Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Terror in the Night

Rushing out into the streets of Tsuzumi Village, InuYasha followed as Kaname took the front. A nagging voice at the back of his mind yelling for him to hide. To conceal his frail human form, and the weakness it symbolized, before knowledge of the weakness was spread to others.

InuYasha squelched that nagging voice. Shutting it out as Kaname ran flat out, the bulk of the villagers’ attention on her. His attention solely on the image of his friends, of Michiru and Sango following the Demon Slayer’s brother into yet another of Naraku’s traps. Knowing that he couldn’t just sit around and cower while others fought the battles he knew he had to fight as well.

"How much longer to this damned restaurant, anyway?!" InuYasha growled at the girl, trying to drown out the strong human emotions that were assailing him. Fear, desperation, anger, concern, and so many more. All intensified on that night, and the peril facing them on so many fronts.

"We’re almost there!" Kaname replied instantly.

"Dammit! Why’d Miroku have to go wander off at a time like this?!" InuYasha demanded vehemently. Thinking of the time wasted when Kaname had gone looking for the monk, only to find his room empty.

"We don’t have time to worry about that right now!" Kaname replied, her irritation clear as she ran as well. "We have to get the others!"

Knowing that Kaname was right, InuYasha continued to run, his tender human feet feeling every abrasion in the simple dirt paths. If I find out Miroku took off to flirt with some girl, I swear, I won’t stop at just killing him! he thought nastily. Pain and fear making excellent catalysts for his anger.

"There it is!" Kaname finally cried out, pointing ahead. Her words giving InuYasha an extra boost of speed as they ran right for the front door of the restaurant.

Hoping against hope that at least some of the others had chosen to linger for some after-dinner small talk, the two of them stopped just inside small eatery and scanned its interior. To their immense gratification, Shippo and Jiro were still present, sitting back and exchanging polite conversation.

"Shippo! Jiro!" Kaname cried out upon seeing the two of them. Blinking rapidly, she asked, "Where’s Koga and Azusa?!"

"Oh, hello, Kaname!" Jiro replied pleasantly. "They took off a little while. Koga wanted to look around the village a bit, and…who’s that?!"

As for Shippo, he just sat there, momentarily frozen, before he finally leapt up on the table. "InuYasha?! What are you doing out here?!!" the little fox demanded, staring at horror at the raven-haired boy.

"Never mind that! We’ve got trouble, okay?!" InuYasha snarled as he marched up to the two of them.

"Inu…Yasha?" Jiro spoke blankly, staring at the obviously human InuYasha with rounded eyes. "Wh-what are you talking about?! That can’t…I mean, he’s…!"

"We don’t have time for this!" InuYasha growled, glaring forcefully at the Demon Slayer. "Michiru and Sango are in big trouble! We have to get going!"

"What?!" Shippo gaped, his bulging eyes expanding even more as his jaw clattered to the table. "Wh-what do you mean?! What happened?!"

"Kohaku showed up, and is probably leading them into a trap right now!" InuYasha growled. Then his eyes narrowed disgustedly. "And knowing Naraku, he’s probably got a horde of demons on their way here right now!"

"Demons?!" Jiro demanded, even as the few other patrons of the restaurant looked up nervously. Pressing his lips tightly together, the young Slayer went on. "We have to alert the local militia!"

"I’m not sure how much good they’ll be able to do," Shippo commented.

"It sure as hell can’t be worse than doing nothing at all!" InuYasha commented gruffly. "You do that, and see if you can dig up those stinking wolves while you’re at it! Tell them to head towards the jet! If Michiru and Sango were heading that way, then even Koga should be able to pick up there scent!"

"Right, good idea!" Jiro replied. "I’ll -!"

"Wait a minute! Where’s Miroku?" Shippo cut in. The little fox looked wildly about, as if expecting the monk to appear out of thin air.

"We don’t know," Kaname admitted, shrugging helplessly. "He was gone before we even left the house!"

"Look, we don’t have time for this!" InuYasha snarled. "While we’re standing around yakking, Michiru and Sango are in trouble! We have to go after them!"

"You’re right," Jiro concurred, getting to his feet. "I’ll find Shunsuke and tell him to alert the militia! Then I’ll go look for the others!"

"Are you sure you can find them?" Kaname wondered nervously.

Giving them a solemn smile, Jiro answered, "Well, what kind of Demon Slayer would I be if I couldn’t?" Not waiting for any response, Jiro ran out into the night, his three-sectioned staff already in hand.

Frowning, InuYasha looked at the others there. "Well, I guess it’s just us! C’mon!"

"Right! Let’s go, Shippo!" Kaname said, waving for the fox-demon to follow them.

"Well, okay, but…" Shippo sputtered out. Looking suggestively at the depowered half-demon.

The implication not needing to be said, InuYasha stared daggers at the fox-demon. "Hey, if you think that I’m just gonna sit around while those two are -!"

"Okay, okay! I was just wondering, that’s all!" Shippo protested, holding up his hands warily.

"Anyway, we don’t have time to just stand around, arguing about it!" InuYasha snarled. Not giving either of the others a chance to protest, InuYasha turned and dashed out of the restaurant.

Stunned by the rapidity of his exit, Kaname frowned before looking at Shippo. "We better follow him."

"Boy, I’ll say!" Shippo agreed as Kaname started out after the half-demon. "He’s such a hothead, always rushing into these things!"

"I guess," Kaname agreed somberly. Her own worries piling up rapidly, fears for her brother and Sango and all the other terrors mentioned. As these fearful possibilities danced wildly in her head, she forced a brave smile onto her face. "But it’s not like he’s defenseless," the Shikigami User said, putting as much faith into her words as she could. "I mean, he still has the Tetsusaiga, right?"

"Yeah, for all the good that’ll do him!" Shippo gritted irritably.

"What’s that supposed to mean?" Kaname wondered, the hair on the back of her neck raising up in response to Shippo’s words. "Is there something wrong with the Tetsusaiga?"

Grinding to a halt, Shippo gazed in amazement at Kaname. "Don’t tell me they didn’t tell you!" the little fox gasped out in horror.

"What are you talking about?" Kaname wondered. "Didn’t tell me what?!"

"The Tetsusaiga!" Shippo cried out urgently. "It won’t transform when InuYasha’s human!"

These words sent shock rippling throughout Kaname’s mind. "What?!!?!" she shrieked. Quickly glancing down the path InuYasha has sped down, the Kururugi girl then returned her attention to the fox-demon. "C’mon, Shippo! We have to hurry!"

Without pause, Kaname grabbed Shippo up by the scruff of his neck. "Hey! What are you doing?!"

"Time to combine, Shippo!" Kaname gritted, drawing forth one of her cards. Charging it and placing it upon Shippo’s forehead, she then turned the fox-demon and squashed him against her chest.

"Huh?! Hey, wait a min -!" was all Shippo was able to say as his face turned beet-red. Then his entire body morphed, the power of Kaname’s Shikigami causing him to melt about her arms and upper torso. Then armor appeared about her body, and a set of bat-like wings sprouted from her back.

"InuYasha, please, wait up!" Kaname cried out as she lifted into the air.

"Uh…Kaname?" Shippo squeaked. His face emerging from the chest area of the armor, a pentagram on his forehead and a healthy coating of red on his cheeks. "Are you sure about this…?"

"Of course I’m sure! Now let’s go!" Kaname cried out determinedly.

For a wolf-demon, there were many pleasures, chief amongst them were hunting prey and defeating a powerful foe. Pleasures that had been all too few for Azusa as of late. But there were other pleasures as well, and one of those was the welcome feeling of a full stomach. And with the hunting as bad as it had been, this was a pleasure that Azusa had not experienced in a painfully long time.

This was why Azusa was stretched out at the base of tree, sighing with a measure of contentment, feeling rather sleepy as the night wore on. Koga relaxing on a roof of one of the humans’ wooden shelters, gazing out onto the night sky.

I have to say this much. Humans certainly know how to prepare a good meal, Azusa admitted in the privacy of her own mind. Knowing that she would never say such things out loud, if for no other reason than that her pride as a wolf-demon would never let her. Then, with a somewhat annoyed curl of her lips, she added even more privately. And some of them actually know a thing or two about fighting. Not that they can hold a candle to us, but…

Frowning as her chain of thought took this unwanted twist, Azusa growled in her throat and tried to forget about such nonsense. Focusing instead on the night, and the relaxing feel of good food in her stomach. Only to frown even more as she heard the sound of grass being crushed underfoot.

Taking a whiff of the air, Azusa growled in her throat as she realized she knew who and what was coming. I swear he was born just to make my life hell, the she-wolf groaned inwardly as Jiro came into view.

"Koga, Azusa!" Jiro announced as he came into view. "We’ve got trouble!"

"So do you, you stupid human," Azusa sniped in a gloating fashion. "Coming in the direction the wind was blowing from…I smelled you long before you actually showed your miserable face."

"Well, that was the idea," Jiro confessed. When Azusa made a questioning sound in her throat, he added, "I thought that if I gave you chance to smell me first, you’d know I wasn’t a threat."

Before Azusa could even bristle at the implication that a human could ever be interpreted as a threat, Koga leapt down from his perch above. "What is it, Jiro?"

As quickly as he could, Jiro explained the situation to the wolf-demons. "Shunsuke is already alerting the village militia, but I’m not sure if they’ll be enough," the Demon Slayer confessed. "And if this Naraku is somehow involved…"

"Then we’re in big trouble!" Koga concluded, somehow swearing without actually doing so. Snarling beneath his breath, he looked wildly about before returning his attention to Jiro. "Do you know where they were headed?!"

"Towards that machine we found!" Jiro reported instantly.

"Heh! I told you we should have smashed that stupid thing!" Azusa crowed, still leaning back against the tree. Waving her feet about without a care in the world.

"Dammit, I don’t have time for this!" Koga growled before assuming control of the situation. "I’ll go after the mutt and the others. Azusa, you and Jiro head back into town. If Naraku does send more demons, I want you two ready to help protect this village!"

While Jiro was nodding, Azusa sat up with an indignant squawk. "What?!" she cried out. "But…it’s not like it’s our problem! Why -?!"

"Because we still have to get the rest of those supplies we’re here to get! And if this village is destroyed, so is the food and medicine that both our peoples need!" Koga snarled. "Besides, there’s no way in hell I’ll leave anybody to Naraku’s mercy!"

This said, Koga turned about and blurred out of sight, the slipstream he left behind causing waves of dust to slam into the two stunned figures behind him. Leaving Azusa coughing and Jiro shielding his face until the winds settled down.

"Dammit!" Azusa snarled, only to break out in another fit of coughing. Her eyes tearing, the she-wolf glared furiously at Jiro. "Why the – hell do I have to – get stuck with you all the time – anyway?!" she demanded around spats of coughing.

Sighing wearily as Azusa glared pure hatred at him, Jiro only say, "I wish I knew…"

"It can’t be…" Michiru murmured beneath his breath. Unable to tear his eyes away from the masked figure before him. Every fiber of his being saying that it couldn’t be, that it was just impossible for this person to be there. This person that Michiru had held in his arms…and watched over die months ago.

On some level, Michiru was aware of Sango, Kagura, and Kanna, and while the embodiment of void was as impassive to this specter’s appearance as she was to everything else, he could sense the astonishment the others felt. Something that was enhanced when Kagura gasped, "Impossible…"

Kagura’s astonishment adding to the surreal nature of the situation, Michiru found that he could only stand there, staring helplessly at the impossible apparition. His eyes took in every detail of the figure; the familiar white kimono and blue pants, and the dreadful brown mask with its wild mane of blonde hair. The Shikigami User’s frozen mind already painting in the face that he was already certain lay behind the accursed mask, whose image he had once worn himself. Michiru’s own Shikigami revealing the apparition to be a being made of flesh and blood, as Utsugi had been when he last drew breath. Even the aura he projected was unmistakable.

"I can’t let you do this," spoke the entity. Every word, every inflection, all of them perfect. All of them impossible. "The boy belongs to Naraku. That is his fate." A moment passed as the creature cocked his head at Michiru. "As it is yours."

"Utsugi…" Michiru murmured, unable to believe it even as he said the name. Chilled to the bone by the specter’s words.

"This isn’t real, Michiru!" Sango cried out in protest. Her words snapping him back to reality. "You were there, remember?! Utsugi died after that battle! And InuYasha, me, all of us, we buried him! We buried him at the Kururugi cemetery!"

I’m happy for you, Utsugi, Michiru’s own words said to him. Floating up from the moment after he returned from his first adventure in the Feudal Era. You’ve been laid to rest at the Kururugi Shrine.

Even as this memory and Sango’s words undid the paralysis that had seized Michiru, the being before him said, "And you, of all people, should know that death is not necessarily the end."

Narrowing her eyes wrathfully, Sango slid the Hiraikotsu off her back. "Yes, and I know this as well!" the Demon Slayer announced as she raised her weapon. "The Utsugi I saw die wouldn’t condemn his ancestor or my brother to Naraku!"

Crying out in frustration, Sango sent the massive boomerang flying towards the masked creature, whom leapt with impossible ease. Leaving the Hiraikotsu flying past him, Utsugi held out his hands at the Demon Slayer. A noxious wave of toxic, purple gas sprang out from his sleeves, racing towards Sango with the promise of death.

It was this that finally freed Michiru from his paralysis. Seeing his love in danger, the Shikigami User took up position between Sango and the deadly miasma. "Blue Sky Impact!" Michiru cried out, invoking the power of his Wind Shikigami. The blast of wind he released diffused the toxic cloud, blowing it safely away.

"Michiru, that’s not Utsugi!" Sango cried out. "It can’t be! The poison -!"

"I know!" Michiru responded, feeling like a fool. "That miasma…that was like Naraku’s!" Narrowing his eyes furiously at the entity before him, he tightened his grip on his wooden blade. "So…you’re another of Naraku’s incarnations! Like Kagura and the others!"

A low, sinister chuckle echoed beneath the foul being’s mask. "Don’t be absurd. I am far beyond that feeble, treacherous witch," the demon muttered, still using Utsugi’s voice and inflections. "My name is Ryuunosuke, boy. I am my master’s finest creation…and your undoing."

"We’ll see about that!" Michiru growled, empowering his sword with the power of nature. "Piercing Thunder!" Slashing the wooden blade, the Kururugi boy sent forth a massive bolt of lightning, the crackling electricity tearing apart the ground as it danced towards Ryuunosuke. The masked fiend nimbly dodged the strike, tumbling into a roll that put him a safe distance from the attack.

"Michiru! Get Kohaku away from here!" Sango cried out as she took up position next to the imprisoned incarnations. Hefting the Hiraikotsu for another swing, she glanced pleadingly at the boy held by the one doppelganger. "If they get him back -!"

"I know! I know!" Michiru returned, taking a moment to kick himself for his oversight. A mental command later, the one duplicate took off at a run, its precious cargo well in hand.

"There is no point in such an action," Ryuunosuke taunted, still using Utsugi’s voice. "The boy belongs to Naraku. All things belong to Naraku. He is your -!"

"Hey, shut up!" Michiru cried out, infuriated by this specter. "Prominence of Flame!" A blast fire erupting from his sword, Michiru raced in towards Ryuunosuke, intent on bringing this abomination to its knees.

"Why are you so angry?" Ryuunosuke wondered almost playfully. "Don’t you find me an object of pity, like the pathetic Kagura?"

These words throwing fuel on the fires of anger, Michiru gave greater power to his sword. "Kagura’s a lot of things, but anybody who’d stand up to Naraku is not pathetic!" the boy cried out, invoking his Wind Shikigami. "And stop using Utsugi’s voice!"

"But it is the voice my master gave me," Ryuunosuke said mildly. "Don’t you think it is a good voice? It is the voice of…"

Ryuunosuke never had a chance to another word, for it was at that moment that Sango charged into battle. Leaping down upon the foul monster, she let loose with a deadly battle cry as she brought the Hiraikotsu down towards him. At the very last moment, Ryuunosuke was able to dodge the blow, and released another blast of his deadly miasma.

"Sango, no!" Michiru cried out, but his fear was unneeded. Sango had never stopped moving, and quickly darted out of harms’ way. But her assault had granted him a much needed opening, and as Ryuunosuke sent another wave of toxic doom surging towards her, he took it.

"Binding Blue Sky!" Michiru invoked, the power of his Wind Shikigami flying out towards Ryuunosuke, forming a chain of air about the masked obscenity. Cables of wind wrapped about his body, containing both him and the noxious fumes.

"Great work, Michiru!" Sango called out as she turned about. Whipping the Hiraikotsu about, she sent it flying straight and true at ensorcelled incarnation. Bound in the magic of the wind, Ryuunosuke could do nothing as the massive boomerang struck him directly upon his waist, instantly cleaving him in two. His mask was sent flying as his upper body tumbled across the ground.

Heaving a relieved sigh, Michiru smiled as he went up to his beloved’s side. "You’re pretty amazing as well, Sango," the Shikigami User told her, placing his hand upon her shoulder.

"Uh, thank you," Sango blushed lightly. Then she became businesslike again as she eyed Ryuunosuke’s body. "We better make certain that he’s dead, though. The last thing we need…"

"Is some nasty surprise," Michiru agreed, knowing how Sango felt. Ryuunosuke had been nimble, but in terms of power, he simply didn’t seem to match up to any of Naraku’s other incarnations.

"Here. I’ll go look," Sango volunteered. Taking a moment, the Demon Slayer retrieved the filter mask from the small bundle she carried with her. Donning the protective garment, she added, "If this is a trap, I’d rather have you back here to back me up."

"Don’t worry, Sango," Michiru nodded. "I won’t let anything happen to you."

Her eyes brightening, Sango turned and carefully approached Ryuunosuke’s lower body. After a brief but thorough inspection revealed nothing, the Demon Slayer moved towards the upper torso. Just as she was kneeling down for a better look, she let out a gasp of surprise.

"Sango?!" Michiru got out, his heart practically jumping out my throat. "What is it?!"

Unable to answer at first, Sango could only hover above the body, staring down at its face. Or rather, at the perfectly smooth patch of flesh where the demon’s face should have been. Somewhat shaken, she shifted about to look at her love, only to suck in a horrified breath. "Michiru, look out! Behind you!"

His expression reflecting his surprise, Michiru turned to look, crying out in shock as Ryuunosuke’s mask dove down towards him. He brought up his sword, but was too late as the mask flipped about and slammed right against his face. "What the -?!" Michiru got out, only to be cut off as his body convulsed madly.

"Michiru!" Sango cried out, rising to her feet and rushing over to him. Michiru’s earthen armor shattering as he clawed desperately at the mask. His two visible doppelgangers echoing his pain before exploding into plumes of smoke, leaving two cards to fall to the ground.

No…this can’t be happening again…! Sango cried out desperately in her own mind. Visions of other loved ones she had lost ripping through her, the agonizing moment in which Michiru had disappeared right before her very eyes stabbing deep into her heart. Rushing up to the Shikigami User’s side, paying no heed to her own safety as she grabbed hold of the mask. Not again, please, not again!

Grunting as she brought every ounce of her strength to bear, Sango pulled feverishly at the filthy, hateful mask. Doing everything in her power to end Michiru’s cries of pain, to free him. Her muscles protested, her mind was overloaded, and yet she would not stop.

Instead, it was Michiru who stopped. To Sango’s astonishment, he suddenly fell silent, his arms falling limp at his side. Falling still in surprise, the Demon Slayer could do nothing but look at her love. A tiny voice in her mind crying out in horror.

"Michiru…?" Sango gasped out, staring at his masked visage. Begging him for some sign that he was still there.

"It’s as I told the boy before, Demon Slayer," Michiru finally spoke. His voice his own, but the way the words were spoken transformed with evil. "All things belong to Naraku. Including this flesh and this soul. Now…and forever."

"InuYasha!" Kaname cried out, finally catching sight of the raven-haired boy. Folding her wings somewhat, she descended towards him. "InuYasha, wait up!"

"Huh?" InuYasha got out. Turning to look over his shoulder, he retorted, "What took you so long, Kaname?!" Not bothering to watch as she landed, he began looking about the area. "Dammit! There’s the jet, but with this lame human nose, I can’t smell a thing!"

"InuYasha, wait!" Kaname got out, staring hard at the half-demon. "Is it true? That the Tetsusaiga won’t work when you’re human?"

"So what?! Who cares about that right now?!" InuYasha growled. "We still have to find Michiru and Sango before something happens to them!"

"No, Shippo and I have to find Michiru and Sango," Kaname countered gently. When InuYasha frowned in response, the Kururugi girl sighed unhappily. "Look, I know you’re worried about them, but please! You won’t do them any good if you charge in there like this!"

"And what should I do? Just sit around while you and the others are fighting for your lives?!" InuYasha demanded.

"I understand what you’re saying, but InuYasha!" Kaname pleaded, standing right before him. "No powers, no Tetsusaiga! What do you expect to do in there?!"

"A lot more than I could sitting around out here!" InuYasha countered. He was preparing to say more, but them a discomforted squirming was heard.

Letting out a noise of surprise, Kaname looked down at her own chest, only to gasp as her armor exploded into a puff of smoke. Reverting to his own body, Shippo tumbled to the ground, his eyes as of dazed spirals and blood trickling from his nose. "Oh! Shippo, what’s wrong?!"

"Ohhhh…" Shippo groaned dazedly. Leaving the others completely baffled.

While InuYasha and Kaname were staring down at him, trying to figure out what was wrong, the sound of wind rushing about was heard. A quick look revealed a tornado blowing towards them, a tornado that soon evaporated to reveal Koga. "Hey, you two!" the wolf-demon cried out as he skidded to a halt.

"Koga! Are we glad to see you!" Kaname cried out in relief.

"Hmph. Speak for yourself!" InuYasha growled. "For a guy who’s supposed to be so fast, you sure took your time getting here!"

"Hey, I came as soon as I got the word, okay, and – aw, damn!" Koga groaned, running his hand down the side of his face. "I’d forgotten about that!"

"Huh?" Kaname got out. Looking between the demon and the human, she finally said, "You mean you knew about this, too?"

"It’s a long story," InuYasha growled beneath his breath.

"Yeah, one that can wait until we find your brother and the Demon Slayer," Koga growled. While Kaname was feeling somewhat out of the loop, the wolf-demon sniffed the air experimentally, turning his head in one direction, then the next. Then he pointed off in one direction, grinning triumphantly. "There! They went over that way!"

"Then let’s – hey!" Kaname squawked as Koga sped off. "Where are you going?! Wait up!"

Heedless of anything else, Kaname shot off after Koga. "This is no time to be lying around, Shippo!" InuYasha growled, grabbing the fox-demon and rushing after the others.

"Huh?! Hey!" Shippo protested, shaken back into awareness by this rough treatment.

Everything else forgotten in their haste, the odd threesome followed the dusty path left behind by Koga, all of their minds filled with various fears. Something that was enhanced when the wolf-demon cried out in pain, with the sound of flames crackling in the background.

"Dammit! I knew that wolf couldn’t handle this!" InuYasha sneered, picking up his pace.

"InuYasha!" Kaname cried out, looking over her shoulder at her pursuer.

"Save it, Kaname!" InuYasha barked before the Kururugi girl could say another word. "I’m coming, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!"

Frowning unhappily, Kaname finally said, "Then be careful, okay? I – huh?!"

"What is it?" InuYasha demanded as he came behind her. Only to widen his eyes as the situation before him answered his question.

Koga was groaning in pain, rubbing his head, his skin scorched and crystalline carapace coated with soot. The trees and grass around him badly burnt, and just ahead were Kagura and Kanna, as well as a masked figure that held Sango by her wrist.

Freezing at the sight of the mask, InuYasha gaped in shock. "It can’t be…Utsugi?!" the raven-haired boy cried out.

"InuYasha! Kaname! That’s not Utsugi!" Sango cried out, her face streaked with tears as she struggled against her captor. "Michiru…he’s been possessed by that mask!"

"Huh?!" Kaname gasped out, blanching as she took in the details of the masked figure’s clothes. "You’ve gotta be kidding me! My brother?!"

"Your brother is the property of my master," came Michiru’s voice, eerily distorted by both his mask and the demonic force that had seized him. "As you yourself will soon be."

"Like hell she will!" InuYasha snarled hatefully.

"You’re not in any position to do anything about it, you fool," Kagura spat out, sounding more bitter than anything else. "What do you expect to accomplish in that weak, human body?"

"You better let Michiru go right now, or I’ll show you what I can do!" InuYasha growled hatefully.

"No. It is the boy’s fate to serve Naraku," Michiru spoke, his voice still distorted. "All things shall serve Naraku or die."

"Stop it!" Sango cried out, fresh tears rolling down her cheeks. "Just stop it! Stop using his voice!"

The cruel eyes of the cursed mask tilted towards Sango before returning to InuYasha and the others. "You fools are of no use to Naraku. Therefore…you will die by this boy’s hand," the cruel voice spoke again, even as Michiru’s hand rose up towards them. "Spirits, hear my words! I -!"

"No!!" Sango screeched. Without hesitation, the Demon Slayer flung herself at Michiru, even as a black pentagram formed about his feet. Taken aback by this change of tactics, the masked figure was toppled to the ground, a desperate Sango sprawled on top of him.

"Fool," the harsh voice of Naraku’s incarnation sneered. Black spheres of force forming in Michiru’s hands as he took aim. "You die now."

The ebon force flashed dangerously before Sango, flickering wildly in her face, just as a rush of wind filled the clearing. The possessed Shikigami User launched his attack where Sango had been just moments ago, the deadly bolts flying through empty air. They soon wrapped about one of the trees, the power of the spirits made corrosive by demonic power melting the tree like strong acid. While Sango dangled beneath Koga’s arm, the wolf-demon having recovered just in time.

"Michiru…" Sango wept desolately.

"Dammit, we don’t have time for this!" Koga snarled. "I don’t care what it takes, but that damned mask is coming off! Sango -!"

Her visage twisted with grief and misery, Sango forced herself to say, "I know…I won’t hold back!"

Before anyone could say anything else, a low, malevolent chuckling filled the air. "Fools. All you do, you do in vain," spoke the cruel, demonic voice that escaped from the cursed mask. "Naraku is all-powerful. In defying him…you invite your own doom. I shall show you all the true power of the spirits…and of nature gone mad!"

"Not happening!" Kaname cried out, charging forward, her sword glowing with power.

"Foolish girl!" Michiru countered, a large, dark pentagram appearing about him, one that he sent racing towards Kaname.

"Protective Light!" Kaname invoked, her Light Shikigami barely appearing before the wave of corrupt power slammed into her. Crying out in pain as the destructive force battered at her shield, the Shikigami User was sent flying, even as ghostly winds began to ripple about the clearing.

"I control this body, and the power it holds! And soon, Naraku will control you as well!" the possessed Michiru ordained. Another black pentagram formed at his feet as he rose up into the air. Ebon orbs of power appeared in his hands, orbs that spat out bolts of dark lightning out at Koga and Sango. "Kagura, Kanna! Secure the girl and make sure that she is unharmed! The rest of these fools die this very night!"

A narrowing of her eyes was the only sign of disgust that Kagura showed as she stooped down to pick up her fan. "Very well," she muttered, even as Koga and Sango were driven backwards. Turning towards Kaname, she pressed her lips together before saying. "Don’t try anything we’ll both regret, girl."

"Sorry, Kagura! Not happening!" Kaname returned, brandishing her sword. "Blue Sky Blades!"

As a series of wind blades shot at her, Kagura whipped her fan about. "Dance of Blades!" the wind witch countered, the two forces of wind canceling each other out.

Growling his frustration, InuYasha started forward. "Hang on, everyone! I’m – huh?!" the raven-haired boy got out, only to falter when he felt something about his ankle. Looking down at his feet, he then snarled as he realized the cause of his problem. "Shippo! What do you think you’re doing?!"

"Keeping you out of trouble, that’s what!" Shippo retorted instantly. "You can’t fight like this, and the sun won’t be up for hours!"

"So what?! You expect me to just stand around and – ouch!" InuYasha growled, cut off by a blast of pain as Shippo dug his fangs into his ankle. "That hurts!"

"Yeah, and you’ll just get hurt worse if you try and help!" Shippo shot back around a mouthful of foot. "Just stay back and let the rest of us handle this!"

While InuYasha was preparing to pound his point into Shippo’s skull, Kaname and Kagura were settling into an exchange of blows, with both sides taking punishment. "Now let’s see how you like this! Chaotic Flame!" Kaname invoked, raising her hand and releasing a plume of flame. The crimson wave hit Kagura dead-on before she could muster up another wind, resulting in a wave of blue energy that circled back into the Kururugi girl.

"Ah…that feels much better," Kaname sighed, her injuries healing visibly as the energy was absorbed. "Now let’s see how you like this! Ice Storm!" Charging her sword with the power of Ice, Kaname sent a stream of brilliant white snow laced with rock-like hail swirling towards the wind witch.

"That’s not good enough! Dance of the Dragon!" Kagura sneered, launching a massive tornado at the girl. The devastating winds engulfed the Ice Storm and absorbed it, begetting a hurricane filled with cruel, arctic cold.

Stunned by the sight of this, Kaname gasped in surprise. "Swift Blue Sky!" she invoked, her Wind Shikigami swirling about her legs and propelling her out of harm’s way.

Unfortunately, while Kaname had been able to escape, InuYasha and Shippo were too engrossed in their argument to even notice the strike until it was nearly upon them. It was only when they finally felt the biting cold of the assault that they looked up from their argument and hastily flung themselves aside. But the force of the freezing winds still caught them, tossing into the trees as it ripped apart the forest, tearing a path of destruction as it left them behind.

Stunned and sore from his crash landing, InuYasha groaned in pain as he slowly picked himself back up, shaking the stars and comets from his head as he recovered. Finally, he looked up at the continuing battle, and snarled as he lifted himself to his feet. "That does it! Hang on, Kaname!"

"But…InuYasha…!" Shippo protested faintly, the little fox still trying to pull himself free of the tangle of trees and branches which he had been sent into. "The Tetsusaiga won’t do anything tonight!"

Frowning as this point hit home, inspiration then lit up InuYasha’s face. "You’re right…but maybe this will!" the raven-haired boy declared, taking hold of another hilt and scabbard. Slowly drawing forth the Reikikaiga, he was rewarded with the familiar electrical humming of the blade, and a burst of light as it transformed. Steel becoming glowing crystal engraved with bizarre patterns, whose blade tapered into a needle-like point.

Smiling his satisfaction, InuYasha looked up and down the crystalline blade, the intense lightning that danced about it. "I knew this thing had to be good for something!" the raven-haired warrior stated. "Hang on, Kaname!"

Looking away from her battle Kagura noted InuYasha’s approach and growled in her throat. "I don’t have time for this," she hissed, narrowly dodging another strike from Kaname. "Kanna! Take his soul!"

"No!" Kaname cried out as InuYasha continued his charge, undeterred by Kanna moving to block his path. "InuYasha, look out!"

Neither he nor Kanna paid any heed to Kaname’s words. "Give me your soul," the incarnation of void murmured, no feeling or malice to her words as she released the power of her mirror at InuYasha.

"Not on your life!" InuYasha snarled as he raised the Reikikaega before him, the energy tendrils it emitted reaching out towards the pale cloud of demonic power released by the mirror. Without hesitation, the crystal blade intercepted and devoured Kanna’s power, allowing not even the smallest part to reach the depowered half-demon.

A slight widening of her eyes was the only reaction Kanna made as InuYasha ran up to her. "You see, my new sword just loves to eat demonic power!" InuYasha grinned hatefully as he took the sword in both hands. "And I say it’s time to give it all it can handle!"

Growling triumphantly, InuYasha drove the Reikikaega straight into Kanna’s mirror. But instead of shattering the glass surface, it phased through the mirror like it was made of air. From there it poked out the back of the mirror, and ran Kanna through, again failing to so much as cut her.

But the reaction on the parts of both demon and mirror were impossible to overlook. The mirror crackled madly with lightning while Kanna scrunched up her face, gasping in pain as the Reikikaega’s power ran up and down her body. Gasps that quickly grew in strength, until the white-haired child was screaming in horror.

And then she was no longer a white-haired child.

"What the hell -?!" InuYasha gasped in astonishment, unable to move as he watched as Kanna’s flesh became darker, her hair shifting from pure white to jet black. Her eyes also shifted, from pale blue to a darker shade, with her pupils becoming visible, and the light of the Reikikaega reflecting in them.

Bringing her hands up to her temples, Kanna let go of the mirror as she fell away from the Reikikaega, landing on the ground in a sorry heap. Her entire body shaking in fear, she eventually looked up at InuYasha, her face reflecting every terror ever felt. "Wh-what happened…?!" she asked him, tears spilling forth from her eyes. "What d-did you do to m-me…?"

"I -!" InuYasha started, staring helplessly at the shattered girl. As he looked about, he took note of Kanna’s mirror. The glass was dull, and the frame was a darker color. Without any trace of power left to it.

Before he could say anything further, Kanna brought her hands to her temple again. "What…no! Stop it!" she cried out, rolling about the grass, her face twisted with fear. "No…what’s happening to me?! What are th-these thoughts?!! Who’s there?!! Get out of my mind!!!!"

Going completely hysterical, Kanna leapt to her feet, her eyes wide with panic as she shot out into the woods. "Heeeelp meee!!!!" she shrieked, her voice cracking the air about her, her horror remaining as she fled into the night.

"Kanna?!" Kagura gasped out. Turning in her direction, InuYasha realized that Kanna’s drama had brought the fight between the wind witch and Kaname to a temporary halt, the two of them helpless to do anything but watch the girl’s transformation and trauma. "What did you -?!"

Growling as he turned to look at the demon woman, InuYasha smirked nastily. "I’m not exactly sure," he admitted. "But how about I introduce you to the Reikikaega, and let you find out that way?"

Blanching at this, Kagura held up her fan. "Never! Dance of the Dragon!"

"No!" Kaname cried out as another deadly tornado sprang into existence. "Sealed Blue Sky!" The Wind Shikigami sprang into existence, heading towards Kagura with the promise of her powers again being restrained.

Crying out in protest, Kagura turned about just as she was launching her Dance of the Dragon to face this new threat. "Oh, no you don’t!" the wind witch snarled. With a wave of her fan, she shattered Kaname’s spell before it could strike home.

While Kaname was gasping in surprise, Kagura snarled, "Ryuunosuke told me to take you alive…but that doesn’t mean I have to leave you in one piece! Dance of the Dragon!"

"Kaname! Look out!" InuYasha cried out. Pushing himself as hard as he could, he got around the swirling funnel to come between it and the Shikigami User. Holding up the Reikikaega, he grunted as the blade once again reached out and eagerly devoured the force of the wind.

"I must say, that is a very interesting sword, InuYasha!" Kagura gritted, holding up her fan once again. "Now let us see just how much it takes to break it! Dance of the Dragon!"

Releasing a powerful strike, Kagura sent a series of tornadoes flying towards InuYasha and Kaname. The depowered half-demon grinned ferally as he held up the Reikikaega. "My thoughts exactly!" he answered as the sword once again reached out to devour the power sent against it. The blue arcs of energy engulfed the tornado, drawing its power into the substance of the blade. But as this happened, streamers of energy began creeping down the hilt of the sword, stabbing at its wielder.

"Dammit!! What’s this thing doing?!!" InuYasha demanded as the sword continued to crackle.

"I’m not exactly sure," Kagura smirked, sensing triumph. "But how about we find out? Dance of the Dragon!!" Sending out another series of tornadoes, the wind witch laughed as the Reikikaega eagerly began to devour them as well, resulting in further power being turned against InuYasha.

"InuYasha, stop it!" Kaname cried out, taking hold of his shoulder. "Drop the sword and get out of here! I can handle her!"

"No way! I’m not…gonna leave…you behind!" InuYasha gritted, the power of the sword he had claimed wrapping about him and suffusing his flesh.

"What noble sentiment. Defending your friend with a sword that is turning against you," Kagura smirked. "How very brave…and ultimately futile! Dance of the Dragon!!"

Once again, Kagura sent forth a wave of destruction that the Reikikaega gladly swallowed up, the blade shining intensely as it sent its power into InuYasha. Leaving him helpless to do nothing but cry out in shock as the sword began to glow the intensity of the sun…

"This way! Hurry! Hurry!" Densuke cried out, urging the people of Tsuzumi Village along the paths woven between the various buildings.

Surveying the movements of the people, watching as those two young or too to fight were ushered into the relative safety of their homes, Jiro looked over at Shunsuke. "Everything seems to be in order."

"It would seem so," Shunsuke agreed. Frowning at the young Slayer, he asked, "But are you sure of this? That there are demons on the way?"

"To be honest…no," Jiro confessed, wishing that he could be more certain of the situation. "But the others seemed pretty sure that something bad was happening, and that a demon named Naraku was involved. And given that he’s the one who wiped out our fort…" With that, the young Slayer shrugged, letting the silence speak for him.

Nodding as Jiro’s meaning sank in, Shunsuke answered, "Well, I hope you don’t take this wrong way…but I’d be a very happy man if it turns out you were wrong."

"And you wouldn’t be alone," Jiro replied. Then he looked on as the village militia began to appear. "But in case I’m not, at least we’ll be ready.

"Hmph. Like those wimps will actually do any good," Azusa sneered. As the humans looked up, they saw the redheaded she-wolf perched atop one of the roofs.

"I know our people can’t match a Demon Slayer in terms of skill, but they have all seen their own share of fighting," Densuke commented, watching as the roughshod army took shape around them. Then he gave a weary smile. "And they have some new weapons to help them, if you’re right about the demons."

"New weapons?" Jiro repeated querulously. Then he gave a closer look at the various troops taking up positions around the homes, and actually smiled. "I see…Azusa?"

"Yeah, what is it?" Azusa growled. Then she looked down at the people below, and sat up in disgust. "Oh, no! Not those damned things again!!"

Puzzled by the she-wolf’s reaction, Shunsuke asked, "Is something wrong?"

"Not exactly," Jiro laughed despite himself. "But…when did you get those…weapons?"

"Oh, the rifles?" Densuke asked, looking at the metal tubes that decorated the shoulder of every one of their defenders. "We bought them a short while ago. A group of merchants gave us a demonstration, and it was rather convincing. They told us that they would make good protection against bandits and demons, so we bought enough to outfit most of the militia." Frowning, he then asked, "Why? Do you think they won’t be enough?"

Smiling broadly, Jiro answered, "I wouldn’t worry. From what I’ve heard, rifles like that actually work pretty well on demons." Then he cast a look over his shoulder at their redheaded she-wolf.

"Yes, I think that the rifles will prove to be…an excellent investment," Shunsuke added, looking at the wolf-demon as well.

Wrinkling her face like she had just spent the past few hours sucking on lemons, Azusa growled, "I’m not gonna forget this…" That said, she stuck her nose up into the air, and determinedly lay back down.

Managing a small laugh, Jiro took a secure hold of his three-sectioned staff and looked out into the night. The fact that the people around him had armaments proven effective against demons a small reassurance. Still, it won’t help much if they don’t know how to handle them properly, he thought somberly. For although he loved stories of adventure, and eagerly welcomed the chance for such adventures himself, he had seen enough battle to know that preparation was half the battle. The half that more often than not won or lost the battle long before it was actually fought.

"Say, Azusa…" Jiro started, looking back up at the wolf-demon.

"Don’t bother me, you stupid little human!" Azusa growled, determinedly not looking at him.

Sighing wearily, Jiro persisted. "We don’t have time to fight amongst ourselves!" he told her. "Now, can you smell or hear any demons coming this way?"

A beat passed before Azusa finally answered. "What?" she growled almost playfully. "Are you asking me, the one who’s nose is supposed to be some kind of weakness?"

"Oh, please, not now!" Jiro pleaded. "I only said it can be a weakness! In the wrong situation…"

"But this isn’t the wrong situation, now, is it?" Azusa grinned, looking down her nose at the Demon Slayer. "You need me now, don’t you?"

"Of course we need your help, Azusa," Jiro told her, rolling his eyes tiredly. "I never said that we didn’t need your help!"

"So you’re saying that all that fancy training doesn’t amount to anything, aren’t you?" Azusa went on. "That is, without the superior power to back it all up!"

"Dammit, Azusa! This isn’t a competition!" Jiro finally cried out irritably. "Now, could you please stop turning everything into a superiority contest and just keep a lookout for any demons?!"

"Hmph! And what if I don’t feel like looking out for you? What are you going to do…?" Azusa sniped. Only to trail off as her nose twitched at the wind. Making a confused noise in her throat, the she-wolf frowned as she looked about.

"What is it?" Jiro asked, not liking the change in her demeanor. "Do you sense something?"

"Uh, yeah…" Azusa got out as she rose to her feet. Pointing off towards the horizon, she added, "And what I sense is that!"

Looking off in the direction indicated, Jiro gasped as he saw a horde of demons dropping down from the clouds. Writhing with bloodlust as they surged down towards the village, even as the ground began to shake quietly beneath his feet…

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