Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis


Azusa was angry.

This was nothing new for the redheaded she-wolf; even when she was a little pup, her pack mates had often commented that the only thing fierier than her hair was her temper. To which she happily responded to by giving them the pounding they so richly deserved for actually insinuating that a sweet young wolf-demon like her had no control over her emotions.

Snorting, Azusa shook her head at the thought. It wasn’t her fault that there were just so many morons out to completely piss her off. It was just the way things were.

But now her anger had reached levels that Azusa would never have thought possible. It wasn’t bad enough that Koga had decided that having a bunch of weakling humans living amongst their tribe was a good idea. It wasn’t bad enough that she hadn’t been able to slay the humans she had been tracking like the prey they rightfully were. It wasn’t even bad enough that she had fallen prey to their mortal weapons, her blood spilling to the earth as she had lain at their mercy. Her humiliation had still remained incomplete until she had been forced to watch helplessly as a human, a Demon Slayer had arrived on the scene.

Her lips drawing into a snarl, Azusa let the memory come back to her. How she had been staring at the metallic barrels of the human weapons, helpless to do anything but wait for the darkness of oblivion. Only to hear her name being cried out, to hear the tramping of feet along the ground behind her.

Jiro had wasted no words. Instead, he had launched a smoke bomb at the merchants, leaving them blinded and coughing helplessly before moving to Azusa’s side, and lifting her away from them.

As the memory of being swept up in Jiro’s arms returned to her, Azusa once again felt her rage boiling up again. Of how she had roared her outrage, how she had demanded to be set back down so that she could kill the weakling humans who had humiliated her so. Only to be ignored by the miserable Slayer who had completed her disgrace.

I’d rather have died back there than let someone like him save me! Azusa thought hatefully, eyeing the simple human who sat a short distance away from her. His legs were crossed, and his three-sectioned staff lay in his lap, his hands upon it. And now I’m stuck with him babysitting me?!

Thinking of the intense ridicule she would be subjected to upon her return to the wolf-demon mountains, Azusa snarled hatefully at Jiro. Only to stop when she realized something. That night had long since fallen while she had passed fitfully in and out of sleep. And while the Demon Slayer remained in the exact same position he had been since he had finished his dinner, his eyes were now closed, and his breathing slow and regular.

He’s asleep! Azusa realized. As she looked at the Slayer, completely dead to the world, her lips tightened into a deadly smile. The fact that one of the sources of her recent humiliation was completely at her mercy becoming the focus of her entire world.

Slowly gathering herself up, Azusa bared her deadly fangs as she stared hungrily at the Slayer’s tender throat. Payback time, you worthless little human! she growled inwardly. You’re gonna wish you’d let me die back there…once you’re in my stomach!

With that thought, Azusa pounced at Jiro…only to find herself falling upon empty air. Her eyes rounding with shock, she barely had time to register the Slayer’s disappearance before she felt something hard at her throat, felt the pressure of a living body on her back, forcing her down to the floor.

"What the -?!" Azusa gasped out, straining at the thing that was cutting off her windpipe. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Jiro on top of her, his knee driving into the small of her back, and realized that it was his three-sectioned staff that was wrapped about her throat.

"You know, I sure have been putting up with a lot of grief because of you," Jiro commented mildly as he tightened his staff about the she-wolf’s throat. "I know you don’t like me, but it wouldn’t kill you to be polite once in a while."

"I don’t believe this! Just how much more of this crap am I gonna have to take, anyway?!" Azusa hissed out with what little air she could get past her lips. "What, did some god create you just to make me miserable?! Is that it?!"

"Believe it or not, I’m trying to help you. Without winding up being eaten in the process, of course," Jiro snorted, releasing his hold on the she-wolf. While Azusa sucked in breath after desperate breath, the Demon Slayer went back to where he had been sleeping, and once more sat down. "What have you got against me, anyway? Besides my being a human, that is?"

"What, you mean you humiliating me isn’t reason enough to hate you?!" Azusa growled.

"I wasn’t trying to humiliate you," Jiro responded mildly, assuming the exact same stance he had when Azusa had awakened. "I was trying to help you yesterday. Nothing more."

"Well, for someone who wasn’t trying to humiliate me, you sure did a great job of it, anyway!!" Azusa snarled as she positioned herself in a sitting position before folding her arms across her chest. "If the other wolf-demons find out I needed a human to save me from bunch of other humans, I’ll never hear the end of it! I’ll be a laughingstock for the rest of my life! I might as kill myself and get it over with!"

"But why should that matter?" Jiro wondered in an innocent voice. "Your people and mine are allies now. Allies help each other."

"Hmph! I never wanted any stupid alliance! And I certainly never wanted an alliance with weakling humans, either!" Azusa sneered hatefully. "I’ll never understand why Koga thought this was a good idea! He’s gone totally soft on us! What a loser!"

Jiro didn’t say anything to that. He simply sat there, his eyes closed. He may as well have been asleep again.

Sneering, Azusa looked pointedly at the Demon Slayer. "What about you, huh? What do you think about having a bunch of demons living right alongside of you, huh, Demon Slayer?!"

"Me?" Jiro repeated, opening his eyes and looking at Azusa. "Well, I’ve listened to a lot of arguments about this alliance. And to be honest, there were many of us who thought that it was a mistake."

"Hmm. Smart thinking," Azusa grinned, making menacing gestures with her hands. "After all, you can’t be too careful with us wolves. We might just decide to put you wimpy humans on the fire and roast you, just for a snack!"

"That was one argument against the alliance," Jiro admitted. "But we’ve seen many kinds of demons over the years, those with and without honor, those who looked down upon humans, and those who lived peacefully with them. In any case, Koga had earned Daisuke’s trust, and so did you many of your fellows when they came to our aid."

Azusa frowned deeply. "You still haven’t answered my question, human! I asked you what you thought about this alliance, not what somebody else thought!" the she-wolf snarled. "So are you gonna answer me or what?!"

Making a contemplative sound in his throat, Jiro then answered, "Well, I think this alliance has a lot of potential, and a lot of danger as well. So…I guess I’m just taking my time, and watching what happens next."

"You call that an answer?" Azusa sniped.

"It’s the best answer I can give you," Jiro confessed. "I don’t know what’s going to happen next, or whether this alliance will work out or not. So I’m just gonna try and make it work…and be prepared, just in case it doesn’t."

Blinking, Azusa turned away, sticking her nose up in the air. "Trust me, when this alliance goes up in smoke, you humans are gonna be meat! Count on it!"

Jiro said nothing to this at first. He simply sat there in silence for a time, and when he did speak, it was with a sardonic edge to his voice. "You sure seem confident about that."

"Of course I am!" Azusa grinned. "After all, you’re just a little human! We wolf-demons are stronger, faster, and utterly superior! So of course we’d win over you!"

"Then why is your tribe on the verge of starvation? So desperate for food and medicine that we came here to trade for them?" Jiro asked pointedly, his eyes narrow and firm as he looked at the she-wolf. When Azusa glared hatefully in response, the Slayer did not so much as budge. "Why is it when your people have fought us in the past, your losses were far greater than our own?"

"Hey! You humans just got lucky, that’s all!" Azusa snarled.

"Luck, huh? That’s what you call it? Just dumb luck?" Jiro asked mildly. As he spoke, however, he smiled, looking down at the floor as he did so.

When the Demon Slayer continued to sit there, smiling in the manner of someone laughing at a private joke, Azusa growled irritably. "Hey, stop grinning like that! It’s pissing me off!" she finally snarled.

If anything, Jiro’s smile grew broader. It continued to widen until he finally spoke. "Azusa…you say the wolf-demons are superior because they have special powers. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in my life, it’s that sometimes the greatest weakness of any power is the power itself."

"Huh?!" the redhead got out, staring incredulously at Jiro. Then Azusa growled and stood up so that she could look down at the Slayer. "And just what’s that supposed to mean?! What kind of crap are you pushing on me, anyway?!"

"Azusa…would you consider a wolf-demon’s sense of smell an asset?" Jiro wondered.

Her face twisting in confusion, Azusa put her hands to her hips. "Well, of course I would, stupid! It’s just one of the many things that puts us on top of losers like you!"

A slight laugh escaping his lips, Jiro looked up at her, without even a trace of fear in his eyes. "That’s strange, because when I’ve battled animal-like demons in the past, I’ve always found their noses to be one of their biggest weaknesses." When Azusa narrowed her eyes at the Slayer, he looked away. "One time, I was fighting this huge bear demon. It towered over me like a mountain, and was so big, it even blocked out the sun. But I was able to beat it, and you know what helped me do it?" Jiro just smiled for a time, letting the suspense build up before finishing. "A band of scent beads. They smell fairly mild to humans, but on that day, the smell of those beads brought that bear to its knees. I barely had to do anything to finish it off."

Blinking, Azusa then sat down, frowning deeply. "So what are you saying, huh?"

"What I’m saying is that, while your sense of smell enables you to detect things I couldn’t, it also leaves you more vulnerable to things that really wouldn’t bother me," Jiro explained gently. "The same goes for just about all of your abilities. Even your strength and speed, because your own demonic power, makes you vulnerable to spells and talismans that wouldn’t do a thing to me." Noting the expression on Azusa’s face, an expression of thoughtfulness that the Demon Slayer had not seen her wear before, Jiro smiled evenly. "I’m not saying you’re better than me, or I’m better than you. I’m just saying we’re…different. We have different strengths…and weaknesses. And that’s why I think…this alliance is worth the risk."

Having said his piece, Jiro once again closed his eyes, and was silent. Until Azusa asked, "Have you ever…fought any wolf-demons?"

"Just once," Jiro answered, once again looking at the she-wolf. "I was with a group called to this one village about a year ago. It was pretty far away, but we needed the work."

Frowning, Azusa continued to look at the Slayer. "Did you…kill any of them?"

The Slayer didn’t answer right away. When he did, his voice was heavy. "Yeah. One."

"What?" Azusa asked, her voice more wary.

"I was stationed at one of the side entrances to the village during a raid on the village. It was my first time working alone in the field, and all I was supposed to be doing was just keeping an eye out, just in case the wolf-demons tried a flanking attack. I really wasn’t expecting any trouble," Jiro recalled, leaning back as he once again opened his eyes towards Azusa. "I was scared out of my mind when he and some of his friends charged right at me. But…I remembered my training, and threw a bag of poison powder at them. They started coughing right away, and I…I was wearing my filter mask, and…"

When the Slayer trailed off, Azusa leaned towards him. "Yeah, and then what?"

Sighing, Jiro eyed the she-wolf evenly. "I did what I thought I had to. I took my sword, aimed for the most disoriented of the three…and I slit his throat," he told her, causing Azusa’s eyes to widen. "When the powder cleared away, the other two just stood there, looking at me, with their friend’s blood covering me and my sword. And…the looks on their faces…"

"Did you have to fight them as well?" Azusa wondered.

"No," Jiro answered, shaking his head. "I don’t know why, but…they ran away. Just took off and never came back."

"Then they were cowards!" Azusa declared forcefully. "You were lucky, human! If you had had to fight all three of them, you’d be dead now!"

"Maybe," Jiro conceded, looking emptily at Azusa. "So…do you hate me for killing one of your people?"

This question left Azusa with her mouth hanging open. "What?"

"Do you?"Jiro wondered, apparently without feeling. "I wouldn’t blame you if you did. And to be honest, if you’re gonna hate me anyway, you might as well hate me for that."

"Feh! What are you talking about?!" Azusa sneered, looking away. "If some wolf-demon was actually stupid enough to get himself killed by a lone human, then he deserved what he got!"

Taking a deep breath, Jiro once again closed his eyes. "Well, if that’s the way you feel," he finally said. "You better get some sleep. The more rest you get, the sooner you’re wounds will heal."

"Hmph! My wounds are plenty healed as it is!" Azusa declared officiously.

Jiro’s answer was to open one eye long enough to give the she-wolf a condescending look. "Fine. Have it your way," he then said before closing his eye again. "Goodnight, Azusa."

Though she was tempted to say something cutting in response, when Azusa looked at the unruffled Demon Slayer, she suddenly found herself at a loss for words. So giving it up as a bad job, she snorted loudly before lying back down, and was soon asleep again.

"Koga, is something wrong?" Kagome asked.

"Huh?" the wolf-demon started, the crystals adorning his body flashing brightly in response to his surprise. Blinking quickly, Koga looked squarely at Kagome before managing a pseudo-smile. "Uh, nothing, Kagome! Nothing at all! Why do you ask?"

The reborn priestess’s response was to look down at the plate full of food before Koga. "Well, you’ve barely touched your breakfast, and I’ve never known you to let food just sit around."

"What? Oh, yeah. That," Koga responded, a drop of sweat rolling down his head.

"Is something wrong with your food?" Tamoa wondered, the lady of the house looking down at her guests concern.

"No, of course not! Everything’s great!" Koga answered evasively, the laughter that came with his evasion as false as his words.

Though it was obvious Tamoa wasn’t convinced, she didn’t see fit to press the wolf-demon, and neither did Kagome. Instead, the raven-haired girl looked about the table, and frowned even more deeply. "And where’s Michiru at? Don’t tell me he’s still asleep!"

"And what do you care, Kagome?" InuYasha growled as he shoveled rice into his mouth.

"What’s that supposed to mean?" Kagome countered.

"Just what it sounds like!" InuYasha growled, setting aside his morning repast long enough to stare hard into the girl’s face.

"Now, now, you two. Let’s not have any fighting," Miroku spoke sagely from his place at the table. "We’ve had enough trouble lately as it is. No sense making things worse."

When InuYasha answered Miroku’s statement with a warning growl deep in his throat, the monk quickly looked away. Snorting in disgust, InuYasha returned his attention to Kagome. "Not that it’s any of your business, but he went out to do some work on that thing we found yesterday."

"Really? This early?" Kagome wondered with a raised eyebrow.

"Yes. Your friend said that he had some things to do, so I put together some rice balls for him," Tamoa explained quietly. The older woman then smiled gently. "I must say, though, it really isn’t right for a boy his age to be out so early in the morning."

Pausing to consider this, Kagome eventually shrugged and replied, "Well, so long as he’s not getting into any trouble…"

"Is that all you think of my brother?" Kaname wondered. When Kagome looked at the Kururugi girl, she saw a stern glare on her face. "Do you really hate him that much?"

Waving her hands in negation, Kagome returned, "Hey, don’t get me wrong! It’s not that I hate him or anything, but his jealousy has gotten totally out of control! I mean, you saw what he did to Miroku last night!"

"Yeah, and I wonder why," InuYasha growled quietly, looking in the monk’s direction.

When Miroku noticed the glare the half-demon was sending his way, several drops of sweat rolled down his head before he regained himself. "Now, everyone, let’s not dwell on the past. Mistakes were made, yes, but no one was really hurt. Why can’t we just move on already, stop dredging up the past?"

"That’s what I’d like to know," Kagome stated, glaring hard at InuYasha.

"And what’s that supposed to mean?!" InuYasha growled.

"Gee, I don’t know! Why don’t you tell me!" Kagome countered, jumping to her feet.

"Why bother!? The only thing you ever hear is exactly what you want to!!" InuYasha snarled as he got to his own feet, staring daggers at the reborn priestess.

"That’s right! You decided my bro was guilty right from the start! You never even gave him a chance to tell us what happened!" Kaname shouted, getting to her feet as well.

"Hey! He practically admitted that it was his fault when he lost his temper and attacked Miroku! For the third time in a row!" Kagome declared.

"Well, if someone framed me for something I didn’t do, I’d probably be pretty mad at him as well!" Kaname countered, veins popping out of her forehead.

"Nobody’s framing anyone! It’s just your brother having a rotten temper! Something I see runs in the family!" Kagome sneered.

Trembling at the insinuation, Kaname practically glowed with rage. Holding up her hands, she allowed two spheres of magical force to appear in them. "Trust me, if I had a lousy temper, you’d be decorating the floor right now!"

"See! You’re losing it right now!" Kagome stated, gesturing at Tamoa and her husband Shunsuke. "These people let us stay with them, and you’re gonna start blasting it apart?! What are you thinking?!"

"Maybe she’s thinking that she doesn’t like you pushing her brother around!" InuYasha declared. "And for that matter, I don’t like it either!"

While the three of them stared at each other, tempers frayed to the breaking point, Sango’s voice came to the fore. "I’m done," she spoke quietly, setting aside her dishes, looking about the room at the people in it with a controlled expression. "I’m going out to do some practice. Tamoa, could you please take care of my dishes?"

"But of course, dear," Tamoa responded.

"Kaname?" Sango spoke, giving the girl a controlled look.

"Uh, yes, Sango?" Kaname responded. She allowed the magic in her hands to dissipate as she stood straight, a nervous look in her eyes.

"Could you do me a favor? Jiro’s been watching Azusa all night, and he probably hasn’t had much rest," Sango explained quietly. "Could you please take over for him for a little while?"

"Um…oh, sure! Of course!" Kaname responded, almost frightened by the expression Sango wore.

"Thanks," Sango said before looking at the other girl present. "Kagome, when are you going back to Kaede’s Village?"

"Huh?" Kagome started, taken aback by the change in subject. Then, blinking quickly, the reborn priestess answered, "Well, I was going to head out as soon as I was done with breakfast."

"Alright. You should probably take something to eat with you," Sango advised in the same, eerily quiet tone of voice. "Be careful out there."

"Oh, sure! Will do!" Kagome answered as Sango walked away, sliding open the door to the room. As the paper door slid shut behind the Demon Slayer, Kagome looked about, and saw that neither InuYasha nor Kaname were in the mood to continue the argument. And to be honest, neither was she.

The fight sucked right out of her, Kagome looked over to where Hachi was. "Hachi, let me know when you’re ready to go. I’ll be outside waiting."

"Okay, Kagome," the tanuki answered in mid-bite.

Nodding, Kagome shot one last glare at InuYasha and Kaname, and finally departed. Leaving Kaname staring after her, unspent anger turning the wheels in her head, and forming a devious smile on her face.

"Hey, Kagome!" Shippo’s voice piped up as the little fox-demon scampered over to her.

"Hey, Shippo! Finished breakfast already?" Kagome asked as she leaned back against a tree.

Shippo simply nodded, before giving Kagome a concerned look. "Say, Kagome…"

"What is it?" Kagome wondered.

"It’s just…I was wondering…are you really sure that Michiru lied about what happened?" Shippo asked in a quiet, nervous voice.

"What are you talking about? Of course I’m sure!" Kagome responded incredulously. "You saw what happened last night, remember?"

"Well, yeah, but…" Shippo admitted, worry marking his tiny face. "But…it just doesn’t seem right, that’s all. I mean…I never would have thought of Michiru as a liar, that’s all."

Sighing wearily, Kagome lowered her eyes somewhat. "I know what you mean, but…we have to face facts here. Miroku would never use his Wind Tunnel on any of us, no matter what the reason! In fact, he’s done everything he could to protect us from it! I don’t care how upset he was with Michiru, there’s no way he’d cross that line."

"I guess so, but…" Shippo got out, frowning unhappily. "It still doesn’t seem right."

"Yeah, I know," Kagome couldn’t help but agree. She didn’t like the tension that had risen up as a result of what had happened any more than Shippo did.

Oh, well. Maybe Sango can finally get over Michiru, and things will finally go back to normal between her and Miroku, Kagome thought hopefully. Smiling as the image of Sango and Miroku’s perfect wedding appeared in her mind, complete with all her friends and family in attendance, watching the happy couple moved on to live happily ever after.

While Kagome was losing herself in this delightful image, she heard someone approaching. Looking up, she saw Hachi coming closer with two bento boxes in hand. "I’m ready to go now, Kagome! Whenever you’re ready!"

"Great! Thanks, Hachi," Kagome replied smilingly. Then she noted the two boxes the tanuki held. "So what do you have there?"

"Hmm, smells like something yummy’s inside!" Shippo enthused, looking at the two containers.

"Its food for our trip back to Kaede’s Village," Hachi explained, handing Kagome one of them. "This one’s for you, Kagome."

"Thanks, Hachi!" Kagome smiled, taking the box and cracking it open. "Wow, this looks really good! Remind me to thank Tamoa when we get back. And she even made one for you, too!"

"Actually, Kaname made me this one!" Hachi explained, holding up his own meal. He then pointed at the cloth wrapped around its handle. "See? She even tied her handkerchief to it, so we wouldn’t get them mixed up!"

"Wow. That’s really nice of her," Kagome replied sincerely.

While Hachi was nodding in agreement, the raven-haired girl thought, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Michiru and Kaname are very nice. At least when they’re not losing their tempers or making a mess of other people’s relationships! Sighing, Kagome then looked up at the sky. Oh, well. Maybe things will have settled down a bit by the time I get back.

"Well, we better get going then," Kagome told the tanuki. "We have to find out what’s going on here, and quickly!"

"Right!" Hachi responded, before exploding into a puff of smoke. Resolving into a massive yellow blob with a humanoid face, he smiled at Kagome. "All aboard!"

"Okay!" Kagome answered, easily getting astride the tanuki’s flying form. As soon as she was seated, Hachi slowly rose into the air, giving his passenger plenty of time to wave goodbye. "Take care! See you later, Shippo!"

"Right! See you later!" the fox-demon waved, even as the others rose into the air. Completely unaware that someone was watching the departing priestess, a devious smile on her face.

I really wish it hadn’t come to that, Miroku thought as he sat inside the house, trying in vain to meditate. His body occupied the prescribed lotus position, but his mind refused to be emptied of his fears and worries.

In fact, all he could see was the outraged look on Michiru’s expression from the previous night. That look of pure, outraged betrayal, just before the Shikigami User had unleashed his rage upon Miroku, in the form of two magical bolts of power. I guess I can’t blame him for being angry…after what had happened.

Reviewing the events of the previous night, Miroku found himself wishing he could take back his decision to challenge Michiru to a fight. It was never supposed to be this way! I just wanted to get him to back off! To discourage his pursuit of Sango, to…to get him to leave us to be together.

Miroku had had it planned out very carefully when he had challenged the Shikigami User to that second fight. Being fairly certain that, after the last sparring disaster, Michiru would be reluctant to use magic in this battle, the monk felt that he had been entering a win-win situation. Either he gave Michiru enough of a beating to discourage his advances, allowing the monk the time needed to repair his relationship with Sango, or the Kururugi boy would lose his temper as he had before, thus making Miroku an object of sympathy and Michiru a hotheaded, immature little boy in Sango’s eye. Either scenario would have been just perfect from Miroku’s viewpoint.

Miroku had never expected Michiru to be as skilled as he was at non-magical combat. He had never expected Michiru to be able to overpower him, leaving the monk’s plans completely shattered. And worst of all, Miroku had never once expected that his own rage would be so overpowering…that he would threaten another human with his cursed right hand.

I just wanted him to leave us. To let me have this one bit of happiness, while I still can, Miroku thought forlornly. I know it’s no excuse for my actions, let alone misleading the others, but…what else could I do? If I had admitted the truth…that I had actually gone that far…then I might as have just given up on Sango right then and there. Still…I suppose I should try to make amends to the boy.

While Miroku was considering possible avenues of apology, with finding him a different girlfriend being foremost amongst them, he was stirred from his thoughts by the sound of someone clearing her throat. Looking up from his meditative stance, the monk found Kaname looking down at him. "Oh, Kaname. How are you?"

"Oh, I’m okay," Kaname answered sweetly. "Listen, Miroku, could you do me a little favor?"

"A favor?" Miroku repeated, feeling better at this. "What kind of favor?"

Sighing as the morning sun beat down upon him, Michiru took a momentary rest from his labors. Both the growing heat of day and his own exertions taking their toll on him, and a borrowed shovel in one hand, he took his free arm and mopped his brow free of some of the sweat that had formed on it before looking down at the object of his work.

"I still can’t believe that this thing has been sitting here all this time," Michiru commented, looking down at the hole he had dug, slowly exposing more and more of the jet to the air for the first time in months. Unanswered questions once again stirring in his as he examined the modern craft. Questions that were easily to deal with then his own recent memories. Memories of betrayal, rage…and guilt.

I still can’t believe…Miroku did that to me…Michiru thought miserably. The horrified expressions his friends and sister had shot at him after he blasted Miroku still with him. The pain he felt having denied him much sleep, and continuing to follow him into the day.

Wincing at his own emotions, Michiru shook his head, trying to free himself of those painful images, and returned his focus to the jet. A good deal of the fighting machine remained beneath the ground, and even after he was done digging it up, it would still take some doing to extract the jet from its place in the earth, and even more work to clean away all the dirt that had undoubtedly worked its way into the various systems. All of which would have to be done before he could attempt to activate its electronic systems…and discover how something like this had found its way to the Feudal Era.

If there is another portal out there…and it doesn’t have the same restrictions as the Well… Michiru thought worriedly.

"Michiru?" came an unexpected voice, one that banished the boy’s thought and almost sent him tumbling to the ground.

His eyes wide open with shock, Michiru looked in the direction of the voice…and saw Sango standing there in her form-fitting Demon Slayer garment. Her skin and clothes were stained with sweat, indicating that she had just gotten done with one of her practice sessions. But what truly stunned Michiru silent was the look on Sango’s face. An expression of iron-clad control, through which no emotion was allowed to slip through.

"Uh…" Michiru got out, his own vocal cords failing him.

"How’s it coming?" Sango asked. When the Shikigami User just looked at her blankly, she nodded at the plane. "That machine. How’s it coming?"

His brain managing to get back into something resembling functional order, Michiru gasped in comprehension. "Oh, this?" he spoke sheepishly, unsure of exactly what to say to her. "Um…slowly?"

Sango didn’t laugh, didn’t smile, didn’t give away any sign of emotion. She might as well have been a doll as she stood there. "It would probably be faster to use your Earth Shikigami," she stated matter-of-factly.

"Uh, yeah," Michiru admitted. "But…I guess I just wanted to do this myself, and…"

"And what?" Sango prompted.

Managing a sad smile, Michiru continued, "To be honest…after everything that happened, I…decided not to push my luck."

Lowering her gaze, Sango seemed to consider the boy’s words for a time. "I see," she finally said, still without any emotion to her voice.

At that instant, Sango’s lifeless voice and face became too much for Michiru to bear. She simply wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Sango he knew was full of life, of feeling and caring and beauty. To see her like this, so obviously concealing her own pain, keeping it under lock and key, was sending daggers into his heart. "Sango, I’m so sorry! I…!"

Frowning intently, Sango brought up her right hand, and held it up to the Kururugi boy’s face. "Stop it! Don’t say another word!" the Demon Slayer gritted out. While Michiru was stunned silent, her harshness stabbing into him even more deeply, Sango took a deep breath. With a hint of pleading cracking through her self-imposed shields, she looked Michiru square in the eye. "The only thing I want to hear from you is the truth."

"T-the truth?" Michiru repeated nervously.

"About what happened here yesterday," Sango elaborated, with anger peeking out from behind her eyes. "I want you to look me right in the eyes, and tell me exactly what happened after I left you with Miroku. No exaggerations, nothing left out. Just…the truth."

Floundering before Sango’s fierce gaze, Michiru found himself helplessly wondering what to do. Until finally, he realized that there just one course open to him; to do as Sango said.

"Alright," Michiru got out, and with that, he recounted exactly what happened. How Miroku had challenged him to another sparring match, how they fought without using powers until Michiru had knocked the monk to the ground. And how Miroku had unleashed the Wind Tunnel, saying that he would shut it down as soon as the Shikigami User surrendered. Telling him he didn’t belong in the Feudal Era, and that he could find someone else in his own time. Only to have Michiru turn the tables by shutting down the Wind Tunnel.

"After that, I…I guess I did lose it. I couldn’t believe that Miroku would…would actually do something like that. I was just so…so angry about it that I…" Michiru explained lamely, feeling more and more despondent about the previous day’s events. "And then when Miroku lied about it, saying that…that it was all my fault, and he acted like he had nothing to do with it, and said that all would be forgiven if I just apologized, and…"

Nodding, Sango look at Michiru, her expression softening with each word he spoke. "I see," she finally murmured, moving closer to him.

"Sango, I’m so sorry!" Michiru got out. "I never meant to…I just…"

"Don’t you dare apologize, Michiru!" Sango ordered, silencing him instantly. "You don’t have anything to apologize for." As Michiru felt his own heart lightening, a sigh of relief ghosting past his lips, Sango took one of his hands in her own, running her delicate skin over abused flesh that had only recently healed. Examining the condition of his tender knuckles, the Demon Slayer looked up at him with sorrowful gaze. "What happened to your hands?"

"Oh, that?" Michiru asked nervously. "Well…after I…ran off, I…ran into a rock, and decided to vent on it." Looking from his injured hands to Sango, he gave a sheepish shrug and added, "I guess I didn’t do too great a job, huh?"

A small smile upon her lips, Sango ran her hand across Michiru’s own several more times, the mask of toughness she usually wore cracking more with each passing second. Until at last her eyes began to water, and the Demon Slayer turned about, hiding her face. "Michiru, you don’t have to apologize for a single thing. If anyone should apologize, it should be Miroku. He should never have put you in that position, let alone make you take the blame for what happened."

"Then…you believe me?!" Michiru got out, barely able to believe his good fortune.

"Of course I do. I knew Miroku was lying all along. So did InuYasha," Sango explained. When Michiru responded with a noise of confusion, she continued. "Just a little while ago, he told me about what he had noticed yesterday. How he hadn’t heard any magical attacks until the Wind Tunnel had been shut down. And me…I knew right from the start that Miroku was lying."

"You did?" Michiru murmured as he moved closer to Sango, until he was right alongside her.

Nodding, the Demon Slayer continued. "I’ve heard him lie so many times now…I can tell right away when he is or isn’t telling us the truth," Sango said, cracks appearing in her emotional curtain. "The tone of his voice, the w-way he looks at you…he just lies to me so much!" At this point, the moisture in Sango’s eyes began to roll down her cheeks. "He lies about where’s he been, or what’s he been doing. His fake fortunetelling, his fake exorcisms, his schemes for extra money or food…it’s so easy to tell when h-he’s lying!"

"Sango…" Michiru murmured, turning Sango so that she was facing him, the strong, proud Slayer shuddering in his hands.

"He lies to us, t-to me all the time…and I’m tired of it!" Sango finally cried out, sobbing openly as she wrapped her arms about Michiru, placing her head on his shoulder even as he returned the embrace. "I’m tired of being lied to! I’m tired of him going off to flirt with the girls, to grope at them and a-ask them to b-bear his child, right in front of my face! I’m tired of being lied to, of being fondled like some toy, and - and…"

Clenching the sobbing Slayer even closer to him, Michiru ran his hand through her hair. "Oh, Sango…"

"I’m tired of it, Michiru!" Sango cried out again, looking up and fixing him with eyes filled with untold suffering. "I’m tired of the games and the lies and all of it! I just want…I just…want someone to be with me…to be…honest with me. Someone who…won’t go off and lie about whatever he’s doing. I want…I just want…"

It was then that Sango’s voice gave out, and the two of them could do nothing but look soulfully at one another, the air about them heavy with emotions. "What do you want, Sango?" Michiru finally asked, his question spoken out of need, rather than curiosity. "Just tell me, okay? What do you want?"

Somehow managing to pull herself together a little, Sango choked back her sobs, and brought her hand to the back of Michiru’s neck, looking at him in the eye. "I want…someone to be with me. To look at me, to hold me, to be honest with me...to love me. No games, no lies, just…love."

For the first time in what felt like a long time, Michiru found a genuine smile on his face. A smile that drew the two of them together, their lips touching together in a blissful kiss that took so much of the pain Sango had been bearing up and wiped it away. A kiss that lit a fire in both their hearts, as they took hold of each other, the mismatched lovers desperately clinging to each other, fighting hard to prevent being torn apart again. A kiss that lasted for a time unknown to either of them, until they finally were forced to break apart in order to breathe.

Sucking in several quick breaths, both Michiru and Sango looked at each other, the need and love they both felt shining brightly in their eyes. Sniffling a bit, Sango looked into the Shikigami User’s eyes, blushing shyly. "Michiru…let’s forget about that thing."

"Huh?" Michiru wondered, puzzled by the request.

"That…machine from your world," Sango clarified, smiling dearly at him. "Let’s forget about it. Forget about Naraku, the Sacred Jewel, all of it. Just for a while." Drawing in closer to him, the Demon Slayer’s nose rubbed against Michiru’s own. "I just…want to be with you for now. Nothing more."

Blinking twice, Michiru finally nodded, causing Sango’s face to miraculously brighten. No words were spoken as they began to move, and none were needed. They simply approached a tree, whose shade took away from the heat of the sun, while Sango shed both her Hiraikotsu and her sword, leaving them to fall to the ground. Then Michiru sat down with his back against the tree, while Sango slowly draped herself on top of him, resting her head upon his chest.

"Michiru…" Sango spoke, drawing the boy’s attention. "Please…don’t leave me."

"Never, Sango," Michiru responded, placing his hand on her back. "I’ll never leave you."

Sniffing one last time, Sango smiled deeply as she closed her eyes, her breathing settling into a slow, rhythmic pattern. It wasn’t long before she was asleep, leaving Michiru to lay in awe of her beauty.

She was in so much pain, all this time, Michiru thought to himself. Losing her home, her family…having Kohaku taken by Naraku. How has she been able to handle it alone?

It was then that Michiru remembered what Sango had told him yesterday; it had been Miroku who had helped her get by. When she had been in pain, the monk had helped soothe her, bringing her peace by burying her family, among other things. This answered another question he had; why Sango had broken down so suddenly. Because by accepting Miroku’s guilt, the fact that he was capable of doing what he had done, she was now forced to view all of his support with suspicion, as if it had all been a lie. Something that had come dangerously close to breaking her.

Despite the warmth of Sango’s form upon his own, Michiru’s expression grew momentarily cold. You broke Sango’s heart, all for your own selfishness, Miroku, the Shikigami User thought harshly. I’ll never forgive you for that.

As Michiru and Sango lay together, happily embracing each other, two sets of eyes watched over them from a short distance away. With two smiles appearing at what they saw.

"Well, it looks like they managed to patch things up, doesn’t it?" InuYasha commented, the half-demon hidden by the foliage.

"Sure does!" Kaname replied, sighing in relief. "Whew! I’m sure glad that’s over!"

"Same here! I was beginning to think they’d never get it together!" InuYasha grumbled. Then he looked down at Kaname. "By the way…you did make sure that Miroku wouldn’t be able to mess things up for them this time, didn’t you?"

Kaname gave a quick nod to this. "That’s right!" she confirmed, smiling impishly. "Remember how Sango asked me to take over for Jiro, with guarding Azusa?"

"Yeah?" InuYasha wondered. Then his eyes widened as a deep, devious grin appeared on his face. "Oh, no…!" the half-demon laughed. "You didn’t!"

Once again, Kaname nodded. "Yup! I asked Miroku to do it for me!"

Chuckling beneath his breath, InuYasha shook his head at the sneakiness displayed by the Kururugi girl. "Well…I wonder how he’s doing right now…?"

Back in the center of Tsuzumi Village, in the midst of the many large homes that were to be found there, some of which still under construction, the people walking through town were stopped by a piercing, feminine screech. Just before they heard someone screaming, "You filthy pervert!!!!"

As people turned in the direction the voice came from, they heard another sound; a cry of male anguish. This was soon followed by a man in monk’s robes flying out the roof of the house, tumbling about in mid-air before soaring out of sight.

While the people looked in the direction the monk had disappeared in, they then heard more screeching and growling coming from the house. Soon they saw a redheaded female in animal skins march out of the front door, flames spewing from her eyes. "I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him and not even Lapdog Koga would blame me for it!!" the redhead shrilled, her hands knotted up into fists. "I’ll rip that perverted monk’s heart out and feed it to him! I’ll tear his damn head off and shove it up his ass!! Arrrrggghh!!"

This said, the redhead shot off, apparently intent in finding the monk and making good on her threats. While the people of the village simply watched her dash out of sight, silently praising Buddha that they weren’t the ones the girl was mad at.

While Azusa was running about, fully intent on force-feeding Miroku his own innards, Kagura was also busy with plans of her own. Riding about on the feather that served as her mode of transportation, she and several of the Saimyosho had been carefully scouting Tsuzumi Village, and its outskirts. Making certain not to be detected by InuYasha or any of the others.

As the day slowly came to a close and the Saimyosho finished scouting the village, Kagura heard Naraku within her own mind. So…it seems that InuYasha and his friends are having…some difficulties, aren’t they?

"Indeed," Kagura returned darkly. "The monk apparently tried to kill one of Utsugi’s descendants."

Yes. He broke the trust that binds them all, all for the sake of woman. How like his father and grandfather the monk is, Naraku chortled menacingly. Of course, I can’t have him disposing of Utsugi’s descendants. Not when I have plans of my own for them.

"Of course," Kagura answered, frowning at the possibilities such a plan might have for her own hopes. Quickly changing subject, the wind witch asked, "What of that…thing they found? The object from the other world?"

Another object of interest, Kagura, Naraku admitted. Let InuYasha and his band of fools study it all they want. It will keep them busy for now. Long enough for…reinforcements to arrive.

Almost biting her lip, Kagura hissed hatefully. "Understood," was she finally said. Knowing what Naraku’s words meant.

When Naraku finally disappeared from her mind, the wind witch looked up into the night, where the final sliver of the moon was slowly rising into the sky. Tomorrow will be the night of the new cycle, Kagura thought sourly, fully aware of what this meant. This mess couldn’t have happened at a worse possible time!

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