Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Unforeseen Consequences

"What?" Sango gasped, staring incredulously at the wind incarnation. Frowning as she studied Kagura’s features for any sign that she might have misunderstood her, she asked, "You want me…to take Kanna with me?"

"Yes. I want you to take care of her, to keep her safe," Kagura stated flatly. "If you agree to do so, I’ll let you have your brother back."

Looking between the two women, each turn of his head betraying his growing confusion, Shippo finally focused on Kagura. "Hold on a minute! Why would you want us to take Kanna?! That doesn’t make any sense!"

"Doesn’t it, child?" Kagura glared derisively at the little fox. Indicating at the tiny girl who still cowered behind Kohaku with a shift of her eyes, she demanded, "Look at her! Do you sense any demon aura whatsoever? Do you smell Naraku’s scent? Detect even a hint of power to her?"

Frowning intently, Sango studied the tiny little girl. She knew that Kanna never emitted any demonic power or scent under normal circumstances, so that absence in and of itself didn’t prove anything. But she also knew that a presence might be indicative. "Shippo," the Demon Slayer began, always keeping her focus on Kagura. "Can you pick up a scent from Kanna?"

"Huh?" Shippo gaped, blinking rapidly at the Demon Slayer. Frowning somewhat, looked towards where the apparent human cowered and sniffed the air. "Hmm…" he frowned even more. "Well, I can smell something from…I don’t recognize it, but…" Returning his gaze to Sango, he concluded, "It’s definitely a human scent. Nothing demonic about it."

"I see," Sango returned tersely. Her lips pressed tightly together, she started forward, making certain to keep one eye on Kagura. "Well…there is one way to find out for sure…" Moving up to the wind witch’s feather, she found her gaze drawn instantly to Kohaku. Suppressing the urge to reach out and take her little brother in her arms, to reassure herself that he was really within reach again, Sango gently grabbed Kanna by her shoulder.

"No!" Kanna cried out, her voice choked with fear. "P-please…don’t h-hurt m-m-me…"

Stealing herself against the little girl’s cries, Sango shifted her about so that she was looking at Kanna’s back, and then lifted the top of her kimono. While the former incarnation was squawking in surprise and fear, the Demon Slayer studied the perfect, unblemished skin that confronted her. In that instant, Sango knew that it was true. That Kanna’s connection to Naraku had truly been broken. For that was the only way that the spider-mark, the burn scar that was carried by Naraku and all things born of his flesh, could ever have been erased.

"Satisfied, woman of Demon Slayer?" Kagura asked, watching dispassionately.

"I’m satisfied that Kanna is now a human," Sango corrected, moving to confront the incarnation face-to-face. "But that still doesn’t explain why you would want us to take her with us."

"Is it really that hard for you to understand?" Kagura asked, only a trace of sarcasm to her words. "You’ve seen what Naraku does with something he no longer needs. You’ve seen the demons that were once part of his body cast aside, haven’t you?" Taking a step closer to Sango, the wind witch drilled her with her gaze. "Kanna is human now, Demon Slayer. What possible use could Naraku have for her now?"

Sango knew the answer to that question. Naraku would have no use for Kanna at all in her current state, and he had never displayed any concern for the incarnations he had lost in battle. "So…Naraku has rejected her?"

"Yes," Kagura confirmed. "Naraku the cold has ordered me to dispose of her."

"What?" came the tiny voice of the human Kanna. Turning towards her, Sango saw all-too human fear and despair crease her face as she shook her head in denial. "N-no. H-he couldn’t! He -!"

"Yes, he would, Kanna. You have seen him give such orders in the past. You know he would," Kagura told her with a gentleness that took Sango by surprise. "And even if he didn’t, do you really believe that you would survive in his castle as a human the next time he allows his miasma to flow freely through it?"

"But…" Kanna tried again. The tears now rolling down her cheeks saying what her voice failed to.

"I see," Sango frowned. "But…won’t Naraku punish you for this?"

"Concerned, Demon Slayer?" Kagura smirked, arching an eyebrow at her. Before Sango could protest such a thing, the wind witch’s expression returned to normal. "Don’t be. Naraku cares nothing about Kanna anymore. As I told you, he ordered me to dispose of her. In any way I see fit." A flare of triumph curled Kagura’s lip at this. "And this is the manner in which I see fit to do so."

Once again, Sango pondered the situation. She looked at it from the various angles, and ultimately could find nothing alarming in it. Even Kagura’s decision to give Kanna to them made sense, simply because people like them, without any prejudice for demons or those connected with demons, as well as the power they had together as a group, would surely be Kanna’s best chance for survival. And losing one of his former incarnations to his worst enemies would certainly be a thorn in Naraku’s side. Leaving her able to say just one thing to say. "Alright then. I agree. We’ll take Kanna with us."

A strangled cry escaping Kanna’s lips, Kagura nodded. "Very well," she muttered. Turning towards her feather, she moved it closer with a wave of her fan, her sister sobbing in terror. "Get off, Kanna."

"N-n-no…" Kanna moaned, her entire face soaked with her own tears. "K-kagura…p-please don’t l-leave me…"

"I don’t have a choice, Kanna. Nor do I have the time for this!" Kagura declared with greater force. "Now, get off, or I’ll -!" A stifled gasp from Shippo cut her off, causing the wind witch to glare balefully at him. "What is it?!"

"Look! The cloud!" Shippo cried, pointing up into the sky. Both demon and Demon Slayer followed the little’s fox’s gaze and looked at the cloud created from Ryuunosuke’s remains. Unable to speak, they instead watched as blue lightning crackled about the supernatural monstrosity, eating it from the inside-out.

"Michiru! InuYasha! They did it!" Sango cried out delightedly even as the cloud was devoured. Reaching into her pouch, she brought out her binoculars and placed them to her eyes.

"What are those things?" Kagura wondered, studying the modern devices with an air of unease. "Did they come from that metal bird of yours?"

"Yes! Well, the same world, anyway!" Shippo piped up, bouncing over to Sango’s position as the cloud dissipated into nothingness. Only to fall on his back when she sucked in a horrified gasp. "Wah! What is it!"

"InuYasha! He’s falling!" Sango announced, unable to tear her eyes away. "And I can’t see Michiru! Where is he?!"

Michiru knew that he was at his breaking point. In fact, he was almost certain that he had been pushed over it several times that night already, and only had the lives of his friends and Kururugi stubbornness still holding him together.

Still linked to the jet through his Thunder Shikigami, Michiru did his best to stably guide the modern war machine through the air. Sweat was rolling down every inch of his body, his breathing labored, and the urge to just lay back and fall asleep had never been stronger. But he couldn’t, and not just because such an action would undoubtedly result in him dying in a massive ball of fire when the jet came crashing down to Earth. For the battle he was fighting wasn’t over just yet.

Almost fainting, Michiru had watched InuYasha leap from the jet and plunge down to the demonic cloud below. Doing his best to avoid the remaining blood demons, the Shikigami User had moved as best as he could to steer the fighting machine downwards, his focus entirely on the half-demon. He had watched as InuYasha used the Reikikaega to obliterate the blood demons in his path just before he had disappeared into the foul cloud that was their source. Then, to Michiru’s astonishment, he watched helplessly as the Reikikaega’s aura reached out through the entirety of the cloud, causing it to implode in a brilliant flash of light. Now the cloud was gone…but InuYasha was still falling, marked by the immense glowing orb of power held within his sword.

C’mon…c’mon! Michiru pushed himself forward, mustering every last dreg of strength that remained to him in an all-out effort to guide the jet down towards his friend. Pressed into his seat and straining to fight the inertial forces as the jet made the turn downwards, Michiru struggled to keep the electric blue orb that marked his friend’s position in sight, pushing to catch up with it before it was too late. For while InuYasha was strong, the Kururugi boy knew he wasn’t invincible, and it was a very long way down.

Straining to avoid the few remaining blood demons, Michiru felt his sweaty palms barely keeping hold of the control stick, the engines straining as they added to the pull of gravity. His brows furrowed with concentration as he tried to make sure he went fast enough to reach InuYasha in time, but not so fast as to overtake. Every ounce of his focus on the half-demon that he could now see tumbling about helplessly in mid-air, straining to keep hold of the Reikikaega.

I’m coming, InuYasha. Just…hang on a bit longer! Michiru told him, pleading as much to himself as to his friend. Only to wince as an updraft hit the nose of the jet, knocking him further away. No…gotta keep this thing under control!

Gritting his teeth in defiance of his waning strength, Michiru drove the jet closer to InuYasha. Always aware of the steadily approaching surface below, he strained against the winds that seemed determined to keep him away. Time running out as he gained inch after precious inch, the light of the Reikikaega so intense that it almost filled the entirety of the canopy, very nearly blinding the boy.

Averting his eyes from the awesome light, Michiru gasped in horror when he realized that he had accidentally nudged the jet further away from InuYasha. Moving to correct his error, he returned his focus to the outside, narrowing his eyes as much as he dared as he gazed into the lightning-blue aura.

"InuYasha!" Michiru cried as he managed to nudge the jet a precious bit closer. Fighting another updraft that that was trying to nudge him further away and partly succeeding in that, he worked time and time again to right his course and edge closer to his friend. "InuYasha!"

Though he had no way of knowing whether or not InuYasha could hear him, Michiru still watched as the half-demon continued to fall wildly about. Then, to the relief of his eyes, the Kururugi boy watched as InuYasha spun so that he came between the jet and the Reikikaega’s massive aura. Locking his gaze onto his friend’s form, Michiru watched as InuYasha turned to look at him…and gasped in horror.

His jaw falling in shock, Michiru looked at InuYasha’s face. A face that was twisted with feral savagery, purple streaks marking his face, and eyes that were red with blood. A face that he had seen before.

Agony searing his blood, InuYasha cried out as he struggled to keep hold of himself, of his very soul. His feral cried of pain unable to come even close to capturing the full extent of his war with the beast within.

When InuYasha had fallen into the demonic cloud, the Reikikaega had eagerly devoured Ryuunosuke’s power and taken it into itself. That much had gone according to the half-demon’s plans, but as the power continued to build up in and around the enigmatic sword, he realized that he had never considered what would happen once the crystalline blade had devoured the sheer amount of power contained within the cloud. Now, he was paying for that oversight.

The demonic power the Reikikaega had stolen surrounded both it and InuYasha, stabbing at his body and soul. Forcing its way into him, slowly shoving away the half of him that was human, and giving power to the full-blooded abomination that lurked within him. Even as he fell through the skies, pure, unadulterated savagery broke free of the tethers that bound them. Giving rise to the beast.

This…this shouldn’t even…be happening! InuYasha shrieked within his own mind, glancing down at the heirloom blade left to him by his father. The Tetsusaiga…it’s supposed to keep the demon suppressed! Before he could give another thought to wondering why the Steel-Cleaving Fang was apparently failing in its duties, another surge of demonic bloodlust shot through him, forcing him to fight back with everything he had. All the while aware that this was a fight he was losing.

On one level, InuYasha knew that there was one way to an end the battle in his favor. But throwing away the Reikikaega and its amassed demon power would result in him transforming back into a human. At which point his chances of survival would drop from slim to none.

That didn’t make dealing with the overwhelming power that was lashing out him any easier. It didn’t lessen his struggle with the demon rising up within him. And it didn’t mean that the power swirling about him was any less deafening. If anything, it was getting even worse. In fact…

Wait! InuYasha cried out, his ears pricking as a familiar sound rose up over the howling wind and crackling power. Struggling against the winds buffeting, he managed to look towards the source of the noise, and gaped at the sight of a metal bird diving unsteadily towards him. Michiru…aw, damn! His mind too overwhelmed for continued conscious thought, the half-demon still managed a grin, a surge of relief helping him push back against his transformation.

Watching as his friend struggled to get closer to him, until he was so close that InuYasha could see Michiru’s terrified face through the canopy, the half-demon grimaced once again as the wind bucked at him, knocking him further away. Snarling his frustration, InuYasha shifted the mystery blade to his left hand and began reaching out towards the jet with his right. Seeing this, Michiru once again tried to get closer to the half-demon, his features taut with the growing strain, but the jet slid off in the wrong direction.

"Dammit!!" InuYasha shrilled, the rage that characterized his full-blooded self rising up even more with his growing frustration. Again, he watched Michiru edge the jet closer, the boy’s gaze entirely on the plummeting half-demon. Keeping the fighting machine as stable as he could, he brought it within a few feet of InuYasha, who desperately reached out towards it. The instant he did so, the wind caught his outstretched arm that much more, spinning him in the wrong direction.

Howling his frustration, frustration that left him giving in even more to the demon within, InuYasha watched as the jet once again lurched closer to him. But Michiru was getting exhausted and the ground was getting closer and the demon was rising up ever more and it was getting harder to think and the stupid jet just wasn’t close enough to grab and there was no damned handhold anyway and -!

All these things came together at once within InuYasha’s deteriorating mind even as the jet drew almost close enough to touch. Pure instinct taking over, the transforming half-demon took the Reikikaega in both hands, and with a cry of utmost savagery, he thrust it towards the jet.

The needle-like tip of the crystalline blade sank into the metal plating without resistance. The power surrounding the Reikikaega finding a new outlet as it touched the circuits and mechanisms of the modern fighting machine.

Gasping in shock as the battle within him abruptly ended, InuYasha then cried out as the demonic power surged into the jet. The Reikikaega pouring energy into it that spread about the flying machine, its material already shifting from metallic grey to glowing blue. His heart pounding in his ears as he watched the effect spread towards the cockpit, the half-demon tried to draw the crystalline blade from the jet. It refused to move, seeming to be fused to the jet by the aura it was pouring into it. The half-demon gave it another quick tug, looked towards where Michiru sat helpless before the approaching wave of power.

Without hesitation, InuYasha relinquished his grip on the sword and propelled himself towards the canopy claws first. "Iron Reaver Soul-Stealer!" he cried out, shattered the plastic covering effortlessly. As Michiru raised his arms to shield himself from the flying shards, the half-demon grabbed him by the shirt. "Hang on, Michiru! We have to get out of here!"

"But – InuYasha, I -!" Michiru sputtered. Looking down at his side, the boy reached for something metal at the base of his seat.

Confused by his friend’s action, InuYasha’s eyes went wide as the demonic aura spilled into the cockpit, drawing ever closer. "We don’t have the time for this! Come on!" the half-demon declared. With a swipe of his claws, he severed the belts that secured Michiru to his seat and pulled him out of the cockpit. Just before the transmutation effect of the demonic power could reach them, InuYasha tucked Michiru over his shoulder, coiled his legs, and fired them both away from the uncontrolled jet.

"InuYasha! What are you doing?!" Michiru cried out, terror giving fresh strength to his voice. "We’re falling, and -!"

"I know, I know!!" InuYasha returned, the gravity of their situation not lost on him as he watched the Earth grow ever closer. "Just hold on, okay?! I swear, there’s no way I’m gonna let you get hurt! I -!" Before he could say another word, the half-demon’s tongue fell flat in his mouth as a horribly familiar sensation washed through his body. Bringing his free hand up to his face, InuYasha shuddered as he watched his claws recede into fragile human fingernails.

Aw…dammit!! InuYasha swore with all his strength as he reverted completely back into his human form. Hundreds of miles in mid-air, with the ground growing closer with each passing second.

"What’s happening?!" Kagura demanded even as Sango watched through the modern lens. Her horror reaching a fever pitch at this latest development.

No! Sango cried out in her mind, her heart fracturing even more as she watched two irreplaceable parts of her life plunge to her doom. Icy claws of helplessness reaching inside of her and squeezing her very soul. I…I can’t…there’s got to be something I can -!

In that instant, terror and desperation gave way to inspiration. "Shippo!" Sango cried out, looking down at the little fox. "They’re falling! Quick! Transform into the Hiraikotsu!"

"What?! But - ?!" Shippo began.

"Just do it!" Sango shrilled. Jumping at her cry, Shippo sputtered somewhat before complying. Disappearing in a puff of smoke, his tiny form was replaced with the familiar shape and form of the sundered boomerang bone, with only his eyes and mouth spoiling the effect. The transformation complete, Sango reached down and grabbed the massive weapon. Automatically compensating for the differences in weight as she once again looked through the binoculars in order to gauge direction and altitude.

"What are you doing?" Kagura demanded even as Sango let the binoculars fall to the ground. Taking a step forward, the Demon Slayer ignored the wind witch as she sighted the tiny speck falling from the sky. Her expression falling with disbelief as she realized what Sango had planned. "You can’t possibly expect this to work!"

"I have to try!" Sango declared as she hurled the fox-demon in what was her best guess as to the course needed for him to intercept the falling pair. "Hiraikotsu!" With all the strength she could muster, she sent Shippo flying out into the air. Begging whatever fates that were out there to make this shot perfect, that Shippo would instinctively understand what she wanted him to do.

"You’re an even bigger fool than I thought if you honestly expect something like that to work," Kagura muttered dangerously. Stung by this and the fact that she knew she was asking for a miracle, Sango whirled to face the wind witch. Only to falter, her sudden rage turning to confusion when she saw her holding the discarded binoculars to her eyes, her fan at the ready. "Hmm, now this is an interesting device. I can see them perfectly."

"Kagura…?" Sango gasped as the wind witch brought her fan back, the air swirling about her.

"Now! Dance of Gales!" Kagura cried out, lashing out with her fan as she continued to gaze through the binoculars. The wind she generated flying forth towards Shippo, wrapping about his transformed body and propelling it forward with greater speed than Sango could have ever achieved on her own, subtly altering its course in the process.

I’m sorry, Michiru! InuYasha growled within his own mind. His arms wrapped about the barely conscious warrior who had become the best friend he had ever had, and his eyes glued to the ground that now filled his field of vision. I’m sorry I screwed up so badly!

He could already see what would happen next. How they would be mashed into a bloody paste upon the ground, a paste that their friends would find, and soon mourn over. InuYasha could already see Sango collapsing in tears at the sight of their broken bodies, with Miroku offering his own form of support. Koga would probably snort in triumph, and Shippo would definitely be bawling his eyes out. Kaname, she would certainly be devastated over losing her brother, and InuYasha felt certain that she would be saddened by his passing. And when Kagome got back…they would undoubtedly be buried, and the others would tell her what happened.

I’ll miss you, everyone, InuYasha murmured inwardly, bracing himself for the end. Sango, Shippo – even Miroku and that scrawny wolf! Closing his eyes, he then thought, Goodbye, Kan –

"Ugh!" Michiru cried out even as InuYasha’s eyes went wide at something crashing into them both. A puff of smoke filling his view, he looked about and felt his mind go empty with shock when he saw Shippo clinging desperately to Michiru’s side.

"Shippo?!" InuYasha gaped in amazement. "But how the hell -?!"

"No time, InuYasha!" Shippo returned before closing his eyes in concentration. Again the fox-demon exploded in a puff of smoke, at which InuYasha and Michiru grunted as they fell and sank into something soft, something that safely absorbed their momentum. Seeing nothing but pink about him, the now-human warrior grunted as the buoyant material bounced back, sending them back into the air momentarily before they landed once again on what to be the transformed Shippo.

"Damn…not bad, Shippo!" InuYasha gasped, his heart pounding wildly as relief flooded through him.

"Heh…what would you do without me?" Shippo asked with a hint of his smart-alecky attitude as they continued to descend, now at a much safer rate. Resisting the urge to bop him over the head, InuYasha instead checked on his friend, whose eyes were now closed. "What about Michiru? Is he alright?"

Momentarily panicking, InuYasha quickly placed his hand gingerly about his neck. "He’s okay," he finally said, sighing in relief after finding a weak-yet-steady pulse. He then listened for Michiru’s quiet breathing, and was soon satisfied. "He’s just fainted. I guess flying that thing was too much for him after everything that happened."

"Whew…that’s a relief," Shippo sighed as they finally reached the ground. Carefully stepping off of the little fox, InuYasha was barely aware of him changing back as he gently set his friend down with his head propped up by the roots of a tree. "He’s sure been through a lot today, hasn’t he?"

"That’s for sure," InuYasha agreed as he and Shippo studied the slumbering figure. "By the way, how the hell did you ever manage to get to us, anyway? I thought you were with Sango!"

"Oh, that?" Shippo replied. "Sango had me change into a Hiraikotsu and she threw me at you." While InuYasha was looking in amazement at him, the little fox added, "Still, it’s a good thing that wind came along! I don’t think I would have made it, otherwise!"

"A wind?" InuYasha repeated with narrowed eyes.

"Yeah," Shippo confirmed. Then his little face lit up with surprise. "Hey! You don’t suppose -!"

"Kagura," InuYasha nodded. "It’s the only thing that makes any sense. She must have boosted you towards us!"

"But…why would she do that?" Shippo wondered, staring in disbelief at the black-maned warrior.

"Eh, who can tell when she’s involved?" InuYasha grumbled irritably as he sat back against the same tree now supporting his friend. "We can figure that part out later." Putting the matter out of his mind, he closed his eyes and relaxed. Human adrenaline and human exhaustion taking their toll now that the crisis was ended. That they were alive.

While InuYasha was giving his human body a chance to recover from these frailties he was cursed to deal with when the moon was dark, a tiny voice piped up. "Um…InuYasha?" Shippo murmured nervously. "I think we should go back to the village…"

Groaning tiredly, InuYasha grumbled out, "Gimme a break, Shippo. We’ll head back there in a minute, okay?"

"Actually, I think we should get going right now," Shippo returned, his voice jittery. Raising an eyelid, InuYasha saw the little fox staring upwards. "Look!"

Aw, damn…what is it now?! InuYasha groaned inwardly, reluctantly opening both eyes. Not wanting to be bothered but knowing that he couldn’t take chances on a moonless night, he leaned forward and looked up into the sky. His brow furrowing as he saw what had alarmed his young ally.

"What do you think that is?" Shippo asked as he pointed to glowing blue orb that hung like the sun above them. Energy pulsing inward with increasing rapidity.

"I…I think it’s the jet," InuYasha replied, frowning as the pulsations grew in frequency and strength.

"Huh?!" Shippo gaped, turning to stare at him. "What are you talking about?! How could that be?!"

"It’s the Reikikaega. That damned sword got stuck in the jet’s side and started transforming it. That’s why we had to bail out," InuYasha quickly explained, a pit opening up in his gut. "But…why hasn’t it crashed yet?!"

Shippo didn’t answer this. Instead, he squirmed nervously and said, "I dunno…but…maybe we should get back to the village, okay? Before something bad happens?"

Growling in his throat, InuYasha finally said, "Maybe you’re right…but something better not happen, because I’m not in the mood for any more crap tonight! I’m -!" Before he could complete this declaration, his mouth fell limp at what happened next. The pulsating orb of light reached a crescendo of activity before releasing a blinding flash. Throwing up his arms to shield his eyes, InuYasha was certain that the jet had succumbed to the demonic power unleashed in it and exploded. But no sound accompanied the flash, and as the light subsided momentarily, he peered between his arms and saw the streaks of light rushing into the glowing orb which was glowing with even greater intensity.

It…it’s like when the Shikon Jewel was destroyed, only in reverse! InuYasha thought incredulously, the bad feeling he had growing even worse.

Then he heard a sound. A tiny screech of outrage coming from somewhere behind him. Looking about, InuYasha saw a demon appearing from one of the trees. It was a tiny creature, the kind that frequently ambushed unwary travelers as they made their way from village to village. A pathetic little nothing that was only dangerous when it moved in a group.

Realizing that he was human and Michiru was still insensate, InuYasha took a battle-ready stance and took hold of the Tetsusaiga’s hilt. Only to halt when he realized that the demon was rising into the air. And more importantly, it was motioning its little legs in the opposite direction it was moving.

"What the hell…?" InuYasha growled perplexedly even as the demon floated away. Just as more creatures like it cried out and appeared. All of them being drawn in the same direction, and all of them struggling futilely against it.

"Ahh! Wh-what’s happening, InuYasha?!" Shippo stammered loudly as more and more demons floated upwards, helpless to do anything to stop themselves.

"I don’t know, but – hey!" InuYasha growled loudly, looking down in surprise at the Tetsusaiga as the heirloom blade began to slide out of its sheath. With an annoyed grunt, he forced the rusty blade back down, but could still feel something pulling at it. Before he could give any further though to the matter, a surprised cry was heard. "Shippo?!"

"Augh!" Shippo cried as he floated off the ground as well. Motoring his little arms and legs, the fox-demon began floating in the same direction as the other demons. "Help me!"

"I’ve gotcha, Shippo!" InuYasha shouted, wrapping his arm about Shippo’s tiny frame and drawing him close. Glancing at the demons that were floating past, he then turned towards where Michiru lay. The Shikigami User was still unconscious, completely unaffected and unaware of what was happening.

So…whatever’s going on here, it’s only affecting demons or things with demonic power! InuYasha realized, looking in the direction the demons were floating off in. With a hiss of disgust, he discovered that they were heading towards where the glowing orb that had once been a modern weapon still hovered in the night. No big surprise there! Just what the hell is going on with that thing?!

"They made it," Sango gasped, very nearly collapsing with relief as she lowered the binoculars she had reclaimed from Kagura.

"Don’t act so surprised, Demon Slayer. After all, I am the wind," Kagura murmured with a superior air. "Did you really think I would allow the child to miss?"

"Still…thank you," Sango got out, those last two words coming without difficulty. "Listen, you better get going. The longer you stay here…"

Nodding, Kagura looked down at her feather, where the two children she had shepherded there remained. "Then you had better take these two. Now."

Not even bothering to quibble over the wind witch’s refusal to lift a finger in this case, Sango gladly knelt down and lifted her brother up from the feather. Savoring the feel of his closeness after so long being apart again, momentarily forgetting that his soul still needed to be freed from Naraku. Until she heard Kanna blubbering, "K-kagura…p-please don’t…"

"I have to, Kanna. You know that," Kagura informed her, all traces of smugness gone from her voice. Setting Kohaku down, Sango turned towards the incarnation, and found an all-too human look of sadness on her face. "Take care of her, Demon Slayer. And be sure that the others do so as well."

Nodding, Sango bent down to pick Kanna up. "We will," she vowed, grunting in dismay as the newly human girl squirmed to get away. "And…again, thank you."

"You don’t need to thank me," Kagura returned, a tinge of caring showing in her voice. "I had my reasons for saving your friends, and they have nothing to do with you."

"I know, but…" Sango began, only to stop when the girl she held redoubled her squirming. Tightening her hold but making sure that she didn’t cause her any pain, she murmured, "Kanna, don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt you."

"N-no!" Kanna cried out, struggling with all her strength. Staring beseechingly at her sister, she babbled, "Kagura…p-please…!"

Stepping on her feather, Kagura paused to look at the tiny girl that Sango was forced to hold tight, just to keep her from running away. "I’m sorry, Kanna," the wind manipulator finally murmured. "But this is the way it has to be." Without any further hesitation, she stepped onto to her feather, and with a gust of wind, she shot up into the air.

"No! Kagura, please, no!!" Kanna begged, reaching out as she reached out into the air. Kagura and her feather already as small and insignificant to Sango’s eyes as a ordinary feather, and was shrinking away rapidly. "Please…sister, p-please…!"

"It’s okay…Kanna…" Sango murmured, clenching the former incarnation that more tightly. She was forced to hold her for what seemed like forever, until at last Kagura finally disappeared into the night. When it was clear that the wind witch was gone and would not be returning, Kanna sagged helplessly in the Demon Slayer’s arms. "Kanna…?" Loosening her grip, Sango tried to turn the former incarnation about, only to have Kanna bolt away. "No, wait!"

Getting to her feet, Sango was about to chase after her when Kanna fell to the ground next to where Kohaku sat mindlessly. Looking at them with a heart heavy with sympathy and pain alike, she moved closer to them. Watching as Kanna looked up at, every terror imaginable showing in her features, tears continuing to run down her cheeks. "Please…"

"What is it?" Sango asked, careful not to make any sudden movements.

"Please…please don’t k-kill m-me…" Kanna begged, gazing helplessly at the warrior woman. "I’ll be good…I’ll be g-good…"

It was then, watching Kanna beg for her life, pleading like an abused child, that Sango felt all remaining resentment she might have had for her fall away. This was no longer the demon she had once reviled and fought to slay. This was just another victim of Naraku’s cruelty. Just as Kohaku himself as was.

"I know," Sango murmured, falling to her knees. Pausing as Kanna gasped sharply, she carefully, gently moved to embrace both her and the brother she had so desperately sought for so long. "I know you will."

Holding them gently, Sango did her all to convey all the comfort she could through this simple embrace. She held and comforted them as best as she could, holding them as she felt Kanna’s fearful trembling subside somewhat. Then, just as she let go and suggest they go to the village, something sparked in the back of her mind. An instinctive warning that had been honed to sharpness through years of training, even as the girl in her arms stiffened. Pulling back to look at Kana as she gasped fearfully, Sango was about to ask what was wrong when she turned and looked over her shoulder. Just before she gasped herself.

"What in the world…?" Sango wondered as she watched the orb that had been hanging in the air explode, then began absorbing points of light. Clouds seemed to rise up from the forest and the village. Before she could process what was happening, she gasped when Kanna grabbed onto her with all her strength. Terror hanging from every strangled breath she took. Looking down at the fearful girl and the impassive boy she held, Sango tightened her grip on them both. "Don’t worry, you two. Nothing’s going to happen. I…"

A high-pitched squeal of fright pierced the Demon Slayer’s ears, followed by Kanna tightening her grip further. Looking about, Sango sucked in a surprised breath as she watched a horde of small demons appear. Flailing about helplessly as they rose into the air and were pulled to the glowing orb.

"It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay!" Sango told the two children, pressing them closer to herself. Trying to reassure them when she had no idea what was happening. Or if they could even survive it.

How…how is this even possible?! Sango cried out in her mind, watching helplessly as the demons continued to be pulled into the air. Lowering her eyes, she buried her cheeks against the children she sought to protect. Michiru…I hope you’re safe…

"What the hell is this?!" Azusa demanded, looking up at the brilliant orb that seemed to be swallowing stars, clouds of demons rising up towards it. "What’s going with that thing, anyway?! And why are all those demons going after it?!"

"I don’t know," Jiro admitted, standing just behind the volatile redhead. Turning about, he looked over towards the other humans in their group. "Kaname, Miroku, do you have any idea what that is?"

Frowning, Miroku studied the blue orb, as well as the odd clouds that were rising up towards it. "I’m not sure, though its aura is similar to that of the Reikikaega," he finally replied. "And…I also sense a great deal of demonic power from it. And it’s growing in intensity."

"Same here," Kaname agreed. "But…why are those demons flying up to it? Is Naraku controlling them?"

"I don’t think so, Kaname," Koga announced warily. "From the way they smell, they seem to pretty damned weak. Just scraps you’d find in the forest."

"Indeed," Miroku concurred, bringing his hand to his chin in thought. "And…there’s something strange about the way they’re moving. And…what the…?"

"Miroku?" Kaname began. Looking in his direction, she watched the monk raise his right hand up towards the sky. "Miroku, what is it?"

"Ugh…something’s…pulling at my arm!" Miroku gasped, his eyes expanding with confusion and fear. Grabbing hold of his right wrist, he grunted in effort even as the others watched. Their own confusion mounting as he skidded across the ground, being pulled by absolutely nothing.

"Huh?! What the hell are you -?!" Azusa began, cutting herself off when her own face fell in shock. Looking down at the ground, she gasped in when she confirmed that she was no longer in contact with the ground. Tumbling about as she struggled to free herself from whatever force had snatched herself up, the redhead’s cries became more pronounced as she rose further up. "What the -?!"

Reacting instantly, Jiro leapt up and grabbed hold of Azusa’s wrist. "Don’t worry! I’ve got you!"

"Huh?!" Azusa snapped out, fear turning to outrage as she glared at the Demon Slayer. Instinctively struggling against him, she ceased when she was jolted even higher into the air. It seemed certain that she would be pulled away like the other demons were, but then Jiro leapt up and grabbed her with both hands.

"Aw, damn! Whatever it is, it’s got me, too!" Koga cried out. Looking about, Kaname saw that Koga was indeed under the influence of the same unseen force, and was already several feet up.

"Well, then...!" Kaname began, mustering what strength she had left. "Oh, towering, green wood, send forth your steely embrace! Green Wood Snare!" With this invocation, hordes of vines erupted from the ground and wrapped about the wolf-demon’s legs. Once Koga was securely anchored, the vines she had conjured up slowly dragging him back down to the ground, Kaname turned her attention to Azusa and added her own magic to Jiro’s cause. Once the two demons were securely anchored, she finally went over to where Miroku was struggling with his hand. Repeating her spell, she quickly secured him to the ground, focusing her spell about his right forearm.

"Thank you, Kaname," Miroku beamed once he was bound. Glancing over in the direction of their allies, he added, "You and Jiro better keep an eye…on Koga and Azusa. If your vines were to tear or wither…!"

Nodding, Kaname started towards Koga. Directing the actions of her vines, she brought him all the way to earth, and brought even more vines into being to reinforce them. "Eh…thanks, Kaname," the wolf-demon muttered sheepishly. "I owe you one."

"It’s okay. I just hope those crystals of yours don’t wind up cutting any of the vines," Kaname admitted as she finished securing the spell. Glancing over to where Jiro was continuing to help with Azusa, she spared a moment to ask, "But…what’s causing this, anyway?!"

"I don’t know…but it must have something to do with the Reikikaega," Miroku declared, his words punctuated with grunts of pain as his arm continued to be pulled on. "Whatever this force is…it only seems to be affecting demonic entities!"

"Only demons?" Jiro frowned even as Kaname started helping him. "But then why are you -?"

"It’s my Wind Tunnel…!" Miroku grunted between his gritted teeth. "That thing up there…it must be attracting the demonic power inherent to it!"

"Okay, fine!" Koga growled, wincing as the vines strained to keep him down to earth. "Then how the hell do we stop whatever that thing is?!"

"I don’t know…but we better think of something fast!" Miroku gasped as he continued to be pulled against his restraints. "The force pulling on us…it’s getting stronger!"

Sucking in a fearful breath, Kaname looked about at the demons being affected. True to the monk’s words, they were being lifted up more and more strongly. The vines created by her magic already straining to keep them safely on the ground. With no way of telling when, if ever, the power trying to drag them into the air would ever subside.

"What is this?"

The woman who spoke these words looked into the sky, studying the shining star that was radiated such demonic power. Power that was growing exponentially with each passing second, power that had a feel far different from any demonic aura she had ever sensed, whether in life or the undead existence in which she now wandered the earth.

The gentle whoosh of one of her creations sounding in her ears, she watched as a couple of them moved alongside her out of the periphery of her vision. Two of them carrying the precious cargo they sought out relentlessly in their spindly legs.

Pressing her lips together, the woman considered what to do. If what she sensed of this anomaly was accurate, it was absorbing massive amounts of demonic power, which would make it dangerous for her to come too close. Even if she were to investigate from a distance via her creatures, they would suffer the same limitations. In fact, they would be at an even greater disadvantage, given how much weaker they were than she was.

Still, I can’t ignore this, the woman thought. Not when there’s the chance that Naraku may be involved…or InuYasha.

Coming to a decision, she murmured to her Soul Collectors, "Come. We should go now." Heeding her will, the ethereal demons she had created to do her bidding gathered about her gently. Lifting Kikyo into the air, they began carrying her in the direction of the bizarre occurrence. The undead priestess already considering her next move.

"What is that thing?"

Momentarily ignoring the question, the subject of the question studied the brilliant blue orb that shone in the sky. One of his traveling companions at his side, and the other quickly approaching. "Oh!" she gasped in childish delight as she came up alongside them. "What is that? It’s so pretty!"

"Pretty? Are you mad, Rin?!" the first of his companions scoffed irritably. "Can’t you see what’s going on?! That…that thing is devouring demons! Hundreds of them, by the looks of things!"

"Huh? Are you sure, Master Jaken?" Rin returned, clearly astonished by this. "But – how is that possible? What is it?"

"How should I know?!" Jaken demanded. "Honestly, don’t you ever think?! Now, be quiet, or you’ll disturb Lord Sesshomaru!"

Ignoring this exchange, Sesshomaru studied the brilliant object that shone as brightly as the sun. An object of power that he sensed was already far beyond most demons that lived. A power that could challenge his own.

A power that he was already planned on taming for his own use. Or destroying, if need be.

"Jaken, Rin," Sesshomaru spoke, his soft voice carrying with it its usual undercurrent of danger. "Let us go."

"Hmm? Oh, of course, Lord Sesshomaru!" Jaken started, the little demon quick to follow. Rin was only a step or two behind as the eldest son of InuTaisho strode forward. "Um, Lord Sesshomaru, if I may be so bold…where are we going?"

"Isn’t it obvious, Master Jaken?" Rin asked instantly. "We’re going towards that pretty star!"

"Rin, I already told you, that thing is not pretty, and -!" Jaken began. Practically swallowing his tongue as he looked up and discovered that the pigtailed girl was speaking the truth. His eyes ballooning out of their sockets, the imp-like demon squawked before racing forward. "What?! B-b-but, Lord Sesshomaru! Why are we going towards something like that?!"

"I want to know more about it, Jaken," Sesshomaru told him. Not wasting his time to look down at him, let alone explain his motives more plainly.

"B-b-but -!" Jaken stammered out. Standing completely frozen as the others continued forward.

"Come on, Master Jaken!" Rin called out, keeping pace with Sesshomaru. "You better hurry up if you don’t want to be left behind!"

"B-b-but -!" Jaken stammered again. When he realized that there would be no getting out of this, the little demon sagged beneath his fears, supported only by the Staff of Two Heads. "Oh…the things I go through for my lord." Thinking not for the first time that following Sesshomaru would undoubtedly get him killed, again not for the first time, he heaved a deep breath and started racing forward. "Wait, Lord Sesshomaru! I’m coming!"

Well aware of this, Sesshomaru kept his pace. His eyes always on the shining orb that was swallowing up demons with even greater hunger than before. Plans for the future already taking shape within his mind.

"By the spirits...what is that?"

The young man who asked this question stared up at the shining orb of power that had appeared in the skies moments before. As he did so, he reached out with senses far beyond the physical ones he possessed, and with the felt the forces of nature swirling about the thing, reacting to the pure, intense demonic aura that it was radiating. As he did so, his hands fell to the twin katana that hung from the left side of his waist. Quickly drawing them, he held them up to the sky and studied them.

As they always did, the young samurai's the two swords reacted to the outpouring of demonic power by shining an intense, purple-pink light. A light that was so intense that it almost hurt to look at his blades, a light that indicated that power beyond anything he had experienced was very close by.

For a moment, the samurai considered the orb. Clearly, it couldn't be an artifact of the enemy he had avoiding all this time, the monster that sought out both his life and his blades. The beast that was his bane could not be responsible for a power so pure, not when his own aura was so utterly foul and corrupt. And if he could reach the thing that gave off this energy, harness some of its untamed power to his own use...

With this thought, the samurai nodded to himself. True, there was a risk in what he was considering. Always a chance that he could run into his enemy if he came out of hiding. But even though he knew he had to live if he were to find justice for his loved ones, he also knew that he would never be able to do so without the power to bring down his enemy. And the orb he sensed radiated power. Power that was slaying untold numbers of demons before his eyes. Power that was building up, becoming greater with each passing second.

Power that he would find a way to claim for himself.

His decision made, the samurai started forward, the sound of hoof beats echoing behind him as he set forth to fulfill his destiny...

Damn you, InuYasha, Naraku fumed as he sat within his castle. His full attention on the numerous jars of demonic flesh that sat before him. Jars that should have been full to overflowing by now, and yet not even one of them was more than half full. All because of the interference of the miserable half-breed that had been the ruin of so many of his plans, and two artifacts whose presence and impact he could never have foreseen. Damn that sword and that metal bird.

These frustrations echoing in his mind over and over again, Naraku grimaced as he tried to shove them to the side. Since the day he had been spawned from Onigumo’s dark heart, he had suffered many setbacks, starting with the seeming destruction of the Sacred Jewel at Kikyo’s hands. And he had continued with his plans despite it all, always determined to reap whatever power could be gained. To turn any situation, no matter unfavorable, to his benefit.

The unforeseen was unavoidable. It had happened in the past, and it would undoubtedly happen in the future. But that wouldn’t stop him.

Power was Naraku’s destiny. And he would claim it, no matter how his enemies tried to stand against him.

No matter what has happened, InuYasha and his friends will have been weakened by battle, Naraku thought, watching as his jars continued to fill up. Determined to gather every last scrap of demonic flesh Ryuunosuke’s blood had generated. With the flesh I’ve gathered, I’ll be able to craft new incarnations. Creatures more powerful and more dependable than Kagura or Kanna, he thought, a small, cruel smile forming at this idea. Utsugi’s descendants will soon be mine, despite everything. And with their power, coupled with the new body I’ll create for myself, I’ll be able to complete the Shikon Jewel at my leisure. And then, InuYasha…

His smile deepening as he contemplated all the tortures he yearned to subject the half-breed to, Naraku started as a strange crackling was heard. Sitting up straighter, he narrowed his eyes as he studied the streamers of flesh that Ryuunosuke’s power had created. Streamers that were still feeding the many jars he had set out.

Watching them carefully, he frowned when he saw a spark of electric blue dance about one of them. No, Naraku thought, getting to his feet as another streamer sparked, and then another. The bursts of energy growing stronger and more widespread with each occurrence. It can’t be… His dread growing despite his best efforts to stifle it, Naraku took a step forward. Just as waves of blue lightning rippled down the streamers. Pulling at the living matter, causing it to reverse upon itself. In seconds, the streamers that had been feeding his jars began drawing the demonic flesh from them.

"No!!" Naraku cried out, rage overwhelming him as the blue lightning ripped away at his hard won prize. Practically flying towards the jars, he quickly grabbed up two of the lids that sat before their respective flesh containers. Slamming them down so hard he almost shattered them, Naraku sealed the jars rightly, blocking off the streamers and the aura that had reversed them. He then grabbed up another pair of lids and sealed the jars that went with them, then the next set, and the set after them. Not wasting time to watch the streamers that disappeared out through the window, to curse over how each jar he sealed had less demonic flesh inside than the last, or to look at all the containers that were being robbed of their bounty.

A blur of motion, Naraku kept sealing jar after jar, his features twisting with hatred. Until he was about to seal another pair of jars, only to gasp as the last of their cargo was drained away before his very eyes. Hissing in outrage, he looked up and saw the rest of the streamers disappearing from view. Taking with them the last of demonic flesh that was to be his new body, his new army of incarnations.

"No…" Naraku snarled even as he looked at the jars that he had managed to seal, a token dozen or so. A mere dozen out of the hundreds of vats that had been drained dry.

"No!" Naraku growled again, as his mind clouded with rage. His magnificent plan reduced to an utter shambles, leaving him picking at mere scraps. "Nooooo!!!!"

Roiling in pain, Miroku continued to grasp his right arm with his left hand. Even with the restraining vines in place, he could feel the force pulling at his Wind Tunnel growing in strength. His arm feeling like it was going to be pulled out of its socket at any second, the abyssal hole in his hand paining him in a way it had never done before. It was like the interior of the Wind Tunnel was being rubbed with burning sand, layer after layer of skin slowly being flayed away.

Everywhere around him, Miroku could see the influence of the force above them. Not satisfied with demons, the shining orb was also pulling at the village itself. Gobbets of demonic blood rose up from every surface, including the ground they were standing on. Wood that had been badly melted by the caustic fluid was pulled into the air as well even as the villagers cried out in fear and confusion. Wondering if this night would ever end.

Kaname was surely wondering the same thing. Whipping back and forth, the Kururugi girl was constantly working to reinforce the bindings that kept Miroku and the two wolf-demons safe on the ground, repairing ones that were tearing or replacing those that had been uprooted. It had gotten to the point where she was constantly darting about, attending to their cries for assistance, or in Azusa’s case, orders to get her butt moving already.

"Aw, damn! Kaname!" Koga grunted, the flesh of his body bruised and abused by this trial. His eyes going wide at the now-familiar sound of vines tearing on his crystalline carapace.

"I’m coming, I’m coming!" Kaname cried out as she finished shoring up Azusa’s anchors again. Then she darted over to Koga’s side and invoked her Wood Shikigami to affect the needed repairs. Darting glances over at Miroku’s bindings to see if they needed reinforcement as well.

Miroku couldn’t tell if the vines holding him were compromised or not. His focus was entirely on his right arm and the searing pain that filled it. Pain that was getting worse by the moment, and seemed to moving up to his hand. Gritting his teeth as he continued to endure, the monk very nearly had his eyes squeezed shut when he saw the cloth obscuring his wind tear free of his hand.

"Wh-what in the -?!" Miroku got out, forcing his eyes to open wider. And thus able to see as well as feel it when a bulge formed about his forearm, his flesh turning red and feverish even as he cried in purest agony. The bloated mound crawled beneath his skin up into his hand, causing it to swell horrendously. Just when he thought he could stand it no longer, a spray of black liquid appeared from his palm and was immediately whisked away by the force pulling at him. A spray that reeked of demonic power.

Before Miroku could give any thought to this, another spurt of the dark fluid appeared from his hand, and was soon followed by another, this one larger. Finally, the pressure and the pain reached their peak, and an instant later, faded almost entirely. Even as an immense torrent of the foul liquid erupted from his Wind Tunnel and was pulled up towards the glowing orb.

"Miroku!" Kaname cried out from somewhere behind him. The others also made noises of shock and horror. As for Miroku, he was helpless to do nothing but stand and watch the perverse geyser continue to gush into the sky.

What is all this?! Miroku gaped, staring in horror at the demonic material that was spewing out of his own body. Could it…is this everything my Wind Tunnel has ever absorbed?! Is this what happened to all those demons I’ve sucked into it?!

The horrid flow of demonic power continued unabated even as Miroku strained to comprehend it. Everyone around there frozen, staring in awe at the hideous flow that had been contained within him. Until the sound of something snapping penetrated their minds. And was quickly followed by a shriek of terror.

"Azusa!!" Jiro cried out even as Miroku looked about, and immediately forgot about his own predicament. The very ground Azusa had been anchored to had broken apart, scattered the vines holding her and sending her straight up. Without hesitation, Jiro leapt up and grabbed hold of her right leg. But unlike before, his weight alone wasn’t enough to tip the tide in their favor. Though he was slowing her ascent, they still were rising up towards their apparent doom.

Looking down at her unlikely savior, Azusa demanded, "What do you think you’re doing?!" Instead of responded verbally, Jiro brought forth a chain and began spinning it about in his hand. His features taut with concentration, he sent the chain flying at one of the buildings. Like a living snake, the chain coiled about one of the supports beams for the roof. "What good is that gonna -?!"

"Kaname!" Jiro cried out, cutting the she-wolf off.

"Right! Green Wood Snare!" Kaname invoked. Another wave of vines appeared and rode up the support, finally wrapping themselves securely about the end of the chain.

Satisfied that they were safe for the time being, Jiro looked up towards Azusa. "Whatever you do, Azusa, don’t make any sudden movements!"

"Believe me, I won’t!!" Azusa howled, fully aware of the peril. "And you better not let go, because if you do, I swear I’ll eat you alive!"

If Jiro had something to say to this, Miroku didn’t hear it. His focus was once again on the geyser issuing from his hand. Staring at the undiminished flood, the monk felt another surge of pain in his arm, saw another huge bulge rushing up to his hand, causing it to swell hideously. Just as he was certain it was about to explode, a massive glob of semi-solid demonic ooze exploded from his Wind Tunnel, stretching out as it shot up into the air. As it ascended, Miroku realized that the flow of liquid had almost stopped. Only a few drops of the cruel substance still escaped from his cursed hand, and soon they were gone as well.

Looking back up, Miroku watched as everything his Wind Tunnel had ever devoured rose up, only to be consumed by the brilliant blue orb. As soon as this happened, the all-consuming artifact shown that much brighter, a ring of electric blue shooting out from it. The ring spread forth, lighting up the entire sky with its passage. And in the center of it all, the orb that was the source of it all ceased crackling. Instead, it was a steady glow of blue, peaceful and calming to look at.

Even as this fact was registering with the monk, the force pulling on him ceased in its entirety. His right arm fell limply to his side, and three loud thuds sounded from behind him. Looking about, Miroku saw Koga laying upon the mass of vines that had saved him, while Jiro was flat on his back with Azusa sprawled over him.

"Huh?" Kaname got out, looking this way and that. "It…it stopped?"

"Apparently so," Miroku murmured, slipping free of his bindings. "I suppose that, whatever is up there, it absorbed the maximum limit of demonic power it could take."

"Yeah? Well, good for it!" Koga growled, losing no time in cutting himself free. "Damn, can you feel that thing?! I’ve never sensed so much demon power in my life!!"

"Yes," Miroku returned, looking up at the shimmering orb. "Its aura is incredibly strong. And yet…seems somehow…purer than most demonic powers." Frowning in thought, the monk covered the Wind Tunnel back up again before returning his attention to the orb. "Still…how did this happen?"

"And more importantly, what do we do about it?" Jiro wondered while Azusa clambered off of him.

"Hey! Who says we have to do anything about it?!" Azusa demanded incredulously. "If you ask me, that stupid whatever-it-is has caused us enough trouble as it is!"

"Maybe, but Jiro is right. We should do something about it," Miroku replied. Her face contorting with anger, Azusa was about to say something when the monk added, "An object with that much power will certainly attract all kinds of attention, and not just from Naraku. There are other powerful demons out there, and they will certainly be drawn here by it."

Her face wrinkling in disgust, Azusa put her hands to her hips and glowered at the monk. "Alright. Fine. Then explain just one thing to me," she growled before pointing up at the glowing orb. "Just how the hell are we supposed to get that damned thing down from there, anyway?!?!!"

"Well, I’m certain Hachi and Kirara will be able to help with that, once Kagome and Myoga return," Miroku mused. "And in the meantime…" A surprised gasp stopped him from finishing his thought, and when the monk looked about, he saw Kaname pointing into the sky. "What is it, Kaname?"

"Uh…I don’t think getting that thing down will be a problem," Kaname grinned nervously, taking a step back. "Look."

Frowning in confusion, Miroku turned and looked up even as the other did the same. His face sagging in surprise when he realized that the glowing orb was falling from the sky. "Aw, damn…!" Koga growled, clearly realizing exactly where the orb was going to land. "Is this night ever gonna end?!"

"Kaname! We have to set up a new shield!" Miroku declared, stepping closer to her. "Can we still use the cards from the previous barrier?"

Nodding, Kaname returned, "Yes. They still have power, and -!"

"It’s too late!" Jiro announced, the sound of the wind whooshing off the object now audible to human ears. "Everyone, scatter!"

Realizing the Demon Slayer was correct, the group immediately darted in different directions. Seconds later, the strange orb fell down in the middle of the streets, its aura rippling with the impact. Just before it bounced back into the air and sailed towards one of the buildings. As soon as its aura came in contact with the wooden edifice, the object once again bounced, flying over the heads of the fleeing Jiro and Azusa, and tumbling across the street. The object at the center of the aura never touching the ground as it bounced again.

Stunned by this phenomenon, the entire group came to a halt, watching in disbelief as the thing continued to bounce about the village. Each and every one of them silent until Azusa growled, "Huh?! What the hell is going on?! What was that thing?!"

"I…I think that…was the jet," Kaname got out, gaping after the thing. Her companions emitting noises of confusion at this, she added, "I got a good look at it after landed the first time. But…what happened to it?"

"Who knows and who cares?!" Koga grumbled loudly, staring after the transformed flying machine. "All that matters is that we have to follow it! As in right now!"

"Yes," Miroku agreed. "Jiro, Azusa. It think it best if the two of you remain here. If something else happens while we’re gone…"

"Hmph! Fine by me!" Azusa growled, holding her hand up above her head. "I’ve had it up to here with all this crap!!"

"Very well, Miroku," Jiro nodded. "Be careful, all of you."

"We will," Miroku returned even as Koga spun himself into a whirlwind and ran off. "Kaname, let’s go."

"Right," Kaname nodded, the two humans chasing after Koga as quickly as they could.

"Damn. I knew we should have smashed that stupid metal bird when we had the chance," Azusa grumbled, shaking her head in disdain.

"Possibly," Jiro answered tiredly. "Though…I don’t see much point in discussing what’s already been done."

"Yeah. Maybe," Azusa snorted as the Demon Slayer moved towards one of the buildings and sat down. "What’s the matter? Tired?"

"Yes," Jiro admitted as he rolled up one of the sleeves of his uniform. "What about you, Azusa? How are you doing?"

"Hey, don’t worry about me! I’m perfectly fine, got it?!" Azusa lied. The strain this night had placed upon her showing more in her voice than she would have liked.

"Whatever you say," Jiro replied noncommittally as he looked over the wounds Kaname had healed with her magic. To Azusa’s surprise, some of them had reopened, and were bleeding once more.

It must’ve happened…when he caught me… Azusa realized, recalling how the Demon Slayer had leapt up and had anchored her to the earth with his own body. Her insides shifting in disgust at the thought, at how utterly helpless she had been, she glowered at the human to whom she was once again beholden.

Reaching into his sash, Jiro brought out a small container and opened it up, revealing a pasty ointment. Dipping his fingers into it, he started dabbing his injuries. While the she-wolf watched him attend to his wounds, Jiro frowned and met her gaze. "Is something wrong, Azusa?"

"Hmm? Eh, it’s nothing," Azusa grumbled, shoving aside her humiliation. Looking down at herself, she saw that some of her own wounds were bleeding once more. Growling in disgust, she looked down at the Demon Slayer, and swallowed even more of her pride before asking, "By the way…you got any more of that stuff?"

"Yes, of course," Jiro returned, looking up to study the she-wolf. "Oh, your injuries…!"

"I’m fine! It’s just a few scrapes, that’s all!" Azusa snarled, folding her arms across her chest. Wishing she could will her blood to hide itself from view. "Look, if you don’t want to give me that junk, then fine! I don’t need it, anyway! I -!"

"It’s no problem. Really," Jiro spoke as he salved the last of his wounds. "After all…we are allies, aren’t we?" Then, with a gentle smile, he stood and handed the ointment to Azusa. "I’d ask if you wanted any help with your injuries, but I think we both know how you’d react to that."

"Hmph," Azusa muttered, taking an experimental sniff of the ointment. Finding nothing alarming in its scent, she gave the Demon Slayer a wry curl of her lip. "Well…I suppose you aren’t so bad. For a human, that is."

"Thanks. I guess," Jiro replied with a helpless shrug. "And you’re not too bad, either. For a wolf-demon, of course."

"Of course," Azusa replied. With her pride the only thing keeping her from smiling as well.

"Dammit! Hurry up, Shippo!" InuYasha growled. Ignoring the stabbing at his human feet as he ran through the forest, the strain of carrying Michiru with his human body, or how hard his breathing was coming. He ignored all of it as he ran towards the shimmering blue light he saw through the woods.

"Wait up, InuYasha!" Shippo demanded, bounding about on all fours. "Why are we in such a hurry?! And where are we going, anyway?!"

"Just keep going, okay?!" InuYasha muttered impatiently. "We’re almost there!" If Shippo had anything to say to this, he kept it to himself. Which was just fine as far as InuYasha was concerned. For he had much bigger things to worry about now.

After the jet had stopped pulling at all things demonic, relinquishing its hold on Shippo and the Tetsusaiga, InuYasha had watched it fall from the sky. So without hesitation, he had gathered up Michiru and started towards it, pushing his weak human body as hard as he could. Intent on reclaiming the Reikikaega.

On one level, InuYasha knew that Michiru was exhausted and needed to be tended to as quickly as possible. He knew that the people of the village must have suffered badly as a result of Naraku’s schemes, and that Kaname and the others were likely tired and injured. And he was afraid, deathly afraid of what might have happened to them in his absence.

But at the same time, he knew that he and everyone else was at their limits and beyond. They were tired, battered and bruised, and worst of all, vulnerable. Michiru was helpless, Sango was alone and possibly had Kagura threatening her, the people in the village were hurting and probably needed help as well. And with so much at stake and after so much hardship, InuYasha wasn’t willing to remain vulnerable until the sun rose up, unable to protect those he cared for. And that meant he needed to get the Reikikaega back as quickly as possible.

Forcing back all the human fears that assailed him on the moonless nights, fears that bombarded him with images of his friends’ dead, broken forms, every horror that his imagination could conjure up, InuYasha continued to tear his way through the forest. Until at last he passed beyond the woods into a clearing, stopping to look at the jet, which was only several meters distant. Hovering above the ground, shifting from side to side like a top spinning in slow motion, the modern fighter looked as if it were suspended in electrified blue jelly. Its own surface shimmering with all the power that had been poured into it.

"What is it, InuYasha?! Why’d you -?!" Shippo cried out as he came up beside the black-maned boy, only to have his face fall in shock. "Whoa! Is that…is that really the jet?!"

"Yeah, that’s it, alright," InuYasha growled, staring hard at the dense demonic aura that it emitted. Studying the modern vehicle, he soon sighted his current objective. "Heh. There you are, you stupid sword!" Starting forward again, he then stopped when a whirlwind appeared over the horizon. Even as it drew closer, InuYasha groaned in realization. "Aw, perfect! This is just what I don’t need!"

Within seconds, the whirlwind came up between InuYasha and the jet before dissipating. "Hey, little mutt! What the hell are you doing here?!" Koga demanded as he appeared from the swirling wind. The wolf-demon looked ready to say something else, but then he frowned worriedly. "What…hey, what happened to Michiru?! Is he okay?!"

"He’s exhausted, that’s all," InuYasha grumbled, shame at his inability to protect his friend permeating his words. "Look, it’s a long story, and we have more important things to deal with right now!"

"Yeah, I’ll say we do," Koga grumbled, turning to look at the glowing aircraft. "Damn…what the hell happened to that thing, anyway?!"

Entertaining the notion of telling the wolf-demon to stuff it, amongst other things, InuYasha was cut off when Shippo pulled at his pant leg. "Hey! Here comes Kaname and Miroku!"

"Miroku?!" InuYasha growled, watching as the two of them ran up faster than humanly possible. "Where did he come from?!"

"Hey, you two! You made good time!" Koga grinned upon their approach.

"You can thank Kaname and her Swift Blue Sky for that," Miroku replied as the magical wind dissipated.

"InuYasha! Shippo!" Kaname called out, smiling as she ran up to them. A smile that quickly disappeared when she saw who he was carrying. "Wha…Michiru? Is he -?!"

"He’s fine, Kaname," InuYasha told her gently. As quickly as possible, he explained the basics of what had happened to them, including how he and Michiru had stopped the demonic cloud. He didn’t tell them how the sword’s power almost pushed him to become a full demon, but he did tell them that he had been forced to use the Reikikaega to latch onto the jet. He then concluded with how they’d been forced to abandon the fighter and Shippo’s timely rescue. "His pulse and breathing’s okay, but…"

"Still, we’d better not take any chances, considering everything that’s happened," Miroku decided, eyeing the boy thoughtfully. "It’d be best to get him to one of the local doctors, and have Kaname attend to him as well. Just to be safe."

"Yeah, and we still have to find Sango and get her back as well!" Shippo piped up before InuYasha could say anything in return. "Then we’ll have to do something about Kohaku, and -!

"Kohaku?" InuYasha repeated blankly. "You mean…she got him back?!"

"Uh, yeah! Well…sorta," Shippo finally told them, clearly abashed. "Umm…it’s kind of a long story. I’ll let her explain it."

"Right. Then the first thing to do is to get Michiru back to the village, and then track down Sango," Miroku decided. Turning to look at the transformed jet, he added, "Later on, we can decide what to do about this."

"Yeah. And then maybe you can explain why you were nowhere to be found when we needed you," InuYasha grumbled dangerously. While Miroku’s face faltered, he looked over towards the jet, and the sword that still protruded from its surface. Surrounded by what was possibly the most powerful demonic aura he had seen in his entire life. Then he cast a glance over his shoulder at the friend that had done so much for him. And knew where his duty lay. "In the meantime, let’s get Michiru back to the village. The sooner we get him taken care of, the better."

Nodding to this, Kaname walked up to InuYasha and gave him a kindly smile. "Okay," she murmured, moving to embrace both him and her brother. "Let’s go. We’ll come back for the Reikikaega later."

"It’s just as well, anyway," Miroku commented, studying the mass of power that lay between them and the sword. "Given the current intensity of that aura, it would probably be dangerous to try and retrieve it now."

"Yeah. I know," InuYasha agreed reluctantly. Casting one final look at the sword that had nearly unleashed so much evil, and yet had shielded him from his horror and gave him strength on this night he dreaded most, he returned his attention to Kaname. "We better get going, then."

Nodding, Kaname allowed him to start forward. "C’mon, Shippo. Care for a lift?"

"Okay!" Shippo smiled happily. Without hesitation, the little fox bounded up on her back and wrapped his arms about her neck.

Once she was certain Shippo had a firm hold on her, Kaname darted forward. Before long, she had caught up with InuYasha, and fell instep beside him. "Oh, and…InuYasha?" she began, a tinge of red coloring her cheeks. "Thank you."

Looking blankly at in response, InuYasha muttered, "Huh? For what?"

"You know. For taking care of my bro," Kaname explained nervously.

"Hey, wait a minute!" Shippo cried out indignantly. "What about me?! I saved both their lives, remember?!"

"Oh, right! Sorry, Shippo!" Kaname returned with an embarrassed laugh. "Anyway, thank you, too. And I’ll be sure to thank Sango when I get the chance."

Apparently satisfied with this, Shippo relaxed and enjoyed the ride. Apparently uncaring as Kaname sidled up closer to InuYasha. And unaware of the way InuYasha’s cheeks colored at this movement. Or how both Miroku and Koga were all too aware of these things. With the monk frowning intently at the two of them, while the wolf-demon leader smiled deviously.

Well, what do you know? Koga thought, placing his hand to his hip, his eyes on every move InuYasha and Kaname made. The scent they were casting unmistakable to his keen nose. Looks like Kaname has a soft spot for the mutt! Taking another sniff of the air, the wolf-demon smiled even more. And unless my nose is broken…he ain’t exactly ignoring her, either!

Soon satisfied with his observations, Koga looked over towards Miroku. "Well, monk, are you coming, or are you gonna stand around here all night?"

"Hmm?" Miroku started, looking at the wolf-demon in surprise. He lost no time in recovering, and answered, "I don’t see much point in remaining here. Especially considering that we’re still needed in the village."

Nodding, Koga answered, "Then I guess I’ll see you there!" With that, he dashed off, effortlessly leaving the monk in his dust. The horizon slowly lighting up, the sky seeming to sparkle in the radiance of the new twilight.

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