Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Gold Diggers

"This is so stupid!" Azusa complained as she sat on the ground cross-legged, her arms folded across her chest. "Why do I have to be stuck here with you two losers! It's so pathetic!"

Heaving a deep breath, Miroku did his best to let the comments coming off of Azusa's forked tongue slide off of him like water off of a duck's back. To be true to his training as a monk, to leave himself empty and devoid of malice so that little things like the inconsequential things such as the constant whining and complaining of an irate wolf-demon didn't bother him or make him angry. Unfortunately, this was one time when it was proving to be much more difficult than it should have been.

And I think I know why, Miroku frowned unhappily, recalling the incident that had occurred just before their departure from the fledgling Demon Slayer fort. When Michiru and Sango had looked at each other after the Demon Slayer had fallen on top of him, and how they had just looked at each other and smiled, almost seeming to be glad that it had happened. The way the two of them had proceeded to sit together, hand in hand for a good portion of the trip to Tsuzumi Village. It feels as if Sango is drifting further and further away from me every single day. And Michiru, he...

"Why'd I have to come here, anyway?!" Azusa continued to whine, growing more and more petulant with each passing moment. "I can't believe I let Ayame and grandpa talk me into this!"

Wincing at this latest complaint, the latest on top of so many, Miroku heaved a strained breath. Why did I have to agree to remain her with her? I should have gone with Sango and the others! Every moment she's with Michiru, she gets closer to him! And now -!

"If you ask me, this whole alliance is a waste of time!" Azusa complained, her words as grating as steel grinding against stone. "You humans aren't fit to be our allies! You're all so weak and -!"

"Oh, really?" Jiro commented, his expression making it clear that he appreciated Azusa's constant complaints about as much as Miroku. "Well, it doesn't matter what you think about this alliance. Or what I think of it, either. It's what the leaders of both our peoples have decided." Clearing his throat, the youthful Slayer went on to add. "And it doesn't matter how much whining or complaining you do, the alliance is in place. So we're all just going to have to make the best of it."

"Hmph! Our so-called leaders are all idiots!" Azusa shot back, practically exuding bitchiness from her every pore. "And Koga, he's the biggest idiot of them all! Not to mention weak, and spineless, and -!"

"And I'm right here, Azusa!" came Koga's voice, causing the three of them to look up. Sure enough, the alpha wolf had returned, and he wasn't alone; the rest of the group, including Densuke as well had arrived. "Listening to every single word that you've said!"

Snorting loudly, Azusa shot back, "So what if you heard me?! I don't care! You're still the weakest, most pathetic -!"

Quickly crossing the distance between himself and the redhead, Koga planted his hand over her mouth. "Aw, damn..."

"Thank you, Koga," Miroku told him, grateful for the relative silence. "As you can imagine, things have not been quiet in your absence."

"Yeah, I noticed!" Koga growled as Azusa struggled to free herself. "And now - hey, quit biting, you brat!" Sparing a moment to give the redhead an annoyed look and a smack on the head, the alpha wolf snorted and tried again. "Anyway, we got some good news!"

Nodding, Kagome added, "Densuke says that he might have something that could help us get the supplies we need!"

At once, both Miroku and Jiro gasped in surprise. "Really?" the youthful Slayer gaped, his expression turning to one of delight. "That's wonderful!"

"But how?" Miroku wondered, turning to look at Densuke. "How can you -?"

"It'll all be clear soon enough," Densuke assured them. "But first, we have to see a friend of mine. He can explain it better than I can."

Nodding, Koga released his grip on Azusa's mouth. "You heard the man," he muttered, sparing a glance at the palm of his hand, streams of blood flowing from a set of bite marks. "Let's get going!"

"No! No way in hell am I going anywhere with a bunch of stupid humans!" Azusa decreed, making a show of closing her eyes and sticking her nose into the air. "This whole trip is just a big waste of time, and -!"

"Look! You either come along on your own feet or I'll carry you there!" Koga howled fiercely, the force of his voice knocking each of them back a step. "But either way, you are coming! Got that?!"

Blinking a few times at this, Azusa studied Koga for a time, as if asking if he really meant what he said. But after a few moments of looking at his outraged expression, she scowled, apparently satisfied that he really did mean it. "Hmph!" she growled, slowly rising to her feet in as officious a fashion as was possible. "Fine. See if I care!"

Watching as Koga looked to the heavens, as if asking Buddha what he could have done to deserve this, Miroku sighed and moved towards Sango. "Well, this certainly is a pleasant surprise," he commented as the group started forward, the monk matching the Demon Slayer's pace. "How on earth did you manage this?"

"To be honest, I'm not sure," Sango admitted before glancing towards another member of their group. "But...from what I can tell, it looks like somebody Michiru met here might be able to help us."

Starting at this, Miroku followed Sango's eyes. "Somebody that...Michiru knows...?"

Nodding, Sango sighed and added, "I don't know what it's all about, but...if it means that we can help Daisuke and the others..."

"Hmm? Oh, yes, of course," Miroku nodded, glancing from Michiru to Sango and back again. "That's what's important, and...yes."

"Right," Sango smiled deeply. A smile that he gratefully accepted...until she turned it in another direction. At a boy who was currently oblivious to her smile, and was once again going to be the hero.

First he gets around Hachi's complaining with his Shikigami, and now he might be the reason that we succeed in our mission, Miroku fumed, clenching his staff that much more tightly. Why? Why him? Why does he get to be the hero?! Why does he...?

His thoughts degenerating, Miroku forced himself to breathe deeply, to not let his mind descend into anger. It was his duty as a monk to care for people, to not give into rage and hatred, no matter the circumstances. But as the group made their way back into Tsuzumi Village, he found that he couldn't take his eyes off of Sango, nor he could he stop himself from bristling at the way she looked at Michiru...

"How much longer are we gonna be stuck in this stupid village, anyway?!" Azusa whined as the group followed Densuke.

"Until we get what we need for our people, Azusa!" Koga growled, barely bothering to look over his shoulder at her.

"But it’s so loud, and crowded!" Azusa continued to complain with a petulant look on her face.

Despite his low opinion of Azusa, Michiru couldn't help but admit that the redheaded nightmare had a point. Even though the sun was slowly setting behind the mountains, the city that Tsuzumi Village had become was still filled with activity, with people bustling about their daily routines. Everywhere he looked, people labored on the construction of buildings, and travelers were chatting amongst themselves. There was a multitude of merchants, travelers, priests, and various other citizenry present, all of whom seemed to busy with one thing or another.

"Honestly! Catering to humans is such a waste of time!" Azusa continued to complain, somehow managing to be louder than the entire village. "Why don’t we just take what we need and get out of here?!"

"Because there’s no way in hell we’d ever let you stinking wolves get away with it, that’s why!" InuYasha snarled, eyeing the female wolf with contempt.

Glaring back at InuYasha, Azusa opened her mouth to protest. But before she could say a word, Koga broke in and countered, "Besides, the whole idea of us doing this is to show humans we can be trusted!" Then he glanced back at Sango and Jiro, the latter of which was smiling at the sentiment. "Remember, we still have our human allies to think about!"

"Demon Slayers! Hmph! Why are we even bothering with pandering to humans, anyway?!" Azusa sneered contemptuously. "Honestly, we should just kill them and be done with it! And the same goes for this stupid village!"

"I wouldn't say something like that if I were you," Sango stated, tensing in readiness as she took hold of Hiraikotsu.

Nodding in assent, Jiro held up his three-sectioned staff suggestively. "I wouldn't even think about it…"

"Oh, please! You’re just a couple of lowly humans with big weapons! Big deal!" Azusa sniffed disdainfully. "I could kill you both before you even knew what happened!"

"Like hell, you could!" Koga sneered as he grabbed Azusa's shoulder. Turning her about so that she was looking him in the eyes, he went on to say, "Don't you remember what happened at the tournament?! Were you even watching it?! Because if you had, you’d know why we need this alliance!"

"So you had us sell to humans because a few of them have some fancy tricks?!" Azusa countered obnoxiously. "I can’t believe what’s happened to you, Koga! You really have become a human’s pet! To think that Ayame spends so much time pining over a loser like you! You’re so pathetic!!"

"Doesn’t she ever shut up?!" Kagome wondered, wincing in pain as the two wolves continued to argue.

"Somehow, I doubt it," Miroku sighed wearily. "And it truly is shame. She'd actually be quite lovely if she didn't ruin it with her own attitude…"

"And I thought Koga was worthless?!" InuYasha grumbled, rolling his eyes to the sky. "If she keeps whining like this, my ears are gonna fall off!"

"Tell me about it!" Shippo grimaced, holding his hands over his own ears.

"And don’t think I can’t hear the rest of you talking about me like that!" Azusa bitched, her voice going up several octaves in both volume and nastiness. "If there’s anything I can’t stand, its people trying to talk about me behind my back!"

Turning about with fire in his eyes, InuYasha stomped towards the arrogant she-wolf. "In that case, how about I talk to your face, you arrogant, stuck-up, whiny little hag?!"

"Whiny little hag?!" Azusa countered, clenching her fists as she stared daggers at InuYasha. "I dare you to say that again, you stinking, half-breed freak!!"

While InuYasha took Azusa up on her offer, the humans of the group looked at each other and sighed, while Shippo asked, "They’re such kids! Honestly, can’t we just leave them here?"

"As tempting as that may be, we still have work to do," Sango noted before turning to look at Michiru. "Listen, maybe you should go on ahead with Densuke."

"Huh?" Michiru sputtered out, pointing at himself in confusion. "M-me?!"

"I don't we should all go in at once. Especially with Azusa acting the way she is," Sango explained with a quick sideways glance at the redhead. "Besides, you're the one only one of who actually met this old man, and you know the details of our situation as well as any of us." As Michiru attempted to mount a protest, the Demon Slayer turned and said, "Densuke, please continue to show him the way, while the rest of us try to get Azusa back under control."

As Densuke nodded his agreement, Azusa shouted, "Just try it, you filthy human hag!"

Hag?! Michiru thought, stung as he turned to look at the redhead in shock.

"Hag?!" Miroku spoke aloud, sounding about as annoyed as Michiru felt.

"You better cut that out right now, you damned scrawny wolf!" InuYasha sneered, his hand finding Tetsusaiga's hilt. "Or you better believe that I'll make you!"

"As if you even could!" Azusa shouted before returning her attention to Koga. "And as for you, you suck-up, if you had even a bit of pride as a wolf-demon, you’d have never have…!"

As he continued to watch Azusa’s tirade, the she-wolf flinging insults at everybody with equal disregard, Michiru felt some of his anger fade into an annoyed weariness. "Are you sure you’re going to be okay?" he asked as he returned his attention to Sango. "I mean...dealing with them?"

"I’m sure. You can come back and get us once you find out what's going on," Sango replied before quirking a smile. "Though to be honest, I think you got the easy job here!"

"So do I!" Densuke admitted ruefully, taking Michiru by his shoulder. "Well, you heard her, my friend! Let’s keep going!"

"Uh, yeah. Yes, of course," Michiru answered before slowly, reluctantly turning about.

As the two of them proceeded, Azusa's tantrum slowly fading into the background, and Michiru found what little annoyance he felt fading with it. Instead, a growing curiosity rose up in him, prompting him to look this way and that, looking at the activity that filled the burgeoning village. Until at last Densuke announced, "There it is. That's Kaito's home just ahead."

Heeding this prompt, Michiru turned and looked forward...just before his eyes and mouth fell open. "Wha...?" he gaped in astonishment. The building before them looked like a proper feudal manor, and was at least four stories tall. Though incomplete, the outer wall that surrounded it was quite impressive, too high for Michiru to see over. Stepping back to take in the full size of it, the Kururugi boy let out a low whistle of awe before he turned to Densuke. "Whoa. Are you sure this is the place?"

"Quite sure," Densuke answered, though he seemed to share the Shikigami User’s confusion. "Not so long ago, Kaito dwelled in a house not much bigger than my own, with his son and his wife, as well as their children. And now…"

"Yeah," Michiru gaped, drinking in the huge, stylized building before him, shaking his head in disbelief. "Uh..." he started, looking at his companion in uncertainty. "Are...you sure that Kaito...he'll want to see me? I mean, what if he's busy, or...?"

"He won't be too busy. Trust me," Densuke assured him. "And he and his family would never forgive me if I didn't bring you in right away." Furrowing his brows in confusion, Michiru just stared as the villager smiled and added, "Trust me, it will all make sense very shortly." Not especially convinced, but without any better ideas, the Shikigami User allowed himself to be escorted through the front gate and towards the manor. Stopping at the main door, Densuke carefully slid it open. "Tamoa? Shunsuke?" he called out as he stuck his head in. "Do you hear me?"

"Who is it?" came a voice, which was soon followed by the appearance of a gentle, fatherly looking man, who soon smiled and started towards. "Oh, Densuke! What a surprise! Come in, come in!" Bowing his head to this, Densuke opened the door all the way, ushering himself and Michiru inside. "You haven’t been by for a while, and…oh? Who's this young man?"

"This is Michiru, a friend of mine," Densuke explained, even as the boy nodded slightly. "He and his friends are travelers. They saved me from a demon a while back."

Shunsuke smiled even more deeply at this. "In that case, you helped save the life of a good friend," he stated, before frowning somewhat. "Your, uh, garments are somewhat…unusual…"

"Uh, yeah, I know," Michiru confessed, looking at himself. "You see, I’m…not from around here. My homeland is…kind of far away."

"I see. There certainly have been many travelers from distant lands here as of late," Shunsuke noted thoughtfully. "Though…yours is garment the likes of which I’ve never seen before."

"Um…well, I guess my school uniform is a bit unusual…" Michiru answered sheepishly.

"Oh, a special garb for your school!" Shunsuke exclaimed, seeming reassured. "That certainly explains it! I have heard of such things! Tell me, what manner of school is it?"

"It’s…very different from the ones I’ve seen in this land," Michiru confessed semi-truthfully, running his hand across the back of his head.

Smiling at Michiru's embarrassment, Densuke continued, "There's more to it, my friend." Clapping Michiru on the back, Densuke beamed eagerly and explained, "Remember your father's story? About that boy he met in the caves when he was digging for gold?"

Nodding slowly, Shunsuke answered, "Yes, of course I do. But why...?" Trailing off, the villager studied Michiru for a time, blinking slowly. "Wait...father, he said that...the boy he met was dressed strangely...clothes he hadn't seen before, and..." Sucking in a hushed gasp, he turned back to Densuke and said, "Are you saying that...this boy is...?!"

"That's right! This is the boy!" Densuke smiled eagerly, again clapping Michiru on the back. "He told me about what happened, how he met your father in the caves!"

"Uh, yeah! I mean, yes, that's right," Michiru sputtered out, completely baffled but trying to keep up with everything. "I...I met him in the caves, just outside of town. He was…digging for gold, and he told me not to tell anyone, and…" Pausing to look between the two of them, he shrugged and added, "Anyway, I lost track of him after a cave-in, and -!"

"Then it is you! The boy my father spoke of!" Shunsuke exclaimed, spreading his arms in surprise. Turning about and cupping his hand to his mouth, he called out, "Tamoa, come quickly! Please! And bring father!"

Staggered with growing levels of confusion, Michiru could only stand there and wait as a woman of Shunsuke’s age soon appeared, an elderly man with his graying hair tied into a topknot close behind him. "What is it? What's going on?" the woman who had to be Tamoa inquired. Rapidly, she glanced from her husband to their visitors, at which she frowned in confusion. "Densuke? And...who's this?"

"Um, hello," Michiru got out as he waved nervously. Then he looked at the old man who had followed her down, and instantly recognized him as the same person he had met in the caves. He wasn't wearing the same grungy pink kimono he had been wearing before, and his hair looked neater and trimmer now, but is was unmistakably the same person. "And...hello, sir. I..."

"Whoa!" the old man cried out, his eyes going wide with delight. "I-i-it's you!" Pointing rapidly and repeatedly at Michiru, he looked from Shunsuke and Tamoa and back. "That's him! The boy! The boy who sent us the treasure!"

As these words exited Kaito’s lips, Michiru slowly frowned before arching an eyebrow. "Huh?" he squeaked out, utterly confused.

"So…I helped you find the treasure?!" Michiru gaped a time later. Almost an hour had passed since he had come to Kaito’s home, an hour in which he, Densuke, and the rest of the group became guests for dinner at the exquisite manor, while Kaito and his family explained how they had come into their good fortune.

"Yes!" Kaito exclaimed in good cheer. "You see, I saw how you were fighting that strange woman and the young boy who was with her, and how you used your magic in order to collapse part of the cave! I was in awe!"

"I…never realized that you were still there," Michiru admitted, recalling that encounter with Kagura, in which he had been forced to set off a partial cave-in in order to drive her away. "I mean, I was worried that you might have been hurt, so after the fighting was over, I looked around, but..."

"I was watching from one of the side caves," Kaito hurriedly explained. "I didn't know what was going on, but I didn't dare leave! Not when there others there who might find my treasure before I did!"

Chuckling at this, Tamoa shook her head before returning her gaze to the group. "Father hardly ever left that place," she explained, shaking her head as memories flowed before her eyes. "He never once lost hope of finding treasure, so that we would have a better home, and better food."

"Well, you sure got better food, alright!" Hachi decreed as he gobbled up his dinner. "This is some great stuff!"

"I'm glad you like it, my friend," Tamoa told him earnestly. "And don't be hesitant to ask for seconds! We have plenty to offer here!"

While Hachi was grinning happily at this declaration, Sango focused on Kaito and asked, "Well, that explains why we didn't find you afterwards. I guess that's probably how Kagura slipped out of there as well."

Kaito nodded in response. "Anyway, when all the rumbling was done and you two had left, I started looking around, to see what had happened." The old man grinned excitedly before declaring, "And - and...I couldn't believe it! A whole new set of tunnels opened up just past where you'd been fighting that lady, and…inside of them was...gold!" That moment seemed to return to him, practically sending him leaping to his feet. "There was gold everywhere! Everywhere!"

Rolling her eyes at Kaito's happiness, Azusa have a disdainful sniff and muttered, "All that fuss over soft, yellow metal. You humans are crazy!"

"Azusa…!" Koga growled warningly, to which the she-wolf gave an arrogant toss of her head. Giving a low growl, the alpha wolf then looked at Kaito and his family. "Look, I…I really don’t understand the value of gold and stuff, either, but…anyway, I’m sorry about Azusa. She’s been a real pain lately!"

"Takes one to know one, you traitor!" Azusa snarled, fury inscribed across her features.

"Don’t worry about it, young man," Tamoa said, waving their concerns aside. "After all, we’ve done our fair share of apologizing for our children."

Azusa’s eyes went wide at this, but before she could say anything, Kaito once again started telling his story. "Anyway, after those new tunnels opened up, I was tempted to go running home, to tell of the bounty I had found for them." Then he shot Michiru a secretive glance and added, "However…I was afraid if anyone else found out about, I’d have robbers and bandits all over the place!"

"And you’d have been right!" InuYasha growled with deep disdain. "Trust me, I’ve seen all kinds of filth out there."

"As have we all," Miroku agreed sagely before once again looking at Kaito. "Still, it must have taken some time to excavate sufficient amounts of gold on your own."

Kaito nodded almost sorrowfully at this. "For months, I chipped away at those caves, digging out more and more gold…before I finally felt I had enough to bring home to my children," the old man stated, looking as if he still bore the weight of all those months on his shoulders. "And…after I brought back my treasure, many others did come."

"Father, please," Shunsuke spoke soothingly before returning his eyes to their guests. "Little gold remains in the caves, but as you can see, father was able to claim more than enough for us to build our future."

"Yes, but…I’d never have been able to do it if you hadn’t cleared the path to it." Kaito explained with clear gratitude. "And - and if you hadn't have kept my secret, then I never would have had chance to dig up as much as I did!" Smiling in delight at the home that he now enjoyed, he sighed and added, "Anyway, I kept hoping that you would return to Tsuzumi Village, just so that I could thank you properly."

"Wow…" Michiru gaped, even as Sango smiled at him. As the boy blushed, he averted his eyes shyly.

"Speaking of gratitude…what brings you here, anyway?" Shunsuke asked. "Densuke mentioned you having some sort of problem, but…"

"Yes. I’m afraid we have a very serious problem," Miroku started, before settling into a careful explanation of the alliance, and the problems confronting it.

"We don’t have much, but we were hoping to find a way to trade for what we need," Jiro concluded, almost looking shamed for being in that position. "Anyway, Densuke mentioned that...you might be able to help us with that."

"Hmm, I see," Shunsuke muttered, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "You certainly have some weighty problems, my friends."

"Look, trust me, if we could have thought of any other way to get what we needed while honoring our alliance…we would have," Koga stated with a warning look at Azusa. "But…my people are at stake, and so are the Demon Slayers. So…if there's any way you can help us, then..."

"I understand," Shunsuke smiled cordially before turning to Densuke. "And you were right. I think that there is a way that we can help your friends."

"That's right," Tamoa agreed. "You see, as Shunsuke already told you, much of the gold has been taken from the caves. However, from what we can tell, there's still a fair amount in those tunnels. Perhaps even enough for you to buy what you need with."

"What? Really?!" Shippo squealed in delight. "That’s great!"

"But…if there is still gold in the caves, then why hasn’t anyone dug it out yet?" Hachi asked, confusion in his furry face.

"The part of the caves where the remaining gold is has become unstable. Any further digging there could cause a collapse," Shunsuke admitted, even as the hearts of the group sank. "However, Densuke says that you are people with uncommon powers. Perhaps you can find a way to get what you need."

"You better believe we can do it!" InuYasha decreed, giving the table a thump for emphasis. Then he glanced over at the Kururugi twins and added, "Ain't that right, you two?"

Meeting his friend's confident gaze with a stupefied stare, Michiru gasped out, "Huh?!"

"Yeah! I mean, you two have already done some pretty incredible things with your Shikigami!" Shippo chimed in eagerly. "This should be a piece of cake!"

The old line about choking on cake flashing through his mind, Michiru looked about at his friends, trying to find words to protest...and found himself looking into Sango's eyes. "Please, Michiru, Kaname...I know we're asking a lot from you, but...this could be the only chance Daisuke and the others have," the Demon Slayer pleaded, her eyes almost seeming to tear up. "Please, there has to be something you can do."

"Besides, I heard about those new Shikigami that you both woke up!" Koga pointed out. "Now, I've seen what a Shikigami User can do! So don't tell me there's no way you can get that gold for us!"

Looking between Sango and Koga, wondering if they were somehow consciously playing 'good cop, bad cop', Michiru looked at Kaname, who gave him a heartening nod. "C'mon, bro! We can do this!" his sister told him. Then she glanced at the others and explained, "The new Shikigami we woke up? Well, Michiru got his Earth Shikigami, and I got the Metal one!"

"Earth?! Metal?!" Kagome repeated with growing excitement. "Why...that's perfect! Then Michiru can keep the caves stable while you get the gold out!"

"Well...theoretically, yeah," Michiru replied, his own experience making him a bit more cautious. "But without the right spells, those Shikigami aren't any good. I'd have to look through my dad's book for the right spells, and then we'd have to practice a bit before we could actually try it."

"Well, then fine! Practice!" InuYasha declared, apparently oblivious to Michiru's concerns. "It's not like we're asking you to do it this second!"

Nodding to this, Kagome added, "Right. You can spend tonight doing research and all that, and then tomorrow you two can practice before going for the gold!"

His mouth hanging open in the face of this deadline, Michiru was giving serious consideration to protesting when again Sango looked him in the face. "It's okay, Michiru," she assured him, speaking in such a dulcet tone that his heart skipped a beat at it. "I know you two can do it. I know it." Blinking rapidly at this, the Kururugi boy again opened his mouth to speak when the Demon Slayer turned to their hosts. "And Shunsuke, Tamoa, Kaito. Thank you for your generosity."

"There’s nothing generous about it," Tamoa explained with a sad smile. "We can’t get the gold, and in truth, we already have plenty of wealth. More than we or are our children could ever spend. And even if we wanted the rest, we can’t get it, anyway." Then she nodded at Michiru and Kaname and added, "And if you can retrieve it…it only seems fair that you have it."

There was silence for a time. Eventually, Koga stood, and looked at their hosts. "I…thank you. This means more to me…to us…than you could ever imagine."

"Gee, why don’t you lick their boots while you’re at it?" Azusa sniped nastily.

"Keep it up, bitch…!" InuYasha growled irritably, clenching his fist. Azusa simply stuck her tongue out at him before looking away.

"In the meantime, please, stay the night with us. We have lots of room," Shunsuke insisted. "And if you like, we could look around, ask if there are any jobs that you can do around town."

"Jobs?" Miroku repeated with a strange look.

"Well, certainly," Tamoa explained with a smile of her own. "As you said, you need as much money as you can to trade with. And until we know how much gold your friends can get, it'd be best not to take any chances."

Nodding, Kagome answered, "Good thinking, Tamoa. Besides, even if we do get enough gold, we can always use some more traveling money. Isn't that right, boys?"

As Kagome turned her eyes on InuYasha, Koga, and Miroku, Michiru couldn't help but chuckle beneath his breath. I'm starting to think that I got the easy job, he commented inwardly. Aloud, he asked, "Well, in that case, would you mind showing us to our room? I get the feeling that I've got a long night ahead of me."

"Man, you look terrible!" Koga decreed as he studied Michiru the next day. "What, didn't you get any sleep at all?!"

"Not really, no," Michiru admitted, suppressing a small yawn as Koga and Shunsuke led him and Kaname towards the outskirts of the village. "We spent the half the night looking through dad's book of spells, trying to find the right ones to go with our new Shikigami!"

"That's for sure," Kaname agreed blearily. "It's a good thing we decided to share a room, bro. Otherwise, you'd have been up the whole night."

Frowning as he studied the wearied twins, Shunsuke told them, "You know, you don't have to do this right now. Maybe it would be better if you went back and got some rest, and maybe practiced a bit more before making the attempt."

Shaking his head wearily, Michiru returned, "I wish I could, Shunsuke. But I promised Kagome that I would at least check out the situation at the mines, and see how bad it was in there. And I really don't want to go back without doing that much."

Chuckling at this, Koga commented, "Yeah, that's my girl, alright! When she speaks, people listen!"

"People were sure listening to her this morning," Kaname remarked with a roll of her eyes. "I've never seen her so...fired up."

"That's one way of putting it," Shunsuke commented with a wry shake of his head. "I never thought I'd live to see the day when a human was bossing a demon around like that! And the way she smashed his face into the floor like that..."

"Eh, trust me, the mutt had it coming," Koga assured him. "Lazing around like that when he was supposed to be on the job..."

"I'm still a bit surprised that Densuke was able to find work for the others that quickly," Kaname commented.

"Don't be. After all, Densuke does have a great deal of responsibility in this village. He helps manage the repair of buildings, as well as important events like the Drum Festival," Shunsuke explained as he guided them to the caves. "And with all the work that needs to be done in the village, the construction going on here, there's plenty of jobs in need of being filled. And then there's the roads leading to the west. They were buried in a landslide some time ago, and much of the rubble remains."

"Wow," Michiru frowned, recalling that mess from the first time he had come to Tsuzumi Village. "I knew that was a mess, but…I never thought it would take that long to clear up."

"I know what you mean, but every time we clear away some of the rubble, more comes sliding down," Shunsuke agreed. "It truly is a mess!"

Nodding to this, Michiru cocked his head and said, "Maybe later on, I can help out with that. I mean, with everything you've done for us..."

"That would be greatly appreciated," Shunsuke told them as they continued forward. "But right now, let's keep focused on the job at hand."

Nodding to this, Michiru and the others kept going forward, rounding the steep mountainside near the village, following the path that led to the caves. As they did so, the Kururugi boy thought back to the first time he had been there, of his earlier encounters with Kohaku, as well as his discovery of the path that led to the cave itself. He thought of his first encounter with Kaito, as well as his near-disastrous confrontation with Kohaku and Kagura.

As he drifted back over these memories, Michiru was snapped back to the moment when Koga asked, "Hey, you ain't falling asleep on your feet, now are you?"

"Huh? Oh, no, Koga," Michiru replied, giving his head a quick shake to clear it of any cobwebs. "Just...remembering. That's all."

Koga looked as if he was about to say something to this, but before he could, Shunsuke announced, "Well, there it is." Looking up and following the villager's outstretched finger, Michiru saw that they had arrived at the cave's opening. "This cave used to be home to quite a few minor demons, but when people came to start mining here, they hired several monks and priests to exorcise this place."

"Good," Michiru nodded. "I mean...no offense, Koga. But getting the gold could be tricky."

"Right. And the last thing we need is some demons making things even more difficult," Koga readily agreed. "Well, lead the way, Shunsuke."

Nodding, Shunsuke entered the cave, and as the group followed, they found themselves plunged into darkness. Not complete darkness, but complete enough to hinder them as their eyes adjusted. And when they had, Michiru quickly saw that the cave's interior had changed as drastically as Tsuzumi Village. Everywhere he looked, he saw crushed rock and damaged digging equipment, as well as other bits and scraps of garbage.

"Whew! Those miners sure made a mess of this place!" Koga commented, his carapace flashing a bit more brightly. "So, uh...you two sense anything yet?"

Narrowing his eyes in concentration, Michiru opened his mind to the power of his Earth Shikigami. "Yeah. Shunsuke wasn't kidding. The caves ahead of here are very unstable. With all the digging that’s been done, it won't take much more to cause them to collapse." Opening his eyes, he looked back at his companions. "We're fine here, but..."

Nodding to his, Shunsuke asked, "Is there anything you can do about it?"

"Maybe," Michiru responded before looking to his sister. "Kaname, can you sense any gold nearby?"

"Hmmm…yes. At least, I think it's gold," Kaname reported, pointing at one of the caves. "I'm sensing soft metal over there. And it feels like a lot of it!"

"Okay. Then let's go," Michiru decided, gesturing for the others to follow him. "Just be very careful. I'm not sure how much more punishment those saves can take." The rest of the group nodded to this, and as one, they slowly, carefully made their way forward.

"You know, I still don’t get it," Koga grumbled as they continued towards the heavily mined cave. "Why is gold so important to humans, anyway? It’s so soft, and it makes lousy weapons!"

"Maybe, but in ancient Egypt and other cultures, gold was used extensively for sculptures, and magic statues, and things like that," Michiru explained in a quiet voice. "At least, that’s what I heard in my history lessons."

"From this school you and your sister attend?" Shunsuke asked.

Nodding, Michiru continued, "I’ve also heard of special golden weapons being used to counter the undead."

"Really?" Koga started, raising an eyebrow at this. "Well, I guess that would be useful."

"Besides, it useful for negotiating for trade, which is exactly what you need right now," Shunsuke finished as they arrived at the cave in question. "And speaking of which..."

Letting out a low whistle, Michiru surveyed the cave ahead of them. Even without the senses granted him by his Shikigami, he could tell that it was in bad shape. But at the same time, he could see that Kaito and the others had been right; even in the gloom of the cave, he could make out streaks of gold marking the stone walls. "Kaname? Can you tell how much gold is in there?"

"I…it looks like a lot," Kaname answered, raising her hand up to the golden streaks in the rock. "I think I can get it all out, but I’ll need some time."

"Do you think you can keep this cavern from falling apart long enough to do it?" Koga wondered.

Pausing to open his mind to his Shikigami once again, Michiru frowned before finally nodding. "Yeah, I think so. But we'll have to take a few precautions first." Sucking in a deep breath, he summoned the power within him, a pentagram spinning into existence at his feet. "Oh, towering green wood, send forth your steely embrace! Green Wood Snare!!" With this invocation, the snake that was his Wood Shikigami appeared, then descended into the ground. Several moments passed, and the numerous vines appeared from the ground and creeped up the walls. across the wall. The vines grew and multiplied, soon covering the walls.

"Amazing," Shunsuke breathed as the vines spread over every visible surface. "My father was right when he said you had uncommon powers."

"Maybe, but this won't hold this cave together long once we start removing the gold," Michiru warned, frowning at the cave walls. "Shunsuke, I think you should leave. If a cave-in does happen while we’re mining, we can protect ourselves, but…you might get hurt in the process."

The older man frowned at this, but soon nodded. "Very well. Just be sure that you return safely."

"Hey, don’t you worry about us," Koga said, placing his hands to his hips as a bold look appeared on his face. "You just take care of yourself, okay?"

"Alright," Shunsuke finally answered, and soon turned to depart.

"Let’s give him a few minutes to get out of here before we start digging out the gold," Michiru suggested, to which the others readily agreed.

"So...you sure up to this?" Koga wondered, pausing to study the twins. "Don't you want to...I don't know, take a nap or something?"

Kaname quickly shook her head to this. "I'd rather just get this over and done with," she admitted before shooting her brother an embarrassed smile. "Besides, I'll just get more nervous if we put it off."

Nodding, Michiru added, "Besides, the longer we take to do this, the madder Kagome will be with us when we finally get back. And to be honest, I'm more scared of her than this cave."

Chuckling beneath his breath at this, Koga nodded. "She does have that effect on people," he admitted with a grin. "So…how are you two gonna do this?"

"Hmm…Kaname? Why don’t we use our Grieving Flame to melt the gold while it’s still in the cave walls?" Michiru suggested after a moment's consideration. "That will make it easier for you to get it out."

"And while I’m doing that, you can keep the roof from coming down on our heads," Kaname noted with an impish smile.

"That sounds good to me. Although…" Michiru then paused, and looked warily at the stone roof above him. "I think you got the easy job!"

"Well, then next time, you get the Metal Shikigami!" Kaname teased before turning towards the gold-streaked rock. "Ready?"

Nodding, Michiru wore an expression of determination. "Let’s do this," he declared before stretching out his hand towards the rock. Then, as one, the two of them invoked, "Oh, flame burning bright, change form at my call! Grieving Flame!" With that, the lions that were their Fire Shikigami appeared, sending forth waves of fire that suffused the stone wall, instantly melting the gold.

"Now it’s my turn! Oh, shimmering metal, gather together in your purist form! Gathering of Metal!!" Kaname invoked, causing a pentagram to appear at her feet. From it came a steel-grey turtle, which then shot into the wall. Then the molten gold lodged in the stone walls began to seep out, floating about in the air in form of yellow globules. The shapeless drops moved towards Kaname, where they started merging together into an orb of gold, which quickly grew.

"How much longer, Kaname?" Michiru asked, keeping a careful eye on the wall before them.

"It’s going to take a few minutes," the female Kururugi admitted. "There’s a lot more here than what you can see. Why?"

"Because the wall’s already losing stability," Michiru admitted grimly. Even as he spoke, the wall crumbled somewhat, causing eyes to fall on it nervously. "I’m not sure if we even have a few minutes!"

"Can you reinforce it?" Koga asked.

"For a while? Probably. I just hope it’s long enough!" Michiru answered before invoking his new Shikigami. "Oh, hard, unyielding stone, hear my commands! Shifting Stone!" With this, an earth-red bull sprang into existence before entering the rocks around them. The instant that happened, the walls stopped crumbling, the minute fissures stabilizing.

"Now all I have to do is hold it," Michiru gritted, the mounting strain already showing in his voice. "Kaname! How much longer?!"

"Not long! I’m almost to the core of the gold!" Kaname reported. Indeed, she had already gathered up enough gold to mass the size of a grapefruit, and the sphere was still growing. "Just a little more…!"

"Koga! Grab the gold as soon as we’re done!" Michiru warned, casting a worried look at the ceiling. "We won’t have much time to get out of here when my spell gives out!"

"Right!" the wolf-demon responded, moving closer to the golden orb. "Just give the word, and we’re outta here!"

"Just a little longer…" Kaname told them, even as the tremors grew more intense. "I’ve…almost…there!!"

"Holy…!" Michiru gaped, for a truly massive globule of gold oozed its way free of the stone, resulting in a sphere of gold the size of beach ball. As the gold solidified, the tremors became ten times more intense, despite the holding magic. "That’s done it! Let’s get out of here!!"

"You don’t have to tell me twice!" Koga snarled as he grabbed the metallic sphere, grunting with effort as he dashed out of the caves, leaving a tornado in his wake.

"Let’s go, Kaname! Protective Light!" Michiru cried out, his Light Shikigami enveloping him in a magical shield as he broke into a run.

"Right!" Kaname agreed, following her brother’s example as she also invoked her Light Shikigami. Guarded by shields of light, the twins ran ahead at full speed, spared grievous injury even as rocks and debris fell down all around them.

"Michiru!" Kaname cried out, pointing ahead as the mouth to the tunnel slowly filled up.

"On it! Oh, overflowing blue sky, sheathe us in the driving wind! Swift Blue Sky!" With this invocation, the twins were wrapped in a magical wind, which propelled them even faster than before. Between the speed of the hurricane winds and their Protective Lights, the Kururugis slammed out of the tunnel before it could finish filling up.

Carried on by the wind, Michiru and Kaname soon popped out of the caves, and were bathed in sunlight, even as their spells dissipated. "You’re alright!" Shunsuke cried out upon seeing them, relief apparent upon his face.

"Heh. I told you they’d be okay!" Koga chided with good humor.

"You weren’t kidding about those tunnels being unstable, Shunsuke," Michiru commented, even as he tried to catch his breath. "I’m afraid nobody’s going to be going back down them any time soon. If ever."

"I’m just glad that you all made it out, and all in one piece," Shunsuke responded with a delicate smile, just before he turned to look at Koga. "And it would appear you were far more successful in your mission than I would have anticipated."

"Sure looks like it," Koga nodded, before holding up the massive golden orb for them to see. "So…you think this will pay for some of those supplies?"

The three humans just stared at the wolf-demon with a hint of disbelief. "Um…yeah. Yeah, I think there’s a good chance of that, Koga," Kaname answered, a drop of sweat rolling down her face. "A really good chance."

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