Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Time to Heal

"Are you out of your mind?!?!!" InuYasha bellowed, staring daggers at the human warrior he normally had the highest respect for. Wondering if the past few hours had scrambled her mind, or perhaps his. "You mean you’re really going to bring Kanna with us?!"

"Yes, InuYasha. I am," Sango returned, more-or-less unruffled by the half-demon’s ire. Something that made him that much more irate.

It had only been a short time since the sun had come up after a night of battle, restoring InuYasha’s half-demon form without benefit of the Reikikaega’s presence. A short time since he had left Michiru and Kaname in the village, the people of which were already overwhelmed with wounded, and gone in search of Sango. He had been fearful for her safety, if for no other reason that one of their greatest enemies had been alone with her. Shippo had come along with him, to explain exactly what had happened since InuYasha had left them. But even that could not have braced the half-demon for Sango’s insanity.

"Hey, leave Sango alone already!" Shippo piped up. When InuYasha looked down at the tiny fox, he was met with a look of patent defiance. "I’d already told you about this, remember?! That she had to agree to take Kanna with us in order to get Kohaku back!"

"I understand that part, Shippo! I’m not an idiot, despite what some people might think!" InuYasha snarled in return before returning his hateful gaze towards Kanna. Causing her to shrink behind Sango a bit more. "What I don’t get is why we’re actually going through with it!"

"Because it’s the right thing to do," Sango retorted, glaring hard at the half-demon. "Remember? I promised Kagura that we’d protect Kanna!"

"Yeah, a promise she dragged out of you!" InuYasha countered, folding his arms across his chest. "And as far I’m concerned, that don’t count! Besides, we don’t owe Kagura anything, so why -?!"

"That’s just it. We do owe Kagura something," Sango countered. When InuYasha opened his mouth to counter this, the Demon Slayer went on and added, "She’s the one who warned us about what Naraku had planned. Remember? She was the one who told us how to stop him, and save everyone in the village." Then she glanced down at Kanna, who was still clinging fearfully to her leg. Smiling for her benefit, Sango placed her hand on the tiny girl’s head before returning her resolute glare to InuYasha and the others. "And don’t forget that she helped us save your life! Yours and Michiru’s, too."

"Yeah!" Shippo chimed in, bobbing his head in agreement. "If she hadn’t guided me with her wind, I’d never have made it to you!"

Growling deep in his throat at the ironclad logic being thrown in his face, InuYasha glared accusingly at Kanna before returning his focus to her protector. "Oh, sure! So Kagura’s a big hero now, huh?" he grumbled sourly. "But why should we have to drag Kanna around, anyway? In case you’ve forgotten, she’s one of Naraku’s incarnations!"

"No, she’s not. Not anymore, she’s not," Sango protested adamantly. "I told you, we checked. She’s not a demon anymore. Naraku’s mark is completely gone." Fixing the half-demon with a glare, she added, "If you don’t believe me, check for yourself."

Recoiling somewhat, InuYasha once again looked down at the timid thing that clung desperately to Sango’s leg. And while he had no interest in so much as touching her, he could still smell her now. Could detect her completely human scent. "Well…maybe it is. For now!" the half-demon grumbled with very bad grace. "But who says that it’s permanent? Huh? Who’s to say that she won’t change back into a demon and then -!"

"InuYasha, please!" Sango cried out, squeezing her eyes shut as she cried out with her heart. The two demons were momentarily staggered by the force of her cry, giving her the time she needed to heave a few breaths and recover her emotional control. Once this was done, the Demon Slayer opened her eyes again. Eyes that were filled with such intensity of emotion that not a one of them even dared to speak. "We have just been through a very long battle. And I can understand you being worried about something like this. But!" With this declaration, InuYasha took a step back while Shippo emulated Kanna and flew behind the half-demon. "There’ll be plenty of time to deal with all of that later. Right now, I just want to go back to the village, and make sure that everyone is all right. Is that understood?"

InuYasha was sorely tempted to say something more. He was tired, he had come dangerously close to death, and to getting his best friend killed. He had spent just enough time in the village to see that the people there had suffered horribly as a result of Naraku’s scheming, and he was still worried about Michiru. And there was probably a half dozen other situations that still had to be dealt with that he was too far gone to deal with. The absolute last thing he needed was Sango defending one of their mortal enemies.

But even as he was getting ready to put this feeling into words, InuYasha paused, and looked at the Demon Slayer. He looked really closely at her, and realized just how worn she was. She had been through her own share of horrors that night. She had been forced to fight someone she loved, a nightmare that InuYasha knew all too well.

And for all of Sango’s mental and physical toughness, she was still human. She had been pushed well beyond her limits by now. Even then, with all his frustration, InuYasha could still see the strain clinging to her, the way her eyes were rimmed with red. The exhaustion that clung to her scent. With this realization, InuYasha frowned as he looked over towards Kohaku was. The ensorcelled boy was still thrall to Naraku’s spell, and so sat in the field. Unmoving, unresponsive to the others. And Sango had to know that it would not be easy to bring her brother back completely. And that knowledge had to be ripping her up inside.

As these facts hit home, the half-demon growled deep in his throat. "Okay, okay! Fine!" InuYasha finally muttered, looking away as he gave it up as a bad job. He knew Sango well enough to know that there would be no moving her on this. And he was too tired and fed up with everything to want to deal much of anything himself. "If you want to lug her around, then fine. See if I care!" Turning about on his heel, the half-demon turned back towards the village. "But don’t expect me to keep watch over her, okay? I’ve got other things to deal with right now!"

"I understand," Sango returned instantly. The relief in her voice plain to those who knew her. "Come on. Let’s get going."

"Right," InuYasha muttered gruffly. Grimacing in disgust as Sango knelt down beside Kanna and gently embraced her, the half-demon rolled his eyes before moving over to where Kohaku sat. "Here. Let me carry Kohaku for you." The Demon Slayer made a noise of surprise as InuYasha approached the cursed youth. "Well, it doesn’t look like Kanna’s going to let go of you anytime soon. And if you think that I’m gonna carry her…!"

"Hey!" Shippo piped up, glaring at the half-demon. "Can’t you drop the attitude for even a second?!"

"No, Shippo. It’s okay," Sango told him. When the little fox turned and looked at her in surprise, the Demon Slayer put on a sad smile even as she picked Kanna up. "I…I can’t blame you for feeling this way, InuYasha." The former demon let out a broken little whimper, wrapping her arms as tightly as she could about Sango’s shoulders, her face filled with tears. "Besides, I don’t think Kanna could deal with being carried by you right now."

For a moment, InuYasha was sorely tempted to say that the feeling was mutual. But as he looked at the pathetic scrap of a girl that Kanna had become, remembered the terror she had expressed when he had hit her with the Reikikaega, a part of his human heritage made itself known within him. A fragment of emotion that he couldn’t control emerged.


Growling deep in his throat with disgust, InuYasha quickly focused on hefting Kohaku up. Dammit! Why couldn’t the Reikikaega have just fried Kanna and gotten it over with?! the half-demon wondered grumpily. Things are messed up enough without having to deal with this as well!

As InuYasha started forward, making sure to keep from looking at the strange human that Kanna had become, Shippo piped up. "Um, Sango?" the fox-demon began uncertainly. "What about your Hiraikotsu? When are you going to…?"

"First things first, Shippo," Sango told him in a no-nonsense tone of voice. "Right now, let’s get Kanna and Kohaku back to the village, and try to get some rest. We can go looking for the Hiraikotsu later."

"Right. Let’s just head back for now," InuYasha grumbled. Thinking of the weapon he himself needed to reclaim. "We’ve still got some questions we need to get answered…"

"Mwahahahahahaha!" Shippo cried out, rolling around his back. Tears of laughter streaming from his eyes as he clutched at his stomach, lost in his mirth.

"Shippo, please," Miroku muttered, his staff clenched tightly as he looked down at the little fox. "Taking such pleasure in the suffering of one of your friends. Something like that should be beneath you," As he gave a pedantic shake of his head, a loud guffawing caught his attention. As veins bulged from his forehead, Miroku shifted his gaze towards its source. "As it should be beneath you, InuYasha…"

"Yeah, well, I can think of a lot things that should be beneath you," InuYasha returned around a volley of snickers. "But that doesn’t seem to stop you from doing them, anyway!"

Unable to help herself, Sango looked on at her friends. Trying very hard to keep herself from laughing at Miroku’s humiliation as well. "So that’s why you didn’t show up after Michiru sent his messenger," the Demon Slayer murmured. "Well, I suppose I can forgive you for that."

Heaving a weary sigh, Miroku returned her gaze, and gave her a gentle smile. "Thank you, Sango," the monk told her with obvious affection. "I’m glad to see someone is acting with compassion and maturity."

"Not that you actually deserve any of that, you perverted creep!" Azusa sneered, the she-wolf leaning against one of the buildings. Turning a cocky grin towards Sango, she added, "Honestly, you should have seen the look on this jerk’s face when he told us about it! It was priceless!"

"No arguments here!" Koga agreed, grinning so broadly that he was threatening to split his own face in half.

Allowing a tiny smile to curl her lips, Sango studied her friends. It had been a short time since she and the others had returned to the village. Upon their arrival, she had had to explain herself to Koga and the others regarding Kanna’s presence, something that had taken an additional toll on her. But after a great deal of explaining, reminding them that Kanna was now powerless, and making sure to point out to Koga that having someone that knew the location of Naraku’s castle could be very valuable, Sango had been free to escort both the former incarnation and Kohaku to the house where Michiru and Kaname were currently resting under Jiro’s watchful eye.

Sighing, Sango thought back to when she had been seen Michiru, lying in his cot. His visage worn and pale, and so still. If it weren’t for the fact that he was still alive, and that Jiro was there to keep him and his sister safe, she might well have broken down then and there.

He’s going to be alright, Sango told herself, and not for the first time. The horror she had felt the moment Michiru had been possessed still with her. He’s going to be alright…

Suppressing the urge to shudder, Sango forced her feelings to the side. Forced herself to remain in control. "So, basically, this is where we stand now," she intoned. Hoping that she came off as being completely in control of her faculties, but worried that she was only being halfway successful at best. "According to Kagura, Naraku’s plan was to use Ryuunosuke’s blood to transform everyone in the village into demon flesh and somehow send it to his castle." Looking from one face to the other, Sango waited a few moments before proceeding. "However, from what you’ve told me, I think it’s safe to say that the Reikikaega absorbed all the demonic power before it could go anywhere, and somehow purified it before channeling it into the jet."

"Which means that Naraku’s scheming got him absolutely nothing," InuYasha nodded, grinning at their enemy’s failure. "I like the sound of that!"

"Yes, but I doubt Naraku would let things end at that. Not if he could prevent it," Miroku interjected. "It’s possible that he might try to steal the jet for himself." The monk turned in the direction of the transformed fighter, his manner grave. "With the amount of power it must have amassed…"

"It could be as dangerous as the Sacred Jewel," Sango nodded. "On the other hand, Naraku’s resources must’ve been strained by this battle. Not only did he lose Kanna and Kohaku, but a lot of his demons were killed as well. I doubt that he would have the ability to mount another attack. At least, not right away."

"Yeah, well, that still means we have to get that thing away from here. As soon as possible," InuYasha muttered. "And I still have to get the Reikikaega out of it."

"Hmm…given the intensity of the demonic aura currently surrounding the jet, I doubt we’d even be able to get close to it now. Let alone touch it. And I doubt that any barrier we could construct be sufficient to restrain so much power," Miroku frowned, his eyes narrowed in thought. "In all likelihood, our best chance would be to throw a series of ropes around it, or perhaps a net of some kind, and use that to drag the jet." When the others looked up in surprise, the monk quickly elaborated. "Since it’s aura repels solid matter, causing it to levitate, it should be possible to move it that way."

"I think you’re right," Sango concurred, mirroring Miroku’s intensity of thought. "But even so, towing the jet would take a long time, and we still need time to recover from everything that’s happened." Frowning intensely, the Demon Slayer considered the matter for a bit longer. "I think it’d be best if we waited for Kagome and Myoga to return with Kirara and Hachi. With them helping, we should at least be able to get it away from here."

"Which means we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon," Azusa grumbled averting her eyes from the group. "Perfect."

"It’s just as well," Koga chimed in. "We still have to get the supplies we came for. Remember?"

While Azusa was turning her nose up in the air, Miroku added, "And it will take time for us to regain our strength. Therefore, I think it best if we spend as much time as we can resting and tending to our injuries. We can’t be certain when or if Naraku or some other demon will come here. We need to be ready for the worst."

"Right. Which means I better see if I can get the Reikikaega out of that damned thing," InuYasha grumbled, already starting away from the others. "The less trouble that weird sword can cause us, the better I like it." Before he could very far, however, the half-demon paused, his eyes lowering to the ground. "Hey, Sango."

Turning about at the sound of her name, Sango answered, "Yes?"

"Why don’t you go back to the house, get some rest?" InuYasha told her, his voice far softer than she was accustomed to. "I’m sure Michiru would like to see a friendly face when he wakes up." Then the half-demon added, "Besides, the last thing he needs is for Kanna to get too close and make him feel even worse."

Frowning slightly at InuYasha’s abrasiveness, Sango still nodded. Knowing him well enough to see the caring and concern he tried to bury beneath his growls of ferocity. "I was planning on doing that, anyway," she told him. "I still have to get the Hiraikotsu, but…"

"Hey, don’t you worry about a thing," Koga spoke up, waving aside her concerns. "I’ll go track your boomerang down, no problem."

"Thanks, Koga," Sango told him, managing a weak smile.

"Like I said, no problem!" Koga told her with an extra dose of macho bravado. "We’re allies, remember? Isn’t this the kind of thing allies do?"

InuYasha looked back at this, and Sango was certain that she was about to be treated to more of the petty bickering that was common between the two of them. But when all she heard was an annoyed growl, she focused on InuYasha’s face, and let out a tiny gasp at what she saw. At the something that could almost been called desperation as he asked, "And, Sango? Keep an eye on…Kaname, as well."

Unsure of what to make of the half-demon’s words, Sango eventually nodded. "I will," she told him. Standing there and watching as he nodded before starting forward again.

"Damn, what a mess!" InuYasha muttered as he took in the damage sustained by the village as he moved towards its outskirts. Stenches both familiar and strange clinging to the various buildings and surfaces, with the smell of blood most prevalent.

As he surveyed the aftermath of the battle, his demonic senses giving him a clear picture of where both humans and demons had fought and died, InuYasha knew very well that the people there had gotten off extremely lucky. He had seen many villages reduced to nothing by raiding demons, the dead littered about haphazardly, expressions of horror carved into their faces. Or at least, those that still had faces. Even Sango’s village, populated mainly by Demon Slayers, had been completely wiped out by such an assault.

Yeah, the people here were lucky. They had us and those new weapons to protect them, InuYasha thought as he moved beyond the village limits. But then he frowned as he surveyed the fields that were the life and livelihood of such a village, fields that had suffered during the night. But their battle might not be over just yet.

While it was true that the demonic blood that had rained down upon the village had been completely absorbed by the jet, that didn’t mean that the village and its fields of grains and vegetables hadn’t suffered. Everywhere InuYasha looked, he saw damaged buildings and blighted crops. The effect was worse around the village itself, but he knew that it would still be a major problem for the people there.

And…there’s something else, InuYasha realized, taking an experimental sniff as he passed by the whithered crops. There’s a strange smell mixed in with the plants. It’s not demonic, but…it sure doesn’t smell like anything natural, either…

As these thoughts ran their course, InuYasha groaned loudly before continuing forward. He was tired. As a half-demon, he didn’t get tired very easily, but as much as he didn’t like to admit it, he still had limits. And a night spent shifting from human to half-demon and back, with an aborted transformation to full demon, had taken its toll on him. And there were other things weighing heavily on him. Things much greater and painful than his strained body.

Ever since the fateful day when InuYasha had mercilessly slaughtered a gang of bandits, had lost himself in the demon’s lust for blood and death, he had been haunted by guilt. By the memories of the death he had awoken to upon returning to his half-demon self. By the stench of blood on his claws. By the sheer joy of killing that he had learned lurked within him. And the terror that one day, he would be separated again from the Tetsusaiga…and would wake up to find the blood and lives of his friends on his soul.

But there was another terror that ran along with it. A terror that had been born and subsequently abated that very day. The fear that his friends, the people that had chased away the loneliness that had been with InuYasha so long, would see him as danger, a beast that could well turn on them at a moment’s notice. And would abandon him to protect themselves.

InuYasha wouldn’t have blamed any of his friends if they had done that. Not after the death and pain and misery he had seen caused by the beast within his own blood. But the thought that they would leave him, that he would once again be alone, and would always be alone…

That terror had almost broken him. And when they had chosen to stay with him, he had been so relieved that he had wanted to cry.

That fear of abandonment had lain asleep beneath the surface, all but forgotten, waiting for the chance to return. And now, as InuYasha made his way to the sword that had nearly caused him to transform into a monster once more, that fear was back.

InuYasha knew he had gotten very lucky after his possession by Ryokage. The demon’s presence in his body made for a very convenient explanation as to why he had begun to transform, and Michiru hadn’t asked any questions about it. As a result, both Kururugi twins had remained ignorant of the dread monster that lurked within his blood.

But as much as InuYasha hated to admit it, as much as he wished it were otherwise, he knew that could no longer be the case. Michiru had seen him transforming again last night. And even if there were a way around it, he and Kaname needed to know the truth. That the person Michiru had gladly befriended, the person Kaname had taken into her arms and trusted with her brother’s life…that person could very well attack and kill them both, just for the pleasure of killing.

But that was because of the Reikikaega, came a voice from deep within. A voice that was spurred on by his hidden terrors. If you just leave it in the jet…!

Snorting, InuYasha squelched that voice, for simply abandoning the Reikikaega wasn’t an option. Even though the power it had been channeling had caused his transformation, even overriding the Tetsusaiga’s protective magic, he knew that this wasn’t the only thing that could cause the demon to emerge. That danger was with him the instant the Steel-Cleaving Fang fell from his hand.

And there was another thing to consider. The fact that the Reikikaega allowed him access to his powers on the night of new moon, the one time he was vulnerable, helpless to protect those that were precious to him. Something that enemies like Naraku would gleefully take advantage of.

With this reality in mind, InuYasha continued onward, fighting a war within himself. Trying desperately to shove aside the terror that he would lose two of those precious people the instant the truth was known.

Too soon, and at same time, not soon enough, InuYasha came into view of the jet. It’s demonic aura every bit as strong as it was before, keeping the modern fighting machine suspended in midair. The force of its aura squashing the grains it hovered above without even touching them. The Reikikaega visibly protruding from its armor, tempting and terrifying him at once.

"Okay," InuYasha muttered, if only for the sake of hearing a voice. "Now…how the hell do I get that thing back?"

Simply marching into the aura clearly wasn’t an option. As pure and strange as it was, it remained a demonic aura. And as InuYasha had learned the hard way, it was potentially dangerous to him…and the people he cared for. And if the plants were any indicator, he wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near the jet.

"Dammit…why can’t these things ever be easy?" InuYasha grumbled. Folding his legs, he sat down before the jet, trying to think of some way of retrieving the sword. All the while trying to ignore the temptation to leave it and the onerous truth it had brought forth behind.

Time passed, completely heedless of the half-demon’s dilemma, and not helping him resolve it. And with every minute that fruitlessly passed, InuYasha felt that much more disgusted and irritated. Dammit! he thought, shooting an evil glare at the troublesome sword. There’s gotta be some way to get that blasted thing back!!

Growling his irritation, InuYasha picked up a dried out twig that lay nearby and tossed it at the jet. Not only did it fail to penetrate the aura, and thus failing to alleviate his frustration, but it quickly bounced back right into his face. Leaving him with a long, red welt across his nose, and his blood pressure reaching critical.

"Dammit! Dammit it all straight to hell!!" InuYasha roared, leaping to his feet and stomping the stick into shreds of green wood. "Why does everything have to be so complicated, anyway?!" Steam practically blasting out of his ears, the half-demon stared hatefully at the sword that had caused him so much trouble. "Why can’t you make things easier for once and just come to me instead of -!!"

The instant these words were spoken, InuYasha’s mouth fell open and his eyes bulged. Wait a minute…why can’t it? he thought, an idea taking root in his mind. Leaving him to look down at the heirloom blade that hung at his waist. When I was fighting Hiten and the Peach Man and I needed the Tetsusaiga, I was able to call for it using its sheath! And if the Reikikaega’s sheath is like that as well, then maybe…!

Not bothering to complete this thought, InuYasha drew forth the empty sheath that hung opposite the Tetsusaiga’s. Holding it out with the open end towards the jet, he grinned dangerously. "Come to me now!" he ordered with a much force as he could muster. "Reikikaega!"

The result was instantaneous. The Reikikaega began to pulsate with life and lifted away from the jet, leaving no marks to indicate that it had been there. Angling itself towards its sheath, it shot straight at InuYasha, slipping through the demonic aura effortlessly before sliding into its scabbard with a forceful clang of metal.

"Ha! I should thought of that sooner!" InuYasha declared before slipping the sheathed sword back in place. He gave it another glare before adding, "Why can’t everything be that simple?"

Even as he said these words, InuYasha knew that he wasn’t simply making a general statement. Reclaiming the Reikikaega was only the first of many things that had to be done. And the greatest ordeal, the greatest terror, still loomed heavily in his mind.

Grumbling at the thought, InuYasha shook his head in frustration. That can wait for now, he quickly decided. Right now, I better check on Michiru and Kaname. See how they’re doing. With that thought in mind, he started back towards the village proper. Of course, knowing Sango, she’s probably making sure Michiru is getting everything he needs, he thought. I swear, they’re so in love with each other, it’s almost scary!

A hint of envy making itself felt, InuYasha considered his own plans. I guess I better get something to eat when I get back…and maybe grab a quick nap while I’m at it, he soon decided. And then…? Frowning, InuYasha found his thoughts once again drifting to his friends. To what was quite possibly the best friend he had ever had, as well…

Oh, wait. Kaname would probably like something to eat as well, InuYasha thought, recalling how exhausted she had been as they had returned to the village after the battle. Remembering how she had come to him bearing food, abating his loneliness. And…well, I guess it couldn’t hurt to have someone keeping an eye on her as well.

With this thought in mind, InuYasha quickened his pace. Yeah…I could just relax, and keep an eye on her for today, he decided, recalling Kaname’s embrace, the way she had smiled at him. Her presence and warmth after the battle. But even as these gentle images danced before him, other thoughts came to mind. Memories and fears that gave him no peace. At least…for as long as she’ll let me…

When Michiru slowly woke up, the first thing he became aware of was pain.

It wasn’t the kind of pain that resulted of an injury. It felt more like Michiru had taken every muscle in his body, every nerve and piece of skin, even his bones, and somehow managed to strain them all to their limits. Everything ached in protest of whatever it was he had done to them, and begged him not to do it again. And they were also telling him to seriously consider never moving again. And as he gradually became more aware, the need to open his eyes and take in his situation was met with heavy opposition. By extremely heavy eyelids.

Grunting with the effort, Michiru eventually succeeded in cracking his eyes open. At first, all he could make out was a dark blur; there were dark patches and even darker patches, but beyond that, he couldn’t make sense of anything.

Wh…what the…? his garbled mind jabbered out as he tried in vain to make sense of what he was seeing. Turning his head to the side, Michiru grimaced as even more pain assailed him. Where…am I…?

Letting a tired groan, Michiru slowly opened and closed his eyes in an attempt to clear them. All this did was make the world slightly less blurry. "Ugh…" he grunted heavily. "What…the…?"

"Oh. Finally awake, I see," came a gentle voice. One that Michiru didn’t recognize in his addled state. "We were getting worried." When the Shikigami User let out a puzzled groan, the voice’s owner spoke again. "Don’t worry; everything’s just fine. You’re safe."

"Safe…?" Michiru wondered, too drained to make sense of much of anything. His thoughts and memories too badly garbled with exhaustion for him to understand why he was so tired, so full of hurt.

"It’s okay. You just lie back and rest for now," the voice’s owner spoke again. If Michiru had had the strength,, he would have told him or her that that was all he could do at the moment. Instead, he simply did as he was told, and tried to catch sight of the voice’s owner.

Eventually, Michiru spotted a blur that was much lighter and more distinct than the rest of his surroundings. A blur that moved towards a wall, and he instinctively followed with his eyes, despite the resulting pain. "Sango?" the voice’s owner spoke gently as he/she knelt down beside one of the patches of darkness. "Sango…he’s awake."

"Hmm…?" a precious, familiar voice sounded, still lost in sleep. The blur that was the source of it moving just enough so that some of the darkness moved away from a patch of light. A patch that Michiru recognized as the face of his beloved, despite the muddled condition of his eyes.

"Michiru’s awake, milady," the strange voice spoke again. "Remember? You told me to wake you as soon as he regained consciousness."

Another puzzled sound was heard, and then the blur that was Sango visibly. "Michiru?! He’s…" the Demon Slayer began. Then she shifted somewhat, her face becoming clearer as she looked his way. "Michiru!"

If it had been possible, Michiru would have gladly spoken his pleasure at seeing Sango again. He would have said something to convey his delight as she stood and made his way over to him. But with these things currently beyond him, all he could do was smile as she knelt down next to him, cupping his cheek and running her hand through his head. As she bent down so close, that they were almost touching…

"How are you feeling? Any better?" Sango wondered nervously. Her fear and concern so clear to him.

A croak of exhaustion rumbled in Michiru’s throat as he looked up at the woman he loved. "I…" he somehow managed to get out, only to wince at his own action. "…I’ve…been better…"

Wincing at Michiru’s own pain, Sango nodded sadly. "Shh. Just lie still…and try to rest," she told him in a hushed voice. Speaking as if she was afraid her own voice would worsen his condition, she looked up at the other figure that was still there. "Could you go get Jiro for me, please?"

"Of course, milady," the strange voice spoke again, before its own disappeared.

A puzzled croak escaped Michiru’s lips, to which Sango smiled. "One of the village healers," she explained to him. "He’s been...taking care of you since the battle."

B-battle? Michiru wondered, his mind still hazy. Then, as if this word was a trigger, it brought his most recent memories into focus. Everything from his experience with the cursed mask to the battle with Ryuunosuke aboard the jet, and then…

Sucking in alarmed breath, Michiru focused on his beloved’s visage. "Inu…Yasha…" he gasped out desperately. "Is…he…?"

"Yes. Yes, he’s fine, Michiru," Sango quickly assured him. Then her smile deepened, and she added, "And so is Kohaku."

"Ko…haku…?" Michiru repeated perplexedly. Then another portion of his memories became clear again, and the Shikigami User very nearly fainted with relief. "Then…we got him back?"

"We did," Sango confirmed, her eyes visibly watering. "Thanks to you."

Michiru didn’t say anything more to this. He didn’t need to. All he could do was feel an intense relief at the realization that Sango’s long nightmare was finally over. After all this time and all the suffering she had had to endure, she had her family back. And with this thought in mind, the Kururugi boy was content to lay back, enjoying Sango’s warmth, until at last he heard two sets of footsteps approaching.

"Hey, Sango," came the polite voice of Jiro. "How’s Michiru doing?"

"Awake, but…" Sango replied, looking helplessly at him. "He…he’s barely moving, and…"

"I can’t say I’m surprised," Jiro admitted somberly. "He must have severely overused his magic. I’ve seen this kind of thing with the Shikigami Users from our village." This statement caught Michiru’s attention, and he somehow forced himself to look in the young Demon Slayer’s direction. "His magical powers must have been badly drained. So much so that even his body is suffering from the depletion."

"Is there anything we can do to help?" Sango asked. "Maybe Kaname could…?"

"I don’t think that would be a good idea," Jiro responded hesitantly. "Kaname’s still recovering, and we don’t want her to strain her powers, either. Besides, I’m not sure what a sudden influx of magic would do to Michiru in his condition."

Michiru had an idea of what might happen. He had studied enough of the ways of his family to know that overwhelming his body with magical power right now would be potentially dangerous, for both him and Kaname. But in his weakened state, all he could say about the matter was, "He…he’s right…Sango." When she looked down at him, disappointment in her eyes, he somehow found the strength to smile for her. "Don’t…worry about me…I’ll be fine…just…so tired…"

"He’s right," Jiro chimed in. "I’m no healer, but I think the best thing to do is to let Michiru rest. For a few days, at least. Let him recover at least some of his strength naturally before trying to speed it up."

Frowning pensively, Sango eventually nodded. "I…understand," she told her fellow Demon Slayer. She then focused her attention on Michiru, and gave him a wan smile. "I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Not after everything that happened." With a bit of scolding to her words, she added, "I…I told you not to push yourself…"

Unable to help himself Michiru cracked a weak grin at this. "Like…you’re one…to talk?" Sango sucked in a gasp at this, but ultimately beamed warmly at him.

"Listen, Sango," Jiro began again. "I know this really isn’t the best time, but…the others are back, and…" Michiru still couldn’t see the Demon Slayer very well, but he could readily make out the unhappy voice with which he spoke. "There’s still quite a bit that needs to be done."

"I understand," Sango returned dutifully. "But, Jiro…if it’s all right, I’d like to stay here for a little while longer. Okay?"

Silence fell upon them, and Michiru was certain that Jiro was about to protest. But before long, the Demon Slayer said, "I understand. I’ll let the others know that you’ll be along…as soon as you can."

"Thank you," Sango told him. There was the sound of footsteps retreating, and then the two of them were alone again.

"Sango…" Michiru spoke tenderly. "You don’t…have to…stay here. If…the others…" Before he could say another word, Sango pressed her finger against his lips, shushing him gently.

"It’s okay, Michiru," Sango murmured, leaning in even closer to him. "That can wait for now. You just lie back, and try and go back to sleep. Okay?"

Michiru didn’t want to go back to sleep. He knew that as soon as he did so, Sango would have to leave and attend to whatever business Jiro had alluded to. And the last thing he wanted then was to be apart from the woman he loved so dearly. But as he lay there, looking up at her, he knew there was no way he could stay awake for very long. He was just too tired, and exhaustion hounded him on every level. "Okay," he finally murmured, easing his head back on his pillow, wincing as he did so.

"What is it, Michiru?" Sango breathed, immediately concerned. "Are you…?"

"It’s…it’s nothing…Sango…" Michiru muttered, determined to calm her. "Just…sore…that’s all."

"Sore? Where?" Sango asked gingerly. Positioning her hand about his neck, she asked, "Here?" Michiru nodded, wincing as he did. Only to let out a low sigh when she began to gently kneed the tender flesh between her fingers. Closing his eyes and welcoming the feel of her skin against his own, Michiru listened absently when Sango asked, "Does it hurt anywhere else?"

Opening his eyes and looking rather sheepishly at his beloved, Michiru managed to croak out a laugh. "Uh, yeah," he admitted jokingly. "Just…pick a spot. Any…spot."

"Really?" Sango breathed, not at all reassured by this feeble attempt at humor. Moving her hand from Michiru’s neck to his shoulder, she pressed it gently. "How about here?" Wincing, the Kururugi nodded. Honestly pained by even this gentle touch. And rewarded by Sango once again massaging the tender flesh. "And here?" she asked as she pressed against his chest. When Michiru sharply gasped, the Demon Slayer shook her head sadly. Before at last bringing her hand to his lips. "Here?"

Almost afraid, Michiru nodded slightly. Sango took her hand away from his lips, and cupping his cheeks with both hands, she leaned down, and tenderly kissed him. A kiss that he gratefully accepted and returned, sounds of bliss escaping his lips. It was all too soon that Sango finally broke contact, pulling away from him. "Don’t worry," she told him, smiling gently even as she shifted her body. To Michiru’s amazement, she was soon lying next to him, the two of them face to face. "I’ll make the hurting go away." Then she gently wrapped her arms about Michiru’s frame, and kissed him with even greater intensity.

Overwhelmed by Sango’s warmth and the bliss he felt at her touch, Michiru could do nothing but ride the wave of pleasure. Until at last it brought him back to the edge of sleep, where pleasant dreams awaited him.

Some time passed before Sango could finally bring herself to leave Michiru to his rest. And even then, even after he had fallen asleep, a smile on his face and her name still issuing from his lips, the Demon Slayer had had to fight to tear her eyes away from the boy who meant so much to her, still looking frail and weak as he lay curled up in his futon. Had to fight how much she had wanted to stay there, curled up with him. To forget about all her worries, if only for a little while.

But for a Demon Slayer, there was no escaping duty, and she still had hers to attend to. And as she looked at her fellow Slayer, she knew she had been somewhat remiss in her own duties. "I’m sorry I made you wait so long, Jiro," she murmured somberly. I…"

"It’s okay, Sango," Jiro answered. "I know it can’t be easy. After…everything that’s happened."

Grateful for his understanding, Sango continued onwards with Jiro. When they finally exited the house, her eyes widened when she saw that the sun was already setting. Pausing to consider this, the Demon Slayer than frowned. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, she finally decided. We were fighting demons throughout the night, and…

Once again disquieted by just how big a told the battle had taken on her and the others, as well as the knowledge of just how long it would take them to fully recover, Sango moved alongside her fellow Demon Slayer. "So, where’s Azusa?" she asked, wanting nothing more than to take her mind off her worries. "Is she doing okay?"

"As near as I can tell," Jiro shrugged. "As soon as we got back to the house, she went to her room. She’s probably still there." Letting out a weary sigh, he gave Sango a crooked smile. "She’d probably kill me for saying this, but I think she’s even more exhausted than she’s letting on. She fell asleep almost as soon as she got back."

"We all need to get some more sleep," Sango noted, her own exhaustion still with her. "What about Kohaku and Kanna? How’re they doing?"

"The same as before," Jiro reported wearily. "The guards said that Kohaku hasn’t moved an inch since being put in his room. And as for Kanna, she’s still huddled up in the corner of her room. Hasn’t even tried to escape. Or do anything else, for that matter."

"I see," Sango frowned, and was once again torn between ecstasy and agony. For while she was grateful beyond belief to have Kohaku back, the fact remained that he was still a prisoner of Naraku’s spell. Still physically dead, and completely dependant on the Jewel Shard in his back to provide him with life. And while what they done was a major victory, she knew the battle to win back his mind and soul had barely begun.

As for Kanna, her condition could well be more difficult to deal with. Sango knew that the magic that shaped and empowered demons also had an impact on their personas. InuYasha’s transformations were ample proof of that. And if this was the first time Kanna had ever dealt with human feelings, then her road to emotional stability would be a long and difficult one.

Assuming the Reikikaega’s effect was permanent, Sango reminded herself, some of InuYasha’s fears and concerns making themselves known. Either way, we’ll have to keep a close eye on her. Just to be safe.

With this thought in mind, Sango continued on with Jiro, and soon the two of them came within view of their friends. "Hello, everyone," she greeted them, only to pause as she took stock of their numbers, and was surprised by the presence of someone she had not expected to see there. "Kaname?"

"Hi, Sango," Kaname returned, waving nervously at her. Dark circles lining her eyes, and exhaustion clinging to every surface.

"Wh-what are you doing here?" Sango wondered, trying to make sense of this. "I thought you were resting back at the house!"

"Well…actually, InuYasha had brought me some lunch. And when he told me that you were all meeting, I decided to come along," Kaname admitted. Then she made a wry face and added, "Besides, I really couldn’t sleep. Not after…" The Shikigami User hesitated somewhat, her cheeks coloring in embarrassment. "That is…I just kept thinking about everything that’s happened, and…"

Watching as Kaname fumbled helplessly for the best words, Sango smiled and raised her hand to her. "I understand," she told the Kururugi girl. Thinking of all the times her own mind would be whirring away, relentlessly active and mindless of her body’s need for rest. "So, has anything new happened?"

"Uh…yeah…" Koga answered hesitantly. "I…guess you could say that…"

Turning to face the wolf-demon, Sango was surprised by the expression on his face, the way he was standing. Everything she normally associated with him, the bravado and cockiness, all of it was gone. And in its stead, she saw hesitation, and wariness. "What is it, Koga?" she asked, instantly afraid. "What happened?"

The members of the group started looking at each other hesitantly. Silently asking each other who would say something that none of them wanted to say. Until at last, Miroku cleared his throat and said, "Sango…Koga found your Hiraikotsu." As Sango turned towards the monk, she frowned when she saw the look of sadness he wore. "Or…I guess I should say what was left of it."

"Left of…?" Sango gaped, her heart clenching as she once again looked towards Koga. The wolf-demon looking even more anxious and unhappy then before. "Koga…?"

"I…look, I’m…I’m sorry, Sango, but…!" The wolf-demon grimaced, his crystalline carapace growing dull. "I swear, I looked all over the place! Honestly! I looked everywhere!"

With every word the wolf-demon said, Sango became that much more distraught. "What…what are you saying? she asked, stepping closer to him. "Koga…what happened to my Hiraikotsu?!"

Groaning deeply, Koga’s features twisted with shame. "Well…I went out looking for your boomerang, like I said I would. I went out to where we fought Michiru, and…"

"And…?" Sango prompted anxiously.

Koga didn’t answer at first. Instead, the wolf-demon groaned before kneeling down to the ground, where a small satchel lay. Moving hesitantly, he opened the satchel up…and pulled from it the Hirakotsu’s wrappings, as well as a handful of chunks that had come from it.

Her eyes going wide with horror, Sango brought her hand to her mouth as she studied the pathetic remnants of her weapon. "I’m…I’m really sorry, Sango," Koga told her, still looking down at the paltry fragments that he held. "I swear, I looked all over the battlefield, but…this was all I could find!"

As Sango stood there, studying the shards of demonic bone and the straps that she had used to carry and wield the massive boomerang. "But…how…?" Kaname squeaked out. "I…I know it got beat up when that mask blasted it, but…!"

"We think it was the jet that did this," Miroku explained softly. "When it was absorbing all those demons, it also must have absorbed most of the pieces of the Hiraikotsu."

"At least the parts of it that still had any demonic aura in them," InuYasha stated, looking somberly at the remnants. "And with all the demon power that damned mask poured into that attack…"

"Of course," Sango breathed, the analytical part of her mind taking over even as the rest was overwhelmed. "The Hiraikotsu…it must’ve been saturated with it…"

"And when the jet began absorbing the demons…" Kaname went on, staring in horror at the tiny fragments before looking at their owner. "Oh, Sango…!"

Her eyes still on the tiny shards and the pieces of leather, Sango heaved a deep, weary breath before stepping forward. Grief creasing her features, the Demon Slayer moved and placed her hands on the remains even as Koga fumbled out, "Sango…I…"

"No, Koga. I understand. It’s…it’s not your fault," Sango murmured. Clenching the bits of demon bone and the straps, experiencing the familiar feel of the broken weapon and everything that came with it, she scooped them up and looked at the wolf-demon. "I…thank you for…I…" But even as she tried to say what she felt needed to be said, Sango’s voice failed her. Leaving her able to do nothing but stand there and gaze at the scraps in her hand.

She had no idea how long she stood there, studying the remains of the Hiraikotsu. All Sango knew was that, after what felt like an eternity, she felt a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay, Sango," came the gruff voice of InuYasha. Looking towards the half-demon, the Demon Slayer found herself looking into eyes filled with compassion. "As soon as Totosai gets here, I’ll have him make a new Hiraikotsu for you. An even better one."

Heaving a deep breath, Sango tried to smile, and failed. For the Hiraikotsu had been more than a weapon to her, something that InuYasha knew full well. It had been a gift to her from her father, one of the last remaining pieces of the existence she had known before Naraku had entered her life, and stolen her family, her home…her entire life. More than a weapon. It had almost been a part of her body. An extension of herself.

And now, like the fort that had been her home, the Hiraikotsu had been reduced to a shattered wreck of its former self. Something that no new weapon, no matter how fine or powerful, could ever replace.

But Sango didn’t say that. The words simply weren’t in her, and even if they had been, she didn’t have the will needed to speak them. "Thank you," was what she said instead. Then she turned towards Koga, and asked, "Could you…give me the bag? Please?"

Koga paused just a moment before finally nodding. "Okay." Picking up the satchel, Koga held it open before the Demon Slayer. Making sure that she didn’t mishandle a single sliver of the sundered weapon, Sango carefully placed it back in the bag and sealed it shut. This done, she took the satchel and placed it upon her shoulder. It’s weight a pale shadow of her once powerful weapon.

"Thanks, Koga," Sango breathed before stepping back. Pushing her sadness and pain to the side as she once again put her focus where it needed to be. "So…what about the villagers? How are they doing?"

"Pretty good, all things considered. The villagers are already seeing what damage was done, taking care of the wounded," Jiro reported somberly. "I talked to Densuke, and…three more members of the militia have died." The young Demon Slayer gave this moment to sink in before forcing a smile on his face. "He and what healers are available are tending to the survivors, and…it looks like the rest will make it. Though…"

Pausing, Jiro looked meaningfully at Kaname who instantly grasped that meaning. "I understand," she replied with a nod. "If you could show me to them, then…"

"Wait, Kaname," InuYasha started, concern furrowing his brow. "Are you sure you’re up for that?"

"InuYasha, you heard what Jiro said," Kaname returned, frowning somewhat. "There are still people hurt, and if I can help them, then…"

"Yeah, I know that," InuYasha grumbled sarcastically. "And I also know that you’re still wiped out. If you keep pushing yourself, you’re gonna wind up in the same shape as Michiru." Taken aback by the half-demon’s attitude, Kaname took a step back, averting her eyes from him. Upon seeing her reaction, InuYasha froze for a moment, and looked away as well. "Look, I know you just want to help, but…dammit! You’re not going to do anyone any good if you wind up killing yourself!"

Watching Kaname’s sadness spread, Sango sighed. She knew how hard it could be to deal with the realities of one’s own limitations. Trying to keep her own pain in check, she was about to say something when Miroku moved towards her. "He’s right, Kaname. None of us are in any condition to exert ourselves right now," the monk told her. Then he looked over at the young Demon Slayer. "Besides, the rest of the wounded will be fine for now. Right?"

"That’s right," Jiro confirmed. "I only meant that they could use some magical healing to help speed their recovery. You don’t have to go to them right now."

Blinking a few times, Kaname frowned in consideration. "Oh. Well…okay, then," she murmured gently. "Then…I guess tomorrow would be okay. Wouldn’t it?"

"That would be just fine," Jiro assured her. "Besides, InuYasha was right. If you use up too much of your strength, you won’t be able to help anyone."

"Yeah, I know," Kaname replied glumly, looking down at her own feet as she shuffled about. "It’s just…I hate just sitting around, doing nothing while…"

"Huh. I know that feeling," InuYasha assured her. He then gave Kaname a wry smile, one she studied blankly for a time before returning it. "Just do us all a favor; try and remember you’re only human. Okay?"

"Okay," Kaname replied. A muted chuckle sounding in her throat as she looked at her friends. "At least, I’ll try."

As this garnered a chuckle from her friends, Koga growled in his throat. "I hate to bring this up, there’s still one more problem we have to take care of." When the others turned to face him, the wolf-demon shot them all a grim look. "In case you’ve forgotten, the reason we came here in the first place was to buy food and medicine. And not only have we not gotten that done, but the longer it takes to get that stuff back to the mountains…"

"Then the greater the chance for discontent to spread amongst both the Demon Slayers and wolf-demons," Miroku intoned, immediately grasping the situation. "And without you to reign in the wolf-demons, there’s a chance they might start preying on the Slayers. And if they’re forced to fight back…"

"Yeah, I know. ‘Ugly’ wouldn’t even begin to describe what would happen next!" Koga grumbled sourly. "It’d be like having Toma back to make us miserable."

Nodding somberly, Miroku paused to consider the matter. "Koga, how long would it take you to get back to the mountains from here?"

Pausing to give the monk a look, Koga grinned and retorted, "Hey, have you forgotten who made the trip all the way out here on foot carrying Azusa on his back? And still managed to beat you people here?" Chuckling at this, the alpha wolf added, "I could be back there today, no problem! Why? "

"Then maybe you should head back there, and tell everyone that we’re negotiating for the food and medicine," Miroku told him. "Not only would that help to defuse any problems back at the settlement, but you could also bring back some people to help carry bring the supplies back to the mountains, once we’ve gotten what we need."

"That’s a good idea, Miroku. But there is one other problem," Jiro pointed out. "We still don’t know how much damage the blood rain did to the crops, or how much of them can be saved. Or if it got to the food and medicine supplies in the storehouses." The Demon Slayer lowered his eyes, frowning worriedly. "Densuke and some of the others are checking that out, but…"

"But if their supplies were ruined, the villagers won’t be too eager to sell what they have left. No matter how much gold we throw at them," Koga realized, furrowing his brows. The others there picking up on his dread mood as he concluded, "And if we can’t get what need…then the alliance will be finished. And all of this will have been for nothing."

Sighing as she sat back on Hachi, feeling the wind rushing through her hair as she casually looked down at the world below, Kagome was able to relax and forget about her own problems as she thought about her impending reunion with her friends. Almost using the satchel that held the new artifacts she had with her as a pillow, she was about as calm and untroubled as she could imagine.

"Hey, Hachi!" Kagome called out, looking down into the transformed tanuki’s face. "How much longer until we get to the village?"

"It won’t be much longer now, Kagome," Hachi replied, full of good cheer. "I’d say about…fifteen minutes now."

"That’s good," Kagome replied, an impish smile creeping across her face. "I just hope they haven’t been getting into any trouble while I’ve been gone!"

"Yeah, right!" Hachi said wryly. "With the master and InuYasha and Koga, all in the same place? They’d find trouble even if they had to start it for themselves."

This succeeded in getting a laugh out of Kagome. "Good point," she decided, thinking of the kinds of trouble InuYasha tended to find when he got bored. "Oh, well. As long as nothing too bad happens, I guess I can’t complain." Laughing at her own wit, the raven-haired girl was pleased when Hachi began laughing as well. Her already good mood improving that much more, she once again started looking out at the scenery. Only to frown when she caught sight of something strange. "Um, Hachi…?"

"What is it, Kagome?" Hachi asked, clearly puzzled by her tone of voice.

"Look. Over there," Kagome told him, pointing out what she had spotted. "It looks like there’s something flying over there. And its heading in the same direction we are."

"Hmm? Oh, yeah! I see it, too!" Hachi confirmed. The tanuki frowned as he studied the airborne entity. "Well, it sure doesn’t look like a bird…"

"It’s not," Kagome frowned in concentration, her compass already in hand. The arrow already pointing at the being she had sighted. "It feels like…three separate demons…no, wait! Make that four!"

"Four demons?" Hachi repeated warily. "We better steer clear of them, then!"

"No. Let’s get’s a better look," Kagome countered forcefully. "Only one of the auras is really strong, and I could barely pick up the fourth. I don’t think we’ll be in any danger is we get a little closer."

"Are you sure about that, Kagome?" Hachi wondered nervously.

"Sure I’m sure!" Kagome told him, her curiosity and eagerness growing. "Come on, Hachi! Let’s go!"

Heaving a sigh that made it sound like he was consigning his soul to the afterlife, Hachi eventually replied, "Well, okay. But at the first sign of trouble, we’re outta here!" Chuckling at the skittish tanuki’s comment, Kagome just sat back as he changed course towards the other airborne traveler. Within a minute or so, they were close enough for her to make out the entity’s form. At first, it looked like a heavy, patchwork quilt creature standing on a cloud. But then they got close enough for her to make out the finer details, at which Kagome smiled in delight.

"Hey! It’s Totosai!" Kagome cried out in recognition. Sure enough, it was indeed aged blacksmith who had forged the twin swords of InuTaisho, riding upon Momo the bull. "Hello, there!"

"Greetings, Kagome!" came an aged voice, but not the one that belonged to Totosai. As she and Hachi drew closer, they were treated to the sight of a tiny speck hopping up and down on the blacksmith’s back. "Good to see you again!"

"Hey there, Myoga!" Kagome waved back as Hachi drew up next to Momo. "Is Kirara there as well?"

"She certainly is," Totosai replied, his wrinkled old face lighting up with recognition even as the two-tail appeared, mewing cutely. "Hello, Kagome! It’s certainly been a while!"

"It sure has!" Kagome agreed. "I’m sure glad you came! With all the craziness that’s been happening lately, we could sure use some answers!"

"Well, I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to help, you know," Totosai cautioned her. "But Myoga’s told me about that sword you found, and…I simply couldn’t resist! I can’t wait to get a look at it!"

"You won’t have to wait much longer. It isn’t long until we reach Tsuzumi Village," Myoga confirmed. "By the way, Kagome, did you learn anything about that metal bird?"

Sighing at this reminder, Kagome answered, "I’m afraid not, Myoga. I looked all over the net, but I didn’t find a single thing about a missing jet. I couldn’t even find anything about its registration numbers."

"Hmm? A missing…jet? What is that?" Totosai muttered, looking perplexedly at Kagome. "And why on earth would you look in a net for it?"

Her mouth falling open, Kagome put her hand to her forehead. Why do I keep forgetting that people in this world don’t know anything about modern technology? she asked herself, rolling her eyes in dismay. Letting out a sigh as she recovered from this, the reborn priestess decided to move on. "Never mind, Totosai. I’ll explain it later. After we get to the village!"

The remainder of the trip passed in relative silence, with the two parties exchanging pleasantries and catching each other up on everything that had happened since they had parted company. They continued to do so until Hachi announced, "We’re coming up on the village now, Kagome."

"Thanks, Hachi," Kagome returned, turning to look ahead. "I’m sure looking forward to seeing InuYasha and the others."

"I’m sure Master InuYasha would be pleased to hear such sentiments," Myoga commented glibly.

"Yeah," Kagome replied, her cheeks coloring somewhat. "Not that I plan on saying it to his face any time…"

The raven-haired girl then trailed off, her mouth hanging open as her eyes widened in shock. "Kagome?" Totosai started. "Kagome, is something wrong?"

"Oh, no…!" Kagome gasped. "I just picked up this absolutely huge demon power! And it’s coming from the village!"

There was a moment of stunned silence as Kagome and the other demons looked at each other. "Wh-wh-what?!" Myoga yelped, suddenly leaping madly. "Are you sure about that?!"

"Positive!" Kagome gasped. "Whatever it is, it’s enormous! Even more powerful than Naraku!"

"Oh, dear…!" Totosai muttered warily, shrinking into his kimono. "If it’s that bad, then perhaps we should…consider landing somewhere else."

"Good thinking, Totosai!" Myoga chimed in, the aged flea-demon nowhere in sight. "Why don’t we turn around, and wait for the…whatever it is to go away?"

Veins bulging from her forehead, Kagome shouted, "Hey! What is the matter with you two?! We can’t just run away!" Then she glanced down at the compass hanging from her neck and added, "Besides, whatever this thing, it didn't trip the compass! So it might not even be dangerous!"

"But, Kagome! Be reasonable!" Myoga countered, the reborn priestess could practically see the waves of sweat rolling down his little head. "The compass is far from perfect! We already know that Naraku is capable of evading it's power! Besides, if this force you’ve detected is that powerful, then there’s really nothing any of us could do!"

"Wrong! There’s something I can do about it!" Kagome countered, raising her fist at them. "Let’s go, Hachi!"

"Huh?" Hachi returned, twisting his face about enough to angle his eyes at his passenger. "But – Kagome! Are you sure about that?!"

"Positive!" Kagome declared, several more veins appearing from her brow. "Now, get moving already! Our friends could be fighting for their lives, even as we speak!"

"Uh – but -!" Hachi stammered out, his gaze locked with Kagome’s. But eventually, whether due to his own conscience or her wrathful countenance, the tanuki eventually relented. "Well…alright…but can we at least try to be careful?"

"Just get us there as fast you can!" Kagome ordered the tanuki. She then turned towards Totosai and the unseen Myoga, and snarled, "And as for you two cowards, you better stick close to us! Because if you even think of trying to slink off someplace else, you’ll live just long enough to regret it!"

"Whatever you say, Kagome…" Myoga squeaked out.

"Yes, Lady Kagome…" Totosai moaned, a drop of sweat rolling down his face.

"Alright, then! Let’s – huh?" Before Kagome’s eyes, a ball of fire launched itself from Momo. With a mighty battle roar, Kirara erupted from the blaze in her fighting form. Smiling her approval, Kagome gave the two-tail a thumbs-up. "Well, it’s nice to see that someone around here isn’t afraid to fight!" With a fierce grin, Kagome thrust her fist forward. "Okay, Kirara! Let’s go!!" Accompanied by a fierce roar from Kirara and an anemic moan from Hachi, the threesome started forward. Soon, they left Momo and his riders behind.

"Oh, dear. This certainly is a problem," Totosai muttered, scratching his head in thought. "Either we risk facing a horrible demon now, or have Kagome angry at us later. Whatever are we to do?"

"In situations like this, there’s only one thing we can do," Myoga whispered fearfully. "We’ll have to follow Kagome from a safe distance. That way, we can still make our escape if we have to."

"Hmm…" Totosai muttered, nodding thoughtfully. "I suppose I don’t have any better ideas, so…"

"Hey! What’s taking you two so long?!" Kagome cried out, her wrathful voice still loud and clear, despite the increasing distance. "Hurry up already! Or do I have to drag you along the hard way?!"

"Ack!" Totosai and Myoga cried out as one. The two of them leaping off of Momo and scrambling about in midair before falling back on the bull-demon’s back. "We’re coming! We’re coming!" Spurring the passive steed forward, the aged demons were soon matching pace with Hachi and Kirara.

Satisfied that the others were keeping up, despite their obvious desire to maintain a safe distance, Kagome soon turned her gaze forward. Despite the fact that the compass wasn't even burping in response to the power she sensed, she knew that Myoga was right. That the strange artifact was far from pefect. And this knowledge was ample fuel for her imagination, causing her mind to conjure up images of everything from some gigantic demon stomping everything into oblivion to a horde of destructive monsters ravaging and pillaging the countryside appeared in her mind. And alongside those horrid images were the forms of her friends. Fighting to stay alive, beset by impossible odds. Bloodied and battered and on the breaking point.

InuYasha…everyone… Kagome thought, caught between anger and terror as Hachi closed the distance. Please, be safe…

"We’re almost there, Kagome," Hachi reported nervously.

Nodding, Kagome replied, "I know." The power of the demonic aura flooding her spiritual senses, she drew an arrow from her quiver and prepared. Ready and able to shoot down any and all of the horrors here imagination had conjured up even as the village came into view. Huge demons, little demons, slobbering demons, angry demons, demons molesting villagers, demons burning homes…

As the two of them flew over Tsuzumi Village, Kagome slowly frowned. Relaxing her battle-ready stance, she surveyed the tiny village below, her mind fogging with confusion. Something was wrong with this picture, and it took her several seconds to figure out exactly what.

While Kagome still felt the immense demon power, more intensely now than before, and there were signs of damage to the village, there was no sign of any of the demons her imagination had conjured up. There was no horrible giant, no horde of marauding monsters. All that she could see were people working on repairing the damage done to the village and tending the village. The kind of things she was used to seeing in any Feudal town.

"Huh?" Kagome squeaked, leaning forward to get a better view. There was still no sign of any demons. Nothing out of the ordinary. "What the…what’s going on? I…I don’t see anything! I…!" The reborn priestess was cut off by a sharp roar from the blazing two-tail. A roar that conveyed a sense of surprise, rather than rage. "What is it, Kirara?" Kagome asked, turning to see her looking down at one of the fields. Instinctively following the cat-demon’s gaze, she asked, "Do you see some- what the -?!?!!"

"What is it, Kagome?!" Hachi cried in dismay, looking this way and that. "Is it a demon?!"

"No! It’s…that!!" Kagome declared, pointing down at one of the fields. Where a huge, glowing blue orb of demonic power sat, pulsating contently in the midst of a patch of strange trees and grass. Even as the villagers worked nearby, completely oblivious to its presence.

"Whoa!" Hachi cried out upon catching sight of the enigmatic object. "What is that thing?!"

"I…I don’t know!" Kagome confessed as she leaned in closer to get a better look at it. "I mean…well, it’s obviously the source of the demonic aura, but…"

"But what?!" Hachi demanded with greater urgency.

"It…it feels really strange," Kagome finally admitted as she studied the glowing orb. "It’s definitely demonic, but…it feels…pure, somehow." Sitting back, the reborn priestess continued to consider the object. "I…I’ve never felt anything like this before. Never…" Her voice trailing off, Kagome was left with nothing but silence for a time. Silence in which she continued to stare hard at the bizarre object, trying to make sense of the condition of the village.

The silence continued to build in intensity, until at last Hach broke it by clearing his throat. "So, uh…so what should we do…?"

Kagome’s first impulse was to land near the object. Whatever was going on, she was certain that it had something to do with it. But as she continued to study the object, she also looked at the villagers who were tending the fields. It was obvious that, whatever the object was, they weren’t overly concerned with it. So unless it had somehow possessed them to make them do its bidding, then it probably wasn’t an immediate threat. Besides, that would explain why the compass isn't reacting to it, she realized, again glancing down at the artifact. So...maybe it's not dangerous. Maybe...

As these thoughts ran their course, Kagome frowned and looked towards the village proper. "Put us down near Kaito’s house," she instructed Hachi. "Whatever’s been going on, somebody there should be able to tell us all about it."

"Whatever you say, Kagome," Hachi replied, clearly relieved that they wouldn’t be going near the huge, glowing orb of power. Not giving her a chance to change her mind, the tanuki aimed his massive form towards the house, making sure to avoid the people that were moving about, carrying tools and building materials.

As soon as they had landed, Kagome leapt off of Hachi’s back even as he exploded into puff of smoke, returning to his normal form. Not waiting for Kirara and ignoring the stares of the people passing by, she marched into the house. "Hello, Kaito!" she called out, cupping her hands to her mouth as she looked about the interior. "Shunsuke! Tamoa! Is anybody home?"

There was no response at first. But as Kagome advanced, she heard another set of footsteps. "Did I hear someone talking?" came a faint voice from somewhere nearby. "For a moment, I thought…"

Sucking in a breath at the familiar voice, Kagome cried out, "Sango? Sango, is that you?"

"Hmm?" came Sango’s voice, this time much closer. Before long, the Demon Slayer appeared from one of the rooms, her eyes lighting up with surprised delight as she looked at her friend. "Kagome! Oh, great! You’re back!"

"Yeah! Just got back, actually!" Kagome admitted. Before she could say anything else, a feline cry of delight was heard, and Kirara pranced up in her normal form.

"Kirara!" Sango squealed in delight, bending down and reaching out even as her two-tailed companion leapt into her arms. She then rose back up, rubbing her face into Kirara’s fur. "Oh, it’s good to see you again! I’ve missed you so much!"

Most people would not have been surprised by Sango’s emotional reaction to seeing her beloved companion again. But Kagome knew the Demon Slayer well, well enough to know that she rarely permitted such outcries of herself. "Sango…are you alright?" she wondered, causing her friend to pause in her celebrations. "I…I saw the damage to the village, and…were you attacked, or…?"

Her joy subsiding, Sango sighed before releasing Kirara to land on the floor. "Yes, we were," the Demon Slayer replied, her words heavy with pain. "The day after you left, Kagura and an army of demons showed up and attacked. "

"Oh, no…" Kagome breathed, freezing with worry. "Is everyone alright?! Did anyone -?!"

"It’s okay, Kagome!" Sango assured her friend. She then proceeded to give Kagome a terse retelling of the events of the battle. "Anyway, we’ve spent the past couple days just trying to rest up, and help the villagers where we can. But as you saw, there’s still a lot of work to be done."

"I see," Kagome replied, pursing her lips in thought. While she was still distressed that her friends had been facing danger while she was gone, she was still glad to hear that they had come out of the battle more-or-less unscathed. "And…that big, shining thing was actually the jet?! The Reikikaega did that to it?!" Sango nodded to this, leaving the raven-haired girl to place her hand to her head. "Wh-what about the supplies here? Did we get what we need, or…?"

A hint of relief washed across Sango’s face. "We actually got lucky there," the Demon Slayer smiled. "As it happens…"

"Aaaaaahhh!!!!" came a shrill cry, one that pierced through both their ears and sent them looking towards the door. "Aaaaaahhh! Aaaaaahhh! Aaaaaaaaahhh!!!!"

"What in the -?!" Sango breathed, tensing up in response.

"Oh, my! That was Totosai!" Kagome gaped. Shivering at the raw emotion in the ancient demon’s cries…

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