I can’t believe this is happening! Kagura spat bitterly as she flew through the forest, just beneath the leafy canopy that obscured the sky. The sting of failure fresh in her memory, as well as the result of her report to Naraku.
On the one hand, Kagura supposed that she was fortunate. When she had informed the demon whose flesh from which she had been created of just how badly things had gone for her, she had expected to be tortured mercilessly. To once again feel Naraku’s cold, hateful fingers squeezing at her heart. Even putting her on the brink of death, as he had once before when she had attempted to destroy him on Asagiri Island. But on the other, the fact that he had been so unperturbed, and was now having her take this course of action, these things were worrisome to her.
Kagura had long since learned that Naraku rarely made a move without having some kind of backup plan in place, just in case something went wrong. And those plans were never good things, either for their enemies, or for her hopes of one day being free.
Moving as slowly and carefully as she dared without tempting Naraku’s wrath, Kaguara urged the feather she rode upon forward into what remained of the clearing in which she had battled InuYasha and his friends. It remained much as she had left it, with blast marks and craters strewn about the ground. Amongst other things.
Dismounting her feather with practiced ease, Kagura came to land right next to where Kanna had fallen before InuYasha’s mysterious new sword. Spotting her first objective, the wind witch bent down before Kanna’s mirror and gingerly took its cool frame in her hand. Naraku, I’ve got Kanna’s mirror, she reported, holding the looking glass up so that she saw her own reflection caught within it. But…it’s dead now.
I know, Naraku answered instantly, no disappointment or anger in his mental voice. That sword InuYasha now wields…it robbed both it and Kanna of all their power. She is nothing but a mere mortal now.
It…she’s a mortal now?! Kagura repeated, shock surging across her mind at these words. But…how is that even possible?!
Naraku did not answer right away. And when he did, his words were more guarded than Kagura had ever heard before. That is none of your concern, he told the wind witch. Just do what I have told you, and return here. There is still time to salvage something from this engagement.
Kagura sniffed mildly at this hinting of what her creator had planned. Very well, she muttered back as she turned towards her next objective. The sundered form of Ryuunosuke, the halves of which stay lay where they had fallen. Already knowing what she had to do, the wind witch brought forth her fan. "Dance of the Dead!"
Invoking the power of both herself and her fan, Kagura sent forth a wave of magical wind that swirled about both halves of Ryuunosuke. Waiting for the moment when this specimen of the dead awoke to her control. To her surprise, the exact opposite happened. The body, once shaped and garbed to pass for Utsugi when masked, began to melt away. Both cloth and flesh alike liquefied and spilled across the ground, until nothing was left but two organic blobs.
A disgusted grunt echoing in her throat, Kagura stepped back from the putrid substance before it could spill onto her feet. "What in the -?!" she gasped aloud, covering her nose and mouth at the stench the liquefied flesh released. "What madness is this?!" Even as she was trying to understand what could possibly have gone wrong, Kagura hear a low, malignant chuckle echo in her mind, causing her eyes to shoot wide open. "Naraku, what is this?!"
Ryuunosuke isn’t like you or my other incarnations, Kagura, Naraku explained with a deceptive mildness. His physical form was of no importance to me; only the mask which he wore. Which is why I made his body so…malleable. And thus perfect for this, his final mission.
Her mouth still hanging open, Kagura just stood there, unable to ask the myriad questions that were already swirling about in her mind. Nor was she going to have the chance, for the pools of flesh were once again moving of their own accord. One, the smaller one, was swirling about gently, tightening in on itself as rose up into the air, shifting from flesh tones to a more mercurial shade.
"What is this…?" Kagura murmured as the transformed flesh resolved into an orb of liquid metal, one that hovered before her. Then the manipulator of the dead heard a hideous, gurgling sound, one that drew her gaze to the second pool of flesh. And once again, she was rendered speechless, this time with utter disgust.
The second pool of flesh had transformed into a monster. There was just no other way of describing it. The organic fluid had turned dark, dusky, and terrible as it transformed into a humanoid form. But unlike the whole demon it had once been part of, the thing that was now standing on all fours could never even hope to pass for anything human. It was skeletal with a thin layer of skin and muscle adding to its shape, but it was hideously stretched out. The arms and legs were far too long in proportion to the head and body, with the hands and feet being especially large, with tapering fingers and toes.
Even worse than these things was the sickening aura that hovered about this abomination. A thing that was evil in a way that Kagura could never have ever imagined anything being. A monster who was even now looking about the world it had been born into, its eyes tiny red orbs sunken into the deep hollows of its head.
Her entire body trembled in horror as the thing took in an experimental sniff of the air. It lifted itself off its hands as it looked about the trees and bushes, paying Kagura no mind as it started off. Shuffling about, every bone it possessed bulging hideously through its skin as it shambled through the forest. It’s foul stench lingering in the air behind it, causing Kagura to shrink back, staring blankly after it.
"What the…?" the wind witch began, almost choking on the air left in the monster’s wake. Disgust fueling a surge of anger, contorting her expression with her reaction to that abomination. "What in the…what the hell was that thing?!!?!"
Something to gather the last remaining ingredients I need, Naraku explained nonchalantly. It is none of your concern, Kagura. Just retrieve the remains of the mask, and return to me. Assuming, of course, that you are capable of even that much.
More of her fear turning to anger as this comment left her bristling, Kagura kept her tongue. Instead, another matter leapt to her thoughts. And what of Kanna? she wondered, once again sending with her mind alone. Should I get her as well?
Once again, Kagura’s inquest was met with silence. A silence that was long and stifling, and most of all, dangerous.
No, Naraku eventually decided, a heavy finality to his words that Kagura would never have anticipated. She is no longer of any use to me. Dispose of her any way you see fit, and then retrieve the mask. And be quick about it…unless you wish to die with this village.
"Here you go, Michiru," Sango cooed gently, easing the insensate Shikigami User’s head up until it was resting in her lap. Using a gentleness one who was used to her solely in battle would never have associated with the Demon Slayer, she sat upon the grassy surface, running her hand on his cheek. Every iota of her attention on this boy who meant so very much to her. "You should be…more comfortable now."
Still dead to the world, Michiru didn’t say anything. A muffled groan echoed about in his throat, his color still not what it should have been as Sango continued to caress his cheek.
"Is he gonna be alright?" Shippo wondered nervously, looking down at their friend. Still looking a bit dazed from the shock he had suffered before, but already looking much improved.
"What kind of question is that?!" InuYasha demanded instantly, his arms folded across his chest. "Of course he’s gonna be alright! He just needs some rest after what that damned mask did, that’s all!"
"Well, yeah, but…" Shippo tried again, taking a worried step back from the cantankerous half-demon. "I was just…I mean, the poison, and…"
"I know, Shippo, but don’t worry," Sango breathed gently, eyeing the little fox with eyes that were still red with tears. "The antidote has already done its work, and Michiru’s Shikigami…I’m sure he’s going to…I mean...he just needs some time. That’s all."
Obviously not reassured, Shippo continued to look down at the Shikigami User. Only to look up in surprise as InuYasha approached his friend, already doffing the top of his Fire-Rat fur kimono. "Here," the half-demon began, kneeling down to drape the warm garment on Michiru’s top. "I don’t know how much good this will do, but..."
"InuYasha," Sango got out, looking almost surprised at InuYasha’s actions. Then her expression shifted from awe to gratitude as she once again looked protectively at her beloved. "Thank you."
"Eh, don’t make a big deal about it," InuYasha retorted dismissively. "He needs it more than I do right now, anyway."
"Still…" Sango murmured, returning her attention to Michiru. A few tears still running down her face until Shippo squeaked nervously. "What is it?"
"I just thought of something," Shippo began worriedly. "Didn’t you say that Michiru was able to get Kohaku away from Kagura?" The Demon Slayer made an affirmative sound as she nodded. "Well, don’t you think we should…I don’t know…try looking for him or something?"
Sango’s reaction to this was to frown, her face filling with grief and shame. Grief from all the times she had tried and failed to recover her brother, her only blood kin remaining in this world, to free him from Naraku’s cruel spell and once again make him the brother she had once known and held so dear. And shame, not only because of the many things she had done in order to either rescue Kohaku or end his life, but over the fact that, even for a moment…she had almost forgotten about her duty to her brother.
Duty. This was a word that had been drilled into Sango’s mind at a very early age. Just one of the teachings she had long since mastered as part of learning about all the responsibilities borne by her as a Demon Slayer. A teaching that led to another one. As to how the first duty of every Demon Slayer, not just her, was to the people they served and protected.
And as she sat there, holding Michiru gently, she knew where her duty lay.
"Of course we will," Sango returned, practically choking on the word. Then her lips tightened, her features contorting with sorrow. "But…not right now." Both demon and half-demon stood up straighter at this, looking in surprise at the Demon Slayer, who swallowed deeply in order to clear her throat of the lump that had formed within it. "Look…we can’t just go roaming around right now. Michiru…I don’t think we should move him, and…"
"But…" Shippo tried again, looking about the various faces around him.
Grunting his displeasure, InuYasha hefted the Reikikaega over his shoulder. "He’s got a point," the half-demon admitted grudgingly. "With the kid all alone out there, there’s no telling what’s happening to him."
Sango knew that. She couldn’t help but think of that every moment she sat there, knowing that was a moment she was essentially choosing Michiru’s life over that of her own brother’s. And after all the time, all the fear she had felt and knowing that her brother was potentially still within reach, a part of her was screaming within her own mind, demanding that she tear the forest apart. That she couldn’t let what Michiru had done be in vain, that she had to track down her brother and make certain that he was never again used to Naraku’s bidding.
"No," Sango eventually said, practically choking on the word. When both demons jumped in surprise, the warrior woman looked at them determinedly. "We can’t just leave Michiru like this, and we can’t move him, either." Mustering all the self-control she could bring forth, Sango looked into Michiru’s face, took in just how vulnerable Naraku’s evil had left him, and drilled it into her mind. "We’ll have to wait. Maybe later, when the battle’s over and the others can help…"
InuYasha just looked at Sango, not saying a word. He didn’t have to. His face said everything for him. They both knew the odds of being able to retrieve Kohaku later weren’t good. Not with Kagura still roaming around, free and able to retrieve Kohaku. Or worse.
Heaving a deep breath, Sango glared directly at InuYasha. "Besides…it’s not Kohaku Naraku is really after," she hissed out, putting a world of meaning into that one sentence. Reminding them of the fact that they couldn’t afford to leave Michiru vulnerable and undefended. Not when Naraku lurked in the darkness, so clearly hungry for the power represented by the forces of nature that were at the command of the Kururugi twins. Kaname had Koga with her, and despite the danger of battle at the village, there was also other potential allies there to help her. Whereas Michiru was completely helpless, and had only the people around him to keep him safe.
Seeing the logic but definitely not liking it, InuYasha lowered his eyes and growled like a caged animal, snarling in defiance at its captors. Until Shippo piped up and said, "Hey, I know! I’ll go look for Kohaku!"
Startled by this offer, both Sango and InuYasha looked incredulously at the little fox-demon. "Are you sure about that, Shippo?" the half-demon finally asked, raising an eyebrow at their youngest friend and ally. "You know it might be dangerous."
"Hey, I know that! I’m not a kid anymore!" Shippo protested, bristling at these words, and the meaning that went with them. For the fact was, while the fox-demon’s enthusiasm and intentions were as good as any other member of their team, there was no escaping the fact that he was by far the weakest in terms of raw power. "But Sango’s right! We can’t leave Michiru alone, and we can’t take him with us the way he is now!"
"Yes, but…" Sango began, trying to dissuade the little fox. "If you run into Kagura or some other demon…"
As these very real possibilities were mentioned, Shippo continued to stand there, doing his best to maintain a brave front. But despite his efforts, tremors still ran up and down his body, fear still sparked in his eyes, and his knees quavered slightly. Taking a huge gulp, the little fox forced as much courage as he could into his voice as he went, "Yeah, but if InuYasha went, then who’d protect you and Michiru?! I mean…I know that I…I wish that I was able to, but…"
"Shippo," InuYasha muttered, eyeing the tiny demon with something that could almost have been respect.
"Hey, you ain’t got any brains, but you sure make up for it in brawn," Shippo sniped, showing some of the smart aleck attitude that they were used to. "Besides, I can handle a couple little demons! And as for Kagura…it’s like you said. She’s after Michiru and Kaname, not me!"
Sango frowned, looking desperately at InuYasha, who looked back. They’re expressions speaking their minds for them as they rapidly considered the situation. "Yeah? Then let me ask you something," InuYasha finally growled. "What would happen if Kagura caught you and tried to use you as a hostage so she could get at Michiru? And don’t think that couldn’t happen, because we know what she’s like!"
"I’m no idiot, InuYasha! I know all about that!" Shippo blurted out, the tremors of his body increasing. "But…I’m small, you know! She wouldn’t spot me as easily as she could you!" Then the fox-demon’s eyes narrowed fiercely as he leveled the finishing blow. "Besides, what if Kagura finds Kohaku and decides to use him as a hostage?"
Unable to help herself, Sango jerked at this suggestion. Her thoughts instantly jumping to a short time ago, before the evil mask had gotten ahold of Michiru’s body, bending him to Naraku’s will. And how Kagura had used Kohaku as her shield, something to use against her and her beloved. She thought of going through that once more, now after so much had happened so fast. And felt her heart splintering apart as a result.
Seeing the unspeakable anguish clouding over Sango’s face, InuYasha frowned before returning his attention to Shippo. "Are you sure about this?" he growled hesitantly. "If you got in trouble out there, I won’t be there to bail you out. You do realize that, don’t you?"
"Cut it out, InuYasha! I told you, I’m not a kid anymore!" Shippo shouted. Trembling again, this time partly because of the situation he was in, the little fox balled up his fists and tried again. "We’ve all been in tough situations before! And you’ve trusted me to help then! Then why can’t you do that now?!"
Taken aback by the desperation in Shippo’s voice, the two of them once again looked at each other. Trying to find the words to suit the situation, to properly answer the fox-demon’s question. Only to gasp in surprise when another voice did it for them. "I…we do…trust you…Shippo…"
"Michiru!!" Sango shrieked, looking down even as InuYasha knelt before the prone Kururugi. Sure enough, his eyes were cracked open, and were slowly moving about, taking in the situation. Though his features were still glazed with exhaustion, he was still awake and alert.
"Hey, you’re awake!" InuYasha grinned, looking on as Shippo let out a jubilant cry and flew at Michiru, grabbing onto to the Kururugi’s arm even as Sango wept in relief.
A weary sigh that might have been a laugh eased its way past Michiru’s lips. "How can…anybody sleep…with all of this…?" he wondered dazedly. A sniffling chuckle was Sango’s response as the boy looked wonderingly at the others. "So…what’s going on? What…did I…?"
"Do you remember anything?" InuYasha asked gently, studying his brutalized friend. "You know…after…?"
There was a brutal pause as Michiru studied his friend, his eyes wandering from one face to another. "Everything…" he finally admitted, his eyes watering as they filled with sorrow. "Sango, I…"
"Hush, Michiru. Don’t you say anything," Sango told him flatly. "It was the mask, remember? Whatever happened out there, it wasn’t your fault!"
Michiru didn’t say anything to this, though whether it was because he lacked the strength to speak more or he simply had nothing to say was uncertain. He simply lay there until Shippo’s anxious face filled his field of vision. "How are you feeling?"
"I’ve…been better…" Michiru admitted softly, with a hint of his usual good humor. "Though…I’m better now…than I was…"
"Michiru…" Sango murmured, running her hand tenderly across his face.
"So…what’s happening? I…?" Michiru tried again.
Shaking her head worriedly, Sango murmured, "No, no, no, don’t talk right now. Just…try to rest, okay? Let us worry about what’s happening." Michiru didn’t say or do anything at this. He simply laid there, his head in the Demon Slayer’s lap, while she turned her attention to the fox-demon. "Shippo…do you really think you can find Kohaku?"
Jumping somewhat as he once again became the focus of attention, Shippo soon gave her a nod. "Of course I can," he told her somewhat boastfully. "My nose might not be as good as InuYasha’s, but I can still track a scent!"
Frowning nervously, Sango quickly considered the situation. Her concern over Kohaku’s welfare hovering on one side, and the fear she felt for her friends on the other, with a cloud of guilt circling like a cloud about her mind the entire time as she tried to decide which course of action to take. Only to find herself so thoroughly conflicted that she looked up at InuYasha, asking with her pleading gaze for some manner of advice.
The half-demon snorted gruffly as he cocked his head to one side, studying the fox-demon as if he had never seen him before. His expression completely unreadable as he finally said, "You better be right about this Shippo." When two gasps of surprise rose up at this, the half-demon added, "But just make sure that you don’t get caught, okay?! We’ve had enough trouble today without you playing hero!"
"What?!" Shippo gasped, his face expanding into a picture of unfettered shock. "You mean I can really go?!"
"Didn’t I just say that?!" InuYasha demanded with obvious annoyance. "What? Don’t tell me you’re getting scared already?! After all those brave words you just spouted?!"
Stung by this implication, all the tremors raking Shippo’s body fled elsewhere as the fox-demon drew himself to his full height. "I’m not afraid!" he declared with as much heat as he could. Not giving the fearful shakes that had plagued him just a moment ago a chance to return and try and change his mind, Shippo turned on his heel and bounded a short distance away from them. Then he looked over his shoulder and announced, "Just you wait! I’ll be back with Kohaku before you know it!"
"Please! Just be careful!" Sango called out to the little fox. Suffering a stab of guilt at having had her dilemma resolved for her.
"Relax! I’ll be fine!" Shippo responded before he dug something out of his clothes. With a puff of smoke, the object in hand exploded into a large, toy horse that had plumes of foxfire springing up from it. The fox-demon leapt upon the transformed toy and rose into the air, flying swiftly in the direction in which they had came.
As Sango looked after Shippo, her own fears and guilt knotting up her face, he felt a hand weakly take hold of her wrist. Lowering her gaze, she saw Michiru’s bleary eyes shine with unexpected force into her own. "He’ll be okay…Sango…" he told her, somehow finding the strength to smile at her. "He’ll be okay…"
Gulping loudly, Sango felt more tears roll down her cheeks. "I know," she told him, wishing beyond anything that she could banish her fears. "Now, please. Just rest now. Everything’s going to be fine. Just…"
"That’s right," InuYasha growled with a tenderness that seemed strange, coming from the gruff half-demon. "You just rest now, okay? We’ll take care of everything, so don’t you worry about anything."
Too worn to do anything else, Michiru simply looked on as InuYasha repositioned the top of his kimono to cover Michiru more completely as Sango simply ran her fingers through his hair. "Thank you…" the exhausted Shikigami User finally said, closing his eyes once more. "Both of you…"
Neither InuYasha nor Sango said anything in response. They didn’t need to. They simply tended to Michiru, their presence saying far more than any words they might have used ever could have.
"You have a lot of nerve, you perverted monk!!" Azusa shrilled, her eyes spitting accusations at her rescuer. "Where the hell have you been, anyway?! Out with some human cow?!"
"Um, Azusa?" Jiro cut in, smashing his three-sectioned staff upon the head of another demon. "I think perhaps that now might not be the best time to conduct an interrogation!"
"But he -!" Azusa tried again, only to be cut off when another demon cried out in hunger. Whirling about to face this new menace, the wolf-demon rammed her fist right down its throat, effortlessly tearing into its heart. Growling in disgust, the redhead whipped her arm about, sending the slain demon flying into another of its brethren, giving Miroku the opportunity he needed to strike it down with his own staff.
"Please, I’ll explain everything later!" Miroku grunted, parrying one of his attackers with his staff just before he drove the butt of it into the demon’s eye. As the monster screeched in pain, the monk took forth one of his sutra scrolls and finished it off. "But for now, I suggest we focus on staying alive!"
"No arguments here!" Jiro concurred, sending a bag of poison powder into another mass of demons. "How in heaven did Naraku mobilize such a force?!"
"Who knows and who cares?!" Azusa demanded, felling another demon with a kick. "Let’s just kill them all and get it over with! All this fighting is making me hungry!"
Jiro couldn’t help but let out a slight chuckle at this. A chuckle that was muted by a very real concern that Azusa’s words had brought up. The demons had come down upon them in heavy numbers, so much so that it was impossible for the three of them to see anything beyond the tiny perimeter about them. And although he could still hear the distinct sounds of gunfire and muffled battle somewhere in the distance, he had no real idea as to how well the rest of the village’s defenders were doing, how many now lay injured or dead…or how long their munitions and stamina would last until they finally collapsed from sheer exhaustion beneath a seemingly limitless force.
No! I can’t let myself start thinking that way! Jiro shouted within his own mind. Never think of defeat! Just think of fighting the battle as best as you can! Having given himself a mental slap on the face, the Demon Slayer pushed on, grunting in pain and fatigue as he spilled the blood of another monster. One out of many that he couldn’t even count.
"Blast it all!" Miroku growled, frustration and pain showing in equal amounts. "If only I could be sure there was no one close by! Then I would be free to use the Wind Tunnel against these fiends!"
"Hmph! And what makes you think there’s anyone still alive out there?!" Azusa demanded snippily.
Miroku apparently had nothing to say to this. Instead, sweat flying away from his injured form, he continued to swat away demons with his staff. Just as the other two continued their own efforts, seeing no end to the mindless battle that had engulfed the once peaceful village. Fighting both their enemies, and their own flagging bodies and spirits.
Then, to their amazement, their efforts of survival were rewarded with proof that they were not alone in battle. "Swords of Thunder!!" came a female voice, followed by a bombardment of lightning swords that ripped apart several demons. This assault was followed by a whirlwind that roared through the mass of demons, shredding them to pieces even as they cried out in protest..
As more of the enemy vanished, leaving nothing but their screams hanging in the air, Miroku and the others looked on blankly as Koga and Kaname appeared where their victims had once been standing. And although they were clearly wearied by exertions of their own, they were also ready for further battle. "Hey there, Azusa!" Koga grinned, pointing with two of his fingers at his fellow wolf-demon in a cocky salute. "Still think you don’t need any human help, do you?"
While Azusa was answering Koga’s somewhat taunting greeting with a growl of pure frustration, Kaname’s face was falling in surprise at the sight of another member of their group. "Miroku?! Where on earth have you been?! Why weren’t you -?!"
"As I said before, I think that is something we should talk about later!" Miroku replied, warily eyeing the remaining demons about them.
"Can’t argue with that!" Koga growled, directing a killing glance at the monk as he coiled his legs for battle. "Just be sure to make this story a good one, for once." Snarling fiercely, the wolf-demon leapt over the impromptu threesome, his crystalline carapace glowing brightly as he fell upon another cluster of demons. "Now, take this!" Again, the wolf-demon spun into a whirlwind. Destructive power surging through the tower of wind, he shot through the hateful demons, ripping them to shreds.
"Right! Let’s end this nightmare!" Kaname decreed, empowering her sword with her Water Shikigami. "Oh, mighty, flowing river, unleash your raging torrents! Great River Serpents!" Slashing with her blade, the Kururugi girl generated a wave of water that split into eight separate serpents, each with its own fanged mouth and beady eyes. Each one of which began seeking out any demons and running them through, leaving them screeching in pain before dying.
"Kaname! Koga! What about the rest of the village?!" Miroku asked worriedly. "Have you seen any survivors?!"
"Actually, these people aren’t doing half-bad! For a bunch of farmers and fishermen, anyway!" Koga grinned, tearing through the demons effortlessly. "There’s been a lot of injuries, but not too many killed yet!"
Kaname made an affirmative sound in her throat to this. "Right. Most of the demons have been ganging up on you three!" she explained, unleashing a Prominence of Flame on another demon.
"Well, of course they did!" Azusa grinned, killing another demon. "Why would they settle for farmers when they could go after us?!"
Several sets of eyes rolled upwards at this comment, all the commentary any of them could spare as the assault continued. "Yeah, well, you three still look terrible," Kaname decided sympathetically. "Time for a boost! Great River Offering!"
Not giving them a chance to protest, the Kururugi girl released her Water Shikigami, which dispersed into a wave of blue sparkles that rained down upon them. It didn’t take long for the healing magic to be felt, causing Jiro to look at their rescuer in gratitude. "Thank you, Kaname! We certainly needed that."
"Agreed. I…" Miroku concurred. Only to break of in mid-sentence, a strange look in his eyes.
"What is it, monk?" Azusa demanded. "Lose that forked tongue of yours?"
"Everyone, get ready!" Miroku cried out, grasping his staff firmly as he stared out across the village. "There’s another demon coming! And quickly!"
"So what?!" Azusa sniffed disdainfully. "What’s one more demon after all of -?!"
"No, he’s right! There’s something coming!" Kaname cried out, her own face creasing with fear as she looked about. "And it feels like a really strong one!"
"Are you sure?" Koga demanded, coming back to the rest of them. "Where is it?!"
"Over there! And it’s getting closer!" Miroku announced, cocking his head in the direction he sensed the evil presence coming from. Koga, Jiro, and even Azusa gazed questioningly in the indicated direction. Only to gasp when they saw, not a demon, but several demons crying out in pain as they flew through the air. In pieces.
"What the hell is…?!" Azusa growled in confusion, watching as another cluster of shattered demons shrieked in pain before flying into the air, tattered and dead. This occurred three more times, with each incident occurring closer to them than before. Until it wasn’t just shredded demons that rose up into the air. Bits and pieces of the villagers joined the mix, followed by wails of pain and misery.
"All right, that’s it!" Koga growled, once again leaping into the air. Rocketing towards the disturbance, the demon shot down up the attacker fist-first. "I don’t know what you are, but – arrggh!!"
"Koga!" Kaname cried out something lashed out from the midst of battle. A blur of motion was all she could detect, a blur that slammed mercilessly into the wolf-demon, and sent him tumbling through the air.
"What happened?!" Jiro asked as Koga came crashing down to the ground. Stunned and with three long claw marks on his cheek.
"Aw…damn!!" Koga groaned, propping himself up with one hands as he wiped away the blood that was already spilling from the wound. Any other words he might have said were drowned by more demonic screeching…and the appearance of their attacker.
"God…what a horror…" Jiro breathed, staring in disgust at that abomination that now faced them. An emaciated monstrosity that radiated pure evil. It’s tiny red eyes glaring hatefully at the group as it opened its mouth, revealing a mouth filled with razor sharp fangs that seemed far too large and powerful to be able to fit in its skull.
The five of them stared numbly at the monstrosity, with Azusa and Kaname barely aware of their own actions as they aided Koga back to his feet. "Be careful!" Koga cautioned them, his words filled with pain and loathing for their attacker. "That thing…it stinks of Naraku!!"
"You mean it’s another of his incarnations?" Miroku asked worriedly.
"Yeah! And you know something else?!" Koga growled, staring hatefully at his attacker. "This damned thing needs to die. Right here and now!"
Once again, Koga leapt into action, aiming his fist at the monster’s oversized jaw with all his speed and strength. He might as well have been standing still for all the good it did him, for this latest monstrosity moved with an agility it didn’t seem possible for it to possess, leaving the wolf-demon to strike at empty air. Taking advantage of this opening, the monster grabbed hold of one of the crystals that made up Koga’s living armor with its hideous, spidery hands, and wrapped its legs about the wolf-demon’s waist.
"What the – hey, get the hell off of me!" Koga demanded. The monster responded by clamping its free hand firmly about his neck. The wolf-demon’s eyes bulged out of their sockets as he brought his hands up to the monster’s wrist, choking desperately as the monster set its mouth to work. Screeching hideously, it bit down on one of smaller crystals, gnawing determinedly as bits and pieces of it broke away.
"Get off of him, you freak!" Azusa shrilled, launching into a flying kick aimed straight and sure at the monster. But before she was even halfway to her target, the monster succeeded in ripping away the tiny chunk of quartz-like crystal, looking up just in time to see its attacker. So it leapt away from Koga and grabbed hold of Azusa’s foot, sending the she-wolf flying away.
"Now it’s my turn! Slashing Ice!" Kaname invoked, directing a beam of icy power at their attacker. But once again, the thing moved with such speed that it readily dodged the Shikigami User’s strike. Jiro took advantage of this, lashing out with his three-sectioned staff in the direction the creature was heading in. The weapon forged of demon bones crashed into the thing’s arm, snapping off its hand at the wrist.
"Huh?!" Jiro grunted, completely in shock at the effectiveness of his blow. But this was all he was able to do before the monster flew at him, smashing him across the head with its remaining hand. Just before it went after its next target, grabbing Miroku by his wrist and smashing him against the building. Wasting no movement, the hideous obscenity followed this attack by biting down on Miroku’s right hand, sending the monk screaming in pain.
"Miroku!" Kaname cried out as the monster gnawed at him. Holding out her sword, she sent a barrage of simple fireballs flying at the monster, unwilling to risk any stronger magic with it so close to an ally. To her surprise, the creature screeched in pain with each strike. Until it finally released Miroku’s hand from its fangs, staring hatefully at the Kururugi girl. Holding out its remaining hand, it tensed to leap.
"Oh, no you don’t!" Miroku growled, not giving the monster an opening. Wrapping his arm about the monster, he flew along with it as it leapt away. The creature was clearly unprepared for a passenger, for its leap was cut short, leaving them both to fall to the ground. Snarling accusingly at Miroku, the monster shoved him away with its good hand. The monk flew away before landing several feet distant, leaving the vile demon to get back to its feet. Just in time to look up and see Koga’s feet flying straight towards it, the wolf-demon howling in triumph as his foot connected with the creature’s jaw. The skeletal horror cried out as its jaw was shattered, the only sound it would make before its head flew away from its body.
"There!" Koga grinned as he came to land, looking over his shoulder at the remains of their enemy. "That’s what you get for biting off more than you can chew!"
"Miroku! Are you all right?" Kaname asked as she and the others ran up to the monk. Even as Miroku stood, the Shikigami User looked down at his cursed hand, and grimaced at the sight of it. "Oh, my. I better take care of this."
"No arguments here!" Koga growled as Kaname invoked her Great River Blessing. The wolf-demon reached at his back, feeling at where the monster had chewed off part of his carapace. "Damn. That thing might not have had much, but those teeth were sharp!!"
"Indeed," Miroku nodded, clenching his hand and experimenting with the range of movement he now enjoyed. Although the healing power of the Shikigami had certainly helped, he was still in pain and some of the damage still lingered. "Let’s be careful, though. That creature might not be truly dead just yet."
"Uh, excuse me? It just got its damned head smashed off!" Azusa demanded, gesturing at the monster. "If that doesn’t qualify as dead, than I don’t know what does!"
"Then you’d be surprised at some of the things we’ve witnessed in our battles against Naraku," Miroku asserted, staring distrustfully at the corpse. "With him, nothing is truly what it…what in the -?!"
"What is it?" Jiro wondered as he looked in the same direction Miroku was. Only to gasp as the fallen monster began melting away. Its skeletal body liquefying into a puddle of dark ooze, hissing and steaming as it ate away what vegetation it came into contact.
"Aw, yuck!" Kaname groaned, placing her hand over her mouth as she found herself gagging on the putrid stench that resulted, gasses rising up from the expanding puddle.
"Yeah, well, that looks pretty damned dead to me!" Azusa declared, backing away and covering her nose. "And it sure smells dead, too! Uck!!"
"I’d have to agree with her," Jiro nodded, clearly grateful for his filter mask. "Even its aura is beginning to fade away."
However, Miroku wasn’t dissuaded. "Something is wrong here," he declared, studying the puddle as more of its material steamed away from it. "This creature…Koga, you’re sure it had the same scent as Naraku?"
"Definitely. There is no way you could ever mistake that stench!" Koga declared, waving away the clouds resulting of the slowly vaporizing goo. "And right now, my nose is full of it! Gugh!"
"Then why would Naraku make an incarnation that is so easily defeated?" Miroku asked, his brows furrowed in thought. "It doesn’t make any sense!"
"Maybe you’re right," Kaname conceded. The Kururugi girl then shifted her attention from the fading puddle to remaining demons. "But right now, we still have all these other demons left!"
Jiro nodded to this. "Agreed. We can worry about that thing after the battle’s over!"
"Good idea," Azusa growled grudgingly. Then she gave the Demon Slayer a vicious smirk. "An even better one would be to just let this thing rot and forget all about it!"
"But -!" Miroku protested.
"Hey, I’m with them!" Koga countered, not letting the monk get any headway. "We’ve got more important things to deal with than a corpse!"
"But -!" Miroku tried again. Then he looked at the others, and saw the determined looks on their faces. The monk also looked about the village, at the very much alive demons that were actively plaguing it, and sighed reluctantly. "Very well. But first -!" The monk then reached into the folds of his clothes and drew forth several of his sutra talismans. Endowing them with his own spiritual power, he sent them flying at the steaming puddle of flesh. The sutras exploded into blue fire upon contact with the demonic substance, causing it to shrink away that much faster.
"Good idea!" Kaname smiled before gesturing at the pool of muck. "Raging Flame!" Her Fire Shikigami lashed out, boiling away the last of the fetid slime, until at last there was nothing left but a stained patch, completely barren of grass or any other life.
Heaving a deep breath. Miroku stared at the spot, thinking of the ease with which the battle had been won. An ease that left him unsettled. "That will have to do for now," he finally stated before returning his attention to the rest of the demon siege. "We can investigate this more thoroughly later."
"Works for me!" Koga growled, cracking his knuckles in anticipation. "For now, let’s nail the rest of those bastards!" Not waiting for any objection, the wolf-demon sped off to join the villagers in their battle for survival. The rest of the group offered no protest, but instead were quick to follow. Putting the decimated demon out of their minds, and leaving the place where it had fallen behind. A waft of steam still rising up into the sky, to join the clouds above…
Kanna was completely lost in chaos.
For as long as she could remember, the first creature to be born of Naraku’s flesh had always been completely empty, the very embodiment of void. And while her body functioned like those of many other demons, leaving her capable of experiencing physical events as anyone else, Kanna had never truly felt anything inside. She knew no pleasure nor pain, she never felt happy or scared or angry or pleased or any of the myriad emotional states that humans and demons did. All she knew, all she truly had was Naraku’s will. The link to her master, and the need to do whatever he demanded of her.
That link was gone now, and in its place…was madness. Utter insanity.
The instant Kanna had fallen away from the Reikikaega’s blade, she had felt. She had felt the ground and all of the various abrasions tearing at her tender feet, but more than that, she felt fear, and in more ways than she could ever have dreamt of. She was afraid of InuYasha and his allies, fearful that she would encounter one of them and he or she would end her life. She was now afraid of the fact that her life could be ended. She was afraid of the darkness pervading the forest she was racing through, afraid of every little sound and movement she perceived, afraid of being alone.
Fear was Kanna’s new reality. A reality reinforced as she continuously called out with her mind, desperately seeking Naraku’s own for help. For him to explain what had happened to her and to put an end to this madness. Only to hear nothing but the forest’s own sounds…and the all-too aline sound of her own heart pounding away in her chest. Causing her to wonder why Naraku didn’t answer her, and with this wonderment, many more came to her mind. Why didn’t Naraku hear her anymore? Or could he still hear and simply didn’t respond? What could have caused the link to be broken? And each question that she asked, each one that hung about unanswered, gave rise to even greater terror.
Kanna had no idea where she was right now. She didn’t know how she had gotten to where she was, nor did she have so much as a clue as to how far away she was to civilization. All she knew was that she was that she was where her now frail, human legs had finally given into fatigue, leaving her to huddle next to a tree that towered above her, between two of the massive, gnarled roots that anchored the living tower to the earth. Each breath she took coming rapidly and unevenly, her wide eyes flitting about wildly at the slightest noise. Terrified to stay where she was. Even more terrified to move and expose herself to the enemies she knew that she had. Enemies that would gladly rip her apart if they found her as this flimsy, helpless little thing that she now was.
A gust of wind then filled Kanna’s ears, and she immediately looked about, unsure if this was a threat or meant something else. Only knowing that the terror that was threatening to rip her mind apart demanded that she do so. The dark-haired girl couldn’t see the wind, nor did she sight anything to indicate a threat. But still she looked, unable to do anything else.
Then Kanna experienced a new emotion, one that almost completely replaced all the fear that now lived within her. One that had her almost laugh out loud as she saw a figure that she knew from her previous life approaching on a hovering feather.
"Kagura!" Kanna cried out, timidly getting to her feet as she watched the wind witch float towards her, instantly certain that her problems were now over. For why else would Kagura be there except to retrieve her and bring her back to Naraku? To take her away from this horrid place and bring her back to their master? After all, she already had Kohaku with her, so what other reason could there be?
Once again, one thought led to another as Kanna found herself sure, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that her problems were over. "Kagura, please! We have to get out of here!" the former demon pleaded, wanting nothing more than to be away from there. To go back to her master who would surely find a way to change her back and rid her of all the fear and emotion and every other horrible thing that humans and other demons suffered with every day of their lives. "Please, please! We have to go! We have to…!"
"You really are human now," Kagura broke in, stopping Kanna in her tracks. The tiny girl gasped at this, at the tone of voice her sister spoke with. A voice that was almost…sad, somehow.
"Kagura?" Kanna murmured, her terror returning, creeping back into her mind. A terror that caused her to slowly look about, to frown when she saw Kohaku seated behind the wind witch. And gasp as Kagura narrowed her eyes at her. "Wh-what is it?"
"Naraku…doesn’t need you anymore," Kagura intoned, speaking slowly and determinedly. Giving each word ample time to be processed by her sister. Leaving no room for error as the wind witch dismounted her feather, moving closer to the depowered incarnation of void. No emotion, no feeling or care in her face as she towered above Kanna, leaving the girl helpless to do anything but fall to her knees. The horror of her situation returning to her tenfold.
Her heart thundering that much more forcefully in her ears, Kanna felt like she was about to faint…when she heard a sound from just beyond Kagura’s position. A sound that drew the wind witch’s attention…as well as a snort of disgust.
"Well, that just about does it," Koga muttered. The wolf-demon was stained with sweat and blood as he and the rest of the group stood before Densuke and Tamoa, who were seated just outside one of the buildings. The stench of death filling the bloodstained battlefield that was Tsuzumi Village, the paths of which were littered with the many corpses that had piled up during the course of the siege. "There are still a few demons left, but most of those ran out of the village with their tails between their legs. Or whatever."
"Yes, I know. The captain of the militia reported similarly," Densuke responded. His left arm was in the process of being bandaged by Tamoa, bandages that were already stained with blood.
"Speaking of the militia, how did they hold up?" Miroku wondered nervously. "And what about the rest of the people here?"
"Well, five of the militia people are dead, another seventeen wounded," Densuke admitted, shaking his head woefully. "And some of them…I doubt they’ll last the night. Not with those injuries."
"Densuke, please! Hold still!" Tamoa pleaded, tears and pain streaking her face as she worked.
"Would you like me to help?" Kaname asked, leaning in with a look of concern. "With my powers, I…"
"No. No, my young friend," Densuke replied, waving his good hand in negation. "It’s not as bad as it looks. And there are others in far greater need of your healing magic than myself."
"Agreed," Miroku nodded. "Still, all things considered, I would have to say we were very fortunate this day. Considering the number of demons present, I was certain that the death toll would be far worse than it was."
"Hmph! That shows what you know, monk!" Azusa gritted, shooting Miroku a derisive sideways glance. "Those dumb demons were all a bunch of nothings!"
"Maybe, but there sure were a lot of them," Jiro rejoined, shaking his head somberly.
Taking note of the pensive look on Jiro’s face, Azusa placed her hands to her hips. "Alright, what’s the big deal this time?"
"Huh?" Jiro started, only to lower his gaze quickly. "I’m sorry. It’s just…except for the battle at the fort, I’ve never seen so much death. And…I don’t know…"
"Hey, I know what you mean," Koga nodded thoughtfully. Dark memories of his own not quite visible behind his haunted eyes. "This kind of thing…it’s something you never get used to."
"Indeed," Miroku concurred. Then, looking thoughtfully at the people before him, the monk asked, "Could you arrange for someone to show Kaname and myself to where the wounded are? Perhaps there’s something we can do to help them."
"Of course," Tamoa agreed with a gentle smile. Then she gave the monk a worried look. "But are you sure you should be exerting yourself just now? You must be exhausted, what with all the fighting…and you never did finish your session with the chiropractor, and…"
"Huh?" Kaname got out, looking between the two of them. "What are you talking about? I thought you saw the chiropractor yesterday! After what happened with Azusa!"
"Umm…well, yes! Of course I did!" Miroku replied, sweat-dropping as he deliberately avoided the Kururugi girl’s bewildered gaze. "I went there right after she, uh…"
"After I beat you within a hair of your miserable, worthless life, you sick pervert!" Azusa snarled, leaning in dangerously towards her former victim. "Yeah, we all remember that!"
Gulping loudly at Azusa’s proximity, as well as the unspoken warning that she wouldn’t mind finishing the job in the least, Miroku looked pointedly up into the air. "In any case, yes. I did see the doctor beforehand. But…I also went there tonight."
"You did?" Koga muttered, raising an eyebrow as he and the rest of the group looked amongst themselves.
"Yes. I took him, just after the rest of you had left for dinner," Tamoa explained, clearly grateful for the distraction. Then her eyes focused on Miroku, a knowing, motherly smile curling her lips. "When we were at the doctor’s before, he just had his arm set and his wounds bandaged. Wouldn’t even let him tend to his other injuries." The rest of the group just stared incredulously at the monk as Tamoa added, "You should have seen how embarrassed he was! I’ve never seen anyone turn so red in my life!"
"What in the…?" Kaname squeaked out. "Miroku…if you were hurting that badly, why didn’t you have the doctor take care of you right away?!"
Several beats passed, time in which Miroku’s cheeks colored before their very eyes. "Well…I honestly didn’t think my injuries were severe enough to warrant such treatment," he spoke evasively. "And you must remember, our finances are not without limit."
"Which is why I agreed to pay for your treatment," Tamoa threw in, still using that knowing manner of hers. "Of course, even then, it took me forever to convince him to come along. He was so shy with the doctor earlier."
"Shy?" Koga frowned, becoming more baffled by the minute.
A discomforted grunt escaped Miroku’s lips at this. "I just…don’t like the idea of some strange man having his hands all over me," the monk finally confessed, doing his best to act wounded and indignant as he narrowed his eyes at the others. "Why, is there something wrong with that?!" Nobody answered this at first. They just stood there, gazing at the monk, until at last, noises of mirth began slipping out from between their lips. "I fail to see what is so amusing," Miroku noted sourly, his words causing further snickers and giggles to come forth.
"Of course!" Kaname grinned, wrapping one of her arms about her side. "Why didn’t I think of it sooner?!"
"Betcha wouldn’t have been so shy if it had been a pretty girl doing the healing, now would you, monk?" Koga jibed, grinning like an idiot.
"Like there’s even a girl stupid enough to get anywhere near him?!" Azusa demanded, answering her own insult with louder snorts of laughter. Snorts that had Jiro joining in, shaking his head in amazement.
Completely silent and the picture of composure and maturity, Miroku just stood there, watching as his fellows kept laughing louder and more intensely, tears of mirth flowing freely down their faces. Until at last, the monk himself smiled in resignation, and told them, "Well, it wouldn’t have seemed so funny if it had been any of you. Their doctor may be skilled in his craft, but he has such cold hands."
This simply sparked even more laughter from the others. Not because Miroku’s comment was all that funny, but because the group needed this release. To be able to relax after all the horror of battle which they had endured, to feel and relax and let go of the tension that had built up within each of them. To laugh out loud and feel alive in doing so. And that was precisely what they did, with even Miroku, Densuke, and Tamoa joining in, welcoming the release as much as the others did.
Sometime later, when the laughter had abated somewhat, Miroku gazed seriously at his friends. "Well, now that you’ve all had some amusement at my expense, perhaps we can go help those in need of medical treatment? And we’ll also have to clear away the dead demons, and sanctify this place. Otherwise, their spirits will have no peace, and will plague this village in the future."
Nodding as he cleared away his tears of laughter, Jiro replied, "You’re right. And the sooner, the better."
"I’ll say!" Azusa muttered, her nose twitching. The she-wolf looked up into the sky, and grumbled. "And we better get it done fast! It looks like it’s going to rain!"
Amusement falling to surprise, Kaname looked at the wolf-demon in obvious befuddlement. "What?!" she got out, before looking up into the sky. "But…hey, that’s not right! It doesn’t feel like it’s going to rain!"
"Oh, yeah?" Azusa sneered condescendingly, rolling her eyes at the Shikgami User. The redhead pointed up at the sky above and demanded, "Then what do you call those clouds up there?! A figment of my imagination?!"
"But…!" Kaname sputtered in protest, looking from the she-wolf to the clouds that were now swirling ominously overhead. "But it doesn’t feel right! There’s not enough water up there for rain, and the temperature, and…!"
"Hey, she’s right!" Koga growled, gazing up at the sky himself. His features creasing with intensity as he noticed something else. "And what are all those demons still doing up there?!"
"Demons?" Jiro got out, studying the swirling clouds overhead. "That doesn’t make any sense. What are they still doing up there! They should have retreated, or…" The Demon Slayer trailed off, frowning intently as he looked at Miroku. "Is it possible they have something to do with this?"
Miroku didn’t answer right away. "Something’s wrong. Kaname’s right; those cloud formations aren’t natural," the monk finally declared. "Koga, could you sweep the village? Warn anybody still outside to take shelter as quickly as possible?"
Raising an eyebrow to this, Koga retorted, "Hey, it’s me! I could do it in the time it takes to blink!" Then the wolf-demon frowned unhappily. "Why? You know what’s going on up there?"
"No. And that’s what has me worried," Miroku admitted, watching as the clouds began swirling about that much faster. "You better hurry. Just in case."
"Heh! Doing things in a hurry is what I do best!" Koga grinned wildly. Before anybody could comment about this, the wolf-demon blurred out of sight, leaving a trail of dust in his wake.
While the others were coughing and waving the dust away, Miroku was focusing on the situation at hand. "We better get you two indoors as well," he told Densuke and Tamoa. "Whatever those demons are up to, it’d be best if you were someplace safe."
"I won’t argue with you," Densuke murmured. Grunting as Tamoa aided him in getting to his feet, he added, "Given how accurate the concerns of you and your friends have been this day…"
Nodding at the unspoken implications that Densuke left hanging in the air, Miroku looked up into the building storm. "What are you up to this time, Naraku?"
"Do you think we should go get InuYasha?" Kaname wondered, her attention torn between the storm and Miroku. "If Naraku really is behind this, then…"
"No," Miroku countered flatly. "If what you told me is true, then it would be best if Sango and the others stayed outside of the village, with InuYasha keeping an eye on them." His eyes narrowing with growing intensity, the monk studying the building storm. Trying to be optimistic. "In any case, whatever is happening…I’m sure it’s nothing we can’t deal with on our own."
"Grrr…dammit, Shippo!" InuYasha growled, standing uneasily with the Reikikaega still in hand, the crackling aura of the blade casting its light upon both Sango and Michiru. "What’s taking you so long, anyway?!"
"InuYasha, please," Sango murmured, continuing to run her hand along Michiru’s cheek. "It’s only been a little while since he’s left. Just try to stay calm."
"Hmph!" InuYasha snorted in response, directing his gaze at his friends. Michiru had yet to wake up again, and given his condition, the half-demon knew that it was better that way, that he receive some badly needed rest. And Sango, her entire focus was devoted solely to this person she so obviously loved. Neither of them was ready for battle, and that meant that InuYasha’s place was there with them. He knew it, he accepted it.
He just didn’t like it. And InuYasha absolutely despised the waiting that this situation necessitated. Waiting and wondering while his mind conjured up all kinds of fears about what could be happening to his friend while he was stuck there. And while Shippo wasn’t exactly his favorite demon at times, what with his big mouth and smart-alecky ways, there was no way that InuYasha wanted anything bad to happen to him. A possibility that grew with every moment that the fox-demon failed to return.
Trying to distract himself, InuYasha focused on the Demon Slayer. "So how’s he doing?" he wondered, casting an eye on his friend.
"He’s a bit better now," Sango murmured, her words heavy with gratitude. "He just needs to rest for awhile, and…I’m sure he’ll be okay."
"Yeah, well…" InuYasha grumbled, unsure of what to say. Looking off in the direction of the village, he shook his head warily. "And what’s going on over there, anyway? What’s taking so long?! They should have finished those demons off by now!"
"InuYasha…" Sango tried again, only this time a bit of pleading to her words.
"If I’d been there, that battle would have been over by now!" InuYasha grumbled, his hand tensing about the Reikikaega’s hilt. The half-demon stalking about restlessly, every nerve and muscle tensed and ready for battle. Filled with aggression and energy that had no outlet.
"InuYasha!" Sango called out again, this time with far greater force. Her words stopping the half-demon in his tracks, she watched carefully as he swung about and looked at her. "Look…pacing about and worrying about the others isn’t going to do them…or yourself…any good." Putting as much strength and conviction into her words, the Demon Slayer eyed her friend. "You made a choice, InuYasha. The best choice you could think of. And now…"
With an air like that of a wounded animal, InuYasha snarled, "Yeah, I know that, but…"
"I know. It’s not easy to take. Just waiting and worrying and hoping for the best," Sango responded, leaning back somewhat, her face softening as she looked at her friend. "It never is. And it never gets easier." A questioning sound echoed about InuYasha’s throat as he studied the Demon Slayer, who smiled one of her rare, tiny smiles. "That’s something I learned…a long time ago."
Frowning intently as he studied Sango, his fellow warrior, InuYasha finally asked, "You mean…with your family?"
Nodding, Sango answered, "Back when I was younger, before I was allowed to go fight with the other Slayers, I was always so worried about what would happen to my father when he went out on a job. I still remember waiting up late at night, wondering when he’d come home, or if he’d be injured, or…" Cutting herself off with a deep, resounding sigh, Sango looked back upon her own past. "In a way, it’s because I had to go through all of that, that I pushed myself so hard. To be as strong a Demon Slayer as I could. Because I knew then that I’d rather go out there and fight along with the others…then sit back and wait."
"Sango…" InuYasha muttered. The half-demon lowered his gaze to where his friend still slept, then looked away. "I know what you’re saying. And…I understand. But…I still hate this."
"So do I," Sango answered without hesitation. Only to jump somewhat when InuYasha shifted about, his posture changing for even greater alertness. "What is it?"
"Something’s coming this way," InuYasha growled, looking off towards the woods. "You better get ready." Though he didn’t bother turning around, the half-demon could practically sense Sango nodding her understanding, and he most certainly heard her sword edging out of its sheath as his every sense sharpened to its peak, his ears and nose pricking at even the slightest disturbance. It wasn’t before he caught sight of the disturbance, and heard it as well as it cried out in horror, bursting from the edge of the woods in what could only be described as a full-blown panic.
"Shippo?! What the -?!" InuYasha demanded as he focused on the tiny figure shooting through the grass. Sure enough, the little fox-demon was tearing towards them on all fours, howling in terror every step of the way. And when another disturbance emerged from the forest, the half-demon knew why.
"Oh, no…Kagura…!" Sango breathed fearfully. Her terror growing as she saw the other people riding alongside the wind incarnation. "And…is that…?!"
"Yeah. She’s got Kohaku with her. And Kanna!" InuYasha snarled with obvious frustration as Kagura silently drew closer. Preceded by a fox-demon who was being anything but silent.
Leaping towards InuYasha in a final, all-out burst of speed, Shippo crashed into the ground before the half-demon. "InuYasha!" Shippo rasped out, completely out of breath. "I – Kagura - I’m sorry, but she – I -!!"
"Yeah, I get the idea," InuYasha growled, his eyes narrowed into slits as he watched Kagura approach, focusing on her expression. Already certain that he knew what was going to happen next, he aimed the Reikikaega directly at the manipulator of the dead. "So, decided to come back for more. Is that it, Kagura?"
Kagura didn’t say anything at this. Instead, she was focusing on Kanna, who was cowering at the back of the feather, using Kohaku as a shield. "K-K-Kagura…what are w-we…doing here…?" Kanna stammered out pitifully. "Wh-why…?"
"Be silent, Kanna," Kagura retorted. While her tone only held a hint of anger, it was more than enough to send the tiny girl shrinking back again. Practically disappearing behind her improvised human shield, the only sound she made was a heavy, fearful breathing. "And as for you, InuYasha…I didn’t come here to fight you. Either of you." Then, a sneer curling her lips, she added, "In fact, you’ve got more important matters to deal with."
"What do you mean?" Sango asked, instinctively rising up to face this threat. Only to gasp when a startled groan drew her attention. "Michiru...!"
"Ugh…what’s going…on…?" Michiru got out, blinking confusedly as he rubbed his eyes. "Who…Kagura…?"
"Greetings, boy. I see you’ve recovered somewhat from your…experience," Kagura growled, her voice more tired than angry. "You should know that Naraku has no intention of giving up on you. Or your sister. As long as you carry Utsugi’s legacy, he will never stop trying to take that power for himself."
"Yeah, well, we already figured that out for ourselves!" InuYasha snarled, staying his ground even as Shippo quivered just behind him. "So what are you up to this time?"
"I’m here to tell you that this battle isn’t over yet," Kagura intoned. Sounding not at all triumphant or gloating as she went on to explain. "Naraku has set Ryuunosuke against Tsuzumi Village and everyone within it."
"Ryuunosuke, huh? And just who the hell is that?!" InuYasha demanded gruffly.
Her expression knotting with confusion, Sango turned to InuYasha. "That’s the demon that was wearing the mask? He’s the one who…" the ponytailed girl explained, only to stumble at this. Tightening her expression, Sango looked over at Kagura. "Then…he isn’t dead?"
"Oh, he’s dead, alright. His body has no life of its own anymore," Kagura agreed sourly. "But that doesn’t mean that he’s no longer a threat. In fact…if you don’t stop him…everyone in the village will die."
"I don’t like this, Miroku," Kaname admitted as she continued to stare up into the sky. The clouds building up more and more with each passing second. "Those clouds…there’s nothing natural about them."
"I know. I sense it as well," Miroku agreed as they moved about the village. A sphere of light conjured by Kaname providing the only real illumination they had to work with. "Still…any idea what’s happening?"
Kaname gave a quick shake of her head at this. "Nope. All I can tell you is that it’s big, nasty, and not at all natural. No water…and no real wind, either."
"I see," Miroku frowned thoughtfully. "I just hope Koga was able to get everyone inside. Whatever is about to happen, I doubt it will be pleasant."
"Yeah, no kidding!" Kaname grumbled, rolling her eyes at this inane comment. "I just hope that whatever it is, we – ouch!"
"Kaname?" Miroku wondered, watching as the Kururuigi girl shook her hand about in the air. "Kaname, what is it? What’s wrong?"
"Ow…it feels like something burned my hand…!" Kaname confessed ruefully.
"What? What burned you?" Miroku asked, moving closer to Kaname’s side. Leaning in close as she held up the affected appendage, the two of them gasped as they saw a large, red welt present on her hand. They also detected a foul odor that was horrifically familiar to them both.
"Blood…?" Kaname gasped in a hushed voice. Just before Miroku hissed in pain and brought up his own forearm. There, marking his arm, was a splotch of dark red blood, beneath which the monk’s flesh was painfully sizzling. Looking up, their gazes met, and a horrible idea rose up even as their hearts began to sink. Not even bothering to speak their minds, the two of them looked up as one towards the ominous clouds obscuring the sky above. Just in time to see even more droplets of blood descend upon them, droplets that began eating through anything they came in contact with…