Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

From the Frying Pan to the Fire

“Kaname! Shippo!” Michiru called out as he made his way through the wooded area, looking this way and that for any sign of his wayward friend and sister. Pausing to listen for any sign of their response, he frowned when he heard nothing.

And that bugs me, Michiru thought, simply because he was hearing nothing. There were none of the typical sounds he associated with areas such as this. No birds chirping, no squirrels darting about in search of nuts. Nothing.

But at the same time, he found that he couldn’t sense anything to substantiate his concerns, either. There was very little vitality in the plants and the water, but other than that, there was nothing to indicate a potential danger. No signs of demons, or any other predators.

I wonder…could the lack of energy in the plants have something to do with this? Michiru wondered as he continued along. If the plants weren’t providing sufficient nutrition for the local herbivores, than they would go elsewhere, as would the predators that fed upon them. But that doesn’t explain what’s causing the problem. Then he frowned and glanced down at his watch, and saw that he had only one minute until he was supposed to return to the farmhouse, whether or not he had found the others. And it doesn’t explain where Shippo or Kaname are, either.

His lips pressed together in frustration, Michiru once again called out, “Kaname! Shippo!” And when his cries were met again with silence, he let out a low sigh. No matter how he looked, whether through his own mortal senses or through the magic of his Shikigami, there was nothing to indicate that they were anywhere nearby.

There were probably several perfectly innocent reasons why Michiru had not seen his sister and friend, with him simply having gone down the wrong path being chief amongst them. But as he continued to look about the trees, seeing no sign of any other life there, he couldn’t help but feel a deep well of concern open up in his stomach. Maybe I should just send out a scout after all. Just in case, he decided as he took a card from its holster. I mean, I probably just missed them or something…but still…

Still hemming and hawing, Michiru began to invoke the power of his Wind Shikigami, channeling its magic into the card. As the forces of nature began to rise to the surface, however, those same forces suddenly reacted to something else. “Huh?” the Kururugi boy frowned as something encroached on his conscious mind. Looking about, he quickly studied his surroundings, his eyes seeing nothing. But at the same time, he could sense a distinctive shift in the flow of the water beneath him, a change in the way the air blew. And as he continued to stand there, a surge in the energy of the wood around him and beneath him caused him to gasp, the sense of wrongness prevailing throughout the area causing him to react on instinct, and leap away from the spot he was standing on.

It soon turned out that his instincts were correct. A moment after he had jumped, a horde of green tendrils erupted from the ground, their cutting tops glinting in the afternoon sun. “Aaauugh!!” Michiru cried out as he glanced in their direction. “Wh-what are…?!”

Before he could finish asking this question, Michiru’s Wood Shikigami once again warned him of impending danger. Heeding its warning, he leapt back a step, just in time to avoid even more cruel blades appearing. As he struggled to make sense of what was happening, the evil plants continued forth, their pointed tips surging directly at him.

“Back off!” Michiru cried out, sending a barrage of fireballs at them. The magical projectiles slammed into the first wave of wicked plants, causing them to burst into flame. But even as they fell down in defeat, another bunch of tendrils shot forward, intent on bringing him down. “Protective Light!” His Light Shikigami appeared, transforming into a sphere of energy just as the demonic plant lashed out at him. The living blades were effortlessly turned aside, but even as he allowed himself a moment of relief, Michiru realized that his foe was not giving up.

“What in the -?!” Michiru gaped, for while the wicked plant could not penetrate his magical barrier, it didn’t stop it from trying to encircle it. Before his very eyes, more and more of the deadly tendrils appeared, wrapping about his Protective Light like a horde of snakes. “Oh, great! Looks like I better take it up a notch! Flame of Judgment!”

With this invocation, Michiru’s Fire Shikigami rose up into the sky before surging back down upon his Protective Light. Transforming into an immense wave of flame, it quickly ensnared the demonic plant just as it had ensnared Michiru, quickly incinerating the many tendrils and spreading forth to even more of them.

As the living blades that had once threatened to capture him fell down into dust, Michiru mopped his brow as the fire began to spread. “Oh, no!” he moaned, realizing what he had done. The flames hadn’t stopped at striking the demonic plants, and was already spreading towards the harmless trees and bushes lining the path. “No! Stop! I didn’t mean to -!”

Even as Michiru protested his own mistake, he found himself reminded that he had a more immediate problem to deal with. Barely heeding the warning of his Wood Shikigami, he jumped back as further grassy spears erupted from the ground, heedless of the mounting blaze. “Aw, no!” he moaned, glancing between the two menaces. On the one hand, he felt that he had to do something to stop the fire before it grew too large to be put out. But at the same time, he knew that if he paused long enough to marshal a spell capable of quenching the ravenous flames, he would make himself a target for the demonic plant.

“Blast!” Michiru cried out, momentarily wishing that he had InuYasha’s gift for cursing as he broke into a run, both flames and malevolent plant nipping at his heels.

“Dammit, Kagome! What are we waiting for?!” InuYasha grumbled irritably as he looked at the food sitting out on the kitchen counter. “Let’s just eat already!”

“No! Not until the others get back!” Kagome declared as she gradually completed her preparations, setting up a plate with servings for each of them. “Honestly! It would be rude not to wait for them! Can’t you understand that much?!”

With a loud snort, the half-demon looked away, his ears twitching in annoyance. “Hmph! I don’t see what the big deal is!” InuYasha finally muttered in all honesty. “It’s not like I’m gonna steal their lunches or anything like that!”

“I know that, but c’mon! Do you have something against at least trying to be polite?!” Kagome wondered, turning to glare at the half-demon. “Honestly, a five-year-old has better manners than you!”

Not even bothering with a retort, InuYasha just growled deep in his throat, unwilling to risk getting another sit command that day. While there were certain aspects of human existence that he understood and even treasured, like loving relationships and families, things that he had had previous little of in his life, there were still plenty of things he simply couldn’t fathom, such as the supposed importance of table manners.

What’s the big deal, anyway?! I’ve survived perfectly well without knowing which fork or knife or whatever to use! InuYasha grumbled, thinking of another lecture he had gotten in this regard. Something he understood about as well as having to wait for the others to get back before eating. In his experience, to sit back and wait to eat food was to risk someone else stealing it from him, and while he knew his friends wouldn’t do something like that on purpose, he certainly saw no practical advantage to letting perfectly good food sit around where bugs or some other scavenger could assault it. Hmph. And Kagome bugs me about not taking care of my health?!

Wondering how Kagome would react to seeing her own meal infested with some form of vermin and getting a good chuckle out of it, the half-demon was brought back to the present when the modern girl gasped, “InuYasha!”

“Huh? What is...?” InuYasha began as he looked about, only to trail off when he realized what had disturbed Kagome. The compass that still hung about her neck was lifting into the air, the cord going slack as it glowed with a strange, golden light.

“The compass! It’s activating on its own!” Kagome cried out as the pointer spun about before the compass flashed, sending forth a beam of divine light that went right towards the wall.

His annoyance forgotten, InuYasha glared at the sacred artifact. “You mean like what it did with Kanna?! It’s warning us?!”

Nodding nervously, Kagome looked in the direction indicated. “There must be something out there! Something really bad!”

InuYasha couldn’t argue with this. The last time the compass had acted in this way was when Kanna and Naraku had announced that they were still alive by stealing Kohaku away from Sango yet again. “I’m gonna check outside!” the half-demon growled, taking hold of Tetsusaiga’s hilt. “See if I can…can…achooo!”

As InuYasha recoiled, knocked off-balance by this latest sneeze, Kagome countered, “Wrong! You’re staying right here!”

“Feh! Forget that!” InuYasha sneered, sniffing loudly as he inwardly cursed the thrice blasted cold. “Just because my nose isn’t working right doesn’t mean I can sit back with…whatever it is out there!”

Kagome opened her mouth to protest this, but then she frowned and glanced down at the compass before growling deep in her throat. “Ugh…alright, fine!” she finally grumbled before starting towards the door. “Just do me a favor and be careful, okay? The last thing I need is to have you sneezing while you’re trying to swing your sword around!”

“Hmph! Whatever!” InuYasha snorted, despite the fact that he realized that Kagome did have a valid point there. He didn’t even want to think about the kind of disaster that might result if he were to sneeze while firing off a Wind Scar, especially with his friends somewhere nearby. “Let’s find out what the heck this thing is before we start worrying about that, okay?!”

“Fine,” Kagome returned gruffly as she exited the farmhouse. Only to stop just outside the door, her body going rigid with shock. “Huh?! What the -?!”

“Hey, what is it?!” InuYasha demanded as he exited as well. As soon as he was outside, however, he realized what had taken Kagome aback; Kirara was flying towards them, with Sango dangling helplessly from the two-tail’s neck.

“InuYasha! Kagome!” Sango cried out as Kirara flew down towards them. “Listen! Kaname’s in trouble!”

“Kaname?!” InuYasha repeated.

“What happened?!” Kagome asked as she went up to the descending Demon Slayer. “Where’s Kaname?! Is Shippo with her?!”

Rapidly shaking her head, Sango groaned as Kirara landed, “Shippo…he went to look for Michiru and Miroku! To warn them about – ugh!”

“Sango!” InuYasha gaped as the Demon Slayer let herself slip from Kirara’s neck. To his and Kagome’s surprise, Sango toppled to the ground, her legs folding uselessly beneath her. “Sango, what happened?! Are you alright?!”

“Never mind me…you have to save Kaname and the others,” Sango got out from between her clenched teeth. “The forest…it’s infested with demonic grass!”

At this, InuYasha’s jaw fell and clattered right to the ground. “Huh? Demonic grass?!” Kagome wondered, looking blankly between the two of them. “What the heck is that?!”

“It’s a predatory weed that feeds on anything it can infest,” Sango explained tersely. “Normally, it simply feeds on other plants, but sometimes, if it gets to be strong enough, it’ll attack birds, animals, even people and demons! And -!”

“And you’re saying that the forest is filled with that stuff?!” When Sango nodded, InuYasha growled deep in his throat, wanting nothing more than to explode into a long list of explextives of exactly what he thought of such an action. “Dammit! And you actually left Kaname and the others in there?!”

“I’m sorry, but…ugh!” Sango groaned, straining to push herself into a seated position. “I wanted to, but -!”

Snarling his frustration, InuYasha hauled Sango to her feet. “But what?! How in the hell could you -?!”

“Sango!” Kagome gasped, her voice rife with horror. “Your legs!”

Startled by this, InuYasha frowned and glanced down, only to suffer a shock as great as the one Kagome was emoting. Scorched blades of what he knew had to be demonic grass were sticking out of Sango’s lower legs, and even out of the bottom of her feet. “Aw, dammit! Why didn’t you say that damned thing got you as well?!”

“There’s no time! I – I’m alright, I-!” Sango protested, only to gasp in surprise as InuYasha scooped her up into his arms. “InuYasha, no! Put me down! I told you, I’m fine! You have to -!”

“Like hell you are!” InuYasha declared as he marched into the farmhouse. “You’re lucky you can even move!”

“Huh?! What’s that supposed to mean?!” Kagome spat out, looking wildly between her two friends. “Sango, InuYasha, would you one of you please tell me exactly what’s going on?! What’s demonic grass?! And how can you say Sango’s lucky when she -?!”

“Demonic grass is toxic, Kagome,” Sango hissed, wincing as InuYasha set her down inside. “It secretes a poison that leaves you numb. It can even put you into a coma, if you get hit by enough of it.”

“Yeah, and judging by your legs, you should be half-dead right now!” InuYasha grumbled.

“I might have been, if I weren’t a Demon Slayer,” Sango quickly replied. “When I was growing up, my father and some of the others came up with a potion that would help protect us from certain poisons that we were likely to encounter. Fortunately, demonic grass just happened to be one of them.” Then she cast an even glance at InuYasha. “But Kaname and the others, they don’t have that kind of protection! And to make matters worse, the grass is somehow feeding on the power of her Shikigami!”

“Feeding on her -?!” Kagome started, only to shake her head in confusion. “Wh-what do you mean?!”

“I don’t know how, but the grass is using her Shikigami to make itself stronger!” Sango hissed, obviously pained as she removed the furoshiki bundled about her waist. “Last we saw, it was infesting all the trees and bushes around it! Turning them demonic!”

Sucking in a breath, Kagome turned and breathed, “That would explain the compass. Kaname’s Shikigami must’ve made this stuff strong enough -!”

“To set it off and warn us!” InuYasha growled, glaring dangerously at the glowing artifact. “Too bad the damned thing decided not to bother telling us that crap was here before it showed up!”

“InuYasha, please! There’s not a lot of time!” Sango pleaded him. “The longer you stay here arguing, the stronger the grass is gonna get! And if it gets Michiru’s magic as well -!”

“Don’t worry, that’s not gonna happen!” InuYasha snarled hatefully, not even wanting to think about the foul plant was doing to his friends. Glancing over at Kagome, he then returned his focus to Sango, as well as the riddled legs that he knew to be effectively useless. “Listen, are you going to be alright?”

“I’ll fine on my own,” Sango assured him. “Just be sure to get to Kaname as fast as you can. The grass won’t kill her right away, but the longer it’s able to feed on her…”

“Yeah,” InuYasha muttered. While he wasn’t as certain that Sango would be fine, he knew she was right about Kaname. “Kagome, you go with Kirara, track down Michiru and Miroku! And I’ll -!”

“Now, hold on! Wait a minute!” Kagome instantly protested. “You’re going to need help of you want to get to Kaname in time! And without the compass -!”

“I don’t need that damned compass to track her down! Besides, if that damned grass gets you, you’ll be down before you even know what hit you!” InuYasha countered forcefully. “Trust me, Kagome! I’ve run into that crap before! I’ve seen what it can do!”

Even as Kagome opened her mouth to protest, Sango interjected, “Please, you two! There’s no time for this!” When she turned to look at her, the Demon Slayer cut her off again. “Now, InuYasha’s right. You’re too vulnerable to the demonic grass! Especially now that it’s feeding on Kaname’s magic!” A smug grin of triumph was spreading on the half-demon’s face when Sango looked at him. “But she’s right, InuYasha. You won’t get to Kaname on your own.”

Startled by this turnaround, the half-demon looked hard at Sango before finally demanding, “Well, then what are we supposed to do?!”

“Take Kirara, and have her fly you back to where Kaname is,” Sango instructed as she opened up her furoshiki. After searching for a moment, she withdrew a small pouched and held it out to them. “Here. You’ll need this. It’s an antidote for the grass’s poison.”

“An antidote?” Kagome breathed as she studied the small pellets within.

“It’s not perfect, but it should give you both some protection, just in case,” Sango told them as she took one of the pellets and popped it into her mouth. “Here, take it with you,” she instructed them even as she winced at the bitter taste. “Now, InuYasha, do you think you can get to Kaname by yourself?”

Snorting somewhat, InuYasha returned, “You know I can! A few damned weeds aren’t going to get in my way!”

“Alright. As soon as you get her away from the grass, then Kagome and Kirara can pick you up,” Sango went on. “And as soon as you get Kaname, then you have to go find Michiru and Miroku. Shippo’s already looking for them, so there’s a chance that they’ve been warned, but if he hasn’t, then you have to get to them before the grass does. And with the compass, you should be able to keep track of the grass, stay away from it while you’re looking for them” Nodding at the bag of antidote, Sango watched as Kagome took it in her hand. “As soon as you find them, give them one of the pills.”

“Right,” Kagome nodded as she reached into the bag and took out some of the antidote. Downing one of them for herself, the modern priestess made a face as she forced herself to swallow before handing some of the pellets to InuYasha. “Here. And do yourself a favor and swallow quickly!

Nodding, InuYasha took the pellets and downed one for himself. “Guh! This stuff sure as hell better work!” he growled with a shake of his head. “Alright, Sango. Just stay here and watch out. And if any of that crap shows up here…”

“I’ll do what I can,” Sango assured him. “Now, please, hurry!”

Exhaling sharply, InuYasha frowned before turning to leave. In her current condition, he knew that there wouldn’t be much Sango could do to defend herself. But at the same time, he knew they didn’t have much choice, not if they were going to save the others. Hoping that nothing happened in their absence or that the antidote worked a lot better than it tasted, the half-demon led Kagome outside, where Kirara stood waiting. Looking back at the Demon Slayer, he considered for a moment, loathe to leave one of his friends alone, no matter the situation. But then he heaved a deep breath, growled deep in his throat, and then turned to mount Kirara. “C’mon, Kagome! Let’s go!”

“Right.” As soon as InuYasha was securely astride the two-tail, Kagome mounted Kirara as well, wrapping her arms securely about his waste. “Let’s go, Kirara!” The demon cat roared in response, crouching down before launching them into the air.

A heavy sigh echoed in Miroku’s ears, alongside the sound of his own footsteps and the jangling of his staff, the perfect sounds to compliment the dark, desolate feel to the woods he was navigating, as well as the heavy feeling weighing down upon him.

Why? Why did he have to come back? the monk thought, recalling the way Michiru had been looking at Sango, his Sango. While the youthful Shikigami User had many talents, masking his emotions was certainly not amongst them. As far as Miroku was concerned, he might as well as have been screaming just how much he desired the Demon Slayer. I certainly can’t blame him for holding Sango in such high regard, but…why? Why did he have to fall in love with her? Why couldn’t he have just stayed in his own time?

Even as Miroku thought these things, his rational mind told him that it was a good thing that both Michiru and Kaname were there. True, there was the risk of Naraku attempting to steal them away for his own benefit, but he and the others had long become wary of their archenemy’s scheming. And there was no arguing against the fact that the Kururugi twins both wielded exceptionally powerful magic, magic that had come in handy when Michiru had first appeared, and had already proven useful during their current journey.

But at the same time, his heart wasn’t moved by such logic. All his heart cared about was that the woman that held so much room in it was presently being wooed away from him. And to make matters worse, Miroku wasn’t as certain as he would’ve liked that Sango wasn’t being moved by Michiru’s clear displays of love.

Far from it, actually, Miroku frowned, thinking of the various interactions between Michiru and the Demon Slayer. But how? How is it possible that she…that she could grow so close to him…he was only with us for three months! And he’s…he’s only a boy! No matter what gifts he has, he…!

Once again, Miroku’s rational mind kicked in, reminding him that the things he’d considered didn’t always come into play when it came to matters of the heart. He very readily recalled how infatuated Koharu had become with him, despite the fact that they had only known each other for a very brief time, and there was a very definite age gap between the two of them. Leaving him to sigh again as he wondered what he was to do about his predicament. It isn’t right, he found himself thinking as his mood slowly declined. Michiru has his entire life ahead of him, magical powers that are beyond most humans’. He has no curse waiting to steal his life. He could very likely have almost any woman he wanted! Why did he have to fall in love with Sango, when there are so many other girls in his own world?!

While his rational mind was reminding him that life wasn’t necessarily fair, something that deepened the monk’s scowl, something else entirely caused his nose to wrinkle up. “Hmm?” Miroku frowned as he sniffed at the air. “That’s smoke…where’s it coming from?”

Standing up straighter, he craned his neck, trying to spot the source of the smell. As he did so, a young voice cried out, “Miroku! Miroku!”

“Huh?” Miroku got out as he turned to look. Almost instantly, he caught sight of a twisted, hideous winged abomination that looked a massive, warped seagull with a deformed beak and an impossible tuft of hair on the back of its head. Upon sighting the monstrosity, the monk took a battle-ready stance, before realizing a moment later that this was a friend he was looking at. “Why, hello, Shippo. You surprised me.”

“Whew! I’m - I’m sure glad I found you!” Shippo panted as he descended towards the monk. Once he was close enough to the ground, he exploded in a puff of smoke, and reappeared in his normal form. “It’s Kaname! She’s been captured!”

“What?” Miroku started, his entire body jolted with surprise. “What happened? Who captured her?”

“It was this creepy plant! Sango called it demonic grass!” Shippo answered.

The instant he heard these words, Miroku stood bolt upright. “Demonic grass? Here?”

he exclaimed, quickly looking about at the anemic trees and bushes lining the path. “Of course. That would certainly explain the plants here. The grass must’ve have been feeding on this area for some time.” Frowning at this, the monk returned his focus to the little fox-demon. “And you’re saying that it has Kaname?”

Shipp gave a sharp nod at this. “We…we tried to free her, but it hurt Sango! Then it started turning all the trees and everything into monsters, and we -!”

“Wait. Sango’s hurt?” Miroku demanded, suffering a jolt of fear and concern. “Is she alright?”

“Uh, I think so. I mean, she was hurt, but I don’t think it was too bad,” Shippo explained uncertainly. “But – I mean – everything was happening so quickly, and she told me that she was going to go the farm to get InuYasha, and that I should look for you and Michiru, and -!”

“I see,” Miroku cut in, very unhappy with what he had been told. He had seen Sango push herself into battle when she had bleeding and on the verge of death. If she had chosen to retreat rather than persist in rescuing Kaname, then either her injuries were more severe than Shippo realized, or the situation was far graver, or even worse, both. “In that case, we should go find Michiru and warn him as to the danger,” he decided before glancing down at the ground upon which they stood. “And…perhaps we should look from the air.”

“Huh? Whaddya…oh.” His little face turning several shades paler, Shippo looked down at the ground as well. “Good idea! Hang on, Miroku!” Scampering over to where the monk stood, the little fox again exploded into a cloud of smoke, at which Miroku felt something large and soft billow up beneath him. In seconds, the large pink blob Shippo had become had risen up from the ground, and was ascending above the tops of the trees. “So, do you have any ideas where we should start looking?”

Miroku didn’t respond right away. Instead, he craned his neck to look about, furrowing his brow as he searched their surroundings. “Hmm…Shippo, look! Over there!”

“Huh?” Shippo began, shifting his bulbous eyes in the direction Miroku was now pointing in. And saw a large column of smoke rising up from the forest. “What – oh, no! A forest fire?!”

“Apparently so,” Miroku responded with frown. “Shippo, head for that fire.”

“What?! But why?!” Shippo demanded.

“Michiru. If he also encountered demonic grass and was able to fight back, he would use spells that he knew would be effective against it. Namely, fire-based spells,” Miroku explained tersely. “

If so, then it’s likely that he caused the fire, trying to fend it off, in which case he might still be nearby.”

“Then let’s go check it out!” Shippo declared, his huge, bloated form squishing somewhat as he changed course towards the billowing clouds of smoke.

I don’t like this, Kagome couldn’t help but think as she and InuYasha flew forth, the familiar feel of the wind whipping through her hair unable to detract from the menace of the current situation. “InuYasha…”

“Yeah, what is it?” InuYasha grumbled in a disinterested manner.

“I think this…demonic grass is spreading,” Kagome frowned, holding out the compass. “Look! The compass is acting really strange here”

“Strange? What do you mean…?” InuYasha began, only for his tongue to fall flat as he looked over his shoulder. “What in the -?!”

“See?” Kagome grimaced as she examined the compass. The sacred artifact was jouncing about madly before her, projecting a conical beam that seemed to strike every part of the forest below. “The whole forest must be infested with this stuff! There’s much down there, the compass can’t lock onto any single point!”

Growling deep in his throat, InuYasha returned his gaze forward. “Feh! Don’t bother with that thing, Kagome! Kirara knows where she’s going, right?”

Kagome opened her mouth to respond to this, to remind her companion of Sango’s warning, but then decided against it. She knew InuYasha well enough to know that caution was more often not wasted on him. About the only time he starts worrying is when we actually wind up hip deep in trouble! she grumbled inwardly, again frowning at the compass’s erratic behavior. I just hope we don’t find ourselves in over our heads when we get there. Letting out a low sigh, she added, And I sure hope Kaname’s gonna be okay…

Shuddering at this, at the possibility that one of their group had been lost, Kagome set aside the compass…and gasped when she caught sight of something more ominous. “InuYasha!”

“Huh? What is it now?” the half-demon wondered as he looked back at her.

“Look! Over there!” Kagome began, pointing towards a huge column of smoke. “It looks like a forest fire!”

“Aw, great! As if we don’t have enough to deal with?!” InuYasha muttered sourly.

“Do you think Michiru or Miroku might be down there?” Kagome wondered, the very thought making her increasingly worried.

“If they are, I hope that they have enough sense to get the hell out of there!” InuYasha retorted gruffly. As Kagome found herself hoping for the same thing, their two-tailed ally growled for their attention. “What is it, Kirara? Are we almost there?” When she growled again, this time in what seemed to be an affirmative manner, the silver-maned warrior narrowed his eyes and scanned the terrain below. “Alright, then…what the hell -?!”

Sucking in a surprised breath at InuYasha’s tone of voice, Kagome was about to ask what was wrong when she instead looked down, and very nearly swore herself. What had once been harmless trees and bushes had been transformed into hideous abominations. The trees swayed about, their branches transformed into misshapen arms with dozens of clawed hands snapping this way and that. Knots in the bark had become baleful yellow eyes that were aimed up at the airborne travelers, and mouths gnashed hungrily at them, and even at a distance, Kagome could see sharp, craggy teeth of bark and sickly green sap within their jaws. As for the bushes, they were even more hideous, if that was even possible. They looked like huge bundles of snakes all tangled together, with tiny snapping jaws aiming up at the unlikely trio, eager for the chance to sink their teeth into them.

“Damn! Sango wasn’t kidding!” InuYasha howled in disgust. “Would you look at that nightmare?!

“And all of that…because of Kaname’s Shikigami?!” Kagome breathed, aghast at the horrendous transformation.

“Because of that damned grass! See?!” InuYasha growled, pointing down at the forest of horrors. As Kagome followed his outstretched finger, she saw deadly blades of demonic grass leading into each of the mutated plants. “Looks like it doesn’t want to be bothered until its done eating!”

“Done eating?” Kagome repeated, quickly turning ashen as she processed these words. “You don’t think…”

“No. It takes days for that damned crap to finish someone off,” InuYasha reported grimly. “Can you see any signs of Kaname down there?”

Looking down one side of Kirara, then the other, Kagome shook her head. “No. I can’t see anything past all these freaky plants!” The two-tail growled at this in an insistent manner. “I know she’s down there, Kirara, but where is she?”

Growling determinedly, Kirara propelled herself forward even faster, seeming to leap through the air as she shot forward. Then she glanced down at the ground, and growled again before turning about, slowly circling about one section of the mad forest. Realizing that they had reached their destination, Kagome and InuYasha looked down with new determination, trying to see past the monstrous plants that were shifting about, trying desperately to reach up and attack them as well. “There she is!” InuYasha cried out. “Down there! See?”

“Huh? Where?!” Kagome demanded, following InuYasha’s gaze. At first, all she could see was the foul plants and what looked like an especially hideous mutant bush. But after a few moments’ studying, she realized that that particular bush wasn’t moving about like the others were, and looked to be roughly human-shaped. “Omigosh! The grass has her wrapped up like a mummy!”

“Eh? What’s a mother got to do with this?!” InuYasha demanded crossly.

“Not a mommy, you idiot! A mummy!” Kagome snapped. Making a mental note to explain such references to InuYasha at a later time, she returned her attention to the figure below. “So…what do we do now?”

A low growl sounding in his throat, InuYasha considered the matter for a moment. “Do you think you can hit the ground right next to her? Without hitting Kaname?”

“Huh? Well, sure!” Kagome replied uncertainly.

“Then do it! And be ready!” InuYasha growled, swinging one of his legs over Kirara’s side. “That damned grass isn’t going to give us much time. We’ve gotta work fast!”

Kagome was about to ask what InuYasha had in mind, but then decided that she was much happier not knowing. So instead, she brought forth her bow and nocked an arrow. “I’m ready!”

“Then do it!” InuYasha declared, and without hesitation, leapt into the air.

Barely suppressing a squawk of dismay, Kagome shook for a brief moment before releasing her arrow. Shining with the power of purification, the Sacred Arrow shot downwards, passing InuYasha to slam into the ground right next to Kaname. The arrow exploded in a burst of spiritual power, ripping apart the nearby demonic grass. All the possessed plants nearby screeched in pain, instinctively recoiling for them light that shown forth from the site of impact, even as the grassy cocoon encasing Kaname shook and unraveled somewhat.

“There! Iron Reaver Soul-Stealer!” InuYasha snarled as he fell down next to Kaname. In one easy movement, the half-demon slashed through the remainder of the grass encasing her, sending it exploding away from her and revealing the captive girl within.

“Yes!” Kagome grinned, pumping her arm in triumph as InuYasha quickly grabbed hold of Kaname and leapt away. He was just in time, because even as he jumped, hundreds of cruel living blades belched up from the ground, shooting straight towards him. “C’mon, Kirara! Let’s go!”

Growling in concurrence, Kirara shot down towards the ground as InuYasha continued to run. His arms occupied with Kaname’s insensate form, the half-demon gritted his teeth in determination as the twisted plants fought to reclaim their prize; as fast as InuYasha rushed down the path, trees and bushes alike closed in. From every direction, twisted branches with grasping claws reached to grab him. “Dammit! Back off!” the silver-maned warrior snarled as a dozen leafy hands snatched at his kimono. “You’re not getting your claws on her again!”

Unsurprisingly, the demonic plants didn’t listen. Not even bothering trying to keep track of his many potential assailants, InuYasha bulled ahead, automatically dodging a horde of clawed hands snaking out to grab at him. When a host of snake-like heads lunged out at him with their fangs bared, he leapt over them and kept moving. “InuYasha!” Kagome called out as she and Kirara closed in on him. “Listen, just hang on! We’re coming!”

“No! Don’t come any closer!” InuYasha returned, not even sparing a glance upwards. “Just get ready!” Before Kagome could ask what it was she should be ready for, the half-demon coiled his legs beneath him, and with a grunt of effort, propelled himself into the air.

“InuYasha!” Kagome cried out as Kirara acted, diving down just beneath the apex of the half-demon’s leap. The two-tail’s timing was nothing short of perfect; InuYasha came to land neatly on her back, right behind Kagome. Grunting as he absorbed the shock before it could transfer to Kaname, the half-demon let go with one hand and grabbed hold of Kirara’s fur in order to stabilize himself.

“Hey, great going, Kirara!” InuYasha grinned as the demonic cat angled herself up and away from the cruel plants.

Not bothering to point out that she had had hand in this rescue, Kagome instead focused on the girl that lay in InuYasha’s arms. “How’s Kaname? Is she alright?”

“She will be, after she recovers and has something to eat,” InuYasha replied. “Trust me, that damned grass will drain you dry if it gets half a chance!”

“Oh, really?” Kagome asked in a teasing voice. “Speaking from experience, are we?”

In less than a second, InuYasha’s expression turned from triumph to bitter annoyance. “Hey! That’s none of your business! Just give me one of those disgusting pellets of Sango’s, okay?!”

Sorely tempted to subject the half-demon to further teasing, Kagome sighed and stuck to business. “Right. Here you go,” she said, retrieving the pouch of the unsavory medicine. Taking out one of the pills and offering to the half-demon, she asked, “But how are you going to get her to swallow it when she asleep?”

“Like this,” InuYasha muttered, gently opening her mouth and before placing the pill inside. Then he closed her mouth back up and carefully elevated her head so that they were face-to-face.

A quizzical noise sounding in her throat, Kagome watched as the half-demon brought his face closer to Kaname’s, pursing his lips. A protest was forming on her tongue when he blew up her nose. “Huh?” she got out, watching as the unconscious girl shifted about, the movement of her Adam’s apple indicating that she had just swallowed. “Oh. I…how’d you…?”

“Something I saw Kikyo do, when she had to give medicine to someone who couldn’t swallow it on his own,” InuYasha replied, tightening his grip on the prone girl. “I just hope this stuff works.”

“So do I,” Kagome agreed, forcing herself to look away from the girl that was now resting in InuYasha’s arms. Ugly, nasty, selfish thoughts that she wished she could rid herself floating in her mind as she returned her focus to the matter at hand. “Any, let’s see if we can find the others.” Her sentence was punctuated by the hungry roars and snarls of the army of twisted plants that still ruled the forest below. “Before they do.”

“Damn! Get away from me already!” Michiru cried out as he continued to run desperately down the path. Sweat running down his face as he glanced over his shoulder, and saw more and more bizarre grass explode from the earth, intent on spearing him. All the while the crackle of fire raged through the woods, the blaze he had inadvertantly created spreading madly.

Wondering for a moment if letting this evil forest get scorched into oblivion might not be a good thing, Michiru sucked in breath after ragged breath as he pushed himself for all the speed he could muster. Unwilling to spare the time needed to conjure his Shikigami, simply because he knew that a moment was all the malevolent plant needed to strike him down. Especially since his Protective Light had long since faded away.

Besides, even if I take out a few of these things…there’s just so many of them! Michiru grimaced as more and more of the foul plant ripped its way out of the ground. Where’s it all coming from, anyway?! And what’s it take to make it give up?!

The Shikigami had no answers to his questions, so he kept running, wondering when the malicious plants would reach their, and hoping that it wouldn’t be before he did. Because his heart was thundering with the effort of his prolonged run, and his lungs burning with pain with each desperate breath he took. His legs were strained to their limits, protesting each step he took and demanding to be allowed to rest.

Fat chance of that. Because if I get out of this, I’m taking the same training schedule that Sango has! Michiru informed his tiring legs. Then he felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise up as more grass appeared. Unfortunately, that’s starting to look like a pretty big if!

Feeling his body steadily weakening and finding himself wishing for the physical strength and endurance of InuYasha or Sango, Michiru was snapped from his fearful thoughts when he spotted something raining down from above. Initially fearful that it was some other peril, he glanced back to see the projectiles impact in the path of the lethal plant, where they exploded into plumes of blue flame.

Stumbling forward and barely staying on his feet, Michiru just had the breath to gasp out, “Wh-what the -?!”

“Michiru! Up here!” came a familiar voice. Looking up towards the source, the Shikigami User saw an immense pink blob descend towards him, and on top of it with his hand stretched out towards him was Miroku. “Grab on! Quick!”

Unable to express him immense gratitude, Michiru instead grinned as he reached out and grabbed hold of the offered hand. “Hang on, Michiru!” Shippo cried out, his voice rife with nervous energy. “This is gonna be close!” Jiggling madly, the transformed fox-demon seemed to will himself to rise as quickly as he could. As he dangled from Miroku’s hand, the Kururugi boy turned about, at which he saw the reason for this; while the first wave of grass had been burned to nothing by the monk’s sutras, even more of the deadly blades were reaching up towards them.

“Michiru, try and keep still!” Miroku cautioned him even as Michiru brought his wearied legs, trying to keep them out of the malicious plant’s reach. “I don’t want to drop you!”

I don’t want you to drop me, either!” Michiru responded, both glad to get further out of reach of the deadly grass, and perturbed by the increasing distance between his dangling feet and solid ground. Acting on instinct, he reached out for the only sort of handhold he could find, and grabbed a handful of Shippo’s blobby substance.

“Ouch!” Shippo cried out.

“Sorry!” Michiru quickly replied, chagrined despite his immediate peril. Still, he kept his grip, and with Miroku’s help, started pulling himself up the transformed fox-demon’s side. “Just…hold on…for a bit longer…!”

“Believe me, that is my intention!” Miroku replied, his voice strained with the effort. “Shippo, I realize this must be unpleasant, but -!”

“I know! I know! Just hurry!” Shippo pleaded, his bulging eyes twisting in discomfort

Not needing any additional encouragement, Michiru continued to scrabble up the fox-demon’s side. It was tough going, since his feet could find no purchase. But finally, after much grunting and straining, , the Shikigami User finally succeeded in reaching the top, very nearly falling on top of Miroku gave him one final pull up. “Ugh!” the monk grunted as the both of them collapsed into the billowy pink surface. “Whew…that was certainly a lot closer than I would have liked.”

“Heh. You’re not kidding,” Michiru moaned heavily, his already strained body unwilling to move so much as a single muscle. “But…we’re all alive, so…I guess we shouldn’t complain.”

“Very true,” Miroku conceded.

“Yeah, and it’s a good thing we got here when we did!” Shippo chimed in. “But are you okay, Michiru? The demonic grass didn’t get you, did it?”

“De…demonic grass?” Michiru repeated blankly. Exhaling sharply, he rolled his head on the transformed fox-demon, his blobby substance even softer and fluffier than a pillow. And in his exhausted state, he wanted nothing more than to relax. “Uh, no. No, it…I’m okay. Just…tired, that’s all.” Heaving a slow, deep breath, he frowned as something occurred to him. “Say…how’d you know I was in trouble? And…wait a minute.” Realizing that something was wrong, the Kururugi boy forced himself to sit up and look about, searching for someone else who should have been there. “Shippo, where’s Kaname? She was with you, right?”

The transformed fox-demon didn’t respond with words, instead making incomprehensible noises of dismay. It was Miroku who told him, “I’m sorry, Michiru. But the demonic grass managed to capture Kaname.”

The instant his mind processed these words, all exhaustion was forgotten as Michiru sat up and looked at the monk in unadulterated horror. “What?!!?!”

“Don’t worry, she’ll be alright for now,” Miroku vowed, holding up his hands in a reassuring manner. The monk then proceeded to give Michiru a brief retelling of that day’s events, as well as explanation as to the exact nature of their enemy. “Anyway, Sango went to get InuYasha and Kagome. I’m sure they’ll be able to help her.”

As much as Michiru wished otherwise, as much as he believed in his friends and their strength, he found no comfort in Miroku’s words. The thing he had dreaded since Kaname had decided to join them had come to pass. His sister, his companion and confident for as long as he could remember, the one he had ignored for so long in his efforts to master his magical powers to the fullest, had fallen prey to the perils inherent to the Feudal Era. And he had been unable to do anything to protect her from it.

“We have to go after her,” Michiru announced, not even thinking of the words before saying them. “We can’t just leave her to this – this thing! We -!”

“I know, Michiru. And trust me, we’re not abandoning your sister,” Miroku consoled him. “But without some way of getting past the demonic grass and the plant creatures Shippo described, we wouldn’t stand a chance of getting to her.”

“We do have a way!” Michiru proclaimed, placing his hand to his chest. “All I need is enough time to summon my Shikigami, and I’ll be able to blast those monster plants away, no problem!”

Miroku didn’t say anything to this right away. Instead, he sat there and considered the Shikigami User for a time. “Perhaps…but can you do so without risk to Kaname?” he finally asked. Michiru opened his mouth to counter this, but the monk cut him off. “Michiru, I do understand that you’re afraid for your sister. But don’t forget that we’ve had to deal with this situation several times in the past. And no matter what powers we possess, we won’t accomplish anything if we simply rush in blindly. We need a plan.”

“Besides, I’m not even sure how much longer I can stay afloat!” Shippo confessed woefully. “I’m sorry, but you two are awfully heavy, and…!”

“Wh-?!” Michiru began, flush with annoyance at this admission. But before he could give voice to this annoyance, he found himself flashing back to his first journey, recalling the times he had spent with Shippo, and how the little fox-demon had aided the group in the past with his powers of transformation. In particular, he had helped them scale a large mountain in order to help increase Michiru’s magical power; when they had been confronted by sections of mountain that were simply too steep to climb up, Shippo and Kirara had worked together in flying the group up to the next passable section. But the climb had taken its toll on the youthful little demon, quickly leaving him exhausted. Making matters worse, it was obvious that Shippo had been carrying Miroku for some time before they had rescued Michiru. Making it that much more likely that he was reaching his limits.

While Michiru was struggling to swallow this extremely bitter pill, Miroku placed his hand on his shoulder. “Come. There’s nothing more we can do now. Let’s get back to the farmhouse, so we can plan our next move.” When the Kururugi boy didn’t say anything to this, the monk smiled gently and added, “Who knows? We might even find that Kaname has been rescued by the time we get there.”

Michiru was about to protest this, or comment that they were almost never that lucky. But as a low, heavy exhalation ghosted out his lips, the Shikigami User found himself confronted by incontrovertible facts. They simply weren’t set for a rescue; Shippo was tiring, and attempting a rescue on the ground was obviously not an option. “You…” he began, very nearly choking on his own words, “you sure that she’s…gonna be…alright?”

“Yes. It takes demonic grass a while to completely drain its victims,” Miroku confirmed in a firm, resolute voice. “I’d say that we have at least a day before her situation becomes truly serious.”

Pressing his lips together, Michiru lowered his gaze, caught squarely between Miroku’s logic and his own emotions, at the disgust he felt at himself for allowing his sister to fall victim to such a monstrosity. As he struggled to overcome these things, to come to some kind of resolution, he thought back to something the monk said. Miroku’s right. We have dealt with this before, he thought, thinking of the times that Kohaku had been dangled before them like bait by Naraku. But…it’s not the same thing! Naraku didn’t want to eat Kohaku! He wanted to…to get us, and…!

Wincing as his fears got the upper hand on him, Michiru clenched his fists, wishing he could wrap them around his own helplessness. We don’t have much time, but…we do have a bit. Enough to at least…stop at the farmhouse and…see what’s happening, he told himself with a great deal of difficulty. And…I don’t know…maybe Sango will have a few ideas about…what we can do.

Sango. At the thought of the Demon Slayer, Michiru found himself thinking about the times she had been forced to deal with this particular nightmare. And as he did so, he asked himself what she would do. Would she panic, fly off the handle and risk the safety of the others on a desperate, ill-thought rescue, or would she pause and think up a plan before taking action? Doing what was best for both Kaname and the group.

As far as Michiru was concerned, the answer was obvious. And as difficult as it was for his heart to accept, so was their course of action.

“Alright,” Michiru finally agreed with a slight, shaky nod. “Shippo…let’s go.”

“Right,” Shippo replied. With a slight lurch, the flying pink blob shifted course, moving towards the edge of the forest.

Frowning heavily, Michiru reached into the holster on his belt. “You made the right decision,” Miroku told him in a gentle fashion, only to frown slightly as the Shikigami User held up a card. “What are you doing?”

“I’m sending a scout to check things out,” Michiru explained as he invoked the power of his Wind Shikigami, channeling it into the card, transforming it into a magical bird. “We might not be able to go after Kaname now, but at least we can keep track of what’s happening to her.”

“Yes, good thinking,” Miroku nodded as the magical bird took flight. “And you can have it keep track of the creatures Shippo sighted.”

“Yeah,” Michiru sighed as he watched his scout flutter away. Hating himself for not being able to do more as they flew to relative safety.

His senses focused on what was below, ever on the alert for the ever-expanding number of monstrosities spawning from what had once been harmless plant life, InuYasha was startled when he heard a low groan much closer to him. “Huh?”

“What is it?” Kagome wondered, glancing over her shoulder at him. “Is something wrong with Kaname?”

You mean beside the obvious? InuYasha thought somewhat snidely as he cradled the insensate girl. During the actual rescue, he had hadn’t had time to take stock of her condition, but as they flew towards the fire that continued to grow in size and savagery, he had been studying her, and frowning with increasing levels of concern. The left side of her face, from her forehead down to her jaw line, was marred with lingering scraps of demonic grass. The only portion of her that had been spared this mutilation was the area around her eye socket. Her modern clothing had been speared through and through, tufted of the wicked plant sticking out of her along her entire body.

Aw, damn, Kaname… InuYasha frowned as he studied her, picking at the scraps of grass, wanting nothing more than to yank the damnable things out of her body before she awoke to find what they had done to her. All you wanted to do is hang around with me and take care of this stupid cold of mine. And I had to go tell you that you should go out and try and relax! Snorting deep in his throat, grimacing at the way this offended his still-sensitive nose, the half-demon shook his head slowly. Hell, if I hadn’t caught this damn cold in the first place…if we hadn’t bothered wasting time because of me…!

“It’s not your fault, InuYasha.” Startled from his thoughts, the silver-maned looked up to see Kagome looking at him with remorse. “You couldn’t have known this would happen.”

Grunting in dismay at how easily he had been found out, at how Kagome had been able to read him, InuYasha quickly looked away. “Maybe…but that doesn’t change anything!”

“C’mon. Kaname knew the risks in coming here,” Kagome continued with a voice of purest sympathy. “Michiru told her what it’s like her, remember? He warned her about the demons, Naraku…”

“Yeah? Well he didn’t warn her about this!” InuYasha growled, once again glaring at the miserable plant that had tried to suck the life from his newest companion. A girl that he was already starting to think of…as a friend. “Dammit, Kagome…I should have been there! She didn’t even want to go out with Shippo or anything! She…she just…”

“She just wanted to take care of you, I know,” Kagome murmured, glancing down at the prone girl. “She’s a good person, like her brother. And she didn’t deserve what happened. But you and I know both know that this kind of thing…it happens.”

InuYasha knew. He had known all his life that horrible things sometimes happened to the people who least deserved them. But knowing that didn’t take away from the pain of that moment. It did nothing to ease the guilt he felt.

As he continued to curse himself for what he perceived as his personal failure, InuYasha’s ears once again pricked up at low groan. “Hmm?” he frowned, looking down at the girl in his arms, sucking in a surprised breath when he realized that she was moving about. “Hey…”

“She’s waking up,” Kagome breathed, the two of them looking up and meeting each other’s gazes. The instant they did, InuYasha knew they were both thinking the same things. On the one hand, they were both glad that Kaname was responding to the medicine so quickly, with the half-demon keenly aware that such a quickly response boded well for an equally quick recovery. But on the other hand, they both knew that this was quite likely the worst place Kaname could have picked to wake up. The plant creatures borne of her magic were still shifting about below, trying in vain to reach their prey, and when she discovered what had happened to her…

Even as InuYasha thought these things, he found himself helpless to do anything about them. Even as he and Kagome glanced back down at her, Kaname’s eyes fluttered open. “Ohh…” she moaned, her head rolling as she blinked once, twice, trying to focus her mind and eyes. “What…where…?”

“Relax, Kaname. You’re okay now,” InuYasha told her, every nerve he had on edge as he and Kagome watched and waited, wondering what would happen next.

“Okay…? Wh-what…?” Kaname mumbled, becoming more and more awake by the moment. As InuYasha wondered if it was the power of her Shikigami that was behind her rapid recovery, the Kururugi girl groaned and attempted to sit up. “What…happened? I…?” Then she did the thing that the silver-maned warrior had been afraid she would do. Without even thinking about it, she brought her hand to her forehead, as if to massage a headache…only to freeze as she felt the lingering scraps of demonic grass embedded in her flesh. “Huh…?!”

“Kaname, it’s okay! Just stay calm!” Kagome pleaded her, holding up her hands in protest. “You…you had an accident, and...!”

“An…accident?! But…!” Then her entire body shuddered, her eyes going wide in realization. “I…I remember…I fell, and then…” Focusing on InuYasha, the Kururugi girl’s young face rapidly paled. “I…I felt something…it was like…something was…cutting me, and…!” While the half-demon floundered, trying to think of something, anything he could say to her, Kaname looked down at herself, her jaw plummeting as she saw the many tufts of demonic grass sticking up from the many holes in her clothes, running up the entire front of her body and legs. “Wh-what…what are these things?! What are they -?!”

Blanching as the Shikigami User became more upset, shifting wildly in InuYasha’s arms, Kagome turned and grabbed her by the wrist. “Kaname, no! You’re okay, now! We’re flying on Kirara, see?” Waiting just long enough for their friend to look about and see for herself that they were airborne, as well as hopefully realize exactly what would happen if she became too panicked, the modern priestess then told her, “You had an accident, that’s all. We’re taking you back to the farmhouse so we can get you patched up.”

“An accident?! Kagome, I could feel these – these things boring into me!” Kaname cried out, becoming increasingly upset. “Wh-what are these things?! Where’d they -?!”

Deciding that there was no use sugarcoating the situation, InuYasha broke in. “Its demonic grass, Kaname!” he began, riveting her attention. “It’s a plant that feeds on people, and…well, it turns out that there’s a whole bunch down there!”

Her mouth popping open in surprise, Kaname fumbled out. “D-demonic grass?! You mean…a plant-demon?!”

“That’s right. Now, you got nailed pretty badly by it, but you’re going to be okay now,” InuYasha assured her. “We’ve already given you an antidote for its poison, and as soon as we get back, we’ll…”

“Poison?!” Kaname winced. “It’s poisonous?!”

“Just enough to make someone fall asleep, that’s all!” Kagome told her, pausing to glare at InuYasha. “It’s nothing serious, really!”

“That’s right. I mean…” Pausing, InuYasha cocked his head to the side before asking, “Well…you feel okay, right? You’re not feeling sick or anything?”

Furrowing her brows, Kaname frowned as she glanced down at herself. “I…not really,” she muttered as she took stock. “My body…it feels really weird. I’m not…feeling any pain…it’s like l was soaked in Novocain!”

Realizing that this was a reference to that other world of theirs, InuYasha looked up at the other modern girl present for an explanation. “It’s something doctors use to numb the patient’s nerves. That way, they don’t feel any pain when they have to operate or something like that.”

“Oh,” InuYasha replied. He wasn’t sure if he completely understood what he had been told, but he then decided that he understood it well enough. At least as well as he understood anything about that crazy modern world. “Well, anyway, as soon as we get you back, you can rest up. And then we can get the rest of this crap out of you.”

To his immense relief, Kaname reacted to this news by visibly calming down. “Then…well, okay. I guess that’s…as long as I…” she muttered uncertainly. Only to jump when a loud, frustrated snarl cracked the air. “Wh-what – what was -?!” Not waiting for an answer or giving either them a chance to protest, Kaname sat up and looked down at the ground below. Her face falling in shock as she saw the monstrosities that now filled the path, reaching up towards the fresh meat that was flying above.

Aw, damn…! InuYasha groaned inwardly.

“Wh-what…what are all those things?!” Kaname demanded, her eyes again widening with shock. “More plant-demons?! B-but…where’d they come from?! I…I didn’t see them before, so -?!”

“The grass made them.” Deciding that just giving it to her straight seemed to calm Kaname down before, InuYasha placed a hand on her shoulder before telling her, “We’re guessing that it must’ve used your Shikigami to transform the other plants, and…”

“My Shikigami?!” Kaname virtually shrieked. “That stuff used my powers to make those things?! It…it took control of me?!” Looking back down below, her eyes bulging even more as she studied the creatures. “It used me…to make those – those – those monsters?!!”

A beat passed as InuYasha struggled to think of something to say. Clearly, just giving it to Kaname straight hadn’t worked as well as it had the last time. Glancing over at Kagome, hoping she had a bright idea as to how to handle this, the half-demon was completely unprepared for when the Shikigami User snatched her wooden sword from her belt. “Kaname, wait!” Kagome began, her mouth round with surprise. “Wh-what are you -?!”

“Onslaught of Flame!” Kaname shrilled, swinging her sword even as it her Fire Shikigami infused it with its power. Several large orbs of fire exploded from the wooden blade and rained down upon the demonic plants. A couple of the tree creatures were shattered by the impact alone, bits and pieces of them sent flying into their fellow monsters, which quickly caught fire as well.

“Kaname, no! What are you -?!” Kagome gasped.

“Prominence of -!” Kaname began, only to be thwarted when InuYasha grabbed hold of her by the wrist and pulled her up to face him. “InuYasha!

“Kaname, stop it! You’ll set the entire forest on fire!” InuYasha protested, glancing down at the mess below. The demonic plants below were in a panic, the ones one fire crying out desperately as they tried to extinquish themselves, while the rest of them were recoiling as best as they could, very nearly tearing their roots free of the ground in the process. “Look, we’re alright! They can’t get at us!”

“My magic! They used me to make those things!” Kaname cried out, tears welling up in her eyes as anger gave way to misery and shame. “Th-those monsters…I made them!”

“It’s not your fault, Kaname!” Kagome protested, glancing from her to below in horrified fascination. “It was the grass, and -!”

“My magic! It took control of my powers, and…!” Kaname gasped, sucking in breath after haggard breath. “I…I didn’t mean…I never meant for…I…!”

“Hey, we know that!” InuYasha told her, his gruff voice softening as he slowly understood what had set her off. That it was the prospect of something invading her body, stealing control over an aspect of her very self, and perverting it into an abomination that had so horrified her. And as he looked at her, tears rolling down her cheeks, he found that he could not condemn her for this. All he could do was look at her with deep sympathy, as well as shame for his role in her tragedy. “Look, we’ll…deal with this, okay? I promise, we’ll take care of those things!”

“That’s right,” Kagome confirmed with a sharp nod. “But we’re not going to wipe out an entire forest in order to do it! We need a plan!” Turning about, the reborn priestess frowned at the still-burgeoning cloud of smoke rising up from the woods.“Besides…we still have to find the others.”

“Others?” Kaname mumbled blankly. Then she gasped a choked breath, nearly dropping her sword in her horror. “Oh, no…you mean…Michiru…the others…?”

“Hey, don’t panic!” InuYasha told her firmly, but at the same time, doing his best to be gentle with her after what had happened. “We’ll find them. You can bet on that. We’ll find them.”

For a long time, Kaname looked into the half-demon’s eyes before biting down on her lower lip. “O-okay,” she fumbled out before finally sagging against him. Wrapping her arms about him, she rested her head on his shoulder, holding him as tightly as she could. “I…I’m sorry.”

“Don’t give me that. You’ve got nothing to be sorry for,” InuYasha told her, knowing full well what it was like to go through something like that. To fear a part of yourself going out of control, the horror it might cause while you were unable to do anything to prevent it. “Just…just relax a bit, okay? We’ll take care of everything.” As Kaname gave a weak nod to this, the half-demon looked up at his other human companion. Kagome was looking at the both of them, an unreadable expression on her face.

I sure hope she doesn’t decide to sit me for this later, InuYasha thought ruefully. For while he cared deeply for Kagome, there were plenty of times he simply didn’t know what to make of her mood swings and such.

As InuYasha wished that he was better at reading people, at understanding human emotions, he spotted something moving through the air. “Huh? What’s that?!”

“Hmm?” Glancing over at InuYasha, Kagome then followed his eyes, and soon spotted the thing that had gotten his attention. “Is that…a bird?”

“No…it’s one of my bro’s cards!” Kaname cried out in a mix of joy and fear as the magical bird came towards them. Surrending her grip on InuYasha, the Kururugi girl reached out towards the bird, taking it into her hands.

“Is he alright?!” InuYasha demanded as a magical light poured forth from the transmuted card. Closing her eyes in concentration, Kaname began to glow as well, the magic of her Shikigami mingling with that of the card. “Well?”

“He’s okay. My bro, he…he’s alright,” Kaname replied, a tearful grin spreading across her face. “He’s with Miroku and Shippo, and…they’re heading back to the farmhouse.”

“Whew! That’s sure a relief!” Kagome sighed, a sentiment Kirara echoed with a delighted growl. “So they’re all okay then, right?”

“Yes, but…” Kaname hesitated, opening her eyes to look worriedly at InuYasha. “There was demonic grass over where my bro was, too. It almost got him before Miroku showed up.”

At this revelation, InuYasha growled dangerously. “Damn. That settles it. This whole forest must be infested with the stuff!” he snarled, looking out across the wooded area, seeing nothing but the foul plant he felt certain was lurking just out of sight. “How’d it get all over the place, anyway?!”

“We’ll figure that one out later. Right now, we need to get back to the others,” Kagome decided before glancing out towards the column of smoke. “There’s still a lot that we need to get done.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” InuYasha grumbled. Then he glanced down at Kaname, who was still holding the magical bird in her hands. Tears of relief and exhaustion still rolling down her face. “Anyway, I told you not to worry. Michiru and the others are just fine, okay?” The drained Shikigami User slowly looked up at him, at which he flashed her a broad, confident grin. “So why don’t you just sit back and relax, okay? Trust me, we’ll have this all taken care of before you know it.”

“I…yeah,” Kaname replied shakily, somehow managing to smile despite her tears and exhaustion. “Uh…InuYasha?” A questioning noise sounded in his throat as he met her eyes. Sniffing loudly, she leaned closer to the half-demon. “Thank you.”

For a long moment, InuYasha was frozen by the sound of two words that he had very rarely heard offered to him. Something that was intensified when Kaname again slumped against him, wrapping her arms about his waist. “Uh…” he hesitated, unsure of what to say. Glancing up at Kagome, he once again saw that same expression from before. That same look of unreadable emotion that wasn’t anger, wasn’t sadness, wasn’t disappointment or jealousy or any of a number of different emotions that he had seen expressed by her. For a long moment, the two of them looked at each other, until at last Kagome gave a sad smile and nodded.

This time, InuYasha knew what his companion was trying to convey. So he looked down at Kaname, and gently wrapped an arm about her. “Eh…don’t worry about it,” he finally told her. Despite knowing that the day’s worries and concerns were far from done.

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