Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Confessions

As the last rays of sunlight faded from Tsuzumi Village, Koga was wandering about, attracting several intrigued looks from the various humans that remained out and about. He wasn’t surprised by this; the sparkling crystals that now adorned his body would cause him to stand out, even amongst his fellow wolf-demons. Still, as he sniffed the air, he couldn’t help but be amazed at the nature of the human mindset. Where one group of humans would hound him or any other demon as a monster to be destroyed, another would greet him peaceably. Some would be wary of him, while others would gladly have his kind walk amongst them.

They’re so damned…unpredictable, Koga thought to himself. His thoughts somber ones as he sniffed the air. They don’t act the same, they don’t think the same…

As Koga continued these thoughts, a familiar scent wafted into his nose. His eyes widening, the wolf-demon quickly checked the path ahead of him before coiling his legs. Firing himself forward, Koga sped through the village, the entire world blurring around him as he left a wake of dust in his path. His nose reading the paths left by the many people there, easily picking out the one scent present that was similar to his own. A path that was now leading him a short distance away from the buildings and into the wooded areas surrounding the village.

The scent growing stronger, Koga dug in his heels, kicking a massive cloud of dirt and debris as he brought himself to a halt. "Azusa!" he cried out, peering out into the shadowy forest. "Hey, Azusa! Where are you?"

"What, you mean you can’t find me?" rang out a painfully familiar voice. A voice that was more bitter than anything else. "Sheesh, you really have lost your edge, haven’t you?"

His fur bristling at this accusation. "Oh, I can find you, all right," Koga snarled in response, his concerns and frustrations finding a new focus. "I’m just not in the mood for games right now. So c’mon out already!"

"And why should I?" Azusa sneered in response.

"Because there’s something I have to show you," Koga answered, his voice taking dull caste of irritation. "So come out already!"

"Well, maybe I don’t feel like coming out. Did you ever think of that?!" Azusa retorted. Her whiny, self-important tone sharpening the edge of Koga’s ire.

Snorting as he listened to the way Azusa’s voice echoed about the trees, Koga began moving again. "And just what makes you think you have a choice?!" the wolf-demon growled as he leapt up into the boughs of one of the trees, Azusa’s scent and voice marking her position like a shaft of sunlight. Her disdainful snort the final piece of information needed to precisely lock in on her exact position.

Bounding from one tree to another, Koga followed his nose until it led him to his quarry. Azusa was perched upon one of the branches, leaning back against the tree trunk with her hands folded behind her head. "So there you are!"

"Yeah, here I am!" Azusa retorted, sticking her nose up in the air as Koga landed on a nearby branch. "Now go away!"

"Not a chance," Koga growled, his eyes dangerous slits as he examined the she-wolf. "There’s something I have to show you."

"Hmph! Whatever it is, forget it!" Azusa sneered. "I’m not in the mood to be dragged around by a spineless wimp like you!"

"Hey! Just who do you think you’re talking to, anyway?!" Koga snarled, his body tensing from Azusa’s barb. "Now, get down outta that tree before I have to carry you down from there!"

Shifting an eye to gaze down at her fellow wolf, Azusa snapped, "Go ahead and try, you walking flea feast!"

"Alright, then! Have it your way!" Koga snorted, having expended what little patience he had. Easily bounding over to the next tree, he grabbed onto the rough bark and braced himself up next to Azusa’s branch. The sent out a surprised squawk as Koga picked her up and slung her over his shoulder.

"Hey!" Azusa growled, holding up her fists as she tried to look up at Koga’s face. "Put me down, you useless, scrawny little -!"

"Oh, no! You’re the one who told me to try and bring you down, remember?" Koga growled. Releasing his hold on the tree, the wolf-demon leader landed on his feet with supernatural ease.

"Fine! I’m down! Now let me go before I -!" Azusa got out, only to be cut off as the world blurred around her. "Hey! Put me down!"

"Not a chance, bitch!" Koga growled as he sped out of the woods, following one of the roads leading away from the village. "There’s something you have to see!"

Noises of pure outrage escaping her lips, Azusa pounded upon her fellow wolf-demon’s back as best as she could. The only thing she succeeded in doing was bruising her hands upon the diamond-hard crystalline plates that shielded Koga’s body. The resulting pain increasing her ire. Snarling fully, Azusa was about to demand to be released when the world lurched about her. Koga had dug his heels into the earth, and was coming to a screeching halt.

"There. We’re here," Koga announced, his voice rigid with concern. Easing Azusa off his shoulder, he allowed the she-wolf to find her feet before grabbing her shoulder. Spinning her about, he growled, "Now, look at that, Azusa! Take a good, long look!"

The first thing Azusa noticed wasn’t the appearance of the place before her, but the smell. The entire area smelt of burnt wood and metal, of fire and many other scents that she didn’t recognize. Then she steadied herself, and was able to study the destruction before her.

"What the…?" Azusa got out as she studied the scorched land and fused stone. Everywhere she looked, she saw nothing but destruction in what appeared to have once been a proper human manor. Now there was nothing but a massive crater, surrounded by shattered timbers and ruined land.

"After Michiru fired that…that missile, I did some looking around…and managed to find this place," Koga explained. Then he gave Azusa a sideways glance. "Take a good, long look at this, Azusa. Because this is the sort of thing humans in this land will be capable of in the future."

Her expression souring, Azusa stared daggers at her fellow wolf. "You mean…you dragged me out into the middle of nowhere just to look at this?!" she growled incredulously. Turning away and sticking her nose in the air, she added, "We already saw that stupid metal bird and its stupid arrows! So why -?"

"Because!" Koga snarled, turning to glare at her, the force of his voice causing her to meet his gaze. Sucking in breath after breath, Koga never wavered, never looked away. "Because…I want to make sure that you understand. That you realize why we have to make this alliance work!"

Huffing an exasperated groan, Azusa looked incredulously at her fellow wolf. "Give me a break! You mean this is why you’re being such a wimp?!" the growled, rolling her eyes in disgust. "Look, even if I thought that playing nice with a bunch of humans was a good idea – which I don’t – it’s not like this is any big deal!"

"No big deal?!" Koga growled, taking hold of the she-wolf’s shoulder. Drawing her in close, Koga stared right into her eyes. "Weren’t you paying attention before?! That metal bird is a human weapon! It have come from another land, but that's the sort of thing humans are capable of! And in the future, the humans of this land will learn to make birds of their own! Of that you can be certain!"

"Oh, please!" Azusa sneered to the tune of a roll of her eyes. "So what?! Even assuming that you're right - which you're not - just how long do you think it will take for that to happen! Besides, there's only one of those stupid metal birds here! And the humans, they can't have all that many! So what's the big deal?! "

"The big deal?!" Koga repeated disbelievingly. "The big deal is that it won't be us learning how to make tools and weapons like that! It'll be the humans! That they'll have all the power, not us! And then -!"

"And then nothing!" Azusa snorted as she turned away, her hands upon her hips. "Fancy weapons from another land - please! Even if humans learn how to make things like that, do you have any idea how long it'll take for that to happen?!" When Koga said nothing to this, the she-wolf started away from the ruined manor. "We’ll probably all be long dead before it actually happens! So what's the big deal?"

Azusa was several feet away when Koga spoke. And when he did, his voice sent a spark of cold fear down her spine. "The big deal...is that I'm afraid that we won't be here when it happens. And neither will our people."

Stopped in mid-step, Azusa furrowed her brows before turning about. As she looked at Koga, she was surprised to see that his expression was empty of anger or frustration. All she could see was a deep, abiding sadness…and fear. Annoyed and confused by these things, the she-wolf asked, "And just what is that supposed to mean?!"

Taking a deep breath, Koga looked squarely at the she-wolf, and said, "When I first met Kagome…she had never seen a wolf-demon before. Never even…heard of our kind." As Azusa let a confused squeak escape her lips, the ponytailed warrior elaborated. "And Michiru…he’d never heard of us at first, either. Two humans from...from a different land…and they didn’t have a clue that we existed."

"So what’s that have to do with anything?!" Azusa demanded.

"Everything, dammit!" Koga howled. Bringing up his fists, he glanced at them like he ached to use them against whatever plagued him, but was unable to. Turning about to look at the shattered manor, the wolf-demon continued. "Think about it, Azusa. Our tribe is in danger. Between the bad hunting and sickness, we’re growing weaker. And humans…they’re getting stronger. Strong enough to defend themselves, even from powerful demons."

"And I repeat; what’s that have to do with anything?!" Azusa snarled.

His head slumping beneath his shoulders, Koga slowly looked towards her in disbelief. "Do you even have a brain buried beneath all that ego?!" the wolf-demon demanded. When Azusa sneered in response, Koga shook his head in exasperation. "Think about it! If humans like them aren’t aware of wolf-demons, then maybe…it because there aren’t any wolf-demons left where they come to be aware of."

There was a dangerous silence following Koga’s words, a silence in which Azusa stood there, staring at him blankly. "What?" the she-wolf finally got out, only to bark out a mocking laugh. "Oh, come on!" Azusa snorted. "Are you saying that the tribes where they came from were somehow wiped out by a bunch of humans! That’s impossible!"

"Really?" Koga returned somberly. "Can you really look in me in the face and say you know that for certain? That there will always be wolf-demons here in this land, no matter what happens?"

"Of course I can! Seriously, why are you even…" Azusa sniffed. Then she saw Koga lowering his eyes again, and blinked in surprise. "Hey…you’re really serious about this."

"I have to be!" Koga growled with as much force as he could muster. "Dammit, Azusa, this is our people we’re talking about! Their lives and their future are in danger, right in the here and now! I have to think about that, what could happen to them!"

For a time, Azusa just stood there, considering her leader. Finally, after a long time, she actually managed a smile. "Well, I gotta say one thing. You might not be the bravest wolf-demon around…but at least your heart is in the right place," she grinned with a raised eyebrow. "Still, I think you’re making a big deal out of a whole lot of nothing! Of course our people are gonna survive! They have to! "

"I just hope you’re right about that, Azusa," Koga grumbled out.

"Of course I’m right!" the she-wolf returned officiously. "Now, c’mon! Let’s get outta here! This place stinks like hell."

"Yeah, it sure does," Koga agreed, sighing as Azusa started off towards the village. Wishing more than anything that he could be as certain as she was.


Michiru couldn’t believe how happy he was.

The evening that had fallen upon Tzuzumi Village was crisp and clear, with the stars sparkling brightly in the skies and a cool breeze coursed about the streets. It was somewhat noisy, what with the construction taking place, and the various merchants hocking their wares. He was still concerned and worried about Koga's knowledge, as well as the harm it could cause. But even through all of that, it was still and idyllic scene as he emerged from one of the shops.

It couldn’t possibly be anything less than idyllic for Michiru. Because he had her at his side.

Sango was dressed in her traditional kimono, and as always carried her Hiraikotsu on her back. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, any perfume. She looked as she always did on their journeys. And yet she couldn’t be anything less than beautiful. And what made it extra special that day…was that they were together by her suggestion.

"Are you sure about this, Michiru?" Sango asked, blushing as she fingered the flower-shaped hairpin that now hung from above her ear. "I’m…really not sure this works for me."

"Relax, Sango," Michiru answered, grinning from ear to ear as he soaked up her beauty. "I keep telling you, it looks perfect."

"I know, but…" Sango eventually shrugged. "It’s just…I never used to wear this kind of thing."

"Really?" Michiru asked, surprised by this revelation.

Smiling at the boy’s surprise, Sango shook her head in fond remembrance. "I never really was able to get into that sort of thing," she explained. "Back when I was little, I spent most of my time with the boys. Playing ball, racing about the fort…"

"That doesn’t surprise me," Michiru admitted. When Sango looked blankly at the boy, he added, "You’re so…energetic. I really can’t see you sitting around, doing basket-weaving or anything like that."

"To be honest, neither can I," Sango returned happily. Then she shook her head, looking back upon the world of the past. "Still…it wasn’t always easy. I can’t tell you how many times I got teased when I would stop to pick some flowers, or fuss with some jewelry."

"Really?" Michiru gaped. When Sango nodded, the boy just shook his head at the image. "I’m sorry."

"No, it’s okay. It was…a long time ago," Sango replied, a touch of sadness hanging from her words. "Anyway, I guess it was…just natural." When Michiru frowned at this, the young woman added, "Demon Slayers have to be strong in order to survive in battle. And, I guess when the boys saw me doing something feminine…"

"Yeah, I guess that makes sense," Michiru decided unhappily. "Reminds me of some of the jerks back at school."

Giggling at Michiru’s disdain, Sango decided, "I guess are people, no matter what world they live in."

"I guess so," Michiru conceded.

Pursing her lips, Sango seemed to consider what to say next. "Don’t you…miss it, sometimes?" she finally asked, causing Michiru to look quizzically at her. "Your world. Your home and friends, going to school? I mean...Kagome talks about kind of thing all the time. So..."

Quirking the corner of his lips, Michiru narrowed his eyes in a thoughtful manner. "My home and friends, yeah. School…not so much." Laughing at this statement, the Kururugi was delighted when Sango joined him in his mirth. "You know, it’s too bad that I won’t be able to tell anybody back home about this. I bet Takuya and Koji would completely flip!"

"I can believe that," Sango agreed, letting out a thoughtful sigh. "I know I felt the same way when I learned Kagome was from the future."

"Yeah, I bet," Michiru nodded. Then he met the eyes of the woman he loved so dearly, and gently took her hand in his own. "Still…right now, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but right here, right now."

Coming to a halt, Sango turned to face Michiru, her smile melting his heart. "I feel the same way," she confessed, placing both of her hands upon his shoulders. Neither of them fighting what was in their hearts, they embraced their emotions and each other, drawing into a tender, loving kiss.

It was bliss. A perfect night with the most wonderful woman he had ever met, their bodies and lips pressed together by the strength of their love. A blissful moment Michiru wanted more than anything to stretch into an eternity.

Then the demands of the flesh caught up with them both, and they were forced to break apart in order to breathe. Something that Michiru quickly decided was completely overrated.

Both of them flushed with heat and a touch of shyness, both Michiru and Sango giggled as they looked at each other. As they both caught their breath, the Demon Slayer’s expression took on a somewhat sadden caste. "What is it?" Michiru wondered, eyeing his beloved with clear concern. "Is something wrong?"

"Well, no. Not exactly," Sango admitted. "It’s just…the others."

"What about them?" Michiru wondered.

"Well…they’re expecting us to meet them at the restaurant," Sango reminded him. As Michiru caught her meaning, he lowered his head as well. "And…we don’t want to make them worry."

"Yeah…I guess you’re right about that," Michiru admitted somberly. "Besides, if we take too long…they might come looking for us."

"Right," Sango agreed. "After all…if any of the others were running late, I know I’d be worried. And…so would you."

"Of course," Michiru murmured.

This being said, the two of them started walking again, the mood of the evening slowly breaking to pieces. With great reluctance, Michiru moved alongside the woman he loved towards their rendezvous with the others. And though Michiru knew that there would be other opportunities for them to be together, other chances, the fact that this first, special night for them together was being cut short was a painful one.

Even as he was sinking deeper into his depression, an idea popped into Michiru’s mind. One that lit up the growing gloom, sparking a dim, hopeful smile about his lips. "Still…I guess there’s nothing to stop us from…staying out after dinner."

As these words were heard, Sango found herself smiling as well. "That’s true," she agreed, an impish twinkling to her eyes. "Oh, wait! I almost forgot!"

"Forgot what?" Michiru asked blankly.

"The jet! With everything that’s been going on, we left it alone! And unprotected!" Sango exclaimed, her face filled with semi-feigned horror.

"Hey, that’s right!" Michiru gaped, feeling like smacking himself in the face. "I can’t believe I forgot about that!"

"I know!" Sango got out, shaking her head in disbelief. "And we can’t just ignore that thing! After all, it’d be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands."

"Boy, I’ll say!" Michiru agreed. "So…I guess we should meet with the others, tell them what we found, have a quick dinner…"

"Maybe take some food and drink with us, and just…keep guard tonight," Sango declared in a perfectly serious fashion. "After all, as Demon Slayer, I can’t do anything less."

"And I’m the one who found it," Michiru chimed in, holding his hands up in a ‘what can you do?’ fashion. "I guess that makes it my responsibility."

"I guess it does," Sango agreed, the two of them all smiles as they picked up their pace. "So…it’ll just be the two of us on guard tonight."

"Guess so," Michiru nodded.

Smiling with growing anticipation, Sango once again took Michiru’s hand in her own. "Think you’re up for it?"

"I am if you are," Michiru told her, once again drinking deep of her gaze and her beauty.

"I am," Sango told him, moving in to kiss him once again.

"Then…we better get going," Michiru told her. "After all…we don’t want the others to worry." When Sango nodded her assent, the two of them began to move even faster. The night perfect once again.


"Well, I’ll say this much for you humans," Azusa commented around a mouthful of dumplings. "When it comes to preparing food, you aren’t half-bad."

"Thanks. I think," Jiro commented, eyeing the she-wolf with a raised eyebrow as she gulped down the dumplings, which she washed down with a quick chug of her tea. When she proceeded to stuff half a pork bun in her mouth, he considered mentioning it might even taste better if she actually took the time to chew it, but then decided against it.

A wise Demon Slayer learned to pick his or her battles. And turning every little issue with Azusa into a battle didn’t seem particularly wise.

Jiro had been enjoying what had been a nice, peaceful dinner alongside Kaname and Shippo. Given the lateness of the day, the restaurant was virtually empty, leaving them to enjoy the relative peace and quiet. Something they had been making the most of, casually discussing the matters of the day, when Koga and Azusa had arrived. To Jiro’s surprise, the wolf-demons were relatively subdued. Even Azusa was almost pleasant as they joined them for dinner. A few questions were asked about what they had been doing, but the two of them had demurred, only saying that they had been busy discussing something. And while Jiro was satisfied that there was a measure of truth to these words, he had also seen the furtive spark to Koga’s mannerisms, how he had been acting as of late.

While Jiro was studying the wolf-demon, wishing he had some idea as to what was plaguing him, Kaname approached. "Here we go, everyone!" the girl from the future announced, placing a tray filled with additional food and tea in the middle of the table. "I also got some sweet bean dumplings and yakitori."

"Hey, yummy!" Shippo grinned as he grabbed at the dumplings. As his face filled with food, the other demons followed his example.

"I think your timing was perfect, Kaname," Jiro decided, a portion of the meal sent flying into his face. Silently wiping himself clean, the Demons Slayer frowned and sat up.

"What is it?" Kaname asked, narrowing her eyes at the Slayer. "Is something wrong?"

"Well, no," Jiro finally replied. "It’s just…I thought Michiru and Sango would have gotten here by now."

His eyes widening, Shippo gulped deeply, forcing down the food that had filled out his cheeks. "Hey, that’s right!" the little fox-demon announced as soon as his mouth was free. Looking about in confusion, he asked, "You think they got lost or something?"

"I doubt it," Jiro replied, somewhat concerned. Though he was unsure what to make of the various happenings within the group, he did know they were taking their toll on his fellow Slayer, something he didn’t like at all. "It’s not as if we set an exact time to meet here. Still…"

"Well, I wouldn’t worry," Kaname tossed in abruptly. When Jiro and the others looked her way, the Kururugi shrugged, blushing somewhat before speaking again. "I mean…Sango said she had some shopping to do, right? So maybe they just…lost track of time, that’s all."

Smirking at the girl’s obvious discomfort, Koga added, "Yeah, sure. Just lost track of time while shopping. That has to be it."

"Huh?" Shippo got out, gaping at the wolf-demon. "What do you mean?"

"Well, isn’t it obvious?" Koga wondered, almost looking relieved to speaking. "A man and a woman, all alone at night? And all they did was lose track of time while shopping?"

Just as Koga was chuckling in a knowing fashion, his mirth was cut short by a female voice. "Actually, that’s exactly what happened," Sango spoke. As everyone turned to look, they saw her and Michiru enter the restaurant, the Demon Slayer wearing a flower-shaped hairpin.

"Uh, Sango! Bro! I, uh…" Kaname got out, clearly surprised by their appearance. "Well…I…"

"Sorry if we worried you, sis," Michiru shrugged. Then he swung his gaze upon the others present. "So…did we come at a bad time or something?"

"No way!" Shippo piped up excitedly. Leaping from his seat, he gestured for the two of them to sit down. "C’mon and eat up! This is really delicious!"

"Thanks," Sango replied. Then she shot a bashful look at Michiru and gave the others a slightly sad look. "We…won’t be able to stay for very long, but…"

"What do you mean?" Jiro wondered with a mild frown. "Is something wrong?"

"No, of course not!" Sango answered quickly. "It’s just that I…"

"We remembered that…" Michiru cut in, talking with his hands. "I mean…the jet is unguarded, and…"

"And we just don’t think it’s such a good idea to leave it out in the open," Sango explained. "Not after…well, you know."

"Yeah," Michiru nodded quickly. "Anyway…"

"Aw, gee," Shippo muttered disappointedly. "Can’t you stay? Just for a little while?"

"Of course we can, Shippo," Michiru replied. "It’s just…well, you understand, right?"

"Oh, certainly!" Jiro replied, a wave of humiliation slamming into him. Of all the things to overlook, that machine and its current exposure was quite possibly the worst thing to forget. Especially after what he had heard about the launching of one if it's strange arrows. "I can’t believe that I didn’t think about that."

"What I can’t believe is that you people keep making such a fuss over that stupid thing," Azusa grumbled, them a sideways glance as she stuffed another pork bun in her mouth. "Honestly! Why can’t we just demolish that worthless piece of junk and get it over with?!"

While everyone was staring daggers at Azusa, Jiro gave Sango and Michiru a solemn look. "Actually, I’d have to agree with Azusa on this," the young Slayer confessed. "I mean…given how dangerous this machine is, we can't afford to let it get into the wrong hands. And...I realize that machine like that must be fairly common in another land, but here, it would give great power to anybody who happened to find it."

"Gosh, I never even thought about that," Shippo spoke, blinking his surprise.

The others there looked at Michiru, who shrugged uncomfortably. "I know what you’re saying, but…I’d rather not do that. Not unless we have to."

"That’s right," Sango agreed. "We might still need that thing. Remember, we still have to find out how it got here in the first place."

"I guess you have a point," Jiro conceded. When Azusa sniffed her disdain, the young Slayer frowned. "Still…"

"Don’t worry. If it does come to that, I’ll take care of it myself," Michiru assured them. Absolute certainty and conviction in his voice.

Nodding, Jiro managed a broad smile. "Well, that’s good enough for me."

"Yeah!" Shippo exclaimed

"Works for me, bro," Kaname agreed. Then she gave her sibling an impish look. "So, Sango, before you two take off, why don’t you tell us what you found before? With that demon?"

"Oh, right," Sango replied, somewhat abashed at having to be reminded of that. "Well, let’s order something first, and we’ll tell you about it while we’re waiting."

The others had no problem with this, so both Michiru and Sango went up to the counter. After placing their order, they came back and seated themselves near the rest of the group. "Alright. Now, as you know, InuYasha and I went back to look at that demon you and Azusa found," Sango began slowly, with all eyes settling on her. "Now, when we got there, I asked Jiro and InuYasha to look around, to see if they could find anything else unusual."

"Yes, and we didn’t find anything," Jiro replied easily. "There was no sign of where that demon had come from, or what had killed it."

"Yeah, yeah. You already told us that part," Azusa grumbled. Then she looked derisively at Sango. "And I suppose it’s too much to expect that you might have found something useful. Like, say…what the hell happened to it?!"

"Hey, watch it!" Shippo piped up.

"Actually, I did find something. Something that…didn’t make a lot of sense," Sango admitted. When confused glances arose at her statement, she elaborated. "I decided to cut the demon’s body open, to see if I could find any trace of poison, anything that might have happened inside it’s body to kill it."

"And? Did you find something?" Kaname wondered, leaning forward in anticipation.

"It’s what I didn’t find that confuses me," Sango explained. "That demon…it didn’t have any internal organs. No heart, no lungs! It didn’t even have any muscles or a skeleton!"

"Wha?!" Shippo gulped, turning a couple shades paler. "But…how could it have even been a-alive?!"

"I’m not sure it was. At least…not as we would consider living," Sango explained.

"You mean…you think someone could have made it?" Michiru wondered worriedly. "Like Grandma Kakuju made those hitogata?"

"Maybe," Sango replied hesitantly. "But if someone did animate it, then who? And why?"

"Would Naraku do something like that?" Kaname asked.

"I don’t think so," Sango replied. "All I know is that thing wasn’t a real demon."

"Wonderful. And now we have another mystery on top of everything else," Koga grumbled, resting his chin in his hand. "That’s all we need!"

"Tell me about it," Azusa sneered.

Looking about at the others, Kaname smiled her best for them. "Well…I guess we’ll just have to figure it out, one step at a time."

"I guess so," Michiru agreed. Then he frowned slightly as his sister stood and moved away. "Uh, where are you going?"

"Well, I just thought I’d bring InuYasha some dinner, that’s all," Kaname replied as she went up to the counter.

"Uh, are you sure about that?" Sango asked, wariness filling her face.

"She, uh…has a point," Michiru chimed in nervously. "InuYasha…I don’t think he’s in the mood for…company."

"Well, I guess I can understand that, but…" Kaname answered. She just stood there for a moment, considering her words. "I just…well…it doesn’t seem right for him to be alone, that’s all."

Michiru and Sango looked at each other, then over at Shippo. The little fox-demon just stared back, all three of them knowing that Kaname was playing with fire, but unsure how to keep her from getting burned. Especially with those that were unaware of this night’s importance about.

Finally, Sango gave the girl a concerned look and said, "Well, okay…but don’t surprised if he…doesn’t want anyone around."

"I know," Kaname answered with an edge of sadness to her words. "Don’t worry, though. I’ll…respect his privacy."

While this exchange was going on, Azusa looked at Jiro, asking with her eyes if he had any idea what was going on. Jiro replied by holding up his hands in confusion.


Later that night, Michiru and Sango left the restaurant. Having had a brief dinner yet filling dinner, the two were now walking along the road leading away from the village. Towards the machine that was a harbinger of the future, and untold peril.

"You know, Michiru, Jiro and Azusa have a point," Sango spoke as they walked along, the path lit by a sphere of Shikigami magic held in the boy’s hand. "If that machine is as dangerous as it seems, we might have to destroy it."

"Yeah, I know," Michiru answered reluctantly. Then he gave his beloved a look of sheepish guilt. "I really don’t like thinking about, though."

Unable to help herself, Sango giggled a bit at this. "I guess I can’t blame you for feeling that way," the Demon Slayer admitted. "You really enjoyed yourself, didn’t you? Flying about like that?" When Michiru lowered his gaze, smiling even more broadly, Sango laughed even more. "I bet you even enjoyed firing that missile, didn’t you?"

"Hey, come on!" Michiru protested, trying to appear serious. But when he saw the mischievous gleam in Sango’s face, he broke down and smiled. "Yeah…I guess I did. A little, anyway."

"Just a little?" Sango prodded.

"Well…okay, I admit it!" Michiru conceded, laughing alongside the Demon Slayer. "I know, I know, it probably seems a bit silly, but…"

"No, of course not!" Sango assured him. "Remember the last time we were here? At the Drum Festival?" When Michiru nodded, the woman smiled in a fanciful manner. "Well, the last time I played with drums was when I was still a girl, and…I don’t know. It just…brought back something for me."

"Really?" Michiru asked.

"Besides…it’s actually kind of cute, seeing you this way," Sango admitted, wrapping her arm about Michiru’s own. Feeling her warmth upon his flesh, Michiru placed his hand upon her, and the two of them gazed warmly upon each other.

"You’re wonderful, Sango," Michiru told her, looking deeply into her eyes. Practically melting beneath Michiru’s gaze, Sango averted her eyes, blushing deeply. Only to frown, a confused gasp escaping her lips. "What is it?"

"Over there. Near the jet," Sango said, pointing ahead. "It looks like there’s somebody standing next to it."

"What?" Michiru got out, narrowing his eyes as he peered into the darkness. Sure enough, there was a vague outline of a person standing next to the jet.

"We better check it out," Sango declared, all business as she took hold of one of the Hiraikotsu’s grips. "Can you give us some better light?"

"Sure," Michiru answered as he brought his hands together. "Oh, brightly shining light, shine your radiance upon this place! Rain of Light!"

A pentagram resolving into existence at his feet, Michiru unleashed the dragon that was his Light Shikigami, which then filled the surrounding area with light. Momentarily blinded by the radiance, Michiru and Sango brought up their hands, waiting for their eyes to adjust as they looked ahead. When their vision finally cleared, the both of them gave sounds of surprise.

"Ko…Kohaku?!" Sango cried out. Looking at the boy who wore a uniform so similar to her own, at a face that haunted both her dreams and nightmares.

Startled by the sight of the boy, both Michiru and Sango stood frozen for a time. A time in which Kohaku stood and looked at them his, expressionless gaze a saddening, sickening thing. Eventually, however, the boy broke into a run, darting away from the jet and into the woods.

"Kohaku, wait!" Sango pleaded, raising a pleading hand. Her efforts were to no avail, however, and the boy soon disappeared. Leaving the Slayer trapped in a pain that was all too familiar to her.

How many times had this happened? How many times had Naraku dangled Kohaku before her, waving him about like bait from the end of a fishing pole, knowing full well that Sango would not be able to resist biting? And how many times had she been trapped in an abyss of pain after every encounter with the boy, all of which ended with Naraku reeling him back, only to try again later.

Once again, the dance of pain started with what felt like her heart being torn open, with desperation and need flooding Sango’s mind. The torment of being caught between the urge to save her brother…and the fear that this would be the time when she would have to kill him in order to save another.

Falling back on her training, her upbringing as a Demon Slayer, Sango stepped forward and looked back at her beloved. "Michiru, get back to the village! Find Koga and the others! I’ll go after Kohaku!"

"No way! I’m not letting you go after him alone!" Michiru protested, placing a gentle hand upon her shoulder.

"I have to! Michiru, you know this has to be a trap!" Sango countered fiercely. Lowering her gaze, she forced a face of stone. "Look, just get the others and come back here! I’ll be fine!"

"Oh, you’ll be fine, alright! Because I’m going to be right with you!" Michiru informed her. Before Sango speak in protest, Michiru took out one of his cards and empowered it with his Wind Shikigami. The paper object transformed in a flash of light, taking on the shape of a bird fluttering about in the breeze. "Go find Shippo and Kaname! Tell them what’s happening!" Michiru commanded. Responding to his will, the tiny bird gave a flap of its wings, and began its journey back to the village.

Taking a moment to watch his creation, Michiru turned to face his beloved. "Now let’s go after him!"

Feeling a wave of gratitude overtaking her, Sango nodded grimly as she forced back her feelings. Remaking herself into a weapon against demons once more. "Alright, then. Just follow me, and stay close!"

A nod was the only response Michiru made as Sango shot forward, the Kururugi boy easily following in her path. The two of them headed towards the woods as quickly as they were able. As soon as they reached the line of trees, they were smacked about by branches and bushes, but neither would relent. "Oh, hard, unyielding stone, gird me with your strength. Shell of Stone!" Michiru invoked. The bull that was his Earth Shikigami flowed outward, drawing forth soil and stone and gathering them about the boy. The earth then solidified, becoming harder and stronger, forming into a carapace of stone armor.

Shooting an admiring glance at him, Sango said, "My, you’re just full of surprises lately!"

"Thanks! I thought a little extra protection couldn’t hurt!" Michiru returned, the stony shell warding off the various branches. "Are you sure we’re heading the right way?"

"Positive," Sango answered tersely, never once losing step. She simply kept moving at full speed, her practiced gaze picking up the trail left by the fleeing boy. A broken branch, a trampled bit of grass, these and many other things were the landmarks she followed. All of them clearly made by a fleeing human, not some form of wildlife that had business being there.

She didn’t know how long they kept running. All Sango knew was that the trail she was following soon led her to a small clearing. Upon reaching that site, she brought herself to a halt, a slight frown of disgust the only acknowledgement she made to her discovery.

"Sango, what is…?" Michiru started as he arrived as well, only to cut himself off. A slight grunt of annoyance escaped his lips before he spoke a single name.

"Kagura!"

"Welcome, descendant of Utsugi," Kagura oozed, smiling wickedly at the two of them. Kohaku stand right before the wind witch, and dressed completely in white, holding a silver-framed mirror, standing at her side. Kanna. "I must say, I’ve been looking forward to this rematch." Michiru said nothing to this. He simply stood there, drawing his sword while bringing forth several Shikigami cards, narrowing his eyes as he readied for battle. "What? Nothing to say, boy?" Kagura asked, sounding almost disappointed as she brought up her fan. "I thought you’d be a bit more talkative after our last confrontation."

Gritting at this, at the role Kagura had played in the destruction of Daisuke's fort, as well as several of the Demon Slayers under his command, Sango glared at the incarnation of the wind. "Let my brother go, Kagura! Right now!"

"Oh. I didn’t even notice you were there, woman of Demon Slayer," Kagura spoke, casting a disdainful look at Sango. Placing her hand on Kohaku’s head, she then proceeded to run her fingers through his hair. "I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though. Considering your affection for this…mindless puppet."

Tightening her grip on the Hiraikotsu, Sango tensed, every fiber of her being calling for action. To tear this abomination away from her beloved brother. But while the massive boomerang bone was by far her favorite weapon, it certainly wasn’t the most subtle. It simply didn’t have the precision needed to slay an opponent and guarantee Kohaku’s safety as well. And since she hadn’t had the time to switch to her uniform, the Hiraikotsu was the only weapon she had that would be effective from a distance.

Then there was her opponent. Though Kagura wasn’t the most powerful of Naraku’s incarnations, she was far too dangerous to be taken likely, especially with Kanna present as well.

Still, despite all these things, Sango continued to look at her brother. Her burning with all the pain and frustrations she had felt since she had lost him and the rest of her family. These things making it clear that surrender was not an option.

But as she considered the situation, Michiru stepped forward, his earthen armor as smooth as steel, giving him an imposing air. "Kagura...I don’t know what Naraku is up to this time, but it’s not going to work," Michiru informed her. "We’ve beaten him before, and we’re going to do it again."

"My, my, aren’t we feeling bold," Kagura replied with a deepening smile. "And I must say, that armor does suit you well." The demon woman closed her fan, looking at the boy predatorily before taking a step forward. "It looks like someone has become even stronger since the last time we met."

"So I keep hearing," Michiru replied, never once letting down his guard. "Kagura…let Kohaku go. Holding onto him isn’t going to do you any good."

"Oh, but I think it will," Kagura replied, never once losing her smile. "After all…if he weren’t here, you’d be free to attack. And I’d rather that didn’t happen. Not when I have so many plans for you."

"You…" Sango growled. Only to be stopped when Michiru placed a hand upon her shoulder.

"Forget it, Kagura! There’s no way I’m surrendering myself to Naraku," Michiru exclaimed.

"And who says that I need for you to surrender?" Kagura smirked wickedly. Unfolding her fan, she reared back, the wind swirling about it. "Dance of -!"

"Sealed Blue Sky!" Michiru invoked, summoning the power of his Wind Shikigami. The bird that was its manifestation flew forth and surrounded Kagura in green light, focusing about her fan. Before the wind witch could complete her attack, the gathered winds died out, the air going flat and silent.

Her eyes popping open, Kagura stared helplessly at her fan. "What the -?!" the wind sorceress gasped out. She then glared at the humans, confusion turning to desperation. "Dance of Blades!" Kagura tried, only to have her swing fall flat once more. Desperation turning to genuine fear, she gave it one last try. "Dance of the Dragon!" Kagura cried out, her breathes coming quick and fearful when her attempts failed to produce so much as a tiny breeze.

"Sorry, Kagura. But I’m not in the mood for a dance. Not this time," Michiru replied with a wry curling of his lip. Then he gave the wind witch a stern glare. "Now…let Kohaku go!"

"No!" Kagura countered, backing away from the two of them. "Kanna! Take them now!"

"Not happening!" Michiru countered, whipping out three of his cards. "Oh, towering green wood, transform these seeds into shadows of my power! Green Wood Doppelgangers!" Surprised by the cards, Kagura stepped aside while Kanna raised her mirror to block them. To their surprise, the three cards flew past even as Michiru’s Wood Shikigami infused them with power.

"What in the -?!" Kagura managed to get out, only to be stopped when the cards exploded into clouds of smoke. Shielding her eyes, the wind witch let out a gasp of surprise as figure appeared from the smoke, grabbing her wrist and forcing her to drop her fan. That done, the figure twisted her arm behind her, using his free arm to get the demon in a chokehold. Powerless to fight the ironclad grip, Kagura could stand there helplessly, listening to Kanna gasp in pain. Swinging her eyes about, she saw the incarnation of void was in a similar predicament, with her mystical mirror facedown upon the ground. As for Kohaku, a third attacker had appeared, and had slung the boy over his shoulder.

This wasn’t what caused Kagura to gasp in surprise, however. It was the identity of their assailants. Though Kagura was unable to get a very good look at the man who held her captive, she could see Kanna’s attacker very clearly. So clearly that she could see it was an exact double of Michiru Kururugi.

"Wh-what the…?!" Kagura gasped out, only to wince in pain as her captor tightened his grasp.

"You didn’t think I was just going to sit around and let you attack us, did you?" Michiru demanded of the wind witch.

"Michiru!" Sango gasped, staring in awe at the three duplicates of himself that he had created. Staggered by this, the Demon Slayer gazed upon the boy in slack-jawed disbelief. "What - how – when -?!"

"Oh, my doppelgangers?" Michiru smiled, giving the woman a shrug. "Just a little trick Shippo showed me when we were training in the mountains. I thought it might come in handy." Turning his gaze towards the captive demons, his placed his hands upon his hips. "I guess I was right."

Exhaling deeply, Sango continued to stand there, blasted with disbelief. Even though Michiru was with her, she had been expecting an uphill battle at best. At least until reinforcements joined them.

And just like that, the battle was over. Before it had even had a chance to truly begin.

Even as Sango watched, the third doppelganger walked over towards them, Kohaku securely clutched over its shoulder. "Um…sorry about Kohaku," Michiru got out, giving her a shamed look. "But I just thought…that is, with Naraku’s spell on him and all."

"No, it’s okay!" Sango told him, unable to wrap her mind around what had just happened. "I just…I understand! Really! I…" Growing more and more overwhelmed, Sango rolled her eyes upwards and took a deep, calming breath. Feeling her heartbeat reduce just the tiniest bit, the Demon Slayer quickly regained her faculties. Placing the recent events in order within her mind, she took command of the situation. Kohaku was safe, Kagura and Kanna were immobilized and apparently helpless. So unless there was some additional trap or more demons on the way, the battle was truly over.

Somehow, it just didn’t seem right.

Still, Sango wasn’t about to complain. Unless some new danger arose, there really was only one other thing left to do there.

"Alright. Michiru, just have your doubles hold onto to those two for a little longer," Sango spoke tersely. Easing the Hiraikotsu off her back, she took a step forward. Her eyes locking fully upon two creatures that had caused her so much torment. "It’s time we dealt with them. Once and -!"

"Sango, don’t!" Michiru protested. Stung with fresh surprise, the Demon Slayer whipped about to stare at the Kururugi. She stood there, helpless with shock as he advanced upon the two demons, only to bend down and gather up their objects of power.

As soon as both Kagura’s fan and Kanna’s mirror were securely in hand, Michiru gazed upon their former wielders. "I don’t think you two will be able to cause much trouble without these," the Shikigami User decided. "Now, we’re taking Kohaku with us. As soon as we’re safely away from here, I’ll dispel the doppelgangers. You’ll be free to go."


I hate these nights, InuYasha growled inwardly. Sitting about the room in the house in which they were guests, he felt more like a prisoner in his cell. Waiting as the seconds drew into minutes, then hours. Helpless to do anything but wait until he could be free once again.

Darting a look at a nearby mirror, InuYasha growled at the reflection. Though he was fully aware of what he would see, he still felt the need to look. To see and growl at the true nature of his prison. His own body.

Instead of claws and fangs, he had weak human nails and teeth. Pathetic human ears replaced his normally keen dog ears, and his hair was a deep black instead of silvery white. And he would remain so until the sun finally rose. Which meant that he had little choice but to remain there himself, lest he give away his greatest secret, and weakness. And while hiding away from the world on nights like this was something he had done since he was but a small child, running away to hide was something he would always, always hate.

And there was something else, too. Something that he would never become accustomed to…

"InuYasha?" came a quiet, gentle voice. Jarred from his thoughts, the now-human InuYasha practically jumped to his feet as he looked towards the door. "It’s me, Kaname. Are you in there?"

Kaname. One of his friends. Not some stranger like the others in that house, but someone close to him. His best friend’s sister. A fellow fighter. These images ran through his mind as he settled back down, though the sudden disturbance had a typical effect.

"Yeah, I’m in here," InuYasha growled, though perhaps not as nastily as he might have under other circumstances. "What is it?"

There was a tiny pause before Kaname answered. "I…brought you some dinner. From the restaurant," the explained. "Would you…like for me to leave it out here for you?"

Dinner. Taking an experimental sniff, InuYasha found that his meager, human nose did pick up the scent of food. A scent that sparked a hungry rumble from his stomach, at which point he remembered that he hadn’t had any dinner yet.

The delightful smell of food filling his mind, the raven-haired boy settled down and thought for a moment. Eh, she’s probably gonna find out sooner or later, anyway, he thought to himself. That is, if the others didn’t just tell her about it!

And he was alone. He hated being alone. And in the time since he had met Kagome and the others, InuYasha had grown to hate that feeling more with each passing day. And the idea of sharing some time with Kaname was far from an unpleasant one.

Fresh, human emotions swirling nebulously about inside of him, InuYasha did his best to cover them up. "Fine. Come in," InuYasha finally said, sitting back and waiting for the reaction.

Would she be shocked? Would she be scared? Would she be mad at him for keeping such a secret? Would she be understanding? Would she run away in horror? His human half free to conjure such possibilities, InuYasha sat back and waited for reality to unfold. Watching in anticipation as the door slowly slid open.

The first thing he noticed was the growing light from out in the hall. InuYasha had deliberately kept the room dark, so even if someone had accidently intruded, they wouldn’t be able to get a clear look at him before he was able to yell at them, to get them out of there. But he had no intention of doing so as the human carefully poked her head in the door and looked about.

The instant Kaname’s eyes fell upon him, they widened as they took in every detail of his human form. "InuYasha?" she got out. Puzzled, confused, but not unduly surprised.

"So…I guess Michiru told you about this, huh?" InuYasha decided, irritated and unsurprised at the same time.

"Sango, actually," Kaname replied. When InuYasha frowned somewhat, the shrugged. "My bro didn’t say anything about it until she started to tell me."

"Really?" InuYasha responded, feeling his heart lightening at this. At the realization that his friend hadn’t betrayed his secret on a whim.

"Like he said. It’s your secret," Kaname explained. Then she stepped forward, holding the bundle of food towards him. "Here. Tea with buns and dumplings."

"Hey, thanks," InuYasha nodded, a tiny smile forming as he accepted the proffered meal. Opening the container, he was greeted by a wave of steam that rose up from the meal. "And it’s still warm."

"Yeah," Kaname agreed. "I, uh…I kept it warm on the way here." For a time, she just stood there, nervously fidgeting, before finally saying, "So…anyway. If you’d…like to be alone…"

Alone. It was a word InuYasha loathed, a reality he loathed even more. Especially on nights that made him fear for his life.

"Naw, that’s okay," InuYasha broke in, halting the girl with a wave of his hand. "You can stay if you want."

He wanted her to stay. This gentle, human girl who had barely seen any battle, and yet already proven herself to be a strong, capable friend and ally. InuYasha wanted her to stay.

To his hidden relief, Kaname smiled broadly. "Okay," she said before moving to sit next to him. Her warmth clear, even though she kept a polite distance.

InuYasha experienced a moment of discomfort at this. At the human emotions that shone so strongly on nights such as that one. At this kind, human girl who was so close. Clearing his throat, InuYasha averted his eyes momentarily until he thought of something to say. "So…you want some?"

"No, that’s okay," Kaname demurred. Then she eyed the delightful food she had brought, and her cheeks colored. "Well…maybe one pork bun."

"Okay," InuYasha decided. Fetching out a bun, he handed it over to Kaname, who smiled at its reception.

A smile. Kikyo had smiled so often in his presence. The rare person who was happy to have him around, and now this…

"So, uh…" InuYasha got out as he grabbed a bun of his own and bit into it. "What do you think, huh?" When Kaname frowned her confusion, the dark-haired boy swallowed and gestured at himself. "Not exactly what you expected, is it?"

"Oh, you mean you as…?" Kaname got out. When InuYasha nodded, she shrugged. "Well…it is a bit different, but…it’s still you, right?"

"Yeah, it’s me," InuYasha replied. Feeling a hint of relief at her taking this so well so far. Then he darted a glance at her as she took bite out of her bun. Once again discomforted by the silence. "You’re sure taking this well, you know that?"

"Really?" Kaname answered.

"Yeah," InuYasha confirmed with a nod. "I mean…Miroku, and Sango…hell, even Michiru kinda flipped when they saw me like this for the first time." Then he averted his eyes, taking another huge bite of his bun. "Not that I blame them."

"Well, I was given fair warning, remember?" Kaname noted. Something to which InuYasha could only shrug. "It can’t be easy, can it?"

"Huh?" InuYasha got out, glancing over at the girl. A sad smile ghosting her features.

"This thing. With the new moon," Kaname elaborated. Shrugging helplessly, she looked into his dark eyes. "Just having something…shut down your powers…"

"Hey, don’t underestimate me!" InuYasha returned, some of his typical growl appearing in his human voice. "Just because I’m like this, it doesn’t make me helpless!"

"Oh, I’m not saying that!" Kaname explained. Her cheeks coloring, the then leaned back against the wall. "It’s just…I don’t know if I’d be able to handle it." A confused noise in his throat, InuYasha looked at the girl, who once again offered him one of her smiles.

She should smile more often, InuYasha decided. Before mentally slapping himself in the face for thinking such thoughts.

"I mean…I only learned I even had these powers a while ago," Kaname went on, taking hold of the hem of her skirt. "The thought of…losing control of them…"

"Yeah, well, you don’t have to worry about that," InuYasha told her, popping a dumpling into his mouth. When Kaname gazed at him querulously, he added, "Even without your powers…well, I’m sure…well, that is…" Breaking off, InuYasha found his words failing him. His ability to say what he wanted grossly inadequate in the face of the thought he wanted to convey.

And yet, somehow he managed to succeed. For Kaname smiled gratefully, placing her hand upon his own. "Thank you," was all she said.

Thank you. Just two, simple little words that people used all the time. And yet, coming from such a close friend, they had such impact. Impact enough to set InuYasha’s cheeks burning, discomforted noises escaping his lips as he took a quick chug of the tea.

While Kaname was giving a slight laugh at this, she then let out a gasp as something lit up the room. A bird slipped in through the door, glowing a pale green as it flew up to her.

"What the -?!" InuYasha got out, staring in astonishment as the bird changed into a card before falling into Kaname’s hand.

"It’s one of my bro’s cards!" Kaname gasped out, the light of the card flowing over her. Her eyes widening, she looked over her companion. "InuYasha! It’s Kohaku!"

"Kohaku?!" InuYasha growled, setting aside his meal.

Nodding, Kaname focused on the card. "Michiru and Sango saw him near the jet before he ran off! They went after him!"

"Dammit! How they can be so stupid?! They have to know it’s a trap!" InuYasha growled, leaping to his feet. Without a second thought, he shot towards the door, only to feel Kaname’s hand upon his shoulder, halting him.

"InuYasha, no! Wait!" Kaname cried out. When he spun about to face her, he saw a face filled with concern. "You don’t have your powers right now! You can’t -!"

"Hey! There is no way in Hell I’m just gonna sit around while those two walk into one of Naraku’s little schemes!" InuYasha snarled. Human anger and feeling making for great boosts to his courage.

"But -!" Kaname tried again. Only to falter in the face of his determination.

"No buts! I’m going!" InuYasha declared, leaning in closer towards Kaname’s face.

Her lips tightening, Kaname studied the depowered warrior, before finally place her free hand on his shoulder. "Then we better hurry," she told him. "I don’t want to see anybody I care about getting hurt, either."

"Right," InuYasha returned, and with that, the two of them started downstairs.

"We better get Miroku!" Kaname declared as they arrived on the first floor. "Just wait here, InuYasha! I'll be back in a second!" Before he could protested, the Shikigami User darted up to the monk's room and looked in the door. "Miroku, listen! We need - what?!"

Starting the shock in her voice, InuYasha called out, "Kaname? Kaname, what is it?!"

"It's Miroku!" Kaname reported, pulling back to look at InuYasha with her wide eyes. "He's gone!"


"What?!" Sango cried out disbelievingly. Staring at the boy like he had grown an extra head. "Michiru, what are you talking about?! You can’t honestly be thinking of letting those…those murderers go free?!"

Michiru turned and met the Demon Slayer’s gaze, the Shikigami User’s expression a saddened one. "Sango…I know what you’re saying, but…we can’t just kill them in cold blood!"

As these words flowed within Sango’s mind, all the pain and misery she felt spat forth dozens of reasons why these demons had to die. They were Naraku’s creations, they were demons of great evil, they had killed on Naraku’s behalf before and would undoubtedly do so again if given the chance.

As these many reasons overloaded Sango’s mind, preventing her from giving voice to any of them, she heard something she would not have expected to. A laugh. A harsh, bitter laugh, one that was restrained by lack of air, but a laugh nonetheless.

"If you were wise, descendant of Utsugi, you would listen to the Demon Slayer," Kagura rasped out, the doppelganger’s arm pressed firmly against her windpipe. When Sango looked upon her, she was once again stunned. There was no malice in Kagura’s visage, no hatred of her enemies. Only bitterness, and pain. "I am a woman born of Naraku, remember?"

"Yeah, I remember," Michiru replied, looking Kagura squarely in the face. Then he narrowed his eyes before continuing. "And I also remember you teaming up with us against Naraku. Back on Asagiri Island."

Her face twisting with pain, Kagura spat out, "That was just a business, boy! Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise!"

"I know that, but…" Michiru trailed off. His eyes lowered to the ground as he searched for the right words to say. Finally, he looked hard upon his captives, and said, "But I…I can’t hate you for something he forced you to do."

"Michiru…!" Sango gasped, unable to make sense of this. She was aware that the boy was kindhearted, but this level of mercy was madness. "What are you saying?! We have to deal with them now! We might not get another chance!"

"Sango…I’m sorry, but…" Michiru replied, fumbling before her. "But…I can’t do that." As the Demon Slayer stared blankly at the boy, he held up his hands pleadingly. "Come on! It’s not their fault! Any more than it was Kohaku’s!"

"But…!" Sango got out, only to choke on the emotions welling up in her. Against her will, she flashed back to the many confrontations with Kohaku. On the times she had prepared herself to levy the blow against her own brother. To stop him from committing atrocities he was powerless to stop, knowing full well that the next blood she would spill…would be her own.

Finally, unable to handle such horrors within her own mind, Sango shook her head miserably and said, "It’s not the same thing, Michiru."

"Isn’t it?" he asked in return. "Sango, I’m sorry, but…I can’t do this. I can’t just kill them. Not like this." Lowering his gaze once more, Michiru looked away from his beloved and turned his gaze to his captives.

"Kagura…the next time you see Naraku, I…want you to tell him something," Michiru spoke, his tone solid and cold as granite. "Tell him that…his time is over. That he can hide all he wants…but there’s no place he can run. Not from us."

Her expression softening but still captive to her bitterness, Kagura eyed the boy who had defeated her so effortlessly. "You’ll live to regret this decision, boy," she told him. "This will change nothing the next time we meet."

"I know," Michiru replied sadly. Turning about, the boy started away, the demonic weapons still in hand. "C’mon, Sango. Let’s go."

For a time, Sango was tempted to protest. To take out her rage and frustration upon the two demons, to make them suffer for every moment of pain she had suffered because of Naraku and his machinations. But even as she tried to mobilize her anger, she looked upon Kagura’s face. The face of someone who was broken. Helpless. Defeated.

This was not the face of the one Sango saw when she thought of all the horrors that followed her through the day and into the night. This was not Naraku’s face. And as much as she wanted to deny it, as much as she might have wished otherwise, when she looked at Kagura that moment, she didn’t see the face of an enemy. All she saw…was a pawn in an ugly game.

At that instant, she lost the urge to kill as well.

"She is right, you know," Sango commented as Michiru arrived next to her. "We’re going to regret this."

Shrugging as he came to stand next to the double carrying Kohaku, Michiru replied, "Maybe. But I still think this is the right thing to do."

"Really?" Sango returned. When Michiru nodded, she gave him a grim smile. "Fine. Then you can explain that to InuYasha and the others when we tell them what happened!"

Giving an exaggerated wince at the image this suggestion inspired, Michiru gave a weary smile. Then he watched as Sango started forward, and moved to follow her.

"You shall not leave."

These four, simple words filled the clearing, blasting the minds of everyone who heard into emptiness. Leaving nothing but voids as Michiru and Sango froze in place.

Impossible was the word their staggered brains screamed at them. They screamed that word over and over again as they turned to look for the source of the voice. And the word was screamed with even greater intensity as they caught sight of it.

As Sango stood there, her mouth hanging open in the face of this apparition, Michiru struggled to speak. He wanted nothing more than to look at this newcomer and protest his existence. To say loudly and clearly that he could not be real.

Instead, his mouth opened and closed several times before he could speak. And when he did, he said but one word. One name.

"Utsugi…"

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