…” InuYasha grumbled. As the two of them looked his way, at which he looked poisonously at Kagome and added, “Or better yet, something that would put this stupid leash out of commission…!”

Easily disregarding the half-demon’s grumblings as she always did, Kagome instead considered the Kururugi boy for a moment. “Well, since you’ve gotten the kitchen cleaned up…I guess there’s no reason I can’t take care of the meat and vegetables,” she soon decided. “Which means you’re off the hook for that! But I still need you to get the rest of that stuff done!”

“Uh…right,” Michiru returned, considerably less than enthusiastic.

“Good!” Kagome just smiled in response, waiting just long enough to watch Michiru depart to do his assigned share of the work before returning to the kitchen. “You know, it’s really nice to see a guy so willing to pitch in and help others,” she commented in an idle fashion, well aware of who had no choice but to listen in. “Unlike a certain someone I could mention…”

A low growl of frustration was InuYasha’s only response, something that had Kagome laughing that much more. As much as she enjoyed needling the half-demon about his lack of motivation when it came to his daily responsibilities, as well as his utter lack of manners and social niceties, she knew his heart was in the right place. Still, it is nice to deal with someone that I don’t have to spend half my time arguing with in order to get him to do his share of the work. If it weren’t for the fact that he’s fallen for the wrong person…

At this, Kagome’s smile failed her. Yeah, Michiru is a nice enough guy. It’s too bad, but there’s no getting around the fact that he and Sango just aren’t right for each other, she found herself thinking, not looking forward to the day when the Shikigami User’s heart was inevitiably broken. For no matter how gently Sango broke it to him that she and Miroku were in love, the modern priestess knew that it would still hurt. Hmm…still…maybe I could hook him up with someone back home. I bet Ayumi or Eri or Yuka would like to meet him…

With this thought in mind, Kagome began considering tentative plans to introduce Michiru to one of her friends from home. All the while hoping that Miroku was taking full advantage of the situation to mend his relationship with Sango.

Oh, what sweet temptation… Miroku thought longingly as he watched Sango at work. The Demon Slayer was kneeling next to a series of bushes, gathering both herbs and berries that he knew to be ingredients in the various potions and powders she used. Fighting desperately to stay where he was, to keep picking similar plants, to make sure his hands were too busy to do what they really wanted; to reach over and take hold of Sango’s succulent posterior.

Just the thought of that oh so sweet sensation very nearly ruined Miroku’s attempt at self-control, for no matter how many times Sango slapped him or berated him for caressing her sumptutious body or daring to gaze upon her when she was free of her overly concealing kimono, any pain was worth the price of experiencing such beauty. Even the scar on her back only served to enhance her splendor, causing Miroku’s body to react in ways he dearly wanted to explore to the fullest.

But even as he found himself giving into the overwhelming urge to indulge himself, Miroku winced in memory of the sheer, hateful anger he had seen in Sango’s eyes after his more recent samplings of her gorgeous body. Anger that was above and beyond what he had seen from her in the past.

Before Michiru had confessed his love to her.

A tremor running through his body as he thought back to that moment, so soon after what he had thought to be Naraku’s final defeat, Miroku was brought back to the moment when Sango glanced over her shoulder at him. “How are you doing, Miroku? Have you gathered up enough herbs yet?”

“Hmm?” Miroku started, momentarily confused by the sudden return to the moment. Then he glanced down at the small furoshiki that lay before him, as well as the even smaller amount of herbs that he had managed to gather. “Uh…no. There doesn’t seem to be much here.”

Nodding solemnly, Sango replied, “I know. I haven’t seen many of them, either.” Rising to her feet, the Demon Slayer looked about the area before adding, “Some of the other plants don’t seem to be doing well, either.”

“That could explain why this farm was abandoned,” Miroku decided as he bundled up the herbs, tying the furoshiki they were in up to make sure that none would escape. “Still, perhaps we’ll have better luck if we keep going.” Nodding, Sango started forward, studying both plants and searching for any signs of a potential threat, demonic or otherwise. Apparently not giving any mind to hands that so dearly wanted to seize her round, firm…

No! Blast it all, Miroku! the monk shouted at himself even as he instinctively moved in closer towards the object of his desires. Michiru is back, so you can’t afford to alienate Sango! That would mean losing her completely! At this, Miroku did his best to ram that fact in his hands. That he was potentially in danger of losing the Demon Slayer to another man, someone who had made clear his desire for her. And if that happened, then he would lose any right he had to take Sango as his own.

Unfortunately, his hands weren’t getting the message. They enjoyed the feel of any lovely young woman’s posterior, married or otherwise. Leaving Miroku to groan in dismay as he clamped down with all his will, and tried to distract himself by trying another line of conversation. “Eh, by the way, Sango…how are you doing?”

“Hmm?” Sango replied, a quizzical frown on her lips as she turned to look at the monk. “What do you mean, Miroku?”

Hesitating as his hands begged for the chance to indulge themselves, Miroku tightened his grip on both his staff and the bundle of herbs, grateful that he did not have any other hands to distract, he made his way closer to the object of his affections. “I was just…concerned. You…you haven’t been yourself for some time now,” he explained, determined not to slip up. “Is it because…you’re worried about Kohaku?”

At the mention of her sole surviving family, Sango frowned and lowered her eyes somewhat. “No. Not exactly,” she explained, pain welling up in her eyes. “I know Naraku won’t hurt him. Not as long as he…thinks he can use him. But…”

“Sango, I understand if you’re angry that I kept you from pursuing your brother,” Miroku tried again, hoping to get to the heart of the matter. “But I didn’t see any way of helping him, not while he was under Naraku’s control. And with the villagers in danger…”

“No, Miroku, that…that’s not it,” Sango countered, a despondant look in her eye as she met his gaze. “I understand why you did what you did, and…it was the right thing to do. The people needed us, and…”

The Demon Slayer’s voice failing her, Miroku cocked his head to the side. “Then…what is it?”

“I…” Sango began, then frowned as she considered what she was trying to say. Then she sighed heavily and explained, “I guess I’m just…frustrated, that’s all. It seems like every time we’ve beaten Naraku, it turns out to be just another trick of his. Another scheme to get the Jewel Shards or something else, or…”

As Sango again trailed off, Miroku nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, I know. Remember, I’ve been hunting Naraku for a long time now, as my father and grandfather did before me,” he reminded her, glancing over at the curse that could spell his doom, just as it done for his predecessors. “But we can’t give up hope. We already know that Naraku will be killed eventually. We’ve seen the proof of that.”

“I know, I know,” Sango nodded. “I know what happened when we left this time, but…”

“But it’s not as simple as that,” Miroku gathered, to which Sango nodded. “I know. Believe me, I know this. But no matter what happens, we can’t stop trying. You, I, and everyone else, we all know what will happen if we simply give up.”

Nodding shakily, Sango replied, “You’re right, I do know that.” She looked as if she was about to say something else, but then she turned and started forward again. “Come on, we better keep going.”

Miroku opened his mouth to protest, but immediately decided against it, simply because he knew there was no point. He knew Sango well enough to know how difficult it was for her to talk about the things that bothered her, very rarely letting down her emotional shields to anyone, even those who knew her well. And more importantly, he knew that she was not telling the entire truth.

Sango was upset about the loss of her brother, there was no doubt about that. But that wasn’t what was truly bothering her that day. Something else was wrong, something she clearly didn’t want to talk about.

At least, not yet, Miroku corrected himself, continuing to follow a short distance behind her. I simply have to bide my time, and be ready to offer my ear and shoulder to her, when she’s finally ready to talk about whatever’s truly disturbing her. Then he gave a low, unhappy sigh as he added, And I must also avoid doing anything to upset her, lest she seek Michiru when that time comes.

Which, of course, meant denying himself the deep pleasure of stroking one of the finest posteriors he had ever sampled in his life. Something that did not make Miroku or his hands at all happy.

“Ugh! I can’t believe this!” Shippo grumbled as he surveyed the ground just below the trees. “We’ve searched this entire area, and I still haven’t been able to find any acorns!”

“Me neither,” Kaname admitted. “And…this whole area…I’m not feeling any vitality to it at all.”

Turning about, Shippo raised an eyebrow at the Kururugi girl before asking, “What do you mean? Is there something wrong with the ground?”

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, I think so,” Kaname admitted, pausing to close her eyes, and see through the sense of the spirits that linked her to the forces of nature. Spirits that allowed her to see the flow of nutrients and water moving through the trees. “I can feel something…well, strange mixed with the water and in the plants. Almost like it’s…draining the energy from them.”

“Really?” Frowning somewhat, Shippo took a step back before nervously wondering, “Do you…think it’s a demon?”

“I’m…not sure,” Kaname admitted, glancing this way and that. “It might be some kind of poison.”

“Huh? Poison? What makes you think that?” Shippo wondered.

Turning about, Kaname pointed off in the direction they had come from. “Well, we’re still pretty near the farm, and if the people that used to live there used some kind of poison to keep bugs off their crops, then maybe it got into the ground, and…”

“Poison their own crops?!” Shippo cried out incredulously. “Wha- who would do something like that?!

Kaname opened her mouth to explain, but then paused. “Oh, right. I guess they don’t do that in this time,” she murmured ruefully. “What I meant was that, in our time, farmers use poisons that are basically harmless to plants to keep bugs from attacking their crops.”

“Really?” When she nodded, Shippo considered the matter for a time. Though no farmer, he had spent enough time in Kaede’s Village to know how nasty bugs could get when it came time to food. He’d even heard of swarms of locusts and other insects swooping down upon fields and wiping out entire harvests. “Well…I guess that makes sense,” he finally decided. “But if the people that were here did that, then why would they poison all the plants here?!”

“I don’t know. Maybe there was an accident,” Kaname explained, continuing to look about the area. “Or…I dunno. Maybe it’s something else.” Her frown deepening, she then turned to Shippo and asked, “Do you think we should tell the others about this?”

Pausing to consider this for a moment, Shippo then replied, “Gosh, I don’t know. I haven’t smelled any demons or anything. And if it’s not a demon, then I’m not sure what we could do.”

“Hmm…yeah, I guess you have a point,” Kaname soon admitted. “Well, since we didn’t find any acorns…do you just want to head back to the house?”

“Might as well,” Shippo agreed before starting back. Pausing to nod, Kaname was soon doing the same.

Less than a minute into their return trip, Kaname asked, “Say, Shippo, there’s something I wanted to ask you about.”

“Huh?” Shippo started as he met her eyes. “Well, sure. What’d you want to know?”

“It’s about…InuYasha and Kagome,” Kaname began tentatively. “I know that I haven’t been with you very long, but…the two of them seem to fight a lot.”

“You noticed that, huh?” Shippo replied with a roll of his eyes. “I swear, they can be such kids sometimes!”

“So…it’s not just me, then,” Kaname gathered.

“Are you kidding?! I can’t even remember all the times they’ve started arguing with each other, and because of the stupidest things!” Shippo went on with an air of weary exasperation. “I remember this one time that the Bone-Eater’s Well was all sealed up, and Kagome had to blast it back open with her Sacred Arrow! We had this huge demon sucking the souls out of every human and demon around, and was draining energy from different times, and still, the first thing they did when she got back was start arguing again!”

“Really?” Kaname frowned, unsure of what to make of this.

“Oh, yeah! Those two will start fighting about just about anything!” Shippo confirmed. “InuYasha’s the one who starts the fights, of course.”

“He is?” Kaname asked with a narrowing of her eyes.

“Well, sure! He’s such a helpless bonehead!” Shippo went on, seeming to enjoy the topic. “He’s got a great girl like Kagome, and he’s always going back and forth between her and Kikyo, and yet he always gets mad every single time he even sees her with Koga!” The fox-demon was about to say something else, only to pause and give Kaname an inquisitive look. “Uh…Michiru did tell you about Kikyo and Koga, right?”

“Yeah, he did,” Kaname nodded. “But anyway, there’s something else I wanted to ask you. Is it true what my bro said, about half-demons being treated badly by other demons?”

“Boy, I’ll say!” Shippo returned, this time with a hint of disdain to his words. “Did Michiru tell you about Sesshomaru?” Kaname gave a quick nod to this. “Well, you wouldn’t believe the kind of fights those two have! And it’s not just demons that go after half-demons! A lot of humans will pick on them or beat them up when they get the chance!”

“Really?” Kaname frowned sadly. “That’s so wrong.”

“I know what you mean,” Shippo agreed. “There’s this one half-demon called Jinenji, who’s really big and strong, but he’s also really shy and kind. He wouldn’t ever dream of attacking anyone, but his whole body is covered with scars because people were always throwing stones at him, doing whatever they could to hurt him! And he would just stand there and let them do it because he didn’t want to hurt anyone! And then there’s this girl named Shiori! The humans she lived were always picking on her, and her grandfather, he killed her father because he was trying to protect her and her mother!”

“Oh…that’s horrible,” Kaname breathed, bringing her hand to her mouth. When Shippo nodded his confirmation, the Kururugi girl lowered her eyes. “Then…I guess that InuYasha…he probably had to deal with that kind of thing when he was growing up, too.”

Shippo hesitated before saying anything to this, partly because he didn’t like thinking such things about someone who could be so stupid about so many things. But at the same time, he found that he couldn’t be anything less than honest when he answered, “Well…yeah. I guess so. InuYasha doesn’t really talk about that sort of thing, but…”

Nodding thoughtfully as the fox-demon trailed off, Kaname then answered, “But it’s pretty safe to say that he did have to deal with that kind of thing.” When Shippo found himself unable to say anything to this, the Kururugi girl managed a wan smile. “Thank you, Shippo.”

“Huh? For what?” Shippo wondered with a raised eye.

“For clearing up a few things for me, that’s all,” Kaname replied. Then she grinned broadly before leaping out in front of the fox-demon. “Hey, c’mon, Shippo! What say we race back to the farmhouse?”

A beat passed before an exuberant grin plastered itself on the fox-demon’s face. “Okay!” Shippo cried out, and with that, the two of them started running flat-out. Completely unaware that they were not alone…

“Aw…rarr…grr…ohhh…!” InuYasha growled deep in his throat, his face twisting and contorting in myriad ways. “I…I…aw, damn….!

“Feeling any better yet, InuYasha?” Michiru wondered as he continued to gently press his hands on the half-demon’s back, hands that were glowing with the fiery magic of his Flame of Invigoration. When his only response was to suddenly let out a low, deep growl of satisfaction, the Shikigami User just smiled. “I guess I should take that as a yes?”

“Just keep your hands right there, Michiru!” InuYasha commanded, speaking with as much authority as he could muster while lying flat on his stomach. “And pour on some more heat while you’re at it!”

Chuckling goodnaturedly, Michiru did as he was requested. While InuYasha was relaxing, Kagome came in from the kitchen. “Lunch’ll be ready in a few minutes.” Then she paused and folded her arms in front of her. “So, would you two like to be alone for a bit longer?”

The two males jolted at this implication. “Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?!” InuYasha snarled as Michiru blushed. “In case you’ve forgotten, you’re the reason my back’s a mess!”

As was usual, Kagome simply ignored the barbed comment. “Anyway, Michiru, why don’t you go get the others? I’m sure they must be hungry by now.”

“Uh…right,” Michiru replied after a beat.

Smiling in a carefree fashion, Kagome turned and reentered the kitchen. As soon as she had done, InuYasha looked up at Michiru and grumbled, “Like it would really kill her to take a few seconds to go and tell them herself…”

“Yeah…Kagome does like to boss people around,” Michiru agreed. “Y’know, I’d almost forgotten what happened the last time I volunteered to help her out with lunch…” The half-demon chuckled in his throat at that. “So, how are you doing? Your cold any better yet?”

“Eh, I’m alright. The only thing’s really bugging me right now are my damned nose…and my back,” InuYasha muttered gruffly, glancing towards the kitchen. “How about your back? I hope you don’t wind up breaking it bending over backwards for her!”

“No, I’m okay. The river isn’t that far from her, fortunately. And I was able to use Bubbling Great River to clean up the pots and pans,” Michiru replied. Then he looked up at the kitchen and added, “Anyway, I better get moving. Before Kagome gets mad at the both of us!” With InuYasha chuckling beneath his breath, the Shikigami User rose to his feet and exited the farmhouse, already scanning the area for his friends.

“Sango! Miroku!” Michiru called out, cupping his hands to his mouth. “Kaname! Shippo! Lunch is ready!” He waited a few moments, listening for any signs of his friends were calling back in response.

At first, Michiru didn’t see or hear anything. Several seconds passed, time in which he considered using his Shikigami to send forth a scout to find them. But even as he reached for the holster containing his Shikigami cards, two familiar figures came into view. “Oh, hi, Michiru!” Sango called out, quickening her pace. “Was that you we just heard?”

“Uh, yeah,” Michiru replied, trying to ignore the way his heart skipped a beat at the Demon Slayer’s approach. “Uh, Kagome asked me to tell everyone that lunch was ready, and…”

“Really? Then it would seem that we came back at just the right time,” Miroku decided.

“Guess so,” Sango agreed with an easy nod. “So, what’s for lunch? And where’re Kaname and Shippo?”

“Uh, I don’t know about lunch. I think Kagome said something about making a bento box,” Michiru replied with a casual shrug. “As for Kaname and Shippo, they aren’t back yet.”

Nodding, Sango then asked, “Do you think we should go find them?”

“Well…” Michiru frowned in consideration.

“We might as well. I doubt that Kagome would appreciate any of us being late,” Miroku commented good-naturedly.

“Good point,” Sango agreed. “Anyway, I’ll tell her that we’ve gone looking for them.”

“Uh, you don’t have to do that, Sango,” Michiru quickly assured her. “I could just send a scout to find them, or…”

“No, it’s okay,” Sango assured him, rewarding Michiru with one of her bright smiles. “Anyway, I'd rather be actually doing something then just sit around, waiting.”

“Oh,” Michiru replied before eventually shrugging. “Well…okay. At least it shouldn’t take too long to find them, with the both of us looking.”

“With the three of us.” Starting at this, Michiru turned to see Miroku take a step closer, his usual smile in place. “That is what you meant to say, right?”

“Huh?” Michiru started, blinking a few times, peripherally aware that Sango was looking at both males. Then he brought his hand to his head and began running his fingers through his hair before adding, “Oh, right. Sorry. I didn’t mean…well…”

“That’s quite alright,” Miroku assured him. “I’m sure it was just a slip of the tongue.”

As Michiru tried to think of something intelligent to say to this, Sango gave them both another look before seeming to shrug and turning to enter the farmhouse. “Hey, Sango!” Kagome beamed as she appeared from the kitchen. “So, did you have any luck finding those plants you were looking for?”

“No, not really,” Sango replied with a measure of disappointment. “Listen, Kanama and Shippo aren’t back yet, so I thought we’d go looking for them. Let them know lunch was ready.”

“Okay!” Kagome nodded. “I’ll have everything ready for you when you get back.”

“Thank you very much, Kagome,” Miroku spoke up from just outside the door. “It shouldn’t take too long. I doubt that they’ve gotten too far.”

“Right. Shippo knows better than to stray too far from the rest of us, and I’m sure Kaname wouldn’t do anything risky, either,” Sango agreed. “Anyway, we’ll be back as soon as we can.” Again,
Kagome nodded, to which the Demon Slayer turned back towards the door. Before she could reach it, a plaintive mew was heard, drawing her eyes.

“Kirara?” Sango began as her two-tailed companion came up to her. “Do you want to help as well?” In a very human gesture, Kirara seemed to nod before making her way out the door. After passing Michiru and Miroku, the demon cat erupted in a blaze of fire, and emerged from the flame in her fighting form.

“I guess she does,” Michiru decided as the two-tail gave an encouraging roar. “Thank you, Kirara.”

“Okay, then,” Sango decided, coming up to her companion and mounting her in one, easy movement. Flashing Michiru and Miroku another of her smiles, she playfully told them, “Well, let’s get going! The sooner we find them, the sooner we can come back and relax a bit!”

“Uh, right,” Michiru returned.

“Of course,” Miroku seconded, just as Sango and Kirara lifted into the air. The two of them just stood there for a time, watching as the woman that was in both their hearts flew out of sight, before slowly turning to look at each other. An uncomfortable moment passed before he suggested, “I think we should split up. We stand a better chance of finding them quickly.”

“Right, good idea,” Michiru nodded quickly before studying the pathes that led away from the farmhouse. “Uh, I’ll go that way, and…”

“I’ll go this way,” Miroku promptly decided, starting down the other path. “If you don’t find them in five minutes, then come back here.”

“Right, will do,” Michiru nodded as the monk disappeared. As he started down the path of his choosing, the Shikigami User realized the purpose behind Miroku’s caution. Because as peaceful as the Feudal Era could be at times, there was still a great deal of danger to be found. And if took longer than five minutes to track down Kaname and Shippo, there was a good chance that danger had found them.

“Ah…it sure has been a while since we’ve been able to go flying like this. Hasn’t it, Kirara?” Sango commented as she and her family’s two-tailed ally soared through the skies. When Kirara gave a warm, appreciative growl, the Demon slayer smiled that much more.

Over the course of her life, Sango had learned to appreciate the moments of true peace that came for her, moments that were all too rare in the life of a Demon Slayer, and had become even rarer since the day her old life had ended, and her current life with InuYasha and the others began. And as much as she enjoyed a round of training or simply standing in a field of flowers, there was no greater sense and freedom than flying through the air, without anyone to disturb her.

Not even Michiru or Miroku, Sango thought, her sense of peace suffering a blow as she thought back to the two of them, and the way they were looking at each other. Frowning somewhat as she thought of this, and how it promised trouble for the future, the Demon slayer then shook her head. No. I’ll have time to deal with them later. Right now, I have to find the others.

Setting aside her inner concerns and her sense of peace, Sango began looking from side to side, searching for any signs of her wayward friends. “Keep your eyes open, Kirara,” she instructed her friend. “The sooner we find them, the better I’ll feel.”

Kirara gave an affirmative growl to this, saying in her own way that she shared Sango’s concerns. Kaname was the least experienced of the group in the ways of this time, and Shippo was the weakest in terms of fighting ability. And while it was likely that she was getting worried over nothing, Sango and Kirara had both learned that it was better to be safe, rather than sorry.

About a minute into their search, a familiar voice was heard. “Hey! Sango!”

“Hmm? That sounded like Shippo,” the Demon Slayer mused, an opinion that Kirara seconded with a low growl.

“Help! Down here!” the voice came again, this time with greater urgency.

Jolted by this, Sango felt herself tensing as she looked about, trying to orient on the source of the voice. A moment later, she caught sight of a tiny bundle of brown frantically leaping up and down. As well as a larger figure, lying prone on the ground. “Oh, no! Kaname!” she breathed, a chill rushing down her spine. “There, Kirara! Take us down!” Growling her agreement, the blazing feline turned and angled herself downward.

“Sango! Thank goodness you’re here!” Shippo cried out, continuing to leap up and down as Kirara came to land next to him, the Demon Slayer practically leaping to the ground.

“Shippo! What happened?!” Sango asked as she came to kneel down next to the fallen Kururugi, who was lying facedown, sprawled upon the ground..

“We were running back to the farmhouse when Kaname…she just tripped and fell over!” Shippo explained hurriedly as Sango placed her fingers to the Shikigami User’s throat, where she found a faint but steady pulse. “I – I tried to wake her up and everything, but – she won’t move, or – or -!”

“Hmm…well, I’m not seeing any sign of injury,” Sango frowned as she studied the prone girl with an experienced eye. “Kaname? Kaname, can you hear me?” The Demon Slayer waited a few seconds, her concern mounting when the Kururugi girl didn’t move, didn’t make any noise. She simply continued to lie there, dead to the world.

Her bad feeling increasing, Sango turned towards the others. “I can’t tell what’s wrong with her,” she admitted, glancing back down at Kaname. “Look, we better get her back to the farmhouse. Maybe Michiru or Kagome will be able to do something to help her.”

“Right!” Shippo nodded as Kirara lowered herself to the ground.

“Okay,” Sango nodded, slipping her hands beneath Kaname’s shoulders. But before she could get them in very far, she grunted as her hands met an obstruction. “Huh?!”

A quizzical noise sounding in his throat, Shippo watched as the Demon Slayer tried again. “What’s the matter, Sango?”

“I…something’s wrong! It feels like something’s…anchoring Kaname to the ground!” Sango got out through clenched teeth. Even as she said this, the Demon Slayer’s eyes went wide as she realized the potential danger. “Kirara! Shippo! Get off the ground!”

“Huh?! What are you talking about?!” Shippo demanded while Kirara moved to heed Sango’s command. “What’s wrong?! What’s -?!”

“Hurry!” Looking back down at Kaname, Sango abandoned her attempt to lift her up gently. Instead, she grabbed the Shikigami User’s vest by the back. “Kirara, come here!” Turning back to her companion, the Demon Slayer waited as she came to hover right next to them. “Now, grab hold of Kaname, and start pulling! Pull as hard as you can! We have to get her off the ground!”

“But why?! What’s happening, Sango?!” Shippo cried out, watching in confusion as Kirara gently bit down on Kaname’s vest, doing her best to avoid damaging it or the girl with her large, saber-like teeth.

“I think we’ve fallen into a trap!” Sango hissed out between her clenched teeth as she drew her sword.

“What?!” Shippo cried out. He was about to ask something else when Kirara began pulling Kaname up, only to meet with resistance. The Kururugi girl barely even moved, despite the two-tail’s continuing efforts. “Huh?! Kirara, what’s the matter?! Why -?!” Before the little fox could finish this question, his eyes bulged in horror as Kaname slowly rose up off the ground, just enough for him to see what Sango had feared; hordes of fine, green shoots protruding from Kaname’s flesh. “Auggh! Wh-what’s that?!”

“I knew it! Demonic grass!” Sango hissed, all action as she sliced the fine, green blades that had bored into Kaname’s cheek. Ignoring the keening of pain it released when her blade tore through it, the Demon Slayer struck again, cutting at the grass that had dug into her chest. “Shippo, get off the ground!”

“Huh?! But – wauughh!!” Shippo cried out, leaping up as deadly tendrils of green shot up at him.

“Get off the ground, Shippo! Before it gets you!” Sango insisted even as she realized that she was potentially at risk as well. Even as she thought this, shoots of the lethal plant shot up at her, forcing her to leap away from the imprisoned Kururugi. “Quick! Kirara!”

Growing between her clenched teeth, the two-tail redoubled her efforts. But even as she did so, even more deadly blades emerged from the ground and buried themselves in Kaname’s chest. “Waaa!!” Shippo cried out, finally leaping up onto Kirara’s back. “What’s it doing?!”

“It’s trying to drag her back down! It must be feeding on her Shikigami magic!” Sango growled as a veritable swarm of the deadly plant erupted from the earth, cutting herself off from its prey. “We have to get her free of it, or it’ll suck her dry!”

“What?!” Shippo cried out in horror. Looking wildly about as the demonic grass continued to pull at Kaname, determined to drag her back down, the little fox gritted his teeth in determination. “No way! Foxfire!” Holding up his hand, he conjured up a ball of green flame which he sent towards the cruel plant. The magical fire quickly seared the lethal blades, again resulting in a strange cry of pain as they snapped, and were quickly as even more emerged from the ground. “No! Let her go!”

Snarling her fury as Shippo continued to project a steady stream of foxfire, Sango continued to slash at the cruel blades, determined not to let herself fall victim to them. She knew that she was not the primary target of the demonic grass; the parasitic plant’s preferred victims were demons or humans with special powers, such as Kaname. A normal human aura like hers would not excite the evil plant to attack so viciously, but at the same time, she knew that it would fight to keep its captured meal.

Which means that we’re just gonna have to fight that much harder! Sango snarled as she brought forth a small case. Jumping back a step, she flipped the case open and then closed it about her sword. Drawing her blade across the contents of the case, she then charged forward and slashed through the first wave of malevolent grass that tried to stop her.

“Shippo! Keep burning the grass holding Kaname!” Sango ordered, continuing to slash through the waves of lethal blades shooting forth at her. Allowing not one to get past her guard and find its way into her flesh. “Kirara, on my signal, pull with everything you’ve got!” Despite the situation, the two-tailed managed a slight nod of her head. Just enough to assure the Demon Slayer that she was ready. “On my mark…pull!”

The instant Kirara redoubled her efforts, Sango threw her sword into the ground, the blade burying itself halfway into the earth. Allowing the poison she had daubed on it to spread into the roots of the demonic grass.

“C’mon, Kirara! Keep pulling!” Sango urged her friend, watching as the toxin did its work. The demonic vegetation faded from green to brown, the many blades of grass shriveling up before her eyes. But even as she watched her enemy fail, she also watched as the poison spread mercilessly up the shoots of grass that had buried themselves in Kaname, every bit as lethal to her as it was to the plant that had taken her.

For a moment, it looked as if Kirara would not be in time. But at the last moment, the blazing demon cat snarled, and with a savage yank of her head, succeeded in tearing Kaname free of her vegetative tormentor. “Good work, Kirara!” Sango beamed, relieved that one half of her job was done. But even as she said this, she knew that her fight wasn’t over just yet. Especially since the demonic grass was hungry, desperate, and now only had one potential source of nourishment left to it.

Not even wasting time, attempting to retrieve her sword, the Demon Slayer held up her hand, and was gratified as Kirara dove down just low enough for her to grab hold of her paw. “Thanks, Kirara!” Sango called as her two-tailed companion rose up into the air again. “Now, get us back to the farmhouse! We have to get Kaname taken care of right away!”

“Do you think she’ll be okay?” Shippo asked in a worried voice.

“I think so. It usually takes a while for demonic grass to – what the -?!” Cutting herself off, Sango looked down in horrified amazement. Below her, wave after wave of the foul weed was erupting from the ground, sending tendrils up towards them, hungry for nourishment. “Kirara!”

Realizing what had to be done, Kirara rose up even higher in the air. The two-tail was forced to be careful, with one friend dangling from her leg and another from her mouth, but she had many years of battle experience behind her. She easily rose up above the hungry weeds, keeping both herself and her allies out of harm’s way.

“Yikes! That grass must be really hungry!” Shippo commented ruefully. “I sure hope no one else is down there!”

“So do I, Shippo. I…” Sango’s tongue fell flat in her mouth as the fox-demon’s idle comment hit home. “Oh, no! Michiru!”

“Michiru?!” Shippo repeated blankly, unaware of how close Sango had come to losing her grip.

“He and Miroku – they went out to look for you two as well!” Sango cried out, her mind already inundated with horrific images. Images of Michiru and even Miroku being swarmed by the evil plant, bound down and dragged down into the depths of the earth. “And if the grass senses them -!”

“Wha-!?” Shippo yelped in horror before looking wildly about. “But – if they did -!”

“Shippo! You have to go look for them!” Sango pleaded the little fox. “As soon as we get back to the farmhouse, I’ll get InuYasha!”

Shippo nodded shakily, understandably nervous. “Okay! But, please, hurry!” With a final gulp, the little fox leapt off of Kirara, exploding into a cloud of smoke before emerging as what Sango supposed was intended to be a bird.

Please be safe, Sango thought, watching as her friend flew forth. Thinking of the other precious people that were now potentially in danger. All of you…please be safe.

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