Legacy of the Cursed Mask: The Wolf-Demon Crisis

Fighting Fire with Fire

As Sango sat within the farmhouse, tending to her injuries, she couldn’t help but think about how long it had been since she had been forced to deal with demonic grass. Plant-demons were fairly rare to begin with, and the grassy variety was usually found and destroyed before it became a serious problem. As a result, she had forgotten just how annoying the foul weed was to deal with. Not only in exterminating it, but in treating its victims.

Especially when one of its victims turned out to be Sango herself.

“Ugh…!” Sango hissed as she pulled out yet another lingering scrap of the grass from her flesh. She had extracted almost all of the foul plant from her body, with only a few pieces remaining in the soles of her feet. But those few pieces were proving to be especially difficult. Not only had they buried themselves deeper into her body than the others cruel blades, not only had she been forced to contort her body into especially uncomfortable positions in order to reach them, but they also hurt that much more as she wiggled them about in her attempt to remove them.

“Ah…guhh!” With a final grunt of effort, Sango succeeded in pulling out an especially difficult shred of the plant from her heel. As the now-open wound bled somewhat, hurting even more with the scrap’s extraction, she held it up to the light to study the poisonous tip before tossing it aside in disgust. While she knew it couldn’t have been all that long since she had started, it felt like she had spent hours pulling and wiggling and fighting with the wretched things. Both her legs were hurting and bleeding from dozens of tiny slices, a dull ache suffusing her as the toxins faded before the antidote she had taken, and on top of all of that, she still wasn’t done. She could see at least six or seven more blades of the plant sticking out of her feet, waiting to pain her even more.

Sighing heavily in resignation, Sango picked another scrap and set to work on it, refusing to give into the slight but definite urge to curse her situation for everything she was worth. Cursing and shouting and carrying on like that was a waste of time and energy, and just then, she had precious little of both to spare.

Of course, if I was a half-demon like InuYasha, it might be a different story, Sango admitted with grim humor as she succeeded in yanking out another offending blade and tossing it aside. He never seems to run out of energy. Or curses, for that matter!

Somehow managing to chuckle at this, the Demon Slayer continued to work. Still, no amount of chuckling could ease the pain or difficulty of her labors, and it was none too soon when she finally removed the last scrap of the accursed grass from her feet. “There!” she growled as she tossed the final scrap away. Thinking not for the first time that if she never saw demonic grass again, it would be none too soon, Sango forced herself up into a seated position. Pausing to examine her legs and the condition they were in, she frowned and raised her right leg, bending it at the knee. Movement’s off. And it’s not just because of the injuries. I must’ve taken more poison than I’d thought, she thought with a measure of irritation. It’ll be at least an hour before I can move normally again.

And that meant that it would at least an hour before she could do anything to help her friends. Because until Sango was back to full strength, she knew that she would be nothing more than a hindrance in this situation. Letting out a low sigh, she looked towards her bundled belongings. No use complaining, she reminded herself. All I can do is patch myself up as best as I can…and hope it’s enough. With this thought, the Demon Slayer brought forth a container of ointment. Opening it up, she dabbed her fingers into the pasty substance, and began the slow process of dabbing each and every one of the injuries.

As she worked, doing her best not to think about what was happening out there, of the possible horrors her friends and companions were confronting in her absence, Sango became aware of something else. The strong, pungent scent of smoke. “Huh?” she frowned, looking up towards the door. She could see nothing unusual from where she sat, but at the same time, she knew that what you saw wasn’t always what you got.

Letting out a tired breath, the Demon Slayer did the only thing she could think of doing. Bracing her hands on the floor, she grunted with effort, and after several seconds of forcing her body to work, she succeeded in rising to her feet. Ugh…legs are still too weak, Sango grimaced unhappily. It would definitely be more than an hour before she was ready for battle again. I just hope that there isn’t a battle out there right now, waiting for me!

Glancing down at her Hiraikotsu, knowing painfully well that she could never hope to support her weapon in her current condition, Sango sighed before grabbing up her sword instead. Not bothering to take it out of is sheathe, the Demon Slayer used it as an improvised walking stick, and slowly staggered out the door.

Once outside, Sango quickly sighted the source of the smell; a large column of smoke was rising up from the forest. It was fairly distant, but not so distant that she could afford to ignore it. But…what caused it? she thought, her mouth popping open as she took in the size of it. Was there a battle? Are…are the others…?

As this dread possibility took root in her mind, causing her heart to sink into the pit of her stomach, something pricked at Sango’s ears. As sound that so faint, she couldn’t make out what exactly it was. Her concerns mounting, the hobbled warrior looked about, almost losing her balance in the process, waiting for the sound to repeat itself.

Several seconds passed before she heard it again. And when she did, the fear Sango felt faded almost entirely.

“Sango!” came Michiru’s voice. This time, Sango was able to focus on the exact source, and thus looked up in time to see a massive pink blob appear over the trees, carrying two figures. And though they were still two distant to make out their exact features, she could see them well enough to tell that one of them was waving his hand at her, and could hear the delight with which he spoke.

He’s…he’s alright! Sango breathed, bringing her hand to her heart, very nearly falling over again in relief. Requiring a moment to stabilize herself, she continued to watch and smile as Shippo came down to land nearby. When the fox-demon exploded into a puff of smoke, reverting to his true form, she watched as both Michiru and Miroku came to their feet, both unscathed and wearing similar expressions of joy. He…they’re both alright!

“Sango! Are you alright?!” Michiru wondered as he and the others rushed up to her. “Shippo, he – he told us about what happened, but -!”

“Oh, no. Sango, your legs!” Miroku gasped out, his eyes widening at the injuries she had just finished dressing.

Wincing at this, as well as the way the others stopped and gaped at her wound, Sango smiled her best.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ve applied some ointment to them, and…I’ll be alright.”

“Yeah, you will. Just as soon as we get you back inside!” Michiru declared, moving up in front of her. “What are you doing out here, anyway?! You should be resting!”

“Well, I was, until I smelled the smoke.” Reminded by her own admission, Sango again looked up above the trees at the enormous pillar of grey rising up from them. “Wh-what happened out there? Did you see InuYasha and the others? And where’s Kaname?”

“We’ll explain everything, Sango. But first, let’s get you inside and taken care of,” Miroku told her, coming up alongside Michiru.

Sighing as she looked at the men in her life, Sango felt her cheeks burning as she smiled and told them, “Look, I appreciate the concern, but right now, we have more important things to worry about than me. And…” The Demon Slayer paused when Michiru and Miroku turned and looked at each other, then back at her. “Huh? What…?” she frowned, her eyes going wide as the both of them place and arm under her shoulders. “Hey! What are you doing?!”

“You really shouldn’t be moving around, Sango. Not if your legs are like that,” Miroku told her sternly as he and Michiru bent down, and with their free hands, grabbed her by her legs. “And there’s no way you could have recovered from the grass’s poison. Not this quickly.”

“I’ve already taken an antidote!” Sango protested as the both of them scooped her off her feet. “I’m telling you, I’m fine! Put me down!”

“No. You’re injured, Sango,” Michiru countered in a gentle-yet-firm tone as they carried her into the farmhouse. “You should let us take care of you.”

“Yeah, that’s right!” Shippo chimed in even as Sango tried to protest. Scooping up her sword where it had fallen after she had swept up off her feet, the little fox-demon carried it in both arms, adding, “You can’t even walk on your own!”

“I can walk well enough without you two having to carry me!” Sango declared, her cheeks flush with humiliation. “Now put me down!”

“Of course,” Miroku told her, glancing over at Michiru. The Shikigami User nodded, and as one, the two of them gently set the annoyed Demon Slayer down on the floor of the farmhouse. “Michiru, I think some healing magic might be in order.”

“Right,” Michiru nodded. Kneeling down next to Sango, the Shikigami User looked hard at her injuries, a pentagram spinning into existence at his feet. “Great River Blessing!” The Demon Slayer was about to protest, but already Michiru’s Water Shikigami was emerging, transforming into a shower of magical light that rained down upon her. As the healing magic was absorbed, the many deep slits in her legs stopped bleeding and began to close.

“Look, I…I appreciate this, really,” Sango told them earnestly even as she felt the healing magic taking away her pain, and even giving new strength to her battered body. “But we’ve got more important things to worry about than me. Kaname, she…”

“You don’t have to worry about Kaname!” Shippo piped up. Sango gave him a puzzled look, at which he came up and set her sword down next to her. “InuYasha was able to get her away from that awful plant! They’re on their way here right now!”

“What?!” Sango gaped, her eyes rounding with astonishment. Quickly glancing one from one friend to another, she finally asked, “Did…you see them?! Where are they?!”

“Actually, it was Michiru who saw them, using one of his scouts.” Miroku then went on to explain how the Kururugi boy had used his magic to find InuYasha and the others. “Kaname was able to communicate with the scout using her own Shikigami, and through that, she was able to tell Michiru that they were on their way here.”

Her mouth popping open at this revelation, Sango turned back towards Michiru. “I…I didn’t even know you could do that!”

“Uh, yeah. Well, the truth is…I wasn’t even sure I could do it, either,” Michiru admitted bashfully. “What I mean is, I figured I could at least find out what was going on, see if she was alright, or if anyone else was in trouble, or…well, something.” His cheeks coloring somewhat, he looked into Sango’s eyes and concluded, “But when my scout managed to track them down, well…I figured that maybe…well, that it was at least worth a try.”

Despite the severity of the situation, this admission as to just how little Michiru understood his own powers caused Sango to titter lightly. “Well, I guess you were right,” she finally told him, still smiling. “So, she’s okay, then? And the others?”

“They’re all fine, but…” An uncertain frown weighed down upon Michiru's lips as he considered how best to say what needed to be said. "Kaname, she...well...she's alive, but..."

When the Kururugi boy trailed off, throwing up his hands helplessly, Sango found herself nodding sympathetically. "I see," she sighed lowly. Then she forced herself to sit up and gave Michiru the best smile she could muster. "At least's she alive, Michiru."

"I...I know, Sango," Michiru nodded. Trying to match her smile with one of his own, ultimately failing.

For a long time, Sango sat there looking at him, understanding all too perfectly what he was going through. It was a very hard thing to know that someone you loved, especially a member of your own family, had nearly been killed all you had been unable to do anything to prevent it. Something that she had had to comes to terms with when she had been growing up in the Demon Slayer Village. Far too many times, the woman warrior had been forced to greet her father and other friends and relatives upon their return to the village, only to see that their quarry had brutalized them in some fashion, sometimes even bringing them to the brink of death.

This was something that she knew never grew any easier to deal with, never stopped hurting. The best that you could do in such a situation was to push your fears and concerns to the side so that they didn't eat you alive. And Sango knew that there were no words that she could say that would chase away Michiru's own fears. Which was why she told him, "She's going to be okay." And then she looked towards Miroku and asked, "Now, what exactly happened out there? And where's all that smoke coming from?"

Heaving a deep breath, Miroku glanced about at the others before saying, "It's...a long story, Sango." Nonetheless, the monk proceeded to tell it, starting with how Shippo had found and warned him of the peril, and ending with how they had found Michiru and rescued him from the demonic grass. "Given that both Michiru and Kaname were singled out for attack, I would suspect that the grass is especially drawn to their Shikigami powers."

"That makes sense," Sango nodded. "From what I saw, it must've been attracted by the power of your Wood Shikigami."

"Huh?" Michiru started, his eyes widening somewhat. "You mean...this stuff knew it could use us to make those monsters, and...?"

"No. Demonic grass doesn't have any real mind of its own," Sango told him. "But...it will sometimes focus on one target in favor of another. And it didn't attack me until I tried to free Kaname." Giving this a moment to sink in, she then focused on Michiru. "And the fire...you said it's spreading?"

"Yeah, 'fraid so. The whole forest seems to be going up like kindling!" Michiru admitted shamefully. "I...I never meant for..."

"We know you didn't mean to do it!" Shippo piped up. "It was an accident! It coulda happened to anyone!"

"Perhaps, but accident or not, that doesn't change the fact that we still have to deal with both the grass and this fire," Miroku told them in a sage manner. "So...does anybody have any ideas?"

"Not really. Except that I think we should wait until the others get back here before we try to come up with a plan," Sango decided after a moment's thought. "We need to know exactly where we stand before we try and deal with either of our problems." Noting the heavy sigh this elicited from Michiru, the Demon Slayer frowned slightly and added, "I know it's not ideal, but we have to be smart about this. We're not going to get anywhere rushing into this mess half-cocked."

"I know, I know," Michiru told her, slowly nodding as he spoke. "But...I'm sorry, I just..."

"I know how you feel, Michiru, but feeling guilty isn't going to help us now," Miroku assured him. "Sango's right; once the others get back, I'm sure we'll be able to think of a plan."

I can't believe this is happening! Kaname thought mournfully, shame and disgust hitting her in waves as she continued to look back at nightmare she had been ripped free from. InuYasha's warm embrace no comfort to her as she thought back to the monstrosities that now roamed these woods. Monsters that had been spawned via her own Shikigami, her own power. Once again, the forces of nature that were a part of her had created nothing but death.

No...I didn't do it...the grass, it...! Kaname told herself, trying in vain to salve her own horror. Trying to think of the hideous aberrations of nature she had seen as the grass's creation, not hers. She had not consciously commanded her Shikigami to create them. I...I didn't have any control! I...I didn't...!

No matter how many times she thought this, however, it brought Kaname no comfort. Because every time she did so, she found herself flashing back to another time when her powers had been beyond her control. When she had found herself in actual, physical danger for the first time in her life, when she had felt the cold, cruel edge of a knife caressing her face. With death staring her right in the eyes, the spirits within her had reacted of their own accord to defend her, and defended her with ruthless brutality.

As this hideous memory returned to her once again, she once again bore witness to the consequences of her own untamed power. Once again Kaname saw her attacker lying on the ground, his skin scorched and his hair burned away. All because of a power that she couldn't control.

No! It's not the same! Kaname cried out in her own mind. I - I wasn't even awake when those - there wasn't anything I could have - I -!

But even as she protested in her own defense, Kaname knew that there was no changing the fact that she had lost control of her powers again. And not just because of the wicked influence of the demonic grass; her own shock and rage had robbed her of control as well. Shock at the abominations that had been spawned as a result of her magic, and rage at her own failure. And as a result of these things, she had lashed out mindlessly at the demonic creations, and now a potentially greater menace was burning through the woods, destroying everything in its path.

And while Kaname could tell herself that it wasn't her fault, that it was the grass that was ultimately responsible for this destruction, there was no changing the fact that it was her magic that had made it possible. That she had failed to keep her magic from running wild twice that day. And this failure caused her to tighten her grip on InuYasha, veritably burying her face in his shoulder.

Eventually, Kagome's voice broke through the Shikigami User's misery. "Look! There's the farmhouse!" Startled somewhat, Kaname looked up to see the reborn priestess pointing ahead. Sure enough, the abandoned dwelling they were using had just come into view, and thankfully enough, there was no sign of either malevolent plants or cruel fire anywhere near there.

"And about time, too," InuYasha muttered slowly. "Let's just hope that the others are already there!"

Giving wan nod to this sentiment, Kaname continued to hold on as Kirara made her descent. Before the two-tail had even landed, two figures were seen appearing from the house. And to her relief, one of them was wearing a uniform similar to her own. "Kaname! InuYasha!"

"Hey, Michiru!" InuYasha returned before Kaname could. "Good to see you made it back in one piece!"

"Same here!" Michiru replied before shifting his gaze somewhat. "Kaname -!"

"Oh, no...!" Miroku breathed, coming up alongside the Shikigami User. "InuYasha, get her inside! Quickly!"

Snorting loudly as Kirara finally touched down upon solid ground, InuYasha retorted, "Like I need you to tell me that!" Without further ado, the half-demon wrapped his arms about Kaname's slender frame, scooping her up bridal-style before sliding off the demon cat's back. The Kururugi girl let out a tiny squawk of surprise as he marched up to the farmhouse, showing not even the slightest sign of strain.

"Oh, no. No!" Michiru breathed, paling with horror as he came up alongside of them. "Kaname...!"

"I'm...alright, bro," Kaname broke in, despite knowing that she was anything but, and looked it, too. Her voice was a pale shadow of itself, not to mention the fact that she had scraps of demonic grass sticking out of her from head to toe. "It just...looks worse than it is..."

"Perhaps," Miroku conceded, his manner making it clear that he was taking this statement with several grains of salt. "Still, I think it best if we get you tended to as soon as possible."

Unable to protest this, the Kururugi girl contented herself to carried inside, where Sango and Shippo were waiting. "Kaname!" the Demon Slayer breathed as soon as they came inside. "Thank goodness you're alright. How do you feel?"

Half-dead. With heavy emphasis on the 'dead' part, Kaname thought ruefully. What she actually said was, "I've...been better."

"I'll bet!" Shippo chimed in, his eyes growing wider as he took in the scraps of grass protruding from her.

As InuYasha bent down to gently set her on the floor, Sango studied the Shikigami User for a moment before asking, "How do you feel, Kaname? Are you hungry? Thirsty?"

Wincing somewhat, Kaname hesitated before answering, "Uh...yes to both."

Nodding somewhat, the Demon Slayer turned to look at the others. "Miroku, could you go to river? Get as much water as you can?" The monk nodded once before turning to depart, at which Sango asked, "Kagome, now might be a good time to have that lunch you were making. I get the feeling we're going to need all the energy we can get."

"Sure, no problem," Kagome replied before heading towards the kitchen.

Once that was dealt with, Sango turned her attention towards the female Kururugi. "In the meantime, we better start pulling out what's left of the grass. The tips are still poisonous, and...well, the sooner that's done, the sooner you can start healing." The Demon Slayer than let out a low, gusty sigh before adding, "I should warn you that...this won't be pleasant."

"Yeah. I kinda figured," Kaname replied, wincing as the many lacerations in her face twinged in protest of her motion.

"And while we're doing that, we can -" Sango began, only to be cut off by a screech of pure disgust. Whipping about even as the rest of them did, the Demon Slayer looked towards the kitchen. "Kagome?"

"Ugh! Get away from here!" Kagome snarled, darting past the door, swatting at something small and fast with one of her pots. "Get out! Get out!"

"Huh?" Frowning his confusion, Shippo stepped closer to the kitchen before asking, "Kagome, what's wrong?!"

For a moment, it looked like they wouldn't get an answer. But then the reborn priestess appeared and came to stand in the doorway, pot clenched tightly in her hand and her face flushed with pure anger. "Rats! This whole place is filled with rats!!"

"Wh- but, hey, wait a minute!" InuYasha protested, taking an experimental sniff. "I don't smell any rats!"

"Well, than your nose must be in worse shape than I thought! Because there's dozens of them back here!" Shaking her head in frustration, Kagome disappeared back into the kitchen, only to reappear a moment later with a plate in hand. "And as if that wasn't bad enough, just look at what they did to my cooking!" Kaname and the others looked, at which they groaned in dismay. The vegetables had been gnawed down to virtual non-existence, while only a few grains of rice remained to litter the plate. And as if that wasn't bad enough, it looked as if the rats had used the plate for purposes other than eating.

"Aw, dammit!" InuYasha growled, looking at the plate like it was that infamous last straw. "I told you we should've just eaten it when we had the chance!"

A vein bulging from her head, Kagome was about to retort when Michiru came to stand between them, his hands held out to the sides. "Uh, Kagome! InuYasha! I...really don't think this is the right for us to be arguing!"

"That's right," Sango nodded somberly. "Kagome, just...get some noodles for us, okay? We still have to eat, and...there's still a lot for us to do."

Again, Kagome looked ready to protest. But then she cast one final, despairing look at the ruined meal in her hands, before issuing a despairing sigh. "Fine," she muttered before disappearing into the kitchen. "And this was supposed to be our day off...!"

Several minutes passed, Miroku returned with the water, and Sango and the others began to remove the lingering blades of grass protruding from Kaname while they went over their current predicament. Working to the tune of the Kururugi girl's many muffled noises of pain and discomfort, Kagome started up enough cups of noodles to feed the group, after which she set about the painful task of taking the remains of the meal she had slaved over, and dumping it outside where she wouldn't have to look at it any longer.

"There!" Kagome growled as she dumped the last of the chewed up vegetables and rice just outside the farmhouse. "Now you can rats can eat to your hearts' content! And I hope you wind up choking on it!" With this declaration, the modern girl returned to the farmhouse, barely able to stomach just how much had gone wrong that day.

As she entered the central room of the farmhouse, the modern priestess once again heard the pained groans of Kaname. Glancing over at her, Kagome watched as Shippo and Michiru worked as carefully and gently as they could, each plucking out a blade of the demonic plant from the afflicted Shikigami User. "I'm sorry, sis," the Kururugi boy muttered, glancing at the scrap of grass he had just extracted. "I'm doing my best, but..."

"I know, I know," Kaname nodded, visibly doing her best to grin and bear it. "It's not that bad, really. Just...I don't know. It's kind of like a paper cut, only the paper's still stuck in it."

"Yeah, well, unfortunately, we've still got a lot more paper cuts to take care of," Michiru told her apologetically. "Sango, are you sure I can't use my Shikigami to help with this?"

"I'm afraid not," Sango confirmed. "There's still a chance that those scraps are still alive. And if they were to respond to your healing magic, then they would start taking root while in her body, and..."

Her insides twisting at this image, Kagome looked at the twins, as well as the multitude of blades still protruding from Kaname. Then she looked over towards Miroku, who was standing next to where Sango lay. "Say, Miroku, could you go get the noodles and water?"

"Of course," Miroku replied with a polite nod.

"Good," Kagome smiled wanly. As the monk made his way to the kitchen, the modern priestess came over to Kaname's side. "Listen, why don't you two let me try and get these things out?"

Michiru and Shippo both looked up at her, a moment afterwards the little fox asked, "Are you sure, Kagome?"

"Positive." Then Kagome looked at the multitude of blades still sticking out of their new friend. Most of the ones stuck in her face had been extracted, but seemingly hundreds still remained. "Maybe I'll have an easier time getting these things out than you two will."

"Oh," Michiru got out. He then looked between the two girls, clearly unhappy about abandoning his task. But after a moment, he shrugged and said, "Well...okay. But if you need any help..."

Nodding pleasantly, Kagome then turned to the task she had set for herself. Looking up and down Kaname's perforated body, at the many cruel blades sticking out of sundered skin and an effectively-ruined school uniform, she sighed before simply reaching out and took hold of one of them. Narrowing her eyes, she focused on the strange power that she knew to be within her, a power that she didn't understand, but knew to be the bane of all things demonic, just the same. A power that she channeled into the grass, just as she did with her arrows.

The result was instantaneous. The tiny blade wilted away in her hand, shriveling up into nothingness before evaporating in a puff of smoke. Kaname let out a cry, prompting Kagome to look up and ask, "Are you okay? That didn't hurt, did it?"

"No, it - it just surprised me, that's all," Kaname replied before giving a shaky smile. "I...I didn't feel a thing, actually."

Letting out a weary sigh at this success, Kagome eyed the hundreds of blades still remaining. "In that case...let's see if we can speed things up a little."

"Good thinking, Kagome," Sango smiled, watching as the modern priestess pressed both hands against Kaname's arm, every scrap of demonic plant she touched evaporating into a puff of smoke. "Now we can focus on our other problems."

"Yes. Like a forest filled with demonic grass," Miroku agreed as he appeared from the kitchen, several cups of noodles in his hands. "Not to mention the fire."

"Hmph," InuYasha snorted as he took a cup for himself. "Personally, I don't see what the big problem is!"

"What?! Are you kidding me?!" Shippo cried out in dismay even as Miroku handed him a cup. "We can't just ignore this!"

"Why not?! Things don't get more perfect than this!" InuYasha smirked in a knowing fashion. "The fire will take care of that damned grass and whatever other monsters it cooked up, and then we'll put out the fire! It doesn't get much simpler than that!"

"Maybe, but there's a problem with that, InuYasha," Michiru frowned warily even as he accepted a cup of his own. "That fire's getting bigger every second. I'm not sure I can conjure up a spell capable of putting it out, even now! And if we wait too long..."

"What do you mean, you can't put out this fire?!" InuYasha snorted before digging into his cup. Stuffing his face with a mouthful of noodles, he countered, "You and Kaname turned that little storm back at Kaede's Village into a monsoon! So why can't you just do it again?!"

"But InuYasha, we're not even sure how that happened!" Kaname protested. "The spell we cast...we know it was our Ice Shikigami that made it go wrong, but...we still don't know exactly how it did it!"

"And besides, in case you've forgotten, there's another serious problem with that idea," Kagome informed him. "When Michiru and Kaname's spell went wrong, there was already a huge cloud overhead! The skies are clear today!"

"Which means that we wouldn't have nearly as much water to work with!" Michiru chimed in. "Look, there's some spells we can force the issue with using minimal water or whatever, but there's no way we could conjure up a major storm like that right now! I wouldn't even know how to start!"

Growling deep in his throat, the half-demon took another bite of his meal before declaring, "Alright, fine! Forget about that! But I still don't see why we can't just let the fire burn out the grass and whatever else is in there!"

"Because the fire wouldn't stop at just wiping out the grass," Miroku declared firmly. "If we were let the fire run out of control, we would do so at the cost of an entire forest, as well as whatever else lay in the fire's path." He then paused and looked InuYasha squarely in the eye. "And if it were to encounter another farm, or a village..."

"Besides, what about all the animals and birds in the forest?" Shippo wondered, folding his arms behind his head. "They need someplace to live, too, you know!"

"Hmph! What animals or birds?!" InuYasha sneered back. "Anything that was alive in the forest will have already been eaten alive by that damned grass!"

"In the area where the grass is, yes. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the entire forest is infested," Sango corrected him. "I'm sorry, InuYasha, but we can't just ignore the fire." Then the Demon Slayer frowned before adding, "But we can't ignore the grass, either. So...does anybody have any ideas?"

"Well...I might be able to put out the fires now," Michiru decided after a moment. "And after that's done...well...I'm pretty sure I can take care of those monster plants from the air. But..."

"Unfortunately, taking care of those plants won't necessarily destroy the grass," Miroku informed them. "Most of it is hidden underground, out of sight. It would be almost impossible to get at it from the air."

"Yeah, and going in after it on the ground is out," InuYasha muttered crossly. "Not unless we want to make ourselves that crap's next meal!"

"Uh...but...what about Sango's antidote?" Shippo spoke up hopefully. "Won't that protect us?"

Shaking her head at this, Sango answered, "I'm sorry, but no. The pellets I have will only work against small amounts of the grass's poison."

Frowning in thought, Miroku seemed to consider the matter for a time before finally asking, "Sango, you said that your people dealt with demonic grass before. How'd you do so?"

"Well, usually we used a combination of fast-acting poisons and small, controlled fires. Either one of which could get at it, even if the grass was rooted in deeply." Then Sango pressed her lips together before admitting, "But from what you've told me, the grass is very widespread. More than what we ever dealt with.

A noise of surprise escaping her lips, Kaname looked this way and that at the others before speaking. "Wh...but! We can't just...just leave that horrible stuff in there!"

"Hey! No one's saying that we will!" InuYasha declared fiercely. "I'm just saying that it isn't easy to get at the damned stuff, that's all!"

"I know. We need to find a way to destroy it completely, without giving it a chance to get us at the same time. All without destroying the forest in the process," Sango decided with a heavy frown. "And we have to find a way to stop the fire at the same time."

"Hmph! Fat chance of that!" InuYasha sneered derisively. "I still think just letting the fire burn the crap out is our best chance!"

For a moment, Kagome was tempted to counter the half-demon's comment, but at the same time, she couldn't blame InuYasha for being pessimistic about the situation. They were dealing with two deadly forces, either one of which would give them problems, but seemed basically insurmountable in combination. But as she continued to work, she asked, "Sango...the fire, it could destroy the grass and those other monsters, right?"

"That's right," Sango admitted. "But if we let it do that, then it'll wipe out the entire forest, not to mention everything else it gets to!"

"But...what if we could stop it?" Kagome continued, an idea taking shape in her mind. "What if we could set it up so that the fire would only burn the part of the forest that's infested with the grass, and wouldn't go any further?"

Her eyes widening somewhat, Sango frowned and considered this possibility. "That...could work, I suppose," she finally admitted. "But...how could we do that? It's impossible!"

"No, it isn't! Not if we set up a firebreak!" Kagome grinned eagerly.

"Huh?" Shippo gaped even as the others paused to look at Kagome. "A firebreak? What's that?"

"That's where people destroy a small section of a forest or city that's on fire, Shippo," Kagome explained with growing eagerness. "If we did that, we could create a huge gap between where the demonic grass is, and the rest of the forest. So once the fire's burned out that section of the forest -!"

"- It won't be able to get at the rest of it!" Michiru concluded, the grin he now wore matching Kagome's. "Of course! That could work! And then we could let the fire take care of the grass, too!"

"Really?" InuYasha got out, sprouting a grin of his own as he looked at the modern priestess. "Well, well, Kagome! What do you know? Looks like you might be onto something here!"

"I wouldn't be so quick to celebrate, everyone." Startled from their celebratory mood, the rest of the group turned towards Miroku, who told them gravely, "On the surface, Kagome's idea would seem workable, but there is a problem with it. In order to establish such a gap would require one or more groups to eliminate a large band of trees and plants in a full circle around the section with the demonic grass."

"So?! What are you saying, Miroku?!" InuYasha demanded crossly. "What, you think we can't mow down a few stupid trees, is that what you're saying?!"

Miroku gave a slow shake of his head at this. "No, InuYasha. It's not a matter of power; it's being able to see exactly what we're doing. What Kagome's suggesting would require us to be able to create a gap that runs in a complete circle around the afflicted area. But moving on the ground, it will be impossible to tell exactly where to go or how far away it is from either the fire or the demonic grass."

InuYasha looked like he was about to say something to this, but instead, the half-demon balled up his fists in frustration, growling in his throat. "But - wait a minute!" Kaname protested, not wanting to give up on this idea. "What if we were riding Kirara? Then we'll be able to see where we're going, and..."

Another shake of Miroku's head spelled the end of this idea. "It would be too dangerous to try and unleash the kind of destructive power needed while riding Kirara. The odds are excellent that we would wind up injuring her in the process," the monk explained somberly. "Furthermore, in order for this to work, we would have to either completely eliminate any plants from the clear path, something that would take more than a single round of attacks from above to accomplish. Meaning that we would have to land, make sure that the area is clear, and then proceed to further the firebreak, all while the fire is spreading." Lowering his face at the same time everyone's spirits were doing the same, Miroku concluded, "I just don't see how we could possibly accomplish that."

There was a heavy moment of silence before one of them spoke. "We can do it," Michiru told them, rising up and clenching his fist. "We can do it the same way people in our time make a firebreak! By mapping out the exact perimeter of the break!"

"Mapping it out?" Sango breathed incredulously. "But...how can we do that? And what about the debris, and...?"

"Relax, Sango! I think I have an idea as to how we can take care of that, too!" Michiru told them, grinning eagerly as he explained what he had in mind. And as he did so, his grin found its way onto the faces of everyone else.

"Are you two ready?" InuYasha asked, his arms folded across his chest and a look of genuine concern on his face.

"I am, but," Kagome replied before casting a worried look at the girl behind her. "Kaname, are you sure you're up for this? I mean, you know Michiru could do this just as easily, and..."

"I'm sure, Kagome," Kaname nodded, a look of stubborn determination on her face that was a match for InuYasha at his worst. "You're gonna need my bro on the ground. And besides, I helped make this mess! And that means I have to do something to clean it up!" Then the Kururugi girl lowered her eyes somewhat, and added, "And...if I can't help on the ground, then..."

Pressing her lips together, Kagome studied the newest member of their group for a long time. On the one hand, she knew that Kaname was currently ill-equipped to act on her own determination. Even with her own spiritual powers and Michiru's healing magic, the Kururugi girl was still drained from her encounter from the demonic grass; her injuries had yet to fully heal, and her movements were stiff and came with difficulty.

But at the same time, she realized that not only was there no time to argue, but that Kaname was right. In order for the basic plan Kagome and Michiru had conceived, they would need all the help that they could get. Which meant that they needed the most destructively powerful members of their group on the ground in order to clear the firebreak. And that was a list that certainly included the male Shikigami User. "Well..." Kagome frowned, still unhappy with the situation, "if you're sure..."

"I'm sure," Kaname assured her. "And don't worry, Kagome. I'm not going to fall apart, just by casting a few spells."

"That's right. You two got the easy job, so don't worry about it," InuYasha agreed with his typical cockiness. "As long as you get everything done on your end, we can handle the rest!"

"Alright," Kagome frowned, realizing that the moment had come. That to spend any more time in discussion would not only be wasteful, but would ultimately make their own job that much more difficult. Heaving a deep breath as she prepared herself for the task at hand, she looked down at the two-tailed demon that currently bore her and Kaname. "You ready, Kirara?"

As Kirara gave a proud, affirmative growl, Kaname turned towards their half-demon ally. "InuYasha, please be sure to take care of yourself?" she asked him. "And...keep an eye on my bro and Sango, okay?"

"Heh! You don't have to worry about that. Michiru and Sango can take care of themselves, no problem!" InuYasha assured her. "You just worry about yourself out there, got it?"

"Alright," Kaname replied, tightening her grip on Kagome's waist. "You ready?"

Nodding, Kagome answered, "Ready! Let's do it, Kirara!" Giving a fierce roar, the two-tail then leapt into the air, leaving a trail of sparks in her wake as she shot off towards the forest. Taking a moment to study the plumes of smoke still rising up from it, the modern priestess brought forth the compass and dangled it by its string and concentrated on the hideous supernatural weed that had spread through the woods. Focused on finding the extent of its boundaries.

As before, the magical artifact began jouncing about, the pointer projecting a conical beam that spread out in a wide arc towards an area a distance ahead. "That way, Kirara!" As the two-tail growled in confirmation, Kagome looked back at the magical girl behind her. "Get ready, Kaname!"

"Right." Kaname then reached into the holster on her belt, and from it took several cards inscribed with a crimson pentagram. "Just give me the word, Kagome!"

Nodding, Kagome returned her focus to the compass, watching as it danced about in her hand, delineating the exact point where the demonic grass ended. A point that quickly grew nearer and nearer, until at last the compass was pointing almost straight down. "Do it, Kaname!"

"Okay! Pillar of Light!" Kaname cried out, channeling the power of her Light Shikigami into one of her cards. As it lit up with magical power, she grunted and threw it down to the ground just outside of the area marked by the compass. As soon as it struck home, Kagome could see a brilliant flash of light before a shimmering stream of magic shot up into the air.

"Alright! Good going, Kaname!" Kagome beamed as she inspected the results of her spell. The stream of light being created by the card was as brilliant as a signal flare and was likely visible for miles around. "Let's go, Kirara! We have to mark out the rest of the area as fast as we can!"

Roaring her response, Kirara continued forward, seemingly running through the sky as Kagome continued to track the perimeter of the demonic grass all the while checking the distance between them and the Pillar of Light the Shikigami User had created. As soon as she felt that they had gone a sufficient distance, she ordered, "Do it again, Kaname!"

"Pillar of Light!" Kaname invoked, sending another magic-laden card flying down towards the ground.

"So far, so good!" Kagome smiled with satisfaction as another magical bacon rose up into the sky. "Now, you're sure the others will be able to see them, even through the trees and that sort of thing?"

"Not a problem! Even if they can't see them, my bro will be able to sense the magic with his own Shikigami!" Kaname assured her. "That's one of the reasons I wanted him to go with the others."

"Works for me!" Kagome decided before again looking at the compass. "Okay, Kirara, veer to the left!
Without hesitation, the demon cat obediently changed course, the two girls eager to complete their task.

"That way, InuYasha! Just keep heading in that direction!" Michiru told him, wincing as the half-demon bolted forward.

"Right! Just hang on, you two!" InuYasha growled, somehow managing to accelerate even more. Leaving Michiru and Sango to cling even more tightly to him as he bounded through the forest at a blistering pace that no human could hope to match.

Wincing at the rate the many trees and rocks flew by, his imagination conjuring an image of what would happen to all three of them if InuYasha were to plow into one of them at full speed, Michiru attempted to distract himself from these thoughts. "Sango, are you sure you're up for this?"

"A bit late to be asking me that, isn't it?" Sango replied with a ready smile.

"But..." Michiru tried again, unable to shake he concern he had felt earlier when Sango had insisted on joining them on this mission. "It's just...that thing...it really..."

"I know. But you don't have to worry about me," Sango assured him. "I'm a Demon Slayer, remember? this is just...what I do."

But I always worry about you, Sango, Michiru found himself thinking, wishing that he could put this sentiment to the right kind of words. For he knew just how hard she was willing to push herself in order to brave the dangers they all faced, day in and day out. He had seen her take abuse, both physical and emotional, that would have left lesser people utterly and completely broken. He had seen her push herself to her limits and beyond, all because of what she felt was right. I love you so much because of who you are, but...I can't help but be afraid that you might wind up destroying yourself doing this kind of thing!

As Michiru continued to study the wonderful woman who had stolen his heart, InuYasha broke in. "Hey, Michiru! How much further until we get there!?!"

"Huh?" Michiru frowned, momentarily confused after being startled from his thoughts. Pausing to orient himself, he quickly focused on the flow of natural powers around him, on the beacon he and the others had seen spring up from the forest. "Oh, uh...veer to the left!" he finally announced, pointing out the right direction. "There! That way!"

"Got it!" InuYasha growled, altering his course to follow his friend's instructions. The half-demon continued to run full out, until at last they could see a brilliant light shining through the trees.

"There it is!" Sango beamed as they closed the gap, winding around the final few trees and their goal, a card half-buried in the earth, from which a brilliant beam of light rose up into the sky. Coming to a halt, InuYasha knelt down so that his human companions could disembark. As the Demon Slayer set foot on the ground, she quickly glanced about before looking towards the Shikigami User. "Michiru, do you sense any demonic grass nearby?"

"Huh? Why're you asking that?" InuYasha wondered. "Kagome and Kaname said that they would mark out a path away from that stuff! So why -?!"

"I know that, InuYasha. But still, it doesn't hurt to be careful," Sango told him. When the half-demon snorted his disdain, she added, "And don't forget, it was able to access Kaname's Wood Shikigami. If it was able to turn those plants into monsters, then there's no telling what else it might be capable of. We need to be ready for anything."

InuYasha didn't say anything to this. Instead, he simply folded his arms across his chest and glared at Michiru, as if waiting for him to do what Sango asked. Despite everything, the Shikigami User smiled at his friend's stubbornness, and opened his mind to the magical senses of his familiar spirits. "I...I think we're okay. I'm not sensing anything really close." Then Michiru frowned and pointed off towards his left. "Just be sure not to go too far that way."

"Alright then. Let's get started," Sango decided. "Michiru, which way is the next marker?"

Without hesitation, Michiru turned in the direction from which his Shikigami detected his sister's magic. "It's that way!"

"Okay. Now remember, don't disturb this marker!" Sango reminded them, indicating the card that had led them there. "We need it to mark where we started, so we can get the firebreak to come full circle."

"Yeah, Sango! I know that part! Just how dumb do you think I am, anyway?!" InuYasha muttered huffily as he made his way past the marker. Looking over his shoulder, the half-demon asked, "It's this way, right?" Michiru replied with a quick nod, at which the silver-maned warrior took hold of Tetsusaiga's hilt. "Fine! Then get back!" Drawing forth the heirloom blade of his father, InuYasha took it in both hands. "Now! Wind - Wi...!"

Confused by the delay, both humans frowned, with Michiru asking, "InuYasha? Is something -?" His unfinished question was suddenly answered when the half-demon let loose a mammoth sneeze, inadvertently swinging his sword in the process. As the mammoth fang struck the ground, it's power was sent haphazardly in every direction, tearing through numerous trees and other plans, reducing them to little more than sawdust.

"Aw...dammit!" InuYasha snarled, coughing fitfully as the air filled with dirt and detritus. "Of all the - why can't this blasted cold give me a break?!"

"Oh, great! Blue Sky Purification!" Michiru cast, invoking the power of his Wind Shikigami. In no time at all, a cleansing wind filled the area, carrying away all the airborne debris. As soon as the spell had run its course, he went up to his friend's side. "InuYasha! Are you alright?"

"Grrr...I will be just as soon as this cold gives it up and leaves me alone!" InuYasha growled, rubbing his offensive nose with his kimono sleeve. Growling in his throat, the half-demon gave a shake of his head before looking at his friend. "Feh! Don't worry about me, Michiru! Don't forget that we've got a job to do!"

"Don't worry, nobody's forgetting that," Sango assured him, readying her Hiraikotsu. "But if it's all the same to you, I think we'd all feel better if we stayed behind you."

"Eh, yeah. Sure," InuYasha grumbled, none too happy about the situation, but unable to refute the Demon Slayer's logic. "Tell you what; why don't you take the next shot?"

"My pleasure! Hiraikotsu!" Sango cried out, sending her massive boomerang shooting forward. The demonic weapon shot out, effortlessly mowing down anything that remained in its path. "Your turn, InuYasha!"

"Right! Wind Scar!" Once again, the half-demon sent a brilliant wave of destructive power spilling forth from his sword, one that followed in the same path as the Hiraikotsu. Quickly catching up with the boomerang bone, the Wind Scar combined with it, sending it flying faster and more fiercely, incinerating everything in its path.

"Wow!" Michiru gaped, shielding his eyes until the Wind Scar finally died down, allowing Hiraikotsu to turn about in mid-air.

"Heh! Not bad!" InuYasha grinned triumphantly as Sango caught the huge boomerang. "We'll have this done before you even know it!"

"Maybe, but don't forget, we still have a lot of ground to clear!" Sango reminded them pointedly. Letting that sink in, the Demon Slayer looked about for a moment before pointing ahead. "Look! We can see the next beacon now!"

"Perfect!" InuYasha growled as Michiru nodded his agreement. Now he wouldn't have to constantly monitor and guide his friends, in order to make sure that they were aiming their attacks in the right direction. "Alright, Michiru! You're up!"

"Got it!" Michiru nodded, drawing his own wooden blade and invoking the power of his newest Shikigami. "Take this! Scything Blue Sky!" With a swipe of his sword, the Shikigami User conjured a massive blade of wind that shot forth and mowed down a series of trees and plants, further clearing the way.

So far, so good! Michiru thought as they advanced, InuYasha using his Wind Scar to further pulverize the plants he had mowed down. I just hope Miroku and Shippo will have as much luck as we are!

"Wow! Would you look at that!" Shippo cried out, the transformed fox-demon giving a mighty flap of his wings as he soared over the forest. "They're sure moving down there!"

"Indeed," Miroku remarked thoughtfully. From his vantage point, it was easy to see that his friends on the ground were moving quickly in clearing out the first section of the firebreak. "If they keep moving at this pace, then our might actually work out after all."

A moment passed before Shippo noted, "You don't sound too happy about that."

"Well...the truth is, I wish there had been another way," Miroku admitted as he looked down upon the many shattered trees and plants that still littered the ground below. "I realize that we need to destroy the demonic grass, but...to sacrifice so much life in order to do so." Letting out a low sigh, the monk shook his head before concluding, "We might be saving much of the forest, but that doesn't change the fact that we're still taking and destroying much of it in order to do so. And no matter how necessary that might be, it still goes against my beliefs as a monk."

A low, thoughtful noise sounding in his throat, Shippo eventually nodded his avian head. "Yeah...I know what you mean." Miroku was glad that his youthful friend was satisfied by the explanation given. And the fact of the matter was that it was a large part of what was bothering him. But at the same time, that's all it was; a part of the truth.

When they had decided that it would be best that those amongst them with the most destructive power were best suited to creating the firebreak itself, Miroku had known right away who two of that group would be. And while he had to admit that it made sense to put Michiru and Sango on that team with InuYasha, it still vexed him that the two of them would be together, while he was somewhere else. That his rival for the Demon Slayer's affections would be the one working with her, when in the past, it had been the two of them that had always wound up fighting side-by-side, sharing the danger and protecting each other.

And here we are again, Miroku frowned, an edge of shame and disgust jabbing into his heart. Lately, it feels like all I can think of is Michiru, and his...feelings for Sango.

It was wrong, Miroku knew. Such petty jealously should be beneath him. But at the same time, there seemed to be no way for him to shove aside this all too human weakness. Someone else was actively pursuing Sango, one of the few women that he adored not simply because of her luscious body, and perhaps even rarer, showed greater tolerance for his less enlightened behaviors than most ladies did. And the idea of losing her to someone else, to a boy who had seemingly come out of nowhere just to steal from him the woman he wanted...!

No. It's...it's not fair to think such things...Michiru was originally brought here against his will, after all, Miroku reminded himself. A reminder that did nothing to make him feel better, or to change the fact that Michiru was back. And while this wasn't the first time the monk had had to contend with another man seeking Sango's hand, it was the first time he had seen the Demon Slayer responding to such advances.

If only...if I'd had a chance to...to say something to her before he'd come back! If only Naraku hadn't returned when he had! Miroku found himself thinking. If only I'd been able to...to do something today! To try and...and...

"Hey, Miroku! Are you awake down there?" Shippo wondered, snapping the monk from his thoughts.

"Hmm?" Miroku started as he was returned to the present. "Oh. My...apologies, Shippo. What is it?"

"We're closing in on the firebreak, and it looks like InuYasha and the others left a big mess down there!" Shippo reported.

Comprehension dawning upon him, Miroku nodded and looked down at the area that had been cleared so far. Sure enough, there was a fair amount of debris left behind. Some of it consisted a few branches and chunks of wood that had managed to survive the destructive powers of the threesome one the ground, but the majority was a cloud of dust that was even now rising up. A cloud that was easily flammable and could likely allow the spreading fire to jump over the gap to the rest of the forest.

Letting out a sigh, Miroku paused just long enough to wish that it he had been blessed with powers of destruction, that it was him down there with Sango and not his rival in love, before returning his focus to the present. Like the others, he and Shippo had a job to do, and they had to do it right in order to keep the fire contained. "Right. Take us on in closer!"

"Okay! We're going in!" Shippo cried out before going into a dive. Causing Miroku to grimace in pain as the fox demon's claws tightened about his shoulders.

And another reason to want to trade places with Michiru, Miroku thought acidly. He's not the one being dangled about from Shippo's claws with nothing but empty air beneath his feet!

While the monk strove to keep his aggravation in check, to remind himself that Shippo was carrying him this way so that he could perform his role in the operation without risk to anyone else, Miroku took hold of the beads binding his cursed right hand. "Now! Wind Tunnel!" he cried out, releasing the abyssal vortex. At once, the void in his hand began pulling in everything within range of its demonic winds, including the huge clouds of dust filling the air. Within seconds, every speck of pulverized wood had been drawn into the Wind Tunnel, and thus could not help propagate the deadly flame and help it cause further destruction.

"Well done, Miroku!" Shippo called even as the monk sealed the Wind Tunnel up once again and surveyed his handiwork. There were still a few signs of branches and twigs down there, but nothing substantial. Certainly nothing sufficient for the blaze to feed upon.

"Alright, then. Shippo, proceed to the next area," Miroku instructed his young friend. "We still have much work that needs to be done." The fox-demon made a noise of confirmation before flapping his wings and driving them forward. Allowing the monk to forget, if only for a time, his own dilemma.

No matter what human flaws Miroku had, he knew that he was still a monk in service to Buddha. And as a monk, the preservation of life came before everything else.

"Pillar of Light!" Kaname called out as she fired another card into the ground. As before, the card struck home, flashing brightly before sending a brilliant beacon of light shining up into the sky.

As the Kuurugi girl mopped her brow, feeling the effects of her exertions that day, Kagome turned to look her in the face. "Good going, Kaname!," she smiled, only for her smile to falter somewhat as she took in the beads of sweat rolling down her face. "Say, are you alright? You're looking pretty tired."

"Yeah...I am getting kinda wiped," Kaname admitted ruefully. While performing magic wasn't the same as running or exercising, it did take a very real, physical toll on her, and as much as she didn't want to admit it, the Shikigami User was quickly reaching her limits. "How many more beacons do you think we'll need?"

"Hmm...let's see..." Kagome began, holding up the compass once again. "We're pretty close to the first beacon, so as long as there's no sign of demonic grass between here and there...I think that'll do it."

I sure hope so, Kaname thought despite herself. Over the past half hour or so, she had generated almost thirty Pillars of Light to mark out the path of the firebreak, and after being fed upon by the demonic grass, she was in dire need of more than just the few minutes rest, the few glasses of water, and the couple cups of ramen she had been able to partake in before setting out on this operation. As soon as we're done, I'm going to do absolutely nothing but sit back, relax, and eat until I burst!

Wondering if they indeed had enough supplies to sate the enormous appetite she had worked up, Kaname was brought back to the moment when Kagome announced, "I'm not detecting any outcroppings of the grass. Kirara, could you sweep the area between that last beacon and the first one again? I want to make sure we didn't miss anything." As Kirara growled agreeably, the Kururugi girl tightened her grip on her friend's waist, something that was not lost on Kagome. "Hey...are you sure you're alright?" the modern priestess asked as she looked back at her. "You're looking...kinda pale."

"I...I'm okay, Kagome. Just...just tired, that's all," Kaname conceded. "You don't have to worry about me. I'll be fine."

"Yeah, you'll be fine. Because as soon as we're done, we're heading right to the farmhouse so you can get some rest!" Kagome declared, her voice making it clear that she would brook no argument in this. Before Kaname could even think to protest this, the raven-haired girl again focused on the compass. "Good. There's no sign of any demonic grass between the beacons. So as long as InuYasha and the others keep right on the lines between each marker, they should be just fine."

"Good," Kaname acknowledged. Then an idea came to her, prompting her to ask, "Uh, Kagome...now that we've set out all the beacons, don't you think we should go and check on them? Just to make sure?" When the reborn priestess made a quizzical sound in her throat, the Shikigami User explained, "Even with the Pillars of Light as guides, well...there's always a chance something might happen, and..."

Letting out a low sigh, Kagome considered the Kururugi girl for a moment. "I know, you're right. But, still, maybe we should head back to the farmhouse. You've been through a lot today, remember?"

"I know, I know," Kaname acknowledged with a wave of her hand. "I just...want to make sure, okay? I mean...I know it might seem crazy, but I just want to make sure that my bro and the others are alright." Frowning pensively, she shrugged and added, "After all, I'm partly to blame for this mess, and...well..."

"Kaname, I've already told you, it's not your fault," Kagome retorted, her voice tinged with annoyance. As the Shikigami User let her gaze fall somewhat, the other girl sighed, and managed a weak smile. "And worrying about your brother is not crazy." A squeak of surprise escaping her lips, Kaname looked up to see a more genuine smile on her new friend's face. "Fine, you win. We'll make one more pass over the area, just to make sure that everybody's fine. And once that's done, we're heading back to the farm. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Got that?"

A weak smile of her spreading across her own face, Kaname nodded and replied, "Got it. And, Kagome? Thanks."

"You can thank me by just sitting back and taking it easy, just as soon as we get back to the farmhouse!" Kagome smiled before turning to face forward again. "Alright, you heard her, Kirara! Let's go!" Growling fiercely, the two-tailed cat rushed forward, very nearly knocking Kaname backwards as she banked to the side. A moment later, however, Kirara leveled out, and both her riders were able to relax somewhat as she flew on the same path established by the Pillars of Light the Kururugi girl had created.

Before long, they reached the point at which InuYasha and the others had begun clearing the firebreak. As they flew over it, Kaname let out a low whistle. "Wow...it's hard to imagine that they were able to do all this! And all in...how long have we been at this, anyway?"

Glancing down at her watch, Kagome reported, "It's been almost half an hour now. Feels like it's been a lot longer, though."

"I know. Believe me, I know," Kaname agreed as Kirara continued to fly forward. Though several of the Pillars of Light she had created had been destroyed in the process of creating the firebreak, the break itself became their guide as they surveyed the handiwork of the others. "Hey, Kagome! Over there!" Pointing towards the infested part of the woods, she added, "The fire's reached the break!"

"What?! Already?!" Kagome squawked in dismay. Following Kaname's outstretched finger, the raven-haired girl's mouth popped open when she saw that the blaze had indeed reached the perimeter they had marked out. "Oh, no! You're right!"

"Wh-what should we do?" Kaname wondered as she looked at her more experienced friend. For a long time, Kagome simply sat there, studying the fire, before sticking her finger in her mouth. "Kagome?"

Holding her finger up to the wind, Kagome frowned in thought for a moment before announcing, "I see. The wind's blowing this way. That must be why the fire reached this side of the break first." Kaname continued to sit there, blinking her confusion as the modern priestess looked back and explained, "That's a relief. Since the others are past this point, they shouldn't have to worry about the fire. At least not yet."

Kaname blinked a few more times before suffering the urge to smack herself over the forehead. Oh, of course! So that's what she was doing! I should have figured that out myself! the Kururugi girl scolded herself before glancing up and studying what she could see of the firebreak. Sure enough, this was the only area in which the fire had managed to get the outer edge of the contaminated area.

"At least that's one less thing to worry about," Kagome decided before glancing back at her fellow modern girl. "Still, we should probably go and find the others, let them know to get finished as fast as they can."

"Right." Then Kaname sighed, shifting about for a moment before going on to say, "Uh, Kagome?" The reborn priestess made a questioning sound in her throat as she looked back at her. "I'm...I'm sorry I...I freaked out like that."

Kagome's mouth popped open before quickly settling into an easy smile. "That's okay. It's not easy, getting used to the kind of craziness we have to deal with her," she finally told her. "I remember what it was like for me when I first came here. I can't even tell you the number of things that had me freaking out."

"Really?" Kaname breathed, somewhat surprised by this.

"Really," Kagome confirmed. Then she gave Kaname an impish smile and added, "In fact, when this is over, remind me to tell you about some of the freakouts your brother had the first time he was here with us!"

"Oh. Right," Kaname replied numbly. On the one hand, there was a part of her that was definitely interested in hearing about some of her brother's more embarrassing escapades during his first adventure. But at the same time, she was too tired, too frazzled, and too worried and embarrassed and several other things to really think about such things at the moment. "Anyway, let's...let's just find the others, okay? The sooner we make sure they're not hurt or anything, the better I'll feel."

"That makes two of us," Kagome confirmed before urging Kirara forward.

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