As Michiru sat against the tree, Sango's arms wrapped about him and with Kirara curled up at his side, he frowned, for on one level, he knew he should be feeling pretty good. Granted, he was still weak from his experience with Naraku's evil mask, as well as in pain from last night's battle, but a great many of his problems had recently been solved. Miroku had finally confessed to using his Wind Tunnel and trying to frame him, Sango had declared her love for him to everyone, and soon he and she would be going to the mountains where the Demon Slayers would be able to speed his recovery. They had everything they needed for both the wolf-demons and Demon Slayers, and with any luck, Naraku would be out of action for the foreseeable future.
So why don't I feel better about this? Michiru found himself wondering. It feels like...something's not right here. Like something's about to blow up in our faces.
As he continued to sit back and wait for Miroku's return, Michiru frowned, wishing that he could simply chalk up his unease to simply being overstressed and perhaps a bit paranoid and be done with. But he had been traveling the Feudal Era to know that peace was more often the calm before the storm. And as much as he wished otherwise, there had been plenty of warning signs this morning of a massive storm.
Kagome's aberrant behavior had certainly been a major red flag. While he had not been surprised that she had been angered at learning that he and Sango had shared a bed the previous night, the outrage the reborn priestess had demonstrated had been far beyond anything that Michiru could have expected or anticipated. But even as he had been struggling to fathom Kagome striking Sango without warning, he frowned and considered another, more worrying matter.
He had expected Kagome to be upset over Miroku's confession, especially after she argued so forcefully and repeatedly in the monk's defense. But after such a revelation, Michiru thought that her rage would have turned towards Miroku. But instead, she had looked even angrier and disgusted, gazing at the Kururugi boy like he was something that she had scraped off the bottom of her shoe. And then there's...whatever happened between her and InuYasha, he thought, recalling how Kagome had run off with the half-demon quick to follow. Something happened between them, that's obvious. And...InuYasha must've said something to her to convince her to come back. But...what did he say to her that would...have her acting like this?
As Michiru studied the modern priestess, he frowned worriedly, because where she had once been filled with rage, now she looked hollowed out and confused. Anger had shifted to an expression of fear, almost even despair. Leaving her listlessly moving about before coming to sit down next to InuYasha, who was still conversing easily with Kaname.
Something I know Kagome wouldn't be happy about, Michiru frowned, knowing full well the issues Kagome had regarding Kikyo. And while he hadn't been with the group as long as some of its other members, he had heard stories of how jealous Kagome could be when InuYasha was with the undead priestess. But...Kaname, is she...?
Frowning somewhat at this fledgling possibility, Michiru then filed it away for later consideration before moving onto to the thing that concerned him the most at the moment; Sango herself.
The Demon Slayer had known right from the beginning that Miroku had been the guilty party. And as much as Michiru had expected Kagome to be upset at the monk's confession, he had been certain that Sango would be relieved at Miroku's decision to clear Michiru's name. But after she had finished taking care of Kanna and Kohaku, the woman Michiru loved and knew so well had seemed tired and conflicted. As if she had were wrestling with something terrible in her own heart. A conflict that had ultimately resulted in her breaking down in tears as she clung tightly to him, burying her face in his shoulder.
But why? What could have happened to make her cry like that? Michiru wondered even as Sango continued to cling to him, her arms wrapped about him tightly, as if she were afraid to let go. She knew that Miroku was guilty, so that can't be it. So...what could it be? As he continued to gently stroke her back, this simple exercise requiring all the strength he presently had, he frowned sadly before asking, And why won't she tell me about it...?
Michiru had no answers to it, and when he asked Sango what was wrong earlier, she had given him no answer. Something which, while unfortunate, was not surprising. For even though the Demon Slayer was quick to give voice to the concerns she felt for others, she was often reluctant to admit to any of the inner torments she herself felt. Especially if she felt that torment was something that could only impede the others...or something especially painful for her. So much so that even speaking of it brought her even greater suffering.
Continuing to study Sango's lovely face, wishing that he had the strength to give her the comfort she deserved, or at least knew what troubled her, Michiru frowned sadly. "Sango?" he began, his lingering weakness leaving his voice even softer than he intended. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"I'm fine, Michiru," Sango assured him, even as she tightened her grip on him. "You...don't have to worry about me..."
But I do worry. Especially when you're like this, Michiru fretted inwardly. For even though Sango said she was fine, and might even look that way to others, he knew her. And he could tell that she was not fine. And it was obvious from the way that she looked at her mistress that Kirara also knew that something was amiss with the Demon Slayer. Even as the Shikigami User did his best to convey physical comfort, the two-tail was mewing her concern. Why do you have to do this, Sango? Why do you have to lock me out when you're hurting...?
But even as he thought this, Michiru sighed, for he already knew the answer to this. How Sango refused to let anything about her, her pain, her problems, even the life of her brother, become a burden to anyone else but her. Leaving him unable to do anything but try and be a source of comfort for the Demon Slayer in her time of need...and wait for Miroku to arrive so they could finally get down to the business the group had assembled for.
As Michiru continued to look about at the others as they waited outside the mine from which they had retrieved the gold, he heard the sound of footsteps as well as a faint jangling of metal rings, signaling that their wait had come to an end. "Sorry to keep you all waiting, everyone," Miroku announced even as Michiru turned to look at him. When the monk glanced at the Kururugi boy, his expression hardened somewhat, something that grew more intense when he focused on Sango. "There was much that...needed to be done at the warehouse."
"Hmph!" Azusa snorted disgustedly even as Jiro winced, the Demon Slayer having been struggling to keep the she-wolf's foul temper at a low boil. "More like you tried to get your hands on some stupid human cow!"
Wincing at the vile attitude voiced by the she-wolf, Michiru then frowned at the dark clouds that appeared over Miroku's head at this. For a moment, it looked like he would counter this statement, but then he stood a deep, steadying breath, before reporting, "Densuke's people have almost finished preparing a sizeable load of supplies for our trip to the mountains; they should have it ready within half an hour's time. And, as promised, they'll be standing ready to assist in loading it on Hachi, once we're ready to leave."
"Good," Jiro nodded even as Azusa snorted again.
"Nice to hear something's going right for us, for once," InuYasha muttered with a snort of his own before turning his gaze elsewhere. "Okay, old man, we're all here and we've got everything ready. So now are you willing to cough up what you've figured out about this sword?"
Noting the way InuYasha fingered the Reikikaega, Totosai nodded. "Yes, yes, of course," the elderly blacksmith returned. "But, uh...Kaname, you mentioned that there was a spell that could...insure that no one else could listen in on us? Would you be so kind as to...?"
"Sure, no problem!" Kaname replied even as she rose to her feet. Drawing out five cards even as a pentagram spun into existence at her feet, she smiled and threw the cards straight up into the air. "Oh, overflowing blue sky, surround this space with silence! Blue Sky of the Silent Sanctuary!"
With this invocation, the bird that was her Wind Shikigami rose up and empowered the five cards, sending them flying off in different directions to bury themselves in the ground. As everyone watched, lines of magical power appeared from each of the points of impact, interconnecting them and forming a pentagram. At the same time, a magical wind began to encircle them, forming a dome that completely surrounded them.
"There!" Kaname declared even as the gentle wind that now surrounded them continued to blow. "Now nobody can hear anything we say or do while we're within the Silent Sanctuary!"
"Are you sure about that?!" Azusa demanded, her brows furrowed with disbelief. "I still don't think you Shikigami Users are anywhere near as great as you think you are!"
Kaname was visibly stung by this remark, and though she wasn't quick to anger, she was also visibly annoyed. But before either she or Michiru could say anything to response, Jiro spoke up. "Well, if you want to test the spell, there's an easy way of doing it." When Azusa gave him a look, the Demon Slayer elaborated with, "Just go outside, and we'll try talking to you. If you don't hear us, then it's safe to say that no one else who might be out there will, either."
Opening her mouth to counter this, Azusa then paused in consideration, her expression shifting in an almost humorous manner as she thought this over. "Alright, fine!" she finally declared. "Though how some stupid spell is gonna keep me from hearing whatever's happening when I'm right next to it is beyond me!"
Rising to her feet, Azusa then marched over to the perimeter of the dome, hesitating but a moment before the magical wind that surrounded them before finally marching right through it. "Alright, go ahead!" she declared even as she paused and turned to face them. "Start talking about...whatever crap you want to talk about!"
"Any ideas what we should say?" Shippo wondered, glancing about the others.
"I'm not sure," Hachi muttered, giving the she-wolf a nervous glance. "Just...anything would do, I guess."
"Well, what are you waiting for?! Start talking!" Azusa demanded, placing her hands to her hips. "I haven't got all day, you know!"
His eyes bulging in surprise, Shippo yelped, "She didn't hear us?!"
"It would seem so," Jiro nodded thoughtfully.
"Wait, are you idiots talking?!" Azusa wondered, annoyance giving way to confusion. "Is this some kind of joke?!"
Chuckling at this development, InuYasha shot Azusa a nasty look. "So, bitchy wolf, you think Shikigami Users aren't so great, huh?" he snickered nastily. "Well, it looks like you wolf-demons are the one that are falling short of your expectations...you stupid, arrogant, scrawny little -!"
Even as InuYasha spoke, Azusa ducked her head back into the Silent Sanctuary, just in time to hear the tail end of his derogatory commentary. "Watch it, you walking flea-feast!" she snarled irately. "I might not have heard everything that came out of that damn mouth of yours, but you'll shut it if you know what's good for you!!"
Before InuYasha had a chance to again open said mouth and express his opinion of Azusa's threat, Jiro broke in with, "So, are you satisfied that the barrier is soundproof?" Azusa opened her mouth to snipe at the Demon Slayer, but after a moment, she folded her arms across her chest and scowled instead. "Then let's settle down and listen to Totosai. The sooner we hear him out, the sooner we get back to the mountains."
Unable to argue with this but not plainly not liking the fact that Jiro had her cornered with logic, Azusa gave another snort of annoyance. "Alright, fine," the redhead grumbled with considerable bad grace as she moved over to sit back down near him. "But this damn story sure as hell better be worth it!"
Taking note of the vicious glare Azusa shot at him, Totosai issued a tiny gulp before clearing his throat. "Uh, yes, yes. Of course." Heaving a deep breath, the aged blacksmith looked about at the others, and frowning intently. "Now, as I've already explained, in order for you all to understand the full magnitude of the Reikikaega's powers, I would first have to explain to you how I came to know of these things myself."
"Whatever, old man," InuYasha grumbled impatiently. "Just do us a favor, and do like that scrawny wolf said; make sure this story's a good one!"
There were two things that InuYasha really hated about having to deal with Totosai. The first and foremost was the aged blacksmith's absent-minded and eccentric nature. He was forgetful and scatterbrained, and had very strange ways of thinking. Even as he considered Totosai, InuYasha found himself thinking back to the fiasco he had had to endure as a result of one of his creations, the aptly-named Flower Bloomer. That disaster was a prime example of Totosai's faults in the half-demon's mind; for some reason that InuYasha would never understand, Totosai had decided it would be a good idea to create a sword whose only real power was to make flowers bloom when someone who wanted to kill used it, and wouldn't allow the wielder to switch to a more useful weapon. And so, InuYasha had very nearly gotten killed when the old man had tricked him into using it.
The second thing that InuYasha hated about Totosai...was that he absolutely had to put up with the ancient weapons-maker. Totosai knew more about magical weapons in general and Tetsusaiga and Tenseiga in particular than any other living being, having forged both magical blades himself. There was a great deal of ancient knowledge and wisdom rattling about in his aged head, things that had proven to be invaluable in the past, and would likely continue to do so in the future. Furthermore, the old man was the only person capable of repairing Tetsusaiga if it were damaged, and had the capability to make powerful new weapons if needed.
And we're definitely gonna need him for that, InuYasha thought, recalling Totosai's excitement when he had first discovered the transformed jet and the purified demon power that now seethed through it. If he was serious about the kind of weapons he could make from that thing...then that could give us a major edge against Naraku! And that's something we're gonna need!
Which meant that they had to at least remain cordial with Totosai, and put up with his eccentric ways. No matter how much said ways grated on their nerves. And while InuYasha was resigned to this, it was with considerable bad grace.
"This story began centuries past, long before any of you were born," Totosai slowly started, sitting cross-legged and with his face angled slightly up towards the sky, as if he were studying the fluffy white clouds overhead. "It all started with a strange group of people from the mainland - China, to be precise - who had come with the intent of creating a new settlement here. They were a strange people, unlike anything seen here before."
"How so?" Jiro asked quizzically. "Were they some sort of demon?"
"No, not demons, young man," Totosai informed him. "But...they weren't precisely human, either." A chrous of perplexed noises sounded in the throats of those listening before the aged blacksmith began again. "I don't know much about them, but from what I was able to learn, they were from a tribe of powerful martial artists. They were fanatical about mastering the ways of battle, of perfecting their skills and becoming greater, more powerful warriors. And to reach their goals, they used a form of magic unknown to us to somehow obtain the powers of the animals."
"Uh - wait, what?!" Shippo yelped in surprise. "You mean they were half-human, half-animal?! How'd they do that?!"
"I just told you, I don't know how they went about it," Totosai replied with a touch of annoyance. "But, yes, to an extent, they were part beast, and thus they had the power of the creatures of the wild. Some were graced with the strength of the tiger, others had the speed of the wolf, and others the cunning of the fox. These, and so many more." Then he narrowed his eyes somewhat as he studied the others there. "And those of the royal family, their leaders...their bloodline carried with it the awesome power...of the dragon."
"Humans...with the powers of dragons?!" Azusa growled incredulously. "Is this for real?!"
"Very real, my dear," Totosai confirmed. "Now, as I was saying, this particular group had come here to establish a colony, to expand their tribe. Seek out new power, new skills for themselves. No one really knows what their long-term plans were. All we know is that they possessed considerable knowledge of the fighting arts, as well as the ability to manipulate their chi to a degree that was virtually unheard of. They knew secrets of Chinese magic, and other mysteries that we have no knowledge of." The aged blacksmith paused, seeming to think for a moment before continuing. "And once these bestial warriors had established their colony, it very quickly flourished. As you can expect, warriors of such raw skill and power didn't have to worry overmuch about bandits. And even demons were quickly taught to respect their strength and abilities." There was another pause as Totosai frowned in thought. "This colony continued to have dealings with the mainland, sometimes bringing in more people from there. They traded with some of the local villages, and even indulged in an occasional conquest. Capturing more animals and even demons for...well, whatever magic they had used to obtain the powers they wielded. And through means we do not know of, incorporated their powers into their own bloodline." Then the ancient sword-maker lowered his eyes and studying the faces of those surrounding him. "But not all was well within the colony. Indeed, their own undoing was already taking root, without them even realizing it."
"What do you mean?" Miroku wondered.
"Well, you see, these people...well, they had very misogynistic attitudes. They viewed women as weaklings, fit only to bear children and take care of their homes," Totosai explained. "Indeed, their sons were taken from their mothers as soon as they had been weaned and kept from them as they grew to adulthood, lest contact with females make them soft and weak."
A wan chuckle was heard at this. "They wouldn't have thought that...if they knew Sango," Michiru remarked, giving the warrior woman in question an affectionate look.
Unable to argue with that, InuYasha then focused on Totosai. "So they were assholes about women," he muttered disinterestedly. "What's that have to do with anything?"
"As it turned out...everything," Totosai informed the half-demon. "For as you can well imagine, there were women among those people that did not take kindly to the role they had been cast into. They resented being regarded as too weak to do anything but tend to their homes and play the role of servant to their men, who were all skilled, powerful warriors. And none of them hated this more than the Princess Mei-Xing." Giving this a moment to sink, the aged blacksmith studied the group before continuing. "Mei-Xing, like the rest of the royal bloodline, had the power of the dragon. And because of the magic used by her people, demonic power also flooded through her veins. But because she was a born a woman, despite being a princess, she had less authority than the lowliest male of their kind." His eyes narrowing intently, Totosai then went on to say, "But while some of the women of her people were content with their roles, she was not. Quite the contrary; she dreamed of battle and conquest, of glory in the battlefield. She wished to be a warrior, even greater than the men that oppressed her."
"Well...I guess I can understand her being upset about the way she and other women were treated," Kaname decided. "I know I wouldn't want to be treated that way."
"And if equal rights were her ultimate goal, perhaps her efforts would not have ended in tragedy," Totosai admitted. "But Mei-Xing's ambitions loomed far and above such a goal. Instead, she longed for revolution, to completely overthrow the existing regime. She desired to oppress the men of her people just as she herself and been oppressed, to make slaves of them all. And ultimately, she intended to return to her homeland, to establish herself as the supreme ruler of all her kind."
InuYasha couldn't help but scowl in disgust at this. He knew full well what it was like to be oppressed for no other reason than how you were born. He knew it and hated it with every fiber of his being, and he certainly couldn't blame anyone for wanting a better life. To find friends, respect, dignity, and everything else that had been denied to a person because of something they could not control. But even though he had racked up his share of bad karma over the years, despite all the lonely years he had been forced to suffer, alone and unwanted in a world where half-demons were condemned by both their parent races, he had learned the hard way that inflicting the same cruelty that had been heaped upon him provided no solace to one's torment. Scaring them off was one thing, even laying down the law and making it clear that you wouldn't take what they were dishing out was a far cry from what Mei-Xing had wanted. Reversing roles and becoming what your tormentor had been wouldn't make anyone else change the way they looked at you, it would do nothing to make your life any better.
In the end, all it would do was prove to those that hated and scorned you that they had been right to despise you. And as a result, make you even more alone.
"Even more unfortunate was that this princess had had little trouble gathering up a significant following of others who felt similarly to her," Totosai somberly continued. "There were no shortage of women living in discontent in their society, and as a warrior culture, the idea of a violent, bloody revolution was one that was easily accepted. And it was an idea that Mei-Xing preached to them whenever possible."
"So what happened?" Shippo wondered.
"What happened was that Mei-Xing realized that she had a formidable problem that she would have to overcome if she were to make her dreams of conquest reality," Totosai informed the little fox. "You see, while her ambitions were without bound, she and her fellow would-be revolutionaries lacked the combat training their male counterparts had. They had not been allowed to develop their physical and mental prowess to the same degree as the men of their people had. And even though Mei-Xing and her fellows had done their all to improve and develop their abilities in secret, they knew that they could not hope to wage a successful war of conquest through strength alone."
"But that didn't stop her, did it?" InuYasha grumbled, his words not a real question.
"No, it did not," Totosai confirmed. "For you see, Mei-Xing also realized that she had three things working in her favor. One; even though she and those who followed her were relatively unskilled, they still possessed greater power than normal humans, and even many demons. Second; as they were women, the men of their tribe didn't pay over much attention to them. As long as they did their chores and obeyed orders, most men were content to ignore them. And third - and perhaps, most crucial - Mei-Xing was still a princess, and had access to the vast wealth of knowledge and secrets wielded by the royal family."
"And just what kind of secrets are you talking about?!" InuYasha demanded, some of his usual impatience getting the better of him. "And what do these people have to do with the Reikikaega?!"
Instead of immediately responding, Totosai fixed the half-demon with his bulging eyes. "InuYasha," he began, speaking in an oddly quiet voice. "The Backlash Wave, Tetsusaiga's ultimate technique. Were you aware that I based it on a fighting technique utilized by this tribe of beast-people?"
Of all the things that he could have imagined Totosai saying, this had not even come close. And as InuYasha stared in slack-jawed disbelief at the ancient blacksmith, he soon realized that he was not alone in this. "Wh-what?!" Shippo yelped. "Are you kidding?!"
"These people had actually developed their own version of the Backlash Wave?!" Sango demanded, tearing herself away from cuddling Michiru for the first time since they had gathered.
"I cannot say for certain if it was indeed they who developed the base technique," Totosai admitted, "but yes, it was from their wealth of scrolls that I learned the mechanics needed for the Backlash Wave."
"But - hey, wait a second! If they're the ones that had the scrolls you used to make the Backlash Wave, then how did you get your hands on them?!" InuYasha impatiently demanded. "How did you even know these people, anyway?!"
"InuYasha, I will gladly answer your questions," Totosai informed him in a gentle voice. A voice that soon hardened as he yelled, "If you stop interrupting me long enough for me to finish my story!!"
InuYasha very nearly fell over in surprise as he recoiled from the irate blacksmith. The half-demon could count on one hand the number of times he had been yelled at by Totosai, and every time he had done so, it was either because he was very upset, or because of a matter of considerable importance. And judging from the present situation, InuYasha was forced to conclude that the latter was the case. And so, with considerable bad grace, he settled back down and snorted. "Fine, whatever..."
"Thank you," Totosai returned in hi regular voice. "Then, uh...let me see...where was I...?"
Metaphoric jets of steam were shooting out of InuYasha's ears when Jiro suggested, "You were telling us how Princess Mei-Xing had access to special scrolls, and the other things in her favor."
"Ah, yes!" Totosai cried out, driving his fist down upon his free hand. "Uh, thank you, young man!" Pausing to clear his throat, the elderly blacksmith continued. "As I said, she had those three things working in her favor, and you better believe she lost no time in putting these advantages to use! Taking full advantage of the men's tendency to ignore their day-to-day actions, those who followed Mei-Xing would surreptitiously venture from the village, under the guise of carrying out mundane chores such as gathering herbs or what-have-you. They would then set about activities such as ambushing bandits for money and weapons, or searching for other weapons and resources that they could use to fuel their planned revolution. All the while Mei-Xing sought out knowledge in the many scrolls kept by the royal family. Searching for anything that could give them the edge in the battle to come."
"And...what did they find?" Miroku wondered.
"They happened upon many things, monk. But above all else, they found something terrible. Something horrific, that should have been left hidden away," Totosai informed them. "One day, Mei-Xing's followers found an ancient shrine, one that had been badly damaged as the result of a recent attack by demons. The priests and priestesses, those that had survived, were all badly wounded, and exhausted from both the battle and the efforts to bury their fallen brethren, as well as make repairs to their shrine. They were easy pickings for the beast-women, who broke through what remained of their defenses, and found within the shrine an ancient scroll of terrible evil. One that was so powerful and dangerous, it could not be destroyed by any means that the priests and priestesses had at their command." Even as InuYasha considered asking what was so special about this scroll, the elderly blacksmith answered his unspoken question. "A scroll detailing a terrible ritual, which when followed to the letter, would open a portal...to the very depths of hell itself."
All of a sudden, InuYasha got a bad feeling in the back of his mind. Something about Totosai's words were ringing warning bells, though whether it was simply the mention of hell that did it, or there was something more to his words, he wasn't certain. So he contented himself to sit back and continue to listen, wondering when Totosai would finally get to the point.
"They had found other treasures, of course. One was the formula for a potion that would increase their bestial aspects tremendously, amplifying their animalistic powers tenfold. And in the case of Mei-Xing, it would also increase the demonic power in her blood considerably," Totosai informed them. "As for the princess, she had made discoveries of her own, including a scroll detailing various arts of dragon summoning. But it was that hellish scroll that I told you of that set in motion her plans for conquest." At this point, the elderly demon heaved a weary sigh, as if somehow in pain. "While Mei-Xing tasked her followers with gathering the ingredients for the potion, she made arrangements to travel away from their settlement...and began a journey to where her followers had told her she could find a blacksmith. One capable of forging for her a powerful, demonic sword."
"You mean they were looking for you?" Kaname inquired.
"So that's how you know so much about these beast-women!" InuYasha declared, relieved that they were finally getting to at least some of the more important business there. "They wanted you to make some kind of super sword so they could take over!"
"Not exactly," Totosai returned. "It's true that it was their quest for a powerful sword that led to my involvement, but it was not I that they wished to make the sword." This earned the elderly demon a series of puzzled looks, prompting him to give a weary frown. "When all of this happened, I was a much younger man, and not quite as skilled in the ways of the forge as I am now. At that time, I had recently concluded my apprenticeship to my mentor, the master smith Katashi, and was working as his partner at his place of business. I would handle the simpler weapons we were commissioned to make, all the while studying his technique as he worked on the more complex weapons."
"So it was your teacher they wanted to see, huh?" InuYasha gathered, a bit surprised by this twist. "So, what happened?"
"Oh...I remember what happened next as if it were yesterday," Totosai muttered somberly. "Princess Mei-Xing entered our place of business, looking the very image of royalty. Hair as black as midnight, save for her white bangs; eyes that were the color of dried blood, and dressed in the finery of her people. But even as beauteous as she was...you could almost smell her will, her desire for power. Her eagerness for conquest." Giving a slight shudder, the aged blacksmith shook his head. "Oh, she was dangerous, InuYasha. A person not to be trifled with, of that you could be sure."
"Yeah, I'll bet," InuYasha grumbled, far from impressed. After all his battles with powerful demons and worse, an arrogant bitch of a princess with delusions of grandeur did not impress. "So what happened?"
"Well, she asked to meet with my master," Totosai informed him. "I was concerned, of course, and so was he when Mei-Xing began to explain that she wanted to commission Katashi to craft a sword. My old master didn't make weapons of power for just anyone, after all." Then the aged demon gave a low sigh before admitting, "But...well, times were tough back then, and even demons need money at times. And then was one of those times. So when Mei-Xing threw down several bags of gold...we were both tempted." Shaking his head slowly, as if haunted by some secret shame, the elderly blacksmith locked gazes with InuYasha. "My master and Mei-Xing started haggling over the sword she wished for my master to make, and let me tell you that it took a long time for them to come to an agreement. But ultimately, once he had been assured that she only wanted a strong, durable sword, one that could stand up to anything, but without any special powers inherent to so many demonic weapons, he finally agreed." His eyes lowering to the ground, Totosai sadly muttered, "And so, my old master began work...on what would be the last sword he would ever make."
Sucking in a gasp, Sango then eyed the aged blacksmith with eyes filled with sympathy. "Then...she killed him...Totosai, I..."
"No, Lady Sango...no. Mei-Xing...did not kill my old master...at least not directly." But even as he said these words, Totosai scowled, a touch of hatred in his eyes. "But...I daresay it would have been a kinder fate if she had..." As these words sounded, the bitterness and pain with which they had been spoken sinking into InuYasha's stomach where they proceeded to burn, the ancient weapons smith continued with his tail. "The sword Mei-Xing commissioned was devious in its complexity, and required very special materials in order to be made as strong and enduring as she wished. But eventually, with time and effort on both ends, the needed materials were gathered, and the sword was finally completed." Pausing to heave a deep, weary breath, Totosai studied the faces looking at him. "When the day finally came for Mei-Xing to collect the completed sword, she was very pleased with it, and decided to finally give it a name. Having been born in Japan, she chose a Japanese name for the blade." Slowly angling his face towards the sky, the old man concluded, "And the name she chose for that terrible sword was...Sounga..."
Again, virtually everyone there was flattened with astonishment, with InuYasha crying out in shock as he fell backwards in shock. "What the hell?!" he howled in disgusted disbelief even as he recovered. "You mean that master of your was the one who created the Sounga?! Are you for real?!"
"I understand how you feel, InuYasha, but at that time, Sounga was not the dread blade that you encountered!" Totosai quickly explained. "As Katashi had made it, was a fine sword with an excellent edge, and was strong enough to endure much damage, but that was where he had left it! It had been little more than a blank slate, one for Mei-Xing to modify as she saw fit! At that time, we had been wary of her, but had no other reason not to accept her business." Lowering his eyes in deep shame, the aged blacksmith added, "Believe me, if we had known what she would make the Sounga into...my master would have quickly thrown her money back in her face."
Even as he continued to scowl at Totosai, InuYasha frowned, for while he was still angered, he knew that, in this instance, he had no right to take that anger out on the old man. For he knew full well what it was like to be deceived, and to make a horrible mistake as a result of that deception. But even as he found himself thinking of the dark day Naraku had entered his life, the half-demon shuddered, and forced the agonizing past away. "Alright," he muttered, those old wounds still too painful for him to dwell upon. "So what happened after that?"
"What happened was Mei-Xing put her plans into motion," Totosai informed them in a low, pained voice. "After smuggling the Sounga back into her settlement, she began using everything she and her followers had gathered and learned to shape it into the dread weapon of destruction that you came to know. They used the techniques and magic that Mei-Xing had discovered in the royal scrolls, whatever discoveries her followers had made, and even more, all to shape it and give it power. But all of this alone could not give it the power she needed in order to make the weapon she needed for her bloody revolution...so Mei-Xing came up with a plan."
As Totosai gave this a moment to sink in, Miroku's eyes lit up with comprehension. "The scroll you mentioned...the one that could open a portal to hell," the monk breathed, having made the connection. "The Sounga was possessed by a dragon from hell..."
"That's correct, monk," Totosai nodded solemnly. "As you've already guessed, Mei-Xing intended to open a portal to the depths of hell, so she could employ a ritual of dragon-summoning to bring forth the dread beast that would become the ultimate source of Sounga's power and evil. But that in and of itself would be no easy task, for as you may well expect, opening the portal would require considerable preparation, and summoning the dragon and binding it to Sounga would also take considerable effort...and require a great sacrifice."
InuYasha knew where this was headed. He had encountered enough artifacts of demonic power such as the Sacred Jewel and learned of spells like the one Utsugi had intended to use to become human to know that they all came at a cost. "So she was planning on sacrificing somebody to make this happen," the half-demon concluded. "Probably a bunch of people. Is that about right?"
"Indeed. As you surmised, in order to bring forth a dragon from hell, a hundred souls had to be sacrificed to its depths in exchange," Totosai confirmed. "And as you can imagine, Mei-Xing was not at all concerned about that detail. She had already come as far as she had. She was not above sacrificing souls in order to achieve her ends." The aged blacksmith scowled before adding, "Especially when they were the souls of her enemies."
"Then...she planned to use the men of her settlement as her sacrifice?" Jiro gathered.
"That is correct, and she was quick to come up with an effective scheme in order to obtain the needed souls," Totosai informed them. "While her followers worked, continuing to gather further resources for their planned revolution, as well as employ these resources to begin instilling Sounga with the powers that would make it a force of destruction, Mei-Xing began her manipulations of her family. For apparently, their warriors had recently expanded the settlement's territory, conquering new ground and bringing in fresh wealth for themselves. And so, their warriors were arrogant and prideful, something which the princess was quick to take advantage of by suggesting that they celebrate their triumphs. And when the men of the royal lineage agreed to this, she followed up by suggesting that they hold a tournament of their finest warriors."
"I see. Very cunning," Miroku mused, nodding slightly. When noises of confusion rose up from the others, the monk returned the odd looks some gave him and explained, "As we know from experience, a lengthy tournament would have taxed the strength and stamina of the combatants to their absolute limit. Making them that much more vulnerable to whatever Mei-Xing had in mind."
"Right you are, Miroku," Totosai confirmed. "And what she had in was conquest at all costs. With the stage set for a tournament, the men of their people were even busier than before, training and preparing for the big day of competition, setting up an arena of sorts, and planning the celebrations. All of which worked in Mei-Xing's favor, because not only did it provide her the perfect opportunity to strike...but it also gave her followers even greater chances to carry out their plans unnoticed by anyone."
"Preparing to open the portal," Kaname gathered, her expression betraying her unease. "And to summon the dragon..."
"Exactly. And they carried out these tasks with incredible subtlety and ease," Totosai confirmed. "Now, I don't know all the details of what happened next, but from what I understand, they used a mild-smelling oil to paint in glyphs that were needed for the ritual of dragon summoning, and then covered them up with assorted decorations and what-have-you. And as for the portal needed...all that was needed for that was the scroll, and Mei-Xing, she kept that a carefully guarded secret. Meaning that all she really needed to do...was wait for the end of the tournament, so that she could strike."
"Uh, Totosai, if you don't mind...there's something I'd like to ask," Jiro broke in. "From what you've said, the women of this society were treated as weaker creatures, unfit to be warriors." When Totosai nodded in confirmation, the Demon Slayer asked, "If that's the case, how was Mei-Xing able to smuggle Sounga out when the tournament was ended? Wouldn't her wielding a blade have attracted attention?"
"Indeed, it would have. And it is in this respect that she was especially cunning," Totosai answered. "For you see, when the tournament was in its planning stages, one of the things that was discussed was what kind of prize would be offered to the winner. At which point, Mei-Xing revealed that she had acquired a fabulous sword that would serve as a magnificent prize."
Sucking in a gasp of realization, Jiro nodded. "And, of course, since she was the one who found the sword, she requested to be allowed the honor of giving it to the mightiest of their warriors."
"Precisely. And that is exactly what happened," Totosai confirmed. "When the tournament reached it's conclusions, with one of their warriors having prevailed over all the others, Mei-Xing strode forth onto the arena floor, looking every bit the role of prim and proper royalty. With no one suspecting the evil she was about to unleash. And while her royal kin went about the business of formally closing the tournament and preparing to grant the victor his prize, Mei-Xing signaled to her followers to light the oil that would create the magical glyphs that would summon the dragon, while she invoked the power of the scroll...and opened a portal to the very depths of hell."
"And what was everyone else doing while she was opening a portal to hell?!" Azusa demanded. "Standing around, being stupid?!"
"Far from it. For as I told you, Mei-Xing and her followers had gathered many things in preparation for her revolution," Totosai countered. "And one of those artifacts was a bracelet with the power to generate a small barrier. Not a very strong barrier, from what I understand, but enough to buy her the time she needed for her scheme." When Azusa scowled in response, the old blacksmith muttered, "Now, if you don't mind...let's see...ah, yes. Mei-Xing unleashed the power of the scroll, opening the doorway to hell, while her followers set in motion the magic that would summon forth the dragon, and infuse the Sounga with its power."
"And...the sacrifice?" Shippo nervously asked. "Y-you said that she needed a sacrifice for that to work, and..."
"That's correct, little fox. And she already made the arrangements. For apparently, the summoning spell required that each of the intended sacrifices be marked with a special potion." Narrowing his eyes dangerously, Totosai added, "Over the course of the tournament, each and every one of the warriors involved had been wounded to some degree. Something Mei-Xing knew would happen, and thus had arranged for some of her followers be placed in charge of treating their injuries...and marking their intended victims while doing so."
As Shippo shuddered at the thought, InuYasha scowled in disgust at the thought of employing such a disgustingly deceitful tactic, of using the illusion of compassion to get into position to stab someone in the back. "Once the portal was open, Mei-Xing invoked the needed spell that sent all of the battered, helpless warriors tumbling into the abyss, causing the dread dragon to emerge. And when it did, she used the next spell she had readied to force the dragon to merge with the Sounga, to give her sword the terrible power she craved," Totosai intoned, pausing to shake his head. "She had been so sure of herself, of her strength of will. She had taken the potion that would enhance her dragon and demon aspects, she was relentless and ruthless in her determination. And never once did she doubt that she would be capable of controlling the horrendous weapon that Sounga had just become."
"She was an idiot," InuYasha snorted disgustedly, recalling all too easily what had happened when he had found Sounga in his own hands. Of the purple tendrils that had sprung forth from its hilt, wrapping about his wrist, burying themselves in his flesh. Of the things it had compelled him to do.
"Overconfidence and idiocy, there's a fine line between the two. But nonetheless, the result was the same," Totosai stated, confirming their suspicions as to what happened next. "The dragon within Sounga immediately overtook Mei-Xing, its lust for death and destruction spilling over her, driving her to even greater madness. And even as her followers cried out in celebration, certain that their revolution was all but won, their princess began the slaughter of her own people. Male, female, friend, enemy; it made no difference. Whatever was in her path, she killed without pity or hesitation."
"And whatever she killed was revived as slaves of Sounga," Sango murmured sadly. "Did...any of these beast-people...survive?"
"A few. Not many, but a few," Totosai informed them with a sad little nod. "Mostly members of the royal family, and a few of Mei-Xing's followers. And as for the rest..." Shaking his head miserably, the aged blacksmith hesitated before continuing. "With the rest of their people decimated and resurrected as the undead, the survivors of the royal family lost no time in getting answers out of Mei-Xing's surviving followers. And once they had those answers, they waited until Mei-Xing and her deathly horde had left their shattered settlement behind, then forced the former revolutionaries to help them in retrieving whatever artifacts and scrolls may have survived Mei-Xing's rampage. Anything that may aide them in defeating the Sounga."
"And what did they do, then?" InuYasha wondered disgustedly. "Run on back home to China to get help?"
"No, InuYasha. The surviving royals decided that they could never return to their homeland of China," Totosai informed him. "They had been shamed by one of their own, a member of the royal family. And furthermore, by a woman. In their eyes, allowing Mei-Xing to do what she had done had been the ultimate disgrace; to return to their people would be to shame themselves even further, and spread the taint of that dishonor." Shaking his head at such foolish pride, the aged weapons maker then continued. "They vowed that they would find a way to stop Mei-Xing's rampage, and put an end to the Sounga's evil. And with that in mind, they started forth towards the forge where Katashi and I worked." Lowering his face, Totosai seemed to grow older before all their eyes. "And when my old master learned what his creation had become..."
As a harsh, pain-filled silence fell in the wake of the aged blacksmith's words, Kaname studied him with sad eyes. "Totosai..."
"Katashi...he wasn't a young man. In fact...he was about as old as I am now," Totosai sadly murmured. "And when he was told of what his creation had become...what had happened...it broke him." Shaking his head as painful memories washed before his eyes, prompting tears to begin welling up in his eyes. "Even with Sounga rampant, even with the danger we were in, he...he couldn't bring himself to work his forge again. To even attempt to create weapons to counter Sounga and its army of the undead."
InuYasha didn't say anything to this, at least not at first. His initial reaction was disgust at this Katashi's sudden inability to even try and do anything to stop the evil sword. So many lives had already been lost because of Sounga, with even more imperiled, and he couldn't even try to help in stopping it?
But even as he considered the matter, the half-demon frowned, for the truth was, he wasn't certain he could blame Katashi for breaking in the wake of such a tragedy. InuYasha remembered all too well the astonished horror he had felt when he had woken up from his transformation into a full demon in which he had gleefully slaughtered a band of bandits. And the soul-crushing despair he had wallowed in afterwards, when he had tried in vain to wash their blood off of his claws, knowing full well that the next time he changed, that it could be those whom he held dearest that died to sate his inner beast's lust for death. And as such, he could well imagine how it must have felt to witness something he had created perverted into a nightmarish weapon of death. To know that, while you had not been the one to visit such a horrendous fate on so many people, that you had played a role in the creation of such a nightmare...
"Why didn't you tell us any of this before?" InuYasha finally asked.
"Because, when Sounga returned, its origins were not important; what you needed to hear was the nature of Sounga's powers, and how it could be neutralized." Then Totosai sucked in a weary breath and admitted, "Besides...I didn't want to speak of those days again." With these words, the tears that had been building up in his eyes began to roll down his aged face. "You have to understand...Katashi was more than my mentor. He had been my closest friend. And in a way, he had been more of a father to me than my own parent had been." A strangled noise of pure sorrow echoed in his throat as he concluded, "And in the end...all I could do was watch him die a bit more with each day that passed...until one day, he sat down in his favorite spot in his home, closed his eyes...and never opened them again."
As these words reverberated through InuYasha's ears, they quickly proceeded to his stomach, where they began to burn. And it was clear that he was not the only one affected by Totosai's story; all around him, faces of sorrow and sympathy looked at the aged blacksmith. Even Azusa's perpetual scowl softened somewhat. "What happened next, Totosai?" Miroku finally asked. "If your old master...then..."
"Well...with Katashi, I...the duty fell to me," Totosai responded. "I didn't want Sounga to be my master's ultimate legacy, so...I agreed to help the beast-people. The Fallen Dragons, as they came to refer to themselves."
"Fallen Dragons?" Kaname wondered. "Why did they...?"
"As I explained, the beast-people that had come to see us were all of the royal bloodline, and as such, they had the power of the dragons. But at the same time, they considered themselves disgraced and dishonored as a result of Mei-Xing's treachery. So they chose a name for themselves that reflected this dishonor," Totosai explained. "In any case...with more humans and demons being slain every day by Mei-Xing and Sounga, the legions under their command growing exponentially, I went to work. For days, I spent every waking moment forging swords, spears, shields, armor, and more for the Fallen Dragons. I studied their scrolls, learned from their secrets, and employed everything I had learned in my time as Katashi's apprentice, to make the most powerful weapons and armors that I could. I worked and worked, until at last each of the males of the Fallen Dragons had been outfitted and was ready for battle." Pausing to take a weary breath, Totosai continued with, "I don't know the details of what happened next - I never asked for any. I didn't even want to know. But...what I can tell you is that the Fallen Dragons were successful in separating Sounga from Mei-Xing...though not without cost. A couple of them were killed, while the rest were all severely injured. And as for Mei-Xing...she managed to escape."
"Oh, great!" InuYasha spat disgustedly. "She creates the Sounga, causes all that death and misery, and those morons couldn't even finish her off?!"
"Relax, InuYasha," Sango told him. "These Fallen Dragons were probably more concerned with securing the Sounga than seeking revenge."
"Besides, I wouldn't worry much about this Princess Mei-Xing," Miroku informed him. "This was a long time ago, and even if she had demon blood in her veins, I doubt she'd still be alive, let alone causing trouble now."
"At the very least, I've heard nothing of her in the times since then," Totosai confirmed. "And as Sango said, the Fallen Dragons were more concerned with putting an end to Sounga than anything else. But...even so, they realized that they had a problem."
Despite his annoyance, InuYasha nodded. "Right...they couldn't destroy the damned thing."
"Not while it had the power of a dragon of hell," Totosai confirmed. "Nor could they even touch it, not without the risk of being possessed by it. And so...they once again came to me for aid. But this time...I could not help them. I knew of no way to destroy Sounga. All I could do was craft a warded urn to contain it for travel, and advise them to hide the Sounga someplace secret. Someplace safe. And so, the Fallen Dragons swore an oath; to rebuild themselves as a clan whose purpose, whose only purpose, was the safeguarding of Sounga, until the day came when it could at last be destroyed. And with that, they left the forge, seeking out a place where they could hide themselves and the Sounga from the rest of the world."
"So what happened next?" Shippo piped up. "How did InuYasha's father get hold of the Sounga if the Fallen Dragons had it?"
"I'll explain that," Totosai informed the little fox patiently. "Many years passed after that tragic day; at least a century or two...possibly longer. And I continued my works, developing my skills as a blacksmith. All the while trying to think of a way to dispose of the Sounga, once and for all." Giving this a moment to sink in, the aged demon went on to say, "At the same time, the Fallen Dragons established a new colony for themselves, and constructed a shrine laden with every ward, seal, and barrier they could construct, all for the sake of keeping the Sounga away from anyone foolish enough to try and claim it." Giving this a moment to sink in, the aged demon scowled. "But in the wake of Mei-Xing's maddened rampage, rumors of a sword of ultimate conquest had swept across the lands. A sword so powerful that it could enslave your enemies, and lay waste to entire kingdoms. And so every bandit, murderer, demon, and monster set out in search of the Fallen Dragons, so that they might claim Sounga for themselves."
"Oh, great," InuYasha grumbled sourly. "And I'm guessing that one of them succeeded. Right?"
"Unfortunately," Totosai confirmed. "The Fallen Dragons had rebuilt and bred back their numbers. They had worked and trained and refined their skills, and had stood guard of the Sounga for many, many years, repelling many a scheming thief and cruel lord. But eventually, they lost their battle to keep the sword safe from evil's hands. And once again, Sounga was loosed upon the world."
"And then what?" Shippo wondered.
"Well, the Fallen Dragons soon realized that, the longer Sounga remained unchecked, the greater the undead hordes under its command would become. Furthermore, the dread blade had become even more powerful over the years as the dragon within had become better acclimated to the sword that was its host. So they did what they could; they sent their finest warriors riding forth. One of them was sent to collect me, and inform me that Sounga had been released, others were sent to ride ahead of Sounga's new wielder, to warn all those that lay in its path of the danger." Then Totosai's eyes narrowed with deadly intensity. "But most importantly, as they had suffered great losses in their attempt to keep Sounga contained, their warriors still badly injured, they realized that, if they were to were to have any chance of reclaiming Sounga before it became impossible to do so, that they would need powerful allies. And so several of their warriors searched the lands for warriors, magicians, priests. Anyone who might have the power needed to help defeat the Sounga and its forces."
Realizing where Totosai was going with this, InuYasha sucked in a breath of realization. "Father..."
"Yes, InuYasha. As you've already guessed, one of those warriors eventually found his way to the castle where your father, the great InuTaisho, lived and ruled from," Totosai confirmed. "There he learned of the great danger that Sounga posed to the lands he ruled. He had already heard rumors of Sounga's terrible power, but this was the first definitive word he had received regarding this new threat. And so, pausing only long enough to leave Sesshomaru in charge during his absence, InuTaisho set forth to confront Sounga and its forces...alone."
"Alone?!" Michiru started, clearly surprised. "But...where were the other Fallen Dragons?!"
"Keeping ahead of Sounga, just close enough to be able to track the movements of it and its forces," Totosai explained. "But they were in no condition to fight, Michiru. More importantly, with their warriors spread out the way they were, it would take time for them to assemble into a proper fighting force." Then the elderly demon shot a glance at InuYasha and added, "And InuTaisho, while patient and wise, was not one given to wait when he had an enemy in his sight. And after so many years of success in battle, he didn't feel he had any reason to need allies in this conflict. Which...was very nearly his undoing."
Knowing from painful experience just how powerful Sounga was, InuYasha considered the matter. This battle would have taken place before his father had met his mother Izayoi, which meant that the Tetsusaiga and the Tenseiga had yet to have been forged. Meaning that InuTaisho would have essentially been unarmed, and while his father had been a powerful demon, Sounga had been no ordinary sword. "So what happened next?"
"Well, InuTaisho had some initial success. He was able to clear away some of the undead forces under Sounga's command, but he soon found himself poisoned by the miasma they released. Even worse, though he was able to separate Sounga from its wielder, it was able to get one of the corpses it commanded to wield it. Very soon, your father found himself on the wrong side of the conflict, wounded and quickly weakening. And for a time, it looked certain that he would be defeated." Pausing as if to savor the suspense, Totosai then told them, "But just as your father lay on the battlefield, bleeding and too hurt to move, Sounga about to cleave him in two...he learned that the Fallen Dragons had succeeded in finding two other warriors to help battle this scourge."
"Two other warriors?" Sango exclaimed even as Kirara perked up in attentiveness.
"But...where could they have found anybody who could fight something like that?" Kaname wondered.
"I don't know where they found them, but I do know what happened next," Toto replied. "Before the corpse wielding Sounga could strike, a Sacred Arrow flew forth, striking the dread blade, causing the resultant strike to miss its intended target. A Sacred Arrow loosed by the warrior priestess known as...Midoriko."
InuYasha felt as if a bolt of electricity had shot down his spine, and it was clear from their expressions that the rest of the core group experienced similar sensations. "Midoriko?!" the half-demon repeated. "You mean the priestess who created the Sacred Jewel?!"
"What?!" Azusa started, her features twisting incredulously. "A human created the Sacred Jewel?! Is this for real?!"
"Yes, it is," Jiro replied before anyone else could even think of speaking. "The origin of the Sacred Jewel is an old story among many Demon Slayers. My father told it to me many times when I was growing up."
Her eyes bulging with shock, Azusa stared incredulously at Jiro. "Seriously?!"
Nodding, Jiro considered the redhead for a time before suggesting, "If you'd like, I could tell you about it while we're on the way back to the mountains. It's quite a story."
Knowing this to be the truth, InuYasha said, "Sure, good idea. You can fill her in then." Then he glanced at Azusa and added, "Right now, let's finish up this story first." Returning his attention to Totosai, the half-demon prompted, "Now, you said that two warriors came to help my old man. So if Midoriko was one of them, then who...?"
"Ah, yes," Totosai quickly nodded. "Well, as Midoriko moved to confront the Sounga and its forces, riding into battle on a fierce demonic steed that she had tamed, the other warrior used his magic to shield your father from the continued attacks from the undead legions, buying enough time to heal InuTaisho's wounds and restore his strength, allowing him to return to the battle."
"A magician?" Kaname repeated blankly.
"Yes. To be specific, a Shikigami Master, much like yourself," Totosai confirmed. "And he was known...as Yuuta."
"Yuuta?!" Michiru started, causing everyone to look as he was jolted into a straighter position. "His name...was Yuuta?! Are - are you sure about that?!"
"Yes, quite certain," Totosai nodded. "I may be old and my memory might not be what it once was, but I have forgotten nothing about what happened during those dark days."
As Michiru continued to sit upright, studying Totosai with wide eyes of amazement, Sango looked at him in concern. "Michiru, what is it? Is something wrong?"
Returning Sango's gaze, the Shikigami User paused to sit back against the tree before continuing. "Yuuta...that's the name of the Shikigami Master...who created the Kururugi Shrine," Michiru explained, his voice low with astonishment. "He's the one who established our style of magic."
"Really?!" Shippo jumped in surprise, conveying InuYasha's own astonishment.
"Are you sure about that?" Miroku wondered.
Nodding, Michiru quickly answered, "I spent a lot of time studying the different scrolls from the Kururugi Shrine after I got home the last time. And there was...a lot of stuff about the more accomplished...Shikigami Masters, the things they did. Hatsumi, Sojobo, Kazumi..."
"He's right. My bro showed me all this different scrolls," Kaname chimed in, looking every bit as awestruck as Michiru. "Yuuta was the one who established Kururugi Village, and perfected some of the secret techniques in our shrine."
Nodding to this, Michiru then leaned back and shook his head in amazement. "But...I had no idea that Yuuta...there was nothing about this in there...!"
"Probably because of Dad," Kaname suggested. "Remember? He said that some of the scrolls in the Shrine were dangerous, so he hid them someplace safer."
Nodding to this, Michiru considered the matter for a while. "Anyway...I can't be sure, but...I do know that Yuuta lived at about that time, so..."
"So it might have been him," InuYasha nodded, unable to keep a bit of smirk from appearing on his face as he thought of Michiru and Kaname's ancestor, allying himself with his father. There was a bit of beautiful irony to this in the half-demon's mind. "Heh...it wouldn't surprise me. So what happened next?"
"What happened was a titanic battle unlike any that had been seen before," Totosai stated sagely. "InuTaisho, Midoriko, and Yuuta stood together against Sounga and all of its evil forces, and for an untold number of days and nights, they fought an all-out war, with no quarter being given or received. Your father engaged Sounga directly, jumping in to attack while moving to avoid its deadly onslaught. Midoriko flew forth on her steed, using her speed and powerful Sacred Arrows to strike at a distance, purifying the toxic miasma released by the undead forces as they were destroyed and hampering the movements of the undead wielding Sounga and keeping it constricted. And Yuuta worked from a distance, using his Shikigami magic to destroy the undead forces aiding Sounga, as well as reviving the strength of his allies and healing their wounds. Even refreshing Midoriko's supply of arrows when they ran out." As InuYasha paused to imagine such a battle, the aged blacksmith continued with, "Finally, as the three warriors slowly expended their strength, they launched a combined assault that shattered Sounga's remaining forces, and sent the malicious sword flying from the hand of its undead wielder. But even as it looked as if another of its slaves would be able to claim it...InuTaisho did something very brave...and very foolish."
It didn't take much effort for InuYasha to guess what his father had done. "He grabbed Sounga before anything else could get it."
"Precisely. Quickly changing to his human form, he dove in, and grabbed the Sounga one of its slaves could claim it," Totosai confirmed. "And for a terrible moment, it looked as if he would pay for his courage by becoming the latest to be overtaken by Sounga's evil power." Pausing to take a deep breath, the aged blacksmith focused on InuYasha. "But even as Midoriko and Yuuta looked on, certain that their demonic ally was about to become their enemy...through force of sheer will alone, InuTaisho overpowered the dragon within Sounga, and took control of it."
"And then what?" Jiro wondered. "If InuYasha's father was able to claim Sounga, then...what did he plan to do with it?"
"Well, with the battle done, the three exhausted warriors needed to recover. They took time for food and drink, and to properly tend to their wounds," Totosai told them. "And as they slowly recovered, they talked among themselves, introducing themselves to one another, and generally getting to know each other." The elderly demon gave an odd quirk of his mouth at this. "And InuTaisho...well, his unlikely allies had already won his respect in battle. He owed them his life. And it was that day that the Great Dog Demon did something he had never done before; he bowed in gratitude...to humans."
This gave InuYasha pause for thought. He had often wondered how his human mother had managed to catch the attention of his father, who had already had a child by another demon. And so he wondered if it was this encounter with Midoriko and Yuuta that had impressed upon InuTaisho the strength of human warriors.
But even as InuYasha thought this, Totosai continued with his tale. "Eventually, however, the three of them decided to meet with the Fallen Dragons to discuss Sounga's fate. And so, with the riders as their guides, InuTaisho, Midoriko, and Yuuta went to the village where the Fallen Dragons lived, and met with their leaders. And before long, all of them involved were in agreement; the Sounga had to be destroyed."
"What?! Why?!" Azusa demanded. "You just said the mutt's father could handle that sword!"
"InuTaisho was certainly capable of overpowering Sounga's dread power, that is true. To our knowledge, he was the only one who could do so," Totosai confirmed. "But at the same time, he knew he wouldn't live forever; he couldn't keep watch of it indefinitely. And his only son at the time, Sesshomaru...he doubted that Sesshomaru could even control Sounga as he could, let alone be trusted not to abuse its terrible power for his own benefit." Shuddering somewhat, the old blacksmith added, "Furthermore, even though he could overpower Sounga's will, he explained that he could still feel it fighting him, trying to persuade him to kill all around him. He was sickened and repulsed by its cruel voice, by the sheer malice and evil in it. And after seeing Sounga's power, nearly falling victim to it himself, InuTaisho refused to take any chances in allowing something so malignant to menace the world once more. To risk it again falling into the wrong hands."
"Good thinking!" InuYasha snorted, thinking evil thoughts about his half-brother. Knowing full well what would have happened if he had ever been given the chance to wield the Sounga. "So what did they decide to do?"
"After much discussion, it was agreed that InuTaisho would retain custody of the Sounga," Totosai explained. "Having proven that he could control and withstand its evil, and that he could be trusted, it was decided that he was the obvious choice for keeping it safe from those who would unleash it again. But they would still take precautions. And so, I was once again summoned to assist in dealing with the Sounga, and it was thus that I first met the great InuTaisho." Making a thoughtful noise at this revelation, InuYasha continued to sit back and watch as the blacksmith continued. "The first thing he did was to commission me to create a sheathe capable of restraining Sounga when he was not wielding it. Something that would be able to contain its evil power, and keep it dormant. And when I explained to him that I did not have the knowledge or skill required to make such a sheathe, both Midoriko and Yuuta agreed to assist me in its creation. They lent me all of their considerable skill and power, with the priestess and Shikigami Master working together to summon forth a spirit to watch over the sheath and keep Sounga's evil under control."
"So that's where Saya came from!" Shippo piped up even as InuYasha thought of the elderly spirit that had watched over Sounga, kept its evil at bay for centuries.
"Indeed. Midoriko and Yuuta quickly proved to be a formidable team. In fact -" Then Totosai made a face, and waved aside his own words. "No, that's - that's a story for another time. The point is that, once the sheath was ready, all of us, InuTaisho, Midoriko, Yuuta, the Fallen Dragons, and even myself, vowed to work together and find a way to destroy the Sounga, once and for all. And as a part of that pact, we each made available to the others all of our resources, all so that we could continue to research possible ways of destroying the foul sword. Midoriko contributed everything she knew in regards to spiritual powers, her knowledge of the spirit world and the nature of the soul. Yuuta made available all of the many scrolls of magic and Shikigami he possessed, all the knowledge he had about the forces of nature. InuTaisho had many scrolls referencing demonic powers and other secrets, and the Fallen Dragons released to us all their sacred scrolls regarding the ways of battle and the means to manipulate chi. We all promised to keep in touch with each other, to continue to work together, with the Fallen Dragons assuring us that, if Sounga ever reawakened, that they would be ready to aide us if needed. And so, with everything said and done, we departed for our respective homes, each of us parting as friends. With no friendship stronger than that forged by InuTaisho, Midoriko, and Yuuta when they had fought together as one."
"Really?" InuYasha frowned, pausing to consider Midoriko's fate, how she had fought and died alone and how that death had resulted in the creation of the Shikon Jewel. For a moment, he considered asking Totosai about it, about why his father would have allowed a friend to suffer such a cruel fate, but then he decided against that; there was still a great deal they needed to discuss, and more immediate concerns that had to be dealt with. So pausing to file this question away for future reference, the half-demon then asked, "So what does all this have to do with the Reikikaega?!"
"Everything, InuYasha!" Totosai quickly exclaimed. "For you see, I spent the following years studying the amassed secrets I had been granted access to. Pouring the sacred knowledge of Midoriko, Yuuta, and so much more! And it was these secrets that eventually served to inspire the creation of two swords to counter Sounga, a sword of heaven, and a sword of earth! The Tenseiga, and the Tetsusaiga!" Then the aged blacksmith leaned in closer to the half-demon and added, "And it's because of these studies that, as I studied the Reikikaega, I realized that forged into its very core, are the secrets of manipulating the soul and the power of purification. That it contains the power of the spirits and mastery over nature. That within it is an understanding of demonic power and its use, as well as the ability to shape and control the chi and the aura of all living things!"
InuYasha wasn't well versed in the subtleties of a great many things, and there were times he missed out on something that was important. But at the same time, he had learned to read when something of importance was being said, as well as the way the others reacted to it. And judging by the way Miroku sat up, his eyes widening in awe, while Michiru and Kaname gaped in utter astonishment, what Totosai was saying was of great importance. "Praise Buddha..." the monk breathed, his mouth hanging in slack-jawed shock. "Such power, it...!"
"What?!" Shippo demanded, looking about at the others in perplexity. "What's the big deal?! What's all that mean?!"
"That's what I'd like to know!" Azusa demanded with a disdainful scowl. "It sounds like a pile of crap to me!"
"It is anything but that, Azusa," Miroku breathed in a respectful, awed manner. "What Totosai is saying is that the Reikikaega is capable of manipulating the souls of mortals and demons alike, and can control magical and spiritual forces."
"It also means that the Reikikaega can purify demons right out of existence!" Kaname added urgently. "And if it can control a person's chi, their physical energy and nature !-!"
"Then it can transform them physically," Michiru continued, his voice even lower with awe. "Just like it did with that tree last night. It can take any living thing...and completely transform it."
"Indeed. The Reikikaega is capable of completely transforming anything living or animated by spiritual or magical means, changing and manipulating them in any way the wielder so desires," Totosai confirmed. "The person who wields that sword is capable of transforming a hundred living beings in any fashion they so choose, all with a single sweep. That, and so much more."
Now InuYasha understood why Totosai was so concerned about the Reikikaega's power. He paused to consider the monstrous creature he had fought the previous night, as well as the various minor disasters that had occurred during the time he had accompanied Totosai in testing the mysterious blade. And as he paused to imagine what would happen if the Reikikaega were used on entire forest, on what would have happened if it had been used to transform more than just that one tree. "You could use that thing to make an entire army of monsters!" But then he frowned, and considered some of the other things that he had seen the sword do. "But - that doesn't explain everything that this thing has done!"
"I know, InuYasha. What I told you is just the basis of the Reikikaega's great power," Totosai concurred. "If you'll let me continue..." Forced to curb his impatience, InuYasha nodded. "Now, as I've already explained, the Reikikaega is fully capable of manipulating anything living or animate in any number of ways, and to a degree I never would have imagined possible. But more to the point, the Reikikaega also has a great deal in common with Tenseiga. For like the Tenseiga, the Reikikaega is a sword of life, of heaven. It is a blade that cannot cut anything physical; it effects the physical word by manipulating the various energies flowing through it."
"Wait - this thing is like the Tenseiga?" InuYasha demanded, glancing down at the Reikikaega, something occurring to him. "Then - does that mean that...?"
"Yes, InuYasha," Totosai nodded, his word fueling the half-demon's awe. "I've determined that the Reikikaega has the same power as the Tenseiga, and thus can also revive the dead. And even more, I believe it does not have the same limitations that the Tenseiga has in this regard."
"Limitations?" InuYasha started, giving Totosai a perplexed look. "What limitations?!"
"The Tenseiga will not revive any given person more than once, InuYasha. Furthermore, it needs an intact body to work with," Totosai explained. "But as powerful as the Reikikaega is...I don't believe it suffers the same limits."
With this, InuYasha took hold of the Reikikaega's hilt, and again considered the possibilities. But this time, his mind was filled with hopeful awe. Time and again during their quest to defeat Naraku, he had been plagued with the horrendous possibility of something happening to his friends. Of them dying in battle against their many enemies, and at times, he had woken up on the verge of screaming from nightmares of them dying at the claws of his fully demonic self. But if the Reikikaega did indeed have that power, if it could revive the dead...
"So...if something were to...happen to...to someone...?" InuYasha began, barely able to give voice to possibilities both fearful and enticing as he glanced about at his companions. "The Reikikaega...?"
"Could revive them, yes. But don't get too excited, InuYasha!" Totosai told him in a stern manner. "I still can't be certain as to the Reikikaega's full limitations. And more to the point, the Reikikaega has many powers other than that of revival and healing. And with its powers to manipulate the living, there's no telling what manner of side-effects it can cause if it is not used in precisely the right way."
"Heh. After what I saw this thing do, I believe it!" InuYasha muttered gruffly, releasing the Reikikaega's hilt. Silently adding that he would rather risk such side effects than risk losing his friends entirely. "So what else can this thing do?"
"Well, as I mentioned, the Reikikaega has a great deal in common with both the Tetsusaiga and the Tenseiga. It is capable of absorbing the special powers of any demon it slays, and from other weapons and artifacts," Totosai continued, seeming to be more comfortable now. "Also, it's energy compliments that of the Tetsusaiga; you could even say that it is the yin to the Tetsusaiga's yang. Which leads me to conclude that, whoever created the Reikikaega, intended it to be able to work together with the Tetsusaiga."
"Huh?! But how's that even possible?!" Shippo demanded. "We don't even know who made the Reikikaega! So how could they know about the Tetsusaiga?!"
"I've got an even better question; how the hell could you even think that this sword was made to work with the Tetsusaiga?!" InuYasha demanded, privately wondering if old age was finally catching up with Totosai. "I already told you; every time I tried using the Tetsusaiga and the Reikikaega at the same time, they'd blow up in my face!"
"Yes, I know. Which is further proof that their energies were intended to be able to merge with each other," Totosai explained. As InuYasha felt his eyes bulge at this incredibly stupid comment, the aged blacksmith elaborated with, "As you said yourself, the energies of the Tetsusaiga and the Reikikaega naturally reached out towards each other when held at the same time. So it's logical to assume that this was intended to happen; for their energies to react in such a manner by sheer accident, it's too much of a coincidence."
"And what about the whole blowing-up-in-my-face part?!" InuYasha demanded heatedly.
"I believe that's the result of an imbalance between the two blades," Totosai replied, completely unruffled. "Remember, the Reikikaega appears to have been forged using the same material that the metal bird is made of. As such, it harbors an enormous amount of energy, far greater than even the Tetsusaiga currently possesses." Pausing to consider this, the half-demon frowned somewhat, giving the elderly blacksmith a chance to continue. "Now, if the Tetsusaiga could be properly reforged using that substance, the power of the two blades should be in balance, enabling them to be used as one."
InuYasha still wasn't certain that he believed what he was being told. "I don't suppose there's any way you can back any of this up, is there?"
"As a matter of fact, I believe there is," Totosai quickly responded, much to the half-demon's surprise. "InuYasha, if you don't mind, could you hand me the Reikikaega?"
"Huh?!" InuYasha started, making a face as he considered this request. After a few moment's consideration, as well as studying the expressions of his friends, who visibly saw nothing wrong with this, he shrugged helplessly. "Well, alright," he muttered, drawing forth the Reikikaega. "I don't know what you plan to do with it, though."
Slowly rising to his feet, Totosai then accepted the Reikikaega in his hand. "Just watch and learn, InuYasha," he murmured before gently setting the enigmatic blade on the ground. "Now, please hand me the Tetsusaiga." At this, the half-demon again made a querulous noise in his throat and paused to consider this. But again, surrounded by his friends and finding nothing really wrong in this request, he acquiesced and surrendered the heirloom blade. "Thank you," Totosai remarked as he accepted the Tetsusaiga. After a few moments, he placed this sword on the ground as well, placing it a short distance away from the Reikikaega, and pointing it in the opposite direction. "Now, then...I suspect that you should all stand and get a bit of distance from these two blades."
"Huh? Why should we -?!" InuYasha started to demand, only for a strange noise to prick his ears. Cutting himself off, he looked down at the two swords, his mouth popping open when he saw the two swords pulsating, as if they were hearts stirring to life. Realizing that there might be something to Totosai's words of warning, the half-demon carefully rose to his feet, noting how the others also rose up. Only Michiru was unable to stand, but he was further away from the two blades, and Sango and Kirara were already positioning themselves between him and whatever was happening.
"What's going on...?" Jiro wondered, watching intently as the pulsations became more and more intense. As he and everyone else looked onwards, small jags of lightning began to dance about the two swords, followed soon by a quickly growing wind that swirled about them like a growing cyclone. As the powers released by both the Tetsusaiga and the Reikikaega increased, the two blades assumed their true forms, becoming a massive fang and a sword of glowing crystal.
"Dammit!" InuYasha swore, unable to make sense of this. "Old man, what did you -?!"
"Just keep watching!" Totosai commanded, backing away from the powers that he himself had helped set in motion. And so, without any ideas what else to do, InuYasha did as demanded, hoping that he hadn't made a huge mistake...