Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

A Deadly Delay

Under normal circumstance, InuYasha would be the last one to shun a potential battle.

In his youth, during the awful times after he had lost his mother, before he had obtained the size and strength needed to defend himself, InuYasha had been forced to run from demons far larger and more powerful than he just to stay alive. Forced to run so many times that he had gotten so sick and disgusted with it that each forced retreat was like being forced to swallow a mouthful of burrs.

But at the moment, he didn't want to be bothered with demons or monsters or even Naraku. InuYasha had been forced to watch as his friend had been framed by Miroku and mistreated by Kagome. Michiru's status and image in their tiny group had been forcibly dragged through the mud as a result of their selfishness, and at that moment, the last thing InuYasha wanted was to be distracted by such nonsense.

Unfortunately, Totosai had not been cooperative with making this happen. Nor had the monstrous demon that was even now chasing the ancient blacksmith.

His eyes narrowed in disgust, InuYasha was fully aware of the movements of those around him as they reacted to the encroaching threat. Miroku, Jiro, and Azusa were instinctively taking battle-ready stances, while Michiru clung that much more tightly to Kirara, who was growling hatefully at the approaching beast. Sango reached back for a Hiraikotsu that was no longer there, only to furrow her brow in annoyance with herself. Kaname let out a strangled gasp, while Shippo bleated, "Ack! Wh-what is that thing?!"

Despite the many years he had lived through, facing various beasts of magic and nature alike, InuYasha couldn't help but feel the very same disgust that the little fox was giving voice to. For the encroaching demon was an abomination. There was simply no other word to describe such a horror.

The vile monstrosity mostly resembled a hydra or the fabled Yamata no Orochi in that it was a snake-like creature with multiple serpentine necks and heads branching off from a central body. But unlike either of those creatures, this horror had what appeared to be dozens of necks, and from them sprang even more necks and heads, and they came in different shapes and sizes. The larger heads tended to be snakelike in configuration, while the smaller ones were more like crude lion heads with vicious manes and smaller jaws. And each head was hideously malformed, sporting different sized eyes and teeth with which they snapped at the air.

In addition to the many heads, the foul demon also possessed dozens of clawed tentacles that sprouted from the many necks. It also possessed a similar horde of mismatched tails, which it was using to propel itself towards the group with frightening speed. Filling the air with many hungry roars as it looked at the group with its countless eyes.

"Don't know and don't care!" InuYasha finally replied as he brought forth the Tetsusaiga, brandishing it at the encroaching attacker even as his friends and allies prepared for action as best as they could. "All I know is that it sure picked a lousy time to piss me off!"

As if taking these words as a challenge, the serpentine horror rushed forward, quickly closing the gap between itself and the group. Clods of dirt were thrown up into the air as it drew itself closer, it's many eyes filled with eager hunger as it lunged forwards with hundreds of gnashing teeth, accompanied by dozens of grasping claws. Acting on well-honed instinct, every member of the group scattered to avoid the rushing attack. Sango and Miroku leapt backwards effortlessly, along with Jiro and Azusa. Kaname hurriedly invoked her Swift Blue Sky to make a similar escape, while Kagome, Totosai, and Shippo ran away in a far less graceful fashion.

But what about Michiru?! InuYasha wondered as he made good on his own escape, scanning the area for his friend even as he kept the bulk of his attention on the attacking monstrosity. His friend was so weak that he was barely able to stand, much less flee or defend himself. If something's happened to him...!

Before this thought could be completed, a familiar rushing of air reached InuYasha's sensitive ears, prompting him to look up...and heave a breath of relief. For a short distance away, Kirara was easily distancing herself from serpentine nightmare, the two-tail making sure to fly a relatively even course so as to ensure that Michiru could maintain his grip on her fur.

Good going, Kirara! You take care of Michiru! InuYasha thought as he came to his feet, tearing his eyes away from the demon cat and her passenger to focus on the beast that had stricken without warning. I'll take care of this ugly freak!

With this thought in mind, the half-demon took a battle-ready stance, power swirling about the Tetsusaiga. "Hey, you! You looking for something to snack on?!" InuYasha shouted with as much as force as he could muster as he brandished his sword. "Well, try eating this! Wind Scar!" Slashing with the Tetsusaiga with all his strength, he watched as the deadly winds that were the manifestation of its power ripped free from the blade in a wave of destruction.

Just as Totosai was heard crying out, "Wh- InuYasha! Don't!"

Startled by this sudden outcry, InuYasha spared a poisonous glare at Totosai even as the Wind Scar shot towards its target. Quickly making a mental note to demand where he had found this abomination and why in blazes he had been stupid enough to rouse it into attacking, the half-demon then turned to watch as the hideous beast paused in its forward trek. It fixed its innumerable eyes on the approaching Wind Scar, letting loose with a deep, thunderous roar from each and every one of its mouths. Just before a tremendous rushing of air filled InuYasha's ears.

"Hey?! What in the -?! Azusa yelped in disbelief, and was quickly echoed by sounds of horrified astonishment when the Wind Scar was suddenly pulled in towards the demon's many mouths. Each of them started sucking in the demonic aura, drinking deep of Tetsusaiga's power until the fearsome attack was no more.

To make matters worse, the demon was suddenly a great deal more.

Before the horrified eyes of InuYasha and the others, the serpentine nightmare suddenly swelled up, bursting out of its carapace of warped scales, becoming more twisted and horrible as it grew to be twice its former size. When it finally finished growing, it's bare skin quickly became an even more horrendous coat of scales, and it fixed its many eyes on InuYasha and the others. Growls and snarls of further hunger issuing from its countless mouths.

"What the hell?!" InuYasha bellowed in disbelief before swinging his gaze towards the old man that had brought this mess down upon them. "Totosai...!"

"I - I tried to tell you!" Totosai quickly protested, waving the sheathed Reikikaega about. "You have to - look out!!"

His ears pricking at the sound of movement, InuYasha looked from Totosai to their attacker just in time to see the serpentine horror lunging forward again, moving with even greater speed and ferocity than before. The half-demon barely had time to dodge before half a dozen heads buried themselves in the ground he had been standing upon just moments ago. As he flew through the air, even more heads and claws homed in on him, drawing a snarl of contempt for the horrible monster. "Dammit!" InuYasha snarled as he swung the Tetsusaiga in a lethal crescent arc, slicing apart several of the heads in a single stroke. "I don't have time for this!"

Coming down from his leap, InuYasha hissed as the heads he had just destroyed quickly grew back. Dammit! I'm really not in the mood for this! the half-demon thought sourly. And as the sounds of his friends and allies fighting and dodging for their lives reached his ears, he added, And I don't have time to waste figuring out what the hell is going on here!

With this in mind, InuYasha hurriedly scanned what was quickly turning into a harried and deadly battlefield. After reassuring himself that his friends and allies were either holding their own or staying out of harm's way, the half-demon locked onto the one person there who might have the information needed to put an end to this latest bout of madness. With his target in sight, InuYasha rushed forward, keeping aware of all the various sounds and sensations, making sure that he kept ahead of the hideous nightmare that had been spawned seemingly from out of nowhere.

Suddenly, half a dozen heads and a couple of claws shot into view, all of them diving at the silver-maned warrior from various directions. "Get outta my way!" InuYasha bellowed, swinging the Tetsusaiga in a lethal arc as they came in close, shattering them with a single stroke. Knowing that it would not be long before they recovered from this assault, he leapt forward through the dirt and debris, ignoring the stinging in his eyes as he passed through them and landed, not allowing himself to slow down for so much as an instant as he approached his goal, who was currently running for his miserable life.

"Ah! Get away from me!" Totosai cried out as he continued to run full-out, moving far faster than a demon his age had any right to, but still just keeping ahead of the horde of grasping claws and slavering jaws. "Oh, somebody! Heeeelp!!"

Wishing that he had the luxury of telling the demented old fart to stuff his useless pleas where the sun didn't shine, InuYasha rushed up alongside of Totosai and grabbed him up with his free hand. Slinging the elderly blacksmith over his shoulder, the half-demon then gathered his legs up beneath him and launched himself far into the air, doing his best to buy some time and distance.

"Wha- ? InuYasha?!" Totosai got out as the two of them reached the apex of the half-demon's leap.

"Hmph! You're a real pain in the ass, old man!" InuYasha shot back as they began their descent. "Now do yourself a favor and hang on!"

The aged demon made a noise like he was about to say something, but was promptly cut off when InuYasha harshly landed. The wind driven from his lungs, Totosai groaned heavily InuYasha started running again. "Try to be a little more careful! I'm not a young demon anymore, you know!"

"Maybe, but you're still breathing! And if you want to keep breathing, you better have something useful to tell me!" InuYasha growled irritably as he glanced back in irritation. "Starting with how I can kill that damn - whatever-the-hell-it-is you pissed off!"

His eyes bulging uncertainly, Totosai gulped loudly before replying, "Well...I can't be sure, mind you, but...there's an excellent chance that you can stop that thing - with this!"

InuYasha scowled, something that intensified when Totosai held up the sheathed sword he still carried. "And just what makes you think that Reikikaega can kill that bastard?!"

His bulging eyes seeming to tremble somewhat, Totosai hesitated before answering, "Because...it was Reikikaega that created that creature in the first place..."

It's time like this I really hate the Feudal Era! Kagome thought sourly as she leapt out of the path of a couple of the monster's heads, just barely keeping herself from its gnashing teeth.

Pausing to glare at the hideous monstrosity that seemed to be nothing more than the finishing touch to what had to be one of the worst days of her entire life, Kagome then paused to scan her surroundings. The others had succeeded in getting greater distance from their attacker than she had, and more importantly, they had scattered enough so that it was impossible for it to focus on any one of them. Miroku was keeping the beast at bay by means of his staff, as well as a few well-timed sutra talismans. Sango and Jiro both had their blades in hand, and were hurriedly slashing at the oncoming heads even as they maintained a safe distance, making sure that it could not overwhelm them by sheer force of numbers. Azusa was off in the distance, favoring an avoidance strategy, while Kaname and Shippo were busy using their respective fire attacks to keep themselves clear of the attacking demon. All the while Kirara flew overhead, moving just fast enough to stay clear of the demon's many snapping jaws, but slow enough that she didn't put her passenger at risk.

And, of course, there's no sign of InuYasha! Kagome concluded irritably, making a mental note to start counting all the 'sits' she owed him when she finally regained the use of her voice. Typical! We need him, and he goes and takes off on us!

Wondering what could have possessed the hot-headed half-demon to take off like this, Kagome was quickly brought back to the present when another head lunged at her, leaving her to hurriedly dodge as the thing hungrily snapped at her heels.

Argh! What was I thinking when I left my bow and arrows back at the house?! Kagome fumed as she irritably glared at the offending head, wondering what had possessed her to be so stupid. So what if she had been in a bad mood? So what if they were in a village? So what if the recent battle had seemingly wiped out any and all demons within several kilometers' radius? This is the Feudal Era, for crying out loud! Demon attacks happen here more often than muggings do back home! Then she reached about into her backpack, allowing herself a slight smile. Thank goodness I'm not exactly unarmed here!

A moment's searching was all it took before Kagome experienced the reassuringly familiar sensation of the Sacred Lightning scroll in her hand. Whipping out the sacred artifact, she gestured it at the many-headed horror, opening her mouth as she prepared to invoke its power...only to sag when no sound came out her mouth. And the sacred scroll remained inert.

Oh, no...! Kagome groaned inwardly as she looked at the scroll in her hands, then at the monster that was coming at her again. Her own eyes meeting a whole horde of misshapen, gleaming orbs and looming mouths.

For a brief moment, the modern priestess was rendered frozen by sheer panic. But after all the shocks and fear that Kagome had lived through, she was able to overcome this instinctual paralysis, and once again flung herself into a run. Just in time to avoid three or four sets of snapping teeth.

I don't believe this! Kagome cried out inwardly as she ran, her raw throat stinging mightily with each desperate breath she sucked in. Her leg still hurting from the fall she had taken earlier, and growing weaker and more pained with every step she took. Something that made her that much more annoyed at the prospect of being forced to run, annoyance she expressed by glaring at the malfunctioning scroll. C'mon, c'mon! You should still be working even if my throat isn't! It's not like you're voice activated!

This thought pounding away in her mind, Kagome glared harshly at the uncooperative scroll with one eye as she kept her other eye on the lookout for any gnarled roots or rocks that might trip her up. Her eyes narrowed with fury until at last the sacred artifact she held flickered once, twice, a storm of spiritual lightning building up around it. Ah! Finally! the modern girl with a sensation of elation. Without another thought, she dug in her heels and whirled about, grinding to a halt even as she raised the scroll up towards the nightmarish beast. Take this, ugly! Sacred Lightning!

In response to her thoughts and power, the scroll belched forth a stream of spiritual lightning that spread forth and crashed down upon five separate heads simultaneously. To Kagome’s satisfaction, it drilled right through them, blasting them apart and shredding them down along the length of their necks.

A wave of pure relief and satisfaction rushing through her being, Kagome watched as the many-headed horror recoiled, several more of its heads studying her, as if trying to figure how this tiny little creature had managed to hurt it. Yeah, well, if you try that again, I’ll give you another demonstration! the reborn priestess thought even as she darted her eyes across at the others. Now, if only we can get our acts together, and find some way to take this thing down already!

Unfortunately, Kagome knew just how problematic that was. While she was fairly rested and ready, the others had only just started recovering from their most recent battle, and it was showing. We can’t hold this thing off forever! Not like this! she thought, watching as the others maintained what could only be described as a holding action, keeping the creature at bay, but little more than that. We need a strategy, and -!

A pained roar snapped Kagome’s mind from her dour thoughts. The familiar nature of the sound drew her eyes up from her immediate peril and towards a fiery two-tailed cat that had been in the midst of a series of aerial maneuvers, doing everything within her power to stay head of the many heads that had kept her restricted to the immediate battlefield. Something Kirara had been successful in.

Until now.

Oh, no! Kagome cried out inwardly, unable to give voice to her horror at what she had just seen. Kirara had been in the middle of a dive to evade the heads and claws when one of them had gotten in close. Not enough to strike a lethal blow, but enough to wrap its jaws about one of the demon cat’s tails. Kirara had responded to this with a screech of pained outrage as she had been forcibly stopped in mid-air. Her screams carrying the sounds of pain and dismay when Michiru lost his weak grip on her, and was forcibly catapulted over the two-tail's head. Acting quickly, Kirara attempted to snatch the Shikigami by his shirt, but even as she opened her mouth to grab him, the monstrous demon sent a couple more heads in, biting down on the demon cat's legs and side, and yanked her back towards the main body. Where even more heads waited, straining to reach the tender morsel that was presently struggling to escape.

Without another thought, Kagome raised her scroll towards the heads that held Kirara prisoner, and with a thought send a surge of Sacred Lightning up towards them. Making certain to avoid striking the two-tail, she burned through two of the necks, causing those heads to screech in pain and release their grip on the demon cat. But even as those heads fell away from the creature, a couple more that had gotten within reach of Kirara began snapping at her, trying to secure their own holds.

Not happening, you nightmare! Kagome thought, instantly attending to those heads. One by one, she quickly burned through them, all the while Kirara fought and bit and clawed at the heads that still held her prisoner. All the while straining and struggling to get away, to soar down to...

"Michiru!" came a pained shriek from somewhere relatively nearby. Starting at this cry, Kagome looked away just long enough to see Kaname with a look of unadulterated horror on her face. Something that confused her, and continued to do so as the Kururugi girl called out, "Protective Light!"

Confused and distracted, Kagome renewed her focus on burning away the heads attacking Kirara, but as she did so, she watched as Kaname released her Light Shikigami, and sent it soaring towards the attacking beast. What is that idiot doing?! Why is she setting up a barrier around that -?!

Then Kagome belatedly realized that the Kururugi girl had given voice to a name, and as she did so, she felt a wash of horror as she saw the Light Shikigami’s true destination; the prone figure of Michiru Kururugi, who was lying on the ground. Apparently unconscious as a result of his harsh landing as several of the beast's heads drew within striking range of him.

At least…I hope he’s just unconscious... Kagome added, her stomach clenching even as the Protective Light took form about the prone Shikigami User. She was about as sick as was possible of Kururugis in general and Michiru’s scheming and manipulations in particular. But as much as she wanted his guilt exposed and for him to pay for his crimes, that did not mean that she wanted him to pay in such a harsh manner.

Unfortunately, Kagome’s desires did not have any influence on this battle. Almost immediately after the Protective Light took form, several of the many-headed horror’s eyes seemed to lock onto the magical bubble. Seemingly spurred on by the magical activity, the creature drew itself closer to its latest target just before half a dozen heads opened their mouths and shot down towards it. While Michiru lay there, apparently unaware of his precarious situation, huge jaws and razor-sharp teeth wrapped about the magical bubble, intent on rending apart the tender warm meat within.

“No! Get away from him!” Kaname shrieked despondently. Her attention fully on her fallen sibling, the Kururugi girl unleashed a wave of red-hot flames at some of the heads, trying to burn her way past them. But even as those heads fell back, writhing in flames, even more of them shot in towards her, forcing her to attack them instead. Which gave the heads that she had already destroyed a chance to grow back. “Shippo! We have to do something!”

But even as Kaname said this, Kagome realized that the little fox would be of no help. Shippo was too far away from the Shikigami User’s position, and would have to burn through a horde of heads to get to Kaname, and the reverse also held true. The others were also penned in, too thoroughly occupied with their own struggles for survival. Which left Michiru completely helpless, and with no protection save for a simple barrier spell that would inevitably collapse.

Just one chance! I have to free Kirara from that thing, and then she’ll be able to go in and rescue that jerk! Kagome thought bitterly as she returned her focus to the captive two-tail, who had attracted the attention of even more heads and claws while the modern girl’s focus had been elsewhere. C'mon, you dumb monster! Just back off already!

Unsurprisingly, the many-headed terror did not respond to Kagome's mental demands, nor did her continued efforts to free Kirara dissuade it from trying to make a meal of the two-tail. If anything, it seemed to be building a resistance to the Sacred Lightning; every neck the modern priestess targeted seemed to take longer to burn through than the one before. Even worse, each head she severed was quickly replaced by another.

What's with this thing!? Kagome spat out inwardly, her frustration increasing with every second she was forced to waste helping Kirara free herself. Ugh! InuYasha, where are -?!

Kagome's hateful thought was abruptly cut off when a series of small objects shot through the air. Her hateful thoughts momentarily forgotten, she looked away from her foe even as the Sacred Lightning quickly burned through the last bit of resistance in her latest target, and felt a surge of hope return to her as Miroku charged towards the beast, loosing another barrage of sacred sutras at their horrid enemy.

"Back away, you monstrosity!" Miroku called out, the rings of hid Buddhist staff chiming angrily as he closed the gap between himself and the demonic horror.

Yes! Thank you, Miroku! Kagome thought with a sense of relief as she returned her attention to helping Kirara. A task that had once been plagued with agonizing slowness now seemed to be accomplished in a matter of seconds as the scroll's power burned away one head after another, allowing Kirara the opportunity she had been waiting for. With a roar of pure savagery, the two-tail wrapped her powerful jaws about one of the necks of the monster, and forcibly wrenched off the last head that still had its teeth in her.

"Kirara! Down here!" Miroku cried out as the two-tail distanced herself from further approaching heads. "I need your assistance!" A questioning snarl escaping her lips, Kirara seemed to glare at the monk for a moment, as if considering whether or not he was worth assisting. "We need to get Michiru away from that thing before the Protective Light wears off!"

This clearly got Kirara's attention. The demon cat roared in a more positive fashion before arcing down to come up alongside of Miroku, who was still making his way towards the many-headed horror. The monk drew forth even more of his sacred sutras, launching them at the more distant heads, while attending to those that got in close with his staff. Kirara gave a good account for herself as well; no longer surrounded by heads coming from all sides, she was free to strike at full force, plunging into attacking heads claws-first, sending them scuttling backwards for a brief time.

"Protective Light!" Kaname invoked again, the Kururugi girl clearly keeping track of the nightmarish melee as best as she could. Sending forth her Light Shikigami, it soon surrounded by Miroku and Kirara in its defensive magic, giving them additional protection just as they reached the horde of heads that were presently battering away at the barrier shielding Michiru.

"Thanks, Kaname!" Miroku called out as he took the lead, launching another cluster of sacred sutras into the heads. As before, they recoiled in pain, giving the monk and Kirara the opening they needed to press their advantage.

Hurriedly twirling his staff about, Miroku then drove it into the ground. Holding up his free hand in position of prayer, he began chanting hurriedly under his breath. As Kagome continued to defend herself, the monk's body slowly lit up with spiritual light before releasing a brilliant flash. Momentarily blinded by the brilliant light, the reborn priestess was forced to shield her eyes with her free hand. But even so, she could tell that the many heads surrounding Miroku had suffered even more than she had from the flash.

"Now, Kaname!" Kagome heard Miroku instruct as her eyes recovered. "Release the Protective Light around Michiru!"

"What?!" Kaname was heard shrieking in disbelief.

"I've set up a barrier around us!" Miroku hurriedly explained. "The demon won't be able to see us, but I won't be able to maintain it for very long! You have to release the Protective Light so we can get your brother to safety!"

Even as Miroku spoke, Kagome's eyes were recovering, allowing her to see that the monk spoke truly. The heads surrounding Miroku were milling about perplexedly, looking this way and that, clearly unable to detect its quandary.

But that won't last long! Kagome knew, having seeing Miroku employ such barriers in the past. The spiritual field would keep the demon from sensing them, even discourage it from penetrating the illusion he had crafted, but the field he had created was not a true barrier like Protective Light. And he can only maintain it as long as he stays perfectly still! Which means -!

Even as Kagome's thoughts ran their course, Kaname was hesitantly replying, "Oh...alright, then! You better know what you're doing!"

"Trust me, Kaname! I will not allow your brother to come to harm!" Miroku replied even as the Protective Light about Michiru faded, allowing Kirara to approach the fallen boy. "Alright, Kirara, take Michiru and get away from here!" The two-tail, who had been busy nuzzling the Kururugi boy with her nose, looked up sharply at this, making a questioning sound in her throat. "It's alright! I know what I'm doing! Just get Michiru out of here, then go get InuYasha!"

Kirara hesitated for a moment longer, then looked down at Michiru again. It didn't take long for Kagome to understand the two-tail's problem; though Kirara was fully capable of carrying Michiru on her back, she had no way of getting him on her back on her own. She could grab Michiru with her teeth, but carrying him away like that while under attack was a much more problematic matter.

It was clear that Miroku also realized this problem as well. "Kaname! I need your help!" he called out, keeping perfectly still despite the fact that maintaining the barrier was beginning to take its toll on him. "Can you use your magic to tie Michiru to Kirara somehow?!"

A beat passed before Kaname replied, "Yeah, I think so! Binding Blue Sky!" With this invocation, her Wind Shikigami was seen flying over the battlefield, shooting through the spiritual barrier before wrapping about the prone Kururugi boy and Kirara alike, forming chains of wind.

Kirara eyed the Binding Blue Sky dubiously. Neither Kururugi had used this particular spell in this fashion in the past, and she was clearly far from certain that the spell would be enough to keep Michiru attached to her. But as the two-tail scanned her surroundings, it was also obvious that she knew her options to be limited. To make matters worse, while the demon still couldn't sense those within the barrier, it had noticed the Wind Shikigami passing through it and apparently disappearing. And though it was far from being one of the smartest demons they had ever dealt with, it wasn't so stupid that it couldn't realize that the Wind Shikigami had to have gone someplace, and that its prey was still somewhere nearby. Over a dozen heads milled about just outside the perimeter of the barrier, snapping and looking about, searching for the unlikely trio inside.

Realizing their predicament, Kirara rose to her feet, watching as the Binding Blue Sky caused Michiru to be lifted with her. Letting out a low growl, she then carefully lifted up into the air. The magical chains stretched somewhat, but they held. The Kururugi boy was hanging just below the demon cat, but he appeared to be secure.

"It'll have to do, Kirara!" Miroku sounded in a voice of authority. "Now hurry! Get Michiru to safety!" The two-tail responded to this with a look and a worried growl. "You don't have to worry about me! I'll be fine! Just get out of here!"

Kirara hesitated for just a moment, but then seemed to take Miroku at his word. With a cautious leap forward, she started flying forward, moving with an edge of caution, lest she somehow dislodge her unconscious passenger.

The instant Kirara left the relative safety of the barrier, however, the numerous heads surrounding it took notice, and immediately roared with savage hunger. A horde of razor-sharp teeth and snatching claws trembled with anticipation before launching themselves at the two-tail and her unconscious burden. Wincing at the sound of the baleful roars that were unleashed, Kagome paused in her own self-defense to fire a bolt of Sacred Lightning at the horde. She managed to score a hit on two of the heads, and a single claw, but the rest continued their pursuit.

Until a volley of sacred sutras struck the other heads. Startling them and causing them to pause just long enough for Kirara to get out of their range.

Oh, no...! Kagome blanched in realization as she watched the many heads surrounding Miroku shift and turn, locking onto the monk's position. Their eyes narrowing in hateful hunger as the barrier he had created dissipated, leaving him visible to them once more.

A moment passed as the heads studied the monk that had robbed them of their meal. Then they all shrieked their outrage before swarming down upon Miroku, teeth bared and him utterly exposed.

Except that he wasn't exposed.

Just as the heads were about to shred into Miroku's tender flesh, they slammed squarely into the Protective Light Kaname had cast upon him. Deflecting tooth and claw alike, allowing the monk the chance to defend himself, smashing his staff into one of the heads, shattering it with spiritual power.

But that won't last long! Not unless Kaname is focusing on maintaining the spell! Kagome thought, glancing over at where the girl in question was still fighting. Unsurprisingly, the Shikigami User was still thoroughly occupied, lashing out with spell after spell, only to be thwarted by the sheer number of heads and their ability to recover from injury, as well as her own weariness. If Miroku doesn't get out of there soon, those things will rip him apart! But what can I - wait! The dragon!

Giving herself a heavy mental slap in the face, Kagome reached back into her backpack even as continued to blast away at the demon with her scroll. C'mon...I know you're in there somewhere...! she thought, thinking of the magical dragon statue that had already proven so useful in the past. The powerful metal beast that she could command to do her bidding, including rescuing Miroku...assuming she could find it in time. No, no...that doesn't feel right...c'mon, where are -?!

"What do you think you're doing?!" came an irate and familiar voice. One that caused Kagome to forget about the dragon, and instead look up to see figure dressed in red, a crystalline sword in hand that was crackling with blue lightning, his mane of silvery hair blowing in the wind like a cloak.

InuYasha! Kagome thought, virtually swooning with relief at the sight of the half-demon. Thinking that she couldn't remember him looking more heroic than he did as he landed next to Miroku.

"You really are an idiot, Miroku!" InuYasha declared as he landed next to the errant monk, the Reikikaega in hand and glowing hungrily. "What are you doing, standing right next to this damned nightmare?!"

"That's a long story, InuYasha, and one that will have to wait!" Miroku replied as he swung his staff at one of the attacking heads. "Tell me, have you seen Kirara? She was carrying Michiru, and -!"

"Yeah, I know! " InuYasha responded impatiently as he sent a wave of power from the Reikikaega at several of the heads, spawning illusory doubles of them that hungrily tore into the originals. "I ran into her on the way back here! And just so you know, you have a lot of explaining to do, Miroku!"

The monk turned a couple shades paler at this declaration, but InuYasha could not have cared less under the circumstances. He had already been in an extremely foul mood after getting some hard answers out of Totosai's thick, ancient head, and that had been made even worse by the sight of Kirara descending towards him, Michiru's insensate form slung beneath her by chains of air. And after all the things Miroku had done, he made a very tempting and easy target for InuYasha's wrath.

If I find out that you had anything to do with that, you won't live long enough to confess your sins! InuYasha thought vehemently as he grabbed Miroku. "First things first!" he growled, slinging the monk over his shoulder like a sack of garbage. "Hang on, stupid!"

"Huh?! Wait -!" Miroku protested, but InuYasha was already leaping away from the swarm of heads, the monk gasping at the shock of having the wind driven from his lungs. Almost immediately, another half dozen of them and several claws shot up after them, but another blast from the Reikikaega spawned more doppelgangers of them that shattered the originals.

Not bothering to watch as those heads and claws quickly regenerated, InuYasha instead focused on his landing, which put him in close proximity to Kagome. "Alright, Miroku," the half-demon grumbled as he dumped the monk on the ground, "you try and stay out of trouble. And try not to get yourself killed, got that?!"

As Miroku lay there, blinking his confusion, Kagome darted up to both of them. Pausing to look over the monk, making certain that he was still alright, she then focused on InuYasha, her expression a strange mix of relief and irritation and girlish giddiness. "Keep an eye on this sleaze, okay?" the half-demon grumbled, nodding at sleaze in question. "I'll be right back after I take care of this nightmare!"

Kagome made a confused expression, than looked at the many-headed horror and waved her arms in concern. "Relax, I've got it covered," InuYasha replied dismissively, holding up the Reikikaega so as to look deeply into the strange patterns and surging energy in its crystalline blade. That is, if Totosai was right about this...

Heaving a deep breath, InuYasha then gave a quick mental shake of his head. It would work. It had to. He couldn't allow himself to start doubting himself. Doubt led to fear, and fear led to hesitation and inaction, things that could very easily be fatal in battle. Something he had learned the hard way over the course of many, many battles for survival. "I'll be right back, okay?!" he declared as he turned towards the demon. "So don't worry about it!"

Not allowing himself to glance back at his two companions, InuYasha shot forward, right into yet another swarm of heads and claws. Reikikaega held at the ready, he slashed with it, the blade's aura once again creating a surge of doppelgangers that shattered the originals. But that won't last! the half-demon knew; already, heads and claws alike were growing back from the stumps left behind. Time to see if that old goat was right about this thing...!

With this thought in mind, InuYasha accelerated that much, closing the distances between himself and the reforming heads. Even as they oriented on him, snarling their hunger, the half-demon leapt up above them, releasing a savage cry of battle as he came down upon their necks. Without hesitation, he slashed through them with the Reikikaega, the crystal blade passing through them without leaving so much as mark.

What it did instead was far more dramatic. And effective.

As the Reikikaega passed through each section of the demon's body, waves of blue lightning spread forth from where the blade struck, moving up and down a meter or so, causing the many-headed horror's flesh to shrink and wither. The demon's hideous flesh seemed to dry up, becoming aged and brittle in a few seconds time, before finally shattering, sending the respawned heads and claws falling to the ground.

Looking at the decimated heads, InuYasha felt a thrill of triumph. So far, so good! the half-demon thought as he watched the decimated necks flailing about, the shriveled ends of them failing to regenerate, and instead fell away in chunks. Still, I gotta finish this thing off, and fast!

With that thought in mind, the half-demon again leapt into the air, and was again accosted by a horde of heads. Unwilling to let them get close, InuYasha dispatched them with another wave of conjured doppelgangers, not wanting to give them a chance to slow him down in the slightest. Let's see...Totosai said that there was some kind of mark on the side of this thing's body, and that the Reikikaega should show it to me... he thought as continued onward, leaping about the many-headed horror's countless necks like he would the branches of trees. A combination of sheer speed and occasion blasts from the Reikikaega keeping the hateful monstrosity from impeding his progress as he made his way to the central body of the abomination of nature. Painfully aware of the heads, claws, and lashing tails that now surrounded him. Well, it better start showing me, before -!

Before he could finish this thought, InuYasha's concerns were abruptly made real. His ears pricking at the sound of something large moving swiftly. Pausing just long enough to glance in its direction, the half-demon let out a slight gasp when he saw three of the monster's tails rushing through the air, a blur of motion that was heading straight towards him.

Baring his teeth in an instinctual grimace, InuYasha immediately leapt backwards to dodge the blow, leaving the tails to smash into the ground he had been standing on. Unfortunately, he was unable to avoid the resultant shock of the impact, which sent him flying even further into the sky, or the resultant debris. As the half-demon struggled to right himself, shards of stone and clumps of dirt were sent flying up at him, followed closely by a suffocating cloud of dust.

"Arrggh!!" InuYasha snarled hatefully as he found himself essentially blinded. Crossing his arms before his face, he did his best to ride out the barrage. Only to cry out in further pain when something clamped down on him, driving what felt like sharp razors into his sides.

The debris forgotten, InuYasha looked about, and snarled in disgust when he saw that one of the heads had succeeded in wrapping its jaws about his frame. With even more heads hurriedly rushing in, teeth at the ready.

"Dammit!" InuYasha swore hatefully, responding to this threat with a blast of energy from the Reikikaega. Not bothering to watch as two of the heads were torn apart by their own doppelgangers, the half-demon then drove his elbow into one of the eyes of the head still restraining him. "I don't -!" he shouted as the creature squealed, its hold on him loosening just a bit. "Have time -!" he continued, taking advantage of his increased mobility to drive his claws into another of the monster's eyes, prompting another pained squeal from it. "For this!" he concluded as he took hold of the creature's jaws, and with a savage outpouring of strength, ripped it's head in half even as he sprang forward.

Argh...dammit, Totosai! You better hope this thing manages to kill me! Because if it doesn't, I'm gonna make you wish it had! InuYasha vowed as he fell through the air, the Reikikaega trailing lightning as he landed. Not hesitating for even a moment, the half-demon darted forward, once again making his way towards the central section of the demon's nightmarish body. Now, where the hell is...huh?!

The electric crackling of the Reikikaega suddenly intensified, startling the furious warrior from his thoughts. Glancing over at the crystalline blade, InuYasha's eyes widened as its aura of blue lightning shifted about. Instead of trailing behind it, it was starting to reach ahead. Tendrils of power snaking towards the serpentine abomination's flank.

"Heh! There you are!" InuYasha grinned, triumph finally within reach. Following the streamers of blue lightning, he sped forward with everything he had, automatically dodging left and right as more heads and claws tried to grab him, as two or more of the beast's serpentine tails smashed down upon the earth. He let none of that interfere with him, and instead watched as the Reikikaega's power began stabbing at the beast's side. Focusing upon a narrow section of the creature's scales, one that almost looked like a scarred-over cut from a sword.

That's gotta be it! InuYasha grinned that much more as he was given something to attack, that he could safely and effectively unleash his anger and frustrations upon. Now all I gotta do is -!

He saw it coming out of the corner of his eyes. Another of the many-headed horror's massive tails, whipping down upon him from above. There was no time for InuYasha to dodge, no room for him to maneuver, so he did the only thing he could do; throwing himself forward with all his strength, he tucked into a roll that allowed him to slip past beneath the tail before it could find its target. Sending him tumbling across the ground, the world nothing but a crazed blur. Except for something glowed an electric blue.

That blue glow became InuYasha's entire world. His eyes locked onto it, his ears focused on the sound of electric crackling that was focusing about it. His nose locked onto the strange, burnt scent that wafted from it. All of these thing combined with well-honed reflex, and even as he tumbled about on the ground, his body acted on pure instinct, and thrust the Reikikaega right at it.

The agonized shriek that followed immediately after made it clear that the Reikikaega had found it's intended target. As did the massive convulsion that shook through the blade and drew it up into the air, taking InuYasha with it.

Crying out in surprise and outrage at the sudden shift in direction, coupled with the severe disorientation that came as a result, InuYasha took firm hold of the Reikikaega's hilt, clinging to it for all he was worth as the many-headed horror thrashed mindlessly about. "Dammit!" the half-demon muttered angrily as he finally recovered his bearings. Pulling himself towards the monstrous abomination, he braced his feet against its side as it continued to buck about like an enraged bull, its heads and tails whipping about madly and seemingly at random.

"Grrr...I've had just about enough of this thing!" InuYasha snarled irritably as he tensed his body for action. Reikikaega still embedded in the many-headed horror's side, it's aura crackling madly about the glowing wound, he made sure that his grip on the hilt was firm as he recalled Totosai's instructions. "This better work...!" With this in mind, he gave the Aura-Transmuting Fang a harsh twist, turning it a rough 180 degrees within the scar like he was turning a giant key, something that sent the monstrous beast into even further convulsions. Almost deafened by the crashing din that resulted from the demon's incessant thrashing, InuYasha was forced to hold on for dear life as the brilliant aura seemed to focus about the Reikikaega, rushing into the quartz-like blade, then out of it just as fast.

And as the waves of aura surged out across the many-headed horror's body, it quickly spelled its doom...

What's going on over there?! Kagome thought with an air of horrified fascination.

Just moments ago, the demonic nightmare had had her, Miroku, and everyone else fighting for their lives with everything they had. Kagome had lost count of the number of times she had burned away a bunch of the monstrosity's heads and claws, only for them to grow back with horrifying efficiency. Even those that had been cut away by the Reikikaega had recovered and renewed their attack, forcing the reborn priestess and monk to expend even more of their energies and resources in warding them off.

As Kagome been giving strong consideration to using the Drum of Heaven and Earth, despite the fact that it would hurt her demonic friends and allies as much as this mindless horror, she had been startled from her thoughts when every single head froze in place for a moment. Just a moment, with their eyes wide and jaws hanging open.

Just before each and every one of them screamed in utmost agony.

Sent leaping back several feet by this horrific sound alone, Kagome instinctively placed her hands to her ears, trying in vain to drown out the shrill shrieking that left her entire body vibrating to the point of being in pain. A quick glance was all it took to see that Miroku was suffering similarly as the many heads and claws thrashed about madly.

Not needing any further incentive, Kagome quickly retreated to an even greater distance from the mindless horror. What's going on with this thing?! she demanded as the thing whipped about, the myriad heads and claws attacking each other in the beast's agonized confusion. Whatever's happening, InuYasha must be behind it, but what -?!

Before this thought could be completed, Kagome felt something stabbing at her mind, a strange sensation that registered deep within her. With the part of her that was responsible for the spiritual powers that she wielded. Heading the call of this part of her, she looked about in the direction it was from even as Miroku pointed and cried out, "Kagome, look!"

Kagome did look. And to her astonishment, she watched as what looked like veins of glowing blue rapidly spread out across the body of the many-headed horror. Veins that spread down every neck, reached every head and claw and tail the monstrous demon possessed, and began to pulse with energy. Energy that seemed to be rushing away from them, surging back to a central source.

"What in the...?!" Miroku spoke in a low, amazed voice, just as things became even more confusing. The veins began to fade away, turning a shade of dark grey that was almost as dark as the beast's scaly hide, but before they faded completely out of sight, the strange sensation Kagome sensed seem to twist about, just before a wave of blue light surged into existence and washed over the demon's entire body, turning it into stone.

No way...! Kagome gasped inwardly, unable to believe what she was seeing. The thrashing monstrosity was forcibly stilled, each segment of its body freezing in place the instant the blue wave had passed, with only a low creaking noises remaining to signify that any movement was still taking place. The many heads screeching in agonized protest, as if in denial of their own doom, until one by one they were stilled. Until at last only one head remained, it's screech of pain almost pitiable as Kagome watched it be frozen in mid-screech, a look of anguish frozen on its face as it looked up into the sky.

For a long time, Kagome stood there, blinking in astonishment. The beast had been so terrible, so utterly relentless and powerful. Even the Tetsusaiga had been unable to faze it. It had seemed almost impossible for them to stop it in their condition.

And now it had been reduced to a stone husk in the span of seconds. Dead before Kagome had been able to figure what was happening.

For that matter...what did happen?! Kagome suddenly wondered, casting her gaze towards the beast's central body. How did InuYasha...I mean...what did he...?

"Well...that was certainly...unexpected," Miroku uttered wearily, the monk supporting himself largely by means of his staff. When Kagome turned to look at him, he met her eyes and asked, "Are you well, Lady Kagome?"

Kagome opened her mouth to answer, only to be reminded by the stinging in her throat that she was still incapable of speech. So feeling a fresh wave of irritation spark in her, she sighed and shrugged helplessly before gesturing at the monk. "Me?" Miroku asked, to which she nodded. "I'll be fine. More exhausted than anything else." Giving her one of his charming smiles, he added, "I just need a good night's sleep, that's all." As Kagome again nodded, the monk narrowed his eyes and turned to scan their surroundings. "Still, I hope the others are alright. This monstrosity...I've never seen a demon such as this in the past."

Neither have I! And I sure hope I never see one like it again! Ever! Kagome thought as she eyed the hideous corpse.

"Still, I wonder where this creature came from," Miroku continued in a thoughtful manner. "It can't be a local demon; the people here would certainly have noticed such a beast if he had been here for any length of time, and even then, all the local demons were absorbed by the jet. So how did this beast come to be here?"

It was a good question, Kagome decided. And it was another one that she had no answer to. So all she could do was shrug helplessly, and watch as Miroku decided, "I suppose that's a question for another time. For now, we should try and find the others. See if they need our help."

After a moment, Kagome nodded. It made sense. They had been lucky in that their spiritual powers had kept them from harm. Others such as Sango and so on were not so fortunate, and there was certainly a possibility of them being injured. And then there's that jerk Michiru, she muttered inwardly with a scowl on her face. He'll be lucky if he managed to avoid breaking his neck after a fall like that!

Giving a loud snort at this, Kagome spent a few moments trying to put her anger where it belonged before Miroku asked, "Kagome, are you sure you're alright?"

At this, Kagome looked up at the monk who was eyeing her with such concern. A flawed individual who had more than his share of vices, but had still proven himself to be a good, self-sacrificing person on more than one occasion. I'm alright, Miroku, she thought as she studied him, the monk on the verge of collapse from his heroic efforts that night. I just wish I could say the same about you...

"Michiru?" came a familiar, elderly voice. "Boy, are you alright?"

As Michiru struggled to make his way towards consciousness, his eyes slowly opening and closing again, he could see nothing but a blur of darkness. His mouth opened, but he was still far from capable of making intelligent speech. Instead, an incoherent moan tumbled from his lips as the entire world seemed to tilt to one side. The only thing that he could clearly perceive was the numerous aches and pains he know felt, crowned by the throbbing headache that now assailed him.

"Ohh..." Michiru eventually groaned. "Wha...?"

"Hmm. That good, huh?" the elderly voice sounded again. "Well, I can't say I'm surprised. You've clearly had a rough time of it. Still, it's good to see you awake." This sentiment was followed by a low, affectionate growl from somewhere off to the side, causing the speaker to chuckle. "That makes two of us."

Huh...w-who...? Michiru hazily thought as he grew more and more alert. Groaning a bit more, he blinked a few more times in rapid succession, his vision soon clearing enough for him to make out an elderly face that was looking at him, along with that of a large, fanged feline. "Kirara...T...Totosai...?"

The aged demon gave a crooked smile to this even as Kirara moved up to the Michiru's side and began nuzzling his cheek with her own. "It's me, alright, my young friend." As the Shikigami User groaned, slowly raising his hand to his head, Totosai grabbed him by the wrist and gave him a quick shake of his head. "Now, now, you just stay still, and leave that head of yours alone! You've got one heck of a lump growing there!"

As Michiru slowly processed this statement, he suddenly recalled what happened just before he had lost consciousness. Of being sent flying from Kirara's back when the two-tail inexplicably stopped in mid-air just before crashing down into the ground. "That...explains a lot..." he muttered even as Kirara continued to nuzzle him. But then the Kururugi boy eyed the old man, and despite everything, the corner of his lip quirked upwards. "Though...I think your lumps...beat mine..."

His already swollen eyes bulging that much more at this, Totosai groaned ruefully as he bowed forward, giving Michiru an even better look at the half-dozen or so baseball-sized lumps that were currently rising up from his scalp. "Uh, yes..." the aged blacksmith groaned wearily. "InuYasha...well, let's just say that he still has a lot to learn about controlling his temper."

Unable and unwilling to argue that particular point, Michiru tried to look about. "Ugh...how long was I out...?"

"Well, I can't say for sure. All I know is that you were already out when Kirara brought you here," Totosai somberly explained. "As for how long it's been since you got here...maybe a few minutes or so?"

Michiru frowned even more at this vague answer. Especially since it meant that it had probably been a lot longer than he liked since he had been knocked out. "So...what happened...?" he slowly asked, glancing about at the two demons. "Is that thing...did the others...?

"Defeat it? Well, I'd assume so," Totosai commented, looking off to the side as Kirara growled her reassurance. "I can't see much of anything from here, but it's been awfully quiet for a while now."

It certainly was quiet, Michiru was forced to admit. The kind of quiet that fell after a battle had been fought and won, the kind of quiet he had experienced more times than he could remember. This in and of itself was a good sign, for if the monstrosity that had attacked them was still alive, he sincerely doubted that it would be so silent. But at the same time, it didn't tell him if the others were alright, or if they had even...

No...no, don't even go there! Michiru thought, his incomplete thought stinging him with sudden fear. They're okay...they have to be!

But even as he thought about the many harsh battles he and his friends had fought and won in the past, Michiru's fears would not be so easily dismissed. Instead, they sparked him to full consciousness, and spurred him to try and force himself to his feet.

But while Michiru's spirit was more than willing, his body was still far from being able to act on it. His attempt to force himself to his feet resulted only in him rising a few inches, as well as his headache intensifying to match the pounding of a jackhammer. "No, no, boy! Don't try to move!" Totosai quickly protested as Kirara gently nudged at him, easily thwarting his attempt to stand. "You're injured enough as it is! You don't want to go and make it even worse!"

Grimacing at this, at how weak he still was even after days of doing little more than lying around in bed, Michiru eventually sighed his defeat. His head lolling to the side, the Shikigami User heaved a few deep breaths as he gathered his thoughts. "Any sign...of the others?" A beat passed before Michiru wryly noted the lumps on Totosai's head and added, "Besides InuYasha, that is?"

"No, not yet. Not since he took off and left Kirara here to keep an eye on you," Totosai muttered with the two-tail growling her agreement. "Still, I wouldn't worry too much. InuYasha might be an idiot, but he's a strong and stubborn idiot. I can't imagine him getting killed that easi-ow!"

Starting as Totosai was sent down to his knees, a brand-new lump already rising up from his skull, Michiru then looked up to see InuYasha standing behind him, having appeared from seemingly out of nowhere. "Hmph! Thanks a bunch, old man!" the half-demon muttered, veins bulging from his forehead and his fist raised and ready to deliver more punishment to Tetsusaiga's creator. After a moment of watching Totosai groan in pain, InuYasha then turned his attention to the Kururugi boy. "What about you, Michiru? How are you doing?"

Despite being shocked and stunned by the violence InuYasha had unleashed on Totosai, Michiru was heartened by the way his friend's expression softened as he looked at him. "Well, aside from the pounding headache and...still not being able to move the way I want to...I'm just fine..." the Kururugi boy ruefully admitted. Turning his head about and wincing at the effort, he slowly scanned the area. "Wh-what about the others? Are they...?"

"Hmph! Like you really have to ask?" InuYasha asked with a touch of his usual bravado. Glancing away from Michiru, he smirked and added, "In fact, here they come right now!"

As Michiru slowly shifted about to follow his friend's gaze, he frowned and narrowed his eyes. It was too dark for his human vision to make out much of anything, and with his magical power still so drained, the senses of his Shikigami were also heavily fogged. But before long, as he continued to concentrate in the indicated direction, he could sense a stirring in the air, as well as the earth and grass trembling to the tune of several sets of footprints. And soon after, several figures drew close enough for him to see. Including a most welcome figure who looked at Michiru, let out a slight gasp, and was soon rushing towards him.

"Michiru!" Sango cried out as she rushed over to him. As Kaname and Shippo moved to follow, the woman warrior fell to her knees next to him. "Oh, my..." the Demon Slayer started, she and Michiru looking at each other before she started looking him over, her trained eyes taking in his disheveled condition. "A-are you alright?!"

Looking into her lovely face, feeling her hand gently massaging his shoulder, Michiru forgot all about his pain, his exhaustion. All he could do was look into Sango's gorgeous brown eyes and say, "I'm fine, Sango." A beast passed as he smiled at her before adding, "Now that...you're here."

Sango let out a slight gasp, and for an instant, Michiru was convinced he had said precisely the wrong thing. But even as he was cursing his exhaustion and injuries for shrouding his mind in stupidity, the Demon Slayer recovered, and slowly rewarded him with a warm, gentle smile. "Thank goodness," she murmured even as she took him into his arms. "When I saw you fall, I..."

"It's alright, Sango," Michiru replied, summoning up just enough strength to raise his arms up around her and return her embrace. And was rewarded when the woman he loved tightened her embrace, and allowed him to rest his head on her shoulder.

Closing his eyes to the rest of the world, Michiru was allowed a few blissful moments of silence before Miroku spoke. "Be that as it may, I think it would be wise to return to the house for the time being." Opening his eyes at this, the Kururugi boy looked up at the monk, whose expression he couldn't make out in the dark. "We need to see to your wounds, and Azusa was also badly injured during the battle."

"Hmph! Figures that stupid bitch would be the one to get hurt! Scrawny wolves like her are all bark and no bite!" InuYasha declared with gusto.

"I don't know about that, but...I think Miroku's right. We should head back for now," Kaname admitted. "Besides, I'm sure looking forward to a good night's sleep."

Unable to disagree with his sister on this, Michiru was about to say as much when he saw a shadow flitting across Sango's features. It wasn't very noticeable, especially in the dark of night; a tensing of her features, her eyes narrowing just a bit, and her lips pressing together in an expression of distinct unhappiness. But even as the Shikigami User processed this, the Demon Slayer sighed, and that shadow and whatever emotions it might have represented were once again locked away behind a wall of ironclad self-control. "You're right, Miroku," Sango finally announced, tightening her grip about Michiru. "Alright, let's go pick up Azusa and Jiro, and then we'll had back to the house."

At these words, a broad, brilliant grin flashed about Kagome's face, and she quickly pumped her arm in a gesture of triumph. But before Michiru could even give any thought as to what this meant, InuYasha growled deep in his throat. "Grrr...alright, fine," he muttered sourly. Then he bent down and grabbed up Totosai by the neck of the old demon's kimono. "And while we're at it, you can explain what the hell you were doing out here, and what the hell you were thinking when you somehow you managed to create that damned freak that attacked us!"

The instant Michiru processed this declaration, his mind immediately went blank, and he swung his gaze at the aged demon hanging helplessly in InuYasha's grip. And he wasn't the only one staring; everyone else there was now looking at Totosai with matching expressions of astonishment.

"WHAT?!!" they all screamed as one. All the while Totosai cringed helplessly, drops of sweat rolling down his face.

"Are you kidding me?!" Azusa shrilled as she sat in the living room of Kaito's Feudal estate, glaring hatefully at Totosai as Jiro patiently bandaged her wounds. "You're saying that stupid old fart over there created that ugly freak in the first place?!" Swinging her furious gaze this way and that, she then demanded, "Is this some kind of a joke?!"

"I admit to being surprised by this as well," Miroku replied as he sat a short distance away, Kagome tending to his injuries. "Still, I would not be so quick to label it as being impossible. Not after everything we've seen and experienced."

"I'll say!" Shippo quickly chimed in. The little fox then focused his gaze on Totosai and wondered, "But...why'd you do it in the first place?"

"That's what I want to know!" InuYasha growled forcefully as he glared at Tetsusaiga's creator. Dangerously angry with the demented old fool that had caused more damage than he could have possibly imagined.

Sango's plans had been completely ruined by Totosai's actions. There would be no way of getting a confession out of Miroku that night, not with everyone exhausted and some injured from battle, and with the need to get some solid answers out of the stupid old goat that had caused this mess. Even if Azusa would be willing to spend the time listening to the monk's confession, something that the redhead obviously was not in the mood to do, InuYasha had heard about how Miroku had placed his life on the line in order to save Michiru's. something that he had no doubt the monk would be using to his advantage in the near future.

And you're just loving it, aren't you, Kagome?! InuYasha thought, directing a piercing glare at Kikyo's reincarnation. Much to his annoyance, she remained blissfully unaware of his anger, or was pretending to be so. InuYasha wasn't sure which possibility annoyed him more. Just like that, Miroku and your little fantasy world have gotten a second chance! Furrowing his brows, the half-demon looked over to where Sango was presently tending Michiru's injuries, while Kaname was using her healing magic to assist. And you're gonna milk it for all your worth, aren't you?!

Pausing to imagine the kind of thoughts Kagome was likely thinking, the schemes she was probably concocting to spare Miroku from confessing and once again placing the blame for everything squarely on the twins, all so she could keep living in her little delusions, InuYasha gave a loud snort before turning away from her in disgust. This was not the time for him to be thinking such thoughts. He could deal with Miroku and Kagome later. If they tried to pull something to get the monk out of confessing, than he would deal with them as harshly as he had to. Unfortunately, I still have to deal with this stupid old goat first! the half-demon thought sourly, glancing back at Kagome just long enough to spear her with another poisonous glare. But don't you think for a second that you're off the hook...

With that in mind, InuYasha paused to take a deep breath before focusing on their present situation. Tamoa and Shunsuke were off somewhere else, either tending to Kaito or in bed. Wherever they were, he couldn't hear or smell them, which meant that there was no one there but the members of the group and their two unlikely allies. And no reason not to go ahead with getting some answers.

"Well, old man? We're waiting!" InuYasha declared, folding his arms across his chest as he glared at the aged blacksmith. "What the hell were you doing out there, and why'd you create that damned freak?!"

"Please, InuYasha! You have to understand that what happened out there...it was completely unintended!" Totosai fearfully explained, holding up his hands in protest. Swinging his bulbous eyes this way and that, the aged blacksmith heaved a tired breath. "Please, just...settle down, and I'll explain everything!"

Satisfied that the ancient idiot had been suitably cowed, InuYasha paused before folding his arms across his chest. "Alright, old man, go ahead with your story." Then he narrowed his eyes sharply and added, "But it sure as hell better be a good one!"

"Uh, y-y-yes! Of course!" Totosai sputtered out nervously. Glad to see that he had gotten his point across, InuYasha sat himself down, and waited and watched as the old man sucked in a deep breath before beginning.

"As you all know, I had been studying the Reikikaega at your request." His eyes focusing on the blade that once again hung at InuYasha's hip, Totosai frowned thoughtfully. "It's design is staggering in its complexity and elegance. Well and truly beyond anything that I've ever -"

"Hey! Stick to the important stuff here!" InuYasha growled lowly.

"Huh? Oh, yes, yes, of course," Totosai muttered, a drop of sweat rolling down the side of his head. "In any case, I'd been studying the patterns engraved in the blade, when I noticed something about them. Something important."

"Really?" Shippo piped up excitedly. "What was it?"

"Well, it would take too long to go into detail right now," Totosai explained, sparing a glance at InuYasha. "And to be quite honest, there's still a great deal about the Reikikaega and its capabilities that remain a mystery to me. But what was important is that I now have a working theory about Reikikaega, as well as how and why it can do what it can do." Pausing to sigh and glance about the room, the elderly demon added, "However, there's a big difference between having a theory and being certain about your facts. So I decided that there was only one way to find out if I was right about this sword, and thus I headed out into the woods, and started conducting some tests with the Reikikaega."

Seeming to consider the old man's words, Miroku then gave a thoughtful nod. "I see. That explains a great deal," the monk intoned. "Then I take it that what happened tonight was the result of one of your...experiments?"

"That's right," Totosai quickly confirmed. "I'd already conducted several experiments - all of which had been perfectly successful and with harmless results, mind you - when I was looking for something else to experiment on. In this case, I settled upon a decent-sized tree in the middle of the forest."

"A tree?" Shippo wondered blankly. "Why would you want to experiment on a tree?"

"Because, little fox, as the Reikikaega's name suggests, it is a sword that is capable of manipulating and transforming the aura of whatever it cuts," Totosai carefully. "Therefore, in order to experiment with it, I needed something with an aura of its own to experiment on, and in the case of living creatures, it's easier to see the results." As Shippo processed, the ancient blacksmith looked about the rest of his audience. "As I was preparing to conduct my experiment, however, something...unexpected happened."

Realizing that they had just gotten to the important part, InuYasha asked in a low, growly voice, "And that would be..."

"As I held up the Reikikaega, it's blade began to change." These words catching the attention of everyone present, they all looked at Totosai with greater intensity as he went on to say, "The energy that surrounded it shifted to a sickly green, and poisonous green clouds seemed to fill up its blade."

"Really?" Sango started, her eyes widening as she focused on the half-demon. "InuYasha..."

This was all Sango said. All she really needed to say, because InuYasha knew what drove her to speak. "So...what you're saying is that...Reikikaega can change powers?" he asked, unable to keep the surprise from his voice. "Like the Tetsusaiga?"

"Exactly. Apparently, Reikikaega is also capable of absorbing the special powers and capabilities of the demons it defeats," Totosai explained, seeming to be more certain of himself. "Unfortunately, at the time, I didn't yet realize the significance of this transformation. Instead, I was intrigued, and even more intent on testing the Reikikaega's power. So I took it in hand, and swept it through the tree." The old man shuddered somewhat, as if he was reliving what happened. "Within seconds, the Green Reikikaega's power swept through the tree, and transformed it utterly. As I stood watching, the whole thing swelled up hideously, it's leaves and flowers transformed into snarling, snapping heads! It's small, bare branches became as claws! And before I knew what was happening...the tree had became the hideous aberration that you defeated this evening."

Once again, the entire room fell into silence as each of them stared in astonishment at the old blacksmith. But this time, it was Azusa who broke the silence. "What?!" she barked irately, staring at Totosai like he had lost his mind. "You're saying that ugly freak used to be a tree?! A TREE?!!?!"

"That, I'm afraid, is precisely what I am telling you," Totosai explained. "It may seem incredible, but -"

"Incredible?! It's completely insane, that's what it is!" Throwing up her arms in disgust, Azusa whipped her head away from the aged blacksmith. "I don't believe this! I nearly got killed by a stupid tree...?!"

As Azusa continued to mutter and grumble, Miroku frowned and asked, "What happened then, Totosai?"

"Well, when I'd seen what happened, I decided to try and put an end to my experiment. Preferably before it could end me, that is!" Totosai then gave a self-depreciating snort, and added, "Unfortunately, that soon proved to be easier said than done. The beast was quickly growing stronger and more powerful, so much so that I couldn't get close to it with the Reikikaega. And when I saw that it was pulling its roots out of the ground...well, I did the only thing I could think of doing."

"Which, of course, was running away as fast as you could, hoping you'd find us before that thing got you," InuYasha muttered sourly.

To the half-demon's surprise, this quickly earned him a scowl from the aged blacksmith. "Oh, come now! I know I'm an old man, but do you really think I'd be so quick to dump my problems in someone else's lap?!" Totosai demanded. While InuYasha was privately thinking that that's exactly what he thought the old man would do, Totosai gave a slight snort before explaining, "Before that thing could get loose, I gave that thing a good bellyful of flame! I figured that maybe it was still enough of a tree that a bit of fire would put it in its place."

"Really?" InuYasha replied, cocking his head at this. "I'm surprised, old man. I figured you'd have tucked tail first thing."

"Yes, well, as it turned out, that would have been the smart thing to do!" When InuYasha responded with a quizzical sound, Totosai went on to explain, "The instant I started spraying fire at that thing, it opened its mouths, and swallowed my attack! Just gobbled up the fire like it was nothing!" Shaking his head at the memory, the blacksmith then said, "The next thing I know, the dratted thing exploded right out of its skin! Grew twice as big in a matter of seconds!"

"So that's how you knew that thing would just eat my Wind Scar, huh?" When Totosai nodded to this, InuYasha muttered, "So I guess that that's when you decided to run like hell away from that thing?"

"You better believe it! I might not like dumping my problems on someone else, but I'm not so prideful as to be suicidal!" Totosai declared with a wry look. "Anyway, I just kept running until I ran into all of you. And...well, the rest you know."

Seconds passed as the group pondered this in silence, glancing about each other as they tried to figure out what to make of this. Until at last Sango looked up from Michiru and asked, "So, Totosai...what about your experiments? Did you learn anything from them?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes, indeed! Quite a bit, in fact!" Totosai confirmed with a nod.

"Really?" Jiro began, looking inquisitively at the aged demon. "Then could you tell us what you've learned thus far?"

Totosai opened his mouth to answer, but before a single syllable could escape his lips, he hesitated, and frowned in concern. "No. Not yet, I'm afraid," the aged blacksmith finally answered. "Once I'm certain of my theories, then certainly. But not now."

His tolerance for Tetsusaiga's creator ebbing, InuYasha slowly asked, "And when will you be certain?"

Pressing his lips together, Totosai eyed the ceiling for a time before answering. "Well, I'd have to do some more experimenting. And even then -"

"Wait, more experimenting?!" Kaname demanded.

"After...what happened?" Michiru asked weakly.

"I'm afraid so, my young friends," Totosai sadly admitted. "There's still a great deal about the Reikikaega that I am not certain about. And the only way for me to be certain is to conduct the appropriate tests."

"Now, hold it right there, old man!" InuYasha muttered, what little patience he had for Totosai and his enigmatic ways rapidly fading. "You just said that you've got Reikikaega at least partly figured out! And after what you did, I'd say you owe us some answers!"

"I'm not saying otherwise, InuYasha!" Totosai protested. "I'm just saying that it would be a mistake for me to explain my theories until I am absolutely certain that they are correct!"

"So you wanna go out and mess around with this sword and maybe make a few more monsters while you're at it?!" InuYasha demanded. "Not happening, old man! You're telling us what you know, and you're telling us right now!"

"InuYasha, please! I understand that you're upset and impatient! Especially after what happened! But I'm not playing games with you here!" Totosai plaintively assured him. "If I'm wrong about my assumptions, then...no real harm will have been done."

"No real harm -?!" InuYasha started, gesturing at Michiru.

"But!" Totosai broke in before the half-demon could get started, putting enough force into his aged voice that InuYasha's next words were stopped dead in his throat. "If I am correct about the Reikikaega - and all the evidence thus far has only served to lend further credence to my theories - then this blade wields a fantastic, perhaps catastrophic power." Narrowing his eyes intently, Totosai leaned in closer to InuYasha, until his aged continence filled his field of vision. "In which case, not one of us will dare speak a word of the Reikikaega's true capabilities. Because if I am correct, then there isn't a demon, thief, tyrant, or monster that wouldn't be willing to kill each and every one of us, just to have a chance of claiming this sword for themselves!"

InuYasha generally didn't put much stock into a great deal of what Totosai said. The aged demon was sometimes nonsensical, and grossly exaggerated things for whatever reason, something that had been driven home when he had conned InuYasha into testing the utterly useless Flower Bloomer sword. But as the half-demon looked at Totosai, he felt the intensity with which the ancient blacksmith spoke. An intensity that Totosai very rarely used in his words, and only in situations that were of critical importance.

After a time of considering this, InuYasha scowled. "If this is some kind of joke..."

"This is no joke, InuYasha," Totosai confirmed, still speaking in that same voice. "Believe me, I wish it were."

Heaving a deep breath, InuYasha paused to glance at the rest of the group. Save for Azusa, who was still grumbling about nearly getting killed by a tree, they were all looking at him and Totosai, having also taken note of the intensity in the blacksmith's words. At this, the half-demon returned his attention to the elderly demon. "How long will it take to finish your testing or whatever?"

A beat passed before Totosai let out a huge sigh of relief. "A couple of hours, depending on how the experimenting goes," he explained, clearly grateful to be effectively off the hook. "Of course...it might be wise if you came along with me for the rest of them. No use inviting any further disasters."

Nodding to this, InuYasha growled in his throat before grabbing Totosai by his kimono. "Then let's get started, old man!"

"Huh?!" Totosai started, his eyes bulging as InuYasha marched towards the nearest door with him in tow. "You mean - right now?!"

Pausing to glare at the old man, InuYasha decreed, "Yes! Right now!"

His eyes bulging that much more, Totosai sputtered out, "But - please, InuYasha! I'm an old man! I'm tired, and I need my rest, and -!"

"You can rest after you're done figuring out this damned sword!" InuYasha shot back. When Totosai opened his mouth to protest, the half-demon yanked him closer. "Listen, you said that Reikikaega might have a dangerous power, right?!"

"Yes, yes, that's right," Totosai replied with a nervous nod.

"Well, then the sooner you're able to figure out if you're right about that, the better for all of us!" As Totosai's mouth fell open at this, InuYasha looked over at one of his fellow warriors. "Sango, do me a favor and keep an eye on things here. And make sure Michiru gets to bed and everything, okay?"

Apparently a bit confused, Sango nonetheless nodded. "Of course."

Satisfied with this, InuYasha returned his attention to Totosai. "Let's get to work, old man," he stated before starting forward again, the protesting blacksmith in tow. "The sooner you get this thing figured out, the better!" As he exited the house and started towards the woods surrounding Tsuzumi Village, he inwardly added, And once we've gotten this out of the way, I'm gonna make sure that Miroku clears Michiru's name and put an end to that mess once and for all...Kagome!

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