Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Crimson Storm

"Dinner’s ready!" Mrs. Higurashi announced as she entered the living room. A tray laden with food and drink held before her as she approached the dining table. Its intended recipients already seated, and clearly hungry.

"Oh, why thank you, my dear!" her father smiled at her approached, his old eyes lighting up at the prospect of the lovely meal in her hands. "And what a lovely meal you’ve made for us!"

"Hey, thanks, Mom!" Sota added with a smile of his own. He was absently petting Buyo, who purred as Mrs. Higurashi began setting out both food and drink, ready and waiting for possible handouts.

Smiling her response, Mrs. Higurashi soon finished serving them and seated herself. However, as her father and son both dug in to the tune of their cat making hungry noises of his own, the matriarch of the family looked quietly at the side of the table that was so often empty these days. "Where’s Kagome?"

At these words, the resident males both donned guilty expressions for thinking of their stomachs first. "I, uh…I think she’s still in her room, working on the computer," Sota eventually replied sheepishly. "I told her that dinner was ready, and…"

"I see," Mrs. Higurashi murmured thoughtfully. "I hope her stomach still isn’t bothering her."

"As do I," her father nodded. Then the old priest grimaced in frustration. "What irony, isn’t it? After all the calls I’ve made, making up excuses for why Kagome wouldn’t be in school, about the only time she does get sick is when she’s actually able to spend some time at home."

"Actually, she didn’t seem too bad," Sota told them quickly. "She was still a little…well, that is…"

"Then her stomach is still acting up?" Mrs. Higurashi asked, seizing on the pause.

"Uh, no! At least…not as much as yesterday," Sota explained, waving his hands in negation. "But…she’s been on the computer most of the day. And…"

Frowning as she considered her son’s words, Mrs. Higurashi eventually nodded. "I see," the matriarch finally murmured. "In that case, I guess I’d better go check on her myself. Just in case."

"Good idea, my dear," the old priest told her. "And be sure to let me know if she’s still feeling under the weather! I have plenty of remedies for stomachache and heartburn."

While her father immediately went into listing some of his remedies, a process that left Sota looking a little green himself, Mrs. Higurashi made her way towards the stairs, already lost in thought. Something that happened frequently since the day Kagome had discovered her ancient legacy, and began her adventures in the Feudal Era.

On the one hand, Mrs. Higurashi knew that what her beloved daughter did was necessary. Unless she helped her friends gather up the shards of the Shikon Jewel, then the world of the past would be destroyed by the evils that coveted its power. And if the past was destroyed, then their time and the future would be destroyed as well. And it was obvious from all the signs that were there to be seen – even the sacred Tree of Ages that stood on their shrine – that Kagome would go back with the others and protect this world, for the simple reason that she had already done it. That part of her future had already been determined; all she and the rest of her family could do now was support her as best as they could.

Furthermore, as a mother, Mrs. Higurashi couldn’t help but be proud of her daughter. Having to deal with such monstrous burdens, both the dangers in the past and the upkeep of her life in the modern world, would easily break many people, and yet Kagome did so willingly. Knowing that she couldn’t shirk her responsibilities.

But it was the part of her that was a mother that also left Mrs. Higurashi fearful every day Kagome failed to return through the Bone-Eater’s Well. Left her with all kinds of niggling fears as to the horrors that could befall Kagome as long as she was in the Warring States Era, a world filled with monsters in both human and demon form. And despite the knowledge that InuYasha and all her friends were there to protect her, despite the power she had inherited from her previous incarnation, she couldn’t help but fear the worst.

Which was why when Kagome had arrived at their door just yesterday, clutching her stomach with her insides gurgling ominously, everybody in the Higurashi residence very nearly flew into a panic. It was only the discovery that she had gotten a case of heartburn from an overly spiced meal that soothed them to any extent.

Still, despite her condition, Kagome had spent much of the day working hard. After explaining everything that had happened, which conveyed a level of insanity that was uncommon even these days, the reborn priestess had alternated from resting in bed while taking in tea and soup to searching the internet for clues to the jet that had landed in the Feudal Era.

But whether it was because Kagome hadn’t recovered or was just working too hard, Mrs. Higurashi really didn’t like her spending all her time in her room. The times when she was able to stay at home for any length of time tended to be all-too brief, and she wanted to spend as much of that time as a family before she had to return to the world beyond the well.

Arriving at the intended room, Mrs. Higurashi knocked gently. "Kagome?" she spoke tenderly between knocks. "Are you awake?"

"Yes," Kagome quickly replied. "What is it?"

"Dinner is served," Mrs. Higurashi told her, trying not to jump the gun. "Why don’t you come down? Are you still sick?"

"Oh, no! That’s not – I mean, it’s already that – oh…" Kagome got out, trailing off into a heavy groan. It wasn’t long before the young woman opened her door and stepped out to give her mother a sheepish look. "Sorry, Mom. Guess I got kinda distracted…"

"It would certainly seem that way," Mrs. Higurashi agreed candidly, trying to not put any undue pressure on her child. Not when she already shouldered such burdens. "Listen, is your stomach still bothering you? Would you like me to make some more soup and tea?"

"No, no, that’s okay!" Kagome replied instantly, smiling her reassurances. "It’s just…I was just looking over those new artifacts that Wyvern sent, and getting the new samples and videos ready to send to him."

"I see," Mrs. Higurashi responded understandingly. "Did he send you anything interesting?"

"Not much," Kagome returned, looking back into her room. "There are a couple talismans and scrolls we could definitely use, but most of its just junk." Sighing tiredly, the modern priestess shook her head. "And, of course, I’m gonna have to send it back once I’ve sorted through it all. Talk about a pain."

"I would guess so," Mrs. Higurashi returned. Deciding to change subjects, the older woman asked, "Did you find anything new? About that jet, that is?"

"Nope. Nothing," Kagome replied, shrugging helplessly. "I’ve been going over every single report of an aircraft disappearance going back over the last few months, looking up the serial numbers. I even tried running a search on the word ‘Reikikaega’! And nothing! Nothing that even comes close to what we saw!"

"I see," Mrs. Higurashi nodded. "So what are you going to do now?"

Heaving a deep sigh as she looked back into her room, Kagome answered, "I guess there isn’t a lot left I can do. I mean…I was gonna report what we found to Wyvern, just in case he’s heard anything about that sword, but beyond that…"

Making a thoughtful noise in her throat, Mrs. Higurashi cocked her head this way, then that as she studied her daughter. "At least you seem to be feeling better now," she commented in an easy tone. "Are you sure you’re alright?"

"Mom, I’m fine!" Kagome informed her, placing heavy emphasis on that last word. "I still don’t know what happened with my lunch yesterday! It tasted like Tamoa dumped half a bottle of spices in it!"

"Well, she may have been tired. Accidents do happen, after all," Mrs. Higurashi shrugged. "Still…are you sure you’re feeling okay now?"

"Of course I am!" Kagome protested in good humor. "I just said so, didn’t I?"

"Hmm. I suppose you did, didn’t you?" Mrs. Higurashi commented. "And I also remember you telling me that you’ve done all you’ve can to find out about the jet." Looking up in surprise at this, Kagome was greeted by a knowing, motherly smile. "So, in that case…why aren’t you down in the living room, having dinner with the rest of us?"

Taken aback by this question, Kagome just stared blankly at her mother for a time. Until finally, a single work squeaked out of her lips. "Huh?"

"Come on, Kagome!" Mrs. Higurashi went on, placing her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. "It feels like it’s been forever since you last came back home! And after so much happening…don’t you think you deserve a break?"

"But…" Kagome got out.

"Please, Kagome! Just try to relax for a change!" Mrs. Higurashi pleaded her daughter, throwing all of her motherly persuasion into the mix. "You’re home! Here, with the rest of us! Would it really be so terrible for you to spend that time with us as a family?"

Heaving a deep breath, Kagome slowly deflated before what was sometimes known as ‘The Mother Gaze’. "Okay, you win," she finally responded. "And I guess I haven’t had much to eat since I got back."

"You’ve hardly had anything at all," Mrs. Higurashi informed her daughter. "So, please, come down and eat with the rest of us. I’m sure it would do all of us a great deal of good."

For a time, Kagome just stood there, looking at her mother. "Thanks," she finally replied. "It’s not like this stuff won’t wait for a little while longer."

"That’s true," Mrs. Higurashi agreed.

"And besides, it’s not like the others will need me back right away," Kagome went on, trying to reassure herself. "I mean…what could go wrong?"

"Ugh! Ow!!" Kaname wailed in pain, raising her arms up above her head as the air was filled with more and more of the demonic blood. The foul crimson fluid burning both flesh and clothes as more and more connected with her. "What is this?!"

"Naraku’s treachery, that’s what!" Miroku gritted as he held his staff above them both. With his free hand, he gestured in the manner taught him by both his father and master. Concentrating his spiritual power, the monk glowed with purified energy, energy that rose up about both himself and Kaname, warding off the bloody rain.

"Whew! Thanks, Miroku," Kaname responded nervously as she looked about wildly. "But…what about the others? And the rest of the village?"

"Don’t worry! Koga already went to get them to take shelter, so they should be fine. For now, at least," Miroku reminded her, his brow furrowed in concentration as the lethal rain continued to fall, hissing up as it consumed any organic materials it came in contact with. "Still, we better get back to others before things get even worse. If this rain goes on for too long…"

Even as Miroku spoke, Kaname looked about in concern. Sure enough, the demonic blood was slowly eating through the wooden structures. Though it didn’t seem to affect the dead wood as much as did the still-living grass and flowers, it was easy to imagine what would happen if the rain continued for too long. "You’re right! Let’s get going!" That said, the two of them started moving, with Miroku continuing to maintain the spiritual barrier that kept them both safe.

As they ran along, the two of them grimaced as the foul blood began to pool on the ground, its horrid stench filling the air. They heard fearful cries issuing from the various houses, and they saw people huddling together beneath blankets. Speaking words of comfort to the wounded and children alike, families protecting their most vulnerable to the best of their ability from things they couldn’t understand, let alone fight. They saw the corpses of the many demons killed during the battle already half-dissolved, adding to the noxious vapors that were slowly choking them.

After a seeming eternity, Kaito’s house finally came into view. It was none too soon, for the noxious fumes from the acidic blood continued to grow stronger, and Kaname found herself choking on them.

"Hey, they’re here!" came the familiar voice of Jiro. Looking up, Kaname and Miroku saw him and the others calling out to them, gesturing for them to hurry. Needing no encouragement, they quickened their pace until they finally reached the relative safety of the large estate.

"Damn! Where the hell were you, anyway?!" Koga demanded as the new arrivals were escorted in, Shunsuke and Tamoa quickly looking them over, checking their injuries. "This crap’s coming down everywhere!"

"Sorry!" Kaname returned as he eyed the burns she had suffered from the horrible rain. "We were just helping some of the wounded when it started!"

"Koga, what about the rest of the village?" Miroku demanded, instantly all business. "Did everyone get inside?"

"As far as I could tell, yeah! And trust me, I swept the village twice before this stuff started coming down!" Koga informed them, gesturing at himself. Her eyes widening, Kaname realized that several bandages adorned the wolf-demon, and the fur of his armor was missing several patches where the toxic blood had eaten into it.

"Are you alright?!" Kaname squeaked out.

"Eh, don’t worry about me! This is nothing!" Koga assured her, dismissing her concerns with a wave of his hand. "But right now, we’ve got bigger problems!"

"Tell me about it!" Azusa snarled, placing her hand over her sensitive nose. "And, ugh! This stench! I’m gonna throw up if this keeps up any longer!"

"It’s worse than that!" Koga growled, his own nose wrinkled in supreme disgust. "This crap that’s coming down…it stinks to hell of Naraku!!"

"What?" Miroku gasped as he and the others looked at the wolf-demon. The monk then let out a gasp of realization, and cursed beneath his breath. "So…that’s what that demon was for!"

"Huh?" Jiro got out. "You mean…that skeletal monster that attacked us?"

"Yes. When we defeated it, its body began emitting a gas that rose up into the sky!" Miroku realized, edging closer to the door so that he could study the sky above. "It must be what caused this cursed rain!"

As this sank in, the others looked worriedly at the monk, all of them considering the situation when Kaname asked, "But why? Why would Naraku do something like this, anyway?"

"Is there anything you can do to stop it?" Tamoa asked hopefully. The kindly woman darted a fearful glance outside before adding, "Kaito collapsed just from inhaling some of the smoke caused by the rain, and if it eats through the roof..."

Jiro nodded to this. "I know. If this keeps up, the entire village could be destroyed, and…" The Demon Slayer trailed off at this, his eyes expanding in horror. "Oh, no!"

"What?!" Azusa growled snippily. When Jiro failed to answer, the hotheaded she-wolf bopped him over the head. "Come on, out with it! What’s with you this time?!"

"This village…we came here to get the food and medicine our people need, remember?" Jiro pointed out. "But if the blood gets to them -!"

"Then even if we save the village, both our peoples and everyone here will be wiped out!" Koga yelped in horror. One by one, everyone else grasped the severity of the situation, all of them reacting with noises of horror and disbelief.

His hand tightening about his staff, Miroku looked from the others there to the rain of blood that still came down upon them. "Then there’s no choice. We have to stop this rain. Right now," the monk intoned gravely. "Kaname!"

"Huh?" Kaname started, her face still ashen from her realizing the stakes involved in this battle. "What is it?"

"Cast your Protective Light on me," Miroku told her.

"What?" Kaname got out, her eyes narrowed in confusion. "Why? What are you…?"

"Please, just do it!" Miroku beseeched her, radiating both desperation and determination. "We don’t have much time! The longer this storm goes on, the greater the danger to everyone here!"

Taken aback by the monk’s pleading, Kaname quickly considered before nodding. "Okay, then. Protective Light!" With this invocation, her Light Shikigami manifested, generating a barrier of pure light about Miroku.

"What have you got in mind, monk?" Koga demanded fiercely.

"I can’t generate a barrier large to protect the entire village, and neither can Kaname," Miroku explained as he stepped outside the house, the Protective Light easily shielding him from the deadly deluge. "Which means that there’s only one way to stop this storm."

"Huh?" Kaname gasped…only for her face to sag in her horror as the monk reached for the beads wrapped about his right forearm. "Miroku, what are you doing?! If you try to suck this stuff into your Wind Tunnel -!"

"I doubt it will be any worse than if I let this storm destroy this village and everything in it! Including all of you!" Miroku protested, not hesitating in the least as he loosened the sacred beads. Then, with a look at everyone there, the monk let slip his determined aspect, and in its place came a look of true remorse. "Just do me a favor. Please tell Sango…that I’m sorry."

"Miroku, you fool! Don’t -!" Jiro protested from just within the door.

However, the monk did not hesitate as he looked at the hideous clouds above. "I’m not going to let you have your way, Naraku!" Miroku declared, whipping aside the beads and holding his exposed right hand up to the sky. "Wind Tunnel!"

Gasping fearfully, Kaname averted her eyes. Knowing what the toxic rain could do Miroku when the Wind Tunnel took into his body, she waited helplessly for the sound of the cursed void to fill the air. To hear Miroku’s pained gasp as his body was overwhelmed by the demonic blood, and the horrified gasps of the others.

What she heard was Miroku gasping in surprise and confusion, not pain. She heard those same things being echoed by the others, and most importantly of all, she did not hear the familiar roar of the Wind Tunnel. Needing a moment to puzzle this over, the Kururugi girl cracked open one eye and angled it toward the monk. All she saw was Miroku looking at his own hand in astonishment, his jaw hanging down to the ground.

"Hey, what’s going on?!" Azusa demanded. "Where’s that supposed Wind Tunnel of yours, anyway?!"

Miroku didn’t answer at first. Instead, he studied his right palm, his initial horror subsiding as a deeper pessimism took over. "It would seem that I underestimated Naraku’s scheming," the monk admitted as he turned towards the others, slowly holding out his hand to them. "Look."

Kaname and the others did indeed look. And each of them gasped at the sight of the Wind Tunnel. The cursed hole was swollen from the inside-out, hideous red bulges of Miroku’s own flesh sealing it completely shut. "What the – hey, what the hell happened?!" Koga finally demanded.

"Just before you stopped that skeletal demon, it bit me. On my hand," Miroku explained, holding angling his right hand so as the others could see the bandages that concealed the fang marks. "And now we know why it did that."

"To stop you from using your Wind Tunnel," Kaname murmured, caught between two sensations. While she was glad that Miroku had been denied the opportunity to use his cursed right hand, she couldn’t deny the danger posed by the acidic blood. "So…what do we do now?"

At this, Miroku slowly frowned, considering this situation. Only to be cut off when Koga growled, "Well…there might be something else…"

"What are you do you mean, everyone in the village is gonna die?!" InuYasha demanded hatefully, raising the Reikikaega higher before him. Staring daggers at the incarnation of the wind that hovered before him.

"Exactly what I said," Kagura returned, her voice showing neither hatred nor pleasure. Only a great weariness, and an anger that was born of things just barely survived. "Even as we waste time chattering, Ryuunosuke’s blood is killing the village and everyone in it."

"His blood?" Sango asked, gazing in confusion at the wind witch. "But how is that -?"

"Ryuunosuke is – was – the incarnation of infection," Kagura answered, every word laced with something that could almost be called fear. "Even though he’s dead, his body is still capable of infecting and taking over anything that lives. And now, his essence has merged with the remaining demons from the battle, forming the clouds you see. It is raining his blood down on the village and everyone in it."

"Are you saying that everyone in the village is going to be infected by that thing?!" InuYasha demanded, horror mixing with anger.

"Yes, and as the village is inundated in Ryuunosuke’s blood, every bit of flesh will dissolved and absorbed by it," Kagura assured them grimly.

"But…why?" Michiru wondered weakly, still supported by Sango. "What is…Naraku after?"

"He’s trying to wipe us all out, that’s what!" InuYasha snarled furiously. Only to start and look about when Kagura chuckled humorlessly at him. "And just what do you think is so funny?!"

"Do you really think anything is that simple where Naraku is involved?" Kagura asked him pityingly. "Your deaths aren’t the only thing he wants."

Frowning dangerously, Sango asked, "Then what else is he after?"

"He wants a new body, Demon Slayer. As well as a new pool of flesh to shape into new incarnations to do his bidding," Kagura told her firmly. "Ryuunosuke will give him that, unless you stop him."

"The demons that were attacking the village!" Shippo yelped fearfully. "You mean their bodies will - ?!"

"It’s more than that," Kagura told them forcefully. "Anything corrupted by Ryuunosuke’s blood will become demonic as well. Then it will be melted into nothing, and carried by the winds to Naraku’s castle. Where he will be free to use it in any way he sees fit."

As the full horror of this image was driven home, InuYasha snarled hatefully. "Including Kaname and the others!"

This immediately grabbed Kagura’s attention. "What?! You mean Utsugi’s other descendant?! She’s still in the village?!" the wind witch demanded, her face creasing with horror. "If she succumbs to Ryuunosuke’s blood, then Naraku will have her power in addition to everything else!"

"No…" Michiru gasped out.

His anger building exponentially, InuYasha glared at the wind witch. "Kagura, if you want to live to see another day, then you’re going to tell me how we can stop Naraku! And you better talk quickly, because -!"

"Don’t waste time with threats, fool," Kagura spat out irritably. "Do you think that I would want Naraku to gain that much power? If he succeeds this day, then none of you will be able to stop him." Then the wind witch’s expression soured, the bitterness she felt agonizingly clear to them. "And he will no longer have any use for me."

As InuYasha and the others looked at Kagura, they quickly considered these words. They had seen how willing Naraku had been to send his earlier incarnations to their deaths, and how readily he shed parts of his own body in order to gain greater power. And since Kagura had long since made it clear that she wanted nothing more than to be free of Naraku, it didn’t take much effort to imagine what would happen if he gained the kind of power she was speaking of.

"Fine. Then hurry up and tell us how we can stop that bastard!" InuYasha finally snarled.

Not wasting a moment, Kagura turned and pointed to the clouds above Tsuzumi Village. "Ryuunosuke’s essence lies within the heart of that cloud. If you could somehow get up there, get inside the cloud itself, you should be able to disperse it with that sword of yours."

"But how do we get up there, anyway?" Shippo asked plaintively. "Kirara and Hachi aren’t here, and I don’t know if I could…"

"It doesn’t matter, child. You would never even get close," Kagura told them flatly. "Ryuunosuke’s blood works even faster on demon flesh. It would kill you and anyone else with you before you even got close to his core." The manipulator of the dead then looked down at Michiru, and frowned deeply. "And I doubt that you have the strength needed to protect yourself, let alone anyone else."

"So you’re saying that’s there nothing we can do, is that it?!" InuYasha growled furiously. Looking from the Reikikaega to the demonic storm that it could obliterate, if only it could reach it. "Kaname and the others are counting on us! We have to find some way to get up there!"

"But how?" Sango wondered.

Gasping sharply, Shippo looked wildly about at his friends. "Hey! What about the jet? Can we use that?"

"The jet…?" Michiru got out. Gasping in realization, he sat halfway up as Sango moved to support him. "Of course…the blood shouldn’t be able…to eat through it. We could use it…to fly it right up to the cloud, and…"

"And how are you going to fly it?" Sango asked him pointedly. "You’re too weak, Michiru! If you try to control it with your Thunder Shikigami -!"

"I can…do it, Sango," Michiru responded, shifting about to look her in the face. "I have to. If we don’t…"

Watching his friend struggle, InuYasha frowned before returning his attention to Naraku’s incarnation. "That blood of Ryuunosuke’s, does it do anything to metal?"

"No. It should have no effect on the metal bird you found," Kagura answered quickly.

Considering this, InuYasha looked down at his friends. Saw how badly battered they were, pushed far beyond human limits. "Michiru…are you sure you can do this? Can you make that thing fly again?"

Forcing a smile onto his face, Michiru answered, "I thought you’d…never ask…"

"Michiru…" Sango pleaded, her eyes solely upon him.

"Sango…I have to…" Michiru told her firmly. "You…you know that. If I don’t…"

Her emotional armor already cracked beyond repair, Sango looked deeply into her beloved’s eyes before wrapping her arms about his shoulders. "I know that," she told him, her words dripping with unspoken feelings. "But…Michiru…"

"Don’t you worry about him, Sango," InuYasha told her as he went up to them. "Nothing’s going to happen to him, or the others. Not while I’m around." The half-demon then knelt before the Shikigami User and forced a cocky smile onto his face. "What about you, Michiru? You ready for this?"

For a moment, Michiru was tempted to just give his friend as big a load of bravado as he was capable of. Then he took note of the genuine concern that shone in InuYasha’s eyes, peeking out in the tiny chinks in the mask of attitude and anger he so often wore. "Do I have a choice?" Michiru finally asked, lifting his hand up to his friend. InuYasha stood there for a moment, studying the boy, before grunting his understanding. Then he took Michiru’s hand in his own, and helped him to his feet.

Watching as InuYasha effortlessly lifted the boy onto his back, Sango studied her beloved fearfully. All of her training as a Demon slayer agreeing with this course of action. That it was indeed the logical course of action, and was at present their best chance of both saving the village and stopping Naraku. However, as she watched the person who had loved her so truly and had suffered so horribly because of her, her heart cracking at the thought of the burdens he now wore, training and discipline was no longer enough to move her.

"What about the village?" Sango wondered worriedly, the image of the only other person who could pilot that metal beast flashing through her thoughts. "Shouldn’t we at least try and evacuate? If we can -?"

"Haven’t you been listening to a single word I’ve said, you fool?!" Kagura sneered impatiently. "If any of you try to go anywhere near the village unprotected, Ryuunosuke’s blood will kill you within seconds! So stop wasting time!"

"I know, but…" Sango tried again.

"Sango…please…" Michiru pleaded. Cutting herself off with a sharp gasp, the Demon Slayer lowered her eyes as Michiru focused on one of their worst enemies. "What about…the people in the village? How long can they…?"

"Survive?" Kagura finished. "I don’t know. Dead wood isn’t as easily affected by the blood, and if they stay inside, they’ll have a better chance." The wind witch gave them a meaningful glare as she added, "But the more time you waste arguing and chattering mindlessly…"

"We get the idea," InuYasha broke in, shifting Michiru somewhat so that he rested easier. "Hang on, Michiru! And as for you, Kagura, if you want to live, you better stay the hell out of our way!"

"You needn’t worry about me," Kagura answered. A knowing spark in her eye as she lifted up even higher on her feather. "I have no intention of fighting you. That is not my business right now."

A business. A deal towards an end. That’s all this is to Kagura, Sango thought bitterly as InuYasha began carrying Michiru towards the enigmatic machine from the future. She doesn’t care about the people here, or Michiru or Kaname. All she cares about is her own life.

Momentarily wondering what Michiru could have seen in her that had convinced him to show her mercy, never mind why she had gone along with it, Sango was broken from her thoughts when she sensed another set of eyes looking up at her. When she sought this gaze, she saw Shippo looking worriedly at her. "Sango, aren’t you coming?"

"Hmm?" Sango started, only for her discipline to kick in and immediately clear her mind of all extraneous thoughts. "Yes, course! Let’s go!" Not waiting for Shippo to respond, the warrior woman broke into a run, making sure to keep as close to both InuYasha and Kagura as she could.

I’m not letting you out of my sight. Either of you, Sango vowed, looking at the precious people that the demons ahead carried. Focusing on the incarnation of Naraku, she added, And if you try and keep me from my brother again…you’ll wish Michiru had let me kill you sooner!

Gotta keep moving! Koga thought as he raced about the village, the stink of Naraku’s stench filling his nose as he headed towards his destination. The card he held in his right hand glowing ever brighter as he approached his goal, all the while the foul rain ran down the magical shield that kept him safe. Its glow fading with each passing second as it was slowly eaten away by the demonic blood, the horrendous stench that filled the air. I don’t know how much longer this Protective Light is gonna hold out!

Not even wanting to think about what would happen if he remained exposed to the demonic downpour when the magical shield finally collapsed, Koga pushed his new body for all the speed he could summon. Just how desperate the situation was driven home by the fearful cries of the villagers, their homes of wood hissing as the blood ate away at them.

That’s one thing I’ll never be able to understand about humans, Koga decided ruefully. Why fuss around with houses of wood when you can have a nice, sturdy cave? Deciding to ask one of his new allies about this later, the wolf-demon chief gaped as the card in his hand sent a beam of light towards a spot just ahead of him, just outside the perimeter marked by Naraku’s rain of evil. Ah, there we go!

Leaping towards the boulder, Koga suffered a momentary surge of relief as he emerged from the foul storm. He then set the enchanted card down precisely where the beam it generated indicated and took hold of another card. Like the one he had just placed, it glowed with magic, a glow that would grow stronger the closer he got to the exact spot where it needed to be set. And just like the one he had set, it was glowing brightest as he angled it in a direction that would once again take him through the storm.

Instantly, Koga’s supernatural instincts rose up, warning him against such a course. This gift of being able to sense dangerous magic or demons something he had possessed all his life, and it was gift that had never once let him down. Even now when the threat was so painfully obvious.

Gritting his teeth at the fearful prospect of reentering the storm, Koga took one quick breath, and began moving again. The thought of simply abandoning any of the people here to the ravages of Naraku in order to save his own life never once occurring to him. Kagome’s friends had fought bravely to help him save his people from Toma’s cruelty and against Naraku’s forces. Azusa and Jiro were kin and ally, respectfully. And the people of this village, for whatever human fears or frailties they might possess, had been kindly towards them. It was because of them that the alliance stood a chance of survival, and they, too, had fought valiantly to defend themselves. He would not abandon such people to Naraku just to save his own life.

If I did that, I’d be no better than Toma was! Koga snarled to himself, looking at the cards that remained. Just keep moving, okay? You still have two more to go before you can head back!

With this thought, Koga kept moving. Soon he found the spots where the cards needed to be and set them in place. Until at last there were five surrounding the village, safe from the storm, forming the five corners of a pentagram.

That does it! Koga thought when the last card was in place. Now to get back before Kaname’s spell dies out completely! The wolf-demon then hurried back into the storm, the splashes of his shielded feet made in the blood-soaked ground another testament to the danger, and just how much the Protective Light had to work to save him from the deadly blood.

Koga had just come into sight of the home where he and the others had been staying at when the Protective Light flickered dangerously. It didn’t fail completely, but it faded just enough to momentarily leave the wolf-demon exposed to the cruel blood. A moment that seared him with agony as his feet burned in the befouled soil, his skin feeling like a hundred tiny needles were digging into it as dozens of drops of blood found their target. Then the moment passed, and the light returned. But the damage was done, and Koga was yelping in pain as he jumped towards the door of the house, his brief sending him into the relative safety of the enclosed space.

"You made it!" Jiro cried out as Koga tumbled into the room, steam rising up from every part of his body that had been afflicted by the acidic rain.

"Omigosh!" Kaname cried out as Koga groaned his agony. "Koga, are you -?!"

"No! There’s no time!" Koga growled, shaking his head as he looked up the only ones who could shield the village, if only for a little while. "Don’t waste your power on me! The cards are all in place! You have to do it now!"

The Kururugi girl looked ready to protest, but she only had enough time to open her mouth when Miroku placed his hand on her shoulder. "Kaname, Koga is right," the monk told her firmly. "If we’re to have any chance of saving this village and the alliance, we have to act quickly. Now, are you ready?"

Another protest ready, Kaname then frowned as she looked at the monk who had caused her brother so much hardship lately. Only to frown as she realized that this time, his heart and head were in the right place. "Right," the Shikigami User finally said. Taking a breath, she then clasped her hands together. "Reveal your hidden forces, Shikigami!"

"Right!" Miroku spoke, holding his staff in his left hand, his right cocked before his face as he began chanting just beneath his breath. Invoking the power he had cultivated over many years of training.

"Unleash your true power!" Kaname finished, releasing her Light Shikigami along with the power of all her other spirits. The massive dragon of light filled the living room before focusing on the monk. Groaning with effort, Miroku then held up his staff, their combined powers swirling about the headpiece like a whirlpool of light. Until at last, it split into five beams that went rushing harmlessly through the walls of the house, racing into the distance to find the cards Koga had set in position.

"Whew. That…that should do it," Kaname sighed, wiping her forearm across her brow.

"Are you sure?" Tamoa asked as she looked about nervously. "The rain’s still coming, and…"

The lady of the house never got the chance to finish her words, for Densuke gasped sharply as he pointed towards the open door. "Everyone! Look!" At the villager’s cry of awe, the rest of them looked out the door. Even Koga shifted about to look outside just as light began to rise up in the distance. A brilliant wall of light continued to form, rising higher and higher. And as it did so, the sound of the toxic rain falling became less pronounced.

Stunned into silence, the group moved to the door to observe the combination of natural magic and spiritualist ritual worked to form a transparent bubble above the village. A bubble that demonic blood visibly rolled off of like it was an enormous umbrella. "Well, I’ll be damned! It actually worked!" Azusa gaped after a time, the redhead stunned as the streets fell relatively silent. With sounds of confusion, pain, and lingering fear the only things left to be heard.

"For now," Miroku reminded them, the only one of them not wearing a celebratory look of relief. "But Kaname and I will still have to maintain the barrier’s power. And the longer this storm lasts…"

"I think we all know what will happen then," Jiro commented. "Just how long do you think you can maintain the shield?"

"I don’t know. I’ve never even done anything like this before," Kaname admitted fearfully. "Heck, if it weren’t for Koga reminding us of that barrier my bro used back at the hot springs, I wouldn’t have even thought of it!"

"And this barrier is very large. Far larger and far more powerful than anything I have ever attempted by myself," Miroku admitted. "There’s simply no way of knowing how long we can keep it in place."

"Perhaps," Densuke conceded reluctantly. "But it will still be more time than we would have had otherwise. Thank you, all of you."

Both Miroku and Kaname nodded their acknowledgement. Then a pained groaning brought them back to the present, causing them to run around to see Koga struggling to rise to his feet. "Oh, no! I forgot!" the Kururugi cried out in distress as she moved over to the wolf-demon’s side. "Here, let me heal you!"

"Don’t waste your power on me, Kaname!" Koga growled, his words forced out from between clenched teeth. "I’ll be fine!"

"But…look at you!" Kaname protested. Looking at skin that had been burnt so badly that Koga’s own blood ran down his frame. His crystalline carapace the only part of his body that had survived unblemished. "Just let me -!"

"Kaname, Koga is right," Jiro told her gently. "You have to save as much strength as you can. Remember, if the barrier fails before the rain dies out…"

"Then we’ll all look like him! Only worse!" Azusa sneered, jerking her thumb at her leader. "And seeing as you’re only a human, I wouldn’t place any bets on you holding out much longer!"

Her annoyance spiking at this barbed comment, Kaname frowned as she silently conceded the point. "So…what do we do now?"

"I’m not sure," Miroku admitted warily as he studied the tableau before them. "I doubt we could even attempt an evacuation with so many wounded." The monk then frowned pensively. "Also, now that Naraku has realized that we have a defense against this poison…"

"You think that he might try something else?" Tamoa wondered fearfully.

It wasn’t Miroku who answered the woman’s question. Instead, a roll of thunder filled the air, chilling the blood of the people within. "What was that?" Densuke asked, his eyes widening in renewed fear.

His brow furrowed with concern, Miroku carefully stepped just outside the house and looked into the sky above even as further rumbles of thunder were heard. "I don’t know," he admitted slowly. "And that scares me. We better be ready, just in case."

As these words settled upon the people there, Kaname felt all their fears settle on her shoulders like a set of boulders. InuYasha...where are you…?

"Are you sure about this, InuYasha?" Michiru asked weakly. Concern glazing his already tired eyes as he looked back at his friend, who was perched on the top of the jet, just behind the cockpit.

"Don’t worry about me, Michiru," InuYasha growled. The half-demon lay crouched on the metal, still holding the Reikikaega even with his claws finding purchase in the seams of jet. "I know what I’m doing here!"

"But…it’s too dangerous!" Michiru protested. "If you’re outside the jet when we reach the cloud, you’ll be exposed to the rain, and…"

"The boy is right, you fool!" Kagura told the half-demon scornfully, still astride her feather. "Look at you! Trusting a sword you barely understand to shield you from that?! When you still don’t know what limits it might have?!"

As Kagura pointed towards the lethal clouds above the village, InuYasha retorted, "Hey, don’t treat me like an idiot! If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this sword, it’s that it loves eating demonic power! And if it worked on Kanna and mirror, I’m betting it’ll work on that crap!"

"But, InuYasha -!" Shippo piped up.

"Look, we have to stop that rain, and this sword is our only chance of doing that!" InuYasha declared, the Reikikaega sparking that much more brightly at his words. "There’s no way I’d be able to use it from inside this metal bird! So that means I have to be out here!"

Even as Kagura snorted derisively at the half-demon, a tiny voice called for her attention. "You…you shouldn’t do this…" Kanna pleaded fearfully. When the wind witch looked down at her sister, the newly human girl added, "Naraku…he’ll find out wh-what you’ve done, and then he -!"

"Be silent, Kanna," Kagura told her flatly. Her stern tone all that was needed to cause the raven-haired child to fall to her knees, once again cowering behind Kohaku. Satisfied that the former incarnation had been effectively silenced, the wind witch returned her attention to the half-demon. "You better not be wrong, mutt. If you fail…"

"Well, if you’re so worried, why don’t you do something?" InuYasha demanded irritably. "That is, other than cower in the background, letting others do your dirty work?"

"InuYasha, please," Michiru spoke, his voice still showing the effort needed for such a simple gesture. When the half-demon growled in response, the Kururugi focused his attention on the others. "Don’t worry about us. We’ll…be okay."

"Are you sure you don’t want us to come with you?" Shippo wondered anxiously. "I could fit in the back seat no problem, and…"

"Shippo, we already discussed this," Sango told the little fox gingerly. "Even if we came with them, there’s not much we could do to help. At least this way, we’ll be able to go to the village and help once the rain is stopped." As Shippo frowned unhappily, the Demon Slayer knelt down before him, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder as she looked up at Michiru and InuYasha. "Please…both of you…just come back safely."

"We will," Michiru nodded, sending her a kindly smile. "Ready, InuYasha?"

"I’ve been ready ever since we got here!" InuYasha growled with his typical impatience. "Just get this thing in the air already! Kaname can’t keep that barrier up forever!"

"Okay," Michiru replied. "I’ll try and keep this is as slow as I can. Just be sure…to hold on tight." The Kururugi then sat back and closed the canopy. Seconds later, his body lit up as the wolf that was his Thunder Shikigami merged with the jet’s onboard systems, causing the turbines to spin to life. With a rush of wind, the modern war machine lurched into the air, listing dangerously to one side.

"Hey, Michiru! What are you doing?!" InuYasha demanded, his feet sliding on the smooth metal surface. The half-demon scrabbled about, digging in deeper with his claws as he tried to regain his footing.

"Sorry," Michiru returned as he narrowed his eyes in concentration. Sweat beading on his brow, the Shikigami User veritably glowed with effort as he righted the jet. Soon it was hovering evenly above the ground, giving InuYasha the chance to get back in place. "You…okay, InuYasha?"

"Hey, don’t worry about me!" InuYasha growled forcefully. "Just get us up there before Naraku comes up with some new trick to pull on us!"

Not bothering to answer, Michiru aimed the jet into the sky. Seeming almost sluggish as it rose up, the fighter craft began to accelerate, heading directly towards the clouds that were the source of the lethal storm.

"Good luck," Sango murmured as the jet shrank away. Already the size of a small bird from her perspective, a tiny thing that seemed almost impossibly fragile when compared to the devastating force unleashed Naraku. "Please come back…"

Her heart already severely cracked by the horrors of that night, Sango felt it breaking that much more as every terror her mind could conjure came at her en masse. Telling her that the ones she loved most would soon be dead, and she would be alone once more. This was a burden she had been forced to deal with many times during a battle, but never before had those terrors been as strong and debilitating as they were that night.

While Sango was struggling to push these things aside, the voice of a friend broke through these nightmares. "So…" Shippo started, drawing Sango’s attention. "What should we do now?"

Blinking as she studied the little demon, Sango’s mind returned to the present. "We take care of business," the Demon Slayer growled fiercely, turning her gaze to where Kagura hovered. And more importantly, the boy that was the last of her human family.

Taking note of Sango’s gaze, the incarnation of Naraku gave a wry curl of her lip. "Hmm, let me guess," Kagura oozed dangerously. "You want me to return your precious brother to you. Is that it?" The Demon Slayer didn’t say anything to this. She just stood there, eyeing the wind witch with all the force of personality at her command. "And what would you do if I refused? Don’t tell me you honestly believe you can stand against me?"

"I can…and I will, if I have to," Sango intoned, her hand automatically finding the hilt of her sword.

"Yeah! Same here!" Shippo piped up, moving to stand beside his friend. His entire body tense, showing not a sign of the fear with which he had displayed when fleeing Kagura earlier.

Seeming to enjoy this, like the very idea of a human and a child trying to stand against her was a grand joke, Kagura eventually heaved a tired breath. "Don’t bother. If you want the mindless puppet back so much, then fine. You can have him."

Of all the things Sango could have imagined Kagura saying, this was not even close to being one of them. "What?" the Demon Slayer asked suspiciously. Not even sure she had even heard the wind witch speak correctly.

"You can have him. He means nothing to me," Kagura told her in the same tone of voice. "You can even take the Jewel Shard in his back. I don’t care." A moment passed as she and Sango looked at each other, a moment in which the wind witch’s expression hardened with the same danger that the Demon Slayer had quickly learned to associate with her. "But…I will only let you have him on one condition."

As Sango frowned, thinking that it could never have been that simple, Shippo yelped, "Hey, wait a minute! What do you mean, a condition?!"

"Exactly what I said," Kagura told the little fox. "You want the boy so badly, then fine. But in exchangeyou must do something for me."

Sango wanted to say no deal. That she would rather die than give the wicked demon whatever it was she wanted. That she remembered the last time she had been in this shameful position, when Naraku had demanded she give him the Tetsusaiga in exchange for Kohaku’s life, and she had very nearly doomed her friends as a result. And that she would never again be that selfish, or that foolish.

Then she looked at the expression on Kagura’s face. And while she still possessed the same subtle aura of menace that she always had, she was also missing something. That manipulative edge to her, the part that sought to take a situation and turn it to her own advantage. That part of her was nowhere to be seen that night.

Could we even win if we fought it out? Sango finally had to ask herself. Very quickly, her Demon Slayer training said no. Kagura was a threat only someone like InuYasha or Michiru could take on. Shippo possessed nowhere near that level of power, and Sango’s Hiraikotsu lay on a field distant from there, shattered possibly beyond repair from her efforts to rescue Michiru from the cursed mask.

Finally, Sango looked at her brother. Trapped in the same almost mindless state he had been left in since the day he had been transformed into Naraku’s slave. A far cry from the gentle, sometimes cowardly boy she had held so dear. And it was a gulf that splintered her heart even further.

These three things came together in Sango’s mind, leaving her to lower her gaze in defeat. Like Kagome once said. Three strikes, you’re out, the Demon Slayer thought woefully. Though she didn’t understand the origin of this strange expression, it seemed painfully apt at that moment.

"Alright, then," Sango spoke bitterly. Trying not to choke on her own words. "What do you want?"

"A favor," Kagura intoned even as Shippo squawked in protest. "You can have the boy…but only if you promise to take Kanna with you as well."

The wind rushing through his hair, InuYasha continued to cling to the back of the metal beast from the modern world. Making certain that his grip on the Reikikaega never faltered, not even for a second. Because for all his bold talk earlier, the half-demon knew exactly what would happen if he reverted to his human form under these conditions.

Dammit! I didn’t think it’d be this tough to hold on! InuYasha growled inwardly, thinking of all the times he had flown in battle. Usually he had done so on Kirara, but he had rode other beings as well, and he knew that air battle was challenging with the way the wind blew and often threatened to unbalance a rider, and how you had to compensate while attacking a foe. But none of these steeds could have prepared him for the difficulty involved in riding on the back of a jet.

The biggest difficulty was that its armor was very smooth, with little in the way of seams. There was almost no purchase to take advantage of, and even with his claws dug in deep, he was having a hard time maintaining his grip. And despite the fact that Michiru was trying to keep their speed to a minimum, even the slightest gust was a serious threat. Even worse was that Michiru was still badly drained from his experience with the mask. The jet tended to wobble as it flew upwards, forcing InuYasha to dig in that much forcefully just to keep his grip on both jet and sword. A battle that grew more difficult as they drew closer to the storm, the half-demon’s nose filling with the stench of blood. Naraku’s blood.

Aw, hell! I better get it together! InuYasha growled as the fighting machine drew close to the toxic rain. Grunting with effort, he sank his free hand’s claws even deeper into the seam he had found as he got to his knees. Once satisfied of the relative security of his handhold, the half-demon held up the sparking blade to the acidic storm. As always, the lightning that surrounded the Reikikaega reached towards the demonic blood, its power snatching at it and drawing it into the blade itself.

Yeah, that’s it! Suck this damned crap up! InuYasha thought as his new blade effortlessly absorbed the blood, turning red as it cleansed the air around him of the wicked aura generated by all of Naraku’s creations. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet, so feel free to go crazy on it!

And that was precisely what the Reikikaega did. Even as Michiru clumsily eased the jet into the storm itself, the Aura-Transmuting Fang reached out and absorbed all of the demon blood that even came close. Even as the jet rose up closer to the clouds, the acidic rain running along its surface, the blade continued to protect InuYasha from every single bit of the foul fluid. His face twisting with a feral grin at the ease of it all, InuYasha looked eagerly at their target. "You okay in there, Michiru?"

"So far," Michiru returned. "I guess it’s true. Practice…does make perfect."

"Just keep going," InuYasha instructed tersely. "Once we get close enough, I’ll shove the Reikikaega right up this thing’s ass and put it out of our misery!"

"Right. I…" Michiru spoke, only for his voice to fail. Frowning in concern, InuYasha wondered if his friend had fallen unconscious for some reason. Only to have this fear dispelled in favor of a different one. "InuYasha! Look out!"

Looking back up to the clouds, InuYasha gaped as a thunder cracked the air about him. Howling in pain, the half-demon almost surrendered his grip to place his hands to his dog-like ears. It was only the jet listing about that made him realize the error of such an act, forcing him to tighten his grip. "Michiru!" InuYasha growled as another crackle of thunder ripped at his ears. "What are you doing in there?!"

"There’s something…coming, InuYasha!" the boy told him. "Something’s happening! I…!"

Confused by his friend’s words, the half-demon momentarily wondered if the strain of flying the machine was taking a greater toll than he had realized. Then another sound ripped through the winds, one completely unlike the roar of the thunder. This was a screech of purest hatred, a sound that was quickly echoed by similar ones.

A questioning growl escaping his lips, InuYasha once again looked up at the clouds above, only to gasp in surprise. The blood had stopped coming down in the form of rain, but was instead congealing within the clouds. Blobs of the crimson fluid pooled together, slowly solidifying and taking on greater form and definition. Arms and legs appeared, as did skeletal heads. Finally, claws and fangs took shape on the monsters, until at least a dozen red skeletal horrors hovered overhead.

"Dammit!" InuYasha snarled, mentally kicking himself for letting down his guard. Only to falter as the jet once again shifted to the side. "Michiru, no! Keep us steady!"

"But…!" Michiru protested weakly even as InuYasha realized the boy’s quandary. He was at the limits of strength, and couldn’t conjure his Shikigami to defend them. And the jet couldn’t fire upon the demons without aiming itself at them as well, something that was presently impossible, given the risk of sending InuYasha falling to ground far below.

Knowing what was required, InuYasha surrendered his grip on the jet, and took hold of the Reikikaega with both hands. "Just keep going!" InuYasha shouted even as the demons descended. "And try and keep us steady!"

Unknowing if Michiru responded, InuYasha braced himself for the demonic attackers. The Reikikaega sparked eagerly as the first wave approached. The skeletal monstrosities screeched their challenge, swooping in at him with claws raised.

"Back off!" InuYasha snarled, slashing as two of the monsters came at him. The Reikikaega passed through the both of them without challenge, robbing them of their power and leaving them to explode in a shower of blood that the sword snatched at hungrily. Three more demons came in from behind InuYasha, but their own roars gave them away as the half-demon spun about to attend to them. A single swipe of the Reikikaega dispelled the demons as easily as it had before.

"If that’s the best you’ve got, Naraku, then you might as just give it up!" InuYasha snarled. Looking about in search of any additional attackers, InuYasha gripped the Reikikaega in both hands. Watching as more demons came in. Instead of attacking, however, the demons proceeded to surround the jet, swooping in and out as the hovered just out of reach of the Reikikaega’s blade.

"Dammit! I don’t have time for this!" InuYasha snarled. Slashing with the Reikikaega, he sent a wave of energy flying out at the surrounding demons. With lightning speed, the monsters evading the pulsating wave, leaving it to strike nothing but empty air.

Growling in frustration, InuYasha glared hatefully at the bloody horrors. "Grrr!! What’s with you things?! Either get lost or come over here and die already!" Unsurprisingly, the blood-demons ignored his perfectly reasonable request; instead, they swooped about the jet, drawing close and scooting away, swooping in and out in random patterns. Forcing InuYasha to constantly look this way, then that. Always wondering where the next assault would come from.

While the half-demon was trying to think up a new strategy, the jet lurched hideously, the nose rising high into the air. Gasping in surprise, InuYasha’s found his bare feet skidding across the metal as he tumbled backwards. Looking over his shoulder, he gaped as he realized that he was falling towards the powerful turbines, and beyond them, empty air. Acting on pure instinct, the half-demon reached for one of the tail rudders even as he fell between them. When he felt cold metal between his fingers, the silver-maned warrior grunted in effort and relief.

"Michiru! What the hell -?!" InuYasha demanded, unable to hear himself speak. His ears suffering horribly from the roar of the twin turbines as he dangled helplessly between their exhausts.

Gritting his teeth, InuYasha tried to pull himself back up, only to feel a steely hand wrap about his ankle and pull in the opposite direction. Almost losing his grip, the half-demon looked down at his afflicted leg, and snarled in hatred as he saw another of the demons below him. It had grabbed hold of his ankle, and was rearing back to sink his fangs into it.

Snarling his wrath, InuYasha drove the Reikikaega’s needle-like tip right into one of the eyes of his attacker. The demon popped like a balloon, its form and power stolen by the eternally hungry sword. But his plight had been seen by more of the crimson ghouls, who were already rising up to attack. Mustering all his strength, InuYasha pulled on the rudder, dragging himself back up to the top of the jet. Just in time for it to lurch to the left, then to the right, knocking him off his feet.

"Dammit, Michiru! What do you think you’re -?!" InuYasha demanded even as the jet rose up sharply, then tipped its nose down below. Still clinging relentlessly to the rudder, the half-demon gaped when he saw even more blood-demons below, rushing up towards the modern craft.

While InuYasha was trying to regain himself, the Kururugi boy was doing his best to attend to their attackers. The jet’s machine guns ignited in a blaze of fire and thunder, filling the sky with bullets that shredded a couple of the attacking demons. But even more were coming, and even as InuYasha watched, three of them grabbed hold of the jet, and were drawing closer to the fragile canopy.

Knowing what would happen if those things were allowed to break into the cockpit, InuYasha felt a wave of sudden hatred obliterate all rational thought. His face contorted with rage, the Reikikaega shimmering that much more brightly in response to his ire. "Get away from him!" the half-demon roared, raising the mysterious blade in his hand before slashing with all his might. A large wave of power shot forth from the sword, and this time, its targets were too lost in the thrill of the hunt to try to dodge. The power of the Reikikaega slammed into the demons, wrapping about them like an aura of lightning. An aura that soon changed forms.

"What the -?!" InuYasha gaped as the blood-demons cried out in shock as the electric blue crackled about them, shifting colors and form. Until finally, each of the demons was confronted with a mirror image of itself, hovering face to face with the originals.

While InuYasha was staring as the original blood-demons were, trying to make sense of what was happening, their doppelgangers struck. With the very savagery displayed by the demons themselves, their reflections set upon them, ripping them apart into gobs of blood. Crying out in pain, the blood-demons woke up and began striking back at their doubles. But despite their best efforts, their own claws and fangs could not harm the replicas, and within seconds, the reflections created by the Reikikaega ended the existence of the originals.

Watching as both demon and double faded into nothingness, InuYasha stared incomprehensibly at the impossible carnage he had somehow spawned. Then the jet shifted once again, as if taking a blow from underneath, and the half-demon realized that now was not the time for thinking. Surrendering his grip on the rudder, InuYasha allowed himself to tumble down along the back of the jet, until he had ended up right behind the back of the cockpit.

"Michiru!" InuYasha cried out even as he dug his claws into the metal skin, barely able to find something that would do as a handhold. "You have to get us out of here!" Michiru didn’t say anything to this, and InuYasha was about to try shouting even more loudly when the boy finally looked up at him. His face hollowed out with exhaustion, Michiru didn’t say anything. He just looked as the half-demon growled, "You have to get away from these things!"

"I…I’m trying!" Michiru replied, his voice muffled by the canopy. "These things are all over us! I can’t shake them!"

Snarling, InuYasha instantly realized that this was why Michiru was having so much trouble keeping the jet stable. Even then, more and more demons were approaching the modern craft, determined to ruin any attempt at thwarting Naraku’s schemes.

"Just do it!" InuYasha demanded, thinking feverishly as he considered a new plan. "You have to get us over the cloud! Do you understand?! You have to get us over this thing!"

Exhausted and pushed beyond the limits of anything human, Michiru just looked perplexedly at his friend for a time. Then, at last, the boy nodded and returned his attention to the controls, even as InuYasha grabbed on as tightly as he could. Knowing that this was their best, if not only chance to end this nightmare.

At the back of the jet, it’s engines roared with power, fire burning brightly as it shot forward, very nearly dislodging InuYasha in the process. The half-demon was surrounded by indignant screeches as the blood-demons struggled to keep their grip on the metal ship as well.

With amazing swiftness, the jet shot past the boundaries of the cloud and slowly angled up. The wind whipping his hair wildly about, InuYasha glanced about, watching as the demonic cloud changed positions relative to him, saw the demons they had left behind start after them. And perhaps most importantly, he saw the ground waiting below. He saw trees that looked like he could pick up in his hands, tiny houses that he could crush underfoot. Sights that were familiar to him when flying, but things he had never seen under such precarious circumstances.

Fighting the urge to close his eyes, InuYasha instead continued to hold on tight. Waiting for the right moment, he kept his eyes on the cloud. Only for his ears to prick at the sound of another demon screeching. And this one was very close. Whipping his head about, the half-demon saw one of the crimson ghouls glaring at him. Having somehow held on when the jet had begun accelerating.

Even worse, it could fly. And he could not.

Apparently realized this advantage, the blood-demon shot at InuYasha, wrapping its claws about his throat and its legs around his waist. "Get off of me!" the silver-haired warrior snarled, utterly repulsed by the stench of Naraku this thing carried. His hands still occupied, the half-demon did the only thing he could do to the monster that was right in front of him. He reared back his head as far as he could, and smashed it against the cranium of his assailant. Squawking at the blow, the crimson horror shook its own head before once again shrieking, opening its mouth as wide as it could, baring dozens of dagger-like teeth at its prey.

InuYasha just grinned dangerously. Casting one more look down below as Michiru continued to climb. The cloud already a good distance below, as were their demonic pursuers. "Time to get off!" the half-demon growled. Just before he pushed himself off the jet, taking the demon with him.

Wind rushing past him as he fell, InuYasha caught a glimpse of the jet as it continued without him. He saw true clouds off in the distance. And unfortunately, he saw the monster that was clinging relentlessly to him, determined to ruin everything.

"I don’t have time for you!" InuYasha declared, raising his free hand. "Iron Reaver Soul-Stealer!" His claws glowing gold, the half-demon sent them plunging into the blood-creature’s head. It gave one last shriek of dismay, and then was silenced.

Momentarily satisfied, InuYasha turned his attention elsewhere. Looking down below, he saw the cloud growing closer with each passing second, and with it, the rest of the blood-demons. "You’re not going to win, Naraku!" he growled, taking hold of the Reikikaega in both hands once more. "I swear it!"

Once again, InuYasha swung the mysterious blade, its power lashing out at the blood-demons. As before, mirror images of them sprang up from their bodies and began lashing out at the originals. The sky was filled with gore as a result of the bloody extravaganza, the demonic cloud’s rumbles of thunder a perfect addition to the macabre scene.

Alright, Ryuunosuke! InuYasha vowed as he fell, the Reikikaega glowing brighter, seemingly in anticipation of this banquet feast. Michiru, Kaname…this one is for the both of you!

This was the last thought InuYasha had before he fell into the corrupted heart of the storm. A rumble of thunder reverberated throughout it…and was followed by crackles of blue lightning…

"What do you think is going on up there?" Azusa wondered as she studied the demonic cloud above.

"I’m not sure," Jiro answered, his lips pressed tightly together. "It’s been awfully quiet, though."

"Yeah. Too quiet," Azusa returned dangerously.

"Still…I doubt that this is Naraku’s doing," Miroku mused, his eyes narrowed in concentration. "It’s not like him not to press the advantage when the situation is in his favor."

"Which means that something’s gone wrong with his killer rainstorm!" Koga growled, his wounds having been bandaged by Tamoa and Densuke.

"But…what could have happened?" Kaname wondered nervously.

"I’m not sure," Miroku admitted slowly. "I only know that –what the…?!"

"What’s going on?" Jiro demanded. Before the eyes of everyone there, blue lightning shot through the entirety of the cloud, surging rapidly throughout its interior, just visible from below. Another roar of thunder, almost like a shriek of agony, cracked the air as the electric blue withdrew, surging towards the heart of the cloud. And it drew the rest of the cloud inward as well. In absolute defiance of the prevailing winds and all other natural activity, the cloud imploded before everybody’s eyes, seeming to eat itself alive as it collapsed.

"Impossible…" Miroku gasped as the cloud continued to shrink, drawn in by the lightning that grew more and more intense at its heart. The more the storm shrank, the brighter the light at its heart became, building in intensity until it was too bright for any of them to look directly at it.

Then, without warning, the dazzling light exploded. What little remained of the cloud was completely obliterated as light spread across the night sky, touching every corner and blotting out every shadow. For a few seconds, night was transformed into day, and then the night returned. A normal night sky, free of any clouds or supernatural activity.

All except for a brilliant electric orb that was falling to the earth below…

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