Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Pain and Tears

Sango was in hell. There was simply no other way of putting it.

What had started out as wonderful evening with the boy who had found his way into Sango’s heart more and more with each passing day had turned into a spiral into the abyss. And now the Demon Slayer thought that this heart, already so filled with memories of that special boy was about to completely break apart as she fought to survive. Fought against the very same boy she cared so very much about, and while she couldn’t see his face beneath the hideous visage of Utsugi’s mask, she could all too well hear Michiru’s voice, corrupted by the power of the mask, issuing forth from behind it.

"Surrender, fools. Surrender, and allow me to end your pitiful existences quickly and painlessly," the cruel voice of Ryuunosuke echoed out from the mask. A mask that was identical in form to Utsugi’s, a corrupt vessel for the demonic force controlling the Kururugi boy. "Your might is as of nothing to that of my master."

"Hey, shut up, you damned coward!!" Koga snarled. Her eyes drawn by the voice of the wolf-demon leader, Sango saw him glaring at Michiru, who was hovering above a pentagram of darkness, demonic power crackling about his form. "You and your master are going down! Bet on it!"

"Pathetic mongrel. Your doom is at hand," the cruel voice rasped, the dark energy surrounding Michiru’s body intensifying. "Spirits, hear my words! These fools who defy the master beg for their own demises! Give them Naraku’s judgment, and send them to their deaths!!" As soon as this word was spoken, bolts of dark lightning split the air and streaked towards the earthbound warriors.

"Move it, Sango!" Koga growled, blurring towards her even as the dancing destruction fell down upon her. Without even slowing down, the wolf-demon grabbed Sango up and sped her away from the deck.

"You honestly think you can outrun your destiny, fools?" the demonic mask demanded, the power of his attack ripping apart the earth. Even with the speed Koga possessed, he was just barely keeping ahead of the awesome onslaught. "All those who stand against Naraku forfeit their very existence."

"Shut up!" Sango shrieked, already at her emotional limits. Her eyes tearing and pain stabbing at her heart, the Demon Slayer reached into the fold of her kimono. Although she was not ready for battle, she had long since made a habit of keeping certain potions and small armaments available for use at all times. And while she had nothing that was capable of stopping the possessed Shikigami User, the thing she was reaching for could certainly slow him down.

"Your cries serve only to annoy me, fool. You…" the mask sneered, only to trail off as a tiny object flew forth at him. Reacting impulsively, he released a bolt of dark lightning at the tiny orb Sango had thrown. Only to halt mid-air as a massive cloud of darkness exploded right in his masked face.

"Hey, good one!" Koga grinned as the possessed boy’s fitful coughs escaped the cloud. Digging in his heels, the wolf-demon soon halted his forward momentum. As soon as he had come to a complete stop, he set Sango down and reversed course. "Now, excuse me while I take care of our problem!"

"Remember, Koga! Just go after the mask!" Sango pleaded, her voice breaking beneath her agony.

"Don’t worry, Sango!" Koga growled as he closed in on his target. A magical wind having already dissipated much of the smoke, enough for the possessed boy to come into view. "That damned thing is coming off…right now!!" Leaping into the sky with enough force to leave a cloud of dust behind him, the wolf-demon shot straight at his enemy, his fist raised towards the cursed mask.

However, before Koga could even come close to his enemy, he collided with a wall of shimmering light. Crying out in pain, the wolf-demon hung in the sky, flattened against Michiru’s Protective Light.

"Fool," the masked youth sneered as darkness crackled about him. Ebon lightning arched about him before lashing out at Koga, sending him flying into the air, screaming in pain. The demonic warrior slammed into a tree, snapping the trunk in half before he himself fell to the ground, steam rising up from his tortured form. "Your powers are as nothing before Naraku’s might."

Growling and snarling as he got to his hands and knees, Koga eyed his attacker fiercely. "Naraku’s might, huh? That’s a laugh, considering the fact that you’re using Michiru’s Shikigami to fight for you!"

"The boy’s power belongs to Naraku. That is his fate. Thus, his power is Naraku’s power," the cursed mask told him. The dark pentagram Michiru was hovering above growing in size and crackling with might. "All things shall serve Naraku or die." At this, a wave of destruction rained down from the magic circle, melting earth and plant-life alike.

"I don’t believe this!" Koga sneered as he leapt forward. "Would it really kill you to stop groveling to that bastard for even a second?!"

"Scurry about all you want, fool. You cannot save yourself," the possessed Shikigami User informed him, even as five cards levitated up from the holder on his belt. Burning with dark power, the cards formed a massive pentagram, in which corrupted magical power swirled maliciously. The ensorcelled youth placed his wooden sword into the center of the dark miasma and intoned, "Spirits, come to me now! Unite your forces and unleash the madness of nature! Chaos Star!!"

A veritable hurricane of evil formed within the confines of the pentagram, one that splintered into five separate whirlpools. Whirlpools that erupted into cyclones of death, each with a dragon’s head looking hungrily at Koga as they launched towards him.

"Aw, damn!!" Koga snarled, moving with all the speed he could muster. The serpentine horrors created by the Shikigami User’s assault eagerly devouring everything in their path, reducing it to little more to toxic sludge. And it was taking all the speed and agility the demonic warrior could call upon to stay just one step ahead of the attack. Unfortunately, Koga had forgotten that not everyone was blessed with such powers. Something he was reminded of when cries of horror reached his ears.

"Dammit to hell!" Koga cried out as he looked toward the source of the cries. And saw that one of the dread serpents had broken off from chasing him, and was bearing down upon a far more vulnerable target. A target that was trying desperately to get away from the attacking monster, but was far too slow to have any hope of escape. "Sango, nooo!!"

At the wolf-demon’s words, Sango looked over her shoulder at the deadly strike plunging down towards her. "Your end is now, fool," the demonic voice cackled mercilessly. "Now di- Swift Blue Sky!!"

Gasping shock as Michiru’s voice suddenly shifted, becoming his own rather than a copy of Utsugi’s, Sango almost didn’t notice his Wind Shikigami fly forth and wrap about her, focusing on her legs. Though stricken with astonishment, the Demon Slayer’s training didn’t abandon her. Just before the demonic monstrosity could strike her down, Sango leapt into the sky. Her leap enhanced by the Wind magic, the warrior woman jumped into the boughs of one of the trees.

"What the – this is impossible!!" the cursed mask spoke, once again corrupting Michiru’s voice as the strike that had been intended for Sango dissipated, leaving a massive pool of destruction where she had been standing. The possessed Shikigami then uttered a hate-filled oath before snarling, "Damn you, boy! You’re only prolonging the inevitable!"

"Huh?!" Koga gaped, staring as dark lighting crackled about Michiru’s body. Stunned with confusion, the wolf-demon could only stand there watching as Sango took advantage of the opening provided. Launching herself towards Michiru with all the speed given her by the Swift Blue Sky, she launched the Hiraikotsu at him. The massive boomerang bone spun its deadly arc towards it target as Sango came down on the ground.

"It’s useless, fool!" the cursed mask snarled, causing its wearer to raise his sword. Dark energy flowed up the wooden blade, deflecting the Hiraikotsu with a crackling of evil power. "Your continued flight is futile! You -!"

"Michiru!!" Sango cried out, taking advantage of the moment. Just as the Hiraikotsu fell away, the Demon Slayer was using the last of the Swift Blue Sky’s power to leap up to her beloved, and grab hold of the cursed mask that had stolen him from her.

"No!!" the demonic force screeched as the mask crackled with evil energy. The dread power rushed up Sango’s body, causing her to scream in agony. The warrior woman was able to hold on only for a brief time before the demonic lightning sent her flying away.

"Sango! Hang on!" Koga cried out. As Sango hung helpless in the air, her attacker preparing another assault, the wolf-demon leapt up and caught both her and the Hiraikotsu in his arms, carrying her to safety as dark lightning lashed out and obliterated another section of the forest. His feet once again finding solid ground, Koga kept running, weaving his way about the trees and eluding the ensorcelled Shikigami User’s demonic assault. "Sango! Are you okay?!" the wolf-demon demanded, only to have his eyes widen at the smell filling his nose. "Your hands -!"

"I’ll be alright," Sango gritted, mindless of the steam rising up from her abused flesh. Of the red welts rising up from where the demonic power had ripped into her body. Then she winced as Koga was forced to dodge another attack. "Koga -!"

"Don’t worry about me!" the wolf-demon growled as he kept running. After a quick to make sure of their attacker’s current position, Koga returned his attention to the woman in his arms. "But, man, Sango! How’d you move like that, anyway?!"

"It’s Michiru," Sango gasped breathlessly, staring back at their pursuer. Pain tingeing every word she spoke, despite her best efforts. "He used his Shikigami to help me! He…he’s fighting the mask!"

"Yeah, well right now, I’m wishing he’d fight it just a little bit harder!" Koga growled as another near miss from the possessed youth incinerated another tree. "Dammit, anyway! If it were just another demon, I’d have blasted him by now!"

"But this isn’t another demon, fool," the mask taunted them. Their captive friend continuing to float eerily after them, continuing to rain down destruction upon them. "This boy is precious to you, and so you hold back. Your own pathetic sentimentality cripples you." The cursed mask’s laughter echoed about the battlefield, cutting into them even as the attacks missed. "And that is why…your doom is inescapable."

Scrunching up her face miserably, Sango considered their situation. Most of their friends were either in town or occupied with Kagura and Kanna, and there was no way they could risk the possessed Shikigami User combining forces with Naraku’s incarnations. Nor could they take the chance of leading him back to the village and the innocents that were there.

Which left them but one option. Sango looked up to her ally and told him, "Koga, you have to get us away from him!"

"Say what?!" Koga returned, looking at her in astonishment.

"We need a plan, and room to maneuver," Sango explained, her face creasing with greater misery with every word she spoke. "We don’t have any choice! If we’re going to help Michiru, we have to beat him first!"

"But -!" Koga spat out.

"It’s out only chance!" Sango insisted, the Demon Slayer having already worked it out in her mind. She was certain that Naraku would not just retrieve Michiru. He didn’t just want power. He wanted to destroy those that had thwarted him so many times in the past. And the idea of using their friend and ally to do so would be that much more attractive to the malevolent abomination.

The cursed mask would force Michiru to follow them, no matter where they went or how far they ran. Giving them a chance to strike back, if they did their job right.

Grunting his displeasure, the wolf-demon considered her words, and found the logic behind them inescapable. "Alright," Koga growled, narrowing his eyes in determination. "Hang on! I just hope he doesn’t wind up choking on my dust!" His crystalline carapace flashing, Koga pushed himself even faster, and soon started pulling away from the ensorcelled youth.

"InuYasha!!" Kaname cried out. The Kururugi girl was shielding her eyes from the blinding light being released from the Reikikaega, light that blotted out everything else. Drowning even the noise of Kagura’s Dance of the Dragon, and even the distant sounds of battle which she was sure signified the struggle to free her brother. Everything was overwhelmed by the power of the sword that InuYasha held. Even though her eyes were closed, light still penetrated, leaving her unable to see anything.

Just as Kaname thought she could endure no more, the power surrounding her changed. The light softened, growing less intense visibly, but more pronounced in her Shikigami’s ability to sense it. The spirits that linked her to the force of nature sensed the power coalescing, focusing on a single point. And then something that felt like a heart beating was heard within her mind, forcing her to open her eyes…and gasp in awe.

"Inu…Yasha…?" Kaname gasped as the aura of the Reikikaega tightened about the raven-haired boy. An aura that continued to sink into his body, and change it. His ears shifted and changed, moving up his head. His nails and canines lengthened and grew sharper, while his jet-black hair turned to a silvery white. And when she moved to his side, she saw that his dark eyes had turned into gold with demonic slits.

"Impossible…" Kagura gasped, staring at the newly empowered half-demon like the world had gone mad.

"Well…I’ll be damned…" InuYasha got out, staring in disbelief at his transformed hands. At the sword that continued to hum with might, its aura still feeding into him. Then his face was split with a feral grin as he narrowed his eyes at his opponent before raising the Reikikaega’s fine tip at the wind witch. "What do you know, Kagura? It looks like it’s a whole new game, doesn’t it?"

"No…this can’t be! The sun still hasn’t come up!" Kagura cried out, protesting the reality before her eyes.

"So what?" InuYasha growled, moving his right hand from the Reikikaega to the Tetsusaiga’s hilt. "All that matters to me is that you’re going down! Right now!" With that, InuYasha drew forth the Tetsusaiga, the rusted blade transforming into a massive fang. "Get ready, Kagura, because I…huh?!"

"InuYasha!" Kaname cried out as the winds of the Tetsusaiga swirled about the blade, even as the Reikikaega’s blue lightning reached out and began snatching at the massive fang. Leaving their wielder caught in the middle of the storm growing between the two swords. Just as the half-demon realized his blunder, the power of the blades repelled each other, sending them and him flying in different directions.

Horrified disbelief turning to a snicker of triumph, Kagura grinned as the Tetsusaiga changed back to its mortal form. "Like I said before, only a fool tries to fight with a sword that so easily turns against him. Dance of Blades!"

Snarling as a series of wind blades ripped the earth apart, InuYasha leapt out of their way as Kaname leapt to the fore. "Protective Light!" the Kururugi girl invoked, the power of her Light Shikigami deflecting Kagura’s attack. Looking towards her half-demon ally, she cried out, "InuYasha! Are you okay?!"

"Yeah, I’m fine!" InuYasha growled unhappily, shaking his head clear of the stars and comets that were still littering it. "Damn, I forgot about that! I…huh?!" Cutting himself off in mid-sentence, InuYasha gasped as something shifted inside of him. A sensation that was agonizingly familiar to the half-demon, prompting to look down at one of his hands. To his horror, he saw his claws once again slowly receding.

Even as he and Kaname saw what was happening and were putting the pieces together, Kagura had already jumped to the conclusion they were just reaching. "I see. So, that strange sword was feeding you its power, InuYasha," the wind witch purred. "Then I suppose I should make certain that you never hold it again. Dance of the Dragon!!"

Hissing furiously as Kagura released a wave of tornadoes, the fading half-demon ran as fast as his weakening legs could carry him. "Dammit!" InuYasha growled, looking wildly about. "Where’d that damned thing go, anyway?!"

"InuYasha! Over there!" Kaname cried out. Locking onto her voice, the weakening warrior looked at the Kururugi girl, saw her outstretched finger, and followed it. Relief washing over him, InuYasha saw the still-sparking sword, lying on the ground several meters distant.

"And what makes you think that I’ll let either of you get to it? Dance of Blades!" Kagura grinned, sending another attack at her target. Leaping out of the way, the nearly human InuYasha was forced to shield his eyes from the dust and debris that sprang up from the failed attempt on his life.

"You can’t keep dodging me all night! Not in that weak human body of yours!" Kagura sneered, winding up to send another wave of destruction at him. "Dance of the -!"

"Green Wood Snare!" Kaname cried out, her Wood Shikigami leaping out into the earth. Before the wind witch complete her swing, a series of vines sprang up from the ground, wrapping about her forearm and breaking her attack.

Hissing in frustration, Kagura began tearing at the vines with her free hand. "Do you think this will stop me, child?!"

"No, but it’ll sure slow you down!" Kaname retorted as she rushed forward, already summoning another Shikigami. "Just like this will! Binding Blue Sky!" The bird that was the symbol of her power of the wind flew forth, wrapping Kagura in chains of wind, restricting her movements even more as the Kururugi girl raced up to Kagura. Empowering her blade with the force of Fire, she invoked, "Prominence of Flame!"

Snarling hatefully at the flames that were surging towards her, Kagura angled herself so that the vines were the first to feel the wrath of Kaname’s attack. "Do you really believe an inexperienced little girl like you can stand alone against me?!" the wind witch demanded as she freed herself, the burning vines giving way to her inhuman strength.

"But she’s not alone! Fox magic! Smashing Top!" came another voice. Before the eyes of both female combatants, a massive top spun up between them, sending up a large cloud of dirt and dust.

Looking towards where the top had come from, Kaname smiled brilliantly as a tiny figure came bounding up beside her. "Shippo!"

"Ugh…this is so irritating!" Kagura sneered as the top exploded into a puff of smoke. When it reappeared, it was a much smaller thing that fell to the ground.

"Sure is! And it’s about to get even worse!" Shippo smirked. Frowning at the little fox, Kagura’s eyes then shot open as she looked about. Only to gasp as she saw InuYasha taking hold of the Reikikaega, the sword’s energy wrapping about his body as he lifted it up above him. Again sweeping away much of his humanity, rendering him a half-demon once more.

Delighting in the fear in Kagura’s face, InuYasha pointed the Reikikaega directly at her. "Now then, where were we?" the half-demon wondered casually, just before he broke into a charge.

"No!!" Kagura screamed, releasing a massive wind that surrounded her, forcing Kaname and Shippo back.

When InuYasha arrived, he slashed through the wind, his new sword devouring the demonic power and dispelling it completely. Only to find that Kagura was no longer there. Letting out a surprised grunt, the half-demon quickly looked up, only to snarl hatefully as he saw Kagura spinning about on a rising feather, quickly distancing herself from the forces that outnumbered her.

"Dammit! Just keep running, Kagura!" InuYasha sneered as he held up the Reikikaega, positioning it above its scabbard. "Sooner or later, we’ll catch up to you!"

"Wait, InuYasha!" Kaname spoke, hold up her hands to him. When InuYasha looked blankly at the Kururugi girl, she added, "Don’t put the Reikikaega back! You might change again, and we still have to save my bro and the others!"

Gritting his teeth, InuYasha looked at the blade he’d been about to put away, the aura of which was still suffusing his own flesh. "You’re right," he conceded, holding the Reikikaega away from its sheath. He then retrieved the Tetsusaiga, careful not to transform it as he put it back in its own sheath. "Dammit, we better get moving! The way Michiru was going -!"

"Sango and Koga are gonna need our help!" Shippo grinned, leaping up on Kaname’s shoulder. "Let’s go!"

"Get on, you two!" InuYasha growled, bending down on his hands and knees. "There’s no way I’m gonna let Naraku get away with doing this to Michiru!"

"Same here!" Kaname declared as she positioned herself on the half-demon’s back, Shippo still cling tightly to her shoulder. Not at all afraid as InuYasha positioned his free hand to hold them in place.

Carefully standing, InuYasha looked over his shoulder at his friends. "You two ready?" he asked, to which they both nodded. Returning the gesture, the renewed warrior turned and faced ahead. "Right! Let’s go!" InuYasha cried out as he shot forward, his nose and ears already painting the path to be taken to find their friends.

Fear was an enemy far more dangerous than any demon. That was a lesson Jiro’s father had told him repeatedly as he grew towards manhood, towards the day when he would stand beside his fellow Demon Slayers on the field of battle.

Unless someone mastered their fear, keeping it in a place where it would keep a person’s senses sharp, their reflexes quick, fear would quickly destroy from within. Clouding judgment, distorting a person’s senses, and destroying hope, destroying a warrior’s ability to stand and fight, rather than panic and run in blind terror. So for a Demon Slayer, the ability to control one’s fear was essential.

Unfortunately, as Jiro had also learned, controlling one’s fear was something that was easier said than done. Especially when there was a horde of demons writhing towards the village, exuding a lust for blood that any human would hope they never saw.

Already feeling his heard pounding that much harder, the fear trying to overstep the boundaries set for it, Jiro took hold of his three-sectioned staff. Like all Demon Slayer weapons, it had been crafted from the bones of the demons they had slain, and its weight felt especially reassuring as he watched the bloodthirsty horde descend. Added to that the filter mask on his face, and he was as ready as he could ever be.

Then something else intruded on his consciousness; the sound of several distressed voices, voices that showed signs of giving in to fear. Looking about, Jiro saw the village militia looking fearfully at the demons, whispering amongst themselves as they tightened their grips on their weapons. "Stand ready, everyone," the Demon Slayer intoned, stepping forward and bracing himself for battle. Hoping that they would be able to hold their own fear in check, and not add a small riot to their list of problems.

"Hey, I’m ready!" came a familiar snarl. Glancing over at Azusa, Jiro saw the she-wolf sneering contemptuously at humans and demons alike. Trying to mask her own fear as a drop of sweat rolled down the side of her head, she added, "Those damned things are gonna be meat! I’m gonna -!"

"Here they come!" declared the militia captain. A somewhat graying man who had obviously seen his share of battle, and had a long, deep scar running down the left side of his face to prove it. "Remember your training, everyone! Get ready to fire!"

More or less at the same time, the front line of the militia knelt down, holding up the metal tubes called rifles and peered down their shafts. Behind them, two more lines of troops stood ready, holding up their own rifles, though they would apparently not be firing as well. Though he was curious why this was so, Jiro knew better than to try ask such questions now. He just stood clear of their line of fire as the militia captain raised his sword into the sky. "Ready…!" he started slowly, to which several rifles were raised at the cloud of approaching demons. A beat or two passed before he then swung down his sword. "Fire!!"

Several barrels erupted in smoke and fire, causing Jiro to practically leap out of his own skin. While Azusa was howling in pain, her hands clamped firmly upon her sensitive ears, the Demon Slayer was recovering and looking up at the swarming demons, where some of the forerunners were crying out in pain as well. Then, to Jiro’s surprise, one of the demons fell down to the earth, writhing and squealing pitifully before finally falling silent. A bloody hole placed squarely between its eyes.

Several things happened next, so fast that Jiro wasn’t able to tell exactly what order they occurred in. The militia members let out cries of triumph, even as their captain tried to keep them disciplined, clearly aware that premature celebration could be almost as dangerous as fear and demons. The demons recoiled somewhat, clearly surprised by the fact that one of their fellows had been stricken down by normal humans. The troops who had fired quickly fell back and began reloading their weapons, while the row that had been behind them took their place and took aim.

And that was the last thing Jiro was able to make clear sense of, because the demons reacted to the death of their fellow instinctively. With a collective screech of rage, they fell down upon the village’s defenders mercilessly.

"Ha ha!" Azusa cried out as she leapt up at the demons, driving her fist into the forehead of one of them. "Now I’ll show how you a real warrior fights!" Cackling manically, the she-wolf intercepted another demon as it tried coming after her from the side, countering its offensive with a power kick. Just before another round of shots were fired by the militia, and the redhead howled in pain, as did several of the other demons.

Instinctively noticing the demons’ dislike for the noise created by the rifles, Jiro watched as several more were wounded, with another two apparently dead from either lucky shots or weak constitutions. And realized that the rifles were indeed working, but also leaving their wielders vulnerable to attack from close-range. Especially for the rear line, who were busily loading up for the next shot.

And Jiro wasn’t the only one to have figured this out. Already, the demon horde was splitting up, moving to attack the militia from different directions. And there was no way that they would be able to move fast enough to cover all fronts.

Still keeping his fear where it belonged, Jiro dashed towards the militia’s rear flank, arriving there just in time to see a greenish demon wielding a spear. Not giving it a chance to use its weapon, the Demon Slayer whipped his three-sectioned staff up and struck the demon on the jaw. The creature was stunned, but this provided Jiro with more than enough of an opening to follow up his attack with a punishing blow to the demon’s neck. Hearing the crunch that signified he had succeeded in snapping his enemy’s spine, Jiro went after the next demon he saw, a burly, horned monstrosity with a huge club that it carried in one hand. It was already bearing down on the militia, and though some of them had moved enough to be able to fire on it, they were still relatively inexperienced with the weapons. They didn’t know how to purposely set up a telling shot that would either kill or cripple their foes.

Jiro knew how. Like all Demon Slayer’s, he could sense the weaknesses in his foes. And he knew how to gauge the speed with which his enemy moved, to tell how fast he would have to move in order to avoid its attacks so as to get in close to it. Which is exactly what he did.

Upon seeing the Demon Slayer charging towards him, the horned demon snarled his outrage before raising his club high above him, fully intent on smashing Jiro like a bug. Holding his staff tightly against his own body, the Slayer tucked into a roll, just avoiding the horned horror’s attack. Not giving a thought to how close the blow had come, on how he had felt the wind coming off the monster’s club, Jiro continued to move. Keeping fear where it belonged as he stretched out and snapped his staff like a whip at the demon’s ankle, breaking it instantly.

While the monster was collapsing in pain, its focus on its injury instead of anything else, Jiro was also forced to look elsewhere as another demon came at him. This one like a praying mantis standing on two legs, it came slashing at him with its bladed forearms, jabbering menacingly. Raising his staff, Jiro intercepted the blow before rolling away from the demon. Reaching into his sash, the young warrior fished out a small packet.

"Poison powder!" the Demon Slayer cried out, sending the packet flying at his assailant. Getting to his feet as the packet exploded in the demon’s face, Jiro drew forth his sword before the powder caused the demon to gasp in shock, coughing at the deadly dust. Protected by his filter mask, the young warrior drove his sword straight into the demon’s heart. Only to cry out in shock as the monster wrapped its own bladed appendages about his sword in a final, desperate attempt to kill him.

Jumping back, Jiro watched as the demon gasped its final breath. When it finally collapsed, he rushed forward, fully intent on reclaiming his weapon. Until a roar came up from behind him, causing the Demon Slayer to whip about and see the monster he had already crippled raise its club over its head, its eyes drilling hatred into him.

Bringing up his three-sectioned staff, Jiro braced himself for the monster’s attack, fear grabbing at his heart. Only to gasp as the monster jumped suddenly flew over his head, and went tumbling in the air before crashing into several of its fellows.

Goggling at the sight of the crumpled demon, Jiro turned back to see what had caused its sudden flight. Only to heave a sigh as he saw Azusa strike a superior pose, smirking superiorly at the Slayer. "So, where’s all the fancy skill of yours now, huh?"

Too relieved to be upset about his rescuer’s arrogance, Jiro heaved a sigh before saying, "Thanks. I owe you one."

"Damn straight, you do!" Azusa smirked while Jiro retrieved his lost sword, another wave of demons closed in, all with blood in their eyes.

"Then how about I start trying to repay you?" Jiro replied, quickly sheathing his blade in favor of his staff. Every sense he had on full alert as the new aggressors focused on him and Azusa, both of whom were now wearing the blood of slain demons. A stench that drew the rest of the demons like a magnet, causing them to circle the mismatched warriors, cutting them off from any potential help. A wary growl sounded within the she-wolf’s throat as they studied their enemies. "Get back to back!"

"Hey, I don’t need you -!" Azusa sneered, only to be cut off as the first of the demons came at her, a monstrous, rat-like thing. Instinctively lashing out, the redhead fired off a punch at the monster, only to have it dodge at the last minute. As it came in from another direction, it found itself on the receiving end of a blow from Jiro’s staff.

Not sparing a moment as the monster died, Jiro drew forth his sword again and held it out to the she-wolf. "Azusa, here! Take this!"

Staring incredulously at the proffered sword, Azusa growled, apparently ready to tell Jiro what he could do with the weapon. But then another demon came at her, and the redhead quickly snatched up the sword, slicing her attacker down the center in one easy stroke. Satisfied with the blade’s edge, the wolf-demon looked at her ally, who was already attending to a skeletal horror that was trying to drive its claws into his tender flesh. "You better hope that I don’t decide to shove this thing in your back!"

Unable to help himself, Jiro grinned in response. "That risk comes with the job!" the Demon Slayer retorted as he got behind his opponent, whipping his staff about its neck like a garrote.

Watching just long enough to see Jiro snap his opponent’s neck, Azusa growled beneath her breath before using his sword to dispatch another foe. "Yeah, well…just don’t let one of these things kill you!" she snarled, already searching for her next victim. "That’s a pleasure I’ve reserved for myself!!"

"Then you better make sure you don’t get killed, either!" Jiro replied. Neither one of them said anything else after this, not when they needed every breath they could take to keep them fighting. And breathing.

"Koga! Over there!" Sango cried out, pointing ahead. Koga had managed to pull ahead of their pursuer, and the end of the forest was coming into sight.

"Where?!" Koga demanded, looking about at the rocky terrain.

"There! That cliff up there!" Sango told him, pointing more determinedly. "I’ve got a plan, but I need you to get me up there!"

"Not a problem!" Koga returned, altering his course towards the indicated cliff. The sound of destruction still filling his ears, along with the voice that had been corrupted by the mask.

"You are doing nothing but prolonging the inevitable," the demonic voice rasped alongside the sound of more of the forest dying. "Soon, Naraku will be rid of you insignificant little specks. You will no longer impede his quest for the power that is rightfully his."

"How long did it take Naraku to make this suck-up, anyway?!" Koga growled disgustedly as he shot up the mountainside, sparing just a moment to look back at their pursuer. "Damn, if Michiru weren’t attached to that thing…!"

"Koga…!" Sango insisted, looking meaningfully at him. Thus reminded, Koga sped up the side of the cleft of rock, leaving gravity as he reached the cliff Sango had pointed out. As soon as they reached their destination, the Demon Slayer nodded. "Now put me down! We have to work fast!"

"Um, excuse me?" Koga wondered. Helpless to do anything but watch as Sango eased herself out of his arms and got to her feet. "What exactly are we doing, anyway?"

"I have a plan, but I need your help, Koga!" Sango told him as she took the Hiraikotsu, only to hiss in pain as her burnt hands tried to handle the massive weapon. "Listen, you have to keep Michiru busy."

"Huh?!" Koga gasped, staring incredulously at the Demon Slayer. "Wait a second! That’s your -?!"

"Please, there’s no time!" Sango pleaded, only to wince as she instinctively sensed the cruel power of the cursed mask coming closer. Returning her attention to the wolf-demon, she told him, "Just keep him distracted, but make sure that he doesn’t go too far away! Understood?!"

Letting out a reluctant groan, Koga looked in the direction from which he sensed the masked youth approaching. "This better be one hell of a plan!" he growled before speeding away. As soon as he was out of sight, the sounds of renewed combat were heard.

Satisfied that Koga would keep the possessed Kururugi suitably busy, Sango hurriedly shed her kimono and replacing it with her battle uniform. Knowing that she would need every ounce of her speed and mobility if she was going to make this plan work, something that her regular garment wouldn’t allow. So she did her best to put her emotions to the side, all the fear she felt for Koga and Michiru, all the horrible thoughts of what would happen if she failed, of all the suffering that Michiru could and probably would endure even if she succeeded. Even the possibility of her beloved being injured, possibly even killed, even that was put to the side through sheer force of will as Sango prepared herself for what was to come. And as soon as she was dressed for battle, her hands lightly bandaged and every weapon in place and where it belonged, the Demon Slayer went to the edge of the cliff, and studied the situation below.

As before, Koga was running circles around Michiru, the ensorcelled magician sending blast after blast of pure destruction after the wolf-demon. And they were still close. Close enough for Sango’s simple plan to stand a chance of success.

Michiru was still fighting the mask. Sango was certain of this; the fact that he had summoned his Shikigami to save her life was proof of that. But the dread object was terribly powerful, and its control over him was too strong to be broken easily. And as she had already learned, the mask would not be easy to remove. Unless it was somehow weakened first, perhaps even enough for Michiru to overcome its power himself.

Still, this isn’t going to be easy, Sango knew as she looked down at the battlefield, looking for just the right moment. The mind inhabiting the mask was that of one of Naraku’s incarnations, and it had undoubtedly taken note of Sango’s absence. It had to have realized that she would be making another attempt to remove the mask. And it would be ready for such a move.

Which means that I have to do something different, Sango knew as she inspected her armaments, trying to choose the right offense. Something it won’t expect.

Feeling her heart cracking even as she made her preparations, Sango kept one eye on the battle. Always waiting for the moment to strike, even as her heart cracked even more beneath her own plan...

"Surrender, cur," the corrupted Shikigami User ordered Koga as he continued his pursuit. "Whatever foolishness you and the Demon Slayer have planned is already doomed to failure."

Sango, you owe me big time for this, Koga snarled inwardly as he continued his evasive maneuvers. Listening to that damned mask grovel to Naraku like this is making me sick!!

And this was not the only thing nauseating Koga. The effect the corrupted power of Michiru’s Shikigami was having on the vibrant, living forest was horrifying. All the bountiful plants that was the home for many animals and perhaps some peaceful demons had been reduced to a filthy quagmire that stank like hell. Already, the wolf-demon felt like his lungs were coated by a layer of the putrid sludge, simply by breathing in its stench.

Even as another wave of the horrid stench hit Koga’s nose, the wolf-demon was lifted up off his feet by the impact of another blast. Flailing about in mid-air, Koga barely recovered when his feet connected with solid ground once again. Dammit! the demonic warrior snarled inwardly, wanting nothing more than to attack, to fight his enemy. To unleash the power that his new body was capable of, a power that he could sense colliding with the demonic aura of the mask.

But Koga didn’t. He couldn’t. For he knew such an action would have only one of two possible outcomes. One was that Michiru would simply deflect the Wind Scar, leaving Koga vulnerable to retaliation. And the other was that a good and trusted friend and warrior would die. Neither of which was acceptable.

C’mon, Sango! Koga wondered, darting glances at the cliff where he had left the Demon Slayer. Wishing he had some idea as to what she had in mind. When’s this plan of yours going to appear already?!

Seeming to read his mind, the ensorcelled youth smirked, "The Demon Slayer cannot help you, fool. Nothing can save you from the fate that await all that defy Naraku. Sooner or later, your legs will tire, and you will be able to run no longer."

"Yeah, well, the same goes for you, pal!" Koga snarled, leaping over a fallen tree as he dodged another bolt of darkness. "I might not know much about the power of the spirits, but I do know that a Shikigami User gets tired out, just like the rest of us!"

Snorting in response to this, the demonic voice then retorted, "Perhaps, but you will not live long enough to see that moment." As soon as these words had escaped his lips, the possessed magician summoned five cards from his belt that were all ready filled with the powers of darkness. Looking over his shoulder, Koga felt his fur stand on end when he saw the pattern the cards formed. "Spirits, hear my words! This -!"

"Hyper-Star Blaster!" rang out another voice. A voice that was followed by a stream of dazzling light surging out of the darkness, one that Koga saw out of the corner of his. Craning his head to look, the wolf-demon saw the dragon-head at the front of the blast opened its jaws and chomped down on one of the cards forming the dark pentagram. The intensity of its power coalesced about the card, its darkness seeming to fight against the encroaching the light. After a few seconds of struggling, however, the darkness imploded into nothing, taking the card with it.

"What in the -?!" the demonic voice got out just before the energy that had been gathering within the pentagram exploded out of the space made by the destruction of the one card. Dark lightning hemorrhaged forth, striking down numerous trees and reducing them to feculent sludge, even as the possessed Kururugi groaned with the effort of trying to regain control of the forces that had been unleashed.

Baffled by this development, Koga came to a halt. Looking from his stricken adversary to the direction from which the blast had come from, trying to spy the source of the assault. What he saw were two people, both of whom he knew. The girl who wore a large, bladed gauntlet that had a fox head on the back of her fist. As he realized who these people were, the wolf-demon smirked cockily. "Hey, what took you three so long?" he demanded smartly. Only to have his smug expression dissipate as his rescuers drew closer. "What the – mutt?!"

"Hey there, you scrawny wolf!" InuYasha growled as they approached, Kaname right behind him and with Shippo attached to her arm. "I see you’re as useless as always!"

"But -!" Koga got out, too stunned to even respond to the half-demon’s jab. Shaking his head in confusion, the ponytailed warrior pointed at the white hair and dog ears topping off InuYasha before trying again. "But you’re a – hey, how’d you -?!"

"It’s a long story! And right now we have more important things to do!" InuYasha growled, noting the recovering boy and the cursed mask adhering to his face. Brandishing the Reikikaega at him, the half-demon snarled, "Alright, you bastard! Either you let Michiru go right now, or I take you apart piece by piece while I pry you off!"

"Let the boy go?" the corrupted voice of Michiru asked incredulously, the figure once again rising up as the energy surrounding him stabilized. "Fool. The boy is Naraku’s, as is the girl." The ensorcelled Shikigami User was once again rising up above a pentagram of dark power. "As are your lives."

"Oh, yeah? Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve got you outnumbered!" Shippo sniped, Kaname tensing her arm in response to his ire.

"It doesn’t matter whether you are few or many, you shall still fall to Naraku’s might," the masked figure sneered. Then a cruel chuckle echoed behind the mask as two orbs of darkness formed in his hands. "Already, one of your number has abandoned this futile quest. Not that it will spare her my master’s wrath. None of you will be spared."

As their spellbound friend sent bolts of evil power screaming at them, the half-demon pulled Kaname out of the line of fire while Koga blurred out of sight. As the cruel blasts continued to follow them, InuYasha raised up the Reikikaega, its lightning-blue aura reaching forth and intercepting the assault. "Heh! So much for Naraku’s wrath!" InuYasha grinned as the sword greedily devoured the dark power unleashed upon it. "If that’s all you’ve got, then you might as well just give up and save us all a lot of trouble!"

"Fool!" the demonic mask spoke through their friend, hatred dripping from each word the mask forced through Michiru’s lips. "I will teach you the futility of your struggles." The pentagram at his feet growing in size and magical intensity, the possessed Shikigami User rose up even higher into the sky. "Now, die in pain, you – Blue Sky Confusion!!"

"Huh?!" InuYasha got out, staring in awe as Michiru’s Wind Shikigami rose up and spun about the boy’s form. His own magic wrapping him in confusion, distorting his senses and preventing him from discerning the location of his enemies.

"Damn you, boy!!" the corrupted voice cursed vehemently, waves of dark power slamming into his own body. "Accept your defeat! Surrender yourself to the master!!"

"Michiru!" Shippo cried out as Kaname looked on at her own flesh and blood was tortured by the cursed mask. Placing her free hand to her mouth, doing her all to suppress her own urge to scream. "What’s happening to him?!"

"This happened before!" Koga explained, looking on helplessly as the mask carried out is torments. "That thing tried to get Michiru to kill Sango, but he was able to summon one of his Shikigami before he attacked her!"

"Well, in that case…!" InuYasha snarled, tightening his grip on his sword. Without another word, the half-demon shot straight and true at his friend. The Reikikaega’s corona of lightning intensifying, he leapt into the air, aiming the crystalline blade at the hideous object that held his friend captive.

"Ready or not, you’re coming off!" InuYasha roared just as the possessed youth looked up. Before the blade could even come close, however, a wall of dark energy came into existence. A wall that the Reikikaega’s aura began striking out at the instant it came into existence.

"Never!" the masked magician snarled, eyeing the sword that was trying absorb the dark power of the barrier. While InuYasha was grinning dangerously, doing everything he could to penetrate the barrier, the target invoked, "Spirit of the Earth, obliterate these defiant fools once and for all!" With this invocation, a blast of corrupted power shot into the ground below them, ground that began to rumble ominously.

His attention broken, InuYasha looked down at the shuddering earth. "Hey, what are you -?!" the half-demon managed to get out before a slab of stone erupted from just below him. Still hanging above the ground with the Reikikaega supporting him upon the barrier, InuYasha was only able to cry out in protest as the stone split open into a clumsy hand that grabbed onto him by his sword arm.

"InuYasha!" Kaname cried out while Shippo gasped at the silver-maned demon’s plight. "C’mon, we have to help him!"

"Right!" Shippo piped up as Kaname broke into a run. Only to be brought up short by a set of powerful hands on the girl’s shoulder.

"Oh, no, you don’t!!" Koga snarled, dragging the both of them back towards him. "You’re not going anywhere!"

Squawking in surprise, Kaname looked at the wolf-demon with an air of pure betrayal. "Koga!! What are you -?!"

"Have you forgotten that thing is after Michiru and you?!" Koga demanded fiercely, his narrowed eyes boring into her own. "What happens if that mask decides to take you over as well?!"

"But if it could have done that, why didn’t it try it before?!" Kaname asked. She was to say something further, only to be cut off by the pained cry. Looking at the battle, the Kururugi girl’s jaw fell as she saw InuYasha’s plight worsening. As the silver-maned warrior struggled against the implacable grip of the stone arm and hand, more and more and more rock erupted from the earth, taking on greater form and definition as it appeared, shaped by the dark power of the mask. Becoming a lumpy figure of stone, with monstrous arms and legs, and a tiny head appearing from the thing’s chest. While InuYasha was squirming about in its hand, it wrapped the other one about his sword arm, holding the Reikikaega at bay.

"How’s my bro even able to do all this?!" Kaname demanded incredulously. "I mean, he’s a bit stronger than me, but…a rock giant?!"

"It’s the mask! It must be boosting his powers!" Koga growled before casting a look at Kaname. "And if it can do that with just your brother, I don’t want to find out what it can do if you got its hooks into you!"

"But I can’t just stand here!" Kaname protested, screwing up her face in horror as InuYasha cried out in pain. The stone titan increasing the pressure it exerted while its creator laughed malevolently.

"Then get help!" Koga ordered. Kaname just at him in confusion, at which Koga pointed at the nearby cliff. "Look, Sango’s up there, and she said she had some kind of plan for getting that mask off."

"Then what are you waiting for?! Go get her!" Kaname demanded of him. "I’ve got to help -!"

"No way! You’ll get her!" Koga retorted.

"But you’re faster than me, and I know how Shikigami magic works better than you do!" Kaname countered.

"But -!" Koga tried again, only to cut himself off as Kaname raised her sword and charged. "Hey, get back -!"

"Swift Blue Sky!!" Kaname invoked, her Wind Shikigami wrapping about her and sending her darting towards InuYasha in a burst of speed. "Green Wood Snare!" This second invocation sent a series of vines erupting from the ground, wrapping about the giant’s form like a swarm of snakes.

Growling irritably as the living chains grew wildly about the rock monster, Koga shook his head unhappily. "I oughta have my head examined for this!" he finally growled with incredibly bad grace. Turning on his heel, he gave the girl one last look over his shoulder. "You better not get yourself possessed, you hear me?!" Not even bothering to wait for a response, the wolf-demon spun into a tornado and hurled towards the cliff.

"Hang on, InuYasha! Slashing Ice!" Kaname invoked, targeting the arm of the stalled monster. A blast of cold erupted from the tip of the wooden blade, causing it to form over the rocky surface of the monster.

"Thanks, Kaname!" InuYasha grinned as both vegetation and frost worked its way into the cracks between the sections of stone, causing the monster to shudder violently.

"No!" the cursed Shikigami User spat out before turning to address this new threat. "Be still, girl! I will deal with you later!"

"Not a chance! That’s my brother you’re pushing around there!" Kaname countered, aiming at her corrupted kin with the massive, metal gauntlet that Shippo had become. With a rush of wind, the fist of the gauntlet shot directly towards the ensorcelled youth, connected to the rest of the transformed fox-demon via a cable.

"Foolish girl. There is no escaping your fate!" the demonic mask sneered, sending forth bolts of darkness at both the transformed fox-demon and Kaname. Shippo cried out in pain as the assault drove him back, his transformation unable to protect him from the assault, and his armored form exploded in a puff of smoke.

"Shippo!" Kaname cried out as the fox-demon fell to the earth. His eyes like dizzied spirals, Shippo groaned pitifully as the Kururugi girl raced for him.

"Now it is your turn," the cursed youth declared, holding out his hand towards the both of them.

"Not on your life!" InuYasha snarled, mustering all of his strength and rage. Wrenching his entire body, the half-demon shattered the weakened stone arm. The rock monster startled by this surge of resistance, InuYasha drew back his free hand. "Iron Reaver Soul-Stealer!" he snarled, his claws glowing with golden light as he slashed at the monster’s other hand. Stones shattered beneath the power of his claws, freeing the hand that held the Reikikaega.

"No!" the cursed youth cried out as the sword sparked with even greater light. "Stop him!"

Responding to its creator’s demanded, the stone horror charged at InuYasha. "You’re not stopping anyone!" the half-demon countered, leaping upwards to bring the sword down upon his attacker. The Reikikaega slashed through stone, phasing through it without leaving so much as a mark. But before the blade even completed its arc, the monster was crying out in pain, the stone that made up its body falling away as lifeless rock.

"What?!" the ensorcelled youth cried out as his minion collapsed into nothing. "What is that sword?!"

"As far as you’re concerned, it’s your worst nightmare, pal!" InuYasha grinned wildly, brandishing his blade.

While the cursed Kururugi was snarling in outrage, raising his own sword to strike, Kaname held out her hand. "Great River Torrent!" she invoked, sending forth a stream of water towards her brother. The attack never even reached its target, who quickly invoked his barrier, resulting in the attack spilling harmlessly to the ground.

"Fools. You’re still -!" the possessed magician sneered before he was cut off by a furious growl. He turned just in time to see InuYasha driving the Reikikaega down upon his barrier. The enchanted blade eagerly began to devour the energy, drawing in the demonic power that sustained the barrier. The protective bubble weakening on one front, it began to bulge inwards as Kaname’s continued attack pushed at it.

"Keep it up, Kaname!" InuYasha grinned wildly, their assaults wearing their foe down. "He’s almost -!"

"Almost nothing!" the cursed youth sneered, gesturing at Kaname’s attack. "I will tolerate you no longer, girl!" With these words, he sent a bolt of electrical power at her own attack, following the stream of water towards his sister.

"Kaname!" InuYasha cried out helplessly as the attack struck home, wrapping about the brunette. Kaname cried out in pain, convulsing wildly before finally collapsing to the ground, groaning miserably.

"Be grateful that Naraku demands you live to become his weapon," the masked youth sneered. "That is the only reason you shall be allowed to survive."

"Damn you!" InuYasha snarled, his eyes narrowed into slits.

"You, however, will not be as fortunate," the cursed boy declared, his corrupted power reaching into the earth once more. "And since that sword of yours seems to feast on energy, it behooves me to deny it the chance to feed." A pillar of earth appeared, from which a horde of snake-like vines erupted, entangling InuYasha. Crying in outrage, the half-demon was forced to focus his attention on his restraints, his claws once again glowing with gold destruction as he lashed out. Chunks of vegetation were sent flying as he tore away at the vines, fully aware that his cursed friend was gathering himself up for another attack.

"Dammit!" InuYasha snarled, freeing himself enough to raise the Reikikaega before him.

"For far too long, you’ve been allowed to stand between Naraku and his destiny," the masked youth spoke cruelly. "Now I shall deliver him the power that is rightfully his, and put an end to your wretched existence."

"Oh, no you won’t!" came another voice. Before the cursed magician could react, a blur surged in at InuYasha, slicing apart the vines that restrained him. "Damn, mutt! I leave you alone for a few minutes, and look what happens!"

"A few minutes?!" InuYasha sneered crossly as he leapt free of the severed vines, staring daggers at his rescuer. "Stinking wolf! Where the hell were you, anyway?!

"So, you decided to return to die by my hand, fool," the cursed youth sneered at Koga, who had already fallen into a battle-ready stance. The masked magician then turned his gaze towards the other new arrival. "As did you, Demon Slayer."

"There’s no way I’d ever abandon Michiru to a monster like you, or Naraku!" Sango growled vehemently as she aided Kaname to her feet. Her entire body tense with pain and hatred.

Groaning fitfully as she pressed her hand to her temple, Kaname looked up wonderingly at the Demon Slayer. "Sango…when…?"

"No time for questions!" Sango ordered tersely as she practically dragged Kaname to her feet. "We’re going to need your help to stop that thing! So just be ready and do what I say!"

"So, you still think it is possible to save the boy," the demonic voice hissed mockingly. "Foolish girl. There is no victory against Naraku. Naraku is power, and your deaths."

"Would somebody please shut that damned thing up already?!" Koga snarled as the four of them stood ready against their foe. "I’m so sick of listening to him kiss up to that bastard!"

"No arguments here!" InuYasha growled. "Let’s smash that damned mask and get it over with!"

"Then let’s do it," Sango spoke lowly, her voice trembling slightly as she stared at the possessed youth. "Go for it, InuYasha!"

"Right! I’m going in!" InuYasha roared, once again charging at his foe. The Reikikaega held high, and crackling wrathfully.

"Kaname! Shield us!" Sango ordered, taking a firm grip on the Hiraikotsu’s grip.

"Right! Protective Light!" Kaname invoked, releasing her Light Shikigami to form protective bubbles about everyone there.

"You’re wasting your time!" the masked youth snarled, sending bolts of destruction at them. "As long as I wear this flesh, you weak fools won’t dare to -!"

"Aw, shut up!" InuYasha roared, his shield of light deflecting the bulk of the assault as he charged. The Reikikaega’s aura shining eagerly as he once again thrust it into the barrier.

"Now! Hiraikotsu!" Sango cried out, hurling the massive boomerang at the masked Kururugi’s side.

"Fool!" the cursed boy snarled, holding out both hands. Twin waves of darkness erupted from him, slamming into both InuYasha and the Hiraikotsu. The half-demon’s blade and Protective Light easily protected him from the force of the assault. But as for the massive boomerang-bone, it was stopped in mid-flight, demonic power crackling up and down its length. Still spinning in defiance of the power it was attempting to wade through, the Hiraikotsu began to crack, splinters of its material flaking off even as it drew closer.

Disregarding the slow destruction of her weapon, Sango rushed forward, drawing forth her sword. "Koga! Now!"

"With pleasure!" the wolf-demon snarled, leaping in at full speed at the masked youth. His crystalline carapace shining brightly, Koga leapt in the path of the attack directed at InuYasha. His own Protective Light offering some defense, the wolf-demon then leapt at the barrier, delivering a kick that would shatter boulders. The cursed Shikigami User growled hatefully as InuYasha instinctively leapt past Koga, striking the barrier once more with the Reikikaega.

"Damn you!" the cursed boy growled. "It’s futile! You’ll never defeat me! Never!"

"Don’t bet on it!" Sango cried out as she closed the final distance between herself and the barrier. "Kaname!"

"Right! Great River Torrent!" Kaname invoked, sending a surge of water straight ahead of Sango. The attack hit the already-weakened barrier, allowing the Demon Slayer the opening she needed to slip past it and the water attack.

"Fool. Do you honestly think that…that -?!" the masked figure started, even as he raised his hand to strike. Only to hesitate, his hand trembling with resistance as it tried to target Sango. Affording her the critical moment she needed to leap up at her foe and strike at Michiru’s arm. Before the Demon Slayer’s leap had carried her away, blood was already spilling from the wound.

"And what do you think you’ve accomplished, fool?" the cruel voice of the mask demanded as Sango tumbled away from him. "A tiny scrape like this is…what?" Horror tingeing his voice, the possessed Shikigami turned his masked eyes towards the newly inflicted wound. A wound that was already turning a hideous shade of purple. "No…what in the…what have you done?!"

"Its poison, monster," Sango spoke cruelly, her eyes moistening as she looked at the boy that meant so much to her. "I rubbed it on my sword while the others were keeping you busy!"

As soon as these words were said, the minds of everyone present were emptied by sheer shock, and for different reasons. "What?!" InuYasha and Kaname cried out as one, gazing at Sango in horrified disbelief.

"Are you out of your mind?!" Koga snarled at the Demon Slayer.

"No! It can’t be!" the masked youth cried out as the purpling of his veins spread madly, his arm falling limp. "You wouldn’t dare! This boy -!"

"Means everything to me!" Sango cried out, tears spilling from her eyes as she looked at her afflicted love. "And that’s why I’ll never let him live under Naraku’s control! Better to die free than to be his puppet!"

"No! You can’t…the boy must live! He is Naraku’s!" the mask protested in horror. "Spirits, hear my words! Salve this flesh, blood, and soul, and end this infection!" The dark pentagram once intensified, but this time it sent healing light up to the boy who hovered above it. Light that caused the poison to recede somewhat.

"Sango, what are -?!" InuYasha tried to ask.

"I’m doing what I have to do!" Sango cried out, once again leaping up towards her possessed love. Its attention firmly on trying to save Michiru, the mask was unable to reinforce its barrier or defend itself as the Demon Slayer struck. Deploying a hidden blade from her left wrist, Sango cried out in pain and hatred, striking it with all her strength. The tip of the blade dug into the center of the mask, splintering as the Demon Slayer grunted with effort. Not allowing herself or the demonic artifact even the slightest respite, she drew the blade down the center of the cursed mask, cleaving it in two even as its victim gave voice to its horror. A cry that ended when the two halves of the mask finally fell away, revealing Michiru’s own face as he gasped in pain.

"I’ve got you!" InuYasha shouted, leaping up to catch them both as the supporting dark pentagram dissipated into nothingness. Both Michiru and Sango in his arms, the half-demon landed neatly, and quickly set the pained magician down on the grass. Turning an accusatory glare at the Demon Slayer, InuYasha snarled, "What the hell were you thinking, Sango?! You actually poisoned Michiru?!"

"It was the only way," Sango got out, on the brink of tears as she reached into her sash. "Naraku wanted Michiru alive, so I knew the mask would do everything it could to keep him safe. And between the poison and your attacks, I was hoping it would keep the mask busy long enough for me to destroy it."

"But what about Michiru!" Kaname cried out as she rushed up to him. Her brother unconscious and groaning fitfully as he lay before them. "Is he…?!"

"It looks like his Shikigami have already purged some of the poison," Sango spoke, examining the injury as she pulled out a small container. "And I have the antidote right here. As soon as I apply it…"

Shaking his head in amazement as the Demon Slayer took a pasty substance from the container and dabbed it on the open wound, Koga muttered, "Damn, Sango. That was one hell of a risk you took."

"I couldn’t let Naraku have Michiru," Sango muttered, her eyes moistening as she tended to him. "I…I just couldn’t…"

"We know," InuYasha muttered as he studied Michiru’s visage. At the tears that streaked his face, tears that had been concealed by the evil mask he had worn, and had been spawned by the things he had been forced to do.

"But…he’s going to be okay, right?" Kaname asked worriedly.

"I think so, but that battle…and what that mask did to him…" Sango murmured, shaking her head woefully as she looked at her beloved. Looking to his sister, the Demon Slayer pleaded, "Kaname, could you…?"

"Right," Kaname nodded as she came to kneel down before her brother. One by one, she used her Great River Blessing, Blue Sky Purification, and Green Wood Resurgence to restore Michiru’s health, strength, and help negate the poison. With each spell she cast, Michiru’s color and breathing improved, and the discoloration from the poison faded away almost completely.

Sighing in relief as the healing magic took hold, Sango returned her gaze towards the others. "Look, we managed to save Michiru, but we still have a fight to win," the Demon Slayer told them, her voice showing the strain she was undergoing as forced her emotions to remain in check. "Tell me, what happened to Kanna and Kagura?"

"You don’t have to worry about those two," InuYasha informed the Demon Slayer. He then gave a quick explanation as to what happened to Kagura, and how the Reikikaega enabled him to change back to his half-demon state. "As for Kanna…"

"Yeah?" Koga wondered, looking on in amazement at the two of them.

"Something weird happened when I hit her with the Reikikaega," InuYasha muttered, furrowing her eyebrows. He hurriedly explained how the demon girl had been changed by the power of the mysterious sword. "It was like she had changed into a human, and then she totally freaked out and ran off."

While Koga was staring at the sword, Sango considered the situation. "InuYasha, you and the others better head back to the village," she finally decided. "Even if Kanna is out of action, Kagura might still be around. And if that’s the case…"

"Yeah, I know," InuYasha muttered, knowing full well the kind of damage the wind witch was capable of.

"There’s…something else," Sango admitted. When the others looked more closely at her, she seemed to wilt slightly before their eyes. "Just before that mask attacked him, Michiru was able to get Kohaku away from Kagura. We lost track of him during the battle, but…"

Nodding, InuYasha replied, "We’ll find him, Sango."

"Yeah, but first we have to get my bro back to the village," Kaname decided. "No offense, Sango, but…"

"I’m not sure that’s such a good idea," Koga commented. When the rest of the group looked up at him, the wolf-demon pointed off into the distance, leaving them to follow his outstretched finger with their own eyes. With a sense of dread awe, they saw dark clouds hovering in the distance. And they felt an ominous presence that was unmistakable to any of them.

"Dammit! I knew it!" InuYasha growled, slamming his free fist to the ground. "Naraku must be attacking the village!"

"But why?!" Kaname wondered, looking about in confusion. "We already saved my bro! So why -?!"

"Nothing’s ever that simple with that bastard, Kaname!" InuYasha declared as he got to his feet. "There must be something else he wants!"

"But what?!" Kaname wondered as she stood as well.

"Don’t know and don’t care," InuYasha growled hatefully. "All that matters is that we make sure that Naraku doesn’t get it!" Grimacing in anticipation of battle, he turned his attention to the Demon Slayer. "Sango, you better stay here with Michiru. The way he is right now…"

"I understand," Sango nodded, before she cast a grim look at the shattered length of the Hiraikotsu. The massive weapon was damaged through and through, and was on the verge of falling apart. "I doubt I’ll be much good to any of you right now, anyway." Sighing wearily, the Demon Slayer took note of another problem. "What about Shippo?"

"Shippo?" Kaname got out, only to gasp in shock. "Omigosh! I forgot all about him!" she cried out before rushing to Shippo’s side. Falling to her knees, she gently began shaking the little fox. "Shippo? Shippo, are you alright?"

Groaning in pain, Shippo rolled his head about for a moment before his eyes slowly fluttered open. "Ugh…Kaname? What happened…?" the fox-demon wondered as he gingerly sat up. "And…why are there three of you…?"

"Oh, no. He must have gotten hit worse than I thought," Kaname fussed unhappily. "We can’t take him into battle like this!"

"Then leave him here with me," Sango suggested. "The rest of you should head back to the village."

"Huh?" Koga got out, looking in shock at the Demon Slayer. "But -!"

"Please, you have to," Sango pleaded of them. "If things go badly, they’re going to need all the help they can get there."

"But what about you three?" Koga demanded harshly, even as Kaname picked Shippo up and carried him closer. "Michiru’s down for the count, and the rest of you don’t look ready for a fight, either! And if Kagura shows up here…!"

"Then one of us better stay here and keep an eye on things," InuYasha decided, looking at his fallen friend. Then he looked over at Koga, a definite scowl on his face. "How about it, you scrawny wolf? Think you can handle a few small demons on your own?"

Immediately stung by this comment, Koga retorted. "Are you kidding?! I could handle that entire horde without even breaking a sweat!"

"Then you better get going," Sango decided, not giving InuYasha a chance to add any unnecessary fuel to Koga’s fire. "And take Kaname with you. You’re probably going to need some healing magic before this over."

"Huh?!" Kaname squawked, her eyes rounding as she looked at the Demon Slayer. "But I -!"

"Kaname, she’s right," InuYasha told her gently, moving to look her right in the eyes. "Look, I know you want to stay here, but they’re going to need you at the village more than we do right now." Then the half-demon smirked, giving Koga a sideways glance. "Besides, I know we can’t count on him to get the job done himself!"

"Hey, watch it, you little mutt!" Koga snarled, shaking his fist menacingly.

"But…I…!" Kaname tried again. Only to have her voice fall flat as InuYasha looked steadily into her eyes. His eyes speaking words that were far beyond his ability to articulate, and it was plea that the Kururugi girl was unable to refuse. Heaving a deep sigh, Kaname lowered her eyes before saying, "Alright." Then she looked back up at InuYasha, with her eyes pleading this time. "Please…take care of my brother, okay?"

"Don’t you worry. There’s not a chance in hell I’ll let anything happen to Michiru," InuYasha assured her. Then he curled the corner of his lip in a cocky fashion. "Besides, what can happen? He’s your brother, remember? He’s too damned stubborn to go down that easily!"

Letting out a slight gasp, Kaname stared at InuYasha before her own cheeks colored. Smiling bashfully, the Kururugi girl nodded, "Okay. Just…be sure to take care of him." InuYasha nodded to this, only to hiss in surprise as Kaname leapt up and wrapped her arms about him. "And…please take care of yourself as well."

"Uh…" InuYasha sputtered out as his own arms hung helplessly to his sides. Before he could say or do anything further, Kaname released her grip on him, giving him one last, worried look before turning to Koga.

"Okay. Let’s go," Kaname told the wolf-demon, who made an affirmative sound to this. Picking her up in his arms, Koga blurred into a whirlwind and sped away.

You better take care of her, you damned, scrawny wolf, InuYasha snarled inwardly, watching them both intently until they were finally out of sight. She gets even a mark on her, and you’re dead, got that?! This unspoken threat twisting about in his mind, the half-demon turned back to look at his friends there. Shippo was still dazed and out of it, caught squarely between unconsciousness and delirium. Michiru was still out cold, though his color and breathing were improving. And Sango…

Though InuYasha often had difficulty understanding human emotions, one thing he knew and understood very well was pain. Pain had been his constant companion for many years of his life, pain that few people knew and even fewer could comprehend. And though Sango was very skilled at hiding what she felt, at what hurt her most beneath the surface, the half-demon had known her too long to be fooled by her disguise. Her face taught with forced self-control, Sango was unaware of InuYasha as he approached her, and remained so until he was right beside her, his hand falling on her shoulder, conveying what comfort he could.

"He’s going to be okay, Sango," InuYasha told her gently. Watching as she ran her hand across Michiru’s cheek, wiping away the tears that stained his face. "I promise you."

"I know," Sango got out, unable to restrain her emotions any longer. Her pain finding a crack in her armor, and leaking to the surface. Her own tears falling forth, and making paths of their own upon her beloved’s face.

The stench of death filled the air of Tsuzumi Village. Death and blood and battle were everywhere that night as the blood of humans and demons alike mixed on the dirt paths that led through the village as both dragged each other to their respective deaths.

Azusa had never seen humans fight before. She had seen plenty of them run like cowards as she ran them down before finally ending their miserable existences, and she had had a few meals that had put up a pitiful attempt at resistance before she finally won the meat that she had rightfully earned. But the things she had seen that night, the continued, determined resistance that the people of the village were offering their attackers, even succeeding in bringing down many of the attacking demons was truly astonishing to her.

Not that any of them can hold a candle to a demon! Azusa reminded herself, leaping up to shatter another demon. Gritting her teeth as her body flared with pain, the she-wolf having suffered numerous injuries. There were just too many demons, and despite the best efforts of both her and her unlikely ally, they had both been stricken at least a half dozen times. Both of them soaked with sweat and blood, some of which wasn’t theirs.

"How’re you holding up, Demon Slayer?!" Azusa demanded as another demon shot at her. Dodging to the side, the she-wolf delivered a punishing elbow drop kick to the thing’s head. This monster was followed by another, which she dispatched with a slash of her borrowed sword.

"I’ve been better!" Jiro confessed, jumping up and kicking one of his own opponents in the jaw. On the way down, he swung his three-sectioned staff and crushed the skull of another demon. "How about you?"

"Me? Heh! I can keep this up all night!" Azusa boasted. Despite the fact that both fatigue and injury were already catching up with her. And the scent she was getting off the Demon Slayer told her that he was also tiring.

Still, he’s not doing half bad, Azusa admitted grudgingly. Too bad he’s not a demon. He’d sure be a better one than these losers!!

Making a mental note to never, ever say these things to another soul, Azusa continued to fight on. "So how many things do you think there are, anyway?!"

"Hard to say!" Jiro admitted as he slew another attacker. "I guess we’ll just have to keep going until one side goes down!"

"Then we damn well better make sure it’s them, because there’s no way in hell I’m ending up someone’s dinner!" Azusa sneered, making sure that Jiro didn’t somehow manage to kill more demons than she did.

"Somehow, I doubt there’s a demon here with a strong enough stomach for that!" Jiro commented wryly.

Blinking rapidly at this, Azusa then grinned ferally. "Thanks!" she retorted, cleaving another demon in two. "And I’m sure if any of these things was dumb enough to eat you, it would get a stomachache for the rest of its life!"

"Perhaps," Jiro commented depreciatingly. "But let’s do ourselves a favor…and make sure that it doesn’t come down to that!"

"No arguments here! I -!" Azusa started, only to have something scream in her mind. And instinctive reaction to something she had sensed, something that forced her to whip her head about. Just in time to witness another demon, its jaw opened wide and filling her eyes with death.

"Azusa!!" Jiro cried out. Too occupied with his own fight for survival to be able to do anything to save her.

Not even having enough time to raise her arms up to shield her face, Azusa could only stare in horror at her fate. Time seemed to slow down as the end drew near, giving the wolf-demon more than enough time to take in every detail of her attacker. It was a winged snake-demon, a cobra with serrated bat-wings, and a foul mouth that was filled with jagged, misshapen fangs. She couldn’t see its eyes, but Azusa could clearly see the monster’s tongue lashing out towards her, as if unable to wait for her to be in its mouth before tasting her.

Then a resounding crack filled the air, and time returned to normal speed. Practically jumping out of her skin, Azusa watched as the cobra faltered, its mouth closing on its own tongue. She could finally see the snake’s eyes, and with a questioning growl, she watched those eyes roll up into their sockets as it collapsed to the ground. Only to be replaced with something that glinted with gold.

"What the…?!" Jiro got out, having finally dealt with his opponents. The Demon Slayer looked about, and saw a man wearing nothing but a set of sandals and a pants. He was heavily bandaged about the waist, chest, and arms, and there were numerous bruises and abrasions marking his body. A string of sacred beads was wrapped about his right forearm, and a Bhuddist staff was the weapon he had used to deliver the death blow to the demon.

After a moment’s staring, Jiro finally managed to gasp out, "Miroku?!"

"I see you can use some help," Miroku smiled, pain and sweat marking his body. "I’m sorry to be so late. It took me a while to get here."

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