Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Troubled Waters

As Michiru and Kaname sat in Kaito’s home that night, they were surrounded by food, friends, and cheers of praise sufficient to leave both of the twins blushing furiously.

"Here’s to both Michiru and Kaname," Jiro spoke, holding up a cup filled with an amber brew to the air. The Demon Slayer was all smiles as he gestured towards the twins. "Thanks to their actions, our alliance may now be truly secure!"

"To Michiru and Kaname!" came several more voices, followed by the sound of glasses being clinked together, prompting the Kururugis to blush that much more.

"Oh, c’mon, everyone…!" Kaname got out, smiling nervously as she looked about at the various smiling faces.

"Yeah. I mean, it’s not that big a deal…!" Michiru protested, running his hand through his hair as he spoke.

"Hey, don’t be so modest, Michiru!" InuYasha grinned as he took a chug of his drink. "You two did great out there!"

"They certainly did!" Tamoa concurred as she looked towards Koga. "When I saw you lugging that huge ball of gold back here, I thought I was dreaming!"

"Trust me when I say that was no dream!" Koga remarked with a roll of his eyes. "And damn, that dumb ball sure was heavy! I just hope it was worth the trouble we went through!"

Kagome laughed at this, remarking, "Don't worry, Koga. I'm pretty sure that dumb ball is going to go a long way to making our problems disappear." Then she glanced over at the Kururugi twins and added, "And we all owe you two a big one for getting it for us!"

As the twins smiled shyly in the face of all the attention they were getting, Kaito frowned somewhat as he looked around. "Say…whatever became of that young wolf lady who was with you? Now, what was her name again…?"

"Oh, Azusa?" Koga asked, to which the old man nodded. The wolf-demon shrugged in way of answer. "Beats me. I haven’t seen her around lately."

"Feh. That nasty little bitch of a wolf took off and started sulking the second she heard that we’d gotten the gold!" InuYasha growled, closing his eyes as his face creased with contempt. "Betcha she was disappointed that she didn’t have an excuse for the wolf-demons to go raiding every human village in sight!"

"Yeah, that sounds about right for her," Koga agreed, shaking his head wearily. Letting out a low growl, the wolf-demon thumped his fist on the table. "Grr…what made Ayame think this was a good idea, anyway…?!"

"Oh, c’mon, Koga," Kagome spoke up, smiling for his benefit. "At least she’s not as bad as Toma was!"

"I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Kagome," Koga responded with ill humor. "That bastard may have made me sick, but at least I could actually get a word in edgewise with him! But Azusa…!"

"Hey, enough of that redheaded bitch! I’m trying to eat here!" InuYasha grumbled, frowning as he picked up a pork bun. "Just thinking about her is enough to ruin my appetite!"

"Heh. Same here," Koga admitted as helped himself to a pork bun as well.

While Kagome and a few of the others were silently frightened at just how regularly InuYasha and Koga had been in agreement as of late, Miroku wore a more serious expression. "Let’s not forget that our problems aren't done just yet," the monk reminded them in a somber fashion. "Yes, we were able to secure a good deal of gold, but we still have to purchase the food and medical supplies needed, as well as arrange for it to be transported back to the mountains. And that will take some time."

"Actually, that might not be as difficult as you may think," Shunsuke commented. As several eyes swung towards him, their new friend smiled in a fatherly manner. "Many traders and merchants come passing through Tsuzumi Village these days, and we’ve made quite a few connections in our newfound prosperity. And with all the work being done around here, there is a fair amount of food to be purchased right here. It might take a couple days, but it will be done."

"That’s a relief," Jiro smiled easily. "Maybe this will help convince people that this alliance can work."

"You won’t be convincing Azusa of that," Shippo grumbled. "My ears still hurt from all her whining!"

"Hey, I just said enough about that stuck-up brat already!" InuYasha growled, raising his fist in warning.

"Besides, there’re other things to be thinking about right now!" Kagome noted with a smiled as she leaned over the table. "Since it’ll take a couple days to purchase the supplies, why don’t we spend some time around town and do some exploring. It looks like there’s a lot going on right now!"

"Oh, indeed, there is," Tamoa smiled readily, even as she picked up the emptied dishes. "While there’s no official festival going on, everyone has been in high spirits because of the village’s newfound prosperity. Many new shops have opened up, and some of the villager’s have made an impromptu celebration out of everything that’s going on."

"That’s right. I haven’t seen so much excitement since the last Drum Festival," Densuke noted with weary enthusiasm. "Though I must admit, keeping up with all the construction and trying to keep everything under control is a tiring affair!"

"I know what you mean," Sango mused. "When I was a little girl, keeping the fort in good repair kept us busy. I remember…my father…"

As Sango faltered, Michiru looked at her with eyes filled with sympathy. Oh, Sango…you act tough most of the time, so…I guess it’s easy to forget how much you’re hurting beneath it all, he thought, knowing that she must have been thinking of her own lost home, her family, and Kohaku. His lips tightening at the thought, Michiru placed a comforting hand upon her shoulder.

As Sango responded with a slight smile, Michiru felt his own spirits lifting. "Anyway, at least we'll be able to keep busy while we're waiting for you to finish negotiating for the supplies. What with everything that's going on, and those jobs you found for us."

"Good point," Sango agreed. "Anyway, we can also do some training, keep in practice."

"Yeah!" Kaname enthused. "I know I can use some more practice with my new Shikigami! And maybe we can use our magic to help with the construction!"

Frowning somewhat, Koga sat back and glanced about at the others. "Well...I dunno. I mean..."

"Oh, c’mon, Koga! I think it’s a great idea!" Kagome noted. "Besides, I think it would be a great idea to have people seeing demons helping them. I’m sure it would go a long way to helping the alliance’s image."

Koga frowned, and seemed to be giving the matter some thought. "Well...maybe," he finally conceded. "But...I'm not used to...you know...building stuff or any of that."

As Kagome looked at the warring emotions on Koga’s faced, she almost laughed. She had some familiarity with the way wolf-demons in general did things, and Koga in particular. She also knew how to get macho demons off their butts and basically doing what she wanted. "Relax, Koga! I’m sure a big, tough demon like you will find some way to help out!"

Blinking a few times at this, Koga reacted to her words as Kagome knew he would. "Uh, right! Sure!" Koga responded, putting all the bluster he could manage into his words. The crystalline shell that now adorned his body seemed to shine that much brighter with his words. "I mean, I never said that I wouldn't! I just...well, you know..."

"Yeah, right!" InuYasha sneered. "I bet you don’t even know how to chop wood, you scrawny wolf!"

"Oh, yeah?!" Koga jumped, looking down upon the half-demon with heavy scorn. "And I suppose you think you could do better, little mutt?!"

"Count on it!" InuYasha snarled as he got to his own feet. Sparks shot between their eyes as they growled and locked gazes.

"Hey, knock it off, you two!" Kagome interjected, not even bothering to stand as she looked from one demon to the next. "Anyway, if you two really want to show how helpful you can, be why don’t you two try doing something other than fighting each other?"

"Jeez! Those two are such hopeless boneheads!" Shippo grumbled in an offhand tone.

"Shippo! That wasn’t a very nice thing to say!" Kaname said in a reproachful manner. While the little fox-demon looked at the girl in surprise, the Kururugi turned her gaze towards InuYasha. "Anyway, I’m sure the people would appreciate your help."

"Huh? Oh, right," InuYasha responded.

A mocking comment was getting ready to leap from Koga’s throat when Kagome cleared her throat. "That’s right," the reborn priestess agreed. "So let's take it easy tonight, and then tomorrow we can all get a fresh start in the morning."

Neither of the canine demons looked particularly happy with simply leaving matters as they were, but the two of them just looked at Kagome’s face, saw the soft yet resolute expression she wore. Deciding that they really weren’t in the mood to risk her ire, InuYasha and Koga simply turned about so that their backs were facing each other.

"Fine!" InuYasha grumbled with his arms folded across his chest.

"Whatever!" Koga retorted, hands at his hips.

Knowing that the yet another ceasefire had been declared between the two of them, the rest of the group gave each other assorted looks. "Perhaps we should all turn in for the night," Sango noted as she got to her feet, smiling as Kirara stretched out her forepaws and yawned in her tiny voice. "If we’re going to be helping the villagers here, then we will all need our rest."

Nodding to this, Michiru watched the Demon Slayer start away from the table. "So, uh...Sango," he started as he stood as well. "You got any ideas what you're going to be doing tomorrow?"

"What I'll be doing?" Sango replied with a raised eyebrow. "Well, the same as the rest of you, of course. Helping the people here."

"Well, yeah, I know that, but..." Michiru fumbled as he came up alongside of her. "I was thinking that...you know, with everything that's been going on, that maybe we could...you know, take a little time off after work tomorrow."

"Hmm...that sounds like a good idea," Sango admitted after a moment's thought. "I guess we have been working pretty hard lately, haven't we?"

"Indeed, we have," came Miroku's voice from behind them. "But while I agree that we could use some time off, now is not the time for such thoughts." Turning back towards the monk, Michiru's eyes widened when he saw the intense expression on his face. "Right now, the only thing we should be thinking about is making sure that the alliance between the Demon Slayers and the wolf-demons survives." Then his expression softened just the slightest bit before he glanced at Sango and asked, "Wouldn't you agree?"

A beat passed before Sango heaved a tired sigh. "Of course. You're right, Miroku," she admitted, lowering her eyes before giving Michiru a sad smile. "Maybe...some other time?"

"Huh? Oh, right," Michiru sputtered out as Miroku slid between the two of them. "Of...course."

"In the meantime, Michiru, I think it would be best if you turned in for the night," Miroku suggested in a pointed voice as he and Sango started away. "I also think that you would be best served to keep focused on the task at hand. We don't have any time to waste right now, in case you've forgotten."

Michiru opened his mouth to respond, to say that he hadn't forgotten the situation in the slightest. But even as he tried to find the right words, his tongue fell flat in his mouth as he watched Miroku escort Sango up the stairs. And when they had disappeared, his head slumped forward as twin slabs of guilt fell down up his shoulders...

The next morning came early, with the sun peeking over the mountains towering over the village and shining its rays upon the growing settlement. And after a quick breakfast, the various humans and demons set about their day.

"Wow! Things sure have changed around here!" Kagome marveled as she and Kaname moved about the various stores that had popped up since Tsuzumi Village had begun its new era of prosperity. "I can’t believe how much stuff they have here."

"Yeah," Kaname agreed. "Michiru told me that this used to be such a quiet place, but…"

"It sure was," Kagome informed her. "Still, I’m not complaining. I haven’t seen bargains like these since the last time I was at the mall."

Kaname couldn’t help but agree. The part of the village was like one of the strip malls back in their own world, and between the two of them and some of the money they had procured in their activities, both girls had acquired several new kimonos and other forms of period clothing. "Still…are you sure you should be waving that video camera around so much!"

Kagome laughed somewhat nervously at this, even as she held up the recording device in question. "Yeah, well…you remember my little deal with Wyvern, right? The more footage of the Feudal Era he gets, the more food and medicine we get."

"Not to mention the more money you make," Kaname pointed out.

"True," Kagome admitted with a rueful laugh. "So, are you up for another round of shopping?"

Giving a slow shake of her head, Kaname smiled. "I’m sorry, but I promised Densuke that I’d help with that new building on the far side of town. They’re having some trouble with the roofing, and I figure with my Wood Shikigami…"

"I understand," Kagome answered. "Still, you don’t have to push yourself so hard."

"Maybe, but I have to get better at this. Remember what happened when the Ice Shikgami awoke?" Kaname asked needlessly. "Besides, I don’t want to slow any of you down."

At these words, Kagome raised her eyes skyward. Just how many times is she going to remind she’s Michiru’s twin, anyway? she wondered, recalling all the times Michiru had spoken those words.

Giving a quiet sigh, Kagome gave the Kururugi girl a quick look. "Okay, fine. Just don’t push yourself, okay?"

"Okay!" Kaname responded, just before she looked at the bundle of clothes she still carried. "Oh…but I better stop at Kaito’s place first. Don’t want this stuff to get dirty."

"Right," Kagome agreed, watching as Kaname took off. Completely unaware that she was being watched by someone else.

"Dammit…I still can’t believe this is happening…" Azusa growled. Perched in the tops of a tree, she had been watching in disgust as the people of the village went about their daily routines. "Wasting all of this time, catering to humans…how did Koga wind up such a weakling, anyway?!"

As Azusa continued to sit in her perch, all she could think of how obviously superior wolf-demons were to the other tribes of demons in general and humans in particular. In fact, humans were the lowest of the low, being good for nothing more than meat for demons such as herself. The fact that some had spiritual or magical powers really didn’t matter. Humans weren’t allies, not friends, not even pets.

They were food. Nothing more, nothing less.

"And Koga actually wants these things to live us?! Wants one of them as his mate instead of Ayame?!" Azusa grumbled, unable to accept the horror of the situation.

Catering to humans when we should just kill them all and take what we need…Koga’s going to turn us all into a bunch of spineless weaklings at this rate! Azusa fumed, watching all the nice, tender meat passing about beneath her, doing nothing but waiting to be torn apart and eaten. Just thinking about it is making me hungry!

Grimacing even more as her stomach gave various grumbles of hunger, Azusa continued to look about…only to see something that riveted her attention. Several humans were passing out of the village, carting up about various objects and holding strange metal tubes. Several of them were firm and meaty, and looked to be just perfect…

Licking her lips, Azusa watched intently as the merchants continued on their way. Of course, if high-and-mighty Koga ever found out about this… the redheaded she-wolf thought unhappily. Still, she continued to watch the merchants, listening to her stomach as it continued to growl. She thought about how low her people were sinking, and what a coward Koga had clearly become, choosing to make peace with humans just because of a few that were supposed to be so special.

Then again…it’s not like that human’s pet will ever find out, anyway! Azusa rationalized before leaping from her perch. All I have to do is follow them for a little while…and then they’re all mine!

"Thanks for helping carry all the wood back from the forest, InuYasha," Densuke told the half-demon as they made their way through Tsuzumi Village. "I must say, you certainly are much stronger than you look. If I hadn't seen you carrying those logs own your own like that..."

"Hey, no prob!" InuYasha grinned easily. "Besides, it's not like I can just stand around, doing nothing! I ain't letting that scrawny wolf Koga take all the credit!" When Densuke just chuckled to this, the half-demon asked, "So, you're sure that Michiru's working on one of the buildings here?"

Densuke nodded and answered, "He should be. This is where I left him earlier. You see, the building's foundation needed some work, and given the effectiveness of his Earth Shikigami in keeping the cave from collapsing, I thought he would be the best person to work there." Then the villager frowned slightly and asked, "But...why are you in such a hurry to see him?"

Making a thoughtful sound in his throat, InuYasha grinned that much more and replied, "Eh, it's nothing. I was just getting hungry, and figured that maybe he could use a break as well." Then he gave a mild snort and added, "Besides...while I was lugging all that wood around, I spotted something that I thought he'd be interested in hearing about." Densuke made a puzzled sound at this, prompting the half-demon to look away. "It's not a big deal or anything, but..."

"I see," Densuke replied with an understanding smile. "Well, anyway, we're almost there now. See that building over there?" As the villager pointed towards a building under construction, little more than a framework of wooden logs. "That's where I left him. But as for whether or not he's still there..."

"He is," InuYasha confirmed as he sniffed the air. "Whew! And has he been working up a sweat!"

"I don't doubt it," Densuke casually remarked. "Well, if you don't need any more help, I really should be going. There are three more building projects I have to check before I can take a break, and then I have to get back to helping secure those supplies you need."

"Sure, you go ahead," InuYasha assured the villager with an understanding grin. "Trust me, with the aroma Michiru's putting off, just about anybody could find him!" Chuckling at this, Densuke politely bowed his head before departing. Leaving the half-demon to make his way towards the building his friend was working on.

Ignoring the constant clattering of hammers and other tools pounding away, InuYasha walked up to the building, which seemed to hum with activity. Everywhere he looked, there were figures bent down, just barely visible as they toiled away. "Michiru?" the half-demon called out as he looked about, trying to determine which of the figures was his friend. "Hey, Michiru, can you hear me?"

"Hey, InuYasha!" came Michiru's voice in return. Looking about, the half-demon spotted his friend standing nearby, several small logs slung over his shoulder. "What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you, what's it look like?" InuYasha retorted in a mock-cross fashion. Glancing up at the building, he asked, "So, how's it going here?"

"Pretty good, actually," Michiru replied as he started towards the corner of the building. "I was able to use my Earth Shikigami to fuse those stones over there to together for the foundation. They should be solid enough to support the building once it's complete."

"I don't doubt that," InuYasha grinned as he glanced down at foundation. The stones had been merged into an almost seamless whole, and looked to be as solid as bedrock. "Anyway, I was just thinking that, after all of this, you might be getting hungry, and..."

"You want to break for lunch?" Michiru asked, his voice coming from a different direction. Starting at this, InuYasha turned and looked towards the interior of the structure. To his surprise, his friend was standing there, a hammer in one hand.

"Hey, how did you -?" InuYasha started before glancing towards where Michiru had been when he had seen him carrying the logs. When he saw no one there, he started to turn back, muttering, "When did you -?!"

"Get over here?" Michiru asked, his voice again coming from a different direction. Looking up, InuYasha's mouth fell open when he saw his friend sitting on top of one of the support beams above.

"What the hell?!" InuYasha demanded as he stepped forward. Then he looked back towards where he had last seen his friend. To his surprise, he was still standing there, hammer in hand, and a knowing smile on his face. "Michiru...?!" he growled, rapidly losing patience. A condition that was exacerbated when the Michiru that had been carrying the logs came back into view, sporting the same smile. "Alright, Shippo! Very funny! Now cut it out!"

Michiru was heard laughing at this, and this time, his voice was coming from behind the half-demon. "Sorry, InuYasha, Shippo isn't here," the Shikigami User remarked as he spun about to face him. "But he did help me perfect this spell."

"Spell?!" InuYasha blurted, annoyance giving way to surprise. "Wait a minute! So you're saying that...you're doing this?!"

"That's right," Michiru replied, snapping his fingers. The instant he did, three loud popping sounds were, heard, followed by a clattering of objects falling to the ground. Looking about, InuYasha saw both the hammer and logs the other Michirus had been holding lying strewn before him, along with three of his cards. "While we were working at the fort, Shippo and I spent some time together, training and practicing and stuff. And while we were at it, I asked him if he could show me how he made duplicates of himself with his fox magic." Glancing at his fallen cards, the Shikigami User went on to say, "Anyway, it took a bit of work, but..."

"So you figured out to use his doppelganger spell for yourself?" InuYasha grumbled as everything clicked into place. When Michiru nodded, the half-demon folded his arms across his chest and muttered, "So, what? You decided it'd be funny to pull a joke on me like that little runt would?!"

"Wha-? No! I mean...well, I didn't mean to play a joke or anything!" Michiru hastily explained. "I just...I was practicing with it, that's all! To see how well I could control the duplicates, how many I could generate at once, that sort of thing!" As InuYasha continued to glare at, he groaned uneasily before loosening his tie. "But...well, when you came over here, I..."

"Thought it'd be funny to give me the runaround. Is that about it?" InuYasha grumbled. Watching as Michiru's cheeks burned that much more brightly, the half-demon shook his head, chuckling in his throat. "Well, if you're done trying to imitate Shippo and his stupid tricks, how about we go find a restaurant and get something to eat?"

His eyes going wide with surprise, Michiru then asked, "Wha...you mean...you're not mad at me?"

"Not right now I'm not, but if you keep pushing, I might change my mind!" InuYasha told him with a snarl that was more bark than bite. Laughing at the drop of sweat that rolled down Michiru's face at this, the half-demon added, "Besides, you’re still only human, and don’t try and tell me that using Shikigami isn’t tiring, because I know better!"

Blinking a few times, Michiru apparently decided that he wasn't in the mood to tempt fate. So instead he nodded and said, "Okay. Lead the way, then."

Snorting his approval, InuYasha started forward, with Michiru a short distance behind. Fortunately for the half-demon's stomach, it wasn't long before they found a nice, small restaurant in a quieter part of the village. Soon, the two of them were seated on two of the stools at the counter of the place, chowing down down on pork buns. "Hmm, these are pretty good," InuYasha commented around a mouthful.

"Why, thank you, sir!" the cook there beamed, before turning to look at Michiru. "And how about you, young sir?"

"Huh?" Michiru started, looking up at the man blankly. "Uh, yes?"

"Is everything satisfactory?" the cook wondered, leaning forward with an intent expression.

"Oh, yeah, sure!" Michiru replied, perking up somewhat. "Sorry. I was…just thinking, that’s all."

The cook smiled in understanding before leaving to attend his business. "Thinking, huh?" InuYasha noted as Michiru returned whatever attention he still had to his food. "Must be pretty important, seeing how you’ve only had two buns!"

"Hmm?" Michiru got out, quickly looking at their plates. True to InuYasha’s word, Michiru’s plate was almost full, while the half-demon’s plate was half a bun from being empty. Sighing as he once reminded of the disquieted status of his mind, Michiru smiled half-heartedly. "Sorry, InuYasha."

"Michiru, c’mon! This isn’t like you!" InuYasha growled, giving his friend a sideways glance. "Let me guess. It’s Sango, isn’t it?"

Another sigh escaped Michiru’s lips as he pretended to be fascinated by the texture of his cooling buns. "It’s that obvious, huh?"

"Now that’s an understatement!" InuYasha smirked with ill-humor. "Come on! You’ve been out of it since Miroku shot you down last night! And the only time you play dumb tricks like that one from before is when something's bugging you! Now what is it?!"

Several seconds of heavy silence passed before Michiru was able to speak. "I dunno, InuYasha. I guess…I was pretty stupid last night, huh?" he murmured, punctuating this statement with a weak shrug. "I mean...trying to ask Sango to..."

"To do what? Relax and maybe spend some time with you?" InuYasha replied in a derisive voice. "What's stupid with wanting to be with her, huh? Nothing that I can see!"

"Well...it's just...Miroku was right, you know," Michiru muttered somberly as he folded his arms on the counter. "The only thing that matters right now is making sure that the alliance survives. And I...shouldn't have let myself get distracted."

"Oh, please!" InuYasha grumbled, pausing to wonder how his normally sensible friend could be so stupid. "Miroku wasn't thinking about the alliance or the Demon Slayers or anything like that when he got you to back off! The only thing he was thinking about was the fact that you were getting closer to Sango than he was!"

"Maybe," Michiru conceded. "But even so, I guess I shouldn't be surprised he isn't happy about me trying to be with her. I mean...those two have a lot of history together. Don’t they?"

"If you mean that they’ve known each longer than you’ve known her, than yeah, I guess so," InuYasha muttered, feeling a mix of irritation and understanding at his friend’s behavior. On the one hand, the half-demon never had had much tolerance for the kind of hemming and hawing Michiru was now exhibiting. At the same time, however, he knew exactly what Michiru was going through possibly better than anyone. Something that he was reminded of every time he saw Kikyo.

"And…I guess they wouldn’t be the way they are if…he was a total slimeball all the time," Michiru continued, shifting about in his seat uncomfortably.

"Maybe," InuYasha grudged. "Too bad for him that the time he spends as a slimeball totally screws up everything else! Now c’mon! You love Sango, right?! Then what are you doing here, looking at food you’re not going to eat, anyway?!" Then the half-demon snorted laughingly and added, "Especially when Sango's all by herself by the lake, just sitting by some flowers?"

"Huh?" Michiru started, giving InuYasha a surprised look. "She...you saw her?"

"Sure did. Back when I was hauling wood around the village," InuYasha announced. Then the half-demon prepared to unleash the real bombshell he had for his friend. "Oh, and in case you were wondering if Miroku's keeping her company, then forget it. He's busy doing something else."

"Something else?" Michiru repeated blankly. "What, you mean helping with the construction?"

Chortling at this, InuYasha replied, "Nope! He's busy scamming the girls here!" Laughing even more at the stunned look that ellicited from Michiru, he smiled deviously and added, "Oh, yeah! He’s got a whole lineup of village girls here, just waiting to have their fortunes told! So I think we can safely say that he’s going to be busy for a while!"

"What?" Michiru responded, his surprise shifting to annoyance. "He's...doing that again?!"

"Hey, don't act so surprised! It's what he does all the time!" InuYasha elaborated, finishing off his pork bun. "So much staying focused on helping the alliance, huh? the only charity work that monk's ever been interested in doing is the kind where all the charity winds up in his pocket!" Noting the suitably outraged expression this sparked in Michiru, he reached for another pork bun and added, "So if he's allowed to take a little break every now and again, I don't see why you can't do the same thing! And since he's busy entertaining himself with the ladies...I was thinking that you could do the same? With Sango, that is? "

For a long time, Michiru sat there, his brows furrowed in consideration, as well as annoyance with a certain monk. Which didn't surprise InuYasha in the least bit; over the course of both journeys, it had become clear that the Shikigami User had a great deal of disdain for Miroku and his methods, his constant scheming and use of deceit in order to obtain the trappings of an easy living, as well as beautiful woman. During the course of his previous journey with them, Michiru had brought up complaints about this behavior many times, and eventually grown tired of mentioning such things.

"Actually…that might be a good idea," Michiru declared as he rose from his stool. "You can finish off my buns, InuYasha. I'll see you later."

"Not a problem," InuYasha smiled, watching in satisfaction as Michiru took his leave, a more confident expression on his face. The half-demon genuinely respected the Kururugi; he had come a long way since they had met, and proven himself both a good fighter and a brave friend, things that were in all too short supply in InuYasha’s life. These were traits he saw in Sango as well, and honestly thought that the two of them were good for each other.

And as for this advice resulting in Michiru leaving InuYasha the rest of his pork buns…life did have its little bonuses every now and again. And it was a shame to leave perfectly good food to go to waste.

At least this is one part of the village that hasn’t changed, Sango thought mildly as she sat on the shore of the river, watching as the water that was the lifeblood of any village flowed past. She sat with her back to the village, oblivious to the massive drum that she had once played in the last festival here and all the construction that was now going on. Oblivious to everything but the sounds of the birds chirping and the wind rustling through the flowers.

A tiny meow reminding her that she wasn’t alone, Sango looked down to see her two-tailed companion looking up at her, her feline face filled with concern. Mustering up a smile, the young woman stroked Kirara’s fur. The demon cat’s purring filled her ears, bringing a measure of peace. But not enough to free of her current anxieties.

Sighing as she looked at the lovely white blossoms surrounding her, Sango found herself drawn into the world of her memories. To times past, times that, while possessing their own difficulties, they were still fond memories to her. Times when she had a family, a place to call home. Time that she would spend with her fellow Demon Slayers, her father, and…

"Hey, Sango," came an unexpected voice, one that had the Demon Slayer’s eyes go wide. Turning about, Sango looked up and saw a welcome part of her present standing there.

"Michiru," Sango murmured, even as Kirara purred in welcome. "Wh-what are you doing here?"

"I just…thought I’d see how you were doing," Michiru responded, shrugging as he stepped closer. "I’m not disturbing you, am I?"

"Uh, no, not at all!" Sango answered, gesturing for him to come closer. "You…just surprised me, that’s all. How’d you…?"

"Know where to find you?" Michiru concluded. When Sango nodded, he rewarded with one of those caring smiles she had come to know so well. "InuYasha said he spotted you near the lake, so I figured you had to be here. There probably weren’t too many places here that you’d rather be. You know, after last time…" When Sango nodded her comprehension, he carefully sat down beside her. Smiling as Kirara moved to take up position on his lap, Michiru quickly redirected his attention to the woman that held his heart so firmly. "So…how are you doing?"

Heaving a breath that betrayed memories that were still too close to the surface, Sango returned her attention to the water. "I’m okay, I guess," she spoke with a voice that was heavy with pain. Something that wasn’t helped when both the Kururugi and the cat gave faced with expressions that were filled with concern. "I don’t know, Michiru. I guess…seeing Daisuke, and Jiro, and the other Demon Slayers…it just brought back some memories. And seeing…their fort destroyed…"

"I’m sorry," Michiru murmured as he lifted his arm about her shoulder. When Sango flinched at the contact, the Shikigami User’s face twisted with pain. "What is it? Did I…?!"

"No, no, it’s not you," Sango responded, an even deeper shame crossing her face. "I’m sorry. It’s just…a lot of bad memories. Things that I…"

"Would you…like to talk about it?" Michiru wondered nervously. When Sango lowered her head a bit more, he asked, "Sango, what is it?"

"It’s just…I was thinking about…a lot of things," Sango answered as she looked at the boy next to her. The boy who had been so free in telling her that he loved her, even when she said and did nothing in response. And who had been content to keep a polite distance, no matter the situation.

As these feelings and her situation weighed down upon her, Sango took a deep breath, and began to explain. "I was just thinking of what happened after Naraku…destroyed my home. How Miroku and the others invited me to come along with them," she told the boy. Then she curled her lips wryly in memory. "Miroku did most of the talking, of course. While he was playing with my knees."

"What?" Michiru gaped. "Sango…"

"I know, I know. It must seem pretty strange. Him…and me, and…all of that. Especially the way he acts all the time," Sango explained, reaching out to the boy that had been so open and honest with her. As Michiru slowly settled down, the Demon Slayer lowered her gaze somewhat. "Michiru…you have to understand something. I…after I lost my father and the others, and Kohaku…I was in pain for…for a long time."

"I…I understand," Michiru returned.

"No, you don’t. I don’t think you really can understand…and to be honest, I hope you never do," Sango spoke, concern wrapping about every haunted word she spoke. "Anyway, I guess it might seem hard to believe, but Miroku…he was good to me about it. And when we found…my father’s body…and those of the others…Miroku, he buried them. Prayed for their souls, and found a place where they can rest in peace."

"I see," Michiru spoke, nodding his head even he ran his hand through Kirara’s fur.

Heaving a deep breath, Sango looked into his eyes for a time, trying to find the words to express what she was feeling. "I...the reason I'm...telling you this is because...you've been so honest, upfront with me, and..." A wad of bile forming her throat, the Demon Slayer was forced to swallow before she could continue. "And me, I...I've been so...confused about so much, and...I...I just wanted you to understand. I mean...you're a wonderful person, Michiru. And you mean so much to me." A ghost of a smile appeared on Michiru's face, a smile that prompted faded when Sango continued. "But...after everything that happened, I needed someone to be there for me, and Miroku…he gave me that. He was there for me when I needed that support the most. And I…I can’t just forget that."

"I’m sorry, Sango. I’m sorry for everything that you’ve been through, and…" Michiru fumbled as he drew closer to her. "I…I wish I could have been there for you back then," he told her, taking hold of her shoulders and looking straight into her eyes. "But I’m here now. I want to be here for you now…and always."

As the sincerity of Michiru’s words struck home, Sango felt her pain begin to melt away. She saw the love the Kururugi boy had for her, untainted by lies or manipulations, and couldn’t help but smile. "Thank you, Michiru," she said, drawing herself closer to him, allowing him to wrap his arms about her. "Thank you for coming back."

"I love you, Sango," Michiru murmured as their faces drew ever closer.

"I know," Sango answered, even as their lips connected. Raw emotion flowed between the two of them for an untold amount of time, with the both of them pressing their bodies together passionately. Just before they broke apart, Sango could only think, I just wish…I was brave enough to say that to you as well, Michiru…

"Hmm, not a bad day, all things considered," Miroku mused, a slight smile tugging at this lips as he wandered about the causeways of Tsuzumi Village, marveling at all the construction that was going on. His foul mood from yesterday all but forgotten as he felt as his pouch of money, which was now nice and fat as a result of this day's efforts, as well as the attention of the young lovelies he had entranced. For these were the things that were truly what made life worth living. What more did a man such as he need than money, beautiful women, and plenty of food and drink?

True, as a monk in service to Buddha, I should be above such material needs, Miroku found himself thinking, one of his occasional moral qualms making itself known to him. But if there was anything his late father and his Master Mushin had taught him, it was that what was good and noble in principle very rarely worked in actual practice.

And if such principles really didn’t work…well, there was no point in wasting any real effort in trying to adhere to them, now was there?

Besides, it’s not like I will have much of life, anyway, Miroku thought as he once again considered his right hand. Not unless Naraku is killed once and for all…or I choose to leave this world forever for Kagome’s time.

Frowning, Miroku found this was another thought that concerned him. Concerned him because it meant another avenue of escape from the cursed Wind Tunnel. The simple knowledge that all he would have to do would be to travel through the Bone-Eater’s Well, and he would forever be free of the abyssal void in his right hand. And in the process, he would be leaving behind everything he had ever known.

Then again, I will lose everything anyway if the Wind Tunnel kills me, Miroku thought with ill humor. Besides, there are still monks in that other time, so it’s not like I would be unable to pursue my calling, even in Kagome’s world. Still…

Once again, Miroku thought of the things he would be forced to leave behind. A world he knew, places he was familiar and comfortable with. His old master and Hachi, his friends that were native this world. As well as Sango.

That’s right. I can’t really expect for Sango to want to leave this world, her brother, the monk thought, smiling at the thought of the Demon Slayer’s lovely form, her tender posterior. Miroku had met many women over the course of his travels, women who were remarkable in their own ways. He had spent some time with many of them, and has even asked some to bear his child. But of them all, Sango was…certainly…the most…exceptional…

Miroku’s thought suddenly ground to a halt as his pleasant mood dissipated like darkness before the sun’s rays. A slight but definite frown decorated his lips, and he began moving forward at a far greater pace.

Michiru couldn’t imagine ever being happier than he was that afternoon.

For the better part of an hour, he and Sango had been sitting by the bank of the river, simply holding each other, sharing in the exquisite beauty of their surroundings. Beauty that was as of nothing compared to Sango’s own divine radiance, in Michiru’s opinion.

As he looked at her face, soaking in the incredible beauty that threatened to take away his very soul, Michiru felt himself becoming oblivious to everything else. There was himself, Kirara occupying his lap, and Sango wrapped about in his arms, her own arms closed about his frame. And there was nothing else. Nothing was more important to him than this moment.

A moment that was shattered by the sudden, crushing pain Michiru felt as something crashed upon his skull.

"Arrgh!!" Michiru cried out, sitting up and sending both Sango and Kirara spilling to the ground. While the two of them made noises of protest, Michiru brought his hands to his head, trying to stifle the intense pain that was now ringing through his cranium.

"What the – Miroku!" Sango screeched in disbelief and outrage, staring daggers at the monk.

"Huh?!" Michiru got out, wincing in pain as he turned to look as well. "Miroku, what’d you do that for?!"

The monk returned Michiru’s shocked expression with one of cool disdain. "As if you don’t already know," Miroku intoned, ignoring Kirara’s hissing and Sango’s scowl. "How dare you try to stroke Sango’s posterior!"

For several moments, Michiru could only stare at the perverted holy man in confusion. "What?!" he finally got out. "Miroku, what are you talking about?! I’d never do that!!"

"That’s right! Nothing happened!!" Sango added, her scowl deepening with every word. "Michiru wouldn’t do something like that! Just you!!"

"That’s not what I saw," Miroku responded gracefully. "I’m telling you, Sango, he had his hand -!"

"I had my hand on her back, not her backside!!" Michiru countered, his pain fading as anger filled its place.

"A likely excuse," Miroku sniffed. "Sango…"

"Don’t say it, Miroku," Sango growled in the back of her throat, the warning clear to them all. "I don’t care what it is, I don’t want to hear it."

"But…" Miroku tried again, reaching out to place his hand upon the Demon Slayer’s shoulder.

"I said, I don’t want to hear it!" Sango cried out, shrinking away from the man who had done so much for her in the past. "I’ve probably already heard what you’re about to say a dozen times by now, and I don’t want to hear it again!" With these words, the Demon Slayer departed, refusing to look at either of the males. Kirara gave one look at Miroku, stuck her nose and both tails into the air, and was soon to follow.

For a moment, Michiru was tempted to say something, anything to soothe Sango’s anger and pain. However, none of the words that tried to make their way to his mouth seemed adequate to the task. And as Michiru watched Sango walk away, then turned his eyes towards his friend and rival, he realized that he was in no condition to lessen someone else’s ire.

"Miroku…" Michiru started, trying very hard to keep the poisonous fury racing in his heart from spreading to his face or voice. "If you think a stunt like that will help you with Sango…if you honestly think…"

"What I think is that you might be better off with a woman better suited to you, to your way of life," Miroku spoke, trying to sound sage and caring, and failing all the same. "Michiru, you are brave person, and you have done a great many good things for us and this world. But you are not of this world, nor do you have any true links to it."

"And I suppose this is the part where you tell me that I’d be better off finding a girl in my time and leaving Sango to you, huh?" Michiru grated, unable to hold back the anger that gnawed at him any longer. "Well, I’m sorry, Miroku, but that’s not going to happen. Besides, as far as I can tell, you’ve had your chance with Sango."

"Is that so?" Miroku replied, his face becoming as hard as stone.

Nodding, Michiru felt his own features hardening as well. "In fact, I’d say you’ve had lots of chances with her. And you’ve blown every last one of them."

Silence fell into place between the two of them, a silence which the two of them simply stood there, staring at each other. Neither of them budging, neither backing off nor looking away. A silence that was eventually broken. "Michiru, remember that little sparring match we had?" Miroku asked in a deceptively easy manner. "I think that we really should finish it. Right now."

Frowning that much more, Michiru looked into a face he found himself thinking less that of a friend, and more of that of his rival…and possibly even worse. "Actually," he started through clenched teeth. "I was thinking the same thing."

"Fine, then," Miroku responded easily. "Perhaps we should adjourn to the old castle road? It’s still blocked off, and I doubt there will be anyone there to disturb us."

"All right," Michiru answered. "After you, then."

"Very well," Miroku smiled, and with that, the two of them were on their way.

Jiro didn't like what he was seeing. As a Demon Slayer, he had learned many skills over the course of his upbringing, the majority of them geared to help him survive under extreme circumstances, skills that would aide him in hunting his own food, as well as slaying demons in battle. And those skills allowed him to spot something very wrong, something that most people would likely miss.

He was standing on a well-worn path leading out of Tsuzumi Village, one that was marked by relatively fresh footprints. The number of them indicated a small group of people traveling together, and judging by the depth of the impressions, they were carrying a fair amount of baggage. All in likelihood, they were traveling merchants. Something that came as no surprise to Jiro.

What was a surprise to him, and an unpleasant one, was the small trail Jiro had spotted in the underbrush running alongside of the path. Plants that had recently been trampled underfoot as well as branches that had been snapped, the sap making it clear that whoever or whatever had passed by had done so recently. And as he studied the tracks left behind, he knew immediately what had made them. Or rather, who.

Nothing on four legs makes tracks like these. So it had to be someone with only two feet, Jiro knew as he studied the footfalls. The footprints are uneven, so that means that whoever it was is moving barefoot. And the tracks are small, meaning that whoever it was had feet smaller than mine. Then he looked up and studied the pacing between the individual tracks, and groaned in realization. And nothing human can move this fast, this easily!

"Ugh...Azusa...!" Jiro groaned just beneath his breath as he started forward. There was no time to go and look for the others. The combination of the two sets of tracks could only mean that Azusa was stalking the merchants. And he could think of only one reason why a wolf-demon would do so, especially a wolf-demon that had made public her hatred for humans.

Without hesitation, Jiro shot forward, favoring speed over stealth as he followed the trail before him. they can't be too far ahead! he knew, studying the various indicators on the ground and in the brush. I just hope I can stop her before it's too late!

Azusa couldn’t remember the last time she had felt this good.

Blood was pumping furiously through her veins. Her coat was slightly damp with perspiration. Every sense she had was operating at full capacity, and all of them were focused on one thing.

Her prey.

The human merchants she had been following were either unaware of her presence or simply didn’t care. Given how weak and pathetic Azusa knew humans to be, the she-wolf was leaning towards the former possibility. And with every step they took away from the village, the closer they became to becoming her meat.

Just more proof that Koga’s lost his spine! Azusa thought hatefully, for this is what it meant to be a wolf-demon. Stalking their prey and taking what was rightfully theirs through superior strength and cunning, not pandering to inferior beings that were meant to be prey. Taking humans and everything they had, not making friends and allies with them.

And it had been a long time since Azusa had sampled human flesh. A terribly long time. Just the very thought made her mouth water in anticipation.

Over the course of several minutes, Azusa narrowed the distance between her and her prey, looking forward to that moment when she would finally reveal herself to them. That was quite possibly her favorite part of the hunt; that final look of panic and horror when her prey realized that they were doomed. A moment that was soon in coming.

Her heart beating faster with each passing second, Azusa saw the traders were now only several meters distant, and found that she could no longer hold herself back. With a grin of feral eagerness, Azusa broke into a sprint, howling her triumph as she drew in for the kill. When she was halfway to her prey, the traders turned about, and she looked for that expression of terror she loved so much.

Azusa never saw it.

Instead, the traders lifted the strange metal tubes they had been carrying, and aimed the open ends at her. And then Azusa saw fire erupt from the barrels. She heard an explosion of thunder. And she smelled the unmistakable scent of blood…

As Michiru stood facing Miroku, he was aware of many things. He was aware of the massive pile of mud, stone, and fallen trees that still blocked the road that led to the castle that had been ravaged by Naraku. He was aware of the farms and fields that were presently being tended to by the villagers. But most of all, he was aware of Miroku as she stood at the ready, his Buddhist staff held in both hands and the expression of cool determination he wore.

Does it really have to be this way? Michiru found himself thinking, enough of his anger having cooled so that he was no longer comfortable with this situation. He had seen more than few movies, TV shows, and books that depicted this very situation; two former friends fighting for the love of the same woman, when it always had seemed to Michiru that there should have been some way to avoid this. Besides, after what happened the last time...

Heaving a deep breath, Michiru looked squarely at Miroku, and thought of the things they had been through together, both good and bad. "Miroku, I’m telling you right now, you don’t want to do this," he started, frowning as he spoke. "This won’t change how Sango feels. About either of us."

"I realize that," Miroku answered. "But I think it’s long past time we settled things between us. And this seems to be the only way of doing so."

"But you don’t stand a chance!" Michiru protested, still trying to give Miroku an out…and half-hoping he wouldn’t take it. "You actually want me to go full out?! Use my magic against you?!"

"Absolutely," Miroku replied easily, looking almost amused. "After all, if you were to give me a handicap, it wouldn’t be a true fight. I want you to come at me at full strength. Anything goes."

"But it’ll be a slaughter! Your slaughter!" Michiru protested. "Your sutras only work on demons, not humans! And with my Shikigami…"

"Michiru, if you honestly think your spirit familiars automatically mean you will defeat me, then you are making a very serious mistake," Miroku chided him. "Underestimating one’s opponent is the first steps towards defeat."

"Actually, I just was thinking about what happened the last time we sparred, Miroku," Michiru stated, the warning clear in his voice. "And if you think I’ve gotten weaker since then…"

"No, I do not," Miroku corrected politely. "But as I said before, strength is not the only determining factor in battle. Knowledge and wisdom are also very important…and though you are powerful, you still have a great deal to learn!"

With this declaration, Miroku threw away his carefree manner, and charged at Michiru. With a cry of determination, Miroku leapt up, the rings of his staff chiming as he swung it down brutally at Michiru. The Shikigami User automatically drew his wooden sword, holding it up against Miroku’s strike with both hands.

The monk wasn’t done just yet, and turned the momentum he had from the downward stroke into a spin that sent the blunt end of his staff rushing towards Michiru’s side. Startled by the shift in direction, Michiru fell over, stung as Miroku’s attack struck his ribs.

"See?" Miroku smiled as Michiru got back to his feet, ignoring the stinging welt Miroku had left him with. "You simply don’t have the knowledge needed to win against me."

"Oh, really?" Michiru asked, the pain he now felt fueling his anger, even as he tried to keep it down. He had seen InuYasha lose his head in battle, and had seen the amount of trouble it had gotten him into at times.

Besides, Miroku wasn’t the only one who knew non-magical fighting tricks.

"Well, guess what, Miroku?" Michiru smiled as he dug his sword into the ground, acting as if he were bracing himself up with it. "Now you’re the one underestimating the enemy!"

With these words, Michiru used his sword to dig up a lump of dirt, and sent the messy globule flying straight and true at Miroku’s face. Suddenly blinded, Miroku shook his head this way and that even as Michiru pressed his advantage, diving in with his sword. The Kururugi was able to deliver a punishing blow to Miroku’s shoulder, eliciting a yelp of pain as the monk backpedaled, determined to put some distance between himself and his adversary.

Michiru was determined not to give him that chance. Something in Miroku’s words had sparked a deeper need in him. He wanted to do more than just win this fight. He wanted to prove that he had a strength separate from the forces of nature that his Shikigami gave him command of. He wanted to fight Miroku, to beat him as an equal. In a fair fight, with no magic involved.

His eyes narrowed and tearing, Miroku looked hard at his opponent. "That was…a truly dirty trick, Michiru."

"No dirtier than some of the things you do," Michiru countered as he swung his sword once again, only to have Miroku parry this strike. Michiru tried to deliver another blow, this time to Miroku’s leg, but the monk was quick to dodge, leaving Michiru overextended.

Tottering off-balance, Michiru watched as Miroku twirled his staff, aiming the headpiece straight at his head. Unable to regain his feet, the Shikigami User was hit by a jolt of inspiration. Just before the staff could strike up, Michiru brought up his sword. But instead of trying for a block that would result in him being sent sprawling, Michiru drove his sword into the empty space of the headpiece.

Twisting about on the heel of his shoe, Michiru used the momentum of Miroku’s attack to tear the staff from the monk’s hands. Staggering and falling to one knee, Michiru was still able to hurl the staff off into the distance, depriving the monk of his primary weapon.

While Miroku was looking from his opponent towards where his staff had gone, Michiru was pressing his advantage, and slammed his sword right between Miroku’s legs. With a howl of pain, the monk went flying into the air. As Miroku slammed hard down to the ground, Michiru was recovering his own feet, and looking down at his rival in love with a sense of satisfaction…and triumph.

"Like I tried to tell you before, Miroku," Michiru smiled, heaving in deep breaths of air. "I’m stronger than I was before."

Michiru’s words were met only with silence at first. Then, as he watched the monk turn about on the ground, he saw Miroku look up at him with eyes filled with pain…and rage.

"And as I tried to tell you before, Michiru," Miroku gasped, his own breathing ragged from his own fury. "There will be no holding back in this fight@"

"Huh?" Michiru responded, confusion knotting his brows…until he saw Miroku’s left hand wrapping about his right wrist. About the sacred beads that bound his hand. His eyes flew wide open as he realized what Miroku was planning. "What the…no!"

"This fight is over, Michiru! Wind Tunnel!!" Miroku roared as he tore the beads away from his wrist, unleashing the abyssal void in his right hand. With a gasp, Michiru was lifted off the ground!

"No!" Michiru cried out, his mind jammed with fear and confusion. The thought that Miroku would actually use his Wind Tunnel against him had never even crossed his mind.

And now it was actually happening. It was impossible!

"Green Wood Snare!" Michiru invoked, calling forth the power of his Wood Shikigami. Several serpentine vines erupted from the earth and quickly wrapped about his legs.

"Listen to me, Michiru!" Miroku cried out over the roar of the Wind Tunnel. "You can’t hold on forever! Admit defeat and I will shut down the vortex!"

"What?!" Michiru shrilled, fury and incredulity filling his words.

"You heard me! Just go back to your own world!" Miroku ordered. "You don’t belong in this time!"

As rage once again wrapped about his brain like a dense fog, Michiru stared hard into the face of treachery, and in that instant, he knew that surrender was not an option. However, as the Wind Tunnel continued to tug at him, the Shikigami User knew that his options weren’t many. The horrific void was unrelenting, and would swallow any attack whole.

"Just give it up, Michiru! You can find another woman to love in your own world!" Miroku cried out, almost pleading. "All you have to do is surrender, and I’ll shut the Wind Tunnel down!"

Shut…it down? Michiru thought oddly, even as the vines began to tear free of the soil, his heart suddenly jumping. That’s it!

"Why don’t I shut it down for you?!" Michiru countered, even as he summoned up his Wind Shikigami. "Oh, overflowing blue sky, let ring your silent voice! Sealed Blue Sky!!"

"What?!" Miroku cried out in shock as the bird that embodied Michiru’s power over the Wind wrapped about his arm, seeping into the Wind Tunnel itself. Then, before his eyes, the black hole in his hand slowly grew quieter, the winds slowing…until they finally stopped.

"You remember that one, don’t you, Miroku?" Michiru asked as the vines that held him fast disappeared, as the monk continued to stare at his cursed right hand in disbelief. "Sealed Blue Sky cancels out all Wind-based magic. Like your Wind Tunnel!"

"But…" Miroku fumbled. "It…it can’t! It can’t stop my Wind Tunnel! When you used it against Kagura…!"

"I know. It didn’t work on her, in the past," Michiru grated, the betrayal he had just suffered twisting about in his stomach, fueling his growing fury. "Well, like I was telling you before; I’m a lot stronger now."

As the two of them stood there, looking at each other, Michiru clenched his sword ever more tightly, until it seemed certain that it would shatter. "So…you wanted an anything-goes fight, huh, Miroku? No handicaps, no holds barred?" the Shikigami User asked mildly, raising his sword as he began calling forth the full power of the forces of nature. "Well, you’ve got it! Upheaval of Stone!!"

With this invocation, Michiru drove the tip of his sword into the earth, shattering it and sending huge boulders flying into the air. The massive projectiles flew straight at Miroku, who dodged with a panicked look on his face.

"No, wait!" Miroku protested, trying to look reasonable. Sage. Pious. "Michiru, let’s be reasonable!"

Michiru wasn’t having any of it. "Oh, no, Miroku! You wanted me to go all out, remember? Well, that’s exactly what I’m going to do! Piercing Thunder!" With a single stroke of his sword, Michiru sent a blast of lightning ripping through the earth, nipping at Miroku’s heals, causing the monk to squeal in fear.

Filled with rage and frustration, recalling all of Miroku pretty lies and how he had abused Sango’s trust, Michiru wanted to hear more. He wanted to take Miroku’s treachery and make him eat it. Spell after devastating spell was unleashed upon the monk, Miroku barely staying one step ahead of the ferocious barrage of nature’s fury. Michiru wasn’t satisfied though, and felt no weariness as he culled forth another powerful sword-based spell.

"Prominence of Flame!" Michiru cried out as another swing of his sword released a river of fire straight at Miroku’s feet. The resulting blast sent the monk flying clear into the air, even as Michiru smiled at the sight of Miroku’s helplessness.

A smile that was soon cut short.

"What in the…?" Michiru got out, his anger doused by a wash of confusion.

"Okay, Michiru, I surrender!" Miroku called out, struggling to right himself and flee at the same time. "You…you…"

"Miroku, wait!" Michiru called out, dropping his sword as he moved forward, his eyes bulging out of their sockets.

Knowing that he had somehow been granted a reprieve, Miroku narrowed his own eyes. "What is it?" he asked, playing for time.

"Look," Michiru murmured in awe, pointing at where his Prominence of Flame had hit home. Frowning in confusion, Miroku looked in the direction the Kururugi was indicating.

When Miroku saw what Michiru was pointing at, his own expression twisted in shock. "What…is that?"

"I’m not sure," Michiru responded even as he scrutinized the lines and shape of the vehicle that had been buried in the earth. Took in the single metal wing that now lay exposed to the sun. "But I know this much. It’s not from this world."

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